In the arid high country of Bolivia, an elderly Chechua couple, Sisa and Virginio, live simply, tending their llamas and collecting water.
By Vanessa Zimmer
Give thanks for a healthy double handful of new documentaries and fictional films — most of them direct from this year’s Sundance Film Festival — as they’re released to wider audiences this month.
The list includes two 2022 Grand Jury Prize winners: Utama, a drama about the threat to traditional life in the Bolivian high country, and Nanny, a thriller about a Sengalese immigrant working for a white family in Manhattan. Two others, the Myanmar documentary Midwives and Leonor Will Never Die, the offbeat Filipino tale of an injured filmmaker who enters her unfinished script, earned special jury awards. Plus, Users, a documentary on a mother’s reliance and reluctance in regards to technology, won a directing award at the 2021 Festival.
Rounding out the list are a documentary on a musical rebirth in early-2000s New York City, another doc on perhaps the most active group of 60-plus-year-old women in Florida, a tale of two guys out to prove the existence of the paranormal, and the story of a young Hawaiian man toying with the notion of moving away from his homeland.
So, let’s dig into this diverse buffet! These films screened at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, unless otherwise noted.
Meet Me in the Bathroom — The vibrant New York City music scene of the early 2000s, with era-defining bands like The Strokes,The Moldy Peaches, LCD Soundsystem, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, gets the spotlight in this documentary directed by Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern — and based on the 2017 Lizzy Goodman book of the same name. The film screens in New York City and Los Angeles on November 4, and then nationwide for one night only on November 8. It begins streaming on Showtime on November 25.
Calendar Girls — A group of spunky, determined golden girls from Florida dress in boots and mini skirts to dance at charity events — where they raise money for worthy causes while spreading the word that senior women are not invisible. They are engaged and engaging. Sure, their skin may be crepey and their laugh lines run deep, but, hey, at least they have laugh lines! The documentary releases theatrically in New York on November 4.
Utama — An elderly couple in the Bolivian high country face a decision: Shall they move to the city, as their grandson suggests, giving up their quiet, simple life — the only life they’ve ever known? So many of their elders have done so, and the persistent drought and Virginio’s ailing health suggest the move might be prudent. Writer-director Alejandro Loayza Grisi weaves a moving story of tradition, change, and the loss of a way of life. The film won the Grand Jury Prize in the world drama competition at the 2022 Festival. Releases theatrically across the United States on November 4.
Midwives — Two midwives, one Buddhist and one Muslim, work together in a makeshift clinic in western Myanmar, where the Rohingya (a Muslim minority community) are persecuted and denied basic rights. This documentary, the feature debut of director Snow Hnin Ei Hlaing, follows them over five years as they collaborate and struggle to support new life. The film won a Special Jury Award for Excellence in Verité Filmmaking in the world documentary division of the 2022 Festival. Airs November 21 on the PBS series POV.
Something in the Dirt — Two neighbors witness a terrifying supernatural event in their apartment building — and then decide to exploit the situation for financial gain. They will prove the existence of the supernatural. Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson direct, star, and otherwise collaborate on this quirky film. Comes out in limited release in theaters on November 22.
Nanny — An undocumented Senegalese woman working as a nanny for a wealthy Manhattan couple makes plans to bring her young son to the United States. As his arrival date grows closer, supernatural presences — based upon West African folklore — slip into her dreams and everyday life. Nikyatu Jusu wrote and directed the film, winner of the Grand Jury Prize in the dramatic category at the 2022 Festival. The film comes out in limited theatrical release on November 23, then streams on Amazon Prime beginning December 16.
Leonor Will Never Die — Eleanor Reyes is a retired filmmaker in the Philippines. When a television thrown out a window strikes her on the head, she lapses into a coma — and propels into the plot of one of her specialty action movies. This particular script was unfinished, and Eleanor repeatedly revises it as the planned film plays out around her. Martika Ramirez Escobar wrote and directed this clever film, which won a Special Jury Award for Innovative Spirit at the 2022 Festival. The film enters limited release on November 25.
Users — Natalie Almada won the directing prize in the documentary category at the 2021 Festival for her personalized exploration of our technology-obsessed world and motherhood. “With transcendent camerawork that peers into the internal organs of a technologically dependent planet, Users both marvels at and fears for a world in which a child is not only at risk from a warming Earth but comes to trust a perfectly constructed artificial caretaker over his own biological mother,” Harry Vaughn wrote in the 2021 Festival Film Guide. The film receives a limited release in San Francisco on November 25.
Every Day In Kaimukī — Twenty-something Naz has spent his entire life in O’ahu, mostly, it seems, riding his skateboard and interviewing up-and-coming musicians on his nightly radio show. Now he’s preparing to move to New York City with his girlfriend. “Alika Tengan strongly impresses with his pensive and lyrical first feature, evoking the urban and adamantly local Hawaiian landscape of Kaimukī,” according to the Festival Film Guide. “Anchored by Naz Kawakami’s unassuming lead performance and steeped in the honest messiness of millennial adulthood, Every Day in Kaimukī is a slice-of-life, kaleidoscopic exploration of what it means to leave everything you’ve ever known behind.” Available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime and other services.