The Best Laughs at SXSW and Sundance: the Danielle Solzman Lowdown

Chicago Indie Critic Danielle Solzman reports to us from SXSW this year with the comedies she loves the most: 

While the early months of the year tend to be a dumping grounds for the studios, there’s a lot to be discovered at film festivals.


Hearts Beat Loud is a beautifully made, music-driven film from Brett Haley.  What makes the film work isn’t just the screenplay Haley co-wrote with Marc Basch but it’s the music from songwriter/composer Keegan Dewitt that Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons shine through on screen.  To say that Clemons is phenomenal in this musical masterpiece is an understatement. (Featured Image Credit: Jon Pack)

Clara’s Ghost is the feature directorial debut from Bridey Elliott and offers us an exaggerated glimpse into the life of the comedic Elliott family.  While Chris, Abby, and Bridey may be the more familiar names, it’s Chris’s wife, Paula, who gets a substantial amount of material to work with in the film.  It’s a fun film that’s best watched with a glass of wine in your hands.

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Blockers is the feature directorial debut of comedy writer Kay Cannon.  It’s laugh-out-loud funny and I found myself falling out of my seat during the world premiere at SXSW.  The film offers a teen sex comedy from the female perspective with some great performances.  When it comes to R-rated comedies, this film is an instant classic and joins the likes of so many great films from the Judd Apatow brain machine.

What I love about Summer ’03 is that it comes from a first-time feature filmmaker and is so full of heart, emotion, and comedy.  Becca Gleason has a fresh voice and ought to be around for a long time to come.  It’s actress Joey King who carries this film from start to finish with an amazing performance.  That being said, everyone in the film, including improv pros Paul Scheer and Andrea Savage, get upstaged during June Squibb’s brief role as a dying grandmother whose biggest regret is never learning how to perform a proper blow job.

You Can Choose Your Family takes us back to 1992, where Jim Gaffigan’s Frank Hansen is married to two different women and has two children with both wives.  It’s going great for Frank until his son, Phillip (Logan Miller), discovers his secret and threatens to spill the beans unless his father gives him the money to attend NYU.  There’s times where it feels like the audience knows more than what the characters do and as such, there’s a few OMG moments late in the film.

I’m not ignoring Sorry to Bother You but I’m placing the satire into a category of it’s own.  It’s the new Get Out on so many levels but it’s not an outright comedy or drama.  Somewhere in between to be honest.

29134970_10102083915109720_1906448420_n   Danielle Solzman is a film critic and a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle, Galeca: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, Alliance of Women Film Journalists, and the Online Film & Television Association. She also writes for Solzy at the Movies.

Dallas VideoFest presents Women and the Movies They Make


We got a chance to talk to the amazing film essayist, professor and academic writer Shilyh Warren this week about DVF’s latest installment: Women and the Movies They Make in an interview she kindly granted on Monday. She granted us great insight to her process of curation.

Shilyh talked to us about some of the best films presented in this upcoming March 25th program taking place at Alamo Drafthouse Richardson which includes all the amazing women you haven’t yet heard about who  . . .  surprise, surprise have been making awesome films all along, well before the manipulative nature of Hollywood (and many other “official structures” for that matter) was exposed in the midst of the #metoo scandal.

In this clip Warren elaborates on Palestinan filmmaker Mona Hatoum’s work that is a series of letters to her mother as she wrestles with the concept of diaspora.


Presented by Dallas Video Fest in part with Women in Film Dallas and Flicks by Chicks. Special thanks to Women Make Movies, the Texas Commission on the Arts, and the Dallas Film Commission. This organization is funded in part by the City of Richardson through the City of Richardson Cultural Arts Commission.


Assistant Professor of Aesthetics and Film Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas, Shilyh Warren’s essays on documentary and feminist filmmaking have appeared in Camera Obscura, South Atlantic Quarterly, Signs, Jump Cut, and Mediascape. She is also the co-editor of a special feature on feminist pedagogy and cinematic violence for Films for the Feminist Classroom.


Pharrell Williams and Forest Whittaker’s Roxanne Roxanne has its upcoming Netflix premiere. Hip Hop Legend Spyder D is conisdering bio/historical pic of his own.

The legendary Spyder D is headed to New York to see two of his tracks as they appear in the Netflix Premeire of Pharrell Williams and Forrest Whittaker’s Roxanne, Roxanne today. This film looks like a can’t miss watch, but considering a crowd at Sundance and a Limited Release has already declared that, my opinion is only adding to the obvious fanfare about the ambitious (and well-recieved) project. Chanté Adams’s performance is clearly that compelling.

Word also has it that Spyder D is strongly considering a bio/historical pic chronicling the life and times of the legendary Power Play Studios and is talking to the right team to get it done.

