Newport International Film Festival, 2001
The Anniversary Party occasioned a packed Closing Night for the recent Newport International Film Festival, which reached a new success in its fourth year of operation. The not-so-artsy citizenry of the Rhode Island boating-and-mansions town finally came out in support, and many screenings (this didn't happen the earlier years) were actually sold out. Even off-beat documentaries, Newport's artistic strength from the beginning, filled a bit with other than out-of-towners and critics. Yes, 2001 was a mighty good year, and most of all because Newport landed some impressive, not-even-at-Sundance-or-Cannes, premieres:
Daddy & Them - Written and directed by Billy Bob Thornton, an original white-trash comedy in the old-time vein of Erskine Caldwell's Tobacco Road. Thornton and Laura Dern play funny, loopy-in-love Arkansas marrieds, who jealously feud whenever they aren't making love. They are surrounded by the nuttiest family clan, with ol' Andy Griffith as the energetic patriarch. A hoot!
A Huey P. Newton Story - A first-rate, important new film by Spike Lee which documents the extraordinary one-person stage performance of Roger Geunvuer Smith as the volatile 60s Panther leader. An amazing piece of writing and acting, made cinematic by Lee.
Last Ball - A lovely, poignant American indie about a taxi driver moony in love and paralyzed to leave his no-chance tiny home town, based on times in the life of talented writer-director, Peter Callahan, and shot where it happened, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.
Grateful Dawg - Relaxed, joyful, transcendant acoustic music sessions of pals Jerry Garcia and mandolinist David Grisman, family tapes from the early 90s recorded by Grisman's daughter, Gillian. Filmmaker Grisman admitted at Newport that it took years for her to warm to her father's folky tastes. "There would always be some balalaika player from Czechoslavakia sleeping on our couch. All I wanted was to be able to do my homework."