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Thread: SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FESTIVAL (SXSW) 2020 (Amazon Prme)

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    SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FESTIVAL (SXSW) 2020 (Amazon Prme)

    Selected virtual SXSW festival - ten new films and series free on Amazon Prime now HERE

    GENERAL FILM FORUM SECTION

    Links to the reviews:
    Cat in the Wall (Vesela Kazakova, Mina Mileva 2019)
    Choc du Futur, Le (Marc Collin 2019)
    Gunpowder Heart (Camila Urrutia 2019)
    I'm Gonna Make You Love Me (Karen Bernstein 2019)
    Lions in the Corner (Paul Hairston 2020) - short
    My Darling Vivian (Matt Riddlehoover 2019)
    Selfie (T. Aurouet, T. Bidegain, M. Fitoussi, C. Gelblat, V. Lebasque 2019)
    TFW NO GF (Alex Lee Moyer 2019)



    SELFIE

    As mentioned selections from this year's cancelled SXSW festival in Austin will air virtually, but my starting date was wrong. It begins next Monday, April 27, 2020 and ends May 6.. This will be on Amazon Prime, so if you have that service, it's all free for you.

    You can search the entire originally scheduled festival PAGE HERE, but it lists no film events.


    SXSW Virtual Festival to Launch on Amazon With 39 Films Over Nine Days

    Here's the story from Variety:
    Courtesy of SXSW
    Apr 21, 2020 10:05am PT
    The 2020 SXSW Film Festival has set its virtual selection and screening dates on Amazon, garnering almost 40 shorts, features and episodic programs to participate in the digital workaround to coronavirus shutdowns.

    The virtual festival will stream from April 27 through May 6, in front of the Amazon Prime paywall, meaning any user with an Amazon account can access the content.

    "SXSW has always championed creators forging their own paths to success, often with just the right mix of passion, vision and radical experimentation to make their dreams happen," said Janet Pierson, SXSW director of film. "There is no one-size-fits-all, especially in these uncertain times, and we knew this opportunity would be of interest to those filmmakers who wanted to be in front of a large audience now."

    SXSW was canceled by local government officials just a week before it was set to kick off in Austin, Texas, in March. Amazon stepped in shortly thereafter with a virtual pivot, which has generated some noise in the indie film community. Giving any Amazon user access to unsold, independently financed content for over a week was seen by many as a deterrent to buyers, who need exclusivity to motivate customers to watch new movies.

    Participants in the virtual fest have received fees to screen their titles, but many are still seeking distribution.

    Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke said her group understands that "every film has its own strategy and we know this opportunity may not make sense for every filmmaker. However, for those who want to share their stories right now and with as many people as possible, we’re excited to provide them this platform."

    Notable films participating in the virtual festival include “My Darling Vivian” from director Matt Riddlehoover, about Johnny Cash’s first wife and the mother of his four daughters. The film includes never-before-seen footage, and appearances from Reese Witherspoon, Joaquin Phoenix, Tim Robbins, Whoopi Goldberg, John C. Reilly and more.

    In addition to online panels and Q&As produced by SXSW, the streamer has also pledged to highlight Free the Work, a nonprofit run by "Honey Boy" director Alma Har’el. The group is dedicated to identifying systemic inequalities in film, television, advertising and media, and finding actionable solutions to expand access for underrepresented creators.

    Read the selected program:

    NARRATIVE FEATURES

    Cat in the Wall / Bulgaria, UK, France (Directors, screenwriters and producers: Mina Mileva, Vesela Kazakova) — This terrific comedy-drama is set on a southeast London council estate, which is riven by social and economic divisions and threatened by the all-consuming force of gentrification. Irina, a Bulgarian woman lives there with her small son and her brother. The lift serves as a toilet, the multi-cultural residents exchange shouts rather than pleasantries, and an expensive refurbishment is undesired but must be paid for. And in the midst of this: an apparently ownerless cat which has had enough of the heated atmosphere barricades itself ‘in the wall’, requiring the residents to collaborate. Cat in the Wall is an arresting critique of society, a whirlpool of emotions from despair to joie de vivre conveyed by strongly delineated characters. This heart-warming tale, shot in a documentary style, is this year’s equivalent of director Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake. Cast: Irina Atanosova, Angel Genov, Gilda Waugh

    Gunpowder Heart / Guatemala (Director and screenwriter: Camila Urrutia, Producer: Inés Nofuentes) — Claudia and Maria have fallen in love. They live in the city of Guatemala, a city full of stories related to abuse, unforgiving police officers, and charming secret corners. Everything changes one night when they are attacked by three men. They manage to escape but they now have to choose if they want revenge. Cast: Andrea Henry, Vanessa Hernández

    Le Choc du Futur / France (Director and screenwriter: Marc Collin, Co-Writer: Elina Gakou-Gomba, Producers: Marc Collin, Nicolas Jourdier, Gaelle Ruffier) — In the Paris of 1978, old formulas do not charm listeners anymore and new music must arise. In a male-dominated industry, Ana uses her electronic gadgets to make herself heard, creating a new sound that will mark the decades to come: the music of the future. Cast: Alma Jodorowsky, Philippe Rebbot, Clara Luciani

    Selfie / France (Directors: Tristan Aurouet, Thomas Bidegain, Marc Fitoussi, Cyril Gelblat, Vianney Lebasque, Screenwriters: Giulio Callegari, Noé Debré, Hélène Lombard, Julien Sibony, Bertrand Soulier, Producers: Mandoline Films, Chez Georges Productions) — Algorithms, Technophobics, Dating App addicts, Vloggers, cloud security breach… each one of us can relate to the wired madness happening on screen. In five subversive and hilarious Black Mirror-like tales, Selfie takes on our digital shortcomings and shows how the new 2.0 era is driving all of us nuts! Cast: Blanche Gardin, Manu Payet, Elsa Zylberstein

