Now in its 18th year, the annual M.V. Film Festival brings a remarkable and abundant set of films to the Island this weekend. With some 32 programs and four workshops, the festival once again demonstrates its three greatest strengths: documentaries, children’s programs, and filmmaker/subject discussions. A fiction film, “Chappaquiddick,” opens the festival on Thursday, March 15, and plays again on Saturday, March 17. It is bound to be a popular draw.
In an age when Hollywood films tend to offer the public dumbed-down action heroes (not including “Black Panther”), documentaries make for an important exception. This year the festival brightens March with 20 documentaries, all addressing issues that might otherwise be too easily overlooked.
Playing Friday, March 16, “Mr. Fish: Cartooning from the Deep End,” is bound to shock and amuse, and the audience can meet and discuss this documentary with Dwayne Booth (Mr. Fish). Ardently political, Mr. Fish revels in outrageous, often lewd cartoons. For example, he’s not afraid to go after Obama, and more expectedly Trump, with obscene illustrations. Not all outlets can handle his outspoken approach. He also explains how publication of cartoons has declined along with the market for newspapers and magazines.
The richly photographed “Blue” screens on Saturday, March 17, and addresses with deep concern the crisis facing marine life. It points out that fish populations are in decline around the world, and half of all marine life has disappeared. The filmmaker visits a variety of places to show how fishing is affected. In one poignant scene, a marine bird researcher squeezes a bird’s stomach, which is heard crackling with pieces of plastic. Rather than simply despairing, “Blue” talks about what the public can do to shift the ongoing destruction. Examples include: remove three pieces of rubbish when leaving a beach; promote establishment of refuges for marine life; don’t eat threatened fish species like bluefin tuna.
Also on Saturday, March 17, “Dark Money” travels to Montana to examine how corporations like Anaconda Copper manipulate the post–Citizens United system to control legislatures and even newspapers. One result is that a toxic pool of chemical spill-off has killed flocks of snow geese that land there. In attempts to influence which legislators get elected, corporate funders provide money from unidentified, out-of-state sources, or offer other, nonmonetary aid. Montana has fought back, despite the Supreme Court’s corporate support through Citizens United.
Two documentaries playing on Sunday, March 18, will disturb and anger viewers. “The Devil We Know” looks at the rampant damage to virtually everyone around the world caused by DuPont through its manufacture of Teflon. The filmmakers interview Bucky Bailey, whose mother worked for DuPont and who was born with serious facial defects caused by C8, the chemical used in Teflon. Runoff from Teflon manufacture kills livestock and turns children’s teeth black. A class-action suit has worked to hold DuPont responsible for the damage it has caused.
“Crime + Punishment” investigates the ongoing corruption in New York City’s Police Department. Even though it is illegal, police officers are required to meet quotas of arrests, targeting minorities and vulnerable groups like members of the LGBT community. In one case, a young African American man spent a year in the Rikers Island jail for a crime he did not commit. Those officers who refuse to go along with the quota system are penalized with demotions and other forms of harassment. Most distressing is the fact that the city depends on the income from fines for a large part of its budget. Twelve officers have filed a class- action suit to fight the ongoing systemic abuse.
Among the other worthy documentaries is “A Painter Who Farms,” about much-revered Island artist Allen Whiting, who comes from 12 generations of farmers. Others include “RBG,” about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,” about a small bank owned by Chinese immigrants caught up in the 2008 mortgage crisis. Many, if not most, of the festival films include discussions with the directors, film subjects, and experts.
The festival has a deep commitment to providing fare for children, and most of the programs for them, scheduled Saturday, March 17, and Sunday, March 18, are free. The festival’s website provides information on ticketing, passes, membership, parking, meals, fireside chats, and the festival food drive. Check the listings at tmvff.org.