Doc Talk | Peter Keough

Area films include ‘About Tap,’ ‘BANG! The Bert Berns Story,’ ‘Riverblue,’ ‘Shadow World’

From left: Howard “Sandman” Sims, Chuck Green, and Bunny Briggs in “No Maps on My Taps.”
From left: Howard “Sandman” Sims, Chuck Green, and Bunny Briggs in “No Maps on My Taps.”

It’s hard to fathom now, but tap dancing, that joyous art form rooted in African-American culture and a staple of vaudeville and movie musicals, was considered passé after the 1960s. Director George T. Nierenberg’s seminal documentary “No Maps on My Taps” (1979) helped revitalize tap’s popularity around the world. After playing numerous festivals and winning awards, the film fell out of active distribution. Milestone Films has digitally restored and re-released “No Maps on My Taps” along with “About Tap,” the sequel Nierenberg made in 1985. Both films are screening at the Museum of Fine Arts various dates through Nov. 30.

“No Maps on My Taps” is a verite look at three tap veterans, Bunny Briggs, Chuck Green, and Howard “Sandman” Sims, who can still wow audiences with their athletic grace and signature moves. They recount how tap was something of a street sport in ’20s and ’30s Harlem, and how venues like the Apollo Theater routinely showcased the best tap dancers. All that changed with the advent of rock ’n’ roll in the ’60s. Dance artists like Briggs, Green, and Sims, who’d been mentored by tap legends Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and John Bubbles, struggled to find work.

“About Tap” features an introduction by Gregory Hines, the dancer who’s also credited with helping relaunch tap’s popularity in the 1980s. Hines shares his childhood memories of watching and imitating the tap dance greats at the Apollo. The film also showcases performances by Green and two other leading tappers, Steve Condos and Jimmy Slyde.

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Fathers and sons


Musician Dweezil Zappa will be at Arlington’s Regent Theatre on Monday at 7:30 p.m. for a post-screening discussion of the Boston premiere of “Summer ’82: When Zappa Came to Sicily.” Salvo Cuccia’s 2014 film is the behind-the-scenes story of the raucous concert by Dweezil’s father, rock legend Frank Zappa, in Palermo, Sicily — the finale to a European tour that ended in public disturbances and police intervention. Collaborating with Zappa’s children, Cuccia re-creates the events through rare footage, photographs, and interviews with family, band members, and concertgoers. While in Sicily for the concert, Frank Zappa visited Partinico, the birthplace of his father and grandfather. In the film’s coda, Zappa’s children return to visit their relatives for the first time.

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Music men

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Brett Berns, son of the legendary songwriter and record producer Bert Berns, presents “BANG! The Bert Berns Story” on Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Brattle Theatre as part of the ongoing Boston Jewish Film Festival.

Bert Berns, producer of hits like “Twist and Shout,” “Brown Eyed Girl,” and “Piece of My Heart,” launched the careers of some of the music industry’s biggest names, from Van Morrison to the Isley Brothers, but died at the age of 38. The film, directed by Brett Berns and Bob Sarles, features interviews with music legends including Morrison, Ben E. King, Keith Richards, and Paul McCartney.

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Mighty river

“Riverblue” takes the fashion industry to task in its expose of how the manufacturing of clothing, particularly denim, is destroying rivers around the globe. Narrated by Jason Priestley, the documentary follows advocate Mark Angelo on a journey along some of the world’s most beautiful rivers, now polluted by toxic chemicals and dyes. “Riverblue” will screen Sunday at 4 p.m. at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, followed by a 30-minute panel discussion at 5:45 p.m. with Jennifer Varekamp (professor, Sustainable Fashion, MassArt), Kate Black (author, “Magnifeco: Your Head to Toe Guide to Ethical Fashion”), and others.

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Arms and the man

“Shadow World,” director Johan Grimonprez’s investigation into the global arms trade, premieres Monday at 9:30 p.m. on PBS’s “Independent Lens.” Based on Andrew Feinstein’s book “The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade,” the documentary investigates some of the world’s largest and most corrupt arms deals and interviews experts who explain how this “shadow economy” determines foreign policies, fosters corruption, undermines democracies, and creates human suffering.

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Loren King can be reached at