Well documented

Six fill second documentary film festival bill in Homer

Posted: Thursday, September 22, 2005


  Two parrots visit with Mark Bittner in this scene from The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill,one of six films in Homer Theatre's second annual Documentary Film Festival, Sept. 23-29. Photo by Daniela Cossali

Two parrots visit with Mark Bittner in this scene from The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill,one of six films in Homer Theatre's second annual Documentary Film Festival, Sept. 23-29.

Photo by Daniela Cossali

Following on the success of Homer Theatre's first documentary film festival in 2004, a second one is scheduled for Friday through Sept. 29. This six-film festival promises the cream of the crop, according to Colleen Carroll, theater manager: "March of the Penguins," "Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill," "Murderball," "Mad Hot Ballroom," "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room" and "Shortcut To Nirvana."

"I would say that we have chosen the best of the documentaries this year," Carroll said. "They're all well-reviewed by critics and very well-received by the public. We're pretty excited about it."

"March of the Penguins," rated G, is the festival's feature film. Set against Antarctica's desolate beauty, Morgan Freeman tells the story of emperor penguins that, guided by instinct, leave their ocean home to journey single-file across the frozen landscape to their breeding ground.

Courtship's intricate ritual of dance and song, the care of a new generation and the challenges of life are captured for the big screen by cinematographers Laurent Chalet and Jerome Maison.

"The emperor penguin and man have not lived together long enough for folktales or myths to develop. They remain strangers, crossing on rare occasions in the vast desert expanses of the Antarctic," Luc Jacquet wrote in his director's statement. "With this in mind, my desire is to tell a real story: through the extraordinary images of the emperor penguin during the austral winter, images that have always fascinated me; and with words worthy of both the Antarctic's excessive nature, and the emperor's epic destiny. It is time for the emperor's legend to be told."

Keeping with the bird theme, "Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill" focuses on the San Francisco area and the relationship between these colorful birds and one human being —Mark Bittner.

On a quest to find meaning in his own life, Bittner, a struggling musician, came face to face with these winged red-and-green city dwellers in 1990. He took these new acquaintances under his wing, so to speak, and what grew from that encounter were the answers Bittner sought. And a best-selling book. The G-rated film version of the book was directed by Judy Irving, an Emmy and Sundance award-winning director who found the stories within the story and captivates audiences with the telling.

Critics have plenty of adjectives to describe "Murderball," an R-rated close look at the rivalry and suspense of quadriplegic rugby players.

"Mesmerizing," says Rolling Stone. "An inspirational crowd pleaser," according to the New York Times. "Rocking," claims the San Francisco Chronicle. "Hard nosed and heartbreaking," says The Boston Globe. It also won the documentary audience award and a special jury prize for editing at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.

"It's going to be fascinating to see and give everybody a perspective how quadriplegics live in a fun, entertaining way," said Carroll, adding that the 8:15 p.m. showing of "Murderball" on Friday benefits the Independent Living Center, a facility that allows individuals with impairments to live independently. Admission is $7, with $3 of each ticket donated to the center.

Elementary school students take center stage in "Mad Hot Ballroom." Rated PG, it follows students from three New York City schools as they learn and then strut their ballroom-dancing know-how. Filmmakers Marilyn Agrelo and Amy Sewell profile these 11-year-olds as the youngsters develop style, commitment and attitude while receiving dance instruction by the American Ballroom Theater's Dancing Classrooms.

Placing ballroom in a Homer setting, local dance instructor Jo Going will do a 15-minute introduction of the box step before two of the film's showings.

"I know personally I have inquired about ballroom dance classes and there never was enough interest to warrant a class," Carroll said. "I think after seeing "Mad Hot Ballroom," people will be interested."

"Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," unrated, is the inside story of how top executives of

the country's seventh-largest company walked away with more than $1 billion. After director Alex Gibney read Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind's book, "The Smartest Guys in the Room," he understood what happened at Enron was more than a scandal.

"It was a human drama with the emotional power of a Greek tragedy —yet tinged with the blackest humor imaginable," Gibney wrote. "I felt that the film would give me an opportunity to explore some larger themes about American culture, the cruelty of our economic system and the way it can be too easily rigged for the benefit of the high and mighty."

Finally, the Homer Theatre's film festival includes "Shortcut To Nirvana," an unrated documentary by Maurizio Benazzo and Nick Day. It introduces audiences to the Kumbh Mela, a spiritual festival that only happens every 12 years.

More than 70 million pilgrims make their way to Allahabad, India, to participate in this celebration that brings together leaders of Hinduism and Buddhism

"Shortcut to Nirvana" received the audience award for best documentary at the Sedona International Film Festival, best documentary at the Tiberon International Film Festival, and was an official selection at the Newport International Film Festival, Maui Film Festival, Cinema Paradise Film Festival and Empire State Film Festival.

For a schedule of the documentary film festival, call the Homer Theatre at (907) 235-6728. Door prizes will be awarded at each showing. Film festival passes are $32 general and $20 for seniors and children 11 and younger.

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