Oscars 2021 | 93rd Academy Awards Wrap Up

Written by Alexander Reams

After an extended awards season the 93rd Academy Awards have come and gone. While there were some very lovely moments in the show, the broadcast as a whole was a very mixed bag. Without further ado let’s dive into the last big awards show of the season.

I’m just going to address the elephant in the room immediately, putting Best Director in the middle of the show and not saving Best Picture for the end was one of the most idiotic moves The Academy has made in quite some time. The entire point of the broadcast is to celebrate individual fields first and then finish the night with one film being celebrated above all the others. By not doing that, the wins for Chloé Zhao and the entire Nomadland crew were snubbed. I get what The Academy was going for, wanting to end the night with a celebration of Chadwick Boseman’s life with his assumed win for Best Actor. However, as soon as Anthony Hopkins’ name was called, you could feel the collective embarrassment of the showrunners and rightfully so. Putting Best Actor at the end of the night, to only have the assumed winner lose was not only disrespectful to Chadwick Boseman and family, but to Anthony Hopkins as well. He delivered his career best work in The Father and was not celebrated because of the mess that was made by the Academy. 

With that out of the way I want to talk about some of my favorite wins of the night. Starting off with Erik Messerschmidt’s win for Mank. The cinematography of that film was one of the universal praises for that film, every frame is absolutely stunning and I was very glad to see him win. Joshua James Richards and Messerschmidt had been neck and neck all awards season. After the ASC awards that finally seemed to give someone an edge for the race to win Best Cinematography. 

Thomas Vinterberg’s acceptance speech is what won the night for me. I have listened to countless interviews about him talking about the making of this film and in every one of those interviews he discusses his daughter’s death during production which changed his outlook on the film. Vinterberg has been waiting a long time to take the stage to accept an Oscar and was long overdue to win one. You can genuinely see that he loves what he does and values it greatly, and when he began to talk about his daughter’s death I will admit I did shed a few tears. The film can be very disheartening but it’s theme about life as a whole is brutally honest but also hopeful. 

Overall the 93rd Academy Awards had few surprises but the surprises that did occur were near shocking. From Messerschmidt beating Richards for Best Cinematography, to Frances McDormand winning Best Actress, and Anthony Hopkins winning Best Actor over Chadwick Boseman. 

La Llorona

Written by Taylor Baker

76/100

La Llorona from Filmmaker Jayro Bustamante presents the storied myth of ‘The Weeping Woman’ against a modern framework of revenge. Julio Diaz plays Enrique, a former General standing trial–immobile in his wheelchair, for the genocide of innocent Mayan populations near a mountain. After a nightmare which causes him to believe that someone is in his house, he picks up a pistol and heads downstairs, his wife comes to check on him, startles him, and he levels a blast that lodges in the doorway inches away from her head. It’s clear from the start the story of La Llorona will not be a happy one.

Bustamante leans on cinematographer Nicolás Wong to capture impeccably framed shots that are stirring to view by themselves, when paired with small nudges to the zoom and angle those same shots begin to cause a sense of awe and foreboding. Bustamante contributes as co-writer and editor, cementing a consistent feeling and vision to this modern fable retelling. Whether it’s Enrique on trial festooned in a field of darkness indicating the massive havoc he enacted, or a trip through a flooded bedroom in which Alma is sitting on the bath brushing her hair there’s a constant tension and finesse of tone indicating the loom of a coming atonement.

The center of the film is not Enrique but rather the women that surround him. His wife Carmen (Margarita Kenéfic), their daughter Natalia (Sabrina De La Hoz), and Natalia’s daughter–Enrique and Carmen’s Grand Daughter Sara (Ayla-Elea Hurtado). These three form a sense of generational grief, innocence, and disillusionment collectively. Where many storytellers before have leaned into the monstrosity of the fable for the final comeuppance, Jayro opts to have Enrique’s family suffer for his sins. Slowly at first, just a hint hear and there, building dread but never going away from reality to the supernatural. The stakes are firmly rooted in reality, where they belong– and where they must be, if you want to tell this story in an honest way. Rather than share what that finale is I’ll let you watch for yourself.

Recommended

La Llorona Trailer

La Llorona is currently streaming on Shudder

Oscars 2021 | 93rd Academy Awards Preview

Written by Alexander Reams

Well folks, the moment we cinephiles have been waiting for has arrived, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has unveiled the nominees for the 93rd Academy Awards. In a year full of uncertainty, distrust, and fear, movies have brought us together even more, and I am very excited to dive into these nominees with you. 

