Last week’s entry in this feature was postponed due to the Black Lives Matter protests. They’re still ongoing, so I don’t want this to distract from them. Please support them, follow them, and pay attention to them.
Some of these films do tackle other fights that intersect with BLM and these protests. The first entry concerns the actions of Border Patrol and ICE, which are policing agencies that have similarly broken the law. They’re operating concentration camps and in one case, are actively using industrial detergent to gas detainees into worsening health and lethal consequences.
How to go from that to talking about a film about a dog is difficult, but platforming the work of women is something that is still an ongoing project. I don’t want to lose sight of any of this, which can be difficult when things are so overwhelming. It’s important to still be pursuing and building support for all of these fights.
The Infiltrators (digital rental)
co-directed by Cristina Ibarra
Cristina Ibarra is a documentary filmmaker whose work has been featured on PBS’s venerable “P.O.V.” Her co-director here is Alex Rivera, who has focused on narrative filmmaking. The result in “The Infiltrators” looks like a unique blend of each, dramatizing events while simultaneously contextualizing them with real footage in a documentarian framework.
Here, undocumented youth get themselves detained by Border Patrol so they can help other detainees who are already imprisoned reach out for help and legal aid.
As I said in my intro, that this comes out in the wake of news that ICE is essentially gassing detainees en masse using industrial disinfectant only makes it more pressing. Immigration detention centers now amount to extermination camps; let’s not pretend anything else.
You can rent “The Infiltrators” from Amazon Prime, Google Play, or YouTube for $4.
Born in Evin (digital rental)
directed by Maryam Zaree
“Born in Evin” refers to the literal birthplace of director Maryam Zaree. Evin is an Iranian political prison. Zaree’s parents were imprisoned there for opposing the theocratic regime that took over after the Iranian Revolution of 1979.
(It’s important to recognize the climate for this was created in large part by the previous U.S.- and U.K.-backed coup that overthrew democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953.)
Many who opposed the new theocratic regime of Iran were imprisoned, and Zaree was hardly the only baby born at Evin. She was brought to Germany at two years old by her mother, while her father remained in prison. “Born in Evin” tells the story of generational and cultural trauma, of coping with it and carrying forward the resistance it must teach.
Zaree herself has acted in a range of German films, and this is her feature-length directorial debut.
You can rent “Born in Evin” from Google Play or YouTube for $4, or Amazon Prime for $5.
directed by Josephine Decker
I don’t afford this policy for many actors, but I unquestionably trust Elisabeth Moss’s choice in projects. She’s arguably made the best choices of any Millennial actor. A lot of that is – of course – what she then brings to those projects.
Back on “The West Wing”, she was thought of as the one part of a great ensemble who couldn’t act, but who we liked anyway. Yet if you looked at that ensemble today, she probably stands as the best and most versatile actor of the bunch outside of Martin Sheen. Her career is one of grounding high-concept projects across countless genres. She hooks viewers into the emotional reality of difficult ideas and strange worlds; she conveys emotionally stepping into someone else’s shoes the way few can. If she’s leading a project, it’s worth watching.
A lot of that is talent and hard work. Some of it is working with 100% of the talent pool when it comes to directors. She works with women directors reliably, something that can’t be said for most actors. It’s in an actor’s interest to seek out and work with the full range of talented directors. Someone who only works with 50% of the talent pool that’s out there isn’t going to find the working relationships that draw the most out of their own talents.
An actor who rarely works with women directors is limiting their own choices and their own growth. Hell, anyone who rarely seeks out women coworkers and superiors (or Black, or LGBTQ ones, or whatever the case may be), is limiting their own ability at the work they do.
Moss’s ability to ground project after project is due to her incredible talents, yes. Her consistent ability to do this across such a seemingly unlimited range of projects and perspectives owes something to her decisions in working with a wider range of directors and writers. Any actor can ground the right project once or twice. Someone who does it with a nearly impossible consistency is doing it in part because she is seeking out projects and fellow artists who come from every perspective.
Director Josephine Decker is an arthouse director’s arthouse director. She’s perhaps best known for meta-perplexion “Madeline’s Madeline”.
