Don Schwartz Spotlight on Documentaries

Welcome to the Blog of actor/journalist/personal historian Don Schwartz.

Don has been published in a variety of publications since 1977. His book, Telling Their Own Stories: Conversations with Documentary Filmmakers, is available from Amazon in softback or Kindle edition.

Don holds multiple degrees, including a Ph.D. in psychology and counseling from the California Institute of Integral Studies.

Don is a regular guest on our web radio show, The Art of Film Funding, produced by From the Heart Productions, reviewing documentary films with founder Carole Dean—http://www.blogtalkradio.com/the-art-of-film-funding

Don also contributes film reviews and filmmaker profiles to CineSource Magazine online—www.CineSourceMagazine.com

His weekly film review appears in The Marin Posthttps://marinpost.org/

Don’s actor resumé, voice samples, and reel may be found at: www.DonSchwartz.com

You can access Don’s Personal Historian services at:

You can find, and Like Don’s official Facebook page athttps://www.facebook.com/OfficialDonSchwartz

 

“This community, it’s so much a part of who I am. I can’t separate myself from it. I could’ve done a lot of different things besides medicine. I could make a lot of money, live wherever I want. But, I can’t turn my back.”

Matt Probst, PA

The Providers documents the lives of three healthcare providers who serve the people in rural areas around the city of Las Vegas, New Mexico. In addition to being a physician assistant, Matt Probst is a leader—the medical director of El Centro Family Health, and inspires a team of healthcare practitioners who serve a rural community of people who would otherwise lack access.

Producers/directors/cinematographers Laura Green and Anna Moot-Levin follow the work of physician assistant Probst, family physician Dr. Leslie Hayes, and nurse practitioner Chris Ruge who work under Echo Care. Alcohol and drug addiction rank high in the maladies the providers treat. Funding is an ongoing struggle. Echo Care is primarily funded by insurance companies, unnamed in the film.

Deeply touching from beginning to end, The Providers tells stories of triumph and tragedy, of heroes and their travails. To state the obvious, the community covered in this film is emblematic of communities throughout the United States. How many communities have experienced the grace of the providers featured in this film?

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(Pictured: Chris Ruge)

In the calendar year 2017, the City of East Saint Louis, Illinois had the highest murder rate in the world.

In Give Us This Day veteran filmmakers Jeff Zimbalist and Michael Zimbalist follow three of the city’s police officers and three of the city’s young people for a year. The filmmakers paint a montage of violence, of loss, and of those who struggle to change their personal and community’s circumstances.

The point the film makes is both simple and confounding: poverty is the ground of violence. The exacerbated homicide rate in East Saint Louis is also related to the city’s chronic deficiency of police officers which, in turn, is one of many symptoms of an impoverished community.

The film’s impact is equally heart-breaking and inspiring.

Give Us This Day is an ATT Original Documentary. It premiers on November 8, at 10 PM ET and PT, on DIRECTV NOW and DIRECTV channel 239, and is distributed by All Rise Films.

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Any other time, I may have passed on viewing this documentary film about the World War II internment of 127,000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps. Two-thirds of this population were American citizens.

Instead, I have watched the film for one simple reason—history is repeating itself. Immigrants have been and are being interned, and the United States government continues the mass incarceration of mostly people of color.

After Pearl Harbor, the United States government created the ‘War Relocation Authority’ to place Japanese Americans in concentration camps called ‘relocation centers.’ Ten camps were built throughout the American west. One, the ‘Tule Lake Segregation Center’ in northern California, was built to imprison those Japanese Americans who did not respond in a desirable way to a required ‘loyalty oath’—they specifically objected to questions 27 and 28. At its peak, the camp had a population of 18,789 Japanese Americans.

27: Are you willing to serve in the armed services of the United States, wherever occurred?

28: Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, or any other foreign government, power, or organization?

The oath was one of countless insults to Japanese Americans—on top of their global displacement. The above two questions were the most grievous.

Konrad Aderer’s Resistance at Tule Lake tells the story of the rebellion, the initiatives of the prisoners, and the punitive counter measures of our government. The film also follows a contemporary group of journeyers on a ‘pilgrimage’ to the preserved Tule Lake camp to acknowledge the US malfeasance, and honor its victims.

If I was king of the world I would add the expertly-produced Resistance at Tule Lake to both high school and college curricula—and make it required viewing for members of all three branches of our federal government, and every state governor.

Click here for information about educational screenings.

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The prime virtue of documentary films is the revealing of stories, events, images, and people which otherwise would be challenging or impossible to find. There are virtually no limits to the subjects or topics documentaries may explore.

For instance, street photography—an alive, vital medium of art which has become even more obscured by the ubiquity of cameras. That is, everyone is a street photographer. Only a minute few are celebrated artists.

Sasha Waters Freyer’s Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable covers one of these minute few. Born in 1928, and passed in 1984, Garry Winogrand covered New York city primarily, with detours to Texas and California. He was a massively prolific artist, leaving canisters of undeveloped film, or unprocessed negatives.

Freyer tells Winogrand’s rich personal story, and provides a dizzying montage of images throughout her film. Viewers watching on home video will find themselves pausing frequently to study and admire his work.

Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable is a captivating, well-lauded film that inspires its viewers to explore the art of street photography—and, perhaps, see what they can do with their camera.

To learn how to view the film, stay in touch with its website, send a query via the CONTACT link.

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In my old age I’ve become a reductionist—reducing various and sundry matters to their essence. In the matter of our Earth’s environment, I make the analogy of a chess board. Us humans are the players—the board, our environment which supports the play. Us players are rapidly destroying our board. I reduce my emotional response to this destruction to one of pure pain.

In Lindsey Grayzel’s The Reluctant Radical I have found a brother I didn’t know I had. His name is Ken Ward. He practices civil disobedience in support of our environment. His specific focus is stopping our consumption of fossil fuel. His quixotic goal is saving our ecosphere.

