For 16 year old Jaime (Anwen O’Driscoll), life will never be the same. When her father dies suddenly of a heart attack, her distraught mother sends her from their home in Thunder Bay, Ontario to Montreal, Quebec to stay with her aunt Beth (Liane Balaban) and uncle Jean-Francois (Antoine Yared). They are devout Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jaime must attend religious services with them if she’s going to live with them. At the Kingdom Hall Jamie meets Marike (June Laporte), a fellow teenager who immediately catches her eye. The two develop a strong emotional bond that quickly becomes something romantic. Jaime is caught in between two worlds and leans on her friend Nathan (Hasani Freeman) who becomes a much needed ally outside of her family’s religious community.
You Can Live Forever is an astounding queer drama that accurately depicts what life is like in a close knit—and closed off—religious community. Anwen O’Driscoll and June Laporte bring an intensity to their roles that is palpable. They convey so well the bond between these two teenagers and the pain of having to keep their love for each other secret. It was fascinating to watch Jaime’s outsider perspective as she’s thrust into this new world that has its own language, custom, culture and expectations. I only wish that Nathan’s character had more to do in the story.
The film is written and directed by Mark Slutsky and Sarah Watts and Watts herself grew up queer in a community of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In her director’s statement Watts writes:
“I grew up gay in a Jehovah’s Witness community in a small northern town. As a teenager, I was eager to see a story with a character who even remotely resembled me on the movie screen. But I was always disappointed. For years, [Mark and I] worked together to create a film that could honor my own background and the experiences of other young people in a similar predicament. You Can Live Forever is the movie I always wanted to see as a teenager.”
There are very few depictions of Jehovah’s Witnesses in film and almost always the filmmakers get some aspects of that religion’s culture wrong. You Can Live Forever is spot on in every single aspect. Every single one. Even down to the style of chairs found in a Kingdom Hall, the specific language used in the community and even the annoyance felt when others call them “Jehovahs” instead of Jehovah’s Witnesses. How do I know that the depiction of this religion is accurate? Because I grew up in this religion myself. It’s been nearly two decades since I stepped inside of a Kingdom Hall. You Can Live Forever brought all of those memories back. Like Watts, this is a movie I would have wanted to have seen as a teen. I repressed my own sexuality for many years, due to my upbringing, and film like this would have given me a much needed mirror. I commend Watts and Slutsky for bringing to life such a beautiful, honest and touching queer drama.
Side note: In one scene Jaime has a poster of Heavenly Creatures (1994) hanging up on her dorm room wall. Like You Can Live Forever, that film explores an intense emotional bond between two teenage girls. It was an important film for me in my teen years and I appreciated spotting this reference.
You Can Live Forever (2022) is currently available to rent on VOD and is coming to Blu-ray on June 6th from Good Deed Entertainment and Kino Lorber.
Sam Cowell (Rachel Sennott) used to be funny. Her stand-up comedy acts would elicit uproarious laughter from the crowd and hate comments on the internet. All of that ended when a traumatic event sent her into a deep depression. With the support of her roommates, Sam navigates her new life with PTSD. But she’s forced to face her past when Brooke (Olga Petsa), the teen she used to care for as a nanny, goes missing.
Written and directed by Ally Pankiw, I Used to Be Funny is a heartfelt drama that tackles PTSD and depression while balancing the poignancy with humor. The story alternates between the present day and the events that lead to Sam’s trauma. A slow burn keeps the audience both anticipating and dreading the moment that led Sam to her current mental state. I can’t say enough good things about Rachel Sennott who shines in this dramatic role while still also showcasing her knack for comedy. I was fully invested in Sam’s story and I think audiences will too.
I Used to Be Funny had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival.
Technology is changing our every day lives and a rapid-fire pace. We live at the pace of social media and the intersection between the real world and the internet became even more enmeshed than ever before. The power of the internet is inescapable.
The COVID pandemic brought on a level of digital disruption that had real world ramifications. R/Wallstreetbets became a gathering place for average folks to become retail investors. They turned GameStop ($GME) and AMC ($AMC) into meme stocks creating a short squeeze that adversely affected hedgefund investors and short sellers. They gamified their work with apps like Robinhood and with memes, symbols and jargon like “diamond hands” and “tendies”. All the extra time at home gave Americans an opportunity to learn financial strategies and turn it into a game that both made them a lot of money and disrupted the financial market. At the same time another form of disruption was brewing online, building steam during the 2020 presidential election and culminating in the January 6th, 2021 attack on the Capitol.
