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Ten to watch 

Our must-see picks from this year's festival.

"DAMN!"

dir. Aaron Fisher-Cohen. 72 min.

Of all the viral phenomena in recent memory — spaghetti cat, "Chocolate Rain," "don't tase me, bro!" — Jimmy McMillan seems perhaps most likely to enjoy some sort of lasting fame. Because, for one, the former New York gubernatorial candidate with the Rent is 2 Damn High Party is memorably odd. His facial hair calls to mind Santa Claus, a carnival barker and chin Afros. He seems to always wear gloves. And his resume — Vietnam veteran, black belt Karate master, private investigator, former stripper and '70s soul singer — suggests that he's a blaxploitation super hero come to life. But what truly sets him apart from all those other oddities we pass around on YouTube is his message. Sure, it's delivered staccato with all sorts of funny flourishes, but we remember McMillan because he speaks the truth: The rent is too damn high. Fisher-Cohen's film, which makes its debut at the LRFF, follows McMillan from his rise to fame to the media fixation that followed. Both he and McMillan will be on hand at the festival. 4:30 p.m. Sat., Clinton School; 3:50 p.m. Sun., Riverdale. — LM.

"DOG SWEAT"

dir. Hossein Keshavarz. 90 min.

For decades, some of the greatest and most important films in all of world cinema have been exported from Iran. However, the country's notoriously repressive powers have attempted, time and time again, to mute its filmmaker's voices. Filmmaking (and watching) came to a virtual halt for years during the Islamic revolution. And now, with Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof currently imprisoned and barred from making movies, the state of Iran's exceptional cinema is as turbulent as ever. So it's incredible that "Dog Sweat" even exists. Clandestinely filmed with a skeleton crew (and a ton of guts) in Tehran, the movie — verite by necessity — depicts a crew of young Iranians on their regular hunts for booze, rock music and sex, among other illegal indulgences. The audacious director even dares to address homosexuality, Iran's ultimate taboo, with two of the male characters. For this film, "dangerous" isn't just a cheap buzzword. Expect Keshavarz to give one of the liveliest post-screening Q&As of the festival. 6:30 p.m. Thu., 1:20 p.m. Sun., Riverdale. — JT.

"DRAGONSLAYER"

dir. Tristan Patterson. 74 min.

A breakout hit on the festival circuit, this look at the price of skateboard romanticism took the Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary (as well as a Best Cinematography honor) at this year's SXSW Film Festival. The doc profiles a characteristically turbulent year in the life of Josh "Skreech" Sandoval, a brilliant but perpetually out-on-his-luck professional pool skater, as he breaks into abandoned pools, hustles hard for fast food and migrates from crash pad to crash pad. All the while, Skreech is dragging his heels towards adulthood, all but abandoning his toddler-age son for fireworks, weed and vague plans of "making it big." Director Tristan Patterson, whose credits include Harmony Korine's "Julien Donkey-Boy," will be present for the festival. He's currently at work with "Blue Valentine" producer Jamie Patricof on "Electric Slide," his full-length narrative debut, starring Ewan McGregor as an '80s L.A. antiques store owner, heroin addict and prolific bank robber. 8:25 p.m. Thu., 6:10 p.m. Fri., Riverdale. — JT.

"HELL AND BACK AGAIN"

dir. Danfung Dennis. 88 min.

Like Tim Hetherington, the late co-director of "Restrepo," last year's LRFF Golden Rock winner for Best Documentary, "Hell and Back Again" director Danfung Dennis has a background in photojournalism. Since 2006, he's covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for just about every major publication in the U.S. That means Dennis isn't afraid to venture to the front lines and takes special care to get artful shots. The winner of Sundance's World Cinema Jury Documentary Prize and World Cinema Documentary Cinematography Award, the film shifts between the frontlines with Sgt. Nathan Harris of U.S. Marines Echo Company and North Carolina, where Harris struggles to adjust to civilian life and recover from a serious injury sustained during battle. The Hollywood Reporter called it "brilliant" and "gut-wrenching." 2:15 p.m. Thu., noon Friday, Riverdale. — LM

"THE INTERRUPTERS"

dir. Steve James. 162 min.

It's only natural to be a tad apprehensive about a movie with a running time that flirts with a butt-numbing three-hour mark. But few directors can fill an intimidating stretch of film as expertly as Steve James. The documentarian earned his stripes (and status as a modern-day great) in 1994 with "Hoop Dreams," the monumental basketball documentary. "The Interrupters" sees James turn his eye yet again on inner-city Chicago, tracking the work of CeaseFire, an organization whose members work to decrease soaring murder rates by mediating gang disputes in the city's most dangerous war zones. Filmed right in the middle of the powder keg, the doc follows three entrenched counselors, all reformed ex-criminals with violent pasts, taking to living rooms, prisons, funerals and the literal streets to cool down hot heads, sometimes successfully and, on occasion, in vain. James himself will be on hand during the festival to discuss his brand of docu-journalism and his films at large. 4:40 p.m. Sat., noon Sun., Riverdale. — JT

"JESS + MOSS"

dir. Clay Jeter. 82 min.

