It’s the final weekend of the 22nd Annual Sedona International Film Festival for 2016. Check the schedule for the next two days and you’ll find a lineup packed with opportunities to not only see first run features but a chance to play catch up with films that might have slipped by. And if you’re concerned of missing tomorrow evening’s Oscars from Hollywood, the festival can help. You can be a part of Oscar on the Rocks with fellow festival goers at two locations tomorrow evening; the Mary D. Fisher Theatre and Harkins Sedona 6, both at 6pm. As Festival Executive Director Patrick Schweiss said, “We’ve got you covered.”
Look for second showings of Evan’s Crime, Memoria and the locally produced Sacred Journeys, all covered throughout the week in this column, plus this evening, 6pm at the Sedona Performing Arts Center, the Sedona Film Festival honors actor Elliot Gould with this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award, hosted by film critic, Jeffrey Lyons. The evening will include a Q&A with the audience, plus a screening of one of the actor’s favorite films.
In what some may consider a departure from the regular fare of a film festival, later this afternoon at 3pm, Harkins Sedona 6, audiences can enjoy the family friendly horror comedy, Hybrids, the story of two teenagers born of very different parents. How different? Mom is a witch; dad is a vampire, and they all live together in a dreary castle where those late night cracks of lightning are just a regular part of the scenery. But the teenagers – the hybrids of the title – are restless and looking to live a normal life. Possessing the abilities of both parents, teenagers Blaz and his sister Velana flea the discomfort of sleeping in coffins and head to the warmth of Florida. All they want to do is sleep in real beds and act like real teenagers. But there’s always someone, or more importantly, something with two doofus henchmen getting in their way.
Directed by Tony Randel and written by Tony Schweikle, Hybrids is a genial comedy for the young that knows its target audience and delivers. With its funny though intentionally uncomplicated plot, plus a new twist on what we usually refer to as a hybrid, the film is exactly what you might expect to catch with your children one evening on cable. In addition to the appearance of Paul Sorvino known simply as The Count who introduces the film and sets both the tone and the style of the humor to come, look for a genuinely delightful performance from Leanne Agmon as Velana. In a film populated by comical vampires and witches, Leanne’s rendition of a song called Shadows and Light is truly haunting. Bela Lugosi would be proud.
A film that premiered last evening at the festival will have its second showing today at 3:30pm. Try to include For the Coyotes on your agenda for all the following reasons. Here’s a full review.
The first thing you notice with director/writer Eric Metzgar’s For the Coyotes is just how handsomely shot this widescreen, two-person drama really is. Throughout, due to the film’s deliberate, slow-paced style, we’re continually afforded the luxury of studying all corners of the frame; shots are held for long periods before cutting away.
When we first meet Wendell Pierce (James Carpenter) it’s from what looks like a home movie from 1991, shot while he was a renowned Buddhist teacher, advising his off-screen followers that, “Holding fast to an idea is delusion.” Cut to seventeen years later. An early morning, out of the blue call to his son Josh (Joshua Schell) results with an invitation for the young man to come up to the cabin. It’s an uneasy conversation. “I’d rather talk about it in person,” Wendell tells his Josh. With obvious reluctance, Josh heads to the cabin in the woods.
When the two first meet, things feel as uneasy as that initial call. Josh notices that his father is not walking as well as he should. “Creaky,” says dad. They sit at either end of the lengthy dinner table, facing each other, the space between them a symbol of the distance developed over the past five years. It’s a moment reminiscent of the way Orson Welles shot Citizen Kane when Kane and his wife were drifting apart. In that classic 1941 masterpiece you see the space between husband and wife growing with each new dinner scene until finally they’re at the far ends of long table, never to be close again. In For the Coyotes, there is no gradual development of space; from the beginning, father and son are already apart.
“Do you need money?” asks Josh. “Is that why you called?” But the request for son to visit father is not financial; it’s health. Wendell has cancer, stage four. “That’s, like, the worst, right?” asks Josh. The title of the film comes from Wendell’s request. With an unfaltering decision to avoid treatment, principally chemo – “I have decided to stop my own clock at a time of my own choosing,” he says – father asks son that when the time comes he is to be taken up the mountains and left for the coyotes. That’s dad’s dying wish.
There are no other characters in the film. What we need to know comes from the adversarial conversations throughout. Wendell appears to have found an inner peace having forgiven himself for his past failings; he cheated on his wife while engaging in affairs with his students resulting with a divorce and an estranged son. Josh, on the other hand, continues to carry the burden of anger for a father whom he sees as a hypocrite; one who taught Buddhist principles of inner peace and enlightenment but through his actions displayed the behavior of a man both flawed and selfish. “Your life is one big con,” Josh tells his father.
Occasionally, whole scenes consist of one take, allowing us the time to search both the beauty of the exterior shots of Northern California’s redwood forest and the interior setting of the cabin in the woods. Plus, and perhaps more importantly in an intimate drama such as this, we can also study the faces of the two leads.
The film plays out like a piece of theatre, a character driven play of two people talking in a room, adapted and expanded for the big screen. There is no clever word play. In this piece, it’s the silence between the accusations that tell all. Josh believes his father has burned every bridge the man has ever crossed. He is convinced that his father lived these last remaining years hidden away in the woods to escape a scandal. When the two look at each other, in the silence of the moment, you can almost hear the younger man’s mind ticking over, wondering how best to express an inner anger while watching the older man slowly fade before him. “I wanna believe you’ve changed,” Josh tells his father, but he’s having difficulty accepting it. He can’t let go of his resentment. When his father tells Josh how much he would like to hear his son play the piano once again, Josh replies, “I’d rather use the piano for firewood than play a single note for you.”
How the relationship develops until the final, poignant conclusion takes up the bulk of the film. For the Coyotes demands your patience – things gradually unfold as if Wendell’s life is now playing out in slow-mo while his cancer accelerates – but it’s that deliberate, measured pacing that gives the film its strength. Well played by the two leads and well crafted by documentarian Eric Metzgar in his directorial debut, For the Coyotes holds your attention right up until the fade out. It’s one of the best films shown this week at the 2016 Sedona Festival.