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Nashville Film Festival: Follow Her

Jess (Dani Barker) is a struggling actress by day and a successful streamer at night. She arranges  degrading sexual encounters with men on the internet and secretly films them for her stream.  She maintains the men’s anonymity until one day she posts a video not realizing the man’s face was exposed. Jess has an internal conflict: take down the video or capitalize on the clout it’s currently receiving. When she’s invited by screenwriter Tom (Luke Cook) to a remote cabin to  both work out the details of a new project while also secretly filming him. But the tables quickly turn as she realizes Tom is not as he seems.

Directed by Sylvia Caminer and written by Dani Barker, Follow Her is a psychological thriller that offers a stern warning about the dangers of streaming and surveillance in our digital age. It taps into the innate fears of the chronically online about sharing too much and being exposed for all to see. The first half of the movie isn’t very engaging and viewers will have to push through to the second half where the psycho-sexual elements really come into play.  You’ll also have to suspend your disbelief as there are many red flags the female protagonist misses. If you enjoy thrillers about the digital age, give this one a try.

Bonus for Mad Men fans: Mark Moses has a role as Jess’ father.

Follow Her was screened at the 2022 Nashville 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.

Carmen

Eat Pray Love (2010) meets Corpus Christi (2019) in this tender drama about a middle-aged woman reclaiming her life after years of service in the church.

Set in Malta during the 1980s, Carmen stars Natascha McElhone, the sister of the local priest. Per Maltese customs, when a priest is ordained, his oldest sister must make the sacrifice of abandoning any hopes of a career, relationship or family of her own in order to take care of her brother in service. Carmen has done since from the age of 16 until 50. When her brother passes away, she creates a new life for herself. With her newfound freedom, she pretends to be the new priest and takes confessionals in secret. She spends her days people watching and connecting with the locals. She forms a romantic bond with Paulo (Steven Love), a young Maltese-Canadian man to whom she tries to sell stolen goods from the church. Soon enough, Carmen’s new-found joie de vivre starts to have an effect on the community around her.

“Carmen is inspired by an old Maltese tradition… Many women’s voices were squashed, and their spirits dampened. This happened to my Aunt, now 95 years old… This film is for my Aunt and all the women who’ve suffered this tradition under the patriarchy.” — director Valerie Buhagiar

Directed by Valerie Buhagiar, Carmen is brimming with optimism despite the trials and tribulations endured by its protagonist. Natascha McElhone is absolutely charming as Carmen. She imbues the character with a sense of curiosity and wonderment that is quite fetching. When Carmen comes out of her situation, she receives a makeover and we see a raven haired beauty dressed in bright red emerge from her cocoon. Malta is its own character depicted both with a sense of beauty and a sense of social injustice. The plot can get a bit murky but doesn’t take away much from the overall experience.

Carmen is currently in theaters and available to rent on VOD.

Charcoal/Carvão

Set in the outskirts of São Paulo, Brazil, Charcoal/Carvão tells the story of an impoverished family who make an almost Faustian bargain to lift themselves up out of their situation. Irene (Maeve Jinkings) cares for her ailing father but between that, raising her son Jean (Jean Costa) and dealing with her husband Jairo’s (Romulo Braga) reckless behavior, she is overwhelmed. When a nurse, Juracy (Aline Marta), offers Irene a shady deal to help the family, after much consideration Irene agrees. The plan involves getting rid of Irene’s father and secretly replacing him with  Miguel (César Bordón), an Argentine drug lord who faked his own death and is now in hiding. Irene and her family keep up appearances. Jean goes to school, Jairo continues to work harvesting charcoal and Irene sells her chicken dinners. But the influx of cash and the looming danger that hangs over this volatile stranger, threatens to push the family over the edge.

“Charcoal is my attempt to understand how violence, religion and hypocrisy have taken over our lives and bodies in a way that we don’t’ even notice any more.”

Carolina Markowicz

Written and directed by Carolina Markowicz, Charcoal/Carvão is an unrelentingly brutal film about the lengths people will go to escape their situation. The film is deceptively quiet which makes certain scenes all that more shocking. Bookended with religious scenes and music, the story aptly explores how desperation takes away our morals and basic humanity. The performances came across so natural that it’s easy to forget we’re watching actors playing roles and not real people living their lives. Markowicz does a brilliant job enveloping the audience in the world of her characters that it feels like we are right there with them. 

Charcoal/Carvão is emotionally devastating and draining. It’s a film to watch. But only once.

Note to add: both Portuguese and Spanish are spoken in the film.

Charcoal/Carvão premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.

Free Puppies! The True Story of Rescue Dogs

Directed and produced by Samantha Wishman and Christina Thomas, Free Puppies!: The True Story of Rescue Dogs explores the lives of abandoned and neglected dogs in the rural South and the extraordinary efforts made to rescue them and to control the ever-growing population in the community.

This documentary focuses primarily on the work of Monda Wooten, a small business owner and city commissioner for Trenton, Georgia, who has made it her life’s mission to help rescue dogs in her area.  We follow along as Wooten and other rescuers as they work with locals to get dogs spayed and neutered and to place abandoned dogs in loving homes. 

This film really touched my heart because my dog Rollie is a rescue from a rural region of West Virginia. He and another dog were abandoned on the side of the road and with the help of a nice lady they were rescued, fostered and ultimately transported up to New England where they were adopted.

A rescue puppy arrives on transport and meets her new owner at the Vince Lombardi Service Station in NJ, as seen in Free Puppies!, a film by Samantha Wishman and Christina Thomas. A First Run Features release. (Photo courtesy of First Run Features)

The work Wooten and the rescuers do is invaluable, especially all of their efforts to make spaying and neutering affordable for low-income families. In the doc we see a veterinarian whose sole job is to spay and neuter which keeps her overhead costs down so she can offer the service to these communities. This is such a fantastic idea.

Free Puppies! will take viewers on a gentle rollercoaster ride of hope and heartbreak. It’s both rewarding to see the rescuers at work and sad to see the state of things. This film offers an abundance of empathy for both the dogs and the people in the community.

Free Puppies! is distributed by First Run Features. It hits theaters across North America on August 12th, 2022. Visit the official website for more details.

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