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Series gets real

ANNA BLOOM, Of the Record staff

These days, Frank Normile says he’s beginning to think truth might be more interesting than fiction when it comes to film.

"It’s changed so much — in the past five years that I look forward to the documentaries sometimes more than I do a first-run feature," he says.

Normile, executive director of the Park City Film Series, regularly checks-in with the New York and Los Angeles papers and among the independent theatres and major theatres alike, documentaries are gaining in popularity. Why, then, should it be any different at the Santy Auditorium?

In the last lineup of 2007 Normile walks the talk. Nine out of the 13 films on the upcoming slate are either documentaries or were directed by a famed documentary filmmaker.

In addition to the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and his own sense of the current zeitgeist, Normile relies on the Web site rottentomatoes.com as a barometer of cinema. Rotten Tomatoes compiles reviews from around the world and includes an average rating meter that ranges from "fresh" to "rotten."

Among the top-rated Rotten Tomato films this year with a score of 98 percent fresh? "Deep Water," a documentary about an Englishman who set off on a solo circumnavigation of the world in 1968, which the series will screen at the auditorium on Nov. 30 through Dec. 2.

"’Deep Water’ will astound a number of people," he predicts. "I don’t think I’d seen a higher rating on Rotten Tomatoes."

Documentary directors who pop up in the slate as feature directors include Werner Herzog who made 2005’s "Grizzly Man," a docudrama that captured activist and grizzly bear expert Timothy Treadwell and his decision to live amongst grizzly bears, paying, in the end, the ultimate price for their efforts. On Nov. 9, the series will show Herzog’s range with his fictional account, "Rescue Dawn," about Lt. Dieter Dengler, the only American to escape a prisoner-of-war camp in the Laotian jungle. The film stars actors Christian Bale and Steve Zahn. Normile attaches the superlative "one of the best living directors we have in this little world" to Herzog’s name. Rotten Tomatoes scores the film at 90 percent fresh.

Also revealing his abilities to leave the documentary genre is Jeffrey Blitz, the filmmaker who exposed the insular world of America’s spelling bee culture in "Spellbound." Blitz debuted "Rocket Science" at the Sundance Film Festival in 2007, receiving the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize for his work. It will show at the Santy Auditorium Nov. 16-18. Rotten Tomatoes’ consensus? Eighty-five percent Fresh.

Other true life gems Normile highlights are "In the Shadow of the Moon," which compiles producer Ron Howard’s collection of footage and interviews from the Apollo space mission (94 percent fresh, according to Rotten Tomatoes,) and "When the Road Bends: Tales of a Gypsy Caravan," which follows a gypsy band’s psychedelic Lollapalooza on the road (85 percent fresh).

Normile reviews films popular and obscure, and is finding that documentary films are those that seem to find the most compelling stories, partly because the filmmakers behind them seek out unfamiliar territory and new faces.

"Documentaries don’t have to employ a whole bunch of actors whose faces we’re really overly familiar with," he says. "I’m tired of seeing the same old actors re-cast in different roles trying to convince me to feel something about their characters when it has nothing to do with the story the film loses authenticity.

"Documentary gives you a freer realm of imaginative involvement with what’s going on."

Film Series late-fall lineup

The Park City Film Series screens films at the Santy Auditorium at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and at 6 p.m. on Sunday, with the exception of the Sundance Documentary Series and the Reel Classics Series which are Wednesdays at 7 p.m. For more details, visit http://www.parkcityfilmseries.com.

Nov. 2-4

The 11th Hour

Documentary

Rated PG

Nov. 7

Miss Navajo

Part of the Sundance Institute Documentary Series (free)

Not Rated

Nov. 9-11

Rescue Dawn

War drama

Rated PG-13

Nov. 14

Little Ceasar

Gangster classic (free)

Not Rated

Nov. 16-18

Rocket Science

Dark comedy

Nov. 23-25

Death at a Funeral

Comedy

Rated R

Nov. 29

Local Filmmakers Showcase

Nov. 30-Dec. 2

Deep Water

Documentary

Dec. 5

Nanking

Part of the Sundance Institute Documentary Series (free)

Not Rated


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