Cinema Femme is going to New Orleans for its 34th annual film festival! This will be the first year in which I will personally be covering the festival for Cinema Femme both in-person and virtually. I’ve pre-screened some of the films, and will be watching a lot of them during the festival. Stay tuned for our coverage, interviews, and capsule reviews. I’ve omitted the below festival selections that we’ve already seen and raved about: “Mountains”, “Waiting for the Light to Change”, and “The Disappearance of Shere Hite.” See more details on our top-ten must-see films below, and the festival’s full schedule here. Synopses were provided by the filmmakers and the festival site. The New Orleans Film Festival runs November 2 – 7, 2023.
*OPENING NIGHT FILM*
When Danielle Metz’s triple life sentence was commuted, she got a rare chance to regain the life and family that she’d been dreaming about in prison. But back home in New Orleans, she steps into a different reality. Commuted traces Danielle’s journey to find purpose and love, and to confront the wounds of incarceration that linger after release from prison.
Interview with Nailah Jefferson coming soon!
Why: Danielle Metz inspires me, and through this film, I learned so much more about women in the prison system. Her passion for freeing these women is so empowering and aligned with the work I’m doing with Cinema Femme.
*CLOSING NIGHT FILM*
“The trip to Mars can only be understood through Black Americans.” Legendary poet Nikki Giovanni’s revelation is a launching pad to an inspiring exploration of her life and legacy. Through a collision of memories, moments in American history, live readings of her poetry, and impressions of space, Giovanni urges us to imagine a future where Black women lead, and equity is a reality.
Directors Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson (“American Promise”, “The Changing Same”) craft a vision fit for the radical imagination of Nikki Giovanni. Present-day Giovanni reckons with the inevitable passing of time, while an evocative melding of vérité and archival images act as openings into her mindscape, transcending time and place. Brewster and Stephenson’s approach is imaginative and dreamlike, akin to the way Giovanni’s words are hair-raising in their power to summon unrealized ways of seeing. The Afro-futuristic lens honors Giovanni’s complexity and transports us on a journey through Black liberation from the perspective of one of America’s most acclaimed and beloved writers, a profound artist and activist. Next stop, Mars.
Interview with Michéle Stephenson coming soon!
Why: Joe Jackson and Michéle Stephenson are changing how we look at documentaries. They both come from unconventional places in life as filmmakers–Joe a doctor, Michéle a lawyer–but come together to tell powerful stories fueled by their mutual passion of honoring their communities. I didn’t really know about the poet Nikki Giovanni, and this film really grabbed me, and it is currently ranked among my top ten films of the year.
A lyrical, decades-spanning exploration across a woman’s life in Mississippi, the feature debut from award-winning poet, photographer and filmmaker Raven Jackson is a haunting and richly layered portrait, a beautiful ode to the generations of people and places that shape us.
Interview with Raven Jackson coming soon!
Why: The cinematography is stunning and the quiet nuance of this film will move you.
“Before the World Set on Fire” explores the relationship between prodigal but disturbed student Wilder and his philosophy professor, Anya Davis.
In the wake of a college lockdown due to a mysterious illness that spread across campus, Professor Anya Davis leads a group of undergraduates through a tenuous philosophy seminar. Following a devastating incident concerning student Wilder Hewitt at the end of the class, Anya becomes suspect in the recent events.
Interview with Jaclyn Bethany coming soon!
Why: Everything that Jaclyn Bethany does has such a depth and poetry to it. Her characters are complex in nature, and she really takes her films to another level. This film is no different!
*OPENING NIGHT FILM*
“Asog” is a screwball tragicomedy starring a cast of real life Super Typhoon survivors. Jaya is a non-binary teacher and comedian who survived Super Typhoon Haiyan. Picking up the pieces in their life, Jaya decides to travel across the country in hopes of winning a beauty pageant. But before they can leave, a chance encounter with Arnel, a student going the same way in search of family, complicates their solitary plans. As they travel seemingly countless miles together on foot, bike, and boat, the unlikely duo find themselves forever changed by each other and those they encounter on their journey.
Flipping the conventions of the road movie on its head, “Asog” is a stunning and profound ode to the power of solidarity amidst struggle.
Why: The artistry and humor of the film draws me in. I will be seeing this film at the festival.
*OPENING NIGHT FILM*
In 2011, a US-based group of musicians and artisans created “Horns to Havana,” an org that sends artisans from the US to Cuba to repair instruments and teach young Cubans the skills to keep them in good condition. In “Musica!”, our filmmakers follow a string bass from a workshop in lower Manhattan to Havana, Cuba, and into the hands of 16-year-old Lily. Lily is a student musician at Amadeo Roldán, the premiere music-focused high school of Havana, and part of a thrilling swinging Big Band orchestra of fabulously talented student musicians. We meet two other young musicians and watch their lives over five years – at school, with their families, performing around town, and even on a musical exchange to Preservation Hall in New Orleans. Ultimately. “Mùsica!” is an exploration of the power of music and the value of cross-cultural exchange — and the impact they can have on individuals’ lives.
Why: Even though I’ve been keeping a tight lens on the underrepresented voices behind the camera, this story interests me, and the directors have done some landmark documentary work that has elevated underrepresented voices onscreen.
*CLOSING NIGHT FILM*
Through intimate access to a charismatic Mattel insider, Beulah Mae Mitchell, “Black Barbie” delves into the cross section of merchandise and representation as Black women strive to elevate their own voices and stories, refusing to be invisible.
Why: Barbie, duh :).
An unexpected meeting brings former flames Sara and Joseph together for a weekend where they have an opportunity to explore the “What if’s?” that could have been with the one that got away. “You & I” explores love and heartbreak, but it is also about memories a love once had and creating a memory that will live forever.
Why: I’m an Ashley Shelton super-fan. She stars in this film, and also a huge fan of Summer Shelton as a producer :). I’m looking forward to seeing her directorial work.
“Gumbo Coalition” follows two visionary Civil Rights leaders, Marc Morial and Janet Murguía, as they work to empower African American and Latino American communities through three turbulent years in America. Directed by two-time Academy Award-winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple, “Gumbo Coalition” takes us on an intimate — and sometimes humorous — journey into their lives, homes and the family histories that motivate their mission to achieve a more just and equitable country. At a dramatic crossroads in American history these leaders face some of their biggest challenges: the global pandemic, the murder of George Floyd and the 2020 presidential election and its aftermath.
Why: Everything that Barbara Kopple makes brings me a deeper understanding of what constitutes the fabric of our country, for better and worse. She has a way of illuminating the humanity in places that so often get ignored, and this film seems to be no exception.
A beautifully conceived and filmed coming of age story, Kelly Fyffe-Marshall’s picturesque evocation of a young boy in Jamaica meditates forcefully on the power of place, love and boyhood. Wide-eyed and unassuming, Jamal lives with his single hardworking mother Neesha in a small shanty house in a rural town. Unbeknownst to his mom, Jamal is being bullied in school. Upon fighting back and being suspended for a week, Neesha takes Jamal into town to get his first passport in order for him to travel alone to Toronto, Canada, to live with his grandmother. Under the weight of the decision, Jamal flees. Throughout his journey, he visits the grave of his father, encounters violent bullies, and seeks solace with his friends around town who offer their perspectives on his move, ultimately leading him to shape his own and strengthen his resolve for his journey ahead.
Why: The reception this film received at TIFF alone makes me eager to see it.