AFI Fest 2014: ‘Felt’ shows the jarring effects of rape culture

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felt

Felt
Written by Jason Banker and Amy Everson
Directed by Jason Banker
USA, 2014

It’s a rare discovery when a film can materialize the internal terror that women experience on a daily basis so disturbingly close to reality. Blurring the lines of documentary and narrative storytelling, Felt truly is a film that demands to be felt. It accomplishes its goal by penetrating the deepest, most harrowing aspects of trauma to tell one of the most powerful and jarring stories about the female experience and rape culture ever put on screen.

Director and cinematographer Jason Banker follows his 2012 debut film, Toad Road with Felt, co-written by Amy Everson who stars in the film as Amy, a San Franciscan artist recently plagued by a trauma (not explained but certainly sexual) inflicted by the men in her life. As her ordeal unravels emotionally and psychologically, she plunges herself in the world of art as a coping mechanism.

“My life is a fucking nightmare” are the first words out of Amy’s mouth, a vocal confirmation of her trauma, usually reserved for her performance art. From there, we see her as she caves in on herself, crawling so deep and beyond it’s unknown where the real Amy starts and ends. She re-appropriates the male form by frolicking in the woods, wearing an anatomically correct muscle suit and trying to re-enact the dominance demonstrated by the men she’s encountered. But it doesn’t stop there, as she continues to embrace their stereotypical brash, lewd attitude outside of costume form. This outlet to reclaim the power taken from her by an unknown attacker is only the beginning of how her mental disintegration manifests. Witnessing her inner battle materialize in outer form further conveys the delusion and terror that Amy struggles with every day, heightening the grim realities and the harsh effects of our gender warped society.

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As Amy, Everson is equally charming and quirky yet brutally dark and intense. With these contradicting polarities, Amy is a compelling character who thrives in her darkest moments. Her eggshell-thin fragility only evokes the uneasiest tensions and like a ticking bomb, she’s bound to go off with a bang. When she isn’t creating art, Amy goes on dates with grade-A assholes for reasons unknown considering the obvious, or toys with photographers who primarily want to shoot female nudes by dressing up in her costume. Even as much as Amy is drowning in her palpable vulnerability, she makes bold moves and is aggressively courageous in moments of potentially looming danger. Things take a turn when she meets Kenny, a genuinely good guy. But this isn’t the type of film that caters to happy endings, and naturally, with escalating jabbing tension, tragedy strikes. Still, regardless of its unexpected and shocking ending, it’s Everson who is at the center and keeps the film in orbit with her haunting performance.

Banker utilizes his signature documentary style to create the suffocatingly intimate and teeth-clenching uneasiness that is Amy’s nightmarish world. But this style of filmmaking goes even deeper considering its meta-textual underpinnings (Everson is a real life artist and all the art we see in the film is hers). Instead of resorting to a traditional art documentary, Banker’s collaboration with Everson tells a story that resonates skin-deep no matter what gender. Felt is a rare gem that shows a unique female perspective trying to seize back control of her identity without preaching overt misandry. As the film proves, however, it’s hard to be a woman in a man’s world.

Amplify has acquired Felt and will be releasing it to US and Canadian theaters in April 2015.

– So Yun Um

Visit the official website of AFI Fest.

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