Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Shape of Water

We saw The Shape of Water last night.

After the film I thought I saw something unique. There were things I liked: the homage to films, the cinematography, the acting and directing. But I felt uneasy.

This morning I woke up and realized this was just another telling of Beauty and the Beast, another story of a woman who falls in love with the first man who doesn't see her as broken or ugly.

Women deserve better than that, more than that. Women deserve to choose who they want, rather than falling for the first person who wants them.

Film goers deserve better than that. They deserve to see women who have agency and power.

This is why we need women in the director's chair.

Here's hoping it doesn't win much at this year's Oscars.

Friday, May 12, 2017

MSPIFF 2017 Faves

Thanks again to all the wonderful volunteers, projectionists, cleaning staff, box office staff, and programmers who made the 2017 Minneapolis/St. Paul a wonderful experience yet again.

Where were the Scandinavian films this year MSPIFF? I learned to love Scandinavian film at MSPIFF and really missed it this year, with few choices in the program. Will it come back next year? Here's one person hoping it does.

My three favorite films were directed by women:

The Sounding, written and directed and acted by Catherine Eaton. I'm really hoping and praying this gets a theatrical release of some sort, but I've seen no indication of that. If you do get to see it in the theater, stay to the end of the credits for this song. Sign up on her website for updates.

If you've ever been the outsider, if you've ever been pathologized for being who you are, if you have ever been silenced or muted against your will, see this film. I saw this one twice and now want to own it so I can see it again. And again.

Memories of a Penitent Heart, a documentary by. A shortened version of this 75 minute film will be on PBS's POV in June but the director says it will be available on DVD.

Sami Blood, directed by Amanda Kernell, a Sami woman herself, answers this question from the director: "Many older Samis left everything behind and became Swedish and I’ve always wondered; what happens to you if you cut all ties with your culture and history? And can you really become someone else?" I love Sami film and this one felt vividly real in ways Sami film hasn't in the past.

Most of the rest of the films I liked were directed by women (*) too.

Boundaries*: Three women from three countries try to reach across social boundaries in the face of sexism.

Untouchable is a documentary about the unintended consequences of sex offender laws.

Center of My World could only be made in a place like Germany. It tells the story of one gay teen's coming of age in a dysfunctional family. I'd like to see it again sometime. The film is available on DVD & BluRay but only in German right now.

Little Wing* is another coming of age film I'd like to see again. This one, about a girl who tries to find her absent father. It's surprising, and I won't spoil it for you. I don't know if you'll be able to see this one.

Dispatches From Cleveland* is a story about justice for Tamir Rice, as told in three parts.

There's a big dose of girls bullying each other in The World of Us*. Still, it's a satisfying film.

Whose Streets* documents activist lives in Ferguson, from their perspective, instead of the perspective most Americans got about it on CNN and Fox.

Signature Move* is a sexy and fun queer romp about two women trying to get together and do so over professional wrestling.

First Daughter and the Black Snake* documents Winona LaDuke's fight against Enbridge and for her people. And for the earth.

Fanny's Journey* tells the true story of a teenage girl leading over 30 children out of Nazi occupied France. The film demonstrates the full humanity of these children, including their ability to live in the moment in playing, even in the face of terror.

Dolores* is a documentary about Dolores Huerta, the woman you've never heard of who worked as Cesar Chavez's equal.

Starless Dreams documents seven years in a prison in Tehran. It's the kind of film you only find at MSPIFF.

The animated film Window Horses* follows one girl's quest to find her father in Iran after she is invited to a poetry festival there. The film is visual poetry. I'd like to see it again.

Tesoros* is a delightful kids adventure in a new place.

I knew nothing about Marie Curie* until this film, which humanizes her, except that she received two Nobel prizes for her work. I sure hope this becomes available in the US.

I don't usually say negative things about films I saw, but don't bother with You Can't Make the Same Mistake Twice and Aida's Secret. The first film is 3 hours of court tv in Canada, without any social or historical context. The second film should have been directed by a woman because if it had, you would have actually found out what her secret was and have it be centered on her experience and other women's experiences in Bergen Belsen. The film is all about her two sons and their hand-wringing about who their father is. Fuck the patriarchy.

Monday, April 10, 2017

MSPIFF 2017: My List

I'll see 40-50 films in 2017, over half of which are films directed by women. They're listed below, in no particular order, with links to the MSPIFF site for tickets and trailers and websites and better descriptions than I could ever write. See you at MSPIFF?

