With Cannes and Venice Film Festivals passed and Telluride currently running as we speak, there are still a long list of Sundance and SXSW premieres that have yet to find distribution or be given an official release date. Some of these films are still making their rounds in smaller, regional festivals in a search for a studio to pick them up, while others premiered at these early 2022 festivals and are now sitting in limbo waiting to be seen by general audiences. Some of these aren’t necessarily knockouts, and I can understand why studios didn’t engage in bidding wars. But others feel shockingly overlooked, and though there’s no telling if and when they’ll ever see light beyond their festival debuts, I feel compelled to put them on your radar now. Just in case they DO get their chance to shine, we’ll be ready and welcome them with open arms.
So here are 5 festival films without distribution or a release date that I recommend
“Crows are White “
Debuting at SXSW and currently making its way through the regional festival scene, “Crows are White” is perhaps one of the most surprisingly powerful and enjoyable documentaries to come out of the festival. Written and Directed by Ahsen Nadeem (who’s career mainly consists of producing shorts), “Crows are White” is a unique and personal documentary that begins as a filmmakers exploration of unknown worlds that inevitably leads him to his own self exploration. Nadem displays strong documentary filmmaking execution paired with unwavering vulnerability, and allows his own film to take shape and turn it back on himself organically. Nadem allows the journey to determine the destination, as “Crows are White” takes him to new places both physically and emotionally. The film follows Nadem and his crew deep into the mountains of Japan, where he intends to document the lives and traditions of a reclusive Buddhist sect. He is not welcomed with open arms, and the only monk who will help him gain access is a young “pledging” monk of sorts who indulges in a number of no nos for his people, like ice cream and heavy metal.
What transpires as this friendship and examination takes shape is a deeper dive into Nadeem’s own life, uncovering his own deceptions and personal struggles that come to light the more he learns about these fascinating people. “Crows are White” is an unexpected journey and a beautiful story of faith, tradition, discipline, truth, friendship, and hope. It is perhaps one of the most organic documentaries I’ve seen all year, and the willingness to simply let the story breath and transform as it needs to makes “Crows are White” a must watch whenever it becomes available.
I’ve talked about this film before, as “Linoleum” made my top 5 favorite SXSW films this year. I am absolutely baffled that no one has opted to swoop this film up and get it to out to movie goers. Powerful story, incredible performances and an ending that left me in tears. I mean ugly cry, damn near sobbing kind of crying. “Linoleum” is simply wonderful, and I can’t recommend this film enough. Jim Gaffigan delivers one of the best dramatic performances of his career, incorporating the comedic everyman we know and love with the character/characters in the story. Debut writer and director Colin West demonstrates that he understands storytelling and filmmaking, creating a unique experience that plays the mystery unfolding close to the chest while also providing deeply personable and relatable characters and anchoring the films themes to hope, love, life, and family. West is in complete control here, knowing where the story will take us but never stepping on our toes too early before the big reveal.
Without spoilers, “Linoleum” tells the story of a failing children’s science show host who tries to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut by building a rocket ship in his garage, but soon a series of bizarre events occur that cause him to question his own reality. The film works best the less you know, as the film’s true power rests in its surprise finally. Not in an M. Night Shamaylan way, just in a way of how “Linoleum” ties everything together, both the mundane and bizarre. West is extremely purposeful in what he’s trying to accomplish, and succeeds in just about every single facet with this debut. It is genuinely wonderful, and I cannot understand how or why no one has snagged this one up. As soon as you see “Linoleum” anywhere you can watch things, WATCH THIS MOVIE.
“The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic “
I don’t think unique is a strong enough word for how special “The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic” truly is. A Finnish import written and directed by Teemu Nikki, the film is an anxiety inducing, cleverly crafted story of love and danger. And yes, not wanting to watch “Titanic.” The film is told entirely from the perspective of a man suffering from MS, and has lost much of his sight and mobility and is confined to a wheelchair. The cinematography creates a blurry atmosphere through which we spend a majority of the film looking through as a way to put viewers into a life of limited sight. It is extremely effective, as “The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic” somehow makes this true to form movie magic work so well it became a stand out viewing for me.
The film tells the story of Jaakko (Petri Poikolainen, who the role was tailor made for as he also lost his sight and mobility due to MS) who spends the majority of his time confined to his home playing games on his phone via voice to text. He has developed a phone relationship with Shirpa, who also suffers from illness. The two have never met in person, and after she gives Jaakko a hard time about not watching “Titanic” and an update that her health is failing faster than expected, Jaakko decides to visit Shirpa and meet her in person. They are only an hour away, but his lack of sight and mobility along with him unable to get his caretaker to make the journey with him, Jaakko decides to set out on his own and rely on strangers for help. Of course, people can’t be trusted, and he soon discovers that being left to his own devices in the great big world may leave him unable to see his love even once.
