Paying the Price for Peace: The Story of S. Brian Willson

“The United States has been at war under every President since 1941. However, since the end of World War II, US Presidents have authorized illegal and unconstitutional wars of aggression. According to the US Constitution, only Congress can declare war. But, Presidents have consistently found ways to wage war without Congressional approval. Between 1950 and 2000, the US government has overthrown 60 democratically elected governments, dropped bombs on over 30 nations, and attempted assassinations of over 60 foreign leaders. Millions died in these undeclared wars.” from Paying the Price for Peace

S. Brian Willson was a pure bred, highly skilled Republican Conservative until his first week in Viet Nam when he observed the horrors of the war, of our attacks on villages peopled by women, children, and the elderly—killed by 500 pound bombs followed by napalm. The military authorities did not court-martial Willson, they did not want to give him a public platform to reveal the insanity of violence perpetrated by the United States. It did not work. He took that platform.

Willson’s name came to the foreground when he lost his legs while protesting. It was 1987, another US intervention in another Third World country, Nicaragua. The United States, as always, was supporting the bad guys, the Contras. Surrounded by protestors, the train carrying a shipment of weapons for the Contras was rolling down the tracks. The engineer was ordered to not stop. Willson refused to get off the tracks. Supported by his heightened profile, he became a powerful domestic and international activist.

Directed by Bo Boudart, and narrated by the ubiquitous Peter Coyote, Paying the Price for Peace tells Willson’s story, and covers decades of antiwar activism. The film includes interviews of several activists including Ron Kovic, author of “Born on the Fourth of July” which was subsequently made into a narrative film directed by Oliver Stone, and stared by Tom Cruise. Willson was also born on the fourth of July.

“There are over 1,000,000 American military personnel stationed in 175 countries. The US government has increased its military budget by nearly 90% since 2001. That budget is now 700 billion dollars per year. Add in health costs and interest for 1.5 million veterans, the US is now paying one trillion dollars per year for war and the preparations for war. Our government spends ten times more per citizen on average for military costs than most industrial nations. This increased military spending has not made the US safer at home or abroad.” from Paying the Price for Peace.

Paying the Price for Peace is a compelling clarion call for more, much more political activism on behalf of peace and non-violence.

Paying the Price for Peace is distributed by Cinema Libre.

Note: When I watched The Most Dangerous Man in America—a documentary about legendary activist Daniel Ellsberg—who appears in Paying the Price for Peace—I hoped Hollywood would eventually produce a respectful, standard-bearing film of his story. Instead, Steven Spielberg made “The Post” about the publication of Ellsberg’s ‘Pentagon Papers’ by the Washington Post. Ellsberg’s story is far more dramatic and engaging than newsies struggling with issues of free press. Hope Springs Eternal—perhaps Ellsberg’s story will be produced.

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Hello, I Am David!: A Journey with David Helfgott

In 1996, writer/director Scott Hicks gave us “Shine” about the storied Australian concert pianist David Helfgott, portrayed by Geoffrey Rush.

In 2015, Cosima Lange gave us, Hello, I Am David!—a documentary about Mr. Helfgott who continues touring to this day.

For those unfamiliar: Helfgott was on a fast-track to concert stardom when he had an emotional breakdown which led to eleven years of institutionalization. Hicks’ film focuses on the troubled relationship between father and son that appears to be the root of Helfgott’s struggles.

Lange’s documentary follows the maestro on a European tour. She presents clips of his performances, interviews with admirers—especially, with Helfgott’s wife, Gillian, who became something akin to a savior.

Helfgott is a one-in-a-billion phenomenon. He appears to be deeply disturbed, yet plays piano with high skill. He presents with ADHD—attention deficit hyperactivity syndrome—despite his late 60s/low 70s age. He speaks and moves compulsively, ignores personal physical boundaries—he touches and/or hugs virtually everyone he meets—and appears to be a bit of a kleptomaniac.

David Helfgott is also a kind, loving, gentle, caring human being who talks and mumbles whilst playing masterly piano for thousands of people around the world. Normally what would be considered a performance sin has become an endearing aspect of his music.

Available on Netflix, Hello, I Am David! is a spectacular film about an unforgettable character.

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The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

“Relations between police and Negroes across the country are getting worse. One of the cities most troubled by animosity between police and Negroes is Oakland, California.” 1960s black-and-white network news report

Donald J. Trump and his Republican cohorts have ripped off the thin, translucent scab that covers America’s congenital racism. Although Stanley Nelson’s The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution tells a five-decade old story, its current relevance screams.

Nelson introduces his history of the Black Panther Party with a montage of black-and-white 1960s clips of brutal, oppressive police practices against African Americans. The behaviors presented in each clip can be seen and heard in living color on our national news—on practically a daily basis.

