Sundance 2021 Interview: Frank Barrera Cinematographer of ‘Together Together’

Interview by Anna Harrison

SYNOPSIS: When young loner Anna is hired as the gestational surrogate for Matt, a single man in his 40s who wants a child, the two strangers come to realize this unexpected relationship will quickly challenge their perceptions of connection, boundaries and the particulars of love.

Frank Barrera’s Website: https://www.frankbarrera.com/

Together Together played during the Sundance 2021 Film Festival.

You can read Maria’s review of Together Together and you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website.

Sundance 2021 Interview: Jonathan Snipes Composer/Sound Designer of ‘A Glitch in the Matrix’

Interview by Anna Harrison

Jonathan Snipes’ Website: http://jonat8han.com/

A Glitch in the Matrix takes audiences on a journey through science and philosophy to examine the theory that humans live in a simulation and the world as people know it is not real. It is a documentary style animated horror and composer Jonathan Snipes emulated the theme of the film into the score. Jonathan was inspired by 90s electronic beats and used those throughout the music. Beyond being the composer on this film, Jonathan also held the role of sound designer, sound supervisor, and re-recording mixer. Jonathan is also a longtime collaborator of Hamilton and Blindspotting star Daveed Diggs, through their freestyle rap group Clipping, and produced other Daveed tracks including Rappin Ced in the credits and album of Pixar’s Soul and Disney’s Puppy for Hannukah song. Alongside his work in film, he also works extensively as a theater sound designer, especially in Los Angeles’ Geffen theater. He also teaches a course on sound design in UCLA’s theater department.

A Glitch in the Matrix Trailer

A Glitch in the Matrix played as an official selection of the Sundance 2021 Film Festival. It has been released on VOD by Magnolia Pictures and is also available through Virtual Screenings.

You can read Anna’s review of A Glitch in the Matrix or you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website.

Sundance 2021 Review: The Pink Cloud (A Nuvem Rosa)

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

70/100

The Pink Cloud is the third pandemic adjacent movie I’ve seen in these past few months, the other two being Little Fish, my favorite movie of 2020, and the atrocious Michael Bay produced Song Bird. The movie might seem familiar for those who have seen Contagion (2013), the South Korean The Flu (2013) or the Argentine Toxico (2020); what sets it apart however is the intimate focus on the psychological traumas of a pandemic. This first feature written and directed by Brazilian filmmaker Iuli Gerbase signals a somewhat of a resurgence of Brazilian cinema, especially movies that lean more towards the sci-fi/magical realism realm not unlike last year’s fantastic Bacurau. 

Here we continue that exploration through the eyes of Renata de Lelis’ Giovana and Eduardo Mendoca Yago who are forced together into isolation after their first date. In a relationship that would have probably lead to nowhere our leads are forced to explore their dynamic as a couple while navigating the loneliness isolation brings even if there’s some else there with you. While Yago accepts this new reality of confinement Giovana longs for normalcy and loathes her new reality. The struggles we see on screen are those psychological struggles and internal demons we confront at some point during our lives. All happening with the backdrop of a pandemic (quick note movie was written and made before the COVID19 pandemic) and is magnified by the uncommon situation our characters find themselves in. 

An intimate portrayal of life, all of its neurosis, and psychological trauma it can bring. The Pink Cloud is a remarkable debut feature from Iuli Gerbase. This is one of those films that I’d suggest you go into with as little information as possible and just sit with it when you’re done. I for one cannot wait to see what’s next for Gerbase and the continued resurgence of genre Brazilian filmmaking. 

Recommended

The Pink Cloud Trailer

The Pink Cloud is currently awaiting Distribution and it played as part 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: A Glitch in the Matrix

Written by Anna Harrison

70/100

A Glitch in the Matrix starts off by examining an idea that’s been bandied about for years and viewed with varying amounts of skepticism: what if we live in a simulation à la The Matrix? The film heavily features Philip K. Dick’s lecture in 1977 wherein he declares we are, in fact, living in a simulation, a weighty declaration from one of the foremost science-fiction oriented minds. Elon Musk and other bigwigs pop up with soundbites, but A Glitch in the Matrix focuses most of its time on ordinary people—some with families, some without; some with advanced degrees, some with high school diplomas—who happen to subscribe to this theory. 

