The Forgotten Kingdom – @ 2013 Sarasota Film Festival

The Forgotten Kingdom was screened at the 2013 Sarasota Film Festival on Thursday April 11th, and Saturday, April 13th. Set in Johannesburg South Africa, and then mostly in the country of Lesotho, this is a remarkable film. Directed by Andrew Mudge, this film won the SFF’s Audience Award as Best Narrative Feature. This means that by post-screening paper ballots handed in by those who just saw the screening, The Forgotten Kingdom got the best score of all those films in the Narrative Feature Film category. This was not a Jury Selection award given by industry people selected as the Jury.

Mudge told the audience at the Sarasota Opera House on Saturday night that he lived in Lesotho for two years while making the film.

The film is visually gorgeous, and behind the visuals we often hear some wonderful African Reggae, while in Jo’berg, or some more traditional African vocals while in Lesotho. But this film is so much more than pretty images and foot tapping music.

There’s a strong narrative story in this film. In fact there are two stories which merge and become one unified and dramatic tale.

Joseph also known as Ateng, lives in rough and tumble downtown Johannesburg. He lives in a high-rise. The streets are active, alive, noisy, dirty, and dangerous. From a helicopter view we also see that Jo’berg is a very big city. Joseph is recognized by a local merchant who knew Joseph’s father back in the day when they worked together as miners. This merchant makes a point of telling Joseph that he recognized Joseph not only because of the facial similarities but also by the anger in Joseph’s eyes which was so similar to that of his father. He tells Joseph that he had heard that Joseph’s father was sick.

Joseph and his friends drive out to a township, an area that is more accurately described as a shantytown. But Joseph is too late. His father has already passed on. He finds a document and discovers that his father had already arranged and prepaid for a funeral back in his homeland, Lesotho.

Joseph is obliged to take his father’s body back to a small town in Lesotho. This is where Joseph grew up – only to have been uprooted when his father decided to get Joseph out of Lesotho as a small boy and get him set up in Jo’berg. Only Joseph did not live with his father. He was shunted from home to home, from this uncle to that aunt. He felt abandoned by his own father. And he was. But as Joseph would find out as an adult, the reason wasn’t just abandonment. It was the disease, known in the area as the virus, and known in the rest of the world as AIDS.

Joseph returns to Lesotho for the burial. He stands out with his worn city clothes, a threadbare suit and tie, and a leather jacket. The villagers all wear locally crafted blankets. Joseph will meet a girl, Dineo, who he went to school with long ago. She’s now a teacher at the very same school.

What Joseph experiences is the strong pull of the traditional life he had left so long ago. The clothes, the customs, the attractive girl Dineo. But he resists and decides the country life isn’t what he wants.

But the country life isn’t all that you might have thought. There, deep in the country, they have to come to grips with this very same virus, the AIDS virus. Dineo’s sister has contracted the virus and has brought deep shame to her father. He keeps her in seclusion at his home, but he’d do anything rather than care for her.

And this brings up to the second story of The Forgotten Kingdom – old Africa and the new modern Africa collide over the AIDS disease right there in this small Lesotho town.

There’s your set up.

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Frances Ha – 2013 Sarasota Film Festival – The Closing Night Film

Frances-Ha_510x800Guy at Dinner: What do you do?
Frances: It’s kind of hard to explain …
Guy at Dinner: Because what you do is complicated?
Frances: Because I don’t really do it …

And that my friends, is the essence of Frances Ha. As IFC Films tells us:

Frances lives in New York, but she doesn’t really have an apartment. Frances is an apprentice for a dance company, but she’s not really a dancer. Frances has a best friend named Sophie, but they aren’t really speaking anymore. Frances throws herself headlong into her dreams, even as their possible reality dwindles. Frances wants so much more than she has but lives her life with unaccountable joy and lightness.

Later Frances will tell us: Sometimes it’s good to do what you’re supposed to do when you’re supposed to do it.

