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.
The True Crime world is messy. Over the past several years, a spring of podcasts, YouTube channels, Facebook groups and message boards have popped up giving True Crime fanatics a place to indulge in their favorite mysteries. The creators who run these accounts are passionate about what they do and often self-taught in the art of investigative journalism and content creation. However, their work falls into a gray area where good intentions and questionable objectives converge. And while the intention is to be helpful, the process can also be hurtful, especially when the True Crime content creator oversteps boundaries.
Documentarian Chris Kasick’s film Citizen Sleuth profiles one True Crime podcaster whose investigation into a local case begins to unravel. Emily Nestor is the host behind the popular True Crime podcast Mile Marker 181 which is devoted to the investigation of the mysterious death of Jaleayah Davis. Nestor is a fantastic storyteller and with her podcast she expertly wove a tale of small-town intrigue and police negligence. Her goal with the podcast was to solve a murder but her years of investigation ultimately led her down a different path.
Citizen Sleuth navigates some murky waters when the documentarian becomes part of the story. And just like Nestor’s podcast, this documentary evolved into something different than what was originally intended. Nestor is fascinating. She’s vulnerable and raw. Her story makes for a compelling watch.
Citizen Sleuth had its premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival.
The hybrid Sundance Film Festival kicked off this week. I’ll be attending virtually with coverage on a variety of feature films and documentaries. In the meantime, let’s kick off my coverage with some of my favorite short films from this year’s Sundance line-up.
Inglorious Liaisons (Les liaisons foireuses)
directed by Chloé Alliez and Violette Delvoye
Starting off with my favorite from this year’s festival, Inglorious Liaisons is a superb stop-animation short about attraction and expectation. Youths convene at a party and they go through the traditional rituals of drinking, dancing, flirting and playing a game of spin the bottle. An attraction sparks between two young women but societal pressure forces them to be matched boys they’re only mildly interested in. The characters are all light switches with wigs and painted on clothes. There are lots of small details to enjoy in the form of carefully designed miniatures. But what impressed me the most about this short was how it perfectly captures the subtle intricacies of physical attraction.
Help Me Understand
directed by Aemilia Scott
cast: Kali Raquel, Deirdre Friel, Nicole Michelle Haskins, Dana Powell, Rachel Harris, Kate Flannery, Ken Marino
When a group of corporate women are tasked to decide between two bottles of laundry detergent, it’s clear that the man leading the study wants them all to pick A. And most of them do pick A. That is until they all realize that there is one outlier. One of the women prefers B. Can they come to a consensus? Help Me Understand is like a modern day 12 Angry Men (1957) in a corporate setting. It demonstrates the dangers of caving to a single mindset and showcases the benefits of female solidarity. Thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable.
Thriving: A Dissociated Reverie
Directed by Nicole Bazuin
Cast: Kitoko Mai, Dustin Hickey, Myfanwy Charlesworth, Morgan Bargent, Grace McDonald, Andrea Werhun
As a fan of Nicole Bazuin’s short films Modern Whore and Last Night at the Strip Club, I was excited to see another offering from this director. Thriving: A Dissociated Reverie has the same style and vibe as Bazuin’s previous work—and even includes a small role for Andrea Werhun who was the subject of two of her shorts. Thriving is about a Black, nonbinary , disabled artist and her experience with DID (dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder). Based on Kitoko Mai’s real-life experience, Mai plays the host and alter Cheyenne, while other actors play the remaining alters. Stylish, sex-positive and educational, Thriving treats a sensitive subject with great reverence.
Directed by Mike Donahue
Cast: Adina Verson, Michael Braun, Florian Klein, Dylan Baker, Dana Delaney
New York City couple Thea (Adina Verson) and Charlie (Michael Braun) share a wall with their neighbor Troy (Florian Klein). The trouble is Troy is loud. VERY loud. He’s a full-time escort serving a male clientele and Thea and Charlie can hear every single sound. The couple soon becomes invested in what’s going on on the other side of the wall. Troy is a lighthearted film about the social complexities of urban life. It does a fabulous job demonstrating how we learn to adjust to our environment.
