The second half of the festival was just a great as the first! Check out what our favorites were.
Take the Night
When a resentful brother organizes a prank kidnapping, he unwittingly hires career criminals who have plans of their own.
TN: The story and premise are unique. Two brothers, one the obvious favorite and the other a screw up, are running the family's business after their father’s recent passing. While we quickly learn that the kidnappers are true criminals, additional twists and turns kept me entertained throughout the film.
Tuesday’s Rating: 3.5 shots
KM: This film explores the Asian family dynamic in a novel way. The power struggle between the brothers is heightened with the elder brother paying for a fake kidnapping of his younger brother. The older brother’s resentment stems from their father playing favorites for most of the boys’ lives. The younger son was the golden child who could do no wrong. And when the father passed, all the accolades went to the younger son, including the top position at their company.
Contrast this with the four friends who are essentially bounty hunters for hire. They take on risky jobs that often cross the line legally. Desperate to improve their poverty-laden situations, they take the prank to the next level by kidnapping the the conglomerate heir.
This film is all about relationships set to an action backdrop. But what really sealed this film as memorable for me was the big twist at the end. No spoilers here, though. You’ll just have to watch it.
Kaely’s Rating: 3 shots
Failure to Protect
Failed by a system that unfairly tears apart low income, marginalized families, four parents - Anna, Trish, Ernst and Rosa - fight to reunify with their children. But what does it take to get your children back after they’ve been taken by the Child Protective Services? Failure to Protect is an in-depth look at the child welfare system through the forgotten lens of parents, further contextualized by experts in the field to unpack a pressing socioeconomic issue that affects hundreds of thousands of families everyday
TM: This film is a prime example of systemic racism and the stereotypes bestowed upon lower income families. When children are taken from parents, it’s assumed there is a horrible reason why they were put into the system, and that the parents must be horrible people. This documentary shows how much more in depth these issues go.
Similar to the criminal system, child welfare is all about time - waiting for another court date, paying off attorney’s fees, missing paperwork, etc. In fact, during the film, an expert in the field states, “You have more rights as a criminal than you do as a parent.”
In addition, with childrens’ lives and futures at stake, social workers will take children from the home or keep them from their family for longer periods of time to play it safe. While the system was put in place to help children, this documentary shines a light on how paperwork and bureaucracy can ruin families for years and even decades.If you think you understand how child welfare and foster care work, allow this documentary to open your eyes.
Tuesday’s Rating: 3.5 shots
KM: This year’s festival was filled with stories about the child welfare system. From Bunny King to Scarborough and to this documentary, puts a magnifying glass on the US child welfare system. Thus far we looked at New Zealand and Canada. The common thread is that government entities are beasts everywhere. And when it comes to protecting children, the initial reaction is to remove them from the parents if something goes wrong.
The problem is, each situation inevitably is held to the same measuring stick. And in the case of the US, the incentive is to remove the children from their parents because that is how the agency gets more money. It’s sickeningly broken. The problem is also that it also harms those children who really need help as well as families. By making every situation escalate to removal, more children enter the welfare system and they get less care and attention because foster homes are overwhelmed.
Failure to Protect is one of those must see documentaries that opens your eyes to a system that is shrouded in bureaucracy and red lines.
Kaely’s rating: 4 shots
Synopsis: Scarborough explores the struggles, endurance, and resilience of this culturally diverse Toronto community through the lives of three kids growing up within a system that has set them up for failure. Filmed on location in the Kingston-Galloway/West Hill neighborhood, Scarborough takes place over the course of a school year.
TM: Scarborough follows the tragic themes of The Florida Project. While the kids are incredible and resilient, you watch the parents struggle, whether from the system or their own hand. The juxtaposition between the reality and the parents' face and the frills of optimism being a child without worry is palpable.
This is a film that sticks with you for days, weeks after viewing. The close up shots, timed longer than is comfortable, reminds you that this can be any underprivileged child, anywhere in the world. The characters and stories are authentic; There’s tragedy in truth. The best part of the film is watching the interaction between the kids.Have tissues nearby, it’s a tearjerker.
Tuesday’s Rating: 4 shots
KM: This film was very difficult to watch. Between watching the struggles of the three families, to the slow, sometimes pedantic scenes, Scarborough was a slog from beginning to end. It’s never a good sign when a movie feels like it lasts three hours when it’s only a little over two.
