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Twenty Documentaries to Watch For in 2014

2014 is now in full swing, the Sundance Film Festival has closed its doors, and film festivals like South by Southwest and Tribeca are generating more buzz for the year’s noteworthy indie narratives and documentaries.  In recent years, documentaries such as Restrepo, Gasland, and Searching For Sugarman went on to become heavyweights. This year’s contenders include topics taken from popular memoirs and biographies, along with subject matter pertaining to youths and youth culture. Below, you’ll find a comprehensive list of Sundance and non-Sundance documentaries to keep an eye out for this year, equipped with official synopsis and trailer when available. 2014 is shaping out to a versatile year in the documentary world, ranging from heavy-handed family dramas such as Tracy Droz Tragos’ and Andrew Droz Palermo’s Rich Hill, to baseball biographies such as Chapman and Maclain Way’s The Battered Bastards of Baseball and Jeff Radice’s No No A Dockumentary, to bestselling nonfiction such as Steve James’ late Roger Ebert memoir Life Itself and the telling of the teenage subculture in Matt Wolf’s Teenage. With some already screened at 2013 film festivals, many of the  documentaries will have a wider release in 2014 or premiere at this year’s film festivals. Full synopses are courtesy of IMDB and Sundance.

rich hill

  1. Rich Hill by Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo
    “Rich Hill intimately chronicles the turbulent lives of three boys living in an impoverished Midwestern town and the fragile family bonds that sustain them.”
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  2. Return To Homs by Talal Derki
    “Filmed over 3 years in Homs,accompanying 2 outstanding young men from the time they were only dreaming of freedom to the time when they are forced to change course. Basset, the 19yo national football team goalkeeper, who became an outspoken demonstration leader in the city, then an icon revolution singer, till he becomes a fighter… a militia leader. Ossama, his 24yo friend, renowned citizen journalist, cynical pacifist… as his views are forced to change, until he is detained by army secret service. It is the story of a city, of which the world have heard a lot, but never really got closer than news, never really had the chance to experience how a war erupted. a modern times epic of youth in war time.”
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  3. Teenage by Matt Wolf
    “The concept of teenagers did not gain widespread recognition until the 20th century, before which childhood and adulthood were two completely discrete phases with nothing in between. In fact, the word “teenager” was not coined until 1945, when two World Wars resulted in thousands of young people being shipped off by adults to fight and die in Europe, and the seeds of a lasting intergenerational conflict were planted. This fascinating documentary illuminates the earliest pioneers of youth culture from this emergent period—from decadent flappers and hipster Swing Kids to brainwashed Nazi Youth and frenzied Sub-Debs—in a visually exciting, historically rigorous and artfully anachronistic piece of work.Based on a groundbreaking book by the punk author Jon Savage and narrated by actors Jena Malone, Ben Whishaw, Julia Hummer and Jessie Usher, director Matt Wolf’s compelling collage is crafted from archival material, Super-8 recreations and diaries of actual mid-century teenagers, all set to a post-punk contemporary soundtrack. The result is an unconventional pop historical film about the birth of the iconic, eternally cool figure of the teenager.”
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  4. Life Itself by Steve James
    Life Itself, the first ever feature-length documentary on the life of Roger Ebert, covers the prolific critic’s life journey from his days at the University of Illinois, to his move to Chicago where he became the first film critic ever to win the Pulitzer Prize, then to television where he and Gene Siskel became iconic stars, and finally to what Roger referred to as “his third act”; how he overcame disabilities wrought by cancer to became a major voice on the internet and through social media.”
