Day 5 – The 23rd Sedona International Film Festival: I Am Not Your Negro

Festival audiences have proven in the past that Sedona loves good shorts. Day 5 of the 23rd Sedona International Film Festival introduces the popular short film, beginning this evening at 6:00pm at Harkins Sedona 6 – Theatre 1 with a 99 minute program titled simply Shorts Program 1: Just Great Shorts. This evening’s schedule consists of 7 short films ranging in length from 6 minutes up to 28 minutes. For more details of titles and countries of origin, CLICK HERE to access further information regarding this evening’s shorts performances.

The subject for today’s Filmmaker Conversation at Mary D. Fisher Theatre is Producing and Directing. You can join festival filmmakers this morning at 9:00am for a lively discussion on what it takes to be either a producer or a director. This program gives you the ability to learn from those who have been right there in the trenches as you discover the trials and tribulations of assembling a crew, a cast, and the difficulties associated with trying to get a project off the ground.

Day 5 also brings more live entertainment to Sedona. Appearing in a special musical tribute to the works of Andrew Lloyd Webber, former member of the two-time Grammy Award winning group Chanticleer, American Countertenor Terry Barber will perform selections from ten of the composer’s hit shows on the stage at Sedona Performing Arts Center, 6pm. Barber will be accompanied by a musical cast of 7 musicians, plus 3 other singers as he performs songs from Jesus Christ Superstar, Cats, Phantom of the Opera, and many others. For tickets to this evening’s live performance, CLICK HERE.

The powerful, Academy Award nominated documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, had it’s first festival showing this past Sunday. Day 5 offers a second chance to see this challenging new film with a performance at Mary D. Fisher Theatre today at 12:00pm. Here’s a look at why this film is ultimately of great importance.

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James Baldwin was a black American playwright, novelist and social critic. He was born in 1924 in Harlem, New York. When he was 24, he left America and moved to Paris, France. For awhile, he also lived in Switzerland, then in Turkey, but for most of his later life, he remained in France until 1957; that’s when he returned to America. His move coincided with the time the Civil Rights Act was in the process of being debated in Congress. He died of stomach cancer December 1, 1987 in France. He was 63.

In the potent new documentary from director Raul Peck, I Am Not Your Negro, most of the above is never mentioned. The film is certainly a journey through the persuasive beliefs and writings of Baldwin, but it’s not a film that documents his life. To find out more regarding facts, figures, times, dates and geographical locations, you’ll have to search elsewhere. To discover his inner thoughts and feelings in a uniquely cinematic way that brings you far closer to the man James Baldwin really was, then this is where you need to be.

Bladwin’s manuscript called Remember This House was meant to be a memoir. They were recollections and observations of three civil rights leaders he personally knew; Malcom X, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Medgar Evers, but it was never finished. There were only thirty completed pages. Director Peck has re-crafted those pages as the basis for a screenplay while using archival footage, newsreels, movie clips, TV clips, newspaper cuttings, and excerpts from TV interviews to highlight an examination of race in America; an examination that feels just as vital today as it was when Baldwin was writing, particularly at a new time in our lives when the American political landscape appears to be dismantling progressions made.

The words you hear are Baldwin’s. The voice you hear is Samuel L. Jackson. He doesn’t sound like Baldwin, but then he doesn’t sound like Jackson, either; at least, not the customary, in-your-face, delivery you might ordinarily associate with Samuel L. Jackson. The sound is low, hypnotic; each word, deliberate, as if he’s thinking as he speaks. “The story of the negro in America is the story of America,” Jackson narrates. “It is not a pretty story.”

In an early segment where we see Baldwin as a guest on The Dick Cavett Show, Cavett asks, with obvious hesitation as if he’s not sure how to properly phrase what he wants to say, whether Baldwin was hopeful for the future of ‘the Negro.’ It’s such an uncomfortable moment; you shift uneasily in your seat. When Baldwin smiles, you can see the relief on Cavett’s face. When Baldwin responds, what he says is precise, intelligent, refreshingly honest and articulate, though it’s hardly positive. It’s one of several TV interview clips you’ll see throughout the film, and it’s this amazing propensity for clear and honest responses while looking at something familiar but seen from a completely different perspective that should continually earn our admiration.

