MIT Urban Film Series: Spring 2013

It’s February, Groundhog Day is behind us, New England in hunkering down for a REALLY BIG STORM, and here at UrbanFilm we’re putting the finishing touches on our MIT Spring 2013 Urban Planning Film Series.

This semester, we’re pleased to be able to feature a couple fiction titles, in addition to our usual lineup of the best new documentaries on urban and related issues. We’ll continue our tradition of welcoming film-makers, urban scholars, and local planners, activists, and organizers to attend and offer commentary on the films, thereby building community as we share these films, and expect to partner with PBS/POV American Documentary on a few special events as well. The complete schedule should be up here within a week or two, but for now we wanted to at least tell you what’s up for the start of the series:

  • Thurs 2/21: STREET FIGHT (2005) Chronicles the bare-knuckles race for Mayor of Newark, N.J. between Cory Booker, a 32-year-old Rhodes Scholar/Yale Law School graduate, and Sharpe James, the four-term incumbent and undisputed champion of New Jersey politics. Directed by Marshall Curry. Academy Award Nominee, Best Documentary (2005). (Last semester we tried to screen this one, only to be foiled by a rare blackout that hit the MIT campus back in November; hope for better luck this time.) 83 minutes. 7pm, MIT Room 66–110

  • Thurs 2/28: NIGHT ON EARTH (1991) For this special fiction feature, we’ll travel around the globe with Jim Jarmusch: five cities, five taxicabs, a mad-cap collection of strangers in the night. For this [celebr|explor]ation of everything that makes cities eternal, unique, and endlessly fascinating, Jim Jarmusch assembled an extraordinary international cast of actors (including Gena Rowlands, Winona Ryder, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Beatrice Dalle, and Roberto Benigni) for a quintet of tales of urban displacement and existential angst, spanning time zones, continents, and languages. Jarmusch’s lovingly askew view of humanity from the passenger seat makes for one of his most charming and beloved films. 128 minutes. 7pm, MIT Room 3–133

  • Thurs 3/7: THE WORLD OF BUCKMINSTER FULLER (1974) Architect, engineer, geometer, cartographer, philosopher, futurist, inventor of the famous geodesic dome and the dymaxion car, and one of the most brilliant thinkers of his time, Fuller was renowned for his comprehensive perspective on the world’s problems. (It’s safe to say that Bucky Fuller was one of the main reasons I got into planning in the first place; his 1981 book, Critical Path gave me the optimism to imagine that we humans could actually plan for a better world…). For more than five decades he developed pioneering solutions reflecting his commitment to the potential of innovative design to “do more with less” and thereby improve human lives. Now more relevant than ever, this film captures Fuller’s ideas and thinking, told in his own words. 80 minutes. 7pm, MIT Room 66–110

  • Wed 3/13: note change of day DETROPIA (2012) Detroit’s story encapsulates the iconic narrative of America over the last century—the Great Migration of African Americans escaping Jim Crow; the rise of manufacturing and the middle class; the love affair with automobiles; the flowering of the American dream; and now the collapse of the economy and the fading American mythos.

    With its vivid, painterly palette and haunting score, DETROPIA sculpts a dreamlike collage of a grand city teetering on the brink of dissolution. Detroit’s soulful pragmatists and stalwart philosophers strive to make ends meet and make sense of it all, refusing to abandon hope or resistance. Their grit and pluck embody the spirit of the Motor City as it struggles to survive postindustrial America and begins to envision a radically different future. “The most moving documentary I have seen in years.”—David Denby, The New Yorker. Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady. 86 minutes. 7pm, MIT Room 66–110

