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Woodstock Film Festival: Our American Family

“If 21 million Americans are struggling with addiction, how many family members are struggling alongside them?”

Hallee Adelman

Directed & Produced by Hallee Adelman & Sean King O’Grady, Our American Family is a brutally honest  documentary that gives viewers an inside look into how addiction affects families. 

Nicole is a drug addict who has been in an out of rehab over the years. In fact, she got pregnant in during one stint at rehab and is now leaning on her mother Linda to help her raise her daughter while she goes back for treatment for the tenth time. As the matriarch, Linda feels enormous pressure to not only help Nicole stay on track with her sobriety but also to raise her granddaughter and keep things together on the homefront. Her two grown sons are skeptical that Nicole will recover and are resentful about how much energy is diverted to dealing with their sister’s rollercoaster ride of addiction and sobriety. And to add to the familial strain, Nicole and Linda frequently find themselves butting heads.

Our American Family follows Nicole and her family as they navigate the ongoing repercussions of addiction. There are no interviews, just footage of the family living their day to day. The fly-on-the-wall perspective thrusts the audience right into the center of the evolving tension. This family could be any family in America dealing with the ongoing battle between addiction and recovery.

Our American Family will have its world premiere at the 2021 Woodstock Film Festival. Visit the film’s official website for more information.

Woodstock Film Festival: My So-Called Selfish Life

“I’m childfree and it’s fabulous.”

Marcia Drut-Davis

Women carry the burden of the many expectations society has for them. The biggest one: motherhood. If a woman in her childbearing years decides against having children, she’s considered selfish. In fact, if she makes any reproductive choices at all, including the use of contraceptives and birth control, voluntary hysterectomies or having an abortion, she will be criticized by someone who feels they have a say in the matter. Many women are seen as walking uteruses rather than individuals who have a lot to offer other than giving birth. And those who want children but can’t have them due to many factors, including infertility, socioeconomic inequality and forced sterilization, are often seen as some sort of failure because they couldn’t achieve the goal assigned to them by societal norms. Being childfree or childless can make women feel like outcasts. Or worse. Silenced. 

Childfree — won’t have children

Childless — can’t have children

Written, directed and produced by Therese Shechter, My So-Called Selfish Life gives a voice to the women out there who live their lives without birthing children, whether it was their choice to do so or not. It’s a profoundly important documentary about a subject that is often swept under the rug. Any childfree or childless woman, including myself, who has endured awkward and hurtful conversations with people in their lives about their situation  will feel not only validated but redeemed to hear so many women in similar situations. And for those who cast judgement on others about the idea of maternal regret, they may learn a thing or two about compassion. 

The documentary includes interviews with a variety of experts including doctors, authors and activists. These are bolstered with historical context and pop culture references. Almost every possible approach was taken making this a very thorough exploration on the subject matter. With that said, I wish the film had explored how social media platforms, including TikTok, are being used to openly discuss childfree living but it unfortunately does not.

I can see this documentary doing well through word-of-mouth recommendations, with childfree and childless women sharing it with others to encourage discussion and understanding.

My So-Called Selfish Life premiered at the 2021 Woodstock Film Festival. Learn more about the documentary on the official website.

Fantasia Festival: Ghosting Gloria

30-something bookseller Gloria (Stefania Tortorella) hasn’t experienced an orgasm yet. Tired of sleepless nights caused by her very vocal and very horny upstairs neighbors, Gloria moves into a new place for some peace and quiet. However, it’s occupied by the ghost of the man who died there weeks earlier. And he wants to give Gloria what she’s been missing. When Gloria’s best friend and coworker Sandra (Nena Pelenur) gets curious about Gloria’s newfound glow, Gloria can’t bring herself to explain that she’s hooking up with a ghost. Gloria finds herself at a crossroads when the ghost actually ghosts her, leaving her wondering if satisfaction, both emotional and sexual, can be found in the world of the living or the dead.

“The best player is not the one with the best cards but the one who knows how to best play the cards that were dealt to her.”

Written and directed by husband-and-wife filmmaking team Marcela Matta and Mauro Sarser, the Uruguayan film Ghosting Gloria/Muertos con Gloria is a paranormal delight. I love the film’s bookish vibe and the supernatural cunnilingus scenes are quite inventive and fun to watch.  The story does drag on a lot longer than it should. There is a point about an hour in that feels like a natural ending point yet the film continues for another 30 minutes. It felt like 3 television episodes stitched together and I wonder if this would have worked better as a mini-series. I’m glad I kept watching because the actual ending is quite satisfying and solves a visual clue that was presented throughout the film. Definitely check this one out if you can!

