Three teenagers hop into their RV and set out on the road headed to Summerland, a Coachella-like concert in the desert. What starts as a typical road trip quickly gets sidetracked as each of the friends finds themselves at a crossroads in their lives. Bray (Chris Ball) is coming to terms with his sexuality. He’s made a connection with Shawn (Dylan Playfair) online and the two plan to meet up at Summerland. Problem is, Shawn thinks Bray is a girl. Bray has been masquerading as Veronica using pictures of Stacey (Maddie Phillips), his friend Oliver’s (Rory J. Saper) girlfriend. When Oliver and Stacey agree to join Bray on the trip to Summerland, Bray thinks he has the perfect set-up to meet Shawn. However, Oliver and Stacey bring their own baggage. Stacey wants a deeper connection with Oliver who seems emotionally distant. Little does she know that Oliver is harboring a big secret.
Directed by Lankyboy (a pseudonym for the directing team Kurtis David Harder and Noah Kentis), Summerland is a hormone-fueled coming-of-age story with all the hallmarks of your typical road trip comedy but with an added layer of meaning. The first act is shallow and self-indulgent but as the film enters its second act we see the characters, especially Bray, start to explore what it means to be true to oneself. There are times when the viewer must suspend their disbelief as there are plenty of chance encounters that don’t seem at all realistic. However they work for the film and situations more grounded in realism would have been more tiresome. The female lead played by Maddie Phillips is being manipulated throughout both by her friend Bray and her boyfriend Oliver. I love how she finds her agency and takes charge of her journey. It’s an empowering moment in an otherwise male-driven story.
More than just your run-of-the-mill road trip movie, Summerland offers a youthful exploration of meaningful connections and self discovery.
Boni Bonita, directed by Daniel Barosa, is a Brazilian-Argentine film, mostly in Portuguese, about a rebellious young woman and an aging musician. The story takes place over nine years, starting in 2007 and ending in 2016, and follows Beatriz (Ailin Salas) as she struggles with the loss of her mother, her complicated relationship with her father, self-harm and the musician who seems just out of her reach. Rogerio (Caco Ciocler), has his own struggles. He lives in the shadow of his grandfather’s musical success and has casual rendezvous with women as a way to avoid something more meaningful. Over the years Beatriz and Rogerio reunite at Rogerio’s summer home. The film explores what it means to come of age and also to go through a mid-life crisis.
The title is a reference to a song by classic Argentine singer Alberto Cortez. Rogerio plays the song for Beatriz and often calls her “Bonita”. Filmed over three years, Boni Bonita was shot in 16mm, super 16mm and digital. An inventive technique that gives the film a grainy, fuzzy appearance, as though we were watching filtered memories. According to the director Barosa, the story is based on his own experiences of the indie music scene of Sao Paolo Brazil.
I couldn’t engage with Boni Bonita no matter how hard I tried. I enjoyed the mixed media style and Ailin Salas’ performance in particular. The characters and the story didn’t draw me in and I couldn’t help but feel disconnected.
Boni Bonita is distributed by Nimboo’s Films and had its premiere at Slamdance 25 as part of the Narrative Feature Competition. It’s the only film from Latin America at the festival. Boni Bonita was a finalist for the Guioes, selected for the French Workshop Eave on Demand and a finalist for best original screenplay at the Havana Film Festival among other honors.
It’s the last week of eighth grade for Kayla May (Elsie Fisher), a shy teen who dreams of attaining the confidence that seems just out of reach. In her spare time she films and uploads motivational videos for her YouTube channel. She’s talkative on screen but at school she says very little and has no real friends. She lives with her dad (Josh Hamilton), and Kayla, like many kids her age, is overly concerned with how her dad’s behavior affects her social standing. We follow Kayla over the span of one week as she gets voted most shy, examines the contents of her 6th grade time capsule, gets invited to a popular kid’s birthday pool party, lusts after the hot kid in her class, befriends a high school girl and hangs out with a new friend and possible love interest, Gabe (Jake Ryan). Every single event, no matter how big or small, is fraught with tension, excitement, and fear. It’s clear that the advice that Kayla gives in her YouTube videos and the life she leads online is very different from her day-to-day reality.
Eighth grade is a pivotal time in the life of a young teenager. They are on the brink of a big shift in their lives both socially and academically with high school just around the corner. Still in the throes of all the changes that come with puberty, everything is new, different and constantly in flux. Every social situation to them is life or death. Their status in eighth grade sets the bar for what’s to come.
