Unseen Films Sundance (2022) review: ‘NAVALNY’ (coming to CNN and HBOMax in the spring.)

NAVALNY

Follows the man who survived an assassination attempt by poisoning with a lethal nerve agent in August 2020. During his months-long recovery he makes shocking discoveries about the attempt on his life and decides to return home.


My final film for Sundance was  NAVALNY about the Russian opposition leader whom Putin had poisoned with a nerve toxin that if administered correctly shuts off all of your nerves, killing you in a way that looks like a natural death because it dissipates quickly from the body.  The film is an examination of the poisoning by various places including the excellent Bellingcat coupled with a look at Navalny’s career.

Coming into the film after several days of my friends talking it up, I was initially rather disappointed. The early part of the film was kind of dull and run-of-the-mill. The film wasn’t doing anything bad, rather it was hitting the typical points of a story like this. It wasn’t until the poisoning happened that the film clicked and we were off to the races as the story of trying to find a smoking gun link to Putin gave a serious shot of adrenaline into the proceedings. Suddenly there was not only a mystery to be solved but also there was a real danger to the proceedings because other than a stupid person can see clearly how evil Putin is.

I really liked this film a great deal. It’s a compelling story with a connection to current events (the Russian threatened invasion of Ukraine).  You really get a sense of how bad Putin is for his country and the world.

If I have any reservations is that watching the film doesn’t always give us an entirely clear-eyed picture of Navalny. The filmmakers clearly love him, and there’s is no denying he’s at least a seeming better choice than Putin, but there are still questions about his past (links to ultranationalists) and he is a bit too smooth for me to entirely take the word of one film.

Reservations aside the film is highly recommended, if for no other reason than it’s a hell of a story.



To read all of Steve Sundance 2022 coverage, head over to Unseen Films!


Unseen Films Sundance (2022) Midnight review: ‘PIGGY’

PIGGY

An overweight teen is bullied by a clique of cool girls poolside while holidaying in her village. The long walk home will change the rest of her life.


Laura Galán will probably become an international star after people see PIGGY because she gives the role everything and then some. Truthfully if Oscar noticed films like this she would be a front runner, but the Academy never does, so her Oscar will no doubt come for some other, lesser performance.

I probably shouldn’t say this but PIGGY made me laugh. This tale of Sara, a heavy girl who ends up tied to the crimes of a serial killer, struck me as exceedingly funny. The reason for my chuckling was that everything was so overdone. For me, it played like an uncomfortable comedy where lots of bad things happened and a lot of blood flowed.
While I admire Laura Galán’s work, I have to wonder if writer Carlotta Pereda likes the character. She abuses the shit out of Sara and has her running around in such a way that she always seems to be on the verge of being completely naked both physically and emotionally. It never struck as believable because she is never given a respite, even for a second. What’s worse, the ending, which I guess is supposed to be cathartic, just didn’t make sense.
Then again much of this film doesn’t make sense, with so much of the film seemed to provoke a reaction either in the audience or the characters, with the result that some of the turns had me scratching my head-beginning with why in the hell the killer would leave a body underwater where he does- I mean it was clearly going to be discovered ASAP.
Yes, the film provokes a reaction, but I don’t know if it does more than that. The plot doesn’t make much sense and as a portrait of bullying, it’s so over the top and so incredibly cruel, especially to its main character, that on its own terms it isn’t one that should be preaching.

Worth a look for Laura Galán’s performance, I’m not too sure of the rest.


To read the rest of Steve’s Sundance 2022 footage head over to Unseen Films!


Sundance (2022) review: In ‘DUAL’ writer-director Riley Stearns wades into emotional darkness through deadpan sci-fi.

DUAL

 After receiving a terminal diagnosis, Sarah commissions a clone of herself to ease the loss for her friends and family. When she makes a miraculous recovery, her attempt to have her clone decommissioned fails, and leads to a court-mandated duel to the death.


The minute I realized the deadpan nature of most of the cast’s delivery, I exclaimed, “Oh shit, this has to be by Riley Stearns!” In 2019, I saw The Art Of Self-Defense, and the stylized nature of the dialogue has stuck with me ever since. Festivals can be a blur. I usually enjoy going into a screening blind. Either that or I can’t remember a damn thing by the time I’ve consumed 20+ films. Lucky for me, DUAL was my final watch. It was on my dance card immediately because of Gillan and Paul. I’m a big fan of Doctor Who and Westworld, and this plot sounded like a combo of the two worlds. I wasn’t necessarily wrong from a storyline and humor perspective. 

There’s a blunt absurdity to it everything in this film. The indifferent nature of this emotionally complex scenario makes it cringe-worthy in the best way possible. There is no filter on anyone. Aaron Paul is Trent, Sarah’s Death Dual coach. He’s so zen and focused you cannot help but smirk every time he speaks. Could I watch him dance every day of the week? You’re damn right. Would I hire his character to teach me to disassociate violence and be a badass? Every time. Karen Gillan plays both original and clone Sarah. They are two distinct but equally fascinating characters. As original Sarah, her dispassionate personality is jarring. Once her training begins, Gillan’s past roles come in handy. As her clone, she gets to play Sarah with a bit more uppity finesse. Besides her tone, Gillan’s physicality made me laugh out loud. The 110% commitment by these actors makes DUAL so damn entertaining. Beyond the sci-fi aspect, it’s the emotional depth and darkness that hits me harder a day after watching. Riley Stearns, you wily bastard. You got me again.

Cast: Karen Gillan, Aaron Paul, Beulah Koale.

World Premiere.


To find out more about tickets and the full lineup for Sundance 2022, click here!


Sundance (2022) reviews: ‘The Cathedral’ & ‘Framing Agnes’ are two very different films retelling the past.

THE CATHEDRAL

An only child’s account of an American family’s rise and fall over two decades.

Fascinatingly stylized look at the memories that compromise our childhood, The Cathedral is a unique entry in the Sundance 2022 NEXT section. Writer-Director Ricky D’Ambrose uses static camera work to capture angles a child might see, either themselves or from physical photographs from an album. Interspersed with news clips and commercials from the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s, the sets, and costumes nail the eras. The Cathedral is narrated by an unknown female voice, recalling the family history in a frank, rather emotionless manner. There are jarring moments due to the lack of sensitivity. They speak volumes and, they make you squirm. There’s something about a multigenerational household that can ruffle feathers. The awkward exchanges from grandmother to grandson, the one-sided conversations from volatile phone calls, and those infamous family gatherings are all things we can relate to from our childhoods. 

Performances run the gambit between harsh, exuberant, uneventful, and that is what makes them so realistic. Our memories are but a collection of random references. The anxiety we carry as adults may stem from events such as divorce and/ or prolonged exposure to familial toxic masculinity. At least for many in my generation. The Cathedral shows us D’Ambrose’s ability to captivate an audience in the most unexpected ways. I’m eager to see what comes next.


Cast: Brian d’Arcy James, Monica Barbaro, Mark Zeisler, Geraldine Singer, William Bednar-Carter.

North American Premiere. Fiction.


FRAMING AGNES

After discovering case files from a 1950s gender clinic, a cast of trans actors turn a talk show inside out to confront the legacy of a young trans woman forced to choose between honesty and access.


If you think trans history is something new, Sundance 2022 documentary Framing Agnes is about to blow your mind. Director Chase Joynt, sociologist Kristen Schilt, historian Jules Gill-Peterson, and trans actors Zachary Drucker, Angelica Ross, Silas Howard, Jen Richards, and Max Wolf Valerio all play dual roles. The doc is structured in reenactments of the 2017 discovered files from Dr. Harold Garfinkel’s UCLA gender health study in the 1950s. Christine Jorgensen‘s glamourized story plays as a backdrop for the media. In many ways, trans women find it difficult to avoid. Through the UCLA transcripts, we learn about the varied physical and emotional difficulties they endure daily. The interviews are presented in a 50s era talkshow format, spotlighting the sensationalized platforms of the past all the way to the Katie Couric interview with Carmen Carrera and Laverne Cox. This experimental mesh of styles would also present well in a live stage format. It’s an important film that further enlightens us of the plight of the trans community. Framing Agnes melds past and present in a beautiful way. While it’s a personal film for the cast and crew, it will also hit home for a wide range of viewers.


For Sundance 2022 full line-up, tickets, and more click here!


Sundance (2022) review: Family friendly ‘MAIKA’ is universally entertaining.

SYNOPSIS:
Ham Tran’s Maika follows 8-year-old Hung, who is still coping with the death of his mother and having difficulty connecting to his father, when his best friend moves away, along with others in his apartment as a greedy landlord conspires to push everyone out so he can sell the place. One night, as Hung retreats to the roof to be alone and watch the night sky he witnesses an errant falling star hitting the ground by a lake near his town. Hung hops on his bike in search of adventure. He arrives at the crash site, and instead of a meteor, discovers an alien girl from the planet Maika, who came in search of her lost friend. As Hung helps Maika find her friend and get back to her home, she inadvertently helps Hung make new friends and mend his broken heart. But danger lurks everywhere, as Hung is not the only one who knows of his new alien friend…


A grieving boy comes face to face with an alien girl trying to find her way home. Their adventures will bring unadulterated joy to Sundance 2022 audiences. Maika‘s cinematography is eye-popping. The production team dressed the sets and the actors in ways that hypnotized me. It’s the perfect eye candy for kids and parents alike. 

Our three youngest leads, Phu Trong, Diep Anh Chu, and Tin Tin are darling. These kids are out of this world fantastic. Their relationships are the purest and most honest I’ve seen in ages. You’ll double over in fits of giggles at Hung and Maika’s first interaction, while unexpected sidekick Beo takes the comedy to the next level.  

