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A filmmaker’s tutorial in dirt bikes

A young dirt biker named Pug becomes the focus of Wayland-raised filmmaker Lotfy Nathan’s documentary “12 O’Clock Boys.”

Noah Rabinowitz/Courtesy of 12 O’CLOCK BOYS

A young dirt biker named Pug becomes the focus of Wayland-raised filmmaker Lotfy Nathan’s documentary “12 O’Clock Boys.”

It was while an art student at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore that Lotfy Nathan, who grew up in Wayland, first heard the distant roar of revving motors that marked the 12 O’Clock Boys, a notorious group of urban dirt bike riders. Armed with a video camera, Nathan ventured from the Baltimore suburb of Bolton Hill, where he was living, to nearby North Avenue, a low-income, primarily African-American neighborhood. He hung with and interviewed members of the 12 O’Clock Boys, so nicknamed because of the vertical position of their bikes as they pull off wheelies.

Nathan admits he started out naively; he simply wanted to get footage and interviews for a class project. “I wasn’t an intimidating presence; it was just me with a camera,” he says. “There was a lot of time spent with them, but it was a quiet effort.”

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The effort paid off. After it premiered last year at SXSW, “12 O’Clock Boys” was picked up by Oscilloscope Laboratories. It opened Friday at Brookline’s Coolidge Corner Theatre.

The investment of time — Nathan followed his subjects for three years — led to a bonanza for a first-time documentary filmmaker: He earned the trust of the bikers, who allowed him access to their subculture and eventually led him to a captivating 12-year-old named Pug. Pug, obsessed with dirt bike culture and eager to join the pack, becomes the focus of the film. Nathan not only captures the dangers and controversy of extreme dirt biking on the streets of Baltimore and the bikers’ clashes with police, who for public safety reasons are prohibited from chasing the riders, he also depicts a child coming of age.

Oscilloscope Laboratories

Director Lotfy Nathan.

“Those [early adolescent] years are pivotal in a kid’s life in Baltimore,” says Nathan, who was born in England but moved to Wayland at 10, when his parents split up and his mother got a job as an anesthesiologist in a Boston hospital. Nathan says that being of Egyptian descent may have helped him to fit in more easily with the African-American bikers.

“I wasn’t expecting this kind of reception to the film,” says Nathan, who won the HBO Emerging Artist Award at the Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto. The experience, and the positive response to the finished film, has led him to embrace filmmaking full time. He’s developing a documentary about a computer hacker and doing research for a fiction script he’s developing that’s set in the Middle East.

“I never found a really healthy stride with painting. Drawing and painting are intimate but not collaborative, and I got excited about what I could do with film and the collaborative nature of it,” he says. “Finding success and getting your work seen is more democratic with film than with art.”

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Music and drama

‘I never found a really healthy stride with painting. Drawing and painting are intimate but not collaborative, and I got excited about what I could do with film and the collaborative nature of it.’

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Director Don Argott’s documentary “As the Palaces Burn” started out as a portrait of the heavy metal band Lamb of God and its legions of fans worldwide. While he was following the band on tour in 2012, the film took a sudden turn into a gripping legal tale when lead singer Randy Blythe was arrested and charged with manslaughter in connection with the death of one of the band’s young fans in the Czech Republic. The courtroom drama that unfolds is set against the alcoholic Blythe’s efforts to stay sober throughout. “As the Palaces Burn” will have its area premiere Feb. 27 at 7:30 p.m. at the Regent Theatre in Arlington. The one-night event will include a prerecorded question-and-answer session with the band members.

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Meet the filmmakers

If you haven’t checked out the guests at the ongoing BU Cinemathèque, Feb. 21 at 7 p.m. is a chance to hear from Anna Wexler and Nadja Oertelt, directors of “Unorthodox,” a 2013 feature documentary about the lives of three Orthodox Jewish students after they leave American high schools and travel to Israel. “Unorthodox” began in 2004 when Wexler and Oertelt were undergrads studying neuroscience at MIT. It took the filmmakers nine years to complete the film, an intimate look at the Modern Orthodox Jewish community in America. Wexler herself grew up in the community and her personal narration frames the film. The screening and discussion, co-presented by the Boston Jewish Film Festival, is free and open to the public. It takes place at the BU College of Communication, 640 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, Room 101.

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Oscar fare in RI

NewportFILM will present two family-friendly movies as part of the ongoing Newport Winter Festival. The 2014 Oscar-nominated animated film “Ernest & Celestine” screens on Feb. 18 at 1:30 p.m. at the Jane Pickens Theater, 49 Touro St., Newport. Then, with a separate admission, the documentary “Maidentrip” will screen at
7 p.m. followed by a question-and-answer session with director Jillian Schlesinger. “Maidentrip” follows Laura Dekker, the 13-year-old whose dream to sail the world alone sparked resistance from Dutch authorities and a global storm of media scrutiny. A year later, she won the right to set sail. Schlesinger’s debut feature mixes Dekker’s own videos made at sea and intimate vérité footage from locations including the Galapagos Islands, French Polynesia, Australia, and South Africa. For more information, go to . . . Another notable event on Rhode Island’s movie calendar is the Red Carpet Experience: Providence, an annual Oscar night fund-raiser for Flickers: Rhode Island International Film Festival. On March 2 at 6 p.m., guests will enjoy the festivities and then watch the 86th Academy Awards broadcast live from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. There’s even a couple of local nominees to root for: Rhode Island’s Jennifer Lee is the writer/co-director of “Frozen,” nominated as best animated film, and Daniel Sousa, a professor at Rhode Island School of Design, and Dan Golden, a RISD grad, earned a nomination for “Feral” in the best animated shorts category. The event takes place at the Vets, 1 Avenue of the Arts, Providence. For more information go to

Loren King can be reached at
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