Canadian Film Fest 2020 Selection: Pressure Play Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Pressure Play is a short film that premiered at the Canadian Film Festival. The film is an in depth look of the mind of a seventeen year – old Black teenager named Fraser (Emidio Lopes), who really wants to make his high school basketball team. Fraser is very reserved and quiet, but on the court, he finds his voice and his freedom. The film is directed and co-written by Eric Bizzarri, it is a follow-up to his film Cold Hands which also deals with toxic masculinity.

The most impressive thing about the film was its sound design. It flowed really well through each scene and brought a certain edge to Fraser’s character. It’s a very internal role and it was hard to understand what Fraser was feeling at times. There was no development for his character and it felt like it was basketball or nothing for him. It’s understandable that a teenager would feel that way but his story really did not go past basketball.

The camerawork was good and the shots on the court were effective, it felt like you were in the middle of the tryouts alongside the rest of the players. There was one scene in the locker room, where players were having their pre-game conversations. They were talking about their encounters with girls and their own lives. It would have been beneficial to extend scenes like that, to understand why Fraser felt uncomfortable during those conversations. There was so much left unsaid for Fraser’s character and I wanted to know more about him. It left me with so many questions.

When it comes to showing sports in films, it somehow always comes down to the story you want to tell through the Coach’s actions. Is the Coach going to be uplifting and inspirational or stern and abusive? Pressure Play accurately shows the “tough love” approach, with unconventional tactics used by Coach Riggs (Andrew Bee) as he verbally abuses the boys on the team. It escalated quite quickly from scene to scene making Fraser’s timid demeanor, counter that of Coach Riggs. As Riggs pushed harder with his abuse, Fraser began to open up and find his voice.

Pressure Play is a film that scratches the surface of toxic masculinity but never fully dives into that subject. It shows the mental game of a young man who wants something and fights for it, even when the rules to the game come with a level of verbal abuse. It will leave you wanting to know more about Fraser and if his basketball dreams will come true.

 

TOTO Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Toto is a very inventive and sweet short film showing how dependant we have all become on technology. It is also quite humorous because the lead is 90 year – old, nonna Rosa (Rosa Forlano) who is having difficulty, adjusting to a robot being in her house. Toto is an ode to real life situations and how people can’t seem to function without technology. It brings together the older generation and the new generation in order to understand the complexities of technology.

Toto definitely hits close to home because I am seen as the “fix it, IT person” in the house. The film doesn’t only apply to seniors, but it also applies to middle aged people who never grew up with technology. All the Gen X and Millennials can understand how frustrating it can be to actually explain how to use technology to others, when it has become second nature to us. It was heartwarming and fun to see Nonna Rosa, who is also the grandmother of the director Marco Baldonado, interact with the robot.

It is a very simple story and shows a full day of a nonna adapting to living with a robot, that is programmed to help her. Toto is very similar in nature to Baymax, from Big Hero 6 but functions differently. The entire climax of Toto is the issue of charging its battery in order for it to help the nonna. That’s where the humour comes in because everyone knows an Italian nonna will always take matters into her own hands, when things go wrong.

The construction for Toto is well done and the robot is quite massive. It used lights and a “siri” like voice to attend to the nonna. Toto was trained to cook and clean, in order to help the nonna, but let’s face it robots can’t be compared to the will power of a nonna. It shows an important lesson of learning about technology but also still trying to do things on your own. When technology fails so many of us, we have to be able to work through situations on our own.

‘Always” Short Film Interview with Director Sam Zapiain and Writer/Producer Melissa Del Rosario


By: Amanda Guarragi

The 2nd Annual Desertscape International Film Festival in St. George, Utah is a festival that celebrates filmmakers around the globe. People are encouraged to submit their short films and student films to the festival. The festival normally runs from July 29th to August 1st. This year, the short film Always has been selected for the program. I spoke to the creators of the film, Director Sam Zapiain and Writer/Producer Melissa Del Rosario ahead of the festival.

Always is a short film, based on real life experiences. It incorporates horror elements to cope with the illness of diabetes. There is an urgency in the storytelling because no one really discusses the struggle of living with diabetes. Its experimental use of painted images and rough editing, combined with the haunting score, make this a truly special film.

The importance of making this film for Zapiain comes from a very personal place. He wanted to address the struggles of those who live with diabetes in a very realistic way. “About three years ago, I was diagnosed as a Type 2 Diabetic, and how I handled the symptoms that surfaced out of the blue and out of control felt like a horror story. Out of control.” It is a film that shows the numbness and fatigue through painted images, that come to life in the depths of Alex’s (David Kurtz) mind.

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The sketches were placed in Alex’s apartment to show that he was an artist and his designs allowed him to explore his inner thoughts. It was a spur of the moment idea, right as they were about to begin shooting the film Del Rosario says, “Sam had this idea right before we are set to shoot. I got some paper out and started sketching immediately and I’m happy it all worked out.” Zapiain also wanted to use the sketches as a creative outlet for him to understand what was happening to his body, while trying to understand the symptoms of being diagnosed with diabetes.

The most challenging aspect of filming this piece for Zapiain was learning to accept and acknowledge the presence of a disease. “For quite some time it was the idea of it being behind me, and somewhat in a state of denial or disbelief. Creating the film meant I knew it was here to stay, and it would make a statement on my life.” Zapiain also thanked his producer Del Rosario for helping him recognize the story, writing it, and gathering such a wonderfully talented cast and crew. “In a way, the people behind the film were my therapy. They helped me accustom.” 

