Runs at SIFF Cinema, Fri., Aug. 1–Thurs., Aug. 7. Not rated. 78 minutes.
Feature-length elaborations on quirky, inspiring human-interest stories are generally to be avoided, but I'll make an exception for A Man Named Pearl. Scott Galloway and Brent Pierson's brief documentary never wears out its welcome in profiling Pearl Fryar, a 68-year-old amateur topiary gardener who's put Bishopville, South Carolina, on the map. A mathematician and manufacturing-plant worker turned self-made greenery sculptor, Fryar's three-acre garden tends toward towering Gaudí-esque abstractions; tourists come from near and far. Galloway and Pierson use Fryar as a focal point for examining Bishopville, the seat of Lee County (the poorest in the state, with an average per capita income just over $15,000), where Fryar emerges as the unlikely single ray of hope; his sculptures, planted on the highway strip running through downtown, are supposed to attract tourism. As a portrait of genteel small-town life, it's not half-bad, so hellbent on being inspirational that it dodges thornier issues, but so pleasant and well-organized that it's hard to mind. Fryar proves an inexhaustible starting point for examining local education, segregated churches, the decline of agriculture in the economy, and anything else that seems relevant.