Archive for April, 2018

FFF 2018 Day 10 Soufra and Mama

April 19, 2018

A Heartwarming True Story of Cooking as a Way to Escape Poverty

On the closing day of this year’s FFF, Mrs. LanceAround and I decided to see Soufra. This has been a year dominated by fantastic documentaries and this film is no exception.

A dilapidated refugee camp in Lebanon houses Syrians, Palestinians, Iraqis, Lebanese and other people looking for a safe place to call home. Survival in this one square mile is a challenge because there is no work and stepping outside the refugee area is an unwritten faux pas.

Palestinian born Mariam Shaar is a dynamic and forceful entrepreneur who is determined to create a better life. She assembles a group of women friends and creates the Soufra catering company. At first, they find success in preparing school lunches and then branching into farmers markets. She then heads a kickstarter campaign and raises over $50,000 to purchase a new food truck and expand the business even more.

Over a year and a half after raising the money, there is still no truck as the women have to fight bureaucratic prejudice. A lesser person would have caved a long time ago. But there is a peaceful determination in Mariam that overcomes all barriers.

As the documentary shows the women cooking and the incredible dishes they create, your mouth will water. Without the ability to taste, simply the visual display and watching the reactions of the people eating, it’s clear that these women know how to cook.

A harrowing scene that shows the refugee camps dilapidated power grid burning during a rain storm and the off hand comment of a local who notes, “This happens about once a month” gives the filmgoer some insight into the challenges faced by these disenfranchised outcasts. But this film tells the story of warmth, love, and inspiration that overcomes such difficulties.

Well made and artfully filmed, it’s a movie that will warm your hearts and make you (literally) hungry for more.

In fact, the movie featured a scene with one of the women making zaatar–a middle eastern specialty of spices cooked on top of a pita bread. Mrs. LanceAround and I were so inspired by the movie, afterward we sought out an Orlando restaurant ironically named Sofra on International Drive and enjoyed some hummus, falafel and zaatar. It was the perfect ending to another great year of the Florida Film Festival

Preceded by Mama
Deep in the African country of Uganda where barren huts and unpaved roads are the norm, giving birth can be a harrowing experience. An extraordinary woman referred to as “Mama” has dedicated her life to delivering children using only natural plants for medicine. This seven minute short film powerfully captures a lifestyle that those of us who are lucky enough to live in America seldom have a chance to witness. A local reminder of the power of our largest corporate interests, it was shamefully amusing to see the poverty stricken children of this third world community wearing Minnie Mouse shirts in their isolated Ugandan village.

After these two wonderful documentaries and a delicious Middle Eastern meal, Mrs. LanceAround and I drove home. We discussed how we are always attracted to the documentaries and shorts during the FFF. We wondered why it was that great documentaries and shorts rarely show up at the local cinema. Are such films really non grata to the public at large? Or is it that we as a society have just done a horrible job spreading the word about these remarkable films that are both informative and entertaining.

Perhaps with the rise of arthouse theatres and with more and more festivals such as the FFF gaining in popularity, that will change. Until then, we now have to wait another year before enjoying a week at the FFF. We hope you’ll join us there next year.

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FFF 2018 Day 9 RBG and The Guilty

April 19, 2018

The Notorious RBG

RBG
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the second woman ever nominated to the Supreme Court. During her 25 year tenure on the court, this shy, unassuming intellectual somehow turned into a powerful force to be recognized with–earning her the nickname of The Notorious RBG.

This well paced, informative documentary gives a detailed history of Ginsburg’s life through interviews with family and friends, old photos, archival footage and a healthy dose of The Notorious RBG herself.

If you know nothing about the life of RBG, this documentary will introduce you to one of America’s unsung heroes. Admitted to Harvard Law School in 1956, RBG was one of only nine females in a class of 500 men. When interviewing for admission, the dean of the school asked her to justify taking a spot in the school from a qualified man.

After law school, RBG had difficulty shattering the glass ceiling of gender bias in New York City. But her studious demeanor and razor sharp legal mind eventually overcame most of the prejudice allied against her.

The documentary also explores her 56 year marriage to a remarkable man named Martin Ginsburg. Martin was a prominent New York tax attorney who managed to navigate what could be considered the uncomfortable position of having a very successful spouse in the mid 20th century. The documentary clearly shows he is enlightened way ahead of his time.

Another poignant moment in the film showed RBG’s close personal friendship with the most conservative member of the court, Antonin Scalia. Although often on polar opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, outside the court these two colleagues found mutual appreciation and friendship, particularly in their love of Opera. A highlight of the movie was watching RBG on stage in a Kennedy Center opera production. Fortunately, it was one of the few small, non-singing roles in an Opera.

The filmmaker does a great job introducing you to this remarkable woman. The documentary flows along at a great pace, covering RBG’s life and influence in perfect detail.

At the end of the film, Mr.s LanceAround was ecstatic. “I’m so glad I saw this movie,” she beamed, “It was the highlight of the festival for me.”

The Guilty

All the Action Takes Place on the Phone

It was three quarters of the way through this movie and I was on the edge of my seat when I suddenly realized: This entire film is shot in one room. It is the most action packed movie I have ever seen where over 99% of the action happens with one person talking on the phone.

Earlier in this years FFF we saw a short film entitled The Shift which gives a glimpse into the life of a 9-1-1 operator. This film similarly displays the deluge of stresses and decisions an emergency operator has to make when life and death are on the line.

Filled with unexpected plot twists, this film gradually builds one story line after the other through the phone calls that an emergency operator both takes and makes when confronting a situation which continually spirals deeper and deeper into both tragic and redeeming consequences.

Directed by Gustav Moller and written by Emil Nygaard Albertsen and Gustav Moller, this movie would not have worked without a fantastic script and incredible directing. Nor would it have worked without a powerful, award caliber performance by Jakob Cedergren. A Danish film with English subtitles, the acting is so incredible that the filmgoer barely notices they have to read to dialogue.

This is the kind of film that deserves to be seen in wide release. And I will never understand why that won’t happen for a film of this magnitude.

FFF 2018 Day 8, Shorts, Shorts & More Shorts

April 18, 2018

Perhaps the Best Short of This Year’s FFF–The Driver is Red

The shorts programs are always a highlight of the FFF. These films are often how aspiring filmmakers begin their careers. It’s not uncommon to discover the short was submitted as part of the requirement for graduation at one of the nation’s prestigious film schools, such as USC or NYU.

Today, we got to see a selection of International Live Action Shorts, International Animated Shorts and the ever popular Animated Shorts Programs. Here’s a quick synopsis of each movie along with some brief thoughts.

International Animated Shorts

Even Death has Teen Issues

The Death, Dad & Son
Created by the co-writer/co-director of Persepolis, this well made morality tale gives a thoughtful take on the unexpected consequences of trying to change one’s destiny. Being born the son of Death might not be too desirable. Yet trying to become angelic could have profound impact on the world that just isn’t meant to be. This was a favorite short of both Number Two Son and myself.

The Laughing Spider
Perhaps the most beautifully artistic short also provides the most surreal experience as colorful creations weave a web (literally) throughout this film.

Negative Space
This 2017 Oscar Nominated, heart felt little short by Max Porter and Ru Kawahata felt like an animated documentary. Beautifully crafted, the filmmakers use clothing and packing a suitcase as a metaphor for a son’s close relationship with his father. A particularly spectacular scene involved a swath of clothing becoming the waves on a beach that gently recede and come back closer and closer to the protagonist. The closing line will bring tears to your eyes.

Dead Horses
This stop motion, puppet animation perfectly captures the confusion of a young boy facing the horrors of war. The detailed, drab colored cloth puppets and the child’s view of war work together perfectly.

Wicked Girl
A powerful story based on real life shows a young girl examining the memories of her life in very dramatic fashion. Well rendered by Ayce Kartal.

The Burden
Don’t try to find any deep meaning or symbolism in this wacky stop motion musical featuring animal characters in decidedly mundane human situations. The catchy songs and creative animals-in-human environs capture one’s interest and makes this frolic quite enjoyable

Intimity
A short about body image and insecurities as a woman gets ready for her day.

The Noise of Licking
The most memorable part of this strange short is the sound editing. A cat watches a woman caring for her plants. When the cat passes, a strange, cat like man appears.

Catherine
Catherine loves cats, but despite her best efforts, it’s not always in the cat’s best interest to be her pet. The attentive boy next door does his best to help–but this morbidly funny short demonstrates that life with Catherine is usually tragically sweet.

Perfect Town
Colorful and creative, this surreal piece features beautiful imagery. Were there messages of conformity and social engineering? You be the judge.

Life Before Life
This short anthropomorphizes butterflies in their journey from cocoon to rebirth and death.

International Shorts #1: “Runnin’ Down a Dream”
The Merry-Go-Round

This Film is Quite a Ride

This whimsical, well made short shows that the most dangerous thing a group of drunken men encounter isn’t a mobster but an unattended carnival ride. The expertise of the filmmaker elevates this little ditty above your run of the mill short.

Beatrice
Truly inspiring documentary about Beatrice Vio. She lost both arms and legs in a childhood battle with meningitis. That did not stop her from becoming the Paralympic fencing champion. We loved the way this film does not shy away from showing all the scars Beatrice lives with every day.

The Log (Halko)
The production crew is ready for the final, climatic shot of their movie. However, the lead actor never realized this shot was a nude. An embarrassing physical condition makes for a hilarious few minutes in the make up trailer.

Gaze
A woman taking the bus home alone in the dark of the evening helps to thwart a crime. As she is stalked by the assailant, this film expertly conveys the terror of a lonely soul on a dark stretch of road.

Shadow Animals
A somewhat surreal horror short about a little girl whisked to a bizarre dinner party with her parents. Stalked by ominous shadows, this well filmed short evokes a truly unusual evening of terror.

The Old Woman Who Hid Her Fear Under The Staris
Another well made and artfully acted horror film about an old woman who goes to the internet to figure out how to get rid of her fears. Just when you think she was swindled out of her money, turns out she could stuff her fears away–at least until an unwelcome intruder attempts to gain access.

Iris

The more she rides her stationary bicycle, the more she thinks about Laura. A coming of age story about coming to terms with sexuality.

Do I have Boobs Now?
A very timely documentary short about a trans woman attempting to discover the exact moment that her transition makes it forboden for her to display her naked breasts. By taking topless photos on a regular basis and then posting them to social medium, at exactly what point does society shut it all down. Thought provoking and relevant!

Thursday Night

Creative Take on a Ghost Story

A very creative, well shot ghost story involving a very unlikely protagonist. When a human passes, they say we follow the light. When a dog passes, do they follow the white dog? Very creative and engaging short.

Shorts #5: Animated Shorts
Fired Up
Before Obama became president, he had to do the dreary work of campaigning on the road. Long hours and inclement weather with a very small turn out made one campaign stop particularly brutal. That is, until one elderly, female citizen fired everyone up and propelled Barack to the White House. Artfully animated story using Obama’s own narrative as the voice over.

Jeom
The end of this short features a photo of a baby with a huge birthmark on the back of his head. Was this the inspiration for a short obsessed with trying to remove an unsightly mark?

Phototaxis
This conflagration of a West Virginia folk tale with the wisdom of Narcotics Anonymous creates a memorable juxtaposition.

Abnie Oberfork: A Tale of Self-Preservation
How can one best survive childhood? This 12 year old decides that following the example of a cucumber might just do the trick as she puts herself inside the pickle jar.

Shahkboy
With a great white for a father, this typical New England teenage Shahk navigates some typical adolescent troubles.

Aquacade
Using a combination of stop motion, 2D and 3D animation along with archival footage, this short is based on the true story of NYC’s attempt to ban pinball machines in the early 1940’s.  The short does an exceptional job of capturing an interesting time in our nation’s history.

For Educational Purposes Only
The most enjoyable and amusing aspect of this short was trying to read the creative signs as the camera zooms by.

Nevada
An x-rated stop motion animation tells a tender tale of a broken prophylactic and the imaginary child that will be aborted with the morning after pill. A very tender story extremely well conceived and very well written.

Undiscovered
Certainly there have been many, many photos taken of Bigfoot. It’s just that he’s very particular about which photos he deletes. Funny and engaging, you will enjoy this short.

The Velvet Underground Played At My High School
Not having a clue who The Velvet Underground is, I am assuming that those who do know, and who really like this band, will especially enjoy this true life short. Being an old fuddy-duddy, I found the music annoying.

Weekends
Number One Son listed this short as one of his favorite. It artfully conveys the emotional roller coaster of a young boy as he is shuffled back and forth between his parents.

Seahorse Man
While mom produces the egg, it’s the male seahorse that gives birth. That’s the backstory to this short about a man who tries to be a hero but not until he checks into the hospital.

Fundamental
A harrowing look at the effects of growing up in a strict, conservative religious family.

The Driver is Red
Number One Son, Mrs. LanceAround and I all agreed that this short was the best of the entire program. It was an animation of the true story of the Mossad agents that hunt down one of Nazism’s most notorious war criminals. By slowing revealing the pertinent information, this film keeps you on the edge of your seat as you follow along in the attempt to extradite this monster. An engrossing story, well told and artfully animated with black ink on brown paper, this is one movie you won’t forget.

As I write the reviews and synopsis of these 33 short films, I’m reminded that it is difficult to fully appreciate all the movies one sees during the shorts program. Sometimes it is difficult to switch from a film that is primarily visual to a film that is mostly verbal. A sparsely animated short might be followed by one engulfed in detail. It takes a lot of concentration and focus to switch gears and give each movie the attention and appreciation they deserve. These filmmakers, many of whom are just starting their careers, fill the screen with passion and effort worthy of our attention.

FFF 2018 Day 7 My Indiana Muse, Tatterdemalion & Call Me Brother

April 14, 2018

Amazing Art From an Unexpected Source

My Indiana Muse
This documentary epitomizes the reason Mrs. LanceAround and I are huge fans of the FFF.

Robert Townsend is an amazing artist. One day, he encounters a box of vacation slides and becomes smitten with a woman whom he says has a “superstar quality.” Her name is Helen. He then begins a several year process of painting huge, eight feet by ten feet paintings based on several of the vacation slides.

At the end of the film Ric and Jen Serena, directors of the documentary, are available for a Q&A. They talk about the time they first met the artist and he spoke at length about Helen’s shoes and how he was working to get them just right in the painting. He was so passionate, they were convinced this was the perfect subject for a documentary. They also talk about how Robert projects the slides onto his canvas and creates the outline. Robert likes to joke that, from that moment, it’s more like a glorified “paint by number.” But it’s clear that his artwork goes well beyond that. These amazing creations almost look like a photograph from a distance, but as the camera zooms closer, it’s clearly a painting.

Also in attendance was Helen’s niece, Cheryl. In the documentary, Cheryl explains that when she was cleaning out Helen’s garage after she passed, she encountered a box of vacation slides which she was prepared to throw into the trash. However, a friend told her that people actually buy old slides. She listed it for sale on the internet and someone purchased them and then sold them to the artist.

After selecting several slides for his paintings, Robert decides he will try to find out who this woman is. By luck, one slide featured a photo of Helen and her husband with name tags. By doing a search online, Robert located a funeral home that did the service for Helen who passed in 2014. He contacted them and the funeral home passed his information along to Cheryl who arranged to meet Robert. In the movie, the tour of Helen’s home provides even deeper insight into Robert’s muse and further encourages his artwork.

This documentary perfectly captures an artist and his muse; the creative process and the real life that inspired it. The artwork is amazing, the film is compelling and we highly recommend you seek out this movie.

Preceded by Samantha’s Amazing Acro-cats
It’s hard to believe that someone who makes a living doing theatre shows across the country could be extremely shy. Welcome to a wonderful documentary about Samantha and her fourteen trained (somewhat) Acro-cats. A self proclaimed spinster who has difficulty establishing long term relationships, Samantha is clearly in love with her feline performers.

The documentary demonstrates how difficult life can be on the road, especially when traveling with a group of divas who need to be fed, cared for and cleaned up after. Samantha is always looking for the big break that will help her achieve financial freedom. When you see her on Stephen Colbert’s show or performing with Steve Harvey, you think she just might be making it. But finding success with a traveling cat show provides many difficulties which this documentary showcases.

Sometimes the film creates more questions than answers about its subject matter. But it shows enough to allow the filmgoer to experience the ups and downs of life on the road in show business–particularly for someone as shy as Samantha.

Tatterdemalion
FFF programing director, Matthew Curtis, spoke very highly of this narrative feature film. The story revolves around a young woman who comes home from a military tour of duty to bury her father who passed away at her childhood remote Ozark cabin. As she seeks out her estranged brother, she encounters weird tales from local mythology about mysterious creatures in the Ozarks. When she discovers an abandoned boy, she needs to determine if he’s an orphan in need of help or one of the mysterious “Tatterdemalions” who, legend has it, reside in the woods and cause sickness to anyone who helps them.

While the movie is skillfully directed and well acted, especially considering that several of the leads were cast directly from the local town with zero acting experience, Mrs. LanceAround and I were split about the movie. She found it more compelling while I thought the story line was a little weak and needed some additional work.

To give a glaring example, the protagonist finds a clue in an old address printed on a discarded magazine. Locals tell her that streets have been named and renamed so many times over the years no one will remember this address. She finds an ancient town elder who muses, “I haven’t heard that name in a long time.” She manages to find the street and has to call the police. Somehow, while this is a street that only the oldest of old timers knows the name of, yet the police gives that name to EMS to get assistance.

It’s a relatively minor continuity error, but, for me, it gave some insight into why I thought the movie did not work very well. I believe if the author had spent more time creating a larger back story and working the depth of her myth, she could have created a very compelling suspense movie–and perhaps even a few decent sequels.

Call Me Brother
Although we were tired and Mrs LanceAround really wanted to go home, I encouraged her to see one more movie because I was so disappointed by Tatterdemalion that I didn’t want to end the day on a down note. Earlier that day a FFF regular recommended the movie Call Me Brother. We asked Matthew Curtis about it and he said it was a good film and very funny.

Was it good? Not really. But the thing that annoyed me most is that the movie featured what might normally have been an unexpected denouement. However, the advertisements for the film and the filmmakers themselves prior to the screening revealed what this denouement was. Instead of being an unexpected, surprise ending, I spent the entire movie looking for what was advertised so that, when it finally occurred in the final scene, it impacted me like someone had told me Bruce Willis’ character was actually dead before watching The Sixth Sense.

The gratuitous sex and teenage party antics were enough to turn off Mrs. LanceAround.

In short, rather then buoying us after Tatterdemalion, Call Me Brother only let us down a little more. Still, we spent the long car ride home talking excitedly about My Indiana Muse which we thought made this year one of the FFF best for feature documentaries along with This is Home, Dark Money, and especially Mole Man.

FFF 2018 Day 6–Say You Will and Won’t You Be My Neighbor

April 12, 2018

 

Even This Photo of Rogers, Supplied by the  Film, Has an Ominous Look

Attending the FFF every day can be a mixed bag. There are days, like Day 4, where you have three incredible documentaries and you leave the theatre feeling excited; conversations flows and you realize that either you learned something you never knew or you had an experience that simply touched you in all the right places.

Then there are days where you just have to wonder what the selection committee saw that you didn’t.

And, of course, there are days in between. Today was one of those days. Mrs. LanceAround and I saw two films. Both films were good. (Yes, we’ve seen films at the FFF that are bad, but not today.) And yet, even though the films we saw were good, we left the festival feeling unsatisfied. Maybe it’s because our previous day was so good today couldn’t help but be a let down. Or maybe it’s because the films were good, but not great. Of course, it could be that the films we saw just weren’t a match for where we are in our lives. Certainly members of the audience had lots of compliments and good things to say about today’s films. Mrs. LanceAround and I just weren’t feeling it.

Say You Will
This poignant, semi-autobiographical film by writer/director Nick Naveda, was a competent and engaging coming of age movie about two teenagers dealing with traumatic pasts and uncertain futures during the summer after their senior year of high school.

Nick and his two producers, Nancy Taylor and Taylor Grabowsky, were in the audience and held a Q&A after the movie. They revealed that the entire movie was shot in just under two weeks. While it is a typical indie film that might not garnish mass appeal, it displays a lot of depth and passion that point to a bright future for the filmmakers.

Perhaps the highlight of the movie was the performance of Katherine Hughes who played the female lead. Her ability to convey the depth of her character and her charismatic struggles with the relationships her character traverses is a performance worthy of attention. Sam Trammell as the male protagonist’s new found father figure also did a superb job.

Too many movie goers who only see the latest blockbuster at the local cinema don’t have a full appreciation for how someone goes from a youngster who dreams of making great movies to the writer and/or director of the latest hit. This movie gives a great feel for what’s in between. It a raw and honest film that demonstrates a lot of talent. Don’t be surprised if your local theatre or the Academy some day heaps its accolades on Nick Naveda. And when they do, seek out this film and see where he started and just how much he grows as he pursues his craft.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor
How can a detailed documentary about Mr. Rogers possibly make you feel so sad and disappointed?

In our humble opinion, Fred Rogers is one of the greatest American heroes who ever lived. If congress would pass a bill designating a new national monument and declaring his birthday a new national holiday we would be first in line to support it. When television was in its infancy and Saturday morning cartoon shows featured clowns and characters engaging in all kinds of unrealistic slapstick and moments of violence, Fred Rogers decided to create a children’s show that actually spoke to and respected children as the young humans they are. He didn’t talk down to children, he spoke right at their level; often crouching or sitting in a way that they could see him eye to eye.

What’s more, he did not hesitate to take on any topic a child might encounter. When Bobby Kennedy was shot, he did a show where he taught children what the word “assassinate” meant and why so many people were saying it. When the Challenger spacecraft exploded, he did a show talking about sad feelings. He directly spoke about divorce, death, pain and multiple other topics that most children’s shows would not have the courage to touch with a ten foot pole.

In all of his episodes, his central message to children never wavered–Every child is unique, special, capable of loving and worthy of love. According to everyone who knew him best, his persona off screen was no different than who you saw on his signature show which ran for over 30 years, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

While this sprawling documentary introduces us to many people who worked with Fred and shows clips of him from his childhood up to his memorial service in 2003, the movie left us thinking that we learned a lot about Mr. Rogers despite how the film was structured.

