Reflections on the London Film Festival

Wherein I rank the 29 films I watched during BFI’s LFF.

I never thought I’d reach the point where I was sick of seeing films.  Admittedly, I’m not sick of them all together…I’m just grateful that I now have the ability to take a bit of a break after averaging three films a day.

For those of you sticking around, this blog post will consist of a list of all the movies I saw, ranked from WORST to BEST.  Some will contain reflections, some will contain reviews, all will contain a brief synopsis of the film.  At the end, I’ll post a list of the movies that I didn’t get the chance to see, despite my best efforts.

If this kind of thing isn’t for you, you have my permission to move along, so long as you come back for my next blogging shenaniganery, wherein I have to find some other way to occupy my time in London. 😉


#29 – Park

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Park follows a ragtag group of bored kids hanging out in Athens’ now desolate Olympic Park. Where there was once grandeur and ideas that shaped democracy, these days kicks are hard to come by. With no hope and zero opportunities, it’s a landscape ripe for lawless teenage aggression. This edgy drama is a powder keg of political prescience, with the teenagers playing increasingly dangerous games, their future sealed by the devastating economic crises, yet trying to escape none-the-less. This is decaying Europe and the kids are not alright.

I so wanted this to be more of a documentary.  After the recent article about the desolation of various Olympic Parks after the athletes leave, I wanted to learn more about what could be done about these ghost-towns.  What I got instead was a narrative of several children whose names I never cared to learn, an extremely awkward sex scene between two 16-year-olds, and a teenager who probably either needs therapy or acting lessons (or both).  There were two reasons I didn’t walk out of the theater; the director was in the audience and there were two people between me and the aisle.  This did not stop me from staring enviously at the lit “Exit” sign throughout at least 30% of the film and then ducking out before the director came to the front of the theater for the Q&A.


#28 – Don’t Blink – Robert Frank – Documentary

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This documentary about legendary American photographer Robert Frank goes beyond the traditional bio-doc. It takes a look at Frank’s creative process, starting with The Americans – the book that revolutionized photojournalism – before moving back and forth into his career, from his involvement with the Beat Generation, The Rolling Stones and 1960s counter culture, to his lesser-known career in filmmaking and relationships with his wife, the artist June Leaf, and their children.

Would have benefit from subtitles, as Robert Frank’s accent was hard to decipher at times. I’m sure this was a lovely film, but I fell asleep.


#27 – Ma’ Rosa

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It’s nighttime in Manila, and take-no-prisoners matriarch Rosa Reyes is ready to hustle, as soon as she packs away the noodles from the supermarket. Haggling is Rosa’s language, whether it’s dinner from a street stall, renting out a karaoke machine, or running the shady family business: selling crystal meth from their shantytown sweet shop. But the corrupt police are on the case, and busting to get their own slice of drug money, they bring a new heat to Reyes’ family. Rosa’s children work against the clock and through layers of Filipino society to come up with the goods, channeling their mothers’ resourcefulness.

I, personally, found the character of Ma’ Rosa to be extremely difficult to connect with. Admittedly we live very different lives and come from very different backgrounds but I couldn’t understand her motivations and decisions no matter how hard I tried. Additionally, this was the very first film I watched with the film festival.


#26 – The Ghoul

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Low budget Brit thriller, The Ghoul is a crime film more interested in psychology and the occult than in solving crimes. Detective Chris is called to investigate a mysterious, possible double murder. Discovering clues in the house of a shadowy suspect, he goes undercover as a patient to see the suspect’s psychotherapist. But our understanding of Chris is quickly turned on its head as we get inside his.

The second to last film of the festival. I fell asleep. I honestly feel that it was trying too hard to be a psychological thriller…but I simply couldn’t seem to care. It was interesting (from the parts that I saw) watching a low-budget film in comparison to the larger budget pictures that one typically sees. I found myself more interested in justifying the cheapness of the film rather than paying attention to the characters within. All in all, I will say that I’m terribly glad I stuck around for 4.5 hours after this film let out to see one final film of the festival, because I wouldn’t have wanted this one to be my final memory.


