AFI Docs 2021 Review: Naomi Osaka: Episode 1

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

75/100 

Naomi Osaka is a phenom! I have been invested in Naomi’s story since her victory over Serena Williams in the 2018 US Open final. This first episode of a three part documentary series, directed by Garrett Bradley, is even more important after Naomi’s recent forced withdrawal from the Roland Garros after she released a pre-tournament statement saying she would not agree to post-match interviews because it was detrimental to her mental health. Subsequently, she has also withdrawn from Wimbledon so she can take time to focus on herself. However she still plans to represent her native Japan in the Tokyo 2020 summer Olympics. These decisions made me admire Naomi even more. 

In this first episode, we are able to see the growth of a young woman and athlete that is coming into her own both on and off the court. As Naomi puts it she is still trying to figure stuff out and keep adjusting to whatever life throws at her. This awareness is very clear when Naomi states that the amount of attention she receives is ridiculous. “This is the one aspect no one prepares you for.”, she says. Naomi finds this idolatry around her is really weird. 

Episode one also gives insight into Naomi outside off the court. We see her adjusting to living by herself, in California, after purchasing her first home. Her close relationship with her father, her first coach, her mom, and sister which will hopefully be explored more in subsequent episodes.

We also see the work Naomi put in to remain on top as she returned to defend her title among spectators like Kobe Bryant, a mentor which she would later form a strong bond with, Colin Kaepernick, and her musician boyfriend Cordae. Just as important, this episode starts to give us insight into Osaka’s relationship with the press and the fan fair that surrounds her. It is really incredible that through it all Naomi remains humble as she starts to understand when she should push her limits. Naomi also starts to realize what she means for young girls around the world and how challenging life in the limelight can really be. I recommend this first episode and am excited to uncover more about Osaka’s journey and offer a complete detailed write up once all 3 episodes are out. 

Recommended

The Naomi Osaka Limited Docu-Series will begin streaming on Netflix on July 13th.

AFI Docs 2021 Review: Storm Lake

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

60/100

Storm Lake directed by Jerry Risius and Beth Levison is more timely than ever. On the surface, it is a documentary about the struggling local news industry in the United States. But, in reality, it goes much deeper than that. While it explores the rising phenom of “news desserts”, as news shifts away from local newspapers to online coverage, it just as importantly explores the significance of community and family.  

In the doc, we are introduced to Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Art Cullen, editor of The Storm Lake Times. The Times, as it is affectionately called by the locals, was founded by Art’s brother John in 1990 by delivering an essential public service to the people of Storm Lake, Iowa, by covering news from a local perspective. As eloquently put by Art “without strong local journalism to tell a community story, the fabric of the place becomes frayed.” 

It seems that The Storm Lake Times is much more than a newspaper. It’s family! Art’s wife, Dolores, is a photographer; his son, Tom, is a reporter; his sister-in-law, Mary, is in charge of recipe features. Even their dog, Peach “the Newshound”, is part of the Storm Lake Times Team. Beyond this incredible family dynamic we get to learn more about the community which gives the documentary a very “lived in quality” although it really starts to drag at the end. 

Spanning a period of 4 years, from 2017 to 2021, this documentary unpacks how civic and democratic processes work in Iowa and Storm Lake, in particular, through a local lens. Throughout this experience the primacy of local journalism is emphasized as news shifts online and becomes increasingly polarized. Risius and Levison do an exquisite job of making you feel like you are living in Storm Lake and sometimes even a member of the Storm Lake Times. In the end, The Times is almost like a key into the soul of the city. I recommend this one for news junkies out there or anyone who just wants to get reacquainted with the power of local storytelling. 

Storm Lake Trailer

Recommended

Storm Lake was screened as part of the AFI Docs 2021 Film Festival.

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

The Father

Written by Taylor Baker

82/100

Playwright Florian Zeller’s directorial debut The Father an adaptation of his own play is an exquisite demonstration of tone management and trusting of central players. There is no gawdy tricks, nor leaning on tropes. From start to finish The Father is exactly what you see it as. Confusing, scary, loving, and sad.

Wonderful turns by Olivia Colman, Imogen Poots, and Rufus Sewell cement the ever changing world that Hopkins encounters. The deft balancing of the preceding players is remarkable, them together with an understated brief performance by Olivia Williams end up mixing together as the beating heart of this thing you take with you. It’s a story to be sure, and Zeller is masterful at telling it. But the very unreliability of it, make the people Hopkins leans on the reality of the piece. Likewise they are the keystone’s of the film that the audience will assuredly carry away with them, unable to explain the film without bringing them to central focus.

We don’t know what happened to Lucy and by the end it doesn’t quite matter. But if you like me found yourself continuing to think about it. Then perhaps we can agree this isn’t just deft storytelling, this is mastery of structure. This is one of the most fully formed voices I’ve seen spring into the film medium this year. More exciting than this project, is the promising future that Florian has. I can’t wait to watch that future in theaters instead of at home.

Highly Recommended.

Taylor Baker originally posted this review on Letterboxd 10/21/20

The Father is part of the AFI Festival 2020 line up.

AFI Fest Website: https://fest.afi.com/