Command and Control: Our Nuclear Arsenal Is Not Safe

But, we already know that.

One point that can be surmised from Robert Kenner’s Command and Control is yes, be horrified, but, no, don’t be surprised when there is an accidental detonation of a nuclear weapon on U.S. soil. I know, I know, a terrorist attack is also possible, but that’s another story.

Kenner’s film is an outline of a 1980 accident at an Arkansas-based Titan II missile complex. (William Jefferson Clinton was Governor at the time.) A worker used the wrong tool during maintenance of a missile, a fuel tank ruptured, and after many hours of confusion and panic which included mistakes made by the Strategic Air Command base thousands of miles away, the leaking fuel combusted. At least one crew member died, many were injured, and many were blamed and victimized by their Air Force leadership.

The film is a reminder. Yes, there have been plenty of nuclear accidents associated with non-military use, but our arsenal is still here—on the ground, in the air, and under the sea. (Are there weapons in orbit?)

In addition to covering this tragic accident, Kenner weaves information about the history of our arsenal into his film which, per usual, is another documentary covering a woefully under-covered issue of life and death which, in turn, is under the command and control of our government.

Like Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, Command and Control tells the story of a barely averted tragedy—the possible detonation of the largest nuclear weapon in our nuclear arsenal—the end of which we know, yet we are captivated by the story, and haunted by the impact it had on its players.

This story deserves the same high-budget treatment by Hollywood as given to Apollo 31. Our obsession with ‘defense’ and its countless and limitless weapons, however, will probably stymie any possible producers from initiating such a much-needed movie.

But, we have Command and Control, and it’s easy to find. You can stream it from its website, iTunes, Amazon, or Netflix.

BTW: Nuclear safety is an oxymoron.

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Blood on the Mountain: Coal Mining in West Virginia

“Those mountain people who have been shut out of the world all these years, I know them. If I live…perhaps we can do the justice they deserve.” Abraham Lincoln

You go to the bottom of the website for Mari-Lynn C. Evans’ Blood on the Mountain and you find a section called ‘Partners.’ Beneath that section’s name is a list of 35 environmental, labor, and justice organizations supportive of the film’s production and distribution. This measure of support has helped create a standard bearing documentary about the history of coal’s impact on the people of West Virginia.

The film covers more than a 150 years of economic and environmental exploitation and the subsequent damage to the state’s land and people. Evans describes what appears to be a Balkanization of a State in order to create a single-industry economy and a brainwashed population with mental blinders to the massive forces dominating, controlling, and destroying their lives, land, and environment.

The film’s structure is built on the many accidents that have occurred in the mining of coal, and the tepid responses to those ‘incidents.’ Within that structure we learn about how the people’s lives have been impacted, introduced to a few of the perpetrators, and hear from authorities and experts about the massive tragedy that is West Virginia.

Although the film is not about the global environmental impact of coal extraction and use, it serves as a microcosmic view of how humanity has destroyed and continues to destroy the very sources of its existence.

Blood on the Mountain is a bitter pill—and would not, could not have been a powerful, captivating film if it were not so. It is documentary film at its best, and can make a difference in our future dialogs about coal, politics, and our ecosphere—if we watch it.

Sorry, Abe. Justice has yet to be done.

In addition to iTunes, Blood on the Mountain is currently on Netflix.

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A Matter of Time: A Daughter’s Care for Her Mother

Casey Cohen’s A Matter of Time is as heart-wrenching as it is inspiring.

Cohen tells the story of singer/songwriter Kathryn Calder who, in the middle of her rise to indie rock stardom, found herself caring for her mother, Lynn, who was dying from the devastations of ALS—amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Mother and daughter had a deep, loving bond, and daughter didn’t hesitate to interrupt her career to care for her mother. One of the activities Calder included in her care was to entertain and express love to Lynn by writing and producing her first solo album. Calder set up a recording studio in their living room, wrote the songs, sang, played piano. She had members of her former band, Immaculate Machine, and current band, The New Pornographers—sit in on the tracks. Lynn’s room was next to the living room. The album is entitled “Are You My Mother?” and was released in 2010.

Although the film is intrinsically a call for support to find a cure, that call is graciously in background. The primary focus is Calder’s story, and the loving mother-daughter bond.

Casey’s film is deeply touching, the courage of mother and daughter, deeply inspiring.

A Matter of Time is distributed in the United States by First Run Features, and in Canada by Kino Smith in Canada.