That’s our girl, Frances Ha. She’s wonderfully portrayed by Greta Gerwig, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Noah Baumbach who also produced and directed this gem of a film in pure black and white. With Frances – awkward is the new beautiful. Putting her foot in her mouth is an every day event with her, and guess what – from the beginning of the film to the end – and even when you go WTF – it’s still endearing.

Remember when you were a kid, and your aunt or your uncle asked you, What do you want to be when you grow up? Well Frances is 27 and even now, she has no more idea about what the answer to that question might be than she did when she was 7.

The hits, or should I say the laughs just keep on coming at you. Frances and her best friend Sophie have shared an apartment since their college days. They describe themselves as “an old lesbian couple that doesn’t have sex any more,” and they’re straight not gay. Or “the two of us are like one person only with different hair.” Or the best one – Frances describes herself as being “almost a real person.”

I thoroughly enjoyed the premise. While her friends make plans, make decisions, struggle and ultimately find their way, Frances isn’t even able to hold her present position. While others succeed and move forward, she’s slowly and surely slipping backward.

But despite all of her all too obvious shortcomings, her awkwardness, (she even says that she’s too tall to get married) the fact she’s frustrating and embarrassing, Frances, as well as the film, keep their heads up. Gerwig’s smiles are infectious. Frances has this zest and the positive outlook that keeps her going. No apartment – no problem. No money? She’ll still pick up the check at dinner. No job, no worries – she’s working on it.

You’ll just love her.

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Pasadena – Day 9 – 2013 Sarasota Film Festival

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Pasadena is a brand new film from Director Will Slocombe. It is so new, that they called its screening at the 2013 Sarasota Film Festival its World Premier. So new that they don’t even have a trailer out yet. How new is it Mike? So new that they don’t even have a full-fledged movie poster out yet either. What you see is more akin to a graphic design than a movie poster.

Starring Peter Bogdanovich, Cheryl Hines, Alicia Witt, Sonya Walger, Amy Ferguson, Ashton Holmes, Ross Partridge, and Wilson Bethel, the film is best described as being about an hour and a half of emotional terrorism, the kind that can only happen within a family, over a series of days around the time of the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend. People sit down for dinner, but what is served at this dinner is not an overcooked turkey, or some poorly prepared food – instead, what we are served is nonstop nastiness.

Your cast

Your cast

It’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie only without the surreal overtones. It is Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf but with eight people instead of four.

Peter Bogdanovich plays Poppy, the family patriarch. He’s married to Cheryl Hines who is his second wife. They have one young son. Poppy has two grown daughters from his first marriage – Lindsay and Nina who is the black sheep of the family and no one has seen her in 15 years. Hines as Poppy’s wife Deborah has her own adult son and he’s there with his wife. Lindsay is there with her husband and son. And when Nina arrives, dreadfully late, with her boyfriend and dog in tow, only then do they sit down for dinner. But things go downhill rather quickly.

This is one hell of a dysfunctional family. Poppy’s wife Deborah snores like you wouldn’t believe. Poor Poppy wakes up at the crack of dawn only too eager to leave his marital bed, and escape the din of Deborah’s snores. And to pour himself a nice tall vodka on the rocks.Yes, even at the crack of dawn. This is a running theme for Poppy – he always has a drink in his hands. Always.

Pretty soon Nina and Lindsay start sniping at each other. There is some humor here and there in all of this, but it is spread out so thinly, and so infrequently, that you might miss it, and it seemed that most of the time, when some folks laughed, they were in a distinct minority.

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Nor’easter – 2013 Sarasota Film Festival – Day 9

If you live in the Northeast of the USA, then you are familiar with the term nor’easter. A Nor’easter is a storm condition that occurs when there is a convergence of the warmer Gulf Stream ocean currents and the cold air masses coming down from NE Canada. Without going into the technical side of meteorology, we can simply describe a Nor’easter as an area of vorticity, or a collision of strong elemental forces, or a bad storm.

