The bear population is a topic of controversy. Animal rights activists say they should be able to roam wherever they want. Everyone else generally agrees that they are cute, but dangerous. There are countless examples of bears being dangerous to society. Going into this I assumed it would be a message piece that wanted me to feel bad for bears. What followed instead was a meditative work on bears roaming which proved to be much more interesting, but did lose me by the end. What works here is the cinematography, putting the viewer in the landscape of this film. I felt every step the bear took, every breath that was exhaled, a huge credit to the sound mixer. What does not work is the way the filmmakers went about conveying this story. I felt constantly disconnected from the subject of the film. There seemed to be no heart behind it, which detracted from the piece throughout. I love to emotionally connect with films but Nuisance Bear was unable to pull me in in any meaningful way. The beauty of the film is it’s combination of the aural and the visual, take one away, and the other should replace what is taken away. That doesn’t happen here. Despite the absence of an emotional connection there is at least gorgeous cinematography to behold throughout the film which puts many of the best DPs to shame.
Gay culture in prison has always been a misunderstood topic in society. This being the subject of Imperdonable the latest film from El Salvadorian filmmaker Marlén Viñayo. Focusing on prison culture, specifically homosexuality in prison. Looking at it not from the outside, but from the inmates and their accounts of seeing what happens to people who come out during their time in prison and accounts of the ones who did come out and how it affected them. The difference between this film and other LGBTQ+ documentaries is that this has the gang aspect thrown into the mix. Specifically discussing the 18th Street Gangs and MS-13 Gang, focusing more on the 18th Street Gang. Being part of a gang already sticks a target on your back. Being gay only adds more targets to your back in prison, and being in a gang, the only truly unforgivable sin is being gay.
The film explores the tale of one man, who was a part of the 18th street gang, and his mental state throughout his time in prison since coming out. The other inmates feel sorry for him. Their accounts all almost being the same, but ending in the same way; homosexuality is forbidden in gangs, the only issue to unite the gangs hatred for each other to one common subject. While dealing with a tough subject, with people who have controversial beliefs, the film stumbles from major pacing issues. The interviews in prison are interspaced with footage of the warden talking to the inmates, which took me out of the film frequently. Unfortunately, that sin is committed throughout the film and actively frustrated me. The interviews, stories told, and love found are truly beautiful and it’s worth a watch purely for this.
Finding a mate is a tried and true trope in any medium of media. What sets the iconic stories apart is the ability to connect with its audience while also having a unique way to convey their story. Mélanie Robert-Tourneur’s Hold Me Tight has that rare honor of being able to uniquely tell its story. No dialogue, only using visual storytelling, a technique that is not used enough in the filmmaking medium. While also using a different method of animation, all the frames look like they were created using oil paints. This not only kept me thoroughly interested, but emotionally involved to a degree. However due to a lack of understanding in the environment we are immediately placed in there is always a sense of confusion and distortion to the short runtime. If the film were expanded into a feature and there was more time to get to know the characters it may be able to overcome this shortcoming. Despite this misunderstanding, in this short runtime I did find myself caring for the characters and marveling at the animation on display.
Rarely a film will frustrate and bore me to the point of verbally begging the film to end, to end this misery of sitting through such a pedantic and heavy handed film. Such is the case with director Torfinn Iversen’s film The Kicksled Choir or Sparkekoret. His direction is flat out boring. Even in moments where there should be tension, emotion, or even distress, everything falls flat, I felt nothing during the film. With this juvenile direction, the actors portraying the father and son (Gabriel), Stig Henrik Hoff and Benoni Brox Krane respectively couldn’t do anything to rectify the film. These actors were clearly given poor direction and had an abysmal script to work with. The only shining light in this film is its use of opera music throughout, and unfortunately this is not near enough to make up for the heavy handed and half baked script, the poor acting, and the absolute lack of talented direction.
Larry King has and always will be a radio and television legend and a hero of mine. His way of connecting with an audience with his demeanor and tone has always kept me coming back to watching his old interviews, especially the ones with his friend Herb Cohen. I have heard King talk about Herb Cohen countless times and it always is very heartwarming to watch. In director Lisa Melmed’s new documentary Larry and Me. Seeing Herb talk about his lifelong friendship with the iconic TV reporter was a joy, and made for one of the best documentaries of the year so far. Melmed makes this feel like King’s presence is still with us even after the credits roll. My only issue with this film is that this was that it is not a feature length documentary film. I would love to see a full length film on their friendship. I felt the genuine love and care these two had for each other and I think that condensing a 75 year friendship into such a short amount time is practically a crime. That being said I am very happy that this friendship is still being explored despite Larry King’s passing.
Never before has a rock legend been used as a metaphor for gender identity until now. This is the driving force in Bonnie Kathleen Ryan’s Graceland. Led by a familiar face in Anna Camp(Pitch Perfect&True Blood) as a traditional, uptight southern mom who has to come to terms with her daughter coming out as transgender. This story of parents having to accept their children coming out as part of the LGBTQIA+ community has been told countless times, especially in the last 10 years. What sets this film apart from all the rest is the use of the king of rock and roll, Elvis Presley. In spite of all the goodwill that the film opens with, after a character completely changes their thoughts and shatters believability the film turns into an after school special from the 1980s. In light of this massively juvenile mistake, the film cannot drag you back into the film and thus flubs the ending, even with a fantastic performance of Presley’s Blue Suede Shoes.
