Thursday, June 27, 2019

Signs of Aging

When a skincare salesperson makes a house call to pitch her line of anti-aging creams, she ends up alone in the living room with a woman who appears remarkably youthful for her age. The sales tactic had already been a little offensive with the emphasis on using a beauty product to improve one's reputation for competence, but as the two women converse things get downright creepy.

Director Tara Gadomski, a Philadelphia-based filmmaker and 2019 Sundance Knight Fellow, uses lighting and color design in subtle ways to play with the theme of appearance versus worth, and when added to the film's haunting undertone her cinematic choices demonstrate how a visual narrative can drive a story—whether it's the story in a film or one created in someone's mind.

You can read more about Signs of Aging in The News Eagle and you can watch the trailer here: Signs of Aging Trailer

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Another Yesterday

This heartwarming story concerns three high school misfits who collectively form a stronger clique than any tormenters they face possibly could in their immature states—and the schoolyard bullies are in out in full force. There is much to be said for understanding and appreciating differences while finding common ground, and the deep bond among these otherwise outcast teens is palpable.

Director Steven Heil brought considerable experience to the set of Another Yesterday, having directed five productions that won recognition in national competitions while pursuing undergraduate studies at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, and most recently having won competitive selection to Hollywood's uberrespected Creative Minds in Sundance program. Heil's craftsmanship shows in many ways, from the outstanding performances he gets from the cast across the board, to the artful shots and the appropriate score. It's all there, distributors take note.

Someone watching the film critically might note the ultra-low budget, but who really cares about such trifles when the story draws you in so close to the characters and everything is oh-so-real? You can watch the trailer here: Another Yesterday Trailer

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Let It Go: The Cat Thief

Dark and atmospheric, this music video by new-on-the-scene Pasadena filmmaker Jonathan Raines evokes 80s sounds from artists such as Michael Sembello, Annie Lennox and even Depeche Mode, but perhaps with a purer, less synthesized aesthetic.

The colon between the two halves of the title punctuates the collaboration behind the project because the music and performance are by his friend and fellow Californian Nadine Ellman, who knows how to grab a hook and run with it—or stalk the night as a diamond thief.

You can watch a teaser here: The Cat Thief Teaser

Wednesday, June 19, 2019


Filmed in Birmingham, Alabama by three-time NHFF filmmaker Whitney Hamilton, who also goes by the name Whit, Union tells the story of a woman who takes on the identity of her slain brother Henry during the American Civil War. When new Henry meets former Henry's widow Virginia (richly played by Alabama native Virginia Newcomb), sparks fly and expedience leads them into a most improper-at-the-time relationship. Hence the movie's title "Union" speaks more to the story than the title would suggest—the film is actually set on the Confederate side of the war.

Whitney Hamilton has freely played the roles of men throughout her career as a producer, director and actor, and this film is the pinnacle of her work to date. Union is cinematically vast, but also intimate, and the core theme of the story is a largely unexplored one for the period—gender identity, a subject that makes Hamilton highly relevant to the zeitgeist. But that is an incomplete description for her as a filmmaker, because many women did, in fact disguise themselves as men during the Civil War and Union is based on a true story. This film is not only hip to the times, but also respectful of history, and that balance of seeming opposites is an achievement.

Adding to the complexity, this is a Civil War film set in the South and produced by Bjornquest Films, which is based in Brooklyn. Like the battlefields it depicts, Union puts preconceived notions and casual opinions on perilous ground, as Hamilton-Newcomb reveal in two emotionally loaded performances. Anyone delving into the state of affairs today, and how we got here, will benefit from watching ambitious, finely wrought films like this one.

You can watch the trailer here: Union Trailer

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Happy Birthday Rachel Confrancisco

Some patrons of the New Hope Film Festival only attend student films. The energy, the creativity, the devil-may-care freedom, whatever it may be, there is a certain je ne sais quoi to student film programs, and budget be damned they really can win you over.

