JWR Articles: Film/DVD - American Documentary Film Festival (Directors: Sam Wilkerson, Sarah Sellman, Gregory Grano) - April 16, 2013
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American Documentary Film Festival

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Venturing down the road less travelled

An excellent pairing of two productions from neophyte filmmakers aptly demonstrated the value of the American Documentary Film Festival even in just its second year.

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The Pride of Palm Springs
Sam Wilkerson
2013, 22 min.

Three-and-half stars

How curious that in one of the hotbeds of gay culture, there would be a mild uproar when, in 2006, the Palm Springs High School Marching Band opted to drop another long-standing commitment and appear in its hometown’s annual Gay Pride Parade. As the film unfolds, it’s clear that many naysayers (almost all of the letters and phone calls decrying this important symbol of inclusion) came from the cowardly ranks of “anonymous.” Wisely (if a tad copping out) the school’s senior administration approved the band’s participation, but on a “voluntary” basis. That year, about 50% of the young musicians took part; most recalled being surprised at the extra-appreciative reception their appearance caused from the LGBT community and its admirers (“Straight and Supportive” a telling poster). The expected “vile spectacles” were MIA.

The film packs a positive punch and would only benefit from more queer students’ voices in the early going and a lot more clips of this talented band at full cry.

Here’s hoping Wilkerson will continue down his own road of shining illumination on challenging subject matter. JWR


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American Bear: An Adventure in the Kindness of Strangers
Sarah Sellman, Gregory Grano
2013, 103 min.
Three-and-a-half stars

Following your dream takes on a very special meaning as Sellman’s boyfriend, Greg Grano, is overheard during sleep uttering his desire to visit Bear, Colorado. That town doesn’t actually exist, but in the continental U.S. five others do; and thus an odyssey was born.

With a roughed-out plan to visit all five towns named Bear (Washington, Idaho, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware) as the catalyst for this road movie, the intrepid pair also vow to rely on the kindness of strangers for their lodgings: kind of a sociological study on the, hopefully, innate ability of human beings to banish their natural fears and provide help when required.

Not surprisingly given the sub-culture of “trust no one” that permeates big cities (and with just cause: pick up any newspaper…most recently in Boston ) the adventurers are down on their luck in Las Vegas and Atlanta (when all else fails, they sleep in their vehicle). It’s small towns where the locals are more accommodating and generally eager to meet the filmmakers, sharing food, stories and a good night’s sleep. Their reward: a spot in the film for the most outgoing/intimate characters and a parting gift of Teddy bears.

The film works best (but not quite often enough to truly sustain interest) when Sellman and Grano offer spontaneous remarks about each other; they learn quite a lot about themselves: a few times more than they bargained for with the camera rolling. Unfortunately, an inadvertent car crash (captured and shamelessly shared) pushed the overall narrative and timetable off the rails, never to fully recover the momentum that had just started to build.

A definite bonus is the music tracks largely laid down by Breathe Owl Breathe.

Having successfully survived their first outing with many positive moments, here’s hoping this engaging couple will find another project to express their growing views of the world around them. JWR

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