Pass the Remote: DocLands fest serves up adventure and more  

"Skywalkers: A Love Story," screening on DocLands' opening night, isn't for the faint of heart. (Courtesy Netflix)

DocLands, the film festival in San Rafael, scales nerve-jangling heights with its terrific opening night pick, the Netflix nailbiter “Skywalkers: A Love Story.” The cover-your-eyes documentary showcases perilous skyscraper escapades and the romance of Russian couple Angela Nikolau and Ivan Beerkus. (Confession: I have a fear of heights and sweated through it—but loved it.) 

Those who are faint of heart need not fear. The fest, May 2-5, offers up 29 other goodies, including Dianne Whelan’s “500 Days in the Wild” on closing night. It covers her six-year epic journey, hiking and filming the world’s longest trail, the Trans Canada Trail. She’ll be there to talk about it in person on May 4.

This year’s program also sports four world premieres: “From Here/From There (De Aquí/De Allá)”; “I Hope This Helps!” about one man’s attempt to take on artificial intelligence; the Bay Area-set “Make a Circle” and “Not Just a Goof,” about the making of “A Goofy Movie.” All screenings are at the Smith Rafael Center in San Rafael. For tickets ($16 general for most films) and the full program, visit 

We got a chance to preview a few films. Here’s what we recommend: 

“The Strike” details actions taken by inmates of Pelican Bay State Prison in California. (Courtesy DocLands)

“The Strike”: At the time of its celebrated opening in 1989, the Pelican Bay solitary confinement prison in the northern reaches of California was considered by key officials as a model of inspiration and a win for the state in the eyes of then-Gov. George Deukmejian. It turned out to be something much worse. Oakland director Lucas Guilkey and JoeBill Muñoz, formerly of Oakland, explore the controversial prison, showing how people confined there participated in hunger strikes toward changing the prison’s inhumane conditions.  Guilkey and Muñoz talk to all factions: former Pelican Bay inmates, former prison officials and a loved one on the outside advocating for change. It’s a sensational piece of journalism, impeccably vetted and researched. (7:15 p.m. May 4; with Guilkey and Muñoz; the duo also is in the panel discussion “Finding Your Documentary Form: What Comes First” at 10:30 a.m. May 5.) 

The world premiere “From Here/From There (De Aquí/De Allá)” tells the story of Luis Cortes Romero, the first undocumented lawyer to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. (Courtesy DocLands)

“From Here/From There (De Aquí/De Allá)”: Oakland director Marlene “Mo” Morris’ relatively short (just over one hour) documentary isn’t a featherweight. She tells the inspirational Bay Area story of Luis Cortes Romero, an immigration attorney who grew up in Redwood City and became the first undocumented lawyer to argue a case at the U.S. Supreme Court. Creative touches, including animation, lend vitality to this topical feature that particularly resonates in this presidential election year. (7 p.m. May 3; Morris, Romero and producers Jed Riffe and Nicole Solis-Sison plan to attend, and Bay Area rapper Deuce ECLIPSE performs.) 

“Shaking It Up: The Life and Times of Liz Carpenter”: The indefatigable Abby Ginzberg of Berkeley and Christy Carpenter co-directed this fascinating portrait of the intrepid Liz Carpenter (Christy’s mother), a mover and shaker whose brilliant career included being a tenacious reporter, a forward-thinking press secretary for Lady Bird Johnson and an Equal Rights Amendment activist. The film whisks through every facet of Carpenter’s well-lived life and peppers in humorous anecdotes. (My favorite: She was so distracted by her job that she picked up the wrong dog from the family vet.) Such touches add extra sparkle to this tribute to an indomitable person who asked tough questions even when she hung up her reporter hat and championed women’s rights. (Noon May 5 with Ginzberg and Carpenter attending.) 

“Giants Rising”: It would be a shame to watch director Lisa Landers’ gorgeous documentary on a small screen. To fully appreciate the majesty of California’s awe-inspiring, regal redwoods, viewing on an enormous screen is essential. Landers offers striking, meditative scenes of the mighty redwoods and addresses how they’ve been threatened and the need to protect them. (3 p.m. May 4 with Landers and film subjects Rosie Clayburn, Zane Moore and Sarah Bird in attendance; the short “The Fire Poppy” precedes “Giants Rising.”) 

Patricia Moran of San Jose, a leader of California childcare workers, is profiled in “Make a Circle,” which is receiving a world premiere at DocLands. (Courtesy DocLands)

“Make a Circle”: It’s no stretch to say that teachers are woefully underpaid. In this world premiere, Berkeley filmmakers Jen Bradwell and Todd Boekelheide address the wage and benefits inequities facing California day care and preschool workers and administrators. “Make a Circle” shows, rather than tells, the story by dropping in at Berkeley’s All People’s School, Oakland’s Rose’s Day Care and San Jose’s Creative Learning Center. It illustrates interactions between the children and workers, who share their personal stories. The film doesn’t overwhelm with a lot of numbers and stats. The duo wins the trust of subjects, including Patricia Moran in San Jose, Charlotte Guinn in Oakland and Susan Stevenson and Anne Bauer of All People’s School, among others, who reveal intimate details about a complex issue. Best of all, “Make a Circle” indicates the needle is moving in the right direction, even though there’s a need for greater change. (3:30 p.m. May 5, with the directors, producer Rebekah Fergusson and Moran, Guinn and Bauer attending.) 

“Way of the Shepherd”: Anyone who’s hiked, biked or driven in the Berkeley hills knows and appreciates the sight of hundreds of goats chowing down on dry vegetation. But the identity of the goat shepherds remains somewhat of a mystery. Acclaimed Oakland director Matthew Boyd’s gorgeously shot nine-minute short offers information, detailing how Christian Cordova Aliaga, for nine years, tended to the fire-prevention goats. The married Peruvian father of three left his homeland so he could provide for his family. The short is a true beauty to behold. (Noon May 4, with the feature-length “Living With Wolves”; Boyd is slated to attend.)

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