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Film Fest


Steve Taylor and Penny Allsop, our special correspondents from across the pond, end their tour of the Deep South with an enchanting stop to see Rise of the Guardians.

 

Photo courtesy of SCAD

As guests of one of Savannah magazine's Jane Townsend, we enjoyed a week of touring the South before returning to the Hostess City to enjoy the hugely successful 15th Savannah Film Festival. The final night of the festival saw a host of awards to the week's filmmakers, many of them deserving SCAD alumni and current students. Highlights included two awards for 12:15 Sunday, a beautifully-realized World War II docudrama, and Missed Connections, the rom-com that delighted the audience so much on Thursday night, it was no surprise it won the audience award. The former student/winner of the evening's final award ended the ceremony with this apposite advice: "Follow the ways of your heart, not the ways of the world." Then the audience settled in for Rise of the Guardians, Dreamworks' latest animated film, shown in RealD 3D—a first for the film festival. Although alive with equally vivid color and action, this tale of the Immortal Guardians (a super force made up of otherwise benign childhood figures, such as the Tooth Fairy and Jack Frost),  it was better suited to a younger, matinee audience than to the mature movie aficionados attending the festival.  Having said that, the audience laughed in all the right places.  The humor was laid on thick and fast, even though the plotting and characters were, at times, clumsily contrived. The same could not be said of the splendid after party, which saw Savannah's finest dressed to the nines in Poetter Hall.  An eclectic mix of young and old were served delectable amuse bouches by SCAD students.  The succulent pork on cornbread was especially noteworthy.  Many in the lively crowd danced to the vintage sound of The Vistas.  It captured the spirit of the week and made us long for the 16th annual festival to get here sooner rather than later.

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As the 15th annual Savannah Film Festival draws nearer to its close, audiences show no sign of slowing down. Jonathan Able keeps up with the pack.

It’s the second to last night before the Savannah Film Festival draws its curtains once more, yet the energy buzzing around the Trustees Theater tonight was simply electrifying. Audience members eager to see the darling movie musical, The Sapphires, flooded the front doors of the theatre, and hurriedly took their seats. The master of ceremonies, executive director Danny Filson, took the stage and joked, “Anyone see any good movies lately?” After a few brief words, thanking sponsors and various festival participants, Filson once again introduced SCAD’s Co-Founder and President Paula Wallace.  Wallace welcomed guests, and offer heartfelt thanks to the unsung heroes of the festival: staffers including Filson, Len Cripe and Christina Routhier, among others. President Wallace then introduced Outstanding Achievement in Cinema honoree, Matt Dillon. More than one audience member swooned as Dillon walked across the stage. Humbled with gratitude, Dillon began by saying, “Thank you very, very much.” He continued to speak highly of the film festival, its beneficial offerings for students, and how it stands apart from other festivals he’s attended. “[It’s] better than your typical film festival,” he said. Next, audiences overwhelmingly delighted in the Australian treat, The Sapphires. Even Twitter users took to texting their sentiments, using festival hashtag #savff. User @ReelGA tweeted, “THE SAPPHIRES was a tremendous crowd pleaser...” “Great night at #savff! Loved loved loved #TheSapphires!” raved @halle_michelle. After the show, film fest carried the good vibes across the street to SCAD’s Gutstein Gallery for Friday evening’s reception. Lined with large-scale canvases of student artwork, the gallery provided a modern and ambient space for the event. SCAD students and festival volunteers passed trays of international hors d'oeuvres, including Asian-inspired chicken rolls with spicy mayonnaise and bite-sized Greek spanakopita. Guests were lightly dressed for the fair fall weather, with bits of scarves and shawls speckling shoulders throughout the room. With its final day of films on the horizon, the festival appears to be gaining speed rather than quieting down.

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Director Wayne Blair’s movie musical plays all the hits. Audiences (and Jonathan Able) sing along.

Photo courtesy of SCAD

Stop reading this review right now. Seriously, stop. Open a new browser window, and Google when, where and how you can see a screening of Australian-based musical comedy, The Sapphires. Once you’ve figured that out, resume reading this review. This charming songbird of cinematic experience is the product of down under director Wayne Blair, and screenwriters Tony Briggs and Keith Thompson. Based on Briggs’s 2005 play of the same name, The Sapphires tells the story of four Australian Aboriginal Supremes-like songstresses trying to make a name for themselves in the politically turbulent late 1960s as they tour Vietnam singing to troops. Set against the backdrop of war, Briggs’s story is so much more than sequined dresses, R&B chart toppers and beehive hairstyles. Civil rights agendas around the world were gaining visibility, and the film largely sings the song of the Australian Aborigines in a time when they were relegated to missions, openly segregated and denigrated in public, and when the fairer-skinned children were stolen from their homes and assimilated into white families.  Those children became known as the “Stolen Generation.” Against, the weighty backdrop, the cast soars...exquisitely. There’s not a moment in the film where The Sapphires aren’t captivating audiences. The group is made up of three sisters: the strong-willed Gail (Deborah Mailman), vivacious Cynthia (Miranda Tapsail), and dramatic diva Julie (Jessica Mauboy), and their cousin, the fairer Kay (Shari Sebbens). Irish actor Chris O’Dowd, most noted for TV’s The IT Crowd and 2011’s hit Bridesmaids, joins the cast as singers' hysterically dry, yet incredibly endearing, manager. Capable of evoking both laughter and tears, The Sapphires is a real Valentine of a film. It’s a message movie about love and acceptance, sweetly wrapped in a bevy of sugary songs, like Marvin Gaye’s “Heard It Through the Grapevine” and The Staple Singers’s “I’ll Take You There”. Even if you’re the type that rolls her eyes at the phrase “movie musical”, give this one an audition. The Sapphires is a film that will have everyone tapping his or her feet along to its soul-driven story.
The Sapphires
Starring: Chris O'Dowd, Deborah Mailman and Jessica Mauboy Director: Wayne Blair

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Savannah Film Festival-goers gave no indication of of post-Halloween malaise on night six, as they filed into the Trustees Theater for an evening of star-studded awards presentations and powerful films.  Summer Teal Simpson saw it all.

Taras Danyluk took the podium to introduce the evening's honoree, Diane Lane, recognized for her Outstanding Achievement in Cinema. Once compared to Grace Kelly by Sir Lawrence Olivier, Danyluk praised Lane for “chameleonic talent” and her unflappable combination of wit, grit and glamour. In accepting her award, Lane commended SCAD for the festival and its academics. “I feel especially gifted that I got to tour the college,” she said. “In an alternate life, I would love to be a student.” [nggallery id=182] The early screening of Rust and Bone, a foreign film of emotional intensity and great cinematographic beauty, was followed by the presentation of the Spotlight Award to Michelle Monaghan, who starred in the late-night screening of latest film, Tomorrow You're Gone. [nggallery id=183] After-partiers packed into Moon River Brewing Company, quaffing local brews and pub fare and waiting in vain for celebrity appearances. For the night owls, the close to All Saints Day came at Circa 1875, where festival patrons rubbed elbows with film industry reps and the cast of Missed Connections.

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Fashion photographer Nigel Barker's foray into production and direction in Dreams are not Forgotten is an intimate visit to the heart of the poorest country in the world one year after incurring devastation from a 7.0-magnitude earthquake. With great cinematographic clarity in both heartbreaking and breathtaking scenescapes, Dreams captures hope in a hopeless place.  Summer Teal Simpson reviews.

The film follows no plot and the sparse narrative, introduced dramatically late, is presented through vignettes of residents of Bel Air, a Port Au Prince shantytown. Their collective voices are heard over a soundtrack of local melodies, laughing children, a singing congregation, and clattering street life. With measured acceptance, they are nostalgic for the past, mournful of the present, and hopeful for a fortunate future. Barker's photographic influences are strong, richly presenting the juxtaposition of beauty and harshness. Scenes depict rubble astride a tall, white cathedral sitting in ruins, bright yellow hair ties sprinkled across black heads in a school yard, and trash-strewn streets filled with fresh vegetables at market. The film is framed by opening and closing shots of the crystal, aquamarine waters off the Haitian shore, images of intense beauty and natural bounty that stand in stark contrast to the poverty-stricken urban scenes found just inland. Though decidedly not well developed, Barker delivers purity in imagery, faithfulness to the Haitian experience, and authenticity in Dream's overall vibrancy.
Dreams are not Forgotten
Director: Nigel Barker

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Blood in the water idiomatically signifies demonstrated weakness or vulnerability in half of a competing duo. That image, introduced in the haunting backdrop for the opening credits, foreshadows the undercurrent of the emotionally cutthroat foreign drama Rust and Bone, directed by french filmmaker Jacques Audiard (A Prophet).