    DOCUMENTARY FEATURES

    I'm Gonna Make You Love Me / U.S. (Director and Producer: Karen Bernstein, Co-Producer: Nevie Owens) — Fellini meets Motown in I’m Gonna Make You Love Me, the tragi-comedic tale of one man’s search for self-acceptance, a journey that included tabloid celebrity, Tupperware parties, and two coming-outs — first as a straight woman, then as the gay man he was born to be. Cast: Brian Belovitch aka “Tish,” Gloria Walker, Michael Musto

    My Darling Vivian / U.S. (Director: Matt Riddlehoover, Producers: Dustin Tittle, Matt Riddlehoover) — The story of Vivian Liberto, Johnny Cash’s first wife and the mother of his four daughters. Includes never-before-seen footage and photographs of Johnny Cash and Rosanne Cash, as well as footage featuring Reese Witherspoon, Joaquin Phoenix, Tim Robbins, Whoopi Goldberg, John C. Reilly and many more.

    TFW NO GF / U.S. (Director and screenwriter: Alex Lee Moyer, Producers: Adam Bhala Lough, Cody Wilson, Ariel Pink, Alex Lee Moyer, Michael Reich, John Eisenman, Matt Ornstein, Claire Bargout, Deagan White, Barrett Avner) — Born from the internet, the phrase “TFW NO GF” was originally used online to describe a lack of romantic companionship. Since then, it has evolved to symbolize a greater state of existence defined by isolation, rejection and alienation. The meme’s protagonist, “WOJAK,” has become the mascot to a vast online community consisting of self-described "hyper-anonymous twenty somethings" and "guys who slipped between the cracks." TFW NO GF asks: How has the zeitgeist come to bear down on a generation alienated by the ‘real world’? Meet the lost boys who came of age on the internet in places like 4chan and Twitter, where they find camaraderie in despair.

    EPISODIC

    Cursed Films / Canada (Director and screenwriter: Jay Cheel, Producers: Andrew Nicholas McCann Smith, Laura Perlmutter, Brian Robertson, Jay Cheel) — Cursed Films is a five-part documentary series from Shudder exploring the myths and legends behind some of Hollywood’s notoriously "cursed" horror film productions. From plane accidents and bombings during the making of The Omen, to the rumoured use of human skeletons on the set of Poltergeist, these stories are legendary amongst film fans and filmmakers alike. But where does the truth lie?

    Motherland: Fort Salem / U.S. (Creator: Eliot Laurence) — Set in an alternate America where witches ended their persecution by cutting a deal with the government to fight for the country, Motherland: Fort Salem follows three young women from training to deployment, as they fight terrorist threats with supernatural tactics.

    Tales from the Loop / U.S., Canada (Creator/Writer: Nathaniel Halpern, Director: Mark Romanek, Executive Producers: Nathaniel Halpern, Matt Reeves, Mark Romanek, Adam Kassan, Rafi Crohn, Mattias Montero, Samanthan Taylor Pickett, Adam Berg and Simon Stålenhag) – Based on the acclaimed art of Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag, Tales from the Loop explores the town and people who live above “The Loop,” a machine built to unlock and explore the mysteries of the universe. In this fantastical, mysterious town poignant human tales are told that bare universal emotional experiences while drawing on the intrigue of genre storytelling. Cast: Rebecca Hall, Paul Schneider, Daniel Zolghadri, Duncan Joiner, Jonathan Pryce

    TALES FROM THE LOOP
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-06-2020 at 11:48 PM.

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    CAT IN THE WALL ( Vesela Kazakova, Mina Mileva 2019)

    VESELA KAZAKOVA, MINA MILEVA: CAT IN THE WALL (2019)


    [B]IRINA ATANASOVA AND CAT IN CAT IN THE WALL

    London squalor seen from a Bulgarian point of view

    Indeed this is like a Ken Loach film in its style and milieu, as described in the festival blurb, but it's unlike Loach in its focus. In a Variety interview, London resident Bulgarian filmmakers Vesela Kazakova and Mina Mileva have declared the film's subject to be a "loss of tolerance and normality in London," which used to be "one of the most culturally accepting and progressive cities in Europe." But it doesn't seem to be focused on that so much as on depicting a state of general disorder, and the roiling hostility of the lower classes that has arguably always been an undercurrent in modern English society.

    The film captures speicifically the squalor of a Southeast London housing project or "Council estate" near Peckham - postal code SE14 7JN, to be exact - and the bad manners and hostility, as well as the misery, of some individuals at the lower end of the social scale. This is shot in a workmanlike documentary style. The action is keenly observed but not with a fine eye like Richard Billingham in Ray & Liz (NYFF 2018), nor his ability to grasp the beauties around the edges of a sad situation. Their subject is mess; the danger is that the film will fall into such a state itself, and you may get fed up before it's over and want to just go and lie down. There appears to be a lot of improvisation here, a naturalism that is not always convincing. The film seeks, the filmmakers attest, to highlight the absurdity of its painful situations, but the action is too authentically distressing to consider it a comedy. In fact seeking comedy in some events that are tragic and horrible seems callous.

    A lost cat provides an organizing principle but is also, the filmmakers have said, a true event. Here, it's Irina (Irina Abanasova), a Bulgarian aspiring architect working in a café living with her little boy and her brother Vladimir (Angel Genov), trained as an historian, who takes the ginger tabby for a stray, and she and her boy adopt it. Later the cat turns out to have already belonged to a mixed-race English family, and particularly to an overweight 13-year-old girl who's had a tragic experience of which we learn later. Her mother and Irina have words - hostile words. Irina's language does not befit the mouth of an architect. But then, her struggle to be hired on in that professional capacity has not born fruit.