It was important for Del Rosario to take on a project that was so personal to a close friend of hers. “For me, as someone who is not diabetic, I decided to learn more about this condition because someone I care about has it. It was truly terrifying to learn about. I believe it is important to raise awareness about this condition and the symptoms others may be experiencing.” It was a project Del Rosario wanted to work on because there are millions of people in the world that are diabetic, with many of the not knowing they are, undiagnosed.

The focus on the horror elements also enhanced the storytelling. Zapiain wanted to incorporate his love for horror and he did this through the use of repetition, quick edits and stunning monochromatic sequences vs the scenes with insulin that were in colour,

“From a technical standpoint, it was a field day for us to play with shadows, and utilize the horror aspect, exaggerating hallways, dark rooms, silhouettes, etc. Colour meant the reality of the situation. Realizing these horrifying images are in the main character’s perspective, (black and white), and what actually exists in color.

There’s such richness in these tones and the lighting was also extremely effective to punch up certain textures. It is a beautifully shot film and there are certain images that will stay in my mind for a while.

The film feels like a journey in such a short period of time. The repetition, rough cuts and haunting (but stunning) images are all utilized to properly highlight the struggle of living with diabetes. Always is very well written and executed, it’s a personal story and everyone should watch it. To learn more about the struggles of living with diabetes, go to the American Diabetes Association website.

 

Desertscape International Film Festival 2020 Selection: “Always” Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Always is a short film, based on real life experiences, directed by Sam Zapiain and written by Melissa MJ Del Rosario. It incorporates horror elements to cope with the illness of diabetes. There is an urgency in the storytelling because no one really discusses the struggle of living with diabetes. Its experimental use of painted images and rough editing, combined with the haunting score make this a truly special film.

The film hooks you from the moment it begins. The close up shot of the needle in the center of the screen lures you in and then it abruptly cuts to our subject Alex (David Kurtz), who is laying in bed with hands all over his body, appearing to strap him down to the bed. The imagery in this film is quite stunning, as it uses hands and fingers to show the mental struggle in coping with the illness. The film also plays with colours, the anxiety and mental struggle is shown in black and white, while the insulin and needles are in colour. There’s such richness in these tones and the lighting was also extremely effective to punch up certain textures.

The film feels like a journey in such a short period of time. The repetition, rough cuts and haunting (but stunning) images are all utilized to properly highlight the struggle of living with diabetes. It’s a very important film and most of the images will stay with me for awhile. Always is very well written and executed, it’s a personal story and everyone should watch it.

Tribeca & Hot Docs 2020 Documentary Special Presentation: Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles Review


BY: Amanda Guarragi

The recipe is not that good, if it doesn’t include a story.” 

Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles is a documentation of how food is a very important part of history and how that fusion can be modernized. Food and Art History intersect at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in Laura Gabbert’s documentary. In 2018, the MET decided to open their “Visitors to Versailles” exhibit to the public, with a culinary event inspired by Louis XIV’s elaborate lifestyle. Yotam Ottolenghi accepted the challenge and selected five of the world’s most innovative, visionary pastry chefs through social media, to whip up desserts worthy of Marie Antoniette herself.

Ottolenghi wanted to preserve history through the pastry dishes, while modernizing the delicacies from that century for the “Visitors of Versailles” exhibit. He handpicked five pastry chefs that used architecture and history to create unique pastries through instagram. The integration of social media was beneficial because it has become a portfolio for so many people in the arts and it’s such a useful tool to get your name/brand out there. Dinara Kasko of Ukraine designs 3D printed moulds, while Singapore’s Janice Wong confects with chocolate. London conceptual artists Sam Bompas and Harry Parr sculpt wobbly gelatin. Ghaya Oliveira of Michelin-starred Daniel in New York City and “cronut” creator Dominique Ansel reinvent French pastries.

Laura Gabbert wanted to showcase the beauty and the dark history of Versailles during the run of Louis XIV. She did this by having Ottolenghi take the audience on his research journey, by speaking to history experts on Versailles and Marie Antoniette’s downfall. There was such a passion and appreciation for that period of history by the experts and by Ottolenghi, that it made it so much more engaging to watch. The passion for creating dishes and the importance of historical figures were brought together to present a story. Ottolenghi values history and the way food has grown with each culture all over the world.

The history and culture of the world is definitely embedded in food and dishes that chefs have created. We all associate certain dishes to countries and that adds the historical depth to its people. This feature does an incredible job in showcasing the beauty of Versailles, how the French pastries were originally created and where they were redistributed in Europe. It’s so fascinating to see where delicacies originated from and how much they have evolved in the modern era. One line that stood out to me, was that food was used as a ceremony in that century. Now instead of people inviting others into their homes to see their meals, they have posted their process on the internet for others to see. Food brings everyone together and the more we study the art of cooking and baking, there are endless possibilities in how to improve upon these dishes.

I also loved the way this feature was filmed. They really captured the beautiful colour tones and textures of everything in the frame, especially the beauty of Versailles and the dishes. Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles takes the viewer on a stunning journey of art history and french delicacies in a very extravagant way. They show every single detail and the importance of being an artist. There is no history without art and art can take many forms, including food dishes. It’s important to know and understand that preparing dishes on such a large scale, takes an artistic eye, but also an architectural one and it allows audiences to gain a new appreciation for art as an important medium.