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January 31, 2017

Sundance 2017 ended just two days ago and it’s already starting to feel like a distant memory. What the Cinereach team will never forget, though, is how the past two weeks reinforced and reinvigorated our belief in the potential of independent film to speak to the cultural moment, and vice versa.

We returned to New York excited to continue supporting pioneering films, and filmmakers who offer audiences new ways to see, to connect, and to engage with the complexity of contemporary life. The words and images below will stay with us all year, as the ripples these films made in January build into waves.

Beach Rats

—Eliza Hittman
A Cinereach original production
U.S. Dramatic Competition: Winner: Directing Award

In Beach Rats, Frankie is an aimless teenager on the outer edges of Brooklyn. He struggles to escape his bleak home life and navigate questions of self-identity as he balances his time between his delinquent friends, a potential new girlfriend, and older men he meets online. The Guardian‘s Benjaman Lee wrote that the film “approaches teenage sexuality in an unvarnished manner, often explicitly but without exploitation and with remarkable insight.”

Justin Chang of the L.A. Times calls Beach Rats an “evocative portrait of liberated longing, but also its attendant feelings of lingering shame and confusion. Frankie never self-identifies as gay or straight,” writes Chang. “This is filmmaking that exposes the inadequacy of labels and, to some extent, the superfluousness of words.”

A photo posted by Sara Kiener (@sarakiener) on

Beach Rats will be released later this year by Neon. More on the story behind this Cinereach production here.

Casting JonBenet

—Kitty Green
A Cinereach grantee film
U.S. Documentary Competition

Screen Daily‘s Tim Grierson describes Casting JonBenet as “a riveting and unexpectedly moving documentary that grapples with the legacy of JonBenet Ramsey’s 1996 murder and, more importantly, people’s insatiable need to discuss and dissect other people’s lives.”

Casting JonBenet “isn’t really a film in search of a definitive truth,” writes The Guardian‘s Charlie Phillips. “It’s a deliberate provocation to the conventional notion of truth in the age of media frenzies over salacious crime. There are only opinions, and facts are pliable — a very pertinent theory considering the current news agenda… This year’s Sundance has some important political and current affairs documentaries, but this one must be the most progressive and exciting one showing here, existing in a narrative universe all of its own.” Casting JonBenet will come to theaters and Netflix in April.

A photo posted by Kitty Green (@kittygreen) on

Dina

—Daniel Sickles, Antonio Santini
A Cinereach grantee film
U.S. Documentary Competition: Grand Jury Prize

Reviewing Dina for The Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney calls the verité documentary “a sensitive snapshot of two ordinary people on the autism spectrum who are determined to carve out a meaningful future together.” Rooney writes that the film mirrors the minor-key humor, the rough-hewn texture, the gentle conflicts and awkward grace of many quirky indie narrative features. Dina cozies up unobtrusively to its complex, strong-willed protagonist as she takes charge of her impending wedding and lays out her expectations for a relationship with no shortage of challenges.”

For The Wrap, Alonso Duralde writes, “Dina never “bears the mantle of having to educate its audience about autism… It’s a movie that, in the broadest sense, is about marriage itself. We get lots of films about weddings and about courtship, but this is one that actually takes the time to explore the… delicate balance between expressing your own wants and needs while also devoting yourself to fulfilling your partner’s wants and needs.” The filmmakers, he says, “never condescend to or coddle their vivacious leading lady, and the result is a fascinating love story.” 

Dina will be released in North America this fall by The Orchard.

Last Men in Aleppo

—Feras Fayyad
A Cinereach grantee film
World Documentary Competition: Grand Jury Award

For The Guardian, Charlie Phillips writes, “Feras Fayyad’s heartbreaking documentary [Last Men in Aleppo] offers powerful insights into the courageous rescue work of the White Helmet volunteers.” His protagonists are “bound by a desire to never leave the city they love, even as it disintegrates around them, and we’re with them in every rescue.”

“Each emergency call and every character is successfully individualized and identifiable,” writes Screen Daily‘s Fionnuala Halligan. “The work of Fayyad and his dedicated team stands as a testament to what Syria, and the world, has lost through this conflict.”

Quest

—Jonathan Olshefski
A Cinereach grantee film
U.S. Documentary Competition

What began as a photo project grew into a friendship, and then a longitudinal documentary covering nearly a decade in the life of the Raineys of North Philadelphia. Filmed with vérité intimacy, Quest is a portrait of a family, through tragedy and joy, and the creative sanctuary offered by their home music studio. Writing for Rogerebert.com, Brian Tallericao says that, for him, Quest “recalls Steve James’ Hoop Dreams in both the way it captures people over a long period of a time and in how it finds the profound in the everyday, the universal in the specific.”

