Tribeca 2021 Film Festival Capsule Review: Last Meal

Written by Alexander Reams

65/100

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.

Last Meal Screener

Graceland is currently playing as part of the Tribeca 2021 Film Festival you can purchase a Shorts Pass to view it here.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

SXSW 2021 Capsule Review: Soak

Written by Alexander Reams

51/100

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.

Soak Trailer

Soak played at the SXSW 2021 Film Festival.

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

SXSW 2021 Capsule Review: The Nipple Whisperer

Written by Alexander Reams

65/100

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. 

The Nipple Whisperer Trailer

The Nipple Whisperer played at the SXSW 2021 Film Festival.

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

SXSW 2021 Capsule Review: Nuevo Rico

Written by Alexander Reams

78/100

 Nuevo Rico is the first project I’ve seen from Kristian Mercado and what a way to be introduced to a filmmaker, with animation that is some of the best I’ve seen since Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse. The film itself is the age old tale of stardom coming at a price, and in under 16 minutes Mercado is able to tell this tale with a new perspective and all the while providing amazing visuals that not only look great, but propel the story. In the end, Nuevo Rico, is a fantastic short film by Kristian Mercado that I hope gets wider attention throughout the year. 

Nuevo Rico Trailer

Nuevo Rico is currently playing at the SXSW 2021 Film Festival.

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

Capsule Review: 3feet

Written by Anna Harrison

70/100

Midway through 3feet, its young, soccer-obsessed protagonist, Gonzalo (Maykol Santiago Capacho Perales), faces an obstacle: he must navigate both himself and his soccer ball through a crowded marketplace in Pamplona, Colombia, to get to school. To do this, he envisions a great soccer field full of opposing team members to sneak around and a goalie to get past. Director Giselle Geney Celis brings Gonzalo’s imagination to life by animating this entire sequence, perfectly capturing our immersive childhood daydreams. 

This sequence makes 3 Feet stand out far more than it would have otherwise, for its plot and style are relatively straightforward with the exception of Gonzalo’s imagined heroics. The film chronicles Gonzalo’s efforts to keep his shoes clean on the way to school after a teacher, Ramón (Luis Enrique Yañez), keeps him from recess one day because his shoes have been scuffed. It’s sweet without being overly saccharine; a charming reminder of the highs and lows of childhood that seem like life or death at the time, but which we laugh about later. The music, composed by Fran Villalba, lends a sense of whimsy to the proceedings, or else playfully represents the dire stakes—at least in Gonzalo’s mind—that accompany Ramón’s inspection of Gonzalo’s shoes.

You can feel Celis’ own affection for Pamplona even before the credits roll and you see that the film is “dedicated to my family, Pamplona and its people, for giving me the happiest childhood.” While 3feet doesn’t reinvent the wheel, with the exception of the animated sequence, it remains a charming monument to our childhood dreams.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

Capsule Review: A Piece of Cake

Written by Anna Harrison

65/100

A Piece of Cake explores a common theme: fathers who neglect their family in favor of work. Now, “common” does not necessarily mean “bad,” and A Piece of Cake certainly adds its own unique spin to this conundrum by sprinkling in a dash of absurdity as Rich Sommer’s Jim embarks on an epic adventure to acquire illegal cake decorations for his daughter, Cora (Riona O’Donnell).

If it sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is—though on purpose. Cora, for her upcoming birthday, wants silver balls on her cake. Jim agrees to get them, but Cora doubts his follow-through as he’s let her down many times before. Jim, rightly feeling bad about this, makes it his mission to get some balls (haha) and soon discovers the seedy underground world of illegal cake decorations, populated by harried fathers in business suits who speak in hushed voices as they discuss the ways in which to best acquire balls, which seem to be illegal in California.

The short, directed by brothers Austin and Meredith Bragg, is at its best when fully leaning into the more humorous aspects of the script, or employing editing techniques most often seen in action movies to great comedic effect. It’s a sweet, somewhat familiar movie, though can never quite decide if it wants to completely lean into the absurdism or maintain some level of realism, so ends up feeling a little indecisive and stuck in places. Still, a decently tasty piece of cake.

