Film Review: The Mentor

The Mentor

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There’s a fine line between pretentious indie film and pretentious indie film satire. Moez Solis not only walks that line in his debut feature, The Mentor, he also repeatedly crosses it in both directions. It’s worth checking out for its atypical protagonist – an aspiring filmmaker who is also a young woman of color. Solis’ script has echoes of Cecil B. Demented and Adaptation but he may have gone a little too far with the meta-ness.

Nilah (Brandi Nicole Payne) is a student in need of a mentor. She solicits the sage advice of touted indie filmmaker, Claire Adams (Liz Sklar) to find the inspiration and resources she needs in order to complete her first film. But their session is cut short when they’re kidnapped by a desperate group of indie filmmakers who want to hold Claire ransom in exchange for a production budget.

The Mentor is voiceover heavy, but not overly expository. We’re privy to Nilah’s obsessive internal artist monologue. Payne commands the screen with her presence, as she quotes the Gods of indie film and her “mama” to illuminate her motivations.

“Mama always said you needed a guide to get to anywhere of importance.”

Here, Nilah is our guide through the seedy underbelly of the Art Life. Nilah and Claire’s captors sport bird masks and matching code names: Mr. Owl (Mike Bash), Mr. Raven (Michael James Kelly), Mrs. Hawk (Julie Lockfield), Mr. Emu (Santiago Rosas), and Mr. Pigeon (Corey Jackson). At first, it is unclear what this group wants, other than to argue over the “rules” of independent cinema. Eventually, they reveal their motivations. But then a larger conspiracy unravels, and it turns out that everyone is wearing a mask of one sort or another.

The best thing Solis did was hire Payne and Sklar. If Nilah was just another white Incel with a script, and Claire was a middle-aged male blowhard, this thing would be practically unwatchable. Instead, he gives us two women at very different stages in their artistic journeys, discussing the finer points of what it takes to get a film made. Any woman with an IMDb credit has had to work approximately 80% harder to get there. Claire and Nilah’s conversations take on double meaning as the story plays out according to doctrine they’ve elucidated.

I also have to hand it to Solis for using Werner Herzog as the name-checked filmic inspiration for pretty much all of the characters. Herzog is dynamic and wholly original, and not who most pretentious film types latch on to as their patron saint.

Solis presupposes that what aspiring indie filmmakers really want in a mentor is someone to tell them they’re undiscovered geniuses. It also scathingly exposes the hypocrisy of artists that believe mistreating people is part of the process. But I feel like Solis painted himself into a corner by (as he has stated in interviews) purposefully creating a film that requires multiple viewings to properly appreciate. It’s one thing to plant Easter Eggs. It’s entirely another to make a film that you HAVE to watch repeatedly to fully grasp. There’s not much for laypeople or casual cinema-goers to enjoy. However, I can see this one becoming a hidden gen amongst artsy up-and-comers.