    It's ironic in this disorderly world and chaotically rehabed building that Irina is an architect. She, or she and Vladimir, own the flat, perhaps additionally ironic - and not a good situation - given that the majority of the flat dwellers are renters on the dole, two statuses Irina seems not to approve of. She has a little boy. While she works in the café, Vladimir, in his fashion, has been minding the boy and the flat. For a while he takes a job with another Bulgarian mounting satellite dishes for 35 pounds a day.

    At a certain point, the cat disappears into the wall of Irina's and Vladimir's kitchen, where Vladmir and a friend with a vague plumbing background clumsily installed a new water heater, leaving a hole near the ceiling. How this gets sorted out is never very clear.

    Lots of work is being done on the building, though it may be of a shoddy nature, so it's not a guarantee the Council isn't planning to demolish, or "gentrify" the building or the area, which is defined as middle class people moving into a place and pushing out the lower class occupants. Irina learns that she as an owner will be assessed tens of thousands of pounds to share in the costs of the remodeling.

    This problem leads to the film's best moment, when Irina organizes a meeting of the flat owners to discuss this and other issues, including Brexit and a multicultural world, which is a scene that's lively, interesting, and real. And a time when people are talking and not shouting at each other.

    I'd like to say the cat lightens things up, but I never warmed to the cat. Faulty casting. Check out the lively white kitten in Cédric Klapisch's new film, Someone, Somewhere/Deux moi, which I've just seen. See kitty play with the male half of the film's delayed romantic couple, played by François Civil, and your blood pressure will go down and your heart will be warmed. Kazakova's and Mileva's cat is just another annoyance, if you ask me. I'm guessing Ken Loach would have had a better cat (remember the falcon and the boy in his Kes?). And I suspect he'd have included more scenes like the one of the flat owners.

    This is probably a well-meaning film. But it simply does not organize its material well. It lacks coherence (despite the cat) or a clear point of view. Perhaps it will appeal more to Eastern European viewers, especially ones who have moved to London but are not in love with it.

    Cat in the Wall, 92 mins., debuted at Locarno, and was included in at least four other festivals, including Warsaw and Sarajevo. And also SXSW in Apr. 2020, which was cancelled, with this among the SXSW films offered free online to Amazon Prime subscribers from Apr. 27-May 6, 2020. That is how it was screened online for this review.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-29-2020 at 01:03 AM.

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    GUNPOWDER HEART (Camila Urrutia 2019)

    CAMILA URRUTIA: GUNPOWDER HEART (2019)


    ANDREA HENRY, VANESSA HERNANDEZ IN GUNPOWDER HEART

    Violent lesbian girls in Guatemala.

    This is an unexpected new genre. The two girls, Maria (Vanessa Hernández) and Claudia (Andrea Henry), are young. One is blond, the other dark. Both have tattoos and are femme, but like butch things like bikes. Twenty minutes into this short film they are attacked by three men, who terrorize them, make them strip, get lined up perhaps to rape them, but then are scared off by the guards of the park where this happens because it's closing time. The girls debate what to do for revenge. What they do is chaotic, and leads to disaster.

    This is very rough. The two girls aren't very well delineated, and their relationship isn't very well defined either. Some scenes toward the end especially seem very chaotic. But it has excitement and a sense of danger. For some reason it reminded me of a favorite film of mine, Manuel Pradal's 1997 Marie Baie des Anges. Pradal's film is better made and far more beautiful, but both films have in common that sense of love leading to destruction.

    The chaos may reflect a kind of pathetic fallacy - the art work mimicking the undesirable quality it seems to depict. But as a rough note from the front, from a demographic that is, like transgender people, by its nature in danger from racist, violent, illiberal elements of society particularly in a violent and poor Latin American country, this has validity as a vivid message from the front. The young filmmaker Camila Urrutia, who addresses the audience in a very short video before the movie starts as do all the directors in the SXSW virtual theater offerings, would and does define herself and these two young women as "queer." "Lesbian" is a retro term, apolitical and conservative and perhaps hostile terminology. As of course "queer" was originally. This film will do well at LGBT events and could become a cult film for its niche.

    Gunpowder Heart/Pólvora en el corazón, 88 mins., debuted Nov. 19, 2019 at Huelva Iberoamerican Film Festival. It was to be in the cancelled April SXSW Festival and was screened on Amazon Prime for this review as part of the virtual theater presentation Apr. 27-May 6, 2020 of a selection of SXSW films.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-29-2020 at 04:44 PM.

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    LE CHOC DU FUTUR (Marc Collin 2019)

    MARC COLLIN: LE CHOC DU FUTUR (2019)


    ALMA JODOROWSKY IN LE CHOC DU FUTUR

    Girls with synthies

    This is a sweet and nostalgic little French tribute to women pioneers in 1970's electronic music. It takes a while to get started, but by intention it builds slowly, and it does not overstay its welcome. It starts with the main character, Ana (Alma Jodorowsky), a dreamy young lady who who wakes up late and seems to live on nothing but cigarettes and a little coffee or whisky from time to time. She's got the indefinite loan of a studio - the owner's in an ashram in India - that she's filled with her impressive battery of synthesizer equipment. Eventually she composes a song with another lady who drops in, and a successful disco singer, toward the end, is interested. Lots of big glasses in this, cigarettes, joints, and bell bottoms.