Maika has a familiar arc with all the finesse of E.T. and the charming goofiness of Little Rascals. Maika stands out with the emotional pull of grief and unconditional love. Add in some family-friendly subplot hijinks, all wrapped in a hilarious and sweet package, and you’ve got yourself a hit. With a whimsical score, every aspect of this film is enchanting. I laughed and cried a lot. Dub this in every language because its messaging is undeniably universal. It is a magnificent addition to Sundance 2022. Maika’s future is written in the stars.


Director/Writer:                      Ham Tran
Producers:                             Jenni Trang Le, Duy Ho, Anderson Le, Bao Nguyen
Executive Producers:           Quang Binh Nguyen Phan, Bich Hien Ngo Thi
Associate Producer:             Vi Vincent Ngo                           
Editors:                                  Ham Tran, Jayson Cabugason, Eunice Goh Yi Hui
Cinematographer:                 Minh Cong Trang
Composer:                             Christopher Wong
Cast:                                       Phu Truong, Diep Anh Chu, Tin Tin, Ngoc Tuong, Kim Nha
TRT:                                        105 min
Country:                                 Vietnam


To find out more about the entire Sundance 2022 lineup, click here!

Sundance (2022) review: ‘Meet Me In The Bathroom’ is a story of fame, friendship, and influence.

MEET ME IN THE BATHROOM

An immersive journey through the New York music scene of the early 2000s. A new generation kick-started a musical rebirth for New York City that reverberated around the world.


I was a Freshman in college in NYC when The Strokes, Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, Interpol, and The Moldy Peaches were making a name for themselves. They came about in the city pre-9/11 and the ensuing global turbulence in the following years. New York’s energy back then was a revitalized monster that has not let up since. Music and art would serve as our escape and savior and influence us forever. Based on Lizzy Goodman‘s book, directors Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern Sundance 2022 doc, Meet Me In The Bathroom, perfectly encompasses that rebirth. 

Meet Me In The Bathroom talks about the push and pull between art and fame. The relatable anxiety of Julian Casablancas makes the film all the more charming. The Strokes, Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, Interpol, and The Moldy Peaches‘ nonchalance and earnest wonder at their lives will enchant you. The fame facade was just that; these artists were far more interested in music than money. It speaks to the plight of the artist in general. The darker reasons we make art. It’s a deflection and/or coping mechanism. 

9/11 is still visceral for those that were here on that day. Any footage still brings cold sweats and chills from head to toe. There’s a video of these musicians walking in the ash-covered streets. The aftermath of sadness in the days and nights that followed, how we coped was through art and creation. I was a musical theatre major at the time, which means I really wanted to be a rockstar. At the time, Karen O explains, performance was our only outlet. We were not quite kids, not quite adults. Any Gen X New Yorker still has that fire 20 years later.

The editing is a whirlwind of wonderful. Their personal footage and raw confessions make Meet Me In The Bathroom a pretty riveting watch. Their bold honesty keeps you glued to your seat. (Almost) ending with one long uncut take of Karen O in “Maps” is goddam magic. It’s a real stand-out from Sundance 2022 because it just plain rocks. 


To find out more about the entire Sundance 2022 lineup, click here!


Sundance (2022) review: ‘GOD’S COUNTRY’ is far beyond a feminist reclamation of power. It’s a “Hell Yes” of a film.

GOD’S COUNTRY

Based on the short story “Winter Light” by James Lee Burke, Sundance 2022 feature GOD’S COUNTRY is here to rock you to your core. Sandra Guidry is a local professor mourning the loss of her mother. She now resides alone, surrounded by memories of her past and the miles of wilderness that make up her canyon property. When she arrives home to find a red truck parked in her yard, it is accosting, at the very least. When it reappears the following day, Sandra confronts the passengers. After polite requests to desist, matters escalate, and a battle of wills begins. 

Ingenuity, culture, and passion all have you cheering out loud for Sandra. The script smartly comments on race in America. Sandra’s quiet “don’t fuck with me” attitude makes God’s Country as successful as it is. It also tackles commonality in a carefully curated way, allowing us to take breaths amongst the deep-seated hatred and ignorance. But, don’t for a second get comfortable. God’s Country is ultimately about power. 

Thandiwe Newton is spectacular. She’s fearless, vulnerable, and captivating. Sandra’s backstory adds another level of insight for the audience. Newton masterfully uses every device in her toolbox. There is a relentless simmering of anxiety that keeps you unsettled. The repetition of the rising water visual takes on an entirely new meaning as the plot progresses. 

Shaye Ogbonna and director Julian Highins’ screenplay shifts the power dynamic. It’s a reclamation of sorts, a rise above trauma, work through of grief, and obliteration of toxic masculinity. The final shot will stop your heart. God’s Country demands your attention with its complexities. It’s a tremendous highlight of Sundance 2022.


To find out more about the entire Sundance 2022 lineup, click here!


Sundance (2022) review: ‘Brian and Charles’ is a hilarious and heartwarming buddy comedy.

