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SXSW: Nothing Fancy: Diana Kennedy

“She is a prophet for Mexican food.”

Nick Zuckin

Cookbook author and chef Diana Kennedy is the leading expert on traditional Mexican cooking. For over 60 years, Kennedy has immersed herself in Mexican culture and food, learning and respecting the traditions of one of the most celebrated cuisines. This feisty and unapologetic British woman may be an outsider looking in but because she has lived in rural Mexico, in Zitácuaro, Michoacán, for most of her life and sticks to the tried and true approaches to different dishes and recipes, she’s become what one of her friends calls an “adoptive daughter of Mexico.” 

Director Elizabeth Carroll, in her debut documentary Nothing Fancy: Diana Kennedy explores the life and work of this outspoken advocate for preserving Mexico’s culinary history. Nothing Fancy is a reference to one of Kennedy’s cookbooks but also speaks to Kennedy’s approach to cooking and to life. There are no variations, twists or updates. She sticks to the old ways. Kennedy is a fascinating subject. She’s scrappy, resourceful, and is a champion for organic gardening and sustainable living. She’s always on the road exploring different parts of her adopted country. Kennedy isn’t afraid to tell you what she thinks in her abrupt and frank manner.

In the film we mostly hear from Kennedy herself but Mexican chefs, including one of my favorites Pati Jinich, and other experts also chime in on Kennedy’s legacy. My favorite scene shows present day Kennedy making guacamole with spliced in archival footage from decades earlier of her making the exact same recipe. Kennedy is a free spirit who does not change and is true to what she believes in. 

Perhaps the only flaw of the film, which the director hinted at during a screening of this documentary at SXSW, is that the relationships Kennedy has with people in the film isn’t explained. In one case, she is very close to another chef and there is a lovely scene where they have their portrait taken together. But we really don’t find out much about who she is and how they bonded.

Nothing Fancy: Diana Kennedy is a charming documentary that allows its subject’s vibrant personality shine through. It also serves as one way we can ensure Kennedy’s contributions to preserving Mexican food culture is appreciated for decades to come.

Nothing Fancy: Diana Kennedy had its world premiere at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival as part of their Documentary Feature Competition.

SXSW: Days of the Whale

Cristina (Laura Tobón) and her boyfriend Simon (David Escallón) are two street artists living in Medellin, Colombia. They collaborate on their graffiti art, live in a commune with other artists and rescue a stray dog. Cristina is a free spirit and lacks any interest in University life spends most of her time wandering the streets, making art and hanging out with Simon. Her family life is tense and divided. She lives with her father (Christian Tappan) and his new bride and her mother (Margarita Restrepo) has fled Medellin in fear for her life. When a local gang spray paints the threatening message “snitches get stitches””/“los sapos mueren por la boca”, Cristina and Simon decide to paint over it with the image of the whale. Will this act of defiance put their lives at risk?

Days of the Whale/Los dias de la ballena was written, directed and produced by Colombian filmmaker Catalina Arroyave Restrepo. This is an auspicious start to what I hope is a long and fruitful career. Arroyave studied communication and film in Colombia, Argentina and Cuba and brings a new and fresh perspective to Latinoamérica cinema. 

It’s important to step out of our own bubbles and explore the world around us. Days of the Whale offers viewers an insight into life in Medellin, Colombia through the perspectives of two young free-spirited artists. I love how Arroyave’s film drives home the symbolism of the whale. We see a whale trapped in a canal and as the film progresses the city kills the whale in stages. Cristina decides on a whale as the image to draw over the gang’s threatening message. Her reasoning is that they travel, take care of their young and its her mother’s favorite animal. The whale is symbolic of freedom, specifically creative freedom and being free from the fear that can stifle artistic expression. It can also symbolize being true to yourself and freedom to live your life, as Cristina and Simon do in spite of the oppression from local gang members.

Days of the Whale is a promising debut from a fresh new voice. It explores art as both expression and defiance and shines a spotlight on one of the lesser known urban communities of South America. It also features a fantastic soundtrack with a mix of Colombian hip hop and Cuban salsa.

