Reflection: A Walk with Water

“Long ago, when the earth was just lava, rock and ocean, something happened in the water. Something flickered to life. It came at first like the mist atop an emerging wave—just the first expression of a building momentum. And in time, a massive wave of life energy lifted from those oceans and covered the planet in a blanket of life forms. Life emerged there in those oceans, and it expresses itself now wherever there is water. It’s almost as if this quality of aliveness is just a glint that shines through the water in all things.”
Emmett Brennan

In Reflection: A Walk with Water director Emmett Brennan joined and covered a group of walkers in the Owens Valley, in the eastern Sierras, in southern California, to walk three weeks next to the Los Angeles aqueduct. The walkers were concerned about our changing climate—concerned, ultimately, about the quality of life on Earth.

Along the aqueduct’s way we hear from a variety of ecologists, indigenous people, and permaculture practitioners sharing their knowledge and wisdom. Water, of course, is the prime focus. Brennan interviews farmers, engineers, grazers, and city planners all to address the health of our planet, our flora and fauna, and ourselves.

Reflection: A Walk with Water is very well crafted. I have viewed and enjoyed the film two times so far. I was also moved by the film’s music put together by a team of musicians and composers: Jacob Collier, Justin Kauflin, Emmett Brennan, Jiordi Rosales, Tammy Ari, and Geir Brillian. Yours truly would love to have the music sound track to enjoy.

Note: Reflection: A Walk with Water will be playing at the Smith Rafael Film Center on October 14 and 15, as part of the Mill Valley Film Festival.

ORGANIZATIONS

Walking Water: https://walking-water.org/

TreePeople: https://www.treepeople.org/

Occidental Arts and Ecology Center: https://oaec.org/

Regenerative Design Institute: https://www.regenerativedesign.org/

East End Eden Farm: https://numundo.org/center/united-states/east-end-eden

Singing Frogs Farm: http://www.singingfrogsfarm.com/

Grass Nomads: https://www.grassnomads.com/
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Kudos to Emmett Brennan on directing his first documentary film, and hitting it out of the park.

(Photo courtesy of ‘Reflection: A Walk with Water’)

 

The Reason I Jump: A Revelation of Autism

“We are born outside the regime of your civilization. With all the killings and planet-wrecking humanity has committed, perhaps autism could help you remember what truly matters. Autistic people obsess over certain things because we’d go crazy if we didn’t. Repetitive things are comforting. They soothe me, and protect me from uncertainty.

“I want to grow up learning a million things. There must be countless other autistic people who have the same desire. We, too, want to grow. The hardest ordeal for me is the idea that I am causing grief for other people. Please, keep battling along side me.

“When I was little there was always a question that was a big, big worry: What am I going to become? Will I ever be able to live properly as a human being? I don’t pretend for a moment that everything I’ve written applies to all autistic people, but I wrote this book so that you can come to understand me, in the hope that my future will be connected to your future. Above all, that’s what I want.”
Naoki Higashida

Based on the book, The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida, and produced as a documentary film by director Jerry Rothwell, The Reason I Jump is an exploration of autism as a way of being.

A narrator speaks the written words of the 13-year-old Higashida. We hear from five children with autism, and from their parents. The film acknowledges the challenges children and their parents face, but the overall focus is a positive vision of people with autism. The challenges children and parents face are both about the nature of autism, as well as the stigma human beings apply to those with this way of being. In this film, these challenges are well met—with joy.

The Reason I Jump is the most touching, moving, compassionate documentary film I’ve ever seen. I will see it a few more times—and will spread the word. This is a film everyone should see and digest.

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The film is available in the United States on DVD and on Netflix. See the film’s website for more information about releases elsewhere.

(Photo courtesy of ‘The Reason I Jump’)

 

Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet

A Tweet from Leonardo DiCaprio: “Attenborough’s documentary puts everything into perspective, not just the way we impact our planet, but specifically the way we can solve our environmental crises. It’s an incredible journey into the science of our living planet. This may be the most comprehensive narrative yet.” — 4:43 PM · Jun 10, 2021·Twitter Web App

With its record breaking damage to the good-ole US of A, it seems that hurricane Ida and the west’s record-breaking fires have garnered more than the usual explicit concerns about global warming by our mainstream media. To learn the down-low of our environmental degradation and what to do about it, I suggest you see Jonathan Clay’s “Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet”

What’s most unique about Clay’s film is the elegance and clarity with which he treats this ongoing urgent topic. This story, our story, starts with a 10,000-year period of time on Earth called the Holocene which was characterized as a stable period of time that enabled the emergence of our modern civilizations. That stability disappeared sometime in the twentieth century when we left the Holocene, and entered the Anthropocene—the Age of Humans—the age of warming and instability.