The film follows the rise and fall of the Party, identifying endogenous and exogenous factors in its demise the largest of which seems to be J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO, a ‘counter intelligence program’ directed against ‘Black Nationalist Hate Groups.’ The program’s stated purpose was to ‘expose, disrupt, misdirect, or otherwise neutralize the activities of black nationalists.’ The program was, of course, prima facie illegal—and successful in planting seeds of the Party’s destruction.

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution presents a well-produced, crucially important chapter in the history of racism in the United States of America.

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(Pictured: Director Stanley Nelson)

Beyond the Fear of Singing: Unlock Your Voice. Release Your Song.

“Most children learn very, very quickly that they don’t have that kind of sound. They don’t have that kind of voice to compare with that. Most children just stop at some point. There’s also a sort of a ritual that happens at some time where in the school, or at home, the children are put in front of a crowd of people—their school mates, their family—where they’re asked or forced to sing a song. For many, many children—but also adults—this is like an execution.” (Singer/author Mark Fox, from the film.)

Under the arch of Song Without Borders and Inner Harmony, Michael Stillwater, together with wife Doris Laesser Stillwater, produce documentary films about songs, music, and singing. Their latest, Beyond the Fear of Singing: Unlock Your Voice. Release Your Song. will be released this Fall/Winter, 2018/2019.

The film begins with a montage of people speaking of the time they were informed that they could not sing, that their singing voice was inferior, and not to be heard. The film moves on to feature many interviewees speaking of the values and virtues of just that, singing—no matter the sad input we have received about our voice. By film’s conclusion, we hear those same voice-squelched people singing beautifully. Like the Stillwaters’ previous films, Beyond the Fear of Singing features beatific images of nature and a soundtrack of beautiful music.

This documentary is not just about song, it is about us—our relationship to our God- or nature-given ability to sing.

See this film! Hear this film! Sing Your Song!

You may place an advance order for Beyond the Fear of Singing here.

(Pictured: Doris Laesser Stillwater and Michael Stillwater)

The Bleeding Edge: Injury and Death Caused by Medical Devices

iatrogenic: (adjective of a medical disorder) illness, injury or death caused by the diagnosis, manner, or treatment of a physician

In The Bleeding Edge well-lauded director Kirby Dick focuses on the harm that has been done, and is being done on patients who are treated with medical devices—a $400 billion industry. The injuries are life-changing or fatal. The perpetrators are physicians inspired and supported by our medical industrial complex—specifically the FDA and device manufacturers.

The film profiles several patients who have been victimized—including a well-respected orthopedic physician who was severely injured by his own choice of hip replacement device. Essure, a birth control device, receives most of the attention. It has caused extensive harm in women’s bodies, been banned in Europe, and yet still legal and in use in the United States.

Dick also covers initiatives by victims to hold both the FDA and manufacturers responsible for the harm they cause, and to fight for reform. The Essure case is emblematic, of course, of the corruption fueling this greed-driven attack on our corporal bodies. Hopefully, this case along with other patient initiatives will lead to significant reform. Obviously, the Republican take-over of our federal government makes significant reform at this time unlikely, if not impossible. But, that circumstance cries for greater and faster actions.

The film’s website offers a link to a petition drive for reform which, of course, yours truly signed. Here is the initiative’s Facebook Page.

The Bleeding Edge is a hard-hitting exposé of our corrupt health-care system. The more people who see the film, the faster the reform.

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Alone on the Island of the Blue Dolphins: The Truth Behind the Fiction

Scott O’Dell’s childrens book Island of the Blue Dolphins was published in 1960. Every November, half a million fourth graders read this classic tale of loss and survival.

The book is a speculation of what life may have been like for a 12 year old girl stranded on San Nicolas Island, off the coast of southern California, in 1835. She lived there for 18 years, was rescued in 1853, brought to the mainland, and died seven weeks later, probably from a radical change in her diet—from sea food to the California diet of that time.

Veteran filmmaker Paul Goldsmith’s Alone on the Island of the Blue Dolphins covers the anthropological and historical information available to discern what life would likely have been like for The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island—a Nicoleño Native Californian who was given the Christian name ‘Juana Maria’ upon her ‘rescue.’

In addition to the story of the girl whose given name is unknown, Goldsmith highlights the passion, dedication, and utter tenacity of those who study the island, and seek every bit of information about the Lone Woman’s life and her island home. The Lone Woman has countless friends and admirers.

I see ‘special features’ on a documentary film disc as integral to the story, rather than separate and distinct. This aptly applies to Goldsmith’s film.

The First Run Feature’s disc includes several bonus features:

• Lone Woman Artifacts Found in Santa Barbara
• Nicoleños before the Island of the Blue Dolphins
• Ernestine De Soto on Religion
• More about Scott O’Dell and His Novel
• The Cache – The Archeology Story

Forbidden Films & Hitler’s Hollywood: 2 Docs about Cinema and Propaganda in Wartime Germany

For history and war buffs, cinephiles, politicos, and other interested parties, Kino Lorber has released Hitler’s Hollywood by Rudiger Süchsland and Forbidden Films: The Hidden Legacy of Nazi Film by Felix Moeller.

