2019 Fresno Film Fest Picks Inspire a Streaming Wish List

Servillo on bench
Toni Servillo as Jep in “The Great Beauty.” (Photo: Janus Films)
For several years, I was lucky to teach a few film studies classes at Fresno City College. As a journalist and writer by trade, I often felt out of my element when it came to knowing the history of cinema, and the expectation from my students (or maybe from myself?) that somehow I should have seen every “great movie” ever made in order to teach the subject.

I quickly realized that I’ll never be able to “catch up,” especially in the age of streaming media, where if you have a high-speed internet connection — and just the tiniest bit of a compulsive mind, to assemble all the watch lists — you can essentially teach yourself a course in “great movies” by opening up your iPad at home and spending quality time on the couch.

(As an aside, if you haven’t yet discovered the joy of Kanopy, with 10 free plays per month with your Fresno County Public Library card, I can’t recommend it enough!)

So, ahead of the 2019 Fresno Film Festival, presented by Filmworks on Nov. 8-10 at the historic Tower Theatre — I do also love to watch movies inside an actual cinema! — I felt inspired to put together a half-dozen streaming recommendations that are inspired by this year’s feature film selections. Consider this an optional homework assignment: not required viewing, but more movies to enjoy.

“Monsoon Wedding” (2001)
The festival’s opening night selection is “Sir,” an Indian domestic drama about two contrasting worlds that coexist inside a single apartment in Mumbai, amidst a forbidden attraction that questions social class.

This made me think of my favorite Indian film, “Monsoon Wedding,” directed by Mira Nair, who delivers fierce joy, pain, and empathy through her characters. The IMDb description: “A stressed father, a bride-to-be with a secret, a smitten event planner, and relatives from around the world create much ado about the preparations for an arranged marriage in India.”

“Gook” (2017)
Program 2 at the festival is “Ms. Purple,” an American indie drama about two Asian American siblings who are now seemingly stuck in the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles they grew up in.

This made me think of “Gook,” the debut feature from “Ms. Purple” director Justin Chon, with a fresh take on the buddy film. The IMDb description: “Amidst the 1992 L.A. riots, Eli and Daniel, two Korean American brothers, own a struggling shoe store and have an unlikely friendship with Kamilla, a street wise 11-year-old African American girl.”

“Good Bye Lenin!” (2003)
Program 3 at the festival is “Balloon,” a suspenseful German drama based on the true story of two families in communist East Germany race to escape to the West by secretly building an air balloon.

This made me think of “Good Bye Lenin!” a past Filmworks selection and one of the funniest and most heartfelt films about family I’ve seen. The IMDb description: “In 1990, to protect his fragile mother from a fatal shock after a long coma, a young man must keep her from learning that her beloved nation of East Germany as she knew it has disappeared.”

“Leave No Trace” (2018)
Program 4 at the festival is “Princess of the Row” from the American indie festival circuit. It’s a tale of a father and daughter on L.A.’s Skid Row, where monsters are real and the only true weapon is the love of family.

This made me think of master filmmaker Debra Granik’s family drama “Leave No Trace,” one of the greatest “walking away” films I’ve seen. The IMDb description: “A father and his thirteen year-old daughter are living an ideal existence in a vast urban park in Portland, Oregon, when a small mistake derails their lives forever.”

“The Great Beauty” (2013)
Program 6 at the festival is “The Girl in the Fog,” an Italian mystery about an enigmatic detective who searches for a missing girl and unearths mysterious secrets in a small village in the Italian Alps.

This made me think of master filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino’s epic drama “The Great Beauty,” a past Filmworks selection that starred actor Toni Servillo, who plays the detective in “The Girl in the Fog.” The IMDb description: “Jep Gambardella has seduced his way through the lavish nightlife of Rome for decades, but after his 65th birthday and a shock from the past, Jep looks past the nightclubs and parties to find a timeless landscape of absurd, exquisite beauty.”

“Obit” (2016)
The festival’s closing night selection is “Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins,” an American indie political documentary that celebrates the fearless media firebrand and celebrated columnist known for her Texas-sized wit.

This made me think of the quirky documentary “Obit,” an oddball behind-the-scenes peek at a type of journalist very few people think about: professional obituary writers. The IMDb description: “Writers and editors from the New York Times discuss their unique approach to writing the obituaries of public figures.”

These movies are available on various streaming services, or with a trip to the public library. A multimedia storyteller who works for Fresno State, Jefferson Beavers serves on the Filmworks advisory board.