Documentaries are hot, and Boston is their Hollywood.
“It’s exploded,” says Lisa Viola, programmer for the first annual GlobeDocs Film Festival (Oct. 7-11), about the genre. “Everyone is excited to watch and talk about reality-based films. Truth is strange, but very powerful. And Boston being such a deep and rich source for documentary filmmaking, I think that it makes sense to bring the city this kind of festival.”
Organized by The Boston Globe, the festival will pair journalists (including this reporter) with filmmakers for illuminating post-screening discussions. “You can walk out feeling like you’ve seen a film and had a provocative conversation,” says Viola.
The GlobeDocs Film Festival is part of HUBweek, which is founded by The Boston Globe, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and Massachusetts General Hospital.
For the festival’s inaugural year, Viola has programmed 11 features and a collection of shorts. For more information go to www.bostonglobe.com/filmfest.
WEDNESDAY, OCT. 7
“Most Likely to Succeed”
When it comes to teaching kids, everybody has an opinion. But how about asking the kids? When director Greg Whiteley’s daughter’s grades suddenly plummeted, he wanted to find out why. Simple reason: She was bored. The rote-like curriculum designed as preparation for standardized tests had no relevance to her life. In search of a better system, Whiteley checks out an experimental school that draws on radical new – and old – pedagogical philosophies.
7 p.m., Coolidge Corner Theatre. Producer Ted Dintersmith and Massachusetts Secretary of Education Jim Peyser will be in attendance.
THURSDAY, OCT. 8
“Circus Without Borders”
Acrobats from the Canadian Arctic Circle and from Guinea in West Africa get together to put on a show. Let’s see a Hollywood studio topping that premise. Boston-based director Susan Gray’s documentary, many years in the making, tells the story about these two groups who recruit performers from the disadvantaged youths in their communities, offering them an opportunity to rise up from poverty, addiction, and despair.
4:30 p.m., Coolidge Corner Theatre. Gray and co-director/producer and Globe reporter Linda Matchan in attendance.
“In My Father’s House”
Rapper, radio host, and social activist Che “Rhymefest” Smith, co-writer of the Oscar-winning song “Glory” from the film “Selma,” bought his family home in Chicago’s South Side. Then he tracked down his long-estranged father, a homeless alcoholic, who turned out to be languishing just a few blocks away. Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg’s intimate account of the two men’s reconciliation resonates with the broader issues in the urban community.
7 p.m., Coolidge Corner Theatre. Stern, Sundberg, and Smith in attendance.
“Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon”
Anyone can be drunk, stoned, and dead. The hard part is being brilliant, as were the Harvard wise guys Doug Kenney and Henry Beard. As seen in Douglas Tirola’s rollicking account, the pair would transform a campus humor magazine into an obscenely satiric, hilarious countercultural powerhouse that spawned such comedy titans as “Saturday Night Live,” “The Simpsons,” and “Animal House.”
7 p.m., Kendall Square. Tirola in attendance.
The foul odor of Jon Whelan’s son’s pajamas sends the filmmaker on a Michael Moore-like investigation into the source. He follows the scent from the retailer, to various laboratories, to corporate offices and finally to the US Congress. That’s a lot of stink. Whelan’s premise might be the stuff of farce, but what he uncovers is more than just a bad smell.
7 p.m., Bright Family Screening Room in the Paramount Center, Emerson College. Whelan in attendance.
FRIDAY, OCT. 9
Twenty years ago Richard Holbrooke, who died in 2010 at the age of 69, accomplished what seemed impossible – he brokered the Dayton Accords that ended the civil war in the Balkans. It is one of many achievements in a diplomatic career that spanned five decades. Told from the point of view of his son David and including interviews with family members, journalists, and big-name politicians, the documentary profiles a complex and brilliant man whose skills as a peacemaker are sorely missed today.
3 p.m., Bright Family Screening Room at Emerson College. Producer Julian Feller-Cohen in attendance.
“Requiem for the American Dream”
Whether you think of him as an unheeded prophet or a needless gadfly, Noam Chomsky has alwys been a source of provocative, impeccably reasoned, infuriatingly irrefutable insights into why the world is a mess. Directors Peter Hutchison, Kelly Nyks, and Jared P. Scott pick the brain of the 86-year-old polymath in what Chomsky says will be his last long-form interviews.
5:30 p.m., Bright Family Screening Room at Emerson College. Nyks in attendance.
“The Armor of Light”
Some on the right are both pro-life and pro-gun and don’t see any contradiction. Not so Reverend Rob Schenck, an evangelical minister whose support of gun control has flustered many of his friends and colleagues. He finds an unlikely ally in pro-choice advocate Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis, a victim of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. Abigail Disney’s debut documentary is a needed lesson in how political opposites can work together for change.
8 p.m., Bright Family Screening Room at Emerson College. Disney in attendance.
SATURDAY, OCT. 10
Until recently, no Oscar category got less respect than best documentary short. They received praise from critics, but few took the films seriously. Now they are not just exercises for future feature filmmakers, but mini-artworks in themselves. The six selections in this program include Boston native Evan Dolan’s “Silenced in Southie,” about alleged Whitey Bulger Victim Stephen “Stippo” Rakes, and “Every Day,” Gabe Spitzer’s profile of 86-year-old Joy Johnson, the oldest woman to run the New York City Marathon.
11:30 a.m., Bright Family Screening Room at Emerson College. Filmmakers in attendance to be announced.
“The State of Marriage”
The sweeping establishment of nationwide marriage equality seems to have happened overnight. But it took the prolonged efforts of many crusaders, including the 20-year campaign of Vermont lawyers Beth Robinson and Susan Murray, along with Boston-based lawyer Mary Bonauto that culminated in the 1999 Vermont State Supreme Court decision to recognize same sex marriage. Jeff Kaufman’s documentary tells the dramatic and inspiring story.
2 p.m., Bright Family Screening Room at Emerson College. Kaufman and producer Marcia Ross in attendance.
As if we don’t have enough to worry about with the toxic products sniffed out in “Stink!” Harvard documentarians Peter Galison and Robb Moss remind us of the lingering threat of radioactive waste. What to do with it? How can we warn people centuries in the future about the danger of waste disposal sites? With inventive animation and incisive reporting, Moss and Galison aren’t going to make it any easier to sleep at night.
4:30 p.m., Bright Family Screening Room at Emerson College. Galison and Moss in attendance.
Red Sox postseason hopes may have fizzled, but looking on the bright side, that misfortune leaves Fenway Park available as an appropriate venue for Jonathan Hock’s documentary about the 100 mile-per-hour heater, the hitting of which might be the most difficult feat in any professional sport.
7 p.m., Fenway Park. Hock in attendance. Note: Screening will be followed by Illuminus, a program of large-scale installations, projections, and live performances.
SUNDAY, OCT. 11
Here’s where your vote counts. Whichever festival film tops audience ballots will get a free encore screening. The winning film will be announced on Saturday night.
1 p.m., Bright Family Screening Room at Emerson College.
Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.