The story itself is powerful and gut-wrenching and the acting was fully developed. But even so, the subject is one that I have a very difficult time processing. It is essentially “poverty porn.” But what really turned me off was the slow pacing of this film. It meandered and felt aimless at times.
Contrast this with Justice for Bunny King, which also explores the subject of poverty and the struggles of people on the margins of society, Scarborough was slow, dull, and depressing.
Kaely’s rating: 1 shot
Synopsis: A feature comedy about Butch and Harjo, two Native Americans who struggle to make the transition from their reservation home to the city of Los Angeles. But after discovering a solution in an advertised remedy, they are immediately catapulted to the ranks of the refined and successful.
TM: By relaying much of his own life transitioning from the reservation to ‘the outside world”, Montana Cypress also tells a similar story of many young people during a huge change in their lives, bridging a gap between cultures. There’s struggle, doubt, finding yourself, and horrible landlords.
The film is quirky to say the least. The characters are funny, sometimes poking fun of Native American stereotypes, dating, and the Broadway sensation Hamilton. Although Cypress has six films under his belt, I would still keep him in the amatuer category.
Tuesday’s Rating: 2.5 shots
KM: The fun part of film festivals is getting to see small independent films made with huge heart. The Transcenders is one such film. What I loved the most were all the jabs at stereotypes. For example, the Native detective TV show was supposed to be “modern” – with the Native American taken off the Rez and put into an action hero role. But everything about the character was a caricature of American Indians.
While such blatant stereotyping could feel uncomfortable, director Montana Cypress told us before the movie started that if we felt compelled to laugh, then we should. This is a comedy after all. And in the end, the heroes actually show that people from the Rez are just people and can go into any role they wish.
Kaely’s Rating: 3 shots
The Justice of Bunny King
Synopsis: Bunny King, a headstrong mother of two with a sketchy past, earns her keep by washing windows at traffic lights. Using her razor-sharp wit to charm money from gridlocked motorists, she saves every cent to get back the custody of her kids. After promising her daughter a birthday party, Bunny fights the social services and breaks the rules to keep her word, but in doing so risks losing her children altogether. Accompanied by her niece Tonya, a fierce teenager running away from home, Bunny is in a race against the clock and headed towards an epic showdown with the authorities.
TM: Bunny is the poster child for a broken child welfare system. She does the classes, checks in with her parole officer, and attends supervised visits, but with every step forward, she falls back two. You empathize with her every step of the way. Authenticity is felt throughout the entire movie. Did I feel that justice was served? No. But it didn’t lack heart and relatability.
The acting in this film is astounding. Essie Davis (Bunny) and her niece, Thomasin McKenzie play so well together. They set an appropriate tone for such a tough subject.
Tuesday’s Rating: 4 shots
KM: This film is all about the acting. Essie Davis as Bunny King fully immersed in her character. A struggling mother who had her kids taken away is fighting against a government system. Like most government agencies, the New Zealand child welfare system is cumbersome, unsympathetic, and endlessly moves the goal posts.
While not based on a true story, Bunny’s plight resonates with what many parents face when their children are taken away. The behemoth government system that lack all empathy is the true villain of the story. Bunny struggles to achieve every demand, but the child welfare system keeps moving the goalposts. I was completely drawn into the story, which is rare for me these days.
Kaely’s Rating: 4.5 shots
What We Leave Behind
Synopsis: After a lifetime of bus rides to the US to visit his children, Julián quietly starts building a house in rural Mexico. In filming his work, his granddaughter crafts a personal and poetic love letter to him and his homeland.
TM: In an attempt to understand her grandfather more, Director Illiana Sosa documents her grandfather, Julian, through the last 7 years of his life, including his last breaths. In his final several years, he decides to buy property and build a home for younger family. A labor of love; a dying legacy.
Conversations vary throughout the film, from traditions, the afterlife, Julian’s life as a bracero, his love for his late wife, and the future safety of his blind brother. Without realizing it, Sosa builds a beautiful memoir that opens up bigger conversations about borders, language and culture.
Do you miss your grandfather? This is the film for you. While I lack any Latino blood in my origins, Sosa’s portrayal of her grandfather resonates across cultures. Julian is everyone’s grandpa - stubborn, habitual, closed-off, but also with a desire to leave his family with every opportunity possible. A delightfully poetic film in a slow-burn format.
