Tuesday, May 10, 2016

My Favorite Films at MSPIFF

One day I woke up thinking about how much international film does to decolonize my mind from sexism and racism. This film festival was no exception.

But before I get to films, I want to express tremendous gratitude for all that the Film Society of Minneapolis and St. Paul does in our community, but especially for MSPIFF. I'm thankful for all the folks who clean up after (the collective) we leave at night, who keep the toilet paper stocked, who empties the trash, who printed tickets and sorted out snafoos, who made sure the films started on time, who kept line management smooth and as conflict-free as possible. I'd like to especially thank Eric & Jesse for an excellent and continually improving experience at MSPIFF.

I liked almost everything I saw (Not Minnesota 13: From Grain to Glass or How Love Won, and found the low production quality of Summer Help beyond distracting from the story). In this list are a few not in my original post.

*Dog Lady: So few films show such freedom for women. Director Laura Citarella said the film was made by five women and ten dogs, and they filmed it every weekend, on their dime, for three years. Feral women are always seen as witches, and this feral woman grabs your heart and won't let go. The director called her "free". I tweeted my view. It's stunning and I'm looking for another opportunity to see it. Maybe even own it. The trailer doesn't do the film justice.

The Homecoming: Humor is hard to pull off. Humor that is about deep human flaws is even harder. This film balances well emotional pain and humor, and does so without letting anyone off the hook for their imperfections. It's one of my festival favorites. I'd love to see this one again.

*Operation Arctic: When people asked for my favorites as we waited in line for movies (or the bathroom), this is one I'd talk about. According to MSPIFF's kids' program coordinator, director Grette Boe-Waal made this film entirely on site. The winds are real. The blizzards are real. Only the bear was one of several actors. It's accessible and is one of the most exciting kid's film I've seen in a long time. Operation Arctic isn't for the little ones. It's frightening in spots. But I loved it. Another one to see again for me. Warning: don't go looking for the trailer because it has serious spoilers.

*Women Outward Bound: Director Maxine Davis does a beautiful job telling the stories of the first women to go through Outward Bound in 1965. And she was one of them! A comment during the Q&A: "Seeing women being badass is really great."

*Kick It: A film about a middle school girl who plays soccer and gets diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (I had the chronic version of the same disease). I cried the whole time. Her doctor (Dr. Moustache) even looked like my BMT doctor. Bring tissues. This is a kids' film, but once again not for the littlest ones.

*The Fits: I'm still pondering this one. Its powerful visuals supported the story of one Black girl coming of age. I think this won't be the last time we see the star, Royalty Hightower, on the big screen. Slated for release summer 2016.

*The Innocents: (At the time of this writing, the Music Box Films website was DOWN or BROKEN, so no link) Another kind of film I like, one that shows how women are so often the currency of war.

Here Is Harold: I usually pick too many serious films at MSPIFF so I make myself check out the funny films, especially Scandinavian films. I'm glad I picked this one about a former furniture store owner named Harold Lunde who, after his wife's death, tries to kidnap one of the founders of Ikea, Ingvar Kamprad. I'm STILL laughing about the scene where Harold wraps himself in bubble wrap to protect himself from vicious dogs. Classic Scandinavian humor.

Walls: The distributor's website describes this film as a cinematic experience. I'd agree. I haven't seen such adept cinematography, editing, or script craft in a documentary in a long time. Maybe ever. Trailer.

Tickled: This documentary becomes a thriller very quickly. After you watch the film, check out the Jane O'Brien Media Facebook page. I feel sorry for all the men in their posts. Spoiler alert. Jane O'Brien Media is not a woman but a very creepy and abusive man. US release: June 17, 2016. Trailer.

*In the Game: This film follows an inner-city girl's soccer team for four years. It ain't Hoop Dreams, that's for sure. Trailer.

*A Light Beneath Their Feet: A coming of age story, and a compassionate story of a person with mental illness, this film directed by Valerie Weiss shows the director's skill in tracing a challenging narrative with subtlety. Looking forward to whatever she does next. Trailer.

*Exotica Erotica: This 1.25 hour documentary took director and writer Evangelia Kranioti nine years to make. I'm having a hard time finding words to describe it. A meditation on being a sailor or a woman who makes her living servicing them? That doesn't do the film justice. One bit from an IMDB page on the film that doesn't have any other information: "Sailors are like terrorists. They arrive in ports with a bomb called love and throw it. And do you know what happens? The bomb explodes when they go away and they never come back, destroying the hearts of all the girls in the neighborhood. How strange - To love somebody who pays you..."

Liza the Fox Fairy: I'm still delighted by this story that's like Amelie if it were directed by Tim Burton. The film is as wonderfully quirky and dark as the trailer.

Presenting Princess Shaw: I gave this film 6/5*. No, that's not a typo. If you can see it with Princess Shaw doing a Q&A afterward, DO IT. Worth your time. Magnolia has picked up the film, so you'll get a chance for a viewing. Apparently, it'll be streaming on May 27th! Before then, check out theater showings at various Landmark theaters. Trailer.

The Anthropologist: a documentary about global climate change but on an intimate human scale. It could be bleak but it offers hope, not in our ability to change the course of climate change, but in our human ability to change ourselves. Trailer.

The Seventh Fire: I hope this one gets distributed in the US. Right now it's making the rounds in Canada. An important documentary about Native American gang activity in one small Ojibway community in Minnesota.

Alias, Maria: This film didn't get great reviews in general, but I agree with what Roger Ebert's site says: "What we are left with is an image of a woman gaining self-knowledge and developing courage in a way that’s often understated but nevertheless powerful." You're not likely to see this one in the theaters, sadly. Trailer.

I got to meet Deepa Mehta! She signed my Beeba Boys ticket and even responded to my Twitter pic of her receiving an award for her body of work. If you haven't seen her films Hollywood/Bollywood, Water, Fire, Earth, or Beeba Boys, check them out. The latter is a film that's much more made for Hollywood than the previous three, but worth your time.

See you all in 2017!

Monday, April 4, 2016


Here we go! Films with an asterisk* are directed by women. Join me for one or two or forty-eight!

April 8

*Here Come the Videofreex: Forty years before YouTube, a collective of intrepid journalist in the 1960s changed the landscape of television by adopting the portable video camera. Calling themselves the Videofreex, the group initially worked for CBS documenting some of the most important stories of the time—interviewing Abbie Hoffman during the trial for the Chicago 8, as well as Black Panther Fred Hampton weeks before he was killed—until censorship sent them to work independently paving the road for cable access and democratized reporting. Using restored archival video, Here Come the Videofreex highlights the unsung victories of these heroes of free speech.

Wednesday, May 9: Leila works in a chicken packing factory to support her family, but still has no money left over to save for a much-needed operation for her disabled husband. Setareh secretly married against her family’s wishes, and when her tyrannical cousin finds out, an altercation lands her young husband in jail, requiring 30 million tomans in “blood money” for his release. The two tragic stories of these women are connected to a potential benefactor who could help them in Vahid Jalilvand’s incredible debut feature of carefully drawn characters and bold statements of humanism.

Mr. Pig: Ambrose Eubanks is a down-on-his-luck hog farmer who has nearly lost everything, at some fault of his own and his resignation to alcohol. His only friend and last possession is Howard, a giant pig with a pedigree that might procure Ambrose some money from someone across the border. His road trip into Mexico, with Howard in the back of his van, represents something of an endgame for Ambrose until his daughter Eunice, acting on her sixth sense, comes to save her deadbeat dad. Diego Luna’s second English-language film is a bittersweet drama with ace performances by both Danny Glover and Maya Rudolph.

April 9

*Operation Arctic: A modern-day Robinson Crusoe tale, set on a remote island in the North Pole. 13-year-old Julia follows her twin younger siblings on a misguided impulse to visit their father in Svalbard, stowing away on a helicopter. When the helicopter lands, the kids sneak off but soon realize something is wrong. Stranded on ‘Moon Island’ on the North Pole, the kids are challenged to survive in a deserted shelter, guided only by a past survivor’s hastily left diary. Beautiful cinematography of the remote Arctic environment’s ice, blizzards, Northern Lights, and polar bears make this an unforgettable action adventure for the whole family.