    A lot of this and that in between, and watching somebody twiddling the dials of electronic equipment isn't quite on the excitement level of watching Eliot and Darlene typing code. A couple of scrawny geezers drop by in hats and gold chains and, of course, bell bottoms. Philippe Rebbot is after Ana to do a song for a commercial and is angry she's ignored his recent ten phone messages on the green rotary phone. Geoffrey Carey is more simpatico. He's a record enthusiast who brings new discs for Ana to hear. They giggle and jive enthusiastically to the mostly electronic sounds. Patti Smith's iconic album with the photo by Mapplethorpe is glimpsed.

    Teddy Melis is a long haired stoner in wife beater who comes to fix a glitch in Ana's system. I cringed when I saw that what he brings, that excites her so much she insists he lend it to her, is a beat machine (a Roland CR-78 beatbox). This is the great new innovation? But when it's synchronized with her synthi, the latest innovation, it seems, she envisions the new music she loves. "It's like Kraftwerk meets James Brown," she says.

    The lady who comes with an appointment to record a song is Clara Luciani, a handsome, longhaired, high cheek-boned dame much like Jodorowsky. Ana wants to cancel but invites Clara in for coffee. Clara so likes Ana's synthi sounds she writes lyrics on a pad as she listens, with English words, and they enthusiastically record the results with Clara singing in one of those wispy French girl voices like Charlotte Gainsbourg.

    At one point Ana does a bit of massaging for pay, for some reason. That evening, she gives a party at the studio, crowded with cigarettes and splifs and booze and people and with Geoffrey Carey 's new records playing - till Ana stops the record and starts up the reel to reel tape she and Clara have made. It's well received. But a well-known record producer who's there, alas, isn't interested in synthesizer music or English lyrics. "This is Paris," he intones. "We speak French here." Ana is desolated, but later, she goes out with Clara and they meet the disco singer with real blond frizzy hair that looks like a wig who offers encouragement and get's Ana's phone number. A small but important step forward for a new kind of music.

    For a long time the only thing that appealed to me in this little film was Ana's big stylish glasses with their thick tinted lenses. But it is nostalgic and I thought of Rick N., who was a house painter who used to drop acid on days he was working on the tall ladder because it "steadied" him. His real life was being a musician, and he was saving up money to buy a "synthi." I remember that indeed Kraftwerk was the coolest thing back then, that and Rick used to sing "I want to be sedated." He liked the surreal group Devo and their nervous, robotic, alien music and song "Are we not men? We are Devo." I wonder what Rick would think of this. film.

    A weakness of the film is that it doesn't seem to me to put the music's best foot forward, doesn't bowl us over with some really bold, intense, hypnotic riffs. But it's hard to depict music that's walls of sound in little clips, in short scenes. At least you get the sound of it and a glimpse of the kind of apparatus that might produce it. Another minus is the cliched negativity about the currently popular non-electronic music of the time, without reasons really given. This is hardly a deeply thoughtful film.

    Le Choc du Futur is dedicated to "women who pioneered in electronic music: Clara Rockmore, Wendy Carlos, Daphne Oram, Delia Derbyshire, Elaine Rodrigues, Laurie Spiegel, Susan Ciani, Johanna Beyer, Bebe Baran, Pauline Oliveiras, Else Marie Pade, Beatriz Ferrerya, et al."

    Le Choc du Futur, 79 mins., opened in France 9 June 2019 Jun. 9, 2019, and later showed at Torino Nov. 2019. It was scheduled for the cancelled SXSW in 2020, and screened for this review as part of Amazon Prime's virtual theater offering of ten SXSW films Apr. 27-May 6.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-30-2020 at 12:18 AM.

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    SELFIE (T. Aurouet, T. Bidegain, M. Fitoussi, C. Gelblat, V. Lebasque 2019)

    TRISTANT AUROUET, THOMAS BIDEGAIN, MARC FITOUSSI, CYRIL GELBLAT, VIANNAY LEBASQUE: SELFIE (2019)


    SÉBASTIEN CHASSAGNE IN SELFIE

    Digital whirl

    The subtitle is "Of the influence of digital technology on decent people." It's a French linked anthology film by a group of writers and in six stories with different directors. The episodes bog down at times in their dogged efforts to make specific points and jokes about every trivial detail of YouTube, social media, dating ratings, trolls and hackers, but the actors save many scenes, which for the most part are cute and fast-paced and benefit from being very neatly interwoven. The directors have solid writing, TV, and comedy backgrounds. France is a bit behind America (one might hope!) in its digital obsessions and addictions, but by the same token this film therefore speaks to both newcomers and more advanced cases of the disease.

    1 - is "Vlog," directed by A Prophet writer Thomas Bidegain. A well off couple, Stephanie (Blanche Gardin) and her husband Fred (Maxence Tual) score a gazillion hits vlogging about their younger son with cancer, and staying popular becomes their obsession. The little boy is declared cured of cancer. Now what? They're not interesting anymore, and must find another gimmick to regain those millions of hits that nourished their egos. This family will reappear later. Spoiler: nothing works till their teenage son runs off and joins Syrian terrorists and becomes a YouTube star in his own right.

    2 - "The Troll" (epistolary novel), directed by Marc Fitossi, is focused on a prissy lycée French teacher (Elsa Zylberstein) disdainful toward her digital-obsessed students who don't read and YouTube stars who're semi-literate, particularly one known as Toon (Max Boublil) whom everyone in her class is following. Using an expensive new smart phone, she (somewhat implausibly) trolls Toon herself, and becomes deeply enmeshed with him as they develop a virtually epistolary connection. He likes her and promotes her unpublished novel. Who's complaining now?

