CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH (SXSW 2022) – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

At first blush, I thought the coming-of-age drama Cha Cha Real Smooth sounded like one of those tiring “manic pixie dream girl” narratives, with an aimless college graduate curing his ennui through a friendship with a mother and her autistic daughter. But filmmaker Cooper Raiff, who stars here as well as writes and directs, surprises with something more subtle and nuanced. It’s not just the graduate who matures during this friendship. The mom does too, with a tender, complex performance from Dakota Johnson.

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TICKTOK, BOOM. (SXSW) – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

With more than 2 billion users—a significant chunk of them under 25—TikTok has become an app that launches careers, earns exponential income, and scares the heck out of privacy advocates, competitors, and even its users. The documentary TikTok, Boom. tackles almost too much in an hour and 37 minutes. Yet even where it doesn’t probe deeply, the film advocates for examining this platform that carries more dangers than its dance and lip-synch videos indicate.

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Kelcey Edwards on THE ART OF MAKING IT (SXSW 2022) – Leslie Combemale interviews

The Art of Making It, from filmmaker, artist, and former gallerist Kelcey Edwards, is a documentary that follows a group of emerging fine artists working to break into the upper echelons of the art world to financial and cultural success, and the challenges that make that nearly impossible for all but the anointed few. Those in power in the art world have become gatekeepers that limit opportunities for diverse voices, or really anyone who doesn’t attend the right university or art school. Those art schools can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, leaving artists with a mountain of debt. This film considers how and if artists and disrupters can change the status quo, and why it is essential for the way art is presented and promoted to be rebuilt to level the playing field. It is a fascinating inside look at a business in desperate need of change, in order for all corners of society to be reflected in the art and artists that gets celebrated.

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Iliana Sosa on WHAT WE LEAVE BEHIND (SXSW 2022) – Leslie Combemale interviews

What We Leave Behind is a wonderful tribute by a granddaughter to her grandfather. Filmmaker Iliana Sosa created her new documentary to celebrate Julián Moreno, a man who had worked as a bracero during World War II, continued to work with his hands until very shortly before his death, always deeply loved his family, and had a clear sense of himself and the world. Through her film, which features footage taken over years of visiting her aging grandfather at his home in Durango, Mexico, Sosa offers a powerful understanding of her own family, and allows us to consider the legacy handed down to all of us by our elders, and what they, uniquely, leave behind.

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Ana Sofia Fonseca on CESARIA EVORA (SXSW 2022) – Leslie Combemale interviews

If you haven’t had the distinct pleasure of hearing a song sung by Cesária Évora, you’ll need to get on that. Born in colonial Cape Verde and known as the Barefoot Diva, Cesária came to international fame after the age of 50, in a business that values youthful beauty and malleability above all else. She had a voice that expressed passion and melancholy in equal measure, and developed fans all over the world. The strong willed, fiercely independent singer passed away in 2011, but her legacy lives on. Filmmaker Ana Sofia Fonseca has released a new documentary on her life and career at SXSW 2022 called Cesária Évora. It is the result of spending years pulling together never-before-seen recordings, images, and footage representing Cesária’s personal life and her early days as a performer in the clubs of Cape Verde.

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BOYCOTT (SXSW 2022) – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

Director Julia Bacha’s documentary Boycott is a powerful call for Americans to protect our First Amendment right to dissent. The United States has a history of boycotts influencing change, such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 that ended racially segregated seating on city buses. Yet as this 2022 SXSW documentary shows, some workers now feel pressured to choose between their livelihoods and their support of causes that don’t align with their beliefs.

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GABBY GIFFORDS: WON’T BACK DOWN (SXSW 2022) – Review by Leslie Combemale

Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down is a great addition to filmmakers Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s catalog of films on powerful, tenacious public figures, which includes RGB, My Name is Pauli Murray, and, most recently, Julia. They are clearly on a mission to amplify women of strength and authentic power, and the films’ audiences are the lucky beneficiaries.

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THE PRANK (SXSW 2022) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

A sweet little gumdrop of a film with a deliberately bitter aftertaste, The Prank is the charming black comedy revenge fantasy we need right now. While the plot may be too OTT for some, it is surely these very excesses that make the film the wild ride that it is as it puts the casual cruelty of youth in its crosshairs. The Prank is far from didactic, however, and director Maureen Bharoocha does an impressive job creating an immersive world where the slights of adolescence sting oh-so sharply, and the fleeting yet all-encompassing irrationality of the moment seems to somehow make sense.

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THE PRANK (SXSW 2022) – Review by Joan Amenn

The Prank purrs like a twisted kitten when Rita Moreno and David Keith face off against each other. As high school physics teacher Mrs. Wheeler and principal Henderson respectively, there mutual loathing bubbling under a veneer of professional courtesy is just priceless. There are some great moments of satirical commentary about the fleeting attention spans induced by social media but the plot is fairly predictable.

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SKATE DREAMS (SXSW 2022) – Review by Leslie Combemale

Anyone who thinks women have equality can look to continued the lawsuits and struggles for acceptance for equal pay in the sports world. It can be really depressing. Those who need a jolt of positivity can watch the new documentary Skate Dreams, the first film ever made about the rise of women’s skateboarding. It features profiles on successful female skateboarders and shows the trajectory from hopefuls around the world doing it for themselves in the 80s and 90s to their representation at the Tokyo Olympics.

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