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Confronting and solving problems on screen at GlobeDocs 2020

Boston City Hall, as seen in "City Hall."Zipporah Films

The closing night film of this year’s GlobeDocs festival (Oct. 1-12) could not be more apt: “City Hall,” the latest masterpiece from 90-year-old Frederick Wiseman, one of the world’s greatest documentarians and a local cultural treasure.

Wiseman’s film establishes a theme for this year’s program of 18 features and 17 shorts. It shows how problems can be solved, how people and systems struggle and fail but often persevere and serve those who depend on them. From the feminist pioneers in “9to5: The Story of a Movement” to the teenage survivors of the 2018 Parkland, Fla., shooting in “Us Kids,” they offer hope at a time when we need it most.


Unless otherwise indicated, films are available for streaming Oct. 1-12.

9to5 cofounder Karen Nussbaum, from "9to5: The Story of a Movement."GlobeDocs Film Festival

9TO5: THE STORY OF A MOVEMENT (centerpiece film)

Before it was a movie and a hit song, 9to5 was a movement started in the 1970s by women in Boston. Disgusted by abusive treatment, unfair pay, and unequal opportunity in a workplace dominated by male chauvinists, they took to the streets. Women across the country joined in. Progress was made, conditions improved, but then came President Reagan and an anti-union and anti-feminist backlash.

Though more conventional than their as-it-happened Oscar-winning “American Factory” (2019), Julia Reichert & Steven Bognar’s documentary might be more urgent as the changes that these women fought so hard for are increasingly imperiled.

Available for viewing Oct. 4-8, with a live Q&A Oct. 6 at 6 p.m. with the directors, moderated by Globe reporter Katie Johnston.

A scene from "Aggie."Aubin Pictures


The rich may be different from you and me, and sometimes for the better. Like Agnes “Aggie” Gund, a New York art collector and philanthropist who has used her fortune to support human rights and the arts. At the beginning of the documentary she is selling Roy Lichtenstein’s painting “Masterpiece” for $165 million to establish the Art for Justice Fund to reform the US criminal justice system. Not long afterward the film’s director, Catherine Gund, asks her mother, still shy despite decades of being a pillar of New York culture and a fierce advocate of social justice, what she thinks of the film. She sheepishly says, “I hope that [it] will not be seen by too many people.”


“Aggie” will also be available for streaming via the Coolidge Corner Theatre’s Virtual Screening Room, starting Oct. 9: coolidge.org/films/aggie.

Screenings are followed by a Q&A with the director, moderated by Globe assistant arts editor Christy DeSmith.

Truman Capote, from "The Capote Tapes."Greenwich Entertainment


Like Oscar Wilde, Truman Capote’s greatest work of art might have been himself. He achieved fame with “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1958), confirmed it with “In Cold Blood” (1966), and then wowed New York high society with his legendary 1966 Black and White Ball. For years he worked on “Answered Prayers,” his magnum opus, but never finished it. Instead, it finished him; when an excerpt in Esquire spilled the secrets of high society, its residents cut him off.

Director Ebs Burnough includes tapes of George Plimpton interviewing Capote’s friends and enemies. One of them recalls seeing Capote in his days of decline, describing him as “an aging dwarf with a huge plastic bag . . . full of clanking bottles.” Alcoholic and drug-addicted, Capote died in 1984, at 59.

Screenings are followed by a Q&A with Burnough, moderated by Globe book editor Kate Tuttle.


Mayor Marty Walsh, in "City Hall."Zipporah FIlms

CITY HALL (closing night film)

The wheels of social justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine, or at least one hopes. Frederick Wiseman’s latest work, like his previous documentary, “Ex Libris: New York Public Library” (2017), extends beyond the building of the title to its manifestations city-wide. Much of the film takes place in various conference rooms, where municipal policy is hammered out, scenes punctuated by montages of Boston architecture old and new, including abstract shots of the Brutalist structure of the title. A rhythm grows and culminates in unexpected catharses. From the film emerges an unlikely hero, Mayor Marty Walsh, himself once a hard-luck case suffering from alcoholism, now a humble crusader for social justice and climate responsibility.

Available for streaming Oct. 11, with a live Q&A at noon with Wiseman, moderated by Globe film critic Ty Burr.

Joy Buolamwini in "Coded Bias."GLOBEDOCS FESTIVAL

CODED BIAS (opening night film)

Joy Buolamwini, an MIT Media Lab researcher, was investigating facial-recognition software when she made a surprising discovery — the technology does not register the faces of darker-skinned people, a reflection perhaps of an industry dominated by white males. Despite the bias of these systems, which also threaten the privacy and rights of everyone, governments rely on them for security and surveillance. The filmmaker Shalini Kantayya includes clips from Steven Spielberg’s dystopian “Minority Report” (2002) to illustrate the world we may already be living in. But Buolamwini is a formidable force for change, as her testimony before a congressional hearing demonstrates.

