Welcome back! New Year, New You, New Film Independent Presents filmmaker Q&As! That’s right, the final month of calendar-year 2021 delivered yet another bounty of insightful film discussion from the creators (and sometimes subjects!) of our favorite 2021 indie movies. We all must have been very good boys and girls and nonbinary individuals, because the holiday season certainly left us with plenty of great stuff to unwrap. Check it all out below and check here to see what’s happening next.
RITA MORENO: JUST A GIRL WHO DECIDED TO GO FOR IT
Guests of honor: Mariem Pérez Riera (director/producer), Brent Miller (producer), Rita Moreno (featured subject); moderated by filmmaker Natalie Morales
About: Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It illuminates the humor and grace of Hollywood icon Rita Moreno, including the lesser-known struggles she faced on the path to stardom: pernicious Hollywood sexism, abuse, a toxic relationship with Marlon Brando and a serious bout of depression in the years before she emerged as an Oscar winner for (the original) West Side Story. Ultimately, Moreno’s talent and resilience triumphed over adversity, as she broke barriers, fought for representation and forged the path for new generations of artists.
What critics are saying: “The film is framed as a story of uplift and triumph; at one point Moreno is referred to as ‘The embodiment of the American dream.’ However, Moreno is a pioneer. That can be a lonely and painful thing, especially for a woman of color. Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It shows us, even if it’s too briefly, the steep price she had to pay to pursue it,” writes Danielle Scruggs, RogerEbert.com
ROADRUNNER: A FILM ABOUT ANTHONY BOURDAIN
Guests of honor: Morgan Neville (director/producer); moderated by Josh Welsh (President, Film Independent)
About: Following Bourdain from the legendary New York dive bar Siberia to a perfect lunch in Provence with Michelin-starred chef Éric Ripert, Roadrunner traces the singular trajectory of Bourdain’s career as a bestselling author, world traveler, celebrity and Emmy-winning television writer and producer. A nuanced portrait of a complex, contradictory and charismatic storyteller, Roadrunner is a fitting tribute to the man who reinvented cultural/culinary storytelling–and himself–over and over again.
What critics are saying: “[Roadrunner] attempts to tell the story of who Bourdain was and ends up being a movie about what he left behind,” writes Helen Rosner, The New York Times
Guests of honor: Potsy Ponciroli (writer/director), Tim Blake Nelson (actor/executive producer); moderated by Jenelle Riley (Deputy Awards & Features Editor, Variety)
About: Old Henry is an action-Western about a widowed farmer and his son who warily take in a mysterious, injured man with a satchel of cash. When a posse of men claiming to be the law come for the money, the farmer must decide whom to trust. Defending against a siege of his homestead, he reveals a talent for gunslinging that surprises everyone, calling his true identity into question.
What critics are saying: “The real drama happens between the lines, which, believe it or not, makes Old Henry a more traditional Western than most. And staying true to the genre, director Ponciroli shoots the surrounding prairie and hills as an emotional mirror,” writes Bilge Ebiri, Vulture
NOT GOING QUIETLY
Guests of honor: Film Independent Fellow Nicholas Bruckman (director/writer/executive producer), Amanda Roddy (producer), Jay Duplass (executive producer), Mark Duplass (executive producer) and Ady Barkan (featured subject); moderated by Josh Welsh (President, Film Independent)
About: A rising star in progressive politics and a new father, 32-year-old Ady Barkan’s life is upended when he is diagnosed with ALS. But after a confrontation with powerful Senator Jeff Flake on an airplane goes viral, catapulting him to national fame, Ady and a motley crew of activists ignite a once-in-a-generation political movement called “Be a Hero.” Together, they barnstorm across the country and empower people to confront their elected officials with emotional, personal stories to demand healthcare justice and Ady holds groundbreaking interviews with Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. As Ady rises to become Politico’s “Most Powerful Activist in America,” he discovers that collective action and speaking truth to power offers hope for his family and millions of others.
What critics are saying: “Along with his editor Kent Bassett, Bruckman weaves these events together rather conventionally yet thoughtfully, making plenty of room for Barkan’s home life and appealingly chipper character that he somehow manages to maintain through all his battles,” writes Tomris Laffly, Variety
Guest of honor: Robert Greene (director/editor); moderated by filmmaker Steve James
About: Six midwestern men—all survivors of childhood sexual assault at the hands of Catholic priests and clergy—come together to direct a cinematic reconstruction of their abuse, a therapeutic exercise designed to collectively work through their trauma. As part of a radically collaborative filmmaking process, they create fictional scenes based on memories, dreams and experiences, meant to explore the church rituals, culture and hierarchies that enabled silence around their abuse. In the face of a failed legal system, we watch these men reclaim the spaces that allowed their assault, revealing the possibility for catharsis and redemption through a new-found fraternity. As one of the men says, “Spotlight was about trying to get in from the outside. In our film, we’re trying to get out.”
