The Newport Beach Film Festival presented by Pacific Sales continues to bring interesting films that may never make it to a wide distribution, but that doesn’t mean the films aren’t worthy of being seen. That is one of the values of film festivals. I would encourage everyone to look for film festivals near you. (Note that I am including my votes for audience awards. The options for voting are Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor.)
Bushwick Beats is an anthology film with segments directed by A. Sayeeda Moreno, Chloe Sarbib, Brian Shoaf, Sonejuhi Sinha, James Sweeney, and Anu Valia. The common threads for the segments are the theme of unconditional love and the setting of the Bushwick community in Brooklyn. Each segment is its own short story. They include a story of vampire discrimination, a romance of two people who are living 3 years apart, a mother with ALS and her son’s desire to stay with her, and other interesting stories. The segment I found most interesting was “Wolves” directed by Anu Valia. It is not so much a plotted story as it is slice of life of a day in high school, which includes a couple nice spoken word presentations. (My vote: Good.)
In 2017 a series of fires devastated Napa and Sonoma Counties, the heart of the California wine country. Uncrushable is a documentary dealing with the fires and their aftermath. It is directed by San Francisco chef Tyler Florence, who organized a $500 a plate gourmet meal in a vineyard for 500 people a few weeks after the fires. As we see the planning for the Grateful Table event, we meet some of the residents who lost homes and businesses and some of the first responders who worked in the fires (those are often overlapping categories) and hear their stories of the catastrophic events. But we also see the community response of support and the hope that is going into rebuilding. Prior to the screening we heard from Bill Bracken, a chef with impressive credentials, who left the corporate world to found Bracken’s Kitchen, a homeless/hunger non-profit in Orange County. (Bracken’s Kitchen is a Community Sponsor for the festival.) He noted that the same kind of community spirit that came after the fires is a model for dealing with hunger and homelessness locally. (My vote: Good.) Bushwick Beats plays again on Tuesday.
The Wall of Mexico, from directors Zachary Cotler and Magdaleria Zyzak, is not about the proposed border wall, but it serves as a metaphor (at times bordering on allegory) about the American Dream and desire others have to share in it. The Arista family, wealthy Mexican-Americans, are resented by their poor white townspeople. The Arista daughters Ximena (Carmela Zumbado) and Tanya (Marisol Sacramento) are decadent, bored-with-life bourgeoisie beauties who spend their days and night drinking and snorting. The family has a well that that supposedly has some special qualities. The sell the water at exorbitant prices. But when the water level drops, they fear it is being stolen. A new hired hand, Don (Jackson Rathbone), is assigned to watch the well at night, and later build a wall around it. Don is obsessed with Ximena and Tanya, who alternately toy with him and abuse him. Don serves as something of a stand in for those who want to share in the Dream, but only get a small taste of it. He also represents the way those with wealth tempt workers with the promise of the good life, but never really offer it. I was a bit torn in watching the film. It at times had some very interesting artful shots, but they were more a distraction than addition to the story. Also, the portrayal of the decadence of the daughters was a bit over the top., so it wasn’t as effective a portrayal of American bourgeoisie as it could have been. And the metaphor really paints an unflattering portrait of the American Dream. Is it really just a myth that we use to exploit the poor while we do all we can to keep it for ourselves? I very much liked the ambition of such a metaphor, but in the end found it a bit heavy-handed. (My vote: Fair, but it’s an excellent fair.) The Wall of Mexico plays again on Tuesday.