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Aspen Filmfest reels ’em in

Stewart Oksenhorn
Vail CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily/Thierry ValletouxKristin Scott Thomas stars in "I've Loved You So Long."
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ASPEN ” After yet another summer of superheroes, super-villains and characters plucked from television’s past, Aspen Filmfest arrives ” at the speed of light, in the nick of time, to save the day!

Aspen Film’s annual fall festival, set for Sept. 24-28, scales things back to human size. “It sounds like a cliche ” but it’s ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” said Laura Thielen, executive director of Aspen Film. “Whether they’re documentaries or features, it’s normal people doing things that are kind of extraordinary.”

The festival takes no time getting to that theme. The opening night film is “Flash of Genius,” a feature based on the true story of Bob Kearns, an inventor whose signature creation, the intermittant windshield wiper, has been swiped by a Detroit automaker. In a performance that Thielen says has lready generated Oscar buzz, Greg Kinnear stars as the little guy who takes on the U.S. auto industry in an effort to get his due. The film, by first-time feature director Marc Abraham, co-stars Alan Alda and Dermot Mulroney.



On the documentary side are several films that have regular people making tremendous achievments, or facing extraordinary circumstances.

In the former category is “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” director Virginia Reticker’s look at how an improbable women’s movement brought enormous political changes to Liberia; and “Pressure Cooker,” the story of a culinary program in a run-down Philadelphia high school that has yielded impressive results for its participants. (The film’s co-directors, Mark Becker and Jennifer Grausman, are both expected to be in attendance.)



In the category of people dropped into extraordinary circumstances is “Stranded,” a documentary about the Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashed in the Andes in 1972. The film features survivors recounting for the first time in public about their experience.

Additional documentaries include the U.S. premiere of director Angus Yates’ “Crimes Against Nature,” based on Robert Kennedy, Jr.’s book about the Bush administration’s dismantling of the Environmental Protection Agency; and “The Brothers Warner,” the story of the four siblings who founded the Warner Bros. movie studio, as told by Cass Warner, granddaughter of mogul Harry Warner.

Among the features that tell human-scale tales is “Ballast,” a drama set in the Mississippi Delta about how a suicide ultimately brings a broken family back together. The film earned a best director award at the Sundance Festival for Lance Hammer in his first feature-length effort.



A handful of foreign language films also focus on real-life issues and stories. The French drama “I’ve Loved You So Long” stars Kristin Scott Thomas as a woman trying to reconnect with her family, and herself, after a long prison term. “Waltz with Bashir” and “Lemon Tree” are Israeli films that put the country’s political issues ” the 1982 occupation of Lebanon in the former, and the conflict with the Palestinians in the latter ” into human perspective. “Lemon Tree” earned the Audience Award at the Berlin Film Festival; “Waltz with Bashir” was well-received after premiering at the Cannes Film Festival. “Teddy Bear” is a comedy/drama about three couples in their 30s; the film is by Czech director Jan Hrebejk, whose last film, “Beauty in Trouble,” showed at last year’s Filmfest.

Amidst all the real-life tales is one very big fantasy: “Peter Pan.” Filmfest will have an exclusive Colorado screening, from a new print, in honor of the film’s 45th anniversary. The 1953 classic hasn’t been featured on the big screen in over 20 years.


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