Who knew stained glass could be so interesting? Justin Monroe’s documentary tells the story of artist Tim Carey and Judson Studios who were commissioned by the Church of Resurrection in Kansas City to craft a 400,000 sq foot stained glass window which would be the largest installation known to date. In this process, I developed an entirely new appreciation for the art of glass making, the history industry that is over 1000 years old, and the personal growth that occurs when an artist discovers and reinvents himself.
In this doc, we learn about the history of glass making of the 120-year LA based glass making Judson Studios and the artists who work there. Our “protagonist” is Tim Carey who is the lead artist on the stained glass window commission. Even though I am not an artist I really identified with Tim who had these conflicting notions of perfectionism and impatience about his work and purpose as an artist. It was also a story about a man who underestimates himself and the need of words of affirmation to carry out his work.
This story about innovation relied heavily on a remarkable stained-glass master called Narcissus Quagliata. Tim, Narcissus, and the rest of the team at Judson Studios had a seemingly impossible task at hand; they had 24 months to complete 161 stained glass panels that would form the installation. Time wasn’t on their side. Traditional stained glass window techniques where single-color glasses pieces were individually bound together by lead would not be possible. Instead, they incorporated a new fusion glass staining technique that would allow them to fuse together multiple colors into a single piece of glass.
You will need to watch the documentary to see the final result. In the end, this was a story about finding your light through art and innovation. It was this passion for art and the commitment of the artists that possibly saved a dying industry and one of the last stained glass studios in the US who’s commissions increased after the Church installation. To quote Narcissus, “this window is going to be part of the history of glass.” I, for one, think they successfully accomplished this goal.
A Brixton Tale the first feature film from Darragh Carey and Bertrand Desrochers, unfortunately failed to connect with me. I believe it may do better with audiences in the United Kingdom who are more familiar with the social and class commentary that is going on within the picture. I was intrigued by the presence of footage shot in collaboration with community members. I usually think that this local knowledge in and of the community elevates a film, but that flourish was lost on me here.
The film tells the story of the tumultuous, toxic, and fractured relationship between Leah, a vlogger, and Benji. The closest comparison I can make of this film is that it is vaguely reminiscent of Waves (2019) and Euphoria (2019) but with none of the polish those projects offered. Whereas, Waves and Euphoria were able to make American experiences somewhat universal, A Brixton Tale misses that mark, it was hard to connect at any level with what I was seeing on screen. I’ll be the first to admit that stories don’t have a responsibility to be universal but it was challenging for me to come up with any redeeming qualities that would justify the experience this details or any reason to make me want to rewatch it.
I’ll concede that the directors did try to do something new by blurring the reality of Leah and Benji’s relationship and her documentary on screen but that is not enough to sustain the feature. The most effective part of the film was when we were getting Leah’s first person account of what was happening while reviewing footage on her computer screen. I really wish this first person narrative was explored in greater detail because it would’ve allowed me to form a deeper connection with the characters and understand where they were coming from.
Bleeding Audio was such a fantastic way to start Slamdance 2021! Chelsea Christer’s doc about The Matches is one of those always desired and rarely found unexpected festival surprises. The nostalgia factor, the late 1990s and 2000s vibes made me adore the experience even more. While on the surface, you might think, this is one of those self-serving documentaries about a band, I found it to be more than that.
I was unfamiliar with the rise and fall of The Matches before this experience. In all honesty, I knew little about them and it was only after I experienced Bleeding Audio and listened to their albums that I got a full appreciation for what this was. My hook into the documentary was Mark Hoppus, of Blink 182 fame, one of my favorite bands while I was in middle school. Hoppus served as a producer on The Matches second and third albums (Decomposer and A Band in Hope) and it was through his eyes as well as the experiences of members of the Matches that I started to understand what they were really all about.
Originating in Oakland, CA The Matches started like many other bands, in high school. They predominantly played in local gigs called Loud, Live, and Local (L3). A community formed around the L3 scene and to this day band members claim that this community atmosphere was something unique and special.
