Friday, April 14, 2023

Joyland: A Cinematic Rejoice from Pakistan

By José Alberto Hermosillo

Joyland” is an intimate allegory of love, despair, and melancholia. A triumph in Pakistani Cinema.

“Joyland” moves consciences on so many levels as a painful coming-of-age story and a mirror of society that denies the fundamental rights of inclusion, freedom of speech, and equal opportunities for all, including those who may think outside the box. In life, we tend to generalize and level anyone, when instead, we must analyze and assess every subject individually as an essential part of the community.

The film centers on Haider Rana (Ali Junejo) and his conservative family. He lives with his wife Mumtaz (Rasti Farooq), his father, his mother, and his elder brother’s family in Lahore, Pakistan. 

Haider is an unemployed and hard-working timid guy who gets a job as a backup dancer in a Bollywood-style burlesque. Soon, the helpful and naïve man becomes infatuated with Biba (Alina Khan), a glittered trans woman who runs a show in a nearby theater. As things get complicated, Haider must emerge unharmed from his double life.

Biba tells Haider 
an innocent but meaningful joke – “The chicken and the mosquito shared a kiss. Then, the mosquito died of bird flu... the chicken died of dengue.” Then, she explains herself: “Because falling in love means death.” The joke is related to those two main and opposite characters, the religious married man and the openly gay transgender person seeking freedom in a conservative society with orthodox laws.

“Joyland” is an accomplished and flashy production that centers on three central and unique characters: Haider, Mumtaz, and Biba.
For Haider, his family is as important as the show’s success. He takes Biba’s safety personally and his family’s well-being equally, but in real-time, it is not easy to balance everything out.

Mumtaz is emotionally unstable. She wants to be pregnant but questions her husband’s job due to his notorious absences.

Biba’s multidimensional character is not sugar-coated nor pretends to be cute. She is an energetic, confident, and trustworthy trans woman who wants to get out and emigrate to Germany. Her honesty makes her reject those who care for her, including Haider. Alina Khan’s performance is as good as Daniela Vega’s in the Award-winning Chilean film “A Fantastic Woman.”

What is more striking about this moving production is that for all the extraordinary actors who participated in the film, it was their first experience acting in movies.

 Saim Sadiq, "Joyland." Photo by José Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © FestivalinLA
First-time writer-director Saim Sadiq said that “Joyland” is a very personal work because he comes from a diverse, middle-class family who is also looking to climb up the social ladder, as the characters in his movie. But he also had to acknowledge that people in Pakistan live in a patriarchal society that sets boundaries for progress, love, and desires.
Director Saim Sadiq wrote an honest and objective script, keeping the “trans” theme and social conflict consistent, creating a solid dramatic arch and an open ending.
Politically speaking, Saim knows all about the power of the extreme right-wing in his country and how his work will upset manySaim said that after showing his controversial film in Pakistan, he was not expecting everybody to come out of the movie theater and hug him. But his film allows people to enjoy, assimilate, and keep thinking about.

The highly acclimated Pakistani work transcends with winds of freedom and acceptance.

Joyland” is the winner of the Jury Award of Un Certain Regard at Cannes 2022It won Best International Film at the Independent Spirit Awards 2023 and Best Artistic Contribution at the Cairo International Film Festival in Egypt. The acclaimed film won Best Ensemble in Bangkok and the Audience Award at the Valladolid International Film Festival in Spain.

“Joyland” was the Pakistani entry for Best International Feature Film for the 95th Academy Awards and was one of the fifteen shortlisted films. 

The unexpected twists and turns of “Joyland” take us to places we have not been before. The movie’s rich urban scenarios, colors, and textures, combined with powerful storytelling, enhance the cinematic experience and immerse the viewer deeply in the story. 

More importantly, the representation of the vibrant Pakistani youth who work hard and want to naturally explore outside their family’s nucleus to new horizons without social restraint. 

In “Joyland,” every character desperately wants to feel accepted, loved, and respected as audiences witness the struggle, beauty, and diversity of Pakistani society and every community around the globe.


Violette: When Women Dare to Write  


Festival in LA ©2023

Thursday, April 13, 2023

War Sailor: A Reflection on Norway’s Entanglement in WWII

By José Alberto Hermosillo  

War Sailor” is a revealing, totally gripping, and insightful depiction of the forgotten Norwegian sailors who endured the atrocities of World War II.


