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LAFF Review Round Up: ‘I Am Thalente,’ ‘No Mas Bebes,’ ‘Bastards y Diablos,’ And ‘In A Perfect World’

LAFF Review Round Up: 'I Am Thalente,' 'No Mas Bebes,' 'Bastards y Diablos,' And 'In A Perfect World'

I Am Thalente,” the LA Film Fest documentary Audience Award co-winner, tells the inspiring story of aspiring skater Thalente Biyela. Growing up as one of Durban, South Africa’s numerous street kids (he was on the streets by 11 due to a bad home environment), Thalente found solace and motivation in the skate park. Discovered by Tony Hawk and other pro skaters, Thalente’s sweet nature and prodigious talent inspired those around him to try and help lift him up out of his situation. Natalie Johns’ film follows Thalente’s journey as he tries to make it as a pro skater in America, mentored by big time skaters such as Hawk, Kenny Anderson, and others. Johns is more than just a documentarian, but a friend and support system for Thalente, moving him into her home, getting him a tutor, and connecting him with people who can teach him the ropes of the industry, and that is reflected in the film. It’s a tall order for a kid who spent half of his life on the street, but with all the the support he is given, the only person who can lift Thalente up is himself. As he perseveres through the challenges he faces in moving to America and defining himself as a pro skater, he demonstrates deep reserves of willpower and personal strength, but as the film shows, it’s his sunny optimistic nature and pure goodness that pulls him through the hard times. It’s a unique tale that shows just how far positivity and confidence can take someone. [A-]

READ MORE: L.A. Film Fest Exclusive: Clip From Skateboarding Documentary ‘I Am Thalente’

The fight for reproductive justice is a fight for humanity, a fight to define personal worth through the ability to have autonomy over one’s body. Documentary “No Mas Bebes,” directed by Renee Tajima-Peña, is a beautiful depiction of this, and a definitive reinserting of the voices and experiences of women of color into this ongoing struggle. The film tells the shocking story of Latina women who were sterilized without informed consent at the LA USC Medical Center in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Often women were forced to sign papers consenting to tubal ligation while they were in active labor, and given forms in English that they could not read. Many of these women were having complications with their labor, and were told they would die if they didn’t sign. The film interviews ten Latina women who sued the hospital for denying their human rights, as well as the whistleblowing doctor who brought attention to the issue, and their lawyer, a young Latina herself, who took on the system to assert these women’s rights. This incredibly moving story details how this lawsuit brought about regulatory change and exposes this all-too-recent horrific and biased practice. These women, sterilized against their consent in their early 20s and 30s demonstrate incredible strength of character in fighting for the right of all women to choose how and when they want to have children. [A-]

Writer/star Andrew Perez tapped into his own life experience for “Bastards y Diablos,” the story of two estranged half brothers who reunite on the event of their Colombian father’s death. Left with a series of mysterious photographs leading them to their inheritance, the brothers, Ed (Perez) and Dion (Dillon Porter), travel around Colombia, connecting with family and discovering the people, places and things that held a personal significance for their father, a man neither of them knew well. The film, directed by A.D. Freese, is made with a documentary aesthetic and numerous non-professional actors (including members of Perez’s family), and actors Perez and Porter eagerly plunge into this world. Gorgeously shot, the film showcases the sumptuous spirit and beauty of Colombia, in which Ed and Dion find themselves swept away. Many creative visual techniques are employed to evoke their subjective experiences, particularly Ed’s, the quieter of the two brothers, who is the emotional center of the film. Dion, a charming, devil-may-care wild card, lets the adventure get the best of him in some ways, but when the brothers find their inheritance at the end of the journey, they discover that what they were looking for was right in front of them all along. [B+]

READ MORE: LAFF Review: ‘It’s Already Tomorrow In Hong Kong’ Is A Light But Immersive Experience 

Director Daphne McWilliams, a veteran producer, turns the camera on her own family in the deeply personal documentary “In A Perfect World.” When her relationship with Adrian, the father of her son Chase, ends, her home videos become even more poignant. In order to understand the experience of her teenage son, McWilliams interviews other men who were raised by single moms, asking them to delve deeply into the relationships they had with both their mothers and fathers (including music producer Damon Dash). This leads to the emotionally raw process of interviewing both her son and her ex as part of the film. There are times that McWilliams reveals herself to be a bit of an overbearing mom, leading to Chase’s teenage exasperation with the project, which is a natural byproduct of the process. When McWilliams asks him to react to footage of her interview subjects speaking about their mothers, it feels a bit as though she’s trying too hard to engineer a specific type of reaction from him. “In a Perfect World” is a challenging and incredibly intimate work charged with deep emotion. [B]

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