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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 31.Dec.23

Every Body  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

Every Body
dir Julie Cohen
prd Tommy Nguyen, Molly O'Brien
with Sean Saifa Wall, Alicia Roth Weigel, River Gallo, Keith Sigmundson, Maribel Gallo, Katharine Dalke, Julia Salazar, Raquel Wajner, Cecilia Gentili, Scout Silverstein, Jomka Weib, Joe Morton
release US 18.Aug.23,
UK 15.Dec.23
23/US Focus 1h32

Now streaming...

saifa, alicia and river
Exploring a complex topic through personal perspectives, this documentary can't help but be revelatory. Intersexuality is rarely discussed but is reality for a significant number of people. Director Julie Cohen maintains a terrific sense of humour and musicality throughout the film, even as the cameras capture some shocking and disturbing situations. And by shining a light on these wonderful people, the film will help shatter cruelly damaging myths.
In the early 1960s, Dr John Money coined the term "sexual orientation" and pioneered research into gender roles, promoting surgery, hormone treatment and socialisation therapy to force intersex babies into a binary life. But his studies were both flawed and subsequently misapplied, leading to horrific consequences for children who underwent these treatments. Saifa, Alicia and River articulate their stories beautifully, sharing their experiences and feelings of growing up with a terrible secret before discovering nearly 2 percent of the population are born somewhere in between the limited definition of male and female.
Science has proven that gender and sexuality both exist on a spectrum, and yet society continually pushes people to identify at one end or the other, which often results in cruel bigotry and self-hatred. Even within intersexuality, there are some 40 documented variations, often genetically inherited and sometimes difficult to detect. And yet both lawmakers and supposed experts continue to promote surgery on intersex infants, even as they legislate against similar operations for trans children. The life-altering point is that surgery should always wait for educated consent.

While the subject matter is intensely serious, Cohen gives the film a remarkably bright tone, bringing out the energetic personalities of Saifa, Alicia and River as they describe their experiences with lovely snapshots and home movies, then step into the public sphere to demand that intersex children be allowed to discover who they are without interference. These are warm, intelligent and witty people who have important things to say.

The film also uses a cleverly gender-flipped song score that echoes each person's experiences, shot beautifully to catch offhanded moments alongside the big emotional beats and historical footage of Money and his most famous patient David Reimer, a cis boy who was raised as a girl in the 1960s, disproving Money's theories and leading to a tragic end. The archival interview with Reimer is deeply haunting, and adds a powerful underscore to Saifa, Alicia and River's hopeful work to ensure a more positive future.

cert 12 themes, language, imagery 9.Nov.23

Or, the Incredibly Strange Rise and Fall of the World’s Wildest Cinema
and How It Influenced a Mixed-up Generation of Weirdos and Misfits
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
dir-scr Jane Giles, Ali Catterall
prd Alan Marke, Jim Reid, Andrew Starke, Andy Starke
with John Waters, Mary Harron, Stephen Woolley, Isaac Julien, Beeban Kidron, Peter Strickland, John Akomfrah, Stewart Lee, Paul Burston, David McGillivray, Kim Newman, Alan Jones
release UK 5.Jan.24
23/UK BFI 1h36

london film fest

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Inventively assembled with an entertaining range of first-hand interviews and archival footage, this documentary traces the life of London's most iconic repertory cinema through the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Generously peppering the screen with fantastic film clips, directors Jane Giles and Ali Catterall focus on the audience who found a strong sense of community here. They also include the cinema's impact the local neighbourhood and wider queer culture.
Founded in 1978, the Scala Film Club moved to its iconic King's Cross venue in 1981, tantalising fans with a wildly varied programme of underground classics unavailable anywhere else. And Shock Around the Clock all-nighters created a place where outsiders could hang out. Then after a secret 1993 screening of A Clockwork Orange, the cinema was sued for copyright infringement and forced to close. Audiences included an array of people who went on to become noted filmmakers themselves, while staff members and regular customers saved up outrageous stories they now tell with nostalgic glee.
With a sparky pace, whizzy visual flourishes and a terrific original score by Barry Adamson, the film charges through the Scala's colourful story. The filmmakers pack a staggering amount of material into a relatively brief running time, and it remarkably never feels rushed. What emerges is a wonderful sense of a place that simply doesn't exist anymore, where like-minded people gathered to share their love of things that were far outside the mainstream. In many ways, this venue was more than simply a repertory cinema; it was a hub for those who felt underrepresented in the culture at large.

Interviews are energetic and cheeky, packed with spicy anecdotes that often make us wish we had been there. The place's influence on filmmakers like Harron, Julien, Kidron, Strickland and Akomfrah is clear to see, while Waters speaks of how the cinema embraced his work and encouraged him to pursue stories about people on the fringe. It's sad to see that nothing quite like this exists anymore, and indeed the entire cinema landscape feels far less adventurous today. So social outcasts are perhaps becoming more marginalised than ever. This makes it important for docs like this to encourage people to tap into those counterculture classics and embrace that renegade spirit.

cert 18 themes, language, violence, sexuality 21.Nov.23

We Dare to Dream  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
dir Waad Al-Kateab
prd Abigail Anketell-Jones, Kathryn Everett, Bryn Mooser, Joanna Natasegara
with Kimia Alizadeh, Saeid Fazloula, Cyrille Tchatchet II, Anjelina Lohalith, Waad Al-Kateab
release US 20.Oct.23,
UK 1.Dec.23
23/UK 1h38

Now streaming...

Tracing the moving stories of four participants in the Olympic refugee team, this intimate documentary explores their journeys in the context of their intrepid desires to be the best in the world. A refugee herself, director Waad Al-Kateab encourages them to speak openly to the cameras, capturing their underlying emotions and understandable frustrations. It's an earthy, open-handed film and an important reminder of the humanity behind a global issue.
As the first Iranian woman to win an Olympic medal, a taekwondo bronze at Rio 2016, Kimia had to flee her homeland after criticising sporting officials. At Tokyo 2021, she hopes to become the first-ever medalist on the Refugee Olympic Team. Her teammates include kayaker Saeid, who is living in Germany after fleeing Iran on foot following violent police persecution. After leaving Cameroon, Cyrille has continued training as a weightlifter in England. And Sudanese runner Anjelina had to leave her son in a Kenyan refugee camp; she hasn't seen her parents for nearly two decades.
Each of these young people is energetic and full of hope, even as they wonder if they will ever see their families again. And as outcasts, they don't know if their families will root for them to succeed. The cameras follow them through their training, then travelling to Qatar to bond as a team before heading to Tokyo. In Doha, a positive Covid test threatens to derail them, but they tenaciously keep training as they wait for the all-clear. Each of them has faced multiple barriers to get here, including threats, rejection and the extra difficulty of funding their training without a home country behind them.

Al-Kateab never tries to push the emotions, but underlying feelings can't help but surge, especially as they see their dreams potentially being crushed due to the pandemic. In very specific ways, each of them also misses their family even as they strike out on their own, an act of survival that's even more impressive as we watch them compete in the Games. The film's final section covers the various rounds of competition, as they often face former friends and coaches on this world stage. Their open-handed comments help us understand what's going through their minds, and their sheer enthusiasm is contagious. All of us will be cheering them on at Paris 2024.

cert pg some themes 26.Nov.23

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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall