Review: ‘Brian and Charles,’ starring David Earl and Chris Hayward

June 14, 2022

by Carla Hay

David Earl and Chris Hayward in “Brian and Charles” (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

“Brian and Charles”

Directed by Jim Archer

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed rural village in Wales, the comedy/drama film “Brian and Charles” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few people of Asian heritage) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A lonely, middle-aged inventor creates a talking robot to be his companion, but the local village bully is a threat to the robot’s safety.

Culture Audience: “Brian and Charles” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in endearing movies about unconventional friendships.

David Earl and Louise Brealey in “Brian and Charles” (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

Simple yet effective, the comedy/drama “Brian and Charles” has witty charm that’s both low-key and laugh-out-loud funny. Audiences will root for the underdogs in this memorable story about a friendship between a lonely inventor and the outspoken robot he created. “Brian and Charles” (which had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival) is also an admirable feature-film debut from director Jim Archer, whose previous work has been in television and short films.

Much of the creative success of “Brian and Charles” also comes from co-writers David Earl and Chris Hayward, who co-star in the movie as the title characters. Earl, Hayward and director Archer adapted “Brian and Charles” from their 2017 short film of the same name. At times, the feature-length version of “Brian and Charles” seems like a collection of skit scenes to stretch out a concept that was originally in a short film, but it doesn’t really feel like unnecessary filler since every scene has a purpose in the development of the movie’s characters.

“Brian and Charles” also doesn’t clutter up the story with too many characters. That’s mainly because the entire movie takes place and was filmed on location in an unnamed rural village in Wales. In this village, a middle-aged inventor named Brian (played by Earl) lives by himself in a very cluttered cottage that has a few other small buildings on the property. It’s a farm-like property where he can grow some of his own food, but he also goes to a local convenience store to buy anything else that he might need. The convenience store has a friendly clerk named Winnie (played by Lynn Hunter), who sees a lot of what’s going on with the villagers, since the store is the closest of its kind in the area.

“Brian and Charles” is filmed as if it’s a mockumentary, because an unnamed and unseen filmmaker is documenting Brian’s life. The director can be heard occasionally talking to Brian off-camera. Brian is an eccentric loner who makes things that no one really wants to buy. In the beginning of the movie, he talks about how he’s financially struggling. “I started making stuff, inventions, I guess,” he comments on how he coped with being a social outsider.

Brian shows some of his inventions that include an egg belt, which is essentially a tool belt made for eggs. Another “invention,” which is really just a fashion design, is a pine cone purse, which is basically a purse with pine cones glued to it. Brian mentions that when he’s not tinkering in his garage on his inventions, he sometimes likes to go to the local pub. At home, Brian’s only living companion is a brown mouse that he calls Mr. Williams.

One day, Brian happens to find the head of a male mannequin in a trash dump area. He brings this mannequin head to his home and announces to the camera: “I’m building a robot. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before.” Brian explains that he wants this robot to be “strong and agile,” so “it can help me with things around the house.”

It isn’t long before Brian has completed the robot (played by Hayward), which he proudly introduces. This robot, which stands about 7 feet tall, has artificial intelligence and a hodgepodge of body parts, including a midsection made from an old washing machine. Brian quips “I’ve learned that building a robot is much like making a cake. You start off wanting Victoria sponge, and it comes out like a blancmange. That’s fine, because I love blancmanges.”

Brian thinks that this robot will be a passive invention that will do whatever Brian tells it to do. But on a rainy night of thunder and lightning, Brian hears what appears to be an intruder rummaging around outside near the house. A terrified Brian goes outside and finds out the “intruder” is really the robot, which has found some cabbage that it wants to eat. The robot’s fixation on cabbage becomes a recurring joke in the movie.

Brian scolds the robot to put the cabbage down. But it’s at this moment that Brian knows that the robot has a mind of its own and is resisting Brian’s efforts to bring the robot in the house. “This is overwhelming,” Brian comments on discovering that this robot has a tendency to be defiant.

Eventually, Brian is able to calm down the robot, and Brian decides that it’s time to give the robot a name. It’s an amusing scene, where the robot recoils in displeasure when Brian first suggests the names Tony and Clive. The implication is that the robot thinks that those names aren’t “cool enough” or wouldn’t fit the personality for the robot.

But when Brian brings up the name Charles, the robot is pleased with that suggestion. The robot, whose voice sounds like a male computer voice, then adds that his name is Charles Petrescu. The name sticks, and the robot is officially named Charles.

Brian soon finds out that although Charles has encyclopedic knowledge about many things, Charles often acts like a rebellious kid who has to be told repeatedly what the house rules are. Charles often ignores the rules, much to Brian’s frustration. However, Charles is also a loyal companion to Brian.

Brian and Charles have fun playing outdoor games and watching television. There’s a funny montage of Brian and Charles bonding, such as dancing to the Communards’ cover version of “Don’t Leave Me This Way” in the kitchen, or doing outdoor activities while the Turtles’ “Happy Together” plays on the movie’s soundtrack. There’s also a sweet-natured scene when Brian and Charles tell each other, “I’m your friend.”

An example of how Charles whimsically reacts to the world is when Brian and Charles are watching television one day, and they see a travel report about Hawaii, including footage of hula dancers. Charles gets immediately excited and says that he wants to go to Hawaii, specifically Honolulu (which he has trouble pronouncing), but Brian says they can’t afford it. Not long afterward, Brian comes home to see Charles out in the yard wearing a hula dancer skirt made out paper instead of grass.

Brian knows that Charles is special, so he’s very reluctant to tell or show other people that Charles exists. One of the main reasons for this secrecy is that the villagers live in fear of the village bully Eddie Tommington (played by Jamie Michie), a middle-aged brute who doesn’t hesitate to get violent when he wants to intimidate people. Eddie is also a thief who steals from the locals. And when he goes into the convenience store, it’s not unusual for Eddie to scare Winnie into letting him walk out with merchandise without paying.

Eddie lives in a ramshackle house with his girlfriend or wife Pam (played by Nina Sosanya) and his twin teenage daughters Katrina (played by Lowri Izzard) and Suki (played by Mari Izzard), all of whom are very crass and mean-spirited. Pam used to date Brian before she was with Eddie, although it’s never made clear how long ago Brian and Pam were involved with each other. Brian’s past with Pam is all the more reason for Eddie to have bad blood with Brian.

But someone in the village eventually does find out about Charles. Her name is Hazel, a shy middle-aged bachelorette (played by Louise Brealey), who lives with her domineering and cranky mother June (played by Cara Chase) and their pet parrot. From the moment that viewers see Charles and Hazel together, it’s obvious that these two lovelorn singles are romantically attracted to each other but are hesitant to do anything about this attraction.

Hazel finds out about Charles when she sees Charles in Brian’s truck after Brian has driven into town to do some shopping. Brian has decided that it’s time to bring Charles with him into town, so that Charles could see more of the village besides Brian’s property. Hazel takes an instant liking to Charles, who amusingly tries to be a little bit of a matchmaker, by encouraging Brian to ask Hazel out on a date.

Before Charles and Brian took their trip into town, there was some arguing between Charles and Brian over where Charles was going sit in the truck. Brian wanted Charles to sit in the back, while Charles insisted on sitting in the front. Charles got his way. During the trip, Charles asks Brian, “Are we there yet?” It’s another example of how the movie makes Charles a mixture of having the intelligence and identity of an adult but the impatience and curiosity of a child.

Eddie, who hosts a big bonfire party in the village every year, eventually finds out about Charles too. It leads to the movie’s main conflict, which plays out in a way that is somewhat predictable, but nevertheless emotionally touching. Eddie, Pam, Katrina and Suki aren’t much more than bully stereotypes, with no meaningful background information given on Eddie or anyone else in the household. Pam’s past relatonship with Brian is barely mentioned.

In the “oddball” friendship and comedic rapport between Brian and Charles, Brian is the obvious straight man to unpredictable and wacky Charles. However, what the movie does so well is show how both of these friends end up learning from each other in ways that they did not expect. Hayward’s hilarious physical and vocal performance as Charles will convince viewers that this robot has a true personality and not just artificial intelligence.

Some viewers might be disappointed in “Brian and Charles” if they’re expecting to see more action-adventure scenes in the movie. It’s definitely more of a “slice of life” film that focuses on everyday occurrences instead of trying to have exaggerated or outlandish escapades for this unusual robot and its inventor. For audiences who like movies about ordinary people who go out of their comfort zones and learn from these experiences, “Brian and Charles” offers a poignant and delightful story that leaves quite an impression.

Focus Features will release “Brian and Charles” in select U.S. cinemas on June 17, 2022.

Review: ‘Good Luck to You, Leo Grande,’ starring Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack

June 12, 2022

by Carla Hay

Daryl McCormack and Emma Thompson in “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” (Photo by Nick Wall/Searchlight Pictures/Hulu)

“Good Luck to You, Leo Grande”

Directed by Sophie Hyde

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in England, the comedy/drama film “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” features a small number of cast of characters (a few white people, one biracial person and one Asian person) representing the working-class and the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A repressed, middle-aged widow hires a gigolo to help her get in touch with her sexuality, and they have debates and other discussions about sexual confidence, relationships and his escort work. 

Culture Audience: “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” will appeal primarily to people interested in well-acted movies that explore issues about how middle-aged women are often viewed by society and by themselves when it comes to sexuality and being “lovable.”

Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack in “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” (Photo by Nick Wall/Searchlight Pictures/Hulu)

The title of “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” has the name of the gigolo in this comedy/drama, but the movie’s more fascinating story arc is with Nancy Stokes, the woman who hires Leo. Emma Thompson, who plays Nancy in the movie, gives a stellar performance in this conversation-driven film that has authentic, poignant and sometimes hilarious depictions of sexuality, sex work and the need for human beings to connect with each other in a meaningful way. “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Directed by Sophie Hyde and written by Katy Brand, “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” has a very small number of people in its cast, with two characters (Nancy and Leo) getting the vast majority of screen time. That’s because almost all of the scenes in the movie take place at in a room at the Duffield Hotel, where Nancy and Leo meet for their trysts. “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” takes place in an unnamed city in England, but the movie was actually filmed in Norwich, England. It would be easy to assume from the way that the movie is structured that it was adapted from a stage production, but Brand’s “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” is an original screenplay.

“Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” doesn’t waste any time in getting directly to the reason why Nancy and Leo have met. The first scene shows Nancy meeting Leo (played by Daryl McCormack) in the hotel room that she has rented for their first sexual encounter. Nancy is a 55-year-old widow and retired schoolteacher. It will be the first time she has been with a sex worker and the first time she’s had sex with someone other than her husband.

Nancy has hired Leo because, as she tells him, Nancy and her late husband, whom she was married to for 31 years, had a boring sex life. Nancy also tells Leo that sex with her husband was so dull and predictable, he always wanted to have sex quickly and in one position. Nancy confesses to Leo that she’s never had an orgasm and has never had oral sex (because her husband refused to give or receive oral sex), so she wants to know what she’s been missing out on for all these years.

Leo is about 25 to 30 years younger than Nancy, who found Leo on a website where he advertises his services as a sex worker. In their first meeting together, Nancy is very nervous, while Leo is very confident. Leo asks Nancy if he can kiss her on the cheek, and she hesitantly obliges. He compliments her by telling her that the Chanel perfume that she’s wearing is sexy. She adds sarcastically, “For my age.” Leo clarifies, “At any age.”

Much of the movie is about insecure Nancy questioning how sexually attractive she is because of her age, her physical appearance, or lack of experience in having orgasms and trying new things sexually. She often makes self-deprecating remarks in a comedically sarcastic way, but always with an underlying sense of emotional pain. When Nancy and Leo first see each other, one of the first things she says to him is: “Am I a disappointment, so to speak?” Leo’s response is to gently kiss her.

Nancy is not digging for compliments. Nancy has been sexually repressed for years, so it’s affected her self-esteem. She knows it, and she’s ashamed of it. She tells Leo, “I made a decision after my husband died not to fake another orgasm again.” In an example of one of her self-deprecating comments, Nancy later jokes to Leo: “There are nuns with more sexual experience than me. It’s embarrassing.”

Leo deliberately doesn’t reveal much about himself to Nancy, which he says is a policy that he has for all of his clients. During the first meeting between Leo and Nancy, he says he’s originally from Ireland (which is obvious because he has an Irish accent) and that he’s been an escort for a while, without going into detail about exactly how many years he’s been in this line of work. At various times, Nancy tries to get Leo to talk more about himself, but Leo artfully dodges her questions or outright refuses to answer.

However, Leo is quick to tell Nancy that he’s not a desperate or unhappy sex worker. He says he’s willingly doing this work, and it makes him happy to give pleasure to the people who hire him. Leo also says that he has men and women for clients. Nancy doesn’t seem to mind what Leo’s sexual identity is, or the fact that he’s biracial. (Leo appears to be half-black and half-white.) This open-mindedness is an early indication that Nancy isn’t as uptight as she might first appear to be.

Nancy tells Leo in their first meeting, “I’ve never bought anyone before.” Leo gently corrects here: “You didn’t buy me. You bought my services. I’m not being exploited.” Nancy has told Leo up front that she will only meet him for secret encounters in this hotel. She doesn’t want to be seen in public on a “date” with him. Nancy doesn’t want to take the chance that anyone she knows might see her and Leo together, because Nancy doesn’t want to have to lie about or explain to anyone how she knows Leo.

Nancy is still very jittery during this first meeting, so she and Leo have some wine to help her relax. When she tries to get him to talk about himself, so that she can get to know him better, Leo skillfully steers the conversation back to talking about Nancy. A typical response that he gives to avoid answering a personal question is: “I’m whatever you want me to be, here in this moment.”

At times, Nancy seems eager to have sex, by saying, “Let’s get the sex over with.” But when Leo guides her to the hotel bed, Nancy stalls and says, “It feels controversial.” Even when she changes into lingerie, Nancy is still visibly uncomfortable. Nancy wants to talk some more before anything sexual happens between her and Leo.

During this conversation, Nancy demands to know the age of the oldest client Leo has ever had. He tells her 82. She seems relieved to know she’s not the oldest one. Nancy also wants Leo to tell her what he thinks is physically attractive about her. He tells her, “I like your mouth,” which he touches seductively.

Nancy still has a hard time relaxing, so she talks a little bit more about her personal life. She reveals to Leo that she has two adult, unmarried children: a son named Matthew and a daughter named Pamela. Nancy says that she has a better relationship with Matthew than she does with Pamela.

Nancy describes Matthew as “boring.” He has girlfriend who’s studying to be a primary schoolteacher, which Nancy also describes as “boring.” A psychiatrist might have a field day speculating over why Matthew has a girlfriend and a mother who’ve gone into the profession of being schoolteachers, and why Nancy doesn’t seem to approve of this girlfriend’s career choice.

Pamela is described as living a bohemian life in Barcelona, Spain. According to Nancy, she and Pamela don’t have a very good relationship with each other because Pamela thinks Nancy is “cold.” It’s obvious from the way that Nancy talks about her children, she rarely sees them and isn’t very close to them emotionally.

Slowly but surely, Leo reveals a little bit more about his personal life. He mentions that his single mother doesn’t know that he’s a sex worker. Leo has lied to his mother by telling her that he works at an oil rig. It’s still not enough information for Nancy, who keeps wanting to know more about Leo, especially after they meet for more than one tryst.

Nancy and Leo end up having sex during their first meeting, which is not spoiler information because the entire movie is about what Nancy hired Leo to do and how it affects both of them. (The sex scenes in movie, which has full-front nudity, are not pornographic, but they’re very explicit.) Over time, Nancy becomes emotionally attached to Leo. And at times, she gets a little jealous or possessive about him. Nancy wonders how much Leo might have feelings for his other clients.

Leo can see that Nancy is starting to develop romantic feelings for him, so he resists in a way that won’t offend her. “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” realistically shows the balancing act that sex workers have to do when they know that a client might fall in love, but the sex worker has to keep a professional distance while trying not to alienate someone who could be a loyal customer.

Nancy reminds Leo that she’s not a rich woman, and she’s spending a lot of her retirement money on him. It’s a somewhat manipulative way to try to get Leo to open up to her, but he doesn’t really take the bait. And why should he? No one is forcing Nancy to hire a sex worker. No one is telling her how she should spend her money.

Nancy also tries to endear herself to Leo by telling him that she can recommend him to female friends of hers who are also single and looking for sexual satisfaction. It’s another manipulation, because observant viewers can see that Nancy doesn’t really like knowing that Leo has other clients. Nancy knows that what she and Leo have isn’t love, but it seems like she has somewhat of a fantasy that she could be Leo’s favorite client because of the way that she has opened up emotionally to him.

One of the best things about “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” is how it candidly depicts the complications that can happen between a sex worker and a client when emotions get involved. The movie presents these complications in a way that’s very mature and completely believable. “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” also shows how confusion and resentment can arise when a client starts to wonder how genuine a sex worker’s compliments are when the sex worker is essentially being paid to give compliments to the client.

Thompson has the more intricate role to play in the movie, which she handles with great skill and nuance. However, McCormack holds his own very well as the deliberately mysterious Leo, who seems to know how to say all the right things to a client, but Leo gets uncomfortable when it comes to saying things about himself. Fortunately, the last third of the movie gives more depth to Leo than being a sex worker who avoids answering personal questions.

Because “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” takes place mainly in a hotel room, the movie might disappoint some viewers who are expecting more action outside of this hotel room. However, the last third of the movie does have a few scenes outside the hotel that offer a glimpse into what Nancy is like in another environment. These scenes also demonstrate how she might have changed because of her relationship with Leo.

There’s a very illuminating scene where Nancy has an unexpected encounter in a restaurant with a woman in her 20s named Becky (played by Isabella Laughland), who is a former student of Nancy’s and who now works as a server at the restauarant. Becky’s encounter with Nancy gives viewers a perspective of how Nancy was as a teacher. This scene is a way of showing how Nancy’s sexual repression affected other areas of Nancy’s life.

There have been many scripted movies about sex workers and their clients, but if they’re told from the clients’ perspectives, these clients are usually men. “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” is a rare movie that honestly depicts what it’s like for a middle-aged woman to reclaim and explore her sexuality by hiring a sex worker. It’s not trying to sell a gigolo fantasy, because the movie shows the pitfalls of ignoring the realities of sex work. “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” is ultimately an impressive story about a woman who hired a sex worker for one thing, and she ended up getting more than she expected.

