HollywoodGlee Speaks with INVISIBLE VALLEY filmmakers Aaron Maurer and Zachary McMillan

Posted by Larry Gleeson

This year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival presented by UGG, will open on March 31, 2021, with Invisible Valley, showcasing the work of Director Aaron Maurer and Producer Zachary McMillan.

Invisible Valley is set in the Coachella Valley: world-renowned for its extravagant golf resorts, unmatched winter weather, and A-list celebrity music festivals, projecting an image of money, class, and fame. From its earliest days as a health resort and continuing through a century of rapid growth and expansion, the Valley has retained its richly earned status as one of the leading winter playgrounds in the U.S., and the most desirable golfing destinations in the world. A prime affluent-tourist magnet demands caviar standards of taste and excellence and the Coachella Valley delivers.

Yet this outward image of luxury and leisure masks another reality. Field workers – many of them undocumented – constitute a large part of the Valley’s population. Living outside the gates of success, these immigrants bear the burden of harvesting a large amount of our country’s food source. Second and third jobs are common, and when the vacationing season ends and the crops have been harvested, most families must uproot their children, and travel north for the next season’s harvest. Many workers sleep in their trucks or in the fields, while others struggle to ensure housing for their families. The disruption to the stability of these families has resulted in poverty and puts the children into a category of risk across the board.

Invisible Valley weaves together the disparate stories of undocumented farmworkers, wealthy snowbirds, and music festival-goers over the course of a year in California’s Coachella Valley.  In exploring the history as well its imperiled future, the film uncovers an imminent environmental and social crisis and the looming consequences for the people who call it home.

What follows is a question and answer (Q&A) session by film critic Larry Gleeson (“LG”) with Director Aaron Maurer (“AM”) and Producer Zachary McMillan (“ZM”) on the film, the actors, the filmmakers’ sensibilities on making the film, and the impactful discoveries they made extending across the State of California and into the County of Santa Barbara.

 

Q & A with Director Aaron Maurer and Producer Zachary McMillan

 

LG: What initially sparked the idea for this story?

AM: I first got involved when Zach approached me with an initial idea; let’s look at the residents of the Coachella Valley as ‘migrants’ traveling in and out through the seasons. The word ‘Migrant’ has taken on such a loaded meaning over the last few years especially, that simple reframing of the word was a really interesting place to start from and generated a lot of ideas and questions. I knew right away there was something worth digging deeper into. From that launching point, we were able to weave a lot of ideas together and find stories in the Valley that added a sense of humanity and emotion to the conceptual ideas.

LG: Why did you decide to focus the story around the Coachella Valley and the migrant underclass? 

 ZM: Aaron and I both grew up in the Midwest, in Minneapolis, which is known for its winters and is the habitat of quite a few Snowbirds – people who head to warmer climates during the coldest months. My mother-in-law, Mary Ingebrand-Pohlad, is one such Snowbird and has been going to the Palm Springs area for the greater part of her adult life. However, about a decade ago she read an advertisement on her church bulletin for a program called Read With Me in Palm Desert. She then volunteered in this literacy advocacy program and was amazed by how many students in the Valley came from migrant farm working families. Suddenly her eyes opened to a new world: one that had almost literally existed across the street from her own community. As she became more involved with the schools and became closer to the students and the teachers, she increasingly felt the desire to make a bigger impact, and eventually, this led her to think that a documentary could be the best medium to show the other side of a place that is world-renowned for its golf courses and music festivals. After she talked to me about this idea, I went exploring around the Valley, driving out to the unincorporated town of Mecca trying to meet people, talk to people and realized there was something fascinating, and fascinatingly complex, about the relationships that exist in that area… of course things change a bit when you bring cameras around. But we were lucky enough to meet incredible people who welcomed us into their lives, into their homes. It’s still almost staggering that they did this.

LG: How much research and preparation did you do before starting?

AM: This was our first documentary and it really was a trial by fire. We had no script, no outline even, it was just a matter of spending time in the communities of the Valley and getting as much footage as we could. There was little planning you could do in advance because you are working with migrant families who are living on the move and below the poverty line, they don’t always access to phone or internet. So, we needed to be there meeting people and making connections. Gradually ideas started to form around how this mosaic of people and themes could fit together.

LG: What most surprised you about the Coachella Valley and those featured in Invisible Valley?

 ZM: The Coachella Valley is an extreme place, and yet the most surprising thing for me was the day-to-day reality of those extremes. In the grocery store, when you think about how the food, how the produce and the vegetables actually arrived there in front of you, it is possible to imagine the fields, the labor, the picking, and the packaging that goes into it. It is possible but it is completely abstract. Spending time with families that actually do this work, waking up at four in the morning, getting to the bell pepper fields before sunrise, and working into the heat that gets up to 110, 120 degrees Fahrenheit, is surprising. It is surprising when, after that day of work, they would invite us home, make dinner, welcome us like family.

LG: What was a particular challenge you faced while making the film?

AM: The places where we received the most pushback were certainly from the farm owners. Some of the key imagery in the film is of the harvests and we didn’t get any footage of that until after a year of filming. There was a constant fear that we were coming to expose something, although that wasn’t our angle, there just wasn’t any trust there or interest in ‘helping’. Eventually, we made connections to some smaller farms that allowed us in and I’m so grateful we got to capture a bit of the reality of that work.

Why are documentary films so vitally important in today’s world?

ZM: Documentary as a genre is becoming more and more popular, and in turn more and more documentaries are going to be made. As a form, filmmakers will continue pushing what documentary “is” and what it can mean – pushing against what it means to be a nonfiction film – and this is an exciting time for any art form. I don’t know if documentary is specifically more important in today’s world than any other day’s world, but certainly with the heightened attention on it, substantive, thoughtful, challenging, expansive, or otherwise good documentaries are more important than ever

LG: How did you find and connect with the subjects you profiled in your film?

 ZM: It really took time and patience, and then more time. As complete outsiders to the East side of the Valley, we needed to just kind of hang around enough, for long enough, to alert people that we were more than tourists. We needed to meet people, engage with people, and earn people’s trust. One person might introduce us to another person, and then that would lead to another person, but almost all of this wouldn’t be filmed. Over time, we became friends, real friends, with people that lived and worked in the area, and that is when people began to open up a bit: by people vouching for us, lending us their credit. The school teachers Sky and Jose Gijon, Hernan Quintas, who became our field producer, were instrumental. And it wasn’t until we met Angelica Ortiz-Cichocki, our (brilliant and sensitive and nuanced) translator and language consultant, that the interviews really started to feel like a connection.

LG: What challenges did you experience filming in private community settings in an area that values privacy? 

AM: I’d say that most people were hesitant, at best, to be on camera. Between undocumented workers and extremely wealthy folks in the resorts, we had a lot of initial pushback. It took time to gain trust and it usually took a connection of some kind that we’d formed through meeting people along the way. The farmworkers and folks in the East valley, although hesitant at first, were very quick to warm up once they realized we were honestly interested in hearing their stories. By the end of the day, we’d be treated like an extended member of the family. That certainly wasn’t the case when filming at the resorts. There’s so many security, privacy issues, there’s a fear there that we were there to exploit something. And it was actually the opposite. One of our main goals was to not vilify anyone in the film, it’s easy to make rich people look bad if you’re contrasting them with poverty, but it’s a cheap shot. It’s not reflective of the real issues.

LG: Why are documentary films so vitally important in today’s world?

 ZM: Documentary as a genre is becoming more and more popular, and in turn, more and more documentaries are going to be made. As a form, filmmakers will continue pushing what documentary “is” and what it can mean – pushing against what it means to be a nonfiction film – and this is an exciting time for any art form. I don’t know if  documentary is specifically more important in today’s world than any other day’s world, but certainly, with the heightened attention on it, substantive, thoughtful, challenging, expansive, or otherwise good documentaries are more important than ever.

LG: What do you want viewers to learn from seeing your film?

AM: I hope people will be inspired to think differently about the communities around them they see as ”other”. It’s very easy for us to live in our own bubbles, social media and quarantine can amplify those echo chambers, but can also be tools for understanding our neighbors if used with the right intention. As human beings, we all have blinders on some of the time, how else could we get through the day? But it’s important to know they’re on and take them off every once in a while. Although sometimes it may not seem like it, we’re all on this journey together.

LG: What reaction to the film do you expect at SBIFF?

 ZM: There are so many parallels between the Coachella Valley and Santa Barbara and the neighboring areas. Almost all the people we spoke with moved up to more central or northern California as the seasons and the harvests changed. I expect people will see something very familiar in the film, but hopefully, it will spark conversations that come from seeing something from a different angle, in a different light, at a slant.

LG: What does it feel like to bring the film to SBIFF?

AM: It’s really exciting to open SBIFF, this project has been many years in the making so we’re thrilled to be able to start sharing it with audiences and believe Invisible Valley will really resonate with the community in Santa Barbara.

The 36th Santa Barbara International Film Festival, presented by UGG, will take place March 31st through April 10th, 2021, online and at two free ocean-front drive-in theatres. More information, festival passes, and tickets are available at www.sbiff.org.

Until next time, I look forward to seeing you at the drive-in!

Larry Gleeson at the Hollywood Drive-in Cinema in the heart of Hollywood, Calif., for the special screening of Philippe Lecote’s epic drama, Night of the Kings, Friday, January 8, 2021. (Photo by Valerie Rapalee)

(*Photos and intro material courtesy of Linda Brown, Indie-PR)

 

 

36TH SBIFF TO OPEN WITH THE WORLD PREMIERE OF “INVISIBLE VALLEY”

Posted by Larry Gleeson

36TH SBIFF TO OPEN WITH
THE WORLD PREMIERE OF “INVISIBLE VALLEY”
AND CLOSE WITH SANTA BARBARA
DOCUMENTARY SHORT FILMS

FESTIVAL TO PRESENT 47 WORLD PREMIERES
AND 37 U.S. PREMIERES

SCREENING ONLINE AND AT TWO FREE
OCEAN-FRONT DRIVE-IN THEATRES

The 2021 Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) will take on an entirely new look this year with the build-out of two state-of-the-art, beachside drive-in theaters sponsored by Toyota Mirai, where every film screening will be offered to the community for free, alongside a ticketed online component that will feature the entire film program in addition to SBIFF’s notable celebrity tributes, industry panels, and filmmaker Q&As.

 

SBIFF Director Roger Durling on the red carpet at the Opening Night Film ‘Diving Deep:The Life And Times Of Mike deGruy’ during 34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival at the historic Arlington Theatre, January 31, 2019, in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)

SBIFF’s Executive Director Roger Durling stated, “This year’s Festival will look different on many fronts, but we are unchanged when it comes to what’s most important: our love of film, and our dedication to bringing forward a program of unmatched quality and sharing it with our community. We are so excited to have the opportunity to be a source of joy and optimism.”

OPENING NIGHT

SBIFF 2021 will start with the Opening Night Film, presented by UGG®, on Wednesday, March 31, online and at both Drive-in theatres with the WORLD Premiere of INVISIBLE VALLEY directed by Aaron Maurer.

INVISIBLE VALLEY skillfully weaves together the seemingly disparate stories of undocumented farmworkers, wealthy snowbirds, and music festival-goers over the course of a year in California’s Coachella Valley. The intimate, on-the-ground profiles drive home the incongruity of the lifestyles that coexist in an affluent community. In exploring the history of the region as well as its future, the film uncovers an undercurrent of a looming ecological crisis threatening it all.

CLOSING NIGHT

Closing Night Film on Saturday, April 10, the spotlight is on Santa Barbara to highlight a series of short documentaries by local filmmakers. This distinctive selection of films covers a range of iconic people and places in the Santa Barbara area including the Chumash people’s annual trip to their historical village site, one woman’s journey to restore ecosystems with her flock of sheep, a local musician who received care and support from Hospice of Santa Barbara, the story of a community surviving 2020 through outdoor dancing, an artist who specializes in miniature diorama art, and a celebrated local roller-skating icon who sparked a community group known as the SB Rollers.

FREE OCEAN-FRONT DRIVE-IN THEATRES

Check out the schedule for the drive-ins. RSVPs for each film will open 24 hours in advance of showtime. Stay tuned for more!

 

SBIFF 2021 Announces Outstanding Directors of the Year Honorees – Chloé Zhao, David Fincher, Lee Isaac Chung and Thomas Vinterberg

Posted by Larry Gleeson

CHLOÉ ZHAO, DAVID FINCHER, LEE ISAAC CHUNG, AND THOMAS VINTERBERG

TO BE HONORED WITH THE OUTSTANDING DIRECTORS OF THE YEAR AWARD

AT 2021 SANTA BARBARA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

SANTA BARBARA, CA (Tuesday, March 23, 2021) – The Santa Barbara International Film Festival is thrilled to announce this year’s recipients of the Outstanding Directors of the Year Award, sponsored by The Hollywood Reporter. This honor was created to recognize a select group of directors who have pushed the boundaries in their storytelling and created films that showcase the art of filmmaking at its best. Chloé Zhao (Nomadland), David Fincher (Mank), Lee Isaac Chung (Minari), and Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round) will receive their awards and discuss their work on Tuesday, April 6th at 6:00 pm PST in a live-streamed event. The tribute will be moderated by The Hollywood Reporter’s longtime awards columnist and host of its popular Awards Chatter podcast, as well as a professor at Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, Scott Feinberg.

Get Tickets Here

SBIFF Director Roger Durling on the red carpet at the Opening Night Film ‘Diving Deep: The Life And Times Of Mike deGruy’ during 34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival at the historic Arlington Theatre, January 31, 2019, in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)

“In this past difficult year, these four exemplary storytellers showed us ways to dream and reevaluate our perception of the world at large. They’re all rewriting cinema history, and lucky for us to get to hear them converse with one another.” comments Roger Durling, SBIFF’s Executive Director.

 

Chloé Zhao is a Chinese writer, director, editor, and producer.  She was born in Beijing, raised there, and in Brighten, England.  After moving to the US, she studied Political Science at Mount Holyoke College and Film Production at NYU.  Her feature debut Songs My Brothers Taught Me premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for Best First Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards.  Her second feature, The Rider, premiered at Directors Fortnight at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival and was awarded the Art Cinema Award as well as Best Feature Film at the 2018 Gotham Awards. Her most recent film Nomadland premiered at the 2020 Venice Film Festival and was awarded the Golden Lion. Chloé went on to win the Golden Globe award for Best Director in addition to the film winning for Best Picture – Drama and recently received 4 Oscar nominations, including Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing and Best Picture. Chloé wrote and directed Marvel Studios’ Eternals, which is expected to release November 5, 2021.

 

David Fincher directs movies, commercials, and music videos. He hopes that people like them, but if they don’t, it is not for lack of effort.

 

Lee Isaac Chung grew up in Lincoln, Arkansas, on a small farm in the Ozark Mountains. He is an award-winning writer and director. His first feature film was the Rwandan family drama Munyurangabo, which premiered at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival to great acclaim. His other feature films are Lucky Life and Abigail Harm. He received his BA in Biology at Yale University and his MFA in Film Studies at the University of Utah. He was awarded a USA Artist Ford Fellowship In 2012 for his work.

 

Thomas Vinterberg is one of Denmark’s most important, award-winning, and internationally celebrated directors. His latest effort was the large-scale, international drama Kursk (2019), about the Russian submarine tragedy in the year 2000. Another recent success of his, The Commune (2016), was selected for the main competition at the Berlin Film Festival and netted Trine Dyrholm, a Silver Bear for Best Actress. In 2012, Thomas Vinterberg won worldwide acclaim for this Oscar and Golden Globe-nominated drama The Hunt (2013), which also won Mads Mikkelsen the Award for Best Actor at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. Other notable works include the adaptation of the Thomas Hardy novel Far from the Madding Crowd (2015), which Matthias Schoenaerts and Carey; Dear Wendy (2005); and It’s All About Love (2003). Vinterberg got his international breakthrough in 1998 with Festen – the world’s first Dogme 95-film, which received several international awards, including the Cannes Jury Prize. Thomas Vinterberg made his feature debut with The Biggest Heroes (1996), after graduating from the National Film School of Denmark in 1993.

SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 23: Scott Feinberg and Bong Joon-ho onstage at the Outstanding Directors of the Year during the 35th Santa Barbara International Film Festival at the Arlington Theatre on January 23, 2020 in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for SBIFF)

The 36th Santa Barbara International Film Festival, presented by UGG, will take place March 31st through April 10th, 2021 online and at two free ocean-front drive-in theatres. More information, festival passes, and tickets are available at www.sbiff.org.

 

About the Santa Barbara International Film Festival

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit arts and educational organization dedicated to discovering and showcasing the best in independent and international cinema. Over the past 34 years, SBIFF has become one of the leading film festivals in the United States – attracting 95,000 attendees and offering 11 days of 200+ films, tributes, and symposiums, fulfilling their mission to engage, enrich, and inspire the Santa Barbara community through film.

 

SBIFF continues its commitment to education and the community through many free educational programs and events. In 2016, SBIFF entered a new era with the acquisition of the historic and beloved Riviera Theatre. After a capital campaign and renovation, the theatre is now SBIFF’s new state-of-the-art, year-round home, showing new international and independent films every day. In 2019, SBIFF opened its own Education Center in downtown Santa Barbara on State Street to serve as a home for its many educational programs and a place for creativity and learning.

(Press release provided by Sunshine Sachs)

The 27th Annual San Luis Obispo International Film Festival announces this year’s film lineup

Posted by Larry Gleeson

The 2021 San Luis Obispo International Film Festival

Announces Film Lineup

(March 9-14)

 

 

Philippe Falardeau’s MY SALINGER YEAR is the Opening Night

selection and Brittany App’s WHERE THERE ONCE WAS WATER

will make its US Premiere on Closing Night.

 

Surf Nite returns to SLO Film Fest at the Drive-in

 

San Luis Obispo, CA (February 10, 2021) – The 27th Annual San Luis Obispo International Film Festival (March 9-14) announced this year’s film lineup including the Opening Night selection of Philippe Falardeau’s drama MY SALINGER YEAR, starring Margaret Qualley and Sigourney Weaver, and the US premiere of local photographer Brittany App’s environmental documentary WHERE THERE ONCE WAS WATER on Closing Night. The festival will primarily be a virtual presentation, following the success of last year’s edition in the virtual space. However, SLO Film Fest’s signature Surf Nite event will be held at the Sunset Drive-in (255 Elks Lane), marking the first in-person event for the film festival since March 2019.

This year’s film lineup will feature 111 presentations, including 30 feature films (10 narrative, 20 documentary), 63 short films, and 18 music videos.

“Following last year’s whirlwind experience to shift our film festival to an online presentation seemingly overnight due to the onset of the pandemic, it’s a gift to know that the same dedication we put into selecting our films is matched by the SLO Film Fest audience’s anticipation to see them – virtually or in-person. But safety is still the priority, so while we will all go to the drive-in for Surf Nite, the rest of the time, we will once again be coming into our film faithful’s homes to deliver the best movies we could find,” said San Luis Obispo Film Festival Director Skye McLennan.

San Luis Obispo Film Festival Director Skye McLennan

 

Falardeau’s MY SALINGER YEAR is toplined by one of the hottest young actresses (Margaret Qualley, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD), and one of the most distinctively singular actresses, Sigourney Weaver in film today. It’s a tale of a young woman who takes a job working for an old-style literary agent whose chief client is J.D. Salinger. The struggling writer-to-be starts to discover her own voice as she begins personalizing the responses to his fan mail.

 

Brittany App’s WHERE THERE ONCE WAS WATER marks the photographer’s return to the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival, where she could frequently be seen in years’ past catching the directors and stars on the red carpet. Now, she is the director making her feature film debut with a documentary about our personal relationship with water, an increasingly finite resource in need of fresh new approaches to conservation and perhaps even, appreciation for the role it plays in our lives.

 

THE ENDLESS SUMMER

SLO Film Fest’s one-of-a-kind surfing film event will be presented on Wednesday, March 10 at the Sunset Drive-In with a double feature of Brent Storm’s new WHITE RHINO and Bruce Brown’s all-time surfing classic THE ENDLESS SUMMER (1965). WHITE RHINO features the surfers and the photographers who followed them during three historic swells hitting the beaches of the South Pacific in 2011-12. Brown’s THE ENDLESS SUMMER, which follows two young surfers chasing the perfect wave, maybe the most iconic surfing documentary ever made. Surf Nite will also include the traditional appearance of some classic 60’s surfing autos to add to the atmosphere of what could be called the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” for the surfing film lover.

 

BLOOM, THE DOG WHO WOULDN’T BE QUIET, SIX MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT

Additional highlights among the narrative features include; Xuan Liu’s exquisite Chinese love story BLOOM told through a conversation a man has with his younger self; Ana Katz’s Argentinian drama THE DOG WHO WOULDN’T BE QUIET about a man dealing with life’s curve balls, makes its first post-Sundance stop at SLO Film Fest; frequent indie film presence Joshua Leonard steps behind the camera for the comedy FULLY REALIZED HUMANS which takes a look at a couple trying to exhaust their bucket list experiences before impending parenthood; Cassio Pereira dos Santos’ Brazilian drama VALENTINA follows a transgender teen trying to make a fresh start at a new school after having been bullied at the last one; and a Special Presentation of  Andy Goddard’s SIX MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT. Starring Eddie Izzard and Judi Dench, the drama follows the conflict when a new teacher (Izzard) tries to raise the alarm after arriving at a posh finishing school that is training the daughters of Nazis to be ambassadors for the coming Third Reich.

 

AHEAD OF THE CURVE, BLEEDING AUDIO, MISSING IN BROOKS COUNTY

Documentaries are featured in the special presentations of Jen Rainin and Rivkah Beth Meadow’s AHEAD OF THE CURVE about the history of Curve Magazine, which became a lesbian cultural institution, and Judith Ehrlich’s THE BOYS WHO SAID NO! which explores the Selective Service System, the federal justice system, and the prosecution and trials of war resisters. Other highlights in a typically strong SLO Film Fest documentary lineup include; Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley’s BANKSY: MOST WANTED which explores the elusive identity of the rogue street artist; Chelsea Christer’s award-winning BLEEDING AUDIO, which chronicles the rise and disbanding of 90s rock group The Matches; and Lisa Molomot and Jeff Bemiss’ MISSING IN BROOKS COUNTY, another award-winner, which looks at the tragic side of the immigration crisis, through the eyes of families of missing loved ones that have never been found.

 

The San Luis Obispo International Film festival will once again put local filmmakers on a pedestal via its always-popular Central Coast Showcase, encourage the filmmaking ambitions of elementary, middle school, and high school students with its Filmmakers of Tomorrow Showcase, and put an added emphasis of inclusion and diversity with the introduction of its Short Films, Big Stories: A Program of Diverse Voices section.

Passes are now on sale and information on the film festival can be found at https://slofilmfest.org.

 

The 2021 San Luis Obispo International Film Festival official selections:

Opening Night Selection

MY SALINGER YEAR

Director: Philippe Falardeau

Country: USA, Running Time: 101 min

In New York City’s late nineties, a young aspiring writer lands a day-job at J.D. Salinger’s literary agency. While her eccentric and old-fashioned boss tasks her to process Salinger’s voluminous fan mail, she struggles to find her own voice.

 

Closing Night Selection

WHERE THERE ONCE WAS WATER

Director: Brittany App

Country: USA, Running Time: 74 min

A story about water. A song for the sacred in all of us. A documentary centered on solutions. WHERE THERE ONCE WAS WATER takes a look at the driest of places – California and the Southwest USA – and the deepest of spaces – our inner worlds. It presents an invitation to change our perspective and heal our relationship with water … one watershed, one meal, one raindrop, at a time.

 

SURF NITE

WHITE RHINO

Director: Brent Storm

Country: USA, Running Time: 64 min

WHITE RHINO is a parallel story from the surfers and photographers who witnessed three historic swells that hit the shorelines of the South Pacific in 2011-2012. Photographer Brian Bielmann takes the audience on an edge of your seat adventure as we discover the stories behind some of his most iconic photos and what really transpired on those memorable days. WHITE RHINO features notable big wave riders Nathan Fletcher, Dave Wassel, Bruce Irons, Mark Healey, Kohl Christensen and Kalani Chapman.

THE ENDLESS SUMMER (1965)

Director: Bruce Brown

Country: USA, Running Time: 95 min

The crown jewel to ten years of Bruce Brown surfing documentaries. Brown follows two young surfers around the world in search of the perfect wave, and ends up finding quite a few in addition to some colorful local characters.

 

SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS

AHEAD OF THE CURVE

Directors: Jen Rainin, Rivkah Beth Meadow

Country: US, Running Time: 95 min

From its start in 1990, Curve magazine was a visionary and unapologetic celebration of lesbian life from cover to cover. Facing the magazine’s possible demise in 2019, director Jen Rainin and Curve founder Franco Stevens explore questions of lesbian visibility, legacy, and current day issues through interviews with contemporary LGBTQIA+ tastemakers, “celesbians” including Melissa Etheridge, Jewelle Gomez, Denise Frohman, Kate Kendell, and Lea DeLaria, along with rich archival footage recounting the formation of a lesbian cultural institution.

 

THE BOYS WHO SAID NO!

Director: Judith Ehrlich

Country: USA, Running Time: 90 min

THE BOYS WHO SAID NO! explores the Selective Service System, the federal justice system, and the prosecution and trials of war resisters, showing news footage of anti-war demonstrations and The Resistance’s rising visibility, anti-draft meetings, and smuggled film of resisters serving time in Federal prison as well as the influence of Ghandian nonviolence and the Civil Rights Movement.

 

SIX MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT

Director: Andy Goddard

Countries: Canada/Ireland, Running Time: 99 min.

Eddie Izzard and Judi Dench star in this brand new film directed by Andy Goddard (Downtown Abbey). In the summer of 1939, influential families in Nazi Germany sent their daughters to a finishing school in an English seaside town, run by a strict but humane head mistress (Dench), to learn the language and be ambassadors for the future Nazi state. Eddie Izzard who also co-wrote and produced, plays a new teacher who tries to raise the alarm. But the authorities believe he is the problem. Jim Broadbent plays a supporting character in this fascinating story based on historical facts.

 

 SNEAK PREVIEW SCREENING

ECHOES OF THE EMPIRE: BEYOND GENGHIS KHAN

Director: Robert H. Lieberman

Country: USA, Running Time: 73 min

Film director/novelist Robert H. Lieberman takes us into this vast country little known by many, creating a stunning cinematic view of Mongolia’s past and present. The film leads us through the remarkable evolution of Genghis Khan’s Mongol Empire—a realm that once encompassed all of Asia, the Middle East and Europe leading up to the doorsteps of Vienna.

 

 NARRATIVE FEATURES

BLOOM

Director: Xuan Liu

Country: China, Running Time: 90 min

An amazing first film from Xuan Liu, BLOOM is a richly layered, poetic love story that takes place in late 1990s Beijing. Uniquely told through conversations between Mu Ke and his younger self, it weaves together memories, disillusions and hope. Gorgeous cinematography and superb acting help elevate this film into the realm of great art.

 

THE DOG WHO WOULDN’T BE QUIET

Director: Ana Katz

Country: Argentina, Running Time: 73 min

Straight from a World Premiere at Sundance, this charming film from Argentina follows Sebastian, a man in his thirties, who works a series of temporary jobs as he deals with life’s curve balls. He slowly transforms as he encounters love, loss and crisis.

 

FULLY REALIZED HUMANS

Director: Joshua Leonard

Country: USA, Running Time: 74 min

When parents-to-be Elliot and Jackie are confronted with the fear of pending parenthood, they decide to embark on a journey of self-discovery, crossing adventures off their bucket list while they still can. Dealing with the grandparents-to-be is all part of the fun in this hilarious portrait of parenthood in all its iterations.

 

MONKEY BEACH

Director: Loretta Todd

Country: Canada, Running Time: 104 min

Indigenous Canadian filmmaker Loretta Todd has done justice to Eden Robinson’s novel about a complex family story of love, loyalty and spiritual beliefs. Filmed on the coast of British Columbia in the Haisla Nation in Kitamaat, Lisa Hill returns from Vancouver to her family home after visions warn that her brother is in danger.

 

SISTERS: THE SUMMER WE FOUND OUR SUPERPOWERS

Directors: Silje Salomonsen, Arild Ostin Ommundsen

Country: Norway, Running Time: 78 min

Two sisters, ages 9 and 5, go on an exciting outdoor hike with their adventurous dad, but he suddenly has an accident and the girls are left to figure out what to do next. They take us on a childlike journey through the wilderness of Norway as they navigate their way to find help, discovering strength in sisterhood along the way.

 

SMALL TIME

Director: Niav Conty

Country: USA, Running Time: 104 min

SMALL TIME eloquently mixes the sweet innocence of young Emma growing up in rural Pennsylvania, with poverty, the opioid crisis and “the war on terror.” In a stand-out debut performance, Audrey Grace Marshal takes us on an empathetic and darkly humorous journey through family drama exasperated by addiction and trauma.

 

VALENTINA

Director: Cassio Pereira dos Santos

Country: Brazil, Running Time: 95 min

Valentina, 17, moves to rural Brazil with her mother to start fresh, after being bullied at her last high school. When enrolling with her new name, she faces an unexpected dilemma when the new school requires a second parental signature, exposing the real-life hardships that young trans people must endure as they embrace who they are.

 

DOCUMENTARY FEATURES

ALICE STREET

Director: Spencer I. Wilkinson

Country: USA, Running Time: 96 min

A powerful, colorful display of community and culture is showcased in this battle to preserve Oakland’s downtown from the onslaught of gentrification. A mural comes alive, dedicated to the diverse artists that intersect Alice Street. The community rallies to fight a condo that will obstruct the mural and transform the cultural landscape.

 

 BANKSY: MOST WANTED

Directors: Aurélia Rouvier, Seamus Haley

Country: France, Running Time: 90 min

With Banksy, the prevailing question is not about his art, but something more basic — who is he? How can someone so provocative, and who stirs up so much emotion, manage to stay so hidden? BANKSY: MOST WANTED combines a journalistic approach and love of art in a true modern day whodunnit.

 

BLEEDING AUDIO

Director: Chelsea Christer

Country: USA, Running Time: 91 min

Told through the eyes of quirky, charming and humble bandmates Shawn, Jon, Matt and Justin, Chelsea Christer’s BLEEDING AUDIO is an intimate portrait detailing The Matches’ promising career, defeating break up, and inspiring reunion, as they reflect on what success truly means for musicians in today’s digital industry. A recent Slamdance 2021 pick!