Ghostland: The View of the Ju/’Hoansi: Remember the culture clash in The Gods Must Be Crazy? This time it´s real. One of the most ancient cultures on our planet is undergoing a major change. The Ju/’Hoansi Bushmen in Namibia are not allowed to hunt anymore and need to converge with our so called “civilized” lifestyle. For the first time the Ju/’Hoansi Bushmen travel through the Kalahari and then right into the heart of Europe. What starts as a look at their fascinating culture becomes an even more fascinating look on our Western lifestyle.

Atomic Falafel: The Israeli military meets its match in a determined 15-year-old girl, in Dror Shaul’s hilarious satire on volatile Iran-Israel relations. Nofar works in a falafel truck with her widowed mother near the site of a secret Israeli nuclear program gearing up for war. However, a proverbial monkey wrench gets tossed into the gears of the military’s plans when the International Atomic Energy Agency shows up for an inspection with a handsome German inspector that Nofar thinks is just right for her mother. With clear nods to Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Stangelove, this fast-paced pro-peace comedy is just the right recipe for these troubled times.

*The Summer Help: From Martha’s Vineyard to Myrtle Beach, thousands of international students descend upon summer resorts and tourist towns in the U.S. to clean hotel rooms, wash dishes and make pizza for Americans on vacation. Who are these students and what do they find when they arrive? Why do they work at two, three and sometimes four jobs for minimum wage? Is the U.S. what they thought it would be? Director Melody Gilbert looks beyond the nametags to the young and impressionable individuals who come to the U.S. to chase a dream.

April 10

Talent Has Hunger: An inspiring documentary about the power of music to consume, enhance, and propel lives. Shot over 7 years, the film is a window into the mysterious world of the artist, the passion that can grip and sustain a young player from childhood onward, and the years of sacrifice and dedication to fulfill one’s talent. Under the guidance of master cello teacher Paul Katz, their deep study not only prepares wonderful musicians, but builds self-esteem and a cultural and aesthetic character that will be profoundly important throughout their lives.

*Women Outward Bound: Fifty years ago girls were not allowed to participate in the Outward Bound Wilderness School. But that all changed in 1965 when a Minnesota Outward Bound class was opened to young women. At a time when girls should have been honing their housekeeping skills, 24 courageous young women took the challenge of a month of outdoor survival. This moment changed them and the Outward Bound program forever. Through interviews, footage of the Boundary Waters both then and now, and a heartwarming reunion, this documentary tells the story of these pioneering women.

The Homecoming: Gunnar, a sociologist in his 50s, has written countless self-help books, which have earned him the beautiful house he shares with Dísa, his wife of 30 years. Despite his expertise, their relationship has definitely seen better days. Meanwhile, their son returns from a holiday with a new girlfriend, Sunna. She’s pretty, smart, polite and on the face of it, the perfect daughter-in-law. However, Sunna’s appearance forces Gunnar to face a dark secret. A deliciously dark comedy about the skeletons in our closets.

Above and Below: In a world where popular culture is obsessed with post-apocalyptic possibilities, Swiss director Nicolas Steiner’s outsider portrait of five Americans living decidedly off the grid strikes a fascinating surreal tone. Far away and out of sight, Above and Below chronicles life on the fringes: Rick, Cindy and Lalo “the Godfather” who live in the tunnels below Las Vegas, April who role-plays life on Mars in the deserts of Utah, Dave who lives in an abandoned military bunker. Steiner’s unique documentary is reverent celebration of society’s unorthodox outliers.

April 11

*In Transit: In Transit takes you on a journey into the hearts and minds of passengers aboard Amtrak’s Empire Builder, the busiest long-distance train route in America—from Chicago to Seattle. Candid and direct, the film unfolds as a series of interconnected vignettes, ranging from overheard conversations to moments of deep intimacy, in which passengers share their fears, hopes and dreams. As the Empire Builder crisscrosses the country, passing through urban centers, oil fields, vast plains and towering mountains, a loving portrait of America emerges, in its full human and natural beauty. In Transit is Albert Maysles’ final film.

Presenting Princess Shaw: On one side of the global, musician and video artist Ophir Kuiel, aka Kutiman, creates video mash-ups of amateur Youtube performers. On the other side of the globe, Samantha Montgomery, aka Princess Shaw, works as a caretaker for the elderly and in her free time writes and sings her own songs on her confessional YouTube channel. Israel and New Orleans magically come together in this powerful and inspiring documentary as Kutiman, unbeknownst to Princess Shaw, starts working on one of her raw a cappella videos. The result, via a viral video, reveals the bonafide star and the fight to never give up on her dreams.

April 12

*Blush: Apathetic 17-year-old Naama does little to feign interest in school or family, even when her older sister goes missing from the military. But things change when a rebellious blond named Hershko shows up at school, and the two girls explore their mutual attraction to drugs and each other. As her family frets over the rumor that her older sister has run off with a Palestinian, Naama has plunged headfirst into the intoxicating aura of new love. This rebel girl romance throws a unique light on contemporary Israel, filtering its politics through the eyes and actions of Israel’s defiant youth.

How Love Won: The Fight for Marriage Equality in Minnesota: Go behind the scenes and discover the secret psychological weapon Minnesota LGBT activists deployed in this “unwinnable” campaign that had failed in 30 other states. An inspiring story, marriage equality activists went from facing sure defeat to winning more than anyone dared hope. Experience the pain and joy of the campaign that not only changed history but also changed the lives of everyone involved in profound and unexpected ways. How Love Won is a brilliant and emotionally powerful documentary about the moment that changed everything in the battle for same-sex marriage.

The Endless River: In the small South African town of Riviersonderend (Endless River), a young waitress named Tiny welcomes her husband home after his four-year jail sentence, but he refuses to try and put his life on track. When a family of a French expatriate living on a nearby farm is brutally murdered, Tiny and the grieving widower, Gilles, form an unlikely bond of sympathetic anger and loneliness. Director Oliver Hermanus’ third feature is a beautifully produced mystery of human pain and suffering—and the desire for transcendence—with South Africa’s violent history of apartheid lurking in the background.

April 13

*The Innocents: Hope and horror are commingled to quietly moving effect in this restrained but cumulatively powerful French-Polish drama about the various crises of faith that emerge when a house of God is ravaged by war. Based on the little-known case of the French Red Cross doctor Madeleine Pauliac and the convent to which she ministered following the end of WWII, director Anne Fontaine’s finest film in years is notable for the tact, intelligence and fine-grained character detail with which it examines every moral crevice of an unthinkable scenario.

*Dog Lady: Summer, autumn, winter and spring are poetically delivered through the observation of a nameless woman living on the fringes of society just outside Buenos Aires with her companions—a scruffy pack of loyal mutts. Her deliberate way of living becomes the heartbeat of the film as she silently and methodically goes through the paces of survival and wiles away the time with her dogs. Director Laura Citarella and actress Verónica Llinás collaborated as co-writers and co-directors, resulting in an incredibly nuance work that allows the pacing and the performance to speak for itself.

April 14

*Bota: In a remote Albanian town where the residents claim nothing ever happens, down-to-earth Juli, entrepreneurial Ben and free spirit Nora run a quirky cafe/ bar called Bota. But progress is coming in the form of a highway construction project, which also brings a secret from the village’s traumatic past. Compelling, surprising and tenderly performed, this melancholy dramedy illustrates the complicated relationship Albanians have with their dark past.

*They Will Have to Kill Us First: Music, one of the most important forms of communication in Mali, disappeared overnight in 2012 when Islamic extremists groups rose up to capture an area the size of the UK and France combined. But rather than lay down their instruments, Mali’s musicians fought back. They Will Have To Kill Us First is a feature-length documentary following musicians in Mali in the wake of a jihadist takeover and subsequent banning of music.

*Kill Me Please: Anita Rocha da Silveira’s stunning debut drops us directly into the psyche of a middle-class teenage girl, piqued by raging hormones and fueled with fearless curiosity. A string of grisly neighborhood murders of women captures the imagination of a clique of girls, but especially Bia who feels more and more connected to the dead women than her high school friends. The incident ignites something in Bia, causing her to embrace fantasy and openly explore her sexuality. Built on a unique atmosphere devoid of adults, Kill Me Please is a dark yet pop-infused coming-of-age story.

