We’re all about options here at Film Independent Presents. Eager to shimmy out of your well-worn pandemic onesie and watch something in an actual movie theater? We’ve got you covered. Feeling a like homebody and/or justifiably terrified of the COVID variant du jour? No problem! Whatever the case, the penultimate month of 2021 delivered yet another action-packed screening series. So check out last month’s Q&As below and see what’s happening next.
Guests of honor: Evgeny Afineevsky (director/producer), Ted Hope (executive producer); moderated by Pete Hammond, Deadline
About: As head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis is one of the most revered individuals on Earth and arguably the most progressive Papal leader in history. With unprecedented access to the man behind the cloth, Francesco takes an unsparing look at the Pope and his response to urgent issues including climate change, refugees, racial tolerance, economic justice and LGBTQI+ rights.
What critics are saying: “Focusing on the message and not the messenger seems consistent with Francis’s modesty, and the film plays like a channel for spreading his ideas on the environment, refugees and religious coexistence,” writes Ben Kenigsberg, The New York Times.
Guests of honor: Ting Poo, Leo Scott (directors/producers); moderated by Dave Karger (Host, Turner Classic Movies)
About: For 40+ years Val Kilmer, one of Hollywood’s most mercurial and misunderstood actors, has been documenting his own life and craft through film and video. He has amassed thousands of hours of footage, from 16mm home movies made with his brothers to time spent behind the scenes while playing iconic roles in blockbuster movies like Top Gun, The Doors, Tombstone and Batman Forever. This raw, wildly original and unflinching documentary reveals a life lived to extremes and a heart-filled, sometimes hilarious look at what it means to be an artist and a complex man.
What critics are saying: “Val is not a gloomy movie at all. Quite the opposite. It’s vibrant, quick, and alive, and Val Kilmer today makes for an entertaining guide, with his hammy facial gestures now doing double duty since he can’t talk,” says
THE ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN
Guests of honor: Will Sharpe (writer/director); moderated by Dave Karger (Host, Turner Classic Movies)
About: The extraordinary true story of eccentric British artist Louis Wain (Benedict Cumberbatch), whose playful, sometimes even psychedelic pictures helped to transform the public’s perception of cats forever. Moving from the late 1800s through to the 1930s, we follow the incredible adventures of this inspiring, unsung creative as he seeks to unlock the “electrical” mysteries of the world, and in so doing better understand his own life and the profound love shared with his wife, Emily Richardson (Claire Foy).
What critics are saying: “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is a movie for everyone who has ever loved Wain’s work, as well as for anyone who draws or paints with pen, pencil or brush, who lives a life of seeing by hand. But mostly, it’s for anyone who has ever seen a glimpse of the whole world in a cat’s gaze. That’s the electricity Wain was talking about,” writes Stephanie Zacharek, Time.
Guests of honor: Kenneth Branagh (writer/director/producer), actors Caitriona Balfe, Jamie Dornan, Ciaran Hinds and Jude Hill; moderated by Josh Welsh (President, Film Independent)
About: Belfast is a poignant story of love, laughter and loss in one boy’s childhood, amid the music and social tumult of Northern Ireland’s “Troubles” of the late 1960s. Based in part on the early life of Belfast-born filmmaker Kenneth Branagh (Henry V, Thor) and featuring the music of Belfast native Van Morrison.
What critics are saying: “It’s a timeless story, a delightful and well-told coming-of-age tale, blending the bitter and the sweet to bring out both through the contrast. It’s celebratory of all things Irish with enough of a brogue to be colorful but not too much to be incomprehensible,” writes Ezra Haber Glenn, the arts fuse.
Guests of honor: Ron and Russell Mael, aka Sparks (writers/composers); moderated by Jenelle Riley (Deputy Awards & Features Editor, Variety)
About: Los Angeles, today. Henry (Adam Driver) is a stand-up comedian with a fierce sense of humor who falls in love with Ann (Marion Cotillard), a world-renowned opera singer. Under the spotlight, they form a passionate and glamorous couple. With the birth of their first child, Annette, a mysterious little girl with an exceptional destiny, their lives are turned upside down. A film by visionary director Leos Carax (Lovers on the Bridge, Holy Motors), with story and music by Ron and Russell Mael, the duo known as Sparks. Annette is an original musical; a journey of love, passion and fame.
What critics are saying: “With a gigantic score by the American pop duo Sparks (brothers Ron and Russell Mael), Annette is not just a musical, it is also a soapy melodrama incorporating elements of the supernatural (a common theme in Carax’s films). Annette is filled with dark and sometimes self-destructive energy, where emotions are barely manageable and can only be expressed through song,” says Sheila O’Malley, RogerEbert.com.
