Venice 2020: Topside

Topside. Photo credit: Lowell A. Meyer.

The SXSW award-winning Topside made its world premiere during the 2020 Venice International Film Critics Week after not premiering in March.

Many international film festivals have come to the rescue for the SXSW orphans still wanting an official world premiere with an audience.  In this instance, it is Venice coming to the rescue for Topside.  The feature debut from Celine Held and Logan George won a special jury award for directing at SXSW in March.  It was only a matter of time before audiences started to know why.  In watching the film, I can definitely see why the jury fell in love with it.

Nikki (Celine Held) and her five-year-old daughter Little (Zhaila Farmer) call an abandoned subway tunnel underneath Manhattan their home.  Of course, this can only last for so long before a raid forces them relocate above the ground.  Imagine being a young kid and having life as you know it ripped out right in front of your eyes.  Little has only known this subway community and now she has to quickly adjust to the chaos that is life in Manhattan.  This surely isn’t without some level of suspense, of which I’ll get to here in a moment.  The other thing here is that this raid happens during winter and then you really feel for the two of them.

Zhaila Farmer is performing on screen for the first time.  They might say to never work with children but you honestly couldn’t tell.  This may be one of those instances where it helps that Held doesn’t just co-direct the film but star in Topside as well.

I’m no stranger to Held and George’s work having watched their short film, Lockdown, in 2019.  In their feature debut, they bring back cinematographer Lowell A. Meyer.  Meyer beautifully lights up the film, which also gets into suspenseful territory.  He has a way of differentiating between the two different worlds as they require very different lighting.

Topside shows a glimpse of New York that we might–as of early-to-mid September 2020–never see for years to come.

DIRECTORS/SCREENWRITERS:  Celine Held & Logan George
CAST:  Zhaila Farmer, Celine Held, Jared Abrahamson, Fatlip

Topside held its world premiere during the 2020 Venice International Film Critics Week. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.