THE MARIJUANA CONSPIRACY – Review by Leslie Combemale

Writer/director Craig Pryce’s film The Marijuana Conspiracy proves that a fascinating, little-known, and rather dark chapter in Canadian history does not necessarily make for a fascinating movie. The fact-based story basis for the film is one that has been largely buried in time.

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REEFA – Review by Leslie Combemale

Jessica Kavana Dornbusch has penned and directed the film Reefa about young and very gifted street artist Israel ‘Reefa’ Hernandez, who was struck down by Miami police while he was tagging an abandoned building. After four years of intense research and much dialogue with Hernandez’s family, Kavana Dornbusch has crafted a story that is much more a celebration of a joyful, idealistic youth’s life than it is about a senseless, tragic death at the hands of the officers who should have been protecting him.

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HOPE – Review by Leslie Combemale

Norwegian Oscar submission Hope (original title Håp) is a relationship movie about messy, committed love. Though the film is centered on someone struggling with cancer, writer/director Maria Sødahl doesn’t create a shiny, Hollywood ‘cancer film’. She reveals many aspects of what it’s like to face mortality, from the perspective of a woman and mother, as well as from those standing by, like the children and the partner who love her, and does so with such truth, that the film will resonate with a wide variety of viewers. The film will also resonate with most who are in or have had long term relationships, which often involve complications, resentments, and the experience of repeatedly falling out of and back into love.

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BEST SUMMER EVER (SXSW21) – Review by Leslie Combemale

Best Summer Ever is a weird and delightful tossed screen-salad of Crip Camp and High School Musical, with a side of Grease, where no one mentions the disabilities, and there is truly authentic disability representation. Both realistic and aspirational, Best Summer Ever is the sort of movie that may be fun and frothy, but it’s also needed in order for bigger studio films to consider more inclusive casting.

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Stacey Gregg and Andrea Riseborough on HERE BEFORE (SXSW 2021) – Leslie Combemale interviews

Stacey Gregg makes her narrative feature debut with Here Before, which takes place in a small town in Northern Ireland, and is about a grieving mother Laura (Andrea Riseborough) who finds in her neighbor’s daughter echoes of her own child Josie, who died in a car accident. Megan and Laura begin a complicated relationship filled with awkward, unsettling conversations and inappropriate attachments. All the characters in the film make questionable choices, for reasons that become clear as this slow burn story packs lots of surprises and keeps you in thrall to the last scene.

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Intersectionality at SXSW 2021 – Leslie Combemale reports

This year at SXSW there are a number of powerful female filmmakers of color who are shining a light on important social issues both through narrative and documentary films, employing women of color in front of and behind the camera. They are an inspiration not only for their commitment to diverse voices, but also for creating great content worthy of our attention. Here are some of the best offerings at the fest you can see right now.

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SUBJECTS OF DESIRE (SXSW 21) – Review by Leslie Combemale

A feature documentary debut from Canadian writer/director Jennifer Holness, Subjects of Desire examines the history of beauty for women in the Black community both culturally and aesthetically, and what kinds of impacts that perception of beauty has had on the Black women of today’s America. Fascinating, educational, and insightful, Subjects of Desire should be seen widely and considered thoughtfully by people of all colors, not least to make small inroads in reframing the weight placed on Black women to contort themselves into what is expected of them. They deserve to celebrate themselves completely free of a societal judgment which is seated in hundreds of years of racism.

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Kelley Kali and Angelique Molina on I’M FINE (THANKS FOR ASKING) and Pandemic Production – Leslie Combemale interviews

At the height of the pandemic, and frustrated by inactivity, filmmaker Kelley Kali decided to make a film, and engaged USC film school buddies Angelique Molina, and Roma Kong to write and produce it, and Angelique to co-direct it. The dangers of Covid and a non-existent budget meant they also had to use crew members for the cast, and find locations that were free and worked for their plot. Of all the issues folks were and are facing, the threat of not being able to pay rent and become houseless hit home to the writing and production team, so I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking) was born.

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THE DROVER’S WIFE: THE LEGEND OF MOLLY JOHNSON (SXSW 21) – Review by Leslie Combemale

In Australia, the first laws against domestic abuse were passed in the 1970s. Back in the 1800s, it wasn’t seen as a crime. That’s the era in which Indigenous writer/director/lead actor Leah Purcell’s film The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson takes place. The film takes the Australian romantic myth of frontier freedom and egalitarianism for all, and blows it to smithereens, giving audiences a bleak look into the challenges for indigenous people and women of the time.

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WOMEN IS LOSERS (SXSW 21) – Review by Leslie Combemale

There’s no doubt that Women is Losers is a crowd pleaser, especially with Lorenza Izza as its lead. Given the current numbers released each month on job loss and potential evictions from those effected by the pandemic, this optimistic indie and quasi-fairy tale will be great viewing for those needing a reminder that, contrary to the Janis Joplin’s lyrics that inspired the film’s title, women can be winners.

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