MARK, MARY & SOME OTHER PEOPLE
Guests of honor: Hannah Marks (writer/director/producer), actors Hayley Law and Ben Rosenfield; moderated by Ryan Lattanzio (Weekend Editor, IndieWire)
About: Mark and Mary, acquaintances from college, run into each other at a drug store as Mary is buying a pregnancy test. The test is negative and the two wind up dating and rapidly falling for each other. Mark has a more traditional view of the relationship, while Mary’s is more modern and progressive. Trying “ethical non-monogamy” at Mary’s request, the couple creates their own version of an open relationship while also trying to balance their fledgling careers and friendships. Through a series of ups and downs, Mary starts to realize she’s more traditional than she thought, whereas Mark starts to open up and see the world differently through a polyamorous lens.
What critics are saying: “Thanks to cinematographer Casey Stolberg and composer Patrick Stump (as well as brief animation and ’70s-era title cards), the film has an aesthetic verve that serves its momentum well, and its supporting players—notably Bryant as Mary’s sibling and Matt Shively as Mark’s best friend, along with cameos from Lea Thompson, Gillian Jacobs, Joe Lo Truglio and Steve Little—help keep the action energized throughout,” writes Nick Schager, Variety.
THE LOST DAUGHTER
Guests of honor: Maggie Gyllenhaal (writer/director/producer), actors Dakota Johnson, Paul Mescal and Peter Sarsgaard; moderated by Clayton Davis (Film Awards Editor, Variety)
About: Alone on a seaside vacation, Leda (Olivia Colman) becomes consumed with a young mother and daughter as she watches them on the beach. Unnerved by their compelling relationship (and their raucous and menacing extended family), Leda is overwhelmed by her own memories of the terror, confusion and intensity of early motherhood. An impulsive act shocks Leda into the strange and ominous world of her own mind, where she is forced to face the unconventional choices she made as a young mother and their consequences. Maggie Gyllenhaal makes her directorial debut with a script she adapted from the novel by acclaimed Italian writer “Elena Ferrante.”
What critics are saying: “In her excellent directing debut, Maggie Gyllenhaal conjures Elena Ferrante’s 2008 source novel into humid, sensual cinema: a captivating miniature, full of telling details and little dramas writ large. The likes of Ed Harris, Dakota Johnson and Paul Mescal provide The Lost Daughter with an impressive Greek chorus. But this is Colman’s stage and her tragedy. You can’t take your eyes off her for a second,” writes Xan Brooks, The Guardian.
BAD LUCK BANGING OR LOONY PORN
Guests of honor: Radu Jude (writer/director), actor Katia Pascariu; moderated by filmmaker Alexander Nanau
About: Emi (Katia Pascariu), a school teacher, finds her career and reputation under threat after a personal sex tape is leaked on the Internet. Forced to meet the parents demanding her dismissal, Emi refuses to surrender to their pressure. Radu Jude (Aferim!) delivers an incendiary mix of unconventional form, irreverent humor and scathing commentary on hypocrisy and prejudice in our society.
What critics are saying: “The tripartite structure allows the writer-director to explore the drama from three angles. Jude observes, documentary-style, the current mood on the streets of Bucharest as his recently exposed protagonist Emi attempts to carry out her errands,” writes Simran Hans, The Guardian.
SIMPLE AS WATER
Guests of honor: Megan Mylan (director/producer/editor), Robin Hessman (producer), Hazem Obid (co-producerr); moderated by Louay Khraish (Senior Manager, International Programs, Film Independent)
About: Epic in scope but intimate and elegant in feel, Simple as Water is a meditation on the elemental bonds between parent and child. A masterful look at the impact of war, separation and displacement, the film takes audiences into Syrian families’ quests for normalcy and through the whirlwind of obstacles—to building life anew. Filmed over the course of five years in five countries including Turkey, Greece, Germany, Syria and the US, Mylan’s sensitive camera reifies the universal importance of family.
What critics are saying: “Ultimately the strength of Simple as Water lies in its austerity: There’s no political agenda here, no overt commentary on the global refugee crisis, no indictment of Syrian individuals on either side. From the looks of the film, you wouldn’t seem wrong to think that Mylan simply observed her subjects. Instead, she visibly had a level of deep, intimate access and rapport that few filmmakers can hope to achieve,” says Ryan Lattanzio, Indiewire.
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