Saint Frances Review|How Honesty Impacts Audiences: An Interview With Filmmakers Kelly O’Sullivan and Alex Thompson


By: Amanda Guarragi

Saint Frances is a film that highlights the full female experience in the most honest way possible. It wants to show its audience that women at any age can experience hardships, shame and a certain vulnerability that comes with certain subjects. It dives into the stigma around conversations about abortion, postpartum depression, menstruation and breastfeeding. We see a woman in her early 30s, named Bridget (Kelly O’Sullivan) navigate her new job as a nanny. When looking after little Frances (Ramona Edith-Williams), Bridget faces hardships of her own and has to juggle her new life.

What is so wonderful about Saint Frances is that it doesn’t shy away from topics that would be considered “taboo”, it is right in your face and it felt like an open conversation among women. All films have this sense of community but this film felt like having a conversation with your best friends. O’Sullivan definitely made an impact with the story she wanted to tell,

I felt like I could add something to the landscape of movies that have an abortion in them and sort of treat it with a light touch, a humorous touch, rather than make it really dramatic or traumatic and sort of normalize it.”

Kelly O’Sullivan, Writer and Star of Saint Frances
Courtesy of Easy Open Productions
(Kelly O’Sullivan and Ramona Edith-Williams)

The women in the film had an interesting dynamic, which brought comfort when listening to their conversations. Films that have these tough conversations in a lighthearted way for a new generation is important,

“I do think it’s becoming more and more accepted and young women, teenagers are way more open and accepting, than people my age or older than me. So it’s really exciting to see that there is a bigger conversation starting to happen around those issues.”

-Kelly O’Sullivan, Writer and Star of Saint Frances

O’Sullivan was inspired by the female voices around her and wanted to make a film that would help the conversation. This new surge of young female voices, expressing their personal thoughts and feelings, allows teenagers to grow up with films that have a positive outlook instead of feeling shame.

The dynamic between Bridget and Frances was so interesting because of how they would speak to each other. Frances was speaking at an adult level, even though she was just starting elementary school. She was incredibly smart, perceptive and open to having conversations about womanhood at such a young age. Newcomer Ramona Edith-Williams was a firecracker and commanded each scene she was in,

“We just met her and she brought so much of herself to the room and so directing her was sort of a big mix of just creating an environment where she felt like she could be herself.”

-Alex Thompson, Director of Saint Frances

Thompson loved working with Ramona Edith-Williams and wanted to develop an increased sort of awareness and closeness with O’Sullivan.

Courtesy of Easy Open Productions
(Kelly O’Sullivan and Ramona Edith-Williams)

Even though Bridget was in her 30s, the honesty shared between the two of them, made her reevaluate everything. The bond between Frances and Bridget reminded me of the bond I share with my seven-year-old goddaughter. I speak to her like an adult and I’m probably the only one who actually listens to her. The scene where Frances runs out of her classroom calling after Bridget, during her first day of Grade One completely broke me. Frances hoping to be friends with Bridget forever is something that was so pure, that it brought me to tears. What this scene taught me was that even if you feel like you’re a complete mess, you’re somehow doing something right and there is always someone who believes in you.

Saint Frances is a beautiful film because of the honesty in front of and behind the camera. The dialogue surrounding the stigma of abortion, postpartum depression and other female issues was refreshing. Kelly O’Sullivan wrote such a wonderful screenplay, filled with tender, lighthearted and comforting moments. It is a wonderful addition to female stories that can start healthy conversations about these topics.

The King of Staten Island Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

The King of Staten Island is Judd Apatow’s most personal film to date. He collaborated with Pete Davidson and Dave Sirus to bring Pete’s deeply emotional life to the screen. It was candid, realistic and raw to Pete’s journey. It was in typical Apatow fashion, to have such a natural flow to this story. They addressed mental illness and childhood trauma with humorous moments. In his mid -20s Scott (Pete Davidson) is at a standstill in his life, he dropped out of high school and his younger sister Claire (Maude Apatow) is heading out to college. As the events in his life unfold, Scott must come to terms with his father’s death and processes his grief in many ways.

