I mentioned in one of my earlier reports that I’m stingy with my ratings of Excellent on the Audience Award ballots we are given for each film. The choices are Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor. My default is Good. To get an Excellent, a film needs to rise above the other films in some way. On Monday I managed to see two films that earned the Excellent tag.
First time directors Daniel Weingarten and Michael Blaustein brought their film U.P. There to the festival for its World Premiere. Jack (Weingarten), a struggling journalist, is on assignment in a small town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He meets a young woman Emma (Zoe Kanters, who also co-wrote along with the directors) who is annoyingly ebullient and maybe a bit crazy. She also wants to be a writer and seeks Jack’s help. But soon Jack learns that Emma may have a story that could reinvigorate his career. As he delves into her past, a friendship develops that he realizes he is exploiting. Her brother Champ (Blaustein) is suspicious of Jack. Along the way all three must grow and face issues in their past if they are to move on to find happiness. The film has elements of romantic comedy, but it makes a shift into more dramatic themes. It gets an Excellent because it effectively changes tones so that the story gives us insight into how long festering wounds can find healing. It doesn’t go for easy solutions or cheap rewards.
From Northern Ireland comes The Dig, directed by Ryan and Andy Tohill. After 15 years in prison for murder, Ronan Callahan (Moe Dunford) returns to his dilapidated house. The next day he sees Sean McKenna (Lorcan Cranitch) digging in Callahan’s peat bog, and it’s obvious he’s been doing it for a long time. McKenna is searching for his daughter’s, the victim of the murder, remains. He will not be dissuaded. Callahan has no memory of the crime because he was so drunk at the time. He knows the only way he’ll get rid of McKenna is to dig with him. It is a very uneasy situation for them both. But day by day they slowly grow to at least respect the other. Complications include McKenna’s daughter Roberta (Emily Taaffe), who had a romantic link to Callahan as well, and the local constable (Francis Magee) who would love a reason to get rid of Callahan. Both McKenna and Callahan are seeing closure to something that changed both of their lives. For Callahan it is also the search for the truth, and perhaps redemption. This is a film of struggle—physical and emotional. It deals with issues of grief, betrayal, forgiveness, the search for truth. I’m not alone in considering this Excellent. The festival jury recognized The Dig with awards for Best Screenplay (Stuart Drennan) and Best Actor (Dunford).