The first film we were able to take in at this year’s “DIFF” was the astounding documentary, Zero Percent. In this Michael Moore-Morgan Spurlock-world of where documentaries are being used as tools of propaganda (for both good and bad) and where the filmmaker is the star of the show, Zero Percent proved to be the best kind of film. Balanced, heartbreaking, hopeful, and best of all, real.

Director Tim Skousen takes the viewer inside the Hudson Link program - a privately funded, educational outlet for inmates in New York’s Sing Sing maximum security prison to receive a valuable college degree. From the beginning of the film, we learn that these inmate students are not white-collar criminals simply biding their short sentence time, but violent offenders who indeed recognize the impact of their life-destroying crimes. And even though they understand they may never see life outside of their prison walls, the handful of inmates we get to know understand that their only hope for a redemptive, productive life is through dedication to improving themselves, inwardly and then outwardly.

Creating an even more impressive picture of the Hudson Link program, we learn that the driving forces behind the program’s creation are in fact men who were once inmates themselves, and who were able to experience first-hand, the impact that true, mental and emotional rehabilitation can have on themselves, and society at-large.

Thanks to choosing relatable and likeable principals, Skousen was able to simply let the cameras roll, and seemingly wasn’t forced to sculpt the film into a message that would veer to the politically left, or the to the right. The film does tend to offer a somewhat sympathetic look into the lives of the featured inmates. But that’s the result of the seeming depth of the individual inmates and their families likeability and realtable story-lines, and not Skousin’s manipulation of the narrative. When, near the end of the film, a warm, fuzzy vibe that had the sunny glow of a “feel-good story” began to envelope things, brutal, abrupt reality took hold in the form of the inmates being separated from their loved ones at the end of the graduation ceremony by a blaring, abrasive bullhorn-enhanced command from the prison guards. Yes, at this point, the students are indeed more than mere criminals, but as the film allows, they occupy those roles (artists, poets, leaders, etc…) inside of the guarded walls that they themselves will admit, rightfully belong in.

Of course, there’s the issue of the film’s title. “Zero Percent” refers to the amount of recidivism that inmates who have completed the Hudson Link program, and later released, have experienced. With a national recidivism rate of 60%, such a low percentage is sterling proof that the Hudson Link program has far reaching, positive effects.

Redemption, the gray areas of life’s moral code and how to handle those who violate such a code, heartbreak and reality that simply can not be scripted were the real stars of this film. As was stated earlier: Zero Percent is the best kind of documentary – honest.


Very exciting stuff for us, here at The Squawker: We will be all up in this year’s Dallas International Film Festival! I mean ALL up in it.

Hosted by the Dallas Film Society, and presented by Cadillac, this year’s festival, will take place on screens inside of the Magnolia Theatre, Angelika Dallas, the Texas Theater, and at the North Park AMC. Beginning tonight, Thursday the 31st, and rolling through Sunday, April 10th, this is no mere weekend at the matinee.

Films are split into several categories (See the video above for trailers from a few of the films), including: Documentary Showcase, Narrative Feature Competition, Premiere Series, Midnight Specials, Latino Showcase, India Spotlight, World Cinema – and yes, even a Texas Competition – among other divisions.

Of course, the Texas Competition is of special interest to us here. OK Buckaroos, a documentary profiling the lengthy and influential life and career of Texas legend Jerry Jeff Walker, is a prime offering,  and Traveling, a story of life on the road for three folks who find themselves bonding in Texas seems like it could be worth making time for, as well.

The Nolan's from The Disappearance of McKinley Nolan

There are a couple of films that aren’t a part of the Texas Competition, yet have Lone Star connections, none the less. They also happen to look as though penciling them in on our schedule would be a wise choice. The Disappearance of McKinley Nolan is a documentary that looks to piece together the puzzle surrounding the nature of why Nolan – a Texan who was fighting in Vietnam – went missing all of a sudden and how he may have recently been spotted alive. Was he captured? Did he go AWOL? Did he go crazy?

Also, as a part of the Shorts Program, 8, is a product of filmmakers with ties to Dallas and Austin. This docu-short tells the touching story of how a daughter spends the anniversary of her father’s death with her mother (See trailer below). Adding to the Texas flavor of 8, Austin’s David Graza handled musical duties for the film.

Of course, big names that have little to do with our state will be present, as well. New features from Morgan Spurlock (The Greatest Movie Ever Sold), Maria Bello (Beautiful Boy), Colin Hanks (Lucky), Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt (Soul Surfer) and even the New York Times (Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times) are among the titles that will surely generate a fair amount of word-of-mouth over the course of the 10 day extravaganza.

As was stated earlier, we’ll be there! Follow Kelly on Twitter for live-updates, and also look for cool notes to pop-up, here on The Squawker, as well. Of course, we’ll also offer all kinds of recapping and reviews towards the end of the shindig.

“8″ Trailer from Daniel Laabs on Vimeo.