SXSW 2022 Review: Bad Axe

Year: 2022

Runtime: 100 minutes

Director: David Siev

By Joan Amenn

There are many stories of immigrant families coming to the US to build better lives for themselves. Until recently, their struggles didn’t include surviving a global pandemic. Director David Siev turned a camera on his family as they struggled to maintain their restaurant business during Covid-19 because he felt it was an important time in history to document. What he wound up doing was turning a mirror on America confronting its other crisis, racism. “Bad Axe” is harrowing, heartwarming and hopeful as the Siev clan shows how strong and undeterred they can be in their love for one another and the place they call home.

Patriarch Chun Siev survived the Killing Fields of Cambodia to flee to the US with his mother and other siblings. His father was lost to the mass slaughter of his native country. He admittedly has PTSD from his experiences that shadow his actions to this day. His children know him to be demanding and strong willed. However, he is rattled to his core by the virus and his family business is thrown for a loop as it tries to adapt to new precautions and procedures.

When the BLM movement comes to their small town, the younger members of the Siev family feel compelled to voice their support. One of the daughters, Raquel, is dating an African American man named Austin. She explains that she knows what it is like to face racism as much as he does. Jaclyn, the oldest child, is headstrong and opinionated like her father. She is instrumental to running their business but she will not bend her principles for the sake of guarding their financial stability. Her brother David never expected to be filming racial tensions in his hometown of Bad Axe as well as the economic upheaval of Covid. It is all shot as film verité and is refreshingly real and candid. For example, one of the restaurant’s staff admits voting for Trump in 2016 and regrets it. She attends the BLM rally with the Siev family and is not treated in anyway differently from anyone else they work with. On the other hand, when they are confronted by automatic weapon carrying right wing counter protesters, things get ugly quickly.

Siev is very good at capturing the emotional highs and lows of the routine running of a small family business. There are confrontations and frustrations but at the end of the day, everyone pitches in. This is a truly American film that shows the potential for good and bad that is brought out by extreme circumstances in our society. There are some who wish to exploit the bad but the Siev family represent the best of what can be achieved when we embrace the good.


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