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A&E: This year's Heartland highlights

October 13, 2008

This year, IBJ previewed every available Crystal Heart award-winning film competing at this year's Heartland Film Festival (running Oct. 16-24). Here are our thoughts, with priority picks noted with stars.

Look for more reviews of some of the not-in-competition festival films in upcoming IBJ A&E blogs (www.ibj.com/arts).

For a full festival schedule, visit www.heartlandfilmfestival.org.

"Amal," dramatic feature

A New Delhi rickshaw driver doesn't realize he's impressed a billionaire in a film where the richly detailed background is more interesting than what happens in the foreground. Low-key performances in the lead roles keep this one from feeling preachy.-Lou Harry

"As We Forgive," documentary feature

Two women forgive those who murdered their family, proving that wounds of the heart really can heal in this standard-issue documentary about the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Moving, yes, but so is a Christian Children's Fund commercial.-Gabrielle Poshadlo

"Blessed is the Match: The Life and Death of Hanna Senesh," documentary feature

Unlike many World War II documentaries about battles and bloodshed, this film, narrated by Joan Allen, is an inspiring look at a young Hungarian idealist who, after living safely in Palestine, returned to Europe to participate in what would be the only rescue mission for Jews during the war. While some of the re-enactments seem unnecessary, this is a thought-provoking look at what it was like for ordinary people making extraordinary decisions at the time.-Rebecca Berfanger

"Captain Abu Raed," dramatic feature

An airport janitor finds a pilot's hat and suddenly earns street cred with the kids in his neighborhood. A potentially interesting romance between a female pilot and the goodhearted man doesn't evolve and a subplot about an abused boy begins to take over, leaving this a somewhat engaging film that's less than it could be. Still, it's a worthwhile film ... if you can avoid being distracted by the lead actor's resemblance to Joe Pesci (which would be an odd bit of casting should the film ever get Americanized).-L.H.

"Gaining Ground," dramatic short

The acting is fine but the plot doesn't go anywhere in this truncated variation on "Running on Empty," about an illegal immigrant couple conflicted about a child who has reached school age.-L.H.

"15-50," dramatic short

Will a Danish tennis star throw a game to help a fellow player who will face the Nazis if he loses? That's the core question in this somewhat stilted short, based on the true story of Kai Hansen. This is a film that trusts the story itself rather than relying on look-at-me filmmaking.-L.H.

"Montana de Luz," documentary feature

This quiet, optimistic documentary with original guitar accompaniment unfolds slowly, but ultimately leaves one with hope for these challenged children. A Honduran hospice for children with HIV is turned into an orphanage. Due to anti-retroviral meds available in 2002, Montana de Luz is now a bright home where children survive, grow and change.-Bonnie Maurer

"Pray the Devil Back to Hell," documentary feature

The filmmaking wisely takes a back seat in the telling of this remarkable modern story-the transformation of Liberia thanks to a group of stubborn women. An important piece of history not just for what the action meant for Liberia but what it means for peaceful activists around the world.-L.H.

"Slow," dramatic short

A construction-site traffic regulator finds that his photo is having more fun than he is in this fable that isn't as cohesive and effective as last year's Kurt Kuenne entry "Validation," but is a welcome festival addition nonetheless.-L.H.

"Terra," dramatic feature

Something of a cross between "Wall*E" and "Ferngully," this animated science fiction culture clash concerns a peaceful race of tadpole-like beings whose existence is threatened by expatriate Earthlings looking for a new home after destroying their old one. Despite a beside-the-point opening and a battleheavy climax, this is a step above standard animated features, avoiding both unnecessary jokiness and annoying selfrighteousness. Unfortunately, its intensity may alienate younger audiences while cute characters may ward off older, leaving box office prospects dubious. That's a shame, since in an animated world of junk like "Fly Me to the Moon," "Terra" deserves a wider audience.-L.H.

"Victoria," documentary short

Victoria, a beat-up, broken, out-of-tune piano, raises the spirits of the regulars at the St. Anthony soup kitchen in San Francisco in this warm documentary. With jazzy piano music played throughout by the homeless and other low-income patrons, this film shows that true beauty lies within.-J.K. Wall

"The Wall," dramatic short

Music bridges the divide between a former Nazi, who is contemplating suicide, and a Jewish woman in the adjacent apartment, who survived a concentration camp. While not subtle, this metaphorical film is powerful, with a beautiful, original string score.-JKW

"War Child," documentary feature

It's been said that music can touch the human soul across all boundaries of time, space and genre. There is no better example of this than the unique style of music performed by internationally acclaimed hip-hop artist Emmanual Jal, whose life is chronicled in this documentary.

Jal was one of 10,000 child soldiers who took up arms to fight on both sides of the bloody Sudan war that claimed more than 2 million lives. "War Child" is told through Jal's words and rap music, and features United Nations footage of the young boy who had been left to survive on his own. Gut-wrenching and inspiring, "War Child" shows the strength of the human spirit in the midst of unspeakable horror.-Della Pacheco

"The Watchmaker's Son," dramatic short

The script could use another run through the word processor, but the filmmaking is impeccable in this simple "Once upon a time" about a young man trying to impress his father but missing the mark.-L.H.

[Not available for screening: "Stranded: I've Come from a Plan that Crashed on the Mountain" and "Second Hand Wedding."]
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