‘Wrestle’: A Striking Examination Of Race, Poverty & High School Sports In Alabama [Review]

There aren’t many ways out of poverty. The socioeconomic constraints that pin families in place don’t often let up from one generation to the next. This, though, is the antithesis to the American Dream of upward mobility. And while we are gradually coming to terms with this reality—that circumstances at home and in the community and in society will prevent a great many from achieving even relief from grinding poverty—we continue to buy into higher education as an escape, a sort of rocket ship loaded with the possibility to launch people into the middle class. This fanciful belief belies that fact that college itself is untenable for so many for myriad reasons, from its unreasonable cost to the time it demands. One loophole, for a select few gifted students, is sports. Following in the footsteps of “Hoop Dreams” and “Undefeated,” “Wrestle” captures the hardships and hopes of four young men in Alabama as they fight for the scholarships that could change their lives.

Directed by Suzannah Herbert, alongside co-director Lauren Belfer, “Wrestle” is the story of one season at Huntsville’s failing J.O. Johnson High School during which four wrestlers, Jailen, Jamario, Teague, and Jaquan, compete for their spot at the state championships and for the future that comes with that glory. And while the kids’ courageous fight faces long enough odds as is, they, alongside their coach Chris Scribner, are also wrestling with race, mental health, drugs, poverty, and unstable homes. The point that “Wrestle” inevitably makes is that these kids and this story are not unusual. Certainly, they have talent as wrestlers, but the circumstances they are all fighting against are not unique.

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‘Honeyland’ Is A Haunting Portrait Of A Dying Way Of Life [Sundance Review]

There is an unassuming languidness to Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska’s anthropologic documentary about a rural Macedonian beekeeper, “Honeyland.” It’s a quiet and passive film that’s content to luxuriate in place and revel in solitude, which, in turn, both drags the narrative’s loose pacing and instills a certain natural structure that, once embraced, becomes almost mesmerizing.

“Honeyland,” as it begins, is a sort of documentation of a disappearing way of life. Hatidze Muratova, a 50-something woman, is, along with her ill mother Nazife, the last true resident of their rural village. Hatidze spends her time caring for her bees — which she keeps in the stone walls of old structures and in the rocks of cliffs instead of modern bee boxes — and for her mother. Her approach to beekeeping is deeply spiritual and environmentally conscious. This consciousness, though, is not the progressive sort. Instead, it feels rooted in deep tradition and respect for both the bees and the natural world itself. Though she sells her honey in markets in Skopje, Macedonia’s capital city, she refuses to collect more than half of her bees’ honey at a time. Some for us, some for them, she says, time and again.

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Grand Jury Prize Winner ‘One Child Nation’ Uncovers A Traumatic History [Sundance Review]

From 1979 until 2015 China controlled its population through its notorious one-child policy. The name, in more than one way, is a misnomer. In theory, a one-child policy simply limits the number of children a family can have to one. But the reality of the policy was far more devastating. Not only were women given forced abortions, but they were often sterilized against their will, while children were taken from families and sold to orphanages. It is this deeply troubling and incredibly complex reality that Nanfu Wang’s Sundance Grand Jury Prize Winner “One Child Nation” sets out to explore.

Wang, like so many millions of Chinese in her generation, grew up under the shadows of the one-child policy. Propaganda and cultural indoctrination kept her from questioning the policy or its fallout until, after years of living in New York, Wang had her first child. The birth of her son, Wang explains in voiceover, got her thinking about the policy, which had been so ingrained into Chinese society as to be almost invisible—a harsh law that was unquestionably enforced but that nonetheless went unquestioned.

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