With a live Q&A Oct. 1 at 6 p.m., moderated by Globe managing director Linda Henry.


A scene from "Echoes of the Invisible."GlobeDocs Festival


In this film essay Steve Elkins brings together the stories of several people in quest of physical and spiritual extremes. Among them are Rachel Sussman, a photographer who takes pictures of the planet’s oldest living organisms, including a yucca tree 13,000 years old; Al Arnold, a blind athlete whose goal is to run across Death Valley; and Losang Samten, a Tibetan Buddhist monk who painstakingly creates a huge mandala out of colored sand (spoiler alert — when he finishes it he sweeps it away). Visually stunning and full of astonishments.

Screenings are followed by a Q&A with Elkins, moderated by Globe reporter Billy Baker.

A scene from "Entangled."GlobeDocs Festival


The right whale has dwindled in number to under 400 and is facing extinction. Chief among the threats are the countless lines used by lobster fishermen that thread the Atlantic from New England to Canada. Once entangled, whales almost always suffer a lingering death. But another endangered species, the lobstermen themselves, see their livelihood threatened by regulations that might be imposed to protect the whales.

As he has in his previous documentaries “Sacred Cod” (2016) and “Lobster War” (2018), director David Abel (a Globe reporter) analyzes the dilemma with clarity, evenhandedness, and empathy. But hopes of a resolution have been complicated by politics and the rise of the COVID-19 virus.

Screenings are followed by a Q&A with Abel, moderated by Globe correspondent Peter Keough.

A scene from "Fish & Men."On a Mission Media


The US seafood industry, argue the filmmakers Darby Duffin and Adam Jones, sells the same varieties of fish to consumers unwilling to try anything different. As a result, those species are endangered while unfamiliar, more flavorful fish abound, though with unappealing names like monkfish and dogfish. Compounding this problem, regulators, scientists, and fishermen can’t cooperate, as they do in Norway, a model of a thriving industry. Another solution? The daring chefs who turn disdained fish into delectable dishes, changing consumers’ taste.


Screenings are followed by a Q&A with the directors, moderated by Globe food and travel editor Chris Morris.

Greta Thunberg (front and center) in "I Am Greta."Hulu


When she first appeared on the news in August 2018, sitting alone in front of the Swedish parliament with a handmade sign protesting climate change, 15-year-old Greta Thunberg seemed a figure of heroic pathos. But within a year she had amassed an army of followers, inspired hundreds of thousands to demonstrate, and crossed the Atlantic in a sailing vessel to address the United Nations. There she unleashed her wrath. “This is all wrong!” she says. “I shouldn’t be up here! I should be in school! You come to us young people for hope — how dare you!”

Nathan Grossman’s film shares Thunberg’s struggle firsthand from that initial lonely protest to the present. It’s an intimate portrait of a teenager who would rather live a normal life, but fears that if she doesn’t fight for change it won’t happen.

Screenings are followed by a Q&A with Grossman, moderated by Linda Henry.

A scene from "In Case of Emergency."Kino Lorber

IN CASE OF EMERGENCY (world premiere)

“In Case of Emergency” starts with a nurse, exhausted from dealing with the COVID-19 onslaught, preparing to start another shift in the ER. Then it flashes back to better times, when all that she and her colleagues had to worry about were gunshot wounds, suicidal teenagers, and opioid overdoses. By sharing the wrenching stories of ER personnel who have always been the last resort of millions of poor people without insurance, filmmaker Carolyn Jones shows that the pandemic is not an isolated crisis but a symptom of a health system on the brink of collapse.

Screenings are followed by a Q&A with Jones, moderated by Globe reporter Naomi Martin.

A scene from "The Last Ice."National Geographic


A patch of ice between Canada and Greenland is melting. Countries line up to cash in on the gas and oil deposits, new shipping routes, tourism, and other resources soon to be available. As for the environmental devastation and the destruction of the habitats of 100,000 Inuit, they are collateral damage. But as director Scott Ressler shows in this unsettling documentary, they underestimate the Inuit, who have come together in unprecedented unity to save their way of life, and perhaps the future of the world.

Screenings are followed by a Q&A with Ressler, moderated by Globe correspondent Loren King.