Enter Happy Birthday Rachel Confrancisco, an eponymous short film with a sassy, bold attitude that stays on point from start to finish. Confrancisco in real life is tall for a woman, and she says it's a challenge justifying the extra space in the world that she occupies. On her 18th birthday, she's had enough of feeling self-conscious and apart from the norm, and now she is demanding...DEMANDING...that everyone take notice of her.

Not everyone does, and her TA in freshman English class can't even pronounce Rachel Sanfrancisco's name. The indignity of it all it too much when, after all freshmen are already low on the totem pole. (Ed. - Correction, her surname is spelled Confrancisco).

Rachel is cool, always taking her slights in stride while finding ways to up the ante. You've heard about the Boomer's Me Generation, and my own Generation X's (alleged) indifference to group identity, but no one should stand in the way of the selfie generation juggernaut, or engage the wrath of women like Rachel Confrancrisco.

You get the idea. A belated Happy Birthday, Rachel Confrancisco. We really like your film. You can watch the trailer here:

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Last Witness

Based on true events, The Last Witness by UK-based helmer Piotr Szkopiak delves into a morbid and long covered up crime committed by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. The Katyn Massacre of Spring 1940 involved the execution of 22,000 Polish military and bourgeois civilians in a remote forest. Due to the Soviet Union's World War II alliance with western countries and many subsequent Cold War sensitivities, official blame for the massacre went to the Nazi regime, a claim hard to dispute when Hitler had committed so many crimes of his own.

When British journalist Stephen Underwood (Alex Pettyfer) came across a spate of suicides by Polish soldiers, his editor abruptly and suspiciously advised him to bury the story. But the reporter sensed a much larger story was in play and went on the hunt. Unlucky for him, there were many forces aligned against him; even in post-war England it was dangerous pursuit.

The murder of innocent civilians who might pose a political threat to communist regimes was a salient feature of 20th century history and this film stands out as a testimony to the violence. The Last Witness is a taut thriller with a moral edge and it ought to be watched.

You can watch the trailer here: The Last Witness Trailer

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Ek Aasha

Some films touch you and some films entertain, but sometimes a film has a strong mission for effecting change. This is one of those films.

Ek Aasha translates to "One Hope," and the hope of the Indian and Australian transgender activists behind this film is to raise awareness about the human rights crisis that currently exists among transgender people in India. We encountered the issue firsthand after learning that lead actress Disha Yadav (Aasha) could not make the journey to New Hope and see her performance on a festival screen due to legal identity issues for her passport—she is more or less trapped inside her own country at the moment. Imagine living that kind of life.

It gets worse. Transgenders in India are rampantly discriminated against, say these filmmakers, and frequently find themselves driven into prostitution instead of pursuing their vocational dreams because doors to mainstream occupations are slammed in their faces. This film is well worth watching. The story centers around a transgender girl's aspiration to become a teacher. It's a simple and honorable wish that most people on the planet could easily take for granted.

Writer and director Mayur Katariya, producer Jasmine Evans, Stas Solodkin in India Sound post-production and cinematographer Dean Lusk, among many others, all working through Melbourne, Australia's MOR Films production company, have a big heart and a sense of urgency because they know many transgenders will continue to suffer until enough people are stirred up and these dire circumstances are corrected.

You can watch the trailer here: Ek Aasha Trailer

Friday, June 7, 2019

My Million Dollar Mom

This superb short features a middle-aged son, Ross, and his aging Mom Shirley as they struggle to reconcile his dream of running for Congress with her needs as a sufferer of dementia. Writer and producer Ross Schriftman, who essentially plays himself in a role that is at least somewhat autobiographical—we will have to wait for the Q&A to get the back story—possesses a deeply impressive sense of character, story and detail, and when combined with many thoughtful choices in production and direction, the film is thoroughly engrossing.

And impactful. The ending lands hard but in an introspective way, bringing a man full circle as he grapples with who he is and what he really wants to accomplish in life. It's a worthwhile story to tell, indeed. You can watch the trailer here: My Million Dollar Mom