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Documentary

'The Upstanders'

The Town of Smithtown Youth Bureau has partnered with the Smithtown Horizons Counseling and Education Center and the Town of Smithtown Youth and Community Alliance to host a free virtual screening of the anti-bullying documentary “The Upstanders.” The screening will take place on Thursday, December 3 at 6 p.m. via Zoom. “The Upstanders” is a 55 minute film, to be followed by a Q & A session featuring a panel of professionals from the film.

“Families can watch the film together and discuss their own thoughts about bullying, perhaps even bringing to light a bullying situation that a young person may be experiencing.” – Stacey Sanders, Smithtown Youth Bureau Director

Students can earn community service credit through the Town’s Youth & Community Alliance for registering and participating in this virtual community education event.  Interested participants must register, watch the film and subsequent Q&A session, then email the Youth Bureau at [email protected] to request certificates be emailed to them.

“This film is a perfect way to really address many of the Youth and Community Alliance’s primary areas of focus: Substance Abuse; Healthy Relationships; and Bullying.” – Kelly Devito, Smithtown Horizons Youth Services Coordinator

About “The Upstanders”: 

The Upstanders is a new documentary film by IndieFlix Foundation about resilience and the power of connection to end bullying. The film explores cyber-bullying, bullying among friends, families, co-workers and the brain science behind it all.

This film is appropriate for anyone 13 and older, and is a good conversation starter when viewed as a family.  Even with less social interaction temporarily due to coronavirus limitations, cyberbullying still persists. “The Upstanders” is relevant not only for those who personally experience bullying, but also for adults and students who witness or become aware of bullying (bystanders). “The Upstanders” encourages people to stand up when they see or become aware of something wrong happening, and explains how people can be upstanders in a safe way.

The film also encourages viewers, young and old, to seek balance in their life, particularly with their use of social media.  Although potentially addictive and a vehicle for bullying, social media can be a positive form of communication. “The Upstanders” is about resilience, connection and fostering healthy communication, on and off-line.

Registration is required in advance in order to attend. To register, visit: https://www.smithtownny.gov/215/Youth-Bureau or via Facebook https://www.facebook.com/smithtownyouthbureau/.

The film uncovers footage that the congressman/activist had never seen. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
New documentary is a loving tribute to an American hero

Reviewed By Jeffrey Sanzel

Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.

Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America by John Lewis

When Congressman John Lewis passed away on July 17 at age eighty, the world lost the man who was called “one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced.” Lewis was a beacon for the protection of human rights and won the respect and admiration of colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

Having dedicated his life to the Civil Rights movement, he was a member of the “Big Six” who organized the legendary 1963 March on Washington. In 1965, he led the first of three Selma to Montgomery marches across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. In the infamous Bloody Sunday (March 7, 1965), he was one of the nearly six hundred marchers who were viciously attacked. Lewis suffered a skull fracture, and he bore the forehead scars for the rest of his life.

Now, Dawn Porter has directed the powerful and absorbing documentary John Lewis: Good Trouble. The title refers to a belief that Lewis held his entire life: 

Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.

Lewis said that age fifteen he was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks to get into “good trouble.”

The ninety minutes are a portrait of a man of deep belief and unfathomable courage. Much of the film focuses on the all-important voting rights. Instead of taking a traditional linear biographical approach, it alternates between his work in the 1960’s with his continued work in the 2000’s. Porter is clearly drawing a parallel between the two eras. The first where there was a struggle to secure equal voting opportunities for African Americans and other minorities, and the present where these secured rights are once again imperiled. 

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

The documentary opens with and frequently returns to Lewis watching film footage of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s, much of which he has never seen. In his stillness is the wisdom of a man who has seen much and experienced more. His pain is mixed with pride and awareness. Occasionally, he comments on what he is watching, but mostly he just takes it in. It is incredibly moving in its simplicity as he reviews many of the most disturbing moments in a long history.

