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Film Festival

‘The Judge’ offers a unique portrait of Kholoud Al-Faquih, above, the first woman judge to be appointed to the Middle East’s Sharia’a courts.
Popular film festival gives voice to stories that need to be told

By Heidi Sutton

Islamic law, autism, the stock market — these diverse subject matters and more will be explored at length as the Port Jefferson Documentary Series (PJDS) kicks off its spring 2018 season Monday evening, March 19.

Sponsored by the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, the Suffolk County Office of Film and Cultural Affairs and the New York State Council on the Arts, the PJDS will present seven award-winning documentaries on Monday nights through April 30, alternating between two venues — Theatre Three in Port Jefferson and The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook. Each screening will be followed by a Q&A with guest speakers.

The documentaries were handpicked by a seven-member film board that includes co-directors Lyn Boland, Barbara Sverd and Wendy Feinberg along with Honey Katz, Phyllis Ross, Lorie Rothstein and Lynn Rein. The “film ladies,” as they are affectionately known, each choose one film to present and then a seventh film is chosen unanimously by the group.

It is a system that has worked well since 2005. “I have learned that almost everybody [on the board] has their fingers on the pulse of some segment of our audience,” said Boland in a recent phone interview. “I think that we all have slightly different ways of judging the films that we are attracted to,” which the co-director says is a good thing. “You really want a balanced season that appeals to a lot of people.”

According to Boland, the goal of the festival has always been the same. “What we want most is to give our community the kind of access to important well-done documentaries that are fresh, shown the way they were created to be shown, on a big screen with a good sound system at an affordable price. A guest speaker will amplify the experience.”

This spring’s exciting lineup was selected after the members attended screenings at DOC NYC and the Hamptons Film Festival. When choosing the selections, Boland said she looks for a story “that really grabs me, that I think is dramatic, important, … a must see film,” adding “It is our hope that [the film selection] is really adding to the public discourse — that this is something people will talk about and think about.”

Kicking off the festival is the Long Island premiere of “The China Hustle.” “[This film] is one of those cool movies that is like a slow reveal — a financial mystery that you just start putting the pieces together as the film goes on and you really see what a ‘hustle’ the whole situation is with these fake Chinese companies that grabbed American investors,” Boland divulged. “It is absolutely fascinating.”

The co-director is most excited about sharing “The Judge” with festivalgoers. The documentary follows Kholoud Al-Faqih and her journey to be the first female judge in a Shari’a court in Palestine. “I think it is particularly appropriate to be screened now during Women’s History Month. [Al-Faqih] is a very mesmerizing figure — practical, smart, stubborn and just totally dedicated. That appealed to me,” said Boland. “[The film shows] how family disputes were negotiated in a Muslim religious court. As a former matrimonial attorney I was amazed how similar the issues were [to the United States] and how similarly they were handled.”

She is also enamored by “This Is Congo.” Skillfully directed by Daniel McCabe, Boland describes it as “an incredibly risky showing about what’s going on in Congo that nobody’s talking about, nobody’s writing about. This is a story that needs to be told and we have to do our part to get some of these things out.” Boland’s favorite part of the evening is the Q&A, which this year will feature for the first time six directors and one screenwriter.

The documentary series wouldn’t be possible without the support of numerous volunteers. Every season, help is needed for each part of the process, from distributing flyers and running the ticket booths to tracking down directors and even recommending new films. “We need volunteers not only to help the evenings go more smoothly but we would really love to have more people on the board,” said Boland. If you love documentary films and would like to volunteer, please call 631-473-5220.

The board was recently notified that the PJDS was chosen by Bethpage Federal Credit Union’s Best of Long Island survey as the Best Film Festival on Long Island, beating out the Stony Brook Film Festival, the Hamptons International Film Festival and the Gold Coast Film Festival for the second year in a row for “its devotion to documentaries — which are evocative, thought provoking, and shed light on often-unrepresented segments of our population.” To Boland, it is affirmation that the group’s tireless work is paying off. “I am just thrilled,” she gushed. “Every time we have our first meeting to start work on the next series … I am just amazed at how everybody hangs in there … just because they really love films and love to bring them to the community. That’s the bottom line.”

The Port Jefferson Documentary Series will be held at 7 p.m. every Monday night from March 19 to April 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.) New this year at the Long Island Museum’s screenings is the Cinema and Chardonnay program. For $5, participants can purchase a glass of chardonnay and/or a $1 bag of pretzels and then enjoy the wine and snack while watching the film. For more information, visit www.portjeffdocumentaryseries.com.

