Thursday, June 16, 2022

Breaking the Silence


This intensely personal documentary explores mental illness in an innovative way through the eyes of the filmmaker himself, because writer, director and producer Dara Sanandaji is the subject of his own film. Creating a movie about yourself is a professional and cinematic risk, to be sure, but Sanandaji pulls off the feat through extensive analysis and considerable use of expert testimony. He makes some assertions and observations, too.

Part of the project's success can be attributed to his fine education. Sanandaji earned a BA in Economics from Dartmouth in 2000 and a JD from Chicago-Kent College of Law in 2006 before embarking on a career that ultimately led to filmmaking. At times, the film has an educational look and feel, making it a worthwhile experience for anyone who's interested in the subject of mental health. At the same time, the filmmaker's personal take on his condition is relatable to anyone who has experienced mental health issues firsthand. 

His surprising message? Mental illness is a bad thing, but it's not all bad. You can watch the trailer here: Breaking the Silence Trailer 

Love and Communication


When filmmaker James Christy Jr.  set out to write, produce and direct Love and Communication, he had something urgent to say. His son had been diagnosed with autism at the age of three, setting off a distressing whirlwind of efforts by Christy and his wife to obtain the best possible therapies. The couple quickly discovered a Kafkaesque landscape of conflicting advice, school officials in denial and seemingly endless online research. The situation no doubt put strain on their marriage while their child marked time at best. 

The whole ordeal is brought to light through this fictional, but true to life, narrative feature film. Christy's home base of Princeton, New Jersey, an area best known for stately homes and an Ivy League university, seems an unlikely place for a grinding struggle. Surely, they must have had the best doctors and healthcare options at their fingertips? 

Apparently not. Autism can strike any family, and Christy's affecting account suggests that the system around autism care needs to improve for everyone. You can watch the trailer here: Love and Communication Trailer

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Wake


Experimental films are typically more experienced than understood, stirring up thoughts and feelings about a work uniquely for each viewer. 

Wake is a surreal journey inside the unconscious mind of a young man. Two narratives run in parallel, with one involving him emerging from beneath sand on a beach while strange forces keep him shackled around the neck, and the other involving him watching static on an old TV set while an old fisherman evokes buried memories. 

Cinematic excellence makes the whole experience a visual and auditory treat despite the pervasively depressed mood. The story arc of the tormented man's life is left a mystery, but some apparent realities seep through the crashing waves of his island-like mind. In the end, Director Brendan Kissane leaves much to the imagination, perhaps asking his audience members to probe deeper to dig out their own, buried truths. You can watch the trailer here: Wake Trailer

Tasteless


A chef in a bustling Tel Aviv restaurant already has a lot on her plate, but when she returns to work after the COVID shutdown with no ability to taste and smell, the resurgent eatery descends into chaos. Louisa insists she can perform her job with sight and feel, but her conviction is not necessarily shared by others within her circle. 

This TV pilot features a sympathetic heroine who, like so many of us, struggles mightily to get back to normal after a brutal lockdown. Shot on location in Israel and produced, written and directed by Queens, New York-based helmer Amnon Carmi, Tasteless presents the look and feel of a city with sophisticated tastes, high expectations and a pragmatic ethos that one should either contribute or step aside. Carmi takes you to that exciting and challenging place, then lets you see what's happening behind the scenes, where talented professionals strive and make things work—despite it all.  

You can watch the trailer here: 


Saturday, June 11, 2022

Click

A rock singer who has been constantly hounded and abused by her boyfriend has had enough. On the run from the creep, she stumbles into a photographer who has problems of his own. A friendship forms immediately and they're stronger together, but now action is needed. 

This social conscience film points to a sub-set of domestic violence that involves people who are not trapped by marriage, yet find themselves imperiled by someone else's twisted need for control. Queens, New York Writer and Director Guil Parreiras employs two types of abuse victims in the story, thus pointing out that victimhood comes in many forms. Furthermore, the film demonstrates that abusers will not necessarily limit their offenses to one person. 

Although painful to watch and hard-edged, Click draws you in. Moments of art enhance the humanity of the victims, making the offenses of the abuser even more detestable and alarming. You can watch the trailer here (parental discretion advised): Click Trailer

Friday, June 10, 2022

Yuanyuan


When a six-year-old girl named Yuanyuan finds her teacher and father in a spontaneous hug, her inexperienced mind cannot process the sight, but it sure feels odd and wrong. Compounding the problem, her unborn brother is bringing tension to the family. After a classmate describes the former situation as an affair, a term she doesn't really grasp, Yuanyuan sets off to create problems for her parents and, in turn, bring calm and stability back to the family's home. 

