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(The 2017 SXSW Film Festival opened on March 10 and ran all week until March 18. HtN has you covered and GUARANTEE more coverage than any other site! Check out this review of  Dealt, Luke Korem’s fascinating doc about noted “card mechanic” Richard Turner.)

As Dealt, the fascinating new documentary from director Luke Korem (Lord Montagu) begins, we watch its main subject, expert card magician Richard Turner, first working out, then warming up for his evening performance. A fit, muscular man of a certain age, Turner sports a trim, white Van Dyke beard, and immediately commands the attention of his audience as he begins his routine. His hands deftly shuffle cards and deal the exact one he needs for each trick. He is a clear master of his craft. He is also completely – not just legally – blind.

In 1963, when he was 9 years old, Turner suddenly developed a rare macular dystrophy that left him initially with a growing black spot in the center of his vision. Early on (though not now), he could see around the periphery, and refused to lead a life defined by disability. Eschewing traditional aids for the blind, he channeled his hyperactive energy into various athletic pursuits, including martial arts, while nevertheless allowing the injustice of fate to push him into fits of despondent rage. Until he discovered cards, that is. Somehow, the discipline required to develop that precision craft calmed him down, and his obsessiveness pushed him towards round-the-clock practice, which continues to this day. At one point in the film, his wife Kim jokingly recounts that once, while they were making love, she could hear the shuffling of cards. Whatever it takes, I guess.

Today, Turner, at 62, is a widely respected “card mechanic” – as a practitioner of his craft is also called – and proud father to a college-age son, named, appropriately enough, Asa Spades. Korem’s film offers a delightful profile of the man and his life, warts and all. Amazingly, his sister is also blind, and for the same reasons, though her approach to her condition has been to embrace it, rather than deny its limitations (and possibilities). One of the movie’s most interesting sections occurs when Richard, after Asa leaves for school, approaches his sister for help in navigating the world now that his steadfast helpmate (his human seeing-eye dog) is gone. Beloved and admired, Turner has led a full life, and Dealt is a fitting tribute to his many accomplishments.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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