Archive for the ‘Sundance’ Category

In the Land of Brothers (2024) Sundance 2024

Dir: Raha Amirfazli & Alireza Ghasemi | Cast: Hamideh Jafari, Bashir Nikzad, Mohammad Hosseini | IDrama, Iran, France, Netherlands 95′

In this nuanced portrait of identity and belonging in a world full of barriers, three members of an extended family of Afghans try to find a sense of home in an increasingly unstable environment of Iran, under threat of US invasion in 2001.

The delicately interwoven stories are thoughtfully told and set against a background of menace that connects with the universal narrative of displacement that continues to resonate all round the world. Their plight is a familiar one involving police brutality, administrative mix-ups and delays – along with the everyday stresses of modern life that exist in any ordinary family. Hamideh Jafari, Bashir Nikzad, Mohammad Hosseini make for a convincing trio.

An impressive first feature for Raha Amirfazli and Alireza Ghasemi In the Land of Brothers is a quietly reflective look at a situation that has international repercussions and is deeply felt by anyone of us trying to fit in with a society that strives to make our existence untenable whether it be in Iran, Europe of the United States. DoP Farshad Mohammadi’s subtle camerawork compliments the understated tone of this watchable and well-acted drama that consolidates the directing duo’s growing reputation on the international film stage. @MeredithTaylor

Sundance Film Festival – The Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic goes to Raha Amirfazli & Alireza Ghasemi for IN THE LAND OF BROTHERS. #Sundance 22 January 2024 

 

Brief History of a Family (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dir/Wri: Jianjie Lin | Cast: Feng Zu, Ke-Yu Guo, Xilun Sun, Muran Lin | China, Thriller 99’

Beijing in post-one child policy China is the setting for this stylish but unnerving Michael Haneke-style psychological drama. Brief History of a Family, the feature debut of Jianjie Lin, shows the striking modern face of the city, far away from Wuxia and social realist Chinese fare we’ve become used, although the traditional Chinese themes of loyalty, discipline, betrayal, rivalry and even misogyny are present and subtly interwoven into this intriguing thriller.

Unfolding in series of glowingly-captured serene scenes, accompanied by an occasional score of gentle classical piano music that alternates with disconcerting electronic vibes, the story follows a middle class couple, Mrs Tu and her husband, a biologist, who have only recently been married and share a tragic secret that promts Mrs Tu to strike up a relationship with their son Tu Wei’s enigmatic new friend when he comes for tea after an alarming incident at school which is brushed under the carpet. 

Yan Shuo is thoughtful and reserved, and still traumatised into a state of near catatonia by the sudden death of his mother. The troubled teen talks of being abused by his father, who we never meet, but whose sudden death casts a sinister veil over his past, intensifying the boyish rivalry between the two teenagers that develops a violent edge when Tu Wei’s parents start to talk openly of adopting the morose orphan who is more artistic and academic than their sporty son, who nevertheless excels in fencing, competing for a place in the local team. 

The director shows how important study and discipline is in his homeland, and how the focus of modern professional parents is their offsprings’ education abroad. One disturbing scene sees Dr Tu queuing to get his son a place at college where a mantra is piped continuously over the tanoy: ‘Conquer English and realise your children’s dream to study abroad.’ Only 30 percent will be admitted to college in China, putting pressure on the kids to knuckle down to their studies. And they are seen doing so in an almost clinical classroom.

As the couple take Yan Shuo under their wing they are increasingly drawn towards his commitment and academic prowess, to the detriment of the boys’ personal relationship. Family secrets and buried feelings soon give rise to increased tensions that test the bonds and expectations that bind the four of them together until the shattering resolution finally dawns in a quietly devastating finale.

One of the many triumphs here is Jianjie Lin’s accomplished direction and the restrained yet potent performances from the ensemble cast. With its striking Danish sound and classical score of Bach, Mozart and Schubert, this is a tense and tightly-scripted arthouse thriller that never outstays its welcome at 99 minutes. An impressive first film from a director heading for international success. @MeredithTaylor

WORLD PREMIERE | Grand Jury Prize, World Cinema, Dramatic SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2024 | BERLINALE GWFF Nominee Best First Feature Award, and Panorama Audience Award.

Reinas (2024) Sundance Film Festival 2024

Wri/Dir: Klaudia Reynicke-Candeloro | Chile, Drama 104’

It’s summertime 1992 in crisis-ridden Chile and actor turned cab driver Carlos Molina is really fed up. His clients don’t share his love of film and even his daughters fail to recognise him when he turns up at his ex-wife’s house to deliver a birthday present to his eldest daughter Lucia

America beckons and Elena and teenagers Lucia and Aurora are off to pastures new. But a dispondent farewell with their estranged dad only adds to the girls’ feelings of regret and instability at their upcoming departure especially as Aurora (Luana Vega) not as keen on leaving Lima as her rather morose mother for reasons that soon become apparent.

This is a well-paced and endearing coming of age domestic drama from Chile’s Klaudia Reynicke-Candeloro and one which refreshingly puts the focus on a father-daughter relationship with Gonzalo Molina particularly likeable as a down-on-his-luck dad trying to put a brave face on his challenging life and catch up on some quality time with his kids who are not as naive as he thinks. The titular ‘reinas’ have cottoned on to his efforts have them believe he is a ‘secret agent’. His youngest Lucia is asking him probing questions about his work, and Aurora already has a boyfriend Rony and is hiding a burning secret.

But Carlos’ relationship with ex Elena and her mother (veteran Chilean actor Susi Sanchez) is strained and he feels reticent to sign the girls’ release form – both parents must give their consent for their children to leave Chile and this quandary provides the film with its dramatic twist. Impressive visuals and retro production design add to the film’s allure. @MeredithTaylor

Grand Jury Prize | World Cinema Dramatic SUNDANCE 2024

World premiere 22 January 2024

Sundance Film Festival 2024

Kicking off the year in snowy Utah from January 18th – January 28th, Sundance Film Festival is always hotly anticipated amongst the film community. Here’s a selection of what’s on offer in January:

U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION

Between the Temples / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Nathan Silver, Screenwriter: C. Mason Wells, Producers: Tim Headington, Theresa Steele Page, Nate Kamiya, Adam Kersh, Taylor Hess) — A cantor in a crisis of faith finds his world turned upside down when his grade school music teacher reenters his life as his new adult bat mitzvah student. Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Carol Kane, Dolly de Leon, Caroline Aaron, Robert Smigel, Madeline Weinstein. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

Dìdi (弟弟) / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Sean Wang, Producers: Carlos López Estrada, Josh Peters, Valerie Bush) — In 2008, during the last month of summer before high school begins, an impressionable 13-year-old Taiwanese American boy learns what his family can’t teach him: how to skate, how to flirt, and how to love your mom. Cast: Izaac Wang, Joan Chen, Shirley Chen, Chang Li Hua. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

Exhibiting Forgiveness / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Titus Kaphar, Producers: Stephanie Allain, Derek Cianfrance, Jamie Patricof, Sean Cotton) — Utilizing his paintings to find freedom from his past, a Black artist on the path to success is derailed by an unexpected visit from his estranged father, a recovering addict desperate to reconcile. Together, they learn that forgetting might be a greater challenge than forgiving. Cast: André Holland, John Earl Jelks, Andra Day, Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

Good One / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: India Donaldson, Producers: Diana Irvine, Graham Mason, Wilson Cameron) — On a weekend backpacking trip in the Catskills, 17-year-old Sam contends with the competing egos of her father and his oldest friend. Cast: Lily Collias, James Le Gros, Danny McCarthy. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

In The Summers / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Alessandra Lacorazza, Producers: Alexander Dinelaris, Rob Quadrino, Fernando Rodriguez-Vila, Lynette Coll, Sergio Lira, Cristóbal Güell) — On a journey that spans the formative years of their lives, two sisters navigate their loving but volatile father during their yearly summer visits to his home in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Cast: René Pérez Joglar, Sasha Calle, Lío Mehiel, Leslie Grace, Emma Ramos, Sharlene Cruz. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

Love Me / U.S.A. (Directors and Screenwriters: Sam Zuchero, Andy Zuchero, Producers: Kevin Rowe, Luca Borghese, Ben Howe, Shivani Rawat, Julie Goldstein) — Long after humanity’s extinction, a buoy and a satellite meet online and fall in love. Cast: Kristen Stewart, Steven Yeun. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

Ponyboi / U.S.A. (Director: Esteban Arango, Screenwriter: River Gallo, Producers:​ Mark Ankner, ​River Gallo, ​Adel “Future” Nur, ​Trevor Wall) —Unfolding over the course of Valentine’s Day in New Jersey, a young intersex sex worker must run from the mob after a drug deal goes sideways, forcing him to confront his past. Cast: River Gallo, Dylan O’Brien, Victoria Pedretti, Murray Bartlett, Indya Moore. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

A Real Pain / U.S.A., Poland (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Jesse Eisenberg, Producers: Dave McCary, Ali Herting, Emma Stone, Jennifer Semler, Ewa Puszczyńska) — Mismatched cousins David and Benji reunite for a tour through Poland to honor their beloved grandmother. The adventure takes a turn when the pair’s old tensions resurface against the backdrop of their family history. Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kieran Culkin, Will Sharpe, Jennifer Grey, Kurt Egyiawan. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

Stress Positions / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Theda Hammel, Producers: Brad Becker-Parton, John Early, Stephanie Roush, Allie Jane Compton, Greg Nobile) — Terry Goon is keeping strict quarantine in his ex-husband’s Brooklyn brownstone while caring for his nephew — a 19-year-old model from Morocco named Bahlul — bedridden in a full leg cast after an electric scooter accident. Unfortunately for Terry, everyone in his life wants to meet the model. Cast: John Early, Qaher Harhash, Theda Hammel, Amy Zimmer, Faheem Ali, John Roberts. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

Suncoast / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Laura Chinn, Producers: Jeremy Plager, Francesca Silvestri, Kevin Chinoy, Oly Obst) — A teenager who, while caring for her brother along with her audacious mother, strikes up an unlikely friendship with an eccentric activist who is protesting one of the most landmark medical cases of all time. Inspired by a semi-autobiographical story. Cast: Laura Linney, Woody Harrelson, Nico Parker. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

U.S. DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

As We Speak / U.S.A. (Director and Producer: J.M. Harper, Producers: Sam Widdoes, Peter Cambor, Sam Bisbee) — Bronx rap artist Kemba explores the growing weaponization of rap lyrics in the United States criminal justice system and abroad — revealing how law enforcement has quietly used artistic creation as evidence in criminal cases for decades. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

Daughters / U.S.A. (Directors: Angela Patton, Natalie Rae, Producers: Lisa Mazzotta, Justin Benoliel, Mindy Goldberg, Sam Bisbee, Kathryn Everett, Laura Choi Raycroft) — Four young girls prepare for a special Daddy Daughter Dance with their incarcerated fathers, as part of a unique fatherhood program in a Washington, D.C., jail. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

EVERY LITTLE THING / Australia (Director: Sally Aitken, Producers: Bettina Dalton, Oli Harbottle, Anna Godas) — Amid the glamour of Hollywood, Los Angeles, a woman finds herself on a transformative journey as she nurtures wounded hummingbirds, unraveling a visually captivating and magical tale of love, fragility, healing, and the delicate beauty in tiny acts of greatness. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

FRIDA / U.S.A., Mexico (Director: Carla Gutiérrez, Producers: Katia Maguire, Sara Bernstein, Justin Wilkes, Loren Hammonds, Alexandra Johnes) — An intimately raw and magical journey through the life, mind, and heart of iconic artist Frida Kahlo. Told through her own words for the very first time — drawn from her diary, revealing letters, essays, and print interviews — and brought vividly to life by lyrical animation inspired by her unforgettable artwork. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

Gaucho Gaucho / U.S.A., Argentina (Directors and Producers: Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw, Producers: Cameron O’Reilly, Christos V. Konstantakopoulos, Matthew Perniciaro) — A celebration of a community of Argentine cowboys and cowgirls, known as Gauchos, living beyond the boundaries of the modern world. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

Love Machina / U.S.A. (Director and Producer: Peter Sillen, Producer: Brendan Doyle) — Futurists Martine and Bina Rothblatt commission an advanced humanoid AI named Bina48 to transfer Bina’s consciousness from a human to a robot in an attempt to continue their once-in-a-galaxy love affair for the rest of time. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

Porcelain War / U.S.A., Ukraine (Director and Screenwriter: Brendan Bellomo, Director: Slava Leontyev, Producers and Screenwriters: Aniela Sidorska, Paula DuPre’ Pesmen, Producers: Camilla Mazzaferro, Olivia Ahnemann) — Under roaring fighter jets and missile strikes, Ukrainian artists Slava, Anya, and Andrey choose to stay behind and fight, contending with the soldiers they have become. Defiantly finding beauty amid destruction, they show that although it’s easy to make people afraid, it’s hard to destroy their passion for living. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

Skywalkers: A Love Story / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Jeff Zimbalist, Producers: Maria Bukhonina, Tamir Ardon, Chris Smith, Nick Spicer) — To save their career and relationship, a daredevil couple journey across the globe to climb the world’s last super skyscraper and perform a bold acrobatic stunt on the spire. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

Sugarcane / U.S.A., Canada (Director: Julian Brave NoiseCat, Director and Producer: Emily Kassie, Producer: Kellen Quinn) — An investigation into abuse and missing children at an Indian residential school ignites a reckoning on the nearby Sugarcane Reserve. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

Union / U.S.A. (Directors: Stephen Maing, Brett Story, Producers: Samantha Curley, Mars Verrone) — The Amazon Labor Union (ALU) — a group of current and former Amazon workers in New York City’s Staten Island — takes on one of the world’s largest and most powerful companies in the fight to unionize. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION

Brief History of a Family / China, France, Denmark, Qatar (Director and Screenwriter: Jianjie Lin, Producers: Ying Lou, Yue Zheng, Yiwen Wang) — A middle-class family’s fate becomes intertwined with their only son’s enigmatic new friend in post one-child policy China, putting unspoken secrets, unmet expectations, and untended emotions under the microscope. Cast: Feng Zu, Keyu Guo, Xilun Sun, Muran Lin. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

Girls Will Be Girls / India, France, Norway (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Shuchi Talati, Producers: Richa Chadha, Claire Chassagne) — In a strict boarding school nestled in the Himalayas, 16-year-old Mira discovers desire and romance. But her sexual, rebellious awakening is disrupted by her mother who never got to come of age herself. Cast: Preeti Panigrahi, Kani Kusruti, Kesav Binoy Kiron. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

Handling the Undead / Norway (Director and Screenwriter: Thea Hvistendahl, Screenwriter: John Ajvide Lindqvist, Producers: Kristin Emblem, Guri Neby) — On a hot summer day in Oslo, the newly dead awaken. Three families faced with loss try to figure out what this resurrection means and if their loved ones really are back. Based on the book by John Ajvide Lindqvist. Cast: Renate Reinsve, Bjørn Sundquist, Bente Børsum, Anders Danielsen Lie, Bahar Pars. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

In The Land of Brothers / Iran, France, Netherlands (Directors, Screenwriters, and Producers: Raha Amirfazli, Alireza Ghasemi, Producers: Adrien Barrouillet, Frank Hoeve, Charles Meresse, Emma Binet, Arya Ghamavian) — Three members of an extended Afghan family start their lives over in Iran as refugees, unaware they face a decades-long struggle ahead to be “at home.” Cast: Hamideh Jafari, Bashir Nikzad, Mohammad Hosseini. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

Layla / U.K. (Director and Screenwriter: Amrou Al-Kadhi, Producer: Savannah James-Bayly) — When Layla, a struggling Arab drag queen, falls in love for the first time, they lose and find themself in a transformative relationship that tests who they really are. Cast: Bilal Hasna, Louis Greatorex, Safiyya Ingar, Darkwah, Terique Jarrett, Sarah Agha. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

Malu / Brazil (Director and Screenwriter: Pedro Freire, Producers: Tatiana Leite, Sabrina Garcia, Leo Ribeiro, Roberto Berliner) — Malu — a mercurial, unemployed actress living with her conservative mother in a precarious house in a Rio de Janeiro slum — tries to deal with her strained relationship with her own adult daughter while surviving on memories of her glorious artistic past. Cast: Yara de Novaes, Carol Duarte, Juliana Carneiro da Cunha, Átila Bee. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

Reinas / Switzerland, Peru, Spain (Director and Screenwriter: Klaudia Reynicke, Screenwriter and Producer: Diego Vega, Producers: Britta Rindelaub, Thomas Reichlin, Daniel Vega, Valérie Delpierre) — Surrounded by social and political chaos in Lima during the summer of 1992, Lucia, Aurora, and their mother, Elena, plan to leave and seek opportunities in the United States. Their farewell involves reconnecting with their estranged father, Carlos, adding turbulence to the regrets, hopes, and fears of their emotional departure. Cast: Abril Gjurinovic, Luana Vega, Jimena Lindo, Gonzalo Molina, Susi Sánchez. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

Sebastian / U.K., Finland, Belgium (Director and Screenwriter: Mikko Mäkelä, Producer: James Watson) — Max, a 25-year-old aspiring writer living in London, begins a double life as a sex worker in order to research his debut novel. Cast: Ruaridh Mollica, Hiftu Quasem, Ingvar Sigurdsson, Jonathan Hyde, Leanne Best, Lara Rossi. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

Sujo / Mexico, U.S.A., France (Directors, Screenwriters, and Producers: Astrid Rondero, Fernanda Valadez, Producers: Diana Arcega, Jewerl Keats Ross, Virginie Devesa, Jean-Baptiste Bailly-Maitre) — When a cartel gunman is killed, he leaves behind Sujo, his beloved 4-year-old son. The shadow of violence surrounds Sujo during each stage of his life in the isolated Mexican countryside. As he grows into a man, Sujo finds that fulfilling his father’s destiny may be inescapable. Cast: Juan Jesús Varela, Yadira Pérez, Alexis Varela, Sandra Lorenzano, Jairo Hernández, Kevin Aguilar. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

Veni Vidi Vici / Austria (Director and Screenwriter: Daniel Hoesl, Producer: Ulrich Seidl) — The Maynards and their children lead an almost perfect billionaire family life. Amon is a passionate hunter, but doesn’t shoot animals, as the family’s wealth allows them to live totally free from consequences. Cast: Laurence Rupp, Ursina Lardi, Olivia Goschler. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

Agent of Happiness / Bhutan, Hungary (Director and Producer: Arun Bhattarai, Director: Dorottya Zurbó, Producers: Noémi Veronika Szakonyi, Máté Artur Vincze) — Amber is one of the many agents working for the Bhutanese government to measure people’s happiness levels among the remote Himalayan mountains. But will he find his own along the way? World Premiere. Available online for Public.

The Battle for Laikipia / Kenya, U.S.A. (Director and Producer: Daphne Matziaraki, Director: Peter Murimi, Producer: Toni Kamau) — Unresolved historical injustices and climate change raise the stakes in a generations-old conflict between Indigenous pastoralists and white landowners in Laikipia, Kenya, a wildlife conservation haven. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

Black Box Diaries / Japan, U.S.A., U.K. (Director and Producer: Shiori Ito, Producers: Eric Nyari, Hanna Aqvilin) — Journalist Shiori Ito embarks on a courageous investigation of her own sexual assault in an improbable attempt to prosecute her high-profile offender. Her quest becomes a landmark case in Japan, exposing the country’s outdated judicial and societal systems. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

Eternal You / Germany, U.S.A. (Directors: Hans Block, Moritz Riesewieck, Producers: Christian Beetz, Georg Tschurtschenthaler) — Startups are using AI to create avatars that allow relatives to talk with their loved ones after they have died. An exploration of a profound human desire and the consequences of turning the dream of immortality into a product. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

Ibelin / Norway (Director: Benjamin Ree, Producer: Ingvil Giske) — Mats Steen, a Norwegian gamer, died of a degenerative muscular disease at the age of 25. His parents mourned what they thought had been a lonely and isolated life, when they started receiving messages from online friends around the world. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

IGUALADA / Colombia, U.S.A., Mexico (Director: Juan Mejía Botero, Producers: Juan E. Yepes, Daniela Alatorre, Sonia Serna) — In one of Latin America’s most unequal countries, Francia Márquez, a Black Colombian rural activist, challenges the status quo with a presidential campaign that reappropriates the derogatory term “Igualada” — someone who acts as if they deserve rights that supposedly don’t correspond to them — and inspires a nation to dream. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

Never Look Away / New Zealand (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Lucy Lawless, Screenwriters and Producers: Matthew Metcalfe, Tom Blackwell) — New Zealand–born groundbreaking CNN camerawoman Margaret Moth risks it all to show the reality of war from inside the conflict, staring down danger and confronting those who perpetuate it. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

A still from A New Kind of Wilderness by Silje Evensmo Jacobsen, an official selection of the World Documentary Competition at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Maria Gros Vatne.

A New Kind of Wilderness / Norway (Director: Silje Evensmo Jacobsen, Producer: Mari Bakke Riise) — In a forest in Norway, a family lives an isolated lifestyle in an attempt to be wild and free, but a tragic event changes everything, and they are forced to adjust to modern society. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

Nocturnes / India, U.S.A. (Director and Producer: Anirban Dutta, Director: Anupama Srinivasan) — In the dense forests of the Eastern Himalayas, moths are whispering something to us. In the dark of night, two curious observers shine a light on this secret universe. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

Soundtrack to a Coup d’Etat / Belgium, France, Netherlands (Director and Screenwriter: Johan Grimonprez, Producers: Daan Milius, Rémi Grellety) — In 1960, United Nations: the Global South ignites a political earthquake, musicians Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach crash the Security Council, Nikita Khrushchev bangs his shoe denouncing America’s color bar, while the U.S. dispatches jazz ambassador Louis Armstrong to the Congo to deflect attention from its first African post-colonial coup. World Premiere. Available online for Public.

NEXT

Desire Lines / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Jules Rosskam, Screenwriter: Nate Gualtieri, Producers: André Pérez, Amy E. Powell, Brittani Ward) — Past and present collide when an Iranian American trans man time-travels through an LGBTQ+ archive on a dizzying and erotic quest to unravel his own sexual desires. Cast: Theo Germaine, Aden Hakimi. World Premiere. Documentary. Available online for Public.

Kneecap / Ireland, U.K. (Director and Screenwriter: Rich Peppiatt, Producers: Jack Tarling, Trevor Birney) — There are 80,000 native Irish speakers in Ireland. 6,000 live in the North of Ireland. Three of them became a rap group called Kneecap. This anarchic Belfast trio becomes the unlikely figurehead of a civil rights movement to save the mother tongue. Cast: Liam Óg Ó hAnnaidh, Naoise Ó Cairealláin, JJ Ó Dochartaigh, Michael Fassbender, Josie Walker, Simone Kirby). World Premiere. Fiction. Available online for Public.

Little Death / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Jack Begert, Screenwriter: Dani Goffstein, Producers: Darren Aronofsky, Andy S. Cohen, Dylan Golden, Brendan Naylor, Sam Canter, Noor Alfallah) — A middle-aged filmmaker on the verge of a breakthrough. Two kids in search of a lost backpack. A small dog a long way from home. Cast: David Schwimmer, Gaby Hoffmann, Dominic Fike, Talia Ryder, Jena Malone, Sante Bentivoglio. World Premiere. Fiction. Available online for Public.

REALM OF SATAN / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Scott Cummings, Producers: Caitlin Mae Burke, Pacho Velez, Molly Gandour) — An experiential portrait depicting Satanists in both the everyday and in the extraordinary as they fight to preserve their lifestyle: magic, mystery, and misanthropy. Cast: Peter Gilmore, Peggy Nadramia, Blanche Barton. World Premiere. Documentary. Available online for Public.

Seeking Mavis Beacon / U.S.A. (Director and Writer: Jazmin Renée Jones, Producer: Guetty Felin)— Launched in the late ’80s, educational software Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing taught millions globally, but the program’s Haitian-born cover model vanished decades ago. Two DIY investigators search for the unsung cultural icon, while questioning notions of digital security, AI, and Black representation in the digital realm. World Premiere. Documentary. Available online for Public.

Tendaberry / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Haley Elizabeth Anderson, Producers: Carlos Zozaya, Matthew Petock, Zachary Shedd, Hannah Dweck, Theodore Schaefer, Daniel Patrick Carbone) — When her boyfriend goes back to Ukraine to be with his ailing father, 23-year-old Dakota anxiously navigates her precarious new reality, surviving on her own in New York City. Cast: Kota Johan, Yuri Pleskun. World Premiere. Fiction. Available online for Public.

PREMIERES

The American Society of Magical Negroes / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Kobi Libii, Producers: Julia Lebedev, Eddie Vaisman, Angel Lopez) — A young man, Aren, is recruited into a secret society of magical Black people who dedicate their lives to a cause of utmost importance: making white people’s lives easier. Cast: Justice Smith, David Alan Grier, An-Li Bogan, Drew Tarver, Rupert Friend, Nicole Byer. World Premiere. Fiction.

And So It Begins / U.S.A., Philippines (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Ramona S. Diaz) — Amidst the traditional pomp and circumstance of Filipino elections, a quirky people’s movement rises to defend the nation against deepening threats to truth and democracy. In a collective act of joy as a form of resistance, hope flickers against the backdrop of increasing autocracy. World Premiere. Documentary. Available online for Public.

DEVO / U.K., U.S.A. (Director: Chris Smith, Producers: Chris Holmes, Anita Greenspan, Danny Gabai) — Born in response to the Kent State massacre, new wave band Devo took their concept of “de-evolution” from cult following to near–rock star status with groundbreaking 1980 hit “Whip It” while preaching an urgent social commentary. World Premiere. Documentary.

A Different Man / U.S.A. (Director and Writer: Aaron Schimberg, Producers: Christine Vachon, Vanessa McDonnell, Gabriel Mayers) — Aspiring actor Edward undergoes a radical medical procedure to drastically transform his appearance. But his new dream face quickly turns into a nightmare, as he loses out on the role he was born to play and becomes obsessed with reclaiming what was lost. Cast: Sebastian Stan, Renate Reinsve, Adam Pearson. World Premiere. Fiction.

Freaky Tales / U.S.A. (Directors, Screenwriters, and Producers: Ryan Fleck, Anna Boden, Producers: Poppy Hanks, Jelani Johnson) — In 1987 Oakland, a mysterious force guides The Town’s underdogs in four interconnected tales: Teen punks defend their turf against Nazi skinheads, a rap duo battles for hip-hop immortality, a weary henchman gets a shot at redemption, and an NBA All-Star settles the score. Basically another day in the Bay. Cast: Pedro Pascal, Jay Ellis, Normani Kordei Hamilton, Dominique Thorne, Ben Mendelsohn, Ji-Young Yoo. World Premiere. Fiction.

Ghostlight / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Kelly O’Sullivan, Director and Producer: Alex Thompson, Producers: Pierce Cravens, Chelsea Krant, Ian Keiser, Eddie Linker, Alex Wilson) — When a construction worker unexpectedly joins a local theater’s production of Romeo and Juliet, the drama onstage starts to mirror his own life. Cast: Keith Kupferer, Dolly de Leon, Katherine Mallen Kupferer, Tara Mallen. World Premiere. Fiction.

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL | 18 – 28  JANUARY 2024

Eileen (2023)

Dir: William Oldroyd | Cast: Thomasin McKenzie, Anne Hathaway | US Thriller | 97′

Flawed but captivating nonetheless, this latest psychological thriller from William Oldroyd (Lady Macbeth) comes alive with dazzling lead performances from Thomasin McKenzie and Anne Hathaway as emotionally abused young career women in 1960s New England. Oldroyd stunned us with his first feature Lady Macbeth, seven years later his follow up lacks the same conviction

Adapted from Ottessa Moshfegh’s Booker prize-shortlisted novel, Eileen is certainly intriguing and stylish with its retro aesthetic and echoes of Todd Haynes’ Carol, albeit set a decade later. The female centric story, revolving around two troubled characters, initially catches fire but then drifts between several strands never quite coming together as a lesbian-themed folie-a-deux that ends in tragedy.

Hathaway and McKenzie certainly inject powerful onscreen chemistry in the same vein as Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara did as the blond bombshell and sultry sales girl in Carol. Here the workplace in not a glossy department store but a grim remand centre for young men where the earnest young Eileen (McKenzie), 24, is enduring a meaningless existence as a put-upon administrator living at home with a mean, alcoholic father (Wigham). When we first meet her, Eileen is nursing romantic rejection and a broken down car in a snowbound Boston of 1964.

When Hathaway’s Rebecca joins the facility, a psychologist tasked with a difficult case involving a an inmates and his mother, Eileen is immediately caught in the headlights of Rebecca’s glamour and starts to fantasise about her, professionally and sexually.

In Luke Goebel’s script Eileen is the more fully fleshed-out character with the bleached blond, brown-eyed Rebecca remaining enigmatic and underwritten. Clearly the the psychologist harbours a few skeletons in the cupboard, and is not the strong, self-realised women she appears to be, but spiky and unsettling with a penchant for downing martinis in a local bar where the two women flirt, Eileen gradually falling under Rebecca’s spell as their relationship unravels with events taking a sinister turn.

The film reaches its heady climax with this unpredictable state of affairs, but soon fizzles out in the unconvincing final stages, all thematic complexity lost in the rather hasty, melodramatic ‘crime thriller’ conclusion.

