In 1920, amid poverty and hunger in poor neighborhoods of Amsterdam, authorities set aside tracts of land where children could grow vegetables for their families. It looks like extra homework, but as can be seen in “The school garden(2020), Mark Verkerk’s light-hearted and uplifting documentary about the project 100 years later, is anything but.
Following the progression of such bustling terrain over four seasons, the film opens in winter on a desolate field devoid of vegetation. The current garden is divided into small plots allocated to individual children with their names painted on panels. Then begins the process of ploughing, sowing, tending and harvesting, with practical lessons, ranging from studying the local flora and fauna to preparing meals using fresh vegetables from the garden that the children are surprised to find it delicious (in most cases). Beautifully shot, the film features a host of genuinely delighted and industrious youngsters, their engaging instructors, and bunnies excused for poaching because of their educational value and kindness.
“The School Garden” can be streamed at the Belmont World Film Family Festival (January 14-23) and Verkerk will do a virtual Q&A from the Netherlands on January 22 at 4 p.m. bwffamilyfest2022.eventive.org/welcome.
Such community gardens would seem like a great idea to import into this country – and indeed, as seen in James Rutenbeck”A judgment in Boston(2021), black bus driver Kafi Dixon (also the film’s co-producer) attempted to do so in a vacant lot in Jamaica Plain. The project met with enthusiasm and cooperation from the community, but opposition from the city and the wealthy developer to whom the city promised the empty but ripe land for gentrification.
Dixon is one of the students in a class of the Clemente Course, a Dorchester program offering free education in the humanities to those with limited means. Initially, Rutenbeck intended to center his film on the impact of the classroom on students’ lives. He soon realized he needed to instead examine the impact of college students on him, a privileged white person from an affluent suburb, as well as the challenges students face in a system designed to exclude them.
Another student Rutenbeck learns from is Dixon’s co-producer Carl Chandler, 65, who survives on a pension and a disability check in one of the toughest neighborhoods in town. Scholarly Chandler offers astute and insightful contributions to classroom discussions of philosophy and history. His resilience and wisdom in response to personal challenges are even more illuminating.
Despite limited means, he supports his daughter, who is studying dance at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. In addition to their dreams and ambitions, he and Dixon share their struggles – eviction and homelessness and the fatal shooting of loved ones. Such restlessness is little known to Rutenbeck, and likely to many viewers, for whom the film is an invaluable learning experience.
“A Reckoning in Boston” receives its first broadcast on PBS’s “Independent Lens” on January 17 at 10 p.m. and can be streamed for 30 days thereafter via the PBS Video app.. Go to www.pbs.org/independentlens/documentaries/a-reckoning-in-boston.
Artist JR proved himself a worthy collaborator of the late Agnès Varda in their 2017 pictorial road movie, “Faces Places,” and he embarks on a similar project in his light-hearted “Paper and glue(2021). From the question “Can art change the world?” JR tackles hotspots around the world, where he engages oppressed communities in the creation of immersive, inflated photographic installations that are his work and demonstrate that art can do it.
In a town on the US-Mexico line, he decorates the border wall with a giant, menacing image of an adorable child that you think would win the hearts of the most adamant anti-immigrant activists. He hosts a banquet to celebrate the image and ingeniously manages to circumvent restrictions to include guests from both sides of the divide. At a California supermax prison, he recruits the inmates into a giant photographic takeover of the prison yard in their image. And in a Rio de Janeiro favela, he braves narco gangs to join community activists in reclaiming neighborhood streets with giant photos of their faces.
These and other projects are an opportunity for JR to tell his own story, how he grew up in a Parisian slum and felt empowered when he discovered the art of graffiti. From there, he develops his art of oversized portraits and monumental, ephemeral frescoes that allow the faceless to show their faces. Funny, self-effacing and engaging, his clever yet ingenious credo appeals to the most discerning clients and the resulting witty, epiphanic collaborative artworks change the way they see themselves and the way they are seen by others. others.
“Paper & Glue” can be seen for free at the Bartos Theater at the MIT List Visual Arts Center on January 20 at 6 p.m. listart.mit.edu/events-programs/public-program-film-screening-paper-glue.
In 1997, betrayed by a friend, facing financial ruin, black newlyweds Sibil “Fox” and Robert Rich of Shreveport, Mississippi, took desperate and disastrous action. They robbed a bank, were arrested and sentenced to prison. Fox walked out after 3½ years, but her husband ended up with 60, leaving Fox with the responsibility of raising their children, holding the broken family together, and struggling with the justice system to get her husband released.
Over the next 21 years, she achieved that and more. She campaigned vigorously for criminal justice reform and also kept a black and white video diary. The latter was shaped by Garrett Bradley in his harrowing, uplifting and illuminating documentary “Time(2020), whose title refers not only to the time spent in prison but to the passage of time suffered by those who wait outside.
“Time” is available on Blu-Ray and VHS from The Criterion Collection on January 18. www.criterion.com/films/32170-time.
Peter Keough can be reached at [email protected].