What makes this film so damn effective and memorable is that we are only able to see and hear what Jaakko hears during his harrowing journey to meet his love. We are thrust into a world we could never understand, and “The Blind Man Who Did not Want to See Titanic” unique style and “blind” lens with which the film unfolds makes it one of a kind and an edge of your seat adventure unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. I’m sure the lone film from Finland will probably have a hard time landing distribution here in the US, but if you happen to see this one pop up on a streaming service, watch it. You won’t be disappointed.
Currently only available in Canada currently (where the film takes place), “Slash/Back” is like “Attack the Block” meets “The Thing” with a splash of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Though familiar in its genre and general small town meets alien tropes, the first thing that sets the film a part is the setting of Pangnirtung, an Innuit hamlet on Baffin Island in the most northern parts of the Canadian tundra. Nicknamed “Switzerland of the Artic,” setting “Slash/Back” in the heart of forgotten worlds with strong Native America roots like Pang allows the film to tell familiar stories in new ways. “Slash/Back” also smartly fills its young cast with actual Pang residents, and while some may find the lack of acting prowess hard to get past, the film feels far more believable by providing viewers with true representation. You’ve never, ever heard of Pang, and didn’t know it existed, so it will be pretty presumptuous to set the film in such a unique place, then pepper it with white people with claims of being 1/30th Cherokee.
I say this because early on in the viewing, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with “Slash/Back.” It takes a while to find its footing and establish this strange new world that actually exists, and it does take some time to get going. But after it sets in and the world is established, the fun and body snatching gore begins to take shape and “Slash/Back” takes off. It transforms into a really fun child adventure story, in which the town can only be saved by its children with too much time on their hands and nothing to do but fight aliens when they arrive. Yes “Slash/Back” is incredibly basic when you strip away the things that make it unique: small town on the end of nowhere with bored and rebellious teenagers discover aliens planning an invasion, adults don’t believe them and start getting body snatched and the only hope is the kids fighting back.
Yeah, you’ve definitely seen this movie before, but “Slash/Back” manages to elevate all of these tropes and make itself stand out as one of the better attempts in the genre. The films that comprise its basics are solid ones on their own, and this little Canadian sci-fi flick is worth checking out if it ever comes to US soil.
“Palm Trees and Powerlines “
I’m not entirely sure I want to recommend this Sundance Dramatic Directing Award Winnner. Not that “Palm Trees and Powerlines” is a bad film, just that it is incredibly hard to watch. It is one of those necessary evil subject matters and frankly could only be told properly through a woman’s perspective. It is deeply uncomfortable to watch, but also feels like a required examination of its own warnings. The film centers around a young, troubled girl from a small town who enters into a relationship with a man twice her age. She quickly believes that he will be the answer to all of her problems, only to discover that the longer he is in her life the more malicious his intentions become. Though it deals with a number of themes and subjects, “Palm Trees and Powerlines” is a slow burn, almost queasy exploration of grooming, and how the often dismissed predatory manipulation takes shape and leads to more sinister and tragic outcomes.
Writer/Director Jamie Dack wants you to KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt that grooming is very real and deeply disturbing and abusive, and takes a sledgehammer to the “well they aren’t doing anything illegal” fallacy argument. Just because there’s no law doesn’t make it right, and “Palm Trees and Powerlines” does a terrific job of extrapolating this truth without ever feeling forced or pandering. Dack knows what she wants to say, and it is further strengthened by her cast. Newcomer Lily McInenry plays the young girl Lea with impeccable honesty and vulnerability. McInenry is a very every girl both in look and demeanor, and Dack’s choice to highlight the ordinary avoids the pitfall of allowing viewers to put any blame on her or her looks. This sounds like something obvious, but casting a beautiful young girl that doesn’t look like anyone you’ve ever met adds a layer of celebrity distance that robs of you of truly understanding the dangers and disgusting tactics of grooming.
That doesn’t happen here, and Lea looks like everyone’s young daughter. Likewise, casting Johnathan Tucker as the child predator smartly sheds the fallacy that only gross, ugly old men go after young girls. Nope. Tucker is well built, doughy eyed and charming, all tools he uses for manipulation. He makes himself easy to talk to, feel and seem younger than he is, and asserts himself as Lea’s knight in shining armor. It is another brilliant choice that “Palm Trees and Powerlines” so damn effective and uncomfortable, and everyone should see this film. We need more films that address grooming head on, and while you may not be ready to handle all the things “Palm Trees and Powerlines” wants to share, I would still highly recommend this one if it ever becomes available.
So there you are, 5 Festival films to watch out for that may or may not be released. I know it seems unfair to recommend films that you can’t actually watch, but I know we all have watch lists so maybe just jot these ones down so you can be on the look out.
Plus, they’re just sitting in my notes for future reviews, and I need to cross some stuff the list for my own sanity. So thanks, I guess.