High school student Eleanor Mendoza (Adelina Amosco) is tormented by her peers. Why? Because of large birthmarks on her face. They taunt her, harass her, spread rumors about her and physically abuse her. One student in particular, Carly (Vanessa Carmona), really has it out for Eleanor. As a result Eleanor has become incredibly withdrawn and barely speaks to her peers. Ms. Gutierrez (Kathleen Changho) reaches out to Eleanor but can’t help her to the fullest extent because of Eleanor’s lack of communication. To escape the torment, Eleanor finds solace working on her art at home where she lives with her grandmother (Shirley Cuyagan O’Brien) and in her affair with an older man, Alex (Rod Rodriquez) who runs the restaurant where Eleanor works part-time. As things escalate, Eleanor is overwhelmed by the pain and enters an altered state. In this alternate world, she imagines herself in a desolate and beautiful natural space. She’s essentially alone but is joined by an imaginary child who represents her younger self in various stages of development. When a confrontation with Carly turns ugly, Eleanor world starts to fall apart. Will she be able to find her voice again and stand up for herself? Can she find any semblance of happiness in the real world?
Directed and written by Cath Gulick, The Fever and the Fret is a powerful anti-bullying tale that isn’t afraid to dive into the pain and the torment victims suffer and the feeling of helplessness as those who hold social power continue to victimize them. Adelina Amosco delivers a powerful yet subdued performance as Eleanor. The camera spends much time on Eleanor’s face which is marked also her countenance carries a map of the world. We see the inner turmoil through her eyes, through her tears and through her silence. Every minute of this film is powerful. For anyone whose been the victim of bullying, myself included, you’ll be able to relate to Eleanor even if your situation wasn’t as dire as hers.
The film’s villain Carly is played by Vanessa Carmona who delivers a seamless performance as the privileged bully who expects to get away with her bullying because Eleanor is “weird.” Her lies eventually catch up to her and I found that resolution so emotionally gratifying.
Gulick imagined her 76 minute low-budget indie film as a fairy story where realism meets dark magic. She say “I imagined a girl who was tormented during the day but who could travel to another dimension at night… The story of a young girl who is discounted by other people in the ordinary world, but has her own secret reality is something that has always resonated with me.”
Eleanor’s world is black and white yet when she escapes to this alternate world the film switches to color. To me The Fever and the Fret was more realism than magical realism. Eleanor’s escape into the altered state felt less like fantasy and more like self-preservation.
The Fever and the Fret has a diverse cast and crew. It’s directed, written, edited and produced by women, features mostly Asian-American actors. One of the producers, Victoria Negri is one of my favorite up-and-coming filmmakers. She wrote, directed and starred in one of my favorite indie films, Gold Star.
The Fever and the Fret is available to watch on Amazon Prime. It’s screened at the Queens World Film Festival, LA Asian Pacific Film Festival and Lighthouse International Film Festival and has received jury prizes and honorable mentions. Visit the official website for more information.
‘A man walks off a boat. He walks into a restaurant and orders the albatross soup. He takes one bite, pulls out a gun and kills himself. Why did he kill himself?’
This is not your average riddle. It’s a thought experiment that encourages participants to develop their own tale, build on the riddle’s bare bones, fill in the gaps, create a backstory for its main character and to use their creativity solve the mystery in their own way.
Director Winnie Cheung’s Albatross Soup is an animated short film that visualizes the process of solving the riddle. An omniscient voice, who holds all the answers, is grilled by participants with a variety of questions and gives yes or no answers. Their voices narrate the film and the animated scenes play out the different possible scenarios until they come to the final conclusion.
Albatross Soup is a documentary layered on top of a surreal animated fantasy. It’s filled with bright, bold colors and shape-shifting scenes. It doesn’t ask the viewer to participate. Instead we’re just along for the ride. If you’re burning to solve the riddle yourself, do so beforehand then enjoy the psychedelic journey.
Over 50 participants were recorded for the short film and the audio was edited by New York Times audio producer Alexandra Young. The visual elements consist of hand drawn illustrations by Fiona Smyth and animation by Masayoshi Nakamura. Albatross Soup was screened at various festivals including Sundance, Fantastic Fest and the Fantasia International Film Festival.
Albatross Soup recently premiered on Vimeo as a Staff Pick. You can watch the film in its entirety here.
At the recent SXSW Film Festival, I had the pleasure of chatting with the documentary filmmaker Amy C. Elliott. Her latest film Salvage had its world premiere on opening night. This film follows a group of residents who salvage goods from an open dump in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, one of the most isolated communities in North America. In town with a long history of gold and diamond mining, these salvagers find treasure in their own unique way. You can read my review here.
