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Florida Film Festival 2014 movie reviews

Not sure what flicks to catch at this year’s fest? Use our reviews as your guide

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'American Jesus'

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'The Babadook'

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15 to Life: Kenneth’s Story
★★★★ (out of 5 stars)
Program: Special screenings, Florida film

Social-justice documentaries aren’t always as engaging as you’d like them to be – they can be preachy, decidedly one-sided or two-dimensional. Not so for this little gem of a film about Kenneth Young, a Florida man who’s been serving a life-without-parole sentence in prison for being an accomplice to an armed robbery when he was just 15 years old.

The United States, the movie tells us, is the only nation in the world that sentences children to life sentences without parole. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court banned life sentences for kids who were not guilty of killing someone, and suddenly Young – who has already served more than 10 years of his sentence by the time the movie begins – finds himself with a chance to make his case to the court that he has been rehabilitated and should be paroled.

Though it obviously has a point of view, 15 to Life doesn’t just show Kenneth’s perspective on his crime – it also portrays two victims of his robberies, one of whom does not want to see him given a shorter sentence, the other of whom feels he has redeemed himself in his decade behind bars. The movie also explores the circumstances in which many young, black men find themselves when faced with pivotal life choices – when Kenneth was a child, his mother was a substance abuser, his father was dead and he often found himself figuring things out on his own.

While you’ve probably heard this story before – and there are times when the doc is a little predictable – overall it does a fine job of using one very human story to make a larger point about the criminal justice system. – Erin Sullivan

Jump to the review you want: 30 reviews of featured films at Florida Film Festival 2014

After Winter, Spring
★★★ (out of 5 stars)

Program: Special screenings
With more than a dozen documentary features to choose from at the festival, After Winter, Spring should not be your first pick. Interestingly enough, it isn’t even part of the documentary competition but is instead labeled a food film. But whether you’re a foodie or just enjoy honest, cultural commentary, this quiet, insightful look at the changing face of French farming is worth your time, though it certainly could have been shot better.

Director Judith Lit moved to the Périgord region of southwest France to recapture the rural life that is dying in her native Pennsylvania, only to find it’s fading away in France too. Though she provides brief voice-overs comparing the cultures of the two countries, it’s her interviews with the French farmers that are the highlights.

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