Still Mine – Day Three of the Sarasota Film Festival

stillDay 3 of the Sarasota Film Festival – Sunday, April 7th, 2013

Today I had the good fortune to see a marvelous film down from Canada. Now this film entitled Still Mine is not just some indie looking for exposure and making the rounds of film festivals. No sir. This film is already a big time film. It already has a deal and will be our theaters in June.

James Cromwell and Genevieve Bujold are the leads and they portray an elderly couple who own 2000 acres of farm land in St. Martin, New Brunswick, Canada. Cromwell’s character is Craig Morrison. He’s an 87-year-old farmer who still has plenty of go-power. Bujold as Irene Morrison, is still sharp but to be honest, she has good days and bad days. You see, she’s dealing with the encroaching and debilitating disease of dementia.

They’ve been married for 61 years, and have raised 7 children. Their home is not in the best of shape, it’s far closer to ramshackle than saleable, and dealing with the New Brunswick winters is difficult. Beyond that, they now need a single story home because of Irene’s disease.

Only they haven’t enough money to hire a builder and a construction crew and the requisite sub-contractors.. They already have the land, so Craig decides to build the house himself. He refuses any and all help from his children.

Craig's Son: Pop, You're 87 years oldCraig: Age is an abstraction not a strait-jacket

Craig’s Son: Pop, You’re 87 years old
Craig: Age is just an abstraction not a strait-jacket

His fierce independence is matched only by his stubbornness, and that is matched by his devotion to his wife. Make no mistake, this idea, to put up the house himself, is not the least bit foolhardy or ill-conceived. Not only does he have the tools, and the equipment, he also has the know how.

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The Wall (Die Wand)

The Wall (Die Wand) is an intriguing film that was screened at the Sarasota Film Festival on Saturday April 6th. From the SFF’s own film guide we get this description:

Based on the novel of the same name by Marlen Haushofer, THE WALL follows Martina Gedeck as the nameless protagonist “Woman”. The story unfolds in flashbacks as Woman writes to keep her sanity. It all starts when she is out walking with her friend’s dog Lynx and they both bump into an invisible wall. Every living thing beyond this boundary is eerily frozen and the Woman soon feels like the last human being on Earth. But she isn’t alone, as the affected area includes a range of creatures – the dog, a pregnant cow, a cat, and other animals. Has the world gone mad or has time suddenly stopped.

Directed by Julian Roman Polsler, the above is just one description of the film. Shot high in the forests and alpine meadows in Austria, the film is spectacular to see. If trekking or hiking are your fortes, then this film is something you might want to see.

Encountering the wall for the first time

Encountering the wall for the first time

But you should know that the film lacks characters and lacks dialogue. Aside from Martina Gedeck as Woman, there are only three other actors in the film and the sum total of their screen time is about three minutes. Think of Tom Hanks in Cast Away and you are approaching a comparable film.

Only Hanks was in an airplane crash, and he was rescued, and he returned to civilization. The Wall isn’t so clearly explained. In fact, neither the character, nor the writer, nor the director offer any explanations at all.

The woman is set up in a well stocked small hunting lodge, and then later discovers a cabin much higher up in the mountains. This alpine meadow is actually above the clouds, and as such it is simply in an amazing place.

But if you want a tidy conclusion where everything is explained and accounted for, you won’t find it in this film. Simply the film is an allegory, and it is up to each person to make his own interpretation.

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Nothing Without You – Sarasota Film Festival Day Two

 Nothing Without You, co-written and directed by Xackery Irving hit the screens on the second day of the Sarasota Film Festival. Despite having basically a no-name cast, Irving and his co-writer and producer Rick Santos, have crafted a psychological suspense thriller which is described as being about a psych-patient, accused of a violent murder.

She turns to her court-appointed psychiatrist to prove her innocence and sanity. Her psychiatrist must help her decipher delusion from truth to unravel the mystery of her reality.

There are some problems, the shrink is being pressured by her defense attorney who is looking for an open and shut psych defense that she’s not competent to stand trial.

The second problem is that from what we’ve seen, it looks like she is innocent. But we aren’t certain that what she saw was reality or was it a hallucination.

In an interview on the website, Xackery Irving stated that his main influences and inspiration came from watching the work of directors René Clément, Carol Reed, Brian De Palma and Alfred Hitchcock. In fact we see a Hitchcockian influence early in the film.

In Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, Roger O. Thornhill, played by Cary Grant, has a man who was stabbed by someone else die in his arms in the lobby of United Nations Secretariat building in New York. He’s even photographed with the knife in his hand. In Nothing Without You, the main lead, Jennifer Stidger, played rather convincingly by Emily Fradenburgh, watches from across the street as her lover’s wife is followed into a house, and moments later the man who followed her in, comes rushing out.

Suspecting something, she crosses the street and even breaks into the building (she has a lock-pick tool) to discover that this woman has been stabbed and is about to die. Of course she is suspected by the police. Just like Hitchcock’s protagonist Roger Thornhill.

That’s your set up.

Irving has successfully mixed elements of political skull-duggery, a philandering husband, rather excellent police work which includes chases on cars and foot as well technical elements like the following of a suspect by real-time cell phone tracking into an engrossing film.

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Blackfish Opens the 2013 Sarasota Film Festival

SFF2013The 2013 Sarasota Film Festival opened last night with Blackfish, directed and co-written by Gabriela Cowperthwaite. Blackfish played before a packed house at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. The film had previously wowed the audience at Sundance, and the SFF crowd was more than willing, no, make that eager to give the film’s principals a standing ovation at the conclusion of the Q & A which followed the showing of the film. Magnolia Pictures has picked up the film for a wider release this summer.

Blackfish is a documentary about Tilikum, a 12,000 pound orca, who has lived most of his life in captivity. He works, in seeming perfect harmony, with his trainers, performs for adoring audiences, and is also a veritable cash-cow for the sea park that owns him. He’s also killed several of his trainers.

Cowperthwaite tells the story of Tilikum with only one ‘actor‘, and that is Tilikum himself. The rest of what we see and hear are archival footage, and interviews and talks with a number of former orca trainers, sea park employees, and various marine experts.



While the film cannot be called a tense thriller, it is certainly gripping, riveting, and provocative in the sense that as you watch, and learn, you experience an emotional ride.

As the film opens we hear what was the actual phone call made from the marine park to an emergency services call center. ‘A whale has eaten one of his trainers‘. Now that has to get your attention.

From there we learn about how these whales are captured in the wild. It isn’t a pretty story. The whale ‘hunter’ on screen said that easily – the hunting and capturing of baby whales – was the worst thing he has ever done in his life.

From there we move on to the experiences of actual folks who worked at SeaWorld and other marine parks with the orcas. They’re just normal folks, like you or I, but these are people who experienced the thrill of seeing performing whales as children, and then decided as adults to work in the industry.

Yes, it is an industry – a multi-billion dollar industry – and the corporations involved, vigorously defend themselves against the outraged cries of the animal activists.

But the people interviewed on-screen in Blackfish paint a different story for us. The lives of these orcas are anything but fun and games. From their capture and separation from their families, to their work and training, and their down time, when they’re not in the stadiums working, we see a part of the story that most of us have never considered.

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