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Reviews from the 2023 New/Next Film Fest
Baltimore's newest film festival.
BALTIMORE - When the Maryland Film Festival announced that they would be going on hiatus in 2023, Baltimore was almost left without a film festival this year. In response, film curator Eric Allen Hatch, WYPR, and a multitude of sponsors and volunteers announced a quick turnaround, one weekend event: New/Next Film Festival - over 50 films in three days, many of which made their Maryland premiere. Filmmakers in attendance, secret showings, and revival screenings made it a local can't-miss event. Patrick and Taylor had the opportunity to attend five screenings over the weekend, all of which are recounted and reviewed here:
Movie #1: Bamboozled (2000)
With this blisteringly funny, unapologetically confrontational satire, writer-director Spike Lee examined the past, present, and future of racism in American popular culture, issuing a daring provocation to creators and consumers alike. Under pressure to help revive his network’s low ratings, television writer Pierre Delacroix (Damon Wayans) hits on an explosively offensive idea: bringing back blackface with The New Millennium Minstrel Show.
Patrick: Our festival began with a revival screening of Spike Lee's 2000 film Bamboozled. Editor, six-time Spike collaborator, and new Baltimore transplant Sam Pollard was on hand to talk about the film afterward in a Q&A.
Bamboozled was one of the first major films to shoot primarily on standard-definition MiniDV tape, and, as Pollard remarked, "It looks like shit." Spike would have as many as seven cameras running at one time, capturing an unbelievable amount of footage. Clocking in at 135 minutes, it's hard to imagine what was left in the edit. `
Its length, however, is quite representative of its unwieldiness. Spike, as he is want to do, wants to tackle everything under the sun: race, consumerism, capitalism, television, racial politics in the early 20th century, racial politics in the mid-20th century, and racial politics entering the 21st century. Spike has big ideas and he wants to find a place for all of them in his film, often leaning towards Damon Wayans, Jada Pinkett Smith, or Michael Rapaport to just say what he's feeling.
It's also an incredibly funny film, but one whose humor is borderline gallows humor: painfully dark, supremely upsetting, always political. Crowds in 2000 weren't ready for it and I'm not sure crowds now want it. But that's what Spike has always done.
Movie #2: Naked Gardens (2022)
A visually stunning narrative documentary, NAKED GARDENS immerses audiences in the complex, unseen world of a family nudist resort in the Florida Everglades. Filmed over one season at this lush tropical campsite, the film follows the stories of individuals drawn to an unusual community, which promises both non-conformist values and, more importantly for some, a cheap place to live.
Taylor: The first thing to be said of this fascinating new film is that if you're a person who prefers documentaries that have a clear, concise narrative arc, this may not be the documentary for you. Naked Gardens takes a mellow yet compelling journey through one of Florida's last Nudist (or, as many of them prefer, Naturist) resorts. Through this truly documentarian experience (simply just documenting what's around them), there are no talking heads or questions being asked in post on a soundstage to provide clarity or context. What you get instead is a five-month glance into the raw, unfiltered lives of these residents, all of which are there for their own unique reasons. Naked Gardens shows the good, the bad, and the ugly of the resort, with none of those adjectives ever relating to the bodies bearing it all on screen and in their daily lives. While this documentary left me with more questions than answers, I was in awe every minute of the vulnerability of everyone involved, and I'm more than satisfied continuing my own research rather than getting all the answers here in this film.
Patrick: Towards the end of the film, one resident of Sunsport Gardens Family Naturist Resort turns to another resident, a woman considering moving out, and says, "It's like Hotel California." She is, of course, referencing the Eagles lyric: you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave
Residents at this resort come for all sorts of reasons: freedom, escape, monetary (it's unbelievably cheap to live there). The documentary depicts different people with all sorts of different reasons.
But what's so interesting about Naked Gardens is what people find there, making it impossible to consider another style of living. You or I (especially me) might go into the film not possibly understanding what's so interesting about this lifestyle, but you'll walk out (just like I did) not only understanding, but empathizing. To many, it's a haven. When you see them there, it's easy to see why.
Movie #3: Rotting in the Sun (2023)
While unwinding at a Mexican gay beach town, depressed director Sebastián Silva meets gregarious Instagram influencer Jordan Firstman (both playing versions of themselves), and Sebastián reluctantly agrees to collaborate on an upcoming project. But when Jordan arrives back in Mexico City, Sebastián is nowhere to be found, and Jordan embarks on a wildly unpredictable, quasi-detective journey.
Taylor: A huge fan of Jordan Firstman for many years, Rotting in the Sun was my most anticipated film of the entire New/Next Festival and it did not disappoint (Well, maybe I was a little disappointed that Jordan chose to be at his sister's wedding rather than this premiere... lame.) A member of the New/Next staff introduced the film and said something happens in it that she "was not expecting," so it would probably be better to "not say much," and at risk of this seeming like a cop-out, I have to agree that less is more here. What I can, and am eager to share, is that this film is fresh, funny, and thrilling. Its self-awareness is its largest strength, and tackles large, compelling themes with a refreshing nuance. Just go see it.
Patrick: Or watch it on Mubi when it drops there in about two weeks!
Movie #4: Peak Season (2023)
Feeling neglected during a getaway with her fiancé to the wealthy town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, New York yuppie Amy finds herself drawn to the free-spirited Loren, a local wilderness guide.
Taylor: While following a typical romantic comedy formula, Peak Season hardly takes the easy route and transcends the ordinary in all the best ways. This 82-minute film from directors Henry Loevner and Steven Kanter (just their second feature film) is filled with pure, simple delight-- something that certainly can't be said of all new-age rom-coms. Full-bodied characters, electric chemistry, breathtaking scenery, and honest conversations make this one of the most memorable watches of New/Next, and one I would highly recommend to anyone looking for a little tug on the heartstrings. If you're anything like me and spent a good chunk of your tween-dom watching Buzzfeed on YouTube, the cast and team, chock-full of Buzzfeed alum (with a sprinkle of Flo from Progressive) will hit you in the gut with sweet, sweet nostalgia (If you can move past the "where do I know that person from?" every ten seconds). Despite my fond connection with almost everyone in the cast, I was pleasantly surprised, impressed, and moved at each and every performance. As a rom-com enthusiast that takes the genre very seriously, this is a lovely, and very much welcomed, installation into the genre.
Movie #5: The Body Politic (2023)
THE BODY POLITIC follows Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott during an unprecedented election and throughout his first year in office as he puts his political future on the line in hopes of saving lives by implementing a new violence reduction policy in the city.
Patrick: I'm so grateful to New/Next for screening this important Baltimore story in the very city that it depicts. At the historic Charles Theatre, with Mayor Brandon Scott and many of the film's heroes in attendance, this event has become one of my favorite memories as a Baltimore resident. If I had watched this movie on PBS, but it was about Minneapolis - or I had watched this movie on Hoopla and it took place in Chicago, it obviously wouldn't mean as much. But watching this uniquely local story, surrounded by its citizens whose reactions were palpable and promising, was beautiful and unfortunately impossible to describe if you weren't there or don't live in and love this city.
Each plot synopsis and all photos are from NewNextFilmFestival.com
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