Unrest: The Hero’s Journey of Jennifer Brea

As documentary films go, it doesn’t get more powerful than this. A young woman—healthy, happy, intelligent, talented, Hollywood beautiful, married to a loving man, living an adventurous, exciting life—is struck down by a debilitating, apparently incurable disease.

This young woman fights back.

The disease is called myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) or chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Medicine denied or ignored this disease, thus adding immeasurable suffering and loss for its victims and their families. From the film’s website we learn that, “It is estimated that at least 1,000,000 Americans, 250,000 British people, 100,000 Australians, and 400,000 Canadians have ME. An estimated 75-85% of them are women and 80-90% of them are un-diagnosed. (*Estimates vary depending on the diagnostic criteria used.)”

In Unrest, filmmaker Jennifer Brea tells her own story, and that of many others. Medicine’s initial response to this spectrum-based disorder was to flatly deny its existence, blaming its presentation on victims’ psyches. Some doctors still do. The lethal impact of this tragic, misguided belief is a lack of care and research. Medicine’s denials reveal an arrogant, God-like attitude. “If I can’t diagnose this disease, it doesn’t exist.”

Brea tried almost every possible remedy she could find. Through the miasma of all these treatments and her ongoing symptoms, she survived, fought back, and became a powerful advocate for both patients and those medical professionals who seek funding for research.

Unrest” is a film not to be missed. It is haunting, infuriating, and inspiring. It has already garnered much praise, and will be released in theaters in the fall of 2017.

Coda: I was surprised at one missing piece, a pharmaceutical called Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN), which has been shown to be effective in the treatment of many autoimmune diseases, including ME/CFS. It is by pure serendipity that I learned of LDN. I met author Julia Schopick on Facebook, and soon learned about her book, Honest Medicine which features LDN as one of four low-cost, low-side-effects treatments for serious diseases.

I was immediately struck by information Julia shared about patients’ successes using LDN. The two of us are now partners in writing a book exclusively about LDN. It will contain several LDN success stories, one from a woman with ME/CFS who asserts that, of all the medications and supplements she has taken over the years, only LDN has consistently helped her fatigue and mobility.

Although not yet widely known or recognized by contemporary medicine, LDN’s emergence in the treatment of autoimmune disorders is a people’s movement.

There are nearly twenty Facebook groups devoted to LDN; two are devoted to ME/CFS:

I hope that patients with this debilitating disease will learn about LDN. It doesn’t work for all ME/CFS patients, but then, no single treatment works for everyone suffering from a particular illness. However, many people have experienced excellent results.

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Here are links for the two aforementioned Facebook groups:

LDN/LOW DOSE NALTREXONE ME/CFS MYALGIC ENCEPHALOMYELITIS/CHRONIC FATIGUE   -with over 1,600 members

Low dose Naltrexone (LDN) for Fibromyalgia and (CFS) Fatigue  -with over 8,600 members.

Sea Gypsies: When Everything Goes Wrong, That’s When Adventure Starts

In Sea Gypsies writer/producer/director/cinematographer/editor Nico Edwards takes a ride in the Infinity, a 120 sailing ketch(1.). I write ‘in’ rather than ‘on’ because much of his on-camera narration is done from his room while suffering the effects of motion sickness.

When not ill, Edwards’ cinematography is gorgeous. He captures many moods of the sea and of the ragtag crew on their 8,000 mile voyage from New Zealand to Patagonia—via Antarctica. To make an understatement, Antarctica is the adventurous part.

Infinity is the home of captain Clemens Gabriel who has been sailing the oceans for ten years “on a never-ending voyage of nomadic exploration.” Gabriel has raised four children on the boat. I doubt they all have the same mother. The crew is determined by caprice, and varies from voyage to voyage.

As pelagic documentaries go, Sea Gypsies is a one-off—kinda like watching a drunk guy walk a high wire—and with lots of pretty pictures.

Sea Gypsies is available from First Run Features.

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1. From Google: A ‘ketch’ is a sailing craft with two masts. The distinguishing characteristic of a ketch (ketamina) is that the forward of the two masts (the “mainmast”) is larger than the after mast (the “mizzen”). … In modern usage, the ketch is a fore-and-aft rigged vessel used as a yacht or pleasure craft.