William Oldroyd’s Eileen is a fascinating watch despite its an ending that fails to make sense. The two sizzling performances: the delicate soulfulness of McKenzie and Hathaway’s brittle, hard-edged and unstable antiheroine make for a heady mix in a pulpy portrait of femmes fatales in a pickle. @MeredithTaylor

IN UK CINEMAS FROM 1 DECEMBER 2023

Fantastic Machine (2023)

Dir.: Axel Donielson, Maximilien von Aertryck; Documentary Sweden/Denmark 2023, 88 min.

‘An image tells a thousand words’ 

A potted history of the camera – from the early nineteenth century to the present day – provides compulsive viewing in this new documentary from Axel Donielson and Maximilien von Aertryck.

Apparently King Edward VII, when watching his own coronation re-staged by film pioneer Georges Melies in a Paris studio, exclaimed “What a fantastic machine” in his wonderment of a gadget which would transform public and private life forever.

The first time feature directors have plundered the archives and uncovered a wealth of material from the clips and sources – as a bonus, they are also preparing a book version which will serve as a companion piece to the documentary – promising additional, previously unseen material into the bargain.

The opening shows people in a shopping centre looking in astonishment at the ‘Camera Obscura’ images, forgetting they have far more sophisticated equipment in their own pockets. The stream of images, from Muybridge to Logan Paul; Melies sensational early shorts to “Breaking Bad” Fantastic Machine is a film about film and our obsession with recording what we see. It also tells the story of how technology changed the planet.

Back in the day, Melies’ footage of trains shocked audiences so much they fled the cinema in horror. There are oddities on show too, and breathtaking examples throughout that beggar belief: A very cheerful Leni Riefenstahl, looking back with nostalgia at a flatbed editing machine, ignores her past and her work and pretends there is no representation in any of her films.

Fantastic Machine shows us the first intercontinental broadcast and the response it got from  an audience in Wisconsin. There are examples of how photography eventually came alive with the moving image, and the first examples of the ‘peep show’ that would lead, in time, to ‘blue movies’. Yes, now that’s all on the internet for free.

The advent of TV was a major step forward, and with it the commercials that now seem to rule the world. But early TV was also a means of gaining insight and education in the “Open University” at least for the middle-classes, who were upwardly mobile during the 1960s. TV Commercials or ‘adverts’ soon found their way from the big box in the living room to the mobiles in our pockets, leading us persuasively by the nose to the goods we think we need with algorithms to find a target audience.

You Tube has now created a new audience, and a set of new age entrepreneurs: The phenomenon has spawned a legion of teen millionaires all under the age of eighteen. On a darker note, we have to thank the cameramen who risk their lives in war zones, and those who took images of liberated concentration camp victims, “so that nobody can say that it did not happen”. The directors strike a note of caution when it comes to fake news, urging us to think before we act. Seeing is not always believing, and can be deceptive.

Fantastic Machine is certainly worth a second viewing. Apart from being a treasure trove of information, it never takes itself too seriously with a welcome dash of humour, and a non-judgemental approach at all times. AS

IN UK CINEMAS FROM 19 APRIL 2024

 

A Thousand and One (2023)

Dir: AV Rockwell | Cast: Teyana Taylor, Aaron Kingsley Adetola, Aven Courtney, Josiah Cross, William Catlett | US Drama 117′

AV Rockwell has a strong premise for her feature debut that chronicles ten years in the life of a struggling black family set against the burgeoning gentrification of Brooklyn during the 1990s. And it looks fabulous with its inspired aesthetic sense and an evocative soundtrack. Sadly A Thousand and One is slight, overlong and underwhelming despite a confident central performance from Teyana Taylor who plays Inez, a bitter and difficult underdog whose only desire is to forge a stable family.

We first meet 22-year-old hairdresser Inez at Riker’s Island detention centre before she struts out into the big wide world in search of Terry, a six-year old child she left behind. Unfolding in a series of brief episodes the film soon establishes her difficult circumstances: grinding poverty and homelessness, Inez not exactly ingratiating herself with the foster family who have looked after Terry in the intervening years. The two are soon out on the streets of Harlem, Inez keen to start out again alone, before settling down with Lucky (Catlett), who appears to be a lover from the past. And the tale continues in this enigmatic vein, leaving us to fill in the gaps in a tonally uneven moody melodrama that aspires to be more momentous than it actually is, despite its justifiable pretensions.

Inez remains the same character over the decade while young Terry develops, played by three different actors (Atedola at 6, Courtney at 14 and Cross at 17). He is the most nuanced character growing from a hurt little boy – the film’s most meaningful scene sees him left all alone to amuse himself for the day – into a  thoughtful and intelligent adolescent, and eventually a disillusioned teenager.

Catlett’s Lucky eventually finds some soul after a prickly start in his new family, although he never really bonds with Inez (apart from in sex scenes) and the three of them somehow remain disconnected despite their fraught journey together. Taylor holds the film together with her vehemence and indomitable emotional power although her performance sometimes feels contrived: a little less attitude and a touch more vulnerability would have been welcome to make her character more relatable.

Oddly enough, One Thousand and One is at its most resonant in picturing the changing backcloth of New York’s gradual urban generation seen through a series of shifting aerial views of the city, brilliantly captured by DoP Eric Yue, along with carefully chosen archive clips from various speeches given by mayors Rudy Giuliani to Michael Bloomberg amongst others. This gives the film the ballast and integrity lacking in the story of Inez and her family. A worthwhile story then, in need of more depth script wise. MT

IN CINEMAS IN APRIL 2023.

Girl (2023) Sundance Film Festival 2023

Dir.: Adura Onashile; Cast: Deborah Lukumuena. Le Shantey Bonsu, Liana Turner, Danny Sapani; UK 2023, 87 min.

Two Congolese asylum seekers find out their Glasgow council estate is not quite the bed roses they imagined after escaping their war-torn country in this debut feature from Adura Onashile.

Girl, premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, is another coming-of-age drama, almost a carbon copy of Caterina Mona’s 2022, Zurich-set feature Semret that premiered at last year’s Locarno Film Festival. It follows the lives of Grace, 24, and her teenage daughter who could even be her sister at 13 years old. Their new life in Scotland is easy up to a point, but the changes they both need to adjust to are going to be difficult in the long run. 

Grace, played by French actor Deborah Lukumuena in her first English-speaking role, carries the baggage of a traumatic past in the Congolese Civil War. Like many parents these days she is over-protective of her daughter Ama (Bonsu), for good reason, but filling her head with horror stories about the war back home and barricading the windows with cardboard is not good way to bring up your daughter. And Ama has grown into a bit of a rebel, sneaking out onto the balcony to watch the real world go by. Social Services have be involved and the school headmistress has complained about Ama’s attendance. Grace resists any attempt to socialise her daughter who soon befriends Fiona (Turner) who serves as her conduit the outside world, introducing her to all the modern teenage trends. Grace has found a job but is struggling to cope with Counting OCD, a condition impelling the sufferer to count to high numbers in a bid to ward off negativity. Grace also hyperventilates. Fellow employee Danny (Sapani) is the first man to break through Grace’ defences. 

Although this is no sink estate drama DoP Tasha Back captures the reality of life  there, and the comfortable home Grace has created in contrast to the harsh world outside. French actor Deborah Lukumuena, who won a “Cesar” for Divines, gives an imposing performance in a film that avoids sentimentality and polemics, with a focus on the women’s eventual liberation from their tragic past. AS

PREMIERING AT SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL | 19 -27 JANUARY 2023 | also playing at the opening film at this year’s GLASGOW FILM FESTIVAL 2023

Iron Butterflies (2023) Sundance Film Festival 2023

Dir: Roman Liubyi | Doc with Bridget Fiske, Sofiya Gakh, Anton Ovhcinnikov, Joseph Lau | 84′

In his documentary debut, Director Roman Liubyi plunders the archives for clips and real life interviews that present a convincing expose of an act of genocide that changed the course of recent history for all of us. The film bears testament to the recent corrosive trend for questioning incontrovertible truths.

A case in point is the focus of Iron Butterflies. On July 17, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down by Russian forces over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. The reality of this attack, and its possible ramifications for the then-ongoing war in Donbas and the West’s relationship with Russia, was immediately questioned by the Russian government and media which chose to spin the evidence and change the goal posts, presenting a different ‘truth’ – also known as ‘lies’ – to the one the rest of the world had accepted.

Gradually, the film pieces together ample evidence of what really happened – the title referring to butterfly-shaped items of shrapnel that were found in the bodies of the pilots. As the evidence gradually piles up Liubyi shows that denying what really happened eventually becomes more outlandish and incredible.

In a world where violence can only be defended by lies, and lies only maintained by violence, Iron Butterflies presents the truth of what happened to MH17, but also what was at stake by not confronting it.

SCREENING DURING SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 19-29 JANUARY 2023 | WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION.

When it Melts (2023) Sundance Film Festival 2023

Dir.: Veerle Baetens; Cast: Charlotte De Bruyne, Rosa Marchant, Amber Metdeppeningen, Femkevan der Steen, Naomi Velissariou, Sebastian Dewaele, Matthijs Meertens, Chrlotte van der Eecken, Simon van Buyten,Anthony Vyt; Belgium/ Netherlands 2023, 111 min.

Family conflict is at the heart of this provocative drama about a troubled teenager from first time Belgian director Veerle Baetens.  

Now an adult, Eva (De Bruyne) has clearly not recovered from the past. Out of quiet desperation, we see her (in flashback) deliberately breaking a gift rejected by another girl called Elisa (Van Der Eecken) who she tried to befriend when she was younger (played by Marchant). And desperation is a good way to describe her current existence in a Belgium city where she now lives, people around her clearly picking up on her angst. The truth will gradually emerge in a series of flashbacks fleshing out her childhood showing a happier time in the countryside where she grew up.

When It Melts sees Eva returning to the village many years after a sweltering summer where everything seemed to go wrong, leaving her scarred and emotionally fragile. This time, Eva has taken a block of ice in the back of her car, but not in preparation for the summer heat, as we soon discover as the tragedy unfolds. Her old friend Laurens (Van Buyten) is happy to see her. His mother – the local butcher – always seemed warm and protective, unlike her own parents who were dismissive and distant. Tim is still suffering from the death of hs brother Jan, who fell into a cesspit. His parents clearly would have preferred him to die instead. 

In the past Elisa (Van der Eecken), was always more mature and sophisticated than the others. Her Dad gave her a horse as compensation for his frequent absence. Elisa, out of boredom, hung out with Eva, giving her make-up lessons and lending some of her clothes. Eva saw this as true friendship, introducing Elisa to Laurens and Tim. But their relationship ends when Eva accidentally kills Elisa’s horse by feeding it poisonous flowers. Sex inevitably becomes another complication between the girls and the boys, in a game of truth or dare that goes seriously wrong. Graphic violence and cruelty takes place off scene, the sheer brutality of these encounters is clearly harrowing – but very much in line with the characters committing them.

When it Melts avoids sensationalism, but is once again testament to how far ordinary teenagers will go to fulfil their darkest desires. Strong performances across the board make this heart-rending and convincing, Baetens’ debut will stay with the audience for a long time after they leave the cinema. AS

SPECIAL JURY AWARD, WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC : BEST PERFORMANCE ROSA MARCHANT | SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2023

 

 

Slow (2023) Sundance Film Festival 2023

Dir.: Marija Kavtaradze; Cast: Greta Grineviciute; Kestutis Cicenas, Pijus Ganusauskas, RimanteValiukaite; :Lithuania/Sweden/Spain 2023, 104 min.

Lithuanian writer/director Marija Kavtaradze’s sophomore feature explores different sexual needs within a heterosexual relationship.

Elena (Grineviciute) is an easy going dance instructor and choreographer in the world of modern ballet. Sex is important to her and she also enjoys male company unlike her close friend who has just entered a convent. Elena is wary of women, having suffered the negative impact her mother (Valiukaite) who wanted a tall slim classical dancer as a daughter, and still lets her known it.

Elena then meets sign language interpreter Dovydas (Cicenas) who will translate for a group of young hearing and speech-impaired dancers. Drawn to his attractive physique she is looking forward to jumping into bed with him only to discover he is cupiosexual, although he still wants a relationship with a woman. Elena is baffled, she has so far only dealt with men who are highly sexed. Dovydas is really in love with Elena, but is unable to consummate their relationship. After a rejection, Elena compensates with a fling with an old flame, but tells Dovydas all about it: “It was just for fun”. The two try to come to terms with Dovydas’ condition: he is not emasculated by Elena’s stronger sexual drive, and does not withdraw from her, as he might if suffering from sexual disfunction.  That said, somehow they both suffer in different ways from the absence of sex. In a drunken state, they contemplate an open relationship, but both decide against it. Elena turns to her ex Vilius (Ganusauskas), in the hope of a ‘friends with benefits’ solution but he rejects the idea. But the final act gets rather bogged down in the couple’s attempts to find a modus vivendi, descending into remonstrations and protracted arguments. 

Slow is actually two films in one, the rehearsals and performances of Elena’s dance troupe become engrossing in their own right. They show that Elena’s sexuality is very bound up in her physicality, and the form and function of her chosen career is only one step away from the sexual act itself. In contrast Dovydas is not at one with his body and its functions, and Elena finds it difficult to put herself in his shoes and cope with a man who is good-looking but sexually low-powered, just as she cannot get her mind around her friend opting for celibacy. DoP Laurinas Bareisa conjures up the grace and movement of the ballet scenes. Intellectually impressive, Slow’s lack of drive and continuity is the only flaw in this illuminating dramaAS

BEST DIRECTOR WINNER | WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC | SUNDANCE 2023

Sundance Film Festival 2023

The Sundance Film Festival is back for the first time since 2020 at its Park City venue celebrating independent film with a line-up of 101 feature-length films, from 23 different countries. This year’s festival is an in-person and online event allowing audiences all over the world to enjoy access to the latest films from 19-29 January, the online programme starting on 24th, and including all titles

The festival is divided into four main sections: US DRAMATIC, US DOCUMENTARY, WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC and WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY. There is also the MIDNIGHT, PREMIER and NEW FRONTIER strands representing /horror edgy, first and ground-breaking new titles. See the full line-up for the 2023 Sundance Film Festival below.

U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION

THE ACCIDENTAL GETAWAY DRIVER : U.S.A. Dir/Wri: Sing J. Lee, Screenwriter: Christopher Chen – During a routine pickup, an elderly Vietnamese cab driver is taken hostage at gunpoint by three recently escaped Orange County convicts. Based on a true story. Cast: Hiệp Trần Nghĩa, Dustin Nguyen, Dali Benssalah, Phi Vũ, Gabrielle Chan. World Premiere. Available online.

ALL DIRT ROADS TASTE OF SALT: U.S.A. (Dir/Wri: Raven Jackson – A decades-spanning exploration of a woman’s life in Mississippi and an ode to the generations of people, places, and ineffable moments that shape us. Cast: Charleen McClure, Moses Ingram, Kaylee Nicole Johnson, Reginald Helms Jr., Sheila Atim, Chris Chalk. World Premiere. Available online.

FAIR PLAY: U.S.A. Dir/Wri: Chloe Domont – An unexpected promotion at a cutthroat hedge fund pushes a young couple’s relationship to the brink, threatening to unravel far more than their recent engagement. Cast: Phoebe Dynevor, Alden Ehrenreich, Eddie Marsan. World Premiere. Available online.

FANCY DANCE: / U.S.A. Dir/Wri: Erica Tremblay, Wri: Miciana Alise – Following her sister’s disappearance, a Native American hustler kidnaps her niece from the child’s white grandparents and sets out for the state powwow in hopes of keeping what is left of their family intact. Cast: Lily Gladstone, Isabel Deroy-Olson, Ryan Begay, Shea Whigham, Audrey Wasilewski. World Premiere. Available online.

MAGAZINE DREAMS: / U.S.A. Dir/Wri: Elijah Bynum – An amateur bodybuilder struggles to find human connection as his relentless drive for recognition pushes him to the brink. Cast: Jonathan Majors, Haley Bennett, Taylour Paige, Mike O’Hearn, Harrison Page, Harriet Sansom Harris. World Premiere. Available online.

MUTT / U.S.A. (Dir/Wri: Vuk Lungulov-Klotz — Over the course of a single hectic day in New York City, three people from Feña’s past are thrust back into his life. Having lost touch since transitioning from female to male, he navigates the new dynamics of old relationships while tackling the day-to-day challenges of living life in between. Cast: Lío Mehiel, Cole Doman, MiMi Ryder, Alejandro Goic. World Premiere. Available online.

THE PERSIAN VERSION / U.S.A. Dir/Wri: Maryam Keshavarz, Producers: Anne Carey, Ben Howe, Luca Borghese, Peter Block, Corey Nelson) — When a large Iranian-American family gathers for the patriarch’s heart transplant, a family secret is uncovered that catapults the estranged mother and daughter into an exploration of the past. Toggling between the United States and Iran over decades, mother and daughter discover they are more alike than they know. Cast: Layla Mohammadi, Niousha Noor, Kamand Shafieisabet, Bella Warda, Bijan Daneshmand, Shervin Alenabi. World Premiere. Available online.

SHORTCOMINGS / U.S.A. Dir: Randall Park, Wri: Adrian Tomine — Following Ben, Miko, and Alice as they navigate a range of interpersonal relationships and traverse the country in search of the ideal connection. Cast: Justin H. Min, Sherry Cola, Ally Maki, Debby Ryan, Tavi Gevinson, Sonoya Mizuno. World Premiere. Available online.

SOMETIMES I THINK ABOUT DYING:  /U.S.A. Dir: Rachel Lambert, Wri: Kevin Armento, Stefanie Abel Horowitz, Katy Wright-Mead — Fran likes to think about dying. It brings sensation to her quiet life. When she makes the new guy at work laugh, it leads to more: a date, a slice of pie, a conversation, a spark. The only thing standing in their way is Fran herself. Cast: Daisy Ridley, Dave Merheje, Parvesh Cheena, Marcia DeBonis, Meg Stalter, Brittany O’Grady. World Premiere. Available online. DAY ONE

THE STARLING GIRL / U.S.A. Dir/Wri: Laurel Akira Parmet — Seventeen-year-old Jem Starling struggles with her place within her Christian fundamentalist community, but everything changes when her magnetic youth pastor Owen returns to their church. Cast: Eliza Scanlen, Lewis Pullman, Jimmi Simpson, Wrenn Schmidt, Austin Abrams, Jessamine Burgum. World Premiere. Available online.

THEATRE CAMP / U.S.A. Dir/Wri Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman, Screenwriters: Noah Galvin, Ben Platt — When the beloved founder of a run-down theatre camp in upstate New York falls into a coma, the eccentric staff must band together with the founder’s crypto-bro son to keep the camp afloat. Cast: Molly Gordon, Ben Platt, Noah Galvin, Jimmy Tatro, Patti Harrison, Ayo Edebiri. World Premiere. Available online.

A THOUSAND AND ONE / U.S.A. Dir/Wri: A.V. Rockwell — Convinced it’s one last, necessary crime on the path to redemption, unapologetic and free-spirited Inez kidnaps 6-year-old Terry from the foster care system. Holding on to their secret and each other, mother and son set out to reclaim their sense of home, identity, and stability in New York City. Cast: Teyana Taylor, Will Catlett, Josiah Cross, Aven Courtney, Aaron Kingsley Adetola. World Premiere. Available online.

U.S. DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

AUM: The Cult at the End of the World /U.S.A. (Dirs: Ben Braun, Chiaki Yanagimoto — On the morning of March 20, 1995, a deadly nerve gas attack in the Tokyo subway sent the nation and its people into chaos. This exploration of Aum Shinrikyo, the cult responsible for the attack, involves the participation of those who lived through the horror as it unfolded. World Premiere. Available online.

BAD PRESS / U.S.A (Dirs: Rebecca Landsberry-Baker, Joe Peeler — When the Muscogee Nation suddenly begins censoring its free press, a rogue reporter fights to expose her government’s corruption in a historic battle that will have ramifications for all of Indian country. World Premiere. Available online.

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF SHERE HITE / U.S.A. (Dir: Nicole Newnham — Shere Hite’s 1976 bestselling book, The Hite Report, liberated the female orgasm by revealing the most private experiences of thousands of anonymous survey respondents. Her findings rocked the American establishment and presaged current conversations about gender, sexuality, and bodily autonomy. So how did Shere Hite disappear? World Premiere. Available online.

GOING TO MARS: The Nikki Giovanni Project / U.S.A. (Dir: Joe Brewster, Michèle Stephenson — Intimate vérité, archival footage, and visually innovative treatments of poetry take us on a journey through the dreamscape of legendary poet Nikki Giovanni as she reflects on her life and legacy. World Premiere. Available online.

GOING VARSITY IN MARIACHI / U.S.A. (DirS: Alejandra Vasquez, Sam Osborn — In the competitive world of high school mariachi, the musicians from the South Texas borderlands reign supreme. Under the guidance of coach Abel Acuña, the teenage captains of Edinburg North High School’s acclaimed team must turn a shoestring budget and diverse crew of inexperienced musicians into state champions. World Premiere. Available online.

JOONAM / U.S.A. (Dir: Sierra Urich — Spurred by a provocative family memory and a lifetime of separation from the country her mother left behind, a young filmmaker delves into her mother and grandmother’s complicated pasts and her own fractured Iranian identity. World Premiere. Available online.

LITTLE RICHARD: I AM EVERYTHING/ U.S.A. Dir: Lisa Cortés — This celebration of Little Richard reveals the Black queer origins of rock ’n’ roll, finally exploding the whitewashed canon of American pop music. Through archival and performance footage, the revolutionary icon’s life unspools with all of its switchbacks and contradictions. World Premiere. Available online. DAY ONE

NAM JUNE PAIK: Moon is the Oldest TV / U.S.A. (Dir: Amanda Kim — The quixotic journey of Nam June Paik, one of the most famous Asian artists of the 20th century, who revolutionised the use of technology as an artistic canvas and prophesied both the fascist tendencies and intercultural understanding that would arise from the interconnected nature of today’s world. World Premiere. Available online.

A STILL SMALL VOICE/ U.S.A. Dir: Luke Lorentzen — An aspiring hospital chaplain begins a yearlong residency in spiritual care, only to discover that to successfully tend to her patients, she must look deep within herself. World Premiere. Available online.

THE STROLL/ U.S.A. (Dir: Kristen Lovell — The history of New York’s Meatpacking District, told from the perspective of transgender sex workers who lived and worked there. Filmmaker Kristen Lovell, who walked “The Stroll” for a decade, reunites her community to recount the violence, policing, homelessness, and gentrification they overcame to build a movement for transgender rights. World Premiere. Available online.

VICTIM/SUSPECT/ U.S.A. (Dir: Nancy Schwartzman — Investigative journalist Rae de Leon travels nationwide to uncover and examine a shocking pattern: Young women tell the police they’ve been sexually assaulted, but instead of finding justice, they’re charged with the crime of making a false report, arrested, and even imprisoned by the system they believed would protect them. World Premiere. Available online.

WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION

BAD BEHAVIOUR: New Zealand Dir/wri: Alice Englert — Lucy, a former child actor, seeks enlightenment at a retreat led by spiritual leader Elon while she navigates her close yet turbulent relationship with her stunt-performer daughter, Dylan. Cast: Jennifer Connelly, Ben Whishaw, Alice Englert, Ana Scotney, Dasha Nekrasova, Marlon Williams. World Premiere. Available online.

ANIMALIA / France, Morocco, Qatar Dir/Wri: Sofia Alaoui — A young, pregnant woman finds emancipation as aliens land in Morocco. Cast: Oumaïma Barid, Mehdi Dehbi, Fouad Oughaou. World Premiere. Available online.

GIRL U.K. Dir/Wri: Adura Onashile — Eleven-year-old Ama and her mother, Grace, take solace in the gentle but isolated world they obsessively create. Ama’s growing up threatens the boundaries of their tenderness and forces Grace to reckon with a past she struggles to forget. Cast: Déborah Lukumuena, Danny Sapani, Le’Shantey Bonsu, Liana Turner. World Premiere. Available online.

HEROIC – Mexico, Sweden (Dir/Wri: David Zonana — Luis, an 18-year-old boy with Indigenous roots, enters the Heroic Military College in hopes of ensuring a better future. There, he encounters a rigid and institutionally violent system designed to turn him into a perfect soldier. Cast: Santiago Sandoval Carbajal, Fernando Cuautle, Mónica del Carmen, Esteban Caicedo, Carlos Gerardo García, Isabel Yudice. World Premiere. Available online.

MAMACRUZ  – Spain Dir/Wri: Patricia Ortega, Wri: José Ortuño — With the help of her newly emigrated daughter, a religious grandmother learns how to use the internet. However, an accidental encounter with pornography poses a dilemma for her. Cast: Kiti Mánver. World Premiere. Available online.

MAMI VATA – Nigeria Dir/Wri: C.J. “Fiery” Obasi — When the harmony in a village is threatened by outside elements, two sisters must fight to save their people and restore the glory of a mermaid goddess to the land. Cast: Evelyne Ily, Uzoamaka Aniunoh, Kelechi Udegbe, Emeka Amakeze, Rita Edochie, Tough Bone. World Premiere. Available online.

LA PECERA – Puerto Rico, Spain Dir/Wri: Glorimar Marrero Sánchez — As her cancer spreads, Noelia’s ultimate decision is to return to her native Vieques, Puerto Rico, and claim her freedom to decide her own fate. She reunites with her friends and family, who are still dealing with the contamination of the U.S. Navy after sixty years of military practices. Cast: Isel Rodríguez, Modesto Lacén, Magali Carrasquillo, Maximiliano Rivas, Anamín Santiago, Idenisse Salamán. World Premiere. Available online.

SCRAPPER: U.K. Dir/Wri: Charlotte Regan — Georgie is a dreamy 12-year-old girl who lives happily alone in her London flat, filling it with magic. Out of nowhere, her estranged father turns up and forces her to confront reality. Cast: Harris Dickinson, Lola Campbell, Alin Uzun, Ambreen Razia, Olivia Brady, Aylin Tezel. World Premiere. Available online.

SHAYDA – Australia (Dir/Wri: Noora Niasari — Shayda, a brave Iranian mother, finds refuge in an Australian women’s shelter with her 6-year-old daughter. Over Persian New Year, they take solace in Nowruz rituals and new beginnings, but when her estranged husband re-enters their lives, Shayda’s path to freedom is jeopardized. Cast: Zar Amir Ebrahimi, Osamah Sami, Leah Purcell, Jillian Nguyen, Mojean Aria, Selina Zahednia. World Premiere. Available online. DAY ONE

SLOW – Lithuania, Spain, Sweden (Dir/Wri: Marija Kavtaradze — Dancer Elena and sign language interpreter Dovydas meet and form a beautiful bond. As they dive into a new relationship, they must navigate how to build their own kind of intimacy. Cast: Greta Grinevičiūtė, Kęstutis Cicėnas. World Premiere. Available online.

SORCERY – Chile, Mexico, Germany Dir/Wri: Christopher Murray, Wri: Pablo Paredes — On the remote island of Chiloé in the late 19th century, an Indigenous girl named Rosa lives and works with her father on a farm. When the foreman brutally turns on Rosa’s father, she sets out for justice, seeking help from the king of a powerful organisation of sorcerers. Cast: Valentina Véliz, Daniel Antivilo, Sebastian Hulk, Daniel Muñoz. World Premiere. Available online.

WHEN IT MELTS –  Belgium Dir/Wri: Veerle Baetens, Wri: Maarten Loix — Many years after a sweltering summer that spun out of control, Eva returns to the village she grew up in with an ice block in the back of her car. In the dead of winter, she confronts her past and faces up to her tormentors. Cast: Charlotte De Bruyne, Rosa Marchant. World Premiere. Available online.

WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

5 SEASONS OF REVOLUTION – Germany, Syria, Netherlands, Norway Dir: Lina — An aspiring video journalist in her 20s finds herself already facing self-reckoning. Born in Damascus, Syria, Lina starts to report on the events around her until she is compelled to become a war reporter and, later, the unexpected narrator of her own destiny. World Premiere. Available online.

20 DAYS IN MARIUPOL – Ukraine Dir/Wri: Mstyslav Chernov — As the Russian invasion begins, a team of Ukrainian journalists trapped in the besieged city of Mariupol struggle to continue their work documenting the war’s atrocities. World Premiere. Available online.

AGAINST THE TIDE – India Dir/Wri: Sarvnik Kaur — Two friends, both Indigenous fishermen, are driven to desperation by a dying sea. Their friendship begins to fracture as they take very different paths to provide for their struggling families. World Premiere. Available online.

THE ETERNAL BUTTERFLY – Chile Dir/Wri: Maite Alberdi — Augusto and Paulina have been together for 25 years. Eight years ago, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Both fear the day he no longer recognises her. World Premiere. Available online.

FANTASTIC MACHINE – Sweden, Denmark Dirs: Axel Danielson, Maximilien Van Aertryck) — From the first camera to 45 billion cameras worldwide today, the visual sociologist filmmakers widen their lens to expose both humanity’s unique obsession with the camera’s image and the social consequences that lay ahead. World Premiere. Available online.

