alycewilson (alycewilson) wrote,

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Watching Stories

On Sunday, my husband, The Gryphon and I caught a couple more films at the Philadelphia Film Festival (CineFest).

The four performers featured in "See What I'm Saying"

(from left) C.J. Jones, Robert DeMayo, T.L. Forsberg,
and Bob Hiltermann in "See What I'm Saying"

Our first film was at The Prince, See What I'm Saying: The Deaf Entertainers Documentary, the debut effort by director Hilari Scarl, who was a contestant in the filmmaker reality show, On the Lot.

The documentary follows four deaf entertainers to talk about their challenges and their triumphs. Some of the people featured were actually from Philadelphia, including actor and AIDS educator Robert DeMayo. The others followed were TL Forsberg, a young female singer who bridges the hearing and the deaf world, since her hearing loss is not as profound. Also, we meet Bob Hiltermann, drummer for an all-deaf rock band called Beethoven's Nightmare. The film follows him as he strives to put together one more big show. And finally, there is C.J. Jones, a comedian and actor who's been in the business for more than 30 years but has never seen the sort of success he's wanted. He begins to consider other paths that use his talent, such as producing and event organizing.

The film is well-done: funny, and touching. Scarl helps us to see who each of these people are, and the viewers begin to admire them, both for their talent and for their perseverance. The director was there for a Q&A afterwards and said that she'd had access to a number of different performers but chose these four, in part because all of them had something interesting going on in their lives during the time she was shooting the movie. That is certainly true, especially for Robert DeMayo, who had some unexpected personal issues during the film and still managed to pursue acting.

See What I'm Saying points out the issues without being preachy. It both shows the challenges that deaf performers face but also offers examples of their wonderful work.

Scarl provides captions throughout, which are helpful to both the hearing impaired and to those who don't speak American Sign Language, since both spoken English and sign language of several types are used throughout the movie.

Afterwards, Scarl talked about how she made the movie. She had been touring with the National Theater of the Deaf, as she comes from a theater background, and she met these people through the experience. That's how she met the performers she featured in this documentary.

Right now, the film is just making its film festival debut, but Scarl is hoping for a wider distribution. I hope so, as well. Updates are available on her Web site. It was clear that Robert DeMayo had made an impression on the audience, because he was there for the Q&A, and everyone wanted to know what he was up to. He has a one-man show that is currently touring, and he directed everyone to his Web site.

I hope this movie does get picked up for wider release, both because it has an important message and because it's extremely entertaining and informative.

Rating: ***** (5 out of 5 stars)

We only had two movies on Sunday, and there was a large gap between them, so The Gryphon and I had time for a leisurely lunch at DiBruno Brothers. We ate upstairs, where you can get custom-made sandwiches, soups, and salads. I had a bowl of New England clam chowder and a salad.

Then, we checked out the food downstairs to choose something for dinner. The Gryphon was going to cook for me, but he wasn't sure what to make. After we browsed the meat section a while, he decided on some chorizo, which is a type of sausage. He wanted to make a sort of Mexican dish, frying up onions and peppers, heating up the sausage, adding some cheese, also purchased at DiBruno Brothers, and serving it all on tortillas (which we had to buy at the grocery store).

I was tired, so I took a nap, then worked on a poem. The Gryphon cooked us a delicious dinner, and then we drove to the last movie of the festival, which was showing at 9:30 at the International House. The film was I Sell the Dead, directed by Glenn McQuaid.

Larry Fessenden and Dominic Monaghan in a dark forest by lamplight

Larry Fessenden and Dominic Monaghan in "I Sell the Dead"

We ran into a friend of ours, The Browncoat, who was near the front of the line and promised to save us seats. The Gryphon got us coffees while I got caught up with my sister on the cell phone. She'd attended a job fair that weekend.

The International House has recently replaced their seats, and they are much more better than before. However, The Gryphon said that by the end of the movie, he was still uncomfortable.

Along with The Browncoat, we were joined by a young geek whom The Browncoat had met while volunteering for the film fest. He's also a gamer, and I'm sure we'll run into him at some point again.

The movie is a horror/comedy that has the feel of the '60s horror films from the Hammer Studios, complete with period costuming, lush detail, and the use of sweeping, orchestral music. The storytelling is another important trait they both share. Too many horror films today neglect storytelling in favor of suspense and shock.

I Sell the Dead begins with a man (Larry Fessenden as Willie Grimes) marching to the guillotine, being cursed by his neighbors. Soon afterwards, we meet his partner, Arthur Blake (played by Dominic Monaghan), who himself is awaiting execution. A monk, played by Ron Perlman, enters his cell and asks him to tell his story for prosperity. And so Arthur tells his story. I always love this sort of structure, because it keeps the viewer wondering what led to the current circumstances.

Arthur is a body snatcher who is later accused of murder but insists he didn't do it. He tells the story of how he got involved with Willie Grimes and entered this morbid profession. More interesting, he tells about the supernatural encounters he had while engaging in that dark art.

The movie is clearly made by people who know and love genre films,and they drop hints about the type of supernatural beings that the two are about to encounter. For example, if they're digging up a suicide who was buried at the crossroads with a stake in her chest, chances are she's a vampire. Sometimes, the hints aren't quite as clear, and the eventual discovery more of a surprise, which makes it all the funnier.

Monaghan, who also played Meriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, has a talent for humorous roles, so he was a great choice for the lead. The monk, as played with Perlman, has a sort of gruff gravitas. And Fessenden's Willie Grimes is a lovable scalawag that seems straight out of a Charles Dickens novel.

The only problems with the movie were technical. Both The Gryphon and The Browncoat agreed with me that the sound mixing was sometimes poor. In some of the scenes where there was both music and dialogue, I had trouble hearing the dialogue. It didn't help that the actors were all speaking with accents.

There were also some scenes where the color was so wildly different that the hair color of one of the characters changes from blonde to bright red. I'm not certain, though, if this was intentional, because sometimes the Hammer films had noticeable color inconsistencies.

Overall, anyone who loved the '60s Hammer movies, or who loves genre movies, or simply anyone who loves a good story, will enjoy this movie.

Rating: **** (4 out of 5 stars)

Storytelling makes a film, whether it's a documentary or a horror film.

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Tags: gryphon, movies, philadelphia film festival

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