I started off the festival’s final day by attending a screening of the 1991 Disney musical of Beauty and the Beast. I was half hoping the extended version might have a sneak peek of the live-action movie coming out next year, but no such luck, so I left in the middle to see a re-screening of some short films that I missed. It started with Amanda Milius’ The Lotus Gun, an accomplished post-apocalyptic Western set in 2077, with two women surviving on their own in the desert and one getting kidnapped, forcing the other to go on a rescue mission. The Shreveport-made The Importance of Sex Education makes an obvious but useful point in its story about a 12-year-old girl (Frances Watson, quite good) growing up in 1976 who gets an incomplete education in sexual matters by her squeamish parents and so mistakes herself for pregnant. She turns to the camera and says, “I accidentally had sex with Bobby Farity!” after the boy in question drinks from her milk carton, and winds up causing quite a ruckus. Then came two Australian movies about girls with negligent mothers, Jem Rankin’s mordantly funny Cherokee and Kate Halpin’s tormented Hopscotch, which features nice work by Bonnie Ferguson as a teenager who realizes that she needs to get away from her fun, manic, man-crazy, deluded mom.
“We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are.” Those are the opening words of Maya Angelou And Still I Rise, and man, I needed to hear that after our recent “we’re putting the white guys back in charge no matter how unfit they are” election. (By the way, Hillary Clinton appears in this documentary to pay tribute to Angelou. Donald Trump, oddly enough, was not asked to participate.) You might think that a life as large, variegated, and extraordinary as Angelou’s would be tough for a filmmaker to screw up, and you’d be right. Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack interview a lot of artists, politicians, and personal friends of Angelou’s, but they also uncover photographs and film footage of her as a dancer, a calypso singer, and as the subject of parodies on Saturday Night Live and the like. The woman herself was also interviewed extensively for the film before her death in 2014. All the star power onscreen is mesmerizing, but the movie also unearths things like Angelou being the first-ever black woman to be a member of the Directors Guild of America (that was news to me) and an anecdote about her encounter with Tupac Shakur on the set of the 1993 movie Poetic Justice, which left the rap star in tears. The filmmakers don’t forget that this is about Angelou’s lifelong quest for creative expression and addressing social injustice, and the importance of her work continuing now that she’s gone.
And that winds things up. Every year starting around high summer, I start keeping a running tally of what I think are the year’s best movies. I have to say that this year’s Lone Star Film Festival didn’t make much of a dent in my list. That wasn’t usually the case under the old management team; last year’s festival alone featured some of my favorite movies of both 2015 (Carol) and 2016 (The Witch). I heard some talk about the timing of the festival not chiming with some of the major distributors’ release schedules, which I suppose can happen. Still, I’m thinking the culprit might be the reduced capacity of AMC Palace’s auditoriums rather than lack of taste or savvy by the programmers. If Lone Star had gotten their hands on one of the coveted festival darlings (let’s say, La La Land), where would the film have screened? Four Day Weekend Theater seats 200, but it isn’t primarily a movie theater. The screens at the Palace top out at 83. Would Lone Star show an Oscar contender on only one of those screens and risk a repeat of last year’s debacle over Carol? Or would they show it on two screens like they did this year with the far less worthy Nerdland? Whatever the solution is, giving Fort Worth audiences an advance look at the likes of Silver Linings Playbook and Wild and The Imitation Game is a huge part of the Lone Star Film Festival’s identity. I hope and pray that it doesn’t lose films like that.