Life on a parallel planet, and life in a Chicago ghetto

Life on a parallel planet, and life in a Chicago ghetto

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Two special film screenings of independent films will take place this weekend. The Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival is presenting a free-to-members fiction fantasy, “Another Earth,” at the Capawock Theatre on Friday, Nov. 18, and the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society will screen a documentary, “The Interrupters,” on Saturday, Nov. 19, at the Katharine Cornell Theatre.

“Another Earth” director Mike Cahill won the Alfred B. Sloan Feature Film Prize and the Special Jury Prize for World Cinema at Sundance this year. This film doesn’t fit into conventional genre categories, landing somewhere between fantasy and science fiction.

About to head to college, Rhoda (Brit Marling) precipitates an auto accident that kills the wife, son, and unborn daughter of music professor John Burroughs (William Mapother). Fresh out of jail for vehicular homicide, she determines that she must make amends. Working as a janitor in a New Haven high school, Rhoda goes to Mr. Burrough’s house and fabricates a story about a free cleaning trial for him. He doesn’t know that it is Rhoda who killed his wife and children.

The two begin to develop a relationship. In the meantime, Rhoda enters and wins a contest that will send her to a newly discovered planet that is in a parallel universe to earth.

Mr. Burroughs watches a TV interview with a scientist attempting to make contact with people in the parallel universe of Planet 2. With both of them fixated on planetary synchronicity, Rhoda and John develop a romantic liaison. Eventually, the truth about the auto accident killing Mr. Burrough’s family comes out.

Finely made, “Another Earth” creates a dreamlike atmosphere through the music used in the soundtrack, a sometimes-mysterious narrative thread, and the use of flashbacks and other cinematic devices. Some will enjoy “Another Earth’s” surrealistic take on personal tragedy and planetary magic. Others may think it’s a bunch of hokum.

“The Interrupters”

Using cinema vérité and direct cinema conventions, producer/director Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”) gives “The Interrupters” a hard-nosed, unvarnished perspective on a year’s violence in Oakland, one of Chicago’s Black neighborhoods, devoid of narrative voiceover or musical soundtrack. Community members have banded together to create a group that tries to intervene and prevent the ongoing violence that kills large numbers of young black men.

“It’s a war zone and an epidemic,” comments one member of the Interrupters, when they meet to discuss how to deal with the Oakland community’s violence. Their perspective stresses that the behavior may be bad but not the people, and that violence is learned behavior.

The viewer meets Cobe, whose mother couldn’t handle his father’s death, and Ameena, who has become a Muslim and was abused physically, emotionally, and sexually. Both have since committed themselves to stopping the ongoing violence.

Like Thoreau’s “Walden” journal or a medieval book of hours, “The Interrupters” divides itself into the four seasons. In the Winter section, a young man on the verge of violent retribution argues, “I’m 32 years old. I spent 15 years of it in jail. How can you help me?”

So far from semi-rural, peaceful life on the Vineyard, Chicago’s Oakland neighborhood racks up 125 homicides, 90 percent of which are young people. “How could the President of the United States be a black man?” asks one Interrupter. “I never thought I’d see that in my lifetime.”

A grim reminder of what happens in some urban communities, “The Interrupters” does not make for easy viewing. It carries an important message, though, for those of us who enjoy a more privileged, less fraught lifestyle.

“Another Earth,” Friday, Nov. 18, 7:30 pm, Capawock Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $10; free for TMVFF members. For more information, see tmvff.org.

“The Interrupters,” Saturday, Nov. 19, 7:30 pm, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $8; $5 MVFS members. Doors open at 7 pm. For more information, visit mvfilmsociety.com.