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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 23.Mar.22
Charli XCX: Alone Together  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
Charli XCX: Alone Together
dir Bradley & Pablo
prd Ross Levine, Brian Ferenchik, Emmie Lichtenberg
with Charli XCX, Huck Kwong, Sam Pringle, Twiggy Rowley, Jon Aitchison, Shameera Aitchison, Christine and the Queens, Poison Oakland, Ellen Davis, Cole Chambliss, Ronald Torres Rios, Emiliano Villa
release US 28.Jan.22,
UK 14.Apr.22
21/US 1h07

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charli xcx
A knowing exploration of the impact of the pandemic, this documentary unfolds through the eyes of the 29-year-old British pop artist as she reveals details of her life, career, relationships and family. And the film also includes her extended fan family, called Angels, as she invites their participation to create a new collection of songs and videos. It's a colourful, fast-paced film packed with surprisingly powerful moments.
Charli is on her first headline tour when the world comes to a shrieking stop. Bored in lockdown, she announces that she's going to record the album How I'm Feeling Now in just over a month, documenting the process with webcams. She involves her Angels, creating the songs live in collaboration with them. To do this means quarantining in Los Angeles with her boyfriend Huck and two managers Sam and Twiggy. But being on-camera all the time makes it hard for Charli to focus on her work as lockdown is extended again and again.
This fast-paced collection of clips features Charli and her fans discussing their experiences and, most insightfully, how they feel watching the world change so drastically around them. It's remarkably well-shot by Charli and her Angels, who find inventive ways to come together even as they are forced to be apart. And of course, scenes of her composing songs offer a remarkable glimpse into the creative process, especially as she opens up every aspect to her fans around the world, from writing lyrics to filming music videos. They even set up a virtual performance party they all attend together.

Tellingly, many of Charli's most loyal fans are colourfully queer performers whose lives stalled during the pandemic, offering a strong sense of how shared experiences brought disparate people closer. And Charli reveals herself on-camera with remarkable openness, not just because she appears without being styled, but because she speaks so honestly about her private life and insecurities. This includes comments about her relationship with Huck, whom she's been dating for seven years but had never been with for more than 11 days consecutively.

Edited together with a spark of energy, there's a lot of material packed into the brief running time, offering an unusually revealing look into celebrity life, with the added major wrinkle of a global pandemic. Nothing is off limits to her, including a raw confrontation of her mental health issues, which of course work their way into her songs and bring her even closer to her Angels. So the film will offer hope and inspiration to people far beyond her circle.

cert 15 themes, language 20.Mar.22 flare

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
dir Broderick Fox
prd Lee Biolos, Broderick Fox
with Devan Shimoyama, Jessie Anderson, Richard Savvy, Brixton Millner, Travon White, Hannah Gabriel, Zed Payne, Lee Biolos, Aaron El Sabrout, Ted Cook, Christopher Powers, Andrew Taylor
release UK Mar.22 flare
22/US 1h02

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Open and observational, this documentary explores traditional barbershops from perspectives that are both pointed and revelatory. Filmmaker Broderick Fox speaks to three inventive men who are challenging notions of toxic masculinity while lifting up anyone who has been told they were less than normal. By making clients feel welcome, these men are changing the world. And Fox skilfully shows how important it is to tell their stories with honesty.
In Pittsburgh, Devan is a painter whose inventively textured art reflects the hyper-masculinity of his childhood visits to the barbershop. Acutely aware that many barbers avoided Black hair, he sought friendlier places to get his hair cut. In Vancouver, Jessie has opened Big Bro's, creating a welcoming barbershop for the trans community and people of colour. And in Sydney, former celebrity stylist Richard is now a fetish barber who cuts hair in the buff, banning all forms of judgement and shame from his shop. This has led him to launch a witty Guerrilla Porn project.
Devan speaks about the strong homophobic vibes he felt whenever he entered a barbershop, where crying was forbidden, especially for a Black boy. Jessie is confronting the grotesque disparity in pricing between haircuts for men and women, letting his customers and coworkers know that they can fully be themselves in his shop. Richard had to redefine his masculinity, and loves helping men find self-acceptance. He came up with his concept because he can relax his clients by getting naked with them as he waxes and manscapes their bits.

Along with a sharply well-edited collection of and interviews fly-on-the-wall scenes, Fox includes clips from films and television shows that have enforced queer stereotypes, making young people feel like they didn't belong anywhere. This adds a potent contrast to Devan's emotive artwork, as well as the way both Jessie and Richard approach their work with such compassion and understanding. In these ways, all three men are confronting an unjust system and empowering people who have felt marginalised by society.

Intriguingly, each of these men opens up frankly about the way they have used their own bodies as inspiration in their work. Within its brief running time, the film manages to cover quite a few topics that are rarely addressed on-screen, from unspoken personal yearnings to the products trans people have difficulty finding. The point is that we all need a place where we don't need to worry about being open about who we are. And the film encourages us to experience the fullness of life outside all of the boxes.

cert 15 themes, language, nudity 21.Mar.22 flare

This Is Not Me  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
This Is Not Me
dir-prd Saeed Gholipour
scr Reza Mouri
with Saman Ghazian, Shervin Ramezan
release UK Mar.22 flare
22/Iran 1h11

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From Iran, this documentary follows two young trans men who are navigating the complex situation in their country, going to court for the right to live as the person they are inside. By resisting both preachy moralising and flashy filmmaking, director Saeed Gholipour shows remarkable sensitivity, letting the cameras follow them through day-to-day situations over the course of several years. This approach gives them a powerful voice.
The film opens with 27-year-old Saman vowing that he will never appear in public again as a woman wearing a headscarf. And this is something he has to say over and over again. Both he and 16-year-old Shervin speak about the divide between their bodies and their inner selves, which has prevented them from living their lives. Saman longs to swim in the sea with the boys, and Shervin and his friends still wish they'd one day wake up in their true bodies. As Saman visits a transgender specialist doctor, Shervin has a chance to travel abroad to study in France.
Saman and Shervin are both articulate, cheeky, life-loving young guys who simply want to move forward into a promising future. Gholipour's camera watches them in a fly-on-the-wall style over a long period of time, interspersing to-camera interviews from a variety of friends and family, including parents who took a long time to understand and show compassion for their children. This allows the film to touch on a wide range of issues these young men and their families are facing, including humiliating examinations and officials who abuse or cheat them.

Even though gender reassignment surgery is officially allowed in Iran, the process is deliberately over-complicated, requiring a bewildering series of bureaucratic permissions. And they're forced to admit that they have a disease that needs to be cured with an operation. Without this, everything is proscribed in society, from what to wear to where they can study or work. Amid various setbacks, judges tell Saman and Shervin that they can't dress as men until they change gender, ignoring the fact that in public they are distinctly male.

Saman asks why he doesn't have the right to live as he wants to, or to tell a girl he likes her. And both speak honestly about suicidal thoughts, most notably the tragedy of others who haven't survived. Gholipour simply allows them to express themselves, capturing conversations that reveal nuances of their internal thoughts and feelings. "We aren't asking for much," Shervin says, "just our natural rights. And maybe a smile to wish me luck."

cert pg themes, language 21.Mar.22 flare

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