— “John Was Trying to Contact Aliens”: Matthew Killip's 16-minute short, premiering Friday on Netflix, won the jury award for short non-fiction film at the Sundance Film Festival, and it's about as charming as a little movie can be. It's about a man in northern Michigan named John Shepherd who became obsessed with contacting extraterrestrial life. From his youth living with his parents and onward, he fills his home with all manner of computing and radar gear. Mostly he plays DJ, beaming out music — Kraftwerk, Art Blakey, Harmonium — to the cosmos. The twist is that “John Was Trying to Contact Aliens” is about finding love here on Earth. See it if for its tenderness and top-notch beards.
— "The 24th": Kevin Willmott is best known for his screenwriting collaborations with Spike Lee ("Chi-Raq," “BlacKkKlansman,” “Da 5 Bloods”) but he's also a filmmaker in his own right with a strong interest in African-American history. His latest, which Vertical Entertainment will release for digital rental Friday, dramatizes the 1917 Houston riot in which soldiers of the Third Battalion of the all-Black Twenty-fourth United States Infantry Regiment, stationed in segregated Texas, mutinied after harassment by the Houston Police Department. The film is a powerfully relevant tale of service, sacrifice and oppression.
— “Desert One": The latest from famed documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple ("Harlan County, U.S.A.") chronicles the disastrous U.S. rescue mission during the Iran-hostage crisis. Kopple interviews many of the participants in the debacle, including Delta Force soldiers, commanders, hostages and former President Jimmy Carter. “Desert One," a production of the History Channel, opens Friday in virtual cinemas and in some open theaters.
— AP Film Writer Jake Coyle