fb-pixel Skip to main content

Doc Talk: kid power in Belmont, growing up in Illinois, days of yore in the Yukon

From "Kusasa."
From "Kusasa."Belmont World Film

We are not passing down much of a world to the generations to come, but the young people profiled in three documentaries at the Belmont World Film’s Family Festival (Jan. 15-24) are ready and willing to make the future theirs.

The youngsters in Shane Vermooten’s exuberant “Kusasa” (live Q&A with the director Jan. 24, at 1 p.m.) have a hard lot. They seem doomed to a short life of addiction, crime, and violence growing up in the shantytown of Groendal, South Africa. But a couple of local men, themselves no strangers to the turmoil of the neighborhood, started the Kusasa Stars, a soccer team for local kids that offers them an opportunity to change their lives. The club was a success, and the team was invited to the Youth World Cup Soccer Tournament, in Sweden.


Vermooten focuses on three of the boys, and it is moving to watch them awed by the ordinary amenities of air travel, such as luggage carts and in-flight movies, and overjoyed by the reception given them by the 50,000 in attendance at the stadium. But Vermooten does not shy away from the brutalities of the boys’ lives back home. One of them recalls how he started drinking at the age of 8 and lived a life of crime. Another relates how his father was stabbed to death in an alley, a tragedy that is shown in a re-enactment. Perhaps the most affecting story is about how one of the boys was offered chocolate cake by a stranger. It was poisoned, and the boy spent two months in the hospital. But he recovered and became one of the Kusasa Stars’ best players.

Closer to home in Red Hook, Brooklyn, the fifth-grade class in Atsuko Quirk and Debby Lee Cohen’s “Microplastic Madness” (a live Q&A with the directors Jan. 23, at 4 p.m., will be moderated by WBUR reporter Barbara Moran) takes on the seemingly overwhelming environmental challenge of the title. They contact experts who show them how trillions of minute plastic particles from containers, bags, utensils, and even clothing have permeated the oceans, killing marine life and endangering the world ecosystem. Not only is the product deadly but so is the toxic process of making it out of fossil fuels.


Then these kids investigate their neighborhood, sorting litter from the streets and gathering debris from the beaches. Analyzing this they come up with a workable plan to confront the problem locally, engaging neighbors and political leaders with outreach programs, rallies, and public hearings. This should make many of those adults entrusted with solving these problems hang their heads in shame.

José Adolfo of Peru, one of the subjects of Gilles de Maistre’s “Forward” (available from Jan. 16 at 7 p.m. to Jan. 17 at 7 p.m.), is seen in Stockholm at the beginning of the film, waiting to find out if he is the winner of the 2018 Children’s Climate Prize. For a 13-year-old he has accomplished a lot. He has founded the world’s first bank for schoolchildren; and the requirements for membership are five kilos of waste and 50 cents. Members attend classes on finances and the environment and have access to a co-op store and microloans. So far there are 3,000 accounts.

Other subjects include 11-year-old Khloe in Los Angeles, who has organized a campaign to give bags of food, clothing, and other necessities to the homeless. Ten-year-old Arthur in Cambrai, France, is also helping the homeless though on a more modest scale, selling his paintings to fund handouts of food and clothing. In New Delhi, 11-year-old Heena, who has been homeless, has founded a newspaper to tell the stories of kids on the street. And 12-year-old Aissatou in Guinea is fighting to rescue underage girls from forced marriage. They are just a few of the kids taking charge of a world that has been mismanaged by adults. “Children are always the first victims of poverty, pollution, and violence,” says José. “But today more and more of us are rising up to fight our fate.”


Go to www.belmontworldfilm.org.

Generation ‘Gap’

Nominated for a 2018 best documentary Oscar, Bing Liu’s “Minding the Gap” accomplishes the rare feat of merging acute social observations with intimate human experience. A native of financially depressed Rockford, Ill., Liu spent 12 years filming his life and that of two friends as they come of age and confront the responsibilities and limitations of adulthood in an environment of limited potential. Liu observes with detachment the joyful release of skateboarding and other urban pleasures and the woes of unemployment, addiction, racial identity, family strife, and domestic violence. At the same time, he exposes his own vulnerabilities and critiques the documentary medium itself, undercutting its artifices and assumptions. “What kind of film are we doing now?” one of Liu’s pals asks. “The kind where we pretend you’re not here or the other kind?” A profound, subtle, and stirring debut feature.


“Minding the Gap” arrives on DVD and Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection Jan. 12.

Go to www.criterion.com/films/30515-minding-the-gap.

Freeze frames

Old movies never die. They end up edited together in brilliant collages by Bill Morrison.

But it was a close call for the fragments that make up his masterpiece, “Dawson City: Frozen Time” (2016). They came from a mother lode of old celluloid that had been uncovered in 1978 by a bulldozer digging up a parking lot in the title Yukon town. Morrison came across these cinematic relics decades later and uses them to tell their own story and also to tell the story of Dawson City, which is itself a microcosm of more than a century of North American history and culture. Events and images serendipitously intersect, recur, and reveal their secrets. “Frozen Time” is a rapturous artifact, a meditation on the nature of film and the mystery of time, and a sublime work of art.

Go to www.criterionchannel.com.

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