Joyce the shortfilm

Contemporary urban life has its strange tendencies that shape social material of the world. From familial ties to the global flow of people, the cities shape the life of different social classes leaving a mark on the way parenthood is constructed.

The short film “Joyce” looks at the life in New York City, where successful workaholic and egocentric parents dedicate their lives on their work life, while equally hardworking immigrant nannies take care of their children. Unlike many other films that address such situation, the subtle, empathetic and heartfelt drama focuses on the story of the nannies, and particularly on the touching everyday of Filipino nanny Joyce. Warm and caring Joyce has migrated to New York from Manila in order to support her family at home, whom she misses dearly. She works for a husband and wife, who too busy to notice or care about their daughters interests or if Joyce has received her paycheck in time. Their arrogance and self-centeredness forms a telling background for the story that focuses on Joyce’s struggles of being mentally and physically far from her family. In “Joyce” we follow one of the harder days of her life, which exposes many thought-provokingly emotional aspects of contemporary notions of parenthood, work, and global class divide.

The subtle storytelling makes sure that the intimately structured story hits its emotional notes. The both realistic and allegoric feel is achieved by naturalistic cinematography and editing, which bring the events close to the audience and stress the affectionate approach that the film tries to successfully achieve. Joyce’s emotional journey is presented without sentimental accents, which makes the themes and emotional atmosphere easily identifiable. Although the soundtrack occasionally slips to the track of sentimentality, the performances keep the film beautifully grounded.

The positive and negative tensions arising between the sensitively directed characters pull the story forward and are the thematic core of the film. The importance of close and understanding relationships for an individual living in any kind of conditions is essential for their wellbeing. “Joyce”, which understands the hardships of finding such relations in a foreign and socially distant context in which familial relations are mediated by quick and expensive phone calls and homesickness is soothed by material objects from home.

The calmly paced narrative of “Joyce” is a little bit too convenient in some parts and covered topics are a little too simplified, but the sensitive approach that the socially and psychologically precise director Nora Jaenicke takes treats the universal subject matter with notable warmth and empathy. Movies like “Joyce” help as to be more empathetic towards migrants, while making us rethink our familial relations in contemporary world that appreciates blinding thirst for success, self-centeredness, and anonymity and instrumentality of relations. By stressing the importance of close relationships in a setting that deepens loneliness and exclusion daily, “Joyce” concludes with hopeful notes about how to emotionally survive amidst the global flows of workforce. It is beautiful and honest contemporary drama for the people working as nannies for the people hiring them.

Rest Stop

Stephen King has this great initiative. He offers aspiring film students and filmmakers a possibility to adapt his short stories to film for one dollar only, under contractual obligations, of course. These so called “Dollar Babies” are the world famous best-selling author’s way to contribute to the film industry and annoy his accountants. For example Frank Darabont (the director of The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile) used this initiative as a stepping-stone, which landed him his following work with Stephen King.

Canadian filmmaker Stephen Baxter’s “Rest Stop” is one of these King’s “Dollar Babies”. And very mature and polished one, too. While being a cinematic crystallization of Baxter’s talent, the drama thriller tells a story of a restrained and refined English professor, whose alter ego is a badass Indiana Jones looking mystery writer Rick Hardin. The professor in the film’s protagonist is a little embarrassed about his other darker and robust side, which brings additional income by attracting the crowd, who buy their books from gas stations. After one of his students brings the professor’s hidden life into the focus during a lecture, the protagonist’s dichotomous identity comes to the fore, again. This sets the complex but clear frame for the story and continues to engrossingly explore the dynamics between the two sides of the writer and how these tensions materialize in this real life and in his creative work.

Stephen King’s short story is adapted to the film form splendidly with a captivating multilayered approach that mixes the protagonist’s reality together with the fiction that he produces without seeming too confused or pushed. Furthermore, the tensely written dialogue that flirts with topical themes carries the story forward with a well-paced tone that knows, how to have fun and when to tighten the tension curve. Although we can thank Stephen King for the great protagonist who has all the complexities that a good character should, the screenwriter Amy Halloran is one to adore, when we look at the coherent and progressing storytelling of “Rest Stop”. Halloran’s polished and well-structured screenplay vitalizes the characters, while it gives relevance for the gripping story.

The director Stephen Baxter’s solid work builds a wonderful tone for the story. By relying on the duality of the protagonist, he maximizes the great performance of the lead actor Eric Davis (Mother!, The Bone Collector, 19-2, Midway), who manages to pull of the two completely different natures of his character with charm and power. While many contemporary authors fail to create a balance between different genres, Baxter mixes the visual elements and tools of both drama and thriller skillfully.

