Indie and Art Film Highlights in July

The Over-the-Rhine Film Festival returns this month, along with adult-only outdoor screenings, provocative new releases, and a cluster of super-hip rock docs.
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July brings new “specialty” films to this region’s theaters and performance spaces, led by the annual OTR Film Festival. [See my recommendations for June here. Some of those films might still be showing in area theaters.]

2023 Over-the-Rhine International Film Festival

[Schedule and tickets are here.]

Billing itself as “the nation’s premier diversity film festival led by the disability community,” OTRFF runs July 6-8 in various neighborhood locales. The fest is organized by LADD Inc. (Living Arrangements for the Developmentally Disabled) and will feature 27 ticketed film presentations, of which 16 are single feature movies and the rest two or more titles as part of a package. There are also several ticketed special events, some quite high-profile.

The ASD Band

The opening night event (6 p.m. July 6 at Music Hall Ballroom) is both a film presentation and a gala with special guests. Tickets start at $150, which brings a screening of the Canadian documentary Okay! (The ASD Band Film), about a rock band whose four autistic members combine their interests and talents to become “one kick-ass garage band.” [Watch the trailer.] The film has been earning a warm reception as it screens at doc fests and other events. Band members will be present to play live, and special guests will include actors Kevin Annucci and Madison Tevlin from the recent sports/comedy film Champions.

The OTR festival has partnered with Film Cincinnati to host an appearance by the father-son duo of Martin Sheen and Emilio Estévez, who will discuss their careers in the film business and their Ohio connections. (Sheen was born in Dayton; Estévez came to Cincinnati in 2018 to film and star in The Public, a drama about desperate unhoused people sheltering at the downtown library during a cold wave). The talk is at 7 p.m. July 7 at Memorial Hall.

“1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted Culture”

Among the festival movies, one slated for 5 p.m. July 7 at the Woodward Theater is a documentary that’s been getting major buzz on the film-festival circuit: 1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted Culture. This sold out a recent screening at Dayton’s Neon Cinema, which posted this description of it on its website: “(It) is a feature documentary that follows the story of tireless researchers who trace the origins of the anti-gay movement among Christians to a grave mistranslation of the Bible in 1946. It chronicles the discovery of never-before-seen archives at Yale University which unveil astonishing new revelations, and casts significant doubt on any biblical basis for LGBTQIA+ prejudice. Featuring commentary from prominent scholars as well as opposing pastors, including the personal stories of the film’s creators, 1946 is at once challenging, enlightening, and inspiring.”

Past Lives

[Watch the trailer. Running now at Mariemont Theatre, Mariemont.]

I highlighted this film as a top prospect for June, but Past Lives didn’t get around to opening in Cincinnati until the last weekend of June—so it’s basically a July release. It also will be showing at numerous multiplexes in the area.

Past Lives has been receiving the best reviews of any movie this year and is drawing large audiences, according to Indiewire.com. Directed and written by Korean-Canadian playwright Celine Song, it concerns how Nora (played by Greta Lee), a Korean-Canadian playwright living in New York City, reconnects with a childhood sweetheart from Seoul, Hae Sung (Teo Yoo). Nora knew him before her marriage to American writer Arthur (John Magaro).

“It sounds like a standard love-triangle setup,” wrote Jessica Kiang for The New York Times. “In fact, it is anything but, unfurling into a gorgeous, glowing, aching thing that connects with viewers from every conceivable background, so universal are its highly specific observations on love and friendship.”

“Every Body”

Every Body

[Watch the trailer. Running now at the Esquire Theatre and AMC Newport on the Levee.]

Julie Cohen’s documentary is about the lives of intersex people—the “I” in the acronym LGBTQIA. It spotlights three who have rejected the shame of bearing this secret since childhood, as well as the medical advice and procedures they received later, to live openly and proudly as their authentic selves. The movie also seeks to inform others about the growing movement to broaden understanding of the intersex community and try to protect its members against what the film calls “medical abuse.”

It Ain’t Over

[Watch the trailer. Running now at Mariemont Theatre.]

This delightfully touching documentary about one of baseball’s most memorable figures, Yogi Berra, who died in 2015 at age 90, has been held over for another week (at least). He’s best remembered today for his vivid Yogi-isms, sayings that don’t seem to make sense at first but then emerge as offbeat pearls of folk wisdom. The film’s title comes from one of them: “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” But the film by director Sean Mullin (Kings of Beer) has higher ambitions than remembering Berra as a colorful character. It sees the star New York Yankees catcher and longtime manager as one of the most valuable and powerful players ever. And it makes a very convincing case, with much archival footage, including interviews with Berra.

“The Lesson”

The Lesson

[Watch the trailer. Opens July 6 at Mariemont Theatre and AMC Newport.]

With an excellent cast and a scary-sounding plot, British director Alice Troughton’s first feature could well appeal to those who favor thrillers with a literary bent. A young writer (Daryl McCormack) accepts a tutoring position at the estate of an older writer (played by the wonderful Richard E. Grant) whom he admires. Once there, though, he finds himself trapped amid tensions among that writer, his wife (the equally wonderful Julie Delpy), and their son (Steven McMillan).

“Oppenheimer”

Oppenheimer

[Watch the trailer. Opens wide on July 21.]

Barbie

[Watch the trailer. Opens wide on July 21.]

