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There are two transformative documentaries in DWF 2022, which had a long road to the screen, Rewilding, which makes its world premiere appropriately enough on Juneteenth, Sunday, June 19, and My Friend Tommy, which has its world premiere on June 12. Both films started pre-production as far back as 2015. Rewilding follows Anthony Dejesus, a 27-year-old budding Black artist, and former Rikers Island inmate. As he leaves New York City for the first time with rock climbers and wilderness guides Jesse Spiegel (the film’s director) and Vitek Linhart, they are determined to field test a program to take formerly incarcerated men into the wild. Aside from its immersive story, the film captures footage of Kalief Browder, the young Black man who took his own life following years of incarceration without charge and whom Spiegel interviewed as a candidate for the program.

“The filming of Rewilding was a rich experience that bonded us, as we climbed, slept, ate, and lived in a van together,” Spiegel says. “We each had troubled pasts, and our ability to connect over our differences and similarities was truly special. I hope that our story gives a voice to the often-underrepresented experiences of individuals in the criminal justice system and offers a new approach to healing its negative effects with increased access to nature through programs like ours.” Spiegel hopes to develop the successful proof of concept if Rewilding into a series.

Nem Stankovic’s My Friend Tommy is about a different kind of transformation: the romantic and sexual education of a real-life 40-year-old virgin, Tommy Lee. Tommy has never kissed or dated a woman, lives at home with his parents, and exists on an allowance; he doesn’t even have a bank account. But, with the help of his wingman, athlete, and actor Nem Stankovic, Tommy wants to change that. The film follows a cross-continental quest from Toronto to Las Vegas, New York, Los Angeles, and Miami to discover the adulthood Tommy never had, alongside his “wolfpack” of wild, younger friends.

“…a different kind of transformation: the romantic and sexual education of a real-life 40-year-old virgin…”

Initially, My Friend Tommy plays more like a buddy comedy than a documentary. But its slapstick road trip belies the film’s other side: there are dramatic, and often hilarious, twists and turns as an actual person’s life change drastically in real-time. According to Stankovic, 3% of the U.S. population over the age of 25 have never had sex—many not by choice but due to the social or religious constructs they faced when growing up. Tommy’s story is a revealing one from this massive yet quiet minority.

With the success of Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Oscar-nominated Flee, animation has found firm footing in the doc genre. The two techniques combine to transport the viewer into a brave and heroic in Eternal Spring, making its West Coast premiere on Saturday, June 18. Canadian Jason Loftus tells a corker of a story: in March 2002, a state T.V. station in China was hijacked by members of the outlawed spiritual group Falun Gong. Their goal was to counter the government narrative about their practice. In the aftermath, police raids sweep Changchun City, and pre-eminent comic book illustrator Daxiong (Justice League, Star Wars), a Falun Gong practitioner, is forced to flee. Live-action and 3-D animation bring the story back to life. “History has taught Chinese people a lesson—dare stand up to the Party, and you will suffer,” says Daxion. There’s a good reason its most recent screening was at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival.

Two feature selections come to DWF after marquee debuts. First, a 2022 Slamdance Audience Award winner Iron Family, directed by Patrick Longstreth, makes its West Coast premiere on Sunday, July 12. The heartwarming documentary follows Jazmine Faries, a young woman with Down Syndrome, whose fecund imagination—fueled by her obsession with soap operas, Barbie dolls, and Matthew McConaughey—has supported five summers’ worth of stage plays in her hometown of Iron River, a small former mining town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Her brother and co-performer Chad says, “She’s either an incredible genius or has amazing luck.”

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