Quilt Fever ***
Directed by Olivia Loomis Merrion
Here’s something I never knew, Paducah is like the quilt capital of America. The short doc Quilt Fever feels like the seed of a feature-length documentary following women who have taken the annual pilgrimage to the quilt show in said town. We get just the smallest hint of these women’s backgrounds but never the depth I would have liked. This is also a case of a documentary built in post-production. Merrion went out and shot as much footage and interviews as she could and assembled a narrative in editing. This is a very conventional doc, nothing is challenging about the structure. It’s all about the subjects being interviewed and their own natural sweetness and charm.
Hiplet: Because We Can ***
Directed by Addison Wright
Hiplet is a portmanteau of “hip” and “ballet,” a variation on classical ballet that incorporates hip-hop and urban dance styles. The documentary focuses on a dance troupe in Chicago with extended sequences of their performances. We get some interviews and a little background of the dancers, and that’s where the doc disappointed me. I wanted more about these women, but that’s the choice you have to make with a documentary focused on the performing arts. In the limited time you have, do you focus more on the dance or on the people? I always prefer more human stuff.
Lions in the Corner ***
Directed by Paul Hairston
This documentary follows a former convict nicknamed Scarface who hit rock bottom and began a process to turn his life around. His big project is Streetbeefs, a fight club in rural Virginia where Scarface allows young men with grudges or disputes to duke it out through boxing. We get some great background on the man behind this who went through a tough time in his youth and almost died. The documentary asks if violence is always wrong, or if contained & monitored violence is a healthy way for people to resolve interpersonal problems. I go back and forth on this one, but I do think we are a type of animal, so sometimes these base expressions of emotion are needed. This is a lot like Hiplet in that it cuts between the performance (the fights) and the human story behind it all.
Call Center Blues *****
Directed by Geeta Gandbhir
Call Center Blues tells the story of a subculture wholly ignored by mainstream American media, deported Mexican-Americans who grew up in the States. These people have more of a cultural connection with the United States than Mexico, some speaking English better than Spanish. The four people we follow all work at a call center which markets and polls people living in the States. One of the subjects is a military veteran who meets with a group of people who also served for the United States only to be deported in the last few years. One man is alone in Mexico, and his family makes trips across the border when they are able, so he can see his nieces and nephews. I really want a feature-length version of this or more exploration of this group of people entirely betrayed by their country.
Mizuko (Special Jury Recognition) ****
Directed by Kira Dane & Katelyn Rebelo
Mizuko begins by defining its title. This is a Japanese word for an unborn life and literally means “water child.” The term is used to refer to both aborted and miscarried fetuses. Through personal photographs, watercolor animation, and footage shot on the streets of New York City, we hear her story of her parents’ move from the city to rural Japan during the chaos of 9/11. Later as an adult back in the states, the woman finds she’s pregnant and moves to terminate it. She talks out loud about her emotions over this experience and how the Japanese concept of mizuko helps her process after the procedure. This is such a beautifully done short doc, I really appreciated the addition of the watercolor animation to heighten the story in ways just everyday footage wouldn’t suffice.
No Crying At the Dinner Table (Grand Jury Prize) *****
Directed by Carol Nguyen
This is such a personal and emotional short documentary. The filmmaker, Carol Nguyen, interviews her mother, father, and older sister separately and then has them all listen to the interviews at her family’s kitchen table. Each person is asked about a loved one they lost and how that affected them. Her focus is on exploring a common theme in Asian cultures of suppression of personal pain and guilt. This was touched upon in Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, but I always prefer documentary when it comes to stuff like this. The weight of sadness in her parents and their stone faces is contrasted with her more expressive sister, who hid her pain about the grandparents’ deaths when she was a little girl. While I usually lean towards broader context and historical documentaries when personal stories are done this well, it just can’t be topped.