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SXSW: I’ll Meet You There

“The yearning of the dance was the yearning of the spirit to be reconnected with god.”

Written and directed by Iram Parveen Bilal, I’ll Meet You There is a moving portrayal of a family trying to reconnect with each other. The story follows three generations of a Pakistani-American family living in Chicago. Majeed (Faran Tahir) is a city cop tasked with investigating the local mosque’s potential terrorist ties. It’s a great opportunity for his career but it also means he’ll have to bridge the divide between himself and his faith while also betraying his community. Majeed is a widower trying to raise his teenage daughter Dua (Nikita Tewani) on his own. Dua is a dancer, something she inherited from her mom, who teaches dance at a local nursing home and is preparing to audition for Julliard. But as she connects with her Muslim faith she realizes that her culture and passion for dance are at odds with each other. She takes private lessons with her aunt Shonali (Sheetal Sheth) to learn the dance style her mother used to perform. Dua must hide her freer lifestyle from her grandfather Baba (Qavi Khan). Baba has been estranged from his son Majeed since the death of his daughter Fatima, Dua’s mother. Baba’s traditional ways are at odds with Dua’s more modern lifestyle and Majeed finds himself in the middle of a contentious family dynamic. At the heart of it all is their love for each other which transcends the generational divide.

“I’m a better filmmaker and human being because this film exists; by its existence, this project is questioning mainstream discourse on Muslim American identity, immigrant assimilation and the question of nationalism.”

Iram Parveen Bilal

I’ll Meet You There is a heartfelt film with complex characters who grow and change as the story progresses. It’s a sweet, sensitive film that adeptly explores all the nuances of Pakistani culture and the Muslim community. For Pakistani-Americans it offers a mirror and for everyone else a window into a culture that is not our own. I’m drawn to films like this one that explore the family dynamic and how individuals forge their own destinies. I highly recommend I’ll Meet You There to anyone who wants to broaden their horizons or just wants a sincere family tale.

I’ll Meet You There was set to premiere at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival. 

SXSW: Figurant

A middle-aged man (Dennis Levant) sees workers line up for a day job. Not knowing what the job is but eager for some paying work, he lines up with them. He signs in and is asked to remove all of his clothes and dress up in an old military uniform. A make-up artist puts a fake scar filled with blood on his forehead. A prop guy gives him a holster and rifle. The group of men head out into a field. The man’s scar begins to bleed and the shots begin to fire. What exactly did he get himself into?

“Short film is a full-fledged format that can capture and point out something that would not work on a feature scale.”

Jan Vejnar

Directed by Jan Vejnar, Figurant is a short drama from Czechia about curiosity, expectation and disappointment. It’s 13 minutes and 45 seconds long and holds its mystery long enough to engage the audience even though we figure out pretty quickly what’s going on. It’s expertly choreographed, especially the battle scene where we witness a POV shot that’s unlike anything I’ve seen before in a film.

Figurant was set to have its US premiere at the SXSW film festival. You can get updates on the film over on the official Instagram page.

NewFest: All We’ve Got

Lesbian spaces are on the decline. Bars, bookstores and community centers have been closing. What has worked for the lesbian community in the past no longer seems to work now. The language connected to inclusion has shifted and changed. But for queer people in general, a physical space where the community can gather to not only feel safe but to thrive is absolutely crucial.

Director Alexis Clements new documentary All We’ve Got, explores the history behind lesbian spaces with a focus specifically on a selection of existing ones that continue to serve the community and why they have stuck around. The spaces include a lesbian bar in Oklahoma City, The Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn, a community center in San Antonio, a cafe theatre in New York City and the Trans Ladies Picnic gatherings that happen nationwide.

With each story we learn why these spaces are important, why they fade out and what can be done to help them continue to serve future generations. The viewer spends time not only observing these spaces but hearing from the people who run them. It’s a fairly intimate documentary and broaches a subject that is not only important but timely. The film overall is fairly unpolished and rough around the edges and sometimes noticeably so. I’d love to see this documentary picked up by PBS where I think would be the perfect home for it.

All We’ve Got recently premiered at Newfest in New York City.

