Talent Has Hunger: Seven Students, Seven Years

Josh Aronson’s Talent Has Hunger follows legendary cello teacher Paul Katz and a group of students over a period of seven years. The film is a rare opportunity and treat to experience the depth and breadth of skills required to master an instrument, and the dedication it takes to stay with the challenges of learning and changing over so many years—let alone making your instrument a life-long occupation and livelihood.

jackie-plays-at-the-juries_cuThe students are charming and charismatic, Katz’s teaching skills and sensitivity are jaw-dropping. He does not subscribe to the stern school of teaching. Instead, he converses person-to-person, very much like speaking with a friend who’s asked him for some help with this or that challenge.

Of course, there is plenty of music to be enjoyed, and mind-boggling playing to see. But, the hero is Katz, a dedicated teacher with a lifetime of service—and students-turned-masters playing and teaching around the world.

Talent Has Hunger is a First Run Features release.

How to Dance in Ohio: ‘We like to socialize, but we don’t know how.’

Whatever the etiology, the number of children who develop autism has increased dramatically, if not exponentially. This tragic phenomenon has created an inevitable subculture—with micro-cultures within that subculture. One of those sub-subcultures is individuals ‘on the higher functioning end of the autism spectrum.’

htdio-still-5How to Dance in Ohio follows a group of adolescents who receive a variety of services at the Amigo Family Counseling center in Columbus, Ohio. The center was founded by Dr. Emilio Amigo in 1993. Amigo, as far as I can tell, is the source of the film’s inciting incident—a formal dance party at a local club.

Director Alexandra Shiva follows Amigo and his ‘higher functioning’ adolescent charges as they live, learn, and grow through three months of preparations for this high-stakes Amigo Spring Formal.

How to Dance in Ohio immediately went on my personal all-time favorites list. I am in awe of Amigo’s skills, dedication, and the care he provides this challenged and challenging population. I am in equal awe of filmmaker Shiva’s ability to so sensitively cover the lives and stories of these young people.

In addition to the delicate touch this film’s production required and received, I am also impressed with both the quality of sound and image the production crew achieved.

How to Dance in Ohio is distributed by Kino Lorber.

You See Me: Forgiveness Is Relative

stanley-natalie-linda-and-susan-brown-reading-pa-scaledYou See Me is a documentary film about the filmmaker’s family. Veteran documentarian Linda J. Brown tells her family’s story. She is searching for meaning, understanding, and resolution in the lifelong dynamics of this family. Her father, Stanley, is the central character, the central mystery.

Brown uses interview, narration, and a treasure trove of family movies to tell her painful yet touching story. The inciting incident for the film’s production was Stanley’s debilitating stroke at age 79.

Brown wanted to understand why her father seemed disconnected at times? Why was he abusive at times? What happened to him? Did he love his wife, Brown’s mother? The film answers these questions, and along the way we learn about each of the five family members.

When viewing a well-made documentary about a particular family it is inevitable that viewers find themselves reflecting on their family experience. You See Me is no exception. Brown has done an admiral job of digging, investigating, and exploring her family’s history to find her own resolution—and inspiring us viewers to reflect on our family experiences.

Shamans of the Global Village

Directed by Niles Heckman and hosted by Rak Razam, Shamans of the Global Village covers the resurgence of shamanistic practices in the West. Each episode will cover a shaman and a particular ethnogenic medicine she or he incorporates in their practice. The series’ planned episodes are listed below.

sgv_bio_namastdave-3The first episode—premier date is October 1, 2016—features Dr. Octavio Rettig, a medical surgeon from the University of Guadalajara who specializes in addiction treatment. The medicine he uses is safely harvested from the Sonoran Desert toad. It contains 5-MeO-DMT.

The episode includes dramatic coverage of a small group of people undergoing this treatment during a ceremony on a bright, cloudless day in the Sonoran Desert. Rettig appears to be a thoroughly sincere, highly knowledgeable, and humble practitioner fully committed to helping people with his vast array of shamanistic practices.

Shamans of the Global Village brings the viewer up close and personal with both the shaman and the people she or he serve. For yours truly the series is a must-see. This is what the best of documentary films do. They bring us crucial information and images that would be nigh impossible to find for ourselves.

The series is executive produced by publisher/filmmaker/author Michael Wiese.

The series’ creators are Rak Razam and Niles Heckman. Razam hosts, and Heckman directs. Episodes, beginning October 1, are available directly from the series’ website.

