The Silver Branch: A Profile of Patrick McCormack

“The Burren is a region of County Clare in the southwest of Ireland. It’s a karst landscape of bedrock incorporating a vast cracked pavement of glacial-era limestone, with cliffs and caves, fossils, rock formations and archaeological sites. On the Atlantic coast, the precipitous Cliffs of Moher are home to thousands of seabirds, including puffins.”

Katrina Costello’s The Silver Branch is a profile of Irish poet-farmer Patrick McCormack, a resident of The Burren. Covering the work and life of a poet requires that the filmmaker shares a poetic aesthetic—that is, somehow or other, the film must also be a poem. Costello has succeeded in weaving that poetic aesthetic into her film.

In addition to being the film’s subject, McCormack, a nature lover, is also the host and narrator. Accompanied by beautiful music and gorgeous, dramatic images of nature, McCormack tells his personal story, shares his philosophy via both prose and verse, and takes us on a tour of The Burren.

Patrick McCormack is a beautiful man with a beautiful spirit.

From film’s beginning McCormack and Costello entrance viewers with the natural beauty of the land, and the love and deep respect for nature McCormack expresses and embodies.

The filmmakers’ website includes information on how to purchase The Silver Branch—north Americans may contact the filmmakers via the website to learn how to see the film.

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(Pictured: Patrick McCormack)

Invisible Essence: The Little Prince

“As with all great classics, it’s a book that changes every time you read it.” Stacy Schiff, author, Saint-Exupéry biographer

Charles Officer’s film about The Little Prince and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry explains how and why this book can change when read more than once. Officer tells many stories—about Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s tragically short life, the author’s philosophy, as well as the writing and reception of his iconic book which seems to be second only to the Bible in global readership—it has been translated into more than 200 languages.

On the surface of it, one may ask, as I did, ‘Why should I bother with this documentary? It’s just another film about another famous book.’ The answer is simple. Officer’s Invisible Essence draws its viewers into the book and the man who wrote it. We learn of Saint-Exupéry’s heroic journey as an exploration of solitude, isolation, disconnection, and connectedness.

The ‘Aviator’ in the book is telling the story. At book’s beginning he says “I do not want my story to be taken lightly.” Yes, The Little Prince is a children’s book, but having seen this film, I understand why it is crucial for us supposed adults to read and understand the book. Saint-Exupéry challenges us adults to consider who we really are, how and why we avoid, lose, and make connections.

There is an additional thread running through Invisible Essence. We follow a little boy, blind from birth, learning Braille, and reading The Little Prince with his teacher. It seems as if this little prince’s story of discovery parallels Saint-Exupéry’s own story.

Although there are several erudite commentators featured in the film, I found Christine Nelson’s to have the most penetrating insights into the author’s psyche.

At film’s conclusion Thomas De Koninck comments, “The heart is the finest register that we have of all. The importance of the heart with respect to love, that’s very important in The Little Prince—an invisible essence.”

At the moment, Invisible Essence is apparently only available on Netflix. If you do not have Netflix, keep your eyes and ears open, it will be available in other manners.

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(Pictured: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)

Samadhi

How many pages of text about the nature of beingness and existence have human beings written since the dawn of our existence?

Taking into account the countless number of libraries lost to accident or intention, the number is likely in the trillions or more. With scientists having gone deep inside the atom and far out to the edge of the known universe, we seem to be doing a pretty good job of discerning the nature of existence, but not so much the nature of beingness. The elephant-in-the-room irony regarding all those pages of text is that the ultimate nature of transcendence is beyond words.

Yet, obviously, that wordlessness has never stopped us humans from coming up with that countless number of pages of text. And, it has certainly not stopped Daniel Schmidt from founding the Samadhi Center, a meditation retreat in Ontario, Canada, and making films about the spiritual, mystical, and transcendental.

Schmidt and co-creator Tanya Mahar have produced an epic 131 minute documentary entitled Samadhi—a powerful, engaging, and inspiring film about existence, beingness, and the ineffable. Schmidt and Mahar merge text, moving images, and music to impart their wisdom and knowledge. I found great value in their text—and was thoroughly fascinated and entertained by their beatific images and ethereal music.

Samadhi is presented in two parts. Part 1 is entitled ‘Maya, the Illusion of the Self.’ It explores our existence—the world we perceive and in which we participate. Part 2, ‘It’s not what you think,’ focuses on the nature of samadhi, also known as enlightenment, and many other terms.

I cannot state it any better than the film’s cover text: “This film is a must-see for anyone who is interested in journeying beyond the world of the limited self, to the realization of our true nature beyond name and form.”

