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Spotlight: Highlights from July

By David Schonauer   Wednesday August 15, 2018


Ten percent of Americans think Elvis Presley is still alive.

It’s a point worth keeping in mind while viewing Big Elvis, a short documentary about a 960-pound Elvis impersonator that is one of our highlighted films from July. As filmmaker Paul Stone notes in the 12-minute portrait, Pete “Big Elvis” Vallee performs in Nevada casinos you’ve never heard of. But his connection with the King of Rock and Roll goes beyond show business: He believes he is Elvis’s love child. You may find both Vallee and Stone’s film irresistible.

Today we’re also revisiting work from famed fashion and celebrity photographer Rankin, who collaborated with Ukrainian ballet dancer Sergei Polunin on a short motion project. It was a meeting of the minds: “When I first saw Sergei perform, it was like being at a Rolling Stone’s gig. It was the most rock-and-roll thing I’d ever seen,” Rankin told Nowness.

There is also a tour of Montaña de Oro State Park, a mountain biking paradise on Central California’s magnificent coast, and the moving story of a man who rediscovers the mother he thought he lost long ago.
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1. Is Big Elvis The King's Love Child?

Are you one of the ten percent of Americans who believe Elvis Presley is still alive? Filmmaker Paul Stone’s portrait of Pete "Big Elvis" Vallee, a 960-pound Elvis impersonator, hinges on that kind of belief system. Given all those people who prefer to think that Elvis is still with us, perhaps it’s not all that surprising to learn that Vallee believes he is the love child of the King of Rock and Roll.


2. Photographer Rankin Directs a Ballet Superstar

What happens when famed British fashion photographer Rankin directs rule-breaking Ukrainian ballet dancer Sergei Polunin in performance? An explosion of creativity, declared Nowness. “When I first saw Sergei perform, it was like being at a Rolling Stone’s gig. It was the most rock-and-roll thing I’d ever seen,” says Rankin. “Sergei exuded this energy and raw edge from every movement. I was constantly thinking, ‘How can I get this on camera?’”


3. A "Coastal Reverie" in California

Directed by Jason Fitzgibbon and Octave Zangs, with cinematography, editing and color grading by Zangs, the short travelog A Coastal Reverie explores Montaña de Oro State Park, which encompasses roughly 8,000 acres of fog-shrouded hills and bluffs south of Estero Bay on Central California’s coast. It’s a mountain-biking paradise, with trails built and maintained by a group of volunteers called Central Coast Concerned Mountain Bikers.


4. Last Chance to Chase a Storm

Director Liam Saint-Pierre’s documentary The Last Storm tells “an unusual story of passion and friendship with a fascinating background dictated by Mother Nature,” declared Short of the Week. The film focuses on a 60-year-old man named Mark, who has been diagnosed with lung cancer. He wants to cross one more item off his bucket list: storm chasing. With tornado season fast approaching, he needs some help to make his dream come true.


5. A Trans Youth Struggles in a Mississippi Town

The short documentary Kayla, from director Rosie Haber and producer Lauren Cioffi, focuses on Austin, who lives in a tiny town in the Mississippi delta and has never met a trans person in his life. But he wants to be the type of woman his mother was — that is, the type to mow the lawn in heels. The doc, part of the “New Deep South” series from The Front, has screened at a number of festivals and recently became available online.


6. A Filmmaker Talks to His Immigrant Father-In-Law

One night, filmmaker Brad Bischoff sat down with his father-in-law, Roberto Olivera, for a couple of beers. Bischoff knew little about Olivera’s background, save for his heritage as a Mexican immigrant. He decided to ask the man about it. The result, noted The Atlantic, is a meditative short film in which Olivera shares his hard-won life lessons over images of the tomato fields in which he toiled with other migrant workers.


7. Discovering a Lost Mother in Award-Winning "Rewind Forward”

For filmmakers, old family movies are like treasure. They are a window into the past, the evidence of the lives we lived and the people who shaped us, whether we knew them or not. In Justin Stoneham's searingly personal 23-minute film Rewind Forward, the past catches up with the filmmaker when he discovers VHS recordings and sees his mother as he's never seen her before — young and healthy.


8. Instagram Film Series Are a Thing Now

When it comes to Instagram video, Australian-based filmmaker Hannah Lehmann is ahead of the curve, having already launched Season 2 of The Out There, a series created exclusively for the platform, notes NoFilmSchool, which featured a trailer. “The number of web series produced and uploaded online is huge, and l wanted there to be a point of difference for my show. An Instagram series was not something that had ever really been attempted, especially by a young female creator,” says Lehmann.


9. Triumph of Estella, a Real Underdog

In this short from director director Tarek Serraj and Anorak Films, we are introduced to Estella, a Mallorcan Sheep Dog (in Catalan, Ca de Bestiar.) The breed has been unique to Mallorca since the thirteen century, notes Anorak producer Carwyn Jones at Nowness. “I think they’re better as a sheepdog than a border collie,” says Miguel, a shepherd and Estella’s owner. Sadly, he notes, the breed's status as working dogs may disappear within a generation.


10. All Cats Go to Heaven

Actually, this wasn’t one of the films PPD featured in July, but we thought we’d highlight it today, because we like to strike a balance between dogs (see above) and cats. Jonathan Napolitano’s film Cat’s Cradle focuses on a couple who have devoted their retirement to caring for elderly cats — they have 30 of them. Napolitano, notes The Atlantic, has three cats himself.

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