Veg with Netflix . . . or Get Out and Get Smarter

Winter Film Series at KC Cultural Institutions Offer an Edifying Mix of History, Documentary and Classics

Cinematic adventure, intrigue, tragedy, romance — and a bit of classic Brando to boot.

You won’t find it streaming on Netflix or Hulu, at least not with the kind of expertly curated context and additional live commentary available for free at a variety of winter film series and screenings scheduled at area museums and cultural institutions.

Splendor, Thievery and Afrofuturism

Catherina Mueller, educator of adult programs at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, chooses noteworthy feature and documentary films that complement exhibitions but can also stand on their own.

“We offer local, national and international films with another perspective or a more well-rounded, nuanced view,” Mueller says, “because there is an artistry to that and it definitely has a place here at the museum.”

“Napoleon: Power and Splendor,” the Nelson-Atkins’ current exhibition recreating the majestic home of early 19th-century French monarch Napoleon Bonaparte, will be accompanied by screenings of three feature films set in the Napoleonic era: “The Duellists,” which is celebrated for its historical accuracy; “The Count of Monte Cristo,” an intricate tale of revenge and unexpected consequences based on the 1844 novel by Alexandre Dumas; and “Desiree,” a dose of spectacular Hollywood romance starring Marlon Brando as Napoleon.

“What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day weekend than with a classic Hollywood story about Napoleon?” Mueller says. “It’s an example of how we reach out to our current visitors as well as new audiences that we hope to hook by coming in for a free film screening.”

Likewise, the upcoming Nelson-Atkins exhibit, “Discriminating Thieves: Nazi-Looted Art and Restitution,” featuring artworks plundered during World War II that eventually were returned to their rightful owners, will be complemented by the closely related documentaries “Hitler Versus Picasso and the Others” and “The Rape of Europa,” and the feature film, “Woman in Gold.”

To tie in with its upcoming exhibit of work by New York-based multimedia artist Saya Woolfalk, the Nelson-Atkins will present the 30-minute Afrofuturist film, “Hello, Rain,” directed by Nigerian filmmaker C.J. Obasi, about three women who don enchanted wigs formed by technology and witchcraft. Afrofuturism is an aesthetic synthesis of science fiction, history, fantasy and magic realism rooted in the thoughts and experiences of people of color.

“While Saya is not directly inspired by this stunning and visually beautiful film itself,” Mueller says, “it has many of the underlying themes that she works with — powerful women, sisterhood, sorcery, science and technology.”

Patriotic ‘Hello’ and All That ‘Jazz’

Documentary film producer and U.S. Army veteran James Theres is looking forward to attending an upcoming screening of “The Hello Girls: America’s First Women Soldiers” at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum. The film is his tribute to the pioneering Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit in World War I.

“It feels like I’m telling a story about my sisters in arms,” Theres says. “They played an extraordinary role, not only for women in the military, but they were the tip of the spear for women’s right to vote. They completely changed President Woodrow Wilson’s mind.”

However, the story of “The Hello Girls” was pushed to the background in the years following WWI.

“You’ve got to think back to the 1930s and ’40s,” Theres says. “Who were the people who would have told the story? There were no female film directors. Women were just entering the workforce. So naturally, unfortunately, this type of story was left behind.”

Another often unnoticed piece of fascinating American history is brought to light in “The Jazz Ambassadors,” a documentary about the U.S. effort during the Cold War to utilize renowned American jazz musicians as international diplomats of goodwill. In cooperation with the American Jazz Museum, the film will be screened as part of Park University’s current “Year of Engagement” agenda.

“From our perspective, ‘The Jazz Ambassadors’ is not just a history story,” says Erik Bergrud, associate vice president for university engagement at Park University. “It’s a lesson for us today about what we can do as individuals and collectively for our community and country.”

Another perceptive film documentary to be shown at Park University will be “G.I. Jews: Jewish Americans in World War II,” about the 550,000 Jewish men and women who served in WWII.

“It’s a story about values,” Bergrud says of “G.I. Jews.” “It’s a story about morals. It’s a story about country. And the lessons are powerful for anybody regardless of background.

