AWFJ Presents: THE WHITE KING – Review by Lonita Cook

Frequently when we try to create perfection, something gruesome emerges instead. Unyielding, unforgiving. This is certainly the dystopian nature of the fictitious Homeland where Djata and his mother, Hannah, reside as outcasts after Djata’s father, Peter, is taken as a traitorous prisoner, punished for speaking out. This fairytale isn’t about the bullying fist of a shadowed government and a lean sense of personal autonomy but rather the lifting haze over a child’s consciousness as the authority of their parent’s word wears off. Djata is okay with the way of the world until his mother transforms from a mythological god in his eyes to a mere mortal who lies.

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AWFJ Presents SONG WITHOUT A NAME – Review by Diane Carson

In Song Without a Name, Peruvian director Melina León with tender compassion tells a tragic tale of abducted newborns. Never hurried, the story, inspired by actual events, unfolds at a measured pace with maximum effect devoid of sensationalism since, clearly, none is needed for this repulsive crime. With the perfect choice of black and white cinematography, the images complement the 1988 time frame and the milieu of the twenty-year-old, indigenous Andean mother Georgina Condori Ñaupari.

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AWFJ Presents: SIGN PAINTERS – Review by Betsy Bozdech

You’ve likely heard of artisanal bread, heirloom vegetables, and bespoke clothing — but odds are you’ve rarely given a thought to another carefully crafted legacy product: hand-painted advertising signs. Once a fixture of Main Streets and shop windows everywhere, they’ve been knocked out of the mainstream by cheap, fast printing technology. But as Faythe Levine and Sam Macon’s engrossing documentary Sign Painters makes clear, this is an art that still has a passionate following. Levine and Macon interview many of the sign-painting faithful, capturing their enthusiasm for color palettes, their passion for precision, and their firm belief that theirs is a skill far superior to anything a computer can produce. Anyone who finds niche subcultures interesting will be fascinated by this group of dedicated artists. Some of them are rough, some are gruff, many are unassuming while others are brashly outspoken, but they all love what they do.

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AWFJ Presents: ELECTRIC SHADOWS – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

Set during China’s Cultural Revolution, female director Xiao Jiang’s 2004 feature debut, Electric Shadows, is akin to Italy’s 1989’s Oscar-winning Cinema Paradiso as it focuses on how a makeshift outdoor theater brings together a village of cinema lovers. When we first meet film addict Mao (Xia Yu), he is footloose and fancy free. He earns a living by toting water jugs from place to place on his bike. He especially loves action movies, as an image of a Blade Runner poster with Harrison Ford’s face materializes on screen. But by accident, he tumbles into a wall of bricks and is conked on the head with a brick by an angry woman named Ling-Ling (Qi Zhongyang). When she gets arrested, she gives Mao the keys to her apartment and tells him to feed her fish.

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AWFJ Presents: REVOLUTION: NEW ART FOR A NEW WORLD – Review by Nell Minow

“Victims or vanguards?” That is the challenge faced by the artists in Revolution: New Art for a New World, a documentary about the freedom-seeking artists who helped overthrow Russia’s repressive tsarist regime, only to find themselves repressed by its totalitarian replacement, Stalin. And the answer, sadly, was both. Down with abstraction. Up with realist monuments to revolutionary leaders, “monumental propaganda.” An artist who capitulated found one kind of success. A copy of his portrait of Lenin was hung in every Soviet schoolroom. Another ended up designing textiles for tractors.

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AWFJ Presents: QUEEN OF HEARTS: AUDREY FLACK – Review by Liz Braun

Queen of Hearts: Audrey Flack is a love letter to the artist and a mini-lesson in 20th Century gender politics and American art history. Directors Deborah Schaffer and Rachel Reichman trace the career of the now-91-year-old Flack by letting her do most of the talking. From Josef Albers getting handsy with her while she attended Yale to the exigencies of being a single mother and somehow finding time to paint, Flack’s history as a painter is also history of second wave feminism, entailing general survival in a male-dominated society and specific work in a milieu where women were barely acknowledged.

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AWFJ Presents BREATHE – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

Based on a novel by French author Anne-Sophie Brasme, director Mélanie Laurent’s Breathe is a story propelled by the mercurial friendships of teenage girls. The drama rises on the rich performances of its two leads, Lou de Laâge and Joséphine Japy. During their fast and intense relationship, Sarah (de Laâge) accuses Charlie (Japy) of playing the victim—but Sarah’s pretty good at that herself. There are no clear villains and heroes in the film until the tragic (no spoilers) climax.

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AWFJ Presents: BURN BURN BURN – Review by Sherin Nicole

The sudden death of a loved one has a way of exposing our secrets—everything we’ve held on to comes pouring out. In grief, we are as vulnerable as when faced with our mortality and that need for healing makes us honest. Burn Burn Burn dissects human vanities and the dishonesties that block us from connecting, and it does it through an entirely preposterous pair of leading ladies, who only truly see themselves through the lens of their dead friend’s video messages.

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AWFJ Presents ARRANGED – Review by Sandie Angulo Chen

Directors Diane Crespo and Stefan C. Schaefer’s short-and-sweet film captures the joy of the two women bonding against the odds. Their blossoming friendship overcomes obstacles, including their parents’ cringe-worthy reactions to the co-workers socializing outside of school. Even at school they can’t escape narrow-minded (and laughably inappropriate) comments from the secular Jewish Principal, who is so uncomfortable with their modesty that she accuses them of being indoctrinated and offers them cash to buy something trendy to wear.

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AWFJ Presents: XXY – Review by Beth Accomando

Lucia Puenzo’s directing debut is a coming of age film with a twist. XXY is about a teenager who was born with both male and female genitalia. Alex has been raised as a girl but at fifteen, she’s starting to question that identity. Puenzo’s film questions the way society has decided that there are only two ways to define sexual identity. Released in 2007, it remains is one of the few films to look to an intersex individual with genuine compassion and sensitivity in order to foster empathy and understanding.

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