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November 03, 2022

Denver Film Festival - Bad Axe

bad axe.jpg

David Siev - 2022
IFC Films

The title alone suggests a horror movie. Bad Axe is a small town near the Eastern coast of Michigan in what is known as the "thumb" if you look at the state map. By small town, the population is currently a bit over 3000 residents. David Siev has thought of his film as love letter to the town where he grew up prior to moving to New York City. What has been constructed can be loosely described as a documentary about Siev's family between March 2020 and March 2021.

The Siev family is multi-racial in a predominantly white community. Chun Siev is a Cambodian refugee who remains haunted by memories of the killing fields, the sites where approximately two million people were murdered by the Khmer Rouge government. Chun's wife, Rachel is Mexican-American. The two founded a restaurant named after Rachel that evolved into a family business. What evolved became a story of how outside events, Covid 19, the protests following the death of George Floyd, and anti-Asian racism impacted the restaurant and the family. For Chun, especially, it is about living "the American Dream".

Chun's story is augmented by archival footage of Cambodia at the time of the Khmer Rouge genocide, between 1975 and 1979. There is also home movie footage of Chun visiting Cambodia as an adult. There is also the contrast with Chun and Rachel's children, in their Twenties, having grown up in the United States with different sets of expectations about what it means to be part of a racial minority. The pandemic provided an unintentional framework for drama as the Sievs pivot to serving take-out food during the enforced closure of businesses, dealing with customers who refuse to wear their masks when the restaurant re-opens, and the tension within the family about whether they should even continue to stay in business.

David Siev discussed the making of his film in interviews following Bad Axe screening at the SxSW Film Festival last March where it won a special prize. The premise that there can be such a thing as a totally objective or impartially documentary is impossible. Even if David Siev had chosen not to include any footage of himself, he is still brought into his film as an active participant by Rachel while filming Rachel dealing with a crank phone call. As it turned out, family life also provided the serendipitous ending with the Siev's welcoming their first grandchild.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 3, 2022 05:45 AM