Entertainment value: Low. This film is not meant to be entertaining.
When to watch: When you're ready to be put in your place
Emotional response: Very, very high.
More info: This film won the Grand Jury Award and the Inspiration Award, making it one of the most decorated films at the festival.
2. "The Black Belt"
Summary: The short film explains the mass of DMV closures in Alabama's "Black Belt," which comes into conflict with the state's strict Voter ID laws. Yeah, Alabama has them too. It follows the people who try to justify the law ("we want to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat") and the mobile ID creating unit that travels across the Black Belt trying to combat it.
Entertainment value: High. It's interesting and too short to lose you.
When to watch: When you're trying to burn 15 minutes.
Emotional response: Medium. Would be lower if it didn't hit so close to home.
Summary: The feature profiles some of the few remaining abortion providers in Texas, Mississippi and Alabama as they try to combat the heavy legislation and regulations that have been put into place by state government to effectively ban abortion without actually doing so.
Entertainment value: High. There's lots of action.
When to watch: Get your politically-charged friends together for a movie night.
Emotional response: High. Abortion is a very emotional thing inherently and everyone featured has a breakdown at some point.
More info: The bill in Texas that made abortion care extremely difficult is called "HB2," and the timeliness of that got a lot of laughs in the theater. It's unabashedly left-winged.
4. "Hooligan Sparrow"
Summary: I've always been a fan of girl power movies, but this one follows an extreme, outspoken activist named Sparrow in China. She stands up for the rights of sex workers and young girls in the face of a government that not only disagrees with her but arrests her unjustly and responds to her cries for help with abuse. The filmmaker has a huge role in the film because it was so difficult to even have a camera out on the streets of China, even if this film had a milder message.
Entertainment value: Medium. I think all of the elements shown are important, but the way Sparrow is treated will make you so frustrated you might turn the film off.
When to watch: Any time you want to be proud to be an American.
Emotional response: High.
5. "The Bad Kids"
Summary: Where do kids go once they've been kicked out of public school? The ones in the Mojave Desert — which is a desolate location that makes up for its lack in stuff to do with drugs abuse — go to Black Rock. All that matters there is that you show up and earn the credits you need to get your degree. And the teachers care more than you could ever imagine. It follows three main students in extremely different situations as they navigate the school.
Entertainment value: Very high. It never lost me, and I have the attention span of a squirrel. It's groundbreaking.
When to watch: When you're mad about school or in the mood to think about the children of the future
Emotional response: High. It left me both sad for the children in that situation and excited for the people who get to experience how amazing that school is.
More info: This was the movie that stuck with me after I left the festival. I felt like it had an important message but it wasn't trying to manipulate me. It still has me contemplating academia and the "game" you have to play to escape it, as well as the kindness of the teachers who pour their heart and soul into the place.
Summary: This is not a movie about the Sandy Hook shooting. There is very little talk about the shooter or the situation. It's all about the aftermath in Newton, Connecticut after an act of senseless violence took the lives of dozens of innocent children. It follows the families who lost children as they adjust to new life and campaign to prevent further incidents.
Entertainment value: High. I put down my pen and stopped taking notes so I could listen.
When to watch: Any time, just have your tissues ready.
Emotional response: High, borderline manipulative with a political agenda. You can overlook that, though, when you decide to step outside yourself
7. "Kate Plays Christine"
Summary: We've all seen a powerful, emotional role by an actor that left us impressed. This feature follows Kate as she prepares to play the most dramatic, honest role of her lifetime — as Christine Chubbock, a journalist who shot and killed herself during a live news broadcast. Kate moves to the town Christine lived in and digs into the past of a controversial woman whose past her town has tried desperately to bury.
Entertainment value: Medium. At first, you really want to know more about Christine, but there's a point where you begin to agree with the town — it's time to lay her memory to rest, because she's not a hero.
When to watch: Not alone, and not at a point where you'll be alone soon.
Emotional response: High. It's hard to keep yourself from getting tangled in Kate's emotional protection of the character she's discovering and the dark rabbit hole of emotions she has to enter to be able to play the character.
8. "Very Semi-Serious"
Summary: New Yorker cartoons have been a staple of pop culture for decades. Meet the people responsible for the tiny acts of creative genius as well as the editor who rejects most of them.
Entertainment value: High. It'll have you laughing out loud.
When to watch: When you want to laugh and also learn something.
Emotional response: Medium. It's lighthearted and extremely fun, but you don't think much about it once it's over. Unless, of course, you've always wanted to be a cartoonist. Then it leaves you crushed.
9. "God Knows Where I Am"
Summary: A woman is found dead in a house she doesn't live in. While you think this could be the start to a police procedural, it's exactly the opposite. It's a profile of a troubled woman with bipolar disorder and a commentary on mental health narrated by the people who new the woman and by her own diary entries.
Entertainment value: High. It's like a mystery — you want to know everything there is to know.
When to watch: When you can focus on the movie and not do anything else. It's just so visually stunning, it deserves to be watched on the biggest screen possible.
Emotional response: Medium. It'll make you want to hug your mom.
More info: I love true crime, and that's what I expected this to be, but it was so wrong. It was actually so much better. My only complaint is that it was a little too long to be so visually captivating.
Summary: A family has this habit of adopting weird pets with weird problems and loving them so purely. I don't want to give them away because shock value is part of what makes it so funny and sweet.
Entertainment value: High. It's short and cute.
When to watch: Instead of some silly YouTube video.
Emotional response: Medium. I laughed a lot and it warmed my heart.
More info: Pickle won the Audience Award for best short film, so you know it's got to be worth it.
Summary: This doc weaves excerpts from Professor Dan Ariely's research on lying with testimonies from real liars in the funniest and most entertaining way. It's really wonderful even though a lot of it is filmed at Duke.
Entertainment value: High
When to watch: At an outdoor screening, if possible. It's also great to watch with friends.
Emotional response: Low
More info: I saw it at last year's Film Frame but caught it again at an outdoor screening. It's one of those movies that just sticks with you, but in a lighthearted way.