Your Cheat Sheet for the Newport Beach Film Festival 2017's Great Documentary Series

Remembering Leonard Nimoy
Remembering Leonard Nimoy
Courtesy Newport Beach Film Festival

Programmers of the Newport Beach Film Festival tell us this year's edition received an overwhelming rise in the number of documentaries. Because of that, the crop is NBFF's finest in years. Move over, Michael Moore: there's a new band of storytellers in town, hailing from all over the world. Here are the docs to pencil in your schedule.

Unchained: The Untold Story of Freestyle Motocross. I'm known as Moto Murillo at Weekly World Headquarters for my love of motorcycles and motocross, so Unchained got my you-know-what running. This Josh Brolin-narrated effort covers the early rise of freestyle motocross racing in the '90s before its Redbull-soaked, X-Games glory, as well as the thrills, chills, and spills of pro racers as they defiantly flip and dismount from their rides to the awe of spectators.

Toxic Puzzle. One of the lesser-known silent killers for humans is found in a specific form of bacteria created from climate change and pollution. The bacteria slowly decreases lucidity for people suffering from Alzheimer's and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Bo Landin's Toxic Puzzle is a documentary wrapped in a mystery film, with its lead scientist Paul Cox and his team working to find a cure against the deadly disease-breeding villain.

RiverBlue: Can Fashion Save the Planet? It's enough to make you want to change into a dress recycled out of a potato sack and never go shopping again. David McIlvride and Roger Williams' film looks into the lesser known damage done to Mother Nature courtesy of Old Navy and Gap, as clothing manufacturers pollute rivers and waterways with toxic waste in the daily mass production of garments. Is there hope for us socially conscious but stylish folks? RiverBlue host Mark Angelo shows us the way to sustainable fashion.

Mr. Fish: Cartooning From the Deep End
Mr. Fish: Cartooning From the Deep End
Courtesy Newport Beach Film Fest

Mr. Fish: Cartooning From the Deep End. You either know him or you don't, but Mr. Fish—pen name of Dwayne Booth—created some of the most stirring pieces of political satire since the days of Herblock. Neither liberals nor conservatives are spared from his pencil as he combines images of politicians and pop culture for his dynamic, controversial cartoons. Pablo Bryant's doc peers closer into the life and work of the comic artist and his ongoing struggle to keep up with the changing media.

Windshield: A Vanished Vision. Our Mexican In Chief, Gustavo Arellano, is a big fan of noted architect Richard Neutra, so much so that he gifted yours truly with a book of his works. Elissa Brown's film goes deeper to illuminate viewers on one of the most pivotal projects of Neutra's career. Commissioned by John Nicholas Brown and his wife, Anne, to design their summer home on Fisher's Island, New York, in the 1930s, Neutra's creation was an innovative example of International Style architecture, characterized by its large windows and modernist shapes, making Neutra a leading pioneer in the genre.

Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape. If you've ever felt the joy of receiving a mixtape (or on the flip side, made one for a special someone), this flick is for you. Or, hell, even if you (like me) got frustrated having to record your favorite songs on the radio, still check out Zack Taylor's cinematic ode to cassettes. It features discussions with musicians, nostalgia-philes, historians, authors, and cassette inventor Lou Ottens—in experimental vignette mixtape style—on why, in a society fully advanced into the digital, analog tapes are still so loved and making a comeback today.

Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape
Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape
Courtesy Newport Beach Film Festival

Score: A Film Music Documentary. Ennio Morricone, John Williams, Danny Elfman, Leonard Bernstein, et. al—what would the iconic films we revere today be without their epic musical accompaniments? In the ultimate unification of established film composers, Williams, Elfman, Trent Reznor and Hans Zimmer talk the art of film scores, musical storytelling and how it's changed along with the times.

Man In the Camo Jacket. Russ Kendall looks into the life of beloved Welsh rocker Mike Peters, lead singer of '80s group The Alarm. Despite leading the group to critical success, Peters left in 1991, and would later be diagnosed with lymphoma five years later. Twenty years later, Peters is working on his solo music, at the same time working to spread awareness of the disease with his own charity. The number of big names interviewed for this flick—Billy Corgan, Slim Jim Phantom, Billy Bragg, Martha Quinn, Richard Blade, Glenn Tilbrook and others—shows the breadth of Peters' musical influence.

Little Stones. Emmy-winning director Sophia Kruz travels abroad to follow the lives of four women artists who dance, create and sing in the face of societal oppression in their home countries of Brazil, India, Senegal and Kenya. They provide therapy and artistic solutions for women and young girls in dire need of positivity and courage to fight violence and intolerance around the world.

The Lavender Scare. Decades before "don't ask, don't tell" targeted America's gay and lesbian soldiers, Dwight Eisenhower issued a mandate firing any government employee for being gay, launching a parallel witch hunt to the Red Scare. This look into the Cold War-era times chronicles the effects of the government's gay panic, and how it gave way to early gay rights pioneers challenging subsequent laws.

Remembering Leonard Nimoy. A biography on . . . who else? The beloved Star Trek hero, artist, actor, writer, and totally not the guy who helped you raise your babies and famously disavowed his connection to Star Trek, only to later embrace it (and the Trekkie community) years later. Here's an intimate tribute to the star, directed by David Knight and Julie Nimoy.

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