The person behind the camera has the power to define the subject photographed. In his eloquent documentary “Through a Lens Darkly,” Thomas Allen Harris chronicles how African-Americans have sought to regain control of their own image, from 19th-century daguerreotypes to the works of artists such as Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson, Anthony Barboza, Hank Willis Thomas, Coco Fusco, and Clarissa Sligh, all of whom are interviewed for the film. He also explores the influence and significance of family albums, which preserve in private the self-image of black people from the stereotypes imposed by the dominant culture. Harris’s film itself has the collage-like structure of a family album, a collection of images that are at once personal and historical.
It screens Sunday through Dec. 28 at the Institute of Contemporary Art. Tickets are $10, $5 for members and students.
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The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the Laocoön, the Pietà, canvases by da Vinci, Caravaggio, and van Gogh — you’ve got to hand it to them, those popes had good taste. Most of us have seen these masterpieces of the Vatican art collection only in 2-D reproductions. Now, perhaps taking a hint from Werner Herzog’s immersive “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” SKY Productions offers “Vatican Museums 3D,” employing Ultra HD 4K/3-D film cameras to add a little bit more of what the philosopher Walter Benjamin described as the unique “aura” inherent in the physical presence of a work of art. All that and popcorn, too!
It screens Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Fenway Regal 13 and select suburban theaters. Tickets are $12.50.
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Two of the most influential US writers of the past half-century are profiled in documentaries this week.
Unavailable for more than a decade, Howard Brookner’s “Burroughs: The Movie” (1983) returns in a restored version at the Brattle Theatre. With extensive footage of William S. Burroughs, the author of “Naked Lunch,” “Nova Express,” and other mind-warping masterpieces, and with testimony from countercultural heavyweights Allen Ginsburg, Brion Gysin, Francis Bacon, and Patti Smith, the film peers behind the facade of a man with the grace of an enlightened aristocrat to glimpse the “Ugly Spirit” that he claims possessed him when he accidentally shot his wife in the head during a drunken game of William Tell.
It screens Dec. 12-14. Tickets are $10, $8 for students and members, and $7 for seniors. For more information, go to www.brattlefilm.org.
Speaking of Walter Benjamin, his name comes up once or twice in Nancy Kates’s “Regarding Susan Sontag,” an illuminating portrait of the late author of such zeitgeist-defining works as “Against Interpretation,” “Styles of Radical Will,” and “Regarding the Pain of Others.” Those who missed it when it screened at the Boston Jewish Film Festival can catch it Monday when it will be broadcast at 9 p.m. on HBO.
For more information, go to www.hbo.com/#/documentaries/regarding-susan-sontag.peterv