Getting signed to a label was only one part of the equation. During the early 2000’s music industry profits started to dwindle and the music industry was at a crossroads. How would they distribute, market, sell, and promote artists in the age of Napster and peer-to-peer file sharing. This was one of the many reasons for the untimely demise of The Matches.
What this documentary did so well was remove the rose-tinted glasses you often associate with fame. Instead, it offered a more realistic perspective of life on tour, studio time, and the band’s relationship with their scummy manager Miles. At the end of the day, the Matches kept touring to survive never quite making as much money as you’d think they might’ve.
By 2008, album sales had eroded and the band members were starting to consider new paths. After 10 years together, even though it was hard to admit the band was not what they wanted anymore. Many of the members moved on from music before playing a sold out reunion tour in 2019. The heartbreaking part of this story was that their manager never registered their songs with Broadcast Music Inc.(BMI) this meant that band members were not making royalties on any of their songs.
This documentary was a story of what could’ve been. The Matches had everything to get to the next level and be remembered alongside of Blink-182, Green Day, and other pop-punk bands of that era. But if you ask any of the band members if they’d go back and change anything in their trajectory, I reckon that they’d say that they wouldn’t change a thing. Their reunion concert showed what the Matches were really all about. A band that was deeply rooted in their community with a unique connection to their fans. As the documentary so eloquently put it “any artist that creates something that changes someone’s life means they made it”.
I’d also recommend checking out their music on Spotify or wherever you get your music. Point Me Toward the Morning, Chain Me Free, Audio Blood, Wake The Sun, and Salty Eyes were some of my favorites.
The Pink Cloud is the third pandemic adjacent movie I’ve seen in these past few months, the other two being Little Fish, my favorite movie of 2020, and the atrocious Michael Bay produced Song Bird. The movie might seem familiar for those who have seen Contagion (2013), the South Korean The Flu (2013) or the Argentine Toxico (2020); what sets it apart however is the intimate focus on the psychological traumas of a pandemic. This first feature written and directed by Brazilian filmmaker Iuli Gerbase signals a somewhat of a resurgence of Brazilian cinema, especially movies that lean more towards the sci-fi/magical realism realm not unlike last year’s fantastic Bacurau.
Here we continue that exploration through the eyes of Renata de Lelis’ Giovana and Eduardo Mendoca Yago who are forced together into isolation after their first date. In a relationship that would have probably lead to nowhere our leads are forced to explore their dynamic as a couple while navigating the loneliness isolation brings even if there’s some else there with you. While Yago accepts this new reality of confinement Giovana longs for normalcy and loathes her new reality. The struggles we see on screen are those psychological struggles and internal demons we confront at some point during our lives. All happening with the backdrop of a pandemic (quick note movie was written and made before the COVID19 pandemic) and is magnified by the uncommon situation our characters find themselves in.
An intimate portrayal of life, all of its neurosis, and psychological trauma it can bring. The Pink Cloud is a remarkable debut feature from Iuli Gerbase. This is one of those films that I’d suggest you go into with as little information as possible and just sit with it when you’re done. I for one cannot wait to see what’s next for Gerbase and the continued resurgence of genre Brazilian filmmaking.
With Portrait of A Lady on Fire (2019) as the gold standard, everything that’s come after it has seemed subpar. Fastvold’s second feature, The World to Come, isn’t bad; but it’s hard to ignore comparisons to its precursor Portrait, which shares similar themes. Although superior to the recently released Ammonite (2020), The World to Come suffers from the timing of having to follow up Sciamma’s masterpiece.
It’s a slow burn (which I adored) and an intimate portrayal of two women who are unhappy in their separate marriages. They find a sense of self, of love, and renewed purpose in each other. I most enjoyed the continued exploration of the female gaze. When I see and hear stories about women on film it is essential that I hear them from a woman’s perspective. This grounds the reality I see on screen with the reality I live.
Anchored by Waterston and Kirby’s performances, and captured vividly at times by André Chemetoff’s cinematography. The World to Come is a story of intimacy and loss that we don’t often see. Though it lacks the swooning magic that made me fall in love with Portrait of A Lady of Fire. It still manages to be a satisfactory addition to the frontier romance drama, even if it fails to be bigger than it’s individual moments.