Director Rodney Ascher playfully obscures the faces of many interviewees with animated, mechanical masks, complete with creaking and scraping sound effects provided by sound designer and composer Jonathan Snipes that toe the line between diegetic and non-diegetic. (The film possesses a level of self-awareness that many within it do not.) We never get to see the expressions of those interviewed, but they lay bare their souls as they describe the metaphysical experiences that led them to believe in the simulation theory. Ascher rarely judges; he simply lets the speakers speak, often accompanied by extensive animations of their narratives and underlaid with appropriately eerie music, though there are moments when the viewers—and speakers—are brought back to reality. At one point, an interviewee’s dogs start barking, completely breaking the immersion and giving a much-needed moment of levity.

The first half of the film is interesting enough, if not that groundbreaking aside from the largely-animated style. The second half, however, examines a question I have not often seen brought up alongside the simulation theory: if we are in a simulation, then our actions should have no real consequences, and so what does that mean for our morality? How do we relate to other people?

Here, the film gets more intriguing and more harrowing, especially as we hear Joshua Cooke speak calmly of murdering his adoptive parents at the age of 19 while believing he was inside the Matrix. Yet many of the others interviewed, strange as it may sound, took the apparent lack of consequences in a simulated world and went in the opposite direction, wanting to “level up” for the person controlling them, concerned more with doing good than running amok. Several admissions turn out to be unexpectedly touching.

This is A Glitch in the Matrix at its best: engaging at a personal level with those interviewed, discussing the why over the what. Unfortunately, this is largely delegated to the back half of the film, but while we have to wait awhile before getting to the heart of the matter, it turns out that the heart, simulated or not, beats quite strongly.

A Glitch in the Matrix Trailer

A Glitch in the Matrix is now available everywhere

You can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website

Sundance 2021 Review: The World to Come

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

65/100 

With Portrait of A Lady on Fire (2019) as the gold standard, everything that’s come after it has seemed subpar. Fastvold’s second feature, The World to Come, isn’t bad; but it’s hard to ignore comparisons to its precursor Portrait, which shares similar themes. Although superior to the recently released Ammonite (2020), The World to Come suffers from the timing of having to follow up Sciamma’s masterpiece. 

It’s a slow burn (which I adored) and an intimate portrayal of two women who are unhappy in their separate marriages. They find a sense of self, of love, and renewed purpose in each other. I most enjoyed the continued exploration of the female gaze. When I see and hear stories about women on film it is essential that I hear them from a woman’s perspective. This grounds the reality I see on screen with the reality I live.

Anchored by Waterston and Kirby’s performances, and captured vividly at times by André Chemetoff’s cinematography. The World to Come is a story of intimacy and loss that we don’t often see. Though it lacks the swooning magic that made me fall in love with Portrait of A Lady of Fire. It still manages to be a satisfactory addition to the frontier romance drama, even if it fails to be bigger than it’s individual moments.

The World to Come Trailer

The World to Come is currently scheduled to have a limited release February 12th 2021 and become available on March 2nd 2021 on VOD platforms.

The World to Come played at 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 | Wrap Up Discussion With Members of ForReel and Drink in the Movies

That’s a wrap for Sundance 2021! In this video, Taylor Beaumont leads a conversation with Thomas Stoneham-Judge and Taylor Baker, talking about everyone’s experiences with the festival. We recap as much as possible, from the festival platform to award winners to festival favorites to honorable mentions.

Learn more about Sundance Film Festival

The Wanting Mare

Written by Anna Harrison

70/100

SYNOPSIS: In the world of Anmaere, north of the city of Whithren, wild horses run through the moorlands and up the coast. These horses are the city’s most valuable export and, as a result, are hunted, trapped, sold, and shipped across the sea once a year. For those in Whithren, this trade passage creates lucrative and exciting possibilities: the chance to escape their constantly sweltering city and escape to the Western continent of Levithen, or simply to begin again.

