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doc talk | peter keough

Filmmakers and subjects focused on the fight

Michael Fanning’s “Rocky Ros Muc” tells the tale of Irish immigrant and boxer Sean

Winner of the Global Vision best documentary at this year’s Irish Film Festival (March 23-27), Michael Fanning’s “Rocky Ros Muc” tells the story of Sean Mannion, an Irish boxer who immigrated to Boston from the isolated, Gaelic-speaking hamlet of Ros Muc, County Galway, in the mid-1970s.

He trained at Connolly’s Gym in South Boston, also the hangout of members of Whitey Bulger’s crew, where he met Pat Nee of the rival Mullins gang. In the film, Nee reminisces about ambushing the guy who murdered his brother. “I shot him five times. He lived. I kicked his teeth out and spat on him. I wouldn’t do that now — forensics.”


A good man to have on your side.

“Rocky Ros Muc” tells the story of an athlete who overcame hardship and went on to fight for the WBA middleweight title in 1984 at Madison Square Garden. But it’s also a history of Boston during a particularly tempestuous period, when many Irish immigrants were arriving, busing aroused anger in Southie, mobsters like Whitey ruled the streets, and hard-working, decent people like Mannion somehow prevailed.

Among those interviewed are Mayor Marty Walsh, Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen, and a few of the tough guys who worked the other side of the law. You’ve seen what Hollywood has done with this chapter of Boston lore — here is the real thing.

“Rocky Ros Muc” screens on Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Somerville Theatre.

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Marathon man

An iconic image from the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013 is that of Carlos Arredondo, distinctive in his cowboy hat, helping to save the life of one of the victims. But as Janice Rogovin reveals in her documentary “The Man in the Cowboy Hat,” there is a lot more to his story than that. An immigrant from Costa Rica, Arredondo is a unique American hero.


In 2004, three Marines came to Arredondo’s Jamaica Plain home to tell him his son had been killed in Iraq. Arredondo responded by pouring gasoline into the Marines’ van, causing it and himself to be set on fire. After recovering from his injuries and apologizing to the Marines (he was not prosecuted), Arredondo dedicated himself to the cause of peace and the plight of veterans; it was on behalf of a fund-raiser for a veterans’ group that he was at the finish line of the Marathon when he responded to disaster with such resourcefulness and courage.

“The Man in the Cowboy Hat” premieres on Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Boston Public Library. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with questions from the audience.

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Reverse brainwashing

Where does individual choice end and brainwashing begin? That’s one of the themes of Mia Donovan’s “Deprogrammed” (2015), a documentary about Ted “Black Lightning” Patrick, who, beginning in the 1970s, headed a campaign to track down and “reverse brainwash” cult members, often against their will. Among them was Donovan’s stepbrother, who was deprogrammed by Patrick two decades ago.

“Deprogrammed” screens on Thursday at 7 p.m. in Emerson College’s Bright Family Screening Room at the Paramount Center. It is part of the Bright Lights film program and is a special presentation of the MIT Women Take the Reel series. The director will be present at the screening. Admission is free.


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Analyzing ‘Madness’

How do we know the difference between insanity and belief? Joris Lachaise’s documentary “Remnants of Madness” (2014) intimately observes an asylum near Dakar, Senegal, where a confluence of different local religions and Western science make this a difficult question to answer. Harrowing and often beautiful in its imagery, Lachaise’s film does suggest some abiding truths: the universality of suffering and the desire to heal.

“Remnants of Madness” screens March 26 at 5 p.m. at the Harvard Film Archive.

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Sound ‘Waves’

When Suzanne Ciani approached recording labels in the 1970s with her synthesizer music, they were bewildered. Where’s the guitar? They asked. Do you sing? Luckily for Ciani (who is said to have taught Philip Glass how to program his first synthesizer), advertising agencies were much more enthusiastic. You might recognize some of her early work as the pop and pour in Coke commercials (try not to feel thirsty when you hear it!), the audio logo for Atari video games, and countless other sound effects in commercials.

Ciani has recorded more than 20 albums of her otherworldly music, and her career, aesthetics, and inspiration are examined in Brett Whitcomb and Bradford Thomason’s documentary “A Life in Waves.” It’s an aural and visual tour of four decades in a culture-shaping career.

“A Life in Waves” screens March 26 at 12:45 p.m. as part of the Boston Underground Film Festival (March 22-26) at the Harvard Film Archive. A discussion with the filmmakers and Ciani follows the screening.


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Peter Keough can be reached at