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Roxbury Filmfest kicks off at MFA with look at jewel thief Doris Payne

Yesterday (June 25), the Roxbury International Film Festival (RIFF) started unreeling its 16th year with the Boston premiere of the heist documentary “The Life & Crimes of Doris Payne” at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA). New England’s largest film festival celebrating people of color will continue through Sun., June 29. Highlights include a web series about boys in the Boston public schools and “Scandal” queen Kerry Washington appearing in “Lift,” one of her first big screen roles.

This year marks the first time that the festival will show films exclusively at the MFA. “The MFA has been a great supporter of the festival and it provides an incredible opportunity for filmmakers to screen their work at a world class cultural institution,” said Lisa Simmons, festival director.

“The Life & Crimes of Doris Payne” is based on the real-life story of one of the world’s most notorious jewel thieves who managed to jet-set her way into any Cartier or Tiffany’s from Monte Carlo to Japan, and walk out with small fortunes. Directors Kirk Marcolin and Matthew Pond tell the story of the now 83-year-old (and imprisoned) Doris Payne, and the nearly $2 million in jewels she has stolen over a 60-year career.

Produced by The Color of Film Collaborative, RIFF will screen approximately 30 films, shorts, and documentaries by filmmakers hailing from China, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, and the United States. RIFF has also organized a dinner movie event at Haley House Bakery Café in Dudley Square and a youth-oriented program at Northeastern.

Of the festival’s 16th year, Simmons says that “we are proud to have been one of the few local film festivals that have been on the front lines of supporting home-grown and burgeoning filmmakers of color from around New England, while at the same time striving to showcase some of the undiscovered independent films and filmmakers from around the world.”

The narrative features by Hub filmmakers include “The Halls” by the brother-sister duo of Noah Christofer and Miranda Craigwell. It weaves together the stories of three young men in Boston, and their struggles sifting through relationships, trauma, masculinity, and their own identities. The web series came about when the siblings learned “that the Health Commission was taking bids from production companies to produce a web series that engages young men and boys.”

There’s also plenty of buzz generated by the documentaries selected especially by “Anita: Speaking Truth to Power,” directed by Academy Award-winning director Freida Mock” (Friday, June 27 at 6 p.m.). It explores the intimate story of the woman whose testimony at the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearing brought up issues of sex, politics, and race. Hill speaks openly and intimately for the first time about her experiences that led her to testify before the Senate and the obstacles she faced.

For more information on the festival, please visit roxburyinternationalfilmfestival.org.