The Sedona International Film Festival, or SIFF for short, is nearing an end. Last night Fred and I took in our last show which happened to be three movie shorts and a documentary feature about the not-so-easy life of Lance Mackey, one of the greatest dog sled racers of all time who won an amazing four Iditarod races up in his home state of Alaska. The Great Alone took viewers along the many lonely miles, both of his life and in his racing.
We also took in two more movie features during our week at the festival. The first was Silver Skies with an ensemble cast of older actors (George Hamilton, Mariette Hartley, Valerie Perrine, Jack McGee, Barbara Bain and several others) which tells the story of a group of retirees, each of whom is struggling with the effects of aging in his or her own way. [My favorite character was played by George Hamilton who has dementia and believes he is Dean Martin — who knew Alzheimer’s could be so much fun?!] These eccentric characters find themselves working together to save themselves and their retirement community in Sherman Oaks, Calif. A feature, pun clearly intended, of seeing this at the film festival was that the screenwriter / director / producer Rosemary Rodriguez was present and hosted a Q&A after the screening.
It was a treat to gain the insight into what inspired her to make the movie (to honor her parents and shine the spotlight onto issues the elderly face), the challenges she encountered in making it (getting funding for the project), and also the tender moments in working with these yesteryear actors.
Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon is a foul but funny documentary that takes a nostalgic look back at the comedy that began as a counterculture rag that stuck its middle finger up at politics and the establishment. The irreverence of the National Lampoon magazine later attracted visionary talents such as Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, John Belushi and others who expanded the National Lampoon spirit onto the stage and into film. Thanks to this talented bunch we still get to enjoy Saturday Night Live and the hilariously brilliant films Animal House and Caddyshack decades after this wacko group wrote and stared in them.
Each of the movie features began with one or more movie Shorts. All were good for the very fact that they were made by passionate writers, directors and producers who love their craft and worked very hard to bring their stories to life. Our favorite Short by far was S T U T T E R E R, a warm film that in 13 minutes said so much. It featured a young man with a cruel speech impediment but an eloquent inner voice who had to face his inner fear. Not only was the film “a Sedona moment” (three people made that comment after the film; we took it to mean “a very special time here in Sedona”), it is up for an Academy Award and the screenwriter / director and director of photography were with us for the showing and then post-film Q&A. Right after our session, these two had to leave the red rocks of Sedona and head to the red carpet of Hollywood. We’ll certainly be rooting for their film Monday night even though we haven’t seen the others in this category.
In addition to the movies, we took in two live productions. The first was Dr. Keeling’s Curve, a one-man play staring Emmy-nominated actor and activist, Mike Ferrell. Known better for playing Army Capt. B.J. Hunnicutt for eight years on the beloved TV show M*A*S*H, in this show he portrays Dr. David Keeling, the scientist who gave the world its first warnings of global warming. Dr. Keeling studied CO2 levels in the atmosphere beginning in 1958 and created the iconic chart, the Keeling Curve, illustrating the drastic increases in CO2 levels over time. Following his performance, he and his wife, Shelly Fabares, were called to the stage and Mike was given an award for his activism.
On another lovely evening at the film festival, Gene Kelly’s third wife, Patricia Ward Kelly, took audience members behind the scenes as she shared intimate stories about her husband, the late Gene Kelly, in a show entitled Gene Kelly: The Legacy. Patricia was graceful and gracious as she shared many backstories and personal memories of the man to whom she was married in the early years of her life which were the last ten years of his life. During their time together and until his death in 1994, she chronicled his memoirs and archived his things with the intention of sometime in the near future making them available for the general public who adored him and his work so much. During her two-plus hours on stage, Patricia shared memorable film clips of Gene in his younger years, dancing and singing in numbers like the iconic On The Town (1949), An American in Paris (1951), Singing in the Rain (1952), and many, many more. She also shared personal memorabilia including costumes Gene wore, audio recordings he had made, and even personal correspondence with other greats including his pal, Frank Sinatra. After watching this Irish-American legacy dance with Jerry the cartoon character, a mop, a newspaper, and many leading ladies, I now want to go rent more Gene Kelly movies and see more of his vast body of work!
Neither of us had ever been to a film festival before, but now that we have been to this one in Sedona we are surely going to seek out others. And a return visit to SIFF is a sure thing.