Tribeca 2021 Film Festival Review: Unforgivable (Imperdonable)

Written by Alexander Reams


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.

Unforgivable (Imperdonable) Trailer

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

Tribeca 2021 Review: Werewolves Within

Written by Anna Harrison


Video game adaptations are practically always hit-or-miss, and they tend to lean (very) heavily into the “miss” category (see: Super Mario Bros., Mortal Kombat, Warcraft, etc.); while Werewolves Within doesn’t entirely buck this trend, it certainly heads in the right direction, riding on the coattails of its actors’ charms and resulting in a horror-comedy that’s a bit light on both the horror and the comedy, but nevertheless proves an amiable diversion with plenty of fun moments to spare. It probably helps that its gaming namesake is more like the game of mafia you played as a teenager than an actual narrative, leaving director Josh Ruben and Mishan Wolff ample room to inject their own sensibilities.

They’re helped by a game cast, led by Sam Richardson of Veep as Finn, a park ranger assigned to the town of Beaverfield after an unfortunate incident at his last posting. Richardson radiates an infectious likability from the moment he appears on screen and repeatedly yells “BALLS” in his car to make himself manlier. Upon arriving in town, Finn quickly meets Jeanine (Catherine Curtin) and Cecily (Milana Vayntrub of the AT&T commercials, proving here that she should be destined for greater things), the owner of the town bed and breakfast and the town’s mailperson, respectively. Cecily and Finn strike off to deliver a package to loner Emerson Flint (Glenn Fleshler), and go about meeting the various townspeople: there’s environmentalist Dr. Ellis (Rebecca Henderson), here to protest the pipeline proposed by corporate bigwig Sam Parker (Wayne Duvall); Marcus and Gwen (George Basil and Sarah Burns), a married couple who constantly insult one another as they run the town’s auto repair shop; other couple Trish and Pete (Michaela Watkins and Michael Chernus), who staunchly support the pipeline so Trish can get money to open a craft shop; and other other couple Devon and Joaquim (Cheyenne Jackson and Harvey Guillén, aka Guillermo from What We Do in the Shadows)—and yes, it’s Joaquim with an “m,” as he’s quick to remind us. 

Predictably, there’s a snowstorm and everyone gets stuck at Jeanine’s bed and breakfast after the power gets knocked out. Everything seems to be (mostly) fine until Finn stumbles upon the body of Jeanine’s missing husband, rumored to have escaped to Belize, and then the paranoia and whispers of lycanthropy set in.

Werewolves Within is never particularly scary, but it does utilize its claustrophobic setup to bounce some great comedic actors off each other with largely positive results. Richardson and Vayntrub in particular have excellent chemistry, but there is no weak link between the ensemble members, even if many of the gags go for broad topical humor rather than any sort of nuanced approach. Trish and Pete are the gun-toting, pro-pipeline, pro-America-but-in-a-very-annoying-and-aggressive-way conservative caricatures, Devon and Joaquim are the well-to-do gay yogi couple who correct your use of the phrase “Mexican standoff” and virtue signal constantly while doing very little in actuality. Like I said, not that nuanced, but fun enough for the most part (though there are certainly some jokes that fall flat regardless of political inclination). The cast by and large makes up for the flaws in the script, ensuring that the film retains a certain level of charm even when the script falters.

The final act, while not particularly surprising, features an intriguing dismantling of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, taking on casual misogyny in a fresh and inventive way—had the film spent more time with this idea, it might have soared; even undercooked, this idea was given more weight than any of the largely superficial jokes that came before, showing a glimpse of what could have been if the script handled its topics with just a little more care and subtlety. Still, even if Werewolves Within does not reach its full potential, the movie proves that not all video game adaptations are cursed.

Werewolves Within Trailer

Werewolves Within streamed as part of the Tribeca 2021 Film Festival thru Tribeca at Home. Release Date TBA.

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

Tribeca 2021 Film Festival Review: Stockholm Syndrome

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde


Stockholm Syndrome directed by The Architects is a documentary that tells the story of multi-hyphenate artist A$AP Rocky from infancy to world wide superstardom to his arrest in Sweden. Described by his friends and family as unorthodox, visionary, and ahead of his time Rocky is an artist in full control of his craft.  As an artist Rocky is never content until he can execute his vision at the most extreme level.  This apparent quest for perfection never comes off as cocky and instead it is just part of who he is. 

