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         ...there is, thankfully, much beauty in what Doherty presents. Her camera traces Arlette’s bare feet, partially under a bureau, up her long legs and to her arching back as she finds creative ways to stretch her young body in the cramped quarters   of her house; her lovely face is often pensive. Daniela, her long hair in two loose ponytails, prances quietly about her house, her finger to her lips as if asking us to keep her secret, while a euphoric smile plays across her lips.

           Alex, at the end of the film, performs a solo in a nearly empty studio; one can’t help but feel, after getting to know these young dancers a bit, a sense of pride to see his growing physical and artistic maturity. There’s also, sweetly, a bit of the child in this young man, who bobbles charmingly in his landing from a tour en l’air. We don’t really want them to grow up quite so fast, but serious dance students often do.


          At the end of Primaria, we’ve circled back to the present. There is much to celebrate for Alex and Daniela, who have been given the green light to continue into the high school.  And it is truly heartbreaking to learn that the humble, hard- working, poetic Arlette has not. “...because I was overweight,” she says, adding, drily, “fat. But I wasn’t bad technically. I’m not bad in ballet, but, oh well...”  




Among the 11 documentary features in the 15th annual Boston Latino International Film Festival (Sept. 28 through Oct. 1) are three outstanding works about how art empowers people, especially women.)

Boston filmmaker Mary Jane Doherty’s “Primera” (screens Friday at 5:30 p.m.) follows three 9-year-old aspiring artists — two girls and one boy — over the course of four years as they work hard to fulfill their potential.

The title refers to the primary school program inCuba instructing students in ballet with the goal ofqualifying upon graduation for attendance in aballet high school. Doherty spends four years withDaniela, Arlette, and Alex, during which time they demonstrate amazing talent and resilience as they undergo excruciating exercises, rigorous practice, and inspirational bonding with instructors. Meanwhile, they experience the usual academic and social challenges of their peer group.


It employs a sharp observational style, kind of like Steve James’s “Hoop Dreams” (1994) combined with Frederick Wiseman’s “Le danse” (2009). A trace of the Cuban regime’s ideology creeps in occasionally, but the idealism and aspirations of the kids prevail. 

...Primaria is a very sensual experience, offering lush, poetic, evenly paced, “direct cinema” style immersion into the lives and training of three young Cuban ballet students.


This is the second documentary about Cuban ballet students by Boston filmmaker Mary Jane Doherty, and almost every shot and gesture is crisp and gorgeous, overflowing with eye-love for its subjects. Definitely one of the most finely wrought pieces of artwork (or maybe it’s an ethnography?) on this list. 


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