AFF 2009 – Three Days of Movies Left!

There are three more days in the Atlanta Film Festival.  Hopefully, you’ve been able to or are making plans to take in a film or four.  While I’m not able to attend personally, I was able to review a few of the films for CinemATL Magazine.  Two films remain on the schedule as of this writing that I recommend:

Mississippi Damned – Three black kids witness the abuse, violence and addictions of their impoverished family; destructive behaviors that are now being visited upon them.  Though the kids desire to escape their small, rural town, they find themselves beginning to repeat the same behaviors that have dogged their family for generations, and doom them to the town forever.  Mississippi Damned is frank in its depiction of poverty and its influence on people, but equally uncompromising in showing the bonds of family and hope.

I posted an abbreviated interview with the film’s director Tina Mabry earlier this week; click here for the complete interview.  So popular was the screening on Sunday, the festival has added a third screening.

Screens Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 1:30 pm and 10:00 pm.

NeshobaIn the summer of 1964, three civil rights workers were stopped in Neshoba County by police.  Shortly after, a group of whites associated with the Ku Klux Klan arrived and beat and shot the three.  Their bodies were found several months later in an earthen dam.  Though the several of the perpetrators openly bragged about it, no one was ever convicted of the murders.

Neshoba is a documentary that looks at a citizen’s group’s efforts to pressure the State Attorney to prosecute the surviving murderers in the so-called “Mississippi Burning” case, and the trial of Edgar Ray Killen, who was indicted for his role in the murders.   Through interviews with Killen, the victims’ families, and a diverse group of black and white Neshoba County citizens, the film explores whether the prosecution of Killen is enough to erase the stain of the past and promote racial healing.

Screens Saturday, April 24, 2009 at 3:00 pm.

Visit the Atlanta Film Festival website for the festival’s remaining schedule and ticket information.

Published in: on April 23, 2009 at 3:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Jane Whitefield

When you’re in trouble, and hunted by people who can harm you, find Jane Whitefield: She can help you disappear.

Jane is a tall, raven haired, blue-eyed “guide” of Seneca Indian heritage.  Extremely intelligent, highly resourceful and very tough, Jane helps people hide from dangerous people and circumstances, guiding them out of their old life into a new, complete with a new identity and history, and making it as difficult as possible for the pursuer to find them.  When Jane runs into her clients’ pursuers, she does whatever necessary to keep the client safe until they’ve disappeared.

Cover Art for Vanishing Act

Jane Whitefield is the creation of Edgar Award winning author Thomas Perry. He introduced Jane in his novel Vanishing Act, a taunt thriller in which she helps a friend of a previous client disappear, only to find that doing so has put the first client in danger.  Perry creates more page-turning situations and exploits for Jane in four more novels: Dance for the Dead finds Jane protecting two clients from the same ruthless pursuer; One of Jane’s clients is found and pursued by two assassins in Shadow Woman; in The Face Changers, Jane tries to hide a plastic surgeon from pursuers who know all of Jane’s tricks and techniques.

The fifth of the series, Blood Money, doesn’t live up to others in the series.  Jane’s efforts to aid a young woman and an aging mafia account are reduced to her staying ahead of the mafia as she transports computer hard drives cross country.  Reviewers on point out that her opponents this time are the focus of the novel instead of Jane and her clients and not as interesting as antagonists in Perry’s other novels.  When no new Jane Whitefield novels were published in the following years, I believed that perhaps Perry had run his course with Jane and decided to retire her.  Turns out that I was partially right:  Perry says in his website that writing should be a learning and growth experience, and after five novels he had learned all that he could with Jane.

But Perry didn’t give up on Jane completely.  This past January, after a 10 year absence, Perry published the sixth Jane Whitefield novel, Runner.  Jane, no longer a guide and living a comfortable married life, is compelled back into the business when a pregnant woman comes to her for help.  The woman is pursued by ruthless henchmen, hired by the child’s father to bring her back to him.  But they are no match for Jane’s fearlessness and wit, and Jane manages to hide her.  When the henchmen find and kidnap the woman from her hiding place, Jane must find up her trail and rescue her before the mother and child are harmed.

