Scenes from films from the 2021 DocLands Documentary Film Festival, set for May 7-16.
When Mill Valley Film Festival organizers at the California Film Institute dove into launching the inaugural Doclands documentary film festival four years ago, they did so with the wind of an ever-growing MVFF behind them, as well as the knowledge that documentary filmmaking had taken a quantum leap forward in terms of both quality and popularity.

They could not have, however, anticipated the devastating consequences the COVID-19 crisis would reap the entire scope of filmmaking and in-person screenings. Luckily for Bay Area film lovers, the stalwart team at CFI did what businesses and organizations throughout Mill Valley and Marin did: innovate the heck out of a predicament. 

Much like it did for the 43rd Mill Valley Film Festival in 2020Doclands organizers are leaning on a mix of safe in-person screenings and streaming, available both for individual films and as a pass for the entire festival. 


DocLands boasts a number of hotly anticipated films, including Sausalito author Amy Tan, famous for penning novel-made-film The Joy Luck Club, taking a trip down memory lane on her life and prolific work in Amy Tan: Unintentional Memoir, the final film from the late Fairfax filmmaker James Redford. The 82-minute film reflects on how Tan growing up in Oakland influenced her work in the Bay Area as well as her family’s history. TRAILER HERE.

The festival also features 9to5, a look at the historic intersection of the women’s movement and the labor movement in the 1970s, when secretaries all over the nation decided that they were done making the boss’s coffee and ready to start a revolution. Filmmmakers Julia Reichert & Steven Bognar, who also directed the Oscar-winning documentary American Factory, will also showcase a trio of short films they directed by Reichert and Bognar. They’ll be presented with the DocLands Honors Award, given to filmmakers in recognition of exceptional storytelling within the documentary genre, artists whose films resonate universally, emphasizing our common humanity – no matter the subject.

In Big vs Small, Minna Dufton explores a modern-day fairytale stretching from monster waves in Portugal to the dark stillness of a far-north, frozen Finnish lake, focusing on the power and strength on top of the water and facing demons under it. It’s about trust, it’s about letting go, and it’s about what happens when two elite champion athletes share their extraordinary talents with each other. TRAILER HERE.

With beautiful cinematography and intimate access, Havana Libre offers up an exciting window into the world of a passionate group of young Cubans led by “surf pioneers” Yaya Guerrero and Frank Gonzáles Guerra, who are determined to make a place for surfing in their country’s cultural identity. TRAILER HERE.

With Summer of Soul (Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, co-founder of The Roots, band leader for the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and author, makes his debut as a filmmaker. Thompson presents a powerful and transporting documentary—part music film, part historical record—created around an epic event that celebrated Black history, culture, and fashion. Over the course of six weeks in the summer of 1969, just one hundred miles south of Woodstock, The Harlem Cultural Festival was filmed in Marcus Garvey Park. The footage was never seen and largely forgotten—until now. Summer of Soul shines a light on the importance of history to our spiritual well-being and stands as a testament to the healing power of music during times of unrest, both past and present. The feature includes never-before-seen concert performances by B.B. King, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Stevie Wonder, and more. 

The California Film Institute’s film fest will offer online screenings with prerecorded conversations as well as feature a limited number of in-person showings at the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael. Tickets are $8.50 to $10 per film to stream, $89 to $139 for a streaming pass and $10 to $13 per film for in-person screenings.