Doc Week brings the real world to film


Doc Week comes to the Film Center from Monday, July 31, to Friday, August 4, bringing five different and energetic documentaries. Included are “Common Ground,” about regenerative farming; “Going Varsity in Mariachi,” a look at Texas high school students who compete with mariachi music; “The Power of Stone,” on the work of Vineyard stonemason Lew French; “Little Richard: I Am Everything,” a portrait of the celebrated singer, musician, and songwriter; and “Cirque du Soleil Without a Net,” what happens to the famous theater group after COVID-19.

‘Common Ground’

The week begins on Monday, July 31, with a powerful look at the destruction caused by modern industrial agriculture. It’s a form of farming that relies on single crops, and artificial pesticides and fertilizers that end up depleting the soil. Instead, regenerative farming doesn’t use any artificial products, but relies on natural means to restore soil in a practice long used by indigenous peoples. A Q and A with Noli Taylor from Island Grown Initiative and Andre Woodruff from Whippoorwill Farm will follow.

George W. Carver is known as the parent of regeneration, in which nitrogen is returned to the soil. Peanuts, clover, black-eyed peas, and beans provide nitrogen. After his death in 1943, industrial agriculture again used chemical fertilizer and herbicides for what was called the green revolution. Major agriculture organizations like Monsanto use products like Roundup that have been connected to causing cancer. Farmers use regeneration to free microbes and cover crops from runoff, saving as much as $400 per acre. By regenerating crops, food becomes like medicine.

Directors Josh and Rebecca Tickell recommend that we support regenerative farmers by:

  • Looking for regenerative labels
  • Growing food in planter boxes
  • Signing the petition to change the farm bill
  • Asking your representative to make regenerative agriculture a priority

‘Going Varsity in Mariachi’

Screened on Tuesday, August 1, “Going Varsity in Mariachi” begins with 100 high schoolers in South Texas, including Edinburg High School from the Rio Grande Valley. These high schoolers from Mexican roots came from poor families, but worked hard “to provide the best music they can,” as their leader Eloy Garcia urged.

The documentary shows how the Edinburg team uses violins, guitars, and voices to perform powerful mariachi music for the state competition.

Garcia tells the team he directs, “Mariachi Is an art. It’s competitive, it’s pricey.” “My goal is to make the finals,” says one student. The team heads to San Antonio for the competition, but they’re not good enough to win. “It’s the best you’ve ever played,” says director Garcia. It was three months until the next competition. The team got second place for the first time in more than 25 years. The mariachi music makes this film especially appealing.

“You can play with so much emotion,” says one student. “It’s part of my culture. Mariachi makes me feel accepted. I feel loved.” The team qualifies for the state competition. Then the best of all happens; they win the State Championship. In this way they overcome their indigent backgrounds and confirm the value of their culture. A Q and A follows the film with producer and Vineyard resident Julia Pontecorvo.

‘The Power of Stone’

This documentary, playing on August 3 and again on August 10, portrays celebrated stonemason and Vineyarder Lew French and his work. The film views his labor on the Martha’s Vineyard Museum’s Rose Styron Garden. French finds what he seeks in stillness as a way to quiet his mind. The film shows how his aloofness hides a spiritual sense and a belief in Buddhist karma. He wakes up daily at 4 am to meditate.

The beauty of his work is illustrated by the way he constructs elements of the garden, in which large and small stones are combined into a whole, which expresses the magic in his sense of karma. Along with directors Barbarella and David Fokos, French will appear after the film for a Q and A.

‘Little Richard: I Am Everything’

This documentary, which played once in April, screens again on Thursday, August 3. Little Richard, the queer icon of rock ’n’ roll, was also known for his expressions of sex and religion, and the film uses archival footage to depict this revolutionary figure, who used his Southern and queer identity to reinvent rock ’n’ roll.

Little Richard was the first singer to have women throw their underwear onto the stage. He was also one of the few performers to break the racist barriers of the South. A Q and A will follow the film with director Lisa Cortes and Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.

‘Cirque du Soleil: Without a Net’

The last documentary in Doc Week is “Cirque du Soleil: Without a Net,” playing on Friday, August 4. After the shutdown caused by COVID-19, this celebrated circus act returned to a stage in Las Vegas. Their last performance was for IMAX in 2000. They returned to the stage with “O,” a mixture of swimmers and of acrobats, with the concept of infinity. The performance includes air and fire, as well as water acrobatics.

The group began in the 1980s as circus performers in Quebec. By 1984 they performed as “O” throughout Canada to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the founding of Canada. They are known for outrageous costumes, magical lighting effects, and original music — and their home at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.

Cirque (circus) du Soleil (sun) derived its name from a tarot card image of the sun and the symbolic French word for it. As stilt walkers, or échassiers, the group began their first performances. By the year 2000, Cirque was performing in 300 cities around the world, and had made the IMAX film “Journey of Man.” A Q and A after the film will feature director Dawn Porter.

Information and tickets for Doc Week, as well as individual films, are available at