2019 SARASOTA FILM FESTIVAL: The Sarasota Film Festival is very well ran and put together organization. The mood here is very laid back, as one might suspect a city by a bay to have. The audiences skew a tad older than other fests I’ve been too, as retirement villages surround the nearby hub. The organization has clearly made a focus on finding films that portray and support women, African-Americans, the LGBTQ community, and fashion.
As a reminder, there are six films being showcased in the Narrative Feature slate that I am covering and am a jury member for, including Peter Strickland’s “In Fabric,” Samantha Buck and Marie Schlingman’s “Sister Aimee,” and Ash Mayfair’s “The Third Wife.” You can find my assessment of those films here. Day two coverage of the films competing in the Narrative Feature competition include Paul Harrill’s “Light From Light,” Gan Bi’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” and Dominga Sotomayor’s “Too Late to Die Young.”
“Too Late to Die Young”
dir. Dominga Sotomayor
The summer of 1990 was a time of change for Chile, as the fall of one government led to the rise of a more democratic era. It was also a time for change in the life of 16-year-old Sofía (Demian Hernández), as she, like her country, began to discover the type of woman she wanted to evolve into.
Settled in a community at the foothills of the Andes mountain range, Sofía and her family work to establish the modernization of their community. From challenges like how to bring electricity to their district, or how to ensure that drinkable water will reach all of the people consistently, the upstart colony has a lot to figure out. This has a way of dividing and bringing together those around Sofía, only adding to the turbulence of her late teen years.
Sofía has her own developing to do as well, as she seems to outgrow the relationship with a boy her age, her interests draw her to an older man, Ignacio (Matias Oviedo), from a nearby town. She resides in the commune with her disengaged father, whom she has a clear lack of respect for. Her mother, a musician and artist, resides in the same town that Ignacio just happens to be from. As Sofía’s affections for Ignacio grow, she dreams of moving away to be with her mother, and closer to her new love interest.
Demian Hernández gives a killer performance as the girl on the edge of womanhood. Filled with teenage angst, Hernández convincingly reminds us of the struggle of gaining independence from our parents as we work to flee the nest. Her ornery determination not to conform to the village standards is eloquently portrayed. From her unwillingness to quit smoking, attraction to older men, self-mutilation, and even blasting of Mazzy Starr’s renowned “Fade Into You,” we see Hernández precociously take her character from late childhood into the early stages of adulthood.
“Too Late to Die Young” is another great entry in the coming-of-age genre, told with acute precision from its award-winning director, Dominga Sotomayor Castillo.
“Too Late to Die Young” is still seeking US distribution. It has played at several film festivals, and is listed as a tentative May 31 release on IMDB.
“Long Day’s Journey Into Night”
dir. Gan Bi
Writer/Director Gan Bi’s second feature, “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” is a bleak and moody noir that takes place in three different zones of time and space. We follow the film’s protagonist, Luo (Huang Jue), as he searches for a mysterious woman, Wan Quiwen (Tang Wei). We enter the trance-like vibes of Bi’s Kaili, a southwest Chinese city, and stumble between what might be real, what could possibly be a dream, and what is perhaps nothing more than a faded memory as the narrative unfolds.
Luo’s poetic voiceover guides us through the daydreams, weaving us in and out of the reverie we’ve been led down. His search concludes with a surreal, 3-D enhanced, shadowy climax, entrenched in the dreams and past we have heard Luo speak of throughout the film.
“Long Day’s Journey Into Night” is a deeply profound allegory to the dangers of living in the past, and the obsessive struggle we often have with letting things go. For those fascinated with themes of haunting memories, unrequited love, and a failed sense of closure, look no further than Bi’s provocative prose. It is seductively shot by three different cinematographers, intent on keeping us guessing what realm of time we are witnessing.
While beautiful to look at, there are certain challenges that come with the film. Bi has an eye for letting his scene extend out well past what might otherwise be considered a tad too long. In what is already an ambitious plot to stay on task with, his protruding of more simplistic moments (the eating of an apple, or a lady playing “Dance Dance Revolution,” for example), only cut into the patience one might have while taking in this film. Those with the endurance to stick to the elongated scenes are far more likely to enjoy the beauty of the film’s narrative, which is quite breathtaking to behold.
“Long Day’s Journey Into Night” is distributed by Kino Lorber, and premiered at Cannes, 2018. Like a few of the films here at Sarasota, it does not yet have a scheduled release date in the United States.
“Light From Light”
dir. Paul Harrill
In director Paul Harrill’s new film, “Light From Light,” Marin Ireland (“Sneaky Pete”) plays Sheila, a part-time paranormal investigator who seems to be a tad skeptical of her own abilities. The priest of a recent widower, Richard (played affluently by Daytime Emmy Winner and Grammy nominee Jim Gaffigan), overhears Sheila on a talk radio show speaking about her experiences connecting with the dead. The priest reaches out to see if Sheila can aid this member of his congregation who has mentioned odd things happening around his house.
Sheila works at an airport by day, and is a single mother raising her high school-aged son, Owen (Josh Wiggins) at night. She is overworked, underpaid, and is clearly exhausted by the life she lives, but that doesn’t stop her from wanting to help. Sheila goes to Richard’s house to do an initial assessment, and learns about the untimely death of his wife. The pair were high school sweethearts, though time might have driven them apart in more recent times. Sheila decides to take on the task, doing it for free despite her need to bring in more money.
She returns to investigate alone, but soon needs to recruit Owen and his girlfriend Lucy (Atheena Frizzell) to assist. As Sheila and Richard spend more time together, their conversations become more personal. They begin to feel the need to share and connect better with those around them, and to let go of the fears they have about things eventually having an ending.
Before its premiere, director Paul Harrill introduced his latest film to the Sarasota audience by stating that “Light From Light” is not your typical ghost story. Instead, “Light From Light” is about grieving, the connection to each other, and the rebuilding following a tragic loss in life.
This is passionately felt in the film, and part of what makes “Light From Light” the most accessible and crowd-pleasing show in the competition for Narrative Feature. The performance Harrill drives from Gaffigan is quite remarkable, considering he is primarily known for his work as a stand-up comic. His stern and pensive take on a man lamenting the death of a loved one, especially considering the circumstances in which she died, really stood out not only in this film, but in all films in the Narrative Feature competition. We’ve seen comics turn serious actor many times, and following his performance here, I have no doubt Gaffigan can make that leap if he so wishes to.