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15 must-see docs to see before summer ends: Val Kilmer, 'Lost Leonardo' and 'Misha and the Wolves'

Patrick Ryan
USA TODAY

Two titans of stage and screen are now the subjects of heart-rending new films.

"Batman Forever" actor Val Kilmer and legendary choreographer Alvin Ailey each get the documentary treatment this month in "Val" and "Ailey," respectively.

"Val" (in theaters and streaming on Amazon Prime now) uses intimate behind-the-scenes video – most of which was shot by Kilmer – to trace the movie star's four-decade career, endearing fans with performances in '80s and '90s classics including "Top Gun," "Willow" and "Tombstone." Co-directed by Leo Scott and Ting Poo, the doc also features emotional new interviews with Kilmer, 61, as he reflects on personal and professional highs and lows, and struggles to regain the full use of his voice following a two-year throat cancer battle. 

'You want it to hurt':Val Kilmer, daughter Mercedes explain why their tearful 'Paydirt' scenes are so emotional

"Top Secret!" star Val Kilmer adds cinematographer to his résumé with "Val," which utilizes home videos from his personal archive.

"Ailey" (in theaters now) is similarly poignant in its reflection on Ailey, who died in 1989 from AIDS-related complications at age 58. The doc revisits the wondrous choreography and activism of the Black gay trailblazer, painting a portrait of a man who was warm and unpretentious yet intensely private. Director Jamila Wignot intercuts the film with breathtaking rehearsal footage of Ailey's dance company preparing for a 60th-anniversary tribute to him in 2018. 

"Val" and "Ailey" are two of the many real-life stories coming to the big and small screen this summer. From music to mysteries to a lonely whale, here are all the docs that should be on your radar: 

Dancer/choreographer Alvin Ailey, left, with dancers in a still from new documentary "Ailey."

'Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)'

Questlove revives 1969's long-forgotten Harlem Cultural Festival in this Sundance award-winning concert doc, featuring performances from icons Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder and The 5th Dimension. (Now in theaters and streaming on Hulu.) 

Deep dive:How Questlove turned a forgotten music fest into 2021’s most ‘compelling’ documentary

'Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain' 

The TV host's life and 2018 suicide are explored in Morgan Neville's controversial new documentary, which uses artificial intelligence technology to recreate Bourdain's voice and opts not to interview his last girlfriend, actress Asia Argento. (Now in theaters.) 

'The Hidden Life of Trees' 

Based on forester Peter Wohlleben's 2015 book, which posits that trees are actually social beings with families and ways of communicating amongst each other. (Now in theaters.) 

'The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52' 

Leonardo DiCaprio executive produces this fascinating look at the so-called "52 Hertz Whale," a creature said to live alone in the Pacific Ocean and emit a one-of-a-kind frequency that other whales can't hear. (Now in theaters and on video on demand platforms.) 

'Pray Away' 

Continuing his push to bring LGBTQ stories to Netflix, Ryan Murphy backs this powerful documentary about conversion therapy and former leaders of the "pray the gay away" movement. (Streaming on Netflix.) 

'Bring Your Own Brigade' 

A firsthand look at the history and heroism behind California wildfires including 2018's Camp Fire, still the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in state history. (In theaters now and streaming on Paramount+ Aug. 20.) 

'Misha and the Wolves' 

A Holocaust survivor's stunning tale of survival is more complicated than it seems in this twisty, thought-provoking documentary out of Sundance. (Streaming on Netflix .) 

'Homeroom' 

A year in the life of Oakland, California, high school students, following in real time as they navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and protests sparked by George Floyd's murder. (In theaters and streaming on Hulu.) 

'The Lost Leonardo'

A stranger-than-fiction story about the most expensive painting ever sold: the Salvator Mundi, a disputed work thought to be the lost art of Leonardo da Vinci that auctioned for $450 million in 2017. (In select theaters now.)

'Not Going Quietly' 

This year's Audience Award winner at the South By Southwest festival chronicles the efforts of healthcare activist Ady Barkan, who was diagnosed with the degenerative disease ALS at age 32. (In select theaters now.) 

'Missing in Brooks County' 

Two families search for their loved ones who went missing after crossing into the U.S. from Mexico in this sobering dive into the border humanitarian crisis. (In select theaters Friday.) 

'The Outsider' 

A window into the years long battle to make the National 9/11 Museum at Ground Zero, which opened in New York in 2014. (In select theaters and virtual cinemas Friday.) 

'On Broadway' 

As the Great White Way prepares to reopen, filmmaker Oren Jacoby looks back at the shows that have defined America's theater capital, featuring interviews and performances from Lin-Manuel Miranda, Viola Davis, James Earl Jones and Helen Mirren. (In select theaters.)