American television and its images of race becomes a subject of which Baldwin shows clear criticism. With fast-paced clips of famous images, such as Let’s Make A Deal, The Price is Right, sitcoms, and even The Gong Show, he writes (and delivered in Jackson’s voice); “The industry is compelled, given the way it is built, to present to the American people a self perpetuating fantasy of American life.” He goes on to say, “To watch the TV screen is to learn some really frightening things about the American sense of reality. We are cruelly trapped between what we would like to be and what we actually are.”

Early American cinema is also under examination in its portrayal of blacks in narrative entertainment. While watching Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier duke it out in Stanley Kramer’s 1958 The Defiant Ones, Baldwin states: “It is impossible to accept the premise of the story, a premise based on the profound American misunderstanding of the nature of the hatred between black and white.” He goes on to explain what he means with example as Curtis and Poitier continue to fight on screen. “The root of the black man’s hatred is rage, and he does not so much hate white men as simply wants them out of his way. And more than that, he wants them out of his children’s way. The root of the white man’s hatred is terror; a bottomless and endless terror which focuses on this dread figure and entity which lives only in his mind.”

Baldwin talks of the successive assassinations and of his personal relationships with fresh insight of Malcom X, Martin Luther King, Jr. and of his memories of talking as a young man with Medgar Evans. “He wore his weariness like his skin,” Baldwin observes, and further relates how Medgar would tell him of what it was like to walk to school everyday. “He told me of how the tatters of clothes of a lynched body hung, flapping in the wind for days, and how he had to pass that tree every day.”

Ugly images from newsreel clips of race riots and unrest that occurred throughout the country during the sixties continually pop up like those unwanted ads on a computer monitor that you’d rather not see. Your only sense of comfort comes from telling yourself that they’re not of today but of an earlier, unenlightened time; and then you see the beating of Rodney King or a picture of Trayvon Martin and you can’t help but reflect on how far we have or have not really come. “White people are astounded by Birmingham,” Baldwin writes. “Black people are not. White people are endlessly demanding to be reassured that Birmingham is really on Mars. They don’t want to believe, still less act on the belief that what is happening in Birmingham is happening all over the country.”

By giving voice to Baldwin’s unpublished words, backed with images that often shocks – there’s a shot of a woman holding up a homemade placard in a crowd, proclaiming: Nigger? Don’t You Wish You Were White? – director Peck has made what may possibly be the most important documentary of the year and one that could never lose its importance in any year. This should not be missed.

I Am Not Your Negro will have its final regular festival performance today at Mary D. Fisher Theatre, 12:00 pm.

Posted in 2017 Sedona International Film Festival Reports

Day 4 – The 23rd Sedona International Film Festival: Reasons to Believe

Tuesday morning, Day 4 of the 23rd Sedona International Film Festival sees the start of a 4-day series of Filmmaker Conversations that you’re invited to attend at Mary D. Fisher Theatre, 9:00am. The conversations and panel discussions throughout the week will cover a wide range of cinema-related topics and gives you the opportunity of rubbing elbows with industry and award-winning panelists alike. The subject this morning is Documentary Filmmaking, a theme that focuses on turning the art of film into activism and movies into movements. And here’s the good news – no tickets required: The Filmmaker Conversation series is a free event. Simply turn up.

Today is also the day when Emmy-Award winner Peter Marshall makes a welcome festival appearance, presenting a live, cabaret-style performance at Sedona Performing Arts Center this evening at 6:00pm. Perhaps most popularly known for his 14-year stint as host of TV’s The Hollywood Squares, Marshall has a resume that includes more than 50 television, movie, and Broadway credits, including a London production of Bye-Bye-Birdie in which he co-starred with Chita Rivera. During the eighties, Marshall performed his role of Georges for over 800 performances in the Jerry Herman musical La Cage Aux Folles, based on the classic 1978 French film comedy of the same name, first in the National Touring Company and then at The Palace Theatre on Broadway. Tickets for tonight’s live presentation can be found by CLICKING HERE.

Plus, look-out for a special showing of the 1974 Mel Brooks comedy, Young Frankenstein, in honor of Cloris Leachman, this year’s recipient of the festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Filmed in glorious black and white, Young Frankenstein remains as laugh-out-loud funny as it did over 40 years ago, and this year, the 23rd Sedona International Film Festival gives audiences the chance to see the film as it was always intended to be shown, back on the big screen. Young Frankenstein will be shown at 3:10pm this afternoon at Harkins Sedona 6 – Theatre 2, with a special guest introduction by original cast member of Broadway’s musical version, Jim Borstemann.