Runner returns the thrills that were absent in Blood Money, though it’s not the page-turner like the previous novels.  About the second third of the book takes a long departure from Jane to look at her client and the antagonist:  A domestic drama with a dastardly edge.  But Perry comes back to Jane to explore new aspects of Jane’s character and new challenges she faces in hiding a person in the digital age.

Runner is a good return to the Jane Whitefield series, and, if Perry intends to continue the series, a promise of more thrills to come.


All six of the Jane Whitefield novels are available at various CCLS libraries.

Other books by Thomas Perry are available at CCLS libraries, including his prize winners Butcher’s Boy and Metzger’s Dog.

Published in: on April 20, 2009 at 6:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

AFF 2009 – Tina Mabry on “Mississippi Damned”

Kari and Sammy witness an incident that will impact their adult lives in "Mississippi Damned"

Kari and Sammy witness an incident that will impact their adult lives in "Mississippi Damned"

 Mississippi Damned is a family drama of three black kids struggling to escape a cycle of abuse, addiction and violence within their family as they grow up in poor, rural Mississippi.  Their only choice is to escape their circumstances, or succumb to the same fate of previous generations.  The film is based on the childhood experiences of writer/director Tina Mabry.  Tina has received numerous awards and recognition for her previous works, and is poised to gain more with Mississippi Damned.

Tina gave my magazine CinemATL an interview as part of our AFF 2009 coverage.  Following is an abbreviated version of that interview:

Please tell us a little about yourself.

I was born and raised in Tupelo, MS.  When I graduated from high school my mother became ill so I decided to stay nearby and attend the University of Mississippi in order to help care for her.  After four years I earned Bachelor degrees in Psychology and Political Science with plans to go to law school, but I had no passion for law.  I figured if I was going to go into debt, it should at least be for a career I was passionate about.  I always had a love for film and writing, so I chose to follow my dream of filmmaking.  I entered the graduate film program at the University of Southern California and upon graduating in 2005 I used my thesis short film, Brooklyn’s Bridge to Jordan, as my calling card.  Soon after I got a chance to co-write a feature film entitled Itty Bitty Titty Committee.  Since then Morgan Stiff, Lee Stiff, and I started an independent production company called Morgan’s MarkMississippi Damned is our company’s first feature.

Mississippi Damned is based on your childhood experiences.  What motivated you to share such a personal experience through this film?

I came from a family that had been haunted by the lack of possibilities offered in a still somewhat impoverished state.  I wanted to explore my family’s struggles in the South and how community, landscape and politics shaped and defined our lives.  We made this film because we wanted to take a truthful look at a prevalent lifestyle that is often overlooked in mainstream films.

What were some challenges in bringing Mississippi Damned to the screen?

There were definitely challenging aspects to bringing Mississippi Damned into fruition.  We had a total of thirty-four actors, a limited budget, a period film, a hundred and nine page script, and we had to do it all in twenty-two days. So, challenging may be an understatement. However, we managed to do it with a wonderful cast and an exceptional crew.  People were invested in the story and we formed a strong camaraderie that crossed crew/cast lines.

What are the plans for Mississippi Damned?

After the film finishes its run on the festival circuit, we hope to secure traditional distribution, which would include a theatrical release.  However, if we can’t go this route, we intend to get this film to audiences because we believe in the message and the universality of the film.  It’s a film about struggle, about building a road when you have no idea where to begin.  These are things everyone can relate to.

With this film, we want to rally the disenfranchised and unite those of disparate backgrounds, goals and aspirations.  Through this film, we aim to use cinema as a means to give marginalized people a voice and to shed light on issues often overlooked because they may seem too hard to tackle. We therefore will get this film in front of audiences in a theatrical setting, whether it is a traditional or non-traditional route.  The performances are too impactful, the filmmaking too strong, and the story too important to settle for less.

