Doc Talk

Silent witness at the Harvard Film Archive

Phillip Andrew Morton’s “Spanish Lake” follows the rise and fall of the title Missouri community.
Phillip Andrew Morton’s “Spanish Lake” follows the rise and fall of the title Missouri community.Spanish Lake Film Productions

Belarusian-Ukrainian filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa, subject of a retrospective at the Harvard Film Archive Nov. 8-17, has received critical acclaim for his fictional features – 2010’s “My Joy” (screens Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. with the director present) about the brutalized state of labor in Ukraine, and 2012’s moody “In the Fog” (screens Nov. 15 at 9:15 p.m.), about partisans in World War II. But he started out as a documentarian and it is in that genre that his work attains a stark purity.

That can be seen in his 2006 documentary “Blockade” (screens Nov. 5 at 5 p.m.), about the 900-day siege of Leningrad by Nazi forces during WWII. Using only archival footage without commentary, the film shows the relentless progression -- from the relative normality of the city’s defense preparations, to the fire and destruction of ceaseless bombardment, to frozen corpses littering the streets. The staring eyes of a dead little girl sprawled in rubble will haunt you.


The program also includes Loznitsa’s most recent film, “Maidan” (screens Nov. 8 at 7 p.m.), a documentary chronicling key events in the Ukraine crisis. The director will be on hand for that screening and it should make for stimulating discussion.

The series is being presented in cooperation with the Blavatnik Archive Foundation’s “The Lives of the Great Patriotic War” program at Harvard’s Pusey Library.

For more information, go to library.harvard.edu/lives-patriotic-war

White fright

Needlessly sensationalized as “The most controversial documentary of the year” by its promoters, Phillip Andrew Morton’s “Spanish Lake” presents a thoughtful, even-handed account of the rise and fall of the title Missouri community (not far from Ferguson, the site of the ongoing crisis following the police shooting of an unarmed African-American teenager). It consists of interviews with both present and former residents (the director himself grew up there), and though some of the subjects border on prejudice, most recognize that the tragedy is not so much a matter of race as of government ineptitude and indifference and the greed of real estate developers.


The film sheds more light than heat, and is available from VOD through the distributer Under the Milky Way: us.underthemilkyway.com/movie/spanish-lake

Quick cuts

Documentaries aren’t just for grown-ups, as the lineup of nonfiction films at the second Boston International Kids’ Film Festival (Nov. 7-9 at the Somerville Theatre) demonstrates. Screenings include Sally Rubin’s “Life on the Line” (Nov. 7 at 6:30 p.m.), about an 11-year-old girl stranded on the border between the US and Mexico, and Nurcan Sonuc’s “What’s Below Us” (Nov. 8 at 3 p.m.), a compilation of observations from 15 Turkish high school students on the dire effects of gold-mining in their country. For more information, go to www.bikff.org

The 50 Best Documentaries of All Time”? Maybe if time began 25 years ago. Kidding aside, though top heavy in recent titles and including some questionable choices (“Hoop Dreams” as the best doc ever? It’s good, but. . .), the Flavorwire.com list offers some solid choices and much to ponder and discuss.

Meanwhile, if you’ve got your own film to promote, take a look at Indiewire’s list of every lab, grant, and film festival deadline for 2015, at www.indiewire.com.

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