Interspersed with archival clips, many featuring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as well as John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy (for whom Lewis worked at the time of his assassination), George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Barack Obama, are short interviews including Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton, Elijah Cummings, Nancy Pelosi, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cory Booker, and Ilhan Omar, all praising the Congressman’s work and his commitment. These help shape the overall picture of Lewis and his journey.

He is shown on the campaign trail with young, vibrant contenders, frequently first time candidates. Beto O’Rourke and Stacey Abrams are just two of the many he has supported. There are wonderful clips of his unchecked joy watching the returns of the 2018 mid-terms. 

The film gives only a sketch of his personal life and history, with appearances of his sisters and brothers, who clearly love him but remain slightly in awe of his accomplishments. His wife and son are briefly touched upon, and her passing in 2012 was clearly a blow. There is a brief bit about his friendship with Julian Bond that turned acrimonious when they ran against each other. Few details are given but clearly this was a difficult personal time in his career.

What continues to come across is Lewis’s incredible warmth and generosity, a gentle leader and a continuing inspiration. His humor is in stark contrast with the often fiery passion he shows when speaking.  His speeches are mesmerizing in their raw honesty. These are as much a part of him as are the amusing anecdotes that are introduced throughout. (His preaching to the chickens as a boy can only be appreciated by listening to his telling.)

A viral dance, his reaction to the election of President Obama as well as that president’s gratitude towards him, and his easy banter with his longtime chief of staff, Michael Collins, are just some of the glimpses into his gracious humanity. His message of non-violence is continually emphasized. The right to protest but the responsibility to do it without intentional harm was deeply rooted in his choices and actions. 

But central to the film and Lewis’s story is the quest to eradicate voter suppression. This is been the head and heart of Lewis’s life. In addition to the many important moments of the 1960’s is the bipartisan Voting Rights Act of 2006. The subsequent 2013 attack on it led to the 2016 election being the first without the protection of this act.

I fear that we are facing the end of democracy. As long as I have breath in my body, I’ll do what I can.”

The film builds to a quick sequence highlighting the dozens of bills that Lewis co-sponsored, the breadth of his work including not only voting and civil rights but gun control, health care reform, immigration, and a host of other important social issues. It is clear that his goal has been to make a better, freer, and more equal world:

As a nation and a people, we are not quite there yet; we have miles to go.

Porter never shies away from presenting disturbing and often brutal images, including attacks during marches, sit-ins, and lunch counter desegregations. There is nothing sensationalist about her choices; they are an honest representation of a dark blot on our country’s history. But the film truly honors the spirit and accomplishments of John Lewis. It is a documentary that should be viewed by families and seen in classrooms, discussed, contemplated, and taken to heart. The final words of the film are appropriately his:

We will create a beloved community. We will redeem the soul of America. There may be some setbacks, some delays … but as a nation and as a people, we will get there. And I still believe, we shall overcome.

Rated PG, John Lewis: Good Trouble is now streaming on demand.

Dr. Jane Goodall Photo courtesy of National Geographic

National Geographic commemorates Earth Day with a special screening of the new two-hour documentary Jane Goodall: The Hope on April 22 starting at 9 p.m. The film, which will air globally in 172 countries and 43 languages on National Geographic, Nat Geo WILD and Nat Geo MUNDO channels, takes viewers through chapters of Dr. Goodall’s journey, highlighting how she inspires hope for our planet, love for its animal inhabitants and actions of stewardship for this generation and those to come.

Dr. Jane Goodall and Prince Harry at Windsor Castle for the 2019 global leadership meeting of Roots & Shoots. Photo courtesy of National Geographic/Hitesh Makan

Featuring an extensive collection of photographs and footage that spans over seven decades, the special depicts the formation of the Jane Goodall Institute’s “Tacare” community-centered conservation approach and Roots & Shoots youth empowerment program, her remarkable advocacy and leadership on behalf of chimpanzees and humanity. 

“Being out in the forest of Gombe, I had a great sense of spiritual awareness; I began to realize that everything is interconnected,” says Goodall. “Since then, every day, it’s become clearer that climate change is an existential threat to our natural world, and if we destroy this world, we destroy our own future.”

