HIFF 2022: Bad Axe, Paper City, and Sentenced

Bad Axe

Two and a half years into the COVID-19 pandemic and we’ve already gotten our fair share of fiction and nonfiction films about the early months of 2020. Bad Axe is another of those films, but poignantly told first-hand through the eyes of director David Siev’s family. The film begins as the first lockdowns were ordered, and David’s family’s restaurant – which his sisters help run – is thrown into turmoil and uncertainty. David also digs into his father’s traumatic upbringing in Cambodia’s Killing Fields and how his immigration to the US has shaped how he runs his family, for better and worse. But as if being a restaurant owner during the pandemic is difficult enough, the business sits in the titular Michigan town, in the heart of Trump country, which begins treating the Siev family differently. From the BLM protests to the mask mandates, David’s family, especially sister Rachel, remain outspoken even if it means alienating themselves further and risking their business. The film could use some narrative cohesion, but otherwise it’s hard to find many faults with such an honest portrayal of a subject the director is obviously close to. This is a tight-knit family that you can’t help but root for.

Bad Axe will premiere as a Special Presentation courtesy of IFC Films at the Heartland Film Festival on October 15 at 2:45pm. Buy a ticket here.

Paper City

No matter how you look at it, the firebombing of Tokyo on March 10, 1945 was a horrific tragedy. Whether you’re Japanese or American or German or any other nationality, there’s an inherent sadness when so many lives are lost in an instant. But watching Paper City as an American, there’s an extra tinge of regret, because it was a catastrophe that was needlessly executed. The documentary explains in the opening moments that the American military had ceased the targeting of Japanese military locations and had begun randomly targeting civilians. One hundred thousand people were senselessly and horrifically killed, and the documentary seeks to tell the stories of the few living survivors, and their crusade to hold the Japanese government accountable. Director Adrian Francis rightfully keeps the focus on the survivors as they fight to not only erect any kind of monument to the event, but receive reparations from the government for what they perceive as an avoidable tragedy. Paper City could have expanded beyond its 80 minute runtime by exploring the government’s reluctance to acknowledge the survivor’s plight, or the views of a younger generation that didn’t experience the trauma firsthand, but regardless, this is an emotionally impactful documentary.

Buy virtual tickets here.


Sentenced is a documentary that will open your eyes to an aspect of life that most of us take for granted, and for that, it’s an achievement. If you’re able to read this review, you live amongst the majority of Americans that the film speaks to. It’s an eye-opening look at a failure of the American system that we don’t speak often enough of, and it does so with a heart and tenderness that’s sorely needed. Directors Mark Allen Johnson and Connor Martin portray the daily lives of American adults that struggle with literacy in an intimate, often heartbreaking way. How they got to where they are today is often a result of horrific trauma or, in some cases, simple neglect from their parents or educators. At only 69 minutes, the film could do better to deeply explore the American systems that failed them, but its mere existence should be a clarion call for action or, at the very least, empathy.

Buy virtual and tickets here.

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