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Slamdance: Underdog

For three decades Doug Butler, a dairy farmer from Middlebury, VT, has dreamed of one thing: to race sled dogs in Alaska. Directed by  Tommy Hyde, the documentary Underdog chronicles Doug’s journey to the Open North American Championship in Fairbanks, Alaska and his struggles in keeping the nearly 100 year old dairy farm going. Doug Butler is a great subject for a documentary. He’s passionate about what he does, charismatic and deeply cares about his animals and his family business. You can’t help but root for him and also mourn his losses. Underdog is a truly heartfelt documentary offering up heaping doses of melancholy and joy.

Underdog is part of the 2022 Slamdance Film Festival.

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.

Slamdance: Retrograde

When a misunderstanding leads to a traffic violation, Molly (Molly Reisman) is determined to contest the $300 ticket. But soon things start to spiral out of control. Everything she move she makes, albeit well-intentioned, put a strain on her home and work life. And when her new roommate Gabrielle (Sofia Banzhaf) refuses to serve as a witness despite being present during the traffic stop, Molly begins to lash out.

If you’ve ever felt like the odds have been stacked against you, then this film is for you. Directed by Adrian Murray, Retrograde is a study in neurosis and those microaggressions that drive us crazy. Molly is both a sympathetic and annoying character. She’s overly sensitive, anxious but absolutely valid in her feelings. The people around her refuse to be called out on their bullshit making her journey even that more frustrating. Added to the story is the theme of astrology which is a catalyst for debate among the characters.

Retrograde premiered at the 2022 Slamdance Film Festival.

Slamdance: cosboi

Directed by Gosha Shapiro (they/them), cosboi is a short film that follows the story of a genderqueen teen who goes on a journey of self-discovery through TikTok and anonymous Uber-type rides. Through the power of the For You Page on TikTok, the teen is inspired by advice and wisdom to venture out and practice new forms of themselves in conversation with rideshare drivers. This film beautifully demonstrates a pivotal time in a teen’s life when they are discovering who they are through self-reflection, media consumption, practice and rebellion.

cosboi premiered at the 2022 Slamdance Film Festival.

Slamdance: Paris is in Harlem

“Jazz is the soundtrack of New York.”

The year is 2017 and the Cabaret Law is still in effect in New York City. Enacted in 1926 during Prohibition, the law states that any business serving food and drink must pay for a license in order to also allow their patrons to dance. This prohibitive law proved to be inherently racist as it hurt minority run businesses in poorer neighborhoods, especially those who couldn’t afford the fee. And now the days of this obscure but hurtful law are numbered.

Written and directed Christina Kallas, Paris is in Harlem takes place during the final days of the Cabaret Law. It follows various characters, all of whom eventually visit the Paris Blues, a legendary Jazz bar in Harlem once run by Samuel Hargress Jr. to whom the film is dedicated. Much like with Kallas’ film The Rainbow Experiment, Paris is in Harlem employs split screens, cuts and varying perspectives to offer the viewer a multi-character mosaic. While there are many storylines, everything is anchored by the ongoing angst caused by institutional racism, the threat of gun violence, cancel culture and the Cabaret Law. Even tackling these heavy subjects, Paris is in Harlem is a film brimming with hope and joy. It serves as a reminder the power of community and human connection.

Paris is in Harlem premiered at the 2022 Slamdance Film Festival.

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