Hulu will premiere “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” on June 17, 2022.

Review: ‘The Janes,’ starring Heather Booth, Judith Arcana, Marie Leaner, Dorie Barron, Martha Scott, Diane Stevens and Laura Kaplan

June 7, 2022

by Carla Hay

A 1972 photo of Jane members in “The Janes” (Photo courtesy of HBO)

“The Janes”

Directed by Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes

Culture Representation: The documentary “The Janes” features a predominantly white group of people (with a few African Americans) discussing the Jane network, a Chicago-based group of mostly women who provided abortion services and counseling before the U.S. Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade made abortion legal on a federal level in 1973.

Culture Clash: The Jane network had to be an underground, outlaw group when abortion was illegal, and some members got arrested for homicide in 1972. 

Culture Audience: “The Janes” will appeal primarily to people interested in a fascinating documentary about reproductive rights and people who believe in a woman’s right to choose if or when to have a child.

A 1972 photo of Jane members in “The Janes” (Photo courtesy of HBO)

Regardless of how people feel about abortion, “The Janes” documentary is not only a history lesson about what life in America was like before Roe v. Wade but it’s also a compelling reminder of what’s at stake in reproductive rights and family planning. One of the best things about the movie is that it doesn’t give the narrative over to politicians. Instead, the story is told mostly from the perspectives of people who were involved with the Jane network, the Chicago-based underground group that provided abortion services and counseling at a time when abortion was illegal in Illinois and most other states in America.

The Jane network, whose origins began in 1965, disbanded in 1973, when the U.S. Supereme Court case Roe v. Wade made abortion legal on a federal level. The Jane network got its name because people who needed the services were told to ask for someone with the code name Jane when contacting the network, which advertised through flyers and through word of mouth. The outreach began on college campuses but then extended to many other communities in the Chicago area, including low-income and underprivileged communities.

Directed by Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes, “The Janes” had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. The documentary begins with a harrowing personal story told by Dorie Barron, who got two abortions when abortion was illegal. She got the first abortion at a place that turned out to be disreputable: “I just wanted it over with,” Barron says of the abortion. “I had no other options. I was that desperate.”

Barron also remembers that because of the outlaw nature of this procedure: “It was [like] the mob. You had to talk in code.” “Chevy” meant the abortion cost $500. “Cadillac” meant that the abortion cost $750. “Rolls Royce” mean that the abortion cost $1,000.

Barron vividly recalls that as she was waiting to get her abortion that there were “three men and one woman, who brought another patient. They spoke all of three sentences the entire time: ‘Where’s the money? Lie back and do as I tell you. Get in the bathroom.'”

This cold and uncaring attitude wasn’t the worst of her experience though. After the abortion, she and the other abortion patient were sent to a hotel room. Barron says she was bleeding profusely and decided to get professional medical help for herself, knowing she’d be at risk of being arrested if the medical professional who treated her wanted to report her for having an abortion. “If I had stayed in that hotel room, I’d be dead,” Barron says emphatically.

Barron says she had her second abortion with the Jane network, which she describes as giving her a “total opposite” experience compared to her first abortion. With the Jane network, Barron says: “All I heard were kind words, consideration, concern. When I tell you they changed my life, they changed my life.”

Barron’s story is an example of how the Jane network distinguished itself from the incompetent patient care that other underground abortionists provided. According to “The Janes,” the Jane network is estimated to have performed about 11,000 abortions, with none of the patients dying as a direct result of these abortion procedures. It’s an astounding feat, considering all the horror stories before Roe v. Wade of women and girls who died after getting illegal abortions.

The documentary includes disturbing details of septic wards in Chicago hospitals where women and girls with botched abortions often received improper treatment and sometimes died as a result. Those who didn’t die were at risk of being arrested. Several people in the documentary say that the Jane network was different from other abortion groups because the Jane network was led by women, and the services included empathetic counseling in a safe and non-judgmental atmosphere.

The Jane network’s origins began in 1965, when activist Heather Booth was a student at the University of Chicago. A friend, who was also a University of Chicago student, was raped, and the rape victim was unfairly shamed for being “promiscuous.” In 1965, Booth also became involved in the Freedom Summer Project, an activist event. “And during that summer, I learned you have to stand up to legitimate authority,” Booth says in the documentary. “Sometimes, there are unjust laws that need to be challenged.”

Booth states that the turning point for her to become a reproductive rights activist was when a friend told her that his pregnant sister was suicidal because the pregnancy was unwanted. It motivated Booth to start an underground abortion service that ended up growing into the Jane network, whose official name was Abortion Counseling Service of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union. Booth says in the documentary that when she launched this service, she was referred to Dr. T.M. Howard, a medical professional who could perform abortions. When she started getting more people to refer to Dr. Howard, she knew there was a demand to have an underground network.

“The Janes” documentary has interviews with several other women who worked in the Jane network, including Judith Arcana (also known as Judy Pildes), Marie Leaner, Martha Scott, Diane Stevens, Eleanor Oliver and Laura Kaplan. The documentary also features interviews with women who used the Jane network’s abortion services (or took a friend to the Jane network) but who only wanted to be identified by a first name in this movie. They include women identified by the names Abby, Eileen, Crystal O., Jeanne, Peaches and Sheila.

After Dr. Howard was arrested for performing illegal abortions, Booth was referred to someone who is interviewed in the documentary and uses the alias Mike. When Mike worked with the Janes, he used the code name Dr. Kaplan, even though he was never a medical doctor, but he received abortion training from a real medical doctor. The Jane network found out that Mike wasn’t a real doctor, but continued to use his services out of necessity until they parted ways with him because of money issues.

Mike says he got involved in doing Jane network abortions because it paid about “four or five times” the amount of money that he could make from doing construction work. He says he didn’t get personally involved with any of the patients’ feelings or problems when doing abortions. “It was a job,” he says nonchalantly in the documentary. By his own admission, Mike eventually had a falling out with the Jane network when he wanted to get paid more money than the network could give him.

Leaner comments on Mike: “I thought he was a blowhard, sort of a con man and a showman and a wise guy. But I also thought that he had a heart.” Mike wasn’t the only person doing abortions for the Jane network. Many women of the Jane network eventually performed abortions, even though they were not medical doctors either. It’s mentioned in the documentary that they did so because licensed medical doctors did not want to get involved or would charge too much money.

Because of the secretive nature of the Jane network, it was standard practice to talk in code. “The Front” was the term used for the waiting room. “The Place” would be the place where the abortions procedures happened. Women and girls who needed the abortion services could use aliases, although they often had to provide the real phone numbers where they could be contacted. In an era before the Internet or burner cell phones, it was a lot harder for people to get temporary contact information that couldn’t be traced back to them.

However, the Jane network had a confidentiality policy not just for their clients’ protection but also for their own protection. It’s mentioned in the documentary that the Chicago Mafia got involved (no doubt through payoffs for protection), which is typical of any illegal operation that attracts the Mafia. At a time when the overwhelming majority of attorneys, doctors and clergy were men, the Jane network also had male allies in these professions who would secretly offer their services to Jane clients.

Speaking of attorneys, Arcana’s lawyer husband (who has a surname that is not Arcana) is also interviewed in “The Janes.” At his request, he is only identified in the documentary by his first name: Michael. He says that he and many of his mostly male attorney peers did not want to get involved in abortion issues at the time, not only because abortion was illegal then but also because civil rights attorneys such as himself were more focused on race relations and had little to no interest in women’s rights.

Still, Arcana says that being a white woman married to an attorney helped a great deal when she and six other Jane network members were arrested in Chicago for homicide on May 3, 1972, because of the abortion services that they provided. The arrestees were Arcana, Scott, Stevens, Jeanne Galatzer-Levy, Abby Pariser, Sheila Smith and Madeleine Schwenk. (Ironically, nearly 50 years to the day later—on May 2, 2022—the news website Politico revealed a U.S. Supreme Court leaked draft suggesting that members of the court are preparing to overturn Roe v. Wade.)

Arcana, who had recently given birth at the time of her 1972 arrest, says in the documentary that she had certain privileges that she knew would work to her advantage when it came to getting out on bail. Arcana comments, “Not only was I a nursing mother, I was a college graduate, a white woman, and married to a lawyer. And all of those things were going to get me out on bail. And boy, did I not disbelieve that.”

Because most of the Janes were privileged white women (many were homemakers, college students and full-time activists), they often came from very different backgrounds from many of the low-income people who needed the Jane network’s services. When New York state made abortion legal in 1970, and certain women in the Chicago area could afford to travel to New York for abortions, the Jane clients’ demographics changed to have more low-income people than ever before. “The Janes” documentary mentions that there were tensions and disagreements in the group about how to interact with underprivileged people. The Jane network eventually agreed to offer discounts or free services to those who couldn’t afford to pay the full price.

Issues of race and social class also came up because women of color were rarely allowed to be Jane network leaders. Leaner (who is African American) comments, “There were more women of color—not necessarily on the team of people, but the people who consumed the service.” Kaplan agrees: “The women who came through the Jane network [for abortion services] were very, very different from the women who were in Jane. We would say to women [of color], ‘You can join us,’ but there weren’t a lot of takers.”

“It was a concern for us,” Kaplan says of the differences in racial and social classes between the most of the Jane network workers and most of the Jane network clients, particularly in the network’s later years. “We were primarily white, middle-class women.” The documentary mentions that efforts were made to be mindful of different races and social classes, but the Jane network wasn’t perfect, and it how to deal with race/class differences was an area that always needed improving.

“The Janes” documentary says that Leaner was instrumental in getting civil rights attorney Jo-Anne Wolfson to represent the Jane network defendants in the homicide case. Wolfson, who was initially reluctant to take the case, had a strategy to delay the trial as much as possible. It turned out to be the correct strategy because the U.S. Supreme court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 made the homicide charges no longer legally viable, so the charges were dropped. The Jane network disbanded not long after the Roe v. Wade decision, since their underground services were no longer needed.

The documentary doesn’t sugarcoat that abortion before Roe v. Wade was risky not just for physical reasons and legal reasons, but also for psychological and emotional reasons. The stress of being involved in illegal abortions took a toll on many of the clients and workers of the Jane network. The documentary mentions that one Jane leader identified only as Jody eventually had to check into a psychiatric facility because she had a breakdown. Jody eventually quit the Jane network.

And how did the Jane network stay underground for as long as it did with no arrests until 1972? Arcana’s husband Michael puts it bluntly by saying that a lot of the Jane network’s abortion clients were the wives, girlfriends and daughters of influential people in law enforcement and politics. Many of these men paid for the abortions.

Other people interviewed in the documentary include former Chicago homicide detective Ted O’Connor, Rev. Patricia Novick-Raby and Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper. In the documentary, Dr. Allan Weiland and former registered nurse Kathleen Kennedy talk about what they witnessed in pre-Roe. v. Wade septic wards at Chicago hospitals. A man who is only identified by the name Wayne says in the documentary that he was married to a woman who worked in the Jane network with his full support. “Our daughters understood not to talk about it, but they understood that it was just part of my life,” Wayne comments.

As a documentary, “The Janes” might not change people’s minds about the abortion issue. But the movie certainly succeeds in showing that abortion is a health issue that can affect anyone. This isn’t an issue that should be considered only the realm of a select number of elite politicians and other lawmakers. “The Janes” shows in no uncertain terms that people who are directly affected can be family members, friends and other loved ones of people from all walks of life. These human stories and experiences are at the heart of reproductive rights and family planning.

UPDATE: On June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, thereby eliminating the federal law making abortion legal in the U.S., and giving jurisdiction to each U.S. state to decide what the state’s abortion laws will be. This ruling means that abortions in the U.S. can now be illegal or legal, depending on the state.

HBO and HBO Max will premiere “The Janes” on June 8, 2022.

Review: ‘Hatching,’ starring Siiri Solalinna, Sophia Heikkilä, Jani Volanen, Oiva Ollila and Reino Nordin

May 20, 2022

by Carla Hay

Siiri Solalinna in “Hatching” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

“Hatching”

Directed by Hanna Bergholm

Finnish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in unnamed parts of Finland, the horror flick “Hatching” has an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 12-year-old girl brings home and secretly hides a mysterious bird’s egg, which grows, hatches, and lets loose a terrifying and deadly creature. 

Culture Audience: “Hatching” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching suspenseful horror movies that use gory images as symbols of repressed feelings that affect relationships.

Siiri Solalinna, Sophia Heikkilä, Jani Volanen and Oiva Ollila in “Hatching” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

“Hatching” is a thoroughly absorbing horror movie that uses the hatching of a mysterious egg as a representation of childhood angst and inner demons. In its uniquely gruesome way, “Hatching” offers astute observations of adolescent rebellion in a dysfunctional home. It’s a very impressive feature-film debut from director Hanna Bergholm. “Hatching,” which was written by Ilja Rautsi, had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Most of what happens in “Hatching” (which takes place in unnamed parts of in Finland but was filmed in Latvia) is spoiler information that would give away too many surprises in the movie. However, it’s enough to say that “Hatching” doesn’t waste time in showing that something sinister is about to happen in the home of 12-year-old Finnish girl Tinja (played by Siiri Solalinna), who lives with her parents and her younger brother. It’s a family that, on the surface, appears to be happy, loving and “perfect.” But not everything is what it first appears to be in “Hatching.”

“Hatching” opens with a scene that shows a familiar activity in this household: Tinja’s status-conscious mother (played by Sophia Heikkilä), who does not have a name in the movie, is making another video for her social media blog called “Lovely Everyday Life.” It’s a stereotypical “mommy blog,” where a mother tries to project that she has a picture-perfect life with her husband and children. Even when she’s at home, Tinja’s mother dresses as if she’s about to do a photo shoot for an article about how glamorous mothers are supposed to look.

Tinja’s mother has gathered her unnamed husband (played by Jani Volanen), Tinja and Tinja’s younger brother Matias (played by Oiva Ollila), who’s about 9 or 10 years old, into the house’s living room to film another video showing how “happy” they all are in this family. It’s never stated what the source of the family’s income is, but they have a well-kept, middle-class home. The names of Tinja’s mother and Tinja’s father seem to be deliberately unmentioned, as a way to show they could be like any other parents.

Viewers will immediately notice that Tinja and her mother physically resemble each other (they’re both pretty with long, blonde hair), while Tinja’s father and Matias have a similar physical appearance of wearing glasses and looking a little nerdy. However, the parents’ personalities are not similar to their look alike children. Unlike her extroverted and talkative mother, Tinja is shy and introverted. Matias is outspoken and inquisitive, unlike his father, who is passive and doesn’t ask a lot of questions. Different scenes in the movie show that Tinja’s mother is much more attentive to Tinja than to Matias.

The family’s video session is suddenly interrupted by a thumping sound on a nearby window. Tinja goes to the window to find out the cause of the noise. When Tinja opens the window, a large black bird suddenly flies into the house and starts frantically flapping everywhere in the room, causing several glass items to shatter. The family members try to capture the bird, but it makes the chaos worse, because in chasing after the bird, the family members cause other items in the room to break too. The biggest item that breaks is a glass chandelier, which is destroyed when the bird flies into it, and the hanging chandelier crashes to the ground.

Eventually, the bird is captured. In front of her family members, Tinja’s mother holds the bird in a blanket and snaps its neck to kill it. She kills the bird with no hesitation and with a hint of sadistic pleasure, as if she’s smugly happy to get revenge on this animal that caused damage to her picture-perfect home. Tinja then puts the bird in a trash bin in the family yard. As she walks away, Tinja does not see the bird twitch, as if it’s still alive. And you know what that means in a horror movie.

Not long after this incident, Tinja is out walking in the nearby woods at night because she heard strange noises coming from the woods. She sees a large black bird on the ground. This bird is severely wounded for unknown reasons and is barely alive. To put the bird out of its misery, Tinja kills it with a rock.

And not far from the bird, Tinja finds a small egg, which she takes home and hides underneath her bed pillow. The egg quickly grows into the size of a very large watermelon. Observant viewers will notice that the egg gets bigger every time that Tinja experiences something that makes her very anxious.

Tinja is a gymnast who is being pressured by her mother to win important competitions. Tinja’s mother often watches Tinja during Tinja’s gym practices. When she is practicing gymnastics moves, Tinja generally does well, but she has a tendency to falter when she gets very nervous. And her mother makes her nervous. Tinja’s female gymnastics coach (played by Saija Lentonen) is tough but not abusive. Tinja’s closest friend in her gymnastics class is Reeta (played by Ida Määttänen), who is friendly and outgoing.

Tinja’s mother is the type of parent who will demand that her child keep practicing until everything is perfect. One day, after all the other gymnastics students have left because the practice session is over, Tinja’s mother insists that Tinja can’t leave until she perfects the gym move that Tinja had been practicing. The coach tells Tinja’s mother that it won’t be necessary, since the practice session has ended for the day, but Tinja’s mother persists until Tinja does what is expected of her.

On another occasion, Tinja’s ultra-competitive mother puts on a fake smile when she asks Reetta if she plans to enter the qualifying round of an upcoming competition. When Reetta says yes, Tinja’s mother then makes a point of telling Reetta in front of Tinja that Reetta will have to work extra-hard to defeat Tinja. It puts Tinja in an awkward position of reminding Tinja that she will be competing against Reetta, who is her closest friend. Reetta is not as intense about the competition as Tinja’s mother wants Tinja to be, but since this is a horror movie, you just know that Reetta is not going to go unscathed in this story.

As much as Tinja’s mother is obsessed with projecting the image of “perfection,” she is far from perfect. Tinja finds out one day when she comes home from gym practice alone. repairman named Tero (played by Reino Nordin) is in the living room with Tinja’s mother because he is replacing the broken chandelier. Tero is younger and better-looking than Tinja’s father.

At first, Tero and Tinja’s mother don’t see that Tinja has seen them in the room. Tinja is shocked when she sees her mother slowly rubbing Tero’s leg. And then Tinja’s mother and Tero kiss like lovers, but they quickly stop kissing when they see that Tinja has witnessed this act of infidelity. A little later, Tinja’s mother goes into Tinja’s room to explain what Tinja saw.

“Sometimes, adults have these special friends,” Tinja’s mother says. Tinja asks, “What about Dad?” Her mother replies, “Dad is Dad. You know what he’s like. How about we keep this between us?” Tinja’s mother then says that she’s going away for a few days, implying that it’s probably going to be a tryst with Tero.

