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Gerry Peary’s love of docs began at MIT

“Space Coast”Ross McElwee HOMEMADE MOVIES INC.

Like many cinephiles, Cambridge critic, actor, filmmaker, professor, and former chess champion Gerald Peary loved comics as a kid. Not the Marvel variety that dominates screens today, but Archie, starring the all-American redhead of the title and his pals Veronica, Betty, the beloved Jughead, and the loathsome Reggie.

From this abiding fandom sprang his second documentary, “Archie’s Betty,” a look at the history and popularity of the comic book. (His first documentary, “For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism,” came out in 2009).

Peary traces his love of documentary movies to the ’70s, when he encountered work by students of Richard Leacock and Ed Pincus (he calls them “the children of cinéma vérité”) at the now-defunct MIT Film Unit.


Space Coast (1979)

Writes Peary: “Co-filmmakers Ross McElwee and Michel Negroponte went to Cape Canaveral, Fla., after the US space program had closed its doors and left the citizenry high and dry. They follow three hapless locals struggling to get by in a desperate situation. It’s sad and very funny and strangely akin to Samuel Beckett, their hopes of a renewal of the space program as likely as the arrival of Godot.”

Africa Revisited (1983)

It takes a village in Robb Moss and Claude Chelli’s documentary about a group of American students who have traveled to West Africa to help fix up a rural settlement, but the results are mixed. “The idealistic program soon goes adrift as the participants, black and white, bond with some in their group, get hostile toward others,” writes Peary. “A telling microcosm of strained American race relations exported to Africa, where the locals, ironically, are friendly to everyone.”

Troublesome Creek:
A Midwestern (1995)

“Married documentarians Steve Ascher and Jeanne Jordan bring a camera to the home of Jordan’s parents, a farm in Iowa which has been in family hands since 1867,” writes Peary. “Like many farms in America, this one is in trouble, with a bank foreclosing on a loan. Through the hard times, the filmmakers tell the story of the Jordan family with humanity and humor.”


Phyllis and Harold (2008)

Cindy Kleine visits her Long Island home, another parental saga. Her dentist dad has little to say and no regrets. Her drama-queen mother complains of a wasted life and confesses a secret love. Forsaking “objectivity,” Kleine takes her mom’s side and, like a scene in a Shakespearean comedy, helps to arrange a secret tryst.

Lost in the Bewilderness (2014)

“The last of the genuine MIT films,” writes Peary about Alexandra Anthony’s 30-years-in-the-making documentary about the kidnapping and disappearance of her 5-year-old Greek cousin. “This is a thrilling, philosophical mystery film told against the background of similar stories from Greek mythology. When the cousin returns at the age of 16 he is practically feral. Alexander follows him for another 20 years and we see the magic of an empathetic human being coming to life.” A masterpiece.

“Archie’s Betty” screens Saturday at
7 p.m. at the Institute of Contemporary Art, 100 Northern Ave. Go to www.icaboston.org/programs/film/