Wednesday, August 9, 2017

SOBER MINDS: Charlo Johnson's short-but-impressive look at noted wildlife photographer Paul Hughes' work, life and philosophy

TrustMovies had previously heard of neither the filmmaker Charlo Johnson nor the subject of his new film, a famous Irish wildlife photographer named Paul Hughes. Having seen the film -- which bears the oddball but appropriate title SOBER MINDS -- both men are now, I suspect, rather indelibly imprinted on my memory.

Mr. Johnson, shown below, has made a number of short films already, at least one of which -- Positive Discrimination -- has been nominated for and/or won some awards. I wouldn't be surprised to find Sober Minds following in its footsteps.

This new film is short, all right -- just 17 minutes -- but it packs in a wealth of information, ideas, beauty and (for those of us humans who love to prettify and sentimentalize animals and wildlife) some sadness, along with a salutary punch in the gut.

Photographer Hughes (shown below) is, I rather think, someone who suffers fools not at all, and Mr. Johnson simply and immediately engulfs us in this man's world: the wildlife he so loves, his photos of that wildlife, some of his own history, his philosophy, how he shoots (and when), and even the kind of music that pumps him up to achieve maximum potential, as well as a little of his personal life, too (raw youth, romances, and the like).

What we learn about the man and his work, as well as about ducks and ducklings, swans and cygnets, and especially foxes and their young makes for enticing viewing. And as good as Hughes' photographs of wildlife are, Mr Johnson's movie is equally good, with expert cinematography by Andrei Ghenoside and Jaraslava Waldeck, editing by Mark Gilleece (who also edited that terrifically funny zombie movie, Stalled), lovely animated titles (see photos at bottom) from Toshiki Nakamura and a good musical score from Rob Smith.

Together and in such a short time, this team allows us to enter the world and the mind of Mr Hughes and come away informed, perhaps chastened and certainly wiser than when we went in. Man may be at the top of the current food chain, but, yes, all species end up as predators and prey. And while there is immense love and beauty, charm and delight in Hughes' photos, he never lets us forget the "wild" in wildlife.

"People aren't revealing," notes Hughes. "That's the difference in wildlife. No pretense. They're acting out their true nature."  Which leads us into the film's title and what this means to Mr. Hughes. In all, Sober Minds is a model of a short documentary: lively, thought-provoking, and beautiful.

The short will premiere at the Oscar and BAFTA qualifying Rhode Island International Film Festival on 12 August. If you're not in the Rhode Island area, the documentary will then head to St. George, Utah where it screens at DocUtah International Documentary Film Festival in September followed by Tacoma Film Festival in October. Let's hope the short will eventually be available elsewhere: on DVD, digitally and via streaming. I'll keep up with this and post here where else you might be able to view it, as soon as that information becomes available.

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