 

THE BOOK MAKERS

Director: James Kennard

Country: USA, Running Time: 58 min

What should books become in the digital age now that they’re freed from the burden of fulfilling tasks like encyclopedias and the Yellow Pages? An eclectic group of people are dedicating their lives to answering that question. This film spins a tale of the enduring vitality of the book in a world where physical pages are being creatively reinvented.

 

LIKE A WOMAN

Director: Gail Mooney

Country: USA, Running Time: 52 min

A helicopter pilot. A Goodyear blimp pilot. All are women with moxie who are succeeding in male-dominated fields in this inspiring film that includes current and former female deans at Cal Poly. “There’s no such thing as a boy thing or a girl thing,” one woman says. “There’s the thing that speaks to you, and if it speaks to you, go out and do it.”

 

MEDICINE MAN: THE STAN BROCK STORY

Director: Paul Michael Angell

Country: UK, Running Time: 96 min

This is the incredible life story of Amazonian cowboy turned U.S. TV star, Stan Brock, who sacrificed everything to bring free healthcare to millions of people in need. It is a heart-warming tribute to the unifying power of volunteerism, and an exploration of a perennial outsider’s search for meaning through selflessness and deep compassion.

 

MISSING IN BROOKS COUNTY

Directors: Lisa Molomot, Jeff Bemiss

Country: USA, Running Time: 90 min

This exceptional documentary takes us boldly into an American border town that has been caught in the middle of the daily life and death situation created by our current immigration system. We meet vigilante ranchers, humanitarian activists, Border Patrol and others locked in an endless battle of human rights and politics.

 

THE RACE TO ALASKA

Director: Zach Carver

Country: USA, Running Time: 127 min

Be Safe. Be Bold. Get Over Yourself — is the theme of this 750-mile boat race of a lifetime from Washington to Alaska. Whirlpools, deadly currents, bears and much more test these intrepid mariners to their very limit. The only rule — no engines. The rest is up to the imagination, from state-of-the-art custom craft to a makeshift paddle board.

 

ROAD TO VRINDAVAN

Director: Ravinol Chambers

Country: UK, Running Time: 84 min

On a life-changing journey across India, culture and progress collide as a former Krishna monk re-examines traditional gender roles and the barriers girls face in escaping child marriage and rape. With the obvious need to educate girls, there is the cultural challenge: Will education bring them true equality or transform them into caged butterflies?

 

VAS-Y-COUPE! (WINE CRUSH)

Director: Laura Naylor

Country: USA/France, Running Time: 92 min

A loyal crew of laborers travels from northern France each year to harvest grapes at a small family-owned vineyard. We are privy to the gritty underbelly to the charmed romantic life of the Champagne region. Despite stunning scenery, endless champagne and great food, this is a story of relationships between owners, workers and family.

 

VINYL NATION

Directors: Christopher Boone, Kevin Smokler

Country: USA, Running Time: 90 min

“Everything old is new again!” perfectly sums up the fascinating history of the vinyl record that seemingly vanished into relative obscurity in the 1980s, but is now one of the hottest trends again worldwide. But there’s just something about spinning vinyl, and VINYL NATION does an entertaining deep dive into what that something might be.

 

MOVIES FOR THE HEART AND MIND

Sponsored by The Coastal Awakening / Shanbrom Family Foundation

 

THE FALCONER

Director: Annie Kaempfer

Country: USA, Running Time: 75 min

This is an intimate portrait of master falconer Rodney Stotts on his mission to build a bird sanctuary and provide access to nature for his stressed community. By weaving Rodney’s present-day mission with the story of his past, both deeply rooted in issues of social and environmental injustice, the film reminds us that nature heals.

 

INVITATION TO THE DANCE

Director: Sarah Shoemaker

Country: USA, Running Time: 38 min

Dance teacher Lena Forster introduces us to her adult special-needs ballet class in Greenville, SC where we follow five charming students through a year of dance and life. We get a sensitive and very touching glimpse of a community frequently overlooked, listen to voices frequently unheard and witness the joy of dancing and the arts as it impacts the dancers’ lives.

 

A SHOT THROUGH THE WALL

Director: Aimee Long

Country: USA, Running Time: 88 min

After accidentally killing an unarmed Black man when his gun fires off through an apartment wall, a young Chinese American cop deals with his guilt and begins to unravel as he navigates the charged and complicated worlds of media, justice and racial politics in modern-day New York. The film, drawn from an actual event in Brooklyn, explores systemic racism.

 

SHORT FILMS, BIG STORIES: A PROGRAM OF DIVERSE VOICES

A CONCERTO IS A CONVERSATION

Directors: Kris Bowers, Ben Proudfoot

Country: USA, Running Time: 13 min

 

IN THEIR FLIGHT

Directors: Orion Rose Kelly, Pedro Cota

Country: USA/Brazil, Running Time: 23 min

 

IN WHITE PLACES.

Director: Keith Powell

Countries: USA, Running Time: 10 min

 

PHONY

Director: Jess de la Merced

Country: USA, Running Time: 8 min

 

THIS IS THE WAY WE RISE

Director: Ciara Lacy

Country: USA, Running Time: 12 min

 

 NARRATIVE SHORTS

A PIECE OF CAKE

Director: The Bragg Brothers

Country: USA, Running Time: 12 min

 

ALA KACHUU (TAKE AND RUN)

Director: Maria Brendle

Country: Switzerland, Running Time: 38 min

 

THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF AWESOME

Director: Allison Brownmoore

Country: UK, Running Time: 6 min

 

COFFEE WITH EXES

Director: Brett A. Hart

Country: USA, Running Time: 10 min

 

THE DELIVERY

Director: Dogus Ozokutan

Country: Cyprus, Running Time: 12 min

 

DISTANCE

Director: Shin Sonoda

Country: Japan, Running Time: 22 min

 

EL REGALO (THE GIFT)

Directors: Sheila and Kenneth Vatan-Woodall

Country: USA, Running Time: 8 min

 

EXIT PACKAGE

Director: John Gray

Country: USA, Running Time: 13 min

 

GUM

Director: Jacob Reed

Country: USA, Running Time: 9 min

 

 HANDSCAPE

Director: Yiru Chen

Country: China, Running Time: 19 min

 

HONOR

Director: Lauren Noll

Country: USA, Running Time: 16 min

 

HOT DOG

Directors: Flore Burban, Logan Cameron, Nicholas Diaz, Chloe Raimondo, Hugues Valin

Country: France, Running Time: 5 min

 

KAPAEMAHU

Directors: Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Dean Hamer, Joe Wilson

Country: USA, Running Time: 8 min

 

MY HERO

Director: Logan Jackson

Country: USA, Running Time: 13 min

 

THE OTHER MORGAN

Director: Alison Rich

Country: USA, Running Time: 14 min

 

OVER MY DEAD BODY 

Director: Meital Cohen Navarro

Country: USA, Running Time: 25 min

 

REBEL

Director: Pier-Phillipe Chevigny

Country: Canada, Running Time: 15 min

 

RENAIDANCE

Directors: Zhike Yang, Wenjie Wu, Han Chen Chang

Country: USA, Running Time: 4 min

 

THE SCAR

Director: George Simon

Country: USA, Running Time: 15 min

 

SOUS LA GLACE

Directors: Luce Grosjean, Ismail Berrahma, Flore Dupont, Laurie Estampes, Quentin Nory, Hugo Potin

Country: France, Running Time: 7 min

 

THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS

Director: Lisa Gold

Country: USA, Running Time: 4 min

 

DOCUMENTARY SHORTS

FULL PICTURE

Director: Jacob Reed

Country: USA, Running Time: 12 min

 

NOT JUST ANOTHER DAY

Director: Ricky Rhodes

Country: USA, Running Time: 14 min

 

THE KHE SAHN PEACE GARDEN

Director: Tihn Mahoney

Country: Vietnam, Running Time: 28 min

 

PANT HOOT

Director: Richard Reens

Country: USA, Running Time: 21 min

 

SHEPHERD’S SONG

Director: Abigail Fuller

Country: USA, Running Time: 18 min

 

VOICE ABOVE WATER

Director: Dana Frankoff

Country: USA, Running Time: 11 min

 

 CENTRAL COAST FILMS

FIRESTORM ’77: THE TRUE STORY OF THE HONDA CANYON FIRE

Directors: Chris Hite, Dennis Ford

Country: USA, Running Time: 54 min

The true story of the terrible fire that occurred on Dec 20, 1977 at Vandenburg Air Force Base. Confused leadership led to a loss of four lives and many injuries.

 

38 MINUTES

Director: Paul Lacovara

Country: USA, Running Time: 17 min

 

BODEGA DE EDGAR

Director: Nick Cavalier

Country: USA, Running Time: 22 min

 

CALIFORNIA LANDSLIDE

Directors: Dana Richardson, Sarah Zentz

Country: USA, Running Time: 18 min

 

COLORS IN HARMONY

Director: Clemencia Macias

Country: USA, Running Time: 7 min

 

ENTWINED

Director: Dale Griffith Stamos

Country: USA, Running Time: 14 min

 

F*UCK YOU, SETH

Director: Barry Galperin

Country: USA, Running Time: 6 min

 

IRON MAN

Director: Curtis Francisco-Sarmiento Yap

Country: USA, Running Time: 4 min

 

ISOLATED DAYDREAMS

Director: Ryan Pavone

Country: USA, Running Time: 3 min

 

LIFT OFF

Director: Alyssa Toledo

Country: USA, Running Time: 13 min

 

THE PROMISE

Director: Carlos Plummer

Country: USA, Running Time: 3 min

 

RESTRICTIONS APPLY

Director: Justice Whitaker

Country: USA, Running Time: 18 min

 

SEANCE-ING

Director: Alix Angelis

Country: USA, Running Time: 9 min

 

STOKE CHASERS

Director: Jo Anna Edmison

Country: USA, Running Time: 10 min

 

TAKE TWO

Director: Curtis Francisco-Sarmiento Yap

Country: USA, Running Time: 12 min

 

MUSIC VIDEOS

CANES CREEK

Director: Michael Everett

Music: Mitchell Tenpenny

Country: USA, Running Time: 4 min

 

DAVID KORESH FAN CLUB

Director: Matthew Oates

Music: Nate Cole

Country: USA, Running Time: 2 min

 

 

FEEL YOUR LOVE

Director: Matt Jermstad

Music: True Zion

Country: USA, Running Time: 3 min

 

FLESH & BONE

Director: Ashley Rodbro

Music: The Robot Song by Joe Iconis

Country: USA, Running Time: 8 min

 

THE GREAT DIVIDE

Director: Paul Trillo

Music: The Shins

Country: USA, Running Time: 4 min

 

GREYHOUND

Director: Aidan Cheeatow

Music: Greenhouse

Country: Canada, Running Time: 4 min

 

GUN

Director: Nave Pinhas

Music: Lyri

Country: Israel, Running Time: 5 min

 

INSUFFERABLE

Director: Casey Wieber

Music: Heart to Heart

Country: USA, Running Time: 4 min

 

I AM SAMANTHA

Director: T Cooper

Music: Benjamin Scheuer

Country: USA, Running Time: 4 min

 

I DON’T NEED ANOTHER

Directors: Justin Lacy, J. Noel Sullivan

Music: Justin Lacy

Country: USA, Running Time: 5 min

 

THE LIGHT

Directors: Guillaume Heulard, Benoît Aubert

Music: L’An2000

Country: France, Running Time: 6 min

 

LOS BRAVOS

Director: Jonathan Shepard

Music: LPT

Country: USA, Running Time: 5 min

 

 PARACHUTE

Director: Taisia Deeva

Music: Paul Kalkbrenner

Country: Germany, Running Time: 4 min

 

RED WATCH

Director: David Kennedy

Music/Spoken Word: Kyla Kennedy

Country: USA, Running Time: 4 min

 

TV

Director: rubberband.

Music: Lewis del Mar

Country: USA, Running Time: 4 min

 

WE CAN’T BREATHE

Directors: Miranda Winters, Rocky Romano

Country: USA, Running Time: 9 min

 

THE WRONG LOVE

Director: Francesco Faralli

Music: Giacomo Rossetti

Country: Italy, Running Time: 4 min

 

YOU BRING CHAOS

Director: Oliver Blair

Music: Lowrie

Country: UK, Running Time: 4 min

 

 FILMMAKERS OF TOMORROW SHOWCASE

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

MOBILE FOLKTALES

Directors: Beichen Elementary School Film and Animation Creation Club

Country: Taiwan, Running Time: 10 min

 

MIDDLE SCHOOL

SYSTEM ERROR – ANIMATED

Director: Piotr Kazmierczak

Country: Poland, Running Time: 4 min

 

HIGH SCHOOL

ASCETIC

Director: Gopal Bala

Country: USA, Running Time: 7 min

 

AMPLITUDE OF THOUGHTS

Director: Phoebe Mitchem

Country: USA, Running Time: 8 min

 

BRAIN DEAD

Director: Ian Hammons

Country: USA, Running Time: 5 min

 

DISMAL AND HIMSELF

Director: Zach Larche

Country: USA, Running Time: 7 min

 

HOLOGRAPHIC DREAMS

Director: Satvik Shankar

Country: USA, Running Time: 4 min

 

I WISH MY EDUCATION TAUGHT ME

Directors: Bay Cat Academy

Country: USA, Running Time: 4 min

 

KALAOPSIA

Director: Sage Somma

Country: USA, Running Time: 3 min

 

LA REVERIE

Director: Ian McKay

Country: USA, Running Time: 2 min

 

LAST STOP

Director: Jacob Pincus

Country: USA, Running Time: 10 min

 

MUSIC FOR THE END OF THE WORLD

Director: Emmanuel Li

Country: UK, Running Time: 6 min

 

OFFISH

Director: Emma Nebeker

Country: USA, Running Time: 5 min

 

ONE MINUTE TO MIDNIGHT

Director: James Brammer

Country: USA, Running Time: 7 min

 

SMILE, YOU’RE ON CAMERA

Director: Nat DiCicco

Country: USA, Running Time: 4 min

 

STRONGER THAN STEEL

Director: Jacob Pincus

Country: USA, Running Time: 7 min

 

WE ARE THE REVOLUTION

Director: Akash Dewan

Country: USA, Running Time: 4 min

 

*Featured photo: Larry Gleeson by J. Kevin O’Connor

ABOUT SAN LUIS OBISPO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Located half-way between Los Angeles and San Francisco, San Luis Obispo’s laid-back vibe and serene natural beauty is the perfect setting for this highly regarded annual film celebration. Filmmakers rave about the warmth and attentiveness that is so much a part of the SLO Film fest experience, as does the swelling tide of industry pros and film critics who are fast discovering the film festival’s thoughtful audiences and unique programming sensibility.

Sundance 2021 Top 10 Picks (So Many Films, So Little Time…)

Posted by Larry Gleeson

HollywoodGlee inside the Sundance Film Festival Headquarters at the Park City Marriott on January 23, 2019, in Park City, Utah, the day before the opening of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. (Photo credit: Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)

With the shortened Sundance 2021 Sundance Film Festival just around the corner (January 28th – February 3rd), I became aware of a thought, “With all the spectacular screenings this year, I’m going to share some of my top picks for an excellent festival experience and  to help in discovering adventure.” Tickets on sale here.

 

Sundance Welcome

In my experience, the one event that really sets the tone for the festival is the Opening Night Welcome. On Thursday, January 28, 2021, at 4 P.M., audiences all over the world are invited to come together and kick off the reimagined 2021 Sundance Film Festival and to fête the extraordinary artists who make up this year’s festival. During the event, you can expect to hear from Sundance Festival director, Tabitha Jackson, and see many of the faces from the Sundance Festival family. Even though we cannot physically gather with one another, the opportunity to celebrate Utah—the Sundance spiritual home—and experience a unique Sundance Film Festival journey rooted in discovery and adventure remains. Let us begin.

 

Summer of Soul

In 2017, I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Melissa Haizlip’s documentary feature, Mr. Soul!,  at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture as part of the American Film Institute’s AFI DOCS. Mr. Soul! showcased extraordinary performances of a plethora of African American artists. In a similar vein, the transporting Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s documentary Summer of Soul (Or When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised), an exploration of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, a series of summer concerts radiating a wholesale reevaluating Black History, culture, fashion and music, taking place a mere 100 miles from the much more heralded Woodstock that was held on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in Bethel, New York, is premiering at 7 P.M. on January 28th.

 

Night of the Kings

Phillip Lecote’s Night of Kings weaves a tale of epic proportions around a young man who is sent to La Maca, a prison in the middle of the Ivorian forest ruled by its inmates. As tradition goes with the rising of the red moon, he is designated by the Boss to be the new “Roman” and must tell a story to the other prisoners. Learning what fate awaits him, he begins to narrate the mystical life of the legendary outlaw named Zama King and has no choice but to make his story last until dawn. Well-choreographed, interpretive song and dance routines sets the viewing experience apart. Night of Kings is receiving high praise after its world premiere at the 2020 Venice Film Festival.

 

Wild Indian

In Wild Indian writer/director Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr. (Shinaab and Shinaab, Part II, 2017 and 2019 Sundance Film Festivals) tells a story that spans centuries and the continent in a film destined to be a touchstone in Indigenous cinema. Leading an impressive cast, Michael Greyeyes delivers a gripping, enigmatic performance as a modern Native American man who has done terrible, unforgivable things. Decades after covering up his classmate’s murder, Michael (Michael Greyeyes) has moved on from his reservation and fractured past. When a man who shares his violent secret seeks vengeance, Michael goes to great lengths to protect his new life. With a strong and compelling visual style that evokes both fascination and dread, Wild Indian considers the cost of survival in a world as cruel as our own.

 

Passing

Rebecca Hall’s Passing, adapted from Nella Larsen’s acclaimed 1929 Harlem Renaissance novel, Hall is sure to provide some much-needed experiential insight into the pursuit of happiness and authenticity by those navigating the grinding tensions of American racism. Starring Tessa Thompson (Sylvie’s Love) and Ruth Negga (Loving), Passing is sure to seep into the viewer’s psyche in questioning basic belief systems as these two women who can “pass” as white live their lives on opposites sides of the color line. Repression, obsession, and the lies people tell to protect their carefully constructed realities underscore Hall’s debut psychological thriller in this must-see feature attraction.

 

One For The Road

An unexpected delight from one of my earliest festival experiences was Thai Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. Thailand films are emerging with industry support from the Royal family and I anticipate Director Baz Poonpiriya’s One For the Road, produced by extemporaneous filmmaker Wong Kar Wai, will delight sensibilities in a similar fashion as Boss, a bar owner in New York City, receives a phone call from a sick friend, Aood. Boss returns to Thailand and takes on an amazing journey with Aood, driving from the north of Thailand to the south, looking to bring closure with people from his past. As the secrets from their past are revealed, they are ultimately offered an opportunity for redemption.

 

In the NEXT category, New Orleanian Marion Hill promises to deliver a respite from the COVID blues complete with an acoustic guitar soundtrack with Ma Belle Ma Beauty,  an interracial, polyamorous, relationship-driven dive into the complexities of sexual fluidity and triangulation. Newlywed musicians Bertie and Fred are adjusting to their new life in the beautiful countryside of France. It’s an easy transition for Fred, the son of French and Spanish parents, but New Orleans native Bertie grapples with a nagging depression that is affecting her singing. Lane—the quirky ex who disappeared from their three-way relationship years ago—suddenly shows up for a surprise visit, bringing new energy and baggage of her own. Ma Belle, My Beauty turns into a breezy and meaningful journey through wine-drenched candlelit dinners, firelit vineyard parties, farmers’ markets, and sunny hikes alongside the creek, as Fred, Bertie, and Lane grapple with how to get what they want inside the soup of their desires, passions, and life ambitions. Yum.

 

R#J

From Director Carey Williams, Hailed by Filmmaker Magazine as one of 2018’s New Faces of Independent Film, emanates R#J, a modern-day retelling of the Shakespearan Romeo & Juliet. In fair Verona, a war as old as time is brewing between the rival Houses of Capulet and Montague—but it’s being captured in a new way. Montague and Capulet Gen Zers are using their cell phones to document the eruptions of violence plaguing their communities. Utilizing black and brown bodies and told through text messages and smartphone screens in the social media language of GIF’s, the sharing of Spotify playlists, and Instagram accounts, a plea for peace and a way to escape their star-crossed destiny unfold.

 

Philly D.A.

The docuseries, Philly D.A., spotlights a civil rights attorney, Larry Krasner, and his ascent to become the District Attorney in Philadelphia, while repeatedly calling out discrimination and corruption in America’s most incarcerating major city. In June 2018, Krasner made an unprecedented request for a comprehensive list of police officers who had lied while on duty, used excessive force, racially profiled, or violated civil rights, an unprecedented move in order to spotlight dishonest police officers and check their future courtroom testimony. Directors Ted Passon and Yoni Brook vigorously bring to life the people impacted and incensed by the failings of the system as well as those fighting to maintain the system’s status quo in the first two episodes of this riveting “forthcoming” docuseries.

 

All Light, Everywhere

Using the rise of police body cameras as a point of departure, director Theo Anthony creates a kaleidoscopic portrait of our shared histories of cameras, weapons, policing, and justice in All Light, Everywhere as he explores the personal and philosophical relationships between cameras and weaponry. Moving from the 19th century, where the nascent art of photography went hand in hand with colonial projects and the development of automatic weapons, to the headquarters of Axon, a company with a near-monopoly on body cameras in the United States, Anthony charts a long view of the relationship between photography and violence. Anthony roots his inquiry in Baltimore, a city that has long been a testing ground for new policing technologies.

 

The Pink Cloud

Last but not least (and by no means is this list all-inclusive), is The Pink Cloud. Director Iuli Gerbase has crafted an ambitiously stylish debut feature set in an evocative, not-too-distant world that eerily echoes life in lockdown. Giovana and Yago are strangers who share a spark after meeting at a party. When a deadly cloud mysteriously takes over their city, they are forced to seek shelter with only each other for company. As the months pass and the planet settles into an extended quarantine, their world shrinks, and they are forced to come to terms with an accelerated timeline for their relationship. Both a delicate exploration of what it means to connect in a world we no longer recognize and an unflinchingly honest look at the ways we shape our own reality, The Pink Cloud digs deeply into the underbelly of collective loneliness to offer us a way out.

The Pink Cloud Trailer:

 

And no festival is over until The Wrap.

It’s a Wrap

Before feasting your eyes on the award-winning films from this season, finish off your Sundance Film Festival experience by looking back on the Festival that was. Festival director Tabitha Jackson leads a celebratory end to this all-new experience by bringing audiences together for one last word in the virtual space on February 3rd, 2021, at 8 A.M.

Stay tuned for more as Sundance Film Festival 2021 goes virtual!

 

 

Night of the Kings At Hollywood Legion Drive-In Cinema

Posted by Larry Gleeson

It was a beautiful Friday night evening in the heart of the movie-making capital of the world with the NEON production, Night of the Kings. I hadn’t been to a theatrical screening since I viewed Christopher Nolan’s Tenet on the silver screen at the Metropolitan Fiesta 5 this summer in downtown Santa Barbara, California, with five other mask-wearing moviegoers – the screening theatre was air-conditioned.

The Hollywood Drive-in Cinema, in the heart of Hollywood, Calif., moments before the opening scene of the special screening of Philippe Lecote’s epic drama, Night of the Kings, Friday, January 8, 2021. (Photo by Larry Gleeson)

Night of the Kings, written and directed by Philippe Lecote, was screened outdoors at the Hollywood Legion Drive-in Cinema, and the soft and cool breeze present throughout the film laid down an atmospheric ambiance that no indoor theatre could match. Blazing cinematography with vibrant red, orange, and yellow hues from cinematographer Tobie-Marier Robitaille rivaled Roger Deakins Academy-award winning work from BladeRunner 2049. Robitaille and Night of the Kings received Best Cinematography and Best Sound Awards from the 2020 Chicago International Film Festival.

Night of the Kings

With a surreal tone, Night of the Kings was set inside an infamous Ivory Coast prison, MACA. And, in a similar fashion to the 2017 Shot Caller, the prison seems to be run by a well-heeled influencer inmate. MACA is run by Blackbeard, a large man past his prime who appoints a storyteller for the annual “Night of the red moon.” The guards refer to the storytelling ritual in shamanic terms and that the inmates will be “in trance” all night long.

Enter actor, Bakory Kone, a young, fresh inmate who catches the eye of Blackbeard. Blackbeard anoints the young convict, “Roman.” Roman is the term used to describe the criminal who must entertain the prison population with a nighttime story. The only non-person-of-color (white) actor, Jean Cyrille Digbeau, is a half-baked loser walking around with a pet chicken perched and squawking upon his troubled spirit’s shoulder. But, Digbeau’s character, Half Mad, provides the key to the provocative evening-ending salvation.

Night of the Kings made its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, the oldest film festival in the world and a launchpad for the Academy Awards season, and Night of the Kings is slated as a Spotlight premiere feature on February 1st at 1:00 P.M., for the upcoming, mostly virtual, 2021 Sundance Film Festival, January 28 – February 3rd.

Night of the Kings turned out to be a special night at the drive-in. In addition to the relaxing atmospherics, exceptional cinematography, epic (literally and figuratively) production design, the stalwart performances, and the classic narrative combined with the writing and the seemingly spontaneous, dynamic, choreographed song and dance routines send this feature film into the stratosphere. Highly recommended!

Until next time, I look forward to seeing you at the movies!

And, yes, I ate the popcorn.

HollywoodGlee at the Hollywood Drive-in Cinema in the heart of Hollywood, Calif., for the special screening of Philippe Lecote’s epic drama, Night of the Kings, Friday, January 8, 2021. (Photo by Valerie Rapalee)

 

 

 

 

 

PALMER Releases Official Trailer

My good friend, Beezee, sent me a heads up on Palmer, an upcoming American drama about an ex-convict who befriends a troubled youth. Palmer is directed by Fisher Stephens and written by Cheryl Guerriero.

Beezee had an ex-girlfriend whose brother-in-law had a sister-in-law named Wynn who had a role in Palmer. Normally when I get a message like this it goes straight into File 13. But, the only other time Beezee sent me a heads up on a film, was on St. Louisan Jim Gunn’s 2014 Guardians of The Galaxy (worldwide box office $773 million). So, I pulled out my phone and took a peek at Palmer and saw a few names I recognized – Justin Timberlake, Alisha Wainwright, and rising-star Juno Temple, who I inauspiciously interviewed here as part of Kat O’Brien’s Lost Transmissions team.

I called Beezee and said Palmer looked good commenting on the cast I saw first while explaining I didn’t see Wynn (I believed Wynn to be a Vietnamese physician I had met in St. Louis) but I would look further into it. Beezee obstreperously informed me Wynn was not Vietnamese and was a successful actress who happened to be a sister-in-law of an ex-girlfriend. I reiterated I would pursue the matter further. I began my research and caught Palmer’s trailer.

Pretty good trailer as far as trailers go. Eye-catching visuals, brief character moments, and some soundtrack. Talented performer Justin Timberlake is the centerpiece. Alisha Wainright is the main course and Wynn Everett (yes, that Wynn) is the dessert. 

Alisha Wainwright (IMDb photo)

And, if the smooth eye-popping trailer wasn’t enough, thanks again to Beezee, I got a chance to peruse Palmer’s soundtrack, a soulful Southern Rock vibe with Nathaniel Rateliff writing and performing most of the tunes. Unfortunately for me, this was the first time I had heard Rateliff. One thing I know for sure, it won’t be the last.

Palmer is scheduled for a January 29th premiere on Apple TV+ and is currently listed as in post-production. Mark the calendar like this one has all the makings for a deep, tear-jerking, emotional roller-coaster ride movie night!

Until next time, stay healthy. Stay happy. I look forward to seeing you at the movies!

Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee

*Featured photo: Wynn Everett (IMDb)

 

 

Sundance Film Festival Announces Full Program for 2021

Posted by Larry Gleeson

72 Features, 50 Shorts, 4 Indie Series, 14 New Frontier Projects to Debut

on Feature-Rich Digital Platform & Satellite Screens Nationwide

Passes and Tickets on Sale January 7!

Top L–R: Ma Belle My Beauty; Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir; We’re All Going to The World’s Fair. Bottom L–R: Little Miss Fate; To Miss The Ending; Would You Rather.

PARK CITY, UTAH — The nonprofit Sundance Institute announced today the showcase of new independent work selected across the Feature Film, Short Film, Indie Series, and New Frontier categories for the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. The Festival will take place digitally via a feature-rich, Sundance-built online platform and in-person on Satellite Screens across the country (public health permitting) from January 28-February 3, 2021. Additionally, Festival attendees can gather in virtual waiting rooms, participate in live Q&As, and congregate in new, inspired online environments to interact in a range of ways both new and familiar. The Institute shared details of how the Festival will meet audiences on the online platform and Satellite Screens earlier this month.

The Sundance Film Festival is the flagship public program of Sundance Institute. Throughout the year the majority of the Institute’s resources support independent artists around the world as they make and develop new work through access to Labs, direct grants, fellowships, residencies, and other strategic and tactical interventions.

Robert Redford addresses members of the press at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival Press Conference at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City, Utah, on January 23rd, 2019. (Photo by Larry Gleeson)

“Togetherness has been an animating principle here at the Sundance Institute as we’ve worked to reimagine the Festival for 2021 because there is no Sundance without our community,” said Sundance Institute Founder and President Robert Redford. “Under Tabitha’s leadership, we’ve forged a new collective vision: one that honors the spirit and tradition of these invigorating yearly gatherings in Utah, while making room for imaginative new possibilities in a new online format.”

Keri Putnam addresses members of the press at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival Press Conference at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City, Utah, on January 23rd, 2019. (Photo by Larry Gleeson)

“Of course, the pandemic year demanded adaptation,” said Keri Putnam, Sundance Institute’s Executive Director. “On a deeper level, we also recognize the urgency of supporting independent storytellers at a time of great upheaval in the film and media fields. We’re proud this edition of the Festival is fiercely independent and will reach people everywhere, celebrating both the theatrical experience at our Satellite Screens and streaming on our platform.”