Film schedule

▶ The spring season will kick off with a special screening of “The China Hustle” at Theatre Three on March 19. The documentary exposes a new financial crime perpetrated by Wall Street where investors dumped their money into Chinese businesses that turned out to be fraudulent. The hook of the story is that everyone involved is guilty, including the investor who called out the fraud in the first place. Guest speakers will be Director Jed Rothstein by Skype and Juan Carlos Conesa, chair of Dept. of Economics, Stony Brook University.

▶ “Sammy Davis, Jr: I’ve Gotta Be Me,” to be screened at the Long Island Museum on March 26, is the first major documentary to examine Davis’ vast talent and his journey for identity through the shifting tides of civil rights and racial progress in 20th century America. With interviews from Billy Crystal, Norman Lear, Jerry Lewis, Whoopi Goldberg and Kim Novak along with photographs, television, film and concert. Moderated by Tom Needham, host of “Sounds of Film” on WUSB, guest speaker will be screenwriter and co-producer Laurence Maslon.

▶ The series continues with “The Judge” on April 2 at the Long Island Museum. The Muslim Shari’a courts in the Middle East have excluded women for centuries, and the influential religious legal system has never appointed a woman as a judge — until Kholoud Al-Faqih came along. The documentary follows the Palestine judge’s brave journey as a lawyer, her tireless fight for justice for women and her drop-in visits with clients, friends and family. Guest speaker will be Director Erika Cohn.

▶ “This Is Congo,” to be screened at Theatre Three on April 9, is a riveting, unfiltered immersion into the world’s longest continuing conflict and those who are surviving within it. Following four compelling characters: a whistleblower, a patriotic military commander, a mineral dealer and a displaced tailor — the film offers viewers a truly Congolese perspective on the problems that plague this lushly beautiful nation. Moderated by Shimelis Gulema, professor of Africana studies and history, SBU, the guest speaker for the evening will be Director Daniel McCabe.

▶ The series continues on April 16 at Theatre Three with an impressionist, fly-on-the-wall portrait of the life and glorious music of Israeli-born Itzhak Perlman, widely considered the greatest living violinist. Titled “Itzhak,” the documentary follows the virtuoso around the world for a year, portraying his huge passion and spirit. Wheelchair-bound from childhood polio, Perlman recounts overcoming obstacles with humor and talent. Featuring archival materials and performance clips, the guest speaker will be Director Alison Chernick.

▶ “Love, Cecil,” which will be screened at the Long Island Museum on April 23, brings to life the glamorous world of fashion/celebrity photographer and stage set designer, Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) through the use of archival footage, interviews and readings from his diaries by actor Rupert Everett. Guest speaker for the evening will be Director Lisa Immordino Vreeland.

▶ The final film for the spring 2018 season, “Mole Man” will be screened at the Long Island Museum on April 30 and follows Ron Heist, a 66-year-old autistic man who built a 50-room structure, consisting solely of scrap materials, on the land behind his parent’s home in Western Pennsylvania. His creation was built without the use of nails or mortar and keeps expanding, as he collects, classifies and displays objects from a deserted cluster of homes in the woods. This is the story of an extraordinary life, a family and the beauty of thinking differently. Director Guy Fiorita will be the guest speaker.

All photos courtesy of the PJDS

Jenn McNary and her children, above, are featured in the movie ‘To the Edge of the Sky.’ Photo from Brian Ariotti

By Jenna Lennon

Duchenne muscular dystrophy is the number one genetic killer of boys in the world.

In “To the Edge of the Sky,” Emmy and Oscar Award winning producers, and Old Field natives, Jedd and Todd Wider tell the story of four mothers in their fight against the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for the approval of a potentially life-saving drug for this fatal disease.

The world premiere of the 118-minute documentary at the 22nd annual Stony Brook Film Festival was met with a standing ovation July 23. Continued feedback from the audience, during and after the Q&A period, has been nothing but positive for the brothers and for raising awareness for treatment of this disease.

“As a documentarian, there’s no greater reward than hearing audience members come up afterwards and ask how we can help, what we can do, how can we bring further attention or shine further light on these issues and help the families that are suffering so deeply,” Jedd said.

