Indy Film Fest continues through Saturday, July 23.  Find a full schedule at indyfilmfest.org

The Race of Gentlemen

Showing July 21, 4:30 p.m., DeBoest Lecture Hall 

The Race of Gentlemen, an annual shenanigan in Wildwood, New Jersey, gathers hot rod and roadster lovers to race antiques from the ‘40s. Founded by Mel Stultz and the Oilers Car Club, the event has the makings of a great story. Instead, The Race of Gentlemen insists on sharing the complexities of car parts. A focus on technological intricacies lost the importance of Mel and other personalities involved in this kooky celebration of history. In other words: It forgot the human element that makes a film available to everyone. 

Multiple times, the gentlemen interviewed throughout said, “The experience of riding these hot rods and roadsters in the sand can’t be explained.” Then show me! Interview after interview, riders shared details about their car’s trinkets. While the visuals of wooden steering wheels and funky hood shapes are appealing, the shots don’t match the narration in order to involve a novice. This paired with clunky chunking of characters as individuals rather than a whole community made the film disjointed. 

Little tastes of the story appear as fellas shoot the shit over engines and trash talk at the starting line. These glimpses teach that life is too short to be taken seriously and gave breath to the narrative. But I feel the film needed Mel to serve as an anchor. He has the background and investment in the organization to excite the audience. We don’t learn until too late in the movie that his transition to automobiles and bikes was a result of leaving an unfulfilling music career and the bottle. 

A strong documentary brings you into an unfamiliar setting and tells you why you want to fall in love with the characters. The Race of Gentlemen was less convincing with a background on how these men got to this oceanside shindig. The piece is perfect for your uncle who lives for engines and racing details, but not the layman. In the end, the disjointed tale left the viewer feeling like a spectator.

–Katelyn Calhoun 

Signature Move

Showing July 23, 11:30 a.m., DeBoest Lecture Hall 

Showing July 23, 1:45 p.m., The Toby Theater

Apologies in advance, Indianapolis: I’ve found my 2017 Halloween costume. Inspired by the zany lady lucha-style wrestling found in Signature Move, I’ll be running around in gold tights and a cape this October. And I wasn’t the only energized viewer. Directed by Jennifer Reeder of Hammond, Indiana, this coming of age drama set in Chicago won the Best of Hoosier Lens and the Best of American Spectrum Feature at this year’s Indy Film Fest. 

Our main character, a second-generation Pakistani immigrant, Zaynab (Fawzia Mirza) serves as a lawyer to her community and caretaker to her recently widowed mother. Full of contrasting social issues, this endearing story begins with a bar scene and progresses with a romance between Zaynab and the flirty, Mexican-American woman Alma (Sari Sanchez). Mirrored in the Pakistani dramas Zaynab’s mother uses to escape reality, Zaynab’s closeted sexuality makes love with Alma forbidden and dramatic. 

To handle the pressure, Zaynab takes up lucha-style wrestling. Coached and mentored by a former pro-wrestler Jolt, she jumps into the ring to wrangle her fears. Wrestling attire plays a significant role throughout Signature Move, as director Reeder looks at the ways Zaynab hides herself behind literal and emotional masks. A chance in an actual ring against an opponent towering a foot or more above her determines if Zaynab will pull off one of those masks for good. 

–Katelyn Calhoun 

Wind River 

Opens in limited release August 4 

Screenwriter and now-director Taylor Sheridan’s newest release — a bleak, violent look at a murder investigation on a Native American reservation — also serves as the conclusion in his trilogy exploring the American West, which also includes the Mexican-American border investigation of a cartel’s violence in Sicario and the West Texas bank-robbers in Hell and High Water. Sheridan, who played a sheriff on FX’s Sons of Anarchy, is obviously interested in dissecting issues of jurisdiction in his films. Who has the power to investigate what and where? How do those investigations harm or help victims? When is “justice” really served? Those are questions rookie FBI agent Elizabeth Olsen and game-tracker Jeremy Renner contemplate in Wind River as they work together to find the killer of a young Native woman. 

Our resident on staff- criminal justice expert (yes, NUVO’s staff has it all) also in attendance commented on the compelling way Sheridan depicted the fallout from sexual assault — how invasive the process of investigation is for victims and their families, and the challenges in investigating sexual assault thoroughly in the first place, especially among disadvantaged populations. Like Graham Greene’s tribal police character, Ben, says, there just aren’t resources. Sheridan never lets you forget that the crimes in the film are based on current realities for Native Americans, including that until 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, non-Native persons could not be prosecuted for crimes against women that occurred on reservations. (Another injustice: Native persons can be prosecuted for the same crime committed on a reservation twice — both federally and also by Indian criminal tribunal.) 