Our well-known David Attenborough along with Swedish scientist Johan Rockström are the film’s primary hosts with additional specialists speaking throughout the film. The boundaries in the film’s title refers to the stable global systems we were living in, and which are no longer stable. These are the ‘breaking’ boundaries—the ones we don’t want to break.

The first environmental system covered in the film is the obvious one: global warming which has obviously broken its boundary for stability and entered a global period of unknown proportions of heating, and, therefore, unknown amounts of global loss and damage.

Other boundaries covered in the film are habitat loss, the presence or absence of flora and fauna, the loss of forests, loss of biodiversity, mass extinction, loss of fresh water, the flow of two crucial nutrients—nitrogen and phosphorus, ocean acidification, air pollution, and loss of the ozone layer.

Of the many environmental films I’ve seen “Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet” is the most comprehensive. One viewing of this relatively short film—one hour and 13 minutes—provides the viewer an efficient education about the environmental catastrophes we have created, and what we can do now to reverse the losses and damages. When asked ‘what is THE most important documentary I should see,’ it is now “Breaking Boundaries.”

Like a few of the documentaries I’ve covered, this one is on Netflix. I will repeat what I’ve said about crucial documentaries. If you don’t have Netflix, find a neighbor, or friend, or relation who has Netflix, and see this film.

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Misha and the Wolves

“She’s both a victim and a villain. She’s both. She is both in this story.”
Evelyne Haendel, Belgian Genealogist, Holocaust Survivor

Directed by Sam Hobkinson, Misha and the Wolves is a finely produced documentary about a lifetime falsifier who named herself ‘Misha Defonseca’. The ruse began as a young child. She feigned a connection with wolves, and constructed a story about being a Holocaust survivor. She did secure a friendship with the proprietor of a wolf sanctuary, but her story of walking in the woods of World War II Germany alone except for the wolves by her side… that simply added some adventure to this story.

Defonseca’s book, Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years, was wildly popular, and was translated into 20 languages. A French language film of Misha’s story as a little girl, Surviving with Wolves (Survivre avec les loups), also became popular.

After decades of pretense and money-raising for herself as a Holocaust survivor, a few people became suspicious about Misha’s story. They began asking questions and seeking answers. The above mentioned Evelyne Haendel spent countless hours meticulously seeking and finding the archival information that finally ended this sham.

Hobkinson also added a much-needed coda—we learn what really happened to Defonseca’s parents.

I have viewed this film three times so far. The story is utterly fascinating, and the production quality is outstanding.

Misha and the Wolves is a Netflix film. If you don’t have Netflix, find a friend, relative, or neighbor who does!

Music by Nick Foster 

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(Photo courtesy of Netflix / Misha and the Wolves)

Nature’s Cleanup Crew: The Crucial Roles of Scavengers

Directed by Robin Bicknell, and narrated by David Suzuki, Nature’s Cleanup Crew covers the scavenger species who do our world much-needed good. We are introduced to the very fine services of: Ants, Opossums, Foxes, Bacteria, and Vultures

Ants: Urban Ecologists Amy Savage and Clint Penick tell of the virtues of ants 23 species of which are found on and below Broadway, the one in Manhattan. They consume the equivalent of a quarter million in doughnuts annually. If you piled them up, they would reach twice the height of the Empire State building.

Opossums: Psychologist and Biologist Suzanne MacDonald was studying raccoon behavior which was convenient since they lived in her backyard. One night an opossum showed up, and to make a long story short, MacDonald fell in love with opossums. They are the only marsupial species in the United States and Canada. MacDonald comments that almost all the common beliefs about opossums are false, and she lists the many virtues of these very maligned creatures. The most well-known virtue is their massive consumption of ticks so many of which cause Lyme disease.

Foxes: We go to Berlin where we meet Evolutionary Ecologist Sophia Kimmig from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research. She studies wolves in metropolitan areas, and notes that global warming—my word for ‘climate change’—has brought populations of foxes farther north. One benefit Kimmig notes is their role in controlling populations of rodents and rabbits.

Bacteria: Environmental Engineer Satinder Kaur Brar of York University Institut national de la recherché scientific is working with a bacterium called Alcanivorax which can break down hydro-carbons into Co2 and water. She has completed tests of this process, and her next step is a large scale attempt to break down hydro-carbons—a potential global game changer.

Vultures: Evan Buechley Conservation Biologist of HawkWatchInternational/Smithsonian is supporting vultures who are decreasing in numbers around the world. This decline in vulture populations is increasing the incidents of human diseases (long story). Vultures are experiencing loss from hunting, poisoning, and habitat loss.

All of the people supporting ‘nature’s cleanup’ are heroes in my book. Like other environmental documentaries I’ve seen, this film should be seen far and wide.

Nature’s Cleanup Crew is produced by Kensington Productions, and distributed by Bullfrog Films.

