Havel

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

50/100

An okay biopic about a remarkable man. Havel chronicles the story of Václav Havel, a Czech playwright who would later become known for his activism. The film recounts his life during the late 60s, 70s, and 80s as Havel became increasingly involved in politics and refused to sign the Warsaw Pact (Operation Danube) in defiance of the Soviet Union and other pact signatories.

Viktor Dovrák’s performance and similarity to Havel is uncanny, but it isn’t enough to sustain a film that could have been so much more. Havel’s efforts as a dissident, activist, playwright, and humanitarian are glossed over in favor of an account of his personal life and internal struggles. Learning about Havel on a personal level would have been more effective if the filmmakers had shown what he accomplished or how these struggles shaped the man we know today.

Instead, Havel’s accomplishments are relegated to the end credits where images of Havel meeting with world leaders are shown. Nowhere in this film, although it’s implied, do we learn about Havel’s influence as a statesman who was described by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as a titan of morality, civility, and political courage. I was disappointed because I tend to love films with historical or political leanings.

I still encourage you to watch this film, especially if you appreciate history and personal accounts of political figures. If you are not steeped in the politics and history of Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union, this movie might be a solid introduction. For those who are more familiar, I suspect you might find this film less engaging.

Recommended

Havel Trailer

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If you’d like to learn more about Havel in his own words follow the links below. The links in this section will direct you to his biography (print), remarks by Secretary Albright, and the link to his foundation.

Written by Havel (if you intend to purchase a work by Havel consider supporting your local bookstore).

Open Letters: Selected Writings, 1965-1990 | Power Of The Powerless | Summer Meditations |Disturbing the Peace: A Conversation with Karel Huizdala |The Garden Party: and Other Plays

Biography

Havel: A Life by Michael Zantovsky

Havel is currently awaiting North American Distribution

Visit the Havel Foundation | Secretary Albright’s Remarks in the Spectator and SIPA

Havel is part of the Heartland International Film Festival 2020 line up.

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

Belly of the Beast

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

65/100

Erika Cohn’s directing and storytelling do not do a worthy story the justice it deserves. Clocking in at 72 minutes, this documentary is a concise exposé on forced sterilizations in California prisons. Throughout the movie we focus on two women: Kelli Dillon, a Black woman who was imprisoned after killing her husband, and Cynthia Chandler, former Co-Founder of Justice Now and current director of the Bay Area Legal Incubator (BALI), an attorney for compassionate release.

The driving narrative behind this doc is the intentional sterilization of women in prison. The filmmakers emphasize that women of color, and Black women in particular, are who suffer most from these practices. They detail at least a dozen or so cases of forced sterilization. On the surface, this is a story about reproductive injustice but, at the same time, it is so much more than that.

“Did this happen to me because I was all three?

Kelli Dillon, a Black woman and former inmate

The documentary is at its strongest when it talks about the intersections between health care service provision, race, and class in the United States. When these issues are intertwined, they make a compelling argument. The filmmakers also trace the history of eugenics to the early 20th century in the US. During that time period, about 20,000 forced sterilizations occurred in California alone. Later on, state audits and prison reports showed that 1,400 forced sterilizations occurred between 1997 – 2003.

This piece concludes on a more cheerful note with the passage of Senate Bill 1135 (2014), with bipartisan support, that prohibits the forced sterilization of inmates for birth control purposes. In 2019, Assembly Bill 1764 was introduced to establish compensations for forced or involuntary serializations victims. Kelli Dillon hopes that her story will help others come forward and set a standard that other states should follow. I would recommend this movie for anyone who wants a quick introduction to the US criminal justice system or is interested in law.

Recommended

Belly of the Beast Trailer

Belly of the Beast is currently available to watch through select Virtual Cinema Venues

Follow the links below to read the bills’ text, learn more about Justice Now, view a petition for survivors of forced serialization, and access the doc’s official site.

SB-1135 | AB1764 | Justice Now | Petition | Official Site Get Involved Page

Belly of the Beast is part of the Heartland International Film Festival 2020 line up and Double Exposure Film Festival 2020 line up.

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

To Calm the Pig Inside

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

85/100

“Memories catch up as a girl visits a ravaged port city.”