Sundance Institute’s Executive Director, Tabitha Jackson, at The Movie That Blew My Mind, a festival panel at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. © 2020 Sundance Institute | photo by Maya Dehlin.nnAll photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or ‘Courtesy of Sundance Institute.’ Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

“This Festival is a singular response to a singular year – both in design and curation – and we are excited about the new dimensions of possibility it will reveal. But at its core is something that speaks to our most enduring values,” said Tabitha Jackson, Director of the Sundance Film Festival. “For thousands of years, humans have gathered to tell stories and make meaning. In this pandemic year, we gather to celebrate a constellation of artists with unique perspectives that express this current moment and who together are saying, ‘We exist. This is who we are. And this is what we see.'”

“The work in this year’s program is groundbreaking, imaginative, and formally daring,” said Kim Yutani, the Festival’s Director of Programming. “With over half the program made by first-time directors, a sense of discovery remains true to us at Sundance. This year’s Festival presents irrefutable evidence that despite the challenges, the independent voice is as strong as ever.”

Day One films debuting on the platform to open the Festival will be Censor, CODA, Flee, One for the Road, In The Same Breath, and Summer Of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised).

Son of Monarchs, screening in the NEXT section, has been named the winner of the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize.

Announced today: the full 2021 slate of works, including 72 feature-length films, representing 29 countries and 38 first-time feature filmmakers. 14 films and projects announced today were supported by Sundance Institute in development, through direct granting or residency Labs. 66 of the Festival’s feature films or 92% of the lineup announced today, will be world premieres. These films were selected from 14,092 submissions including 3,500 feature-length films. Of the feature film submissions, 1,377 were from the U.S., and 2,132 were international. Director demographics are available in an editor’s note below.

The projects confirmed for the 2021 Sundance Film Festival are:

U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION
Presenting the world premieres of 10 narrative feature films, the Dramatic Competition offers Festivalgoers a first look at groundbreaking new voices in American independent film. Films that have premiered in this category in recent years include Minari, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, The Farewell, Honey Boy, Clemency, Eighth Grade, and Sorry to Bother You.

CODA / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Siân Heder, Producers: Philippe Rousselet, Fabrice Gianfermi, Patrick Wachsberger) — As a CODA – Child of Deaf Adults – Ruby is the only hearing person in her deaf family. When the family’s fishing business is threatened, Ruby finds herself torn between pursuing her love of music and her fear of abandoning her parents. Cast: Emilia Jones, Eugenio Derbez, Troy Kotsur, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Daniel Durant, and Marlee Matlin. World Premiere. DAY ONE

I Was a Simple Man / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Christopher Makoto Yogi, Producers: Sarah S. Kim, Christopher Makoto Yogi, Matthew Petock, Yamato Cibulka) — As a family in Hawai’i faces the imminent death of their eldest, the ghosts of the past haunt the countryside. Cast: Steve Iwamoto, Constance Wu, Kanoa Goo, Chanel Akiko Hirai, Tim Chiou, Boonyanudh Jiyarom. World Premiere

Jockey / U.S.A. (Director: Clint Bentley, Screenwriters: Clint Bentley, Greg Kwedar, Producers: Clint Bentley, Greg Kwedar, Nancy Schafer) — An aging jockey is determined to win one last championship, but his dream is complicated when a young rookie shows up claiming to be his son. Cast: Clifton Collins Jr., Molly Parker, Moises Arias. World Premiere

John and the Hole / U.S.A. (Director: Pascual Sisto, Screenwriter: Nicolás Giacobone, Producers: Elika Portnoy, Alex Orlovsky, Mike Bowes) — A nontraditional coming-of-age story, set in the unsettling reality of John, a kid who holds his family captive in a hole in the ground. Cast: Charlie Shotwell, Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Ehle, Taissa Farmiga. World Premiere

Mayday / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Karen Cinorre, Producers: Jonah Disend, Lucas Joaquin, Karen Cinorre, Sam Levy) — Ana is transported to a dreamlike and dangerous land where she joins a team of female soldiers engaged in a never-ending war along a rugged coast. Though she finds strength in this exhilarating world, she comes to realize that she’s not the killer they want her to be. Cast: Grace Van Patten, Mia Goth, Havana Rose Liu, Soko, Théodore Pellerin, Juliette Lewis. World Premiere

On the Count of Three / U.S.A. (Director: Jerrod Carmichael, Screenwriters: Ari Katcher, Ryan Welch, Producers: David Carrico, Adam Paulsen, Tom Werner, Jake Densen, Ari Katcher, Jimmy Price) — Two guns. Two best friends. And a pact to end their lives when the day is done. Cast: Jerrod Carmichael, Christopher Abbott, Tiffany Haddish, J.B. Smoove, Lavell Crawford, Henry Winkler. World Premiere

Passing / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Rebecca Hall, Producers: Forest Whitaker, Nina Yang Bongiovi, Margot Hand, Rebecca Hall) — Two African-American women who can “pass” as white choose to live on opposite sides of the color line in 1929 New York in an exploration of racial and gender identity, performance, obsession, and repression. Based on the novella by Nella Larsen. Cast: Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, André Holland, Alexander Skarsgård, Bill Camp. World Premiere

Superior / U.S.A. (Director: Erin Vassilopoulos, Screenwriters: Erin Vassilopoulos, Alessandra Mesa, Producers: Benjamin Cohen, Grant Curatola, Patrick Donovan) — On the run, Marian returns to her hometown in upstate New York to hide out with her estranged identical twin sister, Vivian. Struggling to put the past behind her, Marian lies about the reason for her return, leaving her sister in the dark until their two worlds begin to collide. Cast: Alessandra Mesa, Ani Mesa, Pico Alexander, Jake Hoffman, Stanley Simons. World Premiere

Together Together / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Nikole Beckwith, Producers: Anthony Brandonisio, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Tim Headington) — When young loner Anna is hired as the surrogate for Matt, a single man in his 40s, the two strangers come to realize this unexpected relationship will quickly challenge their perceptions of connection, boundaries and the particulars of love. Cast: Ed Helms, Patti Harrison, Tig Notaro, Julio Torres, Anna Konkle. World Premiere

Wild Indian / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr., Producers: Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr., Thomas Mahoney, Eric Tavitian) — Two men are inextricably bound together after covering up the savage murder of a schoolmate. After years of separation following wildly divergent paths, they must finally confront how their traumatic secret has irrevocably shaped their lives. Cast: Michael Greyeyes, Chaske Spencer, Jesse Eisenberg, Kate Bosworth, Phoenix Wilson, Julian Gopal. World Premiere

U.S. DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION:
Ten world-premiere American documentaries that illuminate the ideas, people, and events that shape the present day. Films that have premiered in this category in recent years include Boys State, Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution, APOLLO 11, Knock Down The House, One Child Nation, American Factory, Three Identical Strangers, and On Her Shoulders.

Ailey / U.S.A. (Director: Jamila Wignot, Producer: Lauren DeFilippo) — Alvin Ailey was a visionary artist who found salvation through dance. Told in his own words and through the creation of a dance inspired by his life, this immersive portrait follows a man who, when confronted by a world that refused to embrace him, determined to build one that would. World Premiere

All Light, Everywhere / U.S.A. (Director: Theo Anthony, Producers: Riel Roch-Decter, Sebastian Pardo, Jonna McKone) — An exploration of the shared histories of cameras, weapons, policing, and justice. As surveillance technologies become a fixture in everyday life, the film interrogates the complexity of an objective point of view, probing the biases inherent in both human perception and the lens. World Premiere

At the Ready / U.S.A. (Director: Maisie Crow, Producers: Hillary Pierce, Maisie Crow, Abbie Perrault) — Home to one of the region’s largest law enforcement education program, students at Horizon High School in El Paso train to become police officers and Border Patrol agents as they discover the realities of their dream jobs may be at odds with the truths and people they hold most dear. World Premiere

Cusp / U.S.A. (Directors: Parker Hill, Isabel Bethencourt, Producers: Zachary Luke Kislevitz, Parker Hill, Isabel Bethencourt) — In a Texas military town, three teenage girls confront the dark corners of adolescence at the end of a fever dream summer. World Premiere

Homeroom / U.S.A. (Director: Peter Nicks, Producers: Peter Nicks, Sean Havey) — Following the class of 2020 at Oakland High School in a year marked by seismic change, exploring the emotional world of teenagers coming of age against the backdrop of a rapidly changing world. World Premiere

Rebel Hearts / U.S.A. (Director: Pedro Kos, Producers: Kira Carstensen, Shawnee Isaac-Smith, Judy Korin) — A group of pioneering nuns bravely stand up to the Catholic Church patriarchy, fighting for their livelihoods, convictions, and equality against an all-powerful Cardinal. From marching in Selma in 1965 to the Women’s March in 2018, these women have reshaped our society with their bold acts of defiance. World Premiere

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It / U.S.A. (Director: Mariem Pérez Riera, Producers: Brent Miller, Mariem Pérez Riera, Ilia J. Vélez-Dávila) — Rita Moreno defied both her humble upbringing and relentless racism to become one of a select group who has won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award. Over a seventy-year career, she has paved the way for Hispanic-American performers by refusing to be pigeonholed into one-dimensional stereotypes. World Premiere

Summer Of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) / U.S.A. (Director: Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Producers: David Dinerstein, Robert Fyvolent, Joseph Patel) — During the same summer as Woodstock, over 300,000 people attended the Harlem Cultural Festival, celebrating African American music and culture, and promoting Black pride and unity. The footage from the festival sat in a basement, unseen for over 50 years, keeping this incredible event in America’s history lost – until now. World Premiere. DAY ONE

Try Harder! / U.S.A. (Director: Debbie Lum, Producers: Debbie Lum, Lou Nakasako, Nico Opper) — In a universe where cool kids are nerds, the orchestra is world-class, and being Asian American is the norm, seniors at Lowell High School compete for the top prize: admission to the college of their dreams. World Premiere

Users / U.S.A., Mexico (Director: Natalia Almada, Producers: Elizabeth Lodge Stepp, Josh Penn) — A mother wonders, will my children love their perfect machines more than they love me, their imperfect mother? She switches on a smart-crib lulling her crying baby to sleep. This perfect mother is everywhere. She watches over us, takes care of us. We listen to her. We trust her. World Premiere

WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION
Ten films from emerging filmmaking talents around the world offer fresh perspectives and inventive styles. Films that have premiered in this category in recent years include The Souvenir, The Guilty, Monos, Yardie, The Nile Hilton Incident and Second Mother.

The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet / Argentina (Director: Ana Katz, Screenwriters: Ana Katz, Gonzalo Delgado, Producers: Laura Huberman, Ana Katz) — Sebastian, a man in his thirties, works a series of temporary jobs and he embraces love at every opportunity. He transforms, through a series of short encounters, as the world flirts with the possible apocalypse. Cast: Daniel Katz, Julieta Zylberberg, Valeria Lois, Mirella Pascual, Carlos Portaluppi. World Premiere

El Planeta / U.S.A., Spain (Director and Screenwriter: Amalia Ulman, Producers: Amalia Ulman, Kathleen Heffernan, Kweku Mandela) — Amidst the devastation of post-crisis Spain, mother and daughter bluff and grift to keep up the lifestyle they think they deserve, bonding over common tragedy and an impending eviction. Cast: Amalia Ulman, Ale Ulman, Nacho Vigalondo, Zhou Chen, Saoirse Bertram. World Premiere

Fire in the Mountains / India (Director and Screenwriter: Ajitpal Singh, Producers: Ajay Rai, Alan McAlex) — A mother toils to save money to build a road in a Himalayan village to take her wheelchair-bound son for physiotherapy, but her husband, who believes that an expensive religious ritual is a remedy, steals her savings. Cast: Vinamrata Rai, Chandan Bisht, Mayank Singh Jaira, Harshita Tewari, Sonal Jha. World Premiere

Hive / Kosovo, Switzerland, Macedonia, Albania (Director and Screenwriter: Blerta Basholli, Producers: Yll Uka, Valon Bajgora, Agon Uka) — Fahrije’s husband has been missing since the war in Kosovo. She sets up her own small business to provide for her kids, but as she fights against a patriarchal society that does not support her, she faces a crucial decision: to wait for his return or to continue to persevere. Cast: Yllka Gashi, Çun Lajçi, Aurita Agushi, Kumrije Hoxha, Adriana Matoshi, Kaona Sylejmani. World Premiere

Human Factors / Germany, Italy, Denmark (Director and Screenwriter: Ronny Trocker, Producers: Susanne Mann, Paul Zischler, Martin Rehbock) — A mysterious housebreaking exposes the agony of an exemplary middle-class family. Cast: Sabine Timoteo, Mark Waschke, Jule Hermann, Wanja Valentin Kube, Hannes Perkmann, Daniel Séjourné. World Premiere 

Luzzu / Malta (Director and Screenwriter: Alex Camilleri, Producers: Rebecca Anastasi, Ramin Bahrani, Alex Camilleri, Oliver Mallia) — Jesmark, a struggling fisherman on the island of Malta, is forced to turn his back on generations of tradition and risk everything by entering the world of black market fishing to provide for his girlfriend and newborn baby. Cast: Jesmark Scicluna, Michela Farrugia, David Scicluna. World Premiere

One for the Road / China, Hong Kong, Thailand (Director: Baz Poonpiriya, Screenwriters: Baz Poonpiriya, Nottapon Boonprakob, Puangsoi Aksornsawang, Producer: Wong Kar Wai) — Boss is a consummate ladies’ man, a free spirit and a bar owner in NYC. One day, he gets a surprise call from Aood, an estranged friend who has returned home to Thailand. Dying of cancer, Aood enlists Boss’ help to complete a bucket list – but both are hiding something. Cast: Tor Thanapob, Ice Natara, Violette Wautier, Aokbab Chutimon, Ploi Horwang, Noon Siraphun. World Premiere. DAY ONE

The Pink Cloud / Brazil (Director and Screenwriter: Iuli Gerbase, Producer: Patricia Barbieri) — A mysterious and deadly pink cloud appears across the globe, forcing everyone to stay home. Strangers at the outset, Giovana and Yago try to invent themselves as a couple as years of shared lockdown pass. While Yago is living in his own utopia, Giovana feels trapped deep inside. Cast: Renata de Lélis, Eduardo Mendonça. World Premiere

Pleasure / Sweden, Netherlands, France (Director and Screenwriter: Ninja Thyberg, Producers: Eliza Jones, Markus Waltå, Erik Hemmendorff) — A 20-year-old girl moves from her small town in Sweden to LA for a shot at a career in the adult film industry. Cast: Sofia Kappel, Revika Anne Reustle, Evelyn Claire, Chris Cock, Dana DeArmond, Kendra Spade. World Premiere 

Prime Time / Poland (Director: Jakub Piątek, Screenwriters: Jakub Piątek, Łukasz Czapski, Producer: Jakub Razowski) — On the last day of 1999, 20-year-old Sebastian locks himself in a TV studio. He has two hostages, a gun, and an important message for the world. The story of the attack explores a rebel’s extreme measures and last resort. Cast: Bartosz Bielenia, Magdalena Popławska, Andrzej Kłak, Małgorzata Hajewska-Krzysztofik, Dobromir Dymecki, Monika Frajczyk. World Premiere

WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
Ten documentaries by some of the boldest filmmakers working around the world today. Films that have premiered in this category in recent years include Honeyland, Sea of Shadows, Shirkers, This is Home, Last Men in Aleppo and Hooligan Sparrow.

Faya Dayi / Ethiopia, U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter and Producer: Jessica Beshir) — A spiritual journey into the highlands of Harar, immersed in the rituals of khat, a leaf Sufi Muslims chewed for centuries for religious meditations – and Ethiopia’s most lucrative cash crop today. A tapestry of intimate stories offers a window into the dreams of youth under a repressive regime. World Premiere

Flee / Denmark, France, Sweden, Norway (Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Producers: Monica Hellström, Signe Byrge Sørensen) — Amin arrived as an unaccompanied minor in Denmark from Afghanistan. Today, he is a successful academic and is getting married to his long-time boyfriend. A secret he has been hiding for 20 years threatens to ruin the life he has built. World Premiere. DAY ONE

Inconvenient Indian / Canada (Director and Screenwriter: Michelle Latimer, Producers: Stuart Henderson, Justine Pimlott, Jesse Wente) — An examination of Thomas King’s brilliant dismantling of North America’s colonial narrative, which reframes history with the powerful voices of those continuing the tradition of Indigenous resistance. International Premiere

Misha and the Wolves / United Kingdom, Belgium (Director and Screenwriter: Sam Hobkinson, Producers: Poppy Dixon, Al Morrow, Matthew Wells, Gregory Zalcman, Jürgen Buedts) — A woman’s Holocaust memoir takes the world by storm, but a fallout with her publisher-turned-detective reveals her story as an audacious deception created to hide a darker truth. World Premiere

The Most Beautiful Boy in the World / Sweden (Directors: Kristina Lindström, Kristian Petri, Producer: Stina Gardell) — Swedish actor/musician Björn Andresen’s life was forever changed at the age of 15, when he played Tadzio, the object of Dirk Bogarde’s obsession in Death in Venice – a role which led Italian maestro Luchino Visconti to dub him “the world’s most beautiful boy.” World Premiere

Playing With Sharks / Australia (Director and Screenwriter: Sally Aitken, Producer: Bettina Dalton) — Valerie Taylor is a shark fanatic and an Australian icon – a marine maverick who forged her way as a fearless diver, cinematographer and conservationist. She filmed the real sharks for Jaws and famously wore a chainmail suit, using herself as shark bait, changing our scientific understanding of sharks forever. World Premiere

President / Denmark, U.S.A., Norway (Director: Camilla Nielsson, Producers: Signe Byrge Sørensen, Joslyn Barnes) — Zimbabwe is at a crossroads. The leader of the opposition MDC party, Nelson Chamisa, challenges the old guard ZANU-PF led by Emmerson Mnangagwa, known as “The Crocodile.” The election tests both the ruling party and the opposition – how do they interpret principles of democracy in discourse and in practice? World Premiere

Sabaya / Sweden (Director and Screenwriter: Hogir Hirori, Producers: Antonio Russo Merenda, Hogir Hirori) — With just a mobile phone and a gun, Mahmud, Ziyad and their group risk their lives trying to save Yazidi women and girls being held by ISIS as Sabaya (abducted sex slaves) in the most dangerous camp in the Middle East, Al-Hol in Syria. World Premiere

Taming the Garden / Switzerland, Germany, Georgia (Director Salomé Jashi, Producers: Vadim Jendreyko, Erik Winker, Martin Roelly, Salomé Jashi) — A poetic ode to the rivalry between men and nature. World Premiere 

Writing With Fire / India (Directors and Producers: Rintu Thomas, Sushmit Ghosh) — In a cluttered news landscape dominated by men, emerges India’s only newspaper run by Dalit women. Armed with smartphones, Chief Reporter Meera and her journalists break traditions on the frontlines of India’s biggest issues and within the confines of their own homes, redefining what it means to be powerful. World Premiere

NEXT
Pure, bold works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling populate this program. Films that have premiered in this category in recent years include The Infiltrators, Searching, Skate Kitchen, A Ghost Story and Tangerine. NEXT presented by Adobe.

The Blazing World / U.S.A. (Director: Carlson Young, Screenwriters: Carlson Young, Pierce Brown, Producers: Brinton Bryan, Elizabeth Avellán) — Decades after the accidental drowning of her twin sister, a self-destructive young woman returns to her family home, finding herself drawn to an alternate dimension where her sister may still be alive. Cast: Udo Kier, Carlson Young, Dermot Mulroney, Vinessa Shaw, John Karna, Soko. World Premiere

Cryptozoo / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Dash Shaw, Producers: Kyle Martin, Jane Samborski, Bill Way, Tyler Davidson) As cryptozookeepers struggle to capture a Baku (a legendary dream-eating hybrid creature) they begin to wonder if they should display these rare beasts in the confines of a cryptozoo, or if these mythical creatures should remain hidden and unknown. Cast: Lake Bell, Michael Cera, Angeliki Papoulia, Zoe Kazan, Peter Stormare, Grace Zabriskie. World Premiere

First Date / U.S.A. (Directors and Screenwriters: Manuel Crosby, Darren Knapp, Producers: Brandon Kraus, Manuel Crosby, Darren Knapp, Lucky McKee, Charles Horak)Conned into buying a shady ’65 Chrysler, Mike’s first date with the girl-next-door, Kelsey, implodes as he finds himself targeted by criminals, cops, and a crazy cat lady. A night fueled by desire, bullets and burning rubber makes any other first date seem like a walk in the park. Cast: Tyson Brown, Shelby Duclos, Jesse Janzen, Nicole Berry, Ryan Quinn Adams, Brandon Kraus. World Premiere

NEXT
Pure, bold works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling populate this program. Films that have premiered in this category in recent years include The Infiltrators, Searching, Skate Kitchen, A Ghost Story and Tangerine. NEXT presented by Adobe.

The Blazing World / U.S.A. (Director: Carlson Young, Screenwriters: Carlson Young, Pierce Brown, Producers: Brinton Bryan, Elizabeth Avellán) — Decades after the accidental drowning of her twin sister, a self-destructive young woman returns to her family home, finding herself drawn to an alternate dimension where her sister may still be alive. Cast: Udo Kier, Carlson Young, Dermot Mulroney, Vinessa Shaw, John Karna, Soko. World Premiere

Cryptozoo / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Dash Shaw, Producers: Kyle Martin, Jane Samborski, Bill Way, Tyler Davidson) As cryptozookeepers struggle to capture a Baku (a legendary dream-eating hybrid creature) they begin to wonder if they should display these rare beasts in the confines of a cryptozoo, or if these mythical creatures should remain hidden and unknown. Cast: Lake Bell, Michael Cera, Angeliki Papoulia, Zoe Kazan, Peter Stormare, Grace Zabriskie. World Premiere

First Date / U.S.A. (Directors and Screenwriters: Manuel Crosby, Darren Knapp, Producers: Brandon Kraus, Manuel Crosby, Darren Knapp, Lucky McKee, Charles Horak)Conned into buying a shady ’65 Chrysler, Mike’s first date with the girl-next-door, Kelsey, implodes as he finds himself targeted by criminals, cops, and a crazy cat lady. A night fueled by desire, bullets and burning rubber makes any other first date seem like a walk in the park. Cast: Tyson Brown, Shelby Duclos, Jesse Janzen, Nicole Berry, Ryan Quinn Adams, Brandon Kraus. World Premiere

Ma Belle, My Beauty / U.S.A., France (Director and Screenwriter: Marion Hill, Producers: Ben Matheny, Kelsey Scult, Marion Hill) A surprise reunion in southern France reignites passions and jealousies between two women who were formerly polyamorous lovers. Cast: Idella Johnson, Hannah Pepper, Lucien Guignard, Sivan Noam Shimon. World Premiere

R#J / U.S.A. (Director: Carey Williams, Screenwriters: Carey Williams, Rickie Castaneda, Alex Sobolev, Producers: Timur Bekmambetov, Igor Tsay, John J. Kelly, Alex Sobolev, Anna Soboleva) A re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet, taking place through their cell phones, in a mash-up of Shakespearean dialogue with current social media communication. Cast: Camaron Engels, Francesca Noel, David Zayas, Diego Tinoco, Siddiq Saunderson, Russell Hornsby. World Premiere

Searchers / U.S.A. (Director: Pacho Velez, Producers: Pacho Velez, Joe Poletto, Cathy Tankosic, Sam Roseme) In encounters alternately humorous and touching, a diverse set of New Yorkers navigate their preferred dating apps in search of their special someone.World Premiere

Son of Monarchs / Mexico, U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Alexis Gambis, Producers: Abraham Dayan, Maria Altamirano)After his grandmother’s death, a Mexican biologist living in New York returns to his hometown, nestled in the majestic monarch butterfly forests of Michoacán. The journey forces him to confront past traumas and reflect on his hybrid identity, sparking a personal and spiritual metamorphosis. Cast: Tenoch Huerta Mejía, Alexia Rasmussen, Lázaro Gabino Rodríguez, Noé Hernández, Paulina Gaitán, William Mapother. Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize 

Strawberry Mansion / U.S.A. (Directors and Screenwriters: Albert Birney, Kentucker Audley, Producers: Taylor Shung, Sarah Winshall, Emma Hannaway, Matisse Rifai)In a world where the government records and taxes dreams, an unassuming dream auditor gets swept up in a cosmic journey through the life and dreams of an aging eccentric named Bella. Together, they must find a way back home. Cast: Penny Fuller, Kentucker Audley, Grace Glowicki, Reed Birney, Linas Phillips, Constance Shulman. World Premiere

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Jane Schoenbrun, Producers: Sarah Winshall, Carlos Zozaya) — A teenage girl becomes immersed in an online role-playing game. Cast: Anna Cobb, Michael J. Rogers. World Premiere

PREMIERES
A showcase of world premieres of some of the most highly anticipated fiction and nonfiction films of the coming year.. Films that have premiered across the Documentary Premieres category include The Dissident, On the Record, and Miss Americana, and in Premieres past titles include Kajillionaire, Promising Young Woman, The Report, Late Night, The Big Sick and Call Me By Your Name.

Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir / U.S.A. (Director: James Redford, Producers: Karen Pritzker, Cassandra Jabola) — Amy Tan has established herself as one of America’s most respected literary voices. Born to Chinese immigrant parents, it would be decades before the author of The Joy Luck Club would fully understand the inherited trauma rooted in the legacies of women who survived the Chinese tradition of concubinage. World Premiere, Documentary

Bring Your Own Brigade / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Lucy Walker, Producers: Lucy Walker, Julian Cautherley, Holly Becker, Lyn Lear) — A character-driven verité and revelatory investigation takes us on a journey embedded with firefighters and residents on a mission to understand the causes of historically large wildfires and how to survive them, discovering that the solution has been here all along. World Premiere, Documentary

Eight for Silver / U.S.A., France (Director and Screenwriter: Sean Ellis, Producers: Mickey Liddell, Pete Shilaimon, Sean Ellis) — In the late 1800s, a man arrives in a remote country village to investigate an attack by a wild animal but discovers a much deeper, sinister force that has both the manor and the townspeople in its grip. Cast: Boyd Holbrook, Kelly Reilly, Alistair Petrie, Roxane Duran, Aine Rose Daly. World Premiere, Narrative

How it Ends / U.S.A. (Directors, Screenwriters and Producers: Daryl Wein, Zoe Lister-Jones) — On the last day on Earth, one woman goes on a journey through LA to make it to her last party before the world ends, running into an eclectic cast of characters along the way. Cast: Zoe Lister-Jones, Cailee Spaeny, Olivia Wilde, Fred Armisen, Helen Hunt, Lamorne Morris. World Premiere, Narrative

In The Earth / United Kingdom (Director and Screenwriter: Ben Wheatley, Producer: Andy Starke) — As a disastrous virus grips the planet, a scientist and a park scout venture deep into the forest for a routine equipment run. Through the night, their journey becomes a terrifying voyage through the heart of darkness as the forest comes to life around them. Cast: Joel Fry, Ellora Torchia, Hayley Squires, Reece Shearsmith. World Premiere, Narrative

In The Same Breath / U.S.A. (Director: Nanfu Wang, Producers: Nanfu Wang, Jialing Zhang, Julie Goldman, Christopher Clements, Carolyn Hepburn) — How did the Chinese government turn pandemic coverups in Wuhan into a triumph for the Communist party? An essential narrative of firsthand accounts of the coronavirus, and a revelatory examination of how propaganda and patriotism shaped the outbreak’s course – both in China and in the U.S. World Premiere, Documentary. DAY ONE

Land / U.S.A. (Director: Robin Wright, Screenwriters: Jesse Chatham, Erin Dignam, Producers: Allyn Stewart, Lora Kennedy, Leah Holzer, Peter Saraf) – The poignant story of one woman’s search, in the aftermath of an unfathomable event, for meaning in the vast and harsh American wilderness. Cast: Robin Wright, Demián Bichir, Kim Dickens. World Premiere, Narrative 

Marvelous and The Black Hole / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Kate Tsang, Producer: Carolyn Mao) — A teenage delinquent befriends a surly magician who helps her navigate her inner demons and dysfunctional family with sleight of hand magic, in a coming-of-age comedy that touches on unlikely friendships, grief, and finding hope in the darkest moments. Cast: Miya Cech, Rhea Perlman, Leonardo Nam, Kannon Omachi, Paulina Lule, Keith Powell. World Premiere, Narrative

Mass / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Fran Kranz, Producers: Fran Kranz, Casey Wilder Mott, JP Ouellette, Dylan Matlock) — Years after a tragic shooting, the parents of both the victim and the perpetrator meet face-to-face. Cast: Jason Isaacs, Ann Dowd, Martha Plimpton, Reed Birney. World Premiere, Narrative

My Name is Pauli Murray / U.S.A. (Directors: Betsy West, Julie Cohen, Producer: Talleah Bridges McMahon) — Overlooked by history, Pauli Murray was a legal trailblazer whose ideas influenced RBG’s fight for gender equality and Thurgood Marshall’s landmark civil rights arguments. Featuring never-before-seen footage and audio recordings, a portrait of Murray’s impact as a non-binary Black luminary: lawyer, activist, poet, and priest who transformed our world. World Premiere, Documentary

Philly D.A. / U.S.A. (Created By: Ted Passon, Yoni Brook, Nicole Salazar, Producers: Ted Passon, Yoni Brook, Nicole Salazar, Josh Penn, Michael Gottwald) — A groundbreaking inside look at the long shot election and tumultuous first term of Larry Krasner, Philadelphia’s unapologetic District Attorney, and his experiment to upend the criminal justice system from the inside out. World Premiere, Episodic Documentary

Prisoners of the Ghostland / U.S.A. (Director: Sion Sono, Screenwriters: Aaron Hendry, Reza Sixo Safai, Producers: Michael Mendelsohn, Laura Rister, Ko Mori, Reza Sixo Safai, Nate Bolotin) — A notorious criminal is sent to rescue an abducted woman who has disappeared into a dark supernatural universe. They must break the evil curse that binds them and escape the mysterious revenants that rule the Ghostland, an East-meets-West vortex of beauty and violence. Cast: Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella, Nick Cassavetes, Bill Moseley, Tak Sakaguchi, Yuzuka Nakaya. World Premiere, Narrative

The Sparks Brothers / United Kingdom (Director: Edgar Wright, Producers: Nira Park, Edgar Wright, George Hencken, Laura Richardson) — How can one rock band be successful, underrated, hugely influential, and criminally overlooked all at the same time? Take a musical odyssey through five weird and wonderful decades with brothers Ron & Russell Mael, celebrating the inspiring legacy of Sparks: your favorite band’s favorite band. World Premiere, Documentary

Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street / U.S.A. (Director: Marilyn Agrelo, Producers: Trevor Crafts, Ellen Scherer Crafts, Lisa Diamond) — How did a group of rebels create the world’s most famous street? In 1969 New York, this “gang” of mission-driven artists, writers and educators catalyzed a moment of civil awakening, transforming it into Sesame Street, one of the most influential and impactful television programs in history. World Premiere, Documentary

MIDNIGHT
From horror and comedy to works that defy genre classification, these films will keep you wide awake, even at the most arduous hour. Films that have premiered in this category in recent years include Relic, Greener Grass, Hereditary, Assassination Nation, and The Babadook.

