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Documentary promises to be historic

POSTED: April 22, 2009 4:56 p.m.

We're past the midway point of this year's outstanding edition of the Atlanta Film Festival. Here's a look at a few of the best films to screen so far.

‘The People Speak'

"The People Speak" is an extraordinary film. It manages to be educational, yet inspirational and riveting, qualities few documentaries actually achieve.

Howard Zinn drew from scores of speeches, letters and memoirs when researching his landmark "A People's History of the United States," and later he collected those original sources into the book, "Voices of a People's History of the United States."

"The People Speak" extends this work. It uses Zinn's narration to give background on each era of U.S. history, then we watch actors and musicians (including Viggo Mortensen, Kerry Washington, Marisa Tomei and Bob Dylan) dramatize writings and songs relevant to that period.

At all times, the focus is on the concept of democracy.

Zinn exalts the voice of the common man, the words of ordinary Americans who recognized the abuse of democracy and had the courage to cry foul. These are people who not only stood bravely against physical danger and death, but expressed themselves with staggering eloquence.

"The People Speak" testifies that regardless how difficult it may be, in the United States it is still possible for anyone to change history. The film is a buoyant celebration of dissent, a wake-up call that patriotism does not mean keeping quiet. Democracy is precious, and sometimes we must make trouble in order to make the country stronger.

Ironically, this movie also reminds us of the power of words - regardless of the technologies used to transmit them, the spoken and written word are still the most powerful and persuasive means of expression.

The History Channel will air "The People Speak" later this year (dates to be announced), and producers are planning educational programs to tie into the project. This is a film that seeks to stir up and inspire. Watch for it.

‘Deadland'

World War III has decimated the U.S., reducing the country to 13 "provinces" and leaving everyone infected with a plague caused by radiation. Against this backdrop, everyman Sean Kalos (Gary Weeks) partners with treacherous Jax (Brian Tee) as he battles the elements and rogue military outfits to find his wife Katie (Emily-Grace Murray).

The filmmakers wisely focus on the many intriguing characters, including brilliant crackpot Shiv (William Katt) and surprisingly strong survivor Zoona (Davis Neves), more than the big concept.

"Deadland" is expertly photographed and acted from beginning to end. It was made with a small crew and fewer resources than much of its festival competition, yet the writing and filmmaking rival any indie feature in sophistication. "Deadland" demonstrates what great things can be done by talented people on a shoestring budget. It's a Georgia film of which we can be proud.

‘Moon'

"Moon" seems destined to become a cult classic. It's one of the relatively big budget films using the festival for word of mouth buzz, and an absolute must for science fiction fans.

Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is nearing the end of a three-year contract running a mining operation on the dark side of the moon. As he draws closer to returning to his wife (Dominique McElligott) and daughter on Earth, he begins hallucinating. These mind games cause an accident that seriously injures Sam, and soon he confronts a replacement employee who throws his entire existence into turmoil.

The visuals and subtle storytelling recall "2001: A Space Odyssey," and Rockwell's performance is by turns intense, hilarious and heartbreaking.

"Moon" does what a great genre movie should - it takes the familiar trademarks of the genre and offers a unique twist.

Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.



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