Our film highlight of the day takes its lead from the subject of this morning’s Filmmaker Conversations series – Documentary Filmmaking. Showing today at Mary D. Fisher Theatre, 6:00pm is the documentary, Reasons to Believe.

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Ask yourself this: Do you believe in ghosts? Have you ever seen one? If not, and you have no tangible proof they exist, why do you choose to believe? Is it because you were always taught they existed, or maybe you believe because everyone you’ve ever known believes in them? More importantly, why would you believe in something, anything, if there was no factual proof? In the new documentary from Ben Fama Jr., Reasons to Believe, the psychology of why we believe what we believe is explored, and it makes for a gripping sixty minutes plus.

The setup is simple. Take five educated people, put a camera before them and let them individually ask, discuss and explain who we are, why we’re here, where we’re going, and how is it that we’re influenced to believe what we believe. As Dr. Michael Sherman, founder of Skeptic Magazine, states, “Our belief comes first. Finding evidence for our belief comes second.

The film is split into several chapter headings, like How Do Other People Affect Our Thinking? and How Do Our Beliefs Hold Us Back? Then the film cuts between the five experts as they proceed to explore the subject and search for answers, often giving as many examples as possible in order to illustrate their conclusions. When the five documentary participants discuss how we’re naturally inclined to believe what we see, they proceed in clear terms to explain how that shouldn’t necessarily be the case. A simple example is this: In earlier days when people saw the sun above and witnessed it slowing moving from one side of the sky to the other, the natural assumption was to believe that it was the sun that was moving, when in fact we now know it’s the other way around. What we saw wasn’t necessarily something we should have believed.

Then there’s the subject of fear and how our willingness to believe in a fear controls us. For example, imagine there’s a guy standing at a safe distance before you. He’s holding a dangerous looking snake in one hand and a cute looking bunny in the other. You would naturally stare at the snake. As the film explains, our brain is geared to look at negative information more than the positive. But once you realize what’s happening and can admit to yourself how your mind is working, you can start to re-evaluate your position and take charge rather than being taken in and controlled by the fear.

One of the best examples is explained in the guise of superstitious beliefs that have no grounding in reality, yet many cling to them. In the area of baseball, Dr. Sherman explains the following, and it makes perfect sense. “Batters have all sorts of superstitions before they go up to bat. They have to pick up the dirt, rub the bat that way, adjust their hat, do this and that. Some even have elaborate rituals; eating meals in a proper order before the game. But not the Fielders. Yet Fielders are successful ninety-five percent of the time; Batters are successful, at most, a third of the time. But the interesting thing is, they’re the same people; the Batters and the Fielders are the same players. The superstition, the magical rituals are only done in the task that has the high failure rate.”

So, how do we free ourselves from false beliefs? Why is it more sensible to always be factually right rather than choose to believe in something through blind faith simply because it’s something you want to believe? The documentary successfully spells out that in a world full of superstitious notions, fake news, and fear that can often be used as a controlling factor by others, it’s the curious mind, the questioning of things, the proving of how something might be wrong rather than cherry-picking the unsubstantiated proof to confirm what you want to believe is right that should always be the way to go. It’s very easy to fool ourselves (and to let others fool us).

The documentary is let down to a small degree by its musical score that continuously plays behind the conversations. Even though it’s style, composed by the film’s director, is a mixture of fluid, gentle, unobtrusive jazz and electronics, it becomes a distraction once you notice it’s there. It’s a continuous flow, fading at the twenty-seven minute mark only to begin again for the rest of the film. What the talking heads are saying is fascinating enough without the need to back every moment up with atmospheric music.

However, on the positive side, the strength of Reasons To Believe is that the questions asked are explored and answered in a very clear, succinct manner. It’s also a documentary that looks good. With widescreen cinematography shot in beautiful black and white throughout, the film is a joy to the eye, even though the majority of what we see is simply the talking heads as they explain with conviction why the examined and thoughtful life is what gives the individual his or her power. Take a pen and some paper; you may want to write notes.

Reasons to Believe will be shown today, Tuesday, February 21, 6pm at Mary D. Fisher with a second showing on Friday, February 24, 12:20pm at Harkins Sedona 6

Posted in 2017 Sedona International Film Festival Reports

Day 3 – The 23rd Sedona International Film Festival: Halfway to Zen

On this Monday, in addition to several first-time showings, the 23rd Sedona International Film Festival offers a second performance of films you may have missed during its opening weekend.

