Ten films, plus a short one that tells the story of the Russian Old Believers on the Kenai Peninsula, usher in the 10th Annual Homer International Documentary Film Festival at the historic Homer Theatre, the longest running movie house in Alaska.
This year’s festival celebrates a full decade of documentaries shown in Homer, stressing the importance and change that documentary films have made.
“The documentary genre has gotten more prolific and exciting,” said Mac Sutton, film festival director and son of the Homer Theatre owner Jamie Sutton.
“Every year we try to get the best documentaries around the world,” Sutton said. “I say to these directors, ‘What are the movies we must show?’”
The gala opening of the film festival is at 6 p.m. Sept. 26 with the world premier of “Muscle Shoals.”
Homer will be the first place in the world for the public to see this documentary, which is about an unlikely Alabama studio that has lured some of the greatest rock ’n roll and soul legends of all time including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Alicia Keys.
Sutton invites movie-goers to dress up for the event and enjoy reindeer sausage and kosher hot dogs before the show.
To pull together his list of films to be shown, Sutton screens suggested films from program directors from acclaimed film festivals all over the world. The films are selected with Homer audiences in mind for their interest in art, music and social commentary. Each of the films being shown at the Homer event won awards from the Sundance, Tribeca or Toronto film festivals or other awards.
“We are opting for more adventure and meditation, than politics,” said Sutton.
While full-length extreme sports documentaries aren’t usually part of the lineup, this year is different. Two of the festival films are sports related.
“Crash Reel” is full of impressive 40-foot snowboard half-pipe footage and has a worthy message that exposes the potentially high price of participating in extreme-action sports.
The other sports film is one of Sutton’s favorite films being shown this year. “Where the Trail Ends” is about five free-ride, downhill mountain bikers who travel for two years to the far reaches of the globe searching for the most extreme and gnarly un-ridden terrain.
These two adventure reels should get adrenaline seekers excited for Homer’s winter weather and extreme sports.
For those yogis in Homer, “One Track Heart” will stand out. For anyone who has taken yoga in a studio, the chanting music of world-renowned spiritual teacher Krishna Das will sound familiar. This American documentary won best documentary at Dharamsala Film Festival in India.
“We take pride in picking the world’s best documentaries,” said Sutton.
One political documentary, “Dirty Wars,” is included in the film fest. This film focuses on America’s expanding and secret “anti-terrorism” campaign. Sutton said this was his other favorite film. “There was lots of political films to choose from. We personally feel we picked the best,” said Sutton.
“Genetic Roulette” is a politically charged exposure of Monsanto’s strong arm tactics, the FDA’s fraudulent policies, and how the USDA ignores a growing health emergency are all laid bare. Time Magazine said, “Don’t miss this.”
“Blackfish” challenges us to consider our relationship to nature and reveals how little we humans have learned from Orcas. Local marine biologist and researcher Craig Matkin will host a presentation and question-and-answer session before the documentary showing at 8 p.m. Oct. 2.
“The Trials of Muhammad Ali” is Homer Theatre owner Jamie Sutton’s favorite film. It has history and old footage. The Nation said, “This is a special film. It should be treasured by anyone who cares about sports, politics, the 1960s or the vivacious, loquacious, bodacious, Muhammad Ali.”
“20 Feet from Stardom” was popular in the Lower 48, playing three months straight at the San Francisco film festival. Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger and Sting shine a spotlight on the untold story of the backup singers behind some of the greatest musical legends of the 21st century. “If you want to get up and sing in the theater to the popular songs, do it,” said Sutton.
“Cutie and the Boxer” fills the artistic slot. Homer Theater owner Lynette Sutton says this is her favorite film, which claimed best director award at the Sundance film festival. The artistic community of Homer will probably love watching this eccentric couple in New York make art by punching canvasses and paint splattering.
“The Old Believers” is a short documentary produced by Ryan Loughlin, as his graduate thesis project at the University of California. This documentary chronicles the historical journey of the Old Believers and how they ended up at Kachemak Bay. Loughlin spent a few summers in Homer to capture the unique stories about how the Old Believers fled from Stalinist Russia and finally wound up in Alaska.
“This doc is a great way to know the history behind our fellow community members,” said Sutton. It features a Russian history professor from Stanford and a priest from one of the Russian villages. In honor of the Russian community, Homer Theatre has their sign in the local Russian dialect.
“Old Believers” will show every evening as the opener at the 8 p.m. movie. On Sunday evening there will be a presentation with some of the local stars from the film. After Loughlin’s success with making the “Old Believers,” he got a staff reporter job with Al Jazeera America News Co.
Heather Ericson is a free lance writer who lives in Homer.