IRON BUTTERFLIES – Ukraine, Germany Dir: Roman Liubyi — In summer 2014, sunflower fields and coal mines in eastern Ukraine turned into a 12 square kilometre crime scene. A multi-layered investigation into the downing of flight MH17, in which a butterfly-shaped shrapnel was found in the pilot’s body, implicated the state responsible for a war crime that remains unpunished. World Premiere. Available online.

IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE? / U.K. DIR: Ella Glendining — While navigating daily discrimination, a filmmaker who inhabits and loves her unusual body searches the world for another person like her, and explores what it takes to love oneself fiercely despite the pervasiveness of ableism. World Premiere. Available online.

THE LONGEST GOODBYE  – Israel, Canada Dir: Ido Mizrahy — Social isolation affects millions of people, even Mars-bound astronauts. A savvy NASA psychologist is tasked with protecting these daring explorers. World Premiere. Available online. DAY ONE

MILISUTHANDO – South Africa Dir/Wri: Milisuthando Bongela — Set in past, present, and future South Africa — an invitation into a poetic, memory-driven exploration of love, intimacy, race, and belonging by the filmmaker, who grew up during apartheid but didn’t know it was happening until it was over. World Premiere. Available online.

PIANOFORTE – Poland Dir: Jakub Piątek — Young pianists take part in the legendary International Chopin Piano Competition. A unique chance of a lifetime, portrayed from backstage and set to Chopin’s music. World Premiere. Available online.

SMOKE SAUNA SISTERHOOD – Estonia, France, Iceland Dir: Anna Hints — In the darkness of a smoke sauna, women share their innermost secrets and intimate experiences, washing off the shame trapped in their bodies and regaining their strength through a sense of communion. World Premiere. Available online.

TWICE COLONISED – Greenland, Denmark, Canada (Dir: Lin Alluna — Renowned Inuit lawyer Aaju Peter has long fought for the rights of her people. When her son suddenly dies, Aaju embarks on a journey to reclaim her language and culture after a lifetime of whitewashing and forced assimilation. But can she both change the world and mend her own wounds? World Premiere. Available online.

NEXT

BRAVE, BURKINA!  – U.S.A. Dir/Wri: Walé Oyéjidé — A Burkinabé boy flees his village and migrates to Italy. When disillusioned by heartbreak and haunted by memories of home, he travels through time in hope of regaining all he has lost. Cast: Alain Tiendrebeogo, Mousty Mbaye, Noel Minougou, Aissata Deme, Afissatou Coulibaly. World Premiere. Fiction. Available online.

DIVINITY – U.S.A. Dir/Wri: Eddie Alcazar —Two mysterious brothers abduct a mogul during his quest for immortality. Meanwhile, a seductive woman helps them launch a journey of self-discovery. Cast: Stephen Dorff, Moises Arias, Jason Genao, Karrueche Tran, Bella Thorne, Scott Bakula. World Premiere. Fiction. Available online.

FREMONT – U.S.A. Dir/Wri: Babak Jalali, Screenwriter: Carolina Cavalli — Donya works for a Chinese fortune cookie factory in San Francisco. Formerly a translator for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, she struggles to put her life back in order. In a moment of sudden revelation, she decides to send out a special message in a cookie. Cast: Anaita Wali Zada, Jeremy Allen White, Gregg Turkington. World Premiere. Fiction. Available online.

KIM’S VIDEO – U.S.A. Dir/Wri: David Redmon, Ashley Sabin — Playing with the forms and tropes of various cinema genres, the filmmaker sets off on a quest to find a legendary lost video collection of 55,000 movies in Sicily. World Premiere. Documentary. Available online. DAY ONE

KING COLE – U.S.A. Dir/Wri: Elaine McMillion Sheldon — The cultural roots of coal continue to permeate the rituals of daily life in Appalachia even as its economic power wanes. The journey of a coal miner’s daughter exploring the region’s dreams and myths, untangling the pain and beauty, as her community sits on the brink of massive change. World Premiere. Documentary. Available online.

KOKOMO CITY – U.S.A. Dir: D. Smith — Four Black transgender sex workers explore the dichotomy between the Black community and themselves, while confronting issues long avoided. World Premiere. Documentary. Available online.

TO LIVE AND DIE AND LIVE –  U.S.A. Dir/Wri: Qasim Basir — Muhammad returns home to Detroit to bury his stepfather and is thrust into settling his accounts, but Muhammad’s struggles with depression and addiction may finish him before he finishes the task. Cast: Amin Joseph, Skye P. Marshall, Omari Hardwick, Cory Hardrict, Dana Gourrier, Maryam Basir. World Premiere. Fiction. Available online.

THE TUBE THIEVES – U.S.A. Dir/Wri: Alison O’Daniel — From 2011 to 2013, tubas were stolen from Los Angeles high schools. This is not a story about thieves or missing tubas. Instead, it asks what it means to listen. World Premiere. Documentary. Available online.

YOUNG. WILD. FREE – U.S.A Dir: Thembi L. Banks, Iris: Juel Taylor, Tony Rettenmaier — High school senior Brandon is drowning in responsibilities when his world is turned upside down after being robbed at gunpoint by the girl of his dreams. Cast: Algee Smith, Sanaa Lathan, Sierra Capri, Mike Epps. World Premiere. Fiction. Available online.

Luzzu (2021)

Dir/Wri: Alex Camilleri | Cast: Jesmark Scicluna, Marlene Schranz, David Scicluna, Marta Vella | Drama 94′

Fisherman all over the world are under pressure in what is surely one of the most honourable professions since the time of Jesus: bringing home the catch.

Maltese American filmmaker Alex Camilleri backed by award-winning screenwriter Ramin Bahrani casts a real working fisherman (Jesmark Scicluna) in his intelligent debut feature that plays out like an agonising arthouse thriller set in a fishing Mediterranean community struggling to survive. Jesmark is one of a long line of locals making (or not making) their living from the sea. Each days he sets sails in his colourful painted luzzu – a traditional man-made wooden boat – hoping to support his newborn son who needs medical treatment. The alternative is to decommission his vessel for an EU payout and possibly getting tied up in EU red tape, or go on the black market with the island’s criminal underclass. Seemingly a no-win situation. Interestingly Malta joined the European Union in 2004 and their exotic language sounds like a cross between Sicilian and North African Arabic.

So the odds are really stacked against Jesmark who manages to look resentful, hurt and bewildered in a convincing performance that won him Best Acting award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Meanwhile, his wife Denise (Michela Farrugia) manages to make everything look like his fault, along with his mother in law. And to makes matters worse he now has to rely on a friend (David Scicluna) to help him.

Their daily catch yields a mixture of sea bream, mullet and bass, but they are forced to throw a lucrative swordfish back in the sea, although the fish is already dead,  because it contravenes EU regulations, and this is a tense moment for Jesmark who clearly feels back-footed and diminished. Clearly this is not working. So he joins forces with the unscrupulous Uday (Uday Maclean) in a soulless (!) foray that goes his integrity. This black market option requires him to go back on his tracks after dark and collect the leftover fish which can then be sold on to restaurants.

With disappointment and anger etched on his weatherbeaten face Jesmark is the embodiment of male failure. Luzzu serves a vibrant snapshot of this ancient Southern European archipelago with its age-old traditions and tightknit community dogged by global economic turndown and EU restrictions. MT

SUNDANCE SPECIAL JURY AWARD – ACTING | OUT ON 27 MAY 2022

Sundance Film Festival 2022

Sundance 2022 once again followed the ongoing festival trend in this increasingly pandemic prone era: “festival-goers” were forced to peer into their home screens to watch the selection, rather than enjoying the fresh mountain air and apres ski moments in snowy Park City, Utah.

In the spirit of independent cinema the winners were nevertheless worthwhile in their subject matter, a sardonic Bill Nighy saving things from being too worthy with his cancer-themed drama LIVING described by The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw as “a gentle, exquisitely sad film” set in 1950s London, deftly adapted from Akira Kurosawa’s original screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro, and directed by Oliver Hermanus, a South African filmmaker who goes from strength to strength building on his previous success with Moffie (Venice 2020).

Bill Nighy appears in Living by Oliver Hermanus, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Number 9 Films/Ross Ferguson.

 

The main festival prizes went to Daniel Roher’s NAVALNY an expansive documentary that follows the increasingly relevant story of nerve agent poisoning survivor and politician Alexei Navalny, lifting the lid on the toxic backstory behind his struggle to survive in Putin’s ongoing regime.

Two Indian brothers choose the urgent plight of a bird known as the Black Kite to raise the profile of New Delhi’s toxic pollution and escalating violence in ALL THAT BREATHES, an impressionistic documentary that won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize. From a makeshift hospital in their tiny basement the brothers look after the endangered creatures that fall daily from the skies into their tender care. Awarding the film 4.5 out of 5, Critic Amber Wilkinson wrote: “(director) Sen could easily just have made an observational documentary about the brothers’ day-to-day work or simply focused on the kites themselves but he stretches its wings much further than that”.

Image courtesy of the Sundance Institute

 

Other features to look out for are CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH an intoxicating love story which won an Audience Award and stars Cooper Raiff as a Bar Mitzvah party host who falls in love with Dakota Johnson’s divorced mother coping with an autistic child.

The tragic life of Diana, Princess of Wales gets another airing (thankfully in documentary form after Pablo Larrain’s ghastly fleshing in his ill-advised recent drama). UK director Ed Perkins’s THE PRINCESS uses a cash of clips and commentary to offer further insight into a tragic story that just keeps on going.

image courtesy of Sundance Institute

 

UTAMA, Alejandro Loayza Grisi’s feature debut and winner of the World Cinema Dramatic Prize, looks at the daily life of an elderly couple surviving against the odds in the challenging climate of the Bolivian Highlands. Another film exploring human stories of endeavour, THE EXILES, was awarded the US Documentary prize for documentarian Violet Columbus who continues her investigation into three exiled dissidents from the Tiananmen Square massacre, a feature she first started shooting in the aftermath to the atrocities in 1989.

And to end on a note of horror, Nikyatu Jusu expands on her TV series ‘Two Sentence Horror Stories’ with her feature debut NANNY that took the Top Jury Prize in the US Dramatic strand. Combining the well-worn themes of alienation, colonialism and privilege it tells the story of a young black woman who discovers strange goings on when she takes a job in an market New York household. MT

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | JANUARY 20-30 2022

 

Sundance Film Festival 2022 | 20-30 January 2022

SUNDANCE is the first major film festival of the year; a true indie festival coming to you from snowy Utah courtesy of its founder Robert Redford. Setting the benchmark for independent titles in 2022, SUNDANCE focuses on excellence in screenplays and innovativeness in cinematography: each filmmaker is put their paces before their film can be considered in competition. Unlike the Academy Awards, SUNDANCE is purely about talent. We have highlighted some buzzworthy titles – watch out for them in the coming year!

Elizabeth Banks photo credit Wilson Web

CALL JANE (2022) DIR: PHYLLIS NAGY

Chicago, 1968. As a city and the nation are poised on the brink of violent political upheaval, suburban housewife Joy leads an ordinary life with her husband and daughter. When Joy’s pregnancy leads to a life-threatening condition, she must navigate a medical establishment unwilling to help. Her journey to find a solution to an impossible situation leads her to the “Janes,” a clandestine organization of women who provide Joy with a safer alternative — and in the process, change her life.
Carol screenwriter Phyllis Nagy takes the reins as director and executes a riveting narrative, partially based on true events surrounding the Jane Collective, who provided thousands of abortions during a four-year period through their covert and precise mobilisation. Supported by a remarkable cast, Elizabeth Banks delivers an impressive lead performance as Joy, whose determination and strength of character holds relevance more than a half-century later. Call Jane poses urgent questions about systemic barriers, the ever-shifting nature of politics, and the struggle for women to maintain control of their bodies.

Image Courtesy of Sundance Institute

2ND CHANCE (2022) DIR: RAMON BAHRANI

In 1969, bankrupt pizzeria owner Richard Davis invented the modern-day bulletproof vest. To prove that it worked, he shot himself — point-blank — 192 times. Davis then launched Second Chance, which became one of the largest body armour companies in the world. Charming and brash, he directed sensational marketing films, earning him celebrity status among police and gun owners across the country. But the death of a police officer wearing a Second Chance vest catalyzes Davis’s fall, revealing a man full of contradictions cultivated over decades of reckless lies. Equally as questionable as he was captivating, Davis saved thousands of lives while endangering exponentially more.

Acclaimed filmmaker Ramin Bahrani’s feature-length documentary debut continues his fascination with the perilous pursuit of the American dream as seen through a uniquely individual lens. The film shrewdly juxtaposes Richard Davis’s actions with those of his righteous right-hand man, Aaron Westrick. Unwilling to passively present questionable truths, Bahrani instead lays bare the complexities of one man’s supposed virtue while speaking to the nature of power and impunity in America.

Bill Nighy in Living by Oliver Hermanus, photo credit Ross Ferguson.

LIVING (2022) DIR: OLIVER HERMANUS

A veteran civil servant and bureaucratic cog in the rebuilding of Britain post-WWII, Williams (Bill Nighy) expertly pushes paperwork around a government office only to reckon with his existence when he’s diagnosed with a fatal illness. A widower, he conceals the condition from his grown son, spends an evening of debauchery with a bohemian writer in Brighton, and uncharacteristically avoids his office. But after a vivacious former co-worker, Margaret, inspires him to find meaning in his remaining days, Williams attempts to salvage a modest building project from bureaucratic purgatory.

South African filmmaker Oliver Hermanus (Beauty) offers a poignant reimagining of Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece, Ikiru (To Live). Nobel and Booker Prize–winning author Kazuo Ishiguro’s adaptation elegantly transposes the story’s profound humanism to postwar London. Free of false sentimentality and tragic intonations, Living finds its soul in the wistful dignity Nighy brings to Williams. Transcending its period setting, Living is a timely reflection on the compulsions and distractions that obscure what it means to live.

 

Lucy and Desi by Amy Poehler – Image Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

 

LUCY AND DESI (2022) DIR: AMY POEHLER

One day in 1940, two budding stars met for the first time in the RKO Pictures commissary, unaware that together they would change the face of pop culture. After surviving a tumultuous upbringing, a teenage Lucille Ball left her family for New York City, where she first found success as a model before moving to Hollywood to begin working in movies. Hailing from Santiago de Cuba, Desi Arnaz was a paid musician by 16 and quickly broke out as a multitalented entertainer. The two would go on to consistently challenge the status quo in entertainment both in front of and behind the camera.

For her documentary debut, director Amy Poehler respects these two iconic trailblazers as driven individuals and a loving couple until the end. Clearly influenced by Poehler’s own history in entertainment, Lucy and Desi not only chronicles the pair’s personal and professional lives, it also smartly breaks down concepts like the rehearsed choreography of comedy, their innovations in studio production, the sisterhood of comedy, and much more. It’s a thoughtful telling made for those who loved Lucy (and Desi).

image courtesy of Sundance Institute

THE PRINCESS (2022) DIR: ED PERKINS

Decades after her tragic death, Princess Diana continues to evoke mystery, glamour, and the quintessential modern fairy tale gone wrong. As a symbol of both the widening fissures weakening the British monarchy and the destructive machinery of the press, the Princess of Wales navigated an unparalleled rise to fame and the corrosive challenges that came alongside it. Crafted entirely from immersive archival footage and free from the distraction of retrospective voices, this hypnotic and audaciously revealing documentary takes a distinctive formal approach, allowing the story of the People’s Princess to unfold before us like never before.

Director Ed Perkins distills thousands of hours of riveting material to present Diana’s story in a fresh and imaginative way, depicting not only one of the most alluring public figures of the 20th century but also the sociopolitical upheaval afflicting the United Kingdom at the time. The Princess exquisitely captures the echoes of a monarchy whose far-reaching impact on the public continues to this day, turning the camera back on ourselves to explore our own complicity in this enigmatic narrative.

Image of Karen Gillan courtesy of Sundance Institute

DUAL (2022) DIR: RILEY STEARNS

Recently diagnosed with a rare and incurable disease, Sarah is unsure how to process the news. To help ease her friends’ and family’s impending loss, she is encouraged to participate in a simple futuristic cloning procedure called “Replacement,” after which Sarah’s last days will be spent teaching the clone how to live on as Sarah once she’s gone. But while it takes only an hour for a clone to be made, things become significantly more challenging when that double is no longer wanted.

This darkly off-kilter comedy marks a welcome return to the Festival from writer-director Riley Stearns (The Cub, Sundance 2013). He straddles a inventive line between deadpan satire and high-concept storytelling to take us on a sci-fi journey into the ways a catastrophic life change can force reconsideration of one’s entire existence. In the lead dual role, an oddly charming Karen Gillan proves the perfect match for Stearns’s strange, strange cinematic world.

 

ALL THAT BREATHES (2022) DIR: SHAUNAK SEN

Brothers Saud and Nadeem were raised looking at a sky speckled with black kites, watching as relatives tossed meat up to these birds of prey. Muslim belief held that feeding the kites would expel troubles. Now, birds are falling from the polluted, opaque skies of New Delhi and the two brothers have made it their life’s work to care for the injured black kites.

Shaunak Sen’s intricately layered portrait reveals an evolving city and a fraternal relationship bonded by purpose. The film’s patient, roaming camera skillfully uses scale and perspective to draw attention to the interconnectedness of an ecosystem — one that humans are a part of, not apart from. The social unrest that begins to materialize in the streets is seen through the perspectives of the brothers and their family, as well as the insects and animals that share the urban landscape. There is both cruelty and tenderness in nature, and Sen elegantly captures how they coexist, while emphasizing the ways in which all living beings must evolve to survive.

A still from The Territory by Alex Pritz, courtesy of Sundance Institute

 

THE TERRITORY (2022) DIR: ALEX PRITZ

The Indigenous Uru-eu-wau-wau people have seen their population dwindle and their culture threatened since coming into contact with non-Native Brazilians. Though promised dominion over their own rainforest territory, they have faced illegal incursions from environmentally destructive logging and mining, and, most recently, land-grabbing invasions spurred on by right-wing politicians like President Jair Bolsonaro. With deforestation escalating as a result, the stakes have become global.

With unprecedented access, and co-produced by the Uru-eu-wau-wau community, The Territory drops the audience into the center of this conflict. Young Indigenous leaders like Bitate and Ari, along with their mentor, environmental activist Neidinha, risk their very lives to defend the rainforest. On the other side, Sergio leads an association of indigent farmers eager to establish a settlement, while others like Martin, impatient and entitled, strike out on their own, clear-cutting the forest to establish a homestead. With the government unwilling to stop this brazen encroachment, the Uru-eu-wau-wau set up their own media team, using technology to expose the truth and fight back.

courtesy of Sundance Institute

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT COSBY (2022) DIR: W KAMAU BELL

During his nearly 50 years in show business, Bill Cosby became one of the most recognizable Black celebrities in America. With a career that included an astronomical rise on television in the mid-1960s; work in children’s programming and education; legendary stand-up performances and albums; and an epoch-defining hit sitcom, The Cosby Show, Cosby was a model of Black excellence for millions of Americans. But now, thanks to the brave and painful testimonies of dozens of women, we know there was a sinister reality to the man once extolled as “America’s Dad.”

Over the course of four gripping episodes that feature the voices of people closely connected to Cosby’s life on screen and off, including several survivors, director W. Kamau Bell digs into who Cosby was and what his work and actions say about America, then and now. We Need To Talk About Cosby is a powerful and timely reckoning destined to be widely discussed for how it urges audiences to reconsider not only what they know about Cosby but also about the culture that produced and celebrated him.

WHEN YOU FINISH SAVING THE WORLD (2022) JESSE EISENBERG

From his bedroom home studio, high school student Ziggy performs original folk-rock songs for an adoring online fan base. This concept mystifies his formal and uptight mother, Evelyn, who runs a shelter for survivors of domestic abuse. While Ziggy is busy trying to impress his socially engaged classmate Lila by making his music less bubblegum and more political, Evelyn meets Angie and her teen son, Kyle, when they seek refuge at her facility. She observes a bond between the two that she’s missing with her own son, and decides to take Kyle under her wing against her better instincts.

In his carefully observed, aesthetically pleasing directorial debut, Jesse Eisenberg adapts his audio project of the same name to tell the story of a mother and son who fail to understand each other’s values. With gentle humor and pitch-perfect dialogue, When You Finish Saving the World reflects a moment of internet fame and youth activism, but it also recounts the timeless tale of parents and children struggling to connect across the generational chasm that separates them.

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL | 20-30 JANUARY 2022 | Words courtesy of Sundance Inst.

Flee (2021)

Dir: Jonas Poher Rasmussen | With: Daniel Karimyar, Fardin Mijdzadeh, Milad Eskanderi, Belal Faiz | Denmark, Animated drama, 90′

Based on real events, this noirish gay awakening story blends new beginnings and past trauma in an involving and surprisingly poetic way, the delicately drawn animations notching down the rawness of a harrowing escape for the central character whose real identity is kept confidential.

Director Jonas Poher Rasmussen calls his friend Amin but only discovered the true horror of his backstory years after they met. Amin is a refugee from Afghanistan who escaped Kabul during the the 1980s and is now safely settled in Denmark in a relationship he never dreamed possible.

Rasmussen recounts his friend’s adventures through a series of animated events and interviews in a way that draws us into his world as we experience the horrors from Amin’s own perspective. The conflict that caused his family to leave their home and suffer at the hands of the authorities on their way to Europe is not news to any of us but it is brought to life here in an alarming way that brings a sobering perspective to the refugee crisis that’s still unfolding every today. Being gay was a further hurdle that Amin had to overcome in this bracingly tense adventure. MT

IN CINEMAS and EXCLUSIVELY ON CURZON HOME FROM FRIDAY 11 FEBRUARY 2022 | NOMINATED FOR THREE OSCARS

Shiva Baby (2020)

Dir.: Emma Seligman; Cast: Rachel Sennott, Polly Draper, Fred Melamed, Molly Gordon, Danny Deferrari, Dianna Agron; USA 2020, 77min.

Rachel Sennott is the star turn in Emma Seligman’s inspired featured debut Shiva Baby. She is Danielle, a Jewish woman caught up in her parents’ plans to get her a husband – or at least a job – in this hilarious comedy.

During happier times we see Danielle in bed with her sugar daddy, Max (Deferrari), who will save her from the woes the world has in stall for her. But that was then. A Jewish funeral get-together (Shiva) provides an ideal networking opportunity for the family’s machinations, never mind that one of their loved ones has actually died.

So parents Debbie (Draper) and Joel (Melamed) head off to the Shiva, Danielle making a last unsuccessful attempt to learn the name of the deceased. Still not having made her way in the right circles, her parents are well aware of the seriousness of the task that lies ahead: Danielle is earning a pittance as a ‘babysitter’ but the fruits of her labours seem to stem from another, more dubious source. Professional ambitions are still unclear university-wise, and her parents are covering all the bills.

Friendships are fraught – she had a stormy relationship with Maya (Gordon) who is also at the Shiva. Debbie warns her daughter “not to experiment today”. But before Danielle has time to internalise this parental guidance and critique (“You look like Gwyneth Paltrow on food stamps, and not in a good way”), enter Max, followed by his wife Kim (Agron) and baby daughter Rose. The lovers can’t agree on their opening gambit, “where did the two of you meet”, finally settling for ‘schul’ (the synagogue). It soon turns out Kim is the major breadwinner in the family, and she carps half-jokingly about her husband’s penchant for expensive restaurants.

Meanwhile, Daneille’s parents have cornered Max in the hope of an internship for their daughter. Kim joins the conversation, expressing the need for a babysitter – Debbie praising her daughter’s (non-existent) experience. Danielle mislays her ‘phone number in the bathroom, having sent Max a rather daring selfie. Maya finds the phone but promises to keep schtum: “I don’t want your parents to know their daughter is a whore.” After much bickering and desert-guzzling, nervous exhaustion finally takes over as furtive hands find each other in the back of a crammed car.

Seligman gets away with her not very likeable heroine in a mishmash of sharp-elbowed characters trying to get into pole position on the back of each other. Danielle hasn’t the slightest idea what she wants from life – apart from not ending up like the rest of the Shiva crowd. Her only virtue is a foggy idea about feminism – something that doesn’t follow through in her relationship with Maya.

DoP Maria Rusche takes her lead from Robert Altman in crowd scenes that zero in on the individual players, a bleached-out aesthetic echoing Danielle’s efforts to stay sane. Editor Hannah A. Park keeps the encounters lined up, the interplay amusing and insightful. Shiva Baby is funny, but the humour is as sharp as the lemons the characters chew on, Seligman bringing the curtain down while the going’s still good. AS

IN SELECT UK CINEMAS FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY
WITH SPECIAL Q&A
9 JUNE 2021  ON MUBI FROM 11 JUNE 2021

End of Sentence (2019)

Dir: Elfar Adalsteins | Cast: John Hawkes, Logan Lerman, Sarah Bolger, Olafur Darri Olafsson | US, Drama 97′

There’s a dicey moment in the opening scenes of this road movie when a grieving husband nearly drops his wife’s ashes on the way back from her funeral in small-town Alabama. This is one of the lighter moments in Michael Armbruster’s tragicomic script that takes the edge off a bitterly violent reunion between likeable father Frank (Johan Hawkes) and his bullying son Sean (Logan Lerman).

Anna’s dying wish was that her husband and their ex-con son would scatter her remains back home in Ireland near her favourite lake. The casket of ashes will become the MacGuffin providing some humorous plot twists in this father and son journey that starts in the Southern States and ends in County Wicklow, the American spiritual home.

We see Sean checking out of a correctional facility where he has served time for crimes unknown. Frank has arrived to meet him only to be rudely rebuffed by the miscast felon, a hardened brute who clearly hates his dad, again, for reasons unknown.

But Frank finally persuades him to go on the trip to Ireland in the hope of burying the hatchet, along with the casket. Once in Dublin there’s no peace for the grieving Frank, Sean giving him an impromptu battering before heading for the hotel bar. He soon takes up with Jewel (Bolger), a savvy call girl who also knows a thing or two about spark plugs, clearly she’s no dumb blonde, just a rather one-dimensional one.

Soon they’re snogging in the carpark, Sean promptly throwing up all over the hire car’s velour seats. It doesn’t take us long to realise that the only good guy on this ‘road to redemption’ is Frank. Sean – his polar opposite – is somehow miscast in a role which has no backstory to give ballast to his fall from grace. Jewel will turn out to be a hollow hooker, minus the heart of gold.

We know exactly what will happen in End of Sentence, John Hawkes making it all watchable with his subtle take on grief. Upbeat for the most part, and lushly photographed in Southern Ireland, the sentimental final scene and earnest score is what you’d expect for a film pitched at an American audience where it premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. MT

BLUE FINCH FILMS on UK digital download | 10 May 2021

 

 

Mayday (2021) Sundance 2021

Dir: Karen Cinorre | Cast: Grace Van Patten, Mia Goth, Juliette Lewis, Sam Levy, Soko, Havana Rose Liu, Lucas Joaquin | US, 2021, 90′

Sumptuously shot in Croatia, Karen Cinorre’s action drama debut doesn’t quite live up to the promise of its slick production values – the atmospheric impact undoubtedly leaves the audience spellbound – imaginatively re-working of the Siren’s myth. But the narrative is too often oblique and somehow even at odds with the message, although it’s worth a watch for its female centric storyline and focus on empowerment. There are some terrific performances too – especially from the much-underrated Juliette Lewis.

Ana (Van Patten) is working as a waitress at a wedding reception in a hotel near a beach. She comes across as a troubled character (reason not given), but things get worse when she is raped (off-screen) by the manager. We also meet the anxious bride (Goth) and Dimitri (Pellerin), a war photographer and friend of Ana, and supervisor June (Lewis).

Distraught, Ana causes an electric blowout and puts her head into an oven. She is catapulted into a different word, landing on an island where she joins the bride from the wedding who now calls herself Marsha and leads two other women guerrillas, Bea (Liu) and Gert (Soko), on a defunct U-boot. June is also part of the female force in this enigmatic war where Ana takes refuge in the woods and is – once again – nearly raped by an invading soldier. It soon becomes clear that the four women are luring pilots there with Mayday calls to the island. Survivors are then shot. For no apparent reasons, Ana decides to return to her former existence after meeting Dimitri again after he lands with his parachute in the woods.

A musical number with male soldiers (Busby Berkeley style) is entertaining, even though rather unexplained. Finally, Ana jumps into the sea to reach the beach hotel aided on her eventful journey by the trio she left behind.

Mayday tries very hard to be enigmatic, starting with the – often repeated – titular Morse sequence Mary-Alpha-Yankee-Delta-Alpha-Yankee with which the women warriors lure their prey to the island. Somehow, the effect is a reverse Peter Pan scenario, with some ‘Narnia’ thrown in.

DoP Sam Levy tries successfully to enhance the bizarre setting with moody dreamlike images and Van Patten acts the ‘girl-lost’ part in both universes with great sensibility. But overall there are too many question marks: we totally get it that we have entered an allegoric world. But it is one without inner logic, since the obviously talented filmmaker Cinorre is let down by her own script. AS

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL until 3 FEBRUARY 2021

Wild Indian (2020) Sundance Film Festival 2021

Dir.: Lyle Mitchell Corbine jr.; Cast: Michael Greueyes, Chaske spencer, Julian Gopal, Scott Haze, Kate Bosworth, Jesse Eisenberg; USA 2021, 90 min.

