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Joanna James ‘A Fine Line’ doc screens at GlobeDocs Film Festival

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO
Joanna James ‘A Fine Line’ doc screens at GlobeDocs Film Festival
Valerie James, New England restaurateur starring in A Fine Line, owner of Val’s Restaurant in Holden, MA. (Photo: ROBERT FEATHERSTONE)

“I didn’t care about money ‘cause I knew I was going to make it. I believed in myself. Why shouldn’t I do what I love?” says Valerie James in the documentary “A Fine Line” which closes the third annual GlobeDocs Film Festival on Sunday, Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. at the Coolidge Corner Theatre.

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Directed by Joanna James, “A Fine Line” is a love letter and tribute to her mother Valerie James, who since 1991 has owned and operated Val’s Restaurant & Lounge in Holden, Massachusetts. Joanna grew up working side-by-side with her mother in the family business. While she was always impressed and inspired by her mother, Joanna explains in a recent phone interview, it wasn’t until she became an adult and mother that she truly understood her mother’s story. “I realized the full extent of all the burdens she was carrying, and how we didn’t really necessarily ever feel that growing up,” Joanna says. “I thought that she just had a really uplifting story to share.”

Divorced with two children to support and faced with a mound of debt, Valerie James worked most days from eight in the morning until 10 or 11 at night, determined to make the restaurant a success. “I couldn’t afford to stop,” she says in the film. “All I thought was, I have to make it work. I have to make it work.”

In researching “A Fine Line,” Joanna discovered that her mother was one of only 6 percent of U.S. restaurant owners who are women, and it was at that moment that she decided, she says, to “open it up and hear from other chefs.”

Some of those other chefs include Elena Arzak, one of a very few female three-Michelin-starred chefs in the world; Cat Cora, the first female Iron Chef Champion; Dominique Crenn, the first female two-Michelin-starred chef in the United States; Boston native Barbara Lynch, a James Beard Award winner and Relais & Châteaux Grand Chef; and Sylvia Weinstock, an internationally celebrated cake designer. All of the women describe issues and challenges they faced coming up in the notoriously male-dominated culinary world. “It’s interesting, says the first-time filmmaker, “because they all shared either similar obstacles that they went through or perspectives that really shine a lot of light on what needs to be done in the industry.”

Three years in the making, “A Fine Line” is coming out at a time when the issues of equality and wage parity are no longer bubbling underneath the surface of our national discourse but have jumped to the forefront. Joanna and her team are coordinating the release and distribution of the film with a very strong engagement campaign nationwide.

“It’s three-fold,” explains the director/producer. “It’s lobbying for paid parental leave because the U.S. is one of the only developed countries that doesn’t offer it; equal pay for equal work; and what can be done to increase women in leadership positions and career advancement.”

Excited about the momentum of the women’s movement and what she calls a “new wave of feminism,” Joanna plans a cross-country tour, working to motivate and mobilize younger women at colleges, as well as contacting state capitals to underscore the significance of the issues that the film raises.

“A Fine Line” is one of 14 feature-length films screening at the GlobeDocs Film Festival that touch upon a wide range of topics, ranging from health care and female genital mutilation to food waste and environmental issues. There’s also lighter fare, such as “Anatomy of a Male Ballet Dancer,” which offers an intimate portrait of Brazilian ballet star and American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Marcelo Gomes.

Opening the festival on Wednesday, Oct. 11 is “Bending The Arc,” which chronicles the story of Jim Yong Kim, Paul Farmer, and Ophelia Dahl, who banded together in Haiti determined to provide the resources to build real health clinics in areas that had been ignored by the medical establishment.

In “Human Flow,” which screens on Friday, Oct. 13 at the Brattle Theatre, world renowned contemporary artist, activist and filmmaker Ai Weiwei explores the global refugee crisis through footage and interviews shot in 23 countries over the span of a year.

In “Jaha’s Promise,” directors Patrick Farrelly and Kate O’Callaghan share the incredible story of Jaha Dukureh, a survivor of female genital mutilation and an activist who launches a powerful campaign to bring awareness to the ongoing global taboo in hopes of preventing what is still being practiced in 30 countries today, and affects 200 million women worldwide.

Produced by The Boston Globe, GlobeDocs runs in conjunction with HUBweek from Oct. 10 to 15, with an aim of celebrating the convergence of art, science and technology. Screenings will be held at the Brattle Theatre, Coolidge Corner Theatre and WGBH’s Yawkey Theater.

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