The Necessities of Life, Fallen Angel, and Heart of Stone

The Necessities of Life opens in a desolate but beautiful landscape, with an Inuit man, his family, and his simple dwelling. It looks like a hard life, but perhaps a good one. Tivii, the Inuit man, coughs occasionally as he is hunting geese.

Tivii sees a large ship coming in, and he and his wife and two daughters go to it. It’s a hospital ship, and it becomes apparent that Tivii is the one who is sick. He is taken away to the Quebec to be treated. My favorite moment early in the film is when he arrives and his biggest amazement, instead of the buildings and other man-made things, is the trees. Where he lives, there is only tundra.

This is a gorgeous, wide screen film, though that’s most apparent in the nature scenes. The performances are very good, especially from Tivii (Natar Ungalaaq, from The Fast Runner), the nurse, and one or two of the other patients. It is a little slow, though that’s intentional. I’ll give it a strong 3 stars out of 4 stars.

Fallen Angel is a documentary about Larry Norman, an early born again Christian rock figure. It covers pretty much his whole career, with interviews with many of the people involved, and a few short but really goofy (one might say amateur) animations.

The director was at the screening, which was the world premiere, with Randy Stonehill, Dennis Fridkin from the band People, Ray Ware, and Pamela Ahlquist, to answer questions. There are some spoilers (if a documentary can have spoilers) below:

  • There was a question about a possible discrepancy about whether Larry was or was not open about his Christianity when he was in the band People–the director answered by reiterating what was stated in the film
  • Some of the “questions” were really more about defending Larry by trying to poke holes in the film
  • The director, David Di Sabatino, also made a film about a hippie preacher named Frisbee that was shown at Camera Cinema Club
  • The director was trained as a theologian
  • There is no distribution yet, but the director and Randy Stonehill will take it on the road to seminaries and colleges this year
  • Pamela, Larry’s ex-wife, talked about when Larry was inducted into the San Jose Rocks Hall of Fame–she came and talked to him for an hour beforehand after not seeing him for 30 years–Larry apologized and asked her to forgive him, which she did–she plans to write a book
  • Larry’s unacknowledged son from Australia was also at the screening

From the questions, I got the impression that I may have been the only member of the audience who had never heard of Larry Norman before I read about the film in the program. Add in that I’m an atheist (or at least a strong agnostic), and I was at best a tiny minority.

The film kept my interest, though to someone disconnected from the subject matter like me, could probably been edited down a bit. It seemed like it might have been biased towards Randy Stonehill’s perspective, so I was not surprised to see that he was connected with the film. That said, his emotion in some of his interview segments seemed very real and compelling. I’ll give it 2.5 stars out of 4 stars.

Heart of Stone is a documentary about a Newark, NJ high school, and specifically about their principal, Mr. Stone. The school was once a great one, with good interracial relations, perhaps especially between the Jews and the African-Americans. But in more recent years, violence between rival gangs has plagued the school and made academic achievement a distant memory. The film is about efforts by Mr. Stone and the alumni association to reverse that slide.

The film was chosen by Kaiser Permanente to receive their “Thrive” award. The representative handing out the award said that the lesson is to teach, but also to listen deeply, coach, etc. Thriving is more than just fruits and vegetables and exercise. The director said that she believes that Mr. Stone really exemplifies the word “thrive.”

The director and other people associated with the film, including Stone’s wife and several members of the alumni association, were at the screening to answer questions (there are some spoilers below):

  • He was principal for six years–at first, no one wanted to go there, but by the end everyone did
  • The director was from the suburbs nearby, and her father was an alumnus of the school
  • The transition was been difficult–the conflict resolution team has taken on a bigger role–the new principal was a math teacher
  • The filmmakers do plan to show the film to the students–originally they were going to show it in a nearby theater, but that would have required the students to cross gang lines, so they’ll show it at the school
  • The film premiered at Slamdance and won the audience award there–this is the film’s second festival
  • Philip Roth is an alumnus, but does not participate in the alumni association
  • The director is actually more a fan of narrative film, which may have influenced her style
  • The three primary student subjects were chosen by Mr. Stone, mostly because they were leaders, and he hoped if they moved forward, others would follow
  • There are really no women in the film, but that would be another interesting story
  • Part of the mission of the film is to inspire more alumni associations and community organizations to help their schools
  • Many of the students have never met anyone who had benefited from studying, which was one of the reasons for the trips to France, which were paid for by the alumni association–every kid who went to on that trip went on to college

I’ll give the film a strong 3 stars out of 4 stars.

All seen on 3/1/2009 at Cinequest.

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2 Responses to “The Necessities of Life, Fallen Angel, and Heart of Stone

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