Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News
                                A sign advertising the annual Homer Documentary Film Festival hangs on the side of the Homer Theatre in September 2018 in Homer.

Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News A sign advertising the annual Homer Documentary Film Festival hangs on the side of the Homer Theatre in September 2018 in Homer.

A conversation with Doc Fest co-founder Jamie Sutton

The 16th annual Homer Documentary Film Festival begins Thursday.

The 16th annual Homer Documentary Film Festival begins today, marking the 16th year Homer has been host to moving, educational films from all over the country and world.

The Homer News sat down with one of the festival’s two founders, Jamie Sutton, for a conversation about this year’s film selection. Sutton’s wife, Lynette Stockfleth Sutton, arrived in Homer first. She built a cabin near Mile 11 East End Road in 1976. Flashing forward to 2003, she and Jamie Sutton bought the Homer Theatre with the intent to host a film festival in town. It has since morphed into the long-running and much looked forward to documentary festival.

The festival, which opens tonight with a gala reception and early viewing of “the Biggest little Farm,” has grown in popularity over the years. In addition to the awards Homer viewers can give the films, like audience favorite and grand jury, the festival now includes a student award specifically voted on by Homer’s youth. Jamie Sutton said he now tries to schedule certain films he thinks would be good for the students to see around when school gets out.

Get festival passes at the Homer Theatre or the Homer Bookstore. They cost $55 for seniors, youth and military, and $65 for everyone else. Individual film tickets range from $7 to $9 and can be purchased 30 minutes ahead of each showing.

Jamie Sutton on “Echo in the Canyon:”

Sutton is excited for his customary musical documentary choice this year. He described Laurel Canyon in California as an area that for years had people living there tucked away in the hills before it grew to be a bigger part of Los Angeles.

“It just so happens that here in the ’70s and ’80s, all these bands … they just sort of were drawn there. And so they would share music a lot and drop in and see one another. Really good cross-fertilization.”

On “The Biggest Little Farm:”

“It is all that the write up says it is. It’s this couple in LA that have got a bunch of money, but they don’t like the lifestyle, so let’s just go. And so they go north and inland a little … and they buy 200 acres and off they go.”

The film selection follow’s Sutton’s pattern of including at least one documentary a year that focuses on farming or food.

“This movie has been playing at the movie theater in San Rafael, the home of the Mill Valley Film Festival. … This documentary’s been there four months. They’re just playing it for four months — people love it.”

On “Maiden:”

“It’s just such a triumphant story. And it’s kind of women against those old, yacht club elitists, you know? Those arrogant guys, but (who) are also out there, you know, they’ve got this hired crew of muscled guys.”

“Women? We’ve been all around the world. A crew of 10, 12 — they think they can even get a crew? Are there 12 women that can actually do this?”

“It’s great. It’s just so triumphant.”

On “For Sama:”

“The title comes from the mom, who you’ll see is a very intelligent university student — pretty. And she … falls in love with a doctor, a young doctor and … so they get married and they have a baby: Sama.”

“So this is her filming Aleppo, you know one of the oldest cities in the Middle East. … In the beginning you overlook Aleppo. And there’s all these buildings that are intact; the place is bustling and stuff, it’s the start of the student movement so the university students are protesting. … And then sort of in the distance out there, there’s this rock outcropping that kind of goes up. … And it’s like the Acropolis, and the top of this, there was these old buildings. And so you can just see it’s this fortress back (in the past).

“And then things start getting serious, and they start getting bombed. … And then the final (home) movie before they leave, and the government troops have now come through Aleppo and they’ve just surrounded this little enclave where they have this hospital clinic … and it’s just rubble. It’s just rubble. And so this is her constantly filming, just the real reels of movies that she has created for (Sama).

“It’s the single sort of current affairs movie. We always try to have a diverse group.”

On “Serengeti Rules:”

“Serengeti Rules, a fascinating story about some guys who were young naturalists back in the day. Each on their own go out to different environments.

“You start off with a guy who’s in the tide pools of Oregon. And here’s this complex ecosystem. … And he removes from this pool, the starfish. And starfish you know … they look real cute but they can eat anything. Shells — that would be child’s play. So he gets rid of the starfish, and the diversity in this pool immediately begins to change and it ultimately is just taken over, and all it is, is mussels, because nobody can stop the mussels.

Sutton said the viewer begins to realize that there exists in every ecosystem a “keystone” species. These are the linchpins without which the entire ecosystem is thrown into chaos or unbalanced.

“So in the Serengeti there’s this keystone, and it turns out to be the wildebeest. If the wildebeest are healthy, … then the whole place multiplies because there’s food for the lions, etc.”

Sutton also noted that the film is “beautifully photographed.”

“So it just makes you love old Mom Nature and recognize how integrated and at the same time balanced it all is.”

On “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am:”

“Toni Morrison is such a remarkable person.”

Sutton chose the film to be included before Morrison died on Aug. 5.

“Toni Morrison is not only a brilliant writer, but she’s the first person, I think, in American literature who allowed America as a whole to understand the experience that was slavery in (terms) other than ‘isn’t slavery hell and what a miserable culture it must have been.’ And she just humanizes the natural instincts of human beings to love, to care, to wrestle, to strive, you know? Our previous thought had been, it doesn’t come to me that those activities might be permitted under slavery.

“Toni Morrison so sweetly and rigorously and so powerfully describes that.”

On “Human Nature:”

“‘Human Nature” is about CRISPR … and it’s wonderfully well explained, which is just so nice, for all those guys that are going, ‘what is CRISPR?’”

“It’s just gene manipulation. So it’s graphically and wonderfully explained. So you realize that it provides the ability to go into the complex genome that make up each of us both individually and as a species … and you can go in and you can find one little section, and within that section take the four amino acids, and chance that one for another one of those, and it completely changes. You can get rid of sickle cell anemia. … But what it also means is you can have designer babies.

“If you go to Africa and you do this, you get rid of (sickle cell anemia). Yes it’s true that the person doesn’t get sickle cell anemia, but they are now more prone to malaria. … So we really don’t know all the complexities of all of this, and it’s such a critical public question.”

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.

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