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

Kid 90 (2021)

We don’t often learn of the opportunities and difficulties juvenile actors face until headlines show it or history becomes etched in memoirs. A rare chance to star in their own show or become a heartthrob leaves so many kids who love entertain discovering the risks and the realities of the industry before they're prepared to live in front of the spotlight. Kid 90, directed by Soleil Moon Free, brings us closer to taking a look behind-the-scenes and a generation of stars who learned to navigate the pitfalls of fame.

As a teenager in the 90s, actress and director Soleil Moon Frye carried around a video camera everywhere she went and saved diaries, journals, and voice mail messages. After locking away the footage for almost 20 years, she revisits her childhood as a teenage star and presents an unprecedented time capsule of growing up in Hollywood and New York City.

From her early days of starting out as Punky Brewster to nabbing smaller roles in B-horror movies, Frye shows us life through her eyes. Though she had a normal upbringing at home with a loving mother, busy father, and supportive brother, her life in front of the camera took a turn as she became a teen with a developing body, trying drugs, and gaining more independence. As a young woman growing up in Hollywood, Frye highlights her experiences of bullying and being sexualized at 15, the painful reconciliation of losing friends to suicide, surviving sexual assault, and finding creative freedom. Her footage also captures the joys to everyday activities like getting breakfast, going to parties, and asking her friends of their philosophy about life. Joining her along for the ride are fellow stars from the 90s - Stephen Dorff - Brian Austin Green, David Arquette, Heather McComb and more – who provide their perspective – rejections from auditions, seeing their names splashed in the tabloids, enduring unwarranted backlash, and facing failure.

Frye's choice of a chronological format is easy enough to follow as she takes us from her rise of stardom until her late teens. Picking up a camera was Frye’s way to control everything – being unloved and loving others, her career fading away, relationships coming to an end, losing friends to suicide; and in some ways this is still true for Frye today. As both subject and director, she's able to explore her memories and assess what is appropriate to share and what is okay to keep close to her. At the same time, the documentary struggles with a stronger cohesive structure. As much as Frye does share, the compilation of footage and interviews often only underscore the possibility that there are layers more to discover. Insight by longtime friend and co-star Brian Austin Green recalling the first time he encountered failure when he broke out on his own to release a rap album, and the backlash he faced, is very few and far between. What you're left to grapple with as a viewer is the openness that Frye has about her life and a familiar awareness of the all-too-common reasons that many are led to suicide driven by mental health and/or substance abuse issues. The conversation between her and other Generation Xers about the impact of being a teen star transitioning into stars but it's not as comprehensive as it could've been. 

Part walk down memory lane, part documentary, Frye challenges the assumptions we make about our memories – if they are real or if they are stories we want to tell ourselves. From the outside, the trials and tribulations of teen stars might not seem relatable. But underneath the notoriety, Kid 90 explores there’s more beneath the fa├žade of stardom and celebrity culture. Even in our own lives, reflecting of who we once were can help us understand who we are today and how far we've come.

Rating: ★★☆

Note: I was provided with a screener for review. Kid 90 will be available on March 12th Hulu.

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.”

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks - TMP Television Edition: Love Triangles

Wandering Through the Shelves hosts Thursday Movie Picks. It's a weekly series where bloggers post and share various movie picks every Thursday. 

The rules are simple: based on the theme of the week pick three to five movies and tell us why you picked them. For further details and the schedule visit the series main page here.

This week is TMP Television Edition: Romance Tropes / TMP Television Edition: Love Triangles.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks - Romance Tropes Edition: Forbidden Love

Wandering Through the Shelves hosts Thursday Movie Picks. It's a weekly series where bloggers post and share various movie picks every Thursday. 

The rules are simple: based on the theme of the week pick three to five movies and tell us why you picked them. For further details and the schedule visit the series main page here.

This week is TMP Television Edition: Romance Tropes Edition: Forbidden Love.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

52 Films By Women Challenge - The Love Witch and Love & Basketball

In 2015, the Los Angeles' Women in Film started a challenge to watch one film by a female director every week for a year. I've seen this floating around social media and movie blogs for a while, and always meant to join in. For 2021, I finally decided to try it out this year as one of my resolutions.

Every week I thought it'd be fun to do a quick round-up of the film(s) I've watched for the challenge. The films I chose for the challenge are on letterboxd - if you want to see the slate so far - but I'm not going in an particular order of alphabetical or chronological.

My next two films is The Love Witch (2016) and Love and Basketball (2000). I've been dealing with some health and personal stuff lately, so of course I'm falling behind posting these again. I might make this weekly catch-up into a bi-weekly routine instead to give me time to write and post my thoughts.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

5 Swoon-Worthy Romantic Gestures in Movies

Romanticmovies have the power to make us believe in the power of love or at least give us high expectations for the gifts we can share on Valentine's Day to show how much they mean to us. 'Tis the season to overestimate what Cupid has in store. So I thought it'd be fun to share my favorite romantic gestures from movies...that has set some impossible standards.