VIFF 2021 Review: Sinkhole

Written by Alexander Reams

62/100

There is always the calm before the storm. Peace before the war, silence before the rooster begins screaming and wakes me up from my lovely sleep, then the ensuing cursing of the rooster and attempting to return to my sleep. The latter being the case of the Korean master of disaster, Kim Ji-hoon’s latest film, Sinkhole. Park Dong-won has saved money for over a decade to buy a nice home for his family in the capital of South Korea, Seoul. Shaking off a few peculiarities the family notices in their new home until this culminates in a housewarming party for the Dong-won family when the building collapses into a pit and those who remain try to survive and escape their new, less than desirable abode. 

The most common issue with disaster films is that the characters never come first, always the destruction and death, which leads to emotionally void films that we never care about unless we turn our brains off. Ji-hoon goes the opposite route here, putting characters and their relationships with one another first, at least for the beginning, however that development is far and beyond better than your average disaster film. Once that first crack in the floor hits nothing but the bare minimum character development follows. An unfortunate reality for the film after that fantastic beginning.

The destruction is well filmed and the visual effects employed are fantastic, better than most superhero films. However, the destruction gets to a point that I never cared when another piece of rubble fell and almost killed a character. I never cared if they survived or not because all of the development was null and void after the building was destroyed. That was Dong-won’s entire goal of the film and it went away all too quickly. The runtime of this film is not too short or too long but misused. Too much time is put towards destruction and the race to survival, instead of actual and meaningful character development. Mismanagement of time just like the mismanagement of where the building was built.

Sinkhole Trailer

Sinkhole was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

VIFF 2021 Review: Maya

Written by Anna Harrison

70/100

Maya starts as the story of a relationship between a tiger, Maya, and her keeper, Mohsen Teyerani, a taxidermist-cum-zookeeper at the Mashhad Zoo in Iran. Mohsen hand-raised Maya as a cub, and home videos reveal her frolicking around his house, playing with his wife and children; eventually, she moved to the zoo, where she and Mohsen have become an odd couple celebrity: he is completely at ease with the tiger, calling to her and petting her like she’s a dog rather than a 300-pound feline. Zoo guests can even get in the cage with Maya as Mohsen looks on.

It’s a simultaneously touching and unsettling sight. Mohsen clearly adores Maya, and she seems to adore him, yet her cage is small, the flooring is concrete, and there is nowhere to hide from the guests; we watch her pace restlessly up and down the fenceline, bright golden eyes glittering. Directors Jamshid Mojaddadi and Anson Hartford, while they give commentary elsewhere in the film, only use the camera to show us this, condemning nothing but allowing viewers to take in the strange dichotomy found in Mohsen and Maya’s relationship: he loves her, but is that love enough? 

Mohsen takes Maya out to the fields of the Caspian Sea for a film, and there she experiences the outdoors for the first time, becoming the first tiger seen in the area for 60 years after the Caspian tigers were driven to extinction. Mojaddadi and Hartford craft some beautiful shots as Maya prowls the grasses, and it’s clear that she is far more comfortable here than her concrete cage. Mohsen knows this too, but knows that she can’t be released into the wild, either, and so they have to go back to the zoo. “If Maya could talk,” Mohsen tells the camera, “she would tell me that I gave her false hope. It was like a short-lived dream. ‘You showed me a whole new world, I got used to it, I learned to love it, then you took it away from me and brought me back to this horrible place.’ These are the things she would say to me, and I wouldn’t know how to answer that.”

After her sojourn to the Caspian Sea, Maya evolves into something else when news of tiger remains found at the zoo comes to light. Suddenly a whole lot more ethical questions pop up, and some of them implicate Mohsen; while he claims innocence, at one point, the phrase “just following orders” arises, which unearths a set of very thorny questions. Questions of power and economics come into play, government employees investigate the zoo and rattle off canned lines about protecting the environment and the animals, and the stress causes Maya to lash out in various ways. While some of these questions were gently posed at the beginning of the film (so gently in fact that you would be forgiven for forgetting these elements, which would have more weight had they been brought up with more frequency), they are thrown into sharp relief here; by and large, Mojaddadi and Hartford leave the audience to come to their own conclusions, and while they occasionally offer their own thoughts, the most effective moments come when they let the camera do the talking. The second half proves more interesting than the first as Maya wades into some moral quandaries, many of which pose tantalizing questions that are left unanswered, but the film proves a quietly affecting piece, even if it’s better at raising questions than addressing them.

Maya Trailer

Maya is was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

Halloween Kills

Written by Alexander Reams

93/100

I love movies. I have since I saw the first Iron Man. Films will sometimes come along and remind me why I love them. David Gordon Green’s follow-up to 2018’s Halloween is one of those films. 

Beginning back in 1978 on the first night Michael came home, we are introduced to a young Deputy Hawkins (Thomas Mann) and his partner Pete McCabe (Jim Cummings). They are hunting Michael after his killings, Laurie has been rescued, and now the hunt continues. Before he returns to his childhood home, Michael runs into a young boy, Lonnie Elam (who will become a surprising lookalike to actor Robert Longstreet). After this encounter, Michael makes it to his home and waits for his next victims to come to him. He is truly an animal, and he hunts like one, why would he go out and risk being seen when he knows they will come to him. Eventually, this comes to pass, with Hawkins and McCabe reaching the house. When they do, one can imagine what happens. We already know Hawkins survives, and Michael is apprehended. 

Jump to 40 years later, a quick recap for those who did not watch 2018’s Halloween. Michael escapes, Laurie is suffering from PTSD, Michael does some stabbing and choking, Laurie, her daughter Karen, and granddaughter Allyson trick Michael and trap him in Laurie’s “Batcave” and light the place up like a Roman candle. That was the end, or until Blumhouse decided to make 2 more sequels. Now all they have to do is have Michael (logically) escape a burning house. 

To my surprise, they took this challenge and conquered it with relative ease. Then made it macabre, beautiful, and horrifying. From Michael’s opening scene, escaping Laurie’s trap and cutting through several firefighters with ease. Gordon Green’s DP from 2018’s Halloween Michael Simmonds returns for Halloween Kills and his skill of blocking horrific, violent set-pieces is showcased once again. The lighting, using the fire as a gorgeous backdrop to show the silhouettes of the firefighters being slain. Making the entire sequence appear like a painting.

After he makes quick work of these firefighters, Michael begins to hunt, presumably for Laurie, who is now in the hospital recovering from the wounds that she received at the end of the previous film. Which was a welcome rush of realism to this franchise, Laurie is not a young woman anymore, she can’t jump back up immediately and go toe-to-toe with Michael again. She needs time to heal, which means in this film she is mostly relegated to the sidelines. While some might be disappointed, I was not, this gave time to other characters who were sidelined in the first film, i.e. Allyson, Laurie’s granddaughter. She takes center stage and shows how great of a performer she can be when she is given the right material. 

Following its 2018 predecessor, Halloween Kills also has something to say about society, and is now even more relevant after its countless delays. The idea of a mob mentality after the majority of 2020 is constantly in the social zeitgeist and here the creatives behind the film took that idea and turned it into Michael being the creator of more monsters and having them destroy the town for him. These survivors of Michael’s attacks and his continued hold on them have poisoned their outlooks on life and their ability to reasonably react to his return to Haddonfield.

Gordon Green and company’s return to the iconic franchise managed to do the impossible, continue the stories set up in the first film, tell a story between the beginning and ends of this trilogy, and deliver even more brutality than the first. With this writer loving the latter aspect the most. With every kill I felt the blood spattering and the force of Michael’s presence crushing my soul with every step he took. The final 15 minutes are some of the best filmmaking of Gordon Green’s career and set up a finale that cannot and should not be missed. Truly the Empire Strikes Back of horror films(or at the very least Halloween).

Halloween Kills Trailer

Halloween Kills is currently available to stream on Peacock and playing in wide theatrical releases.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

The Velvet Underground

Written by Patrick Hao

62/100

Todd Haynes is no stranger to deconstructive takes on legendary rock and roll stars. His short film Superstar, which sees Haynes depict the life of Carpenters singer, Karen Carpenter, using Barbie dolls put him on the map as a filmmaker to watch. He further deconstructs the life of a fictional version of David Bowie and Iggy Pop/Lou Reed hybrid in Velvet Goldmine. It seems particularly apropos that the title takes the word velvet from The Velvet Underground’s influence. With I’m Not There, Haynes deconstructs the persona of Bob Dylan through vignettes that represent his public persona.

