INDIE FILM REVIEWS

A cathartically paced portrait of a community branded by its own self-aware dependency on prescription drugs, Sean Dunne’s directorial feature film debut, “Oxyana”, is a controversial yet necessary and affecting offering.  The film plays out like a patient yet evocative conversation that lets the audience draw their own opinions.  Dunne's documentary portraits Oceana, a small once thriving coal mining town in the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia.  This is a community that that has been so stricken by prescription pill epidemic that it's residences have nicknamed it Oxyana.  What we see is a people shaped by a failed system and the failed war on drugs.

Recognizing the innate beauty of Oceana and its surrounding areas, it doesn’t take long to also recognize the ghostly reminder of what once.  As Dunne states, “Yet there it was, a constant and growing hum of anxiety. So we started to ask questions, and we started to get answers, all pointing towards a familiar narrative.”  By leaving the camera on the subjects of the film and allowing their words to naturally flow, you get an honest, staunch depiction of dependency and addiction through the eyes of the ones that are suffering.  We get their stories, and it’s a heartbreaking reality to face.

 

 

 Winner of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival Best New Documentary Director Award, clearly both “Oxyana” and Dunne have earned their prestige.  It is because this is a film that is as hauntingly memorable as it is a pretty necessary conversation starter to have on the film scene.  It doesn’t set up the film’s subjects as failures of society to be laughed off and forgotten.  It sets them up as tragic heroes, failed by something way bigger than we can imagine.  The secrets buried deep within the rolling mountains and forests of this West Virginian region are laid bare, raw and untouched.  In “Oxyana”, scandal and sensationalism are pushed aside for the true depth and revelation of honesty, pain, and darkness suffered through drug addiction.  Dunne’s skillful ability to uncover that realistic, objective narrative regarding the outskirts of America is on full display.  Produced by Cass Greener and Nadine Brown, “Oxyana” is being re-released on VOD and is truly a masterful, meditative documentary worth the watch, if only to see how well Oceana finds and displays its own unique, troubled voice for the rest of the world to try and understand.

Quite the unparalleled cinematic offering, Kornél Mundruczó’s “White God” and its plot can actually be summarized in a fairly straightforward manner: Girl loves dog.  Dog trusts girl.  Girl’s Father, as well as the rest of society, scorns dog.  Dog, after experiencing the harsh realities of life, trains, rounds up a military-like legion of mutts, and goes on a revenge-seeking rampage.  While the synopsis flows off the tongue like the reciting of a campy, B-movie plot, “White God” is anything but that.  It’s locked and loaded, unrelenting in its depiction of both a girl and her dog’s adjustments to the injustices and changes around them.  Below the surface, this is also a curiously metaphorical depiction of social inequalities within contemporary Europe.  Telling this through the guise of a dog lover’s revenge flick, be warned: “White God” is no “Homeward Bound”.

 

We enter into this sort of part familiar, part darker reality as 13-year-old Lili (Zsófia Psotta) and her dog Hagen are temporarily left in the care of her father Daniel (Sándor Zsótér).  When Daniel refuses to pay the taxes necessary to keep the mix breed dog at home, he promptly releases the mutt out into the wild, unknowingly starting an eye opening turn of events for the whole city.  As Hagen starts to experience brutality at the hands of humans, he becomes the scene stealer of the film.  Lili also stands out with her own particular stoic, rebellious demeanor.  Her growth as a teenager is told in parallel with Hagen’s own dog troubles, creating an interesting narrative formula.  Sometimes the parallel storytelling has its flaws, but as the credits play, it's hard to find fault.  For this, credit should be given to the trainers that managed to create dog-centric scenes that were often more captivating than any shared between the human actors.  Luke and Bodie, the two mixed breed dogs that shared the role of Hagen, are remarkable.  That Mundruczó and crew were able to create moments where you actually feel the dogs’ emotions exuding from the screen is a feat well worth applauding.

 

 

Winner of the Un Certain Regard prize at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, “White God” easily fits within the award’s predilection for original and different work.  It’s a gripping fantasy about a world where humans, so often asserting their authority as an all-powerful being, are finally punished for their “sins”.  Whether we are talking dogs or just using them as a metaphor for ethnic inequality, the message is clear.  Now widely available on several VOD platforms, “White God” is the type of filmic fare that should be consumed, if only to finally see the hand that feeds get rightfully bitten back.

