At this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival, SFFS Education fostered a new partnership with Students of the World (SOW) and their Media Ambassador program, where two UC Berkeley film students, Hunter Hulett and Reaa Puri were chosen to observe, document and share their unique perspectives of the festival. Over the course of the festival, they attended screenings, engaged with filmmaker guests, participated in salons, photographed events, published about their experiences across social media, and reviewed the festival films. After this prolific experience with Hunter and Reaa, we so look forward to partnering with future SOW Media Ambassadors and aspiring student filmmakers at SFIFF!
Read their fantastic capsule reviews below - two of these films will soon be returning to SF screens! Bad Hair will show at Frameline38 this Saturday and Hellion will open at Roxie Theater July 4.
Mariana Rondón explores the complicated relationship between a mother and her son in Pelo Malo, a relationship which mirrors the political tension in Venezuela during Hugo Chavez’s reign. Centered on a preteen named Junior, the film addresses Junior’s sexual awakening and how his increasingly flamboyant obsession with his hair provokes his single mother into a homophobic panic. The films powerful final lines “I don’t love you” and “neither do I,” imply significance beyond the mother-son relationship and, in a way, mirror the relationship between the Venezuelan people and their government. Just as Junior’s obsession is met with a harsh hand, Venezuelans’ needs are shelved amongst problems of poverty and political repression. Interpreted symbolically, Rondón’s film Pelo Malo speaks about more than sexual awakening and political repression, illustrating the anger and frustration that occur when individual freedom is suppressed.
Happiness by Thomas Balmès
The infiltration of modern technologies and the subsequent threat to traditional cultures has been a long-explored topic in documentary filmmaking. In his Sundance award-winning film, Happiness, Thomas Balmès addresses the tension between assimilation and isolation in the remote village of Laya, Bhutan. Tucked in the Himalayas, Laya was one of the last communities to gain electricity in the 1990s. Through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy named Peyangki, Balmès creatively captures the naive view of the villagers and their unsatisfied yearning for technological advancement. By the end of the film, we see families in Laya gather around television sets, the florescent light illuminating their expressionless faces. In this beautifully filmed documentary, Thomas Balmès warns against the technological takeover of social communication, emphasizing the importance of cultural heritage and national identity.
Difret by Zeresenay Mehari
Difret is a gripping story of 14-year-old Hirut who gets abducted on her way home from school by a group of men from her village. After she is raped and married without her consent, Hirut attempts to escape by shooting and killing her abductor. This form of abduction is actually a cultural practice in Ethiopia, so the local villagers demand that Hirut be punished and killed. A young female lawyer, Meaza, emerges to fight for Hirut’s right to a fair trial. Based on a true story, Difret portrays the disheartening struggle of women in this community, and all that they go through in the quest for equality. Director Zeresenay Mehari brings an extra touch of authenticity by choosing to film on 35mm film, portraying Ethiopia with earthy color schemes of blues and creams.
Hellion is a touching film about family, forgiveness, and change. The plot revolves around a 13-year-old hellraiser named Jacob, his younger brother Wes, and their father Hollis, who struggles with the loss of his wife. While Hollis has a difficult time emotionally supporting his sons, Jacob assumes a fatherly role towards Wes and takes him along on his rebellious nightly adventures. Child Protective Services soon intervenes and sends Wes to live with his Aunt, which worsens the situation for Hollis and Jacob. With its simplistic style of filming yet complex characters, Hellion digs up the love, frustration, and pain often intertwined in family relationships.
Return to Homs by Talal Derki
Return to Homs is unapologetic in its portrayal of the Syrian Uprising, depicting the bleak conditions in which the citizens of Syria continue to fight for change. The documentary follows 19-year-old Basset as he transforms from goalkeeper for the Syrian national football team to one of the young leaders in the uprising. Director Talal Derki pulls the viewers of the film into the midst of the revolution to witness the conflict through the eyes of the revolutionaries. The lens bares all; the violence and devastation, the tension amongst Syrian youth, and the excruciating conditions under which the revolutionaries hold onto hope. Return to Homs is an awakening to the harsh realities of Syria and the greater Middle East.
Students of the World (SOW) is a 501c3 nonprofit that works with a national network of university students and creative professionals to produce media that inspires positive social action. We believe in the creative capacity of our generation, the transformative power of storytelling, and the value of highlighting positive change.