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Sundance 2021: Day 4

Once again, it was a busy but strong day for me as I ended up watching four films and being able to review six on here today (I saw At the Ready and Writing With Fire as screeners). I ended up really enjoying a lot of these films, so I am excited to share my thoughts and inspire you to check out a few of these films.

Without further ado, here are my reviews of the Day 4 line-up of Sundance 2021.

Writing with Fire

Director: Sushmit Ghosh, Rintu Thomas

Synopsis: In a cluttered news landscape dominated by men, emerges India’s only newspaper run by Dalit women. Armed with smartphones, Chief Reporter Meera and her journalists break traditions on the frontlines of India’s biggest issues and within the confines of their own homes, redefining what it means to be powerful.

As a female journalist, is it easy just to read the statistics and see the small implications of being female in this industry from the UK. However, it is something else to see the major implications of being a female journalist in a country like India, in which there are still heavy and damaging stereotypes of the job and the people who take part in it. Writing With Fire is a painful reminder of the work that needs done across the world for gender equality.

We follow this entire store from the start, which helps make the story compelling. When we join the women for the first time, they are having a meeting about the decision to move from print to online. It is from then that we follow each of the women as they have their own journey into online journalism, with many struggles along the way. These struggles feel consequential to the situation and have huge impact, and that is because we are given time to familiarise ourselves with the current situation and these women.

It is incredibly rewarding to see the journey that these women take in this documentary. They come a long way from being sat at a table only having a few mobile phones around to having an office set-up with staff working on desktops. It is easy to see the growth of the organisation, but also alongside the growth of the individual women. Not only are they brave, they are strong journalists who continue to provide for their country and fight for women to have their voices heard and make an impact in their community. If you have a chance to check this film out, I would highly encourage doing so.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

At the Ready

Director: Maisie Crow

Synopsis: Home to one of the region’s largest law enforcement education program, students at Horizon High School in El Paso train to become police officers and Border Patrol agents as they discover the realities of their dream jobs may be at odds with the truths and people they hold most dear.

At the Ready is a well made documentary about the system in which students learn about joining the police force. In the political climate that we are currently in, this might be a subject matter that instantly turns away people, but I think this film handles it well.

What sells this documentary are the students. They all enter the system being shy and insecure, and by the end of it they come out with confidence and their own beliefs, especially the leading girl Cassie. It is incredibly rewarding to watch their journeys throughout the film and to see their passion for what they want to do.

It does take a while to get going, and I do wish that the film had more fun with the filmmaking. It isn’t anything revolutionary, but it is easy to care about these students and be proud of what they accomplish throughout this year of their lives.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

R#J

Director: Carey WIlliams
Writers: Rickie Castaneda, Carey Williams, Alexey Sobolev
Starring: Camaron Engels, Francesca Noel, RJ Cyler

Synopsis: A modern day retelling of Romeo and Juliet, told through mobile screens.

Even though my score is very low for R#J, I want to start by saying that I appreciate the risks taken to bring this story to life in this format. Whilst the Romeo and Juliet story has been retold on numerous occasions, I have to say that this took the most creative freedom with the filmmaking. Even if I couldn’t connect to it, there will be people that love the choice of filmmaking.

I sadly could not connect or like any of the characters in this adaptation, even Romeo and Juliet themselves. There is simply not enough time to get to know about them as we are watching it all through phone screens and text messages. It is also disappointing that the side characters felt so one dimensional, only there to drive the plot forward.

There are some scenes that are beautiful to watch, such as the branding. However, these are the scenes that feel organic to the storytelling and narrative, and I wonder if the style wasn’t as dramatic as it is if the quality of the film would have increased. I wanted more heart and character development here, and sadly it felt like a second thought in comparison to the editing and style.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Passing

Director: Rebecca Hall
Writer: Rebecca Hall
Starring: Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, André Holland
Based on: Passing by Nella Larsen

Synopsis: The unexpected reunion of two high school friends, Clare Kendry and Irene Redfield, ignites a mutual obsession that threatens both of their carefully constructed realities.

I had no idea what I was going to think of Passing, considering the reaction that the premiere got. I definitely seem to be more on the fence with this one, understanding where people on both sides come from on their views. I think it’s a solid film with many great aspects, but also has its downsides.

Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga are wonderful in this film. I love how nuanced their performances are, when each little moment matters and each line has a reaction. There is also a great storyline within this, talking about the issues of racism and showing it on screen. The gorgeous black-and-white cinematography helps elevate this message, as well as simply looking gorgeous.

However, there is an issue with the pacing in this film. The pacing is extremely slow throughout the film, leaving with moments that feel unnecessarily dragged out. With beautiful scenes and a gorgeous score to match it, it is easy to still be engaged with the film despite the pace. The other pace-related issue is the ending, which feels incredibly rushed and seems quite abrupt. However, I still quite enjoyed this film and would recommend it.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Misha and the Wolves

Director: Sam Hobkinson
Writer: Sam Hobkinson

Synopsis: A woman’s Holocaust memoir takes the world by storm, but a fallout with her publisher-turned-detective reveals her story as an audacious deception created to hide a darker truth.

Wow. What an incredible story and one that would perfectly in Netflix’s collection. I did not know what I was getting myself into, and honestly, that is the best way to enter this documentary. I cannot believe the journey that this goes on, and how much gets uncovered throughout. This mini-review will be vague, as I do not want to give any of the plot points and key moments away.

The film leads you in one direction, making you immediately connect with what we expect to be the main focus of the film. If the film was to be about that, it would have made for an interesting documentary within itself, and yet that is not actually the focus of the story.

I love the editing style for this documentary, which was clear and focused. The interviews inserted throughout helped drive the narrative and I loved getting to know everyone. This is a story that has impacted so many people and it was incredibly emotional seeing what their thoughts were throughout and reflecting on the situation. If you are to watch one documentary from Sundance, make it this one.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Land

Director: Robin Wright
Writers: Erin Dignam, Jesse Chatham
Starring: Robin Wright, Demián Bichir, Kim Dickens

Synopsis: Edee, in the aftermath of an unfathomable event, finds herself unable to stay connected to the world she once knew and in the face of that uncertainty, retreats to the magnificent, but unforgiving, wilds of the Rockies. After a local hunter brings her back from the brink of death, she must find a way to live again.

Whilst I wouldn’t call this a bad film, Land ended up being a film that was disappointed in. Clocking in at only 88 minutes, the film felt way longer than that, due to the slow pace and lack of events.
The film does have its pluses, and that mainly comes from Robin Wright’s performance. She is able to keep this film afloat, especially with the gorgeous cinematography that capture everything on screen. This is a film that is pretty to look at and admire, but to have it overtake the narrative and the character development.

The pacing issues go beyond the slow nature of the film, but the abrupt ending that comes with it. There are some great narrative moments within the film, but they are brushed aside just for the film to wander slowly and do little to progress forward. There are enough things in here to like, but only just.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

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