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DOC TALK | PETER KEOUGH

From police upgrades to pairing off

A scene from Craig Atkinson’s “Do Not Resist.”

By Peter Keough  Globe Correspondent 

You wouldn’t think that the police department of Concord, N.H., — a city with a population of 42,900 where only two murders have occurred since 2004 — would need a 20-ton armored military vehicle for law enforcement. Nonetheless, the City Council approved the acquisition — after all, it was a gift from the US Department of Defense.

That is just one of the chilling moments in Craig Atkinson’s “Do Not Resist” (2016), an alarming examination of how across the country, from big cities to small towns, police forces have been beefing up their arsenals with equipment that would be more appropriate in a war zone. As the film points out, the problem with such heavy ordnance is that it will likely be used, whether appropriately or not, leading to an increased militarization of law enforcement.

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When that kind of attitude develops, the film contends, police start to regard citizens as the enemy, not as people they have sworn to serve and protect, a state of affairs Atkinson illustrates with footage of the police response to the 2014 demonstrations following the police killing of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo. Nearly four years later, in the current political environment, it seems unlikely that the situation has improved.

“Do Not Resist” can be seen on Monday at 10 p.m. on PBS’s “POV.”

Go to www.pbs.org/pov/donotresist.

 

Waste product

Parents in North St. Louis County, Mo., have one more thing to worry about when it comes to their kids — making sure that they aren’t playing in the yard when the stench from the fire smoldering under the West Lake Landfill wafts over. Not only is it unpleasant, but it may contain pollutants from radioactive waste that dates back to the Manhattan Project, in 1942.

Rebecca Cammisa’s documentary “Atomic Homefront” traces the history of this environmental hazard from the time when downtown St. Louis was a processing center for the uranium used for the first atomic bombs and the deadly waste was shifted around dumping sites in various suburbs. But as those who live near those dumps well know, radiation never dies; and the waste sites have been the likely cause of outbreaks of cancer and other diseases that have ravaged their neighborhoods.  

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But when it comes to the safety of their kids, mothers are not to be messed with. Cammisa focuses on one St. Louis group called “Just Moms STL” as they confront the Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators, and the corporations responsible for illegal dumping and demand answers. 

“Atomic Homefront” can be seen on Monday at 8 p.m. on HBO. The film will also be available on HBO On Demand, HBO NOW, HBO GO, and affiliate portals.

Go to hbo.com/documentaries/atomic-homefront.

 

The 20 Years War

Little noticed in this country, the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been going on for 20 years with a death toll, to date, of 5 million. Daniel McCabe’s “This Is Congo” picks up the story in 2012, as a rebel army, the latest of many, rises up against the corrupt President Joseph Kabila.

The film shows the conflict from disparate points of view — a patriotic colonel in the Congolese National Army whose idealism and courage seem to be exploited, a mineral dealer who takes great risks to turn the chaos to her advantage, a tailor who has enough faith in his trade to drag his sewing machine from one displacement camp to the next, and a regime whistleblower who explains the cynical motives and machinations of those who benefit from the slaughter.

“This is Congo” screens at 7 p.m. on Monday as part of the DocYard program at the Brattle Theatre, 40 Brattle St., Cambridge. McCabe and field producer Horeb Bulambo Shindano will be available for a Q&A.

Go to www.brattlefilm.org/2018/
02/12/this-is-congo
.

 

Living conditions

The ongoing partial retrospective of Frederick Wiseman’s documentaries at the Harvard Film Archive allows viewers a chance to see on the big screen some of his lesser-known works. One of these is “Public Housing” (1997), which shows the day-to-day reality of life in the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago. Though the film does underscore the inherent racism and institutional dysfunction of the system and the crime, poverty, and addiction they engender, it focuses more on the human experience. That includes poignant sequences, such as an old woman peeling a cabbage and a disabled man being evicted, ironic contrasts such as a condom demonstration to a roomful of teenage mothers and their crying babies, and instances of sheer absurdity, such as an ice cream truck that circles the premises and incessantly plays its maddening ditty.

“Public Housing” screens on Sunday at 5 p.m. at the Harvard Film Archive in the Carpenter Center, 24 Quincy St., Cambridge.

Go to hcl.harvard.edu/hfa/films/2017decfeb/wiseman.html .

 

Hot stuff

Here’s a surefire way to end a relationship: Turn it into a documentary. Just in time for Valentine’s Day comes the release of Josephine Decker and Zefrey Throwell’s “Flames,” which records their ill-fated romantic partnership over a period of five years. It opens with an ambitious and graphic sexual position that is so awkward Decker can’t help laughing, moves on to a “spontaneous” trip to the Maldives during which Throwell rudely disconnects a phone call between Decker and her mother in order to propose to her, and ends, apparently, with the completion of this inventive, polished, and rather sad movie. 

“Flames” will be available on Amazon Video, iTunes, and Vudu as well as DVD ($19.95) and Blu-ray ($24.95) on Tuesday.

Go to amzn.to/2GV3235. 


Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com