Tinja tries to pretend that she’s okay with finding out about her mother’s infidelity, but deep down, it really bothers her. And this burden is made worse because her mother expects her to keep it a secret. However, there’s a point in the movie where Tinja’s father lets it be known to Tinja that he knows that his wife is having an affair with Tero, but Tinja’s father prefers to keep quiet about it because he loves his wife and wants to stay married to her.

Around the time that Tinja finds out about her mother’s extramarital affair, the egg gets larger and eventually hatches. And what comes out of the egg ends up wreaking havoc on people inside and outside the home. It’s enough to say that Tinja ends up naming the creature Alli.

“Hatching” is one of those movies that could have turned out looking tacky and amateurish if it had the wrong cast members and the wrong director. That’s because some parts of the screenplay needed better explanations. For example, the scene where Tinja discovers the egg looks too random and not that believable. What 12-year-old kid is going to walk alone in the woods, in the dead of night, just because of hearing some bird squawking?

There’s another part of the story where Reetta is walking alone at night in an isolated area. That scene also looks a little too fake and contrived. However, those are minor flaws when most of the movie is filmed in a way that makes it believable that Tinja has grown both fond of and afraid of this creature that hatched from the egg.

“Hatching” also makes a point of showing that although it would be easy to assume that this creature is the movie’s villain, Tinja’s self-absorbed mother also does a lot of damage too. In addition to pressuring Tinja to be perfect, Tinja’s mother has inappropriate and hurtful conversations with Tinja about Tero.

At one point, Tinja’s mother tells Tinja: “I think I’m in love. Tero is the best thing that ever happened to me. This is the first time in my life I feel like I really love someone. I have to see where it takes me.” How do you think that would make any child feel to hear a parent say that about someone else?

As good as the cast members are in their roles, this movie really stands out because of Solalinna and her stunning feature-film debut in “Hatching.” As Tinja, she portrays a wide range of emotions with authenticity, along with showing the angst of a child who has to present different sides of herself to the world, in order to keep certain secrets. More than a typical horror movie, “Hatching” shows how destructive this secrecy can be.

Bergholm brings the right amount of pacing to the movie, although at times there’s some unnecessary repetition over how close the creature comes to being discovered in Tinja’s room. The movie’s visual effects are not award-worthy, but they get the job done well in fulfilling a certain purpose. With “Hatching,” the filmmakers and cast members seem to understand that the best horror movies aren’t always about what’s seen on screen but how what happens in the story makes viewers feel. “Hatching” shows in alarming details how the pressure on girls to be “perfect” can be its own kind of horror story.

IFC Films/IFC Midnight released “Hatching” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on April 29, 2022.

Review: ‘Prisoners of the Ghostland,’ starring Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella and Bill Moseley

April 18, 2022

by Carla Hay

Sofia Boutella and Nicolas Cage in “Prisoners of the Ghostland” (Photo courtesy of RLJE Films)

“Prisoners of the Ghostland”

Directed by Sion Sono

Culture Representation: Taking place in Japan, in the fictional city called Samurai Town and in a fictional area called Ghostland, the action film “Prisoners of the Ghostland” features a cast of predominantly white and Asian characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A mysterious man is forced to find a ruthless leader’s enslaved concubine, who has escaped. 

Culture Audience: “Prisoners of the Ghostland” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Nicolas Cage and anyone who likes action movies that have more style than substance.

Bill Moseley (center) in “Prisoners of the Ghostland” (Photo courtesy of RLJE Films)

“Prisoners of the Ghostland” has impressive production design and cinematography, but this visually stylish action flick is too much of an incoherent mess in all other areas to be a truly enjoyable experience. Nicolas Cage’s die-hard fans, who automatically praise everything he does, will probably like “Prisoners of the Ghostland” just because he’s in the movie, in spite of the film’s very obvious failings. Unfortunately, the “Prisoners of the Ghostland” story just too cliché, but the filmmakers try to distract from this unoriginality by cluttering up the movie with predictable fight scenes and some bizarre characters.

Directed by Sion Sono, “Prisoners of the Ghostland”(which takes place in fictional areas of Japan) is essentially a post-apocalyptic film that blends elements of Western movies and samurai movies. “Prisoners of the Ghostland” (written by Aaron Hendry and Reza Sixo Safai) has the over-used “male hero who has to save a woman” concept as the basis for the protagonist’s main mission in this story. Maybe it’s a joke or maybe the filmmakers were just too lazy to come up with a name for the protagonist (played by Cage), but he doesn’t have a name in the movie. He’s listed in the film credits as Hero.

The Hero character is not exactly an upstanding, morally righteous person. He’s in prison for a bank robbery where he and his partner in crime, named Psycho (played by Nick Cassavetes), murdered several innocent bystanders. (This bank robbery is shown in a very bloody flashback.)

Psycho was in a prison transport vehicle that crashed into a truck carrying nuclear waste, which caused a massive explosion, leading to much of the area becoming a wasteland disaster area. (“Prisoners of the Ghostland” was filmed in Japan and Los Angeles. The movie had its world premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.)

A corrupt and twisted leader named Governor (played by Bill Moseley) has created a settlement community called Samurai Town, which is a combination of a modern Japanese city and American Old West village. As such, people in Samurai Town either dress in traditional Japanese clothing or cowboy/cowgirl gear. The Governor keeps women as sex slaves, whom he calls his “granddaughters.”

One of the enslaved women has escaped. Her name is Bernice (played by Sofia Boutella), and the Governor lets Hero out of prison to force Hero to find Bernice and bring her back to the Governor. As part of this mercenary task, the Governor forces Hero to wear a black leather outfit that is rigged with a detonator. The bomb on the suit will go off if Hero does not return Bernice in two days.

There are voice recognition buttons on the outfit’s sleeves, so that Bernice can speak into these devices to confirm that she is with Hero. Electro-chargers have been placed around Hero’s neck and testicles that will detonate if he tries to take off this outfit before the task is completed. Instead of taking the black Toyota Celica that has been offered to him, Hero instead decides to leave on a bicycle.

The Governor has a samurai bodyguard/enforcer named Yasujiro (played by Tak Sakaguchi), who catches up to Hero and tells him to use the car, and Hero obliges. However, Hero ends up crashing the car and is carried into a bombed-out area called Ghostland, which can be best be described as a rebellious steampunk community. The leader of the Ghostland tribe is the demented Enoch (played by Charles Glover), who knows that Bernice is there, but he’s doesn’t want to let her go.

You know where this story is headed, of course. The rest of “Prisoners of the Ghostland” is just a series of one obstacle after another for Hero, who gets into a lot of fights along the way. And did we mention that there are also some zombies in this post-apocalyptic world? (How unoriginal and unnecessary.)

Unfortunately, none of the uneven acting in “Prisoners of the Ghostland” elevates this shoddily told story. The dialogue in this movie is simply atrocious. “Prisoners of the Ghostland” tries every hard to be perceived as a zany action movie, but there’s no wit, charm or unpredictability to this story. For an action flick, it’s got dreadfully sluggish pacing in too many areas.

“Prisoners of the Ghostland” also has a lot of characters that are either too bland or so wacky that they’re trying too hard and are therefore annoying. Cage is just doing another version of the angsty loner type that he has already done in many of his other films. The villains are hollow. And most of the supporting characters—including Bernice’s friends Stella (played by Lorena Kotô), Nancy (played by Canon Nawata) and Susie (played by Yuzuka Nakaya)—are underwritten and underdeveloped.

It seems like “Prisoners of the Ghostland” was made with the idea that it will be a cult classic that will inspire other movies, similar to what director George Miller’s 1979 post-apocalyptic action classic “Mad Max” ended up doing for sci-fi action cinema in a “wasteland” setting. However, “Prisoners of the Ghostland” doesn’t have enough meaningful characters to care about to see again in spinoffs or sequels. “Prisoners of the Ghostland” is just an empty exercise from filmmakers who think that all you need to make a good action movie are memorable set designs, a well-known actor as a headliner, and a variety of fight scenes. That’s not enough to save “Prisoners of the Ghostland” from being a disappointing mishmash of superficial self-indulgence and amateurish storytelling.

RLJE Films released “Prisoners of the Ghostland” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on September 17, 2021. The movie was released on Blu-ray and DVD on November 16, 2021.

Review: ‘Navalny,’ starring Alexei Navalny

April 10, 2022

by Carla Hay

Alexei Navalny in “Navalny” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Navalny”

Directed by Daniel Roher

Some language in Russian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place from 2018 to 2021, in Russia, Germany and Austria, the documentary film “Navalny” features an all-white group of political workers, journalists, investigators and family members who are connected in some way to Russian activist/politician Alexei Navalny.

Culture Clash: Navalny, who has been an outspoken critic/opponent of Russian president Valdimir Putin, launches an investigation to find out who poisoned Navalny in 2020, and he returns from exile to Russia, knowing that he is certain to be imprisoned. 

Culture Audience: “Navalny” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in documentaries about international politics, corruption and charismatic public figures.

Alexei Navalny and Maria Pevchikh in “Navalny” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Although the story of Russian political activist Alexei Navalny has been widely reported in the news, the documentary “Navalny” is a wild and intriguing look at what went on behind the scenes when he tried to find out who poisoned him in 2020. Directed by Canadian filmmaker Daniel Rohrer, “Navalny” (which was filmed from 2018 to 2021) gives an up-close-and-personal view of Navalny and people in his inner circle, through interviews and other candid footage. It’s not only an enthralling story of an aspiring Russian politician but it’s also a gripping exposé of a Russian government’s response to outspoken critics. “Navalny” had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the U.S. Documentary Audience Award and the Festival Favorite Award.

Navalny (who founded the Russian-based group Anti-Corruption Foundation) has no shortage of passion for the causes that he believes in, but he also has no shortage of ego. There are moments when he acts like he’s a rock star of Russian politics. While the Vladimir Putin-led Russian government portrays Navalny as a traitorous villain, and others see Navalny as a heroic martyr, what emerges in this documentary is a portrait of someone is who neither as dastardly nor as noble as some of the labels that have been thrust upon him. He comes across as shrewd, charismatic and hungry for power so that he can carry out what he says is his agenda: bringing true democracy and more equality to the people of Russia, especially the underprivileged.

These platitudes are often given by people who want to be in political leadership roles. But Navalny—an attorney who has never held an elected political office in the Russian federal government—claims that he really is interested in politics for all the right reasons. At the time this documentary was filmed, he was the leader of the Russia of the Future party. Navalny’s past attempts to run for various political offices have been interrupted by his numerous arrests. The documentary briefly mentions the controversy of his past association with anti-immigrant, white Russian national groups, whom Navalny now denounces. He says his past alignment with these bigoted groups was to open a dialogue with them.

As a political opponent to Russian president Putin, Navalny became very popular, as evidenced by his ability to draw huge crowds and by gaining millions of followers on social media. But a plane flight from Tomsk to Moscow on August 20, 2020, changed all of that momentum, when Navalny was poisoned with Novichok and nearly died while on that plane, which made an emergency landing in Omsk so he could get medical treatment. An investigation determined that Navalny had been poisoned in Novosibirsk, Russia, before he boarded the plane.

In the documentary, Navalny says that before this attempted murder happened to him, he thought that the more famous he became, the safer he would be from any dangerous attack because it would be made more public. “I was wrong,” he deadpans in the movie. In the beginning of the documentary, director Roher can be heard asking Navalny, “If you were killed, what message would you like to leave behind for the Russian people?” Navalny replies, “Oh, come on, Daniel. No way. It’s like a movie for the case of my death. Let it be movie No. 2. Let’s make a thriller out of this movie.”

Indeed, this documentary has many twists and turns into Navalny’s personal investigation into who poisoned him. This attempted murder was a crime that he always suspected was ordered by Putin. What was revealed in this investigation has already been reported, but seeing it unfold in this documentary is nothing short of fascinating.

Along the way, various people are featured in the documentary who are close to Navalny, including Navalny’s loyal wife Yulia Navalny and daughter Dasha Navalny, who was in her late teens at the time this documentary was filmed. Dasha comments on the poisoning of her father: “It was surreal. It was like [something in] a book.”

Later in the documentary, Dasha says of the burden that her father’s notoriety has placed on the family: “Since I was 13 years old, I’ve thought about what I would do if my dad was killed.” The movie also shows Yulia’s successful efforts to get her husband out of the hospital where he was taken after being poisoned, because the hospital had “more police and government agents than doctors.” He was safely transferred to a hospital in Germany.

“Navalny” gives an insightful look at the employees in Alexei Navalny’s trusted inner circle. Press secretary Kira Yarmysh is often the voice of reason among some of the chaos. Chief of staff Leonid Volkov is the steadfast right-hand man who carries out the leader’s commands but also has to make split-second decisions on his own. Maria Pevchikh, the Anti-Corruption Foundation’s chief investigator, is fiercely protective of her boss and sometimes combative. During the investigation, Pevchikh has to compromise and reluctantly agrees not share certain information with Alexei Navalny, so as not to taint his bias as a victim.

Also crucial to the investigation is a group based in Vienna, Austria, called Bellingcat, led by chief investigator Christo Grozev, who calls Bellingcat a bunch of “data nerds.” It was through Bellingcat’s sleuthing using technology (and some good old-fashioned phone calls) that essential clues were uncovered. The documentary also includes a few journalists (such as CNN’s Tim Lister and Der Spiegel’s Fidelius Schmid) who also investigated the poisoning.

“Navalny” is essential viewing for anyone interested in international politics. Viewers who see this movie can expect to go through a rollercoaster of emotions. And although the investigation does yield answers, “Navalny” is the type of documentary that concludes with a very “to be continued” tone, because events in Alexei Navalny’s life and in Russian politics are still making history.

Warner Bros. Pictures and Fathom Events will release “Navalny” in U.S. cinemas for a limited engagement on April 11 and April 12, 2022. CNN and CNN+ will premiere “Navalny” on April 24, 2022. HBO Max will premiere the movie on May 26, 2022.

Review: ‘Lucy and Desi,’ starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz

March 4, 2022

by Carla Hay

Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball in “Lucy and Desi” (Photo courtesy of Library of Congress/Amazon Content Services)

“Lucy and Desi”

Directed by Amy Poehler

Culture Representation: The documentary film “Lucy and Desi” features a predominantly white group of people (with a few Latinos), representing the middle-class and wealthy, discussing the lives and legacy of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, the power couple who redefined television in the 1950s and 1960s.

Culture Clash: Ball and Arnaz broke barriers for women and Latinos in charge of TV productions, while the couple struggled with several marital issues that resulted in their divorce. 

Culture Audience: Besides obviously appealing to fans of “I Love Lucy” (the TV comedy series that made Ball and Arnaz household names), “Lucy and Desi” will appeal primarily to people interested in stores about celebrity couples or chronicles of TV history from the 1950s and 1960s.

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in “Lucy and Desi” (Photo courtesy of Bettmann/Amazon Content Services)

The documentary “Lucy and Desi” plays it safe in telling the story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. However, the movie’s treasure trove of audio and video archives make it worth watching for anyone interested in TV history and this fascinating power couple. It’s perhaps fitting that “Lucy and Desi” was directed by Amy Poehler, a comedic actress whose life has some similarities to Ball’s, by becoming an executive producer in television and having a high-profile divorce from another comedic entertainer. “Lucy and Desi” had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

One of the biggest challenges that documentarians have when doing biographies of famous people is getting exclusive access, whether it’s access to certain interviews, places or archives. There’s often a non-monetary price to be paid when given that access: In exchange for that access, there’s usually an explicit or non-explicit agreement that the documentarians won’t put any scandalous “dirt” on the celebrity in the documentary. It might compromise the integrity of the documentary, depending on how “whitewashed” the documentary becomes.

“Lucy and Desi” puts just enough information about Ball and Arnaz’s behind-the-scenes problems to not be a complete “whitewash,” but the information is not new or insightful. Instead, the movie gives a lot of the narrative over to the eldest child of Ball and Arnaz: Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill, who gets the most screen time out of all the people interviewed for this documentary. Arnaz Luckinbill gives the impression that she never got over her parents’ divorce and that she wished that her parents had gotten back together.

Ball and Arnaz were married to each other from 1940 to 1960. Arnaz died in 1986, at the age of 69. Ball died in 1989, at the age of 77. At the time of their deaths, they were both married to their respective second spouses: Edith Hirsch (whom Arnaz married in 1963) and Gary Morton (whom Ball married in 1961). Even after their divorce, Ball and Arnaz continued to work together because they co-founded and shared Desilu Productions, which became one of the most powerful independent TV studios in Hollywood history.

In the beginning of the documentary, Arnaz Luckinbill comments on her family archives (audio, video and photos) that are featured in the documentary: “Underneath all of this painful stuff and disappointment, at the core it’s all about unconditional love. I find now that I’m much more forgiving when looking back on this. A lot of it is much clearer to me now.”

It’s worth noting that Arnaz Luckinbill opened up the family archives before when she produced the 1993 made-for-TV documentary “Lucy & Desi: A Home Movie,” which was televised in the U.S. on NBC. In that particular documentary, she and her brother Desi Arnaz Jr. reminisced about their parents while commenting on the footage shown in the film. At times, “Lucy & Desi: A Home Movie” resembles a family therapy session. Writer/director/former actor Laurence Luckinbill, who married Arnaz Luckinbill in 1980, was a writer of that documentary.

The Poehler-directed “Lucy and Desi” documentary opens up the film to commentaries from more people, but they do nothing but praise Ball and Arnaz. Carol Burnett says about Ball: “She was fearless in her comedy.” Bette Midler gushes about Ball: “You saw someone who was so beautiful, but she wasn’t afraid to look ugly, which we almost never saw women do.” Charo makes this statement about Arnaz: “He was the king of Latin music.”

Because Ball was the more famous person in this couple, her pre-fame personal story is told first. Die-hard fans will not learn anything new, but the documentary dutifully gives a summary of how Ball started her entertainment career in New York City, where she moved at the age of 14 to enroll in John Murray Anderson School for the Dramatic Arts and was expected to earn money for the family as a professional entertainer.