You can read Anna’s interview with Austin and Meredith Bragg or you can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

Interview: Austin and Meredith Bragg Discuss Their Short Film, ‘A Piece of Cake’

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?

We can’t remember when we first heard about California’s unique situation when it comes to shiny cake confections, but it’s been banging around our heads for some time. We immediately knew it could do well as an exaggerated family-friendly drug war analogy, but that wasn’t enough for a film. It took us a while longer to come up with the actual story and ending we liked.

Eventually we brought it to an MPI short film writers workshop, where we continued to hone it. It was during that workshop that they approached us about backing the production. Naturally we jumped at that chance. 

Were there any major script changes from conception to end?

Definitely. Here are two that spring to mind…

Initially we had the dad drive to a sketchy cake shack in the middle of the desert, just across the California/Nevada state line. The parking lot was going to be filled with California license plates. But the realities of production made it cost prohibitive, so we created an urban cake den. 

The scene where Rich sits on the curb after learning dragees are illegal originally included a pigeon. It was a fun, somewhat surreal scene. We loved it. Unfortunately there was a bird quarantine in California at that time (foreshadowing!) and it was illegal to transport a pigeon onto set. We briefly discussed using an animatronic pigeon or swapping in a seagull—seagulls were outside the quarantine rules—but in the end it just made sense to rewrite the scene. That’s how we got to the birthday card. 

I really enjoyed the editing (specifically, I’m thinking about the scenes with the Cake Den boss and the dramatic travel to “the city”); what was that process like? Meredith, how much of a say did you get into how Austin edited the film?

Meredith: A good deal. Austin put together the final timeline and really cut the final film, but we both worked through the edit. There are even some of the trickier scenes where we both edited alts to see what worked best. Both of our fingerprints are all over the thing, but Austin was the master of the timeline and really did the hard work. 

Austin: I would simply add that it’s easy to get tunnel vision when editing on your own. Having Meredith in there as well opened up a lot of possibilities I wasn’t seeing.  

How do your directing styles differ?

Meredith: I will say that Austin, who has an acting background, is probably better with actors than I am.

Austin: And Meredith has more visual sense.

Meredith: But by the time we’re on set we’re both on the same page about what we need and what we want. It’s actually quite helpful when an issue that needs our attention comes up. We can be in two places at once. 

How do your directing styles complement each other?

The best part of having two of us is that it gives us twice as many ideas and they have to survive twice as much scrutiny.  We certainly have individual strengths and weaknesses—and we each know when to lean on the other.  

What was your career trajectory like? How did you branch out from more political-focused content to narrative shorts like A Piece of Cake—or were you always interested in narrative content as well?

From our days at Channel 101 to our 48-hour films and our Warner Bros. pilot, we’ve always been writing and directing comedy. Even at Reason a lot of our work is narrative and comedic. I think the biggest difference with A Piece of Cake is the scale. After years of shooting everything on our own with little to no budget, we’re pushing ourselves and our production values. 

How do you balance your schedule for filming personal projects like A Piece of Cake while also producing content for Reason TV and elsewhere?

Like most everyone else making shorts, it’s about carving out weekends and evenings and, when it’s time for production, using up vacation days. 

It helps to have forgiving families and access to caffeine. 

You’ve also made documentaries like Welcome to the Grave—what are some of the biggest differences working on a documentary vs. a narrative film? How did what you learn from the former affect your work on the latter?

I think it’s the difference between sculpting out of clay vs. marble. With documentaries you are limited by what occurred and the footage and assets you’ve gathered. Then you start to chip away and arrange the pieces into an arc. With narrative we get to build everything from the ground up and we can push and pull the story to fit our needs. 

We spend a lot more time on writing and pre-production on narratives, while in documentaries we spend more time in the edit. And that work on story structure is invaluable for assembling documentaries. 

What’s your favorite type of cake?

Meredith: I’m going to cheat and say key lime pie. 

