Big Lion Demand

SFF announced that an additional screening for White Lion has been scheduled. The reason is the huge demand for a sensory-friendly screening, meaning a screening which takes in account the special needs of children with epilepsy and other cognitive and developmental disorders. Such needs are addressed with the lighting and sound, according to festival organizers.

White Lion, directed by Kevin Richardson, is part of the youthFEST lineup this year and documents the life and legends of, of course, white lions. Free tickets are only available at the box office.

It was already set to screen Sunday at 2pm. Now it is also screening at 11am the same day.

How Do You Say “Catty” in Spanish?

My college-level knowledge of Spanish was clearly not going to get me far with Gatos Viejos—Old Cats. But during the film, I was so taken that at moments I forgot I was reading the English translations on the bottom of the screen. For those of you who don’t know, Chileans speak fast. Really fast. It also seemed to slip my mind that I was watching actors, what with their relationship to the uncomplicated plot, the simple cinematic conventions, the pure realism. The characters truly came alive for me. Most likely this blur of reality occurred because I couldn’t easily pick up on obvious acting techniques. Diction, tone and syntax flew out the window for the most part. I could pick up attitude and emotion, sort of, through body language, but that was really the only element not lost in translation.

The film, directed by Sebastian Silva and Pedro Peirano, tells the tale of an elderly woman battling senility in Santiago, Chile. Isidora (Belgica Castro) is pictured saying things, often arbitrarily, that make very little sense. She forgets tasks and activities that she’s in the midst of, and, in a frightful event, wanders alone into a public park. We first sympathize with her condition, but her money-hungry daughter surprisingly reveals a different side of her senile mother.

There is a palpable tension between Isidora and her daughter, Rosario (Claudia Celedon), from the start of the film. It is clear that Rosario is after her mother’s money, by means of acquiring her apartment. Unappealing in her fast-talking, coke-sniffing, condescending and argumentative ways, Rosario blames her mother for never having loved her, implying that her mother is partially to blame for her life’s circumstance and childish obsession with wealth. My attitude toward Isidora shifted here; I saw her in a pitiful, worrisome light before, and now I was suspicious about her inherent responsibility in her daughter’s misery and dysfunction. Isidora holds her own for a while and refuses to sign over the apartment, but as the film progresses, so does her senility. She manages to descend several flights ending up in a public fountain, soaked from head to toe. Rosario comes to her rescue and the tension is dissolved, as if the water somehow washed their relationship clean.

Though there were still lingering arguments, I was left with a strong sense of resolve, knowing Isidora and Rosario were at least capable of showing affection, an act clearly outside both of their personal comfort zones. Rosario’s instinctual jump into the fountain is a moving testament to the mother-daughter bond, despite the treachery that can come with the dynamic.

Don’t Look Away

In high school, my father submitted me to the horror that is Philip Gourevitch’s 1998 We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, a book containing lush, rich prose attempting to describe what are honestly indescribable things (including a church full of dead bodies, viewed from above, and one brief image of a skeletal fetus in a pregnant woman’s remains which will forever haunt me, and which surely haunts Gourevitch). Most of the killing was done with machetes. Think about that. The Nazis had gas chambers—efficient, Kafka-esque death machines; the Hutus had machetes.

I have always had great difficulty conceiving the Rwandan Genocide. In my mind, the Holocaust, the European genocide of Native Americans, the Crusades, the Civil War, etc., all  exist in the ether of History, in a category labeled something like “awful events we as a human society have learned from and will not repeat.” But the Rwandan Genocide, which lasted some 100 days and resulted in the deaths of upwards of 1,000,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutus people, happened while I was alive. People were hacking at other people with machetes—the same tool I used to clear pepper trees and poison ivy out of my yard as a child. And that terrifies me, on an existential, gut-deep level.

It took almost 10 years for the broader general public to become truly aware of the events, with the 2004 release of Hotel Rwanda, which tells the story of hotelier Paul Rusesabagina’s effort to save some 1,200 Tutsi refugees. The film was nominated for every award under the sun and received great acclaim. People started paying attention.

And now this year, with Alrick Brown’s Kinyarwanda, we are given another perhaps more intimate depiction of the Rwandan experience, told in six separate story lines, including the chilling and humbling depiction of a Hutu rehabilitation camp.

The film is difficult, imposing and somehow makes the Genocide more immediate, more concrete. It is a story of survival and horror, of course. It is a story of anger and vengeance. But it is also one of empathy, forgiveness, understanding. To make a movie about the killing would be easy. To make a movie about what happened during, between and after the killing is something much more thorny, and consequently much more rewarding. If that’s the right word.

It struck me while watching Kinyarwanda that the children that lived through the genocide are now young men and women. They are building lives upon a foundation of horror. And horror often has a way of softening people, making them gentler, kinder. And hopefully, so will films like Brown’s.

Only the Wrestling is Fake

A documentary about real people playing fake characters in scripted matches bleeding genuine blood. It can be hard at first to take seriously the subjects of Fake It So Real. After all, these guys literally exaggerate and fabricate live events for a living. But it doesn’t take long watching this documentary to believe in what these men say and do.

Fake It So Real is one of the films making its world premier at the Sarasota Film Festival, and one of the documentaries which Programming Director Holly Herrick promised would be “very important this year” beyond the local event. It is also one of the films which we got to see in advance of its debut, and we can attest, it is phenomenal.

This is not an MTV wrestling documentary, and it isn’t the story of the rise of the next famous wrestler. No, this is about amateur wrestlers attacking each other for small-town crowds, charging $5 a ticket to a watch an evening of insanity.

Director Robert Greene follows the wrestlers in The Millenium Wrestling Federation. These guys are less like Hulk Hogan and John Cena, and more like the backyard rednecks selling DVDs in after-midnight infomercials. And while watching pain in a WWE ring doled out on primetime may be balanced by the knowledge those wrestlers are pulling in significant paychecks, the Z-list wrestlers in this league don’t seem to make any money at all.

The group is headquartered in Lincolnton, North Carolina, a community known for wrestling back in the days of live matches between carnival fighters. Today, so little happens here it seems good family entertainment to watch these guys beat the snot out of one another in a venue which clearly doubles for high school theater productions.

A fighter named Gabriel tries to define an angel persona that isn’t too homoerotic. One named Solar drapes himself in sequins and gets fired up when the audience accuses him of being gay. A wrestler named Zane diabolically double-crosses his black tag team partner mid-match. The premises of the matches are at times as offensive as they are far-fetched.

But the true investment in characters comes for the audience during the moments outside the ring. Gabriel laments moving to the small town for a fiancee only for her to cheat on him and end the relationship. Zane learns the grizzly-bear beard on his face is stopping him from getting job interviews. Solar promotes the matches by photo-copying flyers and passing them around town like a local punk band trying to drum up support for the show.

And despite some of the undertones in the wrestling scripts, family-friendly charecters manage to win in the end. Zane gets him come-uppance when partner Hojo befriends a new partner, who helps defeat him in the ring, then shave that hair colony off Zane’s face. One wrestler recalls his days in hardcore wrestling, where genuine racists ran the show, and where it was acceptable for wrestlers to beat one another with trash can lids and nail boards.

The most compelling story may be that of Outlaw, a 10-year veteran of the league who has never missed a match, but gets hospitalized with cysts in his belt-line which have become infected because of the constant trauma. While doctors encourage bedrest, he still manages a dramatic entrance at the climax of the film and wrestles through obvious pain.

Which brings up the ultimate question of the film – What is fake? Certainly, the bruises that decorate the bodies of the wrestlers are real. So is the sweat dripping from their brows, and the pain that seers from their eyes. The matches are all rigged, set around a narrative far less compelling than the men’s actual lives, but the twist of the knee when a wrestler misses the ropes is very much real.

