From family portraits to the American landscape | Highlighting Your Films

 Editors note: Something new I'm implementing here at Cinematic Faves is making a conscious effort to highlight films made by those who read the website or are emerging filmmakers looking for coverage. Below are three capsule reviews of documentaries made by three different filmmakers from both here in the UK and overseas, ranging from personal family portraits to tales from the American landscape. There is so much power in documenting moments from around the world, and filmmakers give us the ability to extend empathy by putting faces, voices and bodies to issues we hear about daily. Each one of these stories has come from a place of personal attachment, and it is beautiful to see the way that translates on screen. If you'd like to submit a short doc to be reviewed, please reach out via


Mary, Quite Contrary dir. by Meagan Arnold

From Meagan Arnold comes Mary, Quite Contrary set inside the walls of the Nalle family home where hand-painted Bible verses hang neatly, and children's toys scatter across the floor. 

Mary, the film's subject, is nine years old. She has a rare form of epilepsy that only 28 people are known to have in the world, and the five-minute film essentially charts a day in the family's life. It is claustrophobic at times, capturing just a few of the 50-100 falling seizures Mary can have in a day, showing the raw reality of taking care of a loved one and the difficulty that can entail. Among this, Arnold captures the joys the family has, registering the way Mary's eyes light up as she bounces on the trampoline or flies through the air on the swing set. Her mother voices the film, narrating the resiliency of Mary's approach to life. 

There is often a struggle when capturing something as intimate as a family's life within the home, especially when the subject is a child. Arnold mentions in her blog: "How was I going to encompass her life, her experience through video when she couldn't verbalize it for me? How do I represent her seizures, where is the line between necessary information and too graphic?". Though we do not hear directly from Mary, we see her through the eyes of those who love her. We do long to know more of what's inside Mary's mind as she navigates the day, and although the film has a short run time, there's scope to explore this further. 

Mary, Quite Contrary adopts a warm quality that feels like a home video. Although it's as sleek as a commercial, it captures a family's heart and could easily extend to a longer film that allows people to get to know what life is like for the Nalles. Arnold's storytelling is rhythmic, and it would be exciting to see what that looks like through the filmmaker's lens.

Mary, Quite Contrary is currently part of the Lost Reels Short film Showcase with Cinema Touching Disability, screening online and for free from now till Sept 15th.

Jelly Brain dir. by Kieran Nolan Jones

A filmmaker is always at their best when telling a personal story, and this could not be more true for Kieran Nolan Jones, whose short doc, Jelly Brain, explore the side effects of a family dealing with trauma. The fifteen-minute film combines animation with talking heads to create a surreal yet intimate space for the audience. Jones's horror roots could not be more prevalent within the film combining Jo Paterson's haunting score with the aesthetic to build a tangible tension that leaves its audience in an in-between existence pre and post-accident.

Jones's subject is his mother, who suffered a traumatic brain injury, and the film charts the aftermath of what it feels like to "have a stranger in the home", as he describes it. 

Jelly Brain quite masterfully reflects the fragility of our mind and the way life alters in a heartbeat no matter our age. Jones is relentlessly honest with his own experience, mentioning personal faults and coping mechanisms that any audience member can identify. When a storyteller so openly admits their failings, it invites us to be more empathetic and engage with a subject ten-fold, even if we, ourselves, have not lived that experience. Filmmaking is the ultimate medium for taking the external and subverting it into something more complex. Jones's mother describes her experience living with an invisible illness that people cannot see just by looking at her.

It's scarily hypnotic, with the home videos and the family portraits building a world for us to understand how the present has moved from the past. The use of colour is magnificent and such a simple way to envelop us deeper into the story. 

You can watch the film at Director's Notes here

Picture Jasper dir. by H. Nelson Tracey 

H. Nelson Tracey's Picture Jasper lovingly captures the landscapes of the American West, following Steve Schultz along the Oregon and Idaho border where he mines for Picture Jasper, a rare form of rock used within jewellery.

As well as providing a brief history for those who may be unfamiliar with the subject, the film is also a personal one that captures the physical strain it takes on Schultz to get the job done. Showing the elegance of the craft, revealing the stunning portraits of landscape that live within the unassuming rock, the film also highlights the grit of the gruelling conditions they work within. At one point, one of the contributors says: "It's gonna be a lot easier to give up on it before we should," and this embodies the persistence in Tracey's filmmaking, pushing through alongside the contributors to meet the end goal.

With an aesthetic that would be at home on TV, the film reflects on an alternate America. With news reports flooding in daily of the horrors that thrive within the country, it offers a peaceful tale from the workers that make up the nation. An audience can exist inside this world for 20-minutes with ease because it is so beautifully realised. The contributors are endearing, and their enthusiasm for what they do jumps through Tracey's lens and into the hearts of those who watch. The filmmakers have stumbled across a gem of a story, and watching them share the details of the thing they're passionate about is a wonderful escape. 

Picture Jasper has found its audience online after a festival run from 2019 - 2020. It can now be watched via the following link 

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