Two films by summer residents look forward to commercial release

Henry Louis Gates at MVFF 2015 — Anthony Esposito

Two films screened earlier this week at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival will see a future with commercial releases. They are James Lapine’s new fiction film, “Custody,” and Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s documentary, “Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise.”

“Custody” originated 10 years ago during Mr. Lapine’s visits to a family court. “I like to explore different things,” Mr. Lapine told The Times last week. “I knew this woman who was a judge and visited her court. I was so fascinated that I went back several times.” The result is a powerful story of a young mother who loses custody of her two children when she gets caught up in family court bureaucracy. Viola Davis, who plays the judge in “Custody,” was a natural choice, and Tony Shalhoub, who plays her husband, appeared in Mr. Lapine’s last Broadway show. The new film, expected to have a commercial run soon, is a break from Mr. Lapine’s usual work. “I’m not your kitchen-sink guy,” he said. He has won Tony Awards for “Into the Woods,” “Falsettos,” and “Passion.” In addition, he won a Peabody Award and an Emmy nomination for his HBO documentary, “Six by Sondheim.” The first act of his new musical, “Flying over Sunset,” will play at the Vineyard Arts Project on July 29. The musical follows the journeys of Cary Grant, Claire Boothe Luce, and Aldous Huxley as they grapple with fame and LSD in the 1950s.

‘Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise’

Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates recounts 50 years of black history in his documentary, “Black History Since MLK: And Still I Rise.” “The story starts in 1965, a crucial year in black history,” Mr. Gates told The Times last week. He was 15 years old at the time. The documentary, which was first aired on PBS last year and has also produced a book, will return to the network in November.

Mr. Gates has directed 15 documentaries and written more than 20 books on black history. He has also hosted the PBS series “Finding Your Roots.” He said his friend Kenneth Chenault, CEO of American Express, suggested the idea for the new documentary. It charts the changes in American race relations since passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 through the two terms of America’s first black president. Other than the Civil War and Reconstruction periods, Mr. Gates observes that the past 50 years have been the most dramatic period in the history of race relations in the U.S.

Mr. Gates calls “And Still I Rise” an exploration of several questions: “How can we explain that for black America today, it’s the best of times and the worst of times? How have we ended up with the black man occupying the position he does, President of the United States, and the urgent need for the Black Lives Matter movement? The black upper middle class has quadrupled in size since Martin Luther King’s death, but the percentage of black children living at or below the poverty line is at the same level as it was when Dr. King was alive. Why? I attempt to answer these questions.”