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    Doc talk

    Documentary films about pollution, puppets, puttering and more

    “In the Hills and Hollows”
    Keely Kernan
    “In the Hills and Hollows”

    West Virginia must be the most beleaguered state in the union. Not only has the opioid epidemic taken its toll, but the environment has been despoiled and public health has been compromised by the fossil fuel industry and its fracking, strip mining, and pipelines — none of which benefits the state much in terms of job creation or economic stimulus.

    Keely Kernan’s documentary “In the Hills and Hollows” focuses on people whose lives have been endangered and disrupted by corporations that exploit and destroy the environment with little or no regulation. One of those interviewed refers to the “invasion” of tanker trucks and heavy equipment from out-of-state corporations. They have poisoned the water and seized private property, forcing longtime residents to pack up and leave or remain and hope their resistance will matter.

    Intercutting shots of desolation and pollution with images of the sublimely beautiful “hills and hollows” of the landscape and profiles of the families and individuals who live there, Kernan underscores what is being lost. As one interviewee puts it, “we have to get the message out about the impact shale natural gas has on a community.”


    “In the Hills and Hollows” screens Thursday at 7 p.m. as part of the Emerson Bright Lights series at the Paramount Center, Boston. The director will be present for a discussion.

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    Puppet masters

    As anyone who has handled a puppet knows, the effect can be liberating and entertaining. In Frank Oz’s documentary “Muppet Guys Talking,” the filmmaker joins four fellow muppeteers — Jerry Nelson, Fran Brill, Dave Goelz, and Bill Barretta — to talk about the liberating effect puppets have and what it was like to work with Jim Henson, the late Muppet creator, behind (and sometimes beneath and inside) the scenes. They help explain why “The Muppet Show” reached 235 million viewers (half of them adults) in 102 countries, according to the film’s prologue. And then there are the millions who watched the blockbuster movies.

    The “guys” (they include one woman, Brill, who admits to occasionally feeling out of place) relate anecdotes about the show that are often hilarious, sometimes hair-raising, and always laudatory of Henson. They share the glee of creating and performing such iconic fabric characters as Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Cookie Monster, and Grover and the lesser known but still much-loved Count von Count, Prairie Dawn, and the Great Gonzo. And a talking cheese and avocado. The camaraderie and hilarity shared by this crew, now no longer young, is a tribute to Henson and a workshop on the collaborative artistic process.


    “Muppet Guys Talking” will be available for streaming on Friday.

    Go to www.MuppetGuysTalking


    Aloha state

    Kimi Takesue’s documentary “95 and 6 to Go” (2016) is the home movie as subtle, multi-layered, self-reflexive work of art. 

    She films her widowed, nonagenarian grandfather — Grandpa Tom — at his home in Honolulu as he goes about his daily routines: puttering, barbecuing, clipping coupons, doing exercises, going through old photos. On New Year’s Eve, he sets off fireworks. She also questions him about his life. Matter-of-factly he talks about how, when he was 2, his mother burned to death when her kimono caught fire. He remembers his loneliness as a schoolboy, his career as a postman, and how he met his wife (it was not love at first sight, he says). 


    He doesn’t seem like much of a romantic. Asked what his wife was interested in, he says “nothing.” Yet he brings flowers to her grave, and on the headstone next to his wife’s name is that of their daughter, who died in her 30s, and about whom he says little.

    Takesue also asks for Grandpa Tom’s input on a screenplay she is writing about a Japanese man with a dying wife who falls in love with a woman in Hawaii, and that taps into his creative, sentimental side. He suggests titles (“You Were Meant for Me”) music (Fred Astaire singing “The Way You Look Tonight”) and a happy ending. Near the end he also gives Takesue the title for her documentary, it’s a joke that epitomizes his fatalism, resilient spirit, and sardonic sense of humor

    “95 and 6 to Go” screens on Monday at 7 p.m. as part of the DocYard series at the Brattle Theatre. The director will be present for a discussion.

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    Peter Keough can be reached at