1980s Wisconsin provides the setting for this atmospheric thriller that sees two Native American teenagers brought together by a murderous secret. In his first feature competing in this year’s Sundance Film Festival Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr writes, co-produces and directs the intriguing stand-alone narratives that somehow fail to come together as a satisfying whole.

Makwa (Haze) and Teddo (Gopal) are outsiders who spend their afternoons kicking around the neighbourhood where their own parents are struggling to give them a proper home. Makwa’s father is so abusive he has to invent excuses for the bruises he is always covered in. One afternoon in the woods Makwa accidentally shoots a fellow student with a gun, that was lying around at home. Teddo is appalled, but helps his friend to bury the body.

Decades later in 2019, Makwa (Greyeyes) – now calling himself Michael – is a successful accountant in LA, married to the attractive Greta (Bosworth) with a son, Francis, Greta soon giving birth to a second baby. Teddo, on the other hand, has spent most of the last twenty-five years in jail. He blames his ‘bad luck’ on the trauma he suffered helping his friend cover up the murder. Michael is still drawn to violence, choking a sex worker, and threatening the victim’s relative to be quiet, attacking her in hospital. His well-paid lawyer gets him off any charges, police are uninterested in solving the case. But when Teddo fetches up at Michael’s house intent on revenge, there is an ugly and tragic incident.

Nothing tangible connects these two scenarios, Mitchell Corbine leaving the plot underwritten and leaving viewers to grapple in the dark: we have no idea how Makwa/Michael became so successful, or Teddo turned to a life of crime – somehow the trauma of the dead student is left unresolved. Micheal has a curious rapport with his right-hand man (Eisenberg is terribly underused): Michael asking his subservient underling about his haircut amongst other issues.

DoP Eli Born shows two worlds in complete contrast, the LA glitter is wildly overdone. Nice idea to bookend the feature with mythological images and poetry from the canon of the native Americans, but there are too many unanswered questions in this oblique but well-meaning debut. AS

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 28 JANUARY – 7 FEBRUARY 2021

 

Dick Johnson is Dead (2020) **

Dir.: Kirsten Johnson; Documentary with Richard Johnson, Kirsten Johnson; USA 2020, 89 min.

US documentary filmmaker and FEMIS graduate Kirsten Johnson (Cameraperson) has directed – as well as co-written and co-produced – an usual escapist style movie that imagines the death of her father Richard Johnson MD, a psychiatrist born in 1932.

Upbeat and innovative it may be as a piece of entertainment, but as a documentary the film’s title is misleading – Mr. Johnson is still alive and kicking, albeit suffering advanced dementia – which sees the interests of filmmaker Kirsten Johnson and the dutiful daughter probably collide. However stunning the outcome, questions should be asked.

There is much to admire in this father/daughter ‘co-production’, the family history is fraught with sadness and poignancy, Kirsten’s mother suffered dementia and died in a care home, a move she resisted vehemently. As a devotee of several memory theories, this illness seems all the more tragic. Kirsten shows us a short video and has to confess that “After thirty years of being a filmmaker, this is all I have left of my mother”. Kirsten’s grandmother was killed on the day of her daughter’s graduation, sitting next to her on the passenger seat of her car. Kirsten muses about the impact this accident had on her own mother’s life.

Growing up in California Kristen would spend every Saturday of in church, her parents were passionate Seventh Day Adventists – the religion forbade, among other things, cinema visits. But when her father took her to Young Frankenstein (1974), she was hooked for good.

Taking her father plus crew on the road, they visit Loma Linda, California, where Dr. Johnson meets up with his college sweetheart, (another Adventist). Both discuss the subject of death, and feeling comforted by their belief in the resurrection. Which leads us to another major part of the feature: Heaven, realised in a colourful sequence where the”deceased” psychiatrist gets to have his cake and eat it, quite literally, as Jesus washes his feet.

A move to New York is inevitable as Dicks’ condition deteriorates, and most of us with empathise with his regret over selling the memory-filled family home. But he is philosophical and accepts his new life in the spare room of Kirsten’s flat, her husbands, and two children live nearby.

Once in the city, Kirsten (and her stuntmen) try their very best to enact Dick’s spectacular deaths – being hit by a metal fan unit falling from great height is one, falling down a steep wooden staircase and cracking his head open (with ample blood-spill) is another, but the scenario involving a knife and copious blood is possibly the most shocking, Dick freely admitting the pain was worse than his heart-attack thirty years previously.

These scenes might be impressive in their own way – and we learn a lot about how stunts work – but they do disturb Richard, and undoubtedly those affected (for me it brought back memories of finding my blood-soaked mother lying dead on a wooden floor, her scull fractured in twenty places). Let’s just remember that Dick is suffering from the disorientating effects of dementia and all the impairments involved.

We then watch an ambulance pull up and witness Dick’s cardiac arrest – or so we are led to believe. At a ‘funeral’ and 86th birthday celebration friends and patients pay their respects with tearful speeches in a packed church. One woman recalls her final meeting with the Doc, when he ‘forgot’ the recent death of her own husband (“The loss of memory is a great loss”). A close friend blows a Jewish ram’s horn in a pitiful goodbye, before he breaks down sobbing, unable to continue. Meanwhile Dick is alive and well and gleefully watching proceedings from a ‘peephole’ in the Vestry.

All this raises serious issues, Apart from these gruesome ‘serial’ deaths poor Dick is subject to during the shoot, there is the ethical question of how much the filmmaker must manipulate reality in order to pull off the ‘comedy’. As her father Dick is was certainly anxious to please her, and is totally under her power, desperate to avoid the same fate as his wife.

But you can’t help feeling Dick has been hoodwinked in some way, and that Kirsten has played with the audience’s emotions, making a mockery of the term documentary – which even at its best is hardly an objective art. Despite all these concerns, Dick Johnson is Dead is not a morose movie with its tour-de-force of compelling images but one that raises some serious issues, particularly regarding filmmaker responsibility. This is a slick and glibly amusing film but one that pokes fun at life-limiting illness. Rather like the blindfolded man whose disorientation raises a titter amongst his amused bystanders, Johnson’s film is a frivolous piece of escapism, but if we laugh, do we laugh in shame?. AS

DICK JOHNSON won the Special Jury Award for Innovative Non-fiction Storytelling at SUNDANCE 2020 

 

 

 

Sundance 2021 | 28 January – 3 February 2021

2021 gets off to a lowkey start with Sundance film festival announcing a mostly virtual edition, along with Rotterdam that follows in its footsteps on February 7th.

Sundance welcomes fewer features to this year’s line-up with 72 feature films as apposed to last year’s 118,  but nearly half are female directed and 15% from the LGBTQ+ community.

Themes of retreat, regeneration and renewal are the touchstones to this year’s programme and this seems entirely appropriate given our global experience since March 2020. The world has taken stock of itself but not necessarily come up with the answers. Many film festivals are congratulating themselves for ‘increased attendance record’ with a boost from their online community. Watching films, and attending festivals online works as a complementary form of entertainment in extremis, but make no mistake, the vast majority of viewers still prefer the buzz of the festival experience and the human element that it brings.

As we stand of the brink of 2021 most of us are experiencing some sense of disconnection with our previous existence, and Robin Wright echoes this sentiment in her directorial debut, in which she also stars ,as a woman who seeks a life off grid after bereavement. Very much in the same vein as the Venice 2020 triumph Nomadland, Wright’s film Land is one of the most apposite and  buzz-worthy films in the premiere lineup at this year’s Utah festival.


Sundance Institute founder and president Robert Redford is deeply aware of this social and emotional disenfranchisement and comments “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,”

And this sentiment resonates through the competition line-up. with other narrative features directly alluding to the tragedy that has affected, possibly more than we realise going forward.

A list of films confirmed for the 2021 Sundance Film Festival are as follows.

World Cinema Dramatic Competition

The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet | Argentina (Dir: Ana Katz, writers: Ana Katz, Gonzalo Delgado | World Premiere

Sebastian, a man in his 30s, 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 possible apocalypse. Cast: Daniel Katz, Julieta Zylberberg, Valeria Lois, Mirella Pascual, Carlos Portaluppi.

Passing / UK/US (Dir/wri: Rebecca Hall | World Premiere

Based on the 19th century novel by Chicago born writer Nella Larsen, this first feature for Rebecca Hall sees two high old school friends reunited in a  mutual obsession that threatens both of their carefully constructed realities.

El Planeta / US/Spain (Dir/Wri Amalia Ulman | World Premiere

Amid 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.

Fire in the Mountains / India (Dir/Wri: Ajitpal Singh | World Premiere

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 the remedy, steals her savings. Cast: Vinamrata Rai, Chandan Bisht, Mayank Singh Jaira, Harshita Tewari, Sonal Jha.

Hive / Kos, Switzerland, Macedonia, Albania (Dir/Wri: Blerta Basholli | World Premiere

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.

Human Factors / Ger, Italy, Denmark (Dir/Wri: Ronny Trocker | World Premiere

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.

Luzzu / Malta (Dir/Wri): Alex Camilleri | World Premiere

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.

One for the Road / China,Hong Kong, Thailand (Dir: Baz Poonpiriya, Wri: Baz Poonpiriya, Nottapon Boonprakob, Puangsoi Aksornsawang, Wong Kar Wai) | World Premiere

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.

The Pink Cloud / Brazil (Dir/Wri: Iuli Gerbase, | World Premiere

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.

Pleasure / Swed/Neth/France (Dir,Wri: Ninja Thyberg | World Prem

A 20-year-old girl moves from her small town in Sweden to L.A. 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.

Prime Time / Poland (Dir: Jakub Piątek, Writers: Jakub Piątek, Lukasz Czapski | World Premierę

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 Poplawska, Andrzej Klak, Malgorzata Hajewska-Krzysztofik, Dobromir Dymecki, Monika Frajczyk.

World Cinema Documentary Competition

Faya Dayi / Ethiopia/US (Dir/Wri: Jessica Beshir) | World Premiere

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.

Flee / Den/Norway/Sweden/France (Dir Jonas Poher Rasmussen | World Premiere

Amin arrived as an unaccompanied minor in Denmark from Afghanistan. Today, he is a successful academic and is getting married to his longtime boyfriend. A secret he has been hiding for 20 years threatens to ruin the life he has built. W

Inconvenient Indian | Canada (Dir/Wri: Michelle Latimer | International premiere

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.

Misha and the Wolves

United Kingdom, Belgium (Dir/Wri: Sam Hobkinson) | World Premiere

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.

The Most Beautiful Boy in the World / Sweden (Dir: Kristina Lindström, Kristian Petri | World Premiere

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 that led Italian maestro Luchino Visconti to dub him “the world’s most beautiful boy.”

Playing With Sharks / Australia (Dir/Wri: Sally Aitken | World Premier

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.

President / Denmark/US, Norway (Dir: Camilla Nielsson | World Premiere

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?

Sabaya / Sweden (Dir/Wri: Hogir Hirori | World Premiere

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

Taming the Garden / Swit/Ger, Georgia (Dir: Salomé Jashi | World Premiere

A poetic ode to the rivalry between men and nature. World Premiere

Writing With Fire / India (Dir/Wris: Rintu Thomas, Sushmit Ghosh | World Premiere

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 front lines of India’s biggest issues and within the confines of their own homes, redefining what it means to be powerful.

The Blazing World / U.S.A. (Dir: Carlson Young, Wri: Carlson Young, Pierce Brown | World Premiere

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.

Cryptozoo / US (Dir/Wr: Dash Shaw) | World Premiere

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

First Date / US. (Dir/Wri: Manuel Crosby, Darren Knapp | World Premiere

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.

Ma Belle, My Beauty / US., France (Dir/Wri: Marion Hill | World Premiere

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.

R#J / US (Dir/Wri Carey William | World Premiere

A reimagining of Romeo and Juliet, taking place through their cellphones, 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.

Searchers / US. (Dir: Pacho Velez | World Premiere

In encounters alternately humorous and touching, a diverse set of New Yorkers navigate their preferred dating apps in search of their special someone.

Strawberry Mansion / US (Dir/Wri: Albert Birney, Kentucker Audley | World Premiere

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.

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair / US (Dir/Wri: Jane Schoenbrun | World Premiere

A teenage girl becomes immersed in an online role-playing game. Cast: Anna Cobb, Michael J. Rogers.

Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir / US. (Director: James Redford | World Premiere

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.

Bring Your Own Brigade / US. (Dir/wri: Lucy Walker | World Premiere

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.

Eight for Silver / U.S.A., France (Dir/Wri Sean Ellis | World Premiere

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.

How It Ends / US (Dir/Wri Daryl Wein, Zoe Lister-Jones | World Premiere

On the last day on Earth, one woman goes on a journey through L.A. 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.

In the Earth / UK (Dir/Wri: Ben Wheatley | World Premiere

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

In the Same Breath / US. (Dir: Nanfu Wang) | World Premiere

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 novel 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

Marvelous and the Black Hole / US (Dir/Wri Kate Tsang, Producer | World Premiere

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.

Mass / US (Dir/Wri: Fran Kranz | World Premiere

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.

My Name Is Pauli Murray / US (Dirs: Betsy West, Julie Cohen |World premiere

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 nonbinary Black luminary: lawyer, activist, poet and priest who transformed our world.

Philly D.A. / US. (Dirs: Ted Passon, Yoni Brook | World Premiere

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.

Prisoners of the Ghostland / US. (Dir: Sion Sono, Wri: Aaron Hendry, Reza Sixo Safai | World Premiere

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.

The Sparks Brothers / UK (Dir: Edgar Wright | World Premiere

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 Russell & Ron Mael, celebrating the inspiring legacy of Sparks: your favorite band’s favourite band.

Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street / US. (Dir/: Marilyn Agrelo | World Premiere

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.

Midnight

Censor / UK  (Dir/Wri: Prano Bailey-Bond, Aris: Prano Bailey-Bond, Anthony Fletcher | World Premiere

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.

Coming Home in the Dark / NZ (Dir: James Ashcroft, Wri: Eli Kent, James Ashcroft | World Premiere

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.

A Glitch in the Matrix / US (Dir Rodney Ascher | World Premiere

A multimedia 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.

Knocking / Sweden (Dir: Frida Kempff, Wri: Emma Broström | World Premiere

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.

Mother Schmuckers / Belgium (Dir/Wri: Lenny Guit, Harpo Guit | World Premiere

Issachar & Zabulon, two brothers in their 20s, 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.

Special Screenings

Life in a Day 2020 / US/UK. (Dir: Kevin Macdonald | World Premier

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.

Sundance Film Festival | 28 January – 3 February 2021

 

Epicentro (2020)

Dir.: Hubert Sauper; Documentary with Leonelis ArangoSalas, Annielys Pelladito Zaldivar, Janet Pena Semunat, Hans Helmut Ludwig, Oona Castilla Chaplin; Austria/France 2020, 108 min.

This new documentary portrait of Cuba from Oscar nominated Hubert Sauper explores the post-Castro era pairing everyday life with an essay on the power and myth-making in cinema. Through his conversation with children, a sex worker and an actress, he shows a Cuba still dependent on tourism, even though some of the values are contrary to the revolutionary movement of “26th of July”.

Ten year-old Leonelis Arango Salas is the star of the show: she explained the 1902 “Tafft Agreement”, which gave the USA the use of the naval base of Guantanamo (!), one of over 900 military bases worldwide, where the American flag is raised, including the Moon. She also elaborates on the sinking of the battleship USS Maine by the Spanish – in reality, the ship sunk because of an explosion in the boiler room but the US used the incident to shoot reels of film showing their soldiers killing Spanish troops who had occupied Cuba for centuries. The boy also shows us the sinking of the ‘Maine’, restaged in a bath tub with lots of cigar smoke. Theodore Roosevelt’s “Rough Riders”, soldiers who fought on behalf of USA in the Cuban War of Independence, were very much ‘Trojan’ horses only interested in replacing the Spanish. And the cinema covered the myth: Media Tycoon Randolph Hearts (on whom the hero of Citizen Kane was modelled) wrote to Roosevelt: “You furnish the war, we furnish the information”.

A sex worker is, not surprisingly extremely disillusioned, regales us with the revelation that all US presidents look the same, be it T. Roosevelt or Trump: “Faces of people who like war and wealth.” Tourists come here for sex, men or women: “Gringas come here looking for black dicks”. And in her own experience, sex workers are just like slave: “I am a piece of meat, when they say do it doggy-style, I go “wow wow”. But she still wants to go to Disneyland and meet Brad Pitt.

In one of the few modern malls, Leonelis and her friends admire a pencil, costing over 2000 US dollars. Her hospital worker grandmother earns just four dollars a week. Even with Sauper’s help, they cannot calculate how long she would have to work to buy this simple writing instrument. Hans Helmut Ludwig, a middle aged tourist from Bavaria, visits a ballet school where he claims the free tuition is very professional. He compares Cuba today with a theatre set: tourists come to participate in a parallel universe full of illusions which will soon disappear. A utopia, never realised.

A street fight between a young girl and her mother is a brutal spectacle. Later we see mother and daughter watching Chaplin in The Great Dictator. “This is my grandfather” the girl tells Sauper. “You are Hitler’s granddaughter?” The girl can not stop giggling: “I am Charlie’s granddaughter”. Her mother, Oona Castilla Chaplin looks calm and collected as she accompanies her daughter and friends on the guitar,.

Epicentro is about reality and film, utopia and dystopia, and the American dream, with its “corrupted ideals and success forged in lies”. Like Robert Altman’s’ Buffalo Bill and the Indians, the truth is not welcome, particularly during the 200 year celebrations. Sauper hits hard, as he did in We Come as Friends when the Sudanese people complain “even the Moon belongs to the white man”. Maintaining a freewheeling and detached approach during his conversations on home-grown politics, the message is clear: Havana is anything but its translation: Heaven. AS

SUNDANCE GRAND JURY PRIZE WINNER | WORLD CINEMA

On the Record (2020) **** Streaming

Directors: Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering | Cast: Drew Dixon, Si Lai Abrams, Jenny Lumet, Tarana Burke, Kierna Mayo, Joan Morgan, Kimberle Williams Crenshaw | USA, 96′

More #MeToo stories, this time from Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering whose controversial new documentary puts the spotlight on women who have come out to denounce hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. The focus here is Drew Dixon.

This is the filmmakers’ third foray into #MeToo territory and Drew Dixon takes centre along with  two other victims – out of twenty – who have filed sexual assault and rape charges against record producer and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. The incident became a news story before the film premiered at this year’s Sundance Festival. Oprah Winfrey, one of the executive producers, withdrew from the project she had fostered for a long time, thus destroying any chances of it being acquired by Apple+. The reasons are very opaque: there were threats from Russell, film critic and Ava DuVernay allegedly told Winfrey, that the documentary did not accurately flesh out the hip-hop world of the setting. Finally, Winfrey decided “there were inconsistencies in Dixon’s story that gave me pause” and the feature had been rushed to appear at Sundance. What ever the true reasons for Winfrey’s jumping ship, HBOmax won the screening rights for what turns out to be a worthy companion to Leaving Neverland, Surviving R. Kelly and Untouchable.

Drew Dixon (*1971) is the daughter of former Washington DC mayor Sharon Pratt and went to Stanford University. Becoming a record producer for Def Jam, a label led by mogul Russell Simmons, was her dream job. She overlooked the fact that Simmons would often come into her office, showing his member. In a milieu where the culture of celebrity “bad-ass” men was celebrated, Simmons’ behaviour did not seem to be totally out of place. Dixon became an A&R executive, responsible for the soundtrack of the 1995 documentary “The Show”, helping to build the careers of Method Man among others, whom she later paired with Mary J. Bilge. It all came crashing down for Dixon, when Simmons invited her to his apartment after a party. He appeared naked with a condom and asked her in a very harsh voice “to stop fighting”. Later, the writer Sil Lai Abrams would report a similar incidence with Simmons. After leaving Def Jam, Dixon worked for Clive Davis at Arista, but CEO L.A. Reid started to harass her. Out of spite, to destroy her career, he passed on signing a new talent, a certain Kanye West. Dixon left the industry all together, and it took her until 2017 to pen an article in the New York Times, to make the public listen to her story.

There are two issues which make the case of the three black women appearing on the documentary (Dixon, Abrams and Jenny Lumet) complex: until now, any public critique of the black community, by fellow blacks, is seen by the majority as treachery – helping the enemy, ie. the white majority. Secondly, black women still feel excluded from the #MeToo movement. Dixon claims she felt enormous pressure to denounce somebody of the standing of Russell Simmons. It took her twenty years – being alone with her trauma – to overcome the barriers.

As for Simmons, he decided not to appear in the documentary but send a written statement, issuing countless denials of he false accusations: “I have lived an honourable life as an open book for decades, devoid of any kind of violence against anybody”. In 2018 he nevertheless emigrated to Bali, Indonesia, a country which has no extradition arrangement with the USA. Reid too repudiated all allegations. He left his position as CEO of Sony Epic, and raised 75 $ Million to form a new company. Drew Dixon has recently gone back to the drawing board with a new career in the music business, working from her flat. AS

ON STREAMING PLATFORMS FROM 18 JUNE 2020 | Available on iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon Video, BFI Player, Curzon Home Cinema, Dogwoof, Google Play, Rakuten TV, Sky Store, Virgin Media, YouTube

 

Your Sister’s Sister (2011) *** Tribute to Lyn Shelton (1965-2020)

Director/Writer : Lynn Shelton | Cast:  Mark Duplass, Rosemarie DeWitt, Emily Blunt | Cert1 5  100 mins

This easy going rites of passage drama along the lines of “Grab a dude and preg yourself up” has three memorable performances and comes from a director who writes from the heart and from her own life experiences. Her follow up to Hump Day (2009) is full of witty insight and watchable scenery, a classic tale of thirty-somethings, it stars Mark Duplass as Jack who’s mourning the death of his brother Tom. Mutual friend Iris (Blunt) offers him sanctuary in her island hideaway just off Washington State. She secretly fancies Jack but within hours of rocking up he is bedding her sister Hannah (DeWitt) who happens to be lesbian or, at least she thought she was until broodiness and a few drinks intervened.  After a night of unexpected shagging Iris turns up unannounced.

A tangled mess of misconception and conception follows and feelings are shared and thoughts aired by the trio. This brings them closer but has unexpected consequences and far-reaching complications all round.  Skelton’s outline script gives an improvised feel that’s indie in style but slick enough to appeal to wider audiences.  The result is a tense but funny tale about sex, sisterhood and growing up.

Lynn Shelton, who died on 15 May 2020, went on to make Touchy Feely and Say When (Laggies) before embarking on a successful TV career (Mad Men, Love, Fresh off the Boat amongst others) and Little Fires Everywhere which airs from the end of May, and reunites her with stars Rosemarie DeWitt and Reese Wetherspoon.  MT ©

Now out on DVD-Blu-Ray | Tribute to Lynn Shelton      

Yalda (2019) **** Sundance 2020

Dir/scr: Massoud Bakhshi. Iran, France, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg. 2019. 89 mins

Women are much maligned in Iran’s sternly patriarchal society. Writer and director Massoud Bakhshi uses one woman’s story to shed light on this deeply misogynist culture that has taken the nation further and further back in time from the more enlightened days of the Shah back in the 1970s.  Cutting his teeth in 2014 with A Respectable Family, this second feature is a tensely slick affair that uses melodrama to heighten the film’s stark thematic concerns of life and death.

In Tehran festivities for the winter celebration of Yalda are in full swing lighting up a capital that looks, to all intents and purposes, like any other modern metropolis. The focus narrows into the confined space of a TV studio where Maryam (Sadaf Asgari) arrives in handcuffs to appear in a popular reality show called ’Joy Of Forgiveness’ that also includes literary readings and music.

Maryam has been sentenced to death for the murder of her much older husband Nasser. But the good news is that the family have it in their power to forgive her and make way for a reprieve. Nasser’s daughter Mona (Behnaz Jafari) used to be her best friend. But tonight Mona will decide Maryam’s fate on live television. The film plays out almost like a TV trial, Maryam pleading her case and hoping to persuade Mona to let her go free. Bakhshi mines the rich dramatic potential of the subject to great affect, leaving us shaken and stirred as the story moves towards its febrile finale.

Performances are strong from a really impressive female cast. Asgari makes for a convincingly uneasy Maryam contrasting with the steely calm of Behnaz Jafari’s Mona. We are reminded that men clearly have the upper hand in Iran, but that women can also be each other’s enemies all over the world. MT

Sundance Film Festival 2020 | 23 JANUARY – 1 FEBRUARY 2020

 

Sundance Film Festival 2020

In Park City Utah, ROBERT REDFORD and his programmer John Cooper have set the indie film agenda for 2020 with an array of provocative new titles in a festival that runs from 23 January until 2 February. This year’s selection includes the latest US drama from Josephine Decker (Thou Wast Mild and Lovely); and new documentaries about Chechnya, Bruce Lee and Woodstock competing in the US Dramatic section. Branden Cronenberg will be showing his latest film, Possessor starring Andrea Riseborough; who also appears in the Egyptian drama Luxor. Noemie Merlant is fresh from Portrait of a Woman on Fire, in Zoe Wittock’s Jumbo. 

UK director Oscar Raby brings A Machine for Viewing​, a unique three-episode hybrid of real-time VR experience, live performance and video essay in which three moving-image makers explore how we now watch films by putting various ‘machines for viewing,’ including cinema and virtual reality, face to face.

EXHIBITIONS

All Kinds of Limbo​ / United Kingdom (Lead Artists: Toby Coffey, Raffy Bushman, Nubiya Brandon) — The National Theatre of Great Britain’s communal musical journey reflecting the influence of West Indian culture on the UK’s music scene across the genres of reggae, grime, classical, and calypso. Immersive technologies, the ceremony of live performance and the craft of theatrical staging bring audiences into a VR performance space. Cast: Nubiya Brandon.

U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION

47% of the directors in this year’s U.S. Dramatic Competition are women; 52% are people of color; 5% are LGBTQ+.

The 40-Year-Old Version / U.S.A. Director and screenwriter: Radha Blank

A down-on-her-luck New York playwright decides to reinvent herself and salvage her artistic voice the only way she knows how: by becoming a rapper at age 40. Cast: Radha Blank, Peter Kim, Oswin Benjamin, Reed Birney, World Premiere

BLAST BEAT / U.S.A. Director: Esteban Arango

After their family emigrates from Colombia during the summer of ‘99, a metalhead science prodigy and his deviant younger brother do their best to adapt to new lives in America. Cast: Moises Arias, Mateo Arias, Daniel Dae Kim, Kali Uchis, Diane Guerrero, Wilmer Valderrama. World Premiere

Charm City Kings / U.S.A. (Director: Angel Manuel Soto

Mouse desperately wants to join The Midnight Clique, the infamous Baltimore dirt bike riders who rule the summertime streets. When Midnight’s leader, Blax, takes 14-year-old Mouse under his wing, Mouse soon finds himself torn between the straight-and-narrow and a road filled with fast money and violence.

Cast: Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Meek Mill, Will Catlett, Teyonah Parris, Donielle Tremaine World Premiere

Dinner in America / U.S.A. (Dir/writer: Adam Rehmeier

An on-the-lam punk rocker and a young woman obsessed with his band go on an unexpected and epic journey together through the decaying suburbs of the American Midwest.. Cast: Kyle Gallner, Emily Skeggs, Pat Healy, Griffin Gluck, Lea Thompson, Mary Lynn Rajskub. World Premiere

The Evening Hour / U.S.A. Dir: Braden King

Cole Freeman maintains an uneasy equilibrium in his rural Appalachian town, looking after the old and infirm while selling their excess painkillers to local addicts. But when an old friend returns with plans that upend the fragile balance and identity he’s so painstakingly crafted, Cole is forced to take action. Cast: Philip Ettinger, Stacy Martin, Cosmo Jarvis, Michael Trotter, Kerry Bishé, Lili Taylor. World Premiere

Farewell Amor / U.S.A. (Dir/writer: Ekwa Msangi

Reunited after a 17 year separation, Walter, an Angolan immigrant, is joined in the U.S. by his wife and teenage daughter. Now absolute strangers sharing a one-bedroom apartment, they discover a shared love of dance that may help overcome the emotional distance between them. Cast: Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, Zainab Jah, Jayme Lawson, Joie Lee, Marcus Scribner, Nana Mensah. World Premiere

Minari / U.S.A. (Dir/writer: Lee Isaac Chung

David, a 7-year-old Korean-American boy, gets his life turned upside down when his father decides to move their family to rural Arkansas and start a farm in the mid-1980s, in this charming and unexpected take on the American Dream. Cast: Steven Yeun, Han Yeri, Youn Yuh Jung, Will Patton, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho. World Premiere

Miss Juneteenth / U.S.A. (Dir/Writer: Channing Godfrey Peoples

Turquoise, a former beauty queen turned hardworking single mother, prepares her rebellious teenage daughter for the “Miss Juneteenth” pageant, hoping to keep her from repeating the same mistakes in life that she did. Cast: Nicole Beharie, Kendrick Sampson, Alexis Chikaeze, Lori Hayes, Marcus Maudlin. World Premiere

Never Rarely Sometimes Always / U.S.A. (Dir/Wri: Eliza Hittman

An intimate portrayal of two teenage girls in rural Pennsylvania. Faced with an unintended pregnancy and a lack of local support, Autumn and her cousin Skylar embark on a brave, fraught journey across state lines to New York City. Cast: Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Théodore Pellerin, Ryan Eggold, Sharon Van Etten. World Premiere

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Nine Days / U.S.A. (Dir/Writer: Edson Oda,

In a house distant from the reality we know, a reclusive man interviews prospective candidates—personifications of human souls—for the privilege that he once had: to be born. Cast: Winston Duke, Zazie Beetz, Benedict Wong, Bill Skarsgård, Tony Hale, David Rysdahl. World Premiere.

Palm Springs / U.S.A. Dir: Max Barbakow

When carefree Nyles and reluctant maid of honor Sarah have a chance encounter at a Palm Springs wedding, things get complicated the next morning when they find themselves unable to escape the venue, themselves, or each other. Cast: Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, J.K. Simmons, Meredith Hagner, Camila Mendes, Peter Gallagher. World Premiere

Save Yourselves! / U.S.A. Dir/Wri: Alex Huston Fischer, Eleanor Wilson

A young Brooklyn couple head upstate to disconnect from their phones and reconnect with themselves. Cut off from their devices, they miss the news that the planet is under attack. Cast: Sunita Mani, John Reynolds, Ben Sinclair, Johanna Day, John Early, Gary Richardson. World Premiere

Shirley / U.S.A. Dir: Josephine Decker

A young couple moves in with the famed author, Shirley Jackson, and her Bennington College professor husband, Stanley Hyman, in the hope of starting a new life but instead find themselves fodder for a psycho-drama that inspires Shirley’s next novel. Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlbarg, Odessa Young, Logan Lerman. World Premiere

Sylvie’s Love / U.S.A. (Dir/Wri: Eugene Ashe

Years after their summer romance comes to an end, an aspiring television producer and a talented musician cross paths, only to find their feelings for each other never changed. With their careers taking them in different directions, they must choose what matters most. Cast: Tessa Thompson, Nnamdi Asomugha, Eva Longoria, Aja Naomi King, Wendi Mclendon-Covey, Jemima Kirke. World Premiere

Wander Darkly / U.S.A. (Dir/Wri: Tara Miele

New parents Adrienne and Matteo are forced to reckon with trauma amidst their troubled relationship. They must revisit the memories of their past and unravel haunting truths in order to face their uncertain future. Cast: Sienna Miller, Diego Luna, Beth Grant, Aimee Carrero, Tory Kittles, Vanessa Bayer. World Premiere

Zola / U.S.A. (Dir/Wri: Janicza Bravo, Jeremy O. Harris

@zolarmoon tweets “wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out???????? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.” Two girls bond over their “hoeism” and become fast friends. What’s supposed to be a trip from Detroit to Florida turns into a weekend from hell. Cast: Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Nicholas Braun, Colman Domingo. World Premiere

U.S. DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

Sixteen 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 APOLLO 11, Knock Down The House, One Child Nation, American Factory, Three Identical Strangers and On Her Shoulders. 45% of the directors in this year’s U.S. Documentary Competition are women; 23% are people of color; 23% are LGBTQ+.

A Thousand Cuts / U.S.A., Philippines Dir/Wri:Ramona S Diaz

Nowhere is the worldwide erosion of democracy, fueled by social media disinformation campaigns, more starkly evident than in the authoritarian regime of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Journalist Maria Ressa places the tools of the free press—and her freedom—on the line in defense of truth and democracy. World Premiere

Be Water / U.S.A., UK  Director: Bao Nguyen

In 1971, after being rejected by Hollywood, Bruce Lee returned to his parents’ homeland of Hong Kong to complete four iconic films. Charting his struggles between two worlds, this portrait explores questions of identity and representation through the use of rare archival, interviews with loved ones and Bruce’s own writings. World Premiere

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets / U.S.A. Dir: Bill Ross, Turner Ross

In the shadows of the bright lights of Las Vegas, it’s last call for a beloved dive bar known as the Roaring 20s. A document of real people, in an unreal situation, facing an uncertain future: America at the end of 2016. World Premiere

Boys State / U.S.A. Dirs Jesse Moss, Amanda McBaine,

In an unusual experiment, a thousand 17-year-old boys from Texas join together to build a representative government from the ground up. World Premiere

Code for Bias / US/UK/China Dir/Wri Shalini Kantayya

Exploring the fallout of MIT Media Lab researcher Joy Buolamwini’s startling discovery that facial recognition does not see dark-skinned faces accurately, and her journey to push for the first-ever legislation in the U.S. to govern against bias in the algorithms that impact us all. World Premiere

The Cost of Silence / US  Dir: Mark Manning

An industry insider exposes the devastating consequences of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and uncovers systemic corruption between government and industry to silence the victims of a growing public health disaster. Stakes could not be higher as the Trump administration races to open the entire U.S. coastline to offshore drilling. World Premiere

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Crip Camp / U.S.A. (Dir: Nicole Newnham, Jim LeBrecht,

Down the road from Woodstock in the early 1970s, a revolution blossomed in a ramshackle summer camp for disabled teenagers, transforming their young lives and igniting a landmark movement. World Premiere. DAY ONE

Dick Johnson Is Dead / US. Dir: Kirsten Johnson

With this inventive portrait, a cameraperson seeks a way to keep her 86-year-old father alive forever. Utilizing moviemaking magic and her family’s dark humor, she celebrates Dr. Dick Johnson’s last years by staging fantasies of death and beyond. Together, dad and daughter confront the great inevitability awaiting us all. World Premiere

Feels Good Man / US. Dir: Arthur Jones

When indie comic character Pepe the Frog becomes an unwitting icon of hate, his creator, artist Matt Furie, fights to bring Pepe back from the darkness and navigate America’s cultural divide. World Premiere

The Fight / US. | Dirs: Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman, Eli Despres

Inside the ACLU, a team of scrappy lawyers battle Trump’s historic assault on civil liberties. World Premiere

Mucho Mucho Amor / US. Dirs: Cristina Costantini, Kareem Tabsch

Once the world’s most famous astrologer, Walter Mercado seeks to resurrect a forgotten legacy. Raised in the sugar cane fields of Puerto Rico, Walter grew up to become a gender non-conforming, cape-wearing psychic whose televised horoscopes reached 120 million viewers a day for decades before he mysteriously disappeared. World Premiere

Spaceship Earth / U.S.A. Director: Matt Wolf

In 1991 a group of countercultural visionaries built an enormous replica of earth’s ecosystem called Biosphere 2. When eight “biospherians” lived sealed inside, they faced ecological calamities and cult accusations. Their epic adventure is a cautionary tale but also a testament to the power of small groups reimagining the world. World Premiere

Time / U.S.A. (Director: Garrett Bradley

Fox Rich, indomitable matriarch and modern-day abolitionist, strives to keep her family together while fighting for the release of her incarcerated husband. An intimate, epic, and unconventional love story, filmed over two decades. World Premiere

Us Kids / U.S.A. (Dir: Kim A. Snyder

Determined to turn unfathomable tragedy into action, the teenage survivors of Parkland, Florida catalyze a powerful, unprecedented youth movement that spreads with lightning speed across the country, as a generation of mobilized youth take back democracy in this powerful coming-of-age story. World Premiere

Welcome to Chechnya / U.S.A. (Dir: David France

This searing investigative work shadows a group of activists risking unimaginable peril to confront the ongoing anti-LGBTQ pogrom raging in the repressive and closed Russian republic. Unfettered access and a remarkable approach to protecting anonymity exposes this under-reported atrocity–and an extraordinary group of people confronting evil. World Premiere

Whirlybird / U.S.A. Dir: Matt Yoka

Soaring above the chaotic spectacle of ‘80s and ‘90s Los Angeles, a young couple revolutionized breaking news with their brazen helicopter reporting. Culled from this news duo’s sprawling video archive is a poignant L.A. story of a family in turbulence hovering over a city unhinged. World Premiere

WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION

Twelve 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.

Charter / Sweden (Dir/Wri: Amanda Kernell |

After a recent and difficult divorce, Alice hasn’t seen her children in two months as she awaits a custody verdict. When her son calls her in the middle of the night, Alice takes action, abducting the children on an illicit charter trip to the Canary Islands. Cast: Ane Dahl Torp, Troy Lundkvist, Tintin Poggats Sarri, Sverrir Gudnason, Eva Melander, Siw Erixon. World Premiere

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Cuties / France (Dir/Wri: Maïmouna Doucouré, Producer: Zangro)

Amy, 11 years old, meets a group of dancers called “Cuties.” Fascinated, she initiates herself to a sensual dance, hoping to join their band and escape family dysfunction… Cast: Fathia Youssouf, Médina El Aidi-Azouni, Esther Gohourou, Ilanah Cami-Goursolas, Myriam Hamma, Maïmouna Gueye. World Premiere. DAY ONE

Exil / Germany, Belgium, Kosovo (Dir/Wri: Visar Morina

A chemical engineer feeling discriminated against and bullied at work plunges into an identity crisis. Cast: Mišel Matičević, Sandra Hüller. World Premiere

High Tide / Argentina (Dir/Wri: Verónica Chen,

Laura is spending a few days at her beach house to supervise the construction of a barbecue shed. One afternoon, she seduces the chief builder, who never returns. Over the following days, the builders continually invade her home – until Laura grows ferocious. Cast: Gloria Carrá, Jorge Sesán, Cristian Salguero, Mariana Chaud, Camila Fabbri, Héctor Bordoni. World Premiere

Jumbo / France, Luxembourg, Belgium (Dir/Wri: Zoé Wittock,

Jeanne, a shy young woman, works in an amusement park. Fascinated with carousels, she still lives at home with her mother. That’s when Jeanne meets Jumbo, the park’s new flagship attraction… Cast: Noémie Merlant, Emmanuelle Bercot, Sam Louwyck. World Premiere

Luxor / Egypt, United Kingdom Dir/Wri Zeina Durra,

When British aid worker Hana returns to the ancient city of Luxor, she comes across Sultan, a talented archeologist and former lover. As she wanders, haunted by the familiar place, she struggles to reconcile the choices of the past with the uncertainty of the present. Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Karim Saleh, Michael Landes, Sherine Reda, Salima Ikram, Shahira Fahmy. World Premiere

Possessor / Canada, United Kingdom Dir/Wri: Brandon Cronenberg,

Vos is a corporate agent who uses brain-implant technology to inhabit other people’s bodies, driving them to commit assassinations for the benefit of the company. When something goes wrong on a routine job, she finds herself trapped inside a man whose identity threatens to obliterate her own. Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Rossif Sutherland, Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean, Jennifer Jason Leigh. World Premiere

Identifying Features (Sin Señas Particulares) / Mexico, Spain (Director: Fernanda Valadez,

Magdalena makes a journey to find her son, gone missing on his way to the Mexican border with the US. Her odyssey takes her to meet Miguel, a man recently deported from the U.S. They travel together, Magdalena looking for her son, and Miguel hoping to see his mother again. Cast: Mercedes Hernández, David Illescas, Juan Jesús Varela, Ana Laura Rodríguez, Laura Elena Ibarra, Xicoténcatl Ulloa. World Premiere

Summer White (Blanco de Verano) / Mexico (Dir/Wri: Rodrigo Ruiz Patterson,

Rodrigo is a solitary teenager, a king in the private world he shares with his mother. Things change when she takes her new boyfriend home to live. He must decide if he fights for his throne and crushes the happiness of the person he loves the most. Cast: Adrián Rossi, Sophie Alexander-Katz, Fabián Corres. World Premiere

Surge / United Kingdom (Director: Aneil Karia

A man goes on a bold and reckless journey of self-liberation through London. After he robs a bank he releases a wilder version of himself, ultimately experiencing what it feels like to be alive. Cast: Ben Whishaw, Ellie Haddington, Ian Gelder, Jasmine Jobson. World Premiere

This Is Not A Burial, It’s A Resurrection / Lesotho, South Africa, Italy (Dir/Wri Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese

When her village is threatened with forced resettlement due to reservoir construction, an 80-year-old widow finds a new will to live and ignites the spirit of resilience within her community. In the final dramatic moments of her life, Mantoa’s legend is forged and made eternal. Cast: Mary Twala Mhlongo, Jerry Mofokeng Wa Makheta, Makhoala Ndebele, Tseko Monaheng, Siphiwe Nzima. International Premiere

Yalda, a Night for Forgiveness / Iran, France, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg (Dir/Wri: Massoud Bakhshi,

Maryam accidentally killed her husband Nasser and is sentenced to death. The only person who can save her is Mona, Nasser’s daughter. All Mona has to do is appear on a TV show and forgive Maryam. But forgiveness proves difficult when they are forced to relive the past. Cast: Sadaf Asgari, Behnaz Jafari, Babak Karimi, Fereshteh Sadr Orafaee, Forough Ghajebeglou, Fereshteh Hosseini. International Premiere

WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

Twelve documentaries by some of the most courageous and extraordinary international filmmakers working 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.

Acasa, My Home / Romania, Germany, Finland (Director: Radu Ciorniciuc, Screenwriters: Lina Vdovii, Radu Ciorniciuc, Producer: Monica Lazurean-Gorgan

In the wilderness of the Bucharest Delta, nine children and their parents lived in perfect harmony with nature for 20 years–until they are chased out and forced to adapt to life in the big city. World Premiere

The Earth Is Blue as an Orange / Ukraine, Lithuania (Director: Iryna Tsilyk,

To cope with the daily trauma of living in a war zone, Anna and her children make a film together about their life among surreal surroundings. World Premiere

Epicentro / Austria, France, U.S.A. (Dir/writer: Hubert Sauper,

Cuba is well known as a so-called time capsule. The place where the New World was discovered has become both a romantic vision and a warning. With ongoing global cultural and financial upheavals, large parts of the world could face a similar kind of existence. World Premiere

Influence / South Africa, Canada (Directors and Screenwriters: Diana Neille, Richard Poplak,

Charting the recent advancements in weaponized communication by investigating the rise and fall of the world’s most notorious public relations and reputation management firm: the British multinational Bell Pottinger. World Premiere

Into the Deep / Denmark (Dir: Emma Sullivan

In 2016, a young Australian filmmaker began documenting amateur inventor Peter Madsen. One year in, Madsen brutally murdered Kim Wall aboard his homemade submarine. An unprecedented revelation of a killer and the journey his young helpers take as they reckon with their own complicity and prepare to testify. World Premiere

The Mole Agent / Chile, U.S.A., Germany, The Netherlands, Spain (Dir and screenwriter: Maite Alberdi

When a family becomes concerned about their mother’s well-being in a retirement home, private investigator Romulo hires Sergio, an 83 year-old man who becomes a new resident–and a mole inside the home, who struggles to balance his assignment with becoming increasingly involved in the lives of several residents. World Premiere

Once Upon A Time in Venezuela / Venezuela, United Kingdom, Brazil, Austria (DirWri: Anabel Rodríguez Ríos,

Once upon a time, the Venezuelan village of Congo Mirador was prosperous, alive with fisherman and poets. Now it is decaying and disintegrating–a small but prophetic reflection of Venezuela itself. World Premiere

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The Painter and the Thief / Norway Director: Benjamin Ree

An artist befriends the drug addict and thief who stole her paintings. She becomes his closest ally when he is severely hurt in a car crash and needs full time care, even if her paintings are not found. But then the tables turn. World Premiere. DAY ONE

The Reason I Jump / United Kingdom Dir: Jerry Rothwell

Based on the book by Naoki Higashida this immersive film explores the experiences of nonspeaking autistic people around the world. World Premiere

Saudi Runaway / Switzerland (Dir/Wri: Susanne Regina Meures, Producer: Christian Frei) — Muna, a young, fearless woman from Saudi Arabia, is tired of being controlled by the state and patronised by her family. With an arranged marriage imminent, a life without rights and free will seems inevitable. Amjad decides to escape. An unprecedented view inside the world’s most repressive patriarchy. World Premiere

Softie / Kenya (Director and screenwriter: Sam Soko, Producers: Toni Kamau, Sam Soko) — Boniface Mwangi is daring and audacious, and recognized as Kenya’s most provocative photojournalist. But as a father of three young children, these qualities create tremendous turmoil between him and his wife Njeri. When he wants to run for political office, he is forced to choose: country or family? World Premiere

The Truffle Hunters / Italy, U.S.A., Greece (Dirs: Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw

In the secret forests of Northern Italy, a dwindling group of joyful old men and their faithful dogs search for the world’s most expensive ingredient, the white Alba truffle. Their stories form a real-life fairy tale that celebrates human passion in a fragile land that seems forgotten in time. World Premiere

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL | 23 JANUARY – 2 FEBRUARY 2020

Robert Redford | Conversations with | Marrakech Film Festival 2019

Sometimes I ask myself what’s missing. What’s missing now is the dreams and enjoyment of my childhood, the sense of wonder”

When Robert Redford was growing up in small-town California it was wartime and there was no television back then, only radio. “The first movie I saw was a Walt Disney. The dream was to be able to walk to a neighbourhood theatre to see it on the big screen – I could hardly wait for the weekend. What I miss with all these screening services and advanced technology is the time when you would walk into that cinema, into the darkness with all the energy of all these people around you, and the magic was seeing things on the big screen”.

Talking during the ‘Marrakech Conversations with’ series at this year’s 18th edition, Redford looks frail but contemplative as he casts his mind back to his first cinema memories.  “The idea of being an actor was the sense of freedom, the freedom to act someone else. And if you were paying attention you would notice certain types of people. And you could embody these people and bring that forward as an art form. And acting is very much an art form”.

During his fifty years in the business, Redford has always tried to look forward, only looking back if it helped in the story telling. One of his favourite authors is Scott Fitzgerald and he had the pleasure in 1974 to be a part of that story with his film version of The Great Gatsby where he plays the Jay Gatsby in love with Mia Farrow’s Daisy. There’s a great line where Nick Carraway notices Gatsby’s great love of the past, when he’s discussing with Daisy after the big party. And she says: “Gatsby you can’t repeat the past. And Gatsby answers: “of course you can”.

Redford was a voracious reader as a young man. The writers that influenced him were Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway – ‘when he wasn’t being too macho’ – and J D Salinger. Many of the films he went on to direct look at the past of America. But he says: “When I think about my country, it’s hard not to be critical because during the war when I was about five years old, I remember the energy, when everyone was getting together for the greater good (to fight Fascism in Nazi Germany). We all came together in unison, in an act that would bind us together in something that was going to be good for our country. I didn’t really understand what that was, but it just felt good. That was my memory of the Second World War, that and the memory of going to the movie theatre, particularly if it was something by Walt Disney”. We are now in dark times and I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone reading the news that there’s a dark wind blowing through all the countries. And in America I see so many of our liberties threatened”.

The most important piece of advice he can give to young actors nowadays is to ‘pay attention’. ” You often hear the phrase: ‘God is in the details’, if that’s true then I myself should also be paying more attention. And so when I’m walking in my place in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I’m often so busy thinking ahead, that I don’t notice what is actually in front of me. And so I’d think the best advice it to see what you’ve actually got in front of you”.

Redford finds it sad when a lot of good directors don’t get attention. “Some directors work is very one-dimensional, it’s good but it’s always the same group of people, the same themes” One director who he feels was very side-lined was George Ray Hill. “he was all over the map, if you look at his biography, and I’m sad not many people have, he rises up to the top. If you think about Butch Cassidy, and you look at The Sting, he’s never really got much credit. It makes me kinda sad.”

When he was getting ready to make Butch Cassidy Redford had just come out of a comedy on the stage in New York. He was about 28 0r 29 and Paul Newman was the confirmed star of the film, all set to play The Sundance Kid, and Redford Butch Cassidy in account of his previous comedy role. But the part that interested him was actually The Sundance Kid. So he explained this to Ray Hill when they met in a bar in New York’s Third Avenue. He wanted to play the Kid based on his own experience and his sensibility of feeling like an outlaw for most of his life. Ray Hill knew Paul Newman very well, and he knew he was much more like Butch Cassidy – he was an upbeat guy. George Ray Hill appreciated the situation and turned it all around. Newman and Redford became close friends. At the time Paul Newman was highly considered, he was 42 whereas Redford was only 29. The studio didn’t really want Redford in the film and Ray Hill did. So finally Newman decided to support Redford and as a result he was always grateful to him. “Paul was always a cool guy, chewing gum and smoking cigarettes and he suited the part of Butch Cassidy, but what many critics missed was that in our following film The Sting the roles were completely reversed. In Butch Cassidy I played the cool guy, and he played the happy go lucky guy. In The Sting he was the cool guy and I was the happy go lucky guy. No one’s picked that up.”

When asked what he thought about Sydney Pollack’s maxim that “everything is political, even love” Redford raises a laugh. “Well you’ll have to ask Sydney about that, but you can’t because he’s dead”. Redford enjoyed a close friendship with Sydney Pollack. The two developed a mutual trust because they had both been actors, although Pollack worked best when he was in control. The relationship drifted apart when “Pollack realised he could not just be a director, he could be a mogul in control of a studio, and he started to drift out of that zone, and I don’t think he was entirely happy but it had a lot to do with growing up in a Mid Western town and from under-privilege. He was aiming very high and I think he saw his way forward as being in control of everything”.

In Sydney Pollack’s political thriller Three Days of the Condor (1975) Redford plays a CIA character who is trying and get to the truth when he finds all his co-workers dead on returning to his office. His character Turner asks: “Who can we trust to get to the truth? There’s a story to telling the truth. But is it a true story?. I’m not so sure”. Nowadays it’s getting more difficult to get the truth everywhere in the world”. You have to trust your faith and your instincts. But you don’t really know. Who can you really trust?. Three Days ends with a question, rather than an answer. And that’s very relevant still today. Originally adapted from James Grady’s book Six Days of the Condor, when asked why the film had been renamed Three Days of the Condor he replies: “it was about budget”. Also cutting down the time frame, tightened the tension.

In The Company You Keep (2012) trust and the search for the truth are also central themes. The bottom line here is again: “Who can you really trust to give you the truth. Someone isn’t telling the truth and you have to find out who and why?

Redford claims to be very focused on being socially conscious. And by this he means being aware of what’s going on on the political front. He very much believes in questioning the truth and firmly relies on good journalism to do so – The New York Times is a trusted source – as a way of providing a counterbalance to politicians and leaders who are often spinning their own story. Being socially aware for him is all about questioning the truth and what’s out there. In The Company he plays a character who firmly questions the truth and is prepared to be flexible in that goal, whereas his co-star Julie Christie plays a radical who actually hides from the truth hoping it will change. Their feisty dynamic provides the dramatic grist a story about investigative journalism set during the 1970s.

So what does freedom mean to Robert Redford? When scoping it out he comes up with the counterintuitive position that freedom often fails to offer a better alternative. “if you take the position that you have to get away from anything you’re given, you might be losing something really valuable”. There’s a great deal of dramatic potential to be mined from seeking the truth. And this premise has driven many of his films as a director.

In Lions for Lambs (2007) Redford explores the aftermath of Afghanistan through three stories involving those affected. One is an angry young student played by Andrew Garfield. “Are young people more self-centred and less engaged politically than the older generation were in their day? Redford ponders: “Many of them are angry. But if you assume – as Andy Garfield’s character did that being sceptical or convinced that everything is corrupt is a very one note position, but it doesn’t actually make it the truth. The truth is actually more complicated than that: Being radical is actually being very narrow-minded. Life is not just one dimension”. And the tension between Garfield’s narrow-minded character and the professor mines that dramatic tension through the movie.”

Although Redford describes himself as being more political during the Vietnam war years, he then became more self-absorbed when he got back to his acting career. But the art form of directing makes a worthy subject of politics and he started to re-engage when he started making films. “Art in a broad sense is a useful way to criticise society and maintain a balance between the power base. Art provides another point of view to correct extremes and pioneer a way forward for the truth”.

When Redford saw a documentary made by D A Pennebaker, known for his cinema verite approach to filmmaking, this inspired him in directing his own films. “They went inside their subject matter with the camera, rather than simply observing it from the outside, bringing some real dramatic tension to the form”. And so this was the approach Redford adopted when he started filming. When asked if he finds it easier to direct or act, Redford claims it all comes down to control. Also working as an artist sketching people he met on his travels in Europe helped tremendously to shape his filmmaking projects. “At that time there was a great deal of anger towards America and so I ceased to engage with people and used my sketchbook as a companion and to storyboard ideas and ‘get in the picture. being on the outside looking in and also on the inside”.

Robert Redford has now started to move back into sketching and drawing and away from filmmaking, but makes an acute observation on his change of direction:. “The trouble with retiring is that you should never announce it, otherwise people start saying – Oh could you just do this, or could you just do that – you should just retire”. However he is still working on a project which was has been in development for a few years. “It’s called 109 East Palace ” and it’s about an address in New Mexico where the atomic bomb was developed, and Oppenheimer was behind it. So I thought it was just such a great story, about the inventor of the atomic bomb. But because he was a Communist and this was the McCarthy era during the 1950s, everything was very extreme and right wing. Although Oppenheimer was a hero,  they (the authorities) went after him. What interests me is how quickly things can change because of the political climate”. He’s still deciding how he wants to approach the endeavour. “I believe in risk, and I believe that not taking a risk is a risk. It’s the only thing that pushes you forward. Because you don’t know where that going to lead you. Otherwise you will become stagnant. But it’s important to study the reasons why you want to pursue the risky strategy”. He also enjoys a challenge playing a character who is not popular and whose point of view is isolated from the mainstream “because it involves really committing to the role, and seeing it forward successfully. If you are going to play a part, you really have to inhabit that character, and it’s a risk because you can get lost.”

Robert Redford has never considered himself a Hollywood actor. “I grew up in Los Angeles, I didn’t grow up in Hollywood and I’ve never had that much regard for Hollywood. I wanted to be a serious actor and that started in New York in the theatre and I wanted to see where that led, and it led me back to Los Angeles as a filmmaker”.

When he decided to set up Sundance his goal was very simple: “Celebrating people who don’t get celebrated. Celebrating people who are either being ignored or undiscovered. Who deserve to be discovered. When I started Sundance back in the 1980s there were hundreds of independent films but they had no traction, there was no real category. It was still just mainstream films. Because I was in the mainstream I was very tuned into the idea of being independent. I was in the studio system but there was a whole world out there and I wanted to give it a chance. I wanted to support independent film with this non-profit institute called Sundance to support the stories and talent out there. ”

Robert Redford CONVERSATIONS WITH | MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2019 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shooting the Mafia (2019) ***

Director: Kim Longinotto | With: Letizia Battaglia, Maria Chiara Di Trepani, Santi Caleca, Eduardo Rebulla, Franco Zecchin, Roberto Timperi | UK, 94′

Kim Longinotto chronicles the work of the very much alive photojournalist Letizia Battaglia in this moving but rather hagiographic affair. 

A Sicilian to the core, Battaglia has a visceral connection with Palermo where the Mafia was particularly active during the 1970s and ’80s. Her keen eye for a poignant picture captures everyday life in the impoverished capital. But she is best known for her photos of the Mafia’s brutality and, crucially, the affect it had on the victims concerned. Shocking snapshots reveal dead women and children bathed in their own blood; the startling aftermath of a street shooting, the victim’s wife tortured in agony at the scene of the crime. The documentary particularly highlights those fighting for justice, retribution and an end to the reign of terror: Judge Giovanni Falcone and his successor Paolo Borsellino who both lost their lives.

English documentarian Kim Longinotto won the World Cinema Directing Award at Sundance 2015 for Dreamcatcher her illuminating film on prostitution in Chicago. Clearly she is impressed with Battaglia, now 83,  who comes across as confident, hard-bitten and down to earth. Pink-haired and smoking her way through her story Shooting the Mafia is enlivened by TV footage, archival material and her own photographs. The film culminates with the important Mafia trial in 1986. The judge Giovanni Falcone was blown to bits in 1992. She talks of his fearless honesty and dedication. In some ways he is the hero of the piece.

Battaglia’s early life took place behind closed doors, her highly protective father shielding her jealously from the gaze of his friends and associates. This was quite normal back then. And so was an incident where a man exposed himself to her, leaving her bewildered and bemused. She married at 16 to the first man who asked, and had two daughters. Her story is interwoven with clips from Italian films the ’50s starring a blond Silvana Magnano, adding an upbeat vibe to an otherwise depressing tale of poverty, corruption and violence. Divorced in 1971, Battaglia fell into journalism, preferring to take photos rather than write for the liberal newspaper L’Ora. Her job was her life and she gradually worked her way through a series of impressionable – often much younger – lovers attracted by her earthy nonchalance and solid sense of self.  Two men, in particular, take part as her long term partners, both of them photographers who worked alongside her. And these men seem to feature more heavily in her world than her family: “I could talk about it but I don’t want to,”

There’s an impression that photography was a given rather than an ambition, almost as a default position due to her being employed by the paper. Mafia violence was an everyday occurrence in Palermo and someone had to go and record it for the paper. Although competently captured, there’s no evidence of any aesthetic behind the pictures. Indeed, she soon drifted from journalism and into politics as a Green Party local councillor, which is where she came across Giovanni Falcone. She felt too connected to the killing to take photos after his death, but this is the only time she discusses the equivocal nature of the photographer’s role. Her only relevant comment is personal: “When I look at my photos, I just see blood, blood, blood.”