“If it’s fake, why have I got a separated shoulder?,” asks J-Prep, a wrestler plagued by health issues since childhood. “Why do I have a bad left knee? Why have I got no feeling in my left hand?… It is not fake. It is very much real.”

The wrestlers compare their craft to staged drama. “Would you go to a play and say ‘This is fake,’ ” Solar asks. And like a good theater production, the wrestling matches entertain.

So does the film, but it does so because what is shown is so vividly and relentlessly real. These men train like Olympians and attack one another like gladiators, all to hear the coots and caws of an audience cheering for physical pain. This hurts to watch, but you cannot turn away anymore than these men can be stopped by simple bodily harm.

Fake It So Real premieres April 15 at 7:45pm, then screens again at April 17 at 12:45pm. It is one of six films competing for the Documentary feature jury award. Until then, a trailer:

Awesome Trailer Animations!

One of the true film gems in this community is the student body at Ringling College of Art and Design, so of course the SFF turned to the school to find a good trailer to run on opening and closing night promoting the festival.

It seems the festival couldn’t pick a favorite work, though, and has put up eight different student-produced clips for an online vote. While these short clips only offer a taste of what the Ringling kids can produce, they are still a treat to watch.

So go and watch them all here, then vote for your favorite.

Of course, I already voted, and just because SFF doesn’t want to show favoritism doesn’t mean I won’t. Here is the one I like the best. If you agree, vote here.

Spinning ’til 2am

Well this could be fun until morning. A special “Hollywood and Vinyl” event will be held at Michael’s on East this Friday. The event actually serves as an official after-party for the Sarasota Film Festival Opening Night and as a launch party for the Vinyl Music Festival.

The big music guest will be DJ Cosmo, one of the top DJs in the world, and there will also be appearances by Honorebel, Anthony Martin, Infect, K.SO, Chris Meadows, Brett Soll and Netics. The evening starts at 9pm and runs ’til 2 in the morning. If you are interested in the music tie-in, go here. But if all you care about is film, go here.

Either way, we have been excited the last few years to see the addition of more music to the movie-happy event.

The Natural Beauty of Manmade Canals

When The Jonestown Defense premiers at the Sarasota Film Festival, don’t be surprised to see some familiar scenery. The film, directed by New Yorker Greg Takoudes, was shot entirely within Sarasota County. And despite being shot by an outsider with a cast of New York actors, the film does a remarkable job of capturing the malaise that gripped many in Sarasota’s business community in the past few years.

We have seen a screener already and were impressed with how in touch Takoudes was with the specific economic troubles of the area. Takoudes told SRQ that he relied heavily on Realtor Linda Ann Remley, who has a small part in the film, to provide much of that local color. “This movie is partly a response to what everybody is going through all over the country. Certainly, the economic climate hit everybody hard, but some places got hit harder than others,” Takoudes said. “Real estate got clobbered, and Florida got clobbered.”

The film was actually born in part out of the Sarasota Film Festival. Takoudes screened a film here a couple years ago and fell in love with the area. He originally had planned to shoot his next film in Alaska, but that got delayed for various reasons, and he decided in the meantime to film a production here. “You just get a sense there is a growing film community there, and there is a lot of support for movies being made in Sarasota,” he said, making special note of assistance by Jeanne Corcoran at the Sarasota County Film and Entertainment Office.

He also fell in love with the setting. He noted the pseudo-natural beauty that could be found in the manmade canals in the area, and felt that made a great juxtaposition to the untouched wonder of the Myakka River State Park. The contrast is laid out in exposition by the film’s main character Chris Waite (Dennis Ostermaier) as he takes a boat through a waterfront housing community.

Takoudes plans to be in Sarasota for both screenings of The Jonestown Defense. The world premiere is at the Hollywood 20 on April 15 at 6:30pm. A second screening will happen April 16 at 2:45pm. Until then, a trailer: