By Heidi Sutton
Fresh off its special summer screening of the blockbuster documentary “RBG” to a sold-out crowd at Theatre Three, the award-winning Port Jefferson Documentary Series kicks off its fall 2018 season on Monday, Sept. 17. Seven notable and acclaimed documentary films will be showcased, exploring everything from science fairs, ovarian cancer, poaching, disco, baseball and more.
Sponsored by the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council and the Suffolk County Office of Film and Cultural Affairs, the first six films will be screened at Theatre Three while the final documentary will be presented in Earl L. Vandermeulen High School’s auditorium. Both venues are located in the Village of Port Jefferson. Each screening will be followed by a Q-&-A session with guest speakers.
The documentaries are chosen by a seven-member film board, affectionately known as “the film ladies,” who each choose one film to present to the audience. This fall’s picks were selected after the members attended screenings at the Tribeca Film Festival, DOC NYC and the Hamptons Film Festival.
The board members, including co-directors Lyn Boland, Barbara Sverd and Wendy Feinberg along with Honey Katz, Phyllis Ross, Lorie Rothstein and Lynn Rein, along with volunteers Suzanne Velasquez, Elaine Friedman and Denise Livrieri, are celebrating the festival’s 13th year this month.
Lyn Boland is excited about sharing this new crop of films with audiences this season. “It’s a very interesting lineup,” she mused during a recent phone interview.
According to Boland, one of the more touching films this fall is “Love, Gilda,” an intimate portrait of the comedian, writer and actress Gilda Radner using personal recordings and journal entries along with interviews of her friends and family, including her husband, Gene Wilder. Radner died in 1989 from ovarian cancer at the age of 42. “For me, it was a revelation about who she was because … a lot of comedians have a dark side … but she was seemingly funny and charming and loved by everyone in her family and friend circle from the time she was a little girl,” explained Boland. “[Radner] was very endearing, very bright, very creative — it is a tragic story that she died so young.”
Another film that will tug at the heart strings, especially for animal lovers, is “When Lambs Become Lions,” which documents the lives of a poacher and a park ranger in Kenya over the course of three years. “I’m very anxious to ask the director how he got this kind of cooperation. It’s just remarkable to see this story from both sides and it has a very intriguing ending,” said Boland.
The co-director’s personal favorite is the highly acclaimed “Roll Red Roll” where amateur blogger Alex Goddard uncovers evidence on social media about the sexual assault of an intoxicated teenage girl by football players at a preseason party in Steubenville, Ohio, in 2012.
“The real crux of the story is that this blogger found these pictures online because the team was tweeting them and if it hadn’t been for her having the courage to follow up on it, this would’ve gone completely under the radar. It wasn’t reported to the police — just bragged about online,” explained Boland. “It’s one of those tales of personal courage and points out that small town ‘football team is everything’ way of thinking. It’s very well done and very suspenseful and winning a lot of awards.”
Perhaps the documentary that has received the most buzz in the news lately is “Science Fair,” which shadows nine teenagers working to win top honors at the acclaimed International Science and Engineering Fair. According to Boland, this is one of those films the entire family can enjoy. “It’s really one of those great stories of terrific talented kids doing their best and the different things that come into play when you are a teenager” no matter how smart you are.
For Boland, being a part of this committee for the last 13 years has been a true labor of love and one she is very proud of. It has also been the perfect outlet to share her love of documentaries to the community. “I really feel that documentaries are a very powerful way of communicating. When you finish watching a really good documentary, you sit there and say “Oh my god, what if I hadn’t seen this? What if I didn’t know? Because in 90 minutes you get a very well fleshed out description of a situation and it’s something that we all need to know more about.” The co-director encourages everyone to stay after the screenings for the Q&A, which can get quite lively.
The Port Jefferson Documentary Series will be held at 7 p.m. every Monday night from Sept. 17 to Oct. 22 at Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson and at Earl Vandermeulen High School, 350 Old Post Road, Port Jefferson on Oct. 29. Tickets, sold at the door, are $8 per person. (No credit cards please.) If you would like to volunteer, please call 631-473-5200. For more information, visit www.portjeffdocumentaryseries.com.
