Indy Film Fest - Documentary Features
Ranked reviews for ALL the Documentary Features in one place.
2022 Indy Film Fest Documentary Features
These are my rankings and reviews for this year’s 2022 Indy Film Fest category: Documentary Features.
My review was one of several, independent judges from around the state of Indiana. My views are strictly my own and not that of The Film Yap, The Indy Film Fest, or any of the other judges. I appreciate the opportunity I had to review all of these entrants.
For Indy Fest showtimes and tickets, please click here.
#5 - Jack Has a Plan
TLDR Review: This is the feel bad documentary of the year that felt a little bit too much like voyeurism as a man plans his own assisted suicide. 2/5
Full Review: Meet Jack Tuller, the star of the film Jack Has a Plan, who by the film’s end will be dead. That sounds oddly like the opening to the 1999 film American Beauty. The film opens with Jack dressed like he’s going out to a New Year’s party, rocking a glittery black blazer and wiping down his foggy glasses. The documentarian is discussing Jack’s fears, doubts, and uncertainty with his pending decision to follow through with assisted suicide, which is only a half-an-hour away.
The film backs up and shows us how we got to this point. We find out that Jack is dealing with several medical ailments that have caused him memory problems, frequent seizures, and a decline in his overall appreciation of life. Jack’s plan is to take control of his life by ending it on his terms.
Bradley Berman, the documentarian who has known Jack for 20 years, records his experience alongside Jack’s journey. In fact, the idea to document this process was Jack’s, not Berman’s. Berman wasn’t thrilled about the idea either, I mean, who’d want to film their friend’s demise? But, this was another part of Jack’s plan.
I experienced so many conflicting feelings when watching the movie. On one end, you see Jack as a vibrant, likeable person who’d be the life of any party. Then, you see what’s happened to “this” Jack. He’s weary from frequent seizures, beaten down, and ready to end his suffering. I think that’s what made me dislike the film so much. Jack is a very likeable guy, and I didn’t want to see him follow through with it. I mean, I was against his decision, and I didn’t even really know Jack! Jack’s wife, Berman, and other family friends were the ones truly suffering alongside Jack (see the picture used in the review). Jack’s loved ones, most of them at least, felt the same way I did: Don’t do it! This was so depressing. And in the end, well, you know. Heartbreak.
There was nothing particularly enjoyable about this movie, and watching Jack’s loved ones suffer alongside him felt like some type of voyeurism. These were intimate, family times. As a viewer, I didn’t feel like I shouldn’t have been there. Private conversations and watching them say their final goodbyes felt…wrong.
I wouldn’t recommend this film for the aforementioned reasons, but I must say it was tastefully put together by Berman. This filmmaking process must have been cathartic for Berman, but his final goodbye to his friend would have been better shared with Jack’s family and friends, not me.
#4 - Rebel Dykes
*This film carried an “18+” rating*
TLDR Review: Though this isn’t a movie topic that was particularly of much interest to me, it is an interesting look at London’s underground punk-rock lesbian scene of the 80s. 3/5
Full Review: Dildos, BDSM, and punk rock. If someone saw this in my search history, they’d have jokes for days. What am I, a late-30s black man, doing searching for this content? That ain’t me. When this movie started, I thought I’d be in for a long ride because those topics are of no particular interest to me, and only slightly eyebrow raising. The documentarians, however, did an excellent job of holding my interest for the 92-minute run time.
The stories, man!
Oh, these women had some stories. Describing the 80’s, where I was still kicking around in my diapers, as a time where members of the LGBT community were not openly accepted and had to live life “underground.” The timing of this was perfect during Pride Month, where I consider myself to be an ally, and find a lot of interest in marginalized groups.
This film was more about women empowerment than sex, but don’t get it twisted, there’s an awful lot of sex talk. These conversations about sex, though sometimes explicit, were sex/body positive and spoke more to their movement than for the purposes of getting a reaction from the audience.
We see the women interviewed during the documentary as the smart feminists that they are. We witness what happens when women with a strong voice rebel against a system. We are welcomed into the lesbian movement, and appreciate their struggle more for it. This film allowed me to reflect on where we’ve been as a culture, and pays homage to those who fought for where we are now. Rebel Dykes begs the question of its members, allies, and viewers,
“Where do we go next, and who’s gonna speak up?”
Such good timing on the release of this film during Pride Month, and I’d recommend any ally to check it out while it’s at the Indy Film Fest.
#3 - Leftover Feelings: a Studio B Revival
TLDR Review: If you don’t know country music (*raises hand*), then this film is definitely not for you. But, if you’re familiar with the names John Hiatt and Jerry Douglas, then this behind the scenes recording of their 2021 album “Leftover Feelings” might be a good accompaniment or “bonus material” worth a watch. 3.5/5
Full Review: If I was in a record store thumbing through albums, I’d flip right past this one.
