By Heidi Sutton
The ravages of war, arranged marriages, police corruption, high fashion — these topics and more will be explored in detail as the Port Jefferson Documentary Series kicks off its Fall 2017 season on Monday, Sept. 11.
The series, which is sponsored by the Greater Port Jefferson North Brookhaven Arts Council, the Suffolk County Office of Film and Cultural Affairs and the New York State Council on the Arts, will present eight award-winning documentaries through Oct. 30, with the first and last to be screened at the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook and the rest at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson. Each film will be followed by a Q&A with guest speakers.
The documentaries were hand-picked by a seven-member film board which includes co-directors Lyn Boland, Barbara Sverd and Wendy Feinberg along with Honey Katz, Phyllis Ross, Lorie Rothstein and Lynn Rein.
This season will mark the series’ 12th year which is just fine for the film ladies, as they are affectionately called. “I think after 10 years I started to become a believer that it was actually going to have some staying power,” said Boland in a recent phone interview. “I was always holding my breath hoping that we would be there the next year … now I believe that the show will go on.”
Boland said working with the group is “an absolute pleasure. I’m really dumbfounded that everyone sticks around every year,” she laughed. “It seems like the amount of work that has to get done just gets bigger each time because we add things every year — the audience award, surveys, sponsors, concerts. We want to add something ‘special’ to each season.”
This fall’s dynamic line-up was selected after the members attended the Stony Brook Film Festival, DOC NYC, the Hamptons Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival.
The group as a whole is most excited about presenting “Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan,” a behind the scenes look at the New York City Ballet’s long-time principal dancer Wendy Whelan as she faces injury and retirement. “It just took everyone’s breath away,” gushed Boland. “The film just wins you over, plus if you love watching ballet, the ballet sequences are just the perfect length to see how great she was.” Whelan will appear in person at the screening.
Personally, Boland is looking forward to sharing “City of Ghosts” with the audience. “I think it is the most important film this season because it’s really an inside look at what is going on in Syria,” she said. “When you see it, it’s just so horrifying. We knew we had to get this story out — that people have to see this. What’s going on there is so devastating that you can’t believe it’s not on the news every night.”
Boland is also excited to share “House of Z” which traces dress designer Zac Posen’s career. “I think that the fashionistas and ‘Project Runway’ fans in the audience are going to love every minute of ‘House of Z’ because you really get to see behind the scenes [of the fashion industry],” she said.
One film that has garnered a lot of interest from music lovers, especially blues fans, is the series’ final film, “Sidemen: Long Road To Glory.” The documentary highlights the lives and legacies of Pinetop Perkins, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Hubert Sulin, all Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf sidemen and will be preceded by a special blues concert with Scott Sharrard, lead guitarist for the Gregg Allman Band, who makes an appearance in the film.
The film ladies are grateful for the support of the local venues that host their films. “Theatre Three is our home, that’s where we started. It’s a great size, 400 seats, and we have a wonderful relationship with Jeff Sanzel,” said Boland. With 129 seats, the Long Island Museum’s Gillespie Room in the Carriage Museum “provides for a more intimate experience and the films screened there tie in to one of the museum’s exhibits.”
Boland relishes the positive feedback she receives after each screening. “I love it when someone is really ‘woke’ by the film, but I also love it when they just love the film and the subject.” For her, the goal of the PJDS is to provide “insight into something and in a very, very small way, cause disruption of people’s previously held ideas and open up a discussion.”
The Port Jefferson Documentary Series will be held at 7 p.m. every Monday night from Sept. 11 to Oct. 30 at Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson or The Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook. Tickets, sold at the door, are $7 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 a screening of “American Veteran” at The Long Island Museum on Sept. 11. Filmed over a five year period, the documentary follows Army Sergeant Nick Mendes, paralyzed from the neck down by an explosive device in Afghanistan, from the V.A. hospital bed where he spent 7 months, to the fully accessible home where he now lives with his wife Wendy. Winner of the Panavision Showcase at the Syracuse International Film Festival, the film is co-sponsored by Jim and Theresa Tsunis and The Northwind Group of Hauppauge. Guest speaker will be director Julie Cohen.