Censor / United Kingdom (Director: Prano Bailey-Bond, Screenwriters: Prano Bailey-Bond, Anthony Fletcher, Producer: Helen Jones) — When film censor Enid discovers an eerie horror that speaks directly to her sister’s mysterious disappearance, she resolves to unravel the puzzle behind the film and its enigmatic director – a quest blurring the lines between fiction and reality in terrifying ways. Cast: Niamh Algar, Nicholas Burns, Vincent Franklin, Sophia La Porta, Adrian Schiller, Michael Smiley. World Premiere. DAY ONE

Coming Home in the Dark / New Zealand (Director: James Ashcroft, Screenwriters: Eli Kent, James Ashcroft, Producers: Mike Minogue, Catherine Fitzgerald, Desray Armstrong) — A family’s outing descends into terror when teacher Alan Hoaganraad, his wife Jill and stepsons Maika and Jordon explore an isolated coastline. An unexpected meeting with a pair of drifters, the enigmatic psychopath Mandrake and his accomplice Tubs, thrusts the family into a nightmare when they find themselves captured. Cast: Daniel Gillies, Erik Thomson, Miriama McDowell, Matthias Luafutu. World Premiere

A Glitch in the Matrix / U.S.A. (Director: Rodney Ascher, Producer: Ross M. Dinerstein) — A multi-media exploration of simulation theory – an idea as old as Plato’s Republic and as current as Elon Musk’s Twitter feed – through the eyes of those who suspect our world isn’t real. Part sci-fi mind-scrambler, part horror story, this is a digital journey to the limits of radical doubt. World Premiere

Knocking / Sweden (Director: Frida Kempff, Screenwriter: Emma Broström, Producer: Erik Andersson) — When Molly moves into her new apartment after a tragic accident, a strange noise from upstairs begins to unnerve her. As its intensity grows, she confronts her neighbors – but no one seems to hear what she is hearing. Cast: Cecilia Milocco. World Premiere

Mother Schmuckers / Belgium (Directors and Screenwriters: Lenny Guit, Harpo Guit, Producers: David Borgeaud, Erika Meda) — Issachar & Zabulon, two brothers in their twenties, are supremely stupid and never bored, as madness is part of their daily lives. When they lose their mother’s beloved dog, they have 24 hours to find it – or she will kick them out. Cast: Harpo Guit, Maxi Delmelle, Claire Bodson, Mathieu Amalric, Habib Ben Tanfous. World Premiere

Violation / Canada (Directors, Screenwriters and Producers: Madeleine Sims-Fewer, Dusty Mancinelli) — A troubled woman on the edge of divorce returns home to her younger sister after years apart. But when her sister and brother-in-law betray her trust, she embarks on a vicious crusade of revenge. Cast: Madeleine Sims-Fewer, Anna Maguire, Jesse LaVercombe, Obi Abili, Jasmin Geljo, Cynthia Ashperger. International Premiere

SPOTLIGHT
The Spotlight program is a tribute to the cinema we love from throughout the past year. Films that have played in this category in recent years include The Biggest Little Farm, The Death of Stalin, The Rider, Ida and The Lobster.

Night of the Kings / France, Ivory Coast, Canada, Senegal (Director and Screenwriter: Philippe Lacôte, Producers: Delphine Jaquet, Yanick Létourneau, Ernest Konan, Yoro Mbaye) — A young man is sent to La Maca, a prison on the Ivory Coast in the middle of the forest ruled by its prisoners. With the red moon rising, he is designated by the Boss to be the new “Roman” and must tell a story to the other prisoners. Cast: Koné Bakary, Steve Tientcheu, Digbeu Jean Cyrille, Rasmané Ouédraogo, Issaka Sawadogo, Denis Lavant.

The World to Come / U.S.A. (Director: Mona Fastvold, Screenwriters: Ron Hansen, Jim Shepard, Producers: Casey Affleck, Whitaker Lader, Pamela Koffler, David Hinojosa, Margarethe Baillou) — Somewhere along the mid-nineteenth century American East Coast frontier, two neighboring couples battle hardship and isolation, witnessed by a splendid yet testing landscape, challenging them both physically and psychologically. Cast: Katherine Waterston, Vanessa Kirby, Casey Affleck, Christopher Abbott. North American Premiere

SPECIAL SCREENINGS

Life in a Day 2020 / United Kingdom, U.S.A. (Director: Kevin Macdonald, Producers: Jack Arbuthnott, Tim Partridge) — An extraordinary, intimate, global portrait of life on our planet, filmed by thousands of people across the world, on a single day: 25th July 2020. World Premiere

NEW FRONTIER

Since its launch, the Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontier has served as a showcase for dynamic, innovative work at the crossroads of film, art, and technology. At the Festival’s 2021 edition, a global audience will be able to engage with the works, the artists, and fellow Festivalgoers via a bespoke spatialized platform, developed in partnership with digital experience agency Active Theory and accessible via computer and VR headsets. The New Frontier Gallery hosts the complete slate of live performances, AR, VR, and other emerging media works. Cinema House is the Festival’s social, fully immersive cinema, and Film Party is an interactive bar with 6 screens and more intimate rooms available to the entire community of accredited Festivalgoers so that all can safely gather together, connecting via avatar with proximity audio and video chat.

2020 saw that the entire world can shift and leave humanity in an entirely new state of being. As we stand on the precipice of a new era, we need our artists and visionaries to illuminate the way forward,” said Shari Frilot, Senior Programmer and New Frontier Chief Curator. “The lineup of new media works this year challenge what we once knew to be true. Their works glisten with world building wisdom, and offer time machines that extract the cancer of colonial narratives planted deep within our biology.”
Frilot added, “More than ever, we need to gather our community in a meaningful way. This is why New Frontier has built three spatialized digital venues that orbit the earth right alongside the International Space Station. And at any time, Festivalgoers can take leave of the mothership to visit the astronauts aboard the Station, in the immersive experience Space Explorers: The ISS Experience, co-directed by Félix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphaël, or spend a night on earth, bar hopping in Amsterdam through IDFA DocLab’s do {not} play.

The Sundance Institute New Frontier Program is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Unity Technologies, Adobe, Dell Technologies, The Walt Disney Studios’ StudioLAB, and Oculus from Facebook.

4 Feet High VR / Argentina, France (Lead Artists: María Belén Poncio, Rosario Perazolo Masjoan, Damian Turkieh, Ezequiel Lenardón, Key Collaborators: Marie Blondiaux, Marcos Rostagno, Eugenia Foguel, Matias Benedetti, Manuel Yeri, Martin Lopez Funes, Guillermo Mena) — Juana, a 17-year-old wheelchair user, aims to explore her sexuality but is ashamed of her body. Trying to find her place in a new high school, she will go through failure, friendship, fear and politics until she builds her own pride. Cast: Marisol Agostina Irigoyen, Florencia Licera, Marcio Ramses, Natalia Di Cienzo, Francisca Spinotti.

7 Sounds / U.S.A. (Lead Artist: Sam Green, Key Collaborator: JD Samson) — An immersive live-streamed audio-video work exploring the universal influence of sound, weaving seven specific audio recordings into a meditation on the power of sound to bend time, cross borders, and profoundly shape our perception.

Beyond the Breakdown / U.S.A. (Lead Artists: Tony Patrick, Lauren Lee McCarthy, Grace Lee, Key Collaborators: Jesse Cahn Thompson, Aldo Velasco) — Imagining alternate narratives for our near-future reality, inside a browser designed to hack our normal online behaviors and cultivate collaborative spaces for self-reflection and renewal.

The Changing Same: Episode 1 / U.S.A. (Lead Artists: Michèle Stephenson, Joe Brewster, Yasmin Elayat, Key Collaborators: James George, Alexander Porter, Rad Mora, Elliott Mitchell) — An immersive, episodic virtual reality experience where the participant travels through time and space to witness the connected historical experiences of racial injustice in America. A respectful, haunting story infused with magical realism and Afrofuturism about the uninterrupted cycle of the 400-year history of racial terror — past and present.

Fortune! / France, Canada (Lead Artists: Brett Gaylor, Nicolas Bourniquel, Arnaud Colinart, Key Collaborators: Marianne Lévy-Leblond, Rob McLaughlin, Dash Spielgeman, Rolito, Clement Chériot) — Money, from bills to coins, has no intrinsic value beyond what we’ve collectively agreed to grant it. However, there’s no denying that money governs our lives. This series of animated documentary shorts in AR for smartphones, tablets and social media platforms, explores that relationship. Cast: Frank Bourassa.

Namoo / U.S.A. (Lead Artist: Erick Oh, Key Collaborators: Maureen Fan, Larry Cutler, Eric Darnell, Kane Lee, David Kahn) — A narrative poem brought to life as an animated VR film, and an ode to a grandfather’s passing, this story follows the journey of a budding artist – and his tree of life – from beginning to end.

Nightsss / Poland (Lead Artists: Weronika Lewandowska, Sandra Frydrysiak, Key Collaborators: Marcin Macuk, Piotr Apostel, Kaya Kołodziejczyk, Marek Straszak, Arek Zub, Przemek Danowski) — A virtual erotic poem created in artistic animation with ASMR and interactive elements, immersing the viewer in the sensual experience of poetry and dance.

Prison X – Chapter 1 : The Devil and The Sun / Australia, Bolivia, India (Lead Artists: Violeta Ayala, Alap Parikh, Maria Corvera Vargas, Roly Elias, Key Collaborators: Daniel Fallshaw, Rilda Paco Alvarado, Alberto Santiago) — Heavy doors open and you are swept into an infamous Bolivian jail, where you live among devils, saints, wicked characters, corrupt prison guards and even a Western filmmaker. In Prison X, inhabit the dreams and nightmares of the Neo-Andean underworld. Cast: Violeta Ayala, Genesis Owusu, Celina Debassey, Anamaria Gómez Jaramillo, Jesse Odom, Nicole Ukelele.

Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran / United Kingdom, Iran (Lead Artists: Javaad Alipoor, Kirsty Housley, Key Collaborator: Nick Sweeting) — A darkly comedic, urgent new play about entitlement, consumption and digital technology, exploring the ubiquitous feeling that our societies are falling apart through the story of two young members of the Iranian elite, asking what their deaths tell us about climate change, social collapse and Instagram. Cast: Javaad Alipoor, Peyvand Sadeghian.  

Secret Garden / U.S.A. (Lead Artist: Stephanie Dinkins, Key Collaborators: Ethan Edwards, John Fitzgerald, Matthew Niederhauser, Danielle McPhatter, Sidney San Martín, Kate Stevenson, Adaora Udoji, Chris White) — An immersive web experience and installation, illuminating the power and resilience in Black women’s stories. Interactive audio vignettes generate a multi-generational narrative that collapses past, present, and future. Cast: Dayne Board, Erlene Curry, Tianna Mendez, Melissa Moore, Brandi Porter, Lisa Sainville.

Tinker / U.S.A. (Lead Artist: Lou Ward, Key Collaborators: Shimon Alkon, Lara Bucarey, Avril Martinez, Aileen Paron, Anthony Alan Garcia, Roberto Tan, Cristopher David, Neil Realubit, Anton Arcega, David Conklin, Evan Chavez) — What happens when the memories we spend a lifetime creating begin to disappear? Step inside the Grandfather’s workshop to discover this answer for yourself. In this live, bespoke unscripted performance, reimagine what it means to play, to connect and to hold fast to the memories we create. Cast: Randy Dixon.  

To Miss The Ending / United Kingdom (Lead Artists: Anna West, David Callanan, Key Collaborators: Jamie Finlay, Steph Clarke, Dan Tucker) — A VR cubicle of cardboard boxes begins to glitch, revealing an empty dark space in front of you – until something glimmers in the distance, a wave of blue flooding towards you. A chorus of real memories and imagined futures expands, until only the largest memories are left. Cast: Charlotte Berry, Michael Dodds, Houmi Miura, Ben Kulvichit, Anna West.

Traveling the Interstitium with Octavia Butler / U.S.A. (Lead Artists: Sophia Nahli Allison, idris brewster, Stephanie Dinkins, Ari Melenciano, Terence Nance, Key Collaborators: Yance Ford, Sharon Chang, Kamal Sinclair) — Inspired by the ideas of Octavia Butler, voyaging into the interstitium: a liminal space, a cultural memory, containing the remnants of our ancestors, a place of refuge, a place of recentering, a portal into an alternate dimension.

Weirdo Night / U.S.A. (Lead Artists: Jibz Cameron, Mariah Garnett) — A filmed edition, hosted by Dynasty Handbag, of the wildly popular, underground, eponymous live performance and comedy event that, until COVID-19, was held monthly in Los Angeles. Cast: Patti Harrison, Smiling Beth, Morgan Bassichis, Sarah Squirm, Hedia Maron, Blasia Discoteca.

SHORTS

50 short films will play in the Festival, from 27 countries and chosen from 9,933 submissions – 4,587 from the U.S. and 5,368 international. The Institute’s support for short films extends internationally and year-round, with select Festival shorts presented as a traveling program, virtually in 2020, at theaters in the U.S., Canada and Europe each year, and short films and filmmakers taking part in regional online Master Classes geared towards supporting emerging shorts-makers in several cities. Among the shorts the Festival has shown in recent years are So What If The Goats Die, Fauve, Aziza, Ghosts of Sugar Land, Thunder Road, Whiplash, Sister and Brotherhood.

“In a year unlike any other, short films are still going strong with art and craft unique to the form. We are thrilled to share a lineup with a wild range of characters, styles, ideas and emotions to our audience, wherever you may be,” said Mike Plante, Senior Programmer, Short Film.

The 2021 Sundance Film Festival Short Film program is presented by Southwest Airlines.

U.S. Fiction

Ava From My Class / U.S.A., South Korea (Director: Youmin Kang, Screenwriters: Youmin Kang, Soomin Kang) — Anna thinks Ava is the best actress in her class. International Premiere

Bambirak / U.S.A., Germany (Director and Screenwriter: Zamarin Wahdat) — When Kati stows away in her father’s truck, Faruk must juggle his responsibilities as a single dad while holding down his first job in a new country. As their relationship deepens, a brush with covert racism tests their bond. North American Premiere 

BJ’s Mobile Gift Shop / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Jason Park) — A young Korean-American hustler runs throughout the city of Chicago making sales out of his “mobile gift shop.” World Premiere

Bruiser / U.S.A. (Director: Miles Warren, Screenwriters: Miles Warren, Ben Medina) — After his father gets into a fight at a bowling alley, Darious begins to investigate the limitations of his own manhood. World Premiere

Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma / U.S.A., Germany, France, Italy (Directors and Screenwriters: Topaz Jones, rubberband.) — In 1970, Black educators in Chicago developed an alphabet flashcard set to provide Black-centered teaching materials to the vastly white educational landscape and the Black ABCs were born. Fifty years later, twenty-six scenes provide an update to their meanings. World Premiere

Doublespeak / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Hazel McKibbin) — A young woman grapples with the aftermath of reporting sexual harassment in the workplace.

i ran from it and was still in it / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Darol Olu Kae) — A poetic meditation on familial loss and separation, and the love that endures against dispersion.

In the Air Tonight / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Andrew Norman Wilson) — An insider’s take on the meaning behind Phil Collins’ 1980 single “In the Air Tonight.”

LATA / U.S.A., India (Director: Alisha Mehta, Screenwriters: Alisha Mehta, Mireya Martinez) — Lata, a 23 year old domestic worker, navigates her way through an upper class home in South Mumbai. Doors consistently open and close, giving Lata selective access to the various contending realities that occupy this space.

Raspberry / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Julian Doan) — A son struggles to say goodbye to his dead father. World Premiere

The Touch of the Master’s Hand / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Gregory Barnes) — Troubled by an unnatural temptation, a young Mormon missionary must confess the humiliating depths of his pornography addiction. World Premiere

White Wedding / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Melody C Roscher) — Amidst a racially tense Southern wedding, a biracial bride has the chance to confront her estranged Black father after accidentally hiring his wedding band to perform. World Premiere

Wiggle Room / U.S.A. (Directors and Screenwriters: Sam Guest, Julia Baylis) — Determined to save her wheelchair ramp from repossession, Daisy confronts the shady insurance agent who owes her money. World Premiere

Yoruga / U.S.A., Colombia (Director and Screenwriter: Federico Torrado Tobón) — A lonely old man pays a visit to Yoruga, one of the last animals on Earth. World Premiere 

You Wouldn’t Understand / U.S.A. (Director: Trish Harnetiaux, Screenwriters: Trish Harnetiaux, Jacob A. Ware) — An idyllic picnic of one is upended after the arrival of a stranger.

International Fiction

The Affected / Norway (Director: Rikke Gregersen, Screenwriters: Rikke Gregersen, Trond Arntzen) — Minutes before takeoff, a situation occurs, preventing an airplane from departing: in an attempt to prevent the deportation of one passenger, another refuses to sit down – forcing the pilot to take a political stand.

Black Bodies / Canada (Director and Screenwriter: Kelly Fyffe-Marshall) — A Black man laments as he comes face-to-face with the realities of being Black in the 21st century. International Premiere 

The Criminals / France, Romania, Turkey (Director and Screenwriter: Serhat Karaaslan) — In a town in Turkey, a young couple is looking for some privacy. They are rejected from the hotels because they do not have a marriage certificate. When they think they found a way, the situation gets out of hand. World Premiere 

Excuse Me, Miss, Miss, Miss / Philippines (Director: Sonny Calvento, Screenwriter: Arden Rod Condez) — Vangie, a miserable contractual sales lady, is about to lose her job. But in her desperate attempt to convince her boss not to sack her, Vangie uncovers the ultimate jaw-dropping secret to regularization.

Five Tiger / South Africa (Director and Screenwriter: Nomawonga Khumalo) — A god-fearing woman in present-day South Africa finds herself in a transactional relationship as she tries to support her sick husband and daughter. North American Premiere

Flex / Sweden (Directors and Screenwriters: Josefin Malmen, David Strindberg) — He may be god enough, but is he good enough? A slightly surreal comedic exploration of the fine line between a bodybuilder’s self-loathing and self-loving.

Like the Ones I Used to Know / Canada (Director and Screenwriter: Annie St-Pierre) — December 24, 1983, 10:50 p.m.: Julie and her cousins ate too much sugar, Santa Claus is late. Denis, alone in his car, is anxious at the idea of setting foot in his ex-in-law’s house to pick up his children. World Premiere

Lizard / United Kingdom (Director: Akinola Davies, Jr., Screenwriter: The Davies Brothers) Juwon, an 8-year-old girl with an ability to sense danger, gets ejected from Sunday school service. She unwittingly witnesses the underbelly in and around a megachurch in Lagos. International Premiere

The Longest Dream I Remember / Mexico (Director: Carlos Lenin, Screenwriters: Carlos Lenin, Isa Mora Vera) As Tania leaves her hometown, she must confront what her absence will mean in the search for her disappeared father. World Premiere

Mountain Cat / Mongolia, United Kingdom (Director and Screenwriter: Lkhagvadulam Purev-Ochir) — A troubled girl is coerced into seeing a shaman. Trapped by the ancient beliefs that pacify her mother, she finds peace in the physical realm, unleashing her repressed, youthful spirit on the shaman when she realizes his true identity. U.S. Premiere

Unliveable / Brazil (Directors and Screenwriters: Matheus Farias, Enock Carvalho) — In Brazil, where a trans person is murdered every three days, Marilene searches for her daughter Roberta, a trans woman who is missing. While running out of time, she discovers one hope for the future. North American Premiere

The Unseen River / Vietnam, Laos (Director and Screenwriter: Phạm Ngọc Lân) — Stories told along the river: a woman reunites with her ex-lover at a hydroelectric plant; meanwhile, a young man travels downstream to a temple in search of a cure for his insomnia.

We’re Not Animals / France (Director and Screenwriter: Noé Debré) — His ex Marie became an Instagram star (thanks to an activist group focused on the female orgasm). Depressed, Igor believes this is a deliberate campaign to prevent him from finding someone else. World Premiere

Non-Fiction

A Concerto is a Conversation / U.S.A. (Directors: Ben Proudfoot, Kris Bowers) — A virtuoso jazz pianist and film composer tracks his family’s lineage through his 91-year-old grandfather from Jim Crow Florida to the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Dear Philadelphia / U.S.A., United Kingdom (Director: Renee Osubu) — With the help of their family, friends, and faith, three fathers unravel the incomparable partnership of forgiveness and community in North Philadelphia. International Premiere

The Field Trip / U.S.A. (Directors: Meghan O’Hara, Mike Attie, Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck) — A group of fifth graders learn what it takes to get ahead in the modern American workplace. World Premiere

My Own Landscapes / France (Director: Antoine Chapon) — Before going to war, a former military game designer made video game scenarios that prepared soldiers for cultural shocks and healed trauma. Once back from the war, his relationship with his identity, with life and with the video game changed.

The Rifleman / U.S.A. (Director: Sierra Pettengill, Screenwriters: Daniel Garber, Sierra Pettengill) — Told entirely through archival material, tracing Harlon Carter, considered the “father of the modern NRA,” across the decades, revealing the links between the National Rifle Association, the U.S. Border Patrol, and gun culture.

Snowy / U.S.A. (Directors: Kaitlyn Schwalje, Alex Wolf Lewis) — Snowy, a 4-inch-long pet turtle, has lived an isolated life in the family basement. With help from a team of experts and his caretaker, Uncle Larry, we ask: Can Snowy be happy and what would it take? World Premiere

Spirits and Rocks: an Azorean Myth / Switzerland, Portugal (Director: Aylin Gökmen) — On a volcanic island, inhabitants are caught in an unending cycle: the threat of impending eruptions, and the burden of past traumas, loom over them. Some draw upon myth and religious beliefs to interpret their precarious situation; others demonstrate resilience. International Premiere

Tears Teacher / Japan (Director: Noemie Nakai) — Yoshida is a self-proclaimed “tears teacher.” A firm believer that regular crying promotes healthier living, he’s made it his mission to make more people weep.

This is the Way We Rise / U.S.A. (Director: Ciara Lacy) — An exploration into the creative process, following Native Hawaiian slam poet Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio, as her art is reinvigorated by her calling to protect sacred sites atop Maunakea, Hawai`i.

To Know Her / U.S.A., Hong Kong (Director: Natalie Chao) — A poetic exploration of the camera’s gaze and a family’s relationship with the filmmaker’s mother. International Premiere

When We Were Bullies / U.S.A., Germany (Director and Screenwriter: Jay Rosenblatt) — A mind-boggling “coincidence” leads the filmmaker to track down his fifth grade class – and fifth grade teacher – to examine their memory of and complicity in a bullying incident fifty years ago. World Premiere

Up at Night / Democratic Republic of the Congo, Belgium (Director and Screenwriter: Nelson Makengo) — As dusk fades and another night without electricity falls, Kinshasa’s neighborhoods reveal an unstable environment of violence, political conflict and uncertainty over the building of the Grand Inga 3 hydroelectric dam, promising a permanent source of energy to the Congo. U.S. Premiere

Animation

The Fire Next Time / United Kingdom (Director: Renaldho Pelle, Screenwriter: Kerry Jade Kolbe) — Rioting spreads as social inequality causes tempers in a struggling community to flare, but the oppressive environment takes on a life of its own as the shadows of the housing estate close in.

Forever / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Mitch McGlocklin) — A life insurance company uses an AI algorithm to determine the risk of a new applicant. The subsequent denial sparks a period of introspection for the individual in question.

The Fourfold / Canada (Director and Screenwriter: Alisi Telengut) — An exploration of the indigenous worldview and wisdom based on ancient shamanistic traditions and animistic beliefs in Siberia and Mongolia. With hand-crafted animation, a testament of reclaiming animism for environmental ethics and non-human materialities.

Ghost Dogs / U.S.A. (Director: Joe Cappa, Screenwriters: Joe Cappa, J.W. Hallford) — A family’s new rescue pup is terrorized by deceased pets in this mind-bending horror.

GNT / Australia (Directors and Screenwriters: Sara Hirner, Rosemary Vasquez-Brown) — Glenn is a woman on an unwholesome mission, but just how far will she go to conquer the clique – and social media at large? 

KKUM / South Korea, U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Kang-min Kim) — My mother’s dreams have always been strong premonitions for important moments in my life. I rely on her dreams more than any religion.

Little Miss Fate / Switzerland (Director and Screenwriter: Joder von Rotz) — When the opportunity arises, Little Miss Fate slips into the role of the world leader. Unintentionally she creates a monster, which greedily wants to suck up all the love of the world. Overwhelmed by the rapid development, she loses control. 

Misery Loves Company / U.S.A., South Korea (Director: Sasha Lee, Screenwriters: Sasha Lee, Yejin Choi) As Seolgi is lying on a grass field with friends, a shooting star falls, and dark, intrusive thoughts hit her. Her melancholy blooms into bright and colorful “flower people,” dancing and wishing for a meteorite to end the world.

Souvenir Souvenir / France (Director and Screenwriter: Bastien Dubois) — For ten years, I’ve pretended to make a movie out of my grandfather’s Algerian war souvenirs. Today, I’m not sure I want to hear what he has to say.

Trepanation / U.S.A. (Director: Nick Flaherty) — What was once familiar is now unrecognizable. All previous desires are overshadowed by the need to disappear completely.

INDIE SERIES PROGRAM

A dedicated showcase for emerging creators of independently produced episodic content for broadcast, web, and streaming platforms. Previously Indie Episodic. Past projects that have premiered within this category include Work in Progress, State of the Union, Gentefied, Wu Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men and Quarter Life Poetry. The Indie Series Program is presented by DoorDash.

4 Feet High / Argentina, France (Directors: María Belén Poncio, Rosario Perazolo Masjoan, Executive Producers: Ezequiel Lenardón, Marie Blondiaux) — Juana, a 17-year-old wheelchair user, aims to explore her sexuality but is ashamed of her body. Trying to find her place in a new high school, she will go through failure, friendship, fear and politics until she builds her own pride. Cast: Marisol Agostina Irigoyen, Florencia Licera, Marcio Ramses, Natalia Di Cienzo, Francisca Spinotti. World Premiere

Seeds of Deceit / Netherlands (Director: Miriam Guttmann, Executive Producers: Monique Busman, Michiel van Erp, Judith Reuten) — The revelation that Dr. Karbaat clandestinely used his own semen to inseminate more than 65 of his patients shocked the world. A vivid portrayal of how that happened and all the ways it haunts those affected: the emotional trauma of coming to terms with a changed life, a new identity. World Premiere

These Days / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Adam Brooks) — Mae, lonely and self-isolating, navigates the world of online dating during the early days of quarantine. Her first attempt is a comic disaster; then, she meets Will and her world begins to change in unexpected ways. Cast: Marianne

Until next time, I look forward to seeing you at the festival!

HollywoodGlee inside the Sundance Film Festival Headquarters at the Park City Marriott on January 23, 2019, in Park City, Utah, the day before the opening of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. (Photo credit: Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)

 

FILM REVIEW: Joseph Puleo’s “America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill”

Posted and reviewed by Larry Gleeson.

America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill, directed by Joseph Puleo and based on Rio Vitale’s book, St. Louis’s The Hill, was a walk down memory lane for me as a history buff with family ties to the area around The Hill, an Italian enclave and the last remaining Litlle Italy in the United States. America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill explores the deep historic roots of the iconic St. Louis neighborhood and the Italians who immigrated to The Hill in pursuit of the American Dream of owning a home and starting a family.  This is a project I imagine the likes of Martin Scorcese making – only Marty tends to stick to his own neighborhood in New York City (Mean Streets, and The Oratorio). Nevertheless, when he sees this film, I hallucinate he’ll be beaming with Italian Pride.  America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill which screened at the recent St. Louis International Film Festival (SLIFF) is Joseph Puleo’s first feature and was the recipient of the Audience Choice Award at this year’s Cinema St. Louis Showcase. Rio Vitale is credited as the film’s Executive Producer.

With a smooth opening black screen coupled with non-diegetic chimes, the film meanders in the darkness before it reveals an interview with Msgr. Salvatore Polizzi. Msgr. Polizzi, a Roman Catholic priest and former associate pastor of The Hill neighborhood’s St. Ambrose Catholic Church in the late 1960s and early 1970s, begins speaking about the general fear many Americans experienced going into an Italian community, “And we were kind of happy there was a fear also.” The film transitioned as introduction titles rolled and the historical documentary was off and running informing the viewer of the setting with home videos and a still photograph of the most recognizable landmark in St. Louis, Missouri, The Gateway Arch. The editing and soundtrack are seamless and spot-on as both aspects enhanced the film’s narrative.

With America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill Puleo provides an eloquent treatment of the Italian immigrant coming to America and settling into the area and becoming a part of the social fabric. Puleo utilized a plethora of black and white photographs, newspaper articles as well as a multitude of interviews with a wide-ranging assortment of Hill residents and extended family members sharing their experiences, strength, and hope. Fr. Polizzi arrived at St. Ambrose Parish in the late 1960s immediately immersing himself in the community. The early 1970s was a time of great social and cultural upheaval and brought changes to the area – think of Travis Bickle’s opening voice-over monologue in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Fr. Polizzi and the men of The Hill neighborhood took matters into their own hands to ensure the neighborhood was kept intact and the darker elements were kept out. The women did the same (and more), to keep their Italian heritage alive and thriving. The nearby Shaw neighborhood by comparison (a war zone) didn’t fare so well.

