SCAD Savannah Film Festival wraps up with some of the most anticipated films of the season, including The Lost Daughter, Spencer, Cyrano, and King Richard.
“I don’t know if you’ll like my film,” said Maggie Gyllenhaal before presenting her directorial debut The Lost Daughter to a very patient audience at the Trustees Theater on Thursday night (the film had a nearly 30-minute late start). “But I like it.”
In her acceptance speech for the Rising Star Director Award, Gyllenhaal cited Jane Campion’s The Piano as a film that really got women and how that’s what she strives for with her film. From the rumblings around the festival, The Lost Daughter plays well with women, but not with men, which is very interesting. As Leda, Olivia Colman gives a conflicted and beautiful performance as a woman on vacation in Greece whose fixation on a young mother (Dakota Johnson) allows her to look back at her own choices. Given Gyllenhaal’s comfortability in the director’s chair, it’s shocking to think that this is only her first film. Equally as good is Jessie Buckley, who plays a younger version of Leda. Colman and Buckley work hand in hand in crafting a fully realized and flawed character that you care about.
On the red carpet, Gyllenhaal talked about how her career as an actor helped her in becoming a director.
“One interesting thing about being an actress is that I’ve worked with many, many directors and I’m able to think back on the things that really worked for me. It’s so vulnerable. It’s not easy. I think about directors who were brutal and the kind of work it got out of me. And I think about directors who were interested in me as a collaborator, as an artist, as a person, and really more than anything, who loved me. There’s no question that my best work is with the second kind.”
The Lost Daughter was among the many highly anticipated films that screened in the latter half of the SCAD Savannah Film Festival, with other ones including Spencer, Cyrano, Jockey, and King Richard.
Spencer completely hinges on Kristen Stewart’s performance, and she certainly delivers, losing herself in the role while also capitalizing on her strengths (the nervous Stewart twitches, like folding her wrists nervously, are perfect for portraying the Princess of Wales).
While there’s obviously a story arc for Diana in this film, what might be the more interesting one comes from Stewart herself, who went from child actress to Twilight guilty pleasure to Robert Pattinson’s ex to proving her worth as an actress (see: Personal Shopper, Seberg). This narrative was evident with the reception. When her name appeared on screen during the credits, the crowd roared. Maybe Pablo Larrain’s Spencer is not the most fully realized film (at times it feels like Diana cosplay), but it certifies Kristen Stewart as a formidable actress, which most audiences have known for years, but the Academy may be still catching up on. It’s easy to watch this film and forget that you’re watching Kristen Stewart.
A period piece is director Joe Wright’s bread and butter. Pride and Prejudice and Atonement immediately come to mind for their warm cinematography, deep romance, and of course the costumes (who can forget Keira Knightley’s green dress in Atonement?).
Cyrano fits the mold for a properly Wright film, with a classic story, beautiful costumes, and lavish Sicilian set pieces; however, what makes this one different from his previous efforts is that it’s a musical, with music by the band The National. Whether or not that new formula works is up for debate, as the audience seemed a bit restless during the screening. The music isn’t very memorable (think coffeehouse background fare) and doesn’t quite match the style of the film, even if Peter Dinklage’s voice works well with a band like The National (he could totally sing for them!). Given the tepid response to In The Heights, it will be interesting to see whether the lack of knowable, catchy songs might affect this film’s reception as well. After the final scene, when the credits started rolling, one of the audience members said, “What the heck?” and another woman said, “Cyrano, Ser-i-ous” upon leaving the Trustees Theater.
Clint Bentley’s Jockey features character actors you’ve known and loved for years, like Molly Parker (Pieces of a Woman, Deadwood, House of Cards) and Clifton Collins, Jr. (Westworld, Waves, Once Upon a Time. . .in Hollywood), the latter of which plays the title character in the film. Just as the movie features underrated players, its story highlights the misjudged plight of what it is to be a jockey and the physical and mental toll it takes on these athletes.
After the screening, Rotten Tomatoes Awards Editor Jacqueline Coley talked to SCAD honor recipient Collins, Jr., about what many are calling a career best role for him, and it’s hard not to gush about it. Collins, Jr.’s Jackson Silva leaves an impact on the viewer, for not only depicting a story about an underappreciated athlete, but also for taking the reins as the lead character rather than a supporting player, which we are used to seeing from Collins, Jr. There are stirring twists and turns in Jockey, culminating in a final scene that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about, for the range of emotions Collins Jr. goes through.
Reinaldo Marcus Green’s film about the father of Venus and Serena Williams screened the final night of the festival with a Q&A presentation afterward with Aunjanue Ellis (who plays Venus and Serena’s mother Brandi) and Saniyya Sidney (who plays Venus—and also was celebrating her 15th birthday).
“Love was their weapon,” said Ellis of the Williams family. “Their flex was how much they love each other.”
While Will Smith is getting all of the attention for this performance, and rightfully so, Ellis is equally as wonderful as his long-suffering wife, who during one confrontation with a neighbor in the film, caused quite a fun stir among the audience, as they anticipated how Brandi was going to address the situation.
Screenwriter Zach Baylin draws a complicated character in Richard Williams, one that is both frustrating and compelling, and he smartly does the same for Ellis’s Brandi, who is anything but the wife that sits in the corner of the court. She actually might be the most interesting character in the movie and should certainly be in the conversation for Best Supporting Actress.
Finally, Beyonce’s “Be Alive” musical contribution to the film was the perfect way to leave the theater on a high. In fact, King Richard was just a great way to leave the festival in general, as it both uplifts and paints a complex portrait of the man behind two of the greatest athletes of all time.
Another great SCAD Savannah Film Festival in the books! See you next year.