By Tara Mae
Whether there is too much or never enough of it, time may either soften memories with nostalgia or sharpen remembrances with accrued insight. Through art and action, the Fall 2023 Port Jefferson Documentary Series (PJDS) highlights the intricacies of this dynamic both onscreen and behind-the-scenes.
On specific Monday evenings between September 18 and November 13, at Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson and John F. Kennedy Middle School, 200 Jayne Blvd., Port Jefferson Station, the award-winning doc series will share eight distinct stories.
Encompassing reflections on a career well-chronicled; a quickly encroaching catastrophe; a calamitous crisis averted; or, a curious occurrence, screenings will be followed by Q&As with guest speakers. Tom Needham, executive producer and host of “Sounds of Film” on WUSB, will once again serve as moderator.
“Our setup has not changed either behind-the-scenes or in how we choose the documentaries,” said PJDS co-director Lyn Boland. “We assess production values, whether it is a good story, and if it is available to film festivals instead of streaming — we want it to be new. We also prefer films where the director is available to talk in one sense or another.”
Now in its 38th season, the PJDS, which began in 2005, excavates tangible accomplishments and existential inquiries. In interactive interviews with documentarians, it seeks answers from those who first sought to ask the questions.
Sponsored by Maggio Environmental and Wellness; Covati & Janhsen, CPAS PC; and Port Jeff Storage, the season opens with Rather, a film that examines Dan Rather’s ongoing seven decade journalistic career and his continued dedication to making a difference.
We Dare to Dream traverses the triumphs and trials of 29 elite athletes. Deprived of their home countries, they strive for international success while preparing to participate in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as part of the International Olympic Committee’s Refugee Olympic team. (This event will also feature a pre-show concert at Port Jefferson Methodist Church by pianist Jacqueline Schwab.)
Time Bomb Y2K revisits when, on the verge of a new millennium, the world feared that all of technology was about to have a nervous breakdown on New Year’s Day.
Between the Rains covers a 4 year period when record low rainfall in Kenya caused a reckoning for children caught in a culture being eroded by climate change.
Israel Swings for Gold traces the trajectory of Israel’s baseball team as it makes it Olympic debut in 2021.
Rolling Along recounts Bill Bradley’s revelatory professional career as informed by his personal ethos: Rhodes Scholar, champion New York Knicks recruit, and noted New Jersey senator.
Maestra showcases the melodious moments and discordant dilemmas women face as they compete in the world’s only all-female conducting competition.
Lastly, A Revolution on Canvas investigates the intriguing disappearance of more than 100 “treasonous” paintings by contemporary Iranian artist Nickzad Nodjoumi.
(For dates and times, please see Film Schedule below.)
Each documentary is selected by one of the “film ladies,” as Lyn Boland, Wendy Feinberg, Barbara Sverd and Honey Katz are known. They present their choices to the PJDS board. Top contenders from those viewings are shared with three esteemed longtime volunteers, Denise Livrieri, Yvonne Lieffrig, and Debbie Bolvadin, who then also vote on the films.
“It is important to have a wide variety of people choosing films; we know we each have private preferences that we always gravitate towards. If you do not have a wide group, you may leave out some of your audience,” Boland said. “We are lucky that our audience really trusts us. They know that we are invested and looked into the films personally, so we feel the documentaries are special to include.”
According to Boland, once the films are chosen, securing the rights to them and gaining access to the speakers is a game of cat and mouse. So, the hunt is on as soon film festivals announce their lineups. The Series’ cast of characters divides and conquers, attending screenings and identifying potential contenders for PJDS.
“Once I have focused on a film I would like to present, the fun of the chase begins! Nailing down films, dates, directors or producers, and working out schedule conflicts are issues we have to contend with when programming a series. So, it [helps] when you have a connection to anyone associated with the film,” explained Sverd.
Such relationships have been forged and nurtured over the years with different producers and directors who have previously shown their work during the Series. Rather and Time Bomb Y2K come from creators who screened earlier films through PJDS. Between the Rains and Rolling Along were acquired through Sverd’s and Feinberg’s respective personal connections.
“I am looking forward to seeing many of our repeat guests and also the new folks who will be attending the films this season,” said Feinberg.
In addition to making contacts and advancing the films, each member brings their individual skill sets, contributing what best aligns with their interests and industries, including law, event planning, education, and graphic design. Primary and paramount requirement for joining the team — it is looking for new volunteers — is simply being a film buff.
That passion translates to the audience, which includes familiar faces and new fans.
“In this day and age, with so much available to see and watch, it is just great that people appreciate the kind of experience that we offer,” Boland said.
Individual tickets are $10 (cash only) at the door, a combination ticket for the concert and documentary on is $15, or in advance at www.portjeffdocumentaryseries.com.
◆ The Fall 2023 season kicks off with a screening of Rather at Theatre Three on September 18 at 7 p.m. Guest speakers will be Co-Producer Taylor Wildenhaus and Sarah Baxter, Director of the Marie Colvin Center for International Reporting. Co-sponsored by the Stony Brook University School of Communications & Journalism and the Marie Colvin Center for International Reporting.
◆ We Dare to Dream will be screened at Theatre Three on October 2 at 7:30 p.m. Preceded by a special concert featuring pianist at First United Methodist Church, 603 Main St., Port Jefferson at 6:30 p.m. Guest speaker via Zoom will be Director Waad Al-Kateab. Sponsored by Danfords Hotel & Marina and The Waterview at Port Jefferson Country Club.
◆ Next up is Time Bomb Y2K at Theatre Three on October 9 at 7 p.m. Guest speakers will be Co-Directors Brian Becker and/or Marley McDonald.
◆ Between the Rains will be screened at JFK Middle School on October 16 at 7 p.m. Guest speakers will be co-director Andrew H. Brown via Zoom and Dr. Dino Martins, CEO of the Turkana Basin Institute. Co-sponsored by the Turkana Basin Institute of Kenya and its affiliate, Stony Brook University.
◆ The season continues with Israel Swings for Gold at JFK Middle School on October 23 at 7 p.m. Guest speaker will be Co-Director Jeremy Newberger. Co-sponsored by North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jefferson Station and Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook.
◆ A special screening of Rolling Along will be held at JFK Middle School on October 30 at 7 p.m. Guest speaker will be former U.S. Senator and screenwriter Bill Bradley in person.
◆ Maestra heads to JFK Middle School on November 6 at 7 p.m. Guest speakers will be Director Maggie Contreras via Zoom and Melisse Brunet, Conductor and subject in the film. Sponsored by Danfords Hotel & Marina and The Waterview at Port Jefferson Country Club.
◆ The season concludes with a screening of A Revolution on Canvas at Theatre Three on November 13 at 7 p.m. Guest speakers will be Co-Directors Sara Nodjoumi and Till Schauder. Sponsored by Danfords Hotel & Marina and The Waterview at Port Jefferson Country Club.
For more information, call 631-473-5220 or visit www.portjeffersondocumentaryseries.com.