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film still from Patti Cake$

Cinetopia 2017

Four films to see

by Daniel Joyaux

From the June, 2017 issue

Patti Cake$ earned two standing ovations at its Sundance premiere and was later invited to Cannes. Produced by recent U-M grad Noah Stahl, it creates the world of Patricia Dombrowski, a.k.a. Patti Cake$, an overweight white girl from Jersey who dreams of becoming a rap superstar--and actually has the talent for it.

Patti is played by the amazing Danielle Macdonald, an Aussie who's mastered a surprisingly authentic Jersey accent. She orbits a world of lost souls. Her mother is an alcoholic addicted to karaoke, and her two best friends and musical partners are an Indian pharmacist and a black anarchist who lives in the woods. But these characters aren't played for laughs--rather, they find one another because they're the only ones who see one another as worthy of finding.

Former music video director Geremy Jasper also wrote the music for this, his first feature, and the tracks are infectious and crowd-pleasing. In some sense, Patti Cake$ is a rehash of 8 Mile, just with a Jersey girl. But that's a reductive way of looking at a film that's contagiously enjoyable, and it misses what Patti Cake$ has to say about the huge role our perception of our own beauty or normalcy plays in our capacity to believe in ourselves, and the talent we have to offer the world. It screens at the Cinetopia Film Festival June 3.

The premise of Band Aid seems excessively Sundance-y: a husband and wife who can't stop fighting turn their fights into songs and form an indie-pop band (with Fred Armisen on drums, naturally). But that high concept is crafted into a film of real emotional gravitas by writer, director, and star Zoe Lister-Jones, who is an absolute revelation of talent. She's created that rare portrait of a couple that's as hilarious as it is devastating and recognizable. Plus, the tunes are fun as hell. It screens June 2.

In Columbus, a man travels to the small Indiana town--renowned for its Modernist architecture--to visit

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his hospitalized father. While there, he meets a young local woman who is indecisive about her future. They walk around together, discussing the buildings and talking about life. It's one part Before Sunset, one part Lost in Translation, but the lyrical visual style is pure Ozu, and the conversation is far more philosophical. It's a measured film, but tranquil and beautiful. It screens June 2.

When Ferguson, Missouri, erupted following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown at the hands of a police officer in 2014, filmmaker Sabaah Folayan traveled from Brooklyn to join the protests, and filmed what she saw. Whose Streets?, created with co-director Damon Davis, is an incredible firsthand document of a city tearing itself apart and citizens who put their fight for basic rights and safety above the immediate risks and consequences they face. It screens June 3 and 6.     (end of article)

[Originally published in June, 2017.]


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