The narrative spine of the film is a trial in which Ward has been charged with a felony for having shut down a tar sands oil pipeline. The film’s substance includes a bit about Ward’s personal life, his path to civil disobedience, and his reflections on his role as an activist. Regarding his personal life, I was most moved by Ward’s relationship with his son, Eli—and with Eli’s strong character.

The Reluctant Radical is the most striking environmental documentary I’ve seen to date—and I have seen plenty.

It is an absolute must-see.

Note: To learn more about climate activism visit Shut It Down.

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You go to the IMDB site for Alan Hicks’ and Rashida Jones’ Quincy and count the number of celebrities who appear in this documentary about the legendary Quincy Jones, and you will find at least 76 people who, like yours truly, are in awe of the talent and accomplishments of this iconic showbiz survivor.

Quincy Delight Jones, Jr. was born in 1933, and is still very much with us. The impact of his contributions to our world transcends the countless musical talents he has supported over the 70+ years of his career. The list of awards and nominations he has received is so long that Wikipedia created a separate page from his primary Wiki site to house those honors.

In a too-short two hours, Hicks and Jones provide an outline of Jones’ biography, affectionate and reverential lauds by the aforementioned 76 people, and a soundtrack that sparks the viewer’s impulse to get up and dance. Jones tells his story through narration and archived interviews.

The film has an arc. Between the various scenes there are references to an upcoming event, the opening ceremonies and celebration of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture of which Jones is the primary producer—a fitting conclusion to the film. There is more information about that celebration here.

Quincy is as jaw-dropping as it is delightful.

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Directed by Chris Bell and David Baca, Jr., A Leaf of Faith explores the legal issues of, and personal use of ‘Kratom’—also known as Mitragyna speciosa, a tree in the coffee family native to Southeast Asia.

Various and sundry concoctions are made from the plant’s leaves, and are consumed for recreational and medicinal purposes. The highest profile use, though, is to replace opioid drugs—and in the withdrawal of same.

Bell is our host as he interviews a cornucopia of interested parties speaking on crucial issues of safety, effectiveness, and regulation. The take-away appears to be an acceptance of some measure of regulation, and a blanket objection to the proposal of damning the leaf as a Category One substance along with heroine. The film’s aspiration is that research of the plant’s physiological impacts will help find a balanced regulatory approach that makes Kratom available to those who want or need it for their well being—especially in the treatment of pain and addiction.

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“There’s not nearly enough press coverage. There’s not nearly enough attention paid to this illness—for when you consider the degree of suffering that people are going through, for the degree of disability, the degree of cost to society, for all of us who aren’t able to work, aren’t able to be contributing members that we were when we were healthy. It’s as though we’ve disappeared—we’ve just dropped out of society and then were forgotten.” ME/CFS sufferer.

It was 1981. I was in my early 30s, and had a full-time job. Although this was the prime of my life, I found myself crawling around my apartment after work—weak and tired. Unlike the above sufferer, I was lucky. My chiropractor was skilled in the use of nutritional supplements. After a few weeks of taking pills from 9 bottles of various supplements my energy began to gradually return.

Produced and directed by Ryan Prior and Nicole Castillo, Forgotten Plague is a much-needed examination of the mysterious, devastating illness called chronic fatigue syndrome or myalgic encephalomyelitis—ME/CFS for short.

This illness continues to ravage the lives of countless millions of people around the world. For decades our medical industrial complex did everything it could to deny the existence of this illness, or to diminish its effects on humans, and its impact on society.

Prior is the film’s host. In addition to those of several interviewees, he tells—and shows—his own harrowing story of suffering from and struggling with ME/CFS. His story, of course, had a happy resolution. He is having a distinguished, well-lauded career as a journalist, and has given us this powerful film.

In a short 80 minutes Forgotten Plague presents heart-rending interviews with sufferers, and crucial information about the realities of this disease. The information that struck yours truly the most was that although the costs of resources lost due to Parkinson’s and ME/CFS are nearly equal, the amount of resources given to research into ME/CFS is negligible compared to those given to Parkinson’s.

Although the film covers current research, efforts to draw attention to the disease, and concludes on a hopeful note about potential scientific advances in research, the film’s point is simple. People are still suffering, lives are being destroyed, and mainstream American society continues to ignore the tragedy.

Like so many compelling documentary films, Forgotten Plague is a call to action. The filmmakers suggest a starting point: #MEAction

I heartily suggest you remember, and see this film which I found on Amazon and Amazon Prime.

On a personal note, I wish there had been some mention in the film of a little-known—to doctors, at least—off-label treatment, Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN) that has helped many people with ME/CFS. In our soon-to-be published book, The Power of Honest Medicine, Julia Schopick and I include contributions from three ME/CFS patients who were helped by LDN. There is even a Facebook group, with nearly 3,000 members, devoted to LDN’s use for ME/CFS.

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(Pictured: Ryan Prior)

Note: When clicking on one of the film’s links above, you may find yourself having to click a second time to access the site. It seems to be a random error.

Keith Maitland’s A Song for You: The Austin City Limits Story does just what the title indicates—tells the story of the legendary television show up until his documentary’s 2016 release.

The film’s de facto host is Austin City Limits long-time producer Terry Lickona. Although the primary focus of A Song for You is the PBS show—the longest running music show on television, Austin City Limits is more than a music show; rather, it is an international entertainment brand.

Since its PBS debut on October 17, 1974, emerging from the show’s success are:

• Austin City Limits Music Festival

• A series of CDs and DVDs called ‘Live from Austin, TX’

• The Austin City Limits store at Austin Bergstrom International Airport

• Austin City Limits Hall of Fame

• A digital archive at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio

• The expansion of the brand to Australia (Sydney City Limits Music Festival) and New Zealand (Auckland City Limits Music Festival).