Lipstick Under My Burkha
I love films that show clearly what a particular culture's social contracts are. This one promises to show how women are changing those rules. #DirectedbyWomen

The Sounding
At the cross-section of two subjects I'm interested in: language and rebellion. #DirectedbyWomen

Childish Shorts
I'm forever a kid at heart. Some of the best stuff at MSPIFF is in the Childish program. Some of the films are #DirectedbyWomen

Let’s Get the Rhythm
Ever wonder about where the clapping games we played as children came from? Not the grownups in my life, for sure. #DirectedbyWomen

The Rehearsal
I remember liking director Alison Maclean's 1999 film Jesus' Son. All I remember about it was that it was a redemption story. #DirectedbyWomen

Mixed Match
A documentary about the challenges facing mixed race blood cancer patients with a seemingly impossible search to find bone marrow donors. I'm a white bone marrow transplant and blood cancer survivor I want to see this film.

150 Milligrams
Inspiration from a woman who successfully challenged a pharmaceutical company. They are thieves. The drug I take that keeps me in remission from leukemia costs more than $15,000 per month. #DirectedbyWomen

Little Wing
MSPIFF helped me discover how much I love Scandinavian film. And coming of age stores. And films #DirectedbyWomen

In Between
I love films directed by women where women are reaching across difference and seeking greater independence. #DirectedbyWomen

Wolf and Sheep
A coming of age story in Afghanistan. I love films with kids. And coming of age stories #DirectedbyWomen

Chocolate Case
A documentary about child slavery in the growing and production of chocolate.

Center of My World
A dysfunctional family with a queer kid in it. Sounds familiar.

Wedding Ring
Love versus familial obligations and it is #DirectedbyWomen

Shorts Program 7: a shorts program with three of the four films by and about Black people.

I saw a documentary at MSPIFF in 2015 that might be related: Pervert Park. I'll be curious to see how they're different, how an American handles this subject as compared how the Swedish and Danish filmmakers handled it in Pervert Park. Patty Wetterling being present for the Q&A has me suspicious--I love docs made about American things/institutions directed by people who are not from here fascinating. They can see and say things Americans can't.

We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice
How First Nations people sued the Canadian government for the right to decide the fate of their children. #DirectedbyWomen

Women facing "chauvinist condescension, petty macho in-fighting, and constant reminders of their neglected personal lives." Another one that sounds familiar. #DirectedbyWomen

Dispatches from Cleveland
The fight for justice for Tamir Rice including interviews of his mother. #DirectedbyWomen

The World of Us
Kids connecting across difference, and then something happens. #DirectedbyWomen

Shorts Program 4
Shorts are fun because if you hate what you're watching, it'll be over soon. Some (both good and bad) will be #DirectedbyWomen

93 Days
Based on a true story about the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria.

Ethel and Ernest
I picked this one because we're going to England this fall. And I like animated films.

Whose Streets
The protests following the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson, from the point of view of the people in the community. Some people I know are in it. #DirectedbyWomen

Signature Move
Women pro-westling, queer Muslim women. In English, Urdu, and Spanish. #OnlyAtMSPIFF #DirectedbyWomen

Kids finding treasure in each other and adventure. #DirectedbyWomen

First Daughter and the Black Snake
Winona LaDuke vs. Enbridge. #DirectedbyWomen

The Hippopotamus
I needed something funny in my film list. MSPIFF is a little short on humor this year for some reason.

By the Time It Gets Dark
I saw a documentary about the Thammasat University massacre last year. #DirectedbyWomen

Fanny’s Journey
Courageous kids escaping Nazi Germany. I think I like films about the conditions of Nazi Germany because I need to undo all the images I have in my head from my childhood because I watched Hogan's Heroes.

Marie Curie: The Courage of Knowledge
There's a lot I don't know about Marie Curie other than what everyone knows: that she researched radioactivity and died from the cancer she got from it. #WomeninScience #DirectedbyWomen

Divine Divas
Another story about transgender people challenging social mores. This one in Rio. #DirectedbyWomen #OnlyAtMSPIFF

The Ornithologist
I'm feeling iffy about whether I'll go to this one. It might be too weird for me.

Shorts Program 8
Shorts are fun. See the previous listing for Shorts Program 4. Some will be #DirectedbyWomen

I've not heard of Dolores Huerta, and I'm curious to learn her story. It should have been #DirectedbyWomen

A documentary about a north Philly family. I'm from the mid-Atlantic. It will feel familiar.

In November last year, I went to Pulse Nightclub to see the memorial that people have built at the site. I took pictures, but nothing felt right about sharing those pics, and my unexpected feelings about what I saw. So I'm curious about this documentary on Holocaust tourism.