Austin: German chocolate. Obviously. 

A Piece of Cake Trailer

You can read Anna’s review of A Piece of Cake or follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

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.

Sundance 2021 Interview and Review: You Wouldn’t Understand

Written by Anna Harrison

85/100

SYNOPSIS: In ‘You Wouldn’t Understand’, one man’s elegant picnic is shattered when a stranger approaches, leaving nothing but churning questions. Is it ever okay to interrupt someone at peace with a picnic? What motives lay beneath a seemingly mundane ask? What does decadence look like when locked in a time loop of horseradish and death? Ultimately, we’re reminded never to believe in the promise of a perfect day. the comfort of a blue sky, or the serenity of a beautiful setting. Because when a slow wave of Hitchcock smashes against the rocks of Monty Python, the result is a film and a world that you wouldn’t understand. But you should certainly try.

REVIEW: Time travel, time loops, destiny, free will. These are all very serious topics that typically get explored in very serious and often lengthy forms of media. You Wouldn’t Understand takes these topics, adds a dash of absurdism, and crunches them into a film that lasts less than ten minutes. The end result is a wonderfully bizarre short that packs a lot of fun into that time frame.

You Wouldn’t Understand immediately sets its tone as it opens on a man (Anthony Arkin) in a pretentious gray-toned outfit chuckling to himself as he eats at his picnic for one—complete with horseradish sauce (delicious, I guess?). He’s having a jolly good time guffawing at his book and looking out over the fields until another man (Jacob A. Ware) shows up. The second man seemingly murders someone who looks an awful lot like himself before jogging up to the first man, and jovially asking for the horseradish sauce, as one does. Things quickly snowball into a time travel conspiracy from there. As one does.

Director (and co-writer with Ware) Trish Harnetiaux manages to keep the film suspenseful while never losing the absurdly comedic tone, pulling off a tricky balancing act with deftness. Arkin and Ware give delightful performances, Arkin playing the ignorant straight man to Ware’s slightly unhinged time traveler(s) with a penchant for exaggeration. The script is clever and zany, the music is wonderful, and the nine minutes fly by in the best way possible. You Wouldn’t Understand does leave us with more questions than answers, but over-explaining would sap the life out of it—and, honestly, when you’re having this much fun watching a movie, who cares?

VIDEO INTERVIEW WITH WRITER/DIRECTOR Trish Harnetiaux

You Wouldn’t Understand is currently playing the Sundance 2021 Film Festival.

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: Pier-Philippe Chevigny Writer/Director/Editor Talks About His Short Film ‘Rebel’

Director Pier-Phillippe Chevigny’s Rebel was inspired by true events. When thousands of illegal immigrants flooded into Canada from the US in 2017,  Quebec’s right-wing groups went on the attack. This live-action short film has been selected for numerous world-class festivals including TIFF, Busan, Regard, Namur, and Vladivostok. It has won numerous awards including the Audience Award at DC Shorts, Best Short Film Award at the Tirana International Film Festival, and the Golden Spike Award for Best Short Film at the Social World 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?

I started toying with the idea in early 2017 when Quebec was just starting to see a significant rise in right-wing extremism. By August 2017, Quebec was hit with a migrant surge: thousands of refugees started fleeing the US after the Temporary Protected Status was suspended, most of whom came to Quebec by “illegally” crossing the border by foot. I wrote the script to REBEL while those events were unfolding and we applied for funding in the fall of that year. The film was greenlit and shot in the fall of 2018, it was completed in late Spring of 2019, and had its premiere at TIFF in September 2019. So about two years and a half from the first research effort to the world premiere. 

Were there any major script changes from conception to end?

In the original script, the refugees were envisioned as coming from Haiti, as at the time of writing, an overwhelming majority of people crossing the border into Quebec came from that country. When we auditioned actors for the role, since there is not a large community of Haitian actors in Montreal, we opened up the call to people from anywhere. We did group auditions and these two Persian actors, Amir Nakhjavani and Baharan Bani Ahmadi, came together for theirs and were absolutely spectacular. So we rewrote the roles to accommodate them. Other than that, the script is pretty close to the final film.