Icarus: Truth Is the New Banned Substance

I prefer to go into a movie cold. At the most I will know the title and the genre. As I’ve written before, I value the experience of discovery in reading, hearing, and seeing stories.

I went into Icarus cold.

I was confused when I began watching this Netflix-distributed documentary. Icarus begins with an extended electronic dialogue between Russian and American filmmaker Bryan Fogel. At the time, Rodchenkov was the director of a Moscow-based drug testing lab for athletes. Fogel, a competitive cyclist.

If I understand correctly, Fogel and Rodchenkov were conducting an experiment to see if Fogel could take performance enhancing drugs, become a faster cyclist, yet be able to have a version of his otherwise positive urine test altered negative for the drugs. Rodchenkov was teaching Fogel about the process of faking incriminating urine samples as clean—and he was doing so with excitement and joy.

Their communication was over the Internet and cell phones, and they met in Russia and the U.S. It did not seem like they were attempting to hide the substance of their dialog from any or all parties who would obviously be interested. I did not know where the story was going. I was worried for Rodchenkov, he’s making it easy to be caught. Why is he doing this? What’s this film about? Where is this story going? One clue was Rodchenkov’s interest in George Orwell’s “1984”. He reads lines from the book throughout the film.

Ultimately, the story shifts to a life-threatening situation for Rodchenkov—and an incendiary documentary for Fogel. The film’s primary focus is on Russia’s elaborate state-sponsored faking of athletes’ drug tests—and on the world’s reaction to this scam. We see filmmaker Fogel, Rodchenkov, and various allies work to secure verifiable evidence of Russia’s criminal malfeasance, make that evidence available, and Rodchenkov pay a painful price for speaking truth to power. It seems as if Rodchenkov was set up as the patsy, the fall-guy for Russia’s malfeasance.

Fogel has told a thoroughly engaging and provocative story. It could be made into a Hollywood film, but that film could not be any more stunning than this documentary.

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(Pictured: Filmmaker Bryan Fogel)

Crop Circle Diaries: Placing the Circles in a Greater Context

Patty Greer’s films cover the phenomenon called ‘crop circle.’ I put the phrase in quotes because perfectly formed circles with elaborate designs have been found around the world in media other than agricultural crops.

Greer covers the metaphysical, and films of this ilk tend to be viewed by those who are interested in such—also known as ‘preaching to the converted.’ Skeptics, of course, may watch these films in their quest to delegitimize both the topic and the evidence proffered. The fearful or arrogant will also avoid them.

For yours truly the metaphysical is not ‘meta’—rather it refers to phenomena we do not understand, comprehend, and/or are threatened by. I have reviewed a couple films about UFO/Alien phenomena, and have written a brief autobiographical essay about it which I’m happy to share.

Greer has produced eight feature films about UFO phenomena with a primary focus on the circles. In her latest—Crop Circle Diaries—she tells a more personal, overarching story of her experience. But, she is not the film’s sole subject. Greer also introduces the work of William Levengood and his lab partner Penny Kelly. The information is very metaphysical, of course, and yours truly could not comprehend much of it. However, this information is also provocative and thoroughly intriguing. The viewer, though, can take the information and dig deeper.

Being somewhat simple minded, what is utterly clear to me, though, are the circles. I looked crop circles up in Wikipedia. The authors of the piece bent over backwards to discredit the idea that they are created by metaphysical means. It was a flimsy attempt, at best. Apparently, Shakespeare’s “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy” is nothing more than a bit of meaningless poetry to the authors.

In our digital era one can argue that still and moving images have been created rather than recorded. I find the phenomenon of crop circles to be the most compelling, incontrovertible evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence on our planet. Kudos to Patty Greer for covering the phenomenon so well, and placing it in greater contexts.

Hesse and Glaser: Two Films, Two Artists

Thanks to Kino Lorber for sending two films about two artists who have little in common except for the power and impact of their work.

Marcie Begleiter’s Eva Hesse covers Hesse’s tragically-shortened and previously over-looked life. An abstract artist, Hesse created a large body of work in a very short period of time.