In addition to this institutional expansion, the show itself has dramatically expanded its music genres from Americana to ‘anything goes’—as producer Lickona says.

As of this writing Austin City Limits is in its 44th year of PBS broadcasts.

A Song for You is thoroughly engaging, fascinating and entertaining.

The film can be found on Amazon Prime.

(Pictured: Jenny Lewis)

“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, with a napalm chaser.

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. That tactic 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 protesters, 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 also 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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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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“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 explores a crucially important, woefully overlooked chapter in the history of racism in the United States of America.

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(Pictured: Director Stanley Nelson)

“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)

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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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

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.

“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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“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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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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Antarctica: In the Footsteps of the Emperor contains three films on a 2-DVD set: “Antarctica: In the Footsteps of the Emperor” /// “Antarctica: Living on the Edge” and “Antarctica’s Secrets”. The combined running time for the three films is 193 minutes. All three feature exquisite cinematography and photography.

The films are derived from an expedition led by “March of the Penguins” director Luc Jacquet. The central focus of ‘In the Footsteps of the Emperor’ is the unprecedented photography by Laurent Ballest and Vincent Munier who cover both the land and deep down in the surrounding sea. The film is in French with English subtitles.

‘Living on the Edge’ contains a substantial amount of the same footage in ‘In the Footsteps of Emperor’—only without English subtitles which are replaced by overdubbed English spoken words. This film is invaluable for us folks who want to see the whole picture minus subtitles.

“Antarctica’s Secrets” focuses on the continent’s fauna, and moves between the continent and biological research facilities. The scientific information provided is no less astounding than the three films’ images.

The bravery and fortitude of both the cinematographers and still photographers are inspiring. The results of their work, jaw-dropping.

To state the obvious, the deleterious impact of human-driven global warming haunts every frame of these films—as it does over our lives and world.

“Antarctica: In the Footsteps of the Emperor” is distributed by MHZChoice.

Buried within the terabytes of data at one or more of Netflix’s server farms is the most incendiary documentary film I’ve seen to date: A Good American—a film about malfeasance, corruption, and ineptitude at our National Security Agency, and above.

Director Friedrich Moser tells the story of a tragically terminated NSA program called ThinThread which was designed to provide national security and protect privacy. The program was shut down a few weeks before the 9/11 attacks. A test to see if the shuttered program would have probably prevented 9/11 proved positive.

Add to that agonizing revelation the self-aggrandizing power politics that led to subsequent massive waste and incompetence at the NSA, and you will understand why almost every reviewer of this film expresses outrage in various and sundry forms.

Bill Binney, the film’s central character, is the originator of ThinThread. His NSA support team were Ed Loomis, Diane Roark, and J. Kirk Wiebe. Jesselyn Radack—National Security and Human Rights Director at ExposeFacts—supported the team when they experienced horrific governmental retaliation. Raddack is also one of the three whistle-blowers featured in the film, Silenced.

A Good American is another absolute must-see documentary film.

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Prologue: It is rare that I play a movie at home and not press pause. I did not press pause, nor avert my attention as I watched Emer Reynolds’ The Farthest—his feature documentary about the Voyager missions through our solar system, and the first penetration into interstellar space by human-created objects.
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Launched in 1977, the two Voyager spacecraft explored Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Voyager 1 entered interstellar space on August 25, 2012.

Key participants in the Voyager program tell the story of building the vehicles, and their controlled wanderings through our solar system. There are several points in the interviews where some interviewees come to tears as they tell their story. They are deeply moved by the raw fact that human beings and some of our creations have left the Earth. As The Farthest tells its story with voices and images, that feeling of awe, of overwhelm, of humility deepens—for the interviewees and us viewers.

Near film’s beginning, one of the interviewees relates that as the Voyager program was initiated, and the craft were being built, the public’s attention was diverted from the craft and their journey to something called The Golden Record —a phonograph record of music, voices and images—placed on each of the two craft. The story of that recording is worthy of its own documentary film.

Coda: Soon after the film began flowing on my television screen, I was reminded of The Inner Light—an episode from the ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ series. In it, Enterprise Captain Jean Luc Picard collapses unconscious on the bridge. As his crew attempt to revive him, he lives another lifetime as another person, on another planet. The planet’s sun is on the verge of going nova. The advanced civilization orchestrated this mental kidnapping of Captain Picard in order to have at least one entity in the multiverse remember their existence, their being, their world.

There are two or three oblique references in The Farthest to the environmental degradation of Earth by human beings. It is clear that our ignorance, greed, and carelessness has done and continues to cause irreversible damage to our ecosphere. The only question is the scale of impact this damage will eventually create. But, we can peacefully rest in the knowledge that somewhere in the multiverse, human-created radio waves and space craft may be found, and that someone will note our brief existence.

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“I think there’s bigger fish to fry out there than them.” Travis Munnerlyn

In ACORN and the Firestorm, directors Reuben Atlas and Samuel D. Pollard present the history of ACORN focusing on the surreptitious video recording by Hannah Giles and James O’Keefe of a staged attempt to secure support from the organization in the creation of a brothel utilizing underage girls. The American Right jumped on the story, and ACORN was forced to reorganize with severely limited scope.

A political activist organization working on behalf the disenfranchised—the lower socio-economic class of the United States—ACORN grew into a movement of 450,000 members, receiving both private and governmental support.

Internal forces and massive external initiatives assured its demise.

The two stars of this show are the aforementioned Munnerlyn and Bertha Lewis.

Munnerlyn, the ironic star, is an elderly Floridian, a died-in-the-wool Republican, and an ACORN member. His home was on the chopping block during the 2008 financial fiasco, and it was ACORN that saved his home. Brooklyn’s Lewis rose through ACORN’s ranks to the CEO position. Lewis left that position, and founded The Black Institute.