Meanwhile, in a small house just north of the city, a young woman dies in childbirth. Her last words are an attempt to tell her daughter of the life she’ll have and her inheritance of a recurring dream that must be kept secret — for it contains the memories of another age long before us, one where magic and myth were alive in the world.

That daughter now left behind is Moira. She grows alone in Whithren, without anyone to explain her dream, her unique difference, or her place in the world. As a result, she resolves to leave Whithren at all costs, and employs the help of Lawrence, a wounded young man engaged in the criminal enterprise of stealing tickets.

This begins a series of events that echo over the next thirty-five years of their life, the life of a child found screaming on the rocks, and through the alleys and coasts of Whithren… a city hidden in the fog, wanting in heat, now beginning again.

REVIEW: The Wanting Mare is a breath of fresh air amidst the inundation of remakes, sequels, and spinoffs (and I say this as someone who has rabidly dissected just about every Marvel Cinematic Universe offering). Its setting feels incredibly familiar and at the same time eerily distinct: Director Nicholas Ashe Bateman creates a world that settles comfortably in its uncanny valley-like similarity to ours, a world populated by people who dress and speak like us but inhabit a different universe. A world called Anmaere, where wild horses are the most valuable export and people will kill to get a ticket out.

The film follows a woman named Moira (Ashleigh Nutt, Jordan Monaghan, and Christine Kellogg-Darrin all playing Moira at different ages)—whose family has matrilineally passed down the same dream for generations—and her daughters (Yasamin Keshtkar and Maxine Muster) as they look for a way out of the city of Whithren. The camera remains glued to the actors the entire time, almost never leaving their faces; it feels almost claustrophobic. Part of this, of course, is to save money on sprawling and detailed CGI locations, but it creates a sense of intimacy. The world is big, but our glimpse into it is small.

In some ways, this does hinder the world-building. We have been told about Anmaere, but our eyes can’t see what we’ve heard, so some of the plot points that rely on our knowledge of the in-film universe feel underexplained. However, the personal focus of the film makes viewers feel closely acquainted with the characters, and, in an ironic way, lets the world feel more lived-in. We might not know everything about the city or continent, but we know the characters, and through them, we gain a rudimentary understanding of the world and how it affects its citizens. And, on the plus side, there are no awkward exposition dumps.

Where The Wanting Mare really excels is its visuals. Nicholas Ashe Bateman has extensive work as a visual effects supervisor (such as for the upcoming A24 film The Green Knight), and it shows. Bateman shot almost the entirety of the movie in a warehouse in Paterson, New Jersey, but you would never know. He transforms concrete walls into a rocky shoreline or a distant coast, and does so with such a deft touch that the audience can barely catch on to the fact that the film wasn’t shot on location. Bateman’s visuals fill the movie both with warmth and foreignness at the same time; I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

I do wish that The Wanting Mare had taken a bit more time to explain its plot and the characters’ relationships, for there were several times where I had to rack my brains to remember what was happening. Still, even during those moments, I enjoyed watching the movie as a visual treat. Experiencing a film that feels wholly unique has become a rarer and rarer experience, but The Wanting Mare managed to craft something entirely original, and for that, I am grateful.

The Wanting Mare Trailer

The Wanting Mare is now available in U.S. Cinemas and on VOD Nationwide as of February 5th.

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

Sundance 2021 Review: Together Together

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

60/100 

Nikole Beckwith’s Together Together is what I’d call a typical Sundance film. It’s quirky but doesn’t overdo it. We are quickly told the story of Matt and his surrogate Anna. While I admit it is nice to see a surrogacy journey I could not see a lot of myself in the film and had a hard time connecting with the story. 

I love Ed Helms but his character Matt’s stalkerish and controlling behavior and “need” to connect with his surrogate really put me off the film. It was the little things like asking Anna on a dinner date, when she clearly did not want to go, and controlling what she ordered because she’s pregnant with his baby. Or that time they were talking with a surrogacy counselor and he ignored her and acted like she wasn’t even in the room. There was also that time when he showed up at her work, a coffee shop, and unannounced brought her pair of clogs and tea to make her feel more comfortable even though she explicitly told him she did not want to tell anyone she’s pregnant. Or that time Matt got upset Anna was having sex with a rando. The list could go on and on. 