#25 – The Graduation (Le Concours) – Documentary

the-graduation

‘Everyone’s equal, but only the best get in…’. This film immerses us in the selection process of one of the most prestigious schools of cinema in the world, La Fémis in Paris. Revealing a system where candidates are interviewed by professionals only, the film observes the absorbing interaction between fresh, young and wild talents as they mingle with established industry players. Impassioned debates, dramatic pitches, doubts, questions and a hell of a lot of cigarette smoking take place, intertwined with the daily running of the school. It presents an invaluable insight into this incubator of French cinema talent.

So the premise of this film is the extremely arduous road to being accepted by this prestigious film school that prides itself on having industry professionals select the students rather than the administrators of the school. The film then goes on to spend more time justifying the industry professionals used rather than the individuals applying for the positions. The arguments surrounding the potential students is, in many cases, completely arbitrary and subjective, to the point of irritation. However, that has nothing to do with the film itself, that is a complaint around the application process. My complaint with the film is that it does little to identify the individuals applying. Consequently, at the end when the class picture is taken, I couldn’t recognize a single individual. An intensely long, played-out film with little to no payout at the end because I still don’t know who got in and who didn’t. Oh well.


#24 – The Pass – Film Adaptation of a Stage Show

the-pass

In a Bulgarian hotel room, the night before an important match, two aspiring Premier League footballers anxiously await the 90 minutes that could define their future careers. As the teammates trade playful insults and chat about girls, fame and the beautiful game, a simmering tension permeates the air. With the atmosphere almost at breaking point, one of the men leans in to kiss the other, a move that profoundly impacts both of their lives.

Simply put, I wanted this to be so much better than it was. The film contained very few sets, really only one or two, now that I think about it (which made much more sense once I discovered it was a play first.) I was emotionally engaged in the characters and their developing relationship. There was even a part where I wanted to punch one of them, as he was being so irritating. However, I feel so much more could have been done or said within the scope of the film. I felt it was predictable and I was left wanting at the end.


#23 – A Day for Women (Yom Lel Setat)

a-day-for-women

The opening of a new swimming pool is the talk of the town – particularly because Sunday has been announced as a day for women. Bringing together the very different women of a small community is an unexpected equalizer – no-one is more excited than Azza, who dreams of wearing a swimsuit. Shamiya, considered a ‘loose woman’, finds herself talking about her life to an inquisitive and supportive audience. Even Lula ventures along – a sign that she is beginning to confront the grief of having recently lost her husband and son. Naturally, the men of the community can’t help but be curious – and find their own colorful way of protesting against the women’s day. But there is also a darker undercurrent at play – Lula’s brother is becoming more controlling and openly radical.

I also wanted this to be more of a documentary about the racial and religious tensions surrounding this radical topic. Instead, I got a lot of cheesy romance and narrative story-telling about characters I didn’t particularly care about.


#22 – A Monster Calls

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12-year-old Conor is bullied by his classmates because he sees the world differently. His mother, with whom he has a very special bond, is suffering from a terminal illness. His bossy grandmother has become increasingly controlling and his unreliable father is perpetually absent. Suddenly, a wizened and mysterious yew tree materializes to provide Conor with some much-needed guidance. This film gives glorious form to this deeply moving story about a boy who draws on his expansive imagination to come to terms with impending loss.

I am 100% certain that this film was 10x better than I’m ranking it. However, I fell asleep about 20 minutes in. While I was fighting my eyelids in the beginning, I could tell that certain story-telling aspects of the film (think the story of the Three Brothers from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows but with watercolor) were visually gorgeous. When I woke up (I have no idea how much time passed…) I discovered that it is actually possible to cry for 45 minutes straight as the end of the film was 150% tear-jerker. I felt abused! All those tears and I still didn’t get the whole of the film. What a waste of emotion! >_>


#21 – All This Panic – Documentary

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Mid-way through All This Panic, a father tells his teenage daughter, ‘The whole point of growing older is that you eventually find out what’s fake about you and what’s real, and hopefully move on with more of the real.’ Filmed over three years, All This Panic follows seven very different girls from Brooklyn during the turbulent ‘panic’ years and their arrival into almost-adulthood. This film perfectly evokes both the dreaminess of the girls’ interior worlds and the harsher peripheral reality of adulthood that inches ever closer.

