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#SAVFF: Programmer's Guide
Inside info on what to see when

WITH A record breaking 1,150 competition entries from all over the world to sift through this year, as well as engaging studio releases and festival favorites, the selection process for the 2015 Savannah Film Festival was not for the faint of heart.

Each film is judged on its own merits of craft and storytelling, relativity and audience appeal, then finally how it fits into the emerging lineup. The Savannah audience is wonderfully diverse and putting together a program that offers something for everyone is a monumental challenge. This year offers more content than ever before. 

Not sure what to see or where to begin? Here’s a little insider help:

1. Mixing things way up this year, the festival hits the ground running early on the first Saturday, kicking off with the Docs to Watch series, a popular feature last year. Hosted by the Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg, the series culminates in a roundtable discussion on Sunday, October 25th at 6pm at the Lucas Theatre. Best of Enemies starts the series off in sublime fashion, perfect for the current political climate. It may be the one film of the festival this programmer is most excited for. Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville (Oscar winning director of Twenty Feet From Stardom) craft a riveting look at the 1968 televised debates between William F. Buckley, Jr. and Gore Vidal. Filled with actual footage of the debates, this film has been garnering a ton of buzz since it debuted at Sundance in January. 

2. For those who love documentaries about music, there is Amy, about the rise and fall of the brilliantly talented and tragic Amy Winehouse, and What Happened, Miss Simone, an in-depth look at the great Jazz legend Nina Simone. Rounding out the lineup are docs like The Hunting Ground, The Wolf Pack, Cartel Land, Winter on Fire, Meet the Patels, and Call Me Lucky, about comedian Barry Crimmins, directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. Each of the directors from these films will be in attendance for post-screening Q&As and participating on the Roundtable panel discussion.

3. Another facet of the festival this year is the greatly expanded shorts block lineup. If you like short films of various flavors, these blocks are not to be missed and only screen once. There is the SuperShorts! block (Monday, 10/26, 2pm, Trustees) for those with short attention spans. These shorts all tell a complete story in under 6 minutes and feature delightful comedic gems such as Opt Out and 2084 , and lovely docs such as A Passion of Gold and Fire about a French bee keeper, and Ryan McGinnes: Studio Process about the talented psychedelic visual artist at work.

4. There’s also the Doc Shorts block, (Wednesday, 10/28, 9:30am, Lucas) which features such moving films like Body Team 12 about the Liberian ebola cleanup crew (not for the faint of heart, but definitely a first hand look at what it was like during the crisis), Boxeadora, about a Cuban female boxer who wants to make it to the Olympics but faces a steep uphill battle to qualify in a country where boxing is considered a “men only” sport, and The House is Innocent, featuring an inside look at how the current owners of an infamous San Francisco crime scene that just happens to be a private residence turned a dark negative into a positive. Also included in the block are From Tonga, Tomgirl, and Meet The Maker: The Roaster about a coffee-roasting purist in St. Louis, Missouri, that will appeal to many in Savannah who love our local roasting companies and coffee shops.

5. Historical Shorts (Monday, 10/26, 3:45pm, Trustees) is back this year with films set in the past or future, including The Girl in the Green Dress, encompassing a friendship between two women in the 1950’s that pushes boundaries and propriety. Shooting an Elephant is based on the George Orwell essay about a British officer in Burma tasked with shooting an aggressive elephant, which he does against his better judgment. Also included in the block are American Falls, Odessa, Sabre Dance featuring former Olympian Greg Louganis as surrealist painter Salvador Dali, and The Future Perfect featuring voice over from Zachary Quinto.

6. One other notable block is the World Shorts (Wednesday, 10/28 , 12pm, Lucas), of showcasing work from a particular country or region. This year takes us to a totally different hemisphere of the globe, featuring the work of Australian filmmakers. From the comedic in Death in Bloom about a woman working with the Grim Reaper to choose the perfect form of death, and The Best Way to Kill Your Mother about a woman coming to terms with her mother’s progressive dementia and Julia Childs obsession, to more haunting pieces like Harvey’s Dream (based on a Stephen King short story), Caravan, and Second Hand, rounding out with two animated shorts, the delightful piece The Orchestra (also included in the Animated Shorts block) and Oscar Wilde’s The Nightingale and the Rose, featuring voice work from several notable Australian talents such as Geoffrey Rush and Mia Wasikowska, and amazingly beautiful animation based on the work of artist Del Kathryn Barton. Along with the Animated, Student and Professional competition, shorts play an essential part in the lineup this year.

