At NHDocs: free films about Newtown and Black Panthers, an Alex Gibney retrospective, and more

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The New Haven Documentary Film Festival (NHDocs) has expanded this year to present 15 documentary features and 26 shorts over 11 days, June 2 to 12. Screenings take place at Yale’s Whitney Humanities Center auditorium, 53 Wall St. and, on Saturday afternoon, June 4, at the New Haven Free Public Library, 133 Elm St.

All of the screenings are free and open to the public. Complete schedule information will be available online at http://www.nhdocs.com/.

See the complete NHDocs lineup.

NHdocs features a number of Connecticut premieres, including the Thursday, June 2 opening night feature, Lloyd Kramer’s “Midsummer in Newtown (2016), about a theater production that comes to Newtown, Connecticut with the goal of healing the hearts and minds of a community devastated by a school shooting. A set of Newtown-related shorts will have their world premieres on Wednesday, June 8: Kim Snyder’s “#WeAreAllNewtown and “Notes from Dunblane, and Sue Roman’s “Team 26.”

The festival features three music documentaries: “Miss Sharon Jones!” directed by Oscar-winner Barbara Kopple, which follows the R&B queen while she battles with cancer and struggles to keep her band together, will be screened June 4. It is accompanied by a documentary about local musical icon Billy Fischer, who will perform following the films. Festival co-director Gorman Bechard’s “Who is Lydia Loveless?” looks at a rising star and the difficulties of surviving in today’s music world. After the screening, Lydia Loveless will perform a live solo show at Café Nine, 22 State St. (There is an admission fee for this show.)

The world of performance is the topic on Friday, June 3, with an autobiographical documentary of Connecticut-raised, Rhode Island-based comedian Ray Harrington, “Be a Man (2015).  NHdocs explores horror and other cult films that went straight to VHS with Tom Seymour and Ken Powell’s “VHS Massacre (2016) and the world premiere of David Pilot’s “Skin of the Game: The Raven Riley Story (2016), which follows the roller-coaster trajectory of an Internet porn star.  (The festival has rated the film NC-17.)

Short subjects will be screened on Saturday, June 4, at the New Haven Free Public Library, and Sunday June 5 at the Whitney Humanities Center. NHdocs offers two films at the public library with a New Haven perspective on the Black Panthers: a recently restored version of “Mayday” (May 1st Media, 1970), and Elihu Rubin and Elena Oxman’s ’Next Question’: The May Day 1970 Oral History Project” (2002,). The latter will be followed by a Q&A with Rubin and former Panther George Edwards. The bill on June 5 begins with three documentaries about student life at Yale, including the first public screening of Alex Defroand’s “We Out Here: A Film About Race at Yale “(2016). 

The June 5 screening of Darcy Dennett’sThe Champions (2015), about the pit bulls rescued from NFL star quarterback Michael Vick’s dogfighting ring, benefits the New Haven Animal Shelter. The screening will be followed by a discussion on animal law with state representative Diana Urban and prosecutor Joseph LaMotta

Documentaries by NHdocs veterans screen on June 6: Rebecca Abbott’s “Ireland’s Great Hunger and the Irish Diaspora (2015), which explores the historical and socio-political circumstances leading to potato failure, mass starvation, and death in Ireland; and Karyl Evans’Letter from Italy, 1944: A New American Oratorio (2015), which focuses on the creation of a musical drama by two sisters, Sarah Meneely-Kyder and Nancy Meneely, about their father, a WWII Yale-trained medic who returned home to his family with post-traumatic stress disorder. Both filmmakers will also discuss their films and the challenges of addressing trauma in their work.

On Thursday, June 9, NHdocs unveils the prize-winning film festival documentary “The Angel of Nanking (2015), in which a man patrols a bridge over the Yangtze River in China, trying to prevent jumpers from ending their lives. It is followed by the world premiere of Amanda Chemeche’s “Radical Hospitality (2016), which looks at the Karen refugees sponsored by the Mennonites of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and by Kelly Colbert’s “His Name is Midnight (2015), a prince-to-pauper story of a rodeo horse with an unstoppable will to survive. The filmmakers will be at all the screenings.

Finally, on June 10-12, NHdocs joins forces with the International Festival of Arts and Ideas to present a three-day retrospective: “Revealing Scams, Lies, Trickery and Deceit: The Documentaries of Alex Gibney.” Friday evening pairs Gibney’s breakthrough hit, “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005), with his Oscar-winning “Taxi to the Darkside (2007), which explores the American military’s use of torture by focusing on the unsolved murder of an Afghani taxi driver.

On Saturday, Gibney will conduct Q&A’s following the screenings of “Client 9: The Rise and Fall Eliot Spitzer (2010), which explores the hidden contours of hubris, sex and power that led to the New York governor’s downfall, and “The Armstrong Lie (2013), which looks at the fall from grace of sports legend Lance Armstrong. Sunday afternoon will feature the Emmy award-winning “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015), an investigation of The Church of Scientology. The Gibney retrospective concludes with a panel discussion with Gibney, journalist Jake Halpern, and novelist Chandra Prasad.

The expanded 2016 set of screenings is the third annual program by the New Haven Documentary Film Festival. NHdocs came together in 2014 when four filmmakers from New Haven gathered together for the first time at the Big Sky Documentary Festival in Montana. Despite being from the same town, the four had never met before, and festival co-founders Charles Musser and Gorman Bechard decided New Haven needed a film festival that could bring filmmakers together and help build community.