The Canadian documentary presented in Hindi, Under the Same Sun, will have a repeat performance at Harkins Sedona 6 – Theatre 2, this morning at 9:10am, while local Sedona filmmaker, Bryan Reinhart’s documentary Born to Rewild will also play at Harkins Sedona 6 – Theatre 6 at 9:20am.

This evening at 6:15pm, with a second showing at Theatre 5, Harkins Sedona 6 is the outstanding documentary, By Sidney Lumet. Directed by Nancy Buirski, the American documentary covers the work of legendary film director Sidney Lumet, who passed away in 2011. The film offers a unique opportunity of discovering what mattered to him as both an artist and as a human being while showing selected clips from among his 44 films made in 50 years, including 12 Angry Men, Network, Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico. The famed director talks directly to the screen while explaining his approach, his work ethic, and his philosophy. “When you connect with something human; that’s a heartbeat; that’s life; that’s what it’s about.” By the end of this 103 minute documentary you’ll feel as though you’ve experienced a personal one-on-one with the man. For students of film, By Sidney Lumet is essential viewing.

Plus, look-out for the British period costume drama, A Quiet Passion telling the story of 19-century poet Emily Dickinson, starring Cynthia Nixon, showing tonight at 6:10pm at Harkins Sedona 6 – Theatre 2.

Our highlight film of the day is Halfway to Zen which will play this afternoon at Sedona Performing Arts Center at 3:00pm. With the theme of Alzheimer’s Disease at its center, Halfway to Zen is truly a family affair. Here’s why.

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It’s a sobering fact. Because of advances in healthcare, people are living longer, which at first sounds like a good thing. But there’s a frightening reality that goes along with it. More people are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease. In turn, this also means that more families are having to deal with the issue of providing care for a family member, usually a parent, while trying to find and maintain a balance in their own lives. Maybe it’s happening to you. In the new drama, Halfway to Zen, it’s happening to Nick.

I’m looking for my pop,” states Nick (John Adams) to local regulars in his small town who may be able to help. “Have you seen my pop?”

Pop (Robert Lund), whose dementia is rapidly increasing, has wandered away from home again. His son, Nick, continually struggles with the responsibility of looking after his father while trying to keep his job as a short-order cook in a burger joint, but he’s walking a thin line. Recently released from prison, maintaining that balance between earning a meager living and acting as caregiver is becoming increasingly difficult, made even tougher due to his father’s belligerency and the old man’s insistence that he will never be sent to a care home. Plus, as the doctor states, Pop’s diabetes is out of control. Whether the old man likes it or not, he needs professional home-care.

Then there occurs something of a change in the household. Nick’s ex, Vick (Toby Poser) and his eleven year-old daughter Edie (Zelda Adams) need to stay with Pop and Nick for a short while. But they have their own baggage. Vick has had a stroke resulting with partial muscle loss on one side of her face and slurred speech, while daughter Edie insists she’s a boy and demands that she be called Eddie from now on. “I’m a boy in my heart,” the girl insists. “Done. Period.”

The bulk of the film becomes a series of small dramas and personal self-reflections as Nick, Vick and Edie, or Eddie, unearth feelings and realities related to their past and how it’s affecting their present. Why did Nick and Vick part? What was it that caused Nick to spend so long in jail? What kind of negative impact has Nick’s absence from his daughter’s life had on Edie? And while all of this is being explored, there’s always the presence and the problem of Pop whose mind is fading away to the point where he often doesn’t even know who his caregiving son is.

Was he a good father?” asks Edie. “No,” responds Nick with a surprising bluntness when talking to his daughter. “He was an angry drunk.”

But among the drama there’s also the occasional moment of humor. A sign in a local park reads ‘No Soccer,’ yet Nick and Edie kick their soccer ball around it. And when Vick responds to another insult from Pop with a quick f-bomb, her daughter compliments her mother. “Mom, you said that really well,” says Edie. Vick smiles as much as her facial muscles allow, and gives her daughter a thumbs up.

The theme of self-refection is also taken literally when at certain beats throughout the film, each of the four main characters look at themselves in the bathroom mirror. For Nick, it’s a rehearsal on how to say, “Hi, Vick,” as if pleased to see his ex again after all these years, while trying to sound sincere. For Vick, it’s to see how she looks when she attempts to smile without her lips appearing crooked. For Pop it’s to stare at himself, though with a mind wracked with dementia, it’s hard to know what he may be thinking. He may be wondering who that guy in the mirror might be. And for daughter Edie, it’s applying mascara, but not to her eyelashes; to her face. She paints on a comical mustache and a tiny goatee as if wondering what her inner Eddie might look with a little facial hair.

