Lights! Camera! Action!

 

Lights! Camera! Action!

 

Date: April 7, 2010
by: Pam Nadon | Film critic

 
 

The 12th annual Sarasota Film Festival has it all, and the lineup looks downright dazzling. From the A-list of actors (Kevin Kline, Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci … just to name a few) to director extraordinaire John Landis (being honored with the 2010 Master of Cinema Award), people-watching promises to be spectacular.

If you’re inclined to see and be seen, make the party scene, which is always held in the hottest of spots. But, if you’re like me, it’s all about the films — 168 in total — 30 by Florida filmmakers. One of this year’s highlights will be a retrospective of visionary director Francois Truffaut’s films about childhood.

I have two rules of thumb when navigating the film guide: Catch all of the “shorts” and try to attend all films with a Q&A post screening. If the following are any indication of the caliber of movies this year, get cracking and grab those tickets early.

'THE HOOPING LIFE’

It’s sexy. It’s fun. It’s a contemporary art form. It’s “hooping.” And who’s hooping? Shaquille O’Neal (since age 7) and Michelle Obama (on the White House lawn) are spotted engaging in the rage, but it’s the ordinary people whose lives have drastically changed when they began hooping who are showcased in this fabulous film.

Back in the 1950s, more than 40 million hula hoops were sold. But forget the “hula.” Performance artists have elevated the pastime into pay time, making it a career. Footage of the pros at work is visually ecstatic, and the music will make your heart race.

But it’s the inspirational stories behind the scenes that will move you. A rape victim, a suicidal young man and inner city kids all find redemption through their love of hooping. This is a remarkable documentary about dreams and making them come true.

‘CITIZEN ARCHITECT: SAMUEL MOCKBEE AND THE SPIRIT OF THE RURAL STUDIO’
In 1993, Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee founded Auburn University’s Rural Studio, a program in which architecture students live and work in Hale County, Ala. In a community where one in four citizens lives in poverty, the students use donated and recycled materials to build homes and various facilities. This compelling documentary demonstrates how architecture is a powerful tool in enriching people’s lives.

“We spend most of our time in architecture,” says Cameron Sinclair, co-founder of Architecture For
Humanity, who is interviewed in the film. He said one in three people in the world will be living in an area of displacement within 30 years. He, among others, insists that architecture should be about adequate and affordable housing. And that was Sambo’s legacy — making the world a better place. I never expected that a film about architecture would bring me to tears, but this intelligent and engaging documentary did just that.

‘HOW TO LIVE FOREVER’
“If I gave you a pill that let you live for 500 hundred years, would you take it?” This is the perplexing question that filmmaker Mark Wexler asks of numerous and random people in his provocative documentary about aging. Three years in the making, Wexler has trotted the globe seeking the secrets to longevity. His encounters include interviews with a 94-year-old cardio-thoracic surgeon (still in practice); a 101-year-old Englishman who drinks and smokes his way through marathons; and a 100-year-old author of a book entitled, “28,000 Martinis and Counting.”

Wexler’s personal journey has him wondering if diet and exercise really have any impact on living longer, when many of the oldest people on the planet have maintained fairly unhealthy habits throughout their lives. Phyllis Diller, Jack LaLanne, Suzanne Somers and Ray Bradbury provide their insights into aging, enhancing the humorous aspects of Wexler’s film.

This extremely interesting documentary offers up lots of good advice but it comes to the conclusion that a positive attitude is the best medicine for living a long life. Yeah!


‘THE NEW YEAR’

Sunny is beautiful, intelligent and working in a bowling alley (or “center” as she prefers to call it). Her life is all about settling — professionally and romantically. She’s going nowhere, but for all the right reasons. She quit school to care for her beloved father, who is terminally ill.

When Sunny runs into an old classmate from high school, home from New York for the holidays, she begins to re-evaluate the choices she’s made in life. He’s a stand-up comic. She sprays stinky bowling shoes for a living. Torn between the love of her dying father and her dreams, Sunny’s forced to make some radical decisions.

Trieste Kelly Dunn gives a phenomenal breakout performance as Sunny in this bittersweet, simple, slice-of-life film. Great casting, sumptuous cinematography and a super score contribute to making this film more than worth watching. But keep your eyes on Dunn — she’s definitely going places way west of Pensacola.
 
‘WAR AGAINST THE WEAK’
Are you aware of the fact that in the first 70 years of the 20th century more than 70,000 Americans were eugenically sterilized? Shocking, to say the least. Even more shocking is the fact that men such as Andrew Carnegie, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Theodore Roosevelt, Howard Taft and the Rockefellers condoned it.

Years before the Nazis were exterminating Jews, the United States was actively promoting the pseudoscience of eugenics which believed that the human race could be perfected by eliminating the “unfit.” By 1914, 44 major universities (i.e. Harvard, Johns Hopkins, University of Michigan) were offering eugenic classes to their students. Hitler idolized America’s eugenics ideology.

This startling and disturbing documentary offers interviews with individuals who have various “afflictions” (deafness, blindness, Down Syndrome, unwed mothers, drug addiction, etc.), which are so heart wrenching, I was devastated watching them. This film is an exposé of despicable behavior by intelligent people, so powerfully frightening that it’s a must-see for the entire human race.
 

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