The Irvine International Film Festival Offers an Edgy Crop of Docs

The Irvine International Film Festival (IIFF) rolls in a truly unique film lineup every January; last year's programming included more Oscar-nominated features than any other local film fest, with some brilliant indie documentaries that have since vanished to near-obscurity. This year's selection includes some edgier picks that are decidedly more political and vibrant—enjoy them while you can!

Move over, Million Dollar Baby; Natasha Verma's Hardy highlights one female boxer's struggle to be taken seriously in her sport. Young Brooklynite Heather “The Heat” Hardy (seriously, doesn't that name sound like something out of a Mickey Spillane novel?) is a tough, focused fighter who has made a name for herself in the ring with her determination and skill, but her gender has made her the boxing world's punching bag. Hardy doesn't see anything but a championship title in her future, and while her training and persistence have taken her halfway there, it's up to the powers that be in this male-dominated sport to decide how far she'll get. Screens Sun., 7:30 p.m.; also Tues., 1 p.m.

Watching this documentary might come with the sad realization that all those ugly TOMS shoes you've been buying and wearing for years in the name of charity have made little impact at all. At least that's the discussion raised in Poverty, Inc., in which Michael Matheson Miller investigates the measure of good that Western aid companies actually achieve for the people of Africa vs. what they promise to, and the results aren't pretty. African caseworkers explain how efforts from the West to donate money, buy goods or adopt children only serve as surface tactics and are effective on a small scale at best. Independent, strategic aid organizations are about the last hope for the African people, as they look to implement long-term solutions. Screens Mon., 7:15 p.m.

Another short documentary that could only be more delightful if it were longer, Showfolk profiles seven veterans from the Golden Age of Hollywood now in their golden years, all still living (and, in the case of the 100-year-old former Vaudeville actor, still working) with the same sense of childish glee of their youth. Each experienced interesting detours through life that have somehow led to careers in show business; among them are a former screen beauty who dated Richard Nixon back when he was a Democrat, a woman who had a chance encounter with Walt Disney and befriended him at his studio, and a business-savvy movie producer tasked with selling one of the biggest pictures of all time, The Ten Commandments. While “the biz” is a hard one, the showfolk featured by director Ned McNeilage share their wisdom on how to navigate through it. Screens Tues., 5 p.m.

120 DAYS
While the U.S. House of Representatives and President Barack Obama wrestle with how to handle immigration reform, undocumented immigrants living and working in the States continue to worry about being discovered and deported. Director Ted Roach looks at current policy through its effects on one family in 120 Days. After Miguel Cortes, a Mexican entertainer and family man, is arrested (after being pulled over for no cause, according to the film), the court grants him voluntary departure, wherein he must leave his family and country in 120 days—with the possibility of someday being able to return if he gets his papers in order. While the temptation to disappear with his family and change their names looms over his head, it's not the easiest decision to make, especially when both options carry an uncertain future. Screens Wed., 5 p.m.

Against beautiful baroque- and classical-era backdrops that resemble those in Old Master paintings, Kehinde Wiley paints modern-day African-American and Latino subjects in cheekily subversive, glorious, large-size portraits. Jeff Dupre followed Wiley, and through An Economy of Grace, you also can witness his artistic process, whether it's asking working-class women off the street to pose as models or watching his delicate paint strokes transforming the canvas. At less than half an hour, this documentary is infuriatingly short. Screens Thurs., Jan. 22, 4:50 p.m.

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