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    doc talk | peter keough

    Documentaries consider the power of Putin, the mind of Monet

    Fareed Zakaria, whose “Fareed Zakaria GPS” on CNN will air “The Most Powerful Man in the World.”
    CNN, a Time Warner Company
    Fareed Zakaria, whose “Fareed Zakaria GPS” on CNN will air “The Most Powerful Man in the World.”

    Is Vladimir Putin really the Most Powerful Man in the World? That’s the contention, and the title, of a new CNN documentary in which Fareed Zakaria, moderator of CNN’s flagship global public affairs program, “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” investigates the rise, reign, and aims of the president of Russia. A former KGB agent, Putin is portrayed as the virtual tsar of his country, a disruptor of the world order, and an insidious threat to democracy.

    Among the questions Zakaria seeks to answer in “The Most Powerful Man in the World” are: What is really going on between President Donald Trump and Putin and what does this relationship mean for the future of America and the world? How did a man born into poverty rise to a position of power in Russia, where he is unchecked by legislature, court, or a free press? Why is he so popular despite the fact that the disparity between rich and poor in Russia is among the highest in the world? And to what extent did Putin hack the 2016 election in the United States, and influence the outcome?

    To uncover the truth, Zakaria talks to several experienced Russia experts, including Robert Gates, former secretary of defense under George W. Bush and Barack Obama; Henry Kissinger, former secretary of state in the Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford administrations; Masha Gessen, journalist and author of “The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin” (2013); David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker and the author of “Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire” (1994); and Julia Ioffe, columnist for The Atlantic and Foreign Policy and a contributing writer to the Huffington Post Highline. Zakaria also includes excerpts from his own interviews with Putin.

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    One of those interviewed is a Russian journalist who says that his countrymen view Putin not just as the president of Russia, but as the president of the United States. How close to the truth that claim might be is one of the issues confronted by this documentary.

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    “The Most Powerful Man in the World” can be seen on Monday at 9 p.m. on CNN/US and CNN International, and then plays again on CNN/US at midnight.

    For more information go to cnnpressroom.blogs.cnn.com/2017/02/27/the-most-powerful-man-in-the-world-fareed-zakaria-on-the-rise-reign-and-aims-of-vladimir-putin.

    Museum of Fine Arts Boston

    Show us the Monet

    Who better to tell the story of the painter than the painter himself?

    Phil Grabsky’s new documentary, “I, Claude Monet,” explores the world of one of the founders of impressionism by examining Monet’s paintings, by visiting the locations where they were created, and by invoking the painter’s own words, culled from letters and other private writings.

    The film shows that the man who created these luminous canvases was sometimes plunged into depression to the point where he contemplated suicide. But his love of flowers and nature — nurtured, observed, and painted in his garden at Giverny — brought light into his darkness.

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    “I, Claude Monet” screens at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday and March 19 at the Museum of Fine Arts.

    For more information go to www.mfa.org/programs/series/i-claude-monet.

    Mary Jane Doherty

    Training reels

    Can a student learn from a great filmmaker even though he doesn’t want to teach and the student is not ready to learn?

    That is one of the questions local documentarian Mary Jane Doherty answers in her program “Things Ricky Forgot to Teach but Somehow I Learned Them Anyway — Films From Mary Jane Doherty.” The Ricky in this case is the late Ricky Leacock (he died in 2011 at 89), one of the pioneers of observational documentary and the founder and head of the MIT Film/Video department in the 1980s. Despite the difficulties referred to in the title, Doherty came away from MIT with the foundation of a decades-long career.

    Another question that Doherty attempts to answer is: Does gravity have waves and how can they be detected and measured? Finding that out has been a holy grail for physicists for ages and it is what the subjects of her 1985 MIT thesis film “Gravity” were wrestling with. Shot in a grainy black and white like Leacock’s direct cinema classic “Primary” (1960), Doherty’s film follows a group of MIT postgraduate students trying to put together a device to accomplish that feat.

    It doesn’t look very promising. They work in a cramped, grimy lab filled with gizmos and wires that look like they were left over from a 1950s sci-fi movie. But the young men seem determined, neurotic, badly dressed, and goofy enough to actually pull it off. Doherty takes up the bewildered viewers’ point of view as she interviews her subjects and tries to explain in voice-over the jargony, abstruse matters that are being discussed. Her tone of bemused non-comprehension (illustrated by the recurring image of an inquisitive cow) paradoxically adds clarity to the proceedings. And certainly she adds humor and charm — her imitations of Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein seem spot-on.

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    As for the success of the gravity experiment, one of the students in the film, Rainer Weiss, finally solved the mystery; 30 years later he discovered gravitational waves and is expected to win this year’s Nobel Prize for physics.

    In addition to “Gravity,” Doherty screens “Vroom” (1995), a short film in which she follows a former spy driving about in a Mercedes sports car and relates her subject’s thoughts in an erudite, brittlly witty voiceover. She will also show “Sonic Boom” (2017), part of a work in progress in which she joins the Boston Children’s Choir to learn to sing — a challenge that seems like it could be as daunting as understanding the nature of gravity.

    “Things Ricky Forgot to Teach but Somehow I Learned Them Anyway — Films From Mary Jane Doherty” screens as part of the DocYard series on March 20 at 7 p.m. at the Brattle Theatre. The filmmaker will be present for a discussion.

    For more information go to www.brattlefilm.org.

    Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@globe.com.