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Fall film festivals, coming to your living room

Opening the 2020 Boston Film Festival is "Paper Spiders" starring Lili Taylor, left, and Stefania LaVie Owen
Opening the 2020 Boston Film Festival is "Paper Spiders" starring Lili Taylor, left, and Stefania LaVie Owenhandout

Two of Boston’s longest-running film festivals, the Boston Film Festival and the Roxbury International Film Festival, will present narrative features, documentaries, and shorts digitally this year, with nearly all screenings followed by virtual discussions with filmmakers.

“It is critical to keep going. We want to support filmmakers who can’t get their films into theaters,” says Robin Dawson, BFF executive director.


The BFF launches its 36th season Sept. 24-27. Opening night offers socially distanced screenings at the Showplace Icon Theatre in the Seaport (theater tickets are $14.50), but all films and post-screening talks are available for virtual viewing. The festival kicks off Thursday at 6:45 p.m. with the US premiere of Christian Taylor’s documentary “The Girl Who Wore Freedom,” about the liberation of France during World War II. The director will participate in a Q&A after the screening. It’s followed at 7:30 p.m. by another US premiere of “Small Town Wisconsin,” about a fun-loving father (David Sullivan), who after losing custody of his 9-year-old son (Cooper J. Friedman) takes the boy for a last wild weekend in Milwaukee that does not go as expected. Director Niels Mueller and cast members will participate in a post-screening conversation.

Also screening Thursday, at 9 p.m., is the US premiere of “Paper Spiders,” a bittersweet coming-of-age story about a high school student (Stefania LaVie Owen) struggling to help her mother (Lili Taylor) whose paranoid delusions are starting to spiral out of control. o joins writers Natalie Shampanier and Inon Shampanier (who also directed the film) for a post-screening discussion.

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The festival screens several timely documentaries including the world premiere of “Beyond Zero,” director Nathan Havey’s profile of Ray Anderson, who built Interface, a successful carpet tile business, and is now a leader in the movement for businesses to adopt environmental strategies to reverse climate change. There will be a post-screening panel with Interface CEO Dan Hendrix, environmentalist Paul Hawken, and others. “Me the People” examines the rise of populism in Western countries with directors Dan Shannon and Isabelle Depelteau joining in a post-screening discussion.

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Baseball fans won’t want to miss “25,” about the life and career of the late Red Sox star outfielder and Lynn native Tony Conigliaro, who was hit in the face by a pitch in 1967, derailing his career. Red Sox greats Rico Petrocelli and Jim Lonborg will join a panel talk after the film.

BFF tickets cost $10 per digital screening or $50 for an all-access pass. Visit www.bostonfilmfestival.org or watch.eventive.org/bostonfilmfestival2020

New England’s largest film festival celebrating people of color from around the globe, the Roxbury International Film Festival, marks its 22nd year Sept. 30-Oct. 5, hosted by the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and ArtsEmerson.

“We are telling stories people are passionate about. This year’s program gives filmmakers the opportunity to share their vision and their voice,” says RIFF’s artistic director, Lisa Simmons.

The festival opens with “The Sit-In: Harry Belafonte Hosts The Tonight Show” (Sept. 30, 5:30 p.m.) with director Yoruba Richen and Gina Belafonte hosting a live post-screening chat. The documentary recounts the week in February 1968 when singer-actor-activist Harry Belafonte guest hosted “The Tonight Show” and conducted interviews with Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy, Aretha Franklin, and many others.

The film is emblematic of the festival’s mix of celebration and activism, says Simmons. That’s true of two short films that screen with “The Sit-In.” “Charles Coe: Man of Letters,” directed by Roberto Mighty, profiles writer and longtime Boston resident Coe. “Betye Saar: Taking Care of Business,” directed by Christine Turner, looks at the Los Angles-based visual artist. Opening night includes a virtual music program with local DJs at 10 p.m. via Zoom.

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Other highlights include director Marvin Choi’s “A Knight’s Tour” (Sept. 30, 8 p.m.), set in a post-apocalyptic world in which a young man is captured by a hermit who has been surviving alone in the mountains for 12 years. Choi and the cast will participate in a live discussion following the screening. “Thee Debauchery Ball” (Oct. 2, 9:30 p.m.), director David Weathersby’s look at Chicago’s Afro-Futuristic, BDSM, fetish-themed House music party and how it has reshaped the Black social scene and challenged the narratives of Black sexuality, will be followed by a virtual dance party.

In collaboration with New Repertory Theatre in Watertown, local screenwriters will have the chance to hear their scripts read by local actors and get professional feedback during RIFF’s “Daily Read” at noon Sept. 30-Oct. 5.

RIFF tickets cost $11-$13 per session, or $125 for an all-access pass. Visit https://www.roxfilmfest.com/films-and-events