“It’s a nice place to live . . . if you’re looking for a nice place to live,” Stanley Sr. tells Stanley Jr., a young alcoholic sketch artist who’s hit bottom in the big city. Senior is talking about Old Crow, Manitoba, a dry-by-law Arctic settlement near the Alaskan border, and his hope — tempered by entirely reasonable misgivings — is that the son he abandoned in infancy will follow him down the road to recovery and reconnect with tribal ways: ice fishing, caribou hunting, makeshift snowmobile repairs, country & western radio, etc. Andrew Walton’s documentary Arctic Son, premiering this week at the National Geographic Foundation’s All Roads Film Festival, manages to dig pretty deep under the skin of these two lonely, laconic guys as they learn — slowly, painfully, and to the haunting accompaniment of a score by Michael Rohatyn (Personal Velocity, The Ballad of Jack and Rose) — to savor each other’s company. Another kind of first impression is documented and re-documented in Mari Correa and Kumaré Txicão’s My First Contact. Here, elders of the Ikpeng tribe recount, in burbling words and vivid pantomime, the arrival, in their neck of the rainforest, of a planeload of anthropologists (captured in yet a third level of documentary narrative, filmed in the early 1970s). The elders bemoan the forced resettlement that ensued when the Brazilian government, at the behest of agribusiness, took advantage of long-standing tribal feuds to appropriate the land from its original inhabitants. Can the Ikpeng go home again? That’s a point of contention between the community’s elders and its younger bloods, who have lost their connection with the ancestral Eden and are loathe to separate themselves from the televised soccer matches, corrugated tin shanties and cold running water that have come to define their lives in the 21st century. Indeed, rights of return, both real and imagined, run thematically throughout All Roads this year, as in Duki Dror’s poignant The Journey of Naan Nguyen, in which a middle-aged boat person and his family leave their adopted homeland in Jaffa, Israel, hoping against hope to liberate their family estate from its Party-appointed landlords in Communist Vietnam. Finally, in Issa Freij and Nicholas Wadimoff’s beautiful, elegiac short film The Last Supper, we watch the slow but inexorable defacement of a landscape and a community as a section of the 20-foot-high concrete wall that isolates Jerusalem from the West Bank is filled in by bulldozer and crane, an expedient as soul-killing as it may be necessary at this latest grim stage of Israeli-Arab relations. American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theater; Thurs.-Sun., Sept. 28-Oct. 1. (323) 466-3456 or www.americancinematheque.com.
Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes