Spotlight by Dean Treadway: "Sunshine Superman" and "Stray Dog"

It's a great weekend for documentaries at the 2015 Atlanta Film Festival, what with Jared Callahan's Janey Makes a Play and Jef Bredemeier's Dante's Down The Hatch set for their premieres on Sunday, March 29. However, given the ATLFF programming team's focus on women in film this year, I would especially be remiss if I failed to mention two of my favorite movies playing at the festival--and both are directed brilliantly by very talented women. If you're a film nut who goes to the cinema to be genuinely moved and inspired, then these two titles are unmissable.

Maura Strauch's visually and dramatically dazzling Sunshine Superman follows the thrillseeking endeavors of Carl Boenish and his team of intrepid filmmakers (including his equally adventurous wife Jean). Initially a skydiving enthusiast who worked as an adviser to John Frankenheimer on his 1969 movie The Gypsy Moths, Boenish is the inventor of BASE jumping (we find, through this film, that "base" is actually an acronym for "building antennae site and earth"). We also find that he is an unsung filmmaking genius himself, having staged many of these jumps only because film (shot via 16mm cameras mounted on crash helmets) could record for all their exhilarating quality. As one could imagine, Strauch has a wealth of footage to choose from, and though we're fascinated--transfixed, even--by the jumps themselves, it's the mysterious and impossibly driven character of Carl Boenish that commands this expertly constructed film. Scored with one of the year's most tuneful source music collections, this is a treasure trove of '70s coolness, on top of being--thanks to Strauch, Boenish and crew--an inspiring visual feast that literally soars through the ether. Director Maura Strauch will be in attendance at the ATLFF's Closing Night screening of Sunshine Superman on Saturday, March 28 at 7 pm at the Plaza Theater's Main Auditorium. Tickets can be purchased online here.

The following day, the ATLFF presents Stray Dog, a masterful documentary I'm sure is going to get more attention as 2015 marches on. Director Debra Granik, who helmed 2010's Oscar-nominated Winter's Bone, first came into contact with Ron "Stray Dog" Hall when she cast him as that film's menacing biker villain. But when she got to know this imposing character, she began to see there was more to him than originally evident. Hall stands as the most inspiring figure in any documentary of the year--brave in his honesty and loyal in his devotion to a cause, absolutely a friend to all who meet him, gently big-hearted and supremely understanding, particularly to the veterans whom he supports in their efforts to fight the PTSD (a condition he feels is an inevitability for those who've experienced the battlefield). Resolutely non-partisan, Stray Dog is a movie that bridges the gap between the political divide consuming the US by showing us a side of Middle America that we rarely see on screens. At the same time, though, this is a pitch-perfect portrait of a Vietnam veteran, an unconventional father and husband, an avid biker, a loving and multi-cultural family, and of a terrifically tenacious advocate for those whose voices are hailed while in service of their country, but whose needs are often forgotten once their duty is done. Director Granik is the rare filmmaker who can hop to the documentary form after such widespread success in the narrative field; I hope she will stand as an example to others willing to stray from such bounds, because I really feel this is her very best work. The incomparable Ron "Stray Dog" Hall will be at the ATLFF screening of Stray Dog on March 29th at 12 pm at the Plaza Theater's Upstairs Auditorium. Tickets can be purchased online here.

Atlanta native Dean Treadway is the Co-Host of Movie Geeks United, the internet's #1 weekly podcast devoted entirely to movies, with over 700 industry guests and four million listeners worldwide. His blog, filmicability, has more than 500 articles obsessing over films present and past and is approaching 1 million hits.