Reel Critics: A rugged and inspiring 'Trail'

I was privileged to attend the private screening of a captivating new documentary. Catherine Jayasuriya is a very sharp local mom on a major mission. She is the driving force behind "Dusty's Trail," which is vying for a spot in the Newport Beach Film Festival.

Dusty is Catherine's handsome 20-year-old son, who is wheelchair-bound. He has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a genetic disease that Catherine is determined to help conquer. She set up a charity to increase awareness of the affliction and raise money for medical research.

Catherine organizes a yearly fundraising trek of supporters to hike the trails of Mt. Kinabalu in her ancestral home in Borneo. The film features stunning footage of their climb up the mountain's famous alpine meadow ecosystem. These beautiful scenes are intertwined with pointed interviews with doctors, patients and researchers working to cure the disease.

The story packs a lot of intelligence and information into a crisp running time of 65 minutes. Joy, hope and tears get equal time on screen. Credit cameraman and film editor Andrew Fink with a top-notch job. He combines all the right scenes with dynamic, uplifting music to stir the mind and heart to Dusty's cause.

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A yes vote on 'No'

In a different year, "No," a political thriller from Chile, might have won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar Sunday night.

This is a smart, historically based film about the 1988 campaigns to determine whether Gen. Augusto Pinochet would remain in power. Like "Mad Men," it gives a fascinating look at the game of advertising.

After 15 years of dictatorship, the people of Chile were being allowed to vote "yes" or "no" in support of the current regime. Each side received one 15-minute TV spot every day for a month to persuade the public and shape the future.

Rene Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal), already a savvy advertising guy, prefaces all his pitches with "Today, Chile thinks of its future." When asked by the "No" team to help them with their ad campaign, Rene is intrigued not so much because of his political beliefs, but because he enjoys the challenge of pitching a superior product to the masses.

As it turns out, Rene's boss (Alfredo Castro) at the advertising firm becomes a consultant for the "Yes" team. This is where the film really takes off, and it becomes a wild chess game on how each plays against the other — and the public.

"No" effectively recreates the look of a documentary, down to the grainy, faded film, and even incorporates some of the real ads used. As with "Argo," it's a compelling story with a terrific buildup of intrigue in spite of a known outcome. Don't miss it.

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator. SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.

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