Doc Fest brings eclectic batch of films this weekend

What’s become a fall tradition as sure as the migration of sandhill cranes continues this weekend with the 11th annual Homer Documentary Film Festival.

“Celebrating over a decade of the best documentaries in our fishing village with a documentary film problem,” is the bumper-sticker slogan Mac Sutton came up with. 

With his parents, Jamie and Lynette Sutton, Mac helps select and run the film festival at the Homer Theatre, starting at 6:15 p.m. today with a gala opening night. The Suttons are so passionate about the film festival — commonly called Doc Fest — that even though they’re selling the theater, a condition of its sale is continuing it.

Doc Fest starts today with James Cameron’s “Deep Sea Challenge” in 3-D, showing at 7:15 p.m. Admission to the gala is free with purchase of a festival pass or $20 general admission and $15 with discounts. The gala night includes grilled reindeer sausages, Lynette Sutton’s vegetarian chili and music by Tim Quinn, Lindianne Sarno and some of Sarno’s music students. Mac Sutton encouraged people to dress up.

“Have some fun, put on your best scarf,” he said.

“Deep Sea Challenge” is one of nine films selected this year. The festival started out with four films, grew to eight and has now settled in at nine. Over the years, Doc Fest has grown to include a mix of documentaries featuring music, one or two notable personalities, a science or nature film, social and political commentary, and history. For this year, no genre dominates.

“It’s probably the most eclectic selection of all time,” Mac Sutton said.

The Suttons pick documentaries by checking out other documentary film festivals like Tribeca, Hot Docs in Toronto and the Los Angeles International Film Festival.

“We talk to the programmers and ask, ‘What was your favorite? What can we not fail to show?’” said Mac Sutton. “Not only are you trying to entertain people, you’re trying to educate.”

Two highly recommended films are “Life Itself,” the story of film critic and writer Roger Ebert, and “The Last Days of Vietnam,” a film by Rory Kennedy — Robert Kennedy’s daughter — about how American diplomats, soldiers and Marines defied orders to rescue South Vietnamese citizens who had been loyal to America.

“I like it because it’s such a well-told story of one of America’s really tragic adventures,” Jamie Sutton said. “The real story is despite instructions to the contrary, Americans did rally to get people out.”

Jamie Sutton also praised “Particle Fever,” about a 40-mile long particle accelerator built to understand the basic elements of the universe. 

“It’s not very often that you get a kind of science thriller,” Jamie Sutton said. “I think it’s very, very cool.”

Mac Sutton said one of his favorite films is “Internet’s Own Boy,” about Internet activist Aaron Swartz, whose aggressive approach to making information accessible got him in legal trouble — and led to him taking his own life.

“Really, he was trying to get people more information,” Mac Sutton said of Swartz. “I think it might be the dark horse to win the Oscar for best documentary.”

“As the movie says kind of practically, there are two perspectives,” Jamie Sutton said of the film. “One is the Internet provides us with access to everything, and the other is, the Internet provides us with access to everything.”

Past Doc Fests have included films about music, like last year’s “Muscle Shoals” and “Twenty Feet From Stardom.” This year is no exception, with “Ain’t No Mouse Music,” about roots music icon Chris Strachwitz, and “Alive Inside,” which shows how music can revitalize elders with Alzheimer’s and dementia. 

“The power of music and how it can ignite memory,” Mac Sutton described it. “The notes of music and the rhythms are ingrained in you from younger years will come back to you again.”

“This Ain’t No Mouse Music” shows how Strachwitz and his Arhoolie Records searched out genuine, roots music from Texas to Appalachia.

“He just carried his recording equipment all over the place, from churches to whorehouses to downtown, guys playing authentic music,” Mac Sutton said of Strachwitz.

Friday through Sunday, films show at 2, 4, 6 and 8 p.m. daily. Doc Fest has been set up so that visitors to Homer can make a weekend of it, Jamie Sutton said. Starting with “This Ain’t No Mouse Music” at 6 p.m. Friday, all nine films can be seen by Sunday night. Most films show two or three times, so from today to next Thursday, people can see films either in the afternoon or evening depending on work and life schedules.

Doc Fest grew out of Jamie Sutton’s love of documentary filmmaking, but it’s a choice that serendipitously has followed a renaissance in documentary film. Mac Sutton compared it to how wine making matures. The more people who work in the field, the better the product.

“You have more famous filmmakers getting involved, which raises the quality not only of the camera work and the editing, but telling the truth and making the truth exciting,” he said.

Like other big documentary film festivals, Homer Doc Fest also has its awards. As in previous years, film goers are invited to fill out comment cards and vote on their favorite films. Awards given are the Forget-Me-Not Audience Award, the Golden Puffin Jury Prize Award and the Eagle Award for best director.

“It’s a legacy,” Mac Sutton said of Homer Doc Fest. “We’re riding that wave and lucky to be sharing it with the Homer community.”

Michael Armstrong can be reached at


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