‘The Penny Black’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

We all love trying to figure out mysteries. They’re almost like separate puzzle pieces and you’re trying to assemble them to complete the journey. Whether the mystery is in a novel, on the news, or on-screen, it is a brain exercise without meaning to be. The Penny Black is a non-fiction investigative thriller that takes us on a journey with Will, the estranged son of a con-man, who agrees to safeguard a mysterious million-dollar stamp collection for his unknowable Russian neighbor. After the neighbor vanishes without a trace, Will searches for the collection’s true owner, confronting his fear and integrity head-on. But when some of the stamps suddenly disappear, the filmmakers are forced to reexamine Will’s capacity for honesty.

This documentary is structured pretty well because of the set-up at the beginning. There’s an introduction to Will, his past and this interesting story that he is about to tell us. There’s a very nice integration of home footage and Will in his home present day. Director Joe Saunders does a great job capturing Will’s mind, while he processes his answers for the camera and tells him what he wants to hear. It’s interesting to objectively watch Will go through all these motions, while trying to piece the puzzle together with him. The audience is just as confused as Will throughout this whole process. Normally, people don’t think of stamps as anything valuable, so to shed light on that side of it in this way was smart.

At first, the connection to his father was a bit disjointed but then as Saunders pushed in exploring Will’s past, it all clicked. Psychologically, the connection to this Russian man, trusting him with his stamp collection and sharing other valuable information was important to Will because his father never did that with him. In a way, he could be seen as a paternal figure for Will and that is why the attachment is there. The way this documentary unfolds, especially in regards to how Will’s mind and past is exposed made for such a good watch.

The Penny Black pulls the viewer into the story and Will’s world so effortlessly. The structure of this documentary and the laidback direction from Saunders allows the viewer to take the reigns in questioning everything about the feature. Towards the end of the documentary, the suspense of tracking this gentlemen down is definitely felt. The ending is powerful and the conversation had about honesty was interesting to include, considering everything that happened. Saunders also played with the camera as best he could, capturing important moments at different angles.

Hot Docs 2021: ‘It Is Not Over Yet’ Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

It Is Not Over Yet is an in-depth, emotional journey into the day-to-day rhythm of a controversial nursing home for people with dementia in Denmark. There are many stories that come out of nursing homes that aren’t always positive. There have been very traumatic stories surrounding the treatment of the elderly, especially those suffering from dementia. The documentary highlights, the founding nurse of Dagmarsminde, May Bjerre Eiby, who has no interest in specific dementia diagnoses or medicine. Since neither improves the quality of life for her 11 residents.

As someone who has seen dementia first-hand, this documentary made me extremely emotional. To just see a different approach for treating this illness was moving. My own grandmother went through so much in the nursing home and it is truly heartbreaking to leave a loved one in there. It is a tough pill to swallow because of the negativity surrounding the nurses who work in those facilities. Recently, it has been uncovered that the long-term care homes in my local area have been violent with patients, or they even just let them go without assisting them. They have never had full time care, or even proper care, for that matter.

What nurse Eiby enforces to her residents, is a treatment inspired by methods introduced by Florence Nightingale 150 years ago, as well as Danish philosopher Løgstrup. It is called ‘Compassion Treatment’, as Eiby calls it. It prioritizes hugs, touch, humour, nature, and the joy of being a part of a community. It was just such a refreshing take on the approach in helping elderly people suffering from dementia. After suffering the painful loss of her own father, due to neglect at a nursing home, Eiby is determined to inspire complete change in the way people with dementia are treated in the healthcare system.

It Is Not Over Yet is a very intimate, beautiful and informative documentary on how to approach helping those suffering from dementia. It is a necessary watch that can hopefully bring some change in order for the residents and their family members to feel safe leaving their loved ones in a nursing home. Eiby’s approach is something that should be studied and adapted in order for people to understand what dementia is and how it can be treated without medicine or any form of frustration towards the elderly during their time of need.


Hot Docs 2021: ‘Lady Buds’ Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Feature documentary, ‘Lady Buds’ follows the widely praised 2016 decision to legalize cannabis in California. And because women are so amazing, there are six women who emerge from the shadows to enter this new commercial industry. These women become farmers and entrepreneurs as they navigate the new legislation put in place. The women who have shaped the foundations of this industry for decades, find themselves struggling for a piece of this industry in a market that they helped create. The documentary does address many issues in regards to the cannabis industry. Highlighting advocates for the war on drugs and the racial injustice that marginalized communities still face today.