The sensationalist nature of the subject matter is clearly the compulsion here. We experience a certain detachment to the photos of Mafia killings, and this is due in part to our familiarity with a theme that is so much a part of cinema history, with films like Goodfellas, The Godfather and Once Upon a Time in America. The most affecting segments of the film are those featuring the real victims and particularly the clip where the wife of one of Falcone’s bodyguards breaks down during the funeral. That said, this is a surface affair that often lets the peripheral life of its protagonist dominate the important nature of her work. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | PANORAMA

 

 

 

The Farewell (2019) ***

Dir: Lulu Wang | Comedy Drama | 98′

Korean Chinese actress Awkwafina is best known for the standout comedy Crazy Rich Asians (2018). She gets another chance to flex her undeniable talents in this slim but enjoyable farce that explores the theory of “mind over matter” with a rather satisfying takeaway.

She plays Billi, an easygoing Chinese woman who originally moved to New York as a child and returns home for a family wedding, and to say goodbye to her beloved grandmother Nai Nai who has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Well, her granny’s unaware of her imminent demise, the family have decided to keep shtum: they simply haven’t the heart to tell her. And strangely, Nai Nai never cottons on to why they all seem so miserable, instead of relieved at her clean bill of health, after the scan.

Despite its cultural specificity, this is a convincing family tale like any other, and Wang spices her drama with plenty of light-hearted humour, tinged with understandable melancholy. Each family member expresses their sadness in different ways and degrees, and Wang keeps sentimentality at bay instead opting for something more nuanced and appealing. Awkwafina’s Billi is a triumph of independence and vulnerability and her dying grandmother (Shuzhen Zhao) manages to be calm and philosophical. The lightweight narrative builds towards in a satisfying conclusion, offering plenty of food for thought in the final reveal. MT

NOWON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 20 SEPTEMBER

Honeyland (2019) ****

Dir: Tamara Kotevska/Ljubomir Stefanov | Doc/drama, 87′

Bees are one of the most vital elements in our delicate ecosystem. But rather than tell another preachy tale about disappearing ways of life, these two Macedonian filmmakers have spent three years making their revealing debut documentary exploring the art of wild beekeeping and a Turkish woman who is keeping the tradition alive against all odds in a remote corner of the Balkans.

In her mid fifties and caring for an half-blind bed-ridden mother, Hatidze is a cheerful and enterprising soul. She struggles on alone in this inhospitable terrain sharing her life with a menage of dogs and cats, and the vituperative insects who provide her with a living, her father having put paid to any chance of a husband or children. It’s a story that will ring true with those still working hard and looking after ageing parents as they approach the lonely coalface of their own mortality.

“Half for you, half for me” she says generously, sharing the honeycomb with the bees to assure their continued survival. and often climbing to hazardous rock-faces to locate and nurture the crucial queen bee that brings the swarm with her. After nurturing the swarm and culling the precious nectar, Hatidze then makes a perilous journey on foot to Skopje  where she barters with local market holders to sell the honey for as little as 10 euros a kilo.

 Honeyland is a remarkable  vérité study of loneliness and endangered tradition. As Hatidze soldiers on in harmony with nature but without power or mod cons, a jet plane soaring into the blue is the only reminder of the 21st century.  Bee-keeping is not just a quaint outdated pastime but vital to our survival and the pollination of plant life that feeds the world.  Hatidze is said to be the only woman in Europe still carrying on the practice in the traditional way.

Neighbours are often an intrusive nuisance – and particularly here when a large group of rowdy herders arrive to graze on the land with their cattle and noisy kids. Hatidze does her best to get on with them but their own swarm of bees poisons the ones she has carefully cultivated; the chief herder is only interested in instant results and it clear to see the filmmakers’ analogy with mass globalisation,

Fejmi Daut and Samir Ljuma capture this extraordinary place with its rocky terrain, sweltering summers and snow-swept winters when the wolves howl all night. Hatidze is at one with nature a harsh but rewarding life which she accepts with grace and fortitude    as she walks out alone into the wilderness – both metaphorically and physically – determined to continue alone and at peace with her dog and her bees. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 13 SEPTEMBER 2019

 

 

Photograph (2019)


Dir:Wri: Ritesh Batra | India, 110′

See Mumbai and slowly fall in love. Seems like a dream but it’s a dream come true in Ritesh Batra’s latest drama that sees two worlds collide and then gradually come together. The Mumbai-born director is back with a slowburn snapshot of this ancient city making its way into the modern world and beyond.

Here a photograph taken one summer afternoon in the Gateway to India forms a tenuous link that will unite two people across the barrier of religion, class, and culture as poignant impossibilities gradually becoming certainties due to education and entrepreneurial spark. 

Street photographer Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) gets by snapping tourists. He has a simple sales pitch: but one that’s captured the imagination of his punters and will one day serve him well. Or at least that’s what’s we’re led to believe in this leisurely look at contemporary India, and the power of possibility that had motivated the nation into the fast lane. But the detailed world around Rafi is what makes this languid romantic comedy so richly enjoyable.

Miloni (Sanya Malhotra) is a timid intelligent student training to be a chartered accountant. One day she comes across Rafi and has her photo taking in a chance meeting that provides the starting point to fragrant possibilities. Rafi is silently struck not her gentle presence, but is pressurised by his social status and his grandmother to marry. Miloni agrees to pose as his potential bride when his grandmother arrives and gradually this delicate date becomes a lasting connection that sees them meeting every day while the old woman stays in Rafi’s modern accommodation he shares with a motley crew of unmarried men.   

The films glows on the widescreen where DoP Ben Kutchins captures the chaotic cacophony and sun-dappled boulevards of Mumbai and its delightful street carts selling all kinds of cuisine and produce. Ambient sounds transport is into the centre of this action making this a tangible and highly visual, sensual travelogue

Batra gives us time – and many may say too much time – to get to know his characters; to glory in the sensuousness of it all. And this sensitivity is part of the drama’s lushness. Rafi and Miloni are quietly beautiful to look. Even her housemaid’s  jewellery russles as she pads barefoot to serve dinner and assure Miloni of her discretion when she sees the two of them waking in the square. This attention to detail makes the film pleasurable along with its languorous dramatic arc.

There are long affectionate glances but few words as the couple’s relationship takes shape. And Batra luxuriates in the rich textural influences of the characters around them: Miloni’s teacher and her parents. But most of all Rafi’s grandma whose wise words and chiding bring the film its comic moments. Batra judiciously doesn’t allow these two the power of touch until the the final scenes, and even then we’re left expectant but convinced there can be a future. But that is left to our own imagination with the tangible facts in place. And this slowly looms into perspective in the final act when we become more attuned to the directors modus operandi. 

The class distinctions are subtly alluded to through comments on skin colour. Rafi is refered as a “black raisin,” according to his grandmother, due to his street job. Other class tags are noted in the way the higher castes interweave English into their conversations. When Miloni goes to meet a potential marriage partner who immediately talks about international locations for setting up home. Miloni – not keen on him at all – hints at her desire to ‘live in a village and farm before taking a nap in the afternoon’.

The desire for a concrete culimination to their union has left some unsatisfied with the film. But that is the very nature of the piece and why Batra doesn’t need to spell it out for us. The ending is fully formed by what has gone before in subtle gestures and intimations. It is what it is. A mature and ravishingly rewarding experience MT

NOW ON BFI Player |

 

Animals (2019) ****

Dir.: Sophie Hyde; Cast: Holiday Grainger, Alia Shawkat, Fra Fee, Dermont Murphy, Amy Molloy, Dermont Murphy; UK/Australia/ROI 2019, 109 min.

In her sophomore feature Australian filmmaker Sophie Hyde (52 Tuesdays) directs Emma-Jane Unsworth’ script of her own novel. It centres on two close friends Laura (Grainger) and Tyler (Shawcat) in Dublin who spend most of their time in being drunk and high on drugs. Well at least that’s the way it’s seemed for the past ten years. But now in their thirties, things are about to change.

Their story unfolds from the perspective of Laura, a struggling writer whose novel progresses a line a week – meanwhile she works as a barista in a coffee shop, to make ends meet. Her sister Jean (Molloy), once a wild child herself, announces that she has now chosen adult life and motherhood. Laura reacts with panic: suddenly casual boyfriend Jim (Fee), a very serious pianist, becomes a plausible alternative to her living the life of Riley with Tyler. But then along comes uber-pretentious author Marthy (Murphy) and Laura soon sees the error of her ways. And somehow the never fully explained cloud over Tyler’s life (some trauma in the past) becomes more important – or is it just the realisation, that their friendship is much more of a love story then they want to admit. Most features are built on the rock of a happy-ending with friendship being replaced by the great love conquering all – but Hyde raises doubts: is it really inevitable that all women should spend their life with the opposite gender just because mother nature and a concept called adulthood dictate it – or can Goethe’s Elective Affinities overcome the norm – at least sometimes?

Grainger and Shawkat carry the feature – their relationship is anything but ideal – but at least it is honest, and we are never allowed to forget it. Hyde directs with great sensibility, athough there are more than enough emotional episodes to go round. DoP Bryan Mason has a fine feel for the Dublin scene, even though the film actually takes place in Manchester. Animals is full of surprises and never resorts to the banal. It is a brave attempt at trying to align the impossible, but it manages to remain sincere: when Jim calls Laura Tyler’s wife, he is not too far off. AS

ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 2 AUGUST

       

The Brink (2019) ***

DIR: Alison Klayman | US Doc 98′

Alison Klayman shadows political operative Steve Bannon from the time he leaves the White House to the 2018 midterms.

Political strategist Steve Bannon (1953-) is best known for being the co-founder of Breitbart, and is also a former investment banker, educated at Georgetown and Harvard. He served in the United States Navy for seven years and then went on to exec produce 18 Hollywood films, between 1991 and 2016. Thereafter he was the White House chief strategist from January to August 2017, and founder of nonprofit organisation The Movement designed to promote economic nationalism in Europe. Eventually he was ejected from the White House after the infamous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.

Not as informative and intriguing as Errol Morris’ American Dharma that screened at Venice  last year, this fly on the wall affair manages at least to avoid glorification, hardly bringing anything new to the table – although Bannon clearly had his knees firmly under the metaphorical one in the Whitehouse during the early stages of the Trump administration.

Klayman’s (Ai Wei: Never Sorry) cinema vérité style treatment is the result of her following Bannon as part of his elite during the course of a year’s media tour intended to rebrand his image as the leader of a global populist movement. A strong and engaging orator (in the style of Ken Livingstone, Gladstone and Nigel Farage) he is clearly clubbable, and we see him taking his movement on the road, talking to various advisors on how best to support congressional candidates, and showing his support to European populist parties – including Farage’s – in preparation for the European Parliament elections in 2019.

In Europe there’s obviously the high birth rate among Muslims to consider (in Belgium), and these far-righters all agree that “immigration is a bad thing”. Bannon then sets off on a US tour, promoting Republican candidates such as Roy Moore, and those running in the 2018 midterms. This involves attending fundraiser dinners and rallies. A heckler interrupts him during a speech and he smirks, “Who invited my ex-wife?” Klayman intercuts all this with news clips from the Brett Kavanaugh hearing to the Tree of Life shooting. He keeps on keeping on. He also talks to journalists, who seem to have a low opinion of him. Meanwhile, his film TRUMP @WAR (the media) is released, about the President’s victory in the face of the violent left.

The Brink is another documentary about the general mayhem that exists in US politics, focusing on one extreme figure to another (Weiner and Get Me Roger Stone). Klayman avoids talking head interviews but there’s no mistaking her take on her subject matter.

Very much like Brexit for the UK, the Trump era is a thorn in America’s side. And The Brink tries to analyse how it all came about, but without much success. Basically politicians see themselves as in the game for the love of humanity, despite the majority of them being self-seeking, bottom-feeding forms of life. In Dante’s journey to Hell, Klayman is simply trying to explore some of the characters on the way. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

 

The Last Tree (2019) *** Sundance London 2019

Dir.: Shola Amoo; Cast: Sam Adewunmi, Gbemisola Ikumelo, Denise Black, Tai Golding, Nicholas Pinnock, DemmyLadipo; UK 2019, 100 min.

Writer/director Shola Amoo explores a conflicted teenager at odds with his environment in modern Britain, with his roots in Nigeria.

We meet Femi (Tai Golding) as a happy eleven-year old in rural Lincolnshire where he runs wild with his white school friends during the day, before returning to loving foster Mum Mary (Black) in a middle class area. But Femi is suddenly uprooted when his birth mother Yinka (Ikumelo) demands his return to her tiny flat in one of many high-rise blocks in South-London. Femi is stranded: on the phone he calls Mary ‘Nan’, but refuses to admit how much he is alienated by the black ghetto, and his authoritarian Mum. She punishes him physically, telling him “I did not raise you, to be rude”. To which Femi answers “You did not raise me”.

Sixteen-year old Femi (Adewunmi) has nothing but his memories, but he makes up for it by presenting himself as a proud African. Meanwhile, many of his mates are much more assimilated, and bully him. For a short while, he fells under the spell of the local mini-gangster Mace (Ladipo), but an upright teacher helps him to free himself from the clutches of petty crime. A romantic interlude just goes to enforce his alienation. But this all changes in the third act when his mother introduces him to his birth father in Nigeria.  A wealthy Christian, he rejected Yinka and his son because she believed in the old mysticism of the country and “was not ready to submit like a Christian woman.”

The structure of the feature underlines Femi’s conflict. There is only one scene when past and present interact positively and this involves his foster mother Mary. DoP Stil Williams uses a peachy pastel palette for the Lincolnshire scenes, than switches to hyper-realism for the South London interlude, before prime colours show his re-awakening in Nigeria.

THE LAST TREE (the title remains opaque) has not the narrative strength of Sally El Hosaini’s My Brother, the Devil, but relies on emotional power. Femi is black, African and disenfranchised British, but at the same time rejected on all three levels. He is not able to connect his childhood memories with anything in his adult life, and the question remains if he will find acceptance in Nigeria, or if the fragmentation will continue. Amoo’s feature has certainly structural fault lines, but he makes up partly for it with a radical passionate approach, showing a picture of unreconciled loneliness. AS

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL LONDON | 30 MAY – 2 JUNE 2019

Sundance London 2019 | 30 May – 2 June 2019

Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival brings a selection of films to London, screening at at PICTUREHOUSE CENTRAL from 30 MAY – 2 JUNE 2019. Here is a selection of the features and documentaries scheduled:

THE LAST TREE/ United Kingdom (Director/Screenwriter: Shola Amoo) – Femi is a British boy of Nigerian heritage who, after a happy childhood in rural Lincolnshire, moves to inner London to live with his mum. Struggling with the unfamiliar culture and values of his new environment, teenage Femi has to figure out which path to adulthood he wants to take CAST: Sam Adewunmi, Gbemisola Ikumelo, Denise Black, Tai Golding, Nicholas Pinnock 

LATE NIGHT U.S.A. (Director: Nisha Ganatra, Screenwriter: Mindy Kaling) – Legendary late-night talk show host’s world is turned upside down when she hires her only female staff writer. Originally intended to smooth over diversity concerns, her decision has unexpectedly hilarious consequences as the two women separated by culture and generation are united by their love of a biting punchline. Cast: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow, Paul Walter Hauser, Reid Scott, Amy Ryan

THE NIGHTINGALE Australia (Director/Screenwriter: Jennifer Kent) – 1825. Clare, a young Irish convictwoman, chases a British officer through the Tasmanian wilderness, bent on revenge for a terrible act of violence he committed against her family. On the way she enlists the services of Aboriginal tracker Billy, who is marked by trauma from his own violence-filled past. Cast: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr, Damon Herriman, Harry Greenwood, Ewen Leslie

HAIL SATAN? U.S.A. (Director: Penny Lane) – A look at the intersection of religion and activism, tracing the rise of The Satanic Temple: only six years old and already one of the most controversial religious movements in American history. The Temple is calling for a Satanic revolution to save the nation’s soul. But are they for real? 

THE FAREWELL U.S.A., China (Director/Screenwriter: Lulu Wang) – A headstrong Chinese-American woman returns to China when her beloved grandmother is given a terminal diagnosis. Billi struggles with her family’s decision to keep grandma in the dark about her own illness as they all stage an impromptu wedding to see grandma one last time.  CAST: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shuzhen, Lu Hong, Jiang Yongbo

THE DEATH OF DICK LONG U.S.A. (Director: Daniel Scheinert, Screenwriter: Billy Chew) – Dick died last night, and Zeke and Earl don’t want anybody finding out how. That’s too bad though, cause news travels fast in small-town Alabama. CAST: Michael Abbott Jr., Virginia Newcomb, Andre Hyland, Sarah Baker, Jess Weixler 

CORPORATE ANIMALS U.S.A. (Director: Patrick Brice, Screenwriter: Sam Bain) – Disaster strikes when the egotistical CEO of an edible cutlery company leads her long-suffering staff on a corporate team- building trip in New Mexico. Trapped underground, this mismatched and disgruntled group must pull together to survive. CAST: Demi Moore, Ed Helms, Jessica Williams, Karan Soni

ASK DR RUTH  U.S.A. (Director: Ryan White) – A documentary portrait chronicling the incredible life of Dr. Ruth Westheimer, a Holocaust survivor who became America’s most famous sex therapist. As her 90th birthday approaches, Dr. Ruth revisits her painful past and her career at the forefront of the sexual revolution. 

THE BRINK U.S.A. (Director: Alison Klayman) – Now unconstrained by an official White House post, Steve Bannon is free to peddle influence as a perceived kingmaker with a direct line to the President. As self-appointed leader of the “populist movement,” he travels around the U.S. and the world spreading his hard-line anti-immigration message

Tickets on sale Tuesday 23 April; priority booking from Friday 19 April

Find out more at picturehouses.com/sundance

 

Minding the Gap (2018) ****

Dir: Bing Liu | Doc US, 83′

Skateboarding is the lifeblood and unifying element for a group of young guys in Bing Liu’s terrific Oscar nominated debut.

They all grew up together in Rockford, near Chicago, where Liu began filming their adventures as the boys moved into early adulthood. It seems they all had difficult backgrounds, in one way or another. But Minding the Gap skates over these in its joyful kinetic playfulness.

Bing Liu’s fluid camera keep pace with the sporty action as the boarders refuse to be diminished by their setbacks, each scene froths with energy and alacrity. And even though the stories of family dysfunction and continuing anxiety are shared there is always at positive feel to the encounters. Clearly boarding is a hobby that makes their adrenaline flow with its mix of risk, dexterity and joy de vivre. In the meantime what emerges is a rich social tapestry of contemporary working class youth in all its pain and glory.

Each story slowly emerges through the wizardry of the skateboarding sequences as Zack Mulligan and his girlfriend Nina, Keire Johnson and the Liu himself share a common experience of camaraderie and togetherness that gets them through the days and offers focus on their lives and futures.

Keire had a controlling father who is now dead. Liu’s life was dominated by a coercive bullying father who manhandled his mother and took away his confidence. Zack has just become a father with his girlfriend Nina, but they are too young and marked by their own difficult childhoods to fall into parenthood easily, and there are trust and vulnerability issues at play, which gradually become resolved in the final segment.

There is a freshness and an appealing innocence to all these encounters. And  combined with the upbeat tone of the documentary Minding the Gap makes for a satisfying and enjoyable experience. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM FRIDAY 22 MARCH 2019

The Kindergarten Teacher (2018) ****

Dir.: Sara Colangelo; Cast: Maggie Gyllenhall, Parker Sewak, Gael Garcia Bernal, Daisy Tahan, Sam Jules, Michael Chernus, Ajay Naidu, Rosa Salazar; USA 2018, 96′.

Director Sara Colangelo (Little Accidents) won a Sundance directing award for this spry psychological thriller that takes constantly surprising turns.

Adapted from Nadav Lapid’s script of his French/Israeli feature of the same name (Haganenet), this is no Hollywood re-make – in fact, it was Lapid who approached the producers. By a stroke of luck, Maggie Gyllenhall (who also produced) was cast in the lead, and the result is a fascinating character study, full of ambivalence and obsessive longings.

Lisa Spinelli, having just turned forty, feels unfulfilled on many levels. Travelling to work every day on the ferry between Staten Island and Manhattan, she looks forlorn and lost in her daydreams. Husband Grant (Chernus) is a bear of man, but lazy of body and mind. Her teenage children Laine (Tahan) and Josh (Jules) are an obvious disappointment to Lisa: Laine is just interested in the latest fads, and thinks her mother’s a dinosaur. Josh is even worse, and is giving up school to join the US-Army. To counter all this, Lisa has joined a poetry group – but alas, her talents are limited, and teacher Simon (Bernal) expresses his doubts politely. Enter five-year old Jimmy (Sewak), one of Lisa’s pupils, who suddenly spouts lines of poetry, which are well beyond his tender age. Lisa is thrilled, asking Jimmy to phone her, whenever a poem is ready, and the little boy responds eagerly. And it’s not difficult to understand why: he is neglected by his divorced father Nick (Naidu) who runs a shady nightclub, and his lackadaisical  babysitter Becca (Salazar), who got the job because she gets laid by his father.

In her poetry class, Lisa passes off Jimmy’s work is her own, which leads to a quick romp with Simon (Bernal), who is suitably impressed. To get more access to Jimmy, Lisa tells Nick that Becca is often late for picking-up time, and Nick fires her, only too happy that Lisa is volunteering to look after Jimmy until he fetches him in the evening. But Nick also makes it clear he expects his son to excel in sports and business, rather than try to pursue an artistic career, like his impoverished relatives. Then everything slowly unravels towards a tense finale.

Colangelo traces Lisa’s growing obsession step by step. Creativity is her only way of escape, but it’s hard for her to realise that she is dilettante –  as Simon puts it blandly. She channels all her yearnings into Jimmy, in an effort to save both him and herself. Family and society, dominated by social media, are a great disappointment to her, and Jimmy’s father Nick, is just another materialist ignoramus. Throwing all her past life away, she has to save Jimmy from the same fate that has destroyed her. She ignores her responsibilities as a teacher (and as a human being) and becomes obsessed with Jimmy being a prodigy. Lisa, who has been so gentle and rational all her life, suddenly sees Jimmy as an embodiment of herself – and is determined that he won’t suffer the same fate as she has.

DoP Pepe Avila del Pino pictures Lisa’ descent with his subtle camerawork. The rides on the ferry are a study in melancholy, and her classroom is a real work of art, light and shadows creating a nuanced moodiness. But this is Maggie Gyllenhall’s feature: she never puts a foot wrong, going seemingly unobtrusively forward from an ideology of art as a saviour, to a a full blown psychosis. Colangelo supports her aptly, particularly with a great solution at the ending: she never denounces Lisa or the relationship between her and Jimmy, which somehow survives. Kindergarten Teacher is not perfect, but portrays a specific ambiguity which is as endearing as it is dangerous. AS

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE from 8 MARCH 2019       

   

                                     

                       

Sundance Film Festival | Award and Winners 2019

Sundance announced its awards last night after ten extraordinary days of the latest independent cinema. Taking place each January in Park City, snowy Utah, the festival is the premier showcase for U.S. and international independent film, presenting dramatic and documentary feature-length films from emerging and established artists, innovative short films, filmmaker forums. The Festival brings together the most original storytellers known to mankind. In his closing speech President and Founder Robert Redford commented: “At this critical moment, it’s more necessary than ever to support independent voices, to watch and listen to the stories they tell.” Over half the films shown were directed by women and 23 prizes were awarded across the board including one film from a director identifying as LGBTQI+

This year’s jurors, invited in recognition of their accomplishments in the arts were Desiree Akhavan, Damien Chazelle, Dennis Lim, Phyllis Nagy, Tessa Thompson, Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Yance Ford, Rachel Grady, Jeff Orlowski, Alissa Wilkinson, Jane Campion, Charles Gillibert, Ciro Guerra, Maite Alberdi, Nico Marzano, Véréna Paravel, Young Jean Lee, Carter Smith, Sheila Vand, and Laurie Anderson.

The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary/China | Dirs: Nanfu Wang/Jialing Zhang,

 photo by Nanfu Wang.

ONE CHILD NATION After becoming a mother, a filmmaker uncovers the untold history of China’s one-child policy and the generations of parents and children forever shaped by this social experiment.

The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic/USA | Dir/Wri Chinonye Chukwu

 

photo by Eric Branco

CLEMENCY: Years of carrying out death row executions have taken a toll on prison warden Bernadine Williams. As she prepares to execute another inmate, Bernadine must confront the psychological and emotional demons her job creates, ultimately connecting her to the man she is sanctioned to kill. Cast: Alfre Woodard, Aldis Hodge, Richard Schiff, Wendell Pierce, Richard Gunn, Danielle Brooks.

The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary: Dirs: Tamara Kotevska, Ljubomir Stefanov | Macedonia

HONEYLAND – When nomadic beekeepers break Honeyland’s basic rule (take half of the honey, but leave half to the bees), the last female bee hunter in Europe must save the bees and restore natural balance.

The Souvenir| photo by Agatha A. Nitecka.

The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic | UK | Dir/wri: Joanna Hogg

THE SOUVENIR: A shy film student begins finding her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man. She defies her protective mother and concerned friends as she slips deeper and deeper into an intense, emotionally fraught relationship which comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams. Cast: Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, Tilda Swinton.

The Audience Award: U.S. Documentary, | USA  Dir: Rachel Lears:

KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE — A young bartender in the Bronx, a coal miner’s daughter in West Virginia, a grieving mother in Nevada and a registered nurse in Missouri build a movement of insurgent candidates challenging powerful incumbents in Congress. One of their races will become the most shocking political upset in recent American history. Cast: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic, U.S.A. Dir/Wri: Paul Downs

BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON — A woman living in New York takes control of her life – one city block at a time. Cast: Jillian Bell, Michaela Watkins, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Lil Rel Howery, Micah Stock, Alice Lee.

The Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary/Austria: Dir: Richard Ladkan

SEA OF SHADOWS/Austria – The vaquita, the world’s smallest whale, is near extinction as its habitat is destroyed by Mexican cartels and Chinese mafia, who harvest the swim bladder of the totoaba fish, the “cocaine of the sea.” Environmental activists, Mexican navy and undercover investigators are fighting back against this illegal multimillion-dollar business.

The Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic/Denmark Dir: May el-Toukhy

QUEEN OF HEARTS — A woman jeopardises both her career and her family when she seduces her teenage stepson and is forced to make an irreversible decision with fatal consequences. Cast: Trine Dyrholm, Gustav Lindh, Magnus Krepper.

 

The Audience Award: NEXT, Alex Rivera, Cristina Ibarra

THE INFILTRATORS / U.S.A. (Directors: , Screenwriters: — A rag-tag group of undocumented youth – Dreamers – deliberately get detained by Border Patrol in order to infiltrate a shadowy, for-profit detention center. Cast: Maynor Alvarado, Manuel Uriza, Chelsea Rendon, Juan Gabriel Pareja, Vik Sahay.

The Directing Award: U.S. Documentary | USA Dirs: Steven Bognar and Julia

AMERICAN FACTORY  — In post-industrial Ohio, a Chinese billionaire opens a new factory in the husk of an abandoned General Motors plant, hiring two thousand blue-collar Americans. Early days of hope and optimism give way to setbacks as high-tech China clashes with working-class America.

The Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic U.S.A. Dirs: Joe Talbot, Screenwriters: Joe Talbot,

THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO — Jimmie Fails dreams of reclaiming the Victorian home his grandfather built in the heart of San Francisco. Joined on his quest by his best friend Mont, Jimmie searches for belonging in a rapidly changing city that seems to have left them behind.

The Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary NOR | Dir: Mads Brüggerwas

 photo by Tore Vollan.

Cold Case Hammarskjöld / Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Belgium — Danish director Mads Brügger and Swedish private investigator Göran Bjorkdahl are trying to solve the mysterious death of Dag Hammarskjold. As their investigation closes in, they discover a crime far worse than killing the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

The Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic | Spain (Dir/Wri: Lucía Garibaldi,

THE SHARKS / Uruguay, Argentina – While a rumour about the presence of sharks in a small beach town distracts residents, 15-year-old Rosina begins to feel an instinct to shorten the distance between her body and Joselo’s. Cast: Romina Bentancur, Federico Morosini, Fabián Arenillas, Valeria Lois, Antonella Aquistapache.

The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic USA | Dir: Pippa Blanco

SHARE— After discovering a disturbing video from a night she doesn’t remember, sixteen-year-old Mandy must try to figure out what happened and how to navigate the escalating fallout. Cast: Rhianne Barreto, Charlie Plummer, Poorna Jagannathan, J.C. MacKenzie, Nick Galitzine, Lovie Simone.

U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Moral Urgency| USA | Dir: Jacqueline Olive

ALWAYS IN SEASON — When 17-year-old Lennon Lacy is found hanging from a swing set in rural North Carolina in 2014, his mother’s search for justice and reconciliation begins as the trauma of more than a century of lynching African Americans bleeds into the present.

A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award: Emerging Filmmaker USA : Liza Mandelup

JAWLINE — The film follows 16-year-old Austyn Tester, a rising star in the live-broadcast ecosystem who built his following on wide-eyed optimism and teen girl lust, as he tries to escape a dead-end life in rural Tennessee.

A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Editing USA : Todd Douglas Miller

APOLLO 11 — A purely archival reconstruction of humanity’s first trip to another world, featuring never-before-seen 70mm footage and never-before-heard audio from the mission.

