Written and directed by Morrisa Maltz, The Unknown Country stars Lily Gladstone as Tana, a young native woman who, upon learning of her grandmother’s death, sets out in her car to travel from Minnesota to Texas. She’s been estranged from her Oglala Lakota family and this journey is a way to reconnect with her roots and herself. Set against the backdrop of the 2016 election, Tana navigates vast open space of the midwest and southwest. Along the way she reconnects with her community, interacts with strangers, attends a friends wedding, develops a romantic connection and even has a couple of scares.
There is a poetic beauty to this film. The cinematography is absolutely stunning with some fantastic shots of the open highway, wintry landscapes and the Gladstone traversing the natural space of her final destination. The Unknown Country takes a hybrid approach melding elements of a feature film and a documentary. Tana’s story is fictional but the events happening around her are real. Interspersed throughout the film are documentary vignettes that tell the story of real people Tana meets during her travels.
Made over three years, the project began with a concept of a beginning and ending and everything in the middle came to be organically. In Morrisa Maltz’s director’s statement she writes:
“We feel very proud that the film shows people and aspects of humanity in the American Midwest that are often overlooked. In such a continuously divided America, we did our best to create a film that shows a patchwork of people and places that can bring us together as humans, rather than to further divide us.”
Unknown Country had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.
Directed by Frank Marshall and Ryan Suffern, Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story is a joyous celebration of the famed music festival and its home base. Started in 1970 by George Wein, who also founded the Newport Jazz Festival, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival has celebrated music of all types, exposing its attendees to a rich and diverse array of performers. New Orleans has always been a cultural center for music and art and the festival pays homage to that. The documentary tells the history of the festival and shares performances from the 50th anniversary in 2019. There is also archival footage of festivals past and interviews with notable artists. Performers include Earth, Wind and Fire, Al Green, Irma Thomas, Ellis Marsalis and family, and more. I could have done without the performances by Katy Perry, Pitbull and other more popular entertainers as I felt that was an attempt to appeal to a wider audience. I wanted to see more of the indie artists and legacy performers instead.
This is not a historical biography and there is just a smattering of background and context offered. Instead, the documentary takes the viewer into the world of the festival as though they were stopping at the different stages and tents to take in the various offerings. There is also a lot of appreciation for New Orleans , its history, its music and its people.
Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival. It’s distributed by Sony Picture Classics.
After Raquel’s mother died at the hands of an abusive ex, Raquel (Valentina Herszage) and her father move back to his hometown. There he starts a small community grocery store and Raquel develops a friendship with teens at the local evangelical church. Raquel is deeply religious and receives a calling to explore her spirituality through her own church and study of the bible. This upsets the local religious leader and her daughter who encourage the community to retaliate against Raquel and her father.
Directed by Mariana Bastos, Raquel 1:1 is a bold exploration of female agency and spirituality. Raquel is not portrayed as a victim of religious repression rather a victim of righteous entitlement. The thematic elements are subtle but still hold power.
Raquel’s past trauma is presented through sound as the particulars of her mother’s death are detailed through her thought process. The story is part coming-of-age story and part religious horror.
Given the political and social climate of Brazil the filmmakers are waiting for a good opportunity to screen Raquel 1:1 in their home country. I hope this film gets wide distribution because it’s a unique and compelling film about religion, trauma and the fight to be true to oneself.
Raquel 1:1 had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.
Alice (Keke Palmer) has caught the eye of tyrant plantation owner Paul Bennet (Johnny Lee Miller). He teaches her to read and favors her but will not allow her to marry a fellow slave. When her love Joseph (Gaius Charles) tries to escape, Alice lashes out. After enduring a brutal punishment, she escapes through a secret portal in the woods traveling from antebellum Georgia to the early 1970s. She’s found by the side of the road by truck driver Frank (Common) who takes her in and shields her from potential internment at a sanitarium. Alice discovers what the world is like decades later, an improvement from her previous life but with progress still needing to be made. She must find the courage in herself to help her family back home and to inspire Frank to rediscover his activist roots.
Directed by debut filmmaker Krystin Ver Linden, Alice is a highly rewarding time-travel drama. Keke Palmer is superb in the title role. Time travel elements are tricky but I found that Palmer did great job conveying the fish-out-of-water experience while also demonstrating her characters inner strength. Excellent performance by Johnny Lee Miller is truly terrifying in his role. This is sure to be a crowd pleaser especially when through Alice’s POV we get to fight back with her. There are several references in the film to Pam Grier and her character Coffy. The film is set and shot in Georgia which gives the film a great southern Gothic vibe. The soundtrack features some wonderful 1970s jams.
Alice premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
Lucy (Dakota Johnson) and June (Sonoya Mizuno) are inseperable. When Lucy discovers that June is moving to London for her job, she’s beside herself. Especially because Lucy is starting to come to terms that despite many attempts at heteronormative relationships, she’s really not interested in men at all. June tries to help guide Lucy in her new journey of coming out of the closet but their disagreements on how Lucy should go about it and what will happen to their friendship when June leaves for London threatens to tear their relationship apart.
Directed by Stephanie Allynne and Tig Notaro Am I OK? is not your typical coming-out story and in that way it feels fresh and different. Lucy struggles with the intricacies of same sex attraction, especially the mixed signals she gets from her coworker. This film didn’t wow me but it was enjoying. Am I OK? is a heartfelt comedy about friendship and sexuality.
Note to add: I’m not sure when this was shot but there are several scenes that take place in the old 101 Coffee Shop which was a Hollywood treasure until it closed during the pandemic. It’s now one of the locations for the Clark Street chain.
Am I OK? premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.