Director Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade is an ode to coming of age in a world where social media is part of our every day lives. But for adults watching the film, it’s also a story about anxiety and its overwhelming effects. As someone who was as timid as Kayla was at her age and as an adult who deals with social anxiety every day, I found this film and Kayla’s character endlessly relatable. Just watching the film brought up those feelings of anxiety as I was embarrassed on Kayla’s behalf. I know those situations so intimately and the memory of them is so vivid. That moment when Kayla is at the pool party, looks through the pane of glass to the kids outside, takes a deep breath and walks out, I felt that moment because I’ve lived it so many times. Burnham’s film was therapy for me. Allowing me to process a lot of these emotions as I followed Kayla on her journey.
The best scenes in the movie are the interactions Kayla has with her dad, played by Josh Hamilton. When Kayla explains to her dad he’s being silent wrong, or when she catches him staring at her and her friends at the mall, or the loving conversation by the fire, those moments all reminded me of moments I had with my parents. They’re raw, real, hard to watch but necessary too.
In an interview with Alicia Malone on the FilmStruck podcast, Bo Burnham said he auditioned many kids for the lead role and he saw something in Elsie Fisher that he didn’t see in the other kids. The other actresses were confident kids pretending to be shy. Fisher is the real deal. She brings so much authenticity to her performance. And I love that she’s the character’s age, she has the body type and skin type of pretty much any young girl that age. If you gave her dark eyes, dark hair and an olive skin tone, she’d look exactly like I did in junior high. I could relate to Eighth Grade in a way I couldn’t with Lady Bird. Burnham’s feature debut is a winner and I can’t wait to see more from him.
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All around the world, children, on the cusp of puberty, go through a rite of passage. These rituals symbolize their transition into adulthood, a journey that’s only just beginning. Deep in the woods of Minnesota, this rite of passage is deer hunting.
Cold November follows the story of Florence (Bijou Abas), affectionately nicknamed Flor, a 12 year old girl who is about to hunt her very first deer. Her mother Amanda (Anna Klemp) and grandmother Georgia (Mary Kay Fortier-Spalding) have been preparing her for this moment. She learns how to properly use and care for a hunting rifle, a family heirloom, how to dress for the hunt, what to do in the look out spot, how to shoot the deer, and what to do with a deer or buck once it’s been killed. In the midst of all this Flor gets her period, another sign that womanhood is just around the corner. For this family and their community, deer hunting is not for sport; it’s for survival. The process is treated with respect and the animal is not a trophy, rather a means to feed the family. It’s a ritual passed on from one generation to the next and in this matriarch this is a treasured tradition. Visiting Flor and her mom are aunt Mia (Heidi Fellner) and uncle Craig (Karl Jacob). The couple are going through their own transition as they deal with the loss of their daughter Sweeney. We follow Flor as she prepares for her first hunt, how she deals with frustration on multiple hunts that result in no kills and what happens when she finally gets the opportunity to use all the knowledge and training she’s acquired but has to do it all on her own.
In his director’s statement, Karl Jacob writes “I hope to challenge the stereotype that the hunting ritual is an inherently male practice. I grew up in a similar situation to Florence, where my mother, aunts, and grandmother played a huge part in my life and had also gone through this hunting experience as young women.” Jacob’s character Craig is the only male character in the film. This is truly a story about women. Three generations in a matriarch and how they prepare their youngest for the life ahead. The female perspective is highly valued and respected in the story. Flor’s first period is a significant moment in the story and it’s given time. Foreshadowing the hunt in the future, Flor has to deal with this change all on her own.
The movie is spare and beautiful. It gives itself room for the characters to have their moments and for the story to live and breathe in its own world. There is no rush to get anywhere but its also expertly paced. I loved the cinematography especially the bright colors of the hunting clothes against the stark backgrounds. It reminded me of Track of the Cat (1954) where Robert Mitchum wears a bright red coat against a muted color palette of the backwoods during winter. My only minor criticism with Cold November is that I didn’t care for the one scene when the camera shoots from inside a deer carcass looking out. This felt unnecessary to me.
In order to truly appreciate the film, you must be comfortable enough to watch the women handle dear carcasses. You won’t see the moment of death nor will you see the animal suffer. In one scene you’ll hear a buck call out in pain but its quickly shot to put its out of its misery. The film makes an effort to show respect for the deer and the hunt. Craig reveals to Flor how he thanks the animal after a kill. Flor’s mother Amanda talks at length about how they use the meat for sustenance, how not to kill more than you need and not letting the animal suffer. If you are vegan, vegetarian or a member of PETA, you probably won’t want to watch this film. I’m an omnivore and I have enough respect for the cycle of life and the killing of animals for meat that I know when to criticize the process. For example, I refuse to eat veal and salmon because of what I believe are unethical farming/hunting methods. Cold November treated hunting for deer and the consumption of venison with great respect which I appreciated.
Cold November won the 2017 Memphis Indie Film Festival Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature. It began as a Kickstarter project and is now available on iTunes, Vimeo and Amazon Prime.
This is a fantastic indie film with wonderful performances, stunning cinematography and a great care for its subject. I highly recommend you give Cold November a try.