Starless Dreams
Women in prison in Tehran. I'm glad it's been made, but I wish it would have been #DirectedbyWomen

Anatomy of Violence
I love everything Deepa Mehta has ever done and will go to anything she makes. #DirectedbyWomen

Memories of a Penitent Heart
I think I'll need to bring a whole box of tissues to this one. I hope lots of young people see this--the world is so different today. #AIDS #DirectedbyWomen

Sami Blood
I saw my first film about the Sami people many years ago at MSPIFF and it blew my mind that there were white indigenous people. Of course that makes sense. And even they are oppressed. I see every Sami film MSPIFF brings to us. #DirectedbyWomen

Window Horses
Animated coming of age story, with poetry. #DirectedbyWomen

Mr. Frog
The teacher is a frog. I must see this film. #DirectedbyWomen

Aida’s Secrets
Family secrets, Nazi Germany, Canada, Israel. #OnlyatMSPIFF

Friday, March 24, 2017


I'm still working out my final MSPIFF schedule, but here are some of the films I'm excited about:

First Daughter and the Black Snake: Winona LaDuke believes Big Oil is the black snake that was predicted in Native American prophecy and that will bring about the destruction of the earth. This doc is about her fight against Enbridge. #Directed byWomen Website. Trailer.

Sami Blood: A narrative film about a Sami (indigenous Swedish people, reindeer herders, formerly known as Lapplanders) girl's life in the 1930s, when Sweden decided Sami were inferior and treated them the way Native Americans were treated in the US. She is shipped off to a Swedish school and beat if she spoke her native tongue or dressed as her family dressed. An interview with the director. Film Clip. Website#DirectedbyWomen

Starless Dreams: A documentary about a teen girls' detention center in Tehran. Website. Trailer.

In Between: Narrative coming of age story of three Palestinian Israeli young women. Trailer. #DirectedbyWomen

Lipstick Under My Burka: Narrative film about four rural Indian women finding their personal and sexual power. Website. Trailer. #DirectedbyWomen

Anatomy of Violence: Deepa Mehta's latest film, a genre-crossing narrative film about a true story of a woman who was gang raped on a bus that comments on rape culture in our society. Website. Trailer. #DirectedbyWomen

150 Milligrams: The story of a French doctor who fought pharmaceutical companies to take a drug off the market that was killing women primarily. Website. Trailer. #DirectedbyWomen

MSPIFF has a new program this year, Black Cinema: Under the Skin. All five films are directed by Black people, one by a Black woman.  I will do my best to see all five.

There are three films (that I've found so far) that are about Black people but directed by white people.

I rolled my eyes when I saw the blonde white woman featured as the director of Dispatches From Cleveland, a documentary about the movement for justice for Tamir Rice, featuring his mother Samaria Rice. But a visit to their website revealed that most of their team was comprised of Black people. This one might not suffer from the problem films directed by white people but about black or brown people suffer from: the white gaze, films created for white audiences that reinforce stereotypes and white supremacy. Their blog is an interesting read.

Step, a documentary about three teen Black girls in Baltimore striving to go to college, is directed by a white woman. It was bought by Fox Searchlight at Sundance this year, and will be released in early August. The description at Fox screams white gaze. I'm going to see it just so I can say for sure one way or another but if something better is showing at the same time, I'll wait until August.

The film Quest, a doc about one Black family in north Philly, is directed by a white man, edited by a white woman, and produced by a Black woman. I will see this one. I'm from Delaware and Philly feels like home to me.

I am like FINALLY, a documentary about the hand-clapping games I learned as a child, from my peers: Let's Get the Rhythm No adult taught me these games. How do they get spread and why haven't they been studied before? Website. Trailer#DirectedbyWomen 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Oscar's Short Docs Program

If you want only laughs and happy endings, don't see this year's Oscar Short Docs program. This year's selections include three films about people in or leaving Syria, a film about people dying, and one about a Holocaust survivor's violin. To gauge how intense these films are, the one about the Holocaust survivor and his violin was the most upbeat one.

I wanted to scream obscenities about the Oval Office trash fire during most of the films. But the one that really got me going was 4.1 Miles, about the Greek coast guard that fishes dead people out of the ocean and saves many lives every single day, several times a day. The film laid bare the absurdity of our arbitrary national borders. We could simply provide transportation to people fleeing war-torn lands but instead we let them risk their lives in a 4.1 mile stretch of salt water because of the border between Turkey & Greece. This one is my favorite for winning this years short documentary Oscar.

Four of the short films are streaming online. The White Helmets, about the people who rescue fellow Syrians after bombings from their government or Russia, is on Netflix, as is the film Extremis, which follows doctors & families caring for patients near death. You can see 4.1 Miles on the New York Times website, about the coast guard on the Island of Lesbos in Greece rescuing people fleeing war in Syria. The New Yorker is hosting Joe's Violin.

To see Watani: My Homeland, which follows one Syrian family over three years, check out a local showing near you.

If you want to see all five films together, find a showing here.

Joe's Violin and 4.1 Miles were directed by women.

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.