The 21st Sedona International Film Festival – Sand Castles and Weekend Features

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After an almost dizzying though undeniably fun week of movie watching, the closing weekend for the 21st Sedona International Film Festival has arrived, though rather than thinking of it as a festival winding down, consider today and tomorrow your chance to catch-up with some of the best of the best, films you may have missed, or perhaps a couple you’d like to revisit.

Water picIn addition to the festival’s week-long salute to the life and work of Orson Welles with a 3pm Saturday afternoon showing of Citizen Kane on the big screen, look out for a not-to-be-missed closing night live performance from engaging raconteur, John Walters in his one-man show, This Filthy World.

Also, check listings for showings of feature films and documentaries previously mentioned in this column, including repeat performances of documentaries such as The Immigration Paradox and The Outrageous Sophie Tucker, plus narrative features such as Girl on the Edge, Frank vs. God and the film that has already garnered several awards from previous film festivals around the country, Sand Castles.

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Sand Castles poster

Set in rural Indiana, Sand Castles tells of the impoverished Daly family continually haunted by a tragedy that occurred more than a decade ago.  It’s a nightmare that never ends.  After a family trip to the beach, little Lauren Daly mysteriously disappeared, snatched by a stranger.

The devastation felt by the remaining family members understandably causes their lives to spiral down, out of control, resulting with dad taking his life while mom (an outstanding Saxon Trainor) drowns in a world of cigarettes and booze, leaving their son Noah (Jordon Hodges) to basically fend for himself.

Then, a decade later, the unimaginable occurs.  “There’s no easy way to say this,” a cop tells the family.  “We found Lauren.”

Somehow, the little girl, now a teenager, has escaped from the confines of wherever she was held captive, but the trauma of the past ten years or so has resulted in a complete shutdown: she doesn’t speak.  The only potential clue to what might have happened to her is a well-worn copy of the Charles Dickens classic Great Expectations.  The significance of the novel and why the young girl appears to read and re-read the book is later revealed, but to the frustration of the social worker assigned to the case, Alison Paige (Daniella Grace), Lauren refuses to allow anyone to touch her dog-eared copy.  In an attempt to break through the young girl’s silence and hopefully open up a channel of communication with her, Alison buys her own copy of the book and even takes both Lauren and Noah to a local community theatre production of the novel.

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Sand Castles –  a title referring not only to that fateful day at the beach but also the fragility of an existence that can be swept away by a single wave in one, brief, unexpected moment – is an impressive debut from Jordon Hodges, who here does triple duty as actor, writer and co-producer.  There’s little wonder as to why the film has already collected a number of festival awards; Sand Castles has its flaws, but the overall impression you’re left with as you leave the theatre is one of immense satisfaction, the result of witnessing an ambitious story well told and the introduction to a new talent; Jordon Hodges.

As writer, Hodges uses only slight reveals to illustrate important key moments.  It’s up to us, the audience, to recognize the clues.  Imagine trying to fit pieces of a jig-saw into place but without the aid of the picture on the box.  Flashbacks occur, but they’re brief; they flash on the screen in the same way a thought may suddenly spring to mind, lasting just a few seconds, often shorter.  With an economy of dialog, feelings are often illustrated by the briefest of glances or an accusatory look.  When ex-cop and close family member, Tommy Daly (Randy Spence) buys Lauren her own, small fridge – the kind a student may have for convenience in the dorm – the young girl unexpectedly runs forward and hugs her uncle, burying her head in his chest.  It’s a touching and genuinely heartfelt family moment made all the more effective due to the simple absence of dialog.  But occasionally there are the few odd missteps.

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The scene where Tommy’s ex-partner, now detective (Scott Jemison) angrily berates Lauren out of frustration for her continual silence develops into something unnecessarily overwrought and not particularly well-played, plus the sudden romance between Noah and the attractive social worker occurs completely out of nowhere.  The moment when Alison suddenly kisses Noah is meant to surprise, which it certainly does, but up until that moment there has been no indication whatsoever of the social worker’s attraction to Lauren’s big brother.  The romance needs to happen in order for later events to occur, but somehow that initial moment feels both wrong and unnatural.  There’s also the appearance of an important, extra scene that runs in the middle of the closing credits.  It’s not an add-on; it’s an integral part of the mystery and needs to be seen earlier rather than at the conclusion of the cast list.

However, backed by an outstanding, atmospheric score from musician Todd Maki and solid performances from Hodges, Trainer and Spence, plus an effective appearance from Clint Howard whose somewhat creepy presence only adds to the overall mystery of Lauren’s kidnapper, director Clenet Verdi-Rose has delivered a feature that needs to venture further than the confines of the festival circuit.  More importantly, it introduces us to Jordon Hodges.  Remember the name.

You can enjoy a repeat performance of Sand Castles tonight (Saturday) at 9:10, plus make sure you catch the outstanding twenty minute proceeding short, Unspoken.  It’s an extremely well made film from writer/director Eric Otten exploring the effects of Alzheimer’s.  The setup needs no explanation.  See it for yourself.

Posted in Sedona International Film Festival Reports

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