SHAYDA (Sundance FF2023) – Review by Nadine Whitney

Iranian-Australian director Noora Niasari’s potent and essential debut is based on her childhood experiences. As a child Noora was living in a women’s shelter after her Iranian mother had to flee her abusive father. Noora asked her mother to write an autobiography of her experiences dealing with the constant fear of her retributive husband, exile from the Persian community in Australia, and the determination to raise her daughter in as stable an environment as possible. The memoire became Niasari’s basis of Shayda. Shayda received the Audience Award for World Cinema: Dramatic at Sundance Film Festival 2023.

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SCRAPPER (Sundance FF2023) – Review by Nadine Whitney

Scrapper is an exquisite coming-of-age story for both its protagonists. Georgie and Jason learn what it is like to need and love each other in a manner that is naturalistic despite, or perhaps because of, director Charlotte Regan’s forays into the fantastical. Newcomer Lola Campbell is a brilliant presence who manages to make her character, young Georgie, deeply genuine in both her rebellion and aching sadness. Scrapper won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic at Sundance Film Festival 2023.

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FANCY DANCE (Sundance FF2023) – Review by Leslie Combemale

Indigeneous filmmaker Erica Tremblay’s Fancy Dance, still seeking distribution, is so good it has me checking the Sundance Film Festival acquisition news every few hours like a mom of someone hoping to get drafted into the NFL. It has everything an award-winning movie needs: a plot with high stakes, strong performances, good character development and interaction, deeper cultural significance, and solid entertainment value. Fancy Dance also features BIPOC female creatives both in front and behind the camera, including the use of music by Choctaw composer Samantha Crain, and cinematography by Latinx filmmaker Carolina Costa.

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GIRL (Sundance FF2023) – Review by Leslie Combemale

Writer/driector Adura Onashile’s lyrical drama Girl is a beautiful study in mother/daughter love, even as it explores the impact of trauma and its potentially destructive influence on motherhood. This emotional and tender story anchors itself in one very specific example in which race, class, and gender all play a very important role. It is in its specificity that Girl finds a universality that will connect with nearly everyone. That’s quite something for a feature film debut.

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KIM’S VIDEO (Sundance FF2023) – Review by Leslie Combemale

Do we preserve physical media, knowing that online sources who now control access to everything from the teeniest and the most underground to the biggest blockbuster, make it nearly impossible to see films not slathered with the “this is cool” or “hot and new” labels? Kim’s Video answers that question with a resounding, unqualified yes. It suggests everyone had best stop mocking friends who have thousands of dvds, blu-rays, and VHS tapes filed alphabetically in their basements.

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THE STARLING GIRL (Sundance FF2023) – Review by Nadine Whitney

Writer/director Laurel Parmet’s coming-of-age feature The Starling Girl is a clear-eyed vision of repression and control under the patriarchal gaze of an evangelical community in Kentucky. The titular starling girl is Jem Starling, a seventeen-year-old who has only ever known the close-knit religious group and is struggling to reconcile her natural desires with the strictures of the church.

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ONYX THE FORTUITOUS AND THE TALISMAN OF SOULS (Sundance FF2023) – Review by Liz Whittemore

Writer-director Andrew Bowser gives audiences an instant classic and an ode to fandoms, everywhere, with Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls. The dialogue is over-the-top quirky and undeniably hysterical. Teresa Strebler’s production design is straight out of The Addam’s Family, with carved wood, tapestries, antique oddities, and secret passageways. Costumes are vibrant and eye-catching, and the special fx makeup team gives us pure Tim Burton deliciousness. The puppetry reminds me of 80’s Jim Henson creations. Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls stands shoulders above the tropes it incorporates. This film will be on everyone’s lips all year. I predict a bidding war and a franchise, and that’s a win for everyone.

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Sundance Film Festival: Feminist Overview – Leslie Combemale reports

This year over 50% of films in nearly all categories of the festival are directed by folks who identify as women: 61% in the US Dramatic Competition, 63% in the US Documentary, 58% in the World Dramatic Competition, and 46% in the World Documentary, to be precise. Of all the feature films announced, 53% are directed or co-directed by female-identifying creatives. That’s a lot to sift through, but we at the Alliance of Women Film Journalists are here to help.

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