To me, this was encapsulated near the end of the movie when they showed a brief scene from his memorial service. After a few seconds inside, the documentarian made the choice to go outside and spent several minutes covering a misguided church group that was protesting his service with heinous signs such as “God hates fags.” (For the record, all his friends in the documentary make it clear that Fred Rogers was not gay.) While the filmmaker makes the valid point that Fred would have been appalled that the children of the protesting group were forced to march with such signs, from our perspective, it took too much of the focus away from the memorial service and gave it to these misguided fanatics who really do not deserve such publicity. This, in a nutshell, appeared to be a major flaw that ran throughout this documentary.

There were several points during this movie that brought us to tears, which was a good thing. But once the movie was over, both Mrs. LanceAround and I felt depressed and discouraged. We both had headaches. The drive home, which is normally filled with lively conversation about the movies we had just seen, was a dull silence.

Fred Rogers deserves much better.

FFF Day 4–Three Fabulous Documentaries

April 11, 2018

Kimberly Reed with Selection Committee Member Christopher Ramsey

This is Home
This powerful documentary begins with an aerial view of Homs, Syria. A modern city that has been absolutely decimated by the Syrian civil war. Block after block of destroyed buildings give a small glimpse into the suffering of the Syrian people. With millions of Syrians displaced because of war, our country’s pitiful response and lack of compassion are evident. Fortunately, there are pockets of places, such as in Baltimore, where a small number of Syrian refugees are given a new start in life along with significant social services for eight months in an effort to help them back on their feet.

This documentary follows four families during their first eight months in America. The filmgoer is drawn into their internal struggles to adapt to a new language and cultural while at the same time holding onto their own ethnic values and traditions. For them, it is a test of survival as those who can’t successfully navigate the first eight months are in danger of being deported back to the dangerous hell of their homeland.

The movie shows both the best and the worst of our own citizens. There are those who reach out to help these poor innocent people as well as those who make it obvious that some of us are not very welcoming. In the same way, the refugees themselves display both eagerness and ambivalence as they strive to find a new place in the world.

Very compelling and well made, this documentary will touch your heart and, hopefully, change a few minds.

Preceded by Let My People Vote
In Florida, over 1.7 million convicted felons have lost their right to vote–forever. And before you consider that this might be a just consequence for such heinous criminals, you might be interested to know that a person can have a felony conviction for the horrible crime of releasing more than 15 balloons at one time! This documentary features Desmond Meade who made some bad choices when he was younger and is now fighting to make his vote count considering that he has paid his debt to society. In 2018 this issue will be put on the Florida ballot. And it’s about time. This is a well made and surprisingly emotional short film.

Dark Money
In 2009 Kimberly Reed enthralled us with her hard hitting documentary Prodigal Sons. This year she’s back with a government thriller to rival All the President’s Men. The movie is Dark Money. It tells the story of how campaign finance laws are allowing anonymous people or organizations to finance elections and what her home state of Montana is doing to combat it.

The film follows a journalist as he methodically uncovers the source of some of this dark money that has seeped into state political races in Montana. In the end, he succeeds in revealing enough information to bring a prominent lawmaker to trial.

Afterwards, Kimberly was available to answer questions. She noted that campaign finance is not a partisan issue. Christopher Ramsey, a member of the Documentary Selection Committee, could not restrain his enthusiasm and he pointed out that the film featured Republicans battling Republicans on this important issue.

Preceded by The Shift
A powerful little short that gives an inside look at what it is like to work a shift at a 911 call center. Well paced and filmed, it gives the filmgoer a visceral experience of some of the challenges faced by those who answer the phone during some of the most traumatic moments of a person’s life.

Mole Man
I really don’t know why Mrs. LanceAround and I were in tears so many times during this documentary. It’s a relatively simple story about an older man on the autism spectrum who cannot refrain from building. He does so without mortar or nails. Yet he somehow has created a sprawling edifice of several stories with multiple basements, corridors, mazes, and tons and tons of compulsive collections. (Anyone want a bathroom plunger? He has one from every abandoned house he’s ever visited because, “it’s the one thing they always leave behind.”)

In Western Pennsylvania, the demise of coal and steel have left entire towns completely barren. Ron Heist seeks out these dilapidated buildings and takes anything he can get his hands on. In the meantime, his family has to decide what to do with Ron once his 92 year old mother becomes unable to provide him with his daily meals.

It’s a heart wrenching story of a man who has made the most, literally, with what life has dealt him. The documentarian skillfully draws you further and further into Ron’s world and introduces you to the friends and family who are working behind the scenes to figure out how to care for someone who is at once highly creative and capable and yet, somehow, unable to connect and find his place in today’s world.

