Harry Chapin’s Better Place to Be

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When I was introduced to “Cat’s in the Cradle” over the Top 40 airwaves in 1974, I was a teenager who was attracted to Harry Chapin’s wistful song about father-son relationships. When I listen to it now on satellite oldies radio, I connect with it from the other end of the age spectrum, as a dad who wonders where all the years went.

Where have the years gone since we lost Harry Chapin, that master of folk-rock story songs such as “Taxi,” “I Wanna Learn a Love Song” and “A Better Place to Be”? He had been out of the spotlight for a spell at the time of his death in a 1981 auto accident. When the crash occurred, the singer-songwriter-guitarist was on his way to a benefit concert – an appropriate destination given his commitment to humanitarian causes.

Set to be shown via streaming January 8-10 from the Flint Institute of Arts is a new movie about Chapin’s activism in world hunger. Its title – “Harry Chapin: When in Doubt, Do Something” – would appear to be good advice. “Hunger,” he says in the film, “is the most basic area … it also involves women’s rights, it involves economics, it involves politics.” And in the present, there is more hunger than ever almost everywhere.

Besides interviews with Chapin contemporaries such as Billy Joel, Bob Geldof and Bruce Springsteen, we get to hear much of Chapin’s thoughtful music. The Los Angeles Times has praised the film as “an uplifting tribute to an impressive human being.”

If this month’s Friends of Modern Art streamed movie lineup at the FIA has a theme, it concerns great accomplishments by real-life figures. For example, coming January 15-17 is “Maiden,” a documentary from England about a young woman who leads the first all-female crew to enter the Whitbread Round the World Race, a grueling nine-month yachting competition.

“The Donut King,” due January 22-24, is the rags-to-riches story of a Cambodian immigrant who builds an unlikely multimillion-dollar empire by baking America’s favorite pastry despite many ups and downs.

A fictionalized story of a real person is “The Happy Prince,” playing January 29-31. It chronicles the final days of author Oscar Wilde, who, in a cheap Paris hotel room, reflects upon his life, loves and failures.

In addition to the FOMA films, the FIA will continue its adjunct series partnership with the Flint nonprofit Communities First on January 21-24 with the streamed documentary “John Lewis: Good Trouble.”

For more information on FIA screenings, check flintarts.org. Until the FIA Theater reopens, screenings will continue virtually, and patrons can buy tickets conveniently through the website.

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