Feature Film Review: NAFKOT – YEARNING, 70min., Documentary

What is an anthropologist?

I’m sure most have heard of the word, but perhaps don’t know what it is, or what they do. Before writing this review I reached out to 10 random friends and asked them if they knew what an anthropologist was. Only 3 people did, as the others had no idea. I’m not saying this a perfect poll. The reason I asked this question in the first place is because it also gave me pause to what it actually was.

So here is the definition:

Anthropologists study the origin, development, and behavior of humans. They examine the cultures, languages, archeological remains, and physical characteristics of people in various parts of the world.

In laymen’s terms, it’s an expert of human nature. Most anthropologists are doctors, which is the case for documentarian filmmaker Malka Shabtay, who made the amazing feature film “Nafkot -Yearning.” It makes a lot of sense for someone who studies human nature for a living to venture into documentary filmmaking. It feels like an easy transition. This is Shabtay’s 2nd film and I’m sure it’s not her last.   

“Nafkot – Yearning” is about a hidden Jewish community in north Ethiopia who tell their special story of survival. I’m sure it took a lot of time and trust for Shabtay to convince this community and their people to actually go on camera and show the world. It’s still dangerous in their country and environment to be Jewish. And that is the thematic and point of this film. What people will do to keep their culture intact. It’s the legacy of the Jewish faith and culture itself. There is something amazing and honorable about this, and when researching Malka Shabtay, this seems to be what her life’s work is all about. To make sure that people know about the Jewish culture and to make sure their rich and conflict filled history remains constant throughout mankind’s future until the last human on earth perishes.

The film follows three main heroes living in Ethiopia who also happen to be Jewish. And Shabtay is another character in the film and she’s been a visitor for the last 5 years. She’s a woman with a camera and crew in a dominate patriarchal society, and that’s another sub-theme of the film. This brilliant anthropologist pulled off the making of this film. This community and world is now documented for life for all to see. The film has played all over the world at various festivals in every Continent minus Antarctica.

“Nafkot – Yearning” is a must-see film for anyone and everyone. Bravo. 5 stars

By Eli Manning

Directed by Malka Shabtay

Watch the Audience Feedback Video from the Documentary Festival:


Short Film Review: ROE V. WADE: A NATION DIVIDED. 9min., Documentary

“Roe v Wade: A Nation Divided” is a short film, within the framework of 2022-23, that is simply gutsy. It takes an issue that is polarizing and extremely divided in the Western world and attempts to show both sides of the intensity.

In full disclosure, we contacted the owners of this website (WILDsound Corp.) about the showcase of this film at their Political Feedback Film Festival to gauge a reaction. The festival owner Matthew stated that out of over 7,000 short film screenings at their various festivals since 2007, this was the film that had the toughest time getting audiences to go on public record giving their opinions about the film. It’s an issue that people feel very strongly about and in today’s world you either are on one side or the other. Most don’t want to hear another perspective, even though it’s probably what we need to hear.

There is a segment in the first 3 minutes from the HBO show “Real Time with Bill Maher” where the host, Bill Maher, calls out the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for tweeting that abortion harms a list of groups, including the LGBTQ community, immigrants, the disabled, to name a few, but not saying that it harms women themselves. Maher says it in his usual intelligent smug way and the filmmaker chose to edit out the laughter from the audience that occurred when that segment happened live. I remember watching this episode months back. Maher’s point was that he’s pro-choice and a liberal himself, but perhaps even the side he agrees with has also gone a bit far. I don’t know the filmmaker personally, but perhaps that’s what she’s attempting to say with this film and it’s her overall theme and point.

The film starts off with a pro-choice point of view, then veers off to the pro-choice extreme after this moment in the film, and with that a pro-life point of view. Like Maher’s show, where he consistently calls out the “woke left” and their extreme takes on wanting to cancel people from the past who don’t agree with “them”, documentarian Sarah Woodward is doing a bit of the same about the levels of extreme with the pro-choice group. This reviewer, full disclosure, believes in a woman’s right to choose as it’s her body and she can do whatever she wants with it. So even I had a bit of a bias when the film veered into talking points of what an actual abortion is from a medical standpoint. The film physically shows us the elements how an abortion is done and then what they do with the dead tissues and carcasses. It’s not for the faint of heart, which is why there is a disclaimer at the beginning of the film. These are images that are not going to leave you anytime soon.

