* Nicest words ever spoken about me … (Going to the movies—by Roger Williams)

Posted on May 8, 2012


This week’s Fort Myers Film Festival is unprecedented in the region as a life litmus test.

Fail to find something on the sumptuous 77-film menu of domestic and foreign works that you can’t live without — and obviously you’ve stopped breathing. In which case, hang up immediately and call 9-1-1.

Even my 84-year-old mother, who has been blind since she was 45, wanted to come from 2,000 miles away to see a FMFF film. “The hell with eyes,” she probably figured. “I intend to see that movie about Kaziah Hancock.”

Like Ms. Hancock, my mother is a Westerner. That’s the way she thinks, and it’s the way you should think, too.

From any direction and distance — from Naples, Punta Gorda, Looneyville, Texas, or Toad Suck, Ark. (real places, all) — you’d do well to pick a film or five, and come and imbibe.

Created and organized by Eric Raddatz, FMFF is a cultural soiree that mixes independent dramas and documentaries with two other ingredients: the lively people who make movies and the luminous revelations that great art always air-lifts unexpectedly into our base-camp sensibilities.

Find the complete schedule inside our Arts & Entertainment section this week and also at http://www.fortmyersfilmfestival.com.

Undeniably, my pitch smacks of the most virulent nepotism (a highly underrated virtue when I employ it, but a terrible sin against God and man when others do).

Mr. Raddatz, after all, is very nearly family. He came to my wedding 11 years ago this month, when he was only beginning to think about film as more than an avocation.

Every seven days now he designs Florida Weekly’s section fronts, creating images for our singular feature and news reports with a graphic power that no other artist in the Sunshine State can match.

Whenever I win awards for stories, Mr. Raddatz has designed them so compellingly that the judges become intoxicated by art, violating every rule of sobriety that currently shackles judges in journalism contests. Then, grinning like lushes, they hand me the prizes for writing.

Mr. Raddatz has now done with cinema what, say, Robert and Carrie Cacioppo have done with stage plays at Florida Repertory Theatre; or what Myra Daniels and a cast of thousands have done with painting, sculpture and music at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples; or what Randy Wayne White and Jeff Lindsay have done with the novel from their coastal hidey-holes; or what Clyde and Niki Butcher have done with photography in the Big Cypress; or what Andrew Kurtz and Amy Padilla have done with accessible classical music at the Gulf Coast Symphony.

Like each of them, Mr. Raddatz has created a compelling gravity of art that begins right here and draws in the world.


Glancing in his car won’t tell you, that’s for sure. Any more than looking around the edges of Picasso’s messy studio would have told you how he created some of the world’s greatest paintings.

Papers, DVDs, CDs, clothes, fast-food wrappers, chaos — all the good stuff is there, piled on passenger seats and floors. But when Mr. Raddatz is in the car, the other good stuff is also present: poise, charisma, wit, curiosity, intelligence, experience, ego, insecurity, tolerance, determination, confidence, ambition, charm and Chicago (his hometown). Everything an artist needs.

Also, religion and talent.

I say that because I suspect that Mr. Raddatz, himself a filmmaker, writer and actor, has struggled with religion (the kind that might not appreciate self-expression), to assert his own talent (the kind that requires self-expression).

But why in movies?

Let me make another guess: Because movies have the power to affect more people with the full deck — words, sounds and images together — than any other art form.

They’ve certainly affected me with that power.

The first one I ever saw, on a summer evening in 1958 when the Rocky Mountains stood up like sharp waves against the lustrous sheen of dusk, was a short feature about western animals. Probably Disney. In full color.

To ever feel so much awestruck excitement again, I’d have to land on Mars or spot a mastodon in the north woods or watch my father walk back out of the eternal night, to take me to the movies one more time.

With Daddy sitting patiently beside me, I recall a bear scratching his behind against a tree while a dark theater full of children erupted in laughter. I recall a wolverine chewing into a trapper’s cabin while a dark theater full of children erupted in silence. I recall the syrupy bass of a narrator’s voice describing animals always seemingly on the verge of comic speech.

As magic as that was, it wasn’t a real movie, except in form.

Real movies, like any art of story — on the stage, in the novel or merely in the telling — only ever offer variations on three subjects: love, war and death.

All of which George Stevens took on in his great 1953 movie, “Shane,” powered by a screenplay from the fine American novelist A.B. Guthrie Jr. and made on location in Wyoming. That was the second film I ever saw, and I’ve never gotten over it.

“Shane” was about courage, grit, generosity and self-sacrifice, and so is the 27-minute documentary about Kaziah Hancock of Manti, Utah (“Kaziah the Goat Woman”). Ms. Hancock, a farmer and portrait painter, is just as tough and generous as the fictional hero in the old Western, and almost as tough as my mother.

Like “Shane” once did, now Ms. Hancock, as real as rain, has ridden off the silver screen and into the valley of our lives, courtesy of Kathleen Dolan, the producer, Amy Duzinski, the director, and Eric Raddatz, the Fort Myers Film Festival wizard.

“See, this is where I get to be a mother,” Ms. Hancock says in the first line of the movie, eyeballing the camera like a gunfighter.

“Thirty girls, all pregnant — hell, yes. Mama Kaziah.” Grinning like the wide West, then she starts forking hay into the goat pen.

My kind of woman.

May we welcome her this week to the Fort Myers Film Festival with many others, and may they remain here in our hearts forever. ¦

*from http://fortmyers.floridaweekly.com//news/2012-03-21/Opinion/COMMENTARY.html (Originally published March 23, 2012)

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