Arts & Entertainment

Indigo Girls, Henry Winkler, Afghan immigrants in 3 Sundance films

PARK CITY, Utah — The Sundance Film Festival premiered “It’s Only Life After All” about Atlanta-based singer-songwriters Amy Ray and Emily Saliers began performing together in high school before becoming the acclaimed folk-rock duo Indigo Girls.

After playing local clubs for years, Indigo Girls and their distinctive vocal harmonies slipped into mainstream consciousness in the late 1980s and early ’90s with a Grammy win and hit song “Closer to Fine.” Over the years, Ray and Saliers have maintained independent musical careers with resolutely political lyrics and commitment to LGBTQ rights and visibility. Since 1993, they found purpose in partnering with Indigenous activist Winona LaDuke in the fight for environmental justice.

Intimate, fun, and filled with great music, “It’s Only Life After All” allows Ray and Saliers to look back on their musical partnership, personal demons, and careers spanning three decades with self-criticism, humor, and honesty. Weaving Ray’s personal audiotape and camcorder footage with insightful interviews and archival footage, director Alexandria Bombach returns to Sundance (“On Her Shoulders,” 2018 Sundance Film Festival) with a film about truly independent artists that will delight both longtime fans and those ready to discover the Indigo Girls.

The phrase “musical miracle” in this Premier Category film rang true with the sold-out crowd at the Eccles Theater who mouthed every lyric to Galileo and many other beloved songs between the audiences tears of joy and nostalgia, laughing out loud, little applause breaks throughout and big applause at the end.

Regarding a review of “It’s Only Life After All,” its a “yeah.”

A still from Chanshi by Aleeza Chanowitz, Aaron Geva and Mickey Triest, an official selection of the Indie Episodic Program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

“Chanshi,” Indi Episotic Category: 

Like other young women from her observant Jewish community in Brooklyn, Chanshi is on the right track. Engaged to a great guy she barely knows, she will play the part of the good wife and birth at least six of his children. Basically, she’s about to become a walking uterus. Unlike her peers, Chanshi carries with her a fantasy that good religious girls like her shouldn’t: She wants to have a lot of sex — not with her future husband, but with Israeli soldiers. Mind set, she takes off for Israel to surprise her best friend, Noki, who has upcoming nuptials of her own. Once there, Chanshi abandons her inhibitions to become the free, adventurous woman she was born to be. Finally, she’s in control of her own life. Needless to say, her parents do not approve.

In a scene her father, played by a yarmulke wearing Henry Winkler, doesn’t give a thumbs up and “Eyy” his historic TV character the Fonz, gave, instead he gives an implied thumbs down and a concerned yet comical “Noo” to her overuse of his credit card in a phone call while he’s in Brooklyn and she’s in Israel.

“Chanshi” creator Aleeza Chanowitz draws heavily upon her own life experience as the writer and star of this unabashedly audacious, yet nuanced, series, alongside directors Mickey Triest and Aaron Geva. Together, they deliver a bold assertion of female sexual identity. 

TownLift’s Sundance Film Festival vote of Chanshi was a 2/4 stars.

Anaita Wali Zada appears in Fremont by Babak Jalali, an official selection of the NEXT section at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Photo: Laura Valladao // Sundance Institute.

“Fremont,” NEXT Category: 

Beautiful and troubled 20-something Donya, an Afghan translator who used to work with the U.S. government, has trouble sleeping. She lives by herself in Fremont, California, in a building with other Afghan immigrants and often dines alone at a local restaurant watching soap operas. Her routine changes when she’s promoted to writing the fortunes at her job at a fortune cookie factory in the city. As her fortunes are read by strangers throughout the Bay, Donya’s smoldering longing drives her to send a message out to the world, unsure where it will lead.

Shot in black and white, and with warmth and a wry sense of humor, director Babak Jalali has crafted a loving portrait of a young woman haunted by the past but still filled with desire for companionship and connection. Featuring a cast of unforgettable, unique characters, and anchored by a beguiling debut performance from real-life Afghan refugee Anaita Wali Zada, “Fremont” is an ode to the curious beauty of trying to build a new life in a strange land.

TownLift’s Sundance Film Festival vote of Fremont was a 4/4 stars.

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