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<ul><li><p>First place, entertainment reviews, 2012, 2012 Gold Circle Awards for Digital Media, Columbia Scholastic Press Association (CSPA) </p><p> Woodpecker flies above mockumentary formula January 14, 2011 By Ben Wright </p><p>Woodpecker is more than a run-of-the-mill mockumentary. Its a film that blurs the line between fact and fiction. </p><p> By Ben Wright </p><p>On one hand a mockumentary, or docudrama or maybe even a docufiction and a hilarious dark humor piece on the other, Woodpecker combines laughs, fact and fiction expertly. </p><p>The film, presented by the Lucas Theatres Southern Circuit Tour of Filmmakers and part of Savannahs Alternative Cinema Weekend, premiered Jan. 12 at the Lucas Theatre to a modest yet appreciative crowd. The director and co-writer of the film, Alex Karpovsky, was supposed to be in attendance, but was snowbound in Charlotte, N.C. </p><p>Nevertheless, the screening continued, and, without the filmmakers insight, left the audience wondering what, exactly, was real, and what wasnt. </p><p>Woodpecker begins deeply rooted in fact, telling the story of the ivory-billed woodpecker, the largest species of woodpecker in North America, supposedly extinct since the 1940s. A possible sighting near the dying town of Brinkley, Ark. ignites the passions of the apparently robust birding community in the U.S. </p><p>Suddenly, the town, described by a Chamber of Commerce employee as almost third-world has an answer to their prayers of redemption with the Lord God </p></li><li><p>bird (taken by some as a religious sign, but the name comes from people saying, Lord God! Look at the size of that bird!). </p><p>Birders, conservationists and eco-tourists descended on the town, which quickly rebranded itself around the ivory-bill, with gift shops, hotels, and a $25 ivory-billed woodpecker haircut. The birds existence, however hinges on a grainy, out of focus four-second video and various eyewitnesses. </p><p>Enter Jonny (Jon Hyrnes), a housepainter and amateur poet who comes to Brinkley with his newfound, nearly mute friend from Portland, Ore., Wesley (Wesley Yang), determined to be the one who finds the bird. </p><p>After reading Connect Savannahs interview with Karpovsky, I confidently told my friend in the seat next to me that Jonny and Wesley are the only scripted parts of the film. </p><p>As the film entered its second act, I became doubtful. </p><p>The story of Brinkley is enough for a cut-and-dry documentary in itself, but as Jonny and Wes story unfolds, the film becomes something much more. Karpovsky expertly weaves actors into the film (not just Jonny and Wes) to give the film a narrative structure. </p><p>Its hard to find an antagonist in a documentary about a bird, but Karpovsky does deftly with the introduction of Brinkleys duck-hunting lobby, who can no longer hunt in the now federally-protected bayou. The hunters hang around in the wings, occasionally popping up for an interview, but are enough of a presence to add to the films narrative structure. </p><p>Its far too easy to make comparisons to Christopher Guests films (Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman) when reviewing fake documentaries. While Karpovsky retains the best elements of Guests filmsthe bumbling protagonist, ridiculous statements said with deadly seriousness, an almost religious conviction to the task at handtheres an extra dimension to Woodpecker: reality. Best in Show lampoons the dog show circuit by creating a fake dog show and populating it with actors. Woodpecker isnt a send-up of birding or the town of Brinkley. </p><p>Its using a very real place with a very real controversy (deemed Peckergate by hardcore birders) and creates a new narrative that blurs the lines between fiction and reality. Much like eponymous subject of the movie, the narrative exists in a murky realm of possible veracity. </p><p>The film, like any documentary, cuts between one-on-one interviews and more narrative scenes. Just as the gas begins to run out on a scene, the screen fades to black and starts the cycle again. This gives the film an almost amateur quality, but the expertise of the storytelling prevents it from falling into that trap. </p></li><li><p>Its impossible to delve into Jonnys story without ruining it, but, suffice to say that his obsession is both his downfall and redemption. </p><p>As the movie closes with Jonny, head painted in a crude likeness of the ivory-bills crest, body covered in glued-on goose down, reciting stilted poetry about the elusive Lord God bird, its easy to laugh, but the nagging suspicions about what really happened and what didnt last a lot longer than the gags. </p></li><li><p>2010 Georgia College Press Association Better Newspaper Contest: 1st Place, Best Review </p><p> </p><p> 127 Hours a compelling, uncomfortable end to Film Festival Posted on November 6, 2010 </p><p> 127 Hours is not for the faint of </p><p>heart, but is an immensely compelling film that will have people talking. </p><p>By Ben Wright </p><p>This years Savannah Film Festival has included a number of </p><p>controversial films. From the NC-17 rated Blue Valentine </p><p>to Blue Velvet, this years selections have not always been </p><p>family-friendly feel-good