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(The 2020 Sundance Film Festival ran January 23-February 2 in and around Park City Utah. Hammer to Nail has boots on the ground at the fest and guarantee more coverage thank any other site out there. Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not give just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)

There’s fun at the screening and then there’s Zola fun at a screening. Based on a series of tweets from 2015, the Janicza Bravo comedy opens with the line “you wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch fell out? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.” I mean, it’s not really that full of suspense, and it certainly doesn’t feel long as it’s zips by with pure enjoyment. Of course, a different attention span is needed between watching a movie and reading a series of 144 tweets.

Now, when Trump sends out 144 tweets in one day it’s a national emergency (also known as Sunday) but when Zola does it, she’s guiding us through the worst weekend of her life. After making an insta-friends at her diner with Stefani (aka ‘This Bitch’), she heads off on a road trip to dance in some Florida strip clubs not knowing what her new friend planned. Without getting it into the specifics of it – because a big portion of the fun of this film is Zola’s voice in guiding us down this narrative rabbit hole – it soon becomes very clear that what Stefani has planned has very little to do with what Zola has expected.

Starring Taylour Paige and Riley Keough, the film lets you into a secret world that most of us don’t have access to. In fact, a good portion of the film might be in a foreign language, we are even given subtitles to explain some of the more out-there phraseology. By giving Zola control of the narrative, the screenwriter has done us a service. We know who we are cheering for, and we know she gets out okay (because she managed to tweet about it). That doesn’t make any of the scenes any less tense but it does allow us to really enjoy the comedy and the absurdity of what we are witnessing. Both stars deliver fantastic performances and the film seems to be a perfect pick up for A24 and make new cult heroes like James Franco’s turn in Spring Breakers. I don’t know if this is the first ever script to be fashioned out of a tweetstorm, but it does prove that stories have found new places to exist and aspiring filmmakers have figured out where to find them.

As this is one of the last films I saw at Sundance, I couldn’t help but compare it to the other films which seem to exist purely because of social media, especially Spree or even the documentary Feels Good Man. In an age when cinema struggles against second screen experiences to keep our intention, it’s fun to see Sundance draw something substantial from those sources. Because this is an A24 film I have to assume that their goal for it is theatrical release, and that may just work. A few years ago Neon paid big money for Ingrid Goes West, a similar film many people consider to be a financial failure. However, Zola has two things going for it, it’s a comedy and it’s based on a true story. Does this beat out Aubrey Plaza and a host of other stars? We’ll see. In the meantime, try to keep your Twitter searches from ruining the plot turns.

(Editors note, Melanie Addington also has an excellent review of Zola at this link.)

Bears Rebecca Fonte (@BearsFonte)

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Bears Rebecca Fonté is a transgender filmmaker, festival programmer, and journalist. She founded Other Worlds Film Festival after two years as the Director of Programming for Austin Film Festival. Her SciFi shorts ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE, PRENATAL, and THE SECRET KEEPER have played 150+ festivals including Fantasia, SciFi London, Boston SciFi, FilmQuest, Austin Film Festival and Dances With Films. Her LGBTQIA Horror short CONVERSION THERAPIST made its world premiere at Inside Out in Toronto and US Premiere at aGLIFF. Her feature thriller iCRIME, which she wrote and directed, was released on DVD, VOD and streaming by Breaking Glass/Vicious Circle Films in 2011. Bears Rebecca also was one of the producers on the Sundance Jury-Award Winning short THE PROCEDURE. In 2021, after five years on the Board of Directors she was made Artistic Director of aGLIFF, the oldest Queer film festival in the Southwest.

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