Milton Glaser was born with a drawing implement in his hand, and a brilliant visual aesthetic in his brain-mind. In Wendy Keys’ Milton Glaser: To Inform and Delight Glaser offers a fundamental contrast about art which never occurred to this philistine here. There is art made for someone’s home or museums, and there is art for the public. Taken together, these two films dramatically reveal that contrast.

Glaser is the proverbial legend in his own time. Having seen Keys’ film, that legendary status is well-deserved. A thoroughly charming character, Glaser tells much of his story in the film. The breadth and depth of his design and art work are nothing less than jaw-dropping. You may want to view the film before dinning. There is much talk about food and restaurants, and images of same.

Hesse’s life was one of many tragedies, yet her life and work are triumphant. By film’s end I wanted many more people to know her story. If I was a Hollywood mogul I would immediately green-light a film of her life. In the interim we have this expertly produced documentary.

Both Kino Lorber discs contain ‘Extras.’ In the documentary film world I do not consider ‘Extras’ extra, but, rather, integral parts of the film.

I heartily recommend viewing both films consecutively.

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Photograph of Milton Glaser by Michael Somoroff. Used with permission.

Chasing Coral: The Die-Off of a Fundamental Ecosystem

Jeff Orlowski is a master at making films with images that are as exquisitely beautiful as they are horrific. With 2012’s Chasing Ice he covers the melting of glaciers and ice caps, and now with Chasing Coral he has covered the global die-off of the sea creatures we call corals.

In Orlowski’s film we learn that without reducing—if not reversing—global warming the class of animals called coral will disappear in 30 years. This is more than a loss of these creatures, it is the destruction of one of the Earth’s fundamental ecosystems. With the increasing rate of global warming, I will not be surprised to see that 30-year figure sadly reduced.

The film focuses exclusively on the deleterious effects of rising ocean temperatures; but, from watching other documentaries about our oceans I’ve learned that they are also absorbing more carbon dioxide which is acidifying the water. This chemical process is adding to the deaths of coral reefs.

Most of Chasing Coral covers the work of eco-heroes capturing images of this die-off. The cinematic technology is fascinating, the challenges are daunting, but as can be seen, the images are gorgeous, and the stories they tell disheartening.

But, Orlowski did not put his heart, soul, and filmmaker’s mastery in this film to discourage. He wants us to change, and concludes his film with initiatives to bring more public attention to this loss and ways to stop it. Of course, that’s what I want, too.

So, see this film! It’s distributed by Netflix. Then go to the film’s site and learn how we can be part of the solution. And, if you don’t have Netflix, go directly to the film’s site—you get the picture.

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Photograph courtesy of The Ocean Agency: XL Catlin Seaview…hard Vevers.jpeg from “Chasing Coral” (Exposure Labs)

Extraordinary: The Stan Romanek Story

Note: At the conclusion of this review I have added a personal note regarding my epistemological relationship with the UFO/ET phenomenon. This is the second documentary of this ilk I have covered, The Hidden Hand being the first.
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Once in awhile I begin a documentary film review with displayed text that introduces the film. Here is text that concludes Extraordinary.

“The intention of this film is not to answer questions, but to stimulate new ones. Go forward. Challenge conventional thought. Wonder. And above all else, ask yourself: What if this is all true?”

Extraordinary covers the UFO/ET-filled life of Stan Romanek. The UFO/ET phenomenon is befuddling enough. Romanek’s reported experiences include those of the spiritual, paranormal, or metaphysical kind. That is, this film is even more challenging to our beliefs.

Produced with high production values, Extraordinary allows Romanek to tell his story of daunting experiences, and to share evidence of same. This is a film that those with absolute beliefs of what is not possible will likely avoid. If your approach is not absolute, the boundaries of your understanding of what is possible may very well be expanded. That is, I recommend the watching of this film which is available on disc and via Netflix.

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A Personal Note

“A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” Paul Simon

“It is hard to fill a cup that is already full.” Moat

“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” The Guy Who Wrote Shakespeare’s Plays
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It began at grocery store checkout stands. Magazine racks displaying the latest copy of The Inquirer. Occasionally there would be a front page photo of an alien accompanied by some outrageous headline. After so many exposures to tabloid stories and photos it became obvious aliens have really broken bad. They have an unquenchable anal fetish. Of all the possible things ‘in Heaven and Earth’ they would want from us humans! Probing our butts?!