This documentary short is the closest thing to poetry I have ever seen on screen. How can something so devastating be so beautiful at the same time? What director Joana Vasquez Arong and her team were able to capture in this black and white piece was unbelievable. The sound design contributes to the piece immensely. I felt chills listening to and seeing the fury of the storm leveled on Tacloban City. Not only did Arong capture the fury of typhoons that caused havoc in the Philippines, she also told us stories of resilience and about how communities came together when the government failed to check up on them. “The storm brought out the best in us,” the townspeople say.. 

Another effective device used by the filmmakers was the allegory of a pig inside the center of an earthquake. Whenever the words Buwa buwa were invoked, it was supposed to “calm the pig inside.” Buwa buwa was a reassurance that after the storm passed, everything would be okay and normalcy would return. However, there wasn’t a similar word that could provide reassurance and calm the winds of a typhoon. 

The difference in how communities cope with different kinds of natural disasters makes this a remarkable watch. Arong also manages to bring a moment of levity and color into this short by including colorful pictures, drawn by school children, that depict the devastation of the storm. This choice was incredibly effective and allows audiences to understand how children cope and make sense of the devastation around them. 

It is strange to describe a documentary as atmospheric, but that is the lasting impression this piece will have for me. To answer the question I posed at the beginning, what made this so devastatingly beautiful is how community members were there for each other, offering comfort and kindness even after they lost everything. I’m sure they will be there for each other in the future as well. 

Recommended.

To Calm the Pig Inside Trailer

To Calm the Pig Inside is currently seeking distribution and has screened at Slamdance and Shorts Mexico

Thanks to David Magdael & Associates for providing this film.

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

Finding Yingying

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

80/100

I could see myself in Yingying Zhang’s story. I came to the US to study as well. I came here looking for a better future and aware of the financial and emotional sacrifices my family made for me just like her family did for her. Yingying’s description of independence, loneliness, and homesickness are also emotions that I grappled with when I first arrived in this country.  

While, the cinematography was nothing remarkable Yingying’s passion for learning and her family’s determination to find her made this a compelling watch. The story was told through a mix of Yingying’s diary entries, testimonials from friends, family, and the FBI as well as interrogation footage of her assailant. 

As we began to uncover what happened Yingying’s family discusses the differences between the criminal justice system in the United States and China. Her family respected the work of US authorities but grew increasingly frustrated waiting for the trial. I wish they spent more time explaining these differences.

It pains me to even suggest that I wanted to “learn” more about her assailant. But when incidents like this happen we forget to ask how did this radicalization occur. I think about this question frequently when similar acts of violence occur around the world. How can someone torture, assault, decapitate another human being? 

This documentary should be an urgent call to action for academic institutions to invest more resources in counseling and mental health services. Some might say that the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign failed to act when the assailant discussed thoughts of hurting others during a counseling session. However, in April 2019, a judge sided with the University when he dismissed a case brought up by Yingying’s family claiming the University should have alerted the authorities. 

By all accounts Yingying was an independent, curious, steadfast, and passionate woman. In the end, my heart broke for Yingying’s family. They were never able to find her remains despite their best efforts. It was devastating to see her family, especially her mom, come to terms with what happened. One of Yingying’s diary entries mentioned “life was to short to be ordinary.” This is the only fitting way to remember a woman who wanted to pave a future for herself in her own terms. I sincerely hope Yingying’s family finds the comfort they need to overcome her loss. 

Recommended

To find more details about the latest lawsuit check here.

Finding Yingying will be available in Virtual Cinemas on December 11th you can find screenings here.

Finding Yingying is part of the Heartland International Film Festival 2020 line up and Double Exposure Film Festival 2020 line up.

Thanks to David Magdael & Associates for providing this film.

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

Softie

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

95/100

Documentaries like this one remind me why I do what I do (in my day job I work on public policy and policy development). This documentary tells the story of Boniface Mwangi a photojournalist turned activist trying to reshape politics and political life in Kenya. Throughout this piece we are reminded that Boniface, affectionately known as Boni or Softie, is a man with an undying love for Kenya and who is willing to put his life on the line for his country and ideals.

Boni’s love for country generates conflict in his family life. He engages in an interesting discussion with his wife, Njeri, about life’s priorities. Boni claims his priorities are country, God, and family. While his wife argues that God, family, and country should take precedence over politics. Boni’s and Njeri relationship is an enduring sign of their love as they try to find a balance between family life and political life.

