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Nashville Film Festival: Wannabe

Jada (Margo Parker) and her friends Sky (Daisy Lopez) and Bianca (Victoria T. Washington) are ready to take the music world by storm. It’s the 1990s and girl groups are all the rage. The Space Girls, as they call themselves, are preparing for an audition in front of an important music exec. They take the stage to perform their newest song and everything is going fine until Jada spots the exec. It’s Landon (Peter Zizzo), the man who raped her at a party months earlier. Jada must face the decision of whether to work with her assailant or to give up the dream she has long worked for.

Written and directed by Josie Andrews, Wannabe is a powerful short film, primed for the #MeToo era while also giving viewers a window into the past. It’s a reminder that these situations have been going on for far too long. The power dynamic in the aftermath of an assault has always favored the man and what Wannabe effectively demonstrates is how rape victims face impossible decisions for how they should live their lives moving forward. The film is a personal project for director Josie Andrews. In her director’s statement she says:

“Wannabe is not just a plea to believe those who have come forward, but a cry to consider the thousands who have not.”

Josie Andrews

I would love to see Wannabe developed into a full-length feature. But it’s also quite potent as a 13 minute short film. The three lead actresses are fantastic and by the end you’ll want to continue following their characters’ journey, wherever it may take them.

Wannabe is part of the 2022 Nashville Film Festival. Visit the director’s website for more information about the film.

Three Thousand Years of Longing

“There is no story about wishing that is not a cautionary tale”

Dr. Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton) embraces solitude. When she’s not teaching at the university, she spends her time reading and studying and feels the independence of not being attached to a spouse, child or family network. As a scholar of mythology and storytelling, she often travels to faraway lands to be in the world of the fantastical stories that she teaches. On one trip to Turkey, she finds a unique looking bottle in a shop. Upon opening it in her hotel room, suddenly a Djinn (Idris Elba) appears, offering her three wishes for whatever her heart desires (with a few rules of course). But Dr. Binnie knows better. Wishes never turn out how the asker intended them and Djinns like the one she conjured are often tricksters. Djinn taps into Dr. Binnie’s hunger for engaging storytelling and recounts the times he’s been released and trapped in a bottle. As the Djinn tells his stories, Dr. Binnie must come to terms with whether she should or should not ask for the three wishes offered.

Directed by George Miller, Three Thousand Years of Longing is a fanciful meditation on the power of human connection and stories. It’s light on the world building, focusing on small stories to tell a bigger tale of humanity and desire. Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton are fantastic in their individual roles but ultimately lacked chemistry with each other. The movie is based on A.S. Byatt’s short story The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye and adapted to the screen by Miller and Augusta Gore.

The screening I attended began with a message from the director thanking the audience for watching the film on the big screen. It’s definitely a film best viewed on the big screen. It’s a visual spectacle with some amazing cinematography by John Seale, who also worked with Miller on Mad Max: Fury Road. I do think it’s a film that could also be enjoyed at home. There are some subtle details, especially with Dr. Binnie’s mannerisms that can be seen with the female characters in Djinn’s stories. Repeat viewing will enrich the experience, finding those subtleties that were missed the first time around.

Three Thousand Years of Longing premiered at the 2022 Cannes FIlm Festival and is currently in theaters in the U.S., distributed by MGM.

SXSW: We Feed People

“Food is an agent of change.”

José Andrés

World renowned chef José Andrés’s humanitarian efforts are the subject a new documentary by director Ron Howard. We Feed People chronicles Andrés and his team at the World Central Kitchen as they provide much needed food to communities suffering from aftermath of natural catastrophes. 

Andrés is a remarkable chef in his own right with 30 restaurants in the US, several cookbooks, his own cooking show and bragging rights for introducing Spanish tapas to the American dining scene. But his work as a humanitarian has elevated him to veritable hero status. The story begins with the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Andrés heard of the disaster and traveled there to help provide food to Haitians in need. He realized that not only was food necessary for disaster relief, these people needed real meals, not just shelf-stable rations. Andrés realized that meals that could be made on site, were easily transportable and were part of the already established local cuisine would bring sustenance and comfort to the people. The documentary captures the work of the World Central Kitchen in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Marica, Guatemala after a volcanic eruption, the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian, Arizona during COVID and more.

If We Feed People is the official application for Andrés’s future Nobel Peace Prize it’s a good one at that. Howard’s documentary clearly demonstrated that Andrés is one of the great humanitarians of our time. However it does not glamorize Andrés. We witness the stress, the financial burden and the many challenges that come with the important work Andrés has done. This film will move audiences to tears and hopefully inspire some to take on their own philanthropic cause.

We Feed People is awe-inspiring and simply brilliant.

“I’m good in seeing opportunity when others see mayhem.”

José Andrés

We Feed People had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival. It’s distributed by National Geographic Films.

SXSW: The Unknown Country

“Everybody has a different story.”

Written and directed by Morrisa Maltz, The Unknown Country stars Lily Gladstone as Tana, a young native woman who, upon learning of her grandmother’s death, sets out in her car to travel from Minnesota to Texas. She’s been estranged from her Oglala Lakota family and this journey is a way to reconnect with her roots and herself. Set against the backdrop of the 2016 election, Tana navigates vast open space of the midwest and southwest. Along the way she reconnects with her community, interacts with strangers, attends a friends wedding, develops a romantic connection and even has a couple of scares. 

There is a poetic beauty to this film. The cinematography is absolutely stunning with some fantastic shots of the open highway, wintry landscapes and the Gladstone traversing the natural space of her final destination. The Unknown  Country takes a hybrid approach melding elements of a feature film and a documentary. Tana’s story is fictional but the events happening around her are real. Interspersed throughout the film are documentary vignettes that tell the story of real people Tana meets during her travels. 

Made over three years, the project began with a concept of a beginning and ending and everything in the middle came to be organically. In Morrisa Maltz’s director’s statement she writes:

“We feel very proud that the film shows people and aspects of humanity in the American Midwest that are often overlooked. In such a continuously divided America, we did our best to create a film that shows a patchwork of people and places that can bring us together as humans, rather than to further divide us.”

Unknown Country had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.

SXSW: Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story

Directed by Frank Marshall and Ryan Suffern, Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story is a joyous celebration of the famed music festival and its home base. Started in 1970 by George Wein, who also founded the Newport Jazz Festival, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival has celebrated music of all types, exposing its attendees to a rich and diverse array of performers. New Orleans has always been a cultural center for music and art and the festival pays homage to that. The documentary tells the history of the festival and shares performances from the 50th anniversary in 2019. There is also archival footage of festivals past and interviews with notable artists. Performers include Earth, Wind and Fire, Al Green, Irma Thomas, Ellis Marsalis and family, and more. I could have done without the performances by Katy Perry, Pitbull and other more popular entertainers as I felt that was an attempt to appeal to a wider audience. I wanted to see more of the indie artists and legacy performers instead.

This is not a historical biography and there is just a smattering of background and context offered. Instead, the documentary takes the viewer into the world of the festival as though they were stopping at the different stages and tents to take in the various offerings. There is also a lot of appreciation for New Orleans , its history, its music and its people.

Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival. It’s distributed by Sony Picture Classics.

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