February is a rich month for film-lovers, filled with screenings of alternative movies and film festivals. There are classics, documentaries, genre films, science fiction, appearances by filmmakers, and cinema from around the world.
by Tim Jackson
ReelAbilities Film Festival. At Various locations in the Boston, MA area, January 31 through February 5.
For the second year the Jewish Film Festival presents a series of unique films from 9 countries that focus on stories of people with disabilities. Such remarkable 2012 films as Rust and Bone, Silver Linings Playbook and The Sessions prove that these kind of narratives, when handled artfully, need not be preachy or maudlin.
Festival Director Amy Geller insists that “these particular stories highlight mental and physical disabilities through intimate character-driven narratives. While the films do touch on the differences between people with and without disabilities, they focus more on the commonalities among all people.” Scheduled speakers and panel discussions (which will be open captioned) will take up issues raised by the films. Complimentary tickets are available for individuals with disabilities. Films shown at the Cardinal Cushing Centers, Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center and Scibelli Enterprise Center are free.
Mary and Max
The ReelAbilities Film Festival schedule opens tomorrow at the West Newton Cinema with Mary and Max, an astounding work of nearly surreal animation grounded in very real subject matter. Based on a true story, the film centers on Mary Daisy Dinkle, a lonely Australian girl with an absent father and a domineering alcoholic mother. She’s got a birthmark on her forehead that “looks like poo” and no social life. Thumbing randomly through a New York phone book one day she picks out a name — ‘Max Jerry Horovitz.’ She writes to him out of curiosity. Max, an obese but kind and imaginative 44-year-old Jewish man with Asberger’s Syndrome, writes her back. And thus begins a convoluted pen-pal friendship that lasts for years.
This may not sound like promising material for animation, but this is a rare and unique film, buoyed by the inspired claymation of Adam Eliot (Harvie Krumpet), the latter’s witty, off-color, and clever script, storybook narration by Barry Humphries, and the voices of Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Toni Collette. It is difficult to describe just how the plot moves along, but every comment, aside, fantasy, thought and insecurity of the characters and their relationship is played out through imaginative and visually animated moments. Mary and Max was an opening film at Sundance in 2008 and garnered rave reviews — why it never received a decent theatrical release is a mystery. This is really worth seeing on the big screen and a wonderful opening selection for the series.
Other ReelAbilities Film Festival offerings include: (from the program descriptions)
The Straight Line – A taut French sports drama about a blind runner training with a former athlete who has a criminal past. The Straight Line will be shown @ 7 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 2 at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.
Body and Soul – An uplifting documentary following three young Mozambicans with physical disabilities. Body and Soul will be screened at noon, Sunday, Feb. 3 at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.
Me, Too – This gripping Spanish drama is about a recent college grad with Down syndrome and the bond he develops with his lively workmate. Me, Too screens on Sunday, Feb. 3 at the Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and on Monday, Feb. 4 at Cardinal Cushing Centers in Hanover.
Mabul – An award-winning Israeli film in which Yoni, surrounded by his troubled family, studies his Bar Mitzvah portion about Noah’s Ark. Life gets very complicated when older brother Tomer, who is severely autistic, returns home. Mabul screens on Monday, Feb. 4 at the Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center in Newton, MA.
Princess – Cheerful, delusional Anna lives in a Finnish psychiatric hospital believing she is an English royal. Can “Princess” escape receiving a lobotomy, a cutting-edge psychiatric treatment that was popular when the film is set, in the middle of the last century? Princess screens on Tuesday, Feb. 5 at West Newton Cinema.
Shorts Program – features three short films, Anything You Can Do, which is about two youths – one wheelchair bound – in competition with each other; Aphasia, a comical docudrama about actor Carl McIntyre, who suffers a stroke; and I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone, which deals with a blind teenage boy who has to grapple with complicated male/female relationships. These films screen on Monday, Feb. 4 at the Scibelli Enterprise Center in Springfield, MA.
The BU Cinematheque Screenings Series. At the Boston University’s College of Communication, Room 101, 640 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA, on February 1, 8, and 15.
In February, professor, critic, and filmmaker Gerald Peary continues this series of screenings and Q&A discussions with filmmakers. All events are at 7 p.m. on Friday evenings. The event is open to the public and free of charge! It is a great chance for students and lovers of film to learn about the filmmaking process. The movies are curated by Peary, who has come up with three excellent movies and directors this month.
February 1 – Photographic Memory. Harvard professor Ross McElwee, (Sherman’s March), talks about his 2011 documentary, in which he searches for an old love as he copes to understand his own college-age son.
February 8 – How to Survive a Plague. Journalist Davis France’s potent, angry, Oscar-nominated documentary explores how America’s gay community banded together to battle the AIDS epidemic. The film is unexpectedly exciting — one of the year’s best.
February 15 – Changing the Game. Ex-BU film graduate student Rel Dowdell presents his explosive film about a young African-American’s rise from the streets of Philadelphia to Wall Street and an involvement with international intrigue: guns, gals, money, morality and Christianity, in one indie film.
Oscar Nominated Short Films. At the Institute of Contemporary Art. Boston, MA. February 1 through March 17.
Do you ever watch the Oscars and wonder where you had the opportunity to see those short film nominations? Look no further than the ICA in Boston, which is bringing in an ambitious slate of Live Action, Documentary, and Animation nominees. Check the website’s schedule for details on these (hopefully) amazing films.
