And the Oscar Goes To… Not a Clue

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AFIDOCS 2021: Arty Chick’s Download

This year was a distance festival. There were opportunities to be in the theaters in DC, but I chose to watch everything online from afar, on my couch. That’s a mixed blessing. No running from theater to theater. No missing something because it overlapped with another film. No frozen feet from arctic-cooled theaters. Lots of good snuggles with my dog. But also no standing in line with other festival-goers and talking about what we’ve seen and loved. No Q&A’s after the films. (There were some that were available, but it just didn’t seem the same taped from a distance.) And no watching films in some of DC’s beautiful landmarks like the National Archives. A slew of distractions that made it very different from sitting in a dark room with an audience. And for me the worst part was that I don’t have a big screen television, so some of the films were definitely shortchanged.

Nevertheless, it was a good festival and there were several films I will be thinking of for a while. The Audience Award for Best Feature went to one of my faves for sure, Storm Lake. It is a smaller film and I hope that the award will mean it gets seen by a lot more people.

The films I saw were: The First Step – Radiograph of a Family – Rise Again: Tulsa and the Red Summer – LFG – Storm Lake –  The Neutral Ground – The One and Only Dick Gregory – Obama: In Pursuit of a More Perfect Union –  Roadrunner: A Film about Anthony Bourdain – The Story Won’t Die –  Daughter of a Lost Bird –  and The Lost Leonardo.

Review: Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It

EGOT*. If you know what that is, you may also be aware of Rita Moreno’s body of work. This film about her is a fairly straightforward tribute documentary, with talking heads and film clips, but the woman who emerges is so impressive. At the ripe old age of 89 (87 in the film), she’s still going strong, still fighting for representation, still acting and being her feisty self. But what Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It does beyond going over her extraordinary career in film, and stage, and television, is shine a bright light on the obstacles put in her way at every single step and her indomitable passion to be seen. I knew her name and have seen some of her work, but listening to her talk candidly about her life gave me a whole other level of appreciation for her.

Review: FTA

This fascinating documentary is a time capsule from 1971. It follows Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland and the rest of the theatrical troupe Free Theater Associates around America’s Pacific army bases as they perform an anti-war comedy show for the troops. Fonda and Sutherland had just finished working together on Klute and were both anti-war activists. All the skits were taken from military newspaper stories and as you can see in the film, it was a huge hit with the soldiers, many of whom had become anti-war supporters despite still being in the military. The film cuts back and forth between the performances on stage and groups of soldiers talking about their experiences in Viet Nam and the military in general. Black soldiers talk about the racism. Women talk about the sexism. They all talk about the problem of being in a war that nobody wants. It all feels way too familiar. 

Review: Sorry to Bother You

One of the best films I’ve seen lately, Sorry to Bother You doesn’t fit neatly into any of the usual genres. It’s an audacious anti-capitalist sci-fi comedy set in an alternate Oakland. The number one TV show has people getting punched in the face for money, and a nefarious mega-corporation called WorryFree has set up a program where people are being willingly enslaved. The central character is Cassius Green (LaKeith Stanfield, Atlanta, Get Out) known to his friends as “Cash” who lands a job as a telemarketer for WorryFree and quickly masters the secret key to success, moving him upstairs to become a power caller, where the pay is unbelievable if you can just get over what you’re doing. Meanwhile his friends, co-workers, and girlfriend downstairs are organizing a strike to force WorryFree to pay them what they’re worth. And Cash has to decide where his loyalties lie.

Promised Land

Promised Land is a well-acted and well-meaning movie that unfortunately lacks the one key ingredient that every good drama desperately needs… drama. It’s almost too balanced for its own good, raising issues that could easily provoke and placate supporters and opponents of ‘fracking’, the controversial process of using water, sand and chemicals to fracture underground rock formations to obtain gas, oil, etc. That may be the intent of co-writers and co-stars Matt Damon and John Krasinsky. But the result is a movie that plods along at a mellow pace, without any major spikes of heart, romance, humor, horror, or grit.