Traverse City Film Festival released the 2019 program marking the 15th Anniversary Year with a “Cinema Saves The World” theme, and featuring over 200 films and events. The Festival opens with BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON; AFTER THE WEDDING as Centerpiece; and closes with BLINDED BY THE LIGHT.
In-attendance comedian Kathy Griffin (Kathy Griffin: A Hell of a Story), the real life Javed! screenwriter and author Sarfraz Manzoor (Blinded by the Light), director Nanfu Wang who co-directed the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize winner One Child Nation, dozens of filmmakers, cast members, and other notables. The festival will host the World premiere of Planet of the Humans from director Jeff Gibbs, and showcase timely films in the “Youth Uprising” and “Blow that Whistle!” sidebar programs
Lily Tomlin will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from Michael Moore; and the festival will pay tribute to documentary legend Julia Reichert (American Factory, Seeing Red, Growing Up Female)
Michigan films include Guest Artist from two of TCFF’s favorite storytellers, Michigander and TCFF board member Jeff Daniels and Timothy Busfield (in-person); The Peanut Butter Falcon from Traverse City native Lije Sarki (in-person); Boy Howdy!: The Story of Creem Magazine about Detroit’s 70’s rock and roll scene; Slay the Dragon about Michigan’s gerrymandering law; and the documentary feature 16 Shots from Oscar® nominated director Richard Rowley (in-person).
Traverse will celebrate Woodstock’s 50th anniversary with a very special outdoors screening of the Oscar® winning 1970’s film Woodstock (1970) and a separate screening of Woodstock: Three Days That Defined A Generation
Michael Moore, president, programmer, and founder of Traverse City Film Festival commented on the TCFF 15th anniversary festival program:
We’ve spent the past 10 months spanning the globe, searching for the best films most people never get a chance to see. And as you can see in this guide, it has been an extremely good year for the movies! What we’re going to bring you this summer is an amazing offering of exhilarating, intense, beautiful, hilarious, and provocative movies.
When the world spins madly out of control, leave it to the artists to respond,to inspire, to operate with this crazy belief that one great movie can change the planet. Seriously, imagine yourself as a filmmaker, and that you deeply believed that movies mattered—mattered so much that, when all else fails, lightning suddenly strikes and the thought hits you: “Cinema can save the world!” If that’s what you believed, deep in your soul, imagine then what kind of earth-shattering movie you would make!
THOSE are the movies I’m bringing you here. Movies that might make you think in an entirely new way. Movies that will bring even the most hardened heartsto tears. Movies so gut-splittingly funny, all the anger and fear and hopeless- ness you’ve been feeling lately will turn itself into hopeful action. Or how about a movie that was so breathtakingly gorgeous, so uplifting that when you walk out onto Front Street you will pause for a moment to realize just how great it is to be alive—alive in a town that believes it can do ANYTHING with a bowl of cherries! That’s what’s in store for you this year at the 15th annual Traverse City Film Festival.
BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON
Directed by Paul Downs Colaizzo
It’s rare for a movie to be described as smart and edgy as well as genuine, feel-good, and inspirational, yet somehow this hilarious and heartfelt debut film by award winning playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo checks all those boxes and more. The long-overdue-for-star-status Jillian Bell (Workaholics) is the witty Brittany, a twenty-seven-year-old with a job that barely pays the rent and a New York party girl lifestyle that’s starting to take its toll. When she sees a doctor to help with her “focus,” she instead gets a wake up call about the damage she’s doing to her body. Determined to get in shape she starts to run the city streets literally one block at a time. It sucks, of course, but along the way she finds friendship with unlikely new running partners, who set their sights on running the 26.2 mile NYC Marathon, and begins to realize it may be more than just weight that’s dragging her down. Winner of the Audience Award at Sundance, this honest and affectionate comedy follows an unexpected path that will make you laugh, cry, and want to stand up and cheer.
AFTER THE WEDDING
Directed by Bart Freundlich
Adapted from Susanne Bier’s Oscar-nominated foreign favorite, this dynamic and spellbinding drama not only builds beautifully upon the original but also gives it an innovative spin by flipping the gender of the two leads (portrayed in powerhouse performances by Oscar-winner Julianne Moore and four-time Oscar nominee Michelle Williams). American expat Isabel (Williams) is completely dedicated to the Indian orphanage she oversees, but when a multimillion dollar grant is contingent upon her meeting with the benefactor she reluctantly packs her bags and heads to New York. There she meets the successful Theresa (Moore), and the harmless invitation Theresa extends to her daughter’s wedding out of kindness suddenly forces Isabel to confront secrets from her past that could jeopardize everything. A rich and emotionally gripping story of motherhood and strength that is wrapped in a labyrinth of mystery and intrigue, the chance to catch Moore and Williams go head-to-head (how are they both so inhumanly good?) is one you shouldn’t let pass you by.
BLINDED BY THE LIGHT
Directed by Gurinder Chadha
Writer/director Gurinder Chadha (Bend it Like Beckham) delivers another winning triumph with this exuberant crowdpleaser about the transformative power of music to inspire and connect. Javed yearns to be a writer, but for now he’s just a sixteen-year-old British Pakistani struggling through daily life in his small town of Luton in the late 80s. His traditional parents push him to do well in school, his friends push him to ask out that cute girl, and the local skinheads just push him around. When he discovers the music of Bruce Springsteen, everything changes. With the driving force of the melody and lyrics that seem to speak directly to his experience, The Boss helps Javed finally find the courage to fight for what he wants, and maybe even spark something new in the people around him. For anyone who has known the joy of listening to a song that connects to your very soul (and especially for those of us that have worn out our favorite cassette tape) this irresistible, toe-tapping film based on a real story will feed your hungry heart and get you dancing in the dark.
In Person: The real life Javed! Screenwriter and author Sarfraz Manzoor.
ERNIE & JOE
Directed by Jenifer McShane
A graceful and empathetic look at a new kind of police force, Ernie & Joe is a moving portrait of two Texas police officers who are helping change the way police respond to mental health calls. The film takes audiences on a personal journey, braiding together experiences during Ernie and Joe’s daily encounters with people in crisis. These are not your everyday cops; dressed in polos and jeans, brandishing no weapons, they sit down with distraught and potentially violent people to talk. They listen. They take their time. Ernie and Joe are doing the work and walking the walk. Amid heightened scrutiny of police-community relations, and deepening understanding of mental health issues, Jenifer McShane’s doc offers proof of an enlightened way forward and is testament to the profound impact of this unique approach.
In Person: Director Jenifer McShane, Ernie Stevens and Joe Smarro.
COME AS YOU ARE
Directed by Richard Wong
Based on a hit Belgian film, Richard Wong’s heartfelt charmer Come as You Are is that rarest of remakes, a film actually improves upon its predecessor. Inspired by a true story, three young men with disabilities (Grant Rosenmeyer, Hayden Szeto, Ravi Patel—Ravi of TCFF 2014’s Meet the Patels fame) abscond from their overbearing and overprotective families to embark on a road trip to a brothel in Montreal that caters to people with special needs. Joining the trip is Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) as their nurse driver, who enables them to get a much needed taste of independence as their adventure takes some hilarious and poignant turns. A crowdpleasing buddy caper with lots of heart, this wonderfully compassionate dramedy travels refreshing new ground reminding us of the love we all need to get by.
In Person: Dir. Richard Wong, Actor Grant Rosenmeyer.
Directed by Richard Rowley
In 2014 Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times in the middle of the street. The official ruling from Chicago PD was that it was justified, that McDonald was attempting to attack the officers with a knife. The public, however, was not convinced, and both activists and journalists began the work of demanding evidence be shared, especially as more and more clues pointed to a cover-up. When dash cam footage of the incident was ultimately released a year later, it clearly showed the young man walking away when he was first shot, and lying on the ground through rest of the gunshots. Balancing objectivity with the raw and simmering anger that rippled through the city, filmmaker Rick Rowley (Dirty Wars, TCFF 2013) mixes news coverage of the case with interviews from parties on both sides, delivering a complex and emotional exposé about an all-too-familiar scenario.
Directed by Davy Rothbart
You wouldn’t expect extreme hardship a mere 17 blocks from the US Capitol, but the Sanford family, who live just under a mile away from the vaunted halls of power, struggle with epidemics of poverty, addiction, and gun violence that most of us could never understand. Emmanuel Sanford began documenting his life via camcorder at only nine years old back in 1999, following a chance meeting with Michigan filmmaker Davy Rothbart (founder of FOUND Magazine and frequent contributor to This American Life). This film is a result of Rothbart’s incredibly unique 20-year collaboration with the family. Assembling the footage into an intimate portrait of a family struggling to survive, you get a raw glimpse into their joys, sorrows, and unexpected tragedies and come to see a family bonded by love and brave enough to share their story with the world.
In Person: Director Davy Rothbart and the Sanford Family.
