SLAMDANCE 2022 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! A deeply intimate, direct chronicle of the pandemic, Sylvie of the Sunshine State, directed by Sasha Levinson and Sylvie Bellanca, follows the day-to-day challenges of Bellanca, a second-grader in south Florida. She’s a highly whimsical and sweet child but has several decidedly unrealistic needs, like most dramatic children. Over the course of the documentary, we learn of her desire for a sister, a dog, and to spend time with her father, Todd, who resides in upstate New York.
A kinetic, high-energy kid, Bellanca wants very badly to be physically present in school. The six-foot social distancing plays havoc with her. Then, the mask mandate comes to southern Florida, and visits with her grandmother become extra complicated, as they are relegated to her grandmother’s backyard pool area. A routine visit to grandma leads to a protracted discussion over body image.
The pandemic has led to both deeper and more strained relationships in families, and this is no exception. Due to the intensifying of government and educational reactions to the ongoing crisis, the young Bellanca and her family experience greater and more complicated issues. For example, when she needs emergency care, her father flies to Florida only to have to wait outside the hospital for his daughter to be released. Even a visit from her father at her residence presents complications.
“…the mask mandate comes to southern Florida, and visits with her grandmother become extra complicated…”
I greatly enjoyed the general ambiance and mood of Sylvie of the Sunshine State and how it lifted tremendously with the arrival of Todd Bellanca. While her father is the source of her whimsy, even with him, not all is sweetness and light. Play can go too far, and then lectures ensue. Yet, at the same time, one gets to witness apologies.
Throughout the movie, heart-to-heart conversations concerning the practical method of filming this particular video journal of the family during the initial period of the pandemic are overheard. Sylvie Bellanca is allowed regular usage of her cell, conditioned on her recording moments of play. The death of a baby bird, a visit to her grandmother’s nail salon, and moments of roller skating and skateboarding all provide scenes filled with both tension and collaboration. There is nothing harder than attempting to function through a public health scare, especially when you’re trying to raise a child.
Sylvie of the Sunshine State serves as a document of a family attempting to manage the breaking of the world. A school year spent at home with a parent who’s been forced to not work. The raw, direct presentation of emotions and conversation are essential to discuss this period of history on a small scale. Seek this out if you enjoy the filmmaking approach or want to broach these topics in conversation with your family or friends.
Sylvie of the Sunshine State screened at the 2022 Slamdance Film Festival.
"…raw, direct presentation of emotions and conversation are essential..."