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Wilma Mankiller

Now in its 24th year, the Sedona International Film Festival, which runs Feb. 24 through March 4, includes more than 150 feature films, animated films, shorts and documentaries, selected from thousands of submissions. Among the many guests and special events throughout the two-week festival, actor Richard Dreyfuss will return for 40th-anniversary screenings of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and The Big Fix (1978). Pierce Brosnan and his wife Keely will also be on hand to discuss their documentary Poisoning Paradise, which looks at the effects of genetically-engineered seeds and crops being tested in Hawaii.

This year’s Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented to Jane Alexandar, who has taken home two Emmys (with five other nominations), and has four Oscar nominations for her work in The Great White Hope (1970), All the President’s Men (1976), Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) and Testament (1983). Each of them except All the President’s Men will screen during the Festival.

FlagstaffLive! critics had the opportunity to screen several festival films; these are our impressions.

Seeing Is Believing: Women Direct

Directed by Cady McClain

Adrienne Bischoff

The most important question: Should I see this movie? Yes, you should. Director Cady McClain makes an especially timely documentary about the challenges facing female directors in the film industry. Not only is there a disproportionately small number of female directors in the business, but those who have made it have to work harder to stay in it. McClain interviews four women of different ages, nationalities and interests about their hardships, their breakthroughs and their wisdom gained. That’s the most illuminating part of the film. The other two parts are a little unnecessary, but thankfully minor. For example, she interviews male directors who essentially say sexism is bad. What’s the point, right? She also asks people on the street, presumably film students, if they can name a female director. No surprise: they struggle to answer. Admittedly this is nitpicky, but there are also animated title cards that look like maxi-pad advertisements. It’s a bit stereotypical of what it is to be female, but if you ignore these trifling matters and focus on the four interviews, you’ll find this an engaging film about the struggles of being an artist. And if you’re headed to the SIFF, you’re likely an artist yourself. 

Wild Honey

Directed by Francis Stokes

Sam Mossman

Maybe Gabby (Rusty Schwimmer) has never really had her act together, but it’s been worse lately. She’s on the outs with her dirt bag boyfriend, has moved back in with her mom and her only employment option is as a phone sex operator. In the midst of all this she hits it off with one of her callers. Martin (Timothy Omundson) is a successful screenwriter and isn’t really interested in the usual dirty talk. As the pair get closer, Gabby has the wild notion of flying off to L.A. to meet him.

If nothing else, Wild Honey feels honest. The typical romantic comedy notions don’t really apply here, and there aren’t a host of contrived situations designed to bring her and her would-be soul mate together or the usual comedy of errors keeping them apart. Instead, the tale unfolds in a natural, real-life kind of way. No perfect ending, no crazy romantic gestures, no big speeches or life-changing moments, just Gabby trying to sort her life out and maybe find someone to love along the way. All of this makes the film endearing, though it isn’t necessarily terribly exciting or compelling.

Mankiller

Directed by Valerie Red-Horse

Dan Stoffel

Wilma Mankiller was born in 1945 on the Mankiller Flats land of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma. As part of the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Indian Relocation Program, her family was relocated to San Francisco when she was 11 years old. It was there, during the turbulent ‘60s, she would begin her activism, hang out with the Black Panthers and take part in the 1969 Occupation of Alcatraz Island in which a group of American Indians claimed the land under the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie. In 1977, Mankiller divorced her husband and moved back to Oklahoma with her daughters, where she took a job working for the Cherokee Nation. Just six years later, she was elected Deputy Chief; when Chief Ross Swimmer resigned in 1985 to become assistant secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Mankiller became the first female Chief of the Cherokee Nation, a position to which she was subsequently elected for two more terms.

Full of archival footage, photos, and interviews with Wilma Mankiller and those with whom she worked, Mankiller is highly informative and, like its subject, effective without being flashy. It’s an inspirational look at a leader who broke through a great many barriers. 

Festival films will be shown all day, every day at the Mary D. Fisher Theater, the Sedona Performing Arts Center, and the Sedona Harkins 6. Passes and individual event tickets are available now. For a complete list of films, schedules, event and ticket information, see www.sedonafilmfestival.org.

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