Raquel Stecher: What inspired you to make your documentary?
Amy C. Elliott: I had always wanted to make a film about a dump. I think it’s interesting what we throw away from an environmental impact level… I also think on a philosophical level, the subjective nature of things is really interesting… the transitory nature of things. I also thought about the idea of a community dump as a watering hole… Who goes there? What do people take out of it? What do people leave? I thought it would be a really interesting look at a community. My beat is about how we’re shaped by where we live.
Raquel Stecher: How did you find out about the Yellowknife landfill?
Amy C. Elliott: I’m based in New York so I wanted to find a dump closer to me. It’s very important to have a site that you have access to. I looked around and in the states most of them are closed at this point for liability reasons, like it’s just not feasible to let people into a dump like the way I wanted to make movie… Then I did some research, just scouring the internet for any open dumps. I found a column in a newspaper called Tales from the Dump which is written by a guy who ended up becoming one of the protagonists of the film, Walt Humphries. I [thought] if there was a community somewhere that their dump has inspired a weekly newspaper column, I think I need to check it out. It turned out to be in Yellowknife. It was the closest dump of size that was open still to the public [but] it was 7,000 round-trip miles so it was not my first choice.
Raquel Stecher: How long did you work on this project?
Amy C. Elliott: It was filmed over close ten years. There’s ten years worth of footage in it. I went there over a period of six years regularly, annually for a couple of weeks [at a time].
Raquel Stecher: What was it like traveling to Yellowknife and did you pick a certain time of year to go?
Amy C. Elliott: It’s only 250 miles south of the Arctic Circle. It’s extremely isolated. At the time, it was literally at the end of the highway. There were no other roads leading out. It was an ice road… I don’t think people realize how isolated it is. I had to take three planes to get there. It’s also stunningly beautiful. It’s one of the best places to see the Northern Lights. [Traveling there] was an obstacle. I would say it was the biggest obstacle.
I went in the Spring because I thought in the height of summer the dump would be a little too much in terms of the smell and the bugs. It gets extremely cold there. Regularly negative 50. It was still snowing [in April]. It was still super cold but it was enough light and it was warm enough that the dump smelled okay. The waste was solid enough that I felt like it was a good time to go but it was [still] not the height of mosquito season.
Raquel Stecher:What was like what was filming the dump like? Part of the fun watching the movie is all the discoveries the salvagers make. Was there anything about the dump that was shocking?
Amy C. Elliott: It was all shocking to me because I never experienced anything quite so unregulated. When I first started shooting there, we were on the open face of the dump. You see people kids, people barefoot, you could just do what you wanted. It was really a free-for-all. I got a tetanus shot before I went and filmed.
In terms of the stuff there… I thought the food was shocking for sure. Some of the most shocking stuff were the new items. like clothes with the tags still on, kid’s toys still in plastic wrapping… you just can’t help but feel like there are people who would need that stuff, would like that stuff, who would benefit from that stuff and it’s just being thrown away. I never quite got used to it. I thought that there was something really poignant about that.
For me [personally it was] the unopened rolls of film. There were just bags and bags of it. I just wanted to take it and send it to The Rescued Film Project and see what was on those rolls of film. The idea that that would be gone forever was really interesting.
Raquel Stecher:One of the biggest takeaways of the film was how resourcefulness is looked down upon. What are your thoughts on that?
Amy C. Elliott: It’s that idea of thrift. Even as the old-fashioned virtue of thrift. It seems like something out of Benjamin Franklin days. It’s hard though… Do you really want to rescue and repair a broken DVD player? You can get one for $20 completely new. We’re living in a time where we have such access to cheap things. It’s easier… and time is valuable so is it really worth your time to go rescue. That’s the dilemma of where we are now as the world came to Yellowknife.
Raquel Stecher: Was there a point when you were going to stop filming and then you continued when things started changing at Yellowknife?
Amy C. Elliott: I knew I wanted to film at least five years. I was committed to that unless something radical happened like the dump closed.I knew it was going to take a long time… The changes in the town, I could see that coming. I could see that there was something happening at the dump that was mirroring what was happening in the town. As the world became smaller… “the values from down south” as Tony talks about at the end [of the film], the consumerism, the concern with loss prevention and liability, the bureaucrats in the city were becoming more in tune with the rest of the South. It just mirrored what was happening in the dump. I think they’re intertwined intrinsically.
In my films I love exploring how where live shapes us culturally… our behavior is shaped geographically by where we live and that’s becoming rarer and rarer as the world becomes more homogeneous. As there’s a Starbucks on every corner as the world becomes… you can go anywhere now and have the same experience.