Preceded by Nueva Vida
An unusual short documentary that is a complete animation of one person’s story of his near death experiences when an errant soccer ball damages his pituitary gland. A very creative way to take a true story and add life to it.

What a Night!
as Mrs. LanceAround and I drive the hour back to our home, we find ourselves deep in conversation about the three powerful documentaries and three shorts that we saw tonight. We both agree that this was one of the most powerful and enjoyable nights we’ve ever had at the FFF. If you get a chance to see any of these movies, don’t miss it. They have the capacity to change how you view the world.

FFF Day 3 Steve & Holly Join Us For Shorts Program 4, The Last Race & Delicious Ethiopian Food

April 11, 2018

Steve, Holly & Mrs. LanceAround Enjoy Ethiopian Food & Conversation

Once again our good friends Steve and Holly joined Mrs. LanceAround and I for a wonderful evening of film and food. After enjoying Shorts Program 4 and The Last Race, we headed to Nile Ethiopian Restaurant on I-Drive to have a communal feast while we discussed the movies we had just seen. Here are some notes from our discussions about the films.

This was the first time Steve and Holly had seen a program of live action shorts. Steve found it enjoyable, even though some of the films were dark and intense. He loved going from one movie to the other. Holly, on the other hand, found the pace of going from one movie to a different movie a little disturbing. She was still thinking about what happened in the last film when the next film began. We all agreed that it would have been better to have a slightly longer pause between movies, kind of like cleansing the palette, Steve noted.

Painting with Joan
Hilarious spoof of PBS’s famous painter Bobby Ross. Steve found it very “cool.” Holly enjoyed it as well. Although all of us agreed that it could have been developed a lot more.

Emergency
A totally wasted, young white girl wanders into the wrong home and passes out on the living room floor. The two black men who live there come home and debate how to handle this situation. It seems obvious they should call 911, however, being black, they worry about what might happen when the police arrive and find two black men with a passed out white woman on the floor. Steve was really touched by the ending when one black man realizes that calling 911 was the right thing to do. I, on the other hand, had a different interpretation thinking that the character’s realization was more along the lines of what might have gone wrong. The fact that this movie invoked such a prolonged discussion tells you how powerful it is.

After Her
The filmmaker was in attendance for this short. Creative filming techniques created a somewhat sci-fi atmosphere. Several of us found it difficult to follow the story line, which diminished the impact of this film. Holly noted that it was helpful to have the filmmaker available for questions after the show.

Control
The first thing Steve noted was that one theatre goer ran out of the theatre crying after watching this short about a woman contemplating suicide. It speaks to not only how realistic this short was, but how it was also painful to sit through.  Three quarters of the way through the film I realized the entire movie had zero dialogue. It’s a real testament to the power of this film that it could successfully convey everything without a spoken word. We all agreed that we really enjoyed this movie, although “enjoy” might not be the right word. That said, in addition to it’s emotional theme, it was also amusing.

Men Don’t Whisper
A very funny tale about a gay couple who try to prove their manhood by sleeping with two females at a convention. Holly did not enjoy it very much but I found it hysterical. Very reminiscent of TV’s Modern Family.

Home Shopper
Holly really liked this film about how a woman who appears to be addicted to home shopping but may actually have ulterior motives for all her purchases. Were her actions intentional? This thought never occurred to Mrs. LanceAround and I. The unexpected twists made this short both funny and thought provoking. The actor who portrayed the husband was especially powerful in his ability to convey a character in such a short time with just a few lines.

Sweet & Lo
All of us found the movie very weird. “What were those characters supposed to be?” No one could answer that question. It appeared to be some kind of government plot that created mutants. In some respects, it felt like a knock off of TV’s hit series Stranger Things.

Winter’s Watch
Steve really enjoyed this movie. He liked the cinematography. Perhaps it was a minute or two too long, but the concept of having a lonely job was well conveyed. In fact, Steve noted that he would have enjoyed having a job where you live alone in a resort over the winter to watch over the empty property.

The Last Race
Steve confesses to being a little ADHD. So as I watched him occasionally shift in his seat during this full length documentary, I worried that, like me, he might be finding this film a tad tiresome. So I was genuinely surprised when, at the end of the movie, he proclaimed how much he loved it.

While it was a really beautifully filmed movie about the last remaining NASCAR racetrack on Long Island (a place that used to boast over 40 different tracks just a few decades ago) the film did not have much narrative as it put you in the center of the action with breathtaking shots of races and racers during an average visit to the track. In addition to excellent cinematography, the sound editing was suburb. One memorable scene involved a race car owner who’s day job was in pest control. As he sprayed a colony of wasps, the filmmaker and sound technician got a haunting shot of a wasp as it dizzily buzzed and sputtered in a futile attempt to evade the poison it had just ingested.