In the film Nor’easter, written and directed by Andrew Brotzman, which was screened at the 15th Sarasota Film Festival on April 13th and 14th, we see another convergence. This time the storm generated is on a much smaller scale – we might call it a crisis of faith.

As the story opens, we learn about a family that suffered the loss of their son Josh. It was five years ago, and he simply vanished. Did he runaway? Was he abducted? There are no answers. No body. No clues. His family still grieves. At least the boy’s father still grieves and simultaneously clings to the belief that his son is alive. The boy’s mother wants to move on. This has caused a rift in the family.

[Voice Over] My son was kidnapped five years ago...

[Voice Over] My son was kidnapped five years ago…

Josh is alive...

Josh is alive…

The former parish priest, Fr. Michael had disappointed the family by not being able to provide the solace (and answers) they sought. And we will find out that Fr. Michael had his own spiritual crisis before him.

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The new priest, Fr. Erik, played by David Call (NBC’s Smash, Dead Man’s Burden), is a relatively new priest, and is quite young. In fact, this is his first assignment. So Erik conceives of a plan. They will hold a formal funeral mass for the boy, to send his soul heavenward. Then there would be a funeral, including a casket. The only thing missing was a corpse.

Of course, an obituary is run in the town paper with an unexpected result. The boy returns. He’s upset about reading about his own funeral, and he’s back.

We were everywhere. You knew we were looking for you. Why now?

We were everywhere. You knew we were looking for you. Why now?

Only it isn’t that simple. The boy refuses to tell his parents, the police, or anyone – anything about where he has been, or what happened to him, or why or if he had a choice about whether or not to leave them. So while the boy’s return doesn’t advance the story, it does remove the question – is he alive or not?

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Did anyone care for you? Just tell me that...

Did anyone care for you? Just tell me that…

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My Name is Faith – Day Nine at the 2013 Sarasota Film Festival

Ever hear of Attachment Disorder?

According to WikipediA: Attachment disorder is a broad term intended to describe the disorders of mood, behavior, and social relationships arising from a failure to form normal attachments to primary care giving figures in early childhood, resulting in problematic social expectations and behaviors. Such a failure would result from unusual early experiences of neglect, abuse, abrupt separation from caregivers after about 6 months of age but before about three years of age, frequent change of caregivers or excessive numbers of caregivers, or lack of caregiver responsiveness to child communicative efforts. A problematic history of social relationships occurring after about age three may be distressing to a child, but does not result in attachment disorder.

Now that’s ‘textbook’.

In the documentary film, My Name is Faith, which screened on April 13th, 2013 at the Sarasota Film Festival, we saw the struggles of a real child, and we watched as a young couple adopted her and her younger brother, giving everything they had toward raising these children.

Directed by Jason Banker, Tiffany Sudela Junker, and Jorge Torres-Torres, My Name is Faith is a powerful and moving look at one family dealing with Reactive Attachment Disorder. The actor Adrian Grenier, best known from the HBO series Entourage, is the film’s Executive Producer.

We’re going to take this child into our home, and we’re going to rescue them.

Faith, formerly Brianna, was born into a home that was more of a meth-lab than an actual home. Her birth mother was a drug addict, and Faith and her younger brother slept only a few feet from a known sexual offender. Ultimately, these children were removed from this abuse and neglect by CPS (Child Protective Services) and placed into a foster home. Later, the Junkers entered the story and adopted these children.

The Junkers not only took ‘Faith’ into their home, they are also the parents in the film.

Tiffany Sudela Junker has stated: I never set out to produce and direct a film. As a mother, I just wanted to tell Faith’s story and make people aware of what so many families are going through.This film is my effort to honor my daughter’s hard work to overcome pain. It’s a way to pay homage to every person that has had to work hard to overcome a traumatic experience.

It’s not our fault, what happened to our children, before they became our children, at all.

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Day Nine – A Very Busy Day at the 2013 Sarasota Film Festival

Let’s see. It is April 13th, and I’ve got a lot on my plate today. Really.