Dr. Jane Goodall signing book for young girl at Esri Conference in 2019. Photo courtesy of National Geographic/Michael Haertlein

“Each day, every single person has the chance to make an impact through small, thoughtful choices, and when billions of people make the right choices, we start to transform the world,” added Goodall. “Don’t give up; there’s always a way forward.”

The documentary includes appearances by Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex, and U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, among others.

“The need to protect our planet has never been more urgent, and we’re using Earth Day’s 50th as an opportunity to inspire viewers through the wonders of our planet and its incredible species for viewers around the world,” said Courteney Monroe, president, National Geographic Global Television Networks. “With the Earth Day takeover across all of our networks and platforms, we are able to reach the largest audience possible to celebrate this momentous day and ensure that viewers fall in love with our planet and act to protect it.”

Photo from CAC

‘The Cat Rescuers’

The Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington will present the documentary “The Cat Rescuers” on Jan. 23 at 7:30 p.m. With over 500,000 street cats struggling to survive in NYC, spirited volunteers like Sassee, Claire, Stu and Tara have come to their aid. Their beat is Brooklyn, where the problem has exploded. Combing the borough’s alleys, backyards and housing projects, they trap the cats, get them fixed and returned to their colonies, or adopted. “The Cat Rescuers” shows the skill, resilience and humor they bring to this challenging and rewarding work, and how their mission to reduce animal suffering, has changed their lives. With director Rob Fruchtman in person. Tickets are $16, $11 members. Visit www.cinemaartscentre.org for more information.

Fred Rogers. Photo courtesy of Focus Features
Make the most of this beautiful film

By Jeffrey Sanzel

Morgan Neville’s documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is a portrait of Fred Rogers, a man of deep faith and principles and unique in the pantheon of television personalities. His show, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” is lovingly celebrated in this wholly engaging 93 minutes. It does not attempt to be a full-fledged biography but rather a picture of the man in the context of his work and his mission. There are insights into his personal life (interviews with wife and sons), but it is more the story of the evolution of his vocation and his influence on American culture.  

Fred Rogers with Mr. McFeely (David Newell) the delivery man in a scene from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood

The film opens with the iconic entrance of Rogers changing into his sweater while singing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” and we are immediately transported back to the world he created. With its modest production values and its messages of love and understanding, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” became an integral part of our collective experience.

 

The documentary is simple and delicate, mirroring the show and the show’s creator. There are no bells and whistles. We are treated to an assortment of interviews that give perspective on the span and impact of Rogers’ career. What is common to all is that he was exactly who he presented himself to be. An ordained minister, Fred Rogers deeply believed that “love is at the root of everything” — learning, relationships, understanding. He saw television as a wonderful way to connect with children; a tool to make them better and happier people.  

Fred Rogers poses with the puppet Daniel Striped Tiger. Photo courtesy of Focus Features

His wife (and much of the documentary) posits that, in essence, Rogers was Daniel Striped Tiger, the first of the many puppets he employed. The tamed feline represents Rogers’ doubts but also the ability to listen and learn. Daniel Striped Tiger is the bridge between the real and fantasy worlds that Rogers invented. As a child, he had been plagued by various illnesses and spent a great deal of time in bed; it was here that he began to realize the power of imagination and he used this to inform his work.  

The film also touches on his faith, suggesting that the show was his ministry and he wore a sweater in lieu of a collar. The heart of this ministry, of course, is the power of love — love for each other and love for ourselves. The belief is that everyone is special (incorrectly twisted by some as entitlement) and we all have inherent value. The embodiment of this is his song “It’s You I Like” — a reminder that we grow through acceptance.

Fred Rogers presented himself as the friend every adult should be. He made it clear that his journey was to take care of the myriad of children who watched him. Unlike his own unhappy youth in which he was not allowed to be a child or to show his feelings, he aspired to provide a safe space for all of the country’s children.  

