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.

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(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.

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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.

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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.

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The Business of Amateurs: Degree Not Included

student-athlete (n): an unrecognized profession where pain and gain are mutually exclusive.

There are a fount of adjectives to describe college sports in the United States of America: Unjust, Immoral, Unethical, Dangerous, Risky, Unhealthy, Tragic—and having just viewed Bob DeMars The Business of Amateurs—add the noun, Travesty.

There has been no want of news reports over the last few years or decades about injustice and danger in college athletics. Yet, in our world beset by massive challenges, this injustice—like so many others—is easy to ignore. That’s where documentary films come in, where Bob DeMars comes in.

In just 90 minutes DeMars, a veteran player of college athletics, covers the dangers of football—with the understanding that any athletic activity harbors the risk of injuries, some devastating.

After a brief outline of the history of athletics, we learn the extent to which United States players are exploited and abused by the NCAA and member school policies. Players risk their health, well being, and lives. If injured they lose their four-year scholarship. They don’t receive the health care they need during and after their college career. They are disallowed from exploiting their own success on the field while the schools and coaches take great advantage of same. Those students who want to take their academics seriously don’t have time to do so. Regarding football, the NCAA has dragged its feet in implementing safety procedures adopted by the NFL.

DeMars does what can’t be done in mainstream media. He provides detailed information, gut-wrenching human tragedies, and notes attempts to improve the lot of college athletes.

These are our children. Athletics can provide opportunities for a meaningful rewarding career. They also maim and kill, and leave players destitute.

The Business of Amateurs is distributed by Kino Lorber.

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Forced Perspective: A Profile of Artist Derek Hess

If you’re an extremely talented, massively prolific, and commercially successful artist like Derek Hess, you want your documentarian to do justice to yourself and your work—to mirror the passion and dedication and authenticity you bring to your work, and consequently, to those who view it.

That’s just what director/editor Nick Cavalier has done for Cleveland-based Hess with his film, Forced Perspective.

Of necessity there are two convergent foci to Cavalier’s film: Hess and the personal demons that propel his work, and that make his work connect deeply with his viewers. Consequently, the words ‘depression’ and ‘bipolar’ are heard throughout the film. The psychologist in me is immediately triggered, yet I know better than to pursue the psychological issues proffered in the film, than to entertain reductionist thoughts. You, the lucky viewer, can and will do your own analysis.

Instead, I find myself in awe of, and admiration for Hess’s talent and dedication, and for the countless numbers of people his work and story have profoundly impacted.

Music is another of the film’s virtues that struck me. Cavalier and his producers employed the work of five composers to produce a soundtrack that perfectly reflects the depth and power of Hess’s art.

Speaking of which, Hess is not just prolific in numbers, he is prolific in media. Hess has produced concert flyers and posters, t-shirts, multi-media pieces that incorporate used 8-track cassette cases, CD cases, fine art, and human skin. His fans take prints of his work to the tattoo parlor, and the resident artist burns the piece, or pieces.

There is much more to learn about Derek Hess. I highly recommend you see Cavalier’s portrait of this passionate and inspiring artist to garner that much more for yourself.

Forced Perspective is a Kino Lorber release.

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Casablancas: The Man Who Loved Women

‘In May 2011,’ the film begins, ‘John Casablancas met his friend Hupert Woroniecki in New York City. They spent three days locked in a studio and recorded his life story. What neither knew at the time was that John would die of cancer two years later, in 2013—making this recording a unique posthumous testimony on one of our most glamorous eras.’

Casablancas is an autobiography of John Casablancas who founded the legendary model agency Elite. Although a character study—which is, ideally, intrinsic to autobiography—the theme, physical beauty, is the seemingly polar opposite of a noble human character.

Those of a certain age may remember a 1960 episode of the nascent ‘Twilight Zone’ entitled Eye of the Beholder. A woman is lying in a hospital bed, in a dark hospital room. Her face is covered in a white cloth dressing. In a desperate attempt to look beautiful—or at least normal—she just had her 11th plastic surgery. This is her last chance. The story’s dialog between patient and care-givers focuses on her desperation, the tragedy of the hideous face with which she was born. When the cloth dressing is removed she is grief stricken, the surgery failed. In the requisite Twilight Zone ironic, painful twist, the camera reveals a beautiful woman, and the faces of those ‘normal-looking’ caregivers are hideous, ghoulish.

John Casablancas was born into wealth, and provided a seemingly idyllic education filled with beautiful girls, skiing, soccer, and international travel. His first attempt at any sort of occupation was to join the United States Marines. He was dismissed, of course, at the outset. He then speaks of the sequence of events that led to the founding—and initial floundering of—his company, Elite Model Management.

Casablancas took to that business like the proverbial duck-to-water. He was an effective competitor. So much so that all the U.S. major management agencies united to sue him based on various allegations regarding business practices. The suits—also known as ‘model wars’—took two years to litigate, and gave Elite priceless publicity. On his path to industry dominance, Casablancas became a media darling seen on the cornucopia of television talk shows in North America and Europe.

I was engaged, moved by this character and his story—the exceptional success and pleasures he enjoyed, and the unending conflict he experienced between living the life of family man, and the life of a playboy ensconced in the upper socio-economic strata of Western society. Some may mock the implied pain of this conflict. I do not measure emotional pain.

Stories about womanizers provoke thoughts and passionate discussions of ethics and morals. Whatever your standards, this film leaves the viewer with a few images and stories of a life well-lived without apologies—and that one unavoidable regret.

Casablancas is a First Run Features release.

Homeland: Iraq Year Zero

“No way to live in peace, not under Sadam, not after him.”
A distinguished Iraqi gentleman as he views a collaterally destroyed home.

France-based Iraqi filmmaker Abbas Fahdel has single-handedly produced a monumental documentary film.

Homeland: Iraq Year Zero is his coverage of the Iraqi people before and after the 2003 bombing and invasion. The Kino Lorber version is a two-disc set—Before the Fall, and After the Battle, five and a-half hours of life at those times.

Fahdel’s camera covers his extended family, friends, street scenes, markets, food kiosks, conversations about the minutiae of their lives, conversations about the war to come, and the war that came.

We see Iraqis watching television—seeing propaganda songs about Saddam Hussein, children’s shows, and anti-war protests in other countries. They knew the protests were in vain. Fahdel’s 12-year old nephew Haidar steals every scene, every shot in which he appears. He quickly becomes the embodiment of the film’s story.

The Kino Lorber box set includes a booklet, Lessons of Darkness, by Robert Greene. Disc One includes an ‘Extra’ of Fahdel being interviewed. He speaks French, and his companion interprets in English. His presentation is as powerful as his film.