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From Palestine to Boston: the BPFF celebrates its 10th

Maisa Abd Elhadi plays a jailed schoolteaeher in “3,000 Nights,” which opens the Boston Palestine Film Festival.Boston Palestine Film Festival

Director Mai Masri, a renowned documentarian whose first narrative film, “3,000 Nights,” opens the Boston Palestine Film Festival Oct. 14, will engage in a conversation following the 7 p.m. screening at the Museum of Fine Arts.

“3,000 Nights,” Jordan’s entry for the foreign language category in the 2017 Oscar race, traces the harrowing journey of Palestinian schoolteacher Layal (Maisa Abd Elhadi), who is falsely accused of a crime and sentenced to eight years in a high-security Israeli women’s prison. Under brutal conditions, she gives birth to a son and raises him behind bars. Masri will be at the BPFF throughout the opening weekend, which also offers a retrospective of her work.


Running Oct. 14-30 at the MFA and other venues, the BPFF celebrates its 10th year of presenting a diverse slate of narrative features, documentaries, and shorts that examine Palestinian history, culture, and contemporary life. Other highlights include “The Idol” (Oct. 21 and 22, MFA) from Oscar-nominated director Hany Abu-Assad (“Paradise Now,” “Omar”). It’s based on the true story of young Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf, from Gaza, who in 2013 crossed the closed border into Cairo in order to audition for “Arab Idol,” the “American Idol” of the Arab world. “The Idol” is Palestine’s submission for best foreign language film for the Oscars next year.

Rifqi Adnan Assaf’s debut feature, “The Curve” (Oct. 20, MFA), is a meditation on exile, as three displaced people meet by chance and embark on a road trip across Jordan in a Volkswagen minibus.

The festival closes Oct. 30 at the MFA with three shorts from acclaimed Palestinian artist and filmmaker Larissa Sansour, whose trilogy uses the sci-fi genre to offer a surreal perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The director’s sister, Leila Sansour, director of the documentary “Open Bethlehem” (Oct. 29, MFA), will participate in a post-screening discussion.

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Alex Lehmann, a 2004 Emerson College grad, met Mark Duplass when Lehmann worked as a cinematographer on Duplass’s FX series, “The League.” But it was Lehmann’s debut feature documentary, “Asperger’s Are Us,” about a unique North Shore comedy troupe, that impressed Duplass enough to produce the film. Duplass also hired Lehmann to shoot and direct “Blue Jay,” a two-character, black-and-white, partly improvised drama that Duplass wrote, co-produced with brother Jay Duplass, and costars in, alongside Sarah Paulson.

“I really wanted a documentarian to direct this movie because I felt we were chasing a story instead of exacting a story,” Duplass said. “I wanted to do a slower, more meditative film that hopefully paid off for the audience if they stuck around for it.” He was speaking at the Toronto International Film Festival last month, where “Blue Jay” premiered. He and Paulson play former high school sweethearts who, after more than 20 years, are reunited by coincidence in their scenic but sleepy California hometown.

Lehmann, who now lives in Los Angeles, said he came across an article about “Asperger’s Are Us” while he was researching another film. “I thought, ‘There’s nothing I’m writing that’s nearly as interesting as these guys,’” he said. Starting in 2013, Lehmann, between paying gigs, made frequent trips to Massachusetts to film the troupe — Jack Hanke, Michael Ingemi, Noah Britton, and Ethan Finlan, all North Shore residents. Netflix bought “Asperger’s Are Us” at SXSW in March and plans a release at the end of the year. “Blue Jay,” from indie distributor The Orchard, will be released on VOD platforms Oct 11.


Loren King can be reached at