The cinematography by Wyler Diome Montour creates an awesome atmosphere for the film and finds the best angles for supporting the progressing tone of the scenes from tense crime action to charmingly lit bar sequences. The score reinforces the duality of the narrative and thus the tone further. Due to its cinematic and narrative consistency, I hope that Stephen Baxter’s “Rest Stop” is one of those “Dollar Babies” that the director’s namesake ends up watching. It’s truly worth it.

Eric Hanged Himself

What happens when a sociopathic man comes across with two friends, impregnates one and does something unexpected with another? What is the effect of deep love, which makes people blind over certain aspects of the person whom one loves?

Ryan Bennett, a versatile filmmaker from New Zealand, answers such questions and some more in his third short film that is provocatively called “Eric Hanged Himself”. The modern morality tale tells a short domestic story about Jenna, her best friend Tracey and Tracey’s boyfriend Eric, the latter of whom is the root of all evil in the story. So, these three characters form a soap opera type of dynamic full of betrayal, tears, pregnancy, cruel intentions (yes, this is a nod to the late 1990s movie “Cruel Intentions”), manipulation, and exploitation.

The story starts with introducing suspicious looking Tracey and the full on pregnant Jenna talking on a phone about Eric, who has allegedly killed himself. Where the thematically tactless (hint the title and the main motif) film does with the soapy premise from there on, though, gets rather interesting. By playing with the spectators’ attention, “Eric Hanged Himself” makes the storytelling multilayered, which means that the casual activities the characters do during dialogues are more meaningful than the things they often say. This approach turns the story a little more intriguing, while demonstrating the skills of the director-screenwriter and the co-screenwriter Benjamin Rider, whose script is tightly written and well energized. That is, the script, events, and characters are presented functionally, while they seem to hold water, although the premise might sound absurd, when pulled out of context.

The young and upcoming actors Elizabeth Dowden as Jenna, Arlo Green as Eric and Fiona Armstrong as Tracey truly materialize the motifs of their compactly written and directed characters. Their dynamic and solid performances carry the film that is constructed around the morality and immorality of the characters. And in that the film reaches its goals in studying shortly but effectively the interplay between morals and personal goals, love and friendship.

The events are depicted by efficiently present cinematography by Lance Wordsworth, while the meaningfully paced editing supports the storytelling by giving it a good rhythm and communicating the meanings that the story conceals in action and visual storytelling. The narrative is accompanied by road trip vibe soundtrack that is part of establishing the atmosphere of the film and the feeling of departure, which can be easily associated with the themes of the film. The set and costume design emphasize the domestic drama tone, while making the story more plausible.

Although the film is far from reaching the goal of joining “a larger conversation on abusive relationships and manipulation of women” and only depicts some aspects of the problem without any proper comments, “Eric Hanged Himself” reaches very close to justifying its too offensive and provocative title and poster, which really doesn’t reflect the narrative, tone nor the essence of the film. If to pass this misdirection, one can conclude that “Eric Hanged Himself” demonstrates the craftsmanship of its authors, especially in the field of stylish editing, convincing acting and determined directing. And oh, of course, conclude that men suck.

1,2,3, Once Again

Alzheimer’s disease is an awful disease, which can’t be reversed or cured. As Wikipedia states, its gradually worsening effects cause memory issues, language problems, disorientation, mood swings, lack of motivation and other behavioral issues. In order to provide support to elderly people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, there is a therapeutic program in Portugal, which curates musical interventions for its participations. These physical and musical sessions form a rather distinct reality apart from the rapid flows of everyday life. The Portuguese filmmaker, performance artist, photographer, poet, musician, video artist, painter and communication scholar Vasco Diogo (known for the award winning experimental film “anexperimentalviralvlog – the movie remix # !”) explores this reality in his short film “1,2,3, Once Again” with a unique experimental approach that creates a fascinating and unconventional film reality, which makes the viewer emphasize with the Alzheimer patients as well as absorb to the distorted reality the film establishes.

Vasco Diogo, who usually works with mixed media and experimental approaches and has a strong theoretical and practical background in different forms of creative expression, approaches the unfamiliar and strangely haunting space intuitively and improvisationally. This approach separates “1,2,3, Once Again” from a conventional documentary that the short film could have easily been. By adding disorienting layers with sound design and video effects, Vasco Diogo makes the film visually and thematically more complex. More unreal and more demandingly as well as physically experienced. This is not a documentary about a form of Alzheimer’s therapeutic program that you consume by watching and thinking.