For me, growing up in the Metro-East area of St. Louis and being a long-time St. Louis Cardinal baseball fan,  my mother had friends on The Hill, notably Eleanor Berra Marfisi, a Berra family member, and author of The Hill: Its History – Its Recipes. Naturally, Mother informed me Lawrence “Yogi” Berra, a brilliant baseball player and manager, was from The Hill. Most baseball fans have heard of Yogi Berra and his Yogiisms as had I (“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”). However, I wasn’t aware of his 10 World Series Championships and the three Most Valuable Player Awards he earned while playing baseball for the New York Yankees. I was probably more familiar with The Hill’s Peabody Award-winning, and recipient of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award for outstanding broadcasting achievement, Joe Garagiola. Garagiola broke into the MLB with the 1946 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals Baseball Team. Within a runtime of seventy minutes, Puleo covers all this and much more including how and why The Hill, named for its proximity to the highest point in St. Louis, is America’s last Little Italy today.

Viewing America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill brought back a lot of memories including the above mentioned. Others included learning about St. Ambrose from my dear friend Mike Cucchi (pronounced ˈko͝okē), a standout soccer player and local college soccer coach who made gossip fodder when he “finally moved off The Hill.” Niki Cusamano and  Alisa Santangelo remain and are a part of the new generation of Italian-Americans who want to be a part of The Hill’s St. Louis Italian traditions. I can tell you whenever I visit family in St. Louis, I visit The Hill and Cunetto’s House of Pasta. Last visit my oldest brother Jim introduced me to Frank Cunetto, who is featured in the film as one of The Hill’s restaurateurs, and to our server at Cunetto’s, Vicki, a Hill resident of Sicilian heritage.

America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill TV premiere is scheduled for Monday, November 30th, 7 PM, with a second showing on December 6th, 4 PM on Nine Network PBS. DVD’s are also available in limited quantities on the film’s Facebook page. I’ve seen a lot of films this year and America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill sits at the top!

Highly recommended!

Hollywood Foreign Press Interview: Amanda Seyfried

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Anticipation is making me wait! For the last several weeks’ Oscar buzz has been swarming all over Mank, the David Fincher biographical drama revolving around the witty and often acerbic, Herman Mankiewicz, the screenwriter for one of the greatest films ever made, Citizen Kane. The film stars Oscar-winning (Darkest Hour), Gary Oldman, as Mankiewicz, Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies, and Charles Dance as William Randolph Hearst. Mank is coming on December 4th, 2020, to Netflix.  Getting hot and bothered due to my above-average risk of COVID-19, and not being able to attend a theatrical screening, I share this awesome, albeit all-too-brief, interview as it appeared on GoldenGlobes.com. with the always delightful, Amanda Seyfried. Enjoy! And, until next time, I look forward to seeing you at the movies. 

Larry Gleeson, left, with Hollywood starlet, Angie Dickinson. (Photo credit: HollywoodGlee)

Interview by Scott Orlin

November 23, 2020

Amanda Seyfried on “Mank”: “I have never seen myself dressed up that way.”

Amanda Seyfried was all set to start classes at Fordham University when she got the call. The then 18-year-old had been cast in an upcoming feature, Mean Girls, which required her to postpone her college career to co-star in the Tina Fey penned comedy. Needless to say, the decision proved inspired as the Allentown, Pennsylvania native has never looked back.

Pivotal roles in such TV series as Veronica Mars and Big Love led her to her first lead role in the 1999 musical Momma Mia! co-starring Meryl Streep. The movie, which used Abba songs to convey the character’s emotions, was a worldwide smash and would eventually produce a sequel 10 years later. In between her portrayals of Sophie, Seyfried secured parts in Jennifer’s Body, Sucker Punch, Ted, Letters to Juliet, and most recently, the psychological horror film You Should Have Left. Now the mother of two steps before the camera under the tutelage of acclaimed filmmaker David Fincher in the period drama Mank, that details the creation of the classic film Citizen Kane.

You are stepping into the shoes of actress Marion Davies, though popular in her time many people today don’t really know her. What insights did you gain about her in your research?

Marion Davies, while being a movie star and having some people know who she was, is such a mystery. There actually wasn’t a lot of research. I found one book that was an autobiography published posthumously of interviews she had done about ten years before her death. The way she remembers things, we are not really sure how clear they are. She had done a lot of movies but not many knew her back story. If you happened to have seen Citizen Kane, you could see that Susan Alexander was inspired by Marion. It is tough to figure out who she is. I do feel the screenwriter, Jack Fincher really captured who she really was more accurately. We get to see how she communicated with other people, especially by the letters she had written, and so we were able to capture the best of her.

She was quite confident. She knew who she was and operated through life that way.

She wasn’t a worrier. She was an extrovert and loved to have fun. That is absolutely the opposite of me. I like to have fun (laugh). I live like an introvert. I can socialize well but I would rather hole up on my farm. That is great but we share an essence in that she was very kind and just wanted to make the most of it. She liked to celebrate all the time and entertain people. She was cool and knew who she was. I think that is why she was so confident.

The look of the film was quite cool. These women from the 1940s style films were dressed regally and not a flaw on their face. How did you like capturing that visual?

I have never seen myself dressed up that way. Even looking in the mirror on set, it was awe-inspiring. It was kind of surreal. I do watch my movies but I am able to take myself out of it to a point. This viewing experience really struck me by the fact that it made me look like I was really living in that era. It felt like it at times. Not a lot of actors get that opportunity. It was very special. I don’t think I will ever get over it. I wasn’t CGI’d into something. I was there. It is not a trick. It is all so specific to technical details. It is only something Fincher can do.

Speaking of Fincher, how did he work with you? He is notorious for doing many takes.

He knew my character in and out; through his bones. The way he approached me was with the most amount of knowledge about where she was coming from for a specific scene or what she was thinking. It really helped shape my performance. He gave me such details about one little breath that helped me change the reaction to something. He wasn’t that specific but we were on the same ride. He was really connected to Marion in a way that I needed because there were so many things happening. He set these parameters and just led me down the path. He was extraordinary.

Speaking of extraordinary. Congratulations on your new baby.

Thank you. My last baby (laugh).

You never know.

I know (laugh).

 

Sundance Institute Names 2021 Momentum Fellows

Posted by Larry Gleeson

New Collaboration with NBCUniversal to Support Underrepresented Filmmakers in Building Sustainable Careers

 

Los Angeles – Sundance Institute announced today the third class of the Momentum Fellowship, a full-year program of deep, customized creative and professional support for mid-career writers and directors from underrepresented communities who are poised to take the next step in their careers in fiction and documentary filmmaking.

The fellowship includes unrestricted grant funding, industry mentorship, professional coaching offered by Renee Freedman & Company supported by The Harnisch Foundation, writing workshops and industry meetings in Spring 2021, and bespoke year-round support from Sundance Institute staff. Additionally, the FilmTwo Fellowship has merged into the Momentum Fellowship, and NBCUniversal will provide an opportunity to select Momentum fellows working on fiction projects to participate in the Universal Directors Initiative. The two-year at-will initiative provides select participants access to NBCUniversal’s creative executives and producers to build career momentum and exposure to potential directing opportunities across Film, TV, and Streaming.

“We are thrilled to bring back the Momentum Fellowship for a third year, to support these visionary artists at such a critical moment both in their careers and in our culture at large,” said Karim Ahmad , Director, Outreach & Inclusion, Sundance Institute.

Karim Ahmad, Director, Outreach & Inclusion, Sundance Institute.

The Momentum Fellowship, which launched in 2018, evolved from the Women at Sundance Fellowship, a highly successful model that merited expansion for impact across a broader cohort of underrepresented communities.

Those eligible for this intersectional program include artists identifying as women, non-binary and/or transgender, Black, Indigenous, and/or people of color, and artists with disabilities. Past recipients include Andrew Ahn, Linda Yvette Chávez, Christina Choe, Deborah Esquenazi, Rodney Evans, Penny Lane, Avril Z. Speaks, and Malika Zouhali-Worrall.

The Sundance Institute Outreach and Inclusion program is made possible by support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Emerson Collective, Will & Jada Smith Family Foundation, The Harnisch Foundation, NBCUniversal, Ruderman Family Foundation, Critical Minded, Jason Delane Lee and Yvonne Huff Lee, Netflix, SAGindie, Asante Family Philanthropic Fund, Easterseals Disability Services, Rene Cruz—Esperanza Arts Foundation, Philip Fung—A3 Foundation, and Open Society Foundations.

Women at Sundance is made possible by leadership support from The David and Lura Lovell Foundation, The Harnisch Foundation, and Adobe. Additional support is provided by Kimberly Steward, Paul, and Katy Drake Bettner, Barbara Bridges, Abigail Disney, and Pierre Hauser—Like a River Fund, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Rhianon Jones, Suzanne Lerner, Cristina Ljungberg, Susan Bay Nimoy, Ann Lovell, Zions Bank, Visionary Women, Gruber Family Foundation, Pat Mitchell and Scott Seydel, Brenda Robinson, and an anonymous donor.

Also announced today: NBCUniversal is partnering with the Institute on the final FilmTwo Fellowship. The recipients of the Sundance Institute | Universal FilmTwo Fellowship are: Ash Mayfair, Marcel Rasquin, and filmmaking team Samantha Buck and Marie Schlingmann.

The 2021 Momentum Fellows are:

Cristina Costantini

Cristina Costantini is an Emmy award-winning director.  Her latest documentary Mucho Mucho Amor, about famed Puerto Rican astrologer Walter Mercado, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was released on Netflix in 2020. The film was nominated for a Critics Choice Award and won the Best Latinx Film award from the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP). Her first feature film, Science Fair, told the story of nine high schoolers from around the world who set out to win the International Science and Engineering Fair. The film won the Sundance Festival Favorite Award in 2018 as well as the SXSW Audience Award, a Critics Choice Award for Best First Time Director, and an Emmy award. Before becoming a documentary filmmaker, Cristina worked as an investigative journalist, covering immigration, detention centers, sex trafficking, and the opiate epidemic for ABC News, Univision, The Huffington Post, and Fusion. Her investigative work has been recognized with a GLAAD Media Award, National Association of Hispanic Journalists Awards, and an Alfred I. duPont–Columbia University Award. The Wisconsin native is a Yale grad who now lives in California with her husband, Alfie, and their pug dog Harriet. She is a partner at Muck Media, a Los Angeles-based production company.

Natalie Erika James

 

Natalie Erika James is a Japanese-Australian writer/director based in Melbourne, Australia. Her debut feature, Relic, is a psychological horror starring Emily Mortimer, Bella Heathcote and Robyn Nevin, produced by Carver Films, Jake Gyllenhaal’s Nine Stories and executive produced by the Russo Brothers’ Agbo Films. Relic premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and was programmed in SXSW, BFI London Film Festival and Sitges Film Festival, where it was awarded a Special Mention for Direction. The film was nominated for Best Original Feature Film at the 2019 Australian Writer’s Guild Awards and nominated for Best Direction in a Feature Film at the 2020 Australian Director’s Guild Awards. Natalie is currently developing Drum Wave, a Japanese folk horror with development support from Screen Australia and Film Victoria. Drum Wave was one of 14 projects selected for the project market at the International Film Festival & Awards Macao, taking home the Best Co-Production prize. Her 2018 proof-of-concept short for Drum Wave was nominated for Best Australian Short Film at the Sydney Film Festival and premiered internationally at Fantastic Fest. Natalie is signed to WME and directs commercials and music videos through Australian production company, Fiction.

Shalini Kantayya

 

Filmmaker Shalini Kantayya’s feature documentary, Coded Bias, premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for a Critics’ Choice Award for best science documentary. She directed the season finale episode for the National Geographic television series Breakthrough, a series profiling trailblazing scientists transforming the future, Executive Produced by Ron Howard, broadcast globally in June 2017. Her debut feature film Catching the Sun, about the race for a clean energy future, premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival and was named a New York Times Critics’ Pick. Catching the Sun released globally on Netflix on Earth Day 2016 with Executive Producer Leonardo DiCaprio, and was nominated for the Environmental Media Association Award for Best Documentary. Kantayya is a TED Fellow, a William J. Fulbright Scholar, and a finalist for the ABC Disney DGA Directing Program. She is an Associate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Kantayya finished in the top 10 out of 12,000 filmmakers on Fox’s On the Lot, a show by Steven Spielberg in search of Hollywood’s next great director.

Loira Limbal

 

Loira Limbal is an Afro-Dominican filmmaker and DJ interested in the creation of art that is nuanced and revelatory for communities of color. She is the Senior Vice President of Programs at Firelight Media. Firelight is committed to making films about pivotal movements and moments in the U.S. Firelight’s flagship program – the Documentary Lab – is a fellowship that provides mentorship, funding, and industry access to emerging filmmakers of color. Limbal’s current film, Through the Night is a feature documentary about a 24 hour daycare center. Through the Night was part of the 2019 Sundance Edit & Story Lab and was selected for world premiere at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival. Her first film, Estilo Hip Hop, was a co-production of ITVS and aired on PBS in 2009. Additionally, she co-produces and helms the popular Brooklyn monthly #APartyCalledRosiePerez. Limbal received a B.A. in History from Brown University and is a graduate of the Third World Newsreel’s Film and Video Production Training Program. She is a Sundance Institute Fellow and a former Ford Foundation JustFilms/Rockwood Fellow. She lives in the Bronx with her two children.

Ekwa Msangi

 

Ekwa’s award-winning and critically acclaimed feature film Farewell Amor premiered in competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, garnering 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film won the Sundance Amazon Producer’s Award, and NYWIFT Directing Award amongst other distinctions, and was bought for distribution by IFC Films for North America, MUBI and Netflix for Worldwide. Previous to that, Ekwa has written & directed several shorts, most recently award-winning comedy Soko Sonko (The Market King), and Farewell Meu Amor starring Tony Award nominee Sahr Ngauja, and Nana Mensah. For Farewell Amor Ekwa was awarded the Jerome Foundation Grant, Tribeca All Access Fellowship, Cine Qua Non Lab Fellowship, IFP/No Borders, and Sundance Feature Film Development Fellowship, and is a 2020 BAFTA Breakthrough honoree. Ekwa has also written & directed several drama series for mainstream broadcasters in Kenya and MNET South Africa, including The Agency, MNET’s first-ever original hour-long Kenyan drama series. Ekwa has taught Screenwriting at The New School and Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema, and is faculty at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. One of Ekwa’s key goals as an artist is to transform our society’s images and relationships with African cultures, and to empower African filmmakers in telling their stories.

Edson Oda

Edson Oda is a Japanese-Brazilian writer/director based in Los Angeles. He graduated from the University of São Paulo with a Bachelor’s in Advertising and completed his Master of Fine Arts in Film and Production at the University of Southern California. His first feature film Nine Days starring Winston Duke, Zazie Beetz, Benedict Wong, Bill Skarsgard and Tony Hale premiered at the Sundance Film Festival 2020 (U.S. Dramatic Competition), winning the Walt Salt Screenwriting Award. Oda also wrote, directed and supervised projects for Philips, Telefonica, Movistar, InBev, Whirlpool, Johnson & Johnson, Honda, Nokia. He’s a Sundance Screenwriters Lab alumni and Latin Grammy-nominated director for best music video.

Jacqueline Olive

 

Jacqueline Olive is an independent filmmaker and immersive media producer with more than fifteen years of experience in journalism and film. Her debut feature documentary, Always in Season, examines the lingering impact of more than a century of lynching African Americans. Always in Season premiered in competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and was awarded the Special Jury Prize for Moral Urgency. It has received numerous festival jury awards and other honors that include winner of the 2020 SIMA Documentary Jury Prize For Ethos and nominations for Best Writing from IDA Documentary Awards 2019 and the Spotlight Award from Cinema Eye Honors 2019. Always in Season broadcast on the Emmy Award-winning PBS series, Independent Lens, on February 24, 2020, and was the most viewed film of the season. Jackie also co-directed and co-produced the award-winning hour-long thesis film, Black to Our Roots, which broadcast on PBS WORLD in 2009. Jackie has received artist grants and industry funding from Sundance Institute, Ford Foundation, Firelight Media, Tribeca Film Institute, Independent Television Service (ITVS), Chicken & Egg Pictures, International Documentary Association, Kendeda Fund, Catapult Film Fund, Southern Documentary Fund, Alternate ROOTS, and more. She was recently awarded the Emerging Filmmakers of Color Award from International Documentary Association (IDA) and the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation and profiled one of Variety’s “10 Filmmakers To Watch.” A Southerner and Mississippi native, Jackie currently teaches film as Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz in the Social Documentation MFA Program and happily makes films full-time.

Angel Kristi Williams

 

Angel Kristi Williams is a filmmaker born and raised in West Baltimore, Maryland. She was 8 years old when her late father gave her a VHS camcorder which sparked her love for the medium. After studying visual art, photography and experimental film, Angel developed a voice that embraces silence and the power of the image to tell a story. Her feature directorial debut Really Love, produced by MACRO, was selected to play in narrative competition at SXSW and won the Special Jury Recognition for Acting for co-stars Kofi Siriboe and Yootha Wong-Loi-Sing. The film recently World Premiered as part of AFI Fest’s Special Presentations to much acclaim. Her previous film Charlotte won the short film jury awards at Atlanta and Sarasota Film Festivals. Angel is a 2014 Film Independent Project Involve Directing Fellow, where she was the recipient of the Sony Pictures Diversity Fellowship. She splits her time between Baltimore and Los Angeles and teaches in the MFA film program at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). She holds an MFA in Cinema Directing from Columbia College Chicago.

Sundance Institute
As a champion and curator of independent stories for the stage and screen, the nonprofit Sundance Institute provides and preserves the space for artists in film, theatre, film composing, and digital media to create and thrive. Founded in 1981 by Robert Redford, the Institute’s signature Labs, granting, and mentorship programs which are dedicated to developing new work and take place throughout the year in the U.S. and internationally, are supported largely through contributed revenue. Sundance Co//ab, a digital community platform, brings artists together to learn from each other and Sundance Advisors and connect in a creative space, developing and sharing works in progress. The Sundance Film Festival and other public programs connect audiences and artists to ignite new ideas, discover original voices, and build a community dedicated to independent storytelling. Sundance Institute has supported such projects as Clemency, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Zola, On The Record, Boys State, The Farewell, Honeyland, One Child Nation, The Souvenir, The Infiltrators, Sorry to Bother You, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Hereditary, Call Me By Your Name, Get Out, The Big Sick, Mudbound, Fruitvale Station, City So Real, Top of the Lake, Between the World & Me, Wild Goose Dreams and Fun Home. Join Sundance Institute on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

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Teaser Trailer for 2021 Sundance Film Festival Released

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Sundance Institute yesterday debuted the 2021 teaser trailer – with a look back at some iconic discoveries from decades of the Festival, including snippets from films that Sundance has premiered over the years and testimony from the likes of Ava DuVernay, Aubrey Plaza, and Eva Longoria about how every year, we come together as a community to explore the boldest new independent work.

While you’re here check out the brand-new, dedicated online home, festival.sundance.org, alongside a countdown clock, a brief note from new Festival Director Tabitha Jackson, and a link to the all-new 2021 Festival Merch Store, we hope that the trailer will lead you — and all lovers of film, creativity, and storytelling —  to get excited for the Festival!

HollywoodGlee inside the Sundance Film Festival Headquarters at the Park City Marriott on January 23, 2019, in Park City, Utah, the day before the opening of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. (Photo credit: Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)

Stay tuned for more on the upcoming 2021 Sundance Film Festival!

(Sourced from Sundance News)

Final Thoughts on ‘The Mostly Virtual’ AFI FEST 2020

Posted by Larry Gleeson

AFI FEST 2020 presented by Audi attracted the largest national audience in its 34-year history.

Michael Lumpkin, Director AFI Festivals

“With an audience of more than double from last year, we welcomed over 200 filmmakers and guests from around the world for Q&As and panels,” said Michael Lumpkin, Director AFI Festivals. “This year’s festival was truly a celebration of film across the country with festival-goers joining us online from all 50 states.”

I concur. Thank you to Michael and the entire AFI FEST team for making this year’s ‘mostly virtual’ festival top-notch!

Sofia Coppola shares a photo during her 2020 AFI FEST Tribute

Highlights of the 2020 festival included a Centerpiece Drive-in screening of ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI… (DIR Regina King) at the Rose Bowl; the World Premieres of I’M YOUR WOMAN (DIR Julia Hart), PINK SKIES AHEAD (DIR Kelly Oxford) and REALLY LOVE (DIR Angel Kristi Williams); screenings of highly anticipated films including COLLECTIVE (COLLECTIV) (DIR Alexander Nanau), THE FATHER (DIR Florian Zeller), I CARRY YOU WITH ME (Heidi Ewing), MY LITTLE SISTER (DIR Stéphanie Chuat, Véronique Reymond), NEW ORDER (NUEVO ORDEN) (DIR Michel Franco), NINE DAYS (DIR Edson Oda) and WOLFWALKERS (DIR Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart); a conversation with Dr. Stacy Smith on the portrayal of characters with mental health conditions in film and television; a discussion with the director and cast of SOUND OF METAL with the Deaf community; a conversation with Academy Award® nominee, producer, director and writer Ava DuVernay about elevating and supporting BIPOC filmmakers; the Indie Contenders and Doc Roundtables; and Tributes to Sofia Coppola, Kirby Dirk, Mira Nair and Rita Moreno.

Additional Highlights

A few of my favorite additional highlights included Elle, an AFI Conservatory Showcase selection. Elle is a coming-of-age story and character-driven drama that explores themes such as self-discovery, unrequited love, and the ambivalence and intimacy that exists within female friendships. In the Director’s Statement, AFI Conservatory Alumna, Nicole Vanden Broeck writes,

Nicole Vanden Broeck

“I have always believed in the power of cinema to comfort us, to tell us that we are not alone, that others have felt what we’ve felt, that we share our struggles and our heartbreaks, that there is someone out there that understands.”

 

Elle

Technically and artistically, Elle hits all the marks. Strong cinematography by Guido Raimondo. Warm and intimate production design from Evan Welch. Seamless editing (Chris Tenzis, Editor). Believable and highly naturalistic acting with Sarah Sawyer as Elle and Ron Dadon as Sam. And, an emotionally rewarding narrative written by Vanden Broeck and Asher Jelinsky and a beautiful mise-en-scene to match. Gabrielle Cordero produced Elle. Highly recommended with a runtime of twenty-one minutes and a team to keep an eye on!

At the Virtual Industry and Filmmaker Mixer, I had the pleasure of connecting with Matt Yoka, director of Whirlybird, his feature documentary on the pioneering and groundbreaking TV aerial news reporting team of Bob Tur and Marika Gerard. Yoka crafts his work from 2,000 hours of recorded flight tape, direct interviews, news archives, still photos, and more. The result is a dynamic visual history of the biggest Los Angeles news events in the last 30 years including the Los Angeles Riots of 1992 and the pursuant, criminal assault of truck driver, Reginald Denny, at Florence and Normandy after the Rodney King beating verdict and subsequent acquittal of the four white police officers charged. And, if that wasn’t enough the duo broke and captured the infamous O.J. Simpson ‘White Bronco’ car chase which became “the apex of live news coverage” with approximately 80 million viewers tuning in. A must-see!

Whirlybird

While I didn’t get an opportunity to connect with Sean Penn during the mixer, I did view Citizen Penn. I’ve long been a fan of Sean Penn as an actor beginning with his Mick O’Brien role in the 1983 Bad Boys and I was semi-aware of his Haiti relief efforts in 2010. As an Army Reservist, my battalion was on alert for deployment. In the documentary, Director Don Hardy, sometimes eloquently and sometimes pragmatically, reveals Sean Penn has diligently changed his image through Penn’s extensive efforts to aid assistance to his fellow ‘man’ in war-torn, disaster-laden, disaffected countries beginning in 2002 with the war in Iraq right up to the current COVID-19-infected United States.

Citizen Penn

Utilizing a plethora of photographs, direct interviews, and archival news footage, documenting the devastation and suffering along with footage from one camera operated by a Haitian police officer who accompanied Penn at all times following the country’s 2010 earthquake. Penn was adamant about his efforts not being used for overt publicity but allowed the official to have and operate a camera at his own discretion. Penn stayed on the ground for several months returning often guiding not only relief efforts but also debris and gravel removal. More recently, Penn began hosting an annual gala raising several million dollars from a limited guest list as his efforts are taking root. Highly recommended and quite compelling. A must-see!

Left to right, Meet The Press’s Chuck Todd, and The Reagans Director, Matt Tyrnauer.

THE REAGANS (DIR Matt Tyrnauer), presented by Meet the Press and Chuck Todd,  screened Parts 1 and 2 of this compelling and extremely timely re-examination of President and Mrs. Reagan. Chock full of evocative archival footage and illuminating contemporary interviews, THE REAGANS asserts Nancy’s central role in her husband’s career, shines a light on the darker aspects of the Reagans’ climb to power, and provides a revelatory perspective on how the political tactics used in the ‘60s and ‘70s are a progenitor of our current national politics. The screening was followed by an in-depth conversation between Chuck Todd and Tyrnauer as they discuss the subjects, several of the Reagan biographies, and Tyrnauer’s previous documentary, Where’s My Roy Cohn.

Belushi

Belushi, from Showtime Documentary Films, directed by award-winning, filmmaker R.J. Cutler, reveals the complicated, singular, and too-short life of a beloved American icon who helped change American culture and comedy, John Belushi, a once-in-a-generation talent who captured the hearts and funny-bones of audiences around the world. From his early years growing up in Wheaton, Illinois, Belushi showed an extraordinary talent for comedy and music. But, it was a visit to the Second City theater in Chicago where Belushi established himself and from that moment on he became an unstoppable and pioneering force in the comedy world. His audacious rendition of Joe Cocker singing the Beatles “With A Little Help From My Friends,” proved to be the star shot launching pad. Cutler utilizes still photos, archival footage, home videos, animation, and telling letters from John to his high school sweetheart girlfriend and later wife, Judy, that paint a picture of Belushi’s passion, love, and humanly struggles.

Belushi’s insatiable drive for success and fame kept the candle burning at both ends. When his acting attempts in 1941, Neighbors, and Continental Divide failed to provide him the accolades of The Blues Brothers and Animal House, Belushi sought consolation and creativity in dark habits as he continually pushed himself for greatness. As a performer, John Belushi grasped the importance of developing and recreating himself on stage and felt a high degree of compulsion to do this on the big screen. Belushi’s ambitious drive and need for approval reached its limits on March 5, 1982, at the hotel Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood. Belushi was found alone, not breathing, and unresponsive. The coroner’s report stated the cause of death was “acute cocaine and heroin intoxication.”

Cutler captures what John Belushi was as a performer and scratches the surface of who Belushi was as a person. Told linearly using previously unheard audiotapes, the film also examines Belushi’s life in the words of his collaborators, friends, and family, including Dan Aykroyd, Jim Belushi, Penny Marshall, Lorne Michaels, Carrie Fisher, Chevy Chase, Harold Ramis, Jane Curtin, Ivan Reitman and his wife, Judy Belushi. As much as I enjoyed experiencing his comedic genius again, there is more to John Belushi than what appears in this screening of Belushi.  Yet, Cutler does an excellent job of creating a framework of understanding some of the comedic legend’s motivation and unmet needs with a well-researched and documented biographical treatment. Belushi is scheduled to launch on November 22, 2020, on Showtime. Highly recommended.

Wander Darkly

Thriller/Drama Wander Darkly,  is as good a film as I’ve seen this year. Written and directed by Tara Miele, and starring Sienna Miller as Adrienne and Diego Luna as Matteo,  Wander Darkly is a surreal journey into conflict resolution between a young couple following a traumatic car accident. On its most basic level, Wander Darkly is a relationship film challenging boundaries while seeking the answer for continuity. In a very non-linear approach, the couple relives the past through the duality of their shared moments including fond memories from the initial courtship through the truths of the present as they attempt to rediscover the love that binds them together as they face an uncertain future. Miller in a tour de force performance crushes it as Adrienne pulling out all the emotional stops exploring grief, joy, and love. Wander Darkly is scheduled to be in select theaters, on digital, and on-demand on December 11th. Check it out! You’ll be glad you did!

Uncle Frank

Uncle Frank, an Amazon Original Film, starring Paul Bettany, Sophia Lillis, Peter Macdissi, Steve Zahn, and Stephen Root (Office Space), and directed by Alan Ball, tells the story of a young, rural South Carolinian woman, Beth, (Sophia Lillis) a precocious spirit with a connection to her rarely seen Uncle Frank.

When a death in the family occurs, Beth and Uncle Frank embark on a road trip back to South Carolina delving into deep interpersonal dialogue on sexuality and death before being unexpectedly joined by Wally. Along the rest of the way, Beth is exposed to bigotry, homophobia, and a warm, loving relationship. Once she and Uncle Frank are back in small-town, rural Creekville, South Carolina, the past reveals itself, and moments for self-reflection and overcoming imposed beliefs come to pass.

Uncle Frank, a character-driven drama, is quite entertaining and could easily pass for a period piece, much like Green Book, with its costuming by Megan Stark Evans,  production design by Darcy C Scanlan, its superb cinematography by Khalid Mohtaseb, and with the layered narrative (screenwriting, Alan Ball) dealing with family, remorse, death, loss, same-sex relationships, religion, as well as social norms and beliefs in the Deep South.

Seeing Bettany cast had a lot to do with my viewing selection of Uncle Frank. And, he doesn’t disappoint as he carries the heaviness, the emotional weight, of Uncle Frank. My hat’s off to Casting Director, Avy Kaufman (Brokeback Mountain). Bravo! Uncle Frank is scheduled for a U.S. release (internet) on November 25th, 2020, and is a beautiful, entertaining film. Very warmly recommended viewing!

MY PSYCHEDELIC LOVE STORY

The Closing Night Presentation was the World Premiere of MY PSYCHEDELIC LOVE STORY (DIR Errol Morris), followed by an interesting conversation between Indiewire’s Ann Thompson and Morris (available along with 69 other conversations here.)  In MY PSYCHEDELIC LOVE STORY, Morris delivers a tell-all story of Johanna Harcourt-Smith, a once young, Swiis born, Paris-raised, jet-setting, an aristocratic, Jewish woman who cavorted with the high priest of LSD, Timothy Leary. My Psychedelic Love Story is the story of Harcourt-Smith and O’Leary as they circumvent extradition and indulge themselves in daily acid trips for a two-month period before Leary is extradited back to the US, incarcerated, and eventually released. At the time there was much speculation Harcourt-Smith was a CIA plant – a Mata Hari of sorts. MY PSYCHEDELIC LOVE STORY will be airing on Showtime!