Days of the Whale had its world premiere at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival as part of their Global series.

For Cine Suffragette, I interviewed Catalina Arroyave Restrepo. Check out the interview in Spanish here and English-language version here!

Update June 2020: Days of the Whale will have a virtual theatrical release on July 24th.

SXSW: Salvage

They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. This is absolutely true for the residents of Yellowknife in Northwest Territories, Canada. Home to one of the last open landfills in North America, the Yellowknife dump is a salvager’s delight. These prospectors hunt for objects they can reuse and recycle. Some of the items thrown away are brand new or in perfect condition, others need some TLC. In a town with a long history of gold and diamond mining, these salvagers find treasure in their own unique way.

Director Amy C. Elliott’s documentary Salvage is an intimate portrait of a community in flux. In one of the most isolated areas in North America that’s ever changing with increased government regulation and population growth, the livelihood of these salvagers is in jeopardy. Elliott’s film explores three aspects of this community: the individuals who salvage and their personal motivations in doing so, the dangers of salvaging with exposure to sharp objects and disease and the government officials who are trying to control the landfill to protect the citizens. 

Elliott’s film delivers a powerful message about wastefulness and resourcefulness but doesn’t do so in a heavy handed way. The audience is left to come to their own conclusions about how what their own approach to trash and recycling. Part of the fun of watching the film is learning about the individual salvagers and watching as they discover treasures at the dump. Some of the items include wedding dresses, brand new clothes with the tags still on them, Halloween costumes, glass jars, 60 lbs of bagged vermicelli, scraps of wood, antiques, toys, moccasins, photo albums and much more. 

One of the biggest takeaways from this film for me was how lazy we are as consumers and the stigma that surrounds resourcefulness. The term “microcosm” is thrown around a lot in the film and Yellowknife dump truly is a microcosm of the community but it’s also a microcosm of society and the inherent dangers with progress. We lose something important when we’re not able take care of ourselves, our community and our planet.

Salvage is a fascinating documentary and viewers will gain perspective on what it means to be part of a consumer culture.

Salvage had its world premiere at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival as part of their Documentary Spotlight series. Stay tuned as I’ll be interviewing the director Amy C. Elliott for this site!

SXSW 2019 Film Festival: My Picks

The 2019 SXSW Film Festival starts next week and I’m thrilled to be attending this year for the very first time. Many thanks to SXSW and Rotten Tomatoes for this amazing opportunity. I’m furiously building my itinerary with plenty of great films, panels, interviews and new experiences. Follow me here and on my social media for all the details.

I would have to clone myself a dozen times to experience a significant chunk of SXSW has to offer. But alas there is only one of me. I did my best to curate a list of films that piqued my interest. I’m focusing primarily on documentaries, movies directed by women, Spanish-language cinema and indie films in general. 60 % of the films screening at SXSW are directed by women which is a fantastic feat. Here is how my current slate of films breaks down:

  • Documentaries: 9
  • Films Directed by Women: 9 (out of 15)
  • Narrative: 6
  • Spanish-Language: 3

Now on to my SXSW picks!

Sunset Over Mulholland Drive

  • Directed by Uli Gaulke
  • SXSW Documentary Spotlight

If you know me it’ll come to no surprise that this new documentary about residents of the Motion Picture & Television Fund home is my #1 pick. I’m a big champion for elderly and the residents of MPTF all have amazing stories to share about their contributions to the entertainment industry. I had the honor of visiting my friend Lillian Michelson at MPTF last year. Gaulke’s documentary follows a group of MPTF residents as they collaborate on new projects. I’ll be reviewing this one over at my classic film blog Out of the Past.

 

The Yellowknife dump. Still from the documentary Salvage.