For seventeen years Scott has lived without his father and the only memories he has of him, are the ones his mother, Margie (Marisa Tomei) shares with him over and over again. In Davidson’s life, his father was a firefighter for the FDNY. He was seen as a hero by many because of his bravery in saving someone’s life, as a building collapsed on top of him. Most of Davidson’s dark humour stems from his childhood trauma and his stand up is vulgar and borderline offensive. At the end of the day, that is what makes Pete, Pete. His humour may offend people but it is okay for him to make fun of his own trauma because it comes from such a personal place.

If you have been a fan of Judd Apatow’s since the beginning of his career, you know the way he makes his films. They are personal, witty and very well written. He always attempts to make real situations seem funny, even if it stems from a dark place. The reason why his films have so much heart and resonate with so many, is because he isn’t afraid to show his audience the reality of situations. He wants to say that these characters are real, concrete people, with a twisted sense of humour that exist in the real world.

To those who have followed Pete Davidson from his early stages on Saturday Night Live and appreciated his humour (even though sometimes he crossed the line), you will appreciate this film. I think everyone will learn something about Davidson through watching this film. You may dislike him a bit more, or even start to like him, it is all up to interpretation. This film highlights mental illness  and it’s through the eyes of Pete Davidson, who has truly suffered from it. To see the psychology of Scott, through the eyes of Davidson, is something raw and eye opening. It is a story that only Pete Davidson could tell and it is really special.

The film does drag on a little bit but the third act is really important to Scott’s arc. As his sister goes off to college, his mother begins dating again and Ray Bishop (Bill Burr) also works at the fire department. In the midst of all this, Scott is causing his own damage with his friends and when he finds out about his mother dating a fireman, he goes into a downward spiral and attempts to break them up. We find that Scott does not really know how to express his emotions and sometimes he lets it out through impulsive, violent behaviour, or everyone’s favourite mechanism, sarcasm.

After a huge blowout between Ray, Margie and Scott, they all go their separate ways. That’s why the third act is really special. It brings them all together in a very unexpected way. Scott begins to understand the life of a fireman and he experiences it firsthand. It was very cathartic for Davidson and the REAL stories shared of his father, were important, not only for Scott’s character arc in the film, but for Davidson to maybe get some closure. It was an emotional ending and Davidson gave a wonderful performance.

The King of Staten Island is not for everyone. The only way to appreciate this film, is if you are fans of both, Apatow and Davidson. To newcomers, they may not understand the sentimental value this holds for Davidson and why this was so important for him to make. It was also pretty funny, a lot of Davidson’s humour is things he would say under his breath and being able to catch what he says, in this film was great. It’s a long watch but it is definitely worth it to see the heart of Pete Davidson.

 

How Do We Process Grief? An Interview with Director Katrine Philp of “An Elephant in the Room”


By: Amanda Guarragi 

In our lives there are moments that we will remember forever and all of those key moments, shape us into the people we are today. Majority of us tend to stick to the happy memories, in order to outweigh any pain or trauma that we have encountered. Currently, we are all living through the COVID -19 pandemic and people are grieving all over the world. People are paranoid, anxious, scared and are feeling immense loss.

As adults, we understand how everything works. We try to understand the choices the government makes and we adapt to what is happening around us. However, the ones who will be affected by this the most are the children. It is hard to explain any of this to them. Yes they understand to a certain degree, but for kids who are in elementary school and are constantly active, how are they handling any of this? It also raises the question of how children handle the loss of a loved one. What concepts do they understand? How do they even begin to process any of that? Right now there are children grieving the loss of their mother/father, their siblings or their grandparents.

In the middle of March, I watched a documentary called An Elephant in the Room. Katrine Philp directs the documentary feature and it was supposed to premiere at SXSW film festival. An Elephant in the Room focuses on a holistic way of dealing with grief at a centre called “Good Grief” in New Jersey. Philp shares the stories of six children and their companions who have lost their parents. It shows many different approaches in handling grief and acts as a catharsis for everyone involved, including the viewer.

