Betsy Sharkey’s film pick of the week: DocuWeek at ArcLight


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DocuWeek is truly one of the great perks of living in L.A. On Friday at the ArcLight, Week 2 of the International Documentary Assn.’s showcase begins, with a new round of films heading into their Oscar-qualifying run. They’re an eclectic and exciting bunch, but here are a few of my favorites

‘My Perestroika,’ which I caught months ago on the film festival circuit, is filmmaker Robin Hessman’s remarkably candid look at life in Russia as seen through the eyes of five friends. It begins with their childhood days, follows them through the collapse of the Soviet Union during their teenage years and into the reality of their world today. If you think you understand the Russian experience, you will likely be shaken to the bone by its combination of footage from the subjects’ personal stock of home movies and extensive interviews in more recent times. The film is full of surprises: The frustrations with the government turn out to be not always what you’d expect; their anger at politicians sounds a lot like our own. Smart, funny, insightful and hopeful, they’ll make you want to stay in touch. Maybe Hessman will go back again.

For a chance to watch men get in touch with their more emotional side, there’s nothing quite like the unlikely journey through Finish saunas in ‘Steam of Life.’ Filmmakers Joonas Berghall and Mika Hotakainen took their cameras inside all that heat to talk to ordinary men about their lives. Yes, they are naked, but amid the sweat and steam it’s their hearts and minds that are the most exposed. Their pain laid bare will keep you mesmerized.


Also doing its share of heart tugging is ‘Louder Than a Bomb,’ the uplifting story of the power of high school poetry slams to help break through the hopelessness of poverty for Chicago teens. Hundreds of teenagers compete in the poetry slam every year, as they have since it began in 2001. Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel’s film captures the festival in 2008, following a handful of participants through prep and performance, each searching to find a voice to call his or her own.

These are just three of the many great offerings. And I haven’t even mentioned Week 3 when a whole new raft of films will hit. An incredible Hollywood perk you don’t want to miss. Here’s a complete schedule.

-- Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times film critic