▶ “House of Z,” which will be screened at Theatre Three on Sept. 18, chronicles the meteoric rise of fashion designer Zac Posen at the age of 21, his brand’s falling out of favor several years later and his challenge to rebuild his company and his reputation. The documentary peeks past the glamour of the runway and the red carpet to show audiences a true portrait of Posen as both an artist and businessman. Guest speaker, via Skype, will be director Sandy Chronopoulos.
▶ Theatre Three will screen “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” on Sept. 25. Produced by Susan Sarandon, this illuminating documentary explores Lamarr’s career as a 1940s Hollywood actress (Snow White was created in her image) and later as the secret inventor of secure wifi, bluetooth and GPS communications. The screening is co-sponsored by the Department of Technology and Society at Stony Brook University. Director Alexandra Dean will be the guest speaker for the evening.
▶ The fourth film, titled “A Suitable Girl,” will be screened on Oct. 2 at Theatre Three and tackles the subject of arranged marriages, an issue which has become increasingly controversial to the Western world as women have rightfully embraced their independence. Winner of the Albert Maysles New Documentary Director Award at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, “A Suitable Girl” follows several young, modern women in India looking to get married over the course of four years and intimately capturing their thoughts on arranged marriage, giving them a voice, and offering a unique perspective into the nuances of this institution. Guest speaker will be director Sarita Khurana.
▶ The series continues on Oct. 9 with a screening of “Frank Serpico” at Theatre Three. As an NYPD officer in the hippie era, Frank Serpico blew the whistle on the corruption and payoffs running rampant in the department. He was shot in the face during a drug arrest that was rumored to be a setup and most famously became the subject of Sidney Lumet’s classic film, “Serpico.” Forty-plus years later, Serpico talks about his Southern Italian roots, his time as an undercover officer, and his post-NYPD life. The documentary gives a powerful portrait of an always-committed public servant who still walks the walk in his very own unique way. Guest speaker will be director Antonino D’Ambrosio.
▶ “Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan,” to be screened at Theatre Three on Oct. 16, offers an intimate portrait of prima ballerina Wendy Whelan as she prepares to leave the New York City Ballet after a record-setting three decades. One of the modern era’s most acclaimed dancers, Whelan danced ballets by George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins as well as new works by modern standout choreographers with many roles made specifically for her. Co-sponsored by the Law Offices of Michael S. Ross, P.C. in Hauppauge; Backstage Studio of Dance in Port Jefferson Station; and Amy Tyler School of Dance in Port Jefferson. Guest speaker will be Prima Ballerina Wendy Whelan.
▶ “City of Ghosts,” which will be screened at Theatre Three on Oct. 23, follows the efforts of “Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently” (RBSS), a handful of anonymous activists who banded together after their homeland was taken over by ISIS in 2014. With deeply personal access, this is the story of a brave group of citizen journalists as they face the realities of life undercover, on the run, and in exile, risking their lives to stand up against one of the greatest evils in the world today. Directed by Matthew Heineman, “City of Ghosts” was the winner of the Grand Jury Award at the Sheffield Documentary Festival. Guest speaker TBD.
▶ The final film for the Fall 2017 season, “Sidemen: Long Road to Glory,” will be screened at the Long Island Museum on Oct. 30. An intimate look at the incredible lives and legacies of piano player Pinetop Perkins, drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and guitarist Hubert Sumlin, all Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf sidemen, the film captures some of the last interviews and their final live performances together before their deaths in 2011. Co-sponsored by the Long Island Music Hall of Fame and the Long Island Blues Society. A Q&A will be conducted by Tom Needham of the Long Island Music Hall of Fame and WUSB with guest speakers director Scott Rosenbaum and lead guitarist for the Gregg Allman Band, Scott Sharrard. A pre-film blues concert will be held at 6 p.m. featuring Scott Sharrard. Tickets for both the concert and film are $14.