Salvage

  • Directed by Amy C. Elliott
  • SXSW Documentary Spotlight

Elliott’s new documentary explores the open landfill of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada and the group of townspeople who salvage items from it. Yellowknife dump is one of the only open dumps in North America and regulations to control it pose a threat to the local community. I’m very curious to see what this film has to offer in terms of insights into what the objects we throw away have to say about us as a society. As they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Stay tuned as I’ll have an interview with the director as well as a review!

Trailer

 

Tread

  • Directed by Paul Solet
  • SXSW Documentary Feature Competition

What drives someone to the breaking point? Paul Solet’s new documentary Tread takes a look at Marvin Heemeyer, the Colorado man who in 2004 ran a fortified bulldozer through his hometown, systematically destroying homes and businesses. This bizarre case has always intrigued me and Solet’s film offers various perspectives in an attempt to answer the biggest question: why?

 

The Beach Bum

  • Directed by Harmony Korine
  • Starring Matthew McConaughey, Snoop Dogg, Isla Fisher, Stefania Lavie Owen, Jimmy Buffett, Zac Efron, Martin Lawrence
  • SXSW Headliner

There will be big competition for the Headliners at the festival and while I’m happy to watch those at a later date, I can’t pass up the opportunity to see a Harmony Korine film at SXSW! I love Korine’s Spring Breakers and Mister Lonely and am excited for his latest movie. The Beach Bum stars Matthew McConaughey as Moondog, a free spirit who marches to the beat of his own drum. It features a stellar cast! I’m ready for another quirky yet subversive story, Korine-style.

Trailer

 

I am Richard Pryor

  • Directed by Jesse James Miller
  • Documentary Spotlight

Docs about 20th Century entertainers are my jam and I’m hoping to get a chance to see this one about legendary comedian Richard Pryor. I’m especially curious to see how this film explores his life and career in the context of the era.

Trailer 

 

Sister Aimee

  • Directed by Samantha Buck and Marie Schlingmann
  • Starring Anna Margaret Hollyman, Michael Mosley, Andrea Suarez Paz, Julie White, Amy Hargreaves, Macon Blair, Lee Eddy, Blake Delong, John Merriman, Nathan Zellner
  • SXSW Festival Favorites

Inspired by the story of 1920s evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, Sister Aimee looks like a fun twist on a bit of obscure 20th century history. I reviewed The Miracle Woman (1931) over on my site Out of the Past which stars Barbara Stanwyck and is also inspired by McPherson. Would love to examine how these two films compare with each other and what Sister Aimee has to offer to a contemporary audience.

 

Being Impossible

  • Directed by Patricia Ortega
  • Starring Lucia Bedoya, Belkis Avilladares, María Elena Duque
  • SXSW Global

Director Patricia Ortega’s drama explores the intersection between religion and gender. The story centers around a young religious dressmaker who discovers she was born intersex. Her parents kept her corrective surgery a secret and raised her as a girl. I love South American films and the exploration of identity and gender definitely piqued my interest. Would love to see how this compares with Lucia Puenzo’s film XXY (2007). 

 

La Mala Noche

  • Directed by Gabriele Calvache
  • Starring Nöelle Schönwald, Cristian Mercado, Jaime Tamariz, Ariana Freire, Diego Mignone, Gonzalo Gonzalo, Christian Cabrera, Javier Ordóñez
  • SXSW Global – World Premiere

This Ecuadorian/Mexican thriller is about a prostitute trying to escape the seedy underworld run by her mob boss. La Mala Noche is perhaps the darkest film in my line-up and I’m excited to see what director Calvache has to offer!

Trailer 

 

Days of the Whale

  • Directed by Catalina Arroyave Restrepo
  • Principal Cast: Laura Tobón, David Escallón, Carlos Fonnegra, Christian Tappan, Julián Giraldo, Natalia Castaño, Margarita Restrepo
  • SXSW Global

Another South-American film directed by a woman! My fingers crossed that I can fit this one into my schedule. The story follows two friends, graffiti artists, who plan to paint a mural of a whale to cover up a threatening message. I’ve been hungry for more Colombian cinema ever since I watched Karen Cries on the Bus (2011) last year.

