The Sunday Sessions: Conversion Therapy with Chris and Nathan

“It seems that other people’s happiness comes at a much lower cost than mine.” Nathan speaking with Chris, his SSA conversion therapist

Nathan is a tall, thin, intelligent, articulate, talented, handsome, and charismatic young man. He is struggling with a conflict between his attraction to males and his Catholic religious beliefs. Nathan learns about and seeks ‘same-sex attractions conversion therapy’—also called ‘reparative therapy.’

Directed by Richard Yeagley, The Sunday Sessions follows Nathan through two years of conversion therapy. Since Yeagley is telling a story, I do not reveal its outcome. Instead, I offer this quote from the film’s website:

‘The filmmakers had unfettered access to these secretive and controversial therapy sessions, and have crafted an emotional and psychological drama which chronicles two years of Nathan’s struggle.’

That access is the most remarkable aspect of the film. As Nathan struggles, so do we. Intrinsic to this particular story, we do not experience all that transpires which contribute to Nathan’s resolution. Moreover, one is left with the sense of ‘what’s next?’ Nathan is 29, there is much more water to go under his bridge. Perhaps Yeagley will produce a one-person Michael Apted-style ‘Seven Up!’ series following Nathan’s journey every seven (or less) years.

IMDB 

The Sunday Sessions is a First Run Features release.

Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai

Taking Root tells the epic story of Kenya’s Wangari Maathai who led a politico-environmental movement in her homeland—a movement that garnered Maathai global notoriety and the Nobel Prize.

Via their Marlboro Productions, filmmakers Lisa Merton and Alan Dater provide a broad outline of Kenya’s history, then focus on Maathai’s immeasurable impact on that history through her life-long activism. Via the National Council of Women of Kenya Maathai fostered an environmental movement called the green belt movement which is responsible for the planting of more than 51 million trees in Kenya. Her activism expanded beyond environmental issues.

Maathai’s story is told by herself and several interviewees. Hers is an odyssey of discovery, heroic actions, struggle, revolution, and the sparking of social change in Kenya and beyond.

Merton and Dater have included many ‘extras’ in the film’s DVD. I believe most extras on documentary film DVDs should be included within the film, integral to the story. That is to say, when you receive your Taking Root disc—which I heartily encourage you to do—view all the extras.

Memo to Hollywood: Maathai’s story is so moving, harrowing, and gratifying, it is another documentary film that deserves narrative coverage for an international audience. Back in the day, that kind of coverage would be a movie. Now, we can tell Maathai’s epic story through multiple episodes.

It is by accident that I discovered Taking Root and it is another must-see environmental documentary. In her note to me, filmmaker Merton reminded me of the phrase, ‘evergreen’—a journalistic term referring to a story that will always be relevant. In this case, ‘evergreen’ is a double entendre.

Facebook 

Twitter 

IMDB 

PBS 

 

Love Thy Nature

Directed by veteran filmmaker Sylvie Rokab, Love Thy Nature examines humanity’s troubled relationship with nature, and explores ways that relationship can become untroubled.

Narrated by Liam Neeson as the voice of Sapiens (the voice of humanity), the film addresses our relationship with nature from a variety of perspectives—social, psychological, spiritual, health, environmental, and others. In addition to her interviewees’ wisdom, Rokab provides a virtually nonstop montage of beatific images, along with dramatic and evocative music by François-Paul Aïche.

Merging the film’s information, imagery, and music, Love Thy Nature leaves viewers with the sense of having taken a long journey—hopeful we can and are making a difference, and finding the ‘love’ referred to in the film’s title.

Rokab has made it easy for viewers to follow up on the information and inspiration found in Love Thy Nature. For a list of interviewees and their respective websites, go to this page from the film’s website.

Facebook 

Twitter 

Instagram

IMDB

American Circumcision

“For the serious scholar, there’s just endless opportunities there to horrify yourself, amaze yourself, wonder why this ever got started.” John Geisheker, JD, LLM, Executive Director, Doctors Opposing Circumcision

Oh, that’s what you can call me, an ‘intactivist’—the urban dictionary definition of which is: ‘Someone who loves, honors, respects and protects the rights of the child to an intact body. Someone who sees genital mutilation—of girls or boys—as a contradiction to that fundamental human right.’ (The urban dictionary folks might want to rethink their description of gender in the above definition.)

