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Sundance: Last Flight Home

Documentary filmmaker Ondi Timoner has given us all a precious gift with her deeply personal film Last Flight Home. Her father Eli Timoner is the focus of this moving documentary about dying with dignity. He was the co-founder of Air Florida and with his wife Elissa they raised three children. A stroke in the early 1980s left Eli disabled. With the prejudice that came with a noticeable disability and some bad luck, Eli and his family eventually went bankrupt. Eli held onto the shame of this for many years. And for the last few weeks of his life, his family helped guide him in his journey to release this shame and to realize that his great success was the love he both gave and received.

Last Flight Home follows Eli and his family during his time at home in hospice. Because the family was based in California, he was able to opt for death with dignity so that he could pass away on his own terms. Timoner generously lets the viewer in, allowing us to feel like we are part of this very loving family. Death is a difficult subject to tackle but the more we know, the more we’re empowered to help each other and to help ourselves in this last journey in life. I’m not sure I’ve ever been as moved by  a documentary as I have with this one. Thank you to the Timoner family for letting us be part of Eli’s last flight home.

Last Flight Home premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance: The Mission

Directed by Tania Anderson, The Mission follows a group of young Mormon missionaries as they travel to Finland to proselytize. The missionaries work in twos of the same gender, a way to protect each other but also maintain purity and keep tabs on each other. The film follows the young  elders and sisters as they struggle to learn Finnish, deal with resistance from the locals and connect with other Mormons. 

Anderson’s documentary is very straightforward. There are no formal interviews, no narration, no history lessons, no opinion or debate. The Mormon missionaries are presented in a way that is enlightening and respectful. Sometimes you just need the subjects to tell their own story and Anderson recognized this and gave the missionaries space to do so.

As someone who used to be in a religion that put emphasis on proselytizing, I really felt for the elder who had to cut his mission short because he was suffering from panic attacks. I went through the same thing and I hope he’s able to find help and an escape from his situation.

The Mission premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance: TikTok, Boom.

“On TikTok, anything can happen.”

Directed by Shalini Kantayya, TikTok, Boom. explores the history of one of the great disruptors of the social media landscape and how it threatens privacy and affects the young people who use it. TikTok is the fastest growing social media platform and poses a threat to giants like Facebook. Its innovation not only transformed vertical video but also the way we communicate with each other. Everyday people have amassed huge followings with their viral videos.  And its algorithm is unlike anything we’ve seen before tailoring content specifically to the users behaviors with scary accuracy. Simply put, TikTok is changing the way we view celebrity, information, and entertainment.

TikTok, Boom. focuses specifically on Gen Z as a generation of “digital natives” (people who don’t know a world without the internet) and ignores the vast array of other people who use the app. There are users/creators in their 30s, 40s, 50s and older who are thriving on the app and building a platform of hundreds of thousands if not millions of followers. There are several docs out there on social media as both a tool and a threat to young people and this is just another in the bunch.

The doc offers critical analysis on TikTok as a company, it’s Chinese origins, and its famous algorithm but ignores the many nuances of the app.  TikTok, Boom. is underwhelming.  However, it may be a good primer for those TikTok naysayers who want justification for not using the app.

TikTok, Boom. premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance: We Need To Talk About Cosby

We need to be willing to have the difficult conversations about uncomfortable topics if we want things to change. Director W. Kamau Bell does just this with his 4-part documentary series We Need to Talk About Cosby.

Many of us who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s were part of the “Cosby generation.” We were raised on television programs like Fat Albert and The Cosby Show. Dr. Huxtable was a household name. Cosby was an inescapable fixture in popular entertainment. He was funny, likable, and confident. He projected this vision of Bill Cosby that we all grew to know and love. And that vision was shattered when the many allegations against Cosby came to light. As of today, over 60 women have come forward to tell their stories of being drugged and raped by Cosby. While some in the public rejected the notion that  he committed these crimes, the rest of us had to grapple with a new reality: America’s dad was a monster this whole time.

W. Kamau Bell’s docuseries is a series of conversations with many individuals about Bill Cosby as an entertainer and a man in order to come to terms with all that’s been revealed about him. Interview subjects include writers, hosts, entertainers, professors, actors, critics, editors, producers, etc. Some knew or worked with Bill Cosby in real life, some are experts in subject matter relevant to the topic and others were his victims. 

The docuseries does a superb job disseminating how Cosby came to be as an entertainer and a cultural icon. Cosby broke ground for black comedians while also being deemed “safe” by white audiences. In his early comedic career, he avoided jokes about racial strife and by doing so he cast his net to a much larger audience. Tressie McMillan Cottom PhD describes this in the documentary as “incrementalism” in which a black performer will become popular, gain wealth and help their community when they can all while “being the safe, compromised choice.” Bell’s docuseries tackles the history of black representation in entertainment, Cosby’s growth as an entertainer and his meteoric rise with his popular TV shows.  It also reveals his downfall in recent years with his erratic behavior and controversial public statements. Through conversation we also learn about early red flags in which Cosby that we missed and how one black comic from Philadelphia, where Cosby was also from, whose viral stand-up act put the concept of Cosby-as-rapist into the public discourse. The most powerful and distressing moments of the documentary are the conversations with Cosby victims who bravely tell their own stories of sexual assault.

There’s a lot to unpack here and We Need to Talk About Cosby does so brilliantly. You can tell that Bell really focuses on representation with his selection of interview subjects. Some will call this docuseries a “hit job” which I think will be an unfair assessment. We Need to Talk About Cosby is an opportunity for us to really grapple with these two versions of a cultural icon that we have in our heads and come to the brutal understanding that they are one in the same.

Note to add: Cosby, family members, main cast members from The Cosby Show and Cosby representatives do not appear in the series.

We Need to Talk About Cosby premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Showtime will release the docuseries on January 30th.

Sundance: Brainwashed: Sex – Camera – Power

We need women filmmakers. Desperately. The male dominated film industry has been shaping how we view women over time by objectifying them in a way that skews the power dynamic over to the men and away from the women. And according to filmmaker Nina Menkes, this has lasting effects on how women are treated in the workplace, in public and at home. One way to balance this is to bring women filmmakers to the forefront, give them a platform where they can not only thrive but where they can share differing perspectives and points-of-view.

Based on her lecture Sex & Power, The Visual Language of Cinema, Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power is an illuminating study on the history of the male gaze in film. The documentary includes footage of Menkes’ lecture, interviews with theorists, directors and actresses and 175 film clips that demonstrate the male gaze. The clips run the gamut from Metropolis (1927) to Titane (2021). Menkes analyzes the majority of them and also includes women directed films to demonstrate the difference between not only the male gaze and the female gaze but also the female gaze with internalized misogyny. Menkes breaks down the analysis of the male gaze into five categories: Subject, Framing, Camera Movement, Lighting and Narrative Position. This documentary serves as the feminist film course that anyone interested in the history of film and the future of the industry should take. Menkes doesn’t make any direct correlations to the male gaze in film and real life consequences however it is suggested throughout the film. Brainwashed can be a tough pill to swallow but when we learn we grow.

Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

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