Wolfwalkers, an Apple Original Film from Cartoon Saloon, the Kilkenny, Ireland, the animation studio that previously produced The Secret of Kells (2009)  and Song of the Sea (2014) completes an Irish folklore animated trilogy spanning slightly more than ten years.

Wolfwalkers is set in 17th-century Ireland, a time of great change with successive transfers of land from catholic to protestant ownership and where administrative and political power passed into the hands of a new English minority (Irish Historical Studies, Vol. 15, No. 60, Sep 1967, pgs. 366-375).  Literary references to the Arthurian Camelot myth and to historical figure Oliver Cromwell are smoothly incorporated as well. Moore and Stewart encapsulate this situation in a magical friendship that develops between two young girls, Robyn and Mebh.

Wolfwalkers, steeped in historical significance, is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful films I have had the pleasure of viewing and experiencing and it’s a film the whole family can watch! Wolfwalkers is set to be released theatrically on October 30, 2020, by WildCard in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and on November 13, 2020, by GKIDS before debuting on Apple TV+ on December 11, 2020.

Stay tuned for the upcoming holiday film guide!

HollywoodGlee celebrating the start of the 2019 AFI FEST presented by Audi. (Photo credit: Larry Gleeson)

AFI FEST 2020 FILM REVIEW: Wolfwalkers (Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, 2020)

Posted  and reviewed by Larry Gleeson

Wolfwalkers, an Apple Original Film from Cartoon Saloon, the Kilkenny, Ireland, animation studio that previously produced The Secret of Kells (2009)  and Song of the Sea (2014) completes an Irish folklore animated trilogy spanning slightly more than ten years and is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful films I have had the pleasure of viewing and experiencing. Utilizing two-dimensional hand-drawn techniques with a plethora of pastel colorations, eye-catching geometrical patterns combined with Celtic music featuring harps, violins and a sundry of woodwind instruments, artists Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart take their previous efforts to another level visually, and, in my opinion, produce their strongest work to date. Wolfwalkers made its US Premiere during this year’s American Film Institute’s AFI FEST presented by Audi and was the recipient of the festival’s Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature.

Wolfwalkers is set in 17th-century Ireland, a time of great change with successive transfers of land from catholic to protestant ownership and where administrative and political power passed into the hands of a new English minority (Irish Historical Studies, Vol. 15, No. 60, Sep 1967, pgs. 366-375).  Literary references to the Arthurian Camelot myth and to historical figure Oliver Cromwell are smoothly incorporated as well. Moore and Stewart encapsulate this situation in a magical friendship that develops between two young girls, Robyn and Mebh. Robyn is a “townie” who along with her wolf-hunter father, Bill, is sent from England and tasked with ridding the woodland outside of the town of wolves.  Mebh, on the other hand, is a wild girl who is being raised by wolves. “After being told to stay within the city walls, Robyn sneaks out to explore the magical world of the forest where she meets Mebh, and undergoes a secret transformation, turning into the very thing her father is sent to destroy creating a final battle between the wolf pack and townsfolk.” – Sarah Harris, AFI Festivals Director of Programming,

Artistically, Moore and Stewart felt the use of hand-drawn frames is not limited by aspect ratios of a camera allowing for an expression beyond realism in constructing the worlds of Wolfwalkers. For example, the visual contrast between the town and forest is represented by the aggressive lines and darker colors of the town versus softer lines and earthier, impressionistic tones of the forest. In the Q & A conversation with AFI Festivals Director of Programming, Sarah Harris, Moore and Stewart explained their choice in representation as an attempt to portray Robyn’s life in town as controlled and Mebh’s life in the forest as free, energetic, and out of control. Both agreed the stylistic attempts in drawings and the incorporation of split screens and vertical panels were somewhat experimental and the inspiration came from the 2018 Best Animated Feature Film Oscar-winning work, Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse , the 2005 Frank Miller and Quinten Tarantino Sin City, and from the early Expressionist films whereby frames were hand-painted to create coloration.

Wolfwalkers, steeped in historical significance, is a film the whole family can watch and is set to be released theatrically on October 30, 2020, by WildCard in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and on November 13, 2020, by GKIDS before debuting on Apple TV+ on December 11, 2020. Highly recommended!

Nashville Film Festival 2020 FILM REVIEW The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart (Frank Marshall, USA)

Reviewed by Larry Gleeson as part of the Opening Night Presentation of the virtual 51st Nashville Film Festival “featuring the finest in films, music, and culture.”

 

 

During the Disco Era of the late 1970s, no one was bigger than the Bee Gees (the Brothers Gibb), a band composed of brothers Barry, Maurice, and Robin Gibb. They seemed to be everywhere – on the radio, in the theatre (with six of ten songs on the second-biggest selling soundtrack of all-time from the 1977 film, Saturday Night Fever, starring John Travolta), guest appearances on television talk shows, and…..their music was danced to several times a night in disco clubs across the globe.

THE BEE GEES: HOW CAN YOU MEND A BROKEN HEART, directed/produced by acclaimed filmmaker Frank Marshall, producer or executive producer for six Best Picture Oscar nominees: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), The Color Purple (1985), The Sixth Sense (1999), Seabiscuit (2003), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) and War Horse (2011) InThe Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart, Marshall spotlights the legendary band who wrote more than 1,000 songs, including twenty number one hits throughout their career.

The film opens with archival footage of the Bee Gees’ performance at the Oakland Coliseum in 1979 at arguably the pinnacle of their career success. From here Marshall explores who the Bee Gees are and what they embodied as performers. The film is very reflective in a non-linear manner. Drawing heavily from voice-over narration, archival footage, along with black and white stills, Marshall etches a portrait of the young Gibb brothers fascinated by the fame and popularity of the Beatles and captures the arrival of the Bee Gees’ first album, “Spicks and Specks,” recorded in Australia.

With a nice touch, Marshall adds Noel Gallagher, of the global supergroup, Oasis, and more recently, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, to provide some insightful commentary on early Bee Gee music as classical 60’s guitar pop sound and the remarkable resemblance to the Beatles. Yet, Gallagher adds a poetic comment citing the vocal gift of brothers singing in harmony – “an added instrumentation that no one else can buy” of the uniqueness of the brothers’ familial harmonized vocals. “You can’t buy it. It’s not like you can go down to the shop and buy it like a Stratocaster and run Buddy Holly through it.” In a direct testimonial, Nick Jonas of the Jonas Brothers also adds insight into performing and living with brothers and “the heightened emotionality that comes into play.”

In a series of interviews from 1999, the Brothers Gibb open up reflecting on their career as brotherly musicians that spanned four decades at the time of the interviews. Barry, the oldest brother, and fun-loving brother, Robin, had a very public sibling rivalry leading to Robin quitting the band on March 19th, 1969. Brother Maurice dubbed himself “the peacemaker, as he was often made into “the go-between.” Marshall utilizes a montage of newspaper headlines combined with voice-over narration from the brothers to help explain what was happening and how they were feeling about the situation.

Deftly, Marshall repeats an earlier technique in having Noel Gallagher comment on the fraternal dynamic as being a band’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness. The band suffered immensely during this time and seemed to be treading water until reinventing its sound in America with a 1975 album Main Course that topped the Canadian music charts and peaked in the US at number 14. The group’s popularity surged with its 1976, follow-up, Platinum-selling album, Children of the World, and with the 1977 Saturday Night Fever, the roof came off. The run culminated with the 1979 album Spirits Having Flown, a best-selling, chart-topper in the US, Canada, and the UK.

In addition to Gallagher and Jonas, other noteworthy performers interviewed on the music and band were musician/actor/producer Justin Timberlake, Coldplay frontman, Chris Martin, solo performer of Fleetwood Mac heydays, Lindsay Buckingham, Alice Cooper, and band manager Robert Stigwood.  Timberlake provided a commentary of the Bee Gee’s vocals as brass instrumentation. Martin spoke to the backlash that derailed the Bee Gee’s phenomenal global superstardom – the first band to achieve the status according to martin. Cooper and Buckingham delivered timely remarks on the music culture during the Bee Gee’s heyday as the “Kings of Disco.” Stigwood addressed the business side of managing the band and the small number of songs radio stations played in rotation – one of the vital components leading to the over-saturation and ultimate backlash of the Bee Gee’s culminating in Chicago disc jockey Chris Dahl blowing up disco tapes and records to a massive crowd at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois.

The backlash took a heavy toll on the band as they never regained their popularity. In a 2019 pensive and soul-searching clip of Barry Gibb walking a narrative, voice-over echoes the price of fame. Perception is reality as Barry often feels alone as his bandmates and brothers have all passed away including youngest brother, Andy Gibb. Andy idolized his brothers and Barry helped Andy get his solo career off the ground. Andy Gibb had an explosive solo career mimicking his brothers’ disco style and his number one Billboard hit, “Shadow Dancing,” could easily pass for a Bee Gees song. Andy Gibb died in 1988 at the age of 30.

The Bee Gees: How Do You Mend A Broken Heart is informative, entertaining, and heartwrenching. Frank Marshall reveals not only the heart and soul of the band and its music but also the power dynamic that shaped and molded the group’s enormous and impactful musical legacy. Highly recommended.

AFI Member Spotlight: Peyton Bradley, Philanthropist by Nature

Posted by Larry Gleeson

AFI Member Spotlight: Peyton Bradley Discussing AFI FEST and Championing Diversity in the Industry

I, for one, am very excited to be a part of this year’s virtual AFI FEST presented by Audi. Moreover, I am looking forward to hearing more from Peyton Bradley.

Peyton Bradley is a young philanthropist who generously provides major support for AFI. With a passion for the arts and helping underrepresented filmmakers gain greater opportunities within the film industry, Peyton also created the Peyton V. Bradley Scholarship at the AFI Conservatory.

This year, as we prepare for AFI FEST 2020, presented by Audi, we spoke with Peyton about her favorite moments at last year’s FEST, watching Patty Jenkins inspire Fellows on the Opening Day of the Conservatory and what motivated her to become a member of AFI.

AFI: What is an inspiring or defining film that you saw in your life that made you fall in love with the art form?

Peyton: That’s like choosing your favorite child – you do it, but you keep it a secret. Growing up, I didn’t own a TV in my household, which meant skimming the internet for free content on YouTube or other sites. I got my hands on several films at age 14 that shook my concept of reality. My favorite “children” were: TEETH, PULP FICTION, SEXY BEAST, DONNIE DARKO, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, FOXFIRE, LÉON: THE PROFESSIONAL, HEATHERS and GIRL, INTERRUPTED – to name a few. In a world full of rules, these characters became their own heroes, despite the limitations society placed upon them.

AFI: What made you first excited to get involved with AFI and decide to become a member? What is it about AFI’s mission that resonates with you?

Peyton: I’m a philanthropist by nature – my momma always told me, “If I have to give the shirt on my back to someone else, I best be doing it.” I love being involved in communities that preach their goals and put them into action. I still support the theaters and state parks where stages and campfires are the original spaces for storytelling. Growing up in a technological age, the film was the spark you could immortalize. I chose AFI because of its promise to take a predominately white male, patriarchal structure historically found in the film industry and step aside to give space to new voices. That space allows for female and diverse talent to tell their stories, to showcase their work, and to bring their unique perspectives and talent to the forefront.

AFI: You recently joined the AFI Conservatory’s Opening Day online conversation with WONDER WOMAN director and AFI alum Patty Jenkins. What was that experience like for you? Did you have a favorite moment of the talk?

Peyton: Patty Jenkins, oh, Patty Jenkins. What an incredible human! It was moving to watch how the Fellows identified with her humble beginnings and her drive to take on bold challenges. I appreciated that MONSTER was the primary topic in the Q&A and how she managed to find the humanity in a person’s story where other people wrote the narrative that best suited them. The AFI Fellows were inspired by Patty and that she, too, once was an emerging artist who had the curiosity to find the truth and intention within her characters, without judgment. They laughed, cried, and expressed their love for Patty, and she returned it all back and ignited hope during these hard times.

AFI: As you know, AFI FEST presented by Audi is coming up. Last year was the first AFI FEST you attended. Did any films or events make an impact on you?

Peyton: I would have to say the premiere of QUEEN & SLIM. It was mind-blowing, packed full of energy that rippled through the audience. Writer Lena Waithe and director Melina Matsoukas tackled racial profiling and what self-defense means when the color of your skin can cost you your life. It offered the viewer a chance to see this love story unfolding, knowing that these two souls wouldn’t live long because of the deep-seated racism by those in power who promote hate crimes. How does one claim self-defense when the law is not on your side? It evoked compassion and the stark reality that life is fleeting. That beautiful masterpiece was felt by all.

AFI: For this year’s AFI FEST, which of the special presentations are you excited about?

Peyton: PINK SKIES AHEAD. It is very fitting with what’s happening today. Students are reconsidering college or leaving. Young adults who are forced to bury their anxiety or mental health challenges due to shame are now forming productive conversations. We have music artists like Billie Eilish, LDR, SZA, and Dizzy Fae boldly and openly talking about their own battles with anxiety and reforming their identities. We see in films as well, that gaslighting and societal expectations on what is “normal” further contributing to anxiety and mental health issues. New thinkers are reminding us that what you feel isn’t your fault, nor is it bad. It is okay to grow at your own pace.

Another one I’m excited for is THE REAGANS, especially after watching THE POLITICIAN – props to AFI alum Brad Falchuk who wrote it – in which the opening scene talks about how becoming president no longer requires an educational standard but a celebrity status, and how television and social media are shaping campaigns. It is too surreal, and we all have to come together and fight for our democracy. So please vote!

AFI: Why do you think film festivals are still important, even as we’ve shifted online this year to keep everyone safe and healthy with the pandemic? 

Peyton: We are social creatures. We want to share and connect around moments that impact us. AFI is making its virtual film festival an exciting party, and it feels unifying knowing that other individuals are watching the same content as you and being able to share the same experience.

Join Peyton and the AFI community at this year’s virtual AFI FEST. Passes are now on sale. Tickets available Oct. 7. The festival runs online Oct. 15-22. Become a member and receive discounts to FEST films, events and exclusive festival merchandise.

(Source: AFI New Release)

AFIFEST 2020 Opening Film: I’m Your Woman

WORLD PREMIERE OF THE AMAZON ORIGINAL

THE AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE ANNOUNCES

I’M YOUR WOMAN

TO OPEN AFI FEST 2020 PRESENTED BY AUDI

The 34th Edition of Festival to Launch Online on Thursday, October 15

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — September 14, 2020, Los Angeles, CA — Today, the American Film Institute (AFI) announced that the 34th edition of AFI FEST presented by Audi will open with the World Premiere of the Amazon Original film  I’M YOUR WOMAN.  Directed by Julia Hart and written by Hart and Academy Award® nominee Jordan Horowitz, the 1970s set crime drama follows a woman who is forced to go on the run after her husband betrays his partners, sending her and her baby on a dangerous journey. The film stars Golden Globe® and Emmy® winner Rachel Brosnahan, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Arinzé Kene, James McMenamin, Marceline Hugot, Frankie Faison and Bill Heck. Horowitz and Brosnahan produced the film.

Michael Lumpkin, Director of AFI Festivals

“Now more than ever it is important for film festivals to create a platform for audiences to discover great films,” said Michael Lumpkin, Director of AFI Festivals, “and I’M YOUR WOMAN is cinematic storytelling at its best. With a captivating and complex narrative of a woman on the run, director and writer Julia Hart takes us on unexpected journey that speaks directly to the current state of our world and the real meaning of friendship, love and family.”

About The Film

Suburban housewife Jean (Rachel Brosnahan) lives a seemingly easy life, supported by husband Eddie’s (Bill Heck) career as a thief. But when Eddie betrays his partners, Jean and her baby are forced to go on the run, and Eddie’s old friend Cal (Arinzé Kene) is tasked with the job of keeping them safe. After Cal mysteriously disappears, Jean befriends Teri (Marsha Stephanie Blake), and the two women set out on a perilous journey into the heart of Eddie’s criminal underworld. A decidedly female take on crime dramas of the 1970s, I’M YOUR WOMAN is a tale of love, betrayal, motherhood, family and what it takes to claim your life as your own.

Rachel Brosnahan plays a 1970’s suburban housewife dealing with love, betrayal, motherhood, and family in the 2020 AFIFEST Opening Night Film, I’M YOUR WOMAN. (Photo courtesy of AFI News/Shari Mesulam, the Mesulam Group)

 

AFI FEST 2020 will take place online October 15-22, 2020.  The full festival lineup and schedule will be unveiled in October.

Audi returns for the 17th year as the exclusive Presenting Sponsor of AFI FEST, enabling the festival to host the very best of world cinema. Audi and their visionary support reflect a continuing commitment to create opportunities for equality in film and television. Audi also supports AFI through the Audi Fellowship for Women, a full-tuition scholarship created in 2017 to support promising female directors entering the AFI Conservatory. This Fellowship is part of the Audi commitment to drive progress and a landmark investment in the future of the storytelling community.

Audi is the exclusive presenting sponsor of AFI FEST 2020.  Additional top sponsors include AT&T and APPLE. 

Passes will be available at FEST.AFI.com on September 28. Individual tickets will be available for purchase for AFI members and for the general public on October 7.

About the American Film Institute (AFI)

Established in 1967, the American Film Institute is the nation’s non-profit organization dedicated to educating and inspiring artists and audiences through initiatives that champion the past, present and future of the moving image. AFI’s pioneering programs include filmmaker training at the AFI Conservatory; year-round exhibition at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center and at AFI Festivals across the nation; workshops aimed at increasing diversity in the storytelling community; honoring today’s masters through the AFI Life Achievement Award and AFI AWARDS; and scholarly efforts such as the AFI Catalog of Feature Films that uphold film history for future generations.  Read about all of these programs and more at AFI.com and follow us on social media at Facebook.com/AmericanFilmInstitute, youtube.com/AFI, twitter.com/American Film and Instagram.com/AmericanFilmInstitute.

About AFI FEST presented by Audi 
Now in its 34th year, AFI FEST presented by Audi is a world-class event, showcasing the best films from across the globe. With an innovative slate of programming, the eight-day festival historically presents screenings, panels and conversations, featuring both master filmmakers and new voices to enthusiastic audiences in Los Angeles. This year’s edition takes place online October 15-22, 2020, and is a diverse program of cinematic excellence that drives progress in filmmaking and film viewing. The festival includes Special Presentations consisting of appointment viewings of high-profile films with live virtual Q&As featuring the films’ cast and crew and a robust lineup of fiction and nonfiction features and shorts presented in established AFI FEST sections. Additional information

about AFI FEST is available at FEST.AFI.com. Connect with AFI FEST at Facebook.com/AFIFESTTwitter.com/AFIFESTInstagram/AmericanFilmInstitute and YouTube.com/AFI.

About Audi of America
Audi of America, Inc. and its U.S. dealers offer a full line of German-engineered luxury vehicles. AUDI AG is among the most successful luxury automotive brands, delivering about 1.845 million vehicles globally in 2019. In the U.S., Audi of America sold just over 224,000 vehicles in 2019 and launched the brand’s first fully electric vehicle, the Audi e-tron – one of four fully electric models coming to the U.S. market in the next two years. Globally, the brand aims to be CO2 neutral by 2050. Visit audiusa.com or media.audiusa.com for more information regarding Audi vehicles and business topics.

Press release provided by AFI News/Shari Mesulam, the Mesulam Group

AFI Movie Club : ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE – a modern romantic comedy starring Ali Wong and Randall Park

This was such an unexpected treat. I was quite familiar with Randall Park’s work – Ali Wong’s not so much. After watching ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE, a modern romantic comedy with an hysterical cameo by Keanu Reeves as his own alter ego, I became very familiar with Wong’s body of work – very sharp and poignant.

Here’s what American Film Institute has to say:

In addition to vast and varied roles on film and television – appearing in character and as herself – ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE co-writer, producer and star Ali Wong is also an acclaimed stand-up comedian, known for her two Netflix stand-up specials, BABY COBRA and HARD KNOCK WIFE.

ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE is currently streaming on Netflix and I wholeheartedly recommend it. Wong and Park play off each other so well…and then there’s Reeves’ performance to not miss.

But wait there’s more……

According to Ali Wong, the casting of Keanu Reeves was aspirational, though she didn’t think that the production would be able to secure a cameo by the A-list star. The production sent him the script – and were shocked when Reeves agreed to meet with Wong and director Nahnatchka Khan. At the meeting, he said that he was a fan of Wong’s stand-up special BABY COBRA.

DID YOU KNOW? Randall Park previously starred on FRESH OFF THE BOAT, a groundbreaking ABC sitcom developed from the autobiography of celebrity chef Eddie Huang. The series was created and developed for television by ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE director Nahnatchka Khan – and ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE co-writer, producer and star Ali Wong has served as a story editor and writer. 

DID YOU KNOW? ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE co-stars Ali Wong and Randall Park both provided voices for THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE in 2017. 

DID YOU KNOW? According to Ali Wong, the casting of Keanu Reeves was aspirational, though she didn’t think that the production would be able to secure a cameo by the A-list star. The production sent him the script – and were shocked when Reeves agreed to meet with Wong and director Nahnatchka Khan. At the meeting, he said that he was a fan of Wong’s stand-up special BABY COBRA. 

DID YOU KNOW? AFI Conservatory graduate and ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE cinematographer, Tim Suhrstedt, had previously worked with Keanu Reeves on the star’s 1989 breakout hit, BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE, three decades prior to reuniting on ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE. 

DID YOU KNOW? In ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE, Randall Park’s character performs in the hip-hop band, Hello Peril – which was inspired by Park’s own real-life musical experience rapping in a group called Ill Again.

Stay tuned for more!

COVID-19 Film Production Guidelines

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Official film production protocols and safety guidelines relating to COVID-19 are being released by countries, states, and organizations. Testing and access to testing remain an obstacle to productions globally. Currently, over two-hundred US productions remain mired in a postponed status.

I’m listing the United States COVID-19 Film Production Guidelines for the United States as well as information about financial assistance, unemployment options, guild and union resources.

I begin with Los Angeles County at the top because I live in close proximity and attend the American Film Market based in Santa Monica, Calif., regularly. We are in this together. Please let me know if you have any questions and I look forward to seeing you at the movies!

 

 

Larry Gleeson

(Sourced from American Film Market and IMDb)

 

Nashville Film Festival Announces Move to Virtual Format and Plans to Produce Innovative, Original Content in 2020

Posted by Larry Gleeson

New Model Will Expand Audience Reach and Increase Accessibility While Delivering a Safe & Enjoyable Festival Experience

NashFilm 2020

*Featured photo: St Louis, Missouri, NashFilm fans, Kate and Jan Rogers pose for a photo at the 50th Nashville Film Festival, October 5th, 2019. (Photo credit: Larry Gleeson)

The Nashville Film Festival today announced its plans to shift to a virtual model for this year’s event, which will take place from October 1-7, 2020. This year’s festival will be the most accessible version to audiences yet, and both filmmakers and film lovers will be given unique opportunities to connect and enjoy digital screenings, panels, filmmaker Q&As, musical performances, and other original content online.

The festival altered its format to ensure it could produce a safe and enjoyable experience for all attendees in light of evolving health & safety protocols related to the coronavirus. The virtual festival will feature more than 200 films and include Creators Conference panels, Q&As and other exclusive content that will bring the magic of the Nashville Film Festival to attendees from the comfort and safety of their homes. As part of the new format, “virtual social” opportunities will connect audience members directly with filmmakers and other film fans to discuss their favorite movies.

 

Jason Padgitt
Jason Padgitt, NashFilm Executive Director

“Like many other live events around the world, we’ve had to adapt to prioritize the safety, comfort and well-being of our community,” said Jason Padgitt, Nashville Film Festival executive director. “This year has given us an opportunity to think creatively about how we can make the festival more accessible and innovative than ever before, and we are excited to deliver a memorable experience that honors all the reasons we’ve become known as a premier event for content creators and film enthusiasts.”

The festival, which is now in its 51st year, will continue to deliver the world’s best independent films and provide a showcase for Tennessee’s most talented filmmakers. The full program and film lineup will be announced in August 2020.

Updated Virtual VIP Badge options are now available at nashfilm.org.

NashFilm Virtual 2020

(Source: Nashville Film Festival News Release)

Today’s AFI Movie Club Film: A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (1992)

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Screen Shot 2020-07-04 at 10.36.19 AM

A League of Their Own comes to bat with an all-star lineup that includes Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell and AFI Life Achievement Award Recipient Tom Hanks – who taught us all that “There’s no crying in baseball!” –one of AFI’s greatest movie quotes in cinematic history.

A beautiful film and heart-warming story about a difficult time in American history. Professional baseball has been canceled due to World War II. To help continue the traditions of America’s past time, a women’s professional league is formed to help fill the gaping hole by the overseas war effort. Highly entertaining! Check it out. But before you do listen to director Penny Marshall has to say about A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN in this exclusive AFI Archive video:

Interesting Facts

Discussion Questions

-Why do you think Dottie is reluctant to attend the opening of the Hall of Fame at the beginning of the film?

-What was the political climate like in the U.S. that led to the creation of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League? How did World War II influence the experience of American women?

-Why was it so difficult for society to accept women playing baseball?

-Describe the sisterly dynamic between Dottie and Kit. What were their major points of conflict?

-What makes A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN important in today’s society even after 25 years?

-Why was Doris willing to tear up the photo of her boyfriend and throw it out the bus window?

-Which player in the movie had your favorite nickname?

-What makes the line “There’s no crying in baseball!” so iconic that it is still quoted today?

– What did the league managers expect from their female players, in terms of traditional feminine qualities, appearance and behavior? Why was this expected of them as athletes?

-Why was it important for director Penny Marshall to include the scene of the African American woman throwing the baseball back to the players on the field?

-Did Dottie drop the ball on purpose at the end of the film? If she did, what would that signify about her relationship with her sister Kit?

-Why was the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League short-lived? Why does a women’s baseball league not exist today?

-How would you rate A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN?

About AFI Movie Club

I hope the AFI Movie Club brings some inspiration and entertainment during this uncertain time. AFI has created a global, virtual gathering of those who love the movies where each day’s film – announced by a special guest – is accompanied by fun facts, family-friendly discussion points and material from the AFI Archive to bring the viewing experience to life. As a non-profit, AFI Movie Club is a member-powered organization, dependent upon the support of its movie fans. To support AFI Movie Club please consider becoming a member or donating.

AFI Movie Club is a newly launched free program to raise the nation’s spirits by bringing artists and audiences together – even while we are apart. AFI shines a spotlight on an iconic movie each day, with special guests announcing the Movie of the Day. Audiences can “gather” at AFI.com/MovieClub to find out how to watch the featured movie of the day with the use of their preexisting streaming service credentials. The daily film selections will be supported by fun facts, family discussion points and exclusive material from the AFI Archive to enrich the viewing experience.

AFI MOVIE CLUB

(Source: AFI News Release)

 

Sundance Institute Selects 2020 Native Filmmakers Lab Fellows

Posted by Larry Gleeson                                                  June 30,2020

Los Angeles, CA — Five Indigenous filmmakers have been chosen to participate in the 2020 Sundance Institute Native Filmmakers Lab, reimagined and expressed digitally this year on Sundance Co//ab. The Lab is at the core of the Institute’s commitment to supporting Indigenous storytellers since its founding.

At the Native Filmmakers Lab (June 29–July 10), Fellows will workshop scripts of their short films under the expert creative mentorship of Indigenous Program alumni and other established filmmaking professionals serving as Advisors along with the Sundance Indigenous Program staff, led by Indigenous Program Director N. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache). The Lab encourages Fellows to hone their storytelling and craft skills in a hands-on and supportive environment. Following the Lab, Fellows will receive a year-long continuum of support.

 

Runningwater
N Bird Runningwater, Sundance Institute Indigenous Program Director

“We are pleased to announce that we will be hosting our annual Native Filmmakers Lab in an exciting digital format on our Co//ab platform that allows for virtual participation by our Lab Fellows from where they are socially distancing,” said Runningwater. “Given this extremely challenging time as we struggle with the impact of Covid-19 in our homelands, it is important to organize a safe space for Indigenous storytellers to come together to develop and share their work.”

“The Indigenous Program will continue the tradition of providing mentorship and support to our Native Lab Fellows as they carry on with their work,” said Runningwater. “As Indigenous peoples our connection to each other and our communities is strong. Drawing upon our ancestral strengths of adaptation and resilience we plan to make this year’s Lab a great success and provide the inspiration and support that our Lab Fellows need to bring their films to fruition and to audiences around the world.”

 

The filmmakers serving as Creative Advisors for this year’s Native Lab include: Kerry Warkia (Papua New Guinean) (Vai, Waru, The Legend of Baron To’a), Rashaad Ernesto Green (Gun Hill Road, Premature), Elegance Bratton (Walk for Me, Pier Kids), Cherien Dabis (Amreeka, May in the Summer), Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers (Blackfoot/Sámi) (Bihttoš, The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open) and Joan Tewkesbury (Thieves Like Us, Nashville). Peer Advisors for this year’s Native Lab include Razelle Benally (Oglala Lakota/Diné Nations) (I am Thy Weapon, Raven), and Erica Tremblay (Seneca-Cayuga/Wynadotte Nations) (Little Chief).

Artists and projects selected for the 2020 Native Filmmakers Lab:

Rob Fatal (Mestiza/o/x, Ute, Rarámuri, Pueblo) / Can Digital Genizaros Remember the Taste of Churros?: In near future Oakland, California a new invention allows people to upload their consciousness to the Internet as a way to achieve immortality and pay off debt. In the societal panic that follows, 2, Two Spirit best friends debate whether or not to follow thousands of people into the digital unknown in this philosophical, sci-fi dramedy.
Rob Fatal [they/them] is a Two Spirit Mestiza/o/x filmmaker, new media artist and storyteller exploring decolonial aesthetics. Working in multiple analog and digital mediums allows Fatal to reimagine their own multi-lineage indigenous storytelling tradition for our current time which Fatal refers to as the “indigenous post-apocalypse”. Fatal is often drawn to mediums like filmmaking and performance which bring together community and people to achieve a desired vision or work. Fatal finds community and culture to be their greatest artistic inspiration. To create with the collective minds of unique individuals is a practice that brings to them a great spiritual catharsis; a feeling of joy and power tied to the realization of what people working together can accomplish when in harmony: a home, a shared reality, justice, and healing. Fatal’s work has been screened internationally at the British Film Institute Flare Festival, Fringe! Queer Film & Art Festival in London, Vancouver Antimatter Media Arts Festival, Frameline SF LGBTQ Film Festival, Outsider Fest Austin, Institute of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, and the Broad Museum. Fatal’s films are distributed by Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Center.

