This summer, superheroes of all shapes and sizes will cram the cineplex, with The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Dark Knight Rises among the buzziest blockbuster releases. But of course, a handful of films featuring real people are proving to be worthy counter-programming to the glut of effects-heavy blockbusters. For instance, three new documentaries have already generated raves at festival debuts earlier this year, and will be screened in theaters this summer. Here's what you should know:
1. Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present (Opened June 14)
(Warning: Trailer NSFW.)
Serbian-born performance artist Marina Abramovic is the subject of Matthew Akers' documentary, which provides a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of — and controversy over — her wildly popular, if enigmatic 2010 Museum of Modern Art exhibit in New York. Abramovic sat motionless at a table for nearly eight hours a day for three months while some 750,000 patrons flocked to MoMA to sit opposite her gaze, alternately weeping, looking confused, or attempting to thwart her concentration. Akers gets unprecedented access to Abramovic as she grapples with the question "Why is this art?" giving viewers "an intimate seat to this wildly democratic — and creepily messianic — spectacle," says Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly.
2. The Queen of Versailles (Opens July 20)
A riveting tale of schadenfraude that seems to dovetail perfectly with the Real Housewives era, The Queen of Versailles profiles billionaire David Siegel and his third wife, Jackie, as their plans to erect a 90,000-square-foot estate modeled after Louis XIV's famed French chateau are ruined by the 2008 global economic collapse. The film begins as a "barbed comedy of manners" depicting the family's ridiculous opulence, says Justin Chang at Variety, but evolves into "an emotionally acute portrait of a marriage and family on the verge of collapse" as Jackie struggles to curb her spending and financial pressures wear David down.
3. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (Opens July 27)
The documentary that won the Jury Prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry introduces uninitiated audiences to the Chinese artist-activist, who was jailed for three months in 2011 over his influential and subversive political actions. The film frames Ai's ascent from cult art figure to the face of China's pro-democracy movement around two of his most popular exhibits: The 2010 sunflower seeds exhibit at London's Tate Modern, and his "So Sorry" installation in Munich to honor the still-unnamed child victims of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. The film is a great explainer of "what all the fuss is about to Americans who don't know his name," says John DeFore at The Hollywood Reporter.