During the COVID-19 quarantine, most of us have become exceedingly comfortable with foregoing the movie theater experience and streaming films from our couch. As familiar as that’s becoming, it’s still strange to have the film festival experience without leaving the house.
But like everything else in the world, the 17th annual Vail Film Festival had to adapt to a new scenario, and the end result was still as informative and entertaining as ever. The streaming-only model allowed viewers access to more movies a day than would be possible in person, and organizers still managed to connect filmmakers and audiences through pre-recorded Q&A’s and live-streamed discussions.
All of which supported the idea that has kept the festival going for nearly 20 years, and made it even more important it occur this year - the power of storytelling to unite. As Robin Bronk, CEO of The Creative Coalition, said during a panel, “We’re all just people who need that moment of connection.”
In three days, I was able to check out 13 movies and two collections of short films - “Asking For It,” “Barbara Adesso,” “Beautiful in the Morning,” “Driveways,” “Drought,” “Fresh Tracks,” “Film About A Father Who,” “Love Type D,” “The Miseducation of Bindu,” “Ruth Weiss, The Beat Goddess,” “Seasons of Change on Henry’s Farm,” “Vas-y Coupe” and “What Lies West” - and there was nary a dud among them. All are worth your time and support, and I selected five from new filmmakers to highlight.
(As these are all independent films, most of their release dates are still to be determined, but some are currently available).
“Asking For It”
There are numerous ways to a point across in storytelling, but few are as effective as laughter. Which makes Amanda Lundquist and Becky Scott’s hilarious and insightful dark comedy “Asking for It,” the perfect film to highlight the discrimination, threats and precautions women (both in the public eye and not) have to take on in their daily lives.
Stephanie Hsu (so good in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”) brings pitch-perfect comedic timing and fire to the character of Jenny, a female journalist dealing with an internet stalker. Think of it as a blend of “Heathers,” “Sweet/Vicious” and Kevin Smith at his most irreverent. The film will hopefully inspire thoughtful conversation while avoiding the kind of moralistic tone that turns some people away from the topic. Attention should be paid.
Some films just exude warmth. Not only in the story and characters, but in the way they’re shot. Such is the case with Andrew Ahn’s “Driveways,” which feels absolutely bathed in light.
Lead actress Hong Chau gives a wonderfully subtle and moving performance as Kathy, who brings her son Cody to clean out her late sister’s home. They meet neighbor Del (Brian Dennehy), and together get through a tough time in each other’s lives. All actors give thoroughly strong performers, but it’s particularly bittersweet as its one of Dennehy’s last performances. Just like the film, he breaks your heart in the best possible way.
When a film is a passion project, that dedication comes through every frame. Such is the case with “Drought,” which made its world premiere at the festival. Written, directed by and starring Hannah Black and Megan Petersen, the film takes audiences to the drought-stricken Texas of 1993. Carl - an amateur storm-chaser on the autism spectrum (stirringly played by Owen Scheid), his sisters Sam and Lillian (Black and Petersen) and family friend Lewis Drew Scheid, who practically walks away with every scene he’s in) go after a much-needed storm Carl predicts is coming.
Along the way this family sees first-hand the power of acceptance and love. At one point a character says, “there’s no such thing as normal.” That applies to this film as well. It’s something special.
“Ruth Weiss, The Beat Goddess”
The beat writers of the late 1940s and 50s played an enormous role in the development of American culture and the arts. And yet - as is so often the case - the contributions of women have largely been pushed to the back. “Ruth Weiss, The Beat Goddess,” - lovingly directed by Melody C. Miller - takes a step toward redressing that fact by vibrantly exploring the life of the legendary poet, actor, and innovator Ruth Weiss.
After Weiss fled Germany, she made a name for herself as one of the preeminent poets of the beat generation, pioneering the marriage of poetry and jazz. At nearly 92, Weiss remains a moving beacon of truth and the power of art. Watch this film, and you’ll come out of the film a wiser person. I know I did.
A truly lovely and intimate look at a group of laborers spending the harvest season picking grapes in France “Vas-y Coupe,” not only explores how a product so many enjoy gets made, but touches on a changing economic and environmental climate.
The film is lyrical in its beauty, poetic in its cinematography and most importantly, celebrates the humanity of its subjects. At one point, one says, “I work the fields because I love it.” This film shows why.
VAS-Y COUPE ! - DOCUMENTARY FILM TRAILER from BY THE BY PRODUCTIONS on Vimeo.