"Alamar," a Spanish film firmly rooted in what's alternately been called Slow Cinema and neo-minimalism, was one of the highlights of last year's festival. This year, "Jess + Moss," another atmospheric meditation on youth and its surroundings, is poised to stand out in the same light. Set on a Kentucky tobacco farm, the movie moves at a kudzu's pace, exploring the depth of memory and the nature of family through two second cousins who spend a summer removed from the adults in their family. Judging from clips, the cinematography alone seems to warrant a viewing. Captured with more than 30 random 16mm film stocks, the slow, varied photography compliments the film's Southern mood. (Think "George Washington," the debut from Arkansas native David Gordon Green.) Those looking for a slice of adventurous, poetic filmmaking, make time for this one. Director Clay Jeter will be on hand for the weekend screenings. 5:50 p.m., Sat., 11:45 a.m. Sun. Riverdale. — JT

"KATI WITH AN I"

dir. Robert Greene. 86 min.

It's only natural for documentarians to gravitate towards extraordinary people, controversial issues, big questions or a mash of all of the above. It's a noble calling, no doubt and an appreciated one. But often, cinema verite cuts to the core of things by simply turning a camera on a subject and letting a story write itself without any interference from the director. "Kati With an I" follows in this tradition, with director Robert Greene cuing in on his half-sister, a seemingly un-extraordinary teen-ager, naturally stubborn and hormonal, who's spending her final months in Piedmont, Ala., living in her friend's house, away from her parents. Her boyfriend, a McDonald's cook, is her tie to domesticity, even though he's reluctant to leave his job and mother to come with Kati on a planned move out of state after her high school graduation. It's an everyday story, sure, but the trailer for this backwoods Bildungsroman is one of the most compelling of the entire festival. Robert Greene will be in attendance to discuss his techniques and, let's hope, update us on his half-sister. 5:55 p.m. Fri., 5:40 p.m. Sat., Riverdale. — JT

"THE LAST RIDE"

dir. Harry Thomason

Without a doubt the most widely anticipated film at the festival, this biopic focuses on the mysterious final days of Hank Williams, when he hired a young man to drive his Cadillac from Alabama to Ohio and died en route. "Sparse and contemplative," reads the LRFF description of the film, "the story takes us inside the heart of a man who knows he's dying, and a dreamless boy whose fate seems already determined." Henry Thomas, who most famously played Elliott in "E.T.," stars as Williams, while Jesse James ("As Good As It Gets," "Blow") plays the young driver. Both actors will be in town for Wednesday's screening along with Hank Sr.'s daughter Jett Williams, Thomason and "The Big Bang Theory" actor Kaley Cuoco, who has a small role in the film. Even though Arkansas doesn't figure into the narrative, Arkansas native Thomason shot much of the film in the state with help from a largely local crew. There will be a Q&A with Thomas after each of the three screenings. 7 p.m. Wed., Argenta Community Theater ($100 opening night ticket, $100 silver pass or $250 all access gold pass); 8 p.m. Wed., 3:30 p.m. Fri., Riverdale. — LM

"MARATHON BOY"

dir. Gemma Atwal. 98 min.

With a plot like something from Dickens, this documentary is an early favorite to win an Academy Award, according to the LRFF's Brent Renaud. The film's hero is Budhia Singh, a foul-mouthed young Indian boy turned marathon runner, whose life begins in poverty and grows more dismal when his mother sells him to an abusive peddler when he's only 3. But things look up for Singh when he's rescued by Biranchi Das to live at Judo House, a sports center and orphanage where Das trains some of India's better judo competitors. After once sending Singh out to the streets at 6 a.m. to run for punishment for filthy language and finding him still at it seven hours later, Das figures he has a sort of prodigy. Before Singh turns 5, he's competed in 48 marathons and become a celebrity in the Indian state of Orissa. But when Singh breaks down during a world-record 65 kilometer run, public opinion begins to turn on the trainer and his precocious ward. Director Atwal, who'll be on hand at the LRFF, captures the action as it unfolds. Variety called the documentary "epic" and "archetypal." 2:10 p.m. Thu., 1:45 p.m. Fri., Riverdale. — LM

"NATURAL SELECTION"

dir. Robbie Pickering. 90 min.

After winning nearly every prize at SXSW — the Grand Jury Prize, the Audience Award and prizes for editing, sound, screenplay and two breakthrough performances — this oddball comedy about a woman who gets to know her dying husband's illegitimate 23-year-old son on a road trip makes its second festival appearance at the LRFF, where it's surely the favorite to win the Golden Rock Award for Best Narrative Film. Here's how Logan Hill, a SXSW juror, described "Natural Selection" on New York magazine's Vulture blog: "It's a wild road-trip odd-couple romp, a pitch-perfect satire of marriage and morality, a perversely satisfying romance, an oddly empowering women's anthem, and, above all, the best sort of comedy — one that's absolutely grounded in messy human drama." First time director Robbie Pickering will be in attendance. 8:40 p.m. Thu., 2:20 p.m. Sat., Riverdale. — LM

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