And that is the entire point of the film. It’s easy to pick a side while you sit on the sidelines. The analogy I give is that most people will agree that it’s okay to eat meat and for populations to profit from the selling of meat by killing animals in an assembly line way. I eat steak, hamburgers, hot dogs etc…, but I’m not at the meat plant seeing these animals get killed in the violent and soul-less way they do. Perhaps if I did witness it then I wouldn’t eat the meat provided for me at the everyday grocery store, or a quick UberEats scroll and click. Perhaps I would. So by showing what actually occurs when an abortion actually takes place and what they do with the undelivered baby’s carcass, it gives people context on their issue and choice. See what you believe!

This is a film that people really don’t want to see because it forces them to be accountable for their “choice”. And perhaps that’s why it’s an important film to see. Bravo to the filmmaker.

By Eli Manning

Directed by Sarah Woodward


Watch the Audience Feedback Video from the POLITICAL Festival:

Short Film Review: NO COUNTRY FOR DUMB MAN, 4min., Comedy

On its surface “No Country For Dumb Man”  is a slasher 4 minute comedy about a hitman who isn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. Its comedic highlights are the over-the-top gross out moments of what occurs after someone dies. An over-indulgent spray of blood from a shot artery that goes all over the room. Or a literal splatter of poop going on the hitman’s face after he shoots a man while he’s on the toilet. Tone-wise you can mistake this for a simple and fun comedy romp that wants to give you “shocking” moments to entertain you and the masses.  But it’s more.

When you peel away the essence, there is something profound about “No Country For Dumb Man.” The film starts with the familiar music of “Bach: Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major”, something I’m sure everyone has heard at least once in their lifetime. It gives us a tone that this is a serious hitman doing serious business. The hitman narrates his journey throughout the first 2 minutes and his encounters on the job. Then there is an audience reveal that this guy is actually not really that good at his job, and he really doesn’t give too much thought about what he’s actually doing. He’s dangerous because he has a gun, and he’s not that bright. The worst combination a person can have.

The 2nd half of the film is an encounter with a young woman. Through that we understand more of each person’s motive and a nice twist occurs. Then during the credits there is a classic “Jackie Chan-esque” sequence of the behind the scenes of how certain sequences were filmed. They pull the curtain back and let the audience in that this is a film and let’s not take it too seriously.

But I will take it seriously for a second. This is a masterclass on how to tell a story in under 5 minutes. The filmmaker gives the audience 2 different tone changes, all the while he’s giving us a comedy and making us laugh. And we are satisfied with the ending. We like to dislike the lead character and pulling that off isn’t the easiest thing to accomplish.

Bravo to Emerson College Film student Minhan Liang. He’s a filmmaker on the rise. Watch out for that name as I think he’s got some TV series or feature films in his future.  

By Eli Manning


Directed by Minhan Liang

Produced by Tonghan Tian

Cast: Drew Carter, Amanda Li

Watch the Audience Feedback Video from the Comedy Festival:

Short Film Review: FOREVER BOUND. 7min., Experimental Fashion Film.

“Forever Bound,” simply said, it a pretty movie with a deep message. Does destiny determine the relationships we enter and experience? The amazing Italian nature backdrop, constant motion & action, and multiple unique and beautiful costumes attempt to answer that mystifying question. To show and make us feel instead of an attempt to tell us this impossible question!  

 At least that’s how I interpreted the film. “Forever Bound” can be categorized as an instrumental music video, a fashion film, or an experimental film. It’s probably all three and with this type of tone and genre. What everyone who has seen this film can agree with is that this is an incredibly engaging watch. Whatever the message or theme is, it is up to the individual viewer to interpret. And no matter, someone will get something out of it.

The heartbeat of the film is the musical score by Flavio Carlotti. It takes us down the journey of these two lovers/partners and what defines them. A third character appears as the violin player who is the observing to the transactions of this relationship. Almost like the musical character of the audience as we see what she sees.

