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Nashville Film Festival: Alta Valley

Lupe (Briza Covarrubias) is a hard-working Mexican-Navajo Diné woman just trying to make ends meet and support her family. When her mother Adamina (Paula Miranda) is hospitalized, Lupe will go to any length to acquire the funds needed for a possible life-saving procedure. Her quest to meet her father Carl (Micah Fitzgerald) and ask for his help leads her on a treacherous journey. Along the way she meets Maddy (Allee Sutton Hethcoat), a gun-toting cowgirl who is on the run from a dangerous cartel. The two form an unlikely bond as they join forces on a roadtrip through the Alta Valley.

Written and directed by Jesse Edwards, Alta Valley offers viewers a classic western style thriller as a platform to share the important story of the Diné people (given name: the Navajo). In his director’s statement, Edwards writes “this project is an honest and heartfelt attempt to make an action film, that starts an essential conversation around colonization, land ownership, and reparations toward Native American people.”

Alta Valley can at times be melodramatic and overwrought. However, its bolstered by interesting characters and its effectiveness as a message film. It explores themes of family, greed, language  and land ownership with great respect for the Diné people. It flips the script on westerns of the past while also offering fans of the genre plenty of shoot outs and beautiful cinematography of the vast Utah landscape.

Alta Valley is having its world premiere at the 2022 Nashville Film Festival. Visit the official website for more details on the film.

Echoes of Violence

What starts as an ordinary day for real estate agent Alex (Heston Horwin) quickly spirals out of control. While waiting for prospective clients, he hears gunshots in the distance. By chance he’s able to scare away a hit man, Kellin (Chase Cargill), from killing his target, Marakya (Michaella Russell). Alex ushers Marakya to safety only to discover that now he’s in grave danger. Marakya is a South African woman living in L.A. who unwillingly became part of a dangerous sex trafficking ring that targets young immigrant women. She’s on the run from her immigration lawyer/trafficker Anthony (Taylor Flowers) and his goons and now Alex is too.

Written and directed by Nicholas Woods, Echoes of Violence is an engrossing thriller that will leave you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end. It’s got great performances by the three principal leads (Russell, Cargill and Horwin), interesting characters and the pacing is just right. As the mystery unfolds, we learn more about these characters and their backgrounds. I would have liked to have seen Kellin’s meeting with his father pan out a bit differently. And I was curious as to why Marakya refers to South Africa as just Africa. With that said, the movie gives us just the right amount of background information so we can become emotionally invested in these characters without ruining their allure.

I usually steer clear of human trafficking films because some cross over into the realm of conservative propaganda. Echoes of Violence is not that kind of film and the trafficking mostly serves an impetus for the action. However, some viewers might see it as a thriller with an agenda. I encourage you to put any qualms you might have aside and give this one a try.

Echoes of Violence recently premiered at Cinequest.

Fantasia Festival: The Block Island Sound

Birds are falling from the sky. Fish are floating dead in the water. Electronic devices suddenly stop working. And local fisherman Tom (Neville Archambault)  is having regular blackouts. What is this mysterious force that is causing chaos on Block Island?

Tom’s son Harry (Chris Sheffield) and daughter Audry (Michaela McManus) try to help their dad whose drinking and hallucinations are getting increasingly out of control. Harry’s friend Dale (Jim Cummings) thinks it’s all a government conspiracy and everyone else just thinks Tom has a drinking problem. As Audry begins to investigate, Harry is slowly being taken over by this force and the ghost of his dad guides him further into danger.

Written, co-produced and directed by Kevin and Matthew McManus , The Block Island Sound is a seaside thriller that offers viewers plenty of mystery and a satisfyingly slow build. I wasn’t sure where the story was taking me but I was definitely along for the ride. This film reminded me a little of the seaside horror genre film The Beach House which I reviewed recently but I found The Block Island Sound even more riveting. I appreciate that the film doesn’t offer any answers but does question the role of electronic devices in our lives and how they affect not only our minds but our bodies.

The Block Island Sound premiered at the virtual 2020 Fantasia Film Festival.

Blood On Her Name

Garage owner Leigh Tiller (Bethany Anne Lind) finds herself in an impossibly bad situation. She’s in the possession of a dead body, one she killed herself, presumably in self-defense, and is tasked with getting rid of it. Does she hide the body? Or does she bring it back to his family? Turning herself in is not an option. She’s got too much at stake. There’s her son Ryan (Jared Ivers) who is on probation and trying to be on his best behavior. There’s her father Richard (Will Patton) a local cop with whom she has a toxic relationship. Then there is the garage and her employee Jimmy (Reynoso Dias). But on the flip side there’s the man’s family including his girlfriend Dani (Elisabeth Rohm). As Leigh finds herself torn with disposing the body and returning him to his family, her situation grows more and more dire. How will she get this blood off her name?

Blood On Her Name is a sharply focused thriller that is concerned with the aftermath of a crime rather than the crime itself. The audience doesn’t see the crime occur. We don’t know who the victim is, why he was killed or whether Leigh killed him in self-defense. The film starts with Leigh standing over the man’s dead body, her face cut and bruised and covered with blood. There are no flashbacks but an apparition of Leigh’s younger self does come back to haunt her.

On first viewing, Blood On Her Name felt kind of flat. It grew on me over time. There is some cheesiness especially with the scenes between Leigh and her father. I wish their relationship was explored more thoroughly. The main character’s ambiguity is the biggest draw. Is she a victim or a villain? We don’t really know and Bethany Anne Lind does a great job at keeping the audience guessing. 

Blood On Her Name was directed by Matthew Pope. Pope wrote and produced the film with Don M. Thompson for their new production company Thompson’s Rising Creek Films. This is Pope’s debut feature film.

Blood on Her Name premiered at last year’s Fantasia International Film Festival. It is now available on digital through Amazon Prime, Vudu and Google Play.