What critics are saying: “The film ends up being more about the act of healing than simply raising awareness. It moves between dramatised scenes written, directed and performed by the men, and more traditional behind-the-scenes footage of their process,” writes Simran Hans, The Guardian
Guests of honor: Roshan Sethi (director/co-writer), Karan Soni (co-writer), Mark Duplass (actor/executive producer) and Geraldine Viswanathan (actor/executive producer) and Liz Cardenas (producer); moderated by Josh Welsh (President, Film Independent)
About: Set up on a prearranged date by their old-fashioned Indian parents, Ravi and Rita seemingly have nothing in common. The situation turns both awkward and enlightening when they find themselves trapped inside together for an entire week as the COVID-19 pandemic quickly descends.
What critics are saying: “In the future, audiences may tire of movies about COVID-19. For the moment, however, 7 Days arrives as a funny, modest charmer,” writes Lisa Kennedy, Variety
SMALL ENGINE REPAIR
Guests of honor: John Pollono (writer/director/actor), Jon Bernthal (producer/actor), Shea Whigham (actor); moderated Matt Warren (Senior Manager, Digital Content, Film Independent)
About: Frankie (John Pollono), Swaino (Jon Bernthal) and Packie (Shea Whigham) are lifelong friends who share a love of the Red Sox, rowdy bars and a paternal affection for Frankie’s teenage daughter, Crystal (Ciara Bravo). But when Frankie invites his pals to a whiskey-fueled evening and asks them to do a favor on behalf of the brash young woman they all adore, events spin wildly out of control. Based on Pollono’s award-winning play, Small Engine Repair is a pitch-black comedic drama with a wicked twist and a powerful exploration of brotherhood, class struggle and modern masculinity.
What critics are saying: “Pollono, Bernthal and Whigham deliver ace performances that humanize these puerile man-children without pardoning them,” writes Maya Phillips, The New York Times
Guests of honor: Clint Bentley (writer/director/producer), Greg Kwedar (writer/producer), Clifton Collins Jr. (actor/executive producer) and Molly Parker (actor); moderated by film critic Carlos Aguilar
About: An aging jockey (Clifton Collins Jr.), hopes to win one last title for his longtime trainer (Molly Parker), who has acquired what appears to be a championship horse. But the years–and numerous injuries–have taken a toll on his body, throwing into question his ability to continue his lifelong passion. The arrival of a young rookie rider (Moises Arias), who claims to be his son, and whom he takes under his wing, further complicates the path to fulfilling his dream.
What critics are saying: “The light is beautiful in Jockey, an enjoyable old-warrior movie with a surprising sting,” writes Manohla Dargis, The New York Times
Guests of honor: Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson (director/executive producer), Randy Huggins (showrunner), Da’Vinchi, Demetrius “Lil Meech” Flenory Jr. (actor), Michole Briana White (actor) and Steve Harris (actor); moderated by Kelley L. Carter (Senior Entertainment Writer, The Undefeated)
About: The Starz series BMF dramatizes the true story of brothers Demetrius “Big Meech” Flenory (Demetrius “Lil Meech” Flenory Jr.) and Terry “Southwest T” Flenory (Da’Vinchi), who rose from humble beginnings to foster the most prominent drug trafficking organization known as “Black Mafia Family.” Set in 1980s Detroit, the series authentically explores the brothers’ upbringing and their parents’ desires for them to pursue an education. But Meech drops out to get schooled in the streets, allowing his younger brother Terry to follow him down a different path in pursuit of the American Dream.
