Bathtubs Over Broadway: The Transformation of Steve Young

The title Bathtubs Over Broadway, may, like the film it represents, seem cutesy and quirky, but this documentary has a serious subtext—the profound story of Steve Young’s fairy-tale journey through dark humor, into joy and compassion.

A writer on ‘The Late Night with David Letterman’ for 25 years, Young came upon mysterious vinyl LPs of cast albums of Broadway style musicals that promoted the interests of large corporations. Curious and intrigued, the veteran comedy writer became a passionate, if not obsessed collector of any and all things industrial musical. By virtue of his high showbiz status Young was able to garner easy access to writers and performers of industrial shows. His story’s fitting climax finds Young co-writing, co-producing, and performing in an industrial musical celebrating industrial musicals.

Dava Whisenant’s feature length directorial debut quickly pulls viewers into this hitherto unknown world, and one person’s passion so intense he became a high-profile part of that world. A big festival winner, Bathtubs Over Broadway is a thoroughly engaging and delightful film.

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(Pictured: A Fully Transformed Steve Young)

Into the Okavango: A Harrowing, Life Changing Expedition

‘The Okavango Delta is one of the largest freshwater wetlands in southern Africa, the main source of water for a million people, and one of Africa’s richest places for biodiversity. Since 2015, National Geographic Fellow Dr. Steve Boyes and an interdisciplinary team of scientists and explorers have been surveying the river system and working to protect the Okavango watershed.’
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“When I discovered the Okavango Delta—I think I’d been searching for it my entire life. It was this vastness—this incredible unending wilderness. I saw what the world used to be without us. And it is delicate—a delicate thing that we need to protect.” Dr. Steve Boyes

Into the Okavango follows Boyes’ and his expeditionary party of explorers on a grueling four-month, 1,500 mile, life-changing trek as part of National Geographic’s Okavango Wilderness Project to save the river system that feeds the delta—one of Earth’s last wetland wilderness.

Director Neil Gelinas provides captivating nature images and sounds as he and his production team follow the trekkers and their ten long, thin canoes from journey’s start to end. Into the Okavango is one of those documentary films that makes you yearn for a making-of special feature.

“The person I was when I started this expedition is completely different than the person I was when I left it. I learned to let the ghosts of the past stay in the past. The trip changed all of our molecules. It changed how I see everything, including what it means to be an Angolan.” Adjany Costa, expedition biologist

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The Rest I Make Up: Maria Irene Fornes

“I don’t know of any playwright more intuitive, more reliant on taking stuff from the unconscious, and letting that create form.” Edward Albee

The Rest I Make Up has three characters.

Cuban-American Maria Irene Fornes (May 14, 1930 – October 30, 2018), a legendary off-Broadway playwright who wrote more than 40 plays, won nine Obies, and mentored countless playwrights.

Michelle Memran, a journalist and filmmaker who first met and interviewed Fornes in 1999, and has produced and directed this portrait of Fornes. Beginning in 2003, Memran spent time filming with Fornes in New York, Cuba, and Miami. The playwright was experiencing memory loss, eventually diagnosed as Alzheimer’s.

The third character is the camera. Memran is concurrently holding the camera and dialoguing with Fornes. The camera becomes a medium of connection rather than a barrier to connection.

Memran’s portrait of Fornes is of a delightful, intelligent, passionate, creative, accomplished woman with a golden heart. Yes, Memran does confront the subject of memory loss, but in doing so it becomes clear that the above-mentioned qualities are present, as words and time conduct Maria Irene Fornes to her passing.

The Rest I Make Up filled my memory with the feeling of a sparkling bright presence.

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Satan & Adam: The Epic Odysseys of Sterling Magee and Adam Gussow

“I realized very early, this is the best gig I’m ever going to have.” Adam Gussow

Films—fiction or nonfiction—do not get any more inspiring than Satan & Adam. Director V. Scott Balcerek tells the story of African American Sterling Magee and Caucasian Adam Gussow who spent 12 years as a duo writing and performing blues songs. They met on the streets of Harlem. Magee, who had bitterly abandoned traditional music business and taken on the stage name of Mr. Satan, was playing and singing as a one man band.