Who is your hero?

I have two heroes.  One of them is my mother, who passed about in 2006, and the other is my aunt.  They have always been there for me to push me along in their own unique ways.  My mother was more of a tough love type of woman, and my aunt is very nurturing.  I always had both of them in my corner encouraging me to see the fight until the end, because giving up was not an option.


Read the complete interview at CinemATL Magazine.

Mississippi Damned screens Sunday, April 19 at 3:30 pm. Tina Mabry, producer/editor Morgan R. Stiff and Atlanta area actors in the film will be in attendance. A second screening is Thursday, April 23 at 1:30 pm. 

By popular demand, a third screening has been added for Thursday, April 23 at 10:00 pm.

Mississippi Damned has been awarded the AFF Special Jury Award for Narrative Breakthrough.  Congrats to Tina, the producers and cast and crew!

Visit the Atlanta Film Festival website for more films, schedule and ticket information.

Published in: on April 19, 2009 at 5:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

AFF 2009 – The Georgia Connection

If you’re making plans to attend the Atlanta Film Festival this weekend, consider taking a look at these three films. Coincidentally, the films all have a connection to Georgia:

The chilling evidence of war in "Deadland"

The chilling evidence of war in "Deadland"

Deadland – It’s five years after WWIII. Society has broken down, the U.S. is under martial law, and a pandemic has swept what’s left of the country. But Sean is determined to find his estranged wife in the post-war madness. He finds a clue to her locale in the form of a coded message to a corrupt military commander.  He takes it and seeks an expert who’ll help him decode the message. Sean soon finds himself on a collision course with the commander and his corrupt corps of soldiers.

Deadland is a post-apocalyptic action flick that was filmed in southwest Georgia and features a number of Atlanta actors as well as some well-known character actors.  Screens Saturday, April 18 at 9:30 pm, and Monday, April 20 at 1:30 pm.

Lauren (Maggie Tilly) carries her sister Jeannie (Tilly Hatcher) in "Beeswax"

Lauren (Maggie Tilly) carries her sister Jeannie (Tilly Hatcher) in "Beeswax"

Beeswax – Twin sisters Jeannie and Lauren face major challenges in their lives:  Jeannie believes she may be sued by her absent business partner, and Lauren, between jobs and relationships, contemplates a job offer in Africa. Jeannie turns to her ex-boyfriend – a law school grad – for help, while Lauren tries to make her decision on her own.

It’s described as a legal thriller and a look at a close knit group of people who care for each other like family.  I see the film more as a character study of the sisters – around whom the film is centered – and what seems to be a rivalry beneath the surface of their otherwise congenial relationship.  Atlanta resident Tilly Hatcher and her twin Maggie lead a cast of non-professional actors who give natural and honest performances; so much that it’ll feel like eavesdropping instead of watching a movie!  Screens Monday, April 20 at 9:15 pm.

We Fun – What happens when the Peter Pan Syndrome meets critical mass? For members of several Atlanta independent rock bands, they make better and more unique music. We Fun is a behind the scenes look at the indie rock scene and culture in Atlanta. From their time hanging out to concert performances, these bandsmen live like teen boys sans destructive tendencies but make music that no mainstream pop star would dare make. Laid back experts give an overview and criticism of the bands and indie rock.  Screens Saturday, April 18 at 7:00 pm, and Wednesday, April 22 at 2:05 pm.

Check the Atlanta Film Festival website for more films and schedule.

Published in: on April 17, 2009 at 1:29 am  Leave a Comment  

AFF 2009 – Two from FSU

The Florida State University Film School – my film school alma mater – has two short films screening at the Atlanta Film Festival this year.