Music is by Eric Cadesky and Nick Dyer

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(Photo courtesy of Kensington Productions)

Beneath the Olive Tree

“The Greek Civil War (1946-1949) is considered one of the worst periods in Europe’s modern history. There is no accurate account of the lives lost, and it was never recorded in Greek history books. Years after the war ended, secret journals kept by women in exile were found buried beneath an olive tree.”

Directed by Stavroula Toska, and narrated by Olympia Dukakis, Beneath the Olive Tree introduces a heretofore hidden horror, ‘The Greek Civil War’ and decades of the horrific aftermath that ensued. The film’s focus is on the persecuted, tortured, exiled, starved, and execution of approximately 100,000 Greek women. The civil war lasted much more than the aforementioned three to four years. Attacks on women continued well into the 1970s.

The inciting incident to this story is the unearthing of a set of seven documents buried beneath olive trees revealing the horrific attacks men perpetrated on women.

In addition to revealing these decades of attacks on women, this is a deeply personal film. Toska’s mother was a victim. Having learned about the decades of attacks on Greece’s women, Toska visited her mother in Greece. We see, hear, and feel the love between mother and daughter—and we empathize with both women as they confront the impacts on each other of the revelations of the documents.

During these decades of unrest, Greece was torn apart by global politics—Western forces verses communist forces. Amongst countless others, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt participated in the socio-political splits that still haunt and hamper Greece to this day.

Although there are now books and presenters who write and speak on the devastation perpetrated on these women. There is still the call for a full reckoning of this hidden horror. Toska’s film and the resources it provides help each of us who are just now learning about, and sharing about the books under the olive tree.

Beneath the Olive Tree left me utterly stunned. I’m still reeling from the hidden horrors revealed in the film, and in awe of the survivors, and everyone in this film who suffered, as well as those who revealed. I grieve for all of the victims. “Beneath the Olive Tree” is a story I will revisit from time-to-time.

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(Photo of Stavroula Toska courtesy of ‘Beneath the Olive Tree’)

Skid Row, Los Angeles

“Sometimes I ask myself ‘what would stop a person from helping somebody?’ I really can’t answer that. But, what I could imagine is fear. I truly believe that one day something greater than all of us is going to force us all to come together and see each other for who we really are. It’s not going to matter how much money you have in your pocket, it’s not going to matter what you’re wearing, it’s not going to matter if you have a car or not, it’s not going to matter none of those things. The only question that’s going to matter is, ‘are you hungry, are you okay, may I help you.’”
Gerald Hall
Veteran, U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant
Served from ’93-’97, Infantry Gunner, Aircraft Rescue & Fire Fighting Specialist
Homeless for 5 Years

Gerald Hall is our host in Van Maximilian Carlson’s touching and hopeful Skid Row, Los Angeles. Hall speaks of his own travail as a homeless veteran as well as that of several other veterans and many others. Of course, homelessness can be and is usually associated with hopelessness, but not in this documentary. Hall and the many other people in this film are fighting for their lives, for their dignity, decent homes—for acknowledgment of their worth in this world.

The residents of skid row live in tents. Throughout the film Carlson pans several times along the road these tents are on, pressing the point that this is simply not humane, nor respectful, nor just. But, the film’s point is these skid row residents have intrinsic value, and that value should be honored, respected, and supported.

Specifically, the residents are seeking decent and safe homes, health care, meaningful community, and meaningful lives. They are fighting against non-stop development, careless and cruel policing.

Carlson also covers the hope provided by caring people who are supporting skid row residents. Here are the organizations highlighted in the film:

Volunteers of America Los Angeles

Los Angeles Urban Voices Project of Leeav Sofer and Christopher Mack 

Skid Row Neighborhood Council  

This year, 2021, Los Angeles Eric Mayer pledged one billion dollars to help end homelessness in Los Angeles.

Skid Row, Los Angeles is a crucial addition to the ongoing, preventable scourge of homelessness in the United States of America.

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Note: In addition to being a prolific filmmaker, for this film Van Maximilian Carlson directed, produced, shot, edited, colorist, provided the music along with Phil Lober, and wrote the song, “Where Is My Home”

 

The Seer and the Unseen

Note: To state the obvious, some readers of this review will accept the veracity of the stories told in this documentary film. Others, not so much. In any case, I encourage all readers to view this moving and endearing film.

Introduction: “When the Vikings, the first human settlers, arrived in Iceland during the 9th Century, they encountered a land in the making. The Earth quaked, volcanoes erupted, wind and sea carved the cliffs. Nature was alive and all powerful. And the land was full of spirit beings. Trolls, hidden people, sprites and elves lived in every river and waterfall, mountain and lava rock. The Vikings knew that the only way to survive here was to become friends with these spirits of the land.

