Island movie series highlight dance, sumo, photos, schools

A special collaboration of The Yard, the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society, and Benjamin Hall will bring the documentary, “Dancing Across Borders” to the Capawock Theatre on Sunday afternoon, July 25. That evening, the M.V. Hebrew Center’s Summer Institute will screen the comedy, “A Matter of Size” to mark the 10th anniversary of its collaboration with the Boston Jewish Film Festival.

In addition, the M.V. Film Society series at the Tabernacle will present Courtney Bent’s “Shooting Beauty” on Tuesday, July 27, and the M.V. Film Festival in Chilmark will offer “The Tillman Story” on Wednesday, July 28, along with “Eleanor’s Secret” at Cinema Circus.

Filmmaker Anne Bass will lead a discussion after the screening of “Dancing Across Borders,” her remarkable documentary about a young Cambodian who travels to the U.S. to become a world-class ballet dancer. Ms. Bass met Sokvannara (Sy) Sar in Angkor Wat in January 2000, when he was 16.

Sensing the young man’s exceptional talent, she offered to bring him to the U.S. and sponsor his training in Western ballet. Ms. Bass conveys the dramatic cultural adjustments Sy, already considered too old to start a formal ballet education, must undergo.

Bass’s cinematography shows Cambodia’s ancient buildings and agrarian culture in haunting contrast to vocal references to the country’s systematic destruction by Communist leader Pol Pot. When Sy arrives in New York, he trains with master teacher Olga Kostritzky before he has even learned how to speak English.

Dazzling shots of him in class with Ms. Kostritzky precede his audition at the School of American Ballet, which rejects him. However Ms. Bass persuades the school to give him a second chance, and one success follows another.

At one point, Sy worries, “Is this ballet thing going to turn me into a duck?” but the young dancer with a capacity for extraordinary leaps — both culturally and balletically — seems to appreciate the opportunity that has dropped into his lap.

“Matter of Size” (2009) spotlights an entirely different but equally formal type of body movement in a comedy shown at the Hebrew Center Sunday night. Israeli directors Sharon Maymon and Erez Tadmor tell the story of four overweight men who give up the battle of the bulge and take up Sumo wrestling, the Japanese sport that values extra weight.

Herzl, (Itzik Cohen), is the linchpin of the group, a soulful-eyed heavyweight determined to make his way toward self-esteem. Despite his mother’s badgering, he quits the weight-loss class he’s been attending and starts working at a Japanese restaurant run by Kitano (Togo Igawa), a former Sumo instructor.

After Herzl persuades Kitano to instruct them, his pals Aharon, Gidi, and Sami join him as “fatsos in diapers with girlie hairdos.” Zehava, a hefty and charming blonde from the weight-loss class, whom Herzl is smitten with, figures as the romantic interest.

Various trials and tribulations beset the fleshy five, including backfiring lies, cheating spouses, and homosexual encounters, as Kitano disciplines them into shape with the authority of a field marshal. Directors Maymon and Tadmor have welded a warmhearted comedy out of an often-disparaged physical condition and a unique sport.

Directors Courtney Bent and George Kachadorian will answer questions after Tuesday’s screening of their documentary “Shooting Beauty” at the Oak Bluffs Tabernacle. In their film, the pair turn upside down conventional notions of beauty by taking their cameras into a United Cerebral Palsy day center in Watertown.

Ms. Bent, who grew up in the world of fashion but never felt comfortable there, wanted to see if she could be accepted in the world of the handicapped. She decided to let these wheelchair-bound men and women tell their own stories to the camera after feeling that her photographs were getting it wrong.

The sheer logistics of the project would have likely overwhelmed many. One client can only use his tongue; another struggles to press a button. Funding the project out of her own pocket, Ms. Bent gives photographic assignments and organizes the results into a gallery exhibit.

The profound disabilities of the film’s subjects melt away under Ms. Bent’s and Mr. Kachadorian’s sensitive filmmaking. The personality of each participant emerges, along with an inner beauty they have in common.

At times the multiple award-winning “Shooting Beauty” is not easy to watch. But its message comes through loud and clear: everybody has the right to be heard and every life should be utilized. The short, “Bruce,” (1998) about dancer Bruce Jackson, will precede the main feature at the Tabernacle Tuesday.

The late Pat Tillman’s Army comrade Russell Baer will answer questions Wednesday, July 21, at the Chilmark Community Center’s screening of “The Tillman Story.” Amir Bar-Lev’s documentary tells the moving story of how the U.S. military misrepresented the combat death of former Arizona Cardinals linebacker corporal Tillman in Afghanistan.

Reported in the media as having died a hero, Tillman in fact was killed by friendly fire under controversial circumstances. After his mother painstakingly pored through testimony of what happened, she uncovered the truth — that the circumstances of her son’s death had been fictionalized and used by the U.S. government for propaganda purposes.

The MV Film Festival’s Cinema Circus will present “Eleanor’s Secret,” an animated film about a little boy who has trouble reading, before the 8 pm feature.

“Dancing Across Borders,” Sunday, July 25, 4 pm, Capawock Theatre, Vineyard Haven. Tickets $15 at the door or at

“A Matter of Size,” Sunday, July 25, 7:30 pm, MVHebrew Center, Vineyard Haven, $15.

“Shooting Beauty,” Tuesday, July 27, 8 pm, The Tabernacle, Oak Bluffs. Tickets $8; $5 MVFS members.

“The Tillman Story,” Wednesday, July 28, 8 pm, Chilmark Community Center. Tickets $14; $7 MVFF members at the door or at

“Eleanor’s Secret,” Wednesday, July 28, 5 pm, Chilmark Community Center. Tickets $10; $5 MVFF members at the door or at