State of Unrest: A Look into the Life of a Young Sex Offender examines the growing problem of young people being placed on the sex offender registries, specifically in the state of Florida.  Young men who reach the age of majority but continue relations with teen girlfriends find themselves placed on sex offender registries for life; such is the case of the documentary’s subject. The lives are complicated by monitoring, the stigma of being termed a sex offender and the threat of physical harm.  Interviewees discuss the arguably harsh penalty for these non-violent, first time (and perhaps only time) offenders, and the need to reform the sex offender registry guidelines.

The will to kill: Robert Pralgo (r) and Geoff McKnight in "First Kill"

The will to kill: Robert Pralgo (r) and Geoff McKnight in "First Kill"

First Kill is an action packed MFA thesis film about the business and motives of killing, and the heart of the man holding the gun.  A reluctant contract killer botches a hit, and the whole thing is caught on a hunter’s camera.  The hit man hunts and finds the camera’s owner:  A young kid.  But he soon learns why and how the kid spends his after school time alone in the woods, and what consequences it means for him.  Suspenseful and thrilling, First Kill rivals any professionally made film in terms of direction, editing and production value.

 Both films hold the standards of quality and excellence that have brought FSU produced films national and international notoriety.  Check them out along with other shorts this weekend.


State of Unrest is part of the Documentary Shorts I program, screening on Saturday, April 18 at 9:55 pm.

First Kill is part of the Action and Suspense Shorts program, which screens on Sunday, April 19 at 3:00 pm, and Monday, April 20 at 1:45 pm.

Check out the entire lineup and ticket information for the AFF at the Atlanta Film Festival website.

Learn more about the Florida State University Film School at its website.

Published in: on April 15, 2009 at 7:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

See More – The 2009 Atlanta Film Festival

The theme “See More” is fitting for this year’s Atlanta Film Festival, which opens on Thursday, April 16.  The week and a half long festival is loaded with over 175 narrative, documentary and short films from across the country and around the world, made by professional, amateur, student and teen filmmakers. Mainstream films and art house fare cover drama, comedy, animation and more, some thought provoking, others just plain fun.  Many of the filmmakers and actors will be in attendance to discuss their films and answer questions.

The festival kicks off on Thursday, April 16 with the world premiere of The People Speak, featuring A-list actors like Josh Brolin, Danny Glover, Viggo Mortinson, Matt Damon and Rosario Dawson reading from the book A People’s History of the United States, interwoven with historical film clips and musical performances from Bob Dylan, John Legend and Bruce Springsteen.   Ending the fest is Rudo y Cursi on Saturday, April 25, a film by Mexican director Carlos Cuarón about the rivalry between two half-brothers who are competing for a spot on a pro soccer team.

The AFF also celebrates the 70th anniversary of Gone with the Wind with two screenings at the Fabulous Fox on April 19.  Sure, you’ve seen it on TV or DVD, but this is a chance to see this classic on the big screen in a historic movie palace!

The Atlanta Film Festival opens on Thursday, April 16 and ends on Saturday, April 25.  All screenings are at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema in Atlanta.  Check out the Atlanta Film Festival website to learn about the films, schedule and ticket information.

I’ve had opportunity to preview a few of the film to be screened, and will post short reviews in the coming week.

Published in: on April 15, 2009 at 4:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

Book vs. Movie: Marley & Me

WARNING!! Beyond this place, there be SPOILERS!!!

 He’s incorrigible, disobedient, destructive, hyperactive… and maybe mentally unbalanced. He’s the world’s worst dog, and John Grogan wouldn’t have him any other way. Grogan wrote about his Labrador Retriever Marley in his book Marley and Me. The columnist and his wife Jenny decide to buy a dog to hone their nurturing skills before having children.  They pick a puppy and instantly fall in love.  Though the love affair never ends, Marley – as the dog is named – truly tests their love and patience on a daily basis.  Grogan writes of Marley’s bad habits and antics, his terror of thunderstorms, his insatiable appetite for anything that can get in his mouth and the numerous attempts at obedience training. But with Marley’s behavioral issues are traits of loyalty, devotion, protectiveness and love that he gives to the master and his family throughout his life and the weeks before his death.