    3 - In "2.6/5" (directed by Tristan Auroulet) Finnegan Oldfield is appealing as Florian Delamare, an eager but gauche young man whose life is governed by an online dating site's rating system. He's in love with a girl who won't date him unless he gets a "5" rating, but he keeps messing up and getting at best a 2.6 or 2.8 and sometimes a zero. Things end badly in this segment that's a more comedic but still dark version of a classic "Black Mirror" episode.

    4 - At this point the family with the cancer kid reappears and in their effort to depict themselves as a reality show they are reminiscent of the early Seventies version on PBS, "An American Family," about the Louds. They among others consult a specialist (Esteban) who can upgrade one's online popularity rating for a fee. He will reappear later as a wedding guest.

    5 - "Recommended for You" (directed by Cyril Gelblat) focuses on an office worker, Romain (Manu Payet), who believes his Amazon-style algorithm understands him better than he does and consequently buys anything it recommends, even a fishing rod. Only later he realizes he fished with his deceased father as a young boy and this reunites him with his memory. But when the algorithm recommends Viagra, he balks. Then it recommends rope. What will that mean? An ingenious tale that recasts its hero as a blasphemer and idolater. The priest he sees will reappear later in. . .

    6 - "Smileaks" (directed by Vianney Lebasque) seems the most like a traditional comedy and focuses on a crowd of guests at a wedding staged on an island that has no or minimal internet. You have to go down to the water to get reception. This gets tricky when the tide comes in and Fabrice (Sébastien Chassagne) must nearly drown to check the bride's personal secrets on a website called Smileaks that has published the fruits of a giant hack into everybody in the world's private data. Then internet access moves onto the island and mayhem ensues. A couple pledge a troth - not to be faithful man and wife, but never to search each other's private data.

    Finally the parents of the cancer kid become stars on Smileaks by admitting they're the parents of a young terrorist. They gain dozens, perhaps millions, of likes from sympathetic viewers. "We were a happy family," intones the mom.

    Selfie, 102 mins., 148 mins., debuted at Toulouse Sept. 2019, then opened to mediocre reviews - AlloCiné press rating 3.2 (64%). It was to be in the cancelled SXSW Festival and was screened for this review as part of the Amazon Prime presentation of some of the SXSW films Apr. 27-May 7.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-30-2020 at 01:11 AM.

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    I'M GONNA MAKE YOU LOVE ME ( Karen Bernstein 2019)

    KAREN BERNSTEIN: I'M GONNA MAKE YOU LOVE ME (2019)


    "TISH" DOES A MARILYN IMPRESSION AS SEEN IN AN OLD PHOTO IN I'M GONNA MAKE YOU LOVE ME

    Crossing genders and back again

    At first Brian Belovitch was a chubby, not-very-attractive effeminate gay kid of the sixties with a sister, five very straight rather Neanderthal brothers and a mean mom and dad in a "barely-working-class first-generation immigrant family in Fall River, Massachusetts," as the blurb for his memoir, Trans Figured: My Journey from Boy to Girl to Woman to Man puts it. Later his mother took the six kids and moved by herself to Providence, Rhode Island. Brian came out as gay. He had no choice, having been mocked as queer or faggot or sissy all his young life. It's like he was saying, "I'll show you effeminate!" He was escaping into a beautiful fantasy, which he, now she, carried off remarkably well, without going the full monty and having a sex change.

    But it was not satisfying. He felt women were better treated. He embarked on the difficult process of physically changing gender. Through hormones and a series of operations, from his late teens till his early thirties he changed into a big-haired, big-boobed, big-butt trans women called Natalia or Tish Gervais. It's like he was saying, "I'll show you effeminate!" He was escaping into a beautiful fantasy, which he, now she, carried off remarkably well, without going the full monty and having a sex change. Tish became pals with trendy Voice and Interview gossip and style writer Michael Musto, who is heard from in this perhaps intentionally somewhat sleazily shot doc whose main narrator is Brian, now a gay man in his sixties, which is what Tish decided to transition back into after a tough life first as the wife of a handsome but dull straight man who joined the Army and was sent to Germany. There, Natalia played military wife and, imagine, girl! Sold Tupperware.

    The marriage ended and Natalia came into her own in the East Village as a would-be entertainer, an eighties Lower Manhattan hustler and trans party "girl with something extra," as Tish liked to call herself instead of a "chick with a dick" (I get these tidbits from chapter one of Trans Figured). She disco-danced at Studio 54 and performed as Trish at the Palladium, Limelight, and Danceteria, perhaps not a hit, but trying hard and looking the part. Along the way he/she became an addict and HIV positive.

    Now Brian is married to a very nice, somewhat younger gay man, a botanist. They live in New York, and Brian is an addiction counselor. It looks like it's going to last. When he first met "Brian" in the late eighties after knowing him only as a trans women, Michael Musto says he encountered someone much more calm and sure of himself and less self-centered. Evidently being "Natalia" or "Tish" was very exciting and in some ways fulfilling, but also nerve-wracking and ultimately, for Brian, came to feel terribly wrong.

    Most of the meat of this film is period footage showing Brian in his trans woman phase in stills or old videos after his early life and looks have been established, overlaid with so-so footage of him with his current husband and talking about his life. What makes this marginally more worth watching than any standard issue doc about gay fringe trans life is that though he may not be very educated, Brian is intelligent, candid, articulate - and calm. His memoir might be more interesting, but his narration of certain phases here is enough in itself. Somebody should make this into a movie.

    I'm Gonna Make You Love Me, 82 mins. Debuted Nov. 2019 at DOC NYC, and it was going to be shown Apr. 27, 2020 at SXSW, but due to the covid-19 pandemic shutdown it is instead being shown for a time on Amazon Prime, where it was screened for this review.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-01-2020 at 09:08 PM.