BRIAN AND CHARLES

After a particularly harsh winter Brian goes into a deep depression; completely isolated and with no one to talk to, Brian does what any sane person would do when faced with such a melancholic situation. He builds a robot.


Brian is an eccentric inventor of creative, if not completely useless, things. After accidentally inventing a robot, he experiences the gambit emotions, the likes of which both he and the audience are not prepared for.

You have to wonder how much of the dialogue is improvised based upon David Earl‘s genius timing and rhythm. You will fall in love with this character. Earl creates a man that’s loveable, kind, and hilarious. You laugh out loud at moments that perhaps should not be funny. Ultimately, it’s Brian’s earnest care and wonder for Charles that hits you in the heart.

Chris Hayward as Charles is absolutely darling. As he is a newly created being, he possesses the whole of knowledge and yet has the social-emotional intelligence of a toddler. His unpredictable nature makes the chemistry with Earl pure magic.

 The awkward juxtaposition of Charles’ massively disproportionate body with Brian makes for quite the visual gag at any given moment. Bravo to Earl and Hayward for this one-of-a-kind screenplay. The mockumentary structure adds an extra element of levity. If you’re not grinning from ear to ear, I suggest you get your head checked. There is no doubt in my mind that this will be one of the biggest hits out of Sundance 2022. Brian and Charles is bursting with charm.


To find out more about the entire Sundance 2022 lineup, click here!


Sundance (2022) review: Rachel Lear’s ‘To The End’ is a doc where planet, politics, and progressive climate action collide.

TO THE END

Stopping the climate crisis is a question of political courage, and the clock is ticking. Over three years of turbulence and crisis, four young women fight for a Green New Deal, and ignite a historic shift in U.S. climate politics.


To The End shines a light on the young activist movement that must succeed for us to survive, quite literally. This film took what was essentially a talking point to the vast majority of the country and finally gave it faces and ideas that mean something. The documentary spans a timeframe from the 2018 election cycle, the beginning of COVID, Black Lives Matter marches, to the 2020 election, the Code Red report, and most recently, the Build Back Better legislation. It clearly illustrates the inadequacies in our government and their direct connection to climate. It’s an inescapable reality for the audience. 

Heavily featured are the Sunrise Movement and their behind-the-scenes grassroots machine. They are the future of the climate movement. We know who Greta Thunberg is. We can conjure her image instantly. To The End introduces us to new faces. Varshini Prakash, Alexandra Rojas, and Rhiana Gunn-Wright should be added to our visual catalog. Another strong female household name that is also a large part of the climate narrative and the film is Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. I must admit, I was incredibly impressed by AOC and her resolute stance. Living in Manhattan, I’ve watched her rise to prominence through the lens of the media. To The End was the first time I got to see her unfiltered. You will not walk away from this film without newfound respect. 

The balance between performative politics and passionate change is a thin line. The open disdain for President Biden feels unproductive. It’s comparative to 2016 with Hillary Vs. Bernie Bros. Quite frankly, it’s borderline dangerous. Perhaps, this perspective has everything to do with my age and political exposure. I’ve worked on campaigns. I know how the legislative process works and how it doesn’t. Do I wish President Biden would use the power of the Executive Order more? Absolutely. I share the frustration and understand the urgency. I am terrified as I witness the destruction of the Earth at such a rapid pace. I do not want my young children to grow up and think that I say idly by as my parents’ generation has done for long enough. That is where the importance of To The End becomes crystal clear. There is a way forward through action and persistence, and the film is a successful blueprint on the real steps towards tangible progress. This passionate, up-and-coming generation of activists believes they can move the dial. I sure hope they do, for everyone’s sake. 


For more information on Sundance 2022 click here!


Sundance (2022) Midnight review: ‘SPEAK NO EVIL’ annihilates the notion of a gracious host.

SPEAK NO EVIL

A Danish family visits a Dutch family they met on a holiday. What was supposed to be an idyllic weekend slowly starts unraveling as the Danes try to stay polite in the face of unpleasantness.


After meeting on an Italian holiday, two young families spend a weekend together in the Dutch countryside. Cultural misunderstanding and language barriers aren’t the only things creating tension, as guests become increasingly uncomfortable with their host family. 

The ominous score puts your frame of mind into peril immediately. Performances across the board will have you hanging on every word. The sly dialogue combined with increasingly cringe-worthy behavior keeps your skin crawling and your pulse elevated every second of the film. You are humming with anticipation of something terrible. Speak No Evil is the epitome of psychological horror. 

These people are not unfamiliar; the manipulation, the overly opinionated, the inappropriate, and overtly abusive. Boundaries are crossed and outright obliterated. As if that weren’t enough, the ultimate reveal of this odd couple will absolutely terrify you. Speak No Evil’s final third had me digging my nails into my palms so hard they almost drew blood. If that is not an endorsement, I don’t know what is.



To find out more about the entire Sundance 2022 lineup, click here!