No, Diogo’s experiment pulls the viewer in to the sessions in another level provoking existential thoughts and emotional responses with its unconventional approach to editing and effects, as well as storytelling. By playing with time, tone and voice manipulation, the artist creates an absorbing reality with its own roles and timeline. These effects combined with the subject matter creates a therapeutic environment around the viewer, as if the short film itself was constructed to provoke a stimulated therapeutic session. But then an interesting question comes to the front. While the people depicted in the film suffer from Alzheimer’s and work in a session carved for this particular disease, what is the condition of the audience? Is it individually or collectively perceived? Does the experimental film form a uniform therapeutic space in which different spectators ponder on similar questions and experience similar processes? These are only some of the questions that the experiment arises with its unconventional form and fully experimental execution that employs both visuals and audio to make sure that the reality and the experience constructed by the audience is detached from the everyday reality.

Because of such different approach that locates 1,2,3, Once Again somewhere between visual art, experiential cinema, participatory therapeutic cinematic intervention and documentary, Diogo’s newest work might feel too unconventional and odd for the audience who prefer clear and cinematically polished ways of visual representation. But for those, who are ready to explore uncharted territories, 1,2,3, Once Again offers psychologically engaging and thought-provoking framework for experiencing and exploring big existential questions.

Women’s Gold

Work, everyday life, and the dynamics between genders acquire different meanings in different sociocultural settings. Often they are an integrated part of one’s life, providing structure for everyday practices and social relations. Eza Doortmont, an aspiring filmmaker from Netherlands, inspects work as sociocultural practice in her modestly beautiful and down-to-earth visual ethnography “Women’s Gold”, which is part of her master’s thesis.

By doing her fieldwork in a little Tampe-Kukuo community on the outskirts of Tamale, Ghana, she depicts the life around the process of producing shea butter. The work practices and the social life around the manual production of a commodity, which has gained significant popularity in the “western countries”, provides her a window to the changing structures of the relations and conditions of the women employed in the production process.

Eza Doortmont, who is the full production house of the film by doing every part of filming process from pre-production to editing, employs her background in anthropology to approach her subject matter. So, the visual approach is observational, while the intimate and vivid cinematography tries not to interrupt the social life it observes. This is of course rather impossible, but Doortmont, who has a humane and understanding gaze, seems to achieve the feeling of being there and really seeing how the work life of shea butter makers might look like in Ghana. Doortmont utilizes the tools that the tradition of visual anthropology offers and creates a sincere, honest, and naturalistic representation of her informants. From down-to-earth sound design to intimate editing that establishes a logical continuity, which follows the production process, work together to bring make the close to life representation lively and real. The storytelling is, thus, well-structured and meets the authors intentions.

If something is to be criticized is the narrow scope of the film, which is not quite able to capture the complex set of anthropological topics around which the short film constructs (and which are also reflected on the author’s materials attached to the film). However, although this aspect needs some work, the film in its current form and as a observational piece, achieves its goals beautifully, while touching the wider topics naturally along the way. Hence, the film has a great (everyday life imitating) flow, which might have been interrupted by bringing deeper topics into the mix. The outlines of such topics as kinship, labor, agency, personhood, gender, hierarchies, power relations, and anthropology of work are drawn clearly.

By taking a female focused and informant-centered approach, Doortmont lets the realities (from practices, conditions to social relations) of the people displayed speak for themselves. The social, cultural, and economic meaning of work for these women is nicely explored in “Women’s Gold”. We can see how work has given economic independence and agency for the women in Ghana. Further, the work life has given a new space for supporting relations to emerge between the women, who value and support their workmates, who together form a community with their own sociocultural peculiarities. And Doortmont’s attentive and sensitive anthropological approach that she takes in “Women’s Gold” is very welcomed to bring more respect and mutual understanding to our world.

Before Night Comes – Antigone Speech

The timeless Greek mythology never dies. It has such beauty and relevance that its narratives and motives have transformed into the backbone of our contemporary storytelling. Film after film we can detect elements from the great Greek mythology, whereas contemporary theatre looks again and again back to the source of its existence. Film doesn’t do it that often, but as the grandiose Joaquim Pavão’s “Before the Night Comes – Antigone Speech” suggests, it should.

The multitalented filmmaker, composer, and guitarist Joaquim Pavão goes straight to the source. Well, almost. By using the portrayal of Antigone written by Portuguese author Eduarda Dionísio in the beginning of 1990s, Pavão visualizes stunningly Oedipus’ and Jocasta’s daughter Antigone through deep and epic monologues. The filmmakers take on the centuries old tradition is both experimental and classical. It really depends if you approach the diverse film from the point of view of one or another art form.

As the film unfolds with beautiful aesthetics and profound performances, the mixture of art forms achieves such a mesmerizing complexity. “Before the Night Comes – Antigone Speech” uses the elements from the tradition of theatre, dance, performance art, film, and literature and fuses them together with the specifics of cinema beautifully and meaningfully. Although the theatrical performativity dominates, which can first feel a little odd for film form, these different modes of creating meaning work in harmony and visualize the story with such intensity that one can do nothing else but admire the artistic vision of the author. Everything is though carried by the amazing lead performance by Isabel Fernandes Pinto, who is supported by enchantingly choreographed dancers, or the choir, which points to the theatre tragedy tradition.

The theatrical elements continue in symbolically graded set designs as well as in harsh and layered makeup and costume design, which speak volumes of the filmmaker and his team’s creativity. Harsh nature, mud, and earthy tones add layers to the story, while their effect on the performances is intensifying. The calm and patient cinematography combined with well-paced editing highlights the gorgeous visuals of the film, which are supported by solid high contract lightning design. The score, which is also composed by Joaquim Pavão, is beautifully complex and progressive as it diversifies the emotional narrative.

Although one can feel a little lost within the story driven by deep and layered monologues as well as symbols, the film feels utterly captivating due to the previously described cinematic approach, which works creatively with different art forms. However, it is hard to imagine, what such a experimental art-house short drama could offer for the general audience. Still, if you enjoy going to the theatre to watch Greek mythology inspired tragedies, “Before the Night Comes – Antigone Speech” will surely be your cup of tea. A cup of tea, which takes you centuries back in time with intense and intimate monologues, beautiful art direction and visuals, as well as with passionately directed powerful performances. It is truly something that you can’t bite through only with one viewing. It just invites you in again.

The Grimoire Chapters: Rem

Michael Davis’ The Grimoire Chapters is a captivating horror web series full of passion, professionalism and visionary creativeness. In The Grimoire Chapters season 3 episode 5 “Here Comes the Boogeyman” the writer-director Davis creates a unique storyline, which is carried forward by familiar but fresh tropes of the genre that the author utilizes creatively and vigorously. He combines various familiar motifs from the genre with engrossing visuals and thus creates a disoriented and coherent film universe that builds up into an intense cinematic experience. Further, the alluringly odd mixture of supernatural, satanic, ritualistic, core, and horrorish suspense elements establish a creepy atmosphere that keeps you on the edge of the seat from the beginning to the end. And after that, it gives you painfully urgent thirst for more.

But how exactly The Grimoire Chapters’ one episode achieves its effects? First, there is so much to look and think about. All the levels of this unique world, which seems rather familiar but also disoriented at the same time, are full of details and noteworthy cinematic achievements. Whereas other today’s successful genre bending indie horrors seem to go to the direction of (conceptual) minimalism – “It Follows”, “Get Out” and “A Quiet Place” to name a few – The Grimoire Chapters is packed with awesome ideas, great characters, diverse visuals, various stylistic choices, and versatile effects. Although, this might sound that the episode 5 “Here Comes the Boogeyman” is a mixed bag ready to explode, it is actually far from it.

Michael Davis uses such combination of mixing form and surprising storytelling to create a creeping atmosphere, which brings the seemingly scattered elements together under the same horrorish and creepy roof. This effect and the unique atmosphere are amplified with equally diverse and participating cinematography by Michael Davis that surprises with its composition and use of distinctive color grading – as a side note, you should check the credits and be impressed by the extensive talent that Michael Davis has in The Grimoire Chapters, just amazing! The score, which feels both fresh and occasionally worn-out for sounding way too familiar, supports the eerie atmosphere and hectic storytelling. Editing, which is also done by Davis, adds up to the variability in rhythm and style. Further, the production design, which is rich in details that fit the general tone perfectly, work beautifully together with other elements in order to establish the gripping atmosphere, which relies also on the creative lightning design that understands the elements of horror and knows how to create tension for the web series episode.

Although the authors talent is in display from the beginning to the credits, the actors make their characters fit into this strange world perfectly. They work with occasionally lame and occasionally surprisingly fresh dialogue with determination and skill, providing intensity to the scenes. Therefore, as a low budged web series episode The Grimoire Chapters: Rem’s episode Here Comes The Boogeyman is quite an achievements, as it succeeds in creating a gripping atmosphere, intense story and a need to binge watch the hell out of this anthology horror web series that began in 2014 and has reached its third season already.