Swiss filmmaker Korinna Sheringer had everything she needed for her independent feature; a good story, a great script and the makings of an enjoyable film incorporating minimal locations and lots of engaging dialog: a dysfunctional family reunites, only under the most tragic of circumstances, creating an explosive, emotional reunion filled with anger and eventual forgiveness and acceptance. But there was something missing in her story, an element needed to set this film apart from the other ‘families reunited following tragedy’ films already out there. At first, the characters were gathered in a hospital in Switzerland, forced to decide the fate of their ailing mother. As Sheringer tinkered with the setting, dreams of Arizona and the southwestern US landscape filled her thoughts, ultimately bringing her first feature film “Shouting Secrets” together, sharing the story a Native American family on the San Carlos reservation that is forced together again, after years of indifference and hostility.
After a serious stroke fells family matriarch June (Tantoo Cardinal Smoke Signals, Edge of Madness) on the eve of her wedding anniversary, her children rush to her hospital bedside. Her estranged son Wesley (Chaske Spencer Twilight, Skins), now a successful author living in the big city, reluctantly arrives and is instantly set upon by his angry siblings who are unhappy that the characters in his scathing bestseller were based on his own family. His younger brother Tushka (Tyler Christopher General Hospital, Into the West), once the high school track coach, is now a sign spinner for a seafood restaurant on the reservation, having lost his job amid allegations of inappropriate conduct with a female student. Little sister Pinti (Q’orianka Kilcher The New World, Neverland) is pregnant and unmarried, taking up with her philosophical, slightly immature pot smoking life partner Brody (Connor Fox Ice Grill USA, Guiding Light). They all must face their father Cal (Gil Birmingham Twilight, The Lying Game) who is angry, resentful and on the verge of losing the fragile tether that kept him attached to his family, even if only superficially.
Most of the movie takes place in the waiting room of the hospital, as each character purges their hostility, and slowly accepts their siblings back into their life. There are a few references to the groundbreaking film “Smoke Signals” (1998), but it’s hard not to with one of the stars of the film appearing in your own indie movie. The male characters are portrayed as mostly dimwitted doofuses; misguided and irresponsible, while the women continue to keep it all together, raising their children and providing a strong and positive role model in light of their husbands numerous shortcomings and lack of common sense. In probably one of the most (intentionally?) telling scenes, the family finds their father with his hand stuck in a candy machine, having gotten a bad case of the munchies after smoking pot with his potential son-in-law. As the family gathers around their father to await his extraction from the vending machine, he angrily admonishes his children; demanding that he be respected, not only as their father, but for his wisdom and strength, and for his determination to keep his family together. This from a guy with his hand stuck in a candy machine.
Shouting secrets incorporates an excellent cast, with each actor delivering a powerful and crafted performance, as each character tells their own story, eventually explaining how they wound up where they are today. Although ‘Secrets’ features several recognizable actors from the popular ‘Twilight’ series of films, ‘Secrets’ never exploits or cheaply references this fact, utilizing the talented actors solely based on their skills and abilities, allowing them to make their own identification and development of their characters. Tyler Christopher’s performance stands out from the rest, delivering a very emotional, self-condemned humanity to the film. While easily judged for his bad behavior (both by his family and the audience) Christopher allows his character to become sympathetic, but never pathetic. The reservation and Native American culture is incorporated well and almost subtly, more as a backdrop or vehicle for the experiences to take place, just as director Sheringer intended. There is a respectful, underlying mix of shaman mysticism contrasted with evangelical extremism, revealed when the medicine man confronts June’s devoutly Christian sister and other faith healers from her congregation. Each arrives with their own ‘cure’ for June and, although somewhat awkwardly, they allow each other equal time to perform their ceremonies and rituals for the ailing matriarch.
The photography in ‘Secrets’ is beautiful and soothing, highlighting the alluring cinematic resources provided in abundance in Arizona: the landscape, sunsets, cities and scenery. This film has all of the elements of an easygoing indie made within the formula most lower budget filmmakers are going for these days: lots of dialog and very few locations, keeping production costs down while delivering (mostly) engaging narrative, feature length films. It is inexplicable that a filmmaker would actually want to come to Arizona to shoot a feature; this being the most film un-friendly state in the union, forcing youthful, wage earning, tax paying filmmakers out by the busload in order to seek film work in other states. I’ll keep harping back to this until the day my film school classmates return to Arizona, to pay taxes and live in their state of origin, working in the industry they spent years in film school preparing for.
Shouting secrets is a very well made, enjoyable and entertaining film in spite of the dour circumstances the story takes place in. “Shouting Secrets” is also an excellent example of what can be accomplished here in Arizona, and the abundant landscape that continues to provide the inspiration and impetus for filmmakers all over the world.
“Shouting Secrets” will be screening at the Sedona Film Festival this Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 3:00 pm. The Sedona Film Festival is one of the largest annual film festivals in Arizona and runs from February 23 through March 3, 2013. The Sedona Film Festival will be screening international, as well as locally made films and documentaries. Another addition to this years schedule; the Sedona Film Festival has included an even bigger selection of short films, many representing the talented filmmaking being done right here in Arizona. Don’t miss “Shouting Secrets” or any of the other terrific films screening this week at the Sedona Film Festival.