Annapolis Film Festival '16: "Little Miss Perfect" Review

I saw Little Miss Perfect knowing nothing about the film. Admittedly, the dreamlike filter on the camera’s lens, prep school uniforms, and main character’s over-achieving persona as laid out in the opening scenes had me thinking I wouldn’t be able to relate to the film at all. Then, with one click on a website by the film’s protagonist, I was instantly hooked on a universal story about how we face the insecurities we all face in life! 

Belle (Karlee Roberts) is the go-getter high school freshman who has the grades, proper ambition, and kind heart that other kids either ridicule or envy. She’s the school’s class president and headed for major success. Her father is in the home, but that seems to be the extent of it at the moment, as he deals with work and the new void of his wife. Her mom is a free spirit photographer, who has just left the family when the film begins. While Belle seems used to handling pressure, the vacancy of her parents in her life, and regular emotional instabilities that come with being a teenager, compound into an inescapable pressure cooker.

As the film moves forward, Belle begins to choose to do things that will make her happy and relieve stress. Unfortunately, those choices consist of dating Gus (Jeremy Fernandez), a decent-hearted flunky from the neighboring all male private school, and joining an online competitive eating disorder site where girls find pleasure in watching the numbers on the scale drop to unhealthy levels. While Little Miss Perfect explores eating disorders on a story level, it really serves as a backdrop to the deeper issues behind it like self-doubt, abandonment and feeling worthless. It also exposes the dangers of not asking questions or talking about the elephant in the room. As Belle’s weight continues to drop, everyone around her either helps her hide what she’s doing, like her best friend Lyla (Izzy Palmieri), or is too self involved to ask what’s going on and push past her seemingly perfect appearance.  

First time feature writer/director Marlee Roberts does an excellent job of pacing and capturing each step of Belle’s downward spiral visually. Her frame speaks so the characters don’t have to. Whether Belle decides to confirm friending someone on the site, or shifts her salad around on her plate to make it look like she ate, the camera sees all. Subtle choices like Marlee (as not to confuse her w/ her sister/star of the film) keeping the camera on sticks throughout the film, but going handheld when Belle throws up in the bathroom for the first time or argues with her boyfriend, exhibit savvy skills of a budding director who is in tune to the cinematic story and technical side of filmmaking.

Little Miss Perfect is a timely film that speaks to members of today’s online generation who may chase likes and follows for self-esteem. We all want to be loved, and for a teenager with a vulnerable mind, it can be a dangerous thing when left unchecked. Yet, the message of the film for parents is to stay involved in your child’s life, and for teens is that you don’t have to struggle alone and it’s never too late to change. It’s a message I hope many people receive! 

Rating: B+

Comment

Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

Annapolis Film Festival '16: (T)ERROR Review

In a world where terrorists make the news weekly, someone has to be on the lookout for people who want to harm others. But what’s the price of that security? Who watches the watcher? What does it take to catch the bad guy? Saeed "Shariff" Torres, the main subject in (T)ERROR, is a documentarian’s golden goose. After two years of knowing the filmmakers, he confessed to being an FBI informant, and then proceeded to ask them to document his next assignment. What the viewer is presented with, is an astonishing, albeit limited look, at surveillance and the human impact of it.

We’re first introduced to Saeed as he complains about being on camera.  It’s interesting because we find out that he wanted to be documented. Shortly after, he’s calm and enjoying a basketball game. He explains that he became an informant in exchange for a reduced prison sentence for a New York City robbery he committed. We find him getting ready to go to another assignment in Pittsburgh. He needs the money, and he doesn’t have any love for muslims who malign the teaching of the Quran. He only has an obvious love for his son. 

As Saeed begins to settle in the safe house in Pittsburgh we see a map that he pins photos on. He explains that he has a POI (person of interest) that he is going to befriend at the local mosque. He makes it clear that he has his own way of gaining their trust, and that if he did things the way the FBI wanted he would never get any of the busts he’s gotten. His arrogance is somewhat off putting, but the espionage drama pulls you in closer.

When we’re first introduced to Khalifa, Saeed’s POI, we see him in black and white surveillance photos. We see a picture of him with an automatic weapon. Probably most importantly, we see his appearance in muslim garb. So it’s easy to side with the FBI and Saeed. What directors Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe do next is stunning as they interview Khalifa himself behind Saeed’s back.

As the viewer, you’re instantly hypnotized at watching a documentary being made without the FBI’s awareness with their paid informant Saeed; at the same time you get to see and hear the extremely intelligent, other side of the story through Khalifa’s own account of what he believes is happening. You’re able to put the truth together yourself seeing all sides “straight from the horse’s mouth” as they say.

(T)ERROR successfully leads us down a path of preconceptions and shocks us by providing truths that disturbs them. Perhaps the most disturbing realization is the questionable entrapment schemes set up by the FBI as shown in the documentary. Yes, it is limited in scope. No, paid informants aren’t new. But the questionable ethics of counter-terrorism as displayed is worth analyzing.

Rating: B+  

Comment

Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

Annapolis Film Festival '16: "Pervert Park" Review

Film can be a powerful tool. It can serve as a conversation starter, and allow you to experience something without having to get your hands dirty. Pervert Park has to be the darkest, most disturbing film coming out of the Annapolis Film Festival this year, and probably one of the bravest choices by its’ programming committee. Someone saw the opportunity to use film as a conduit to a conversation on a generally rarely talked about topic and let the viewer come to their own conclusions about it. 

Pervert Park captures the stories of select individuals that live in Florida Justice Transitions, a trailer park in St. Petersburg, Florida. In Florida, sex-predator laws are in place where offenders can not live within 1,000 feet of places where children regularly assemble. Sexual offenders are looked at as the lowest of society, but they all have a story. Directors Frida and Lasse Barkfors capture the stories of park residents with no cinematic flare, just straight shooting and following.

The stand out story in the doc is that of Tracy Hutchinson, who was abused by her father as early as second grade. By the age of 11 she had already had an abortion,  and years later she seduced her own son, who later molested a 3 year old boy. Hearing Tracy confess about taking her son’s trust and dismantling it by sexually abusing him is absolutely heart wrenching. The guilt, shame, and deep regret is so apparent that it’s hard not to get emotional yourself. It’s clear that a life of abuse had adverse affects on her, but her vulnerability in being honest and apologetic can be felt on a gut level.

While everyone in the film seems to take ownership of their crimes, they also seem to rationalize them with twisted logic. If there is one thing that is clear from the film, it’s that getting help and being open about abuse is a necessary resource. Many of the individuals in the film kept their past pain buried inside and hidden from society, which in their particular stories manifested into sexual offenses. It shows how much counseling can play a key role in an attempt to transform and unlearn behavior.

Watching the film is an absolute test in self control, staying in your seat and sitting through it. (Plenty of people walked out of the screening.)There is no way of getting around the fact that it is a disturbing documentary on a soul level. The filmmakers obviously worked to keep a balance of letting you hear the horror, and then changing the tone to something that humanizes the offenders. Most people won’t view a documentary like this, but for those who can stomach it, it examines and challenges how and why we should deal with the taboo issue. 

Rating: B-

Comment

Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.