Showing posts with label press. Show all posts
Showing posts with label press. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Short Films Collection at Athena Film Festival 2021

The Athena Film Festival is the premier festival celebrating and showcasing women's leadership in documentaries and feature films as well as in-depth conversations with industry experts. One of their prominent program areas features short films grouped into specific themes that explore and highlight a wide range of issues from climate change to social justice movements.

This year’s festival included several themes including Resilience Through Uncertainty, Nothing About Us Without Us, and Tear It Down: Dismantling White Supremacy. While covering the festival this month, I had access to short films from each of these sections and provide reviews to my selections below.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Test Pattern (Athena Film Festival 2021)

(This review contains spoilers for Promising Young Woman).

Two different nights in Austin, Texas set the stage for Test Pattern – the first charming meet-cute between Renesha (Brittany S. Hall) and Evan (Will Brill) ends with the couple’s courtship blossoming into a loving lived-in relationship; the second similar night ends with Renesha drugged and sexually assaulted by a stranger during a girl’s night out at a bar. And the couple dealing with the health care system as they try to secure a rape kit.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Mama Gloria (Athena Film Festival 2021)

2020 marked the deadliest year on record for transgender and non-conforming individuals. Even with the emergence of trans entertainers and activists  likeJanet Mock and Laverne Cox in mind, how rare it is for LGBTQ+ youth to have a blueprint or example of trans icons who defy such unnecessary and transphobic circumstances. Just as equally rare is an inspirational documentary that Mama Gloria joyfully fills the void of. 

Told fully from her perspective, the documentary directed by Luchina Fisher affords Gloria Allen the opportunity to share her journey of transitioning in Chicago’s south side in the 1950s to her contributions as trailblazer today – now in her 70s. Most notably, she’s recognized for starting a charm school for her fellow trans women, especially homeless youth; the school also later became a play “Charm” which has inspired trans actresses to follow in her footsteps and come out as transgender. Where there is such glorious success, however, there are also adversities that have made her stronger including transphobia, sexual assault, and racism. The vulnerability, wisecracking humor, and honesty Allen exudes allows viewers to take a brief yet engrossing portrait of aging that offers insight and the process of recognizing gender and body dysphoria to gradually making the choice and having the access to transition medically.

For the most part, the film is able to capture Gloria's essence as a beloved mom to her "babies" -  students and trans youth who look to her for guidance - and the LGBTQ+ community at large. With letting Allen take the wheel of the film's structure, she’s able to hold the reigns of her story taking us through the nostalgic highs of her youth and the stark lows of challenges she's faced and continues to face in her older age. However, the documentary moves at a fairly brisk pace that doesn’t delve further where it could have. Though the film breaks up Allen’s narrative with a heartwarming high school reunion, interviews with her relatives, and archival footage of Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood nightlife and drag balls, there are elements such as founding her charm school and Allen’s involvement in the Stonewall Riots that could’ve extended more context.

One of the most poignant moments of Mama Gloria is not only her ability to light the torch the next generation of trans women and men to carry, but also the resounding support and struggles she faced to ultimately fall in love with herself. Sadly, this is not always or commonly the same for so many. A conversation with a neighbor at their apartment complex brings the common thread and disparity of generations of LGBTQ+ individuals - “None of us when we were young ever thought about living to be this age, or what life experience would be in this age, and there were no examples.” Hopefully in the years ahead the world will become a place where it chooses to accept everyone for who they truly are and allow Gloria Allen’s story to be one of many examples of resilience, hope, and acceptance that the trans and LGBTQ+ community needs right now and always.

Screening Mama Gloria was a part of my coverage of this year’s Athena Film Festival. Check out more of my reviews here and the official website to Mama Gloria here.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Julia Scotti: Funny That Way (Athena Film Festival 2021)

For the second time in her life, Julia Scotti rocked the comedy world when she auditioned for America’s Got Talent in 2016. After drawing approval and laughter from the live studio audience and judges, her humbling revelation of having transitioned and comedic verve made her a beloved favorite and later a finalist that year. Though many might know her best from her original televised comeback, it’s one of just many that’s highlighted and explored in the documentary Julia Scotti: Funny That Way.

Shot over a period of five years, director Susan Sandler’s documentary with Julia Scotti trails the comedian’s comeback and her complicated journey of transitioning, identity, and healing. Going primarily from the title, humor is an easy way ‘in’ to enjoying the documentary. There are plenty of jokes and anecdotes sprinkled throughout, as well as heartwarming meetings with comedy pals and stand-up routines, that will put a smile on your face. But underneath the surface the duo – Sandler and Scotti – dig deep to show not just the stand-up Scotti’s spent a lifetime honing, but the multi-faceted journey of compassion Scotti strives for with herself and the world around her.