It is exceedingly difficult to give a numerical score to a film like Chun Chun Chang’s animated short Aura. Clocking in at under four minutes, the story—if it can be called such—follows a man adrift at sea and then beset by a storm. As the man becomes lost in the storm, he becomes connected with the being or goddess at its center, simultaneously benevolent and violent. The film has no dialogue, only a stirring, string-filled soundtrack to carry us alongside the beautiful animation, full of bright primary colors. Aura is a testament to the power of the filmic medium: it eschews traditional narrative and dialogue, opting instead for a dazzling feast for the eyes and ears that nonetheless conveys an affecting story.
How did the idea for this film come to you? For a film like this that relies entirely on visuals, do you first imaginethe scenes visually or did the story/narrative idea come before?
The idea for this film came from different places, such as Greek mythology, Icelandic magical staves, photography, and choreography. I started with a few keywords such as fierce, hidden, and painterly; then, I just had fun trying a few visual designs. Based on the visuals, I then went back to developing a clearer story idea.
How do you write the script for a film like this? Is there even a script, or is it all a storyboard?
There isn’t a script. I made a rough storyboard, then moved everything into an animatic. Most of the modifications in the story were made in the animatic, so I knew the timing and flow of the film.
Did anything change from conception to final product?
Yes, the original plan was to ‘materialize’ the eye of the storm. For example, the eye of the storm would be a structure that would be made from cloud-like sculptures. But later, I figured that I would need to spend time elaborating on this concept in the film, which would slow down the pacing of the story. Therefore, I changed the concept to the current version.
The music was beautiful and so integral to the film—what was the process like to create that? How much collaboration occurred with composer Sturdivant Adams?
It was great working with Sturdivant. I only provided the direction that I wanted the music to be serene every time the goddess Aura showed up and when the two characters were in the eye of the storm. And then he created an amazing score.
How long did the film take to animate?
From the beginning to the end, it took me one and a half years. I spent half of the first year developing ideas and the story.
USC is credited at the end of the film; was this film made as part of your MFA program for animation there?
Yes! This film was my thesis. USC was an amazing experience for me that I received great resources from the program while creating films, and I also got to learn from some of the best in the industry. For this film, I consulted with Candace Reckinger, Michael Patterson, and Bruce Block on refining my concepts for the films
What drew you to animation? How can animation tell stories that live action film cannot?
I’d say the art of timing is what attracted me to the world of animation. There are so many things you can play with in animation. A pacing change in the same movement can tell the story differently.
I think it’s easier and less restrictive to create imaginative worlds in animation than in live-action films. Animation has the luxury of experimenting with different directions efficiently.
What is an underrated animated film everyone should see?
It’s hard to pick one. I think film festivals are a great way for viewers to find some underrated animated films.
Throughout cinematic history food has been a metaphor for countless messages. Until viewing Last Meal I had never associated food with the death penalty. Directors Marcus McKenzie and Daniel Principe take a very serious and generally disheartening subject and make it accessible to audiences by using food as a medium to show those who reveled in the attention and coverage from the media. Even with this unique angle, the film simply doles out facts throughout it’s runtime. One meal in particular that stood out was that of Thomas J. Grasso. His final meal request was the iconic “Spaghetti O’s”, instead he got spaghetti. This stuck with him so much that his final words were that “”I did not get my Spaghetti O’s, I got spaghetti. I want the press to know this”. There are no interviews with convicts who are on death row, nor interviews with politicians making these decisions. I found it to be a powerful short film and well worth the time despite my gripes.
I was not a fan of this film. The filmmaking is juvenile, and the story director Hannah Bang is trying to tell is presented poorly and sloppily. Though South Korea’s night time looks gorgeous, and the production design and lighting is great. Other than that, the film was extraordinarily middling. A 16 year old tries to bring her runaway mother home. A simple plot, and oftentimes those can be the best executed because they can be open to new ways of telling the story as well as the viewers interpretation. The most complimentary thing I can say about this film is that DP Heyjin Jun does a fantastic job of showcasing a rain soaked South Korea. My main issues lie with the screenplay and the lead actress, Do Eun Lee. Lee does her best with what she is given, which isn’t much. The film wants to convey ideas of forgiveness and loss, but it’s dialogue between Do Eun Lee and Chaewon Kim is basic and only operates at the surface level. I wish I had enjoyed this film more the poor writing and acting that constantly bombard the film kept me from ever being able to lean in.
I was very excited to see The Nipple Whisperer due to Denis Lavant being cast in the lead role. He is a fantastic character actor, and just last year at SXSW 2020 I’d seen him in the short film Figurant. Though I didn’t particularly enjoy Figurant Lavant was a delight to watch in it so I was very hopeful to see him again here. The Nipple Whisperer follows Lavant as he goes about his day, until he meets someone from his past that he has not seen in a long time. His former muse. It unfortunately doesn’t have enough time to explore Lavant’s character Maurice’s “power” and the film suffers for it, losing its chance for a deeper emotional connection with the audience. On the technical side it is very well shot, Fiona Braillon serves as the cinematographer. She relies on an Alexa Mini, which shows its power specifically in some of the scenes in the studio where the camera is moving. Despite these greater technical aspects, the film continually suffered from a lack of emotional connection and explanation that would allow the audience to connect with Lavant’s character on a deeper level.