For Steve, the movie brought back all the memories of his childhood days at the drag racetracks owned by his father and uncle. So enticing was the action, he found himself being transported back to a time where he remembered the smell of the car exhaust and the roar of the crowd.

The aging owners of the Riverhead Raceway know that it won’t be long before they have to leave the sport. The plot of land that houses the track has already been encapsulated by urban growth and their land is now valued at over $10 million dollars. But they stubbornly hold on to adrenaline seeking fans and family who have called this asphalt oval home for generations.

If you are a race car enthusiast, you will love this film. If not, you will appreciate the artistry with which the documentarian gives you an up close, real life experience of a dying world.

Steve’s reaction to this film, “I could watch the whole thing over again right now! I couldn’t look away.” What a perfect review.

Good Friends, Good Films, Good Food
After the movies, we took them to Nile Ethiopian Restaurant. Steve and Holly had never experienced an authentic Ethiopian meal before. The unusual method of serving all the food in little clumps on a piece of injera bread in the middle of a large platter was a strange site. Without utensils, we folded the bread over some food and ate with our fingers in a communal setting that helped to foster more conversation and real sense of camaraderie.

It was the perfect ending to another amazing day at the FFF.

FFF 2018 Day 2 French Animation, TransMilitary

April 8, 2018

15,500 Transgender People Currently Serve in Our Military

TransMilitary
What company or organization currently employs the largest number of transgender people in America? A silicon valley behemoth? Disney?

No, it’s the United States military which currently employs an estimated 15,500 transgender people.

This well made, thought provoking documentary introduces you to four of the bravest of the brave. By the end of the movie, any open minded filmgoer is left with two indisputable realities. One, a transgender person is fully capable of serving in the military alongside any other soldier. Two, there is way too much prejudice in our country.

It’s difficult to know if a movie like this will only preach to the choir or if it has the capacity to help change the viewpoint of those who hold to unjust biases. But when the protagonists of this documentary met with the highest military leaders in our land, it was obvious they had a positive impact that resulted in words of encouragement and support for their service.

The film was directed by Gavriel Silverman and Fiona Dawson. Fiona was at the screening for a Q&A after the movie. She pointed out that currently 18 countries allow transgender people to serve. When I asked her if our country ever spoke with those other countries to help us figure out how to be more welcoming to transgender service, she acknowledged that our military tends to only look within when creating policies.

After the screening, Mrs. LanceAround spoke privately with Fiona. She gave her a hug and tearfully thanked her for all that she is doing to help our citizens more fully understand the huge amount of injustice our society heaps upon the LGBTQ community. Fiona shared with her some of her efforts in that regard and then gave Mrs. LanceAround two tickets to the next viewing of TransMilitary so Number One Son could also see this wonderful documentary.

Alaska DGAF
This short documentary takes a look at the response of some Alaskans to the news that North Korea now has a missile that could reach their shores. In short, the good people of Alaska just Don’t Give A F***! They have more important things to worry about, such as the shortage of salmon or the wayward bear that wonders into the local market. Knowing some colorful characters who live in Alaska, I was really looking forward to this film thinking it would showcase a humorous array of Alaskan spirit. Perhaps my expectations were too high as I found the movie relatively tame. But Mrs. LanceAround thought it was encouraging to see a group of people who were completely nonchalant about the current social upheavals in our society.

The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales…
Perhaps the best part of this full length family animation from France/Belgium with English subtitles was seeing cartoon characters that, somehow, are refreshingly different from the kind of animation we usually see in this country. It begins with a theatre stage whose unopened curtain and background noises portray a group of anthropomorphic characters who clearly are not ready to tell their stories. This humorous intro sets the scene for three vignettes loosely tied together with reoccurring characters in tales of mishap and cooperation.

Both children and adults will find lots of amusement and a few flat out guffaws at the fast paced action; at times silly and at times poignantly heartfelt. Somehow, by couching all three tales behind a theatre curtain complete with bows at the end of the performance, we are reminded that even the bad guys are part of the team that works together to create tales of amusement and lessons of cooperation.

The movie is directed by Patrick Imbert and Bejamin Renner, who is adapting his own graphic novel. Imbert’s lovingly hand drawn 2-D animation is the perfect visual for the wacky adventures portrayed by the animal theatre group. Take your kids to see this one–and if they can’t read, sit in the back and be ready to read them the subtitles so they, too, can enjoy this wonderful film.