Let’s begin with some numbers, Mank scored 10 nominations (Picture, Director, Lead Actor, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, Production Design, Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Sound, Original Score), far and away the most nominated film of the group. Nomadland, The Trial of the Chicago 7, The Father, Sound of Metal, Judas and the Black Messiah, and Minari all received 6 nominations each, all including Best Picture. 

The Academy nominated only 8 films, they can nominate up to 10, be that as it may, we have 7 fantastic films up for best picture, and Promising Young Woman. You all know my feelings on the film by now, so let’s keep moving along. All of these films were expected to be nominated, and there were several that were not but could have taken those last 2 spots, including, but not limited to One Night in Miami, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Da 5 Bloods, and Another Round

Full List of 2021 Oscar Nominees: 

Best Picture

  • The Father
  • Judas and the Black Messiah 
  • Mank 
  • Minari
  • Nomadland 
  • Promising Young Woman 
  • Sound of Metal 
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7 

Best Director

  • Thomas Vinterberg: Another Round
  • David Fincher: Mank 
  • Lee Isaac Chung: Minari 
  • Chloé Zhao: Nomadland
  • Emerald Fennell: Promising Young Woman 

Best Actor in a Leading Role

  • Riz Ahmed: Sound of Metal 
  • Chadwick Boseman: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom 
  • Anthony Hopkins: The Father 
  • Gary Oldman: Mank
  • Steven Yeun: Minari 

Best Actress in a Leading Role

  • Viola Davis: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom 
  • Andra Day: The United States v. Billie Holiday 
  • Vanessa Kirby: Pieces of a Woman 
  • Frances McDormand: Nomadland 
  • Carey Mulligan: Promising Young Woman 

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Sacha Baron Cohen: The Trial of the Chicago 7
  • Daniel Kaluuya: Judas and the Black Messiah
  • Leslie Odom Jr.: One Night in Miami
  • Paul Raci: Sound of Metal 
  • Lakeith Stanfield: Judas and the Black Messiah

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

  • Maria Bakalova: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
  • Glenn Close: Hillbilly Elegy 
  • Olivia Colman: The Father 
  • Amanda Seyfried: Mank 
  • Yuh-jung Youn: Minari 

Best Animated Feature Film

  • Onward 
  • Over the Moon
  • A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon 
  • Soul
  • Wolfwalkers

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
  • The Father
  • Nomadland
  • One Night in Miami
  • The White Tiger

Best Original Screenplay

  • Judas and the Black Messiah
  • Minari
  • Promising Young Woman
  • Sound of Metal
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7

Best Original Song

  • “Fight for You,” Judas and the Black Messiah
  • “Hear My Voice,” The Trial of the Chicago 7
  • “Húsavík,” Eurovision Song Contest
  • “Io Si (Seen),” The Life Ahead 
  • “Speak Now,” One Night in Miami 

Best Original Score

  • Da 5 Bloods: Terence Blanchard 
  • Mank: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross 
  • Minari: Emile Mosseri 
  • News of the World: James Newton Howard 
  • Soul: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Jon Batiste 

Best Sound

  • Greyhound
  • Mank
  • News of the World
  • Soul
  • Sound of Metal

Best Costume Design

  • Emma
  • Mank
  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • Mulan
  • Pinocchio

Best Animated Short Film

  • Burrow 
  • Genius Loci
  • If Anything Happens I Love You
  • Opera
  • Yes-People

Best Live-Action Short Film

  • Feeling Through 
  • The Letter Room 
  • The Present 
  • Two Distant Strangers
  • White Eye 

Best Cinematography

  • Judas and the Black Messiah
  • Mank
  • News of the World
  • Nomadland
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7

Best Documentary Feature

  • Collective
  • Crip Camp
  • The Mole Agent
  • My Octopus Teacher
  • Time

Best Documentary Short Subject

  • Colette
  • A Concerto Is a Conversation
  • Do Not Split
  • Hunger Ward
  • A Love Song for Latasha

Best Film Editing

  • The Father
  • Nomadland 
  • Promising Young Woman
  • Sound of Metal
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7

Best International Feature Film

  • Another Round
  • Better Days
  • Collective 
  • The Man Who Sold His Skin
  • Quo Vadis, Aida?