It’s a subject that not many people touch upon because of how painful these stories can be, especially if those stories involve a child’s point of view. Philp had her own experience involving her brother and his family. At one point they almost lost her sister-in-law and she saw the trauma her brother and three children went through during that period of time. “She miraculously survived, but it left marks – and I started getting interested in making a film about how children experience grief.” When she began research on her film, she didn’t know that her own father would fall sick and also pass on, “Feeling my own grief while filming the families during their own made complete sense. I fully understood what the families were going through and the challenges they faced.” Sometimes sharing the pain and these stories help people connect more and feel like they aren’t alone in feeling what they are feeling.

When it comes to children processing anything, it’s always interesting to have these discussions with them, touching upon difficult subject matters. How do these children process these emotions? What are they absorbing and how is it affecting them? So how does one even begin to have a conversation with children about grief? Well, Katrine Philp weighs in on her process and how she approached the children during filming,

“Shooting in a sensitive situation with grieving children and their families for this documentary, we had to be fairly discrete. The children were going through some very deep emotions and it was important for me to be close to them, but not to overwhelm them with an extra pressure. Filming children is different than filming adults, especially when they are challenged by sadness. The children are more impulsive and can go from feeling very sad one moment to being happy and playing two minutes later. It was very common and kind of difficult to film. The cinematographer was always chasing the moment. Some days we couldn’t use any of the footage that we shot and other days magic happened and we captured a lot of fantastic scenes. We had to film a lot, be patient, and wait for the moments to appear. Our method in the interviews was to get them started and then not interrupt them and ask a lot of questions. I just wanted it to come naturally from them and in every pause they had, I waited and then they just kept talking. So patience was key.”

The children in the documentary had lost their mother, father or even both and their guardian took care of them. There were moments in the feature, which were extremely emotional because of how the children openly discussed how they were feeling. Thankfully these children were not alone, not only did they have their guardian helping them through this difficult time; they attended counseling at “Good Grief” in New Jersey. “Good Grief CEO, Joe Primo invited us to come and film and after the first day of filming I was sure that there was a film to be discovered at Good Grief. “ Philp and her team were able to connect with the families and they started filming, both at Good Grief and their homes.

The stories of the children were so incredibly moving and to see them talk to other children about their new families or how they are feeling, really put so much into perspective. It made me realize that it’s okay to feel the way you are feeling and still be able to have an open conversation with people who are willing to listen. Philp began to film these children at Good Grief and their stories kind of candidly developed on screen for her, “When you start filming it is often very clear who would be good characters in a film, so instead of looking at their stories, because every one of them is heartbreaking, we started filming the ones that we kept filming, in a life situation like this, not all families are ready to invite a film crew home and we totally respected that.” Philp was also very conscious to choose families that she felt were capable of having her team around, filming on and off during the year.

An Elephant in the Room will take you on an emotional journey with these young children and will make you reminisce on how you processed your own grief. “Good Grief” is an organization that deserves more recognition for what they are doing because they are giving children a safe space to express their pain. Children are affected by everything and need to be guided during difficult times. To all those suffering around the world during this time, please remember your feelings are valid and there are many sources of expression for everyone experiencing any type of loss, trauma or mental anguish. We must work together and help each other overcome tragedy on a global scale at this current time.

How To Save Our Planet Through De-Extinction: An Interview With “We Are As Gods” directors Jason Sussberg and David Alvarado


By: Amanda Guarragi 

The world as we know it, has drastically changed and our planet has slowly deteriorated. There are so many aspects such as, industrialization, deforestation and pollution, which affect Global Warming and our climate is changing more rapidly than ever. It seems as if the vicious cycle of capitalism has made the global population forget about taking care of our planet. Recently I watched a documentary, which was supposed to premiere at SXSW this year, called We Are As Gods. It is an in depth look at Stewart Brand’s life and his interest in de-extinction. This documentary shows the reasons why our planet has been deteriorating and that humans are to blame for the current state we are in.

Co-Directors Jason Sussberg and David Alvarado wanted to shed light on Brand’s ideas of long-term thinking and how people could save the planet. “The idea of doing a feature film on Stewart’s remarkable life and controversial de-extinction project seemed so cinematic, fascinating, and urgent: we’re losing (and have lost) keystone species causing impoverished ecosystem; and humans are to blame.” It educates the viewers about the history of the Earth and the current state humans are living in. They showed that there is a possibility that useful sciences could eventually restore some sort of balance to our deteriorating planet.

The documentary shows the longevity of theories and that it takes one man, to create a hypothesis to counter scientists or environmentalists. I had asked Sussberg and Alvarado about their thoughts on the current state of the world, as we are living through a historical event with global pandemic COVID -19, causing panic and tragedy across the globe.

“It’s hard to answer this question while in the middle of a global pandemic and likely economic depression. It’s bleak and going to get a lot worse, before it gets better. We’ll lose friends and family to the virus, people will feel isolated and depressed, and then the economy is going to be destroyed for a while… Our minds are solely focused on survival in the immediate, but we need to think long-term to maintain civilization. All of the missteps so far (not testing early, not going on severe lockdown sooner, not mobilizing industry to build ventilators and protective equipment) were motivated by short-term thinking—making the markets happy and not grinding capitalism to a screeching halt. By thinking long-term, you make near-term sacrifices, knowing that the outcome will be better in the future—lives will be saved, the healthcare curve will be flattened, economies will rise again, and the overall health of civilization will be prosperous.” – Directors Jason Sussberg and David Alvarado

The title of the film, We Are As Gods is the opening line of The Earth Catalogue that Stewart Brand created in the late 60s. “As the title suggests, “We are as gods.” The second half of Stewart’s quote is “and we might as well get good at it.” Beyond environmentalism and conservation, this concept extends to the current crisis.” Sussberg and Alvarado link it to the current pandemic and how it came about, “Our global civilization created the ingredients for a pandemic to flourish. But our god-like powers (science and technology) will solve this problem. A COVID-19 vaccine is the only solution that will safeguard our civilization from a major contraction in life and prosperity.” It’s a simple quote that can be interpreted in so many ways and can definitely apply to anything.

We Are As Gods shows the future of biotechnology and how we, as a civilization, can move forward. As stated in the documentary, if we bring certain species back it will restore their own ecosystem and create a balance. Sussberg and Alvarado have put their faith in the restoration of these ecosystems and do believe de-extinction can work. This documentary about Stewart Brand’s life holds so much value because of his views on humanity, science and the entire planet.

SXSW 2020 Documentary Feature: An Elephant in the Room

photos courtesy of Good Company Pictures

By: Amanda Guarragi 

An Elephant in the Room focuses on a holistic way of dealing with grief at a centre called “Good Grief” in New Jersey. In this documentary, Katrine Philp shares the stories of six children and their companions who have lost their parents. It shows many different approaches in handling grief and acts as a catharsis for everyone involved, including the viewer.

At “Good Grief”, these children are able to discover a community that has suffered a great loss, just like they have. As we all know, children ask many questions because of their curiosity, but what happens when they start asking about death? It’s hard for anyone to understand how to process death, it’s definitely harder to try and explain to a six year old child that they can never see their parents again. So how do you begin to explain or even discuss death of a loved one with an innocent child? That’s what this documentary does so well, it educates everyone involved in the process of moving forward after the death of a loved one.

There are exercises shown in this documentary that “Good Grief” executes in their classes that truly help the children. It’s also incredibly tough to watch these children express their emotions because of the circumstances. They openly speak about their emotions, even when they can’t make sense of what they’re feeling in their hearts. It’s heartbreaking to watch them go about their everyday lives, while still processing the meaning of grief.

The documentary felt like it was filmed from a child’s perspective and the frames were filled with soft colours and warm tones. It was also nice to see the children interact on a spiritual level with their parents, it was definitely the emotional center of the film. It also shows that everyone needs love and affection from their loved ones, especially those who are hurting and don’t know how to express their grief.

An Elephant in the Room will take you on an emotional journey with these young children and will make you reminisce on how you processed your own grief. “Good Grief” is an organization that deserves more recognition for what they are doing because they are giving children a safe space to express their pain. Children are affected by everything and need to be guided during difficult times.