Maiko: Dancing Child

At the age of 32, Maiko, a prima ballerina, decided to become pregnant, but did not decide to conclude her career. She kept on dancing several weeks into her pregnancy, suspended her career, delivered her child, and determined to regain her prima ballerina status.

Maiko was given that name at birth. It means ‘dancing child.’ No one knew the name portended two would be dancing.

Aside from seeing many documentaries about ballet, that terpsichorean word denotes a faraway foreign territory to yours truly. My best guess, though, is that for a 32 year old soloist to bear a child, make a triumphant return in one of ballet’s most challenging dances, Swan Lake, is an unprecedented phenomenon. I doubt this jaw-dropping phenomenon will ever be repeated.

My only kvetch about this film is that it is so captivating, so challenging to our credence, and so beautifully shot, I wanted much more of the story.

Directed by Åse Svenheim Drivenes, Maiko: Dancing Child is a First Run Features release.

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Addicted to Porn: Chasing the Cardboard Butterfly

The title says it all in Justin Hunt’s latest documentary, Addicted to Porn: Chasing the Cardboard Butterfly. Hunt’s intention is to catalyze a wide-ranging public dialog about this currently ignored addiction. To that end, the film models that intent, that dialog—it serves as a microcosm of what the hoped-for public dialog could and should cover.

There is no doubt viewing large amounts of pornography changes behavior. But, is it an ‘addiction’? One of the film’s interviewees says, ‘no.’ However, it was not the other interviewees who convinced me porn is an addiction. Instead, it is the film’s centerpiece—the marriage of Betsy and Nate—that makes the point. They were in love, and perfect together except for Nate’s addiction. Speaking separately on camera we learn that the two spent years together and had two children as they struggled with his addiction. Nate did not find the inner resources to break out. The pain and tragedy of their marriage is visceral.

The consuming of pornography is a moral, ethical, legal, political and public health issue. Although Addicted to Porn is just one film, it successfully invites a massive amount of serious consideration and understanding of humanity’s use of pornography.

I have seen and reviewed two of Hunt’s previous films: American Meth about our nation’s addiction to that drug, and Absent about fatherlessness in the United States. I spoke with him about Addicted to Porn. He noted that this is his most controversial film released to date, and reiterated the damaging impact individually and society-wide of porn addiction. Hunt also emphasized this film is not a campaign against pornography. He is, though, passionate that its risks, damage, and ubiquitous presence in our world demand much more attention—especially to our children.

Like a growing number of documentary films, Addicted to Porn is more than a movie. It is an initiative with a strong intention to make a positive difference. To that end, in addition to seeing the film, I encourage you to go the film’s website and explore both the Shop and Resources at the top of the homepage.

Hunt is a serious young man and a talented filmmaker with great compassion for us human beings. Addicted to Porn contains no erotic or pornographic imagery. He is concerned about porn addicts—current or recovered, or any prospective viewers—who may be disturbed by that imagery.

Narrated by Metallica’s James Hetfield, Addicted to Porn is available from iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vimeo, Vudu, XBOX, and YouTube.

You can support Justin’s work by purchasing his films and related materials directly from his website.

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Pictured: Justin Hunt

The Sunshine Makers: Breaking Good

Note: Although this story is a footnote to a footnote of American cultural history, it’s intriguing to yours truly. I took one of those Orange Sunshine tabs more than four decades ago. The experience was life-changing.

Continue Reading…

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Nicholas Sand and Tim Scully wanted to save the world—humanity, to be specific. They did the obvious—manufactured LSD in mass quantities.

Their product became known as Orange Sunshine on account of it was orange and created inner sunshine. Their customers likely numbered in the hundreds of thousands, or more. In The Sunshine Makers Director Cosmo Feilding-Mellen tells of these two men of opposite characters who turned the world on—and, of course, landed in prison.

Scully and Sand tell their respective stories in interview. Sand adds some unsolicited nude yoga during his face time. Feilding-Mellen interviews several other actors in this compassion play, including the undercover officers who had supporting roles.

The story takes place in upper-state New York, at the Hitchcock Estate in Millbrook, New York, where Timothy Leary held court to psychedelic glitterati, various posers, and undercover officers; in Colorado; and northern California.

There is no want of drama, intrigue, action, suspense, and unintentional humor in Feilding-Mellen’s film. That is, you need not be a psychedelic relic to enjoy it, and, especially, to learn this story which may very well be remade as a Hollywood film or, better yet, a mini-series.

