By the end of 2019, we might have a documentary about the rise of documentaries.
With films devoted to Ruth Bader Ginsburg (“RBG”) and Fred Rogers (“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”) reaping box-office riches, and documentary TV specials about R. Kelly (“Surviving R. Kelly”) and Michael Jackson (“Leaving Neverland”) hugely influencing public opinion, the documentary revolution is upon us!
Still ahead this year are documentaries about the rise of female congresswomen, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; the love story following penguins in Antarctica; the push to erect Satanic monuments outside state capitol buildings; and a character study of enigmatic tycoon John DeLorean.
Here are 13 fact-finding films you’ll be hearing more about later this year, in order of release.
Why it’s worth your time: What has the former chief strategist to President Donald Trump been doing since helping spearhead the so-called “Muslim ban,” getting fired from the Trump administration and departing from Breitbart News last year? “The Brink” gives viewers a fly-on-the-wall look at Steve Bannon’s life, capturing everything from moments of humanity to Bannon’s admiring remarks about the German engineering of Auschwitz concentration camp. “The Brink” premiered earlier this year at Sundance.
Where to see it: In select theaters now.
‘Homecoming: A Film by Beyonce’
Why it’s worth your time: Beyonce’s 2018 Coachella performance has been called historic, breathtaking and glorious. That’s an event worth documenting, and so Beyonce has, with footage showing the work it took to put on a headlining show that honored historically black colleges (which the Greek-looking letters in the “Homecoming” title nod to). The film arrives right in the middle of Ariana Grande’s 2019 Coachalla performances, helping drive Beychella vs Arichella comparisons on social media.
Where to see it: Streaming on Netflix April 17
Disneynature’s film “Penguins” follows a penguin who stands out from the crowd.
Why it’s worth your time: Happy early Earth Day! After “Bears” and “Chimpanzee,” Disneynature’s “Penguins” tells a story about an Adélie penguin named Steve looking to build a nest, find a life partner and start a family, all while escaping killer whales and leopard seals. Penguins, romance, what’s not to love? Ed Helms narrates the groovy-tuned, Antarctica-set doc.
Where to see it: In theaters April 17.
Why it’s worth your time: Is everybody a little bit of a Satanist? Penny Lane’s delightful new documentary might make you think so. The wickedly funny, often heartwarming film introduces members of The Satanic Temple, which is less a religion than it is a political movement dedicated to protecting basic human rights. Preaching tolerance and the separation of church and state, members playfully troll local lawmakers, trying in vain to erect Satanic monuments outside state capitol buildings in Oklahoma and Arkansas, where the Ten Commandments have been displayed.
Where to see it: In select theaters April 17 in New York, April 19 in Los Angeles.
‘Knock Down the House’
Why it’s worth your time: The doc directed by Rachel Lears (“The Hand That Feeds”) premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it won the audience award. “Knock Down” showcases A.O.C.’s grassroots political rise, her connection with her late father and the congressional campaigns of her fellow Democrats Amy Vilela, Cori Bush and Paula Jean Swearengin.
Where to see it: In select theaters and streaming on Netflix May 1.
‘At The Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal’
Why it’s worth your time: There’s more to reveal about the assault scandal that rocked USA Gymnastics. In “At The Heart of Gold,” we get to a full picture of how team doctor Larry Nassar got away with his abuse for years, how many former gymnasts were brainwashed to believe that Nassar was a good guy and how one investigative IndyStar story encouraged a tidal wave of women to finally share their stories. Director Erin Lee Carr’s (“Mommy Dead and Dearest”) film is heartbreaking, aggravating and ultimately empowering.
Where to see it: On HBO May 3, after its Tribeca Film Festival premiere.
‘What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali’
Why it’s worth your time: Ali’s story has been shared onscreen countless times, even via an Oscar-nominated performance by Will Smith. But the boxer and activist’s life is now being told by “Training Day” director Antione Fuqua and producer LeBron James. The new two-part HBO sports film about The Champ will feature recordings of Ali’s voice and previously unseen archival footage. They’re not the only ones working on a documentary about Ali: Ken Burns is also producing an Ali project set to air on PBS in 2021.
Where to see it: “What’s My Name” debuts on HBO May 14 after premiering April 28 at the Tribeca Film Festival.
‘Ask Dr. Ruth’
Why it’s worth your time: Before famed sexologist Dr. Ruth Westheimer talked openly about intercourse on TV, she escaped Nazi Germany and became a single mother working for Planned Parenthood. “Ask Dr. Ruth” tells the story of the German Jewish refugee who’s still answering sex questions at age 90.
Where to see it: Streaming June 1 on Hulu.
‘Framing John DeLorean’
Why it’s worth your time: Of course a movie about the mystifying man behind the “Back to the Future” car should jump back and forward in time. “Framing” does just that, exploring the mind of John DeLorean through archival footage, interviews with relatives and employees and cinematic re-enactments starring Alec Baldwin as DeLorean, with Baldwin getting into the mind of the tycoon.
Where to see it: In select theaters and on demand June 7, after premiering April 30 at Tribeca Film Festival in New York.
‘Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am’
Why it’s worth your time: No time spent with Toni Morrison is wasted. Usually, that means with her books, but with “The Pieces I Am,” the Nobel Prize-winning author is front and center, telling stories about her life and impact, with appearances from famous friends including Oprah and Fran Lebowitz. The film from Timothy Greenfield-Sanders (“The Black List”) should leave longtime fans with a new appreciation for the 88-year-old author, and new admirers with reading to get to.
Where to see it: In select theaters June 21.
‘Mike Wallace Is Here’
Why it’s worth your time: Finally, the famous interrogator becomes the story subject. “60 Minutes” journalist Mike Wallace, who died at 93 in 2012, has his life and career told onscreen through never-before-seen footage from his interview with everyone from Malcom X to Barbara Streisand. At a time when cries of “fake news” are heard ringing above the layoffs of almost 1,000 journalists, it seems time to recount the career of a journalist who strived for truth. The documentary premiered at Sundance.
Where to see it: In select theaters July 26.
Why it’s worth your time: Anton Yelchin was only 27 when he was killed in a freak accident in 2016, but by that time, he had already appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows that ranged from romance (“Like Crazy”) to sci-fi (“Star Trek”) to horror (“Green Room”). Kristen Stewart, Chris Pine, Jennifer Lawrence and J.J. Abrams are among big names who share stories about the soulful, respected actor who read voraciously, was close with his figure-skater mother and inadvertently broke Stewart’s heart. The film premiered at Sundance.
Where to see it: In select theaters Aug. 2 in Los Angeles and Aug. 9 in New York.
‘Cold Case Hammarskjold’
Why it’s worth your time: “Cold Case Hammarskjold” uncovers either a hugely important murder mystery – or an asinine theory. Danish director Mads Brugger (“The Red Chapel”) investigates a case that involves rumors about a United National secretary-general who died in a plane crash in 1961 … or was he killed? The exploration of that question could have serious historical implications if true. “Cold Case” premiered at Sundance.
Where to see it: In select theaters Aug. 16.
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Contributing: Patrick Ryan
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