U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematography | U.S.A. Dir: Luke Lorentzen

MIDNIGHT FAMILY / Mexico/DOC — In Mexico City’s wealthiest neighbourhoods, the Ochoa family runs a private ambulance, competing with other for-profit EMTs for patients in need of urgent help. As they try to make a living in this cutthroat industry, they struggle to keep their financial needs from compromising the people in their care.

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 23 JANUARY – 3 FEBRUARY 2019

Sundance Film Festival | 24 January – 3 February 2019

In Park City Utah, ROBERT REDFORD and his programmer John Cooper set the indie film agenda for 2019 with an array of provocative new titles. This year’s selection has the latest documentaries from Alex Gibney and Kim Longinotto (Shootin the Mafia). There will be biopics about Harvey Weinstein, Stieg Larsson (Millennium Trilogy), designer Halston, and tragic actor Anton Yelchin. English director Joanna Hogg’s latest drama The Souvenir will compete in the World Dramatic section, and Shia LeBoeuf’s scripting debut Honey Boy will compete in the US Dramatic section.
PREMIERES 2019 | D R A M A T I C 

After The Wedding

Isabel (Michelle Williams) has dedicated her life to working with the children in an orphanage in Calcutta. Theresa (Julianne Moore)…
Dir/Writer: Bart Freundlich

Animals

Would-be writer Laura (Holliday Grainger) and her free-spirited bestie Tyler (Alia Shawkat) share a messy Dublin apartment and a hearty…
Director Sophie Hyde Writer Emma Jane Unsworth

Blinded by the Light

1987, Margaret Thatcher’s England. Javed, a 16-year-old British Pakistani boy, lives in the town of Luton. His father’s recent job…
Director Gurinder Chadha, Writer Sarfraz Manzoor, Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

1969. Ted (Zac Efron) is crazy-handsome, smart, charismatic, affectionate. And cautious single mother Liz Koepfler (Lily Collins) ultimately cannot resist…
Director Joe Berlinger. Screenwriter Michael Werwie

I Am Mother

Shortly after humanity’s extinction, in a high-tech bunker deep beneath the earth’s surface, a robot named Mother commences her protocol….
Director Grant Sputore, Screenwriter Michael Lloyd Green

Late Night

Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) is a pioneer and legendary host on the late-night talk-show circuit. When she’s accused of being…
Director Nisha Ganatra. Screenwriter Mindy Kaling

Official Secrets

Based on the book , tells the true story of British secret-service officer Katharine Gun, who during the immediate run-up…
Director Gavin Hood, Screenwriter Sara Bernstein, Gregory Bernstein, Gavin Hood

Paddleton

An unlikely bromance between two misfit neighbors becomes an unexpectedly emotional journey when one of them is diagnosed with terminal…
Director Alex Lehmann. Screenwriter Alex Lehmann, Mark Duplass

Photograph

Rafi works as a street photographer in frenzied Mumbai, snapping improvised portraits for tourists at the city’s landmarks. When his…
Director Ritesh Batra. Screenwriter Ritesh Batra

Relive

Los Angeles detective Jack Radcliff fields a distressed phone call from his niece Ashley and rushes to the rescue—only to…
Director Jacob Estes Screenwriter Jacob Estes, Drew Daywalt

Sonja – The White Swan

Before there were the Ice Capades, there was Sonja Henie. In 1936, Henie has three Olympic gold medals and ten…
Director Anne Sewitsky. Screenwriter Mette Marit Bølstad, Andreas Markusson

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Young William Kamkwamba lives with his family in rural Malawi, where he attends school regularly and shows great aptitude for…
Director Chiwetel Ejiofor Screenwriter Chiwetel Ejiofor

The Mustang

Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a tightly wound convict fresh out of solitary confinement at a maximum security prison in…
Director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre. Screenwriter Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, Mona Fastvold, Brock Norman Brock

The Report

Senate staffer Daniel Jones is assigned the daunting task of leading an investigation into the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program….
Director Scott Z. Burns. Screenwriter Scott Z. Burns

The Sunlit Night

Summer is off to a terrible start for Frances (Jenny Slate). Her art project fails, her boyfriend unceremoniously kicks her…
Director David Wnendt. Screenwriter Rebecca Dinerstein

The Tomorrow Man

Retiree Ed Hemsler (John Lithgow) spends his quiet days watching the news, checking internet forums, and preparing for the end…
Director Noble Jones. Screenwriter Noble Jones

Top End Wedding

Lauren and Ned are engaged. They are in love. And they have just ten days to find Lauren’s mother (who…
Director Wayne Blair. Screenwriter Joshua Tyler, Miranda Tapsell

Troop Zero

Nine-year-old oddball Christmas Flint (Mckenna Grace) is obsessed with space and making contact with the aliens of the universe. When…
Directors Bert&Bertie. Screenwriter Lucy Alibar

Velvet Buzzsaw

In the cutthroat world of fine-art trading and representation, up-and-coming agent Josephina (Zawe Ashton) stumbles across a secret weapon: hundreds…
Director Dan Gilroy. Screenwriter Dan Gilroy
PREMIERES 2019 | D O C U M E N T A R Y
The Brink / U.S.A. (Director: Alison Klayman, Producer: Marie Therese Guirgis) — Now unconstrained by an official White House post, Steve Bannon is free to peddle influence as a perceived kingmaker with a direct line to the President. After anointing himself leader of the “populist movement,” he travels around the U.S. and the world spreading his hard-line anti-immigration message. World Premiere
ASK DR RUTH (2019) 

Don’t let her small status fool you. She may be under five feet tall but Holocaust survivor Dr Ruth Westheimer is a force to be reckoned with, as chronicled by Ryan White in his documentary portrait of the noteworthy sex therapist.

Dir: Ryan White.

Halston

Fashion designed Halston combined talent, notoriety and sheer gorgeousness to become a legend. From humble beginnings in Des Moines, Iowa this doc explores his meteoric rise to fame.

Dir: Frederic Tcheng

 Love, Antosha

Prolific young actor Anton Yelchin was wise beyond his years and influenced around him to strive for more.

Dir: Garret Price

Marianne & Leonard

Is a beautiful yet tragic love story between Leonard Cohen and his Norwegian muse Marianne Ihlen.

Dir: Nick Broomfield

 Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen

In the 1970s Merata Mita broke through barriers of race, class and gender.

Dir/writer: Hepi Mita

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool

Using words from Miles Davis’ Autobiography, Stanley Nelson’s biopic offers insight into our understanding of the legendary musician.

Dir: Stanley Nelson

 Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Mollu Ivins

With razor-sharp wit, outspoken journalist and firecracker Molly Ivins took on the good-old-boy corruption in the political establishment

Dir: Janice Engel. Writer: Janice Engel, Monique Zavistovski

The Great Hack

Have you ever filled out an online survey? Do you wonder why you received ads for products

Dir: Karim Amer, Jehane Noujam Wri: Erin Barnett, Pedro Kos, Karim Amer

The Inventor: Out for blood in Silicon Valley

Elizabeth Holmes arrived in Silicon Valley with a revolutionary medical invention. She called it “the Edison”

Director: Alex Gibney

 Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am

After a stint as an editor early in her career, this American writer got the measure of publishing.

Dir: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

 Untouchable

The inside story of the meteoric rise and monstrous fall of movie titan Harvey Weinstein is laid bare.

Dir: Ursula Macfarlane

Words from a Bear

When N Scott Momaday won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize, it marked one of the first major acknowledgements of Native America.

COMPETITION TITLES | U S   D R A M A T I C

Before You Know It

Stage manager Rachel Gurner still lives in her childhood apartment—along with her off-kilter actress sister, Jackie; eccentric playwright father Mel;…
Director Hannah Pearl Utt. Screenwriters Hannah Pearl Utt, Jen Tullock

Big Time Adolescence

It’s funny: humans have been growing up for a really long time, but somehow we still suck at it. Just…
Director Jason Orley. Screenwriter Jason Orley

Brittany Runs A Marathon

Brittany Forgler is a funny, likeable, 27-year-old hot mess of a New Yorker whose trashy nightclub adventures and early-morning walks…
Director Paul Downs Colaizzo. Screenwriter Paul Downs Colaizzo

Clemency

How do you salvage your marriage when you are struggling to salvage your soul, your sense of self, and your…
Director Chinonye Chukwu. Screenwriter Chinonye Chukwu

Hala

Hala is her father’s pride and joy. Dutiful and academically gifted, she skillfully navigates both her social life as a…
Director Minhal Baig. Screenwriter Minhal Baig

Honey Boy

When 12-year-old Otis starts to find success as a child television star in Hollywood, his ex-rodeo-clown father returns to serve…
Director Alma Har’el. Screenwriter Shia LaBeouf

Imaginary Order

For Cathy, life as she’s always known it seems to be slipping away. Her sense of significance is crumbling as…
Director Debra Eisenstadt. Screenwriter Debra Eisenstadt

Luce

It’s been ten years since Amy and Peter Edgar (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) adopted their son from war-torn Eritrea,…
Director Julius Onah. Screenwriter JC Lee, Julius Onah

Ms. Purple

In the dark karaoke rooms of Los Angeles’s Koreatown stripmalls, Kasie works as a girl, a young hostess paid to…
Director Justin Chon. Screenwriter Justin Chon, Chris Dinh

Native Son

Bigger “Big” Thomas, a young African American man, lives with his mother and siblings in Chicago. Half-heartedly involved with a…
Director Rashid Johnson. Screenwriter Suzan-Lori Parks

Share

After a night of partying, high-school sophomore Mandy discovers that a series of cell-phone videos of her—half-dressed and semiconscious—have gone…
Director Pippa Bianca. Screenwriter Pippa Bianco

The Farewell

After learning their beloved matriarch has terminal lung cancer, a family opts not to tell her about the diagnosis, instead…
Director Lulu Wang. Screenwriter Lulu Wang

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Jimmie Fails has one hope in life: to reclaim the majestic Victorian house his grandfather built. Every week, Jimmie and…
Director Joe Talbot. Screenwriter Joe Talbot, Rob Richert

Them That Follow

In the rugged wilderness of Appalachia, the members of an isolated community of Pentecostal snake handlers led by Pastor Lemuel…
Director Britt Poulton, Dan Madison Savage. Screenwriter Britt Poulton, Dan Madison Savage

The Sound of Silence

A self-taught scientist, Peter (Peter Sarsgaard) works in New York as a “house tuner”—a unique, highly specialized profession he’s invented….
Director Michael Tyburski. Screenwriter Ben Nabors, Michael Tyburski

To The Stars

In a god-fearing small town in 1960s Oklahoma, bespectacled and reclusive teen Iris endures the booze-induced antics of her mother…
Director Martha Stephens. Screenwriter Shannon Bradley-Colleary
US   D O C U M E N T A R Y  

Always in Season

Claudia Lacy wants answers. When her 17-year-old son, Lennon, was found hanging from a swing set in Bladenboro, North Carolina,…
Director Jacqueline Olive

American Factory

In 2014, a Chinese billionaire opened a Fuyao factory in a shuttered General Motors plant in Dayton, Ohio. For thousands…
Director Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert

APOLLO 11

NASA’s vaults open for the first time to spill this exquisite, never-before seen audio and 70 mm film footage of…
Director Todd Douglas Miller

Bedlam

is the first major documentary to explore the crisis in care of severely mentally-ill citizens. Set in Los Angeles,…
Director Kenneth Paul Rosenberg

David Crosby: Remember My Name

We’re all acquainted with archetypal rock bio-doc tropes: the unexpected rise to stardom, calamitous love affairs, a descent into drugs,…
Director A.J. Eaton

Hail Satan?

What kind of religious expression should be permitted in a secular nation? Holy hell, something is brewing! Just a few…
Director Penny Lane

Jawline

Austyn Tester—handsome and 17—feels oppressed by the confines of life in his small hometown in Tennessee. But in the online-streaming…
Director Liza Mandelup

Knock Down the House

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a young, bold Puerto Rican bartender from the Bronx, works double shifts to save her family’s home from…
Director Rachel Lears

Midnight Family

With striking vérité camerawork, drops us directly into the frenetic nighttime emergency ecosystem of Mexico City. In the midst of…
Director Luke Lorentzen

Mike Wallace Is Here

Deemed the “enemy of the people” by our current president, journalism in America is on the chopping block. Lies, fake…
Director Avi Belkin

Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements

Irene Taylor Brodsky builds on her powerful first feature (Audience Award winner at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival) by delving…
Director Irene Taylor Brodsky

One Child Nation

In order to expose rampant human-rights abuses, filmmaker Nanfu Wang fearlessly confronted Chinese government agents in her 2016 Sundance Film…
Director Nanfu Wang, Jialing Zhang

Pahokee

Four high-school students, Na’Kerria, Jocabed, Junior, and BJ, embark on their senior year in Pahokee, a small Florida town on…
Director Ivete Lucas, Patrick Bresnan

TIGERLAND

In the span of only a handful of generations, the tiger has been transformed from a venerated creature with a…
Director Ross Kauffman

Untitled Amazing Johnathan Documentary

It begins as a documentary about “The Amazing Johnathan,” a uniquely deranged magician who built a career out of shock…
Director Ben Berman

Where’s My Roy Cohn?

Roy Cohn personified the dark arts of twentieth-century American politics, turning empty vessels into dangerous demagogues—from Senator Joseph McCarthy to…
Director Matt Tyrnauer
WORLD CINEMA   D R A M A T I C 

Dirty God

After a vicious acid attack leaves half her body covered in scars, Jade (Vicky Knight) must come to terms with…
Director Sacha Polak. Screenwriter Sacha Polak, Susanne Farrell

Divine Love

In the Brazil of 2027, where raves celebrate God’s love and drive-through spiritual-advice booths have become the norm, Joana holds…
Director Gabriel Mascaro
Screenwriter Gabriel Mascaro, Rachel Daisy Ellis, Esdras Bezerra, Lucas ParaÍzo

Dolce Fine Giornata

Maria Linde, a free-spirited, Jewish Polish Nobel Prize winner, lives in Tuscany surrounded by warmth and chaos in her family’s…
Director Jacek Borcuch. Screenwriter Jacek Borcuch, Szczepan Twardoch

Judy & Punch

In the rough-and-tumble town of Seaside (nowhere near the sea), villagers flock to Punch and Judy’s marionette theatre. Though Punch…
Director Mirrah Foulkes. Screenwriter Mirrah Foulkes

Koko-di Koko-da

Three years after their daughter Maja’s eighth birthday was interrupted by sudden tragedy, Elin and Tobias embark on a mirthless…
Director Johannes Nyholm. Screenwriter Johannes Nyholm

Monos

Belonging to a rebel group called “the Organization,” a ragtag band of child soldiers, brandishing guns and war names like…
Director Alejandro Landes. Screenwriter Alejandro Landes, Alexis Dos Santos

Queen of Hearts

Anne, a successful lawyer, lives in a beautiful modernist home with her two daughters and physician husband, Peter. Yet when…
Director May el-Toukhy. Screenwriter Maren Louise Käehne, May el-Toukhy

The Last Tree

Femi, a British boy of Nigerian heritage, enjoys a happy childhood in Lincolnshire, where he is raised by doting foster-mother…
Director Shola Amo. Screenwriter Shola Amoo

The Sharks

Rosina ticks away the days of a restless summer in her sleepy beachside town until she sights an ominous dorsal…
Director Lucía Garibaldi, Screenwriter Lucía Garibaldi

The Souvenir

Between script pitches and camera setups, Julie hosts a film-school cohort party where she meets a mysterious man named Anthony….
Director Joanna Hogg. Screenwriter Joanna Hogg

This is not Berlin

As Mexico anticipates the 1986 World Cup, 17-year-old Carlos is less interested in soccer and more interested in listening to…
Director Hari Sama. Screenwriter Rodrigo Ordóñez, Hari Sama, Max Zunino

WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES

One sunny day, four young strangers—Hikari, Ikuko, Ishi, and Takemura—meet by chance at a crematorium. They have all recently lost…
Director Makoto Nagahisa. Screenwriter Makoto Nagahisa
WORLD CINEMA.  D O C U M E N T A R Y

Advocate

Israeli human-rights lawyer Lea Tsemel is a force that won’t be deterred. Having defended Palestinians against a host of criminal…
Director Rachel Leah Jones, Philippe Bellaïche

Cold Case Hammarskjöld

In 1961, United Nations secretary-general Dag Hammarskjöld’s plane mysteriously crashed, killing Hammarskjöld and most of the crew. . It’s understood…
Director Mads Brügger

Gaza

Facing the serene Mediterranean Sea, 17-year-old Karma Khaial stands at the water’s edge and senses freedom. But in Gaza, the…
Director Garry Keane, Andrew McConnell

Honeyland

In a deserted Macedonian village, Hatidze, a 50-something woman in a bright yellow blouse and green headscarf, trudges up a…
Director Ljubomir Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska

Lapü

On a windy night in the Colombian desert, a young Wayúu woman named Doris sleeps in her hammock and dreams…
Dirs Juan Pablo Polanco, César Alejandro Jaimes. Writers Juan Pablo Polanco, César Alejandro Jaimes, María Canela Reyes

Midnight Traveler

In 2015, after Hassan Fazili’s documentary aired on Afghan national television, the Taliban assassinated the film’s main subject and put…
Director Hassan Fazili. Writer Emelie Mahdavian

Sea of Shadows

The Sea of Cortez is facing total collapse because of a war at sea. Mexican drug cartels have discovered the…
Director Richard Ladkani

Shooting the Mafia

In the streets of Sicily, beautiful, gutsy Letizia Battaglia pointed her camera straight into the heart of the Mafia that…
Director Kim Longinotto

Stieg Larsson – The Man Who Played With Fire

Since his untimely death, Stieg Larsson has become one of the world’s most famous authors. His Millennium Trilogy— and its…
Director Henrik Georgsson. Screenwriter Henrik Georgsson

The Disappearance of My Mother

Benedetta Barzini is a revered Italian model who shattered stereotypes by becoming a journalist and professor and gained notoriety by…
Director Beniamino Barrese. Screenwriter Beniamino Barrese

The Edge of Democracy

Once a nation crippled by military dictatorship, Brazil found its democratic footing in 1985 and then, in 2002, elected a…
Director Petra Costa. Screenwriter Petra Costa

The Magic Life of V

Wizards, magic spells, and heroic sword battles are just fantasy for some, but for Veera they’re a meaningful part of…
Director Tonislav Hristov. Screenwriter Tonislav Hristov, Kaarle Aho
SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL | 24 JANUARY – 3 FEBRUARY 2019 | PROGRAMME COURTESY OF THE SUNDANCE INSTITUTE 

Columbus (2017) ****

Dir.: Kogonada; Cast: John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson, Parker Posey, Michelle Forbes, Rory Culkin; USA 2017, 104 min.

Seoul born director Kogonada is a visual artist known for his documentaries. Columbus is his visually alluring and quietly affecting debut feature exploring the human soul in crisis with great sensitivity and a transcendent feeling of stillness and calm. Set in Columbus, Indiana and underpinned by three fine performances, it is also a love letter to modernist architects Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pei and Richard Meier, whose modernist buildings lend an air of cool contemporary splendour to the bland Mid-West.

Jin (John Cho) arrives from Seoul to look after his estranged father who has suffered a stroke the night before delivering a lecture on modernist architecture. Harassed by his editor and irritated by his Korean family commitments, Jin is drawn back in to the complex world of his father’s assistant Eleanor (Posey), a crush from his younger days. To gain some perspective he wanders around the campus where he comes across Casey (Richardson) as young graduate caring for her sick mother. Casey’s friend Gabriel (Culkin), is another young man lost in a void, hiding behind great words but clinging to the past.

Kagonada makes great use of the impressive buildings and the way they elicit a subtle or profound emotional response from their human counterparts in this  unique study in psychogeography, a subject that has been tackled before in documentary form but rarely as a feature. Each shot is a complex study in how the built environment  impacts on the human element as the protagonists react sensitively to the vibes of the mainly glass-fronted structures and the spaces that surround them. 

The two main protagonists seem trapped in their minds, but Casey feels liberated and inspired by some of these remarkable buildings that move her to dance, cry and sing: in this way architecture provides a means of escape from her days worrying about her mother. Jin feels unmoved by the buildings: he is a more pragmatic character but both are trapped in the security of inertia and familiar routine. 

Casey uses her mother as a reason to postpone decisions about her future, and Jin blames his father’s omnipotent presence for his own underachieving, loneliness and his dysfunctional relationship with Eleanor as the narrative’s dramatic arc slowly points to a solution.

DoP Elisha Christian (In Your Eyes) creates an otherworldly reality inviting us in from the outside as the protagonists glide around aimlessly, like fish in a bowl. Sometimes the atmosphere feels eerie as the buildings take over, dominating everything with their commanding presence, dwarfing and deafening the human element. Columbus is unique in its near transcendental approach, and asks for some patience, but rewards the audience with an extraordinary experience.

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE AT ARTHOUSE VENUES. 

The King (2018) **** DVD release

Dir: Eugene Jarecki | US | Musical Biopic with Alex Baldwin, Ethan Hawke, Ashton Kutcher, Lana Del Rey, Emmylou Harris | 109′

Using Elvis Presley’s life as a metaphor to explore America’s modern malaise from so-called dream to disaster, Eugene Jarecki’s Sundance Grand Jury Winner heads across the States for a musical mystery tour in the legendary star’s vintage Rolls Royce, four decades after his life as one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century ended in a heart attack, aged 42.

Although Jarecki adopts a novel approach to the life of the legendary singer and entertainer, the results are sprawling, spirited and great fun in a biopic that gazes deep into the soul of a nation in flux and features an eclectic cast of stars and well known places from Presley’s birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi, to Graceland, Memphis, Las Vegas and New York.

Enlivened by archive footage, musical interludes and enlightening observations from Ethan Hawke and Alec Baldwin, ex-band members and those associated with Presley’s life, Jarecki cleverly draws a comparison between the star and President Trump  showing how these two  transformative figures made a terrific impact on the US culture. In Presley’s case his musical style created a bridge to ease racial tension which sadly ended in disappointment, particularly in the southern states, due to the pursuit of financial above humanitarian goals (Presley always chased the money in his career choices, and when once purportedly asked by President Reagan whether he would choose a new swimming pool or to help kids with AIDS, he went for the swimming pool). On the face of Jarecki’s seems like an inspired and persuasive viewpoint: whether it stands up beyond this cursory glance, remains to be seen and sometimes his approach feels as it Elvis has been slotted in to meet the needs of his argument. 

Needless to say, the musical soundtrack is astonishing (shame the excerpts are so short) and Jarecki’s wide angle images of the glittering skylines and sweeping landscapes of Route 66 make this an enjoyable romp as well as an informative biopic of the “King of Rock and Roll” MT

ON DVD FROM 1 October 2018

ARTISTS FEATURED IN THE KING

EmiSunshine and The Rain; Leo “Bud” Welch; STAX Music Academy All-Stars John Hiatt; Loveful Heights; Immortal Technique; The Handsome Family; Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers; M. Ward ; Justin Merrick and the STAX Academy All-Stars; Lindy Vision; Robert Bradley

FILMS FEATURED IN THE KING

LOVING YOU (1957); SPEEDWAY (1968); JAILHOUSE ROCK (1957); KID GALAHAD (1962); GI BLUES (1960); FOLLOW THAT DREAM (1962); GIRL HAPPY (1965); CLAMBAKE (1967); IT HAPPENED AT THE WORLDS FAIR (1963); TICKLE ME (1965); EASY COME EASY GO (1967); FUN IN ACAPULCO (1963); BLUE HAWAII (1961); LIVE A LITTLE LOVE A LITTLE (1968); HARUM SCARUM (1965); PARADISE HAWAIIAN STYLE (1966); FRANKIE AND JOHNNY (1966); VIVA LAS VEGAS (1964)

Leave No Trace (2018) ****

Dir: Debra Granik | Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, Ben Foster | US Drama | 109′

A wayfarer father (Foster) and his teenage daughter (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) are the focus of  Debra Granik’s cogent coming of age docudrama that explores – without judgement or melodrama – the close but often problematic bond between parent and teenager as they go about their day-to-day existence ‘eco-warrior-style’ in the lushly wooded US Pacific coastal area.

LEAVE NO TRACE avoids dramatic conflict in its pragmatic approach to telling a contemporary story that harks back to an atavistic era of hunter gatherers portraying with complete naturalness and finesse the pair’s daily existence as they forage for food, seek out warmth and shelter, relying completely on local flora and fauna for all their creature comforts. And for a while it seems an enviable and harmonious way of life until Tom (Thomasin) grows tired of roaming around and hungers for something more – both physically and emotionally – as she discovers that nesting and belonging suits her better than avoiding society and being constantly on the move. Whether this is a male or female state of mind is a subject for consideration in this – on the surface – simple but thematically rich piece of filmmaking. Tom’s coming of age evolves as naturally as the landscape surrounding her. Clearly her father is a loner, whereas Tom is much more garrulous – clearly a product of her nature rather than her parental nurturing.

What also emerges here is a picture of rural America at its most original state: a collection of people who came together and forged a close community looking after each other in what could ideally be described as basic socialism. But when the state intervenes in the form of social care our hackles begin to rise at this seemingly unnatural intrusion into their state of grace.

With this quietly unassuming indie gem Granik questions and explores complex human dynamics: our desire for privacy and autonomy within our families, communities and even within ourselves is constantly evolving and being challenging by officialdom. LEAVE NO TRACE is a small gem that is larger than life. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 29 JUNE 2018

 

Our New President (2017) ICA LONDON

Dir. Maxim Pozdorovkin, Russia/USA, 2018, 77 mins, English and Russian with English subtitles
Ever since a fateful visit to a mummy’s glass-encased tomb in 1997, Hillary Clinton has been plagued by fainting spells, drug use, and even allegations of sexual abuse and murder. Don’t believe it? Just ask the reporters at Vesti and NTV, two of the most-watched state-run news shows in Russia, where outlandish stories like these reach millions of viewers every night.

As more details of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US presidential election emerge, acclaimed filmmaker Maxim Pozdorovkin assembles a fever dream of Russian propaganda aimed at both Clinton and Trump from YouTube, RT, and other media platforms. Within this alternate universe of misinformation, we witness the seeds of the 2016 fake news cycle take root and successfully infiltrate the collective conscience of a Russian populace trained to distrust truth and objectivity.

The divisive stories peddled by these journalists, handpicked by Putin, range from sinister to absurd, but they all point to a coordinated effort to alter public opinion at home and abroad. COURTESY OF THE ICA.

OUR NEW PRESIDENT – THIS WEEK AT THE ICA

Wildlife (2018) | Critics’ Week | Cannes Film Festival 2018

Writer|Dir: Paul Dano | Cast: Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ed Oxenbould | Drama | US | 105’

A teenage boy experiences the breakdown of his parents’ marriage in  Paul Dano’s crisp coming of age family drama, set in 1960s Montana, and based on Richard Ford’s novel.

Although once or twice veering into melodrama, actor Dano maintains impressive control over his sleek and very lucid first film which is anchored by three masterful performances, and sees a young family disintegrate after the husband loses his job.

WILDLIFE has a great deal in common with Retribution Road (2008), its similar theme of aspirational hope for a couple starting out on their life in a new town, in this case Great Falls, Montana. But here the perspective is very different – in Wildlife, the entire experience is seen from the unique perspective of a pubescent boy, Joe, played thoughtfully by young Australian actor Ed Oxenbould (The Visit).

There’s an old-fashioned quality to the film that very much works to its advantage. The date is 1960 and in the mountains behind the family house a forest fire is raging, with warnings that it could well spread to the town centre if not controlled by rangers, who Jerry Brinson (Gyllenhaal) decides to join at a wage of only a dollar an hour, after much moping around the house when he loses his job on the local golf course. This comes as a big surprise to his wife Jeannette (Mulligan), an earnest homemaker who believes in her husband’s desire to make more of himself, and she sees this as a step backwards, career-wise. Meanwhile, Joe signs on as an apprentice to a local portrait photographer, a part-time job he takes to while doing very well in his school work.

Dano and his co-writer Zoe Kazan, stick to a clean, straighforward narrative but there’s a subtle brooding tension at play, and while Joe seems emotionally grounded and resilient (a tribute to his parents), Jerry and Jeannette are less so: although Jerry’s character is the most underwritten of the three, there’s a haunted quality to him as a straightforwaed dad who suddenly implodes after the shock of his firing. Jeannette also starts to lose her own sense of equilibrium:. “What kind of man leaves his wife and child in such a lonely place?,” Jeanette casts around for emotional ballast in an much older wealthy man, Warren Miller (Bill Camp), who she meets while giving swimming classes.

In some ways this fragmented behaviour is character-forming for Joe, his parents have clearly given him a rock solid babyhood, and so he can weather the shocking fliration scenes that take place between Millar and his mother, and his loss at his father’s temporary abandonment, although he finds it all difficult to fathom. This is not a film about adult infidelity and abandonment, but about how a teenage perceives and deals with it, and as such it is beautifully restrained and supremely elegant – the audience is required to suspend disbelief and take a trip back to teenagehood and the bewildering experience it offers. Dano makes the denouement an enigmatic affair, leaving the door open to hope, while acknowledging the inevitable. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 8-19 MAY 2018 | CRITICS’ WEEK |

 

Sundance London 2018 | 31 May – 3 June

Once again Robert Redford brings twelve of the best indie feature films that premiered in Utah this January, with opportunities to talk to the filmmakers and cast in a jamboree that kicks off on the long weekend of 31 May until 3 June.

