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Doc Talk: Medical practice, paternity test, musical inspiration

Members of the staff at Cerrahpaşa Hospital, as seen in "Phases of Matter."Boston Turkish Film Festival

Had Frederick Wiseman’s “Hospital” (1970) wandered into Lars von Trier’s “The Kingdom” (1994-2022) the unlikely result might have resembled Deniz Tortum’s haunting and hypnotic “Phases of Matter” (2020), one of the documentaries at this year’s Boston Turkish Film Festival (April 15-30).

In Cerrahpaşa Hospital in Istanbul a surgeon dissects a cadaver for the instruction of medical students. They have gathered around the demonstration in a dense ring, some chatting and laughing as the doctor pokes away at the specimen. The camera circles around, trying to get a better glimpse, and finally focuses on the unfortunate, gray-fleshed, long-deceased subject as its intestines are pulled out and examined.


The camera wanders off down ominously dim or cheerily sunlit corridors, sometimes alone and sometimes following hospital personnel, and pops into various rooms where patients are being cared for or procedures are taking place.

A doctor rattles off a list to an assistant of arcane sounding medicines for a patient’s treatment and then reads a poem from a book the patient shares with her. Two technicians or doctors (there is no voice-over narrative or other such overt editorial guidance) gossip in the foreground while a child on a table cries out in pain as a syringe is plunged into her abdomen. A boorish surgeon berates his assistants for not knowing the procedure for an ultracision device as the unconscious patient lies spread-eagled on a table.

The scenes are startling, affecting, and sometimes bizarre but they are not random. True to the film’s title, Halleri takes the viewer through the different phases of matter as seen in the hospital setting, from human beings both as healers and sufferers to inanimate devices to the virtual images of tomography and fluoroscopes, and to the simulated humans — a roomful of dummies used for training in the treatment of traumatic injuries. But the film begins and ends with the dead — from the sad cadaver pulled apart for the enlightenment of students to an imam removing a red-shrouded infant from a morgue drawer to provide it with the dignity of final rites.


Go to https://bit.ly/3s1qodM.

The vial in question, from "Future People."discovery+

Extended family

In Tom Wardle’s recent documentary “Three Identical Strangers” (2018), a young man discovers by chance that he has two identical triplet brothers from whom he had been separated as an infant.

A similar but perhaps even more disorienting situation faces a young subject in Michael Rothman’s engrossing and thought-provoking “Future People: The Family of Donor 5114” when he learns that he is one of at least a score of half-siblings sired by the anonymous sperm donor of the title. Rather than recoil from this unsettling realization the donor children embrace it, forming a group on Facebook, tracking down fellow progeny, and setting up regular reunions to meet-and-greet and bond with new members.

Filmed over the course of eight years, the film tracks the progressive impact of this situation on the children and their parents. Many of the siblings (they all look unsettlingly like Tom Hanks) are eager to contact donor 5114, which, according to the rules of the clinic where the specimen was obtained, cannot be attempted until the donor child turns 18. For most this becomes a much-anticipated event, and you have to wonder if they are setting themselves up for disappointment as the donor grows in their imagination into an idealized father figure.


After the initial elation of discovery and newfound kinship, some of the children become troubled. One in particular grows alienated from his single mother, has difficulties in school, and is reluctantly placed in a correctional boarding school. Others compare their own parents to their image of donor 5114 and find them lacking. Suspense grows as the first donor child approaches the age of 18 and one hopes that their expectations and spirits are not crushed.

Shot with compassion, intimate access, and with perhaps too much chirpy music on the soundtrack, “Future People” presents a provocative and affecting look at what the future might hold for family relationships and dynamics.

“Future People: The Family of Donor 5114” can be streamed beginning on April 10 (National Siblings Day!) on discovery+.

Go to discoveryplus.com.

Beverly Glenn-Copeland in 2020.Paul Atwood/New York Times

Lost and found

In 1970 Beverly Glenn-Copeland, a young Black woman from Philadelphia who was living in Toronto, released a self-titled, innovative album of her own songs. Backed by renowned musicians, Glenn-Copeland delivered a unique fusion of jazz, folk, and classical music. “I never heard music like that before,” recalls one of the collaborators, “It was perfection. But nobody got it.”

In 1986 the by-then transgender Glenn-Copeland had discovered electronic music and recorded another ethereal, strikingly original album, “Keyboard Fantasies.” He sold around 50 copies. He didn’t mind the lack of recognition — it was enough just to create and record the songs that came to him seemingly unbidden and live out his pleasant life at home in the woods of Ontario with his family.


But as seen in Posy Dixon’s documentary “Keyboard Fantasies: The Beverly Glenn-Copeland Story” (2019), the world would eventually discover his music. In 2015 a record collector and store owner in Japan contacted him, requesting more copies of the album to sell. Glenn-Copeland complied. The collector contacted him again and again, asking for more until he had none left. In 2016 the album was remastered and released, and Glenn-Copeland went on to record more albums and began touring the world to ardent audiences.

Glenn-Copeland tells his story in the film, not shying from the repression received being openly queer five decades ago but recalling it with equanimity. The film also focuses on him going on a world tour with musicians in their 20s who are awed by him just as he is in awe of their talent, knowledge, enthusiasm, and creativity. His impish, sage-like presence radiates kindness, empathy, and joy — as does his music. Unlike some music documentaries which frustrate viewers by sharing only brief snatches of the subject’s work, Dixon’s presents two complete performances. When you hear them you might well become an ardent fan of Glenn-Copeland yourself.

“Keyboard Fantasies: The Beverly Glenn-Copeland Story” can be streamed via the Wicked Queer Film Festival (April 1-30) until April 18.

Go to https://bit.ly/2OzMUNq.

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