‘To the Edge of the Sky’ is produced by Jedd and Todd Wider brothers who grew up in Old Field. Photo from Brian Ariotti

“We spoke to so many people after the film who wanted to get involved and that’s incredibly rewarding to us as filmmakers,” he continued. “We invest years of our lives into these topics to help bring attention to these issues to help these families and for us there’s just nothing greater than that, than hearing that response.”

With such a large audience, Todd couldn’t help but be emotional as he took the stage with his brother for the Q&A session.

“It was a weird thing — I’m not normally that emotional during a screening,” he said. “I got to say it …. was a little surreal. It’s not like I hadn’t seen it before. I’ve probably watched it about a thousand times now, but I found that screening was extremely, unbelievably, emotionally powerful.”

Jenn McNary, one of the mothers in the film, brought her sons Max and Austin to the July 23 premiere.

“Jenn and her family have been incredibly supportive of the film from the very beginning, as has all of the other families as well,” Jedd said. “They’ve all been strongly behind the film and hoping that this film could bring more attention to these issues and bring more attention to the potential companies out there and the foundations that are working to help fund further research.”

Filming took place periodically over almost four years and “was a significant emotional investment,” Jedd said.

“At any given point, the story line would change on the drop of a dime,” he continued. “We became very attached to these boys and very attached to these families.”

Duchenne is the most common type of muscular dystrophy and occurs from a mutation in the gene for the protein dystrophin. Symptoms begin appearing around the age of three or four. At first, young boys start having trouble walking. By their early 20s, they’re essentially paralyzed from the neck down.

“To the Edge of the Sky” examines the fight for FDA approval of the drug eteplirsen, produced by Sarepta Therapeutics, that is meant to help produce the missing protein. In 2016, and at the end of the film, the FDA granted an accelerated approval for the drug, but Todd said the fight is far from over.

“We live in the United States of America where we’re in a functioning democracy, and we can move our political organizations and our political institutions with the power of our will if we choose to,” Todd said. “And in the case of this situation, it was really these four moms that really moved the needle, we feel, on how the FDA was sort of dealing with this … it was the power of their advocacy and the connection and their love for their kids that helped to sort of focus that attention on what was going on in terms of the drug approval process in this particular case.”

‘Speed Sisters.’ Photo from GPJAC

By Melissa Arnold

Movie buffs, rejoice! After a long and dreary winter, it’s time to explore politics, health care, pop culture and more with a new season of the Port Jeff Documentary Series.

This month will mark the beginning of the 23rd season for the PJDS, which has brought compelling and award-winning documentaries of all kinds to our area in the spring and fall since 2005. The festival is sponsored by the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, the Suffolk County Film Commission and the New York State Council on the Arts.

It’s a labor of love for the “film ladies,” the six board members who plan the festival from the ground up twice each year. They include co-directors Barbara Sverd and Lyn Boland, as well as Wendy Feinberg, Honey Katz, Phyllis Ross and Lorie Rothstein.

Each year, the film ladies travel to some of the biggest film festivals in the area, among them the Tribeca Film Festival in Lower Manhattan, the Stony Brook Film Festival and the Hamptons Film Festival. They also closely follow online buzz for film festivals they can’t attend.

‘Sweet Micky for President.’ Photo from GPJAC
‘Sweet Micky for President.’ Photo from GPJAC

“Everyone on the board searches for films independently and brings them back to the group. This way, we get a lot of variety because we all like different things,” said Boland.

While each board member has her own opinions, they’re all looking for those films that generate a lot of interest and offer wide appeal. All of them are fresh off the circuit, and you won’t be able to see them on TV or other outlets, Boland explained.

Boland has always loved documentaries, and the series was born out of the desire to see them closer to home. She said those first films were chosen sitting around a kitchen table with the help of her late friend and law partner, Sondra Brooks. “I would hear about these great documentaries nominated for Academy Awards, but there was absolutely nowhere around here to see them. We wanted to change that,” Boland said.

These days, documentary film is one of the most common entry-level styles, leaving more titles and themes to explore than ever.

Each film lady selects two of her personal favorite documentaries to bring back to the group for discussion. Then, they write letters to directors and production teams of their favorite films, asking them to consider sending the group a copy for screening. Once the films arrive, everyone gets a say; 5/6 of the group must love the film in order for it to make the festival’s short list. It also has to fit well with that season’s other selections and budget. The final list features seven films, one for each board member and a seventh unanimously chosen by all the ladies.

Boland admitted that her two favorites for this season are the films she chose, which she affectionately calls “her babies.” They are “The C Word,” an eye-opening expose into cancer treatment and its many flaws, and “Speed Sisters,” which follows the unexpected experiences of five female race car drivers in Palestine.