Beyond this exploration of family and faith, the documentary discusses the stain British colonialism had and continues to have in Kenya. Boniface argued that “the British planted the seed of tribalism but the Kenyan government made it prosper.” This is the driving force that makes Boni fight for a better country.

When Boni decided to run for parliament he did not rely on bribes in exchange for votes. Instead, he wanted people to vote for him because of his principles and platform. Boni argued that he was trying to do “politics the right way.” Boni, along with his campaign manager, were able to raise 1.6 million shillings from individual donors which was unheard of in Kenya’s political world.

Even though Boni did not win the election his resolute fight for a better country is something that can inspire all of us. Boni’s story resonates outside the borders of Kenya. Undoubtedly, if everyone had one ounce of the relentless determination Boni has, in fighting for a better future, the world would be in a much better place. 

If you want to learn more about Boniface Mwangi you can click on these resources: Website, Twitter, TED, and Book.

Softie Trailer

Softie is currently available through virtual platforms.

Thanks to David Magdael & Associates for providing this film.

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

Mr. Soul!

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

90/100

Mr. SOUL! is a remarkable documentary. It tells the us the story of a variety program and its host Ellis Haizlip, an openly gay Black man, during the late 1960s early 1970s. The documentary resonates today, just like SOUL! did back then, because it unabashedly showcases Black pride.

One of the through lines is that the media has been weaponized to argue for the inhumanity of African Americans. This still holds true today. The media landscape is built on whiteness. SOUL! did just the opposite. It presented Black men and women without having to justify their blackness.

SOUL! was the definition of something special. It propelled the Black Arts Movement and showcased remarkable performances by artists such as Stevie Wonder, Al Green, Kool and the Gang, and Ashford and Simpson. It also included interviews with Muhammad Ali, Louis Farrakhan, and James Baldwin.  

The main takeaway from this piece is cliche and simple. Representation matters! The documentary ends with Quest Love, from the Roots, asking to imagine if SOUL! had a 20 year run? This question is important since we see few Black faces and voices on late night TV.

If you are looking for a similar vibe consider checking The Late Show with Trevor Noah (on Comedy Central), The Amber Ruffin Show (on Peacock), and Wilmore (on Peacock).

Recommended.

Mr. Soul Trailer

Mr. Soul is currently available through virtual cinemas.

Thanks to David Magdael & Associates for providing this film.

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

My Mexican Bretzel

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

    80/100

During the past few months I have developed a love for documentary filmmaking, but this “documentary” is unlike any other I’ve seen so far. From the opening title card which reads “lies are just another way of telling the truth.” I knew I should have been prepared but what happened next was surprising. 

The film starts with WWII Swiss pilots and culminates in the crash of a pilot called Leon Barrett who loses his hearing. From there we get more insight into his relationship with Vivian Barrett, through a series of homemade videos, and their eventual trip to Paris where they secure a business deal to develop a new antidepressant called Lovedyn which has minimal side-effects.  

As the documentary progresses, or so we are told, we see their journey across Europe, to places like Barcelona and Majorca, and the United States. We also see an apparent deterioration of their relationship when Vivian falls for a man named Leo. When Leon and Vivian eventually reunite in NYC they continue traveling by land, air, and sea promoting Lovedyn. 

The biggest technical achievement of this piece is audio-visual manipulation and not the story itself. Bretzel is mostly silent and sound is used sporadically throughout. When sound is used it conveys a particular purpose or emotion typically used to indicate movement such as the sound of an airplane crashing, a train passing by, an owl flying down to catch its prey, the sound of a gondola, the roaring of the engines at a race track, or the crashing of waves. There is little to no dialogue and in the rare moment we hear spoken words it is the voice of an announcer calling a race. Instead of relying on sound the director, Gimenez, relies on archival home video footage overlaid with diary-like entries to explain what is going on. 

This piece is the definition of a slow burn. I suspect that this is more of a pastiche of the stories that the director heard growing up as opposed to a strict documentary. When you try to learn more about who Leon and Vivian Barrett were nothing comes up. This genre bending compilation of images and people is worth a watch for those who have the patience to appreciate the little things in life. If you go in, like me, with zero expectations you might be pleasantly surprised.

Recommended.

My Mexican Bretzel Trailer

My Mexican Bretzel screened at the Vancouver International Film Festival 2020.

VIFF Website: https://viff.org/Online/

Available to stream thru IndiePix Unlimited here

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