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.



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.


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.

Gary Numan: Android in La La Land

In Gary Numan: Android in La La Land filmmakers Steve Read and Rob Alexander follow the 1970s British pop star into and through a midlife renaissance of his professional career. The attempt to revive a music career is inherently risky—highly risky—and, therefore, fears and dread are inevitable. Through interview, Alexander and Read capture those feelings. They also provide a profile of the prolific artist and his family, as well as an outline of Numan’s professional career.

The film was shot in 2012-13. Gary Numan, wife Gemma, and their three daughters are moving from their British homeland for the first time. They plan to install this renaissance in Los Angeles. There is much more than risk here—feelings of separation and loss also dominate this familial quantum leap. The personal stakes are enormous, and the film pulls its viewers into the drama of this gamble.

Given Numan’s robotic image established in the late 1970s, and given the man we see and hear in this film, the subtitle word, ‘android,’ is an anachronism. Decades of life have melted the musical Pinocchio into a human being. The words and music in Numan’s 2013 renaissance release, Splinter, reveal an emotionally accessible human being.

Gary Numan: Android in La La Land is a First Run Features release.


Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race, & America

Accomplished African American musician/author/lecturer Daryl Davis received a phone call from a member of the Ku Klux Klan asking for a referral to a business that would rent him a bus. Their group had planned a march, and the local transport rental companies had refused to do business with the Klan. Davis loaned the group his bus asking only that they replace the fuel used in the trip.

When the group returned the bus, all 15 of the Klansmen came into Davis’ home and partied—two of them refused drinks from Davis, and later quit the Klan.

This is the first of many stories told by Davis in this documentary about his unique work addressing racism in the United State. In Matthew Ornstein’s Accidental Courtesy we follow Davis as he speaks with the likes of the then-Imperial Wizard of the KKK, and the leader of the largest white nationalist organization. Davis’s charm, charisma and intelligence virtually force enduring friendships with some of these hardcore, life-long racists.

On the JDI (Jaw-Drop Index), I give this film an 8, on a scale of 1 to 10. Davis’s aforementioned charm—and courage—will keep you glued to the screen.

According to IMDB this is Ornstein’s first feature. It is stunning.

Daryl Davis is yet another heroic human being making an inestimable positive difference in our world—someone I would never have had the opportunity to learn about without the services of a talented filmmaker and the distributors who make the film available to one and all.

Accidental Courtesy is released by First Run Features.


A Small Good Thing: How Can We Live in a Better Way?

“I think when you don’t share, that internally, you’re destroying yourself.” Shirley Edgerton

Executive Produced and directed by Pamela Tanner Boll, A Small Good Thing profiles six people who live a grounded and balanced life inspired by values based on a close connection to their bodies and health, to the natural world, and the greater good. Boll includes interviews of professionals who study and promote the concepts, philosophies and lifestyles featured in the film.

The six people featured are:

Tim Durrin, a war veteran who struggled with PTSD and addiction, went through rehabilitation, and discovered yoga and meditation which transformed his life.

Shirley Edgerton, the founder, leader, and den mother of Youth Alive, a performance group which inspires children to live a purposeful life.

Mark Gerow, a military veteran who found meaning, purpose, and health through his practice and teaching of yoga.

Jen and Peter Salinetti, eschewed a conventional income-driven life for life on the farm. Boll and company follow the couple on a journey to Rwanda where they work as volunteers under the aegis of Gardens for Health.

Sean Stanton, a Coast Guard veteran who discovered his values-inspired life via farming and ranching, was elected to his town council, and became a teacher of farming strategies.

Although A Small Good Thing is about the above six, it’s more about us—that we can change our lives, that we have the choice to move into balance, grace, and virtue, and that that choice offers health and happiness for the individual and their community.

This is a documentary that is much more than a film. In addition to seeing A Small Good Thing, I heartily encourage you to go to the film’s website, check out the Resources link at the top—and also check out the Publicity Materials under News and Press.

Boll is an accomplished filmmaker with an impressive filmography. This quietly powerful film is another invaluable addition to her body of work.

A Small Good Thing is a Kino Lorber release.


(Pictured are mother and child in Rwanda.)

Sons of Ben: The Movie

Written and directed by Jeffrey C. Bell, Sons of Ben tells the story of how a small group of seemingly ordinary guys calling themselves ‘Sons of Ben’ worked tirelessly for years to secure a Major League Soccer team to the Philadelphia region—the stadium is in Chester, Pennsylvania. (The ‘Ben’ refers to that Franklin dude.)

The 75 minute film is short for the scope of this story which documents something very big from nothing other than a few enthusiastic Philadelphian soccer fans. Bell provides no narration, and lets the story makers tell their stories.

There’s a meta-story here. Chester was a benighted community at the time the stadium deal came through—one of the countless cities and towns across America struck by the loss of manufacturing jobs and related economic forces. It was a bit of a shock to the Sons that their treasured soccer stadium would be located 20 miles south of the City, but they took it in stride—and then some. They took on the care and feeding of Chester which benefits now from both the stadium and the Sons of Ben.

