Bastards’ Road

Written by Taylor Baker

77/100

While Bastards’ Road lacks a formal dazzle, it’s footage seems to contain the marrow of America. Jonathan Hancock walks 5,800 miles around the United States as a way of coping with his feelings after the experiences of his deployment in Ramadi. His unit the 2nd Battalion 4th Marines, are equally challenged by their experiences overseas. Jonathan ventures on foot, from one Marine’s home, to another. Across state lines, and through challenging weather conditions. There is footage of him singing Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off’ before recounting a story of meeting a family of skunks, as well as him looking directly into his phone camera explaining how he happened on a handgun and doesn’t want to touch it since he’s essentially a transient.

The footage consists largely of standard shots, a man walking down a road, an interview subject sitting in their home recounting a story, and lot’s of cellphone footage wherein Jonathan is recording a sort of diary shot vertically. There’s also a collection of landscape shots that could be directly lifted off the Discovery Channel or History Channel. I often thought the footage reminded me of American Pickers. The beauty of the film is it’s story, and like the men it’s about it’s not particularly sleek or new. It’s sturdy, reliable, and enough to complete the job. Watching Jonathan cry with Caleb Power’s family over his pickup truck, or watching him try to spend time with one of his friends’ young daughters is equally affecting.

Bastards’ Road Trailer

Bastards’ Road comes out on May 11th and will be available to rent or purchase on most major platforms.

Slamdance 2021 Review: No Trace (Nulle Trace)

Written by Anna Harrison

75/100

As I started No Trace, watching the black-and-white train tracks move by in a blur and hearing the discordant music, I braced myself for a jarring and unsettling experience like Persona, or some other esoteric, unreadable film. I still got an esoteric and unreadable film, but one that was soft and slow, that unfurled at its own leisurely pace. Director Simon Lavoie clearly draws from auteurs like Ingmar Bergman and others, and so in some ways No Trace feels familiar, but only in the sense that it resembles other films who make it a point to feel unfamiliar; compared with most mainstream or even semi-mainstream films, it feels alien.

No Trace follows two women, N (Monique Gosselin) and Awa (Nathalie Doummar), as N attempts to smuggle Awa and her child across an unnamed border in a dystopic future, but we are left only to guess at how this grim world came to be. N succeeds in getting Awa and the child to Awa’s husband, but on her way back, some thieves steal her handcar and force N to walk on foot. During N’s journey back, she once again encounters Awa, unconscious and injured and without husband or child. N helps nurse Awa back to health, and the two tentatively develop a strange, strenuous relationship that tests the both of them.

Gosselin and Doummar are perfectly cast; Gosselin as the hardened, no-nonsense atheist, and Doummar as the delicate-looking, wide-eyed Muslim. There is hardly a shot without Gosselin in the entire film, and director Simon Lavoie relies on her to carry long stretches without any dialogue. In fact, most of the film remains void of any speaking, relying instead on precise and careful sound design to craft a sense of the world around the women. When the characters do speak, they do so brusquely, with the exception of N and Awa’s brief discussion on religion.  

“You’re not a believer?” Awa asks. “I’m not that desperate yet,” N replies. In the end, both of their beliefs will be tested, and the audience can arrive at their own conclusions.

The cinematography is the most striking thing in No Trace: while filmed largely on train tracks or by a nondescript shed in a nondescript forest, Lavoie employs beautiful and clever shots, making even the most boring frame a work of art. (He also includes perhaps the most horrifying image I have ever seen on screen, which was not pleasant, but he does so without overreliance on gore or a huge shock factor.)

No Trace will no doubt leave many viewers frustrated. It changes aspect ratios seemingly on a whim, leaves many things ambiguous, and the slow pace can be a turn off in spots. The film has no clear narrative thrust, only vague brushstrokes, and so has no strong plot to propel itself forward. While Lavoie clearly intends this to happen, I still found my mind wandering in several places—though never too far. No Trace requires no small amount of patience and willingness to accept ambiguity, making your own meaning out of the images on screen, but once you find the patience to sit and soak in the beautiful shots and admire the near-silent performances, it proves to be a rewarding experience.

No Trace Trailer

You can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd, Twitter, Instagram, and her website.

Slamdance 2021 Review: Holy Frit

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

75/100

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.

Recommended.

Holy Frit Trailer

Buy a ticket to see Holy Frit at the Slamdance 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.

