From Cinequest 2024: Four Films About Successfully Beating the Odds

Ben Friedman


When I attended the Cinequest Film Fest last year, the mood within Hollywood had reached its boiling point. As the actors and writers went on strike, it seemed clear to everyone who covers the industry that film production would never be the same. It left many feeling trepidation about their future within the industry. Despite the studios and guilds coming to an agreement just in time for the new calendar year, the scars of the strikes still resonate throughout the film industry. Now more than ever, film festivals are so vital in raising a new generation of artists.


Every year, Cinequest offers filmmakers the opportunity to showcase innovation and entertain audiences. Located in Silicon Valley, California, this year’s festival lineup, which took place last month, featured 250-plus films showcasing a wide range of new and exciting voices. In curating this lineup, I selected four films that all share one specific point of commonality: flawed people trying to make it through their day despite the odds being stacked against them. Some stories are more successful than others, yet these four films demonstrate a unique perspective in their search to make sense of our current American lifestyles.




Written by Megan Seely, Puddysticks is a wickedly twisted, and often comedic odyssey of an anxious videogame designer trying to balance her work and well-being. After suffering from mental and physical exhaustion, our protagonist Liz enrolls in a therapy self-help group consisting of adults whose goal is to play, as if they are children.

Through playtime, the participants are promised to achieve psychological healing. Yet, we soon learn this program isn’t all that it is made out to be. The world that Seely crafts can best be described as a mix between The Twilight Zone and The Good Place, and her meticulous control of pacing throughout the film is impressive for such a young filmmaker. Seely’s ambitious screenplay doesn’t always land emotionally and moments in the film’s climax feel shallow and predictable. Despite Puddysticks’ flaws, its ambition and worldbuilding are wholly unique and worthy of recognition.




Anyone who has ever worked a night job knows how eerily silent the work can be. As you battle to stay awake, every little noise feels amplified as danger feels ever-present. In SHIFT, directed by Max Neace, security guard Tom finds himself caught in the middle of said danger after witnessing a man going missing. While examining the security monitors, he realizes that something far more sinister is afoot as he finds himself wrapped in a bloody conspiracy.

If this premise sounds vaguely familiar, that is because SHIFT is paying direct homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. An examination of the obsessive mind, SHIFT combines the voyeuristic qualities of Hitchcock’s filmmaking and partners it with an offbeat irreverent humor that pairs well together. Where SHIFT goes feels familiar, yet its originality comes from framing this story within the confines of a storage unit, which gives the film an ever-growing sense of claustrophobia.



Another Day in America

Workplace satire is a mode of comedy audiences have seen time and time again. Whether it's the inappropriate shenanigans of Michael Scott in The Office or Milton Waddams burning down the office building in Office Space, much has been written about the American workforce. Yet, COVID presented new challenges within the workspace as Americans found themselves easily expendable at the heights of the pandemic. Thus, their eventual return to the workplace created an ever-growing fault-line between employee and employer.

That is the tension that Another Day in America is trying to hone in on, yet never successfully achieves. Instead, the filmmakers present Another Day in America as an over-heightened dark satire where misogyny and racism run rampant. The filmmakers seem inherently uninterested in exploring the environment of the American workforce, rather focusing their energy on trying to one-up each other on who can say the most offensive thing possible. While the heightened offensiveness works to display the growing tensions within the film, it becomes overtly distracting. Consequently, the in-your-face comedic sensibilities make the film feel less like a scathing indictment of American society and more like a bunch of comedians whining about cancel culture.



Tim Travers and the Time Traveler’s Paradox

If movies about time travel have taught us one thing, it is never meet your past self. Well, protagonist Tim Travers breaks that rule quickly, only to discover the time traveler’s paradox, in which the scientist travels to the past and kills his younger self. But something odd happens. The scientist who travels to the past and kills his younger self should logically no longer exist, yet somehow does.

Tim Travers and the Time Traveler’s Paradox is a science-fiction comedy like no other. The film feels like a mix of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five and Douglas Adams’s A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Samuel Dunning stars as Tim, or multiple Tims, as they try and discover how the impossible is possible. Along the way they match wits with mercenaries, a wacko podcaster, and a woman he fancies, forcing Travers to learn self-love -- in more ways than one. Director and writer Stinson Snead's ability to balance the absurd, while still bringing forth genuine moments of humanity and philosophical pondering is nothing short of impressive. Samuel Dunning who plays the titular Travers is a natural at making the comedy feel so effortless. As always Felicia Day is effortlessly delightful. Tim Travers and the Time Traveler's Paradox is wonderfully bizarre, funny, and incredibly endearing.


Author Bio:

Ben Friedman is a freelance film journalist and a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine. For more of his reviews, visit, his podcast Ben and Bran See a Movie, or follow him on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube: The Beniverse.


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