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  5. Happy Valley by Amir Bar-Lev
    “The town of State College, the home of Penn State University, has long been known as Happy Valley, and its iconic figure for more than 40 years was Joe Paterno, the head coach of the school’s storied football team. His program was lauded for not only its success on the field but also its students’ achievements in the classroom. And Paterno took on mythic national stature as “Saint Joe.” But then, in November 2011, everything came crashing down. Longtime Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky was charged with 40 counts of child sex abuse, setting off a firestorm of accusations about who failed to protect the children of Happy Valley. Was Sandusky’s abuse an ‘open secret’ in the town? Did Coach Paterno and the Penn State administration value their football program more than the lives of Sandusky’s victims? Filmed over the course of the year after Sandusky’s arrest as key players in the scandal agreed to share their stories, Happy Valley deconstructs the story we think we know to uncover a much more complicated and tragic tale.”all this mayhemnew
  6. All This Mayham by Eddie Martin
    All This Mayhem is a searing account of what happens when raw talent and extreme personalities collide. In this unflinching, never-before-seen account of drugs and the dark side of professional skateboarding, brothers Tas and Ben Pappas’ intense bond and charisma take them from the pinnacle of their sport into a spiraling world of self-destruction.All This Mayhem is the latest film from the makers of the award-winning documentaries Exit Through The Gift Shop and Senna.”battered bastards of baseball
  7. The Battered Bastards of Baseball by Chapman Way
    “Chapman and Maclain Way’s energetic telling of one of baseball’s great, unheralded stories is as much about independent spirit as it is about the game. When Portland, Oregon, lost its longtime minor-league affiliate, Bing Russell—who briefly played ball professionally before enjoying a successful Hollywood acting career—bought the territory and formed a single-A team to operate outside the confines of major-league baseball. When they took the field in 1973, the Mavericks—the only independent team in America—started with two strikes against them. What did Deputy Clem from Bonanza know about baseball? Or Portland, for that matter? The only thing uniting his players, recruited at open tryouts, was that no other team wanted them. Skeptics agreed that it could never work.But Bing understood a ballplayer’s dreams, and he understood an audience. His quirky, unkempt castoffs won games, and they won fans, shattering minor-league attendance records. Their spirit was contagious, and during their short reign, the Mavericks—a restaurant owner turned manager, left-handed catcher, and blackballed pitcher among them—brought independence back to baseball and embodied what it was all about: the love of the game.”
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  8. Aatsinki: The Story of Arctic Cowboys by Jessica Oreck
    “Brothers Aarne and Lasse Aatsinki are cowboys of the Arctic. Quiet but good natured, dare-devilish but humble, rugged but gentle, and exceptionally knowledgeable when it comes to their little slice of wilderness. These men are what John Wayne wanted to be. The brothers, along with their wives and children, live well north of the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland, where they are the leaders of a collective of traditional reindeer herders who manage the last group of wild reindeer in all of Finland. Aatsinki follows the family for the span of one year, quietly observing their seasonal routines and the difficulties and joys of a life so closely tied to the land.”
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  9. Kids For Cash by Robert May
    Kids For Cash is a riveting look behind the notorious judicial scandal that rocked the nation. Beyond the millions paid and high stakes corruption, Kids For Cash exposes a shocking American secret. In the wake of the shootings at Columbine, a small town celebrates a charismatic judge who is hell-bent on keeping kids in line…until one parent dares to question the motives behind his brand of justice. This real life thriller reveals the untold stories of the masterminds at the center of the scandal and the chilling aftermath of lives destroyed in the process – a stunning emotional roller coaster.”
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  10. Finding Vivian Maier by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel
    “A documentary on the late Vivian Maier, a nanny whose previously unknown cache of 100,000 photographs earned her a posthumous reputation as one the most accomplished street photographers.”
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  11. The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz by Brian Knappenberger
    “Currently titled The Internet’s Own Boy, the new film by Brian Knappenberger, director of We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists, follows internet activist and programming pioneer Aaron Swartz from his teenage emergence on the internet scene and involvement in RSS and Reddit, to his increased interest in political advocacy and the controversial actions he allegedly took in downloading nearly four million academic articles from the online service JSTOR. The film explores Aaron’s arrest, the prosecution’s tactics in bringing the case to trial through the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the CFAA, and the impact a seemingly small hacking gesture had on Aaron’s life and the possible future of information access on the Internet. ”cesars last fast
  12. Cesar’s Last Fast by Richard Ray Perez and Lorena Parlee
    “In 1988, Cesar Chavez embarked on what would be his last act of protest in his remarkable life. Driven in part to pay penance for feeling he had not done enough, Chavez began his “Fast for Life,” a 36-day water-only hunger strike, to draw attention to the horrific effects of unfettered pesticide use on farm workers, their families, and their communities.Using never-before-seen footage of Chavez during his fast and testimony from those closest to him, directors Richard Ray Perez and Lorena Parlee weave together the larger story of Chavez’s life, vision, and legacy. A deeply religious man, Chavez’s moral clarity in organizing and standing with farmworkers at risk of his own life humbled his family, friends, and the world. Cesar’s Last Fast is a moving and definitive portrait of the leader of a people who became an American icon of struggle and freedom.”