Bunch of American teens complaining about how challenging life is. What’s new?


#20 – The Birth of a Nation – Based on a True Story

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Nate Parker’s monumental tour-de-force – he produces, directs, writes and gives a scorching performance in the lead role – is a grueling account of the life of Nat Turner, an enslaved African American and ordained preacher who led a slave revolt in Virginia in 1831. From a young age, he is encouraged to read by the wife of the plantation owner, who gives him a bible. By the time he reaches adulthood he has become a man of religion, but when the white slave owners detect insurrection, he is forced to preach submission to his fellow slaves. Unable to accept the atrocities he witnesses at other plantations, and the abuse of his own wife Cherry, he begins to plot an uprising.

Ohhh how much I do NOT want to talk about this film. Many critics have claimed it’s the next “12 Years a Slave” and say that it’s a direct result of #OscarsSoWhite. I’ve read reviews that think it’s the best thing since sliced bread. I’ve read comments on Facebook from my students saying that this was an amazing story.

I…wouldn’t necessarily say that I hated it? I definitely believe that it is in NO WAY comparable to 12 Years a Slave. The story, though true, felt insincere at certain parts. There were several scenes I didn’t feel were necessary. It dragged a bit. I will say, the one thing that I liked more than 12 Years was the score/soundtrack. It wasn’t until after the movie ended, when I was sitting there trying to figure out where it crashed and burned, that I searched the film and found out about the drama behind the picture (see: Nat Parker’s rape allegations and consequently the actor/actress drama surrounding the release.)

All that said, I feared if I posted about my dislike of the film on FB, I’d be accused of being racist. I’m not racist. It just wasn’t a good movie. Sorry!


#19 – Don’t Think Twice

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“So, did anyone have a really tough day?” That’s the typical opening audience gambit for New York improv troupe, The Commune, though it arguably reflects their true feelings – shock, resentment, envy – when one of them, the oft-grandstanding Jack, lands his big break on a hit TV sketch show. What does that mean for the collective? Or individually for those left behind, not least Jack’s partner Samantha, whose thwarted artistic ambitions find them continually struggling to pay rent into their 30s? With a couple of star cameos, it’s a film bracingly honest on the cost of chasing dreams, but wise enough to know the value of true community.

This film was a few parts satire, a few parts parody. It was distracting in the beginning, reconciling that this was satirical and not meant to be documentarial (oh look! A made up word!) An interesting look into the underground comedy-scene surrounding their version of Saturday Night Live. Makes one wonder how much of it was accurate/written from experience.


#18 – Scribe (La mécanique de l’ombre)

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Duval is the perfect employee – thoughtful, persistent, efficient and committed to his work. But after a drink-fuelled breakdown, the middle-aged loner finds jobs hard to come by. When a mysterious businessman offers him a well-paid position within his security firm, Duval can’t refuse. He turns a blind eye to the possible illegal nature of his work as he transcribes a series of taped private telephone calls. But when one of them results in murder, Duval can no longer stay quiet, unaware that his mundane existence is about to be turned upside down. What unravels is a deadly conspiracy that leads all the way up to the upper echelons of French government.

It wasn’t good. It wasn’t bad. It just was. And it was in French.


#17 – London Town

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London, 1979. Shay is a teenager attempting to juggle too many suburban familial responsibilities following the departure of his free-spirited mother. When his broken-hearted father is injured at work and Shay finds himself under even more pressure, he decides it’s time to reconnect with his estranged mother. Along the way, he falls for striking, confident punk girl Vivian and together they experience that white hot epiphany when a new kind of music sparks teenagers on a profound, life-changing level. The explosive emergence of Punk might seem an incongruous setting for a coming-of-age film, but the film balances acting performance with The Clash’s sound/energy to produce an uplifting and memorably bittersweet comedy drama.

I stumbled into this film as a time-filler. As such, I was pleasantly surprised by how much it surpassed my limited expectations. You’ve seen this movie before. A young punk girl introduces the young innocent male to the punk scene. It wasn’t anything new, which is why it’s a bit lower on the list, but it was a good film regardless.


