Part of the thrill of watching a flurry of documentaries is that, seemingly overnight, one becomes an armchair expert on a wide breadth of topics. Catch “American Symphony” and become Grammy winner Jon Batiste’s biggest fan. Watch “Inundation District,” and you’re an authority on long-term Boston shoreline solutions. Take in “Another Body,” and you’ll be lecturing anyone who will listen on the perils of deepfake technology.
In selecting films for the annual GlobeDocs Film Festival, director of programming Lisa Viola explained that she uses a “journalistic eye.”
“When I picture the GlobeDocs audience,” she said, “many of them are Boston Globe subscribers and readers.” So she seeks out films that feel like “an extension of what people read in the paper every day,” as well as a “deeper dive into some of the stories,” she said.
While Viola doesn’t build slates based on overarching themes, she has noticed that common ideas and through-lines emerge nonetheless. After solidifying this year’s lineup, Viola said, she realized that a number of the films involve “people stepping out of their more traditional or confined roles, and taking risks and breaking boundaries.” She cited “The Philadelphia Eleven” about the first female Episcopal priests, “The Space Race” on Black space pioneers, and “Breaking the News,” chronicling the launch of a new reporting outfit, as prime examples.
These and the remainder of the 15 features and 13 shorts that make up this year’s GlobeDocs lineup are presented below, alphabetically.
For more information about films screening at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, Brattle Theatre, or online, visit globe.com/filmfest.
In late 2021, around the same time that musician Jon Batiste received a whopping 11 Grammy nominations, his partner, Suleika Jaouad, learned that her leukemia had returned after a decade in remission. This paradox — of struggle amid success, anxiety amid adventure — is at the heart of Matthew Heineman’s compassionate bio-doc, which marks a departure from the perilous projects Heineman often pursues (see: “Retrograde” which played at GlobeDocs in 2022). Batiste and Jaouad are an amiable, affectionate pair, and their comfort in front of the camera, whether onstage or in the privacy of her hospital room, makes them natural subjects.
Screens Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. A live introduction by cinematographer Thorsten Thielow precedes the film, and a recorded Q&A with director Matthew Heineman follows, moderated by Globe features writer Meredith Goldstein.
Several years ago, a college student suffered a modern waking nightmare: She discovered that pornography featuring her face was circulating online. The videos were deepfakes — digitally manipulated to layer her physiognomy on another woman’s body. Sophie Compton and Reuben Hamlyn’s cogent documentary follows the student as she digs into the disturbing mystery and pursues justice for the violation. Crucially, the filmmakers preserve the student’s anonymity by replacing her face with an actor’s. This cinematic deepfake is at once a powerful reclamation of identity and an eye-opening demonstration of how convincing deepfake technology has become.
Screens virtually. A recorded Q&A with co-director Reuben Hamlyn follows, moderated by Globe assistant arts editor Brooke Hauser.
Adults and children scramble through brush, trying to keep steady on muddy slopes as a night-vision camera captures their desperation and terror. This is a scene out of Madeleine Gavin’s vital documentary, which follows a pastor living in South Korea who helps North Koreans defect from their home country. Alongside political and social commentary, the film tracks two separate escape attempts: one of a teenager hoping to reunite with his mother, and another of a family of five fleeing retribution from the government. The film pairs breathless real-time footage with testimony from defectors to paint a broad picture of life in one of the most repressive countries in the world.
Screens Oct. 28 at 4 p.m. at the Brattle Theatre. A live Q&A with Madeleine Gavin, Rachel Cohen, and Sue Mi Terry follows, moderated by Globe correspondent Natalia Winkelman.
Breaking the News
In early 2017, horrified that Trump won the election, journalist Emily Ramshaw developed the idea for The 19th, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news agency focusing on women. The initiative’s launch ended up coinciding with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which presented a host of challenges. Using real-time interviews and recorded Zoom calls, co-directors Heather Courtney, Princess A. Hairston, and Chelsea Hernandez chart the site’s evolution from scrappy startup to esteemed news hub, all the while casting a clear eye on the newsroom’s internal struggles, including a series of difficult conversations about race and gender.
Screens Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. at the Brattle Theatre. A live Q&A with co-director Chelsea Hernandez follows, moderated by Globe reporter Emma Platoff.
