December 7, 2020

Screen Time: Week of December 7, 2020

From Tommy Oliver's '40 Years a Prisoner.' Courtesy of HBO

Screen Time is your curated weekly guide to excellent documentaries and nonfiction programs that you can watch at home. 

Premiering December 8 on HBO, 40 Years a Prisoner, from Tommy Oliver, chronicles one of the most controversial shootouts in American history: the 1978 police raid on the radical, back-to-nature group MOVE by the Philadelphia Police Department. Using eyewitness accounts and archival footage of the confrontation, the film illuminates the story of a city grappling with racial tension and police brutality with alarming topicality and modern-day relevance. Mike Africa Jr., the son of two MOVE members imprisoned for the death of a police officer that day, has committed his life to finding out the truth about what really happened and fighting for the release of the parents that he has only ever known through prison walls.

Now available on the Austin Film Society website is Diary of A Harlem Family, a short documentary that the great photojournalist Gordon Parks made in conjunction with his landmark photo essay he created for Life Magazine in 1967, A Harlem Family. The essay and film capture a month that Parks spent with the Fontanelle family documenting their daily struggles as Black American citizens.

Premiering December 11 on Netflix, Giving Voice, from Jim Stern and Fernando Villena, follows the emotional journey of six students as they advance through the high-stakes August Wilson Monologue Competition, which celebrates one of America’s greatest playwrights. Every year, thousands of students from 12 cities across the United States perform excerpts from the Pulitzer Prize winner’s work (Fences, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) for a shot to perform on Broadway.

Now streaming on The New York Op-Docs, A Concerto Is a Conversation, from director Ben Proudfoot and director/composer Kris Bowers, spotlights Bowers as he traces the process of breaking into new spaces through generations of sacrifice that came before him, focusing on the story of his grandfather Horace Bowers. As a young man, he left his home in the Jim Crow South, eventually ending up in Los Angeles, where, despite unrelenting discrimination, he and his wife, Alice, made a life as business owners. For Kris Bowers, a rising young composer, he admits, “I’ve been wondering whether or not I’m supposed to be in the spaces that I’m in.”

Premiering December 10 in virtual theaters through on MTV Documentary Films, Finding Yingying, from Jiayan “Jenny” Shi, tells the story of Yingying Zhang, a 26-year-old Chinese student, who came to the US to study. In her detailed and beautiful diaries, the aspiring young scientist and teacher is full of optimism, hoping to also be married and a mother someday. Within weeks of her arrival, Yingying disappears from the campus. Through exclusive access to Yingying’s family and boyfriend, Finding Yingying closely follows their journey as they search to unravel the mystery of her disappearance and seek justice for their daughter while navigating a strange, foreign country. Finding Yingying screened as part of IDA’s Documentary Screening Series. Catch the Q&A with Shi, producers Diane Quon and Brent Huffman and moderator/journalist Rebecca Sun here.

Opening in virtual and in-person theaters on December 11 through Greenwich Entertainment, Assassins, from Ryan White, investigates the audacious murder of the brother of North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un in a crowded Malaysian airport at the hands of two young women who unwittingly find themselves in the middle of a global spy thriller.

Cinema Tropical and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) at New York University present a special online program of recent Mexican documentaries, titled MexDocs, taking place December 10-16. Featuring a slate of four documentaries that have recently made their rounds of the international festival circuit, the program offers a nuanced perspective on contemporary Mexico by delving into the different social, political, and cultural issues currently at play in the country, with a particular emphasis on narratives of womanhood and indigenous resistance.