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Slamdance: In France Michelle is a Man’s Name

Michael (Ari Damasco) travels back home to visit his estranged parents in the rural countryside. His mother (Olga Sanchez) and father (Jerry Carlton) are still coming to terms with Michael being their transgender son who previously went by Michelle. Michael and his father travel into the city where his father tries to initiate Michael into what he considers the standard right of passage into manhood.

In France Michelle is a Man’s Name is a quiet yet powerful short film about identity and the cruelty of our gender binary culture. Directed by Em Weinstein, the film explores themes of acceptance, understanding and the pressure of societal norms. I was particularly struck by Damacso and Carlton’s performances. They play well off each other. The tension between the two is palpable but so is the unspoken love they have for each other, even if it leads to the father’s misguided actions. 

In France Michelle is a Man’s Name was screened as part of the virtual 2021 Slamdance Film Festival.

Slamdance: Autoscopy

A sound engineer escapes into the Swedish countryside to record nature sounds. On this venture he stumbles upon an abandoned flotation device. After a night of sound mixing and imbibing homemade mushroom tea, he has an out of body experience that is out of this world.

Directed by Claes Nordwall, Autoscopy is a 14 minute short film that speaks to the mystery and magic of nature. It’s more than a short film, it’s an experience. It offers stunning aerial cinematography and out-of-this-world sound effects. The director writes “this short film stands on its own but is also intended as a proof of concept for a feature currently in development.” Now that’s a feature film I would watch!

Slamdance: Workhorse Queen

With the worldwide popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race,  drag queens are having a renaissance. For Ed Popil (aka Mrs. Kasha Davis) getting on to the show was the ultimate dream. It would give him the fame and opportunity to take his career to the next level.

After years of trying to conform to the heteronormative ideal imposed on him by his parents and community, Ed Popil left it all behind in order to go on a journey of self-discovery. He landed in Rochester, New York to start afresh. It was there he developed his drag queen persona, Mrs. Kasha Davis, a sassy ’60s housewife who loves a good cocktail. He became part of the local drag community and with the help of his husband became a personality. But can Ed take his Mrs. Kasha Davis persona to the next level?

Directed by Angela Washko, Workhorse Queen is an intimate portrait of a drag queen’s personal and professional transformation. It documents the ups and downs of Ed Popil’s life and career. It’s themes of being true to yourself and achieving your dreams will resonate with audiences. The film has a positive vibe but avoids being a puff piece by demonstrating the struggles along with the triumphs. A must see for fans of RuPauls’ Drag Race.

Workhorse Queen  premiered at the virtual 2021 Slamdance Film Festival.

Slamdance: CODE NAME: Nagasaki

CODE NAME: Nagasaki is one of the most refreshingly unique documentaries I’ve seen in a long time. The film focuses on Marius K. Lunde, a Japanese Norwegian man as he searches for his mother. When he was five years old, his mother left for her home country of Japan, cut off communication with the family and he never heard from her again. Years later he embarks on a quest to find her and reconnect. Along with his friend, filmmaker Fredrik S. Hana, the two make a documentary about his journey. The film is presented in chapters. Each of these have their own titles as though they were short films stitched together making one feature film. It combines documentary footage along with reenactments and imaginings. These vignettes are a beautiful combination of film noir and Japanese horror and are played out by Marius. He plays the dual roles of film noir detective and the demon that has haunted him for years. Fredrik and Marius travel to Japan to find her and scenes that could not be filmed (or were chosen not to be filmed) are presented with animation.

CODE NAME: Nagasaki is an ingenious documentary. I loved the combination of filmmaking styles. None of it felt gimmicky. Instead, it felt authentic and the film just had this organic flow to it. Highly recommended.

CODE NAME: Nagasaki premiered at the virtual 2021 Slamdance Film Festival

Slamdance: A Brixton Tale

Youtuber Leah (Lily Newmark) is making a film about the London district of Brixton. In her search for the perfect subject she discovers Benji (Ola Orebiyi), a shy young man caught up with the wrong crowd. As their bond grows, Benji neglects his best friend Archie (Craige Middleburg) to spend time Leah. These two are from completely different worlds. Leah is a white woman who lives a life of privilege in her upper class neighborhood. Benji is a black man who lives with his mom in a poorer neighborhood. Leah is fascinated with Benji. Their attraction grows but so does her infatuation with his world. When the manager at the art gallery wants grittier content for Leah’s exhibition, she starts to push boundaries at Benji’s expense.

Directed by Darragh Carey and Bertrand Desrochers, A Brixton Tale is a provocative film about class, race and our societal obsession with documenting everything on video. Newmark and Orebiyi are perfection as the bored rich girl and the shy teen who gets caught in her web. I also enjoyed Middleburg’s performance as the young crack addict whose life is spiraling out of control. The viewer will find themselves fully engrossed in this world. Captivating!

A Brixton Tale had its world premiere at the virtual 2021 Slamdance Film Festival

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