Documentary fans have a movie banquet to look forward to this weekend, with screenings of “American Meat” in Edgartown, “Sing Your Song” in Vineyard Haven, and “The Island King” in Chilmark.
On Friday, Feb. 3, The FARM Institute (TFI) and Morning Glory Farm sponsor a dinner and screening of “American Meat” at the Morning Glory Farm. Directed by Graham Meriwether, “American Meat” examines the U.S. meat industry through the eyes of Joel Salatin, an advocate of antibiotic-free and small-scale animal farming.
Beetlebung Farm chef Chris Fischer will prepare an a la carte local meat meal with TFI and Morning Glory meats. Chilmark Coffee Co. will provide hot drinks.
“Sing Your Song”
In honor of Black History month, the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society (MVFS) and the Martha’s Vineyard NAACP present “Sing Your Song,” also on Friday. Don’t look for car chases or shoot-em-ups in this film biography of musical and humanitarian giant Harry Belafonte, or the other two documentaries for that matter. “Sing Your Song” is an engrossing story about one of America’s top singers, a man never afraid to confront injustice.
Now in his mid-80s, Belafonte was born in Harlem and raised in Jamaica. Stunningly handsome and determined, he began his entertainment career with the American Negro Theatre.
Jazz became the singer’s first musical form, but he quickly switched to pop and calypso songs, rocketing up the music charts. Belafonte garnered the nation’s first gold album, and his hit single “Day-O” also went gold.
Although younger generations may be unfamiliar with his music and activism, the singer blossomed in the 50s, first achieving national recognition with “Scarlet Ribbons.” Hollywood beckoned, and he starred in many so-called black films, until Hollywood’s race-conscious constraints led him to form his own production house.
When MGM stopped shooting “The World, the Flesh and the Devil” because it portrayed interracial romance, Belafonte walked out instead of changing the script. It was just one step in a career filled with advocacy.
Martin Luther King Jr. became a close friend, and the singer helped educate Robert Kennedy about the civil rights movement. Whatever the obstacle, Belafonte helped tear it down.
When his Emmy-winning TV shows were threatened with cancellation if the singer didn’t agree to make them all-black, Belafonte quit. After Eleanor Roosevelt befriended him and encouraged him to join the Africa liberation movement, he embraced that cause, enlisting other entertainers. The 60s found Belafonte using his celebrity to promote the civil rights movement. At times he acted as a go-between with the Kennedy Administration and the movement, even risking his life to bring funds to freedom riders.
Deeply principled, Belafonte declined an invitation to represent the U.S. at Nelson Mandela’s inauguration because of the nation’s policy in Haiti at the time. Once the singer turned 80, he committed himself to prisoner advocacy, joining Marian Wright Edelman in calling incarceration the “new slavery.”
Letting the singer speak for himself, director Susanne Rostock covers a great deal of ground on both Belafonte’s singing career and his activism. If “Sing Your Song” has any flaws, they are minor ones.
“The Island President”
Equally as insightful and important a film is “The Island President.” The Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival (MVFF) will screen this documentary about a political hero on Saturday, Feb. 4, as the final event in their winter series.
This family-oriented event includes a kid-friendly dinner and short films for kids. Live music by Gregg Harcourt and Mary Wolverton follows, along with food by Mr. Fischer.
The film’s subject, President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives south of India, succeeded in bringing 192 nations to agreement at the 2009 Copenhagen Summit on climate change. In a David vs. Goliath contest, this tiny nation’s leader kept China from stalemating proceedings and held the U.S. to the mark.
The 2,000-island Maldives make up the lowest-lying nation in the world, the most at risk from global warning. First, the president’s brilliant political strategies took the Maldives out of the hands of a despot.
President Nasheed spent 18 months in solitary confinement while struggling to create a movement for democracy in the affluent Islamic nation. He went on to defeat the reigning dictator and turned his energies to the impending destruction of his country by rising seas.
Director Jon Shenk astutely alternates scenic shots of the lush tropical islands, which make the Maldives such a tourist mecca, and the profoundly serious message the president is broadcasting about the dangers of global warming. Rather than seeming superfluous, the scenic vistas give the audience time to absorb the message.
President Nasheed points out that Manhattan lies just as low as Mali, the Maldives capital. Yet controversy continues in some quarters of the U.S. about the validity of global warming.
Both for its portrait of a true political hero and its important message, “The Island President” deserves far wider distribution that it has so far received. MVFF earns much praise for bringing it to the attention of Vineyarders, who should feel concern for the future of their own island.
“American Meat,” Friday, Feb. 3, 7 pm, Morning Glory Farm, Edgartown. $5; $10 family. Dinner: 6 pm. $1 off by donating item to Island Food Pantry. Pre-register: 508-627-7007 ext. 101.
“Sing Your Song,” Friday, Feb. 3, 7:30 pm, Capawock Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $8; $5 MVFS members. For more information visit mvfilmsociety.com.
“The Island President,” Saturday, Feb. 4, 7:30 pm, Chilmark Community Center. $12; $6 for MVFF members. Food and films for kids: 5 pm, $5; free for members. Live music and dinner: 6:30 pm, $10 for adults; $5 for kids. Bring plates, cups, utensils. For more information visit tmvff.org.