In October, 1986, while Satan was on the street, performing near the Apollo Theater, Gussow, this white Jewish graduate student who was drifting through a lost period of his young life, boldly started playing harmonica to Satan’s music. The two musicians first became a street sensation, and with a little inspiration from U2’s The Edge—and many other people—toured the United States and Europe, recorded albums, had agents for a period of time, and eventually drifted apart. But, that was far from the end of their story.

In addition to performing music, the bonding of these two musicians created racial, cultural, and generation gap bridges that fueled audiences’ intrigue and appreciation of their partnership.

The sensation of this story, and the expertise the producing team brought to its cinematic telling make Satan & Adam an absolute must see.

Satan & Adam is available on Netflix, iTunes, and for purchase from the film’s website.

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Dog’s Best Friend: The Life and Dogs of Jacob Leezak

“The only reason I’m on this Earth is to be with dogs. This is all I know. This is all I’ve ever known. This is all I want to know.”

 

Australia’s Jacob Leezak has had much more than his fair share of trauma. His life’s journey, however, carefully guided this big, strong man to the world of dogs. He founded and runs the Canine Behaviour Expert Dog Psychology Centre on the outskirts of Sydney.

Accomplished actor Eryn Wilson covers Leezak’s life and work with dogs in his directorial feature film debut Dog’s Best Friend. Having viewed this heart-felt documentary, the term ‘best friend’ is not hyperbole. Leezak houses and rehabilitates dogs who likely would have been euthanized or otherwise lived a short, miserable life. His love affair with dogs knows no bounds. The center never has fewer than 30 dogs.

Wilson follows Leezak as he spends time with dogs, speaks about his life experiences, his manner of helping dogs, and as he works with them. Amongst many other approaches, Leezak uses a treadmill, a small water pool, and massage to rehabilitate his charges.

The only other human who shares significant screen time in this film is Jennah who is pregnant with their first child during shooting. She, too, has had a daunting, a very daunting life experience, and has found her way to a healing life experience. And, yes, we get to meet the loving couple’s baby at film’s conclusion.

Dog’s Best Friend is a delightful, moving film about a loving hero and his devoted relationship with dogs.

The film is currently on the festival circuit. Check in with any or all of the links below to learn the latest news about its release.

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RiverBlue: The Deaths and Rebirths of Rivers

“My dad, in the late sixties, brought home a photograph of Earth, as seen from outer space. And I was so impressed by it, but one, it made me realize, in the overall scheme of things, that our planet is quite small and quite finite. The other thing that was very noticeable is, I mean, clearly it’s a blue planet, but of all the water on this Earth, 97% is saline, it’s in the oceans, two percent is locked up in ice. That only leaves us one percent that’s found in lakes and rivers, and a lot of that water is not accessible.

“So, really, when you talk about it, when you really come down to it, we have a very small amount of water, and that’s got to accommodate, not only the needs that humans have, for drinking water, but it’s got to accommodate all of those other needs—agricultural needs, industrial needs, [and the flora and fauna of Earth.] So, I think we have to treat water in a much more respectful way. I think we have to treat rivers in a much more respectful way, than we have in the past.” Mark Angelo, International River Conservationist

Co-directors David McIlvride and Roger Williams have given us RiverBlue about the contamination and literal deaths of rivers around the world. We have had a cornucopia of documentary films and television shows about our oceans, now this well-produced documentary shifts that focus to the primary source of our drinking water, rivers.

Mark Angelo is the film’s unofficial host as he goes around the world, speaking about the massive tragedy—along with a few other interviewees speaking passionately on the tragedy of dying rivers, and of initiatives to bring them back to life.

Williams and McIlvride focus on the textile and tannery industries as one of the most, if not the most culpable sources of pollution. Within that industry they focus on blue jeans the manufacture of which is a huge contributor to river destruction. The directors also interview designers and boutique garment manufacturers who are recreating the design and manufacturing process in a much less destructive manner.

Narrated by Jason Priestly, RiverBlue is a prime example of a film feeding back to us consumers the destruction of the environment, and the loss of life wrought by our careless purchases. Following the film, I heartily suggest you go to the film’s ‘Take Action’ section to act on the daunting information the film provides. Yours truly will seek out his next jeans purchase from one of those reformed manufacturers. And, I have placed the annual World Rivers Day on my calendar.

