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AFI SIVERDOCS FILM FESTIVAL-Day 7

Sunday June 22, 2008

A relatively light day today with only 2 screenings. I started it off with the U.S. premiere of "Letter To Anna: The Story Of Journalist Politkovskaya's Death" (***) which chronicled the events surrounding the assassination in 2006 of the Russian investigative newspaper reporter. A fearless, relentless journalist, she knew her days were probably numbered as a result of her writings about Chechnya and the Putin administration and the enemies she created along the way. (She was nearly poisoned to death in 2004 while on her way to Beslan to help in the school hostage crisis.) Director Eric Bergkraut ably describes the dangerous political climate in Russia where she and over a dozen other journalists have now lost their lives since 2000. My main fault with the film was the monotonous manner it was presented as was the narration from Susan Sarandon and the filmmaker himself (necessary when he revealed during the Q & A that Richard Gere backed out of the project at the last minute). However, the documentary did convey the bravery of the slain writer and her heroic attempts to report on the continual injustices in and around Russia. (Bergkraut stated in the Q & A that Anna's killers have recently been arrested-but, so far, not the people who were behind the killings.)

It was finally time for something light-hearted and no better way to satisfy that urge than the east coast premiere of "Hi My Name Is Ryan" (***). Directors Paul Eagleston and his first cousin Stephen Rose, give us a unique portrait of the 19 year old Phoenix native who conquers his insecurities stemming from his upbringing and hypopituitarism (which stunts his growth and gives him the appearance and voice of a pubescent teenager) by becoming an over the top performance artist. As a result, he has become somewhat of a local living legend among those who have witnessed all the various incarnations of his acts. And what are these acts? Well . . . that is really hard to define in this space. You are witness to a barrage of videos of Ryan in action and, although you are laughing at him at times, you'll eventually be won over by his will to overcome his physical deficiencies and the absolute sincerity in his performances. Then, at the height of his popularity, he reveals that he is ending it all so that he can spread the Mormon gospel! The film makers revealed at the Q & A that they only had a week and a half to film Ryan but were blessed with the existence of videos of him in actions, which they were successfully able to weave into the story. The addition of a hilarious running dialogue by Wayne, his main protagonist in Phoenix who constantly puts Ryan down but only serves to make himself look foolish, adds greatly to the fun. A sweet profile about someone you are not likely to forget after the lights come up.

(Note: "I.O.U.S.A." was shown today and my review can be read in my May 2nd post of The Maryland Film Festival)