Dances with Films LA: Jesse Spiegel’s “REWILDING,” Nem Stankovic’s “MY FRIEND TOMMY” and Zahida Pirani’s “EL CARRITO” | WHAT WE LIKE

Last Updated: June 19, 2022By Tags:

Director: Jesse Spiegel

Jesse Spiegel got into a lot of trouble as a young man, but his wealthy parents were always able to assist with legal counsel when he landed in court. However, Spiegel couldn’t forget the many Black faces in the courtroom, present without legal representation of any kind. Now an adult, Spiegel has abandoned his hedonistic ways and, through his passion for mountain climbing, is offering underprivileged teens the chance to experience the great outdoors.

That’s where “Rewilding,” Spiegel’s intriguing documentary, commences. He and Czech climber Vitek Linhart take under their wing a former inmate of Rikers Island named Anthony Dejesus, who has never even left New York, let alone seen the American West. Linhart and Spiegel teach Dejesus not only about rock climbing but also try to share their own wisdom—though Spiegel realizes, during a scary moment in Las Vegas, that perhaps his experience and Dejesus’s are unbridgeable due to race alone. But both parties nonetheless continue to try.

Fascinating and inspiring, and with some stellar footage of climbs in Colorado and California, “Rewilding” shows that it’s never too late for second chances, and that those among us who need the most support are also the most underestimated (featured image).


“My Friend Tommy”
Director/Producer: Nem Stankovic

The best stories make us laugh, tear up and, most importantly, empathize with someone else. Nem Stankovic is a Toronto-based filmmaker and onetime basketball player; while searching for a film subject, he couldn’t stop thinking about his best friend, Tommy Lee, the son of Korean immigrants who still lives at home at 40. He also has five college degrees and has a certain charm and positivity about him. He is also one of the millions of adult virgins worldwide, and has never had a bank account or even done his own laundry. His parents are not just traditional but religiously conservative. They give him a weekly allowance of $60.

What begins as Stankovic’s profile of this real-life forty year-old virgin becomes a growing-up odyssey of sorts. In short order, Stankovic and his buddies will gently–and occasionally not so gently–help Lee do some adulting. This is as anodyne as getting Lee his first ever credit card, but naturally, the fellas would like to see their friend experience his first kiss, lap dance, and, they hope, sex of any kind.

And what’s the best place for any or all of this to occur? On the road, naturally. The group travels first to New York, where Lee is commanded to walk Central Park and ask women for phone numbers. On the street he meets a rather sweet young lady who agrees to accompany Lee on his first ever date, which incredibly lasts for six hours even without sex. Then it’s off to Miami for his first visit to a strip club before Lee, Stankovic and their wolf pack head to the west coast for yet more shenanigans.

It’s at this point that “My Friend Tommy” takes an intriguing turn. Stankovic and Lee, who have been best friends for decades, begin to spar. Lee, understandably, feels he is being made fun of on camera; he’d rather not be a figure of amusement. He also shares that he has a skin condition that has made him feel ashamed to even remove his shirt, and which has sapped his self-confidence. Stankovic then turns the camera onto himself as he experiences his own crisis. This is heightened when the trip comes to Los Angeles: While filming at UCLA, Stankovic realizes how much he misses his basketball career, cut short early by injury, and thus spirals at beholding the game he was forced to abandon.

Is this why he is torturing Lee, who dreams of being a sportscast, as stand-in for Stankovic’s own throttled ambitions?

He had so many hopes and dreams, and his lovely film becomes not only Stankovic’s quest to help Lee lose his V-card, but also about Stankovic perhaps re-finding and reinventing himself in his artistic career. “My Friend Tommy” is, above all, a study in the strength of friendship, even one tested in the crucible of creating art.

“El Carrito”
Writer/Director: Zahida Pirani

The “little cart” of the film’s title is owned by a young woman named Nelly (Eli Zavala), who walks the streets of New York selling tamales. In a chilling echo of the Italian neorealism film “The Bicycle Thief” from over a half-century ago, her cart is stolen, forcing Nelly to contemplate not just being poor but being poor and having no way to make money.

In less than fifteen minutes, writer/director Zahida Pirani tells a bracing tale that stands in for so many people whose lives depend on not thriving but merely scraping by.

Filmmaker Zahida Pirani

DWF/LA (Dances with Films) which celebrates 25 this year takes place from June 15th to the 19th in Los Angeles, Calif.