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Fall documentaries -- it's time to get serious

Fall Sneaks

Films look at AIDS activism, U.S. healthcare and more. On the lighter side, there are works on Diana Vreeland and the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic basketball team.

August 31, 2012|By Mark Olsen, Los Angeles Times
  • Peter Staley in "How to Survive a Plague."
Peter Staley in "How to Survive a Plague." (William Lucas Walker, Sundance…)

Looking at the titles of some of the fall's most noted documentaries, one could get an impression of a world spiraling desperately out of control.

With titles such as "The House I Live In," Eugene Jarecki's Sundance-prize winning examination of the war on drugs opening Oct. 5; "How to Survive a Plague," David France's look at AIDS activism (Sept. 21); "Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare," Matthew Heineman and Susan Froemke's take on U.S. healthcare (Oct. 5); and "Detropia," Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady's exploration of Detroit as a focal point of economic and social change (Oct. 5), this seems a time for serious films on serious subjects.

One could easily frame this as a season of socially conscious docs coming back to the fore.

PHOTOS: 2012 Fall movies sneaks

"It's never gone away," filmmaker Grady said via email on the apparent resurgence of social issue documentaries. "And, in fact, as newspapers continue to dwindle and investigative journalism seems to be evaporating, they more and more are filling in the cracks. Also, every four years [near presidential election times], there seems to be a surge in big issue/social docs. It's a good time to force conversations."

Although "Tears of Gaza," Vibeke Lokkeberg's chronicle of the bombing of Gaza in 2008 and 2009 by the Israeli military (Sept. 21), adds to the upcoming big-issue documentary releases, there are others worth noting that play on the lighter side.

"Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel" (Sept. 21) is a portrait of the fashion editor directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, who is married to Diana Vreeland's grandson, though she never met the subject of her film. It joins other recent docs on the fashion world such as "The September Issue" and "Valentino: The Last Emperor." For sports fans, "The Other Dream Team" (Sept. 28), directed by Marius Markevicius, looks at the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic basketball team, which came to symbolize the country's hard-won independence in unexpectedly winning the bronze medal.

Meanwhile, documentary filmmakers such as Alex Gibney, Liz Garbus, Ken Burns and Amy Berg will all be unveiling films on the fall festival circuit, giving a taste of works for audiences to keep a further eye out for. Regardless of how things pan out as the fall shifts into the year-end awards season, this year's documentaries will be providing a much-needed jolt of bracing reality.

mark.olsen@latimes.com

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