‘The Genius of Marian’
1:26 • Screens at noon at Plaza Frontenac • Free
Five years ago, Pam White started writing a book about her mother, the gifted painter Marian Williams Steele, who died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2001. A year into the project, at age 61, Pam herself was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. At that point, Pam’s son, filmmaker Banker White, set out to document his mother’s battle with dementia. Mixing home video of Pam as a vibrant young mother (she was an actress and model) with new footage of Pam’s increasing incapacitation, the film manages to be graceful and beautiful amid the candid access to a family’s sadness and the crushing effects of the disease. The details on display are disheartening, but by making this tender film about Pam — and the stalwart courage and caregiving of her husband Ed — the director has both fulfilled his mother’s desire to preserve the memory of Marian and provided an intimate portrait of a disease that affects more than 5 million American families. One of the festival’s best documentaries.
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‘Farah Goes Bang’
1:30 • Screens at 7 p.m. at the Tivoli
A month before the 2004 re-election of President George W. Bush, a multicultural trio of fresh-out-of-college girls hits the road to try to drum up some last-ditch support for John Kerry. Their trip to Ohio takes them through Texas, a part of the country decidedly unfriendly to these girls’ politics, and Farah (Nikohl Boosheri) and friends soon discover that righteous indignation is a thread that ties these towns together just as it splits the country apart. At the same time, the shy, self-conscious Farah has another goal in mind for the road trip: to lose her virginity. Farah conflates sexual and presidential politics on her road to personal and electoral gratification. You know how one of those goals ends; I won’t give away the other. Some of the confrontations feel forced and the improvisational dialogue isn’t as funny or authentic as first-time director Meera Menon hopes, but these Bush-despising millennials provide something close to aughties nostalgia in a film that marks a promising debut.
‘A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power, and Jayson Blair at the New York Times’
1:19 • Screens at 1:30 p.m. at Plaza Frontenac • Director Grant will be in attendance
When New York Times reporter Jayson Blair resigned in disgrace after plagiarizing and fabricating dozens of stories for the paper, the Times referred to the ordeal as “a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper.” This first-rate documentary from director Samantha Grant delves deep into the entire affair, using an energetic mix of media — Blair’s own narration of the events, fresh interviews with the key players including then-editor Howell Raines (who also resigned over the scandal), re-creations, photographs and animation. It’s a thorough and balanced examination of a gifted but unstable young man chasing highs of various kinds no matter the cost. The subject makes for a riveting psychological study: As one of Blair’s colleagues puts it, “It took more effort to perpetuate the fraud than to just do the reporting and write the story.” The film’s subtitle tries to sum it up, but “A Fragile Trust” covers even more ground — psychiatry, race, addiction, the Internet age — all of which raises questions that those closest to the Blair debacle struggle to answer.
‘Forty-Seven Views of Leslie Laskey’
0:47 • Screens at 4:30 p.m. in Brown Hall at Washington University • Free • Laskey and Wild will be in attendance
Ninety-one-year-old Leslie Laskey is a painter, photographer, etcher, poet, D-Day survivor, and professor emeritus of art and architecture at Washington University. The “Forty Seven Views” in the title refer to the number of separate looks we get at Laskey, collected by director David Wild over 11 years of observing the artist, mostly in his homes in Michigan and St. Louis. Told only through pictures of Laskey’s wondrously ornamented living spaces and in the captivating rasp of Laskey’s voice, the film captures the nonagenarian still restlessly wired to his creative curiosity, absorption of beauty and work-is-life manifesto. In one scene, he rescues a gnarled metal hinge from being burned as trash in a neighbor’s firepit; thrilled at the discovery, Laskey creates a wall-size painting from its inspiration. As Laskey tells us, if one wants to be an artist — on the page, on the canvas, in the kitchen — it isn’t something that one does only on Thursdays. A lovely feast for the senses, it’s impossible to walk away from this documentary without feeling inspired.
‘She Loves Me Not’
1:31 • Screens at 9:30 p.m. at the Tivoli; also at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Wildey
Written and directed by Jack Sanderson and Brian Jun and filmed in Jun’s hometown of Alton, “She Loves Me Not” stars Cary Elwes as Brady, a once-successful writer of best-selling novels, popular enough to buy him a mansion overlooking the Mississippi. These days, though, Brady is too wasted, lazy and depressed to get dressed, let alone leave the house. Divided into three chapters — “The Assistant,” “The Publicist,” “The Keeper” — each section focuses on a woman key to Brady’s devolution and possible recovery. The film has an artful polish, as indies go, and the performances of the three chapters’ namesake ladies (Briana Evigan, Lisa Edelstein, Joey Lauren Adams) bring some sizzle. The script takes some chances by trying to shift genres without warning — psychological drama, erotic thriller, horror, rom-com — but the results are underdeveloped, badly balanced and full of holes. Attention Karen Black fans: This movie marks the actress’ last film performance before her death this year.
‘Running From Crazy’
1:41 • Screens at 1 p.m. at Plaza Frontenac
The latest from two-time Oscar-winning documentarian Barbara Kopple profiles the family history and present-day life of actress Mariel Hemingway. The title refers to Mariel’s persistent awareness that much of her family, including her two sisters, suffered from severe mental illnesses, and seven of those relatives have committed suicide, including her famous grandfather. In fact, Mariel gives us a tour of the Idaho cabin (the exact room even) in which Ernest Hemingway took his own life three years before she was born. But the film spends much more time on Mariel’s reflections on her immediate family, especially sister Margaux’s rise as a supermodel and her subsequent descent into addiction and depression. The heavy allegations that Mariel levels against her father deepen the dysfunction. Unearthed home video of Mariel’s family hitting the wine in their kitchen makes for some prime peeking, and Kopple’s unfussy filmic style otherwise provides a close view of Mariel’s current life, one that, for everything else we learn about the Hemingways, is remarkably normal. She’s productive, physically fit, emotionally sound, in a stable relationship and involved in mental-health organizations. All of which means that Mariel Hemingway isn’t quite as fascinating as the crazy from which she is running.
‘Something in the Water’
1:20 • Screens at 6:30 p.m. at the Wildey • Director Bratowski will be in attendance
For those expecting a wide-ranging survey of St. Louis’ contribution to rock ’n’ roll history, “Something in the Water” will fall short. Chuck Berry’s rock architecture and Ike Turner’s late-’50s St. Louis tenure get brief mentions, but other luminaries like Miles Davis, Uncle Tupelo and Nelly get no play at all. Instead, this rock-doc is built strictly for 50-something classic rockers who remember blasting Head East’s “Flat as a Pancake” from a ’73 Plymouth Duster on the way to Forest Park to attend one of KSHE’s anything-goes Kite Fly concerts. It’s a tribute to ’70s Midwest-rock nostalgia and the area’s hairy coulda-been-huge bands: Head East, Pavlov’s Dog, Mama’s Pride and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils. The rise of KSHE takes center stage, but we also get segments on Steve Schankman, whose Contemporary Productions took St. Louis concert promotion to the big leagues, and Bob Heil, the first engineer to master large-scale rock-concert sound systems. Talking heads — musicians, promoters, local-legend DJs (Radio Rich! Johnny Rabbitt!) — make up nearly the entirety of the documentary, meaning clips of live performances are in regrettably short supply. Still, if you survived one of SIUE’s Mississippi River Festivals or Busch Stadium Superjams, the film will be a nice look back through the haze.