First Run Features release, ACORN and the Firestorm is a classic David and Goliath story, only both combatants are still alive—in various forms—and still fighting over the heart and soul of the United States. Goliath is winning, and, above that, seems to be destroying the game board.

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(Pictured: Travis Munnerlyn)

“So, let’s remember Don, he talked about the intent. Right there, next to the wound, right there, next to the pain. When we go deep, when we go down to the bottom, right there next to where we hurt the most is where our medicine is at. Let’s remember that.” Group Therapy Participant at Folsom Prison

Thirty miles north east of Sacramento, California, in an area called Represa, lies the legendary maximum security Folsom State Prison. Inside the prison is another prison called New Folsom Prison where inmates participate in weekly group therapy as part of an overall rehabilitation program. Twice a year, with prison approval, members of the public are invited to join inmates for four days of intensive group therapy.

Directors Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous cover one of these four-day programs in their documentary, The Work. McLeary and Aldous capture gut-wrenching moments of human beings delving into the genesis of their inner wounding.

This is as must-see a movie as a must-see movie can get.

Yes, the movie is about a progressive state-run program that is garnering positive results. It is also about you and me. If you are not deeply moved by experiencing the work done in The Work, you simply haven’t seen the movie.

The Work premiers online on Topic.com on June 5.

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Eric Liner’s Bird of Prey covers herculean efforts to save the endangered Philippine eagle. There is very little old forest left in the Philippines. Consequently, the numbers of this magnificent avian creature are estimated between 100 and 800 individuals.

Neil Rettig is the film’s central human character. In 1977, he provided the first moving images of the Philippine eagle. The current film is peppered with shots from that footage. Most of the film covers Rettig and team’s recent return to find and film the eagle again, as well as to cover Philippine-based conservation efforts.

The film’s cinematography is exhilarating, but I’m inured to excellence in nature photography and cinematography. I am, however, in awe of the balance achieved by Bird of Prey. The majority of environmental documentaries provide disturbing, if not horrific, information about and images of our destruction of the Earth’s ecosphere—followed by cold comfort, a little something you can do.

At the moment there is not enough forest to support the numbers of individuals it takes to sustain the Philippine eagle population, and it is not clear what can or will be done. But, efforts are being done, and the filmmakers provide a significant amount of coverage to those Philippine-base initiatives. Let it not go unsaid that this film is also a monumental effort to bring attention to the Philippine eagle.

Adding up the beautiful cinematography, the skill and danger required to capture this very rare footage, and the carefully balanced editing, I do not hesitate to say that Bird of Prey is a masterpiece of documentary filmmaking. I truly hope that the film finds a monumental audience.

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Triston Cook’s first feature documentary—Strangers on this Earth—introduces the uninitiated viewer to El Camino de Santiago, a UNESCO World History Site. This 500 mile walking path—or pilgrimage, depending on one’s beliefs—is located in northern Spain.

The film also introduces cellist Dane Johansen, one of the film’s producers, and one of several walkers featured in the film. Johansen serves as an unofficial host of the documentary, and provides the film’s music—solo cello, of course. Johansen carries his cello in a large white container on his back, providing concert performances along the way.

Johansen and his walking peers share their thoughts about the Camino—especially its meaning and impact on their lives. After hearing so many ideas about the walk, one may conclude completing this trek is a metaphor for an entire life lived.

While hearing all the voices, and listening to Johansen’s music, Cook provides dramatic and beatific visuals of people, and, especially, places throughout northern Spain. I was jealous of all the wind farms Spain has installed, wishing Quixotically that our nation would be so conscientious.

Caution: Many viewers will likely consider walking the Camino, pondering life, death, God, spirit, and blisters.

Strangers on this Earth is a First Run Features release.

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(Photo of Dane Johansen by Kayla Arend—courtesy of ‘Strangers on this Earth’)

“For me, garden design isn’t just about plants, it is about emotion, atmosphere, a sense of contemplation. You try to move people with what you do. You look at this, and it goes deeper than what you see. It reminds you of something in the genes—nature, or the longing for nature.” – Piet Oudolf”

Five Seasons is a documentary film for people who love flora, and for people who are curious about same.

Director Thomas Piper profiles garden designer Piet Oudolf. Through the aforementioned five seasons we see Oudolf drafting illustrations of garden designs, hear him waxing philosophical and telling his story, and view garden creation from the ground up.

Five Seasons is an expertly produced film the quality of which is mirrored by the beauty of Oudolf’s creations—and his character. You may see samples of his work here.

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Released in 2015, 7th Art’s Morgenthau is one of a countless number of documentaries that deserve a much wider audience. The film is both a series of history lessons that encompass three centuries, and profiles of three noble human beings: Henry Morgenthau Senior, United States Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire; Henry Morgenthau Junior, United States Secretary of Treasury under Franklin Roosevelt’s administration; and Robert M. Morgenthau, District Attorney of New York County for over 30 years. Their professional lives played out on highly public local, national, and international stages.

In addition to shared DNA, all three found their way to a shared ethos which can be glibly-yet-accurately described as ‘do the right thing.’ In the case of the three gentlemen, they would expand this simplistic ethical principal by prefacing the adage with ‘When in power.’

The not-so-sub subtext of this film is: Look at who and what are in power in the United States now. That contrast is the most important reason to see Morganthau and to bathe in a little inspiration contemplating the possibilities of noble leadership.

Having released hundreds of feature documentaries through his company, Seventh Art Releasing, Jake Bart is one of many unsung heroes in the documentary film world. I’ve seen several 7th Arts titles, and intend to see many more.

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Yours truly brings a bias to the understanding and reviewing of Anne Makepeace’s Tribal Justice. That bias is one of being a champion of ‘restorative justice’—a compassionate approach to justice, one not based on revenge and punishment. There are elements of restorative justice in the stories Makepeace tells in her moving film of lives renewed.

