About: The offspring of the same sperm donor form an alternative family when they discover each other’s existence.
The subjects of director Michael Rothman’s affectionate film were all conceived via sperm donated by the same individual, the anonymous and prolific donor 5114, at a cryobank in California. Using easily accessible DNA information and the connectivity of social media, these half-siblings found one another – and keep finding more – and start to develop an unusual bond. Over the course of eight years, Rothman profiles the photogenic kids and their moms, and follows them as they organize meet-ups, discover similarities and differences, and consider their unusual connection through donor 5114. As time passes, the first of the half-siblings turns 18, and thus is legally able to attempt contact with the donor through the sperm bank, leading to further contemplation about nature vs nurture. As a whole, the film is strengthened by its longitudinal approach, moving from a simply curious story to something more measured and thoughtful.
About: Best friends with Down syndrome rally their entire town to help them make a film.
Sam Suchmann and Mattie Zufelt met at the Special Olympics and became best friends. They long dreamt of making their own movie – an over the top, bloody horror film called Spring Break Zombie Massacre – and solicited the help of Sam’s brother Jesse, who brought in his friend Bobby. Together, they sought funding on Kickstarter, and, eventually, drew in basically their entire community, with Sam and Mattie making all of the creative decisions. While producing that film, Jesse and Bobby also chronicled the process, resulting in this sweet but messy making of doc, which also includes the full 45 min SPRING BREAK ZOMBIE MASSACRE. Sam and Mattie are charismatic and funny, making it easy to understand how their mission went viral, got them booked on CONAN, and found celebrity supporters like Peter Farrelly. That said, the doc, like Sam and Mattie’s own film, struggles in its pacing and length, underlining that the filmmakers were so close to the material that they failed to kill some of their darlings. Still, as a whole, the project is appealing and successfully captures the joy that the young filmmakers felt in realizing their project, as well as the goodwill of all of those who showed up to work with them.
Select Festivals: Athena, BFI Flare, Oxford, Kansas City
About: A profile of a pioneering Black transwoman.
Growing up Black and gender nonconforming on the South Side of Chicago in the 1950s, Gloria Allen suffered dearly in her early years, facing brutal violence and rape in high school. Despite this, she found support and acceptance from her mother and grandmother, as well as from the vibrant community of the city’s drag ball culture, and professional fulfillment as a nurse. In more recent years, recognizing her relative good fortune and the serious challenges faced by her trans sisters, Allen began offering charm school classes for young homeless trans women, passing on the lessons she learned from her mother and grandmother to instill self-confidence and pride. As an older trans woman of color, Allen is a notably worthwhile subject for a portrait, but one wishes the film were stronger as a whole. Feeling at times like a filmed oral history, Luchina Fisher’s doc lacks polish and visual interest, and is buoyed primarily by Allen’s positivity and charm.
About: A look at stand-up comedy from the perspective of female comedians.
Stand up comedy has long been a boy’s club. Women in the field have been dismissed as just not being funny, frequently are pitted against each other, and subjected to sexual harassment or worse. This and more is covered in filmmaker Andrea Nevins’ survey, which gathers the perspectives of 15 or so female comedians, ranging from vets like Margaret Cho and Judy Gold to more relative newcomers like Kelly Bachman. Separated into loose chapters – unfortunately complete with that over-used convention, the definition entry heading – the film explores the real obstacles that have been in the way of woman in comedy, but ultimately embraces an affirming tone that celebrates its subjects achievements. The comics featured are funny, candid, and vulnerable, making the project worth the watch, but the film suffers from the basic problem of surveys: in attempting to profile so many subjects, and cover so many topics, it can only scratch the surface before moving on to the next funny lady or the next serious point.