For those who have never attended a film festival, the prospect of navigating all the screenings and events can be a little daunting. Plus, there’s the added challenges of finding time to eat between movies and getting from one theater to another. It can all be a bit much.
So, while one does miss out on some of the camaraderie that is part of the in-person experience, it’s difficult to argue with the flexibility and convenience that virtual festivals provide.
The 19th annual Vail Film Festival, which ran from Thursday, Dec. 1 through Sunday, Dec. 4, provided virtual viewers the same thoughtfully curated films (all of which highlight the work of female filmmakers) as ever and allowed them to peruse the more than 20 offerings from the comfort of their couch.
“The challenge and focus this year was curating the film program. Since it is online, we wanted to make sure we selected a variety of films that would complement each other and hopefully be entertaining and inspiring for the audience,” explained Scott Cross, co-executive director of the festival, in an email interview. “Film is such an immersive art form, and can be transformative as well as entertaining. We hope audiences come away feeling entertained and maybe having discovered a new filmmaker or filmmakers whose work has moved them in some way.”
During this year’s festival I saw 10 films over four days and have selected four favorites — stories that moved me, made me laugh and rethink how I see the world.
‘The Cave of Adullam’
Release date: Available now on ESPN+
The work Jason Wilson does in the documentary “The Cave of Adullam” is truly god’s work. His passion and impact brims over in every frame of the film.
In the heart of Detroit, Wilson’s dojo — the titular cave — specifically focuses on giving young Black boys the best chance possible at living the lives they want and deserve. While he does teach martial arts, he focuses just as much time and energy on emotional stability and discipline, mental health and achieving goals. And the work is immensely difficult, but totally doable. Seeing the young boys taking the first steps towards becoming the men they want to be is some of the most powerful storytelling you’ll see all year.
“The Cave of Adullam,” just like Wilson, means to challenge and inspire. Both succeed on all fronts.
Release date: TBA
Honestly, I haven’t the faintest idea how kids today do it. Growing up has never been easy, but with the technology and social media options young people have access to nowadays, there are challenges that I never considered when I was young.
Alexis Neophytides’ eye-opening documentary, “Dear Thirteen,” takes viewers all over the world to show the vast variety of what it means to be 13 years old in modern societies. The children in the film are wise beyond their years and yet achingly youthful. This is the kind of movie that sends you back into your own past to look at how you have grown and changed over the years, and yet it’s never preachy or condescending.
We put an awful lot on kids these days and the film explores what they actually want from the word and their lives. It’s the best kind of documentary — both enlightening and entertaining.
Dear Thirteen – Trailer from Alexis Neophytides on Vimeo.
‘My Sister Liv’
Release date: TBA
“My Sister Liv” is the kind of film that absolutely knocks you flat. And it should — that’s the point.
The Alan Hicks documentary, which takes place in Colorado, follows sisters Tessa and Liv as they navigate the challenges of growing up with social media, depression and anxiety. While there have been great steps forward made in the areas of mental health and suicide awareness, there are still all kinds of stigmas and shame that teens and youths must deal with. You get to hear firsthand from those struggling with these very issues and that just reaches in and grabs your heart. It is so powerful to see how it impacts daily life for so many.
This film is a heartbreaking call to arms — one that everybody should watch.
‘We Burn Like This’
Release date: Available now on streaming platforms
Delicate business is being conducted in “We Burn Like This,” Alana Waksman’s devastating exploration of contemporary antisemitism in rural America.
The film follows Rae (an arresting Madeleine Coghlan), a young woman living in Billings, Montana, as she navigates a life full of challenges and prejudices. She has her best friend Chrissy B. (the reliably great Devery Jacobs), but not much else.
The audience is treated to a searing portrait of strength and weakness as Rae tries to find steady footing in unsteady times. Whether or not you’ve faced similar challenges as Rae, there’s no denying the film’s power and dedication to its message. This one leaves a mark.
Clarke Reader’s column on culture appears on a weekly basis. He can be reached at Clarke.Reader@hotmail.com.