21th annual Sedona Film Festival-February 2015

The Sedona International Film Festival has just concluded for us, although continues on for one additional Sunday for those not summoned back to work.  Sadly, we will miss a one man show “This Filthy World” by the inimitable John Waters, who we both love, on the last night.  That is just a sample of the caliber of this annual celebration of independent film.  The festival has grown over the years we’ve been attending and the quality consistently amazes. Always the last week of February, more and more venues and options have expanded the offerings, especially during the first weekend, which used to be a ramp up to the full-on festival, which really rolled from mid-week on.

Our favorites from this year:

Secret Sharer (2014):  Based on a Joseph Conrad short story, this fable takes place on a ship that has seen better days in the South China Sea, and combines an inexperienced Polish captain, a recalcitrant and wary Chinese crew for whom the ship is their home and a largely Cuban music sound track, to great effect.  While trying to goad the crew into executing the ship owner’s orders to transfer the boat to Shanghai, the boat is boarded by a mysterious woman.  The writer, director, and co-producer, Peter Fudakowski, won Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for Tsotsi, which screened earlier in the festival, before our arrival on Monday.  He was present for a discussion after the film, and was charming.

Sadly, Steve didn’t end up seeing this film.  We were in Antarctica on the date for pass holders to select films.  With no Internet access, I had made a list of our requests and appealed to the box office staff to register for us.  There had been an email indicating there were 2 scheduling conflicts, but I took that to mean that they had to give us our second choice for that time slot, instead of our first.

There is only about an hour between films, so little time to eat.  We were walking to the theatre together, passing Java Love cafe, so I popped in for a hot tea.  Entering the theatre a little late, I fully expected to find Steve, with an adjacent saved seat next to him.  The theatre was nearly full, with only mostly less desirable seats available.  Scanning, and rescanning the theatre, no Steve.  I saw friends in the second row and paused to chat with Wendy and Steve, and a few seats away, Barky, still frantically scanning the theatre as the few remaining seats were going quickly.  Finally, I gave up, and flopped into 2 adjacent seats in the front row at a terrible viewing angle.  Finally deciding Steve had really been a victim of alien abduction, I decided to look for a single seat further back where I wouldn’t have to sacrifice my neck.  After climbing over half a row of people to get to a suitable single seat, I realized, horrified, I had left my hot tea up in the front row.  But no way could I crawl back over that row again.

Afterwards, Steve and Wendy hung out with me in the lobby, delaying their departure home to make sure I had a cell number for them in case I was stranded.  I had jokingly asked if Uber had made it to Sedona yet.  About that time, Steve materialized in the lobby, texting me from his Ipad, having left his phone at home.  Where was I?

It turned out, we had tickets to 2 different movies and hadn’t noticed.  Oh, that’s what the scheduling conflict email was all about!

Diplomacy (2014), directed by Volker Schlöndorff, was probably our overall favorite of the festival. Schlöndorff won  the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1979 for the unforgettable The Tin Drum.  To this day, both Steve and I are dubious about eels, thanks to a scene in that electrifying film.  Diplomacy focuses on the high stakes negotiations between Swedish Consul Raoul Nordling and the German general charged with Paris’ destruction in the waning days of the French occupation during WW II, Dietrich von Choltitz.  Much of the action takes place between these 2 characters engaged in verbal warfare in the General’s office.  The film is based on a play, and was riveting.

Attila Marcel (2013) is a French film written and directed by Sylvain Chomet.  Steve missed this 9 pm offering, but I was extremely glad I went.  Paul is a mute 33 year old whose maiden aunts urge him on to family glory in the form of piano competitions.  He submits to the herbal interventions of a neighbor, Madame Proust, seeking to remember his parents who died when he was very young.  The film was charming, with fantasy elements of Amelie, as well as structure reminiscent of The Hedgehog (based on the novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery), in which a neighbor in the same building materially affects the life of an innocent.

Dig Two Graves (2014) is the product of writer, director and producer Hunter Adams, starring Ted Levine as a small town sheriff and grandfather to Jake, a sensitive young girl played beautifully by Samantha Isler.  Jake’s family is wracked by grief over the death of her older brother, and she is presented with the possibility of bringing him back, for a price.  Woven into this story is a 30 year old crime and secrets which affect 2 families.  Super creepy, gothic drama at its best!

Leading Lady (2014): Co-written, directed and co-produced by Henk Pretorius, whose adorable Fanie Fourie’s Lobola screened at this festival several years ago, this was another charmer.  The gorgeous would be leading lady is played by Katie McGrath, who rooms with a South African Boer family on their farm, while preparing for a role she wants as a Boer war heroine.

Force Majeure (2014) was written and directed by Ruben Östlund.  The carefree ski holiday of a family with two young children is disrupted by reverberations set in motion by a close call and divergent reactions to an avalanche.  Masterful use of music to heighten the tension, with a taut, operatic quality.

1000 Times Good Night (2013) is a taut drama written and directed by Erik Poppe, and stars Juliette Binoche as a driven war photojournalist whose career threatens to derail her idyllic family life.

Belle and Sebastian (2013) is set in the French Alps during the German occupation of France during WW II.  A young boy befriends a dog who the locals fear is threatening their sheep.  Not just a film for dog lovers!  Although idealized, the drama is absorbing, as village resistors work together to smuggle Jews to Switzerland under the grip of their German occupiers.  The scenery is spectacular as well

Other movies we liked as well:

Commencement (2012), written, directed and produced by Steve Albrezzi, is a lighthearted, coming of age story of a newly minted, overachieving college graduate’s real education, which begins with a series of setbacks.

The Yank (2014) was written and directed by Irish-American Sean Lackey, who stars as well, as a young man on his first trip to the home of his ancestors, where his family hopes he will meet a nice Irish girl.

Marie’s Story (2014) is a French film, based on a true story of a determined nun who labors valiantly to break through to an isolated girl who is blind and deaf from birth.  Comparison to the Helen Keller story is inevitable. Isabelle Carré is luminous as Sister Marguerite.

Lucky Stiff (2014) was directed by a familiar name, Christopher Ashley.  It’s a musical romp, quite funny, even my husband with limited tolerance for musicals liked it.  An English bachelor in a dreary job receives news he has inherited $6 million from an American uncle.  Of course, this comes with a catch: he has very specific instructions on activities he must fulfill in Monaco, all accompanied by his dead uncle.

To Be Takei (2014) is a documentary about the eventful life of George Takei, Sulu on the original Star Trek series, whose early life was shaped by his experiences being interned with his Japanese-American family during WW II. Funny and touching film about a tireless man, still going strong in his 70s, and now Broadway bound this fall in his “legacy” project, Allegiance.  Originated at the Globe, I’m so happy this touching musical about the internment and its effects on the lives of the affected families will have a chance to reach a wider audience.

So, our tally for the week:

Of the 9 festival days, we were present for 5, so could have attended 25 films in 5 time slots/day.

I managed 14, Steve 11.  A poor showing, especially compared to a couple we’ve become friendly with from attending the festival, Jeanette and James from Phoenix, who regularly attend all 5 films each day!  We’ll try to do better next year…In the meantime, add these names to your Netflix queue!


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