TIFF: A Herdade

Courtesy of TIFF

The newest film from Portuguese director Tiago Guedes, A Herdade is a sprawling family saga. João Fernandes (Albano Jeronimo) has inherited his father’s grand estate, one of the biggest in Portugal, which includes vast farm lands, a crew of workers and servants and the main house. As the patriarch he rules his family and his subordinates with a firm hand. João fares better with his right hand man Joaquim (Miguel Borges), Joaquim’s wife Rosa (Ana Vilela da Costa) and his communist mechanic Leonel (João Vicente) and than he does with his wife Leonor (Sandra Faleiro) and his kids Teresa (Beatriz Bras) and Miguel (João Pedro Mamede). He has a particularly rough time with Miguel who is already showing signs that he’s not the right fit to become the next patriarch and the tension between the two escalates as the years pass on.

The film starts in 1946 when young João is brought by his father to witness the hanging body of his dead older brother. Then it takes us to the even of the Carnation Revolution of 1974 when a military coup overthrows the current regime which puts Leonor’s parents in danger and puts into question land ownership and worker’s rights. It then fast forwards to 1991 when Teresa falls in love with Antonio (Rodrigo Tomas), Miguel suffers emotionally and mentally from being trapped at his father’s estate and João must come to terms with a great tragedy and a dark secret.

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Courtesy of TIFF

Waves of nostalgia washed over me as I watched A Herdade remembering my father’s estate (which was tiny in comparison) and 1990s era Portugal. I wanted to love this movie but I really only liked it. It’s gorgeously shot, firmly rooted in Portuguese culture and history and all the actors did a wonderful job with their various roles. However the film is overly long (nearly 3 hours) and takes too much time to solve its final dilemma. There is no real plot here. It’s close to a half century in the life of João and the drama only comes from the political strife and dysfunctional family dynamic.

Seeing a Portuguese film is such a rare treat for me. If you have any interest in Portuguese history, clear your schedule and check this one out.

A Herdade had its North American premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival as part of their Special Presentations series.

TIFF: Pelican Blood

Set in the bucolic countryside of Germany, Pelican Blood tells the story of Wiebke, an adoptive mother and talented horse trainer. It’s at her horse camp there that she trains horses and riders for the German mounted police. Wiebke isn’t afraid of a challenge and is determined that Top Gun, her most problematic horse, graduates to the academy even when others doubt her. 

Wiebke is also getting ready to become a mother again. With her adopted daughter Nicolina (Adelia-Constance Ocleppo), they travel to Belgium to adopt a second child, an orphan named Raya (Katerina Lipovska). Everything seems to be fine until Raya start exhibiting some increasingly strange and frightening behaviors. Wiebke learns that Raya has reactive attachment disorder and feels very little to no fear or empathy. As Raya’s behaviors start to spiral out of control, putting the family in grave danger, Wiebke tries everything she possibly can to rehabilitate Raya. This puts a strain on her relationship with her daughter Nicolina and her love interest Benedikt (Murathan Muslu) one of Wiebke’s trainees. As Wiebke looks for a solution, will she have to sacrifice her work and a chance at happiness to save Raya?

“When you take a journey you can come back changed.”

Directed by Katrin Gebbe, Pelican Blood is an understated and terrifying movie. It’s frightening to not only see the effects of Raya’s psychosis but the lengths that Wiebke will go to help Raya. The term “pelican blood” refers to the sacrifice of motherhood which for Wiebke comes at a greater cost having chosen to be Raya’s mother. At the beginning of the film we learn of the legend where a pelican mother pierces her breast and feeds her dead chicks her own blood to bring them back to life.

The third act takes a strange turn which brings the conflict to its resolution. It’s not something I expected but I don’t know how else the story could have been resolved. I was particularly intrigued by how Wiebke’s scar becomes its own character in the movie. It’s very prominent on her face, changes in appearance and then disappears. We never learn exactly where she got it from but it’s assumed that it was from an encounter with an unruly horse. There are plenty of tender moments between Wiebke and Nicolina and also her sweet romance with Benedikt. These help balance out the tension with Raya.

I really hope Pelican Blood gets distributed in the US. It’s a fine film, very inventive in its storytelling and its solutions, offers fine performances and is enjoyable as both a dark family drama and a pseudo-horror flick.

Pelican Blood had its North American premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival as part of their Special Presentations series.

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