All of these projects make Haynes particularly adept to handle a documentary about the esoteric 60’s rock icons, The Velvet Underground in the appropriately titled film, The Velvet Underground. Rather than making a traditional straight forward documentary on the band, Haynes uses the story of the band in order to explore the cultural landscape of downtown New York City in the late 60’s. This was an especially booming time for the arts scenes with folk singers, authors, artists, and filmmakers. It makes sense then that Haynes not only collects voices that knew the band well but also pulled in cultural critics like Amy Taubin and experimental filmmaker Jonas Mekas to give their testament to the arts scene of the time.

Mekas’s appearance in the film looms large as this is his final appearance after his death in 2019. The film is dedicated to him not only in name but in the way that Haynes utilizes a lot of the same techniques Mekas used in his experimental films. Haynes tells the story of the band, its members, and their impact through an impressive array of collages and kinetic images to portray the vibes of the time.

Velvet Underground isn’t a hagiography of any sort in which everything presented is a testament to the band’s greatness. Rather, Haynes allows the music to play continuously throughout, underscoring the information presented. This presentation underlines how much the band was a presence of the time.

The film also presents the two faces of the band, seemingly opposite of each other. Lou Reed was the lyricist who wrote painfully personal songs about his personal depression and insecurity, it’s unclear if his self-destruction was done purposefully to gather material. On the other side is John Cale, the musical experimental impresario whose compositions still feel radical to this day.  

Obviously, the quiet hum of nostalgia, the abundance of artistic creativity, radiates throughout the film. Many of the characters who were there have long been gone. Lou Reed has been dead since 2013. Guitarist Sterling Morrison has been dead since 1995. Periphery figures that were important to the band’s image such as Nico and Andy Warhol have passed as well. But the film does not shy away from the unpleasantness of a mercurial figure like Reed, who would frequently drive the band apart with his demeanor. An all too brief section recounts the rampant sexism of the Avant Garde art scene of the Warhol Factory. If anything, The Velvet Underground is a bit too straight in its presentation as Haynes decided chronologically would be the best way to tell this story. But it seems that Haynes is not necessarily interested in the information presented with this documentary. Rather, he is out to capture a time of artistic creativity that can only become legend. Just as the Velvet Underground band itself has become legend.

The Velvet Underground Trailer

The Velvet Underground is currently available to stream on Apple TV+ and in limited theatrical release.

You can follow Patrick and his passion for film on Letterboxd and Twitter.

The French Dispatch

Written by Taylor Baker

65/100

Yet another Covid belated release bows in theaters this awards season push, nearly two full years since it’s screenplay was available for purchase in France. Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch is now on multiplex screens around the country. With all the formal panache and tweeness Anderson is known and largely renowned for. The French Dispatch is a staggered vignette anthology film that mostly ties together by the end, not unlike The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. The last Coen Brothers film which was released on Netflix in 2018 to mixed reactions from audiences. For Anderson fans The French Dispatch will feel like a familiar experience with plenty of stylings, witticisms, and casting choices that make you feel right at home.

For non-Anderson fans though, the throughline of a narrative expressly about Ennui the word and place may seem more than a bit much. Each part is composed of different elements that are all tonally similar, but largely develop into delightful little offshoot excuses for Anderson to experiment with different subplot arcs. Ranging from kidnapping, shoot outs, high stakes chess, chase sequences, nudity, animation, prison, and “Art”. As one would expect from differing sequences with varied elements some stand out more than others, but each is formally presented with the rigor and exacting visual standards that accompany one’s mind when they ruminate on Wes Anderson.

The opening sequence recounts the founding of a publication in Ennui-sur-Blasé, France called the Liberty Kansas Evening Sun. Pitched as a chance for a young Arthur Howitzer Jr. later played by Bill Murray to get his feet wet in the family business and learn about the world. The subsequent sections are each far more rich and detailed than this opening until we reach the end of the film which acts as a book end to the beginning, this time comprised almost entirely of men and women we’d grown to know over the runtime. The three major segments of the film are:

1. The Concrete Masterpiece which is framed by J.K.L. Berensen played by Tilda Swinton as she recalls the story of an artist in a maximum security prison played by Benicio Del Toro, his muse and prison guard played by Lea Seydoux, Adrien Brody the incarcerated man who discovers and buys Del Toro’s Moses Rosenthaler’s art, as well as a host of other talented actors and actresses. This particular sequence is easily my favorite, and presents some choices that feel new or at least uncommon for Wes.

