The 17th Sarasota Film Festival opened on Friday night with Oren Moverman’s film Time Out of Mind. Moverman was on hand – that’s him on the red carpet being interviewed, as well as Ben Vereen who was in the film as a supporting actor.
I parked on Main street in downtown Sarasota around 5:45 PM. I was looking at about a ten minute walk to the venue – the Sarasota Opera House. The Red Carpet had been called for 5:30.
I milled around for a bit ,taking in the sights, the Red Carpet, the television crews, and the glamorous crowd. I also was feeling the buzz of excitement that was in the air.
But the theater was expected to be sold out, and my Press Pass and Press Comp Ticket would get me in for a balcony seat so I did not tarry outside for too long..
Mark Famiglio, the President of the SSF Board of Directors made an introductory speech, as did spokespersons from SRQ Magazine and SRQBacklot.com and SNN. Then Mike Dunaway, the new creative director for the Festival came out to rev up the crowd, to thank his staff, as well as the army of volunteers who help make the festival work.
Finally, he introduced Oren Moverman, the film’s director who then introduced Ben Vereen.
Time Out of Mind is a film set in the present, in New York. Richard Gere is the lead and he gave a brilliant performance of a man dancing on the edge of oblivion. Gere’s George is a homeless New Yorker. When we first meet him, he’s asleep in the bathtub of a friend’s apartment. This friend had been evicted at some point before, so George was basically a squatter.
We aren’t given any insight as to what George was before. We learn only that his wife had died from breast cancer, he’s estranged from his grown up daughter and has been for some time. George has zero prospects, zero assets, and really never does explain why he is in the predicament he’s in.
Basically after he’s been tossed from his squatter’s lair – he finds himself back on the street. Park benches, the spaces between dumpsters, are his bedrooms. He cadges spare change, asks a church priest for a coat – which a few days later he must sell to a second-hand, no make that third hand clothing shop.
George will buy a bottle every once in a while – but in his own words, he’s not a drunken bum. What George has become is a marginalized member of society. This is portrayed very effectively by Moverman’s direction as George is often at the periphery of the shot, or he’s seen peering into a storefront with the camera inside the store, and George on the edge of the frame.
Maybe there’s a better term than marginalized. Maybe the term I’m looking for is invisible. Not really invisible but just un-noticed. Like our own eyes, or those of the people passing him on the streets, or in the parks, all deal with George in the same way. Our eyes take in everything that passes before us, but the brain simply, and instantly discards George, and others like him, as irrelevant. Not really worthy of our care, concern, or feeling.
So George is passed by, as if he were invisible. And each day is the same – forage for food and then forage for shelter. None of which comes easily. To get into the system, and receive aid in New York, one must be registered, then evaluated, in order to decide which services George would be eligible for.
But he can’t even establish his own identity. He has no drivers license, passport, or birth certificate. He has no pay stubs, no utilities bill, or tax returns. He has trouble remembering his social security number. The simple truth is that George, for whatever reason, has been ‘lost’ for so long it will take a lot of effort by a lot of folks just to get him into the system,
The film will show Gere as a pathetic, disheveled, and homeless man – not at all the way we usually think of Gere. Yes, he’s scruffy, and he’ll sell a newly acquired coat or jacket on more than a few occasions. He’d like to come out of the dark tunnel he’s in, he’d like to reunite with his daughter Maggie (played by Jena Malone), but there’s a problem of sorts. George is in denial, and he’s isolated; as if on a small island, barely big enough for him – and help is always beyond his reach, or his ability, and what’s more – it seems as if it is often beyond his hopes and wishes.
The camera work continues to support George’s isolation. While he’s stumbling, and sputtering – the rest of New York continues. We hear all of the ambient noises of the city – from cars honking, people talking as they walk, even the subdued chatter of people in the next apartment, the next cubicle, on the same subway car, bus, or within the city shelters. I particularly noticed the sounds made by the dryer in a laundromat, or the sounds made by the release of the coins in a pay-phone.
This was initially masterfully done, and was probably a spectacular job of sound editing – but after a while it became more annoying than gratifying.
George meets Ben Vereen, here called Dixon. Dixon is feisty, and aggravating, annoying, and above all – he’s a veteran homeless dude. He does his best to show George the way and means, or the how-to’s that are of paramount importance to anyone who is homeless.
There are some solid performances by actors you will recognize. For example – Yul Vazquez is on board as Raoul, a desk clerk kind of guy at a city shelter. Vazquez once told Kramer, on a Seinfeld episode – We are taking the armoire and that’s all there is to it. Here he tells George – that he’s been where George is now: There was a time when I was on your side of the glass.
Kyra Sedgewick (The Closer) is on hand as a shopping cart lady. Do you remember The Wire? Michael Kenneth Williams, who played Omar in The Wire, is on hand as a guard in one of the shelters. I missed him visually at first – the scene was dark – but I recognized his voice, and he was confirmed in the closing credits. Steve Buscemi was in the film’s opening scene as the building super who rousted Gere’s George from the bathtub.
So Moverman, who directed The Messenger and Rampart, both with Woody Harrelson, was brought in by Richard Gere to direct. You see, Moverman told us that this is another of those 12 year film projects. That Richard Gere has championed this for a long time, and Gere produced the film.
The film is often difficult to watch – as we suffer with George who must deal with, from the streets, all the noises of a city that we manage to shut out. We watch as George will have to fish through trash bins to find food, and we watch as the life blood of the city – that is to say – people with a purpose – pass George on the street without a glance, without a helping hand, and without even a thought that this street creature is a human being.
The film is not the least bit commercial. It doesn’t follow screen writing 101 with the perfect acts – where boy meets girl, they fall in love, then boy loses the girl and so forth.
Instead we are watching a man at the bottom of our society and his struggles. Moverman doesn’t give us a happy ending – nor does Gere turn on any of his high wattage good looks to charm us. No, this man George is struggling to live day by day. His long-range plans are to figure out where and how to get into a shelter for the night.
As Mike Dunaway, the Creative Director told us in his opening remarks – this year’s festival is about the The Hearts and Minds of Independent Film. Moverman and Gere and Vereen, and everyone else in this film have done their best to show us the heart and mind of one single man – a man that we won’t see as he passes us. Simply Gere and Moverman hope to change that. Recommended.