documentary

Quest Shines at Nashville Film Festival 2017

Nashville’s annual film festival is one of the best reasons to live here, and 2017 does not disappoint. So far, the most powerful film I’ve caught is Quest.

The documentary follows a working class black family in North Philadelphia through ten years of their lives. Shot in the style of cinema vérité, director Jonathan Olshefski captures the big events and the small, endearing moments that come between, completing a moving portrait of an American family.

Quest

The Rainey family has a music studio based in their home, where parents Christopher “Quest” Rainey and his wife Christine’a record local hip hop artists and invite neighborhood boys to freestyle on Fridays in an effort to provide a creative outlet. Their daughter PJ grows up before our eyes from a sweet, bouncy child to a young adult who has undergone a traumatic injury. All of the Raineys are admirable, but PJ unwittingly emerges as the heroine of the story.

I love Guy Lodge’s Variety review:

Inhabiting the loving, creative, occasionally conflicted household of Christopher and Christine’a Rainey with close-quarters warmth that never crosses the line from intimate to invasive, Olshefski’s film doesn’t set out with a thesis to prove. Rather, it finds its resonance as it goes along, stumbling into crisis as spontaneously as its human subjects do, and finally emerging as an essential reflection of social transitions — for better and worse — in Barack Obama’s America.

What’s so great about Quest is that Olshefski collaborated closely with the Raineys over the ten year period, and much of the soundtrack is composed by Quest himself. Olshefski, who is a white photographer, didn’t set out to make a documentary about a North Philly family; Quest’s brother invited him to the house, and then Quest invited him back to photograph the local artists working in the studio. They formed a relationship; Olshefski began a photo essay, and for a year and half, he blended into the furniture and photographed them. Because of this, it doesn’t seem to take on the “white gaze” that so often accompanies documentaries about people of color. There’s a sense of great empathy that doesn’t patronize. While the Raineys experience tragedy that brings North Philly’s street violence into focus, their pain is not put on display. Rather, it centers the family’s experiences as a close portrait of an American family.

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Love & Friendship, Tickled at NaFF both made me cry laughing

You haven’t heard from me since winter when I curled up into my snail shell and went to sleep. Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about making my arts coverage more intentional and re-focusing on arts activism in Nashville. Lots of great stuff coming soon.

It’s spring time now and I have awakened and stretched my little snail body to the sky just in time for Nashville Film Festival. Check out the Scene’s coverage here; I contributed to the New Directors award category. My favorites were To Keep the Light, The Fits, Banana, and The Elk. It’s a great category with some top notch women in director and lead actress roles.

I’ll have some suggestions for you in a bit, but here’s very quick a run-down of Day 1.

Whether you’re a fangirl of Jane Austen or not, Love & Friendship is a must-see this year. The place: England. The time: 1790s. The woman: Lady Susan, played pitch-perfect by Kate Beckinsale, who, following the death of her husband, arrives “destitute” at her brother-in-law’s countryside home. Susan is beautiful, sharp, and cunning, employing exhausting (and dazzling) linguistic acrobatics to get her way. She defends her sense of superiority to her confidant Alicia (Chloe Sevigny) so earnestly that it’s easy to see why nearly everyone falls for her. An incorrigible flirt and irredeemable gossip, Lady Susan never falters. She is mired in a society where without a husband of some standing, she and her daughter must be dependent on relatives and friends. Hating her is easy. Admiring her much more fulfilling. love and friendship

Directed by Whit Stillman (Metropolitan), Love & Friendship boasts a vibrant supporting cast. Xavier Samuel plays Reginald DeCourcy, the attractive young man Susan seeks to engage. Samuel is perfect in the role of a gullible, love-struck heir, and Emma Greenwell plays his sister, who leads the family in opposing the courtship. Among the best, however, are Justin Edwards, playing a clueless Charles Vernon, who has some hilarious one-liners; Morfydd Clark, playing Susan’s daughter, the meek Frederica who is most tortured by her mother’s manipulations; and Tom Bennett, playing Sir James Marin, whose antics brought down the house.

Innuendo and euphemism also come to feel like characters because they show up so frequently and with such success. The script, written by Stillman and based on Jane Austen’s epistolary novel Lady Susan, is jam packed with unpredictable turns of phrase, usually delivered by Beckinsale, who is – as I mentioned – sheer perfection. I skipped out of the theater to Table 3 – where I sucked down a bowl of creamy risotto – and then headed back to the cinema.

New Zealand journalist David Farrier goes down a bizarre rabbit hole in Tickled, a new documentary that was praised at Sundance. It starts when Farrier discovers a Facebook page for Endurance Tickling Reality Competitions. Initial research heeds several videos of high school age, white, athletic boys straddling each other – sometimes 4 on 1 – and tickling.

His curiosity piqued, he writes the page owner, Jane O’Brien Media, requesting an interview. What follows alters his life and sends him and  co-director Dylan Reeve on a mission into this strange subculture that they can hardly believe exists. tickled

The premise itself is so funny –  whenever Farrier said the word “tickling” I died laughing – that I couldn’t put the extent of what they uncovered into perspective until the ride home. What first appears to be a harmless kink folds out like a pop-up book about exploitation, manipulation, and forgery that’s up there with cult documentaries. Farrier is so pleasant that when Jane O’Brien Media sends three lawyers to threaten him in New Zealand, he greets them with a cheerful, rainbow welcome sign at the airport. Jane O’Brien’s people are a strange mix of pleasant and accusatory, as if they aren’t on the same page, and as soon as they leave for L.A., Farrier and Reeve follow them.

As the story unfolds, the directors interview young men who agreed to be in tickling videos but whose privacy was violated when Jane O’Brien Media broke contract and made their videos public. When one man successfully petitioned YouTube to take his down, Jane O’Brien unleashed a Scientology-level-crazy doxing that has followed him for years. Unable to find “Jane,” the filmmakers look into other ticklers and find themselves tracing a history of videos dating back to dial-up. Farrier and Reeve masterfully balance teeth-gritting suspense with the utter silliness of the topic in a way that allows the film to have multiple impacts. First, there are dozens of hilarious moments found in looks and gestures throughout the documentary. Farrier’s unobtrusive narration provides structure and amplifies the sleuth-like feel. It’s also a nail-bitter; as the directors zero in on “Jane,” we live the suspense with them. Finally, it’s guerrilla-style investigative journalism at its best, as Farrier and Reeve take their small crew back and forth between New Zealand and New York, chipping away at the truth.

Tickled plays again on Friday at 12:30 p.m., is playing at many festivals in the next couple of months and will be released in the U.S. on June 24.

Love & Friendship opens May 13.

Today, I’m seeing Little Men and Sing Street. Much to my dismay, the regular world does not stop during NaFF, but I plan on seeing as many films as humanly possible. I’ll report back!