Little Rock Film Festival 2011: Part Two
Rounding out my coverage of LRFF 2011 are a couple of documentaries with outside-the-mainstream looks at religion, plus a glance back at two entirely different kind of southern films, and a sprinkling of interesting shorts.
SONS OF PERDITION
I had heard the news stories about Warren Jeffs, the self-proclaimed prophet and leader of a fundamentalist Mormon church in the Utah desert who was arrested for arranging marriages between men and underage girls. But this engrossing and disturbing film shows the affect his cult-like compound has had on the children who have managed to "escape" into the outside world. What these teenagers lack in education is at times comical (never having heard the song Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer) but then tragically sad (confusing Bill Clinton with Adolf Hitler). We also hear from adults who have been forced out of the church for not complying with Jeffs' rules. For girls, however, the problem isn't being kicked out but finding a way to get out when, for example, they are subjected to being one of a dozen wives to one man, some girls as young as 14. The filmmakers spent a few years on their interviews which gives some proper perspective on the kids' up and down progress.
WRESTLING FOR JESUS
With a Christian wrestling league as the backdrop, this film's real story revolves around Timothy, a wrestler known as "T-Money", and his struggle with helping the league survive while dealing with his father's suicide and raising his own family. While the matches are much like the WWE, only smaller, these end when a preacher has an "altar call" to anyone who wants to come into the ring to be saved. Normally, this is the point where, in most films, rural southerners of faith would be depicted in a not-so-favorable light. But in Wrestling for Jesus director Nathan Clarke documents the event "as is" while shedding a respectful light on the wrestlers and their fans in attendance. It also serves as a stark contrast to the exaggerated antics of the wrestlers. At times the film's focus meanders, but the people's stories remain interesting. And one young fan's shout of "He's pulling the hair!" will stick in your head long after you've seen the film.
SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT (1977)
Before Sally Field won her first Oscar and discovered that everyone "really liked" her, and before Burt Reynolds became a number one box office commodity there was a little film about smuggling Coors across state lines that took off like, well, a bandit. Since director Hal Needham was in town to receive his Lifetime Achievement Award it was fitting to close the festival with an outdoor screening of Needham's classic. The film even led to a resurgence of Jackie Gleason's film career. Needham recalls how Gleason never seemed to know his name, instead calling Needham "Kid" when he was happy and "Mr. Director" when he was upset. What really made the film work, along with Gleason's classic portrayal of Buford T. Justice, was the chemistry between Field and Reynolds who Needham says fell in love right before our eyes. Ten four, good buddy.
SHOTGUN STORIES plus "Scenes from TAKE SHELTER"
Director Jeff Nichols returned home to screen his first film, 2007's Shotgun Stories
, and to show scenes from his second, Take Shelter
, fresh off of winning a couple of awards at last month's Cannes. The simple, elegant, family feud film Shotgun Stories
gets better with each viewing and Paste's Michael Dunaway considers Take Shelter
as best film at this year's Sundance.
NO TRACKS HOME
The film follows a couple of modern day, train hopping, homeless musicians. From what I gather they both live on the street by choice rather than circumstance. Though interesting I would have liked to have heard more background on their situations, such as family interviews, etc.
PARTS + LABOR
Cute little love story set in in a motorcycle repair shop.
COTTON COUNTY BOYS
Brainless is as brainless does when three brothers attempt to win $12,000 in a funniest video contest to save their family home from foreclosure. Low budget hillbilly Jackass.
Interesting stalker parable with a twist.
GOING TO HELL (Another Zombie Short)
The guy's tied to a table because the girls (his wife and sister) think he's turning into a zombie. Things get bloody. Someone dies. Nothing new.
NEVER STOP RUNNING (Still Another Zombie Short)
Young folks' car breaks down. Dead of night. Dead out walking. Dead bite living. Living die and live again, sort of. Blood. Screams. Nothing new.