Sundance 2021: All Light, Everywhere, Users, Rebel Hearts, Bring Your Own Brigade | Festivals & Awards

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The documentary has a great flow, and Almada’s curiosity often becomes our own. We’re never sure what type of shot is coming next—it could be a more stagnant cut to a swimmer in a tank, wading through water by not making progress, or it could be a shot that sprints alongside a train. All images are given a tender length so that we stop looking at it so literally and allow light and texture to blur into something else. Suddenly a wide overheard shot of crashing waves starts to look like a wall with collapsing paint, or the shot of crushed microchips looks like a waterfall.

It’s more that the feeling can be fleeting—days since seeing the film, few images have stuck with me as much as the aforementioned movies. Maybe that’s in part because “Users” is not entirely full of images related to technology and understanding technology that I had never seen before. But there is plenty of poetry within “Users,” and for viewers hungry for this filmmaking, for this inhale-exhale approach to the world in which we are just a dot, it’s recommended. 

Pedro Kos’ US Documentary Competition title “Rebel Hearts” recounts an incredible feminist saga about the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart in California in the 1960s, a group of nuns who pushed back against the misogyny, patriarchy, and bad management of the men like Cardinal McIntyre who tried to control them. In a larger sense, the story captures how progressive thinking is a liberating mindset, while using an exciting idea that even those with a religious background can certainly align with more progressive social issues. Cardinal McIntyre wanted them to teach all of the diocese’s schools (despite their lack of experience, and the massive class size), control what they wore, and squash their own sense of freedom. They did not stand for it, and even by today standards what they achieved feels radical. 

Their activism became a media phenomenon, especially with focus on Corita Kent, a nun and pop artist who used her faith to create forceful, inspiring text-based art. As one of the film’s talking head interview subjects puts it, “These were highly educated women who were tasting freedom, and they liked the taste.” “Rebel Hearts” tackles this legacy, with many of its interviews coming from previously shot footage by Shawnee Isaac-Smith. 

Director Kos almost seems to take on “Rebel Hearts” as a documentary filmmaking challenge—how do you make a recollection about this story visually exciting? He goes for overt song choices (including modern pop dance tunes) and flashy animation that looks like construction paper, giving flashbacks a storybook look. It’s a valiant effort to make the story seem present, but whenever “Rebel Hearts” gets stuck on recounting the events of the story, it still feels a bit flat. The story of the women at the Immaculate Heart College will always be inspirational; it’s more that “Rebel Hearts” struggles to take on a life of its own. 

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