It's a bold plan, and naive, and this little girl in China is going to disturb the universe in a way she cannot control. Director Shiyue Xu, a native of Tianjin who studied film at Hofstra and the New York Film Academy, reveals a gentle, comic touch with this dramatic material. When combined with Xu's fine production values, the cheeky story delivers a well-aimed jab at dysfunctional marriages by showing how callow spouses who openly quarrel can look when compared with the children they affect. 

You can watch the trailer here: 

Sunday, June 5, 2022

The Inside Outside


This thoroughly modern project started when Co-Director Adrienne Mackey tapped into her game design and immersive theater backgrounds to offer an interactive experience to people who hike nature trails. It was a wild idea by her own reckoning, but it was also a timely and marketable concept. Soon she landed a collaboration deal with the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC) and incorporated—prepare for some 21st century terminology—locative immersive media experiences into the mix. If this all sounds a mite confusing, consider further that the project's architects have synthesized cutting-edge technologies with timeless Mother Nature and old-fashioned storytelling to create The Inside Outside. This short is one of 10 film spin-offs from the trail app series, and the section of trail presented in this episode runs straight through New Hope. 

Co-Director Nazlah Black (they/them) is an Administrative Associate at SwimPony, Mackey's interactive performing arts company, and they earn director's credits for the contribution. Self-described adventurers who jet between the east and west coasts when not indulging in passions for baking, watching esports and reading poetry, Black no doubt enhanced the film's whimsical spirit. Local author Erin McMillon and actor  Brian Anthony Wilson brought additional celebrity cred to the project. 

So much is going on around this not-quite-7-minute-long short film, an audience could not possibly discern the backstory from the narrative, which by the way is ghostly and subtly comic. But now you know the larger tale behind the making of this distinctive and quirky little film, and if your interest is piqued, you can watch the trailer here: The Inside Outside Trailer

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Mountains We Climb


After nailing a personal best at the 2019 Bucks County Classic professional cycling race, Chris Baccash looked forward to a promising future as an endurance athlete. The hard training and demanding lifestyle were paying off big via personal accomplishments, camaraderie and exceptional fitness. But all the burgeoning success went from flash to crash when he received an unsettling diagnosis. From that point forward, Baccash had much bigger hills to climb—indeed, a mountain, as the title of this documentary says.

A graduate of CB East High School, Director Ryan Canney has roots in the Bucks County area. A homespun, GoPro style of filmmaking, combined with his local affinity, manifests in a film with lots of sentimental appeal. Here is an example of an athlete whose achievements are more impressive than trophies. You can watch the trailer here: Mountains We Climb Trailer

Friday, May 20, 2022

I Mustache You


Poor, dearest Abby. Obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety and agoraphobia are aligned against her, quashing her big life-in-New York dream. The city lights, the shopping, and the bustling sidewalks...it's all so close yet elusive, huddled as she is inside her modest apartment. She might as well ditch it all and move upstate, or Iowa for that matter, because she's paying all this rent for next to nothing. 

Then something happens. Something exciting, mysterious and yes romantic! She receives an anonymous love letter, and suddenly the magic of the Big Apple is not only possible but alive in her heart. It doesn't matter who wrote the letter or whether they're at all a match. The outside world is suddenly not so frightening, after all, and now she can finally take down this town and show everyone who's on top. 

Filmmaker Shara Ashley Zeiger produced this film entirely MOS (a film biz acronym representing "without sound" in German), and it's a brilliant choice. Abby's inner dialogue is not audible, anyway, and she doesn't need to say a thing to get a little needed help. You can watch the trailer here: I Mustache You Trailer

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Something in the Clouds


When a 14-year-old boy witnesses a kidnapping on his normally quiet, residential street, he's understandably shocked. Feeling a sense of panic over the situation unfolding, he gathers his thoughts. Something needs to be done, and fast, but should a kid his age really tackle an emergency or should he call for proper help? 

The problem is a lack of time. The car is getting away and there may be only one chance to save his trapped neighbor. Then the boy remembers his father's words about bravery and always doing the right thing. Springing into action, he races outside, hops on his bike and chases after the speeding car. It's a wild pursuit and his adrenaline is sky high. 

There is one more complication, too. The boy happens to be black, the girl is white, and they're on a collision course with the police. Nothing is going to stop him from saving her in this critical moment, even at risk of a misunderstanding with law enforcement. He has little time for such thoughts now. He's going to save the girl, period. 

Co-directors Josh Sikkema and Johnny Ray both grew up in Michigan before heading to Los Angeles, where their accomplishments include working with top recording artists such as the Rolling Stones and Snoop Dogg. Their story arcs have given them much to say and the talent to say it well. Something in the Clouds is a thought-provoking film that will stop you in your tracks. It asks everyone to take a few moments to reflect and weigh before making any life-or-death judgment. 

