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SXSW: I Will Make You Mine

Rachel (Lynn Chen), Erika (Ayako Fujitani) and Yea-Ming (Yea-Ming Chen) have one thing in common: Goh Nakamura. All three women have romantic ties to the singer-songwriter. Rachel lives a cushy life with her wealthy caucasian husband. His marital indiscretions sour the relationship and Rachel rekindles her feelings for her childhood friend. Erika is a professor and Goh’s ex-wife. They have a daughter together, Sachiko (Ayami Riley Tomine), and the two are reunited when Erika makes arrangements for her father’s funeral. Yea-Ming is a free spirit. Like Goh, she’s a singer-songwriter. She’s been trying for years to make it in the music business and she gets some inspiration from Goh when he’s back in town.

I Will Make You Mine is a beautifully sensitive and lyrical film. It explores the deep emotional bonds of the past and how they can be reignited years later. The film was written, produced and directed by Lynn Chen who also stars as Rachel. It was shot in black-and-white and is Chen’s debut as a screenwriter and director of a feature film. Music is an important part of the film and both Goh Nakamura and Yea-Ming Chen (who play versions of themselves) perform. Yea-Ming sings a beautiful rendition of the title song and the credits roll with Goh performing a touching acoustic number.

“The feeling I most want to share with I Will Make You Mine is hope. Hope that it’s not too late to be the person you dreamed you would be.”

Lynn Chen

I Will Make You Mine was set to have its world premiere at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival. Gravitas Ventures is releasing the film on demand and digital on May 26th. You can pre-order the film on iTunes.

SXSW: Good Ol Girl

“Texas is the place where so much of the entire West was born. There is that sense of freedom. And it has to do with ownership of space.”

Joyce Gibson Roach, Folklorist and author of The Cowgirls

Directed by Sarah Brennan Kolb, Good Ol Girl explores the struggle between long-held traditions and female independence and the slow fade of rural life. This documentary profiles three cowgirls as they try to forge a life for themselves in a man’s world. These are women who want to show that they can compete with the guys and do what they do but still be a woman in their own right.

Mandy is a rancher who raises beef cattle and bison. She’s religious and firmly traditional. She struggles with the internal battle of opposing desires: to thrive as an independent business woman and to be a wife and mother. 

Sara is the next in line to run the family ranch. However, she bucks with tradition and decides to pursue her dream of becoming a lawyer. 

Martha desperately wants to work in agriculture but can’t find a job. With the encroaching suburbs, land is far more valuable for housing development than it is for ranching making job options scarce.

“I was born and bred to be a cowgirl.”

Martha Santos

Filmmaker Kolb grew up in Texas and says this about what she observed:

“Strict adherence to ‘traditional’ gender roles, political powerlessness over one’s own body, and the assumption that a woman’s place was safe inside a ranch-style house, permeated the lives around me. Like most women, I discovered that accepting the dissonance between the person you are on the inside, and the face you present to the world, is part of growing up.”

Good Ol Girl effectively demonstrates the struggle these women face to live within the confines of their strictly gendered upbringing while also seeking independence through their respective careers. The documentary felt uneven at times. Mandy’s story was far more interesting. For those of you sensitive to footage of dead animals, there is a particularly jarring scene where Mandy discovers one of her heifers died during childbirth. I still can’t get that image out of my mind.

Good Ol Girl was set to have its world premiere at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival. Visit the official website for more information.

SXSW: Blackheads

“Don’t you ever want to do anything destructive?”

Sophia just broke up with her boyfriend. When she calls up her therapist, Dr. Blady, to discuss the matter, Sophia is hit with some outdated advice about gender roles and romantic relationships. It doesn’t help that she can’t get her mind off of her ex or the huge blackhead on her nose. Sometimes you just need to clear your life of toxic people… and clogged pores.

Watching Blackheads is as satisfying as squeezing a clogged pore and watching all the pus come out. I couldn’t help but connect with the story of a woman struggling with anxiety, a bad therapist and self-destructive tendencies. And for those of you who love to pop a zit, the climax of the film features a glorious stop motion extraction. Blackheads clocks in at 7 minutes and 46 seconds and features stop animation with 2D animation. It’s directed by Emily Ann Hoffman, a fine artist and animator who, according to her website, explores “female sexuality, body and vulnerability through a comedic lens.” I’m definitely impressed with Blackheads and eager to see more work from Hoffman.

