I closed my time here at the 21st Annual SCAD Savannah Film Festival by spending a lot of time people watching. That is, in addition to all of the panel- and screening-attending you have to do at such things. But the confluence of local art lovers with artistically expressive SCAD students, with the occasional in-town celebrity, with the genteel Southern folk, makes for fantastic people watching. There’s simply no way to avoid sort of gawking at passersby.
Case in point, at a screening for Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite, I sat in front of a local actress who’d had bit parts in TV’s The Purge and other productions that filmed in both Savannah and Atlanta. She was talking to novelist Stephanie Bond. AnnaSophia Robb (The Carrie Diaries) sat three rows ahead of me. She was close to Miss J. Alexander of America’s Next Top Model fame. Those are just the celebs I caught. There were a half-dozen other people where I played the “You were in something I’ve seen” game. This probably all comes across as very name-droppy, which isn’t my intent. Rather, I want to give an impression of just the incredible sensory overload (in a great way) the SCAD Savannah Film Festival can be.
Before the screening of The Favourite, Chloë Grace Moretz received the festival’s Lumiere Award (the trophy of which was not in the shape of a jaunty candelabra, I am sad to say). She’d earlier attended a special screening of her gay conversion film The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which is a solid film that focuses on the experiences of gay youth forced into Christian conversion camps.
Moretz spoke at length about her involvement in the film, echoing earlier comments by Beale Street (still my favorite of the festival) director Barry Jenkins about needing to take a step away from the Hollywood-driven direction of her career and seek out more meaningful and personal material. Thus was born her involvement with Cameron Post, which brought to light the plight of some 700,000 individuals who have gone through a conversion program.
“I took a year and a half off and through that year and a half I read a lot and really leaned in to my activism,” Moretz shared.
It was significant political events that later heightened the importance of the experience.
“When we started making this movie, we were still in the Obama era, and halfway through filming Donald Trump was elected president…. It became, for us, one of the most important things we could be doing.”
Moretz took the role despite advice against it. It ultimately gave her an increased confidence and re-energized purpose in her career.
“I learned not to shy away,” Moretz said. “I thought, ‘Screw it. You only live one life. You only have one career’.”
Probably my most anticipated film of the festival was The Favourite with its unique mixture of period splendor and gallows humor. On the surface, it would seem perfectly suited for the festival audience given the trappings of a Masterpiece Theater production. But this film is not a Masterpiece Theater production. Literally couldn’t be farther from it. It’s a perversely funny look at jockeying for power and the horrors associated with actually obtaining said power. It’s also insanely dirty. Do you remember Saturday Night Live‘s “Tales of Ribaldry” with Tom Hanks as the lusty boot black? It reminds me a little of that in a very, very good way. Check it out.
The audience laughed quite a bit through the first hour or so. There were no walkouts despite ample sex and usage of a certain four-letter word starting with “c.” Rhymes with “bunt.” But the older members of the audience often sat quietly, politely folding their hands in their laps with pursed lips. Many complained about not understanding some of the dialogue. I suspect many chose not to listen after a while. It’s not a film for everyone, and in fact, The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg said on Twitter that it took him three viewings to love it. Will Academy voters give it three shots? Nominations, in my opinion, will be plentiful as the costumes, production design, and acting are all excellent. Actual wins is more unclear at this stage, although the festival audience did warmly applaud it at the end.
Following The Favourite, Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased screened to a sold-out crowd at the Lucas Theater, a beautiful historic theater with admittedly punishingly small (for someone of my height) seats. It made for an unofficial theme for the day as this film, like Cameron Post before it, also dealt with Christian gay conversion therapy. Starring Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe in Oscar-worthy performances, Boy Erased takes a broader perspective on conversion therapy than Cameron Post in that it incorporates the struggle of the parents to deal with their child’s coming out.
The audience simply devoured this film, breaking into wild applause three times – mostly during monologues by Nicole Kidman. It’s a strong film that doesn’t overshadow the accomplishments of Cameron Post. More people should be talking this up as a major Best Picture contender. It’s fully deserving of such accolades. The audience here seemed to think so anyway.
Closing out SCAD Savannah Film Festival 2018
Peter Farrelly’s Green Book served as the closing night film for the SCAD Savannah Film Festival. I’d already seen the film at North Carolina’s Film Fest 919, but I thought it interesting to see how the Savannah crowd would react to the film. Preceding the film were incredibly engaging remarks by a long-time Savannah resident and SCAD president Paula Wallace, each speaker celebrating the 40th anniversary of the festival. Wallace, in particular, underscored the purpose of the SCAD Savannah Film Festival by holding its films up to the students as examples of perfection, instruction by example.
Green Book played the audience like a symphony. They laughed at all the right notes. They cheered exactly where they were supposed to cheer. It’s a hugely crowd pleasing film that will do well in the coming months.
And here’s where the “Mafia” of the article’s title comes in.
Producers and screenwriters Nick Vallelonga (son of the character Viggo Mortensen plays in the film) and Brian Hayes Currie took the stage to introduce the film. Both men are tall, heavy-set Italian men with thick Italian accents.
The genteel Savannah lady sitting next to men whispered to me, “They must be Mafia! Isn’t this a Mafia movie?”
I responded, “No, not really.”
“Well, I think they’re Mafia!”
After the opening of the film set at the legendary Copacabana, she muttered to herself, “Yup. Mafia.”
I love Savannah.
SCAD Savannah Film Festival remains a highlight on the fall festival circuit. It blends great films, film and TV-centric lectures, and a host of excellent experiences into a truly special event. Again, I’m only one person, so I wasn’t able to attend everything leading up to the festival close. I’d really wanted to make the Black Panther and the Technology of Wakanda panel as Disney appears to be going full-force on their massive Marvel smash. I also wanted to see The Hate U Give and its star Amandla Stenberg receive a festival award. And there were so many shorts, documentaries and animated films in presentation that you’d frankly need an army to cover it all.
Maybe I’ll recruit one next year…