The World to Come Trailer
The World to Come is currently scheduled to have a limited release February 12th 2021 and become available on March 2nd 2021 on VOD platforms.
Nikole Beckwith’s Together Together is what I’d call a typical Sundance film. It’s quirky but doesn’t overdo it. We are quickly told the story of Matt and his surrogate Anna. While I admit it is nice to see a surrogacy journey I could not see a lot of myself in the film and had a hard time connecting with the story.
I love Ed Helms but his character Matt’s stalkerish and controlling behavior and “need” to connect with his surrogate really put me off the film. It was the little things like asking Anna on a dinner date, when she clearly did not want to go, and controlling what she ordered because she’s pregnant with his baby. Or that time they were talking with a surrogacy counselor and he ignored her and acted like she wasn’t even in the room. There was also that time when he showed up at her work, a coffee shop, and unannounced brought her pair of clogs and tea to make her feel more comfortable even though she explicitly told him she did not want to tell anyone she’s pregnant. Or that time Matt got upset Anna was having sex with a rando. The list could go on and on.
I was also frustrated with Patti Harrison’s, Anna. She wants her space but, at the same time, there are little moments she spends with Matt, like when they pick out the color of the nursery where she was okay with their dynamic or let’s him touch her belly when they are in bed together. The movie is dotted with a few funny moments here and there but that’s not enough to make up for the other problems I described.
There are also a few moments where the movies question traditional gender stereotypes. Like when Matt and Anna discuss if it’s okay for Matt to have a baby shower? Or they discuss what being a single mom or single dad looks like especially the lack of pregnancy books for single men. The movie tries to make up for Matt’s behavior by portraying Matt as someone who is supportive and helps Anna navigate her fractured relationship with her family. Anna insists that they should set up boundaries because she won’t be in the baby’s life once it’s born but then accepts Matt’s invitation when he asks her to move in until the baby is delivered.
Ultimately, I think it tries too hard to be charming and sweet. It tries to question traditional stereotypes (which is something I generally love to see on film) but it doesn’t completely succeed in doing so. My favorite character and moments in the film were Julio Torres’ (Jules) and his one liners. I definitely want to watch more of Beckwith, Harrison, and Torres’ work in the future. I know that this movie will find an audience, but it just wasn’t for me.
SYNOPSIS: Director Peter Nicks has spent more than a decade chronicling life in Oakland, CA through the lens of its diverse public institutions, revealing deep insights into some of the most consequential chapters of recent American history. The third and most personal in a trilogy of vérité portraits [The Waiting Room (2012), The Force (2017)], Homeroom follows a group of high school seniors in the tumultuous school year ending in Spring 2020. At centerstage is Denilson Garibo, one of two Student Directors on the Board of Education representing the 36,000 students in the Oakland Unified School District. A year derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic and rocked by the na/onal trauma of the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others, Homeroom celebrates the tenacity of today’s youth. Confronted with crisis after crisis and coming of age in a chaotic world has not instilled pessimism, but a galvanizing determination to make change.
REVIEW: The kids are going to be alright! This might be a cliché conclusion but it was the overwhelming sensation I felt when I finished watching Homeroom, the finale of Peter Nicks’ trilogy about the great American city of Oakland, CA. In this documentary, we followed the senior class of 2020 at Oakland High School as they navigated the 2019-2020 academic year. Nicks’ documentary is well crafted and shines a light on the confounding problems Black and brown people face in the country.
These problems include, but are not limited to, a financial crisis, a housing crisis, an education crisis, food insecurity, police brutality, gentrification, COVID, an impeachment trial (the first one), and racial equality protests. We see all these crises and events unfold through the eye of high school students, particularly the members of the All-City Council Governing Board Student Union, as they fight against budget cuts and increased police presence in their schools. The students showcased in the documentary showed grit, determination, and conviction in fighting for what they believe in. In fact, I’d even go as far as saying they are much more grown-up than the school board members and elected officials that are supposed to represent them.
