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The ultimate balancing act

An extraordinary documentary opens the 2008 Maine International Film Festival
By CHRISTOPHER GRAY  |  July 9, 2008

Maine International Film Festival | July 11-20 | at Railroad Square Cinema, 17 Railroad Square + Waterville Opera House, 1 Common St, Waterville | $9 per screening; $12 for special events; passes $85-200 |  207.861.8138
James Walsh’s new documentary MAN ON WIRE opens this year’s Maine International Film Festival, which runs from July 11 to 20 in Waterville, on a soaring high. The film, which is poised to become one of the most successful documentaries in years and screens at the 900-seat Waterville Opera House on July 11, chronicles French thrill-seeker Philippe Petit’s quest to walk across a tightrope between the World Trade Center's twin towers in 1974.

Petit, a spirited, infectious protagonist, dreams of bridging the towers before they’re even complete. (In the meantime, he walks between spires of Notre Dame and stops traffic with a stunt on a bridge in Sydney, Australia.) Equal parts rebel and amateur physicist, he has to pull off his baldly illegal stunt by monitoring security in the towers, considering wind variabilities, and planning for innumerable intangible occurrences (he likens himself to a bank robber). Walsh supports the tantalizing premise with a sense of humor, visual panache, and inquisitiveness that would do Errol Morris proud; full of gorgeous photography, archival footage, and memorable characters, Man on Wire is quite literally an awesome feat.

About 100 films deep, MIFF ’08 has intriguing offerings for cineastes of all stripes. Here’s a slice of what to look out for (recommendations are in bold).

Mid-life achievement
2008’s Mid-Life Achievement Award — previously bestowed on Sissy Spacek, Terrence Malick, and Lili Taylor, among others — will be given to John Turturro on July 17. A regular fixture of films by Spike Lee and the Coen Brothers, Turturro is one of the most recognizable character actors in American cinema. The festival’s selection of films featuring Turturro — his innocent, touching dramatic work in Lee’s DO THE RIGHT THING (1989) and his absurd, cult-worshipped performance as bowler Jesus Quintana in the Coens’ The Big Lebowski (1999) — prove as much. They’ll also show his three directorial efforts, culminating in the awards presentation and screening of last year’s inventive musical ROMANCE AND CIGARETTES, on the 17th.

Artist bios
Among a deep slate of documentaries about artists and musicians, Matt Wolf’s WILD COMBINATION: A PORTRAIT OF ARTHUR RUSSELL, does a fine job of arguing for the legacy of a musician relatively few people have heard of. Russell moved seamlessly between the avant-garde, disco, and folk music scenes in the East Village of New York City in the 1970s and ’80s, collaborating with Allen Ginsberg and Philip Glass before his death from AIDS in 1992. Russell’s influence is apparent in today’s avant-garde pop scene (his voice is similar to Antony of Antony and the Johnsons), and Wolf’s film makes the point with dignity and restraint.

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Related: Arthur Russell, Get around to it, Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell, More more >
  Topics: Features , Entertainment, Sissy Spacek, Andy Warhol,  More more >
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 See all articles by: CHRISTOPHER GRAY