Keanu Jones (Navajo) / Ownership: An oppressed silversmith enters the ruthless business world to unveil the bitter reality of the Native American jewelry markets in the surrounding border-towns.

Keanu Jones is Mexican Clan born for Big Water Clan and is from Grand Falls, Arizona. He is a member of the Navajo Nation. Surrounded by family and the way of living on the Navajo Nation, his artistic identity has been greatly informed by his upbringing. This will continue to be reflected in the narratives he wants to explore.

In 2015, he was recognized with 15 other young filmmakers at the Student White House Film Festival. Then in 2018, he was recognized for his short film at the Navajo Film Festival. Keanu graduated from Navajo Technical University with a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and New Media.

Amanda Strong (Métis/Michif) / Wheetago War: In a world turned to ice, the People have survived the Wheetago for two lifetimes. Wheetago War is the story of Dove, a young gender shifter, who regains medicinal knowledge to defeat the Wheetago.

Amanda Strong is a Michif (Métis, Cree, Chippewa, Assiniboine, European and Polish Ancestry) interdisciplinary artist with a focus on filmmaking, stop motion animations and media art. She is currently living and working on unceded Coast Salish territories of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), səl̓ílwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nations. Strong received a BAA in Interpretative Illustration and a Diploma in Applied Photography from the Sheridan Institute.  With a cross-discipline focus, common themes of her work are reclamation of Indigenous stories, lineage, language and culture.  Strong is the Owner/Director/Producer of Spotted Fawn Productions Inc. (SFP). Under her direction, SFP utilizes a multi-layered approach and unconventional methods that are centered in collaboration on all aspects of their work.

Strong’s work is fiercely process-driven and takes form in various mediums such as: stop-motion, 2D/3D animation, Virtual Reality, gallery/museum installations, published books and community-activated projects.

She was selected by renowned filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin to win the Clyde Gilmour Technicolour Award. In 2017 she won the Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Mid Career Artists award, the Vancouver Mayor’s Arts Award for Emerging Film and Media Artist in 2016 and, in 2013, Amanda was the recipient of K.M. Hunter Artist Award for Film and Video.  Her films have screened across the globe.

Fellowship for Indigenous Canadian film artist made possible with support from the Indigenous Screen Office.

Artists-in-Residence selected for the 2020 Native Filmmakers Lab:

Cole Forrest (Nipissing First Nation) is an Ojibwe artist based in Toronto, Ontario. Originally from Nipissing First Nation, he strives for compassion and acceptance within the arts. Cole trained and honed his craft at the “Big Medicine Studio” while working with the group Aanmitaagzi – and has written, directed, and acted in various student/independent short films, theatre pieces, and a musical. Cole’s films have been screened at various film festivals including ImagineNATIVE and Toronto Queer Film Festival, and he is a recipient of the Ken and Ann Watts Memorial Scholarship and of the James Bartleman Indigenous Youth Creative Writing Award. Cole is the 2019 recipient of the ImagineNATIVE + LIFT Film Mentorship, and a graduate of the Video Design and Production program at George Brown College – and is currently a Grants Assistant at the Toronto Arts Council. He is grateful to represent his community in all of his artistic pursuits.

Petyr Xyst (Laguna Pueblo) is an Emmy-nominated American human from Albuquerque, NM whose work focuses on themes of class, institutional failures and the people who cope with them, and the strangeness of coming of age in the 21st century. His work spans genres and formats, exploring comedy, drama, and experimental forms in short film, music video, and new media. He’s been featured at the National Film Festival for Talented Youth, NATAS NW, AAHSFF, on PBS, and others. In his quarantine time, he likes to read non-fiction and stare at the wall for an indefinite period. He’s also a Sundance Institute Full Circle alum and a third-year student at the University of New Mexico.

Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program
The Indigenous Program champions Indigenous independent storytelling artists through residency Labs, Fellowships, public programming, and a year-round continuum of creative, financial, and tactical support. The Program conducts outreach and education to identify a new generation of Indigenous voices, connecting them with opportunities to develop their storytelling projects, and bringing them and their work back to Indigenous lands. At its core, the Program seeks to inspire self-determination among Indigenous filmmakers and communities by centering Indigenous people in telling their own stories.

The Sundance Institute Indigenous Program is supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Oneida Indian Nation, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Nia Tero Foundation, SAGindie, Indigenous Screen Office, New Zealand Film Commission, Jenifer and Jeffrey Westphal, Indigenous Media Initiatives, Felix Culpa, Sarah Luther, Susan Shilliday, and an anonymous donor.

Sundance Institute
Founded in 1981 by Robert Redford, Sundance Institute is a nonprofit organization that provides and preserves the space for artists in film, theatre, and media to create and thrive. The Institute’s signature Labs, granting, and mentorship programs, dedicated to developing new work, take place throughout the year in the U.S. and internationally. Sundance Co//ab, a digital community platform, brings artists together to learn from each other and Sundance Advisors and connect in a creative space, developing and sharing works in progress. The Sundance Film Festival and other public programs connect audiences and artists to ignite new ideas, discover original voices, and build a community dedicated to independent storytelling. Sundance Institute has supported such projects as The Farewell, Late Night, The Souvenir, The Infiltrators, Sorry to Bother You, Eighth Grade, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Hereditary, RBG, Call Me By Your Name, Get Out, The Big Sick, Top of the Lake, Winter’s Bone, Dear White People, Little Miss Sunshine, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Fruitvale Station, State of the Union, Indecent, Spring Awakening, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder and Fun Home. Join Sundance Institute on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

(Source: Sundance Press Release)

 

AFI DOCS Film Review: Maria Finitzo’s Cliteracy-exploring DILEMMA OF DESIRE Shouts For More

Posted by Larry Gleeson                                                                                      June 29, 2020

Watching the opening scene of the cliteracy-exploring documentary, The  Dilemma of Desire, I was intrigued watching a woman, neuroscientist Stacey Dutton, Ph. D., in an office present-day, walking across the screen and opening a Gray’s Anatomy Textbook, while a voice-over narration informs the viewer. What happens next befuddled me. I could not believe my eyes. Here is a woman in 2020 with an anatomy book that has no picture or information on the female clitoris. Unbelievable right? Well, apparently, the edition being discussed was published in 1858. A sleight of hand so to say. The intent is crystal clear in today’s protest language, “Let’s get emotional people! This is pussy power were dealing with here!!!”

But, the best was yet to come as the film’s most intriguing characters were introduced. One, a Brooklyn-based artist, Sophia Wallace, has a routine of going to the gym listening to “work-out” music then taking lyrics and reframing them with the clitoris in mind. From there, prints are created celebrating the “clit,” and the hundred laws of cliteracy. To accentuate, a revealing text title poses the question with dramatic flair, “Can you draw a clit?” Pulsating music accompanies the next segment, Womanhood: The Clitoris Chapter, introducing “Critical Thinking – The Best Work of Sophia Wallace” – a very thought-provoking art exhibit celebrating the female “joy button.” More importantly, Wallace is a compelling force on the screen as she shares her experience, strength, and hope in navigating desire as she expresses her truth as Director Maria Finitzo captures mush of it in Verite’ style.

In today’s world, we often hear somewhat crude and vulgar terms such as “bumping uglies” or “doing the nasty.” Wallace’s phrases, in juxtaposition, are framed in glitteringly gold letters – a beautiful and highly respectful manner and miles away from “bumping uglies” or “doing the nasty.” After Wallace’s whirlwind world, Finitzo goes on to highlight Linda Diamond, PH. D., Professor of Psychology and Gender Studies, a monthly newsletter for women interested in “pleasure in a practical everyday sense,” an industrial engineer manufacturing elegant female vibrators as well as a stunning Chicagoan woman, Coriama, who proudly postulates she has the will to negotiate for what she needs sexually.

Interestingly, Finitzo, a Peabody Award-winning director, spouts themes from Audrey Lourde’s feminist-leaning essay, Uses of the Erotic, that women have been suppressed from power and information by the male world. To prove her point, Finitzo adds a black and white still photograph of a woman suffering from what Dr. Sigmund Freud referred to as hysteria. Today, “hysterical” women in Decatur, Georgia, have formed a female support group. Here women create a sacred, safe space to explore the bounds of their sexuality. Adeptly, Finitzo managed to score footage from a meeting of the “mine’s.” as the women from Decatur openly share intimate feelings about their clitorises.

Nevertheless, “the little man in the boat” remains the misunderstood, “shuntive” part of the female anatomy, keeping women suppressed, as they are systematically warned against the dangers of eroticism and the resulting information. In one especially memorable scene, Finitzo mixes a driving, non-diegetic musical score culminating in a crescendo with a voice-over narration describing the clitoris as a powerful provocative force, a replenishing force. Some top-notch burlesque sequences, both archival performances as well as current-day performers, add an exquisite, erotic vibe.

The Dilemma of Desire, executively produced by Academy Award-winning Barbara Kopple, is an exceptionally well-executed film advocating that women are sexual beings with the right to live fully in the expression of their desires. The craftsmanship in gathering footage, in editing, informative narrative voice-overs, and musical score support and add timely emotionality in underscoring Finitzo’s sharply-pointed direction. My hat comes off to the cast and crew.

Probably most surprising was Finitzo’s ability to add tongue-in-cheek scenic elements underscoring the buffoonery surrounding the massive dismissal of the “devil’s doorbell” – in my opinion, a very serious oversight. But in the end, though the coverage seemed somewhat excessive, I found it wholly conceivable to view the clitoris as a replenishing, provocative force after viewing The Dilemma of Desire. A bit long, however, with a runtime of 109 minutes. Highly recommended.

 

 

 

AFI DOCS FILM REVIEW: Ron Howard’s Gripping “Rebuilding Paradise” Uplifts and Inspires

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Academy Award-winning filmmaker Ron Howard’s Rebuilding Paradise, a blistering Verite-style, National Geographic documentary, captures the devastation of the 2018 Camp Fire and the resiliency of Paradise, Calif., residents in the fire’s aftermath. Howard, one of Hollywood’s most popular directors, also directed the 1991 fire drama Backdraft. Other Howard films include the Oscar-winning dramas A Beautiful Mind and Apollo 13, the hit comedies Parenthood and Splash, and the critically-acclaimed documentaries Pavarotti and The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years. Following the Rebuilding Paradise screening, Howard and Paradise residents, Michelle John and Woody Culleton, participated in a Q & A moderated by broadcast journalist Katy Tur, an NBC correspondent and anchor for MSNBC Live. Howard confided Rebuilding Paradise was his first venture into Verite-style filmmaking while the residents echoed the unimaginable magnitude of the fire’s devastation and that the images don’t reflect the fire’s “uncomprehendable” nature.

Rebuilding Paradise opens in dramatic fashion with narrative voice-over providing a weather update informing the viewer of a windy day and PG&E contemplating a pre-emptive decision to shut down the area’s power grid. Large, fast-moving fire breaks out in the Feather River Canyon with four dozers, two water tenders, and four strike teams are deployed. Emergency calls are heard. School and hospital evacuations are taking place. Audible prayers are heard. And then, dashcam footage of a vehicle racing through the haze and fiery embers with diegetic radio communications juxtaposed against footage of a raging, massive wildfire (imagine Lord of the Rings Mountain of Fire) fueled by dry timber and blustering forty mile-per-hour winds reveal the genesis of a perfect firestorm. Non-diegetic music from the master composer, Hans Zimmer accompanies haunting, apocalyptic slow-motion frames of horses seeking freedom or at least a free-range amidst a claustrophobic smoke and death-seeking fire patches. The scene closes tinged in hope as a family escapes the area in their vehicle with exclamatory verbiage.

For me, this opening scene captured the essence of Rebuilding Paradise. As devastating as the fire and the footage were, the family breaks out and into blue skies with a redemptive foreshadowing. Howard latches on to a group of Paradise residents who have a deeply rooted sense of place and home as they take the journey to rebuild Paradise one day at a time. There were plenty of setbacks and details of electrical equipment dating to 1921 still in use were trying and quite frustrating as the lawyers for PG&E managed to beat down a wrongful death case to manslaughter with a 3.5 million dollar fine for the lives of 85 Paradise residents who perished in the massive fire. Adeptly, Howard captures the real Erin Brockovich speaking to a group of Paradise residents. Brockovich was the subject of a 2000 bio-drama directed by Steven Soderbergh, starring Julia Roberts that dramatized Brockovich’s relentless and successful pursuit of justice for families who were victims of PG&E polluting their water supply.

Interestingly, Howard chose to tell the story in linear segments beginning with one month, then to three months, six months, culminating with nine months. On top of the eighty-five deaths, fifty thousand lives were displaced. One of the film’s most compelling characters turned out to be the school psychologist, Carly Ingersoll, a young thirty-something, married woman who had decided to start a family with her husband. But due to contaminants being absorbed into the groundwater, she and her husband were advised by their physician not to have a baby. In her professional capacity, she was fully engaged in trauma counseling with students and despite having nearly perished in the fire herself managed to see beyond the devastation and find a sense of hope for the future.

Rebuilding Paradise is a gripping, well-executed film with top-notch photography, driving musical score and inspirational, narrative story-telling and it covers the trials and tribulations of a community facing an assured annihilation who turn their devastation into a mythic Phoenix as their town rises from its ashes in warm and hopeful tones. Very highly recommended.

 

AFI DOCS FILM REVIEW: Jimmy Carter, Rock & Roll President Brings Down The Curtain for 2020 With Hope And Love

Posted by Larry Gleeson

The Virtual World Premiere of the 2020 Virtual AFI DOCS Closing Night Film, Jimmy Carter, Rock & Roll President, directed by Mary Wharton, provided an artistic view into the influence of music on Jimmy Carter’s upbringing and its influence on the Carter Presidency. The work also provides an intimate look inside the former United States President who made peace, human rights, and healing the nation a priority after the Vietnam War and the Watergate debacle. Director Wharton also won the 2004 Grammy Award for Best Music Film for her documentary feature Sam Cooke: Legend. Other feature film credits include Joan Baez: How Sweet The Sound, the platinum-selling concert film Phish: It and Farrah Fawcett Forever.

Jimmy Carter, Rock & Roll President featured testimonial interviews, poetry readings, and archival performances from musical legends Bob Dylan, Nile Rodgers, Roseanne Cash, Chuck Leavell, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Dizzie Gillespie, Sarah Vaughn, Ray Charles, Mihaela Jackson, Tom T. Hall, Jimmy Buffet, Bono, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Trisha Yearwood, Garth Brooks, Charlie Daniels, and Gregg Allman and the Allman Brothers Band. Moreover, Ambassadors to the United Nations, Madeline Albright and Andrew Young, as well as Special Assistants to the President, Jim Free and Tom Beard, shared their respect and admiration for President Carter with direct interviews. Chip Carter, son and Presidential driver, added verisimilitude to the film’s revelatory narrative.

Following the screening, Wharton and Producer Chris Farrell participated in a Q & A moderated by Ken Jacobson and with President Carter calling in from his home in Plains, Georgia. Unfortunately, due to low bandwidth, the call was mostly inaudible. Nevertheless, the Q & A proved enlightening. While Farrell was researching and gathering artifacts for an Allman Brothers documentary, he was referred to a “bunch of guys” who began sharing stories of Gregg Allman and Jimmy Carter. Then Bob Dylan. Then Willie Nelson. And so it went. Ad Infinitum. Interestingly, Allman was the first guest of President Carter to dine in the White House. The two had become friends during Carter’s years as the Governor of the State of Georgia. In an archival interview, a clean and sober Allman tells the story of Jimmy coming out and claiming the Presidency was his for the winning. Mr. Allman claims the pronouncement came as the two heavyweights put a large dent in a bottle of J & B Scotch Whiskey. Carter contested Allman’s claim as Jimmy limits himself to one drink a day at most!

But, Jimmy Carter did become President. The road wasn’t easy. He struggled immensely until musicians like the Allman Brothers and Jimmy Buffet put on concerts in Rhode Island and Oregon respectively, galvanizing the youth vote. Even gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson was impressed with Jimmy Carter. Thompson was covering Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy’s national campaign for the Democratic Party nomination when he witnessed the verve of Carter. Carter would go on to win the nomination and the election. Kennedy would go on to have one of the longest and most influential careers in the history of the United States Senate championing a wide-range of legislative issues including the civil rights of the disabled, immigration, education, and health care reform and would bear the moniker, Lion of the Senate, for his Senatorial prowess,

Once Jimmy Carter became President, White House Lawn gatherings became regular events organized by the First Lady Rosalynn Carter. And Wharton provides spot-on footage, voice-overs, and montages of stills photographs to perfection. Yet, all was not perfect in the Camelot of the South. The longtime U.S. friend and ally, the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, had been facing opposition demonstrations and civil resistance when he fled the country leaving the opposition party’s Prime Minister in charge. The Shah had cancer and sought exile and treatment in the United States. This would become the defining moment of the Carter Administration. Carter, the humanitarian, allowed the Shah into the U.S. for treatment. The Iranian government fell and was taken over by the religious Grand Ayatollah Khomeini. The country quickly became an Islamic republic with a theocratic-republican constitution while student radicals took 52 American hostages at the US Embassy in Tehran. Former President Richard Nixon and Republican foreign policy hawks wanted swift military action against Iran. President Carter chose peace and dialogue in negotiating a release.

The U.S. economy had inflation, exorbitant interest rates, and gasoline shortages that resulted in huge lines at the pumps when gas was available. The country was in a spiritual malaise. Carter would lose his re-election bid in a landslide to Ronald Reagan, the movie actor, and Governor of California. Carter states on camera if he had it all to do over again, he’d do it the same way. The day Reagan was sworn in all the hostages were released after being held captive for 444 days. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter said their goodbyes, boarded Air Force One (where they received word of the hostages leaving Iranian airspace) and returned to small-town life in Plains, Georgia. The Carter Administration had significant foreign policy and domestic achievements with the Camp David Accords, the Panama Canal Treaties, humanitarian work around the world and new energy policies at home, environmental protection, and major educational programs under the new Department of Education.

Jimmy Carter, the Naval Officer, author, poet, a nuclear physicist, and a peanut farmer from small-town Plains, Georgia, would go on to lead a life of service negotiating peace deals (winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002), advocating for voter rights, and building homes for the less fortunate. He continues to this day with the love of his life, Rosalynn. Jimmy Carter, Rock & Roll President is one of the most fascinating biographical documentaries, I have ever seen. While many might feel compelled to say, “I like Jimmy Carter, the man, but not Jimmy Carter, the President.” I say, “Well…you need to watch Jimmy Carter, Rock & Roll President.” Highly recommended!

AFI DOCS 2020 FILM REVIEW: A THOUSAND CUTS A Prophetic Story of “The Last Days of Democracy”

Posted by Larry Gleeson

The virtual 2020 AFI DOCS, supported by presenting sponsor, AT & T, started off with a technical difficulty, unrecoverable on my end, for the Opening Night Film, Boys State. As a result, my opening film became Ramona Diaz’s A Thousand Cuts, a well-orchestrated feature documentary on the suppression of free speech, corruption, human rights violations, the impunity of the Presidency, and the proliferation of disinformation spread through government propaganda and social media sites after the 2016 Philippine election of a populist candidate, Rodrigo Duterte. A Thousand Cuts is being presented at the 2020 AFI DOCS by The Washington Post and Washington Post Press Freedom Partnership.

Diaz utilizes historical interview and news archives after the 2016 election of “strongman” Rodrigo Duterte and the culminating intersection of Maria Ressa’s Rappler, a news site run by Phillipino women speaking truth to power. Ressa, the Time Magazine 2018 Person of the Year, received a six-year sentence for cyber-libel four days ago for her stand on democracy and her vision for a Philippine society based in love and hope rather than in anger and fear. Amal Clooney, the wife of American Hollywood actor, George Clooney, both of whom appear in the film during some heady moments, provides representation to Ressa.

In addition, Diaz provides testimonials from a multitude of journalists and a celebrity political candidate, who becomes Duterte’s social media pawn, on the political situation in the streets and inside the Duterte government. Both direct cinema and cinema verite are woven into the film’s narrative adding substance and depth to the testimonials. In one capture, Ressa describes the global alternative news movement in the Philippines. Ressa uses graphs and a verbal explanation in revealing 25 bot-like sites, all following each other, to influence an immediate audience of three million while disseminating various untruths of misinformation. Ressa also explains to co-journalists how this messaging is then repeated millions of times with the end goal of creating doubt as to what facts are.

In archival footage following his election, Duterte begins calling traditional news outlets “fake news” and begins utilizing alt news sites to sow misinformation, creating a mob mentality as misogynistic comments to rape to death or to behead Ressa for her critical news reporting approach appear on social media. Vile and shocking screenshots of social media comments further substantiate Ressa’s journalistic claims and warrant further investigation. Martin Niemölle’s infamous “First they came:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

is reduced with dramatic and telling effect by another journalist with, “First they came for the journalist, then no one knows what happened next.”

Unmistakably, a correlation with the Trump government surfaces even though only one image of the President of the United States is shown. The typical sexist (misogynistic) “locker room” talk is shown at a rally where Duterte connects the smell of fish to the scent of a woman, manipulates a podium microphone to illustrate a weak phallus, and promulgates a war on drugs vocally saying he will kill drug dealers.

Unsurprisingly, three hours after Duterte’s election, the first dead body is found in the street. Pushing aside due process and the rule of law, the Duterte government has killed thousands upon thousands of individuals leaving the bodies in the streets devastating family members and disrupting the family dynamic, disrupted constitutional checks and balances with an unchecked abuse of executive authority, and suppressed freedom of the press with slut-shaming tactics such as labeling female journalists “presstitutes” – in my opinion, the least derogatory term Duterte uses throughout A Thousand Cuts to describe the media and the female journalists depicted.

The title of the film, A Thousand Cuts, refers to a small cut that doesn’t have much effect on the workings of democracy, yet when repeated over and over each small effect begins to damage the fabric of democracy until it becomes something else. An exceptionally well-made political documentary with a timely urgency and the soul democracy at its core. A “must-see” selection with a recorded Q & A following with Diaz and Ken Jacobson, an AFI Senior Documentary Film & Special Content Programmer.

PBS Distribution and Frontline will release A Thousand Cuts this August.

AFI DOCS continues through June 21st “exploring political and social issues in the US and across the globe, introducing us to the next generation of leaders and shedding new light on figures of the past.” For more information visit AFI DOCS.

Until next time, I look forward to seeing you at the movies!

AFI DOCS 2020

 

 

Mountainfilm FILM REVIEW “Mossville: When Great Trees Fall” Listen to What They Say

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Mossville: When Great Trees Fall, directed by Alexander Glustrom, follows a man living alone at 3009 5th Avenue in what once was a community initially founded by free slaves intent on living in peace and love along the Louisiana Gulf of Mexico Coast. The last remaining resident of a once-proud African-American community, Stacey Ryan, has refused the state-run, South African global petrochemical conglomerate Sasol’s latest offer of $30,000 to vacate what is left of his pride and his family’s history.

The film opens with text titles from a Maya Angelou poem, “When Great Trees Fall,” transitioning to a narrative voice-over with footage of gravediggers digging a hole and fitting a coffin for an eternal resting place. The audience is informed of the seven initial families that started the historic Mossville community, at once a safe haven from the Civil War and a respite from the Jim Crow Laws of the Deep South.

Former Mossville resident, Erica Jackson Hartman is revealed holding a family photo telling of her family’s plight on Fisher Street, a once joyful and harmonious street in a neighborhood “where everyone knew everyone.” The community had been self-sustaining. Jackson-Hartman continued addressing the camera and reminisced of abundant fruit trees – until the chemical plants began coming in one after another peaking at an unfathomable fourteen facilities.

Mossville: When Great Trees Fall also reveals that one of the largest U.S. spills of ethylene dichloride (EDC) ever occurred when a leaking transfer pipeline leaked EDC into a nearby estuary. Despite the corporate leadership assuring the residents there was nothing to fear, the residents began dying from various cancers. Twenty-eight independent tests revealed the area had high levels of dioxin, a group of highly toxic chemical compounds harmful to immune systems, hormones, reproduction, human development, leading to cancer. Eventually, a lawsuit was settled for forty-seven million dollars.

A 2012 archival news piece shows the then Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal beaming announced a massive $16-20 billion dollar project from Sasol, a global energy conglomerate based in South Africa. A brief capture of a snide Sasol executive discussing the Louisiana Westlake project, “a gas to liquids cracker complex,” reveals the corporate intent of developing the site as another South African Secunda. Secunda is the biggest emitter of greenhouse (carbon dioxide) gases in the world. The emissions from Secunda exceed the amounts from a hundred individual countries.

secunda
Sasol’s Secunda mega-plant (Photo by Alexander Glustrom)

The heart of Mossville: When Great Trees Fall captures Mr. Ryan’s bravery and indomitable spirit in direct cinema, with direct interviews and with brief footage of his hospitalizations due to health complications from the nearby plants. The city has shut off his power and sewer. A face mask-wearing Ryan is shown constructing a 6-8 foot straight- board fence as tandem and tri-axle dump trucks roll past kicking up contaminated dust in their wake.

In other footage, Ryan reveals inside his trailer that after EDC got into the drinking water, he lost both of his parents to cancer, as well as his forty-four-year-old aunt and a fifty-seven year-year-old uncle. Another uncle died young from liver failure. Sasol, one of the economic engines behind the racist, South African apartheid offered Ryan an initial voluntary buyout of $2000. Ryan is seeking enough money to raise his son in nearby Texas’s town of Helotes, known as the “best place to raise kids.”

As the film closes, Ryan is shown getting medical treatment. Text titles reveal the buyout monies Ryan eventually received has gone primarily to paying medical bills as he has been hospitalized a dozen times. And, he is still hoping to move to Helotes, Texas.

Mossville: When Great Trees Fall resonates deeply with Maya Angelou’s poem as the viewer becomes the witness to an egregious wrong perpetrated visibly upon a human being, a Brother of mankind, and invisibly upon the environment, the Mother of us all. Highly recommended documentary.

 

 

Mountainfilm FILM REVIEW: “A Home Called Nebraska” Where Muslims and Refugees are Welcome

Posted by Larry Gleeson

A Home Called Nebraska, a Limited Screening selection at the 2020 Mountainfilm Film Festival, directed by Beth and Geroge Gage, delves into the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program and its manifestation in the state of Nebraska. Nebraska, a conservative state, provided many new homes for innocent victims of terrorism, civil war, rape, attempted murder, and persecution through the Resettlement Program. Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s policies have fueled a growing hatred of Muslims and refugees. 2019 saw the lowest number of refugees entering the US since the inception of the Resettlement Program in 1980.

The film opens in poetic fashion with concepts of love, peace, calm, and beauty juxtaposed with imagery of blood and sweat. A plethora of text titles and a myriad of testimonials and interviews inform and enlighten the audience throughout the film. Omaha’s Lutheran Family Services emerges front and center with its outgoing members explaining why it’s so important to be part of the Resettlement Program. In addition, archival interviews and current interviews document survivor stories from the Yezidis where thousands of men, women, and children were killed and raped by Isis rebels while the world watched.

Many translators and interpreters who served alongside US military men and women have been resettled into Nebraskan communities. Many others have been killed by their Iraqi and Afghan brothers for helping the United States. Other refugees from Somalia and South Sudan have escaped certain death as warring sects and civil war ravages the countrysides decimating anyone in their paths.  Surprisingly, Omaha, “in the middle of nowhere and in the middle of everywhere,” has been welcoming refugees for quite some time.

The refugees in Nebraska are vital components to the economy and socio-political apparatus. And. like any good Nebraskan, they love attending the University of Nebraska Cornhusker football games. They are business owners providing essential services. They came to the United States for safety and a chance for a new life. They came to the United States because it was said the United States was a free country. A recurring issue for refugees is the status of their mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters.

On January 27, 2017, by an immigration executive order, the President of the United States signed “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” that suspended refugees admission to the United States and visas from seven named countries. In addition, the ceiling for refugees was lowered to 50,000 from 110,00 in the fiscal year 2017 (Obama).

According to the Gages and their subject matter expert, most resettlement refugees undergo a 3-5 year vetting process by the Federal Bureau of Investigations or the Central Intelligence Agency before being granted asylum, usually after living in a refugee displacement camp for up to ten years or more. In addition, no refugee has been involved in a terrorist killing since the inception of the Refugee Act in 1980.

Notwithstanding, A Home Called Nebraska is very informative highlighting a community welcoming newcomers, building bridges, creating hopeful futures, and dispelling fear while combating the hatred of racist nationalism. The Gages capture some exquisite interior footage as a traditional Thanksgiving meal is shared in a vibrant community where human beings are treated as human beings regardless of their skin color and hair texture. Highly recommended.

 

 

 

 

Kim A. Snyder’s US KIDS Moves Mountains at Mountainfilm 2020

Posted by Larry Gleeson

One of the most exceptional films I viewed during Mountainfilm was Us Kids, directed by Kim A Snyder, a filmmaker known for taking on emotionally-wrought films. Snyder also directed the Peabody award-winning, and most-watched documentary film of the last decade, Newtown, that provided a look into the lives of those most affected by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Us Kids documents some of the most prominent students, including Emma Gonzales, David Hogg, and Cameron Kasky in the months following the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School in Parkland, Fla. In case anyone has forgotten, on February 14, 2018, a nineteen-year-old former MSD student opened fire inside the school with a semi-automatic rifle killing seventeen students and wounding seventeen others without any apparent motive.

In opening Us Kids, Snyder utilizes some pivotal archival news footage of classmates Emma Gonzales and David Hogg. Gonzales, a senior survivor of the Parkland Marjory Stoneman Douglas School shooting, stands on the footsteps of the Broward County Courthouse delivering her 11-minute “We Call B.S.” speech at a gun control rally in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., while Hogg responds to a backlash from the right wing-media and nationally syndicated, conservative television host, Laura Ingraham’s mocking tweets. His response precipitated 27 sponsors dropping their ads from Ingraham’s show. Snyder also records Marjory Stoneman Douglas schoolmate Sam Fuentes sharing her difficulties in trusting others “when a kid I barely knew tried to kill me.”