Born and bred in Harlem, Rocky started rapping at 8 years old–at influence of his older brother. This story culminates in Rocky’s 2019 arrest in Stockholm where Rocky and two of his friends were arrested for an alleged assault. While in confinement Rocky was alone with his thoughts, it gave him a lot of time to reflect on his life, especially his relationship with his father and the sacrifices his dad made that shaped Rocky into the man he is today. 

When recalling his treatment in jail Rocky said he felt that Swedish authorities wanted to make an example out of him. The most fascinating aspect of this documentary was understanding the differences between the American and Swedish legal system which has no bail system.  As Rocky remained in jail and his trial approached his arrest could have caused an even bigger diplomatic incident, between the countries, when former President Trump became involved and vouched for Rocky’s release. This was met with considerable push back from the Swedish government and former Swedish prime ministers that praised the independence of the Swedish judicial system. 

Rocky’s plight was also met with some criticism in the US by activists that were upset about arguments he made about the Black Lives Matter movement and Ferguson, MI in the past. When questioned about this, for the documentary, Rocky mentioned he still had a lot of learning to do and that his time in the Swedish prison made him “confront” his own blackness. The main takeaway from this doc, however, is this examination of criminal justice systems outside of the United States. Just as important, it highlighted how broken criminal justice is everywhere in the world and how problematic this idea of “guilty until proven innocent” is. 

It is almost as if Rocky’s story was a vessel to bring attention into systems of incarceration and racism in the United States and Sweden. Rocky and his friends were released on a suspended sentence. While this documentary did start to feel a little bit long towards the latter half, the creativity the directors interwove, particularly in the animation segments, helped drive Rocky’s story home. I’d say this is a must watch for Rocky’s fans and I’d highly recommend this to anyone else that is interested in learning more about the intersection of race, politics, diplomacy, fame, and the law in the US and abroad. 

Stockholm Syndrome Clip

Stockholm Syndrome screened as part of the Tribeca 2021 Film Festival thru Tribeca at Home(available only in the USA). Further Distribution TBD.

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

Tribeca 2021 Film Festival Review: Enjoy

Written by Anna Harrison


Saul Abraham’s short film Enjoy finds its protagonist Michael (Himesh Patel) unable to enjoy just about anything. A struggling musician also struggling with the deepest throes of depression, Michael drifts aimlessly around his world, being acted upon by others but never acting himself; he can’t even ask his wife, Katie (Maddy Hill), how her day was. His world is blue in every sense of the word, director of photography Tasha Back and production designer Eve Shillingford draping a sense of melancholy throughout the film through use of a cool color palette so that Michael’s exterior world reflects his interior; the result is a sadly beautiful short that easily conveys Michael’s depression without ever naming it.

While trying to pursue music, Michael begins a side gig as a tutor in order to make ends meet. Through this, he meets Archie (Tom Sweet), a foul-mouthed teenager who needles Michael about his lackluster music career. Despite Archie’s abrasive nature, Michael begins to see parallels between the two and, through his sessions with Archie, uncovers the deep sadness that anchors Archie’s anger. (There is a great scene where Archie and Michael recreate Loki’s speech in The Avengers about how “it’s the unspoken truth of humanity that you crave subjugation,” and though it elicits a good chuckle, there’s a much darker idea there of a teen whose life has spun out of control wanting to relinquish any choices so he can avoid pain—or, alternatively, wants to control others so he won’t get hurt again.)

Enjoy isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s an enjoyable short that deals with depression in a very gentle way. Patel and Sweet both give solid performances, making an impact even with a short amount of screentime (around 18 minutes), alternatingly funny and heartbreaking. There is no magic cure for Michael or Archie, as there isn’t for anyone in the world; the color palette doesn’t suddenly change, and Archie doesn’t become a star student overnight, but there remains a deep humanity in the characters that gives a flicker of hope. Though Michael may not be able to enjoy anything, viewers can certainly enjoy Enjoy.

Enjoy Trailer

You can read Anna’s interview with Enjoy director Saul Abraham here and see more of her work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

Tribeca 2021 Film Festival Interview: Director Saul Abraham Talks Short “Enjoy”

Interview by Anna Harrison

When did you first get the idea for this film? How long did the process from development to distribution take?

It is based on writer Callum Cameron’s personal experiences as a home tutor. He sent it to me a couple of years ago and I knew I wanted to be involved in the project straight away and luckily he agreed to develop it with me. I was struck by how delicately he handled feelings of misery, guilt, shame and worry whilst still making something warm, hopeful and funny. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at times and felt connected to Michael, as well as seeing a younger version of myself in Archie.

Were there any major script changes from conception to end?

As always, the script took many twists and turns in the development process but the original through line that Callum created was so strong that the root of it always remained consistent.

How collaborative was the process, i.e., did you get much say in the script, or was it mostly finalized by the time you were brought on board?

The development process was really collaborative but so was the rest of the process. Callum was fully in the trenches with me every step of the way on this. The story is very personal to him so it made sense for him to be part of everything and I loved that collaboration.

In that same vein, I really loved the color palette and production design; how much input did you have in that?

Glad you picked up on that! Yes, Tasha Back (director of photography), Eve Shillingford (production designer), and I put a lot of thought into palette and tone in each scene. We played with cold, blue tones at the lido and in Archie’s house to show the loneliness and isolation in those two places. Archie’s house in particular had to feel like a nice family house that had been abandoned and left cold by the break up of a family. The lido was to show Michael’s general mood—those scenes feeling almost dreamlike. Then at Michael and Katie’s flat we darkened everything down, making it feel oppressive and claustrophobic showing how boxed in Michael felt by not being able to communicate with Katie.

What was the editing process like? Did anything get left on the cutting room floor?

We were pretty specific with the script and what we shot so actually very little was cut out. But I did cut it myself so maybe I was too precious? Who knows!?

In one of the scenes, Michael and Archie reenact a scene from The Avengers (which was great) where Loki monologues that “it’s the unspoken truth of humanity that you crave subjugation” and we will only be happy when we have no choices. What made you decide on that scene in particular? How does it resonate in a film about depression

That was all Callum and his writing. I love that moment. I think he would agree to leave it all up to interpretation!

Tom Sweet, who played Archie, gave a great performance. How do you change your directing approach when working with younger actors, if you change it at all?

Tom Sweet blew us all away—perfectly balancing the spoilt brat element of the character whilst also getting us to feel for him. Such an intelligent actor for someone so young; it was a joy to work with him. I have lots of techniques for working with child actors and making them feel more comfortable, but to be completely honest they weren’t needed with Tom as he took it all in his stride. What impressed me so much was how well he listened to the other actors. Often with child actors they have learnt their lines and rehearsed a set way of delivering them and it’s hard to break them out of that. But Tom reacted to subtle changes made by Himesh [Patel] and Sara [Stewart] from take to take and was always present in the scene. He also took on direction fantastically.

One thing I really liked about the film was the ending—there wasn’t some big moment where Michael was “cured,” which can often happen in movies about mental illness. Could you elaborate a bit on the ending and its ambiguity?

Callum and I always wanted the film to have an ambiguous ending mainly because that’s our experience of our own mental health. It’s complex and never really has an ‘I am cured’ moment. Sometimes you have days, weeks, months or even years where you feel like you have turned a corner but then suddenly it changes. I feel like that is something we should talk about more with regards to mental health and that is looking at ways we need to monitor and look after ourselves in the ups and downs rather than looking for a complete solution, which to be honest doesn’t exist. Or maybe I haven’t found it yet? Having said that, although the ending is ambiguous I hope it’s still hopeful.

Do you have a favorite film you’ve watched at Tribeca so far? (Or just this year in general!)

I haven’t seen any yet but I just got my sent all the films and I can’t wait to watch. Check back with me in a week!

Enjoy played at the Tribeca 2021 Film Festival.

You can read Anna’s review of Enjoy here and see more of her work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

Tribeca 2021 Film Festival Capsule Review: The Kicksled Choir

Written by Alexander Reams


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.

The Kicksled Choir Trailer

The Kicksled Choir played at the Tribeca 2021 Film Festival. Distribution TBA.

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

Tribeca 2021 Film Festival Review: Last Film Show

Written by Anna Harrison


Pan Nalin’s Last Film Show opens with a thank you to people the director has likely never met: the Lumière brothers, Eadweard Muybridge, David Lean, Stanley Kubrick, and Andrei Tarkovsky. Some of these names are familiar to the public at large, some less so, but all giants in the world of cinema, and Nalin’s thanks to them as the film opens sets the tone of love and reverence on display throughout Last Film Show, a beautifully shot ode to filmmaking and storytelling, told with care that practically bleeds through the screen (the irony that I watched this on my computer screen and not in a theater with a projector is not lost on me, don’t worry).