Taking us back to the start of sorts, the documentary takes its time to explore Scotti living the dream as a headlining comedian appearing in club all across the U.S. in the late 1980s. Though it seemed like Scotti was on top of the comedy world, they struggled personally and professionally as issues of gender identity and sexuality came to light. At a time when gender dysphoria and gender reassignment surgery was rare, Scotti’s process to transitioning led to hormonal treatments, surgery, and a new identity as Julia Scotti at forty-seven. Along the way, she lost wives, family, and her career. After reinventing herself, she’s begun her journey back to the stand-up stage at fifty, while rebuilding relationships with her children after fifteen years of estrangement.

Using interviews with Scotti and her children as well as narrated animation and archival footage, Scotti explores the ‘blessing and the curse’ that happened the day she discovered who she was – how the liberation of enjoying every ounce of her womanhood also left lingering wounds such as the rift with her third ex-wife who supported her transition and gender-related issues that still play a role in her self-discovery today. Her reconciliation with her own misconceptions of gender, speaking out against transphobia such as a doctor misgendering her while recovering from spinal surgery, and helping her son with his own comedy career further opens up a conversation about the limits of what society considers masculine or feminine, transphobia, and homophobia. Though the film primarily centers on Scotti's life and experiences, it also presents further outlooks on society's attachment to vapid and ignorant ideas of "being normal."

As a first-time documentary filmmaker (at 72 years old), Sandler pieces together an inspiring portrait that finds a perfect balance between showing Scotti gaining a stride on stage and in her own life. She streamlines Julia Scotti: Funny That Way with candor, vulnerability, and empathy that lets you ride the wave of joy, compassion, regret, sorrow, and acceptance. Undoubtedly, comedy helps Scotti find her voice again as a comedian to her audience, a mother to her children, and a public speaker. But her whole story also shines a rare light that highlights the roadblocks of waiting too long to discovering your truth and imploring hope that it's never too late to accept who you truly are.

Screening Julia Scotti: Funny That Way was a part of my coverage of this year’s Athena Film Festival. Check out more of my reviews here and the official website to Julia Scotti: Funny That Way.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Beans (Athena Film Festival 2021 Opening Night)

Something special happens for a director or writer when they can probe deep memories into a compelling story, and the audience who has their eyes opened to an event or perspective we haven't seen before. Both of these are at the heart of director Tracey Deer's first film Beans, setting an appropriate tone as the first film chosen to open the Athena Film Festival.

Inspired by her own childhood, writer-director Tracey Deer mends the gap between a traditional coming-of-age tale against the backdrop of a historical event. In the summer of 1990, twelve year old Tekehentahkhwa's (Kiawentiio) adolescence unfolds with complicated friendships, standing up to oppression, and family dynamics against the backdrop of the Oka Crisis - a 78 day standoff of Mohawk people protecting their sacred burial grounds from overturning into a golf course by the White Quebec population.

Through Beans, the audience is taken through the familiar territory of adolescence as well as the terrifyingly frontlines of this under-regarded moment in Canadian history. She’s on the cusp of entering a prestigious white-led school for young girls – a decision that she feels called to fill by her independent-driven and courageous mother. We see her in the beginning wide-eyed and innocent; enjoying the play time she gets to spend with her younger sister and wary of disappointing her parents. Like most pre-teens who eventually learn to forge their own path, especially one away from their parents, her mature awakening begins with befriending a group of older rebellious teenagers she tries to fit in with by learning to fight, curse, and dress provocatively and show the deep-seeded anger that comes with her family being oppressed. 

Beans, portrayed by Kiawenti:io Tarbell, gives an empathetic performance. She’s able to evolve the character’s sweetness into the unbridled frustration and pain that comes from the events surrounding her. The ensemble itself is more of a female-driven narrative as well – with her mother (Rainbow Dickerson), sister (Violah Beauvais), and her friend April (Paulina Jewel Alexis) are with her on the journey as they try to find refuge away from the violent protests they’re surrounded with.

To balance the familiarity of Beans adolescence with the Oka crisis, Deer interjects the drama with real news programs. Unlike some biopics that struggle to mesh the live action story with historical context, Deer connects the two by mirroring the protests through the characters' journeys. As the Mohawk people protect their land from Quebec police, the RCMP and the Canadian Army, Beans and her family realistically encounter the frontlines at every turn. The mix of both tangibly creates more general tension around both plots and drives each other forward, and lets Beans claim her heritage on her own terms.

