Heartland Film Festival announced its grand prize winners Oct. 19 at its awards ceremony, relocated this year to the Indiana Repertory Theatre. The results?
Narrative Feature ($50,000 grand prize): Hide Your Smiling Faces
Documentary Feature ($50,000): The Network
Narrative Short ($5,000): The Amber Amulet
Documentary Short ($5,000): Wrinkles of the City - La Havana
High School Film Competition ($2,500): Uprooted
Ed saw the grand prize winners; reviews are below.
This editor (Scott) rather enjoyed The Amber Amulet, an Australian adaptation of a young adult novel about "the masked avenger," a 12-year-old who believes in the magical power of minerals and inserts himself in the life of a neighboring couple after overhearing a bout of domestic violence.
It's charming, with a great payoff, and we highly recommend checking out the short program (Festival Shorts #1) of which it's a part - which also includes a fascinating, likably eccentric doc, The Circle, about people living above CERN in France and Switzerland.
The reviews (last week's batch is here)
Hide Your Smiling Faces
★★★★ (out of five)
We romanticize childhood in our memories and art. Our early years are remembered as a time of wonder, magic and play, of blissful innocence punctuated by moments of joy and sorrow. We recall grand adventures and significant encounters with playmates, family members and outsiders.
What we often forget is the serious business of being a child. Kids have to learn how to navigate through their environment, to make some kind of sense out of the vast world around them. They test the waters to see if the stories they've been told - in church, school, the playground and at bedtime - hold up in real life. They seek their place with their fellow travelers: playing games, inventing rituals, roughhousing, and sometimes actually talking to each other about big stuff like sex, death and the future.
Director-screenwriter-editor Daniel Patrick Carbone's debut, Hide Your Smiling Faces, is a mood piece depicting children in the wild. Set in an unnamed rural area with tree-covered hills, abandoned buildings and an inviting old railroad bridge, it follows brothers Eric (Nathan Varnson) and Tommy (Ryan Jones) and their respective groups of friends.
The plot? One day Eric looks over the edge of the bridge and sees Tommy's friend Ian laying dead on the ground below. It's unclear whether Ian's death was an accident, suicide or homicide, but that avenue is not pursued. The fact of Ian's death is what smacks the kids. One of their own has shuffled off this mortal coil and they don't even know what this mortal coil is yet.
Hide Your Smiling Faces deals with children dealing with death, in an woodsy atmosphere reminiscent of Stand By Me, only without all the showy stuff. The film wanders, just like the boys, in a manner reminiscent of The Tree of Life, only without the dinosaurs and all the scenes of Sean Penn staggering around.
I hope that paragraph didn't put you off, because there's a lot of good stuff happening in this movie. The wandering I cited is not aimless. It's more an unfocused search for truth, and at times a hasty retreat from hard realities. The acting is strong, especially by the boys playing the brothers. The visuals of the forest are beautiful and rich with inviting greens and browns. The music, by Robert Donne, perfectly suits the tone of the production.
There are two scenes near the end that made me uncomfortable. One involves a bear, and its inclusion seems unrealistic and forced. The second involves the last of a series of wrestling matches. I won't go into detail; suffice to say the scene felt as if filmmaker Carbone decided the production needed a striking climax and overdid it, crossing into Stand By Me territory.
Mind you, I love Stand By Me, but its broad strokes are different from the more subtle shadings of Carbone's story. Hide Your Smiling Faces is a rewarding contemplation, a relatable look at death that brims with life. - Ed Johnson-Ott