A thought-provoking GlobeDocs Film Festival lineup invites engagement
Seemingly insoluble problems and unlikely solutions dominate the feature-length entries in the latest GlobeDocs Film Festival that begins on Wednesday.
That’s no accident.
Now in its third year, the festival, which enlists journalists to moderate insightful conversations keyed to each of the films, is part of HubWeek, a multiplatform, multimedia celebration of “the intersections of art, science, and technology.” HubWeek was founded by The Boston Globe, Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In previous years, the film festival has featured such acclaimed documentaries as “Tower” (2016), Keith Maitland’s rotoscoped documentary about the 1966 University of Texas shooting (winner of the Boston Society of Film Critics award for best animated feature), and Abigail Disney’s “ The Armor of Light” (2015), about a controversial evangelical minister who preaches for gun control.
This year, the focus is on urgent topical issues, offering a perspective more detailed and probing than is found in the shorthand of some media coverage. “We, as a culture, are bombarded by so much information,” says programmer Lisa Viola. “But a documentary allows us to pause and go much further in-depth on a single topic, and we celebrate that engagement at GlobeDocs.”
The issues include the lack of medical care in Third World countries in “Bending the Arc,” the squandering of resources in “Wasted! The Story of Food Waste,” urban youth violence in “Circle Up” and “Lenox Street,” the widespread practice of female genital mutilation in “Jaha’s Promise,” and the failures of the justice system when it comes to sexual assault in “I Am Evidence.” Daunting and depressing problems, but each of these films features people willing to persevere in solving them and able to come up with innovative ways of doing so.
In other festival offerings, solutions lie not so much in specific initiatives as in a way of life. “Quest” focuses on a family’s creative and compassionate response to hardship, which sheds a hopeful light on social problems. In “Human Flow,” artist and activist Ai Weiwei demonstrates that ending suffering begins with acknowledging it.
There are some lighter notes to the festival program as well. Joanna James’s “A Fine Line” looks at how women are breaking into the male-dominated culinary world. David Barba and James Pellerito’s “Anatomy of a Male Ballet Dancer” celebrates the life of one of the greatest performers in that art. Jason Sussberg and David Alvarado’s “Bill Nye: Science Guy” catches up with the still idolized, some would say goofy host of the 1990s kids’ science show. And subjects in the shorts program include Wes Hurley and Nathan M. Miller’s “Little Potato,” a film as odd and whimsical as the title suggests, and Lisanne Skyler’s “A Few Things About Robert Irwin,” which shares the ebullient philosophy of the title artist.
All of the films can ultimately be seen as uplifting as they engage us with a world whose problems, if acknowledged, are within our control. The first step is seeing them.
WEDNESDAY, Oct. 11
BENDING THE ARC
The extent of worldwide suffering leaves some people feeling that there is nothing we can do to change the tide. Those people do not include doctors Jim Yong Kim and Paul Farmer and activist Ophelia Dahl. The three friends, who founded Partners in Health, decided they could make a difference through determination, innovation, organization, and luck.
Their efforts began in the 1980s with a clinic in an impoverished village in Haiti, where they devised a community-based program combating tuberculosis. They expanded to Peru and Rwanda, where they used the same model in fighting HIV/AIDS and Ebola. Their challenges included the World Bank and the medical establishment, who dismissed such care as futile and a waste of money.
Produced by Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and screenwriter Cori Shepherd Stern, directed by Kief Davidson and Pedro Kos, this Sundance hit takes its title from 19th-century Unitarian minister Theodore Parker’s statement about the “arc of the moral universe,” in which he says, “from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.” “Bending the Arc” reaffirms that belief.
Coolidge Corner Theatre, 7 p.m. Director Pedro Kos, writer-producer Cori Shepherd Stern, and subjects Paul Farmer and Ophelia Dahl will participate in a discussion moderated by Gideon Gil, STAT managing editor.
THURSDAY, Oct. 12
WASTED! The Story of Food Waste
You might think twice about tossing out leftovers or even discarding a banana peel after watching Anna Chai and Nari Kye’s droll, lively, and illuminating look at how 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted annually. Narrated by sardonic chef Anthony Bourdain of CNN’s “Parts Unknown” (who also co-produced), the film identifies some of the main causes, such as supermarkets that toss out tons of perfectly good food and the practice of dumping organic waste into landfills where it decomposes into methane — one of the most virulent of the greenhouse gases.
The film also shows innovative measures taken to curb the waste. These include teaching schoolkids in New Orleans to respect food by growing their own; local initiatives such as Doug Rauch’s Daily Table in Dorchester, where excess food donated by supermarkets is available at affordable prices; and good old composting.
Kendall Square Cinema, 7 p.m. Film subject Doug Rauch and chef Irene Li will participate in a discussion moderated by Devra First, Globe restaurant critic and food writer.
We’ve all had days where we feel like we don’t have the energy to get out of bed. Those with myalgic encephalomyelitis, or chronic fatigue syndrome, spend years in that condition. Filmmaker Jennifer Brea is one such sufferer, and in her wrenching, intimate film she shows what life is like when the simplest tasks are debilitating.