Ghosting Gloria/Muertos con Gloria had its world premiere at the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival.

Fantasia Festival: Glasshouse

It’s important that you keep wearing your mask.”

The women of the Glasshouse shield themselves from The Shred, a toxin that permeates the air and robs humans of memories when they breathe it in. The Shred turns its victims into a shade of their former selves. The younger the victim and the fewer memories they have attained, the more they are affected by the toxin.

Bee (Jess Alexander), Evie (Anja Taljaard), Daisy (Kitty Harris) and Mother (Adrienne Pearce) maintain the Glasshouse and its grounds. They work to protect themselves with hooded masks, they seal the Glasshouse from the toxic air, they grown their own fruits and vegetables and they kill, eat, and bury male intruders. The four women are tasked with taking care of young Gabe (Brent Vermeulen), a victim of The Shred who is prone to lashing out.

When The Stranger (Hilton Pelser) arrives on the grounds with a leg wound, Bee takes him in which goes against Mother’s strict rules. The Stranger wins her trust and her desire and takes advantage of this in order to further infiltrate himself into the small world the women have created. He’s as dangerous as The Shred, threatening their livelihoods and sanity. While Bee fails to see this, sharp eyed Evie knows something is not quite right.

Truth isn’t everything.”

Someone has to carry it. Otherwise nothing means anything at all.”

There is a lot to unpack with Kelsey Egan’s dreamy science fiction drama Glasshouse. It’s The Beguiled for the pandemic era taking the concept of strong women who must protect themselves from dangerous men during chaotic. The Beguiled takes place in the Civil War era South and Glasshouse appears to depict the same era but in an alternate world where a pandemic instead of a war keeps the women isolated. The film is introspective with lots of thought put into the importance of memory, the concept of truth, and how replaceable individuals are in a society. It’s difficult to come away from this film and not find yourself deep in thought. I enjoyed the fact that the film offers the right balance of story, character development and information about the pandemic.

Glasshouse is not a remake of The Beguiled, although it does seem to be inspired by it, but rather an original story by South African filmmaker Kelsey Egan and co-writer and associate producer Emma Lungiswa de Wet. According to Egan’s director’s statement:

“the South African philosophy of Ubuntu holds that identity is collective and that ancestral memory shapes the present.  As thought-provoking as it is entertaining, we believe that Glasshouse is a timely film, meeting a societal and market need for challenging, female-driven stories… Glasshouse explores two opposing coping mechanisms to trauma: holding tightly to the past as a form of preservation, and wilful forgetting…”

The film was shot on location at the Pearson Conservatory in St. Georges Park in South Africa and features a South African cast and crew.

Note: only white characters appear in the film.

Glasshouse had its world premiere at the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival.

Check out my reviews for two film adaptations of The Beguiled  (1971) and (2017).

Note to add: Glasshouse will be available on digital July 12th, 2022.

Fantasia Festival: Indemnity

Cape Town firefighter Theo (Jarrid Geduld) is suffering from PTSD after a particularly deadly fire killed his fellow fighters and left him sidelined. He’s put into psychotherapy and on psychotropics to deal with his persistent nightmares and in hopes that he may get back on his feet. His journalist wife Angela (Nicole Fortuin) is contacted by  Sam Isaacs (Abduragman Adams) a whistleblower who is determined against all odds to uncover a political conspiracy that seeks to take over all the governments in Africa. Theo is on the books as a potential pawn for these conspirators. Soon Theo finds himself on the run from the police for a murder he’s positive he didn’t commit. Was he framed? Or did one of his violent nightmares cause him to do something he didn’t mean to do?

Written and directed by Travis Taute, Indemnity is an edge-of-your-seat thriller that puts the effects of trauma front and center. It offers psychological drama  coupled with some great action sequences. Jarrid Geduld offers a multi-dimensional performance offering the audience a damaged and empathetic hero that we can easily root for.

As someone who suffers from PTSD, I was intrigued by how Taute presented  the disorder throughout the story. It’s consistently part of Theo’s story and becomes a critical plot point in the climax of the film. It’s unclear if the movie is criticizing psychotherapy or  using it simply as a plot device. That’s up to the audience to decide.

Indemnity had its world premiere at the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival.

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