The full season plan—in no particular order:

5-MeO-DMT — Sonoran Desert Toad — Mexico

Psilocybin Mushrooms — USA/Mexico

Ayahuasca, the ‘Vine of Souls’ — Peru

San Pedro Cactus — Chavin, Peru

Salvia Divinorum — UK/Mexico

Peyote — USA

Kambo, the ‘Kiss of the Frog’ — Brazil

Iboga — Gabon

Cannabis — USA

Amanita Muscaria — Lapland

Acacias — Australia

Haoma / Syrian Rue — Iran

Enter the Faun: The Transformation of Gregg Mozgala

First Run Features’ Enter the Faun is about two subjects: The creation of a dance piece and the transformation of Gregg Mozgala’s body and mind.

Mozgala is an actor, playwright, artistic director, and has cerebral palsy.

enter-the-faunTamar Rogoff is a prolific choreographer who specializes in breaking boundaries and limits—both artistic and human.

Rogoff discovered Mozgala in a production of Romeo and Juliet that featured players with and without disabilities. Impressed with his performance, she invited him to dance in a production. He was to play ‘The Faun’ from Roman mythology. The performance was entitled Diagnosis of a Faun.

Rogoff had no intention of changing the way Mozgala moved, yet in developing the performance she found herself improvising touch and movements that profoundly expanded Mozgala’s movement abilities, reduced his pain, and transformed his image and sense of himself. This transformation flew in the face of medical expectations that Mozgala’s quality of life would gradually degrade to the point of being wheelchair-bound.

Gregg Mozgala’s life is now anything but. In addition to his work in the arts, he helps children with challenging CP limitations—and now he is the star of an inspiring documentary film that yours truly hopes is seen by many millions of people around the world.

Enter the Faun is produced and directed by Tamar Rogoff and Daisy Wright.

In Search of the Great Song: Fifty voices. Twelve Countries. One Question

Alex3photo‘the Great Song’ in Michael Stillwater’s beatific In Search of the Great Song is a metaphor, a reference to the sacred, to the spiritual connections with our world, to the grace and dignity of nature, and to the power of music, voice and sound.






Stillwater interviews 50 people from many cultures and traditions speaking about sound, music, song and spirit; speaking about connections. One common denominator in these interviews is the depth of character, the nobility of the speakers. Their thoughts and perspectives are cradled by breath-taking images shot by Stillwater, as well as sacred musics from around the world.

Lewis2-EditAt film’s conclusion I was struck with the beauty of all aspects of this film—the people, their words, the cinematography, and the music.

In Search of the Great Song is produced by Michael Stillwater and Doris Laesser Stillwater, and available from Song Without Borders.

Requiem for the American Dream: Noam Chomsky and Ten Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power

unspecifiedFimmakers Peter D. Hutchison, Kelly Nyks and Jared P. Scott have taken interviews of legendary author/speaker/activist Noam Chomsky and woven them into a coherent narrative of the corruption of our American socio-economic-political systems. In addition to being a requiem, the film is also a post mortem—descriptions of the strategies and tactics that have transformed the United States of America into an oligarchy.

The Ten Principles are:

Reduce Democracy

Shape Ideology

Redesign the Economy

Shift the Burden

Attack Solidarity

Run the Regulators

Engineer Elections

Keep the Rabble in Line

Manufacture Consent

Marginalize the Population


In less than 73 minutes Chomsky articulates these strategies and tactics used by the wealthy and powerful to achieve their goals. The goals have been met. We are a large population of humans supporting the wealth and power of 1% of the country’s population—and suffering the consequences.

This is yet another must-see documentary about socio-political-economic injustice in the United States of America. When confronted with our national shame I often think of two stanzas from The Rolling Stones song, ‘Sympathy for the Devil’:

I watched with glee
While your kings and queens
Fought for ten decades
For the gods they made

I shouted out,
‘Who killed the Kennedys?’
When after all
It was you and me


Yes, documentaries of this ilk can be demoralizing, disheartening. Yet, they are also part of the solution, and as implied by Mick Jagger’s accusation, we are the ones who can revive our democracy.

The film concludes with a sentiment expressed by Chomsky’s close friend, the late Howard Zinn. Chomsky quotes:

‘What matters is the countless small deeds of unknown people who lay the basis for the significant events that enter history. They’re the ones who’ve done things in the past. They’re the ones who will have to do it in the future.’