Born in Jamestown, New York, Ball came from a troubled family background. Her father Henry Durrell “Had” Ball died of typhoid fever when she was 3 years old. The family (including Lucille’s younger brother Fred Ball) moved around a lot in her childhood. By the time Lucille became a teenager, she had lived in New York state, New Jersey, Montana and Michigan.

Her mother Désirée Evelyn “DeDe” Ball married second husband Edward Peterson four years after the death of her first husband. When Lucille was a child, she and her brother sometimes lived with their mother’s parents and later Peterson’s parents. Not having a true sense of home security had profound effects on Lucille, but it also toughened her and prepared her for the harsh realities and erratic nature of showbiz.

Ball’s younger brother Fred says in an archival interview that his mother Dede was very “commanding and authoritative,” and that Lucille had those personality traits too. In 1927, when Lucille was 16, her maternal grandfather was sued when Fred’s girlfriend at the time accidentally shot and paralyzed a neighborhood boy. As the adult who was in charge of supervising Fred and his visiting girlfriend (who were both underage teenagers at the time), the grandfather was held liable for the shooting, and the family’s finances were destroyed.

Lucille’s relocation to New York City was partially motivated by her family expecting her showbiz earning to help the family financially. She became a showgirl (the documentary has an archival audio where she says she “was a dud” as a showgirl), then briefly a model (under the name Diane Belmont) and then a theater actress. She soon got an opportunity to be in movies and moved to Los Angeles. Lucille says in an archival interview: “I loved Hollywood. I had no thought of ever going back.”

But it wasn’t all glitz and glamour. For years, Lucille was stuck in bit parts or in forgettable supporting roles in mostly B-movies. Her first movie role was an uncredited part in 1933’s “Roman Scandals.” She studied acting under the tutelage of RKO Talent’s Lela Rogers, the influential manager/mother of actress/dancer Ginger Rogers. When the movie roles weren’t getting Lucille very far, she turned to doing radio serials. Her radio career set her on the path to the phenomenon of “I Love Lucy.”

Arnaz (who was born and raised in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba) came from a more privileged background than his future first wife. He was born into a multi-generational family of influential politicians and business executives, including having a maternal grandfather who was an executive at rum company Bacardi. But when the Cuban Revolution happened in 1933, when Arnaz was 14, his family lost their fortune.

He fled to Miami as a refugee and became a musician performing a mix of Latin music and big band music. He eventually led the Desi Arnaz Orchestra, which became a well-known music group in the United States. In 1939, Arnaz was cast as the star of the Broadway musical “Too Many Girls.” After “I Love Lucy” became a hit, Arnaz changed the name of his band to the Ricky Ricardo Orchestra, named after his Ricky Ricardo character on the show.

Arnaz and Lucille had something else in common besides their families losing their fortunes: They both had domineering mothers. Arnaz’s mother Dolores “Lolita” De Acha was as demanding of Lucille as she was of her son, according to a comment that Lucille makes in the documentary. After Arnaz and Lucille became rich and famous, they both took care of their respective mothers for the rest of their lives.

It’s already well-known that Lucille and Arnaz met on the set of the 1940 movie “Too Many Girls,” where Arnaz reprised his starring role from the Broadway show. The couple had a quickie courtship and eloped on November 30, 1940. Ten years later, Lucille was starring in and producing a comedy radio show called “My Favorite Husband,” which was loosely based on her marriage.

Television executives offered her a starring role in a TV series version of “My Favorite Husband,” and she accepted the offer on the condition that Arnaz play her husband on the show. It would be the first time that a Latino became a star in an American TV series. The show was called “I Love Lucy,” which had the couple portraying the characters of Lucy Ricardo and Ricky Ricardo. In the United States, “I Love Lucy” premiered on CBS on October 15, 1951. And the rest is history. (The documentary includes some footage from an unaired pilot episode of “I Love Lucy.”)

Not only did the couple star in “I Love Lucy,” but they were also executive producers of the show, at a time when it was rare for women and people of color to be executive producers of TV shows. Arnaz and Lucille also broke barriers for women and people of color in television when they co-founded Desilu Productions in 1950. In addition to producing all TV series starring Lucille Ball from 1950 to 1967 (the year that Desilu shuttered), Desilu produced a long list of hit shows in the 1950s and 1960s, including “Star Trek,” “The Untouchables,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Our Miss Brooks” and “The Ann Sothern Show.” “I Love Lucy” is credited with being the first TV series turn reruns/repeat episodes into a lucrative way to make money.

“I Love Lucy” famously became the first American scripted TV show to depict a woman’s pregnancy, at the insistence of the couple, because Lucille was pregnant in real life at the time with son Desi Arnaz Jr. Her childbirth was written into show, and the 1953 episode about the birth of Ricky Ricardo Jr., also known as Little Ricky, became a ratings bonanza. Arnaz Jr. played Little Ricky on “I Love Lucy,” until the show ended in 1957. Arnaz Jr. appears briefly in the “Lucy and Desi” documentary and makes this comment: “I was in the public eye before I could even communicate.”

Arnaz’s impact on Latino representation on American television cannot be underestimated. The documentary interviews Cuban playwright/professor Eduardo Machado, who remembers being a child in California’s San Fernando Valley and learning to speak English because he saw Arnaz on TV. Machado comments, “Desi brought sophistication where Latinos are hardly seen as sophisticated.” Spanish musician/band leader Xavier Cugat also comments on how influential Arnaz was in breaking barriers for Latinos in a white-dominated entertainment industry.

The role of women in positions of power on television also changed because of “I Love Lucy” and Desilu Productions. Emmy-winning TV showrunner/creator Norman Lear comments in the documentary: “‘I Love Lucy’ did a lot for helping Americans understand that just because a guy was male, that doesn’t mean he was the dominant character. Women could be the dominant character too.”

The documentary mentions Lucille’s reputation for being a tough taskmaster, but only puts a positive spin on it. National Comedy Center executive director Journey Gunderson comments, “There’s such a disparate focus on how hard-nosed she could be. But think about how many times she must’ve been ‘mansplained’ to on the set.”

National Comedy Center director of archives and research Lauren LaPlaca says about Lucille Ball’s legacy: “I don’t like when people call her work ‘effortless’ … She really built her success … It’s pretty clear that she had a scientific approach to what generates a laugh.”

The 2021 dramatic film “Being the Ricardos” (starring Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball and Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz, in Oscar-nominated performances) focused on a week in the life of the couple while dealing with three main issues that were in real life spread out over a period of years. “Being the Ricardos” includes the controversy over Lucille being branded a Communist in the media because she once filled out a voter registration form and listed herself as a member of the Communist Party. This controversy came during the U.S. government’s Communist witch hunt known as the Red Scare, which ruined the lives and careers of many people who were labeled Communists. “Being the Ricardos” also depicted the battles that the couple had with executives at CBS’s then-parent company Westinghouse and “I Love Lucy” chief sponsoring company Philip Morris about the pregnancy storyline. And the couple fought with each other over ongoing media reports that Arnaz was an unfaithful husband.

Another issue brought up in “Being the Ricardos,” which is a subplot in the movie, is the nature of the relationships between Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz and their “I Love Lucy” co-stars Vivian Vance and William Frawley, who played the Ricardos’ best friends/neighbors Ethel Mertz and Fred Mertz. The “Lucy and Desi” documentary doesn’t dwell too much on any behind-the-scenes drama between these four stars. Gregg Oppenheimer, son of “I Love Lucy” head writer Jess Oppenheimer, repeats a well-known story that Vance thought that Frawley was too old to portray her husband, and Frawley (who was 22 years older than Vance) was offended when he found out that Vance felt that way. (In “Being the Ricardos,” Vance is played by Nina Arianda, while Frawley is played by J.K. Simmons, who received an Oscar nomination for his performance in the movie.)

“Lucy and Desi” avoids detailing any infidelity that contributed to the demise of the Ball/Arnaz marriage. And the Communist issue is barely given a mention, with Arnaz Luckinbill only making this comment how her parents dealt with the Communist controversy: “She was scared. My father took charge.” (In real life, the FBI cleared Lucille of suspicion of being a Communist when it was determined that she was never an active member of the Communist Party.) As for the pregnancy storyline, everyone knows who won that battle and how everything turned out.

What the documentary does detail is how the pressures of showbiz led to the breakdown of the marriage. Several people in the documentary, including Arnaz Luckinbill, describe it this way: Lucille wasn’t as interested in the business side of Desilu as Arnaz was, and he eventually scaled back on being a musician/actor to focus on running Desilu. However, because Lucille was more famous than he was, many people perceived Lucille as being more powerful, which caused jealousy and resentment from Arnaz, who also became an alcoholic and began spending less time with his family at home.

This alcohol addiction took a toll until Arnaz couldn’t really function in his job, and Lucille had to take over his duties at Desilu, which she resented because she didn’t really like the “office executive” parts of the job. Even though Arnaz’s productivity declined in the final years of Desilu, he’s praised in the documentary for being an underrated TV visionary who was able to bring out the best in people. David Daniels, son of original “I Love Lucy” director Marc Daniels, comments: “Desi was a collaborator in the supreme sense of the word—and that’s where you get the best stuff.”

Arnaz Luckinbill says of her parents’ troubled marriage: “He hurt her by his actions. She hurt him by her words.” According to the documentary, Arnaz was the one who wanted to end the marriage, but Lucille was the one who filed for divorce first. Arnaz Luckinbill comments, “The hard edge softened the minute they got divorced, but they did love one another.” She also shares a touching story of what happened when her parents talked for the last time when Arnaz was on his deathbed: They both said, “I love you” several times to each other during this last goodbye.

“Lucy and Desi” is capably directed and edited in a traditional documentary style. There’s nothing really substandard about the documentary, but it gives the impression that a lot more could have been in the movie but was left out because it would be unflattering to the Lucille Ball/Desi Arnaz legacy. For die-hard fans, the “Lucy and Desi” documentary can be considered entertaining but a tad redundant, considering the plethora of biographies in many formats that have exhaustively covered this legacy. “Lucy and Desi” is ultimately a tribute-styled summary that will only be truly revelatory to people who know little to nothing about this legendary couple who changed television forever.

Prime Video premiered “Lucy and Desi” on March 4, 2022.

2022 Sundance Film Festival: film slate announced

December 9, 2021

The following is a press release from the Sundance Institute:

The nonprofit Sundance Institute announced the showcase of new independent work selected across the Feature Film, Indie Episodic, and New Frontier categories for the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. The Festival will take place in Park City, Salt Lake City and the Sundance Mountain Resort in Utah, as well as digitally via our enhanced online platform at Festival.Sundance.org; on The Spaceship, a bespoke immersive platform; and in person at seven Satellite Screens venues around the country during the Festival’s second weekend. The Festival takes place January 20–30, 2022; ticket packages go on sale on December 17, 2021, at 10am MT and single film tickets go on sale January 6, 2022, at 10am MT.

Festival audiences will attend in a number of ways. Feature films will premiere in person in Utah, before premiering online with a live Q&A and premiere party on The Spaceship. Subsequent screenings will take place in-person and in on-demand windows on the platform. The New Frontier program will be globally accessible online via The Spaceship platform from January 20-28, with in-person augmentation and live performances at The Craft, a new artist-centered venue in Park City. Short films and Indie Episodic work will play in person in Utah and be available on the platform; the Shorts lineup will be announced in a December 10 news release. All in-person attendees are required to be fully vaccinated and wear masks. The latest health safety protocols for the well-being of Festival attendees is available here

The Sundance Film Festival is the flagship public program of Sundance Institute. Throughout the year, the majority of the Institute’s resources support independent artists around the world as they make and develop new work through access to Labs, direct grants, fellowships, residencies, and other strategic and tactical support.

“This year, we look forward to celebrating this generation’s most innovative storytellers as they share their work across a wide range of genres and forms,” said Sundance Institute founder and president Robert Redford. “These artists have provided a light through the darkest of times, and we look forward to welcoming their unique visions out into the world and experiencing them together.”

“I’m so impressed by, and proud of, the work that the curatorial and production teams have done to plan this Festival,” said Joana Vicente, the Institute’s CEO. “I think audiences will be extremely excited to convene and engage with the incredible stories these artists are telling.”

“We’re excited to return to our home in Utah, but also to come together in new ways,” said Festival director Tabitha Jackson. “Building on our experience last year, we’ve discovered new possibilities of convergence, and we embrace the fact that we are now an expanded community in which active participation matters, and audience presence — however it manifests — is essential to our mission.”

“This year’s program reflects the unsettling and uncertain times we’ve been living in for the past year and a half. The artists in the program, through their bold and innovative storytelling, and their sheer determination to create work in this moment, challenge us to look at the world through different lenses and examine and reevaluate how these stories impact us now and in the future,” said the Festival’s director of programming Kim Yutani.

The Festival will open on January 20, 2022, with an experiment in biodigital convergence as audiences gather online and in person for a special New Frontier presentation of Sam Green’s 32 Sounds, taking place simultaneously in Park City’s Egyptian Theatre and in The Spaceship’s Cinema House. An exciting slate of Day One films will then open the Festival in Park City: 11 features and a shorts program will illustrate the scope of Festival work across genre and form. Day One Features are EmergencyFire of LoveFreshLa Guerra CivilA Love SongMarte Um (Mars One)The PrincessTanturaWhen You Finish Saving the World, and The Worst Person in the World. Lucy and Desi is the 2022 Sundance Film Festival’s Salt Lake City Opening Night Gala Film, premiering at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center on January 21, 2022.

After Yang, screening in the Spotlight section, has been named the winner of the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize. 

Eight feature films have been selected for the Festival’s Satellite Screens, and will play at those seven independent arthouse cinemas across the United States for local audiences during the Festival’s closing weekend, Friday, January 28, through Sunday, January 30, 2022. The films are Alice; Emergency; Every Day in Kaimukī; Free Chol Soo Lee; Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul; La Guerra Civil; Marte Um (Mars One); and Sirens, with additional Short Film participation to be announced. This program will play at Amherst Cinema in Amherst, Massachusetts; a/perture cinema in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Digital Gym Cinema in San Diego, California; Indie Memphis in Memphis, Tennessee; mama.film in Lawrence, Kansas; Northwest Film Forum in Seattle, Washington; and SNF Parkway Theatre, home of the Maryland Film Festival in Baltimore, Maryland.

The full slate of works announced today includes 82 feature-length films representing 28 countries, and 39 of 92 (42%) feature film directors are first-time feature filmmakers. Fifteen of the feature films and projects announced today were supported by Sundance Institute in development through direct granting or residency labs. 

Seventy-five, or 91%, of the Festival’s feature films announced today will be world premieres.
 
These films were selected from 14,849 submissions, including 3,762 feature-length films. Of the 3,762 feature film submissions, 1,652 were from the U.S., and 2,110 were international. Director demographics are available in an editor’s note below.

U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION

Presenting the world premieres of fiction feature films, the Dramatic Competition offers Festivalgoers a first look at groundbreaking new voices in American independent film. Films that have premiered in this category in recent years include CODA, Passing, Minari, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, The Farewell, Clemency, Eighth Grade and Sorry to Bother You

John Boyega in “892” (Photo by Chris Witt)


892 / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Abi Damaris Corbin, Screenwriter: Kwame Kwei-Armah, Producers: Ashley Levinson, Salman Al-Rashid, Sam Frohman, Kevin Turen, Mackenzie Fargo) — When Brian Brown-Easley’s disability check fails to materialize from Veterans Affairs, he finds himself on the brink of homelessness and breaking his daughter’s heart. No other options, he walks into a Wells Fargo Bank and says “I’ve got a bomb.” Cast: John Boyega, Michael Kenneth Williams, Nicole Beharie, Connie Britton, Olivia Washington, Selenis Leyva. World Premiere.

Alice / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Krystin Ver Linden, Producer: Peter Lawson) — When a woman in servitude in 1800s Georgia escapes the 55-acre confines of her captor, she discovers the shocking reality that exists beyond the treeline…it’s 1973. Inspired by true events. Cast: Keke Palmer, Common, Jonny Lee Miller, Gaius Charles. World Premiere.

blood / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Bradley Rust Gray, Producers: David Urrutia, Bradley Rust Gray, So Yong Kim, Elika Portnoy, Alex Orlovsky, Jonathon Komack Martin) — After the death of her husband, a young woman travels to Japan where she finds solace in an old friend. But when comforting turns to affection, she realizes she must give herself permission before she can fall in love again. Cast: Carla Juri, Takashi Ueno, Gustaf Skarsgård, Futaba Okazaki, Issey Ogata. World Premiere.

Cha Cha Real Smooth / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Cooper Raiff, Producers: Dakota Johnson, Ro Donnelly, Erik Feig, Jessica Switch, Cooper Raiff) — A directionless college graduate embarks on a relationship with a young mom and her teenage daughter while learning the boundaries of his new bar mitzvah party-starting gig. Cast: Dakota Johnson, Cooper Raiff, Vanessa Burghardt, Evan Assante, Brad Garrett, Leslie Mann. World Premiere.

Dual / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Riley Stearns, Producers: Nate Bolotin, Aram Tertzakian, Lee Kim, Riley Stearns, Nick Spicer, Maxime Cottray) — After receiving a terminal diagnosis, Sarah commissions a clone of herself to ease the loss for her friends and family. When she makes a miraculous recovery, her attempt to have her clone decommissioned fails, and leads to a court-mandated duel to the death. Cast: Karen Gillan, Aaron Paul, Beulah Koale. World Premiere.

Emergency / U.S.A. (Director: Carey Williams, Screenwriter: KD Davila, Producers: Marty Bowen, Isaac Klausner, John Fischer) — Ready for a night of partying, a group of Black and Latino college students must weigh the pros and cons of calling the police when faced with an unusual emergency. Cast: RJ Cyler, Donald Watkins, Sebastian Chacon, Sabrina Carpenter. World Premiere. DAY ONE

Master / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Mariama Diallo, Producers: Joshua Astrachan, Brad Becker-Parton, Andrea Roa) — Three women strive to find their place at an elite New England university. As the insidious specter of racism haunts the campus in increasingly supernatural fashion, each fights to survive in this space of privilege. Cast: Regina Hall, Zoe Renee, Talia Ryder, Talia Balsam, Amber Gray. World Premiere.