What critics are saying: “The most potent ingredient of a show like this would have to be the story that has all the trappings of a gripping crime saga and is also mostly real,” says Ronak Kotecha, The Times of India
Guests of honor: Parker Hill (director/producer) and Isabel Bethencourt (director/producer); moderated by Josh Welsh (President, Film Independent)
About: Brittney, Aaloni, and Autumn–three hilarious teenage girls living in a Texas military town–meet and befriend photographers (and first-time filmmakers) Parker Hill and Isabel Bethencourt in a chance encounter one evening. Hill and Bethencourt are inspired to film the trio, following them to bonfire parties, fast food outings and bedroom hangouts where discussions around agency, opportunity, sex and consent unfold with candor. Shot in vérité style, Cusp captures authentic moments of female friendship while examining what it means to grow up in a culture of toxic masculinity. Though the girls’ experiences are completely unique to their upbringing, Cusp is also a strikingly universal coming-of-age tale—and true-to-life; funny, tragic, complicated and stirring.
What critics are saying: “Bethencourt and Hill’s documentary finds magic during the strange liminal space between childhood and adulthood,” writes Kate Erbland, IndieWire
Guests of honor: Stanley Nelson Jr. (director/producer) and Traci A. Curry (co-director/producer); moderated by Claudia Puig (President, Los Angeles Film Critics Association)
About: On Sept. 9, 1971, more than 1,200 inmates at the Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, N.Y. seized part of the maximum-security prison and took 39 guards as hostages, demanding more humane treatment and better housing conditions. For four days, the world watched as news cameras covered the story from both outside and inside the prison, while negotiators and official observers negotiated with prisoners. When New York governor Nelson Rockefeller–a proponent of President Richard Nixon’s “law and order” platform–ordered the authorities to retake Attica, the resulting massacre by state police resulted in the most deadly violence Americans had inflicted on each other since the Civil War. On the 50th anniversary of the uprising, Emmy-winning director Stanley Nelson and producer/co-director Traci Curry’s intense, in-depth documentary Attica examines one of the most shocking incidents in U.S. history.
What critics are saying: “Stanley Nelson’s film lets us see—really see—what happened at Attica like nothing before it,” writes Owen Gleiberman, Variety
WOMEN IS LOSERS
Guests of honor: Lissette Feliciano (writer/director/producer), Lorenza Izzo (actor/executive producer), Bryan Craig (actor) and Chrissie Fit (actor); moderated by film critic Carlos Aguilar
About: In 1960s San Francisco, bright and talented Catholic school girl Celina Guerrera (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood‘s Lorenza Izzo) survives a difficult home life by following the rules–that is, until an indiscretion creates a series of devastating consequences. As Celina faces the compounded obstacles of being young and alone, she sets out to rise above the oppression of poverty and invest in a future that sets new precedents for the time. The film is inspired by the stories of real women, as well as the Janis Joplin song that lends the film its title.
What critics are saying: ““Women Is Losers is an infectious and auspicious debut,” writes Kate Erbland, IndieWire
Guests of honor: Jonas Poher Rasmussen (director); moderated by Louay Khraish (Senior Manager, International Programs, Film Independent)
About: In Flee, the Grand Jury Prize winner at this year’s Sundance Festival, filmmaker Jonas Poher Rasmussen tells a poignant story of belonging and the search for identity. Subject Amin Nwada’s (a pseudonym) life has been defined by his past and a secret he’s kept for over 20 years. Forced to leave his home country of Afghanistan as a young child with his mother and siblings, Amin now grapples with how his past will affect his future in Denmark and the life he is building with his soon-to-be husband. Told brilliantly through the use of animation to protect his identity, Amin looks back over his life, opening up for the first time about his past, his trauma, the truth about his family, and his acceptance of his own sexuality.
What critics are saying: “Flee is a remarkably humanising and complex film, expanding and expounding the kind of story that’s too easily simplified. Rasmussen has created a loving and unsparing tribute to his friend, a brave survivor whose story I’ll find impossible to forget,” writes Benjamin Lee, The Guardian
THE REAL CHARLIE CHAPLIN
Guests of honor: James Spinney (filmmaker); moderated by Matt Warren (Senior Manager, Digital Content, Film Independent)
About: Showtime’s new documentary The Real Charlie Chaplin traces Chaplin’s journey from theslums of late-Victorian London to the bright lights of Hollywood at the dawn of cinema. Movies that transcended language brought him unparalleled fame and fortune, and a studio empire to enact his obsessive creative vision, before political controversies and personal scandals threatened his ascendancy.
What critics are saying: “It’s extraordinary, as you watch The Real Charlie Chaplin, to realize how much turmoil and sadness there was in Charlie Chaplin’s life, so much of it self-inflicted,” writes Owen Gleiberman, Variety
AN EVENING WITH… NICOLAS CAGE
Guests of honor: Nicolas Cage (actor/producer); moderated by Drea Clark (Producer-in-Residence, Film Independent; Host, Maximum Film!)
