<em>Beyond: An African Surf Documentary</em>

Angels Wear White: This tense social-realist drama probes rape culture, patriarchy, and political corruption in contemporary China through the eyes of Mia, an undocumented teen migrant worker at a motel in a Chinese seaside resort town, and Wen, a 12-year-old girl who, along with her best friend, is sexually assaulted by a much older man at the motel where Mia works. With deftness and nuance, director Vivian Qu conducts a cast of girls and women exploring their agency around sexuality and desire. A giant statue of Marilyn Monroe’s iconic pose from The Seven Year Itch appears as a recurring emblem of the possibilities and circumscriptions they face. —Athena Tan

Beyond: An African Surf Documentary: Produced by SBIFF veteran Andreas Jaritz and directed by Mario Hainzl, this film is like no other surf film you have seen. In fact, it may suffer from being pigeonholed as a “surf film.” This is a long-form and deeply meditative documentary that just happens to be told through a wave-riding lens. The undisputed stars of the film are the people and cultures of Africa, from Morocco south to Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, and beyond. Though technically a travel film, Beyond focuses on these African residents who, despite difficult economic, social, and political realities, have managed to put surfing at the center of their lives. The story is largely told in their voices, from the front lines of their vast and varied existences. It is a celebration of humanity and one of the best demonstrations yet that surfing is in everything! —Ethan Stewart

Chasing the Thunder: Other than being about 20 minutes too long, there’s nothing bad to say about this environmental documentary. Ride along with the Sea Shepherd’s boat the Bob Barker as it embarks on a truly epic pursuit of an illegal fishing vessel, the Thunder. For 110 days, across 10,000 miles and three different oceans, the Bob Barker and her crew of activists attempt to bring the Thunder to justice after catching her illegally fishing for toothfish in the waters off Antarctica. The drama runs high as the chase unfolds, with a truly cinematic ending on the high seas that no one saw coming. There is a reason why this is one of the most famous campaigns in Sea Shepherd history, and Chasing the Thunder, directed by Mark Benjamin and Marc Levin, finally tells the story for all to know. —Ethan Stewart

Killer Bees: Bridgehampton High sits in a low-income enclave of the Hamptons. Its enrollment includes the descendants of black migrant laborers who came north to work on the farms. The school’s pride is the Killer Bees, the boys’ basketball team that has won nine New York state championships. This film documents the Bees’ 2015-16 season at a time the area is losing its rural character. There is a burgeoning demand for expensive second homes that are occupied only in the summer, when polo and yachting are the sports of choice. Find the full review here. —John Zant

The Last Suit: This film manages to be a Holocaust tale that qualifies as charming, if only for its star, Argentine actor Miguel Ángel Solá, and the long, rambling story he tells while trying to get to Lodz, Poland, from Buenos Aires. Strangely, the tale turns cloying at its most sour — once Solá’s character must cross Germany to reach Poland —when national guilt meets New Age redemption. —Jean Yamamura

The Line: On the narrative front, the sidebar features one of the best films of the couple dozen that I was able to screen in advance: The Line, an Eastern European gangster flick meets family drama about a cigarette smuggler’s life on the border between Slovakia and Ukraine. It takes place in the weeks leading up to Slovakia’s inclusion in the European Union’s Schengen zone, which will enhance border protections with Ukraine, so the times are a-changing. As pressure mounts for our brutal but ultimately caring father/protagonist to move into drug and human smuggling, the bodies start piling up, and the border itself plays the leading role. —Matt Kettmann

Racer and the Jailbird: This sexy Belgian crime/romance featuring beautiful rich people concerns the love affair between a female race-car driver and a strapping bank robber who signed up for, yes, one last heist. Things don’t go well, making this drama a great trip to the movies, but probably not for your first date. —Matt Kettmann

Scary Mother: A feature debut by Georgian writer and director Ana Urushadze, Scary Mother is beautifully told ​— ​both in story line and cinematography ​— ​leading the viewer through an intricate buildup toward an all-too-well-made Freudian end. Perhaps. The film, about a woman who comes out as a writer, combines the love, humor, and discord of family life with elements of fantastic horror, dreams, and visions, but with its eye always calmly fixed on messy reality. “Less is always worse,” our hero Manana, played by Nato Murvanidze, tells one critic, who wants her to edit down. Scary Mother, however, hits it right on the mark. —Jean Yamamura

Skid Row Marathon: In his day job, Superior Court Judge Craig Mitchell imposes long jail terms for brutal crimes. In his predawn routine, the former prosecutor runs through the streets of Skid Row in Los Angeles and beckons the sort of people who might end up in his courtroom to follow him on a road to hope, recovery, and lasting friendship. Find the full review here. —John Zant

Sky & Ground: One of the strongest films in this new sidebar is Sky & Ground, an intimate documentary about a Kurdish Syrian refugee family’s plight to leave Greece and cross seven countries to reach relative freedom in Germany. The viewer is taken on the dangerous refugee route with a family that’s surprisingly upbeat and cheery, despite the upheaval from their homeland. There’s action, tension, drama, and uplifting messages of new life. —Matt Kettmann

<em>A Sniper's War</em>

A Sniper’s War: A fascinating, disturbing, and intimate portrait of a Serbian sniper who moves to the rebel-declared, Russian-backed proto-state of Donetsk to lend his murderous expertise in its fight against the NATO-backed Ukrainian army. Through footage from the front lines to the kitchens of everyday residents affected by the constant fighting, we learn much about the motivations for conflict in that part of the world. Meanwhile, another sniper taunts the primary subject through social media, adding a modern and personal twist to bloodthirsty warfare. —Matt Kettmann

Star Boys: Though slow-paced and moody, this film about a Finnish family that’s torn up by the sexual awakening of the 1970s and a neighborhood caught between tradition and modernity burrows deep into the psyche. Thanks largely to the performance of our young protagonist, you’re enthralled by the finale. —Matt Kettmann

Sunshine That Can Move Mountains: A Tibetan villager’s itinerant yak is the linchpin for a young Buddhist monk’s journey home, over thousands of miles of icy terrain, and internal travels through questions of faith, familial responsibility, and love. Directed by Han Chinese filmmaker Wang Qiang, Sunshine That Can Move Mountains offers a sensitive, open-ended treatment of rural Tibetan life. Recommended for viewers who value contemplative cinema in which poetry guides plot. —Athena Tan

Threesome: Those seeking comic relief through a sex-obsessed romp will find satisfaction in this film from Quebec about a wife and mother who feels trapped in by the monotony of her days. The solution, she thinks, is to get into a threesome, whether with her husband or otherwise. —Matt Kettmann

Tulipani: Love, Honour and a Bicycle: For those looking for a colorful, lighthearted romance, there’s Tulipani, the story of a Dutch immigrant to a southeastern Italian town in the 1950s. The film consists of flashbacks told by several narrators with a penchant for inserting exaggerated, sometimes magical flourishes as they reveal the backstory behind the opening sequence, set 30 years later. Accompanied by an accordion-heavy soundtrack and offering vivid panoramas of lush tulip fields ​— ​the film’s title means “tulips” in Italian ​— ​Tulipani is a multigenerational love story with a little something for everyone. —Athena Tan

Wife & Husband: This modern Italian take on the body-swap story line involves a television-star wife and neuroscientist husband on the verge of divorce. When his latest project flip-flops their minds, the gender-bending acting that ensues is quite funny. By the end, though, the film tackles more serious issues of gender disparity in both the workplace and society at large. —Matt Kettmann


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