I was also frustrated with Patti Harrison’s, Anna. She wants her space but, at the same time, there are little moments she spends with Matt, like when they pick out the color of the nursery where she was okay with their dynamic or let’s him touch her belly when they are in bed together. The movie is dotted with a few funny moments here and there but that’s not enough to make up for the other problems I described. 

There are also a few moments where the movies question traditional gender stereotypes. Like when Matt and Anna discuss if it’s okay for Matt to have a baby shower? Or they discuss what being a single mom or single dad looks like especially the lack of pregnancy books for single men.  The movie tries to make up for Matt’s behavior by portraying Matt as someone who is supportive and helps Anna navigate her fractured relationship with her family. Anna insists that they should set up boundaries because she won’t be in the baby’s life once it’s born but then accepts Matt’s invitation when he asks her to move in until the baby is delivered.    

Ultimately, I think it tries too hard to be charming and sweet. It tries to question traditional stereotypes (which is something I generally love to see on film) but it doesn’t completely succeed in doing so. My favorite character and moments in the film were Julio Torres’ (Jules) and his one liners. I definitely want to watch more of Beckwith, Harrison, and Torres’ work in the future. I know that this movie will find an audience, but it just wasn’t for me.

Together Together played during 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: Homeroom

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

75/100

Homeroom editors Kristina Motwani and Rebecca Adorno are recipients of the Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award presented at the Sundance 2021 Film Festival.

SYNOPSIS: Director Peter Nicks has spent more than a decade chronicling life in Oakland, CA through the lens of its diverse public institutions, revealing deep insights into some of the most consequential chapters of recent American history. The third and most personal in a trilogy of vérité portraits [The Waiting Room (2012), The Force (2017)], Homeroom follows a group of high school seniors in the tumultuous school year ending in Spring 2020. At centerstage is Denilson Garibo, one of two Student Directors on the Board of Education representing the 36,000 students in the Oakland Unified School District. A year derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic and rocked by the na/onal trauma of the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others, Homeroom celebrates the tenacity of today’s youth. Confronted with crisis after crisis and coming of age in a chaotic world has not instilled pessimism, but a galvanizing determination to make change.

REVIEW: The kids are going to be alright! This might be a cliché conclusion but it was the overwhelming sensation I felt when I finished watching Homeroom, the finale of Peter Nicks’ trilogy about the great American city of Oakland, CA. In this documentary, we followed the senior class of 2020 at Oakland High School as they navigated the 2019-2020 academic year. Nicks’ documentary is well crafted and shines a light on the confounding problems Black and brown people face in the country.

These problems include, but are not limited to, a financial crisis, a housing crisis, an education crisis, food insecurity, police brutality, gentrification, COVID, an impeachment trial (the first one), and racial equality protests. We see all these crises and events unfold through the eye of high school students, particularly the members of the All-City Council Governing Board Student Union, as they fight against budget cuts and increased police presence in their schools. The students showcased in the documentary showed grit, determination, and conviction in fighting for what they believe in. In fact, I’d even go as far as saying they are much more grown-up than the school board members and elected officials that are supposed to represent them.

At its core this documentary is about the power of youth and the voices that they bring. It tells the story of Oakland but I am sure that it could be translated to many other American cities. One thing that a really appreciated is that Nicks’ did not make COVID19 the focal point of this piece instead integrated the story of the pandemic into a larger narrative about what was happening in the students’ lives. I would have really loved to see name cards pop-up when students were introduced because oftentimes I found myself forgetting their names as the documentary progressed. This small issue aside, this documentary was a good snapshot of the moment we are living in.

Recommended.

Homeroom played during the Sundance 2021 Film Festival and is currently awaiting distribution.

