As I mentioned in the Week Ahead earlier this week, the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival kicks off this weekend with nearly a month of regional, Florida and world premieres of indie films, foreign titles, shorts and documentaries. Here are a couple I had time to absorb this week, along with their show dates.
The documentary “A Fragile Trust” was at the top of my FLIFF must-see list from the moment the lineup was released, for obvious reasons: It’s another inside-media pic that will appeal to fans of 2011’s “Page One: Inside the New York Times.” This one focuses on Jayson Blair, the disgraced Times plagiarizer whose 36 fabricated (or partially fabricated) stories in the first few years of the new millennium led to the resignations of two top Gray Lady editors.
Samantha Grant, a onetime associate producer for “Frontline,” directed the film after extensive interviews with Blair, Times reporters and editors and media commentators, resulting in a contextually encompassing work that turns over every angle and unveils a few surprising ones, from the media’s misguided fixation on Blair’s race to the role played by the Times’ bureaucratic hierarchy in a time of digital transition, which allowed so many of Blair’s transgressions to slip through the cracks.
Grant also delves into Blair’s psychological fractures – his bipolar disorder, drug and alcohol abuse, insecure glad-handing and habitual lying – which combined to create the perfect storm of a damaged soul and serial plagiarizer. What also comes across in Grant’s dissection of Blair – and this is the tragedy behind the firestorm – is that Blair can really write, a fact that is evident in the voice-over segments of Blair’s book that occasionally punctuate the film. After a bazillion media mea culpas, Blair is doing all right for himself as a life coach, but it’s sad to see such talent thwarted by self-destruction.
The very first question Grant asks Blair in the film is “Why did you do it?” Blair finds it difficult to answer, because there probably isn’t one answer, but Grant expertly lays out all of the possibilities.
“A Fragile Trust” screens at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 24 at Cinema Paradiso Hollywood, 6 p.m. Oct. 25 at Muvico Pompano, 6:30 p.m. Oct. 27 at Sunrise Civic Center, and 5:30 p.m. Oct. 28 at Cinema Paradiso Fort Lauderdale.
Another title worth checking out is “The Geographer Drank His Globe Away,” as compelling and strange a title as I’ve heard all year. Directed by Russia’s Alexander Veledinsky, it’s a comedy, but it’s a dreary and poker-faced one, which is par for the course considering it’s based on a Russian novel.
It centers on Victor (Konstantin Khabensky), an economically depressed former biologist hired to teach a geography class despite a lack of credentials; he’s subjected to the familiar band of miscreants and ne’er-do-wells that accompany most films about teachers and students (think the recent “Monsieur Lazhar” and “The Class”). To make matters worse, his marriage has fallen apart, with his wife preferring the company of his uncouth, rakishly charming best friend. To top things off, he’s an alcoholic, collectively painting a pitiful picture of middle-aged bitterness and resentment ripe for redemption. He’d be quintessentially American if he weren’t so definitely Russian, with his vodka flask kept securely hidden on his person.
Sometimes, when the film gets caught up in the ennui of Victor’s love life, it’s a slow ride, but things really pick up in its extended climax, a revealing field trip with Victor, his students, and some dangerous rapids. Aided by the mournful, elegiac and unmanipulative soundtrack of a Jew’s harp, “The Geographer Drank His Globe Away” gradually takes on more monumental proportions than a drunk’s bruised psyche, and its final frames are priceless.
“The Geographer Drank His Globe Away” screens at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 21 at Cinema Paradiso Hollywood, 6 p.m. Oct. 23 at Muvico Pompano and 9 p.m. Oct. 30 at Cinema Paradiso Fort Lauderdale.