Since 1995, the Slamdance Film Festival has taken place simultaneously with the Sundance Film Festival in the same mountain ski town of Park City, Utah. The festival, began “…when a group of cheerful, subversive filmmakers weren’t accepted into the Sundance Film Festival [and were] unwilling to take ‘no’ for an answer…” Since that time, the festival has grown exponentially, giving independent and innovative films a chance they may not have otherwise been given. The fest prides itself on being “By Filmmakers For Filmmakers.”
The 24th annual festival has now come to a close with the winners having been announced. “Rock Steady Row” won for Best Narrative Feature and Audience Award while “Mr. Fish: Cartooning From the Deep End” won for Best Documentary Feature. These two films are still on my list to screen, but the winners from the several films I did see are:
PICK OF THE LITTER:
Dana Nachman and Tom Hardy, Jr., are back at Slamdance after a three year hiatus. Their first documentary feature film that screened at the fest was the heartwarming “Batkid Begins,” a story about a child whose Make A Wish choice brings the entire city of San Francisco together to create a day of pure joy for a young boy. Now the dynamic duo of Nachman and Hardy give us “Pick of the Litter,” another heartwarming yet educational film about the journey of 5 labrador retriever puppies born to attempt to become a seeing eye guide dog for the blind.
The film is at once captivating (of course, they’re adorable little fur balls), but it is also thrilling as we see the love and heartbreak that occurs with the temporary owners who give these little pups their start in training. Following them from home to home, interviewing the possible candidates about receiving a dog, we connect with the people and the animals, rooting for them all, but knowing, like people, they are all different.
This 20 month journey will bring a tear to your eye and a smile to your face as you watch this horse race of dogs attempting to cross that finish line of helping a blind individual become more independent. Will it be Phil? Potomac? Primrose? Patriot or Poppet? Check out the film, grab some tissues, and snuggle with your own little buddy as you learn and love what canines can do for their humans.
Becoming aware of adverse childhood experiences (ACE) thanks to James Redford’s film “Resilience,” allowed me to see the importance of Santiago Rizzo’s film “Quest” as more than just a wonderful, sweet story about a teacher going above and beyond for a child because he cared. The film depicts the real life story of Tim Moellering, a teacher who was that one stable adult in a young child’s life whose home life consisted of an abusive step father, an absentee mother, and an environment filled with violence.
This is Rizzo’s directorial debut and also co-writing the story based on his life and Moellering’s. Dash Mihok (“Ray Donovan”) embodies the look, heart, and “humility” as Rizzo described him to become Moellering. Other recognizable faces include Lou Diamond Phillips and Lakeith Stanfield as they add their talent to an important story about the need to help a child who is struggling. The young Greg Kasyan shines in the role depicting a boy who is pulled in different and dangerous directions yet yearning for the chance to succeed in a positive way. The immediate and genuine connection between Mills (Kasyan) and Moellering (Mihok) evokes a sincere understanding of what it takes to be a teacher and the importance of their role in our children’s lives.
“Quest” allows us to see that Moellering was an exception to the rule. He made a difference in one boy’s life and most certainly many more. We need more teachers willing to step up and into the troubled lives of our youth. One teacher can and did make a difference. “Quest” is a film every teacher should see.
Directors Natalie Kottke and Erica Sardarian take us to the little southern town of Crossett, Arkansas where the big paper production company Georgia-Pacific resides, employing much of the town and the neighboring ones as well. The town has a more than remarkable cancer rate, many of these victims working in the mill and/or residing next to contaminated water sources.
The directors investigate the town, interviewing residents, government officials, and environmental agencies, concluding the obvious. But big business owned by none other than the Koch brothers, Charles and David, is like fighting Goliath. The filmmakers lay out the pieces of information as they sometimes candidly film situations and conversations, allowing us to be privy to the discovery, devastation, and frustration this town is experiencing.
“Company Town” is just one example of how big business takes precedence over the every day worker. It’s yet another “Erin Brockovich” that we need to be aware of, but more importantly, we need to stand up for and protect one another .
Surrogacy is a hot topic right now and filmmaker Charlie Birns takes this topic and delves deeply into how it affects a young couple and the surrogate, Genevieve. Starring Julie Sokolowski as Genevieve, we experience her emotions and confusion as she becomes a part of Lucinda (Kerry Condon) and Sidney’s (Dominic Fumusa) family. The boundaries that are crossed create connections and sever others, bringing us closer to what could possibly occur between a surrogate and the expectant couple.
Sokolowski’s raw performance is unparalleled as she exudes a depth of emotion in this role. Condon and Fumusa find beautiful compatibility with one another and exquisitely portray the difficulties in a relationship as things begin to spiral out of control. While surrogacy is the vehicle which drives the plot, the film is ultimately about our relationship with one another and how our choices affect us.
Beautifully shot with an ending that is more than satisfying, “Human Affairs” is a brilliant depiction that exposes our innermost emotions in relationships. This is Birns first feature film and given its depth and complexity, I certainly hope it’s not his last.
Check back for interviews with many of these exceptionally talented filmmakers!