During the series, each film is followed by a Q-&-A session or discussion with someone on the film’s production team, usually the director. It is an opportunity for audiences to delve deeper into the film’s development and themes.

Boland said that putting the series together twice each year is a lot of work, but there’s never bad blood in the group when they make the final selections.

Director Amber Fares photo from GPJAC
Director Amber Fares photo from GPJAC

“[The board members] volunteer to do this and it’s really like a year-round job,” Boland said.  “I can’t even say how many films I see each year, but I watch several every week. All but one of us have been involved from the beginning and it’s such a respectful environment. We do this because we’re passionate about it.”

In addition to showing the films at Theatre Three, the festival has recently added the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook as a co-host. The film ladies approached the museum after its former co-host, Stony Brook University’s Wang Center, could no longer participate.

The museum works with the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council on a regular basis, which made them a perfect fit. They’ve recently obtained a new projector and sound system, and Boland is looking forward to showing films there.

“Film is a vibrant artmaking medium, and the museum will be adding even more films to see as we move forward with our expanding public programming,” said Neil Watson, executive director of the Long Island Museum. “Partnering with the Port Jefferson Documentary Series is the perfect opportunity to extend both of our organizations into this rich and diverse community.”

The documentary series wouldn’t be possible without the support of numerous volunteers. Every season, help is needed for each part of the process, from distributing flyers and running the ticket booths to  tracking down directors and even recommending new films. A contact page for volunteers and board members can be found at the festival’s website, www.portjeffdocumentaryseries.com.

The film ladies encourage hesitant viewers to try even one of this season’s films. Boland said that documentaries offer an extra touch of magic you just won’t find in a fictional movie.

“When you see a moving documentary, it shakes you the way a feature film does, but you have that extra level of emotion in knowing it’s all real,” she said.

The Port Jefferson Documentary Series will be held at 7 p.m. every Monday from March 14 to April 25 at Theatre Three, 412 Main Street, Port Jefferson, and the Long Island Museum, 1200 Rt. 25A, Stony Brook. For the first time this year, moviegoers can purchase their tickets in advance. General admission for each film is $7. To learn more about the PJDS, this season’s films or to purchase advance tickets, call 631-473-5220.

Film schedule

A scene from ‘The C Word.’ Photo from GPJAC
A scene from ‘The C Word.’ Photo from GPJAC

■ The spring season will kick off with “Sweet Micky for President” at Theatre Three on March 14. Winner of the Grand Jury Award and Audience Award at the Slamdance Film Festival and Best International Director Award at the Documentary Edge Film Festival, the film recounts the story of Pras Michel, Grammy Award-winning rapper and founder of The Fugees, as he returns to his homeland of Haiti postearthquake and finds a corrupt government in paralysis. Wanting desperately to turn the tides there, he becomes the backbone of a presidential campaign for Michel Martelly, aka “Sweet Micky,” Haiti’s most popular and outlandish pop star. The film is presented in English, Creole and French with English subtitles. Guest speakers for the evening will be Director Ben Patterson and Pras Michel.

The second film in the series, “Janis: Little Girl Blue” by Amy Berg, will be screened at Theatre Three on March 21. It follows the life and career of renowned classic rock musician Janis Joplin prior to her sudden and tragic death in 1970 at the age of 27. The film explores the private side of Joplin’s life with new intimacy. Joplin’s own words tell much of the film’s story through a series of letters she wrote to her parents over the years, many of them made public here for the first time. The screening will be followed by a live performance of Joplin’s music by Amber Ferrari and a Q-&-A moderated by Norman Prusslin, director of the Media Arts Minor at Stony Brook University, co-founder of The Long Island Music Hall of Fame and founding general manager of WUSB 90.1 FM in Stony Brook.

On March 28, the Long Island Museum will host a screening of “The Anthropologist,” a film that tells the stories of anthropologists Margaret Mead and Susie Crate through their daughters’ perspectives. The film highlights how people all over the world, from Siberia to the Chesapeake, deal with changes in culture and the environment. The documentary won the Best Environmental Film award at the Nevada International Film Festival. The film is presented in six different languages. Director Daniel Miller will speak after the screening.

