New Haven film festival features Michael Moore retrospective

"NHdocs: The New Haven Documentary Film Festival" will pay special tribute to the artistry of renowned documentary filmmaker Michael Moore.
Poster for "NHdocs: The New Haven Documentary Film Festival."

NHdocs: The New Haven Documentary Film Festival will pay special tribute to the artistry of renowned documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, who will also be on hand to discuss his works.

More than 100 documentary films — including world premieres — will be shown at the festival, which takes place May 30-June 9. Numerous Yale offices, programs, and departments are co-sponsors of the annual event, now in its sixth year.

NHdocs began after four New Haven filmmakers, including Yale faculty member Charles Musser, met at the Big Sky Documentary in Missoula, Montana. Musser, along with Gorman Bechard, Lisa Molomot, and Jacob Bricca, wanted to create a festival that would bring local filmmakers together and “help build community,” according to the festival’s website. Musser and Bechard remain co-directors of the festival.

This is the first retrospective that Michael Moore has done, even though he has been asked by many film festivals to do it,” says Musser, a professor of American studies, film studies, and theater studies. Musser convinced Moore to take part by telling him that he would also invite Peter Davis, who directed the 1974 film “Hearts and Minds,” which Moore has described as one of his favorites. Musser was a first assistant editor for “Hearts and Minds,” which explores the disastrous effects of war through a focus on the Vietnam War.

Michael Moore, in a scene from his 2015 film “Where to Invade Next.”
Michael Moore, in a scene from his 2015 film “Where to Invade Next.”

Three days of Moore films

The Michael Moore retrospective will take place Friday-Sunday, June 7-9 at the Whitney Humanities Center (WHC), 53 Wall St. Events include the following:

June 7:

5 p.m. — Screening of “Hearts and Minds,” followed by Moore interviewing Davis about his film.

8 p.m. — Screening of “Fahrenheit 9/11” (2004), an examination of the Bush administration’s actions in the wake of 9/11, followed by Davis interviewing Moore about his film.

June 8:

1 p.m. — A 30th-anniversary screening of “Roger & Me” (1989), in which Moore confronts General Motors CEO Roger Smith about the effects of company downsizing on the city of Flint, Michigan. After the screening, Moore will be interviewed by filmmakers DA Pennebaker and his partner Chris Hegedus, whose films include the Academy Award-nominated documentary “The War Room” about President Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign.

4 p.m. — Screening of “Bowling for Columbine” (2002), which examines gun violence in America in the wake of the Columbine school shooting. After the screening, Pennebaker and Hegedus will interview Moore.

7 p.m. — Screening of “Capitalism: A Love Story” (2009), about the impact of corporate dominance on the everyday lives of Americans. After the screening, there will be a short Q&A with Moore.

10 p.m.  — Screening of “Sicko” (2007), a humorous look at the U.S. healthcare system through the vantage point of people challenged in their quest for basic health care coverage.

June 9:

Noon — Screening of “Where to Invade Next” (2015), in which Moore plays the role of foreign “invader” to “steal” other nations’ best ideas and bring them back to the United States. Moore will discuss the film after the screening.

3 p.m. — Screening of “Fahrenheit 11/9” (2018), Moore’s examination of voting, the Electoral College, the government agenda, the Parkland, Florida school shooting, and the water crisis in Flint. After the screening, Moore will participate in a post-retrospective discussion with Musser and Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley, author of “How Fascism Works.”

Musser says he was particularly interested in allowing audiences to see “Fahrenheit 9/11” — the highest-grossing documentary ever — and “Fahrenheit 11/9”, which prominently features Yale historian Tim Snyder, in relation to each other.

People tend to look at Moore for his politics, but our festival will look at him as a filmmaker,” says Musser.

Poster for the film "Questions of Justice."

Policing and gun violence

Several of the festival’s featured films will explore the topic of policing and gun violence. On opening night, Thursday, May 30, there will be screenings at the WHC of “The Sweetest Land” (7 p.m.), a 2018 film by Central Connecticut State University film professor and Yale School of Drama alumnus Jeffrey B. Teitler about community recovery, engagement, and politics in Hartford; and the world premiere of “Questions of Justice” (9 p.m.) directed by Yale Eli Whitney student Aaron Peirano Garrison and recent Yale College graduate Clark Burnett ’19, which examines the complicated relationships between police and marginalized communities.

The Sweetest Land” will be followed by a panel discussion with Teitler, Dr. Linda Degutis of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control; Dr. James Dodington, assistant professor of pediatrics (emergency medicine) at Yale, and other special guests. “Questions of Justice” will be followed by a discussion with Garrison and Burnett, along with former New Haven police chief and soon-to-be assistant chief of operations for the Yale Police Anthony Campbell ’95, DIV ’09; Ken Barone of the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy at Central Connecticut State University; and New Haven Police Sergeant Shayna Kendall. Erik Clemons of ConnCAT will moderate.

