Documentaries and farce top the list of new films this week

Documentaries and farce top the list of new films this week

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— Jean Claude Lother

Two of the Island’s independent film venues are screening documentaries this weekend, and the Hebrew Center’s Summer Institute Film Series presents the French farce, “What’s In A Name.”

behind-scenes-Case-Against-8.jpg“The Case Against 8,” a narrative of the fight to rescind California’s anti-gay marriage proposition, plays on Thursday, July 17, at the Harbor View Hotel as part of The Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival’s program. After the screening, directors Ben Cotner and Ryan White will lead a discussion moderated by former Congressman Barney Frank.

The Martha’s Vineyard Film Center opens two new documentaries this week. “An Honest Liar” presents a portrait of magician James “The Amazing” Randi who seeks to uncover fraudulent psychic and paranormal tricks; and “Newburg Sting” is a new film by Islanders Kate Davis and David Heilbroner about FBI persecution of a Muslim community. Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” comes to the Center on Tuesday, July 22, as part of the Center’s Opera in Cinema Series.

In March 2013, California passed Proposition 8, which repealed the state’s marriage equality act. “The Case Against 8” presents an incisive exploration of the campaign to restore marital equality. Mr. Cotner and Mr. White’s film follows how two gay couples — Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, Kristin Perry and Sandy Stier — committed themselves to overturn the initiative that ousted California’s same-sex marriage legislation.

By focusing much of the documentary on the two couples, their children, and extended families, the directors shed light on how similar the lives of gay couples are to those of heterosexual couples. Mr. Katami and Mr. Zarrillo wanted to marry so that if they have children, their offspring will have the same rights as those of opposite sex parents. Both Ms. Stier and Ms. Perry have sons from previous heterosexual relationships, and the film provides solid evidence for how normal and well-adjusted the lesbian couple’s children are.Case-Against-8.jpg

Another important element of “The Case Against 8” comes in its portraits of the lawyers pursuing the gay couples’ lawsuit. Both Ted Olson and David Boies had participated in the Bush-Gore 2000 election litigation brought before the U.S. Supreme Court, but were on politically opposite sides. The film calls Mr. Olson the most prominent conservative lawyer in America, an illustration of how irrelevant political leanings became to the struggle in California for same-sex marriage.

Although “The Case Against 8” provides plenty of evidence on how vicious the anti-gay marriage lobby could be, its message is primarily positive, documenting how our nation has shifted its cultural values in ways that support gay rights. Also part of TMVFF’s summer series is the children’s animated film “Frozen” playing Friday, July 18, at Owen Park in Vineyard Haven and including a pre-film sing-along. “Fishing Without Nets,” a drama about a Somali who pursues then rejects piracy, plays Wednesday, July 23, at the Chilmark Community Center, and director Cutter Hodierne will answer questions after the screening

A magician debunks magic

Tyler Mason’s documentary, “An Honest Liar” is a multi-faceted examination of one man’s efforts to use his own magic skills to uncover the deceptions practiced by a variety of psychic and paranormal figures. Along the way, the film adds a portrait of Mr. Randi’s partner, Jose Alvarez.

“I’m a liar, a cheat and a charlatan,” Mr. Randi proclaims. Unlike other magician/escape artists, though, he uses his skills to entertain. Directors Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein use “An Honest Liar” to explore many types of deceivers, some of whom even succeed at fooling scientists from institutions like the Stanford Research Institute. One psychokinesis practitioner, Israeli Uri Geller, appears to be able to bend spoons and locate objects in a bevy of separate boxes. Faith healer Peter Popoff dupes people into filling his pockets with money by professing to cure them. Mr. Randi shows how this scoundrel gets away with his illusions.

In an interesting ancillary to Mr. Randi’s campaign against using deception to conceal instead of reveal, “An Honest Liar” follows the arrest and trial of Mr. Alvarez.

“We all spin personal narratives,” Mr. Randi says by way of explanation. “At the end of the day there is nothing to reveal.” Yet another surprising part of the film shows how many of the charlatans that Randi exposes reinvent themselves and continue to practice their deceptions.

Also playing at the Film Center next week are two Oscar-winning shorts, “Thoth,” and “Marjoe.” Filmmaker Sarah Kernochan will answer
whats-in-a-name-still-2.jpgquestions after the screening.

The Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center’s film playing this weekend at the M.V. Film Center is “What’s in a Name?” Alexandre de la Patelliere’s and Matthieu Delaporte’s farce concerns a family that announces the name for their soon-to-be-born baby at a dinner party with unexpected results.

“The Case Against 8,” Thursday, July 17, 8 pm, M.V. Film Festival, Harbor View Hotel, Edgartown.

“An Honest Liar,” Thursday, July 17, and Friday, July 18, 7:30 pm, M.V. Film Center, Vineyard Haven.

“What’s in a Name,” Hebrew Center Summer Institute Film Series, Sunday, July 20, 7:30 pm, M.V. Film Center.

“Thoth” and “Marjoe,” Oscar-winning shorts, Wednesday, July 23, 7:30 pm, M.V. Film Center, Vineyard Haven.  For tickets and information, visit tmvff.org for M.V. Film Festival films and mvfilmsociety.com for M.V. Film Center films, including the M.V. Hebrew Center’s Summer Institute film series.

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