Films “With Heart” Find A Home At ReelHeart International Film Festival

The ninth-annual ReelHeart Film Festival has no time for unifying themes.

Josh Thomas and J.J. Kelley in Go Ganges!. Image courtesy of ReelHeart International Film Festival.

  • Big Picture Cinema
  • June 24–29
  • Tickets $12

While most festivals are geared towards some specific audience—like the Inside Out Festival or the Jewish Film Festival, for instance—where ReelHeart International Film Festival separates itself from the pack is by welcoming all submissions, as long as they have what the organizers deem to be “real heart.”

You need look no further than the documentaries on hand to see how integral pushing the envelope is to the festival’s agenda. In Stage Brother (Tuesday, June 25, 9:30 p.m.), for instance, director Richard Buonagurio not only follows his sister Jennifer as she attempts to fulfill her dream of posing for Playboy, he also serves as her manager. As the New Jersey natives make their way to Beverly Hills for an open audition at the Playboy mansion, their rather icky relationship will serve as irresistible fodder for any rubberneckers who found Jersey Shore a little too tame. It may also require a shower after viewing.

Sporting an entirely different brand of lunacy are Josh Thomas and J.J. Kelley, the adventurous filmmakers behind the loose and lively travelogue Go Ganges! (Friday, June 28, 7 p.m.). After having journeyed in kayaks from their home in Alaska to Seattle for their film Paddle To Seattle, the duo set their sights on India this time, the idea being to traverse the entire length of the Ganges. Like some warped version of a triathlon, they start out being pulled by bicycle on a rickshaw before returning to their roots in a canoe. They close things out on an unreliable scooter. Kelley—who has worked as a producer with National Geographic for seven years—had some reservations about the idea.

“From afar, it seemed impossibly daunting. [The Ganges is] worshipped as a god, a resting place for the dead, and perhaps the most polluted river in the world,” he says. “I thought for sure someone would get arrested, harassed, or worse.” Instead, his strongest memories of the experience are the interactions he had with the inspiring locals there.

“With a huge unemployment problem in the country, many people just followed us as we traveled, asking questions and sharing experiences about their lives. It was the strangest thing to be having a lengthy conversation from the back of a rickshaw.”

The festival seems poised to provide valuable opportunities for young filmmakers like Rochester’s Casey Puccini. His heartfelt and funny Children Without Parents (Tuesday, June 25, 7 p.m.) uses the death of a patriarch to bring four siblings (one of whom is played by Puccini) back to their childhood home in an autobiographical tale with the enigmatic tagline, “This Will Be A True Story.” Puccini explains that by merging reality with fiction, he wanted to make a movie that explored aspects of his own identity.

“I started really dissecting myself and noticing that much of who I am, how I act and think, has come from my father,” he says. “I used my existential crisis as artistic inspiration and made a film about turning into my dad.”

The film was made for just $5,000. Puccini feels that a festival like ReelHeart can play a vital role in giving smaller, more personal films like his chances to find an audience.

“Now that technology is providing more accessibility to higher quality equipment, it seems like more and more people are just going for it and making a feature length film,” he says. “Which is awesome and is the only reason Children Without Parents exists. But at the same time, it’s flooding the film-festival market.”

On the night the festival opens, homegrown talent will be under the spotlight in the “Canadian Makin'” program, including Kingston native Leigh Ann Bellamy and her short, Pretty Pieces (Monday, June 24, 8 p.m.). A claustrophobic and emotionally loaded drama concerning a nameless brother and sister being pulled in different directions during harsh times, it began as a play Kingston playwright Charles Robertson wrote for Bellamy to star in. After attending Vancouver Film School, she took on the task of adapting it for the screen, despite having some misgivings about assuming too much responsibility.

“Taking on many large roles on one film is insane,” she says. “I had originally intended to recast The Girl and not play her myself, but found it impossible to give up the role.” She sees her ability to shoot so close to home as an indication of how things are changing in the film industry.

“[Kingston is] a beautiful city without any kind of film industry at all, apart from a great film festival and the Queens University Film Program. But because equipment and knowledge is so accessible, it means I can not only make movies here, but make quality films.”

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