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Doc Talk

Nantucket Film Festival showcases colorful characters

‘The Pez Outlaw’ and ‘2nd Chance’ are among the docs showing at this year’s festival, which runs June 22-27. Plus: where to watch ‘Syl Johnson: Any Way the Wind Blows.’

A scene from "2nd Chance."Courtesy of Nantucket Film Festival

The field of collectibles can offer a reliable source of income, but as seen in Amy Bandlien Storkel and Bryan Storkel’s shrewd and wacky “The Pez Outlaw” (screens June 23 at 7 p.m.; the director will participate in a Q&A), there are pitfalls as well.

Like many of us, Steve Glew floundered around with various ways of merging what he loved with what could make him a living. He collected cereal boxes and came up with the idea of “playing the coupon system,” ordering hundreds of the free gewgaws and toys offered on the back of the box and then selling them to collectors at conventions. But the cereal companies caught on to his scheme and established a rule limiting each household to only one item.

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Then he discovered the secret world of Pez dispensers and those who loved them. He tracked down a factory in Slovenia that designed and manufactured versions unavailable in the US and bought bags full of them which he slipped by customs and sold to rich collectors at outrageous prices. He fancied himself “The Pez Outlaw” and earned the enmity of the then-CEO of the US office of Pez (who called himself “the Pezident”). Would Glew prevail in his quixotic confrontation with established capitalism? Had he fallen victim to hubris in his quest for Pez supremacy? The Storkels’ dark romp is a tragi-comedy about the limits of free enterprise and the obstinacy of an eccentric genius.

As seen in Ramin Bahrani’s engrossing and surprising “2nd Chance” (screens June 24 at 1 p.m. ; the director will participate in a Q&A), Richard Davis also took a good thing too far. When his Detroit pizzerias went bust in 1969, he responded by inventing a revolutionary new bullet-proof vest and marketing it in his aptly named company called 2nd Chance. To sell his product, he put his own life on the line, donning the vest and shooting himself on camera with a 44 Magnum. Not once, but 192 times.

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Who could doubt such a person’s sincerity? Especially since, as seen in Bahrani’s interviews with him, Davis is such an irrepressible, unfiltered, fast-talking schmoozer? But Bahrani, though sympathetic and amused, is not taken in, and the film follows a convoluted trail of revelations while taking on such issues as the Second Amendment and police violence and showing how even when it comes to saving lives, there is a point of overkill.

Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s “Endangered” (screens June 25 at 11:30 a.m.) is a look at four journalists facing the occupational hazards of economically failing newspapers and right-wing death threats.

In Florida, veteran Miami Herald photographer Carl Juste snaps pictures of a Black Lives Matter demonstration brutally broken up by the police; his photos will serve as evidence contradicting the false police account of their actions. Meanwhile, a hedge fund has bought the paper, and Juste’s employment outlook is grim.

Crossing the country from one Trump campaign rally to the next, Oliver Laughland of the UK’s The Guardian newspaper is frustrated by the intransigent belief in falsehoods and the naked hostility to his presence that he encounters from the MAGA crowd. “You are the enemy of the people!” one supporter of the then president informs him.

Things are worse south of the border. In Mexico City, photojournalist Sashenka Gutierrez notes that many of her colleagues have disappeared or been killed. Nonetheless, she braves tear gas and police batons to cover women demonstrating against the murders of more than 3,600 women in the country every year.

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In Sao Paolo, Brazil, reporter Patricia Campos Mello has the dubious privilege of being singled out by the country’s president, the Trump-like strongman Jair Bolsonaro, for her damning investigation into his campaign irregularities. A flood of online abuse and death threats from his supporters follows. Campos Mello confers on the phone with her father, himself now a legendary crusading journalist, who counsels and praises her.

All in all, it’s a grim picture for those who recognize the need for a free press. On the bright side, the film itself, with its incisive detail, brisk intercutting of stories, and breakneck pace effected by split screens, demonstrates that if print fades, documentary filmmakers will still persist in exposing the truth.

The Nantucket Film Festival runs June 22-27; all the above films screen at the Nantucket Dreamland Theater.

Go to nantucketfilmfestival.org.

Another second chance

If you’ve been listening to any hip-hop music over the past two or three decades, you may be familiar with the riff.

Run-DMC, NWA, Public Enemy, the Wu-Tang Clan, Beastie Boys, Kid Rock, Michael Jackson, Jay Z, Kanye West, and others have all used the piece without crediting or paying the source. As seen in Rob Hatch-Miller’s “Syl Johnson: Any Way the Wind Blows,” the riff is originally from the 1967 song “Different Strokes” by Syl Johnson, a Chicago soul musician who struggled to make it. Unfortunately, he was on the same record label as Al Green, who overshadowed him, and after years of frustration, he gave up the business in the ‘80s to start a fried-fish restaurant chain.

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Johnson, who died in February at 85, had no idea his music was being purloined until one of the samplers, the rapper Boss, sent him a royalty check and a cassette of her recording. Incensed, Johnson enlisted neighborhood kids to check local record stores and paid them $100 for each stolen sample they found. He started suing the rascals and won. They paid up willingly and often gratefully, acknowledging his contribution to music. Since then, the popular reissue record label Numero Group released a Grammy-nominated anthology of Johnson’s early recordings. Justice and art prevailed, and an overlooked talent got deserved recognition.

“Syl Johnson: Any Way the Wind Blows” is available on Amazon, Apple, Google, Vudu, and Vimeo On Demand.

Go to www.syljohnsonmovie.com.

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