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Boston film fest content certainly runs the gamut

From scapegoats to a street doctor, premarital counseling to a long cab ride

'Catching Hell' documentarian Alex Gibney "Catching Hell" documentarian Alex Gibney
By Loren King
Globe Correspondent / September 16, 2011

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Filmgoers may be eagerly awaiting “Moneyball,’’ but another new baseball movie shouldn’t be overlooked, especially by Red Sox Nation. Oscar winner Alex Gibney’s documentary “Catching Hell,’’ which premieres Sunday in the 27th annual Boston Film Festival, is about a pair of high-profile sports scapegoats.

Gibney, a lifelong Red Sox fan, includes former Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner’s infamous error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series as one of those cases. The other is Chicago Cubs fan Steve Bartman, vilified after he interfered with a fly ball in a playoff game in 2003. “Catching Hell’’ points out the many other factors that contributed to the teams’ losses in both games; yet, for fans in Boston and Chicago, Buckner and Bartman became whipping boys and symbols of defeat.

Gibney, who grew up in Cambridge, says scapegoating is a theme in two of his most acclaimed films, “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer’’ and the Oscar-winning “Taxi to the Dark Side.’’

“The soldiers at Abu Ghraib were called ‘rotten apples’ to deflect attention,’’ Gibney says in a telephone interview. “Scapegoating is fiction making. It’s a way of wrapping up troublesome ambiguities into a tidy package.’’ He was speaking from the Toronto International Film Festival, where he was presenting another sports film, “The Last Gladiators,’’ about former NHL star (and West Roxbury native) Chris Nilan.

“Catching Hell,’’ which shows on ESPN later this month, features extensive interviews with Buckner, who talks emotionally about what life was like for him until the Red Sox finally won a World Series. “I flew to Idaho and we had several long conversations,’’ Gibney says. “He was gracious, and I learned a lot that I didn’t know about him.’’ Bartman, however, continues to refuse interview requests, making him a more mysterious figure.

The festival opens tonight with “Certainty,’’ from writer Mike O’Malley - yes, the same O’Malley who plays the tolerant blue-collar dad of a gay son on the hit series “Glee.’’ The Boston-born, New Hampshire-bred O’Malley will take time from his other gig, as a writer on Showtime’s “Shameless,’’ to attend the festival with “Certainty’’ director Peter Askin and actors Tom Lipinski (another Boston native) and Giancarlo Esposito.

“Certainty’’ follows a young couple as they go through the premarital counseling required by the Catholic Church. O’Malley says the idea originally came from his sister, Marianne Gavagan (née O'Malley), who went through the classes in the mid-’90s. “I wrote a draft for a play and then I had my own experience [with counseling], when I got married, in 2000, so I decided to deepen it,’’ he says. “The Church gets a lot wrong, but this is one thing it gets right.’’

“Searching for Certainty’’ had a stage production in Los Angeles, in 2003. O’Malley then turned it into a film script, which was shot in New York last summer. He said the BFF is a coming home for him. “So much of my early development as a writer was because of the friends from Boston and New Hampshire who would show up at plays in small theaters in New York,’’ he says. “To premiere my first feature in the cradle where I was born and nurtured is awesome for me.’’

O’Malley isn’t the only TV star coming to the BFF with a fiction feature. Sam Jaeger, a series regular on “Parenthood,’’ will be at the BFF Saturday with his feature debut, “Take Me Home,’’ a romantic comedy that stars Jaeger and his wife, actress Amber Jaeger. Sam Jaeger also directed the film about a mismatched pair thrown together for a cross-country cab ride. “Hollywood forgets easily. I want to be fulfilled and challenged,’’ said Jaeger about that project, which took him seven years to bring to the screen. Jaeger will also participate in a panel discussion, “From Script to Screen,’’ Saturday from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

A strong lineup of documentaries includes the premiere of “Give Me a Shot of Anything,’’ a gritty look at Boston’s landmark Health Care for the Homeless program. With a world premiere screening Monday on Boston Filmmakers Night, it follows Boston “street doctor’’ Jim O’Connell as he administers medical and emotional assistance to the city’s homeless. O’Connell and director Jeff Schwartz will engage in a discussion following the screening.

Hired to do a short film about the program, Schwartz became so intrigued by the work of O’Connell and the Barbara McInnis House Respite Center that he decided to make a feature film. He traveled to Boston from New York for months with a small crew, getting “extraordinary access’’ to the people who live on the streets, some for as long as 30 years. “This needs to be seen by a wide audience,’’ he says. “I live in New York; I pass homeless people all the time and I don’t look. This film allowed me to really think about their lives.’’

Emmy Award-winning director Michael King also tells a powerful story about human empathy and compassion in “The Rescuers,’’ which screens Tuesday. King, who taught screenwriting and film for two years at Emerson College, documents the journey of Stephanie Nyombayire, a young Rwandan anti-genocide activist, as she travels with Sir Martin Gilbert, the renowned Holocaust historian, to 15 countries and three continents interviewing survivors and descendants of 12 diplomats who, often in defiance of rules and at great personal risk, rescued tens of thousands of Jews from the Nazis. King will attend the BFF to discuss his film.

Loren King can be reached at loren.king@comcast.net.

THE BOSTON FILM FESTIVAL Runs Friday through Thursday at the Stuart Street Playhouse. For a complete schedule, go to www.bostonfilmfestival.org or call 617-523-8388.

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