Ali, played by Matthais Schoenaerts (Bullhead, Black Book, Loft), is a brut force, ne'er-do-well single father who steals and gutter fights to provide for his young son. Physical strength and persistent emotionlessness bely his virtue for much of the film, with the exception of his unlikely friendship with Stephanie, a killer whale trainer injured during a water park show. Marion Cottillard (Public Enemies, La Vie en Rose, Midnight in Paris) adroitly maneuvers scenes of life-change realizations, murmured sensory tenderness, and humbling loyalty in the face of mistreatment. Competition for Ali and Stephanie alike comes at the hand of fate, which unyieldingly throws the friends-turned-lovers every possible gut-wrenching curve ball. Atonement results from their solidarity of strengths. Largely set against the picturesque Cote d'Azur, this subtitled feature left Savannah Film Fest audience with raw, mixed emotions. For some, including those who departed the theater during particularly gruesome scenes, the film demanded unnecessary psychological endurance. For others, the marathon of tension-building rewarded metaphorical runners with unanticipated redemption. Strong in elements traditional of french cinema, including powerful score and compositionally-sound and stunning cinematography, Rust and Bone lacked fluency of plot for being punishingly riddled with subplots affecting melodrama and randomness. What it lacks in cohesion, however, it makes up for in richly intense scenes that seamlessly couple fine acting with brilliant shots.
Rust and Bone
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Matthais Schoenaerts Director: Jacques Audiard

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Visiting actress Michelle Monaghan shines in a suspenseful thriller about a botched hit—but Allison Brooks is left with a few questions.

Thursday night’s screening of Tomorrow You’re Gone filled Trustees Theater with excitement—and a little confusion. Directed by David Jacobson, (Down in the Valley, Dahmer) the film follows Charlie Rankin (Stephen Dorff), a man fresh out of a four-year prison sentence.  Indebted to his jailhouse mentor, “The Buddha” (Willem Dafoe), Charlie must carry out a hit against an unnamed man.  When the hit goes horribly wrong, Charlie flees the scene and takes shelter at the apartment of Florence Jane (Spotlight Award recipient Michelle Monaghan), a porn star he meets on a bus.  Although they have known each other for less than a day, the two explore the possibilities of a relationship. Throughout the action, it’s unclear what events are real and what is happening inside Charlie’s mind.  The scenes with “The Buddha” feel disjointed from the rest of the film, as do Charlie’s violent childhood memories.   The camera goes out of focus during these scenes, almost like it’s blurring the line between imagination and reality. Subtle religious themes woven throughout the film also create an eerie undertone.  For example, Charlie appears distinctly uncomfortable in a church when Florence tells him to pray.  When he sees a dead ram—an ambiguous symbol of sacrifice—in the middle of the road, Charlie stops his car and drags it out of the way.  Such disquieting touches add depth and make the film memorable. After the Savannah screening, however, mixed reviews filled the chill night air.  One effervescent audience member said it was the best film of the entire festival.  Her friend disagreed, adding that watching it one time was enough for her.  Many remarked on Monaghan’s performance.  “Her character is so insanely weird,” said one viewer. Although the characters are compelling, the plot of Tomorrow feels incomplete.  It’s if Jacobson has thrown his audience into the middle of a scene.  We don’t even know who Charlie’s target is or why our protagonist is supposed to kill him.  With a little more background information, the film would appeal to a much wider audience—even one as large as the Savannah Film Festival.

