Documentary fans should have no complaints this summer. In addition to the generous sampling at the Provincetown International Film Festival and the Nantucket Film Festival, the 27th Annual Woods Hole Festival (July 28-Aug. 4) will be screening dozens of nonfiction films in addition to fictional features and numerous shorts. Two of those shown on the festival’s opening day employ disparate styles to take stock of two elusive subjects — the past and the future.
The sister and brother team of Elan and Jonathan Bogarin opt for a self-described “magical realist” approach to “306 Hollywood” (July 28). The address is that of their grandmother’s residence, a modest white cluttered dwelling in Newark, where she lived for 67 years. It was a second home to the Bogarin siblings, and when their nonagenarian grandmother died they were faced with the inevitable challenge of what to do with the house and the belongings she left behind.
They decided that they should make a movie and treat grandma as subject like an archeological dig, examining and organizing each of her possessions, from toothbrushes to toilet paper. This exercise they round out with home movies and videos of interviews with her they recorded over several years. Her opinions on personal hygiene and fear of death are blunt and instructive.
To make their study of the ordinary more extraordinary the Bogarins resort to many inventive devices — some more successful than others — such as time-lapse photography and slow-motion ballets. Some of their interviews with experts, ranging from a funeral home director to MIT physicist and novelist Alan Lightman, they project on a tiny TV screen in an exact scale model of the house. It darkens the whimsy with suggestions of David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome” (1983) and Ari Aster’s “Hereditary.”
More disturbing is the filmmakers’ insistence that their grandmother strip down to her skivvies to model dresses she designed that are now far too small. “Who would want to watch this?” she asks, terrified.
Looking toward the future and relying on a more conventional documentary style, Laura Nix’s “Inventing Tomorrow” (July 28) follows four projects undertaken by teenage scientists as they prepare projects to compete in Los Angeles as finalists in the annual Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) for high school students.
Each competitor is inspired by a local environmental problem to find a solution that might have worldwide applications. A young man from Hawaii develops a method of detecting the arsenic leaking into the soil from a factory. A young woman in India devises a system to track down the pollutants poisoning local lakes. Three young men in Mexico invent a sunlight-sensitive paint that neutralizes toxic gases in the air. And two young women in Indonesia come up with a way to filter out the lead leaked into the ocean by dredging.
Like “Spellbound” (2002), the model for this subgenre of youth-competition film, Nix’s documentary delves into the personal lives of its subjects, who represent a diverse sampling of international youth. For them, though, personal success is secondary to safeguarding the future.