Whether you’re partial to a dramatic love story or find yourself utterly thrilled by irreverent documentaries, cinema is back this summer with plenty of exiting new titles from independent filmmakers to expand our horizons. From Syrian refugees displaced on a Scottish island, to the most important music festival of the 60s that was forgotten, here are this season’s best new independent films.
The Best New Independent Films
Summer of Soul or (When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), showcases filmed footage of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival that occurred at the cusp of the Black Power Movement. It was attended and loved by thousands, yet, compared to the other festivals held that same year, such as the immortalised Woodstock, this series of concerts that took place over six weekends in Mount Morris Park in Harlem was buried for 50 years.
“This just sat in a basement and no one cared,” states Questlove, the American musician and drummer for The Roots, who created the new acclaimed documentary. He watched the musical extravaganza footage on loop for months to create this project; footage which showcases an ocean of black faces, dancing to performances by blues, gospel, and rock ‘n’ soul legends such as Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King, Sly and The Family Stone, Nina Simone, and many more. And even with this amazing array of talent, along with the adoring fans and display of Black excellence, no producer was willing to make the recordings into a film. Until now.
In cinemas now
Nominated for both Outstanding British Film and Outstanding Debut in the 2021 BAFTA Film Awards, Limbo, focuses on a young Syrian oud musician, Omar (Amir El-Masry), and other refugees who find themselves stuck on a remote Scottish island, as they wait for decisions regarding their UK asylum requests.
From the outset, it is an intensely hilarious dry-comedy from writer-director Ben Sharrock – not too dissimilar from American director, Wes Anderson, in its deadpan hilarity – however, the narrative’s subject matter of displacement, racism and Islamophobia is never dismissed or undervalued. These themes are given ample screen time through the director’s mournful dreamlike sequences and surreal elements filtered throughout.
In cinemas 30 July
Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci star as Sam and Tusker respectively, long-time partners in life who take a nostalgic road trip, as Tusker enters the final stage of dementia. Actor turned writer-director Harry Macqueen, described Supernova as an attempt to make a film about “what we are willing to do for the people we love,” and “how we live and love and laugh, even as we near the end of our time.”
It’s an unquestionably moving and heartbreaking drama that opens with the two of them as they playfully bicker about directions, however, the heaviness in the air is visible from the get go.
In cinemas now
Writer-director Sian Heder’s latest, Coda, is a sweet yet slightly comedic drama that follows a hearing teenage girl in a deaf Massachusetts fishing family. Heder’s attention to detail is prevalent as we instantly warm to Ruby – played by British actor, Emilia Jones, boasting a pitch perfect American accent – a CODA, which stands for a child of deaf adults, as she helps her family business while struggling her way through high school.
The narrative starts to take shape when Ruby receives encouragement from a high-school teacher (Eugenio Derbez), and she begins to pursue music seriously, even if her parents and brother struggle to understand. However, no dramatic conflicts structure the feature, it is the moving moments centred around the family’s love that make this an utterly enjoyable piece of cinema.
On Apple TV 13 August
The multi-award-winning Nigerian film,The Milkmaid, is a masterful exploration of the human cost of religious extremism, and sheds light on a subject that is all too true. We follow the story of two sisters, abducted from their village in a deadly attack, who go on to live traumatic existences, consistently fighting for their lives, their freedom, and their sanity. Director and screenwriter, Desmond Ovbiagele, films primarily in the local language, Hausa, as we follow Aisha (Anthonieta Kalunta), as she endures captivity, escapes, only to selflessly return in order to find and recover her sister.
It’s the well known violent attacks, abductions, and terrorist activities by Boko Haram that provides the context and backdrop for the feature. And in filming, the crew had to overcome their own unimaginable challenges – they were detained, incarcerated, and beaten, just as Nigeria and West Africa continues to be by the jihadist group. They oppose the Westernisation of Nigerian society, blaming it for a “culture of corruption” taking place, all the while demanding the establishment of an Islamic state.
The European premiere will be hosted at the BFI on 10 July
The Sparks Brothers, the members of the 1980s band that managed to be influential and vital for almost 50 years, without ever losing an air of mystery, are the stars of Filmmaker Edgar Wright’s debut documentary. The Californian brothers, Ron and Russell Mael, have released nearly two-dozen genre-hopping studio records throughout their tenure in the industry, yet much remained unknown and elusive – just the way they like it.
The dynamic, larger-than-life duo are still held to such enigmatic allure, that actor Jason Schwartzman states that, “honestly, I don’t want to see this movie,” he says at the beginning of the film. “I don’t want to know too much about them.” However, watch the movie you should, for its playful and outlandishly amusing myths about the band, the brothers, and the allure of it all.
In cinemas now
In French documentarist Julien Faraut’s latest film, The Witches of the Orient, he lovingly recounts the eponymous Japanese women’s volleyball team that triumphed and became national treasures in the1964 Tokyo Olympics. Faraut and editor Andrei Bogdanov divulge archival materials, newsreel reports and documentaries shot during the team’s 1960 to 1966 heyday, as well as dramatised and stylised freeze-frame, volleyball-themed anime characters from Eiji Okabe’s youth-oriented anime Attack No.1, a film and TV series inspired by the team themselves.
As the film begins we open on the group of women – now in their early 60s – intimately sitting around a dinner table, as they then go on to recall their individual experiences of their time in the Nichibo Kaizuka factory volleyball club – a small, local team that went one to become their countries national team due to setting a record that is to this day unbeaten: 258 consecutive wins.
In cinemas 16 July