3 DAYS 2 NIGHTS
Directed by John Breen
Mark and Andy Godfrey are linked by more than blood—the brothers were the sole survivors of a Colorado plane crash in 1974, when their plane flew into the mountains during a family ski trip. At ages 11 and 8, the two lost their mom, dad, and two siblings instantly. Alone, scared, and traumatized, the boys then survived in the wreckage for three hellish snow-bound days on a mountainside before a heroic and unbelievable rescue. For decades following the event, the brothers rarely discussed the experience with anyone, not even with each other. But as the 40th anniversary approaches, they embark on a cleansing journey to finally talk openly about their memories, their feelings, and the trauma that has haunted them for decades.
Scheduled to Appear: Director John Breen and Mark Godfrey.
Directed by Steve Bognar, Julia Reichert
In 2014 a shuttered GM factory in Dayton, Ohio became the home of the Chinese billionaire-owned Fayou Glass America. Suddenly American factory workers deeply rooted in the Rust Belt found themselves hopeful for a chance to pull their community out of financial despair, but challenged by the seemingly insurmountable cultural differences of the Chinese counterparts now working alongside them. With surprising access to the humanity and xenophobia on both sides, this fascinating and masterful documentary reveals the complicated nature of global endeavors. Culture clashes go from humorous to tense, especially when the dirty word “union” is uttered, and an even grimmer fate looms over all of those on the factory floor: automation. A powerful reminder of the values that connect us—the need to provide, the desire to feel useful, the struggle to change—as well as the ideals that drive us apart, this must-see film sits at a crossroads of so many key issues it is bound to spark important conversations about America’s present and future.
In Person: Directors Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert.
Part of A Tribute to Julia Reichert.
ANTHROPOCENE: THE HUMAN EPOCH
Directed by Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier, Edward Burtynsky
It’s hard to disagree with the idea that humans aren’t the driving force behind the planet’s changing natural order when you’re presented with the imagery in this startling documentary. From the world’s largest excavating machines devouring farmland in Germany, to the flaming pyres of ivory tusks seized from poachers who slaughtered thousands of endangered elephants and rhinos in Nairobi, the human desire for conquest and acquisition has never been laid bare in such a visually stunning way before. Canadian filmmakers Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier and photographer Edward Burtynsky have assembled a film of startling beauty and quiet dread that will convince you that action must be taken to help our planet; that we can not go back to how things used to be, but we have to try our best nonetheless for the good of all.
Directed by Josh Murphy
Wild salmon are on the verge of extinction despite a herculean effort by government agencies, big business, and tax payer-funded schemes. While it was originally thought that farm-raised salmon were the cure, it turns out that a myriad of issues (including weakened genetic makeup and aggressive farm-raised fish who battle and overtake their naturally-raised brethren for territory) have been a bigger disruption to the ecosystem than ever imagined. Now the alarm is being raised by environmentalists, tribal elders, and fishermen: the issues and frustrations facing fishing communities worldwide can no longer be ignored, and action must be taken before it’s too late. As a town that is also confronting issues of watershed restoration, the topics tackled here are alarmingly relevant to Traverse City’s own waterways.
ASK DR. RUTH
Directed by Ryan White
A controversial, pint-sized, Holocaust-surviving woman who once embarrassed David Letterman by saying “penis” and “vagina” on air—who could that be? Why Dr. Ruth Westheimer, of course, America’s most famous sex therapist! Director Ryan White takes this already very popular and deeply loved figure and shows us just how much more there is to know about our favorite nonagenarian dispenser of carnal knowledge. White reveals the multiple stories that make up her life, just one of which would be worthy of a feature length film (from fleeing the Nazis, studying at the Sorbonne, training as a sniper in the Israeli Defense Force, and working for Planned Parenthood… this woman really has done it all). No wonder so many value her opinion and life advice, the most potent of which might just be the frank phrase: “There’s no such thing as normal.” Timely and comforting, this film is a must-see.
Scheduled to Appear: Director Ryan White.
CIRCUS OF BOOKS
Directed by Rachel Mason
All families have secrets, but as this endearingly sweet and wonderfully funny documentary proves, the Masons have a secret that is a little more shocking than most. Karen and Barry are an adorable, straight-as-an-arrow married couple raising three children, taking them to the synagogue on Sundays, and managing a small business known as Circus of Books. Thing is, their quaint bookstore just so happens to be one of the biggest distributors of gay porn in the country. Told through the loving but honest perspective of their daughter Rachel, the film unabashedly explores the evolution of not just the business, which began as a small venture and grew to become an LA epicenter for gay culture, but also of her parents themselves. Striving to compartmentalize her faith with her growing involvement in the LGBTQ community, Karen is a complex and often hilarious subject as she nonchalantly sorts through boxes of adult toys and intimate apparel. Capturing the bittersweet emotional strife and contradictions between parents and children, Mason’s film is a surprising triumph about family and community.
Scheduled to Appear: Director Rachel Mason, Karen and Barry Mason.
COLD CASE HAMMARSKJÖLD
Directed by Mads Brügger
As any good detective knows, when you go to solve a mystery you usually end up uncovering more questions than answers, which is exactly the case for Danish journalist and filmmaker Mads Brügger in this fascinating and provocative documentary. The subject of his investigation is the mysterious 1961 plane crash carrying United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, a landmark event that has been dogged by conspiracy theories ever since. Intent on finding the truth, the charismatic Brügger manages to dig up compelling evidence, from witnesses to photographs, that point to a far-reaching assassination plot directed at a man who advocated for the Congo’s independence against the wishes of powerful Western governments. A deviously intriguing and sometimes disturbing trip down a rabbit hole, it will have you questioning the truth until the very last frame.
COOKED: SURVIVAL BY ZIP CODE
Directed by Judith A. Helfand
Could systemic poverty be one reason for the uneven survival rates of people affected by natural disasters? What if we addressed poverty as a preemptive check on the effects of such a disaster? That’s the central idea explored in this explosive exposé of the disaster relief industry and the people in charge of it. Using the 1995 Chicago heat wave (wherein 738 mostly urban, elderly, and poor residents were killed over five days in July), as a jumping-off point, and addressing other catastrophic events like Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy—as well as the inevitable environmental disasters to come, due to the effects of climate change—filmmaker Judith Helfand explains how we could and should be addressing the most preventable aspect of natural disasters before they ever even happen.
Directed by Beniamino Barrese
Iconic 1960s supermodel Benedetta—muse to the likes of Warhol, Dali, and Avedon— spent her life in front of the camera. But now, at the age of 75, she wants nothing more than to disappear; the radical feminist has become fed up with all the roles and descriptions that were forced upon her. But her son Beniamino has other ideas in mind, wanting to make a movie about his mother despite his unwilling subject. Perhaps as a misguided act of love and affection, perhaps as an attempt at liberation, he continues to film his reluctant and poignantly relatable protagonist to tumultuous and revealing results. Engrossing and perplexing, this tender and poetic look at a mother and son gives us a complex portrait of a woman staring down, with unflinching resolve, the oppression of the male gaze.
Directed by Stephen Bennett
This chilling investigative documentary into the true evils of mankind might make it hard to sleep at night, for good cause. Starting in the 1950s, renowned psychiatrist Dr. Ewen Cameron carried out experiments in mind control on unsuspecting patients, including sensory deprivation, electro-convulsive therapy, forced comas, and hallucinatory drugs, all at a quiet facility in Montréal. The bigger horror was that this work was funded by the CIA, with techniques used internationally by 29 countries from Northern Ireland to the US detention camp in Guantanamo Bay. With compelling firsthand testimony from victims and their families, as well as interviews with senior military personnel and psychiatrists, it’s a disturbing reminder of how western governments continue to get away with torture under various “legitimized” guises. A shocking and visceral cinematic experience.
In Person: Director Stephen Bennett.
FRAMING JOHN DELOREAN
Directed by Don Argott, Sheena M. Joyce
For decades, Hollywood proved unable to turn the crazy saga of John DeLorean into a movie. But it turns out the best way to get it to the big screen was as a documentary, just with a movie star in the lead role. That’s right, in this unique blending of interviews and reenactments, Alec Baldwin stars as John DeLorean, the superstar businessman who embodied the dark side of the American Dream in the 1980s. Fresh off huge success with GM (remember when nothing was cooler than a GTO?), DeLorean boldly set out to run his own car company before an epic fall from grace involving shady financial dealings and an infamous FBI drug bust brought his visionary automotive dream to a screeching halt. It’s one of the ultimate stranger-than-fiction stories, somehow evoking Steve Jobs, James Bond, and Elizabeth Holmes all in one larger-than-life figure—and it’s perfectly captured by this clever film that will expand your notions of what documentaries can be.
In Person: Director Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce.
GAY CHORUS DEEP SOUTH
Directed by David Charles Rodrigues
“Where words fail, music speaks.” This Hans Christian Andersen quote embodies the attitude the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus adopted for their tour through some of the most profoundly anti-gay states in the country. Invoking a goal akin to that of Green Book, the chorus wanted to spread a message of love and acceptance through communities dealing with deep-seated intolerance in the wake of the recent resurgence of anti-LBGTQ laws. For many members of the chorus—like artistic director Tim Seelig, a former minster expelled from his Houston church after recognizing his homosexuality—the Lavender Pen Tour (named as a nod to gay politician Harvey Milk) was also extremely personal. The Audience Award-winner at the Tribeca Film Festival, the conversations and connections showcased in this uplifting film can inspire hope for the future, and offer a glimpse into a more forgiving, compassionate America in places you might least expect. And when the chorus sings? Well, there won’t be a dry eye in the house.
In Person: Director David Charles Rodrigues.
KATHY GRIFFIN: A HELL OF A STORY
Directed by Troy Miller
Fiery comedian Kathy Griffin has always been known for her irreverent, push-the-limits comedy, but it was ultimately one picture that suddenly plunged her into the dark depths of unemployment, death threats, and an FBI investigation. The photo in question, Griffin holding a fake severed head of Donald Trump—for anyone living in a cave for the last two years—became the match to light a fire that not only destroyed her career but pushed her to become an outspoken fighter for the First Amendment rights of all Americans. Told mostly through Griffin’s own enormously hilarious and ferociously sharp stand-up revelations in front of a live audience (where she does her work best), as well as with revealing interviews and behind-the-scenes moments, this engaging docu-comedy is a riotous look at an unprecedented story as absurd as it is infuriating.
In Person: Kathy Griffin.
Directed by Alex Holmes
If you want to see what true perseverance looks like check out this inspiring, edge-of-your-seat adventure story that has all the makings of a Hollywood movie but is actually 100% true. Tracy Edwards grew up dreaming about working on sailboats, but the reality of the male-dominated sailing world in the 1980s was no one would hire her on deck except as a cook. Determined to prove she could do anything, she set her sights on assembling the first all-female crew to enter the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1989. Laughed at by professionals, seen by the media as a puff story (some yachting press even took bets on how quickly they’d fail), and deemed too much of a risk by potential sponsors (how would it look if they died?), Edwards and the crew of Maiden faced just as much adversity on land as they did on sea, but nevertheless they persisted. This expertly crafted documentary combines firsthand footage shot from the race, along with interviews with the women (and even some of jeering men) to create an engaging and suspenseful film that soars.
Directed by Werner Herzog, André Singer
In both his narrative films and his documentaries, legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog has always focused on people that live abnormal, often dangerous lives, be it volcanologists, Antarctic researchers, or 16th century conquistadors. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, now 87, might not initially seem like one of these figures but, really, what job could be more dangerous than attempting to end the Cold War? As always, Herzog digs deep into the psychology of his subject, and over the course of three interviews, he figures out what makes Gorbachev tick. Given all that’s happening in the world, 2019 might seem like an odd time to spotlight a long-retired Russian leader. But in this engrossing, humanistic portrait, Herzog illuminates why Gorbachev—who led his people away from fascism and toward peaceful resolutions—is worthy of study now more than ever.
Directed by Luke Lorentzen
Though a world-class metropolis of more than nine million residents, the Mexico City government operates only 45 emergency ambulances for the entire population. These wide gaps of service are filled in by ragtag unregistered ambulances like the one operated by the Ochoa family, who barely make a living providing emergency transport in hopes of being monetarily rewarded for their efforts. Even though a patient is delivered safely to a hospital, there’s no guarantee they will be paid for the service. And bribery from local police provides another impediment. Equal parts profound and thrilling, director Luke Lorentzen’s Sundance award-winning vérité documentary, filmed over 80 nights riding with the Ochoas as they respond to calls and race against rival EMT outfits to the scenes of accidents, provides a remarkable portrait of a family—and a city and society—at desperate odds, all trying to survive.
ONE CHILD NATION
Directed by Nanfu Wang, Jialing Zhang
China’s egregious population control measure that made it illegal for couples to have more than one child may have ended in 2015, but the process of dealing with the trauma of its merciless enforcement is only beginning. In her Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning documentary One Child Nation, Nanfu Wang (Hooligan Sparrow, TCFF 2016) brilliantly takes a deeply personal approach of familial reckoning to the sweeping subject matter, returning home to investigate the generational effects of this destructive social experiment. Exposing one human rights violation after another, from abandoned newborns and forced sterilizations, to state-sponsored kidnappings, One Child Nation is a striking indictment of a government that sought to control women’s bodies and reveals how persistent propaganda conditioned and coerced Chinese citizens into perpetrating shocking crimes against each other. It’s brave, it’s powerful, it’s shocking, it’s important, and it will stay with you long after the credits roll.
In Person: Director Nanfu Wang.
Directed by Martha Shane, Ian Cheney
Like the pictographs in Lascaux, strange symbols populate our phone screens, transmitting mysterious messages from both strangers and loved ones. Sure, we all know what they mean, but do you ever wonder where they came from, or who designs them, chooses them, and why they’re even in our phones in the first place? Turns out the process of birthing a new emoji is more interesting than you thought (if you ever thought about it at all). Anyone can suggest a new emoji, but you have to lobby for your design in front of a shadowy cabal of multinational corporations and organizations, and only a select few are chosen each year. This delightfully entertaining film follows several new designs and the people who propose them (including a young woman fighting for an emoji depicting a person wearing a hijab and one group’s quest to have menstruation representation), all while demonstrating the remarkable ways emojis are changing culture and language, and filling in the story of the designer who invented them over 20 years ago. You’ll never look at your phone’s keyboard the same way again!
PLANET OF THE HUMANS
Directed by Jeff Gibbs
Perhaps the most provocative film we’ve shown in our 15 years, Planet of the Humans dares to say what no one will—that we are losing the battle to stop climate change because we are following leaders who have taken us down the wrong road—selling out the green movement to wealthy interests and corporate America. This film is the wake-up call to the reality we are afraid to face: that in the midst of a human-caused extinction event, the so-called “environmental movement’s” answer is to push for techno-fixes and band-aids. It’s too little, too late. Removed from the debate is the only thing that MIGHT save us: getting a grip on our out-of-control human presence and consumption. Why is this not THE issue? Because that would be bad for profits, bad for business. Have we environmentalists fallen for illusions, “green” illusions, that are anything but green, because we’re scared that this is the end—and we’ve pinned all our hopes on solar panels and wind turbines? No amount of batteries are going to save us, warns director Jeff Gibbs (lifelong environmentalist and co-producer of Fahrenheit 9/11). This urgent, must-see movie, a full-frontal assault on our sacred cows, is guaranteed to generate anger, debate, and, hopefully, a willingness to see our survival in a new way—before it’s too late.
In Person: Director Jeff Gibbs and Producer Ozzie Zehner
Directed by Gary Hustwit
“Less, but better” is the mantra of Dieter Rams, the iconic German product designer that you probably haven’t heard of by name but no doubt you’ve interacted with one of his designs. Ever use an Oral-B toothbrush or a Braun coffeemaker? That’s Rams. And not only has his eye for design and working philosophy influenced designers and companies for the past sixty years, his success has caused him to call into question the very nature of product design itself. Directed by Gary Hustwit (Helvetica, TCFF 2008), Rams offers a rare inside look at one of the people most influential to our daily lives, told with the same minimalism Rams himself championed.
Directed by Sasha Joseph Neulinger
This could be the most powerful and effecting film you will see all year. In this raw and unflinching personal narrative, director Sasha Joseph Neulinger explores the vile and vicious cycle of childhood abuse that has plagued his family for generations. Through remarkable home video footage taken by his camera obsessed father and later Sasha himself, we see for ourselves, with all too heartbreaking clarity, as Sasha goes from a freckled, vivacious little boy who loved everyone and everything, to an angry and withdrawn young man, and the mystery behind his suffering unravels . This uncommonly brave film is a moving exploration of how deeply abuse affects children and reframes their world. And there’s also the heroism in Sasha’s story—and his ongoing work to improve how the criminal justice system handles abuse cases —that offers us an unforgettable portrait of healing.
In Person: Sasha Joseph Neulinger.
Directed by Ursula Macfarlane
“Don’t you know who I am?” It’s a cliche line of dialogue in countless movies, but for the victims of powerful Hollywood abuser Harvey Weinstein it was a chilling threat that still acts as a trigger. This arresting and hard-hitting documentary gives ample voice to many of those victims, as well as interviews with former colleagues, painting the most complete portrait to date of a man who represents a toxic system still being dismantled. Following his rising career championing independent and foreign films, filmmaker Ursula Macfarlane traces how Weinstein became so “untouchable,” explores how others were complicit in hiding his horrendous acts, and, most affectingly, highlights the remarkable women who bravely reported the truth, helping to galvanize the #MeToo movement. The sad truth is that the work is nowhere near done, but this impressive film helps to shed some light on why we must topple the Harvey Weinsteins of the world.
WALDHEIM WALTZ, THE
Directed by Ruth Beckermann
Don’t let the title fool you: this unsettling documentary may be as gracefully crafted as an elegant dance, but the story is a dark descent into a nation’s gruesome history and a warning of the dangers of nationalism. Following the controversial 1986 Austrian presidential campaign of Kurt Waldheim, the film explores the growing revelations not only of his Nazi past but of the country’s disturbing revisionist history and the rising anti-semitism that led to his election. Documentarian and activist Ruth Beckermann deftly weaves together archival materials along with her own footage from her time protesting his candidacy, delivering a deeply personal and frightening narrative that is as relevant today as it was then. A gripping and important film that is essential viewing for anyone that cares about the direction of our nation and the world.
