Showcase Vitality of the Documentary

Politics and current affairs, biographies, and the arts figure prominently in this year’s lineup
Big tobacco is one of the targets of “Merchants of Doubt,” one of the titles in the Hamptons Take 2 Documentary Film Festival. In 1994, Stanton Glantz, above, a longtime advocate of nonsmokers’ rights, received a treasure trove of leaked documents, below, that proved the tobacco industry had known that nicotine was addictive for 30 years.

The Hamptons Take 2 Documentary Film Festival, made up this year of 17 feature-length films and 7 shorts, will open its four-day run at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor today. Politics and current affairs, biographies, and the arts figure prominently in this year’s lineup, along with outliers like “The Age of Love,” which follows 10 senior citizens as they prepare for a speed-dating event for 70 to 90-year-olds, and “Outermost Radio,” a look at Provincetown’s independent community radio station.

This year’s festival will honor Stanley Nelson Jr., whose films have chronicled African-American life in the United States, with a special program on Saturday, beginning with a reception at 7, the presentation of its Lifetime Achievement Award at 8, and a screening at 8:15 of his film “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution.” Mr. Nelson will answer questions from the audience after the film.

Another special program will honor Liz Garbus with the Filmmakers’ Choice Award and present her film “What Happened, Miss Simone?” tomorrow at 8:30 p.m. The film examines the complex and troubled bipolar life of the torch singer and civil rights activist Nina Simone, who died in France in 2003. After the screening, Susan Lacy, former executive producer of the PBS “American Masters” series, will interview Ms. Garbus.

The festival will close on Sunday with the 7:15 p.m. showing of “Since: The Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103,” Phil Furey’s film about the fight for the truth waged by the families of the 270 victims after the plane went down over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. Suse and Peter Lowenstein, Montauk residents whose son, Alexander, was a victim of the bombing, are among the central figures in the documentary.

“Indian Point,” which will be shown today at 4 p.m., focuses on the nuclear power plant located just 35 miles from Times Square and its impact on the surrounding community. 

At 6:15 tonight, three shorts by Long Island filmmakers will explore the world of thoroughbred racing at Belmont Park, an unexpected benefit of Hurricane Sandy on Bellport Bay, and the ascent of Chris Algieri, a boxer from Huntington, to the W.B.O. light welterweight championship. 

Tonight’s film, “A Ballerina’s Tale” by Nelson George, is about Misty Copeland, one of the few black women who have risen to the highest levels of classical ballet, and her struggle to resume her career after surgery to repair six fractures.

Among the other films, “Merchants of Doubt” takes a look at America’s spin doctors, while “Imba Means Sing” focuses on the children in the Grammy-nominated African Children’s Choir, who travel from the slums of Kampala, Uganda, and tour North America to raise money for their education.

Midcentury architecture on Long Island is the subject of “Modern Tide,” Jake Gorst’s documentary about the region’s rich architectural heritage, much of it lost to development and natural disasters. “Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi” tells the story of a family plunged into crisis when Sunil is mistakenly implicated in the Boston Marathon bombings.

“Big Voice” follows the yearlong journey of Santa Monica High School’s choir director as he pushes his advanced but unwieldy ensemble to jell as “one big voice.” “Monk With a Camera” chronicles the life of Nicholas Vreeland, a photographer and grandson of Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, who left his privileged life to become a Tibetan Buddhist monk.

“Soft Vengeance: Albie Sachs and the New South Africa” focuses on a white, Jewish South African lawyer and later Constitutional Court judge who dedicated his life to fighting against apartheid. 

“The Newburgh Sting” is the story of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s entrapment of four young men in a supposed terrorism plot. The film received a Peabody Award, as did “Soft Vengeance.” 

Harry de Leyer, an East Hampton riding instructor and horse farm owner, is the subject of “Harry and Snowman,” which chronicles his rescue of a white Amish plow horse that became a Triple Crown show jumper in the late 1950s. It also played in the Hamptons International Film Festival.

“Very Semi-Serious” takes a behind-the-scenes look at The New Yorker’s cartoonists, both established and aspiring, all of whom, no matter how famous, must submit their work each week to the magazine’s cartoon editor.

Another program of shorts includes “The Gnomist,” about a gnome who creates miniature homes in a forest; “Every Day,” the story of Joy Johnson, who ran the New York City Marathon at the age of 86; “The House Is Innocent,” about a couple who buy the former residence of a serial killer, and “Nefertiti’s Daugh ers,” which examines the critical role of revolutionary street art during the Egyptian uprisings.

Tickets for each program are $15, $13 for senior citizens. For the Saturday night program, including reception, film, and post-film discussion, the tariff is $45, and a pass for the entire festival is $125. Tickets can be purchased at ht2ff.com or at the Bay Street Theater box office.

 

Four to Watch For

The documentary film is one of the relatively few avenues open today for the genuine muckraker who wishes to uncover a deeper, truer version of reality than what is available in the mainstream media. Four of the films in this year’s festival focus on situations in which the interests of ordinary citizens are trumped by the agendas of governments, politicians, and corporations.

 

“The Newburgh Sting”

Kate Davis and David Heilbroner

Sunday, 3:15 p.m.

“The Newburgh Sting” is a heartbreaking examination of the arrest and conviction of four African-American men in Newburgh, N.Y., for plotting to blow up two synagogues in Riverdale, N.Y., and military aircraft at Stewart Airport. According to media accounts, a Federal Bureau of Investigation informer uncovered the plot.

After the men were arrested, the director of the F.B.I. characterized the four as Muslim terrorists radicalized in prison, Senator Charles Schumer praised the bureau and the New York Police Department, and Ray Kelly, then New York City’s police commissioner, referred to it as a “textbook example of an investigation.”

The filmmakers use more than 100 hours of the F.B.I.’s own undercover video, surveillance photographs never publicly released, and extensive interviews with attorneys, friends, and families of the men to lay out the systematic plot to lure them into an “act of terror” by offering them $250,000. 

The four “terrorists” were in fact lower-class citizens living in Newburgh, a broken town of abandoned buildings and lives without hope in Westchester County. Some of the men did time, separately, for minor offenses such as marijuana dealing, but the film demonstrates that the image of radical Muslims plotting jihad was without foundation.

Mike German, a former F.B.I. uncover agent, debunked the entire operation, saying it was designed to turn the men into terrorists and that informers only get paid by the bureau if they successfully entrap their targets to carry out the plot.

There isn’t enough space here to detail how the men were entrapped, but the surveillance film of the informer’s repeated attempts over many months to persuade his “targets” to take the bait is utterly convincing. As the Imam of the Newburgh mosque says, “If the informant hadn’t approached and then involved these guys, they would still be standing on a street corner in Newburgh.” Instead they are serving 25 years in prison.

 

“Merchants of Doubt”

Robert Kenner

Friday, 10 a.m.

The “Merchants of Doubt” are the spokesmen — and they are mostly men — who disregard scientific evidence that threatens entrenched industries, with a particular emphasis on the tobacco and oil industries and their aggressive discrediting of the health risks of smoking and the environmental havoc wreaked by fossil fuels.

Among those arrayed against those powerful interests are Stanton Glantz, who became a nonsmokers’ rights advocate in 1978, Bob Inglis, a conservative congressman from South Carolina, and Sam Roe and Patricia Callaghan, journalists who took on the effectiveness of flame retardants.

Dr. Glantz recalls how in 1994, after years of stonewalling by the tobacco industry, he received 4,000 documents leaked from Brown & Williamson that proved the tobacco industry had known for 30 years that nicotine was addictive and caused cancer, and had hidden that knowledge from the public.

The issue of flame-retardants, chemicals that supposedly counter furniture fires, led to the tobacco companies. According to one scientist, “flame-retardants don’t protect anybody from anything.” The majority of deaths from furniture fires were caused by cigarettes.

However, the tobacco industry refused to spend the money required to develop a means of retarding the burning of cigarettes. Instead it blamed such fires on the furniture and planted a person in the national fire marshals’ organization who convinced the group to support the tobacco companies’ theory.

Mr. Inglis was a climate change denier until two trips to Antarctica and his conversations with scientists there convinced him he had been wrong. Although he had a 93.5 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union, after he made public his opposition to dependence on oil, he was trounced when he ran for re-election and has since redoubled his efforts as a private citizen. This year he was awarded the John F. Kennedy Library’s Profiles in Courage award.

Especially with regard to global warning, the deniers might be numerically outnumbered, but their spokespeople and shell organizations are not about to give up. The film concludes with one irony. In 2011, Russia ceded to Exxon the rights to drill in the Arctic — because ice melt has made it more feasible — thus allowing the oil company to benefit from what it has been denying and fighting against.

 

“Indian Point”

Ivy Meeropol

Today, 4 p.m.

