Photojournalist Amanda Mustard takes on the daunting task of confronting her grandfather about his long history of his sexual abuse of minors all while chronicling the process. In her documentary Great Photo, Lovely Life, co-directed by Rachel Beth Anderson, Mustard has difficult conversations with her mother, her sister and various other victims. It’s clear that the pain her grandfather inflicted on his victims is deep and that this journey is just one step forward.
Cycles of abuse are complex and the road to healing comes with many roadblocks. And this becomes evident in the film. Not only is one big finger pointed at the abuser but there are also many conversations about how his family and community may have played a part in allowing the abuse to continue. One would expect this documentary to be a difficult watch—and it is—but because Mustard makes her family so vulnerable to examination we can’t help become invested in her story and her mother’s story. It’s difficult to analyze the effectiveness of this documentary because each viewer will have their own reaction. Expect to be put on a roller coaster of emotions.
Great Photo, Lovely Life had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival and will be released by HBO later in the year.
During her time at the White House as First and Second Lady, Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson recorded an audio diary chronicling all of the major events that happened. Everything from John F. Kennedy’s assassination, to her husband President Lyndon B. Johnson’s inauguration, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Act and her own personal endeavours including her Beautification Campaign and environmental efforts. Lady Bird Johnson was a staunch supporter of her husband and LBJ often leaned on her for her wisdom and the recordings reflect their strong bond.
Directed by Dawn Porter, The Lady Bird Diaries is based on the ABC podcast In Plain Sight: Lady Bird Johnson and Julia Sweig’s book Lady Bird Johnson: Hiding In Plain Sight. The approach to this documentary is very simple. There are no interviews or commentary, just Lady Bird’s audio recordings matched with archival footage and illustrations. There are a couple interjections, including some insight from a longtime personal assistant. But otherwise this is Lady Bird telling us her stories.
Porter do a great job crafting a collection of highlights which range from major historical events to Lady Bird’s personal triumphs and struggles. I quite enjoyed hearing stories and watching footage of the LBJ family personal life including Lucy and Lynda’s weddings and the births of their children. LBJ himself looked so happy being a grandfather. While the documentary is inherently biased because it is coming from just one perspective, I appreciate that it didn’t shy away from some heavy subject matter like the Vietnam War and a confrontation with Eartha Kitt at a White House luncheon.
The intention with this documentary is clear. Lady Bird Johnson’s legacy should be recognized and the person to bring her back into the spotlight is Lady Bird herself.
The Lady Bird Diaries had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival and will premiere on Hulu at a future date.
One of the great joys of attending the Slamdance Film Festival is getting to see so many creative and experimental short films. I always love to see what these independent filmmakers have to offer.
Here is a selection of my favorites from this year’s line-up.
TOOTH (4-1/2 minutes)
Directed by Jillian Corsie, written by Katie Gault
Cast: Janine Peck
Teeth are a great source of anxiety. At some point everyone is plagued by intrusive thoughts about their teeth. Am I brushing enough? Is my dentist judging me for how much I (don’t) floss? Am I grinding my teeth into oblivion?
For director Jillian Corsie, her intrusive thought was “What would happen if I were brushing my teeth and they all fell out?.” Her writer friend Katie Gault’s response was “Well, they’d come to life and kill you, of course.”
This idea blossomed into the short horror comedy TOOTH. We see a woman (Janine Peck) diligently clean her teeth day after day. Brush, floss, gargle, repeat. And the teeth… we’ll they’ve had enough of the abuse. And now it’s time for revenge.
This is such a brilliant short horror film. It really taps into our shared fears of dental hygiene. I especially enjoyed watching the 3D animated teeth (which are real teeth that came from the director’s mouth!) go to town on their victim. So much fun. And not for the squeamish!
MY EYES ARE UP HERE (15 minutes)
Directed by Nathan Morris, Written by Arthur Meek and Aminder Virdee
Cast: Jillian Mercado and Ben Cura
A drunken hookup leads to a morning adventure in this sexy romantic dramedy. A fashion model (Jillian Mercado) traveling to London for work wakes up in bed next to the studio assistant (Ben Cura) she met the day before. The condom broke during their late night rendezvous which leads to a trip to the pharmacy for the morning after pill. Along the way, she faces challenges of discrimination and accessibility as she navigates the city as a disabled person. This is a very sweet film about attraction and empathy. Great chemistry between the two leads.