Raquel Stecher: How has the SXSW experience been for you?
Amy C. Elliott: Amazing. I love this festival. I think it’s the best. It’s one of the top tier festivals in the world but it’s also offbeat enough and different enough. They play films that you wouldn’t necessarily see it at other festivals. They really curate a different slate and the audiences who come appreciate that. A doc like Salvage is small. It’s not flashy, you do have to have some patience for it. It’s a hard film in some ways. But there’s going to be an audience here. It’s perfect place for an offbeat film like Salvage. I know that I’m going to get an audience that is engaged and wants to see that kind of stuff. I love SXSW.
Raquel Stecher:What do you hope that people will take away from Salvage?
Amy C. Elliott: That’s a two part answer. On a surface level, what I hope people take away is being more mindful of what we buy and [to think] about where it ends up. Do we really buy this next thing? Be mindful of waste. Do we have to know shepherd our products to a slightly better home rather than just throwing them out without thinking about it? The second thing would be to appreciate what’s distinct where you live and where you visit. What is special about a place and why?
Dana (Noëlle Schönwald) is a prostitute living in Quito, Ecuador. She’s beautiful and smart and a favorite of her clients. But Dana harbors dark secrets. She sells her body to make enough money to support her terminally ill daughter and her own addiction to pharmaceutical drugs. And most of her funds go to her pimp, mob boss and human trafficker Nelson (Jaime Tamariz). On one visit to Nelson’s secret compound, Dana witnesses a child being transported from room to room. The young girl was kidnapped and about to be sold into sexual slavery. With the help of Dana’s client Julian (Cristian Mercado), a handsome young doctor who is in love with Dana, they concoct a plan to save the child.
“She is the perfect woman until she decides to be free.”
La Mala Noche is Ecuadorian director Gabriela Calvache’s narrative feature-length debut. Calvache is known for her narrative shorts and her documentaries. She and her producer Geminiano Pineda decided to make this as a fictional film to have the freedom to explore the subject without inciting the potential retaliation of the mob and to protect the survivors.
Calvache’s film is a heart-pounding thriller that will leave you on the edge of your seat. It’s brilliantly directed with some terrific cinematography and excellent story telling. Lead actress Noëlle Schönwald delivers a powerful performance. The child trafficking scenes are difficult to watch but also mercifully brief. While sexual slavery is grim topic to cover in a feature film, Calvache delivers the story in a way that is captivating but doesn’t diminish the gravity of the situations depicted.
Beyond having a female director and producer and focusing on a female character, 80% of the filmmaking crew were also women. I appreciate the fact that they didn’t translate the Spanish title for the English-language market.
La Mala Noche had its world premiere at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival as part of their Global series. Stay tuned as I’ll have a follow-up piece on La Mala Noche on Cine Suffragette.
Ariel (Lucia Bedoya) is a Venezuelan woman going through an incredibly painful time in her life. Her day job as a dressmaker finds her surrounded by judgmental women in a stifling environment. At night she cares for her dying mother (Maria Elena Duque). The film opens with Ariel having her first sexual encounter, one that leaves her bleeding and in pain for days. With everything else that’s going on, why is her body betraying her?
What Ariel doesn’t know but something the audience learns with hints along the way is that she’s intersex. When Ariel was born, her mother arranged for her to have sexual reassignment surgery to become female. As the story progresses, Ariel is confused and bewildered. She doesn’t know why she’s physically attracted to the new woman at work, why sex with a man is so incredibly painful and why her mother refuses to let her see another doctor for a second opinion about her pain.
Director Patricia Ortega’s Being Impossible/Yo imposible is a hard pill to swallow. It’s a heavy-handed story that offers little to an audience that will be overwhelmed by the subject matter. The story is set up as a mystery with Ariel finding about her true gender at the end. While this might make sense on paper it doesn’t really work in the film.
I did identify with the character of Ariel because even though I don’t know what it’s like to be intersex, I could relate to the feeling of being betrayed by one’s own body and the repression that comes with being in an a religious environment. Interspersed throughout the movie were interviews with intersex subjects who described their own struggles on camera. I thought these were effective but would have been more so if Ariel’s discovery had happened earlier in the story. I loved the tender love story between Ariel and her female coworker. This was a little kernel of hope in otherwise grim movie.
If you’re interested in the subject matter, I would direct you to another South American film with an intersex protagonist XXY (2007) which I thought was a far better story overall.
Being Impossible had its North American premiere at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival as part of their Global series.