MICA Scoop Film Reviews - 2014 Sundance Film Festival

2013, 108 minutes, color, U.S.A

A U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent was presented by Dana Stevens to:
Justin Simien for Dear White People / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Justin Simien) — Four black students attend an Ivy League college where a riot breaks out over an “African American” themed party thrown by white students. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, the film explores racial identity in postracial America while weaving a story about forging one’s unique path in the world. Cast: Tyler Williams, Tessa Thompson, Teyonah Parris, Brandon Bell. 

Sam becomes president of the all-black residential hall Parker/Armstrong, whose existence is facing extinction in the name of diversification. TV reality show Black Face/White Placesmells gold in Sam’s story and decides to follow it, rejecting the proposal of fellow black student Coco Conners, who pitched her show Doing Time at an Ivy League. The clamor over Sam's rise also becomes a career-defining opportunity for black misfit Lionel Higgins when he is asked to join the school’s lily-white newspaper staff to cover the controversy, even though he secretly knows little about black culture.

An exceptional film with believable cast! Writer/director Justin Simien who raised part of the funds through Indiegogo, makes a propitious debut with Dear White People, a humorous and tongue-in-cheek satire about black militancy, postracial fantasies, and the commodification of blackness. Most people think racism is dead, but racism is very much alive, in fact, worst because we have a black president. It's like, it brings out the worst in people, exposing their true colors. Internalized racism is real. The idea for the film to become a reality is Simien's own experience at a small California college, while working as a publicist in LA and from a real-life stories he picked up during the writing process. Dear White People has not been picked up for distribution. I hope to see that the film hit the theaters soon. I wouldn't change the title. That's the message his film needs to tell the public: Dear White People... it's pretty self-explanatory. This film will be on my list to watch again with the caption features. 

About the Director

Justin Simien is a Los Angeles–based producer, writer, and director who makes his feature directorial debut with Dear White People at the Sundance Film Festival. After a career in film marketing, publicity, and digital content creation, Simien's concept trailer for his film became a national conversation piece after going viral on YouTube. 
English and Farsi with English subtitles, 2014, 82 minutes, color, U.S.A./United Kingdom

For Shirin, being part of a perfect Persian family isn’t easy. Acceptance eludes her from all sides: her family doesn’t know she’s bisexual, and her ex-girlfriend, Maxine, can’t understand why she doesn’t tell them. Even the six-year-old boys in her moviemaking class are too ADD to focus on her for more than a second. Following a family announcement of her brother’s betrothal to a parentally approved Iranian prize catch, Shirin embarks on a private rebellion involving a series of pansexual escapades, while trying to decipher what went wrong with Maxine.

Written and directed by Desiree Akhavan (who also stars), Appropriate Behavior is coming-out narrative story that explores lesbian relationships, societal and family expectations. Some of us have families like that. It easy to hide your sexual preference from your family but coming out to your family is strenuous. It's a personal journey of discovering one's identify. 
If you accept yourself, it will become easier. Hat off to Desiree who was able to juggle multiple responsibilities as an actor, writer, and director. That's some serious respect. This movie will do well in the theaters.

About the Director

Iranian American filmmaker Desiree Akhavan is the cocreator and star of the award-winning Web series The Slope, a comedy that follows a pair of superficial homophobic lesbians in love. She was recently featured as one of Filmmaker magazine’s "25 New Faces of Independent Film" and is currently in production on an animated series called The Origin of Shame for former MTV CEO Judy McGrath’s new site, Astronauts Wanted. Appropriate Behavior is her first feature film.


Hindi with English subtitles, 2013, 104 minutes, color, India

It’s been five months since Kamala has heard from her husband, Harud, a construction worker at a dangerous and potentially corrupt urban worksite. Though others in their rural, snowbound village in Himachal Pradesh, India, know of men who started new families in the city and never returned, they urge Kamala to stay put and await his word. She refuses, stubbornly taking her young daughter, Manya, and her pet goat on a poorly conceived journey—to the regional capital, Shimla, and eventually Delhi—looking for her husband. Along the way, they encounter the mysterious Nawazuddin, who acts as a reluctant guide and protector to the pair for his own unclear motives.

Following her 2008 short, "Kelkkundo," which won several international awards, Filmmaker, Geetu Mohandas made her feature film debut at 2014 Sundance Film Festival. I really enjoyed this film. Surprised it didn't make Sundance's award list. Please watch the interview (Women in Film) 

About the Director

Geetu Mohandas is a filmmaker based in India. In 2009, along with her director/cinematographer husband, Rajeev Ravi, she formed Unplugged, which produced her first short fiction film, Kelkkunnundo (Are You Listening?). The film premiered at the International Film Festival Rotterdam and subsequently won three international awards, plus the national award in India. Liar’s Dice, which is a recipient of the Hubert Bals fund from Rotterdam, is her first feature film. 


Amharic with English subtitles, 2014, 99 minutes, color, Ethiopia

The Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic was presented by Felicity Huffman to:
Difret / Ethiopia (Director and screenwriter: Zeresenay Berhane Mehari) — Meaza Ashenafi is a young lawyer who operates under the government’s radar helping women and children until one young girl’s legal case exposes everything, threatening not only her career but her survival. Cast: Meron Getnet, Tizita Hagere. 

Meaza Ashenafi, an empowered and tenacious young lawyer, arrives from the city to represent Hirut and argue that she acted in self-defense. Meaza boldly embarks on a collision course between enforcing civil authority and abiding by customary law, risking the ongoing work of her women’s legal-aid practice to save Hirut’s life.

