I am currently (as of this writing) a Cinema Studies major at the Savannah College of Art and Design. One of the many awesome perks of my school is the chance to attend the Savannah Film Festival! In 7 days I saw 13 movies. It was an amazing and incredibly exhausting experience! I was fortunate enough to get a special Media Pass which allowed me to enter the theatre before ticketholders a.k.a. rush to the front to get close to the celebrity guests because I am a whore for those kind of things. I will offer a mini review of the films I saw, as well as info from the Q&A sessions I attended!
Suffragette: The publicity campaign around Suffragette had caused a lot of controversy, so I was hesitant going into the film. My friend CineMarter summed it up perfectly in his review, it feels like a living but boring history lesson. Although Carey Mulligan does incredible work, you never really delve deep into her character or care for her. Her thrust into the movement it is not depicted with any real conviction. However, the ending was terrifying, to see just how far these women went for the cause. But the film was over before I knew it and never really went anymore. It skimmed the surface without making you care about the women.
Meadowland: Meadowland is an unusual story about grief starring Olivia Wilde and Luke Wilson. I was thoroughly impressed with this film. We have seen the subject of parental grief dealt with before in films like Rabbit Hole and Cake (it is also our writer’s choice this month!) but Meadowland deals with how far the pain of grief can take you. The scenes feel almost like vignettes, glimpses into Wilde and Wilson’s characters as they navigate their grief in very opposing ways. The cathartic ending leaves you stunned. At the Q&A with Olivia Wilde and director Reed Morano spoke of how their own motherhood influenced the performing and creating of the film.
Brooklyn: Brooklyn is pretty much everything I’ve ever wanted in a movie. Not only is it set in the 1950s, but it feels like it was made in the 1950s. The pureness of the story and romance is captivating. It is filled with heavy emotional gravitas and joyful laughs. A Q&A followed with the star Saoirse Ronan, which I was very excited about. Not to sound like a creeper, but I had been watching her films since her debut in The Lovely Bones and was highly anticipating seeing her. Her insights into the film were incredibly poignant. She spoke of how the women in Brooklyn all support each other and the importance of young girls seeing that on film. The girls were not bitchy or out to steal her man. I realized that during the film I had been expecting exactly that! I was conditioned by Hollywood to anticipate that on screen. What a relief to have a film like Brooklyn that has positive female portrayals.
Tab Hunter Confidential: This was a documentary that I had to watch for my stardom class. Tab Hunter was a huge 1950s star who was secretly gay. Of course, the studio hid that. They would stage dates with Natalie Wood for publicity, and so on. When Tab Hunter left his studio contract his career went down the drain. He eventually made a comeback in John Waters’ films. I enjoyed the documentary, especially seeing how the studio system navigated, and ultimately closeted, LGBT actors.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl: I had seen the film already and only went so I could see Alexander Skarsgard speak afterwards. I didn’t particularly want to see the movie again, I feel it could stand to have at least 20 minutes cut. I like the message it is trying to send about female sexuality but I feel it gets lost along the way. The Q&A with Skarsgard was basically feminism lite. He spoke of gender roles dictate that if a girl thinks about sex or has sex she is deemed “a slut”. Basic stuff there…but he is SO handsome.
Youth: I didn’t want to see this movie because I was already so tired, that likely colored my experience. Take my review with a grain of salt. I did not enjoy this movie very much, felt like it was old white guys whining. And I like the lead actors, Michael Caine and Harvey Kietel. Rachel Weisz had an incredible monologue, the only bright spot.
Spotlight: This film is an incredibly solid investigative drama of a group of journalists who expose the massive cover-up of pedophile priests in their Boston neighborhood. It is a modern day All the President’s Men. The ensemble cast, who include Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams, all do incredible work. But the standout star would have to be Mark Ruffalo, who delivers an amazing speech. Hoping to see an Oscar nom for him. I would suggest watching the documentary Deliver Us From Evil to see some real life cases of these awful crimes.
Legend: This film is another testimony to why I feel Tom Hardy is the best working actor today. He is able to transform into two completely different roles as the Kray Twins. The special effects that merge them together, especially during the fight scene, are a marvel. Legend is an enjoyable gangster thriller, yet it unexpectedly focuses more on his relationship with his wife than the bloody violence. Above all, Hardy’s performance elevates the film.
Son of Saul: This film is a holocaust drama shot in 35mm and square aspect ratio. The aspect ratio de-romanticizes the holocaust images, if it was in wider screen the bodies would fill the frame. With this, they appear sporadically. This way you are not focusing on or exploiting the deaths. The 35 mm makes it feel like a period film. Son of Saul was moving, emotional and an experience like no other. Should win Best Foreign Film at the Oscars without a doubt.
Ithaca: Directed by Meg Ryan, Ithaca tells a simple coming-of-age story of a telegram messenger in small town during World War II. The characters continually talk about how much they’ve changed, yet we don’t see these changes happening. There is supposedly this connection between the lead character and his brother off to war, but they never have any scenes together, so you do not feel that bond that the film keeps telling you they have. A Q&A session with Meg Ryan and the cast followed. Meg Ryan seemed to have lots of ideas behind the themes of the film, unfortunately they were not executed well and it ended up being a bit bland.
Mia Madre: This Italian drama and comedy truly felt like two films- one a meditative mourning of a mother in the process of dying and another a comedy about the making of a film. The lead character, Margaherita, is dealing with her mother’s illness while trying to direct a movie with a pompous American actor that always forgets his lines. Tuturro as that actor is the true highlight of the film.
I Saw the Light: Tom Hiddleston plays country music singer Hank Williams in this biopic. Hiddleston gives a great performance, and sings very well. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t give him much to work with. We had a Q&A with the director of the film and Elizabeth Olsen. The director kept insisting that this was not a standard biopic, that he wanted it to be a glimpse into a period in Williams’ life. This is understandable, for there are no flashback scenes depicting his childhood or rise to fame. However, the film still feels like we’ve seen it before. For me, I don’t think it comes close or can escape the shadow of Walk the Line. During the Q&A Elizabeth Olsen talked about her character, Williams’ wife. She was pleased that the script did not villainize her. This was a one of the few great things about the film, something that Walk the Line does do to Cash’s first wife.
Room: I was beyond impressed to find that the film is the perfect adaptation of book. It is simply astonishing. The director submerges you into the protagonist’s experiences, you feel the cramped space of the room and the freeing openness of the real world. It is harrowing to see the kind of life they had to live for so long in the room. The film is a breathtaking emotional journey. I predict lots of Oscar buzz for this.
I was thrilled to see that the Savannah Film Festival was openly promoting its commitment to showing female directed and produced films. Also, many of the films had female protagonists. Out of the 13 films I saw, 6 were directed and/or produced by women. 6 of those films had female leads, although Legend does take the POV of his wife many times. Of course, there were many more films that I did not get the chance to see. Overall, I was proud to see such a wide variety of female stories on screen. The Savannah Film Festival was an incredible (albeit tiring) experience and I look forward to seeing the reviews of these movies as they come out into the mainstream!
By Caroline Madden
Caroline hails from the home state of her hero Bruce Springsteen. Some of her favorite films are Amadeus, King Kong, When Harry Met Sally, Raging Bull, The Godfather, Jaws, and An American Werewolf in London. Her absolute favorite will always be The Lord of the Rings trilogy. 70s/80s era Al Pacino and Robert De Niro are her faves. She blogs even more about her film obsession at cinematicvisions.wordpress.com.