The box set I viewed provides one Blu-ray disc and one DVD disc. Although all of Schmidt’s films are available for viewing via this link, I whole-heartedly encourage viewers to see Samadhi in the Blu-ray format in order to fully appreciate the beauty of the film’s images. The Samadhi Center’s ‘store’ is here.

The film’s subtitles are available in English, French, Spanish, German, Hindi, and Chinese. I did not see a way to access the subtitles via prompts on the screen, but was able to access them simply via my remote control.

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Right To Harm: The Fight to End Factory Farms

“We’ve taken the right to farm to the point where it’s easily called the right to harm.” Gary Nester, Iowa County Resident

Right To Harm is Annie Speicher’s and Matt Wechsler’s coverage of the damaging health and environmental impacts of factory farms—and citizens’ initiatives to protect themselves, protect their environment, and to, ultimately, make our food-growing systems sustainable.

The film’s focus is on farm animals—hogs and chickens—kept in buildings called Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Between 90 and 95 percent of animals raised for our consumption come from these buildings. Speicher and Wechsler provide many aerial photographs of these CAFOs throughout the film. The white buildings look neat, clean, and modern. The filmmakers wisely avoid the inner environs—that horror story has already been well told and shown.

The film features interviews with families who have been harmed by their proximity to factory farms, authorities speaking about the causes of this harm, and citizen activists confronting industry-friendly politicians. There seems to be a consensus that it will take people-based actions to make a significant difference. The filmmakers point out there are approximately 200 community organizations spread across the United States devoted to farm reform.

Right To Harm is an expertly produced documentary which articulately and elegantly makes its points. The film’s website is also well-produced and includes a ‘Take Action’ link.

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End Game: A Compassionate Approach to Death and Dying

 

End Game is a 2019 Oscar nominated short documentary film about innovative, compassionate approaches to dying. Based in San Francisco, veteran filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman follow five people through their death process.

The film features physicians BJ Miller, Steve Pantilat and Giovanni Elia who appear throughout the film working with patients, and speaking of the philosophy behind their emerging approach. The film highlights a team approach to care including physicians, nurses, social workers, and chaplains. By film’s conclusion we have experienced what compassionate care looks and feels like.

The film’s website includes a valuable resource section. Scrolling to the bottom, viewers can find Dr. Pantilat’s book, life after the diagnosis, Dr. Miller’s Ted Talk, and Your Conversation Starter Kit.

The topics of death and dying should not be, but are seemingly taboo. End Game is another powerful force in bringing death and dying into the light.

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The Camp Fire Documentary

Preface from Wikipedia: “The Camp Fire was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history to date. It is also the deadliest wildfire in the United States since the Cloquet fire in 1918, and is high on the list of the world’s deadliest wildfires; it is the sixth-deadliest U.S. wildfire overall. It was the world’s costliest natural disaster in 2018.

“Named after Camp Creek Road, its place of origin, the fire started on November 8, 2018, in Butte County, in Northern California. After exhibiting extreme fire behavior through the community of Concow, an urban firestorm formed in the densely populated foothill town of Paradise. The fire caused at least 85 civilian fatalities, with 3 persons still missing, and injured 12 civilians, two prison inmate firefighters, and three other firefighters. It covered an area of 153,336 acres (almost 240 square miles), and destroyed 18,804 structures, with most of the damage occurring within the first four hours. Total damage [estimates] was $16.5 billion; one-quarter of the damage, $4 billion, was not insured. The fire reached 100 percent containment after seventeen days on November 25, 2018.”

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“The Camp Fire Documentary” focuses on the human response to the fire and its aftermath. The film has no narration—it does not need a voice-over. Instead, firefighters, survivors and saviors share their noble and harrowing stories of extreme danger, and heroism.

The film includes cinéma vérité scenes of near-miss escapes through miles of roads surrounded by fire. Amongst the many people interviewed, one stands out—Bobby O’Reiley who appears throughout the film, sharing his experience, telling of his service to many who may not have survived without his valor.

Marna and Robert Carli, owner of Alpine Homes, a care facility for profoundly disabled people most of whom are quadriplegic, saved their afflicted clients with the help of fire personnel. Their journey through the fire took three hours. When they arrived at Chico, Inspirations, an adult daycare center, volunteered to house the clients. Filmmaker Nancy Hamilton Myers also covers the rescue of countless domestic animals.

“The Camp Fire Documentary” is a moving testament to the love, courage, sacrifice, and heroism that human beings are capable of in dire circumstances.

