Yarn: Adorning the World

With interstitial narration written and performed by Barbara Kingsolver, Yarn profiles several yarn artists from several countries. We hear from and see the work of yarn graffiti artists, installation artists, and circus performers. In addition to a great variety of art work, we hear quite a variety of personalities speaking of their lives and art.

In addition to yarn graffiti, we are treated to a yarn-covered train; a yarn-covered mermaid swimming with dolphins, a dog, and two cinematographers; a giant net in and around which children play; and many more yarn-enshrouded objects.

The Kino Lorber documentary is directed by Una Lorenzen, and co-directed Thordur Jonsson and Heather Millard. The film is well crafted, features perfectly fitting music, and has a great little bonus feature of yarn animation.

You have two websites to chose from: http://www.yarnfilm.com/ or http://yarnthemovie.com/

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Pet Fooled: They Deserve Better

A confluence of factors have induced me to cover this revealing documentary about the pet food industry. The deepest factor is having found myself an unofficial member of the animal rights movement—including the legal initiative to secure personhood rights for non-human animals. Added to that are my friends with pets who speak frequently—and with passion—about the food they provide to their animal companions. Finally, in the midst of my second half-century of life I find myself bonding with my friends’ dogs. My inner Jewish Mother has been evoked.

Like our national media, the pet food industry is dominated by five multi-conglomerate companies—including the ever-evil, water-mongering Nestle corporation. The industry is virtually unregulated. (I don’t view our human food industry regulations all that effective in the first place.)

Kohl Harrington’s Pet Fooled exposes massive malfeasance in the $63 billion dollar a year pet food industry. The bottom line is that we are feeding our canine and feline companions a poor, unhealthy, and sometimes lethal diet. The healthy diet is untainted raw meat from clean, ideally organic sources. Cats’ needs are, of course, slightly different than dogs needs.

Harrington provides a plethora of facts and figures, and interviews heroic, dedicated veterinarians who champion a healthy diet for our non-human companions. For those in the know, this film is old news. But, only a small percentage of us Americans are in the know. If you are one of those Americans I urge you to buy this film to share with as many human animals as you can—and you just might find out some new information for yourself.

If you are not aware of the unhealthy pet foods purchased for that $63 billion each year, Pet Fooled is an absolute must-see.

Pet Fooled is a Sponsored Project of the International Documentary Association, and is distributed by Kino Lorber.

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(Dis)Honesty: The Truth About Lies

“The bigger the brain, the larger the capacity to lie.”
Murali Doraiswamy, Psychiatrist
Duke Institute for Brain Science

The title says it all in this documentary film about lying. Our host is Dan Ariely who is—and let me take a breath here—James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University. Our hero is also founder of the Center for Advanced Hindsight. His career is devoted to the study of human lying. The goal is to learn ways to improve human society.

Ariely is the perfect host. He shares his researches and findings with charm, humor, and candor. I wasn’t surprised to see his Bachelor of Science and Doctor of Philosophy in Charm from Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the office wall. In-between Ariely’s presentations we hear from a few people who have lied and paid dearly for same.

(Dis)Honesty grabs you immediately and doesn’t let go. Chances are you will want to view the bonus interviews of convicted felon and former CFO of Crazy Eddie, Sam Antar; US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara; CEO of Ashley Madison, Noel Biderman; former NFL Player, Rashod Kent; transgender author and professor, Joy Ladin; filmmaker Albert Maysles; Senator John McCain; and former DC police detective, Jim Trainum.

(Dis)Honesty has enjoyed much-deserved wide press coverage.

To address the proverbial elephant, as this Kino Lorber DVD plays, ruminations about the last two years of our United States’ political history are unavoidable.

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Killswitch: Another Front on the Struggle for Democracy

When I saw the title ‘Killswitch’ on Netflix, and noted that it’s about the internet, I immediately assumed the film is just another documentary about that subject, ‘I’ve seen enough of these,’ I thought.

I was wrong.

What sparked me to view the film was remembering the just-occurred, non-violent coup d’état that put Trump in power, and gave the Republican Party control of all three branches of our so-called democracy. Governmental corruption has been given a large dose of methamphetamine, and net neutrality is clearly in jeopardy.

On the surface this film covers the struggle for internet privacy and open access to information and content. Open the book, however, and we see that Killswitch provides the broader context within which this struggle takes place.

The interviewees in Killswitch are thoughtful, their words are at moments horrifying or inspiring. The works of Aaron Swartz and Edward Snowden form the film’s human core. Snowden’s name is already in our history books, but Swartz’s name and story hasn’t received the exposure the martyred activist deserves. Their stories are told by themselves and by Lawrence Lessig, Tim Wu and Peter Ludlow.

Killswitch is stunning, and a reminder to pay attention to our ‘alternative’ press—which includes documentary films. I put ‘alternative’ in single quotes because that is our real press. Intensified attacks on the internet are imminent.

The film’s four core filmmakers are:

Ali Akbarzadeh, Director

Chris Dollar, Writer

Prichard Smith, Editor

Jeff Horn, Producer

All work under the aegis of Akorn production company.

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(Pictured are the film’s production team.)

Minimalism: Imagine a Life with Less

“You can never get enough of what you don’t really want.”
Rick Hanson, Ph.D., Neuropsychologist

Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus—also known as The Minimalists—are partners on a quest: To promote the values of consuming less, owning less.

Minimalism is one of the many tactics they are utilizing to get their points across to as many people as possible. Other tactics include appearances in our mainstream media, publishing books, and setting up their website, The Minimalists.

Back in the day it was called ‘conspicuous consumption.’ That term draws attention to a denigration in character of an individual who is perceived as having unnecessary possessions. The implication of this phrase is that if one is somehow motivated to change by an implied accusation of low character, said individual will reduce. The idea is that our guilted and gilded individual will change their behavior to improve the way they are perceived. This concern with how one is seen is the same kind of motivation that leads to the excess consumption in the first place. It is an external vis à vis internal concern.

Millburn and Nicodemus take the opposite approach in promoting their values: We experience personal, internal gratification from the changes in lifestyle that accompany reducing our material possessions—it’s not how we look, it’s how we feel. In addition to their own words of wisdom, their film includes people speaking about the benefits they’ve experienced by reducing—as well as findings and perspectives on minimalism from researchers and authors.

Minimalism is expertly crafted by Matt D’Avella who directed, shot, and edited. Stay with this film all the way through, you may be compelled to do a thorough examination of your approach to the material world.

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Jaco: A Biography of Music Legend Jaco Pastorius

Known primarily in jazz circles, Jaco Pastorius revolutionized the playing of the electric bass guitar. He died in 1987 as a result of self-destructive activities. Jaco denied himself and the world an unfathomable amount of beautiful musics of many ilk. Early in his life he had a premonition that he would die at the age of 34. He was off by two years.

This two-hour bio-doc became an instant must-see when I discovered it on Netflix. Although I heard his bass playing on albums by Weather Report, it was Jaco’s playing on Joni Mitchell’s two albums—‘Hejira’ and ‘The Hissing of Summer Lawns’—that sparked my undying admiration for the beauty and power of his music. ‘Hejira’ is my all-time favorite singer/songwriter album. ‘The Hissing of Summer Lawns’ is a close second.

Jaco is directed by Stephen Kijak and Mr. Paul Marchand; and produced and co-written by Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo. Given the documentary’s too-short 110-minute running time, this team has done as powerful a job of telling Jaco’s story as possible. There are plenty of clips of the musician’s performances, of course—but it is this sad, affectionate portrait of the wounded genius that haunts.

I wonder if Metallica’s legion of fans knew their bass hero played a Pastorius composition on one or more of the band’s tours. Here’s an intriguing story about Trujillo’s saving of Jaco’s Bass of Doom.

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Janis Joplin: Little Girl Blue

It’s tough. Probably the reason people don’t see ‘em. Documentaries about unhappy subjects—and most of them are about such.

When it comes to the world-changers I admire and respect, and whose passing was untimely, it’s even harder to break through the resistance to seeing their stories, reliving their public lives, pinning for another story their lives could have written—one in which they live and make even greater contributions to our world…, and my soul.

Janis Joplin’s life story follows the sadly well-worn path: Wounded childhood, talent, success, and the self-destruction demanded by those unhealed wounds.

Hollywood’s had her biopic on a far-back burner for years, if not decades. Perhaps it’s a blessing they’ve failed at getting that seed to sprout—I know, a mixed metaphor. It’s a rare biopic that truly captures its subject’s essence in a graceful manner. The documentary format of telling stories offers a greater potential for grace and respect. Producer Alex Gibney’s imprint on a production practically guarantees such a film.

Directed by Amy J. Berg, and produced by the ubiquitous Gibney, Janis Joplin: Little Girl Blue tells Joplin’s story with the above-mentioned virtues as well as the unavoidable cliché. We follow the wounded singer from birth to death, hear from friends, family, and industry admirers. The film points to abuse from high school peers Joplin suffered as the poisonous implant that slayed our heroine. With my psychologist’s brain and 68 years on Earth, I suspect the poison was injected much earlier. But, the timing is irrelevant—theory doesn’t change fact.

I saw Joplin perform at Georgia Tech’s Alexander Memorial Coliseum. It was near the end of her life. She was obviously drunk, and probably on heroine. I felt bad for her, embarrassed for her, but I did not have the character to understand I was witnessing a symptom of unacknowledged and unhealed PTSD. I felt resentment toward her, not compassion.