The setting is California, two Native American tribes—the Yurok in the north, and the Quechan in the south. Our heroes are Claudette White, the Quechan judge, and Abby Abinanti, the Yurok judge. We see both judges at work supporting people who are struggling with themselves and their world, helping them avoid our nation’s conventional system of justice with its violence, high recidivism rates, and injustice.

California tribes have the option of coordinating their judicial proceedings with the State’s. You can learn more about the genesis of this tribal/state cooperation here.

Makepeace follows several Native Americans through the tribal judicial process which includes crucial elements of societal support to these individuals. The impact is simple and clear, this judicial system promotes dramatically positive outcomes. Tribal society wins, as does the greater society.

There are no adjectives strong enough to encompass our nation’s treatment of Native Americans. One small but meaningful gesture we all can make is to inform ourselves of this treatment and its horrific impact by simply viewing documentary films on the subject. Tribal Justice is that rare documentary film which highlights an enlightened approach to justice for Native Americans, one which I hope will spread throughout the United States.

Coda: Composers of music for documentary films rarely get acknowledged. The music of Chris Ruggiero perfectly encompasses the beautiful stories told by Makepeace’s film.

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(Pictured: Abby Abinanti)

Mohammed runs a travelling movie theater in India. Prakash repairs 35mm film projectors—and has designed and built one of his own. These are the two principals in Shirley Abraham’s and Amit Madheshiya’s The Cinema Travellers. The two filmmakers hang out with Prakash, and follow Mohammed’s theatre around India. They do not provide narration, none is needed.

Sometimes called ‘Akshay Touring Talkies’ or ‘Sumedh Touring Talkies,’ the entire theatre—including a very large tent—fits into a barely drivable truck. Everything in this traveling movie house is all rusted and dusty, worn and torn, crumbling, barely functional. But, it still works with the blessings of vibhuti and incense, turmeric and vermillion.

Loud speaker announcements of the evening’s entertainment are blared throughout the day. After the tent is raised, and there is still plenty of day time, children gather, dance, and play in its abundant shade. The canvas covered theatre cannot protect its audiences from the occasional elements of wind and rain. Prakash’s business, too, is victimized by rain and heat—invaluable 35mm prints are damaged beyond repair.

Prakash steals this entire show, though, as he emanates irresistible charm when speaking of his work and the projector he designed.

The Cinema Travellers is a documentary about people who love movies, for people who love movies.

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Written and directed by Alexandra Dean, Bombshell is a straight-forward cinematic biography of Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, also known as Hedy Lamarr. Although there are several biographies about Lamarr, her life has not been covered in documentary form.

There is an inciting incident in the production of this film—the one-in-a-million chance discovery of four audio tapes of Lamarr speaking of herself. A gentleman by the name of Fleming Meeks—a journalist who responded to Dean’s world-wide call for any biographical information directly by Lamarr—is the back-story hero in this film. Dean carpets her film with interstitials of Lamarr’s voice derived from these tapes.

A strong character, and way ahead of her time, the famous and infamous actor had more than her fair share of tragedies. She seems to have weathered them all, including the most expensive one—the loss of her patent that could have and should have netted her about three hundred million dollars.

Lamarr’s secret life was that of a frustrated scientist/engineer. Together with her composer, George Antheil, she conceived something called ‘frequency hopping’—an electronic phenomenon that enables secure, wireless electronic communications. The patent was absconded, of course, by the United States government. Frequency hopping is foundational to virtually all the world’s electronic communications between and amongst devices and people.

Bombshell is a Kino Lorber/Zeitgeist Films release.

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There are certain filmed stories that will stay with us the rest of our lives. First time feature film director Sky Bergman’s Lives Well Lived is one of them.

Bergman interviews 40 people between the ages of 75 and 100. Each tells her or his story. Between some interviews are interstitials in which a few interviewees respond to questions like ‘What is your secret for a happy life?’ As the interviewees tell their stories, Bergman includes archival footage of times and places in their lives. Many of these stories warrant their own feature documentary. Again, this is another documentary film I want to be twice as long as its current running time.

I passionately want young people to see Lives Well Lived. I realize, of course, that is a tall order—and that that is an understatement! If I were young and somewhat aware at this time, I would understand that us humans have seriously damaged our ecosphere, that the damage is continuing, and, therefore, I would be skeptical of even having an old age, or of having one that is meaningful, gratifying and productive. If I was not somewhat aware, I might not care at all about aging and the aged.

What Bergman has captured in her interviewees are people who have a youthful spirit as well as the ‘wit’ and ‘wisdom’ referenced in the film’s subtitle. Lives Well Lived is gold for those young people who chose to turn off their phone, place it in another room, and really listen to the people tell their stories. It could dramatically change some young lives.

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(Pictured: Sky Bergman with her 103 year old Grandmother, Evelyn Ricciuti)

“She is drugged,” the Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh states emphatically, “she is on hard drugs. I have never made love to her, that much is certain. Perhaps that is the jealousy. She always wanted… (pauses) but I have made it a point never make love with a secretary.” (His large group of followers laugh loudly.) “Love affair never ends. It can turn into a hate affair. She did not prove to be a woman. She proved to be a perfect bitch.” (More laughter.) She is just going more and more insane before she goes to imprisonment. You just wait. Either she will kill herself—out of the very burden of all the crimes that she has done—or she will have to suffer her whole life in imprisonment.”

The enlightened guru is oozing vitriol about his recently departed ‘secretary,’ Ma Anand Sheela. The two are the leading actors in a years-long passion play which is covered by brothers Chapman and Maclain Way in their Wild Wild Country. One of the two wilds refers to the vast countryside of Oregon, and the other refers to the small town—called ‘Rajneeshpuram’—Rajneesh and Sheela created in that countryside after leaving India and a trail of allegations.

