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!
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:
Films Directed by Women: 9 (out of 15)
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
Directed by Patricia Ortega
Starring Lucia Bedoya, Belkis Avilladares, María Elena Duque
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!
Principal Cast: Laura Tobón, David Escallón, Carlos Fonnegra, Christian Tappan, Julián Giraldo, Natalia Castaño, Margarita Restrepo
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!).
Directed by Ben Asamoah
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.
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.
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!
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.
“The only way I’m going to survive is if I become like them. If I fit in.”
On November 27th, 2000, 10 year old Damilola Taylor, a Nigerian British boy was murdered. Cornelius Walker was the same age and same skin color as Damilola. Walker’s mom feared for her son’s safety and the family moved away from London and into Essex. Unfortunately for Cornelius, he faced relentless racism by white supremacist kids in his new neighborhood and school. When things escalated to violence, Cornelius decided enough was enough. He needed to fit in. Then began his transformation. He changed his clothes, learned how to speak like the locals, straightened his hair, bleached his skin and wore blue contact lenses. The white kids accepted him as one of their own but it came at a great cost.
Black Sheep is directed by Ed Perkins and distributed by The Guardian. The documentary begs the question: what lengths would you go to fit in? For Cornelius the joy in acceptance came with the shame of how it was achieved. His story is told through an extended interview with Cornelius Walker and reenactments of the scenes performed by Kai Francis Lewis. This is a compelling documentary about a difficult subject. It strips Cornelius’ story down to its basics. This is not about Damilola Taylor or about white supremacy in England. This is simply the story of a young black man struggling with identity due to this tremendous hatred he faced simply because of the color of his skin.
Black Sheep is nominated for a 2019 Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject).
When it comes to cursed families, a few names come to mind: the Kennedys, the Grimaldis, the Hemingways, Bruce and Brandon Lee. Now add to that list the Beksinski family. Famous in their home country of Poland, the Beksinski family included: Zdzislaw Beksinski, a celebrated Polish artist known for his macabre paintings and sculptures, his son Tomasz, a well-known radio presenter, movie translator and journalist, and his wife Zofia, the devoted matriarch who created a balance in a household with two very eccentric figures. Tragedy first struck the family in 1988, when Tomasz survived a plane crash which left one person dead and many injured, including himself. The experience left Tomasz, who was already prone to depression, shattered. A decade later, another blow to the family came with the sudden death of Zofia. A year later, on the eve of Y2K, Tomasz committed suicide. His father found his body. The final and most brutal tragedy of the Beksinski’s family story came in 2005 when Zdzislaw was stabbed to death over a dispute with a teenager about a small loan.
“I’ve started to use my camera as a diary, because I’m too lazy to write it.”
Needless to say that the story of the Beksinskis ended with great sorrow. When Zdzislaw died, he left behind hours and hours of home video footage. Everything from personal conversations, footage from art shows, family trips, important and mundane moments in the life of the Beksinkski tribe were all recorded. Fascinated by technology, Zdzislaw decided to forego the route of a traditional diary to create a video archive instead. Director Marcin Borchardt spent three years sifting through 300 hours of archival footage and the result was his documentary: The Beksinkis: A Sound and Picture Album. This living scrapbook is a portal into their world. In the era before social media, these recording were not fabricated for public consumption. According to Borchardt, this is what makes Zdzislaw’s footage so authentic. No one is putting on a show. The viewer is drawn into an intimate space where the Beksinskis have have deep conversations, especially about their son’s depression.
“I’m finished. I’m a wreck. I’m no good for anything any more.”
Borchardt’s documentary offers a compelling portrait of a creative and tortured family. It reminded me of Sophie Fiennes’ documentary Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami which is entirely comprised of home video. However, I found Borchardt’s approach a lot more engaging. It does require some patience of the viewer to sit through stitched footage to make sense of what we’re being shown. The upside to this documentary is that while there is no real context provided, Zdzislaw narrated a lot of his footage so we hear the story of the Beksinksis through his words.
The Beksinskis: A Sound and Picture Album had it’s US premiere at Slamdance 25.
A man drives down a slip road into the woods. With him inside the vehicle is a mysterious creature. They exchange no words. The car stops when the man encounters children, all dressed in white,who proceed bang on the car from the outside. Once they disappear, he makes his way through a group of adults who are partying in front of a bonfire. The creature is waiting on the other side of a muddy pond. It’s time for the man to fulfill his end of the bargain with the creature and continue his journey.
Slip Road is an ominous and mysterious short film that begs the viewer to extrapolate their own meaning from the series of events in the story. I saw the film as a metaphor for creation and sacrifice. The slip road and the children represent a birth. It’s also the first sacrifice the man must make. He must ignore the children, and the prospect of being a father. He then makes his way through the party but choses not to participate. When he brings a sacrificial offering to the creature, a baby wrapped in a white blanket, the creature drowns him and another version of the man appears. To me this represented more sacrifice. The man must abandon the party life if he wants to fulfill his end of the bargain with the creature and become a creator. I also reinterpreted the whole film as the abandonment of one way of living in order make way for another.
Slip Road was written, produced and directed by Australian filmmaker Raphael Dubois. It stars Izaak Love as the man ‘Wendell’ and Sohaib Zaman as the creature. There is no dialogue but some powerful yet quiet performances from the two stars. It’s beautifully shot with stunning imagery. I was very excited to see this after watching the trailer and it was even more mysterious than I expected.
Slip Road premiered at Slamdance 25 as part of the Anarchy Shorts series.