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Point of No Return: Flying Around the World on the Sun’s Power

Point of No Return tells and shows the story of Solar Impulse, the first solar powered airplane to fly around the world. The environmental demonstration project was created by Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg who took turns piloting the plane through the legs of its 505 day journey at an average speed of 45 MPH. The plane could only hold one pilot at a time.

As a first-of project Solar Impulse was vulnerable to the caprice of weather and wind, sun and shade, to limitations of the plane’s technology, and the challenges each of the pilots faced in staying awake and alert.

Following the project from before the flight’s beginning through after its end, filmmakers Quinn Kanaly and Noel Dockstader take viewers on a harrowing journey that could have easily ended in tragedy—especially considering that the two pilots dared fate by not listening to some of the 120 support staff who recommended ending the flight at certain points before its completion.

Point of No Return tells its story of a bold and dangerous journey with gorgeous cinematography. Like Ron Howard’s ‘Apollo 13,’ despite our foreknowledge of the film’s triumphant conclusion, Kanaly and Dockstader keep us viewers on the edge of our seats.

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Official Trailer

The Serengeti Rules: The Nature of Nature

Written and directed by veteran filmmaker Nicolas Brown, The Serengeti Rules tells the story of the discovery of keystone species—species that play a crucial role in the health of their environment. Their presence supports their environment, and absence degrades it.

The film takes viewers around the world, features a handful of distinguished scientists speaking of this discovery, and reenactments of poignant moments in their respective processes of discovery. Bob Paine is credited with the discovery of this dynamic of nature.

Over decades these scientists confirmed and reconfirmed Paine’s discovery. They researched and found examples of ‘the Serengeti rules’ throughout the world. One of those examples was Serengeti National Park, and that particular region gave this process its name.

An Abramorama release The Serengeti Rules is a masterpiece of documentary filmmaking. In addition to telling a compelling story, Brown provides gorgeous images of nature along with a powerful, evocative soundtrack.

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(Pictured: Sean B. Carroll, author of The Serengeti Rules)

Life in the Doghouse: Two Men and a Lotta Dogs

“We don’t care if they adopt from us, we just want them to adopt. It’s just saving lives.” Ron Danta

Four million animals a year are euthanized annually in the United States—primarily because of human carelessness and the greed of puppy mill operators.

Companion and partners Ron Danta and Danny Robertshaw are doing anything and everything they possibly can to reduce that number. Their work was initially inspired when they rescued 600 dogs abandoned in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The two men converted their home into a rescue and adoption organization. Their volunteer work is supported, in part, by their day jobs as equestrian trainers. So far they have carefully adopted out more than 11,000 dogs who otherwise would have been part of the above-mentioned four million. And the dogs they have not been able to adopt out, well…, the fortunate canines live out their lives well taken care of at Danny and Ron’s Rescue

Director Ron Davis tells their story in Life in the Doghouse—a perfectly produced documentary about the two deeply compassionate men, their work, and their many, many dogs.

Davis’ film is thoroughly engaging, heartbreaking, fascinating, and inspiring.

Life in the Dog House is a Docutainment Films production, and is available from Microsoft Store, Amazon, Netflix, and iTunes Store—although headlines indicate there will no longer be iTunes, I am sure Apple will find a way to sell the film.

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Cielo: The Stars Are Conversing

Written, directed and narrated by Alison McAlpine, Cielo is a contemplation of the sky—night, day and twilight. But, not just any sky, the sky above the Atacama Desert, Chile—one of the driest, clearest places on Earth. By virtue of these qualities, this desert is home to several observatories, their staffs, and a few seemingly indigenous people of the desert.

McAlpine interviews astronomers and a few of the populace of the Atacama desert. Each interviewee evokes a unique worldview. As the film’s cinematic images flow—a few with music, most with silence—and as interviewees share their diverse perspectives, viewers are captivated with awe.

Covering both the etheric and chthonic, McAlpine arrives at existential questions beyond the sensational beauty of the sky and the haunting rain-free desert.

Observatories’ ability to receive light from the cosmos is hampered by human generated light. The enlightening of our world via human light is as much an endarkening of the worlds beyond our atmosphere. We see our world artificially illuminated at night, and lose sight of the multiverse.

In lieu of purchasing a ticket to outer space, or visiting the Atacama Desert, Cielo is your best bet to see the virtually unencumbered night sky.

Cielo has received at least five well-deserved film festival awards.

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