Jury Coordination and Notes

Archive for June, 2021

Fathom * Outstanding Documentary Showing How Awesome the Ocean Really Is

Saturday, June 26th, 2021

Directed and photographed by Drew Xanthopoulos (The Sensitives), Fathom follows Dr. Ellen Garland and Dr. Michelle Fournet, two scientists focused on the study of humpback whale songs and social communication. As they embark on parallel research journeys on opposite sides of the world, they seek to better understand whale culture and communication. The documentary film uniquely reveals a deep commitment and reverence to the scientific process and the universal human need to seek answers about the world around us. From hypothesis to groundbreaking experiences in the field, Fathom showcases the passion, curiosity, collaboration, perseverance and work it takes for leading scientists to make scientific discoveries.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Samantha B. comments, “Fathom is an outstanding documentary that shows how interesting and awesome oceanography really is. One of the many things that makes this film great is the cinematography; it captures the beautiful ocean setting in a way that makes you feel as if you are there.” See her full review and her interview with the director below.

Fathom
By Samantha B., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 11

Fathom is an outstanding documentary that shows how interesting and awesome oceanography really is. One of the many things that makes this film great is the cinematography; it captures the beautiful ocean setting in a way that makes you feel as if you are there. Another aspect I enjoyed are the scientists. These women are incredible at what they do and at explaining it to non-scientists. I love two female scientists are featured because they are extremely underrepresented in this field of work.

The storyline follows two female scientists on a boat testing their hypotheses about whale communication. One of them, Dr. Ellen Garland, is answering her question about how far whale communication can travel. The second scientist, Dr. Michelle Fournet, is studying the whale’s woop – a distinct type of call that is “almost as if the whale is saying, ‘hey.’” Fathom not only focuses on the scientists’ work life, but also their personal interactions with the team, their families, and just being goofy people.

One of my favorite parts is when Dr. Fournet manages to accomplish her goal of tracking 30 whales in two weeks while also caring for her team. I love that Dr. Garland, as a feminist, talks about how hard it is to show weakness as a woman in a male-dominated line of work. The scenes with Dr. Fournet and her crew on their boat in the middle of the ocean are captured so perfectly, from the lighting to the rich colors of the ocean. It makes me want to be there.  When Dr. Fournet describes how dangerous this job is, it shows what these scientists are willing to risk to increase our knowledge about these beautiful whales.

The message of this film is about feminism; it is a recurring theme and is talked about a lot. These female scientists are great role models, especially for young girls who may be interested in science. This film promotes positive behavior, education and perseverance.

I give Fathom 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 4 to 18 plus adults. Fathom premieres on Apple TV+ June 25, 2021.

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Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway * Whimsical Animated Comedy-Adventure Film With Loads Of Laughs

Sunday, June 20th, 2021

Thomas and Bea are now married and living with Peter and his rabbit family. Bored of life in the garden, Peter goes to the big city, where he meets shady characters and ends up creating chaos for the whole family. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Calee N. comments, “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway is a family-friendly comedy-adventure film. I loved watching whimsical animated film. It had me laughing from beginning to end. The crazy adventures of Peter and the animals are highly entertaining.” See her full review below.

Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway
By Calee Nowak, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 12

Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway is a family-friendly comedy-adventure film. I loved watching whimsical animated film. It had me laughing from beginning to end. The crazy adventures of Peter and the animals are highly entertaining.

In this film, the characters you loved from the first movie are back. A beautiful wedding, a new business, and a perfect life on the farm appeared to be all Peter Rabbit and his family need, but things change when a book Bea wrote about the rabbits gets an opportunity to be published.

Director Will Gluck and screenwriter Patrick Burleigh bring back Peter Rabbit with a new adventure while maintaining what we love about the characters from the first movie. The talented voice-overs of Peter Rabbit (James Corben), Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki), Flopsy (Margot Robbie), Cottontail (Aimee Horne), and Barnabas (Lennie James) bring life to the characters and laughter. Of course, a comedy-adventure is nothing without a proper soundtrack. The music by Dominic Lewis keeps up with the high-energy animal mischief and helps build emotion. Art directors Nicholas Dare and Sophie Nash create realistic computer-generated animals that could easily play the lead actors in any movie, including humans. Their personalities will have movie viewers falling in love with them and cheering their victory.

