The first weekend of the Poppy Jasper International Film Festival, held in Northern California, featured a trio of theme days in the virtual presentation. Friday, April 9 was Women’s Day. Saturday, April 10 was China Day. And, finally, Sunday, April 11 was Mexico Day. Below are highlights from the three theme days held over the weekend.
Women’s Day was divided into two groups of films, themed Women Speaking Frankly and Women Challenged. In total, there were 11 films offered as part of the digital presentation for Women’s Day. There were several challenging and interesting depictions of women from around the globe. The first group, Women Speaking Frankly, featured five films that were all quite strong.
My favorite of the group, and the day in total, was the short Under Mom’s Skirt. The 12-minute film from director Sarah Heitz de Chabaneix focused on a hilarious mother-daughter interaction. Said mother, Beatrice (Francoise Miquelis), is a French national now living in Florida. Her daughter, Lucie (Sara Verhagen), is visiting from Paris and accompanies her mother to a doctor’s appointment to serve as a translator. It turns out, said appointment is for a gynecologist, which throws Lucie into plenty of uncomfortable translating situations. Heitz de Chabaneix delivers a fascinating and uncomfortable comedy. This one is awkward, but in the best way. I ended up laughing pretty hard, especially when the dad showed up at the end.
Another interesting piece was the documentary from Annie Gisler called The Little Death, which featured interviews with five women of different ages frankly discussing the female orgasm. This one was narrated and structured by Gisler, driven by her own questions and experiences. Her subjects frankly and honestly answered based on their experiences, and it turned out to be a fascinating exploration.
In the second ground, there were a number of films that captured what it’s like for women in male-dominated countries. In Bagheera, Christopher R. Watson delivers a powerful film about a girl scout leader, Bagheera (Preeti Choudhury), who is abducted by a creepy man and uses her training as a scout to escape and turn the tables. This is a well-crafted, well-acted short that has an empowering ending.
Another I enjoyed was the Iranian film Driving Lessons. Under Iranian law, a woman must have her husband’s permission to learn to drive, and he must accompany her if her instructor is male. Marziyeh Riahi delivers an interesting look at the practice that has a fun twist. The acting is solid as is the production, which ends with a nice twist.
For China Day, six films were screened in two groups. The biggest of them was the feature-length documentary, Go With Your Gut. Directors Quirong Shi and Xian Hu followed seven entrepreneurs for two years, exploring the inspiration for their original ideas and their work. China is a big and vast land that remains a mystery to many foreigners. This film captured the beauty and diversity of the land, and the spirit of the people, along with the challenges of creating business in the region. It paints China in a different light.
Among the second set of films, which featured five shorts, my favorite was Angel’s Mirror. Director Cheng Chao delivers a beautiful film that is nearly dialogue free about a lonely boy who meets a lonely little girl thanks to a mirror, and the meaningful connection achieved between them. I thought this one was beautifully paced and had a sweet message of hope.
Sunday featured four films from Mexico delivered in two groups, Difficult Lives and Art and Hope. The stand out to me was the feature-length documentary, The Sower. Bartolome Vazquez Lopez, a teacher at a multi-grade school, has a great love for his students and helping them achieve. Teaching in a poor mountain town, he invests in his students and helps them invest in their classmates and their community as a means of learning the most out of life. Melissa Elizondo Moreno’s feature documentary captures Bartolome’s work, but also the children and families who he touches, sharing his philosophy of learning. It’s an inspiring story that features some delicate, personal beats.
Monday began the open portion of the competition. In the next installment I’ll be looking at other highlights as well as the winners of the Jury Awards. For more on this year’s festival, visit http://www.pjiff.org.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast, a proud member of the Drive-In Podcast Network.