This next batch of films I’m highlighting from this year’s Mill Valley Film Festival were based on a true story. The topics are serious in scope and emotionally affecting. It matters that these stories get told, so audiences can take in others’ experiences and be challenged to see the world just a little bit differently.

Holy Spider | Directed by Ali Abbasi

Based on the true events (!) surrounding serial killings of sex workers in Mashhad, Iran. Sixteen women were killed over the course of 2000 and 2001. The film follows Rahimi, a journalist (Zar Amir-Ebrahimi) who is trying to track down further information about this “Spider Killer,” who believes he is cleansing the streets of this holy city by killing these women. The tightly wound thriller stars Amir-Ebrahimi (winner of the Cannes Best Actress Award), Medhi Bajestani, and Arash Ashtiani.

Writer-director Ali Abbasi (Border) crafted a well-paced film that is both intense and a hold-your-breath type of watch. Holy Spider immediately draws audiences in with a good amount of intrigue as it continues to raise the stakes throughout.

Of note: The film is Denmark’s submission for Best International Film for the 2023 Oscars.

Till | Directed by Chinonye Chukwu

Reflecting back on this year’s MVFF, Till was one of a few films that genuinely left an emotional impact.

Directed by Chinonye Chukwu (Clemency), Till tells the horrifying story of the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955 and the strength derived from surmounting grief by his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley (Danielle Deadwyler), as she seeks justice for the racially-motivated death of her child. The film also stars Whoopi Goldberg, Sean Patrick Thomas, Jalyn Hall, Frankie Faison, and Haley Bennett.

This is a heavy film, and if you know the story of Emmett Till, this film offers further insight into his personhood. Emmett was a happy 14-year-old kid that was taught by his mother, Mamie, to lead with love and know his self-worth.

While no explicit violence is depicted onscreen, Chukwu’s direction combined with the guttural reaction of Deadwyler’s Mamie taking in the dead body of her son is not one that I will soon forget.

Till is not to be missed.

She Said | Directed by Maria Schrader

Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan star as New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor, who broke the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault story in She Said. Directed by Maria Schrader (I’m Your Man), the film follows the two reporters as they track down witnesses to potentially go on the record about their interactions with Weinstein. The film also stars Patricia Clarkson, Andre Braugher, Jennifer Ehle, and Angela Yeoh.

Unfortunately, She Said didn’t work for me.

For a film that is about two journalists, the screenplay was shockingly ineffective. The dialogue often came across as schmaltzy and moments of brief levity felt forced. As one of the films I was expecting to really embrace as it’s about this huge and important story of our time, it was ultimately disappointing.

That said, these stories of abuse of power must continue to be told because the moment we stop talking about Weinstein and others, that kind of behavior becomes swept under the rug again.

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