Through Peter Rabbit’s adventures on the farm and in the city, we learn that the importance of “family” is a continuous theme throughout the film. Unfortunately, Peter makes the mistake of letting the judgment of others question his character. However, the unconditional love from his siblings, cousin Bea, Thomas and the other animals helps him realize he doesn’t have to be perfect to be loved. Bea and Thomas finally understand that “family” comes in all shapes and sizes. 

I rate Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 3 to 18. Adults will also enjoy sharing laughs with their families. Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway premieres in theaters June 11, 2021 and on Amazon Prime.

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Wish Dragon * Heart-Warming, Action-Packed And Magical Film

Friday, June 18th, 2021

Determined teen Din is longing to reconnect with his childhood best friend when he meets a wish-granting dragon who shows him the magic of possibilities. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Kyla C. comments, “The film has some of the best animation I’ve ever seen. Characters, objects, settings and beings are flawless, aside from when they need to be flawed. Colorful, detailed animation creates a vivid world that’s full of life. Everything seems to pop off the screen and I feel as though I’ve been transported into this world. Tiana S. adds, “Wish Dragon is a very heart-warming, action-packed and magical film. It is a combination of a love story between best friends, an adventure of trying to keep a childhood promise and a father who wants to give his daughter everything in the world.” See their full reviews below.

Wish Dragon
By Kyla C, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 11

Wish Dragon is an animated film sure to entertain family audiences. This new movie, similar to Soul, has a unique plot with plenty of fantastical ideas. A combination of wonderful acting, animation and plot makes for a delightful movie.

Wish Dragon follows Din (Jimmy Wong) as he struggles to find his long-lost childhood best friend, Li Na (Natasha Liu Bordizzo). A green teapot then shows itself, and Din soon realizes that it’s not your average teapot – there’s a dragon inside. The dragon, Long (John Chu), informs Din that he can make three wishes. With the challenge of finding his friend, avoiding the goons that are trying to steal the teapot and keeping the secret of the wish dragon from the rest of his friends and family, Din’s quiet life soon becomes a flurry of activity and excitement.

The film has some of the best animation I’ve ever seen. Characters, objects, settings and beings are flawless, aside from when they need to be flawed. Colorful, detailed animation creates a vivid world that’s full of life. Everything seems to pop off the screen and I feel as though I’ve been transported into this world. Along with the animation, the stunning performances by the actors add so much to the film. The voiceovers match the characters and the animated expressions change with the actors’ tones. John Cho, voicing Long (the wish dragon), is one of the performances that seems effortless. The dragon’s superb appearance mixes nicely with the deeper voice of the actor. Natasha Liu Bordizzo, as Li Na, and Jimmy Wong, as Din, also deliver excellent performances – the voice acting is true to the animation. These two high points are enhanced by its strong plot. In fact, the storyline of Wish Dragon is detailed, relatable and perfect for a family movie.

Unique ideas, as well as thoughtful messages and themes, are all here. The characters are strong, enhanced with interesting backstories about their noteworthy pasts. Events throughout the film are well-timed and make sense. There aren’t any scenes that seem forced in order to keep the plot going. It all flows well. The only shortcoming that I found is that it is a bit predictable at times. Some of the primary plot points, such as the three wishes and epic battles against the bad guys, are a bit repetitive and predictable. However, it’s nothing a little popcorn can’t help.

The message of Wish Dragon is to understand the importance of relationships and don’t be greedy. The film does a noteworthy job of making the messages noticeable without being completely obvious. There are some action scenes, but they are definitely appropriate for kids.

I give Wish Dragon 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 8 to 18 plus adults. Wish Dragon is currently available for streaming on Netflix starting June 11, 2021.  

Wish Dragon
By Tiana S., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 10

Wish Dragon is a very heart-warming, action-packed and magical film. It is a combination of a love story between best friends, an adventure of trying to keep a childhood promise and a father who wants to give his daughter everything in the world. The story is very relatable and humorous. 