The Sunshine Makers is available on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play, and Netflix.

Coda: Nicholas Sand passed away on April 24, 2017.

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The Business of Being Born: A Two-Disc Set

When one cultivates the habit of seeing documentary films—simply by virtue of the genre—and when said one chooses to limit their self-censorship as to the scope of subjects to be explored, said one will be confronted with ego-dystonic information, ideas, and images. (‘Ego-dystonic’ is a fancy word for ‘inconvenient truths.’) For yours truly two subjects farthest from my interests and concerns were ballet and childbirth.

I have seen five films about childbirth and postpartum care—one focused on legendary midwife Ina May Gaskin, and four produced by the filmmaking team of Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein.

The primary emphasis of these films is the value of natural childbirth. Being exposed to this information and these images, I consider it crucial that everyone should have easy access to these films. More to the point, we—especially us males—should be persuaded to take advantage of that easy access. The experience of seeing these films can alter one’s character for the better.

I previously viewed two films from the Lake-Epstein partnership: Breastmilk and The Mama Sherpas. The Business of Being Born, a Kino Lorber release, contains two distinct films the second of which is entitled MORE Business of Being Born.

The first film, The Business of Being Born, presents information and images of natural childbirth, and contrasts that approach with the medicalized approach which is the most common. The inconvenient truth here is that, barring specific clinical risks, the natural approach is better for mother and child, and provides better outcomes on several parameters—including the rawest one, lower birth mortality rates. The film also covers the 19th and 20th century history of childbirth practices. It is an horrific story.

MORE Business of Being Born covers the emergence of birth centers which serve as a meeting ground of sorts for medical and non-medical practitioners. The film also introduces the ‘doula’—a kind of assistant to the mother before, during, and after labor, and, typically, works in conjunction with the midwife. The last half of the film presents more pluses and minuses of C-sections. Again, for women without specific birth risks, the pluses of a fully natural birth—one which avoids the introduction of intravenous injections of pharmaceuticals—are much greater than the minuses.

The United States does not have a monopoly on unnecessary C-sections. There are high unnecessary C-section rates throughout the world. The film spends some time in Brazil where C-section births comprise up to 93% of births amongst middle- and upper-middle class mothers. The high C-section rate there has sparked a grass roots movement promoting natural births.

The United States mainstream media coverage of women’s reproductive rights has focused primarily on abortion, and secondarily on birth control. Having seen these five films about birthing it is clear this is another front in the struggle for choice—how one grows and delivers a baby. The first battle in this struggle is information. Mothers and prospective mothers need to be provided with complete information regarding the risks and benefits of all the possible ways they may deliver their baby—or, babies.

A note about water: When water birthing was first introduced to the media around the 70s or so, it was presented as something silly, ignorant hippies do. In these five films we learn that the availability of warm water to women in labor has become common in the natural birth world—and can also be found in birth centers.

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Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story

What more can you ask of a movie?! A true love that shone more than five decades, Hollywood insiders talking about inside Hollywood, and behind-the-scenes images of movie making—Big Time movie making, that is—all lovingly crafted.

Daniel and Jennifer Raim’s Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story tells the stories of Lillian and Harold Michelson—their respective professional biographies, and, especially, their love story. The two love birds tell their stories, and we hear from many admiring filmmakers including Mel Brooks, Danny DeVito, and Francis Ford Coppola.

Lillian worked as a researcher providing images and information to filmmakers in support of all aspects of production design. Harold drew storyboards, and did production design near career’s end. Together the lovers contributed to hundreds of Hollywood films many of which became instant classics. Their services were in demand—out of respect and admiration the King and Queen characters in Shrek were named Harold and Lillian.

Lillian had the tenacity, raw talent, and southern charm to meet virtually every demand made of her by filmmakers. She was quite disappointed, though, when Harold disallowed her to get on a drug lord’s private jet to go to South America in order to capture images of a drug lord’s digs. She relented on the idea when Harold reminded her she has three children. Lillian had to deal with the chaos of Hollywood business—moving her ever-growing research library several times. It seems the high point occurred when the library was at Coppola’s southern California Zoetrope studio. Lillian is a living legend. The Lillian Michelson Research Library is currently located at the Art Directors Guild, in Studio City, California.

Harold was born with an artist’s genes. His love and work came together with drawings, cards, notes, poems and collages he frequently made for Lillian. This film is an expression of love in many ways, and the expression that most touched me was this large custom hardbound book Lillian shares. It contains a lifetime of Harold’s loving verbal and visual expressions of affection.

