How did Clementines and Macintosh apples acquire their names? You can learn the answer to that question and many others from a documentary, “The Fruit Hunters,” at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center on Thursday, Nov. 21. Polly Hill Arboretum is co-sponsoring the screening, and afterwards curator Tom Clark will talk about the Arboretum’s work. A reception, with cider and apples provided by Morning Glory Farm, precedes the film.
“I stumbled across ‘The Fruit Hunters’ at Island Entertainment,” said Karin Stanley, the Arboretum’s education and outreach administrator. She felt it provided an opportunity to collaborate with the Film Center in educating the public about the Arboretum. Although “The Fruit Hunters” focuses on rare fruits from exotic parts of the world more than the kinds of trees found at Polly Hill, it also addresses Arboretum issues like wild seed collecting, the role of public gardens, and the research and preservation of native and endangered species.
Montreal-based filmmaker Yung Chang based his documentary on fellow Canadian Adam Leith Groliner’s book of the same name. In addition to exploring the scientific, economic, and aesthetic reasons we eat fruit, “The Fruit Hunters” offers the viewer a compendium of arcane fruit species like ice cream beans and cherimoya. Little-known facts like the threatened extinction of the $40 billion Cavendish banana industry from Panama fungus enhance the narrative, along with interviews with actor Bill Pullman, who hopes to develop an orchard in his Hollywood Hills neighborhood, and a variety of fruit experts.
Wadjda: A Saudi biker-girl
“Wadjda,” the first full-length feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia by a Saudi woman director, arrives at the Film Center on Friday, Nov. 22, and will play throughout the weekend. It’s a revelatory movie that sheds light on the confined world of Saudi women. Played by Waad Mohammed, Wadjda is a 10-year-old girl with a mind of her own. She is determined to acquire a bicycle in a society that disapproves of biking for girls because it might compromise their virginity.
Although the principal at her all-girls madrasa (religious school) warns her it’s time to ditch her purple-laced high tops and wear a fully covering abaya (cloak), Wadjda is not ready to submit to such restrictions. She prefers to hang out with Abdullah (Abdullrahman Al Gohani), a neighborhood boy she is determined to outrace, if she can just acquire her own bike. The flashy green model she yearns for costs 800 riyads, and she scrambles to save money by selling bracelets to her classmates and delivering forbidden messages to secret boyfriends.
When Wadjda’s best shot at accumulating the money she needs shows up as a Qu’ran recitation contest at school, she joins a religious club and gets to work, even investing in a set of educational DVDs. Wadjda’s mother (Reem Abdullah) disapproves of her daughter’s desire for a bike, but she fosters Wadjda’s independence in other ways, tolerating her rock music tapes and her friendship with Abdullah, and helping her understand the ins and outs of Saudi society. Unable to bear more children, the mother’s position in her husband’s world remains tenuous, with the prospect of a replacement wife lurking around the corner.
As director Haifaa Al-Mansour fills in the details of Wadjda’s life, she also shows how Saudi women police themselves, in ways both large and small. A teacher shoos the schoolgirls inside during recess, because they might be seen by men working nearby. A hint of homosexuality wafts through the air when two girls are caught in questionable behavior. When Abdullah’s uncle holds a campaign rally across the street, Wadjda and her mother watch secretly from a rooftop and duck rather than let any of the attendees catch sight of them.
Like the central character in the remarkable movie she has written and directed, Ms. Al-Mansour found ways to achieve her aims inside a society that does not permit women to vote or drive, let alone speak in public. She directed outdoor shots by walkie-talkie from inside a van, rather than subject herself to criticism from male onlookers. Saudi Arabia’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2014 Oscars, “Wadjda” celebrates the vitality of the women in its world rather than despairing over its limitations. While it may not issue a blanket call to overturn the strictures in a misogynistic society, it does promote the healthy value of small rebellions.
“The Fruit Hunters,” Thursday, Nov. 21, 7:30 pm, $15; $12 M.V. Film Society or Polly Hill Arboretum members.
“Wadjda,” Friday, Nov. 22, and Saturday, Nov. 23, 7:30 pm; Sunday, Nov. 24, 4 pm.
Classic Film Wednesday: “In the Mood for Love” (2000), Wednesday, Nov. 27, 7:30 pm. All screenings at M.V. Film Center, Vineyard Haven. For more information, visit mvfilmsociety.com or call 508-696-9369.