Review: ‘Beba,’ starring Rebecca Huntt

June 24, 2022

by Carla Hay

Rebecca Huntt in “Beba” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Beba”

Directed by Rebecca Huntt

Culture Representation: The documentary “Beba” features a racially diverse group of people (African American, Latino and white) in director Rebecca Huntt’s autobiographical account of her life experiences as a young person.

Culture Clash: Huntt, who identifies as an Afro-Latina, talks about the prejudices she’s experienced in white-dominated environments, violence in her family, and her own personal flaws that have led to negativity in her life. 

Culture Audience: “Beba” will appeal primarily to people interested in a very personal and introspective documentary that tackles issues of race relations, social classes, domestic violence and self-identity.

Rebecca Huntt in “Beba” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

What does it say about a filmmaker when the first feature film directed by the filmmaker is essentially a documentary where the filmmaker talks about herself and her life? This choice and the end results often depend on who’s telling the story and how it’s told. In the case of “Beba” (the feature-film debut of director Rebecca Huntt), this unconventional autobiographical documentary comes close to being self-indulgent, but Huntt’s ability to point out her troubling personal flaws makes it a candid and fascinating story.

“Beba” had its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival, and made the rounds at several other film festivals, including the 2022 Berlin International Film Festival and the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival. “Beba” is a non-traditional documentary because the format is Huntt’s voiceover narration, with the movie’s visuals consisting mostly of photos and archival video footage from her life, with only a few interviews done specifically for the documentary. The only people interviewed are a few of Huntt’s family members and one of her former professors at Bard College.

“Beba” gets its title because it’s one of the nicknames that Huntt has had since her childhood. She says her other nicknames are Beca and Bebe. In the documentary, Huntt says that she was born in New York City on May 9, 1990. New York City is where she grew up with her parents (Juan and Veronica) and her two older siblings (Juan Carlos and Raquel).

According to Huntt, her working-class parents, who met each other in New York City in the 1970s, “sacrificed everything” so that the family could have the prestigious street address of Central Park West, where they lived in a small one-bedroom apartment that was rent-controlled. Rebecca says half-jokingly that she and her siblings were “the poorest kids on Central Park West.” Her parents had the choice to rent a larger apartment, but it was in a less-safe neighborhood where they didn’t want the family to live.

In one of the early scenes in “Beba,” she explains why she took a first-person narrative for this documentary: “You are now entering my universe. I am the lens, the subject, the authority. As the product of the new world, violence is in my DNA. I carry an ancient pain that I struggle to understand. I use it to hurt those closest to me.”

She continues, “Every one of us inherits the curses of our ancestors, but we may put an end to the cycle by constantly going to war with ourselves. I’m watching the curses of my family slowly kill us, so I’m going to war. And there will be casualties. This cannot be our legacy.”

Rebecca also describes herself as “brave, stubborn, narcissistic and chronically cruel. Existing is to hold space for all of this.” This narration takes place within the first five minutes of “Beba.” And this point so early in the movie, viewers will either be turned off or intrigued to find out more about this filmmaker who’s doing an autobiography where she will reveal unflattering and messy things about her life.

Rebecca’s comment about “going to war” isn’t about political issues. It’s about personal issues and the conflicts she has with herself, her family and other people. She explains why her family history is intertwined with who she is.

Her father’s side of the family is black and has roots in the Dominican Republic. When her paternal grandfather told people he wanted move from the Dominican Republic to the United States, he was laughed at for this idea because he was “poor and black.” At this time, it was 1965, the year of the Dominican Civil War. Rebecca’s father Juan told her vivid memories of his experiences during this period of civil unrest. When people (especially men and boys) walked outside, they had to walk with their hands up, to show that they were unarmed.

Rebecca’s paternal grandfather wanted a better life for his family. And so, in 1966 or 1967, he brought his family of nine people to New York City, where they settled in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, which has a large percentage of residents who are African American or immigrants. Rebecca describes her paternal grandfather as “illiterate” who was just as likely to be seen carrying sugar cane as he would be likely to be seen carrying a belt to whip his kids to discipline them.

Later in the movie, she talks about how domestic violence seems be an inherited curse in her family. Rebecca comments on her father, “I know him better than anyone, yet I have no idea where my father’s mannerisms come from. When I’m angry, I remind him of his father.”

Her mother’s side of the family has roots in Venezuela. Rebecca says that her mother Veronica grew up in Venezuela and studied at Pace University in New York City to escape from Veronica’s “glamorous” mother who had schizophrenia. Veronica settled permanently in New York City after meeting and marrying Juan, and their children often spent summers in Venezuela.

Growing up with parents of two different races came with its share of identity issues. Rebecca says that when she was a child, she once got into a fight with a Jamaican boy who said that Rebecca was black, and Rebecca denied it, because her mother taught her to identify only as Latin. In a documentary interview, Rebecca’s mother Veronica admits, “I’m a Latin person, and I raised my kids as a Latin person, because I don’t know anything else. I don’t know about being an American, white or black.”

The documentary also hints that Veronica could have suffered from some mental illness, since it’s revealed that Veronica used to hit herself with a belt instead of disciplining her kids. Rebecca describes her father as the parent who would get violent when disciplining her and her siblings. Rebecca says multiple times in the documentary that this domestic violence is a family curse.

Rebecca also says that she and her siblings would sometimes get violent with each other and other members of the family. Rebecca describes how her older sister Raquel once took a machete from a closet and swung it at her parents. Raquel also “[handed] me my first [marijuana] joint at age 10, to apologize for choking me until I can’t breathe.” Later in the documentary, Rebecca describes an incident where Rebecca (as an adult) choked her own mother during a vicious argument.

And there are more family feuds and dysfunction detailed in the documentary. Rebecca says, “If I am Daddy’s girl, and Juan Carlos is Mama’s boy, my sister falls into a neglected dimension I don’t even try to understand.” Rebecca then goes on to describe that Raquel graduated from boarding school but skipped college to “hop trains with junkies.”

According to Rebecca, Raquel’s life experiences include “agoraphobia, disability checks, solitary confinement, destruction and pathological lies. Now, she has two daughters of her own who will inherit our curses.”

Rebecca’s older brother Juan Carlos is also described as troubled. She shares a story of how the family went to Disney World on her seventh birthday, and she got into an argument with Juan Carlos. It was the last time that their father spoke to Juan Carlos. For the documentary, Rebecca’s father Juan still refuses to talk about Juan Carlos.

Rebecca also says for a period of two years, she and Juan Carlos stopped talking to each other. And there were feuds that Rebecca had with her mother. She says that her mother called her a “snitch.” In response, Rebecca reveals what she did at the time: “I [made] sure to call her at work the next day to tell her that she’s garbage.”

These days, Rebecca says that she and Juan Carlos are on speaking terms. However, their conversations seem to be very superficial. Rebecca says, “Juan Carlos only talks to me when a new Jay-Z album is out.”

Toward the end of the documentary, Rebecca shares what she thinks she inherited from her family’s history. On her mother’s side, Rebecca thinks she inherited “passion, resilience and crippling delusion.” On her father’s side, Rebecca thinks she inherited “courage, ambition, abuse and rage.”

But at what point should people stop blaming their parents or ancestors and take responsibility for their own lives and their own actions? It’s an existential question that seems to be a major struggle for Rebecca. She seems to want to stop the cycle of domestic violence in her family, but in the documentary, she doesn’t really say what she’s doing about it. For example, she doesn’t mention if she’s chosen to seek help through therapy or other resources.

Rebecca describes her childhood summer vacations in Venezuela (where she stayed with her mother’s relatives) as being an oasis from all the chaos she experienced at home with America. These vacations inspired her to see more of the world when she was an adult. As she says in the documentary: “I backpacked the world in search of what Venezuela gave me: freedom, unconditional love and a room of my own.”

In another childhood story, Rebecca mentions a community garden in Manhattan where she and her sister Raquel would spend time as children, but the only other people she used to see there were white. When she was a child, she found crack vials in the garden and brought them to school for an art project. She didn’t know what the crack vials were, and she got in trouble for bringing this drug paraphernalia to school. It confused her at the time because she didn’t think she did anything wrong.

In another story about her childhood school experiences, Rebecca says that when she was in fifth grade, the students had a class assignment to come to school dressed as a hero. Rebecca chose Harriet Tubman and went to school in a Harriet Tubman costume, using makeup to “make fake whip marks and broccoli to recreate a plantation.” She also brought Ken dolls with her to represent slave masters, while she had Barbie dolls and Ken dolls depicted as enslaved people. Whatever “Beba” viewers make of this story, it seems to be Rebecca’s way of saying that she had a bit of an iconoclastic streak in her at an early age.

Throughout the movie, Rebecca discusses how her identity was shaped by growing up in a working-class family of color but spending most of her education and social life in environments with mostly white people from more privileged backgrounds. It goes without saying that people who have to navigate being in very different environments often have to present themselves in different ways in order to fit in whatever environment where they want acceptance. And it’s impossible to escape from racism, no matter where people go in life.

In high school, Rebecca says she began to discover herself and what she wanted to do with her life. She says that it was through Maya Angelou’s writings that she first found out that the Afro-Latin identity exists. Rebecca also remembers that in high school, “Shakespeare lights my brain on fire, and not even the bulletproof windows in my high school can contain it.”

Comments like that make Rebecca sound pretentious, but at least she’s honest about her tendency to be pretentious. This truthful self-awareness will either make viewers want to keep watching “Beba” or want to stop watching it. For all of her admitted flaws, Rebecca seems willing to bare her life in ways where she will undoubtedly get criticism. Too often, directors who narrate documentaries about themselves aren’t willing to show the worst sides of themselves.

“Beba” also shows a perspective that isn’t seen too often in documentaries: What it’s like for an Afro-Latina from a working-class background to attend a mostly white university or college where many of the students come from affluent backgrounds. At Bard College, Rebecca was hanging out with children of millionaires.

The friends she met through Bard College included Rumer Willis (daughter of movie stars Bruce Willis and Demi Moore) and Lola Kirke (daughter of Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke), who had very different childhoods from the childhood that Rebecca experienced. “Beba” includes some footage of Rebecca, Rumer Willis and Lola Kirke hanging out somewhere outdoors and doing an acoustic performance of a song called “Cocaine Blues.”

Later in the movie, there’s a staged recreation of Rebecca and some of her unidentified white friends have a heated discussion about race and white supremacist racism. The two white men in the room seem to be the most uncomfortable when Rebecca talks about white privilege. She also makes this comment: “There is nothing honorable about trying to assimilate into a system that is designed to destroy you.” Rebecca might want to sound like Malcolm X, but there’s nothing in the movie that shows she’s an activist for civil rights. Talking is one thing. Doing is another.

Rebecca doesn’t spend a lot of the documentary’s screen time on her college friends, but she does interview a Bard College professor who made an impact on her because she was one of the few African American professors who was part of the Bard College faculty. In the movie, this professor is only identified by her first name (Annie), and she says she remembers advising Rebecca on how to conduct herself as a Bard student. Annie says that she told Rebecca that college wasn’t a utopia but a reflection of how the real world is, so she suggested to Rebecca to stop wearing belly shirts to class and start showing up on time. Later, Rebecca says that she decided to study for a semester in Ghana, in part to get more in touch with her African ancestry.

Rebecca also reveals some details about her love life. She says she lost her virginity at age 17 to an “asshole” who is not named in the movie. Later, when she was in her 20s, she had a volatile love affair with a bipolar man named Michael, who was around the same age and grew up in New York City’s Bronx borough.

In “Beba,” Rebecca bravely exposes a lot of her personal failings, emotions and struggles. Her narration is admirable for being unapologetic and not trying to be crowd-pleasing or contrived to make as many people like her as possible. What’s missing in the documentary is any clear sense of why she wanted to become a filmmaker.

Who or what inspired her the most in the cinematic arts? What types of movies does she want to make? What types of movies does she like to watch? Does she think she’ll be in it for the long haul, or is filmmaking something she’s dabbling in until something else comes along that interests her? These are questions that are never really answered in this documentary, which gives the impression that Rebecca wanted to do a lot of venting about her family rather than present a completely well-rounded self-portrait.

Perhaps at the time she made this documentary, Rebecca was still figuring out what she wants to do with her life. If she decides to do another autobiographical documentary, it will be interesting to see how much time has passed and how much she might have changed. If “Beba” is any indication, she has many more compelling things to say as a filmmaker and as a person.

Neon released “Beba” in select U.S. cinemas on June 24, 2022.

Review: ‘Marcel the Shell With Shoes On,’ starring the voice of Jenny Slate

June 21, 2022

by Carla Hay

Connie (voiced by Isabella Rossellini) and Marcel (voiced by Jenny Slate) in “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” (Image courtesy of A24)

“Marcel the Shell With Shoes On”

Directed by Dean Fleischer Camp

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the animated/live-action film “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” has a nearly all-white cast of characters (with one Latina) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A young male seashell and his grandmother, who are living by themselves in an Airbnb rental house after their other family members have gone missing, have to adjust to a new life when a documentary filmmaker moves into the house.

Culture Audience: “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” will appeal primarily to people who like quirky films that blend animation with live action.

Marcel (voiced by Jenny Slate) and Dean Fleischer Camp in “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” (Image courtesy of A24)

“Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” could have been an excessively cute film about tiny sea shells with human-like characteristics, but this unique movie is an offbeat charmer with an appealing mix of comedy and sentimentality about life and love. The movie has an artistic blend of live action and stop-motion animation that looks organic, not forced. And although there are some parts of the film that get repetitive and not all of the jokes land well, the positive aspects of “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” far outnumber any of the movie’s small flaws. “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” had its world premiere at the 2021 Telluride Film Festival and made the rounds at other film festivals, including South by Southwest (SXSW), the Seattle International Film Festival and the San Francisco International Film Festival.

The origin story of “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” is self-referenced throughout the movie, which has a plot that’s similar to how the movie’s title character first became an international sensation. In real life, filmmaker Dean Fleischer Camp and actress Jenny Slate did a series of short comedy videos called “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On,” beginning in 2010. In these videos, Slate voiced the character of Marcel, a talkative one-inch sea shell with one eye, human feet and a wryly observant and inquisitive view of life. Based on the way that Marcel talks, he has the intelligence and emotional maturity of a human boy who’s about 9 or 10 years old.

These videos about Marcel became a worldwide hit on the Internet and inspired children’s books written by Slate and Flesicher Camp. And now, there’s an entire movie about Marcel. The feature film “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On,” directed by Fleischer Camp (who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Slate and Nick Paley) takes viewers on Marcel’s often-emotional journey to find his missing family members. Marcel lives in a middle-class house somewhere in Los Angeles, where the unmarried human couple named Larissa (played by Rosa Salazar) and Mark (played by Thomas Mann), who previously occupied the house had a bitter breakup. The house is now being used as an Airbnb rental.

Marcel’s wise and practical grandmother Connie (voiced by Isabella Rossellini) is Marcel’s only family member who hasn’t gone missing. Among the those who have gone missing in Marcel’s family (they are all one-eyed small shells with feet) are Marcel’s parents Mario and Connie and Marcel’s brother Justin. What bothers Marcel and Connie the most is that they didn’t have a chance to say goodbye, and they have no idea where the other family members went. Marcel and Connie have photos and illustrations of their family members as visual mementos.

Marcel and Connie have a very close relationship. She often teaches Marcel things about life, often in answer to Marcel’s seemingly endless stream of questions. Connie and Marcel also love to watch “60 Minutes” together and are big fans of “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl. Marcel describes Connie as very independent and resourceful. For example, Marcel says that Connie taught herself how to farm. Connie also loves to garden and spends a lot of her time in the home’s garden.

At times, Marcel has a childlike wonder and curiosity about the modern world. Other times, he has a simple clarity about how to react to difficulties or problems because he doesn’t have as much emotional baggage or insecurity as someone who is an adult. Throughout the movie, there are whimsical moments and more serious moments where Marcel’s personality and quirks get various reactions to those around him.

In the beginning of the movie, Marcel says that he and Connie are living by themselves in the house, along with their pet lint named Alan. Their solitude ends when an Airbnb renter moves into the house with his white terrier mix dog named Arthur. He’s a mild-mannered filmmaker named Dean Fleischer-Camp (playing a version of himself), who needs a new place to stay because he has recently separated from his wife. In a case of art imitating life, Slate and Fleischer Camp (who used to spell his surname as Fleischer-Camp) got married in 2012 and then got divorced in 2016.

As expected, Marcel is curious about the house’s new human resident, and the feeling is mutual. It takes Marcel much longer to get used to Arthur, Dean’s dog, since Marcel is sometimes annoyed by how the dog smells and keeps interrupting Marcel like a curious and playful dog would do. Marcel shows Dean around the house, including the potted plant where Marcel sleeps on a slice of bread. Marcel describes where he sleeps as his “breadroom.”

