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TagFemale Filmmakers

The Unmaking of a College

Directed by Amy Goldstein, The Unmaking of a College chronicles a turbulent time in Hampshire College’s recent history. The title is a play on The Making of a College, a book written about Hampshire College in Amherst, MA and its alternative approach to higher education. Over the years, the school has suffered from one financial crisis after another. When the new president Miriam Nelson was instated in 2018, it quickly became clear that Hampshire was being set up to be shut down. This documentary follows the most volatile days in Nelson’s administration when students staged a sit-in to protest and spark talks about the school not taking a freshman class for 2019. 

While the subject matter is fascinating in its own right, this documentary was hard to get through. It meandered aimlessly and it became difficult to follow the thread of the story. Interview subjects were positioned in awkward places and some had projected video footage on their faces which seemed unnecessary. It distracted from the important things they had to say. If the film was trying to be quirky, it definitely failed in that regard. With that said, there were some redeeming moments in the documentary. The footage of the sit-in, student talks, meetings and an interview with alum Ken Burns were definite highlights.

The Unmaking of a College is available from Zeitgeist Films on DVD, Blu-Ray and digital VOD.

SXSW: Bodies Bodies Bodies

When Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) takes her girlfriend Bee (Maria Bakalova) to David’s (Pete Davidson) mansion for a hurricane party, their reception is tepid at best. Sophie is out of rehab and had stayed away from her booze and drug loving friends for a bit of space. As the group starts to get acquainted, they play a murder mystery game called “Bodies Bodies Bodies” where its tag you’re dead. What starts off as an innocent game starts to get deadly when friends start turning up dead and the hurricane has knocked out the power and cell phone reception. 

Directed by Halina Reijn, Bodies Bodies Bodies is a helluva lot of fun. I attended the world premiere at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas and the crowd roared with laughter. Rachel Sennott  has a standout role as Alice, the daft friend whose much older boyfriend Greg (Lee Pace) becomes the first suspect. She’s got some great lines and is really the heart of the film’s comedic core.

When the lights are off, the characters must navigate through darkness guided by only the light of their smartphones. This adds a cool and creepy element to the movie. There is also a delicious twist at the end. Bodies Bodies Bodies offers a great combination of spooks and laughs that is sure to please horror fans.

Director and cast of Bodies Bodies Bodies at the world premiere.

Bodies Bodies Bodies had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.

SXSW: The Unknown Country

“Everybody has a different story.”

Written and directed by Morrisa Maltz, The Unknown Country stars Lily Gladstone as Tana, a young native woman who, upon learning of her grandmother’s death, sets out in her car to travel from Minnesota to Texas. She’s been estranged from her Oglala Lakota family and this journey is a way to reconnect with her roots and herself. Set against the backdrop of the 2016 election, Tana navigates vast open space of the midwest and southwest. Along the way she reconnects with her community, interacts with strangers, attends a friends wedding, develops a romantic connection and even has a couple of scares. 

There is a poetic beauty to this film. The cinematography is absolutely stunning with some fantastic shots of the open highway, wintry landscapes and the Gladstone traversing the natural space of her final destination. The Unknown  Country takes a hybrid approach melding elements of a feature film and a documentary. Tana’s story is fictional but the events happening around her are real. Interspersed throughout the film are documentary vignettes that tell the story of real people Tana meets during her travels. 

Made over three years, the project began with a concept of a beginning and ending and everything in the middle came to be organically. In Morrisa Maltz’s director’s statement she writes:

“We feel very proud that the film shows people and aspects of humanity in the American Midwest that are often overlooked. In such a continuously divided America, we did our best to create a film that shows a patchwork of people and places that can bring us together as humans, rather than to further divide us.”

Unknown Country had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.

SXSW: Raquel 1:1

After Raquel’s mother died at the hands of an abusive ex, Raquel (Valentina Herszage) and her father move back to his hometown. There he starts a small community grocery store and Raquel develops a friendship with teens at the local evangelical church. Raquel is deeply religious and receives a calling to explore her spirituality through her own church and study of the bible. This upsets the local religious leader and her daughter who encourage the community to retaliate against Raquel and her father.

Directed by Mariana Bastos, Raquel 1:1 is a bold exploration of female agency and spirituality. Raquel is not portrayed as a victim of religious repression rather a victim of righteous entitlement. The thematic elements are subtle but still hold power.

Raquel’s past trauma is presented through sound as the particulars of her mother’s death are detailed through her thought process. The story is part coming-of-age story and part religious horror.

Given the political and social climate of Brazil the filmmakers are waiting for a good opportunity to screen Raquel 1:1 in their home country.  I hope this film gets wide distribution because it’s a unique and compelling film about religion, trauma and the fight to be true to oneself.

Raquel 1:1 had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.

SXSW: Pretty Problems

Money doesn’t solve your problems, it just makes them prettier.”

Lindsay (Britt Rentschler) and Jack (Michael Tennant) are in a rut. Lindsay’s dreams of becoming a fashion designer have been put hold while she works a menial boutique job to pay back her student loan debt. Jack’s on probation and disbarred from being a working attorney putting him in a career limbo. As life continues to drag them down, Lindsay and Jack go through the  motions of their everyday lives, losing their romantic spark and any desire for intimacy.

Everything changes when one day Cat (J.J. Nolan) waltzes into Lindsay’s work. Cat is instantly taken with Lindsay and wants to boost her self-esteem and help her manifest her dreams. But Cat and Lindsay are from completely different worlds. Cat has more money than she knows what to do with and Lindsay can’t afford to do anything other than what she’s doing. Cat invites Lindsay and Jack for a weekend away in Sonoma County and the couple are thrust into a world of outrageous privilege. $300 bottles of wine, privately distributed tequila, a 1920s murder mystery game and a drug fueled disco party has the couple torn between their plebeian existence and the lifestyles of the rich and jaded. Fun is there to be had but not everything is as it seems.

Directed by Kestrin Pantera, Pretty Problems is a gratifying comedy with a decidedly poignant message. Its endlessly fascinating to watch how different social classes come together and ultimately clash because of their vastly different lifestyles and personal priorities. The rich people here are bored and emotionally numb. Lindsay and Jack are there for their own amusement and manipulation. Rentschler and Nolan play beautifully off each other and the surrounding cast of characters spotlight just how ridiculous the ultra-privileged lifestyle can be. 

Pretty Problems had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.

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