There’s a chance that audiences may become divided on the film’s conclusion. While there’s certainly hope for the family, the sight of a figure walking into a sunset (as seen on the film’s poster) has the potential to come across as either awkward or fanciful, and not altogether realistic, particularly after having previously achieved the stark reality of Nick’s home life so successfully. But at the same time, there’s something ultimately touching with the film’s sense of visual poetry and how it wants to end its story. Pop no longer sees the world in any literal sense. In fact, at this point of his dementia, and with diabetes destroying his body, it’s hard to know how Pop sees or interprets anything. It may work for some, not for others, but at the very least, it’s a perfect launching pad for a lively post-presentation discussion.

Halfway to Zen is a true family affair. John Adams and Toby Poser, in addition to starring, co-wrote and co-directed the film, while their daughter, Zelda, appears as their on-screen daughter, Edie. Plus their other daughter, Lulu, briefly appears as a care-home nurse. And for the record, besides playing the role of Vick, Poser both produced and executive produced the film, while Adams composed the music and edited the production. He is also credited as the film’s cinematographer. It truly is an Adams Family film.

And for trivia buffs, you may be amused to learn that the film’s title is based on the mispronunciation of the German word for ‘goodbye.’ The film’s set photographer, Deanna M. Lehman, had a young friend who would always say “Auf Wiedersehen” when she parted. For a long time, Deanna had always thought her friend was saying “Halfway to Zen.” It was years later when she discovered what the phrase actually meant. That mistake was then written into the film. It’s where where Pop is doing a newspaper crossword. He asks for help and can’t fully understand what Vick is trying to say.

Halfway to Zen is showing today, Monday, February 20, 3pm at Sedona Performing Arts Center, with a second showing on Thursday, February 23, 12:20pm at Harkins Sedona 6 – Theatre 6

For the official 23rd Sedona International Film Festival website CLICK HERE 

Posted in 2017 Sedona International Film Festival Reports

Day 2 – The 23rd Sedona International Film Festival: Perfume War

A full slate of films are scheduled for Day 2 of the 23rd Sedona International Film Festival, beginning at 9am with the fifty-five minute documentary The Great Transmission at Harkins Sedona 6.  Also screening at 9:00am, the film that is currently nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, I Am Not Your Negro at Mary D. Fisher Theatre.

I Am Not Your Negro, described as an incendiary new documentary, will have a second showing on Wednesday, 12:00pm, also at Mary D. Fisher Theatre, and is not to be missed. Look for a closer, in-depth review of this powerful Oscar-nominated film on our Day 5, Wednesday report.

Other films of note include Score: A Film Music Documentary, which, exactly as the title suggests, covers the creative process of writing film scores and illustrates how just a few notes on a piano keyboard end up in the most dramatic moments of a film’s emotional climax. Also, look for the American feature length comedy, The Merry Maids of Madness, inspired by the women of Shakespeare.

Following Friday evening’s Cloris on Comedy with the festival’s special guest, Academy Award-winner Cloris Leachman, the 23rd Sedona International Film Festival presents a showing of the Robert DeNiro film The Comedian at Sedona Performing Arts Center this evening at 6pm. The screening will include an introduction by Cloris, who is featured in the film. The real pleasure of The Comedian is the enjoyment of watching De Niro surrounded by a first-rate supporting cast of outstanding comedians and comic actors. In addition to seeing both Jimmie Walker and Brett Butler playing themselves at a ‘TV Nostalgia Night,’ there’s also Danny DeVito, Patti LuPone, Leslie Mann, Harvey Keitel, plus, the best scene of all, a Friars Club salute to Cloris, giving us glimpses of Charles Grodin, Richard Belzer, Billy Crystal and Gilbert Gottfried.

Our highlight film of the day, and one that you do not want to overlook, is a Canadian documentary feature of a woman fighting for peace in a unique way: Perfume War.

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At the beginning of the new documentary from director Michael Melski, Perfume War, you’ll see a set of home videos. They were filmed in 2005 by a man called Trevor Greene, a soldier in the Canadian Army who was about to serve in Afghanistan. The videos were meant for his daughter Grace so that she could see her father on TV while he was away. He called them his ‘Daddy Productions.’

