Directed by Robert Greene
Devotees to HBO's "The Wire" will remember Brandy Burre as Theresa D'Agostino, the icy political consultant who beds McNulty and helps Carcetti become mayor in seasons three and four. That's the last you've seen of her on-screen. She got pregnant while on "The Wire" and retreated from acting to suburban Beacon, N.Y., where she and her partner, restaurateur Tim Reinke, have been raising two children. In "Actress," filmmaker Robert Greene, who's shown twice previously at the festival — "Kati with an I" in 2011 and "Fake It So Real" in 2013 — tracks Burre through her day-to-day life in Beacon. Greene programmed this year's slate of cinematic nonfiction at the festival, an adventurous collection of films that don't fit neatly into traditional cinematic categories, and though "Actress" isn't included in the collection, it clearly belongs. Greene set out to find out "what happens when you film an actor in an observational documentary," he told the Times in an interview. "Is it a fiction film, or is it a nonfiction film?" The degree of collaboration between Burre and Greene and the extent to which we're seeing Burre, the actress, in the role of Burre, mother and domestic partner, will be fun to talk about with Burre and Greene in the post-screening discussion. Regardless of where you land, it's an arresting character study that captures how corrosive domestic mundanity can be when dreams are deferred. Sound like something that hits too close to home? That it's beautifully shot should help it go down easier. 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, Ron Robinson. 6 p.m. Friday, Historic Arkansas Museum. LM.
Directed by Amir Bar-Lev
The Penn State sexual abuse scandal broke in 2011 and was one of those horrific, news-cycle-dominating events that seemed only to expand, threatening (and arguably succeeding) to drag down an entire college administration in its wake. Most of us were desperate to look away, but documentary filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev, award-winning director of "The Tillman Story" and "My Kid Could Paint That," opted to look closer, traveling to State College, Pa. (the surrounding area nicknamed Happy Valley) and immersing himself in the minutiae of the crisis and the rabid world of Penn State football. "Happy Valley" isn't looking for a new scoop, and it doesn't offer viewers an easy out — it's a meditative and careful film, an examination of the structures and cultures both literal and abstract that allowed for the abuses to go undiscovered. 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Ron Robinson Theater. WS
Directed by Andrew Renzi
"Fishtail" is a Western, and a cowboy movie, but there's no gunslinging or noisy action. The documentary, part of the festival's cinematic nonfiction programming, depicts the daily grind of ranching work, following a pair of cowboys during calving season at the 2,000-acre Fishtail Basin Ranch in southern Montana. The cowboys make small talk, horse around with their kids, and do their work. But they are minor figures in the film, which is a love letter to the land and the lifestyle of the ranches of the American West. Shot on 16mm film, the photography is rustic and breathtaking: brown earth, staggering mountains, big sky. The film depicts the cowboys at their daily tasks — gathering timber, transporting hay, tagging and banding the animals, castrating bull calves. In case you're missing the poetry in all this, director Andrew Renzi offers up haunting music, voiceovers and languid cinematography — this is a documentary deeply committed to its vibe. The soundtrack features acoustic guitars and strings with the same cinematic sweep and crackling, dusty feel as the cinematography (suggested soundtrack title: "Explosions in the Big Sky"). The actor Harry Dean Stanton does the voiceover, popping up from time to time to recite Rick Bass and Walt Whitman, or gently sing "Home on the Range." As clouds roll and horses roam, Stanton intones, "Here I am alone and sad like a leaf on the wind." Does it all get a bit goopy? Well, yes. But damn, Harry Dean Stanton's voice. It's like honky-tonk Shakespeare. It sounds like God talking, or maybe just Jimmie Rodgers. The glacial pacing, sun-drenched portraits and meandering poetic voiceovers inevitably call Malick to mind. If Malick's great theme is The Fall, "Fishtail" seems to argue that Eden's still right here on Earth. 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Ron Robinson. 10:45 a.m. Saturday, Ron Robinson. DR