WALKING ON WATER
Directed by Andrey Paounov
After the passing of his wife and collaborator Jean-Claude, inimitable environmental artist Christo (he of The Gates in Central Park) finally commences work on a long-gestating project that will invite visitors to Italy’s picturesque Lake Iseo to experience the sensation of walking on water. An epic undertaking that involves building floating walkways spanning over 1.9 miles, the process of bringing this magnificent vision to life is chronicled in director Andrey Paounov’s documentary that delightfully reveals an irascible genius at work—tantrums and all. Taking you behind the scenes of this daunting feat of logistics and planning, you’ll enjoy a taste of what it was like to see this impermanent artwork in person—to not only behold the surreal and transfixing beauty of this remarkable achievement, but to also feel a bit of the joy. And it is the joy that will most stay with you—the joy of creation, of artistic expression, and of a dream realized.
Directed by Joe Penna
When a man (Mads Mikkelsen, Hannibal) is left stranded in the Arctic after his plane crashes, and then his long-awaited rescue plane crashes as well, he must make an impossible decision: sit idly by and hope for rescue or leave the relative shelter of the downed aircraft and try to journey across the Arctic with his impaired partner on a sled. With an intense will to survive, the unknown man tackles each obstacle the unforgiving terrain throws at him with a calm proficiency, reflected in the serenely barren Arctic landscape. Facing exhaustion, frostbite, starvation, and polar bears, the breathless and near dialogue-free 98 minutes fly by as this stark and swift survival story leaves you utterly transfixed.
Directed by Michael Herbig
Set during the Cold War and based on a daring true story, Balloon follows two families in communist East Germany who are fed up with life under an oppressive regime. Together, they work to secretly create a hot air balloon that will carry them and their children to the promise of a better life in West Germany. Over the course of 18 months, the families must figure out how to purchase and assemble over a thousand square meters of fabric (without seeming suspicious), track weather patterns, deceive neighbors, and avoid the Stasi Police, who grow closer to discovering their plans with each passing day. With some truly nail-biting scenes set to a larger-than-life score and against an uncanny recreation of the late 1970s, this thrilling international hit presents a captivating case of the extraordinary lengths ordinary people will go to in order to seek freedom across borders.
C’EST LA VIE!
Directed by Olivier Nakache, Éric Toledano
From the same absurdly talented writing and directing team that brought you the feel-good megahit The Intouchables (and by extension it’s recent remake The Upside), comes an unabashedly crowdpleasing comedy full of hijinx, misunderstandings, and one spectacular mess of a wedding! Follow Max, the owner of a hospitality company in France, as he attempts to successfully mount a massive wedding reception at a 17th century chateau with the ragtag family of colorful characters (a showboating singer, a photographer on the hunt for food and not photos, and a waiter who dated the bride, to name only a few) that make up those in his employ. As a master planner, he’s totally unfazed by the fact the lamb goes bad or that the power went out—but that his girlfriend may be breaking up with him, well, that’s another story. With an impossibly satisfying ending, and more laugh-out-loud moments than you can count, this breezy romantic romp is a total joy to behold.
Directed by Nadine Labaki
The highest-grossing Middle Eastern film of all time, which earned both an Oscar nomination and a 15-minute standing ovation at Cannes (fifth-longest in the history of the festival, our founder holds the #2 spot), has now come to TCFF. This immensely powerful story opens with Zain, a 12-year-old boy serving a five-year sentence in a Beirut prison for stabbing someone. Zain has decided to sue his parents, and when a judge asks him to explain why, he says, “Because I was born.” Then in flashback, Zain’s stunning tale unfolds, showing his life of neglect in the Beirut slums, and his failed attempts to save his young sister from being given away in marriage to a much older man. Capernaum, which translates to “chaos” in Arabic, is not the easiest watch, but it is a captivating and unforgettable one, moving audiences to tears and applause all over the world.
Directed by Andrew Ahn
A story both modest and familiar, but of such gentle humanity that it feels anything but, Andrew Ahn’s warm and inviting character drama is the cinematic embodiment of kindness. Cody and his mother Kathy (Hong Chau) are unexpectedly spending their summer away from home, cleaning out the house of his recently-deceased and reclusive aunt. Cody, a sensitive and sweet soul who doesn’t always fit in, is unfazed by this turn of events, while his mother struggles to make sense of what’s been left behind. Lonely in this strange new place, Cody strikes up an unexpected friendship with the widowed, bingo-playing veteran next door (a superb Brian Dennehy), and the film’s many low-key charms unfold from there. A marvel of subtlety, detail, and characterization, this heartfelt tale is a true gem of the festival.
ESTRUSCAN SMILE, THE
Directed by Oded Binnun, Mihal Brezis
This marvelously charming drama concerns curmudgeonly Scottsman Rory McNeil, who is forced to leave his home on the isolated Hebridean islands to seek medical treatment and reconnect with his estranged son in America. Now faced with the culture shock of San Francisco, and softened by meeting his adorable redheaded grandchild (one of the cutest but not cutesy onscreen babies), Rory takes a few last stabs making the most out of life, when he’s not cracking wise, confusing people with Gaelic, or locating a good stiff drink. Outstanding performances from Brian Cox as Rory, JJ Feild as his son, Thora Birch as the daughter-in-law, Rosanna Arquette as a beguiling museum curator, make this an absolutely winning story about second chances and family bonds.
Directed by Mike Ahern, Enda Loughman
Following in our fathers’ footsteps isn’t necessarily what we all want to do with out lives, no matter how close the apple has fallen from the tree. Now imagine if your father was the preeminent ghost hunter in all of Ireland who also had a hit TV show, AND you’re sorta responsible for his death? That’s the premise of this delightfully quirky comedy (think Wes Anderson meets Wes Craven) about a woman (Irish comedian Maeve Higgins) who is trying her best to ignore her innate talents—and the ghosts who are constantly vying for her attention. She instead works as a lonely driving instructor, until a desperate man comes to her for help convincing his recently deceased wife to move on. Only the plans of a conniving one-hit-wonder New Age musician shacked up in a haunted castle (played by SNL’s Will Forte) can stop them from bringing peace to the spirit world and themselves.
Directed by Bob Byington
Offbeat, peculiar, unconventional—these words not only describe the title character of this outlandish movie about a bored substitute teacher who goes off the rails, but also the work in general of one of our favorite fringe filmmakers, Bob Byington (Infinity Baby, TCFF 2017). A wife and mother of one, Frances (Kaley Wheless) has lost all joy in life when she steps in to sub in a high school biology class, and ends up sleeping with one of the students. Not surprisingly, the crime lands her in jail, but nothing can alter her hilariously nihilistic view on life. As usual Byington brings his off-kilter cinematic style as well as the help of some of his friends including Nick Offerman, who perfectly narrates in his signature dry and ironic tone. Sprinkle in a fantastic supporting cast including David Krumholtz as her square but well meaning counselor, Bob’s best, and most accessible and mature work yet will make you laugh even as it makes you squirm. In Person: Director Bob Byington.
Directed by Timothy Busfield
Two of TCFF’s favorite storytellers, Jeff Daniels and Timothy Busfield, have come together to create this engaging and smart film about the beauty and peril of being an artist. Jaded Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Joseph Harris (Jeff Daniels) has a career that’s tanked so badly the only paying gig his agent can find is a new commissioned work for a small town theater in Michigan. It’s there that the alcoholic has-been meets his biggest fan—aspiring playwright Kenneth Waters (Thomas Macias) who still believes in the magic of the page and the stage—and the clash between bitter experience and idealistic dreaming ensues. Pairing Daniels’ fiery screenplay (adapted from his own stage play) with Busfield’s dynamic directing, the film brilliantly weaves together humor and drama, darkness and light, wisdom and innocence. A true labor of love for family and home, the film is produced by Melissa Gilbert, another TCFF favorite, with stunning cinematography by Willy Busfield and music by Ben Daniels. Don’t miss this Michigan-made movie that will remind you why telling stories still matters.
In Person: Director Timothy Busfield.
LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT
Directed by Gan Bi
No, this has nothing to do with the Eugene O’Neill play. In fact this audacious and mesmerizing neo-noir couldn’t be any further from a stodgy four act play. China’s biggest arthouse hit of all time centers on Luo, a man haunted by a long-lost love and a murdered childhood pal, who returns home to seek the woman who got away while also looking into the mystery of his friend’s death. But the film truly defies any easy description, because once Luo enters a movie theater and cues you to also put on your 3D glasses, all bets are off—and so begins an impossibly gorgeous, 59-minute long, one take shot that is by all accounts a simply staggering cinematic achievement. With the haunting romantic longing of Wong Kar-wai and the surreal dreamscapes of Andrei Tarkovsky, no cinephile should miss the rare chance to experience this mind-blowing work of movie magic. This film is presented in 3D.
Directed by Olivier Masset-Depasse
This taut psychological drama steeped in the lush 1960s world of suburbia delivers a refreshing new twist on the Hitchcockian-style thriller. Alice and Celine aren’t just neighbors: they’re best friends, sharing their joys and sorrows as well as a lovely villa that’s been turned into a duplex. Their lives are inseparable and perfect: their hard-working husbands get along swimmingly and even their little boys are best friends. But when tragedy befalls one of the children, the notion of love thy neighbor as thyself gets put to a grim test, as paranoia and guilt threatens both families. With exquisite production design, gorgeous costumes, and impeccable casting, this electrifying exploration of motherhood and friendship will have you on the edge of your seat, and possibly side-eyeing your neighbor.
Directed by Jeremy Teicher
This completely charming and utterly unique romantic comedy truly deserves a medal. Not only is it the first scripted film ever shot in the Athletes’ Village during the Olympics (2018’s Pyeongchang Winter Games), and in startlingly impressive fashion by only a one-man crew (director Jeremy Teicher) at that, it also delivers a fresh and authentic story of two strangers who form a meaningful and unexpected connection. Comedian Nick Kroll (that funny guy you know from everything) plays an amiable volunteer dentist while actual Olympian and actress Alexi Pappas plays a restless cross-country skier who meet cute in the cafeteria. From there the two enjoy a Lost in Translation style connection, while you also enjoy incredible access and insight into the Olympic experience. A true marvel of cinematic inventiveness and scrappiness (it’s mind-boggling they were able to so successfully mount this), it’s also the incredible chemistry of its leads that propels this one to go for the gold.
PEANUT BUTTER FALCON, THE
Directed by Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz
Get ready to have your heart stolen by this sun-baked and achingly felt southern adventure that is as captivating as the scenic river deltas and rural woods that make up its evocative setting. This true American odyssey begins when Zak, a young man with Down syndrome, escapes from the nursing home he’s grown up in to pursue his dream of attending the wrestling camp of his hero, The Salt Water Redneck. When his path crosses with Tyler, an outlaw haunted by his own past, an unlikely but unbreakable partnership is formed, and they set out—like a modern-day Huck Finn. This sweet yet offbeat buddy caper from the people who brought you Little Miss Sunshine is a gem in and of itself, but add to it the outstanding performances by newcomer Zak Gottsagen (the inspiration for the movie after the filmmakers met him at a drama camp), the incomparable Shia LaBeouf (in seriously one of his best performances ever), as well as the high profile turns by Dakota Johnson, John Hawkes, Bruce Dern, and Thomas Hayden Church, and you get a touching and memorable fable of burgeoning joy.
In Person: Producer (and TC native!) Lije Sarki.
Directed by Ritesh Batra
Sometimes the largest cities are also the most difficult places to make genuine human connections, and this is especially true in Mumbai, where class divisions seemingly dictate everything. Enter Rafi, a poor street photographer whose chance meeting with the lonely, curious Miloni comes at the perfect time. For the sake of an impending visit from his frail grandmother, Rafi asks Miloni to pretend they’re in a relationship. She agrees to play along, intrigued for the opportunity to escape her own sense of isolation. But will this coupling remain a temporary ruse, or evolve into something more? Writer/director Ritesh Batra, whose film The Lunchbox was a 2014 TCFF favorite, returns to the festival with this beautiful, patient look at how love and connection can bloom in the most unexpected of situations, and bridge the space between us.
PURITY OF VENGEANCE, THE
Directed by Christoffer Boe
A construction crew discovers three murder victims that have long been hidden behind a false wall in a seemingly abandoned apartment. The cold case is taken up by detective Carl Morck and his soon-to-be ex partner Assad, whose recent promotion to another department is a sore subject for the steely veteran cop. The investigation leads them to a now defunct institution for “troubled girls” and as the horrors of the past are revealed and the detectives push to find the truth, they uncover a monstrous doctor still practicing in ways that hit far too close to home for Assad. The final installment of the Department Q series, which has previously enthralled TCFF audiences and produced the highest grossing Danish films ever (with this one surpassing them all), it’s a fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat thriller that checks all the boxes for fans of gritty mysteries.
Directed by Paddy Breathnach
A beautiful but heartbreaking portrait of an Irish working-class family facing the same difficult question confronting families around the world: where will we sleep tonight? The film follows Rosie, a dedicated mother of four who, between drop offs at school and entertaining the youngest, spends her time on the phone trying to find at least a one night’s stay at a motel. As the days since their eviction march on, this task becomes increasingly difficult, and Rosie’s desperation grows as she’s faced with the reality of the entire family having to spend nights crammed in the car. Set in Dublin, though the story echoes the housing crisis in cities everywhere, writer Roddy Doyle (The Commitments) and director Paddy Breathnach (Viva, TCFF 2016) brilliantly capture the strength of a parent’s love, and reminds us how vital the cinema is as an empathy generator.
RUN THIS TOWN
Directed by Ricky Tollman
Out of Toronto’s scandal over Rob Ford’s megalomania mayorship run amok (a haunting prelude of the things to come in the States, perhaps?), comes this whip-smart, rapid-fire, political sizzler that delivers all the Aaron Sorkin vibes you want. Bram (Ben Platt, Pitch Perfect) is eager to prove himself a journalist. He’s just landed a dream job, but he’s stuck writing clickbaity listicles… that is until he stumbles upon the lurid truth of the mayor’s shady personal life. Following both Bram’s efforts to chase down the story and the young bright minds in Ford’s office actually running things—including Kamal (Mena Massoud, who you might’ve caught as the star in Disney’s Aladdin), an immigrant who’s worked tirelessly to claim a position of power in the administration—this tense and ambitious journalistic thriller features a rock solid cast (Damian Lewis, Jennifer Ehle, and Scott Speedman to name a few), dark comedic notes, timely themes, and relevant questions.
Directed by Daniel Schechter
Comedy and drama collide in this witty New York City story about navigating life and family in the modern age by TCFF alum Daniel Schechter (Life of Crime, 2014, Supporting Characters, 2012). Josh (Justin Long) is a young and hip adjunct professor of Creative Writing who knows how to stay relevant with his students. Or so he thinks. When his “cool” teaching style ends up triggering a female student, his classroom becomes divided and his career tenuous. To make matters worse, his beloved grandmother has fallen ill, forcing his dysfunctional family to come together and face the transgressions of the past. As he earnestly bumbles his way through each cringe-inducing calamity, Josh begins to discover just how clueless he might be about his privilege in all aspects of life. With exceptional performances from its supremely talented supporting cast, including Fran Drescher, Richard Schiff, and Lynn Cohen, this honest and heartfelt film speaks to both the specificity of the moment and the timelessness of familial bonds.
Scheduled to Appear: Director Daniel Schechter, actor Justin Long, producer Courtenay Johnson.
Directed by Alex Thompson
This refreshingly honest and unapologetic dramedy feels like nothing less than a gift. Screenwriter/star Kelly O’Sullivan shines as the unsettled Bridget, a 34 year-old Chicagoan struggling with what to do with her life. Without a career to speak of and apprehensive about getting serious with the twenty-something she’s sort of dating, she ends up landing a job as a nanny just after she gets an abortion. At first the six-year-old Frances has nothing but disdain for her new caregiver, and Bridget’s insecurities amplify as she finds herself awkwardly privy to the personal struggles of Frances’ moms. But when she finally wins the affection of a little girl who’s been raised as a fierce feminist, their friendship helps Bridget finally recognize her own self worth. A refreshingly candid and truly beautiful look at normally taboo “female issues,” this SXSW audience winner is the kind of intelligent and affirming filmmaking we all deserve.
In Person: Kelly O’Sullivan, Alex Thompson.
SILENT REVOLUTION, THE
Directed by Lars Kraume
In 1956, before the Berlin Wall was built, and passage between East and West Germany was less restrictive, two East Berlin teens decide to catch a movie on the other side of the city. When they see a western newsreel that has a decidedly different take on the Hungarian Revolution than the coverage on their state-sanctioned news agencies, it leads them to organize a moment of silence among their classmates as a tribute to those brutally put down by the Soviet regime. What they couldn’t know though was this act of teenage defiance has far-reaching consequences both inside and outside their classroom, empowering and endangering nearly everyone they know. Based on true events, this powerful film helps explain how every act (especially in a totalitarian society) is an inherently political one. And that courage is perhaps the greatest lesson of all.
Directed by Wolfgang Fischer
Maybe the defining ethical quagmire of our time is the refugee crisis, and the question of what we, as humans, owe in terms of aid and resources to those attempting to flee dangerous circumstances. These issues are powerfully explored in Styx, which is ominously titled after the mythical river that separates us from hell. It begins with Rike, a German doctor enjoying a solo sailing holiday off the Spanish coast. When she encounters a slowly sinking boat packed with African refugees, she immediately calls the Coast Guard, who assure her they’ll handle it and forbid her from interfering. But they don’t show, and Rike’s Hippocratic Oath is compelling her to help even though there are more refugees than could possibly fit on her sailboat. What should she do? There are no easy answers in Styx, which will haunt you long after its aching conclusion.
SWORD OF TRUST
Directed by Lynn Shelton
In this madcap misadventure, everyone’s favorite podcaster and self-deprecating comedian, Marc Maron, is truly in his element as curmudgeonly pawn shop owner in Alabama who spends his days trying to swindle rubes out of their valuable objects. But the antique Civil War sword two women (Michaela Watkins and Jillian Bell) stumble in with is definitely out of the ordinary. They claim that, according to papers left behind by one of their grandfathers, that the object is tied to a shadowy organization of deranged conspiracy theorists who believe it is an artifact that proves the South won the Civil War. And after their hilarious attempt to explain this bonkers theory with a straight face, and a little internet research on the pawn shop’s part, they all agree that they’re intrigued enough to see if they can make a quick buck. This winning and endearing screwball comedy from director Lynn Shelton (Humpday, TCFF 2009) is full of brilliant improvisational performances, timely themes, and some surprisingly resonant moments of human truth. And it’s a total and utter hoot to boot!
TEL AVIV ON FIRE
Directed by Sameh Zoabi
A hapless production assistant turned unexpected writer for his uncle’s Palestinian soap opera (the titular Tel Aviv on Fire, set during the Six Day War), Salam finds himself in an awkward situation when a border guard at a checkpoint he crosses daily learns of his profession and begins to not-so-subtley demand some pro-Israeli storyline changes be implemented to improve the show. With Salam caught in the middle between the show’s Palestinian financiers and his unwanted new writing partner, what could possibly go wrong? Winning the Audience Award at the Seattle International Film Festival, this hilariously biting yet breezy satire from Palestinian director Sameh Zoabi, challenges our ideas about where comedy comes from and with its insight into the young Palestinian mindset, gives us more hope for peace that perhaps any Oslo Accord ever could.
THEM THAT FOLLOW
Directed by Britt Poulton, Dan Madison Savage
In the mountains of isolated Appalachia exists a highly-patriarchal and rigid sect of Pentecostal snake handlers, including the devoted Hope (recent Oscar-winner Olivia Colman) and her husband Zeke (Jim Gaffigan), who are losing faith in their apathetic son, Augie (Thomas Mann, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl). Meanwhile, the sect’s zealous leader (Walton Goggins) has promised his daughter Mara (Alice Englert) to marry an eager apostle, but she’s hiding a secret that threatens to tear the community apart. Mara’s friend, Dilly (Kaitlyn Dever, Booksmart) is also wrapped in the drama of this insular, distrusting community, whose literal understanding of Mark 16:18 leads their illegal den of snakes to be judge, jury, and sometimes, executioner when it comes to all issues of sin.
TOP END WEDDING
Directed by Wayne Blair
This movie is pure love. It’s a night out dancing with your best pals. It’s belting the song that reminds you of your beloved. It’s knowing you’ve met the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. And it’s the feeling of returning home after being away far too long. The story of Lauren and Ned and the unexpected turns their wedding plans take as they embark on a last-minute road trip to find Lauren’s missing mother before they’re scheduled to say their vows, this winning romantic comedy takes you through some of Australia’s most stunning scenery (the “top end,” including the divinely picturesque Tiwi Islands and the majestic Katherine Gorge) and introduces you to a warm and zany cast of characters. Uplifting, funny, and just oh so wonderful, Top End Wedding‘s heartfelt celebration of going back to your roots is one of the absolute treasures of the fest.
Directed by Bert & Bertie
You will be instantly enchanted by this quirky and delightful tale about the power of dreaming and the triumph of the underdog. Nine-year-old Christmas Flint (played with panache by Mckenna Grace) is a girl who revels in her nerdy love for all things space and alien related. When she discovers the prize for the 1977 Birdie Jamboree is getting to be a part of a voice recording that will be sent to space as part of NASA’s Golden Record initiative, she sets her sights on winning that intergalactic immortality. The problem is there’s no way the Birdie leader at her school, Miss Massey (Oscar-winner Allison Janney), would let her join the annoyingly perfect troop. With the help of her dad (Jim Gaffigan) and his assistant (Oscar-winner Viola Davis), Christmas forms her own misfit troop of outcasts who’ll stop at nothing to be the best Birdies they can be. With a screenplay by Lucy Alibar (Beasts of the Southern Wild) and direction by the dynamic duo Bert & Bertie, you’ll want to grab the guys and gals in your life to enjoy this hilarious girl-powered story of friendship and determination.
WOMAN AT WAR
Directed by Benedikt Erlingsson
In a near flawless followup to the sensational Of Horses and Men, Benedikt Erlingsson gives us a truly crowdpleasing, supremely satisfying, and wonderfully unexpected environmental fable. Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) is a beloved choir director by day, but in her free time she’s the “Mountain Woman,” an eco warrior who—with almost a Tom Cruise level of actioneering—employs guerrilla tactics to halt plans for a new aluminum smelter. And this unassuming middle-aged woman has been pretty effective at thwarting efforts to destroy her beautiful homeland, so much so that authorities are closing in, just as it looks like her long wait to adopt a Ukrainian child has come to end. A black comedy of untold warmth and whimsy, who knew climate change could be so rousing? All hail, Halla!
LILY TOMLIN TRIBUTE
A CONVERSATION WITH LILY TOMLIN
Many of the festival’s most memorable moments have been the amazing conversations our fearless leader, Michael Moore, has had with notable personages onstage live in Traverse City. And we already know what is bound to be one of the most talked about moments at the festival this year as national treasure and comedian extraordinaire Lily Tomlin joins fellow Michigander Michael Moore in the hallowed State Theatre to sit down to talk about her life, her career, her activism, and her profound impact on entertainment and culture. Be there to hear this singular conversation and see Tomlin as she accepts the festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
LATE SHOW, THE
Directed by Robert Benton
Private Investigator Ira Wells, played by Oscar-winner Art Carney (Harry and Tonto), feels as though he’s on his last legs. He’s not getting any younger and his detective business is on the fritz. So when his former partner is shot to death while working on a mysterious case, Ira vows to get to the bottom of his friend’s murder. While back in action, Ira is introduced to Margo (played by Lily Tomlin in a Golden Globe nominated performance), a kooky, pot-selling woman who hires Ira to help find her cat she believes has been kidnapped. Lily Tomlin shines in this little-known whodunit that lives up to its original ad tagline: “The nicest, warmest, funniest, and most touching movie you’ll ever see about blackmail, mystery, and murder.” This special screening is $5.
Directed by Nick Broomfield, Joan Churchill
See legendary comedian Lily Tomlin onstage, backstage, at home, and on the road in this rarely-seen doc (we’ll be among the first to show a brand new digital transfer) that goes behind-the-scenes of her Tony Award-winning one woman show, The Search For Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. With her long-time collaborator and director, Jane Wagner, Tomlin tackles a variety of topics such as radical feminism, depression, sex work, and homelessness with her signature comedic satire and grace. Following her across all aspects of her process (writing, performing, and refining), directors Joan Churchill and Nick Broomfield capture an incredibly intimate look at a renowned talent at work.
JULIA REICHERT TRIBUTE
GROWING UP FEMALE
Directed by Jim Klein, Julia Reichert
Filmed over a few weeks in Ohio in 1970, Growing Up Female is the first film of the modern women’s movement, designed to generate interest and help explain feminism to a skeptical society. This groundbreaking documentary offers insight into the lives of six women, from ages 4 to 35, and the ideas and events that shape them. Once completed, Reichert drove the film around the country, exhibiting it to groups of women in dozens of venues, including church basements, a truly grassroots effort to raise the consciousness of viewers. Today this snapshot into a moment in time, when an issue was just finding its voice, is an incredible artifact that we’re lucky has been preserved.
Directed by Jim Klein, Julia Reichert
We’re presenting a beautiful new 4K restoration of Reichert’s Oscar-nominated documentary Seeing Red, an eye-opening film about the members of the American Communist Party. Through insightful interviews, long-time radicals reflect on how and why they joined the Communist Party between the Great Depression and the Cold War, a calamitous era in history, to say the least. And yet, despite the hostility, the doc’s subjects remain committed to their strong belief in social change. A rousing film full of great and colorful characters, including Pete Seeger, who “outs” himself for the first time as a communist, these stories take on a powerful new resonance today.
SPECIAL SCREENINGS: NATIVE AMERICAN MATINEE
N. SCOTT MOMADAY: WORDS FROM A BEAR
Directed by Jeffrey Palmer
When N. Scott Momaday won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1969, it marked one of the first major acknowledgments of Native American literature and the vibrant contemporary culture it described. Now, using traditional filmmaking techniques along with original animation, Momaday’s words and life come together in this cinematic biography celebrating one of the most prolific and inspirational Native American storytellers. In a series of intimate interviews, Momaday expounds on life and its challenges, while insights from the likes of Robert Redford, and Jeff and Beau Bridges reveal the impact of his artistic contributions. While framed around the life of one man, the film comments on the grave historical struggles faced by Native American communities across the country. Words from a Bear is an essential portrait of a man and of a people.
INCLUDES SPECIAL NATIVE AMERICAN SHORT
Directed by Alexandra Lazarowich
Take an intimate visit to a riveting and little-known world: the formidable and high-stakes game of Indian Relay. In Blackfoot country of Alberta, Canada, they call Indian Relay “North America’s original extreme sport.” Jockeys bareback their horses around a track, jumping off one horse and onto another in a chaotic melee of horses and their handlers. Accidents happen. Simply finishing a race demands precision and bravery. Fast Horse puts the audience right in the middle of all the action with verite camerawork giving a breathtaking POV experience that captures the excitement and risky thrills of the event.
FOOD ON FILM
CHEF’S DIARIES: SCOTLAND
Directed by Lora Otálora
True rockstars of the culinary scene, the Roca brothers—of Spain’s three Michelin starred El Celler de Can Roca—continue their edible world tour (see TCFF 2016’s Cooking Up a Tribute), seeking inspiration in a place not traditionally revered for its cuisine: Scotland. Never ones to rest on their laurels, they journey in and around the highlands to challenge their palates, revealing a rich culinary tradition in the process. Encountering wood-smoked haddock in Shetland, meeting oyster fishermen off the Isle of Skye, sipping iconic barrel-aged whisky, and yes, even devouring haggis, you’ll come away with a newfound appreciation for this unsung fare. And these three brothers, who all started their careers as working-class cooks, find a moving kinship with the beauty of this land and its people.
Directed by Gab Taraboulsy
Calling all pasta lovers: let us tantalize you with this sizzling foodie doc about the highs and lows of following your passion. Finding himself in hot water when his LA restaurant goes under, Chef Eric Funke seeks solace in his obsession: the dying art of handmade pasta. Immersing himself in authentic pasta making (did you know there’s over 300 varieties?), Funke builds enough steam to open a new spot on one of the most competitive streets in the US. Insisting that handmade noodles are front and center (literally with a windowed view for diners) the question becomes: will he whip the place into shape, or does it all go down the drain? Capturing the heat of the restaurant world and with plentiful helpings of food porn, we know you’ll agree that this film is al dente.
NOTHING FANCY: DIANA KENNEDY
Directed by Elizabeth Carroll
This doc will leave your mouth watering and your heart warmed by the impassioned and prickly culinary teachings of Diana Kennedy. A total legend—the “Indiana Jones of food” as one chef puts it—her life’s devotion has been to preserve authentic Mexican cuisine, work that has garnered her awards, including an Order of the Aztec Eagle from Mexico. Now in her 90s, she continues to drive around, put together recipes, and rant against the gentrification of indigenous food (like how garlic-obsessed Americans keep shamefully putting it into their guac). Elizabeth Carroll captures Kennedy’s vigor and spirit, including her dedication to sustainable living. Like Kennedy herself, this film is an unforgettable force of nature one can savor.
BENSON MOVIE INTERRUPTION: TEEN WOLF
Directed by Rod Daniel
In 1985, Michael J. Fox starred in one of the most successful and beloved sci-fi comedies ever made (our Open Space People’s Choice Winner), and he’s also in this one, playing a teenage werewolf. That’s right, while most kids his age are sprouting body hair and dealing with cracking voices, he’s got it even worse; he’s a werewolf (not nearly as glamorous as adventuring with Doc Brown in a DeLorean, is it?) And as a total nobody in his small Nebraskan town, it’s the worst thing that could happen to him… No, wait, it’s actually the BEST thing that could happen, because now his lupine features and behaviors have not only made him the most popular guy in school, but also star of the basketball team (wolves are naturally good at basketball, duh). Join us and perennial TCFF favorite Doug Benson as he and some of his comedy pals give a live sendup of this decidedly 1980s take on the high school experience. And be sure you stay through to the end for the BIG reveal! Don’t worry, Doug will explain.
Directed by Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe
Jill and Lisa live picture perfect lives in a candycolored dreamy suburban hellscape. Whether galavanting to soccer games and pool parties, or making unrelenting smalltalk in golf carts, the women are so desperate for validation that interactions turn bizarre at a moment’s notice. When Jill gives her baby to Lisa after a casual convo, she tries to remain stable as doubts settle in and chaos reigns while the absurdity of the neighborhood escalates in hilarious fashion. Oh, and did we mention all the adults in town wear braces? A daffy delight–this black comedy that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen was born from the minds of writer/director/stars Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe and features comedians Beck Bennett (SNL), D’Arcy Carden (The Good Place), and more of their funny friends from the Upright Citizens Brigade.
Directed by Dan Berk, Robert Olsen
In this inventive take on the home-invasion horror subgenre, it’s the invaders who find themselves endangered. Mickey and Jules, played by millennial horror mainstays Bill Skarsgård (Pennywise of It) and Maika Monroe (It Follows), are Bonnie and Clyde wannabes who make their “living” sporting animal masks and robbing convenience stores. After forgetting to fill the tank at their gas station mark, their car stalls in the middle of nowhere, leading them to decide to steal a car from up the road. Breaking into the home in search of keys, they instead find something much more sinister. And things get seriously demented with the return of the sweet-as-pie homeowners–Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice) and Kyra Sedgwick (Brooklyn Nine-Nine)–in this deliriously fun, darkly comedic, and perversely twisted thriller.
Directed by Brett Pierce, Drew T. Pierce
Filmmaking brothers Brett and Drew Pierce return to the festival (their last film, Deadheads, was a TCFF sellout sensation) with their latest macabre occult thrill ride. Shot mostly in Northern Michigan and featuring many familiar locations such as the Sunset Lodge in Omena and the G. Marsten Dame Marina in Northport, The Wretched tells the story of a teenager who discovers that he’s living next door to a thousand-year-old witch. The film is a dead serious new spin on witchcraft cinema, with a fresh set of rules, relatable teen characters, surprising scares, comic touches, and a cauldron of gruesomely imaginative special effects makeup. Starring John-Paul Howard (Hell or High Water), Piper Curda (Disney Channel’s I Didn’t Do It), and Azie Tesfai (Jane the Virgin), don’t miss this premier midnight event!
Directed by Jake Lefferman, Emily Taguchi
One of the hardest truths to face in the wake of tragedy is that life goes on. After Parkland confronts that truth and all of the raw emotion attached, as it takes us into the aftermath of the horrific shooting at Stoneman Douglas that rocked the nation. Following subjects—both teen survivors and parents who lost children—just after the shooting, the film tracks their adjustment to a jarring new normal. By framing the explosive activism spawned by the event as a means of coping with grief, and also showing how once exciting high school happenings (prom, graduation), now take on new meaning, the filmmakers generate a deep compassion for its subjects. But the film resonates most in its quieter moments, revealing an incredible resilience and strength no one should have had to confront. Scheduled to Appear: Parkland Student Activists.
Directed by Waad al-Kateab, Edward Watts
An astonishing look into motherhood and the female experience of war, this is one of those movies we promise will change you forever. For five years Waad al-Kateab kept her camera on, documenting her life and those around her as activists in Aleppo. Part diary, part love letter to her daughter, this poignant film follows al-Kateab’s beginnings as a hopeful student protester, to her falling in love, getting married, and having her first child, all while conflict rises around her. Capturing extraordinarily heroic and devastatingly gut-wrenching moments, it’s an on-the-ground experience that’s jury and audience awards for Best Doc at SXSW, were just the beginning of its many accolades. We know it will win your heart, too, just as sure as it will break it.
In Person: Waad al-Kateab.
Directed by Cristina Ibarram, Alex Rivera
A riveting, hybrid docu-narrative that personalizes the struggles faced by the undocumented in this country, The Infiltrators is an unlikely blend of activism and suspense that makes a compelling case for the abolishment of ICE. Instead of fleeing in the other direction, members of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance purposely get themselves detained. Once inside a for-profit transitional center in Florida they work to help others, and document injustice while never losing sight of the human suffering caused by an inhumane system that separates families and imprisons people without trials. This hyper-captivating film keeps you on your toes, highlighting the courage and tenacity of young adults and reminding us the immigration issues that plague our country pre-date the current president and speak to the indelible stain of racism that infects our history and policy.
Scheduled to Appear: Directors Cristina Ibarra, Alex Rivera.
KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE
Directed by Rachel Lears
If you’re like us, you probably fell in love with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from the moment she won an unlikely primary victory against a 10-term incumbent. But this superhero origin story began long before it first hit the national news. Knock Down the House captures AOC’s historic campaign in vivid detail, following her all the way from the ice machine of the bar she worked at to the steps of the US Capitol. Along the way, we also hear the stories of several other long shots that dared to take on the establishment in the 2018 midterms. Beware: the ending might provoke your best happy-crying face. Because more than anything, this inspiring journey reminds us that no matter how unlikely or inexperienced you are, if you’re ready to work your tail off, you can bring real change to this country.
SLAY THE DRAGON
Directed by Chris Durrance, Barak Goodman
This chilling political doc is not only one of the most important films to see at the fest, it’s also somehow one of the most invigorating, especially for us Michiganders. The dragon here is the crazy shapes made on maps by the corrupt practice of gerrymandering, when one political party draws redistricting lines to help ensure future elections go in their favor. Beginning with a dive into the (still ongoing) Flint water crisis, Barak Goodman and Chris Durrance trace how “packing” and “cracking” leads to marginalized communities, discriminatory laws, state-wide emergencies, and politicians who no longer work for the people. Why would they when they are guaranteed re-election? But the film also features the slayers, ordinary folks working to put the power back in the hands of the people, such as Michigan’s Katie Fahey, whose grassroots Voters Not Politicians won the battle with Prop 2, and could help set us on a path to win the war. Whether or not you are already familiar with this paramount issue, you won’t want to miss this simply stirring film about the fight for fair elections in America.
WE ARE THE RADICAL MONARCHS
Directed by Linda Goldstein Knowlton
Finding a vacuum in traditional girls’ leadership-development organizations (Brownies, Girl Scouts, etc.), a group of women in the Bay Area took matters into their own hands, founding a troop that addressed the interests and needs of their community. What they established became the Radical Monarchs, reaching out to young girls of color to learn about self-acceptance, body positivity, inclusion, intersectionality, and more. Together they instill urgency for activism and social justice and provide a safe space for these often overlooked young women to come together. Not without some growing pains (and unkind words from trolls) the film follows the Radical Monarchs as they fight the power and inspire us all.
In Person: Director Linda Goldstein Knowlton; subjects Anayvette and Lupita Martinez.
BLOW THAT WHISTLE
GREAT HACK, THE
Directed by Karim Amer, Jehane Noujaim
If you’ve ever received a perfectly-timed targeted ad and thought your phone must be listening in on you, run, don’t walk, to this movie. There is a worldwide battle for information about you, and the only way to arm yourself is through knowledge, which is what this revealing and often terrifying data mining documentary delivers in spades. Starting with the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal, Oscar-nominated filmmakers Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim (The Square) dive deep into the hows and whys of corporations amassing mountains of personal data from people around the world. With in-depth testimonials from key players on both sides—including Brittany Kaiser, whose revelations into the inner workings of Cambridge Analytica after defecting are completely chilling—this illuminating film will challenge you to question the ways in which you consume and deliver information in the digital age.
KILL TEAM, THE
Directed by Dan Krauss
This chilling thriller based on real events is a dark submersion into the depths of toxic masculinity and the horrors of war. Based on his award-winning doc of the same name, filmmaker Dan Krauss returns to the Maywand District murders, in which a unit of US soldiers murdered Afghan civilians and staged their corpses to look like insurgents. The story centers on Staff Sergeant Deeks, a charismatic sociopath (played with eerie perfection by Alexander Skarsgård) who orchestrates the murders as it were a game of capture the flag, and Private Andrew Briggman (Nat Wolff), a soldier torn between numbing himself into complacency and being brave enough to report what’s happening. It’s a riveting and provocative look at how soldiers are pushed to dehumanize the enemy.
In Person: Director Dan Krauss.
Directed by Gavin Hood
We think it’s about time someone told this story of the courageous real-life British secret agent you’ve probably never heard of. Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley) wasn’t expecting to come across a memo outlining efforts to blackmail and coerce UN Security Council members into voting for war with Iraq—but when she did she was faced with a choice: forget about it, or expose the truth. What follows is a tense political thriller about the aftermath of her attempt to make the info public. Risking her life and the deportation of her husband, Gun never backs down, even through a grueling trial for treason. Employing actual news footage and plenty of talented famous faces (Ralph Fiennes, The Crown’s Matthew Goode and Matt Smith) this powerful exploration of government corruption and the bravery it takes to fight against it will captivate.
Directed by Tim Travers Hawkins
This poignant vérité-style documentary goes beyond the clickbait headlines to reveal an intimate look at Chelsea Manning, the former soldier who in 2010 uploaded thousands of documents to WikiLeaks, disclosing to the world that war crime atrocities were occurring in Iraq. The film picks up Manning’s story just as she’s been pardoned by President Obama, having served seven of her thirty-five year prison sentence. Considering her roles as whistleblower, trans woman, and activist, the film follows her for two years, unravelling her complicated and sometimes harrowing history and wondering what’s next in her uncertain future. As layered as the person it examines, this fascinating doc delivers a tense and emotional perspective of a public figure who has been revered, reviled, and most especially misunderstood.
BOY HOWDY! THE STORY OF CREEM MAGAZINE
Directed by Scott Crawford
By 1969, American rock and roll was in danger of belonging solely to California, and it was high time some Detroit muscle brought the music back to the people. Enter Barry Kramer’s CREEM magazine, the down and dirty rebel of the counterculture. Created in the heart of Detroit, CREEM first brought local music legends like Bob Seger, The Stooges, MC5, and Alice Cooper to national attention, it provided the ideal platform for seminal critic Lester Bangs, and it even first coined the term “punk rock.” Boy Howdy! both tells the story and recreates the debauchery, with firsthand accounts from stars like Joan Jett, Gene Simmons, and Cameron Crowe. 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of CREEM’s launch (and the 30th anniversary of its unceremonious end); let’s bring the party back and celebrate this legendary Michigan institution.
Scheduled to Appear: Director Scott Crawford, JJ Kramer.
DAVID CROSBY: REMEMBER MY NAME
Directed by A.J. Eaton
With eight stents in his heart, a liver transplant, the loss of every past musical friendship undone by his own ego and abuse, and a lifetime of drug use culminating in a surrender to the FBI and subsequent jailtime, David Crosby himself marvels that he’s able to keep recording and going on tour, as is depicted in this exuberant and poignantly human rockumentary produced by Cameron Crowe. What sets Crosby apart from so many aged rockers is the unfaltering quality of his voice, which can be witnessed in the recent concert footage that’s sprinkled in with stunning archival photos, videos, and interviews tracing back through his career with The Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. The heartfelt and brutally honest introspection of Crosby—laying bare the best and worst of his experiences as a countercultural icon—makes this an unforgettably moving rock biography.
With Special Guests.
ROLLING THUNDER REVUE
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Leave it to one American legend—Martin Scorsese—to create the definitive account of a perpetually mythologized period in the history of another American legend—Bob Dylan. In 1975, while estranged from his wife, Dylan gathered a ragtag group of musicians and counter-cultural gurus and hit the road. The resulting Rolling Thunder Revue concert tour (featuring legends like Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, and Allen Ginsberg) infused Dylan’s music with a carnival-like atmosphere, and it revitalized both his romantic and political passions. Scorsese, who is no stranger to making celebrated rock docs, brings his indelible vision to both the performances and the stories behind them. But don’t believe everything you see; like the best rock and roll documentaries, Rolling Thunder Revue not only plays with established mythology, but also gleefully creates some of its own.
WOODSTOCK: THREE DAYS THAT DEFINED A GENERATION
Directed by Barak Goodman and Jamila Ephron
Released in time for the 50th anniversary of the event, Barak Goodman and Jamila Ephron’s new documentary looks back at the legendary music festival with a fresh perspective. Rather than focusing on the footage we’ve seen again and again, the film leans on striking clips of regular people. Our attention is turned to concert-goers lined up to buy supplies at the only grocer, and the kids stuck in stand-still traffic, eventually abandoning their VWs, and the thousands of strangers turned instant friends, who shared a hopeful view of a peaceful future. In August of 1969 —against the backdrop of a nation in turmoil—half a million people came together to experience the concert of a lifetime, and this film gives us a never-before-seen look into this still powerful moment.
LOOK BACK AT 1989
CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS
Directed by Woody Allen
As Hollywood legend has it, Woody Allen’s Annie Hall was originally supposed to be a murder mystery, but the murder plot was eventually cut in favor of just focusing on the relationship in the film. Twelve years later, Allen finally got around to making his murder film, and it became one of his most enduring classics. The ideas Allen first explored here—which involve a wealthy man overcome with guilt after murdering his mistress to hide his infidelity—proved fruitful, and he returned to them several times over the years (most notably with 2005’s acclaimed Match Point). But Crimes and Misdemeanors is still unsurpassed. With an all-star cast including Alan Alda, Mia Farrow, Anjelica Huston, Martin Landau, and Jerry Orbach, this three-time Oscar nominee remains a must-see. This special screening is $5.
DO THE RIGHT THING
Directed by Spike Lee
This groundbreaking treatise on race in America is the film that established auteur director Spike Lee as a voice of his generation and laid the groundwork for thought-provoking, personal cinematic visions from all corners. Set in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood during a hot summer day, Lee stars as Mookie, an unmotivated delivery boy at Sal’s Pizzeria. Sal (Danny Aiello) has been in the rapidly-changing neighborhood for over twenty years, and his Italian American Wall of Fame rubs some of the African-American customers the wrong way. Simmering tension (racial and otherwise) culminates in a violent showdown. Starring Samuel L. Jackson, John Turturro, and Rosie Perez, Lee’s classic has been deemed one of the most important films of the last century and still provides a potent message thirty years later.