Wish Dragon is about Din (Jimmy Wong), a determined teen who wants to reconnect with his childhood best friend, Li Na Wong (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), who moved away when they were kids. Din never forgot about her and always feels like something is missing from his life. During one of his food deliveries, he receives a magical tea pot that houses a wish-granting dragon, Long (John Cho). Long offers Din three wishes which sets in motion an adventure to get his friend back.

The lead characters in this film are Din, Li Na, Long and Li Na’s dad, Mr. Wong (Will Yun Lee). My favorite character is Long, because not only is he hilarious, but I enjoyed watching his character’s journey to find out what life is really about. The animation of the busy city, houses, billboards and people are vibrant, accurate and makes you feel like you are on an adventure in China with Din, Li Na and Long. There are plenty of comedic parts in this film, such as when everyone is watching television and Long is eating his newly discovered shrimp chips and, because he is invisible to everyone except Din, you only see the shrimp chip in the air being eaten.

The message of this film is that there is more to life than just fame and fortune. Friends and family and having people that genuinely care about you are what is most important. The main reason Mr. Wong moves away with Li Na is because he wants her to be able to have everything in the world, but he didn’t realize that by doing that she will never make any real friends and never experience the true meaning of life.

Wish Dragon is a very meaningful, entertaining family film.I rate it5 out of 5 stars and I recommend it for ages 10 to 18, plus adults. You can find Wish Dragon streaming on Netflix now.

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Censor * Raises Lots Of Questions About Censorship, Effects Of Fiction, And Media Violence

Thursday, June 17th, 2021

After viewing a strangely familiar video nasty, Enid, a film censor, sets out to solve the past mystery of her sister’s disappearance, embarking on a quest that dissolves the line between fiction and reality. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Calista B., comments, “Censor is a unique movie that raises a lot of questions about censorship, the effect that fiction has on people and violence in the media. I really appreciate it for its subtlety; however I feel like the message is a little unclear.” See her full review below.

Censor
By Calista B., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 17

Censor is a unique movie that raises a lot of questions about censorship, the effect that fiction has on people and violence in the media. I really appreciate it for its subtlety; however I feel like the message is a little unclear.

The story follows Enid, a film censor. Her job consists of viewing graphic horror films and deciding what to cut and what to leave in. However, after a particular film reminds her of a traumatic childhood memory, she becomes convinced that there is some connection between her work and the disappearance of her sister.

First off, I want to take a moment to appreciate the atmosphere of this film. The lighting and sound design combine to create an extremely bleak and dreary mood, as if the entire film takes place on an unpleasant foggy day. It fits the constant sense of unease this movie gives off, especially when combined with the uncomfortable subject matter.

Censor has an interesting insight on fiction’s effect on reality. I’m very invested in this topic, as someone who loves video games and has constantly heard discussions about how the medium causes violence. Though the film doesn’t outright say it, there’s an underlying message about how society sometimes draws conclusions that aren’t true. At one point, a murder gets connected to a film that Enid allowed to be released. However we later find out the killer didn’t even watch the aforementioned film. This leaves you wondering what the truth of the case is. This murder case is never brought up again and, ultimately, is not that important to the plot.

Censor’s themes surrounding the idea of censorship, and the way they connect to Enid’s past, are genuinely really engaging. Enid claims she does her job to “protect” people, and this perfectly ties into Enid’s trauma. A common thing that happens to trauma survivors is that their brain will block out the memories of the event. As such, Enid can’t remember the exact details of her trauma. Her brain is essentially censoring itself to protect her. But what exactly is it protecting her from? What is the truth of her past? This connection is so fascinating.

I must warn audiences, though, if you don’t like gore or discussions of gore, this movie is not for you. There’s a montage at the beginning showing all kinds of graphic violence, and there is more gore later in the film.

I give Censor 4 out of 5 stars, and recommend it for ages 16 to 18. Censor releases on June 11, 2021.

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Americanish * A Breath Of Fresh Air Looking At Rom-Coms Through A New Lens

Thursday, June 10th, 2021

The 2021 CAAMFest Audience Award-winning film debut by Iman Zawahry takes place in Jackson Heights, Queens where two sisters and their fresh-off-the-boat cousin try all the conventional ways to earn the love and respect of their mother. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Abigail L. comments, “Although still containing classic rom-com clichés, this film introduces diverse cultural and ethnic characters and story arcs to American film audiences. Writer and director Imam Zawahry highlights the strength of feminism and family ties as she explores the ups and downs of women in the work force and romance.” See her full review below.