“Obviously, we want to have major discussions on campus, but discussion plus action is even better. It guides us in terms of wanting to provide compelling film programming, so people just won’t sit there passively, but they’ll think: ‘What is it that I can do to make a difference in the world?’”

Above: In conjunction with an exhibit of work by New York-based multimedia artist Saya Woolfolk, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art will screen the Afrofuturist film, “Hello Rain,” at 1 p.m. May 11. The film and exhibit share themes of powerful women, sisterhood, sorcery, science and technology.

Selected Screenings:

Jan. 23: “The Nasty Girl” (1990), 7 p.m., Aftermath Film Series, Social Hall, Jewish Community Campus. A woman examining her Bavarian town’s Nazi history is confronted by residents who are too uncomfortable to admit the truth.

Jan. 26: “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War” (2017) with writer and director Bernard McCoy, 2 p.m., Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum. Documentary about U.S. WWI General John “Black Jack” Pershing and his personal demons.

Feb. 2: “The Duellists” (1977), 1 p.m., Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Acclaimed director Ridley Scott’s debut feature follows a 16-year grudge match between two French officers in Napoleon’s Army, based on the Joseph Conrad short story “The Duel.”

Feb. 9: “The Count of Monte Cristo” (2002), 1 p.m., Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. An unjustly imprisoned man during the Napoleonic era escapes jail, finds riches and doggedly seeks ill-fated retribution.

Feb. 10: “The Hello Girls: America’s First Women Soldiers” (2018) with executive producer James Theres, 2 p.m., Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum. Documentary about more than 200 U.S. Army female telephone operators in WWI, screened in honor of Bess Truman’s birthday.

Feb. 11: “The Jazz Ambassadors” (2018), 6 p.m., Alumni Hall, Park University. Documentary about U.S. jazz musicians spreading good vibes of democracy around the world, even though many had to endure racism at home.

Feb. 16: “Desiree” (1954), 1 p.m., Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Marlon Brando stars as Napoleon, whose lingering relationship with Desiree plucks the heartstrings amid the rise and fall of the great French dictator.

Feb. 20: “Aftermath” (2013), 7 p.m., Aftermath Film Series, White Theatre, Jewish Community Campus. Two Polish brothers unearth a terrible secret about the history of their family and hometown.

Feb. 23: “I Remember 12th Street” (premiere), 2 p.m., Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Documentary mining the memories of those who experienced Kansas City’s legendary 12th Street.

March 16: “Hitler Versus Picasso and the Others” (2018), 1 p.m., Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Documentary about the Fuhrer grabbing all the exquisite European art he can during World War II.

March 23: “The Rape of Europa” (2006), 1 p.m., Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Documentary about the U.S. and its allies in WWII trying to lessen the German plunder of Europe’s great works of art.

March 27: “1945” (2017), 7 p.m., Aftermath Film Series, White Theatre, Jewish Community Campus. A Hungarian village must deal with the heirs of deported Jews, whose lost property and possessions may now be reclaimed.

March 30: “Woman in Gold” (2015), 1 p.m., Nelson Atkins Museum of Art. Based on a true story, Helen Mirren stars as an octogenarian Jewish refugee fighting the Austrian government to retrieve her family’s artwork stolen during WWII.

April 11, 18, 25 and May 2: Italian Film Festival USA of Kansas City (English subtitles, films to be determined), 7 p.m.; Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art.

April 17: “Drawing Against Oblivion” (2015), 7 p.m., Aftermath Film Series, White Theatre, Jewish Community Campus. Documentary about Austrian painter and photographer Manfred Bockelmann, who draws charcoal portraits of murdered Jewish children during WWII and journeys to Auschwitz to meet Holocaust survivors who knew them.

May 6: “G.I. Jews: Jewish Americans in World War II” (2018), 6 p.m., Alumni Hall, Park University. Documentary about Jewish Americans fighting against fascism and for their heritage.

May 11: “Hello, Rain” (2018), 1 p.m., Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Afrofuturist short film shown in conjunction with Saya Woolfalk art exhibition.

Brian McTavish

Brian McTavish is a freelance writer specializing in the arts and pop culture. He was an arts and entertainment writer for more than 20 years at The Kansas City Star. He regularly shared his “Weekend To-Do List” at KCUR-FM (89.3)/kcur.org.

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