Sheela was, of course, more than his secretary. Rajneesh was the King, and she, the Prime Minister. Sheela skipped town when she saw her power fading—and, perhaps, knew their community’s lifespan was limited.

Rajneeshpuram’s internal strife was matched by the external strife provided by the people of Antelope who became very unhappy with the propinquity of this ill-conceived attempt at a Utopian community to their tiny town. That dismay spread to Wasco County, to the State of Oregon, and to the political leadership of the United States of America.

This epic finds its inevitable conclusion. Torn asunder by endogenous and exogenous forces, abandoned by its 7,000 residents, Rajneeshpuram became a Christian retreat center teaching abstinence to young people.

Wild Wild Country is utterly fascinating, jaw dropping—in contemporary parlance, we say this six-part Netflix film is ‘binge-worthy.’ It evokes thoughts and ruminations about ethics, morals, religion, spirituality, law, cults, sex, politics, psychology, social psychology, and most of all—human frailty.

Here is a link to a Vanity Fair article about the film.

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Directed by Reuben Atlas and Jerry Rothwell, $our Grapes tells the story of a massive heist in the American wine industry—the sale, at auctions, of phony rare bottles of wines.

The perpetrator was Rudy Kurniawan, a charming young man of Chinese descent, based in Indonesia, and living in the United States.

Early in the film we learn Kurniawan has a great ‘palate’—he knows wine—and ingratiated himself into the world of fine wines and wealthy people. He partnered with John Kapon who had inherited his parents’ Manhattan-based business, Acker Merrall and Condit, the first formal wine shop in the United States.

Kurniawin supplied both real and fake bottles of wine, and Kapon auctioned them off to the unsuspecting. Between 2003 and 2006 John Kapon sold more than $35 million of wine from Kuniawin’s ‘cellar.’ For a period of time Acker Merrall and Condit became the number one wine auction house in the world.

Even after Kurniawin’s malfeasance had become well-known, Christie’s Auction House got in bed with him—a testament to his boyish charm and power.

Two very different gentlemen discovered the con, and each went about busting it.

Laurent Ponsot is a Burgundy winemaker, and Bill Koch, a very, very wealthy man deeply devoted to the consumption of wine, and the curating of 43,000 unopened bottles in his jaw-breakingly gorgeous cellar. Koch estimates that he spent $4 million on 400 fake bottles. Koch is brother to his two infamous brothers, Charles and David.

Ponsot initiated and carried out his own one-man investigation—both on principle and because his wines were being forged. He took several trips between France and the United States. Koch hired a top-of-the-line investigator who, in turn, hired a staff of investigators.

Rudy Kurnianwin is serving a ten-year sentence in a federal penitentiary.

Others, though, have taken up the slack. It is estimated there may be as many as 10,000 forged wine bottles still in private collections.

$our Grapes is distributed by Netflix.

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When asked what he would like his obituary to say about him, Arthur Miller responded with just one word, ‘writer.’ Hence, the documentary’s one-word subtitle.

In Arthur Miller: Writer, accomplished writer/actor/director, and Miller’s daughter Rebecca Miller tells her father’s story—in a too-short 90 minutes running time. She captures his genius, flaws, and, especially, the arc of his character over 90 years of life. It is that character portrait I found most engaging. As the film progress I found myself looking for that something deeper that gave me a sense of the driving force of Arthur Miller’s creativity. I found it in this brief dialog between father and daughter:

“You were prone to walk away from conflict, naturally,” comments Rebecca Miller, addressing her father, “but in your plays, there’s a continual kind of return to conflict.”

“I suppose it’s because there, I could live it out—in the literature, in the writing. Whereas in life, it was too painful, you see. So, the pain went into the writing, whereas it was hard to sustain it in real life. I think that’s part of what happened.”

“Why do you think that is?”

“I don’t know, I just couldn’t bear the idea of people trying to destroy each other, ‘cause I sensed very early on that all real arguments are murderous. There was a killing instinct in there that I feared. So, I put it into the theater.”

Like many of us compassionate humans, Miller was fearful of his id—our narcissistic and destructive impulses. At film’s conclusion it appears Miller has found peace and wisdom, living a secluded life, his legend well established.

P.S. He was also a carpenter.

Arthur Miller: Writer is an HBO documentary film.

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$13 Billion Annually

That’s the upside to the marketing and sales of prescription performance enhancing drugs. Alison Klayman’s Take Your Pills is an exploration of what we get for our money.

The primary focus is on Adderall and, secondarily, on Ritalin—as used by people who do not have ADHD or ADD. It is relatively easy to secure a prescription, however, without the actual presence of those syndromes. Students take these drugs to do school work faster and better—working adults for the same reason.

Klayman’s interviewees point out the plusses and minuses of what seems to be a ubiquitous use of these drugs by students and adults. At film’s end she takes a brief look at ‘nootropics’—nutritional supplements to enhance brain functioning—and ‘micro-dosing,’ the use of small doses of psychedelic substances to enhance job performance. ‘Brain hacking’ one interviewee calls it.

Researcher Martha Farah and company from the University of Pennsylvania decided to test the impact of Adderall on students’ cognitive performance. The study was done only on students without a formal diagnosis of ADHD or ADD. “It was across a huge battery of different tasks,” Farah states, “and in the end we found no significant difference between Adderall and placebo except for one question: Do you feel that the pill you took today enhanced your cognition?”

Yes, those taking the drug did feel their performance was enhanced—but the research showed no significant relationship between enhanced learning and drug-taking. The drug “boosts their false self-confidence in how well they’re learning,” another researcher concludes.

Whatever the motivations or rationales are to take what is nothing more or less than amphetamine—its use is deeply entrenched in various layers of American society. One interviewee predicts Adderall and its cousins will take opioids’ place in the media world when people finally develop opioid media coverage fatigue. However, from the information in Take Your Pills, in an end-stage capitalism world, I doubt controversy in the media is going to hinder its prescription and use.

