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2012 Florida Film Festival

The 2012 Florida Film Festival's brightest star is Central Florida itself. Are we ready for our close-up?

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Salaam Dunk (2 Stars) On the surface, the horrendously titled Salaam Dunk tells the story of the girl's basketball team at American University of Iraq-Sulaimani and the group of passionate, smart and beautiful young Iraqi women who begin the season as one of the worst teams in a league I can only imagine consists solely of other American Universities in the Middle East. As a sports doc, it's a captivating one, teasing the idea of oneness through competition, leading to a rousing, tear-soaked climax. It's what's not explored, or even hinted at, that's most disturbing. Director David Fine poses his film as the answer to the “horrifying images of a violent and war-torn Iraq,” making it “easy to forget that people there do ‘regular' things.” Given the access Fine was given to the institution, it's hard to imagine why he doesn't touch on the University's constant charges of corruption, sex scandals, oil interests and existential ties to neoconservative idealogues. Maybe Fine doesn't feel his basketball story is a political one, but whether he likes it or not, the team's very existence is a political matter. To ignore that is more than naiveté, it's something worse for a documentarian – it's dishonest. – JS (12:30 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Magic Valley (2 Stars) Debut writer-director Jaffe Zinn wants so badly for this slow-rolling Idaho-set mood piece to evoke the sweeping vistas of Terrence Malick (with some of Gus Van Sant's unflinching curiosity) that he seemingly forgets to mind his murder mystery. Blending narratives involving a good-natured sheriff (Scott Glenn), a perturbed fish farmer (Brad William Henke), two very disturbing boys, a troubled teen (Kyle Gallner) and many besides – not to mention the dead teen girl who goes unnoticed by all but those creepy kids until the very end – one neither comes away with a deeper understanding of life in the perennial magic hour of the heartland, nor a satisfying arc involving the dead girl. What's left, then? A couple of telling exchanges, loads of dead/blown-up fishes and lots of pretty footage. – JS (2 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (3 Stars)Even at age 85, Jiro Ono continues to serve world-class sushi at his Tokyo restaurant, tirelessly training his two sons to take over without ever stepping away from the counter. David Gelb's documentary is as devoutly focused on Jiro's work and life as Jiro is himself, favoring visual simplicity in its presentation as much as he does. The pressure put on his sons by both his stoic personality and towering reputation is established early and often, while the inner workings of a fish market hardly prove interesting. The food porn is in no small supply, though, and a well-timed reveal assures us that Jiro's dreams may not die with him. – WG (2:45 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Not Yet Begun to Fight (3 Stars) Or, Zen and the Art of Fly Fishing. Documentarians Sabrina Lee (2009's Where You From) and Shasta Grenier turn their cameras toward retired Marine Col. Eric Hastings, a Vietnam vet who, for reasons only he can truly elucidate, found peace and some amount of redemption in the streams of Montana where he imparts his lessons of the last few decades to new soldiers returning home. Appropriately quiet and unassuming, this to-the-point doc conveys, through a great score by Sean Eden and Hastings' camera-friendly calm, a mood rather than an idea. It may not be ambitious, but it hits its well-meaning mark. – JS (3 p.m. at Enzian Theater)

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