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

  • Emma
  • Hillbilly Elegy
  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • Mank
  • Pinocchio

Best Production Design

  • The Father
  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • Mank
  • News of the World
  • Tenet

Best Visual Effects

  • Love and Monsters
  • The Midnight Sky
  • Mulan
  • The One and Only Ivan
  • Tenet

BAFTA 2021 Awards Wrap Up

Written by Alexander Reams

Well the last big awards show before the Academy Awards took place, and while most of the winners were expected, as always there were some surprises. Without further ado, let’s go through the winners. 

Nomadland took home Best Picture after taking home almost every single award thus far, and Chloé Zhao continued her win streak for Best Director. At this point I would say Zhao is a lock for the Oscar, but after last awards season, my confidence in the guilds was slightly broken so it’s hard to say anything is a lock, but Nomadland taking Best Picture and Director is as close to a lock as can be. 

Promising Young Woman expectedly took home the award for Best British Film, and to some surprise, Best Original Screenplay. While you can never count out Aaron Sorkin, I feel that he has lost a lot of steam in this awards season and Emerald Fennell has picked up what Sorkin has lost and is looking like she will be taking home the win for Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars.



After winning most of the awards for Best Adapted Screenplay, Nomadland’s winning streak did not continue here, instead Florian Zeller’s The Father took home the award, giving the film a big push to take home the award. Anthony Hopkins also took home the award for his performance in The Father, beating Chadwick Boseman for what seems to be the first time this awards season. While I am glad Hopkins has gotten some recognition, I don’t think it will be enough to push Hopkins over to win the Oscar against Boseman. 

For the rest of the acting categories, Frances McDormand took home the award for Best Actress for her role in Nomadland, Yuh-Jung Youn won for her role in Minari, who has now become the frontrunner to win at the Oscars. Daniel Kaluuya continued his winning streak for his thunderous role in Judas and the Black Messiah. Something to remember with the Best Actress race is that Andra Day won the Globe, Carey Mulligan won the Critics Choice, and Viola Davis won the SAG award, and none of these women were BAFTA nominees, so McDormand got a big push, but seeing as Davis won the SAG, I would go with her on my Oscar ballot. Thomas Vinterberg’s film Another Round won Best Film not in the English Language, and will most likely continue this streak at the Oscars. Best Animated Film went to Soul as expected, as well as Best Original Score. 

Best Cinematography went to Nomadland, pushing Joshua James Richards ahead of Erik Messerschmidt’s cinematography in Mank, the race is still close but after this I’m leaning toward Richards to take home the Oscar. Best Editing went to Sound of Metal surprisingly, Alan Baumgarten and Chloé Zhao have been battling it out for the award throughout the season, and now with Sound of Metal’s win, that pushes it as a more serious contender than before. Sound of Metal also won Best Sound, at this point I don’t know any other film that could take home the award at this point, the film has runaway with the award.

Mank won in Best Production Design, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom won in Best Costume Design and Best Makeup and Hair, all of these were expected wins. Best Visual Effects went to the runaway winner, Tenet, Nolan films have always had an interesting history at the Oscars, but I think Tenet’s win is almost a lock.

2021 Golden Globes Wrap-Up

Written by Alexander Reams

Well, the Golden Globes have come and gone. However, they have planted some interesting seeds of what seem to be shoe in Oscar nominations, and added some dark horses to be watching for in the coming weeks. 

The biggest surprises of the night were Jodie Foster winning in the Best Supporting Actress category for The Mauritanian, Andra Day winning in the Best Actress; Drama category for The United States vs. Billie Holiday, and my favorite win of the night, Rosamund Pike winning in the Best Actress: Musical/Comedy category for I Care A Lot. Jodie Foster was never in the running for an Oscar nomination, and even her Globes nom was a complete surprise, but now I think she will at least be a dark horse in the Best Supporting Actress race in the Oscars. Most everyone has seemed to forget Lee Daniels middling and juvenile, and quite frankly, terrible film The United States vs. Billie Holiday. Despite most people forgetting about it, Andra Day nonetheless took home the award for Best Actress: Drama, making her presence in awards season all the more prevalent, for some reason. I would’ve much preferred Vanessa Kirby or Frances McDormand take her place on the stage. 