Fred Rogers with King Friday XIII. Photo courtesy of Focus Features

Over the years, Rogers tackled everything from racial discrimination to divorce to death (including an episode focusing on grief that dealt with the assassination of Robert Kennedy). After retirement, he returned to do a few short PSAs about 9/11 — the horror of which overwhelmed him. What we take away is that he was unflinching in his desire to be truly honest with children but to always let them be children.

There are a treasure trove of clips, dating back to his pre-Neighborhood television days through his series and later efforts. There is the often-seen but no less-effective testimony that saved funding for public television. Puppets (King Friday XIII, Henrietta Pussycat, Lady Elaine Fairchilde, Queen Sara Saturday, X the Owl) and regulars (Mr. McFeely, the delivery man; Lady Aberlin; Chef Brockett; Officer Clemmons), songs and guests … the trolley to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, Picture-Picture … they are all here. 

Throughout his work, there was always an emphasis on taking time and not allowing the world to speed up. He believed that “slow” space was not “wasted” space. That silence is a gift. The final moments of the picture are perhaps the most memorable.  He often invited people to take a minute to think of the those who have cared for them. One after another, the various people interviewed are shown to do just that. Like Fred Rogers and his work, it is at once so simple and honest and yet so powerful.

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is a film not just to be seen but to be shared. Find those people that mean the most to you and spend some time remembering the power of love.

Dr. Harold Fernandez is one of the world's leading cardiac surgeons. Photo from CAC

By Kevin Redding

There is perhaps no one on Long Island whose story encapsulates the American Dream better than Huntington resident Harold Fernandez, who fled drug-and-murder-ridden Colombia when he was 13 years old; charted through the treacherous waters of the Bermuda Triangle; came into the U.S. not speaking a word of English; worked hard in school; gained admission to Princeton University; graduated from Harvard Medical School; got married and helped raise two children; and ultimately rose to the top of his profession as a cardiac surgeon, currently working at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore.

But his journey to the operating room was one of constant fear. As an undocumented immigrant, Fernandez had broken countless immigration laws by the time he arrived at Princeton. The secret he had harbored his whole life was about to be revealed and potentially undo everything he had achieved for himself and his family and send him back to Colombia.

Harold Fernandez, left, with his brother Byron with the Statue of Liberty in the background.
Harold Fernandez, left, with his brother Byron with the Statue of Liberty in the background.

Fernandez’s compelling and inspiring story is the focus of a new documentary titled “Undocumented.” Based on his memoir of the same name, the documentary will have its world premiere screening at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington on Sunday, Nov. 13, at 6 p.m. (sold out) and 8:15 p.m. The film will be followed by a Q-and-A with filmmakers Patricia Shih and Greg Blank, as well as Fernandez himself.

Shih, a professional local musician who had no prior experience in filmmaking, read the book cover to cover and knew right away that the story needed to be translated to film, not only because of its cinematic themes of danger, suspense and eventual triumph but because its message rang especially true today.

“Harold’s story … puts a human face on the abstract issue of immigration,” she said. “When the presidential election started, there was a lot of hateful rhetoric by one of the candidates about immigration, and specifically racial and religious discrimination. I’m hoping that [the film] will move people enough so that some hardened positions will soften. I can’t stress enough how amazing his story is.”

As an Asian woman whose own father was one of only 105 Chinese immigrants allowed to enter the U.S. in 1945 as a result of the Magnuson Act, Shih considers this an extremely personal topic. She hopes to combat the ever-increasing violence, racism and xenophobia that surrounds the issue of immigration with the film’s telling of Fernandez’s incredible life.

And incredible it is.

When he and his 11-year-old brother Byron left Medellín, Colombia, in 1978, Fernandez hadn’t seen his parents for years. They had already moved to the U.S. to escape poverty, working in embroidery and clothing factories and struggling to make ends meet in West New York, New Jersey, with the hopes that one day they would earn enough money to be reunited with their children. His parents arranged for the two of them to be smuggled in, and so began their dangerous voyage to freedom.