At its core this documentary is about the power of youth and the voices that they bring. It tells the story of Oakland but I am sure that it could be translated to many other American cities. One thing that a really appreciated is that Nicks’ did not make COVID19 the focal point of this piece instead integrated the story of the pandemic into a larger narrative about what was happening in the students’ lives. I would have really loved to see name cards pop-up when students were introduced because oftentimes I found myself forgetting their names as the documentary progressed. This small issue aside, this documentary was a good snapshot of the moment we are living in.
SYNOPSIS: Over a career spanning more than 70 years, Rita Moreno defied both her humble upbringing and relentless racism to become a celebrated and award-winning actor. Born into poverty on a Puerto Rican farm, Moreno and her seamstress mother immigrated to New York City when Moreno was five years old. After studying dance and performing on Broadway, Moreno was cast as any ethnic minority the Hollywood studios needed filled: Polynesian, Native American, Egyptian and so on. Despite becoming the first Latina actress to win an Academy Award for her role as Anita in “West Side Story” (1961), the studios continued to offer Moreno lesser roles as stereotypical ethnic minorities, ignoring her proven talent.
Beyond the racism she experienced as a Latina actor, “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It” will explore the lesser-known struggles Moreno faced on her path to stardom, including pernicious Hollywood sexism and sexual abuse, a toxic relationship with Marlon Brando, and an attempted suicide a year before she won her Oscar. The documentary will demonstrate Moreno’s talent and resilience as she broke barriers and paved the way for new generations of artists by refusing to be pigeonholed and fighting for Latinx representation in a variety of genres.
REVIEW: Rita Moreno is a legend! What other way can you describe a woman who won an Emmy, Oscar, Tony, Grammy, Presidential Medal of Freedom (2004), National Medal of Arts (2009), and Kennedy Center Honors (2015), and Peabody Award (2019)? All these accolades do no justice to the magnitude of the woman. While production-wise the documentary wasn’t remarkable, her story was. Told through a series of vignettes from the likes of Norman Lear, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Justice Sotomayor, Eva Longoria, Whoopi Goldberg, Gloria Estefan, Morgan Freeman, and countless playwrights and producers.
Rita is a trailblazer. Born in Humacao, Puerto Rico, she came with her mother to the US during the Great Depression. From an early age, Rita loved performing and by age 16 she was the sole breadwinner of her family. After making a connection with the head of MGM Studio, Louis B. Mayer, she got a contract and 6 months moved to LA. This transition was not without struggle. People were not nice to her at MGM, she was sexualized, and set up on fake dates to raise her profile. She was also typecast, her skin darkened, and always played the “island girl”. Reflecting on this part of her career she stated that she went along with it at first but, soon after, it started to hurt and took an incredible toll on her self-image and self-worth. At another point, she mentioned how she wanted to turn down these parts, but that’s all she was offered, and she needed the money to survive.
The documentary also details more personal aspects of her life like her relationship with Marlon Brando and her agent who raped her. She reflected that she had so little self-worth at the time that she continued letting him be her agent. This particular moment of the documentary is intercut with images of the trial Christine Blasey Ford and introduces us to Rita Moreno the activist. Rita Moreno is a pro-choice activist. She almost participated in atomic disarmament marches and sat 15 feet away from Dr. King during his famous “I Have Dream Speech” at the March on Washington.
All this is not enough to describe her remarkable career Rita was in Singing in the Rain and got a chance to see Gene Kelly perform live. Rita Moreno is, truly, Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It. Icon, legend, trailblazer do not do justice to explain what, as a Latina, Rita Moreno means to me. Year and year again trade publications and research papers discuss the under-representation of Latinos in Hollywood. The 2020 UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report states “Latinos’ share of lead acting roles was 6.6% on scripted broadcast shows, 5.5% in cable and 4.0% in digital in 2018–19. Among all TV acting roles in the past two years, Latinos’ best representation was in broadcast shows during the 2017–18 season, but even then, they made up just 6.4% of casts.” This is infuriating because the lack of Latino representation in Hollywood is a mirror to the under-representation of Latinos on the US job market in general, even though they make up roughly 17% of this country’s population.
After reading this if you still have any doubts about how kick-ass Rita is go watch her Oscar acceptance speech (an all-time great I might add. Even though she doesn’t agree.) or watch her sing Fever on the Muppets (which won her an Emmy), or that time she re-wore her 1962 Academy Award dress to the 2018 Academy Awards. I could talk about her all day.
All I can do is say thank you, Rita Moreno! Thank you for paving the way for a Latina girl like me. Showing me that women can do anything.
Director Mariem Pérez Riera’s Statement: The first time I interviewed Rita, I had prepared a series of questions about the biggest moments of her career. As soon as she started speaking, I immediately saw myself reflected in her answers. It was as though I was speaking to a therapist who understood exactly what I had been through. I related to all she was saying: her stories about discrimination, the insecurities she felt because of the way others perceived her, the complicated love relationships, and the constant need to work three times harder to prove to others that she is worthy. It was at that moment when I realized that this movie was not just a biographical documentary of Rita’s life, but a story about all the women who feel alone as they struggle to assert themselves in a patriarchal society rooted in white supremacy.
While listening to her stories I constantly questioned the American Dream. To what extent are we willing to pay the price? Fifty years ago, Rita lived through hardships and experiences that unfortunately many women continue to endure, including myself. So I decided to shift the documentary’s focus to the courage, transformations, and highs and lows of a brave immigrant woman trying to overcome discrimination, hatred, and humiliation. A woman who when speaking about herself, speaks to and for a lot of us.
My goal with this documentary is to show what an amazing inspiration Rita is to all of us. In order to do this, it was important for me to capture Rita’s vulnerable and fragile side when she’s off-stage or off-guard. This is why one of the aesthetic decisions of the documentary was to follow Rita in a verité camera style. We see Rita in her daily life, without makeup, in pajamas, preparing her breakfast, or driving, doing her own hair and makeup, or setting out decorations for her own birthday party.
To me, a biographical documentary should do more than to tell important events in chronological order, it should move you emotionally, and make you feel like you actually know the subject personally. The decision behind every location for all the interviews was highly important to me, as I wanted the space, the environment, and the ambiance to capture Rita’s soul. I selected “vintage” spaces where Rita’s friends and colleagues could be interviewed. The decorations, the colors of the furniture, the warm light for example, should resemble Rita’s taste in some way, and be reflective of a space Rita would decorate for herself.
Another aspect I wanted to explore was Rita’s inner child, Rosita. To capture the duality of Rita and Rosita, I decided to use stop motion animation with paper dolls. These dolls were very popular during Rita’s childhood, and they embody the little girl who has been molded through clothing to “pretend” to be what the outside world wants her to be. Rosita/Rita was accustomed to behaving like a doll with no expression, obliged to accept any garment that is placed on her.
Music also plays a key role in this documentary. In addition to jazz as the basis of the score, the incidental music has many meanings, and I am very grateful to have included my ‘wish list songs’. Songs by Fania All Stars, La Lupe, and Rafael Hernandez’s “Lamento Borincano”; all these songs relate directly and indirectly with Rita’s story.
During the final steps of the editing process, while looking for a song to close the documentary, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free”, performed by Nina Simone, came to mind. This song, that at the time of its creation became a hymn of the Civil Rights movement, resonates to me like a hymn to Rita’s life. This song, that at the time of its creation became a hymn of the Civil Rights movement, resonates to me like a hymn to Rita’s life. One could ask, how much would she have accomplished if she didn’t have all the limitations (“the chains”) thrown at her because of her race and her gender?
These lyrics take on another meaning when we hear them through the voice of Nina Simone at the end of Rita’s documentary. It helps us understand what it feels like to be Rita, to be an immigrant woman — “who decided to go for it” — despite society’s gender and racial expectations. Rita has finally liberated herself from all those chains that were holding her, she has finally expressed how it feels to be her, and now in her late 80’s Rita is finally able to be herself; flying through her greatest self. Rita’s voice becomes the voice of inspiration of every woman, especially of every immigrant, Latinx in the USA.
SYNOPSIS: During the 1960s, a tight-knit group of progressive nuns in Hollywood discarded their habits and gleefully oversaw a radical women’s college grounded in social activism. Spearheaded by sisters Anita Caspary, Helen Kelley, and Corita Kent (also a renowned pop artist), Immaculate Heart College ensured women received degrees at an unprecedented rate and crested a tidal wave of social change that engulfed the nation. But as the nuns marched on Selma and transformed the education system, they incurred the wrath of the archbishop of Los Angeles and, with him, the church’s entrenched old guard.
With a mixture of defiance and joy, Rebel Hearts reveals one of the biggest religious showdowns of the twentieth century, which pitted a delightfully noncomforming group of feminist nuns against a powerful patriarchy insistent on female subservience. Pedro Kos’s euphoric and essential documentary reveals a groundbreaking sisterhood that not only flipped the bird—politely—at the Catholic Church’s brazen misogyny but, through their teachings, fundamentally reshaped American society.
REVIEW:“Changing is what keeps us growing.” Rebel Hearts directed by Pedro Kos is one of those rare festival gems. Featured in the US Documentary Competition this movie tackles religion, feminism, and the patriarchy through animation, archival and current day footage. As a Catholic and women’s college graduate the stories of the Sisters at Immaculate Heart College, in Los Feliz, CA, Rebel Hearts spoke to me on a very personal level.
The women featured in this documentary are the epitome of kick ass. From the get go these women were out to challenge the patriarchy and what it meant to be a nun. Many of them said they joined the convent as a way to get out of marriage and as a means to obtain education. Along the way they received a fierce push back from Cardinal McIntyre when decried the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary for promoting liberalism and straying away from their vows. In his words, “they were becoming way too modern”. This doc exposes the past and present unsavoriness of the Catholic Church.
It also discusses the radical change brought about by Vatican II. The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary welcomed these changes because it “encouraged them to explore new ways of living”. They used this opportunity to form commissions to discuss changes in religious ways of life and take agency on their own life as women and Sisters. These Sisters marched with Dr. King in Selma, AL, had lunch with Coretta King, protested the war in Vietnam, supported reform to the labor conditions of farm workers, and endorsed the abolishment of the death penalty. Throughout this process they learned about the cause of justice, peace, and social activism.
The Sisters were arrested many times and they were okay with that. They claimed that “if you really think something is wrong it is important to put your body on the line” and that they did. This culminated with their participation in the 2017 Women’s March among other protests like defending DACA and putting an end to human trafficking. They argued that protest with joy has the power to transform everyone that’s a part of it. Following the dispensation of their vows the former Sisters still continue being an active part of the Los Angeles community. Their passion for justice is what drives them and it continues to this day.
SYNOPSIS: As a CODA – Child of Deaf Adults – Ruby is the only hearing person in her deaf family. When the family’s fishing business is threatened, Ruby finds herself torn between pursuing her love of music and her fear of abandoning her parents.
REVIEW:CODA (Child of Death Adults) is my first Siân Heder movie and I can say that I was pleasantly surprised. It has a similar charm to Little Miss Sunshine but is much less quirky. You may have heard that it sparked a bidding war at Sundance. So it’s possible that you’ll get to see this one from your own couch on Apple TV soon, if you didn’t get a chance to see it at Sundance.
This film showcases awareness around the deaf community, a topic that’s recently come into light from the award contending film Sound of Metal. But this time it tells the story of a high school senior–Ruby, an aspiring singer and the only hearing person in her deaf family. Throughout the movie we learn more about Ruby, her relationship with her family, and how she sometimes struggles to navigate the “hearing world” and the “deaf world.” Filled with heartwarming and funny moments of Ruby interpreting conversations for her family. It is also about letting go and learning to pave your own path.
It tugged at my Massachusetts heart strings in a very particular way, and features a star making performance for Emilia Jones. It was lovely seeing Marlee Martin on screen again, who plays Ruby’s mother Jackie. Ferdia Walsh-Peelo from Sing Street a personal favorite performer of mine, also turns in a strong supporting performance. Overall CODA is a lovely film about growing out from your family to pursue your dreams, but always carrying a part of them with you.