AFF ’28: ‘Cusp’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

In today’s society, there’s a failed connection when it comes to teenagers. From the perspective of an adolescent, they want to be taken seriously because they have been through their own trauma by the age of sixteen. Some parental figures do not understand that what they do or say can affect them in the long-run. In their debut documentary, Parker Hill and Isabel Bethencourt give audiences a glimpse into authentic American girlhood in Cusp. Over the course of one summer, they follow three spirited teenager girls as they go through their daily life.

What was the most fascinating aspect of this documentary is that, at such a young age, these young girls are suffering from so much mental trauma without anyone fully grasping what they are going through. The title of this documentary is effective because they are still teenagers, yet they are treated like adults in the worst way possible. These young girls have to grow up faster because of their living conditions with their friends and family. Whether they are verbally or physically abused, these teenage girls have to build up their strength in order to overcome certain issues.

It seems that it is always the next generation making the conscious change to be stronger than the previous one. These young girls understand the double standards and the misogynistic mentality that surrounds them. It’s heartbreaking to watch because they are addressing such strong issues that women face at a young age. After experiencing their own trauma, they go through an act of rebellion. These young girls were forced into adulthood; yet because of their age, they are still controlled by adults, who can’t even take care of them. It’s a vicious cycle and Cusp dives into every single aspect of living in a small military town in Texas.

Cusp is a very strong documentary about the perception of teenage girls and how they are unfairly treated. They are treated like children by their parents, yet have to deal with adult situations. It is a fine line that they have to walk across until they are eighteen and it is incredibly frustrating. Anyone can connect with these girls because, at some point, we have all been given more responsibility than we should have had at that age. The second girls develop into teenagers, the typical gender roles are pushed upon them and it’s more damaging than people realize.

HollyShorts Film Festival Selection: ‘Last Chance Moms’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Last Chance Moms is a short film that will warm your heart because of the beautiful display of female friendship on-screen. The one thing that I always gravitate towards when watching films about women or relationships in general is honesty. Director Mandy Fabian, co-writers, Sarah Chaney and Heather Olt all created something so sweet and charming. It has such a nice balance between humorous moments and dramatic beats. Life is truly a rollercoaster and that is exactly what they showed in this short film. Anything can happen at any moment.

We have two best friends, Emily (Sarah Chaney) and Kristen (Heather Olt). Emily is a successful entrepreneur, who waited too long to have a baby and after finally feeling ready to raise the child on her own, she’s now told it’s physically impossible. I connected the most with Emily’s character because of how she put her career first. When we first meet her, she’s sarcastic and expresses what everyone actually thinks of her. Why is putting your career first always seen as a negative when you’re a woman? As society evolves and women become more independent, the gender restrictions and ideologies surrounding it have to change. We have now moved far away from the confinements of the misogynistic system.

Then we meet Kristen, a struggling actress, who is simultaneously nine months pregnant and is forced to raise her baby alone after being left by her boyfriend, Mark. He did not think he was suited to be a father. Which raises a question about relationships themselves, do we ever really know the person we are with? I mean, you think you do after everything you have gone through with a significant other, but even during a joyous moment like having a child together, they will still surprise you. It doesn’t matter which position you’re in; single or in a relationship, nothing is ever secure. It’s a very bleak realization but that is what makes life scary.

The one moment that really worked well was when Kristen and Sarah were in the car together. They were driving to Kristen’s sisters home for dinner. You could feel the best friend energy radiatiating off the screen. They did not have to say much to each other to have the other understand how they were feeling. There was a clear connection and it was something special to see on-screen. Last Chance Moms has a great story, strong writing, and a female friendship that you will root for in the end.

It premieres in Los Angeles on September 24th, as part of the Oscar-qualifying HollyShorts Film Festival. It will also screen at the Catalyst Story Institute Festival, running from September 29th to October 3rd in Duluth, Minnesota.

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 2020: LOVE & STUFF


By: Amanda Guarragi 

“The only good thing about time running out, is that it pushes people to find the strength to show up.” 

Love & Stuff is a deeply personal documentary on motherhood and the cycle of life. Peabody Award winning filmmaker Judith Helfand, documented her terminally ill mother’s final moments, at home-hospice before she passed. The camera, helped Helfand stay connected to her mother during hard times and it was used as another form of communication. In this feature, Helfand continues the story that she began two decades ago, with Healthy Baby Girl (Sundance, Peabody 1997) through these films, Helfand adds emotional layers, by openly discussing her own traumas, addressing grief by using dark humour and reflecting on the power of family.

This feature is incredibly emotional because of the raw, human connection the viewer has with Helfand, as she goes on this journey with her mother. Helfand has normal, everyday conversations with her and integrates old home footage to show the drastic change in her mother. Her mother, like every mother, wanted what was best for her daughter and it was revealed that Judith could not bear any children of her own. So the connectivity to motherhood, was the strongest part of this feature because at a time where Judith needed her mother, to guide her through the adoption process and in raising her daughter, she had passed away.

“How do you live without your mother?” it’s a question – through our own paranoia of the endless possibilities that could happen to our mother’s – that we ask ourselves daily. How can any part of my life be possible without the woman that gave me life? How can I grow as an adult without her guiding me? It doesn’t matter what age you are, life is always hard to navigate and everyone confides in their mother or motherly figure. In Judith’s case, her baby girl Theo, was born right after her mother passed and many said it was a gift from her. How does one learn about motherhood, if they’ve never been a mother before? No one is ever prepared to look after a child and to have an entire being, be so dependent on you, it is definitely a challenge in itself.

As Judith’s mother was getting to her final months, she had become her baby to practice on, before she was able to complete the adoption. It was a humorous moment, but no one fully understands how heartbreaking it is to watch a person, who you have known your whole life to be physically strong, to lose that very part of themselves until they are in that situation themselves. I have gone through those stages with my grandparents, I have looked after them and I have struggled with understanding the aging process. How? How can we go from such strong, independent beings, to being children again? This is why my heart is always with the senior community, they have lived such full lives and then to see them in such a fragile state is hard.

I also find it quite interesting that seniors are always more open and candid discussing death, almost as if they start preparing us past a certain age. They make plenty of jokes centering around death, once they hit the age of seventy five and in a way, it’s good that they do that. What parents do their whole lives, is try to set up their children for a strong, healthy life and we don’t realize that is what they’re doing, until we have achieved our goals.

The one thing that really stood out to me in this feature, is that Judith went through all of her mother’s belongings with her and then kept everything in boxes after her passing. The emotional attachment to objects is very hard to break because of all the memories that are tied to them. I thought the individual shots of the objects Judith decided to highlight, were very important because whether it was a piano or a tube of lipstick, it reminded Judith of her mother. Instead of a memory locked in your mind, there is a physical, concrete object that you can hold in your hands, which will still have traces of your loved one.

Love & Stuff is a beautiful documentary about life and death. It shows the value of family and the power of motherhood. It handles grief with such tenderness and shows a side of seniors, that many do not see before their passing. Somehow, it is more difficult to grieve your loved one, while they are alive because you know you have to let them go eventually. It is important to remember that even if your mother is no longer with you, she taught you everything you needed to know to survive this life and as time goes on, you will incorporate what she taught you and add your own anecdotes.

 

 

Decade in Review: The Best Films From 2015

The time has come to reflect on the past ten years of filmmaking. There are many notable films that changed the course of film criticism, box office and the entire moviegoing experience.

Here are my top picks from 2015….

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
    dir. George Miller
    starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult and Zoe Kravitz

    mmfr

  2. The Lobster
    dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
    starring: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Jenna Barden and Olivia Colman

    lobster_VOTFpoC

  3. Carol
    dir. Todd Haynes
    starring: Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara

    carol

Best Animated Feature:
Inside Out
dir. Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen
starring: Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind and Diane Lane

inside out

Best Comedy:
The Night Before
dir. Jonathan Levine
starring: Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anthony Mackie, Lizzy Caplan, Mindy Kaling and James Franco

Joseph Gordon Levitt;Seth Rogen;Anthony Mackie

Best Franchise Film:
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
dir. Christopher McQuarrie
starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Alec Baldwin and Ving Rhames
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***Honourable Mention*** 
Creed 

Best Horror Film:
The Invitation
dir. Karyn Kusama
starring: Logan Marshal – Green, Tammy Blanchard, Michael Huisman, Emayatzy Coriniealdi and Aiden Lovecamp

invite