The 7th Annual Saint Augustine Film Festival, where I worked as a volunteer, ended Sunday evening. The weather that night was unseasonably tropical…balmy and sultry…. probably more pronounced to me as a result of spending most of the weekend indoors. The clouds were moving rapidly with the wind (never mind we had a tornado watch and extreme winter conditions in much of the rest of the country)and made for a dreamy atmosphere….all the better for reflecting on the 13 very diverse films I’d viewed over the weekend.
On Thursday night there was a showing of “Human”,described as a work-in-progress. I guess one would call it a documentary as it was full of gorgeous photography of nature and people….people in crowds and in marching armies in very colorfully decorated uniforms, and close-ups of faces. What an array of faces! Every age, color, nationality,…..and some interviews with many, mostly poor, who made the social inequities of the world more and more glaring. The film is a visual feast, at the very least.
On Friday morning I did my first volunteer gig as an usher and helped to keep the waiting crowd organized and patient while the three theaters at the Corazon Cinema were readied for the next films. It is a wonderful theater, by the way, reclaimed from an old, nasty building that previously was a movie house, and became the lovely Corazon Cinema & Cafe. People love the food and bar and can even be served in their seats. Two other venues showed films as well; The Lewis Auditorium, just down the street, is part of Flagler College, and large enough for any crowd; also the Gamache Theater at the Flagler College Student Center is nearby as well. This cooperation allowed the many selections to be shown in one weekend.
The first film I watched was “Our Mother”, a French/Algerian production where 11 adult siblings reunite for the first time in 10 years at their mom’s apartment. She has disappeared…. she is always home and available to babysit or whatever. This time, however,without telling anyone, she accepts an invitation to travel out of town to visit a friend from her past and reflect on a lost love. At the same time, her kids look through their mom’s belongings and discover some surprises on their own.
“The Great Walk”, also considered a work-in-progress, was described in the brochure as this: “Matt Green, 35, is a former civil engineer who quit his job and gave up his apartment to pursue an extraordinary project: he has spent the last several years walking every street in NYC and doing research on everything he sees. It is an epic, awe inspiring walk that spans over 8000 miles and includes every block in all 5 boroughs, as well as every NYC park, coastline, public path, and cemetery. Equal parts quixotic personal journey and urban deep dive.” Both the director, Jeremy Workman, and Matt, the walker, were there to talk about it and answer questions. Everybody loved the movie and Matt is instantly likable. He said he grew up walking a lot, like his parents, and had already started walking the city when he met Jeremy.
“Two Lottery Tickets” came next. It was made by 3 Romanian film students who also star in it as 3 small town guys who lose heir winning lottery ticket and go on a search for it. It’s like a Romanian Dumb & Dumber……pretty funny.
My last one that day was “One Wild Moment” and very French. I remember from other French movies that they love to go on and on with soliloquies and explanations… anyway, the acting was good…. two middle age dads bring their sexy teen daughters with them on a country vacation and when one of the girls comes on Really strong to her dad’s buddy, things got complicated. There are some pretty good laughs in the show too.
I was free all day Saturday so I began with “Demimonde”, a Hungarian drama from the early 1910’s…sensual and deadly. Very well done and quite enjoyable.
“The Scent of Mandarin” was my favorite of the festival. It was made in France by Gilles Legrand and set in WWI period. It is an unusual but beautiful love story that is beautifully acted…..a very compelling film.
After that, “Klandestine Man” featured our very own civil rights activist, the late Stetson Kennedy, who did so much for the downtrodden. At one time he joined he Ku Klux Klan so he could later expose their hate-filled deeds. He was a brave, fearless man dedicated to justice.
Next I watched “Mirage D’amour”in French (& sometimes Spanish)with subtitles, and set in the Atacama Desert, Pampa-Terminal, Chile, an impoverished town in 1929, where a love story between a lovely pianist in the town cinema and a handsome trumpeter turns tragic due to the authoritarian regime of President Ibanez..
Saturday’s final selection, the Spanish “Kiki, Love to Love” consists of 5 stories of love and sex whose couples experiment with some kinky activities and provide some laughs in the process.
My first film on Sunday was “Bulgarian Rhapsody”, which told the story of a Jewish family in Bulgaria in the summer of 1943 when the Nazis were readying to round up all the unsuspecting Jews and haul them off in freight cars to concentration camps. The youngest teens in several families are just discovering love when the end is forced upon them all.
I was not feeling at all cheerful when “Foster Shock” began…..and it was well-named. I knew that group foster homes were bad, but not THAT bad! This documentary made me want to remake the entire Department of Children & Families and hire a lot of honest, caring people.
Next one up was “Death by a Thousand Cuts”, concerning the terrible tension between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, who make up the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean. Haiti has deforested its country, while the Dominican Republice tries to protect its forests and mangroves. The desperately poor Haitians sneak over their border to cut trees and make charcoal from them to sell. Violence and death are often the result of the conflict. Here is another example of how a corrupt government in Haiti has done nothing to help its own people,(solar cookers, anyone?) despite having received much financial aid.
When it was time to work my second shift as a volunteer, once the people went into the theater, there was nothing to do so I went in and watched “Human” over again. At the end of it all, the issues of income inequality and injustice due to corruption affirm that it is as rampant as ever. I take it as a cry for us who refuse to accept these conditions for anyone and to unite and fight for better quality of life for everyone in the world. It does not have to be this way and we can truly be the change we want to see.
Of course there were many more films I was not able to see and I am told that many can be found on You Tube. Nothing can quite substitute for the large screen though, especially for films with beautiful photography. It is a wonderful event and any town is lucky to have an annual film festival.