The Vice Short List: ‘The Showgirls Of Pakistan’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

All over the world, women are treated in different ways. Majority of Western culture may not know what goes on across the world and that is why documentaries such as, The Showgirls of Pakistan are necessary. The patriarchy rules in many forms, some countries are more strict than others, which can be damaging to female expression and growth. This documentary is structured as an alternate universe with three distinct stories. Director Saad Khan takes the viewer into the universe of three mujra dancers in Pakistan, as they dodge state censorship and violence, to vie for stardom.

Throughout the decades women have found strength in self-expression and working for themselves. They are able to set their own boundaries, which can still put them in some sort of danger. In this documentary, there are three women who have entered different worlds of theatre. In their cases, you are either forced into marriage, or you choose to lead a different life. The documentary depicts female agency through dance and theatre. Afreen, Uzma, and Reema, three dancers from Pakistan’s Punjab province, have plenty of fans but the majority of people in Pakistan, regard the way they earn a living, as disgraceful.

We see that these women are mentally affected by this ideology and how men are treating the performers. It was interesting to see the versatility these women had when speaking to men versus performing for them. They were all headstrong and outspoken during the behind-the-scenes interviews. Then when they are on-stage it is like that whole world disappears and they are free from these patriarchal restraints. These women have had to endure death threats and physical assault but managed to continue working in order to make a living for themselves.

The Showgirls of Pakistan is empowering, vibrant and incredibly bold with its direction. The lives of these women are shown in the most candid way possible and it is absolutely necessary to watch. The structure of the three stories are different in regards to how the women lead their lives but one thing remains the same, how men treat each of them. There are powerful moments throughout the film, especially when the score would accompany some difficult phone calls shared between the three women and the men they were associated with.

‘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.

‘Grace Fury, A Voice With Legs’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Grace Fury, A Voice With Legs is an interesting documentary that highlights the art form of dance. Laura Carruthers, leads a world-class performing artists in a feature film memoir that explores unique choreography and cinematography to express the internal thoughts of performers. It is a cross between dance theatre and autobiographical documentary. Dance has always been about connecting to the theme or mood of the music that is being used. It is a form of expression and Carruthers speaks on how challenging it can be to build projects for film and stage, anywhere in the space.

She pays homage to the Classical and Scottish Highland dance traditions. While doing so, she expresses her thoughts about dance and the connectivity it has to everyone’s emotions. The documentary has great camerawork and very soft framing to show the beauty of the choreography. She took the time to show how beautiful the art form can be, as she adds a voice-over explaining how she is feeling and how her world works. It is truly a reflection of Laura’s years in the arts. She brought together her passion of cinema and dance to present unique visuals, so the viewer will be able to connect to the movements.

You almost enter into a trance while watching it because, in a way, it does have some experimental elements. The post-production team did a very good job on the editing, as it is always hard to create something, with multiple shots, for live performances. That is what impressed me the most, was the playfulness of the camera when moving with her dancers on stage. It really did capture the beauty of the art form and how fluid those movements are. People don’t realize how much of your own spirit goes into those movements and connecting with them.

Grace Fury, A Voice With Legs showcases dance theatre in a unique way, while discussing the difficulties of building projects in the field. There’s a level of calmness that comes with watching these performances and how there is so much honesty in the way she is delivering her thoughts. To see the love of the art form through this documentary was refreshing and inspiring. True creatives and artists will appreciate the work that has been done.

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.