It’s hard, even knowing little about Nalin himself, not to view this film as an autobiography of sorts, but then again it could be an autobiography of sorts for anyone who has ever stared transfixed at a movie and wondered at what they were seeing. Last Film Show follows nine-year-old Samay (Bhavin Rabari), who, like so many of us before him, falls in love with the movies. Even if we can’t relate to his specific circumstances, we relate to the feeling, to the transcendence Samay feels as he holds his hand up to the projector light and watches the beams dance through his fingers. Samay’s father (Dipen Raval) disapproves, but Samay begins to sneak away from school and spend his afternoons with the Galaxy Cinema’s projectionist, Fazal (Bhavesh Shrimali), giving Fazal food in exchange for knowledge and free movies. (The love for food is also quite evident in the film; movies tell stories one way, and food another.)

Samay becomes fascinated by the inner workings of the projector: the lights, the reels, the reflections. He finds broken bottles with colored glass and holds them up to his eyes, the world now filtered through blue, or red, or green. He uses a mirror to create light, watching it refract and bounce. “I want to become movies,” he says. Eventually, Samay ropes his friends into helping him build his own projector, using the knowledge that Fazal taught him to bring movie magic to his friends. Cinematographer Swapnil S. Sonawane makes all these scenes as beautiful as possible, and fills them with homages to other movies, most notably 2001: A Space Odyssey. The monolith in Kubrick’s film awakens our ancestors’ consciousness; here, a movie does the same to Samay.

But Samay’s world comes tumbling down with the rise of digital photography, replacing his beloved film reels. There is a real melancholy here, the colors becoming stark and cold as the projector in Galaxy Cinema gets hauled away, replaced by a computer and a room with bleak white walls. The closeness that Samay felt holding the film in his hands, cutting it, winding it through the projector—it all fades. Last Film Show is all about transitions: Galaxy Cinema goes digital and Fazal loses his job, the train that runs through Samay’s town becomes electric and the town loses its train stop and thus Samay’s father loses his job, Samay goes from child to if not adult, then at least a child with his eyes opened to the uglier side of the world.

The gentle awe with which this film is imbued wanes somewhat in the third act, becoming replaced with slightly overwrought melodrama, and the pace quickens too rapidly from the steadiness of before. Yet Nalin crafts Last Film Show with such care and gentleness that even then you can’t help but feel like a kid again, watching a movie for the first time, or perhaps even those first theatergoers who believed the Lumière brothers’ train was going to come out of the screen and into their seats. It’s nostalgic, but not stuck in the past, as the ending voiceover reminds us: the film that Samay watched burn gets turned into bangles, and so the stories of Spielberg, of Ozu, of Eisenstein all live on, even as their medium changes. 

Maxim Gorky, upon seeing his first film—that famous train from the Lumières—cried that cinema was “the Kingdom of Shadows,” forever resting on the edge between real and unreal; Fazal in Last Film Show explains that “movies were invented to con people.” Yet even if the films themselves are lies, what we feel from them are undoubtedly, achingly true, and Nalin lets Last Film Show reminds us of that.

Last Film Show Trailer

Last Film Show was screened as part of the Tribeca 2021 Film Festival.

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

Tribeca 2021 Film Festival Review: Settlers

Written by Patrick Hao


In the past month there have been unprecedented heat waves and forest fires in the Pacific Northwest, a fire in the Gulf of Mexico from broken gas pipes(the ocean was on actual FIRE), and melting polar ice caps. With the hubris of humans on Earth causing these climate disasters, the uber-rich have begun imagining a way to travel and colonize Mars. Director Wyatt Rockefeller (yes of those Rockefeller’s) unsuccessfully tries distilling these current anxieties of unending resource consumption, greed, and colonization into the film Settlers, a grim neo-western set on Mars.

Set in the future, years after the Mars atmosphere has been made inhabitable for humans (the how is never explained) and settlements have come and gone, Settlers follows a family consisting of Reza (Jonny Lee Miller), his wife Ilsa (Sofia Boutella), and their daughter Remmy (Brooklynn Prince) on a farm, seemingly surrounded only by a vast landscape. Their anxiety soon ratchets up when it becomes clear that the family is not alone, as they begin to hear howls in the distance and the message of “Leave” is left on their window. It is revealed that the family had acquired the farm through violent means, as they begin to be terrorized by Jerry (Ismael Cruz Córdova), the son of the farm’s former occupants who wants to reclaim his land.

Rockefeller gets a lot of mileage from filming on location in the beautiful Vioolsdrif desert in South America. Filmed with the typical red hue to denote Mars, the homestead ranch juxtaposed against the miles of barren landscape really highlights the themes of isolation and loneliness that run throughout the film. Rockefeller uses the filmic language of the Classic Hollywood western to draw parallels between the old notions of settlements of the Western Frontier in the 1800’s and all the complications that comes with, and that of a possible Mars settlement.