The challenge any filmmaker faces with a story the ending of which is known, is keeping viewers well-engaged. Bell and crew do just that.

Sons of Ben is a Kino Lorber release.


It’s Criminal: “If I Was Born Nicki, I Would Be in Jail”

That’s one of the statements made by a Dartmouth student about her experience participating in a unique program created by Dartmouth Professor Pati Hernandez.

The summer program brings female students together with incarcerated females to produce a play based on the experiences of the prisoners. This year’s program—covered by Signe Taylor in It’s Criminal—had 10 prisoners and 14 students. The above statement is indicative of the kind of insight this program intends to cultivate. ‘Nicki,’ of course, is one of the prisoners.

Hernandez’s program—the meeting and melding of socio-economic opposites—is to be fully celebrated, and deserving, of course, of this well-produced documentary film. Both program and film address the American tragedy called our system of justice which ideologically and functionally ignores the prima facie fact that there is a direct relationship between poverty and crime—or to put it more accurately, between context and criminal behavior.

At this moment in American history, if we refuse to address the meta-issue of the destruction of our ecosphere, it’s hard to imagine that there is near enough political will to make our System of Justice just. The ‘crime’ in ‘criminal’ is in our hearts and ignorance—we ignore the countless millions of victims of American justice.

Yet, filmmakers and journalists keep on banging the sad drum of the seemingly limitless numbers of people whose lives have been devastated—and devastated that much more by incarceration.

Here’s to Taylor and company for banging a really loud, deeply moving drum.

Keep your handkerchiefs handy.

An American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story

An American Conscience is an hour-long documentary introducing the work and—especially—person of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. The inspiration for this documentary is both the power and impact of Neibuhr’s expressions, and the filmmaker’s intention to expand awareness of this Protestant minister’s influence on 20th Century American history.

In this short one hour, writer/director/narrator Martin Doblmeier provides an outline of Niebuhr’s biography, highlights his impact on the worlds of theology, as well as on the public dialog about American national and international policies in the 20th century.

Hal Holbrook voices Niebuhr, and Doblmeier includes interviews of twelve prominent thinkers including Dr. Cornel West, President Jimmy Carter, Susannah Heshel, and Andrew Young. All speak of Niebuhr’s influence on their thoughts and perspectives on freedom, ethics, morality, and, of course, religion. Heshel is the daughter of theologian Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel who was fast friends with Nieburh for many years, and presented the eulogy at Nieburh’s funeral—at Nieburh’s request.

The two theologians, seemingly on opposite sides of the impenetrable theological barrier between Christians and Jews, spent countless hours in dialog. The moment that bit of information was offered by the film, I found myself aching to have transcripts of those dialogs.

Warning: Seeing this film may have serious side effects—including the reading of Niebuhr’s books. I found myself most intrigued by the title, The Irony of American History.

Reinhold Niebuhr is the author of The Serenity Prayer.

An American Conscience is a First Run Features release.


Tower: One Day in August

From the film’s website:

“On August 1st, 1966, a sniper rode the elevator to the top floor of the University of Texas Tower and opened fire, holding the campus hostage for 96 minutes. When the gunshots were finally silenced, the toll included 16 dead, three dozen wounded, and a shaken nation left trying to understand.”

Keith Maitland’s Tower tells stories of those who survived, died, and saved. It does so by intricately weaving live action and animation. All aspects of the film’s production are standard bearing. I’m forced to use the critic’s cliché: Maitland’s story grabs the viewer and never lets go. This is as emotional a film experience as the finest fiction dramas evoke.

Although the film concludes with a montage of news reports of recent mass shootings, the film is not a tome about America’s gun/murder culture and all the factors that breed it. Instead, Tower just tells this one story, and makes as much impact as any statistics- and interviews-laden documentary.

It’s more than fifty years later, I know all the factors, yet I still do not understand.


Pictured: Keith Maitland

Moving from Emptiness: The Life and Art of a Zen Dude

Moving from Emptiness profiles Alok Hsu Kwang-han who is called a ‘Zen calligraphic painter.’ The phrase is way too small. He is a teacher of Zen Buddhism, an artist, and workshop leader. But those words do not come close to capturing who he really is.

Filmmakers Jerry Hartleben and Shaeri Richards have done the impossible. They have received—the word, ‘capture,’ simply does not apply—his essence, and share that in this feature film. We see and hear the 74 year old Alok teaching, helping people one-on-one, painting, speaking about his life and work, and talking with and about his companion, Raylene Abbott, who deserves her own documentary.

If one is to make a film about a Zen master, that film, to be successful, must mirror the tone and substance of that being presented. Richards and Hartleben do just that in every aspect of their coverage of this man who exudes compassion, peace and wisdom—and who does not fit the stereotype. In speaking about his life, Alok expresses emotion freely.

After just a few minutes I knew I was seeing a special film. At its conclusion I knew I’d just seen a masterpiece of documentary filmmaking. It is so rich in wisdom, story, and image, it deserves multiple viewings.

Moving from Emptiness is a Kino Lorber release.