Unseen Films Sundance (2022) review: ‘FIRE OF LOVE’

FIRE OF LOVE


This is the story of volcanologists  Katia and Maurice Krafft who met and fell in love with each other and the earth’s firey mountains.

Made up mostly of the words and images of the Kraffts the film is many things. It is one of the most visually stunning films of the last few years. It is a history of volcanology over the life of the Krafft’s. It is one of the grandest love stories of our times. And the film is a philosophical examination of life and man’s place in the world. I was moved to tears.

What I love about the film is that the film doesn’t try to tell us everything, and in so doing does. Nominally it is about these two people, but the telling makes it into a myth. Not in the untrue sort of way, but the myth that gets at the hidden truth of human existence. It’s exactly the sort of thing that Werner Herzog strives for in his films where he will bend things toward the fantastic to give us a great truth. I don’t think anything was bent, I just think the shaping was a bit more mythic than the reality. And this is fine because it puts the love story on the level of the massive and overpowering volcanos

I can’t say this enough, the film moved me to tears.

A must-see, this is one of Sundances and 2022’s truly great films


To read all of Steve’s coverage of Sundance 2022, be sure to head over to Unseen Films!

To find out more about the entire Sundance 2022 lineup, click here!


Sundance (2022) review: ‘WATCHER’ is a slow-burn story of gaslighting and daily dread.

WATCHER

Julia joins her husband when he relocates to his family’s native Romania for a new job. Having recently abandoned her acting career, she finds herself frequently alone and unoccupied.


Maika Monroe has solidified herself as a genre darling. If you somehow missed her It Follows or Villains, she’s a captivating performer. In Watcher writer-director, Chloe Okuno introduces us to a young couple’s international move to Bucharest takes a terrifying turn. A string of local murders haunts Julia as she spends her days alone and becomes aware of a neighbor staring at her from his apartment each night. Watcher takes you on a journey of cultural clash, instinct, and terror.

The film echoes the ingrained fear that women endure daily. We constantly live in a heightened state of awareness and anxiety that is exhausting. But it’s not only that aspect; it’s the gaslighting that might be more impactful than anything else and, its ensuing isolation can feel all-consuming. Monroe is in almost every frame. Her mindset will be all too familiar for the female audience. The sense that someone is a bit too close, looking at you a moment too long, and in many cases, we are helpless. What Monroe brings bravery to Julia that allows the viewer to be cautiously optimistic about her safety. Okuno and Zach Ford‘s script gives her a sense of action while maintaining fragility. It’s the moments of courage that we get to root for while simultaneously biting our nails. It’s a beautiful balance. Benjamin Kirk Nielsen‘s cinematography combined with Okuno’s blocking also put the viewer in Julia’s state of peril. Accompanied by a string-heavy score is everything we need it to be. The emotional manipulation in this film is sheer brilliance. While it’s not necessarily a new storyline, it is the bold approach that sets it apart. Watcher will have you maniacally screaming at the screen in terror and frustration. Sundance audiences are in for a ride.


To find out more about the entire Sundance 2022 lineup, click here!


Unseen Films reviews: Sundance (2022) feature ‘Leonor Will Never Die’

LEONOR WILL NEVER DIE

Leonor is an older woman who can’t pay her bills. Her plan to sell an old script to a movie producer goes awry when she is clonked on the head by a TV and put into a coma. As her family deals with her medical issues she is living her script for real. It a one of a kind movie that mashes together genres into a film that is unlike any other, If you want a film that isn’t Hollywood but is entertaining look no further. This is one crazy film that mixes drama-comedy and 1980s action films into a story that grabs you and pulls you along.

I don’t know how to discuss this film. Then again I don’t know if I should. The film is just starting out on its journey to get to your screen and I don’t want to take the specialness of it away by telling you everything. I say this because I’m pretty certain this is going to hit a number of festivals in the coming months.

I will say that some of this doesn’t work. I was a bit lost at times, on the other hand, the film is so good that the bumps don’t matter.

Recommended, especially if you like off Hollywood one-of-a-kind gems.


To read all of Steve’s coverage of Sundance 2022, head over to Unseen Films!


Sundance 2022 short film review: ‘Long Line of Ladies’ is an intimate look into celebrating tradition and womanhood.

Long Line of Ladies

A girl and her community prepare for her Ihuk, the once-dormant coming of age ceremony of the Karuk tribe of Northern California.


A journey of tradition and self-discovery, Long Line of Ladies is a Sundance 2022 short film that allows us to peek behind the curtain of a once lost ceremony in the Karuk tribe.

The openness of the Karuk culture and the lack of toxic masculinity are so refreshing to witness. The entire community comes together to support each young lady as an individual. They are gentle and ceaselessly encouraging. The deep connection to traditions and nature is mirrored in the ceremony. After fasting, a young lady is blindfolded on a journey through the woods for 4 days, then emerges to perform a dance. The meaning and emotion behind it made my heart swell. It symbolizes her journey into womanhood so perfectly. This intimate portrait of cultural tradition will live with me for a long time. As a mother of a little girl that will soon be five, Long Line of Ladies inspires me to seek out a way to honor what has mostly been deemed an embarrassing or awkward transition. It makes me want to do better for the next generation. 