Fernandez, his brother and a dozen other immigrants huddled in a small boat that seemed to constantly be on the verge of splitting in half as the harsh sea raged on in the thick of hurricane season. When he finally arrived in New Jersey, Fernandez was at a complete disadvantage, needing to learn a new language and catch up with his classmates academically. However, he saw how much his parents struggled to put food on the table and understood that the only way he would get ahead in life would be through a good education, and so he buckled down and devoted himself to his studies.

Fernandez became valedictorian in his high school class and was accepted to Princeton with flying colors, determined to help people through medicine. However, this is when his undocumented status came back to haunt him. The documentary explores how Fernandez overcame the very real threat of being deported and wound up where he is today.

As Shih had never tackled a film before, let alone a feature-length film, she approached Push Pause video journalist Greg Blank to see if he would help make this dream project a reality. It didn’t take much to persuade him to get on board.

Much like Shih, Blank had become extremely immersed in Fernandez’s memoir and thought that a lot of people would relate to his story on different levels. The two launched a Kickstarter campaign in an effort to crowd fund the film in April, wound up exceeding their cost goal, and with a final budget of roughly $20,000, shot and edited the documentary in five months — all under the complete cooperation and encouragement of Fernandez, who even contributed large quantities of footage when he visited his old neighborhood, school and home in Colombia this year.

The film features interviews with Fernandez’s parents, a professor of his from Princeton, as well as two former patients who say they owe their lives to him as a result of emergency open-heart surgeries, among others. The bulk of it was shot in Huntington, said the filmmakers, with segments in New Jersey and Princeton.

“This is the quintessential American story,” said Blank. “I hope people can see that it’s not just the story of Harold and one person succeeding in this country, but an entire family coming [here] and making the most of it, and really contributing.”

For Fernandez, seeing his story make its way to the big screen is really exciting. He said it’s an opportunity to show people that most immigrant families in this country are regular people who have dreams and are looking for ways to contribute to the American way of life. “I’ve been so blessed to be able to make my dream come true,” said Fernandez. “but I think that most immigrants that come here are really looking for simple things — living with dignity, just being able to work — and I think that’s what my story really portrays. And the main thing that I remember coming here to America was not really the excitement of coming [here] as much as just the desire to be together as a family again.”

Fernandez continued, “I think it’s one of the tragedies of the whole immigration issue right now. You have all these families apart, so I think the idea of being together again as a family was the most important part at the time.”

The Cinema Arts Centre is located at 423 Park Ave., Huntington. Admission is $16, $11 members. A premium admission of $22, $17 members, includes a wine and cheese reception. For more information, please call 631-423-7611 or visit www.cinemaartscentre.com.

Frank Fritz, left, and Mike Wolfe of ‘American Pickers.’ Photo from The History Channel

The History Channel’s documentary series “American Pickers” has announced that it will film episodes throughout New York this summer.

Show hosts Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz will scour the Empire State for hidden gems and vintage items that may have been given up as junk, according to a recent press release.

The show, which airs at 9 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesdays, explores the fascinating world of antique “picking.” As they hit the back roads from coast to coast, Wolfe and Fritz continue their mission to recycle America by rescuing forgotten relics and giving them a new lease on life, while learning a thing or two about American history along the way.  They typically look for collections that include vintage bicycles, toys, unusual radios, movie memorabilia, advertising, military items, folk art, early firefighting equipment, vintage musical equipment, automotive items and clothing.

Does that sound like the stuff in your garage? If you or someone you know has a large collection, send your name, phone number, location and a description of the collection with photos to [email protected] or call 1-855-OLD-RUST.

*Please note: The show will not consider visits to retail shops or flea markets.

‘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.

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SCCC hosts Long Island documentary premiere

Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental and film director Gerry Gregg respond to questions from the audience. Photo by Donna Newman

By Donna Newman

The documentary “Close to Evil” is the result of a collaboration between Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental and filmmaker Gerry Gregg. It was screened at Suffolk County Community College’s Ammerman Campus on Oct. 29 for an audience of more than 400, including Honors College students as well as interested Long Islanders. The film was viewed in rapt silence and followed by a penetrating Q-and-A.