The Family Circus
Directed by Andrew Fitzgerald
Cast: Elyse Dinh, Michael Ironside, Scott Subiono, Michael Nguyen Manceau, Blake Dang, Christian Seavey
A mixed Vietnamese-American family faces a crisis when their wayward son gets into a drunk driving accident. No one is hurt but if the police catch on to what happened their son will go back to prison. The father concocts a plan to have their other son pretend to have caused the accident. When they call the police, their plan seems to work. That is, until the police officer becomes a little too comfortable. The Family Circus has a terrific build-up that leads to an incredibly satisfying ending. Pay close attention to Elyse Dinh’s performance as the family matriarch.
We Were Meant To
Directed by Tari Wariebi
Cast: Tim Johnson Jr., Amin Joseph, Karimah Westbrook, Jordan-Amanda Hall, Skye Barrett, Luke Tennie
Directed by Tari Wariebi and co-written with Christina K. Licud, We Were MeantTo imagines a world where young black men sprout feathers and wings and take flight in a cultural rite of passage. Akil (Tim Johnson Jr.) is a teen in high school who just came into his new wings. He and his friends travel through their community looking for the perfect spot for their first flight. However, No Fly Zone signs are posted all over town and a drone follows their every move. Akil prepares for his big day but unfortunately the odds are stacked against him. We Were Meant To is symbolic of the plight of young black men in American society. Even something joyful as a first flight is seen as a threat by a drone meant to represent an unnamed law enforcement. It’s an inherently political film with a strong social message skillfully disguised as a coming-of-age story with a touch magical realism. This short could easily be expanded to a feature length film.
Directed by Maisha Maene
Cast: Sefu Weber-Kal, Faustin Biyoga, Ibrahim Twaha, Sarah Bahati
When an “afronaut” (Sefu Weber-Kal) emerges from his spaceship, he finds himself in the volcanic crater of Mount Nyiragongo in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This mysterious figure travels to Goma where he encounters locals and goes on a spiritual journey of enlightenment. Mulika is written and directed by Africanfuturist filmmaker Maisha Maene. Sefu Weber-Kal plays the lead role of the afronaut wears a silvery suit adorned with switchboard like plates and an illuminated helmet. The suit suggests that the afronaut symbolizes technology and DRC’s mineral rich land. An encounter with an older man dressed in more natural garb suggests a coming together of both the old and the new. Cryptic and thought-provoking.
Pro Pool (Piscine Pro)
Directed by Alec Pronovost
Cast: Louis Carrière, Alexis Martin, Sylvie de Morais, Sébastien Rajotte, Oussama Fares, Louis Girard-Bock
Charles-Olivier (Louis Carrière) recently graduated with a degree in history and a minor in Viking studies. With no real job prospects in his chosen field, he reluctantly applies for a job a pool store. The film follows Charles-Olivier as he becomes purposefully terrible at his job and releases his frustrations by singing to hardcore metal in his car. Written and directed by Quebecois filmmaker Alec Pronovost, who himself used to work at a Club Piscine, this irreverent comedy gives a big middle finger to those meaningless jobs many of us have to endure at one point in our lives. Pro Pool is reminiscent of both Billy Budd and Office Space and offers modern sensibility that Gen Z-ers will easily identify with.
Directed by Byron Hurt, Hazing explores the brutal culture of hazing with a particular focus on HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Hurt meditates on his own experience with hazing in a fraternity to explore why hazing, despite it being illegal in many states, still persists in college culture. Several victims who have died as a result of hazing are profiled. Their stories are harrowing and you can’t help but feel for their families. These needless deaths are a result of an ingrained culture in which young people are socialized to endure violence as a means of attaining respect in their given group. The initiated blindly trust the upperclassmen who then put them through barbaric rituals for no reason other than attaining pleasure from their own gross abuse of power.
Hazing has an important message to convey but it can get lost in a documentary format that is too long and a bit muddled.