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Louisiana International Film Festival Continues with Industry Expo, Strong Documentaries, 'I Am Divine' (TRAILER)

Thompson on Hollywood By Meredith Brody | Thompson on Hollywood April 26, 2013 at 3:13PM

The days' screenings: it's doc day! "Life According to Sam" showed at Sundance and is to be broadcast on HBO in the fall . The second doc is Jeff Kaufman's lively, densely-populated "The Savoy King," which debuted at the New York Film Festival. The third is "I Am Divine," by accomplished documentarian Jeffrey Schwarz, who previously directed HBO's "Vito." If you're a Divine fan, this movie is right up your alley -- I am one, and yet I was totally ignorant of her disco career. If the John Waters star is unknown to you, you'll be a fan after you see the movie.
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'The Savoy King'
'The Savoy King'

The days' screenings: it's doc day!

"Life According to Sam" showed at Sundance and is to be broadcast on HBO in the fall (Indiewire's interview with the director here). Sam is a hyper-intelligent and articulate child who suffers from progeria, the rare and fatal aging disease that affects about 250 children worldwide.  Sam's parents are both doctors, and we follow the family for years as his mother supervises the first-ever drug trial for progeria victims who come to her from all over the world. It's both delicate and moving. Jeff Consiglio, its editor, who also edited "Sam"'s directors Sean Fine and Andrea Nix's Oscar-winning "Inocente," which is showing later today, is in attendance, chatting with the audience afterwards (which includes an aunt of a young girl currently enrolled in the third drug trial undertaken by Sam's mom).

At intimate film festivals, I must say, the access is amazing. When I stand up after the screening, the young artist Inocente herself, who has changed from the pink tulle ballerina skirt I glimpsed on her in the hotel lobby earlier, catches my eye and says "Did you cry?," initiating a wide-ranging conversation I might not have initiated myself.

The second doc is Jeff Kaufman's lively, densely-populated "The Savoy King," which debuted at the New York Film Festival (our TOH! review). It tells the story of the charismatic handicapped drummer and bandleader Chick Webb, who played to enthusiastic white and black crowds at Harlem's Savoy Ballroom, the only integrated dance spot in Harlem, and discovered Ella Fitzgerald, who led the band after Webb died. It's composed of marvelous vintage footage, contemporary interviews with denizens of Harlem and the Savoy who are now in their nineties, and voice-overs by a dazzling array of stars including Bill Cosby, Andy Garcia, Billy Crystal, and Jeff Goldblum.  Kaufman is there, accompanied by velvet-voiced, towering New Orleans musician Bruce "Sunpie" Barnes, who was another of "The Savoy Kings" voiceover artists, and is something of a renaissance man, being an ex-NFL football player and naturalist as well. (Full disclosure: Jeff's son Daniel is my godson, a talented filmmaker in his own right, who supplied excellent, stylish, mysterious graphics of lyrics for the film's end credits.)

After a brief foray across the street to the reception, which features sushi, cocktails, and lively live piano-playing by 88-year-old Henry Gray, who has played with, among others, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and, inevitably, the Rolling Stones.  It's held up a dizzying spiral staircase and under an equally dizzying stained-glass dome held up by one gravity-defying column.  I think that if Mark Twain had gone inside the Old Capitol building (which if course wasn't yet old), he would have liked it more.

I tear myself away to see the 10 p.m. screening of "I Am Divine," by accomplished documentarian Jeffrey Schwarz who previously directed HBO's "Vito" (Indiewire's interview with Schwarz).  If you're a Divine fan, this movie is right up your alley -- I am one, and yet I was totally ignorant of her disco career. If the John Waters star is unknown to you,  you'll be a fan after you see the movie.  Again, Schwarz is there and totally available for conversation afterwards.  

It would be a perfect day if I could have found something delicious to eat afterwards. Bars up and down Third Street, which borders the Shaw Center, are hopping, almost maniacally so, but food seems to be in short supply, as Ian Birnie and I seek sustenance.

We give up and get tuna sandwiches to go at Jimmy Jones, a better-than-Subway chain that I only have seen and patronized one other time, in Boise, Idaho, on my way home from the delightful Sun Valley Film Festival.  On our somewhat circuitous route back to the hotel, Ian photographs an old-fashioned haberdashery with window displays right out of "Mad Men," and I spy a cute little bakery called Strands Cafe, that looks worth checking out in the morning, before a day of at least four more films.  And Yelp and Urbanspoon agree!  


This article is related to: Louisiana International Film Festival, I Am Divine, The Savoy King: Chick Webb & The Music That Changed America, Life According to Sam, Festivals, Reviews


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