2. Revisions To A Manifesto written and presented to us by Frances McDormand’s Lucinda Krementz. Revisions To A Manifesto recalls the story of Krementz who lives alone by choice and is unknowingly setup on a dinner date by friends with Christoph Waltz. On her way to the bathroom after some tear gas causes a single tear to begin rolling down her cheek she encounters a young and impassioned Timothée Chalamet. He’d snuck home and into the bathroom to bathe after a hard day fighting the good fight of youthful idealism against the establishment. The segment is mostly conversational and coyly addresses politics, youthful idealism, disillusionment, and the deification of dead youth.

3. The Private Dining Room — of the Police Commissioner presented by Jeffrey Wright’s Roebuck Wright with brief appearances by Liev Schreiber, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, and Mathieu Amalric, as well as others. Consists of a story in which Wright’s character Wright is invited for dinner with the police commissioner played by Amalric for a piece that he has been tasked by Murray’s Howitzer Jr. with for the paper. When the commissioner’s son is kidnapped during their meal it turns into a wry rescue mission story that capitalizes in a delightful if on the nose sequence where Wright digs the last page of the piece out of the trash and Howitzer Jr. tells him that’s the reason to the write the piece.

Anderson reteamed with cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman who has worked on and off with him since his sophomore feature Rushmore. As well as editor Andrew Weisblum who has worked with Aronofsky since The Wrestler. It’s always hard to tell where Anderson’s choices begin and end and where a crafts persons work begins, but the collaboration between these three appeared effortless and seamed together with enough ease that no transitions felt jarring, which isn’t an easy task in anthology films. Though The French Exit lacks the enveloping romanticism I’ve found in my favorite Anderson films it’s an intriguing formal exercise from a master. Luckily the viewing experience wasn’t one of ennui, despite it being our destination.

The French Dispatch Trailer

The French Dispatch is currently playing in theatrical wide release.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

Mass

Written by Alexander Reams

88/100

I still remember December 14, 2012. I had come home from school after a long day at school, then stayed after even more to wait on my mother (who was a teacher) to finish up her preparation for the next day. I remember the drive home, my mother was unusually emotional and I was thinking something had happened with my grandmother, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s and Dementia. When we arrived home I was told to not turn on the TV and wait for my parents. My parents went into a separate room and talked for what seemed like forever to 10-year old me. When they came out they sat me and my brother down and told us what had happened in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. 

At the time I couldn’t even begin to comprehend. Until 5 years later when I experienced that same fear, confusion, anger when there was an incident at my high school and we didn’t know what was going on if we were in any danger, or when we would be able to get out. The worst of it seemed to be the time, the waiting, the not knowing if someone was going to knock down the door and commit this act of violence. Until the aftermath came, and that hit harder than the waiting. This aftermath is what Fran Kranz’s directorial debut Mass meditates on in great strength. 

Going into the film I did not know who was who. I knew who was starring, in fact, that’s what piqued my interest in the film, specifically Jason Isaacs. Even after the film began it took 20 to 30 minutes to fully grasp who was the parents of the victim, and who was the parents of the shooter. Utilizing confusion to put tension into the film from the very first shot. First, we are introduced to Jason Isaacs’ Jay and Martha Plimpton’s Gail. Parked in front of a fence, with what looks like a high school football field behind them. Clearly cementing whose perspective the film is going to be told from. 

Soon after, we are introduced to Reed Birney’s Richard and Ann Dowd’s Linda. The latter of whom immediately thrusts a gift to Gail and then annoyingly apologizes multiple times. After this awkward interaction we spend the rest of the film marinating in this room with these people. There has been a heavy amount of conversation around Ann Dowd’s performance and unfortunately I do not see why. She is overcooking her role for the entire runtime and becomes annoying very quickly. Reed Birney and Jason Isaacs however are the unsung heroes of the film. Their presence is always felt but is never overbearing. 

