Skip to main content

Screen Time: Week of April 5, 2021

By Tom White

From Ursula Liang's 'Down a Dark Stairwell.' Courtesy of 'Independent Lens.'

Screen Time is your curated weekly guide to excellent documentaries and nonfiction programs that you can watch at home. 

Premiering April 12 on Independent Lens, Ursula Liang’s Down a Dark Stairwell tells the story of the tragic shooting in Brooklyn of Akai Gurley, an innocent Black man, and the trial of a Chinese American police officer, Peter Liang, who pulled the trigger. The documentary illuminates the experiences of two marginalized communities and their struggles against the racial imbalances of the criminal justice system.

The final episode of Otherly, the Instagram series from POV and the National Film Board of Canada, comes from filmmaker Jackie! Zhou: FaceTime, which aims to explore the intimacy and power of family—both biological and chosen.

Presented by Points North and Doha Debates, the newly launched online series Solutions Cinema, hosted by former IDA Board President Marjan Safinia, will showcase throughout the month of April a series of award-winning documentaries followed by weekly interactive summits that explore story-driven strategies for social change with filmmakers, film protagonists and special guests. Part I of the series, running April 1-10, will feature the following films: What Is Democracy? (Astra Taylor); Hamtramck, USA (Razi Jafri, Justin Feltman); (Un)divided (Paul Raila); and Artea: Envisioning a World Without Borders (Hibai Arbide Aza, Alcaro Barrantes).

The featured filmmaker on this month is Kazuhiro Soda. This Peabody Award-winner from Japan imposes his own rules on himself regarding his observational practice, thereby minimizing preconceptions and enabling unexpected discoveries. His body of work has also earned him the Marek Nowicki Lifetime Achievement Prize awarded by the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights. 

Premiering April 13 on HBO, Our Towns, the latest from filmmakers Steven Ascher and Jeanne Jordan, takes viewers on a tour of selected small cities and towns across America, revealing how civic and economic reinvention has fostered a sense of community engagement and change. Based on the bestselling book Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America, by journalists James and Deborah Fallows, the documentary follows the journalists as they revisit  San Bernardino, CA; Sioux Falls, SD; Columbus, MS; Eastport, ME; Charleston, WV; and Bend, OR, and introduce us to a wide range of civic leaders, immigrants, educators, environmentalists, artists, students and more.

Premiering April 9 on American Masters, Oliver Sacks: His Own Life, directed by Ric Burns, explores the life and work of the legendary neurologist and bestselling storyteller, as he shares intimate details of his battles with drug addiction, homophobia and a medical establishment that accepted his work only decades after the fact.