The Martha’s Vineyard Film Center launches its first annual Documentary Week on Monday, August 3, with the riveting “The Wolfpack.” In addition, the Hebrew Center’s Summer Institute will screen a poignant drama, “The Art Dealer,” on Sunday, August 2, and the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival will play Oak Bluffs summer resident Stanley Nelson’s powerful new documentary, “The Black Panthers.”
Martha’s Vineyard Film Center (MVFC) Director Richard Paradise says of the newly created Documentary Week, “the MVFC hopes to show how documentary films have become the conscience of the nation, providing a deeper study of contemporary and historical, and often unnoticed, issues.” Running through Friday, August 7, the series will host filmmakers in discussions with viewers about the making of their films and their social impact.
First up is first-time director Crystal Moselle’s “The Wolfpack,” the story of the six Angulo family brothers who grew up on the Lower East Side of New York City with their parents Oscar and Susanne, almost never leaving their apartment. Their father is the only one with the keys to the front door. The boys, given Sanskrit names by their Peruvian father and Midwestern mother, entertain themselves by watching movies almost nonstop. Their mother, a licensed teacher, homeschools them, and they are comfortable and articulate in the film’s interviews. The world of movies — they make top-30 lists of their favorites and re-enact many of them — feeds their imaginations. Perhaps in coordination with their identity as a wolf pack, the boys are not readily identified by name. Interviews with the filmmaker, the first person allowed into their world, are interlaced with earlier home movies of the boys and their developmentally disabled sister, as well as their parents. One of them estimates that the six have seen 5,000 movies.
At 15, Mukunda, the third oldest, unlocks the apartment door and, wearing a mask, enters the outside world while his father is out getting food for the family. He walks two blocks before someone calls the police, and he is eventually taken to Bellevue Hospital Center. That episode dramatically changes the family dynamics, and all of the boys begin to explore the outside world. As one of them says, “Most people would go insane to experience a life like that. (We didn’t.) I think it was because of my mom. She kept our sanity.”
While Oscar’s control of his children seems monstrous, interviews with the parents demonstrate that their reclusive lifestyle is governed predominantly by fear of the dangers of urban life. “My power is influencing everybody,” says Oscar. “Think about that — and this piece of shit where we are living.” Susanne says, “What I really wanted — that they would be growing up in a place with green fields — it didn’t happen.” “The Wolfpack” won the 2015 Sundance Grand Jury Prize.
Other films playing as part of Documentary Week include “Diplomat,” “Best of Enemies,” “Unbranded,” and “The Galapagos Affair.”
‘The Art Dealer’ and ‘The Black Panthers’
“The Art Dealer,” directed by Francois Margolin and playing Sunday, August 2, at the Film Center as part of the Hebrew Center Summer Institute Film Series, narrates the story of Esther, a young woman who seeks to discover what happened to her family’s art collection after the Nazi invasion of France during World War II. The story unfolds like a French version of “Woman in Gold,” the film starring Helen Mirren as a Jewish refugee seeking return of the Gustav Klimt portrait of her aunt appropriated by the Austrian government. In the case of “The Art Dealer,” family members prove to be as villainous as the French government, and before she uncovers the truth, Esther loses her job and alienates her art dealer husband.
Playing Monday, August 3, in a Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival special screening is Oak Bluffs summer resident Stanley Nelson’s “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution.” Mr. Nelson will lead a post-screening discussion with Emory Law School Professor Kathleen Cleaver, and Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. will introduce the event. The latest entry in the growing canon of black history by triple-primetime-Emmy winner Mr. Nelson proves to be a remarkable historical document. Relying on interviews with a variety of former and current Black Panthers, including Ms. Cleaver, “The Black Panthers” focuses on three of the political party’s most prominent leaders: Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and Eldridge Cleaver. The film begins with the formation of the party in Oakland, Calif., where Mr. Newton starts to carry loaded weapons, as much an anti-police public relations device as a real threat, according to the film. More than just a militant organization, the Black Panthers provided services to black communities nationwide, sponsoring a free-breakfast program for black children and health services. More shocking than the group’s ’70s militancy were the efforts of FBI leader J. Edgar Hoover to quash it through infiltration and arrests, and in at least one case by encouraging the murder of one of its charismatic leaders. This film belongs in the curriculum of our nation’s public schools as a counter to the silent racism that too often pervades them. Go here to watch the trailer
“The Wolfpack,” Documentary Week at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, Monday, August 3, 7:30 pm. mvfilmsociety.com.
“The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution,” Monday, August 3, 8 pm, Tabernacle, Oak Bluffs. tmvff.org.