Now in its fourth year, the RISE Film Festival features screenings showcasing major films before they are available in wide release. RISE19 featured three incredible films and following a screening of each, filmmakers, actors and other experts discussed the big questions these films ask, the impact they have on viewers and the lessons we can take away from the stories being told.

ALIVE is one of the most inspirational and life-affirming films of the year. It celebrates the indomitable nature of the brave women and men who serve in America’s military and inspires all of us to rise above every circumstance in pursuit of our dreams. During the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, an unprecedented number of injured American soldiers began returning home and looking for ways to cope with their new realities. This moving documentary follows a diverse group of five veterans with life-altering injuries who must heal both physically and emotionally from their battle wounds. Audiences will witness them coming to terms with their new identities in one of the most triumphant and awe-inspiring ways: through competitive sports.

Showcasing the true resiliency of the human spirit, ALIVE captures these veterans’ battles through pain, trauma and loss to rediscover their own strength and the strength of a supportive community. As adaptive athletes, they show us what it truly means to be heroes long after they come home. You will leave this film convinced you can live your best life now—no matter what.

Director: Stephanie Soechtig | Producers: Stephanie Soechtig and Kristin Lazure, ATLAS FILMS

Note: The first few minutes of this film include battle images and sounds that some viewers may find disturbing. 

Clemency new poster mockup v5_approved

Years of carrying out death row executions have taken a toll on prison warden Bernadine Williams (Alfre Woodard). As she prepares to execute another inmate, Bernadine must confront the psychological and emotional demons her job creates, ultimately connecting her to the man she is sanctioned to kill. A quietly powerful film directed by Chinonye Chukwu, Clemency forces an unflinching look at capital punishment in America. Winner of the Sundance Film Festival’s coveted Grand Jury Prize, The New York Times says, it’s “a standout.” The Hollywood Reporter calls out the “towering performance of Woodard, which ranks among the best of this fine actor's career,” adding, “This is a superbly crafted film.”

Among its historic accomplishments, Clemency marks the first time an African-American female director has been awarded the Sundance Grand Jury Prize. Also starring Wendell Pierce (“The Wire”), Aldis Hodge (Hidden Figures), Richard Schiff (“The West Wing”), Danielle Brooks (“Orange Is the New Black”) and Michael O’Neill (Dallas Buyers Club), the characters movingly portray what treatment court practitioners understand at a deep level: the heavy emotional burden often borne by those who work in the justice system. This incredible, provocative film leaves audiences riveted to their seats and questioning what they think they know about American criminal justice.

Director: Chinonye Chukwu

A NEON release. In theaters December 27. Trailer is not yet available.

They risked their lives for their country. Now they're on the front lines of a new battlefield: the courtroom. While the vast majority of veterans return from war healthy and quickly become valuable assets to their communities, Those Who Serve documents the journeys of three psychologically wounded American combat veterans who’ve committed crimes and are now struggling to find a just outcome in the judicial system. Interweaving the compelling and deeply personal stories of Rick, Mark and Tony, this documentary gives viewers unprecedented access to real-life courtroom dramas that take painful, intimate, sometimes hopeful and sometimes sobering turns.

Emmy-award winning producer/director Jeff Werner’s documentary aims to raise awareness of the struggles faced by military veterans returning to civilian life and the complexity of American society’s response when the return is more difficult than expected. With heart and candor, Those Who Serve offers insights into the tools at the disposal of the judicial system and treatment programs that might prevent veterans from becoming involved in the justice system in the first place.

Director: Jeff Werner | Producers: Jeff Werner and Kenneth A. Carlson

Note: This documentary and its trailer contain intense, battle-related content throughout and potentially disturbing references to crime scenes and acts of violence.