I paid no attention. The existence of alien life and intelligence could not be proved or disproved. Unless one has a direct experience, it’s just someone’s story or evidence. In our cyber era that idea is more pertinent being that we can create all sorts of evidence. I ignored anything and everything about extraterrestrial intelligence. I was, and still am, struggling to find my own.

Then, a few things happened.

First, the repetition of stories of that ilk from various other sources. Movie movies—E.T., Close Encounters of the Third King. A television movie, Roswell, staring Dwight Yoakam, Martin Sheen, Kyle MacLachlan, and Xander Berkeley. I began to take more seriously the metaphor of the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey as a symbol which intimates alien interventions in our evolution—they contributed to our DNA. We have met the aliens, and they are us.

I saw Fire in the Sky, a movie based upon a 1975 experience in Arizona. The experiencer, Travis Walton, had his Fifteen Minutes of Fame by sharing his story in his book of the same name. The controversy surrounding the event was not so much the event itself as it was the taking of lie detector tests by several witnesses. Most of them passed the test two consecutive times. The probability of that result—if the participants were lying—is less than minuscule.

Two students in my graduate program spoke with me of their experiences. I knew both, and found them to be serious, reliable sources of information. These were particularly sobering conversations.

Around 1980, I learned that the then governor of New Mexico had filed an FOI request with the United States government for information related to the 1947 ‘Roswell Incident.’ Anyone could request a complimentary copy of the material subsequently shared by our government with the Governor’s office. I requested, and six months later received a thick 9X12 manila envelope. I went through the dozens or more pages of this report. A large number of the paragraphs were redacted. Why?

I watched Sightings, a television series about metaphysical phenomena including aliens and UFOs which was on the air during the years 1992-1997. Henry Winkler—’Fonzie’ from Happy Days—was one of the show’s producers. What stood out was the large number of distinguished military and law enforcement officials who shared experiences of UFOs.

I watched three seasons of The History Channel’s series, Ancient Aliens. These programs included lots of cheesy stories and ideas—but they also featured utterly mystifying evidence that pointed to alien interventions in our past.

In the mid-1980s I met a DJ from a major FM pop station at a party. As we spoke I learned he had been an air traffic controller early in his career. He told a supervisor he saw a UFO, and was told there would be serious repercussions for him if he were to go public with his experience.

I read two books—Abduction and Passport to the Cosmos—by the late John Mack, M.D., a Harvard psychiatrist who found himself treating people suffering from PTSD who vividly recounted alien abductions. Predictably the Harvard establishment attempted to have Mack kicked out. They failed.

Mack died tragically and ironically while attending a London conference on the after-death state. Taking field research to the extreme, he was hit by a drunk driver.

Crop Circles: Over the decades I’ve heard about circles with simple or elaborate designs appearing—many overnight—on Earth. These are epistemologically challenging phenomena. With Facebook, I have been able to keep up with the appearance of new circles. Perhaps it is a limit of my imagination, but I simply cannot conceive how—with the more elaborate designs—a group of humans can create these designs in the dead of night; and, if they do, how they have not been video recorded in the act of creation.

Where is the ‘win’ in believing or disbelieving in extraterrestrial intelligence? Your choice is nothing more or less than an aspect of your identity, your character. Some on both sides of the question benefit by advancing their respective positions publicly. Some pay a price for doing so.

If and when there is mass experience of alien intelligence and/or governments of powerful nations acknowledge such intelligence, the identity of our entire species, our world view, will be threatened and altered—to make an understatement. This time period would be called ‘After Disclosure’, and there are those who believe we already live in humanity’s ‘AD.’

BTW: It’s utterly obvious to me that they were here before we were.

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D. Schwartz July 6, 2017

Tribe of Heart: In Support of Animal Rights

Under their Tribe of Heart moniker Jenny Stein and James LaVeck have produced and distributed—for free—the two most powerful documentaries about non-human animal rights I’ve seen to date. The power of their films lies in the profound human stories of transformation they tell.