Desiree Akhavan picked up the Grand Jury Prize for her comedy drama The Miseducation of Cameron Post in the original US festival, and seven films are directed by women along with a thrilling array of female leads on screen, and this year’s festival champions their voices with Toni Collette (Hereditary) amongst the stars to grace this glittering occasion taking place in Picturehouse Central, Leicester Square. Robert Redford will also be in attendance.

An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn (Director: Jim Hosking,

Screenwriters: Jim Hosking, David Wike) – Lulu Danger’s unsatisfying marriage takes a fortunate turn for the worse when a mysterious man from her past comes to town to perform an event called ‘An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn For One Magical Night Only’.

Principal cast: Aubrey Plaza, Emile Hirsch, Jemaine Clement, Matt Berry, Craig Robinson

Eighth Grade (Director/Screenwriter: Bo Burnham) – Thirteen-year-old Kayla endures the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence as she makes her way through the last week of middle school — the end of her thus far disastrous eighth grade year — before she begins high school.

Principal cast: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton

Generation Wealth (Director: Lauren Greenfield) – Lauren Greenfield’s postcard from the edge of the American Empire captures a portrait of a materialistic, image-obsessed culture. Simultaneously personal journey and historical essay, the film bears witness to the global boom–bust economy, the corrupted American Dream and the human costs of late stage capitalism, narcissism and greed.

Principal cast: Florian Homm, Tiffany Masters, Jaqueline Siegel

Half the Picture (Director: Amy Adrion) – At a pivotal moment for gender equality in Hollywood, successful women directors tell the stories of their art, lives and careers. Having endured a long history of systemic discrimination, women filmmakers may be getting the first glimpse of a future that values their voices equally.

Principal cast: Rosanna Arquette, Jamie Babbit, Emily Best

Hereditary (Director/Screenwriter: Ari Aster) – After their reclusive grandmother passes away, the Graham family tries to escape the dark fate they’ve inherited.

Principal cast: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Ann Dowd, Milly Shapiro

Leave No Trace (Director: Debra Granik, Screenwriters: Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini) – A father and daughter live a perfect but mysterious existence in Forest Park, a beautiful nature reserve near Portland, Oregon, rarely making contact with the world. A small mistake tips them off to authorities sending them on an increasingly erratic journey in search of a place to call their own.

Principal cast: Ben Foster, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, Jeff Kober, Dale Dickey

The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Director: Desiree Akhavan, Screenwriters: Desiree Akhavan, Cecilia Frugiuele) –1993: after being caught having sex with the prom queen, a girl is forced into a gay conversion therapy center. Based on Emily Danforth’s acclaimed and controversial coming-of-age novel.

Principal cast: Chloë Grace Moretz, Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, John Gallagher Jr., Jennifer Ehle.

Never Goin’ Back (Director/Screenwriter: Augustine Frizzell) –Jessie and Angela, high school dropout BFFs, are taking a week off to chill at the beach. Too bad their house got robbed, rent’s due, they’re about to get fired and they’re broke. Now they’ve gotta avoid eviction, stay out of jail and get to the beach, no matter what!!!

Principal cast: Maia Mitchell, Cami Morrone, Kyle Mooney, Joel Allen, Kendal Smith, Matthew Holcomb

Skate Kitchen (Director: Crystal Moselle, Screenwriters: Crystal Moselle, Ashlihan Unaldi) – Camille’s life as a lonely suburban teenager changes dramatically when she befriends a group of girl skateboarders. As she journeys deeper into this raw New York City subculture, she begins to understand the true meaning of friendship as well as her inner self.

Principal cast: Rachelle Vinberg, Dede Lovelace, Jaden Smith, Nina Moran, Ajani Russell, Kabrina Adams

The Tale (Director/Screenwriter: Jennifer Fox) – An investigation into one woman’s memory as she’s forced to re-examine her first sexual relationship and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive; based on the filmmaker’s own story.

Principal cast: Laura Dern, Isabelle Nélisse, Jason Ritter, Elizabeth Debicki, Ellen Burstyn, Common

Yardie (Director: Idris Elba, Screenwriters: Brock Norman Brock, Martin Stellman) – Jamaica, 1973. When a young boy witnesses his brother’s assassination, a powerful Don gives him a home. Ten years later he is sent on a mission to London. He reunites with his girlfriend and their daughter, but then the past catches up with them. Based on Victor Headley’s novel.

Principal cast: Aml Ameen, Shantol Jackson, Stephen Graham, Fraser James, Sheldon Shepherd, Everaldo Cleary

SURPRISE FILM! Following on from last year’s first ever surprise film, the hit rap story Patti Cake$, Sundance Film Festival: London will again feature a surprise showing.  No details as yet, but it was a favourite among audiences in Utah, and with just one screening this will be among the hottest of the hot tickets. The title will be revealed only when the opening credits roll. My bets are on Gustav Möller’s The Guilty, which picked up the World Cinema Audience Award back in January; or possibly Rudy Valdez’ drug documentary The Sentence, or it could even be Burden, which took the US Dramatic Audience Award for its story of a love affair between a villain and a woman who saves his soul. 

SUNDANCE LONDON RUNS FROM 31 MAY – 3 JUNE 2018 | TICKETS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoroughbreds (2017) ***

Dir.: Corey Finley; Cast: Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin, Paul Sparks, Francis Swift; US 2016, 91′

THOROUGHBREDS is an impressive debut by director Corey Finley, who adapted the stylish neo-noir thriller from his own play. It’s a razor sharp portrayal of the set it sends up, but just a little bit to sleek to be totally convincing.

In wealthy, rural Connecticut, school friends Amanda (Cooke) and Lily (Taylor-Joy) are re-united by Amanda’s mother (Swift), who has sensed that Lily is an outcast after killing a sick horse in a very gruesome way. Amanda is fully aware of this, and she tries to lure Lily into a plot to murder her obnoxious stepfather Mark (Sparks) who wants her to go to a college for mal-adjusted students instead of one of her choice. Lily comes up with a great idea involving local lowlife Tim (Yelchin, superb in his last role). The pair try to trick Tim into doing the deadly deed, but he gets cold feet at the last minute. After accusing Amanda of being “not high on empathy” – fair statement – Lily is asked not to drink a knock-out cocktail by Amanda, who mixed it. But Lily is hell-bent on proving that she can outdo her friend.

The teenagers are a merciless duo, not really evil but full of malicious intent stemming from the privileges of their upbringing. There is also a good amount of believing all sort of half-baked theories, and finally, in Lily’s case, a sense of morbidity – drawing comparison with Heavenly Creatures. Yelchin is brilliant in the role of the sex-offender who seems to fall into the trap set for him, but just in time gets his neck out of a noose so carefully designed for him by the girls. Amanda’s step-dad is very menacing, the sounds of a rowing machine he seems to be addicted to, mix eerily with Erik Friedlander’s atonal score. Lyle Vincent’s handheld camera shows the teens’ disturbing dialogues against the opulent backdrop: the night time is their favoured setting, during the day they fade, like vampires, into a washed-out blue. Finley directs with great panache, his characters all more or less damaged, are trapped from the get-go. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 6 APRIL 2018 NATIONWIDE

Mom and Dad (2017) ****

Dir.: Brian Taylor | Cast: Nicholas Cage, Selma Blair, Anne Winters, Zackary Arthur, Robert Cunningham, Samantha Lemole | USA 2017 | 86′.

Director/writer Brian Taylor, co-creator of Gamer and Crank, delivers the perfect American nightmare: what would happen TV stations all gave up the ghost, and sent coded messages ordering loving middle-class parents to kill their off-spring?. This is not simply a schlock horror movie: it is set very much in the psychological reality of suburban America, where parental love and even sacrifice is the stable diet of all sugar-coated Hollywood films.

Parents Brent (Cage) and Kendall (Blair) are fighting middle-age disappointment: he is frustrated by his reduced means:“Ten years ago I earned 145 000$, now it 45 000$”), she is driven crazy by her attempts to look twenty again. Meanwhile son Josh (Arthur) is still in pre-puberty, and daughter Carly (Winters) drives her parents mad, as the teenager from Hell, her placid boyfriend Damon (Cunningham) is the only one not getting in her way. When the TV incident occurs, Kendall is in hospital, where her sister Jenna (Lemole) is giving birth to a baby – which she immediately tries to kill – Kendall, not yet affected by the curse, helps to save the newly born. But at home she joins her husband in a mad pursuit to kill Josh and Carly – their rage so virulent, that they overlook the body of the housekeeper’s child, murdered by the mother. Damon does his best to defend the children, who are locked in the cellar, while Mum and Dad come up with a new idea: poisoning by gas. When Brent’s parents arrive in midst of the chaos, the former finds out, that old age is not a barrier to child murder.

What make Mom and Dad so realistic is the use of exactly the same aesthetics used by Hollywood to promote the nuclear family: all is clean, antiseptic, feelings (apart from Carly) are repressed, everything is secondary to getting the show on the road every morning: impressing the neighbours and keeping up the gold-standard of superficiality and intellectual banality. This dream, perpetuated in the media, is now simply turned on its head: It is now the most efficient child killer who is top of the ratings. This is a role written for Nicholas Cage, who rises demon-like to the occasion, with Blair not far behind. The American home is a battle-field devastated by the forces of parental revenge. DoP Daniel Pearl indulges in a pastel colours prelude to the gory terror of the uprising: the schoolyard scenes are a terrific example of parental mob violence. Even the ending delivers a refreshing twist – anything but a new beginning. Provocative and brave, Mom and Dad is a incendiary tour-de-force of America’s middle-class dreams descending into Hell. AS

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 9 MARCH 2018

Generation Wealth (2018) **** Berlinale 2018

Dir.: Lauren Greenfield; Documentary; USA 2018, 106 min.

Filmmaker and photographer Lauren Greenfield (Queen of Versailles, 2012) has put her whole working life of 25 years into this mammoth project, which is accompanied by a book and an exhibition – just to make the point. But it is not only the wealthy who are the objects of her research: Greenfield freely admits to something a woman in her documentary Thin(2006) pointed out to her: Your addiction is work.

The quote from Thin is not the only revisiting Greenfield does: the high-octane-living teens of FastForward fame are also back to report about their life thereafter. These new additions fall mostly into the category of ‘obsession’. Self-obsession usually involves finding an outlet in which to prove yourself: hedge fund manager Suzanne is not only status obsessed, but after having nearly missed the boat in having children, her latest obsession is to have a child – whatever it takes.

Kacey Jordan, an adult film star famous for her relationship with Charlie Sheen is repentant – but not before filming her own suicide attempt. Florian Homm, a hedge-fund manager who once had 600 M Euros to his name, fell foul of the US regulatory system and cannot now leave his native Germany, after having been imprisoned in Italy. He calls Germany “a prison”, but is truly proud of the fact that he bought his teenage son a prostitute in Amsterdam, “to make a man out of him”. His son watches on with his current girl friend, blushing. But there are also examples of redemption such as when Iceland’s economy boomed, a young fisherman suddenly found himself behind a desk in a bank. After the bust, he is back proudly fishing with his son, happy to have escaped the big time.

The pusuit of beauty has always been a major topic for the director (Beauty CULTure, 2011), and it is frightening to see the young Kardashians in their early teen years. But even more harrowing is Eden wood, ‘trained’ by her lower-middleclass Mom from Arkansas to win and compete in “Toddlers and Tiaras”, wishing for nothing more than a whole room full of money. Six years later, Eden has somehow managed to morph into a cheaper model of the Kardashians. Finally Cathy Gant, has spent all he money on beauty treatments in Brazil whilst neglecting her daughter, who now suffers from body dysmorphia with terrible results.

The lost American dream – lost to a mixture of capitalism, narcissism and greed is there for all to see. Nobody looks at the Jones’ next door any more, but at the Kardashians on TV. “In my work, I often look at the extremes to understand the mainstream”, says Greenfield. Perhaps she should have added “at myself”. Her interviews with her sons Noah Gabriel are as heart-breaking as her professional portraits. Cool teenager Noah puts it simple but devastatingly: “I got used to growing up without you around. The damage has been done”.

The hyper-saturated colours and absurdist wide angle-effects give the documentary a carnival-like atmosphere: this is a bonfire, not only of vanities, but also the last roll of the dice of a global civilisation (China and Russia having successfully joined the club), hell bent on destroying itself. Just asthe pyramids with all their splendour were the last gasp of the Egyptian pharoahs; in the make-believe world of TV, everyone is measuring themselves against each other with tragic consequences: the death of family, traditions and even human emotions. Unlike Egypt, this will not be the end of one civilisation, today’s humans are determined to take the whole planet down with them. AS

NATIONWIDE FROM 20 July 2018

Sundance Film Festival | 2018 | Award WINNERS

In Park City Utah, the SUNDANCE INSTITUTE founder ROBERT REDFORD and his programmer John Cooper set the indie film agenda for 2018 with a slew of provocative new titles for this year’s festival which ran from 18-28 January.

Among the newcomers were Paul Dano (with Wildlife) and Rupert Everett (with The Happy Prince) presenting their directorial debuts and new films from Desiree Akhavan: The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Gus van Sant: Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot starring Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara.

WINNERS – THESE ARE THE FILMS WHICH WILL BE CROPPING UP OVER THE NEXT YEAR IN LOCAL ARTHOUSE CINEMAS

The Kindergarten Teacher | DIRECTING AWARD | US DRAMATIC

U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Sara Colangelo, Producers: Celine Rattray, Trudie Styler, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Osnat Handelsman-Keren, Talia Kleinhendler) — Lisa Spinelli is a Staten Island teacher who is unusually devoted to her students. When she discovers one of her five-year-olds is a prodigy, she becomes fascinated with the boy, ultimately risking her family and freedom to nurture his talent. Based on the acclaimed Israeli film. Cast: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Parker Sevak, Rosa Salazar, Anna Barynishikov, Michael Chernus, Gael Garcia Bernal. World Premiere

The Guilty / Denmark | AUDIENCE AWARD | WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC

(Director: Gustav Möller, Screenwriters: Gustav Möller, Emil Nygaard Albertsen, Producer: Lina Flint) Alarm dispatcher Asger Holm answers an emergency call from a kidnapped woman; after a sudden disconnection, the search for the woman and her kidnapper begins. With the phone as his only tool, Asger enters a race against time to solve a crime that is far bigger than he first thought. Cast: Jakob Cedergren, Jessica Dinnage, Johan Olsen, Omar Shargawi. World Premiere

Of Fathers and Sons / Germany, Syria, Lebanon | WORLD CINEMA GRAND JURY PRIZE | DOCUMENTARY

(Director: Talal Derki, Producers: Ansgar Frerich, Eva Kemme, Tobias N. Siebert, Hans Robert Eisenhauer) — Talal Derki returns to his homeland where he gains the trust of a radical Islamist family, sharing their daily life for over two years. His camera focuses on Osama and his younger brother Ayman, providing an extremely rare insight into what it means to grow up in an Islamic Caliphate. North American Premiere

On Her Shoulders / U.S.A | US DIRECTING AWARD – DOCUMENTARY

(Director: Alexandria Bombach, Producers: Marie Therese Guirgis, Hayley Pappas, Brock Williams, Bryn Mooser, Adam Bardach) — A Yazidi genocide and ISIS sexual slavery survivor, 23-year-old Nadia Murad is determined to tell the world her story. As her journey leads down paths of advocacy and fame, she becomes the voice of her people and their best hope to spur the world to action. International Premiere

The Miseducation of Cameron Post / U.S.A. | US GRAND JURY AWARD 

(Director: Desiree Akhavan, Screenwriters: Desiree Akhavan, Cecilia Frugiuele, Producers: Cecilia Frugiuele, Jonathan Montepare, Michael B. Clark, Alex Turtletaub) — 1993: after being caught having sex with the prom queen, a girl is forced into a gay conversion therapy center. Based on Emily Danforth’s acclaimed and controversial coming-of-age novel. Cast: Chloë Grace Moretz, Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, John Gallagher Jr., Jennifer Ehle. World Premiere

Butterflies / WORLD CINEMA GRAND JURY PRIZE | DOCUMENTARY

Turkey (Director and screenwriter: Tolga Karaçelik, Producers: Tolga Karaçelik, Diloy Gülün, Metin  Anter) — In the Turkish village of Hasanlar, three siblings who neither know each other nor anything about their late father, wait to bury his body. As they start to find out more about their father and about each other, they also start to know more about themselves. Cast: Tolga Tekin, Bartu Küçükçağlayan, Tuğçe Altuğ, Serkan Keskin, Hakan Karsak. World Premiere

THIS IS HOME | AUDIENCE AWARD: US Dramatic / U.S.A., Jordan (Director: Alexandra Shiva, Producer: Lindsey Megrue) This is an intimate portrait of four Syrian families arriving in Baltimore, Maryland and struggling to find their footing. With eight months to become self-sufficient, they must forge ahead to rebuild their lives. When the travel ban adds further complications, their strength and resilience are put to the test. World Premiere

The Sentence / U.S.A | AUDIENCE AWARD | US Documentary

(Director: Rudy Valdez, Producers: Sam Bisbee, Jackie Kelman Bisbee) — Cindy Shank, mother of three, is serving a 15-year sentence in federal prison for her tangential involvement with a Michigan drug ring years earlier. This intimate portrait of mandatory minimum drug sentencing’s devastating consequences, captured by Cindy’s brother, follows her and her family over the course of ten years. World Premiere

BURDEN/AUDIENCE AWARD 2018 | US Dramatic

U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Andrew Heckler, Producers: Robbie Brenner, Jincheng, Bill Kenwright) — After opening a KKK shop, Klansman Michael Burden falls in love with a single mom who forces him to confront his senseless hatred. After leaving the Klan and with nowhere to turn, Burden is taken in by an African-American reverend, and learns tolerance through their combined love and faith. Cast: Garrett Hedlund, Forest Whitaker, Andrea Riseborough, Tom Wilkinson, Usher Raymond. World Premiere

NANCY / U.S.A.| WALDO SALT SCREENWRITING AWARD

(Director and screenwriter: Christina Choe, Producers: Amy Lo, Michelle Cameron, Andrea Riseborough) — Blurring lines between fact and fiction, Nancy becomes increasingly convinced she was kidnapped as a child. When she meets a couple whose daughter went missing thirty years ago, reasonable doubts give way to willful belief – and the power of emotion threatens to overcome all rationality. Cast: Andrea Riseborough, J. Smith-Cameron, Steve Buscemi, Ann Dowd, John Leguizamo. World Premiere

KAILASH | US GRAND JURY PRIZE  / U.S.A | DOCUMENTARY

(Director: Derek Doneen, Producers: Davis Guggenheim, Sarah Anthony) — As a young man, Kailash Satyarthi promised himself that he would end child slavery in his lifetime. In the decades since, he has rescued more than eighty thousand children and built a global movement. This intimate and suspenseful film follows one man’s journey to do what many believed was impossible. World Premiere. 

SEARCH / U.S.A. | THE AUDIENCE AWARD | NEXT

(Director: Aneesh Chaganty, Screenwriters: Aneesh Chaganty, Sev Ohanian, Producers: Timur Bekmambetov, Sev Ohanian, Adam Sidman, Natalie Qasabian) — After his 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a desperate father breaks into her laptop to look for clues to find her. A thriller that unfolds entirely on computer screens. Cast: John Cho, Debra Messing. World Premiere. WINNER: 2018 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize.

Crime + Punishment / U.S.A. | SPECIAL AWARD FOR SOCIAL IMPACT

(Director: Stephen Maing) — Over four years of unprecedented access, the story of a brave group of black and Latino whistleblower cops and one unrelenting private investigator who, amidst a landmark lawsuit, risk everything to expose illegal quota practices and their impact on young minorities. World Premiere

Shirkers / U.S.A. | DIRECTING AWARD | World Cinema Documentary

(Director and screenwriter: Sandi Tan, Producers: Sandi Tan, Jessica Levin, Maya Rudolph) — In 1992, teenager Sandi Tan shot Singapore’s first indie road movie with her enigmatic American mentor Georges – who then vanished with all the footage. Twenty years later, the 16mm film is recovered, sending Tan, now a novelist in Los Angeles, on a personal odyssey in search of Georges’ vanishing footprints. World Premiere

And Breathe Normally / Iceland, Sweden, Belgium | DIRECTING AWARD | World cinema Dramatic

(Director and screenwriter: Ísold Uggadóttir, Producers: Skúli Malmquist, Diana Elbaum, Annika Hellström, Lilja Ósk Snorradóttir, Inga Lind Karlsdóttir) — At the edge of Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula, two women’s lives will intersect – for a brief moment – while trapped in circumstances unforeseen. Between a struggling Icelandic mother and an asylum seeker from Guinea-Bissau, a delicate bond will form as both strategize to get their lives back on track. Cast: Kristín Thóra Haraldsdóttir, Babetida Sadjo, Patrik Nökkvi Pétursson. World Premiere

U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION
Presenting the world premieres of 16 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 Fruitvale Station, Patti Cake$, Swiss Army Man and The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

American Animals / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Bart Layton, Producers: Derrin Schlesinger, Katherine Butler, Dimitri Doganis, Mary Jane Skalski) — The unbelievable but mostly true story of four young men who mistake their lives for a movie and attempt one of the most audacious art heists in U.S. history. Cast: Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner, Jared Abrahamson, Ann Dowd, Udo Kier. World Premiere

BLAZE / U.S.A. (Director: Ethan Hawke, Screenwriters: Ethan Hawke, Sybil Rosen, Producers: Jake Seal, John Sloss, Ryan Hawke, Ethan Hawke) — A reimagining of the life and times of Blaze Foley, the unsung songwriting legend of the Texas Outlaw Music movement; he gave up paradise for the sake of a song. Cast: Benjamin Dickey, Alia Shawkat, Josh Hamilton, Charlie Sexton. World Premiere

Blindspotting / U.S.A. (Director: Carlos Lopez Estrada, Screenwriters: Rafael Casal, Daveed Diggs, Producers: Keith Calder, Jess Calder, Rafael Casal, Daveed Diggs) — A buddy comedy in a world that won’t let it be one. Cast: Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar, Jasmine Cephas Jones. World Premiere. 

Eighth Grade / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Bo Burnham, Producers: Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Christopher Storer, Lila Yacoub) — Thirteen-year-old Kayla endures the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence as she makes her way through the last week of middle school — the end of her thus far disastrous eighth grade year — before she begins high school. Cast: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton. World Premiere.

I THINK WE'RE ALONEI Think We’re Alone Now / U.S.A. (Director: Reed Morano, Screenwriter: Mike Makowsky, Producers: Fred Berger, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Fernando Loureiro, Roberto Vasconcellos, Peter Dinklage, Mike Makowsky) — The apocalypse proves a blessing in disguise for one lucky recluse – until a second survivor arrives with the threat of companionship. Cast: Peter Dinklage, Elle Fanning. World Premiere

Lizzie / U.S.A. (Director: Craig William Macneill, Screenwriter: Bryce Kass, Producers: Naomi Despres, Liz Destro) — Based on the 1892 murder of Lizzie Borden’s family in Fall River, MA, this tense psychological thriller lays bare the legend of Lizzie Borden to reveal the much more complex, poignant and truly terrifying woman within — and her intimate bond with the family’s young Irish housemaid, Bridget Sullivan. Cast: Chloë Sevigny, Kristen Stewart, Jamey Sheridan, Fiona Shaw, Kim Dickens, Denis O’Hare. World Premiere

Monster / U.S.A. (Director: Anthony Mandler, Screenwriters: Radha Blank, Cole Wiley, Janece Shaffer, Producers: Tonya Lewis Lee, Nikki Silver, Aaron L. Gilbert, Mike Jackson, Edward Tyler Nahem) — “Monster” is what the prosecutor calls 17 year old honors student and aspiring filmmaker Steve Harmon. Charged with felony murder for a crime he says he did not commit, the film follows his dramatic journey through a complex legal battle that could leave him spending the rest of his life in prison. Cast: Kelvin Harrison Jr., Jeffrey Wright, Jennifer Hudson, Rakim Mayers, Jennifer Ehle, Tim Blake Nelson. World Premiere

Monsters and Men / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Reinaldo Marcus Green, Producers: Elizabeth Lodge Stepp, Josh Penn, Eddie Vaisman, Julia Lebedev, Luca Borghese) — This interwoven narrative explores the aftermath of a police killing of a black man. The film is told through the eyes of the bystander who filmed the act, an African-American police officer and a high-school baseball phenom inspired to take a stand. Cast: John David Washington, Anthony Ramos, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Chanté Adams, Nicole Beharie, Rob Morgan. World Premiere

Sorry to Bother You / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Boots Riley, Producers: Nina Yang Bongiovi, Forest Whitaker, Charles King, George Rush, Jonathan Duffy, Kelly Williams) — In a speculative and dystopian not-too-distant future, black telemarketer Cassius Green discovers a magical key to professional success – which propels him into a macabre universe. Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Steven Yeun, Jermaine Fowler, Armie Hammer, Omari Hardwicke. World Premiere

The Tale / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Jennifer Fox, Producers: Oren Moverman, Lawrence Inglee, Laura Rister, Mynette Louie, Sol Bondy, Simone Pero) — An investigation into one woman’s memory as she’s forced to re-examine her first sexual relationship and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive; based on the filmmaker’s own story. Cast: Laura Dern, Isabel Nelisse, Jason Ritter, Elizabeth Debicki, Ellen Burstyn, Common. World Premiere

TYREL / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Sebastian Silva, Producers: Jacob Wasserman, Max Born) — Tyler spirals out of control when he realizes he’s the only black person attending a weekend birthday party in a secluded cabin. Cast: Jason Mitchell, Christopher Abbott, Michael Cera, Caleb Landry Jones, Ann Dowd. World Premiere

WildlifeWildlife / U.S.A. (Director: Paul Dano, Screenwriters: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Producers: Andrew Duncan, Alex Saks, Oren Moverman, Ann Ruark, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riva Marker) — Montana, 1960: A portrait of a family in crisis. Based on the novel by Richard Ford. Cast: Carey Mulligan, Ed Oxenbould, Bill Camp, Jake Gyllenhaal. World Premiere

U.S. DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
Sixteen 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 Chasing Coral, Life, Animated, Cartel Land and City of Gold.

Bisbee ’17 / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Robert Greene, Producers: Douglas Tirola, Susan Bedusa, Bennett Elliott) — An old mining town on the Arizona-Mexico border finally reckons with its darkest day: the deportation of 1200 immigrant miners exactly 100 years ago. Locals collaborate to stage recreations of their controversial past. Cast: Fernando Serrano, Laurie McKenna, Ray Family, Mike Anderson, Graeme Family, Richard Hodges. World Premier

Dark Money / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Kimberly Reed, Producer: Katy Chevigny) — “Dark money” contributions, made possible by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, flood modern American elections – but Montana is showing Washington D.C. how to solve the problem of unlimited anonymous money in politics. World Premiere

The Devil yo KnowThe Devil We Know / U.S.A. (Director: Stephanie Soechtig, Producers: Kristin Lazure, Stephanie Soechtig, Joshua Kunau, Carly Palmour) — Unraveling one of the biggest environmental scandals of our time, a group of citizens in West Virginia take on a powerful corporation after they discover it has knowingly been dumping a toxic chemical — now found in the blood of 99.7% of Americans — into the local drinking water supply. World Premiere.

 

HalHal / U.S.A. (Director: Amy Scott, Producers: Christine Beebe, Jonathan Lynch, Brian Morrow) — Hal Ashby’s obsessive genius led to an unprecedented string of Oscar®-winning classics, including Harold and Maude, Shampoo and Being There. But as contemporaries Coppola, Scorsese and Spielberg rose to blockbuster stardom in the 1980s, Ashby’s uncompromising nature played out as a cautionary tale of art versus commerce. World Premiere

Hale County This Morning, This Evening / U.S.A. (Director: RaMell Ross, Screenwriter: Maya Krinsky, Producers: Joslyn Barnes, RaMell Ross, Su Kim) — An exploration of coming-of-age in the Black Belt of the American South, using stereotypical imagery to fill in the landscape between iconic representations of black men and encouraging a new way of looking, while resistance to narrative suspends conclusive imagining – allowing the viewer to complete the film. World Premiere

Inventing Tomorrow / U.S.A. (Director: Laura Nix, Producers: Diane Becker, Melanie Miller, Laura Nix) — Take a journey with young minds from around the globe as they prepare their projects for the largest convening of high school scientists in the world, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). Watch these passionate innovators find the courage to face the planet’s environmental threats while navigating adolescence. World Premiere. THE NEW CLIMATE

Kusama – Infinity / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Heather Lenz, Producers: Karen Johnson, Heather Lenz, Dan Braun, David Koh) — Now one of the world’s most celebrated artists, Yayoi Kusama broke free of the rigid society in which she was raised, and overcame sexism, racism, and mental illness to bring her artistic vision to the world stage. At 88 she lives in a mental hospital and continues to create art. World Premiere

The Last Race / U.S.A. (Director: Michael Dweck, Producers: Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw) — A cinematic portrait of a small town stock car track and the tribe of drivers that call it home as they struggle to hold onto an American racing tradition.