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 covers 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 would 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 the oceans 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, yet 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.



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.

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.



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

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.

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.



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.


Almost Sunrise: 2,700 Miles to Healing

Almost Sunrise begins with this text:

“’Moral Injury’ is a wound to the soul caused by participation in events that violate one’s deeply held sense of right and wrong.”

Although not a prolific filmmaker, when Michael Collins makes a feature documentary, it is powerful, compelling, and haunting. His first feature, ‘Give Up Tomorrow,’ is unforgettable, as is Almost Sunrise, the story of two deeply wounded veterans of the Iraq war—wounded in heart and soul.

Iraq war veteran Tom Voss was suffering from PTSD, his marriage was on the line, his very life, too. Although a seeming non sequitur, Voss decided to go on a 2,700 mile trek from Wisconsin, to the Pacific shore of southern California. Anthony Anderson, his brother-in-arms also suffering greatly, joined him.

The two became a cause célèbre which was intended, of course—but the focus was on their healing from ‘moral injury.’ In a short 98 minutes, Collins covers the entire journey from before the beginning through after the end. In addition to their secular pilgrimage, the two found healing from unexpected sources.

This is yet another war-related documentary film that needs to be seen by all members of the United States Congress, Senate, the President, his or her Cabinet, and by the leaders and bureaucrats of our Veterans Administration. Many—if not most—veterans, are still not receiving the care and healing they deserve. In that light, I whole-heartedly encourage you to see and share Almost Sunrise.

I also suggest you visit the film’s website and click on Take Action where you can join me in signing the “Pledge to support Almost Sunrise in the movement to promote and expand complementary and alternative wellness programs for veterans and their families.”

The Keepers: Who Murdered Cathy Cesnik?

Ryan White’s The Keepers is a Netflix documentary series focused on the 1969 murder of Sister Catherine Cesnik, a loving, high-spirited, multi-talented young woman approaching the prime of her life. Both her character and personal story are fully worthy of this quality of respectful attention, but it is the perpetrators of her murder who are the de facto subjects of this series.

The inciting incident for producing this epic film is the unsolicited work of two former students who attended Archbishop Keough High School, in Baltimore, Maryland, in the late sixties—Gemma Hoskins and Abbie Schaub. They wanted to know who killed Sister Cathy, their beloved English teacher at the school, in November of 1969.

Schaub’s and Hoskins’ dogged approach uncovered a story of the wholesale sexual abuse of high school students, a years-long crime which was hidden with the support of the police, the Church, and the government’s prosecutor. The story is not over. As I type, the investigation continues—as do attempts, feeble as they may be, to reform the Church’s culture of pedophilia.

The Keepers is a thoroughly engaging film that highlights the most horrific and the most compassionate of us human beings.

Having seen a few documentary and Hollywood films about the Catholic Church and sex crimes, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Church is a centuries-long Boys Sex Club. Yes, the current Pope has a campaign to rid the Church of this scourge, and that is, of course, a noble goal and initiative. I am skeptical, however, of how much reform has been implemented globally, or even how much can be implemented given the Church’s global reach and entrenched culture. For more background on the Church’s history of sex abuse, I suggest Alex Gibney’s HBO documentary Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In The House of God

I Am Jane Doe: The Fight to Stop Child Sex Trafficking in the United States of America

“We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who would pervert the Constitution.” Abraham Lincoln


Directed by Mary Mazzio, and narrated by Jessica Chastain, I Am Jane Doe focuses on three children who were ‘trafficked’—that is, raped countless times—and their families in their fight for justice.

The three, of course, represent the countless number of underage girls who have been and are being trafficked. These three are the lucky ones—returned to their families, now part of an incendiary documentary which reveals another gross negligence perpetrated by our system of justice.

Mazzio outlines many years of litigation to stop a website called ‘Backpage’ from publishing advertisements for sex with trafficked girls. The company’s seemingly unbeatable defense is Section 230 of the ironically titled Communications Decency Act of 1996. This statute indemnifies website owners from liability for third-party content on their sites. The vast majority of advertisements for sex with underage children—mostly girls—are on this international site which has generated hundreds of millions of dollars, probably more than a billion by now, of profit.

Mazzio documents the kind of support Backpage has enjoyed. The Center for Democracy and Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation both submitted legal briefs supporting Backpage in its cases against J.S. and Jane Doe—two of the three girls featured in the film. She also provides a Google-generated list of companies who contributed to The Center for Democracy and Technology. Funds from these companies were used to support Backpage in its defensive litigation. Here is that list: AT&T, California Healthcare Foundation, Facebook, Google, Inc., Macarthur Foundation, Markel Foundation, Microsoft, Open Society Institute, and Yahoo!

Mazzio’s film follows years of hope and defeat as parents and lawyers fight to have 230 amended. In an exceedingly rare circumstance for documentary films and their makers, I Am Jane Doe was privately screened in Washington, D.C., for members of Congress. As I type, renewed action is taking place to address this unspeakable state of law allowing for the ease of sex traffickers in plying their horrific trade.

I am fascinated. Would thinly-veiled ads for contract killings be acceptable? Probably not. Why are advertisements for the raping of children acceptable to so many federally elected politicians? to so many judges?

I Am Jane Doe is available from iTunes, Vimeo, Google Play, Amazon, Netflix, and DVD.


Miss Sharon Jones!: Soul Music at Its Finest, Drama at Its Highest

With Miss Sharon Jones! massively prolific filmmaker Barbara Kopple has delivered a joyful, tearful film about the trials and triumph of the formerly unheralded Sharon Jones. With grace, respect, and affection, two time Academy Award-winning Kopple follows the soul singer through a year of treatment for pancreatic cancer—one of the more lethal varieties of this disease.

‘Indomitable’ is the first word that comes to mind after seeing Jones suffer from her illness and its treatment, maintain her golden heart and joyful spirit, survive, and return to the studio and the road.

Jones is surrounded and supported by her band, The Dap-Kings—as well as her manager, steadfast friends, and her doctor who attends her triumphant return to the stage. Along the way Jones visits places of her past. She shares reminiscences—including the horrors of racism she experienced directly.

Coda: Tragedy and dark humor merged when Jones suffered a stroke while watching the 2016 election results on television. She was aware of this irony, and joked about the coincidence. Sharon Jones passed away on November 18, 2016.

Miss Sharon Jones! can be found in iTunes, Netflix, and possibly other on-demand sites.


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.