Tuesday’s Rating: 3 Shots
KM: This documentary moves at a slow pace, but in a good way. As a viewer, you really get to sink into Grandfather Julian’s rhythm of life. I loved the small details, like his disgust for flies in the house, and his determination to work. Age didn’t stop him from doing any heavy lifting.
Sosa’s filmography left me feeling like I was there with the family. Her sense of composition in her shots, attention to lighting, and color, really made this piece like a work of art. I was particularly struck by the moments she was shooting inside some old Spanish ruins. The ornate window shapes framing the village beyond gave us a sense of deep place.
But the moment that will forever stick with me, is the delicate and heartbreaking scene of her grandfather passing away. Shot from her iPhone, Sosa captured the moment her family was gathered around Julian, fervently praying the rosary as he took his last breaths. It took me back to when my own grandfather was passing. My family did the same.
Kaely’s Rating: 4 Shots
Our Phoenix Film Festival experience held the theme of ‘failed systems’. Between The Justice of Bunny King, Scarborough and Failure to Protect, we see that it doesn’t matter where you’re from, the government has failed low-income families. We continue to see government failure in The Pez Outlaw, a broken criminal system in Gemmel and Tim, and government abuse in What We Leave Behind.The undertone matches what many see today as a broken and wounded world.
This is a unique theme for us based on the movies we chose to watch. The festival was also full of side splitting comedies, stories of success and joy.
Anaïs in Love
Synopsis: Anaïs is in love. Or at least she thinks she is. At 30 years old, she has neither a steady job or relationship. She lives by the whims of her passion. The boyfriend she once had no longer interests her.
Instead, she gets drawn in by an older man, a publisher named Daniel. He is fascinated by Anaïs. She’s a beautiful mystery. For her part, Anaïs continually search for the next emotional high.
Pretty quickly, Daniel doesn’t do it for her. Instead she becomes intrigued by his wife, Emilie, a writer. Circumstances, or maybe fate, bring the two women together. And like a hummingbird drawn to a flower, Anaïs cannot leave Emilie alone. Before long, the two form a passionate relationship, of which Anaïs is in full control over.
KM: Anaïs is like a comet. She burns through her life like a ball of fire. It does not matter who gets caught in the maelstrom. For her, life is precious; here today, gone tomorrow. But all the effort to live in the moment has resulted in a woman who cannot face the harsh realities of living.
Case and point, her mother has a reoccurring cancer, after nearly a decade of being in remission. Unable to cope with the fact that this could be it, that her mother might die, Anaïs literally runs away to track down Emilie at a symposium.
It’s a relationship that she barrels head on into. But when Emilie, who as least 15 years her senior, says they should end the tryst they had over the summer, Anaïs cannot cope. And in a last ditch effort to secure a source that sustains her emotionally, seduces Emilie to stay with her.
But in typical French film fashion, the finale is left open. Does Emilie continue the affair? We don’t know.
What I can say is that every one of us knows an Anaïs. They’re people who are full of life, who seem to always land on their feet. But they’re the last people you can really trust, even if you do love them.
Beautifully acted and shot, with a compelling score to match, “Anaïs In Love” is a riveting if irksome film.
Kaely’s Rating: 2.5 Shots
TM: Well, don’t we all know someone like Anaïs - I have several friends in mind. They come into your life like a tornado, interrupting or even destroying those in its path. They have no direction, can’t hold a job, have no plan B and wants to crash on your couch. And yet, they do it with such grace that they always get what they want.
Anais is a summer love story filled with innocence and beauty, but also an intensity that resembles everyone’s first love. She becomes entangled in a marriage by loving both with differing ferocity. She’s exhausting to watch at times as she runs throughout the entire film, whether that be because she’s always late or refuses to take an elevator. Overall, a nice watch with beautiful backdrops but lacks originality and meanders despite Anaïs’s personality.
Fortunately for us, it’s a French film so she’s naked for at least 25% of the film.
Tuesday’s Rating: 2 Shots
We saw almost 10 films the first weekend of Phoenix Film Festival. It was very tough, but we narrowed it down to our two favorites. Check out what made the cut.
The 22nd Phoenix Film Festival is here and Whiskey and Popcorn is here to tell you what to add to your watch list!
Hosts Kaely Monahan and Tuesday Mahrle caught up with the festival's executive director, Jason Carney, to chat this year's highlights, doing multiple festivals so close to one another, and COVID precautions.