I Now Pronounce You Husband and Husband will be screened at the Woodstock Playhouse at 3:15 p.m. on Saturday, September 24. It will be paired with Taking a Chance on God, a much longer documentary directed by Brendan Fay about the Jesuit priest John McNeill. Co-founder of the New York chapter of the Catholic gay rights organization Dignity, Father McNeill incurred the wrath of the Church hierarchy in the 1970s and ‘80s by publishing tracts on the subject of how a gay person can be a good Catholic and taking his controversial views on the TV talk show circuit. Ginny Apuzzo, founder of the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center in Kingston, is among those reminiscing about Father McNeill’s important role in the movement.
One of the best of the crop of documentaries at WFF 2011 is More to Live For, produced by Susan Becker and James Chippendale and directed by Noah Hutton. It tells compelling and suspenseful parallel stories of three men who developed leukemia in the prime of life and had their lives and careers waylaid by the all-consuming quest for a bone marrow donor match. If you walk out of this movie without a burning desire to have the inside of your cheek swabbed so you can join the international bone marrow registry, you’ve got a heart of stone. And if you can sit through the footage of what turned out to be jazz saxophone giant Michael Brecker’s last-ever recording session – including Jack DeJohnette, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, John Patitucci and Brad Mehldau – without being wowed, you’ve got an ear of tin. More to Live For screens at noon at the Woodstock Playhouse on Friday, September 23 and again at 4 p.m. on Sunday, September 25 at Upstate I in Rhinebeck. According to WFF staff, marrow donor signup sessions will be organized as part of the Festival proceedings.
A truly meaty, detailed and balanced “issue documentary” being offered at WFF 2011 is Cape Spin, directed by Robbie Gemmel and John Kirby. It chronologically recaps the controversies surrounding the Cape Wind power generation project proposed for Nantucket Sound, which ultimately received federal approval in April 2010 but is not yet under construction. The filmmakers admirably bent over backward to capture the nuances of the positions of both those who opposed and those who supported the project, which brought together some strange bedfellows indeed. It’s truly a surreal experience to watch Bobby Kennedy, Jr. and a Greenpeace honcho, both aboard boats, bellowing insults at each other through bullhorns across the foggy waters off Cape Cod. Cape Spin can be seen at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, September 23 at the Bearsville Theater and at 11:15 a.m. on Sunday, September 25 at Upstate I in Rhinebeck.
When was the last time you caught a really good piece of cinéma vérité? It’s a once-trendy term that one doesn’t even hear much anymore; maybe indie filmmakers feel that it has become contaminated by the appalling rise of “reality TV.” But the pure approach is still being practiced in some corners of the world, and an Israeli producer/director named Menin Elias has a fine example on display in this year’s WFF. Titled Fat Cows, Lean Cows, it observes without commentary the declining fortunes of a dairy farm in Israel near Gaza over a period of two years through the human, often humorous and sometimes testy interactions of three men of three different generations and cultural backgrounds. Yosef, the dairy’s owner is an Israeli Jew, elderly and afflicted with cancer; his right-hand man Ibrahim, a middle-aged Bedouin Muslim, is separated for long periods from his wife and seven children in Gaza; and Eddie, a wisecracking young Thai migrant worker, pines for his own wife and young son back home, but is reluctant to leave his comparatively well-paying job. Gorgeous cinematography chronicles the changing seasons in the rural landscape, reflecting the shifting moods of these friends and colleagues who all know that their time together is drawing to a close. Fat Cows, Lean Cows screens at 4:45 p.m. on Saturday, September 24 at Upstate I in Rhinebeck and at 4:45 p.m. on Sunday, September 25 at the Bearsville Theater.
Another Israeli entry in the Festival in the documentary category is Dani Menkin and Yonatan Nir’s Dolphin Boy. Over a period of four years, it follows the slow psychological healing of Morad, an Israeli Arab youth who at age 17 was subjected to many hours of brutal beating by a gang led by a boy who erroneously assumed that Morad had an intimate relationship with his sister, based on a text message. Morad comes out of the experience so traumatized that he cannot talk or interact even with family members. A perceptive psychiatrist, after having no success with other therapeutic approaches, sends Morad to the Dolphin Reef at the seaside resort of Eilat for “dolphin therapy.” Still mute after several months, Morad immediately bonds with the dolphins, but blocks out everything that happened in his previous life and refuses to return to his home village. It’s a touching but unsettling story that leaves the viewer wondering whether Morad’s progress is ultimately worth the financial sacrifices that his family makes to keep him living in his private paradise for so long. Dolphin Boy can be seen at 4:45 p.m. on Saturday, September 24 at the Bearsville Theater and at 1:45 p.m. on Sunday, September 25 at Upstate I in Rhinebeck.
And when was the last time you saw a documentary about life in contemporary Afghanistan that was upbeat and heartwarming? If you need a reason to feel some hope for that war-ravaged country, and especially for its children, check out Skateistan: Four Wheels and a Board in Kabul, directed by Kai Sehr and produced by Rene Kock. More than half of the Afghani population consists of people under the age of 15; and out of those 15 million youths, thought Australian skateboard champion Oliver Percovich, “If we can’t get one million kids skateboarding, then we’re doing something wrong.” So he and some friends set out to win the hearts and minds of the ragtag kids of Kabul by teaching them a sport that anyone could learn – even girls!
The scrappy crew of the not-for-profit organization that Percovich founded, called Skateistan, transforms an abandoned fountain in a park into a practice rink, recruits tough street kids to become skateboarding trainers and eventually amasses enough goodwill among Afghani government officials and various European embassies in Kabul to build a gorgeous indoor skate park next to the city’s stadium. Four international skateboarding pros – one of them female – come for an extended visit and inspire the youths to believe that they can transcend the misery and deprivation of their lives amidst the rubble of war. It’s a bumpy ride, with quite a few spills and setbacks along the way, but everyone comes up smiling and so wheel you. Skateistan will be shown at 2:15 p.m. on Saturday, September 24 at Upstate I in Rhinebeck and at noon on Sunday, September 25 at the Bearsville Theater.