Long Line of Ladies – Teaser from Rayka Zehtabchi on Vimeo.


Directed by:
Rayka Zehtabchi & Shaandiin Tome

Produced by:
Garrett Schiff, Pimm Tripp-Allen, Rayka Zehtabchi, Sam Davis and Dana Kurth

Run Time: 
22 minutes


ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS: 

Rayka Zehtabchi 
is an Academy Award-winning director and producer working in both documentary and fiction. In 2019, Rayka became the first Iranian woman to win an Oscar for her film “Period. End of Sentence.,” which can be seen on Netflix worldwide. In all her projects, she brings a naturalistic approach to her storytelling, striving for honesty and intimacy on screen.

Shaandiin Tome is a recognized writer, director, and cinematographer from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her award-winning break-out short film Mud (Hashtł’ishnii) premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018. She aims to bring resonating imagery in a blend of convergence with story, illustrating her perspective as a Diné woman.



Online Screening
Thursday, January 20 @ 8:00 AM PST to Sunday, January 30 @ 10:59PM PST


To find out more about the entire Sundance 2022 lineup, click here!


 

Unseen Films reviews: Sundance (2022) Midnight feature ‘FRESH’

Fresh

(Spoilers Ahead)


I have to do this review in two pieces. The first is going to be a no-spoiler review and the second will have more details for those who don’t care about spoilers 

Part 1- No Spoilers

FRESH is the story of Noa, a young lady who is unlucky at love. She bemoans the fact to her friend that she can’t meet anyone nice online. She then meets Steve, a charming doctor in the supermarket. sparks fly and they are soon heading off to a quiet weekend getaway, where Steve reveals his appetites.

Without giving anything away this is a not bad little thriller that suffers from our having been here before and a pace that stretches things to almost two hours.

Part 2- Spoiler filled discussion

FRESH is a really well-made film with great performances, I just wish that the script and the pacing were up to everything else.

No, wait I wish going in the promotional material didn’t use the term “appetites” since it pretty much tells you someone is getting eaten. I suspect that the copywriter thought they were being clever, but the fact is it’s not, and coupled with the film’s love of food you know how this might go.

The real problem here is that after a leisurely first 35 minutes during which things are set up and we aren’t quite sure where this is going to go, the film turns and suddenly we’re in the “heroine is chained in a room genre” that has been done so many times that we can largely figure it out where it’s going. I mean the filmmakers gave Noa a plucky friend who wasn’t certin the trip was a good idea, so you know help is on the way. I felt no suspense while watching the film, other than curiosity about what condition the other trapped girl was going to be in.

It doesn’t help that the film runs almost two hours for no really good reason other than to have some sequences play out to 80’s songs in a “clever” way.  Despite what the film thinks it is not reinventing the wheel, and while entertaining it never really does anything to stand out from an overcrowded subgenre.

While I freely admit the fact that I see way too many films, especially horror/thrillers, every year influenced my feelings for the film, I can’t imagine anyone other than a non-horror film fan being over the moon about this film. (Additionally I also freely admit that the fact I had seen 30 Sundance films before I got to this did influence my feelings)

Then again the cast is so good that I could be wrong.

Ultimately worth a look for the curious.


Fresh will stream exclusively on Hulu starting on March 4.


To read all of Steve’s coverage of Sundance 2022, be sure to head over to Unseen Films!

To find out more about the entire Sundance 2022 lineup, click here!


Sundance (2022) short film review: ‘Warsha’ is pure cinematic joy.

WARSHA

Warsha follows Mohammad, a Syrian migrant working as a crane operator in Beirut. One morning he volunteers to take on one of the tallest and notoriously most dangerous cranes in Lebanon. Away from everyone’s eyes, he is able to live out his secret passion and find freedom.


Circumstance drowning out his authenticity, Mohammad takes a risk at his construction job in the short film Warsha. Handheld and tight cinematography force the viewer into the vibrating chaos. But it’s the wide shots that astound in their scale and shared panic and awe. You will not see where this short is going.

Khansa plays Mohammad with a captivating vulnerability. Warsha introduces the entire world to Khansa, a multi-disciplinary artist redefining masculinity in the Middle East. I had chills watching his transformation. What brilliant casting. Writer-director Dania Bdeir has given Sundance audiences a short film that defies gender stereotypes. Its celebratory nature will leave you breathless.


To find out more information on Sundance 2022, including screening times, click here!


Sundance 2022: Some of what we’ll be watching at this year’s festival, and it’s a lot.

Having switched from in-person to completely virtual, audiences of Sundance 2022 will have the opportunity to see a plethora of entertainment that will terrify, tantalize, and remind you of why we love storytelling so much. From horror to drama, television series to shorts, documentaries to VR experiences, we’ll be watching as much as our eyes can consume from January 20-30th. Things are finding distribution left and right, with is always great news. That means even if you miss something during the festival, it will most likely be coming to a theater or streaming platform very soon.