7. Speaking of beautiful animation, two wildly divergent animated features are included in the program. Totally kid friendly and lovely is The Prophet (Wednesday, 10/28, 3pm, Trustees), featuring the vocal talents of Liam Neeson and Salma Hayak, who also served as a producer. Based on the work by Khalil Gibran, each episode is animated by a different artist making for a stunning visual treat.

Definitely for mature audiences only is Charlie Kaufman’s first stop motion feature, Anomalisa (Wednesday, 10/28, 9pm, Lucas), about a man crippled by the mundanity of his own life. The stop motion work is incredibly detailed and amazing, as is the sound design and voice work (with the exception of the two leads, characters are voiced by Tom Noonan). The film is haunting, personal, moving, awkward, sexually graphic in the style of Blue Valentine, and for those who love Charlie Kaufman’s brilliance, essential viewing. It gets to you in the strangest of ways, making you laugh and possibly cry, as the situations the leads find themselves in are very relatable. Even though it plays opposite Tom Hardy’s Legend (screening at 9:30pm Wednesday at Trustees) making for some tough choices, Anomalisa garnered high praise coming out of Telluride and Toronto for its brilliant look at the struggle to find connection and passion in life and is strongly recommended for those who appreciate all that Charlie Kaufman has brought to cinema.

8. Other rare gems include PAPA (Sunday, 10/25, 3:30pm, Trustees and Friday, 10/30, 11am, Lucas), the first feature film to be shot on location in Havana, Cuba after the embargo. Based on a journalist’s real life friendship with Ernest Hemingway, it boasts a star studded cast featuring Giovanni Ribisi as the journalist Ed Myers and notable stage actor Adrian Sparks, who has played Hemingway onstage several times. Minka Kelly plays Myers’ girlfriend, and Joely Richardson stars as Mary Hemingway, the author’s fourth wife and eventual widow. The film also features exclusive footage inside Hemingway’s Cuban estate Finca Vigia.

9. Several other features follow writers and their struggles to capture the truest story, including the strong Oscar contender Spotlight (Tuesday, 10/27, 7pm, Trustees), about the Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team’s piece on the Catholic sexual abuse cover up. Tumbledown (Sunday, 10/25, 12:30pm, Trustees, and Saturday, 10/31, 3pm, Trustees) pits Rebecca Hall, a grieving widow of an idolized folk singer, against Jason Sudeikis, a writer hoping to capture the perfect biography of her late husband. Both deliver well-crafted and nuanced performances, with support from such heavies as Griffin Dunne and Blythe Danner, making for an enjoyable viewing experience. Inspired by actual events, Coming Through the Rye (Thursday, 10/29, 9:30pm, Lucas) casts Chris Cooper as J.D. Salinger, and Alex Wolff as Jamie Schwartz, the young man obsessed with Holden Caulfield who adapts The Catcher in the Rye for the stage and seeks out Salinger for his approval and blessing.

10. Also speaking of writers, the After Dark series and SCAD Cinema Circle offers Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Friday, 10/30, 8pm, Lucas), hosted by the Oscar winning sound designer for the film, and SCAD Sound faculty, David Stone. See the film in digitally restored 4K and stay for the post-show conversation on the making of the film.

With more films than ever, a star-studded lineup, the Conversation Series featuring actors Olivia Wilde, Elizabeth Olsen, Riley Keough and Soarise Ronan, and directors such as Catherine Hardwick, Sarah Gavron, Marc Abraham and Meg Ryan, screenings like Suffragette, Room, Brooklyn, Tab Hunter: Confidential, Son of Saul, Mia Madre, and Ithaca, Ryan’s directing debut, the 2015 Savannah Film Festival has something for everyone!