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Double Exposure: Hazing

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. 

Recommended viewing: For Men Only (1952)

Hazing was part of the 2022 Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival.

Mill Valley Film Festival: Town Destroyer

Directed by Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman, Town Destroyer examines the contentious debate around Victor Arnautoff’s The Life of Washington. This 13 panel mural decorates the walls of George Washington High School in San Francisco, California. Installed in 1936, the murals tell the story of George Washington and includes images of violence against Native Americans and African Americans. Some see the art as subversive. By painting the scenes, Arnautoff seems to be both telling history and criticizing it. Others find the murals incredibly offensive and believe the art is perpetrating harmful stereotypes and further traumatizing minorities.

This film follows the recent battle among those who believe the mural should remain and others who believe it should be painted over. Many arguments are made and the documentary does an excellent job not taking sides. It’s up for the viewer to draw their own conclusion.

Town Destroyer is a fascinating documentary about the debate between free speech and social justice told through the lens of one controversial piece of art.

This documentary was screened at the 2022 Mill Valley Film Festival.

Nashville Film Festival: Wannabe

Jada (Margo Parker) and her friends Sky (Daisy Lopez) and Bianca (Victoria T. Washington) are ready to take the music world by storm. It’s the 1990s and girl groups are all the rage. The Space Girls, as they call themselves, are preparing for an audition in front of an important music exec. They take the stage to perform their newest song and everything is going fine until Jada spots the exec. It’s Landon (Peter Zizzo), the man who raped her at a party months earlier. Jada must face the decision of whether to work with her assailant or to give up the dream she has long worked for.

Written and directed by Josie Andrews, Wannabe is a powerful short film, primed for the #MeToo era while also giving viewers a window into the past. It’s a reminder that these situations have been going on for far too long. The power dynamic in the aftermath of an assault has always favored the man and what Wannabe effectively demonstrates is how rape victims face impossible decisions for how they should live their lives moving forward. The film is a personal project for director Josie Andrews. In her director’s statement she says:

“Wannabe is not just a plea to believe those who have come forward, but a cry to consider the thousands who have not.”

Josie Andrews

I would love to see Wannabe developed into a full-length feature. But it’s also quite potent as a 13 minute short film. The three lead actresses are fantastic and by the end you’ll want to continue following their characters’ journey, wherever it may take them.

Wannabe is part of the 2022 Nashville Film Festival. Visit the director’s website for more information about the film.

SXSW: The Unknown Country

“Everybody has a different story.”

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.

SXSW: Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story

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.

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