By Peg Aloi
I’ve seen a really interesting assortment of movies so far. I can’t recite them all from memory, but they don’t merge either. Not yet anyway.
A love song is a sweet, down-to-earth story of two single people who reunite after not seeing each other since childhood. Faye (Dale Dickey) takes her trailer to a secluded lakeside location in a mountainous desert landscape. His days are serene but monotonous, catching crayfish in a trap, reading bird information from a field guide, and awaiting the arrival of a mysterious suitor. She is friends with the postman, who makes his deliveries on the back of a donkey, and the neighbors of the campsite are at a respectable distance. She quickly smooths her hair and tucks her shirt in whenever she hears a car approaching.
When his visitor finally arrives, he does the same kind of nervous preening, unaware that Faye is watching as he knocks on her door. Lito (Wes Studi) is a former classmate, and the two, now widowed and widowed, live mostly solitary lives. But in this vast landscape, with its enormous night sky, these two people are close together as if they were looking for answers to eternal questions. The dialogue is stripped down: not poetic or noble, but painfully real and nostalgic all the same. Max Walker-Silverman’s debut feature is both understated and grand, anchored by a pair of heartbreakingly authentic performances. Reminding nomadlandis the ode to the open road, and what it means to age gracefully, A love song suggests that our heart’s desire may lie in something much closer and much simpler than we previously imagined.
I’ve found something in the dirt engage on many levels. It’s funny, weird, clever and disturbing. Levi (Justin Benson) hangs out in a short-term rental apartment in Los Angeles, preparing to leave town. One night he meets his neighbor John (Aaron Moorhead). As they smoke endless cigarettes on their balcony, they discover that they are kindred spirits who share a love of the weird. When they both witness unusual paranormal events, they decide to make a documentary about what might be their haunted building. But there’s also something mysterious about these two men, including the events that brought them to this moment.
Moorhead and Benson wrote, directed and photographed this film together and they offer clever commentary on a myriad of topics (conspiracy theories, occult, social media, filmmaking) that is as entertaining as it is bizarre. X-filesstyle antics unfold, aided by the creation of a documentary within a documentary. It’s tempting to get caught up in identifying all the pop culture influences lurking here. But the film is more rewarding than that: it’s utterly original in the way it depicts a mercurial friendship based on obsession. It’s clear that these two filmmakers can generate a lot of supercharged creativity. something in the dirt is my favorite film of the festival so far.
The first feature film by Mariama Diallo, Master, is an intriguing thriller with touches of terror. The film is set on a fictional college campus in Salem, MA. Among its highlights is an unflinching examination of race politics in the ivory tower and the white supremacy overlay that haunts venerable American institutions. Gail (Regina Hall) is a new resident “mistress” in a historic dormitory; she is the first black woman to hold this position on campus. New student Jasmine (Zoe Renee) receives a warm welcome at first, but quickly notices repeated micro-aggressions and eventually outright instances of racism from her peers and professors. Liv (Amber Gray) is a professor slated for tenure; Liv is embroiled in controversy when it is discovered that she may be hiding her true identity.
The three women are forced to confront the bigotry of racism on campus and deal with the inevitable realization that the hate may never go away. The film’s dramatic struggles are plausible enough, but Diallo also deftly weaves in subtle horror elements. Inspired by the notorious location and history of the campus, supernatural elements include the ghost of an accused 17th-century witch and a dead black student in her dorm. These specters are manifestations of the lingering power of colonialism and sexism. The performances are all top-notch, and Charlotte Hornsby’s cinematography is indeed moody.
Peg Aloi is a former film critic for boston phoenix and Fellow of the Boston Society of Film Critics. She taught film studies in Boston for over a decade. She writes about film, television and culture for web publications like Vice, Polygon, Restlessness, microphone, Orlando Weekly, twisted marqueeand Bloody disgusting. Her blog “The Witching Hour” can be found at themediawitch.com.