In the movie world, the big-budget escapist films get most of the attention. But if you really want a good look at the world around you without spending a fortune on air fare, give the documentaries a chance.
The ninth annual Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival, March 17-20, will present more than 70 short and feature-length films from more than 25 countries on six screens at three West County venues, expecting to draw its audience from throughout Northern California.
Of course, reality isn’t always as much easy fun as fiction, but it often can be more unpredictable and inspiring.
“Some of the films are very challenging, and there are some uplifting ones, too,” said Randy Hall, 48, a filmmaker raised in Silicon Valley who settled in Sonoma County in 2006.
He began as a volunteer at the Sebastopol festival and is now in his first year as festival director.
“In the last few years, the documentary has become a mainstream form of storytelling,” Hall said. “It’s all about the stories. You can’t make this stuff up.”
Reluctant to play favorites, Hall did agree nonetheless to name 10 films of particular interest from the festival’s crowded program as a sample of the fare, listed here in the order they’ll be shown:
1. “Drawing the Tiger,” Nepal, 2015, 98 min. An intimate look at a Nepalese family’s daily struggle to survive off subsistence farming, and what happens when their child Shanti gets a charity scholarship to go to school in the capital city. In Nepali with English subtitles. 7 p.m. Friday, March 18. Rialto Cinemas, Sebastopol.
2. “Atlan,” Iran, 2015, 62 min. A colorful look at the horse culture of the Iranian Turkmen and their breathtaking horse races. In Arabic with English subtitles. 5:30 p.m. Saturday, March 19. Rialto Cinemas, Sebastopol.
3. “Of the Sea,” USA, 2015, 85 min. A study of the future of fishing in California, in light of the increasingly threatened fish stock and government regulation. 5:30 p.m. Saturday, March 19. Brent Auditorium, Sebastopol Center for the Arts.
4. “Feelings Are Facts: The Life of Yvonne Rainer,” USA, 2015, 86 min. The life story of the 80-year-old San Francisco choreographer and filmmaker who made contemporary history in 1966 with an unconventional dance solo, came out as lesbian at age 56 and continues to work, at the urging of Mikhail Baryshnikov. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 19. Rialto Cinemas, Sebastopol. 5. “Gazelle: The Love Issue,” Brazil, 2015, 93 min. Paulo, an HIV-positive performance artist from Brazil who is mourning the loss of his partner, is internationally famous for his alter-ego Gazelle and his publication of Gazelland magazine, about the gay nightlife communities in London, New York and Sao Paulo. 1 p.m. Sunday, March 20. Rialto Cinemas, Sebastopol.
6. “Equal Justice Under the Law,” USA, 2015, 3 min. Shot on June 26, 2015, following the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality — and directed by Dan Goldes, who grew up in Sebastopol — this very short film combines footage of President Barack Obama’s speech about the ruling with video of the reaction on the streets of San Francisco. 1 p.m. Sunday, March 20. Rialto Cinemas, Sebastopol.
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7. “Waves of Childhood,” Jordan, 2015, 36 min. Syrian girls living in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan participated in a media workshop and produced a collection of seven short films about their experiences. In Arabic with English subtitles. 1 p.m. Sunday, March 20. Brent Auditorium, Sebastopol Center for the Arts. (Presented with “Nation Without a Homeland” and “District Zero.”)
8. “A Nation Without a Homeland,” Iraq, 2015, 12 min. A short film on Muhammad, a child refugee from Syria whose past remains a mystery. In Arabic with English subtitles. 1 p.m. Sunday, March 20. Brent Auditorium, Sebastopol Center for the Arts.
9. “District Zero,” Spain, 2015, 65 minutes. A portrait of Maamun, who runs a cell phone repair shop at the Za’atari in Jordan, home to many Syrian war refugees. Maamun helps his clients retrieve print photos of their past lives in Syria. In Arabic with English subtitles. 1 p.m. Sunday, March 20. Brent Auditorium, Sebastopol Center for the Arts.
10. “Wastecooking: Make Food, Not Waste,” Australia, 2015, 82 min. With a car that runs on used vegetable oil and a mobile stove, David Gross travels to five European countries, creating gourmet meals using only what others might call garbage. In German with English subtitles. 3:15 p.m. Sunday, March 20. Brent Auditorium, Sebastopol Center for the Arts.
Admission: $10, regular screenings and special programs; $50, day pass; $50, punch card for six regular admission tickets; $250, all-access pass.