DocuWeeks turns spotlight on documentaries

Since 1997, the International Documentary Assn. has qualified more than 161 short and feature-length documentaries for Oscar consideration with its DocuWeeks Theatrical Documentary Showcase in Los Angeles and New York. DocuWeeks presentations have earned 17 Oscar nominations, with seven films going on to win the coveted award, including 2008's "Smile Pinki" and 2007's "Taxi to the Dark Side."

The 14th annual DocuWeeks showcase, which screens at the ArcLight Hollywood, as well as the IFC Center in New York, begins Friday and continues through Aug. 19. Each of the 17 feature documentaries and five shorts will screen for one week with several showings each day, thus giving these films the theatrical runs they need to qualify for Academy Award consideration.

This year, the documentaries hail from more than a dozen countries; many have previously screened at Sundance, Tribeca, SXSW and Silverdocs.

Here is a look at five of the films featured at DocuWeeks:

"For Once in My Life"

Jim Bigham and Mark Moormann directed this uplifting documentary about a unique band of singers and musicians from Miami who work at Goodwill Industries making uniforms and American flags and all have some sort of mental or physical disability. Many of their personal stories are heartbreaking, but they still manage to make beautiful music together. The film chronicles their rehearsals for a concert for a convention of mayors.

"Louder Than a Bomb"

Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel, nephew of the late film critic Gene Siskel, produced and directed this fascinating look at the world's largest youth poetry slam in Chicago. The directors hone in on four high school students, including one young woman who writes about her father's abandonment. Their poetry is inspiring, as are their performances.

"Pushing the Elephant"

A heart-wrenching but ultimately uplifting film about Rose Mapendo, a mother of 10 who lost her husband and her home during the ethnic violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Now living with most of her children in Phoenix, she has become a tireless advocate for peace and reconciliation and helps to bring other refugees to America. Mapendo was separated from one of her daughters, Nangabire, when her in-laws decided they wanted the 4-year-old to live and work with them. Thirteen years later, Nangabire flies to Phoenix to be reunited with her mother and siblings.

"Summer Pasture"

A compelling look into the lives of a young nomadic couple during their summer pasture months in the high grasslands of eastern Tibet. Locho and Yama are two herders with a young daughter who are trying to eke out an existence on the same land their ancestors have traversed for centuries. But times are changing and several families are giving up their old ways and moving to the city. Will Locho and Yama stick to traditional ways or will they also give up the land for the city? Lynn True and Nelson Walker directed.

"Sun Come Up"

Jennifer Redfearn directed this short that brings home the horrors of global warming. She tells the story of the Carteret islanders, some 3,000 residents of a remote island in the South Pacific who have lived in an idyllic existence of storytelling, music, dance and fishing without the need of cars or electricity. But every year more and more of the shoreline is eroding, turning this once-lush island into a desert. The people are going hungry, so it's up to a relocation leader and several of the island's young inhabitants to find a new home.

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