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Frances McDormand plays Fern in Chloe Zhao's

Credit: Searchlight Pictures

Above: Frances McDormand plays Fern in Chloe Zhao's "Nomadland," a film that looks to a different way to define home and community.

Oscar winner Frances McDormand may lock another Oscar nomination for her work in "Nomadland," which is streaming on Hulu. Plus, Digital Gym Cinema offers "Minari" and cult classic "Dolemite."

Reported by Beth Accomando

'Nomadland'

"Nomadland" serves up a different kind of road movie. Fern (Frances McDormand) has lost everything – her husband, her job, her house. She sells what little she has to buy a van and discovers a new way to define home.

Chloe Zhao’s film presents a character who refuses to conform to society’s norms. Our culture places great value on material things such as a permanent physical dwelling and also tends to view family, success, and happiness in narrow terms. Both the film, and McDormand’s performance, display grace and naturalism as they define a way of life that some people may not understand as a choice. That choice may have been forced upon Fern at first but she makes a decision that a nomad’s life is for her.

The film never judges Fern or her choices. Zhao also takes great care to detail what living life on the road and out of a van is like. We come to admire the ingenuity of people like Fern who manage to make do with very little.

"Nomadland" is a compassionate portrait of American nomad life. It is beautifully and simply shot, capturing moments that we might miss. This is the kind of film I want to see from women directors, films that give us female characters driving the story but which also challenge conventional notions of what women can be.

Photo credit: A24

Steven Yuen plays Jacob Yi, a man who moves his family to Arkansas to start a farm in the 1980s in "Minari."

'Minari'

I also want to give a quick shout out to a pair of films screening through Digital Gym Cinema, first is "Minari" about a Korean family determined to start and run a farm in 1980s Arkansas. The film serves up a fresh take on immigrant stories as well as what defines the American Dream.

There are some things that we expect about not fitting in, about how much to assimilate and how much of one's own culture to hold onto. But there are surprises in how the family dynamic plays out once the grandmother arrives and in the unexpected friendship with a strangely religious neighbor (played wonderfully by Will Patton).

Writer-director Lee Issac Chung is the son of Korean immigrants, and he grew up on a small farm in rural Arkansas before attending Yale University. That personal background allows him to give us intimate details of family life on a farm and also about holding on to one's culture. One of the best moments in the film is when the mother smells the Korean spices the grandmother has brought and it brings her joy. To anyone who associates home with certain smells and flavors, this scene rings sweetly true.

The film is also fueled by amazing performances from Steven Yuen as the father, Yeri Han as the mother, Youn Yuh-Jung as the foul-mouthed grandmother with a love of wrestling, and little Alex Kim as the son.

Limited tickets are available through Digital Gym Cinema.

Photo credit: AGFA

Original poster for the 1975 film "Dolemite" starring Rudy Ray Moore as the character he created as a stand up comic.

'Dolemite'

You may not have seen "Dolemite" but if you saw "Black Dynamite" then you have experienced the film second hand since the film was a loving and hilarious homage to Rudy Ray Moore's character. Plus in 2019, Eddie Murphy paid tribute to Moore and the film in "Dolemite is My Name," a biopic of sorts that chronicled the making of this no-budget, completely outside the mainstream film.

"Dolemite" screens through the weekend in a partnership between Digital Gym Cinema and Film Geeks SD (for which I am one of the volunteer programmers). The restoration being screened is courtesy of Xenon Pictures and the American Genre Film Archive.

The film needs some context. It comes at the tail end of the Blaxploitation era, a period of time when Black filmmakers got to make films with Black casts for Black audiences to enjoy. "Dolemite" circles the periphery of the movement and had far less money to work with so the results are sometimes amateurish. Yet this film has so much heart.

Moore created the character of Dolemite as part of his comedy routine on stage and on albums. Then he had the crazy idea to make a movie with mostly his own money and mostly by booking theaters himself to screen it. But the film found an audience and it was a financial success. Is it great? No. Is it fun? Yes. Are there some things that feel awkward looking from 2021 at it? Yes.

But the film also allowed Black audiences to get an escape and see Black characters in control and exercising power. In order to put the film into context and discuss Blaxploitation and Moore, there will be a live Zoom discussion with author and filmmaker David F. Walker.

Here's a video I did for the Film Geeks' screening where he discusses why Blaxploitation films such as "Dolemite" deserve to be screened and discussed.

David Walker on Blaxploitation

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Photo of Beth Accomando

Beth Accomando
Arts & Culture Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover arts and culture, from Comic-Con to opera, from pop entertainment to fine art, from zombies to Shakespeare. I am interested in going behind the scenes to explore the creative process; seeing how pop culture reflects social issues; and providing a context for art and entertainment.

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