There is something for everyone. Genre favorite filmmakers, writers, actors, and wearers of all the hats,  Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, are bringing their latest film Something In The Dirt. Cooper Raif‘s newest Cha Cha Real Smooth is one we’re stoked for. His debut feature Shithouse was one of the most accurate films about college life I’ve ever seen. The shorts lineup this year is bound to blow you away. Do not overlook them, I beg you. There are feature documentaries on Kanye West and Princess Diana, the rise of TikTok, and Slave to Sirens (the first and only all-woman thrash metal band in the Middle East).

Without further ado, here is a list of some of the amazing content we’re excited about this year.


 U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION

Cha Cha Real Smooth / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Cooper Raiff, Producers: Dakota Johnson, Ro Donnelly, Erik Feig, Jessica Switch, Cooper Raiff) — A directionless college graduate embarks on a relationship with a young mom and her teenage daughter while learning the boundaries of his new bar mitzvah party-starting gig. Cast: Dakota Johnson, Cooper Raiff, Vanessa Burghardt, Evan Assante, Brad Garrett, Leslie Mann. World Premiere.

Besides Raiff being an obvious phenom, I suspect this one will hit harder for those with children on the spectrum. I’m particularly excited for Vanessa Burghardt’s performance, as she is on the spectrum herself. Representation matters, across the board.

Dual / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Riley Stearns, Producers: Nate Bolotin, Aram Tertzakian, Lee Kim, Riley Stearns, Nick Spicer, Maxime Cottray) — After receiving a terminal diagnosis, Sarah commissions a clone of herself to ease the loss for her friends and family. When she makes a miraculous recovery, her attempt to have her clone decommissioned fails, and leads to a court-mandated duel to the death. Cast: Karen Gillan, Aaron Paul, Beulah Koale. World Premiere.

This plot sounds like something out of West World and Doctor Who. Did I just mention those because of Paul and Gillan? Happy coincidence.


U.S. DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

I Didn’t See You There / U.S.A. (Director: Reid Davenport, Producer: Keith Wilson) — Spurred by the spectacle of a circus tent that goes up outside his Oakland apartment, a disabled filmmaker launches into an unflinching meditation on freakdom, (in)visibility, and the pursuit of individual agency. World Premiere.

I fell into advocacy for those with disabilities when my son was diagnosed on the autism spectrum. I have a feeling that this film will give me a deeper understanding of not only my son’s perspective on society but the ever-present need for awareness and empathy.


WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION

Brian And CharlesU.K. (Director: Jim Archer, Screenwriters: David Earl, Chris Hayward, Producer: Rupert Majendie)  — A story of friendship, love, and letting go. And a 7ft tall robot that eats cabbages. A comedy shot in documentary format. Cast: David Earl, Chris Hayward, Louise Brealey, Jamie Michie, Lowri Izzard, Mari Izzard. World Premiere.

Prediction: Brian And Charles will be one of the most endearing films of the entire festival. This unlikely buddy comedy is sure to capture everyone’s heart.

 

Leonor Will Never DiePhilippines (Director and Screenwriter: Martika Ramirez Escobar, Producers: Monster Jimenez, Mario Cornejo)  — Fiction and reality blur when Leonor, a retired filmmaker, falls into a coma after a television lands on her head, compelling her to become the action hero of her unfinished screenplay. Cast: Sheila Francisco, Bong Cabrera, Rocky Salumbides, Anthony Falcon. World Premiere.

As a writer, I’m selfishly looking forward to this. There’s always a bit of myself in my fiction, and who wouldn’t want to become an action hero?


WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

Calendar GirlsSweden (Directors, Screenwriters, and Producers: Maria Loohufvud, Love Martinsen) — A coming-of-golden-age look at Florida’s most dedicated dance team for women over 60, shaking up the outdated image of “the little old lady,” and calling for everyone to dance their hearts out, while they still can. World Premiere.

Dancing since the age of three, this 41-year-old is looking for a few new role models.

 

Nothing Compares / Ireland, U.K. (Director: Kathryn Ferguson, Producers: Eleanor Emptage, Michael Mallie) — The story of Sinéad O’Connor’s phenomenal rise to worldwide fame and subsequent exile from the pop mainstream. Focusing on Sinéad’s prophetic words and deeds from 1987 to 1993, the film reflects on the legacy of this fearless trailblazer through a contemporary feminist lens. World Premiere.


NEXT

Something In The Dirt / U.S.A. (Directors: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Screenwriter: Justin Benson, Producers: David Lawson, Aaron Moorhead, Justin Benson)  — When neighbors John and Levi witness supernatural events in their Los Angeles apartment building, they realize documenting the paranormal could inject some fame and fortune into their wasted lives. An ever-deeper, darker rabbit hole, their friendship frays as they uncover the dangers of the phenomena, the city, and each other. Cast: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead. World Premiere. Fiction.

