Beans [Canada, Tracey Deer, 4] As the 1990 Oka standoff envelops her Mohawk community, a shy tween achiever (Kiawentiio) decides to toughen up by ingratiating herself to the tough kids. Mixing the docudrama and coming-of-age structures offsets the inherent trickiness of both, but it wouldn’t work without an appealing and touching performance from its charismatic young lead.
Akilla’s Escape [Canada, Charles Officer, 4] Weed dealer hoping to leave the business (Saul Wiliiams) tries to recover his boss’ ripped-off cash and product without sacrificing a young gang member who reminds him of his younger self. Moody, laconic crime drama contextualized by the political history of Jamaican gangsterism.
Williams, a recording artist, also supplies the score. The kinds of films that play at the festival often economize by favoring black credit screens over full title sequences, so it’s always a bracing change of pace to see a well-done one. The title sequence for this not only delivers a welcome jolt of mood and energy but does a lot of the storytelling work that would otherwise have to be done with expository dialogue.
New Order [Mexico, Michel Franco, 4] A wedding thrown by a wealthy family during a growing insurrection suffers a murderous attack by protestors and the kidnapping of the bride. Wildly disturbing vision of political violence and degradation takes its time unreeling its allegorical purpose.
David Byrne’s American Utopia [US, Spike Lee, 4] Filmed version of the Broadway version of David Byrne’s recent tour features joyous choreography, simple but arresting stagecraft, and songs from his Talking Heads and solo eras. When you shoot a concert film featuring David Byrne, you have to bring it, and Lee does that ably, finding countlesss different ways to shoot within a proscenium.
David Byrne has always been a hugely important artist to me, but I was surprised how moved I was to get to feel that I was at a live concert.
Capsule review boilerplate: Ratings are out of 5. I’ll be collecting these reviews in order of preference in a master post the Monday after the fest. Films shown on the festival circuit will appear in theaters, disc and/or streaming over the next year plus.