(Flyer via No Filter)

(Flyer via No Filter)

I Am An Animal
Wednesday June 8 at Union Docs: $10
We knew that the last event held by the No Filter Screening Series– which spotlighted the polarizing and always irreverent Reverend Al Sharpton at his most bombastic, big-bellied, 1980s self in Big Al– would be a tough act to follow. But one of the few figures who could hold even a birthday candle to Sharpton’s fiery diction and billowing mane would have to be Ingrid Newkirk. As the founder of PETA, she might just be one of the most controversial activists of our time.

This doc premiered on HBO several years ago and sets out to capture a day in the life of Newkirk, which might sound like the definition of banal. But the film shows the animal rights activist at her most polished moments and probes her paradoxes as well. “There has been an undeclared war on animals since the beginning of time,” says Ingrid with striking precision, and coming from a person who on the surface might appear like a proper, tight-lipped, tea-sipping English lady, it’s a little jarring and also straight-up impressive.

It’s no secret that PETA’s tactics can be a tad bit extreme and often recall the fearful, violent, and grotesque imagery utilized by some Pro-Life groups. They sometimes even go above and beyond the animal equivalent of baby carcasses– see, for example, the “Holocaust on Your Plate” campaign, which was banned in Germany for what the High Court ruled were ads that made “the fate of the victims of the Holocaust appear banal and trivial.” But on the other hand, you could say that PETA’s work has contributed to making veganism mainstream and convincing many companies to go cruelty-free. Such is the nature of No Filter, though– good discussion, critical debate, and films that make you challenge not just your assumptions, but maybe even a few of your closely held beliefs too.

Another hallmark of the series is founder Steve Loff’s ability to wrangle in some incredible speakers. Ingrid Newkirk herself will be on hand for a post-film discussion with director Matthew Galkin. Please somebody ask her to go into great detail about the Ana Wintour stunt.

The Witness
Friday June 3 through Thursday June 9 at IFC Center: $14
We’ve all heard of the “bystander effect,” the idea that people in a crowd will often ignore a dangerous situation, having convinced themselves that someone, anyone but them will take care of the situation. If you grew up in the ’90s, then it’s probable your parents were secretly watching way too much OJ Simpson trial and Unsolved Mysteries and not to mention pouring over Time magazines replete with serial killer stories and tales of child kidnapping rings.

I, for one, remember most of the media that I consumed while in first grade as a series of Ren & Stimpy episodes and tabloids I grabbed at in the grocery store line depicting Benét Ramsey’s weird, doll-like visage. I imagined she was a vampire, and that some day I would be a vampire like that Tom Cruise dude, too– it wouldn’t be great at first, but eventually I’d learn to love it. Until Vampire Brad Pitt arrived to kidnap me, all I had to worry about was some other kidnapper getting me first.

But for real, all that ’90s paranoia regarding indiscriminate crimes against white children can be traced back to 50 years ago (almost to the date) in New York City, when a young woman named Kitty Genovese was brutally murdered. Haunting archival news footage in The Witness, a new documentary, shows one of the 53 witnesses who (according to a Times article published shortly after the killing) stood by while the murder happened right in front of them. The witness is being interviewed and recounts, like some Patrick-Bateman style creep, how the terrified screams of a young woman crying for help didn’t make her bat one little eyelash. This, after all, is New York City. But is that what really went down? You’ll have to see this doc– which, by the way, reminds me of that Welcome to Fear City poster–to find out.

The Fits
Friday, June 3 through Thursday, June 9 at the Metrograph: $15
People have been freaking out about this film, and it appears to be for some very good reasons. For one, both the director, Anna Rose Holmer, and the young actor, Royalty Hightower (filling in for the hero of our time) are newcomers. Secondly, there’s something strange and beautiful about the surreal way that Holmer has chosen to tell this story about a Cincinnati kid. And by all critical accounts, the film is stunning when it comes to cinematography, camerawork, acting, style, and music. But it could also be that the story itself is one that has been largely untold (or miss-told) throughout history thanks to, you know, the patriarchy and stuff.

The Fits follows a young tomboy, Toni, as she discovers the incredible power of an all-female dance team while boxing with her brother at their local gym. Entranced by their moves and grace, both of which suddenly make her seem inadequate and just plain boyish by comparison, Toni sets out the join the dance team. Sticking out like a sore thumb, the dancers don’t exactly accept Toni and scandal ensues. However, things get really weird when “the fits,” a mysterious case of epilepsy-like seizures takes over the team.