Nomadland winning Best Picture: Drama, and Chloê Zhao winning Best Director was not a big surprise. I was very happy to see her take home both awards, and will continue to root for her winning streak to continue on this awards season. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm winning Best Picture: Musical/Comedy was not a surprise, in the past the HFPA has loved Sacha Baron Cohen as the titular character, while he isn’t doing anything new here, what he does, he does well, and his win for Best Actor: Musical/Comedy was not a shock. Best Actor: Drama of course went to Chadwick Boseman for his career best work in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, for which I am very happy to see him getting all this acclaim for his magnificent work. Aaron Sorkin returned to the stage to take home the Best Screenplay Award for The Trial of the Chicago 7, which was one of my favorite films of last year. I’m happy to see him get more recognition as his directing career continues. 

Best Supporting Actor winner Daniel Kaluuya won for his powerful and heartbreaking portrayal as “Fred Hampton” in Shaka King’s brilliant Judas and the Black Messiah, which hopefully after this coming weekends Critics Choice Awards, will pave the way for him to take home the Oscar. Disney’s last offering of 2020, Soul, took home two big awards, Best Motion Picture: Animated, and Best Original Score, now I wholeheartedly agree with its BMP: Animated win. I define a good score as something that sticks with me, and none describe that more than Ludwig Göransson and his phenomenal work for Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, which I believe should’ve taken home the Best Original Score award. Best Foreign Language film went to A24’s Minari. At the Oscars however, this film will not be competing for this award so expect Thomas Vinterberg’s film Druk/Another Round, will be taking the award home that night.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter.

Baradar

Written by Anna Harrison

75/100

Baradar opens with two brothers engaging in typical brotherly antics as they carry a raft through the streets of Istanbul. The bright colors and playful music cultivate a warm image, one that immediately evaporates as we realize this flimsy raft is meant to carry the elder Mohammed (Danosh Sharifi) across the sea and into Greece. He won’t risk bringing his younger brother, Alí (Nawid Sharifi, Danosh’s younger brother), along, and instead will attempt this crossing alone, even though he cannot swim, hoping to find that mystical better life and come back to provide for his brother. 

Director Beppe Tufarulo based this harrowing tale off Alí Ehsani’s autobiography Stanotte Guardiamo le Stelle (Let’s Look At the Stars Tonight), and in Danosh and Nawid Sharifi, found two non-actors whose story mirrored Alí’s, as Danosh and Nawid travelled from Afghanistan to Italy to reunite with their older brother after the death of their parents. Despite their lack of acting experience, Danosh and Nawid turn in fine performances, selling their brotherly bond with ease (helped in no small part, I’m sure, by their actual relation). The scenes where Mohammed tries to teach Alí such simple things as making scrambled eggs before he departs are heart-wrenching as we realize how tall of an order it is for ten-year-old Alí just to survive on his own.

The short does get a little heavy-handed towards the end with a rather melodramatic voiceover, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t crying like a little baby at it anyway. Immigrants are so often treated callously as one monolithic group by politicians and citizens alike, viewed only as a population problem and almost never as individuals, except when we want to show how great a country is because this one single immigrant managed to become a lawyer, or a doctor, or some other socially acceptable/admirable thing. Baradar forces us to reckon with the individual consequences as we watch the individual courage and bravery of these two boys, and heavy-handed or not, it lingers long after the screen fades.

Baradar Trailer

You can read Anna’s interview with director Beppe Tufarulo or you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website.

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

90/100

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.

Recommended. 

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It is currently playing the Sundance 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.

Sundance 2021 Review: Night of the Kings

Written by Taylor Baker

76/100

SYNOPSIS: A young man is sent to “La Maca,” a prison in the middle of the Ivorian forest ruled by its inmates. As tradition goes with the rising of the red moon, he is designated by the Boss to be the new “Roman” and must tell a story to the other prisoners. Learning what fate awaits him, he begins to narrate the mystical life of the legendary outlaw named “Zama King” and has no choice but to make his story last until dawn.

Night of the Kings has been formally submitted in the category Best Foreign Language Film by Côte d’Iviore (Ivory Coast) for the Oscars.

REVIEW: A finished story is a dead man. Or so it seems in Philippe Lacôte’s sophomore feature. About a prisoner who is renamed Roman on an ominous night when the moon turns red and the title of storyteller is foisted upon him. Hinging on the words of debut performer Koné Bakary(Roman), this Scheherazade-like fable mixes reality, history, and desire.

