Bill Blizek is a professor of philosophy and religion at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the founding editor of the “Journal of Religion & Film.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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My first job on Monday was to pick up a screener of a short film that showed before "The Bitter Buddha," a film entitled "The Birdman." This was Jessie Auritt's first film, although her day job for several years has been to shoot video for Unicef.
"The Birdman" is the story of an elderly man in New York who still runs a mom and pop music and video store, even in the midst of gentrification. As a young man, the Birdman was a successful stock broker, so he can afford to maintain his store even as Dunkin' Donuts, Starbucks and other corporate companies move into the neighborhood. The Birdman is an absolutely charming character in an absolutely charming short film.
On the way back, we stopped at the ASCAP Music Cafe on Main Street, where we listened to Greg Holden play his guitar and sing. The ASCAP Music Cafe is one of many music venues, but it provides young artists an opportunity to showcase their talent in this very exciting venue. The Music Cafe also include on occasion more established talent -- we once saw Leanne Rimes here. The Cafe is up and running all afternoon everyday of the festival.
We also stopped at the High West Saloon for what many say is the best old fashioned ever. It is made with simple syrup and whiskey distilled on site at the High West. It was 5 o'clock somewhere.
We missed the party thrown by the Louisiana International Film Festival. The LIFF party is one way other festivals and businesses can get the attention of SFF-goers. You throw a party and invite filmmakers and press, and you have created great public relations. Parties like this abound throughout the Festival for just this purpose. We also missed a variety of comedians performing at a local restaurant to which we had been invited. The comedy is like the music, an alternative to watching films for Festival goers.
Among the movies we saw was Lynn Shelton's "Touchy Feely." We went to this film because of ideas like "healing touch" and "laying on of hands." The story follows a woman massage therapist who finds herself unable to touch other people. This throws her family--including her boyfriend and her brother and her niece--into a tizzy. Nothing can remain the same. But each member of the family finds a kind of salvation in the touch of another. The healing touch is the loving touch.
Another movie we saw was "Wajma (An Afghan Love Story)." In this story Mustafa charms a pretty student, Wajma, and they begin a forbidden relationship. When Wajma finds out that she is pregnant, she can no longer keep her relationship a secret and so her father becomes aware of her situation. Now the father must decide whether to uphold the family honor, or maintain his devotion to his daughter. The movie shows that Wajma's family is as capable of cruelty and forgiveness as any other family in the world. This is a movie that UNO's Afghan Studies program should consider showing on campus.
Based on the work of David Sedaris, "C.O.G." is a movie about David, a young man who wants to spend his summer working on an apple farm in Oregon. While there he meets a variety of mentors who disabuse him of his beliefs. What is left of David? That is the question. Who is David? Who is the real David? What happens when we lose our pride? Who are we? All of these are questions raised by the movie.
And finally, "This is Martin Bonner." Martin Bonner leaves his old life behind and moves to Las Vegas, where he finds work for a church-based organization that helps released prisoners transition to the life outside of prison. Travis, a recently released prisoner, reaches out to Martin and they develop an unlikely friendship. Martin and Travis are both looking for a second chance in life.