February may be a short month, which means our Film Independent Presents programming was twice as packed, with plenty of cool stuff making its way to our online screening room, from stylish genre films to incisive nonfiction features, documentary shorts, dramas and more. And if you missed any of our live Members-Only Q&As, you can catch up below…
Guests of honor: Deon Taylor (director), Roxanne Avent Taylor (producer), Michael Ealy (actor); moderated by Carla Renata (@TheCurvyCritic)
About: After a wild one-night stand, Derrick (Michael Ealy), a successful sports agent, watches his perfect life slowly disappear when he discovers that the sexy and mysterious woman he risked everything for is, in fact, a determined police detective (Hilary Swank), who entangles him in her latest investigation. As he tries desperately to put the pieces together, he falls deeper into her trap, risking his family, his career and even his life. Fatale is a suspenseful and provocative psychological thriller and an unpredictable game of cat and mouse where one mistake can change your life.
What critics are saying: “The film certainly looks terrific, thanks to Dante Spinotti’s glossy cinematography and the high-end production design and costuming. And Swank leans into her villainous role with gusto, clearly relishing the opportunity to play the sort of scheming femme fatale who drove the likes of Bogart and Mitchum crazy,” writes Frank Scheck, in his review in The Hollywood Reporter.
I CARE A LOT
Guests of honor: J Blakeson (writer/director), Rosamund Pike (actor), Marc Canham (composer); moderated by Kate Erbland (IndieWire)
About: Poised with sharklike self-assurance, Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) is a professional, court-appointed guardian for dozens of elderly wards whose assets she seizes and cunningly bilks through dubious but legal means. It’s a well-oiled racket that Marla and her business-partner and lover Fran (Eiza González) use with brutal efficiency on their latest “cherry,” Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest)—a wealthy retiree with no living heirs or family. But when their mark turns out to have an equally shady secret of her own and connections to a volatile gangster (Peter Dinklage), Marla is forced to level up in a game only predators can play—one that’s neither fair, nor square.
What critics are saying: “An unexpectedly gripping thriller that seesaws between comedy and horror, “I Care a Lot” is cleverly written and wonderfully cast,” writes Jeannette Catsoulis, The New York Times.
THE UNITED STATES VS. BILLIE HOLIDAY
Guests of honor: Lee Daniels (director/producer), Andra Day (actor); moderated by film critic Scott Mantz
About: The legendary Billie Holiday, one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, spent much of her career being adored by fans across the globe. Beginning in 1940s New York, the federal government targeted Holiday in a growing effort to escalate and racialize the war on drugs, ultimately aiming to stop her from singing her controversial and heart-wrenching ballad, “Strange Fruit.” Led by director Lee Daniels and introducing singer-songwriter Andra Day, The United States vs. Billie Holiday unapologetically presents the icon’s complicated, irrepressible life.
What critics are saying: “Top-notch production design by Daniel T. Dorrance (aided by a monochrome-to-color editing device reminiscent of The Night They Raided Minsky’s), eye-catching costume work by Paolo Nieddu and handsome cinematography by Andrew Dunn (whose credits include Daniels’s Precious and The Butler) lend a glossy sheen to the often chaotic proceedings. But this is Day’s show all the way, and her performance remains the film’s strongest suit,” writes Mark Kermode, The Guardian.
THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS
Guests of honor: Kyle Allen (actor), Kathryn Newton (actor); moderated by Jenelle Riley (Variety)
About: Quick-witted teen Mark (Kyle Allen) is contentedly living the same day in an endless loop when his world is turned upside-down by the mysterious Margaret (Kathryn Newton), also stuck in the same loop. What follows is a love story with a fantastical twist, as the two struggle to figure out how—and whether—to escape their never-ending day.
What critics are saying: “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things holds a contained, idealized world – a trove of romcom enjoyment and small treasures I had no problem looping through,” writes The Guardian‘s Adrain Horton.
