Download: The Nantucket Film Festival: Day Two
Documentaries made up a good portion of my second day at NFF. I started bright and early with Netflix’s powerful film, Descendant. The film chronicles the ancestors of those who survived the last ship to bring slaves to America from Africa, the Clotilda. The story behind the Clotilda is compelling and tragic. In 1808, slave trade was abolished in the United States. In 1860, 52 years later and on the verge of the US Civil War, Timothy Meaher chartered an illegal expedition that brought 110 Africans to America to be sold to plantation owners. The ship was then burned and sank into the shores off Mobile, Alabama to hide the crime. For over 150 years, the descendants of those slaves have kept their story hush-hush out of fear of being lynched. The tale of the Clotilda became lore passed down behind closed doors from one generation to the next. In Descendant, we watch as generations work together to search desperately for remnants of that ship, looking for a conduit that can link their history to the future of their community.
Director Margaret Brown gathers prominent members of this community, once known as Africatown, along with folklorists, activists, historians, archeologists, and shipwreck experts (some within the community and some that come from across the country to help) to act as the talking heads of the film. As Descendant unfolds, more questions arise surrounding this town. The documentary investigates the ominous, heavy industry that surrounds their locality. The smell of chemical plants fills the air, and a rising number of cancer and other health complications are recorded in the area. Without an answer, Brown is still able to add layers to the way this city has been undermined since its existence.
Descendant is a captivating and infuriating look at the injustices that have plagued these families for generations. The commercialization of black bodies in America has lingering effects that cannot be measured or restored with reparations or punishments for those long deceased. The ancestors of the Clotilda must find new ways to thrive, and this film is a great start to making their story more widely known. Netflix will be distributing Descendant, which was produced by Participant, Two One Five Entertainment, and Higher Ground Productions (President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s production company).
It Ain’t Over, directed by Sean Mullin, was the next documentary I took in at Nantucket. The film affectionately tells the story of Yankees larger than life legend, Yogi Berra. From his humble beginnings, to his time in the Navy, to his incredible Hall of Fame career, It Ain’t Over perfectly captures the magic that was Yogi.
The 2015 MLB All-Star Game featured a tribute to the four greatest living baseball players – Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Sandy Koufax, and Willie Mays. This was something that Berra’s granddaughter, Lindsay Berra, took issue with. In It Ain’t Over, Mullin seeks to aid Lindsay in bringing her grandfather’s illustrious career – which includes ten Championships as a player and three more as a coach – back into the conversation. While his Hall of Fame credentials speak for themselves, Yogi’s grand persona and unforgettable “Yogisms” are what he is widely remembered for today. And while the film does a fine job reminding you what a great ballplayer he was, it only solidifies the fact that he was an even better human being.
It Ain’t Over is a joyful celebration of the life of Yogi Berra, a portrait of the incredible love he shared with his wife and family, and a tribute to the game of baseball. Yogi’s extraordinary personality overshadowed his immense talent, but in the end, that’s not such a bad thing, is it? It Ain’t Over is entertaining and intimate, offering a nostalgic look back at the glory days of America’s pastime. The film boasts an incredible collection of former ballplayers, broadcasters, and historians, including Joe Torre, Bob Costas, Billy Crystal, Derek Jeter, Vin Scully, and more.
It Ain’t Over was met with rapturous applause and the sound of grown men weeping could be heard throughout the film. It’s a hell of a love story wrapped around the career of a man playing a kid’s game. Which is something Yogi always embraced, and in return, the world hugged back.
If you asked me what the hardest job in the world is, I’d answer parenting. If you asked me the easiest? Loving my kids unconditionally. How we show that love measures differently from parent to parent. Some do it well with kindness, patience, and compassion. Some do it not as well, lacking those capabilities in one way or another. Then there’s James Morosini’s dad, Chuck, played boldly by Patton Oswalt in Morosini’s based in real life comedy, I Love My Dad.
Chuck is a father who has recently lost touch with his troubled son, Franklin (Morosini). Chuck is used to his calls to his song going straight to voicemail but following a failed suicide attempt and a week in recovery, Franklin has decided to block his father on social media. In a desperate attempt to reconnect with his son, Chuck creates a fake profile, posing as a waitress he met in a diner (Claudia Sulewski). He then unwittingly catfishes his son, hoping to be able to communicate with him by any means. As Franklin begins to fall for this imaginary girl, Chuck’s good intentions spiral into one big mistake after another.
I Love My Dad has moments that are downright hysterical, while others that are cringeworthy and disturbing in the best of ways. While the relationships between fathers and sons are easily strained, there are certain boundaries you just don’t cross, and Morosini walks a fine line between what is accepted and what might be a tad too far. But, for as uncomfortable as it often is, I Love My Dad is both funny and tenderhearted, and I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film quite like it. For that, it gets a thumbs up from me, and I think we have a potential superstar in the making with James Morosini. The writer/director/actor has a lot of potential, and his charisma during the Q&A following the film was magnetic.
Patton Oswalt gives a career-best performance as the compulsive liar consumed by regret for not being around more when Franklin was growing up. While he might not have passed the parenting test, one certainly can’t claim the love portrayed in the film isn’t genuine. And that, in large part, is thanks to Oswalt’s resourceful intuition and Morosini’s preposterous (though brilliant) script that asks how far would you go to save someone you love?
I finished the day with The Pez Outlaw, which tells the story of Steve Glew, a pragmatic man who smuggled in rare and off-market Pez dispensers in the 90s. Glew’s wife – the incomparable Kathy – describes her husband as a “schemer, plotter, and dreamer.” These three words really do sum up the titular subject perfectly. While Glew suffers from several disorders, most notably OCD and bipolarism, there is a bit of mad genius in his thought process.
From extreme poverty, Glew creates his own industry, selling these rare collectibles for thousands of dollars, making up to a million dollars in a single year. This draws the attention and wrath of the president of USA Pez as well as his rival hobbyists. Glew seems to thrive off the pressure-cooker they create for him, and as the film shows in several reenactments, he makes it into a cloak and dagger type game, evading the authorities and outmaneuvering spies that work to bring him down.
Glew’s plans are grandiose in nature, as he brings in thousands of Pez dispensers from all over Europe. Multiple trips to Slovenia, Hungary, and Austria are required to pull off this extraordinary caper, and with each visit, new twists and turns and colorful characters are revealed.
The Pez Outlaw is a multilayered film with a lot of heart, and you can see that the filmmakers – husband and wife team Amy Bandlien Storkel and Bryan Storkel – had a lot of fun making the movie. Their film is as imaginative as their titular subject. It’s a spy-thriller wrapped in a fascinating, oddball comedy that is all based on a true story. The Pez Outlaw is the type of documentary I am most frequently drawn to – clever subject matter with exceptional storytelling.
Other films that played on Day Two that I was unable to attend include A Love Song, The Territory, The Good Boss, and God’s Country. It was a very tough day of decision-making, and I hope to find these films soon.