SUNDANCE DAY 1 REVIEWS: KIM’S VIDEO, FAIRYLAND, POLITE SOCIETY

The 2023 Sundance Film Festival is in full swing down up in the snowy mountains of Park City Utah. A time of year where new voices and independent cinema gets its biggest platform. After covering the festival virtually for the last two years I have finally been able to attend in person. Stick around for daily coverage of several of the films I will get to see.

KIM’S VIDEO (David Redmon and Ashley Sabin)

Those that still collect physical copies of film and television are often laughed at. Why bother when there are numerous streaming services that appear to hold a vast library of media. Well the easy answer is everyone has a hobby, but the more important answer is that nothing on streaming is truly owned, and when one takes the time to actual dive into the collections on streaming it becomes very clear they have little to nothing. The preservation of film and art in general is at the forefront in the new documentary KiIM’S VIDEO. A film that starts off as a tribute to the greatest video rental store all before turning into an outrageous six year journey to restore a collection that is film history itself. Directors David Redmon and Ashley Sabin take it upon themselves to find a way to save the infamous Greenwich Village video store that was the height of independent video rentals from 1987 to 2004. If you ask most New Yorker’s they all have their own Kim’s Video story. Maybe it was the first place that allowed them to see a Jim Jarmusch film, or even something more obscure like a lost soft core porno from the early seventies. The film quickly goes through the early history of Yongman Kim, an immigrant who opened Kim’s Video and ran it until its closing where he eventually sold off his collection of thousands to the town of Salemi Sicily, a town that promised to use the collection as their own store to promote the arts. A sad but familiar New York story of small business being moved out by new technology and “progress”, but as the filmmakers repeat many times, life is always stranger than the movies. The film then moves in ways that you wouldn’t believe even if I spoiled them for you. As Redmon our narrator and POV goes off to Salemi to visit the store, the documentary becomes everything from a mystery thriller, political conspiracy film all the way to a mafia epic that would even amuse Scorsese. What makes this documentary so captivating beyond its bizarre discoveries is that it knows to be humorous even in its most pretentiousness. Yes a narrator that references films every two minutes can get tiresome, but in a time where many movie goers or even film students refuse to learn and study outside of the popular it is exciting to see so many voices and “ghosts of cinema” be heard. Even if KIM’S VIDEO becomes much like a movie you’d rent at the titular store and just merely bounces around from cinephile to cinephile there is the fact that these film lovers tried to keep it alive. When you see the perseverance of Redmon and Sabin it is the perfect call to arms to never let media preservation die out. If not kept alive then history will be lost, and as crazy as this documentary can get the loss of these films, (or any films for that matter) would be the worst ending imaginable.

A-

KIM’S VIDEO PREMIERED IN THE “NEXT SECTION” AT THE SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL. IT IS CURRENTLY SEEKING DISTRIBUTION

FAIRYLAND (Andrew Durham)

In what is sure to be one of the bigger heartbreakers of the festival Andrew Durham’s FAIRYLAND premiered to thunderous applause and even more tears. Adapted from the memoir of the same name by Alysia Abbott, FAIRYLAND tells the story of a young girl who moved out to San Francisco with her father after her mothers passing and during a time where to her knowledge her father first attempts to date men. Told in two parts it is a film of love, loss and forgiveness all against the backdrop of beautiful 70’s/80’s San Francisco. Young Alysia (Nessa Dougherty) has just lost her mother and before she even has time to grieve or fully comprehend what has happened to her mom, her father Steve Abbott (Scoot McNairy) has moved them out to San Francisco where he hopes to become a published poet. Durham kicks things off on the right note as the film (shot on film!) shows us a montage of 70’s San Francisco and the LGBT community of that time. All to the tune of the classic “Ride Captain Ride” by Blues Image. The first half of FAIRYLAND is its strongest as it features Steve and Alysia moving into an apartment full of other lost travelers that welcome Steve and Alysia and open them to a new world far beyond their conservative origin. Alysia gets makeup lessons from man who teachers her that even though he’s a man he is proud to dress like a woman because after all as he says, “it’s not fair that women get the fanciest clothes.” She also meets an array of men that her father starts dating and as he tells her “he is only dating men because her mother was the only women he could ever love.” Much like last year’s “Aftersun” here is another girl meets world film that takes its time to allow Alysia to catch up as opposed to make the film hold her and the audiences hand through everything. Scoot McNairy is also at his usual best game, an actor who has become known as a character actor gets a real spotlight as a man given a second life even after the worst of scenarios. It’s a difficult and often heartbreaking role especially when we feel his pain but can’t ignore his neglect of his daughter which he sees as making her independent. But because this is a memoir there has to be the unavoidable ‘grown up” chapter. When FAIRYLAND enters its second half and Emilia Jones takes over for Alysia the film unfortunately suffers the same emotional beats that callback to movie of the week era. Emilia Jones fresh off her “CODA” sensation is an excellent actress and embodies exactly the type of person you would expect Alysia to grow up as. But that is where the issues come about. It all feels so familiar and playing by the numbers. You’d be a monster not to feel anything, but Durham’s writing and directing takes a back seat and lets the real life story do all the work. You find yourself wondering where did that unique first half go, and why does this feel like a two part miniseries where part two was rushed. There is no doubt you will feel something by the end of FAIRYLAND and the film honors all those lost to the battle of AIDS but it is a clear case of directorial debut. One can only hope that Durham takes the skills of the first half and applies it to whatever he does next.  

