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Movie must-sees 

Scope out these fine festival flicks

While a parent often finds it impossible naming a favorite child, Charlotte Film Festival founder Louis Gurgitano nevertheless has admitted which of the movies in this year's bundle are his favorites. And as one of the judges (along with the Main Library's film guru Sam Shapiro) of the Best Narrative Feature category, I can weigh in on my favorites in that branch. Herewith, our selections in alphabetical order.

Dakota Skye (winner: Best Narrative Feature) -- In this era of unorthodox superheroes on both screens large (Hancock) and small (TV's Heroes), Dakota Skye manages to fly high. Eileen April Boylan plays the title character, a 17-year-old student whose secret power is that she always knows when someone's telling a lie. The fact that everyone lies -- including her boyfriend Kevin (J.B. Ghuman Jr.) -- has made her cynical and somewhat aloof, so imagine her shock when Kevin's childhood buddy Jonah (Ian Nelson) pops up on the scene and appears to be always telling the truth. But is he really that squeaky-clean, or is he Dakota's arch-nemesis, a villain who has found a way to conceal his deceit from her? Blessed with fresh-faced performances, Dakota Skye layers a pleasing fantasy element onto a thoughtful study of teen alienation and angst. (Brunson)

Immokalee U.S.A. (winner: Best Documentary) -- The immigrant issue has been politicized beyond belief lately. This documentary gets right to the human side and holds you fast to focus on what really matters. Director Georg Koszulinski's ofttimes invisible camera follows a family of undocumented farm workers as they work hard, raise their children, and are systematically exploited with poor conditions, menial wages, and the threat of prosecution constantly hanging over them. Without demonizing farm owners, the film shows how the evolution of American agriculture has put everyone in a precarious position. (Gurgitano)

Katrina's Children -- If you think you've seen every movie on Hurricane Katrina you care to see, reconsider and give Katrina's Children a shot. The documentary is told entirely from the point of views of children (ages 5 to 13) who lived through that disaster. As we know, kids will say the darndest things, and what I found most interesting is the incredible subtext that rises to the surface as they innocently tell their stories and how the tragedy affected them. Shifting between past and present, weaving the children's thoughts on Katrina with scenes of their everyday life as well as their artwork, the film is ultimately a celebration of children's extraordinary power of resilience and a tribute to New Orleans' unique and indomitable spirit. (Gurgitano)

Partes Usadas -- Partes Usadas (Used Parts) shows another perspective on the immigrant issue, this time from the other side of the border. Ultimately, the movie is about loyalty, exploitation and the friendship between two Mexican teenagers (Emery Eduardo Granados and Alan Chavez) who dream of a better life. The story follows 14-year-old Ivan as he moves from minor thefts at the car wash where he works to the dangerous world of auto-parts theft in order to stash away enough money to pay to cross the border into the U.S. The film features stellar performances by the two teenage leads. (Gurgitano)

War Eagle, Arkansas (honorable mention: Best Narrative Feature) -- At first, it appears as if War Eagle, Arkansas won't be anything special, just another coming-of-age yarn in which at least one central character plans to escape from his rinky-dink hometown as soon as possible. But director Robert Milazzo and writer Graham Gordy do an exemplary job of nailing down a specific Smalltown U.S.A. milieu, and they populate it with two characters who manage to rise above any potential stereotypes: a handsome yet shy kid (Luke Grimes) hampered by a vicious stutter and his best friend (Dan McCabe), a cerebral-palsied teen with a rowdy disposition and a wicked sense of humor. Hollywood players Mare Winningham, Mary Kay Place and top-billed Brian Dennehy appear in supporting roles, but this film clearly belongs to the excellent tag team of Grimes and McCabe. (Brunson)

Wellness (winner: Indie Guts Special Award) -- Wellness is the ultimate indie film. Shot on DV with a shoestring budget, the picture outshines probably the entire Hollywood 2008 output as far as story and acting. I mean, the feeling and humanity in this film make you believe in the power of movies again. It's about a salesman who invests all he's got for a shot at prosperity via a pyramid-selling scheme for a product called Wellness. As he makes every effort to acquire enough attendees for a seminar he's presenting about the product, what results is the sad journey of one man trying to succeed in a business that doesn't exist. (Gurgitano)

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