Craven: Summer Cinema

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(Host) Commentator, filmmaker and Marlboro College teacher Jay Craven is
spending some time this summer inside the air-conditioned comfort of
movie theaters – near and far.

(Craven) This year’s Sundance Film
Festival hits are now finding their way into theaters – and they
include some of the most imaginative and relevant films on screen this
summer. Benh Zeitlin’s "Beasts of the Southern Wild" won the Sundance
Grand Prize along with the Camera d’Or at Cannes. The film conjures
magic through its poetic rendering of an extraordinary six-year old
girl’s process of discovery and defiance as she takes on mounting
personal and environmental calamities that shake her world. The film is
set in a nearly submerged but stubborn and tightly knit multi-racial
community sitting on a patch of ravaged Louisiana bayou country – before
and after Katrina. "Beasts of the Southern Wild" conveys sturdy
resilience and even optimism in the face of epic flood, family struggle,
and wrenching poverty. Tiny actress Quvenzhane Wallis’ performance as
Hush Puppy overflows with insight, vitality, and nuanced dimension. The
film is compassionate, observant, and cinematically inventive in ways
we rarely see. It’s a monumental achievement that re-kindles a vital
spirit in American independent filmmaking.

Other notable summer
films include several from this year’s crop of Sundance documentaries.
"Searching for Sugarman" tells the deeply moving and thematically rich
story of an amazing 1970’s Detroit rock musician simply known as
Rodriguez. He recorded two fabulous albums that never took hold, except
in South Africa where bootleg editions provided a soundtrack for the
growing movement against apartheid. In South Africa, Rodriguez was
bigger than The Beatles and Bob Dylan. "Waiting for Sugarman" follows
two fans who set out on a journey to figure out what ever happened to
their rock hero, long assumed dead.

"The Invisible War," "Escape
Fire," and "Chasing Ice" tackle issues of sexual violence in the
military, efforts to stem the crisis in American health care, and the
melting of Arctic glaciers, respectively. Each of these documentaries
provides probing investigation, startling revelation, and needed hope.
So, too, New York/Vermont filmmaker Eugene Jarecki’s documentary, "The
House I Live In," that constructs a personal and political framework for
appraising the drug wars, in which 45 million Americans have been
arrested during the past 40 years. Jarecki explores the politics and
culture underlying successive campaigns that put people in jail but
failed to slow addiction. The film is slated for a public television

Of course, theaters are overflowing with summer
commercial films, too. I enjoyed Wes Anderson’s "Moonrise Kingdom" for
its handmade feel and awkward but real tale of young love. And Andrew
Garfield is perfect as "The Amazing Spiderman." I plan to see "The Dark
Knight" Batman picture, if only to catch Senator Leahy’s latest on
screen cameo. And I recently caught a new French film, "The
Intouchables," as a way to escape sweltering heat in Manhattan. It’s a
lightweight buddy picture emanating off-beat character dynamics rooted
in class, race, and disability. It succeeds because it refuses to take
itself too seriously. A good formula, I think, for cinematic summer

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