 The movie version of Marley and Me follows the book’s structure rather loosely; events are re-arranged and meaning re-interpreted in order to fit thirteen years into two hours.  The focus is on John and Jenny’s relationship and growth, and John’s accepting his destiny as a columnist instead of a crack reporter.  Of course, we see Marley’s antics, and seeing them come to life on-screen makes for hilarious moments.

 But the movie misses out on Marley’s finer moments that are the substance of the book: His standing guard in protection of a stabbing victim; his taking Jenny’s physical blows of post-partum frustration; his “getting” obedience training; and his bonding with Grogan. In fact, aside from the comic relief, Marley is largely absent from the movie. We don’t see how movie Marley impacts the Grogans’ lives except in brief instances, like a scene where Jenny dances with him. Other than that, movie Marley chomps and tears and charges about scenes that are great for laughs.

 I thought the movie would shy away from Marley’s death and opt for a happier ending, but it did show Marley’s suffering through the maladies of old age and John and Jenny’s painful decision to euthanize him. The movie John and family draw closer to Marley, understanding that his time is short; book Marley, however, manages to keep up his puppy-like exuberance until the end, continuing the life lessons that book John cherishes.

 All in all, the book and movie differ vastly on their approaches to the main subjects.  The book focuses on the dog at his worst and best and how the Grogans love him despite; the movie shows the ups and downs of John and Jenny’s relationship and John’s acceptance of his destiny, with Marley there for comic relief or to spur conflict. Both acknowledge that Marley, the “world’s worst dog,” is the best thing ever to happen to the Grogans.


The book Marley and Me is available at CCLS libraries.

 The movie version is available on DVD. Check a video retailer or rental store for availability.

 In an interview, John Grogan advises to think seriously about owning a dog, especially Labrador Retrievers, before purchasing one.  CCLS has books on various dog breeds, like The Complete Dog Book, specific breeds, like Labrador Retrievers, and for training dogs.  Ask a librarian for assistance.



Published in: on April 14, 2009 at 2:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Pardon for Jack Johnson

Senator John McCain has launched a campaign seeking a presidential pardon for boxer Jack Johnson.  Johnson, whose life is traced in the Ken Burns documentary Unforgivable Blackness, rose from poverty to become the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion in the 1910s. His extravagant lifestyle and live-out-loud attitude was frowned on the white establishment, not to mention his consorting with white women:  Black men at that time weren’t to behave that way. When Johnson could not be defeated by white opponents in the boxing ring, circumstances and the justice system were manipulated to find him in violation of the Mann Act, for which he eventually served jail time. Johnson died in 1946 in an automobile accident.

McCain faces an uphill battle.  According to an Associated Press article, Ken Burns’ efforts with the G. W. Bush Administration fizzled in 2004; and posthumous presidential pardons are rare. But McCain feels the pardon is important enough to merit the effort. A pardon, coming from President Obama specially, “would be indicative of the distance we’ve come, and also indicative of the distance we still have to go.” (McCain, quoted in the AP)

I tend to agree more with Burns’ point of view:  The pardon would be a matter of justice, not color. Johnson was persecuted because of his race and what he achieved as a black man; recalling my blog on the film The Lena Baker Story, Lena Baker‘s conviction and execution was based on the fact that she – a black woman – killed a white man, the circumstances and intent of the act not withstanding. In these and countless other cases, justice was miscarried, if not denied, because of skin color in a society where justice is supposed to be blind.

A pardon for Johnson, whether it comes from the President or from the court that convicted him, would right a wrong, not a symbolic gesture.

  • ****

The book of Unforgivable Blackness, a companion to Ken Burns’ documentary, is available at CCLS.

The Great White Hope, a play based on Johnson’s life, is available at CCLS in the collection Best Plays of the Sixties, and as a single volume through PINES.

As of this writing, The Lena Baker Story is playing at four metro-Atlanta theaters. Check local listings for showtimes.

Published in: on April 1, 2009 at 9:45 pm  Leave a Comment