Written, produced, directed, and edited by Brendon Marotta, American Circumcision provides compelling rationales for a federally-based prohibition of childhood genital mutilation. Marotta and company speak with those who coldly, blithely argue in favor of genital mutilation, and those who passionately fight for a ban. He also speaks with mothers and a variety of adults who tell of their respective plights—‘botched’ circumcisions, grieving mothers, angry children. The film introduces a new-to-me movement called ‘restoration’—a self-administered procedure to restore, as much as possible, a male’s birthright genitalia.

American Circumcision is a well-crafted, stark invitation to viewers to become intactivists.

Facebook 

Twitter 

Instagram 

IMDB 

National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers 

Doctors Opposing Circumcision 

National Organization of Restoring Men 

Intact America 

Saving Brinton: Calling All Cinephiles—and Everyone Else

“I like to save things, especially if they’re too far gone.” Michael Zahs

A deceased father reconnecting with his living son is not the only dream that came out of Iowa. Filmmakers Tommy Haines, John Richard, and Andrew Sherburne tell the stories of film pioneer William Frank Brinton and the savior of Brinton’s historic work, Michael Zahs.

For more than seven decades, the pioneering cinematic work of Frank and Indiana Brinton was buried and decaying. Saving Brinton covers Zahs’ 1981 discovery of this treasure trove of cinematic history virtually buried in the basement of an old Iowa farmhouse. Zahs spent decades promoting the preservation and restoration of both the equipment and media created by the Brintons between 1895 and 1909.

Zahs’ passion, perseverance, and accomplishments are as breath-taking as the work he has uncovered and shared with the world. After viewing this must-see documentary, it is clear that the overlooking of the Brintons’ work was egregious and potentially tragic. Thanks to Zahs’ initiatives a crucial chapter in the dawning of cinema is saved and available for all to see and study.

Given Michael Zahs’ actions and accomplishments, Saving Brinton deserves to be seen not just by cinephiles, but for everyone who can be inspired by the depth breadth of his character.

Facebook 

Twitter 

Instagram 

IMDB 

The Brinton Library

The Brinton Collection

(Pictured: Michael Zahs)

SMART: Specialized Mobile Animal Rescue Team

“We’re the last line. If we can’t do it, no one can. We haven’t walked away from a rescue yet.” Armando Navarrete

In just 74 minutes filmmaker Justin Zimmerman tells a myriad number of stories about the creation of SMART, the daredevil staff who rescue animals, and stories of many rescues.

Based in Los Angeles, SMART is the first, most highly skilled animal rescue organization of its kind—all thanks to its founder, Armando Navarrete. Although we hear from several team members, the principal characters are Navarrete and Annette Ramirez each of whom make powerful impressions on viewers. Navarrete’s hope, of course, is to spread his team’s model around the world.

SMART: Specialized Mobile Animal Rescue Team is a film by, for, and about animal lovers such as yours truly. It is thoroughly engaging and inspiring. The film is produced by bricker-down productions, and distributed by Cinema Libre Studio.

Facebook 

IMDB 

(Pictured: Annette Ramirez)

That Way Madness Lies…

“The more that I have tried to put my hand into it, and tried to control it, the longer I have prolonged him getting help. My big mistake has been trying to circumvent the suffering.” Sandra Luckow

With That Way Madness Lies… filmmaker Sandra Luckow tells the epic, tragic, heart-breaking story of her brother Duanne’s struggle with mental illness. In doing so Luckow has provided another indictment of the United States’ failed healthcare system.

Born into a family of highly talented and skilled people, self-taught Duanne restored classic cars—amongst many other abilities. At some point in his adulthood Duanne began a nonstop descent into delusion and paranoia. By virtue of the Luckow family culture’s inclusion of the audio and video recording of their activities, sister Sandra has produced a moving documentary of Duanne’s life and illness—and her attempts to help him. The vast majority of the film’s cinematography are by sister and brother.

We are all psychologists, we each have ideas about how us humans work. It is inevitable, therefore, that Luckow’s viewers will ponder the genesis of Duanne’s mental illness. However compelling it is to ruminate about those possible causes, it is ultimately a distraction and a fool’s errand to seriously seek the answer from a film.

Instead, we have a story of loss, and of a sister’s epic endeavors to find help for her brother, and peace for herself.

First Run Features release, That Way Madness Lies… was selected for showings at 14 film festivals, and won well-deserved prizes from four of them. The film opens theatrically in New York and Los Angeles on December 14.

