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Wrapping up LA Film Festival…finally…

Wednesday afternoon there was an incredible audience for Mario’s Story. It was the second screening of the competition doc, but it still felt like a home-town crowd. The film follows Mario Rocha, a young man sentenced to life in prison for a murder he did not commit. The filmmakers have been following him for 7 years and are deeply involved in both the filmmaking and Mario and his families real life struggle to get him out of prison.

Mario  s Story
The Mario’s Story crew chats up the crowd at the Q&A.

Sunday I hid in the film festival’s old home, the Laemmle Sunset 5, for The Creek Runs Red preceded by short Under the Roller Coaster and then Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater. Under the Roller Coaster has been playing around, but this was my first time catching it. “My favorite thing about Mae is that she would invite you over for tea and when you got there, there wasn’t any teabags, no hot water, just a six-pack of beer,” says one friend of the roller coaster lady. Mae lived under, Thunderbolt, the roller coaster on Coney Island, for most of her life. This sweet and well-shot short doc is a nice slice of life. A little sad, a little quirky with a healthy dose of Americana thrown in, Lila Place’s short is just what the doctor ordered for a Sunday afternoon. Now, don’t get me wrong, I liked The Creek Runs Red. In fact, I thought it was pretty great. But, what was it doing with Under the Roller Coaster. Just a strange pairing.

The Creek Runs Red is scary. Picher, Oklahoma is one of 1300 superfund sites in America. The lead in the water and soil is off the charts. At one time Picher had some of the largest lead and zinc mines in the country. Now 43% of the population has diabetes, there’s all kinds of cancer and there’s one issue that’s dividing Picher; there are the people who want to relocate and the people who want to save the town. Some people will never move, but most, can’t afford it. It’s a national problem that is identified and personifies through this well-made case study.

Next was Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater. Barry Goldwater was a senator from Phoenix, AZ. He was a republican. But more than that he stood up for what he believed in even if it was frowned upon. He ran for President against Johnson in 1964 and lost by a landslide, mostly because he spoke his mind. The film is produced by Goldwater’s granddaughter CC and I think in some way that really limited the access. It will air on HBO September 18th.

Winners were announced in two ceremonies. The following is edited down from the press release. The Target Documentary Award for Best Documentary Feature went to Deliver Us From Evil written/directed by Amy Berg. The film explores both the corruption of the Catholic Church and Father Oliver O’Grady who molested countless children in Northern California during the 70s.

The Documentary Competition Jury stated that they selected the film for “the filmmaker’s ability to balance the exploration of indefensible evil – both in one man and in those who would seek to conceal the truth – and the battle to hold on to one’s faith in the face of the worst possible betrayal.” The Target Documentary Award carries an unrestricted cash prize of $50,000 funded by Target, offering the financial means for filmmakers to transfer their vision to the screen.

The Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature went to Mario’s Story directed by Jeff Werner and Susan Koch. The filmmakers will receive a full tape to film blow-up donated by Technicolor.

The Audience Award for Best International Feature went to Paper Dolls written/directed by Tomer Heymann. In one of Tel Aviv’s most conservative neighborhoods, a small group of gay Filipino immigrants working as caregivers devote themselves to their elderly Jewish charges — around the clock — except on the nights they perform in drag as the Paper Dolls. Director Tomer Heymann spent nearly five years exploring the Dolls’ seemingly incongruous, often tender relationships with their employers, as well as their struggles with immigration authorities and the local gay community. The resulting film is a sensitive, complex portrait of men who are perpetual outsiders, at home and abroad.

Best Documentary Short Film went to Gesture Down (I Don’t Sing) by Cedar Sherbert. “A rare treat of a film that skillfully sneaks up behind you, reaches through your back, and grabs your heart. Playful and full of empathy, the film pushes the boundaries of the documentary medium while presenting an insightful look at a Native American man’s reclaiming of his heritage. The closing shot of the passing of the torch is as evocative an image as we’ve seen at the Festival,” said the Shorts Competition Jury.

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