April 15

Walls: The world is increasingly more divided, and often these psychological and political barriers have physically manifested into walls—a damaging and dangerous symbol with humans on either side. Directors Pablo Iraburu and Migueltxo Molina explore four such walls—between the U.S. and Mexico, Spain and Morocco on the island of Melilla, Israel and Palastine, and South Africa and Zimbabwe—and their monumental impact. Beautifully shot and emotionally stirring, Walls proves that the fall of the Berlin Wall proves to be an anomaly in our brave new world of barricades and fences.

*Bollywood/Hollywood: After Rahul's white pop-star fiancée dies in a bizarre levitation accident, his mother insists he find another girl as soon as possible, preferably a Hindi one. As she backs this up by postponing his sister's wedding until he does so, he feels forced to act. But it's a pretty tall order for an Indian living in Ontario, so when he meets striking escort Sunita who can 'be whatever you want me to be' he hatches a scheme to pass her off as his new betrothed. This grand charade rolls out the red carpet for a culturally astute romantic comedy.

Lamb: Young Ephraim’s life is thrown into upheaval when he is left in the care of relatives as his father seeks work in Addis Ababa. Ephraim finds solace in his pet lamb Chuni and the three generations of women in the family who nurture his interest in the ‘womanly’ skill of cooking. When his cousin insists that Chuni will be sacrificed, Ephraim decides to come up with a plan to save his lamb and get back home. Yared Zeleke’s emotionally complex debut, the first Ethiopian film invited to Cannes, paints a vivid portrait of rural Ethiopian life.

April 16

*Water: Set in 1938 Colonial India against Mahatma Gandhi's rise to power, the story begins when eight-year-old Chuyia, a child bride, is widowed and sent to a home where Hindu widows must live in penitence. Chuyia’s feisty persona and naïve attitude represents a new generation and the possibility of changing attitudes. Although the Holy Hindu scriptures restrict all the widows, including young Chuyia, from remarrying, seeds of change have been planted in India. Deepha Mehta’s third film in a trilogy, which started with Fire and Earth, once again boldly challenges India’s traditions and biases.

*Kick It: Anja is a spirited young girl who loves soccer and doesn’t understand her best friend Lisa’s obsession with boys. Her middle school classmate, Jonas, plays rough and mean on the soccer field (secretly intimidated by her skills). Anja brushes off Jonas with humor and it soon becomes clear that their tensions disguise a first crush. When Anja visits the hospital with an injury, she confronts a surprising diagnosis of leukemia. Anja continues to play soccer, preparing for the big tournament, even while still in the hospital. Her classmates, teacher, doctors, parents, and most importantly, Jonas, come up with a special plan to allow Anja to triumph in spite of her cancer in this touching, youthful drama.

*Beeba Boys: Deepa Mehta’s excursion into genre filmmaking is a bold social commentary with charisma and style to burn. Loosely based on notorious west coast crime lord “Bindy” Singh Johal, this unapologetic gangster film takes us into the glamorous but lethal world of the Bebba Boys, a well-tailored Sikh gang led by Jeet Johar. The fight to the top among the Asian gangs in Vancouver is one Jeet and his Bebba Boys plan on winning no matter what. Working in comedy, action and violence with finesse, Mehta navigates a vivid tale of marginalization, power and family loyalty.

Tickled: After stumbling upon a bizarre “competitive endurance tickling” video online, wherein young men are paid to be tied up and tickled, reporter David Farrier reaches out to the company for a story. But the reply he receives is shocking — the sender mocks Farrier's sexual orientation and threatens extreme legal action should he dig any deeper. So, like any good journalist confronted by a bully, he does just the opposite: he travels to the hidden tickling facilities in Los Angeles and uncovers a strange, vast empire.

April 17

Voices From Chernobyl: Based on the book by Svetlana Alexievich, winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature, the haunting and beautiful Voices From Chernobyl gives scientists, teachers, journalists, couples and children a chance to speak about their daily lives, which were devastated by the most unlikely of disasters. Drawing inspiration from filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, Cruchten takes the audience on a spiritual and poetic journey through this horror, juxtaposing their softly spoken, angerless words – which reflect on the atrocities suffered by the victims of this accident -- with images of mesmerizing aestheticism.

*Minnesota: From Grain to Glass: Minnesota craft brewing is not just a 21st century story of taprooms and food trucks. During Prohibition one of the best and most popular moonshines in the country, known as Minnesota 13, came from Stearns County, Minnesota. Local directors Norah Shapiro and Kelly Nathe pull the curtain back on this little-known story in Minnesota history. Widely regarded as the only branded moonshine of its day, Minnesota 13 was created by church-going farmers with the support of everyone in their community. Double-distilled and aged in oak barrels, Minnesota 13 was far from the bathtub booze the era was famous for.

*In the Game: This warm and often heart-tugging look at four years in the life of a girls’ soccer team at Chicago’s inner city Kelly High School in the primarily Hispanic Brighton Park neighborhood, is an intimate study in sisterhood and hope in the face of adversity. Award-winning director Maria Finitzo (5 Girls, Terra Incognita) underlines the solid sense of family that young players discover in the team setting, as rocky home lives, poverty, and the political forces that dictate slashes to the school’s budget conspire to limit their prospects for a bright future.

*A Light Beneath Their Feet: Mother-daughter roles are reversed when Beth, a high-school senior, is faced with shouldering the responsibility of her single mother struggling with bipolar disorder and fluctuating meds. On the brink of adulthood and making plans for her own future, Beth faces the difficult decision between compromising her own expectations and abandoning mother for college. Director Valerie Weiss takes a conscientious and compassionate look at mental illness and its effects on family and friends, bolstered by Taryn Manning and Madison Davenport incredibly empathetic performances in the two lead roles.

April 18

*The New Classmate: Chanda is a single mother, who works as a maid, with one dream: that her teenage daughter Apeksha gets the education she never got. But Apeksha has little interest in studying and is resigned to a destiny to be a maid just like her mother. So Chanda comes up with a plan to enroll in school herself and prove that even she can learn if she puts her mind to it. Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s tender debut offers an inspiring message of self-determination—despite class or gender—with nuanced performances from the two female leads.

*Raging Rose: Polish laborer Jozef (Andrzej Chyra, one of Poland’s top actors) comes to France to find work in construction, but also to find his son Roman, whom he abandoned 15 years earlier. His boss’s daughter, Rose, a teenager in the tumult of sexual awakening, offers to help him in his search, but she ends up falling desperately in love with Roman. How does a high-strung 15-year-old deal with sexual desire? Raging Rose is a dense, psychological coming-of-age film, marked by excellent performances from the three leading actors.

Here is Harold: Entertaining, absurd and full of dark, compassionate humor, this is the story of someone who loses everything apart from a grim determination to render his own life meaningful. For over 40 years, Harold and his wife Marny ran a successful furniture business together near snowy Bergen. But when IKEA opens a new superstore right next door to their small shop, it’s the beginning of a downward spiral. In mounting anger and desperation, Harold decides to kidnap his nemesis, the founder of IKEA, Ingvar Kamprad.

April 19

*Exotica Erotica: Evangelia Kranioti pushes both creative and real life boundaries in this extraordinarily daring and innovative documentary portrait essay about sailors who traverse the seas on giant container ships and the prostitutes that they come to know in their various ports of call. She decided, rather than simply interview her subjects, she would become a sailor herself. In the course of making the film, she traveled, as the only woman on board, to 20 countries over a nine-year period.

Liza the Fox-Fairy: Peculiar, captivating and 100% unique, this may be the strangest film you see this year -- and the most delightful. Drenched in bright colors and blessed with a lively visual wit, the blackly comic story centers on lonely nurse Liza, who has spent the past 12 years taking care of Marta, the widow of Hungary’s former Japanese ambassador. Liza’s only friend is the ghost of a Japanese pop singer, Tomy Tani, whom only she can see. But the dapper Tomy has a malicious plan to keep Liza all to himself.