Yes, for those who love and admire Janis Joplin, who have empathy for her, this is a painful experience—to journey through the highs and lows of a wounded princess. But this film brings us closer to Janis Joplin’s soul, and enriches our souls. We learn or relearn what we lost, and what we gained by her presence in our lives.

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The Overnighters: When Fracking Came to Town

Jesse Moss’s documentary, The Overnighters, has two foci: What happens to the small town of Williston, North Dakota when there is a fracking boon; and a character study of Jay Reinke, Pastor of Williston’s Concordia Lutheran Church.

From an environmental perspective any kind of fossil fuel boon is a tragedy. Absent that perspective, it is a money-maker for many. For Pastor Reinke, it is a challenge to living the ethics and practices promulgated in The New Testament—more specifically, the dictum to ‘love thy neighbor.’

Men from various parts of the United States have come to Williston seeking employment. The town doesn’t have enough accommodations for them; and even if it did, the struggling men would not be able to pay the price. Pastor Reinke offers the church and its parking lot to a limited number of them to sleep overnight whilst they seek employment. His decision to live the above dictum generates predictable controversy within the church’s community and throughout the town.

The film is well-crafted and consistently evocative and provocative of emotionally charged questions and issues. It made a strong showing on the festival circuit, and its virtues were celebrated in the mainstream press—the equivalent of winning the documentary film lottery.

One measure of the power of a story are the thoughts and feelings that reverberate in the viewer’s soul after the story is told. The Overnighters is a powerful film.

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Vince Giordano: There’s a Future in the Past

A couple guys are loading a large white van with a large amount of large cases full of large musical instruments. One of the two men has a large crop of black wavy hair.

Cut to a large dinner/dance club in a big city. A band is playing. Eleven players all in black tuxedos, performing a very fast tempo old-fashioned song. Sounds like the 1920s or 30s. Sounds like the music from most of Woody Allen’s movies. Sounds like some music I heard on Garrison Keillor’s ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ radio show. Sounds like Dixieland. Sounds like The Little Rascals.

The man with the large crop of black wavy hair is at the back, playing a metal stand-up bass guitar—at lightning speed. He’s singing just as fast. The song ends, he makes an announcement to the audience. He’s the band leader. The arranger. The promoter. The organizer. The businessman. And, of course, one of the roadies.

Thus is introduced Vince Giordano, the definitive exemplar of someone who is a legend in their own time. And thus begins Dave Davidson’s and Amber Edwards’s Vince Giordano: There’s a Future in the Past, the definitive documentary about this amazing musician. The film proceeds to tell a thoroughly engaging story about a jaw-dropping talent whose Goddess is Music, and whose instrument is a ‘society band’ featuring players who have been with Giordano for decades.

Giordano has never made it big. But, he’s always made it. He lives in a modest home which is a virtual museum of old-time music. His well-lit basement is stuffed with dozens of file drawers each of which is stuffed with sheet music. He is curating tens of thousands of arrangements each of which holds many sheets of music broken down by instrument.

Music is a language particularly suited to the expression of the broadest possible spectrum of emotions. Giordano’s music expresses pure joy.

Vince Giordano is distributed by First Run Features.

Hooligan Sparrow: Confronting China’s Power Structure

Shot guerilla-style, Hooligan Sparrow follows Chinese political activist Ye Haiyan as she confronts the institutionalization of rape in China—specifically loopholes that allow government workers to have consensual or nonconsensual sex with female minors with little to no consequence for the perpetrators. Haiyan’s nom de plume is ‘Hooligan Sparrow.’

Haiyan is fighting two fronts: prostitution and rape.

Prostitutes face many risks by virtue of working in the context of a pimp culture. One of Haiyan’s acts of protest was to do sex work in a brothel setting without fee. The primary focus of the film, however, is on a specific case of rape: Two government workers kidnapped several young girls from school, right out of their seats, had sex with them over a period of two days, and then released them. The two workers faced no substantial consequences.

Using both hidden and unhidden cameras, filmmaker Nanfu Wang covered the story of Haiyan’s mission of protest of this egregious lack of justice. With every move she makes, Haiyan becomes increasingly vulnerable to governmental surveillance and harassment. Inevitably, Wang, too, becomes a target. Although Wang had some of her footage confiscated and equipment destroyed, she managed to secure enough of her film to tell this harrowing story of a giant nation’s shame.

I am sure many us who have seen Wang’s film thought about a production company adapting the story for a mainstream film. If I was a mogul I’d greenlight it immediately. Hollywood and China, though, have become inextricably attached. The chances of this riveting story being widely available any other way then via Nanfu Wang’s inspiring film are slim. It is on that basis that I urge you to see this film. Although this story is about institutional misogyny in China, it is also emblematic of misogyny’s ubiquitous nature.

Hooligan Sparrow is distributed in North America by Kino Lorber.

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