Daily updates from the first annual AFI DALLAS International Film Festival presented by Target, founding sponsor Victory Park, March 22 to April 1, 2007

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Little Boys, Big Issues

The kids in CANVAS, TOMMY THE KID and THOMAS IN BLOOM take on issues that are bigger than they are.

Never before - in any decade in any country in the history of the globe - has there been more public concern about the "quality of childhood" than in the 21st century United States. Today, more and more parents and politicians are worried that "kids are growing up too (darn) fast."

Citing increased parental divorce rates, overflowing school workloads, new technologies, T.V. and sexual education (either state-funded or "extracurricular"), these much older figures try to assume there is some sort of standard for adolescent life.

Whether you agree, or whether you don't, three AFI DALLAS films in particular feature empowering young men who are no doubt "mature for their age."

In CANVAS, a feature-length drama by director Joseph Greco (no affiliation to Joey Greco of Cheaters fame), Chris Marino is a typical nine-year-old Floridian boy who likes riding bikes, dislikes going to school and who finds his mom a little embarrassing.

But unlike normal, Chris (wonderfully played by Devon Gearhart) begins to realize his mother Mary's (Marcia Gay Harden) actions have escalated beyond simple maternal worrying and are, in fact, signs of a schizophrenia.

Soon, Mary is committed to a mental institution, leaving Chris and his father John (Joe Pantoliano) to not only support the house but to support each other.

What is it that keeps them both going, even when John is fired from his job and Chris is cruelly taunted by other kids? "In a word," says Greco, "hope."

TOMMY THE KID, a miniature modern western by Australian director Stuart Clegg, is the tale of, well, a rough-and-tumble kid named Tommy. Coming home from a strenuous day of rustling up imaginary Indians and outlaws, Tommy secures his trusty horse (actually his rusty bike) and hits the hay. But when he wakes the following morning, he finds his steed has been swiped.

Dawning his Clint Eastwood garb, Tommy sets out to dispense vigilante justice. And this time, it's personal.

"TOMMY THE KID is unashamedly feel-good and a bit of a laugh," says Clegg, tooting his own horn a bit but rightfully so. "I think people like to see kids overcoming the hurdles they encounter."

Finally, in the similarly-named short film THOMAS IN BLOOM, a young boy maintains a special bond with his hearing-impaired grandmother, despite the obvious communication barrier.

Played by the ridiculously-talented C.J. Sanders (who played a young Ray Charles in the 2004 Academy Award-winner), Thomas strives to answer the question: "can you hear life?"

To writer and director Jeff Prugh, THOMAS IN BLOOM is about how people rarely take the time to stop, listen and live. "Nowadays, with technology the way it is, we're all on-the-go and on fast forward," he says. "It's nice to stop once and a while and just listen."

Kids and adults both.

By Chad Jones, Staff Writer