Happy New Year! You may have noticed, but rather than powering down over the Holidays, our December 2020 slate of Film Independent Presents Member screenings and special Q&A events was busier than ever. And we know that in-between all the wassailing and socially-distanced NYE cheer, a few of these may have fallen through the cracks. So here now is a full roundup of last month’s Q&A (plus this Coffee Talk.) To see what’s coming up next, go here.
Guests of honor: Chloé Zhao (writer/director/producer/editor), Peter Spears (producer), Mollye Asher (producer), Dan Janvey (producer); moderated by Mark Olsen (Staff Writer, Los Angeles Times)
About: Following the economic collapse of a company town in rural Nevada, Fern (Frances McDormand) packs her van and sets off on the road exploring a life outside of conventional society as a modern-day nomad. The third feature film from director Chloé Zhao, Nomadland features real-life nomads Linda May, Swankie and Bob Wells as Fern’s mentors and comrades in her exploration through the vast landscape of the American West.
What critics are saying: “If road movies have an intrinsic weakness, it’s the episodic nature of their narratives, but “Nomadland” solves that beautifully, creating a pattern in which the path is more circular than linear, and impactful characters come back around to more deeply enrich Fern’s journey,” says Peter Debruge, Variety.
Guests of honor: Melissa Haizlip (writer/director), Blair Underwood (executive producer), Nikki Giovanni (featured subject), Robert Glasper (composer); moderated by Lena Waithe (screenwriter/producer)
About: Before Oprah, before Arsenio, there was SOUL!, America’s first “Black Tonight Show.” From 1968 to 1973, the public television variety show, guided by the enigmatic, openly gay producer and host Ellis Haizlip, offered an unfiltered, uncompromising celebration of Black literature, poetry, music and politics—voices that had few other options for national exposure. With participants’ recollections and illuminating archival clips, Mr. SOUL! captures a critical moment whose impact continues to resonate, and an unsung hero whose voice we need now more than ever, to restore the “SOUL” of a nation.
What critics are saying: “Mr. SOUL! is an enthralling testament to a show that was so far ahead of its time it now looks like a bulletin. One that hasn’t aged a day,” says Owen Gleiberman, Variety.
Guests of honor: Robert Jury (writer/director/producer), Maya Emelle (producer), Lovell Holder (producer), Clark Peterson (producer), Peter Gerety (actor), Billy Brown (actor), Talia Shire (actor); moderated by Meg LeFauve (writer/producer)
About: When the last factory in a small Rust Belt town closes its doors, an unlikely hero emerges in dutiful, quiet Allery Parkes (Peter Gerety, The Wire.) A career employee of the factory, the aging Allery can’t reconcile how to live a life simply sitting at home doing nothing. gainst the advice and pleas of his loving wife, Iola (Talia Shire), he forms an unlikely friendship with his charismatic neighbor, Walter Brewer (Billy Brown, How to Get Away with Murder), in order to revive the defunct factory. As their community rallies around them–and as their former corporate bosses strategize how to implode this unexpected movement–Allery learns that he might be something he never thought possible: a leader.
What critics are saying: “It’s also a coming-of-age film about the second adolescence of men at retirement age who must find a way to define themselves when the structure of work has been stripped away,” says Teo Bugbee, The New York Times.
Guests of honor: Lawrence Michael Levine (writer/director/producer), Christopher Abbott (actor), Sarah Gadon (actor), Aubrey Plaza (actor, producer); Moderated by Jenelle Riley (Deputy Awards & Features Editor, Variety)
About: At a remote lake house, a filmmaker named Allison (Aubrey Plaza) arrives to play house guest to a troubled couple (Christopher Abbott and Sarah Gadon), who have eschewed their life in the city after inheriting a family retreat. Battling writer’s block, Allison sparks a calculated game of desire and jealousy in pursuit of a new work that blurs the boundaries of autobiography and invention. Black Bear explores the complex nature of relationships, gender dynamics, and the erratic nature of love as it traces the conflict between our lust and our longing for internal harmony.
