By Heidi Sutton
The arrival of spring signals the return of a community treasure — the award-winning Port Jefferson Documentary Series. The season kicks off on Monday, April 5 and runs through May 24.
It’s been a rough road for the PJDS film committee since COVID-19 hit in March 2020, but the end result is a true testament to the resilience and staying power of this popular event.
“We started small,” said co-director Lyn Boland in a recent phone interview. Because of the pandemic, the team, which also includes co-directors Barbara Sverd and Wendy Feinberg, Honey Katz, Lorie Rothstein and Lynn Rein, hosted mostly virtual screenings last year as their usual venues went on lockdown. In the fall they presented two drive-in screenings on Perry Street in Port Jefferson and two socially distanced screenings at Harborfront Park.
The success from those events was encouraging and persuaded the committee to continue their mission.
“Those went really well and we really expected that we would be back at Theatre Three for the spring series, but that didn’t happen,” said Boland.
The film festival grants the committee normally relies on were canceled as well but luckily Port Jefferson Village agreed to co-sponsor part of the spring series. “Mayor Margot Garant really went out of her way to help us. Between that and funds from the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, we managed to put together a series that consists of three films online and five socially distant films in Harborfront Park,” she explained.
The selection process for choosing the eight films was also different this year, with most chosen from the South by Southwest Festival in mid-March.
This season’s exciting lineup will explore topics such as the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, Parkinson’s disease, seeking asylum, friendships, jazz, helicopter parenting, and self-imposed quarantine. Moderated by Tom Needham, host of The Sounds of Film at WUSB radio, each documentary will be supplemented by a prerecorded Q&A with a guest speaker which can be accessed at home on YouTube.
A highlight of the series will be the fourth film, a special screening of “Howie Mandel: But Enough About Me,” which kicks off the Harborfront Park part of the series. “We wanted to have a party to celebrate the outdoor portion of the season and this film is so delightful we decided to make it our showpiece,” said Boland.
“What we are really hoping is that people want the experience of seeing a film together again; people have watched a lot of films online during the pandemic and we are really hoping to get people to gather again outside in a lovely setting,” she added.
Since the film board’s formation back in 2005, Boland and her fellow board members have never lost their love of documentaries.
“There is something about an amazing story, with the footage from the actual event, with the real people, that brings vibrant real information to me. I think in this day and age, where everything is so fraught with “is this real?” “is that real?”, that there is something very important about seeing the actual people, the actual places; where for an hour and half, it’s the real thing. There are things we need to know, and I think that’s where we get it,” said Boland.
The first three documentaries will be screened virtually on Mondays at 7 p.m. with 48 hours to view. (See dates in sidebar) Tickets are $8. Register at www.portjeffdocumentary.com.
A special screening of “Howie Mandel: But Enough About Me” will be held at Harborfront Park, 101 East Broadway, Port Jefferson on Monday, April 26 at sundown. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $12 online or in person. Rain date is the next day.
The last four documentaries will be screened at Harborfront Park at sundown. (See dates in sidebar) Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 online or in person. Rain date is the next day.
Purchase a $50 Spring series pass good for 7 films. For more information, call 631-473-5220.
End of the Line: The Women of Standing Rock
Monday, April 5 online at 7 p.m.
End of the Line: The Women of Standing Rock is the incredible story of a small group of indigenous women who risk their lives to stop the $3.8 billion Dakota Access oil pipeline construction that desecrated their ancient burial and prayer sites and threatens their land, water, and very existence. When the population of their peaceful protest camp exceeds 10,000, the women unwittingly find themselves the leaders of a global movement. Guest speaker will be Shannon Kring, Director.
Me to Play
Monday, April 12 online at 7 p.m.
The film follows two veteran actors as they pursue a one-night-only performance of a lifetime. Dan Moran and Chris Jones, who first met while performing in A Month in the Country with Helen Mirren in 1995, are united by a mission to present Samuel Beckett’s absurdist tragicomedy Endgame if it’s the last performance they do. Coincidentally diagnosed with Parkinson’s at the same time, the actors find purpose in illuminating Beckett’s prose. Guest speaker will be Director Jim Bernfield.
Monday, April 19 online at 7 p.m.
In 1970, off the coast of Cape Cod, Lithuanian sailor Simas Kudirka jumped from his Soviet ship onto a US Coast Guard vessel seeking asylum. Denied refuge by the American crew, Simas was sentenced to a Soviet labor camp for treason, sparking an international cause célèbre. As his dramatic case played out in the media and up through the highest levels of the US government, this ordinary man became a symbol for freedom-seeking refugees everywhere. Guest speaker will be Giedre Žickyte, Director.
Howie Mandel: But Enough About Me
Monday, April 26 at Harborfront Park
An intimate and provocative documentary, the film explores the life and career of Howie Mandel, a veteran comedian, actor and producer, arguably most known for his battle with OCD and for being a judge on America’s Got Talent rather than for his considerable comedic genius. The film delves into his early years in the comedy industry and how he became a star on one of the most beloved television series ever, St. Elsewhere. Guest speaker will be Barry Avrich, Director.
Truman and Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation
Tuesday, May 4 at Harborfront Park
The documentary is a story of two of the greatest writers of the past century examined in a dialogue that stretches from their early days of friendship to their final, unsparing critiques of each other. Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams lived parallel lives and struggled with a lifelong pursuit of creativity, self-doubt, addiction, and success. Giving life to the dialogue and a physicality to their relationship, Jim Parsons is the voice of Capote and Zachary Quinto is the voice of Williams. Guest speaker is Lisa Immordino Vreeland, Director.
Monday, May 10 at Harborfront Park
Ronnie’s is a chronicle of the life of saxophonist Ronnie Scott, from poor, Jewish kid growing up in 1940s East End, London to the owner of the legendary night club, Ronnie’s. Glorious clips from performances by jazz greats spanning decades — Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Jimi Hendrix, Nina Simone, Van Morrison, Chet Baker, and more — bring to life this story of a charming, talented man who secretly wrestled with his own inner demons. Guest speaker is Oliver Murray, Director.
Monday, May 17 at Harborfront Park
Overprotected and over directed, American children are wilting under the weight of well-meaning parents. This thoughtful film follows education professionals and reformed helicopter parents who seek and offer solutions for developing more confident, independent young people while restoring some joy and freedom to childhood. Guest speaker will be Co-Director Eden Wurmfeld.
Monday, May 24 at Harborfront Park
A very timely film, Red Heaven explores what humans need to be happy, healthy, and sane. A crew of six non-astronauts from all over the world, chosen for their ability to survive isolation, embark on a one year mission in the Mars simulation station in a 1000 square foot dome on the red, rocky slope of a Hawaiian volcano in order to provide much-needed research for the future of space exploration. How does their mood and mental health change over time in this prescient exploration of self-imposed quarantine? Guest speakers will be Lauren DeFilippo & Katherine Gorringe, Co-Directors.