Sabali: Expertly laced with visual humor, Sabali is a gorgeously stylized, wryly comic drama about a train-ticket seller with heart and relationship problems. From the very first moments, director McKenna and his partner, art director/costume designer Becca Blackwood, establish a dreamy parallel world, featuring costumes in eye-popping primary colors, timeless-looking locations, and peculiar people and conversations that wouldn’t be out of place in Twin Peaks. The film’s appealingly quirky vibe also includes a cameo (and music) by the blind musical duo Amadou & Mariam.

April 20

10 Billion, What's on Your Plate: By 2050, the world population will grow to ten billion people. In the middle of the heated debate about food security, comes this broad and analytic look into the enormous spectrum of global food production and distribution—from artificial meat, insects, industrial farming to trendy self-cultivation. Director and author Valentin Thurn seeks worldwide solutions and gives place for innovation and visions for our future. This timely documentary confronts the important choices we make every day about the food we eat—where it comes from, how it’s made, and how it affects the global population.

Resilience: “The child may not remember, but the body remembers.” Researchers have recently discovered a dangerous biological syndrome caused by abuse and neglect during childhood. As the new documentary Resilience reveals, toxic stress can trigger hormones that wreak havoc on the brains and bodies of children, putting them at a greater risk for disease, homelessness, prison time, and early death. While the broader impacts of poverty worsen the risk, no segment of society is immune. Resilience, however, also chronicles the dawn of a movement that is determined to fight back.

*The Fits: Anna Rose Holmer’s The Fits finds a girl’s coming-of-age story in a very unlikely place: a boxing gym in Cincinnati’s West End. Toni is an 11-year-old girl who trains at the gym with her older brother, but she finds herself drawn to the girls drill team in the adjacent gym. Enamored by the power and confidence of this strong community of girls, Toni eagerly absorbs routines, masters drills, and even pierces her own ears to fit in. When a mysterious outbreak of fainting spells plagues the team, Toni’s desire for acceptance takes a new turn. Visually captivating, both Holmer and young lead Royalty Hightower are talents to watch.

April 21

*When Two Worlds Collide: Tense and wholly immersive, filmmakers Heidi Brandenburg and Matthew Orzel take you directly into the line of fire between two powerful Peruvian leaders over the future of the country. In 2008, when president Alan Garcia attempts to extract oil and minerals from untouched Amazonian land with the hopes of elevating his country’s economic prosperity, he is met with fierce, violent opposition led by indigenous leader Alberto Pizango. This nuanced, even-handed film captures all angles of a conflict that quickly escalates from a heated war of words to one of deadly violence.

*Mountain: An Orthodox Jewish woman living in the cemetery on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives struggles with her husband’s lack of interest in her. Walking through the cemetery one night, she is disturbed and excited to discover that it is a nocturnal marketplace for sex and drugs. She starts exploring this new aspect of the mountain, while trying to keep a normal face during her daytime routine. This subtle, handsome film impressively balances the predictable with the unexpected, weaving a complex portrait of a constrained life.

Lo & Behold: Reveries of a Connected World: Remember life before the Internet? This technology of science fiction now infiltrates nearly every aspect of our lives—at great convenience but at what cost? Werner Herzog’s newest meditation is a playful yet chilling examination of our rapidly interconnecting online lives. Herzog describes the Internet as “one of the biggest revolutions we as humans are experiencing,” and yet he tempers this enthusiasm with horror stories from victims of online harassment and Internet addiction. For all of its detailed analysis, this documentary also wrestles with profound and intangible questions regarding the Internet’s future.

April 22

*Madonna: Part noir thriller, part feminist social critique, Madonna tracks a nurse, Hye-rim, as she investigates the truth behind a comatose young girl to be used for a heart transplant. When Hye-rim is transferred to the VIP ward of her hospital, she is put in charge of the hospital’s aging and ill benefactor who is being kept alive at all costs, including using the heart of a left-for-dead pregnant prostitute named Mi-na. Harboring her own troubled past, Hye-rim slowly uncovers Mi-na’s ill-fated story in hopes of saving either Mi-na or her child and finding her own personal redemption.

*Yoko the Cherry Blossom: In 1940, Masaaki Takaoka works as a teacher in the agricultural division at a youth training institute. Although Japan’s defeat seems immanent, all of Masaaki’s students are drafted in a futile last-ditch effort. In an attempt to give the young men some hope, he makes everyone promise that they will all meet again under the cherry blossoms upon their safe return. Consumed by sadness over the fate of his students, Masaaki devotes the next 30 years of his life to develop a new species of cherry blossoms that could thrive in any climate in remembrance of his students.

The Anthropologist: Climate change remains one of the most hotly debated and largely misunderstood topics we face today. A team of filmmakers contextualizes the topic by exploring the parallel stories of Margaret Mead, a cultural anthropologist famous for her studies in the 1960s, and Susie Crate, a contemporary environmental anthropologist. This insightful documentary not only takes us into the field, highlighting different geographical locations struggling with the unavoidable effects of global warming, but also humanizes these issues by seeing them distilled through the perspective of a scientist as a mother and the eyes of a teenage daughter.

Sing Street: 1980s Dublin. A 14-year-old boy named Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is looking for a break from a home strained by his parents’ relationship and money troubles, while trying to adjust to his new inner-city public school where the kids are rough and the teachers are rougher. When he meets the mysterious, über-cool and beautiful Raphina (Lucy Boynton), he aims to win her heart and invites her to star in his band’s music video. She agrees, but there’s only one problem: he’s not part of a band...yet. Now Conor must deliver what he’s promised. Calling himself “Cosmo” and immersing himself in the vibrant rock music trends of the decade, he forms a band with a few lads, and the group pours their heart into writing lyrics and shooting videos.

April 23

The Seventh Fire: When Rob Brown, a Native American gang leader on the White Earth Reservation in Northwestern Minnesota, is sentenced to prison for a fifth time, he must confront his role in bringing violent drug culture into his beloved Ojibwe community. As Rob reckons with his past, his seventeen-year-old protégé, Kevin, dreams of the future: becoming the most powerful and feared Native gangster on the reservation. From Executive Producers Terrence Malick, Natalie Portman, and Chris Eyre comes this haunting and visually arresting nonfiction film about the Native American gang crisis.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Directed by Women

Had a back-and-forth today with @DirectedbyWomen on Twitter about Deepa Mehta coming to the Twin Cities for the first time for MSPIFF's 35th anniversary. Her most recent film Beeba Boys was at TIFF in September 2015 and I chose not to see it there because I knew it'd come here eventually. I just didn't know she'd be bringing it! Can't. Wait.

Directed by Women has a database for films by women so that people can see many films directed by women. I'll add the MSPIFF films to their database because Directed by Women uses Facebook events to import events, but it'll be easy for me to add them. MSPIFF won't do FB events, thankfully (because I'm not there anymore). So excited to be contributing them!

(Have I used up all my exclamation points yet?)

MSPIFF promised the schedule would be coming very soon. We'll see. Last year it came in late March according to my 2015 post about it. But here's photographic social media proof that the film society said the schedule is coming VERY SOON.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Late TIFF Post

While I wait anxiously for MSPIFF to post its program for its April 7-23 festival, I thought I'd write about my TIFF experience last fall.

I liked almost everything I saw (here's my mostly updated list). Here are a few I'm most enthusiastic about:

Not on my list, but saw & liked:

Where to Invade Next. Michael Moore's "happy film," according to his production team. They said the film is all solutions, no problems. I'd agree.

My Skinny Sister. The view of a young woman with an eating disorder from the view of her fat sister. Interesting POV. My guess is this one is coming to MSPIFF.

On my list and I liked:

Angry Indian Goddesses. I hope you get to see this somewhere and sometime. The acting and pace were top-notch. The film was beautiful too, and not just because of the beautiful actresses. The script was largely improvised but you wouldn't know it.

Into the Forest. Directed by Patricia Rozema, the woman who directed I've Heard the Mermaids Singing, one of my favorite movies of all time, this post-apocalyptic film about two women in the woods didn't disappoint. Can't wait to see it again.

