Casting Jonbenet

Friday April 28 through Thursday May 4 at The Metrograph: $15

Just as OJ: Made in America took on a sensationalized murder case that became a defining feature of the American cultural landscape thanks to relentless media coverage, Casting Jonbenet looks to the as-yet-unsolved murder of Jonbenet Ramsey. The six-year-old beauty queen who became an international icon and potent symbol of the Great (White) Child Abduction Panic– which you definitely remember if you were a kid growing up in the ’80s and ’90s. If you immediately associate lollipops with stranger danger and trench coats with flashers, then yes, you are a product of the Jonbenet years.

Much like the OJ doc, the filmmakers in this case are unafraid of beating a dead horse. (Well, show horse in this case.) As opposed to just churning out the same information that’s already there and focusing on the murder itself, the filmmakers are more interested in the larger and lasting impact of the case and what it says about American culture in general. But the way they go about it is nothing short of brilliant. The Metrograph writes: “Over 15 months, the filmmakers traveled to the Ramseys’ Colorado hometown to elicit responses, reflections and even performances from the local community.” The result is an exploration of “how this crime and its resulting mythologies have shaped the attitudes and behavior of successive generations of parents and children.”

Night Catches Us
Sunday April 30, 3:45 pm at The Metrograph: $15

The Metrograph calls this 2010 feature “a wise, remorseful, politically aware drama” that follows two friends as they look back at their years with the Black Panther Party and mourn their “since co-opted youthful idealism.” They also say it’s “one of the best films of the decade.” But probably you haven’t seen Night Catches Us– or maybe, like me haven’t even heard of the film until now. Slate called it a “criminally overlooked film” and though it won several festival awards, it was not widely distributed or even discussed in mainstream media much at the time of its release. But isn’t that just the way things go for the Black Panthers in mainstream America?

Night Catches Us might not be a play-by-play documentary on the black activist organization that, for the most part, was fighting to secure basic human dignity for communities of color, but the film, beautifully shot and led by Kerry Washington’s killer performance as a Civil Rights attorney, presents a very human telling of a grossly underrepresented, not to mention violently suppressed historical moment. It’s a moving portrayal of the lasting legacy of the Black Panthers.

A World Not Ours
Sunday April 30, 8 pm at Anthology Film Archives: $11

Speaking of injustice, Anthology’s month-long series, Displaced Persons: Migration on Film, covers a pretty, pretty pressing human rights issue. If you haven’t checked it out yet, hop to it– the series is coming to a close on Thursday. It’s in conjunction with Perpetual Revolution, an ongoing exhibition at the International Center for Photography (ICP)– which since its inception in 1976 has made it their core mission to show what the Times refers to as “socially concerned photography” . Obviously, a lot has changed since then, particularly when it comes to the nature of images– their power, reach, accessibility, and potential for complexity have grown enormously as the internet has taken over the world. According to the same Times review, ICP’s transition from the analogue world of film to the Digital Age has been “bumpy” (which is surprising, given that photography itself was once seen as both a cutting edge technology and lesser art form). This show, however, sees the center decisively tackling the digital manifestation of “photography” (yes, frickin’ Pepe the Frog is there, red-eyed and swastika spangled) and, in particular, moving images. Perpetual Revolution, ICP writes, “explores the relation between the overwhelming image world that confronts us, and the volatile, provocative, and often-violent social world it mirrors.”

Which brings us back to our screening– A World Not Ours captures life inside a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, through the eyes of Mahdi Fleifel, the filmmaker and narrator behind this “dazzling first-person documentary” who’s been shooting video of the camp, known as Ain el-Helweh, since childhood– and I guarantee that Mahdi’s youth was nothing like your own. Despite the ubiquitous guns, violence, and poverty, the filmmaker still loves going back to a place that many Westerners might assume is only a temporary squat. “But to me, going to Ain el-Helweh is better than going to Disneyland!” he declares joyously. As Fleifel shows us, the refugee camp is anything but a meaningless limbo, a place of transition, or residence from where people can come and go as they please.