Doc Talk

The unsung and the restless

Jennifer Brea and husband Omar in “Unrest,” which examines chronic fatigue syndrome.
Shella Films
Jennifer Brea and husband Omar in “Unrest,” which examines chronic fatigue syndrome.

Jennifer Brea knew something was terribly wrong with her, but the doctors couldn’t find a cause or figure out a treatment and began suggesting it was all in her head. After suffering from an unexplained fever, she was so exhausted that at times she was unable to leave her bed or even use a wheelchair. Like many others with similar symptoms, Brea turned out to have the elusive and devastating malady myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), otherwise known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

In her candid, often wrenching documentary “Unrest,” which screened this fall at the GlobeDocs Film Festival, Brea relates the daily struggles she must endure and her frustration with medical professionals who don’t take her seriously. She also shows how, via the Internet, she helps contact others with ME, sharing their stories and organizing them into a movement to bring attention to their plight and campaign for proper treatment and a cure.

“Unrest” can be seen Monday at 10 p.m. on PBS Independent Lens. Online streaming begins on Tuesday.

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Amazing Met


“The Opera House,” a documentary by Susan Froemke (co-director, with the Maysles brothers, of the 1976 masterpiece “Grey Gardens”), celebrates one of the world’s greatest cultural institutions, New York City’s Metropolitan Opera. Covering 50 years of its history in its newest home — as well as that of city itself — the film puts together rarely seen archival footage, stills, recent interviews, and a soundtrack of great Met performances. The latter includes one by soprano Leontyne Price, who in 1966 starred in Samuel Barber’s “Antony and Cleopatra,” the first production at the newly opened Met.

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The film also recognizes the cost of this monument to high art — it was part of the urban renewal project of notorious city planner Robert Moses that bulldozed entire neighborhoods.

“The Opera House screens Saturday, Jan. 13, at 12:55 p.m. at the Fenway Stadium 13 in Boston and Assembly Row 12 in Somerville. Also Jan. 17, 12:55 and 6:30 p.m. at Fenway and 6:30 p.m. at Assembly Row.

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Deep freeze

One of the most critically acclaimed documentaries of 2017 was also one of the least seen. Here’s another chance to catch Bill Morrison’s “Dawson City: Frozen Time,” a masterpiece of found footage, recent winner of the Boston Society of Film Critics’ best documentary award.


In 1978, a treasure trove of 533 silent films from the early 1900s was unearthed from the tundra of the title Yukon town. The films remained in an archive until Morrison edited them into a thrilling montage that weaves two histories — one relating Dawson City’s roots as a gold-rush boom town and the other illuminating the evolution of early 20th-century cinema and pop culture. It might be the best film you see all year, and it’s only January.

“Dawson City: Frozen Time” screens Sunday at 4:30 and 9:30 p.m. at the Brattle.

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Kermit and Ted’s
excellent adventure

John Maggio’s “Into the Amazon” is a fascinating complement to the 2017 film “The Missing City of Z” as well as Werner Herzog’s “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” (1972). In 1914, a 55-year-old Theodore Roosevelt journeyed into the uncharted Brazilian rain forest with 25-year-old son Kermit to take his mind off his losing bid for a third term as president 15 months earlier. Accompanied by the legendary Brazilian explorer and guide Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon, with a party of 140 men, 110 mules, and 70 oxen, the expedition seemed prepared for anything.

But it did not go well. By the time they reached the forebodingly named River of Doubt, they had been tormented by mosquitoes, blood-sucking sandflies, and sweat bees; menaced by piranhas and anacondas; and bogged down in an endless, impassable jungle. When Roosevelt came down with a leg infection, the outlook was grim. Maggio includes interviews with historians and experts and shoots on location in the Amazon to relate this little-known, epic historical footnote. And Alec Baldwin adds to his repertoire of presidential impersonations by providing Roosevelt’s voiceovers.

“Into the Amazon” can be seen Tuesday at 9 p.m. on PBS American Experience. It will be available online and on DVD following the broadcast.

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Murder’ will out


The UCLA Festival of Preservation running Jan. 18-31 at the Museum of Fine Arts offers 11 feature films and five shorts collected and restored by the conservationists at the UCLA Film and Television Archive. It also includes one documentary that has resonance today.

“The Murder of Fred Hampton” (1971), directed by Howard Alk of Chicago’s The Film Group, began as a portrait of the 21-year-old chairman of the Illinois branch of the Black Panther Party. It turned out to be a record of history in the making. What starts as a black-and-white cinema vérité account of Hampton’s activism and oratory abruptly becomes an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Hampton and fellow Panther Mark Clark after an early morning police raid of their Chicago apartment on Dec. 4, 1969.

Alk sympathetically records the fervor of the movement and its rhetoric, which called for a socialist revolution not just for African Americans but for the poor, disadvantaged, exploited, and oppressed of all races and backgrounds. With the killings and their aftermath, though, the film’s focus sharpens and it turns into an exposé of possible murder — and of a cover-up that is as inept as it is outrageous.

It is a history lesson, and a depressing one; after 50 years of supposed progress, much remains the same.

“The Murder of Fred Hampton,” co-presented with the Roxbury International Film Festival, screens on Jan. 18 at 5:30 p.m. and Jan. 20 at 3 p.m. at the MFA.

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Peter Keough can be reached at