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Culture » Film Reviews

Tumbleweeds at Home

Utah Film Center offers a youth-friendly remote film festival.

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Every year, the Utah Film Center presents the Tumbleweeds Film Festival, a showcase of films from around the world appropriate for a range of ages. That experience now comes directly to you in your home, as so much content must during this time. Tumbleweeds Film Festival On Demand offers a curated lineup of (currently) five titles through May 7, for a $6.99 3-day rental, via utahfilmcenter.org/tumbleweeds/ondemand/. Here's a preview of four of those films for your consideration.

UTAH FILM CENTER
  • Utah Film Center

Dragon Girls: The title of Inigo Westmeier's 2012 documentary is at least slightly misleading; while the primary subjects are indeed all girls, it's not entirely clear that they needed to be. The focus is on Shaolin Tagou School for Kung Fu in China, where more than 35,000 full-time students and faculty gather for the study of the martial arts. But as much as the film shows the details of what students do, it's really about why they're there—specifically, economic factors that force rural parents to work in the cities, separated from their children at a young age, requiring them to send those children somewhere. That experience isn't unique to female students, though it is probably at least a little more interesting watching young girls compare scars like they're re-creating a scene from Jaws. There's a more powerful juxtaposition between what goes on at the school and the philosophy taught at the nearby Shaolin Temple, the historical home of kung fu: Where martial arts should be a spiritual practice, the school's students are mostly learning cultural norms under threat of harsh discipline, so that a 9-year-old student is already convinced "tears are an example of weakness."

UTAH FILM CENTER
  • Utah Film Center

Pim & Pom: The Big Adventure: Early grade-schoolers might be charmed by this simply-animated, simply-told tale, though it's not radically different from what they might find on kiddie cable networks. Adapting children's books by Dutch writer Mies Bouhuys, director Gioia Smid follows housecats Pim (Georgina Verbaan) and Pom (Cari Leslie) as they try to find their way back to their owner (also Georgina Verbaan) after an attempted catnapping by the owner's two mischievous nieces. What follows is a little bit Toy Story, a little bit The Aristocats and a little bit of energy added by several songs. Not much about it is truly memorable, however; the two cats' personalities are often barely distinguishable from one another. Everything is gentle, easy-going and not particularly concerned with grand lessons beyond "be a good friend." Calling it a Big Adventure proves to be a bit of a stretch.

UTAH FILM CENTER
  • Utah Film Center

Supa Modo: It's a messy mix of heartstring-pulling melodrama and fanciful wish-fulfillment, built around the magic of mythical stories to give us hope. In a small Kenyan village, 10-year-old Jo Makau (Stycie Waweru) has been brought home from the hospital by her mother (Marianne Nungo), unaware that she's been given a two-month terminal diagnosis. But others in the town—including Jo's teenage sister Mwix (Nyawara Ndambia)—are determined to give her a feeling of power, manufacturing situations that put Jo in the role of her beloved kung fu stars and superheroes. Director/co-writer Likarion Wainaina's story bounces between suggesting that Jo actually does have some powers and the notion that even she realizes this is all fake, which is only one place where the narrative feels bumpy and too densely packed. But the sisterly relationship is effectively crafted, and the emotion in the finale is honestly earned—even if, like the movie-within-the-movie at that finale, it's more an act of heart than skillful craft.

UTAH FILM CENTER
  • Utah Film Center

The Detectives (Detektiverne): A lively action adventure for older teens (it's loaded with F-bombs), Esben Tønnesen's 2013 Swedish film follows three middle-schoolers—Matilde (Matilde Wedell-Wedellsborg), Tobias (Frederik Winther Rasmussen) and Gustav (Marcuz Jess Petersen)—as they form a detective agency dedicated to helping the helpless. The charming hook is that it's really only activist-minded Matilde who has any grand world-changing notions; Tobias and Gustav both have crushes on her, and see this as excuse to hang out with her, even if their investigation puts them in the crosshairs of an actual gangster. Much of the fun comes from the efforts of the two boys—particularly portly Gustav, who flails at showing off his white-belt taekwondo skills—to impress Matilde, and Tønnesen conveys the low-key romantic triangle with welcome subtlety. The actual action beats are fine, even if the film plays the crime subplot a bit too straight for a movie that's best when capturing the earnestness of kids who overhear a plot to torch a Pakistani-owned restaurant, leading Matilde to exclaim of the murderous criminal, "He's racist!"