Take Your Pills is a Netflix documentary film.

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Anna Deavere Smith interviewed more than 250 people to write and perform her epic one-woman play, Notes from the Field.

Smith culled through this 300 hours of interviews, choose 19 interviewees, selected interview segments of each, and performed them as the interviewee. She began work on this project in 2012, performed it as a one-woman show, and had it filmed for HBO. It premiered on February 24, 2018.

The central topic is the school-to-prison pipeline which has become an integral part of American society. There is also a broader focus on racism. The film juxtaposes Smith’s performances with archival footage of police abuse, riots, and protests.

Notes from the Field is stunning from beginning to end. Smith’s acting is the strongest single performance I have experienced to date.

For more information about the show, here is her interview. For more information about Anna’s activism visit her personal website.

When Jay Consalvi went home from the hospital—at two days of age—his father took the infant flying for 20 minutes before going home. By the time he was five Jay wanted to fly, and by 11, he wanted to be a Navy fighter pilot—although he didn’t know what a fighter pilot does.

Meagan Varley wanted to fly Navy jets since the age of 12. Top Gun was the trigger of that aspiration. Her two sisters are confirmed pacifists—as am I. “It’s kind of extreme,” comments one of the sisters, “when your twin sister’s a fighter pilot.”

Varley and Consalvi were accepted into the Naval Academy. As of 2007, only one in a thousand Academy applicants are accepted. After graduation they were accepted into flight school—only one in a thousand applicants are accepted. Only 30 to 40 percent of those who enter flight school complete that training program. Of those who complete, only 15% get jets, and out of that 15% only 1% are accepted into fighter training. I did not find what percentage of fighter trainees complete their training.

Consalvi and Varley became carrier-based fighter pilots, and were deployed to Iraq.

In Speed and Angels director Peyton Wilson tells the stories of these two rare birds from the beginning of their fighter training through their deployment to Iraq. She had the cooperation of the Navy, and captured rare—for public consumption—video and audio footage of aerial combat training as well as the carrier landing practice of our two heroes.

Like so many other documentary features I’ve seen, I wanted much more of the story. I am grateful, though, for being able to see these two stories.

I found Speed and Angels on Amazon Prime Video.

(The second “Top Gun” movie lands in 2019.)

IMDB Reference  (This reference provides a website for the film, but I was not able to access it via Firefox or Chrome. For the record the URL is: http://www.speedandangels.com/ )

If I were teaching a graduate course in ethics I would have my class see A River Below. The students would then be required to write a comprehensive examination of the ethics of the five principals: The director, the two ‘stars,’ an impoverished Amazonian river community immersed in a Brazilian environmental controversy, and the Amazon river dolphin.

In addition to habitat loss and inadvertent deaths from fishing, the Amazon river dolphin was being hunted and slaughtered by fishermen solely to be used as bait to attract a particular species of commercially viable fish.

Enter our two stars: Richard Rasmussen and Fernando Trujillo. They are passionate about nature in general, and, specifically about saving the river dolphin. Rasmussen is a television star who uses his media platform to promote the value of the natural world. He is as passionate about his own legend as he is about the world’s fauna. Trujillo is a biologist.

Frustrated at a lack of awareness of the ongoing slaughter, Rasmussen reasons the only way to generate public awareness of the slaughter is to have a visceral image of its demise on national television. His idea is realized. Governmental protections are put in place. Then all hell breaks loose—well, since the destruction of the Amazon’s watershed is already hell, let’s just say even more hell breaks loose. The utterly sincere Trujillo ends up having a body guard, and to wear a bullet-proof vest.

The producers of A River Below are well aware their film is not your father’s environmental documentary film. The making of the film becomes its own meta-story. If my hypothetical students did a good job on their ethical analyses, they would be exploring both the micro and macro ethics of the actions of our five principals. Only the dolphins would emerge free of any ethical concerns.

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Written and directed by Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana, Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World brings to light the significant impact of Indigenous Americans on rock and pop music—and since American music found its way around the world, this impact is global in nature.

The film features Robbie Robertson, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Jimi Hendrix, Charley Patton, Mildred Bailey, Link Wray, Jesse Ed Davis, Redbone, Randy Castillo, and Black Eye Peas rapper Taboo. The artists acknowledge the presence of and, especially, the impact of their Native American genetic and cultural heritage on their music. The legendary Tony Bennett appears acknowledging the crucial impact Mildred Bailey had on his musical development. Miami Steve Van Zandt also appears in interview sharing his thoughts and experience of artists with Indigenous heritage.

Rumble is another one of those documentary films that could have been twice as long as its hour and 43 minutes run time. So much of the information is revelatory, I simply wanted to learn more, and to hear more of their musics. The film also serves as a reminder of the horrific treatment Native American’s received—and still receive—from the country’s post-Columbian immigrants.

I am always gratified when the world agrees with me on something. In this case, when you go to the film’s homepage you will see how well Rumble was received in its festival run. Go to the film’s press page and see how well the film has been received globally.

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There was a time when the poisoning of an American suburban community—like Love Canal—would receive so much national news coverage that the US government would, eventually, be forced to take effective action. Those days are long gone.

With the consolidation of powers by the federal government and corporations, our national news media have been stifled. We are left with a few alternative news outlets—and documentary films. Given the massive proliferation of media outlets and content, it is nigh impossible to draw enough attention to a slow-rolling disaster to catalyze effective, large-scale action.

Like The Little Drummer Boy, I do what can.