“Waiting,” to be screened on April 4 at the Long Island Museum, explores the cultural experiences and adjustment of three Italians from varied backgrounds immigrating to middle-class America. The film won the Big Apple Film Festival Cityscape Award and a 2015 Spotlight Documentary Film Award. Presented in English and Italian with English subtitles, guest speakers will include Director Cristian Piazza and one of the subjects followed in the film, actor-turned-opera-singer Paolo Buffagni.

■ On April 11, you’ll rethink your perspective on cancer treatment when Theatre Three screens “The C Word.” Narrated by Morgan Freeman, the film asks one pointed question: “With all of the resources and efforts in the war on cancer, why are we still losing?” It also exposes the multilevel, systematic problems in cancer care — the habits that predispose us to disease and a fixation on treatment instead of on the root causes of our ailments. The film is presented in English and French. “The C Word” was directed by one of its subjects, cancer survivor Meghan O’Hara, who will be on hand as the evening’s guest speaker.

“Karski and the Lords of Humanity” will take you back in time to World War II on April 18 at Theatre Three. This film tells the little-known and amazing story of Jan Karski, a highly intelligent and multilingual Polish man who was once a prisoner of war. He then goes undercover into Hitler’s concentration camps to bear witness to the Nazi atrocities and expose them worldwide. The film received the Best Polish Film award at the The Jewish Motifs International Film Festival in Warsaw, and Jan Karski was awarded a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. The evening’s speaker will be Director Slawomir Grunberg.

The final film in the series, “Speed Sisters,” will be shown at Theatre Three on April 25. Set in Palestine, it follows five female standouts in a thriving car racing scene. Held at improvised tracks — a vegetable market, an old helicopter pad, a security academy — the races offer a release from the pressures and uncertainties of life on the West Bank.  These women are setting a precedent in a male-dominated sport in a male-dominated country, and people everywhere are taking notice. “Speed Sisters” was awarded Best Documentary at the Adelaide Film Festival and the Audience Award at the IFI Documentary Festival. It is presented in Arabic and English with English subtitles. Director Amber Fares will speak after the film.

‘E.T. the Extra Terrestrial’ will be screened on Dec. 26 at the Cinema Arts Centre. Photo from CAC

By Melissa Arnold

The holidays are all about spending time with the family and making memories, whether it’s by shopping, baking together or traveling. But when all the hustle and bustle wraps up next week, some families might be left wondering, “Now what?”

The Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington is offering a unique suggestion: Give your kids a taste of your childhood.

Beginning Dec. 26, the theater will celebrate Winter Holiday Week, where moviegoers can see some of the most beloved family classics on the big screen for the first time in decades.

The lineup includes “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial” on Dec. 26, a 25th anniversary celebration of “Home Alone” on Dec. 28, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” on Dec. 29 and a special sing-along version of the musical “Grease” with onscreen lyrics on Dec. 30.

“These are shows that evoke memories for a lot of people, and getting to see it in the theater with their families or friends can be a lot like reliving the experience of seeing it for the first time,” said Raj Tawney, publicity director for the theater.

The CAC plays host to all kinds of artistic expression, not just film, including  concerts and lectures. The theater typically screens films with serious or intense themes that are best suited for adults, but they also offer events for all ages at least once a month with their Cinema for Kids and Families series.

“We’re looking for films that will interest a large audience and maintain our integrity as an art house cinema,” Tawney explained. And with kids off from school until the new year, there’s no better time for family films.

Also in the lineup for the week is Kid Flix Mix on Dec. 27, an hour-long collection of 11 live-action and animated shorts from the New York International Film Festival. The films come from all over the world, but all dialogue is in English.

“Kid Flix Mix has films from Australia, France, Russia, Norway, England and many other places throughout the world, which is a great opportunity for kids to learn something new,” Tawney said. “They can see more than just what’s a part of their culture. They’ll learn the importance of fantasy and that creativity comes in so many different forms.”

Many of the short films feature animals. One film, Torill Kove’s “Me and My Moulton,” was an Oscar nominee this year.

Before or after the show, Tawney recommends visiting the center’s Skyroom Café for a meal or snack, beverages and conversation. “People really love getting together at the cafe to talk and relax after a show,” he said. “The day doesn’t have to end just because the show is over.”

Winter Holiday Week will be held at noon every day from Dec. 26 through Dec. 30. The Cinema Arts Centre is located at 423 Park Ave., Huntington. Tickets are $12 for adults and free for children under 12.

To buy tickets or learn more, visit www.cinemaartscentre.org or call 631- 423-7611.

