doc talk

Around the world with the Global Cinema Film Festival

Coach Norman De Silva of the Foshan Long Lions argues a call with a referee in Esteban Argüello’s “Jiàoliàn [Coach].”
Esteban Argüello
Coach Norman De Silva of the Foshan Long Lions argues a call with a referee in Esteban Argüello’s “Jiàoliàn [Coach].”

All cinema is global, so the title of the Global Cinema Film Festival of Boston (April 9-12) at Belmont’s Studio Cinema might seem a little redundant. But peruse the movies on the program and you might see how limited are our horizons when we look beyond our own borders.

How many know where East Timor is? If you don’t, you might want to view Chris Phillips’s short documentary “Ita Nudar Ema ‘We as People,’” (screens Sunday at 8:15 p.m.). In it, the Timorese poet Osme Gonsalves exhorts the spirit of his people by reading a work that recalls their recent independence from Indonesia after a 27-year period of oppression that claimed 170,000 lives.

Some 3,000 miles northwest of East Timor is the harsh settlement of Alang on the coast of India. As seen in Ralph Vituccio, Tom Clancy, and Paul Goodman’s “Shipbreakers” (screens Sunday at 3:30 p.m.), it is one of the most polluted and environmentally hazardous patches of land anywhere. This noisome six-mile stretch of beach is where 40,000 migrant workers go to make a pittance by manually disassembling half of the world’s discarded ships.


At least the migrants in Alang have a place to stay and work. Not so the Syrian refugees desperate to find a home in the European Union. Many find themselves stranded on the fringes of the continent, denied entrance. In his short documentary “Citizens of Nowhere” (screens Sunday at 8:15 p.m.), filmmaker Lior Sperandeo spends seven days on a Greek island, where thousands languish as they try to enter the mainland. His film puts a human face on what for most is just an abstraction of misery.

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Not all immigrants are from the East trying to enter the West. Some are heading the opposite way, like 27-year-old Norman de Silva, a US basketball coach attempting to jump-start his career in China in Esteban Argüello’s feature doc “Jiàoliàn [Coach]” (screens Sunday at 12:05 p.m.). He’s taken the reins of the faltering pro team Foshan Long Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association, and what happens provides insights into globalism, opportunism, exploitation, and solidarity as well as the makings of a good old underdog sports story. See it before Disney makes it into a sappy movie.

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Iraqi diaspora

Our involvement in Iraq resembles the “Odyssey,” as it is a war that we went to years ago and from which, in a sense, have yet to return.

But not many in the West are aware of the estimated 4 to 5 million Iraqis and their descendants who left their country in search of stability, security, freedom, and opportunity. One of them is Iraqi-Swiss filmmaker Samir, and his documentary “Iraqi Odyssey” follows the peregrinations of his family – to Lausanne, Auckland, Moscow, London, and Buffalo — over five decades.

Combining riveting testimony from relatives along with family and archival footage and stills, Samir vividly relates the travails of colonialism, dictatorship, foreign occupation, and civil war that have plagued his Iraq homeland for centuries. A personal epic of hope, determination, and the resourcefulness of the human spirit.


“Iraqi Odyssey” screens on April 17 at 10 a.m. as part of the Goethe Institute’s film series at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline.

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Off the map

The way world events are shaping up these days, seeking refuge from catastrophe in another country might not be enough. You have to get off the grid completely. Swiss filmmaker Nicolas Steiner’s documentary “Above and Below” takes a look at people who, because of circumstances, conviction, or inclination, have decided to do just that.

There’s Dave, a devoutly religious divorcee who believes that only through the austerities of homelessness can he achieve his musical masterpiece. There’s Lalo, who dwells in the tunnels deep below Las Vegas. April has joined a simulated Mars colony in the desert, and unlike Matt Damon’s stranded astronaut in “The Martian,” they’re practicing for a journey with no return. And Rick and Cindy sound like characters from an unwritten play by Samuel Beckett – they live in storm drains, and every time it rains their lives are washed away and they must begin again.

Sounds like a post-Apocalyptic sci-fi thriller. Maybe it is.

“Above and Below” screens as part of the UMass Boston Film Series in cooperation with the Independent Film Festival of Boston on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Somerville Theatre. A discussion with the director follows the screening. Admission is free.

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Slaughterhouse rules


Harvard’s McMillan-Stewart Fellowship in Distinguished Filmmaking was established to support outstanding Francophone directors from Africa or of African descent. This year the award goes to Algerian documentarian Hassen Ferhani, whose film “Roundabout in My Head,” a look at a cross section of the working class in Algiers as represented by the employees of a slaughterhouse, will screen on Monday. Ferhani depicts this grim epitome of consumerism not with an emphasis on the grisly details, but on the humanity of those who work there.

“Roundabout in My Head” screens at 7 p.m. at the Harvard Film Archive in the Carpenter Center. The director will be present at the screening.

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Peter Keough can be reached at