DocTalk | Peter Keough

A look at GlobeDocs and more

Paul Farmer in a scene from Pedro Kos’s “Bending the Arc.”
Impact Partners Film
Paul Farmer in a scene from Pedro Kos’s “Bending the Arc.”

Now in its third year, the GlobeDocs Film Festival recently announced an impressive lineup of 14 nonfiction features and a collection of shorts to round out the five-day program that kicks off Oct. 11. Many of the filmmakers will be in attendance for post-screening discussions with journalists, experts, and special guests. The venues include the Brattle, Coolidge Corner Theatre, and WGBH’s Yawkey Theater.

Film topics range from the topical to the cultural, from the urgent medical needs of the people of Haiti to the exhilaration of dance, from the urgency of climate change to the changing culture of the culinary world.

Highlights include the opening-night selection, Kief Davidson and Pedro Kos’s “Bending the Arc,” about three Partners In Health founders who were determined to bring quality medical care to an impoverished community in Haiti. The closing-night selection is Joanna James’s “A Fine Line,” about women — her mother Valerie among them — seeking to advance in the Boston restaurant scene.


Other must-see films include David Barba and James Pellerito’s “Anatomy of a Male Ballet Dancer,” about Brazilian ballet star Marcelo Gomes; Globe reporter David Abel’s “Gladesmen: The Last of the Sawgrass Cowboys,” about efforts to save Florida’s Everglades; and Jonathan Olshefski’s “Quest,” a decade-long portrait of a remarkable family in North Philadelphia.

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The GlobeDocs festival runs in conjunction with HUBweek (Oct. 10-15), which was founded by The Boston Globe, Harvard, MIT, and Massachusetts General Hospital to celebrate and explore the intersection of art, science, and technology.

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Festive era

As the documentaries “Woodstock” (1970) and “Monterey Pop” (1968) demonstrate, the 1960s was a rich decade for music festivals. One of the earliest documentarians on the scene was Murray Lerner, who visited the annual Newport Folk Festival from 1963 to 1966 and compiled the Oscar-nominated, black-and-white concert classic “Festival” (1967). Among the performers featured are Joan Baez, Bob Dylan (in both an acoustic set and his then-scandalous electric debut), Howlin’ Wolf, Johnny Cash, the Staples Singers, Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul and Mary, and my personal guilty pleasure, Donovan Leitch.

The special DVD ($29.95) and Blu-ray ($39.95) edition of “Festival” is available on Tuesday from Criterion and includes a restored digital transfer, a remastering of the soundtrack, and two featurettes — “When We Played Newport,” with archival interviews with Lerner and many of the participating performers, and “Editing ‘Festival,’ ” an account of that daunting task as told by Lerner and his editors Alan Heim and Gordon Quinn.

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Observational hazards

In the Harvard Film Archive’s “An Ethics of Observation. Four Films by Wang Bing” (Sept. 9-30), the Chinese documentarian of the title shows the profound influence of Frederick Wiseman, especially in Bing’s “’Til Madness Do Us Part” (Sept. 18 at 7 p.m.), which at 238 minutes evokes Wiseman’s 84-minute “Titicut Follies,” and then some.


Set in an unnamed, isolated mental asylum, “Madness” thrusts you into a hellish existence without any guidance except that provided by the often delusional commentary of the inmates themselves. In one of the film’s few editorial intrusions, they are identified in subtitles, along with how long they’ve been institutionalized, periods ranging from two months to 18 years. They roam aimlessly around a ward that looks like Dante’s Inferno as envisioned by Samuel Beckett, a series of dank rooms lined with beds along a caged-in corridor that overlooks a courtyard three stories below.

Little treatment is evident, other than regular pills and the shot that one patient gets after breaking a bed. In many cases their symptoms seem more a result of the cure than from any psychiatric disorder. Their activities consist of stealing each other’s beds, food, and belongings, iterating their delusions, urinating in corners, engaging in obsessive-compulsive behavior, and, most heartbreakingly, expressing their hopes of being released to a family member who will take them home. But, as one woman visiting her husband makes clear, those homes often don’t want them back. When her spouse asks her if his son is talking yet, she informs him that he is now 13. He asks if his son remembers him, and she says, “He remembers when you beat him.”

Through its relentless length, unsparing, handheld camerawork, and disorienting lack of specific information, “’Til Madness Do Us Part” immerses you in an experience of insanity and social cruelty that doesn’t readily let you go.

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Peter Keough can be reached at