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.

Nasrin

Written by Alina Faulds

86/100

Nasrin Sotoudeh is a human rights lawyer fighting for marginalized people in Iran. A strong proponent of civil rights, Sotoudeh has represented countless people in her country including Baháʼís, a religious minority in Iran, children facing capital punishment, and women protesting Iran’s compulsory hijab laws. Nasrin directed by Jeff Kaufman and narrated by Olivia Colman documents Sotoudeh’s fight to make Iran a more just society. 

Nasrin was largely filmed in secret over two years, with many of its camera crew wishing to remain anonymous in order to protect themselves from unjust charges at the hands of the Iranian government. The documentary is an intimate portrait of Nasrin Sotoudeh’s life, exploring not only her law career but her personal life as well. Much of Nasrin’s time is either spent in her law office or in court, a clear testament to the dedication she has to her job. In fact, Sotoudeh sees her law career as more than a job, it is a fight for justice. In court defending women from such charges as inciting prostitution and spreading propaganda against the state, simply for protesting to have the choice to wear the hijab or not, Sotoudeh is impassioned in her defense, her morals on full display as she argues for her clients. 

In her office, Sotoudeh’s beliefs in law and justice are also very present. She often gives interviews in front of Lady Justice, a blindfolded statue holding a beam balance in one hand and a sword in another. Sotoudeh is fighting for Iran’s laws to properly represent this notion of blind justice, hoping to see the country shift towards a more democratic society filled with choices instead of punishment. Despite the constant arbitrary injustices Nasrin witnesses day after day she remains a positive and happy person. She hangs up drawings and words of motivation around her office. She’s always smiling around her loving husband Reza and their two children. 

What makes Nasrin Sotoudeh such an interesting subject is the balance between her work and her life. She is loving and kind in each and every aspect of her life, driven by the belief that Iran can be a better place, for ethnic minorities, for religious minorities, for children, for women. Nasrin Soutoudeh knows this hopeful reality is possible and this is why she keeps fighting. The documentary captures this balance extraordinarily well as it shifts between Nasrin’s work and personal life in the same way Sotoudeh does. Nasrin also features a number of activists to further illustrate Sotoudeh’s incredible work. The audience is treated to words from Nasrin’s husband, women’s rights activists like Shirin Ebadi and Narges Mohammadi, along with filmmaker Jafar Panahi and many other Iranians that believe in Nasrin’s work. Olivia Colman occasionally narrates over archival footage of Sotoudeh or reads letters written by Nasrin to her family to fully round out her character.

Given Sotoudeh’s work, Nasrin should of course be classified as mandatory viewing. She is such a compelling figure and a hero for women’s rights. She teaches other women to fight for their rights. Director Jeff Kaufman illustrates this inspirational trait of Nasrin’s by showing other women protesting. One beautiful scene features different videos of women standing on podiums before pulling off their hijabs and wearing them like flags. Nasrin is unafraid to speak up for herself and other marginalized people, she’s been imprisoned in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison and still continues her fight.

Nasrin follows Sotoudeh until her second imprisonment in 2018. This is what makes Nasrin fundamental viewing. She is still serving prison time, sentenced to 38 years and 148 lashes for a number of charges including spreading propaganda and insulting Iran’s supreme leader. The documentary functions as a way to put Nasrin Sotoudeh’s story out there in hopes that people will continue to pressure the Iranian government for her release. Nasrin Sotoudeh is an incredible woman and the documentary on her life’s work is no different. She is someone that deserves to have her story told and someone who deserves to be freed.

You can petition for Nasrin’s release here: https://www.amnesty.org/en/get-involved/take-action/iran-free-nasrin-satoudeh-now/

Nasrin will be available through DOCNYC Nov. 11th-19th 2020. Link below.

You can follow Alina Faulds’ LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of her work here.

Thanks to David Magdael & Associates for providing this film.

DOC NYC Website: https://www.docnyc.net/film/nasrin/

GlobeDocs Website: https://globedocs2020.eventive.org/welcome