Slamdance 2021 Review: A Black Rift Begins to Yawn

Written by Taylor Baker

78/100

Meditative and melodic, A Black Rift Begins to Yawn soars on the back of low light and an unspecific sense of place. Like a deep dream, you don’t know where you are or when you are. But you can rely on the sensory input to feel like a “you are”. Matthew Wade’s ambiguous sophomore film, erases it’s budgetary constraints with smart choices that feel unifying instead of restricting.

Letting a singular early moment like when Laura and Lara are sipping coffee looking at the horizon while their bodies sway does more talking for the film then most expository dialogue dumps in hundred million dollar films do. Matthew not only directs and writes the film, but he serves as his own Composer, Editor, and Producer. With a continuous use of vapor, water, and light the film seems to come together naturally. As if it were simply a consequence of the footage, not something forced.

Liquid, light, glances, words, hidden actions, these all amount to something together but explaining their significance independently is nearly impossible. What connects our main characters? Who are they to each other? Questions like these are typically the very marrow of screenplay, but here they have as much significance as how far away the coyote yowling was. Which is to say, the thoughts crossed my mind, but an answer would have born no real significant weight to the journey. A Black Rift Begins to Yawn is felt rather than comprehended. Matthew Wade is an artist to watch as he continues to mature in his craft and master his voice as storyteller.

A Black Rift Begins to Yawn Clip

Buy a ticket to see A Black Rift Begins to Yawn at the Slamdance 2021 Film Festival

Slamdance 2021 Review: A Brixton Tale

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

50/100

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.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of what she’s up to here.

Slamdance 2021 Review: Bad Attitude: The Art of Spain Rodriguez

Written by Taylor Baker

77/100

Susan Stern’s reflective documentary on her husband, renowned cartoonist Spain Rodriguez, his life, and body of work offers a sincere engagement into his history, beliefs, and legacy. In the wide wake of the world renowned documentary Crumb by Terry Zwigoff the topic of underground cartoon’s can scarcely be skirted around in a conversation without a reference to the work. Going in to the film I was admittedly reducing it in thought to something adjacent to Zwigoff’s Crumb myself.

I was smitten by Stern’s presenting of her own personal interaction with her husband’s work, questioning herself just as pointedly as she questions him. Never alighting on a judgement, but rather sharing observation and what occurred, without recoloring it to make anyone appear in the right. Structured to keep the viewer from knowing exactly when the documentary is being shot until the end is perhaps the most pivotal choice Stern made, and an undeniably effective one. I would drone on about why this is such a masterful touch if it wouldn’t impact your viewing negatively, but it undoubtedly would. I’ll pivot instead to the strongest undercurrent of reflection in the film postulated by Stern, and that is Spain’s depiction of women. Undeniably lustful, and often pornographic. Spain depicted the female form in a way that his contemporary cartoonists in the burgeoning feminist genre of cartooning at best, disliked. It’s interesting to hear them describe their derision at some of the forms and stylings of his art while simultaneously praising him as a human to interact with. Someone who was sincere and truly grappled with good intentions and in good faith while in conversation.

Eventually we progress through his backstory from Buffalo and New York City, to his arrival in Los Angeles. In which a friend drove cross country to get him and bring him to LA for no real discernible reason. At least not in the narration and interview portions within the film share with us. Naturally, Zap Comix finally enters the picture at this point, Robert Crumb’s noted underground comix book. We hear from our talking heads how impactful those books were to the cartooning scene in New York City. What a genius move it was to do that with the ideas, and so on. Pieces of information anyone familiar with the underground comic scene has already heard multiple times elsewhere, but something that is required to make the piece stand on it’s own.

What constantly tempers and grounds the film is it’s focus on Spain. Once a young brash and burly biker teaching politics to a biker club with a Nazi Flag, Spain is now evolving his art across the country to new protagonists, new ideas, and new audiences. The new format almost seems an after thought to the natural progression of Spain the artist. He has a daughter we come to find, and she shares how protective a father he was always tucking his drawings away when she’d walk by. A far cry from the man we meet at the exposition of the film. Stern’s reflective Documentary is so filled with love and authenticity that it’s hard not to fall in love with it just as she did with Spain. I didn’t know who Spain was before, and now I’ll never forget him.

Bad Attitude: The Art of Spain Rodriguez Trailer

Buy a ticket to see Bad Attitude The Art of Spain Rodriguez at the Slamdance 2021 Film Festival

Keep up with distribution and screening news of Bad Attitude: The Art of Spain Rodriguez on their website

Slamdance 2021 Review: Bleeding Audio

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

80/100

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”.

Recommended 

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.

Bleeding Audio Trailer

Buy a ticket to see Bleeding Audio at the Slamdance 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.