1) My Name is Faith – a documentary about Reactive Attachment Disorder.

2) The Forgotten Kingdom – From the streets of a crime infested neighborhood in Johannesburg, South Africa, a man returns to his ancestral home in Lesotho to bury his father.  There, it is a far different pace than the hurly-burly, rough and tumble life style he experienced in Jo’berg. He will revisit the place of his childhood and rediscover the power of the past that he had left behind.

3) Nor’easter – a feature film set on a small island off the coast of Maine, where a young priest brings about an answer to a local mystery – a boy has been missing for five years – and what follows brings on a crisis of faith for this priest.

4) Pasadena – The Word Premiere of this film directed by Will Slocombe is being screened as a Special Spotlight Film by the SFF. Starring Peter Bogdanovich, Cheryl Hines, and Alicia Witt. Like Luis Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, the film takes place over a series of meals. But rather than being surreal as was the Bunuel film, this film is about the emotional terrorism than can only exist between family members.

5) The Filmmaker Awards Ceremonies and the Closing Night Film – Frances Ha starring and written by Greta Gerwig, and directed and written by Noah Baumbach. This event will be held at the Sarasota Opera House. The film also stars Mickey Sumner and Adam Driver.

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The Hunt – Day 8 at the Sarasota Film Festival

The Hunt aka Jagten, arrived in time for the 8th day of the 2013 Sarasota Film Festival. The film carried with it a billing as a top flight movie, and had a number of distinct film awards in its kit bag. Among the baubles were a Best Actor Award for Mads Mikkelsen from the Cannes Film Festival and a couple of major European Awards for Thomas Vinterberg who directed and co-wrote the screenplay with Tobias Lindholm. So my expectations were high, as were those who were lucky enough to land a ticket. The theater was sold out.

The film is set in the present and Mikkelsen plays Lucas, a kindergarten teacher in a small Danish community. That’s right – a kindergarten teacher. And I’m not kidding. The man who delivered an unforgettable cinematic blow to the Bondian jewels belonging to Daniel Craig, plays a school teacher.  Ah-nuld played one too, and now Mads. Get over it.

He’s pretty much of a normal and regular guy as the film opens. He’s off on a weekend of hunting, drinking, smoking with his pals. You know – boys will be boys And Van Morrison provides the music with Moondance. Lucas is as much loved by his male pals, as he is loved by the youngsters in the school. He’s separated from his wife and they’re going through some coordination difficulties over visitation rights for their teen-aged son Marcus. Lucas is a good-looking guy, and another teacher (Nadja) at the school sets her sights on him.

But then something happens, and based on what one of Lucas’s students, Klara, reported to Grethe, the school’s headmistress, Lucas quickly falls under a cloud of suspicion. The charges are dark, disturbing, and totally untrue. We know that he is innocent, because we know exactly where little Klara got her information from.

The film is not about an investigation, and is not about any kind of prosecution. What the film is about is the fact that an innocent man’s life is about to be ruined. Not by the law, or the cops, or the courts – but by public opinion.

Mikkelsen is simply superb in his role. He broods, and often his silences are so very telling. He underplays his role. There are simply no histrionics. He will suffer mentally as the townsfolk first look at him askance, then with disgust. He goes from being if not a pillar in the community, then he is at least a well liked and respected man – to a pariah.

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Medora – Day 7 of the 2013 Sarasota Film Festival

It’s a small town, and I don’t give a shit
It’s a small town, looks like this is it
The frost did fall on the pumpkin faces
I never made it to the far off places
It’s a small town and I don’t give a shit

