American Essentials Film Festival – The Plus Ones’ Guide

America’s political climate is pretty tumultuous at the moment, to say the least. This has led to protests, outspoken opinions, and—perhaps one of the few positive outcomes—inspired works of art. Filmmakers in particular are telling stories that intend to arouse passion, either through documentaries or fiction films. A lot of these films come from independent studios.

Running from 11 to 24 May, the American Essentials Film Festival showcases standouts from independent film festivals such as Sundance and SXSW. Judging by this year’s selection, these filmmakers are responding to their culture by addressing prominent issues in creative ways.

Check out The Plus Ones’ top five picks for this year’s festival.


  1. 20th Century Women

From director Mike Mills (Beginners, Thumbsucker), this film takes place in Southern California during the 70s. With the rising influence of free love and feminism at its core, it tells the story of a teenage boy and his mother, along with two other women who helped raise him.

The film has already received stellar reviews in the UK and US, and is set to be wonderful opening for the festival.


  1. Wiener Dog

If there’s one thing you can count on with director Todd Solondz, it’s that you can never count on him doing the same thing twice. From the director of bizarre and confronting films like Happiness and Welcome to the Doll House, his latest features a dog as its protagonist, telling stories of the profound impact it has on several people’s lives. Julie Delpy (Before Midnight) and Greta Gerwig (Jackie) also star.    


  1. From Nowhere

Taking the sensitive issue of US immigration as its backdrop, this film follows three high school students trying to hide their illegal immigrant status from everyone around them. The film won the narrative spotlight award at SXSW and the A.V. Club praised it as a ‘smart, sensitive, and subtle portrait’.


  1. David Lynch: The Art Life

Director David Lynch (Mulholland Dr., Twin Peaks) hardly needs an introduction. Master of the surreal and weirdly comic, Lynch has re-entered the culture with a third season of his widely celebrated Twin Peaks coming soon, almost 20 years after the show first aired and more than ten years since his last feature film, Inland Empire.

This documentary charts the life and influences of the painter and filmmaker, making it necessary viewing for Lynch fans and anyone interested in the creative process.


  1. The Bomb

One of the more alternative entries on our list, this is an experimental documentary about nuclear weapons. It features a live music backing from The Acid and a short running time. Meaning the chances are this one won’t be getting a wide release. Check it out at the festival before it disappears.

The American Essentials Film Festival also features screenings of American classics The Graduate and David Lynch’s early masterpiece, Eraserhead in a double bill with the documentary. For a good dose of America’s culture outside of Hollywood, this is a festival worth attending.

-Tom Bensley is a freelance writer in Melbourne who reviews anything he attends, watches or reads. It’s a compulsion, really. Follow him @TomAliceBensley.

The American Essentials Film Festival is running from 11 – 24 May in Melbourne at the Palace Cinemas Como and Westgarth, and the Astor Theatre. The venues are wheelchair accessible.

Image Credit: The American Essentials Film Festival.