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Preview: Rochester International Film Festival


In its 62nd year, the Rochester International Film Festival has gone digital in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Traditionally held at the George Eastman Museum’s Dryden Theatre, the festival presents a diverse and varied program of short films of all genres, submitted from all across the globe. Featuring 28 fiction films, documentaries, animation, and experimental shorts, there’s bound to be something for everyone in this year’s lineup.

All films will be available for online viewing free of charge at for one week, from Sunday, June 21, through Saturday, June 27. A few highlights from this year’s festival follows.

In “Gifts of the Heart” from writer-director Chris Craymer, a dropped bag of oranges leads to an unexpected interaction between a woman named Lucy and a handsome man soliciting for organ donors. Over the course of three critical years, we watch as Lucy experiences both love and loss on her path toward happiness.

Oranges also play a crucial role in the captivating “Nostalgia in Domicella,” from director, writer, and choreographer Carla Forte. The film uses form and movement to explore ideas of loneliness and the sense of self.

“Kino Ratten (Cinema Rats)” is a fantastical story set in pre-war Nazi Germany about a projectionist forced by SS officers to screen propaganda films, but the rats that reside in his theater have other ideas. Using computer animation and motion capture technology, director Peter McCully tells an unusual tale about the power of protest through art.

In “Love Nonnie,” director Lisa Addario turns the camera on her grandmother, Louise “Nonnie” Bonito, who at 102-years-old was the subject of a 2015 viral video. Now 107, Nonnie is still a spitfire, and deeply inspiring as she talks about surviving abuse and facing down difficult times in order to build a life for herself and her five adoring children. Also worth noting is that the film is shot by Kirsten Johnson, award-winning cinematographer and filmmaker behind “Cameraperson,” one of the best documentaries of the past decade.

Issues of family and identity are at the heart of the powerful “EunSeo,” by director Park Joon-ho. The story centers around Eun-Seo, a woman who fled from North Korea as a young girl and over the intervening 20 years has built a family and made a life for herself in South Korea. She’s worked to keep her background a secret from those who know her, but when her mother unexpectedly escapes across the border and comes to live with her, she’s unprepared for the change in how she’s seen by others once her history is revealed. It's one of my favorites of this year’s festival.

Anonymous voices share the worries, fears, distractions, and unanswerable questions that they find keep them up at night in “Night Birds & Ghost Crabs.” Robert Sickels juxtaposes their words with images shot mostly on an iPhone and GoPro to create a fascinating collage of humanity and its anxieties.

A scene from "Ironrite." - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • A scene from "Ironrite."
In 1950s America, a housewife and her young son resort to hiding in their home in order to avoid speaking to an aggressive door-to-door salesman in “Ironrite,” directed by Clayton Combe. Adapted by a short story written by Combe’s father about his own mother, the film tackles American society and gender roles with an unsettling honesty.

A little boy whose mother is struggling with addiction faces a difficult decision about his future in “Crystal Horse,” from Israeli filmmaker Ronen Amar. An empathetic and heartbreaking story that gains much of its power from the wonderful performance by young performer Roi Mehabad at its center.

Directed by Kyung Sok Kim, the bittersweet and deeply moving “Furthest From” is a coming-of-age story about a little girl residing in a trailer park in Novato, California. Forced to grapple with issues far beyond her years, she watches the park’s population dwindle as one by one the families who live there must pack up and evacuate due to contamination of the local water system.

Maverick Moore’s entertainingly offbeat farce “My Dinner With Werner” draws on real events, real people, and their real statements to tell a chaotic story about a dinner date with legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog that goes horribly wrong.

A bike tour to the Yellow River becomes a journey of growth and catharsis for a young woman struggling to make good on a promise to her hospitalized best friend in the touching, heartfelt, and gorgeously-lensed “Carry My Heart to the Yellow River,” directed by Alexis Van Hurkman.

Cary Patrick Martin’s sweet “Coffee and a Donut” tells the story of Pablo, a young immigrant who’s new to the United States and speaks no English. Attempting to immerse himself in the culture of his new home, he decides to start by ordering breakfast at the local diner but finds the experience more of a struggle than he anticipated. A charming story about empathy and human connection.

“Shot Down: Howard Snyder and the B-17 Susan Ruth” tells the true story of Howard Snyder, an American shot down by German fighters over occupied Belgium on February 8, 1944. Based on the book by Howard’s son Steve, Michael A. Mazur’s documentary tells the incredible story of how Snyder was missing in action for seven months, but evaded capture after being taken in by members of the Belgian Underground before he joined the French Resistance.

An eager reporter interviews the harried manager of the Boston Red Sox in the sweet and sentimental “Extra Innings,” by writer-director John Gray, which examines the bonds of fathers and sons through the game of baseball.

In Marcus Markou’s dramatic fantasy “Office Song,” the inner lives of ordinary, everyday office workers in the UK come pouring out through poetry as they find the words to express their deepest, most hidden desires with unexpected consequences.

Beatrice Möller’s compelling documentary “Depot Asmara” focuses on the steam railway of Eritrea. Built during the country’s colonial period, the system served a vital role in the country’s history. While the trains are still operational, they now function mostly as an attraction for tourists. But through the eyes of a young engineer named Hinza and Fezahatsion, the aging chief mechanic who mentors him, the trains become a symbol of a country still struggling to find its path forward.

Adam Lubitow is a freelance writer for CITY. Feedback on this article can be directed to Rebecca Rafferty, CITY's arts & entertainment editor, at [email protected].