A film that was conceived by Italian artist Elisa Messi, and directed by UK filmmaker Rob Bell, “Forever Bound” is a true collaborative film. You can’t help but also be marveled by the amazing various costumes the performers wear throughout the film, and the sculptor that was created for this film that was key to the plot.

This is a seven minute film that needs and deserves more than 1 view. There is so much richness here. Just an emotionally impactful film.  5 stars.

by Eli Manning

Creative Director/Producer: Elisa Messi

Director: Rob Bell

Composer & Producer: Flavio Carlotti

Cast: Marina Meinero, Lorena Sheriff, Jan Tononi

Sculptures: Ascanio Maria Bolzonella and Laura Fabbris.



Watch the Audience Feedback from the Experimental Film Festival:

Short Film Review: SYNTHETIC ME. 4min., Animation Music Video

There are many ways you can experience the Animation / Music Video “Synthetic Me.” From the first view, this is a love story between a young-adult and her childhood stuffed bear. A connection that many can relate with as most of us had our favorite toy growing up.  And some of us still have kept our favorite stuffed animal into adulthood.

The other level of “Synthetic Me” is the aging process. As the young woman grows into her adulthood and becomes a doctor, she has blossomed and become the best of herself, while her stuffed animal has seen better days. The wear and tear of any stuffed animal – the color is fading, they are a bit ratty and worn out from the years of playing and being thrown around by kids. The stuffed animal wants to rejuvenate its form and make a “brand new him.”

The lyrics go: “Will someone just make a brand new me!”  

It’s the stuffed animal who is singing the song we realize half-way into the viewing experience. Which is a great happy surprise.

The film’s message and themes kind of creep up on you. We all get to that point where we know the best days are behind us on a physical level, but with today’s science moving up to the point where possibly making a “brand new you” could actually happen, is this actually something we should be doing?

Of course they are centuries away from figuring out how to make a brand new “emotional,” “spiritual,” and “intellectual,” self. But the physical is something we can start doing and recreate ourselves. And that’s what the toy bear wants. To dig deeper, what is the toy bear’s motivation? Are they jealous of their friend’s progress into adulthood and want to be just like them? Are they afraid she’s going to pass them by?

So “Synthetic Me” appears to be a simple and fun animation music video for all to joy. And it is. But there is a deeper message here. And it does leave us to asking morality questions.

Terrific film on all levels. The movement never stops. It keeps you on your toes while enjoying the terrific song and stuffed animal. Wonderful.

5 stars

by Eli Manning

Directed by Susan Lim, Christina Teenz Tan, Samudra Kajal Saikia

Composer: Joi Barua

Watch the Audience Feedback Video from the Experimental Film Festival:

Short Film Review: O, 10min., France, Experimental/Music

When discussing the haunting and incredibly effective short film “O”, you first have to mention the music, as this can easily be categorized as a music video and not a narrative short film. From a French artist/band/project simply called GEROSTENKORP, this is instrumental music you can listen to anytime on Spotify or any music stream platform, as they have a large library of enticing tracks.   

This song definitely sets the narrative tone of this piece of a time & space that many are familiar with but simply don’t want to venture to again.

The great thing about films like “O” is that it’s enchanting enough from an aesthetic point of view that you really don’t have to logically understand what is taking place. You just need to take in what’s occurring and simply feel it. It’s an experimental film that is entertaining and enjoyable to watch, even if you really don’t know what’s actually happening. And that is the point of the piece. People are going to take in what they feel in context to their own life experiences. Some will think about their recent past traumas in the Covid era where we were alone and distant from any trace of existence, like the main character is. Stuck in a warehouse of emotions. Some will think of dying as the angel/devil appears to whisk you away from your loneliness. And others will simply feel the woman’s reactions to the world she’s presented with.

No matter what, “O” is a film for everyone as it’s so well made and the music is so engaging, you can’t help but watch the film throughout even though you don’t consciously know why.

The direction is top notch. Subtle and still. It lets the music sink into the soul of the viewer. The female lead is tremendous as we really feel her pain. Her eyes tell us everything we need to know. And the production design / location set up gives us that feeling of awareness, as we know of a place like this, while at the same time takes us into a unique and original world.

Bravo to the French filmmaking team of “O”. Tremendous film.

By Eli Manning



At present date “O” has screened at over 20 top film festivals from around the world today.

