The Sarasota Film Festival is cutting edge. Last year’s attendee extraordinaire, actor Christopher Plummer, scored an Oscar for his elegant work in “Beginners,” which was SFF’s closing-night film. Catching a glimpse of the stars and filmmakers, and attending the events is always a huge rush, but, for me, it’s all about the films. This year’s lineup of more than 200 features, documentaries, shorts and kid-friendly films is downright dazzling. I was privileged to have been able to screen 10 selections, and if they’re any indication of the caliber of films scheduled for 2012, it’s going to be a colossal coup for this year’s Sarasota Film Festival.
Take a leap and try getting into a bizarre little gem about a group of people calling themselves “Alps,” people who stand in for deceased family members, hopefully, benefiting the bereft. One of the Alps goes rogue, demonstrating that it’s difficult to know who you are while pretending to be someone else. Heavy, yet also deadpan.
‘THE LONELIEST PLANET’
In the blink of an eye, a relationship can be altered forever. While hiking in the exquisite Caucasus mountains of Georgia (Russia), two lovers and their guide embark upon a journey of self discovery. This slow-paced, beautiful film is mesmerizing to watch.
‘GOODBYE FIRST LOVE’
We never forget our first love. This touching and turbulent film explores extreme highs and devastating lows of young love and loss. Fifteen-year-old Camille obsesses over being left by her boyfriend, Sullivan, a twit who’d rather travel. Four years later, Camille has finally moved on in her life. But has she really when Sullivan suddenly reappears?
This bittersweet story of an Algerian refugee who takes over an elementary class (in Montreal) after their beloved teacher commits suicide is simply precious. Mr. Lazhar is also a victim of a terrible personal tragedy, which he keeps to himself. Together, the children and their teacher heal in this perfectly cast, charming commentary on humanity.
In this subtle shocker, a seemingly mundane mother sacrifices her soul for the benefit of her children. Elena is married to an older wealthy man, who, after having a heart attack, informs her that the bulk of his estate will be entrusted to his daughter from a previous marriage. Her dreams of helping her impoverished family are dashed. Russia’s class distinction plays heavily in this well crafted character study rife with fantastic imagery.
‘OSLO, AUGUST 31st’
The film opens with a young man’s attempted suicide, which mimics Virginia Woolf’s. He’s a non-recovering addict in rehab, half-heartedly trying to get it together. Sadly, he doesn’t have the strength to save himself from himself and his only lifeline is unable. Cinematically, the film is brilliantly composed, and, although melancholic, it superbly deals with a touchy subject matter.
‘THE ATOMIC STATES OF AMERICA’
Are we mature enough to harness the power of nuclear energy? Not according to this frightening documentary, which maintains humans are incapable of the responsibly of splitting the atom. First-hand accounts from cancer victims are gut-wrenching to watch. The fact that eliminating nuclear waste is next-to-impossible is mind-blowing. The most shocking revelation: The NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) is basically run by lobbyists via Congress. A must-see.
‘THE SHOW MUST GO ON’
It was in 1962 in Detroit, while performing on the high-wire at the Shrine Circus, that The Flying Wallendas plunged 33 feet to the ground. Two died, and one was paralyzed for life. Despite this enormous tragedy, the family has continued to thrill audiences for seven generations. This documentary, full of wonderful archival footage, is as taut as the wire on which the Wallendas walk. Best of all, they’ll be performing at this year’s festival. How cool.
The average professional football player receives 1,000 to 1,500 hits per season. This head trauma can result in causing ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s disease), a fatal, debilitating, progressive brain disease. Former fullback Kevin Turner has it, and he’s asking, “Is the NFL bad for society?” At age 41, he’s bankrupt, divorced and dying. Is it worth it? An immensely emotional exposé.
‘THE INVISIBLE WAR’
Fact: 20% of female veterans have been sexually assaulted while serving in the military. Fact: 80% never report the assaults. Fact: A 2011 court ruled that rape is an “occupational hazard of military service.” These staggering statistics are presented in this disturbing documentary about internal military injustice. Althrough difficult to process, in my opinion, this is an important one to see. For more information on the cause, visit the film’s website www.invisiblewar.com. Kudos to the Sarasota Film Festival for featuring this film.
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