Nanny / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Nikyatu Jusu, Producers: Nikkia Moulterie, Daniela Taplin Lundberg) — Aisha is an undocumented nanny working for a privileged couple in New York City. As she prepares for the arrival of the son she left behind in Senegal, a violent supernatural presence invades her reality, threatening the American dream she is painstakingly piecing together. Cast: Anna Diop, Michelle Monaghan, Sinqua Walls, Morgan Spector, Rose Decker, Leslie Uggams. World Premiere.

Palm Trees and Power Lines / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Jamie Dack, Screenwriter: Audrey Findlay, Producers: Leah Chen Baker, Jamie Dack) — Seventeen-year-old Lea spends her summer aimlessly tanning with her best friend, tiptoeing around her fragile mother, and getting stoned with a group of boys from school. This monotony is disrupted by an encounter with Tom, a man twice her age, who promises an alternative to Lea’s unsatisfying adolescent life. Cast: Lily McInerny, Jonathan Tucker, Gretchen Mol. World Premiere.

Watcher / U.S.A. (Director: Chloe Okuno, Screenwriter: Zack Ford, Producers: Roy Lee, Steven Schneider, Derek Dauchy, John Finemore, Aaron Kaplan, Mason Novick) — A young woman moves into a new apartment with her fiancé and is tormented by the feeling that she is being stalked by an unseen watcher in an adjacent building. Cast: Maika Monroe, Karl Glusman, Burn Gorman, Ciubuciu Bogdan Alexandru. World Premiere.

U.S. DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

World-premiere American documentaries that illuminate the ideas, people and events that shape the present day. Films that have premiered in this category in recent years include Summer of Soul (or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), Boys State, Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution, APOLLO 11, Knock Down The House, One Child Nation, American Factory, Three Identical Strangers and On Her Shoulders.

Omari Maynard and Bruce McIntyre in “Aftershock” (Photo by Kerwin Devonish)

Aftershock / U.S.A. (Directors and Producers: Paula Eiselt, Tonya Lewis Lee) — Following the preventable deaths of their partners due to childbirth complications, two bereaved fathers galvanize activists, birth-workers and physicians to reckon with one of the most pressing American crises of our time – the U.S. maternal health crisis. World Premiere.

Descendant / U.S.A. (Director: Margaret Brown, Producers: Essie Chambers, Kyle Martin) — Clotilda, the last ship carrying enslaved Africans to the United States, arrived in Alabama 40 years after African slave trading became a capital offense. It was promptly burned, and its existence denied. After a century shrouded in secrecy and speculation, descendants of the Clotilda’s survivors are reclaiming their story. World Premiere.

The Exiles / U.S.A. (Directors: Ben Klein, Violet Columbus, Producers: Maria Chiu, Ben Klein, Violet Columbus) — Documentarian Christine Choy tracks down three exiled dissidents from the Tiananmen Square massacre, in order to find closure on an abandoned film she began shooting in 1989. World Premiere.

Fire Of Love / U.S.A. (Director: Sara Dosa, Producers: Shane Boris, Ina Fichman, Sara Dosa) — Intrepid scientists and lovers Katia & Maurice Krafft died in a volcanic explosion doing the very thing that brought them together: unraveling the mysteries of volcanoes by capturing the most explosive imagery ever recorded. A doomed love triangle between Katia, Maurice and volcanoes, told through their archival footage. World Premiere. DAY ONE

Free Chol Soo Lee / U.S.A. (Directors: Julie Ha, Eugene Yi, Producers: Su Kim, Jean Tsien, Sona Jo, Julie Ha, Eugene Yi) — After a Korean immigrant is wrongly convicted of a 1973 San Francisco Chinatown gang murder, Asian Americans unite as never before to free Chol Soo Lee. A former street hustler becomes the symbol for a landmark movement. But once out, he self-destructs, threatening the movement’s legacy and the man himself. World Premiere.

I Didn’t See You There / U.S.A. (Director: Reid Davenport, Producer: Keith Wilson) — Spurred by the spectacle of a circus tent that goes up outside his Oakland apartment, a disabled filmmaker launches into an unflinching meditation on freakdom, (in)visibility, and the pursuit of individual agency. World Premiere.

The Janes / U.S.A. (Directors: Tia Lessin, Emma Pildes, Producers: Emma Pildes, Daniel Arcana, Jessica Levin) — In the spring of 1972, police raided an apartment on Chicago’s South Side. Seven women were arrested. The accused were part of a clandestine network. Using code names, blindfolds and safe houses, they built an underground service for women seeking safe, affordable, illegal abortions. They called themselves JANE. World Premiere.

Jihad Rehab / U.S.A. (Director: Meg Smaker, Producers: Meg Smaker, Bryan Storkel) — A group of Al-Qaeda members are transferred from Guantanamo to a secretive rehabilitation center for Islamic extremists. World Premiere.

TikTok, Boom. / U.S.A. (Director: Shalini Kantayya, Producers: Ross M. Dinerstein. Shalini Kantayya, Danni Mynard) — With TikTok now crowned the world’s most downloaded app, these are the personal stories of a cultural phenomenon, told through an ensemble cast of Gen-Z natives, journalists and experts alike. This film seeks to answer, ‘why is an app, best known for people dancing, the target of so much controversy?’ World Premiere.

WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION

Ten films from emerging filmmaking talents around the world offer fresh perspectives and inventive styles. Films that have premiered in this category in recent years include Hive, Luzzu, The Souvenir, The Guilty, Monos, Yardie, The Nile Hilton Incident and Second Mother. 

“Brian and Charles” (Photo by courtesy of Sundance Institute)

Brian And Charles / U.K. (Director: Jim Archer, Screenwriters: David Earl, Chris Hayward, Producer: Rupert Majendie)  — A story of friendship, love, and letting go. And a 7ft tall robot that eats cabbages. A comedy shot in documentary format. Cast: David Earl, Chris Hayward, Louise Brealey, Jamie Michie, Lowri Izzard, Mari Izzard. World Premiere.

The Cow Who Sang A Song Into The Future / Chile/France/U.S.A/Germany (Director and Screenwriter: Francisca Alegría, Screenwriters: Fernanda Urrejola, Manuela Infante, Producers: Tom Dercourt, Alejandra García)  — Cecilia and her children travel to her aging father’s dairy farm after he has a heart attack. Back in her childhood home, Cecilia is met by her mother, a woman dead for many years, whose presence brings to life a painful past chorused by the natural world around them. Cast: Leonor Varela, Mia Maestro, Alfredo Castro, Marcial Tagle, Enzo Ferrada, Luis Dubó. World Premiere.

Dos Estaciones / Mexico (Director and Screenwriter: Juan Pablo González, Screenwriters: Ana Isabel Fernández, Ilana Coleman, Producers: Jamie Gonçalves, Ilana Coleman, Bruna Haddad, Makena Buchanan)  — In the bucolic hills of Mexico’s Jalisco highlands, iron-willed businesswoman Maria Garcia fights the impending collapse of her tequila factory. Cast: Teresa Sánchez, Tatín Vera, Rafaela Fuentes, Manuel García-Rulfo. World Premiere.

Gentle / Hungary (Directors: Anna Eszter Nemes, László Csuja, Screenwriters: László Csuja, Anna Eszter Nemes, Producers: András Muhi, Gábor Ferenczy)  — Edina, a female bodybuilder, is ready to sacrifice everything for the dream she shares with Adam, her partner and trainer: to win the world championship. The odd love she finds on her way there makes her see the difference between her dreams and her true self. Cast: Eszter Csonka, György Turós, Csaba Krisztik. World Premiere.

Girl Picture / Finland (Director: Alli Haapasalo, Screenwriters: Ilona Ahti, Daniela Hakulinen, Producers: Leila Lyytikäinen, Elina Pohjola)  — Mimmi, Emma and Rönkkö are girls at the cusp of womanhood, trying to draw their own contours. In three consecutive Fridays two of them experience the earth-moving effects of falling in love, while the third goes on a quest to find something she’s never experienced before: pleasure. Cast: Aamu Milonoff, Eleonoora Kauhanen, Linnea Leino. World Premiere.

Klondike / Ukraine/Turkey (Director and Screenwriter: Maryna Er Gorbach, Producers: Maryna Er Gorbach, Mehmet Bahadir Er, Sviatoslav BulakovskyI)  — The story of a Ukrainian family living on the border of Russia – Ukraine during the start of war. Irka refuses to leave her house even as the village gets captured by armed forces. Shortly after, they find themselves at the center of an air crash catastrophe on July 17, 2014. Cast: Oxana Cherkashyna, Sergey Shadrin, Oleg Scherbina, Oleg Shevchuk, Artur Aramyan, Evgenij Efremov. World Premiere.

Leonor Will Never Die / Philippines (Director and Screenwriter: Martika Ramirez Escobar, Producers: Monster Jimenez, Mario Cornejo)  — Fiction and reality blur when Leonor, a retired filmmaker, falls into a coma after a television lands on her head, compelling her to become the action hero of her unfinished screenplay. Cast: Sheila Francisco, Bong Cabrera, Rocky Salumbides, Anthony Falcon. World Premiere.

Marte Um (Mars One) / Brazil (Director and Screenwriter: Gabriel Martins, Producer: Thiago Macêdo Correia)  — In Brazil, a lower-middle-class Black family of four tries to keep their spirits up and their dreams going in the months that follow the election of a right-wing president, a man who represents everything they are not. Cast: Rejane Faria, Carlos Francisco, Camilla Souza, Cícero Lucas. World Premiere. DAY ONE

Utama / Bolivia/Uruguay/France (Director and Screenwriter: Alejandro Loayza Grisi, Producers: Santiago Loayza Grisi, Federico Moreira, Marcos Loayza, Jean-Baptiste Bailly-Maitre)  — In the Bolivian highlands, an elderly Quechua couple has been living the same daily life for years. When an uncommon long drought threatens their entire way of life, Virginio and his wife Sisa face the dilemma of resisting or being defeated by the environment and time itself. Cast: Jose Calcina, Luisa Quispe, Santos Choque. World Premiere.

You Won’t Be Alone / Australia (Director and Screenwriter: Goran Stolevski, Producers: Kristina Ceyton, Sam Jennings)  — In an isolated mountain village in 19th century Macedonia, a young feral witch accidentally kills a peasant. She assumes the peasant’s shape to see what life is like in her skin, igniting a deep-seated curiosity to experience life inside the bodies of others. Cast: Noomi Rapace, Anamaria Marinca, Alice Englert, Carloto Cotta, Félix Maritaud, Sara Klimoska. World Premiere.

WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

Ten documentaries by some of the boldest filmmakers working around the world today. Films that have premiered in this category in recent years include Flee, Honeyland, Sea of Shadows, Shirkers, This Is Home, Last Men in Aleppo and Hooligan Sparrow.

“All That Breathes” (Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute)

All That Breathes / India, U.K. (Director and Producer: Shaunak Sen, Producers: Aman Mann, Teddy Leifer) — Against the darkening backdrop of Delhi’s apocalyptic air and escalating violence, two brothers devote their lives to protect one casualty of the turbulent times: the bird known as the Black Kite. World Premiere.

Calendar Girls / Sweden (Directors, Screenwriters and Producers: Maria Loohufvud, Love Martinsen) — A coming-of-golden-age look at Florida’s most dedicated dance team for women over 60, shaking up the outdated image of “the little old lady,” and calling for everyone to dance their hearts out, while they still can. World Premiere.

A House Made of Splinters / Denmark (Director: Simon Lereng Wilmont, Producer: Monica Hellström) — In Eastern Ukraine, follow the daily life of children and staff in a special kind of home: an institution for children who have been removed from their homes while awaiting court custody decisions. Staff do their best to make the time children have there safe and supportive. World Premiere.

Midwives / Myanmar (Director: Snow Hnin Ei Hlaing, Producers: Bob Moore, Ulla Lehman, Mila Aung-Thwin, Snow Hnin Ei Hlaing) — Two midwives work side-by-side in a makeshift clinic in Myanmar. World Premiere.

The Mission / Finland (Director and Screenwriter: Tania Anderson, Producers: Isabella Karhu, Juho-Pekka Tanskanen) — A revelation of the inner lives of young LDS missionaries, as they leave their homes for the first time and embark upon the most emotionally, physically and psychologically challenging period of their life. World Premiere.

Nothing Compares / Ireland, U.K. (Director: Kathryn Ferguson, Producers: Eleanor Emptage, Michael Mallie) — The story of Sinéad O’Connor’s phenomenal rise to worldwide fame and subsequent exile from the pop mainstream. Focusing on Sinéad’s prophetic words and deeds from 1987 to 1993, the film reflects on the legacy of this fearless trailblazer through a contemporary feminist lens. World Premiere.

Sirens / U.S.A., Lebanon (Director, Screenwriter and Producer: Rita Baghdadi, Producer: Camilla Hall) — On the outskirts of Beirut, Lilas and Shery, co-founders and guitarists of the Middle East’s first all-female metal band, wrestle with friendship, sexuality and destruction in their pursuit of becoming thrash metal rock stars. World Premiere.

Tantura / Israel (Director and Screenwriter: Alon Schwarz, Screenwriter and Producer: Shaul Schwarz. Producer: Maiken Baird) — In 1948, the State of Israel was established and civil war broke out. Hundreds of Palestinian villages were destroyed with their inhabitants killed or exiled. The film focuses on one village: Tantura, bringing to light Israel’s founding myth and its society’s inability to come to terms with its dark past. World Premiere. DAY ONE

The Territory / Brazil/Denmark/United States (Director: Alex Pritz, Producers: Will N. Miller, Sigrid Dyekjær, Lizzie Gillett, Anonymous) — When a network of Brazilian farmers seizes a protected area of the Amazon rainforest, a young Indigenous leader and his mentor must fight back in defense of the land and an uncontacted group living deep within the forest. World Premiere.

We Met in Virtual Reality / U.K. (Director, Screenwriter and Producer: Joe Hunting) — Filmed entirely inside the world of VR, this vérité documentary captures the excitement and surprising intimacy of a burgeoning cultural movement, demonstrating the power of online connection in an isolated world. World Premiere.

NEXT

Pure, bold works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling populate this program. Films that have premiered in this category in recent years include The Infiltrators, Searching, Skate Kitchen, A Ghost Story and Tangerine. NEXT is presented by Adobe.

Siena Marino, Steven Alonte, Brian d’Arcy James, Madeline Hudelson and Monica Barbaro in “The Cathedral” (Photo by Barton Cortright)

The Cathedral / Italy, U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Ricky D’Ambrose, Producer: Graham Swon) — An only child’s account of an American family’s rise and fall over two decades. Cast: Brian d’Arcy James, Monica Barbaro, Mark Zeisler, Geraldine Singer, William Bednar-Carter. North American Premiere. Fiction.

Every Day In Kaimukī / U.S.A. (Director: Alika Tengan, Screenwriters: Naz Kawakami, Alika Tengan. Producers: Jesy Odio, Chapin Hall, Alika Tengan, Naz Kawakami) — A young man is determined to give his life meaning outside of Kaimukī, the small Hawaiian town where he grew up, even if it means leaving everything he’s ever known and loved behind. Cast: Naz Kawakami, Rina White, Holden Mandrial-Santos. World Premiere. Fiction.

Framing Agnes / Canada, U.S.A. (Director: Chase Joynt, Producers: Samantha Curley, Shant Joshi, Chase Joynt) — After discovering case files from a 1950s gender clinic, a cast of transgender actors turn a talk show inside out to confront the legacy of a young trans woman forced to choose between honesty and access. World Premiere. Documentary. 

A Love Song / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Max Walker-Silverman, Producers: Dan Janvey, Jesse Hope, Max Walker-Silverman) — Two childhood sweethearts, now both widowed, share a night by a lake in the mountains. A love story for those who are alone. Cast: Dale Dickey, Wes Studi, Michelle Wilson, Benja K. Thomas, John Way, Marty Grace Dennis. World Premiere. Fiction. DAY ONE

Mija / U.S.A. (Director: Isabel Castro, Producers: Tabs Breese, Isabel Castro, Yesenia Tlahuel) — Doris Muñoz is a young, ambitious music manager whose undocumented family depends on her ability to launch pop stars. When she loses her biggest client, Doris hustles to discover new talent and finds Jacks, another daughter of immigrants for whom “making it” isn’t just a dream: it’s a necessity. World Premiere. Documentary. 

RIOTSVILLE, USA / U.S.A. (Director: Sierra Pettengill, Producers: Sara Archambault, Jamila Wignot) — Welcome to Riotsville, a fictional town built by the U.S. military. Using footage shot by the media and government, the film explores the militarization of the police and the reaction of a nation to the uprisings of the late ’60s, creating a counter-narrative to a critical moment in American history. World Premiere. Documentary. 

Something In The Dirt / U.S.A. (Directors: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Screenwriter: Justin Benson, Producers: David Lawson, Aaron Moorhead, Justin Benson)  — When neighbors John and Levi witness supernatural events in their Los Angeles apartment building, they realize documenting the paranormal could inject some fame and fortune into their wasted lives. An ever-deeper, darker rabbit hole, their friendship frays as they uncover the dangers of the phenomena, the city, and each other. Cast: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead. World Premiere. Fiction.

PREMIERES

A showcase of world premieres of some of the most highly anticipated fiction and nonfiction films of the coming year. Documentaries that have screened in Premieres include The Dissident, On the Record, and Miss Americana, and past fiction features include Kajillionaire, Promising Young Woman, The Report, Late Night, and The Big Sick.

Richard Davis in “2nd Chance” (Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute)

2nd Chance / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Ramin Bahrani, Producers: Daniel Turcan, Johnny Galvin, Charles Dorfman, Ramin Bahrani, Jacob Grodnik) — Bankrupt pizzeria owner Richard Davis invented the modern-day bulletproof vest. To prove that it worked, he shot himself 192 times. He launched a multi-million-dollar company and became a cult figure among police. Davis’ rise and fall reveals a man of contradictions and the nature of power and impunity in America. World Premiere. Documentary.
 
AM I OK? / U.S.A. (Directors: Stephanie Allynne, Tig Notaro, Screenwriter: Lauren Pomerantz, Producers: Jessica Elbaum, Will Ferrell, Erik Feig, Dakota Johnson, Ro Donnelly, Lauren Pomerantz) — Lucy and Jane have been best friends for most of their lives and think they know everything there is to know about each other. But when Jane announces she’s moving to London, Lucy reveals a long-held secret. As Jane tries to help Lucy, their friendship is thrown into chaos. Cast: Dakota Johnson, Sonoya Mizuno, Jermaine Fowler, Kiersey Clemons, Molly Gordon, Sean Hayes. World Premiere. Fiction.

Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power / U.S.A. (Director and Producer: Nina Menkes) — Based on Nina Menkes’ acclaimed talk “Sex & Power: The Visual Language of Cinema”, a mesmerizing journey into how shot design intersects with the twin epidemics of sexual abuse/ assault and employment discrimination against women. Containing over 175 film clips, this will unalterably change the way we view and make movies. World Premiere. Documentary.

Call Jane / U.S.A. (Director: Phyllis Nagy, Screenwriters: Hayley Schore, Roshan Sethi, Producers: Robbie Brenner, David Wulf, Kevin McKeon, Lee Broda, Claude Amadeo, Michael D’Alto) — Chicago, 1968: after having a life-saving secret abortion, a suburban housewife seeks to give women access to healthy and safe abortions through an underground collective of women known as “Jane.” Cast: Elizabeth Banks, Sigourney Weaver, Chris Messina, Kate Mara, Wunmi Mosaku, Cory Michael Smith. World Premiere. Fiction.

DOWNFALL: The Case Against Boeing / U.S.A. (Director: Rory Kennedy, Screenwriters: Mark Bailey, Keven McAlester, Producers: Rory Kennedy, Mark Bailey, Sara Bernstein, Justin Wilkes, Keven McAlester, Amanda Rohlke) — An investigation of the two Boeing 737 MAX crashes that killed 346 people, exploring both the root causes and the human cost. At once a chilling portrait of a crumbling corporate culture and a fierce indictment of Wall Street’s corrupting influence. World Premiere. Documentary.

Emily the Criminal / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: John Patton Ford, Producers: Tyler Davidson, Aubrey Plaza, Drew Sykes) — Down on her luck and saddled with debt, Emily gets involved in a credit card scam that pulls her into the criminal underworld of Los Angeles, ultimately leading to deadly consequences. Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Theo Rossi, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Gina Gershon. World Premiere. Fiction. 

FINAL CUT / France (Director and Screenwriter: Michel Hazanavicius, Producers: John Penotti, Noëmie Devide, Alain de la Mata, Brahim Chioua, Michel Hazanavicius, Vincent Maravalr) — Things go badly for a small film crew shooting a low-budget zombie movie when they are attacked by real zombies. Cast: Romain Duris, Bérénice Bejo, Grégory Gadebois, Finnegan Oldfield, Matilda Lutz, Raphaël Quenard. World Premiere. Fiction.

God’s Country / U.S.A. (Director: Julian Higgins, Screenwriters: Shaye Ogbonna, Julian Higgins, Producers: Miranda Bailey, Halee Bernard, Julian Higgins, Amanda Marshall) — When a grieving college professor confronts two hunters she catches trespassing on her property, she’s drawn into an escalating battle of wills with catastrophic consequences. Cast: Thandiwe Newton, Jeremy Bobb, Joris Jarsky, Jefferson White, Kai Lennox, Tanaya Beatty. World Premiere. Fiction.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande / U.K. (Director: Sophie Hyde, Screenwriter: Katy Brand, Producers: Debbie Gray, Adrian Politowski) — Nancy Stokes, a retired school teacher, is yearning for some adventure, and some sex. Good sex. And she has a plan: she hires a young sex worker named Leo Grande. Cast: Emma Thompson, Daryl McCormack. World Premiere. Fiction.

Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Adamma Ebo, Producers: Daniel Kaluuya, Adanne Ebo, Rowan Riley, Amandla Crichlow, Jesse Burgum, Matthew Cooper) — In the aftermath of a huge scandal, Trinitie Childs, the first lady of a prominent Southern Baptist megachurch, attempts to help her pastor husband, Lee-Curtis Childs, rebuild their congregation. Cast: Regina Hall, Sterling K. Brown. World Premiere. Fiction.

jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy / U.S.A. (Directors: Clarence “Coodie” Simmons, Chike Ozah, Producers: Clarence “Coodie” Simmons, Chike Ozah, Leah Natasha Thomas) — Kanye West in three acts. The story beyond the iconic music, an intimate and empathetic chronicle featuring never-before-seen footage from 21 years in the life of a captivating figure. World Premiere. Documentary.

La Guerra Civil / U.K. (Director: Eva Longoria Bastón, Producers: Eva Longoria Bastón, Grant Best, Bernardo Ruiz, Ben Spector, Andrea Cordoba) — The epic rivalry between iconic boxers Oscar De La Hoya and Julio César Chávez in the 1990s sparked a cultural divide between Mexican nationals and Mexican-Americans. A chronicle of a battle that was more than a boxing rivalry, and examines a fascinating slice of the Latino experience in the process. World Premiere. DocumentaryDAY ONE

Living / U.K. (Director: Oliver Hermanus, Screenwriter: Kazuo Ishiguro, Producers: Stephen Woolley, Elizabeth Karlsen) — In 1952 London, veteran civil servant Williams has become a small cog in the bureaucracy of rebuilding England post-WWII. As endless paperwork piles up on his desk, he learns he has a fatal illness. Thus begins his quest to find some meaning in his life before it slips away. Cast: Bill Nighy, Aimee Lou Wood, Alex Sharp, Tom Burke. World Premiere. Fiction. 

Lucy and Desi / U.S.A (Director: Amy Poehler, Producers: Michael Rosenberg, Justin Wilkes, Nigel Sinclair, Jeanne Elfant Festa, Amy Poehler, Mark Monroe) — Lucille Ball had an immense influence on the creation of TV syndication, as she rose to become a true entrepreneur and multi-faceted mogul. Through interviews and archival, a tribute to one of the greatest trailblazers in comedy and entertainment. World Premiere. Documentary. SALT LAKE CITY OPENING NIGHT 

My Old School / U.K. (Director: Jono McLeod, Producers: John Archer, Olivia Lichtenstein) — The astonishing true story of Scotland’s most notorious imposter. It’s 1993 and 16-year-old Brandon is the new kid in school. Soon he’s top of the class, acing exams and even taking the lead in the school musical. He’s the model pupil, until he’s unmasked… Cast: Alan Cumming. World Premiere. Documentary.

The Princess / U.K. (Director: Ed Perkins, Producers: Simon Chinn, Jonathan Chinn) — Princess Diana’s story is told exclusively through contemporaneous archive creating a bold and immersive narrative of her life and death. Turning the camera back on ourselves, it also illuminates the profound impact she had and how the public’s attitude to the monarchy was, and still is, shaped by these events. World Premiere. Documentary. DAY ONE

Resurrection / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Andrew Semans, Producers: Tory Lenosky, Alex Scharfman, Drew Houpt, Lars Knudsen, Tim Headington, Lia Buman) — Margaret’s life is in order. She is capable, disciplined, and successful. Soon, her teenage daughter, who Margaret raised by herself, will be going off to a fine university, just as Margaret had intended. Everything is under control. That is, until David returns, carrying with him the horrors of Margaret’s past. Cast: Rebecca Hall, Tim Roth, Grace Kaufman, Michael Esper, Angela Wong Carbone. World Premiere. Fiction.

Sharp Stick / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Lena Dunham, Producers: Lena Dunham, Michael P. Cohen, Kevin Turen, Katia Washington) — Sarah Jo is a naive 26-year-old living on the fringes of Hollywood with her mother (longing for money) and sister (longing for exposure). She just longs to be seen. When she begins an affair with her older employer, she is thrust into an education on sexuality, loss and power. Cast: Kristine Froseth, Jon Bernthal, Scott Speedman, Lena Dunham, Taylour Paige, Jennifer Jason Leigh. World Premiere. Fiction.

To The End / U.S.A. (Director: Rachel Lears, Producers: Sabrina Schmidt Gordon) — Stopping the climate crisis is a question of political courage, and the clock is ticking. Over three years of turbulence and crisis, four remarkable young women of color fight for a Green New Deal, and ignite a historic shift in U.S. climate politics. World Premiere. Documentary. 

We Need to Talk About Cosby / U.S.A. (Director: W. Kamau Bell, Producers: Andrew Fried, Katie A. King, Geraldine L. Porras, Dane Lillegard, Sarina Roma, Jordan Wynn) — Can you separate the art from the artist? Should you even try? While there are many people about whom we could ask those questions, none pose a tougher challenge than Bill Cosby. World Premiere. Documentary.

When You Finish Saving the World / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Jesse Eisenberg, Producers: Ali Herting, Dave McCary, Emma Stone) — Evelyn and her oblivious son Ziggy seek out replacements for each other as Evelyn desperately tries to parent an unassuming teenager at her shelter, while Ziggy fumbles through his pursuit of a brilliant young woman at school. Cast: Julianne Moore, Finn Wolfhard. World Premiere. Fiction. DAY ONE

MIDNIGHT

From horror and comedy to works that defy genre classification, these films will keep you wide awake, even at the most arduous hour. Films that have premiered in this category in recent years include Hereditary, Mandy, Relic, Assassination Nation, and The Babadook.

Nadia Tereszkiewicz in “Babysitter” (Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute)


Babysitter / Canada (Director: Monia Chokri, Screenwriter: Catherine Léger, Producers: Martin Paul-Hus, Catherine Léger, Pierre-Marcel Blanchot, Fabrice Lambot) — After a sexist joke goes viral, Cédric loses his job and embarks on a therapeutic journey to free himself from sexism and misogyny. His girlfriend Nadine is exasperated by his narcissistic introspection, until they hire a mysterious and liberated babysitter to help shake things up. Cast: Patrick Hivon, Monia Chokri, Nadia Tereszkiewcz, Steve Laplante, Hubert Proulx. World Premiere. Fiction.

FRESH / U.S.A. (Director: Mimi Cave, Screenwriter: Lauryn Kahn, Producers: Adam McKay, Kevin Messick, Maeve Cullinane) — The horrors of modern dating seen through one young woman’s defiant battle to survive her new boyfriend’s unusual appetites. Cast: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Sebastian Stan, Jojo T. Gibbs, Charlotte Le Bon, Andrea Bang, Dayo Okeniyi. World Premiere. Fiction. DAY ONE

Hatching / Finland (Director: Hanna Bergholm, Screenwriter: Ilja Rautsi, Producers: Mika Ritalahti, Nico Ritalahtit) — While desperately trying to please her demanding mother, a young gymnast discovers a strange egg. She tucks it away and keeps it warm, but when it hatches, what emerges shocks everyone. Cast: Jani Volanen, Siiri Solalinna, Sophia Heikkilä, Saija Lentonen, Reino Nordin, Oiva Ollila. World Premiere. Fiction.

Meet Me In The Bathroom / U.K. (Directors: Dylan Southern, Will Lovelace, Producers: Vivienne Perry, Sam Bridger, Marisa Clifford, Thomas Benski, Danny Gabai, Suroosh Alvi) — An immersive journey through the New York music scene of the early 2000s. Set against the backdrop of 9/11, the film tells the story of how a new generation kickstarted a musical rebirth for New York City that reverberated around the world. Inspired by the book by Lizzy Goodman. World Premiere. Documentary.

PIGGY / Spain (Director and Screenwriter: Carlota Pereda, Producers: Merry Colomer, David Atlan-Jackson) — Sara deals with constant teasing from girls in her small town. But it comes to an end when a stranger kidnaps her tormentors. Sara knows more than she’s saying and must decide between speaking up and saving the girls or saying nothing to protect the strange man who spared her. Cast: Laura Galán. World Premiere. Fiction.

Speak No Evil / Denmark (Director and Screenwriter: Christian Tafdrup, Screenwriter: Mads Tafdrup, Producer: Jacob Jarek) — A Danish family visits a Dutch family they met on a holiday. What was supposed to be an idyllic weekend slowly starts unraveling as the Danes try to stay polite in the face of unpleasantness. Cast: Morten Burian, Sidsel Siem Koch, Fedja van Huêt, Karina Smulders, Liva Forsberg, Marius Damslev. World Premiere. Fiction.

SPOTLIGHT

The Spotlight section is a tribute to the cinema we love from throughout the past year. Films that have played in this category in recent years include The Biggest Little Farm, Birds of Passage, The Rider, Ida, and The Lobster.

Colin Farrell in “After Yang” (Photo by Benjamin Loeb/A24)

After Yang / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Kogonada, Producers: Andrew Goldman, Caroline Kaplan, Paul Mezey, Theresa Park)  — In the near future, a father and daughter try to save the life of Yang, their beloved robotic family member. Cast: Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith. Justin H. Min, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja, Haley Lu Richardson. North American Premiere. Fiction.

Happening / France (Director and Screenwriter: Audrey Diwan, Screenwriter: Alice Girard, Producers: Edouard Weil, Alice Girard)  — France, 1963. Anne is a bright student with a promising future. But when she falls pregnant, she sees the opportunity to escape the constraints of her social background disappearing. With final exams approaching and her belly growing, Anne resolves to act, even if she must risk prison to do so. Cast: Anamaria Vartolomei, Kacey Mottet-Klein, Luana Bajrami, Louise Chevillotte, Pio Marmai. Fiction.

Neptune Frost / U.S.A./Rwanda (Directors: Anisia Uzeyman, Saul Williams, Screenwriter: Saul Williams, Producers: Ezra Miller, Stephen Hendel, Dave Guenette, Maria Judice) —  In an otherworldly e-waste dump camp, a subversive hacking collective attempts a takeover of the authoritarian regime exploiting the region’s natural resources — and its people. When an intersex runaway and an escaped coltan miner find each other through cosmic forces, their connection sparks glitches within the greater divine circuitry. Cast: Cheryl Isheja, Elvis Ngabo “Bobo”, Bertrand Ninteretse “Kaya Free”, Eliane Umuhire, Rebecca Muciyo, Trésor Niyongabo. Fiction.

Three Minutes – A Lengthening / Netherlands (Director and Screenwriter: Bianca Stigter, Producer: Floor Onrust) — Three minutes of footage are the only moving images known of the Jewish inhabitants of Nasielsk in Poland before the Holocaust. An examination of that film — in color, random, full of life — reveals historical and personal dimensions. Narrated by Helena Bonham Carter. Documentary.

The Worst Person in the World / Norway (Director: Joachim Trier, Screenwriter: Eskil Vogt, Joachim Trier, Producer: Thomas Robsahm, Andrea Berentsen Ottmar) — Four years in the life of Julie, a young woman who navigates the troubled waters of her love life and struggles to find her career path, leading her to take a realistic look at who she really is. Cast: Renate Reinsve, Anders Danielsen Lie, Herbert Nordrum. Fiction. DAY ONE

KIDS

Truong Phu and Chu Diep Anh in “Maika” (Photo by Minh Cong Trang)

This section of the Festival is especially for our youngest independent film fans. Programmed in cooperation with Utah Film Center, which presents the annual Tumbleweeds Film Festival, Utah’s premiere film festival for children and youth. Films that have played in this category in recent years include The Elephant Queen, Science Fair, My Life as a Zucchini, The Eagle Huntress, and Shaun the Sheep.

Maika / Vietnam (Director and Screenwriter: Ham Tran, Producers:Jenni Trang Le, Duy Ho, Anderson Le, Bao Nguyen) — After a meteor falls to earth, 8-year-old Hung meets an alien girl from the planet Maika, searching for her lost friend. As Hung helps her otherworldly friend search, the alien inadvertently helps Hung make new friends and heal a broken heart. But danger lurks everywhere… Cast: Phu Truong, Diep Anh Tru, Tin Tin, Ngoc Tuong, Kim Nha. World Premiere. Fiction.

Summering / U.S.A. (Director: James Ponsoldt, Screenwriters: Benjamin Percy, James Ponsoldt, Producers: Peter Block, P. Jennifer Dana) — During their last days of summer and childhood — the weekend before middle school begins — four girls struggle with the harsh truths of growing up and embark on a mysterious adventure. World Premiere. Fiction.

SPECIAL SCREENINGS featuring extended conversations following the screening, to allow audiences and storytellers to connect more deeply. 

LAST FLIGHT HOME / U.S.A. (Director: Ondi Timoner, Producers: Ondi Timoner, David Turner) — An examination of Eli Timoner’s intentional death and his family’s emotional turmoil as they grapple with his decision to end his own life. The family journeys back through Eli’s remarkable, painful life to discover what true love looks like and help him shed shame he’s carried for forty years. World Premiere. Documentary.

FROM THE COLLECTION

Ariyan A. Johnson in “Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.” (Photo courtesy Miramax Films) 

Archival screenings are made possible by the Sundance Institute Collection at UCLA, and give audiences the opportunity to discover and rediscover the films that have shaped the heritage of both Sundance Institute and independent storytelling. To address the specific preservation risks posed to independent film, Sundance Institute partnered with UCLA Film & Television Archive in 1997 to form the Sundance Institute Collection at UCLA and preserves independent films supported by Sundance Institute. The Collection has grown to over 4,000 holdings representing nearly 2,300 titles. From the Collection screenings have included The Blair Witch Project, Hours and Times, River of Grass, Paris is Burning, Desert Hearts, Daughters of the Dust, El Mariachi, sex, lies, and videotape, Hoop Dreams, and Paris, Texas.

Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Leslie Harris, Producers: Leslie Harris, Erwin Wilson) — A Brooklyn young woman, smart, witty, and confident, is not just another teenager on the NYC subway. Determined to make it out of her neighborhood and become a doctor, she confronts adversity while navigating challenging waters to achieve her dreams and goals… Cast: William Badget, Chequita Jackson, Ebony Jerido, Ariyan Johnson, Kevin Thigpen, Jerad Washington. 1993 Sundance Film Festival – winner of the Special Jury Prize for Outstanding Achievement in a First Feature.

Digitally restored from the original 16mm A/B negatives, and a new DCP created in collaboration between Sundance Institute, the Academy Film Archive, and UCLA Film & Television Archive.

INDIE EPISODIC PROGRAM

A dedicated showcase for emerging creators of independently produced content for episodic platforms. Past projects that have premiered within this category include Work in Progress, State of the Union, Gentefied, Wu Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men and Quarter Life Poetry. The Indie Episodic Program is presented by DoorDash.

Kate Bosworth in “Bring on the Dancing Horses” (Photo by Angela Martino)

Bring on the Dancing Horses / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Michael Polish, Producers: Kate Bosworth, Michael Polish) — An assassin is out to complete her list of targets and exact her own brand of justice. Cast: Kate Bosworth, Jasper Polish, Lance Henriksen, Happy Anderson, DJ Qualls, Thomas Francis Murphy. World Premiere. Fiction.