When you think of Indiana basketball, a few legends come to mind. Coach John Wooden, the legendary coach of a collegiate basketball dynasty at UCLA was an Indiana boy. Coaching Bad Boy, Bobby Knight coached basketball at Indiana University for 29 years. His teams won the NCAA’s 3 times, and two other times were defeated in the semi-finals. Oscar Robertson, a member of the NBA Hall of Fame, grew up in a segregated housing project in Indianapolis. And of course, there’s hoops legend Larry Bird, from French Lick, Indiana, and Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Then there was the movie Hoosiers which starred Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, and Dennis Hopper. This 1986 film was the story of a coach with a checkered past, and a local town drunk, who together coached and trained a small town high school team, that was undermanned, under financed, and was thought to have no chance – to the Indiana state basketball Championship. Though considered a small film, this movie garnered two Oscar nominations and had a box office of 28 million. Not too bad for a film that opened in just 30 theaters nationwide on November 14, 1986.

Which brings us to the film Medora which was screened last night, April 11th, at the Sarasota Film Festival. There’s a second screening on the 13th. This is not the story of a drive to a championship. This is not Hoosiers. Rather, this is a sports documentary about a dying small town in rural Indiana. The town itself is home to about 500 people. The high school has just 76 students and was in dire straits facing closure which actually meant consolidation, or that the students would have to go to a larger high school in a bigger town.

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The town was once a booming rural community but over the years had lost businesses, small factories had been shuttered, people who became unemployed had no choice but to leave. In America’s heartland, a small town faced extinction.

The Medora Hornets, the town’s high basketball team, had not won a single game in a few years.

Somehow, a New York Times writer, John Branch, got a hold of this story and published a by-line piece about it on November 27, 2009. This article came to the attention of documentary film-makers Davy Rothbart and Andrew Cohn. They traveled to Medora, along with Rachel Counce, their AD and Director of Photography, and set out to make a film about this town, this team, and about dwindling hopes.

They shot over 500 hours of footage and worked hard to assemble this film which has a run time of about 100 minutes. It’s not scintillating but it grabs you and commands your attention. The story of four or five of the team’s main players are not so much heartwarming as they are heartbreaking.

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Dead Man’s Burden – 2013 Sarasota Film Festival – Day 6

 Doesn’t it seem like film makers have been making ‘westerns’ forever? And personally, it seems like I’ve been watching westerns for almost as long. Last night, at Day 6 of the 2013 Sarasota Film Festival, I added another western to the lengthy list.

Directed and written by first time helmer Jared Moshe, Dead Man’s Burden, played to a packed house. Set on the harsh and hardscrabble lands of the New Mexico Territory in the post US Civil War era of the early 1870’s, the film basically has just 4 main characters, and takes place within a small area. There’s just one interior setting, and the rest occurs outdoors.

While it looks and feels like a western, it is worth noting that there are many things that we consider staples within the western genre that are NOT present in this film For example, there’s no town, no saloon, the law has a minimal presence, and the nearest judge is a good three days ride away.

Our story is simple. One small family is still reeling from the effects the civil war had on it. With Clare Bowen, currently seen as Scarlett O’Connor on ABC’s television series Nashville, as Martha Kirkland in the lead role, Moshe has taken a sure step away from the norms of the genre by creating a story with a woman as the central character.

Martha is married to Heck Kirkland played by David Call (NBC’s Smash, Nor’easter). As the film opens. Martha is dispatching a horseman who is riding away. A long-range rifle shot fells him from the horse, then Martha finishes the job from a range of two feet. The rifle report is as loud as we’ve ever heard in a movie. Shockingly loud. That’s your opening, and after a short fade to black we learn that Martha has shot and killed her own father, John McCurry.

David Call as Heck Kirkland

David Call as Heck Kirkland

Meanwhile, not too far away, we are introduced to another sole rider. This would be Wade McCurry, who has long been considered dead. In fact there’s a stone marking his grave in the family plot on their property. Only he’s not dead. He was driven off, and written off by old man McCurry for reasons not made entirely clear to us at the outset.

Wade is played by Barlow Jacobs who recently had a small role in The Master. Wade has to deal with a couple of rough and tumble guys before reaching the home of Martha and Heck. It is right after this small shootout, that we learn what has brought Wade back home after about 10 years.

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