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: Pleasure

Written by Taylor Baker

86/100

WARNING: EXPLICIT SEXUAL CONTENT

SYNOPSIS: Bella (Sofia Kappel) arrives in America with 25 tattoos, pierced nipples and a burning desire to make her mark in moving images. At Customs, when the U.S. agent asks the ambitious 19-year-old Swede if she’s in America for business or pleasure, there’s a beat. For Bella, who goes under porn name Bella Cherry, there is a fine line between business and “pleasure.”

Starting at the bottom, living with sloppy roommates in an innocuous shared house, she gradually enters the hierarchical world of adult cinema. As she bonds with her housemates, she discovers that the road to porn stardom demands that a young woman must practice and accomplish increasingly difficult and sometimes distressing “stunts.” This is the big leagues where performing a double anal on camera is like a professional skater’s triple axel. As time passes, Bella rises. She lands high-end adult movie agent Mark Spiegler (The 2012 Adult Video News Hall of Famer nicknamed Shylock plays himself). Leaving her roomies behind, Bella becomes a “Spiegler Girl,” taking limos to outrageous pool parties, filming scenes in fabulous Los Angeles mansions, and receiving an unsentimental education in the trade’s tricks.

Strong, self-confident but naive, Bella believes she can mold the corrupt system to satisfy her needs. But, in the end, she must confront whether she’ll pay with her soul for stardom, or not. That’s the high cost of being a hot young female body in the pleasure business from debut feature writer-director Ninja Thyberg whose 2013 short of the same name debuted at Cannes where it won a Canal+ Award.

REVIEW: There’s been what feels like dozens of Directorial Debuts at this years Sundance 2021 Film Festival. And only a handful touch the soaring heights and delicious biting criticism of Ninja(Nin-ya) Thyberg’s Debut Feature Film Pleasure. Cleverly titled as a response to a question that Jessica gives in the very start of the film. A love child of the industry reflexivity we saw in Refn’s The Neon Demon and the unrepressive imagery(full frontal male nudity) of Gaspar Noé’s oeuvre, Pleasure is entirely her own and rather than pulling us down her narrative–she makes us take it. Jessica is played by newcomer Sofia Kappel who by all appearances in the film has the makings of an unassuming and at times charismatic star. She assumes the name ‘Bella Cherry’ and embarks on a path to pursue a lucrative career in the Adult Film Industry.

Rather than casting her film with conventional performers, Thyberg chooses to lean on the talent that she seems to be dunking. At one point Kappel’s ‘Bella Cherry’ has finished shooting a scene and her face is covered in ejaculate. Rather than end the scene there, with the scene ostensibly finished the camera turns it’s sights off of Kappel’s face and pivots in real time into the camera and camera man she’s performing to. Uncannily clever Thyberg holds up the “black mirror” of who this was for in Kappel’s local experience, who it was physically aimed toward, and transfers the viewer of the Pornography from themselves to the man standing there. It’s a powerful shot that stands out amongst a half dozen equally powerful choices that Thyberg makes.

Inevitably the topic of sexual abuse arises, first as an offhand joke when she arrives from Sweden to her driver(Chris Cock) about why she wanted to join the industry. But this topic resurfaces, uncomfortably in two deceptively brutal scenes. Postulating consent in the “industry” as a philosophical problem in a brand new frame. Ultimately the extremity of Thyberg’s voice never broaches to crass, there’s always a tone of “this is how things are” to her depictions of sexuality, until ingeniously she once again flips the reality presented to the viewer on it’s head. Pleasure is a daring and unconventional piece of cinema that boldly and clearly announces Ninja as a contemporary filmmaker with a cultural criticism that goes past the surface level. If audiences will break convention to openly support and discuss her film, it seems inevitable that we’ll graced with more. A storyteller with a voice like this doesn’t stop after throwing just one punch.

I’ll leave you with a brief quote of Thyberg’s own words on the themes and her frame of thinking on her piece.

Ninja Thyberg, director of Pleasure, an official selection of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Karin Stenwall.

“I think, unfortunately, a lot of people dehumanize the people that they masturbate to.”

Ninja Thyberg