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Not long ago, shooting a film required bulky cameras, costly equipment, and canister after canister of film. Each year, however, tech companies make remarkable advances—and now most of us own much of the equipment needed to shoot a striking film like director Sean Baker’s iPhone-filmed indie Tangerine.

Tangerine takes to the streets of L.A. on Christmas Eve with Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), a transgender working girl who’s just been released after serving a 28-day prison sentence. When her best friend, Alexandra (Mya Taylor), informs Sin-Dee that her pimp/boyfriend, Chester (James Ransone), cheated on her while she was away, Sin-Dee sets out on a mission to confront both her wayward boyfriend and the mysterious blonde girl who made him stray. Storming through the neighborhood’s restaurants and cheap motels, she’ll stop at nothing to find them.

Apple has produced some pretty impressive advertisements for the iPhone, complete with infectious tunes and A-list celebrities. But none of them have promoted their products nearly as well as Tangerine. You might expect a film shot entirely on a phone to be dull or grainy or shaky. (After all, that’s usually the case for my own phone-captured videos.) But Tangerine is vibrant and bold, with stunning cinematography that surpasses that of films made with a hundred times the budget. And Baker does a remarkable job of capturing the streets of L.A.—its palm trees and sunny skies along with its storefronts, neon signs, and graffiti-covered walls.

The story, meanwhile, is loaded with indie-movie grit. It’s an often harsh and twisted tale about a tough, street-smart woman scorned. Nearly everything about the film is bold and intense—from its driving soundtrack to its outspoken characters to their over-the-top encounters. As you might imagine, it’s also more than a little bit seedy—but, in spite of the characters’ desperation and drama, there are plenty of darkly humorous moments, too—particularly when all of the characters collide in one big, boisterous scene in the local donut shop.

Admittedly, the inexperience of the mostly amateur cast sometimes shows, but that doesn’t make the characters any less captivating—or their experiences less eye-opening. And though it has some characters, scenes, and subplots that feel somewhat out of place, all of the parts eventually come together to paint a striking picture of a world that most of us have never visited (and probably never will).

Tangerine is a daring—and sometimes brutal—film. It’s far from simple and anything but mainstream—but its candid storytelling and ground-breaking filmmaking make it worth seeking out.

Ed. Note: Tangerine is now playing in select theaters. For details, visit Magnolia Pictures.

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