Tag Archives: Sundance

New Film: Middle of Nowhere

Winner of the Best Director Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, MIDDLE OF NOWHERE follows Ruby, a bright medical student who sets aside her dreams and suspends her career when her husband is incarcerated. As the committed couple stares into the hollow end of an eight-year prison sentence, Ruby must learn to live another life, one marked by shame and separation. But through a chance encounter and a stunning betrayal that shakes her to her core, this steadfast wife is soon propelled in new and often shocking directions of self-discovery – caught between two worlds and two men in the search for herself.

Ava DuVernay is back! And I have been dying to see this film.

Sundance Pick: 2 Days In New York

“Madcap comedy” is the only phrase that really describes the absolute ridiculousness that is Julie Delpy’s 2 Days In New York. There really isn’t any other term that fits–the experience is akin to watching a circus unfold in your living room, which I assume is the point. Julie Delpy is Marion, a deeply eccentric Parisian-born artist based in New York who is trying to juggle the demands of a new and blended family with her art. When her French family is flying in to support her solo exhibition, her tranquil relationship with her radio host blipster husband Mingus (Chris Rock) is put to the test. Over 48 hours, the entire household is thrown into chaos.

A few things that happen in the film: a violation of sexual boundaries involving an electric toothbrush, wanton keying of limousines, smelly situations at customs, a French nudist captivates a bored American doctor, the children decide they want to be a dead princess and a dead bunny for Halloween, stoned shenanigans in the co-op elevator, and Marion sells her soul, which results in a minor brawl.

And did I mention a cardboard cutout of Barack Obama is a major character?

Delpy, who wrote and directed the film, makes the most out of the short screentime cramming in as much commentary on family life and the art world as she possibly can. A follow-up to 2 Days in Paris, Delpy balances the pace of her city subjects with the quiet calamity of modern life. The film spins so fast that in the middle of the madness, it takes more than half of the movie before I realize 2 Days in New York has managed to pull off an amazing depiction on an interracial relationship. Race is not the most important thing between Marion and Mingus, and it certainly isn’t their primary conflict throughout the film. Instead, where race intersects with their lives is subtle.

If race is blatantly brought up as part of the plot, it is often played for cringe-inducing laughs. Manu, Marion’s former flame who is currently dating her sister Rose, is a one-stop shop for racial ignorance posing as innocence. He tries to curry favor with Mingus’ sister Elizabeth (Malinda Williams) by saying she looks “just like Beyonce, only sexier.” Chagrined at finding out that Mingus doesn’t smoke weed, he off-handley remarks that Marion “found the only black guy in New York that doesn’t smoke.” And when Mingus’ friend from the Obama Administration comes to town, Mingus is mortified when Manu starts randomly calling him “Kumar.” (This friend was not played by Kal Penn.) Luckily, after a day or so, Manu is deported for lighting up in front of a police station.

2 Days in New York is a fun romp, with a strange, but satisfying ending that proves that love (mostly) conquers all.

Sundance Pick: An Oversimplification of Her Beauty

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty • Teaser from Terence Nance • Terence Etc. on Vimeo.

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty defies categorization, in all the best ways possible.

The first thing to know is that the film isn’t a linear story. It’s a complex and complicated exploration of modern love, an intriguing dance between two characters circling the possibility of a relationship, born out of mutual infatuation. Avant-guarde storytelling in the key of noir, Oversimplification blends animation, live action, and narration to tell the tale of Terence falling in love with Namik. The characters are real people, based on their own lives. Nance earned his spot in the New Frontier section of Sundance – in addition to the innovative, movie-within-a-movie style of storytelling, animation also plays a key role. Exploring his inner emotions through stop-motion figure dolls and beautifully rendered scenes, Nance essentially uses this film as therapy, working out the complicated tangle of his messy romantic life.

Refreshingly, black women are Nance’s muses. Often in cinematic depictions of black love, the relationship is construed as adversarial. Here, as Nance documents the many loves that fit his archetype of “brown, maternal, well read, well traveled,” black women take center stage, his love for each of them palpable through the screen.

But is what he feels for them really love? Nance believes so, and spends most of the film trying to articulate what he loves about Namik, and how his past relationship history lead him to this point of nearly breathless anticipation. The film is ripe with themes for exploration but I will have to leave most of those paths untouched. Nance has created a work so complex, it is almost like recorded performance art. Thus, I agree with Tambay – it needs to be experienced. Hopefully, it finds a distributor because it deserves to be seen and experienced by as many people as possible. Nance’s story is both familiar and strange, and tends to provoke a lot of self-reflection in the audience. Who are we, when we are in love? I’m still mulling over my own answer.