Blackheads was set to premiere at this year’s SXSW film festival. Filmmaker Emily Ann Hoffman is making Blackheads available to the public on Vimeo from 3/15 to 3/16. You can watch it here. For more information about Hoffman’s work, visit her online portfolio.

SXSW: Basic

A dumb lil’ ho doing lil’ ho things.

Kaylinn (Georgia Mischak) is basic. She’s pretentious as fuck, has no friends and documents her sad life with endless selfies. Gross. At least that’s what Gloria (Chelsea Devantez) wants to believe as she scrolls through Kaylinn’s Instagram. Gloria is dating Nick (Nelson Franklin) and is participating in the time-honored tradition of projecting one’s insecurities by cyber stalking her boyfriend’s ex. Maybe it’s time for Gloria to get over it? Or maybe she needs to scroll through a few more pictures first?

Basic packs a punch in a mere 3 minutes and 3 seconds. This short is written, produced and directed by Chelsea Devantez who also stars in the film. Basic is relatable in so many ways. For many women dating in the age of social media, there’s so much at stake with our already fragile egos and the pressure to present ourselves in the best possible light. And in the early days of a relationship, building confidence is difficult and takes time. It’s easy to slip and become infatuated with a perceived threat that doesn’t really exist. I’ve been in Gloria’s situation before. I have cyber-stalked a boyfriend’s ex. I have said some things that reveal some deep-seated insecurities and pettiness.

Basic is funny, engaging and endlessly watchable. It was shot over 2 days in LA with a small crew and tiny budget. The production quality is fantastic and I really loved the aesthetics and the film’s soundtrack. All three actors were great but I was especially entranced by Mischak and Devantez’ performances. If you’re on the lookout for a relatable comedy, look no further than Basic.

Basic was set to premiere at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival. It will be released online on 3/19 as part of the Shorts of the Week’s SXSW virtual fest

Update: You can watch Basic over on Vimeo!

SXSW: Finding Yingying

“Life is too short to be ordinary.”

Yingying Zhang

26-year old PhD student Yingying Zhang went missing on June 9th, 2017. After graduating from Peking University, Yingying traveled from China to study Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois. Yingying was full of wonder and hope. She was in a loving relationship with her boyfriend Xiaolin and excited about this new phase in life. She documented those early days in the US in her journal. Mere weeks after she arrived, she made the fatal mistake of getting into a car with a stranger. She had missed the bus and was late for an appointment. A man claiming to be an off-duty cop offered her a ride. Yingying has never been heard from again.

Directed and produced by Jiayan “Jenny” Shi, Finding Yingying is a sensitive portrayal of a young woman with a bright future and a family struggling to come to terms with their loss. The documentary features extensive interviews and footage of Yingying’s boyfriend, parents, brother, aunt and friends as they search for answers and prepare for the criminal trial that would come two years later.  Filmmaker Shi graduated from the same university as Yingying. Although they had never met, when Jiayan heard of Yingying’s disappearance she felt an immediate connection and a strong desire to help. About her filmmaking approach, Shi said:

Finding Yingying was made in a vérité observational filmmaking style… I wanted to allow the audience to feel that they were experiencing the painful and challenging journey along with the family.”

Jiayan “Jenny” Shi

Shi humanizes her subject. As is the case with many true crime stories, violent acts and perpetrators are glorified to satisfy the audience’s hunger for salacious details. This is not the case with Finding Yingying. In fact, this documentary is the complete opposite of that. The majority of the film is focused solely on Yingying and her family. We learn that Yingying was inquisitive, thoughtful and kind. Her parents traveled to the US for the first time to help search for Yingying and held out hope that she was still alive. Shi becomes a living representative of Yingying through this film. She reads segments of Yingying’s diary, bringing her voice to the forefront. Shi said:

“my voice and presence are integrated into the film to show my deep personal connection to Yingying, and my deep desire to tell  her and her family’s story beyond the headlines. I want to preserve her legacy.”

Jiayan “Jenny” Shi

The murderer, fellow PhD student Brend Christensen is given very little attention, as he should be. We learn as much as we need to about the investigation, how the FBI tracked him down with surveillance footage and how they employed his girlfriend to secretly record Christensen. The details of Yingying’s murder are kept to a minimum.

Finding Yingying turns the focus away from the murder and on to the victim, an inquisitive, thoughtful and kind young woman who brought joy to those around her. It’s a beautiful documentary that will make you think twice about how true crime films portray victims.

To learn more information about Finding Yingying, please visit the official website: 

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