Guest of honor: Shalini Kantayya (director/producer), Meredith Broussard (featured subject); moderated by Ashley O’Shay (Filmmaker, Film Independent Documentary Lab Fellow)
About: Modern society sits at the intersection of two crucial questions: What does it mean when artificial intelligence increasingly governs our liberties? And what are the consequences for the people AI is biased against? When MIT Media Lab researcher Joy Buolamwini discovers that most facial-recognition software does not accurately identify darker-skinned faces and the faces of women, she delves into an investigation of widespread bias in algorithms. As it turns out, artificial intelligence is not neutral, and women are leading the charge to ensure our civil rights are protected.
What critics are saying: “Coded Bias exemplifies the power of free will, which includes our right to learn about something, and the right to shut it down,” writes Nick Allen, RogerEbert.com.
Guest of honor: Jiayan “Jenny” Shi (director/producer/cinematographer), Diane Quon (producer), Brent E. Huffman (producer); moderated by filmmaker Renee Tajima-Pena (Asian Americans, No Más Bebés)
About: Yingying Zhang, a 26-year-old Chinese student, comes to the U.S. to study. In her detailed and beautiful diaries, the aspiring young scientist and teacher is full of optimism, hoping to also get married and be a mother someday. Within weeks of her arrival, Yingying disappears from the campus. Through exclusive access to Yingying’s family and boyfriend, Finding Yingying closely follows their journey as they search to unravel the mystery of her disappearance and seek justice for their daughter while navigating a strange, foreign country. But most of all the film is the story of who Yingying was: a talented young woman loved by her family and friends.
What critics are saying: “Finding Yingying is Shi’s impressive feature debut. It’s a story she’s been working on since Yingying’s disappearance in 2017, yet despite getting so close to the Zhang family over time, Shi maintains a measured sense of storytelling,” writes Monica Castillo, RogerEbert.com.
MY FATHER THE MOVER
Guests of honor: Julia Jansch (director/producer); moderated by Jeremy Aguilera-Gaudette (Film Independent)
About: Alatha’s father calls himself a “Mover.” Using African dance moves, he helps kids in the Khayelitsha township in South Africa to transcend hardship and “find their superpowers.” The Mover is also a single father and, while he has helped many kids, he still has difficulty getting his daughter to find her own powers. But in a tender moment together, this is all about to change.
What creators are saying: Director/Producer Julia Jansch says in the Q&A: “When people watch this film, the overriding response is great. I’ve screened (the film) in New York in the very beginning to a small private group and people stood up and clapped and said ‘I don’t want it to end!'”
MALCOLM & MARIE
Guests of honor: Sam Levinson (writer/director/producer), Zendaya (actor/producer), John David Washington (actor/producer), Marcell Rév (cinematographer); moderated by Josh Welsh (President, Film Independent)
About: Euphoria creator Sam Levinson teams up with Zendaya and John David Washington for an intense quarantine-shot drama, in which a filmmaker (Washington) and his girlfriend (Zendaya) return home following a celebratory movie premiere to await what Malcolm is sure to be imminent critical and financial success. The evening suddenly takes a turn as revelations about their relationships begin to surface, testing the strength of their love. Working with cinematographer Marcell Rév, Levinson creates a film of rare originality; an ode to the great Hollywood romances, as well as a heartfelt expression of faith in the medium’s future.
What critics are saying: “The performances alone make Malcolm & Marie a special movie, but with an endlessly impressive screenplay in addition to its beautiful aesthetics—on a visual and audial level—there’s plenty in its corner,” writes Amon Warmann, Empire.
MY PSYCHEDELIC LOVE STORY
Guests of honor: Errol Morris (director/producer); moderated by Jenn Wilson (Senior Programmer, Film Independent)
About: From Oscar-winning filmmaker Errol Morris (The Fog of War, The Thin Blue Line) comes a fascinating look at countercultural icon Timothy Leary, as seen through the eyes of the European heiress who believed he was her soulmate. Joanna Harcourt-Smith met Leary in the fall of 1972 when he was a fugitive from justice, and the pair fell quickly, madly in love—but was their romance a matter of destiny? Or was she a CIA “sex spy” who manipulated him into becoming a government informant? Through a series of candid interviews, Morris and Harcourt-Smith re-examine this chaotic period and explore the mystery of Leary’s saga: his exile, imprisonment and subsequent cooperation with the authorities. Inspired by Harcourt-Smith’s memoir Tripping the Bardo with Timothy Leary: My Psychedelic Love Story, the film offers a singular snapshot of the early ’70s cultural landscape—and its profound impact on the trajectory of one woman’s life.