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Before she even graced the big screen in A Little Romance and scored the cover of Time magazine in 1979, Diane Lane was playing with Meryl Streep's makeup as a "snot-nosed kid" in the cast of Joseph Papp's plays.  Since then, Diane has starred in more than 50 films—including classics such as The Outsiders and Unfaithful—garnering accolades and awards for her textured and emotional performances along the way.  Amy Paige Condon caught up with the A-lister, who remains refreshingly down-to-earth after nearly three decades in the spotlight, on the eve of her honor for Outstanding Achievement in Cinema by the Savannah Film Festival.
Savannah magazine: How does it feel to be back in Savannah?
Diane Lane: I feel very enlivened, actually.  I’m delighted that this is as fabulous as it is. I’ve been warned; I’ve been a friend of Bobby Zarem’s for, oh, probably longer than I should admit, but the point is, he’s been trying to get me since the festival started.  He was right.  He did not hyperbolize anything—‘cause he can do that.   He’s introduced me as “she was born and raised in Tybee” and I was like, I’m a New Yorker, what are you talking about?  I did live there for a year.  I’ve been adopted.
SM: Do you still speak y’all?
Diane: I do when I’m here.
SM: Any Southern phrases you carry with you?
Diane: (Thinking) Oh, I had a bunch.  I had so many.  I morphed the minute I moved here.  I loved it.  I was a taxpayer in Georgia for 20 years, I just wasn’t always in this county.
SM: Your mother’s from Georgia?
Diane: Yeah, my grandmother, my mother.  They were up in Wrightsville.
SM: Now that you’re back in Savannah, sweet or unsweet tea?
Diane: Unsweet always, for me.
SM: Fried chicken or shrimp ‘n’ grits?
Diane: I’m a fried chicken girl.  Meat with a handle.
SM: This is kind of a reunion week for you.  You’re back in Savannah and Matt Dillon is here, whom you’ve made three films together.  Are y’all going to get a chance to catch up?
Diane: I think we’re going to pass like ships in the night.  We’ll probably just miss each other.  I’ll leave him a note.
SM: So, we’re screening A Little Romance, the first movie you made, and you just finished doing Sweet Bird of Youth (in Chicago) …
Diane: I like to drive myself insane.  It’s just a hobby.
SM: The New York Times called your performance “scarily intelligent.”
Diane: Y’know, I just read it yesterday, and I’ve already blocked it out.  I wouldn’t allow myself to read it while I was doing the play, because it can mess with your mind.  It’s a live thing every night—sometimes twice a day—and I didn’t want to have anything in my head to make the performance feel like it was no longer pure and my own, 100 percent.   You don’t want to feel like you’re placating. That being said, it was a great review and I was tickled.  It could have gone the other way, and part of the reason why I came to this festival, I thought, well, if I lose my mind playing this character or I get terrible reviews and impale myself on some furniture, or if I can’t handle it, run away and break down in tears.  I don’t know, anything is possible, right?   It’s a big load, Tennessee Williams after a quarter century of being away from the theater.  I’ve had a real case of who do I think I am?  And, I thought, well I can go to the film festival and feel like, you see, I did at one time have a career.  (Laughs.) Like Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, I’ll be in a room looking at my old films where I’m really young in them. (Laughs)  Which is very much the character of the play.  I just thought this is right up my alley.  This will heal me from my psychic star of the play.
SM: When you are doing a play and it’s a very intense story and a rather dark character, are you living it because you’re playing it for so long?
Diane: I haven’t detoxed from her yet.  My voice is blown out; my eyes are permanently swollen.  And, I‘ll get there. I will get there from here. I just have to (makes whooshing sound) decompress.
SM: This is the first time you’ve done theater in a really long time.  How did it feel to be back on stage?
Diane: Fabulous. (We’re told to wrap up with one more question.)
SM: What is your fondest memory of Savannah?  Something you want to see?
Diane: Y’know, the way a young teenage girl has songs, and she gets all in her head about what’s romantic?  I never recovered from the beauty of the squares at night in Savannah. I would just go into these raptures of Romeo and Juliet fantasies, looking at the way street lights were with the moss and the benches—and, of course, it wasn’t safe to walk in them; it was 1980.  Now, I think things are improved.  I just never got over that visual. It looked like something out of … a Tennessee Williams’ play, A Streetcar Named Desire.  I didn’t even have anything to compare it to in literature.   So whenever I read those images in literature, I was like, oh, I’ve been there.  I’ve been to Savannah.
SM: They’re safe to walk through now.  So, I hope you get a chance.
             

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