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    MY DARLING VIVIAN (Matt Riddlehoover 2019)

    MATT RIDDLEHOOVER: MY DARLING VIVIAN (2019)


    VIVIAN LIBERTO AND JOHNNY CASH IN MY DARLING VIVIAN

    Vivian and Johnny's daughters tell her forgotten story

    It's a pretty good bet that Vivian Liberto and Johnny Cash were the loves of each other's lives, even though after their 12-year marriage both wound up married to other people for much longer - Vivian to Dick Distin for 37 years, Johnny to June Carter for 35. This film is a tribute to Vivian and a righting of wrongs. She has been forgotten and written out of the picture, Cash's second wife, singer June Carter, kept claiming, in effect, that his four daughters with Vivian were hers, even though she had nothing to do with raising them. Vivian did it all, and loved Johnny every day till she died. The story is told exclusively by Vivian and Johnny's four daughters, Rosanne, Kathy, Cindy, and Tara, who were all born close together.

    The film explains Vivian's background. She is of Sicilian ancestry and was brought up in a strict Catholic family. Her mother was alcoholic and she used to cover for her. She was 16 and Johnny Cash 18 when they met in 1950 at a roller skating rink. He fell for her immediately and as the story goes, deliberately bumped into her and knocked her down to get acquainted. He was soon in the Air Force sent to Germany for three years. During that time they exchanged "thousands" of letters, which she saved later. They married in 1954 soon after he came home and moved to Memphis with no money. He joined up with Marshall Grant, they learned the guitar, and he persuaded Sam Phillips to record him one month after Rosanne was born. "I Walk the Line" - composed for Vivian - was his first hit. He soon became a country music star, and later of course a genre-crossing legend.

    The films tells the story of their life together - and, largely, apart. In the early years it was all love. One daughter says she thought her mother's name was "Honey" and "Baby" was her nickname, because Johnny called her only those names. When she heard her mother called "Vivian" it sounded strange.

    Soon he was a star, and after living in Johnnie Carson's former house in Encino, he built a big house on top of a hill in remote Casitas Springs, California, with rattlesnakes and tarantulas. He brought home odd animals all the time, including a monkey, a parrot, and an Irish Setter that she had to take care of with the growing brood while he was away on tour much of the time. Somehow, Rosanne says, Vivian "metabolized that [fame] as humiliation." A very private person, though active and sociable, she was not comfortable with notoriety.

    One day he came home on drugs, and he was a different person. And his drug of choice of course was amphetamines, combined with downers to balance them. He started not coming home when he said he would. They began to fight whenever he was there. When Vivian saw Johnny with June Carter at a big show, she realized what was going on, why he was away longer and wouldn't say "I love you" on the telephone. He missed the kid's birthdays, their wedding anniversary, then Christmas.

    The film becomes the story of Vivian's unvoiced complaints. There is plenty of footage of these early years, and early stills. (The film uses a new device to me - adding moving cigarette smoke to a still black and white photo. It's weird.) There is some use of stock footage to illustrate things, but much of the focus is on the sisters. When they speak, we see them. Rosanne does more of the talking and is a bit more skeptical about unsubstantiated anecdotes.

    When Kathy got seriously ill with a mysterious bacterial infection, that brought Johnny home. But unlike today, where you've got people's cell phone number, it was often hard for Vivian to track her husband down when he was on the road.

    Around 1964 Johnny was away for an extended period and they think he was hanging out with Bob Dylan "in SoHo or the Village" (maybe, but of course they collaborated on "Nashville Skyline" in 1969).

    A shocking event was that when Vivian joined Johnny after his arrest in El Paso in 1965 for trying to import amphetamines and Equanil over the border from Mexico and they were photographed and it went in all the papers, Vivian, who had a dark, Sicilian complexion, looked almost like a black person. The rumor went out that Johnny Cash was in a biracial marriage and all his performance dates in the racist 1960's South were cancelled. They had to get a raft of affidavits and letters certifying that Vivian was white before Johnny could get booked in the South again.

    "Another, lasting shock for Vivian was learning that in public appearances, when June Carter and Johnny were together, and the press was more happy with this new "tabloid romance," June made it sound as if she was raising the girls, as well as the three children she had with him. It was a lie. June Carter became known as the one who saved Johnny Cash from drugs. Vivian was demonized falsely, the sisters say, and later forgotten. Vivian did all the work of raising her four daughters.

    Things were going so badly that Vivian took out papers to divorce Johnny "to shock him" but "he let it go through. Johnny went to Tennessee and lived with Waylon Jennings, who they say had "a thousand-dollar-a-day cocaine habit," while he was addicted to amphetamines.

    Rosanne says "not all divorces are bad." Divorced, Vivian nonetheless lived well. She finally moved to a better house in Ventura, and in a couple of years married a local cop, Dick Distin, who went through several other jobs and then settled into just being supported. They remained together for the rest of her life, 37 years, as Johnny remained with June Carter. They remained connected, and on friendly terms, even to the end. Johnny and Vivian had a meeting with three of the four sisters there when he was in his last days, a time that meant a lot to her, because, the sisters say, she never stopped loving him, and Dick knew that.

    She was social, and artistic, though not many details are given of her art but a quick shot of a flower painting. This isn't a film abut Johnny Cash's career; it's only of peripheral interest - even though two of the sisters, Rosanne and Cindy, became singer-songwriters themselves.
    Rosanne is shown in a TV appearance with Johnny, but only the introduction is shown. We also see the gracefully aging Vivian and hear what a great grandmother she was. Not always so supportive to the daughters, since when Rosanne appeared on TV and asked her mother for reaction, all she got was "I did not know that person."