What happened next is best summed up by single mom, Barb Stegemann in a sobering, introductory voice-over. “My best friend was serving in the Canadian forces,” she begins, while black and white images of Trevor talking to local villagers in Afghanistan cross the screen. “He was discussing how to bring clean drinking water and health care to the families of the village, and a man, who didn’t want to see his community have free thought or free will, put a Taliban ax to my best friend’s head.”

It’s a dramatic, somber opening, but when told in this frank and to-the-point manner, you better understand why a person like Barb Stegemann was inspired to do what what she went on to do. “She’s created something extraordinary,” states CEO and co-founder of Speakers’ Spotlight, Farah Vinsky Perelmuter.

Trevor Greene wanted to make the world a better place, but his attempts were brought to a halt. His best friend, Barb, decided to continue the work, but in a unique way. She knew that as a woman she would have to find a new path in order to fight for peace, and as the documentary shows, she achieved that path not with weapons but with ideas, with empathy, and with a compassion for others. Perfume War is the story of Trevor and Barb, best friends who met at college and who went on to inspire each other in ways neither could have ever imagined. Naysayers said Barb could never do it. Doctors said that Trevor, who survived the attack, would never walk again. In Perfume War you’ll witness how, against all odds, Barb built her company, and how, against all obstacles, Trevor built his body.

Told with on-screen interviews from both family and friends, including Trevor, whose skull had to be rebuilt after that horrifying attack, the documentary’s first thirty minutes introduces us to the remarkable Barb, the difficulties of her early life growing up with her family in a small, rural town in Nova Scotia where she lived on welfare, and the attempts to overcome the bullying while at school. “It was painful,” she admits, but it also toughened her up. It became the positive groundwork for the kind of determined person she would eventually become

From time to time, the film uses philosophical quotes from Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD. Shown in white lettering on a black background, they’re like chapter headings, heralding a new segment, or simply moments of reflective truths, serving as reminders of how to think but from a fresh perspective. After we read: ‘Accept the things to which fate binds you and love the people with whom fate brings you together’ the film covers the time that fate brought Barb and Trevor together. “It was never a romantic thing,” Barb narrates. “Just… brother and sister.” But it was the foundation of something special. They pushed and inspired each other to always try harder.

The remaining hour covers the period when, after Trevor’s horrendous attack, Barb was inspired to continue the work. With interviews, TV clips and images of Barb giving inspirational speeches to highly attentive audiences, we witness the slow progression of Barb’s ideas, how she presented them to others, and how it was all to do with the making, distributing and the selling of… perfume.

Afghanistan was once this glorious, prosperous, stunningly beautiful country, filled with gardens and orchards and families, completely unoppressed by terror,” Barb tells us, with images supporting her words. “I wanted the fragrance to conjure that vision.

How she does it, how her appearance as a contestant with an idea and a vision on the TV show Dragon’s Den contributed, what she was up against in the ruthless world of business, and how her start-up social enterprise rebuilt the lives of others and empowered peace is what makes Perfume War such a riveting and frankly, an unusual documentary. After all, who could ever imagine that a fragrance could make such a powerful and life altering statement. “It’s about doing right,” Barb insists. “Not about the almighty dollar. I get sick and tired of the measure being about dollars and not about social change.”

Barb Stegemann, who, depending on hairstyle or the change of angle, can occasionally come across on camera as looking like either Arianna Huffington or actress Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), is a spitfire; an inspiration; a powerball of non-stop, entrepreneurial energy. As her business partner and philanthropist Brett Wilson states when talking of her verbally persuasive talent, “This is a woman who has been speaking since she left the womb.”

But the documentary ends, not with Barb but with how it began, with words from Canadian Army vet, Trevor Greene. His voice is raspy, but he’s alive, he’s a determined survivor, and he can talk, and he understands what the Taliban can do and how it can force the innocent to commit to doing something reprehensible. “I’ve forgiven my attacker,” Trevor states. “He was just a sixteen-year old. The Taliban probably kidnapped his family.”

As Emperor Marcus Aurelius is quoted a saying:Everything – a horse, a vine – is created for some duty. For what tasks, then, were you yourself created?’ Perfume War has a story to tell, but it also introduces us to two extraordinary people who, with a drive, a passion and a commitment, found their roles, their duties in life. Between them, they make the rest of us look nothing short of pedestrian.

