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Slamdance: Trammel

Dale (Dale A. Smith) visits the local pharmacy in his small town to chat with his buddy Mohammad (Mohammad Dagman). Dale is lonely and Mohammad is a great listener. As their conversation progresses, we learn about Dale’s tumultuous past.

Trammel is a sensitive portrait of loneliness. Directed by Christopher Jason Bell, this 11 minute short film, on the surface, is a window into a private conversation. But then it gives the viewer so much more. Through this conversation, we learn enough about Dale to empathize with him. He’s lonely and in desperate need of a friend. And when Mohammad isn’t there, we want to be there to listen to Dale. We want to be that friend. Empathy is an essential part of human nature that often gets overlooked. Trammel effectively brings it to light.

Trammel screened as part of the virtual 2021 SlLamdance Film Festival.

Wheels

“We work during the day. We dream at night.”

Max (Arnstar) is a Brooklyn DJ who dreams of making it big. But for now, he’s working at the local grocery store and relegated to playing music at kids’ birthday parties.  When he’s not working, Max is taking care of his grandma (Dorothi Fox) and trying to keep out of trouble. The latter is difficult to do when his brother Terry (Joshua Boone), fresh out of prison, gets caught up with a local gang. Max meets Liza (Shyrley Rodriguez), a dance teacher, and the two are drawn to each other. They both have the talent and the drive to make things happen but something is holding Max back.

Directed by Paul Starkman, Wheels is a sensitive portrayal of an artist’s struggle to survive and thrive despite his circumstances. The film has a decidedly classic sensibility with its black and white cinematography and ’70s TV style intro. It has a great sense of place with many beautiful shots of Brooklyn’s urban landscape. The music in the film is infectious and hooks you in. Arnstar and Rodriguez have playful chemistry on screen and Boone and Arnstar play well off each other as brothers who don’t see eye-to-eye but care for each other deeply. DJ Max is sincere and earnest and Arnstar brings an authenticity to the character that makes these elements shine through.

Wheels is available on iTunes, Vudu, Tubi, Amazon Prime and other streaming/rental services. Find out more information about the film on the official website.

Slamdance: CODE NAME: Nagasaki

CODE NAME: Nagasaki is one of the most refreshingly unique documentaries I’ve seen in a long time. The film focuses on Marius K. Lunde, a Japanese Norwegian man as he searches for his mother. When he was five years old, his mother left for her home country of Japan, cut off communication with the family and he never heard from her again. Years later he embarks on a quest to find her and reconnect. Along with his friend, filmmaker Fredrik S. Hana, the two make a documentary about his journey. The film is presented in chapters. Each of these have their own titles as though they were short films stitched together making one feature film. It combines documentary footage along with reenactments and imaginings. These vignettes are a beautiful combination of film noir and Japanese horror and are played out by Marius. He plays the dual roles of film noir detective and the demon that has haunted him for years. Fredrik and Marius travel to Japan to find her and scenes that could not be filmed (or were chosen not to be filmed) are presented with animation.

CODE NAME: Nagasaki is an ingenious documentary. I loved the combination of filmmaking styles. None of it felt gimmicky. Instead, it felt authentic and the film just had this organic flow to it. Highly recommended.

CODE NAME: Nagasaki premiered at the virtual 2021 Slamdance Film Festival

Slamdance: A Brixton Tale

Youtuber Leah (Lily Newmark) is making a film about the London district of Brixton. In her search for the perfect subject she discovers Benji (Ola Orebiyi), a shy young man caught up with the wrong crowd. As their bond grows, Benji neglects his best friend Archie (Craige Middleburg) to spend time Leah. These two are from completely different worlds. Leah is a white woman who lives a life of privilege in her upper class neighborhood. Benji is a black man who lives with his mom in a poorer neighborhood. Leah is fascinated with Benji. Their attraction grows but so does her infatuation with his world. When the manager at the art gallery wants grittier content for Leah’s exhibition, she starts to push boundaries at Benji’s expense.

Directed by Darragh Carey and Bertrand Desrochers, A Brixton Tale is a provocative film about class, race and our societal obsession with documenting everything on video. Newmark and Orebiyi are perfection as the bored rich girl and the shy teen who gets caught in her web. I also enjoyed Middleburg’s performance as the young crack addict whose life is spiraling out of control. The viewer will find themselves fully engrossed in this world. Captivating!

A Brixton Tale had its world premiere at the virtual 2021 Slamdance Film Festival

Sundance: Passing

In her directorial debut, Rebecca Hall adapts Nella Larsen’s novel about race relations in 1920s New York with her film Passing. The film stars Tessa Thompson as Irene, a light-skinned black woman who ventures into the city, passing as white as she runs errands and enjoys tea time at a fancy hotel. At home she lives a comfortable life with her black husband Brian (Andre Holland) and two children. One day she reunites with an old friend Clare (Ruth Negga), who is also passing for white however lives more boldly and is married to a racist white man (Alexander SkarsgĂ„rd) who has no clue about Clare’s background. Clare is intrigued by Irene’s life in the black community and ventures into the world she left behind. As Clare spends less time passing, she and Irene develop an intense queer connection that threatens to destroy their marriages and possibly their relationship.

Passing is devastatingly beautiful. The film was shot in black-and-white which speaks to the binary set by culture but also makes us think about these constructs are arbitrary. The cinematography is stunning. For those who love the era, there are plenty of visual splendors to take in. The actresses wear gorgeous period appropriate costumes. (I secretly wanted to steal all of Tessa Thompson’s cloche hats).

Thompson and Negga are brilliant as Irene and Clare. Their movements are gentle and methodical; almost like a choreographed dance. Andre Holland delivers a powerful performance as the troubled Brian. The movie is less about passing as it is about the 1920s Harlem Renaissance, queer identity and the segregation of white and black communities. Rebecca Hall, who is mixed race  and has some African-American heritage on her mother’s side, offers viewers a stunning film with plenty of food for thought.

Passing premiered at the virtual 2021 Sundance Film Festival as part of their U.S. Dramatic Competition.

Update: Passing will screen in select theaters starting October 27th and will stream on Netflix November 10th.

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