#16 – Manchester by the Sea

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Manchester by the Sea tells the story of terse and calcified Lee, a man whose spare existence is suddenly ruptured when the death of his brother Joe forces him to return to the hometown he abandoned years before. Rocked by contact with his estranged ex-wife and the revelation that Joe has made him guardian of his teenage son, Lee’s private torment deepens. Casey Affleck as Lee personifies the inner turmoil of a man so shattered by the consequences of a single mistake that he cannot reverse his retreat from life, even when faced with the responsibility of caring for someone else.

I personally feel it dragged on a bit, but can’t, in hindsight, figure out what I’d cut. Everything in the film was crucial to understanding the character and his motivations. All in all a sad film. Maybe I feel it dragged on because I saw four films on that day. Either way, it’ll be nominated for all of the awards, so you should go see it and form your own opinions.


#15 – Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang – Documentary

Sky Ladder

Superstar Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang’s career and literally incendiary body of work are explored in this documentary. Guo-Qiang’s dazzling pyrotechnics have won him an international reputation. He has received a Golden Lion from the Venice Biennale, has been given a retrospective by New York’s Guggenheim, and curated the mind-blowing firework display for the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The film joins in as the artist attempts for the fourth time to create his most ambitious project; Sky Ladder is a 500m high ladder made of fireworks and suspended by a hot air balloon. The film places the artist’s work within the context of China’s history. It features interviews with the artist, his family and a wealth of archive footage.

Rather than telling the story of Cai’s life, as many documentaries would have, this film focused more on his efforts to achieve his life dream, Sky Ladder. Visually pleasing (as it should have been, considering the subject matter,) this film isn’t necessarily one that I’d watch again, but it was definitely worth watching once. I’d keep a sharp eye out for it on Netflix, as apparently it was a Netflix Original film.


#14 – Have You Seen My Movie? – Experimental

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A montage of magical moments of cinema-going…extracted from cinema history. Have You Seen My Movie? explores the entire film-going experience: underage boys attempting to get in to a cinema to see some bare flesh; pretentious debates in the queues; and of course the trailers and the main feature. Films from every genre play as lovers meet, criminals hide in the dark and rapt audiences watch on. We witness how the industry works, with red carpet premieres and stars appearing in iconic scenes. Selected from titles too numerous to mention, there are favorites from all years and genres of film, all seamlessly brought together to resonate with our own emotional memories of the cinema.

This was the only experimental film that I saw at the Festival and it was, once again, a walk-in/time-filler. The best way I can think to describe this film is that it really was a two hour long montage. The entire movie consisted of film clips from films past. There wasn’t any dialogue over the clips, so the plot of the film had to be ascertained from the films/dialogue within the clips themselves. That said, it definitely lost the plot a bit in the middle. At one point, it went from a linear story to just jumping from genre to genre. As a result, I’d argue that it was about 30 minutes too long.
I will toss in that I sat in the seat next to the (incredibly nervous) director which added a level of suspense to the proceedings. I felt my reactions to the film were being heavily watched. Additionally, and this is my favorite story from the entire festival, during the scene focusing on people starting fights in the theater, there was practically a fight in the theater. The older couple in the back row were identifying every single movie clip/actor…loudly. A man three rows up took offense. He asked them to be quiet a few times. He got the employees involved. When neither seemed to work, he just started cursing at them and stormed out. At this point, I calmly leaned over to the director and whispered in his ear, “Life imitating art?” He got a good chuckle out of it.


#13 – Chi-Raq – Film Adaptation of a Stage Show

Chi-Raq

Spike Lee’s hip-hop musical that re-purposes Aristophanes’ Lysistrata – a comedy about a Greek heroine who leads a sex-strike to prevent war – setting it in Chicago’s South Side. Chi-Raq is the leader of the Spartans and the lover of Lysistrata. The Spartans are at war with rival gang, the Trojans, led by Cyclops. When an 11-year-old-girl is killed in the crossfire of a gang battle, Lysistrata decides to take action. On the advice of her activist neighbor Miss Helen, she convinces all the sisters, on both sides, to take a stand. Their rally cry: “No peace, no pussy”. Needless to say, deprivation undoes the men.