Marcel might seem like a precocious child, but he doesn’t know a lot about modern technology. Dean tells Marcel that he’s making an online documentary. Marcel’s response is “Online? You lost me.” Eventually, Dean shows Marcel how the Internet works when Dean begins posting videos of Marcel online. The videos become an international sensation, with Marcel developing a huge fan base. (Sound familiar?)

Marcel is overwhelmed and often flabbergasted by all this newfound attention. However, he thinks it can be put to good use when he asks Dean to help get the word out about Marcel’s missing family members. You can easily predict which TV news show might get involved. Someone who doesn’t really want to get too caught up in the fanfare is Connie, who is very skeptical of the Internet and all modern technology.

The first third of “Marcel the Shell With the Shoes On” seems like a series of skits weaved together, with a lot of wisecracking remarks from Marcel, as he and Dean start to get to know each other and eventually become friends. The other two-thirds of the movie begin to have more substance when it story focuses more on the search for Marcel’s family members. The movie has themes of love, heartbreak and grief that are handled with sensitivity without being mawkish.

For example, Marcel begins to notice after a while that Dean is very curious about Marcel, but Dean is very reluctant to talk about himself. And it’s not just because Dean wants to be an journalistic documentarian. Dean is having difficulty processing the breakup of his marriage.

Dean’s preoccupation with Marcel’s problems are a way for him to cope or avoid his own personal problems. The movie doesn’t fully show Dean on camera until a pivotal part of the story when he’s essentially forced to talk about himself. It’s a clever way that the movie has Dean “coming out of the shadows” that reflect his own willingness to be open up more about himself and show more vulnerability. Fleischer Camp gives a solid performance, but the character of Dean seems to know that Marcel is the real star of the show.

“Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” has terrific voice work from Slate and Rossellini, who make an endearing and believable duo as a grandparent and grandchild. Connie isn’t a new character, but this movie is the first time that Connie gets her own backstory and story arc. Not everything in “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” is comedic, since the movie has some tearjerking moments that might catch some viewers by surprise. In a cinematic era when animated/live-action hybrid films are so focused on dazzling viewers with big adventures that are visual spectacles, it’s nice to have a movie like “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” that focuses more on everyday emotional connections and appreciating loved ones during life’s difficulties.

A24 will release “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” in select U.S. cinemas on June 24, 2022, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on July 15, 2022.

Review: ‘The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks,’ starring Rosa Parks, LisaGay Hamilton, Carolyn Williamson Green, Lonnie McCauley, Jeanne Theoharis, Georgette Norman and Keisha Nicole Blain

June 20, 2022

by Carla Hay

Rosa Parks at the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March in “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” (Photo courtesy of Getty Images/Peacock)

“The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks”

Directed by Yoruba Richen and Johanna Hamilton

Culture Representation: The documentary film “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” features a nearly all-African American group (with one white person) of historians, activists, family members and associates discussing the life and legacy of civil rights icon Rosa Parks.

Culture Clash: Even though she was world-famous, Parks refused to profit from her fame, as she was sometimes disrespected within the civil rights movement because of her gender and her age. 

Culture Audience: “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” will appeal primarily to people who want to see a comprehensive documentary about an important public figure in the U.S. civil rights movement.

Rosa Parks at the 1968 Poor People’s March on Washington in “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” (Photo courtesy of Getty Images/Peacock)

“The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” follows a conventional documentary format, but it’s still a well-made biography that should be informative for people who know very little about civil rights icon Rosa Parks. Directed by Yoruba Richen and Johanna Hamilton, “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” is based on author Jeanne Theoharis’ 2013 biography of the same title. Thoharis is one of the people interviewed in the movie. In the documentary, portions of Parks’ letters and memoir are read as narration by actress LisaGay Hamilton. “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.”

Unless someone is a Rosa Parks expert, people who watch “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” will find out something new about Parks that they didn’t already know. Parks is most famous for an act that is widely credited with sparking the racial civil rights movement in the United States: On December 1, 1955, when she was 42 years old, Parks refused to give up her bus seat for a white man on a bus in downtown Montgomery, Alabama, and she was arrested for it.

This arrest happened during a shameful time in U.S. history when white supremacist racial segregation was legal. If white people and non-white people were gathered in the same space, such as on a bus, a white person could legally demand to make the non-white person move. During this Jim Crow racial segregation era, anyone who wasn’t white had to sit in designated seats in the back of the bus and could sometimes sit in the middle section of a bus, as long as white people allowed them to sit there. Parks’ act of standing up for herself and refusing to give in to a racist law inspired the U.S. civil rights movement to grow and move forward.

“The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” tells Parks’ life story in mostly chronological order. However, the movie (which announces a pivotal year in big and bold letters that take up the entire screen) occasionally jumps around the timeline when it goes more in-depth about a certain landmark event in the civil rights movement, to put an emphasis on how this event related to Parks’ life. (Parks died in 2005, at the age of 92.) “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” has the expected mix of archival footage and new interviews that were done exclusively for the documentary.

Parks had a soft-spoken and unassuming way about her that endeared her to a lot of people. However, one of the myths that this documentary aims to dispel is that Parks’ humble image should not be mistaken for Parks being a passive people-pleaser. “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” makes it clear that she was all about disrupting anything to do with white supremacist racism. And far from being a pacifist, she believed that people of color needed to physically defend themselves and fight back if necessary.

The movie also explains how Parks had to come to terms with and overcome her own racism. Because of violent bullying that she experienced by white people in her youth, she spent much of her youth fearing and hating white people. It wasn’t until she got involved in the civil rights movement, when she saw how many white allies were willing to fight for the same causes, that Parks changed her views and came to understand that not all white people were “the enemy.”

Parks was born as Rosa Louise McCauley in Tuskegee, Alabama, on February 4, 1913. Her early views on race relations were influenced by racism she experienced and hearing about the horrible treatment that her biracial maternal grandfather received throughout his life, when he wasn’t completely accepted by white people or black people. Her maternal grandfather Sylvester, who could pass for white, was the son of a white plantation owner named John Edwards and an enslaved African American woman who worked in the plantation owner’s house.

Both of Sylvester’s parents died when he was very young, so he was sent to live with African American relatives. Carolyn Williamson Green, a cousin of Parks, comments in the documentary on Sylvester: “He looked white, but he wasn’t afraid of white people” Williamson Green adds that because Sylvester was often harassed for being biracial, he passed on to his family a strong sense of not putting up with bad treatment from anyone. He kept a gun with him at all times and taught his family how to defend themselves.

Sylvester married a woman named Rose, and they both helped raise their grandchildren Rosa (the future Rosa Parks) and Sylvester when the kids’ parents split up. The elder Sylvester was the father of the children’s mother Leona (a teacher), who was married to a carpenter named James McCauley. By all accounts, Rosa was very protective of her younger brother Sylvester, although their relationship at times became strained later when they were adults.

In an era when African American kids weren’t expected to complete an education past sixth grade, Rosa’s mother Leona insisted that Rosa continue her education at a private school called Ms. White’s, which was an all-girls school for African Americans. The documentary mentions that this school had a tremendous impact on Rosa, because it further taught her not think of herself as inferior or set limits for herself because of her race. She graduated from high school during a time when most African Americans could not.

Georgette Norman, former director of the Rosa Parks Museum, says that Rosa knew from an early age that the racist Jim Crow laws (which were especially prevalent in the South) could only be changed when the oppressed fought back: “Rosa got the idea [of] ‘I want to change that what makes me have to need to be protected.’ White supremacy was the threat.”

Rosa met her future husband Raymond in 1931. By all accounts, he was the first political activist she ever met. And she wasn’t very attracted to him at first because he was a light-skinned black man who could pass for white. Rosa thought that the man she would marry would have much darker skin.

However, Raymond won over Rosa with his intelligence, compassion and willingness to treat her like an equal. The couple married in 1932 and had no children. After she became world-famous, people in the documentary say that Raymond didn’t mind being overshadowed by Rosa whenever they would go out in public together. It was through Raymond that Rosa got involved with the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), one of the earliest national groups to spur the U.S. civil rights movement.

Rosa became a secretary for the NAACP’s Montgomery chapter by accident, when the regular secretary didn’t show up for the chapter’s election day, so Rosa was voted into the position instead. The documentary mentions that this secretary position was a catalyst that inspired Rosa to become a more outspoken activist. Along with other members of the NAACP, including NAACP Montgomery chapter chairman E.D. Nixon (one of Rosa’s early civil rights mentors), she helped fight for justice in many cases where African Americans were unjustly treated.

These cases included the Scottsboro Boys case where nine African American teenagers and young men who were falsely accused of raping by two white women 1931); Recy Taylor, a sharecropper’s wife who was gang raped by white men in 1944 in Abbeville, Alabama; and the brutal murder a Emmett Till, a 15-year-old boy who was viciously tortured, lynched and slaughtered after being accused of whistling at a white woman in Drew, Mississippi. One of the NAACP’s victories was helping in the defense of Joan Little, who was found not guilty of murder in the 1974 death of a white prison guard whom Little said she killed in self-defense when he tried to rape her.

In the case of rape survivor Taylor, whom Rosa had to interview for NAACP evidence testimony, Rosa was personally invested, because Rosa was also a victim of a sex crime. In a letter that Rosa wrote and is read in the documentary, she describes how she was nearly raped by a white man, who only stopped after Rosa told him that he would have to kill her if he was going to rape her. In other words, she warned him that she was prepared to fight to her death if he was going to try to violate her.

As historian Robin D.G. Kelley tells it: “One of the biggest myths in the Black Freedom movement is that non-violence is a default position. That’s not true. It’s the other way around. And Rosa Parks grew up in a movement culture where armed self-defense was simply taken for granted.”

Rev. James Watson, a former Detroit city council member, adds this comment: “Mother Parks supported self-defense. She couldn’t have been a supporter of the Republic of New Afrika had she not been. To her, there was no conflict in supporting Imari Obadele [Republic of New Africa president], Robert F. Williams and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whom she loved. She saw that as the same line of freedom fighting. She was holistic in her approach to the right of all people to be free.”

Rosa was also heavily involved in the movement getting more black citizens registered to vote and acting on their right to vote. It wasn’t easy, when voter suppression based on race was not only blatant but also legal. Many people believe that legal voter suppression that targets mostly people of color still exists today. Rosa also led several NAACP Youth Council groups. Doris Crenshaw, Elaine Huffman and Rosalyn O. King—three interviewees in the documentary who were part of these youth groups—have nothing but praise for Rosa.

What many people might not know is that Rosa was not the first person the NAACP considered backing after being arrested for not giving up a bus seat for a white person. As has been reported elsewhere and repeated in the documentary, a 15-year-old girl named Claudette Colvin, who was a member of a Rosa Parks-led NAACP youth group, was arrested for not sitting at the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, on March 5, 1955.

At first, the NAACP seemed to be willing to give major public support in Colvin’s defense. Ultimately, the NAACP declined to put its clout behind Colvin’s case. African American historian Keisha Nicole Blaine explains in the documentary: “At the age of 15, they did not think she would make a good witness, that she would not be reliable. Some people described her as being a bit rebellious and feisty. And Claudette Colvin was a dark-skinned black girl. There was colorism.”

Rosa fit the profile of what the NAACP needed as a symbol for the civil rights movement: She was a middle-aged, married woman who was well-respected in her community and looked non-threatening. It made her arrest look even more like racist bullying. She was already well-informed about peaceful ways to protest and to be an activist. And she was also an insider at the NAACP. Williamson Green adds, “Her quietness was her strength.”

Rosa was arrested during other civil rights protests, but her 1955 arrest for not giving up her bus seat was what catapulted her into the international spotlight. The arrest inspired the widespread bus boycotts in Alabama and other parts of the U.S. where racial segregation was still legal and enforced. The NAACP helped with planning and scheduling carpools that African Americans could take instead of public transportation that had racist segregation.

The boycotts spread to other racially segregated businesses and were instrumental in the progress on legislation that resulted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law that made it illegal to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. These successful boycotts are an example of how oppressors often don’t change their ways until they get hurt financially. Rosa and Raymond eventually settled in the Detroit area in the mid-1960s.

The documentary rightfully points out that even with all of Rosa’s accomplishments in the civil rights movement, Rosa and other women experienced prejudice within the movement. At civil rights protests and rallies in the 1950s and 1960s, women were rarely allowed to give speeches. And if they did get to say anything resembling a speech, their speech time was very limited, while the men were allowed to give long speeches.

Over the years, Rosa received many accolades, awards and honorary university degrees for her civil rights activism. For example, the U.S. Congress named her as “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement.” She became a close ally of civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, who were both murdered at 39 years old. (King died in 1968, while Malcolm X died in 1965.) However, the documentary mentions multiple times that Rosa (whose day jobs were mostly being a housecleaner or a secretary/administrative assistant) never tried to get rich from her fame. She turned down many lucrative offers and gifts.

In fact, Rosa and her husband Raymond sometimes lived in poverty. Theoharis says in the documentary that in 1959, the couple’s tax return reported a combined income of only $700. In addition, Rosa often lived for years in obscurity after becoming a civil rights activist. For example, after a “where are they now” type of article was published about Rosa and reported that she was living in poverty, donations poured in from around the world to help her and Raymond with their financial problems.

Rosa’s niece Rhea McCauley says that Rosa had the type of personality where Rosa wouldn’t complain about personal problems, and she would to be too proud to ask for financial help: “Auntie Rosa never discussed financial hardships. You would not know she was hungry, for instance. You wouldn’t know that she couldn’t pay this bill.”

Raymond was a barber as his main money-making profession. Vonzie Whitlow, who used to be Raymond’s barber apprentice, is one of the people interviewed in the documentary. It’s an example of how the documentary goes a little bit off-topic, but it takes up such a small amount of time that it’s not a major flaw.

As mentioned in the documentary, Rosa didn’t get her first paying full-time job in politics until 1965, when she became a secretary for John Conyers Jr., a U.S. Representative from Michigan. She held the job until 1988. Conyers died in 2019. The documentary has an archival TV news interview of Conyers that was conducted when Rosa and Conyers worked together. In the interview, Conyers says he was in awe of Rosa and looked up to her, even though he was her boss. And it wasn’t until 1992 that she published a memoir: “Rosa Parks: My Story,” which she wrote with Jim Haskins.

But even the great Rosa Parks was not immune to ageism. Years after Rosa and Raymond settled in the Detroit area, civil rights activist Joe Madison worked with Rosa in the NAACP’s Detroit chapter. He tells a story in the documentary about how he and Rosa wanted to be running mates for the chapter’s open leadership positions, but several members thought that Rosa was too old for the job. Madison and Rosa didn’t win in their campaign, but Madison says it was a huge honor for Rosa to be his running mate.

Other people interviewed in the documentary include Rosa’s great-nephew Lonnie McCauley; activists Bree Newsome, Dan Aldridge, Ericka Huggins, Barbara Smith, Bryan Stevenson, Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, Dorothy Aldridge and Patrisse Cullors; historians Francis Gourrier and Mary Frances Berry; journalists Herb Boyd and Tiffany Cross; and Ed Vaughn, founder of Vaughn’s Bookstore, an African American-oriented bookstore in Detroit where Rosa and Raymond Parks were frequent customers.

Rosa had a life of triumphs and tragedies. The documentary mentions how cancer claimed the lives of her husband Raymond, her brother Sylvester and her mother Leona—all within a two-year period. Raymond died in August 1977, Sylvester passed away in November 1977, and Leona died in December 1979. Rosa also survived a brutal home invasion assault and robbery in 1994. The attacker was convicted of the crime.

An example of how Rosa had periods of obscurity is shown in the documentary’s opening scene, which features Rosa in a 1980 episode of “To Tell the Truth,” a game show where three people claim to be the same person, and celebrity contestants have to guess which one out of the three is telling the truth about their identity. In this episode, the contestants were entertainers Nipsey Russell, Tiiu Leek, Kitty Carlisle and Gordon Jump. Three women, including the real Rosa Parks, claimed to be Rosa Parks.

Leek and Carlisle incorrectly guessed someone else was Rosa, while Jump made the correct guess. Russell abstained from voting because he says he already knew who Rosa was since they were both involved in the civil rights movement. The fact that half of the contestants didn’t know who Rosa was is an example of how many people didn’t really recognize her.

Unfortunately, they’re not unusual, since there are probably millions of people in America who have never heard of Rosa Parks—or if they’ve heard of her, they’re not quite sure what her claim to fame is. Keep in mind that most people in America can’t even name the politicians who represent their state in the U.S. Senate. However ignorant or knowledgeable people are about the civil rights movement in the U.S., the documentary “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” is a worthy history lesson for anyone who wants to learn more about this impassioned activist who made a positive impact on the lives of countless people.

Peacock will premiere “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” in 2022, on a date to be announced.

Review: ‘God’s Time,’ starring Ben Groh, Dion Costelloe and Liz Caribel Sierra

June 20, 2022

by Carla Hay

Ben Groh in “God’s Time” (Photo by Jeff Melanson)

“God’s Time”

Directed by Daniel Antebi

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the comedy film “God’s Time” features a racially diverse cast of characters (Asian, white, Latino and African American) representing the working-class and the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two best friends, who met each other in an addiction recovery support group, try to stop a woman in their support group from murdering her ex-boyfriend. 

Culture Audience: “God’s Time” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching rambling “race against time” movies where the potential and talent of the cast members cannot overcome low-quality filmmaking.

The smug and idiotic comedy “God’s Time” is a waste of time in how it inexcusably bungles a simple but over-used slapstick concept of two friends on a wacky “life or death” mission. Sloppily written and directed by Daniel Antebi, the basic premise of “God’s Time” is about two male best friends who try to stop a woman from murdering her ex-boyfriend. There’s not as much action in “God’s Time” as the concept suggests, because too much of the film has repetitive and dull scenes of people in support group meetings for addiction recovery.

“God’s Time” doesn’t get going with any real action until the last third of the movie. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing if it’s to build up suspense, and if the action in the movie delivers in a way that’s unique and memorable. But the action that comes very late in the movie is poorly staged and written in such an amateurish way, any hope gets squashed that “God’s Time” will go out with a bang. The end of the movie can barely muster a whimper. “God’s Time,” which is Antebi’s feature-film directorial debut, had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

The two best pals in “God’s Time” (which was filmed on location in New York City) are two men in their 20s named Dev (played by Ben Groh) and Luca (played by Dion Costelloe), who are both aspiring actors. You might as well just call them Dumb and Dumber, because that’s how Dev and Luca act in this movie. Dev is the story’s narrator, and he frequently talks directly to the camera to spew a lot of self-indulgent gibberish.

Dev explains early on in the movie that he and Luca met in a support group meeting for recovering drug addicts. They’ve been best friends ever since. They go on auditions together, they help each other rehearse for auditions, and they go to support group meetings.

Luca and Dev apparently have nothing else going on in their lives but going to support group meetings and going to auditions. That’s how boring these two shallow pals are in this movie. The movie never explains how these two unemployed and unsuccessful wannabe actors make money.

Dev thinks of himself as being more of a rebel than Luca. For example, the two friends have an upcoming audition where Dev is going up for the role of a firefighter named Rico from Staten Island. Luca thinks that Dev should cut Dev’s long-ish hair for the role, so Dev could look more like a firefighter. However, Dev refuses to cut his hair. Dev is also frequently annoyed that his Indian heritage is often mistaken for being Latino. The movie has some unfunny jokes about Dev’s ethnicity being misidentified.

The beginning of “God’s Time” actually starts off with a promising scene. Dev, Luca and some other people in their support group are gathered for a meeting. A very outspoken and opinionated member of the group is Regina (played by Liz Caribel Sierra), who is also in her 20s. Regina makes a point of bitterly mentioning in every meeting how she was betrayed by an ex-boyfriend named Russell about a year ago.

Regina, whose name is pronounced in the Spanish-language way (“re-hee-na”), angrily repeats in every meeting the details of what went wrong in this doomed relationship: Regina let Russell temporarily stay at her place while he was recovering from spleen surgery. Two months into this temporary stay, things went horribly wrong, but what they argued about remains unclear.

As Regina tells it: “The aforementioned dirtbag kicked me out of my own place and took my little dog Parranda.” Regina likes to show photos of the dog, which is a Boxer. Dev looks into the camera and says after Regina tells her sob story in yet another meeting: “Yo, it’s all true. I remember the day he kicked her out.”

The movie has a montage of Regina in different meetings telling similar versions of the same story. Even though Regina says some hateful things about Russell, such as wishing that she could kill him or that we would die some other way, she always ends her rant by saying that she is praying for Russell. “And I have faith he’ll die in God’s time,” she concludes.

Dev has his own confession, which he only tells to the camera: He’s secretly in love with Regina. As time goes on, it’s obvious that Regina knows that she’s very attractive and that Dev has feelings for her. Regina uses her good looks to manipulate the men who are attracted to her. She’s also a habitual liar.

During another support group meeting, Regina goes on her usual diatribe against Russell. And once again, she says she’s going to kill him. But this time, she doesn’t end her rant by saying that Russell will die “in God’s time.” This omission freaks out Dev, who’s convinced that Regina is going to murder Russell soon, especially when Dev find out that Regina plans to leave town the next day.

Unfortunately, the movie wastes a lot of time to get to that point. There are some dumb shenanigans with Dev and Luca canceling and rescheduling callbacks for an important audition because they get caught up in trying to find out what Regina is going to do. During one of the many scenes that show Dev and Luca in support group meetings, Luca announces that if he doesn’t get the job in his next audition, he’s probably going to quit acting. No one in the support group really cares, and neither will viewers of this garbage movie.

At one point, Dev and Luca end up stalking Regina. She has told people that she works as a “life coach,” and she meets with clients in their homes. However, Dev and Luca find out that in her “life coach” session with a client, she’s really doing cocaine with a middle-aged man (played by Harry Bouvy), who doesn’t have a name in the movie. He lives in an Upper West Side building that has a doorman. It’s implied that Regina is a sex worker because she and her client are shown snorting cocaine in their underwear.

It all just leads to a silly scene where Dev and Luca sneak into to the apartment where Regina’s coke-snorting client lives, so that Dev and Luca can find Regina when she’s there. The two bumbling buddies tell the building doorman Robert (played by John Pope) that they are Gentile assistants hired by their Jewish client named Mr. Goldstein, who doesn’t want to do anything on the Sabbath, due to strict Orthodox Jewish beliefs. The doorman uses a key to let them into the apartment, where Regina has already left, unbeknownst to Dev and Luca.

The man’s wife, whose name is Mrs. Levy (played by Emily Fleischer), comes home, sees Dev and Luca with her partially undressed husband, who has cocaine on his nose. She incorrectly assumes that Dev and Luca are gigolos who were hired by her husband. “How long have you been fucking my husband?” she screeches as she maces Dev. Luca and Dev then make a hasty exit. That’s what’s supposed to be one of the movie’s funny slapstick scenes.

What’s so stupid about this scene is that no doorman who wants to keep his job would let strangers into an apartment unit without verifying first that it was authorized by someone who lives there. When the enraged wife finds out how these two bozos got into the apartment, she screams at the doorman: “Do I look fucking Jewish?” This anti-Semitic reaction from a woman named Mrs. Levy reveals that Dev and Luca also used the wrong name to get into the apartment, which makes the doorman and this movie look even more idiotic.

It gets worse. The movie throws in a subplot about Dev thinking that he’s being stalked by someone who was in a road rage incident with Dev. While Dev and Luca are on a subway, Dev happens to see this man nearby (but he doesn’t see them), so an anxious Dev tells Luca about this incident.

A flashback shows that when Dev was riding his bicycle on a residential street, a truck driver cut him off. The two men started cursing at each other. Dev then threw a plastic bottle of his urine into the man’s truck and sped off. Dev is convinced that the man is now trying to find Dev and get revenge.

Regina lives with her single (possibly widowed) mother, who’s identified in the movie as Mrs. Reyes (played by Sol Miranda), who has the misfortune of encountering Dev and Luca, as these two imbeciles become more obnoxious as the movie continues. Regina isn’t home when Dev and Luca show up at her house. And you know what that means. Expect to see at least one very predictable break-in scene by these two moronic clowns, who race around New York City trying to find Regina and Russell.

By the time Russell (played by Jared Abrahamson) shows up in the inevitable confrontation with Regina, some secrets are revealed that are very underwhelming and unimaginative. The entire nonsensical execution of this concept relies heavily on the flimsy assumption that viewers are supposed to believe that Dev never tried to find out what Russell looks like before Dev and Luca go on a mad “race against time” to prevent Russell from being killed. That’s why any surprises that come in the movie look too phony and hard to believe.

In addition to Dev’s tiresome comments when he talks to the camera, “God’s Time” over-uses irritating effects, such as slowing down and distorting people’s voices during the action scenes. Because the movie takes too long to get to the main concept, “God’s Country” looks like it could have been a short film, but with a lot of filler to stretch out the movie to its 83-minute run time. The movie’s outtake scenes that are shown during the end credits just prove that these scenes shouldn’t have been in this already dreadful movie.

The grating performances by Groh and Costelloe could have been more engaging if they had a better screenplay and better character development. Forget about learning more about who Dev and Luca are as people. This movie has no significant backstories for them or any indications of who else in their personal lives get quality time with them outside of the support group.

It’s briefly mentioned Dev’s mother in an Indian immigrant, and he used to live in Kentucky. Luca quickly mentions his own father a few times. That’s it. Dev and Luca are written as utter fools who don’t have much about them to like, and they aren’t even entertaining in their buffoonery.

Sierra’s performance as Regina has flashes of very good comedic timing. However, the Regina character is written in a way that’s almost misogynistic. Dev and Luca go out of their way to be her “rescuers” (Luca’s motivations are later explained in the movie), but Regina is really nothing more than a selfish, arrogant and dishonest brat. Other than Regina’s good looks, the movie never explains why Dev is so “in love” with Regina, since she doesn’t seem to care about anyone but herself and maybe her dog.

Dev and Luca know about Regina’s continued drug use, which is never adequately addressed, other than Regina giving a relapse confession (with insincere-looking tears) during one of the many support group meetings that keep disrupting what should have been a better flow for this unevenly paced movie. The people in these support group meetings are written in generic and forgettable ways, with adequate acting from the people in these roles. “God’s Time” is more concerned about staging self-congratulatory scenes with bad gags instead of crafting memorable characters.

“God’s Time” looks like it’s trying to be a dark comedy, but there’s too much goofy nonsense for this movie to have any edge. If anyone wants to see a well-acted and edgy dark comedy set in New York City, with a “race against time” plot and a similar title, then a much better option is 2017’s “Good Time,” directed by Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie, and starring Robert Pattinson. “God’s Time” is an unfortunate misfire where the filmmakers forgot that in a movie whose concept is a chase comedy, audiences should care about at least one the main characters, the screenplay and direction should be solid, and it shouldn’t take too long to get to the chase scenes.

Review: ’88’ (2022), starring Brandon Victor Dixon, Naturi Naughton, Thomas Sadoski, Michael Harney, Amy Sloan, Orlando Jones and William Fichtner

June 19, 2022

by Carla Hay

Thomas Sadoski and Brandon Victor Dixon in “88” (Photo by Paul De Lumen)

“88” (2022)

Directed by Eromose

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in the Los Angeles area, sometime before the primaries of the 2024 U.S. presidential election, the dramatic film “88” features a racially diverse cast of characters (African American, white, with some Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A Super PAC (political action committee), which is raising funds for a Democratic candidate for the 2024 U.S. presidential election, finds itself embroiled in political intrigue and potential scandal when the Super PAC’s financial director finds out the source of the majority of the donations received by the Super PAC. 

Culture Audience: “88” will appeal primarily to people interested in a tension-filled political thrillers that have good acting and realistic discussions of race relations.

Brandon Victor Dixon, Naturi Naughton and Jeremiah King in “88” (Photo by Paul De Lumen)

With compelling performances and an absorbing story, the intriguing drama “88” succeeds in its intention to get viewers to think about how U.S. political campaign fundraising is directly tied to race relations in America. The movie has some minor flaws—the pacing drags in a few sections, and some of the dialogue is a little hokey—but these flaws are far outweighed by the above-average acting, realistic conversations and the riveting direction of the movie, which takes viewers on various twists and turns. “88” had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

Nigerian British filmmaker Eromose wrote, directed and edited “88,” which packs in a lot of issues without being too overstuffed. Eromose (whose real name is Thomas Ikimi) is also one of the producers of “88,” which takes place in the Los Angeles area sometime before the primaries of the 2024 U.S. presidential election. The movie’s protagonist is the smart, talented and ambitious Femi Jackson (played by Brandon Victor Dixon), who has recently become the financial director of a Super PAC (political action committee) called One USA. At the moment, One USA’s main focus is supporting a Democractic Party candidate named Harold Roundtree (played by Orlando Jones), who is the Democractic Party frontrunner for the 2024 U.S. presidential election.

Femi and his wife Maria Jackson (played by Naturi Naughton) are happily married and live a comfortable, middle-class existence. It’s mentioned briefly in the beginning of the movie that Femi and Maria have applied for a mortgage loan. Maria, who works as a bank loan manager, is about eight or nine months pregnant when the movie begins. Femi and Maria are expecting their second child together and have decided to wait until the birth to find out the child’s gender. Maria and Femi have an adorable 9-year-old son named Ola (played by Jeremiah King), who eventually becomes the center of a disagreement that Femi and Maria have about teaching Ola the realities of being a black male in America.

Femi admires Harold so much, he listens to Harold’s speeches when Femi does workout exercises. It’s shown in the movie’s opening scene when Femi is on his exercise bike at home, while a recording of one of Harold’s speeches that he gave at a factory can be heard playing loudly. Femi isn’t an ardent supporter of Harold just because both men happen to be African American. Femi thinks that Harold (who can be described as a moderate Democrat) has political values that are completely in line with Femi’s political values.

Harold says in the speech that Femi is listening to while on the exercise bike: “I was the first person in my family to go to college. My great-grandfather was a slave.” Harold then goes on to mention that Harold’s father and grandfather worked at the same factory where Harold is giving the speech, However, Harold says that his father and grandfather barely made living wages at the factory because they both lived in the Jim Crow era of legal racial segregation that treated anyone who wasn’t white as second-class citizens.

Harold then says in his speech: “I am the architect of my own destiny! I want to give every American the opportunity to be all they can be, to make a stronger home, to make a stronger America.” The assembled crowd can be heard giving enthusiastic cheers and applause after this speech.

Femi’s hero worship of Harold is not shared by everyone in the Jackson household. Maria has political leanings that are more left-wing and more progressive than Femi’s political beliefs. She doesn’t discourage Femi from working to get Harold elected, but she’s skeptical of Harold as a political candidate. It’s not mentioned which candidate (if any) Maria is supporting in this presidential election, but it’s definitely not Harold. Maria is also worried that Femi might be becoming too much of a workaholic in his campaign work for Harold.

The spouses’ different political views can be heard in a conversation early on in the movie. Femi and Ola are big fans of the blockbuster “Black Panther” franchise, based on the Marvel Comics, about an African king superhero named T’Challa (also known as Black Panther) and his colleagues from the fictional African country of Wakanda. When Femi and Ola say the catch phrase “Wakanda Forever!” (which was made popular in the 2018 “Black Panther” movie) and give the Wakanda handshake, it sets off Maria, who is uncomfortable with Ola and Femi being fans of the “Black Panther” franchise.

Maria has issues with “Black Panther” because she feels the stories in the franchise don’t show enough of the Wakandan leaders helping fellow Africans. Maria and Femi have a spirited debate about the merits of the “Black Panther” franchise and how much (or how little) it can be perceived as empowering to black people. When Femi argues that the franchise has made a fortune worth billions, Maria then counters with this statement: “For whom?” It’s her way of saying that even in entertainment that centers on black people, white people make the most money from it.

If this is the type of conversation that makes you uncomfortable, and you don’t want to watch a movie that has this type of discussion, then you might not like “88” very much. The movie has even more uncomfortable and sometimes disturbing conversations about how white supremacy and racism affect many aspects of everyday life. It’s a very thought-provoking film about how insidious and how deep the poison of racism goes in manipulating the outcomes of political elections.

And on a less frequent level, “88” has some discussion about prejudices within the African American community. Femi and his father were born in the United States, and Femi’s mother is a Nigerian immigrant. Femi tells Maria in one of their debates over race and nationality that he’s not going to consider himself less American, just because he has an immigrant mother and Maria’s ancestors were enslaved people in America. Although “88” doesn’t go into the hot-button topic of U.S. reparations for the descendants of enslaved people in the U.S., this conversation between Maria and Femi brings up the complicated issue of who is a “real American,” and how race and nationality of origin affect people’s definitions of being a “real American.”

Aside from some tensions in his otherwise stable marriage, Femi is dealing with an ongoing health issue: He’s a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for an unspecified period of time. At his job, Femi is visited by his unnamed addiction recovery sponsor (played by Kenneth Choi), who is also a recovering addict. The two men have a candid discussion about race, including how Asians and black people are perceived differently by each other and by racist white people. They both agree that racism can come from people of any race, but not everyone is racist.

Femi thinks his job is going smoothly, and he’s very proud of what One USA has been able to accomplish by raising millions in campaign funds for Harold. It’s shown in the movie that One USA has about 20 people working the phones in its non-descript Los Angeles-area headquarters. Harold’s campaign has recently gotten a haul of $40 million in donations from One USA. And that amount has come under scrutiny in the media.

While driving to work, Femi listens to the radio and hears two talk radio hosts wondering suspiciously if the money came from a secret super PAC. The movie also shows several scenes of Harold being interviewed by a TV journalist named Ron Holt (played by William Fitchner), who has a talk show that looks similar to the self-titled PBS show that used to be hosted by disgraced TV journalist Charlie Rose. Ron digs hard at Harold to try to get Harold to slip up and reveal any flaws. However, slick-talking Harold always seems to have an answer that makes Harold look honest and admirable, but always with a hint that maybe Harold is not revealing everything about himself.

The two biggest donors to Harold’s campaign are the non-profit groups Independence.nyc and Future Movement Frontiers. Donations from both of these groups account for about 75% of Harold’s campaign funds that were raised by One USA. As explained in an animated clip shown on Ron’s TV show, big-money donors launder their money through non-profits, which then donate to Super PACs. The non-profit groups don’t have to report these donations to the Federal Elections Committee (FEC) because these particular non-profit groups have 501 (c) (4) tax status.

The big mystery in the movie has to do with Femi discovering how and why 75% of the donations are coming from Independence.nyc and Future Movement Frontiers, which are relatively small non-profit groups. Femi emails some computer files to his friend Ira Goldstein (played by Thomas Sadoski), a former investment management executive who is now a financial investigative blogger. Femi asks Ira for his opinion on what he thinks is going on with these financial figures. Femi says, “Whoever is doing this, they’re masking their donations through the non-profits, packaging them, and then sending them to us as larger sums.”

Femi also takes his concerns to his immediate supervisor: One USA executive director Agatha “Aggie” Frost (played by Amy Sloan), who dismisses Femi’s concerns and rejects Femi’s idea to have this matter investigated further. As far as she is concerned, a Super PAC such as One USA isn’t supposed to care where the money comes from and should only care about getting the money. Agatha tells Femi sternly, “I gave you a chance when no one else would. Please don’t make me look like an asshole.” It’s later mentioned in the movie that Agatha’s work background is being the owner of an ad agency, which partially explains why she’s very concerned about One USA’s image.

In a staff meeting, Agatha enthusiastically introduces Femi and two other people who have recently joined the One USA team: deputy executive director Fred Fowlkes (played by Michael Harney) and a committee research director named Sahar (played by Pegah Rashti), who happens to be Agatha’s wife. Fred, who is in his 60s, is a well-respected political campaign veteran with a very impressive track record, because it mentioned that all of the candidates that he’s worked with in the past several years have won their elections.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Agatha gives a pep talk to the One USA employees, by saying: “We raised more money faster than any other Democratic Super PAC [in] this election cycle. And we won’t slow down until Harold Roundtree is in the White House … We’re more than suits and ties. We’re a movement.”

During a lunch meeting in a diner, Femi and Ira talk about Femi’s curiosity about why so much of the One USA’s donation money is coming from two small non-profit groups. Femi tells Ira that Femi’s boss Agatha has ordered him not to investigate further, but Ira is eager to look into this mystery. After some coaxing, Ira convinces Femi to give more files to Ira, so that Ira can do some independent research.

And what Ira finds and tells Femi further deepens the mystery: All of the donation figures, if each digit is added up in different combinations, end up totaling the number 88. Ira has a mind-blowing theory of what the number 88 means. This theory is spoiler information that won’t be revealed in this review. However, it’s enough to say that it’s a vast conspiracy theory that goes beyond just one presidential election.

The rest of “88” has Femi going further down a proverbial rabbit hole of investigating this conspiracy theory. He ends up crossing paths with an author/conspiracy theorist named Hans Muller (played by Jonathan Weir), an elderly recluse who uses a wheelchair and has to breathe through an oxygen mask. Femi’s meeting with Hans is one of the intentionally creepy scenes in the movie because of what Hans tells Femi.

There’s also a British billionaire named Sam Trask (played by Julian Wadham), who’s vacillating between supporting Harold and supporting Hank McGonville, who is Harold’s main Democratic Party rival in the presidential election. Hank is never seen in the movie, but his TV campaign “attack” ad against Harold triggers some desperate reactions from members of the One USA team. Harold’s campaign manager Tom Woods (played by Jon Tenney) plays an important role as a gatekeeper and decision maker in this story.

And just who is Harold Roundtree, the candidate at the center of all these political schemes and machinations? It’s revealed in Harold’s interview scenes with Ron that Harold used to be the CEO of the fictional City District Bank, until the bank went out of business during the bank financial crisis of 2008. But by 2009, Harold had started a non-profit group called the Roundtree Institute with an initial investment of $15 million. In the TV interview, Harold spins his bank failure as being a positive learning experience, and he says that at least his bank didn’t take any bailouts from the U.S. government.

One of the best things about “88” is that it has memorable characters and conversations that are very true-to-life. The dynamic between trusted friends Femi and Ira is entertaining to watch and brings a few moments of comic relief. Some of the movie’s best scenes with Dixon and Sadoski are when Femi and Ira are together.

Dixon (who is one of the “88” producers) gives a fascinating performance as someone who has to come to terms with his political ideals and harsh realities. Jones is quite effective in his portrayal of shrewd politician Harold, who is as calculating as he is charismatic. Harney and Sloan also give believable performances, especially in a scene where Fred and Agatha are in a pivotal meeting together.

The movie tends to wander from the main political story when it shows a subplot involving Maria and her willingness to help an ex-con named Jose Gutierrez (played by Elimu Nelson), who wants a bank loan to start a business selling his hand-carved wooden toys. Jose is having trouble getting a loan because he was a convicted felon. (He was in prison for selling marijuana, before California decriminalized its marijuana laws.) And “88” starts to veer a little into soap opera drama when Maria gives birth, and there are some health issues involved in this birth.

However, Naughton has some standout scenes showing where Maria’s political beliefs and life experiences affect Maria’s view of the world and how she interacts with people. There’s a great scene where Maria has a tense discussion with her supervisor Veronica Verton (played by Kelly McCreary) about Veronica’s decision for Jose’s loan application. This powerful scene speaks to issues that people of color have when it comes to helping other people of color.

What’s admirable about “88” is that the characters are not stereotypes but have complexities that are very authentic to real people. The movie shows how Maria isn’t a shallow cliché of a Black Lives Matter extremist who hates all cops. Maria’s sister is married to a white cop named Harry Quale (played by Jonathan Camp), who is welcome in the Jackson home and who spends some quality time with Ola. Maria and Femi teach Ola that there are good cops and bad cops, just like there are good people and bad people in any profession, but that people can be treated differently because of their race.

“88” writer/director/editor Eromose keeps a mostly taut pace throughout this 122-minute film, which sizzles with an intensity of a political thriller that could be based on real events. The conspiracy theory revealed in “88” is not far-fetched, considering all the wild and crazy facts about politics that have been uncovered in real life. Even though “88” is a fictional drama, it sounds an alarm to voters and other people to pay more attention to the sources of political funding. As the movie’s tag line says: “Follow the money.”

Review: ‘Four Samosas,’ starring Venk Potula, Sonal Shah, Sharmita Bhattacharya, Nirvan Patnaik, Karan Soni, Summer Bishil and Meera Simhan

June 18, 2022

by Carla Hay

Sonal Shah, Venk Potula, Sharmita Bhattacharya and Nirvan Patnaik in “Four Samosas” (Photo by Aakash Raj)

“Four Samosas”

Directed by Ravi Kapoor

Culture Representation: Taking place in Artesia, California, the comedy film “Four Samosas” features an all-Indian and Indian American cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: When a wannabe rapper finds out that his ex-girlfriend is getting married, he and three other people plot to steal the ex-girlfriend’s dowry of diamonds from her father.

Culture Audience: “Four Samosas” will appeal primarily to people who like quirky comedies and don’t mind if there are too many silly plot developments and irritating characters.

Sonal Shah, Venk Potula, Sharmita Bhattacharya and Nirvan Patnaik in “Four Samosas” (Photo by Aakash Raj)

If the annoying comedy “Four Samosas” were an actual meal, it would be junk food that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. This crime caper film has too much nonsense and bad acting to be enjoyable. The basic concept of “Four Samosas” had a lot of potential, but it’s ruined by scatterbrained plot developments and the movie’s desperation to be a quirky slapstick comedy.

Written and directed by Ravi Kapoor, “Four Samosas” had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. However, “Four Samosas” looks like a student film or the type of movie that amateur filmmakers put on the Internet in the hopes of being discovered. The movie should be commended for having characters with easily identifiable personalities. Unfortunately, those personalities are shallow and can be described in two ways: obnoxious or dull.

And the most off-putting character is the “Four Samosas” protagonist: Vinesh, who goes by the nickname Vinny (played by Venk Potula), a wannabe rapper in his 20s, who lives in Artesia, California. Artesia is a small city that’s about 23 miles southeast of Los Angeles. Artesia has the nickname Little India because a large percentage of its population consists of Indian immigrants and Indian Americans.

Vinny has a day job as a sales clerk at a store that sells South Asian clothing. Expect to see some unfunny scenes of Vinny’s inept sales skills, as he tries to sell people items such as saris. Vinny has a mute female co-worker named Pushpa (played by Poonam Basu), whose muteness is mocked in some unamusing scenarios. Vinny’s so-called “rapping” is even worse than his sales skills. Kapoor co-wrote the original songs that are performed in the movie. Let’s just say that the songs range from forgettable to just plain embarrassing.

Vinny lives with his divorced mother Kamala (played by Meera Simhan), a seamstress who works out of the garage in their modest house. It’s mentioned early on in “Four Samosas” that Vinny’s father (played by “Four Samosas” director Kapoor), who doesn’t have a name in the movie, abandoned the family when Vinny was a child, but he still lives nearby. This deadbeat dad is now a Hindu priest, and Vinny seeks his advice in a few scenes that (much like most of this movie) end up falling flat in its attempt at being funny.

Vinny is living an aimless existence when he gets news that shakes him to the core: His ex-girlfriend Rina (played by Summer Bishil) is engaged to be married. Vinny and Rina dated for two years and broke up three years ago. Rina owns a hair salon, where Vinny goes to confront Rina about her upcoming wedding.

And in a very contrived scene, Vinny happens to meet Rina’s fiancé Sanjay (played by Karan Soni) outside of the salon. Sanjay is as confident as Vinny is insecure. Predictably, Vinny and Sanjay have an argument over Rina. It’s the type of silly scene where Sanjay brags that he’s better than “goat shit” and that he’s the “GOAT [greatest of all time] of goat shit.” It’s an example of the idiotic dialogue in “Four Samosas.”

And then, Vinny goes in the salon and argues with Rina, because an egomaniac like Vinny just can’t believe that Rina could marry someone else and possibly be happy without Vinny. Vinny asks Rina to break up with Sanjay and give Vinny another chance to date her. However, Rina essentially reminds Vinny why their relationship didn’t work: “You were so insecure. I got tired of waiting for you to realize that you deserve me.”

Vinny didn’t think he was good enough for Rina because she comes from a family of a higher social class. Her father, who’s only identified in the movie as Mr. Juneja (played by Tony Mirrcandani), owns a successful grocery store in Artesia called Juneja’s. (Rina’s mother is not seen or mentioned in the movie.) Vinny always believed that Mr. Juneja didn’t think Vinny was worthy of Rina. There are hints that Rina might still have feelings for Vinny, but she knows deep down that they were a mismatched couple.

Vinny is determined to stop Rina from getting married to Sanjay. He comes up with a plan to steal Rina’s dowry from Mr. Juneja. And it just makes Vinny look like an even more pathetic loser. The movie rapidly goes downhill from there.

Vinny ends up recruiting three accomplices for this crime:

  • Zak (played by Nirvan Patnaik), who is described as a “Bollywood dreamer,” is the only person in Vinny’s life who seems to be Vinny’s friend. Zak is a mild-mannered person who works at a server at a casual South Asian restaurant called Chaat House, but what Zak really wants to do with his life is be a Bollywood star. (You can easily predict that Zak will have a Bollywood musical moment in the movie.)
  • Anjali (played by Sharmita Bhattacharya), who is described as an “under overachiever,” is an aspiring journalist. She’s the editor-in-chief and publisher of a new start-up publication called the Great Little India Times, which she calls a newspaper, but it’s really a newsletter. Anjali has a crush on Zak, and the feeling is mutual. A running gag in the movie is that Anjali comes up with elaborate ideas that are more complicated than what needs to get done.
  • Para (played by Sonal Shah), who is described as a “malcontent engineer,” is an arrogant and cranky immigrant. Para is bitter because her plans fells apart to get a work visa or a green card. Para thinks she’s always the smartest person in the room. But in a badly made movie like “Four Samosas,” she’s just one of many idiots.

Somehow, Vinny knows that Rina’s dowry includes diamonds that her father keeps locked up in a safe in the back office of the grocery store. Vinny believes that they are “dirty diamonds” that were purchased on the black market. He tells his cohorts that stealing the diamonds will be “wealth reappropriation” where they will be stealing from the rich to give to the poor.

Zak is hesitant about getting involved in this crime, but Vinny tells him, “It isn’t right that people like Rina’s dad get rich, while good people like my auntie are dying because they can’t afford an operation.” Vinny says he’s going to use the money to pay for his aunt’s heart valve operation. Zak plans to use the money to finance Zac’s dreams of being a Bollywood star. Anjali wants more money for her start-up publication, while Paru plans to use the money to sort out her immigration problems. In other words, most of the money is going to be used for selfish reasons by these thieves.

“Four Samosas” has some supporting characters who are nothing but distracting nuisances. Nikki (played by Maya Kapoor) is Vinny’s teenage cousin, who tries to convince him to be a contestant in the Little India Cultural Show, a local talent contest. Vinny is very reluctant to participate. And you know what that means: There will eventually be a scene of Vinny in this talent show. Nikki is an aspiring rapper too. Her heinous shouting and screeching when she raps will make viewers want to cover their ears or stop watching this train wreck movie.

There’s also a group of five bizarre activists who call themselves the Revolutionaries. They all dress in identical red track suits, like they’re in some kind of cult, and they congregate outside an empty grassy lot to gather signatures for a petition. What is their cause? The Revolutionaries want to create an “independent South Asian state” on this tract of land. They want to name this state Aisetra, which is Artesia spelled backwards.

When Vinny walks past them on the street, the Revolutionaries ask him to sign their petition, but he refuses. “This is America,” he responds. “I want to keep it that way. If I wanted to be in South Asia, I’d go to South Asia.” The Revolutionaries then say that their proposed state could be the 51st state in the United States. Meanwhile, Vinny repeatedly tells the Revolutionaries in a condescending voice that Aisetra is Artesia spelled backwards. That’s what’s supposed to pass as “comedy” in this dreadful movie.

There are so many terribly conceived moments in “Four Samosas,” the movie just becomes a mishmash of people mugging for the cameras in nonsensical scenes. (And the mugging looks worse because of the movie’s over-reliance on close-up shots.) There’s no explanation for how Paru met the other three accomplices. She just shows up in her first scene with a rushed explanation about her immigration problems.

There’s a dumb scene where Anjali shows up unannounced at Mr. Juneja’s back office at the grocery store to pretend that she wants to interview him for the Great Little India Times. He agrees to the interview. Meanwhile, Zak begins to dance on a checkout counter in the store, so that the movie can waste a little time doing a Bollywood musical fantasy sequence. Mr. Juneja sees on surveillance video monitors in his office that Zak is causing a commotion in the store, so Mr. Juneja leaves the office to investigate.

It’s all a setup so that Anjali could be alone in the office to take pictures of the closed safe where Mr. Juneja keeps the diamonds. The safe also has a wad of cash, but the would-be thieves only want to take the diamonds, because they think they’re “dirty diamonds” that Mr. Juneja won’t report as missing to the police if the diamonds gets stolen. What’s so asinine about this “get Mr. Juneja out of the office” scene is that there’s no real reason for anyone to take photos of a closed safe (which can be opened by a combination code on a touch-tone keypad) when it doesn’t really help the would-be thieves figure out what the safe’s combination code could be.

Needless to say, more witless hijinks ensue before and after the theft. The thieves decide the best way to steal the diamonds is to hide in the grocery store when it’s closed, so that they have plenty of time to crack the safe. The movie’s opening scene announces that the theft did occur, and the thieves are shown running out of the grocery store, so there’s no suspense leading up to that moment.

One of the few things that seems slightly amusing in “Four Samosas” is that the four thieves decide to disguise themselves by dressing up as the opposite sex. These drag disguises could have been the source of some hilarious comedic scenarios, but this idea is just a cheap gimmick that goes nowhere. It’s one of many examples of the movie’s half-baked ideas that are overshadowed by ditsy dialogue and characters with terrible or boring personalities.

Sagar Desai’s musical score for “Four Samosas” is better-suited for a tacky sitcom rather than a screwball comedy movie. It seems like the “Four Samosas” filmmakers mistakenly thought that dialing up the grating music and the manic energy would somehow make everything funnier. It doesn’t. The aftermath of the theft is just ridiculousness that will make viewers dislike the characters even more.

“Four Samosas” also has a mid-credits scene and an end-credits scene that have no bearing on the main story. These credits scenes just reek of self-indulgent garbage with no real thought put into making anything truly funny. Anyone who keeps watching “Four Samosas” until the very excruciating end will feel like they’ve gone through a more squirm-inducing endurance test than any of the foolish shenanigans inflicted by the moronic characters in this time-wasting movie.

Review: ‘January’ (2022), starring Karlis Arnolds Avots, Alise Danovska, Baiba Broka, Aleksas Kazanavicius, Juhan Ulfsak and Sandis Runge

June 17, 2022

by Carla Hay

Kārlis Arnolds Avots in “January” (Photo by Andrejs Strokins)

“January” (2022)

Directed by Viesturs Kairiss

Latvian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Latvia (mainly in the city of Riga), in January 1991, the dramatic film “January” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 19-year-old film student finds his artistic and political awakening during the Soviet Union’s attempts to forcibly occupy Latvia.

Culture Audience: “January” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in watching coming-of-age stories that take place during political unrest.

Kārlis Arnolds Avots and Alise Danovska in “January” (Photo by Andrejs Strokins)

“January” is a “slow-burn” character study taking place during Latvia’s January 1991 political conflicts with the Soviet Union. This well-acted coming-of-age story about an aspiring filmmaker fares better with its historical context than with its dull romance. People who see “January” are better-off knowing in advance that the film has a meandering quality that reflects the movie’s protaganist being undecided about what he is going to do with his life. Therefore, viewers who are expecting the movie to have a lot of snappy dialogue or suspense-filled scenes will be very disappointed.

Instead, “January” takes a more realistic tone in depicting one month in the restless life of a 19-year-old aspiring filmmaker, who unexpectedly finds his artistic voice during the Soviet Union’s violent attempted takeover of Latvia. “January” director Viesturs Kairiss says the movie was largely inspired by his own life: He was also a 19-year-old aspiring filmmaker in Lativia in January 1991.

Kairiss co-wrote the “January” screenplay with Andris Feldmanis and Livia Ulman. “January” had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival, where it won the jury prize for Best International Narrative Feature. “January” has an artistic touch with recreations of Super 8 footage playbacks for the most nostalgic-looking scenes.

In “January,” the 19-year-old protagonist is named Jazis (played by Karlis Arnolds Avots), who is an only child still living with his parents in his hometown of Riga, Latvia. His mother Biruta (played by Baiba Broka) is a strong-willed and outspoken anti-Communist. His father Andrejs (played by Aleksas Kazanavicius) is a more laid-back parent and still a member of the Communist party. At the time this story takes place, Latvia’s Supreme Council had declared Latvia’s restored independence from the Communist Party-controlled Soviet Union less than a year earlier, in May 1990.

It’s later revealed in the movie that Jazis’ birth name is actually Jāzeps. His mother and maternal grandfather secretly had a Christian baptism for Jazis/Jāzeps because they didn’t want Communist member Andrejs to find out. The different political beliefs of Biruta and Andrejs cause some tension in their marriage, but it’s not bad enough where the spouses want to break up. Andrejs tells Jazis in an early scene, “I didn’t go to Moscow because you were born,” implying that Andrejs wanted to move to Moscow but he agreed to Biruta’s wish to raise Jazis in Latvia.

In the beginning of the movie, it’s shown that Biruta is worried for Jazis and his future, since Jazis is not quite sure what he wants to do with his life. She tells him that he’s better off being enrolled in a university so that he we won’t be conscripted by the Soviet Army. Because “January” shows only one month in the life of Jazis, it’s implied that Jazis was already enrolled as a college student but perhaps was thinking about dropping out.

Jazis is currently a student an unnamed arts university that has limited resources when it comes to filmmaking. The students have to make do with their own cameras, if they’re lucky enough to have a camera. Jazis is shown taking an acting class, where in one of the sessions is about acting like an animal. The unnamed, middle-aged male teacher (played by Artūrs Skrastiņš) randomly chooses students in the class to act out these exercises.

Jazis is told to act like “a whale cast on the sea shore.” Jazis’ moaning “beached whale” performance on the floor results in many of the students laughing at him—and not in a good way. The teacher also gives some criticism of Jazis’ performance for not being very believable. When the teacher asks a female student to act like a kitten drinking milk from a cup, she crawls on all fours, makes a purring sound, and starts rubbing herself against the teacher’s legs, while he smiles in delight and praises her performance. Many of the students walk out in protest because they think the teacher’s reaction shows sexist manipulation of this female student.

Jazis has a male friend at the school named Zeps (played by Sandis Runge), whose importance to the story fades away when the movie heads into a somewhat predictable direction of making Jazis fall for a more popular female student. Her name is Anna (played by Alise Danovska), who hangs out with a group of artistic rebels, some of whom go to the same school. She’s part of the group of students who walk out of the acting class and taunt Jazis in the hallway over his “beached whale” acting performance.

Jazis doesn’t care about being an actor. He wants to be a director, but he’s not quite sure what types of movies he wants to make. There’s a scene in “January” showing him going to a makeshift video store and renting a tape of filmmaker Jim Jarmusch’s 1984 movie “Stranger Than Paradise.” It’s an indication that he’s a fan of unconventional independent filmmakers.

Jazis may not know yet what type of movies he wants to make, but he’s first shown using his hand-held camera for another type of filming: video journalism. Jazis is fascinated by filming the soldiers of the Soviet Union’s OMON (a special police branch of the National Guard of Russia) that have become an increasing presence in Latvia. Whenever the OMON soldiers see Jazis filming them, they react angrily by demanding that he stop filming and sometimes by physically assaulting him.

Jazis comes home after one of these assaults and wears the cuts and bruises on his face almost like badges of honor. When his mother asks Jazis how he got hurt, he tells her. She’s concerned, but she also considers herself to be an outspoken resistor to any Soviet takeover of Latvia. Biruta is later shown participating in peaceful citizen protests against the Soviet Union’s attempts to control Latvia.

Jazis’ unwillingness to be intimidated by these OMON soldiers is the first indication that he won’t let obstacles get in his way when he wants to film something. It’s also the start of what will become his political awakening as the OMON and other Soviet military presence in Latvia become more ominous and more violent. However, the movie doesn’t have a predictable story arc of Jazis getting this political awakening.

Jazis doesn’t attend activist meetings. He doesn’t talk about politics too much with his mother, who has beliefs that are more in line with what Jazis believes, since Jazis definitely does not want to become a Communist. Nor does Jazis want to join a political party.

Instead, in this one-month period, Jazis arrives at a better understanding of the world and what he wants to do with his life through his love of filmmaking. His decision on what type of filmmaking career path to take is still undefined, and it’s tangled up in his romantic feelings for Anna, who eventually takes a liking to him too.

Jazis and Anna discover this mutual attraction when Jazis invites her to a family house party, where she meets his parents. They end up dancing at the party. Eventually, Anna opens up to Jazis about her family and her life goals.

Anna lives with her mother and stepfather, whom she says is not a Communist. “He supports the independence movement,” Anna comments about her stepfather. “Anna tells Jazis that her biological father died of alcoholism. Her biggest goal in life is to make movies.

Jazis starts hanging out more with Anna and her rebellious friends. She even changes his hairstyle to look more punk rock, with his hair fluffed out and greased up into a Mohawk-inspired look. Later in the movie, Jazis gets his hair cut at around time he becomes more concerned about the violence happening around him. This haircut is the movie’s symbolic way of showing development in Jazis’ maturity.

Anna and her clique aren’t true anarchists. They mostly talk about being anti-establishment, and they make some annoying but harmless mischief. For example, there’s a scene where Anna, Jazis and her friends are hanging out a food court, when she and some of the friends start grabbing and eating food from other people’s plates before being chased away. Jazis doesn’t participate in these shenanigans. He always seems like a little bit of an outsider at these get-togethers.

Eventually, Anna and Jazis become sexually intimate, but their first sexual encounter together is less-than-romantic, since he has “performance issues” and seems to be very inexperienced. “January” tends to falter in depicting this budding romance, because Anna and Jazis don’t really have any meaningful conversations with each other outside of their interest in filmmaking. Anna seems more willing to be open about her feelings than Jazis, who always seems to be holding back on showing who he really is when he’s with her.

Therefore, people with enough life experience can see that what Jazis and Anna have isn’t real love. It’s a mutual attraction that stops and starts intermittently. However, it seems like the “January” filmmakers want to sell Anna and Jazis’ relationship as an impactful “love story,” when it’s really just a teenage crush. The “romance” in this film is actually quite monotonous and not as meaningful as it could have been.

Anna has been developing her skills as a filmmaker by doing music videos. One day a semi-famous director named Juris Podnieks (played by Juhan Ulfsa) comes to the school to look at the students’ work. Juris is so impressed with Anna’s work that he immediately offers her a job working for him as an assistant. She eagerly accepts.

But you know what that means: Jazis gets jealous, although he tries to pretend that he isn’t jealous. At first, he congratulates Anna, who seems so relieved that he’s not angry, she hugs him. However, at a party to celebrate Anna’s new job, Jazis sulks on a couch.

And later, Jazis shows up unannounced when Anna is supposed to leave with Juris and other co-workers for a film shoot. Jazis accuses Anna and Juris of getting romantically involved. Anna angrily denies it and tells Jazis that he’s acting like a paranoid lover. He even tries to block her from getting in the car where Juris and her co-workers are witnessing this conflict. This argument is another turning point in Jazis and Anna’s bumpy relationship.

Because “January” takes a realism approach to showing this month in the life of Jazis, not everything in the movie is compelling drama, just like in real life. There are stretches of the movie where not much happens except Jazis moping around and doing some filming here and there. The best scenes in “January” are those that involve Jazis becoming more enlightened about the stakes involved in Latvian freedom and the sacrifices that Latvian residents have to make to fight for that freedom.

The emotional crediblity of “January” is largely dependent on Avots’ performance as Jazis. Avots does a very good job of portraying the late-teens angst of someone who is old enough to legally be an adult but might not be emotionally mature enough to make adult decisions. Danovska’s nuanced and admirable performance as Anna indicates that there could’ve been potential to develop this character beyond just being the protagonist’s love interest.

Because “January” spends a great deal of screen time on the relationship between Jazis and Anna, opinions about “January” might vary, depending on how viewers feel about Anna and Jazis being a couple. It’s impossible not to notice that Jazis and Anna’s romance doesn’t have a lot of convincing passion or a deep emotional connection. Jazis’ jealous streak is also an indication that Jazis and Anna ultimately aren’t right for each other, since he’s already showing signs of being enviously competitive with her as a filmmaker.

Fortunately, “January” doesn’t veer too far off-course into Jazis and Anna’s topsy-turvy relationship. The movie is essentially about Jazis thinking that his earliest filmmaking experiences would be making short student films, but instead his earliest filmmaking experiences ended up documenting the increasing political terror around him. Someone’s life shouldn’t be defined by just one month, but “January” shows in effective ways how one month can change the course of someone’s life.

Review: ‘The Black Phone,’ starring Ethan Hawke

June 16, 2022

by Carla Hay

Ethan Hawke and Mason Thames in “The Black Phone” (Photo by Fred Norris/Universal Pictures)

“The Black Phone”

Directed by Scott Derrickson

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in Denver in 1978, the horror film “The Black Phone” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 13-year-boy, who gets kidnapped by a serial killer, is kept in the killer’s basement, where the boy gets phone calls from the ghosts of the other teenage boys who were murdered by the killer. 

Culture Audience: “The Black Phone” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Ethan Hawke and anyone looking for a tension-filled horror movie that isn’t a remake or a sequel.

Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw in “The Black Phone” (Photo by Fred Norris/Universal Pictures)

Creepy and suspenseful, the horror movie “The Black Phone” has the ghosts of murdered children as story catalysts, but the movie’s equally harrowing moments are in depicting realistic child abuse that can come from a stranger, a family member or a schoolmate. “The Black Phone” does everything a horror flick is supposed to do: keep audiences on edge, have well-acted memorable characters, and deliver plenty of moments that are genuinely terrifying.

Directed by Scott Derrickson, “The Black Phone” reunites Derrickson with several key players involved in the making of Derrickson’s 2012 sleeper hit horror film “Sinister,” including co-screenwriter C. Robert Cargill, producer Jason Blum and actors Ethan Hawke and James Ransone. Just like in “Sinister,” Hawke has the starring role, while Ransone has a pivotal supporting role in “The Black Phone.” Both movies are from Blumhouse Productions, the company owned by Blum, whose specialty is mainly horror. Both movies are effective horror films, but “Sinister” was a haunted house story based entirely on supernatural occurrences, while “The Black Phone” taps into the real-life horror of child kidnapping and murders with some supernatural elements as part of the story.

“Sinister” had an original screenplay by Derrickson and Cargill. The screenwriting duo adapted “The Black Phone” from a short story of the same title in author Joe Hill’s 2005 collection “20th Century Ghosts.” (Hill is the son of horror master Stephen King.) In the production notes for “The Black Phone,” Derrickson says many aspects of the movie (including the scenes of the movie’s protagonist being bullied at school) were directly inspired by his childhood growing up in Denver in the 1970s. “The Black Phone” takes place in Denver in 1978.

The movie opens with a seemingly idyllic scene of teenage boys playing a casual game of baseball. Two of the players in the game are 13-year-old Finney Blake (played by Mason Thames) and Bruce Yamada (played by Tristan Pravong), who are both classmates in the same school. (Some movie descriptions list Finney’s last name as Shaw, but his surname in the movie is definitely Blake.) After the game, Bruce is kidnapped by someone driving a mysterious black van.

Bruce’s abduction is the latest in a series of incidents in the northern Denver area, where other teenage boys have gone missing and are widely believed to be kidnapped. Bruce is the fourth boy to have disappeared. The other three missing kids are Griffin Stagg (played by Banks Repeta, also known as Michael Banks Repeta), the neighborhood paper boy Billy Showalter (played by Jacob Moran) and an angry troublemaker named Vance Hopper (played by Brady Hepner). The police who are investigating have very little information to go on, since most of the disappearances had no known witnesses. All of the boys are believed to be have been kidnapped while they were outside on the streets.

While people in the area are feeling that children are unsafe on the streets, Finney (who sometimes goes by the name Finn) and his 11-year-old sister Gwen Blake (played by Madeleine McGraw) fear for their safety inside their own home. That’s because their widower father Terrence Blake (played by Jeremy Davies) is a violent alcoholic. Terrence is especially brutal to Gwen, because she has psychic abilities that he wants her to deny. Gwen’s psychic visions usually come to her in dreams.

Based on conversations in the movie, viewers find out that Gwen inherited these psychic abilities from her mother, who committed suicide. Terrence blames the suicide on these psychic abilities because the kids’ mother (who doesn’t have a name in the movie) claimed that she heard voices. Terrence says that these voices eventually told her to kill herself. The movie doesn’t go into details about when Terrence became an alcoholic, but it’s implied he’s been on a downward spiral since his wife’s suicide.

After Bruce disappears, somehow the police find out that Gwen told people about a dream she had that Bruce was abducted by a man driving a black van and carrying black balloons. Because two black balloons were found at the place where Bruce was last seen alive (the police did not make the black balloon information available to the public), investigators from the Denver Police Department—Detective Wright (played by E. Roger Mitchell) and Detective Wright (played by Troy Rudeseal)—visit the Blake home to interview Gwen. She is defiant and defensive over the cops’ suspicions that she knows more than she telling.

Gwen starts cursing at the cops and swears she has nothing to do with the disappearances of Brandon and the other missing boys. When asked to explain how she knew about the black balloons, all Gwen will say is, “Sometimes my dreams are right.” Terrence is present during this interview. He’s nervous and apprehensive that the cops are in his home. He’s also angry that Gwen is being disrespectful to the cops.

After the police detectives leave, it leads to a heart-wrenching scene where a drunk Terrence viciously beats Gwen with a belt and demands that she repeat, “My dreams are just dreams.” Sensitive viewers, be warned: This is a hard scene to watch, and it might be triggering for people who’ve experienced this type of violence. During this beating, Finney just stands by helplessly and watches, but later in the movie, he expresses guilt and remorse about not stopping his father from assaulting Gwen. As abused children, Finney and Gwen often rely on each other for emotional support.

Finney is introverted and doesn’t have any close friends at school. However, things start looking up for him a little bit in his biology class when the students have to do dissections of frogs and are required to have a lab partner. No one wants to be Finney’s lab partner except a girl named Donna (played by Rebecca Clarke), who is a fairly new student. Donna indicates that she likes Finney and probably has been noticing him for a while. His bashful reaction shows that the attraction is mutual.

Finney experiences physical violence at school, where he is targeted by three bullies. One day, in the men’s restroom at school, these three bullies corner Finney and are about to assault him. However, a tough teenager named Robin Arreland (played by Miguel Cazarez Mora), who’s also a student at the school, intervenes and scares off the bullies because Robin has a knife. Robin advises Finney to be better at standing up for himself.

Eventually, Robin and Finney get to know each other too. They don’t become best friends, but they become friendly acquaintances. This budding friendship is interrupted when Robin disappears, not long after Bruce has gone missing. The cops visit the Blake home again, but Gwen has nothing further to add, mainly because she terrified about divulging to the cops what she has dreamed.

It isn’t long before Finney is kidnapped too. This isn’t spoiler information, since it’s shown in the trailers for “The Black Phone.” His kidnapper is nicknamed The Grabber (played by Hawke), and he approaches Finney on a late afternoon when Finney is walking down a residential street by himself. The Grabber (who has long hair and is wearing white clown makeup, sunglasses and a top hat) is driving a black van with the logo of a company named Abracadabra Entertainment and Supplies.

When The Grabber sees Finney, he pretends to stumble out of the van and spill a bag of groceries. Finney offers to help him pick up the groceries. The Grabber tells the teen that he’s a part-time magician and asks Finney if he wants to see a magic trick.

Finney agrees somewhat apprehensively, and his nervousness grows when he notices that there are black balloons in the van. When Finney asks this stranger if he has black balloons in the van, the stranger kidnaps him. Finney has now become the sixth teenage boy to disappear in the same neighborhood.

Finney is kept in a dark and dingy house basement that has a mattress and a toilet. On the wall is a black phone that The Grabber says is disconnected. “It hasn’t worked since I was a kid,” The Grabber tells a terrified Finney.

The Grabber (who usually wears grinning clown masks that look similar to DC Comics’ The Joker character) tells Finney not to bother yelling for help, because the entire basement is soundproof. There’s only one door to and from the basement. It goes without saying that the door is locked from the outside. The Grabber also has a black pit bull as a guard dog.

There are several scenes in “The Black Phone” that show how The Grabber is a completely twisted creep. There’s a scene where Finney wakes up to find the masked Grabber staring at Finney because The Grabber says he just wanted to spend time looking at Finney. When Finney says he’s hungry and asks for food, The Grabber won’t feed him right away. There are other scenes where The Grabber uses intimidation and mind games to keep Finney under his control.

Even though The Grabber says that the black phone in the basement doesn’t work, shortly after Finney becomes imprisoned in the basement, the phone rings. The first time that Finney picks up the phone, he doesn’t hear anything. The next time the phone rings, he hears static and a voice of a boy who sounds far away. It’s the first indication that Finney has psychic abilities too.

It was already revealed in the trailers for “The Black Phone” that much of the movie is about Finney getting calls from the ghosts of the boys who were murdered by The Grabber. The only real spoiler information for “The Black Phone” would be the answers to these questions: “Does Finney escape? If so, how?” “Does Gwen use her psychic abilities to help find Finney?” “What will ultimately happen to The Grabber?”

Another character who is part of the story is a man in his early 40s named Max (played by Ransone), who gets on the radar of police because Max has become obsessed with the cases of the missing boys. Max is a cocaine-snorting loner who thinks of himself as an amateur detective. His home is filled with newspaper clippings and other items related to the investigations about the missing boys.

Even though a lot of information about the “The Black Phone” plot is already revealed in the movie’s trailers, there’s still much about the movie that’s worth seeing. (Audiences also got a early showings of “The Black Phone” when it screened at film festivals, including the 2021 edition of Fantastic Fest, where “The Black Phone” had its world premiere.) The scenes where Finney communicates with the dead boys are absolutely haunting and often mournful. These scenes include some flashbacks to the boys’ lives before they were kidnapped.

Vance’s flashback scene is artfully filmed as a 1970s hazy memory, as are many of the flashback scenes. Sweet’s 1974 hit “Fox on the Run” is used to great effect in this scene, which takes place in a Shop-N-Go convenience store where Vance is playing pinball. Gwen’s dream sequences were filmed using Super 8 film, which was the standard film type for home movies in the 1970s.

The production design, costume design, hairstyling, makeup and cinematography in “The Black Phone” all give the movie an authentic-looking recreation of the 1970s. The movie’s soundtrack includes some well-chosen songs, including the Edgar Winter Group’s 1972 hit “Free Ride,” which is played in the movie’s happy-go-lucky baseball game scene that opens the movie. (Coincidentally, “Free Ride” and “Fox on the Run” were also prominently featured in writer/director Richard Linklater’s 1993 classic comedy “Dazed and Confused,” which is an ode to 1970s teens.)

“The Black Phone” also has pop culture mentions to movies of the era. Finney and Robin talk about the 1974 horror movie “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” which Finney says his strict father would never allow him to see because he’s underage. Robin says he has relatives who let him watch rated R movies. They also enthusiastically discuss the 1973 Bruce Lee action film “Enter the Dragon,” which is “The Black Phone” filmmakers’ nod to how popular Lee was with teenage boys in that era. Later, Finney is seen watching the 1959 horror movie “The Tingler” on TV one night, which is a scene inspired by director Derrickson doing the same thing when he was a child.

“The Black Phone” also accurately depicts the limited resources that people had if children went missing in 1978, long before the Internet and smartphones existed. It was also before missing kids’ photos were put on milk cartons, inspired by the 1979 disappearance of 6-year-old Etan Patz, who was kidnapped while walking by himself to school in New York City. It was also before the 1981 abduction and murder of 6-year-old Adam Walsh, who was taken from a shopping mall in Hollywood, Florida. As a result of this tragedy, Adam’s father John Walsh later founded the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The 1970s decade was also a prolific time for notorious serial killers, including Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, the Hillside Stranglers and the Son of Sam. According to the production notes for “The Black Phone,” The Grabber character was at least partially based on Gacy, who did part-time work as a party clown. Most of Gacy’s victims were teenage boys and young men whom he lured into his home by hiring them to do temporary housecare jobs. There was a sexual component to Gacy’s crimes that are not included in “The Black Phone,” although there are hints that The Grabber could also be a child molester when it’s mentioned that The Grabber likes to play a game called Naughty Boy.

In his portrayal of The Grabber, Hawke gives a viscerally disturbing performance that will linger with viewers long after the movie ends. Thames makes an impressive feature-film debut as Finney, who goes through a wide range of emotions in the movie. McGraw is also a standout in her portrayal of feisty and sometimes foul-mouthed Gwen. “The Black Phone” has some comic relief in how Gwen is ambivalent about the Christianity that she has been taught. And although Robin’s screen time is brief, Mora is quite good in this portrayal of a character who makes an impact on Finney’s life.

Despite some predictable plot developments, “The Black Phone” is a better-than-average horror movie because it doesn’t forget that the story and characters should be more important than showing a lot of violence and gore. The movie does have violence and gore, but it’s not gratuitous. The movie also makes a point of showing that abuse crimes don’t always come from strangers, but that abuse is often hiding in plain sight in schools and in families, where the abuse is committed by people who seem to be “upstanding citizens.” It’s this message that should resonate as a warning that a lot of horror in this movie continues to happen in real life.

Universal Pictures will release “The Black Phone” in U.S. cinemas on June 24, 2022.

2022 Tribeca Film Festival: complete list of winners

June 16, 2022

The following is a press release from the Tribeca Film Festival:

The 21st annual Tribeca Festival, presented by OKX, announced the winning storytellers in its competition categories at this year’s awards ceremony at Tribeca eatery Thalassa. Awards were given in the following competition categories: Feature Film, Short Film, Audio Storytelling, Immersive, Games, Human / Nature, AT&T Untold Stories, and Tribeca X.

The ceremony awarded $165,000 in cash prizes. The Festival, which hosts over 600 events across New York City, concludes on June 19th.

“Today’s honorees are a testament to the vitality of cinematic storytelling, representing the most exciting achievements across countries, genres, and platforms,” said Cara Cusumano, Festival Director and Vice President of Programming. “We are proud to recognize such a diverse and innovative group of works and creators with today’s well-deserved award winners.”

A special Virtual Award Winner Screenings series will be available for U.S. audiences via Tribeca At Home on Saturday, June 18 and Sunday, June 19, 2022.

Tickets can be purchased at tribecafilm.com/festival/tickets. Competition winners in the Short Films Category, presented by Meta, are available to stream on the Meta Quest 2 virtual-reality headset as well as the Tribeca page on Facebook through Sunday, June 19.

In cash awards and in-kind services provided by sponsors, some award winners received the unique Tribeca Festival Art Award. Supported by CHANEL, the world-class artists donated work to honored filmmakers.

The winners of the Audience Award, which are determined by audience votes throughout the Festival, will be announced next week.

2022 Winners and Special Jury Mentions, as selected by the 2022 Festival Jury, are as follows:

U.S. NARRATIVE COMPETITION

Rain Spencer and Andie MacDowell in “Good Girl Jane” (Photo by Jake Saner)

The Founders Award for Best U.S. Narrative Feature: Good Girl Jane, (United States) – World Premiere, presented by OKX. Bullied out of private school and at odds with her divorced parents, lonely high schooler Jane spirals out of control after falling in with a hard-partying crowd and becoming smitten with a dangerously charismatic bad boy. Directed and written by Sarah Elizabeth Mintz. Produced by Fred Bernstein, Dominique Telson, Lauren Pratt, Sarah Elizabeth Mintz, Simone Williams. With Rain Spencer, Patrick Gibson, Andie MacDowell, Odessa A’Zion, Olan Prenatt, Eloisa Huggins. The winner receives $20,000.

Shyrley Rodriguez, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Liza Colón-Zayas and Daphne Rubin-Vega in “Allswell” (Photo by Oren Soffer)

Best Screenplay in a U.S. Narrative Feature: Ben Snyder and Elizabeth Rodriguez for Allswell, (United States) – World Premiere. Three Nuyorican sisters navigate the daunting life challenges of single motherhood, career, and family, all while finding humor and solace within the bonds of sisterhood in this absorbing dramedy. Directed and written by Ben Snyder, and written by Elizabeth Rodriguez. Produced by Gia Walsh, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Vince Jolivette, Ben Snyder, Ari Issler, Paul Jarrett, Kara Baker. With Elizabeth Rodriguez, Liza Colon-Zayas, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Felix Solis, Max Cassella, Michael Rispoli, Shirley Rodriguez, MacKenzie Lansing, and J. Cameron Barnett. The winner received $2,500.

Katie Parker and Rahul Kohli in “Next Exit” (Photo courtesy of No Traffic For Ghosts LLC)

Best Cinematography in a U.S. Narrative Feature: Azuli Anderson for Next Exit, (United States) – World Premiere. In a world where ghosts are real and front-page news, a controversial new medical procedure allows people to peacefully kill themselves. In the midst of this breakthrough, two strangers travel cross country together to end their lives, only to unexpectedly find what they’ve been missing along the way. Directed and written by Mali Elfman. Produced by Derek Bishé, Narineh Hacopian. With Katie Parker, Rahul Kohli, Rose McIver, Karen Gillan, Tongayi Chirisa, Diva Zappa.

Rain Spencer in “Good Girl Jane” (Photo by Jake Saner)

Best Performance in a U.S. Narrative Feature: Rain Spencer in Good Girl Jane, (United States) – World Premiere. Bullied out of private school and at odds with her divorced parents, lonely high schooler Jane spirals out of control after falling in with a hard-partying crowd and becoming smitten with a dangerously charismatic bad boy. Directed and written by Sarah Elizabeth Mintz. Produced by Fred Bernstein, Dominique Telson, Lauren Pratt, Sarah Elizabeth Mintz, Simone Williams. With Rain Spencer, Patrick Gibson, Andie MacDowell, Odessa A’Zion, Olan Prenatt, Eloisa Huggins.

Special Jury Mention for Best Performance in a U.S. Narrative Feature: Liz Carbel Sierra in God’s Time, (United States) – World Premiere. A heart-racing, NYC-set dark comedy that sees two best bros in recovery for addiction trying to prevent the potential murder of their mutual crush’s ex-boyfriend.

Directed and written by Daniel Antebi. Produced by Emily Korteweg, Andrew Hutcheson, Reid Hannaford. With Ben Groh, Dion Costelloe, Liz Caribel Sierra, Jared Abrahamson, Christiane Seidel.

INTERNATIONAL NARRATIVE COMPETITION

Kārlis Arnolds Avots and Alise Danovska in “January” (Photo by Andrejs Strokins)

Best International Narrative Feature: January (Janvaris), (Latvia, Lithuania, Poland) – World Premiere. An aspiring filmmaker tries to search for who he is against the backdrop of Latvian independence in this dark but dreamy coming-of-age story. Directed by Viesturs Kairiss. Written by Viesturs Kairiss, Andris Feldmanis, Livia Ulman. Produced by Inese Boka-Grūbe, Gints Grūbe. With Kārlis Arnolds Avots, Alise Danovska, Sandis Runge, Baiba Broka, Aleksas Kazanavičius, Juhan Ulfsak. In Latvian, Lithuanian, Russian, with English subtitles. The winner received $20,000.

Enrique Araoz in “The Visitor” (Photo by German Nocella)

Best Screenplay in an International Narrative Feature: Martín Boulocq and Rodrigo Hasbún for The Visitor, (Bolivia, Uruguay) – World Premiere. In the atmospheric and visually-compelling drama The Visitor, an ex-convict returns home in search of a new life and a chance to reconnect with his estranged young daughter, only to be met with resistance from his father-in-law – an influential pastor in the Evangelical community in town. Directed by Martín Boulocq. Written by Martín Boulocq, Rodrigo Hasbún. Produced by Andrea Camponovo, Alvaro Olmos. With Enrique Aráoz, César Troncoso, Mirella Pascual, Svet Ailyn Mena, Romel Vargas, Teresa Gutiérrez. In Spanish with English subtitles. The winner received $2,500.

“We Might As Well Be Dead” (Photo by Jan Mayntz)

Best Cinematography in an International Narrative Feature: Jan Mayntz for We Might As Well Be Dead (Wir könnten genauso gut tot sein), (Germany, Romania) – International Premiere. The disappearance of a dog and the sudden isolation of a security guard’s daughter start a bizarre chain of events in an apartment complex obsessed with keeping up appearances. Directed by Natalia Sinelnikova. Written by Natalia Sinelnikova, Viktor Gallandi. Produced by Julia Wagner. With Ioana Iacob, Pola Geiger, Jörg Schüttauf, Şiir Eloğlu, Moritz Jahn, Susanne Wuest, Knut Berger, Mina Özlem Sağdıç. In German, Polish with English subtitles.

Dorota Pomykala (pictured at far right) in a “Woman on a Roof”

Best Performance in an International Narrative Feature: Dorota Pomykala for Woman on a Roof, (Poland, France, Sweden) – World Premiere. One morning a 60-year-old midwife does something extremely unexpected, which breaks her family and life apart. Inspired by a true story, this is a complex character portrayal told with outstanding cinematic realism. Directed and written by Anna Jadowska.

Produced by Maria Blicharska. With Dorota Pomykala, Bogdan Koca, Adam Bobik. In Polish with English subtitles.

DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

Jason Wilson (pictured at right) in”The Cave of Adullam” (Photo by Greg Harriott)

Best Documentary Feature: The Cave of Adullam, (United States) – World Premiere. Living by the mantra ‘it’s easier to raise boys than to repair broken men’, martial arts sensei Jason Wilson tenderly guides his often-troubled young Detroit students with a beautifully effective blend of compassion and tough love. Directed by Laura Checkoway. Produced by Laurence Fishburne, Helen Sugland, Roy Bank, Joe Plummer, Laura Checkoway. With Jason Wilson, Kevin L. Collins Jr., Gabriel Davenport, Daniel White, Tamarkus Williams. The winner receives $20,000.

“The Wild One”

Best Cinematography in a Documentary Feature: Boris Levy for The Wild One, (France) – World Premiere. Jack Garfein — Holocaust survivor, theater and film director, key figure in the formation of the Actors Studio — vividly, animatedly, passionately recalls a life where historical tragedy and personal art formed a unique, driving, uncompromising vision. Directed, written, and produced by Tessa

Louise-Salomé. With Jack Garfein, Willem Dafoe, Peter Bogdanovich, Irène Jacob, Boby Sotto, Dick Guttman, Blanche Baker, Patricia Bosworth, Foster Hirsch, Geoffrey Horne, Kate Rennebohm. The winner receives $2,500.

