dir. Barbet Schroeder
Opens Sat Dec 8
"We were dealing with idiots. They had a very limited view of the world: I was just a mercenary and a traitor. My clients and friends were assassins or apes," Jacques Vergès says. "So they couldn't understand us. But we could understand them, and how their tiny brains worked." That's how Vergès recalls one of his earliest trials, when he defended Djamila Bouhired—who, depending on how you look at it, was either an Algerian freedom fighter or a terrorist.
That quotation might be the key to understanding Vergès, the controversial French lawyer who made a career of defending and befriending fantastically notorious and toxic figures, from Bouhired (whom he'd go on to marry) to Carlos the Jackal to Slobodan Milosevic. Well-spoken and sharply dressed, Vergès is a chilling, captivating figure, and his experiences echo—and, in many cases, control—some of the most important events of the past century.
Unfortunately, Terror's Advocate isn't nearly as enthralling as its subject: At just over two hours, the documentary's human element is suffocated by a deluge of superfluous history and overly specific detail, with innumerable talking heads' endless reminiscences blurring into soporific white noise. You'll need a surplus of patience (and a firm grasp of the past 50 years' worth of international history) to find the glittering shards of human drama here, which is too bad: If Advocate were an hour shorter, it'd be amazing. ERIK HENRIKSEN
Danny Williams Factory Films
dir. Danny Williams
Sat Dec 8
Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium
Despite the fact that Danny Williams was entrenched in one of the most picked-over cultural moments in American history, you probably haven't heard of him. A onetime resident of Andy Warhol's Factory, and a lover of the famously impassive artist, Williams eventually fell out of favor with the Factory crowd, and in 1966 he disappeared after a family dinner in Massachusetts, and likewise into obscurity. Recently, 20 films he made using Warhol, the Velvet Underground, and other Factory luminaries as subjects were uncovered.
In black and white, Williams' films are silent portraits of the young, laughing, druggy scene, as well as somber moments spent dwelling on the shadowy visage of Warhol and his satellites. While the fame of the people and places captured in Williams' lens surely lend interest to the films, his interest in filmmaking is clearly not that of a mere dilettante—in his early 20s, Williams was already gaining attention for his film-editing skills.
The screening of Williams' films is to be accompanied by an original score composed by the Quavers' Catherine McRae and T. Griffin, and Williams' niece Esther B. Robinson, herself a documentary filmmaker whose film A Walk into the Sea, about her uncle's life, will be released later this month, will introduce the show. MARJORIE SKINNER
The Rape of Europa
dirs. Richard Berge, Bonni Cohen, Nicole Newnham
Opens Fri Dec 7
Living Room Theaters
The Rape of Europa is a horrible name for a movie, and a slightly misleading one at that. This new documentary takes as its starting point the systematic and far-reaching campaign by the Nazis to "liberate" Europe's art treasures (only the Aryan ones, natch; anything deemed Jewish or Slavic was destroyed) during World War II—but additionally, and more interestingly, the film also concerns itself with the steps taken by museum workers, soldiers, and ordinary civilians to protect the works of art that distinguish, and in some cases define, their culture. In anticipation of the Nazi occupation of Paris, the contents of the Louvre were evacuated to secret locations across France; during the siege of Leningrad, civilians lived in the basement of the city's bomb-battered museum and worked tirelessly to protect its contents from ice and snow; in Florence, brick capsules were built to encase Michelangelo's sculptures. Even the US government got in on it, delegating art specialists to travel with troops through the devastated European landscape, repairing and restoring whatever they could. There's a wealth of information here, all of it fascinating; even if the doc drags a little toward the end, it's a small price to pay. ALISON HALLETT