Distribution-wise, Christopher Nolan’s and Greta Gerwig’s newest movies are anything but art/specialty films. They’re big-budget summer entertainments by hugely successful directors. (Nolan’s films include The Dark Knight and Dunkirk; Gerwig, also an accomplished actor, has directed Lady Bird and Little Women to acclaim.) They’re also exceedingly thoughtful directors very capable of infusing a major Hollywood movie with the kind of political and sociological underpinning that’s a trademark of specialty/art films. Thus, a good place to see them will be at the Esquire, which is scheduled to play both.

Nolan’s three-hour, IMAX-shot thriller is based on the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer (played by Cillian Murphy), who championed development of the atomic bomb during World War II but then turned against the use of such doomsday weapons by countries (such as the U.S.) acting unilaterally to seek superiority over rivals. As a result, he lost his security clearance and we all became prisoners of the Cold War.

Barbie is a live-action fantasy/comedy based on the Barbie doll, which occupies as important a place in American culture as, well, movies. It features Margot Robbie as Barbie and Ryan Gosling as her boyfriend doll, Ken. It’s quite possible that this movie, which is rated PG-13, will be looking at the role that Barbie culture has played in the evolution and liberation of American women since the doll’s creation in 1959. If so, this could win a following among both aesthetes and Barbie-loving children.

Music Documentaries

It seems we’re in a golden age for new theatrical documentaries about critically praised but commercially underappreciated popular music (including rock and jazz) figures. This movement has been building since 2012’s Searching for Sugar Man, about the long-forgotten Detroit singer-songwriter Rodriguez, won the Oscar for Best Documentary. They increasingly show up faster than I can keep track of them, although I try to see them all. Here, in order of their screening dates, are those so far scheduled for July:

The Elephant 6 Recording Company (7:30 p.m. July 20 at Esquire Theatre) is about a colorful rock collective whose affiliated bands include Apples in Stereo, Olivia Tremor Control, Dressy Bessy, Gerbils, Minders, and Neutral Milk Hotel. (I lived in Denver when some of these bands were active there, and I can vouch that they were excellent.)

Max Roach: The Drum Also Waltzes (6 p.m. July 21 at Speed Art Museum Cinema in Louisville) highlights one of the most innovative and important jazz drummers ever, Roach, who died in 2007 at age 83. He helped create bebop and remained a font of forward-looking jazz as well as an outspoken civil-rights advocate all his life.

Squaring the Circle: The Story of Hipgnosis (7:30 p.m. July 24 at Woodward Theater) is from director Anton Corbijn (Control, a superb biopic about Joy Division’s Ian Curtis). Hipgnosis was the super-hip British album design firm led by Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell behind famous vinyl-era record covers for Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Paul McCartney, Peter Gabriel, and many others. The film features interviews with McCartney, Roger Waters, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Noel Gallagher, and more.

Have You Got It Yet? The Story of Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd (9:30 p.m. July 29 at Esquire Theatre) is a remembrance of the much-mythologized psychedelic singer-songwriter of the early Pink Floyd who was reportedly tossed out for excessive drug use and went on to lead a mysteriously reclusive life until his death in 2006. Among the film’s interviewees are Waters, David Gilmour, and the often-awarded British playwright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard. Thorgerson, a Hipgnosis founder, is one of the film’s directors.

NightLight 513 at Covington Plaza

Photograph by Colin Peterman

Outdoor Films for Adults

It’s always struck me as odd that, in Cincinnati at least, people seem to equate outdoor non-drive-in film screenings with PG family movies. Pixar movies and Princess Bride are great, sure, but adults like to see more mature movies in a summery, atmospheric environment too. Sometimes in an unusual summery environment like a cemetery or a rooftop.

An outfit called NightLight 513 has jumped into this void and is having success in its second year of showing films for those 21 and older. It considers its location part of its attraction: Covington Plaza on the riverfront at the food of Madison Avenue, with a view of Cincinnati’s downtown skyline.

Both of its June presentations sold out, and it’s already sold all its season passes for the year. NightLight started in Columbus; it also hosts 21-plus screenings in Miami and Nashville.

NightLight 513 presents a classic R-rated coming-of-age story with a wonderful soundtrack, Richard Linklater’s 1993 Dazed and Confused, on July 19. It features a young Matthew McConaughey in a star turn, and all sorts of other great actors like Parker Posey, Ben Affleck, and Renee Zellweger. Top Gun Maverick, which is actually a PG-13 movie, plays July 27. Movies continue into October.

There are food trucks and craft beers and also some rules: no pets, for instance, and no smoking or vaping. I’m not sure if they’re receptive to suggestions, but it sounds like a great place for an Ingmar Bergman festival. More information and tickets are here.

Meanwhile, cinephiles might find appeal in the films Lillian Currens is presenting this summer at The Lounge, a space inside the historic and fascinating Liberty Exhibition Hall at 3938 Spring Grove Avenue in Northside.

Currens was a programmer at the late and much lamented Mini Microcinema, and she has three scheduled for this month: On July 11 sophisticated auteur Whit Stillman’s unconventional 1998 approach to chronicling The Last Days of Disco, with sterling actors like Chloe Sevigny, Chris Eigeman, and Kate Beckinsale; on July 18 one of the greatest of Buster Keaton’s silent films, the astonishingly creative Sherlock Jr., can be experienced with live piano accompaniment; and on July 25 it’s a rare chance to see 1960s and ’70s underground shorts from the twin Kuchar Brothers, who would send up Hollywood convention with low-budget productions.

Screenings start at 7:30 p.m. and are free, except for the Keaton presentation, which is $8-$10.

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