“The Cave of Adullam” (Photo by Greg Harriott)

Best Editing in a Documentary Feature: Christopher McGlynn for The Cave of Adullam, (United States)

– World Premiere. Living by the mantra ‘it’s easier to raise boys than to repair broken men’, martial arts sensei Jason Wilson tenderly guides his often-troubled young Detroit students with a beautifully effective blend of compassion and tough love. Directed by Laura Checkoway. Produced by Laurence Fishburne, Helen Sugland, Roy Bank, Joe Plummer, Laura Checkoway. With Jason Wilson, Kevin L. Collins Jr., Gabriel Davenport, Daniel White, Tamarkus Williams. The winner receives $2,500.

BEST NEW NARRATIVE DIRECTOR COMPETITION

“Huesera”

Best New Narrative Director: Michelle Garza Cervera for Huesera, (Mexico) – Feature Narrative, World Premiere. Valeria has long dreamed about becoming a mother. After learning that she’s pregnant, she expects to feel happy, yet something’s off. Nightmarish visions and an unshakeable paranoia have her questioning what she wants, and an ancient evil spirit may be the cause. Directed by Michelle Garza Cervera. Written by Michelle Garza Cervera, Abia Castillo. Produced by Paulina Villavicencio, Edher Campos. With Natalia Solián, Alfonso Dosal, Mayra Batalla, Mercedes Hernández, Aída López, Martha Claudia Moreno. In Spanish with English subtitles. An XYZ release. The winner receives $10,000.

Special Jury Mention for Best New Narrative Director: Floor van der Meulen for Pink Moon, (Italy, Netherlands, Slovenia) – World Premiere. An adult daughter kidnaps her father, whisking him away to a cabin in the snow, hoping to alter his unexpected announcement that he has had enough of life and will end it by his next birthday. Directed by Floor van der Meulen. Written by Bastiaan Kroeger. Produced by Derk-Jan Warrink and Koji Nelissen. With Julia Akkermans, Johan Leysen, Eelco Smits, Anniek Pheifer, Sinem Kavus.

BEST NEW DOCUMENTARY DIRECTOR COMPETITION

Edward Buckles Jr. in “Katrina Babies” (Photo by Myesha Evon Gardner)

The Albert Maysles Award for Best New Documentary Director: Edward Buckles Jr. for Katrina Babies, (United States) – World Premiere. Katrina Babies is a first-person account of the short-term and long-term devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, as told by young people who were between the ages of 3 and 19 when the levees broke. Directed by Edward Buckles Jr.. Written by Edward Buckles Jr., Luther Clement Lam, Audrey Rosenberg. Produced by Edward Buckles Jr., Audrey Rosenberg, Rebecca Teitel. With Miesha Williams, Cierra Chenier, Arnold Burks, Damaris Calliet, Calvin Baxter, Quintina Thomas Green. An HBO Documentary Films release. The winner receives $10,000.

NORA EPHRON COMPETITION

“Huesera”

Nora Ephron Award: Michelle Garza Cervera for Huesera, (Mexico) – Feature Narrative, World Premiere. Valeria has long dreamed about becoming a mother. After learning that she’s pregnant, she expects to feel happy, yet something’s off. Nightmarish visions and an unshakeable paranoia have her questioning what she wants, and an ancient evil spirit may be the cause. Directed by Michelle Garza Cervera. Written by Michelle Garza Cervera, Abia Castillo. Produced by Paulina Villavicencio, Edher Campos. With Natalia Solián, Alfonso Dosal, Mayra Batalla, Mercedes Hernández, Aída López, Martha Claudia Moreno. In Spanish with English subtitles. An XYZ release. The winner receives $20,000.

SHORTS COMPETITION

Sigirid Husjord and Ola Hoemsnes Sandum in “Night Ride” (Photo by Vegard Landsverk)

Best Narrative Short: Night Ride (Nattrikken), (Norway) – New York Premiere, Short Narrative. It is a cold night in December. As Ebba waits for the tram, an unexpected turn of events transforms the ride home into something she was not expecting. Directed and written by Eirik Tveiten. Produced by Gaute Lid Larssen, Heidi Arnesen. With Sigrid Husjord, Ola Hoemsnes Sandum, Axel Barø Aasen. In Norwegian with English subtitles. The winner receives $5,000.

“Heart Valley” (Photo Christopher Cargill)

Best Documentary Short: Heart Valley, (UK, Wales) World Premiere, Short Documentary. Heart Valley follows a day in the life of solitary Welsh shepherd Wilf Davies. Directed by Christian Cargill. Written by Kiran Sidhu. Produced by Christian Cargill, Lily Wakeley, Kiran Sidhu. With Evan Wilf Davies.

Richard “Mac” McKinney in “Stranger at the Gate” (Photo by Karl Schroder)

Special Jury Mention for Best Documentary Short: Stranger at the Gate, (United States) – New York Premiere, Short Documentary. A U.S. Marine plots a terrorist attack on a small-town American mosque. His plan takes an unexpected turn when he comes face-to-face with the people he sets out to kill. Directed by Joshua Seftel. Produced by Mohannad Malas, Suzanne Hillinger, Conall Jones, Jeremy Mack, Anna Rowe, Eric Nichols. With Bibi Bahrami, Dr. Saber Bahrami, Dana McKinney, Emily McKinney, Richard “Mac” McKinney, Jomo Williams.

“More Than I Remember”

Best Animated Short: More Than I Remember, (United States) – New York Premiere, Short Animation. Fourteen-year-old Mugeni awakes to the sounds of bombs. As her family scatters to the surrounding forests to save themselves, Mugeni finds herself completely alone. Directed by Amy Bench. Written by Mugeni Ornella, Amy Bench, Carolyn Merriman. Produced by Amy Bench, Carolyn Merriman. With Mugeni Ornella. The winner receives $5,000.

Student Visionary: Daydreamers, (Belgium) – North American Premiere, Short Narrative. A father and his daughter are very passionate about motorcycles. An eye condition jeopardizes their shared hobby. Directed by Ante Pask. Written by Ante Pask, Emiel van Wouwe. Produced by Ella Bal, Ante Pask.With Jurgen Delnaet, Flo Martens, Robby Cleiren. In Dutch with English subtitles. The winner receives $5,000.

TRIBECA AUDIO STORYTELLING COMPETITION

“Mother Country Radicals”

Best Audio Storytelling in Nonfiction: Mother Country Radicals.

In 1970, Bernardine Dohrn declared war on the United States. Now, her son Zayd tells the story of how she was radicalized, and became the most wanted woman in America. Created by Zayd Ayers Dohrn, executive produced by Zayd Ayers Dohrn, Jon Favreau, Sarah Geismer, Lyra Smith, Alison Falzetta, Misha Euceph, with sound design by Arwen Nicks, Stephanie Cohn, Ariana Gharib Lee, and Misha Euceph, and music by Andy Clausen.

Special Jury Mention Best Audio Storytelling in Nonfiction: I Was Never There.

Take a trip into the countercultural movements swirling through West Virginia in the 1970s and 80s. Jamie Zelermyer and her mother Karen investigate the shocking disappearance of their friend Marsha “Mudd” Ferber and explore her evolution from suburban housewife to back-to-the-land hippie to drug-dealing bar owner. As mother and daughter venture deeper into the mystery of Marsha’s disappearance, the two process their own history: Jamie reflects on her nontraditional upbringing and Karen reckons with the joyful and complicated consequences of her decisions. Created by Jamie and Karen Zelermeyer, produced by Adesuwa Agbonile, Lindsey Kratochwill, Liz Smith, Alessandra Wollner, edited by Jenny Kaplan and Liz Smith. Executive produced by Jamie Zelermyer, Jenny Kaplan (Wonder Media Network), and Karen Zelermyer, with sound design by Liz Smith.

“The Hollowed Out”

Best Audio Storytelling in Fiction: The Hollowed Out.

When a journalist returns to her hometown to investigate a suspicious accident involving a friend, she finds fractured relationships and mysterious rumors about what’s really going on in her town. Created, written, edited, and produced by Brit and Nick Kewin. Starring Stephanie Costa, Carolyn Taylor, Moynan King, Madison Cheeatow, Shomari Downer, Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll, with sound design by Justin Helle.

TRIBECA IMMERSIVE COMPETITION

“Kubo Walks the City”

Storyscapes Award: Kubo Walks The City, (France, South Korea) – North American Premiere. Seoul, 1934. Korea is under Japanese occupation. Like “ethno-detectives,” viewers follow in the footsteps of Kubo, a Korean writer, in his urban flânerie. Through caricatures that mock the shortcomings of a Korean society emerging from the poverty and archaisms of the past, explore a city recklessly discovering the modernity and prosperity that come with occupation. Directed by Hayoun Kwon and produced by Innerspace VR. The winner receives $10,000.

Special Jury Mention for Storyscapes Award: EVOLVER, (United Kingdom, France, United States) – World Premiere. EVOLVER from Marshmallow Laser Feast is a collective virtual reality experience which drops audiences deep inside the landscape of the body, following the flow of oxygen through our branching ecosystem, to a single ‘breathing’ cell. Through this transcendental narrative, it becomes clear that breath not only sparks life, but also connects us to the natural world through the cycle of respiration.

Project Creators: Marshmallow Laser Feast, Jonny Greenwood, Meredith Monk, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Howard Skempton. Producers: Nicole Shanahan (Bia-Echo), Edward R. Pressman, and & Sam Pressman (Pressman Film), Terrence Malick (TF Malick Productions), Antoine Cayrol (Atlas V), and Mike Jones (Marshmallow Laser Feast).

“LGBTQ + VR Museum”

New Voices Award: LGBTQ + VR Museum, (United Kingdom, Denmark) – North American Premiere. LGBTQ + VR Museum is the world’s first virtual reality museum dedicated to celebrating the stories and artwork of LGBTQ people by preserving queer personal histories. The museum contains 3D scans of touching personal artifacts, from wedding shoes to a teddy bear, chosen by people in the LGBTQ community and accompanied by their stories told in their own words. The in-person version presented at Tribeca is a never-before-seen multiplayer biometric experience controlled by users’ emotions in real-time. Project Creators: Antonia Forster and Thomas Terkildsen. Producer: Albert Millis.

TRIBECA GAMES COMPETITION

“Thirsty Suitors”

Tribeca Games Award: Thirsty Suitors, (United States) – World Premiere. Jala is a young woman returning home for her sister’s wedding and confronting her past. With wildly varied gameplay, Jala will fight skate punks, random suitors, and ultimately, her exes, in the ultimate battle to heal old hurts and ignite new truths, bringing Jala closer to understanding what she wants from her future. Can she learn to love herself and heal the wounds of her past? Created by Outerloop Games. Published by Annapurna Interactive

Special Jury Mention for Tribeca Games Award: Oxenfree II: Lost Signals (United States) – World Premiere. OXENFREE II: Lost Signals is the mind-bending follow-up to the critically-acclaimed narrative adventure game OXENFREE from Night School Studio. In the small coastal town of Camena, unnaturally occurring electromagnetic waves are causing interference with electrical and radio equipment.

Reluctantly, Riley Poverly returns to her hometown to investigate the mystery. What she finds is more than she bargained for. Created by Night School Studios. Published by Netflix.

HUMAN / NATURE COMPETITION

Edward Buckles Jr. holding a photo in “Katrina Babies” (Photo by Myesha Evon Gardner)

HUMAN / NATURE Award: Katrina Babies, (United States) – World Premiere, presented by Bulleit. Katrina Babies is a first-person account of the short-term and long-term devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, as told by young people who were between the ages of 3 and 19 when the levees broke. Directed by Edward Buckles Jr.. Written by Edward Buckles Jr., Luther Clement Lam, Audrey Rosenberg. Produced by Edward Buckles Jr., Audrey Rosenberg, Rebecca Teitel. With Miesha Williams, Cierra Chenier, Arnold Burks, Damaris Calliet, Calvin Baxter, Quintina Thomas Green. An HBO Documentary Films release. The winner receives $5,000 and a custom engraved bottle of Bulleit Bourbon.

AT&T PRESENTS UNTOLD STORIES COMPETITION

AT&T Presents Untold Stories: Smoking Tigers, (United States). Over one summer spent at an elite academic bootcamp, a lonely Korean American teenager hides her true identity to fit in, only to discover the bittersweet pains of adulthood. Directed and Written by So Young Shelly Yo. Produced by Guo Guo. Untold Stories is a multi-year, multi-tier alliance between AT&T and the Tribeca Festival that awards $1 million dollars, mentorship, and distribution support to systemically underrepresented filmmakers to produce their films. Smoking Tigers will also be guaranteed a premiere at the 2023 Tribeca Festival, subject to timely delivery of the film and granted a dedicated “first look” opportunity with HBO Max.

TRIBECA X AWARD COMPETITION

“The Beauty of Blackness”

Best Feature for Tribeca X: The Beauty of Blackness. Brand: Sephora. Agency: Epic Digital, VOX Creative, Digitas, Ventureland. Directors: Kianna Moore and Tiffany Johnson. In 1973, Eunice Johnson, the founder of Ebony and Jet, noticed a problem: Black women had to mix their own foundation in order to find a color that matched their skin. To tackle the problem, Johnson launched Fashion Fair, the first national cosmetics company that focused entirely on Black women. The brand triggered a renaissance in style among Black women and the global cosmetics industry took notice. Now, Fashion Fair is staging its comeback as a Black-owned business in a new era defined by massive cultural shifts and increased competition. The Beauty of Blackness follows current Fashion Fair CEO Desiree Rogers and President Cheryl Mayberry McKissack as they face the massive undertaking that goes into reviving an iconic beauty brand amidst a new cultural context and gives a front-row look to how the industry has changed, and how much progress we still have to make.

“The Comeback”

Best Short for Tribeca X: The Comeback. Brand: Apple. Agency: TBWA\Media Arts Lab Shanghai. Director: Zhang Meng. The story follows a disheartened young stunt double-slash-wannabe director, his father, and a rag-tag crew of villagers as they set out to shoot an out-of-this-world movie in hopes of reviving their fading village and making it “internet famous”. This 23-minute heartwarming story is set to encourage everyone to never stop believing in their dreams, even if that dream is as far aways as Mars. Will they succeed in the end? A multi-genre movie mixes up Hollywood sci-fi, traditional Kung Fu action and nostalgic feel-good comedy, entirely shot on iPhone.

“Stories About Helpful People”

Best Series for Tribeca X: Stories About Helpful People. Brand: Zendesk. Creative Studio: Even/Odd. Directors: Sindha Agha, Erin Brethauer, and Tim Hussin. As a customer support company, everything Zendesk does — from how they build their customer experience software to the way they work with customers, is all about being helpful. It’s the spirit they believe in. “Stories About Helpful People” is a series of mini-documentaries and photo stories. It’s a series intended to inspire the Zendesk community to rally around the spirit of helpfulness. In GOLDEN AGE KARATE, a high school student helps a group of senior citizens get through a vulnerable time, by teaching them karate. In ERIC AND THE BEES, a U.S. military veteran discovers that beekeeping helps him cope with PTSD — and teaches other vets the healing powers of the hive.

Best Immersive for Tribeca X: Emerging Radiance: Honoring the Nikkei Farmers of Bellevue. Brand: Meta. Creators: Tani Ikeda and Michelle Kumata. Emerging Radiance, directed by Tani Ikeda and illustrated by Michelle Kumata, celebrates the untold stories of Japanese American strawberry farmer

who lived in Bellevue from 1920 to 1942. With a hand-painted mural and Spark AR Instagram filters, visitors have the opportunity to meet Toshio Ito, Rae Matsuoka Takekawa, and Mitsuko Hashiguchi, three survivors of the World War II incarceration camps, as they share in their own words their connections to the land before World War II, during incarceration, and post-World War II. Produced by Meta Open Arts.

About the Tribeca Festival

The Tribeca Festival, presented by OKX, brings artists and diverse audiences together to celebrate storytelling in all its forms, including film, TV, VR, games, music, and online work. With strong roots in independent film, Tribeca is a platform for creative expression and immersive entertainment. Tribeca champions emerging and established voices; discovers award-winning filmmakers and creators; curates innovative experiences; and introduces new technology and ideas through premieres, exhibitions, talks, and live performances.

The Festival was founded by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, and Craig Hatkoff in 2001 to spur the economic and cultural revitalization of lower Manhattan following the attacks on the World Trade Center. Tribeca will celebrate its 21st year from June 8–19, 2022.

In 2019, James Murdoch’s Lupa Systems, a private investment company with locations in New York and Mumbai, bought a majority stake in Tribeca Enterprises, bringing together Rosenthal, De Niro, and Murdoch to grow the enterprise.