I have mixed feelings about this film. Unintentionally, it teased around a real-life event going on right this very second in Miami, Florida. Recently, a young girl named Jada was shot and killed in Miami. Nobody has come forward with any form of information, despite the current reward amount of $25,000 (to the film’s $5,000.) Though it isn’t Spike Lee’s fault that this happened at around the time his film was released, I do feel that it was the elephant in the room (for me at least…I doubt many people know about #JusticeForJada.) I cried throughout the entire funeral sequence. Additionally, John Cusack is in this film, as a white pastor in a black neighborhood. I felt Lee would have been doing a disservice by not addressing this, and finally, an hour and a half or so into the movie, it was addressed. The film itself was visually pleasing–a typical Spike Lee film, if you will. Lots of cursing abound. Certain bits of it were in verse, which I thought was distracting at first, but I came to enjoy it…especially from Samuel L. Jackson.
I honestly can’t tell you if it was a good movie because I was (and am) so personally affected by the story. I will say that my one wish is that it had been out two years ago so I could have tossed it into my Film Studies curriculum for my students.


#12 – Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? (Mi Yohav Oti Achshav?) – Documentary

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Saar is an Israeli living in London, driven away from his Kibbutz by his family’s response to his homosexuality and HIV-positive status, but also by his own fear of rejection. The lure of home and family is deep-rooted, however, and although he’s made a new life for himself within the close-knit, loving community of London Gay Men’s Chorus, he yearns for acceptance from his parents and siblings, in particular his stern father. Following Saar in the UK and his Israeli-based family over many years, the film constructs an intimate and nuanced portrait of a man growing up and coming to terms both with himself and his family, just as they do him.

Honestly, it was hard for me to be impartial in this film as well. Having lived in Israel (and now in London for a month,) I felt drawn to the only Israeli film in the festival. A story told almost entirely in Hebrew, I found myself grinning through the sadness as I tried to decipher what was going on without reading the subtitles. I cried in this one as well. I was 100% invested in Saar’s story and couldn’t help but root for him as he settled some long-standing issues with his family and made a decision about what his future should hold.


#11 – Trespass Against Us

TRESPASS AGAINST US

Meet the Cutler’s, a gang of thieves with an affinity for fast motors. Colby may be the king of the caravan-dwelling clan, but his heir Chad now has a family of his own and is torn between two life paths: the outlaw way, where his tightly-honed criminal skills are valued, and something else that might offer a different set of opportunities for his kids. Meanwhile, the cops are closing in. Trespass Against Us examines the pull of familial bonds and the power games that men play with each other.

Michael Fassbender was awesome in this. The accents were a smidge hard to distinguish, but I adapted by about 20 minutes in. The style of story-telling and dialogue was very similar to “In Bruges.” In no way lighthearted, it was still a fun movie to watch, despite the tough subject-matter.


#10 – Magnus – Documentary

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At 19, Magnus Carlsen became the youngest player to be ranked Number One in the world in chess. He clinched the World Championship title in 2013 just days before his 23rd birthday. This documentary charts Carlsen’s path from introverted young geek to the confident, intuitive, and victorious young man he is today. Drawing on a wealth of family home movies and ten years spent shadowing Carlsen, the director crafts a rich and moving film, where natural talent and tenacity are developed by the love and support of Carlsen’s unique family.

Suspense and tension abound. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen, despite knowing from the film’s description that he’d eventually win.


#9 – A United Kingdom – Based on a True Story

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A United Kingdom is a powerful testament to the defiant and enduring love story of Seretse Khama, King of Bechuanaland (modern Botswana) and Ruth Williams, the London office worker he married in 1948 in the face of fierce opposition from their families and the government of the time. At a London dance, there is an immediate spark of attraction when Seretse meets the independent-minded Ruth. Ignoring the opposition of friends and family, they plunge into a whirlwind romance that leads rapidly to marriage. Reality sets in when, having completed his studies, Seretse has to return to Africa to assume his duties as King. Their interracial union is seen as a slap in the face both to apartheid-riven South Africa and to the royal traditions of Seretse’s own people. As the international diplomatic crisis escalates, the British Government sets out to do everything in its power to drive the couple apart.