■ The fall season will kick off with “Love, Gilda” at Theatre Three on Sept. 17. Lisa D’Apolito’s exuberant and moving documentary portrait of Gilda Radner looks back and reflects on the comedian’s life and career. Weaving together recently discovered audiotapes, interviews with her friends, rare home movies and diaries read by modern-day comedians, the film offers a unique window into the honest and whimsical world of a beloved performer whose greatest role was sharing her story. Presented in collaboration with the Long Island Chapter of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, the event will be moderated by Tom Needham, host of “Sounds of Film” on Stony Brook University’s WUSB. Guest speakers will include producer Bronwyn Berry and executive producer Carolyn Hepburn.
■ “When Lambs Become Lions” heads to Theatre Three on Sept. 24. Exploring the violative African poaching trade, the film profiles an ivory dealer from Kenya and his cousin, a wildlife ranger who is tasked with hunting down poachers. Who are these hunters who will risk death, arrest and the moral outrage of the world? Guest speaker, director Jon Kasbe, followed the film’s subjects over a three-year period, gaining an extraordinary level of access and trust as he became part of their everyday lives.
■ The season continues on Oct. 1 at Theatre Three with “Roll Red Roll,” which examines the cover up of the infamous 2012 rape of a teenage girl by the star players of a Steubenville, Ohio, football team. As amateur crime blogger Alex Goddard uncovers disturbing evidence on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, questions arise around the collusion of teen and adult bystanders. The film documents the case in such a powerful fashion that your feelings of outrage will persist long after the movie is over. Guest speaker will be director Nancy Schwartzman.
■ “Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel,” to be screened at Theatre Three on Oct. 8, is a stirring story of sports, patriotism and personal growth which charts the underdog journey of Israel’s national baseball team competing for the first time in the World Baseball Classic. Director Daniel A. Miller will be the guest speaker. The film is sponsored by The Preserve at Indian Hills and Temple Isaiah. Enjoy a donut from Duck Donuts and take part in a raffle to win a Long Island Ducks gift basket.
■ The series continues at Theatre Three with “Skid Row Marathon” on Oct. 15. The inspiring and uplifting documentary follows Superior Judge Craig Mitchell over a period of four years as he starts a running club on L.A.’s infamous Skid Row. If club members stay clean, off the streets and out of jail, the judge will take them around the world to run marathons. The runners fight the pull of addiction and homelessness at every turn. Not everyone crosses the finish line yet second chances do exist. Sponsored by The Law office of Michael S. Ross PC, guest speakers will include director Mark Hayes and producer Gabrielle Hayes.
■ “Studio 54” will be screened at Theatre Three on Oct. 22. Studio 54 was the epicenter of ‘70s hedonism — a place that not only redefined the nightclub but also came to symbolize an entire era. Located at West 54th Street, a then-seedy part of town, the nightclub was the brainchild of Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell, two college buddy entrepreneurs from Brooklyn who, over the course of 33 months, became the kings of New York — and then lost it all due to greed. Now, 39 years after the velvet rope was first slung across the club’s hallowed threshold, we hear the whole unvarnished story for the first time, with a treasure trove of rare footage and celebrity interviews, the real story behind the greatest club of all time. Guest speakers include Myra Scheer, executive assistant to Rubell and Schrager; Marc Benecke, doorman; Gerard Renny, VIP doorman; Scottie Taylor, bartender; and Chuck Garelick, head of security.
■ The series concludes on a high note with “Science Fair” at Earl Vandermuelen High School on Oct. 29. Directed by Christina Costantini and Darren Foster, “Science Fair” won the first ever Festival Favorite Award at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, beating out 123 other films. The film follows nine students and one mentor from around the globe as they navigate rivalries, setbacks and hormones, on their journey to compete against 1,700 students from 75 countries at the Intel Science Fair. Though all are participating for the love of science, we also learn there are underlying influences motivating them to pursue their dreams. With guest speaker Dr. Marnie Kula, director InStar Science Research/Science Chair at Ward Melville High School, Three Village school district.