doc talk | peter keough

Au revoir Agnés Varda, confronting ISIS and ICE

A scene from “Beaches of Agnés,” a movie by the late filmmaker Agnés Varda that is available on the movie site MUBI.
Cinema Guild
A scene from “Beaches of Agnés,” a movie by the late filmmaker Agnés Varda that is available on the movie site MUBI.

The world lost one its greatest filmmakers with the death of Agnés Varda on March 29, at 90. Many of her features, shorts, and documentaries can be seen in special online retrospectives.

The movie site MUBI offers an eclectic assortment of films, including “Salut les Cubains” (1971), a montage of photos taken by Varda during a visit to Cuba in 1963 backed by zesty local music and a celebratory voiceover spoken by Varda and the actor Michel Piccoli. She is equally spirited but wiser and slyer 45 years later, in “Beaches of Agnés” (2008), a poetic, reflective, and witty collage in which she visits the beaches that have played a role in her life and her films, including Sète, in southern France, the fishing village where she grew up and where she set her first film, “La Pointe Courte” (1955), which may have initiated the French New Wave.

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As with “Salut les Cubains,” Varda is on the scene of another 1960s revolutionary movement in “Black Panthers” (1968), one of the films featured in the Criterion Channel’s retrospective “Directed by Agnès Varda.” Less playful and more political than her other films, it records with verité starkness the demonstrations following the arrest of Panther leader Huey Newton in Oakland.


Uncle Yanco” (1967) prefigures the inventiveness and wry poetry of such later films as “The Gleaners and I” (2000) and “Faces Places” (2017). It profiles her father’s free-spirited Greek cousin, a painter who lives on a houseboat in a Sausalito Bay art community. You can tell Agnès and Yanco are related when the latter makes such Varda-like pronouncements as “In the holy city there are no shadows, only light,” a philosophy reflected in his brightly hued canvases.

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Another kind of painting is featured in “Mur Murs” (1980), as Varda tours the outdoor murals of Los Angeles artists. Some of the works are political, others apocalyptic, and some a little of both, such as a spectacular, giant trompe l’oeil of California falling into the sea.

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Heavy burden

For a while the plight of the Yazidis — a religious minority in Iraq held captive and ruthlessly persecuted by ISIS in 2014 — was prominent in the news. Then they were largely forgotten.

But Nadia Murad, 23, does not forget. She watched as her family was murdered. She was raped and held captive as a sex slave by ISIS along with thousands of other women and children. Now she tells her story to whomever will listen in hopes of bringing those responsible for the genocide of her people to trial and returning those who have survived to their homes. 

She relives her nightmare over and over again as she gives interviews, addresses the Canadian Parliament, leads a demonstration in Germany, is inducted as a UN Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking, and visits a refugee camp in Greece. Someone asks her, “Is there hope?” Near tears, knowing she must be strong for others to be strong, she says, “There is hope.”


Alexandria Bombach’s documentary “On Her Shoulders” (2018) follows Murad through these ordeals, noting not just her courage and implacable sadness but the sometimes superficial media coverage she receives as her celebrity grows. Endearingly shy, she never wanted to be famous or an activist or identified as a survivor. But she accepts it because it might help her cause. 

Like Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist for women’s rights who survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban, Murad has earned a Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts (she shared it in 2018 with Denis Mukwege). But her work to make ISIS accountable and bring attention to her community — and the 60 million other displaced people in the world — continues.

“On Her Shoulders” is co-presented by the United Nations Association of Greater Boston, the Boston Women’s Film Festival, and the Independent Film Festival of Boston and can be seen for free as part of Emerson College’s Bright Lights Series on April 16 at 7 p.m. at the Paramount Center. A discussion led by Amy Agigian, founder and director of the Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights at Suffolk University, follows the screening.

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Semper Fi

Most people might know about the detention of children happening now at the border with Mexico, but US immigration policies have long been responsible for breaking up families. “Marcos Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” a moving, infuriating documentary from veteran local filmmaker David Sutherland (“The Farmer’s Wife,” 1998; “Kind-Hearted Woman,” 2013), follows the fortunes of the undocumented immigrant of the title and the heroic, years-long efforts of his wife to return him to the United States after he had been deported to Mexico.

A Cleveland resident, she sends petitions, speaks at gatherings, demonstrates with a local immigrant organization, meets with politicians. Her dedication is invariably frustrated. In one telling sequence she responds to US Rep. Jim Jordan’s PR offer to give a free haircut to any veteran who meets with him at a local barbershop. She shows up and discovers that the offer applies to men only. Nonetheless. she presents her case to Jordan, who uncomfortably promises to look into it. Later she follows up with an angry, eloquent letter. Nothing comes of it.


Marcos, meanwhile, languishes alone in Mexico City, communicating with Elizabeth and their two sons via Skype. On rare occasions she can get away and visit him. The years pass (as in his previous films, Sutherland masterfully depicts the passage of time and its effect on his subjects) and every recourse seems exhausted. Elizabeth considers moving the family to Mexico, but the prospect frightens her – her children will have to learn a new language, attend new schools, and they will all face the risk of being victimized as anglophones in a violent country. Most galling is the fact that she will be an exile, having to leave the country she loves and which she faithfully served as a Marine in Afghanistan .

“Marcos Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” is a co-presentation of “Independent Lens,” “Frontline ,” and Voces. It premieres April 15 at 9 p.m. on PBS and will also be available simultaneously for online streaming at

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Peter Keough can be reached at