Perfume War is showing today, Sunday, February 19, 12:20pm at Harkins Sedona 6, with a second showing on Tuesday, February 21, 6:15pm at Harkins Sedona 5

For the official 23rd Sedona International Film Festival website CLICK HERE

Posted in 2017 Sedona International Film Festival Reports

Day 1 – The 23rd Sedona International Film Festival: Born to Rewild

The numbers are staggering. More than 1,200 films were submitted for consideration. Just over 160 films were selected. And now, it’s official. The 23rd Sedona International Film Festival, set among the magnificence of the Sedona red rock mountains in Arizona, begins today, and will continue until Sunday, February 26.

Last evening saw an event at Sedona Performing Arts Center that served as a special introduction to the film festival. Actors Ed Asner and Valerie Harper joined colleague and friend, Academy Award winner Cloris Leachman for ‘Cloris on Comedy: An Evening with Cloris Leachman,’ where the duo proudly presented Leachman with the Sedona International Film Festival Achievement Award.

As a special salute to the actress/comedian of stage, film and television, two films with appearances from Cloris Leachman will be shown at the festival during the week. The newly released comedy/drama, The Comedian with Robert DeNiro is tomorrow, Sunday February 19, 6pm at Sedona Performing Arts Center, while the Mel Brooks 1974 classic comedy, Young Frankenstein will be shown later in the week on Tuesday, February 21, 3:10pm at Sedona Harkins 2.

As for today, films will be running from 9am this morning, beginning with the documentary The Million Dollar Duck and the engrossing French drama based on a true story, Fanny’s Journey, and concluding this evening with the Canadian production of the Hindi spoken drama, Under The Same Sun.

In addition to the Saturday films, officially heralding the opening of the 2017 Sedona International Film Festival will be a live performance from three-time Grammy Award-winner, Bruce Hornsby in concert with his band The Noisemakers. The performance starts tonight, 7pm at Sedona Performing Arts Center.

Each day throughout the festival, in addition to highlighting daily events, this column will also take a closer, more analytical look at certain films of particular interest that should not be overlooked. Today’s film of interest comes from local Sedona filmmaker Bryan Reinhart, Born to Rewild.

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Born to Rewild is a fifty-five minute documentary that invites audiences to accompany TrekWest adventurer John Davis on a five thousand mile journey from Mexico, across the United States, and up as far as the Canadian border.

The idea,” John explains during the opening moments, “is we need a continental wildlife corridor, a continental habitat connection, spanning islands, rocky mountains and adjacent deserts and grasslands.” As the film successfully points out, roads and development are closing in on America’s wildland, trapping wild animals in areas and habitats far too restrictive.

In North America,” John continues, “we’ve done a good job of protecting islands of habitat. We’ve protected national parks, national wildlife refugees, wilderness areas. These are all good things. it’s great that we’ve protected these places, but they’re too small. They’re too isolated. And unless habitats are connected, over the long term, they will loose species.”

John’s starting point is Sonora, Mexico. With Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run and Steppenwolf’s Born To Be Wild alternating in his head – hence the film’s hybrid title – John sets out on his mission to trek one long wildlife corridor, heading north, part of which will be through Arizona’s national treasure, the Grand Canyon, which John describes as a crown jewel of our national parks, though he’s quick to point out that it is far from fully protected. “As I would come to find out,” John explains, “The Colorado Plateau, even in its grandest parks, faces many threats, from busy roads to dams, to uranium mining.”

His days are spent hiking through deserts, climbing mountainous craggy peaks, running wild rapids, sometimes getting lost, pulling thorns out of his flat, fat bicycle tires, and thinking of solid food. His nights are spent studying maps and either sleeping in his small, gray tent, or simply resting under the stars. Much of this journey is spent alone, but John acknowledges that his trek was dependent on a community of conservation friends whom he continually meets along the way.

One of those conservationists, biologist Louisa Wilcox, pays compliment to John’s attempt to build bridges between Eco-systems for species like grizzly bears and other carnivorous creatures by observing that John is also making other kinds of bridges. “You’re making bridges between animals and people,” Louisa explains. “You’re making bridges between people’s understanding of what those animals can mean and do mean; that they mean more than pictures on a screen.”

After spending eight months on the trail either hiking, riding horseback, biking or paddling rafts, it’s Day 238 when John finally reaches Canada. Unlike the ugly wall along the southern border that John had to face before leaving Mexico (and one he describes as simply ‘ungodly’) there is no wall he has to encounter at the Canadian border. “Thank goodness,” John declares.

