The best of the 2018 Sedona International Film Festival

Sedona, Arizona truly is a one-of-a-kind locale, and its dreamy, red sandstone buttes and peaks speckled around a pleasant community bequeath thoughts of wonder and sincere happiness of simply existing on Planet Earth.   When stepping foot in Sedona – located about two hours north of Phoenix – one should definitely plan plenty of outdoor activities to embrace the surreal beauty, but there is one event that can happily keep you indoors for hours and hours at a time, the Sedona International Film Festival.

After spending five days at the festival, and most of it at the Harkins Theatres Sedona 6 on Route 89A, this particular critic caught many terrific movies!  Although, I came nowhere close to watching them all, here are the best films that I saw at the festival.  Also, here are Audience and Directors’ Choice Awards, which will provide more exciting movie-homework.  Enjoy, and if you miss the 2018 festival, there is no time like the present to organize your trip for 2019.

“Adios Amigos” – Three young Dutch men head to Spain to drink beer and meet women, but this “classic” tale carries a couple twists.  Lars (Martijn Lakemeier), Philip (Yannick van de Velde) and Joost (Bas Hoeflaak) are disabled, and this comedy also packs some serious drama, as director Albert Jan van Rees handles their physical limitations with sobering grace.

“Holy (un)Holy River” – Documentary filmmakers Jake Norton and Pete McBride take us on a gorgeous and equally horrifying trek, 1,500 miles down India’s Ganges River from the frigid Himalayas to the steamy Bay of Bengal.   Some Indian residents claim that this particular river has a healing quality.  Well, that potentially mystical property is sorely needed due to the industrial and human pollution that Norton and McBride expose along the way.  Thankfully, other Indian environmental experts shout for change, but are their voices enough?

“Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” – Annette Bening channels Academy Award winner Gloria Grahame in an absorbing drama about her time in Liverpool, both in 1981 and flashing back to a nurturing romance with a younger man, Peter (Jamie Bell).  Bening and Bell share plenty of chemistry, while the movie’s construction adds another layer of unexpected complexity.  In a crowded 2017 Best Actress Oscar field, the Academy somehow lost Bening’s outstanding performance in the award-shuffle.

“Faces Places” – This lovely and infinitely unique documentary features 89-year-old director Agnes Varda and a young artist named JR, who travel the French countryside and spread their goodwill through conversation and the power of art.  Nominated for a Best Documentary Feature Oscar, the film’s title is completely apropos, as the heartwarming duo’s work plays out over 1 hour and 29 minutes.

“Last Men in Aleppo” – A devastating documentary.  Directors Feras Fayyad and Steen Johannessen follow a group of Syrian rescue workers, called White Helmets, on the ground, amid the smashed concrete and rubble of Aleppo.   Their cause seems impossible, since continuous bombings destroy city blocks faster than the White Helmets can search for survivors, but men like Khaled Umar Harah and Mahmoud still persevere.  The film – nominated for a Best Documentary Feature Oscar – points a much-needed camera directly on the Syrian catastrophe.

“Losing in Love” – Ronnie (Martin Papazian), a screenwriter who is just out on parole, attempts to keep his life on the straight and narrow with a third shift job and a separate writing gig, but a beautiful and edgy waitress, Amber (Marina Benedict), rents plenty of space in his head.   This LA love story shows off the city’s glitzy urban, residential and beach landscapes, while Ronnie struggles with his self-esteem and past romantic failures.  Will he lose a chance at love with Amber?  This soulful drama – with its rich lead and supporting characters – will make you hope for a win.

“My Name is Vaseline” (also named “Vaselinetjie”) – This South African picture moves to familiar, coming-of-age beats, but director/co-writer Corne van Rooyen’s thoughtful polish softly draws us into Vaselinetjie’s difficult journey.  Confronting issues of race and poverty head on and coupled with Nicole Bond’s and Marguerite van Eeden’s soulful performances, the film emotes swells of empathy.  Shaleen Surtie-Richards and Royston Stoffels lend warm hands too, as Vaselinetjie’s grandparents, in this highly memorable story.

Photo credits:  Jeff Mitchell; Trailer credits:  The Film Factory South Africa (YouTube)

 

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