hits. </p><p>The festival ended on a note of relief as the lights went up </p><p>after 127 Hours, which features the true story of hiker Aron </p></li><li><p>Ralstons entrapment in a canyon for five days and the </p><p>extreme measures he takes to free himself. </p><p>Relief because the moviegoer, who needed an EMT called </p><p>after The Amputation Scene, was OK. Relief because The </p><p>Amputation Scene was over. Relief at the resolution of an </p><p>incredibly intense 90 minutes of film. </p><p>127 Hours, directed by Danny Boyle (Slumdog </p><p>Millionaire, Millions, 28 Days Later) is based on </p><p>Ralstons memoir, the aptly titled Between a Rock and a </p><p>Hard Place. </p><p>The film opens with a triptych of images of Ralstons urban </p><p>life as he begins his escape to nature, where, upon arriving, </p><p>he exclaims, Just me, the music and the night. Love it! </p><p>Ralstons relationship with nature is an interesting one. He </p><p>doesnt seek solitude like Thoreau; he seeks to conquer it, </p><p>blasting music in his headphones and trying to beat </p><p>guidebooks recommended hiking times. </p><p>People are blurs in Ralstons life. Early on, he meets two </p><p>hikers, played by Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara. Their </p><p>scenes add little to the movie, except about 10 minutes and </p><p>some relief before The Scene. </p></li><li><p>Most importantly, it shows how he isnt distracted by these </p><p>two young women who obviously are hitting on him. He </p><p>wants to embrace the great outdoors. </p><p>Then, after swimming in his skivvies in the middle of </p><p>nowhere, Ralston sprints off to his next adventure, taking </p><p>him to Blue John Canyon, where a rock becomes dislodged </p><p>and crushes his right forearm against the wall. </p><p>Its here, 15 minutes into the movie, that the title appears. </p><p>This film lacks the traditional narrative structure. Theres no </p><p>comic relief. Theres no villain. Theres not really a story arc. </p><p>All of this is found within Ralston, depicted compellingly by </p><p>James Franco. </p><p>Immobilizing the main character allows Boyle to play with </p><p>his character and cinematography in very interesting ways. </p><p>Ralston flashes back to his childhood, past relationships and </p><p>events more and more frequently as his situation worsens. </p><p>He gives monologues to his handheld recorder and he never </p><p>loses his sense of humor. After drinking his own urine, he </p><p>says, Its no Slurpee. Boyle uses extreme closeups of </p><p>Ralstons water bottle, Camel Bak and skin to seamlessly </p><p>weave in his hallucinations. </p></li><li><p>At first, Ralston is just an observer in his hallucinations, but </p><p>as he runs out of water and food, his role changes. Hes seen </p><p>outside the window the first time he sleeps with his ex-</p><p>girlfriend. Then his mothers couch appears in the canyon </p><p>with him. </p><p>Even though time begins to slow down for Ralston, as the </p><p>minutes slowly squeeze by, the film never drags. As Ralston, </p><p>and the film lose their grip on reality the film becomes more </p><p>and more compelling. </p><p>Interestingly, pop culture manages to squeeze into the </p><p>canyon with Ralston. He hosts a morning show segment, </p><p>featuring himself as host, guest and call-in viewer. The </p><p>Scooby Doo theme song plays in his head. Ralston </p><p>fantasizes about beverages through vintage commercial </p><p>footage. Even though he is trapped in the remotest corner of </p><p>the nation, he cant escape it. </p><p>Perhaps the philosophical core of the movie lies in Ralstons </p><p>monologue describing how the rock that is trapping him has </p><p>been waiting for me its entire life. </p><p>Thankfully, the film isnt given to much self-reflection and </p><p>pity, where it could easily get bogged down. As soon as </p><p>Ralston apologizes to his mother in absentia, hes stabbing </p><p>his arm. </p></li><li><p> When hes finally made his peace with the world, his </p><p>desperation forces him to take drastic measures and cut his </p><p>arm off. </p><p>The Amputation Scene, which, according to the Huffington </p><p>Post, has people fainting and vomiting in theaters at </p><p>premieres around the world, isnt gratuitous. </p><p>Intense? Yes. </p><p>Uncomfortable? Oh, yes. </p><p>But the scene, which ended with the film temporarily </p><p>stopping and an ambulance being called to Trustees Theater, </p><p>didnt cause people to leave in droves. </p><p>Everyone squirmed and everyone groaned, but Boyles </p><p>success in setting up a connection with Ralston the previous </p><p>80 minutes made the audience stick around. </p><p>Applause broke out as he finally wrenched himself free, and </p><p>everyone laughed as Ralston paused to take a picture of the </p><p>grisly scene he left. </p></li><li><p>The film ends so soon after The Scene that the resolution is </p><p>messy. Theres not an immediate triumphant sentiment. I </p><p>didnt feel empowered by the film, just exhausted. </p><p>Thats perhaps the biggest letdown of the film. The message </p><p>isnt immediately clear, and the overwhelming feeling from </p><p>the film is relief. </p><p>127 Hours isnt, by any means, for the squeamish. But </p><p>those looking for a compelling story, interesting </p><p>cinematography and a more than likely Academy Award </p><p>nomination for Franco, check it out. It lives up to the hype. </p><p>Contact Ben Wright. !</p></li><li><p>Freelance journalism feature: From rags to riches to rags: the tale of Americas Uranium King The gold rush is a staple of American history. It conjures images of rugged wilderness, larger-than life characters and desperate people, hoping for a lucky break. Most assume the era of the mineral rush is ancient history, but there was another, more recent rush for a certain mineralone so recent, some of the major players involved are still around. The mineral? Uranium. After World War II, America was on the hunt for uranium to process for its newly minted nuclear arsenal. At the time, only two major sources were known: Shinkolobwe in the Congo and the mines of St. Joachimsthal, Czechosolvakia, then controlled by the Soviet Union. Incidentally, the silver coins produced at St. Joachimsthal in the 14th century became known as Joachimsthalers, which was shorted to the less tongue-twisting thalers, which was then Anglicized to dollar. In the early days of the Cold War, America needed a homegrown source of the worlds most valuable metal, and it needed it fast. The Atomic Energy Commission announced it would buy all processable uranium, at many times the market price. Helpfully, the Commission also printed guidebooks for any would-be prospectors eager to make a buck or 10,000, which was the bonus promised to anyone who could develop a productive mine. Enter Charlie Steen. Steen, who graduated from the Texas College of Mines, held down a few jobs in the oil business, but never for long, as his hot-headedness and temperament got him in trouble with bosses. In 1949, unemployed and running out of cash, he borrowed $1,000 from his mother and set out for Moab, Utah with his wife and children, where rumors of uranium shimmered in the desert. After two years of barely scraping by, poaching deer for food, emptying cigarette butts for the tobacco and borrowing more and more money from friends, Steen was at his wits end. Hed just broken his last drill bit and only had a truck full of black, worthless rock to show for it. He headed back into town, stopping at a service station to chat with a friend. The friend, Buddy Gowger, had a Geiger counter on hand, which most prospectors used in their search for the precious mineral. Steen couldnt afford it, instead relying only on his mining acumen and instincts. Jokingly, Steen asked Cowger to check his worthless-looking rocks for radiation. The Geiger counter squealed. Steen had hit the motherlode. His Mi Vida mine produced $1 million of uranium ore in its six months of operation. His mine, uranium mills and related companies were worth over $150 million in two years. Steen was 33 years old. </p></li><li><p>Flush with more money than he knew what to do with, Steen constructed an ostentatious mansion overlooking Moab (now a fancy restaurant called the Sunset Grill). He also had a compassionate streak, donating $50,000 to build a hospital in Moab, expanding the citys waterworks and giving money to pretty much anyone who asked for it. Steen threw lavish parties for the town in his private hangar, flying in fresh oysters from Maine. Since the television signals in Moabs desert canyons were often spotty, Steen would board his private plane and have his pilot circle the desert where he could enjoy his favorite shows in peace. As with most get-rich-quick stories, Steens does not have a happy ending. After a successful campaign for Utahs State Senate in 1958, Steen ran afoul of the Mormon-controlled legislature when he campaigned for loosening the states restrictive liquor laws. Steen resigned in 1961, and moved to Nevada, seeking more riches. He never did. Steen may have been a good miner, but his business ventures in horse racing, cattle ranching, marble mining and a pickle factory all went belly-up. He was constantly involved in lawsuits about his mines. The IRS confiscated his assets for back taxes in 1968. Steen returned to mining in the 70s, where, in 1971 he received a devastating head injury that put him in a coma for a month. He never fully recovered, but never gave up hoping for his next big strike. As Steens health declined, his sons squabbled over what was left of the familys fortune. Steens wife, Minnie Lee, died in 1997, and Steen followed in 2006, succumbing to Alzheimers. Their ashes were scattered at the abandoned Mi Vida mine, where Steen made his millions in the last great mineral rush of the century. Sidebar ideas Uranium Prospectin for Dummies You may think that knowledge of geology, mining or basic survival skills are necessary for a successful uranium strike, but that didnt stop thousands of ordinary citizens like you and me from seeking riches in the desert. Heres all you need to know about prospecting for uranium: </p><p> Since you lack basic knowledge of where and how uranium is deposited, a Geiger counter will likely be necessary to find our next strike. Luckily, has new, portable Geiger counters in stock starting at $350. </p><p> In 1953, Life magazine printed a handy guide for any would-be prospector. The price for complete equipment for the we...</p></li></ul>