“Reparations for slavery hasn’t happened yet, but if it were to happen, are we ready to make demands that include systematic change?”
Director Symone Baptiste
Director Symone Baptiste’s short film Sixteen Thousand Dollars imagines an America in which black people have been paid reparations for slavery. $16,000 in fact. Brother and sister Brodie (Brodie Reed) and Ellington (Ellington Wells) have received their checks in the mail. Ellington has big plans for her $8,000 check (a half payment because she’s only half black) including quitting her job and starting a new business. Brodie contemplates the significance of the reparation and whether the payment is a replacement for real long-lasting change.
Sixteen Thousand Dollars is an introspective film about race, class and the power of money, done to great comedic effect. Audiences will laugh at the chaos that comes with a windfall of cash and pause to think about its serious subject matter. I would love to see Sixteen Thousand Dollars developed into a full-length feature film!
Sixteen Thousand Dollars was screened as part of the virtual 2021 Slamdance Film Festival.
Meryem Lahlou’s short film Bare Bones is a magnificent piece of experimental cinema. It’s a visual masterpiece that in a mere 10 minutes makes the the viewer contemplate the meaning of their own existence. The film begs the question: who are we when we all share the same face? Stripped of everything that gives us our individuality, what kind of existence would that be? In this 3D animated short, we see homogenous creatures in motion, moving about in minimalist spaces. A disembodied voice dissects the human experience.
The filmmaker was inspired to tell a story about identity. In her director’s statement Meryem Lahlou writes
“I chose to put humanity in a hostile and extreme context, where the earth has lost its abundance, where plastic is the most available resource, where the collective consciousness is reduced to survival.”
This film gave me serious Fritz Lang vibes. I couldn’t help but think of Destiny (1921) and Metropolis (1927). The visuals in Bare Bones are absolutely stunning. Watch it once as a meditation and a second time as art.
Bare Bones was screened as part of the virtual 2021 Slamdance Film Festival. Learn more about the film here.
It’s never too late to follow your dreams. This message comes across loud and clear in the new documentary Morgana. Directors Isabel Peppard and Josie Hess follow Morgana Muses, an Australian kink performer and free spirit, over five years as she navigates through a new phase in her life. Morgana had always craved intimacy, touch, warmth and connection. She suppressed her sexual desires when it was imposed upon her to play the part of model daughter and wife. Morgana did everything she was supposed to do. She got married, had children and played the part. But then came a mid-life crisis. Morgana broke free from her unhappy marriage and decided it was time to live life on her terms. The 50-something has been on a journey ever since, finding the connection she so desperately craved and using her new found sexual freedom to express her creativity. The film follows Morgana as she poses for styled photoshoots, directs pornographic movies and connects with others in the kink community and beyond.
Morgana is a sex-positive documentary that will inspire viewers to break out of their emotional prisons and explore new possibilities. It also coaxes the viewers to contemplate sexual expression as something not only relegated to the young and thin. Morgana wears her voluptuous frame and her age beautifully, despite her nagging self-loathing, and we would do well to learn to appreciate something outside of societal beauty standards.
Morgana is currently screening as part of the San Francisco Indie Fest 2021 through February 21st.
In her directorial debut, Rebecca Hall adapts Nella Larsen’s novel about race relations in 1920s New York with her film Passing. The film stars Tessa Thompson as Irene, a light-skinned black woman who ventures into the city, passing as white as she runs errands and enjoys tea time at a fancy hotel. At home she lives a comfortable life with her black husband Brian (Andre Holland) and two children. One day she reunites with an old friend Clare (Ruth Negga), who is also passing for white however lives more boldly and is married to a racist white man (Alexander Skarsgård) who has no clue about Clare’s background. Clare is intrigued by Irene’s life in the black community and ventures into the world she left behind. As Clare spends less time passing, she and Irene develop an intense queer connection that threatens to destroy their marriages and possibly their relationship.
Passing is devastatingly beautiful. The film was shot in black-and-white which speaks to the binary set by culture but also makes us think about these constructs are arbitrary. The cinematography is stunning. For those who love the era, there are plenty of visual splendors to take in. The actresses wear gorgeous period appropriate costumes. (I secretly wanted to steal all of Tessa Thompson’s cloche hats).
Thompson and Negga are brilliant as Irene and Clare. Their movements are gentle and methodical; almost like a choreographed dance. Andre Holland delivers a powerful performance as the troubled Brian. The movie is less about passing as it is about the 1920s Harlem Renaissance, queer identity and the segregation of white and black communities. Rebecca Hall, who is mixed race and has some African-American heritage on her mother’s side, offers viewers a stunning film with plenty of food for thought.
Passing premiered at the virtual 2021 Sundance Film Festival as part of their U.S. Dramatic Competition.
Update: Passing will screen in select theaters starting October 27th and will stream on Netflix November 10th.
Wildfires have long ravaged California but 2018 was a particularly bad year. That was when the deadly Camp Fire spread quickly through Paradise, California, causing many residents to flee for their lives. The wildfire engulfed houses, burned vehicles, and killed 85 residents. Those who survived endured the trauma that came with escaping the rapidly encroaching flames. Other fires, including one in Malibu, destroyed homes leaving devastation in their wake. While fingers might point to climate change and gender reveal parties as the root cause, there are many factors involved both natural and man-made.
British director Lucy Walker offers a harrowing look at the 2018 California wildfires by examining the events of that year and the people affected by the disasters in her new documentary Bring Your Own Brigade. Perhaps the most eye-opening aspect of the documentary was how it uncovers the history of the wildfires and how they’ve progressively gotten worse over time. It’s not quite what you expect. The film features interviews with residents of Paradise and Malibu, first responders, and various experts. It unfolds in an organic way which at times can feel disjointed. Essentially we’re following the director as her curiosity about the California wildfires takes her on a journey of discovery.
In comparing this film with the Netflix documentary Fire in Paradise (2019), Bring Your Own Brigade offers much more in the way of context and background information to both enlighten and terrify its audience.
Bring Your Own Brigade premiered at the virtual 2021 Sundance Film Festival.