Both films cover the period of 1933-1945, a time in which about 1,200 films were produced. Forbidden Films includes interviews of German film historians, archivists, and film goers. Hitler’s Hollywood explores the impact of this cinematic period on viewers and future German cinema.

To state the obvious, in consideration of the emergence of an authoritarian national government in the United States, these two documentaries also shed light on current American politics and culture.

Invisible Hands: The Destruction of Childhood

“Willfull ignorance”—That is the term one speaker in Shraysi Tandon’s Invisible Hands calls our attitude toward the use of 200 million children around the world to manufacture the products the ‘civilized’ world consumes with gleeful abandon. The hands, of course, are not invisible, we simply have yet to remove our self-inflicted blinders.

Shraysi Tandon’s directorial debut rips those blinders from our heads. She takes us around the world—Indonesia, United States, Africa, China, India—to document this global heart-breaking horror. No, the mean-spirited, blinded-by-greed will not lift a finger.

Her film is for those of us suffering the cognitive dissonance of caring about the damaging influence of our purchases, and struggling to rationalize our inaction.

Tandon confronts our dissonance with her film and these resources:

Transparentem 

goodweave 

Fairtrade 

Bachpan Bachao Andolan

Worker Rights Consortium

Child Labor Free

The Great Palm Oil Scandal

Invisible Hands is a First Run Features release.

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Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind

“His pathos was seeking to entertain and please. He felt when he wasn’t doing that, he was not succeeding as a person, and that was hard to see. Because in so many senses, he is the most successful person I know, and yet he didn’t always feel that.”
Zak Williams

When Robin died I felt like I’d lost a beautiful friend I met in 1979, when I joined the rest of the world and bought his first record, ‘Reality… What A Concept’. Over the decades I’d read the headlines, saw the reports of his struggles and triumphs. I celebrated and grieved as the story of his life played out in the mediasphere. His suicide cut me to the quick. It is a bitter-sweet experience when at least once a week I see the sign as I drive through Robin Williams Tunnel to and from the City.

Marina Zenovich’s Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind is the best possible documentary film about Robin Williams. The prolific filmmaker specializes in biography, and her latest about the brilliant and tragic comedian demonstrates a finely honed ability to tell a long story in a short period of time—and to keep viewers’ eyes, minds, and hearts fixed to the screen.

Pam Dawber, Steve Martin, Eric Idle, Billy Crystal and many other friends and family echo Zak Williams’ observation about his father—an emptiness that could never be filled, but could be temporarily eschewed by performing for people in virtually any context. What happened in his childhood to install this feeling so deep in his psyche, to foster his destructive addictions? Whatever the answer, why couldn’t all his money find its way to master therapists who would help him escape Hotel California, to find a deeper ground of being?

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind is an HBO film. I hope non-HBOers will find their way see this superbly produced film about a beautiful heart, mind, and spirit.

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All The Queen’s Horses: Small Town. Large Fraud. Global Problem.

Antisocial Personality Disorder: The presence of a chronic and pervasive disposition to disregard and violate the rights of others. Manifestations include repeated violations of the law, exploitation of others, deceitfulness, impulsivity, aggressiveness, reckless disregard for the safety of self and others, and irresponsibility, accompanied by lack of guilt, remorse, and empathy. It is among the most heavily researched of the personality disorders—and the most difficult to treat. (from the APA Dictionary of Psychology)

Produced and directed by Kelly Richmond Pope, PhD—and, more significantly, CPA—All the Queen’s Horses tells two stories: 1) How one person stole $53.7 million from the town of Dixon, Illinois, over her 22 years of employment. 2) About fraud in America, and around the world. Fraud costs the US $50 billion annually. A 2015 report from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners states that global fraud is an annual $3.7 trillion dollar problem.

High school graduate Rita Crundwell was Dixon’s comptroller for 22 years, and during that time smoothly relieved Dixon of the aforementioned funds until she was caught. The town’s mayor wisely eschewed local law enforcement and went right to the FBI.

A major aspect of the FBI investigation was the search for additional perpetrators. None were identified. However, the film covers questionable practices by Dixon’s auditing firm and the town’s bank. It is possible, if not probable, that individuals at those two businesses were culpable.

The film’s title refers to Crundwell’s love, horses. She bred, cared for, and traded in quarter horses. Her vast estate evaporated, Crundwell is in federal prison, serving a 19+ year sentence.

All the Queen’s Horses tells a jaw-dropping story, features excellent production quality, is distributed by Gravitas Ventures, and is available on Netflix.

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