LOLLYGAG (10 minutes)
Written and Directed by Tij D’oyen, Produced by Cameron Morton
Cast: Isaac Powell, Alex Sarrigeorgiou and Gaby Slape
Lollygag relishes in voyeurism, hedonism and the macabre. A young woman peers through her window over at the young man next door. He’s tall, dark and handsome. Lounges by the pool all day and is visited by numerous lovers. Instead of interacting with her neighbor, the woman decides she’ll stick with her fantasy even when things get gruesome. This Greek horror comedy definitely has Yorgos Lanthimos vibes. A delicious treat for the morbidly curious who relish the details but can’t stand the gore.
DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT (12 minutes)
Directed by Melissa Kong
Cast: Hanah Chang, Allyson Womack
Hannah (Hanah Chang) is dealing with a lot. Her father recently passed away and she’s not handling it well. Also, she suffers from contamination OCD which leads her to have a high level anxiety of things to be clean and results in excessive hygiene compulsions. At the behavioral health center she works with counselor Callie (Allyson Womack) on a level 7 exposure: eating a chocolate chip cookie off of a toilet seat. Don’t Worry About It offers a nice balance of comedy and awareness. There are plenty of humorous moments to enjoy especially with Hannah’s interactions with the other patients. The viewer can’t help but feel invested in Hannah’s journey and will root her on while she struggles to reach her goal.
If it’s true that sex researcher Shere Hite revolutionized how we view women’s sexuality, then why isn’t she better known? A new documentary by director Nicole Newnham brings writer Shere Hite back into the spotlight where she belongs.
When The Hite Report was published in 1976 it caused a major stir. Hite had canvassed hundreds of women with a series of intimate questions about their sex lives and how they personally achieve orgasm. Women responded back anonymously and Hite collected these quite illuminating responses into a book. The biggest takeaway from the responses: intercourse was not the primary way women reached orgasm. Hite received nothing but vitriol from men and from the press for her research. Pushing back against the patriarchy and revealing the truth about women’s sexuality made her a controversial figure. As her notoriety grew, Hite began to withdraw, eventually to leave the US behind and never look back.
The Disappearance of Shere Hite features extensive interviews with those who knew Shere Hite best as well as archival clips of her many appearances in the media. The film effectively brings Shere Hite back in the limelight and serves double duty as both a biographical documentary and a scathing expose on how women are treated by the media.
The Disappearance of Shere Hitepremiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
Actress and model Brooke Shields achieved a level of fame that is unparalleled today. From the late 1970s and through the 1980s, Shields was a recognized face on television, film and advertising. From adolescence she was considered one of the most beautiful girls in the world. Unfortunately, this lead to her becoming one of the most sexualized children in all of entertainment history. Shields garnered controversy with her ad campaign with Calvin Klein and provocative roles in films like Pretty Baby (1978) and Blue Lagoon (1980). Powerful men in the industry took advantage of Shields’ beauty, fame and passive nature. And behind Shields’ controversial success was her mom and manager Teri Shields, who believed that her child really special and that Brooke should be shared with the world.
Director Lana Wilson’s Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields is an eye-opening documentary about Shields’ extraordinary life and the dangers minors face in the media. Produced by ABC News Studios, this doc will be released in two one-hour segments. The first hour is incredibly uncomfortable to watch. Although its clear there was backlash even then about Shields and how her mother was handling her career, it’s still shocking to see just how much these industries were allowed to get away with. It shines a much needed light on some hard truths. The second half explores Shields’ adult years including her two marriages, her battle with postpartum depression and how her career evolved over time. The biggest surprise is when Shields reveals that she was raped at the age of 20 by someone in the film industry (who goes unnamed).
Talking heads include Shields herself and her close friends including Laura Linney, Drew Barrymore and Judd Nelson. A one time watch at best.
Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.