“Indian Point” focuses on the 40-year-old nuclear power plant located on the Hudson River 35 miles north of Manhattan and whether, especially after Fukushima, it should be closed. The viewer is led into the plant by Brian Vangor, a senior control room operator for whom the plant’s safety is clearly a concern.

“Each event — Three-Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima — is different,” he says. “We want to know what happened and what we have to do so that it never happens here.” For him and the other workers, it is a job they take seriously, and they believe the plant can be safely maintained. 

Roger Witherspoon is an environmental journalist with 40 years of media experience who covers energy issues on his website. He sees his role as providing people with enough information about energy issues so they can make intelligent decisions. “For those who work in the industry, it’s a safe plant,” he says. “For those who don’t, there are risks you don’t want to live with.”

Marilyn Elie is a leader of the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, a group of activists opposed to the plant’s operation. Ms. Elie and Mr. Witherspoon met when he was new to the area and she called him to express her concerns about the plant. They are now married and maintain a “family firewall” when it comes to plant issues.

Gregory Jaczko was the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and an advocate for nuclear power until, after several visits to Fukushima, he became convinced that nuclear plants should not be allowed to operate if they can’t guarantee a safe, large-scale evacuation. 

Other members of the N.R.C. and a number of politicians ganged up on Mr. Jaczko, accusing him of bullying female staff, although the film makes clear that he lost the trust of the industry because he began to moderate his views. He was forced to resign in 2012.

As in “Merchants of Doubt,” industry apologists, such as Jim Steets, the public relations director for Entergy, owner of Indian Point and 10 other plants, and members of the N.R.C. defend the safety of and insist on the necessity of their industry. 

However, the footage of the destruction at Fukushima and the clear evidence that the damage is ongoing and nowhere near being under control have the final word.

 

“Since: The Bombing 

of Pan Am Flight 103”

Phil Furey

Sunday, 7:15 p.m.

On Dec. 21, 1988, Pam Am flight 103 crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 passengers and crew members and 11 residents of the Scottish market town. “Since: The Bombing of Pam Am Flight 103” covers events from the crash and its immediate aftermath to its effects over a period of more than 30 years on the parents and relatives of those killed. 

Three couples, Aphrodite and Peter Tsairis, Susan and Daniel Cohen, and Suse and Peter Lowenstein, are among the parents who figure prominently in the film and who, along with other survivors, formed Victims of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1989. From the outset, according to Mr. Lowenstein, “Neither the State Department nor Pan Am gave a damn.”

Parents of the victims were not notified by the airline or the government; many learned of the death of their children from television news. Pam Am hired untrained people as grief counselors. According to the Cohens, the counselors asked questions that suggested the airline was looking for information about the deceased that might help in future litigation. 

The families were told to go to Kennedy Airport on Jan. 5, 1989, to meet the bodies of the victims. There was no one present from either the airline or the government; survivors were told, “this one’s yours, this one’s yours.” According to Ms. Lowenstein, the coffins left Lockerbie with the dignity they deserved but arrived in New York “like garbage.”

Bert Ammerman, whose brother died in the flight, led the organization with a single purpose: “to learn what happened, and where were our government and the State Department.” Indeed, there had been a warning prior to the event that a Pan Am flight would be the target of a bombing, and the State Department cabled the bulletin to dozens of embassies. A Pan Am security team in Frankfurt, where the flight originated, found the cable under a pile of papers the day after the bombing. Pan Am was eventually found guilty of willful misconduct due to lax security screening.

The film proceeds to examine the developments in the case over the years, including the indictment of two Libyan intelligence agents in 1991, negotiations with Libya and its turning over the suspects to Scottish authorities in 1999, the conviction of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, and his subsequent release from prison in 2007 on “humanitarian grounds.”

In the aftermath of the crash, Ms. Lowenstein, an artist, created “Dark Elegy,” a sculpture consisting of 75 larger-than-life grieving figures inspired by mothers of the victims. The Lowensteins installed the piece at their property in Montauk and offered it to the Town of East Hampton, but in the face of some opposition because of its emotional impact and nudity, withdrew their offer. The film opens in Ms. Lowenstein’s Montauk studio, with the sculpture visible through the windows. 

In a scene from “Since: The Bombing of Pam Am Flight 103,” Suse Lowenstein, whose son, Alexander, was killed in the crash, is pictured on her Montauk lawn with “Dark Elegy,” her sculpture of 75 grieving mothers of victims of the bombing.
Mark Morano, a climate change skeptic.