It’s film festival season once again, and after two years of darkness, theaters at cinema gatherings are filled with (still-masked) revelers and cinephiles. The Santa Barbara International Film Festival is back on the “American Riviera” in California, and SXSW is right now rocking down in Austin.
While things are back to happening in person, not all is back to “normal.” In addition to masks, last weekend’s Outstanding Directors of the Year Award event in Santa Barbara, which was supposed to be simultaneously streamed, was beset by a bug that required paying customers (including me) to watch the stream after the event. And thanks to covid still being very much a reality, only Kenneth Branagh and Paul Thomas Anderson attended in person, with other 2022 best picture nominees Jane Campion, Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Steven Spielberg participating via prerecorded interviews conducted by Scott Feinberg of “The Hollywood Reporter.”
Despite some bumps, at least there are in-person events at which to be bumpy. And there’s once again a bounty of great new films. Here are a few to definitely check out.
“A Vanishing Fog (SXSW)”
Director: Augusto Sandino
Colombian filmmaker Augusto Sandino has concocted a rather unique, trippy journey through his country’s Sumapaz Páramo area, a precious ecosystem that is endangered thanks to modernity and climate change. Sandino’s surreal tale follows a man known only as F (Sebastian Pii), who wanders a hinterland between reality and fantasy as his father fights against a crippling illness. That’s about all that can reasonably be said of the plop, which adheres to its own David Lynchian dream logic, with F the avatar of this most unusual cinematic journey.
See it for yourself; go in with an open mind and allow Sandino to cast his spell. And let’s hope we will see much more of his rather unique star, Mr. Pii.
“Not even for a moment do things stand still (SXSW)”
Director: Jamie Meltzer
This extraordinarily affecting film, in 15 minutes, manages to say so much about the incredible toll that the covid-19 pandemic has exacted in the past two years. Documentarian Jamie Meltzer takes his cameras to Washington, D.C.’s National Mall, where, last fall, artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg installed a white flag for each American who succumbed to the virus—hundreds of thousands of them. We witness grieving parents, children, relatives and friends of the deceased weeping for their lost loved ones, and clutching onto individual white banners as if, somehow, that might help the healing commence.
We are further shocked, and saddened, to learn that Firstenberg had to continually add more and more flags to the installation throughout its tenure in the nation’s capital. And if some Americans continue to stubbornly refuse the vaccine, she will need even more flags if the exhibit returns to Washington again this year.
“Fresh to Frightening—The Sharon Green Story (SBIFF)”
Director: Gareth Kelly
Sharon Green has quite an eye for photography, particularly when it comes to yacht racing. This engaging short documentary from Gareth Kelly not only showcases Green’s remarkable photography but also her tenacity to follow her own path and capture her images at nearly any setting.
“Tomorrow’s Hope: The Promise of Early Childhood Education (SXSW)”
Director: Thomas Morgan
A touching short documentary about the power of education not only to illuminate but to lift up. Thomas Morgan demonstrates how a program in Chicago called the Educare School helps the kids of a poverty-stricken census tract to see that there is more to life than the horror they were born into. Depression among these students, most of them African American, is rampant, and far too many of Morgan’s interview subjects have lost friends and siblings to gang violence—doubtless further undermining their own development. The teens in “Tomorrow’s Hope” are a study in perseverance, and even those who aren’t blessed with supportive families seem to be given a chance thanks to the patience and motivation of their educators.
“Really Good Rejects (SXSW)”
Director: Alice Gu
Reuben Cox may be the most famous non-famous person in Los Angeles. Cox, an East Coast photographer, migrated west, where his hand-fashioned stringed instruments are the toast of Tinseltown. He custom-builds instruments for no less than the likes of Jackson Browne, who appears in the film alongside such other notables as Carrie Brownstein, Aaron Dessner, Jim James, Phoebe Bridgers and Perfume Genius. These famous ax-slingers of sublime talent wax about how Cox’s instruments of beauty are able to unleash not just a sound but also a feeling.
Cox is humble and quiet, and admits that he prefers to speak through his art. His many clients seem more than happy to let his creations speak for the shy artisan.
Featured image: “A vanishing fog,” directed by Augusto Sandino