A fact-inspired and a very important film about the violations against women and young girls' rights. This is a compelling film with a hard message, especially about the exploitation of women and young girls who often do not have a voice when rape is rape; violation is violation in front of our eyes. What kind of democracy is this when men treated them like property? All the cast were believable. Glad Angeline Jolie invested in this captivating film as the executive producer. 

About the Director

Zeresenay Berhane Mehari is a writer/director with more than a decade of experience making films. Born and raised in Ethiopia, Mehari moved to the U.S. to attend film school. He founded Haile Addis Pictures to produce his first narrative feature film, Difret. He has a bachelor of arts degree from USC's School of Cinematic Arts.

English and Farsi with English subtitles, 2013, 91 minutes, color, Denmark, Iran, Germany, Norway and Sweden

In a rural village far from Tehran, the night sky glows brilliantly, unimpeded by light pollution, and a teenage girl named Sepideh dreams of becoming a renowned astronomer. Lugging a telescope as tall as herself, Sepideh spends her nights stargazing, inspired by Anousheh Ansari, the first Iranian in space. But achieving such a lofty ambition is easier said than done for an Iranian girl. Her uncle threatens something rash if Sepideh persists in her unladylike behavior, and her widowed mother warns that she cannot pay for the necessary schooling. Unphased, Sepideh composes impassioned missives to Albert Einstein and keeps her eyes on the prize. Yet when she’s passed over for a university scholarship and suitors come knocking at the door, her determination is seriously tested.

Everyone has dreams. That's what make life desirable, especially for young Sepideh, who has a desire to be an astronaut
. When you think about the Arabian culture, you can't help but immediately wonder, how is it possible for an Iranian young girl to become an astronaut in an environment fraught with male  domination, oppression and disrespect? Sepideh lets nothing stops her from reaching for the stars. She sent an e-mailv to her idol, Anousheh Ansari, asking for help. Little does she think she’ll ever get an answer back from the world’s first female space tourist. That is until one day, her life changed. Kudos to this amazing film! If one becomes discourage, the audience should watch this soul-uplifting film. It deserves the Sundance and Oscar awards!

About the Director

Berit Madsen graduated from the film school Ateliers Varan in Paris and furthered her studies at the Danish School of Media and Journalism. She is presently completing a PhD in ethnography and social anthropology from Aarhus University. Most of Madsen’s films have screened at festivals across the world and aired on everything from pay television in the U.S. to public television in Nepal. SEPIDEH—Reaching for the Stars is her first feature documentary.

Indonesian, 2013, 148 minutes, color, Indonesia

Immediately following the events of the original, The Raid 2 tracks Officer Rama as he is pressured to join an anticorruption task force to guarantee protection for his wife and child. His mission is to get close to a new mob boss, Bangun, by befriending his incarcerated son, Uco. Rama must hunt for information linking Bangun with corruption in the Jakarta Police Department while pursuing a dangerous and personal vendetta that threatens to consume him and bring his mission—and the organized crime syndicate—down around him.

Two thumbs up for The Raid 2, the Indonesian action flick! I can't wait for the next sequel! What a brilliant and flawless movie performed by such intense cast. Filmmaker, Gareth Evans outdid himself. All the cast was amazingly talented! The most beautifully and insanely choreographed marital arts I've seen. It has it's raw moments. Ouch. Ooooh! Damn.... Did you see that? I am usually not a fan of marital arts. Gareth apparently has respect for marital arts because it was portrayed magnificently with love and passion. I have to watch Raid 1 again and compare the two films.

About the Director

Writer/director/editor Gareth Evans first explored the Indonesian martial art of silat in a documentary titled Land of Moving Shadows. Through this undertaking, he formed a partnership with Iko Uwais, which led to three films: Merantau in 2009, The Raid in 2011, and now The Raid 2. In 2012, Evans cowrote and codirected Safe Haven with Timo Tjahjanto for the V/H/S/2 film anthology that screened at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. 

Bulgarian with English subtitles, 2013, 155 minutes, color, Bulgaria/Romania

Dreaming of the West, Boryana is determined not to have a child in communist Bulgaria. Nonetheless, her daughter Viktoria enters the world in 1979, curiously missing a belly button, and is declared the country’s Baby of the Decade. Pampered by her mother state until the age of nine, Viktoria’s decade of notoriety comes crashing down with the rest of European communism. But can political collapse and the hardship of new times finally bring Viktoria and her reluctant mother closer together?

Writer-Director, Maya Vitkova debuted her film, Viktoria as a honest, somber and ambitious story about a young  woman whose first two decades of life became divided by the fall of communism in Bulgaria. Viktoria is unhappy. She has dreams of fleeing to America with her doctor-husband. When she became pregnant, her dream shattered. She battled with the demons of ending her pregnancy and not wanting her child to grow up in a communism environment. She decided to keep and raise the child. 
This is a movie that offers invigorating, personal perspective on the hopes and dreams. Be prepared to watch a very long and tedious film. I nearly fell asleep. Not because it was unexciting, it just drag on and on. However, it has great cinematic shots. 

About the Director

Maya Vitkova is a Bulgarian writer, director, and producer born in Sofia in 1978. Until 2006, she worked in film as an assistant and casting director. In 2009, she executive-produced Kamen Kalev's feature Eastern Plays, which premiered in the Directors' Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival and was Bulgaria’s candidate for best foreign language film at the Academy Awards in 2011. Beginning in 2009, Vitkova founded Viktoria Films, a company focused on producing independent films. Viktoria is her debut feature as director. 

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