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10 Documentaries to Look Forward To in 2012

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Looking forward to 2012, here are the 10 documentaries that I am most eager to see.

These films are either already on the horizon, way off the radar, or a figment of my imagination. Still, I hope to see each of them some day…

10. Shut Up and Play the Hits (Dylan Southern, Will Lovelace)
After hearing that this documentary about LCD Soundsystem front man James Murphy was being featured at Sundance, I started listening to the band. I’ve been hooked ever since. And then a friend told me he was at the show featured in the film, and that it was beyond belief. I’m looking forward to seeing the footage of the two days when the band had that final show at Madison Square Garden. The film premieres at Sundance 2012.

9. Act Up! The Movie (Scott Robbe)
This documentary about the AIDS activist group ACT UP strikes a chord for me, as a former 1980s lefty activist who used to always join the ACT UP contingent of any march. I can attest to the immense power and galvanizing force of the group. The AIDS crisis was the closest my generation came to combating a plague, and these were the people fighting on the frontlines. With Gus Van Sant executive producing, hopefully this film will be making a splash soon (Sundance, 2013, perhaps?). Still in production…

8. Training for the Apocalypse (Rob VanAlkemade)
It’s an intriguing premise: A documentary about survivalists and other doomsday preppers who try to live life as they make provisions for the end of the world. VanAlkemade has an interesting eye for the bizarre (see his What Would Jesus Buy?), which I can appreciate. Still in production…

7. The Queen of Versailles (Lauren Greenfield)
I’m always on the lookout for good films about our current economic crisis and this one is about a family that is constructing the biggest house in America. When their timeshare-fortune disappears, they end up in ruin. Sure, there’s a schadenfreude appeal to this, but let’s try to remain above that. The film is premiering at Sundance 2012.

6. Sole Survivor (Ky Dickens)
There’s something a little icky about a documentary about the sole survivors of catastrophic airplane crashes. The rubbernecking appeal bothers me. And yet, I can’t deny being fascinated by the subject of Dickens’ film, which focuses on George Lamson, who survived a 1985 crash when he was a teenager, and who reaches out to similar survivors of plane crashes. Check out Sole Survivor’s Kickstarter campaign. Still in production…

5. The Penn State Story (TBD)
I actually know of no documentary director working on the story of Jerry Sandusky, the Penn State coach accused of sexually assaulting boys. But this is such an incredible story — of a town, an institution, a community in crisis, boys victimized, the darker shadows of sports, and powerful men who didn’t do the right thing. Sandusky maintains his innocence. ESPN (or that new Sports Illustrated doc series) should get on this, pronto!

4. Untitled WikiLeaks Documentary (Alex Gibney)
Although Gibney appears to be spreading himself awfully thin these days, I’m always interested in what he’s going to set his incisive glare on. And the WikiLeaks story is so hard to get a handle on — I’m looking forward to seeing how he’ll tackle the issue. Gibney may focus on the leaker himself, Bradley Manning, more than organization head Julian Assange. Either way, it’s a cast of complex characters that’ll make for a great film. Still in production…

3. West of Memphis (Amy Berg)
Why the heck did Peter Jackson enlist Berg, director of the excellent Deliver Us from Evil, to make a documentary about the horrific murder of three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas? Why would Jackson, who got wind of the case, thanks to the excellent Paradise Lost docs (directed by Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger), want another documentary made about the subject of the highly questionable conviction of their supposed killers? I’m dying to know. The film is premiering at Sundance 2012.

2. Chimpanzee (Alastair Fothergill, Mark Linfield)
Disneynature returns with another big-budget, beautifully shot documentary about animals being cute and/or in peril, this time focusing on chimps. I’ve really enjoyed the past films in the series, but this one is different: We’re not looking at the grand scale of Earth or Oceans — This film focuses on one particular chimp. And it’s going to thread a narrative arc around that chimp. Is this possible? Will it be offensive? Will it do justice to these amazing, intelligent creatures? The film hits theaters on April 20, 2012.

1. Salinger (Shane Salerno)
Close to two years ago, there was a report that Hollywood screenwriter Salerno had been working on a biopic for five years on J.D. Salinger, the reclusive author. The film is purported to delve into the author of The Catcher in the Rye’s creative process, his personal life and everything in between. Since then, there’ve been dribs and drabs of info, but never a formal release. What about 2012?

What are you looking forward to seeing in 2012? Something from the 2012 Sundance doc crop perhaps?

Tom Roston
Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He comes to us as a ten-year veteran of Premiere magazine, where he was a Senior Editor, and where he wrote the column, Notes from the Dream Factory. Tom was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, GQ, New York, Elle and other publications. Tom's favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi - Godfrey Reggio 2. Hoop Dreams - Steve James 3. The Up series - Michael Apted 4. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff 5. Capturing the Friedmans - Andrew Jarecki
  • JacquelynJoan

    But Can She Play is a 2012 doc about women brass players- definitely looks good!

  • Bao

    Not on the list but I am definitely looking forward to China Heavyweight, Yung Chang’s follow-up to one of the most moving documentaries in recent memory, Up the Yangtze.

  • Yford

    Detropia by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady.

  • Stereogoliath

    I’m very excited for CineMability hitting festivals mid to late 2012 and a special preview and talk will be help about it at the Reel Ability festival in NYC.

  • Jonathan

    HIV infection rates haven’t gone down in nearly 20 years. 

    AIDS activists accomplished nothing except to get media attention to feed their narcissism.  

    • Jivie62225

      Because the behavior hasn’t changed.

      • Jonathan

        Did AIDS activists ever advocate for safer behavior by people at high risk?  

        As far as I can recall, no. 

    • Nancy Orourke

      Are you kidding?? I’m a nurse who 18 years ago took care of dying AIDS patients all the time. Now it’s just a couple a year that die. Most are managed on medications. It’s not a cure, but wow, a med regimen to follow is a lot better than planning a funeral.

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  • Sarah Marshall

    Hey Mr.Roston, this looks like a really cool list to check out–especially “Salinger”! Also, have you heard of “American Bear: An Adventure in the Kindness of Strangers”? It’s a really neat film, I don’t know if it will be coming out this year, but it’s in post production and it’s about two filmmakers who travel across the US to 30 states within 60 days relying on the kindness of strangers for shelter each night. Check it out at, I’m really excited for that one too!

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