Each month the Indie Prof reviews films in theaters or on DVD or streaming services. Follow “Indie Prof” on Facebook for updates about film events and more reviews.
April brings us the Women+Film mini-fest, a wonderful compilation of films from around the world, by women and about women.
As described by the Denver Film Society: “The Women+Film Festival is a six-day showcase of documentaries, narratives and short films celebrating the best in women-centric programming. The Festival includes panel discussions, in-person guests and receptions while highlighting thought-provoking, inspirational stories of women from around the world. The festival is a part of the Denver Film Society’s year-round Women+Film program, the mission of which is to promote films for, by, and about women to engage with the audience, build community, educate and inspire.”
What follows are short reviews of three of the Festival offerings, but please see the Film Center website for a full list of films and showtimes.
Sticky Notes (2016)
There is a wonderful jouissance to a first-time filmmaker’s debut. You can fast forward and see the themes fully formed, a style developed to the point of ease, and the marriage of theme and style flowing seamlessly. When you look back at Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets, you see the seeds of Goodfellas; when you look back at Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark, you can see Zero Dark Thirty. Sometime in the future, we will look back at Sticky Notes and see the seeds of Amanda Sharp.
The story concerns a young woman (Leslie Rose) in L.A. trying to make it as a dancer when she finds out her father (Ray Liotta) is dying of cancer (in Florida). She returns to help him but is ill prepared to take care of him nor the young daughter she left with him (or so it seems). They share a close but unemotional relationship—neither one able to express real feelings/emotions—and both tend to drown their sorrows in various vices/activities. It is a well-acted and well-directed film (with a twist!) that is extremely engaging and watchable. It also shows great promise and ability as a filmmaker.
See it at the Sie Film Center on Sunday, April 9 at 6:30pm. Director Amanda Sharp will be in person at the screening.
Jennifer Brea was an active Harvard Ph.D. student when a mysterious illness rendered her semi-comatose and unable to move. She is eventually diagnosed with ME, commonly known as chronic fatigue syndrome, or what many call an illness that is “all in your head.” In this fascinating film, she documents her own pain, the plight of others who share her situation, and the difficulties the people in their lives encounter (including her husband, Omar). It is a sad and difficult position for everyone.
This is a raw, difficult, powerful, and personal film that is at times hard to watch and at other points potentially uplifting. But this is real life, and all progress is tempered by setbacks. The tense and personal atmosphere is highlighted through the filming, which is mostly home video that gets you up close and personal with everyone. Filming in close quarters, in minimal light, and in mostly static compositions forces you to live with each person—in their world—for a short period of time. It is very effective and very affecting.
See it at the Sie Film Center Saturday, April 8 from 6:30–8:30pm. Skype Q&A with Jennifer Brea post-screening.
Little Wing (2016)
This debut feature film comes from Finnish director Selma Vilhunen, a former Academy Award nominee in the shorts category. It tells the story of 12-year-old Varpu, a young girl on a quest to find the father she never knew while managing the life of an interstitial pre-teen. She lives a life “between”: between young girl and teenager, between adolescent and adult (between her and her mother, she is the more mature), and between worlds—the horse-riding camp of her upper-class schoolmates and the “other side of the tracks” apartment in the lower-income section of town where she lives with her mother. She is a girl who wants to be a girl but is being forced into the cruel realities of the adult world, too soon.
One juxtaposition tells the story nicely: Varpu riding horses at her camp while later, her friends from the neighborhood steal a car and Varpu finds that she is a natural at driving (even though her mother has failed the driving test four times). The images of her riding a horse and then driving a car tell the story of her world, wonderfully and visually, as only a poetic film can do. To call it a “coming-of-age” story would be unfair to the film, since it is such a nuanced, non-stereotypical (dare I say not-American), and intimate portrait.
See it at the Sie Film Center on Wednesday, April 5 at 7:30pm.
Vincent Piturro, Ph.D., is an associate professor of Cinema Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.