Another affectionate touch in this love story are the original images by Patrick Mate, drawn in Harold’s storyboard style, of scenes from the lives of Lillian and Harold.

A Zeitgeist Films release, Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story is a rare film about an even rarer love.

See the film’s website for information about screenings.

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The God Cells: Medicine’s Worst Nightmare

Prologue: Self-taught documentary filmmaker Eric Merola makes films about health and disease. ‘The God Cells’—his latest—is about the therapeutic use of ‘fetal stem cells.’ That phrase instantly evokes the controversy regarding women’s reproductive rights. Humanity will take this passionate disagreement over a woman’s right to choose to its collective grave. This review acknowledges this contentious subject, eschews discussion of same, and addresses directly the film’s subject.
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The God Cells: A Fetal Stem Cell Journey is Eric Merola’s fourth film about healthcare. His previous films are Burzynski, the Movie about pioneering physician and biochemist Stanislaw Burzynski; Burzynski: Cancer is Serious Business, Part II; and Second Opinion about a whistleblower, Ralph Moss, Ph.D., at New York’s renowned Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

In The God Cells Merola takes the viewer on his own journey of discovery about how fetal stem cells are already helping people suffering from debilitating, life-threatening illnesses—and, more significantly, about the potential these cells have to help sufferers around the world. His revelatory journey leads to Kiev, the capitol of Ukraine, where EmCell is located. This treatment center offers the most advanced, refined fetal stem cell therapy currently available.

Merola interviews patients, family and friends along with authorities and healthcare practitioners. The filmmaker is also a subject of his own film—he goes through a comprehensive rejuvenation treatment at EmCell, and takes us along for the ride. Needles notwithstanding, the treatment and its promises are inviting. Yours truly is ready for his journey to Kiev.

Merola points out that not all stem cells are the same, and that fetal stem cells have been found to be the safest and most effective at treating illnesses—and, as mentioned above, consequently a seemingly permanent lighting rod of controversy. He also states the obvious: Not a drug, not patent-able (yet), the use of fetal stem cells as a treatment threatens conventional medicine—especially Big Pharma which, with its billions of dollars, and with the assistance of Pro-life supporters, will quash the use of fetal stem cell therapy in the United States as much as it can, as long as it can.

Hope springs eternal. There are initiatives the most promising of which is the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine which stands ready to move forward with research and advocacy if and when there is a reformation of deep economic and political forces in the United States.

The God Cells is a stunning, compelling, riveting film that covers a healthcare game-changing treatment which holds immeasurable potential for the health and well-being of human and nonhuman animals. From beginning to end, the documentary challenges its viewers’ beliefs and values. Merola has given an invaluable gift to our world—especially the people of the United States. The more people who unwrap this gift, the better off our world will be.

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Many thanks to Julia Schopick, author of Honest Medicine, for insisting I view Eric Merola’s film. I would never have seen it, let alone learn of his many contributions if not for Julia.

 

(Pictured: Eric Merola)

An Art that Nature Makes: The Work of Photographer Rosamond Purcell

‘Romantic decline’ Errol Morris calls it at film’s beginning—a kinder word for one of fine art photographers’ favorite subjects, ‘decadence.’ But, as the man who wrote Shakespeare’s plays says, “A piece of rotting wood is a piece of rotting wood.”

After viewing Molly Bernstein’s documentary—An Art that Nature Makes—which introduces the photography of Rosamond Purcell, it is abundantly clear that this artist is the master’s master on the subject of photographing decadence. Purcell will cover virtually any object or material from nature or human endeavor, and does so in a unique style—a style that deserves Morris’s preferred vernacular.

Bernstein’s film is the richest, most densely packed documentary about an artist I’ve seen to date. Purcell is the picture of a life-long, dedicated artist who goes to extreme lengths in support of her art—she travels the world, does physical work in obtaining her photographs, and collaborates with a variety of authorities and experts when covering specific categories of objects. Purcell has written or co-written nine books which you can find here.

By film’s end, the attentive viewer will understand and appreciate the beauty of a glass-encased, desiccated animal; an old, water-damaged book; or worm-holed piece of wood. These three examples do no justice, however, to the breadth and depth of the materials Purcell covers, nor to the thought she gives to the creation and meaning of her work.

Bernstein’s documentary deserves at least two viewings.

An Art that Nature Makes is a Kino Lorber release.