The internet allows for varying levels of anonymity. Behind avatars, online users can expose a darker side of humanity with all of the dangerous ideologies and harmful rhetoric that comes with it.
Directed by Ondi Timoner, The New Americans: A Gaming Revolution is a high-paced and engrossing documentary about our new age of finance and digital disruption. This subject matter can be difficult to understand especially for the uninitiated who are unfamiliar with r/Wallstreetbets, cryptocurrency, memes and TikTok. Even the chronically online, like myself, need a bit of guidance to understand this complex online world and all the jargon that goes with it. Timoner uses facets of internet culture to visually tell her story while also pausing throughout the movie to define specific words and phrases that need to be clarified in order for the current conversation happening on screen to be fully understood. This helps the viewer not get lost in the technicalities and enriches the film by providing both visual entertaining with information.
“…the only way to approach this journey was to interview people across all aspects of the disruption and to tell the resulting story in the same language that drove it: with Tik-Toks, memes, and fast-cuts that mimic the online world of the new generation that fueled this movement.”
Director Ondi Timoner
Notable talking heads in the film include
R/Wallstreetbets founder Jamie Rogozinski
The Real Wolf of Wall Street Jordan Belfort
Former White House Communications director and founder of SkyBridge Capital Anthony Scaramucci
Investor Raoul Pal who provides the viewer with valuable insights
Influencers Blayne Macauley, Hugh Henne, ProThe Doge, Taylor Price
Investors, artists, and more.
The New Americans: A Gaming Revolution presents complicated subject matter in a way that is both approachable and entertaining.
The New Americans: A Gaming Revolution had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival.
Donna Summer achieved a level of fame and adoration that few singers have been able to attain. “Love To Love You”, “Last Dance”, and “She Works Hard for the Money” were all major hits and became anthems for sexuality, indulgence and feminism. Despite her incredible celebrity, Donna Summer had always been an enigma. Fiercely private, when she wasn’t on stage Summer was off-limits.
Directed by Roger Ross Williams and Summer’s daughter Brooklyn Sudano, Love To Love You, Donna Summer gives viewers a peak at the real woman behind the iconic image. The documentary is comprised with archival footage from performances, television appearances and home movies along with a few scenes of Brooklyn Sudano in present day interacting with her family. There is no real narration, instead Summer’s story is told primarily through audio interviews with family members and some archival interviews from Summer herself. The film does address her religious beliefs and the controversy surrounding them during the 1980s.
Love To Love You, Donna Summer isn’t as revelatory as it promises to be and leaves the audience with more questions than answers. Donna Summer was and continues to be an enigma and although this documentary gives us a look at her celebrity and personal life, it does so in a fairly biased and roundabout way that will ultimately leave viewers unsatisfied.
Love To Love You, Donna Summer had its US premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival and will be released by HBO in May.
The image of the blond, slim and white Barbie has been seared into our collective minds. With the Greta Gerwig movie starring Margot Robie on the horizon, Barbie has stepped back into the limelight as an important yet frivolous part of American culture. But what about Black Barbie? While the first ever Barbie doll was released in 1959, it took until 1980 for the debut of a Black Barbie. In fact, throughout history dolls have predominantly been white. When the toy industry pivoted to creating and marketing dolls with different skin colors, it was revolutionary. It’s still a work-in-progress and we’re many years from dolls being truly representative and the white Barbie to be considered the default “regular” Barbie. But Black Barbie… well she made some really important strides.
Twelve years in the making, Lagueria Davis’ debut film Black Barbie: A Documentary is an ambitious exploration of the impact Black Barbie has had over the past four decades as well as an examination of the complexities of racism and representation. Davis’ aunt, who worked for Mattel from the mid 1950s until the 1990s, was the inspiration for the project. She is interviewed extensively along with two notable Barbie designers, including Kitty Black Perkins who designed the first Black Barbie, as well as various other experts and commentators. Interviews take place on colorful and vibrant sets making it look like the subject is in a makeshift doll house. Various Barbie dolls are used as puppets in fun animation sequences
What really impressed me about this documentary is how it approaches its subject from so many angles. It’s not just a historical documentary on the history of Black Barbie. There are numerous deeply personal, philosophical and psychological discussions about the subject matter that are all done in a way that add something important to the conversation. All of these elements are pieced together in a way that keeps the audience engaged. You don’t have to even be interested in Black Barbie to be completely engrossed with this documentary. It’s just that good.
Black Barbie: A Documentary premiered at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival.