North Starr

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Sundance Film Festival

PARK CITY -- The democratization of film thanks to new technology has meant that almost anyone with something to say has a shot at saying it. This has led to any number of films that are long on passion and somewhat lacking in execution. "North Starr" is just such a film.

The story of a young black man's search for identity, it is more vibrant and affecting than many movies with 10 times the budget. What it lacks in polish, it almost makes up for in heart and soul. The film could attract a modest crossover audience before finding a home on cable.

First-time producer-director-writer-actor Matthew Stanton clearly is working more from inspiration than experience. Blending the poetic with the prosaic and originality with the formulaic, he has put together an old-fashioned, socially conscious picture with a contemporary beat. Music of all kinds -- rap, blues, country, tribal drums -- is pulsating throughout the film.

"North Starr" operates on a literal and allegorical level. It opens in the Houston hood where Demetrius (Jerome Hawkins) is reluctantly pressed into doing some nefarious job with his pal Justice (David Haley). When Justice is killed in action, Demetrius starts out on his life journey, winding up as if blown by the wind in the tiny West Texas town of Trublin.

Befriended by Darring (Stanton), Demetrius soon encounters the remnants of the old South. The sheriff and his two racist sidekicks are so venal as to be almost cartoonish. As in most places like this, they are harboring an awful secret that somehow starts to show up in Demetrius' dreams. Haunted by his past and uncertain of his future, he is nurtured by Darring, his foul-mouthed friend Wayne (Wayne Campbell) and the hospitality of an elderly white couple at the North Starr ranch.

It's the feeling and sentiment that counts here more than logic, as changes in tone between the mystical and real world are occasionally jarring. The young cast, often awkward in front of the camera, doesn't help the cause. Yet the film has a great energy and means what it says. The poetry and songs Demetrius writes in his journal are used as a voice-over and a way to show his inner self. As a city kid lost in the Texas wilderness, it's hard not to root for him.

Shot on location in the dead of summer by cinematographer Peter Levermann, "North Starr" has an appropriate gritty look and makes good use of the scrubby plains and rolling hills of the countryside. Nonstop music by Carlos Jones and others is infectious and rousing but is mixed too loud. The film also could benefit from some judicious editing to its 122-minute running time. But in the end, it's the spirit that carries it home.

NORTH STARR
Fat Bessy Films in association with Cinelever
Credits:
Screenwriter-director: Matthew Stanton
Producers: Matt Stanton, Paula Windham, Peter Levermann
Director of photography: Peter Levermann
Production designers: Greg Ellery, Wayne Campbell
Music: Carlos Jones
Costume designer: Fat Bessy Films
Editor: Peter Levermann
Cast:
Demetrius
Jerome Hawkins
Darring Clements: Matthew Stanton
Wayne: Wayne Campbell
Sprit: Chris Sullivan
Justice: David Haley
Justin: Zach Johnson
May Summers: Lindsie Parker
Hud: Gary Glenn Crane
T.J.: Isaac Lamb
Running time -- 122 minutes
No MPAA rating

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