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AFI SIVERDOCS FILM FESTIVAL-Day 6

Saturday June 21, 2008

I went back-to-back with 2 of the most amazing docs that I screened at the festival, with a stop in-between for the awards ceremony. First up was the D.C. premiere of the gut-wrenching documentary, "Dear Zachary: A Letter To His Son About His Father" (****), which premiered at this year's Slamdance Film Festival . This is award winning director Kurt Kuenne's riveting documentary about his childhood friend with whom he made childhood movies but whose life tragically ended when he was murdered as a young adult. He initially began the project as a tribute to his friend, Andrew Bagby. However, what he uncovers along the way would rival any Hollywood crime drama. I could write volumes but it is best not to lay out the details as its full impact can only be achieved by going into this one stone cold. The twists and turns it takes will have you thoroughly emotionally exhausted at the end. Kurt displays incredible editing techniques while narrating the amazing details that unfold along the way. Kurt revealed during the Q & A that the film was picked up and that the formal announcement would be made on Monday. Great news for an absolutely incredible work!

Before the next film, I attended the hour long awards ceremony. The envelope please:

Sterling US Feature Award
Winner: THE GARDEN
Special Jury Mention: TROUBLE THE WATER
Sterling World Feature Award
Winner: THE ENGLISH SURGEON
Special Jury Mention: THE RED RACE
Sterling Short Award
Winner: WHAT WOULD THE DROP KNOW ABOUT THAT? (screens with THE GARDEN)
Honorable Mention: GROUND FLOOR RIGHT and ONE DAY
Music Documentary Award
THROW DOWN YOUR HEART
Cinematic Vision Award
THE ORDER OF MYTHS
WITNESS Award
PRAY THE DEVIL BACK TO HELL
American Film Market/SILVERDOCS Award
KASSIM THE DREAM
Writers Guild of American Documentary Screenplay Award
FORBIDDEN LIE$
ACE Grant Winner
THE ELEPHANT IN THE LIVING ROOM
Audience Awards (Announced Sunday after all of the audience ballots were tabulated)
Feature: HERB AND DOROTHY
Short: THE TAILOR

Time to get exhausted once again by taking in veteran documentary director, Gonzalo Aragon's "Stranded: I've Come From A Plane That Crashed On The Mountain" (****). That was the statement scribbled on a piece of paper by one of the 16 survivors of the Uruguayan 1972 plane crash to one of his rescuers. The incident has since been immortalized in Piers Paul Reads bestseller, "Alive" as well as a 1993 Hollywood version. However, even if you think you know the details, think again. After the plane carrying a Uruguayan rugby team of 45 crashed into the Andean Cordillera mountainside, the survivors set up camp for an astonishing 72 days. Twelve days later, when they hear over a transistor radio that the search operation for them was being called off, the group realized that they had to resort to cannibalism in order to stay alive. Then, to make matters worse, they experienced an avalanche that buried the plane's remains. How they survived is told via the astonishing eyewitness testimony of several of those surviving 16 people (some of whom were childhood friends of the director), reenactments to give you a visual feel for their situation, and actual photographs taken at the crash site that convey the desperate straits of the survivors. Aragon is there 35 years later when they and their families reunite at the crash site (The Valley of the Tears), which brings further poignancy to the proceedings. This is, hands-down, the most harrowing survival story I have ever heard, and to listen to the accounts of those who were there makes their feat even more miraculous.

I ended the day with a repeat viewing of "Song Sung Blue" which I saw in early May at the Maryland Film Festival (see previous older post in this blog). Here was my review from 5/3:

First up was the amazing "Song Sung Blue" (*** 1/2) which won both the Grand Jury Award and the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 2008 Slamdance Film Festival. Being an aspiring musician in several rock bands in my early 20's, I have always had a keen interest in films dealing with individuals who went to extreme lengths to make it in the fickle world of entertainment. Luckily, I woke up in time to realize that dreams don't always pay the bills. So, I abandoned these ideas when I joined the thousands and thousands of people (many of whom were way more talented) on the sidelines. I also understood that one needed a ton of luck to go along with talent-and even then you had to have extreme tunnel vision to be relentless in making it happen no matter the consequences. Greg Kohs' wonderful documentary deals with the Milwaukee husband and wife duo Mike and Claire Sardina (known as Lightning and Thunder) and uses a decades worth of footage to bring this fascinating story to the screen. The film focuses on Mike's (Lightning) obsession to make it "big" by performing mainly Neil Diamond material (along with those of Patsy Cline and ABBA). Not only did Mike resemble the pop icon, he also had the sound and inflections of Diamond down pat. They became local icons in Milwaukee and hit it big when they opened for Pearl Jam in front of 30,000 people. It was then that Mike thought that that was the break they needed. However, tragedy struck when Claire was loses her leg after she's hit by a car while innocently gardening in her front yard. Their career takes a downturn after this, as does their personal life, but it wasn't enough to discourage Mike and Claire's dream to succeed. Their no holds bard roller coaster ride is fully exposed by the incessant filming of the duo through all their tragedies and triumphs. If this were a fictionalized story, you probably wouldn't believe it. What made it more special was Claire's appearance at the festival (see DAY 1 above) which left special poignancy to the proceedings.

(Note: "American Teen" was shown today and my review can be read in my May 3rd post of The Maryland Film Festival)