Aspen Filmfest gets real with documentaries, features
August 28, 2008
ASPEN ” After yet another summer of superheroes, super-villains and characters plucked from television’s past, Aspen Filmfest arrives ” at the speed of light, in the nick of time, to save the day!
Aspen Film’s annual fall festival, set for Sept. 24-28, scales things back to human size. “It sounds like a cliche ” but it’s ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” said Laura Thielen, executive director of Aspen Film. “Whether they’re documentaries or features, it’s normal people doing things that are kind of extraordinary.”
The festival takes no time getting to that theme. The opening night film is “Flash of Genius,” a feature based on the true story of Bob Kearns, an inventor whose signature creation, the intermittent windshield wiper, has been swiped by a Detroit automaker. In a performance that Thielen says has already generated Oscar buzz, Greg Kinnear stars as the little guy who takes on the U.S. auto industry in an effort to get his due. The film, by first-time feature director Marc Abraham, co-stars Alan Alda and Dermot Mulroney.
On the documentary side are several films that have regular people doing tremendous things or facing extraordinary circumstances.
In the former category is “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” director Virginia Reticker’s look at how an improbable women’s movement brought enormous political changes to Liberia; and “Pressure Cooker,” the story of a culinary program in a run-down Philadelphia high school that has yielded impressive results for its participants.
In the category of people dropped into extraordinary circumstances are “Stranded,” a documentary about the plane carrying the Uruguayan rugby team that crashed in the Andes in 1972, and “Life. Support. Music.,” about the recovery of guitarist Jason Crigler after suffering an onstage brain hemorrhage.
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Additional documentaries include the U.S. premiere of Angus Yates’ “Crimes Against Nature,” based on Robert Kennedy Jr.’s book about the Bush administration’s dismantling of the Environmental Protection Agency; and “The Brothers Warner,” Cass Warner’s story of how her grandfather, Harry Warner, and his three brothers founded the Warner Bros. movie studio.
Among the features are “Ballast,” a drama set in the Mississippi Delta about a suicide that ultimately brings a broken family together. The film earned a best director award at the Sundance Festival for Lance Hammer in his first feature-length effort.
A handful of foreign language films also focus on real-life issues. The French drama “I’ve Loved You So Long” stars Kristin Scott Thomas as a woman trying to reconnect with her family, and herself, after a long prison term. “Waltz with Bashir” and “Lemon Tree” are Israeli films that put the country’s political issues ” the 1982 occupation of Lebanon in the former, and the conflict with the Palestinians in the latter ” into human perspective. “Lemon Tree” earned the Audience Award at the Berlin Film Festival; “Waltz with Bashir” was well-received after premiering at the Cannes Film Festival.
“Teddy Bear” is a comedy/drama about three couples in their 30s; the film is by Czech director Jan Hrebejk, whose last film, “Beauty in Trouble,” showed at last year’s Filmfest. The French film “A Secret” examines a boy who learns of his parents’ life in Paris during the Nazi occupation.
Two films promise to give an offbeat take on life. “Religulous” features comedian Bill Maher riffing on the state of the world’s religions, and the Uruguayan film “The Pope’s Toilet” looks at a scheme to cash in on a small-town visit from Pope John Paul II by opening the town’s first pay toilet.
Amidst all the real-life tales is one very big fantasy: “Peter Pan.” Filmfest will have an exclusive Colorado screening, from a new print, in honor of the film’s 55th anniversary. The 1953 classic hasn’t been featured on the big screen in more than 20 years.
Aspen Filmfest is set for Sept. 24-28. Tickets will go on sale Sept. 15. For further information, go to aspenfilm.org.