Chiqui / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Carlos Cardona, Producers: Daniel Fermín Pfeffer, Sophia de Baun) — It’s 1987. Chiqui and Carlos immigrate from Colombia to the United States to find a better life for themselves and their unborn son. Upon their arrival, they quickly realize that the American dream is not as easy to achieve as they thought. Cast: Brigitte Silva, Sebastián Beltranini, Catherine French, Gregg Prosser. World Premiere. Fiction.

CULTURE BEAT / U.S.A. (Directors: Andre Hyland, Kitao Sakurai, Screenwriters: Andre Hyland, Kitao Sakurai, Eric Andre, Producers: Eric Andre, Kitao Sakurai, Andre Hyland) — A show that investigates high culture institutions through the lowbrow lens of various characters. The 2021 love child of Da Ali G Show and Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. Cast: Andre Hyland. World Premiere. Documentary.

The Dark Heart / Sweden (Director: Gustav Möller, Screenwriter: Oskar Söderlund, Producers: Anna Carlsten, Caroline Landerberg) — Sweden: in a mythological landscape, search parties roam through forests of spruce, secret conversations are whispered in open fields, and verbal duels fought on narrow country roads. A story of family feuds, inheritances and forbidden love. Cast: Aliette Opheim, Clara Christiansson Drake, Gustav Lindh, Peter Andersson. World Premiere. Fiction. 

Instant Life / U.S.A. (Directors: Mark Becker, Aaron Schock, Producers: Mark Becker, Aaron Schock, Julie Gaynin) — Destitute without electricity and running water, Yolanda Signorelli Von Braunhut has lost control of her late husband Harold’s iconic Amazing Live Sea Monkeys novelty. Yet she alone knows their secret formula, and from her crumbling estate on the Potomac, Yolanda wages legal and existential battles to fully win them back. World Premiere. Documentary. 

My Trip to Spain / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Theda Hammel, Producers: Allie Jane Compton, John Early) — Alexis, a successful trans woman, is heading to Spain to get some cosmetic surgery. She has asked her embittered old friend Charlie to housesit while she’s away. During the handoff, he tries his best to convince her to cancel, while simultaneously pursuing a sexual liaison with her brooding gardener Bruno. Cast: John Early, Theda Hammel, Gordon Landenberger. World Premiere. Fiction. 

NEW FRONTIER

The 2022 edition of the Festival’s New Frontier section will be a fully biodigital showcase, presented simultaneously on a bespoke WebXR spatialized virtual venue, The Spaceship, that has touchpoints in a newly conceived, free-to-access venue in Park City, The Craft. Ticketed New Frontier performances will also be presented in Park City’s iconic Egyptian Theatre, with simultaneous presentations on The Spaceship.
 
The Spaceship, globally accessible via laptop or VR headset, houses spaces for Festivalgoers to see the official New Frontier lineup, interact with others and gather together to watch programs and performances in an immersive arthouse theater. This year, Sundance, working again with the creative studio Active Theory, will unveil a number of upgrades to enhance The Spaceship’s functionality and accessibility. Festival attendees, both on the ground in Park City and online, can interact with each other in avatar and maintain the sense of community that the Festival always aims to provide, including a bleeding-edge human-scale Biodigital Bridge that allows Festivalgoers in Park City to gather with those attending The Spaceship online from anywhere in the world — establishing the Festival as a metaverse that overlays the physical event with a virtual one.
 
Since 2007, the New Frontier exhibition has showcased multimedia storytelling, art installations, and biodigital performances that make use of emerging technologies like virtual reality, haptic tech and AI, among other tools. The 2022 edition is visualized as a human-scale and person-first digital experience that balances connection with a wondrous and meaningful sense of place.

The Sundance Institute New Frontier Program is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Unity, Canon USA, Inc., Metaplex Studios, Rally, Adobe, Dell Technologies, and RAIR Tech.

Sam Green in “32 Sounds (Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute)


32 Sounds / U.S.A. (Lead Artist: Sam Green) — An immersive documentary and sensory film experience that explores the elemental phenomenon of sound and its power to bend time, cross borders, and profoundly shape our perception of the world around us. The film will be presented in its “live cinema” form, featuring live music and live narration. World Premiere.  DAY ONE

Atua / New Zealand (Lead Artists: Tanu Gago, Jermaine Dean, Key Collaborators: Kat Lintott, Carthew Neal, Nacoya Anderson) — Centuries ago, gender- and sexuality-diverse Pacific peoples were impacted by the arrival of Christianity. This work utilizes a Māori concept of time and space, reimagining Te Kore as a celestial being. Te Kore is the Void, a nonbinary state of chaos, abundant with possibilities and the unlimited potential for being. World Premiere. 

Child of Empire / U.K. (Lead Artists: Sparsh Ahuja, Erfan Saadati, Stephen Stephenson, Omi Zola Gupta, Key Collaborators: Sam Dalyrmple, Saadia Gardezi, Jayosmita Ganguly) — Experience the largest forced migration in human history, the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan. Embody the childhood memories of two survivors, as they reflect on their journeys across a divided homeland. World Premiere.

Cosmogony / Switzerland (Lead Artists: Gilles Jobin, Susana Panadés Diaz, Camilo de Martino, Tristan Siodlak, Key Collaborator: Pierre-Igor Berthet) — A live digital performance in which 3 dancers are motion captured in Geneva and projected remotely in real time. North American Premiere.

Diagnosia / U.S.A. (Lead Artists: Mengtai Zhang, Lemon Guo, Producers: Mengtai Zhang, Lemon Guo, Yue Huang) — In this VR experience, the director locks us inside his teenage memories of being incarcerated in a military-operated internet addiction camp in Beijing in 2007, where internet addiction and other youth issues were treated as severe mental disorders, and sometimes by violent means. North American Premiere.

Flat Earth VR / Brazil (Lead Artist: Lucas Rizzotto) VR is known as the ultimate empathy machine that lets users experience others’ perspectives. But what happens when those perspectives are delusional? Experience the ultimate flat-earther fantasy: ascend into the stars and prove all globe-earthers wrong by taking photos of the planet as it truly is: flat like a pancake. World Premiere.

Gondwana / Australia (Lead Artists: Ben Joseph Andrews, Emma Roberts, Key Collaborators: Lachlan Sleight, Michelle Brown, The Convoy) — A durational VR experience that runs over 24 hours, and a constantly-evolving virtual ecosystem chronicling the possible futures of the world’s oldest tropical rainforest, the Daintree. Powered by climate data, each showing is unrepeatable and speculative, a meditation on time, change and loss in an irreplaceable landscape. World Premiere. 

On the Morning You Wake (To the End of the World) / U.K. (Lead Artists: Dr. Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio, Mike Brett, Steve Jamison, Arnaud Colinart, Pierre Zandrowicz, Key Collaborators: Jo-Jo Ellison, Bobby Krlic)  — On a regular Saturday morning in January 2018, as Hawaiian citizens went about their daily routines, the entire state population received an SMS from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, which read: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” World Premiere. 

Seven Grams / France (Lead Artist: Karim Ben Khelifa, Key Collaborators: TT Hernandez, Quentin Noirfalisse)  — An entirely new way for people to understand the human cost that went into producing their smartphones. This project brings the Democratic Republic of Congo’s tragic mining industry straight to the smartphone that its mineral resources helped make, via an app on both IOS and Android systems.  North American Premiere.

Suga’- A Live Virtual Dance Performance / U.S.A. (Lead Artist: Valencia James, Key Collaborators: Thomas Wester, Simon Boas)  — An immersive experience that features live dance performance as volumetric video in social virtual reality space. The performance weaves together movement, family stories, and cultural heritage to imagine virtual environments as a site for healing and reclamation of spaces that were historically filled with pain and injustice.

Surrogate / U.S.A. (Lead Artist: Lauren Lee McCarthy, Key Collaborators: Dorothy R. Santos, David Leonard, Stefanie Tam) — How do we relate to the future while living in a world in crisis? Amidst climate change, inequity, and pandemic, it’s no longer possible to view ourselves as separate from past and future. How much control should we have over a birthing person’s body, and a life before it’s born? North American Premiere.

The Inside World / U.S.A. (Lead Artists: Jennifer McCoy, Kevin McCoy, Key Collaborators: Annie J. Howell, Peter Rostovsky)  — The city of Las Vegas is now operated by artificial intelligence. Fourteen AI “Managers” handle every sector of the city. The problem is, one of them is secretly human… Digital Art NFTs meet gameplay in this community driven mystery. World Premiere. 

The State of Global Peace / U.S.A (Lead Artists: Daanish Masood Alavi, Key Collaborators: Igal Nassima, Erica Newman) — The prime minister of a fictitious country – played by you – is about to deliver a speech at a virtual UN General Assembly in the near future. A group of students hijacks the security system and takes over the screens, asking to have a dialogue. World Premiere. 

They Dream in My Bones – Insemnopedy II / France (Lead Artist: Faye Formisano, Key Collaborators: Ludovic De Oliveira, Lilou-Magali Robert, Cindy Coutant)  — Immersed on virtual veils, this VR360 experience tells the story of Roderick Norman, a researcher in onirogenetics, the science he founded, which makes it possible to extract dreams from an unidentified skeleton at the frontier of gender and the human.  North American Premiere.

This Is Not A Ceremony / Canada (Lead Artist: Ahnahktsipiitaa (Colin Van Loon), Key Collaborators: Olivier Leroux, James Monkman, Jessica Dymond) — Darkly humorous and occasionally caustic, this cinematic VR experience offers insights into the struggles and conflicts of growing up an Indigenous man. World Premiere. 

The Sundance Film Festival
The Sundance Film Festival has introduced global audiences to some of the most groundbreaking films of the past three decades, including Flee, CODA, Passing, Summer Of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), Clemency, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Zola, On The Record, Boys State, The Farewell, Honeyland, One Child Nation, The Souvenir, The Infiltrators, Sorry to Bother You, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Hereditary, Call Me By Your Name, Get Out, The Big Sick, Mudbound, Fruitvale Station, Whiplash, Brooklyn, Precious, The Cove, Little Miss Sunshine, An Inconvenient Truth, Napoleon Dynamite, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Reservoir Dogs and sex, lies, and videotape
 
The Festival is a program of the non-profit Sundance Institute. 2022 Festival sponsors include: Presenting Sponsors – Acura, AMC+, Chase Sapphire, Adobe; Leadership Sponsors – Amazon Studios, DIRECTV, DoorDash, Dropbox, Netflix, Omnicom Group, WarnerMedia, XRM Media; Sustaining Sponsors – Aflac, Audible, Canada Goose, Canon U.S.A., Inc., Dell Technologies, IMDbPro, Michelob ULTRA Pure Gold, Rabbit Hole Bourbon & Rye, Southwest Airlines®, Unity Technologies, University of Utah Health, White Claw Hard Seltzer; Media Sponsors – The Atlantic, IndieWire, Los Angeles Times, NPR, Shadow and Act, Variety, Vulture. Sundance Institute recognizes critical support from the State of Utah as Festival Host State. The support of these organizations helps offset the Festival’s costs and sustain the Institute’s year-round programs for independent artists. Festival.Sundance.org

Sundance Institute
As a champion and curator of independent stories for the stage and screen, Sundance Institute provides and preserves the space for artists in film, theatre, film composing, and digital media to create and thrive.
Founded in 1981 by Robert Redford, the Institute’s signature Labs, granting, and mentorship programs, dedicated to developing new work, take place throughout the year in the U.S. and internationally. Sundance Collab, a digital community platform, brings artists together to learn from each other and Sundance advisors and connect in a creative space, developing and sharing works in progress. The Sundance Film Festival and other public programs connect audiences and artists to ignite new ideas, discover original voices, and build a community dedicated to independent storytelling. Sundance Institute has supported such projects as Clemency, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Zola, On The Record, Boys State, The Farewell, Honeyland, One Child Nation, The Souvenir, The Infiltrators, Sorry to Bother You, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Hereditary, Call Me By Your Name, Get Out, The Big Sick, Mudbound, Fruitvale Station, City So Real, Top of the Lake, Between the World & Me, Wild Goose Dreams and Fun Home. Join the Sundance Institute on FacebookInstagramTwitter and YouTube.

# # #

EDITOR NOTE: DIRECTOR DEMOGRAPHICS 
The data we are sharing reflects information provided directly by the artists. Some artists chose not to self-identify in all data areas.

U.S. COMPETITION:
Dramatic: 60% or 6 of the 10 directors in this year’s U.S. Dramatic Competition identify as women; 50% or 5 of the 10 identify as people of color.
Documentary: 77% or 10 of the 13 directors in this year’s U.S. Documentary Competition identify as women; 30% or 4 of the 13 identify as people of color; 7% or 1 of the 13 identify as LGBTQ+.

WORLD COMPETITION:
Dramatic: 45% or 5 of the 11 directors in the World Dramatic Competition identify as women; 45% or 5 of the 11 identify as people of color; 9% or 1 out of 11 directors identify as LGBTQ+
Documentary: 45% or 5 of the 11 directors in the World Documentary Competition identify as women; 36% or 4 of the 11 as people of color.

FEATURE FILM SUBMISSIONS: Of the 3,762 feature film submissions, 1,665 were from the U.S. and 2,121 were international; 1,070 (28%) were directed by one or more filmmakers who identify as women; 52 (1%) were directed by one or more filmmakers who identify as non-binary individuals; 1,611 (43%) were directed by one or more filmmakers who identify as people of color; 413 (11%) were directed by one or more filmmakers who identify as LGBTQ+. 

ALL FEATURES: Of the 82 feature films, 43 (52%) were directed by one or more filmmakers identify as women; 1 (1%) was directed by one or more filmmakers who identify as non-binary individuals; 29 (35%) were directed by one or more filmmakers who identify as people of color; 8 (10%) by one or more filmmakers who identify as LGBTQ+;

NEW FRONTIER: Of the 29 lead artists across the 15-project section, 7, or 24%, identify as women; 3, or 10%, identify as non-binary; 14, or 48%, identify as people of color; 6, or 21%, identify as LGBTQ+.

INDIE EPISODIC: Of the 8 directors across the 6-project section, 1, or 12%, identifies as women; 3, or 37%, of 8 directors identify as people of color; 1, or 12%, identifies as LGBTQ+.

Review: ‘A Glitch in the Matrix,’ starring Paul Gude, Alex LeVine, Nick Bostrom, Jesse Orion, Emily Pothast, Brother Laeo Mystwood and Chris Ware

February 12, 2021

by Carla Hay

A scene from “A Glitch in the Matrix” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

“A Glitch in the Matrix”

Directed by Rodney Ascher

Culture Representation: The documentary “A Glitch in the Matrix” features a group of people (almost all white males, with one white woman and one African American man) of video game addicts, journalists and academics discussing the concept that life on Earth could be a virtual simulation, not the reality that people think it is.

Culture Clash: Different ways of looking at and defining reality are explored, including how video games influence people’s thoughts.

Culture Audience: “A Glitch in the Matrix” will appeal primarily to people who want to listen to ramblings from several people who admit they’re addicted to video games or some other form of virtual reality.

A scene from “A Glitch in the Matrix” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

In the Oscar-winning 1999 sci-fi film “The Matrix,” Carrie-Anne Moss’ Trinity character tells Keanu Reeves’ Neo character that his feeling of déjà vu is “a glitch in the matrix.” It’s meant to explain a mistake in the matrix world where the movie’s characters live in a simulated reality. The documentary “A Glitch in the Matrix” talks to several people who are open to believe or actually believe the idea that the world as we know it is not “real” but is actually a simulation controlled by unknown and unseen forces.

If you want to listen to self-admitted geeks drone on and on about this concept, then by all means, waste your time and watch “A Glitch in the Matrix,” which adds nothing new or interesting to this debate. The movie is also very poorly researched. “A Glitch in the Matrix,” which had its world premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, spent more time gathering a variety of film clips than interviewing a variety of people.

Directed by Rodney Ascher, “A Glitch in the Matrix” is truly a case of style of over substance. It cobbles together a lot of clips from sci-fi flicks, edits them together with some animation, and tries to dazzle the viewer into thinking that movie is going to be a cutting-edge documentary. It’s not.

It’s really just a movie that gives a platform to several self-described video game addicts, who ramble on about how they sometimes have a hard time comprehending what’s reality and what is not. The only facts that this documentary really puts forth are that people can get addicted to video games and those with possible mental health issues can actually start to feel like they’re living in a video game. This problem of video game addiction has been common knowledge for decades, but the filmmakers of “A Glitch in the Matrix” try to make this documentary look as if it’s revealing insightful information. Perhaps they’re living in another reality if they think this lazy film is nothing more than a cash grab to appeal to gamers and other people interested in virtual worlds.

Some of the people interviewed in the documentary don’t even want to show their real faces. Instead, their video game avatars are shown on screen as they talk. These self-confessed video game addicts are:

  • Paul Gude, who appears with a creepy red mask surrounded by a ruby-like orb and wearing a samurai warrior outfit.
  • Brother Laeo Mystwood, who appears with an Anibus head and is decked out mostly in purple.
  • Alex LeVine, who appears as a shaman-like robot with an emoji face and a brain suspended in liquid
  • Jesse Orion, who appears as a space alien in an astronaut suit.

They all look like they’re auditioning to be a new character in a “Mortal Kombat” reboot game. And, clearly, all of them have “issues.” Orion describes himself as a video game addict who feels alienated from the world.

Gude says that when he was a student at the University of Missouri in Columbia in the early 1990s, he first became fascinated with the idea that the human brain is a computer that can be hacked into and manipulated. And he comments that he started to feel like his life was really a simulation when, as a child, he moved from Pontiac, Illinois, to the much smaller city of Dorsey, Illinois. He remembers being somewhat freaked out by things such as going to a shopping mall and seeing hardly any people there. He also thinks people are “chemical robots.”

Mystwood (which is obviously not his real name, but maybe it’s his name in the fantasy world he seems to have in his head) talks about having a religious upbringing that he thinks did some damage to his psyche. (Gude, who is the son of a pastor, describes a similar effect that religion had on him.) Mystwood also says that he got a clearer understanding of “alternate reality” when he experienced going into a sensory deprivation tank. Mystwood describes how his head started to pound and he had an out-of-body experience.