You may view the film via YouTube

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Operation Toussaint: Operation Underground Railroad and the Fight to End Modern Day Slavery

“It’s what we are trying to do. We intentionally go to the darkest corners of the Earth, where there is no hope, and find these kids. And what that does, apart from liberating children, is that it provides hope for everybody now.” Tim Ballard

Operation Toussaint is Nick Nanton’s coverage of Tim Ballard’s initiative to address the trafficking of children. Ballard tells his own story of a husband and father with a cushy government job who abandons that security for his mission to rescue trafficked children around the world, and bring the perpetrators to justice. There are more than 40 million slaves world wide—the largest population of slaves ever. More than two million of them are underage sex slaves.

The name ‘Toussaint’ refers to Haitian liberation hero, François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture. The title is inspired by the center piece of the film—a ‘jump team’ bust of a child sex ring in Haiti led by Ballard, in conjunction with local authorities.

Ballard created Operation Underground Railroad as the context for his work which now has a global outreach. Katherine Ballard, Tim’s wife, created an additional service organization, Child Liberation.

Operation Toussaint is the most sensational, profound socio-political documentary film I have seen since ‘The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.’ As I previously commented about the Ellsberg film, Ballard’s story deserves a respectful, big budget Hollywood narrative production.

There are follow-up documentary films available from the film’s site—scroll down for those films.

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(Pictured: Tim Ballard with rescued child)

Generation Wealth

“I do believe that it’s un-American to say you can make too much money. I mean the Federalist Papers say if I want to work a hundred hours a week, and never see my family, and die at an early age, that’s my prerogative.” Suzanne, Hedge-Fund Executive

In 2008, photographer/filmmaker Lauren Greenfield began a study of the cult of wealth. In 2017, her study generated a museum exhibition, a 504 page hardcover book, and a 106 minute documentary film, Generation Wealth.

Greenfield interviews several students from Crossroads, her high school which nested many students from wealthy southern California families. Now adults, these classmates speak of their experiences of wealth—as do several other interviewees. She also interviews her children and parents. Greenfield narrates the film, and includes much self-reflection as she does so.

I was most intrigued with interviewee Florian Homm, a former hedge-fund manager now living in exile, in Germany. His epic story is the one I would greenlight as a narrative film.

“At the end of a decayed culture, we retreat into our own comforting illusions. We build walls to cope with the reality around us. We are dying in the same way that other empires have died throughout history. The difference is that this time, when we go down, the whole planet’s gonna go with us.” Chris Hedges, Journalist

Generation Wealth is an utterly sensational, riveting film that equally disturbs and fascinates.

Note: Greenfield has recently launched Girl Culture Films, a production company based in Venice, California, that represents A-list female directors.

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Bleed Out: Addressing Our Broken Healthcare System

 

Written, directed, and experienced by Steve Burrows, Bleed Out is another scathing indictment of the United States’ greed-driven healthcare system. In his HBO documentary Burrows tells the story of his mother, Judie, a retired school teacher who was living a vital, active senior life.

Judie had a fall, went in for a partial hip replacement, and ended up in a coma, with brain damage, followed by a stroke. Burrows, a Los Angeles-based performer/writer/producer/director, is as caring a son as any mother could have. There were medical mistakes starting from Judie’s very first procedure. The loving son decided to dare the odds, and began a 10 years-long Sisyphus-ian endeavor for accountability, justice, and to have Judie’s medical and care-giving expenses covered.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, medical error is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Bleed Out addresses this non-stop tragedy. Burrows’ passion engages viewers immediately and never lets go.

It will take a whole lot of voters to support enactment of substantive healthcare reform. Find your way to this documentary, share it far and wide, be part of the solution.

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Saving Atlantis: Reversing the Global Loss of Corals

“If some tropical reefs are able to survive, it will only be because we are finally willing to fight for them.” David Baker, Director, Oregon State Productions

Humanity’s attack on the natural world is massive—on a seemingly uncountable number of fronts. We can see the land, the sky, and rivers. But, for all intents and purposes, we see only the surface of our oceans. Just beneath the ocean’s surface live—or used to live—corals.

Narrated by the ubiquitous Peter Coyote, Saving Atlantis delves into the underwater world of corals—a world under assault by human beings. In the past 50 years more than half the ocean’s corals have disappeared. The two primary causes are rising atmospheric temperatures which also raise ocean temperatures, and oceanic acidification caused by excess carbon gas. Yet, corals play a vital role in preserving the health of the Earth’s ecosphere.

Filmmakers Justin Smith and David Baker take us around the world, visiting 17 locations, hearing from researchers, activists, and people whose lives are directly affected by this loss. The clarion call is sounded. We also see and hear hope. The film highlights inspired people-driven initiatives to mitigate this destruction and loss.

An Oregon State University production, Saving Atlantis is expertly crafted, visually gorgeous, and needs to be seen by everyone.

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