She also discusses the frustration of numerous, sometimes skeptical specialists at a loss for a diagnosis or cure. Linking up with fellow victims around the world from her bedroom via Skype, she shares their heartbreaking stories, and is instrumental in organizing a movement to find a cure for ME.
Coolidge Corner Theatre, 7:30 p.m. Filmmaker Jennifer Brea will answer questions via Skype in a discussion moderated by Beth Teitell, Globe reporter.
FRIDAY, Oct. 13
Artist and activist Ai Weiwei’s documentary employs poetic images, many taken by drone camerawork, to convey the immensity of the refugee crisis, a catastrophe in which 65 million people have been displaced from their homes by war, famine, poverty, climate change, and genocide.
He travels to 23 countries over the course of a year to show the fate of refugees as they flee their homes to undertake hazardous journeys on rafts crossing the sea or on foot across deserts, seeking havens that often prove hostile. He captures the scope of the suffering with aerial shots of a single camp that looks like an infinite pattern of minute oblongs and close-ups of children who, in the midst of misery, still find it possible to smile for the camera.
Brattle Theatre, 7:30 p.m. A discussion will be moderated by Rebecca Ostriker, Globe arts editor.
SATURDAY, Oct. 14
LENOX STREET and CIRCLE UP
In Jay Paris’s short documentary “Lenox Street,” at-risk teenagers from the Roxbury housing development of the title participate in a program where they work with local performing artists for six weeks to put together a show. Their production is moving and the process demonstrates the power of art in transforming lives, giving the participants pride in their identity and confidence in their abilities.
Paris’s film is followed by Julie Mallozzi’s “Circle Up,” a feature-length documentary in which the mother of a slain youth tells how she forgave her son’s killer — possibly the most moving moment you’ll see on screen all year. That or the scene in which a convicted killer meets a woman at her dead son’s gravesite and breaks down in tears when he tells her he’s sorry. These are some of the achievements of a local victim-offender dialogue program that draws on the power of compassion and empathy to ease the pain of loss and facilitate the process of reconciliation.
Brattle Theatre, noon. Director Julie Mallozzi and subjects Janet Connors, Clarissa Turner, and “AJ” will participate in a discussion moderated by Globe correspondent and film writer Loren King.
ANATOMY OF A MALE BALLET DANCER
The “anatomy” in the title of David Barba and James Pellerito’s documentary about American Ballet Theatre star Marcelo Gomes is literal as well as metaphorical — few films capture as graphically the physical toll of the art.
Now 38, the Brazilian-born Gomes is celebrating his 20th anniversary at the ABT, and the film tells the story of his rise to the top of his profession and focuses on the dancer’s recognition of the limitations of age, his desire to have children, the challenge of being gay in a macho culture, and his hope that his semi-estranged father will finally see him perform in New York while he is still dancing. Filled with astonishingly beautiful ballet sequences and suffused by Gomes’s joyful and generous personality.
Brattle Theatre, 2:30 p.m. Directors David Barba and James Pellerito will participate in a discussion moderated by Rebecca Ostriker.
GLADESMEN: The Last of the Sawgrass Cowboys
Globe reporter David Abel delves into both sides of a conservation issue to show how the federal government’s ban on airboats in the Everglades threatens to put an end to a culture and way of life. As in his previous documentary, “Sacred Cod” (2016, co-directed with Andy Laub and Steve Liss), “Gladesmen” shows both sides of the conflict, that of scientists who argue that the measures are necessary to protect a fragile eco-system and of the airboat enthusiasts who doubt the government findings and mourn the end of a lifestyle.
Brattle Theatre, 5 p.m. Director-producer David Abel and co-producer Andy Laub will participate in a discussion moderated by Globe correspondent and film critic Peter Keough.
BILL NYE: Science Guy
He made complex science seem simple on his long-running vastly popular syndicated PBS kids’ series in the 1990s. But the nerd icon of the title is a complicated guy, and Jason Sussberg and David Alvarado have made a deceptively complex film about him, being shown as a “WGBH First Look” entry on the festival program. In addition to debating climate change deniers and religious fundamentalists who preach against evolution, Nye speaks to millennials, encouraging them to pursue the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program, and takes up his teacher Carl Sagan’s dream project to launch the solar-powered LightSail spacecraft.
Yawkey Theater, WGBH, 7 p.m. Director David Alvarado will take questions from the audience.
Gambian-born Jaha Dukureh, one of the 200 million women in 30 countries who have undergone female genital mutilation, has mounted a campaign to make people aware of this practice. Patrick Farrelly and Kate O'Callaghan’s enlightening and dramatically engaging documentary relates how Dukureh started a movement that would bring her to the UN to plead her case and earn her a place among Time magazine’s 100 most influential people. But her biggest challenge is returning to her homeland to change the minds of her people, including her own father, an influential figure in Gambia.
Brattle Theatre, 7:30 p.m. Directors Patrick Farrelly and Kate O'Callaghan will participate in a discussion moderated by Peter Keough.
SUNDAY, Oct. 15
SHORT FILMS PROGRAM: Changing Perspective
Short documentaries can be a kind of nonfiction poetry. Images, editing, and sound are sometimes as important as verbal cues and exposition.
Such is the case in Lisanne Skyler’s “A Few Things About Robert Irwin.,” in which she backs the title artist’s monologue with a montage of archival footage and images of the conceptual artwork itself in a way that evokes Irwin’s mercurial methods.
Allison Cekala’s “Fundir” wordlessly shows near abstract images of giant mining machinery in action and follows the product being mined step by step to a surprising destination.
Eric Heimbold’s quirky “Blind Sushi” follows blind writer Ryan Knighton’s quest for new experiences as he teams up with wry, unorthodox sushi chef Bun Lai to explore new tastes, textures and activities — like catching and frying up tiny, cockroach-like crabs. Yum!
Wes Hurley and Nathan M. Miller employ absurdist humor and a collagist style “Little Potato,” which tells the story of a mother and son’s journey from Russia to the United States.
Alex Hogan and Matthew Orr’s “Runnin’” takes on an urgent subject as Hogan returns to his old neighborhood in Somerville to find out why so many of his friends have fallen victim to the opioid epidemic.
And the machinery behind the printed word itself is the subject of Scott LaPierre’s “Stopping the Presses: The Globe’s Dorchester Printing Plant Goes Dark” which covers the title event with quick glimpses of the four-story press itself and the people who have spent decades working there.
Brattle Theatre, 11:30 a.m. Filmmakers Allison Cekala, Alex Hogan, Matthew Orr, Scott LaPierre, and Taylor de Lench will participate in a discussion moderated by Ty Burr, Globe film critic.
At a time when the press and media have been excoriated by some as “fake news,” Greg Campbell’s documentary about photojournalist Chris Hondros is a useful corrective. Hondros risked his life to get as close to the truth as possible, covering conflicts in war zones like Kosovo, Liberia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya – where he was killed by mortar fire in 2011. There is nothing fake about the pictures he took, many of which are shown in the film. They are assaultively real, and possess a terrible beauty.
Brattle Theatre, 2 p.m. Director Greg Campbell will participate in a discussion moderated by Ty Burr.
I AM EVIDENCE
It is hard enough for rape victims to undergo the ordeal of reporting the crime and undergoing the process of providing evidence for a rape kit. How infuriating to discover that it is all for naught because, in most cases, kits are ignored, warehoused, and lost. This is not just an injustice to the victims, but also a threat to thousands of additional potential victims, because often the DNA has proven to be linked to serial rapists still at large. Trish Adlesic and Geeta Gandhbir’s eye-opening documentary tells the heartbreaking and infuriating stories of victims whose evidence has been ignored as it focuses on the efforts of people like Detroit prosecutor Kym Worthy to reopen these cases.
Coolidge Corner Theatre, 4:30 p.m. Directors Trish Adlesic and Geeta Gandhbir, along with subject Kym Worthy, will participate in a discussion moderated by Janice Page, Globe film editor.
To make this documentary, Jonathan Olshefski spent nearly 10 years with the Rainey family — Christopher “Quest” Rainey, his wife Christine’a, and their two children — in a tough neighborhood in North Philadelphia.
Quest is dedicated to helping his community by recording hip-hop music performed by local talents. Meanwhile, the money’s tight, the roof leaks, their son develops a brain tumor, and their daughter, who has come out as gay, gets shot in the eye in a gang fight cross fire. All of this unfolds with a naturalism and rhythm that not only shares these lives but evokes the experience of passing time.
Brattle Theatre, 4:30 p.m. Producer Sabrina Gordon will participate in a discussion moderated by Peter Keough.
FRONTLINE: PUTIN’S REVENGE
Did Russian President Vladimir Putin accomplish through computer hacking and political dirty tricks what the Soviet Union failed to do in 40 years of an arms race? For the answer, watch Michael Kirk’s in-depth investigation into Putin’s rise to power and what might be his greatest victory. Presented as a “WGBH First Look” offering.
Yawkey Theater, WGBH, 7 p.m. Director Michael Kirk will take questions from the audience.
A FINE LINE
“It’s easier to become a CEO than a head chef,” Joanna James quotes Bloomberg News at the beginning of her documentary. She illustrates this statement by interviewing some of the women who made it in the culinary world — Dominique Crenn, Lidia Bastianich, April Bloomfield, and South Boston’s Barbara Lynch. But she focuses on the career of her mother, Valerie James, who, despite the responsibilities of single motherhood, the setback of a costly divorce, and industry sexism, succeeded in establishing the popular Val’s Restaurant in Holden. An endearing tribute to an impressive woman and an illuminating look at an institution in need of progress toward gender equality.
Coolidge Corner Theatre, 7 p.m. Director Joanna James and subject Valerie James will participate in a discussion moderated by Janice Page. The screening will be followed by a closing night reception, with several filmmakers in attendance, at 9 p.m. at Hops N Scotch, 1306 Beacon St., Brookline. Combo tickets for the reception and film are available at hubweek.org/events/globedocs-film-festival/globedocs-closing-night-film-a-fine-line-reception.
For GlobeDocs Film Festival information and tickets, go to BostonGlobe.com/filmfest .