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  13. E-Team by Katy Chevigny, Ross Kauffman
    “When atrocities are committed in countries held hostage by ruthless dictators, Human Rights Watch sends in the E-Team (Emergencies Team), a collection of fiercely intelligent individuals hired to document war crimes and report them to the rest of the world. Within this volatile climate, filmmakers Ross Kauffman and Katy Chevigny take us to the frontline in Syria and Libya, where shrapnel, bullet holes, and unmarked graves provide mounting evidence of coordinated attacks conducted by Bashar al-Assad and the now-deceased Muammar Gaddafi. The crimes are rampant, random, and often undocumented, making E-Team’s effort to get information out of the country and into the hands of media outlets and criminal courts all the more necessary.”
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  14. Zero Day by Charles Koppelman
    “A documentary film about Internet security, cybercrime, and cyber-espionage. The filmmakers are embedded with the Security Team at Facebook’s Menlo Park California headquarters with unprecedented fly-on-the-wall access to intrusions, hacks, and criminal activities. We witness hands-on forensics that uncover the perpetrators, and the fascinating, passionate characters who spend every day on the front lines. Cases and investigations can lead anywhere, worldwide. The filmmakers will be there to follow and film it all in real time. The filmmakers are also working with investigative journalist Brian Krebs, New York Times reporter John Markoff, Reuters reporter Joe Menn, and author Misha Glenny.”no-no-a-dockumentary
  15. No No A Dockumentary by Jeff Radice
    “In the 1970s Dock Ellis pitched a no-hitter on LSD and his outspoken style courted conflict and controversy, but his latter years were spent helping others recover from addiction. No No: A Dockumentary weaves a surprising and moving story of a life in and out of the spotlight.”
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  16. The Death of Superman: What Happened? by Jon Schnepp
    “It is the stuff of legend. The failed Tim Burton-directed, Kevin Smith-written, Nicolas Cage-starring Superman movie that almost materialized back in the late ’90s. Famously described in detail on one of Smith’s “Evening With” DVDs, Superman Lives would have taken the Internet by storm and achieved a cult status simply due to the outlandishness of it all.An obsession with the film has slowly grown over the years, especially after photos of Cage in the suit leaked onto the internet, and filmmaker Jon Schnepp took it upon himself to make a documentary about the film. Funded entirely through a Kickstarter campaign, The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? is set to be released sometime in summer 2014.”
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  17. The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden by Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine
    “Darwin meets Hitchcock in this feature-length documentary. The Galapagos Affair is a gripping tale of idealistic dreams gone awry, set in the brutal yet alluring landscape of the Galapagos Islands. Featuring voice-over performances by Cate Blanchett, Diane Kruger, Connie Nielsen, Sebastian Koch, Thomas Kretschmann, Gustaf Skarsgard and Josh Radnor, this film skillfully interweaves an unsolved 1930s murder mystery with stories of present day Galapagos pioneers (a handful of Europeans, Americans and Ecuadoreans who settled idiosyncratically on the Islands between the 1930s and 1960s). As such, it is a parable about the search for paradise — about what happens when a handful of individualists settle on the same small island seeking their own distinct and sometimes clashing notions of Eden.”
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  18. Untitled New York Review of Books Documentary by Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi
    “Since its founding during the New York Times’ newspaper strike of 1963, America’s leading journal of ideas has been a source of intelligent and controversial thinking about the issues of our time: human rights, racial discrimination, the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, the women’s movement, revolution in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. Heading into its second half-century, the magazine still feels as vital as its founding editor, Bob Silvers, and continues to be relevant in today’s digital universe. 
Directed by Martin Scorsese and his frequent documentary collaborator David Tedeschi and produced by Margaret Bodde, Untitled New York Review of Books Documentary, rides the waves of literary, political and cultural history in much the same way as the paper itself. Making use of rare footage and photographs to provide historical context, the film features writers James Baldwin, Susan Sontag, Noam Chomsky and Norman Mailer along with new footage of Joan Didion, Michael Chabon, Mary Beard, and Timothy Garton Ash, giving us a portrait of a magazine that has been in the vanguard of provocative ideas and commentary for over fifty years.”visitors
  19. Visitors by Godfrey Reggio
    “Director Godfrey Reggio reveals humanity’s trance-like relationship with technology, which, when commandeered by extreme emotional states, produces massive effects far beyond the human species.”
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  20. 12 O’Clock Boys by Lotfy Nathan
    “Pug, a young boy growing up on a combative West Baltimore block, finds solace in a group of illegal dirt bike riders known as The 12 O’Clock Boys.”
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– Christopher Clemente


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