52 Authors: Week 46 - Tolstoy
The Bonzo Dog Band: Look At Me I'm Wonderful

Three Small But Worthwhile Movies

The little town where I live, Fairhope, Alabama, has always had an artsy element, which is nice, but over the past few decades the town has grown fashionable and attractive to wealthy people, which is not so nice. And now the artsy crowd also tends to be wealthy and fashionable. I don't care for this development, but it does have its positive aspects. I mean, would you rather live in a small town that's dying, like so many are, or one that's thriving, even if you aren't keen on the way it's thriving? 

One of the positive aspects is that for three years now there has been a Fairhope Film Festival. My wife and I spent last Saturday from early afternoon till 9pm or so viewing three movies that we had picked from the roster of several dozen. There were many more I'd have liked to see, but they were shown at times when I couldn't attend. I liked the three a great deal, though (and so did my wife). Here's a brief description of them. You aren't likely to find them in a theater except perhaps at another festival, but the second two are on Netflix, and perhaps the first one will be in time. The first two are documentaries, the third is a drama.

County Fair Texas

This was my favorite, but for very personal reasons. You would probably like it, but you probably wouldn't like it as much as I did. I grew up in the country, on the family cattle farm (although my immediate family didn't farm, we lived on the property). I was in the 4-H club, and every year for four or five years in my early teens (I think), my siblings and cousins raised steers that were shown at a local exhibition, and then at the state fair in Birmingham (after which they were auctioned off and became beef). I suppose if you'd asked me I'd have said nobody does that anymore. But they do, and that's what this movie is about. I found it really affecting. It brought back very vividly things I hadn't thought about for at least forty years, perhaps fifty.

The kids in this movie aren't raising steers. Some of them are raising heifers (a steer is a castrated male, a heifer is a young female). Some are raising pigs. One boy wants to be a rodeo rider. Here's the trailer.


This was enormously moving to me. For instance, that bit at the end where the girl is patting the heifer's face: I hadn't thought about that since my last steer, I guess, but I felt it again. It was almost like time travel. Sometimes I think I should have stayed on the farm.

Oh, and by the way, coincidentally, the day before I saw County Fair I read this excellent article by Francesca Murphy about the ethical treatment of animals.

Stray Dog

A very engaging, respectful, and affectionate picture of people who don't ordinarily get either respect or affection from sophisticated America, which caused me to be very surprised when I saw in the credits (I always watch the credits) that it was produced by something called the Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective. Less surprising is the name of the director: Debra Granik, who directed the very powerful Winter's BoneStray Dog is also a portrait of rural Missouri. I'll save myself the trouble of describing it by pasting in the description from the web site:

Ron “Stray Dog” Hall lives in Southern Missouri where he owns and operates the At Ease RV Park.  After seven years of living with four small dogs as his only companions, he is adjusting to life with his wife, Alicia, who is newly arrived from Mexico.  Anchored by his small dogs and big bikes, Stray Dog seeks to strike a balance between his commitment to his family, neighbors, biker brotherhood, and fellow veterans.  As part of the legacy of fighting in the Vietnam War, he wrestles with the everlasting puzzle of conscience, remorse, and forgiveness.


 I said these are small films. This is a small drama. It doesn't have many characters, it doesn't have brilliant or profound dialog, and it doesn't have grand ambitions. But it's a good and touching story, well produced. It's about a very unhappy fourteen-year-old girl who's sent from her disintegrating family in Seattle to live for a while with an uncle in Alaska. For very good reasons she runs away. She falls in with a backpacker who has troubles of his own. And I'll leave it at that. I agree with the comments of the reviewers included in the trailer.


I want to mention one thing that I think deserves particular praise: it deals with some painful sexual stuff, but does not exploit it in a prurient way. And in one particular aspect, which I can't reveal without giving away too much of the plot, it really goes against the predictable movie pattern. In fact, thinking about it a bit more, I think it's somewhat subversive.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

The County Fair trailer made me realize what a Yankee I am! I had to watch it twice to understand the spoken words.

Wildlike streams on Amazon, too. Not the other two, alas.

These look like just the kind of films I like and I might even have time to watch them next week.


That's funny.



Because I'll have time?


We cross-posted--I was replying to Anne-Marie, about her not being able to understand the exotic speech. I do think you would like the movies.

These do look good.

I've got a 'Southern' movie scheduled for the weekend -- Chrystal, with Billy Bob Thornton. It's directed by the same guy who is doing Rectify. Don't know much about it, but it looks a good bit darker than the ones you've listed, Mac.

Saw something about that somewhere and had an impression of "pretty dark." As we discussed a week or two ago, I'm not keen on Rectify.

Did you see Mud, the Jeff Nichols movie with Matthew McConnaughey? Ray McKinnon, the Rectify guy, played the boy's father. He was also in Nichols' Take Shelter. Mud was a good coming-of-age movie, and not particularly dark.

Yes, I did see Mud and liked it. McKinnon's performance in Rectify is excellent. But by the end of series 2 I didn't much want to see more of the character. Have not seen Take Shelter.

Oh, McKinnon's not the actor, he's the creator/writer. But he acted in those other films.

Take Shelter is very good, but it runs a little dark. Michael Shannon is outstanding. The other Jeff Nichols film he's in, Shotgun Stories, is excellent too.

Nichols, who's from Little Rock, is batting 1.000 so far. He's made three movies, and all three are very good.

Well, the Rectify actor is good. :-)

I wasn't just wild about Mud, but I did enjoy it.

That is a very good piece by Professor Murphy.

The films look interesting too, but not the kind of thing that tends to get international distribution.

At our yearly fair a month or so back, all the competitors were past middle age. Young people apparently "don't have the time" any more. There must be something wrong there.

Paul, is there a Belgian equivalent of 4-H or FFA? I know several very good high-school robotics teams run out of 4-H clubs. Maybe that's why the kids are too busy to show animals.

Robotics in 4-H?! That ain't right.

Really, it's sad. I went to the 4-H building at the Fair a few years ago and was horrified--all business-y.


Anne-Marie, if I knew what 4-H or FFA were, I might be able to answer the question!

There are youth groups with a rural emphasis. I would associate them more with tractor shows and ploughing competitions than with traditional livestock fairs. Perhaps that's what it's easier to interest young people in.

The Belgian secondary education system is tripartite, with pupils streamed at 12 or 14 in vocational, technical and "general" (meaning academic) directions. Some technical schools provide agricultural and horticultural streams (not our local ones, where the options are commercial, technical, medical, sport, and art & design). I wonder if schools with agricultural streams do projects for the fairs in the places that they are. I'll have to ask.

Watched 'Chrystal' the other night. I thought it was very good, and despite some very dark moments, it ends with a measure of hope. The leads, Billy Bob Thornton and Lisa Blount, are excellent, as is most of the secondary cast.

I wasn't familiar with Blount, but it turns out she was director Ray McKinnon's wife, and died in 2010.

Seems like Thornton is nearly always worth watching. Haven't heard of Blount as far as I can recall.

I guess 4-H and similar organizations have to adapt to the shrinking role of the farm, but I hope they haven't gone all ideologically progressive like the Girl Scouts

Future Homemakers of America has become Family, Career and Community Leaders of America.

On the other hand, down here the kids I know in 4-H are raising pigs.


Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)