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Slamdance: The Ritual to Beauty

“What happens to brown girls who never learn who to love themselves brown?”

Dominicans have a long and tortured relationship with their hair. As a Dominican-American woman I know this all too well. My mother and grandmother were both hairstylists who specialized in relaxing Dominican hair to a more culturally appealing state.  Wearing one’s hair “natural” was looked down upon. The pain of not being something acceptable and having to change yourself to fit an aesthetic is passed on from generation and the harm lingers for years.

This is why I’m grateful for the precious gift that is The Ritual of Beauty (2022). Directed by Shenny De Los Angeles and Maria Marrone, is a short documentary that sheds light on the social custom of straightening hair and how it keeps Dominican women from loving themselves. The doc focuses on a young Dominican woman who is on a journey to embrace her natural hair. And in doing so, she examines the stories of her mother and grandmother whose different relationships with their own hair spoke volumes of what they thought about themselves. The doc is haunting and poetic and revealing. A truly amazing film.

The Ritual to Beauty was part of the 2022 Slamdance FIlm Festival line-up.

AFI Fest: Love, Dad/Milý Tati

Any woman who has grown up in a culture that prizes male heirs over female children know all too well the pain of being a father’s disappointment. Diana had a great relationship with her Vietnamese father during her childhood in the Czech Republic. However, when, after three miscarriages, her mother finally got pregnant again, their relationship came to an abrupt end. Diana’s father left the family, looking to start again in hopes of continuing the bloodline with his name. 

Love, Dad/Milý Tati is a heart-wrenching short film about a young girl who remembers her dad and the bond they had before it was cruelly taken away. It’s beautiful, poetic and deeply melancholic. Directed by Diana Cam Van Nguyen, it tells the story through letters, memories and gorgeous cut paper art.

I was quite moved by this 13 minute film. I’m the third of a string of daughters born to a man who desperately wanted a son. I was lucky that my father never expressed any form of disappointment in only having daughters but I did feel the pang of guilt when the family name died with him. 

Love, Dad/Milý Tati premiered at the 2021 AFI Fest as part of their Shorts Competition.

AFI Fest: Meltdown in Dixie

The confederate flag flies boldly in front of Edisto River Creamery & Kitchen in Orangeburg, South Carolina. In a time when other markers of the South’s confederate past were being torn down, the owner of the creamery sought to take down this confederate flag. However, the flag pole and its commemorative marker sit on a tiny plot of land owned by a vocal member of a local Sons of the Confederacy chapter. Meltdown in Dixie is a short documentary directed by Emily Harold, chronicles the legal battle that ensued between the flag opposer and the flag owner. The creamery is now permanently closed but during filming it was open and struggling with backlash from the local community. The documentary treads very carefully, not casting judgement on either side and giving everyone a platform to speak. If anything it offers an insight into a disturbing mindset that still persists today.

Meltdown in Dixie premiered at the 2021 AFI Fest as part of their Meet the Press programming.

AFI Fest: Golden Age Karate

From a very young age, Jeff Wall showed that he had the chops to be an athlete. When his mom enrolled him in karate classes he thrived. He won pretty much every competition he entered into and quickly moved up the ranks to earn his black belt. It wasn’t enough to just compete, he wanted to share his love with others. In Sindha Agha’s short film Golden Age Karate, we see Wall teach karate to elderly residents at a local nursing home. He empowers his students by teaching them something new and helping them get in tune with their bodies. This delightful and heartfelt documentary short is a glimmer of hope in an era of generational strife.

Golden Age Karate premiered at the 2021 AFI Fest as part of their Meet the Press programming.

Double Exposure FIlm Festival: Unrelinquished

Directed by Amina Waheed, Unrelinquished investigates how a lax justice system allows for perpetrators of domestic violence to carry otherwise illegal weapons. In 2018,  22 year Jazmine Willock was found dead in her Tucson, Arizona home. She was the victim of a murder-suicide enacted by her abusive boyfriend. Jazmine is one of many domestic violence victims that die by armed abusers. Waheed’s short documentary examines Jazmine’s case and how others like her are caught in a system that doesn’t fully protect them. The film includes conversations with Jazmine’s mother and sister, a spotlight on another similar case and breaks down the flaws in the justice system. In a time when Gabby Petito’s murde,  and the domestic violence that led to it, has caught national attention, Unrelinquished serves an important role in shedding light on how the system continues to fail these women.

Trigger warning: this film includes crime scene photos, descriptions of domestic violence and audio of Jazmine recounting her boyfriend’s abuse to the police.

Unrelinquished was part of the 2021 Double Exposure Film Festival’s Short Cuts program.

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