What critics are saying: “The film grows both somehow more feverish and believable with each twist and turn, a roaring good time that can’t even be overshadowed by the actual beast creeping around outside,” says Kate Erbland, IndieWire.
Guests of honor: Ekwa Msangi (writer/director/producer), Huriyyah Muhammad (producer), Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine (actor), Zainab Jah (actor), Jayme Lawson (actor); moderated by critic Aramide Tinubu
About: After 17 years in exile, Walter finally reunites with his family after being forced to leave Angola for New York City. We meet the family as Walter is picking up his wife, Esther, and daughter, Sylvia, from the airport to bring them home to his one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment. They quickly discover how the years of separation have turned them into absolute strangers. As they attempt to overcome the personal and political hurdles amongst them, they rely on the muscle memory of dance to find their way back “home.” Farewell Amor is an immigrant story that has come to define the American landscape since its inception.
What critics are saying: “Ekwa Msangi’s tender drama shows us that goodbyes haunt immigrants wherever they go,” says Devika Girish, The New York Times.
A LOVE SONG FOR LATASHA & GIVING VOICE
Guests of honor: A Love Song for Latasha: Sophia Nahli Allison (director/producer); Giving Voice: James D. Stern (director/producer), Fernando Villena (director/producer); moderated by Carla Renata (TheCurvyFilmCritic.com)
About: Giving Voice follows the emotional journey of six students as they advance through the high-stakes August Wilson Monologue Competition, an event which celebrates one of America’s preeminent playwrights. The accompanying short, A Love Song for Latasha, is a reimagined narrative of Latasha Harlins through intimate memories shared by her cousin and best friend.
What critics are saying: “The 19-minute film is bursting with sun-kissed sidewalks and faded basketball courts, clean line animation and radiant Black girls posed gracefully, like young queens,” says Jude Dry, IndieWire, of A Love Song for Latasha. Of Giving Tree, The New York Times’ Robert Daniels writes: “Netflix’s inspirational documentary follows talented theater kids who are devoting themselves to Wilson’s writing.”
Guest of honor: Bryan Fogel (writer/director/producer); moderated by Josh Welsh (President, Film Independent)
About: The Dissident, from Academy Award-winning director Bryan Fogel (Icarus), is an adrenaline-filled documentary thriller that plays out at the highest levels of power, exposing the labyrinth of deceit behind the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Featuring never-before-seen surveillance footage and unprecedented access to a wealth of other damning information previously unavailable to the public, Fogel weaves together this story of courage, money, power, tyranny, love and technology run amok.
What critics are saying: “Bryan Fogel’s powerful documentary about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi Arabian Washington Post journalist, is an eye-opening thriller brew of corruption, cover-up, and real-world courage” writes Owen Gleiberman, Variety.
SOUND OF METAL
Guest of honor: Darius Marder (writer/director); moderated by Jenn Wilson (Senior Programmer, Film Independent)
About: During a series of adrenaline-fueled one-night gigs, itinerant punk-metal drummer Ruben (Riz Ahmed) begins to experience intermittent hearing loss. When a specialist tells him his condition will rapidly worsen, he thinks his music career—and with it, his life—is over. His bandmate and girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) checks the recovering heroin addict into a secluded sober house for the deaf in hopes it will prevent a relapse and help him learn to adapt to his new situation. But after being welcomed into a community that accepts him just as he is, Ruben has to choose between his equilibrium and the drive to reclaim the life he once knew. Utilizing startling, innovative sound design techniques, director Darius Marder takes audiences inside Ruben’s experience to vividly recreate his journey into a rarely examined world.
What critics are saying: “As much of a breakthrough as the sound design is here, it really is Riz Ahmed’s movie. It’s no surprise that he learned how to play drums in the six months before shooting and studied deafness. It just speaks to the depth or performance. There’s not a single scene or emotional beat that feels false,” says Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com.