Night of the Kings is at it’s most engaging in the prison(La Maca) as we’re witnessing Bakary engage in the act of storytelling. Holding his own against the crowd of prisoners shouting, singing, and jeering as he weaves his tale. When we shift to the images of the story being told they often lack atmosphere, tension, and propulsiveness. Things that immediately leap back into the viewer as we shift–often mid-scene back to the prison.


I found these choices to be deft and thoughtful ones. Reproposing the hypothesis: does a story belong to the storyteller or the audience? It does this all while engaging in the meaning, expectation, responsibility, and duty of telling of ‘your’ story not just as a man but as a nation. Rather than proffering answers Night of the Kings lingers on the cost of these questions.

The contemporary in prison timeline is sumptuously lit, with warm lamps and a near total absence of natural lighting until daybreak. Fabric hangs everywhere, the sets are dressed with care but not overfilled. The sound design and foley work seam together trickles of water, chirping insects, and dampened bare-feet splashing small pools of water to evoke an atmosphere that, were I able to view in a theater would assuredly be all encompassing.

Night of the Kings tells it’s story, and performs a transference of emotion. Emotion at a sense of history, a sense of loss, a hope for the future, but the agony and vigor it takes to just reach one more day. One thing is sure, I want to see more out of Philippe Lacôte as a writer/director and if he can re-team with newcomer Koné Bakary all the better.

Recommended.

Night of the Kings Trailer

Interview: Tomer Shushan Talks About Writing and Directing Short Film ‘White Eye’

Tomer Shushan’s White Eye has screened at over 70 film festivals, including 23 Oscar-qualifying. This Live-Action short has won numerous accolades including the Oscar-qualifying Best Narrative Short Award at SXSW Film Festival. White Eye was nominated for a 2020 Ophir Award.

Interview by Anna Harrison

Could you explain the timeline of this movie to me? When did you first get the idea, and how long did it take to get from the idea to filming to distribution?

It’s actually a very interesting story. About two years ago, I was on my way to meet my writing mentor, we were working on some short script that I wrote and was supposed to finalized it so we can send it in the night to the Makor film foundation so I can get funds. So then the story of White Eye really happened to me, I was finding myself getting late to my mentor because I was trying to get my stolen bike back after seeing it in the middle of the way. The experience was very hard and when it was all over I couldn’t think about anything else but this guy that I may just ruined his life. It took me 40 minutes to write the script and Makor film foundation supported me and finance to production that happened later that year. I guess it all happened in two years. And the most important thing is that in the real story nothing bad happened to Yunas. 

One of the most striking things about this film is that it’s filmed in one long take. Was that always the plan? Did you have to find a location that worked for the take or did the idea come after you scouted the location?

That’s a great question, the Idea to make it one shot was because this story is about a person who experiences a stressful and intense moment. Instead of acting from a rational place he gives in to an egoistic rage. Everything happens to him in a short time without a moment to stop, reconsider, breath. I wanted the same effect for the audience to really feel the main character’s situation. But between every take in a film, the viewer has a tiny little break to catch breath. I wanted the camera to connect the viewer and the main character in a never-ending, motion like tension that doesn’t give you a break. 

And about the location, I was plan to do it in a restaurant like it was in the real story and all was planned and the location for that has been chosen

But then I went to visit my friend who works in this meat factory and I saw this fridge, I felt like it’s supposed to be there. Could be a great metaphor for how society treats and threatens immigrants and refugees. To compare them to pieces of meat was something that I felt can reflect the feeling I had and wanted to give the audience. 

So doing it in one shot and around the scene in the meat fridge was my opening plan for the film. 

On a similar note, how much rehearsal did you need to prepare for the shoot? How many takes were there once on set?

We knew that everyone on the set, not just actors, every crew member on the set should have some choreography how they move when the camera starts to record.

It took us about 4 months to understand the rhythm and the movement of every person on the set because we filmed it on 360. 

And we shot the film one night and had 7 full takes. 

Were there any major script changes from conception to end? 

The script hasn’t been changed except to change the location from restaurant to a meat factory as I said. I wrote the script less than an hour after it happened and I didn’t touch it until the end. It felt like a dream that it’s so clear to you that only if you write it down the moment you’re waking up you are able to experience it in a way again.  

Would you mind talking about the ending, with Omer’s realization of what he’s done and his destruction of the bike?

I guess I wanted to emphasize how people and life are much more important than objects. I felt that after the harm was done, no one would get the bikes. Omer felt that his actions may have ruined someone else’s life and he doesn’t deserve it anymore. 