Girls Lost
Three outcast teenage girls get a new perspective on high-school life when they are mysteriously transformed into boys, in this skillfully crafted tale of sexual confusion with a supernatural twist. Not as intriguing as the description, but this film is well-worth seeking out.

Ninth Floor. Director Mina Shum sheds light on the Sir George Williams University riot of February 1969 against institutional racism at the university. I hope Americans get to see this Canadian film about an incident few of us know about. Lest you think Canada is a better place about race relations.

Miss Sharon Jones!. I really like Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, and really liked this film. It was great fun, including the Q&A afterward where she broke into song right there on the stage.

Five Nights in Maine. Loved this film with David Oyelowo (Selma) and Dianne Wiest (Bullets Over Broadway in this intimate drama about a grieving widower who sets out to fulfill his wife’s last wish that he finally meet her irascible mother.

The Pearl Button. I was surprised by this gentle meditation on healing and genocide.

Mustang. This has played in some art theaters already, I think. A lovely film about sisterhood in the face of the patriarchy.

Summertime. I usually hate French films. Not this one. A lesbian coming of age story, beautifully shot and written.

Dark Horse: An underdog story about outsiders winning the hearts of many. And a literal horse. This film has lots of heart.

Room: You know about this one. I'm shocked the boy, Jacob Tremblay, didn't get any award nominations. His performance was a revelation. Keep on the lookout for him in the future because he's got quite a lot of talent.

Fire Song. Another queer film, but this one from a First Nations director. Important. Well-written and directed, but the acting is mostly from amateurs and it shows a little.

25 April. Director Leanne Pooley (The Topp Twins) fuses documentary, fiction, and state-of-the-art digital animation in this astonishing film. Filmmaking like I've not seen before. An animated documentary of the 1915 Gallipoli campaign, one of the bloodiest and costliest blunders of the First World War.

Granny's Dancing on the Table: I just love Scandinavian film. This one centers on a girl living under the thumb of her abusive father and never sways from her POV.

I don't usually do a worst-of list but I came away thinking about what I dislike in some films. Here you go.

The Whispering Star. I came away wanting warnings on movies that says there were fewer than 200 words in this film or no real narrative arc or horrible special effects like wind sounds in space.

Disorder. I hate it when women direct films that fail the Bechdel Test miserably. Most people won't notice how the only female character is never a person in her own right.

Sky. See Disorder. The first hour of the film could have been deleted and the back story it provided could have been realized with the MC's friendship with her Native American coworker. Plus this has the added bonus of the racist use of Native American characters in full service to the white characters stead of fully realized human beings.

Campo Grande just wasn't the film described in the description.

Go to TIFF sometime if you like film! I'd love to go again.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Bucket List: TIFF 2015

When my film friend Dale said she was going to the Toronto International Film Festival, I wanted to go too. And now I am! They turn 40 this year. I'll shortly after turn 48, so this is kind-of a birthday trip.

I've made all my film selections and just picked out the first 20 tickets. I have to wait until September 7th to get the remaining 12. I will absolutely try to get into one film through the rush line.

Here's what I'm seeing! I'm excited about everything in this list.

My comments in italics. Many are directed by a woman, and are marked with an asterisk* (22/30 films in my list).

Late addition: if you want to join me in Toronto, see my schedule at tiffr here. I wish I'd found tiffr like three weeks ago. Woulda made scheduling so much easier.

Have Tickets

Into the Forest*

Two sisters (Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood) struggle to survive in a remote country house after a continent-wide power outage, in this gripping apocalyptic drama from director Patricia Rozema (Mansfield Park, I've Heard the Mermaids Singing).

I'm going to RUSH line this one--there weren't any tickets left to us at the bottom of the membership pile. Got tickets this morning. Dale also got me tickets (she's already in Toronto). I've Heard the Mermaids Singing is one of my favorite movies of all time. And, well, Ellen Page. Duh.

Girls Lost*

Three outcast teenage girls get a new perspective on high-school life when they are mysteriously transformed into boys, in this skillfully crafted tale of sexual confusion with a supernatural twist.

The trailer to this one is even more interesting than the description.


In a rural Indian village, four ordinary women begin to throw off the traditions that hold them in servitude, in this inspirational drama from director Leena Yadav.

Ninth Floor*

In her first feature-length documentary, director Mina Shum (Double Happiness) takes a penetrating look at the Sir George Williams University riot of February 1969, when a protest against institutional racism snowballed into a 14-day student occupation at the Montreal university.

Miss Sharon Jones!*

Two-time Academy Award winner Barbara Kopple (Harlan County, USA) follows R&B queen Sharon Jones over the course of an eventful year, as she battles a cancer diagnosis and struggles to hold her band the Dap-Kings together.

I really like Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings.

Five Nights in Maine*

Golden Globe nominee David Oyelowo (Selma) and Academy Award winner Dianne Wiest (Bullets Over Broadway) star in this intimate drama about a grieving widower who sets out to fulfill his wife’s last wish that he finally meet her irascible mother.

The longer description, in the link above, includes a more detailed and subtle sense of this film. I'm excited to see another film with David Oyelowo (yes, Selma, but he was also extraordinary in Nightingale, on HBO).


The lives of a young woman with an eating disorder, her coroner father, and a physical therapist who believes she can communicate with the dead intersect in unexpected ways, in this absurdist dark comedy from the director of the 2011 Festival hit Elles.

The Pearl Button

The great Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzmán (The Battle of Chile, Nostalgia for the Light) chronicles the history of the indigenous peoples of Chilean Patagonia, whose decimation by colonial conquest prefigured the brutality of the Pinochet regime.

This one is interesting to me because I just saw the PBS series on the First Peoples that explored the possibility that Native Americans  came from Asia not over the land bridge, but by boating along the shore of the bridge all the way to South America. Perhaps the indigenous people in this film are direct descendants of the first peoples.

Kind Words

In the wake of their mother's death, three Jewish Israeli siblings discover that their biological father was a Muslim and set out on a journey across France to locate him.

I will have to RUSH line this one because I bought a ticket for the wrong time.


Five young sisters living in a coastal Turkish village on the Black Sea are placed under the tyrannical regime of traditional morality by their guardians, in the poignant, award-winning first feature by Turkish director Deniz Gamze Ergüven.

Thank You for Bombing*

Austrian filmmaker Barbara Eder’s latest fiction feature looks at the behind-the-camera lives of three international war correspondents on assignment in Afghanistan.

Our Little Sister

After their estranged father's death, three twentysomething sisters discover that they have a teenaged step-sibling, in this gentle, deeply affecting family drama from Japanese master Hirokazu Kore-eda (Like Father, Like Son).

3000 Nights*

Railroaded into an Israeli prison on a terrorism charge, a young Palestinian woman discovers that she is pregnant just as a group of her fellow inmates launch a revolt against the prison administration.


In 1971 France, a young girl from a rural family moves to Paris and begins a life-changing affair with a feminist activist.

Almost every time I see a French film at MSPIFF I swear I will never see another. Occasionally I find a decent French film and try to see it but I made Dale and Liz promise me they'll try to talk me out of French films. They tried for this one. But the trailer makes it seem like it has little ennui and an actual plot and story arc. Unlike most French films. Besides, it's a queer feminist film. I may regret it though.

Dark Horse*

Filmmaker Louise Osmond follows the story of a group of friends and neighbours in a small Welsh town who pool their modest resources to invest in a racehorse they dub Dream Alliance, and soon find themselves breaking social barriers by competing against some of the wealthiest horse owners in the UK.

Looking for Grace*

A married couple (Richard Roxburgh and Radha Mitchell) embark on a road trip across West Australia in pursuit of their runaway teenage daughter, in the new film from Australian writer-director Sue Brooks (Japanese Story).


Escaping from the captivity in which they have been held for half a decade, a young woman and her five-year-old son struggle to adjust to the strange, terrifying and wondrous world outside their one-room prison.

Loved this book. The TIFF description says the film stays in the child's POV just like the book, but it seems to extrapolate a little--most of the film focuses on post-emancipation. 