    Vivian wrote a memoir called I Walked the Line. The book was little read. This film may be more seen. Even when Johnny Cash died, two years before Vivian, she was was overlooked, they say, at his memorial. She had to sit there, attending it, and see June lionized and her unmentioned. A very interesting picture of how fame can mess up lives. But Vivian was a tough person, a survivor. This is an effort to set the record straight.

    My Darling Vivian, 90 mins., was to have debuted at the 2020 SXSW festival, cancelled due to the pandemic. It was screened for this review when offered for a time free to Amazon Prime subscribers. Metascore 80%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-04-2020 at 02:03 AM.

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    TFW NO GF (Alex Lee Moyer 2020)

    ALEX LEE MOYER: TFW NO GF (2020)



    The lonely, connected ones

    There is a new subculture in America of young, disaffected and angry white men. They're guys going nowhere who, though a minority, may symbolize a trend and say something key about where we are now. They feel isolated, alienated, and rejected. But they are not disconnected or inarticulate. This interesting documentary aims to bring them to light through sympathetic focus on a tiny group of them.

    The "TFW NO GF" guys are children of the internet who though perhaps articulate and intelligent, did poorly in, and often didn't finish, school. They are reclusive emo "losers" isolated from most of their contemporaries, often living at home, without jobs, at the expense of their parents. They have no girlfriends, thus the title. This is not a voluntary state, hence their self-identification as "incel," involuntarily celibate.

    The texting abbreviations of the title "TFW NO GF", which have become an iconic meme referring to this group, signal a reaching out for sympathy. "TFW," though it can mean other things, often stands for "that feeling when," and is used to seek understanding for a shared experience like the state of "NGF," having no girlfriend. Actually "emo losers" doesn't quite fit, because the cute, sad, spiky-haired youths the title "emo" refers to are highly desirable to some, as indicated in the "Emo Boy Song" ("Emo boy, emo boy, come on and be my love toy") or "Cute Emo Bbys [I'm with you]" - there is a sad, winsome emo girl longing to be united to him. Neither are these guys as extreme or hopeless as Japan's notorious hermits, the hikikomori, who live lives of extreme seclusion. Not, at least, unless the hikikomori secretly have iPhones and fast internet connections and vast online talk outlets like 4chan.

    4chan is an online place where TFW NO GF guys, or incels, as they're often called, come to pour out their souls. 4chan is the source of many screen grabs here. It's a place worth researching to understand them (see Caitlin Dewey's little intro in the Washington Post). Special attention should be given to r9k/, a special board of 4chan where sad loners gather, or gathered. All 4chan, which is believed to have been started by Christopher Poole in 2003 when he was around 15, is an English language, all-anonymous imageboard website, with "avis" (avatars) rather than names, and threads are only up for a limited time.

    What's interesting is not, per se, the pathetic young men who gather on 4chan's r9k/ or Twitter, or maybe Tumblr, but that they represent, as one of those interviewed calls it, a "subculture," with its own codes and language. Basic givens of this world are "the Feel GUy" or "Wojak" and Pepe the Frog memes. Pepe is an anthropomorphic green cartoon frog representing different feelings that was appropriated by Trump and the Alt-Right and white racists, but also by the Hong Kong anti-government protesters. Wojak or the Feel Guy is represented by a simple, black-outlined cartoon drawing of a bald, wistful-looking man, and it used to stand for emotions like "melancholy, regret, or loneliness" (Wikipedia). Wojak is associated with "TFW" - feelings, and on 4chan an image of two Wojaks hugging each other under the caption "I know that feel bro" gained popularity. (See image above)

    The film, though, only focuses on five dudes and doesn't go into traditional documentary film context-building from the outside; perhaps advisedly (it gives a better sense of their isolation) it doesn't interview their families or former classmates.

    A smart, healthy looking young man named Sean lives in Thornton, Colorado in a one-bedroom apartment with his mom. He works out with weights. (He also commutes to work but it doesn't say at what.) He found the internet was where "most was offered" to him when young. His tidy black desk has a huge computer and big speakers with 22-inch screen. He did well enough in school through eighth grade, he says, then stopped caring, and failed ninth grade. "Since then," he says, "I've just been a fuckin' neet." (Neet= no education, employment or training.) That's the first visit. He has changed later.

    "Charels" lives with his childhood friend (or is it his brother?) "Widdy" in Kent, Washington and it's all snowy and desolate when we visit them. They share a house with somebody else. Charels has talked online about being suicidal a lot and has a license plate bracket on his red Civic saying "I HATE MYSELF...I WANT TO DIE." He has written online "I can't wait to jump into a loveless marriage and destroy the rest of my life with a horrible divorce and then shoot myself." But he likes to talk to the filmmaker. He has clearly studied Japanese.

    Charels and Widdy say their parents were alcoholics, so they were on their own. They live in a nowhere place, but the snow makes it black-and-white dramatic and Widdy says, though desolate, it's "really beautiful in a way." They have guns - automatic weapons. We go with them far out of town where they do some shooting. But Widdy, who discovered 4chan when he was 11 or 12, says all incels are not terrorists. He says nowadays the internet and real life are no longer separable, and young kids "won't even understand the difference between the two." (Herein lies danger.) Charels' and Widdy's weapons are seized later by police after Charels poses with two rifles and the caption "One ticket for Joker please." But though banned from weapons for a year, they get them back because Charels' post was judged to be satire, and protected under the First Amendment. Charels has a girlfriend he met on r9k/.

