Please note: The movie line-up has been updated.
Line-up spotlights how singular stories impact society
By Tara Mae
What responsibility to people have to each other and the planet? This question is a recurring theme examined when the award-winning Port Jefferson Documentary Series’ film festival returns this fall. The season kicks off Monday, Sept. 19 and runs on select Mondays through Nov. 21.
“There is an underlying thread of social responsibility — stand up and do the right thing or at least recognize when things are going wrong and put a spotlight on it — throughout the whole season. It takes a lot of guts to take such a stance,” said co-Director Lyn Boland.
Screenings will be held in person at 7 p.m. With the exception of Rebellion and Heart and Soul, which will be screened at John F. Kennedy Middle School, 200 Jayne Blvd. in Port Jefferson Station, all documentaries will be shown at Theatre Three, 412 Main Street in Port Jefferson.
“This series offers a valuable service, We are offering an opportunity for an arts organization in our community. Many of these films are noncommercial; people would not necessarily be able to see them in movie theaters,” said Theatre Three’s Executive Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel.
Sponsored by the Suffolk County Film Commission, the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, Maggio Environmental, Maia Salon Spa and Wellness, and Covati and Janhsen, CPAs, the festival, which started in 2005, will present seven thought-provoking documentaries this year.
Evoking questions of personal responsibility, public activism, and corporate accountability, these documentaries explore the private motivations of public figures, community workers, and morally dubious entities who exploit areas of opaque legality for profit.
Kaepernick & America kicks off the series, exploring the thought process of a man whose actions speak loudly; An Act of Worship amplifies the ingenuity, initiatives, and endurance of female Muslim American activists; The Cave of Adullam chronicles the steadfast dedication of a Black martial arts sensei striving to support at-risk Black youths; Heart and Soul will appeal to rock and roll fans; and Rebellion, American Pain, and The YouTube Effect detail the detrimental impact of a trifecta of concurrent crises: climate change, opioid addiction, and misinformation, respectively.
“This festival really has something for everybody. I do think that we have some really remarkable films. Quite a number explore current events — things that are so much on everyone’s mind,” Boland added.
Following every screening, Tom Needham, host of The Sounds of Film on WUSB, will emcee a Q&A session with the director or producer of the documentary. Some guests will appear in person while others will appear via Zoom.
The documentaries are selected by the all-female film board: co-directors Lyn Boland, Wendy Feinberg, and Barbara Sverd as well as Honey Katz, Lorie Rothstein, and Lynn Rein. Collectively known as “the film ladies,” each woman nominates a documentary to be included in the series and if approved, arranges for the speaker(s) to participate in the Q&A.
After its nomination, the board and volunteers review the film to decide whether it makes the cut. The next step can be among the most challenging: securing the rights to show the documentary. This feat is generally negotiated by contacting the film distribution company or reaching out directly to a filmmaker in person at a festival, or through email and phone. Certain documentarians, such as Alex Winter (The Youtube Effect), have previously shown other work at the Port Jefferson Documentary Series, and thus have an existing connection to it.
Films are largely sourced from festivals like the TriBeca Film Festival and the Hamptons International Film Festival. Board members pay their own travel expenses, tickets, and industry passes.
The Port Jefferson Documentary Series is a passion project for everyone involved.
“My favorite parts of this endeavor are attending film festivals, previewing films on the big screen, and meeting the directors and subjects in the films in person. The satisfaction of having previewed dozens of films and finally then narrowing down to seven of the best with guest speakers for each…I love it. To me, it is entertainment,” said co-director Wendy Feinberg.
Individual tickets are $10 each online or at the door. A season pass is $58 and also available online or at the door.
For further details about the documentaries, booking tickets, or the series in general, visit www.portjeffdocumentaryseries.com.
■ The season begins with a screening of Kaepernick & America at Theatre Three on Sept. 19. The documentary relives the summer of 2016, an election year with unrest rumbling through America, when Colin Kaepernick took a knee and America lost its mind. Kaepernick & America examines the man and his protest, exploring the remarkable conflict stirred by such a symbolic gesture. Guest speaker will be co-director Tommy Walker.
■ Up next is An Act of Worship on Oct. 3 at Theatre Three. The film weaves a glorious tapestry of personal stories, verité, archival footage, and home movies together, to open a window into the world of Muslim Americans. The film follows three women activists who have come of age since 9/11 and who are part of a new generation of Muslims in America. Guest speakers will be director Nausheen Dadabhoy and producer Sofian Khan.
■ The award-winning film Cave of Adullam heads to Theatre Three on Oct. 10. The film focuses on martial arts sensei Jason Wilson and his efforts to help often-troubled black youths from Detroit at the Cave of Adullam Transformational Training Academy that he founded in 2008. Guest speaker will be director Laura Checkoway.
■ After a brief hiatus, the series continues with a screening of Rebellion at John F. Kennedy Middle School on Oct. 24. The film gives us an in-depth look into the global environmental movement, Extinction Rebellion (XR), established in the United Kingdom, from its beginnings in 2018. Guest spaker will be co-director Maia Kenworthy via Zoom.
■ The festival continues with a a preview screening of Heart and Soul at John F. Kennedy Middle School on Nov. 7. The first-ever Rock & Roll Show at the Brooklyn Paramount Theater electrified the teenagers who waited for hours to see their new idols – Chuck Berry; the Chantels; Frankie Lymon; and a roster of some of the greatest talent of the time. Fourteen-year-old Kenny Vance sat in the balcony mesmerized by a unique style of music that still resonates for him -and many of us- half a century later. The film seeks to solve the question that may never be answered, because, like all art, it is about feelings: What was that particular magic that grabs a heart and never lets it go? Guest speaker will be director Kenny Vance with a vocal harmony performance by Vance & the Planotones.
■ Moving into November, American Pain will be screened at Theatre Three on Nov. 14. A jaw-dropping true crime documentary, the film tells the story of twin brothers and bodybuilders Chris and Jeff George, who operated a franchise of pain clinics in Florida where they handed out pain pills like candy. Director Darren Foster offers an incredibly compelling and shocking story that exposes the tower of corruption that made the George’s enterprise so massively successful. Guest speaker will be producer Carolyn Hepburn.
■ The Youtube Effect heads to Theatre Three on Nov. 21. The documentary takes viewers on a timely and gripping journey inside the cloistered world of YouTube and parent Google. It investigates YouTube’s rise from humble beginnings in the attic of a pizzeria to its explosion onto the world stage, becoming the largest media platform in history and sparking a cultural revolution, while creating massive controversy in the age of disinformation. The film is a startling but necessary look at a website that has become so intertwined with our daily lives. Guest speaker via Zoom will be director Alex Winter.
*Please note all films begin at 7 p.m.