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SXSW: The Fallout

For Vada (Jenna Ortega), it was just an ordinary day at her high school. After a false alarm from her younger sister Amelia (Lumi Pollack), Vada hangs out in the bathroom with fellow student Mia (Maddie Ziegler), a beautiful Instagram dancer. They catch each other’s eye but that moment of flirtation is ripped away from them when they hear gunshots. A shooter causes chaos in the school, killing some and injuring others. Vada and Mia’s lives will never be the same again. After the shooting, Vada spends her days avoiding school, drinking with Mia, getting high and going to therapy. Her parents Patricia (Julie Bowen) and Carlos (John Ortiz) try their best to give Vada space to recover. But how do you life your life after such a traumatic event?

Directed by Megan Park, The Fallout is a coming-of-age story that will ring true for many young people who unfortunately have suffered through this kind of trauma. Mass shootings are a reality of American life and despite what your thoughts are on gun control, it’s important for us to see how these events affect its victims. The Fallout is a poignant story about one young person’s response to trauma and in the same way it’s a universal tale about growing up, finding yourself and surviving something horrific. Audiences will appreciate the LGBTQ and BIPOC inclusivity.

The Fallout had its world premiere at the virtual 2021 SXSW Film Festival.

SXSW: Introducing, Selma Blair

Directed by Rachel Fleit, Introducing, Selma Blair chronicles the actress’ battle with Multiple Sclerosis, an incurable disease that attacks the spinal cord and brain. Told through interviews, with Selma Blair herself and others, smartphone diaries and Instagram posts, the documentary puts a human face to this terrible disease. Blair was diagnosed in 2018 and has struggled with a variety of health and mobility issues ever since. In the film Blair is candid to a fault. It takes real vulnerability to share this difficult time in her life. She shares with the viewer her struggle with being a mom, her difficult relationship with her mother and her journey to get chemotherapy and stem cell transplants in an effort to slow the progression of her MS. The film is an intimate and revealing portrait of a unique individual faced with an incredible challenge. One can’t help but be inspired by Selma Blair’s resiliency.

Introducing, Selma Blair had its world premiere at the virtual 2021 SXSW Film Festival. It’s slated to stream on Discovery+.

SXSW: Violet

Violet (Olivia Munn) is plagued by self-doubt. The Voice (Justin Theroux) is constantly reminding her of her insecurities, negating anything positive she thinks about herself and is sending her down  path of self-destruction. As a high-powered executive in the film industry, this inhibits her from personal and professional growth and from achieving any form of happiness. It doesn’t help that past traumas, her mother’s neglect, her brother’s disdain and a failed relationship that ended in literal flames, come back to haunt her. The Voice is in constant battle with her self-confidence, which offers Violet little glimmers of hope. There are good things in her life and good people too. Including Red (Luke Bracey), a handsome and understanding screenwriter whose opinion of her far exceeds her own for herself. Women in business, regardless of the industry, have an uphill battle, not only to breakthrough the barriers set by outdated gender norms but to fight against the impostor syndrome that society imposes upon us. Regardless of Violet’s support system of friends and colleagues, she must find a way to tap into that self-confidence and suppress the Voice on her own.

Written and directed by Justine Bateman, Violet visualizes self-doubt in a way that will resonate deeply with audiences, especially women who are often the victims of mansplaining and impostor syndrome. The Voice is presented through a man’s narration which epitomizes how society devalues women. Self-confidence is shown in the form of white cursive writing on screen. This visual-auditory representation of Violet’s thought process was incredibly effective. Bateman has hit a homerun with this brilliant depiction of internal strife and self-destruction and Munn delivers a wonderful performance as the title character.

Violet had its world premiere at the virtual 2021 SXSW Film Festival.

SXSW: Swan Song

Patrick Pitsenbarger (Udo Kier), a retired hairdresser once known as The Liberace of Sandusky, is spending his final days in a nursing home. One day, a lawyer representing Pat’s former client, Rita Parker Sloan (Linda Evans), delivers the news to Pat that Rita has passed on. In her will has requested Pat to do her hair for her funeral and has set aside $25,000 for payment. Given the  fact that Pat still harbors bitter feelings towards Rita, he at first refuses. Many years ago, Rita left his salon for another one, run by Pat’s former protege Dee Dee Dale (Jennifer Coolidge). Pat changes his mind and sets out on an adventure, breaking out of the nursing home and walking down memory lane through Sandusky, Ohio, meeting old friends and making new friends along the way. Pat knows this is his swan song; the very last time he’ll be able to live his life on his terms.

Directed by Todd Stephens, Swan Song is a celebration of individuality and gay identity. According to Stephens the film is inspired by a real person he met in Sandusky and serves  a “love letter to the rapidly disappearing gay culture of America.” Udo Kier is an absolute delight. Even when the plot begins to wander, Kier’s portrayal of Pat keeps us grounded, engaged and interested in what will happen next. I thought it was a misstep not to include more information or a few flashback scenes of Pat’s deceased partner David. You’ll easily find yourself emotionally invested in this story and its characters.

Swan Song had its world premiere at the virtual 2021 SXSW Film Festival.

Update: Swan Song releases in theaters August 6th and on demand August 13th.

SXSW: Soy Cubana

Director Jeremy Ungar and Ivaylo Getov’s new documentary Soy Cubana spotlights four talented women as they travel from Cuba to the US to perform. It also gives viewers offers a window into modern day Cuba. Vocal Vidas is a Cuban acapella quartet made up of Ana Josefina Hernández (Soprano), Maryoris Mena Faez (Contralto-Bass), Koset Muñoa Columbié (Mezzo-Soprano) and Annia del Toro Leyva (Contralto). Together their harmonies are magical. Through song they share various cultures and traditions and captivate audiences with their dulcet tones. In their native Cuba, the Vocal Vidas make money by selling CDs and through tips. They garnered much attention in 2016 when  short documentary hit the film festival circuit. In 2017, they were invited to perform and a full-length documentary was shot to chronicle their life in Cuba, their application for a Visa and their journey to Los Angeles  where they perform at Mambo’s Cafe, the Vibrato club, and for Grand Performances.

The film lightly touches on the problematic relationship between the US and Cuba. It’s interesting to hear the women gently criticize life in Cuba while also defending their homeland. Soy Cubana is well worth the watch if anything to be captivated by this quartet of resilient women. Be prepared to get up and dance. There is plenty of wonderful music to enjoy.

Soy Cubana hd its world premiere at the virtual 2021 SXSW Film Festival.

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