C+

FAIRYLAND HAD IT’S WORLD PREMIERE AT THE SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL. IT IS CURRENTLY SEEKING DISTRIBUTION

POLITE SOCIETY (Nida Manzoor)

Carving your own path is the most exciting we can do with our lives. To break free from the norm and stick to our dreams, it also helps when your dreams involve some kick ass martial arts moves. Polite Society’s Midnight Sundance premiere took the audience for a wild, laugh out loud ride and has solidified itself as your next favorite comfort film. For her directorial debut, Nida Manzoor (who gave us “We Are Lady Parts”) homes in on her love of cinema, specifically (and in her words) Jackie Chan films, Bollywood, and Edgar Wright. But even more exciting Manzoor carves her own path and gives a kick to the head defying all of society’s feminine expectations. Here is a film that not only says ‘see her” but also you better run the fuck away.

Ria (soon to be major star Priya Kansara) wants to be a stunt woman. In fact she needs to be a stunt woman. Growing up as a British-Pakistani girl in a traditional family Ria spends her days taking martial arts class and working on her YouTube page promoting her stunt work. She does this while still attending an all-female prep school and trying her best to appease her mother and father (Shobu Kapoor and Jeff Mirza). To help with her stunt videos is her older sister and art school dropout Lena (Ritu Arya displaying more of her amazing wit and sarcasm displayed in The Umbrella Academy). Ria and Lena are a dynamic duo of two women who are very much stuck. Lena knows she is the family disappointment and angrily accepts the fact that her mother barely has anything to brag about when she sits with all the “aunties” for tea. Ria on the other hand truly believes in her sister and knows she will be a great artist one day. This makes it all the more complicated when Lena is introduced to the handsome doctor Salim (Aksha Khanna) at an “Eid Soiree” as the film tells us with big chapter title cards (this one titled “Eid Soiree”). Lena and Salim have a real bond, but for Ria something sinister has to be at play. She sees Salim and his mother (Nimra Bucha) as the villains of her action packed story, after all no mother and son should be that close. Unfortunately for Ria though Lena and Salim have chosen to be married and Ria is thrust into a world of chaos where her best friend will be gone forever. Manzoor’s film at this point has already made its voice be heard with hysterical martial arts antics, and chaotic chemistry between its two female leads, but once a wedding is introduced it becomes full on heist movie. The target? The bride. Get her out of this marriage no matter what. POLITE SOCIETY knows how to have a crazy good time, as Ria enlists the help of her two best friends, the film follows failed Hijinx after the next, and all in support of Ria doing what she believes will be best for her sister. Kansara as Ria has all the makings of a breakout star, her energy is through the roof and her comedic timing blasts off the page of Manzoor’s script. For a time when original films are rare POLITE SOCIETY knocks down the doors and delivers every bit of genre filmmaking that you are grinning ear to ear throughout its runtime. Even when the film quickly wraps things up and not every moment is memorable there is still such joy in this film that you realize when its over how sad you are going to be to say goodbye to these characters. A film that is a kick ass good time, and a reminder how much fun a movie can be when it defies expectations of all kinds.

B+

POLITE SOCIETY PREMIERED IN THE “MIDNIGHT SECTION” AT THE SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL. FOCUS FEATURES WILL RELEASE IT IN THEATERS APRIL 28TH

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