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By Joe Bendel. Nuclear energy does not burn fossil fuels, nor is it intermittent. Appreciation of these obvious, incontrovertible facts led documentarian Robert Stone and five well known environmental activists to reverse their longstanding opposition to nuclear power. Stone convincingly lays out their green case for nuclear in Pandora’s Promise (see clip above), which screens during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival in Park City.

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Stone made his name with the anti-nuclear doc Radio Bikini and would further burnish his green credentials with Earth Days. Very concerned about global warming, Stone could no longer accept the environmental movement’s unrealistic claims about solar and wind power. As his primary POV experts argue, any power plan with a significant wind or solar component will by necessity be heavily dependent on big, dirty fossil fuel plants as a back-up. The simple truth is that the sun does not always shine and the wind does not always blow, but coal burns 24-7.

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To his credit, Stone tackles the Fukushima disaster right up front, rather than let it fester in the minds of skeptical audience members. While the devastation of the area gives pause to noted British environmental author and nuclear convert Mark Lynas, the background radiation levels they record are considerably less than what anyone flying on a transatlantic commercial flight would be exposed to.

Building a nuclear power plant in France.

Stone’s battery of experts cogently explains the safety benefits and relative cleanliness of nuclear. Yes, radioactive waste is a potentially inconvenient by-product, but the volume is a fraction of what the public widely assumes. Furthermore, next generation reactors will increasingly be able to recycle the existing nuclear waste, as is already happening in France. Of course, there have been disasters, but Chernobyl was the worst by far. A sterling example of Soviet safety engineering, the Pripyat plant completely lacked any basic containment dome, whereas Western reactors have multiple domes with elaborate, built-in contingency systems.

Surely some will try, but it is impossible to dismiss Stone as a right-of-center partisan. Clearly the Pandora contributors are entirely satisfied global warming is a very real and alarming phenomenon. Indeed, that is largely the impetus for their nuclear apostasy. Considering how many cold shoulders Stone, Lynas, and company are likely to get from former comrades at cocktail parties, their conviction cannot be questioned. Their logic is also sound and consistent. Highly recommended for anyone with an open mind who self-identifies with the environmental cause (broadly defined), Pandora’s Promise screens again on Saturday (1/26) in Salt Lake as a Doc Premiere at this year’s Sundance.

LFM GRADE: A

Posted on January 24th, 2012 at 11:07pm.

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By Joe Bendel. This is a rather bold programming choice, considering how many attending Sundance have flown in from New York and Los Angeles. Originally, it started as an Off-Broadway theater production, based on the real life transcripts of black boxes recovered from plane crashes. Though it retains the potentially stagey single cockpit set and the revolving ensemble, Robert Berger & Karlyn Michelson’s Charlie Victor Romeo holds the distinction of being Sundance’s first 3D film, screening as part of the New Frontiers track.

For a film entirely depicting systems failures, it is ironically fitting that CVR’s Monday night screening had to be presented in 2D due to technical difficulties. While some of the schematics incorporated into the film might look cool in 3D, it is hard to see how the film lends itself to the process. The real story is the impressively realistic sound, designed by Jamies Mereness, recorded and edited by Kevin Reilly, and mixed by Joel Hamilton. The theatrical nature of the solitary set also becomes quite cinematic, thanks to the eerie lighting.

The constituent stories of CVR are a bit bracing, since in each case a plane is going down. The only question is how bad will it be? In general, the short ones are more disturbing. However, the clear dramatic highpoint of the film recreates efforts to save a Peruvian flight that lost all instrumentation, including velocity and altitude, soon after take-off.

The cast-members are all quite strong in their various roles, particularly Patrick Daniels (the director and co-writer of the original stage version) in the Lima installment. They quickly create convincing working relationships amongst the flight crews, which are almost immediately tested in crisis situations.

CVR is kind of like the parts of Zemeckis’s Flight audiences really want to see, played repeatedly with key variations each time. An intriguing application of technology to film (which is why it is a New Frontiers selection), but also an unusually faithful adaptation of a stage piece for the big screen, Charlie Victor Romeo is recommended for fearless flyers when it screens again Monday (1/28) at Park City’s Prospector Square Theatre (the designated 3D venue) as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Travel safe everyone.

LFM GRADE: B

Posted on January 24th, 2012 at 11:06pm.

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By Joe Bendel. Moonshine and pottery are a wicked combination. One young woman living in a hillbilly cult understands that only too well. She knows the kiln tolls for her in Chad Crawford Kinkle’s Jug Face (trailer here), a Modernciné production which premiered last night at the 2013 Slamdance Film Festival.

“The pit wants what it wants.” In return, it cures members of the hardscrabble hill country community. That was how their grandpappies survived the great cholera outbreak. All that is required is a periodic sacrifice. They will know who has been chosen from the special jugs the designated potter casts in a state of paranormal ecstasy. Ada was supposed to be next, but she chanced upon her jug face before Dawai came out of his pit-induced stupor. Stashing it in the woods, Ada is determined live—not just for herself, but also for her unborn child.

Whose child would that be? Take a lurid guess. It is not Dawai’s, unfortunately, since he’s not a bad chap, really. Nor is the boy to whom she is to be “joined” the father (a term that sounds uncomfortably Human Centipede like). The answer will be pretty easy to guess, given general filmmaker attitudes towards rural border state residents. Ada is definitely in for a hard go of things, and the deadly visions she gets from the pit will not help.

Basically, Jug Face is southern gothic exploitation fare, which co-star and Glass Eye Pix producer Larry Fessenden certainly understands. As Ada’s cult leader father Sustin, he is not nearly as loathsome or malevolent as one might expect. He might even be half-human. In the lead, Lauren Ashley Carter’s eyes are almost supernaturally wide. Her Ada is also reasonably down to earth for a sheltered cult-child. Looking not unlike Will Ferrell on a below average morning, Sean Bridgers finds surprising pathos in Dawai. In fact, if it really were Will Ferrell, it would probably be his best performance ever. It is hard to recognize Sean Young as mother dearest, but at least her off-screen persona does not distract from the on-screen action.

From "Jug Face."

Evoking the spirit of outsider art, Jug Face’s opening credits effectively set an unsettling tone right from the start. However, the pit is a little underwhelming. It just gurgles a little and turns red from time to time. Regardless, Kinkle really knows how to tap into coastal dwellers’ hillbilly phobias, without going the full Deliverance route. Unfortunately, the climax is more of a deflation than a conflagration. Still, those looking to shudder at ritual murder and Appalachian inequities will find plenty of fodder in Jug Face. Recommended for Fessenden fans with a taste for hicksploitation, Jug Face should have many midnight screenings ahead of it after its Slamdance premiere last night in Park City.

LFM GRADE: B-

Posted on January 24th, 2012 at 11:05pm.

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