Aldo and Ilmar López-Gavilán, from "Los Hermanos/The Brothers."©2019 Najib Joe Hakim


When 14-year-old Afro-Cuban violinist Ilmar López-Gavilán left for lessons in Moscow and later settled in New York, he didn’t know he’d never live in Cuba again. Except for infrequent reunions he would seldom see his brother Aldo, a piano virtuoso, nor collaborate with him to make music. That is until a brief thaw in US-Cuban relations during the Obama administration which allowed Aldo to visit Ilmar in New York, where they recorded an album together. Marcia Jarmel and Ken Schneider tell the compelling tale of a family disrupted by geopolitics.

Screenings are followed by a Q&A with the directors moderated by Globe “Love Letters” columnist Meredith Goldstein. GlobeDocs patrons are also invited to view the film and join the directors Oct. 4 at 8:30 p.m. in a live After Party Zoom conversation and Q&A. RSVP here. Go to www.hermanosbrothersfilm.info.

A scene from "Mayor."Rosewater Pictures


Musa Hadid, mayor of Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinian National Authority, wants to rebrand the city. He plans a fountain for the city hall grounds and a Christmas tree lighting. All goes well until President Trump visits Jerusalem, declares it to be the capital of Israel, and announces he will move the US embassy there. Soon the streets fill with demonstrators, tear gas, and Israeli soldiers. David Osit’s bittersweet story of hope and disappointment shows a determined leader at the mercy of powers beyond his control.

Screenings are followed by a Q&A with Osit, moderated by Loren King.

A scene from "Meat the Future."GlobeDocs Festival


While attending a birthday party as a 12-year-old in India, Uma Valeti watched chickens butchered for the celebration. Horrified, he wondered what could be done to stop the slaughter. Years later he has come up with a method of creating meat without killing animals by growing it from cell samples. Liz Marshall’s engaging film follows the progress of Valeti’s project from a tiny office to a 70,000-square-foot facility, as improved methods reduce the price of a pound of “clean meat” from $18,000 to $100. Valeti hopes to eliminate the world’s environmentally destructive addiction to livestock, but with increased success comes resistance from an entrenched meat industry.

Screenings are followed by a Q&A with Marshall moderated by Boston Globe business reporter Janelle Nanos.

A scene from "My Rembrandt."GlobeDocs Festival

MY REMBRANDT (US premiere)

In Oeke Hoogendijk’s fascinating documentary rich people like the Baron Eric de Rothschild and Dutch aristocrat Jan Six are bewitched by the beauty of Rembrandt canvases and have the resources to buy and sell them. When the former puts two paintings up for sale, the Rijksmuseum and the Louvre battle to buy them, threatening an international crisis. Six meanwhile thinks he has found two new Rembrandts. His ambition to authenticate and sell them leads to personal conflicts and exposes the daddy issues motivating his obsession.

Screenings are followed by a Q&A with the director, moderated by Globe art critic Murray Whyte.

A scene from "Nasrin."FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP

NASRIN (world premiere)

Nasrin Sotoudeh, the fearless Iranian lawyer in Jeff Kaufman’s rousing, infuriating film, defended victims of the draconian Islamist legal system, with clients ranging from a minor facing the death penalty to women who defy the law requiring them to wear the hijab. The latter cause resulted in Sotoudeh’s 2018 arrest and conviction. She was sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes. The charismatic and resourceful activist’s resolve is unshaken, and her fate is unknown.

Screenings are followed by a Q&A with Kaufman, moderated by Globe editorial page editor Bina Venkataraman.

A scene from "Steelers."GlobeDocs Festival


London’s Kings Cross, the world’s first gay rugby club, was established in 1995. Now they are competing with teams from around the world for the championship. Though they might be the first gay rugby team, they are not the best, and their tough lesbian coach is determined that they win. Eammon Ashton-Atkinson, himself a member of the team but unable to play because of a concussion, made the film to show how the sport transformed the lives of members who have endured abuse and suffered from depression — himself included.

Screenings are followed by a Q&A with Ashton-Atkinson, moderated by Globe assistant sports editor Katie McInerney.

A scene from "Us Kids."Impact


In 2018 17 people were murdered in a mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla. Many of the teenage survivors rallied to engage in a nationwide anti-NRA movement. Kim A. Snyder’s documentary focuses on the trauma and resilience of kids like Samantha Fuentes, gravely wounded during the attack, who gave rousing speeches despite her paralyzing fear that there might be a gunman in the audience. David Hogg, the steely organizer, shook off death threats and smears from right-wing media. They persevered, not just by getting mad, but by sharing their argument for gun control laws. In one scene, confronted by gun-toting counter demonstrators, they talk with them. They may not have changed minds, but they ended up shaking hands.

Screenings are followed by a Q&A with Snyder, moderated by Globe reporter Jenna Russell.

Go to globedocs2020.eventive.org/welcome.

Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.