  • Thurs 4/4: SCENES FROM A PARISH (2009) In 2001, an irreverent, young, Harvard-educated Catholic priest arrived at Saint Patrick Parish in the former mill town of Lawrence, Massachusetts. Father Paul O’Brien soon discovered that trying to foster an inclusive community amidst the ethnic tensions of this working-class, multicultural parish would be no mean feat. Older parishioners were resentful of a new generation of immigrants; more idealistic parishioners were trying to reach out to those in need but facing cultural entanglements that grew more complicated with the passage of time. Filmed over four years, SCENES FROM A PARISH explores the personal stories a Catholic parish struggling to reconcile the ideals of faith with the cultural realities of a globalized United States. Special guests: James Rutenbeck (director) and Robert Todd (editor). 85 minutes. 7pm, MIT Room 3–133
  • Thurs 4/11: UP THE YANGTZE (2008) Nearing completion, China’s massive Three Gorges Dam is altering the landscape and the lives of people living along the fabled Yangtze River. Countless ancient villages and historic locales will be submerged, and 2 million people will lose their homes and livelihoods. The Yu family desperately seeks a reprieve by sending their 16-year-old daughter to work in the cruise ship industry that has sprung up to give tourists a last glimpse of the legendary river valley. With cinematic sweep, UP THE YANGTZE explores lives transformed by the biggest hydroelectric dam in history, a hotly contested symbol of the Chinese economic miracle. Directed by Yung Chang. An official selection of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. Produced by EyeSteelFilm/National Film Board of Canada in association with American Documentary; presented in collaboration with the award-winning documentary series POV; co-sponsored by the MIT China Urban Development Group. 93 minutes. 7pm, MIT Room 66–110

  • Thurs 4/18: FLAG WARS (2003) What happens when black working-class families are faced with an influx of white gay homebuyers in their neighborhood? Filmed over four years, FLAG WARS is a clear-eyed look inside the conflicts that surface in one inner-city Columbus, Ohio, community. The film’s as-it-is-happening verite style captures the raw emotions of unguarded moments between neighbors: the lesbian realtor who sells the area’s Victorian homes; a new homebuyer who moves to the area to live openly as a gay man; two longtime residents who are in court because of new housing codes; and the judge who hears their cases. From porch conversations and family dinners to public hearings and street protests, FLAG WARS provides a rare and extraordinarily intimate account of the social and human consequences of capitalism and the pursuit of the “American Dream” told through the lives of residents in a community confronted by gentrification. Directed by Linda Goode Bryant and Laura Poitras. Co-sponsored by MIT QuBE. 90 minutes. 7pm, MIT Room 3–133
  • Thurs 4/25: THE LAST MOUNTAIN (2011) Special Earth Day Feature. The mining and burning of coal is at the epicenter of America’s struggle to balance its energy needs with environmental concerns. Nowhere is that concern greater than in Coal River Valley, West Virginia, where a small but passionate group of ordinary citizens are trying to stop Big Coal corporations, like Massey Energy, from continuing the devastating practice of Mountain Top Removal. Directed by Bill Haney. Official selection: Sundance (2011); full frame documentary film festival. Co-sponsored by Fossil Free MIT. 95 minutes. 7pm, MIT Room 66–110


  • Thurs 5/2: REVOLUTION ’67 (2007) is an illuminating account the black urban rebellions of the 1960s. Focusing on the six-day Newark, N.J., outbreak in mid-July, REVOLUTION ’67 reveals how the disturbances began as spontaneous revolts against poverty and police brutality and ended as fateful milestones in America’s struggles over race and economic justice. Voices from across the spectrum—activists Tom Hayden and Amiri Baraka, journalist Bob Herbert, Mayor Sharpe James, and other officials, National Guardsmen, and Newark citizens—recall lessons as hard-earned then as they have been easy to neglect since. A co-production with the Independent Television Service (ITVS); presented in collaboration with the award-winning documentary series POV; /special live-video Q&A with director Marylou Tibaldo-Bongiorno following the screening./ 90 minutes. 7pm, MIT Room 66–110

As always, all films open to the general public, free, first-come/first-served; most shows to include previews, shorts, and/or additional video emphera. Special thanks to MIT’s Rotch Library for help tracking down titles and rights and MIT A/V Services for troubleshooting the tech with us. Times and locations subject to change; please check prior to coming. For more information, contact

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