Five exceptional documentary films come to the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center July 31 to August 4. Now in its third year, Doc Week includes an opening-night reception, special guests, Q and A with the directors, and a special children’s event.
Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain narrates the first night’s film, “I Am Jane Doe,” about sex trafficking, on Monday, July 31. It will be preceded by the opening reception, and a panel discussion with director Mary Mazzio will follow the film. Other prestigious participants in the post-film panel include Yiota Souras, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children; Rebecca Dince Zipkin and Alexi Ashe Meyers, attorneys and advocates for gender violence survivors at Sanctuary for Families in New York City; and civil and criminal case attorney Aaron Katz, a partner at Ropes & Gray law firm in Boston.
“I Am Jane Doe” tracks a series of young girls who have been turned into sex slaves advertised online by the escorts section of backpage.com; the website has been called the Walmart of human trafficking. The film includes extensive statistics and expert commentary, but it also interviews parents and victims of this terrible, unchecked form of abuse. Parents and experts have tried suing backpage.com, the primary facilitator, but because of the federal Communication Decency Act that protects websites, they have not been successful.
“I Am Another You,” playing Tuesday, August 1, addresses the issue of homelessness. A Chinese-American filmmaker, Nanfu Wang, follows the travels of a young adult, Dylan Olsen. In effect she shares his lifestyle, eating out of dumpsters and sleeping on the street with him.
“I’m not a street kid,” Dylan insists. “The world is my home.” Occasionally he takes jobs, but then he gives away the money earned or throws away the food people give him. Wang interviews Dylan’s father, a police detective, and learns about the illness Dylan has that may affect his lifestyle. “I Am Another You” offers a fascinating look at how drifters live. Both the director and Marcia Rock, director of news and documentary at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, will participate in a post-film talk.
Next up on Wednesday, August 2, is “City of Ghosts,” among the political films in Doc Week. It examines the work of an activist group of Syrian journalists who call themselves Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently. They joined forces after Syria was invaded by ISIS in 2014, and live on the run as they fight the terrorist group that has threatened their country.
Director Matthew Heineman will answer questions post-film by Skype. Heineman’s film “Cartel Land,” screened at the Film Center in 2015, was nominated for an Oscar, and garnered several other awards.
“Tickling Giants,” which screens on Thursday, August 3, is set in Egypt and describes the life of Dr. Bassem Youssef, a cardiothoracic surgeon who gave up his medical practice to become a comedian. Inspired by Egypt’s 2011 revolution, Youssef fashioned “The B+ Show” after “The Daily Show.” The comedian appeared on Jon Stewart’s show, and Stewart later came to Egypt to appear on Youssef’s program.
Youssef pokes fun at Egypt’s abusive former President Mohammed Morsi, and works to promote free speech in Egypt. Sarcasm is the weapon he uses to “tickle” Egypt’s government leaders and the takeover by military leader General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who suspended Egypt’s constitution. “The B+ Show” is the first in the Middle East to go from the Internet — with 5 million hits — to a massive and supportive TV audience. Island summer resident and documentary filmmaker Kate Davis will moderate a Skype interview with director Sara Taksler. Taksler has worked as a producer for “The Daily Show.”
“Dateline — Saigon” is the final Doc Week film, showing on Friday, August 4. This film interviews five journalists, all of whom won Pulitzers, who covered the Vietnam War and exposed what was happening there despite the U.S. government’s reports to the contrary. Audiences and journalists find this documentary compelling both because of its analysis of government prevarication during the Vietnam War and its parallel to the treatment of journalists by the current administration.
The five journalists are the late New York Times reporter David Halberstam, the late Associated Press’ Malcolm Browne, CNN’s Peter Arnett, the late photojournalist Horst Faas, and UPI’s Neil Sheehan. Each went to Vietnam near the beginning of their careers and got a hostile reception by the government as they reported on the real stories they uncovered. Boston-based director Thomas D. Herman interviewed more than 50 journalists, photojournalists, government officials, and historians over a 12-year period. Winner of an Emmy for his film “Live from Baghdad,” he will participate in a post-film Q and A.
A free children’s event is scheduled for Sunday, August 6. Vegetable salesman and puppeteer Mr. Bunni, puppeteer Brad Shur of Puppet Showplace Theater, and Chris Monti, the Providence-based writer, singer, and musician, will lead the session on the art of storytelling with puppets.
For information and tickets, go to mvfilmsociety.com.