And he then came to this conclusion after going through the experience of the sensory deprivation tank: “I am a code … Nothing on me or anyone is real.” The documentary irresponsibly doesn’t include scientific information on how sensory deprivation can cause hallucinations similar to someone taking a psychedelic drug.

Speaking of psychedelics, what the filmmakers fail to ask in this documentary when people spew all of these paranoid theories is, “How often have you taken psychedelic drugs?” Because a lot of their ranting about discovering “alternate realities” just sounds like people who maybe took LSD or other psychedelics too many times. And a few of them sound like they’re in serious need of psychiatric evaluations.

Billionaire tech mogul Elon Musk is mentioned as somewhat of a hero to people who think that we live in a simulation, because Musk has publicly expressed this theory too. What the documentary doesn’t mention is Musk’s self-admitted drug use. It seems irresponsible for this documentary to not mention the possibility that drug-fueled hallucinations could be behind many of the theories about simulation that some people believe as gospel.

The closest that anyone will admit that being under the influence of substances (legal or illegal) has a lot to do with how they think about reality is when LeVine describes going on a drunken joyride in Mexico with some friends when he was younger. Everyone in the car, including the driver, was very drunk from alcohol and maybe who knows what other substances that LeVine (a Harvard-educated engineer) might not wanted to admit to on camera. After driving the wrong way on a freeway and narrowly missing a head-on collision, the car eventually flipped over and crashed by itself. The car was completely wrecked.

Luckily, no one was killed or seriously injured. LeVine describes having an out-of-body experience and remembers someone carrying him away from the corrupt federales who were going to demand money from these Americans to not arrest them. LeVine says the fact that no one got killed in this serious car crash was a sign that some other forces were at play.

Actually, it’s not unusual for intoxicated people in a car crash to suffer less injuries than people in the crash who were sober. There are many cases of drunk drivers who killed other people in an automobile crash, but the drunk drivers survived with minor injuries. There’s plenty of information available with the statistics.

Medical experts believe that intoxicated people in a car crash have a better chance of surviving and getting less injured, compared to sober people, because intoxicated people’s reactions and reflexes are slower while under the influence of alcohol or another substance. But course, the filmmakers never both to include this medical/scientific information. In fact, they don’t question or try to debunk any of the hallucinatory stories that are in this movie.

The production notes for “A Glitch in the Matrix” describe the documentary interviewees who believe in simulation theory as “eyewitnesses.” LeVine also mentions that he has Crohn’s disease, which is an odd thing to bring up, because the inner workings of his bowels have nothing to do with what this documentary is all about. That’s an example of some of the irrelevant information in this movie, which was in serious need of better editing and sensible research.

“A Glitch in the Matrix” interviews a few journalists and academics (who appear on camera as their real selves), but they just repeat things that they’ve already written about in essays, books or articles that they wrote years ago. In the documentary’s production notes, these talking heads are listed as people providing “expert testimony.” Among those interviewed is writer Erik Davis, author of the 1998 book “Techgnosis: Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the Age of Information.”

There’s also Nick Bostrom, an Oxford University professor who wrote the 2003 article “Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?” for Philosophical Quarterly, while he was doing post-doctoral work at Yale University. He believes that there are three possibilities when it comes to simulation disguised as reality: (1) There was extinction before simulation; (2) Simulation technology was abandoned and there are only assets to simulation; (3) Simulation is “real.”

American cartoonist Chris Ware gives a useless interview where he comments on the illustration that he did for The New Yorker’s issue that was dated June 12, 2015. The cover features two girls looking at computers in their bedroom. Ware says that the video game Minecraft inspired the drawing.

Ware also has this to say about Minecraft: “Every time I play it with my daughter, I feel like we’re dead and we’re flying around the world. It’s the only experience that closely approximates what … a disembodied conscience might experience.”

Again. Are these people on drugs? These are the so-called “experts” in this movie.

Also interviewed is Emily Pothast, who wrote a 2019 article on Medium called “The (Deep) Dream of Motivated Reasoning Produces Monsters,” which gives an analysis of how people can be radicalized if they believe that their reality is different from what’s presented by the media. She is the only woman interviewed in this documentary, and she’s the only person in the movie who gives an intelligent cultural context of what can happen when people start to think that their reality is not what most other people think is reality.

Pothast comments, “I do think there’s an inability to separate the real world from digital realities, when you have the [2019 mosque mass-murder] shooter in [Christchurch] New Zealand, livestreaming what he’s doing … and going after people who are Muslims. Or people shooting up synagogues going after people who are constructed as ‘other’ by the media that [these shooters] consume.”

The New Zealand shooter was a white supremacist who appeared to be addicted to social media, such as Facebook, instead of video games. “A Glitch in the Matrix” doesn’t mention that New Zealand subsequently banned video games that were eerily similar to the mosque shootings. And there’s no discussion in this documentary on how substance abuse and/or mental illness play roles in people disconnecting from reality.

The documentary also takes a glib approach when mentioning the 2018 incident of Horizon Air employee Richard Russell stealing a Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 plane, with no passengers, from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and doing dangerous tricks in the air. Russell died when he intentionally crashed the plane on Ketron Island in Puget Sound. During his communication with aircraft control, Russell (who did not have a pilot’s license) said he learned how to fly planes by playing video games. The people in the documentary, such as Orion, who comment on this tragic incident seem to be more impressed with how video games influenced this deadly stunt than caring about what led Russell to commit such a desperate act.

“A Glitch in the Matrix” also shows a clear bias in preference of white men, because all but two people interviewed in the movie fit that description. In addition to Pothast, the only other person interviewed in this documentary who is not a white man is Joshua Cooke, an African American man who was convicted of the 2003 shooting murders of his adoptive parents in Oakton, Virginia. Cooke was 19 when he committed the crime and was sentenced to 40 years in prison. He says that he was addicted to “The Matrix” movie and violent video games, and he says that he lost touch with reality. In court, he pled guilty instead of pleading not guilty by reason of insanity.

Cooke was so obsessed with “The Matrix” that he dressed like the movie’s Neo character and bought a gun that’s similar to the one that Neo uses in the movie. Cooke does not appear on camera in “A Glitch in the Matrix,” but his comments are heard in audio voiceover from interviews that the filmmakers did with him from prison. Cooke’s story is included in the documentary’s long segment about the huge influence that “The Matrix” movies (especially the first one in the series) have had on people who believe that life is a simulation. Cooke vividly describes how “The Matrix” took over his life and spilled over into murdering the people he thought were the “enemy.”

What the documentary didn’t mention is that there was a history of mental illness with Cooke’s biological parents: His biological mother was schizophrenic, and his father was bipolar. There are no mental health experts interviewed in this documentary about people who believe that the world we live in isn’t real. That gives you an idea of how careless this documentary is.

“A Glitch in the Matrix” strangely and selectively mentions Cooke and Lee Boyd Malvo (also known as one of the DC Sniper serial killers) as the only two examples of people whose obsession with “The Matrix” and violent video games turned into homicide. Everyone knows that black people are not the vast majority of those who commit mass murders or serial killings of this type. And yet, “A Glitch in the Matrix” filmmakers show an appalling racist bias by only singling out black people as examples of those who’ve committed these violent crimes.

The movie gives a lot of screen time to archival footage of a 1977 speaking appearance given by sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, who’s cited as another major influence to people who believe that life is a simulation. Several of Dick’s novels and short stories have been adapted into movies, including 1982’s “Blade Runner,” 1990’s “Total Recall,” 2002’s “Minority Report” and 2011’s “The Adjustment Bureau.” The Amazon Prime Video series “The Man in the High Castle” was also based on one of his books.

“A Glitch in the Matrix” includes clips from several movies, such as “The Matrix,” “Total Recall,” “Minority Report,” 1997’s “Starship Troopers,” 1998’s “The Truman Show,” and 2009’s “Avatar.” All of these films have some version of the theme that humans are not as in control of their lives as they think they are because there are outside forces really in control or trying to invade humanity. The documentary also has several eye-catching animation clips, most notably Robert Crumb’s “Plato’s The Cave.”

“A Glitch in the Matrix” spends a lot of time discussing that people who believe that the world is really simulated are those who are usually addicted to video games. And yet, the filmmakers failed to include the perspectives of any video game developers or people who market video games. It’s a glaring oversight that shows how sloppily made and superficial this documentary is.

Some of the movie’s pace tends to drag because the rambling interviews get very boring after a while. The filmmakers also don’t confront a fact which seems pretty obvious from watching the type of people who get hooked on video games: These people have way too much time on their hands, which speaks to larger issues. There’s a certain amount of privilege that someone has to have to be able to spend all that time and money on video games.

“A Glitch in the Matrix” does a woefully inadequate job of addressing these socioeconomic issues. It’s a lot easier to want to escape into a video game world of shootouts and other mayhem if you don’t live in a gang-infested area or a war-torn environment. If any of these video game addicts who think the world isn’t real were taken out of the comfort of their homes and put in an actual war zone, they’d see how “real” the world is.

“A Glitch in the Matrix” doesn’t want to discuss how issues about mental health, substance abuse and socioeconomic status are major factors that link video game addiction to believing that the world isn’t real. The filmmakers just want to present a bright, shiny bubble of a documentary where the perspectives of people in one racial and gender demographic are given more importance over anyone else. And that lack of diversity is anything but what the real world looks like.

Magnolia Pictures released “A Glitch in the Matrix” in select U.S. cinemas and on digital and VOD on February 5, 2021.

Review: ‘Land’ (2021), starring Robin Wright and Demián Bichir

February 9, 2021

by Carla Hay

Robin Wright in “Land” (Photo by Daniel Power/Focus Features)

“Land” (2021)

Directed by Robin Wright

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in rural Wyoming, the dramatic film “Land” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one Latino and some Native American) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A depressed, middle-aged widow, who is grieving over the loss of her husband and son, decides to isolate herself in a remote mountain cabin without knowing a lot of basic survival skills.

Culture Audience: “Land” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in a movie about coping with grief where the acting is better than some of the plot developments.

Demián Bichir and Robin Wright in “Land” (Photo by Daniel Power/Focus Features)

The dramatic film “Land” is a lot like the rural mountainous area that serves as the backdrop of this story. There are peaks and valleys and a lot of spaces to fill in between, with some parts handled in a rougher way than others. “Land” is the feature-film directorial debut of actress Robin Wright, who also stars in the movie, which had its world premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

“Land” features a lot of scenes of her Edee Holzer character in solitude and sometimes dealing with dangerous elements of the terrain. The performances of Wright and co-star Demián Bichir (the two actors who have the most screen time in the film) elevate “Land” to make it easier to watch this mostly grim and sometimes uplifting movie. It’s a solid directorial debut from Wright, who manages to bring emotional gravitas to a character who remains an enigma for almost the entire movie.

“Land” is supposed to take place mostly in Wyoming, but the movie was actually filmed primarily in Moose Mountain in the Canadian province of Alberta. As a director, Wright displays talent in how striking and immersive she can make the movie’s scenes look, physically and emotionally. (Bobby Bukowski was the cinematographer for “Land.”)

Where the movie needed improvement most was in the screenplay written by Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam. The story dips a little too much into some formulaic “life in the wilderness” tropes before trying to throw in some tearjerking sentimentality during a certain part of the movie where it’s expected. Still, there’s enough to hold people’s interest for anyone curious to see how the movie ends.

The beginning of “Land” shows Edee (whose name is pronounced “ee-dee”) in a therapy session. The therapist asks Edee, “How are you feeling right now?” Edee replies, “I’m feeling like it’s really difficult to be around people because they just want me to get better. Why would anybody want to share it that? They can’t anyway.” The therapist says, “But that means you’re alone with your pain.”

Edee is about to be “alone with her pain” for a lot of this story. The next thing you know, she’s packed up a U-Haul, thrown away her cell phone, and headed to a run-down remote cabin in the mountains. The previous owner was an elderly man who passed away years ago. The person renting out the property is a man named Colt (played by Brad Leland), who meets her at the cabin to make sure that Edee has what she needs to move into the place.

Edee knows that the house hasn’t been cleaned or repaired in a long time, but she tells Colt that she doesn’t care. She also asks Colt to have someone pick up the rental car with the U-Haul. Colt expresses concern that Edee would be in this isolated area without a car, but she assures him that this is how she wants to live. Colt also asks Edee if she knows how to take care of herself in this rural environment, but she shrugs off his doubts. Edee also makes it clear to him that she wants to be left alone.

It turns out that Edee is woefully unprepared for what she experiences in this mountain area. Cleaning up the cabin (which has no indoor plumbing or electricity) is easy compared to dealing with freezing temperatures, finding fresh food, and being on the alert for the occasional wild bear. (You can easily predict how the bear scenario goes.) Edee doesn’t even know how to chop wood or go fishing when she starts living at the cabin, but she learns how through trial and error.

During her period of complete isolation, Edee has flashbacks to three very important people in her life: Her husband Adam (played by Warren Christie), their son Drew (played by Finlay Wojtak-Hissong) and Edee’s sister Emma (played by Kim Dickens), who’s close to Edee’s age. Emma was the one who recommended the therapist whom Edee was seeing before Edee decided to leave her old life behind and go “off the grid” to live in solitude.

As soon as the flashbacks start about Adam and Drew (who’s about 7 or 8 years old in the flashbacks), it’s obvious that they have died and that’s why Edee is so depressed. The flashbacks show that Edee and Emma had a very close relationship, but their closeness wasn’t enough for Edee to overcome her depression. An incident is shown that indicates that at one point, Emma was afraid that Edee might harm herself.

Why was Edee so unprepared to be in this rural environment? It turns out she kind of has a death wish that’s not really suicidal, but more like “I’m going to rough it in the wilderness, and if I can’t handle it, oh well …” But there are moments, such as when she has a bear encounter and some other near-disasters, where she does show a will to survive.

Edee is very aware that she’s ill-prepared to last long in this environment unless she knows how to catch her own food. During the harsh winter, there are no plants or fruit to eat. And through a series of circumstances, all the non-perishable food that was in the cabin is now gone.

Therefore, during a brutal winter, Edee begins to starve and almost freeze to death. She eventually collapses from hunger and hypothermia in the living room of her house, and she wakes up at night to find that a man and a woman have come to her rescue. The man’s name is Miguel Borras (played by Bichir) and the woman is a nurse named Alawa Crowe (played by Sarah Dawn Pledge), who gives Edee the necessary medical treatment because Edee refuses to be taken to a hospital.

It’s revealed later in the movie that Edee was found because Miguel had passed by the house when he had gone hunting earlier that day and noticed that smoke was coming out of the house’s chimney. When he passed by later that evening after his hunting trip, he noticed that there was no smoke coming from the chimney, so he went to investigate. When Miguel saw an unconscious Edee in the house, he called Alawa. Miguel and Alawa know each other because as part of his job, he delivers water to the Native American reservation where she lives.

Alawa voices her suspicions to Edee in asking her why Edee is avoiding being around people. Edee assures Alawa and Miguel that she’s not an outlaw or someone who’s trying to hide for shady reasons. Alawa still looks skeptical, but Miguel is more compassionate and understanding. He offers to help Edee recover at home instead of taking her to a hospital. Alawa reluctantly agrees.

After Edee recovers from her near-death experience, Miguel comes back to her house (against her wishes) and tells her that he wants to teach her how to hunt and trap animals for food. (This is not a good movie to watch if you’re a hardcore vegan or vegetarian, although nothing gets too graphic in the hunting scenes.) Miguel tells Edee that after she’s learned these skills, he will leave her alone.

And it should come as no surprise that Edee and Miguel end up becoming close, and she lets him hang out with her longer than she originally expected. There are many scenes of them forming a gradual friendship while Miguel teaches Edee how to catch her own food. Miguel has a German Shepherd named Potter as his constant companion, and Edee grows fond of the dog too, even though she told Miguel that she’s more of a cat person.

Eventually, Miguel opens up to Edee and tells her that he’s a widower whose wife and daughter were killed in a car accident. Edee remains vague about her past when she interacts with Miguel, and she will only say with pain in her eyes, “I had a family once.” Toward the end of the movie, it’s revealed how Edee’s husband and son died.

Miguel is the type of person who offers sage advice in the way that people do in movies like this one, where the right person comes along at the right time. He’s a true gentleman who doesn’t try to take advantage of someone who’s living in isolation. Some of his dialogue can be on the corny side, such as when he lectures Edee about her starvation collapse: “Only a person who’s never been hungry would think starvation is a good way to die.”

But there are some whimsical moments that lighten the mood, such as a running joke that Miguel and Edee have over how off-key he is when he sings Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” which seems to be one of his favorite songs. Edee also affectionately gives Miguel the nickname Yoda, in a nod to the wise and prophetic “Star Wars” character. She’s shocked when Miguel tells her that he’s never seen a “Star Wars” movie.

To its credit, “Land” does not fall into a “romance novel” cliché trap of having a woman being “rescued” by a handsome stranger, and then they fall in love and live happily ever after. That’s not to say that Edee and Miguel don’t have a deep emotional connection. But having them go down a “romance novel” route wouldn’t ring true, since Edee has a lot of self-healing to do and isn’t ready to jump into another serious relationship.

However, some details of “Land” also needed more authenticity. Throughout the movie, Edee is dressed a little too much like a catalogue model for outdoorsy clothing when she’s supposed to be someone who’s given up on life and wants to be alone. Why bother dressing up if she doesn’t want to be seen by anyone? Edee’s “no makeup” look and unfussy hair look realistic, but her clothing sometimes does not.

Those are minor flaws though, because the rapport between Edee and Miguel is what makes this movie worth watching. Because it takes a while to get to that point, some viewers might find “Land” to be a little too slow-paced in the first third of the movie. There’s not much about Edee’s background that is revealed, although it’s implied that Emma is Edee’s closest living relative.

The blanks aren’t completely filled in, and that’s probably because scenes were cut from the film. The Internet Movie Database page for “Land” lists several cast members playing characters who weren’t in the movie. It appears that there were more flashback scenes that didn’t make the final cut. Overall, “Land” is more of a somber character study of grief than a tension-filled wilderness saga, with enough glimmers of hope and empathetic performances that prevent the movie from being completely depressing.

Focus Features will release “Land” in U.S. cinemas on February 12, 2021. The movie’s VOD release date is March 5, 2021.

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