We are definitely excited about the prospects of this project, for all the right reasons. There’s something about the art of the mix and the oral history that is just . . . appealing.


Film Will Never Be Dead is on Hiatus

We’re taking a break. After running into discrimination at a sushi restaurant while covering CIMMfest, we decided we needed to rest. Chicago has never been an easy city for me to deal with — but we’re still trying.

We’re working behind the scenes to make a writing team cohesive, doing final edits on a film, and have scheduled interviews to run in the future.

We’ll be back in January with more content. If we have said we’ll cover your thing, we still WILL and it’s in queue.


Aisha Tyler’s Axis delivers creative storytelling by using a constricted setting.

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It’s hard to imagine “successful” visual storytelling as delivered in a feature-length film in using only the setting that is the interior of an automobile.  It’s even tougher to imagine that it does so as the camera only really changes angles surrounding the one man in it.

Yet Aisha Tyler’s AXIS absolutely does this and it does this remarkably well. It has already taken Los Angeles by storm and is doing well at a number of festivals.

AXIS features Tristan Blake, a man with a distinctive Irish brogue who manages to make it good in Hollywood, despite the animosity of others in his life. As he chats with his Southern girlfriend, with his dysfunctional family, with his agents, lawyers, therapists and friends a complex character develops.

His attempt to power play a studio and its production creates some interesting moments of study as they relate to the problem of ego, western life, and stardom.

Axis also just screened at CIMMfest 2017’s opening night.

There’s a lot more to CIMMfest which cuts deep into music cultures and the films that chronicle them.  The line-up can be found here.






Cellist Jesús Castro-Balbi joins the Dallas Chamber Symphony in a rousing set of string performances.

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Critically acclaimed cellist Jesús Castro-Balbi will be joining the Dallas Chamber Symphony as a permanent member, taking up a position as principal cellist.

He is known performances and broadcasts in the US, Asia, Europe and throughout Latin America as a soloist with the Dallas and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestras, the China Philharmonic, the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra (Denmark), the Leipzig MDR radio orchestra, the Mexico City Philharmonic and the National Symphony Orchestra (Peru).

I was granted the pleasure recently of speaking to DCS Director Richard McKay, who was quite excited about the development.

He explained that Castro-Balbi would join the traditional chamber repertoire that included two oboes and two horns.
Nov. 7th’s performance will include what McKay summarized as “a gorgeous mix of works that don’t get heard very often.”
Gershwin’s Lullaby for strings will be performed — bookended by two pieces that were written for quartet. McKay explained that, historically, Gershwin composed at the piano and  composed in full harmonies and melodies as the reason why this selection had a special significance.
Haydn’s cello concerto will also be performed, to showcase Balbi’s entrance to the position of principal cellist. The work was composed early in Haydn’s career (the early 1760’s) but was only rediscovered in 1961 to receive a great popularity that eclipsed other work.

The Feetles play DVF30 AltFiction along with many other astounding acts.

It seems like in the age of Trump, it’s hard to tell which sock is right and which sock is left.  It’s as if the 1960’s reached out to tinge our present decade, but none of it is the good part where civil rights happen or women get liberated. It’s the same blather over and over again.

Who care’s if they’re legitimized? These sad men who can’t handle legitimate protest are all just trolls on Twitter in the end.

So what’s a person to do when every day civil liberty is eroding? Seek comfort, support and distraction. Live as though you’re forgetting that Nuclear Winter is just around the corner. Isn’t that what we did then?

Maybe we should all be after a better sense of nostalgia.

Like those invoked by parodies of sock puppets who are quite glad their lady love has washed them.

Just ask Bart Weiss, artistic director of VideoFest for his inspiration.

“There’s lots of talk today about alternative facts and political narratives. The line between fact and fiction in life and in cinema is blurring.

Filmmakers are making TV; TV shows become feature films. Who can even define what the idea of television is anymore with networks along with the gamut of streaming services? DVF30’s AltFiction Fest devotes the weekend to ways of telling stories on large screens and small – film and TV and web – mixing media and mediums,” said Bart Weiss, founder and artistic director of Dallas VideoFest.

The narratives that make up the majority of AltFiction Fest explore this moment in time at the intersection between media and how cinema artists can create original work in this new world.

“Over the 4 days at the Angelika, a great palace of traditional cinema exhibition, AltFiction Fest features new works from local and international filmmaker telling unique stories, working the edges and sometimes the centers of this world,” said Weiss.

See THE FEETLES, a short produced in the Dallas area by the ever-growing in popularity “Sock Puppet Parody” YouTube collective, and many other offerings ready to lift your spirits at Dallas VideoFest #DVF30AltFiction. 