Requiem for the American Dream is available from Netflix, Vimeo, and iTunes.

Seed: The Untold Story

SEED_Still_5When Jon Betz and Taggart Siegel make a film, it is a must-see. They’ve given us The Real Dirt on Farmer John and Queen of the Sun—strong, hard-hitting films about agriculture.

Their latest, Seed: The Untold Story, is both inspiring and demoralizing.

The unhappy yet predictable aspect is the extent to which we have lost seeds. 94% of seed varieties disappeared in the 20th century. The film also covers the tragically successful attempt of corporations to take over life, to release a world-wide Frankenstein experiment via the dissemination and control of genetically modified seeds—which are uncontrollable due to wind, flying critters, and caprice. This monster has been attacking us and our world in one way or another since its creation.

Most of the film, however, is of the inspiring kind. Taggart and Betz profile several seed heroes fighting to save the non-GMO seeds we still have; fighting, too, against the Frankenfoods experiment. Another source of inspiration is the raw beauty of seeds—abstract art at its finest.

Like so many films I’ve seen, this is exemplary issue-based documentary filmmaking.

And, yes, it is a must-see.

Colliding Dreams: Zionism and the Palestinians

thumbs_Arab-with-ChildJoseph Dorman’s and Oren Rudavsky’s documentary, Colliding Dreams is an objective exploration of the core Middle East conflict between Israel and its neighbors. The filmmakers use the ideas and history of Zionism as their springboard into this seemingly unending and hopeless conflict.

Gush-Emunim-settlersI was reminded of a shot at the end of Otto Preminger’s 1960 epic film of Leon Uris’s Exodus. At twelve years of age, I knew nothing about the conflict there—and next to nothing about Israel. I saw the film’s drama, understood that struggles and battles led to this Jewish nation state called Israel; but it was this one quick shot at story’s end that was a portent of ceaseless tragedies to come: A Jew dangling from a bar of wood, strangled, with the Star of David painted on his exposed chest.

It is an unstated fact of life that current geopolitics contribute to the discord, but the film remains tightly focused on the two primary parties: Palestinians and Israelis, as well as Israel’s creation. Virtually all of the history of Zionism presented in the film was new to me. I was fascinated to learn that 700,000 of the Jewish immigrants to Israel at the time of its creation came from the surrounding Arab nations. Were they oppressed in their homeland? I don’t know. But it was obvious that the establishment of a Jewish state would create an adversarial environment in their homes of origin.

The film’s interviewees include authorities as well as laypeople from both sides of the conflict. The intractable dilemma of virtually two nations sharing the same land is fully clarified. One of the opinion’s expressed is that the two parties are the source to a viable resolution. My immediate reaction was that although it is obviously necessary for their mutual participation, the global powers-that-be must support that resolution if it is to be fully realized.

The glimmer of hope expressed in the film comes from laypeople who want to live in peace.

Distributed by Kino Lorber, Colliding Dreams is amongst the best of the documentaries I’ve seen about Israel and the Middle East. With its 134 minute running time and abundance of information and insight, it practically demands a second viewing.

Senna: No Fear. No Limits. No Equal

11196272_868986829831261_1957665495247873697_nDirected by narrative filmmaker Asif Kapadia, Senna is a biography of Brazilian Formula One racing legend Ayrton Senna. There are different approaches to or philosophies of documentary film production. Kapadia chose the track less traveled—he used archival footage exclusively to tell the racer’s jaw-dropping story.

Senna is distributed by Universal Studios. Given the massive number of documentary films produced each year, major studio attention to a documentary film is a rarity. As I viewed the studio’s logo I wondered how this film received such mainstream attention.

The answer came quickly. Senna is a graceful man, and despite—or because of—his passion for racing he is also a warm, thoughtful, and religious man who cares deeply for others.

Kapadia races his audience through the peaks and depths of Senna’s racing career. ‘Purity’ is a central theme. More than once Senna speaks of his early professional go-cart racing in Brazil as pure vis à vis the corruption of the Formula One organization he discovered and confronted.

At film’s end we are stunned by the action we have just experienced as well as the noble character we have discovered.

The commercial DVD’s special features include: Interviews, Senna Family Home Videos, and Filmmakers’ Commentary.

11903868_922765897786687_2790694408869706687_nFacebook: https://www.facebook.com/sennamovie

Website: http://www.sennamovie.com/ (This web address brought up a ‘site under maintenance’ message. It’s an open question if the site will return.)