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September 20, 2013

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Newburyport film festival showcases 23 documentaries

This weekend’s Newburyport Documentary Film Festival will take viewers around the world and all the way to Mars.

After taking 2011 off and presenting a “Bestival” of favorite films last year, the festival is back for its eighth year with 23 documentaries, showing today through Sunday at both the Firehouse Center for the Arts and the Screening Room.

“We took last year to bring in a lot more volunteers,” managing director Joanne Morris said. “We hope to keep it growing going forward.”

Fourteen filmmakers are scheduled to attend — “the most ever,” Morris said. They will come from California, Illinois, Virginia and even Tokyo, with Ian Thomas Ash scheduled to discuss his film about the Fukushima nuclear meltdown’s effect on children, “A2-B-C,” after its screening Sunday.

“I love the fact that so many filmmakers come, and they are willing to spend the money and make the effort to come here,” Morris said.

While many of this year’s films deal with political conflict both here and overseas, Mary Jane Doherty didn’t intend for “Secundaria” to be one of them.

The movie follows high school students in Cuba’s world-famous National Ballet School.

“The idea was to follow just one class from auditions all the way to graduation for three years,” Doherty said. “I thought the combination of ballet and Cuba was a visual gift that could not be passed up.”

But the political issues were always there during filming, both in the fact that many of the students are dancing as a way out of poverty and the constraints of life in Cuba and in the unexpected defection of the class star, Mayara, to the United States.

Doherty’s film doesn’t rely on interviews or scripts; she just uses her camera to tell the story.

“I told the people down in Cuba that I wanted to film scenes that could not be translated into words,” she said. “It wasn’t what they said in words, it was what it felt like. I’m using my lens and composition and light to do the conveyance of character.”

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