The Upsider

A Kansas City technology, media, and marketing blog by Tyler Hillsman.

KC Film Fest, Day 4: Bucksville, The First Season, Dirty Energy


On Saturday, I saw three feature films during KC Film Fest at Mainstreet 6.  Here are my reviews:


In Bucksville, Presley is a member of a secret brotherhood, the Lodge, whose members “stand up where others have fallen down”, which is to say they kill undesirable people – child molesters, prostitution ring bosses, and the like – who they deem have been “underpunished” by society. Although Presley has doubts about the morality of the group’s service, he can’t really leave: his father is the chief of the brotherhood and his uncle and cousin are also members. But everything changes when his father dies and his uncle takes over the leadership position, affiliating the group with other militia groups around the country and taking “assignments” from a mysterious leader called “the Patron”. When their first assignment goes awry, Presley plans to leave with his former girlfriend, possibly go to the German Alps he’s always dreamed of.

In a small town, everyone knows everyone and Bucksville is no different. Presley’s ex-girlfriend is the daughter of the mayor (a Lodge brother) whose wife runs the cafe that serves the town which is patrolled by the sheriff (a Lodge brother). And I’ve already mentioned the family connection within the Lodge. Most of the women in the town seem unaware of the Lodge’s presence, a point that drove Presley’s mother and sister to leave his father years ago. The film uses the relationships to produce conflict, and that is in no short supply.

This film is extremely good at introducing you to the town and the characters, pulling you in, and keeping you engaged the entire time. I related to Presley and felt genuinely terrified by the actions that transpire. There is a substantial amount of subplot that develops the characters and introduces complexities; it is extremely well-written and effective. As tempting as it would be to leave an unresolved ending, the filmmakers create a clean resolution.

Bucksville is an extremely well-written film with great acting to match. Intense and dark, it keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time. I was completely entertained and empathized with Presley. As suspense/action dramas go, this has to be one of the best I have seen.

The First Season

Paul and Phyllis van Amburg wanted to raise their children to know hard work, risk, and reward, so they quit their jobs, sold their house, and bought an old dairy farm in New York. In this documentary, we follow Paul and Phyllis through their first year, watching them spend their savings fixing up the farm, installing a milking machine, and feeding their livestock, before they can earn a penny from selling milk. We see them fall behind in debt as the season change, until they finally begin to break even in late summer. All the while, Paul, Phyllis, and their three (now four) children enjoy their time out of the city, earning their own living.

The First Season is about dairy farming like Marley and Me is about a dog, meaning it is but it isn’t. Rather, this documentary is about the family, growing together in the countryside. The most memorable scenes are those of the kids naming the cows, watching calves being born, and bottle-feeding the calves. Phyllis is pregnant at the time, and she shows more and more throughout the film. (We see their new son in a 18-months-later epilogue.) The couple home-schools their children, and they learn a lot from the daily experience of farm work as well. However, we’re never introduced to a story arc and the film is presented purely chronological with very few talking head shots, no voiceover, and very little on-screen text. It’s experience by immersion and not much of a story-telling plot.

I liked The First Season and enjoyed meeting the van Amburg family, however I felt like I was a voyeur, simply watching their day-to-day life. I appreciate the candid shots, but I would have liked to see a little more structure and story from the editing. The family is a hard-working one with an admiral goal, and that is evident throughout the film. I loved the family, but the editing could be improved.

Dirty Energy

The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill affected the entire Gulf of Mexico region, and that’s what Dirty Energy is all about. The film focuses on a few main points: the environmental impact, the cleanup effort, the health impact, the negligence of BP, the failure of the government, BP’s reparation efforts, the death of the former Gulf culture, and fighting back to prevent it from happening again. The documentary interviews commercial fishermen, seafood distributors, activists, and more to tell their story about how the oil spill has affected them.

Although it does not show much of BP or the government’s point of view, it shows dramatic scenes of devastation and tells tales of the individuals in the region. The stories from fishermen and seafood distributors are heartbreaking and show the impact on the working class.┬áThe film also does a great job of explaining the long-term effects of the spill and discusses what BP and the government have done to compound the problem.

This film was extremely well done, packaged in an easy-to-understand format, with many valuable interviews. Though I would have liked to see a little more from both sides of the story, Dirty Energy proves its point. The oil spill’s effects are far-reaching, and the people in the film will be dealing with it the rest of their lives. This documentary was a powerful reminder of the consequences of this tragedy.

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