A highly appropriate choice for Memorial Day, The Dry Land is about the challenges encountered by a soldier returning from Iraq, trying to readjust to life in a small Texas town.
It distinguishes itself from the genre of post-war film by virtue of its fantastic cast, of course, but also by its focus on the here-and-now of its characters. There are a few brief, obligatory questions about James’ time in Iraq (largely the inevitable: did you kill anyone?), but there are no arguments for or against the war, no political debate. The war is a fact we can’t change, and the characters have too many wars at home to fight without worrying about that one as well.
The Dry Land is definitely an intense film, wholly engrossing, beautifully shot, and with strong performances. It also portrayed close male friendship with great emotional truth, contrasting the relationships with the childhood friend versus the army buddy. Good stuff. (Also, maybe this is the place to mention that Wilmer Valderrama grew up HOT. Who knew? Well, to be fair, probably everyone but me.)
The writer/director as well as the cast had a surprising amount of support from the military, and they are giving back, touring the film around bases and military towns, raising awareness and discussion of PTSD. At a recent screening in Idaho, mental health professionals were asked more questions than the director and stars, which is fantastic. The cast seems to be supporting the film in a deeper way than usual as well; it sounds as though Ryan O’Nan & America Ferrera are both accompanying the film to more than just festival screenings, so that’s awesome.
During the Q&A, one fellow asked a question that wound up answering a question of my own — I had wondered why Stewart Stern had introduced the film at its premiere two days earlier. He had come up to me when I was volunteering to ask where he needed to be for the intro, and I managed to not fall all over both of us, even though this is what it was like in my head: “OMG it’s Stewart Stern! I am so grateful I have gotten to hear you speak so often this year! I *adored* Rachel Rachel! Eeeee!” Instead, I showed great restraint and pointed him to my manager. (The answer is that he has known the writer/director for some time, and served as a mentor to him throughout the process of developing the film. Also, he is a sweet old guy, and probably would have been quite gracious even if I had embarrassed myself.)
After that let out, I walked downtown to briefly intarweb as y’all saw, then over to Seattle Center to brave the hoards of Folklife for dinner, and then onto SIFF Cinema for my evening feature.
I know less than nothing about classical music in general, let alone anything specific related to classical pianists, and to be honest, I largely added Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould because I am a fan of 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould. These things happen.
Genius Within is a solid documentary, drawing on a surprising quantity of archival footage of Gould, as well as interview subjects who have only recently begun to open up about their relationships with him. It was an interesting contrast seeing elements it naturally had in common with 32 Short Films being treated in a far more straightforward manner, and it certainly brought home the ideas from that film which had stuck with me, namely his interest in the themes of solitude and loneliness, and the perception that even with those who thought they were close to him, he was really still performing. I identify with that more than is healthy. Unfortunately, I am not a genius, so there’s no compensation.