Sundance Pick: Filly Brown

Walking in, I thought I had Filly Brown pegged. The trailer gave me the impression it was like every other hip-hop movie I’d ever seen:

  • Young kid from the hood trying to make good? Check.
  • Prerequisite positive rap song that feels like it was pulled from Ghostwriter? Check.
  • Street pressures that are easily overcome? Check.
  • Mandatory plot for women, involving sexing up your image to get signed to the majors? Check.

But hey, I had just gone through three really depressing movies about the fall out of the drug war. I needed something to lift my spirits, and I will shamelessly admit that I enjoyed Brown Sugar. On the real, Filly Brown could have been a Lifetime produced version of the Somaya Reece story, and I still would have watched it!

Luckily, I was wrong.

Okay, on second thought, I wasn’t that wrong. Two and a half of the four I listed above were in the movie. But the team behind Filly Brown managed to add enough new elements to make the standard tropes feel fresh. Continue reading

Sundance Pick: Celeste and Jesse Forever

Writing a good romantic comedy is tough.

Writing a good divorce comedy is tougher.

So the fact that Rashida Jones nailed both her performance and her part of the screenplay entire movie is something very special.

Celeste and Jesse Forever follows a long-term couple in the midst of a breakup. Having been best friends for the past twenty years, Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) find themselves divorcing–in spite of their continued chemistry. Celeste, a trends analyst and pop-culture commentator, is the epitome of a responsible business woman. Jesse is an unemployed artist, who spends more time scheming on surfing than actively planning out his life. They bond through some strange shared loves (like masturbating lip glosses, baby corn, and other things that look like tiny penises) but Celeste initiates the divorce since Jesse has failed to grow up. Continue reading

Sundance Exclusive: Interview with Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi of 5 Broken Cameras

Co-directed by Palestinian filmmaker Emad Burnat and Israeli activist Guy Davidi, the images in 5 Broken Cameras are beautiful, haunting, and bring about dozens of other questions about the history of the occupation and the tactics around love and resistance. Thanks to their fabulous publicist Eseel, I got to interview Guy and Emad and ask them about their lives, their work, and what they think the future holds for Israel and Palestine.

What was the experience like, creating this film out of the footage?

Emad: It has been a sometimes good experience, a sometimes bad experience. In 2005, when I started to resist with my village, I decided to film to protect myself and to protect the other protests and to show the footage for other people, and to use the footage sometime to prove what is going on. Over the last seven years, [I documented] how what happened in the village affected me, my family, my children, and my friends, week by week. After many years of documenting, I thought that there was a huge story that I have to tell to other people. We decided to construct a documentary from my personal life and personal story. [5 Broken Cameras] is not a political film or just a film about conflict – it’s a film about life, and how the people can survive and how people live, and how kids grow up. For my kids, everyone loves those boys, and I wanted to make for them a good life, I wanted to take care of them, and protect them. I can’t tie them in the house every day, keep them 24 hours in one room. This is our life, like this. I tried to build for them a good life and a good situation. And I wanted to put my life and my experience in the village in one documentary.

Maybe [other people, in other parts of the world] see footage on the news, but they don’t know the reality and they don’t know the life of these people. I hope that this film does make some change, so we can change the life for everyone – in Palestine and Israel.

Guy, how did you get involved in the film?

Guy: I came to Bil’in in early 2005, one of the first Israeli peace activists that came. I was already interested in what was happening in this movement, I wanted be a part of it. My first main motivation is a bit selfish, it wasn’t just to help the movement – it was also for me. Israel is like a ghetto – it is closed, like a bubble, not sensitive to the others. You’re not allowed to go here, not allowed to go there – so I wanted to break that. I wanted to live in a free way. If we live in a free way, we have to confront the shadows – and what happens in the shadow is in Palestine and the settlements.

So I met Emad. He was a very known character from the start, because he was the only cameraman who was basically staying in the village all the time. He became what we say in the film, “the village’s eye.” So we met many times while filming. We didn’t work together until 2009, when Emad approached me to make the film, so we decided to make it as a personal narrative. When I thought in the beginning to make a film on Bil’in, there were many that were similar. We had to have a new and refreshing take and I was happy to find out in the material that we could tell the story in this very intimate and personal way. You could see in the world both the context of the movement and the occupation, and you can have a really intimate family moments.

