Two outstanding documentaries are must-sees at this year’s Global Cinema Film Festival Boston (May 28-30).
Eastern European cable guys receive their long-deserved cinema tribute in Pavel Cuzuioc’s “Please Hold the Line” (2020). The film’s opening images symbolize the daunting task that confronts workers maintaining the telecommunications systems of Moldova, Bulgaria, Romania, and Ukraine. They show a facility that holds a mare’s nest of bundled wires and the labyrinthine banks of a server farm tended by stolid women in blue uniforms. Out back in the alley, piles of discarded cables twist like tumbleweed surmounted by long-defunct payphone booths.
But the real action happens door-to-door as the installers and repairmen head out in their battered vehicles, pull up to hole-in-the-wall, barely-on-the grid residences, and deal with an assortment of technical challenges and eccentric customers.
At one stop the worker can’t suppress laughter as the elderly, digitally illiterate customer laments the lack of decent programming on TV. “It’s all fights and shootings and dead children in dust bins,” she says. “People have gotten so cruel. This is all because of the Internet.” Then she and her friend gossip with bloodthirsty delight about the latest heinous murders in the news.
At another home a cable guy drinks vodka with a gentle, bearded old-timer, who shows him his collection of fossil shark teeth. Then, talking of his new paintings, he admits they have taken a somber turn. He has been thinking lately about the tragic destiny of the native population of North American and the failures of the communist system to aspire to the ideals of Kropotkin’s anarchist philosophy.
Dark, funny, humane, and absurd, Cuzuioc’s gem is a tribute to the great traditions of Eastern European filmmaking.
Léo Mattei and Alex Gohari’s “On the Line” doesn’t offer much in the way of laughs. It takes a look at US residents who have been deported to Mexico despite living most of their lives in the United States, where they maintained jobs and had families. Now they must reinvent themselves in a country where they are truly aliens, finding employment in a strange land and fighting loneliness as they desperately maintain contact with loved ones back home by phone and Internet.
They include Rocio, a small-business owner and grandmother who lived in the United States for 31 years. She was deported despite having a son in the military, serving overseas. Richard Avila is a Vietnam veteran who lived in the United States his whole life before being “repatriated” to Mexico. Sergio is a father and grandfather who was swept up by ICE and taken away. He had been in the United States since he was 3.
They all live in wretched apartments in Tijuana — when Rocio’s daughters visit they are taken aback by her primitive living conditions.
Robert seldom leaves his room because of crime outside. He works from there as a telemarketer, setting up loans for customers in the United States, while drinking beer and watching news and sports broadcasts on TV. Sergio works at telemarketing, too, in a huge phone center where they sell flowers — also to US customers.
Though ostensibly thrown out of the country because they might steal jobs from Americans, Robert and Sergio, like many in their situation, are doing those jobs anyway, in Mexico, because they have been outsourced by US companies. Whoever is profiting by these policies, it is not working-class Americans.
Pogo time by the Potomac
In the 1970s punk rock flourished among nihilistic and dispossessed youth in London, New York, and Los Angeles. It was slow to grow in that nexus of nihilism and dispossession Washington D.C. James June Schneider and Paul Bishow’s “Punk the Capital” traces the steady rise of the movement in the shadow of the halls of power.
In 1976 the city was small, stuffy, provincial, with a majority Black population, not exactly the best breeding grounds for a genre that appeals to disgruntled white kids. But the limitations proved strengths, focusing the scene’s energies and idiosyncrasies, and the result was a distinct and eclectic confluence of influences and inclinations that evolved through the ’70s and into the ’80s.
The filmmakers draw on a wealth of archival footage that includes a clip from a kids’ TV show in which a grade-school interviewer asks Frank Zappa look-alike Kim Kane of the Slickee Boys why the band started (“We wanted to play some wild music,” he explains). Another highlight is a performance by White Boy, a father-son duet in which the former, a print company executive, wears a suit and a wig made from a green toilet seat cover and bellows out obscenities. They are actually quite good.
Among the other DC alumni interviewed are Henry Rollins, later of Black Flag, and the Bad Brains, an all-Black band inspired by Napoleon Hill’s 1959 self-help bestseller “Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude.” They would become the best known and most influential DC punk band until, inevitably, they migrated to New York. A rollicking, weird, and illuminating tour of a little-known musical landscape.
“Punk the Capital” can be streamed via the Brattle Theatre’s Brattlite. Go to www.brattlefilm.org.
As young people prepare to return to classes they might face a greater risk from the plague of gun violence than from COVID-19, thus making Kim Snyder’s documentary “Us Kids” (2020) all the more relevant.
In it, she follows the survivors of the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting, in Parkland, Fla. Seventeen students and faculty members were killed. Those survivors have organized a tour of the country to campaign for gun-control laws and are traveling from city to city delivering their message. Their resilience and dedication are impressive, as is their courage when they are threatened online, stalked on the streets, or picketed by armed demonstrators. Samantha Fuentes, gravely wounded during the attack, gives rousing speeches, despite her fear that there might be a gunman in the audience. David Hogg, one of the organizers, shows aplomb in the face of death threats and smears from right-wing media.
Maybe the most hopeful moments in the film occur when the kids confront those who oppose them and discuss the issues. They end up still disagreeing but shaking hands — a breakthrough in dialogue that doesn’t seem likely now in this time of irrationality and rage.
“Us Kids” can be streamed via the Coolidge Corner Virtual Cinema. Go to coolidge.org.
Peter Keough can be reached at email@example.com.