Fran Kranz’s directorial debut is a quiet film with a loud presence. Not being a film that preaches gun control, but instead looks at the consequences of someone’s actions through their parents. The guilt that the parents feel, the anger, not at the person, but at that person’s parents. Kranz’s writing of all the characters is fantastic, his shot composition and use of lighting helps keep the mood light while the tone is heavy. Assembling a fantastic cast with Birney and Isaacs being the best of them. Hopefully come awards season we will see recognition for one or both of them, as they are more than worthy of the recognition. Quiet films can often be the most profound.

Mass Trailer

Mass is currently playing in limited theatrical release.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

DXIFF 2021 Review: Writing with Fire

Written by Maria Athayde

75/100

Writing with Fire is a “fly on the wall” documentary, directed by Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh, about the women behind Khabar Lahariya, Waves of News in English, India’s only newspaper run entirely by women. This inside look into the women that run the Khabar Lahariya is much more than a story about journalism. It is also a story about social hierarchy, classism, familial relationships, democracy, personal risk, and a woman’s place in the work environment. If you are thinking this is a lot to cover in 94 minutes you are not mistaken. To provide context to their story and situate the viewers the directors use title cards throughout the documentary to try and tell the bigger story behind what we see on screen. At times, this framing device was distracting but it did not detract enough from my overall viewing experience. 

Founded in 2002, in Utter Pradesh, a state in Northern India close to the border with Nepal, we are introduced to the Khabar Lahariya newspaper and the women behind the operation. During the documentary we become most acquainted with Meera Devi, the paper’s chief reporter and later bureau chief. It is through her eyes that we understand how the Khabar Lahariya expanded from a small operation to a paper that now attracts significant following online with over 150 million views on their Youtube channel. Meera emphasizes throughout that she believes in the power of journalism and that journalism is the essence of a democracy. 

This story however is not just a glossy look into the power of journalism. Instead, it is a story of the personal risks associated with the profession. The women of the Khabar Lahariya along with the directors describe the risk associated with this profession in India. One reporter mentions that she is afraid about what her profession could mean to her family and that people question her professional integrity especially when unfavorable stories are published. We see these attacks on screen through comments on Khabar Lahariya Youtube channel that call the journalists names and insult their reporting. Thomas and Sushmit provide a bit more context to the personal risk associated with journalism when they use one of the final title cards for the movie to highlight that over 40 journalists have been killed during the last 20 years in India making it one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists.     

The documentary really excels when it is telling the story about the newspaper and its evolution over its 19 years of existence. The most interesting way the filmmakers capture this transition is the juxtaposition of print journalism and the shift to digital reporting. It was fascinating to see how the majority of the women at the Khabar Lahariya quickly adapted to this transition to digital and capitalized on the potential digital reporting had to allow them to reach a bigger audience and and increase their income. Smartphones became the vehicle through which the women at the Khabar Lahariya told stories that would have most likely have gone unreported if it weren’t for them. 

There is nothing too innovative to see in this documentary stylistically. What sticks with you is the willingness of these journalists to go out there and capture these stories. Overall, this is mostly an inspirational piece of documentary filmmaking about the persistence of women who want to report on a story no matter the risks associated with it.

Writing with Fire Trailer

Writing with Fire was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of what she’s up to here.

Brittany Runs a Marathon

Written by Michael Clawson

30/100

Overweight and underemployed, New York millennial Brittany Forgler decides to get in shape after some cautionary advice from her doctor prompts her to take a hard look in the mirror. The movie charts her journey from finding the will to merely jog down her block, a daunting task at the time, to running in the NYC marathon. I get that weight loss can be a life-changing, transformative experience, and can benefit other areas of your life in unexpected ways. But as this movie repeatedly points out, physicality is always less important than interiority, and yet the movie does a piss poor job of delving into the inner lives and more interesting sides of its characters with any degree of subtlety. 

A prime example is Brittany’s falling out with her cute and skinny but selfish roommate. Sure, people say mean things when they’re upset – the roommate is in the midst of a breakup – but the torrent of insults she throws at Brittany the night of their split is so ruthless it feels contrived since we know so little about their relationship otherwise. Similarly, Brittany striking up a friendship with the fit, middle-aged neighbor whom she assumed was obnoxiously perfect is eye-rollingly obvious in its purpose. Turns out the neighbor’s life isn’t so idyllic after all: she’s a former drug addict and is now going through a divorce. The movie pays only measly lip service to those hardships, grazing over them and moving on once its point is clear: pretty people have problems too!