With some magnificent cinematography shot by the late Ed George, in whose memory the documentary is dedicated, Born to Rewild, directed by local Sedona filmmaker Bryan Reinhart along with Ed George, is a remarkable achievement. It’s a film of hope and of a big screen, visual splendor that serves as a reminder of just how stunningly beautiful the natural landscape of America truly is and should always remain. “If you ever need to find hope,” John explains during an early portion of the documentary, “look straight in the eyes of children who are still close to nature.

Born To Rewild can be seen this afternoon, Saturday, February 18, 3pm at Sedona Performing Arts Center, with a second performance on Monday, February 20, 9:20am at Harkins Sedona 6

For the official 2017 Sedona International Film Festival website CLICK HERE

Posted in 2017 Sedona International Film Festival Reports

A United Kingdom – Film Review

As told in the new and thoroughly satisfying drama A United Kingdom from director Amma Asante, the true, romantic story of Sir Seretse Khama, the man who would eventually become the first president of Botswana, is such an absorbing tale that during the film’s first act you begin to wonder why you had never heard of it. After all, the events revolving around a royal black man, studying abroad in London during the forties, meeting a young, white office-worker, falling in love and finally marrying, is an interracial, real-life fairy tale; he’s a prince, she’s a commoner.

Then the ugliness of the political drama and the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of the post-war British governments emerge, and it’s nothing to be proud of. While the story was headline news at the time, it’s little wonder there would be those happy to see it buried. Neither the Labor party and Prime Minister Clement Attlee, nor Sir Winston Churchill and his Conservative government come off looking particularly honorable.

A United Kingdom begins in London, 1947. Ruth Williams (a touching Rosamund Pike) and her sister Muriel (Laura Carmichael) go out one evening, socializing at a London Mission Society gathering. “Don’t come back a missionary,” jokes Ruth’s father (Nicholas Lyndhurst). It’s here, after a brief glance across the room, that Ruth meets Seretse (David Oyelowo with what sounds like a pitch-perfect accent). There’s an immediate attraction.

It’s not until later, after more dates with the highly educated student from overseas, that Seretse explains to Ruth who he really is. He’s the Prince of the African nation, Bechuanaland, known formerly as the British Protectorate of Bechuanaland; a country that would later become Botswana. Knowing the difficulties that would follow if their romance developed further – not only with Ruth’s father but one of a more global, international concern – Seretse is hesitant to continue with the relationship, but Ruth is in love, and so is he. “I would hate to walk away from this moment knowing I would not see you again,” he says. A late night proposal with Soretse on one knee results with an immediate acceptance. Despite the potential problems that were certain to follow, Seretse and Ruth marry at the South Kensington Registry Office.

The conflicts that follow once the couple leave England and fly to Africa become far greater than either Ruth or Seretse could have imagined. While newspaper headlines declare ‘Black King Takes White Queen Home,’ the couple find themselves in conflict with both the British and the South African governments, as well as apartheid, the people of Bechuanaland, Seretse’s family and his powerful uncle, who at the time was his regent and guardian. “You will obey me and divorce her,” demands the uncle (Vusi Kunene).

Sam McCurdy’s attractive widescreen cinematography nicely contrasts both the foggy, dreariness of cold, London evenings with the warm, golden hues of African sunsets and desert landscapes, while Guy Hibbert’s screenplay does an admirable job of streamlining complicated issues and presenting them in easily defined ways. The portrayals of the British government representatives overseas, as delivered by Jack Davenport and Tom Felton, may appear as borderline, hissable snots, but they get the job done. They’re not the caricatures some may think them to be.

Defying the wishes of the families involved and the seemingly insurmountable problems created by the resulting issues of government intervention were lengthy and incredibly complex matters. Perhaps there’ll be historians concerned that the simplification of the political issues somehow does a disservice to the telling of real-life events. It’s certainly a valid point if you’re looking for a documentary styled telling of an important piece of modern, western history, but in a film intended to be a romantic drama with broad appeal played against a backdrop of ugly, political intrigue, the way the story is framed, even if audiences remain unaware of the nuances of reprehensible government behavior, they’ll still leave the theatre with an overall knowledge of what occurred. A United Kingdom is ultimately inspirational.

MPAA Rating:  PG-13   Length:  111 Minutes   Overall Rating:  8 (out of 10)

 

Posted in Film