With assist from entities as diverse as the JCC Wow Filmfest and The Charleston Surf Film Festival, we find ourselves on the cusp of another Charleston Film Festival at the Terrace. The tenth to be exact. Like the past, this year’s fest offers blocks devoted to collections of short films (documentaries, live action, and animation) nominated for an Oscar, selected short films like Edge of the Woods (produced by Carolina Indie Grants), Still Harlem, and Good Samaritans showing before features and a couple films that have made us curious.
The most star heavy of the films is Harmony Korine’s seemingly carefree Beach Bum, the story of a gent named Moondog (Matthew McConaughey) beach bumming his way through life.
The other film that has piqued the interest of the locals would be none other than Shovels & Rope: The Movie. The duo’s second foray into the movies is, unlike the previous documentary, The Ballad Of Shovels & Rope, a concert film. It promises to be a jammin’ good time because attendees will not only get to watch a rollicking film and a post screening Q&A with a cast and crew but will also be able to take part in a charity auction with the chance to win High Water Festival tickets, while downing the duo’s Commonhouse Aleworks collaboration, Swimmin’ Time lager.
Aside from these flicks, there are a few others that we got to check out beforehand. Here were some of the standouts.
Birds Of Passage
Set in a time before the ascent of Pablo Escobar, directors Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego create a fictional epic centered on Rapayet (José Acosta), a conflicted man that wrestles with upholding the values of the indigenous Wayuu people living in the northern part of Colombia and his desperate, unprincipled dreams of power. Regardless of the disapproval of the tribe’s matriarch (Carmiña Martínez) and the inevitable chaos it would bring, he enters into the drug trade. Told in four chapters, Birds of Passage is a sprawling rise and fall drug saga where allegiances are broken, cultural rules are violated, guns are fired, and blood is shed in the name of greed.
Though it happens, the violence never plays out in the visceral Scorsese/DePalma way we’re used to. There’s a matter-of-factness that illustrates the futility of the characters’ goals without immersing itself in long-winded pontifications that may turn some off. The film’s cinematography of deserted landscapes should also be noted — carrying a mildly hallucinogenic quality one might find if an Alejandro Jodorowsky movie shot the breeze with a Terrence Malick movie. This is gripping stuff.
If there were ever a film in the festival to leave one breathless after a viewing, it would be Rob Stewart’s sequel to his first documentary, Sharkwater. While his first foray in 2006 focused on the mostly illegal shark fin industry, the next installment details the symbiotic relationship while continuing the mission of the previous film. As the film begins, we learn that little has changed regarding our attitudes towards sharks thanks in no small part to our view of them in pop culture. After detailing the events and the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the last film, Stewart asserts that the global shark population has been drastically eradicated in the past three decades, pushing it closer to extinction. We see him swimming with and even hugging sharks. Thanks to a certain popular shark film, the idea of doing such a thing is still a bit iffy for me. That being said, there is no disagreement with the urgency of Stewart’s mission statement. Even though there are harrowing scenes of sharks being harmed for sport, Stewart’s zeal is infectious. The beautiful 4K ocean footage definitely helps as well. Stewart died from hypoxia during the course of filming, without getting the chance to issue his passionate call to arms himself. Though there is a melancholic tone that underlies the film, it’s an inspiring rallying call that stuck with us after the closing credits rolled.
Equally as effective at leaving a lasting impression is director/producer Kayla Redig’s documentary. When we first meet her, the 26-year-old Redig is removing her clothing and surveying the scars of survival in the mirror. Wiping away the the tears welling in her eyes, she, along with her parents, recount the journey. After getting the feeling that her exhaustion and general feeling of “offness” was something more, she is ultimately diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at the age of 24. From there the film follows Redig and other cancer survivors in their 20s as they detail the experience of being in the prime of their life facing cancer and the aftermath. Like Stewart’s film, Redig’s film is alternately heartbreaking and empowering as she shines a light on the struggle she and other young adult cancer patients must face.
Vincible is being presented in conjunction with local charity The Boon Project with proceeds going to their cause. Following the film’s local premiere, there will be a Q&A with the film’s producer, CofC alum producer Catie Sprague, Redig, and other subjects featured in the documentary and local cancer professionals.
Shawn Snyder’s film debut is pretty impressive. It’s not uncommon for debut films that ruminate over spirituality, love, loss, and science to be a bit of a slog. Snyder managed to avoid that pitfall. Starring Géza Röhrig (Son of Saul) and Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), this sometimes macabre comedy takes us to places we fear the most. At the open, Shmuel (Röhrig), a Hasidic cantor at a synagogue in Upstate New York and the father of two young sons, is stuck in a spiral of overwhelming grief after losing his wife to cancer. Shmuel becomes focused on the question of what happens to her body and the possible turmoil her soul may be in as her body decays. His search for answers and closure lead him to a variety of folks he considers experts in the field, including a mortician. This search eventually lands him in the classroom of a community college biology professor, Albert (Broderick). From there a friendship is born that revolves around conversations about decomposition. There’s even a clandestine trip to a forensic farm in Kentucky. Needless to say, the chemistry between the two leads is pretty awesome. The static nature and ghoulish tone of the film recalls indie stalwarts Joel and Ethan Coen. To Dust is a gratifying buddy film at its core. It’s possible you’ll find it strange, but it’s a good strange.
The Hummingbird Project
Much like To Dust, Kim Nguyen’s film puts its focus on a seemingly small-scale subject and tries to create an involving film that succeeds thanks in large part to performances by its two leads. In the first minute, two men sit on bench, a place famous for undercover activities in films galore. One of them recalls the moment he came to an epiphany that led him to ask the question, “What’s at the end of the line?” The young man recalling this fateful moment is the entrepreneurial Vincent Zaleski (Jesse Eisenberg). With the help of his cousin, Anton (Alexander Skarsgård), he sets out to realize his dream of running a fiber-optic cable from Kansas City to New York City. Much like that other movie where Eisenberg played a young man focused on making moves in the digital age, Nguyen’s film wants to engross the audience as the would-be tycoons go up against Eva Torres, a villainous powerful trader played by Salma Hayek. While it does engage, it’s just a wee bit shy of The Social Network levels of engagement.
The Charleston Film Festival is held at the Terrace Theater on James Island, March 14-17. Find the full schedule online at terracetheater.com.