    The restoration of the guns doesn't seem like the wisest defense of civil liberties: automatic weapons ought to be banned. However, it's important to note that incels' rampant indulgence is misogyny, racism, and violence online is mostly heavily ironic.

    Kyle has lived all his life in El Paso. He dresses in tight jeans outfits and a cowboy ht. He is not seen on the internet as much, but he's an angry white incel too. He says school was half in Spanish. He never learned it, so he did poorly and was taken out to be home schooled, but they just gave up on that. He laces every other phrase with "fuckin'" and sounds angriest of the group. He is always alone, but goes out to drink and to a karaoke bar. He is always drinking and smoking.. But he describes himself as less negative about the ugliness of the city than he used to be. Negative as he is, he is always out and about.

    The most articulate, or at least theory-spouting, among them is the bearded, bespectacled New York City resident "Kringe Kantbot." We see him scamming a poll taker at first. He later says now he has interests and women are more interested in him because he can talk about the books he's read. A 4chan screen grab of his goes: "You're all a bunch of fuckups addicted to vaping, liquor, prescription drugs, and monster sips. You're all fucked up, depressed, unmotivated, anxious, insecure. You're all losers, incels, virgins, weebs, weirdos. But it's all okay. You're all going to be okay. It's okay." He wants to help. Maybe these healthy young men are simply addicted to a drug, online and in-life self-annihilation, and with help they could recover, as Kantbot seems to be doing, and he can give back by counseling others.

    Alex Lee Moyer says who says she made her "tiny" but she thinks "important" film "on a shoestring budget, a wing and a prayer," also says she is delighted at the opportunity to put it out there on Amazon prime to "an untold, huge audience." She considers her film especially relevant now under the covid-19 shutdown. We're all doing what the boys in the film are often doing, "turning to the modern miracle of the Internet as a surrogate for lost connection."

    But do they show that it works?

    In the last 20 minutes the film reveals that four of these guys may know each other via Twitter. Sean has read all the books Kantbot recommended to him there, and he mentions Charels and Widdy. Several years after his first appearance, Sean is working at two jobs and commuting an hour each way and looking to compete in power lifting, working at it very hard and looking toward planning a career for himself. He says his mother has cancer, so his plate is full. Women are quite a lot more interested in him. Kantbot has gotten "doxxed" by the media (his personal details revealed) by the media for posting a provocative article, but he is devoting all his time to his online writing and living from his Patreon earnings. He debunks the director's presumed aim to give the film a happy ending, but - well, his flights of intellectual fancy tend to be incoherent, though he gets the last word here.

    Rolling Stone writer EJ Dickson, whose article combines a review with an interview with Moyers and revealing additional information, describes TFW NO GF as a "melange of edgelord [tongue in cheek nihilistic] tweets, 4chan screen grabs, definitions of internet vernacular, and discursive interviews with its disaffected subjects." As he says, the film leaves out "expert" talking heads or other more local providers of context. Moyers seeks to take us into these guys' world, of which she is unusually accepting.

    This is more a virtual reality visit than a guided tour. Given the incels' nihilistic and hate-filled trolling, this film's indulgence has been and will be provocative to many and Dickson calls it "deeply uncomfortable." It does not pre-digest the material for us. But I found that a fresh and welcome approach.

    TFW NO GF, 82 mins., was to debut in the pandemic-cancelled 2020 SXSW Festival (Austin). The director-screenwriter Alex Lee Moyer chose to include it in the SXSW films offered free on Amazon Prime April 27–May 6, 2020. It was screened there for this review.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-06-2020 at 01:38 AM.

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    LIONS IN THE CORNER (Paul Harrston 2020) - SHORT

    PAUL HAIRSTON: LIONS IN THE CORNER (2010) - short film



    A rural fight club designed to quell street violence or feuds

    I'm not good at reviewing short films but I took a look at a lot of the ones on offer in this Amazon Prime SXSW 2020 selection. I really liked Lions in the Corner, by Paul Hairston, ten minutes distilled from two years of work. It depicts Chris Wilmore, aka Scarface, a former convict turned community leader who runs a fight club in the western part of Virginia in he town young Hairston comes from. It's called "Streetbeefs" and stages hand-to-hand fights to resolve conflicts and combat gun and knife violence in the area. It also provides community for people who need it and is instrumental in keeping him out of jail. Narrated in his authentic, gravely foice by Chris, who knows how street encounters can lead to fatal consequences from his own hardscrabble experience.

    Shot in digital and 16mm by dp Gaul Porat, this film maintains a high level of proficiency and a kind of poetic realism that never loses a sense of the roughness of the action.

    People may question the assumptions behind this activity, but Chris sounds authentic and the action grabs you. More than that, filmmaking that uses the short form with great economy, that's visually exciting, cinematic, rings true and shows great talent. Hats off to Paul Hairston. I look forward to seeing more of his work in the future. (He is based now in New York, and it looks like he is busy.)

    Lions in the Corner, 9 mins. 11 secs., included in the cancelled 2020 SXSW Festival selections shown Apr. 27-May 7, 2020 free on Amazon Prime and watched there. It was a SXSW Staff Pick.

    Watch LIONS IN THE CORNER h e r e.

    Ceck out his other work on his site https://www.paulhairston.com/ and watch his promotional film for Bernie Sanders.

    DIRECTOR Paul Hairston
    PRODUCERS Tripp Kramer & Jake Ewald
    CINEMATOGRAPHER Gaul Porat
    ADDT'L CINEMATOGRAPHY Matt Ballard
    EDIT Cavan J. Faucett
    COMPOSER Tobias Norberg
    COLOR Josh Bohoskey @ The Mill
    MIX Geoff Strasser @ Mr. Bronx
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-06-2020 at 11:58 PM.

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