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Doc Talk | Peter Keough

Making a strong impression

Inuit filmmaker Zacharias Kanuk’s “Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner.”MFA Film Series: Inuit Stories

When it comes to Impressionist artists, most people think of names like Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Claude Monet. But what about Theodore Robinson, John Henry Twachtman, Willard Metcalf, or even Childe Hassam? These are some of the luminaries in the American offshoot of the movement, and their stories and lush canvases are featured in Phil Grabsky’s documentary “The Artist’s Garden: American Impressionism and the Garden Movement,” a new installment in the “Exhibition on Screen” series at the Museum of Fine Arts.

A thoughtful and engrossing cinematic tour of the recent traveling exhibition of nearly the same title, “The Artist’s Garden” is kind of like having the world’s best docents guide you through a significant and under-heralded movement in American art history.


Not only does the film introduce you to these lesser-known artists and their often striking works, but it includes commentary analyzing the paintings and putting them in the context of other social, economic, and cultural trends, such as industrialization, urbanization, the rise of the middle class, immigration, feminism, the perennial search for a genuine American identity, and the socio-economic roots and artistic influence of the 19th century Garden Movement.

Some of the fascinating insights include an analysis of Philip Leslie Hale’s “The Crimson Rambler” (1908), a seemingly anodyne picture of a straitlaced, big-bonneted, smiling woman sitting on a porch rail next to the title flowering bush. In fact, according to the commentator’s explanation, it is an allegory of the conflict between domesticity and independence for women. “It might be a pretty picture on the surface,” says one expert, “But the more you look the more you notice.”

And at the very least by watching this film you’ll learn the proper pronunciation of “Giverny.”

“The Artist’s Garden” screens Monday through Aug. 24 at the MFA.

For more information go to www.mfa.org/programs/series/the-artists-garden-american-impressionism-and-the-garden-movement.


Northern lights

The Museum of Fine Arts documentary series “Inuit Stories: Four Films” might offer a vicarious respite from the heat, but more importantly it provides a look into a proud, struggling but resourceful indigenous culture.

In addition to two features by Inuit director Zacharias Kanuk — 2016’s “Searchers” (screens Aug. 6 at 1 p.m.) and 2001’s “Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner” (Saturday at 2 p.m.) — the program includes two documentaries examining different aspects of Inuit culture and society. Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s 2016 film “Angry Inuk” (Saturday at noon) investigates the integral role that seal hunting plays in Inuit culture. And local filmmakers Linda Matchan and Susan Gray’s “Circus Without Borders” from 2015 (Aug. 6 at 3 p.m.) looks at a unique transcultural exchange in which circus performers in a Canadian Inuit community and in a village in Guinea, West Africa, swap expertise and moral support to put on shows that will benefit both.

The series complements the ongoing MFA exhibit “Follow the North Star: Inuit Art From the Collection of Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh” (through Dec. 31). For more information go to www.mfa.org/programs/series/inuit-stories-four-films.

Black screen

If you are thinking of watching Kathryn Bigelow’s “Detroit” (opens Aug. 4) about the Detroit racial uprising in 1967, you might consider supplementing it with Raoul Peck’s documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” (2016).

The film draws on the late James Baldwin’s unfinished book “Remember This House,” a reflection on assassinated civil rights leaders (and personal friends) Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. It features readings (by Samuel L. Jackson) from that text and other Baldwin works such as “The Fire Next Time” and includes archival footage of the charismatic novelist, essayist, and activist speaking on talk shows in the 1960s and delivering lectures on the African-American experience. Baldwin’s eloquence, insight and articulation of the toll of and possible remedies for centuries of subjugation, oppression, dehumanization, and anger resonate perhaps more so in today’s ongoing climate of racial tension.


“I Am Not Your Negro” can be seen on Monday at 6 p.m. at the MIT List Visual Arts Center. The screening is free but RSVPs are required at www.eventbrite.com/e/film-screening-i-am-not-your-negro-2016-dir-raoul-peck-tickets-35432867661. For more information go to listart.mit.edu/events-programs/public-program-film-screening-i-am-not-your-negro-1.

Straight dope

Before it was suspected of secretly meddling in the US presidential election, Russia was accused of cheating in sports. It was said that somehow they had worked out a system by which they could fool the most stringent drug-testing methods, and juiced their athletes to scores of medals in a series of Olympics.

That wasn’t the subject that filmmaker Bryan Fogel started out with in “Icarus.” He was an avid amateur biker and was crushed when his hero Lance Armstrong confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs in winning his Tour de France titles. Fogel decided that he would use similar methods to boost his efforts in a grueling amateur race and make a film exposé about it. To do this he consulted with Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, who ran the official Russian anti-doping lab in Moscow. Being an expert in the field, he could coach Fogel in his experiment.


At first the tone is light-hearted despite the serious subject, comparable to an inverted version of Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me” (2004). Rodchenkov proves a surprisingly lovable personality — wry, funny, and gregarious. But things get dark and dangerous when the Russian Olympic doping program is exposed and Rodchenkov fears that he might be in a position of knowing too much, a dangerous place to be in Putin’s Russia.

“During times of universal deceit,” reads a (possibly apocryphal) quotation from George Orwell at the beginning of the film, “telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” Not just in politics, apparently, but in sports as well.

“Icarus” will be available on Netflix on Friday.

For more information go to www.netflix.com/title/80168079.

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