The Films of Stanley Kubrick The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, February 1 through 21.
If there was ever a director whose films need to be seen on the big screen experience it is Stanley Kubrick. Whether haven’t yet had a chance to take in his beautiful and visionary cinema or want to remember his genius once again, this is your chance. The series begins with his earliest films: Killer’s Kiss, Fear and Desire, and the wry noir thriller The Killing. There are the wrenching anti-war films Paths of Glory, Full Metal Jacket and Dr Strangelove, one of the screen’s greatest and darkest comedies. Clockwork Orange and 2001, his stunning and influential visions of the future are included, as are Eyes Wide Shut and Barry Lyndon, his hypnotic and controversial films of manners and mores. All are best experienced in the darkness and quiet of a movie theater. You can’t really go wrong with any of the presentations, including Lolita, The Shining, and Spartacus.
Hors Satan. At the Harvard Film Archives Cambridge, MA, February 2 and 8, 9, 10, and 11.
Director Bruno Dumont is an acquired taste. He makes compelling films that seem cold and detached, their messages puzzlingly abstract. Yet for those who appreciate his technique they offer emotionally intense experiences, quasi-religious in their power. Dumont puts his characters under meticulous scrutiny, leaving us to judge how well they handle issues of good, evil, and faith. I am so thankful that there is venue in the area to check out his latest allegorical mystery.
UMass Documentary Series. UMass Boston, Dorchester, MA. Screenings at the Campus Center Ballroom, February 7 and 28. Chico Colvard returns with his series of world class documentaries. Admission is always free, and the filmmakers are often in attendance.
February 7: The World Before Her. A provocative look at modern India through an intimate verité drama about the Miss India pageant’s rigorous beauty “bootcamp” and the intense regime of a militant Hindu fundamentalist camp set up for young girls.
February 28: Stevie. Steve James, who directed the landmark film Hoop Dreams, returns to rural Southern Illinois to reconnect with Stevie Fielding, a troubled young boy to whom he had been a Big Brother advocate ten years earlier.
Boston Science Fiction Film Festival. At the Somerville Theater, Somerville, MA, February 8 through 18. This festival, which began at the old Orson Welles Cinema in Cambridge in 1976, continues its hallowed tradition in Somerville. As usual, the lineup is a crazy collection of classics, old and new films, and downright shlock. Your best bet is to check its evolving schedule of films. The festival culminates with The ‘Thon, which starts at noon on Sunday February 1 and runs for 24 consecutive hours. I recommend viewing the BFF’s brilliantly produced trailer below.
The DocYard At The Brattle Theater, Cambridge, MA, on February 11 and 25. This series upholds Boston’s reputation as a center for documentary film, with an interest in innovation. Every other week this series brings in under-recognized films of great range as well as hosting a moderated Q&A with the director.
February 11. El Huaso. Struggling with short-term memory loss, Gustavo returns to his homeland of Chile. He decides to pursue a childhood dream – competing as a “huaso” in rodeos. At the same time, he is awaiting the results of tests to determine whether or not he has Alzheimer’s. He has long professed he would end his life if he was diagnosed with the disease, and he begins making preparations for his death. His family struggles to accept his decision to end his life. El Huaso explores the pivotal point in one man’s life when he takes up the question of how he wishes to spend his final days. Director Carlo Guillermo Proto will be present for a post screening discussion.
February 25. Call Me Kuchu. In Uganda, a new bill threatens to make homosexuality punishable by death. David Kato – Uganda’s first openly gay man – and his fellow activists work against the clock to defeat the legislation. At the same time they have to combat vicious persecution in their daily lives. Filmmaker Malika Zouhali-Worrall will be in attendance.
Girl Shy with Harold Lloyd. At the Somerville Theater, Somerville, MA, on Feb 14.
This silent film comedy classic (presented in 35mm) features music by educator, composer, and performer Jeff Rapsis, who specializes in creating live musical scores. In this 1924 film, Lloyd uses his celebrated comic trademarks — round glasses, wild chases, and daredevil antics — to explore the mystery of sexual attraction. Lloyd, one of the great silent clowns, plays a horribly shy tailor’s assistant who writes a best-selling book entitled The Secrets of Making Love, meets the girl of his dreams, loses her, and then races to win her back from the arms of another man. It’s classic Lloyd, and check out how the ending anticipates The Graduate climax by decades.
Alloy Orchestra: Buster Keaton Shorts. At the Somerville Theater, Somerville, MA on February 23. Boston’s Alloy Orchestra brings their compositional panache and live performance skills to three early Buster Keaton shorts: The Butcher Boy, Good Night, Nurse! with Fatty Arbuckle, and the brilliant The Play House, which Keaton wrote and directed. This is a wonderful opportunity to see the evolution of Keaton’s artistry at an early stage (he already rivals competitor Charlie Chaplin), plus you get the rare treat of hearing live accompaniment by one of the country’s best silent film music ensembles.
The Foster Boy. At the Coolidge Corner Theater, Brookline, MA. On February 24 at 11:00 a.m.
The Goethe-Institut Boston continues their tradition of presenting young directors from Germany. Last season they premiered the acclaimed feature Barbara. The series is particularly good at finding films that expand viewers understanding of German history. The Foster Boy takes place in Switzerland in 1955 and explores the fact that (as the Coolidge Corner publicity has it) “Swiss authorities forcefully placed hundred thousands of orphans, illegitimate children and kids from broken homes as laborers on farms.”