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Coffee Table: Homer Doc Fest goes on with Covid accomodations

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Jay Barrett/KBBI

The 17th Homer Documentary Film Festival kicked off Thursday at the Homer Theater on Pioneer Ave. The event will feature five documentaries this year instead of nine, including one filmed across Cook Inlet in Katmai National Park.

“Right over there, just on the other side of Cook Inlet,” said Jamie Sutton, the owner of the Homer Theater with his wife Lynnette. He described the film “der Baer in Mir” on this week’s Coffee Table with Matt Strobel.

“David Bittner has been fascinated with bears and he comes over to Katmai and he puts up an electric fence around his campsite. So just a thin single strand at about, you know, thigh height and around his campsite. And that's it, that's his protection, but it's sufficient to allow him to have that compound secure from the bears. And thereafter, what he seeks to do is actually get to understand and to know and to study the brown bears,” Sutton said. “And after six years is when the Roman Drew who's Swiss comes and in the sixth year films him in his relationships with, and in his study of of the bears. But this is a really thoughtful documentary, a clearly perfect Homer movie, so that’s why we chose it.”

    Sutton said the films are selected from hundreds released each year. To help narrow the selections down, he stays in touch with other such documentary film festivals.

“So Montreal and then we would go to New York City where at Tribeca they have a festival, the American Film Institute does one in Washington, DC., Durham, North Carolina turns out, South-by-Southwest, Telluride. We look at the ones that go through Sundance, for sure. And then LA Mill Valley and in Seattle,” Sutton said. “So I call the guys who are the program directors at those festivals, and I say, ‘Okay, if we're going to show the nine best documentaries in the world for this last year, what do we have to have on our list? What was the audience favorite? What was the movie that won the jury award for best this and that.’”

    The Suttons have owned the Homer Theater for about 20 years, and decided early on to focus on documentaries in the festivals.

“We say, my wife and I, and I think our kids as well say, ‘Well, if you own a movie theater, you pretty much have to have a film festival.’ At least that was a thought that kind of came to our minds. So we decided we would pick one genre of film and we chose documentaries,” Sutton said. “And we chose documentaries in fact, because when I was in the third grade, my third grade teacher at Wildwood Elementary showed a movie called ‘Harvest of Shame.’ And it was a movie by Edward R. Murrow, a documentary by Edward R.  Murrow, about migratory farm workers in California. And it was a very well-made documentary and it was such a good movie that it had a lasting impact.”

    This may or may not be the final film festival put on by the Suttons, as the Homer Theater is for sale, and there has been some interest.

“Well we think that we've just had a great time. And being in the movie business is a lot of fun. You know, people enjoy coming to your establishment. They enter with this anticipation, as long as you give them really good popcorn and drinks and junior mints from the freezer, they're pretty happy food-wise and then they get to go in and sit down and watch a movie. I mean, how much fun is that?” Sutton said. “So it's really, it's been fun for us. And so we think that it's probably time for us to turn the theater over to somebody else who has got that same sort of spirit and enthusiasm that makes it be fun to own the movie theater.”

    The Homer Documentary Film Festival kicked off Thursday night with Sundance award-winner “Summer of Soul,” a film by musician Questlove about the Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969. In addition to “The Bear Inside,” the other films included “Roadrunner,” about late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain; “Fantastic Fungi,” about mushrooms; and “The Lost Leonardo,” about the painting “Salvator Mundi,” suspected to be a lost work by Leonardo da Vinci.

There will be three films per day instead of the usual four to allow for thorough cleaning between films, and capacity is reduced by 50 percent. Covid restrictions are in place, including a 2 p.m. showing every day where patrons have to show proof of vaccination. More information about the Homer Documentary Film Festival, and tickets, can be found online at HomerDocFest.com.

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