Until now, War Sailor,” known as “Krigsseileren,” has been the most expensive production ever made in Norway. The film attempts to set history right by presenting the struggle of the sailors considered by many heroes. Still, people in charge see them as a public burden, criminals and deserters who deserve to be forgotten and dismissed without benefits of the law for their service.

“War Sailor” lobby at a Beverly Hills screening. Photo by José Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA

During WWII, more than 30,000 Norwegian and 10,000 American sailors participated in the Scandinavian peninsula and the North Sea War. 

War Sailor” courageously unwraps straightforward the participation of those sailors who fought in those epic battles and the devastating repercussions for them and their families back home.

The film connects the sailors’ past pains with their present, showing how those traumatic experiences were passed on through generations.

The story focuses on Alfred, played by Kristoffer Joner (The Wave,” “The Revenant”), a working-class Bergen sailor head of a family. He is close to his childhood friend Sigbjørn (Pål Sverre Hagen, “Kon Tiki”), and they worked on a merchant ship for years.


When WWII started, they saw themselves fighting on the front line with civilian clothes, no weapons, and a starving crew when their merchant ship was targeted by German submarines. Their journey continues from being rescued to trying to go on with their lives separately, and how their families suffer from their absence and subsequent PTSD.

Marie Wilmann, "War Sailor." Photo by José Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA

Actor Marie Wilmann, who plays Cecilia, Alfred’s wife, took her work in the movie personally. Her parents and grandparents lived during the war years, and she felt how they coped with those losses. The ramifications of the war affected women like her mother and grandmother.


Researching for the epic film was a colossal process. Norwegian writer/director Gunnar Vikene (Here is Harold”) based his original screenplay on factual events, interviews, and numerous field trips to museums and Norway’s National Archives. Then, he diverted his investigation to the sailors’ emotional, physical, and financial struggles.


To make this movie, the director’s most significant influence was the contemporary, Oscar Award-winning short documentary “The White Helmets.” A spellbinding real-life chronology of the UN first responders saving lives in Syria. Norwegians did not know much about the importance of that war, but the newly arrived Syrian immigrants helped to educate locals about their disturbing experiences in their troubled country.


“War Sailor” vividly illustrates how war affects everyone in the community. Director of Photography Sturla Brandth Grøvlen (“Victoria,” “Another Round,” “Rams”) moved with the camera intuitively. His exceptional close-ups of the eyes of the actors are as beautiful as his landscapes and ocean views.

At the Oslo premiere, some attendees opposing the truth conflicted with the story. The filmmakers talked extensively with war veterans about how the war affected them and their families. Ironically, when they got a medal, they also got a bill to pay for making the medal. In addition, the people of Norway had to pay extra taxes for food and supplies. War sailors returned to their country with bills to pay, alcoholism, and addiction to medication and other drugs. Norwegian veterans never got the proper recognition or compensation for their service. Many sailors were from different countries, including Americans.

Pål Sverre Hegen & Marie Wilmann, "War Sailor." Photo by José Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA

According to the actors, producing the film during the pandemic was even more difficult and expensive, as part of the cast and crew got sick with Covid-19. War Sailor” is the most prominent Norwegian production shot in Malta, Germany, and Norway.


War Sailor” is Norway’s Best International Feature Film entry for the 95th Academy Awards. Now, it is streaming on Netflix as a three-episode miniseries. 


Pål Sverre Hegen & Marie Wilmann, "War Sailor." Critc José Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA

WAR SAILOR trailer

Violette, When Women Dare to Write  


Festival in LA ©2023

Monday, April 3, 2023

Spinning Gold: The Man Behind Donna Summer, Village People, and KISS Greatest Hits

By José Alberto Hermosillo

Relevant and freshly made, “Spinning Gold” is the untold story of visionary record producer Neil Bogart, the man behind the 1970s America’s greatest hits “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Love to Love You, Baby,” “Hot Stuff,” “Last Dance,” “On the Radio,” “Midnight Train to Georgia,” “Lean on Me,” “YMCA,” and “Beth.”


Neil Bogart was known as “the star maker,” who discovered and promoted the most iconic singers to stardom – Donna Summer, Gladys Knight, Bill Withers, The Isley Brothers, Village People, and KISS.

KISS in “Spinning Gold.” Photo courtesy of Movie Platform.

