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Ghosts of upstate New York

October Country screens at SPACE Gallery
By CHRISTOPHER GRAY  |  March 31, 2010


READ: "Reality bites again"
An alumnus of both True/False ’09 and last fall’s Camden International Film Festival, Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher’s evocative October Country screens at SPACE Gallery on April 8, as the first installment of an occasional CIFF Selects series, which seeks to expand the Midcoast film festival’s reach into Portland.

The documentary, shot in the Mohawk Valley of upstate New York, follows a year in the life of four generations of Mosher’s family, a clan bound by geography and haunted by past and present mistakes. These ghosts (a metaphor ingeniously illuminated by the film’s trajectory from one Halloween to the next) take many forms: socioeconomics, limited career options, the Vietnam War, an endless supply of cigarettes, and a long line of doomed romances and unwanted pregnancies have plagued the family.

Two things prevent October Country from becoming a case study in unmitigated hopelessness, and instead result in a remarkably nuanced and compassionate film. First, thanks to the closeness Mosher (who lives apart from his family, as a photographer in Portland, Oregon) has to his subjects, the film is at times brutally honest and self-questioning. Dottie, the matriarch of the family, tells her daughter early on, “You probably shouldn’t have had kids,” a sentiment all three of the film’s mothers wonder about at times. Eleven-year-old Desi is equally self-aware, but her pronouncements (“I wasn’t raised by the perfect family either,” she drawls) are laced with funny but ambiguous irony. The film is utterly intimate; despite its impressionistic approach, we feel we know everything the Moshers know about themselves.

Palmieri’s editing and photography play a crucial role in this achievement. He takes an avant-garde approach to compiling telling visual details, be they sun-stained American flags, dirty ashtrays, or tchotchkes invoking dark magic. The images flutter by between uncannily revealing close-ups of the Moshers, worn by age and constant struggles but unflappable in their stoic resilience.

October Country | directed by Donal Mosher and Michael Palmieri | released by Wishbone Films and International Film Circuit | screens at SPACE Gallery in Portland | April 8 @ 7:30 pm | $7 |
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