Sundance #9-12: 'All Light Everywhere,' 'Writing with Fire,' 'Hive,' and 'Searchers'

Updated: Feb 9

Four more from me now, and one more tomorrow. We've almost wrapped up Sundance coverage. Thanks for sticking with us.


All Light, Everywhere

In the surveillance age, cameras are an authoritarian’s best friend. Their history is an interesting one, especially in how, at each stage of development, they were weaponized. That aspect of All Light, Everywhere is extraordinarily profound. Theo Anthony creates an audiovisual presentation to marvel at, combining matters of science, philosophy, and anthropology in a fascinating commentary on modern-day security tactics- for the first thirty minutes. What the film devolves into is a scatterbrained attempt to hit a flurry of nails on the head with a single try. Many people found this movie to be thoroughly immersive (and some deem it to be a masterpiece for its intuitive and multi-faceted approach), but due to a combination of festival fatigue (this was my 12th movie in four days) and un-cinematic screening circumstances, I felt more inclined to nitpick what it didn’t show as opposed to admiring what it did.

Clearly, this project was born and risen in the editing room, and all puppeteering hands who poured over the footage should be commended. Although I don’t believe that the amalgamation of big-brain concepts made for a truly cohesive final product, I still greatly appreciate the effort and would recommend it to anyone whose curiosity its subject sparked.


Writing with Fire

Writing with Fire competed in the world cinema documentary category and ultimately won the Audience Award for its story of the courageous women leading Khabar Lahariya, an all-female newspaper in India. An inspiring tale which has yet to reach its climax, the Dalit women of Khabar Lahariya continue to bring justice to marginalized groups within their region by reporting on underfunding, sexual assault cases, and caste discrimination. Their mission is honorable, and their sacrifice even more so as a sexist and preferential society often frowns upon women choosing their careers over starting a family. Beyond their work, we get to know the key members' home lives, level of education, and motivations for participation. The transition to a digital format makes them the only women-run digital newspaper in all of India.

In this instance, the content is so gripping that any criticisms of the presentation (of which I have few) feel inconsequential. This film is spreading the word of an admirable cause, and directors Sushmit Ghosh and Rintu Thomas treat their subjects with the utmost respect and importance. Even in the most dire of situations, the presence of these norm-defying women makes you feel safe and secure. This is one of my favorites of the festival and I really hope that more people are able to see it upon release.

For more information about Khabar Lahariya, see this website: https://khabarlahariya.org/signup/ and find out how you can help.



Hive

Hive is the true story of a woman leading a group of Kosovo Albanian widows to start a small business against a patriarchal society. Numerous husbands had yet to return from the war and, up to that point, that meant the women fell under the unofficial jurisdiction of their fathers. Our protagonist, Fahrije, impatient in waiting for a man who may or may not be alive, begins to fight the societal norms and get the permits for her ajvar business.

Since there’s a lot of mystery regarding the disappearance of the men, the atmosphere is pointedly unsettling. Body bags, cloudy days, a sense of remoteness. Ultimately, this discomfort transitions to grief, portrayed differently by each person, and several instances of tentatively testing the limits. It’s a slice of life without very much life- every bit of feeling was held out until the end, which is a key to Fahrije’s tough exterior, but potentially evil to the structure of the movie. That, combined with the naturalistic cinematography style, made for an overexercise of subtlety; a slight sensation of ennui.

On the positive side, Yilka Gashi delivers a solid performance- I believe she has a very real screen presence, and I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role. If female empowerment is the name of the game, she delivers. Hive, if at times dreary and lacking in thrill, is an evocative and somber waiting game that provides a cogent appeal for fans of Eastern European cinema.

Searchers

New York City is an intimidating place for anyone. But dating? During a pandemic? The options, although they may be vast, are potentially dangerous. How do you decide who is worthy of breaking past the precautions? Who isn’t a creep? Who doesn’t have malicious things in store for you? Searchers doesn’t focus quite as much on the Covid element as much as it does the preexisting isolation of living and looking for love in the city. The subjects, of various ages, ethnicities, and orientations, are the tepid bases of the documentary analysis. With very little filmmaker intervention, the film is essentially a slew of overlong talking heads employing a unique blurred dating application visual overlay. Like any film of this nature, some subjects are more interesting than others. The mellowness and incertitude of the vast majority of them is made compelling based on personal connections with a particular demographic or experience. Director Pacho Velez even turns the camera on himself and his mother at one point.

Although I felt that Velez could’ve done more to demonstrate the added constraints due to Covid (a couple of fact-based insertions wouldn’t have killed him), the complex romantic arrangements and technological revelations are peculiar and thought-provoking. Major urban centers have changed a great deal, and lost a lot of that ‘natural interaction’ that made people feel part of a community in the first place. Now, with information about people literally at your fingertips, the selection process is oddly superficial. Searchers is a time capsule of internet era malaise. I sincerely hope the anguish of the alienation wears off soon so people might reenter a post-Corona world with excitement rather than exhaustion.

-Lydia

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