Heartland International Film Festival
The 31st Edition of the Heartland FIlm Festival, held in Indianapolis, Indiana, came to a close this past weekend, here are a few of the interesting films we were able to cover.
WAITING FOR THE LIGHT TO CHANGE
Photo via: Linh Tran
I enjoy works of art that engage with and embrace the sublimity and sadness of everyday life. So I found a lot of pleasure in watching Linh Tran’s Waiting for the Light to Change.
The premise of the film is simple: “Over the course of a week-long beachside getaway, Amy, having recently undergone dramatic weight loss, finds herself wrestling between loyalty to her best friend Kim and her attraction to Kim’s new boyfriend.” There is complexity within simplicity whenever human emotion is involved. Relationships are complicated—platonic ones maybe more so than romantic.
Changes in character, changes in our own self-perception, our own identity, don’t need to be huge to have a huge impact. Amy has lost a dramatic amount of weight, yes, but she is also returning to a place she no longer lives to be around friends she no longer sees. During a walk, Kim asks Amy “If we met now, do you think we’d still be friends?” To which Amy answers, “I don’t know.” The idea isn’t explored further, its non-resolution is left to hang in the silence like so many other bits of conversations and exchanges—the dialogue does just enough to build tension and let us sit, uncomfortably, to think about what else exists within the silence.
The unconventionality of the film is subtle and nuances and, at first, hard to spot. Long takes that have an improvised feel to them thanks in part to what feels like the looseness of the script, and the performances that are organic in their authenticity and awkwardness. The camera movements that are imperceptible until they aren’t, until they’ve changed, oh so slightly, the focus of the scene, the feel of the scene (tension, interiority, mood). Scenes are separated by hard cuts reinforcing the ambiguity in each scene. The ambiguity of these scenes are reinforced with the use of hard cuts to black.
During a Q&A after the screening, the filmmaker talked about her own weight loss during covid and her own reexamination of female friendships. “I can only write what I know,” she said. Life is material. Our experiences are there for us to use, to shape into whatever kind of art we choose. Linh Tran takes a realist film about a familiar, relatable situation, and through her own style and voice makes it feel fresh. Just because a story has been told, doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve to be told again, and again, and again.
Video via: Anacoreta
Anacoreta isn’t really a horror film, not in the conventional sense. Though, it can be read as a nightmare—for some more than others. Instead of jump scares and a a big bad lurking in the woods, Anacoreta builds its tension under the guise of filmmaking. A group of friends retreat to a cabin in the woods to make a kind of experimental horror film. It’s through this apparent collaboration that that the monster starts to emerge. On the face of it, what we’re watching is a film within a film, but by the end (all spoilers withheld) it’s become something a little more complicated.
Although the found-footage trope has become somewhat de rigueur, Anacoreta subverts this through a nesting doll format and, or more interest, the questions the film is asking. They may seem innocuous on the surface, but the more you dig in, the more you ask, the more provocative they become. We start thinking about toxic masculinity, micro aggressions, passive aggressiveness in relationships. In a meta-textuality sense, we find our selves wondering if one’s person’s art is more important than another? And, perhaps most interesting, what constitutes artistic ownership: under what circumstances does someone’s life become someone else’s material?
Photo via: Wild Bunch
Any film centered around Iranian women in a near-contemporary society will take on a new, heightened context considering the protests going on in that country. Women in Iran have taken to the streets, to social media, to any platform they can in order to rise up and push back against the forced wearing of the hijab—the Islamic headscarf Iranian law requires women to wear—and the death (read: killing) of a 22-year old woman in police custody. These women are not just confronting the hijab, but a complete societal system—a structure of hegemony that too many accept as normal.
Holy Spider, the new film from Ali Abbasi is taking another complex issue centered around women and sex in Iran. Holy Spider takes place in Mashhad, the second largest city in Iran, home to one of the holiest Shia sites: the Imam Reza Shrine—the largest mosque in the world by area. Mashhad is also home to a large amount of prostitution and sex work. A Guardian article from 2015 details a kind of sex tourism that takes place in Mashhad.
The film is based on the real story of an Iranian construction worker who strangled at least 16 women between 2000-2001. Said Hanei, a father of three, a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War, saw himself as on a mission from God. He was clumsy with his killings, dumping the bodies in the same place, killing many of the victims in his own living room. In the film, like in real life, no one is that bothered to catch the killer except for a defiant female journalist named Rahimi—a composite character, not a real person. She is a stand in, an analog for the kind of opposition women face in this depiction of Iranian society. She’s the only one pushing for justice for the dead, and she encounters nothing but pushback.
Holy Spider’s first half an hour is unhurried as it follows a sex worker through her process of readying herself for the night (we see bruises on her back, kissing her son goodnight, changing from flats to heels in a public bathroom), interacting with johns, and her eventual murder by the "Spider Killer". Abbasi shows us the killer right away—there’s no pretense or mystery. He gets the what out of the way so he can focus on the why.
The film eventually settles into a familiar cat and mouse plot (albeit one with adequate tension and moving performances)—but that’s the least interesting part of the movie. What matters in this story isn’t finding out who the killer is, but rather interrogating the circumstances that allow for 16 women to be murdered with little to no outcry. What matters is interrogating the circumstances that allow for so many women to seek out prostitution and other dangerous, illegal sex work in order to survive. Unfortunately, Holy Spider oversimplifies this. Like the current and ongoing protests over the hijab, the underlying story and issue in Holy Spider is one worth deep contemplation and exploration. The complexities and juxtaposition of the abundance of prostitution and sexual tourism in one of the holiest cities, home to the largest mosque, are never fully explored. Holy Spider devolves into a banal true crime narrative instead of doing the work of implicating, not just the Iranian society the story takes place in, but any society that in any way allows for women to become seen as less than fully human.
Brock Kingsley is a writer, artist, critic, and educator living in Fort Worth, Texas. His work has appeared in publications such as Brooklyn Rail, Paste Magazine, Tahoma Literary Review, Waxwing, and elsewhere.