Doc Fest family affair for Suttons
For 12 years, Homer has been treated to a luxury most small towns don’t have: a documentary film festival.
Each fall, Doc Fest, which was founded and has been run every year by Homer Theatre owners Jamie and Lynette Sutton and their children, Mac, Alex and Thea, provides Homer residents with a selection of nine of the best documentaries released that year.
But this season may prove to be the festival’s last.
The Suttons, who live in San Francisco and run the theater remotely with the help of on-site manager Colleen Carroll and assistant manager Abbi Rios, are selling the Homer Theatre. While the continuation of Doc Fest was originally a condition of the sale, the Suttons now say they’ll put the decision in the hands of the new owners.
Thus, next week’s festival is a big event.
The Suttons are in town to host, and as in past years, they encourage festival-goers to don their finest attire for the opening gala at 6:15 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24. The event will feature a barbecue dinner, a preview of the movies and a screening of one of the films Jamie Sutton is most excited about: “The Great Alone.” It’s the story of four-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey’s comeback and battle with cancer.
“It’s such an Alaska movie,” says Sutton.
Another movie got similar Sutton praise. “Meru,” which documents three climbers’ attempt to scale a formidable Himalayan mountain, is “a Homer kind of thing,” whose spectacular footage and human grit Sutton expects will leave viewers breathless.
The Alaska connection to “The Great Alone” also brings a special guest to the festival. Jason Mackey, Lance Mackey’s brother and an accomplished musher in his own right, is coming to Homer to present the film and talk to audience members.
To select this year’s top nine films, the Suttons spoke with representatives of Manhattan’s Tribeca Film Festival; the Full Frame festival in Durham, N.C.; and the American Film Institute’s fest. In total, they got about 40 recommendations. Then they settled into the couch for the difficult task of paring down the list, working to include a diversity of films. This year, the final nine includes “Brick: A LEGO Brickumentary,” which the Suttons think will appeal to children and adults.
The Suttons pay special attention to the films that received the “Audience’s Favorite” award at each of these festivals.
“The audience gets to say, ‘Here’s the one that we really liked,’ and we put a lot of emphasis on that award because people who look at lots of documentaries can have a very different reaction than audiences themselves,” says Jamie.
The Suttons also have extended that philosophy to the Homer films. The same prizes that have been awarded each year at Doc Fest will be back next week: The Grand Jury Prize, Best Director Award and Audience’s Favorite.
So far, the Suttons’ taste seems to have been right on target. Each year, they have picked a film that goes on to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary, as well as several of the top five nominated by the academy. This year, Jamie’s guess for the big prize is “Amy,” director Asif Kapadia’s new biopic about R&B singer Amy Winehouse, who died of an overdose in 2012.
He’s also betting on “Best of Enemies,” which documents the dramatic 1968 TV rivalry of conservative politician William F. Buckley Jr. and liberal writer Gore Vidal.
“They represent two quite opposing sides of the world and philosophies and life and values and I think that Hollywood is going to kinda like that. And it’s really well done,” he says.
“Dying to Know” also tells the story of two controversial public (and private) personas: Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, whose ground-breaking exploration of consciousness and mind-altering drugs led Richard Nixon to refer to Leary as “the most dangerous man in America.”
“We know a heck of a lot about how the heart and liver work, but actually how does the mind work? In the sixties it was a total mystery. … And these guys started an inquiry that goes on to this day that’s one of the most exciting arenas of medical science, and they were at the forefront,” says Jamie.
“The Wolfpack” was a big hit with Lynette and the rest of the family, and its story is one of the most unusual featured in this festival — and possibly in any documentary, ever. The movie centers around seven siblings who spent their childhoods locked in their Manhattan apartment creating a fantasy world based on the DVDs that were their primary source of information.
Two more documentaries on the festival’s list will chronicle the history of the subversive comedy publication The National Lampoon and give viewers a close look at two Mexican vigilante groups teaming up against the country’s drug cartels, respectively.
Each film in the festival will play either three or four times so that movie-goers can see all nine if they so desire.
Over the festival’s lifetime, the Suttons have seen a huge swell in the number of good documentaries being produced. Jamie attributes the increase in part to the relatively cheap cost of creating one.
“Michael Moore’s first documentary made $16 million, and (the filmmaker’s) costs are peanuts by comparison,” he says. “There are good ones made for 200 thousand dollars.”
It seems Homer residents too have caught doc fever. Lynette says that in the past, the festival has sold out more than once. She wouldn’t be surprised if that happens again — especially if it rains. She says there are always festival-goers who come down from places further up the peninsula and people who schedule their Homer vacations around Doc Fest.
“Now that the Doc Fest has proven itself, I think it’s a feature of the year — in the arts calendar but also for folks who don’t come to the movies very often,” Jamie says.
The Suttons say they hope the festival continues when the theater gets a new owner. They’d even volunteer to run it if the new proprietor isn’t interested. But they won’t force the issue.
Whether the movies are playing next year, the Suttons are adamant that they’ve loved running Doc Fest.
“(The theater’s) in great shape and it’s really time for somebody else to enjoy it as much as we have,” says Jamie. “And they’ll come.”
Annie Rosenthal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Homer Theatre Doc Fest Schedule
Thursday, Sept. 24
Gala: 6:15 p.m. The Great Alone
Friday, Sept. 25:
2 p.m. – Wolfpack
4 p.m. – Meru
6 p.m. – Amy
8:30 p.m. – Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon
Saturday, Sept. 26:
2 p.m. – The Great Alone
4 p.m. – Wolfpack
6 p.m. – Meru
8 p.m. – Amy
Sunday, Sept. 27:
2 p.m. – BRICK: A LEGO Brickumentary
4 p.m. – Dying to Know
6 p.m. – Best of Enemies
8 p.m. – Cartel Land
Monday, Sept. 28:
2 p.m. – Cartel Land
4 p.m. – Dying to Know
6 p.m. – Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon
8 p.m. – Wolfpack
Tuesday, Sept. 29:
2 p.m. – Best of Enemies
4 p.m. – BRICK: A LEGO Brickumentary
6 p.m. – The Great Alone
8 p.m. – Dying to Know
Wednesday, Sept. 30:
2 p.m. – Meru
4 p.m. – Cartel Land
6 p.m. – BRICK: A LEGO Brickumentary
8 p.m. – Amy
Thursday, Oct. 1:
2 p.m. - Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon
4 p.m. – Wolfpack
6 p.m. – Best of Enemies
8 p.m. – Meru
Festival Pass: general $55, discount (military, Peace Corps, senior 60+, children <14) $45
Gala admission: general $20, discount $15
Prime time movie: general $8, discount $6
Matinee (2 p.m. or 4 p.m.): $6
No Homer Theatre passes or punch cards, no Bargain Monday.
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