For the past several years, an eventful period by just about anybody’s standards, it hasn’t been hard to make the case that documentaries are more important than ever, and for that matter more popular than ever. The great thrill of DocLands is the privilege of curation: We know you count on us to bring you the best, and we take great pride in earning that trust. One might say that we at DocLands, and the California Film Institute, are your trusted curator.

Just as wonderful as it is seeing nonfiction filmmakers becoming more engaged and more creative, constantly expanding the boundaries of the form, so it is gathering some of their most extraordinary efforts to share with you. This year, in a program just compact enough, and just so judiciously selective, I’m tempted to call every film a highlight. Certainly each one is a special occasion, and taken together they add up to so much. I know I can promise you there’s no better way to brush up on the finer details of deep-sea mining, glaciology, Ugandan political history, sustainable fashion, and horse appreciation all in one place and within a span of five days.

The DocLands 2023 slate has much to offer in the way of emotional and intellectual sustenance. It includes chronicles of clear-eyed courage in the face of injustice — be it wrongful imprisonment, stolen sacred land, or systemic legal bias against victims of sexual assault. Artists at work are well represented, from otherworldly poet Nikki Giovanni to breathtaking wildlife photographer Jérémie Villet, and music lovers in particular have many treats in store. With Immediate Family, director Denny Tedesco follows up on his 2008 Mill Valley Film Festival favorite The Wrecking Crew!; Fazila Amiri’s And Still I Sing salutes the rising, odds-defying pop stars of Afghanistan; and of course our opener, Alexandria Bombach’s It’s Only Life After All, delightfully reflects on the legacy of beloved folk-rock duo Indigo Girls. Not to mention all the other resourceful and inspiring individuals who take on life’s challenges with great creative ingenuity, in films such as The Arc of Oblivion, Invisible Beauty, Mom & Dad’s Nipple Factory, The Nettle Dress, No Legs. All Heart., and OKAY! (The ASD Band Film), among still several others.

 Climate is rightfully at the top of many agendas, and it’s energizing to see how that concern manifests in various ways. We’re proud to share a pair of deeply humanizing and place-specific portraits by Oscar®-nominated directors: Katja Esson’s Razing Liberty Square takes a close personal look at the correlation between rising sea levels and gentrification in Miami, while Elaine McMillion Sheldon’s King Coal truly comprehends a mining community in Appalachia. Together they remind us: It’s a small world, but a wide one. Part of that privilege of curation has to do with preserving a sense of connection, remembering that we’re all in it together. With that in mind, I once again express my gratitude to you, to Joni Cooper, our DocLands Program Director, along with our talented programming team, and of course to the filmmakers themselves, who really are the stars of this show.

Mark Fishkin
Executive Director / Founder, California Film Institute