Once again, this year’s Sundance Film Festival was virtual and once again, a plethora of interesting films is very likely to land on your small screen some time this coming year. Here’s a look at some of the most entertaining and enlightening films.
“We Need to Talk About Cosby”
Now airing on Showtime, this thought-provoking and frankly uncomfortable to watch three-part docuseries brings to the fore the question of separating the artist (and in Cosby’s case, activist and educator) from the person. Should it be done? If so, when?
Director and producer W. Kamau Bell sits down with a number of high-profile personalities including Jemele Hill, Marc Lamont Hill, Jelani Cobb, and former “Cosby Show” cast members to dissect the renowned comedian cum Jekyll and Hyde figure whose crimes, the film illustrates, go back at least as far as the beginning of his television career in the 1960s. We know this because victims from that time all the way to the present, appear and tell their stories in graphic, jaw-dropping detail.
Visually stunning, and somewhat resonant of Sembene Ousmane’s classic “Black Girl,” director Nikyatu Jusu’s “Nanny” is a love letter to Black immigrant mothers. The drama with supernatural elements, stars Anna Diop (“Greenleaf,” “Titans”) as a Senegalese nanny living in Harlem, negotiating romance, and dealing with her complex, wealthy White employers while she lays the foundation to bring her young son to America. Sleek sets, breathtaking costumes, and masterful cinematography make for a stunning ride.
This off-beat dramedy features a pair of immature grown brothers in Compton, CA, contemplating taking on the responsibility of their loving niece and iconoclastic, suicidal teen nephew in the wake of their parents’ absence. An oblique meditation on grief, loss, and resilience.
A unique entry in the panoply of documentaries about the marriage of Diana Spencer into the British royal family and its unhappily ever after ending. Solely using archival footage, “The Princess” gives the viewer the perspective of Diana herself in terms of the often physically and emotionally claustrophobic nature of the paparazzi’s presence, and her love/hate relationship with the press.
This documentary entertains the horrifying irony that some Jewish soldiers might have massacred Arabs in the village of Tantura in 1948 during what Jewish Israelis call The War of Independence (Arab Israelis call it The Catastrophe). Using both contemporary interviews and 140 hours of 20-year-old audio tape with those who were there at the time, director Alon Schwarz tries to decipher the truth.
“Marte Um (Mars One)”
This is a well-acted and superbly shot spirited drama about a close-knit working class Black family in Brazil. A dedicated mother is traumatized by an unlikely event and a father pins all his hopes on his son’s talents in soccer. Family bonds are threatened, however, when their college-aged daughter and teen son each shock them with their life choices, assertions of independence, and burgeoning identities.
Through the innovative use of archival footage originally shot completely by the government, “Riotsville” pieces together its legislative, and military response to the series of riots that swept the nation’s inner cities in the early to mid-60s.
The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder, aka the Kerner Commission, was founded by then-president Lyndon B. Johnson, who believed the riots were caused by “outside agitators.”
Militarily, in 1967, the army built a model town in Fort Belvoir, VA, that was used to train military and law enforcement how to respond to civil disobedience. It was called Riotsville and included soldiers in plain clothes playing rioting citizens. Today’s powerful militarized police is very much a product of lessons learned at Riotsville.
Starring Regina Hall (“Girls Trip,” “Black Monday”) and Zoe Renee (“Jinn,” “The Quad”) and debuting on Amazon March 18, 2022, “Master” uses supernatural drama to critique racial dynamics in predominantly White institutions, particularly in higher education.
Hall stars as a professor and newly appointed dean of students, or master on the campus at fictional Ivy-League-like Ancaster University in New England. Renee plays first-year student Jasmine. Hall and Renee deliver strong performances as characters trying their best to navigate White supremacy’s too-often tragic terrain.
Based on a true story of Brian Brown Easely and starring a thoroughly transformed John Boyega, and the late Michael Kenneth Williams (in his last screen performance), “892” is a taut, suspenseful, captivating drama about a U.S. Marine vet suffering from PTSD who tragically initiates a hostage situation when he is denied his veterans’ benefits. This film features a heartbreaking performance by London Covington as Easely’s young, worshipful daughter. Nicole Beharie is convincing as his strong-as-steel hostage.
“Jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy”
Scheduled for release on Netflix in mid-February, this docuseries shot by visionary filmmaking duo Coodie Simmons and Chike Ozah, features two decades of up close and personal footage of the mercurial, brilliant, and troubled rapper Kanye West. It is a must-see for hip hop aficionados and music history lovers. The film charts Ye’s rise from an in-demand producer whose own rap skills, ambition, and drive were woefully underestimated to a world-renowned rapper.
Thandie Newton (“Westworld”) stars as a big city cop turned small town professor who falls into conflict with the good ol’ boy locals and the faculty at her college. It is an imperfect, but splendidly shot, fascinating meditation on grief, loss, and anger.
“Honk For Jesus: Save Your Soul”
This film is a slick satire about a fallen pastor of a megachurch and his wife as they try every trick in the book to regain their congregation and repair his reputation. Stellar performances by Regina Hall and Sterling Brown.