Browsing: Film Festival

Film Festival
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It’s hard to make a movie involving a protagonist with autism, and writer/director Alonso Mayo knows it. His feature debut, The Story of Luke, doesn’t exploit its protagonist’s autism. Instead, it tells a traditional coming-of-age tale that could easily apply to anyone. It just so happens that this story involves a man with autism. Raised by his grandparents after his mother abandoned him at a young age, Luke hasn’t let his autism slow him down. He can’t multiply huge numbers or memorize entire books, but he can cook a number of recipes from his favorite cooking show. Following his grandmother’s death, Luke and his grandfather move in with his uncle’s family. Eager to prove he is a man, Luke decides to find a job so he can eventually live on his own.

Film Festival
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Rodrigo Reyes presents a Buñuel-inspired mosaic of the flora and fauna of la frontera (‘the border’) that separates Mexico from the United States and the towns found on either side of it. Through interviews and disparate shots of places/objects, it captures impressions of the kind of (in)activities that occur in this midway space of violence, fear, and hope: unfinished neighbourhoods, rows of abandoned houses, refuse, the parched earth, and the construction of an X icon as a symbol of optimism. Reyes takes the religious meaning of purgatory as the space of temporary punishment or purification for those who have died in a state of grace (and so can become fit to enter heaven) to paint a pre- and post-lapsarian world dictated by the maddening logic of la frontera. The opening images are of a world devoid of humans, clean and paradisiacal, with animals calmly eating vegetation, while the concluding images are of a world now imprinted with the mark of humans through mountains of trash. The emphasis is on the man-made limited lives and actions available to those at la frontera: drugs, crime, god, journalism, law enforcement, and migration, presented without judgment.

Film Festival
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Those who know Grace Lee’s work will recall her 2003 documentary The Grace Lee Project. In the film, Lee looks at the women who share this common name in the United States, and in the process addresses the concepts of ‘Asian American’ and ‘Asian American woman.’ One of the Grace Lees whom Lee interviewed was Marxist theoretician, revolutionary thinker, black power activist, and writer Grace Lee Boggs (b. 1915). Lee knew even then that she would make another film with her. So ten years after Lee’s first set of encounters with Grace comes American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs, which traces Grace’s sociopolitical trajectory, from an undergrad student at Barnard College in the 1930s, when she discovered the writings of the German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel, to becoming a key member in the development of the black power movement in Detroit with her husband-activist James Boggs (1919-1993) beginning in the 1960s. Lee balances a number of interview subjects with Grace as the link, and delivers an indelible portrait of a woman whose ideas, writings, and critical thinking continue at the ripe age of ninety-seven and are connecting with new generations today.

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Mike Charlton (also known as Sick Mick) is a man with a dream; to break the motor land speed record. In Sick Mick and the Boys, it’s shown that he’s no ordinary man, and the journey to get to that dream was anything but ordinary. It’s the feature-length documentary debut of Jose Asunicon, and man it sure doesn’t show.

Film Festival
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My Father and the Man in Black is a documentary that starts with a man named Jonathan Holiff, a big-time player in Hollywood who leaves it all behind when he finds out that his father Saul had just committed suicide. He didn’t know much about his father growing up. Only that he was the manager of the one and only Johnny Cash. When he finds out about a storage locker his father has, Holiff takes a trip there and discovers more about his father than he thought possible.

Film Festival
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As much as it hurts to say it, Hong Sang-soo’s latest film finds his stories of cloying relationships and sadomasochistic men-women foibles wearing thin. After the initial glow of re-encountering Hong’s formal language of two-person medium shots, zooms, and left-right pans, and getting acquainted with faces new and familiar in the cast during the first thirty to forty minutes of the film, things get tiresome and, dare one say it, even insufferable, as the circle of meetings, pleadings, awkwardness, embarrassment, and sufferings between men and women becomes the bulk of the film. A startling and unfortunate development following the satirical delight of Hong’s previous film, In Another Country (2012).

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In the context of firsts even before one can contemplate the narrative, Wadjda is a significant film from Saudi Arabia, a country that does not have any movie theatres. While the country has a bustling television industry, it has no filmmaking infrastructure in comparison. It is the first film made by a Saudi filmmaker. More specifically, it is the first film made by a woman Saudi filmmaker, Haifaa al-Mansour. It is also the first film shot entirely inside the kingdom. Given such a context, one may develop the expectations of a confrontational, even rabble-rousing work set in a country where women face many struggles to be able to find and vocalise their desires, frustrations, and aspirations. With such a mindset, the film’s story of a ten-year-old girl named Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) who wants nothing more than to buy a bicycle so that she can race her friend Abdullah (Adbullrahman Al Gohani) may even be disappointing because it does not seemingly address sociopolitical issues head-on. But when one realises that in Saudi Arabia females are not allowed to ride bikes or drive vehicles, and must rely on and be accompanied by male guardians to be able to go from one place to another other than by foot, then the story splits open to be one about the joys and impulses of childhood on the one hand and one about the small, everyday gestures that contribute to empowering girls and women from the ground up on the other. With nods to both the emotion of Italian neorealist films and the pronounced play with docufiction in Iranian cinema, Wadjda is an undeniably affecting and affectionate debut work.

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With El Salvador-born and Mexico-based José Luis Valle and his debut feature film Workers, we are in the midst of an exciting, articulate, and moving filmmaker and vision. In the midst of the numerous films on issues of migration and the border (of which there are several screening at the Los Angeles Film Festival this year), in particular the border that divides the United States and Mexico, Workers addreses these issues obliquely and even comically, in a deadpan manner that would make even Aki Kaurismäki jealous.

Film Festival
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For those who are familiar with the Chilean filmmaker, visual artist, and musician Sebastián Silva, the subject of group dynamics as found in one of two films that he has recently made with the American actor Michael Cera, Crystal Fairy, should not be surprising. Such a subject has been sensitively and comically addressed in, for example, Silva’s debut feature La vida me mata (2007), through a young man navigating between his extended family living situation and an eccentric film production crew, and his most well-known work internationally La nana (2009), through a family that decides to hire a younger maid alongside their regular one and the consequences of this addition. The study of human relationships through a group appears to preoccupy Silva as a segue to questions of insecurity, honesty, responsibility, and communication.

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I.D. is the debut feature by writer-director Kamal K.M, who is originally from Kerala but currently based in Mumbai. The film is also the debut production of the Collective Phase One organisation, of which Kamal is one of the founding members. Alongside other independent Indian films like Mumbai Diaries (2010, Kiran Rao), especially in terms of representations of the city in different ways that touch upon or turn over different issues in really exciting ways, I.D. is part of an incredible tide-change happening in Indian filmmaking. A very immersive, distinct, and suspenseful work that addresses questions of identity and anonymity, the big city, communications technologies, and procedure, I.D. is close to breathtaking and impressive.

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