Shift Change: The Future of Community Policing in New Haven” (2019) by New Haven filmmaker Steve Hamm, will be shown at 6:30 p.m. on June 4 at the WHC. A discussion, moderated by New Haven Independent editor Paul Bass, will follow, featuring Hamm, interim New Haven Police Chief Otoniel Reyes, Longevity New Haven director Stacy Spell, and community activist Barbara Fair.

On making music

Music is the theme of several films being featured at the festival. These include  “You Don’t Nomi” (2019), which looks at the highly panned 1995 film “Showgirls” (Monday, June 3 at 9:30 p.m. at the WHC, followed by a Q&A with director Jeffrey McHale); the New England premiere of “Waiting: The Van Duren Story,” about a musical artist who was hailed as the next Paul McCartney but instead faded into obscurity (doors open at 7 p.m. at Café, Nine, 250 State St.); and “Cover Band,” about Joe LaDore’s journey from TV show junkie to creator of the TV show “Cover Band” (June 4 at 9 p.m. at the WHC). There will be a Q&A with Van Duren and a special performance by Van Duren & Friends following the movie about the musical artist, and there will be a Q&A with “Cover Band” director Joe LaDore after its screening.

I Need That Record,” an indie tour-de-force that explores the impact of greedy record labels, media consolidation, big box stores, the digital revolution, and other factors on record stores, will also be shown, followed by a Q&A with its director, Brendan Tolles (Thursday, June 6 at 9 p.m. at the WHC). Charlotte Lagarde and Carrie Lozano’s “The Ballad of Fred Hersch” — a portrait of one of today’s foremost jazz pianists and one of the first jazz musician to come out as gay and HIV-positive in the early 1990s — will have its Connecticut premiere on June 6 at 6 p.m. at the WHC, followed by a Q&A with Lagarde and Hersch, moderated by filmmaker John Lucas.

A still from a movie depicting a male and a female at a hot dog-eating contest.

Other highlights

During the festival, four short films by current or recent Yale graduate students will be featured. “Robert Andy Coombs: Just The Tip,” co-directed by first year M.F.A. student in photography Robert Andy Coombs and School of Management graduate David Jiang, opens a program on disabilities and the arts on Friday, May 31 at 6:45 p.m. The other films are “Front de Mer (Waterfront),” graduate student Solène Gautron’s encounter with the New Haven waterfront and the US91/US95 interchange; “A House of One’s Own” by recent School of Art graduate Liyan Zhao, about a Chinese immigrant family’s home in Texas; and “Everything in the past has life,” by recent School of Art graduate Zhongkai Li. These three films will be shown on Sunday, June 2 at 6 p.m. at the WHC.

Films will be offered during daytime hours throughout the festival at the New Haven Free Public Library, and workshops about filmmaking will be offered.

The Earth Remains,” an experimental documentary projected on three screens showing a series of optical and geological collisions as they relate to the landscape of the American West and Southwest, can be viewed June 6-8 (hours vary) in Rm. B-04 of the WHC. Filmmaker Derek Taylor will be in attendance to discuss his 11-minute work.

Audience members will be invited to vote for the best feature film, and the winners of the best student documentary films will be announced.

Here is a just a sampling of other films being shown (see the festival’s website for screening dates and times):

• “And … Seen,” directed by Liz Ortiz, which challenges mainstream assumptions about disability through the perspective of actress and wheelchair dancer Jamie Petrone;

• “Hurdle,” about young Palestinian men who take up the sport of parkour (moving through an urban environment while negotiating obstacles by running, jumping, and climbing) and the practice of photography;

• “Salvage,” about the town dump in Yellowknife, Canada;

• “Living with Lincoln,” about one family’s journey to preserve the image of President Abraham Lincoln;

• “Zulu Summer,” about how a radio disc jockey in Montana forges an international alliance that will change the lives of people continents apart after receiving a suspicious email from an African prince;

• “Breaking Their Silence,” about a group of women who are risking their lives to prevent Africa’s most vulnerable animals from becoming extinct;

• “Monumental: The Bears Ears National Monument Story,” which looks at the shrinkage of the national parks under the Trump administration;

• “The Good, the Bad, and the Hungry,” which traces the lives of several participants of Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest;

• “Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart,” the first-ever feature documentary about the playwright who authored “A Raisin in the Sun”;

• “The Black Mountain,” about Delhi’s largest landfill; and

• “Day One,” which follows a group of teens from war zones in the Middle East and Africa as they are resettled in St. Louis, Missouri and enrolled at a refugee-only public school.

One of the best things about this festival is meeting people,” says Musser. “It creates a community of both filmmakers and audiences and tries to engage different parts of the New Haven community. … For the people who attend, there’s so much we can learn about this city, this country, and the world.”

A full schedule of films, workshops, panel discussions, and other events can be found on the NHdocs website. All screenings and workshops are free, but attendance at highly popular events can be guaranteed with a Fast Pass Deluxe, which can be purchased for $200 or a Fast Pass, which costs $50.

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