 

Nothing Fancy: Diana Kennedy

  • Directed by Elizabeth Carroll
  • SXSW Documentary Feature Competition

Nonagenarian Diana Kennedy has spent the better part of her life researching and documenting the history of food and cuisine in Mexico. This new documentary explores her life’s work which includes nine Mexican cookbooks and her unique lifestyle (she’s lived off the grid since the 1970s!).

 

Sakawa

  • Directed by Ben Asamoah
  • SXSW Visions

I’m fascinated by internet scams and those spam e-mails we all get in our inboxes trying to extort us out of our life savings. This new documentary follows the story of three Ghanaians who are turning to the internet fraud as a source of livelihood. I’m hoping this film touches upon the ramifications of this sort of “career” and how it’s judged, or not judged, in another culture.

 

Qualified

  • Directed by Jenna Ricker
  • SXSW Documentary Spotlight

I love sports documentaries especially when the subject is a woman! Director Jenna Ricker’s new film for ESPN explores the career of Janet Guthrie, the first female race car driver to qualify for the Daytona 500 and Indy 500.

 

South Mountain

  • Directed by Hilary Brougher
  • Starring Talia Balsam, Scott Cohen, Andrus Nichols, Michael Oberholtzer, Naian González Norvind , Midori Francis, Macaulee Rusnak Cassaday, Isis Masoud, Violet Rea, Guthrie Mass
  • SXSW Narrative Feature Competition

Set in the Catskills, this drama tells the story of a family coming apart at the seams. The film’s star Talia Balsam is a big draw for me but I also love that this film is written and directed by a female filmmaker.

 

Show Me the Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall

  • Directed by Alfred George Bailey
  • SXSW 24 Beats Per Second/Documentaries

Jim Marshall photographed some of the biggest names in the history of music: Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, etc. This new documentary offers a look at the man behind the camera. I love stories about people behind-the-scenes. Pair that with some pop culture history and I’m sold!

 

Strange Negotiations

  • Directed by Brandon Vedder
  • SXSW 24 Beats Per Second/Documentaries

As someone who walked away from a strict, conservative Christian upbringing, I’m fascinated by stories of others who have done the same. Vedder’s new documentary paints a portrait of David Bazan, a former evangelical Christian and member of the band Pedro the Lion.

Period. End of Sentence.

“Women are the base of any society. And women are more powerful. But they don’t recognize themselves. They don’t know how much power they have and what they can do.”

Menstruation. It’s not a subject people like to talk about but it’s one that shouldn’t be ignored. Director Rayka Zehtabchi new documentary Period. End of Sentence., follows a group of women from a small town outside of Dehli, India. We learn that menstruation in this patriarchal culture comes with a deeply rooted stigma. It’s embarrassing to talk about and the women use dirty cloths or whatever they can get their hands on during their time of the month. They’re not allowed to pray when menstruating and are essentially isolated from their community until their cycle is over. Many young women even leave school shortly after they get their first period.

Alarmed by these findings, a group of students from Oakwood High School in Los Angeles, California, with the help of The Feminist Majority Foundation’s Girls Learn International program, banded together to start The Pad Project. They raised funds for the equipment that would help these women create their own sanitary pads. The inventor of the machine, Arunachalam Muruganatham, trained the women in the art of making sanitary pads. With this knowledge, these women were empowered to not only overcome their shame but to start a new phase in their lives as enterprising career women making and selling sanitary pads in their community. For some of them, this was their first job and a chance to learn a trade and become successful at it and to earn money for their household and for themselves.

Out of all the Academy Award nominated documentaries (short subject) this is by far my favorite. Period. End of Sentence. is a feminist manifesto that demonstrates how empowering women can make a huge difference. It’s moving, endearing and full of hope. This film touched my heart and I hope it’ll do the same for you.

“The strongest creature on Earth is not the elephant, not the tiger, but the girl.”

Arunachalam Muruganatham

Period. End of Sentence. is nominated for a 2019 Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject). The film premieres on Netflix February 12th.

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