In The Witness Brooklyn contractor Eddie Lama tells and shows his story of transformation into an animal rights activist. His journey began simply enough with the finding, helping, and adopting of an abandoned kitten. One tactic Lama utilized was to outfit a van with a video monitor and a loud-speaker which he drove around town showing images of trapped fur-bearing animals struggling to be free. The faces of the viewers are as unforgettable as the images are disturbing. Yet, it is Lama’s passion and commitment which are so touching and inspiring.

In Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home five farmers speak of their journeys from animal exploiters to animal care-givers. All the stories are dramatic, of course, but none more than Howard Lyman’s. He is a fourth generation farmer, rancher, feedlot operator—and was a successful rancher with 7,000 head of cattle. Like Coleridge’s mariner, Lyman now travels the world most of the year telling his story and lecturing “about the proper amount of animal products people should have in their diet—which is zero.” He covers much more territory than diet, of course. His story is told via interview and clips of his lectures.

Both films are found at Tribe of Heart, and play for free. The website and the films are available in English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and French. I suspect more languages are on the way. The documentaries have been seen in almost 100 countries—if not more by the time you’ve read this review.

Tribe of Heart films have received mainstream media attention as well as many festival awards. Yours truly will stay in touch with the Tribe.

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The Islands and the Whales

Commonly called the Faeroes, the Faroe Islands lie smack-dab between Iceland and Norway. Humans have lived in the Faeroes for about two millennia. Today’s 48,000 humans are self-governing, but do so under the aegis of the Kingdom of Denmark. The people have their own language, Faroese, and Danish is taught in schools. They live in a technologically modern society, and secure foods from the sea for their consumption and economy.

Produced, directed, and shot by Mike Day, The Islands & The Whales explores a dilemma faced by the people of the Faroe Islands. The seas and lands of Earth have been and continue to be polluted with mercury and, of course, many other chemicals. Ubiquitous mercury pollution comes primarily from the mining and burning of coal.

The far-north Faeroes are not suitable for agriculture. The people maintain the millennia-long tradition of hunting pilot whales. They keep their eyes on the ocean, and when a group of whales are spotted there is an island-wide alarm, men sprint to their boats, and if they’re ‘lucky,’ they’ll herd the pod to a cove, and slaughter the creatures. The islands are linked by underground tunnels, and the men communicate now with phones. That is, there is a rapid, country-wide response when a pod is spotted.

There is a broader issue: Bird and fish populations are being decimated by both hunting and environmental toxins.

A distinguished professor who has monitored mercury levels in whales and humans for 25 years has the unhappy, difficult job of informing the Faeroes’ people that they—especially their children—are being poisoned. His life has been threatened for informing the islanders of this sad, predictable fact of life. This is the central dilemma of the film—one which the entire human population of Earth is facing every moment.

Day covers daily life and community events, follows a few islanders on their hunts, listens to a few people share their opinions and experiences. He peppers the film with beatific, utterly stunning images of the islands, as he does with narration by an elder who speaks of the ‘huldufólk’ a kind of nature spirit who supports humans—but have ‘fled the light for the hills.’ They do not approve of man’s destruction and pollution of the land.

The Islands & The Whales is a masterfully crafted documentary film that reveals and explores our human defenses, fears, and ignorance as we approach our destruction of our ecosphere. I will make sure to see all of Mike Day’s films.

Mr. Gaga

Nope. Not the Lady’s husband, brother or father. Gaga is an approach to dance developed by Ohad Naharin, the subject of this masterpiece of documentary filmmaking written and directed by Tomer Heymann.

Heymann tells Naharin’s professional and personal biographies which begin in early childhood—since that is when the dancer began dancing. We follow the charismatic teacher from Israel, to New York, and back again. Naharin tells his own story, and Heymann saturates the film with a cornucopia of dance clips.

By film’s end I found myself stunned by the epic nature of this 100-minute film and the power of Naharin’s presence. The story and Naharin’s character transcends the subject of dance. I have viewed many dance films. Mr. Gaga is the most haunting.

The DVD is available from Icarus Films. I streamed the film via Netflix.

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