James Stewart, second from left, with participants at last weekend’s LI Gay & Lesbian Festival. Photo from Raj Tawney

A Greenlawn resident with a love for film has helped create a diverse and welcoming environment at the Long Island Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

James Stewart, a retired Nassau County police officer who is gay, said he’s had a love for film ever since he was a young boy.

“My grandfather was a film usher,” Stewart said. The first film he ever saw with his grandfather was “Gone With the Wind.”

“To me, the Academy Awards are a holy night,” Stewart said. “Everyone who knows me knows not to call me that night.”

The festival celebrated its 18th year at Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington over the weekend, and it was Stewart’s third year as executive director. When he first got involved five years ago, he was the men’s feature program director and then the program director, before he became the executive director.

The executive director handles all of the programming for the festival, and the planning starts as early as March, he said. The festival was five days long and had more than 10 films, ranging from documentaries to feature films.

“My job is to balance everything out and make sure we have an equal amount of light movies, serious movies and documentaries and more, ” Stewart said.

There is also a balance of domestic versus international movies. Stewart said there were films from Australia, India and Mexico this year.

After almost every film, there is a food and cocktail reception, where Stewart said he hopes audience members will interact and help the festival become more of a social experience.

“It’s really about community,” Stewart said. “We hope to be starting new friendships.”

Stewart said he’s tried to get as many LGBT groups to sponsor the receptions as possible to encourage a communal feeling. At the receptions, there are also performers, including musical artists, comedy acts and more.

“I try to be as eclectic as possible,” Stewart said.

For the final night of the festival, Stewart said the entertainment included Broadway performers.

Everyone involved in this festival is a volunteer, and Stewart praised the staff he works with to make this festival possible. He also said Cinema Arts Centre is extremely generous and gracious with the flexibility they give the festival and describes it as “a match made in heaven.”

Stewart said he also likes the opportunity the film festival gives to independent movies that have a very little chance at getting shown on Long Island.

“A lot of these movies you wouldn’t normally get to see on Long Island,” Stewart said. “These are great films, but either they don’t have the proper distribution or enough money, so this is your chance to see them.”

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A scene from ‘The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor.’ Photo from PJDC

The arrival of cooler weather signals the start of a perennial favorite, the Port Jefferson Documentary Series.

Supported by the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council and grants from the New York State Council on the Arts and the Suffolk County Film Commission, the PJDS begins its 22nd season on Monday, Sept. 21, at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson. The fall series, which will run through Oct. 27, marks the program’s 11th anniversary and the 22nd season of documentaries.

“We are very, very excited,” Lyn Boland, co-director of the film committee that has arranged the documentary series since 2005, said in a recent phone interview. Along with Boland, the committee — nicknamed the Film Ladies — includes co-director Barbara Sverd, Wendy Feinberg, Honey Katz, Phyllis Ross and Lorie Rothstein.

Seven award-winning documentaries will be featured this season, each complemented by a guest speaker who will answer questions at the end of the screening. This year’s selections will explore topics such as genocide, drug cartels, the online black market, art, tradition, cartoons and government cover-ups.

The process of choosing the documentaries is labor-intensive.“[The volunteer committee] gathers the movies from several different sources,” Boland explained. The members go to film festivals like the Hamptons International Film Festival and “try to personally grab one of the directors from one of those films. … We did that with ‘Meet the Patels,’ which was at the Hamptons last fall, and we showed it in the spring and it’s opening in theaters in September. So that’s like the dream sequence.”

‘Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict,’ Photo from PJDC
‘Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict,’ Photo from PJDC

Other festivals they regularly attend include the Tribeca Film Festival, the Stony Brook Film Festival and the American Film Institute’s festival in Washington, D.C. “So we try to go to festivals, we keep an eye on what’s going on in the news and we keep an eye long distance on the big festivals like Toronto, Sundance,” Boland added. “We also get a lot of emails from documentary organizations.”

The committee aims to screen films that people could not easily find elsewhere, so they avoid films that are streaming on services like Amazon or on television, for example.

When selecting the films, “We look for a great story that needs to be told,” Boland said. “We look for a film that’s well made because we really want to keep the standards up. We look for a subject that we haven’t shown too much of; something that’s new. We look for balance in the season. We also have to worry about our budget, being sure that we can afford the speaker and afford the distribution fee.”

Boland is most excited about the screening of the action-drama “Cartel Land.” She called the film — whose credits include executive producer Kathryn Bigelow, who directed “The Hurt Locker” and “Point Break”  — “an amazing story.”

