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Scout Finch appeals to everyone. Wise and immature, tomboyish and vulnerable, she’s recognizable even to people who didn’t grow up in segregated Alabama, who didn’t have a scary next-door neighbor and who didn’t have an awesome dad like Atticus. The continuing resonance of Scout’s story is the subject of Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird. Airing on PBS’ American Masters, the documentary features a series of interviewees, many quite famous, who describe their sense of likeness and commitment to Scout (James McBride: “She sees the world through child’s eyes with an adult’s understanding,” Oprah Winfrey: “I fell in love with Scout, I wanted to be Scout. I thought I was Scout”). Harper Lee is less available. She retreated from public life soon after the famous film based on her only book was made. She remains rather perfectly the writer whose intentions aren’t performed, for an interviewer who’s asking or an audience who’s projecting. Even as people speculate, imagining both questions and answers for her. Her 99-year-old sister Alice, still a lawyer in the firm their father helped to found, explains Lee’s absence as a choice. “As time went on, she said that reporters began to take too many liberties with what she was saying, so she just wanted out… She felt like she gave enough.” Hey, Boo isn’t asking more of her. But it can’t quite leave her alone, either. 

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Watch Harper Lee: Hey, Boo on PBS. See more from American Masters.

“Why are you doing a piece on Ron Galella?” asks Chuck Close It’s true that, on one level, Leon Gast’s excellent documentary takes paparazzo Ron Galella as its subject. But on so many other levels, it uses him as a way to ask more resonant questions—about celebrity and class, obsession and delusion, the blurred definitions of public and private. In the film, which screens 6 March at Stranger Than Fiction, followed by a Q&A with Leon Gast, Galella tells stories about himself. He’s providing a service, he’s making a living, he’s doing what he loves to do, he says. Galella himself may be most famous for the legal case brought against him by Jackie Kennedy: she argued that he harassed her children and she won. “Why did I have the obsession with Jackie?” Galella asks himself, for Gast’s camera. “I analyzed it: because I had no girlfriend and she was my girlfriend in a way.” As an analysis, this seems glib, but it may be perversely telling as well. But if you understand all such explanations as still more stories—about Gallela maybe, but more plausibly about the culture that produces him—then you might imagine he’s been told this story and now tells it back.

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Documentary Channel celebrates Women’s History Month with a series of films. This week’s offerings include Pink Skies and Carpet Racers. The first film concerns the ongoing struggle against breast cancer, focused through “Jump for the Cause,” a group of women skydivers who perform mass dives for money. In 2009, 181 women from 31 countries joined in a jump to raise almost $1 million for breast cancer research. “Don’t be a victim,” says the group’s instructor, “Be the hero.” Just so, Gulcin Gilbert’s film asserts that the best cure for breast cancer is prevention, a point underlined by researchers more than once here. “We live in a very toxic environment,” says Dr. Lauren Swerdloff near the beginning of “And we are able to handle some toxicity. But the environment is probably getting more toxic, more rapidly, than most of us are able to handle it.” To battle that trend, individuals need to watch out for themselves, rather than hoping that government agencies and corporations will come up with answers. The energy, drive, and earnestness of the women skydivers seems a model of pressing ahead in the face of disappointment and difficulty.

“There’s nothing about that day that was real,” begins Chico Colvard. He means the day that he shot his older sister Paula in the leg. “I do remember distinctly pulling the rifle up and pointing it at her head,” he adds, over photos of the family’s kitchen in Radcliff, Kentucky, circa 1978 as well as footage from The Rifleman a favorite TV show then. He remembers thinking, too, “The rifleman wouldn’t do that.” If Colvard doesn’t remember pulling the trigger, he does remember the sound: “It was just really deafening. I was a kid. I mean up until that moment anyway. I was just a kid.” 

Colvard’s documentary, Family Affair, goes on to consider how kids are kids—and specifically, how kids survive terrible situations, here, Colvard’s father’s longtime sexual abuse of all three of his daughters. Premiering 1 March on Oprah Winfrey’s Network, the film is profound, subtle, and relentless as it looks back on his own and his sisters’ childhoods. In interviews with Paula, Angie, and Chiquita, he asks how they’ve come to forgive their abuser, even as you see Chici downing her meds (she’s diagnosed schizophrenic, worries that her rages might affect her own children) or close shots of Paula’s scarred leg, still debilitating even after 22 surgeries and two bone grafts. Colvard doesn’t have to say that he feels guilty over her ongoing pain, or his ignorance as a boy: his sisters kept their horrors from him, hoping to protect him. As Colvard seeks to understand his sisters’ experiences, they can only begin to explain. “All of us had to go in our own directions and we had to go there by ourselves,” one narrates over a series of literalizing images—roads and houses shot from a car. “We’ve all taken our own roads and now these roads are leading back to each other.” Angie adds, “When we all got separated, we lost our lifelines. As dysfunctional as it was. we needed each other.” As they come to see this, they come to see one another differently, their stories coming together and apart at the same time. As much as Family Affair seems poised for revelation, it is at last focused on the sisters’ survival and generosity.

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Family Affair

Shukree Hassan Tilghman wants to end Black History Month. He’s got his reasons, and most of them are familiar: for one thing, by “relegating” black history to one short month each year, it keeps American histories separate and unequal. For another, it generates a Black History commercial products industry that demeans the very history it means to celebrate. To track his quest, he’s made a film, More Than a Month. And now that film is screening on the last leap-yeared day of 2012’s Black History Month as part of
Maysles Cinema’s Doc Watchers series, followed by a Q&A with Tilghman and Anthony Riddle, Managing Director of the Maysles Institute and descendant of Dr. Carter Woodson, creator of Negro History Week. The film raises serious questions while offering a bit of antic framing, interviewing people with investments in history, then pondering how those investments have come to be. As the film seeks value in Black History Month, to understand the purposes it serves, it also finds value in ongoing debates over it.

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