This would be a good time to mention that this is Sheridan’s directorial debut. He told the IndyStar in an interview, “I could not trust that someone else would have a different vision for this film.” Like any first-time director, there’s room to grow. A few scenes could have used some editing and a few visual clues were leaned upon a bit too much. (Many, many shots of family photos.) 

But the passion for justice and honest depiction of realities Native Americans face on reservations was evident throughout. Earlier this year, Sheridan took home the Un Certain Regard mise-en-scene award from Cannes. Harvey Weinstein (whose Weinstein Company is distributing the film) read his acceptance speech, which included, in part: “It is a great shame of my nation the manner it has treated the original inhabitants of North America. Sadly, my government continues that shame through an insidious mixture of apathy and exploitation.” 

–Katherine Coplen 

Sunday at the Indy Film Fest featured a three-course afternoon of chef-tastic films during an event called Foodie Sunday. The films will be playing again as part of Shorts: Eatin’ Good on Thursday, July 20 at 4 p.m. in the DeBoest Lecture Hall.  

Rabbit Blood

This quirky animated short has style reminiscent of Tim Burton’s early drawings and even moreso of the lesser known, but enjoyable Australian children’s show The Adventures of Figaro Pho — where, like this film, voices are replaced by guttural noises. But, even in comparison to Burton, this film is darker than most animated films, showing the off-handed way humans look at animals lives and the harsh realities of our food systems. It was short, but overall impactful and beautifully animated. 

Fresh Frozen

A docu-short with a lot of potential with its messages about the detrimental effects of gentrification, the hard truth of opening and running a small business and the life of a recovering addict. But the story fell a bit flat and I was left with a sense that Teena and her restaurant deserved more from the filmmakers than they got. (Also, her fish sandwich looks fucking delicious.)

My Bakery Blossom

Based on the real-life tweets of a German Twitter user @Naum_Burger, this tragicomedy unsurprisingly feels true to life. It puts the viewer in the mind of a shy, low-confidence loner who has sweet and often comical fantasies of his life with a woman that works behind the counter of a local bakery. It feels a bit like if Amelie had been directed by Noah Baumbach. While the audience can’t help but feel hopeful for the protagonist, we also must keep reality in our minds. My Bakery Blossom was sweet and sad and left me feeling a glimmer of hope.

The Chop

Let’s get straight to the point: this is one of the funniest shorts I’ve ever seen, and the only one that received an ovation when it finished. The Chop offers some beautiful shots of meat being expertly chopped in a butcher shop. It follows a talented, happy-go-lucky kosher butcher who, through a series of events, loses his job. In order to find employment he goes to a halal butcher and from there we are given a slew of irreverent, cross-cultural hijinks. It truly had me cracking up at many points and shares a fun look at butchery, religion and recognizing one’s talents. 

Pastries

When a film starts off mysteriously, leaving out any real hint of what’s to come — especially a short film — we hope that it starts to reveal itself sooner rather than later. Pastries took too long to tell us what the hell was going on and by the time it did I already didn’t care for the main character and I didn’t care if he got his acting gig (which is the only thing we know from the start). I didn’t hate the film, but I didn’t love it. I did hate the characters, which may have been the point — in which case the actors did a superb job. One positive of the film is it has many wonderful shots, including the final few frames before the close.  

Sure-Fire

For a film that was lumped into a foodie film series, there’s literally no food in this film (maybe a cup of diner coffee), but, that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. The plot was funny,  if not unoriginal and with a few holes. Our anti-hero needs to make some money, “or else,” and so he does it shadily in a series of ruses. The main actor — a bit of a knock-off of Jack Nicholson — holds interviews with possible screenwriters for one of his cons involving selling a script to a washed up film star he had a serendipitous run in with. The side characters pining to be his screenwriter brought in some comedy and the ending made me giggle. Overall, Sure-Fire is a fine, albeit slightly forgettable short.  N

–Cavan McGinsie 

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Editor of NUVO Newsweekly since 2016; formerly Music Editor. Lover of justice, cats, local hip-hop, axe-throwing, sailing and pies. Hater of fake news.