“For a documentary to come out and be picked up by somebody who is as famous as she is and who is a feature director, it’s just an additional testament to how amazing this film is.”

The first five documentaries will be screened on Mondays at Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, at 7 p.m. The last two will be screened at the Charles B. Wang Center on the Stony Brook University campus at 6 p.m., also on Mondays. Doors open one half-hour before showtime. Tickets for all films are $7 and will be sold at the door. Admission is free for undergraduate students at the Stony Brook screenings.

The group is always looking for volunteers of all ages to help out at the event.

“We want this to go on beyond us and it would be great to have enough volunteers to have a continuing staff that keeps renewing itself,” Boland said.

For more information or to volunteer, call 631-473-5220 or visit www.portjeffdocumentaryseries.com.

Film schedule
• The fall season will kick off at Theatre Three with “Deep Web” on Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. The documentary reveals the inside story of Ross William Ulbricht, the convicted 30-year-old entrepreneur accused of being the “Dread Pirate Roberts,” creator and operator of the online black market Silk Road. Winner of Best International Feature at the Global Visions Festival, the film explores “how the brightest minds and thought leaders behind the deep web are now caught in the crosshairs of the battle for control of a future inextricably linked to technology, with our digital rights hanging in the balance.” Narrated by Keanu Reeves, the guest speaker will be director Alex Winter, who played Bill S. Preston, Esq. alongside Reeves in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”

An image from ‘Love Marriage in Kabul.’ Photo from PJDC
An image from ‘Love Marriage in Kabul.’ Photo from PJDC

• The second film in the series, “Very Semi-Serious” by Leah Wolchock, to be screened on Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. at Theatre Three, delves into the history of The New Yorker magazine’s cartoons and gives a behind-the-scenes look at the cartoon department. Cartoon editor Bob Mankoff provides “revealing access to his weekly pitch meetings where aspiring and established cartoonists present their work, and where pride is left behind, as hundreds of submitted cartoons get rejected.” It is the winner of the best Bay Area documentary feature at the Golden Gate Awards following the San Francisco International Film Festival. Guest speaker will be New Yorker cartoonist and former Stony Brook resident George Booth, who is featured in the film.

“Cartel Land,” to be screened on Oct. 5 at 7 p.m. at Theatre Three, focues on the Mexican drug war, especially vigilante groups fighting Mexican drug cartels. The film focuses on Tim “Nailer” Foley, the leader of volunteer border patrol group Arizona Border Recon, and Dr. José Mireles, a Michoacán-based physician who leads the Autodefensas, one of the vigilante groups. Matthew Heineman won the Best Director Award and Special Jury Award for Cinematography for the film in the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. The guest speaker will be producer Tom Yellin.

The fourth film, titled “The Russian Woodpecker,” will be screened at Theatre Three on Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. The documentary follows Ukranian artist Fedor Alexandrovich, who believes the catastrophic Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 was an elaborate government cover-up designed to mask a failed 8-billion-ruble antenna, known as the “Russian Woodpecker,” intended to interfere with Western radio frequencies and located near the radioactive site. Rich with Soviet history and the stories of the area’s former residents, this documentary chronicles the history of one of the most chilling events of our time as well as Alexandrovich’s attempts to spread the word of his theory. Winner of the World Documentary Grand Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Director Chad Gracia will be the guest speaker of the evening.

• The series continues on Oct. 19 with a screening of “Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict” at Theatre Three at 7 p.m. Director Lisa Immordino Vreeland uses recently unearthed audio recordings from 1978-79 of the art collector’s last interviews and archival photos to create a portrait of one of the most powerful women in the history of the art world. The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival this spring. Guest speakers will be producers Dan Braun and David Koh. Gallery North in Setauket is co-sponsoring the event.

“The Killing Fields of  Dr. Haing S. Ngor,” to be screened at the Charles B. Wang Center at Stony Brook University on Oct. 26 at 6 p.m., is seen through the eyes of one of the most well-known survivors of the Cambodian genocide, Dr. Haing S. Ngor. The film recently won the Best Documentary Audience Award at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. The guest speaker will be Dr. Ngor’s niece, Sophia Ngor Demetri, who escaped from Cambodia with Dr. Ngor and appears in the film, and his nephew, Wayne Ngor, who narrates the film.