 

 

White God – Hungary, 121 MINS

Directed by Kornél Mundruczó

Starring Zsófia Psotta and Sándor Zsótér

Link to Trailer: https://vimeo.com/114052375

Link to VOD Links (July 28, 2015 Release): http://www.magpictures.com/whitegod/

 

 

One mind’s manifestations, challenged by new and total blindness, are the main focus of Eskil Vogt’s highly inspired debut drama “Blind”.  A somewhat self-reflexive portrait of one woman’s creative struggle with recent loss of vision, the film explores the consequences of both sightlessness and loneliness.  With the shutting down of one sense, every other sense becomes heightened.  Taking this direction, “Blind” allows the audience an amplified and surreal viewing experience completely withdrawn into fantasy.

 

The film follows newly blind Ingrid, played by standout Ellen Dorrit Petersen, as she copes with the darkness by embracing her vivid imagination. We learn early on that Ingrid’s blindness came without much warning.  She now spends her days constantly awaiting the return of her elusive architect husband, Morten (Henrik Rafaelsen).  During his absence, and sometimes even in his presence, she imagines the world he must surely be inhabiting, or craving to inhabit.  Is he present in the room, secretly watching her, or is he off seeking physical satisfaction from other women?  These doubts are what drive the entire film and start to create the nuanced narratives and characters within her mind.  Ingrid's narration introduces us to two peripheral characters: a single mother and a porn addicted loner.  These characters, complete with backstories, effortlessly blend into both her imagined world and reality with Morten.  It’s not until the absurdity of her creations start to unravel into more serious territory that we see the true reality behind her paranoia.

 

 

 

Bathed in a whitened glow, the ethereal Petersen creates an almost animalistic Ingrid.  Hungry for knowledge of the space around her, we become part of her desperation and playful demeanor.  As Ingrid states at the beginning: “They say that my ability to visualize will fade away.  That the optic lens wither without new impressions ... but I can maintain it”.  And maintain it she does.  Like one of the film's standout scenes, we stand with Ingrid, pressed against the surface of her apartment window, craving to see and be seen.  Currently available on DVD and UK/Ireland VOD platforms, Vogt has created a debut film that leaves behind a haunting, lingering memory of derailed reality long after watching.

 

Reviewed By: Indie Street's  Sarah Rice 

I Believe in Unicorns Film Review: an honest, raw look at how it

With a title like “I Believe in Unicorns”, audiences could easily be forgiven for expecting light, cheery fare.  It’s easy to see the fairytale charm on the surface of this story as it is the bind that visually holds the narrative’s progression together.  However, there is also a darker reality behind that whimsy.  This is more than your classic tale of young love and the intertwining magic that accompanies it.  Director Leah Meyerhoff’s offering often steers away from solely being a positive portrayal of love in order to show a much more raw perspective.  In this world of unicorns and fantasy, reality steps in to help tell the tale of a lustrous young girl’s sexual awakening.

 

As we are introduced to Davina (Natalia Dyer), we see the juxtaposition of her life: she is left both naïve and hardened by her home situation.  She exists as the sole caretaker of her disabled mother but constantly dreams of escaping that reality.  This has left her no choice but to escape via her vivid imagination.  As we get to know her character, we enter into her creation - an animated fairytale of unicorns and dragons.  Dyer is able to realistically embody that dueling mix of endearing youth and caged maturity evident within Davina.  However, this all starts to change when she falls in love with an older skateboarding punk named Sterling (Peter Vack).  Abandoned by his abusive father, Sterling draws Davina in with his carefree, dangerous attitude.  He’s everything her world hasn’t been able to be.  And as soon as they set their sights on each other, their wild and mad journey begins. 

 

There is something candidly real about this relationship as they discover each other and parts of themselves.  As the second half of the film shifts into more of a road trip movie, we twist down a road that starts to reveal more of its winding curves.  The contrast between the two lovers as they escape their pasts complements the fight between reality and fantasy constantly going on within Davina’s mind.  By escaping reality, they ironically get closer to their real existence.  As Sterling falls back on the abusive traits learned from his upbringing, fear starts to interrupt Davina’s fantasies, leaving her to crawl back into a now tainted, made up world.

