2021 – Extended Reviews

Zaara by Hassan Raza

The melodrama of Zaara is a strange combination of old and new. At its heart though, in my eyes, it feels more of an old school retro drama than a more modern thing. This isn’t due to its black and white photography – but rather its carefully composed shots, feminist characterisation and the strong presence of a style that consistently recalibrates the film’s core ideology within a Sirkian type of frame. It recalls Sirk’s All I Desire, for me at least…

Of course, though, the film isn’t a pastiche of Sirk. Nor is it a very aware film in terms of film references. This is the modern part of the film… there’s style, there’s a vision… but it is also its own thing. The sheltered life on the edge of becoming a boiling plot feels very much like a Jafar Panahi motif – of course, here it is the UK setting and a Middle Eastern family clashing with the customs of the West and of the so-called ‘other’. The ethics are blurred of course, and the painting of the Western men is quite interesting – are they perhaps more of a disruptive force than the parents? Perhaps both parties are wrong, and it is the future generation that shall be wiser? – these are of course, as I said, very modern ideas… and ones that would not be present in a Sirk type homage.

So, all in all – this is a great blend of the old and the new. Black and white photography with careful composition and strong themes from the almost old Hollywood finish appears to be packaging new ‘modern issues’ – or perhaps rather engaging in ones that still remain quite on the cusp of everyone’s political discussions… this film is talking about the ‘present moment is what I mean.
The performances almost follow suit – the older performers have great gravity in their physical performances, whilst the young use their faces and expressions to tell us more about how they feel.

This is a highly recommended film – and a fantastic debut by its director. In fact, one gets excited at the thought of the potential feature film that Raza must be working on!

Big Trouble in Seattle by David Fowler

At just over an hour, Fowler’s film is quite the epic. For starters, the setting is a genuine character… And I mean this with intent, as many indie films fail to use their locales as a kind of backdrop, often taking a back seat as a background that the film is set in. Here Seattle is lush, alive and dangerous even.

Furthermore, his use of cast, characters, and multilateral dialogue scenes is quite skilled… Almost evidence of his potential for great TV. Though, might I add – I prefer film, and Fowler does a great job in this medium here.

Knowing his age doesn’t help. Mr. Fowler is still a young director, and the project is a great bit of work… What I mean regarding this is really simple – I’m somewhat jealous (in a healthy way) that I didn’t make this film at Fowler’s age. I wish I’d had the intuition, knowledge and resources to do this kind of film.

If distribution has not been secured, then an introduction must be made. This film is a distributor’s delight – its genre is clear, distinct and the cast all seems to be having a swell time playing with the appropriate archetypes.

Highly recommended, this indie endeavour welcomes one simple regard – where is the next film due? And is it even bigger?

Geneva Jacuzzi’s Casket by Chris Friend

One of the things I’ve really enjoyed in the last few years is the digital playfulness that music videos have grasped – especially those that have encountered the fantasy and fantastical opportunities that digital filmmaking provides. One such examples is the work of Grimes – her music, her persona and especially her videos inhabit worlds and characters entirely unique to her work… And so, it comes with great excitement to say that Chris Friend’s work on this particular whacky music video is no different.

Heads buzz, the digital atmosphere engrosess, hypnotises and we are victim to its wonders – both as consumer and users, as we are… After all… Watching this digital video on a variety of digital screens. The world is alight with colour, music and character – the use of close up is especially rewarding, even unusually so for a music video (it’s quite cinematic).

All in all, this is a perfect little trick of digital editing and performance. The world, though artificial, appears real. Real. Or is it reel? 😉

CHAMP 5 by Paul Gatto, David Jester and Kathleen Strouse

From the small communities to the grand victories, Champ 5 has a fantastically ‘old school’ tale to tell. Now, to be clear – by ‘old school’ I am not actually referring to the charming gang of golden age interviewees… but rather, the style of the film. It is rare these days to find documentaries on bygone subjects that take great care in finding the character within the landscape from which it comes from, but also framing it within the context of the ‘personal’. At least, to me – it feels as if we have entered a new age of consumption when it comes to documentary-style video… those Facebook scroll videos of ‘famous person do this, or quaint person does that… someone has a hobby you will find interesting…’ – rarely do these videos contain the individual really… they instead, in the worst way possible, have a simplified individual framed within a sort of quirky space. That is not what CHAMP 5 provides, and that is why CHAMP 5 is eh champion!

