Categories: Rebecca Romani, THE BUZZ

THE BUZZ: Capsule Reviews: Human Rights Watch Film Festival, Feb. 2-6, digital screening

By Rebecca Romani

February 2, 2021

Through The Night

Through the Night will resonate with anyone who has had to juggle working long hours and caring for a vulnerable child, sibling or family member. In communities where economic necessity forces families and single mothers to take on multiple jobs and/or work through the night to pay rent, an interesting phenomenon has risen: the  24-hour day care. Filmmaker Loira Limbal turns her camera on one such center for a riveting look at three women whose lives intertwine as they search for solutions.

Limbal, a single mother herself, spent two years documenting Deloris “Nunu” and Patrick “Pop Pop” Hogan’s mom and pop daycare in New Rochelle, New York. Limbal’s unsparing style and frank approach unveil the triumphs and damning inequities for women who must leave their children to work long hours just to pay the bills. Limbal follows a registered nurse and a grocery store clerk as they negotiate their jobs and childcare, trying to balance family with finances. It’s a keenly drawn portrait of people and theirability to persist and deeply love their families in spite of great odds.

Limbal said she hopes this documentary will help inspire broad changes to working practices and help promote safe daycares. The overnight daycare, she said in a roundtable discussion, is a generations old phenomenon, and she is hopeful that “this is the moment to make (the) changes.”


I Am Samuel

I am Samuel follows someone faced with an equally difficult decision. For Samuel, born and raised on a farm in the Kenyan countryside and now living in Nairobi, tradition and family are important, but so is who and what he is. The film opens with Samuel introducing his partner, another Kenyan man named Alex. For a gay man in a very conservative African country where sexual relations between men are illegal and punished by a maximum 14 years in jail, speaking out like this is a brave thing to do.

Filmmaker Pete Murimi’s directorial debut is a portrait in audacity, conflicting desires, and a wider look at gay life in Nairobi. Shot in verité style- one that mostly follows its subjects as they live their lives, the documentary creates an intimate portrait of  the two men who have finally found a loving partner. Samuel speaks openly with Murimi and shares his concerns about living in Nairobi as a gay man and his hopes that his parents may eventually come around to accepting him.

Shooting over five years, Murimi documents the progress and shifts in Samuel’s life from negotiating a large urban city to the beatings his friends receive when they are outed, to the inevitable meeting of Alex and Samuel’s parents, poor rural farmers in the Kenyan countryside who want their son to marry to help the family.

Beautifully shot and compassionately edited, I Am Samuel is a gentle, moving film that holds a surprise at the end, one that most gay men in Kenya can only dream of.

Missing in Brooks County

The names of the missing and the dead run along the US-Mexico border, creating a rosary of pain, sorrow, broken dreams, and lives cut short. Activists along the San Diego/Tijuana section of the border know this all too well, and the crosses they place in memory of those who vanished in the crossing weather in the arid desert sun. Missing in Brooks County, then, is a fitting film for a region where so many seek to cross countries.

Filmmakers Lisa Molomot and Jeff Bemiss spent nearly five years chronicling what happens in a South Texas county where 300-600 migrants die from dehydration and exposure every year. Immigrants like Homero Roman, an undocumented Mexican who was brought to the US as a child and deported for a routine traffic violation. When Roman hired a coyote too take him over the border, his family in Houston hoped for the best. Today, they fear the worst.

Molomot and Bemiss follow Roman’s family as well as several others looking for an answer about what may have befallen their loved ones. The filmmakers also follow a number of activists who roam the area, laying down water and looking for the missing as well as those who repatriate the bodies when and if they can be identified. 

A visually stunning film with a wrenching story, Missing in Brooks County dovetails with what is happening on the San Diego/Tijuana border today.


Talking About Trees

It must be coup weather. A coup in the US was recently narrowly averted and Myanmar has now fallen to a military coup. Coups have a tendency to up end things, turning the lights out as it were. No one knows this better than four older Sudanese filmmakers whose careers came to a premature halt when a coup in Sudan in 1989 shuttered and then abandoned all the cinemas in Sudan and then throttled the industry itself. How they, and parts of Sudan’s film industry try to pick themselves up from the ashes is the subject of first-time filmmaker Suhaib Gasmelbari’s gentle quirky film. Part poetic observation, part meditation on what film means in the life of a culture, the film follows the quartet as they try to rehabilitate an old theatre to show a movie to the locals. The movie the locals choose may surprise you, but the sense of the creativity that was lost and what might have been leaves an ache assuaged only by the charm of the film’s characters.

The trailer:

A Reckoning in Boston

Boston seems to be ready to teach others a thing or two- like about founding a country, producing scrappy fighters and scrappier lawyers and scientists. Little surprise then that filmmaker James Rutenbeck found something waiting for him when he went to document a community humanities course in Dorcester, a Boston neighborhood. Thinking to turn on his camera on and let the students work through the Clemente course, a program for those who have faced great obstacles but long for a deeper relationship with critical learning, Rutenbeck soon found himself questioning his choices. His doubts opened to the door to an extraordinary collaboration with two of the course’s students, Kafi Dixon and Carl Chandler. Together, over the course of five years, the  trio create a compelling film about hope, doubt, learning to trust and learning community. And  along the way, said Rutenbeck, in a recent press roundtable, he, too took his turn at school, learning to see the racist violent structures and gentrification that threaten the lives of his collaborators and those around them.

It’s a powerful documentary, one that those who create community and those who want to participate in that creation, should watch.


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