Behind the Silence is raising production funds. It’s a film about families who cope with autism.

Crystal Joy has a story to tell about families who cope with a member displaying the symptoms of autism. She’s one of many talented members of IFP Chicago, a group that provides a lot of support and nurturing to filmmakers in its region.

In Crystal Joy’s own words as she explained her research process:

“How does the family foundation change when raising a child with special needs? How does the marriage change? I learned so much in my research process and I wanted to express that creatively through scriptwriting. I had the opportunity of talking with three different people, one by the name of Rob Gorski.

Rob writes on a very popular blog called The Autism Dad, formerly known as Lost and Tired. He gave an excellent and open insight on his life and how his marriage changed. What I learned through speaking with these parents is that every family is different-they may all have the same feelings and emotions about their child but how they handle the circumstances varies. No family is the same.”

She’s raising money on Indiegogo to support the rest of her production needs which include equipment rental and crew amenities.  If you’re as hopeful to see her production get started as I am, donate here.


THE REPLACEMENT presents a creative concept and storytelling through stunning cinematography.

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In the world presented by THE REPLACEMENT, clone 642, Abe Stagsen, has just become president. Not everyone is happy about this development, least of all the person who originated his existence, a janitor who has seen no benefit from the successes of all the fruit his genes have produced.

This short which integrates three parts portrayed by actor Mike McNamara seamlessly thanks to the magic of cloning and expert cutting (janitor, president, and newscaster) presents a creative concept that delivers in terms of storytelling that is able to capture audience interest.

This film is doubly fascinating because it speaks to contemporary problems in consideration of intellectual property and biomedical research. This problem surfaces in our current reality in the terms of Henrietta Lacks, John Moore, Ted Slavin — and to some the selectively-unrealized human potential that became HEK-293.

THE REPLACEMENT also speaks to all who labor and feel immobile in their position and the exploitative powers that they feel they can’t control.

That’s generally the hallmark of a good dystopian work. The cinematography presented by three-time Emmy winner Mike Bove is one of the most magnificent aspects of this film.

You can see director/producer team Sean Miller and Naz Khan’s latest release in two locations:

Chicago International Film Festival
Oct 25th – 5:45pm

Austin Film Festival 
Oct. 29 – 7pm
Nov. 1 – 2pm




ELLIOT is a remarkable low-fi commentary on surveillance society.

ELLIOT, a gritty dystopian Sci-Fi thriller, by director Craig Jacobson will have its London premiere at Deptford Cinema for one night only on Nov. 10 and a Chicago screening on Dec. 11.

In the world of low-fi and stubbornly analog productions, there’s a strange undercurrent of fascination with relics of the past amongst its fans. What were things like before media was available at the touch of a button and your Levi’s Commuter Trucker Jacket had a smart cuff made of Google Jacquard? Do we remember? Does anyone remember? Does Pepperidge Farm even remember?

We often think that the past was awesome. That’s the strange trick of nostalgia. Everything is (and was) FINE back then! Except for when it’s absolutely not (and absolutely was not).

Life was, of course, certainly simpler before digitization in terms of social relationships, sometimes simpler for the sake of not being data mined 24-7, sometimes for our ignorant bliss about the mechanization behind the power structures that obstruct more democratic sensibilities of governance. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that life was better.

The story has always been a tool of reflection of humankind whether the story expresses a fantasy for its improvement or reflects on a quality we’d prefer leave our collective consciousness.

ELLIOT as film reflects on qualities its storytellers find unpleasing about technology. It portrays the sense of isolation that we feel in a world where we often project our best selves into digital landscapes because realities that are unaugmented don’t present as many possibilities for reinvention.

So what to consider about a film shot entirely on VHS (not SVHS or Super 8, mind you which were at one time or another “broadcast quality”) but consumer-end VHS with all of its obligatory warts in considering it as a “film-stock” that intends to make commentary on this situation?

A few things, perhaps. The concept is brilliant. The execution creates an aesthetic that an audience will either find brilliant or obstructive to accessing the true nature of the content all depending on the member. Those who “get” this film are really going to “get” it — especially the elements of storytelling that are meant to reflect the larger ontological and social problem of physical isolation and digital interconnectedness they tackle.

The array of directorial choices made by Director Craig Jacobson in his first debut not shot in tandem with Cassandra Sechler out of their collective Dreams For Dead Cats Productions depict a world in disarray and a deep desire for more substantive human connection. There are mostly dark moments and some obscene moments, as is common fare for this production house.

This film is for those desirous of a specific, cathartic emotional quality who are dealing with their own desire to distance themselves from the phenomenon of being “plugged in” all the time who alsoenjoy gritty visuals.

I  think that, despite this not always being my specific aesthetic of choice, I “got it.”