Posing problems, seeking solutions with GlobeDocs during HUBweek

“Charm City” will be among the films screened at the 2018 GlobeDocs Film Festival.
“Charm City” will be among the films screened at the 2018 GlobeDocs Film Festival.

Documentaries excel at presenting urgent issues. But sometimes they leave you at a loss about what to do about them.

Not so the films at this year’s GlobeDocs Film Festival (Oct 10-14). They not only expose problems, but they show how people fight to fix them. From the troubled streets of Baltimore to disputed waters off the coast of Maine to a fearful Arab-American neighborhood outside of Chicago, many of the 15 features and six shorts show how courage, commitment, and hard work can make a difference.

The festival is part of HUBweek (Oct. 8-14), a multiplatform, multimedia celebration of the intersections of art, science, and technology put together by The Boston Globe, Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Says Lisa Viola, who has programmed all four of the annual GlobeDocs festivals, “I didn’t set out to curate a festival with any specific theme in mind. I try to stay as open as I can when I start the process. But when you look at the lineup, there is an undeniable theme of people who are facing adversity and who rise up to make a powerful impact.”

Those people include the community organizers, police officers, and politicians in “Charm City” (Oct. 14, Brattle Theatre) by Marilyn Ness (“Cameraperson”). They’re confronting Baltimore’s persistent racism and rising crime.

They are the Muslim-American citizens in the opening-night film, Assia Boundaoui’s “The Feeling of Being Watched” (Oct. 10 at 7, Coolidge Corner Theatre), who confront the program of FBI surveillance that has been imposed on their community since long before 9/11.

Closer to home, in the closing-night film, Boston Globe reporter David Abel and co-director Andy Laub’s “Lobster War” (Oct. 14, Coolidge), fishermen and officials hope to resolve the dispute between the United States and Canada over a lobster-rich patch of ocean off the coast of Maine before it escalates into violence.


If that film sounds like a microcosm of the current trade dispute between the two countries, it’s indicative of the prescience and topicality of many of the films Viola has programmed. “I couldn’t get over how timely some of these films are, for better or worse,” she says. “They’re ripped from the headlines.” As such they are bound to raise questions and stir controversy.

“The Feeling of Being Watched”
“The Feeling of Being Watched”

That’s why GlobeDocs offers audiences the opportunity to talk to the directors in post-screening discussions moderated by Globe journalists. “We’re a smaller festival,” says Viola, “but the idea is that we’re there to have a conversation. It’s a special experience to watch a film and then have a firsthand dialogue with the filmmaker.”

In addition to the films and post-screening discussions, GlobeDocs, has also scheduled some special events.

Rory Kennedy (“Last Days in Vietnam;” “Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton”) will discuss and show clips from her new film “Above and Beyond: NASA’s Journey to Tomorrow” (Oct. 9, John F. Kennedy Library), which spectacularly demonstrates what accomplishments are possible when a nation commits itself to an epic mission. And for a look at a mystery that has bewildered the best efforts of experts, there’s the “Last Seen” Podcast Live Event (Oct. 9, Faneuil Hall), hosted by WBUR’s Kelly Horan and the Globe’s Stephen Kurkjian. It examines the biggest art heist in history, the theft of 13 priceless artworks from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, in 1990.


Asked what films she recommends from this year’s slate, Viola predictably says, “All of them.” As for her criteria for choosing them, she says, “I’m looking for quality films that broaden and expand the viewers’ purview of the world, that allow people to be able to see something they may not have been aware of. One thing I am most proud of this year is that of the 21 films in the festival, 15 are directed by women [as compared to last week’s Venice Film Festival, where the ratio was one female director among the 21 films in competition]. But most importantly I’m hoping people will see a movie, get excited, and spread the word.”

“Lobster War”
“Lobster War”(David Abel)

Peter Keough can be reached at