By Wanjiku Kungu
A few years ago, my sister introduced me to “Raising Victor Vargas,” an independent film she thought I would like. After watching this film, I got the bug… for independent films specifically. I’ve always loved movies but I didn’t get to go to the theater often, so the fact that Netflix and other various movie-viewing websites existed made it possible for me to explore new films. I loved the feeling I got when I would find a new film. It was like finding a hidden treasure and I’d either share it with anyone who would watch or keep it to myself. Here are seven independent films you should watch.
-This 2002 film follows a Lower East Side teen, Victor Vargas, and his pursuit Judy Gonzalez, his neighborhood crush. Victor struggles to get away from his “Rico Suave” mentality that has so far gotten him nowhere with Judy, who has a different agenda of her own. He is the oldest of three siblings and is a bad role model according to his grandmother, who’s their legal guardian. In truth, his brother and sister are maturing and discovering themselves but their grandmother won’t let that happen. When Victor is finally honest with Judy, his grandmother and himself, everything seems to fall into place.
-When most young people enter college, they hope for change, new friends, and fun and exciting experiences to reminisce on years from now. When Tariq Mahdi (played by Evan Ross) enters college, leaving behind his strict Muslim household, he has an experience all too much unforgettable when he decides to spread his wings. The attacks on Sept.11 occur, leaving many students shocked and outraged, forcing Tariq to deal with their anger and hostility, as well as recalling his own troubling experiences growing up. “Mooz-Lum” explores how the environment affects peoples’ views on religion, as well as the tolerance everyone should all have towards one another.
-I wouldn’t call “Adam” a typical love story between a man and a woman; it is a little more complicated than that. Adam, the main character, finds himself very intrigued by his new neighbor Beth the moment he lays his eyes on her, but he has difficulty communicating because he has Asperger syndrome. Intrigued by Adam, Beth decides to help him connect with her as well as others, bringing them closer together. The two persevere throughout the awkward moments until some truths come out and the relationship is tested.
-As Magdalena is preparing for her 15th birthday where she’ll have a quinceañera (an extravagant coming-of-age celebration), she finds out that she is pregnant but claims to have never ‘been with’ a boy. Nobody, including her family, believes her and she is sent to live with her Tío Tomas and her gay, trouble-maker cousin Carlos, another exile from the family. Magdalena, with nobody else to turn to, becomes close with her great-granduncle and cousin forming a family of their own learning much more than she ever thought she would.
-Most people have seen a homeless person before, whether they were asking for change or sleeping in their car or outside. Have you ever wondered how they got in that place or what they had been doing before they had nowhere to go? “Where God Left His Shoes” shows how a family of four goes from an apartment in the city to a homeless shelter and how a father (played by John Leguizamo) struggles to find a job so he can have a home for his children by Christmas. What makes the film authentic is its honesty in the subject and that it doesn’t sugar coat the fact that there are millions of people going through the same thing all over the country.
-On the outside, Greta O’Donnell may come off as a typical teenage girl full of angst and attitude, but viewers quickly learn that her thoughts are way beyond her years. When Greta is forced to stay with her grandparents for the summer, she puts them through hell and back with her adventurous, and at times morbid, antics. She wants to kill herself before she turns 18, so she carries around a list of ways to die as well as a list of things to do before she dies. Greta is so concerned with her own life that she doesn’t realize how much she is hurting the people who care about her. And yes, she’s been through some troubles, but it becomes difficult to tell whether she is actually depressed or just wants the attention. The film’s star and producer Hilary Duff is very believable as Greta. She is way beyond ‘Lizzie McGuire’ and she plays her character with grit and honesty. “According to Greta” is a great film with the lesson that you “can’t control every damn thing that happens in your life.”
-“Toe to Toe” follows a rocky friendship between two girls who head their high school lacrosse team. Tosha and Jesse couldn’t be any more opposite, but still they find ways to bond. One thing the two have in common is Rashid, a ‘nice’ boy who is attracted to both girls, but one more than the other. Jealousy and teenage hormones get in the way of Tosha and Jesse’s relationship and it slowly tears apart with every backstabbing incident. The film is racially charged emphasizing the differences between the two girls —one hardworking and black; the other privileged and white and obviously troubled. Jesse is desperate for love and attention, which she is clearly lacking at home, and Tosha is struggling to get high enough grades so she can get a scholarship to Princeton and escape her stressful neighborhood. With much honesty and relevance to teenage girls today, this film brings to light neglect, sexual promiscuity, views on race and more.