As we return to the theaters in the coming months, we will consider more consciously what is worth seeing in theaters and what is best to see at home (or wait to see until it arrives on VOD/home media). There’s a premium paid for visual splendor on the silver screen, and films like Akilla’s Escape remind us that the theatrical experience is worth the price of admission.
Akilla (Saul Williams) had a violent upbringing. At a young age, his father initiated him into the Garrison Army where he would take part in drug deals. His father would beat his mother, and we are informed early in Akilla’s Escape that his feather is dead. In the present, Akilla is still involved in the drug trade; however, Toronto has recently legalized marijuana. According to the people he works for, Akilla has a lot to gain by continuing to work in an industry that is not illicit for the first time in his life. But as Akilla begins his route over the course of a night, he quickly walks into an armed robbery. With a gun pointed directly at his head, Akilla manages to overcome his assailant (Thamela Mpumlwana) and discover that the gunman is just a teenager. Looking at the boy’s tattoos, Akilla recognizes that the boy is part of a crime organization descended from the one that he was part of as a child. The trauma of Akilla’s past floods back to him, and he becomes dedicated in ensuring the child’s safety. Perhaps he can prevent the child from bearing the same misfortunes in his youth, and enable the kid to escape his current path.
Akilla’s Escape is a stylish neo-noir, one that doesn’t hesitate to make visual displays of light and smoke. Charles Officer tells a story that is gripping, supported by a brooding performance by Saul Williams and crafty acting of a dual role from Thamela Mpumlwana. With a title sequence that portrays the history of Jamaica and introduces us to Akilla’s family, there’s a strong political subtext behind Akilla’s Escape. The three books present on Akilla’s father’s bookshelf are The Iliad (Achilles, Akilla…), The Art of War, and Notes of a Native Son. Parts of these books became mantras for Akilla’s father when preaching to his son about self-reliance and discipline. Officer elevates the spectacle and story of Akilla’s Escape through these literary and political influences, though it’ll be a challenge to take in these themes in a first viewing when scenes such as a Western-style shootout are just so damn captivating.
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair
Jane Schoenbrun’s debut feature We’re All Going to the World’s Fair represents both a coming-of-age story and a horror film. The first minutes of the film place us with the perspective of a computer webcam as we face Casey (Anna Cobb) who repeats “I Want to Go to the World’s Fair” thrice after picking apart and snacking on string cheese. After the phrase is repeated, Casey cuts her finger and smears blood on her screen. With the ritual complete, Casey has joined an online horror game and community where fellow players post videos of themselves ‘losing control’ shortly after completing the ritual. Casey’s videos attract the attention of a middle-aged man, JLB (Michael J Rogers), who reaches out to her saying he sees something special in her videos.
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair exists as a time capsule into our world of Tik Tok challenges, creepypasta, and teenage dysphoria. Casey literally lives in her parents’ attic and has a preoccupation with spending time on the internet, alone. She dons heavy metal tee shirts and conforms to a number of emo and teenage stereotypes. Schoenbrun uses these to her advantage – Casey’s parents and friends are not to be seen and Casey appears as isolated as teenagers are often portrayed to be. Her and JLB’s gloomy demeanors inform the dreary pace of the film and the effect is one that is punctuated by the horrific videos Casey watches of those who have also participated in the World’s Fair challenge. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair wears its ‘indieness’ on its sleeve with its limited characters and locations, as well as its liberal use of close-ups and internet content and, for that, the film makes its eerie impression with ease.
Before the Pattiz Brothers directed Carterland, their work revolved around conservationist filmmaking, the duo previously directing a number of documentary shorts. When they learned about President Jimmy Carter’s public land conservation efforts, the Carter administration became of interest and ultimately the subject of their feature-length debut.
Carterland portrays Jimmy Carter as a visionary, a president who was so far ahead of his time in matters of sustainability, racial and gender equality, and economic policy, ultimately costing him his reelection. The tagline of the film asks “what if the President we need is the President we had?”, and Carterland makes a compelling case as climate change is becoming of increasing concern, racial tensions are at their high in decades, and the middle class is ever-shrinking.
For those with less familiarity with Jimmy Carter, the Pattiz Brothers’ documentary is enlightening, and a time capsule to a different period in American history. Compared to media and political personalities today, Carter is soft-spoken, kind, and highly principled. He speaks with persuasion – many speakers in the documentary noting Cater would burn the midnight oil and often be the most informed of anyone in the room – and isn’t hesitant to confront problems head-on rather than avoiding responsibility or reflecting blame. There’s a moment in the documentary where Harry Truman’s famous “The Buck Stops Here” desk sign is visible, and I not for a second would question Carter’s commitment to the slogan.
The Carter administration was largely a time of crisis, Carter having to address the energy crisis, stagflation, and the Iran hostage crisis, also acting as a formidable diplomat to negotiating the Panama Canal Treaties and the Camp David Accords. Such was Carter’s strength in negotiation that he brought Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to agree to a peace treaty, a momentous accomplishment achieved by Carter relaying messages between camps and convincing both parties to come to agreement despite packed bags and threats of departure.
Largely a celebration of his accomplishments despite no second term as president, Carterland paints Carter as an unsung hero, and popular opinion today has been increasingly inclined to confirm that sentiment. Carterland is inspirational, painting a picture of a man who lived his life with utmost integrity, and the Pattiz Brothers should be commended for creating such a documentary while Jimmy Carter is still with us. Too few people are celebrated for their life’s work soon enough, and the Pattiz Brothers have more than done their fair share in showcasing the accomplishments of Jimmy Carter.