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Sundance: Last Flight Home

Documentary filmmaker Ondi Timoner has given us all a precious gift with her deeply personal film Last Flight Home. Her father Eli Timoner is the focus of this moving documentary about dying with dignity. He was the co-founder of Air Florida and with his wife Elissa they raised three children. A stroke in the early 1980s left Eli disabled. With the prejudice that came with a noticeable disability and some bad luck, Eli and his family eventually went bankrupt. Eli held onto the shame of this for many years. And for the last few weeks of his life, his family helped guide him in his journey to release this shame and to realize that his great success was the love he both gave and received.

Last Flight Home follows Eli and his family during his time at home in hospice. Because the family was based in California, he was able to opt for death with dignity so that he could pass away on his own terms. Timoner generously lets the viewer in, allowing us to feel like we are part of this very loving family. Death is a difficult subject to tackle but the more we know, the more we’re empowered to help each other and to help ourselves in this last journey in life. I’m not sure I’ve ever been as moved by  a documentary as I have with this one. Thank you to the Timoner family for letting us be part of Eli’s last flight home.

Last Flight Home premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance: Alice

“Doing the right thing is never wrong.”

Alice

Alice (Keke Palmer) has caught the eye of tyrant plantation owner Paul Bennet (Johnny Lee Miller). He teaches her to read and favors her but will not allow her to marry a fellow slave. When her love Joseph (Gaius Charles) tries to escape, Alice lashes out. After enduring a brutal punishment, she escapes through a secret portal in the woods traveling from antebellum Georgia to the early 1970s. She’s found by the side of the road by truck driver Frank (Common) who takes her in and shields her from potential internment at a sanitarium. Alice discovers what the world is like decades later, an improvement from her previous life but with progress still needing to be made. She must find the courage in herself to help her family back home and to inspire Frank to rediscover his activist roots.

Directed by debut filmmaker Krystin Ver Linden, Alice is a highly rewarding time-travel drama.  Keke Palmer is superb in the title role. Time travel elements are tricky but I found that Palmer did great job conveying the fish-out-of-water experience while also demonstrating her characters inner strength. Excellent performance by Johnny Lee Miller is truly terrifying in his role. This is sure to be a crowd pleaser especially when through Alice’s POV we get to fight back with her. There are several references in the film to Pam Grier and her character Coffy. The film is set and shot in Georgia which gives the film a great southern Gothic vibe. The soundtrack features some wonderful 1970s jams.

Alice premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance: The Mission

Directed by Tania Anderson, The Mission follows a group of young Mormon missionaries as they travel to Finland to proselytize. The missionaries work in twos of the same gender, a way to protect each other but also maintain purity and keep tabs on each other. The film follows the young  elders and sisters as they struggle to learn Finnish, deal with resistance from the locals and connect with other Mormons. 

Anderson’s documentary is very straightforward. There are no formal interviews, no narration, no history lessons, no opinion or debate. The Mormon missionaries are presented in a way that is enlightening and respectful. Sometimes you just need the subjects to tell their own story and Anderson recognized this and gave the missionaries space to do so.

As someone who used to be in a religion that put emphasis on proselytizing, I really felt for the elder who had to cut his mission short because he was suffering from panic attacks. I went through the same thing and I hope he’s able to find help and an escape from his situation.

The Mission premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance: Piggy

13 year old Sara (Laura Galán) is incessantly bullied by her peers because of her weight. On a hot summer day, after helping her dad out at his butcher shop, she heads over to the pool to cool off. There she endures harassment by the local girls who call her “Piggy” and stealing her backpack and shoes. When she makes the treacherous walk back home, she witnesses a mysterious stranger kidnaping the three girls who only moments ago were tormenting her. This man has been killing random people in the area but has a particular interest in punishing the people who hurt Sara. She’s conflicted by the attention given to her by this man and whether to help the local community find the girls before it’s too late.

Written and directed by Carlota Pereda, Piggy is enjoyable light horror with some problematic elements. It’s based on the short film by the same name released in 2018. It expands the story into a full length horror film. It reminded me greatly of the last 20 minutes of Catherine Breillat’s 2001 film Fat Girl. Both feature heavyset 13 year old girls who are favored by a much older serial killer and must endure the trauma of not being accepted because of their appearance. 

In Piggy, the actress playing Sara is in her mid 30s yet the character is 13. The age difference is very apparent and we have to really suspend our disbelief in order to buy that the character is a pre-teen and not a grown woman. Also, there were a couple of scenes in which Sara devours junk food. These do not serve the plot whatsoever and could have easily been removed to avoid reinforcing stereotypes.

Piggy premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance: The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future

Nature sings in Francisca Alegría’s magical realism film The Cow Who Sang a Song into the Future. Magdalena (Mia Maestro) has emerged from the waters where she committed suicide many years ago. She visits the members of her family who all have different reactions to seeing her. Magdalena doesn’t speak but brings an energy with her that sparks electricity and makes the cows, the bees, the fish and other elements of nature sing beautiful music. While herr family is confused by her presence, Magdalena offers no closure; just reconnection.

This hauntingly beautiful Chilean fable reminds us that we are one with nature and we must protect it. It’s not a film to make sense of. Rather one to simply experience.

The Cow Who Sang a Song into the Future premiered at the 2022 Sundance FIlm Festival.

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