 

Together, Director Leah Meyerhoff and actress Natalia Dyer make a visceral duo.  Meyerhoff’s direction coupled with Dyer’s natural approach to her character’s transition is evocative.  Meyerhoff is able to create a disarmingly simple yet complex world that, as a female director, enables her to show this story through the eyes of female youth and wonder.  Yet, this isn’t simply a story about a curious girl.  This is the story of a girl that wants to chase more, and for the first time in her life, feel more.  Her sexual awakening paints a nuanced portrait of a headstrong girl that gets in a bit over her head.  For both Davina and Sterling, upbringing has stained every part of their existence: past, present and future.  And at the end, as their road trip screeches to a halt, the weight of reality falls hard.  Fantasies must end.  We want a return to the safety of our initial understanding of our main female character.  We want, at least for now, her innocence restructured.

 

Sometimes “I Believe in Unicorns” gets lost within its own brand of whimsy.  However, beneath the hazy glow of its cinematography, this is effectively an honest, raw look at how it feels to grow up.  Similar to the mythical unicorn, Davina is like a beautiful, misunderstood creature.  It's through her eyes that the audience is guided on a voyage into the very human concepts of awakening and freedom.  Though sometimes the lessons are harsh, “I Believe in Unicorns” deals with that brutality in an original way.  Fantasy, in this case, is not a distancing technique.  Ironically, the addition of fantasy shows us more truth than reality would alone.  Currently available on Vimeo on Demand, it’s that innovative blend of two worlds that makes “I Believe in Unicorns” a worthwhile experience and a unique cinematic journey.

 

Reviewed by Indie Street's Sarah R Rice

Here's Why This Filmmaker Risked His Life To Make A Film

The award-winning documentary Saving Mes Aynak was a hit at IDFA 2014 and Full Frame 2015, but more than just a documentary it's also harnessing an activist campaign to save this ancient site.

READ MORE: The Best Documentary Filmmaking Advice from Full Frame Documentary Festival

The film follows archaeologist Qadir Temori as he races against time to save this 5,000-year-old Buddhist archeological site in Afghanistan from imminent demolition. It's endangered not only by religious fundamentalists, but by a Chinese mining company chasing corporate profits.

In traveling to the region on his own many times, "Saving Mes Aynak" director Brent E. Huffman risked his life at the hands of landlines and Taliban fighters. 

"It felt like my duty, my obligation, to tell this story and to spread the story about the imminent destruction of this incredible site," said Huffman in a video on Indiegogo. Read Full Story

Films saddled with the label “quirky” are often dismissed sight unseen these days as they’ve earned something of a bad rap in recent years. It’s frequently well-deserved as many attempt to take a shortcut into our good graces with oddball supporting characters, manic pixie dream girls and impromptu dance/singalong scenes, but few succeed because they’re usually surface-level efforts. So when a movie comes along that backs up its fun-loving eccentricities with raw honesty, sincere depth and glorious belly laughs you should pay attention. Read more

For the uninformed: Back in 1983 the video game industry crashed and burned, and a pretty terrible game adaptation of Spielberg's E.T. took (deservedly or undeservedly) a large part of the blame. On its last legs, Atari was forced to dump millions of unsold and returned cartridges of the E.T. video game into a landfill—or so the legend goes. For years, this was one the gaming industry's biggest urban legends, like a video game El Dorado. Read on

So I guess we should listen. IndieStreet loves brilliant human curation of film, and Scorsese is unsurpassed as a cinephile and film historian. His collaboration with The Criterion Collection on World Cinema Project is a merger of masters, and the first volume of classics does not disappoint. Check out the PopMatters Review here. We highly suggest you read more about the restoration mission of Scorsese's Organization, World Cinema foundation. Major Streetcreds!

When a director gets summonsed to court for filming an illegal activity, you know it must be a good documentary (read NY TImes Interview). This film from Lotfy Nathan is centered around "Reckless dirt bike riders that parade through Baltimore’s streets", but "it's important to remember that not every day is a joy ride. 12 O’Clock Boys is also a portrait of a family. Coco is raising Pug and his siblings without their father, in a community that is dangerous for reasons that have nothing to do with bike accidents. - See more at: http://www.filmschoolrejects.com/reviews/12-oclock-boys.php#sthash.rpY2f...