It’s October. And yeah, ghosts and goblins and Squid Games masks are pretty scary. But what was truly terrifying about this month was just how much our Film Independent Presents programming kicked into high gear, with plenty of live, hybrid and virtual screening events filling up the calendar’s every nook and cranny. But if you missed any of it, don’t worry: here’s a complete round-up of all of last month’s post-screening Q&As.
Guests of Honor: Jake Gyllenhaal (actor/producer); moderated by Film Independent President Josh Welsh
About: In Training Day director Antione Fuqua’s latest, filmed during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, a troubled police detective demoted to 911 operator duty (Gyllenhaal, also one of the films producers) scrambles to save a distressed caller during a harrowing day of revelations. Featuring voice-only performances by Riley Keough, Ethan Hawke, Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Dano and more.
What critics are sayings: “If you come to this Netflix remake first, you are going to be blown away by a hurricane-force performance from Gyllenhaal. He’s great as this not entirely likeable man who may even have ulterior motives for riding to the rescue. It’s a role reminiscent of other classics of the actor-on-the-phone thriller subgenre, Colin Farrell in Phone Booth and Tom Hardy in Locke, but Gyllenhall also brings shades of a ruffled Raymond Chandler-like antihero,” writes Stephen A. Russell, Time Out.
Guests of Honor: Emma Seligman (writer/director/ producer) and Rachel Sennott (actor/executive producer); moderated by Jordan Firstman (actor, writer, comedian)
About: While at shiva, a ritual gathering that follows a Jewish funeral, a college student has a series of awkward encounters with her nosy and overbearing relatives, her ex-girlfriend, and her secret sugar daddy.
What critics are sayings: “Emma Seligman’s satire is a compelling study on sexuality, parenthood and millennialism. Shiva Baby has the potential of becoming the cinematic equal of The Graduate in regards that both films are the youth’s mouthpiece, reflecting a time of hopeless ennui and disillusionment,” writes critic Shreya Paul, Firstpost.
BIRDS OF PARADISE
Guests of Honor: Kristine Froseth (actor), Jonako Donley (producer), Ellen Reid (composer); moderated by Janelle Riley (editor, Variety)
About: From director Sarah Adina Smith (Buster’s Mal Heart), a cutting-edge twist on young-adult drama, a story of friendship, betrayal, sexual awakening and redemption set against the cutthroat culture of Parisian ballet, based on the hit A.K. Smith young adult novel Bright Burning Stars.
What critics are sayings: “The world that Smith spins, in collaboration with longtime cinematographer Shaheen Seth, choreographer Celia Rowson-Hall and composer Ellen Reid, is a modernist fantasy of the imagined ideal of a cutthroat French ballet school where drugs flow easily and the line between dance and sex is frequently blurred. It portrays ballet as a competitive, catty, bloody and superstitious art form, though it’s been heightened and twisted into a soapy teen melodrama of secrets, scheming and sabotage.” Katie Walsh, Los Angeles Times.
CONVERGENCE: COURAGE IN A CRISIS
Guests of Honor: Orlando von Einsiedel (director/producer) and Hassan Akkad (co-director); moderated by Lisa Hasko, Film Independent Director of Artist Development
About: An epic collaboration that spans eight countries and nine individual stories, Convergence reveals the power of compassion and community in the face of a crisis. Beginning at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the documentary follows everyday citizens across the globe as they rise to the challenges of this upheaval in extraordinary ways—from a Syrian refugee fighting the UK government to include hospital cleaners and porters in bereavement pay to a doctor committed to serving Miami’s homeless community. But as this generation-defining crisis begins to unmask deep-rooted flaws and inequities worldwide, the characters’ diverse journeys tell a more unified narrative about our common humanity and how, by coming together, great change can emerge from.
What critics are sayings: “The first, but hardly last, striking thing about the pan-global pandemic documentary Convergence: Courage in a Crisis is how vast, uncluttered and even minimalist it looks. The surfaces and angles might have been scrubbed by cinematographers using disinfectant and rubber gloves; streets are vacant; silence reigns,” says John Anderson, The Wall Street Journal.
THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE
Guests of Honor: Jessica Chastain (actor/producer), Kelly Carmichael (producer), Rachel Shane (producer); moderated by Film Independent President Josh Welsh
About: The Eyes of Tammy Faye is an intimate look at the extraordinary rise, fall and redemption of televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker. In the 1970s and ’80s, Tammy Faye and her husband, Jim Bakker, rose from humble beginnings to create the world’s largest religious broadcasting network and theme park, and were revered for their message of love, acceptance and prosperity. Tammy Faye was legendary for her indelible eyelashes, her idiosyncratic singing and her eagerness to embrace people from all walks of life. However, it wasn’t long before financial improprieties, scheming rivals and scandal toppled their carefully constructed empire.
What critics are sayings: “Why watch The Eyes of Tammy Faye instead of the original documentary, which is superb? Because this version, in heightening our connection to the characters, sheds new light on who they were and why they did what they did. It’s Tammy Faye who comes to occupy the spiritual center of the movie, and Chastain, tapping a bombs-away flamboyance she has never before approached, makes her a mesmerizing diva-victim who keeps evolving,” writes Owen Gleiberman, Variety.
Guests of Honor: Fran Kranz (writer/director/producer) and Ann Dowd (actor); moderated by Dave Karger (host, Turner Classic Movies)
About: Years after an unspeakable tragedy tore their lives apart, two sets of parents (Reed Birney & Ann Dowd, Jason Isaacs & Martha Plimpton) agree to talk privately in an attempt to help them all heal and move forward. In Fran Kranz’s writing and directing debut, the acclaimed actor and filmmaker thoughtfully examines his characters’ journey of grief, anger and acceptance, coming face-to-face with the legacy of loved ones lost and left behind.
What critics are sayings: “Mass was written and directed by Fran Kranz, who has never made a movie before but is a veteran actor, and he has crafted the dialogue so that it builds and flows and surges, revealing and concealing at the same time, drawing us to the center of its rhythms. There’s a special pleasure to be had in seeing actors engage in this kind of winding conversational back-and-forth, which on stage can seize and hold you the way music does.” Owen Gleiberman, Variety.
A COP STORY
Guests of Honor: Filmmaker Alonso Ruizpalacios; moderated by author and film critic Carlos Aguilar
About: In this stunning documentary-fiction hybrid, two actors undergo an immersive undercover mission to find out what it takes, and what compromises are necessary, to be a police officer in bustling Mexico City.
What critics are sayings: “Ruizpalacios gives his movie catchy music and bold graphics over the opening credits, making it look like an addictive TV cop show: but he also experimentally makes his characters talk direct to camera in a mockumentary manner and also lip-sync mid-scene to their own voiceover commentary on what’s happening in verbatim cinema style.” Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian.
Guests of Honor: Writer/director Rebecca Hall, actors Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga and André Holland; moderated by Ella Turenn
About: Rebecca Hall’s feature directorial debut (adapted from the 1929 novel by Nella Larsen), Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga play estranged childhood friends who reconnect after a chance encounter in a Manhattan tea room. Both light-skinned Black women, Thompson’s Rennie is a pillar of upwardly-mobile Harlem high society, uneasily married to a doctor, played by Holland. Negga, passing for White, is married to a racist industrialist (Alexander Skarsgård) but longs to reconnect with Black identity. Needless to say, the two women’s relationship is… complicated.
What critics are sayings: “Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga achieve flawless parity in their performances playing two women that are seemingly opposites, but have more in common than either truly comprehends. It’s both quiet and impactful, and all beautifully realized,” writes Tara Bennett, IGN Movies.
LAST NIGHT IN SOHO
Guests of Honor: Director/producer Edgar Wright and co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns; moderated by filmmaker Allison Anders
About: In acclaimed director Edgar Wright’s new psychological thriller, Eloise, an aspiring fashion designer, is mysteriously able to enter the 1960s where she encounters a dazzling wannabe singer, Sandie. But the glamour is not all it appears to be, and the dreams of the past start to crack and splinter into something far darker.
What critics are sayings: “Soho is Edgar Wright’s version of a horror movie, so Sandie’s world quickly starts to turn into something of a nightmare, and we are reminded that Swinging London came with its share of menace, betrayal, and violence. What seemed like a nightly trip into fantasyland starts to feel like a prison of the mind for the mentally fragile Ellie, as Sandie’s reality begins bleeding into her own.” Bilge Ebiri, The New York Times Magazine/Vulture.
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