Guests of honor: Tara Miele (writer/director), Shivani Rawat (producer), Sienna Miller (actor); moderated by David Canfield (Entertainment Weekly)
About: In Lionsgate’s Wander Darkly, a traumatic accident leaves a couple, Adrienne (Sienna Miller) and Matteo (Diego Luna), in a surreal state of being that takes them on a disorienting journey through the duality of their shared moments. By reliving fond recollections from the beginning of their romance while also navigating the overwhelming truths of their present, they must rediscover the love that truly binds them together. Writer/director Tara Miele offers a profound new perspective on the delicate nature of relationships with this emotionally moving story about a couple who must reflect on their past in order to face their uncertain future.
What critics are saying: “But the main takeaway here—aside from don’t fight and drive—is what a superb screen presence Miller (a knockout in last year’s under-seen American Woman) has become. She turns in a captivating, deeply layered performance as a dazed and tortured soul struggling to survive perhaps the unsurvivable,” writes Gary Goldstein, Los Angeles Times.
Guest of honor: Eugene Ashe (writer/director/producer); moderated by Carla Renata (TheCurvyFilmCritic.com)
About: In Sylvie’s Love, the jazz is smooth and the air sultry in the hot New York summer of 1957. Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha), a saxophonist, spends late nights playing behind a less-talented but well-known bandleader, as member of a jazz quartet. Sylvie (Tessa Thompson), who dreams of a career in television, spends her summer days helping around her father’s record store, as she waits for her fiancé to return from war. When Robert takes a part-time job at the record store, the two begin a friendship that sparks a deep passion in each of them unlike anything they have felt before. As the summer winds down, life takes them in different directions, bringing their relationship to an end. Writer/director Eugene Ashe combines romance and music into a sweeping story that brings together changing times, a changing culture, and the true price of love.
What critics are saying: “Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha star in a swoony love story that wonderfully rethinks the classic Hollywood melodrama,” says Manohla Dargis, The New York Times.
I AM GRETA
Guest of honor: Nathan Grossman (director); moderated by Josh Welsh (President, Film Independent)
About: The story of teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg is told through compelling, never-before-seen footage in this intimate documentary from Swedish director Nathan Grossman. Starting with her one-person school strike for climate action outside the Swedish Parliament, Grossman follows Greta—a shy student with Asperger’s—in her rise to prominence and her galvanizing global impact as she sparks school strikes around the world. The film culminates with her extraordinary wind-powered voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to speak at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York City.
What critics are saying: “Nathan Grossman alternates truth-to-power moments with quiet ones in his documentary about the young Greta Thunberg,” writes Nicolas Rapold, The New York Times.
ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI…
Guests of honor: Regina King (director/executive producer), Kemp Powers (writer/executive producer); moderated by Carla Renata (TheCurvyFilmCritic.com)
About: On one incredible night in 1964, four icons of sports, music and activism gathered to celebrate one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. When underdog Cassius Clay, soon to be called Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), defeats heavyweight champion Sonny Liston at the Miami Convention Hall, Clay memorialized the event with three of his friends: Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge.) Based on the award-winning play of the same name and directed by Spirit Award winner Regina King, One Night In Miami… is a fictional account inspired by the historic night these four formidable figures spent together. It looks at the struggles these men faced and the vital role they each played in the civil rights movement and cultural upheaval of the 1960s. More than 40 years later, their conversations on racial injustice, religion and personal responsibility still resonate.
What critics are saying: “It’s a masterful piece of cinema—a self-contained film within a film—and it signals that King’s directorial career is off to an exceptionally promising start,” says Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post.
I’M YOUR WOMAN
Guests of honor: Julia Hart (co-writer/director), Jordan Horowitz (co-writer/producer), Rachel Brosnahan (actor/producer); moderated by Josh Welsh (President, Film Independent)
About: In this 1970s-set crime drama, a woman is forced to go on the run after her husband betrays his partners, sending her and her baby on a dangerous journey. Starring The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel‘s Rachel Brosnahan in an eye-opening lead performance.
