Richard Turner is a card mechanic.
It's best to understand that viewpoint before sitting down to watch Dealt, the feature documentary based upon his life that is set to screen at the 2017 Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis as part of its ongoing successful festival run including picking up the Audience Award for Documentary Feature at SXSW.
Indeed, it's practically guaranteed that Heartland audiences are absolutely going to love Dealt, a film that manages to inspire without condescending into inspiration porn in telling the story of Turner, a 62-year-old regarded as one of the world's greatest card magicians, he calls himself a card mechanic, an achievement that may be even a touch more remarkable because Turner is completely blind.
Let that sink in.
The truth is that Turner doesn't want you to let that sink in too much, because Turner is hard-pressed to mention anything about his blindness or, god forbid, ever refer to it as a "disability."
Turner's magic is the kind of hyper-stylized sleight of hand wizardry that leaves audiences in awe and people asking "How did he do that?" When they find out that he's blind, a fact I think many wouldn't even suspect from watching him, the looks on their faces say it all as Turner razzles and dazzles from beginning to end.
Turner decided at a young age that dealing with cards would make for a dandy way of life, a decision that didn't get altered when a disease began claiming his eyesight at the age of nine. Always a risk-taker, the closer he came to total blindness the more Turner began doing everything he possibly could at the highest rate of speed possible even, it should be noted, earning a black belt from one of the top martial arts programs around.
Turner likes to note that he's never been willing to accept less even though that less has increasingly become part of his life. It's an attitude that pretty much dominated his life and through his adult years.
"As is," it must be said that Dealt would be a remarkably entertaining and involving documentary. However, director Luke Korem (Lord Montagu) has managed to craft a film that simmers with emotional resonance as this aging card mechanic begins to come more face-to-face with his physical challenges and the simple fact independence, even for the most hardcore of independent persons, not only isn't always possible but can, in fact, be self-defeating. Turner is a remarkably transparent subject in the film, sometimes seeming to be both conceited and vulnerable in the same moment and willingly revealing the challenges that go with inviting others into your life when you've worked for years to, at least on some level, keep them out.
In addition to its SXSW win, Dealt has picked up prizes at deadCENTER (Best Documentary), Independent Film Festival of Boston (Audience Award, Documentary), and Dallas International Film Festival (Audience Award, Documentary Feature). Now, it can add being a finalist at the 2017 Heartland Film Festival to its accolades.
Turner has claimed to practice 16 hours a day, a claim that seems backed up given the extensive testimonials and documentation provided in Dealt. His wife even claims she's caught him practicing during sex.
I'll admit it. I pictured that.
While Turner has always been a proud, even defiant, independent who refused to learn Braille and bristles when praise is accompanied by mentions of his blindness, Dealt also shows us the reality of daily life, primarily via support provided by his wife and son (appropriately named Asa Spades Turner), and the growing vulnerability that comes with aging. It is in these scenes that Dealt goes from a good to a truly great documentary as Turner deals with his son's departure for college with tremendous humanity followed by his usual determined over-achieving.
Dealt is practically the perfect film for Heartland Film Festival, immensely entertaining and inspirational with healthy doses of card mechanics and information around blindness also tossed in. For more information on Heartland Film Festival screenings, visit the festival's website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic