Since its inception in 1996, the Nantucket Film Festival has championed the cause of screenwriters. Yet many of its films are documentaries, which traditionally are considered to be unscripted. Perhaps in documentaries the authorship might be attributed to the reality recorded, edited by the discerning eye and organizing vision of the filmmaker.
The realities inscribed in some of the documentaries screening in this year’s festival, June 21-26, are grim indeed: conspiracy, tyranny, oppression, and the dystopic collapse of civilization, a reflection, perhaps, of anxieties about the current political state of affairs.
The conspiracies in Erik Nelson’s “A Gray State” (Thursday at 4 p.m. and Friday at 8:45 p.m.) are perhaps imaginary, but no less real for David Crowley, the filmmaker whose project was to put them on film in the dystopian thriller of the title. A veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, Crowley was disgusted and alarmed by what he saw as official folly in those two wars. He perceived an underlying plot by shadowy government entities to impose a murderous dictatorship and made this the premise of his film.
His scenario appealed to militia groups and outspoken conspiracy theorists — among the latter, InfoWars’s Alex Jones. It also roused the interest of Hollywood producers who were willing to put up $30 million to make the film — which, as seen in the polished and terrifying trailer Nelson had completed, looks like a potential Hollywood hit. At what seemed the brink of success, Crowley was found shot to death along with his wife and 5-year-old daughter – whom, police concluded, he murdered before killing himself.
The threat of death from the government was all too real for the subjects of Jon Kean’s “After Auschwitz: The Stories of Six Women” (Saturday at 11:15 a.m. and June 25 at 1:15 p.m.). Many documentaries about the Holocaust stop when the camps are liberated; here Kean follows the lives of his six subjects during the aftermath. Through testimony and archival footage it shows their ordeal amid the desperation and chaos of postwar Europe, where they had neither homes nor families. With humor and pathos the film relates their resettlement in the United States, their responses to Eisenhower-era affluence, their decisions to start their own families, their integration into and contributions to their new homeland, and their efforts to come to terms with — and never forget — the past.
The title of Pamela Yates’s “500 Years” (Saturday at 3:45 p.m.) refers to the period during which the indigenous Mayan population of Guatemala has been subjugated by a white European elite. Yates has spent 35 years recording that struggle through a trilogy of films beginning with “When the Mountains Tremble” (1983), which revealed the atrocities of then general, later president, Ríos Montt, and followed up by “Granito: How to Nail a Dictator” (2011) about Montt’s prosecution for genocide. In “500 Years” she recounts the recent popular uprising, in which for the first time indigenous activists and a middle class fed up with corruption peacefully demonstrate in an attempt to transform Guatemala into a genuine democracy.
A conversation with Yates, subject Irma Alicia Velásquez Nimatuj, and Marc Skvirsky of Facing History and Ourselves follows the screening.
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