Idol Chatter

By Gareth Higgins
As you may have read in my Idol Chatter post from earlier this week, I was very impressed the animated film “Mary and Max” and I’m hoping it will be the breakout hit of Sundance. Here are some other films making an impact at this year’s festival:
Old Partner: The quintessential Sundance surprise: a Korean documentary about an elderly farmer and his ox, who have worked together plowing his fields for over 40 years. It’s a beautiful nature film, but also a moving story about the cycle of life. The farmer’s wife provides a hilarious Greek chorus of nagging both the farmer and the ox; and the farmer loves the ox so much that he refuses to use pesticides on the crops because he doesn’t want to damage the ox’s health. It’s the kind of film that makes Sundance inspirational – because it was shot so simply you feel that you could make it yourself.
The Only Good Indian: A brilliant revisionist Western about the treatment of Native Americans; until not long ago, some Native children were abducted and forced into boarding schools similar to those in the Australian movie “Rabbit Proof Fence” – this film is about what happens when a Native American detective is sent to retrieve a runaway. Wes Studi and Winter Fox Frank – respectively the elder statesman and new breakout star of Native American actors – are the double act at its center; the film works both as a thriller and a thoughtful reflection on some recent past injustices.
The Clone Returns Home: A Japanese science fiction film in which Buddhism meets genetic advances; a guy gets cloned and then confused and then enlightened. The film dares to invite the audience to imagine what would happen if we could clone – and therefore resurrect – human beings, with intact personalities, but faulty memories. Is the soul in the body, or the body in the soul? Would we want to go on living if we knew we were only a carbon copy of ourselves?
Thriller in Manila: Boxing documentary about Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali – their rivalry, the politics of sport, and what happens when relationships break down. A fascinating story of the titanic mid-1970s battle between the two best-known sportsmen in the world; and the long-term legacy of bitterness and recrimination that followed. Ali’s tragic fate is well-known; Frazier’s less so. “Thriller in Manila” suggests that while Frazier may have won the moral victory in not returning Ali’s insulting taunts at the time he made them, he is still losing the war by not getting over it. Perhaps the most striking coda is the fact that Ali has just sold an interest in using his name as a trademark for $50 million, while Frazier lives in a one-room apartment in his gym in the badlands of North Philadelphia.
The festival continues until Sunday 25th January.
Gareth Higgins is a northern Irish writer, speaker and activist, now resident in North Carolina; he wrote the book “How Movies Helped Save My Soul: Finding Spiritual Fingerprints in Culturally Significant Films,” and co-presents the Film Talk podcast with Jett Loe at The Film Talk.

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