An interesting take on history that I knew nothing about. A delightful ensemble cast. It’s a feel-good/inspirational film designed to be a crowd-pleaser. It succeeded in that regard.


#8 – Lion – Based on a True Story

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As a boy, Saroo was an adventurous five-year-old, living with his beloved, hard-working mother and siblings in an impoverished rural township in India. One night, when out with his older brother, he falls asleep in a stationary train carriage only to be trapped on board when it departs. Days later, he arrives in Kolkata, hundreds of miles from home and entirely alone. Left to fend for himself on the overcrowded streets, Saroo eventually lands in an orphanage and is adopted by an Australian couple. 25 years later, the adult Saroo is haunted by memories of his past. When he discovers a new technology – Google Earth – he begins an obsessive search for his original family, progressively withdrawing from his adoptive parents, and his girlfriend.

As a student delegate with the festival (meaning I get in free), they wait until the last possible moment to give us whatever is left over in the theater once they’ve decided that they can’t sell anymore tickets. The way the festival schedule worked out, I ended up waiting for 4.5 hours to potentially get in. Thank goodness I did because this is the last film I wound up seeing. I thoroughly enjoyed Saroo’s physical, mental, and emotional journey as he set out to discover his origins. Dev Patel has done a few minor roles since Slumdog Millionaire and I’m glad that this was his “next big thing” as it were. I truly want him to succeed as an actor. I was a tad distracted by Nicole Kidman’s hair throughout the movie…but what are you going to do? All in all, I’m just extremely grateful that The Ghoul wasn’t my last foray into the wonders of the London Film Festival.


#7 – Tower – Documentary

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Mass campus shootings have become a tragically familiar occurrence in American life. But this wasn’t always the case. This can be traced back to an infamous act on August 1st, 1966 in Austin. On that day, a sniper at the top of the University of Texas Tower opened fire on anonymous passers-by, holding the campus hostage for 96 deadly minutes. The carnage left 16 dead, over 30 wounded and a nation traumatized. Tower masterfully combines archival footage with animation and personal testimony to depict the experiences and emotions of eyewitnesses and survivors to construct an engaging ensemble piece that blends suspense with journalistic enquiry.

This film left me rattled. I had extremely mixed feelings at the end that led me to call/text both parents to ask their thoughts. Though I knew a bit of context regarding the UT shootings, I had no idea that they were the first mass-shooting. As a Texan in a largely British (and cynical) audience, I felt proud in the beginning, which very quickly turned to shame with a sense of “Texas isn’t really like this.” Walking out of this film was the first time in my four weeks here where I got a feeling of “stranger in a strange land.”
All that said, the way in which this story is told is quite unique. It blends animation and live-action with interviews both old and new. Though a bit repetitious, when telling a story like this, it can come across as driving the point home rather than being obnoxious.


#6 – Their Finest

Their Finest Hour and A Half
Directed by Lone Sherfig

In this comedic drama Catrin, a young Welsh copy-writer enticed to London by her husband, an artist. She soon lands a job as a script editor with the Ministry of Information, hired to provide a ‘woman’s touch’ to propaganda films being made during the Blitz. Thrown into the active world of filmmaking in London in the 1940s, her confidence grows and new interests soon ignite. Their Finest addresses the poignancy and irony of the way that new opportunities became available to women during wartime.

Yes. Girl power. Boom! Go see it! =D


#5 – The Last Laugh – Documentary

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A documentary offering a thorough exploration of the adage “comedy is tragedy plus time” and other taboo topics. The Last Laugh features a roster of revelatory interviews with taboo-breaking comedians like Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman and Borat director Larry Charles, as well as clips from several infamous stand-up routines and films. Linearly, the film offers a look at the lives of concentration camp survivors; from memories of the camps, to ongoing anxieties about humor that is seen to mock personal devastation. Without picking a side, The Last Laugh addresses the elusive invisible line between socially acceptable humor and insensitivity.