Fleeing from the scene of a terrible crime, a young woman embarks on a life-changing road trip across California and Nevada, in this drama starring Diane Kruger, Lena Dunham and Norman Reedus.


A lonely baker has his life (and business) reinvigorated when he hires an elderly woman with an uncanny culinary skill and a mysterious communion with nature, in this graceful, quietly moving drama from Japan’s Naomi Kawase (The Mourning Forest, Still the Water).

Whispering Star

A humanoid robot deliverywoman muses on the mystery of human nature as she drops off parcels around the galaxy, in this playful sci-fi fable from Festival favorite Sion Sono (Why Don't You Play in Hell?).

Need to Get Tickets

A Journey of a Thousand Miles*

Documentarians Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (the Academy Award-winning Saving Face) and Geeta Gandbhir follow the stories of three Bangladeshi policewomen who served with the UN peacekeeping mission to Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake.

Fire Song

One of the first films by a First Nations director to deal with two-spirited people, the thoughtful and moving debut feature by Adam Garnet Jones focuses on a young Anishinaabe man who is forced to choose between staying in his community or exploring the expanded possibilities of the world outside.

Angry Indian Goddesses

On the eve of their friend’s wedding in Goa, a group of women discuss everything under the sun — from their careers, sex lives, and secrets to nosy neighbours and street harassment — in this largely improvised and refreshingly frank depiction of contemporary Indian society from award-winning director Pan Nalin (2001’s Samsara).

Murmur of the Hearts*

Legendary Taiwanese actress and filmmaker Sylvia Chang directs this magical story of estranged siblings whose shared memories of their mother’s fairy tales begin to draw their lives together once again.

25 April*

Director Leanne Pooley (The Topp Twins) fuses documentary, fiction, and state-of-the-art digital animation in this astonishing recreation of the 1915 Gallipoli campaign, one of the bloodiest and costliest blunders of the First World War.

Loved The Topp Twins film!


A young ex-soldier suffering from PTSD (Matthias Schonaerts) protects a beautiful woman (Diane Kruger) and her child from a brutal home invasion, in this masterfully engineered thriller from director Alice Winocour (Augustine).

Granny's Dancing on the Table*

A young girl living under the heel of her tyrannical religious zealot father in the depths of the Swedish forests finds strength in the memory of her rebellious grandmother, in the searing new feature from director Hanna Sköld.

A Tale of Three Cities*

Based on the incredible true story of superstar Jackie Chan’s parents, this epic spans the period from the Second Sino-Japanese War to the beginning of the Mao era as it follows the romance of a former spy and a drug-smuggling young widow as they struggle to survive in a country devastated by war and famine.

Journey to the Shore

A young widow undertakes an elegiac voyage with the spectre of her dead husband, in this delicate, touching ghost story from Japanese master Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Tokyo Sonata, Pulse).

Campo Grande*

A wealthy middle-aged woman unexpectedly finds herself caring for two impoverished young siblings, in this subtle, touching and sincere study of class disparity from Brazilian filmmaker Sandra Kogut.

Films I'm Not Seeing

Stonewall is premiering at TIFF. I hope to be part of a protest or action instead of attending. Any film about Stonewall needs to be centered around trans people-of-color. Not a white cis-gendered boy from Iowa.

If the director had done the right thing and cast the transgender person in About Ray with a transgender actor, this film would be at the top of my list. Not now that they're getting played by a cisgendered person.

No Men Beyond This Point could be fantastic or fantastically horrible. I'm thinking that when women stop needing men for reproduction, you'll see a whole hell of a lot more bisexual women in the world. And transgender women. And gender queer women. Secret affairs with men would be few and far between.

Monday, April 27, 2015

MSPIFF 2015 Best of Fest

I had a mostly successful festival this year. Except for late-night films, and not because they weren't good. I'm getting to an age where late-night films should be the exception rather than the rule. I missed a lot of the films I'd planned to see at that hour (or early films the next day after seeing a late movie).

Notes for next year: More fresh fruits and veggies for snacks, reconsider late films (or early films after a late film), and SMACK ME IF I SAY I WANT TO SEE FRENCH FILMS. Generally, I don't like them. There are exceptions, but really. Smack me. Say YOU DON'T LIKE FRENCH FILMS. I did like a couple of them this year, but I disliked more than I liked.

Here is my BEST-OF-FEST list, in no particular order. I do call out my top four films. My notes, if there are any, are in italics after the description, which are all from MSPIFF 2015.

El Critico
A playful yet heartfelt take on the rom-com genre, El Critico follows Victor Tellez, a world-weary Buenos Aires film critic who prefers to think in French and eschews romantic clichés...until he finds himself living one. Tellez drifts from screening to screening in search of cinematic perfection, casting judgment on filmmakers and their films with scathing incisiveness. But when a chance meeting throws him into the jarring world of gorgeous thrill-seeker Sofia, he starts to question his meticulous, intellectual routine and realizes there’s more to his story than he ever dreamed. Trailer. Runtime: 98mins

Seeing this has ruined all rom-coms for me forever. In a good way.

Pakistan's Official Submission for Best Foreign Language Film, Dukhtar carefully combines an emotional story with a thrilling adventure. Allah’s 10-year-old daughter has been promised to an old tribal leader to settle a blood feud. Determined to protect her daughter at all costs, Allah enlist the help of a reluctant truck driver and changes the course of her simple life forever. Afia Nathaniel’s assured debut, based on a true story and shot entirely on location in Pakistan, makes her a filmmaker to watch. Website with trailer. Runtime: 93mins

The only MSPIFF film I heard that sold out all of its early showings. Looking forward to more from this director.

Speed Walking
From the Scandinavian director of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, here’s a very funny and authentic coming-of-age tale that manages to hit the perfect note between tragedy and comedy. In a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business, 14-year-old Martin is getting ready for one of Denmark’s most formal transitions from boyhood to manhood: his confirmation. It is 1976, music is in the air and hormones are blossoming. But in the middle of it all, Martin’s beloved mother suddenly passes away and her tragic death triggers a series of events that not only change Martin’s life forever, but also affect everyone else in the local community. Martin seeks comfort with friend Kim and girlfriend Kristine. Trailer. Runtime: 108mins

This is one of my top four films. It should have been in the LGBT section of the festival but wasn't. Honestly, the film festival had me at "From the director of the Swedish film Girl With the Dragon Tattoo..."

Out in the Night
Out in the Night is a documentary that tells the story of a group of young friends, African American lesbians who are out, one hot August night in 2006 in a gay friendly neighborhood of New York City. As the women, all in their late teens and early twenties, walk under neon lights of tattoo parlors in the West Village, an older man sexually and violently confronts them. He says to Patreese “let me get some of that” as he points below her waist. When she says that they are gay, the man becomes violent and threatens to “fuck them straight”. He spits and throws a lit cigarette. Renata and Venice defend the group and a fight begins, captured by security cameras nearby. The man yanks out hair from Venice’s head and chokes Renata. Then, Patreese pulls a knife from her purse and swings at him. Strangers jump in to defend the women and the fight escalates. As the fight comes to an end, all get up and walk away. But 911 has been called and the man involved has been stabbed. Police swarm to the scene as their radios blast out warning of a gang attack. The women are rounded up and charged with gang assault, assault and attempted murder. Three of the women plead guilty. But Renata, Patreese, Venice and friend Terrain claim their innocence. They are called a “Gang of Killer Lesbians” by the media. In activist circles they become known as The New Jersey 4. Website and trailer. Runtime: 75mins

Another of my top four films. #AllBlackLivesMatter

Ciudad Delerio
Nothing raises your spirits (or romantic inclinations) like a little salsa music and dancing. Chus Gutierrez’s Ciudad Delirio taps into the undeniable joy of salsa, coming alive with vibrant music and eye-popping choreography. Sparks fly when salsa dancer Angie meets charming doctor Javier who is visiting Cali for a conference, but how will it effect her current relationship with her dancing partner and their dance competition aspirations? Easily winning hearts worldwide, Ciudad Delirio is a box office hit in Colombia. Trailer. Runtime: 99mins

Think Hollywood in Colombia. Just for fun.

