16 October 2010

LoFiFest 2010 Part II

LoFiFest screenings/events attended: 2
Red carpets crossed: 2
A/B List actors sighted: 6
Bars of Green & Black chocolate: 2 
Clive Owen sighted: zero

The programme for LoFiFest is so huge, it can be difficult picking out the films that are going to be worth seeing. Sometimes, it's obvious, like last year, I was clearly going to prioritise Clive's film, The Boys Are Back, and the Screen Talk he was giving. This year, a lot of the galas sounded interesting but I narrowed the choice down to Never Let Me Go, Black Swan (to which I haven't yet got tickets) and Conviction
Betty Anne Waters, Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Minnie Driver, Pamela Gray

The latter is based on a true story and stars Hilary Swank, who plays Betty Anne Waters, a woman who puts herself through university and then law school so that she can try to free her brother Kenny (played by Sam Rockwell), who is serving a life sentence for a murder he didn't commit. Betty Anne and Kenny don't have a very happy childhood and are taken away from their mother and sent to separate foster homes. Kenny has a history of bad behaviour and a criminal record and is convicted on the basis of the testimony of two ex-girlfriends and on a blood type match (but not, because this is 1980, a DNA match). After the appeal fails, Betty Anne refuses to give up and decides that if the legal system can't help her brother, she will just have to do it herself and eventually uncovers a number of irregularities in the proceedings at the time of the crime and during the trial. 

The case becomes her life and she and her husband eventually split up (this is not explained in the film but it is implied that her obsession with trying to free her brother--who may not even be innocent--has taken over their lives) and, later, her young sons decide they want to live with their father. But Betty Anne fights on, helped by her friend Abra (Minnie Driver) and by Sandy Cohen (this time playing himself, a lawyer from Brooklyn), who fronts an organisation called the Innocence Project, which helps those who are fighting wrongful convictions.

Some spoilers follow...

Perhaps because it was based on a true story, I thought an unhappy ending was unlikely. And indeed, after a number of dead ends and false starts, Kenny is freed. Sadly, Betty Anne explained in the Q&A that her brother had an accident a few months after he got out and died but to the credit of the film makers they left this part (even from the "what happened next" notes at the start of the credit) as they wanted to focus on the fact that he was freed. 

As well as Betty Anne Waters and the writer, Pamela Gray, Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell and Minnie Driver were all on stage for questions afterwards. All of the audience questions and comments were for Betty Anne, although the host did direct a few towards the actors first so they didn't feel completely useless (on the way out, Driver was standing by the escalators offering kisses--it's possible she knew the guy she kissed as I walked past--presumably having decided that she wanted some attention).

Swank's performance was powerful--more so, I think, than Julia Roberts's Erin Brockovich and certainly more so than Sandra Bullock's Leigh Anne Tuohy--and moving and it was great to see her on the stage at the end with Betty Anne. Conviction strikes the right balance between gripping legal/crime drama and inspiring family saga. Pamela Gray, said in the Q&A, "if this were fiction, people would say it was too contrived" but I think that Swank's convincing performance gave the film the conviction it needed.

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