I’m new to the film festival circuit. I’ve learned that each festival takes on a certain theme, sometimes planned and sometimes not. The Newport festival ended up selecting a variety of films having to do with family/relationship issues. I intended to write lengthier descriptions of the films I saw but simply ran out of time. So here are my brief descriptions of a wide variety of films and how I see them fitting into the theme of the festival. One more thing: Having now attended two complete festivals (Sundance and Newport) it has become clear that–to me–pretty much all the films in film festivals are quite good. You can hardly go wrong attending films at a film festival. Their panel of judges screens hundreds–or thousands–of entries and selects the best. The seven I saw this week are all well worth finding in your local theatre or video store. They may be hard to find and they are worth searching out.

A Man Named Pearl. When Pearl Fryar tried to move into a predominantly white neighborhood he was discouraged from moving in because “black people don’t keep up their yards.” Once he bought a home he created an extraordinary topiary garden to spread his own version of peace, love, and goodwill. His home in Bishopville, South Carolina has become a huge attraction and his story is one filled with accomplishment, community, hope, and spirit. It also resulted in his neighbors learning to sculpt their bushes and trees to “keep up with the Joneses.” Bishopville is now recreating the downtown cityscape with Pearl’s topiary artistry.

The Cake Eaters. The directorial debut of Mary Stuart Masterson, The Cake Eaters is a gentle film about tragedy and how it impacts two families whose lives intersect in multiple ways. There are plenty of ghosts in various closets. Ultimately this film is about salvaging what we can in challenging relationships because they matter.

Oysters Without A Shell. This German film about two women trying to find their way in the world, to find meaning in meaningless relationships, is completely captivating. The director said that in addition to being a semi-fictional account of the two non-actresses who play the lead roles, the film is a metaphor for the city of Berlin–still struggling to find its identity six decades after the end of World War Two. She said that many Germans call Oysters the German equivalent of a “chick flick” and it is definitely told from a woman’s perspective. I loved this film.

Simply Raw. Diabetes has no cure, right? This film documents six people with either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes who agree to go on a strictly natural and raw foods diet for 30 days. This is not a film only for people with diabetes. This is a film about our society and our health in general. It is about how we as individuals and as families consume ourselves to death and pass the habit onto our children.

Hotel Very Welcome. I haven’t watched any German films in a long time. This was my second one this week. It follows the tragicomic adventures of several European travelers in Asia, all of whom are running away from, or trying to run toward, family, lovers, or friends. One of my favorite characters (among many) is Svenja, a German woman stuck in Bangkok because she missed her flight to Shanghai. The communication challenges on the telephone between her and the travel agent, as she tries to book another flight over many days, are hilarious and she develops a real affection for him.

Doubletime. I went to this film simply because it sounded so intriguing and nothing like any film I would ever seek out. It is about competitive rope jumping. I was blown away. Double Dutch is the version of jump rope in which two ropes are spun with 2-4 jumpers jumping between the arcs. Double Dutch competitors are almost all black. Single rope jumpers are almost all white. It was during the 70’s that these became competitive sports and for reasons that are touched on in the film, two separate organizations were created. There are fascinating parallels between jump rope competitions and life in general along race, wealth, and class lines. The family support for all these kids is incredible. I was tapping my toes to the rhythm of the jumpers throughout most of this amazing film.

I’ve seen seven films in five days along with doing a book reading for Inheriting the Trade at the Redwood Library and attending a panel discussion about the history–here in Newport and elsewhere in Rhode Island–behind Traces of the Trade. It has been a busy and fulfilling week. I’m off for Eastern Mennonite University first thing in the morning to attend a week-long class in the Summer Peacebuilding Institute: Coming to the Table.