Movies

Doc Talk

Octoberfest of quality filmmaking continues

A scene from “Shadowgram” by Italian director August Contento, one of the films being screened at the Arlington International Film Festival.
The Arlington International Film Festival
A scene from “Shadowgram” by Italian director August Contento, one of the films being screened at the Arlington International Film Festival.

What is it with all these fine film festivals featuring documentaries this month? I, for one, am not complaining.

The 11th annual Boston Palestine Film Festival (Oct. 20-29) offers trenchant, challenging films on an eclectic assortment of topics. Some of the films included are:

Mohanad Yaqubi’s “Off Frame AKA Revolution Until Victory” (Sunday at 2:30 p.m. with producer Sami Said attending) relates how the Palestine Film Unit, formed by the PLO, sought in the 1960s and ’70s to present images to counter stereotypes. Yaqubi scoured archives around the world, mining everything from popular movies to the works of militant filmmakers. 

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Mohamed Jabaly’s “Ambulance” (Friday at 7:30 p.m. with the filmmaker present for a discussion) relates events during Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza from the intense and intimate point-of-view of an ambulance crew. Himself a citizen of Gaza City, Jabaly records the lifesaving work of these first-responders, who are a source of hope, order, and healing in the midst of chaos and destruction. 

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Carol Mansour’s “Stitching Palestine” (Oct. 29 at 3 p.m. with Mansour, producer Muna Khalidi, and subject Salma El Yassir participating in a discussion) weaves together the lives of a dozen Palestinian women from around the world bound together by their common commitment to continuing the ancient tradition of embroidery.

The festival takes place at the Museum of Fine Arts.

For more information go to www.mfa.org/programs/series/the-boston-palestine-film-festival.

 

What’s on in Arlington

Since 2010, the juried Arlington International Film Festival (Oct. 26-29) has been offering an eclectic assortment of films from around the world, including shorts, fictional features, and documentaries. 

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A must-see among the latter is John Scheinfeld’s “Chasing Trane” (Friday at 9:52 p.m.) about the jazz genius John Coltrane. Winner of the best of festival award, it presents an in-depth, comprehensive study of the life and music of Coltrane that also puts his contribution in the context of the politics and cultural developments of his times. Those interviewed include Denzel Washington, Carlos Santana, Cornell West, and Bill Clinton.  

Amy Khon’s “A Courtship” (Friday at 7 p.m.), winner of the festival’s best documentary feature prize, is a sensitive and sympathetic look at Christian courtship. An alternative to the vagaries of secular dating, this practice requires a person to submit to the will of God in choosing a marriage partner. Khon focuses on the story of a woman from a family of non-believers who decides to follow this path after her parents’ divorce. A Christian couple adopted the woman and now serve as matchmakers who seek out and evaluate potential spouses. The woman, meanwhile, has vowed to remain chaste, refusing even to kiss a man until they are married. Sounds like it has as good a chance for success as any online dating site.

Also not to be missed is Mariëtte Faber’s “The Man Who Wanted to Change the World” (Oct. 29 at 6:25 p.m.), a profile of the late Peter Westerveld, who invented a process of large-scale contour-trenching that not only helps to revive deserts but also creates vast, site-specific works of art. 

The festival takes place at the Capitol Theatre in Arlington.

For more information go to www.aiffest.org.

Notable in Belmont

Though not a film festival per se, the Belmont World Film program “Don’t Stop the Music” is plenty festive, featuring two outstanding and tuneful documentaries about world music. 

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Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Andy Schocken’s “Song of Lahore” (2015) tells the story of a remarkable band of musicians, Pakistan's Sachal Jazz Ensemble, which was secretly formed in 1977 as a response to the policy of the dictatorial president, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, to “cleanse” Pakistani culture. Non-religious music was declared sinful and secular musicians were forced to take on menial work to survive. 

Many found refuge in the ensemble, which at first focused on the country’s classical and folk music, but then ventured into playing jazz — on indigenous Pakistani musical instruments. Their fusion approach also embraced genres such as pop and film scores and in 2011 they achieved international recognition with an album featuring their unique takes on jazz standards.

Lutz Gregor’s “Mali Blues” (2016) also considers the plight of musicians oppressed by an intolerant regime. In the West African country of Mali, fundamentalist Islam and Sharia law have banned secular music and dancing, forcing performers to flee their homeland. Gregor’s film profiles several of these exiles and offers generous selections of their music. 

Included are Fatoumata “Fatou” Diawara (if you have seen Abderrahmane Sissako’s brilliant 2014 film “Timbuktu” you might recognize his music from the soundtrack), ngoni player and traditional griot Bassekou Kouyate, rapper Master Soumy, and guitarist Ahmed Ag Kaedi, leader of the Tuareg band Amanar.

“Song of Lahore” screens Monday at 7:30 p.m. and is followed by a discussion led by Hasan Usmani, president of the Pakistan Association of Greater Boston. “Mali Blues” screens on Nov. 6 at 7:30 p.m. Both are at the Studio Cinema in Belmont.

For more information go to www.belmontworldfilm.org.

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