About the 2022 Tribeca Festival Partners

The 2022 Tribeca Festival is presented by OKX and with the support of our partners: AT&T, Audible, Bayer’s One a Day, Bloomberg Philanthropies, CHANEL, City National Bank, CNN Films, Converse, Diageo, Discovery+, DoorDash, Indeed, Meta, NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, Sephora, Spring Studios New York, P&G, United Airlines and Unreal Engine.

June 18, 2022 UPDATE:

AUDIENCE AWARD – NARRATIVE

Babetida Sadjo and Souléymane Sy Savané in “Our Father, the Devil” (Photo by Tinx Chan)

First Place: Our Father, the Devil – Directed by Ellie Foumbi
Marie Cissé’s (Babetida Sadjo) troubled past comes calling with the arrival of Father Patrick (Souléymane Sy Savané), an African priest whom she recognizes from a terrifying episode in her homeland.

Second Place: Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying– Directed by Parker Seaman
A personalized video message to a coworker who contracted COVID, ignites an artistic fire in two aspiring directors, inspiring them to take a cross country road trip to visit their sick friend.

AUDIENCE AWARD – DOCUMENTARY

Jason Wilson (pictued at right) in “The Cave of Adullam” (Photo by Greg Harriott)

First Place: The Cave of Adullam– Directed by Laura Checkoway
A heartwarming look at Detroit martial arts teacher Jason Wilson, who mentors young Black boys, giving them rare and invaluable experience of being seen and cared for as the vulnerable beings they are.

Second Place: Lift– Directed by David Peterson New York Theatre Ballet’s Project LIFT program has been offering scholarships to homeless, home insecure and at-risk children, exposing them to the beauty and discipline of ballet, often for the first time while helping them develop talent they never knew they had.

AUDIENCE AWARD – ONLINE

Alex Trewhitt in “Cherry” (Photo by Damien Steck)

First Place: Cherry – Directed by Sophia Galibert
A driftless and uncommitted 25-year-old in Los Angeles discovers she has only 24 hours to make one of the most consequential decisions of her life, what to do about an unplanned pregnancy.

Second Place: In Her Name– Directed by Sarah Carter
Frustrated, aspiring artist Freya has to put her career on hold to care for her formerly famous artist dad. When her estranged, well-heeled sister Fiona shows up, the sisters grapple with the impending demise of their father, reigniting their sibling rivalry.

Review: ‘The Lost Weekend: A Love Story,’ starring May Pang

June 15, 2022

by Carla Hay

An archival photo of John Lennon and May Pang in “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” (Photo courtesy of May Pang Collection)

“The Lost Weekend: A Love Story”

Directed by Eve Brandstein, Richard Kaufman and Stuart Samuels

Culture Representation: The documentary film “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” features a nearly all-white group people (with one Asian) discussing the 1973-1975 love affair that John Lennon had with May Pang, who was also his personal assistant at the time.

Culture Clash: Pang, who is the documentary’s narrator, says that Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono insisted that Pang start an affair with Lennon during the spouses’ separation, and that Ono was the cause of manipulative conflicts that eventually led to Lennon reuniting with Ono.

Culture Audience: “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” will appeal mainly to fans of Lennon and the Beatles who want to know more about the life that Lennon had when he was separated from Ono.

In the very personal documentary “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story,” May Pang narrates and shares her memories of the love affair that she had with John Lennon from 1973 to 1975. Pang’s 1983 memoir “Loving John” went into many of the same details. However, this cinematic version of Pang’s story is a visual treat and an emotional journey that offers intriguing photos and audio recordings, including rare chronicles of Lennon’s reunions with his former Beatles bandmate Paul McCartney. “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

Directed by Eve Brandstein, Richard Kaufman and Stuart Samuels (who are also the producers of the documentary), “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” refers to the notorious “Lost Weekend” in Lennon’s life. It actually wasn’t a weekend but it was in reality a period of about 18 months when Lennon was separated from his second wife, Yoko Ono, whom he married in 1969. It was also a time when, by Lennon’s own admission, he was drinking and drugging heavily, although Lennon says he eventually sobered up and stopped his hard-partying ways around the time he made his 1975 album “Rock and Roll.”

The documentary starts out with Pang describing her turbulent childhood where she often felt like a misfit. Born in New York City on October 24, 1950, Pang says that her Chinese immigrant parents had an unhappy marriage. She spent much of her childhood growing up in New York City’s Spanish Harlem district, which was populated by mostly African Americans and Puerto Ricans. “I was a minority among minorities,” Pang comments in the documentary.

Pang describes her father as “abusive” and someone who eventually abandoned her when he adopted a son, since her father was open about preferring to have a son. By contrast, Pang describes having a close relationship with her loving mother, who encouraged Pang to be strong and independent. Pang’s mother, who had “beauty and brains,” opened her own laundromat called OK Laundry. Pang’s older biological sister is not mentioned in the documentary.

Pang says, “Dad was an atheist, and Mom was a Buddhist, so naturally, they sent me to Catholic school … Dad fought with Mom. I fought with the nuns, so my only escape was music.” From an early age, Pang says, “I was hooked on rock and roll, especially these four guys from Liverpool.”

Those “four guys from Liverpool” in England were, of course, the Beatles. Pang didn’t like school very much, so she dropped out of college and quickly found a job working at the New York offices of ABKCO, the company that managed Apple Corps, the Beatles’ entertainment company. ABKCO, which was founded by Allen Klein, also managed Lennon’s solo career.

Pang says she walked right in the office one day, asked if they were hiring, and she basically lied about having secretary skills in order to get the job. A week later, she started working for ABKCO’s Apple Corps side of the business. Pang describes herself as a go-getter who doesn’t get easily defeated.

But not long after she started working for Apple Corps, the Beatles announced their breakup in 1970. Pang then started to do more ABKCO work for the company’s management of Lennon’s solo career. By the early 1970s, Lennon and Ono had relocated to New York City as their primary home base, although they still maintained a home in England. And then, Pang was asked by Lennon and Ono to leave ABKCO to be the couple’s personal assistant. She eagerly accepted the offer.

Sometime in 1973, Lennon and Ono decided to separate. Ono had an unusual demand during this separation: According to Pang, Ono told Pang that Pang had to start an affair with Lennon. The reason? Ono knew that Lennon would be dating other women, and she felt that Pang was a “safe choice.” Pang and Lennon than moved to Los Angeles, where the so-called “Lost Weekend” really began. In the documentary’s archival interview footage (which is mostly from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s), Ono doesn’t really deny Pang’s claims but is vague about how she interacted with Lennon and Pang during the marital separation.

Just as Pang did in her memoir and in many interviews that she’s given over the years, Pang says in the documentary that she was at first very confused and frightened by Ono’s demand for Pang to have an affair with Lennon. Up until that point, Pang’s relationship with Lennon was strictly professional. Pang says her first instinct was to say no, but she eventually agreed because she says she didn’t want to lose her job. She also liked Lennon immensely as a person. Pang describes him as witty, funny, intelligent and generous, but with a bit of cruel streak and some insecurities that didn’t make him always easy to deal with on a daily basis.

Pang says that after Ono gave Lennon “permission” to start dating Pang, Lennon ended up pursuing Pang, starting with flirting. Flirting led to kissing, and then after a short period of time, they became lovers. Pang says, “Before I knew it, John Lennon charmed the pants off of me.” Pang remembers her first sexual encounter with Lennon: “After we made love, I started to cry.” She says she asked him: “What does this mean?” Lennon replied, “I don’t know.”

Pang says in the documentary that she believes Ono mistakenly assumed that Lennon and Pang would have a casual fling. Instead, Pang says that her romance with Lennon was true love for the both of them, and she and Lennon eventually moved in together. Before Lennon and Ono reunited in 1975, Pang says that Pang and John looked at houses on New York’s Long Island, because he was planning to buy a Long Island home where they could live together.

At the beginning of the relationship, Pang and Lennon spent most of their time in Los Angeles, where he did a lot of heavy partying with friends such Ringo Starr (his former Beatles bandmate), Harry Nilsson, Keith Moon, Alice Cooper, Mickey Dolenz and former Apple Corps employee Tony King. Cooper said they called themselves the Hollywood Vampires. The documentary includes some amusing video footage of King, dressed in drag as Queen Elizabeth II, doing a commercial for Lennon’s 1973 “Mind Games” album, with Lennon and King goofing around with his ball gown lifted up to show his underwear.

The intoxicated partying wasn’t all fun and games. Pang retells the infamous stories about how much of a tyrant Phil Spector was as a music producer in the studio, especially when he was drunk, which was often at the time. Spector was a producer of the Beatles’ 1970 “Let It Be” album and several of Lennon’s solo albums. Pang was there to witness Spector taking out a gun and shooting during an argument in the studio. (It’s a well-known story.)

Luckily, no one was physically hurt during that incident. But considering that in 2009, Spector was convicted of the 2003 shooting murder of actress Lana Clarkson, it’s an example of how his dangerous and erratic behavior had been going on for years prior to the murder. (Spector was still a prisoner in California when he died of COVID-19 complications in 2021. He was 81.)

Eventually, Lennon befriended Elton John and David Bowie, which resulted in successful collaborations with these other music legends. Lennon provided background vocals for Bowie’s 1975 hit “Fame.” John provided harmony and played keyboards on Lennon’s 1974 hit “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night.” Pang retells the story of how she and Lennon were in bed watching televangelist Reverend Ike on TV, and the preacher said, “Whatever gets you through the night” as part of the sermon. It inspired Lennon to write the song.

Lennon and John performed “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” live one time on stage at John’s Madison Square Garden concert on November 28, 1974, after Lennon lost a bet. When they were recording the song in the studio, John had predicted that the song would be a No. 1 hit in the United States. Lennon disagreed, so John made a bet with Lennon that if the song became a No. 1 hit, Lennon would have to perform the song in concert with John if that prediction turned out to be true.

This concert was Lennon’s first time performing at an arena show without the Plastic Ono Band (whose members included Ono), and it would turn out to be his last time performing in public. Pang describes Lennon as being extremely nervous before the performance. It was also at this fateful concert that Ono showed up backstage in what would be among the many signs that she was ready to get back together with Lennon.

Pang says in the documentary that some of her best memories of being with Lennon were the times she spent in the recording studio with him. She was credited as a production coordinator in several solo albums that Lennon made during the 1970s. Pang also did some backup vocals on a few of Lennon’s solo songs, most notably on “#9 Dream” from Lennon’s 1973 “Walls and Bridges” album. Pang can be heard whispering “John” on the song.

She got to witness a lot of music history, including a jam session with Lennon, McCartney and Stevie Wonder doing an impromptu version of Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me.” Pang says that Linda McCartney (Paul’s first wife) was playing the organ during this session, while Pang and Mal Evans (former Beatles road manager/personal assistant) accompanied on tambourine. The documentary includes a brief audio clip of this recording session, which is believed to be the last recording of Lennon and Paul McCartney playing music together.

Pang was an avid photographer who took a lot of photos during this period of time that she was involved with Lennon. Her photo book “Instamatic Karma: Photographs of John Lennon” was published in 2008. “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” also includes many photos from Pang’s personal collection, including a photo that Pang took of Lennon and Paul McCartney at a hillside house in Los Angeles where Lennon was staying in 1974. (The house was semi-famous for being where Marilyn Monroe would have sexual trysts with John F. Kennedy and his younger brother Robert F. Kennedy.) The candid photo shows Lennon and Paul McCartney sitting outside (on what looks like a balcony) and talking while shielding the sun with their hands near their eyes. Pang says it’s the last-known photo of Lennon and Paul McCartney together.

“The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” also includes several of Lennon’s sketches and doodles that he gave to Pang as gifts. One of these drawings shown in the documentary is of the UFO sighting that Pang says she and Lennon experienced one night when they were on the top of their apartment building on August 23, 1974. Another illustration shows what Lennon (who went to art school when he was in his teens) thought his future would look like. The drawing depicts him in a heavenly-type garden as a naked, potbellied old man with a young-looking and nude Pang floating above on a cloud.

Pang also credits Lennon with being the inspiration for her political awakening in the early 1970s. He was an outspoken anti-war activist, which got him on the “enemy of the state” radar of then-U.S. president Richard Nixon, whose administration caused immigration problems for Lennon. It was revealed years ago that Lennon was under FBI surveillance during this time. All of these issues are mentioned in the documentary through archival news footage. Pang doesn’t give any further insight, except to say she saw firsthand that Lennon knew he was being spied on by the U.S. government, and he was paranoid about it.

One of the most poignant aspects of the documentary is Pang describing how she befriended John’s son Julian (from John Lennon’s first marriage, which ended in divorce), who came from England to visit John Lennon on a semi-regular basis, after father and son ended an estrangement that had been going on for a number of years. Pang remembers Julian being a mischievous child but an overall good kid who craved his father’s love and attention. Pang says she encouraged John Lennon and Julian to spend as much father/son time together, which Pang says was in direct contrast to what Ono wanted.

Pang says that when Julian called, Ono would sometimes order Pang not to put the call through to John Lennon, so that Julian wouldn’t be able to talk to his father. According to Pang, Ono also ordered Pang to lie to John Lennon about how many times Julian called. In the documentary, Pang expresses deep regret about participating in these lies. Pang says that her friendship with Julian also extended to Julian’s mother, Cynthia Lennon, who died of cancer in 2015, at the age of 75.

Even when John Lennon and Pang were thousands of miles away from Ono, Pang says that Ono was a constant presence in their lives, because Ono would call at all hours of the day and night. Ono is described by Pang as being a highly manipulative control freak, who eventually got jealous that John Lennon had fallen in love with Pang. Ono wasn’t exactly celibate during the marital separation, since it’s mentioned in the documentary that her guitarist David Spinozza was Ono’s lover.

In the documentary, Pang fully acknowledges that John Lennon loved Ono too, and that he once loved his first wife Cynthia. However, Pang wants to make it clear that the love that she and John Lennon shared was real and very meaningful to both of them. Some people interviewed in the documentary, including John Lennon’s son Julian, confirm that John Lennon and Pang were in love with each other. Things were more complicated for Pang in this love triangle because John Lennon and Ono remained her employers during her entire “Lost Weekend” affair with John.

Pang says that even though John Lennon and Ono reunited in 1975, he was never completely out of Pang’s life. In the documentary, she admits that she and John Lennon would occasionally see each other and had secret, intimate trysts in the years after he and Ono had gotten back together. Pang does not mention Sean Lennon (John Lennon and Ono’s son), who was born on October 9, 1975, which was John Lennon’s 35th birthday. Like many people around the world, Pang was devastated when John Lennon was murdered on December 8, 1980.

An epilogue in the documentary mentions that Pang was married to music producer Tony Visconti from 1989 to 2003. The former spouses have two children together: Sebastian and Lara, who both are seen briefly in a childhood photo. But since this documentary is about Pang’s time with John Lennon, don’t expect to hear any details about what happened in her life during and after her marriage to Visconti.

One of the curiosities and flaws of “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” is that it has voiceover comments from several people who knew John Lennon and Pang during the Lennon/Pang love affair, but it’s unclear how much of those comments are audio recordings that were made specifically for the documentary, or if they are archival recordings from other interviews. Paul McCartney, Cynthia Lennon, Julian Lennon, Cooper, King, drummer Jim Keltner, Spinozza, photographer Bob Gruen, former Apple Corps employee Chris O’Dell, attorney Harold Seider and former Apple Corps employee Francesca De Angelis (who gave Pang the job at Apple) are among those whose voices are heard in the documentary. Pang and Julian Lennon are the only ones seen talking on camera for documentary interviews. (Pang doesn’t make her on-camera appearance until near the end of the movie.)

“The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” has the expected array of archival video footage from various media outlets, but there’s also some whimsical animation to illustrate some of Pang’s fascinating anecdotes. She has a tendency to name drop like a star-struck fan, but it might be because she was and perhaps still is a star-struck fan of many of the people she got to hang out with during her relationship with John Lennon. Pang also says that she did not drink alcohol or do drugs during this period of time. It made her an outsider to some of the partying, but this sobriety allowed her to continue to do her job professionally when she was required to do a lot of important planning and scheduling in John Lennon’s career and personal life.

Pang briefly mentions that sometimes John Lennon was physically abusive to her when he would be in a drunken blackout, but that he was extremely remorseful and apologetic for his abuse when he was sober. Pang will only admit that he shoved her against a wall, but you get the feeling that the abuse was much worse than that, because at one point she says she temporarily fled to New York because she was scared of John Lennon. He later made public apologies and expressed regrets to people whom he hurt in his life. The documentary includes a media interview with one of these regretful apologies.

Despite his flaws, Pang says that John Lennon was someone who really did try to live by his “peace and love” values that he shared with the world. He was a brilliant artist, of course. But viewers of “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” will also come away with a deeper sense that he was not only Pang’s first love but also an unforgettable friend.

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