Loved, LOVED, LOVED!!! Is it okay for a Christian to tell a “Jew joke?” Is it okay for a Jew to tell a “black joke?” This film does a very good job of impartially addressing the lines in comedy while simultaneously showcasing the story of a shrinking generation; that of Holocaust survivors. Do they find Jew jokes funny? Can you laugh about the Holocaust? My God, if you have a chance, go see it. I actually wanted to stay afterwards and have a chat with the director, it was that thought-provoking. Unfortunately, her five year old was in the audience and they hurried out after the Q&A. Oh well.


#4 – Arrival

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Professor of linguistics, Dr. Louise Banks, is enlisted by the US government to decipher the language of extra-terrestrials who have just landed on Earth. Accompanied by Ian Donelly, a scientist, the two are drawn together in their search for understanding as the military seems to get in their way at every turn. Arrival plays with narrative structure as Dr. Banks gets closer to comprehending the unfathomable alien messages. The story is underpinned by an extremely resonant interest in the importance of translation, not only the direct challenge of decoding this new language, but also in the forging of international cooperation between countries to prevent conflict.

I liked it. I liked it a lot. Don’t read any spoilers. Just go see it. That’s all I’m going to say.


#3 – Queen of Katwe – Based on a True Story

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The powerful true life tale of 10-year-old Phiona Mutesi’s determination to escape from poverty in Kampala, Uganda. Despite being unable to read or write, Phiona has a natural aptitude for strategic thinking and risk-taking, and once introduced to the game of chess by a football-player turned missionary, she rapidly develops her skill for the game. With his guidance, her confidence and ambition grow, and soon she is advancing through the ranks in local competitions, well on her way to becoming a chess champion.

It’s really hard to mess up a feel-good/inspirational film. Emotionally uplifting, Queen of Katwe doesn’t do so. I left the theater smiling. This is probably one of the most accessible films of the entire festival, so you’ll have no issue if you want to go see it. It won’t win any awards, but it was a delightful reminder of what fun storytelling is.


#2 – Dancer – Documentary

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Engage in the story of the rise, fall and rise again of Ukrainian prodigy Sergei Polunin, “the bad boy of ballet” and The Royal Ballet’s youngest ever principal. Dancer features a wealth of archive footage and interviews, tracing Polunin’s journey, from his childhood, through his family background and the sacrifices that were made to send him to the Royal Ballet school at the age of 13. From there it records his rise to ballet stardom, culminating in his collaboration with David LaChapelle on the remarkable music video accompanying Hozier’s Take Me to Church.

His dancing is so pretty! I had no idea. This documentary was a delicious insight to the inner-workings of not just any ballerina, but The Royal Ballet’s youngest principal ever…who then left after two years! The Hozier dance went viral a while back, so I had seen him dance before, but knowing now what his life was like, it makes the “Take me to Church” video ten times more meaningful.


#1 – The Eagle Huntress – Documentary

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A 13-year-old girl named Aisholpan causes a stir in her tribe in Mongolia by embracing the traditionally male role of Eagle Hunter rather than conforming to the traditional female roles of milking cows, cooking, and cleaning.
Shot over a 12-month period and narrated/executive produced by Daisy Ridley, this documentary reveals the true beauty of the region throughout the year, as we follow a remarkable, empowered heroine making her mark in the world, even against seemingly insurmountable odds.

Woo! Girl power AGAIN! This was the third movie I saw with the festival and I’m so glad I made the effort to get out of bed and go see it early that Monday morning. I left inspired. I left emotional. I left hoping that everyone has the chance to see this. I hope that every young woman who sets their sights on something un-traditional gets the opportunity to be inspired by her story. It’s well-paced and is quite tense at parts. It even had its comedic moments wherein I heard chuckles from the audience…and let me tell you, film critics are a tough crowd. I so hope that you get the chance to see it somehow.


Films I Didn’t Get to See:

Author: alisonlcohn

Graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Communications Advertising. Traveled a bit. Taught for two years. Administered aptitude tests for a while. Worked as a Training Associate for Guardian Mortgage and a Quiz Master for Geeks Who Drink. Obtained my Master's in Film, Television and Screen Media in London, England. Now seeking a full-time something-or-other. Nice to meet you!

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