Watch the Audience Feedback Video from the Experimental Film Festival:

Directed by Fabien Legeron

Cast: Jennifer Gothuey, Daniel Larose

Special Effects/Makeup: Ophélie Charpentier, Banshee Xuân


Short Film Review: THE ASTRONAUT. Directed by Damian Apunte

THE ASTRONAUT is an very sweet 5 minute short film that takes us into the world and imagination of 7 year old AURA. Her hero is Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic women to go to space. Aura also wants to go to space one day  and she uses the Lighthouse that is close to her home as inspiration. Perhaps one day it will turn into a space shuttle, she can hop on board and fly into space.  

Besides a brief cameo by her Abuelita (grandmother), the actress Nora Harriet, who plays Aura, is the only performer in the film. Told in a narrative structure, the audience learns of Aura’s vivid imagination, and her passion for anything space. There is a strong theme of dreams & female empowerment through out and one can’t help but feel inspired themselves when watching too. How children get into things and feel love for it. Whether it’s dinosaurs, dressing up dolls, or with Aura – space. How that passion can lead to so many things. Kids use their imagination to explore their loves and find their inner selves. Many times their actions and feelings are traits that adults should do more too. We can look up to kids and they can teach us a lot. There is an innocence to that feeling Aura has, but she’s still a person with conflicts and emotions. Aura has asthma and there seems to be an absence of her parents. She’s already lived life a bit, understands that it’s not always happy and rosy. But she still has that flame to live and be the best person she can be.

What is touching about this film is that it has a timeless feel to it. We know that she loves Ellen Ochoa, who rose to prominence and fame in the early 1990s. So we assume that the film is set anytime in the last 30 years, but we do not know the exact date. There is an unique art direction in the home that gives us a feeling that this could be anytime and anywhere.

Great short film. Perfect in its length. A film for everyone with unique and original direction.  

by Eli Manning.

Winner of Unity & Inclusion Award for NASA’s International Cinespace contest and premiered at Houston Cinema Arts Festival.
Official Selection for Culver City Film Festival and Santa Monica International Film Festival.

Director Biography – Damian Apunte

As a first generation Ecuadorian raised in the Asheville, NC, Damián viewed the world in an unconventional way. His intrigue of the unique beauty in the darkness influences Damián’s aesthetic vision through his reflective storytelling. Additionally, his discovery of existentialism paired with life changing assaults shaped his compassion for the human soul. This compassion is something he strives to share with the world by making films that make you feel. His lifelong quest is to find out “who got the hooch?”

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video from the Fantasy/Sci-Fi Film Festival:

  • Erika Martinez – Producer
  • Taius Greenidge – Producer
  • Nora Harriet – Key Cast “Aura”
  • Ofelia Rivera – Key Cast “Abuelita “

Film Review: GLORIA BELL (USA/Chile 2018) ***

Gloria Bell Poster

A free-spirited woman in her 50s seeks out love at L.A. dance clubs.


Sebastián Lelio


Alice Johnson Boher (adapted screenplay), Sebastián Lelio | 1 more credit »

GLORIA BELL begins and ends with Julianne Moore dancing at a club in an 80’s setting.  The era is never mentioned but can be deduced from the 80’s song playlist and from the wardrobe and hair style of the characters.  Chilean director Leila has been known to effectively use and bring to life his films with the use of a singular song, the most notable and remembered being Richard Burton’s rendering of the song CAMELOT from the stage musical in Leilo’s film JACKIE about Jackie Kennedy.  In GLORIA BELL, Gloria Gayor’s ‘”Never Can Say Goodbye” begins the film while the popular 80’s song “Gloria” closes it.

GLORIA BELL is described in the press notes as a film on mature dating.   The film opens with Gloria on the dance floor.  Gloria Bell (Julianna Moore) introduces herself to a stranger (and to the audience) as Gloria Bell, a divorcee of 12 odd years.  She meets in the same night, Arnold (John Torturro) who she eventually begins a relationship with, after some hot sex, in which nothing much can be seen much but much can be heard, which means the audience will get the point.

Gloria has been on the dating scene for a while – probably for 12 years or so, judging from her behaviour.  She is not eager to begin a relationship right away but is not opposed to the idea either.

For a film about mature dating, the film covers all the points about its problems.  These include:

– the baggage that each member brings to the relationship with each having their own children and each with their own set of problems

  • the discomfort of still dating at such a late age; Arnold \ has qualms about telling his children about Gloria, obviously embarrassed at the situation
  • jealousies that flare up; Arnold is uncomfortable when Gloria shows affection for her ex (Sean Astin) at her son’s (Michael Cera) birthday party
  • each member is set in their own stubborn ways and behaviour; Arnold in leaving Gloria when trouble arise 
  • disapproval and constant questioning of the children; as it happens at Gloria’s son’s birthday party

The song, Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again, Naturally”  that is heard right in the middle of the film again is effectively used by Leilo to put his story in perspective.

Leilo’s film benefits from the performances of its actors, which are key for a dating drama of this sort.  Moore and Torturro are both excellent, especially Torturro who obviously has toned down his usual manic performances.  It is good too to see Michael Sera in the role of Gloria’s son, Cera being absent from the screen for some time.

The script is also smart enough not to take sides.  Both Arnold  and Gloria have their valid reasons for each fight and one could side with either, despite being male or female.  The film’s subplots, like Gloria’s expecting daughter taking off to Sweden to marry her beau also enhances rather than distracts the main story.

GLORIA BELL is not full of surprises (in fact, if the film seems strangely familiar, you could have seen Leilo’s original Spanish 2013 version called GLORIA which was set in Santiago) but it serves a realistic slice of life mature dating, with all its pitfalls and bright spots.  It is an entertaining watch to see ourselves in similar situations.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPq4zW9QZSg

2019 Oscar Nominated Shorts- Live Action (Reviews)

2019 Oscar Nominated Shorts (Live Action)  **** Highly Recommended

Oscar nominated shorts will be screened at the Bell Lightbox from now (Feb 8th) till Oscar Presentation Day – on February the 24th.  There are 3 categories – animated; live action and live action documentary.

Watching shorts is a real treat and less tiring than watching a full length feature. Plus, not knowing what these shorts are about, one will surely be in for a nice surprise as well.

One thing about this program of shorts is that they are the most gut wrenching.  The subjects of two of these involve children, boys before the age of puberty.  DETAINMENT and FAUVE are two my favourites for the fact that they are both totally engrossing from start to finish.  Total length of this program around 109 minutes.  

All the shorts are about delinquent kids except one that is centred on a senior.


DETAINMENT (UK 2018) *****Top 10

Directed Vincent Lambe

Liverpool, England.  A baby has been murdered.  Caught on video surveillance are two boys and friends, suspect for the murder.  Each are questioned by the police act different locations in the presence of their moms, as the interrogation tears away the layers of lies to reveal what really happened.  DETAINMENT is harrowing because it is hardly imaginable that murder could be committed by two young lads and that test Live -Action short.  The actors playing John and his mother deserve Oscars for their vivd portrayals.  DETAINMENT gets my vote as the best of the program.

FAUVE (Canada 2018) ***** Top 10
Directed by Jeremy Compte

FAUVE sees two mischievous boy playing a game of points to see who wins by coming up with  6 points first.  The game consists of showing who is the toughest one.  The game leads the boys to a quarry where one is pushed into grey mud that functions like deadly quicksand.  This scene is extremely well filmed.  In a moment, the fun and games turn into tragedy while the two pubescent boys learn go through their rites-of-passage.  The  figure of the fox that appears to the boys serves as a metaphor that makes the proceedings all the more chilling.  A difficult but excellent watch!

MADRE (Spain 2018) ***

Directed by Rodrigo Sorogoyen

A single mother while with her mother received a call from hr 7-year old son vacationing with his father on some beach in France.  The child is concerned that the dad has not returned and have left him alone for a while.  Things get worse, when pedophile goes after the boy.  All the terror is conveyed through the cell to the madre who is at wit’s end as to what to do.  It is a neat concept of terror conveyed through talk but the open ended ending is a disappointment.

MARGUERITE (Canada 2017) ***
Directed by Marianne Farley

It is never too late to come out.  The film begins innocently enough with a nurse washing an elderly lady.  The friendship develops both to disclose secrets and longings.  The short shows the trails of growing old and the need to come to terms with the past and present.  Sad and happy at the same time!