Steven Klipstein, assistant director of the Suffolk Center on the Holocaust, Diversity and Human Understanding, introduced the program, making reference to the Holocaust Museum on the top floor of the campus library that documents the ultimate sadism of that historic event. “It’s a miracle that any of these people survived,” he said. “I hope you get something out of seeing [this film].”

By coincidence, the screening was 71 years to the day after 9-year-old Tomi found himself, along with family members, on a transport heading from his village to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. They had spent two years in hiding in their native Bratislava (now the capital of Slovakia) avoiding capture. Tomi survived long enough to be liberated in April 1945. After the war he attempted to return “home” only to find all traces of his former life in Bratislava gone.

Initially he immigrated to Israel before heading to Ireland, where he has lived ever since. In Ireland he started a business, fell in love, married and raised three sons. “I never spoke of it [his wartime experiences] for 55 years,” said Reichental, “I couldn’t.” He never even told his wife.

In 2003 he realized he had a responsibility to those who perished — including 35 members of his family — as one of the last living survivors, to speak out. He now speaks to student groups across Ireland to relate his experience and his eyewitness testimony about the inhumanity of Hitler’s Final Solution. In 2012 he participated in a radio broadcast that brought his story to the attention of a neighbor of former Bergen-Belsen prison guard Hilde Lisiewitz Michnia in Hanover, Germany. The neighbor contacted Reichental to tell him about the 93-year-old widow.    

As originally scripted, the documentary was meant to focus on a possible meeting between Reichental and Michnia. “I have an opportunity to meet this woman,” said Reichental to Gregg. “It would make history [for us] to go together.” He expected, in his naiveté, that Michnia was a victim of her time. Obviously, she must have been brainwashed; indoctrinated with Nazi propaganda. He thought she would show some remorse. And reconciliation was all he wanted.

As shooting progressed, the story took on a life of its own. “There were twists and turns,” said Gregg, “things we didn’t see coming. There’s even a Hollywood ending. We didn’t know any of that would happen.” The surprises include: the awarding of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, its highest honor, to Tomi Reichental, and an unexpected alliance between Reichental and Alexandra Senfft, a granddaughter of Hanns Ludin, Hitler’s ambassador to the Slovak Republic — the man responsible for the deportation (leading to extermination) of more than 60,000 Slovakian Jews.

Gregg said they hope to find a distributor for this unique film, so it can be seen throughout the United States. The two men have made two tours of America so far to present the film to select audiences. Thursday’s showing was co-sponsored by the SCCC Honors College, the Suffolk Center on the Holocaust, Diversity and Human Understanding and the Ammerman Campus office of Campus Activities and Student Leadership Development.

The Suffolk Center on the Holocaust, Diversity and Human Understanding, located  on the second floor of the Huntington Library on the campus of Suffolk County Community College, 533 College Road, Selden, maintains significant collections of original materials that document the Holocaust and chronicle slavery in America.

CHDHU’s mission is to educate the community on historical events and to promote cultural understanding and respect for human dignity. The center is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, and by appointment. For further information, please call 631-451-4700 or visit www.chdhu.org.

Tab Hunter in his youth. Photo from Jud Newborn
Tab Hunter photo from Jud Newborn
Tab Hunter photo from Jud Newborn

By Stacy Santini

Studebakers, drive-ins, saddle shoes and ice cream parlors will instantly conjure up images of a decade that most people remember fondly and others wistfully wish they could visit. Iconic television programs such as “I Love Lucy” and “Father Knows Best” were viewing staples in most living rooms and matinée idols such as Ricky Nelson, James Dean, Natalie Wood and Debbie Reynolds graced the big screen before the term “celebrity” found its way into our vernacular. It was the 1950s, an era known for Truman and Eisenhower politics and innocence savored.

Tab Hunter was a star that seemingly endorsed the mainstream value system and fulfilled every notion that Hollywood was projecting at the time. Unbeknownst to his droves of fans, he was living a secret life that, today, wouldn’t have had to be so secret. “Tab Hunter Confidential,” a documentary exclusively premiering at Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, on Wednesday, October 14th, bravely tells Tab’s story and is a brilliant peek into Hollywood during that time; an epoch that simply will not fade away.

Director Jeffrey Schwartz has adapted Tab Hunter’s memoir into a riveting narrative that clues the viewer in on the struggle this dashingly handsome, sun-kissed, all-American screen darling dealt with through most of his career. Fearful of shattering his well sought after image, Tab Hunter lived openly as a heterosexual, having well-publicized romances with numerous Hollywood starlets while knowing he was unequivocally gay. Not only is this acclaimed documentary a fascinating depiction of Hunter’s impressive career, but with same sex marriages recently legalized in many states, the world’s mindset is rapidly changing and the story is well suited for the times.

Tab Hunter in his youth. Photo from Jud Newborn
Tab Hunter in his youth. Photo from Jud Newborn

While living in the closet, Hunter was consistently number one at the box office and often the same on the music charts. Movies such as “Damn Yankees” and songs like “Young Love” quickly propelled him from stable boy and figure skater to heartthrob. Later taking on the role of Todd Tomorrow, opposite Divine, in John Water’s cult classic, “Polyester,” only further secured his role as Hollywood royalty.

Curating the event is Jud Newborn, an international multimedia lecturer who has a formidable list of credentials, one of which happens to be curator for special programs for Cinema Arts Centre. He began his studies at New York University, became a residence writer at the University of Cambridge, Clare Hall, and capped off his impressive education with his dissertation on the hidden cultural meanings of the Holocaust at University of Chicago, where he received his doctorate. Often considered an expert on Nazi warfare and the Holocaust, he not only co-authored the book, “Sophie Scholl and The White Rose,” but also founded and curated The Living Memorial to the Holocaust at The Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City.

Newborn has a knack for recruiting prestigious and very famous guests to Cinema Arts Centre, and his reputation as curator is well earned. Securing Tab Hunter is no surprise. Always considering the Centre his second home, Newborn states, “It is so diverse, so stimulating. It is a joy to bring in these exciting programs for the audience.” Elaborating further, “ Adding to the Cinema’s already outstanding roster prior to my post here, I have brought in Christopher Plummer, Tony Curtis, Dick Cavett, Norman Lear, Leslie Caron, Erica Jong, Rita Moreno, Steve Guttenberg and so many more. It has been such a pleasure.” When asked what his secret is, he jovially says, “I’ll never tell.”

Tab Hunter in his youth. Photo from Jud Newborn
Tab Hunter in his youth. Photo from Jud Newborn

Cinema Arts Centre is a true cultural gem for Long Island. With more than 10,500 members, it has served as the template for prominent film festivals ,such as Sundance. Started in 1973, it parallels the Film Forum and The Film Society of Lincoln Center. The venue has three state-of-the-art theaters, the aesthetically pleasing Sky Room for receptions and patio gardens. At 7:30 p.m., the Cinema will screen “Tab Hunter Confidential” as part of an alluring program. The documentary will be followed by an interview with Hunter conducted by famed author and lecturer, Foster Hirsch, which will include an audience Q&A. Afterward, there will be a dessert reception in the Sky Room, with a performance by jazz guitarist Mike Soloway.

Tab Hunter might be considered an anomaly for Hollywood, surviving a culture that was once known for devouring their young stars, and rising above what was once considered an obstacle. He has embraced a lifestyle that was true for him and fearlessly tells the world about it. Witnessing such integrity is a rare opportunity and should not be missed.

Cinema Arts Centre is located at 423 Park Ave., Huntington. Tickets are $25, $20 members. For more information, call 631-423-7611 or visit www.cinemaartscentre.org.