About: The one, the only Nicolas Cage spends an hour chatting with podcast host, festival programmer and semi-professional Cage-ologist Drea Clark about his work, process and career, including a lengthy discussion of Cage’s critically-acclaimed performance in 2021’s Pig, about a truffle hunter who lives alone in the Oregonian wilderness must return to his past in Portland in search of his beloved foraging pig after she is kidnapped.
What critics are saying: “What a beguiling, confounding film Pig is. From start to finish, it never moves as you might expect it to,” writes Matt Zoller Seitz, RogerEbert.com
Guests of honor: Michael Pearce (director/co-writer), Riz Ahmed (actor), Octavia Spencer (actor) and Janina Gavankar (actor); moderated by journalist Piya Sinha-Roy
About: A decorated Marine goes on a rescue mission to save his two young sons from a mysterious threat, possibly of extraterrestrial origins. As their journey takes them in increasingly dangerous directions, the boys will need to leave their childhoods behind and face hard truths about their father and his mental health.
What critics are saying: “Boasting yet another standout performance by Riz Ahmed, the nuances of which are superbly amplified by Jed Kurzel’s slowly mutating score, this is a genre-hopping affair, balanced between tangible personal experience and growing paranoia, an affecting meld of inner and outer worlds in which family stresses and extraterrestrial spectres collide,” writes Mark Kermode, The Guardian
Guests of honor: Joe Wright (director), Erica Schmidt (screenwriter/executive producer), Peter Dinklage (actor), Haley Bennett (actor); moderated by Janelle Riley (Deputy Awards & Features Editor, Variety)
About: Award-winning director Joe Wright envelops moviegoers in a symphony of emotions with music, romance and beauty in Cyrano, a re-imaging of the timeless love triangle. A man ahead of his time, Cyrano de Bergerac (played by Peter Dinklage) dazzles, whether with ferocious wordplay at a verbal joust, or with brilliant swordplay in a duel. But, convinced that his appearance renders him unworthy of the love of a devoted friend–the luminous Roxanne (Haley Bennett)–Cyrano has yet to declare his feelings for her, while she has fallen in love, at first sight, with Christian (Kelvin Harris, Jr.).
What critics are saying: “With its swooping cameras and beyond-dazzling production design, Wright’s style is more alive than ever, giving new meaning to the word panache,” writes Peter Debruge, Variety
BRING YOUR OWN BRIGADE
Guests of honor: Lucy Walkerand (director/producer); moderated by Alex Cohen (Host, Spectrum News One)
About: Director Lucy Walker’s character-driven verité investigation reveals the hidden causes of the hellish megafires that are burning up California and the rest of our world, showing that while there’s a way to survive, we’re fighting uphill, as scenes of devastation wake us up to a all-new, all-urgent climate change conversation.
What critics are saying: “Lucy Walker’s Bring Your Own Brigade is not the documentary you expect it to be. For years now, climate change warnings have been a documentary genre unto themselves, as new information about what we’re doing to this planet filters through non-fiction filmmaking and to audiences that, sadly, don’t seem to be heeding enough of their warnings. A documentary about the increasingly deadly and destructive wildfires in California feels likely to fall into this genre, but Walker’s film is more ambitious than a commentary on how rising temperatures makes fire-fighting more difficult,” writes Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert,com
TICK, TICK… BOOM!
Guests of honor: Lin-Manuel Miranda (director/producer), Andrew Garfield (actor), Alexandra Shipp (actor), Robin de Jesús (actor),and Vanessa Hudgens (actor); moderated by Pete Hammond (Awars Columnist & Chief Film Critic, Deadline)
About: The film follows Jonathan Larson, a young theater composer waiting tables at a New York City diner in 1990 while writing what he hopes will be the next great American musical. Days before he’s due to showcase his work in a make-or-break performance, Jonathan is feeling pressure from everywhere: from his girlfriend Susan, who dreams of an artistic life beyond New York City; from his friend Michael, who has moved on from his dream to a life of financial security; amidst an artistic community being ravaged by the AIDS epidemic. With the clock ticking, Larson is at a crossroads and faces the question everyone must reckon with: What are we meant to do with the time we have?
What critics are saying: “The Spider-Man star shines as the eccentric, funny, over-the-top genius who breaks into songs about coffee mugs one day and exults tremendous energy on stage, on another,” writes Gowri S, The Hindu
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