“The television always seems to be turned on in the Rainey household and always tuned in to news channels,” writes  Bradley Warren for The Playlist. “Consequentially, the family seems cognizant of history being made in the moments of their lives and particularly during Obama’s terms as president, the capacity for change that is never fully realized.”

“Each scene breathes more life into the story, filling in its gaps with the gentle patience of blowing up a balloon, observes IndieWire‘s Jude Dry. “The mounting pressure never fully pops the Raineys — though at times, it threatens to swallow them whole.” Dry describes Quest as “a classic tale of love, family, and tenacious hope.”

Strong Island

—Yance Ford
A Cinereach grantee film
U.S. Documentary Competition: Special Jury Award for Storytelling 

“Equal parts journalistic investigation and family portrait, [Yance] Ford’s delicate project transforms the source of his frustrations into an absorbing cinematic elegy,” writes Eric Kohn for IndieWire. He continues that it “manages to mourn the loss of an innocent man [Yance’s brother, William] and celebrate his memory at once; in the gap between those two sentiments, it finds a modicum of solace by expressing the complex range of emotions plaguing Ford and his family. Even as Ford probes the isolating effects of grief, Strong Island provides a crucial alternative to suffering in silence.”

The Guardian‘s Charlie Phillips describes Strong Island as “a film characterized by raw emotion and calm anger, which must surely be considered one of the finest documentaries of 2017 already. Unlike a typical investigative doc, we feel deeply the burden of the storyteller, who tries to make sense of a personal tragedy and in doing so exposes a greater pain for us all to connect with. But that is its strength: audiences can relate on a personal or a political level. It would be too simplistic to call it brave. Ford excels, and shows us why we should be angry at America’s indifference to dead black men.”

Brandon Harris, for The New Yorker, observes that Strong Island “derives a peculiar, melancholy power from a formal approach that recalls William Eggleston as much as it does Chris Marker, late Godard as much as it does vintage Barbara Kopple. The artistry on display outstrips any talking-head-driven liberal outrage to show us how some emotional pain can’t be transcended. Time doesn’t heal all wounds.”

The Force

—Peter Nicks
A Cinereach grantee film
U.S. Documentary Competition: Directing Award 

“With superb use of vérité filmmaking,” writes Screen Daily‘s Tim Grierson, “director Peter Nicks follows the Oakland Police Department over two years as an ambitious, admirable new chief seeks to repair the tattered relationship the force has with the public. But although Nicks has clear sympathy for the challenges of being a cop, The Force is brutally honest about the moral rot that eats away at police departments, scuttling their lofty aspirations to be protectors of the community.”


It is a complex, human-driven look at race relations between police and the community,” writes Brian Tallerico for Rogerebert.com. “Nicks’ film excels by not demonizing the police, presenting many well-intentioned people stuck in a poorly-funded, poorly-managed, historically-corrupt system… It’s an expertly directed and edited film, one of several this year about the police and race relations, and likely to be one of the best.”

Whose Streets

—Sabaah Folayan
A Cinereach grantee film
U.S. Documentary Competition

Reviewing Whose Streets for IndieWire, Jude Dry writes, “for the black residents of Ferguson, MO, the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown Jr. in 2014 was neither the first nor the last in a long line of police shootings, but it was the final straw… What began as communal mourning swelled into an unstoppable movement that, as one subject of the electrifying new documentary Whose Streets? puts it: “Ain’t your daddy’s civil rights movement… Whose Streets? is a documentary in the truest sense of the word; an actual moving document of events fresh in the country’s memory, but never before laid as bare as they are here. It is a vital tribute to the activists who continue to fight every day in America’s unrelenting war on black folks, and it couldn’t have come soon enough.”


David Rooney writes for The Hollywood Reporter that “[Sabaah] Folayan was one of the organizers of the Millions March, the massive New York racial injustice protest that followed the nonindictment of the police officer who killed Eric Garner in a chokehold on Staten Island the same year as Brown’s death. Her raw connection to the material informs the film’s entire approach, investing it with an urgency that never lets up.”

The Guardian‘s Jordan Hoffman writes that Whose Streets “does a tremendous end run around mainstream news outlets and the agenda-driven narratives that emerge, particularly on television. Its images aren’t leaked by law enforcement or stage managed for the media, but come directly from the people who lived through the violent events of 2014.

Magnolia Pictures will release Whose Streets this summer.

A photo posted by E-in-C (@docspotlight) on

Sundance was the springboard for these films, and we’ll keep you posted as their release plans continue to take shape and their resonance is felt. As Cinereach Creative Director Mike Raisler commented when Gregg Goldstein interviewed him for his Variety curtain-raiser, “the more entertainment addresses the questions of our time, the more likely we are to see people use it as a bit of a cultural skateboard, moving them forward in how they see their world and move through it.”