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

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