Genre fans will recognize these household names for their spellbinding skills. I’ve yet to watch away from their films without chills or an audible “WTF.”

The Cathedral / Italy, U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Ricky D’Ambrose, Producer: Graham Swon) — An only child’s account of an American family’s rise and fall over two decades. Cast: Brian d’Arcy James, Monica Barbaro, Mark Zeisler, Geraldine Singer, William Bednar-Carter. North American Premiere. Fiction.


MIDNIGHT

Hatching / Finland (Director: Hanna Bergholm, Screenwriter: Ilja Rautsi, Producers: Mika Ritalahti, Nico Ritalahtit) — While desperately trying to please her demanding mother, a young gymnast discovers a strange egg. She tucks it away and keeps it warm, but when it hatches, what emerges shocks everyone. Cast: Jani Volanen, Siiri Solalinna, Sophia Heikkilä, Saija Lentonen, Reino Nordin, Oiva Ollila. World Premiere. Fiction.

 

PIGGY / Spain (Director and Screenwriter: Carlota Pereda, Producers: Merry Colomer, David Atlan-Jackson) — Sara deals with constant teasing from girls in her small town. But it comes to an end when a stranger kidnaps her tormentors. Sara knows more than she’s saying and must decide between speaking up and saving the girls or saying nothing to protect the strange man who spared her. Cast: Laura Galán. World Premiere. Fiction.

Speak No Evil / Denmark (Director and Screenwriter: Christian Tafdrup, Screenwriter: Mads Tafdrup, Producer: Jacob Jarek) — A Danish family visits a Dutch family they met on a holiday. What was supposed to be an idyllic weekend slowly starts unraveling as the Danes try to stay polite in the face of unpleasantness. Cast: Morten Burian, Sidsel Siem Koch, Fedja van Huêt, Karina Smulders, Liva Forsberg, Marius Damslev. World Premiere. Fiction.


KIDS

Maika / Vietnam (Director and Screenwriter: Ham Tran, Producers: Jenni Trang Le, Duy Ho, Anderson Le, Bao Nguyen) — After a meteor falls to earth, 8-year-old Hung meets an alien girl from the planet Maika, searching for her lost friend. As Hung helps her otherworldly friend search, the alien inadvertently helps Hung make new friends and heal a broken heart. But danger lurks everywhere… Cast: Phu Truong, Diep Anh Tru, Tin Tin, Ngoc Tuong, Kim Nha. World Premiere. Fiction.


INDIE EPISODIC PROGRAM

The Dark Heart / Sweden (Director: Gustav Möller, Screenwriter: Oskar Söderlund, Producers: Anna Carlsten, Caroline Landerberg) — Sweden: in a mythological landscape, search parties roam through forests of spruce, secret conversations are whispered in open fields, and verbal duels fought on narrow country roads. A story of family feuds, inheritances, and forbidden love. Cast: Aliette Opheim, Clara Christiansson Drake, Gustav Lindh, Peter Andersson. World Premiere. Fiction. 

Sweden’s true crime game is above and beyond. The US had already remade series like The Killing and The Bridge. Sundance 2022 audiences can dive headfirst into The Dark Heart. The series is a five-part psychological drama-thriller about how an old family feud clashes with a young, forbidden love story, leading to a tragedy with a deadly outcome, ultimately solved by a private investigator who gets obsessed with the case. The story is based on journalist Joakim Palmkvist’s book “The Dark Heart: A True Story of Greed, Murder, and an Unlikely Investigator”, which delves into the story about how a mysterious missing person’s case is investigated and solved by a local Missing People-volunteer involved in the searches.


INTERNATIONAL LIVE ACTION SHORT FILMS

Warsha / France/Lebanon (Director and Screenwriter: Dania Bdeir, Producer: Coralie Dias) — A Syrian migrant working as a crane operator in Beirut volunteers to cover a shift on one of the most dangerous cranes, where he is able to find his freedom. Cast: Khansa. World Premiere.

Once in a blue moon, a short film takes your breath away and Warsha might be that film in 2022.


U.S LIVE ACTION SHORT FILMS

Huella / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Gabriela Ortega, Producers: Helena Sardinha, Rafael Thomaseto) — When the death of her grandmother unleashes a generational curse, a disenchanted flamenco dancer resigned to a desk job is forced to experience the five stages of grief through a visit from her female ancestors. Cast: Shakira Barrera, Denise Blasor, Carla Valentine. 


U.S. NONFICTION SHORT FILMS

Long Line of Ladies / United States (Directors: Rayka Zehtabchi, Shaandiin Tome, Producers: Garrett Schiff, Pimm Tripp-Allen, Rayka Zehtabchi, Sam Davis, Dana Kurth) — A girl and her community prepare for her Ihuk, the once-dormant coming of age ceremony of the Karuk and Yurok tribes of Northern California. World Premiere. DAY ONE


For Sundance 2022 full line-up, tickets, and more click here!