However, the film’s allegories become muddled with its confused depiction of Jerry. The character seems to be an amalgamation of all the movie tropes of an indigenous character from an old western. He is, on one hand, in tune with nature as he is cultivates the homestead’s land for much needed resources, and, on the other hand, craven in his desires, especially sexually. His character design, as well, draws troubling comparisons to indigenous people. Any criticisms of colonialism and human greed are undermined by the shortsightedness of a depiction such as this.

Problematic depictions aside, the film quickly becomes dramatically inert after a tense first act. The film relies too much on long meandering stretches of brooding characters completing chores. While it creates a good atmosphere, there is not enough thematic underpinnings that warrant such long stretches. The film is never as thrilling or suspenseful as the opening third and premise suggests. Settlers ultimately feels like a first film, grand in ambition, but shallow in thought. Rockefeller certainly has the eye for a striking image and the ability to stretch a budget. The film is admirable in its earnestness in wanting to engage with the heady issues that underpins the film, but never seems to connect any of the sociopolitical implications of the film beyond humans having the capacity to be “bad.”

Settlers Trailer

Settlers is currently available to purchase and rent on most digital storefronts.

You can follow Patrick and his passion for film on Letterboxd and Twitter.

Tribeca 2021 Film Festival Review: Wu Hai

Written by Anna Harrison


Yang Hua (Huang Xuan) has not been having a very good day, or week, or year in Zhao Ziyang’s Wu Hai. Hua has debtors tailing him at every corner after a failed investment into a dinosaur theme park, and his investment into his friend Luo Yu’s (Wang Shaohua) desert resort has so far coughed up nothing except empty promises. His wife, Miao Wei (Yang Zishan), has reached the end of her rope, and a surprise pregnancy doesn’t help things. In Wu Hai, money is truly the root of all evil; the characters may have flaws to begin with, but the debts they incur mercilessly bring out these flaws until the characters inflict misery both on themselves and everyone around them.

Thankfully, all this misery business does not make Wu Hai too dour to watch, due in large part to Huang Xuan’s performance. Given such a bleak script, it would have been easy for Huang to slip into melodrama, but instead he opts for a subtler approach; Hua fights to keep his encroaching sense of anguish clamped down, and so when he lets it out it becomes all the more powerful for the restraint shown before. The other actors turn in fine performances as well, but their characters largely stay on the sidelines, existing only to give Hua more grief and heartache.

Grief and heartache, however, are not enough to capture an audience, and Wu Hai often lags in spots and, despite Hua’s impending downfall, seems to lack much momentum. There are flurries of activity scattered throughout the film, such as a powerfully acted argument between Hua and his wife, but the lulls in between threaten to derail the film. More interesting parts of the film are left largely undercooked: the class insecurity that contributes to Hua’s crumbling mental state, obsession with status, the treatment and exploitation of women in order to climb the rungs of society. For a deliberately slow film that tries to be thoughtful in its handling of plot, these deeper aspects getting left behind is doubly frustrating.

Luckily, cinematographer Matthias Delvaux keeps the film looking good even as viewers’ interest in the plot might wane. Delvaux’s use of long takes builds tension in the film; instead of cutting rapidly to replicate a feeling of anxiety, he lets us linger as it slowly builds. This also allows the actors to play off each other without interruption, and we can watch Hua’s face run through the gamut of emotions all within a single take. One particularly evocative shot involves Hua climbing into the mouth of a T. rex statue, swallowed whole by capitalism, in the belly of the beast.

Wu Hai has enough engaging elements to elevate itself—namely, Huang’s performance and Delvaux’s cinematography—but those can only do so much. Had the script taken time to examine its components more in depth, Wu Hai could have been a searing commentary on China’s current economic system; as is, Wu Hai stands on the cusp of greatness but can never go over the edge. (In that, it might be a little like its protagonist.)

Wu Hai Trailer

Wu Hai played as part of the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. Release Date TBA.

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

Tribeca 2021 Film Festival Interview: Producer Natalie Metzger Talks “Werewolves Within” and “The Beta Test”

Interview by Anna Harrison

Natalie Metzger is an award-winning director, writer, and producer based in Los Angeles and known for films such as Werewolves Within and The Beta Test, both of which had their premieres at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. Additionally, she has produced The Wolf of Snow Hollow and Thunder Road, which won the Grand Jury Award at SXSW.

Keep up with Natalie and her projects on Facebook, IMDb, Instagram, Twitter, Vimeo, and her website.

Werewolves Within and The Beta Test both premiered at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.​ You can read Anna’s review of Werewolves Within here.

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