Humanist elements aside, the film carries a great understanding of the key technical elements of filmmaking. The pace is never compromised, and the photography is well balanced with a tight edit. If anything – CHAMP 5 could be expanded to a feature…. but that’s a tale for another day.

Overall, the intimate tales of these individuals, framed within the carefully designed documentary, which captures the bygone era mostly through memorabilia and the ‘persons’ telling the tales, helps solidify the film as almost a kind of time capsule. Not a capsule of the past, but rather of these individuals’ recollections of the past.

Ultimately the film is intimate, personal and above all memorable.

MAGDA by Dimitris Galatas, Fragkiskos Arapai

I remember day trips with a tour guide I took as a child – they had the potential to be quite frightening, walking in caves and wandering down dark passages… and then, of course, there were the activities – those bloody ‘team-building tasks. And here we have a short film that is well just about that… given, now that I live in the city, I rarely think about these sorts of ‘trust’ based spaces in the rural setting. So, put your blindfolds on and get ready – MAGDA is here.

The short overall is quite great. It actually has a great balance of performance, an awareness of space, and above all: an awareness of ‘the way of nature. By this, in my mind, I mean it both in terms of the environmental space: humans appear almost as intruders here in the forest, and the actual act of animal nature – the carnal act of killing.

There’s one flaw to this project really: it isn’t a feature. It could be one, it could be built bigger: think Chernobyl Diaries – the film could introduce us to the team, how they came about this journey and how they all met… then the horror, then a survivor and how they escaped or failed to do so. There’s plenty of room here to bulk it all up.

Distance by Richard Schertzer

‘Distance’ carries a great sort of Stephen King vibe. The film is set in the rural outskirts and follows a kind of survivor plot – or at least a version of it. Of course, many of these kinds of films have arisen since the arrival of Covid, in fact… I think we have about 5% of entries be these sorts of films each season now. However, one must say the following – this is no regular run of the mill ‘we are living in a pandemic and reflecting on life film’… this is largely thanks to Schertzer’s very mature character set up, the smart dialogue, and above all: the delicate naturalistic dialogue and physicality presented by the actors.

Space is greatly used as well. Framing often positions at a smart angle to highlight the natural beauty of the locale, and furthermore – the film’s plot includes this as part of its narrative device, which further enhances the impact of this plot element (the journey).

The downsides: the opening credits are indulgent. The closing credits could do with a bit more detail – a better font, less large. Overall though, the film is really quite nicely stylized, and a great offering during these strange times.

Project Bau by Sajan Jose

The thing I love about Project Bau is the personal journey being told to us. At its heart – it is very much just that: a personal, a single individual’s journey… a being. Not a toy, not a genre… but an individual.

There is a grand location for which the cinematography awes and sweeps around. It is a heartful backdrop to our lead character, Peter, an elderly man taken with a dog. The lead performance here is key – he is a rough man aware of his delivery, and does so with a kind of ballet strike – the physical and sounds are real and part of the dance of life.

The tension is light-handed and very easy – we know what we are supposed to feel and we feel it. Likewise, the sense of culture is engrained in the locale and the personas presented – this is an individual tale of struggle and survival, but also of the mind and the apt nature of a single person’s determination to survive.

The film itself is a well-polished endeavor. some of the grading at times is a bit indulgent, but this is also overall forgiven by the film’s own subject nature – it is a tale of a man in the final bloom of his being, and it is here that of course roses would smell more like strong roses than just a plain flower. Likewise, and perhaps by the time we reach the final sweeping camera angle, the film has reached a kind of Douglas Sirk height of melodrama: the world is beautiful, a playground only loved and devoured by those who can find love and an appetite in life for themselves.