Us Kids is a direct cinema-style, full-length feature documentary film that followed the classmates from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as they launched a student-led political action committee, Never again MSD, advocating for tighter regulations to prevent gun violence and to not only help get out the vote in 2018 but to sway the vote in 2018.  The group embarks on a nation-wide, bus tour seeking support for safe learning environments and for politicians to stop taking National Rifle Association (NRA) monies. Stops in cities strife with extreme examples of gun violence and/or a powerful presence such as St. Louis, El Paso, Dallas, Houston, Sioux City, Milwaukee, San Antonio, Las Vegas, and Orange County are made.

Snyder captures the toils and the rigors of campaigning for a just cause as Never Again MSD becomes fearful and afraid of being misunderstood. Attacks on social media became vicious. Furthermore, the students were antagonized and followed into their hotel by gun-toting members of the Utah Gun Exchange. In addition, the NRA counter protested sending nefarious characters in cowboy attire with red mirror-reflective sunglasses to agitate, barking at the young men and women of Never Again, MSD, telling them they are nothing more than pawns and questioning their purpose. The responses from the Stoneman-Douglas Never Again, MSD, survivors were deep, articulate, and heartfelt leaving the agitators dumbfounded and scratching their heads.

US Kids won the Jury Prize for Best Feature at the 2020 Mountainfilm Film Festival. In addition to being an award-winning documentary, US Kids is also a critical and seminal socio-political artifact on school shootings, political activism, and student-led PACs. Highly recommended.

Inspirational Ride: Mountainfilm 2020 Wrap-Up

Posted by Larry Gleeson                                                                                          June 2, 2020

My first Mountainfilm Film Festival also was the first virtual Mountainfilm! Exceptional documentary filmmaking about issues that matter. I count my lucky stars in crossing paths with Nora Bernard.

Nora
Nora Bernard, the 46th Telluride Film Festival’s Production Office Manager, wrapping up a travel and expense report on August 12, 2019, in Telluride, Colo. (Photo credit: Larry Gleeson)

I recall our first meeting at the 2019 Telluride Film Festival Production Office. We exchanged the usual introductory pleasantries and Nora asked if I’d been to Mountainfilm. I had not and asked her what it was. Anyone who knows Nora when she’s working, pleasantries are one thing – small talk is another. Time passed and we stayed friends on Facebook and I noticed her post in early May of this year regarding Monutainfilm and the new Bivvy Pass. Up to then, I was feeling blue as festival after festival was being canceled. A hundred-plus on-demand films with mesmerizing introductory clips, additional symposiums, events, and special presentations for $75 over a ten-day period sounded pretty awesome and my friend Nora was part of the Programming Team!

I bought it and spent the next ten days watching the best outdoor, political, social, cultural, and environmental films that matter including Watson, Current Sea, By Hand, Personhood, Apart, Big Fur, the Adrenaline Shorts Program w/ Fire On The Mountain and the award-winning short Origins, Mossville: When Great Trees Fall, Second Sight, Snow Wolf, Five Years North, and The Path of the Anaconda.

Baato
Baato, a sharply written, sharply executed documentary by Lucas Millard and Kate Stryker on life and modernization in the mountainous regions of Nepal. (Photo courtesy of Mountainfilm)

My first selection fell under the Limited Screening category – truthfully, I monitored this section closely. Baato, a sharply written, sharply executed documentary by Lucas Millard and Kate Stryker, chronicles a family that collects medicinal herbs in the mountainous region of Nepal. Each year the family treks 300 km to a low-lying urban market to sell the herbs to keep the home afloat. Along the way, the family faces shakedowns, a new roadway being cut into the terrain, and a ramshackle bus ride. Baato proved to be a cultural feast with some enlightening perspectives. Highly recommended viewing.

Public Trust
Public Trust, executively produced by Robert Redford, exposes a movement within the Trump Administration that allows public lands to be stripped for their profits without remediation. (Photo courtesy of Mountainfilm)

My next selection, Public Trust also a Limited Screening selection, was a Robert Redford executively produced exploration of the United States public lands, utilizing recent news footage, present-day interviews with tribal leaders, historians, government whistleblowers, journalists, of the United States public lands. The public land’s sacredness to indigenous tribes, ranchers and outdoor enthusiasts is revealed as is the Trump Administration’s overt push to privatize the lands for their profits. Public Trust received the 2020 Audience Choice Award. A must-see!

Lost on Everest
Lost on Everest, a National Geographic film made its World Premiere at the 2020 Virtual Mountainfilm Film Festival (Photo courtesy of Mountainfilm)

Lost On Everest, a National Geographic film about an expeditionary team tracking one of the early British attempts to stand on top of the world was making its World Premiere at the 2020 Virtual Mountainfilm Festival. I was ready for a mind-boggling extreme mountaineering experience. And, by golly, that’s exactly what I got. “Rising up to a peak of 29,035 vertical feet, Mount Everest has long captivated the imagination of climbers from all parts of the world.

Lost on Everest documents an elite group of research climbers who undertake a mission to locate and retrieve a camera from Andrew “Sandy” Irvine, a twenty-two-year-old climbing partner of the legendary British mountaineer, George Mallory. The two disappeared in 1924 just 800 vertical feet from the top of Mount Everest. Mallory’s body was found in 1999, approximately seventy-five feet from his last known location. Irvine’s body and the camera he was carrying have not been found to this day and have long been speculated about.” (excerpt from Lost On Everest)

Unsettled
Director Tom Shephard’s Unsettled follows asylum seekers transitioning into life in the United States of America. (Photo courtesy of Mountainfilm)

 

Just as I began setting in, I selected (yes, another Limited Screening film) Unsettled from Director Tom Shephard. Unsettled was screened with Eva Rendle’s short film, All That Remains – a sobering look at the undocumented workers in the Santa Rosa, Calif. area following the massive 2017 wildfire that devastated one of the world’s foremost wine-producing regions. All That Remains set the tone for what came next – a case manager’s reality as Unsettled tracked the transition of asylum seekers, Junior, Subhi, Cheyenne and Mari as they navigate new freedom realizing the streets of America are not paved with gold and learning to deal with their lives on life’s terms.

A Home Called Nebraska
A Home Called Nebraska, from filmmakers Beth and George Gage, highlights an anomaly inside the state of Nebraska. (Photo courtesy of Mountainfilm)

A Home Called Nebraska (Limited Screening) came next. Nebraska, a conservative state, provided many new homes for innocent victims of terrorism, civil war, rape, attempted murder, and persecution through the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program. Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s policies have fueled a growing hatred of Muslims and refugees. 2019 saw the lowest number of refugees entering the US since the inception of the program in 1980. Notwithstanding, A Home Called Nebraska highlights a community welcoming newcomers, building bridges, and dispelling fear while combating the hatred of racist nationalism.

Charles Lindsay & Nicholas Paul Brysiewicz
Charles Lindsay, left, and Nicholas Paul Brysiewicz co-hosted the Magical Realism Meets Future Fiction Presentation at the 2020 Virtual Mountainfilm Film Fest.  (Photo courtesy of Mountainfilm)

Presentation. Magical Realism Meets Future Fiction. This had me at hello. I was excited before the presentation even began. Charles Lindsay and Nicholas Paul Brysiewicz co-hosted this presentation. Charlie was zooming in from Kyoto, Japan, sharing his cultural perspectives on the intersection of consciousness and enlightenment. Brysiewicz shared his insights on decoupling time/person experience. Both seemed to agree on the premise of alternative time-spaces as sacred. Now that’s what I’m talking about.

US kids
US Kids, directed by Kim S Snyder, received the Best Documentary Feature Award at 2020 Mountainfilm, Mountainfilm uses the power of film, art, and ideas to inspire audiences to create a better world. (Photo courtesy of Mountainfilm)

One of the most exceptional films, US Kids, a direct cinema-style, full-length feature followed the classmates from Marjory Stoneman Douglas School in Parkland, Fla., as they launched a nation-wide, gun control crusade for a safe learning environment and to effect the 2018 elections. Stops in cities strife with gun violence and a National Rifle Association presence like St. Louis, El Paso, Dallas, Houston, Sioux City, Milwaukee, San Antonio, Las Vegas, and Orange County are made. Along the way, a bond and mutual respect developed among the peers.

They also experienced the rigors of campaigning for a just cause as they questioned the National Rifle Association’s lobbying efforts and the politicians who fill their coffers with dubious contributions. The NRA fights back sending nefarious characters in cowboy attire with red mirror-reflective sunglasses to agitate barking at the young men and women telling them they are pawns. The responses from the Stoneman-Douglas survivors were deep and heartfelt leaving the agitators dumbfounded and scratching their heads.

US Kids won the Jury Prize for Best Feature at the 2020 Mountainfilm Film Festival. Let’s not forget! On February 14, 2018, a nineteen-year-old former student opened fire inside the school with a semi-automatic rifle killing seventeen students and wounding seventeen others without any apparent motive. US Kids is not only a highly recommended film, but it is also a critical and seminal socio-political artifact.

Stay tuned for more as Mountainfilm is scheduled to return next year in Telluride, Colo., with run dates of May 28th – May 31st. Hope to see you there!

Mountainfilm 2021

 

 

 

Mountainfilm FILM REVIEW: Fire On The Mountain (Chris Benchetler and Tyler J. Hamlet, 2019):USA

Posted by Larry Gleeson

I remember the day I rode with my friends, Wally Weilmuenster and Dan Nester, to go swimming at Bone’s Lake jamming to the Grateful Dead’s “Fire On The Mountain.” The world was ours in that moment and it seemed limitless. So naturally as I perused the Mountainfilm shorts programs, I made a mental note when I saw Fire On The Mountain, directed by Chris Benchetler and Tyler J. Hamlet, inside the Adrenaline shorts program. Being 11:30 PM, an adrenaline focused lineup with 12 offerings might not be an ideal choice for most of us. For me, however, it proved to be an optimal experience.

As I’m a meticulous note-taker, I was scribing when Fire On The Mountain hit my tv screen. I noted the coloration and then the unthinkable happened – a textual title revealed the film was set to the music of the Grateful Dead. I didn’t have the pleasure of seeing the Dead perform live. I’ve been tuning into Dead and Company shows every Saturday on Facebook via nugs.tv for the last ten weeks. And, I did have the good fortune to see Further at the Santa Barbara Bowl several years ago. I remember that night vividly as I sat in my seat looking around as it was my first SB Bowl experience. As I looked around, I noticed a figure that I’d been watching since I began playing organized basketball in the St. Louis Metro-East way back in 1973. It was none other than Bill Walton – the same Bill Walton who connected on 21 out of 22 field-goal attempts as a UCLA Bruin at the old St. Louis Arena during the 1973 NCAA Championship Men’s basketball game.

I know you’re wondering, “What does Bill Walton have to do with Fire On The Mountain?” I can tell you one thing for certain Father Time is not playing any tricks. I was listening to the film’s poetically rhythmic voice-over-narration while thoroughly enmeshed in the film’s visuals when I became aware of thought – “that narrator sounds a lot like Bill Walton.” Then, I became aware of another thought – “it’s just somebody that sounds like Bill Walton – but who in the world sounds like Bill Walton?” Walton not only provided an enlightening narration for Fire On The Mountain, but he also is credited in the film’s collaborative writing.

Fire On The Mountain, inspired by the improvisational jam music of the Grateful Dead, features seven of their songs including “Brown Eyed Woman,” “The Other One,” “New Speedway Boogie,” “Dark Star,” “Playing In The Band,” “Fire On The Mountain,” and “Ripple.” From Teton Gravity Research, a Jackson Hole, Wyoming-based action sports media company “committed to fueling progression through its films and website,” Fire On The Mountain incorporates a psychedelic dynamic with trippy visuals, non-diegetic Grateful Dead music, and an in-progress, spot-on creation of a Dead-like mural all in juxtaposition to and simultaneously in ethereal harmony with bold, expressive and acrobatic action sequences in the water and on the mountain. Furthermore, the cinematography, costuming, and the tone was magically Dead inspired.

As the film closed, I sat uplifted and somewhat mesmerized, with the film’s group of talented actors around a bonfire appreciating their world and the freedom to live and experience their form of truth in unspoken ways. The performers executed the action sequences to a T opening up and expanding the conscious realm of human potentialities. Part dreamscape and part action film, Fire On The Mountain illuminates rad surfing and snowboarding talents and weaves the light of the Dead and “all the feels” into an inescapable whole.

Inspired and ready for bed, I started the last short of the program, Wingsuiter Flies Through Narrow Hole. I watched a flying man free fall through some sort of netting. It repeated itself then cut to black. A one-minute short of a man blasting through time and space and through a metaphorical representation of a Native American dream catcher. Only in America. Only at Mountainfilm. Highly recommended.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mountainfilm 2020 FEATURED PROFILE: Assistant Programmer Nora Bernard

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Having met my featured Mountainfest member, Nora Bernard, at the 46th Telluride Film Festival, my curiosity piqued upon reading her social media post on this year’s Mountainfilm, the Bivvy Pass, and her zeal in being part of this year’s Programming Team. Without missing a beat, I quickly visited Mountainfilm.org and counted my blessings. I viewed the Mountainfilm Intro by Stephen Burns. Stunning photography accented the clip leading me to check out this year’s Guest Director Louis Psihoyos sharing what makes Mountainfilm his “go-to” festival year after year.

My good fortune didn’t end there as Ms. Bernard accepted my proposal for a feature via a virtual Q & A. Please see below.

Nora
Nora Bernard, the 46th Telluride Film Festival’s Production Office Manager, wrapping up a travel and expense report on August 12, 2019, in Telluride, Colo. (Photo credit: Larry Gleeson)

What do you do for the 2020 MountainFilm Festival?

I was an Associate Programmer for this year’s festival which consisted of reviewing film submissions and giving my recommendations to the Programming Team at Large.

Why did you choose to work for MountainFilm?

I have been working for the Telluride Film Festival for a number of years and quite a few of my colleagues have also worked for Mountainfilm. The Program Manager, Lucy Lerner, was a Senior Manager for TFF and I reached out to her with interest in being a screener for the 2019 festival.

How has your experience been?

It’s been such a thrill. I have to say, I’ve been impressed by a lot of the submissions I have watched. The documentaries screened at Mountainfilm run the gamut from outdoor adventure, climate change, anthropology, and social justice. 2019 was my first time attending and I got caught up in the overall commitment to the community. It’s been so motivating to watch the year-round staff translate that to an online platform in these current circumstances.

Why did you choose Programming?

Well with all the other festivals I’ve worked, I’ve always worked on the logistical side of things. Production, venue operations, ticketing, volunteers…you name it and I’ve probably done it. However, my eyes have been moving toward the creative side and I’m grateful to Mountainfilm for giving me the opportunity.

What other festivals/projects have you worked on?

I’ve also worked for the Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, and Telluride Film Festivals and am a part of the FantasticFest features submission team. Each job, I’ve worked has taught me so much and has rolled over into the next. There are so many talented people that put together these events. For now, I’m quarantining in New York City and hoping for the chance to help make that magic again soon.

Mountainfilm
Mountainfilm

About Mountainfilm

Mountainfilm, a documentary film festival in Telluride, Colo., showcases “nonfiction stories about environmental, cultural, climbing, political, and social justice issues that matter.”  The 2020 edition has gone virtual in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mountainfilm offering its 2020 festival lineup through a secure online platform from May 15–25. The new Bivvy pass provides full access to over 100 films, a symposium, and additional presentations for $75. An option to purchase individual films, shorts programs, or presentations for $10 each is also available. Check it out. You’ll be glad you did!

Until next time, I look forward to seeing you at the movies….

Public Trust
Public Trust

 

 

Scorched Earth Public Trust Illuminates Presidential Proclamations

Posted by Larry Gleeson

I imagined my second 2020 Mountainfilm Festival selection would be a Ken Burns-style documentary on our nation’s public lands. Director David Garrett Byars begins Public Trust, a Patagonia Films production, with a soft opening of luscious landscape photography accented by a voice-over narration of a man from Northern Alabama having relocated to a Western State pontificating on the joyous freedom of fishing and hunting in the vast open spaces in the West.

After the stunningly beautiful opening sequence, however, Public Trust, executively produced by Robert Redford, turned into a wild ride through the United States of America’s exploitation of pristine public lands with roguish, jackaloon demagogues sowing fear and distrust in any receptive audience at their disposal. Truth is damned as greed, hate-mongering, and sheer stupidity rear their disgusting, revolting, and reviling heads as the public is duped time and time again with misleading rhetoric from politicians and Trump Administration department heads. Alaskan public lands are salivatingly seen as gravy trains with stores of oil, gas, uranium, and copper as mining revenues traditionally have been dispersed to Alaskans with royalty checks. As one commentator noted, “it’s akin to a heroin addict getting a fix.”

Utilizing recent news footage, present-day interviews with tribal leaders, historians, government whistleblowers, journalists, added perspective and insight emanate into the bold and brazen Trump Administration political appointees to the United States Department of the Interior. The once protected public lands are being moved under individual states’ control to maintain – although the states cannot afford to protect and maintain the lands for public use. As a result, much of the land is being sold to the highest bidders, those with the deepest pockets. As one particularly ignorant pol snidely commented, “just let me know what my piece of the public lands is so I can sell it.”

The newest Secretary of the Interior, David Barnhart, has relocated his office into the same building with Exxon and numerous oil and gas mining corporations after Ryan Zinke, who now serves as “an advisor” to Turnberry Solutions, a lobbying firm stacked with former Trump administration advisers and campaign aides, resigned in 2019 among numerous ethics violations. The powerful extractive industries, backed by similar regulation-slashing state legislators and federal agencies, believe public lands across America should be unlocked for mining and exploration with little if any, regard for the environmental scarring and cultural diminishing effects. And, these entities say whatever it takes to get their way.

Interestingly, in closing Public Trust Byars leaves the viewer with pertinent questions about the future of America’s public lands. For instance, who will have unfettered access to these lands? Because as it stands right now it appears the oil and gas industries, in conjunction with mining operations, will solicit more revenue-generating activities from the American people. Imagine futuristic concessionaires charging fees to take you and your family to the mountaintop for sunset while the surrounding lands are stripped until all profit has been removed, and the lands permanently abandoned in an unrestored, highly toxic state. It’s the Trump Administration’s vision of the new American Way of Life.

Public Trust is a very-well researched and thought-provoking documentary. For me as a person who has enjoyed public lands immensely, the film is revealing not only from a cultural and environmental perspective but even more so from a political perspective. Highly recommended.

 

Must-see “Limited Screening” Baato Begins the 2020 Mountainfilm Festival

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Nothing quite like leaping into uncharted waters. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Mountainfilm Festival re-imagined this year’s edition into a virtual experience. And boy, am I glad they did. With over 100 on-demand films and presentations over that I can watch on my time and from the comforts of my home theatre, I sprang out of bed, logged into my newly created account to access my festival (thank you, Nora Bernard), I spied Baato, a limited screening feature.

Without further adieu, I settled myself into a magnificent journey to a mountain peak in Nepal. And, it wasn’t by helicopter. Filmmakers Lucas Millard and Kate Stryker managed to capture an intimate portrait of a family in remote eastern Nepal collecting medicinal herbs, before making an annual 300-kilometer trek, partly on foot and partly by ramshackle bus, to lowland, urban markets – the nearest economic marketplace for their harvested medicinal herbs.

And, like any major endeavor, this one begins with the first step of many as the group sets out by foot with the women carrying the traditional, cultural load while the men complain about how difficult this walking portion of the journey is as they down a simple, collegiate-style backpack. Along the way, however, a three-part narrative emerges as Nepal is undergoing national development and the filmmakers capture a major road project being undertaken to link this area of Nepal to the southern border of China promising less walking and perhaps a less arduous life in some distant future. The massive project has employed many manual laborers, allowed for heavy construction equipment imports, and has a detrimental effect on local farming patches.

Deftly, Baato illuminates developmental pratfalls as road engineers take bribes to avoid destroying homes. Meanwhile,  the herb collectors plot to avoid shakedowns by police and bus operators as they miraculously make their way to market. This is an observant film as the viewer witnesses a deep dive into a Himalayan culture engaged in a slow and chaotic, yet inexorable transition to modern life. Excellent cinematography, compelling narrative coupled with a mesmerizing soundtrack makes this documentary a “must-see!”

Stay tuned for more as 2020 Mountainfilm Festival is just beginning.

Baato limited Screening

 

 

Mountainfilm Unveils 2020 Lineup of Films & Speakers

Posted by Larry Gleeson

As for most organizations — and most people — the pandemic has put Mountainfilm, a documentary film festival that showcases nonfiction stories about environmental, cultural, climbing, political and social justice issues that matter, in uncharted waters. But as you’d expect from a film festival with a penchant to inspire audiences to create a better world, Mountainfilm rose to the challenge, pivoting to a virtual festival in a matter of weeks. The result is an extended, 10-day festival with over 100 on-demand films and presentations over that viewers can watch at their leisure from the comfort of home. To experience Mountainfilm at home, all you really need is a pass and an adventurous heart.

This year’s virtual format has allowed Mountainfilm to be more accessible than ever. People can tune in from all over the world, and most content can be watched anytime during the 10-day festival window. The 2020 lineup remains true to Mountainfilm’s high standards and propensity for mixing stoke-inducing adventure films with mind-blowing (and world-changing) documentaries.

Susan Beraza
Mountainfilm Festival Director Susan Beraza

“We’re psyched for the chance to bring great programming to people who’ve been curious about Mountainfilm for all these years, but have never been able to come,” said Mountainfilm Festival Director Suzan Beraza. “This year we’re proud to offer our usual wide variety of films — from Personhood, a film about fetal rights to Public Trust, a film by a former Telluride local that turns the lens on the loss of public lands.”

After many weeks at home, most people are in need of a little hope and inspiration. Beraza and her team made a point to give viewers as much content as possible — including a few additional lighthearted films.

The lineup of feature films includes more than 25 titles that range from By Hand, a documentary that follows the journey of two brothers paddling from Alaska to Mexico, to Big Fur, a film about a devotee of Bigfoot. Most features can be watched anytime during the 10-day festival, but a select few have limited runs — meaning they’ll only be available to watch at specific times. The festival has more short film programs than ever before with titles like Concepción, recounting climber Hazel Findlay’s attempt of a 70-meter splitter crack route outside Moab, and Huntsville Station, which depicts the realities of inmates just released from prison.

Complementing the roundup of films is a symposium and a handful of live and pre-recorded presentations featuring directors and thought visionaries. We’ll hear from Mountainfilm 2020 Guest Director Louie Psihoyos and Sea Shepherd captain Paul Watson on the vulnerability of our oceans, while youth activists Jamie Margolin and Jonah Gottlieb will speak to the role of young people in climate activism. In light of the upcoming presidential election, former White House Chief of Staff Jack Watson analyzes the qualities that make a good president — particularly during a pandemic.

“We’re really excited about this year’s symposium and presentations, plus we’re going to have a series of meet the author events, Q&As and filmmaker workshops that will showcase what Mountainfilm does best — bringing connection and conversation to our greater community,” said Beraza.

The 2020 virtual festival dates are May 15–25 and passes are available here.

Mountain Film

(Source: Mountainfilm Festival press release)

THE AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE ANNOUNCES DATES FOR 2020 AFI DOCS FILM FESTIVAL

Posted by Larry Gleeson

AWARD-WINNING APPLE AND A24 FILM BOYS STATE TO OPEN ONLINE FESTIVAL ON JUNE 17

AT&T RETURNS AS PRESENTING SPONSOR

 

ON EMBARGO UNTIL 9 a.m. ET / 6 a.m. PT, MAY 6, 2020, WASHINGTON, DC — AFI DOCS, the American Film Institute’s annual documentary celebration in the nation’s capital, has announced the festival’s 18th annual edition is going virtual. With audiences eager to experience the best in documentary film, AFI DOCS will showcase current non-fiction fare in a re-imagined online film festival. The festival is proud to also announce the return of AT&T as Presenting Sponsor for the seventh consecutive year. AFI DOCS 2020 will open with BOYS STATE, directed by Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine. The festival will run June 17–21 and films will be available to view on DOCS.AFI.com.

Marjan Safinia, Michael Lumpkin, Monica Lewinsky
Michael Lumpkin

“AFI is committed to the documentary art form in the best of times and in the most challenging of times,” said Michael Lumpkin, Director of AFI Festivals. “Now more than ever, we are dedicated to supporting extraordinary films because the world needs stories that educate, inspire hope and remind us of humanity’s strength. AFI DOCS is here to help.”

Continue reading THE AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE ANNOUNCES DATES FOR 2020 AFI DOCS FILM FESTIVAL

FILM REVIEW: Bryan Fogel’s The Dissident Speaks Volumes

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Bryan Fogel, the Academy Award-winning director of Icarus premiered The Dissident, a bone-chilling documentary film, at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. In The Dissident Fogel explores the events leading up to the 2018 brutal murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the events in the aftermath of the killing. Fogel follows Khashoggi’s friend and colleague, Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi exile in Canada risking his life for the freedom of speech and Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, arguing for justice in front of the United Nations. In addition, with 2018 footage of Khashoggi in and out of briefings, Fogel lays the impressive groundwork of a counter-revolutionary movement underway in Egypt and Jordan and provides critical insight into the progressive, reformist leaning Vision 2030, the Saudi Arabian King Salmond’s Crown Prince son, Mohammad Bin Salmond’s (MBS) blueprint for Saudi society.

Furthermore, Fogel discusses a top-level purchase of highly sophisticated cyber-espionage technology, known as Pegasus, enabling MBS to hack into dissident social media accounts across the country and beyond. MBS employed an army to control social media content by infecting untold accounts with Pegasus. Interesting to note, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos’ smartphone was hacked and downloaded for months by Pegasus after MBS sent Bezos a mysterious video attachment on WhatsApp. The social media space, manipulated so effectively by Russia in the US elections, had now become an international warzone not just in the US and Suadi Arabia but in many countries around the world. Not surprisingly, US President Donald Trump went to the country of Saudi Arabia on his first stop of his first official visit abroad, refused to acknowledge Khashoggi’s murder despite every intelligence agency concurring, and proceeded to announce to the American people a massive $500 billion dollar arms sale. “The Saudis buy a lot of weapons from us,” opined the President in defense of himself.

But, Jamaal Kashoggi was widely respected both in Saudi Arabia and globally as a very astute scholar well-versed in the ways of diplomacy. Seemingly, his outspoken journalism aginst the destabilizing “reforms” of MBS, published in the Washington Post, led to his murder in the Istanbul Saudi consulate on October 2, 2018. The Turkish government investigated Koshoggi’s murder compiling a formidable case. United Nations Special Reporter Agnes Callamard started her own investigation and concluded an international crime had been committed in Khashoggi’s death with no less than six violations of international law igniting protests and strengthening the country’s demand for freedom of speech under the banner – Justice for Jamal. His murder also undid MBS’s Vision 2030. In reality, Vision 2030 was an ambitious power grab under the guise of an anti-corruption probe where MBS rounded up and imprisoned the country’s most powerful people while seizing hundreds of billions of dollars.

With a covert expose’ touch, Fogel adeptly uncovers and reveals the truth in this highly controversial and well-researched, socio-political-economic arena unfolding in the global news cycle with an abundant supply of footage of all the key players and some very informative graphics. Make no mistake, The Dissident is a powerful and startling look at the cost of freedom of speech, the murder of a journalist for exercising his freedom of speech, and the ramifications of the interference of a government in social media. Don’t miss this one. Highly recommended.

 

 

FILM REVIEW: Max Richter’s Sleep connecting the world

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Max Richter’s Sleep, a documentary film from Award-winning filmmaker Natalie Johns screened at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival as a Special Event. Sundance Special Events are one-of-a-kind moments highlighting new independent works that enhance the festival experience. Johns’s first global feature documentary, I Am Thalente, won an Audience Award at the LA Film Festival. Johns also received an Emmy nomination in 2015 for Outstanding Directing and has collaborated with some of the world’s leading musical talent, including John Legend Annie Lennox, Sam Smith, Childish Gambino, Solange, and Gil Scott Heron. In 2015, to critical acclaim, Richter released an eight-hour Sleep lullaby with a meditative quality combining piano and strings with subtle electronic touches and vocals to mimic brain waves in a state of sleep – an unimaginable effort connecting musical consciousness to the world.

Max Richter’s Sleep follows the process of mounting the most ambitious live performance of Sleep to date: an open-air concert in downtown Los Angeles’s Grand Park, across from the Los Angeles Music Center, where over 500 people experienced the composer’s work in unison. But, instead of chairs, the audience members were given beds to sleep in! Johns includes a myriad of aerial shots of the downtown Los Angeles area that are interwoven in the film while a narrative voice-over informs the audience of longing for human connection and the desire to create a space for community and connectivity. A montage of close-ups depicting musical instruments and mathematical equations delineating the intricate mathematical formulae Richter utilizes to create his dream state composition.

Intentionally designed to keep listeners in a state of sleep, Richter unlocks patterns and rhythmically represents brain waves with accompanying repetitious musical notes.  Performing Sleep required unprecedented endurance from its musicians. Once the concert is well underway, footage of Richter walking through the sleeping audience is captured and reveals the majestic undertaking coming to fruition – rejuvenation by reengaging the arts back into society. As morning breaks, an acoustic sunrise slowly brings an emotional, refreshed awakening with a feeling of hope and a new beginning.

Johns also includes a look into Richter’s home life as he and his wife balance creative pursuits and paying the bills. Richter confesses his creative pursuits are his passion but his film compositions allow him the freedom to balance his art and his household needs. The result was a striking visual portrait that immerses us within the life of Richter and his creative partner, Yulia Mahr. Interestingly, Richter has performed his Sleep in venues around the world including cathedrals and parks. The first performance from midnight to 8:00 AM, September 27th, 2015, in London, England, at the Wellcome Collection Reading Room as part of the BBC’s “Science and Music” set a Guinness Book of World Records for the longest live broadcast The composition was also performed at the Philharmonie de Paris from midnight to 8:00 AM on November 18th, 2017.

The Los Angeles concerts on July 27-28th and July 28-29th, 2018, from approximately 10:30 PM until dawn, were the first outdoor performances of Sleep. Richter played piano, keyboards, and electronics. The American Contemporary Music Ensemble accompanied Richter along with cellist Claire Jensen, soprano Grace Davidson, violinist Andrew Tholl, cellist Emily Brausa, Isabelle Hagen (viola), and Ben Russell.  I viewed the ninety-nine-minute film in the evening with a group of Sundance Film Festival volunteers and several members of the press. I left the theatre feeling very connected and very grounded and I imagine you will too. Highly recommended – an ultimate chill film!