You can watch the trailer here: 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

BOXED


Haunted by memories of their journey to Auschwitz in a dimly lit boxcar, an American couple searches for a refuge from decades of pain. They find this special place on the dance floor, a realm where they can be as intimate as ever while keeping their trajectories, both physical and emotional, under their own control. 

Esteemed director Alyn Darnay brings considerable experience to this indie project from Florida, but BOXED is only his second film about the Holocaust. It's a novel break from many films about this period of history, too, because Darnay's theme is more about triumph than suffering. 

After a nightmarish experience, this husband-and-wife team finds a way to live and move forward. You can watch the trailer here: BOXED Trailer

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Call Now


A man is glued to his TV set while the shopping channel touts a whizbang new vacuum cleaner; his own unit is on the blink. The host of the show is one oily pitchman, so the viewer quickly fumbles for his credit card and grabs a phone. 

Too bad that all-important phone number keeps flashing across the screen before he can write it down. Moreover, the emcee is sporting a grin, which is maddening. Needing that gosh-darn vacuum cleaner more than anything, and worried it might sell out, the man persists. 

After a few minutes of this lopsided dynamic, one begins to wonder whether the man on the TV is just messing with a wannabe consumer. That would be impossible, of course, because everyone knows a TV host can't interact with the audience at home. Ahem—the world envisioned by Kutztown University College of Visual and Performing Arts student Cody Hawley is strange indeed. You can watch the trailer here: Call Now Trailer

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Raised Up West Side


Many films screened at the New Hope Film Festival are made from a perspective of advancing the culture and improving people's lives, and this documentary is a great example, as it delves into the many challenges facing Chicago's West Side. Known for gun violence and, at least among non-residents, not much else, this predominantly black section of the third largest city in the United States exists in a vortex of mass incarceration, food insecurity and disparate life expectancy. 

But there is hope. Featuring interviews with ex-offenders, social workers and entrepreneurs, Raised Up West Side exposes many kinds of problems, but also offers ideas and solutions. Along the way, the film reveals how pride, clarity and tenacity can exist within a community even as many residents feel overwhelmed and abandoned. 

It's easy to be hardened by the troubles of the world, and certainly many folks in this urban community have experienced hard circumstances. At times, their lives have been pure hell. To his great credit, producer/director Brett A. Schwartz made this constructive film all about the antidote to such numbness: caring, then doing something thoughtful about it. You can watch the trailer here: Raised Up West Side Trailer

Monday, May 2, 2022

The Call of Water


Set in the lush Rocky Mountains of Colorado, this independently produced short film started as an NYU Tisch School of the Arts thesis project until the COVID pandemic shut down educational institutions. From that challenging position, helmer Kaya Tone continued undaunted, drawing from her rich imagination, childhood memories of the area and a talented filmmaking team. The rock-strewn, unpaved road to completing The Call of Water must have informed a storyboard that leads to quite trippy and existential places. 

High on mushrooms and faced with selling the family homestead, lead character Nadia plunges into the astral plane, coming face-to-face with a mythologically inspired creature called The Horned One. A guardian of the land and water, this strange being will release Nadia's soul back into her body only under certain conditions related to its captive's earthly responsibilities. Nadia is trapped inside her own imagination by something that exists outside her mind, and the only means of escape is to do the right thing. 

Tone produced the film with an ethical concern for the environment to the extent of running a green set; love for her Colorado homeland and the ecology in which it resides is evident throughout. Punctuating undercurrents of appreciation and longing with moments of fear, she hints that all can be swept away forever by unwise decisions. You can watch the trailer here: 



Tuesday, April 26, 2022

For I Am Dead


In the late 19th century, a wealthy bachelor reflects on his barren emotional life while immersed in all the luxuries a man can buy. Courtesans, a maid and a gardener are at his beck and call well into the evening, and the mansion around him is stunning, but Oscar has never fulfilled his deepest desires. His feelings are repressed not just by him, but by others, because his secret passions run for Jude—the gardener—and same sex relationships are strictly verboten.  

Director Patricia Delso Lucas, who is based in Brussels, ignites these sentiments into a slow burn throughout For I Am Dead. Candlelight flickers in a vast room, cascading flames and light into an otherwise dim environment and bringing the facial expressions of everyone into haunting relief. Smoke from nearby fires drifts and rises. There is a looming, gothic sense of death here, as Oscar is both spiritually dead and physically dying. To mitigate the situation, he must confess his love right now. Then Jude enters the scene as the devil or an angel or both, beckoning, as if from the other side. 

So much is opaque and out of grasp, yet clearly felt, in this searing short film from Europe. You can watch the trailer here: For I Am Dead Trailer