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.
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.
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 Bone. Stray 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.