Finding the Money
Maren Poitras gives Modern Monetary Theory (or M.M.T.) its moment in the sun in this pedagogic film that lays out the main tenets of the economic idea — governments can spend money before collecting taxes; the deficit isn’t dangerous — and advocates for their efficacy. Anchored by interviews with Stephanie Kelton, a fierce proponent of M.M.T. and former adviser to Bernie Sanders, the film uses a broad stylistic toolbox to help viewers visualize and understand the complex theory. Prepare for a galvanizing cinematic seminar designed to forevermore liberate Americans of the question: “But how will the government pay for it?”
Screens Oct. 28 at 1 p.m. at the Brattle Theatre. A live Q&A with director Maren Poitras, Stephanie Kelton, and Professor Lua Yuille follows, moderated by Globe business columnist Shirley Leung.
Fire Through Dry Grass
This harrowing documentary centers on disabled residents of a rehabilitation and nursing care center on Roosevelt Island — a small strip of land beside Manhattan — during the early days of the pandemic. Directed by Alexis Neophytides and Andres “Jay” Molina, the film largely consists of cell phone footage shot by Molina and fellow residents of the center, who describe horrific episodes of neglect, confinement, and lodging with COVID-positive patients. Line-drawn animation is overlaid on some of the firsthand footage, adding to the film’s raw, creative power.
Screens virtually. A recorded Q&A with co-directors Alexis Neophytides and Andres “Jay” Molina follows, moderated by Globe health and medical editor Anna Kuchment.
The Highest Standard
The achievement gap between white and Black students in the Boston area has been an urgent issue for decades, and the pandemic only compounded the problem. Director Isara Krieger considers the education disparity by focusing on Beacon Academy, a yearlong program after eighth grade that helps students from underrepresented backgrounds hone their academic skills before applying to prestigious high schools. Balancing empathy with rigor, the film zeroes in on a trio of promising teenagers struggling through their Beacon courses, and then checks in with them several years later to reflect on the formative experience.
Screens Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. A live Q&A with director Isara Krieger, Jessica Estelle Huggins, Makai Murray, and Dr. Akilah Cadet follows, moderated by Globe reporter Deanna Pan.
Boston is a city partially built on landfills, and as rising sea levels result in erosion, storm surges, and extreme high-tide flooding, a number of neighborhoods could become uninhabitable in the near future. Directed by Globe reporter David Abel (and produced by The Boston Globe), this documentary features interviews with residents and experts about the threats to Boston’s shoreline and what the city can do now to contain the damage. The film spotlights the glossy, towering Seaport District, chock-full of new developments that cost billions to build but are at heavy risk of impending climate disaster.
Screens Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. at the Brattle Theatre. A live Q&A with director David Abel and Ted Blanco follows, moderated by Globe correspondent Loren King.
The Last Ecstatic Days
“I am embodied. I am empowered. I am ecstatic.” That was the mantra repeated by Ethan Sisser, a 36-year-old man with terminal brain cancer, as his health declined and his death drew near. But Ethan wasn’t alone: After he started live-streaming his health crisis, people from around the world joined in to follow his story. Scott Kirschenbaum directs this courageous end-of-life chronicle, which overflows with compassion and shows us how to live mindfully while embracing curiosity about what lies beyond.
Screens virtually. A recorded Q&A with director Scott Kirschenbaum follows, moderated by Globe deputy editor for Ideas Kelly Horan.
The Philadelphia Eleven
In Philadelphia in the summer of 1974, 11 women were ordained priests in The Episcopal Church, acting in direct opposition to mandates from diocesan leadership. For two years, the small group of women held firm at the center of one of the most heated controversies in ecclesiastical history, receiving death threats and public vitriol from many who opposed their initiative. Using contemporary interviews with the women and a wealth of archival material, Margo Guernsey’s documentary examines how the women’s actions reveal the power of strategic organizing to elevate voices and effect change, even in the most resistant spaces.
Screens Oct. 29 at 1:30 p.m. at the Brattle Theatre. A live Q&A with director Margo Guernsey, Nikki Bramley, and the Rev. Malia Crawford follows, moderated by Globe reporter Lisa Wangsness.
The Pigeon Tunnel
Errol Morris has long been interested in prominent transgressors (Steve Bannon, Donald Rumsfeld) and what makes them tick. Morris’s newest profile takes on the British spy novelist David Cornwell, better known as John le Carré, whose gripping stories of espionage and betrayal were inspired by his own experiences working for MI5 and MI6. Morris relays le Carré's life in fragments through a series of revealing interviews with the author paired with footage from cinematic adaptations of his work. The film’s title, which it shares with le Carré’s 2016 memoir, refers to an image that haunted the Dorset-born writer all his life: pigeons that alighted on his father’s private club’s roof coop only to be lured through an underpass and emerge as shooting targets.
Screens Oct. 29 at 4 p.m. at the Brattle Theatre. A live Q&A with director Errol Morris follows, moderated by Globe editor in chief Nancy Barnes.
After Louis C.K. was accused of sexual misconduct and then admitted to the actions, he took a step away from the limelight — for a mere nine months. In the years following the allegations, C.K. returned to the stand-up circuit and even won a Grammy. Through interviews with C.K.’s accusers and peers, this documentary from Caroline Suh and Cara Mones explores the events and C.K.’s subsequent comeback, all with an eye toward the culture that allowed these incidents to occur. One damning section of the film looks at how C.K.’s misconduct was an “open secret” in the comedy world for over a decade.
Screens Oct. 27 at 6:30 p.m. at the Brattle Theatre. A live Q&A with co-director Cara Mones follows, moderated by Globe correspondent Natalia Winkelman.
The Space Race
Diego Hurtado de Mendoza and Lisa Cortés’s edifying documentary takes the traditional telling of the mad dash toward outer space and reframes the story to spotlight the Black astronauts and pioneers whose stories are often omitted from history lessons. The film focuses on figures such as Ed Dwight, who was hand-picked to be the first Black NASA astronaut before racism curbed his momentum in the program. Space has long been a symbol of hope and progress, and the film shrewdly draws a line from white gatekeeping at NASA to the Afrofuturism movement and the ongoing fight for racial equity on terra firma and in orbit.
Screens Oct. 28 at 11 a.m. at the Brattle Theatre.
The Stones and Brian Jones
Nick Broomfield, one of Britain’s premiere documentary directors and a seasoned chronicler of embattled musicians, traces the downward spiral of The Rolling Stones’ founder Brian Jones, who formed the band by placing a classified ad. The multi-instrumentalist was key to establishing the group’s rock ‘n’ roll renown, before drug use and self-destructive tendencies led to Jones’s premature death at the age of 27. Broomfield’s film is admiring and melancholy, and the director is upfront about his personal fandom; he even recalls meeting Jones on a train when he was a teenager.
Screens Oct. 27 at 9 p.m. at the Brattle Theatre. A recorded Q&A with director Nick Broomfield follows, moderated by Globe reporter Mark Shanahan.
Welcoming the Embrace
This warming documentary directed by Noah Christofer presents a mini oral history of Black Boston by locals and luminaries who share their memories of the city. The film also tracks the creation and exhibition of The Embrace, the memorial to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King that was unveiled on Boston Common this past January. We hear from the artist Hank Willis Thomas about his vision for the sculpture, which, in its evocation of affection rather than might, serves as a kind of counterbalance to Boston’s cavalcade of Revolutionary War monuments.
Screens virtually. A recorded Q&A with director Noah Christofer and Gregory Ball follows, moderated by Globe deputy managing editor for culture, talent, and development Jeneé Osterheldt.
Young readers mount cogent arguments against banning books in “The ABCs of Book Banning.”
Sculptor Dana King builds a monument to the revolutionary Black Panther Party cofounder in “Alive in Bronze: Huey P. Newton.”
An Ojibwe native aspires to make robotics more accessible in “The Big Idea: Indigenous Robots.”
The verité portrait “Breaking Silence” follows a deaf father and his hearing-abled daughter as she navigates life after incarceration.
Aysha Upchurch is “The Dancing Diplomat,” skipping and leaping through this snapshot of the multi-hyphenate’s work as an artist and educator.
An artist and her mother talk about feet in the charming stop-motion short, “Foot Print Shop.”
“It’s Not Up to Us” untangles the life and work of visual artist Nancy Burson, a pioneer in technology that morphs faces.
Kareem Khubchandani, an associate professor at Tufts University who performs drag as LaWhore Vagistan, discusses his mission and process in “Kareem’s Queer Academia.”
Become immersed in the sprawling works of Roxbury native Rob “ProBlak” Gibbs in “The Mural Master.”
In “Nina & Irena,” a Holocaust survivor tells her grandson about the traumatic loss of her sister.
“Parker” hinges on warm interviews with three generations of a Black family in Kansas City exploring their family legacy.
A Black bookstore in Boston gets its close-up in “Poetry Is Not a Luxury.”
A pair of Icelandic teenagers rescue young puffins by rerouting them away from manmade lights in “Puffling.”