Something about this old man staring aimlessly over his coffee doesn’t scream, “Play me!” The names John Hiatt and Jerry Douglas are also unfamiliar to me, so as Jay-Z once said, “Before you act on a word, please consider the source.” That’s my disclaimer on this review. And, “yes,” I did just quote Jay-Z during a review of a country music album. You’ve been warned.
After watching the film, Leftover Feelings: a Studio B Revival, it made me feel like I might need to give the album a listen, though this is certainly not my typical genre of music. This could either be the mark of good salesmanship, or the honesty and reverence that the other other country music stars gave the stars of the film.
John Hiatt (a guitar player) and Jerry Douglas (a dobro player) discuss meeting each other in the 70’s, but not collaborating on this project until almost half-a-century later amidst the 2021 COVID-19 pandemic. The collaboration occurred in Nashville, Tennessee, where– even I know–is a big epicenter in the country music world. Further, I learned that RCA Studio B is the historic studio which many country artists throughout the years have used (Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, and Lyle Lovett to name the few that were recognizable to me). “Studio B,” as it’s referred to in abbreviated terms, served as the backdrop for this documentary. Some of the facts and history related to this studio brought the significance of these recording sessions to life.
What the film misses, in my opinion, are opportunities to showcase the talent that these two men possess. Had there been snippets of the album accompanying the praise for these musicians earlier in the film, or even a couple of riffs when Dolly Parton claims he’s one of the best dobro players alive, it would have had a significant impact on the layperson (myself). It wasn’t until the last half-hour that we actually saw the brilliance of these two artists.
The actual recording session and collaboration was awesome to see. It’s always cool to get an intimate look behind the scenes to see how these artists create. Overall, a very enjoyable piece, even for someone unfamiliar with some of the references and call-backs that true country music fans will surely appreciate.
#2 - Dear Audrey
TLDR Review: A man’s beautiful final ode to his wife who suffered from Alzheimer’s prior to her passing. 3.5/5
Full Review: Degenerative diseases are so sad to witness. A once lively person slowly becomes a shell of their former selves. Dear Audrey is the story of one such person.
Martin Duckworth shared his story with documentarians who put together a beautiful final ode to his late wife Audrey. Visually pleasing animations brought this feature to life. The musical accompaniment was scored nicely and further added to the composition of this film.
Martin shares with viewers his wife’s story. The love you see in clips of Martin in a caregiving role are both heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. This is an intricate balance that the filmmakers executed to perfection.
We see Martin as a young, working man who was always on the move. A traveling filmmaker, he was working to help raise his family. We see Martin now, as a an older, wiser man who is reflecting on some of his younger decisions.
The heart of the film, however, comes from Audrey and Martin’s love story. To see him in his later years, now in a caregiver role for his wife and daughter, amplifies his love and dedication. The kind words Martin speaks in the documentary tell a poetic tale of their life together.
This is a recommended movie to catch during the Indy Film Fest, as the composition and overall movie experience left me feeling as if I’d just watched a work of art.
#1 - Raised Up West Side
TLDR Review: An interesting look at urban farming, which not only provides fresh produce to communities in food deserts, but offers ex-offenders the opportunity at a second-chance. 4/5
Full Review: Chicago is one of my favorite cities to visit; it helps that it’s only a stone’s throw from my home in Indianapolis. When driving into the city, I’m always captivated by the skyline, which is beautiful whether viewing at night or in the daytime. Raised Up West Side takes a closer look at the city, beyond the beautiful skyline views and into the west-side communities, where graffitied walls and crime are often forgotten about unless it’s a news story mentioning another killing (which is a daily occurrence). “Chiraq” is the term used to describe the Chicago war zone, where young deaths and ganglife are commonplace.
The film opens with a staggering statistic about the west-side Chicago neighborhoods. Approximately 80% of residents in this area are black, and nearly 70% of these men (18-54) have been previously incarcerated.
How does a community like this ever get its comeuppance? Well, Raised Up West Side takes a look at this question and offers potential solutions. We’re introduced to an ex-offender named Darius who found himself wrapped up in the gang-life—a victim of a fatherless upbringing that’s a common theme in this area. Unfortunately, young males like Darius often find father figures, fellowship, and support by involving themselves in gangs.
Following a felony charge and eventually a prison sentence, Darius realized—while incarcerated—that he was being given a second-chance. It could have been worse, right? It could have been a murder charge or other crime where there are no second-chances offered. Darius met several inmates who tragically made this realization a little bit too late in their lives.
Thankfully for Darius, his charge was pleaded down to a lesser charge, but what could he do after his release? Ex-offenders, particularly those with felony charges, find it extremely difficult to find jobs in the community. Even contract jobs like Uber/Lyft have restrictions for drivers with previous criminal convictions.
We meet several urban farmers who are bringing fresh produce to food deserts while at the same time offering a second chance to ex-offenders like Darius. As one of the employees says in the film, these urban farms have become a refuge for people dealing with trauma.
With great city shots set against the beats of its fresh rap soundtrack featuring musical acts who call the west side of Chicago home, Raised Up West Side not only points out the problems in urban communities, it offers potential solutions.