When the person sitting next to you on the plane tells you they made the Weiner documentary, it can be hard to suppress the urge to geek out entirely and bombard them with questions about how they made the film, which follows the former NYC mayoral candidate as he attempts to mount his great comeback. How he let them continue to shoot even when he’d been caught again for his sexting exploits (and this was even before the latest Hillary-enveloping development); how each new scandal has affected their film; whether they’d go back and do a follow-up. So many questions.
Finding myself next to directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg on my flight to Savannah was a good indicator of what lay ahead in the coming days. While I tried not to jump straight into journalist mode on a very early Saturday morning, they were amiable to chatting about the film as we got settled into the flight, and to answering some of my questions.
Like me, it was their first time travelling to Savannah, and the film festival that’s been held there for the past 19 years. While Josh and Elyse would only be there for the weekend, I was staying for the week, co-hosting a series of Facebook Live chats for the festival, together with my friend Stevie Wong. I’d been to Georgia before (for this Walking Dead set visit in Peachtree City, and an Allegiant set visit too, in Atlanta). But Savannah is a different experience – so many sweeping Spanish moss trees, massive antebellum mansions and yes, pockets of spookiness. I didn’t have much time for exploring any of the ghostly or haunted parts of Savannah – I was too busy enjoying meeting the living, breathing filmmakers, each possessing a love for the medium, both in documentary and narrative form.
Prior to the fest, I’d already seen Weiner, an excellent study into what drives a politician, in front of and behind the camera and his constituents. It was part of a strong line-up of docs at the fest, which were also the subject of a great panel, held by The Hollywood Reporter‘s Scott Feinberg. While at SAVFF, I did get to see three more well-crafted documentaries, Tower, Gleason and Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing. I will write more in a separate post about the last one, for reasons mostly personal. The first two shook me in their own ways – Tower, through its use of animation to re-create the point of view of people affected by the first mass sniper shooting in Austin, Texas, in the 60s, and Gleason, with its vlog-style diary of former NFL star Steven Gleason, which shows what the disease ALS really is about, beyond ice bucket challenges and news stories. Deeply, deeply moving. I urge you to seek them out.
Documentaries aside, I also got to see two narrative films I’d missed at the Toronto Film Festival, Moonlight and Lion, and have since, also added my voice to the chorus of good reviews urging others to see these films too. Lion, starring Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel, when it comes out on November 25th, and Moonlight, which currently is showing, and held the highest per theatre average on its opening weekend. The film is a tender portrait, a personal coming-of-age story about a black man that we don’t get to see much of on the big screen. Talking to the film’s Ashton Sanders and Mahershala Ali for our Facebook Live chat was definitely a highlight of the fest. As was eating all that Southern cooking! To temper that, I ran a lot too. In between watching films, I’d take in as much of the town as possible, and I recorded an episode of The Rundown, as an ode to it and, of course, Forrest Gump, where the opening scenes of the film were set and shot.
My festival was book-ended with another filmmaker sitting in the seat next to me on the plane ride back to NYC. This time, Ricki Stein, who co-directed the Boston Marathon Bombing documentary. As someone who just qualified to run the marathon next year, you just know I had a whole lot of questions for her.