The life of the visionary record producer arrives on the big screen as an insightful and nostalgic biopic, where the audience can see not only Neil’s personal life and the relationship he had with the soon-to-be stars and plenty of more dirt on the record industry. He was a hustler, a gambler, and addicted to heavy drugs. To pay for the engagement ring, Neil worked in a soft-porn movie. It is just an example of how far he went. Without being judgmental, it was when people enjoyed life to the fullest with plenty of sex and drugs, right before the AIDS pandemic, the war on drugs, and corporate greed.


Neil had to deal with betrayals, payola infringements, and lawsuits to make Casablanca Records the most successful independent recording company in America’s history. The competition with other studios was fierce, mostly with Universal, Warner Bros., Motown, and Arista. 

Timothy Scott Bogart, “Spinning Gold.” Photo by Jose Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA 

According to director/producer Timothy Scott Bogart, everything the movie recounts, including Neil’s problems with the Jewish, Italian, and black mobs, was real. 

Timothy did not follow specific moments of his father’s life, but he focused on the music chronology. Every song Neil Bogart produced at Casablanca Records has a driven narrative because the rhythms from 1974-1977 build the crescendo of the drama avoiding the episodic narrative.

In “Spinning Gold,” Timothy Scott Bogart accurately captures Neil’s essence and positivity, pushing the narrative forward as his father did in every aspect of his life, including the production of every song and the challenges he had to deal with, including going to Berlin to get Donna Summer.


Timothy Scott Bogart wrote the lines with musicality, freely. He let the script become something else. The story is told through costumes, makeup, set design, and mainly with music. He wanted to make a “musical movie,” not “a movie with music” in it. Timothy’s revelation was to learn how scared his father was at every step of his professional and personal life.


Visually, Timothy wanted to make an homage to the period with neon, electric, and highly colorized images, costumes, and sets. The extras in the film were professional dancers who were easy to keep in frame.

Tayla Parx as Donna Summer in “Spinning Gold.” Photo courtesy of Movie Platform.

In 1999, he pitched the project to Paramount, and even Justin Timberlake was attached to play Neil Bogart at one point. 

The film’s casting can be questionable because fans remember their idols at the peak of their careers after those diamonds were polished. Actress/singer Tayka Paxs has the confidence, innocence, and powerful voice to play Donna Summer, not someone that looks like Donna Summer. The case of George Clinton is similar because rapper Wiz Khalifa is playing the legendary singer and the original performer. Other actors were comedians who were able to have the job done. 

The director states that in his movie, he did not want to have someone impersonate somebody else but to do real acting. Following his father’s footsteps, Timothy is always fascinated by discovering new artists. 

Jeremy Jordan as Neil Bogard, “Spinning Gold.” Photo courtesy of Movie Platform.

Two months before production, he went to Broadway and found Jeremy Jordan, who could hold the audience in the theater with his charisma and musicality. In “Spinning Gold,” Jeremy Jordan puts on a good show incarnating the independent record producer Neil Bogart with confidence.

The sound quality of “Spinning Gold” is pristine, and the soundtrack is complex. The original songs were not remastered but re-recorded with new voices. They spent enormous time designing the film’s sound and bringing up different tracks.

To acquire the rights and have access to such essential songs, in 2009, Timothy Scott Bogart pitched the film to the record companies as an independent production and be able to get lower quotes for using the entire song catalog without worrying about the “needle drop” of the 20 seconds song rights. It was not the case with “Spinning Gold.”


Donna Summer - Last Dance (Academy Awards,1978)

Suppose they already have secured the rights to those everlasting hits. Why not recreate some of the most iconic moments that go with them, or at least mention those specific events, such as Donna Summer performing the Awards-winning song “Last Dance” at the Oscars, the jewel of the crown of the golden era of disco music?

Long before the terms of inclusion and diversity were significant, the independent record-level Casablanca had Afro-Americans, Jewish and white people working together to achieve their fundamental goal, to bring the best artist, composers, and theme songs to the masses.

In “Spinning Gold,” the flashy musical montages add style to the film but must be sufficient to counteract the elongated family melodrama. The audience is hungry for music, awards, and memorabilia in showbiz. In other words, less cocaine and more immersive creativity from the visionary artist and record producer who transcended his time to our days for his contributions to the music industry.

Timothy Scott Bogart and film critic Jose Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA

Related Articles: 
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, The British Cleaning Lady to the Dior House


Festival in LA ©2023