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As Goes Janesville
Just after the 2008 financial crisis hastened the shuttering of the General Motors plant in Janesville, Wisconsin, video maker Brad Lichtenstein began documenting the fate of three laid-off workers—two who transferred to a plant in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and one who returned to school through a federally funded program. These thoughtful stories of a disappearing middle class become more pointed as Scott Walker, the newly elected Republican governor, begins implementing his union-busting agenda in February 2011 and his upper-crust backers in Janesville try to attract new industry to the town. Tim Cullen, one of the 14 Democratic state senators who fled Wisconsin in order to stall a vote on the governor's controversial budget-repair bill, figures in some of the video's best moments, including a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a Travel Wisconsin program where he's cheered so heartily and Walker is booed so mercilessly that the "Wisconsin Is Open for Business" shtick is barely audible. —Kevin Warwick 88 min. Lichtenstein attends the screening. Sat 10/13, 2:30 PM.
In 1989 two electrochemical scientists at the University of Utah shook the world with their announcement that they had produced "cold fusion," a controlled emission of nuclear energy at room temperature, using simple seawater as fuel. This breakthrough might have revolutionized global energy production, but by the end of the year it had been discredited by physicists who couldn't reproduce the results of the initial experiment. Documentary makers Clayton Brown and Monica Long Ross revisit the media and academic firestorm that engulfed the two scientists, Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, and interview some of the scientific cultists who still believe that one day we might all have our own nuclear reactors in the kitchen next to the dishwasher. The movie is affecting on a human level—the controversy destroyed Pons and Fleischmann's professional reputations—and fascinating for its glimpses of academic knife-fighting and utopian zeal. —J.R. Jones 83 min. Brown and Ross attend the screening. Tue 10/16, 8 PM, and Sat 10/20, 2 PM.
The Bella Vista
The title of this laid-back documentary refers to a recreation center in rural Uruguay that once served as clubhouse for the local soccer team but for the past two decades has functioned as a transvestite bar and brothel. Director Alicia Cano displays obvious sympathy toward both the prostitutes and the elderly former soccer players who try, ever so politely, to make them leave town. Her central observation is that the subjects all behave similarly because they all belong to the same isolated region (she's especially keen to the similarities of their respective group dynamics). The disagreement over the building comes to seem superficial in light of these shared qualities, though the subjects surely don't see it that way. In Spanish with subtitles. —Ben Sachs 74 min. Tue 10/16, 4 PM, and Sun 10/21, 4:30 PM.
The entire city convulsed in grief when Ben Wilson—a point guard for Simeon Vocational High School in Auburn Gresham and the top-ranked high school basketball player in the country—was shot to death on the street by a couple of punks in November 1984. This video documentary on his life, death, and legacy was produced by ESPN, whose investment in creating sports heroes tends to work against the story's inherent tragedy: what makes Wilson's murder an outrage is that it was so routine, and that young people of promise continue to be gunned down in the streets of Chicago every year. For all the celebration of Wilson's athletic accomplishments, the most compelling personality in the video turns out to be his mother, Mary, a nurse who made the brave decision to take him off life support, delivered a stunningly dignified eulogy for him at Simeon the following afternoon, and subsequently became a powerful advocate for gun control. Coodie and Chike, best known for their hip-hop videos, directed. —J.R. Jones 79 min. The directors attend the screening. Sun 10/14, 11 AM; Wed 10/17, 6 PM; and Thu 10/18,
Beyond the Hills
Raised in a German orphanage, Voichita has found peace as a novice in a Romanian convent, but her austere life is roiled by a visit from her unstable friend Alina, who has graduated from the same orphanage to a series of foster homes. In many ways this long, layered drama from writer-director Cristian Mungiu seems like a companion piece to his harrowing abortion story 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007); both movies trace the uneasy relationship between a survivor and her weak, dependent pal as they try to navigate a world of patriarchal oppression. Here that oppression is embodied by the Russian Orthodox priest who threatens to expel Voichita for her friend's volatile behavior, yet Mungiu complicates this overt critique of religion by hinting that both Voichita's devotion to God and Alina's clinging attachment to Voichita are driven by childhood sexual abuse. In Romanian with subtitles. —J.R. Jones 150 min. Fri 10/12, 8:15 PM, and Mon 10/15, 8:30 PM.
Boys Are Us
In this Swiss teen drama, two sisters decide to take revenge on boys after the younger one gets her heart broken; they decide she'll seduce the first naive guy she finds on an online dating service, then dump him as soon as he falls in love. There's a great film to be made about the impact of online communication on how young people think about sexual relationships and power dynamics in general. Writer-director Peter Luisi offers some insights, particularly in his characterization of the callous older sister, but his flashy narrative conceits—such as having three different actors play the sisters' mark—prove more distracting than illuminating. In German with subtitles. —Ben Sachs 73 min. Luisi and various cast members attend the screenings. Wed 10/17, 6:15 PM; Thu 10/18, 8:30 PM; and Fri 10/19, 3:45 PM.