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The Commons
The Arts

Going to the source

Documentary series at Next Stage will feature discussions with filmmakers

A series pass for the six films is $50. Individual event tickets are $10 in advance or $12 at the door. Tickets are available online at

Originally published in The Commons issue #400 (Wednesday, March 22, 2017).

PUTNEY—In a collaboration with Tribeca Film Festival former director Nancy Schafer, Next Stage Arts Project in Putney presents [framed], a brand new series of feature length documentary films.

Beginning on March 30, at 7:30 p.m., at Next Stage at 15 Kimball Hill, [framed] will run for six consecutive Thursdays. Each movie will be presented by the filmmaker with a Q&A after the screening.

A documentary film, according to the OED, may be simply a nonfictional motion picture intended to document some aspect of reality. But documentaries can be anything from someone with a handheld camera following their cat around the house, to an intricate full-scale mini-series like this year’s Academy Award winner for best documentary OJ: Made in America.

Audiences often don’t know what they’re going to get when choosing to watch a documentary.

“The great thing about a film festival is that these films were curated by someone, whose job is to program work that holds an audience’s attention,” says Schafer. “No matter what issue they are discussing or story they are telling, good documentaries must stand on their own as entertainment. Filmmakers’ first duty is to make people want to go and see what they have made, and that means they have to understand what is driving audience engagement to stay fully involved.”

Overlooked genre

Schafer concedes that documentaries can often be a hard sell. “Movie stars drive attention, and documentaries are often relegated to niche programming,” she says.

Consequently, film series like [framed] become one of the few ways to see these movies.

The films in the [framed] series have recently played on the festival circuit around the world, including Sundance and Tribeca, and all have been recognized with festival honors. The eclectic lineup explores a wide range of issues including gender, incarceration, beauty, otherness, greed, and the role of family and tradition.

Schafer adds, “Each of the films celebrates the power of skillful storytelling, and I think audiences will delight in the unexpected perspectives these films bring to the screen.”

The films Schafer selected are those documentaries that caught her eye in the last year or two.

On March 30, [framed] will begin with last year’s winner of the Jury Award in the Florida Film Festival, Best and Most Beautiful Things, presented by filmmaker Ariana Garfinkel, which follows a precocious young blind woman as she chases love and freedom on her path to adulthood.

On April 6, Solitary, presented by filmmaker Kristi Jacobson, explores the lives of inmates and corrections officers in one of America’s most notorious supermax prisons.

On April 13, the winner of the People’s Choice at the Denver International Film Festival, The Eagle Huntress, presented by producer Stacey Reiss, shows a 13-year-old girl training to become the first female in 12 generations of her Kazakh family to become an eagle hunter.

On April 20, the winner of the Best Documentary at the Sarasota Film Festival, Miss Sharon Jones, presented by filmmaker Barbara Kopple, chronicles a remarkable year as a modern-day female James Brown struggles to hold her band The Dap Kings together while battling a cancer diagnosis.

On April 27, Tickling Giants, presented by editor Moaz Elfarouk, explores what happens when Bassem Youssef leaves his job as a heart surgeon in the midst of the Egyptian Arab Spring in 2011 to become a full-time comedian.

On May 4, Betting on Zero, presented by filmmaker Ted Braun, chronicles the feud among fellow billionaire hedge fund titans over a pyramid scheme destined to collapse.

“I want to encourage that person with only a smattering of interest in documentaries to take a chance on this series,” Schafer says. “The scope of the choices is wide, and there is something for everyone.”

Industry veteran

Schafer is a producer who works in independent film and who began her film career on production for, of all films, The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. She worked at and ran the Tribeca Film Festival from inception until July 2012, a period of 11 years.

Prior to joining Tribeca, she created and ran the South by Southwest Film Festival (SXSW Film) in Austin, Texas, for eight years. Along with her festival experience, Schafer has worked on two films each with John Sayles and Robert Byington.

Schafer and Next Stage co-founder Billy Straus met at the Camden International Film Festival in 2015, where Schafer serves on the advisory board, and the idea of programming a documentary series for Next Stage was born.

“The chance to work with Nancy to bring new documentary films of this caliber, and to have the filmmakers here to present their work to audiences at Next Stage, has been a programmatic goal of ours since the beginning,” Straus says.

“When Billy suggested I do something with Next Stage, I thought it seemed a fun project,” says Schafer. “I was eager to be part of getting a film series for a rural area in this great venue off the ground.”

Schafer and Straus are still in the process of figuring out how film at Next Stage might continue. Schafer says she and Straus began with this series to test the waters.

“Once we find out the response, we may consider a year-round series,” she says. “Of course, we also are open to showing more genres than just documentaries. For instance, we might arrange a program around some thematic issue. However, the problem I find with a thematic series is that often films get chosen because they fit the theme rather than quality.”

Schafer believes documentaries make for a strong film series if only because they easily lead to discussions, which is an integral part of [framed].

“What make this series better than, say, watching a documentary on Netflix, is that we will have on hand someone connected with each of the six films in the series to discuss their work after the film’s screening,” she says.

The filmmakers also will be working with area students as part of Next Stage Arts’ ongoing collaborations with schools. Schafer adds, “I love what Next Stage is doing for the region, and they have created the perfect setting for audiences to engage with filmmakers without having to travel far afield to larger festivals.”

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