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A Mad Race for One Million Dollars

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A review of the film documentary “Bingo Confidential"

Bingo has become a quintessential American pastime that the card game has not only conquered households and social functions, but also the big screen. In recent years, many movies and documentaries have taken up bingo as its main subject, retelling stories of people in their search for a better life through the card game. A common thread for many of these films is the main character’s bingo success story, but there are also some storylines that revolve around the day-to-day struggles of ordinary Americans who have eventually clung on to the game for hope. One indie project attempts to weave together these two different plots and styles into one compelling film: the comedy mockumentary “Bingo Confidential.”

Bingo is, after all, an incredibly social game, and what makes it interesting is the people who play it. Reports by the BBC show that many who visit bingo halls – both online and in person – do so for companionship and because they find the chattiness of bingo players comforting. Following this, many online bingo portals also implement strict chat guidelines to ensure that the experience remains as pleasant as possible. Bubble Bonus Bingo goes as far as to remind their players to be nice to new players (“When a newbie comes in to chat try and make them feel welcome, don't give them a hard time for asking questions. We've all been a newbie once!”) and to refrain from using capital letters (“You wouldn't like to go to a party where someone is screaming at the top of their voice, would you? On the Internet, using all capital letters is equivalent to screaming at the top of your lungs to the person standing next to you. Some people take offence and moderators may warn you to revert to small caps.”). With bingo becoming so popular and becoming a preferred way to make friends, it’s not surprising that many filmmakers have attempted to capture the phenomenon on film.

Bingo Confidential follows the six seemingly disparate lives of Lois Huckabee (played by Alix Elias), John Glatters (Richard Marshall), Estelle Smith (Sheri Goldner), Nigel Ramsey (Tony Duran), Pam Carruthers (Pam Levin) and Sister Mary Jerome (Mary Sanchez). By just a single swoop, however, their destinies will be intertwined by their quest to win $1 million from a bingo event dedicated to the late Ethel Bell (Frances Spuri) – herself a bingo millionaire. With Bell’s relatives challenging the provision on her last will to give away a million of her fortune, Bell’s lawyer Marshall Vickers (Peter Sanchez) only has 30 days before the court decides on the fate of the Ethel Bell Memorial Bingo Game – sending all the characters on a mad dash for one million dollars.

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Written and directed by Susan Noel Benfatto, critical reception of the 88-minute comedy mockumentary has been positive, praising the hilarious storyline of the movie as well as the impressive portrayal of some of the film’s characters. Regarded by some as one of the most critically acclaimed indie comedy flicks of 2009, Bingo Confidential won the Best First Feature award at the Long Island Film Festival.

It’s just unfortunate that due to its limited budget and release, Bingo Confidential was not seen in other movie fests like the Sundance Film Festival or the Cannes International Film Festival. In an effort to generate more funds for the film’s continued showing in the US and elsewhere, copies of Bingo Confidential are being sold online at Amazon.com. Even for just a 15-dollar DVD, one can be able to explore a unique side of middle class life America through the eyes of moneyless but not hopeless bingo enthusiasts.

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