SKIN (USA 2018) ****

Directed by Guy Nattiv

SKIN is the most disturbing of all the shorts about kids.  There are two difficult to watch scenes.  One is the brutal beating of a black man for no reason that takes place in front of the victim and attacker’s two sons in  parking lot.  SKIN is about a skinhead family.  The second scene has the father reaching the son how to use a weapon as it it was a toy.  The skinhead father finally gets what is coming to him in a climax that would leave the audience satisfied.

Film Review: 2019 Oscar Nominated Shorts (Documentary) **** Highly Recommended

Oscar nominated shorts will be screened at the Bell Lightbox from now (Feb 8th) till Oscar Presentation Day – on February the 24th.  There are 3 categories – animated; live action and live action documentary.

Watching shorts is a real treat and less tiring than watching a full length feature. Plus, not knowing what these shorts are about, one will surely be in for a nice surprise as well.

One thing about this program of shorts is that they are true stories about life and hardships.  The subjects of these docs are as different as night and day and range from the U.K. to India and Africa.  These are docs are both educational and entertaining and most will leave one teary-eyed as well.  Total length of program around 140 minutes.

BLACK SHEEP (USA 2018) ****
Directed by Ed Perkins

This gut-gut-wrenching emotional shocker has my vote for best doc short.  It all begins for rather innocently for a black kid Damilola Taylor returning from school.  A 10-year old school Nigerian boy has just been murdered in his neighbourhood.  Camilla finds his mother crying when he got home  The family move out of London (from Peckham to Essex) only for Damilola to find matters worse – in terms or racism in his new neighbourhood of all whites.  His first encounter is a young boy calling him nigger.  I understand and feel for Camilla as I experienced the same thing while in Ireland while walking when kids in a car made slanted eye faces at me.  The short works as what transpires is real and the enactment is terribly effective.  One can never predict how the narrative of the short will lead to making it even more intriguing.

END GAME (USA 2018) ***
Directed by Rob Epstien and Jeffrey Friedman

This doc follows medical practitioners and several patients as the patients live their last years of their lives.  The staff try their utmost best to make the patients comfortable and their last days meaningful., thus encouraging the audience to re-evaluate their own lives in the light of what is happening.  Many of the subjects in the film have now passed away.  END GAME is a very sad and needless to say, emotional film about life and death.

LIFEBOAT (USA 2018) ***

Directed by Skye Fitzgerald

This well intentioned short has the aim of informing audiences of the plight of refugees as they risk their lives for a better life.  The film has many disturbing scenes such as overcrowded raft lifeboats filled with refugees with their legs dangling over the side.  They have nowhere to do their business.  Many are sick with fever.  Many die  The short begins with  a search of dead bodies on a beach.  The film follows volunteers from a German non-profit organization as they risk the waves of the Mediterranean to pluck refugees from sinking rafts pushing off from Libya in the middle of the night.  LIFEBOAT puts a human face on one of the world’s greatest contemporary global crises and provides a spark of hope surrounding how civil society can intervene in the refugee crisis in a meaningful way.  Unfortunately, the narrative is fragmented resulting in the film seeming all over the place.  Still LIFEBOAT is quite the eye-opener.  This one will likely win the Oscar because its theme is the most current.


Directed by Marshall Curry

This is a short, black and white short doc that is no less disturbing for its theme.  Assembled from archive footage, A NIGHT AT THE GARDEN  details a ‘German-American Bund’ rally held at the Madison Square Garden on February 20, 1939.  American Nazi leader Fritz Kuhn speaks to the gathered crowd when one man, 26-year-old Isadore Greenbaum, rushes the stage to protest the gathered National socialists.  What happens to Greenbaum is gut shattering.


Directed by Rayka Zehtabchi

This feminist (in such a good way that it will leave even the males cheering the women) short starts of on the ignorance of Indians on menstruation and slides from topic to topic ending with the manufacturing of women’s pads.  The film centres o a few Indian women from a rural village outies Delhi, India who strive to do more as women.  One wants to join the police force.  Others make, sell and market women’s pads.  This is the lightest of all the documentary shorts but no less educational, informative and entertaining.