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.

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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.

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(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.

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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 have (sic) occurred in Australia. Government raw survey data shows that wide landscapes [are] now significantly depleted of kangaroos. It is time to carefully assess to 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 cuddles has been brutally killed, its baby torn from her pouch and pounded until dead—or left to a days-long tortuous death. That’s 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 reduce the horror of the slaughter. The initiatives are also global. In addition for pet and human food consumption, these sentient creatures are slaughtered for their leather. Their ‘byproducts’ are marketed globally—and 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 and dogs, and, also, for 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 the 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.

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Letter from Masanjia: The Epic Story of Sun Yi and Julie Keith

 

“Everyone has aspirations. For me, freedom is more precious than anything else.” Sun Yi

 

Several years ago, Julie Keith purchased a Halloween decoration—a plastic tombstone—from Kmart. She did not open the box for two and a-half years. When she did, she discovered a hand-written letter attached to its back.

That discovery is the inciting event for Letter from Masanjia about human rights violations in China. The letter was written in a Chinese labor camp called Masanjia. Yi was one of countless innocent victims of the Chinese government’s human rights restrictions. For his refusal to comply with the government’s thought police, he was tortured for a solid year, and suffered many other repressive consquences.

When Keith discovered the letter, she went public with it. The result was world-wide pressure on the Chinese government to shut down its forced labor camps, which they did.

Yet, there is much more to Yi’s story.

At just one hour and fifteen minutes long, Letter from Masanjia is one of the most powerful, epic documentaries I have seen to date.

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Bias

“If you’re human, you have bias. Just like we breathe, we have bias. It’s part of who we are. When it becomes completely unconscious, we have no idea how it’s affecting our behavior.” Howard Ross, author, “Everyday Bias”

In Bias, producer/director Robin Hauser explores the phenomenon of bias, with a focus on racial and gender bias—specifically unconscious bias, the kind of bias human beings tend to deny.

Hauser interviews authorities, people on the street, and successful business people as she learns the evolutionary source of bias, the damaging impact unconscious bias on us as individuals and a society, and ways we may liberate ourselves from its impact.

Being a subject of her own film, Hauser learns, to her chagrin, the biases found in her own psyche—an inevitable consequence for a filmmaker serious about her topic. One way she learned about her unconscious biases was through an ‘implicit bias test’ from Harvard University via Project Implicit.

Spoiler Alert: Learning about our biases is just the first step. It requires more learning and training for us to be free from their impacts on our behavior. The film covers elaborate simulation trainings—including virtual reality—to help reduce the negative effects of unconscious bias on our behavior. We see trainings crucial for police officers, as well as those who are in positions of power who do not want their decisions to be driven by unconscious bias.

Bias is a crucial, powerful exposé of ourselves. The film righteously demands our close attention to its topic. For those who comply with this opportunity to learn, it will catalyze shifts of thoughts, minds, and, especially, behaviors.

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(Pictured: Filmmaker Robin Hauser)

Liyana: An African Story

“When people remember about Liyana, I want them to remember us, making our own words.” Young African Child

We are in Swaziland, also known as The Kingdom of Eswatini, at an orphanage the children of which lost their parents to AIDS, drugs, and violence. We are in a small classroom, poet/story-teller Gcina Mhlophe is coaching five students in the composing of a story.

Step-by-step the children create a character, her name—Liyana—her appearance, and her story. Directors Amanda Kopp and Aaron Kopp follow the story’s creation, and the children narrate their story—illustrated by moving images of Liyana’s journey.

Philip Miller’s music caresses the children’s story, as artwork by Shofela Coker and Stefan Nadelman blossom the story to visual life.

Liyana is brilliantly and lovingly produced; its impact is heart-rending, inspiring, and fascinating.

 

 

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John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons

Netflix’s John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons is the finest work of stand-up comedy I have enjoyed since the days of Pryor and Carlin. Leguizamo tells three stories in one—a brief history of Europe’s destruction of Western native cultures, a story about his relationship with his son, and a story about himself.

Tragedy and hilarity are skillfully woven as Leguizamo speaks, sings, mimes, and dances his way through his epic Broadway show.

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Note: A documentary about the making of John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons is in the works. Here is the Facebook Page.

Dirt Rich: The Power of Regenerative Agriculture

“You have to get back to the natural systems, and let nature heal the Earth for us. Everyone has a role to play in converting to regenerative agriculture. Consumers could lead that movement.” Steven Ferrell, co-owner, general manager of Finca Luna Nueva, in Costa Rica

With Dirt Rich filmmaker Marcelina Cravat takes us around the world, introducing us to people who are pioneering ways to reduce Co2 from our atmosphere—from 400 ppm to 260 ppm—by making the practices and products of agriculture healthier. They are leading a crucial environmental movement, the question is who is following? It is clear, though, that the more people who see the film, the more followers this movement will have.

Cravat covers such topics as perennial grains, wetlands, beavers, biochar, and rock powders. I know about the first three in that list, but the latter two were all new to me. Her interviewees stress the potential influence of education in supporting this movement—fully integrating its ideas and practices into our educational systems. The ‘everyone’ in Steven Ferrell’s statement above is literal—it includes children.

Dirt Rich features an original soundtrack of songs by singer/songwriter Tom Rhodes. The film will be screened at the Environmental Film Festival in Washington, D.C. in March, 2019.

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Living in the Future’s Past: What Kind of Future Would You Like to See?

“In this beautifully photographed tour de force of original thinking, Academy Award winner Jeff Bridges shares the screen with scientists, profound thinkers and a dazzling array of Earth’s living creatures to reveal eye-opening concepts about ourselves and our past, providing fresh insights into our subconscious motivations and their unintended consequences.

Living in the Future’s Past shows how no one can predict how major changes might emerge from the spontaneous actions of the many. How energy takes many forms as it moves through and animates everything. How, as we come to understand our true connection to all there is, we will need to redefine our expectations, not as what we will lose, but what we might gain by preparing for something different.”

The above quote is the film’s synopsis from its website. Note the lack of the words: environment, climate change, or global warming. But, that is what this film is about. Those three terms, and their horrific implications. Of the many environmental documentary films I’ve seen, this one is the most unique—and, it is a masterpiece of documentary filmmaking.

Director Susan Kucera and producer/host Jeff Bridges address the deeper layers of our human beingness by presenting images, sounds, and ideas that evoke emotions, thoughts, insights, and, perhaps, epiphanies. The cinematography is exquisite, exhilarating. The intention and hope is to shift awareness, to inspire acts of commission and acts of omission that benefit our ecosphere—and, therefore, ourselves and the natural world.

Living in the Future’s Past is a film to watch carefully, smartphones off. If you allow it, the film can leave you in a meditative/contemplative state of mind and heart, with a deeper perspective of who we are, and who we can be. It is another environmental documentary that needs to be experienced by as many human beings as possible.

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