The screenplay is adapted by Sarah Gubbins from the novel by Susan Scarf Merrell.
You can watch “Shirley” with a Hulu subscription. You can also rent it from Amazon Prime, Google Play, or YouTube for $2.
Judy & Punch (digital rental)
directed by Mirrah Foulkes
This is the kind of off-kilter, macabre (vengeance?) film that’s right up my alley, particularly with an actor of Mia Wasikowska’s calibre leading it. Obviously, it’s tackling themes of domestic violence, but it’s hard to tell where it will take it. The world of the film seems to mix fairy tale, period, and anachronistic filmmaking together.
It also marks a leap in the career of Mirrah Foulkes from actor to director. She’s well known for roles in Australian television and BBC productions, particularly in the original “Animal Kingdom” and “Top of the Lake”. This is her first feature.
You can rent Judy & Punch from Amazon Prime, Google Play, or YouTube for $4.
Marona’s Fantastic Tale (virtual theatrical)
directed by Anca Damian
It’s strange how we can talk about cultural loss, genocides, we can take action regarding ongoing racist brutality, and we can more or less hold it together. Then we see an animated movie about dogs and we break. How does that work? Is it a screwed up failure of our priorities?
I’ve spent the week calling DA’s and mayor’s offices asking about police brutality investigations, writing action items, calling my governor’s and senators’s offices, consulting on potential threats people face. I write something about it all, and I might break in the moment after the words are out. I might cry to my computer before recollecting myself. I might stave off fear at the end of the day by curling up in bed and watching a familiar sitcom.
But I watch an animated trailer about a dog’s life and the waterworks start going. I know the work I put in; I haven’t screwed up my priorities. Part of the role of pets as our companions in life is that they become our safe space. They ease the times we feel shitty and helpless. They love us regardless, they help us make it through. Pets are a symbol of an innocence we can’t often see in the world around us, and they’re an endless well of renewal for a hope that gets worn down every day. I can’t always afford to cry when I’m doing activist work. I can afford to at home in a safe space with my dog. I don’t know exactly what that says.
Anca Damian is a Romanian director who’s helmed both animated and live-action films, both fiction films and documentaries. “Marona’s Fantastic Tale” has been picked up by GKids at least for its American virtual theater release.
A virtual theatrical release is a way of still supporting independent theaters while the COVID-19 pandemic is keeping responsible people at home. The cost of a movie ticket is split between the distributor and theater itself – just like if you were going physically to that theater. Just select the local, independent theater you want to support when purchasing your ticket.
Here, that means you can rent “Marona’s Fantastic Tale” for $10 on GKids, and you have 3 days to watch it.
Curon (Netflix series)
co-directed by Lyda Patitucci
This is a 7-episode Italian series based on a legend about the submerged town of Curon. Flooded towns always make for good horror settings – here, it was submerged as part of a hydro-electric dam project.
Another favorite horror trope of mine is the doppelganger. The church tower is the only part of Curon still above water. Supposedly, you can hear its bells ringing in winter. The legend is extended in the series to say that when you hear them ring, your death is coming and your double emerges from the lake. Good times.
The series follows a pair of teens doing what teens do best in horror series – uncovering hidden secrets while making poor survival decisions. Of course, they have a good motive – their friend Anna is missing.
Lyda Patitucci directs with Fabio Mollo. This is her first project as a director, but she’s got a very solid history on Italian TV shows with high production values (“The First King”, “Italian Race”).
You can watch “Curon” with a Netflix subscription.
Becoming Who I Was (digital rental)
co-directed by Jin Jeon
A young Indian boy is believed to be the reincarnation of a Tibetan Buddhist monk. He doesn’t have a place in his own village, but the monastery that may accept him is barred behind mountains and a Chinese government that views Tibetan Buddhist monks as symbols of resistance and unrest. It sounds like the set-up for a pointed narrative film, but this is actually a documentary.
It spans eight years of young Padma Angdu’s life and that of his caretaker, Urgyan Rickzen, through their attempt to reach Tibet. I’m not trying to be clever by using the word “attempt”. I honestly don’t know how it ends.
Jin Jeon is a documentary producer and director who’s worked in South Africa and South Korea.