• The final film in the series, “Love Marriage in Kabul,” will be screened at the Charles B. Wang Center at Stony Brook University on Nov. 2 at 6 p.m. The film follows the quest of an Afghan-Australian woman, Mahboba Rawi, as she “passionately negotiates and challenges old traditions” to make a love marriage happen in Kabul. The film provides a rare glimpse into the courtship and marriage customs of Afghanistan. In English and Persian with English subtitles, this film was the winner of the Audience Choice Award at the Sydney Film Festival. The guest speaker, via Skype, will be producer Pat Fiske.

Ten nights of independent films you won’t see anywhere else

Katie Page stars in “This Isn’t Funny” to be screened on July 17 at 9:30 p.m. Photo by Peter Borosh

By Donna Newman

Would you love to travel the world but lack the funds? … the time? … the energy? Well, you’re in luck! The 20th Annual Stony Brook Film Festival — which begins this evening at 8 p.m. — will bring the world to you. Travel far and wide in the comfort of a cushioned seat in the Staller Center’s air-conditioned Main Stage Theater on the Stony Brook University campus. Festival Director Alan Inkles says, “Over ten days, [you] will be transported to Germany, the Netherlands, Israel, Mexico, Greece, Egypt, France, Canada, Iran, Belgium, England, Morocco and Algeria.”

Should you prefer homegrown fare, Inkles said, “We have more American films than ever this year. Dramas, comedies and documentaries will be shown on our huge screen, and many of the producers, directors, cast and crew members will attend the Q-&-As following the films.” In sum: There will be something for everyone.

You’ll travel through time during the 10-day festival as well. Be transported to the South in the aftermath of the Civil War (“The Keeping Room”). Find yourself in a Nazi-occupied Dutch village (“Secrets of War”). See how American propaganda films were created during World War II (“Projections of America”). Return to the 1960s in Quebec for a story with heart and music (“The Passion of Augustine”). Tune in to a television debate series in 1968 that created a whole new format for public discourse (“Best of Enemies”).

Revisit the turn of this century and yet another banking scandal (“The Clearstream Affair”). Spend time in the current decade examining women’s rights (“Nefertiti’s Daughters”). Or step out of time into some magical moments in the short films “Freeze,” “A Single Life,” “Wrapped” and “DOT.”

Inkles and his staff have screened more than 700 entries, looking for the best independent features, documentaries and short films available worldwide. The schedule includes 34 films; 19 are feature length and 15 are shorts. Among them are a world premiere and eight films that will have their first U.S. screenings.

“Audiences will get to see many works of true indie spirit, where the filmmakers wear a variety of hats,” commented Inkles. “On Opening Night we’ll have the U.S. premiere of ‘The Man from Oran,’ a drama from Algeria starring Lyes Salem, who also wrote and directed the film. It’s a story set largely in the years following Algeria’s independence from France, that explores the themes of friendship, idealism, politics and betrayal.” Inkles is pleased that Salem will be present on Opening Night.

Perennial festival attendees will recognize the star of the Closing Night feature, “The Passion of Augustine,” a film from French Canada about a small convent school that had become a musical treasure. Céline Bonnier also starred in the 2012 festival entry, “Mommy Is at the Hairdresser’s.” Léa Pool directed both films. Inkles is delighted that Bonnier will attend the screening.

An added feature to this year’s festival is a display of Vintage Film Posters in the Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery located on the first floor of the Staller Center. This exhibit of classic movie posters will be open each night of the festival from one hour prior to the first screening until the last screening of the night begins.

This year’s festival is being presented by its newest sponsor — Island Federal Credit Union — a financial institution that has been serving Long Islanders for 60 years. Island Federal has established a 10-year partnership with Stony Brook University that provides philanthropic funding for multiple university projects.

The SBFF runs for 10 nights. Most nights screenings begin at 7 p.m. Starting times for the second film varies. Check the schedule. (In some cases, Q-&-As may delay the start of the second feature.) The Opening Night film begins at 8 p.m. The Closing Night film begins at 8:30 p.m. And there’s a bonus feature on Sunday evening that begins at 6 p.m.

A Festival Pass to see all the films is $85. A $225 Gold Pass includes seating in the section reserved for filmmakers and their guests, as well as tickets to the opening and closing receptions. Individual tickets ($10, $8 seniors, $5 students) will be sold subject to availability. Tickets for the Opening Night and Closing Night receptions are $25 each, also subject to availability.

For more information, call the Staller Center Box Office at 631-632-ARTS or visit www.stonybrookfilmfestival.com.

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