This year’s Twin Cities Film Fest kicked off eight days’ worth of screening and streaming with sold-out in-person showings at the ShowPlace ICON theater in St. Louis Park, featuring special guests and programs highlighting the festival’s “Changemakers” focus. TCFF 2022 Opening Night began with the climate-change documentary Overheated followed by the Twin Cities debut of the major-studio social-justice drama Till; meanwhile while in a second theater My Policeman debuted. Both Overheated and Till were followed by special guest speakers who addressed the issues these films raised, and both were sure to motivate their viewers with their passion and power.
Overheated (dir. Yassa Khan, 2022)
The 2022 iteration of TCFF opened with a free screening of Overheated, a climate-change documentary directed by Yassa Khan and the first of some 80 in-person events scheduled at the West End ShowPlace ICON Theaters.
Overheated features Billie Eilish, Finneas, their mother Maggie Baird (she and Eilish are two of the film’s executive producers), and a host of influencers, personalities, and indigenous people on the frontlines of the climate crisis. Bringing together voices from music, fashion, art, and activism across the globe, the film speaks directly to climate anxiety—a real and palpable condition felt by many young people facing threats to their homes, cultures and livelihoods.
Khan’s approach in Overheated is fast-paced and intensely visual and aural. It’s not your old-school charts-and-graphs data-driven approach, but instead one that taps into the passion of its speakers, illustrating their words with bold, heavily stylized visuals alongside the constant pulse of Charlie Smith’s throbbing score. Not every viewer will need to have every word of its speakers’ utterances illustrated with visuals (for instance, Baird noting an instance was “eye-opening” is accompanied by a visual of an eye, opening), but the film’s pace and style are aimed directly at the younger viewers it hopes to persuade to action. Ultimately, Overheated’s message is one of hope, aiming to galvanize change in response to our planet’s crisis.
Following the film, Baird, featured influencer Tori Tsui, and several others spoke directly to the assembled TCFF crowd. Both spoke passionately to the film’s bold use of style and fashion to speak to its audience and Tsui in particular to the value of story to turn climate anxiety into climate activism. Baird, alongside nationally recognized artist and local philanthropist Stephanie Dillon, is the recipients of the 2022 TCFF Changemaker Award in part for her work on Overheated and in part for her work with her non-profit Support & Feed, the official TCFF Changemaker Partner.
Overheated is currently available to watch on YouTube.
Till (dir. Chinonye Chukwu, 2022)
Following the screening of Overheated was the Twin Cities debut of the powerful Till, the story of Mamie Till Mobley’s pursuit of justice for her 14-year-old-son Emmett, the victim of a heinous lynching while visiting his cousins in Mississippi. For this powerful, emotional film the venue was filled to capacity and the audience in rapt attention at Danielle Deadwyler’s performance as the grieving mother who turns her trauma to action.
Historical dramas and period pieces are never really solely about the past; they are almost always about the present. Only this year did the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act pass Congress, and several generations and nearly seven decades after the fact, Black men still can find themselves the targets of white vigilantes looking to turn their racism into violence. Meanwhile, across the States, dozens of legislative bodies have sought to censor schools from teaching stories like Mamie and Emmett Till’s. One might plausibly wonder how it is that the Tills’ story has taken so long to reach the screen. Other than its mention in Ava DuVernay’s compelling short August 28: A Day In The Life Of A People, it’s a vital, traumatic story of American racial injustice that’s not been seen before onscreen.
Chinonye Chukwu’s film focuses less on the violent killing of charismatic young Emmett (Jalyn Hall) and more on the trauma experienced by his mother Mamie, who, upon witnessing her son’s mutilated corpse, chose an open-casket funeral to display to the public the violence of the attack on her son. As Mamie, Deadwyler delivers an incomparable performance, channeling every imaginable ounce of grief, sorrow, rage, and conviction as she bravely travels from her Chicago home to the site of her son’s murder in Mississippi, where his killers face trial.
While Chukwu does not shy from showing the consequences of Emmett’s lynching (confronting viewers with the ravages of the young boy’s corpse), the focus in Till is nearly entirely on Mamie’s grief and conviction. Till is maternal melodrama—I do not use that word at all pejoratively—of the highest order, conveying with care a mother’s love and passion. I wish it were required viewing for every high school student in America. My colleague Don Shanahan has already provided Film Obsessive readers a full review of Till; and I’ll add that Bobby Bukowski’s cinematography is impeccable, capturing Deadwyler’s emotions and performance with nuance and care. But so is nearly every aspect of the film, save perhaps some briefly flagging pacing as the trial of Emmett’s murderers approaches.
Following the film, the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation board members and Till family descendants Deborah and Teri Watts spoke to the audience about their work to enact legislation and pursue justice. Not only were Emmett’s killers acquitted of their crime, they were paid for a magazine interview in which they confessed and lived their full lives as free men; the shop clerk who falsely accused Emmett has never been indicted. The two spoke to their efforts to achieve justice and to their own experience viewing the film as they were both presented the TCFF Empower Award to a standing ovation.
Till is a film to remember, but its message is clear: one must turn grief into action, injustice into justice. To know history is necessary, but not sufficient. Change can occur only when people channel their passions into action. It’s a message made clear by both the opening documentary Overheated and the film Till—and a theme of the festival to continue over its duration.