And then there’s Brittany’s love life, which is as shallowly written as any other subplot, and the training sequences, which strain hard to be inspirational. It’s worth noting though that Jillian Bell is not really a part of the problem. It’s that the material of the story she’s in is well-intentioned but desperately thin.

Brittany Runs a Marathon Trailer

Brittany Runs a Marathon is currently streaming on Prime Video.

VIFF 2021 Review: Brother’s Keeper

Written by Alexander Reams

52/100

There is a bond between friends, stronger than steel. This bond, under the right circumstances, can become even stronger. When friends seem to become brothers. Such is the case for Yusuf, played adequately by Samet Yildiz, who has to become an advocate for his “brother” Memo, played by Nurullah Alaca, in what will be remembered as a glorified cameo role. Memo becomes deathly ill. Yildiz deals with the bureaucracy within the boarding school for Kurdish boys in Eastern Anatolia. Memo and Yusuf’s age is never specified, but it appears they are around middle school age. Yusuf is continually hindered until the adults finally realize the severity of Memo’s illness, and by then it is too late to save him. 

Ferit Karahan’s voice is fairly new to the film world and he is seemingly still trying to find his style. His technique is mostly composed of static shots while characters flatly deliver the lines that Karahan and co-writer Gülistan Acet conceived. Their script is full of fantastic motifs and ideas. Due to the actor’s inability to execute the material, the film sputters when it should soar. A common issue with working with predominantly young actors. This also extends to the adult actors as well, instead of being this force standing in the way of Yildiz, they are this bumbling arrangement of people who come off as having no idea what is going on.

This script is fantastic, full of subtle nuances that want to propel the film but Karahan failed greatly in his casting. Asiye Kocaman and Gözde Elmas were the chosen casting directors of the film Combined with the, quite frankly, boring shot composition, a  lack of craftsmanship and an understanding of blocking shots hindered the cinematographer Türksoy Gölebeyi from conveying the terror, frustration, and helplessness of Yusuf”s plight. Topped with the poor acting and misunderstanding of the text, it’s the cherry on top of an already mediocre film.

Brother’s Keeper Trailer

Brother’s Keeper was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

DXIFF 2021 Review: Attica

Written by Maria Athayde

80/100

It is a funny thing how the past is a window into the present and the present is a window into the past. That was the overwhelming feeling I had after watching Attica. To backtrack, Attica recounts in painstaking detail the story behind the largest prison rebellion in US history which started on October 9th, 1971 in Attica, New York. But behind the rebellion this documentary tells a much bigger story. It tells us the story about a system that is meant to keep people down. Using historical footage, surveillance videos, audio recordings, and first person testimony, director Stanley Nelson Jr. expertly crafts a story about humanity. Nelson Jr. reminds us about the prisoners’ humanity and indicts a system that is meant to keep men in chains.  

It is the testimony and first person account of former inmates that participated in the rebellion that bring this story to life. Former inmates systematically recount the racist administration network and brutalization they suffered behind the prison walls. Examples of this brutalization included beating inmates with lead pipes, feeding pork to Muslim inmates, poor sanitary conditions, and lack of an infirmary for treatment. In their own words, inmates recounted that they did not cease being human just because they broke the law, but they were treated in a way that made it seem as if they no longer had basic human rights or dignities. This narrative and tension is the throughline through the majority of the documentary. Nelson does not stray away from this recounting until the last quarter  of the documentary where it culminates in a brutal, shocking, and infuriating last 30 minutes that documents the death of 33 inmates. 

The ending of this story sounds too familiar with our present moment. Among inmates and prison guards 43 men died. Unsurprisingly zero convictions were given to the state police who were sent in by Governor Rockefeller to gain control of the prison. This is an important piece of historical filmmaking that documents our broken prisons system and the lack of humanity that is ascribed to prisoners. Ultimately, what made this documentary excel were former inmates’ willingness to share their stories in their own words and Nelson’s ability to craft a story that reminds us of our shared humanity to matter the circumstances.

Attica Trailer

Attica was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of what she’s up to here.