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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.

The Power of the Dog

Director Jane Campion is a force to be reckoned with. Her latest film, the sweeping Western The Power of the Dog, is simply put a masterpiece.

Set in 1920s Montana, the film stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil Burbank, a troubled  rancher with a domineering streak. He runs a cattle drive with his brother George (Jesse Plemons) who is the polar opposite of him; a much more subdued and gentle soul. When George falls in love with widow Rose (Kirsten Dunst), Phil’s world seems to be turned upside down. He despises George’s new wife and her slender and effeminate teenage son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee).  Rose turns to alcohol to deal with the turbulent situation with Phil and Peter develops a strange bond with Phil that is ultimately volatile.

Stunningly shot, almost every frame of The Power of the Dog seems like it could be framed and hung up in a museum. There is a brutality to the setting that adds a sense of cruelty to the story and the characters. The landscape is unforgiving and so are the people who exist on it. I love how objects hold power in the story: a cowhide, a paper flower, a  memorial plate, a stack of magazines, etc. This film begs to be watched more than once. 

The characters are fascinating. Phil and Peter’s sexuality is explored in such a subtle yet powerful way.  I particularly enjoyed the performances by Benedict Cumberbatch who gives his role a natural intensity it deserves and Dunst whom we follow so anxiously as her character wallows in despair.

Jane Campion is one of my favorite directors. The Portrait of a Lady (1996), although not considered one of her best, is a personal favorite.  The Power of the Dog is a triumph and I hope we see more from her very soon.

The Power of the Dog is currently streaming on Netflix.

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