Lady Buds features second-generation cannabis farmer Chiah Rodriques, 72-year old African-American retired Catholic school principal turned dispensary owner Sue Taylor, Latinx queer activist Felicia Carbajal, serial entrepreneur Karyn Wagner, and Humboldt elders ‘The Bud Sisters’. We see every single perspective on the cannabis industry and how each business owner faced hardships in this field. It was such an interesting watch because there was a great balance of light and funny moments, while still addressing serious issues.

It had a 70s vibe, as the women give a brief history of the journey they have gone on with cannabis. Each story speaks to the many opportunities and issues facing commercial cannabis today. It is very educational and there are clear explanations of the use of medical marijuana for elders. There is an entire process and fight that goes into this industry. Director Chris J. Russo really dives into the lives of these women who are the backbone of the cannabis community in California. The documentary shows an appreciation of those who broke barriers while still moving the fight forward.

Lady Buds takes the viewer on a journey through the cannabis industry and it explores different perspectives. The fact that there are women from different backgrounds who have had different experiences is inspiring. There is so much to uncover about this subject and Russo did a beautiful job in having their stories heard. The documentary is all about community and what it can do for you. There are important moments that really highlight the meaning of being there for one another. This community gives people a sense of comfort and understanding.

San Francisco International Film Festival Selection: ‘After Antarctica’ Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to go on an expedition and then experience the aftermath of it? Well After Antarctica is a documentary that highlights the entire journey of an international crew of six explorers in 1989, who set out to be the first humans to cross Antarctica by dog-sled. Award-winning filmmaker Tasha Van Zandt intertwines the past and present, using stock footage through a different lens and utilizes the frame to tell this story. The expedition’s leader, Will Steger, returns to the Arctic tundra – this time at 75 years old – on his own, as he retells that historic, near-death journey all those years ago.

The documentary was beautifully shot and the one thing that Van Zandt did, was that she let the image within the frame breathe. If it was a scenic landscape, she let the viewer really take in how vast the Arctic was. As the viewer, you could feel yourself connect to the area and understand what Will Steger and his crew had to go through. The expedition took a toll on all of them, mentally and physically, and after watching this documentary, you can appreciate the work they did for the greater cause.

It’s such a fascinating watch because of the archival footage and actually seeing the weather conditions during the expedition. That is what is so shocking about this documentary, is the fact that they had to go through all of that, without the world knowing how that expedition affected them in the long run. You can also relate to Steger because he is returning to a place that really changed his life in so many ways. So, in a way, you feel that emotional connection to the environment as well. Not only because, Steger retells his story and what he was presently feeling, but because of the way Van Zandt captured the environment.

After Antarctica is a documentary that allows its subject to fully explore the extents of his own mind because of this strenuous journey. There is deep reflection of his time spent on the expedition and a beautiful, cathartic journey of his connection to nature in that environment. Tasha Van Zandt took her time with his story and fully explored it, so viewers could appreciate every corner of the globe and understand how important a connection to nature can be.

Slamdance Official Selection ‘Bleeding Audio’ Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Slamdance Film Festival Bleeding Audio is an intimate portrait detailing ‘The Matches’ story. It goes into detail about their break up, when they were so close to breaking out in the industry. They had such a promising career, a really tough break up, and one of the most inspiring reunions I have seen for a band. It was told through the eyes of the bandmates Shawn, Jon, Matt, and Justin. It shows how competitive and dark the music industry can be and their story is unique for their own brand. The way bands moved into the digital age of the music industry is something that should be discussed because it’s so interesting to see how musicians adapted to this change.

Vector – Blobs of black ink on white

What was so great to see in Bleeding Audio was the relationship between the bandmates because they all brought something different to the table. Everyone was given the spotlight in this documentary and it was nice to see that they shared that. It is always interesting to see how ideas come to fruition or how they felt behind the scenes in certain situations. There are very intimate interviews, not only with the bandmates but with other artists who knew who they were. Artists like, Mark Hoppus (Blink 182), Tom Higgenson (Plain White T’s) and Justin Pierre & Tony Thaxton (Motion City Soundtrack). It was interesting to hear them talk about ‘The Matches’ considering that were not well-known.

Bleeding Audio adds so much flavour to the generic music documentary style because ‘The Matches’ were just so much fun to watch. They had this vibrant energy that filled the room and that’s all you want from a band. They were all interesting individuals with great backstories, who came together to perform music that they loved. It is always a wonderful thing to see people come together through the power of music and that is exactly what this documentary gives us. This gave us the chance to explore the music industry through a different lens.