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RiverRun in review

Five Star:

Writer/director Keith Miller’s award-winning urban drama evinces a great feel for the streets of New York, on which this modern-day parable plays out in gutsy fashion.

James “Primo” Grant, in a forceful screen debut, portrays Primo, an ex-con who keeps his hand in the neighborhood drug trade as a way of providing for his family.

Primo takes his patriarchal responsibilities very seriously, preaching dignity and self-respect, but he’s not above giving someone a good thrashing.

John Diaz plays John, a streetwise teenager eager to join Primo’s “team,” perhaps as a way of determining how his late father was killed years ago. Everyone knows what happened, but nobody divulges how or why, which gnaws at his conscience.

With its well-realized characters and a non-judgmental, even objective, point of view, Five Star covers some familiar territory but in a credible, low-key way. The ending is slightly contrived (seemingly coming out of nowhere in particular), but it doesn’t hinder the overall effect of the story – or its performances.

Screenings: 4:30 p.m. Friday at a/perture cinema, 4:30 p.m. Saturday at UNCSA (Gold Theatre), 10:30 a.m. Sunday at UNCSA (Main Theatre)

Cartoonists: Foot Soldiers of Democracy:

Stephanie Valloatto’s self-explanatory feature documentary (original title: Caricaturistes: Fantassins de la Democracie) has become even more relevant and timely in light of the tragic Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris in January, as it profiles 12 political cartoonists from around the world.

Given the state of the world today, there seems even more fodder for their satirical drawings than ever before – almost on a daily basis. Yet, as we’ve all seen, some politicians (both here and abroad) and public figures tend to be more acutely sensitive to satire than outright criticism.

Nevertheless, several of the artists profiled have been subjected to persecution, prosecution, censorship and government surveillance. Some have been threatened with worse, but in some cases this has only intensified their creative efforts – and concerns for their personal safety. It’s a dangerous world out there, and simply by making fun of current events and people in power, these artists have found themselves on the front lines in the cause of free speech. Not only is this an informative and entertaining film but it’s also an important one. (In French with English subtitles)

Screenings: 1 p.m. Wednesday, 7 p.m. Friday, and 7 p.m.

Saturday at a/perture cinema.

This Time Next Year:

Directors Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman have trained their documentary cameras on Long Beach Island, an ocean-side town in New Jersey devastated by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

As the title implies, the film covers the next 12 months after the storm, as the massive clean-up continues and efforts to rebuild begin in earnest, despite lingering physical and emotional after-effects.

Some residents will leave for good and some businesses will close their doors forever, but others are determined to regroup and somehow restore a semblance of normalcy and prosperity to the place they call home. It’s easy to empathize with their frustrations and to cheer on their hard work. For many of them, life will never be the same – but that doesn’t mean they’re going to stop trying. It’s a story about everyday heroes helping each other, a positive message that comes across loud and clear. These people aren’t like us, they are us.

Screenings: 1:30 p.m. Thursday, 7:30 p.m. Friday and 4:30 p.m. Saturday at a/perture cinema

OUT IN THE NIGHT:

In August 2006, four black lesbians from Newark were strolling through the streets of midtown Manhattan when they were verbally accosted and threatened by a man. What followed is still a matter of debate, whether the women assaulted the man or acted in self-defense.

Blair Dorosh-Walther’s award-winning documentary is unmistakably on the side of the women, each of whom is profiled and interviewed here, while the “victim” (who refused to participate in the documentary) is represented in voice-over by an actor. That the New York Post front-page headline blared “Attack of the Killer Lesbians” hardly did the women or their case any favors. Indeed, it most likely did just the opposite.

There’s a persuasive argument that homophobia played a (large) part in the prosecution of what would come to be known as “the New Jersey 4” and that a miscarriage of justice was unmistakably committed. Yet the film tempers its moral outrage by presenting its case in thorough, step-by-step manner that refrains from being preachy or pushy.

To some extent, it leaves the ultimate decision up to the viewer, forcing one to examine his or her own prejudices. As far as society has come, there’s clearly aways to go.

Screenings: 2 p.m. Wednesday at Hanesbrands Theatre and 5 p.m. Saturday at SECCA

SEX(ED): THE MOVIE:

Speaking of how far society’s got to go, Brenda Goodman’s first-rate documentary examines sex education in the 21st century.

Remember those sex-ed films you watched in school? They’re all here, from the venereal-disease documentary shorts from World War II – the best-known of which was directed by John Ford! — to a delightful (seriously!) animated short about menstruation produced by Walt Disney and Kotex(!) in the 1950s. Also included are the “teenetiquette” films from that era and further examples of those cautionary shorts regarding syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases. (Remember, beware “the tall, aggressive blonde”!) Even to this day, these films tend to arouse awkward reactions, and some are almost laughably dated and even ignorant. Some made in the 1970s were so explicit that they’ve been pulled from circulation. Others, including the 1981 film Condom Sense, remain relevant and informative.

But it’s still a hot-button topic, and grew progressively more so as the 20th century drew to a close. Some sex-ed programs and films offer legitimate education, but others are more concerned – obsessed, even – with issuing moral edicts, as if teenagers should be ashamed of their burgeoning sexuality.

Goodman, a native of Greensboro, handles the film’s shift in tone smoothly and assuredly. It’s unmistakably clear that sex-education is still very touchy, but what seems to be getting lost in the controversy, which comes across very clearly here, is the simplest, most basic purpose of sex education – to educate.

– The 17th annual RiverRun International Film Festival continues through Sunday. For a complete schedule of screenings and special events, visit the festival’s official website: “http://riverrunfilm.com/ !

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