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Doc Talk: Mobbed up, playing ball, running for his life, COVID’s concealed cost

FBI surveillance images, from "Fear City."Courtesy of Netflix

The movies have loved gangsters almost as much as they’ve loved cowboys. So we’re talking a lot of love. That’s been true of the Silent Era (”Underworld”), Hollywood’s Golden Age (”Angels With Dirty Faces”), its Silver Age (”The Godfather”), right up to now and the streaming age (”The Irishman”).

Martin Scorsese made that organized-crime epic for Netflix. Starting July 22, the platform will be streaming “Fear City: New York vs. the Mafia.” The three-part documentary series — who says gangster pictures have to be fictional? — shows the reality behind the make-believe. Directed by Sam Hobkinson, it looks at the ‘70s and ’80s, with a focus during that period on the “five families” that have dominated the mob in the Big Apple. The Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese, and Luccese Mafia clans flourished and ultimately faltered during the ’70s and ’80s. The story Hobkinson presents is richer, and far more disturbing, than any that Hollywood storytelling has had to offer.


Go to www.netflix.com/title/80218338.

A scene from "The Last Out."Newburyport Documentary Film Festival

Road trip

The Newburyport Documentary Film Festival has joined the long list of film festivals whose response to the COVID-19 outbreak has been to go digital. As a foretaste of this year’s festival, which is to be held in September, the NDFF is streaming “The Last Out” on July 19, at 7 p.m. Directed by Sami Khan and Michael Gassert, the film follows three Cuban baseball players who leave their country for Costa Rica. The plan is that once they’ve established residence there, they’ll be signed to lucrative contracts by US professional teams. To the surprise of no one, perhaps, other than the players themselves and their agent, things turn out to be more complicated than that.

Go to www.nbptdocufest.org.

A scene from "Runner."This Is It Films

Marathon journey

A very different intertwining of athletics and exile is the subject of Bill Gallagher’s film “Runner.” Guor Mading Maker was born in what is now South Sudan. Fleeing the Sudanese civil war, he grew up in the United States and became an elite distance runner — first as a high schooler, in Concord, N.H., then at Iowa State University. Qualifying for the 2012 Olympics as a marathoner, he refused to run for the Sudan team: 28 members of his family had been killed during the conflict. Instead, he was one of four athletes that year allowed to compete under the Olympic flag.


Starting July 17, “Runner” can be streamed via the Coolidge Corner Theatre’s Virtual Screening Room.

Go to coolidge.org/films/runner.

Hidden and hurting

“It feels like we’re slaves,” says an interviewee in “COVID’s Hidden Toll.” The hourlong documentary airs July 21 on PBS’s “Frontline.” That interview subject is representative of the many immigrants and undocumented workers who are particularly threatened by the pandemic. Lacking health insurance and without the resources to survive for even a few weeks without a paycheck, they go to work each day on farms, at meat-packing plants, and other poorly protected job sites. The irony could hardly be more cruel. They go unnoticed even as they do jobs essential to society, jobs which put them more at risk than most of the rest of the population.

Go to www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/covids-hidden-toll.

Mark Feeney can be reached at mark.feeney@globe.com.