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Double Exposure Film Festival: The First Wave

Directed by Matthew Heineman, The First Wave chronicles the early days of the pandemic with a focus on Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens. New York was one of the hardest hit during the first wave and became the epicenter of this deadly pandemic. This documentary shows ER doctors and nurses in action, trying to save lives, trying to rehabilitate or trying to let go when all other options were exhausted. Two particularly bad COVID cases, that of Ahmed and Brussels, are spotlighted giving viewers painful but necessary insight into what critical COVID patients face in the ICU.

I’ve watched a lot of news coverage and plenty of documentaries about the disastrous effects COVID-19 had on our nation and on the world. None of that prepared me for The First Wave which left me an emotional wreck. I was particularly struck with Ahmed’s story and was rooting for him every step of the way. I can see this film being screened for the public with audience members crying and applauding at different poignant moments. The documentary also touches upon the murder of George Floyd, the subsequent protests and also includes footage of then New York governor Cuomo.

This is an emotional film that serves as a reminder just how truly awful those first months of the pandemic truly were.

The First Wave was part of the 2021 Double Exposure Film Festival.

The First Wave is distributed by Neon.

Double Exposure FIlm Festival: Unrelinquished

Directed by Amina Waheed, Unrelinquished investigates how a lax justice system allows for perpetrators of domestic violence to carry otherwise illegal weapons. In 2018,  22 year Jazmine Willock was found dead in her Tucson, Arizona home. She was the victim of a murder-suicide enacted by her abusive boyfriend. Jazmine is one of many domestic violence victims that die by armed abusers. Waheed’s short documentary examines Jazmine’s case and how others like her are caught in a system that doesn’t fully protect them. The film includes conversations with Jazmine’s mother and sister, a spotlight on another similar case and breaks down the flaws in the justice system. In a time when Gabby Petito’s murde,  and the domestic violence that led to it, has caught national attention, Unrelinquished serves an important role in shedding light on how the system continues to fail these women.

Trigger warning: this film includes crime scene photos, descriptions of domestic violence and audio of Jazmine recounting her boyfriend’s abuse to the police.

Unrelinquished was part of the 2021 Double Exposure Film Festival’s Short Cuts program.

Double Exposure Film Festival: United States vs. Reality Winner

An eye-opening documentary reveals just what went down with the FBI’s treatment and the eventual incarceration of whistleblower Reality Winner.

In 2016, upon discovering crucial information regarding Russian interference with the United States presidential election, Reality Winner leaked confidential documents from her work at the NSA to journalists at The Intercept. What followed was a media showdown, an FBI investigation and a complicated trial. Reality Winner became the eighth whistleblower to be prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917 and was soon sentenced to 5+ years in Federal prison. The document she leaked is now public information but at the time of her trial the classified documents couldn’t even be discussed.

Directed by Sonia Kennebeck, United States vs. Reality Winner illuminates the real tension between the public’s right to know crucial information that affects them and the government’s stronghold on that information. It paints a portrait of Reality Winner, someone who believed in exposing the truth but became the pawn in a very dangerous game and paid the price. Throughout the film there are interviews with other whistleblowers, including Edward Snowden, journalists, friends and family, including her mother and sister. It also includes declassified audio of the FBI’s interrogation of Reality Winner, which was released in February 2021  under the Freedom for Information Act.

United States vs. Reality Winner was the opening night film at the 2021 Double Exposure Film Festival.

Double Exposure Film Festival: The Vet Van

Directors Sarah Jenks and Lizzie Mulvey new short documentary The Vet Van follows two low income families as they receive help from a local vet mobile. Lucy the yellow lab is dropping weight quickly. Tabitha has just been diagnosed with Parvo. Their humans seek help from the vet mobile which offers the most affordable options. These dogs bring so much joy to their respective families. But what happens when these much beloved dogs get seriously ill, and treatment, even at a lower rate, is still too expensive?

The Vet Van packs an emotional punch. It’s impossible to watch without shedding a tear or two. In just 30 minutes, the documentary does much to shine a spotlight on an unregulated industry and the low income families who pay the biggest price.

The Vet Van is part of the 2021 Double Exposure Film Festival Short Cuts program.

Woodstock Film Festival: Adopting Audrey (formerly Porcupine)

“Once everyone learns everything about me, I gotta keep moving. Why do I do that?”


For the past two years, Audrey (Jena Malone) has lived in 4 different places and had 7 different jobs. She recently got fired from her collection agency gig, is overdue on rent and the electricity to her apartment has just been cut off. And to make matters worse, her father is ill and her mother refuses to speak to her. Audrey spends a lot of her time watching videos on YouTube and one night comes upon an ad for adult adoption in which seniors who either don’t have children of their own or want to have a younger adult in their lives will adopt through this service.

With no other prospects, Audrey gives this a shot. After many interview sessions she goes through a trial run with middle-aged couple Sunny (Emily Kuroda) and Otto (Robert Hunger-Buhler). Otto, a hard-nosed and strictly-by-the-book kind of guy, is reluctant at first but then warms up to Audrey. The two work on rebuilding his treehouse, with Otto giving Audrey guidance and Audrey relying on DIY YouTube videos to learn the skills to complete the task. As the they bond, Audrey finds herself in a tough situation and tries to decide how to move forward.

Directed by M. Cahill and based on a true story, Porcupine is a sweet film about the struggle to find one’s own place in the world. Audrey is a complex and nuanced character whose motivations are pure and not rooted in any selfishness or greed. Jena Malone is one of my favorite actresses and she shines in this role. Malone and Robert Hunger-Buhler play well off each other as the story’s two central characters. The film has a strong failure-to-launch theme, quirky characters and does a lot to explore complex family dynamics. Heartfelt, engrossing and thoroughly enjoyable.

Porcupine had its world premiere at the 2021 Woodstock Film Festival.

Note to add: Porcupine is now titled Adopting Audrey. The film will be releasing in theaters and on digital and VOD on August 26th, 2022.

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