What takeaways do you want the audience to walk away with after seeing the film?

We constantly meet immigrants with different social status in our everyday life but people do not always act in a way that can keep up with their actual ethical beliefs. Often this behavior stays unnoticed and life just goes on. White Eye shows the audience these social differences and reminds everyone of their privilege. 

What’s your favorite memory from the making of this film?

Making White Eye was full of amazing and also very hard moments. 

We planned it so hard and had money to make it only in one night. 

We started at 4:30pm when it got dark and until midnight we couldn’t complete one full take from the beginning to the end. People around got frustrated. But I knew that my main job is to make them believe. So we took a break and It’s just filled me with new positive energy. I think everyone felt it and I felt how I changed the atmosphere and the morale of the team in a short moment. After the break we started again and completed a full take. Everyone celebrated and we saw it was possible. From midnight till 4am we made 7 full takes and it felt amazing to see how everything you were working on the last year was getting life. 

It is a really dreamy unique moment that you see how all this suffering is worth it for this short moment that was captured with camera and became immortality.  

You can also read Anna’s capsule review of White Eye or you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website

Interview: Sophia Banks Talks About Directing Short Film ‘Proxy’

Sophia Banks’s short film Proxy focuses on a woman who gets more than she bargained for in her life of work. Proxy has screened at multiple the Oscar-qualifying film festivals including HollyShorts Film Festival, Lone Star Film Festival, Louisville International Festival of Film, and Los Angeles Lift-Off Film Festival.  

Interview by Anna Harrison

Could you explain the timeline of this movie to me? When did you first get the idea, and how long did it take to get from the idea to filming to distribution?

Last year, some good friends of mine, Dominick Joseph Luna and Emma Booth and I were chatting and realized that they were coming to LA where I was living at the time. We always had wanted to do a project together but never found the right time or place to do it. Dominick had some great concepts he pulled from research and one of them was based off of the idea of boutique services they’re offering in Japan right now: “people for hire” that could stand in for someone to fulfill a role. I loved the idea and we developed the story. Once they arrived in LA we decided to just go for it. We put together the team in a few short weeks and shot it over the last day of February and the first day of March, just before the lockdown hit. We were really fortunate to have gotten it done just before because we were able to complete the editing and the rest of post production remotely, which worked really well.

Were there any major script changes from conception to end?

Funny enough, there weren’t too many changes that we made. We really stuck with the original vision, which was to showcase Victoria (Booth) as this woman who is struggling with her own disconnect and internal turmoil as she is being beaten down emotionally and physically through these increasingly terrifying scenarios. 

Performance is a big theme throughout your film, especially with regards to gender, sex, and the intersection of those. Would you mind talking a bit more about that and how you discuss those ideas in your film?

I think that I always like to touch on those because underlying these stories I like to tell is the underlying idea of “freedom”. In Proxy, Victoria faces the entrapment of a job that she feels obligated to do, put in situations thrown at her that she may or may not agree with — but she has to do it, it is her job after all. The journey she goes through is eye opening in that I hope others might take away from it a little semblance of what our hero experiences: the heroes own self realization and expression of that truth. 

What were the biggest challenges in creating a slightly futuristic world that still needed to feel familiar? Did you ever consider making it “harder” sci-fi?

It is interesting because for my first short film Unregistered, I really heavily designed and created an entirely futuristic world. We have over 300 special effects in that short film that I put a lot of thought into it. It was unmistakable that it was in fact set in a future Dystopian society. 

For Proxy, we wanted it to be more grounded — almost impossible to know whether this was 10 years or 50 years into the future. I think it adds to that ominous factor. 

What takeaways do you want the audience to walk away with after seeing the film?

I partly see Proxy as a cautionary tale: the more connected we are the further we grow apart in reality. That is what social media is to me. I also see it as a message of rebellion of what society has seen as the “new norm”. We are so afraid to go against the grain, we are comfortable with a routine. Sometimes we need to take a step back and perhaps come to terms with the fact that the “norm” may not be the best for us. 

What are your top three sci-fi films from the last decade or so?

Hard question! I would have to lean into the “or so” since I am a huge fan of the classic Sci-Fi such as Blade Runner, (2001: A) Space Odyssey and The Thing as well as Alien. I like the darker side of sci-fi for sure.

You can also read Anna’s capsule review of Proxy or you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website