To move from an idea to pre-production and (hopefully) a theatrical release, film debuts are often a deeply personal experience from the filmmaker that needs to be told. Similar to director Haroula Rose's debut Once Upon A River, young adult films centering on indigenous and native experiences is a burgeoning genre that's ripe for stories we haven't seen featured in cinema before. Deer’s entry balances the vulnerable touch of her own perspective that the audience can delve into and come away with a wider appreciation of the world at large.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Celebrating Athena Film Festival Throughout March 1st - 31st 2021

For the past eleven years, the Athena Film Festival has been the premiere festival to amplify women's leadership through film as well as provide in-depth conversations with industry experts. The festival works in conjunction with Barnard College's Athena Center for Leadership and Women and Hollywood to shift the cultural conversation of stories told of women.

In celebration of March as Women's History Month, I'm excited to cover the event virtually. In the upcoming weeks, I'll be providing reviews of a wide variety of shorts to documentaries and feature film screenings, which includes:
  • Beans, directed by Tracey Deer. A twelve-year-old Mohawk Girl torn between innocent childhood and reckless adolescence as she grapples with her experiences of community, activism, and racism during the Indigenous uprising of 1990 known as The Oka Crisis.
  • Mama Gloria - an intimate portrait of a trailblazing 73-year-old black transgender woman who transitioned before Stonewall, started a charm school for transgender youth in her 60s and is aging with joy and grace.
  • Ava & Bianca - a short documentary film directed by Rachel Fleit that portrays the profound friendship between Ava Benjamin Schorr and Bianca Cline who are both transgender female cinematographers.
If you'd like to learn more about the festival or explore the programming, visit the official site hereHere's more information regarding the festival per the official festival press release:
Over the past ten years, the Athena Film Festival has established itself as the premier festival dedicated to celebrating and elevating women’s leadership. Our festival highlights films showcasing women’s leadership from underexplored perspectives; women leading in all places and spaces who are resisting and refuting preconceived notions of all they can be and do. Through our Parity Pipeline Program we are bolstering the pipeline of women creatives who are telling these stories and fostering a network of women in film.

The Athena Film Festival is a joint project of Barnard College’s Athena Center for Leadership and Women and Hollywood. The festival’s founding sponsor is the Artemis Rising Foundation and its CEO Regina K. Scully.

The 11th Annual Athena Film Festival, a joint partnership between Barnard’s Athena Center for Leadership & Melissa Silverstein’s WOMEN IN HOLLYWOOD. The festival will also feature an International Women’s Day Program and a number of conversations and panels discussing film, women in the entertainment industry, and equality in Hollywood and beyond.

The Athena Film Festival (AFF) at Barnard College announced its opening night film and lineup of programming for the 2021 festival today. The 11th annual festival, a joint partnership between Barnard’s Athena Center for Leadership and the initiative Women and Hollywood, will take place virtually from March 1st through March 31st. The annual festival includes film screenings, in-depth conversations with filmmakers and industry experts, a series of programs that support the pipeline of women creatives, and a wide variety of events focused on celebrating and amplifying the stories of bold, courageous women leaders.

“While planning this year’s festival, we wanted to prioritize relevant and timely films that spoke to the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the myriad ways we’ve experienced our world shift this year. We were also focused on inclusion – building on our history of featuring new and diverse voices and challenging the status quo to lead the industry forward” said Melissa Silverstein, Co-Founder and Artistic Director of AFF and founder of Women and Hollywood. “I think we’ve done that. The films and conversations at this year’s festival will tackle complex, emotional, and diverse subjects with voices from across the industry. While this year’s festival will feel very different, I could not be more proud of the incredible slate of programming which is 90% women and nonbinary directors and 51% women and non binary directors of color that we will bring to our audiences across the United States for the 11th annual edition.”

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

5 Things To Look Forward to at MegaCon Orlando

MegaCon Orlando knows how to deliver geekdom to Orlando, Florida. Last year I had an opportunity to attend the exciting convention which brings in thousands of fans from all over to celebrate comics, gaming, sci-fi, anime, movies, and much more. The four day weekend is packed with fandom-tastic panels, vendors, and festivals, there is so much to see and do. This year I'm heading to the convention again and excited to see what the event has in store! From panels and celebrity appearances to indie artists, here are a few things I'm looking forward to at MegaCon Orlando!