Decoding the Driftless: Protecting A Unique American Region

‘Drift’ is a geological term for soil and rocks transported and deposited by glaciers.

For a variety of reasons articulated in Jonas Stenstrom’s Decoding the Driftless there is a region in the upper mid-west United States that escaped being overrun by ice during the last ice age. The ice ‘drift’ failed to cover the area known glibly as ‘the Driftless Region.’

In one-hour, Stentrom’s fast-paced, quirky Decoding the Driftless treats viewers with the many unusual charms and fascinations of the Driftless Region—which covers parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois. This driftless land is qualitatively different from drift-covered land.

In addition to the film’s sensational content, I was touched and inspired by the passion and dedication of the filmmakers in making a serious yet upbeat plea for protecting this unique region of America’s land.

Decoding the Driftless is a project of Sustainable Driftless, Inc. which “is dedicated to inspiring resource conservation, vibrant communities, and sustainable growth in the Driftless Region.” (I wish we had one of those in my region.)

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Sickboy: Confronting Disease

“Until that expiring day comes, I’m not going to stop. Not until we make more people realize that laughing at a disease takes away its power. If you really sit, and actually think about that, it can have some pretty profound effects on how the way you live your life.” Jeremie Saunders

Jeremie Saunders has cystic fibrosis, a terminal disease. He is living way beyond his expiring day. Together with Brian Stever, and Taylor MacGillivary, Saunders created a podcast called, of course, Sickboy. In Sickboy director Andrew MacCormack tells Saunders’ personal story, and follows the painful creation and eventual success of their daring enterprise. Saunders is the virtual host of the film.

The Sickboy podcast features guests with various and sundry maladies some of which are terminal. Each podcast consists of the three young men interviewing a guest who has a disease. As the podcasters interview the guest, they tell their story, and how they came to grips with their illness.

Sickboy is fully engaging, inspiring, and—if you don’t have a heart of glass—tear-jerking. Beyond that, it is something to give all of us with chronic and/or terminal diseases more ways to think about our illness which, as Saunders’ states, “can have some pretty profound effects” on your life.

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Sickboy is available in the United States at: https://fuse.tv/shows/sickboy/full-documentary

This link to the film only works in Canada at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfGbxO-1cCw

Sickboy is produced by Dream Street Pictures.

(Pictured: Jeremie Saunders)

Chasing Portraits: A Heritage Lost and Found

The portraits being chased are those of Polish Holocaust victim Moshe Rynecki who painted approximately 800 images of Jewish life in Poland.

The chaser is his great granddaughter Elizabeth Rynecki who has the largest collection of Rynecki’s work in the world, and is the producer/director/narrator of Chasing Portraits.

Three million Jews lived in Poland before the Holocaust, 300,000 survived. Three of those 300,000 were Elizabeth’s grandfather and parents who immigrated to the United States.

Elizabeth choose to go on a quest for her family’s story and its legacy, and a search for Moshe’s lost art wherever it may be. The overt inciting incident for her odyssey was the discovery of a few lost images from the artist—and the legal inability to even display them on her great grandfather’s memorial website. Her searches took Elizabeth through Poland and Israel.

A search for history, for heritage, a connection with a family’s past, and for personal closure, Chasing Portraits is equally sad and endearing.

Chasing Portraits is a First Run Features release. It is currently in theaters.

Moshe Rynecki Website

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(Pictured: Elizabeth Rynecki)

The Last Animals

Kate Brooks’ The Last Animals is about the killing of elephants and rhinoceroses. Her expertly produced documentary covers the killers, those fighting and dying in the field to stop the killing, those bringing the killers to justice, activists around the world working to stop the slaughter, and those trying to figure out how to bring species back via genetic processes.

That’s a tall order for a 90 minute film. Brooks delivers it with grace and aplomb. But, there’s more.

She also covers the global trade in elephant tusks and rhino horns. We learn some of the perpetrators are large criminal organizations now using helicopters, night vision devices, and powerful weapons to add horns and tusks to their menu of drugs, human trafficking, and slaves.

The Last Animals jolts viewers to pay much more attention. Like so many environmental documentary films, this one is an absolute must-see.

Follow-up is crucial. Here is the link to Brooks’ TAKE ACTION site.

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Modified

Ten years in the making, Modified is veteran filmmaker Aube Giroux’s inspiring, infuriating plea for the United States and Canada to start labeling food products containing genetically modified ingredients. The film tore up the festival circuit with at least ten wins, and was selected by at least twelve other festivals.

Giroux tells her personal story of an idyllic mother-daughter relationship and the legacy of respect for food, gardening, and farming that mother Jali instilled in her daughter—a legacy that includes this finely produced documentary.

The film covers many aspects of the use of genetic manipulation of food, including the massive amount of money involved, the buying of restrictive governmental policies that hide crucial information about genetic manipulation of foods, the adverse effects GM foods have on agriculture and farmers, and the unknown effects on human health.

Many years ago, when I first learned that one use of GM foods is to make crops able to be treated by pesticides without harm to the plants, I thought the world had gone mad. Life-killing chemicals on top of genetically manipulated crops, what can go wrong? What is going wrong? Although the information is censored, the heroes in this story—citizen activists, journalists, and filmmakers are breaking through the censors’ walls.

You may have read about or seen films about the potential adverse effects of GM foods. Whether or not you have, I urge readers to see this film. In addition to the quality of the film’s production, the personal story is touching, it deepens the film’s impact.

On the film’s website, make sure you scroll all the way through the TAKE ACTION page. As always, be a part of the solution.

Caution: Giroux includes scenes of her creation of various dishes with ingredients from her organic garden and farm. You will want to reach into the screen to dine on these enticing dishes. You can find these recipes HERE.