You can rent “Becoming Who I Was” from Amazon Prime for $3.
The Deeper You Dig (digital rental)
co-directed by Toby Poser
This is a unique independent film made by a family. Toby Poser, husband John Adams, and daughter Zelda Adams also play the lead roles.
Poser and John wrote and directed together, with Zelda as assistant director. Poser produced, John did the music and editing, and John and Zelda shared cinematography.
Now when you talk about family-made films, you don’t expect Dario Argento-esque abduction mystery with a supernatural bent. What’s impressive is that it doesn’t exactly look homemade. At least in the trailer, there are complex shots and solid acting.
Indie has lost a lot of its meaning over the years, with studio-driven arthouse films composing most of what we refer to as indie filmmaking today. In fact, horror is one of the few genres where true indies and family and community filmmaking still thrive. Much of this is due to still being able to crack into the genre with a very low budget. Much of it is due to horror often still being driven and celebrated as a local affair. This enables movies that push boundaries and don’t play it safe – they’re exactly indie filmmaking, not just something that emulates it.
You can rent “The Deeper You Dig” from Amazon Prime, Google Play, or YouTube for $7.
Miss Snake Charmer (Hulu, Tubi)
directed by Emalee Arroyo, Rachael Connelly Waxler
Yeah, I don’t know what to do with this one. It’s a documentary about a beauty pageant that involves killing and skinning rattlesnakes as one of its competitions. The winner gets to spend the rest of the weekend standing in rattlesnake pits at the World’s Largest Rattlesnake Roundup. Much has been documented in the past about the cruelty of the event.
I don’t want to frame it as the documentary endorsing any of this. It may or may not; I haven’t seen it yet. This is both Emalee Arroyo and Rachael Connelly Waxler’s directorial debut.
You can watch “Miss Snake Charmer” with a Hulu or Tubi subscription. You can rent it from Amazon Prime, Google Play, Vudu, or YouTube for $4.
Searching Eva (digital rental)
directed by Pia Hellenthal
This documentary follows a sex worker named Eva Colle. It seeks to examine modern sexual autonomy. The general consensus from everything that’s out there seems to be it’s “hard to pin down”.
This is German director Pia Hellenthal’s first feature. The trailer here is cut down a touch from the original, which features a lot of nudity – and frankly, I have no idea on WordPress’s hosting policies on that, so you get the (barely) SFW trailer here.
You can rent “Searching Eva” from Amazon Prime, Google Play, or YouTube for $4.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Hulu)
directed by Marielle Heller
You could previously rent Marielle Heller’s biographical drama centering on the friendship between Fred Rogers and Lloyd Vogel. This is the first time it’s available on subscription services, though.
Heller herself is rarely mentioned as one of the most promising up-and-coming film directors, yet her last two films have earned Oscar nominations. She directed “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”, which earned Oscar noms for Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant, while “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” earned Tom Hanks his first nomination in 19 years.
You can watch “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” with a Hulu or Starz subscription. You can rent it from Redbox for $1.80, or from Vudu for $5.
Can You Hear Me? (Netflix series)
created by Florence Longpre
showrunner Julia Langlois
half-directed by Miryam Bouchard
This Quebecois series actually has two seasons out already, but Netflix has only just picked it up so U.S. viewers can see it. Unfortunately, finding a correctly translated English trailer for this has been difficult, so I hope some of you know French. (It’s frustrating when streaming services can’t manage this for series that do have English subtitles.)
“Can You Hear Me?” is a dramatic comedy that follows three women who live in poverty. Florence Longpre is both the creator and one of the writers and leads. It’s also of note that half the episodes are directed by Miryam Bouchard, who’s helmed a great deal of Quebecois TV in recent years.
You can watch “Can You Hear Me?” with a Netflix subscription.
Lenox Hill (Netflix series)
co-directed by Ruthie Shatz
Ruthie Shatz and Adi Barash have worked as co-directors on a few medical docu-series now. Their previous shows “Ichilov” and “Ambulance” have centered on Israeli hospitals, but “Lenox Hill” focuses on Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. It follows four physicians: two brain surgeons, an ER doctor, and an OBGYN.
You can watch “Lenox Hill” with a Netflix subscription.
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