The film explicitly mentions Trump in its opening. What effects has he had in Canada, in your opinion? Did his rise influence the creation of the film?

Definitely. The main inspiration for REBEL is the 2017 migrant surge, which was directly caused by the Trump administration’s decision to suspend the TPS. REBEL wants to challenge the perception that Canada is devoid of racism, but it also aims to depict the very serious international consequences of American policies. The American Alt-Right movement in general also had a very strong influence on the rise of right-wing extremism in Quebec. Ever since the migrant crisis in 2017, we started seeing these very organized right-wing militia groups in Quebec, similar to the Proud Boys and other such groups in the States, getting a lot of mainstream media attention and becoming more and more active: that was a completely new phenomenon to us, the likes of which we had never seen before. Alexandre Bissonnette, the terrorist from the Quebec City Mosque shootings in 2017 was also a very enthusiastic Trump supporter. So yes, of course… “When America sneezes, Canada catches a cold”.

What made you decide to show the events depicted in the film through the eyes of a child? How did you approach these issues with Édouard-B. Larocque?

In the summer of 2017, there was a big right-wing rally in Quebec City organized by right-wing militia group La Meute. The very next day, one of how national newspapers had for its front page the picture of a very young boy who was waving a flag with La Meute’s logo on it. I thought to myself: that kid has no idea what the politics are being the whole movement, he’s obviously just following his parents. And I thought it’d be interesting to tell a story of right-wing extremism through the eyes of a child who doesn’t understand what it’s really about. Who doesn’t see it as “bad” or “evil”, because he is being raised inside the movement and never gets to question it. And have that kid witness something that triggers his understanding of the movement. Then put the audience in the very same headspace as him, and have them experience that “moment of realization” simultaneously. That’s what REBEL is about, which is why at first, the camera movements and framing are somewhat confusing. There’s no establishing shots, you don’t know where you are, the militia groups are hidden in the background, out-of-focus: just like the character, you’re oblivious to what’s really going on. And then, when the boy starts understanding the situation, it becomes much more edited, you get to look all around you and, finally, you also catch on to what’s really going on in those woods.

Édouard was very young when we auditioned it, he was barely six years old. Of course, he didn’t understand what the politics behind the film were either, but he did connect emotionally with the migrant family’s perspective. Deep down, the film is about empathy, and he understood that. He was surprisingly mature for his age and directing him in those scenes was actually quite easy. I also worked with an excellent acting coach, Ariane Castellanos, whose presence was invaluable.

Oftentimes, it’s easy to paint extreme right-wingers like those in the film as evil, but even though these characters do despicable things, they are empathetic in many ways: love for their children, friendship with each other, etc. Was it difficult to humanize them?

To be honest, that was mostly the result of my research. When I started getting interested in Quebec’s right-wing militia groups, I found out that its members weren’t exactly the neo-nazi skinheads I expected: they were actually normal people, with families and decent jobs. They were family guys and soccer moms, they brought their kids along to demonstrations…  And that’s what made it so frightening: there is nothing surprising about seeing skinheads march against immigration, but when everyday normal people start joining such radical movements, that’s a clear signal to me that something is wrong. I wanted REBEL to show that precisely, with seemingly decent parents doing despicable things such as taking their kids along to a migrant hunt like it’s some kind of family-friendly outing. As absurd and disconnected with reality as these characters seemed when I wrote the script as an anticipation piece three years ago, recent events show that we’re unfortunately not that far off…

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

I, for one, certainly wanted to raise awareness on the rise of right-wing extremism, which people really didn’t take that seriously when I made the film. But I also wanted to show a glimmer of hope. The ending is meant as a way to say that, while we may not be able to fix those issues right now, I have faith in the next generation’s ability to overcome our problems. 

What’s your favorite snack on set?

I’m usually so focused I forget to eat. Coffee!

Rebel Full Short Film

Rebel is currently available for free on Vimeo

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