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Catch one of the captivating documentaries around town over the holiday break. Pictured L to R: Backyard Wilderness 3D, ¡CUBA!, Liyana.

3 Family-Friendly Documentaries to See Over the Holidays

From Cuba to Africa, to your own backyard, take a real-world adventure over winter break.

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Computer–generated flash and fantastical films fill the theaters this holiday season, some running more than two-hours long. For a charming break in the holiday bustle, check out these family-friendly documentaries playing around town.

Backyard Wilderness

CU South Denver
Ages: All

No matter where you live, but especially in Colorado, there’s a whole world of wilderness right out your back door, whether it’s deer grazing in the garden, raccoons rummaging around at night, or tiny ants scurrying. Backyard Wilderness, a 45-minute 3D documentary focuses on the wonders of nature, and some of its cutest creatures, in communities around the country. The story follows a group of preteen students as they explore the natural world and complete school assignments on the animals that live among them. As the main character explains in the movie, “Our job is to explore, understand, and protect the world around us.”

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The film is cinematically beautiful, with rich images and the cutest animals imaginable, including a sneaky raccoon and ducklings that make their brave entrance into the world to Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’. At just under an hour, it’s engaging enough to keep little ones’ attention, and foster an appreciation of the natural world around them.

Need to Know: CU South Denver, through May 31, 2019. Showtimes through December 31, 2018: 11am, 1pm, and 3pm. Showtimes after January 1, 2019: 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. Tickets up to $17

Liyana

Sie Film Center (Denver), Dairy Arts Center (Boulder)
Ages: 10 and up

Two stories run side-by-side in this magical documentary playing for a limited engagement over the holiday break. One is the tale of a brave young girl named Liyana, who goes on a harrowing quest to save her two young brothers, facing heartbreak, robbers, and even crocodiles along the way. The other is a true story of five orphaned children living in the Kingdom of Eswatini in Africa, who dream up the character of Liyana and her story, drawing from their own past traumas.

In a creative spin on the documentary genre, the film weaves documentary scenes of the children together with stunning animated sequences by Nigerian illustrator and art director Shofela Coker. Most of the film’s more series topics —illness and death of a parent, and a violent robbery—are represented through animation, giving younger audiences a glimpse into the more harrowing parts of the children’s lives without being too frightening. Despite that, the film is probably best for older elementary-age children and up.

Liyana is all at once charming—you can’t help but smile as the children let their creative storytelling juices flow—and poignant—as in a captivating scene where a young boy sits for an HIV test and the minute ticks by as they wait for the results.

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Although just 1 hour and 17 minutes long, Liyana leaves you feeling deeply connected to the children. It’s an uplifting and satisfying alternative to the flashy Hollywood holiday lineup, filled with hope, resilience, and joy. You’ll be hungry to meet the brave character of Liyana once again. Lucky for us, a graphic novel of Liyana’s story is in the works.

Need to Know: Sie Film Center, Denver, through December 27. Dairy Arts Center, Boulder, December 26-30, with a special talk-back with the filmmakers Aaron and Amanda Kopp on December 26. Groups may also contact the filmmakers to host a screening of the film.  

¡CUBA!

Denver Museum of Nature and Science
Ages: All

Colorado families seeking refuge from Colorado’s dark, cold winter days can travel virtually to a tropical dreamland of sandy beaches, turquoise waters and plentiful sunshine via the 2D IMAX movie ¡CUBA!, at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

Granted unprecedented access by the Cuban government, Director Peter Chang illustrates this vibrant country through the eyes of an aspiring prima ballerina, local marine scientists, and famed Havana historian Eusebio Leal Spengler. Their stories help viewers explore Cuba’s colorful streets, journey through its lush tobacco and sugar-cane fields, swim through its pristine coral reefs, and experience the country’s wealth of music, food, and culture, all in just 50 minutes. Learn about Cuba’s history as the gateway to the New World, discover its love of art, music, and dance—particularly an affinity for ballet—and witness the healthiest coral reef in all of the Caribbean. (Fun fact: Even the country’s coral reef can dance. Wait until you see it!)

After watching the movie, delve further into Cuba’s effervescent culture at the museum’s special exhibition, ¡CUBA! (through Jan. 20, 2019). A collaboration with the Cuban National Museum of Natural History, visitors will feel like they’ve entered a real-life plaza in Cuba, complete with a baby-blue, 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air. But visitors beware: The next tickets you may be buying for your family are flights to this Caribbean gem!

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Need to Know: Denver Museum of Nature & Science, through January 23, 2019. Daily Showtimes: 10:30 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 5 p.m. Tickets start at $6 and require a museum admission ticket

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