“But when conflicts arose and the Vikings upset the spirits of the land, those who possessed Second Sight, called Seers, could intervene between the human and the spirit worlds. Seers could repair the wounds in nature that the humans had wrought. The humans and the beings of the land made a pact to work together. The humans would protect nature and the beings of the land would protect the humans. But, time passed and the humans broke the pact…”

We are in Reykjavík, Iceland. Our leader into this seemingly magical realm is Ragnhildur ‘Ragga’ Jónsdóttir. Ragga is a wife, mother, and born seer. She is one of a number of Icelanders who, to various extents, accept and live in the existential reality of unseen beings. Ragga is in frequent—if not constant—contact with these beings.

Whether or not one accepts this world, there is another way to understand Ragga’s world: A reverence for nature.

Director Sara Dosa’s The Seer and the Unseen follows Ragga during a particularly difficult challenge—the continued expansion of development of Iceland’s sacred land, and the concomitant loss of the unseen. She is not alone. There are other Icelanders who accept the unseen in their lives, and share in the loss.

Lava fields of Iceland are being destroyed, fields that house the unseen. Ragga is, of course, in pain because of this loss. She and her many friends and followers—seen and unseen—are fighting to save these lava fields. We are with Ragga as she confronts these losses, and finds a measure of success.

The Seer and the Unseen is a touching and endearing film. Irrespective of the challenge most of us face in considering the phenomena of the unseen, I whole heartedly encourage readers to enter Ragga’s world.

The film’s music is by Tara Atkinson and Giosuè Greco.

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(Photo of Ragnhildur ‘Ragga’ Jónsdóttir courtesy of ‘The Seer and the Unseen’)

The Meaning of Hitler

“Humans are animals who kill other animals of the same species. They also develop the opposite, because we are herd animals. So, we develop sympathy, and love and collaboration and so on because a herd cannot exist without that. And so there are two conflicting elements in all of human society, and all attempts to fight the kind of Hitlerism that we are discussing here are really the attempt to strengthen one human reaction against another human reaction.

“The problem that we have is not that the Nazis were inhuman, but that they were human. That’s the basic problem that we have with ourselves, not with the Nazis. We also live out our own ideas. Fortunately, they are not Nazi ideas, but the Nazi ideas were acted out by people who were absolutely normal.”
Prof. Yehuda Bauer, Historian

“When somebody’s the President of the United States the authority is total.”
Donald Trump

Directed by Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker, based in part on Sebastian Haffner’s book The Meaning of Hitler, and narrated by Matilda Tucker, the documentary, The Meaning of Hitler, is a focused review of Hitler’s impact and fundamental role in the massive carnage of World War II. As a matter of course, the film includes a cornucopia of archival material as well as contemporary footage of the current re-rise of fascism in Western nations.

The film presents a large number of thinkers on Hitler’s role in World War II and the Holocaust. The film’s first speaker, Martin Amis, makes an immediate connection between Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler. Trump appears a few times throughout the film. And as a matter of course, the film includes a cornucopia of archival material as well as contemporary footage of the current re-rise of fascism.

One third through the film we meet David Irving—historian, holocaust denier, anti-Semite, and racist. In his feeble attempts to separate Hitler from the atrocities of his own doing, Irving takes people on ‘real history’ tours in Poland in his quest to absolve Adolph Hitler of the massive damage he caused. Once introduced, Irving appears a few more times throughout the film.

The Meaning of Hitler is a superbly crafted documentary film that reminds us of the choices human beings are obliged to intentionally or capriciously make.

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(Photo courtesy of ‘The Meaning of Hitler’)

Homeroom: A Year in the Life of High School Seniors

We’re in Oakland, California. It is 2019, the beginning of the school year. Director Peter Nicks and crew are on site covering the lives of this years’ Seniors through the school year. There is no narration. These students are participating in a cinema vérité documentary film.

The film focusses on students who have volunteered to participate on the All-City Student Union Governing Board. Beyond that focus, Nicks’ Homeroom takes us on campus, viewing daily life, and hearing students talking about and participating in their charge to provide leadership to the schools’ student body as well as to the adult leadership. That is to say, students have some say in school and district-wide policies.

In addition to simply being high school seniors, this student body and the student volunteers on the Student Union Governing Board grapple with a multitude of policy and social issues: school closings, budget cuttings, student deaths, teacher strikes, the school district’s 6-million-dollar annual budgeted police and security force which students deeply resent, the seemingly non-stop killings of people of color, the existential threat of global warming, and to top this list: the multiple impacts of Covid 19. (My one and only concern as a Senior was how to get out of PE.)

In a story that could have easily degenerated into sensationalism, and despite the above overwhelming challenges these students face, Homeroom is ultimately a joyful celebration of a hopeful and caring youth, and a reminder to adults that these young ones are our future. Let’s put ourselves in their shoes

The film’s music is by Mike Tuccillo.

Homeroom is distributed by Hulu.

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(Photos courtesy of Hulu, LLC)