The 21st Sedona International Film Festival: A Twist of Lemmon, The Patent Wars and The Outrageous Sophie Tucker

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It’s day 6 at the 21st International Sedona Film Festival.  Unlike the beginning of the week, the sun has broken through, and this morning, festival goers are waking up after an evening of some outstanding entertainment that came not necessarily from the big screen but from the stage.

Twist poster

Four years in the making, Chris Lemmon presented his acclaimed one-man musical show performed in the voice of his beloved father, Jack Lemmon in A Twist of Lemmon, staged at the Sedona Performing Arts Center to a packed and hugely receptive festival audience.   Incorporating voices from the Golden Age of Hollywood, behind-the-scenes stories from the entertainment industry, plus some sublime music from Gershwin, Chris Lemmon endeavored to answer the one question that has been asked of him all of his life: What was it like to be Jack Lemmon’s son?

Earlier in the day, Chris dropped by the festival’s Media Room to talk about his father, the show, and what it was like growing up in Arizona while attending Sedona’s Verde Valley School.   “I majored in skinny dipping at Oak Creek and minored in falling off horses,” he joked, looking and sounding uncannily like his father.  When questioned about his father’s love for music and playing the piano, Chris remarked, “His dream was to become a musician, but his passion was acting.

Chris Lemmon

The stories from the show were funny, sad, touching and, more importantly, revealing.  As Chris said with regards to the question that has followed him all of life, he said, “I’m not even the best person to answer it.  After all, I was just a kid.  No, there was someone who had a much clearer view of the impact of that one little question on my formative years: my father, Jack Lemmon.”

The reason behind the show and the book was one of catharsis after Jack Lemmon died.  Chris admits that in earlier days the parent/child relationship was mostly adversarial.  “But,” he added, “If that’s the same with you and your parent, heal it.”

Affording a glimpse into the life of both Chris and his famous father was a memorable treat and a genuine privilege to watch.

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Look out for two outstanding documentaries that have already played once at the festival but have yet to have their second showing.   The Outrageous Sophie Tucker and The Patent Wars could not be more different in content yet both fascinate in unexpected ways.

Patent poster

At first glance, the idea of making a documentary about patents hardly appears like a compelling subject for a full length documentary, yet as soon as writer/director Hannah Leonie Prinzler tells us in a voice over, “In America, patents have been taken out on human genes,” you suddenly pay attention.    “A patent on human genes?” she asks.  Prinzler goes on to tell us that corporations have registered for patents on human cells, broccoli, yoga positions, even sandwiches, but for what purpose?   For the following eighty minutes, the documentarian travels the globe, hopping from Geneva, Germany, England, India, Spain and even to Phoenix, Arizona in search of answers.   What she discovers is not necessarily what you want to hear.

A patent is something easy to explain: it gives inventors a temporary monopoly on their invention.  It protects their idea.  Enter Lisbeth Ceriani and Myriad Genetics.  Lisbeth is a cancer patient in urgent need of tests, yet to her horror she discovers that Myriad Genetics have placed a patent on the gene in question.  The result?  No one other than Myriad can conduct the test.  The monopoly is theirs.  In order for Lisbeth to get the treatment she requires she would have to pay Myriad at least $4000, an outrageous amount considering that the test required is a straight-forward blood test.  In other words, Myriad Genetics owns Lisbeth’s gene and no one, not even Lisbeth, has the legal right to draw any blood or run any tests on it.  The company can then charge anything it wants.  The documentary asks, if they (Myriad) can patent a gene, who says they won’t patent an embryo, or maybe sometime in the future, people?  The real shocker – besides the enormous amount of money Lisbeth would have to pay for her life-saving though simple blood test – is that Myriad is doing no research on the gene to develop cures.  No one else can, either.

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With statements from patent experts, lawyers, inventors and ultimately suffering victims, The Patent Wars is an unexpectedly astonishing and shocking investigation into the murky world of patents exploring how exceptionally high prices can be charged for products, many of which should never be patented in the first place.  As Prinzler tells us at the conclusion of the film, “The complicated rules of the patent have a far more reaching effect on our lives than one could ever imagine.”   Who knew?

The Patent Wars, written, directed and narrated by Hannah Leonie Prinzler, can be seen again Friday morning at 9:20.   Stand in line.

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Sophie poster

If you’ve ever had the opportunity of seeing Bette Midler perform live you were probably treated to a skit revolving around a larger than life character called Soph along with her boyfriend, Ernie.  Soph was based on Sophie Tucker, a Ukranian born, American comedian, singer and actress who at the turn of the last century went on to become one of the most famous entertainers of vaudeville.  In the new and exceptionally entertaining documentary The Outrageous Sophie Tucker we get to see just how outrageous she was.

Known as The Last of the Red Hot Mamas, the bold and brassy Sophie Tucker was truly larger than life, both figuratively and literally.  In fact, her weight became an integral part of her act, often referring to herself as being simply fat and proud of it.

During the film’s introduction we learn that Sophie lived through eleven presidents and knew eight personally.  She was also a friend to both J.Edgar Hoover and Al Capone, plus she was the first performer to market herself in a way that today has become the norm but unknown during Sophie’s time, such as book signings and endorsing products.

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Told through archival footage and pictures, The Outrageous SophieTucker was produced by husband and wife team, Lloyd and Susan Ecker, both of whom discovered that every photograph, every newspaper clipping and every piece of paper that had passed through Sophie’s hands were kept in scrapbooks; 400 of them, each painting a picture of a fascinating life.  Between the years 1906 to 1966, when Sophie died of a lung ailment and kidney failure, everything that ever happened to Sophie was kept in those scrapbooks.   In one, telling, laugh-out-loud moment, we learn how J. Edgar Hoover asked Sophie after a show, “By the way.  When you’re done with that dress, could I have it?”

Sophie was married three times but none lasted more than five years.  In Sophie’s own words, “What man would want to go through life known as Mr. Sophie Tucker?”

For followers of the history of showbiz, The Outrageous Sophie Tucker is a true joy.  You can catch a repeat performance of the documentary on Saturday at 3:20 pm.

For a complete look at the festival schedule grid CLICK HERE.

Posted in Sedona International Film Festival Reports

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