SARASOTA FILM FESTIVAL 2009 – Monday, March 30th

Monday is probably the slowest, lowest-key day of the SFF, which is a good thing, because Sunday night’s karaoke session took its toll on everyone who participated. I managed to squeeze four movies into six compact hours, which didn’t hit me until after the run had ended. Let’s get to it…

The Company ManAndrew Zappin’s 14-minute short features DJ Qualls as a drained blue collar worker whose job is to separate red and blue rocks from a pile (political symbolism here? I chose not to read it that way). But when he gets a promotion—this task turns out to be the film’s ambiguous, but clever, punchline—he gets his dignity back. The Company Man could have gone wrong in so many ways, but the film is so strikingly well executed—production design, cinematography, acting, score—that I found myself moved by it.

Larry (The Actor) — Initially, I wasn’t sure what to make of this 30-minute fictional doc about a past-his-prime African-American actor in LA, who is about to give all the way up if he doesn’t get a call by the end of the week. The style of it was a tad cheesy, and the performance was a tad actor-y. But then I realized that Lionel Mark Smith was drilling it, and as director Eric Poydar continued to flash back to actual outtakes of Smith’s appearances in commercials in the ’70s and movies in the ’80s, an air of genuine sadness and loss was born. Until his recent death of cancer, Smith was one of David Mamet’s stock players; the revealing of his passing in the film’s first closing card makes it even more sobering. Smith unleashes fury and despondence in his portrayal of this frustrated African-American actor, who has just fully begun to understand the futility of his calling.

Kimjongilia — Speaking of sobering, N.C. Heiken’s brutal expose of the North Korean dictatorship shocked me. I knew things were bad over there, but actually hearing stories firsthand from individuals who had managed to escape is a whole different experience. This type of filmmaking always borders on the bullying for my more passive sensibilities—I don’t like infomercials or propaganda—but in this case, it never crosses the line. Perhaps it’s because of the subject matter. Thank you, documentary cinema, for giving me yet another cause to feel miserable about, especially since there’s nothing I can do about it.

Say My Name — When the footage of Roxanne Shante performing “Roxanne’s Revenge” back in the mid-1980s came on early in Nirit Peled’s doc about females in hip-hop, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. But as she jumped around to more modern MCs, the old-school hip-hop nerd in me became distracted by all the omissions (Salt-N-Pepa, Sweet Tee, Heather B, Ladybug, even JJ Fad). Gradually, though, I was able to squash my urge to watch the movie Peled hadn’t made and instead appreciate the one she had made. Say My Name really picks up momentum in the latter half, when heated topics such as sexuality in hip-hop, motherhood, and rape fuel the discussion. I saw this with a small crowd of elderly Caucazoids—i.e., not hip-hop heads—and everyone seemed engaged throughout. (Final note: Erykah Badu is, hands down, the most alluring and intriguing woman in music.)

Three Blind Mice — I hate playing the comparison game, but Three Blind Mice felt to me like a well crafted hybrid of The Last Detail and Swingers. Though this story of three Australian sailors having one last night on the town before shipping out never transcended its last-night-in-the-life formula enough to blow me all the way away, I nonetheless found it to be a very fine effort. Matthew Newton writes and directs with authority, but his performance might be even better, and he certainly knows how to draw out the best in the rest of his cast. I am already looking forward to his next project.

— Michael Tully

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