Bump Along the Way: The festival’s Opening Night film from Derry in Northern Ireland focuses on a teenage daughter and her middle-aged mother, who gets pregnant during a one-night stand. Their strained relationship can only get warmer due to the pending arrival, which makes for a heartwarming kick-off to the festival.
Born 2 Drive: Featuring intense documentary racing footage, this doc follows 15-year-old Oliver Solberg, the son of rally racing legend Petter Solberg, as he aims to become a champion like his father. It concerns dreams of sons living in the shadow of famous fathers while offering quite a thrill ride.
The Flying Circus: What do four actors from Kosovo do when their theater is shut down as Serbian pressure mounts on the verge of all-out ethnic war? They head to perform at a festival in neighboring, and presumably friendlier, Albania, embarking on a border crossing trip that’s both humorous and hair-raising.
The Goya Murders: This good cop/bad cop/serial killer film from Spain is a traditional, trope-filled tale, but done well with some of the country’s most famous actors. There’s plenty to enjoy for art lovers, but the violence does get a bit gnarly.
The Marijuana Conspiracy: The most overtly cannabis-focused flick in the fest, this dramatic comedy employs plenty of clichés and puns to tell the true tale of Toronto women who signed up for an isolationist marijuana study in 1972 that tested, among other things, their macramé-making motivational levels. Female bonding takes center stage.
The Mayor of Rione Sanità: This narrative is a raw, unapologetic, and almost Shakespearian portrayal of a day in the life of a mob boss in modern Naples, who must serve as peacemaker, punisher, and arbiter of so many people’s disputes. He wants to end all vendettas and restore peace but has curious strategies of doing so.
Outlaw: If raw violence and the most extreme forms of sex aren’t your thing — necrophilia included — then maybe this Russian flick that flirts with all of the dark arts isn’t your thing. It’s hard to watch at times, but it is the exact sort of fare that you can only find at a film fest.
James vs. His Future Self: This dramatic comedy is about a scientist on the verge of figuring out how to travel through time, only to have his future self show up and try to guide him toward a better life. It winds up being about second chances and living in the moment.
Kuessipan: The rite-of-passage genre is a staple of Hollywood, but this fascinating Quebecois film by director Myriam Verreault takes it to another place entirely — a First People reservation in northern Quebec. We also know we’re not in Hollywood anymore thanks to the charismatic power of our protagonist (Sharon Ishpatao Fontaine), a bright young Inuit woman on the verge of college and struggling with hardships at home. Front and center is her self-awakening as a proud, activist-minded indigenous person.
The Restoration (La restauración): This feature debut from Peruvian director Alonso Llosa is a tart dark comedy with a sweet center that tells of a wayward, coke-addicted son who sells his invalid mother’s house. But comeuppance is at hand, and the film leans into a strangely compassionate finale, with well-meaning trickery in tow, and a larger theme regarding Lima’s volatile landgrab-scape.
The Birdcatcher’s Son: A sharply crafted, fable-like Swedish charmer, director Richard Hobert’s film follows a 19th-century family’s woes on the remote terrain of the Faroe Islands. A legal provision grants them land rights to a son, but only daughters are in the offing, a problem dealt with through the introduction of an outside partnering — and community ostracism. What may seem melodramatic is surprisingly artful and emotionally touching.
The Pencil: Criminal edginess and creative flights intermingle to inspiring and depressing ends in Russian director/writer/actress Natalya Nazarova’s tale of redemption. Framed by shots of a pencil factory’s machinery, the film follows a woman from St. Petersburg who uproots to the isolated area where her artist husband is being held as a political prisoner. She encounters a violent thuggish element in her class and adopted town, and the powers of art abut cruel realities.
By a Sharp Knife: In this reality-based story, an 18-year-old Slovakian youth is stabbed by neo-Nazis in an initiation rite. Director Teodor Kuhn delves beyond the details of the attack to focus on the aftermath, when the victim’s truth-seeking father runs into a maze of obstacles, including the tyranny of the nihilistic perpetrators and a tangle of technicalities preventing justice from being served. Dramatic angles range from family solidarity amid adversity to the knife’s edge perils of a warped justice system.
Faith Based: Crisp writing, excellent acting, and a plotline that is both hilarious and heartwarming make this comedy one to see. Funny or Die regulars Luke Barnett and Tanner Thomason star as two best friends who, despite knowing little about religion and nothing about filmmaking, decide to make a “faith-based” movie in hopes of getting rich quick. Nothing goes as planned (naturally), and the process of making A Prayer in Space — a film about the first prayer ever prayed in space — threatens to tear apart the lifelong friends. Jason Alexander, Lance Reddick, and Margaret Cho also star.