What critics are saying: “It’s a film-nerd treat and a fascinating technique, almost as fascinating as the subject herself,” writes John Anderson, The Wall Street Journal.
Guest of honor: Celine Held (co-writer/co-director), Logan George (co-writer/co-director); moderated by filmmaker Ira Sachs (Frankie, Little Men)
About: Deep in the underbelly of New York City, a five-year-old girl and her mother have claimed the abandoned tunnels as their home. After a sudden police-mandated eviction, the pair are forced to flee above ground into a brutal winter night.
What critics are saying: “Outstanding sound design is also key to the film’s potency. Adult conversations, not fully understood by Little, form a harsh background noise. Through the thick walls around her bed, there’s the reassuring din of trains barreling through. Very sparely used, David Baloche’s elegant score heightens the aural texture with its poignancy,” writes Sheri Linden, The Hollywood Reporter.
ACASA, MY HOME
Guests of honor: Radu Ciorniciuc (director); moderated by filmmaker Debra Granik (Leave No Trace, Winter’s Bone)
About: In the wilderness of the Bucharest Delta, an abandoned water reservoir just outside the bustling metropolis, the Enache family lived in perfect harmony with nature for two decades; sleeping in a hut on the lakeshore, catching fish barehanded, and following the rhythm of the seasons. When this area is transformed into a public national park, they are forced to leave behind their unconventional life and move to the city, where fishing rods are replaced by smartphones and idle afternoons are now spent in classrooms. As the family struggles to conform to modern civilization and maintain their connection to each other and themselves, they each begin to question their place in the world and what their future might be. With their roots in the wilderness, the nine children and their parents struggle to find a way to keep their family united in the concrete jungle.
What critics are saying: “Lyrical and provocative, Acasa, My Home brings an intimate slant to age-old questions about the value of conformity, the pleasures and challenges of the natural world versus the comforts and distractions of modernity, and the amorphous but essential matter of what constitutes a good life. And it does so with laudable concision,” writes Sheri Linden, The Hollywood Reporter.
Guests of honor: Mike Nell (writer/director), Howard Barish (producer), Brian Geraghty (actor), Edwina Findley Dickerson (actor), Kevin Ross (actor), Chiké Okonkwo (actor); moderated by Josh Welsh (President, Film Independent)
About: Lives are left in pieces after a white cop responds to a hostage call and kills the Black suspect, only to learn he may have been set up; facing trial, he must find the person responsible while examining his own accountability.
What creators are saying: Actor Brian Geraghty says, from the Q&A: “I talked to Mike (director) about the subject matter and obviously I was terrified to delve into that, so I knew I had to do it.”
Guests of honor: Alexander Nanau (director/producer); moderated by Jennifer Wilson (Senior Programmer, Film Independent)
About: Directed by Alexander Nanau (Toto and His Sisters), Collective follows a heroic team of journalists as they uncover shocking, widespread corruption. After a deadly nightclub fire, the mysterious death of the owner of a powerful pharmaceutical firm and the quiet resignation of a health minister–seemingly unrelated events, all within weeks of each other—the team of intrepid reporters exposes a much larger, much more explosive political scandal. Collective is a fast-paced, real-time thriller about truth, accountability and the value of an independent press in partisan times.
What critics are saying: “Collective is devastating in its accumulation of detail, and in its acknowledgement of the ongoing human cost. It provides no comforting lesson and no triumphant Epilogue. The film is a reminder that systems refuse to change on their own,” writes Sheila O’Malley, RogerEbert.com.
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(Header: Malcolm & Marie)