Directed by David Siev, Bad Axe tells the true story of one family’s experience navigating the unchartered waters of the pandemic.

Beginning in March 2020, A family-owned restaurant called “Rachel’s” is under threat as COVID-19 wreaks havoc across America and a shutdown looms. To make matters worse, an unarmed black man named George Floyd is murdered by police on Livestream which spurs a racial awakening across America and most of the world. With two forces beyond their control and a not-so-typical family dynamic to manage, seeing the year 2020 to its end was not going to be easy.

David’s eldest sister Jaclyn has been helping out at the restaurant since she was a teenager. She got a full-time job after college to help improve the restaurant and increase business. She went above and beyond for the sake of her family and any parent would be proud to have a daughter like that. Though he was proud, the family patriarch, Chun, often struggled to communicate that pride in a healthy manner. He clashed many times with family members during the film, but none more often than Jaclyn.

Having just lost my job, I made the best use of my time and began filming life as it was. With everyone living under the same roof again, my only intention at the time was to film a time capsule that our family could look back on. So I filmed every day that year, capturing the mixed emotions we felt as we lived through a year of fear, anger, joy, and hope.”

From director David Siev

Chun is still haunted by the memories of the killing fields that his family fled in the late ’70s. It’s hard to believe that anyone could survive that type of barbaric setting, let alone escape. In the film, he makes a memorable comparison between what took place in Cambodia and the fear of COVID-19. “I am scared to death about this pandemic. I never get that scared in the Cambodian killing field as I am today”. Dealing with the unknown during a nationwide shutdown is stressful, but adding 24/7 time around family and generational traumas to the mix would be hard for anybody to manage.

The racism and aggression the Sievs experienced in the film are a microcosm of America. During the Trump era, racial hostility was at a high and in rural areas, completely unavoidable. With a Mexican mother and a Cambodian father, the Siev children touched on their experiences with racism and the difficult balancing act of having their opinions heard while not bringing harm to the family business.

Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films release.

Even with the events that take place in the film, it’s still, by David’s own admission, a love letter to Bad Axe. It’s a love letter because it shows a family’s connection and struggles in a small town that also made them who they are today. They wouldn’t have been able to achieve their American dream without the townspeople who supported their restaurant. When David briefly touched on this, a quote from the great James Baldwin came to mind: “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually”.

Bad Axe gets a 9.5 out of 10. It’s heartwarming, relatable, and a great reason to make a trip to the Midwest. A visit to Rachel’s is definitely on my radar.

You can see this festival favorite in theaters and VOD platforms today.

-Jon Jones

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