What critics are saying: “You’ll be halfway through I’m Your Woman before its premise is clear, but the mystery is as gripping as its payoff,” writes Eric Kohn, IndieWire.
Guest of honor: Clare Dunne (co-writer/actor); moderated by Jazz Tangcay (Variety)
About: Single mother Sandra (Clare Dunne) escapes her abusive partner with her two young children, only to find herself trapped in temporary accommodation. After months of struggling, she draws inspiration from one of her daughter’s bedtime stories and hits upon the idea of self-building an affordable home. She finds an architect who provides her with plans and is offered land by Peggy (Harriet Walter), a woman she cleans for. Aido (Conleth Hill), a building contractor, appears willing to help, too. But as her past rears its head in the form of her possessive ex Gary (Ian Lloyd Anderson.) As bureaucrats fight back against her independent spirit, will Sandra be able to rebuild her life from the ground up?
What critics are saying: “Co-written by star Clare Dunne, the Mamma Mia! filmmaker’s Irish drama tackles economic anxiety, housing scarcity, and domestic abuse in one emotional package,” writes Kate Erbland, IndieWire.
Guests of honor: Tomm Moore (director), Ross Stewart (director); moderated by Josh Welsh (President, Film Independent)
About: In a time of superstition and magic, a young apprentice hunter, Robyn Goodfellowe, journeys to Ireland with her father to wipe out the last wolf pack. While exploring the forbidden lands outside the city walls, Robyn befriends a free-spirited girl, Mebh, a member of a mysterious tribe rumored to have the ability to transform into wolves by night. As they search for Mebh’s missing mother, Robyn uncovers a secret that draws her further into the enchanted world of the Wolfwalkers and risks turning into the very thing her father is tasked to destroy.
What critics are saying: “Because of the film’s densely packed themes, you can pick and choose which particular ‘message’ you’ll take away from Wolfwalkers. But whichever you pick, the feel of this hauntingly rich visual feast will stay with you much longer,” says Glen Weldon, National Public Radio.
Guests of honor: Graeme Manson (showrunner), Jennifer Connelly (actor), Daveed Diggs (actor); moderated by Michael Schneider (Senior Editor, Variety)
About: Set more than seven years after the world has become a frozen wasteland, Snowpiercer centers on the remnants of humanity who inhabit a perpetually moving train, with 1001 cars, that circles the globe. Class warfare, social injustice and the politics of survival play out in this riveting television adaptation of Bong Joon-ho’s 2013 action thriller.
What critics are saying: “A train circles a frozen Earth carrying the elite–and, crammed at the back, the proles, plotting rebellion–in this highly-watchable new series inspired by Bong Joon-ho’s 2013 film,” writes Lucy Mangan, The Guardian.
MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
Guest of honor: Ruben Santiago-Hudson (screenwriter); moderated by Jazz Tangcay (Variety)
About: Tensions and temperatures rise over the course of an afternoon recording session in 1920s Chicago as a band of musicians await trailblazing performer, the legendary “Mother of the Blues,” Ma Rainey (Viola Davis.) Late to the session, the fearless, fiery Ma engages in a battle of wills with her white manager and producer over control of her music. As the band waits in the studio’s claustrophobic rehearsal room, ambitious cornet player Levee (Chadwick Boseman)—who has an eye for Ma’s girlfriend and is determined to stake his own claim on the music industry—spurs his fellow musicians into an eruption of stories revealing truths that will forever change the course of their lives. Adapted from two-time Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson’s play, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom celebrates the transformative power of the blues and the artists who refuse to let society’s prejudices dictate their worth.
What critics are saying: “Watching Chadwick Boseman in his final movie, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, is pure heartbreak. His sterling, Oscar-worthy performance switches from mischief to despair with balletic grace,” writes Johnny Oleksinski, New York Post.
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