One of the moments that is the most striking to me in the film are the images of people moving into the settlements that are causing all this conflict. Why is this still happening?

Guy: First we have to know that there are many kinds of settlements and many kinds of settlers. It is the Israeli machine that is making it move. These are not necessarily ideological settlers going because they want to conquer the land or wipe out Palestinians. They just want to improve their lives. The government is subsidizing the apartments in the West Bank, and using [the people's] financial circumstances to move an agenda forward. Some settlers don’t know what is going on – the way Israel is designed, you can travel through parts and not really know where you are. Some settlers do know what’s going on and don’t care. And then you have a very small minority, a violent minority, the fundamentalist Jews that are creating terror in Palestine. They are small, but noisy and strong. If Israel would like to change its ways, they will have to find a way to root out the fundamentalists, to pull the weeds. Continue reading

Sundance Pick: 5 Broken Cameras

Trailer “5 Broken Cameras” from Guy Davidi on Vimeo.

 

“By healing, you resist oppression. – Emad Burnat”

5 Broken Cameras is a story of living in the shadow of oppression, a moving portrait of vibrant resistance through the unapologetic embrace of life itself. Set in the small Palestinian village of Bil’in, the story and narrative belongs to Emad Burnat, who became the eye of the village and ultimately chronicled over five years of activism. The people of Bil’in found their lands being encroached on by the building of a new settlement, and the wall to protect that settlement. They protest peacefully, marching up to the wall each Friday and thinking of new actions and demonstrations to stop the advancement of the settlement.

During this time, Emad also had a son, Gibreel, which brought his total brood to four. Emad mentions that each of the boys knows a slightly different world. The eldest was born during the Olso Accords which meant that he grew up with more freedom and mobility. Gibreel, on the other hand, mixes his first words of “mommy” and “daddy” with “army,” “cartridge” and “run! run!” If it weren’t for the ever present undercurrent of violence, Emad’s life would almost be seen as idyllic: a loving family; a large, involved village; numerous dances and celebrations are cornerstones of the life they create. Their marches are also full of hope and some humor. At one point, tired of the late night raids on the village, a group of children march up to the wall, chanting “We want to sleep! We want to sleep!” The situation in Bil’in gained international attention, and groups of Israeli, German, and other activists come at various points to show their support and solidarity. However, violence is never far enough away, and the promise of more hangs over Bil’in like a cloud. Continue reading

Sundance Pick: Mosquita y Mari

“Though we tremble before uncertain futures/ may we meet illness, death and adversity with strength/ may we dance in the face of our fears.”
― Gloria E. Anzaldúa

Mosquita y Mari is a slow paced exploration of being a teenager peering over the brink of adulthood. Set in a Mexican-American neighborhood in Los Angeles, Mosquita y Mari follows the lives of two very different Chicana teenagers. Yolanda (Fenessa Pineda) is a studious high-achiever, a dutiful daughter from a loving home. Mari (Venecia Troncoso) is rebellious and volatile, with a chip on her shoulder that crowds out most of the world. Circumstances toss them together again and again, and they embark on a deep and intense friendship.

In her press kit, writer/director Aurora Guerrero writes:

The inspiration behind my debut feature-film, Mosquita y Mari, was my own adolescence. Initially, when I decided I wanted to write a feature-length script I kept coming back to a series of complex, same-sex friendships I had while growing up. When looking back, long before I identified as queer, I realized my first love was one of my best friends. It was the type of friendship that was really tender and sweet but also sexually charged. Despite the fact that we had the makings of a beautiful teen romance we never crossed that line. The beginnings of Mosquita y Mari was reflecting back on that time and asking myself the questions, why didn’t we cross that line and what kept us in “our place”? I didn’t grow up in a household where my parents forewarned me that if I turned out to be gay they would disown me. They didn’t wave the Bible in my face saying it was wrong. Instead the message was subtle. It was hidden in the silences around sex and desire; it was implied in society’s expectations, you know, like you only experience those feelings of love and desire with the opposite sex. I think all of us are subject to society’s rules so I think many people can relate to this story of censored friendship. That was the initial inspiration. [...] Continue reading