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The Best Undistributed Films of 2017

Written by C.J. Prince on December 31, 2017 

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Every year, new films premiere at festivals around the world with the hopes of obtaining distribution so they can be seen by general audiences. Of course, not every film ends up with that fate: some don’t get accepted to festivals, others screen at smaller festivals with less publicity, and even the ones that do end up premiering at a major fest aren’t guaranteed a deal. This results in great films falling through the cracks, ignored and/or forgotten because of their perceived profitability rather than their quality.

Here are ten films from 2017 that (to the best of my knowledge) have yet to find a US distributor, films that will hopefully get the chance to be viewed by general audiences sooner rather than later, if at all.

Angels Wear White (Vivian Qu)

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Vivian Qu’s Angels Wear White is a film about women, or more specifically the way women survive within systems and institutions powerful men use to oppress them. When a police chief brings two pre-teen girls to a hotel to sexually assault them, the hotel’s receptionist (and only witness to the crime) finds herself torn over going to the authorities as it might expose her status as an illegal immigrant. What makes Qu’s film so potent in its examination of institutional corruption is how she filters it through the perspective of female characters, including another hotel worker using her sexuality to support herself, a lawyer fighting impossible forces to put the police chief away, and the young victims themselves, who face a barrage of attacks for telling the truth. It’s an enraging and effective tale of how those in power abuse and discriminate in order to maintain their depraved status quo, made by a new filmmaker quickly establishing herself as someone to watch.

Cardinals (Grayson Moore and Aidan Shipley)

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On the surface, Grayson Moore and Aidan Shipley’s Cardinals looks like the kind of small, family drama that doesn’t inspire much attention, but overlooking this tense little film would be a mistake. It starts when Valerie (Sheila McCarthy) gets out of prison after serving time for running over and killing her neighbor while drunk driving. But as soon as Valerie comes back home, her neighbor’s son comes looking for answers, accusing Valerie of intentionally killing his father. Moore and Shipley use a restrained, elliptical style that lets viewers connect the dots as to what really happened, and Moore’s screenplay mines plenty of tension and humor out of the decorum these characters maintain when forced to interact with each other. With a terrific ensemble to boot (including a great performance by lead Sheila McCarthy), Cardinals is one of the strongest debut features of the year.

A Gentle Creature (Sergei Loznitsa)

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Loosely adapted from Dostoyevsky’s shory story of the same name, Sergei Loznitsa’s film received a chilly response at Cannes when it premiered in competition despite being one of the best films vying for the Palme. The unnamed ‘gentle creature’ (Vasilina Makovtseva) has a care package meant for her imprisoned husband returned without reason, which inspires her to make the long trip to his jail in order to make sure it gets delivered. Her journey is more or less a descent into hell, with corrupt officials, rotten people, and a dearth of human decency showing itself in every meticulously composed frame. Loznitsa’s direction is masterful in the way it expresses such a refined fury at the current state of Russia, and he caps everything off with a final act so audacious it demands admiration. There’s a boldness to A Gentle Creature that’s missing from almost every other film in 2017, and its willingness to take risks as big as the ones it does should be celebrated, not scorned.

Good Luck (Ben Russell)

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A bifurcated look at two sets of workers on different sides of the world, Ben Russell’s Good Luck takes a simple form and uses it to explore the complexities of globalisation and the world economy. Russell dedicates the first half to a group of government miners working underground in Siberia, then abruptly changes his focus to a potentially illegal gold mining operation run by a collective in Suriname. Through filming the workers’ conversations with each other, Russell lets the commonalities between both halves occur naturally, as everyone finds themselves relying more on luck than their hard labor to live a better life. Shot on Super 16, Good Luck also showcases some of the more stunning sequences from 2017, including an elevator ride to the top of the Siberian mine and steadicam shots of the miners at work.

Good Manners (Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas)

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Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas’ 2011 debut Hard Labor blended social drama and horror to promising results. For their new collaboration Good Manners, they’ve put a heavier emphasis on genre to make one of the most unpredictable films of the year. Taking place in Sao Paolo, nurse Clara finds a new job in the city taking care of a single, pregnant woman, only to discover her new boss may be hiding a supernatural secret. Revealing any more of where Good Manners ends up would spoil all of its fun, as Dutra and Rojas contort their fantastical tale into as many different forms as they can think of. Sporting fantastic cinematography cloaking the film with the aura of a children’s storybook, along with a riveting performance by Isabél Zuaa, Good Manners is an ideal example of a genre hybrid, pulling together seemingly disparate elements to create something that surprises and delights with its cohesiveness.

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