Americanish
By Abigail Liu, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17

Americanish is a breath of fresh air as it looks at romantic comedy through a new lens. Although still containing classic rom-com clichés, this film introduces diverse cultural and ethnic characters and story arcs to American film audiences. Writer and director Imam Zawahry highlights the strength of feminism and family ties as she explores the ups and downs of women in the work force and romance.

Set in New York City, the lives of three Pakistani women are thrown into turmoil while they endure career, family, romance and culture clashes. Maryam (Salena Qureshi), a college student who dreams of attending Harvard Medical School, worries about her MCAT score and navigates her crush with her study partner, Shahid (Kapil Talwalkar), who happens to be married. Meanwhile, Maryam’s older sister, Khala (Lillete Dubey), attempts to score a work promotion and ignores the advances of a well-intentioned police officer. Their cousin, Ameera (Shenaz Treasury), moves in with their family from Pakistan in search of a doctor to marry, but her budding friendship with the local store clerk (Godfrey) risks putting a damper on her plans.

This film successfully shows the struggle of balancing cultural traditions with personal ambition through love and marriage, careers and family. When reading the summary of this story, it first seems overused and bland, but it is quite the opposite –  the message conveyed in the film is meaningful and empowering. The acting feels unconvincing at times, but the film’s message makes up for it. Even though there are a lot of Hollywood romantic comedy clichés found in the film, there are moments that are genuinely humorous and funny. My favorite part is the separate, but connected, stories of the three women. As the story progresses, they grow closer as they find themselves relating to one another in their disappointments with romance.

Americanish teaches women of all ages that it is never too late to find love and that being a woman can mean whatever you want it to be, whether that is becoming a successful businesswoman, a doctor or a loving wife. Parents should be aware that this film contains implied sex, references to adult minor language and references to sexism and racism.

I rate Americanish 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 13 to 18, plus adults. This film can be viewed now at select festivals.

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The Human Factor * Israeli and Palestinian Conflict Negotiations During the Clinton Administration

Thursday, June 3rd, 2021

With unprecedented access to the foremost American negotiators, THE HUMAN FACTOR is the behind-the-scenes story from the last 25 years, of how the United States came within reach of pulling off the impossible – securing peace between Israel and its neighbors. Today, the need to learn from past mistakes couldn’t be more urgent.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Ashleigh C. comments, “The Human Factor documentary is very informative and will be loved by those that are curious about the negotiators of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict during the Clinton Administration, and their efforts to bring compromise and peace. The one-on-one interview setting makes it easier to understand and grasp basic questions of this foreign political situation.” See her full review below.

The Human Factor
By Ashleigh C., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, 17

The Human Factor documentary is very informative and will be loved by those that are curious about the negotiators of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict during the Clinton Administration, and their efforts to bring compromise and peace. The one-on-one interview setting makes it easier to understand and grasp basic questions of this foreign political situation. And while the film does provide some context in the beginning, you may want to do a little research on the conflict before watching. 

I had an unexpectedly emotional reaction to this documentary. Director Dror Moreh cleverly sets a specific tone that grabs the viewer, and then reveals history in a brilliant way. My favorite parts are with the negotiators and their dialogue about their personal firsthand experience being a part of this crucial stage in history. While it is a foreign conflict, we are shown it from the United States’ perspective.

I love the music throughout this film, thanks to composer Eugene Levitas. While a lot of scenes were usually serious due to the political dialogue, some scenes added unusually whimsical music to set a certain mood.

The message of this film is really important to understand, especially in the current political climate of the United States. “People just like to demonize the other side. All that is out is the human side, the animosity for each other. And unless (we) are planning on accepting the other side, there is zero hope for a solution.” The challenge of any political conflict is building bridges and crushing barriers, and this conflict is no exception. The Human Factor does contain violence, gore, and scenes that depict warfare.

I give The Human Factor 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it to ages 13 to 18 as well as adults. You can watch The Human Factor in theatres nationwide on May 7, 2021.

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