Oppressed by her family setting, dead-end school prospects and the boys law in the neighborhood, Marieme starts a new life after meeting a group of 3 free-spirited girls. She changes her name, her dress code, and quits school to be accepted in the gang, hoping that this will be a way to a new life. Director Céline Sciamma (Water Lilies, Tomboy) cements her cinematic expertise in exploring the many facets of young female identity with her most powerful film yet. Trailer. Runtime: 112mins

A bit perplexing but stunning in its portrayal. I don't like French films in general but this is from the same director as Tomboy, which I loved.

All of Me
Every day since 1995, a group of women stand at the tracks near the Mexican town of La Patrona waiting for La Bestia — the train used by thousands of migrants from Mexico and beyond to get to the US border. Deemed “Las Patronas,” the women toss water and homemade food to the weary travelers. Trailer Runtime: 90mins

A little too long (could have been 45 minutes), but relevant. I heard a story today about how unsanctioned border crossings from Mexico into the US has gone down significantly mostly because Mexico is enforcing their own migration laws. The majority of people coming into the US south of the border are from other central and south American countries, and they travel, undocumented, through Mexico. And they meet these women.

Clouds of Sils Maria
At the peak of her international career, Maria Enders is asked to perform in a revival of the play that made her famous twenty years ago, only this time she will take the role of the older woman. Seeking refuge in Sils Maria, a remote region of the Alps, to rehearse the play, she takes stock in her career and her unknown future with her young assistant. Director Olivier Assayas takes pleasure in being coy by with his two stars—Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart—as he knowingly layers references to their own lives and roller coaster careers. Trailer. Runtime: 124mins

Another perplexing but beautiful French film. See it at your nearest independent film theater soon. Or right now. Who knew that Kristen Stewart could act? Without glitter.

1000 Rupee Note
Independent film producer Shrihari Sathe (co-producer of Dukhtar, also playing MSPIFF 2015) makes his directorial debut with feature that explores the power and corruption of money. During a political rally in a small village in Maharashtra, Budhi, a poor old woman receives a few one thousand rupee notes from a politician. Excited about the prospect of having more money than she ever imagined, she goes shopping in the nearby market town with her neighbor. Fate, however, has other plans. Trailer. Runtime: 89mins

Unlikely Heroes
Sabine, a housewife who has recently has recently separated from her husband, suddenly finds herself alone over the Christmas season. In order to gain recognition from her family and friends, she decides to stage the story of William Tell with a group of asylum seekers. An endeavour for which she is hardly prepared, in many respects. When news of the performance hits the media, Sabine goes to her limits – and beyond – to ensure the success of the play. Only then does she realise that what really counts is quite another matter. Trailer. Runtime: 94mins

Despite the temptation, the director made sure the white woman isn't a hero or savior in this film.

On her way home from school, Hirut, a 14-year-old girl, is kidnapped with the intent of forcing her into an arranged marriage—a tradition in Ethiopia that many girls face. Hirut fights to escape, forcing a chain of events that leads her to an empowered young lawyer willing to fight for Hirut’s rights and putting her between tradition and modernity. Shot entirely on location in Ethiopia, Difret, which means “courage,” is a powerful feature from first-time director Zeresenay Berhane Mehari. Website and trailer. Runtime: 99mins

I wish the film had told you what Difret means. I thought it would be the girl's name. But it's not. After you see the film (no spoilers on my page), you can find out here. It's clever.

Bronislawa Wajs, also known as Papusza, was the first Roma woman to put her poems into writing and publish them, confronting the traditional female image in the gypsy community. Joanna Kos-Krauze and Krzysztof Krauzefollows’ beautifully shot biopic follows Papusza’s life from birth to old age. Her meeting with the Polish poet Jerzy Ficowski, who discovered her great talent for poetry and revealed her work to the world, led to a tragic paradox in which her own community rejected her for betraying their secrets. Trailer. Runtime: 131mins

Stunning all around. Another one of my top four. I had not a single moment when I wasn't totally engulfed in the story, sound, and visuals of this beautiful film. Seriously, check out the trailer.

Next to Her
In this strikingly shot, intensely performed film, Chelli is a pretty security guard who is raising her mentally disabled younger sister Gabby on her own. Although Chelli hates the idea of putting Gabby in any kind of institution, she has no qualms about locking her in the flat and leaving her alone while she’s at work. Her attitude is that Gabby is hers, and that she knows what’s best for her. While Gabby’s problems are plain to see, it slowly becomes clear that Chelli has major co-dependency issues. The two twenty-something women dwell in an intimate, feral state with no personal boundaries, until Chelli’s co-worker Zohar literally comes between them. Trailer. Runtime: 90mins

52 Tuesdays
16-year-old Billie’s reluctant path to independence is accelerated when her mother reveals plans for gender reassignment and their time together becomes limited to Tuesday afternoons. Filmed over the course of a year, once a week, every week—only on Tuesdays—these unique filmmaking rules bring a rare authenticity to this emotionally charged story of desire, responsibility and transformation. Sophie Hyde’s debut narrative feature is an incredibly compassionate and honest look at Billie’s mom’s transition, as well as Billie’s exploratory path as an invincible teenager. Trailer. Runtime: 114 mins

One of the things I love about MSPIFF is the places that international film can go that no American filmmaker can. This is just one of several examples of what I call the Star Trek phenomenon. You know, going places no one has ever gone before…

The Mask You Live In
Few documentaries are as timely as The Mask You Live In, tackling the tough issues of how we raise boys and the violence in American male culture. Director Jennifer Siebel Newsom follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. Experts in neuroscience, psychology, sociology, sports, education, and media also weigh in, offering empirical evidence of the “boy crisis” and tactics to combat it. The Mask You Live In ultimately illustrates how we, as a society, can raise a healthier generation of boys and young men. Website and trailer. Runtime: 97mins

Margarita With a Straw
A rebellious young woman with cerebral palsy leaves her home in India to study in New York, unexpectedly falls in love, and embarks on an exhilarating journey of self-discovery. Trailer. Runtime: 100mins

True Detective, Spainsh-style! A series of brutal murders of adolescent girls in a remote and forgotten town bring together two disparate characters—both detectives in the homicide division—to investigate the cases. With deep divisions in their ideology, detectives Juan and Pedro must put aside their differences if they are to successfully hunt down a killer who for years has terrorized a community in the shadow of a general disregard for women rooted in a misogynistic past. Trailer. Runtime: 105mins

This one is ripe for a sequel. I hope that happens.

Hello! Jun’ichi
Katsuhito Ishii turns his attention toward the everyday failures and successes of being 9 years old. Junichi is a painfully shy third grader who can’t find the courage to return an eraser he borrowed from his secret crush. But the arrival of an unorthodox assistant teacher named Anna pushes Junichi and his friends to find the confidence to face their fears and turn them into something amazing. Hello! Junichi embraces the familiar yet magical essence of childhood with surprising humor and generous compassion. Trailer. Runtime: 91mins

The narrative is a bit disorganized and frenetic, but it's fun and silly. “Live Action Anime,” a friend described it.

It is the summer of 1989 and half of Europe is in tumult. Sixteen-year-old Nena’s life takes a dramatic turn when her paraplegic father’s suicide attempt shatters her own bliss. Angry and despondent, Nena is nonetheless obliged to face up to the fact that her father can no longer bear his own life. Torn between her love for her father and coming to terms with his death wish, Nena begins to ask herself some tough questions and tries to overcome her fears of losing him. Writer-director Saskia Diesing uses her own personal experiences to contemplate an individual’s right to determine their own life. Trailer. Runtime: 95mins

I had a film immediately following this one but couldn't go. I needed time to absorb this story and the profound ending. Not a date movie.

Lola on the Pea
Nine-year-old Lola and her free-spirited mom live on a houseboat called ‘The Pea’ in a small German town. Ever since her father split, Lola has vowed not to cut her hair and wants nothing to change until he returns. Frustrated, losing friends, driving her mother (who is ready to move on!) crazy, finally Lola meets an intriguing new friend named Rebin, who sometimes disappears. Checking into Rebin’s mysterious behavior, Lola discovers his Kurdish family is struggling to get by as undocumented workers. Together, Lola and Rebin navigate their colliding cultural worlds with humor and learn to trust in their future in spite of it all. Trailer. Runtime: 90mins

Fun family film addressing fear of "other."

