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Slamdance: I think it’s enough, isn’t it?

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on and the number of deaths rises, we’re quickly becoming numb to the tragedy. We have to remember that the people who’ve died are not just statistics. They were individuals with friends and families, with hopes and dreams. These are people who still had a life ahead of them only to have it ripped away by the virus.

Director Emily Shir Segal brings one story to light with her four minute short film I think it’s enough, isn’t it? She narrates the story of how her father came to die of COVID as we watch home videos of them from years past. The juxtaposition between images of happier days and the story of a sad and lonely end aptly demonstrates just how cruel this pandemic truly is.

I think it’s enough, isn’t it? screened as part of the virtual 2021 Slamdance Film Festival.

Slamdance: Workhorse Queen

With the worldwide popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race,  drag queens are having a renaissance. For Ed Popil (aka Mrs. Kasha Davis) getting on to the show was the ultimate dream. It would give him the fame and opportunity to take his career to the next level.

After years of trying to conform to the heteronormative ideal imposed on him by his parents and community, Ed Popil left it all behind in order to go on a journey of self-discovery. He landed in Rochester, New York to start afresh. It was there he developed his drag queen persona, Mrs. Kasha Davis, a sassy ’60s housewife who loves a good cocktail. He became part of the local drag community and with the help of his husband became a personality. But can Ed take his Mrs. Kasha Davis persona to the next level?

Directed by Angela Washko, Workhorse Queen is an intimate portrait of a drag queen’s personal and professional transformation. It documents the ups and downs of Ed Popil’s life and career. It’s themes of being true to yourself and achieving your dreams will resonate with audiences. The film has a positive vibe but avoids being a puff piece by demonstrating the struggles along with the triumphs. A must see for fans of RuPauls’ Drag Race.

Workhorse Queen  premiered at the virtual 2021 Slamdance Film Festival.

Slamdance: CODE NAME: Nagasaki

CODE NAME: Nagasaki is one of the most refreshingly unique documentaries I’ve seen in a long time. The film focuses on Marius K. Lunde, a Japanese Norwegian man as he searches for his mother. When he was five years old, his mother left for her home country of Japan, cut off communication with the family and he never heard from her again. Years later he embarks on a quest to find her and reconnect. Along with his friend, filmmaker Fredrik S. Hana, the two make a documentary about his journey. The film is presented in chapters. Each of these have their own titles as though they were short films stitched together making one feature film. It combines documentary footage along with reenactments and imaginings. These vignettes are a beautiful combination of film noir and Japanese horror and are played out by Marius. He plays the dual roles of film noir detective and the demon that has haunted him for years. Fredrik and Marius travel to Japan to find her and scenes that could not be filmed (or were chosen not to be filmed) are presented with animation.

CODE NAME: Nagasaki is an ingenious documentary. I loved the combination of filmmaking styles. None of it felt gimmicky. Instead, it felt authentic and the film just had this organic flow to it. Highly recommended.

CODE NAME: Nagasaki premiered at the virtual 2021 Slamdance Film Festival

Sundance: Bring Your Own Brigade

Wildfires have long ravaged California but 2018 was a particularly bad year. That was when the deadly Camp Fire spread quickly through Paradise, California, causing many residents to flee for their lives. The wildfire engulfed houses, burned vehicles, and killed 85 residents. Those who survived endured the trauma that came with escaping the rapidly encroaching flames. Other fires, including one in Malibu, destroyed homes leaving devastation in their wake. While fingers might point to climate change and gender reveal parties as the root cause, there are many factors involved both natural and man-made. 

British director Lucy Walker offers a harrowing look at the 2018 California wildfires by examining the events of that year and the people affected by the disasters in her new documentary Bring Your Own Brigade. Perhaps the most eye-opening aspect of the documentary was how it uncovers the history of the wildfires and how they’ve progressively gotten worse over time. It’s not quite what you expect. The film  features interviews with residents of Paradise and Malibu, first responders, and various experts. It unfolds in an organic way which at times can feel disjointed. Essentially we’re following  the director as her curiosity about the California wildfires takes her on a journey of discovery.

In comparing this film with the Netflix documentary Fire in Paradise (2019), Bring Your Own Brigade offers much more in the way of context and background information to both enlighten and terrify its audience.

Bring Your Own Brigade premiered at the virtual 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival: MLK/FBI

In February 2027, the Martin Luther King Jr. surveillance tapes recorded by the FBI will be unsealed and made available to the public. These tapes are the result of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI’s extensive harassment of MLK. Hoover sought out sordid details of MLK’s extramarital affairs hoping that the information would ruin his public image and in turn weaken MLK’s leadership. What Hoover didn’t anticipate is that ultimately no one cared. The movement was full speed ahead and even one of the most powerful men in America couldn’t stop it.

Directed by Sam Pollard, MLK/FBI is both a compelling look into one of the darkest times in the history of the FBI and a brilliant portrait of a charismatic leader who was able to mobilize a community into peaceful action despite all the challenges that faced him. The documentary is comprised of photographs and archival footage as well as clips from newsreels and relevant classic movies. It was based on recently released documents made available by way of the Freedom of Information Act.

The talking heads narrate but are not seen until the end of the film. The narrators include Civil Rights leaders, historians and former FBI employees including former director James Comey. The greatest value of this documentary is the amount of quality archival footage of MLK himself. I have seen several documentaries about the Civil Rights movement but none  have included this much actual footage of MLK. The film is based on recently released documents made available by way of the Freedom of Information Act.

MLK/FBI is a priceless documentary that sheds light on the past and serves as a warning for the future.

MLK/FBI recently screened at the 2020 virtual Double Exposure Film Festival. It will be released by IFC in January 2021.

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