Arts

Doc Talk

Legs and arms and other things

Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine”
Criterion Collection
Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine”

 

One of the more remarkable aspects of “17,” Widad Shafakoj’s documentary about the Jordanian under-17 women’s soccer team, is that there is nothing really remarkable about these athletes.

Like any other teenagers practicing for a team competition, they roughhouse, tease, bicker, form cliques, grumble about playing time, grouse about the coach, and work hard to get in shape for their toughest challenge — the 2016 FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup, which took place in Amman. The issue of women playing a sport traditionally regarded in their culture as only for men hardly ever comes up.

Instead, Shafakoj observes with a Fred Wiseman-like detachment how the organization operates both on and off the field. Dramatic conflict occurs at unpredictable moments and for unexpected reasons, such as when a father confronts the coach about cutting his daughter from the final team, or the night-before stress — not about playing in the big game but over trying to get comp tickets for demanding family members and friends.

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“17” screens on June 16 at 2 p.m. and on June 17 at 11 a.m. as part of Arab Film Weekend at the Museum of Fine Arts. It is a co-presentation of the Boston Palestine Film Festival.

Go to www.mfa.org/programs/film/17-0.

Columbine remembered

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The 1999 Columbine High School massacre horrified the country. Nearly 20 years later, such tragedies seem to have become a weekly event.

Michael Moore, who is a National Rifle Association member as well as a cine-provocateur, tried to rouse indignation about the issue in 2002 with his Oscar-winning documentary “Bowling for Columbine.” His signature combination of blunt irony, awkward confrontation (an interview with Charlton Heston, then in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, will not go down as Moore’s finest moment), and absurdist solutions (actually, Chris Rock’s idea of charging $5,000 a bullet makes a loopy kind of sense) did raise the hackles of many on all sides of the issue. 

Apparently to no avail, though Kmart, which sold the Columbine shooters their bullets, did stop selling ammunition after the film. Maybe the movement started by the Stoneman Douglas High School kids will have a more lasting impact.

“Bowling for Columbine” is available on June 19 from the Criterion Collection, on Blu-ray ($39.95) and DVD ($29.95).

Go to www.criterion.com/films/28785-bowling-for-columbine.

Chaos reigns

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The plight of seaborne refugees seeking asylum on the Italian island of Lampedusa and that of the hard-pressed islanders themselves who bear the brunt of the crisis is depicted with compassion and harrowing depth and detail in Lorena Luciano and Filippo Piscopo’s documentary “It Will Be Chaos.”

It begins with a grim scene in which stacks of coffins, surrounded by bereft mourners, are being hoisted onto a ship. They contain the bodies of those drowned at sea, just some of the thousands who have died trying to make the treacherous crossing from Turkey to Europe. There are so many corpses, one local comments, that the stench of death is overpowering and inescapable.

Like Gianfranco Rosi in his 2016 Oscar-nominated documentary “Fire at Sea,” Luciano and Piscopo examine individual stories of tragedy and sacrifice and give names and faces to an ongoing catastrophe often regarded merely as an abstraction or as a political talking point.  

“It Will Be Chaos” airs June 18 at 8 p.m. on HBO and is available on demand on June 19.

Got to www.hbo.com/documentaries/it-will-be-chaos.

Docs at Nantucket

The Nantucket Film Festival (June 20-25) was first established in 1996 to promote the art of screenwriting. But it has since become a showcase of the best upcoming documentaries as well. This year is no exception — of the 47 features on the program, 27 are nonfiction. 

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Here are some highlights:

“Above and Beyond: NASA’s Journey to Tomorrow”: Rory Kennedy (the 2014 Oscar-nominated “Last Days in Vietnam”) surveys the history of the NASA program initiated 60 years ago and energetically promoted by her uncle, President Kennedy. Her film features spectacular images, lucid animation, engaging interviews with astronauts, scientists, and other experts, and emphasizes the urgent message that space exploration tells us as much about our own world and how to solve its problems as it does about the universe around us. 

“Our New President”: A jaunty, unnerving look at how Russian propaganda has poisoned its own people and has since been successfully applied to the United States, Maxim Pozdorovkin’s investigation reveals a frightening new side of the alleged Russian campaign to sway the 2016 election. Winner of the Special Jury Award at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

“Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind”: Robin Williams’s 2014 suicide broke the hearts of fans of his manic, free associative comedy. Marina Zenovich (“Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out”) tells the comic’s story from his lonely childhood to his heady success and subsequent bouts with self-doubt, addiction, and illness. The film includes touching and insightful interviews with Williams’s family and friends such as Billy Crystal and David Letterman, as well as generous samples of him performing his hilarious, mind-boggling, and self-revelatory schtick.

Other films not to be missed:

Robert Greene’s “Bisbee ’17,” about a town on the US-Mexico border coming to grips with a grievous injustice that happened a century ago; Eugene Jarecki’s “The King,” which takes a ride across America in Elvis Presley’s 1963 Rolls-Royce to explore the impact of the rock icon’s death on American culture; Barbara Kopple’s “A Murder in Mansfield,” a look back at a man’s 1989 murder of his wife in the Ohio town of the title and the toll it has taken on their son; “Roll Red Roll,” Nancy Schwartzman’s unsparing and lucid investigation into a rape committed by members of a small-town high school football team and the cover-up that followed; and Don Hardy and Dana Nachman’s “Pick of the Litter,” a film about five adorable puppies in training to become guide dogs for the blind, which might be the perfect feel-good pick-me-up after some of the festival’s more serious documentary offerings.

Go to nantucketfilmfestival.org.

Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.