Facebook

Instagram 

IMDB 

Dark Money

The three pillars of the destruction of American democracy are:

1) Gerrymandering

2) The tactics and strategies that, combined, significantly suppress voter participation

3) Money in politics, aka ‘dark money’

It is, of course, number three that is the subject of Kimberly Reed’s Dark Money.

Reed wisely focuses her story of the influence of untraceable corporate money on corruption, activism and litigation in her home state of Montana.

Our good guy is journalist John Adams who doggedly researches and follows the takeover of the state’s political agenda by elaborately coordinated big money initiatives. He loses his job because of the purchase of his newspaper. Adams turns lemons into lemonade by recovering from his loss, and founding Montana Free Press. Our bad guy is state politician Art Wittich who is eventually brought up on noncompliance with election law charges.

Of course, Montana is more or less representative of our federal government’s commitment to unfettered political corruption—and the forces of opposition. The most we can hope for, though, is the chipping away at the fringes of Citizens United by journalists, activists, politicians, and nonprofit organizations.

With the Supreme Court on the verge of a complete takeover by corporate forces, it is hard to imagine any meaningful reform before our nation’s impending environmental catastrophes manifest. But, hope springs eternal, and that is the spirit of this well-reviewed documentary.

Facebook 

Twitter 

Instagram 

IMDB

(Pictured: John Adams)

the Breast Archives: Nine Women Tell Their Stories

Meagan Murphy’s idea is deceptively simple: a documentary about women’s breasts. Yet, what emerges from the Breast Archives is complex, deep.

By interviewing nine women speaking about their breasts, Murphy’s film addresses a multitude of psycho-social issues regarding women and American culture.

The women share their pain, confusion, discoveries, realizations, and healing. Their words are a doorway to issues of beauty, femininity, self-esteem, sexuality, sensuality, feminism, abuse, cultural oppression, and cancer.

The film is relevant to women, of course, yet the more teenage and adult males who see the the Breast Archives, the greater its social impact. I would have found more compassion and empathy had I seen this movie as a teenager.

Murphy’s personal story in making the film is also moving. Here is the link to her story.

Facebook 

Twitter 

Instagram 

IMDB 

Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story

“Australia has the worst mammal extinction rate in the world. One out of three mammal extinctions in the last 400 years has occurred in Australia. Government raw survey data shows that wide landscapes are now significantly depleted of kangaroos. It is time to carefully assess what is happening to kangaroo, wallaby, and wallaroo species.” Senator Lee Rhiannon, The Greens Parliament of Australia

Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story is a hard-hitting, carefully researched, and expertly produced exposé of the 200 years and counting slaughter of Australia’s globally recognized icon, kangaroos.

The film tells the familiar story of the destruction of our natural world by commercial interests—with an added measure of hypocrisy. The cute, cuddly kangaroo your toddler snuggles has been brutally killed, its baby torn from her pouch and pounded until dead—or left to a days-long tortuous death. That is the hate part of the story.

The love part is the many Australian citizens and political leaders who are working tirelessly to end, or at least mitigate the horror of the slaughter. Their initiatives are also global. In addition to pet and human food consumption, these sentient creatures are slaughtered for their leather. Kangaroo ‘byproducts’ are marketed globally—therefore, both domestic and internationally-based activists are working globally to end this horror.

“When humans eat kangaroo meat, they should be aware that the meat is a byproduct of the largest slaughter of land-based mammals anywhere on Earth. Millions of kangaroos are slaughtered every year in Australia, to provide meat for cats, dogs, and humans. Another byproduct of this is, of course, the hundreds of thousands of joeys [baby kangaroos] that are taken from the mother’s pouch and killed every year.” Ken Henry, Chairman, National Australia Bank

I have seen my fair share of documentary films about the slaughter of wild and domestic non-human animals. By virtue of both the content and excellence of its production, the film’s impact on yours truly was particularly devastating. Again, this is not just an Australian story, it is a world-wide story, and we are all accountable.

Knowing the challenges to documentary film viewers of seeing a graphic film, I still state that this is a must-see film. I am not alone. Both Variety and the Los Angeles Times have favorably reviewed Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story. It is not easy for documentary films to break through that particular media bubble. Additionally, the film qualifies for Oscar consideration. I would love to see it win.

Facebook 

Twitter 

Instagram 

IMDB