Shana: The Wolf’s Music
Since the loss of her mother, 13 year-old Shana has hoped for a sign. Shana hangs daily letters to her mother upon an ancestor tree, watched by a white wolf. When her grieving father loses himself in alcohol, Shana quits school and stops playing violin, the gift she shared with her mother. A new teacher discovers Shana’s vulnerability and talent, and takes her in as her protégé. But it’s not until Shana makes an unexpected quest that she is able to reconnect with her ancestors and find herself as she lets her mother go. Filmed by a Swiss director with the Salish People of the Creeks, Lower Nicola Indian Band near British Columbia. Trailer. Runtime: 80mins

I love movies about American (north American in this case, Canadian) directed by people who are not from this continent. Beautifully shot, well acted by Shana, but most of the supporting actors are novices and it shows. Worth seeing, though.

Bread and Butter
Thirty year old Amelia Karinsky, obsessed with her virginity, struggles to take control of her life when two emotionally arrested men fall for her. Bread and Butter chronicles how she learns that independence is more important than a mismatched romance. Trailer. Runtime: 90mins

The director spoke after the film and said this film is her answer to her belief that all rom-coms are harmful to women. I agree with her opinion and affirm her answer.

Letter to the King
Five peoples meeting in Norway outside the refugee camp are given permission to leave the snowy no-man’s-land and travel to Oslo, a welcome change in an otherwise monotonous life. But we soon realize that all of them have a purpose with this trip. All five will be confronted by their destinies as they discover happiness, suffer humiliation, find love and seek revenge. Their five stories are bound together by a letter, written by eighty-three year old Mirza who wants to personally hand the letter to the King of Norway. Trailer. Runtime: 75mins

Starts out slowly and it's a little confusing. But everything comes together by the end. Beautiful and moving.

The Grump
A stubborn 80-year-old farmer from rural Finland is forced to spend some time in the capital where he rants about the modern world. Director Dome Karukoski creates an entertaining comedy of bad behavior. The Grump is both an old-school Everyman and an extreme force of nature—politically incorrect and guilty of recounting the good ol’ days when “children weren’t spoiled and people didn’t spend money on useless things.” Trailer. Runtime: 104mins

Black Panthers: Vanguards of the Revolution
Whether they were right or wrong, good or bad, more than 40 years after the Black Panther Party was founded in Oakland, California, the group, & its leadership, remain powerful and enduring figures in our imagination. The Black Panthers weaves voices from varied perspectives who lived this story—police, FBI informants, journalists, white supporters, and detractors, those who remained loyal to the party & those who left it. Website and trailer. Runtime: 116mins

We have so much to learn from history. They're fundraising for a fall theatrical release (and are close to their goal as of this writing so give if you can), and will be on PBS next February for the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party. Don't miss this one. And don't wait for next February to see it.

Marie’s Story
At the turn of the 19th century, a humble artisan and his wife have a daughter, Marie, who is born deaf & blind, is unable to communicate. Desperate to find a connection to their daughter and avoid an asylum, the Heurtins send 14-year-old Marie to the Larnay Institute, a school for deaf girls. Sister Marguerite sees in Marie potential, and despite her Mother Superior’s skepticism, vows to bring the her out of the darkness into which she was born. Marie’s Story recounts the courageous journey of a young nun and the lives she would change forever. Trailer Runtime: 95mins

Lovely film. ASL is directly related to French Sign Language, much more so than to British Sign Language. So not only could I understand most of the French in the film, I could understand a lot of the signing. Coming to theaters May 1.

They Are All Dead
Lupe (Elena Anaya) is a former punk rock star who now lives in a valium induced agoraphobic state, slowly losing her touch with her teenage son. Lupe’s mother (Angélica Aragón) sees little option but to solicit the help of Diego—Lupe’s deceased brother and bandmate—by way of a Day of the Dead ritual. Trailer Runtime: 93mins

No spoilers. But this is another film that went to a place no American film would ever go. I had to confirm my understanding of what happened in the film with another moviegoer because I wasn't sure I didn't misconstrue the uncomfortable meaning.

The Second Mother
Val is the kind of live-in housekeeper who takes her work seriously. She wears a crisp maid's uniform while serving perfect canapés; she serves her wealthy São Paulo employers day in and day out while lovingly nannying their teenage son whom she's raised since toddlerhood. Everyone and everything in the elegant house has its place until one day, Val’s ambitious, clever daughter Jessica arrives from Val’s hometown to take the college entrance exams. Jessica’s confident, youthful presence upsets the unspoken yet strict balance of power in the household; Val must decide where her allegiances lie and what she's willing to sacrifice. Trailer Runtime:114mins

Another of my top four films. I loved this one. And think the English title is a better one than the Portuguese title, which was "Que Horas Ela Volta?" Which roughly translates to "When will she return?"

Pervert Park
In St. Petersburg, Florida there is a trailer park that 120 convicted sex offenders call home. The Florida Justice Transitions, otherwise known as “Pervert Park,” was founded by a mother of a convicted sex offender who couldn't find a place to live after his release. Frida and Lasse Barkfors’ unflinching new film is about the people no one wants as a neighbor. It follows the every day life of the sex offenders as they struggle to reintegrate into society and gives us a chance to understand who they are and how the destructive cycle of sexual abuse can be broken. Trailer Runtime: 77mins

Film about an American thing (criminal justice and sex offenders) but done by people who are not from here. Just wow. Going where no American would ever go.

Welcome to Leith
White neo-Nazi tries to make Leith, SD into a whites only town. Trailer Runtime: 95mins.

Also an instructional video on what to do when white supremacists try to take over your small town.

1001 Grams
With the kind of wry humor that we’ve come to expect from Norwegian director Bent Hamer (Home for Christmas, MSPIFF 2011; Kitchen Stories), 1001 Grams offers a minimalist meditation on life’s magical abstractions. At the Norwegian Institute of Weights and Measures, Norway’s kilo, kept under lock and key, must be transported to Paris to be calibrated. Marie is put in charge of traveling with the kilo as she contemplates obtuse scientific quantifications with more personal concepts of love, life, and death. Trailer Runtime: 93mins

This might be disappointing if you're unfamiliar with Norwegian humor. It's quiet and slow. But I like it.

The Summer of Sangaile
Seventeen-year-old Sangail is fascinated by stunt planes. Afraid of heights, she has never dared to even enter in one of the cockpits at a summer aeronautical show. Nearby her parents’ lakeside villa, she meets Auste, a local girl of her age who, unlike Sangaile, lives her life to the full with creativity and daring. As the two girls become lovers, Sangaile allows Auste to discover her most intimate secret, and finds in her teenage love the only person to truly encourage her interest in flying. Trailer Runtime: 88mins

This one barely made it onto my list because it's a little bit exploitative. Watch at your own peril.

Paula van der Oest’s Accused, shortlisted for Best Foreign Film Oscar, turns a compelling true story into an engaging, heart-pounding thriller. Neonatal nurse Lucia has a knack for quieting crying babies but is scorned by her colleagues for being independent and private. After being present at one inexplicable death too many, Lucia gets caught up in hospital politics and a very ugly witch hunt. Ariane Schluter gives a gripping and down-to-earth performance that makes this drama riveting from start to finish. Trailer Runtime: 97mins

Loved Ariane Schluter's performance.

The Keeping Room
When you hear “home invasion thriller,” you don’t think Civil War period piece. But The Keeping Room willfully bends expectations by mixing genres—-predatory horror, revisionist western, feminist drama, and brutal cat-and-mouse thriller. The story focuses on the violent resilience and dramatic camaraderie of three Southern women as their home is besieged during the purges at the close of the American Civil War. Forced to defend their land and fight for their lives, the women take up arms against oppressors, shattering gender and genre conventions in the process. Clip (not trailer) Runtime: 95mins

I was on the edge of my seat just about the whole time. Had to close my eyes too.