Friday morning, Day 7 at the 23rd Sedona International Film Festival starts with a wallop. Screening at 9:00am at Harkins Sedona 6 – Theatre 5, is the chilling new film that earlier won the Tribeca Film Festival award for Best Documentary. It’s director Craig Atkinson’s Do Not Resist, an account of the increasing use of military weapons and tactics by local law enforcement in the United States, counterpointed with civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri following the shooting of Michael Brown in 2014. The documentary was first screened at a sold out performance earlier in the week. This Friday morning screening gives Sedona festival attendees a second opportunity to see what they might have missed.
Also, look out for the new romantic comedy The Wedding Party that will have its first screening this evening at Harkins Sedona 6, 6:15pm. Written and directed by Thane Economou, the film follows the exploits of a heartbroken groomsman who does his best to hold together his best friend’s wedding reception while everything around him appears to be falling apart. The important thing to know about The Wedding Party is how it was shot: using just one camera on state-of-the-art stabilizing equipment with two camera operators, the 112-minute production was completed in one, single shot. From start to finish, the whole film plays out in real time. If you miss this evening’s screening, you’ll have a second opportunity tomorrow evening at 9pm, also at Harkins Sedona 6.
In addition to several first-time screenings throughout the day, Friday also offers several more chances to play catchup. The documentary Nuts! about Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, an eccentric genius who built an empire in Depression-era America with – no joke – a goat testicle impotence cure and a million watt radio station, will have a second screening, noon today at Harkins Sedona 6 -Theatre 1; The Island and the Whales, a documentary feature that tells of how the traditional hunting of seabirds and pilot whales, a source of food for the table, is at risk due to plastic flotsam filling the stomachs of the birds, and how the pilot whales are in danger of becoming contaminated with mercury and PCBs; plus a repeat screening of Reasons to Believe, a documentary that ponders why we believe what we believe, and ultimately asks us all to believe in reason. Reasons to Believe will screen this afternoon at Harkins Sedona 6 – Theatre 6,
This morning beginning at 9:00am also marks the final day in the week-long Filmmaker Conversation series at Mary D.Fisher Theatre. The subject this morning is The Distribution Game, where film distributors and other festival filmmakers explore not only the problems of making a film and getting it completed, but once done, pushing it into the market place and in front of audiences.
And for a much-welcomed, end of the week, live-presentation, five-time Grammy nominee Michael Feinstein brings his Ira Gershwin Program and The Great American Songbook to Sedona for a special concert celebrating Music in the Movies, 6:00pm at Sedona Performing Arts Center.
Our highlighted movie of the day is another festival screening of a film with a central theme of dementia and how the issue affects not only the patient but those around them, Broken Memories.
In the new romantic-drama Broken Memories from director Michael Worth, even though words like dementia and Alzheimer’s remain unspoken, it’s only a few minutes into the film when you realize what’s happening to Jasper (Rance Howard), and it’s nothing short of heartbreaking.
As often happens, the elderly man has wandered away from the house, one he shares in the country with his son, Levi (Ivan Sergei). Jasper’s gone fishing. When the sheriff turns up by the side of the lake and calls for Jasper to come out of the water, the lawman tells him that Levi is worried. Jasper looks up from the surface of the lake, puzzled. With a quizzical expression, he asks, “Who?”
What’s interesting about those early moments are the fragments of things remembered as Jasper holds on to that fishing rod while standing waist-deep in the water; memories of something of the past that flicker through his scrambled mind. One is an image of a young woman happily dancing in a field, while another is of a house somewhere in the country. Those familiar with Alzheimer’s are only too aware of how the mind robs its victim of recent memories, yet events and memories of the past, particularly the long past, can remain for some time with surprising clarity. Jasper’s broken memories are of the past; they’re of his wife when she was young, and of the house in which he lived. As Jasper says in a rare moment of reflective lucidity, “Are we just made up of the memories we hold on to?”
And there are other signs of Jasper’s disease. When Levi volunteers to help his father dig a hole in order to plant a lemon tree by their country farm house, Jasper refuses his help, telling his son, “Why don’t you clean out the stables, you know, like we hired you to do.”
It’s clear that Levi needs help, and that comes in the shape of Maggie (Kelly Greyson), a young woman, hired to assist in the cleaning, the cooking, and to generally keep her eye on Jasper so that he doesn’t wander off again. Once Maggie arrives, the changes in the home are immediate. Her presence re-invigorates the elderly Jasper, who often mistakes the new helper as his wife. “Silvie,” he cries, “Silvie, I’ve missed you so much.”
Surprisingly, dementia and how it affects both patient and caregiver is a subject rarely explored with any noteworthy depth in modern cinema. Julianne Moore’s excellent Still Alice (2015) springs to mind, but in that film, all characters were both wealthy and highly educated; Alice knew what was happening to her, with a result that her behavior to the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease and the reactions of her family were vastly different from that of an average family continually struggling for knowledge and understanding.
In Broken Memories, Levi, like most family members faced with the prospect of parents slowly losing their minds, is often at a loss. When he tells Maggie he wants all things in the house to be grounded in reality – it’s the only way that he can handle things – she points out that Jasper’s reality is different from theirs. And when Jasper has another of his rare moments of clarity and can express himself, he wonders why the people he knew, and who, in his world of fragmented memories, seemed to be there just moments ago, are now no longer around. “They’re here and then they’re gone,” he states, genuinely concerned and looking for understanding. Then he turns to Maggie while still thinking of her as his departed wife. “I’m old and you’re young,” he states. “How can that be?”
But there are also moments of welcomed, gentle humor. When the appealing Maggie falls underwater by the lake and emerges with her dress clinging to her body – a sight that would turn any man’s head – the elderly Jasper glances at his son and states, “I don’t think you should be looking at your momma like that.”
Perhaps what surprises the most about Broken Memories is that while writer Frankie Lauderdale’s script treats the central theme with dignity – Jasper is never the subject of fun, nor of mawkish sentimentality – the film turns from drama to unexpected melodrama towards the final act. A subplot reveals that Maggie has some baggage of her own. She’s separated from her husband, an irrational character called Buck (an appropriately menacing Michael Worth), and he’s not ready to let her go, resulting with a moment of unforeseen violence. What happens is a shocking event, not because of anything gratuitous, but because it is sudden and unexpected. Fortunately, what occurs is handled quick, but the results are tragic, and the relationships between Maggie, Levi and Jasper can never be the same.
Russell Bell’s widescreen cinematography has an eye-catching, almost dreamy, pastoral look to everything, highlighting the slowly evolving romance between Levi and Maggie that may or may not eventually surface. Imagine romance novelist Nicholas Sparks had taken a deep breath and decided to write another romantic-drama with two attractive leads in an idyllic location but with a more serious center to his tale; that’s how Broken Memories often feels, but that’s no bad thing.
Festival audiences should respond positively. The film and this outstanding cast deserve it.
Broken Memories will screen today, Friday, Februaury 24, 6pm at Mary D. Fisher Theatre, with a second screening, also at Mary D. Fisher Theatre, on Saturday, February 25, 6pm