Sundance Film Festival 2023: ‘Little Richard: I Am Everything’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Over the years, Elvis Presley has been known as the King of Rock and Roll. But after watching Little Richard: I Am Everything, you begin to wonder how that title even got passed down to Presley in the first place. Lisa Cortés brought together many wonderful elements to tell the complicated life story of Little Richard. He had many talents, but more importantly, he was filled with love and light. After watching this, you can see where many other artists got their inspiration. Little Richard was a pioneer, and he broke down barriers when America was still segregated. His music brought people together. 

The one thing that Cortés does so well in this documentary is that she completely embodies the spirit of Little Richard. From beautiful vibrant colours to explosive images being edited together to the sparkling dust floating in the air, it felt like he was present. It was nice that she integrated the interviews where Little Richard describes himself and the industry treated a Black queer man in the 50s and early 60s. At times Little Richard was unapologetically himself, and he would help others embrace their identity. There is a reason teenagers loved his music, and it’s because they felt free when listening to it. They felt they could do anything because Little Richard would give them a voice. Even though he was on a high because everyone loved his work, the industry didn’t give him his flowers. 

It was almost hard to watch Little Richard go through all the ups and downs because of personal issues. Many of Little Richard’s changes came when he was terrified of death, so he turned to God. When he changed his persona, he also gave up his queerness and renounced it. For Little Richard to “come out” was hard for him. He grew up when it was hard to be an openly Black queer man in America. He went back and forth, and each time he changed his image. It’s almost as if he kept reinventing himself each time he went down a bad path or started to get scared. No matter how anyone perceived him, he stood his ground and cemented himself in this industry. He was an incredible performer, and the smaller bands (at the time) like ‘The Rolling Stones’ and ‘The Beatles in the early 60s were in awe of the architect of rock and roll. 

Little Richard: I Am Everything is a powerful documentary that highlights the best aspects of Little Richard. He was someone who loved to perform and would often outshine anyone else. He managed to free many people with his music and opened the door for many other artists who openly used their sex appeal with their onstage persona as well. Little Richard had a hard life and got into music because he wanted to help his family financially. He had no idea that he had the power to change music history. He had the voice and the genius to structure a new genre. Lisa Cortés highlighted the unfairness towards Black artists in the industry and how Black music has always been the foundation for other genres. The influence in all parts of life has always been present, and credit is due where credit is due. 

‘Our Father’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

There are documentaries that have highlighted many different stories, some of them have been slightly altered, and others have been true stories. The ones that turn out to be true stories will most likely leave viewers a bit shaken because of the possibility that there are people like Dr. Donald Cline in Our Father that actually exists. It is an interesting expose because of the current conversation surrounding women’s rights in the United States. Director Lucie Jordan addresses the meaning of consent and the many ways that consent can be violated without anyone realizing it. This story is disturbing and emotional for those involved in this case.

The true story is about one woman whose at-home DNA test reveals multiple half-siblings. She then discovers a shocking scheme involving donor sperm and the popular and controversial fertility specialist Doctor Donald Cline. Besides the fact that they show the extensive relation to multiple people within the same grid, the viewer feels the same sense of dread while watching all of this unfold. Instead of imagining this situation happening to you, you’re re-living it with the victims through this documentary. It’s a difficult watch because it is a Doctor breaking consent and administering his specimen in place of the woman’s actual choice. We see these women who have struggled to even admit that they were violated by a medical professional in a female-based field where it’s necessary to understand women’s bodies.

To see these women break their silence and carry so much pain with them is heartbreaking to see. Their children have a different biological father and we see how the children process their history with the father who raised them. After all this time, finding out that the man you grew up with and idolized for so many tears isn’t your biological father is a horrible feeling. There is a wide range of emotions when watching this documentary because of how each family processes this information. It’s so unethical and inhumane for a doctor to even switch out the semen for his own. Was the benefit to keep your practice afloat, to rise to fame as the one medical clinic that has a guarantee of women being pregnant so they can finally have a child?

Many questions will swirl around in your head while watching Our Father. Women should have the right to know exactly what is happening with their bodies at all times and have full control of their bodies. Is it even safe to have men in the medical field practicing these procedures on women after finding this out? Women feel much safer when discussing anything about the female reproductive system with other women. More women need to be in the medical field, so situations such as this one never occur again. This documentary is not for everyone, but it is so important for everyone to watch given the current state of women’s rights.

‘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.