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The River and the Wall: An Odyssey Along the Rio Grande

“I’ve been river-guiding here on the Rio Grande for the past six years. I want people to know what’s out here. I want the love to be shared. This is wilderness as wild as it gets.” Austin Alvarado

 

Ben Masters’ The River and the Wall is a simple, elegant, well-produced film about the insane wall the United States’ government is building along the Mexican/US border—and a powerful appeal to find much less destructive and much more productive ways to approach that borderline and its iconic river.

On bicycle, horseback, canoe and foot, Masters, Jay Kleberg, Filipe Deandrade, Heather Mackey, and Austin Alvarado trek the Rio Grande. They are taking in the wonders of the watershed, the mountains, the canyons, the wildlife—and bemoaning the destruction being wrought.

Although the idea seems simple—a twelve hundred mile odyssey along the border, from El Paso to the Gulf Mexico—I grimaced throughout the film as the five faced countless dangers on the land, and in the river. By film’s end I breathed a sigh of relief that there were no life-changing injuries to humans and equines.

Master’s and company have made a compelling statement about the river and the wall—and provided gorgeous vistas along the way.

The next step is for people to see this movie. The film’s theatrical release is on May 3—with a one-night showing on May 2 at hundreds of theaters.

Go to the homepage to purchase the film. If you can, I highly recommend you see the film at a theater, and/or to purchase the Blu-ray edition.

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Echo in the Canyon: Laurel Canyon in the Sixties

 

“Music happens in a particular moment in time, and it changes everything going forward.” Jackson Browne

Boy, if there was ever a documentary that screams the showbiz adage ‘leave them wanting more’ it is the utterly delightful Echo in the Canyon.

The film is about a time—the 1960s; a place—southern California’s Laurel Canyon; and the music of a handful of iconic artists that echoed way beyond the Canyon.

This particular time and place birthed an artesian well of young, talented, songwriters, musicians—and music that changed the world.

Producer/director Andrew Slater covers the preparations for, and the presentation of a 2015 concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Laurel Canyon music scene—and includes interviews with several of our icons.

Held at Los Angeles’ Orpheum Theatre, the standing room only concert featured contemporary artists performing both well- and lesser-known songs from this era. The film interspaces clips of rehearsals, recordings, performances, and interviews.

For yours truly, the film’s revelation is Jakob Dylan. I guessed, successfully, that he is, of course, Bob Dylan’s son. I was impressed with his hyper-talent, his dignity and poise—and looks that Central Casting could use for a multitude of roles.

Echo in the Canyon will be released in late May. See the distributor’s website to learn about the film’s releases.

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HAL: Legendary Filmmaker Hal Ashby

 

Being There / Bound for Glory / Coming Home / Harold and Maude / Shampoo / The Landlord / The Last Detail

 

The 1970s were knighted with the descriptor ‘A Golden Age of Cinema.’ I am not sure if that phrase would have been warranted had it not been for the seven films listed above. Hal Ashby made those brilliant, entertaining, moving, humorous seven films in a short nine-year period of time. Each of these films made a strong point, and did so with deep respect for character and relationship.

Ashby did not receive the level of attention a few of his contemporaries enjoyed, but he certainly deserved it. However, the amount of adoration those filmmakers received may have been too much attention and too many distractions for this passionate rebel.

Amy Scott’s HAL reminds us old folks of Hal Ashby’s unforgettable films, and introduces the filmmaker’s work to subsequent generations to enjoy. Scott interviews those who knew Ashby, and covers the making of the above films.

HAL is a must-see film for anyone and everyone who love movies. I cannot recommend HAL too much. I was engaged from the beginning, and did not want the film to end.

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The Spy Who Fell to Earth

“The truth, it’s in the eye of the beholder.” Dr. Ahron Bregman

It is the 1970s. Amongst other activities, Egyptian businessman Ashraf Marwan is a spy. He has approached Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, and provides Egyptian intelligence. Marwan is a double agent.

It appears that Tom Meadmore’s The Spy Who Fell to Earth is a story about a spy who died—literally by falling to earth from the back deck of his London flat. The official investigation of Marwan’s death concluded that its cause is ‘Unknown.’ The fall is the inciting incident to writer/journalist/historian Ahron Bregman’s story of his relationship with Ashraf Marwan. Bregman outed Marwan as a spy, and claimed that his true allegiance was to Egypt, not Israel.

Although the question of who was Marwan’s real handlers is the spine of the film, the heart of the film is Bregman’s relationship with this unfortunately celebrated spy. Bregman tells his story over the course of the film, revealing his changing motivations in the progress of their relationship which eventually became a friendship. Bregman suffers greatly with the thought his actions may have been the cause of his friend’s death.

The Spy Who Fell to Earth is a thoroughly engaging, expertly produced documentary film. It is currently available via Netflix. Worldwide distribution is by Kew Media Group.

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(Pictured: Ahron Bregman)

When Tomatoes Met Wagner: Life in a Greek Village

Set in the plain of Thessaly is the farming village of Elias with a total population of 33 elderly people. The young people have left, the economy has tanked.

This is the world filmmaker Marianna Economou inhabits for 72 minutes in her When Tomatoes Met Wagner. Alexander and Christos are our principle characters. They are frequently seen and heard speaking, sometimes in the middle of a field, debating which music to play for the tomatoes through the field’s loudspeakers. The ambitious, college-educated Alexander is their apparent leader.

The village is responding to their dire circumstances by producing and selling food products to an international market. The challenge is how to do so in a radically transformed world.

I am charmed and enchanted by When Tomatoes Met Wagner. I did not want the film to end. Borrowing a phrase from Tevye, if I was a rich man, I would rush to visit Elias.

The current website for the film is its Facebook page. To learn about screenings, see the page’s ‘About’ section.