Pass the Remote: Documentaries shine light on the world, a look at José Neto, and more

Strike up the band and fire up the remotes. “River City Drumbeat” is a four-star documentary co-directed by a San Francisco filmmaker. (Photo by Juan Castñeda, courtesy of Owsley Brown Presents)

Two of 2020’s best documentaries — one that’s essential for Black Lives Matter viewing — begin streaming Friday through various virtual platforms.

“River City Drumbeat”: In what’s one of the most inspiring documentaries of the year, San Francisco filmmaker Anne Flatté and Marlon Johnson take us to West Louisville, Kentucky,  to observe the River City youth drum corps, founded by Edward White and his late wife, Zambia Nkrumah. The filmmakers spend time with the leaders of this band as well as the Black youths playing the instruments, created from a variety of cast-off items. What emerges is an indie movie miracle, a reminder that there is kindness and compassion and community in this world, and that by offering a place to raise confidence and foster a desire for education, you can make this a better place to live. (Starts streaming virtually on Aug. 7 at

Drakes Beach is just one of the areas a group of advocates has protected. “Rebels with a Cause” follows intrepid folks pledging to save Northern California’s land. (Photo by Lou Wienert, courtesy of “Rebels with a Cause”)

“Rebels with a Cause”: Whenever you journey through all that beautiful, unspoiled Northern California coastlands, pay respects to the valiant advocates vigilantly protecting them.  The Oscar-winning Bolanis resident Frances McDormand provides the narration of this informative and engrossing documentary from the Bay Area’s Nancy Kelly, director of the feminist Western a “Thousand Pieces of Gold.” This award-winning 2013 documentary celebrates the tenacity of the committed few who fought and/or continue to fend off developers after mighty chunks of land, and provides historical context to this enduring battle. (Starts streaming virtually Aug. 7 at

“The Man Behind the White Guitar”: Music lovers can find a virtual pick of documentaries about noteworthy musicians in the Christopher Smith Rafael Film Center collection. In this award-winning documentary, Fairfax resident José Neto’s unique guitar playing and his life in Brazil and beyond. The film also covers Neto’s creative associations with Steve Winwood and Brazil’s Flora Purim, among others. A virtual Q&A is planned at 7 p.m., Aug. 9. (Available to start streaming Aug. 7 at

“A Thousand Cuts” is a riveting documentary on the resiliency of journalist Maria Reesa. (Image courtesy of Frontline/PBS)

“A Thousand Cuts”: While this excellent, topical documentary doesn’t have Bay Area ties per se, its urgent message needs to be heard everywhere. Ramona S. Diaz tells the gripping and shocking true story about the vulgar presidency of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte; his abusive, violent reign and the brave journalist Maria Reesa who puts her freedom on the line to tell the truth. Reesa was Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2018, and after watching this explosive documentary you’ll agree that she more than deserves it, and more protection. (Starts streaming virtually Aug. 7 at and and; virtual Q&A is also set for 8 a.m. Aug. 9)

“Sea of Shadows” is a standout in the International Ocean Film Festival lineup, which runs virtually through Sunday. (Image courtesy of National Geographic)

“Sea of Shadows”: You still have time to dip your toe into the virtual 17th International Ocean Festival before it wraps up Aug 9. If you’re on the lookout for an intense, action-packed documentary, stream this 2019 National Geographic documentary about the dwindling population of the totoaba fish, a victim of illegal net fishing, in the Sea of Cortez. The expiration date of these rare fish is fast approaching and this advocacy documentary urges us to take action. (To rent it, visit and to check out the entire program, visit

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