Rebecca Cammisa’s Atomic Homefront opens with this information:

In 1942, the U.S. government choose St. Louis, Missouri as a processing center of uranium for the first atomic bombs. The radioactive waste from this processing was eventually dumped into a landfill near suburban communities of St. Louis. The waste was then moved to a two-part landfill in North St. Louis County called West Lake Landfill. An underground fire—called Subsurface Smoldering Event (SSE)—started on the Bridgeton side of this landfill. The West Lake side contains 47,000 tons of lethal, cancer-causing radioactive waste. Natural events such as rain, are shifting the waste; and if the SSE hits the waste, it will be a catastrophic event beyond the local community. Residents were not aware of the lethal radioactive waste until a stench wafted into their neighborhoods. Foul aromas infect the air, cancer rates are high.

Cammisa documents the suffering of this community, and the people’s attempts to have the waste fully removed, and/or to have their lives relocated to a healthy environment. They are confronting a careless federal government, but, they are indomitable.

You can help.

Their primary action website is Just Moms STL.

Their two Facebook Pages are Just Moms STL Facebook and West Lake Landfill Facebook.

The film’s sites are:

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Atomic Homefront is an HBO documentary.

It is February 19, 2018, and California is facing another drought year.

National Georgarphic, documentary god Alex Gibney, and director Marina Zenovich have produced an incendiary film about water in California. They tell the story about how the influence of private enterprise became nearly paramount in the development of the state’s water management.

Water & Power starts in Tulare County, a small town called East Porterville which has no drinkable water because there is not enough ground water or aquifers to supply it. The water has gone to agriculture. The story expands to Kern County, a company called Paramount Farms, and its owner, Stewart Resnick.

This story of private enterprise having so much influence in California’s water management policies—to the detriment of its people—is nefarious enough. Trumping that reprehensible ambition is the long-term business strategy of expanding food crop and tree agriculture to its maximum, not just for those profits, but for the long-term rights for access to the massive amount of water associated with the massive amount of land. Water as a commodity rather than a public resource, and the human rights to that resource.

The California story’s end provides cold comfort—structural changes to bring justice to the state’s water management are agreed upon and signed. But, they are not to be fully implemented for 20 years.

The film concludes with the following text:

“Over one million California residents are currently without access to clean, drinkable water. In less than ten years, two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water-stressed conditions. 1.8 billion people could face absolute water scarcity.”

The film’s website provides several ‘extras’ to be viewed directly from its homepage.

Water and Power is distributed by Netflix and YouTube.

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The first 26 minutes of Igor Lopatonok’s Ukraine On Fire offers a brief history of Ukraine, nesting the country’s position as a flash point between East and West. The remainder of the film covers recent headline stories of strife and conflict which includes a bloody civil conflict in 2014, the annexing of Crimea from Ukraine to Russia, civil conflict in eastern Ukraine, and the rocket attack on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

The film’s narrator speaks over images of these conflicts. The violence is interwoven with interviews of key players conducted by executive producer Oliver Stone. Recently deceased Consortium News founder and editor Robert Parry has much to say about the US role in Ukraine.

The information provided by Ukraine On Fire moves at breakneck speed. Viewers are advised to keep a notebook available to note key players and events. Yours truly was overwhelmed by this rapid flow of information. I gleaned the essential struggle, though, between the United States and Russia. That point is burnished with references to the US/Russia Cold War in the latter half of the 20th century as well as information about the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Doomsday Clock’ which moves a symbolic hand closer toward or farther away from a ‘midnight’ that indicates global catastrophe. The film’s nuance-free final image is of a nuclear explosion. At the moment, we’re 2.5 minutes away from ‘midnight.’

Ukraine On Fire opens with a title sequence featuring a nude dancing woman surrounded by strategically placed images of fire. She represents, of course, Ukraine—if not the world. As her dance continued I felt embarrassed for the filmmakers, knowing that many, if not most, people would consider the nude dancing fire woman both clichéd and gratuitous. The film was released in 2016, and some may forgive the filmmakers who could not know they were producing a tone deaf introduction to a deadly serious film about geopolitics.

Ukraine On Fire is available via Amazon, and iTunes. It is coming soon to, or has arrived at Vimeo, Xbox, Vudu, and Google Play.

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Pictured: Consortium News founder Robert Perry

Through either intention or serendipity, the February 9, 2018 release of Roberta Grossman’s and Sophie Sartain’s Seeing Allred is perfectly timed. The issue of women’s rights is reaching deeper into American culture, media, and the halls of corporate/governmental power. The impact of attorney Gloria Allred’s lifetime of crusading for women’s rights has reached into those heights and depths.

The two filmmakers incorporate a brief outline of Allred’s biography, and focus on her accomplishments. In the film’s 90+ minutes we see and hear our heroine present at critical points in the nation’s cultural and political history. Allred’s highly public advocacy for sexual abuse victims and those who have been deprived of civil rights is complimented by her participation in women’s rights policy-making by legislative bodies, and in public protests.

The film includes interviews with Allred’s daughter, Lisa Bloom; her two partners at Allred, Maroko & Goldberg; and Gloria Steinem.

Via the film’s non-stop stream of media appearances, Allred is utterly fearless as she places herself into the glowing white arc of controversy as her indomitable spirit addresses individuals, governments—and her stock-in-trade, media.

I was thoroughly captivated by Grossman’s and Sartain’s film from beginning to conclusion. The editor(s) deserve(s) major credit in producing this engrossing film. His, her, or their names, however, do not appear in the film’s IMDB record.

Seeing Allred is distributed by Netflix.

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Griffin Dunne’s biographical documentary about his aunt Joan is a bolt of lightning that pierces the heart, gut, and soul. That is how I felt at film’s conclusion as I sat stunned reflecting on the personal challenges and losses prolific writer Joan Didion faced with grace, dignity, and inspiration to write for us her experiences and learning.

In Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold Dunne interviews the living legend, and gathers those close to her to provide stories and perspectives on her character, work, and life.

The film’s primary foci are Didion’s writings and her family—husband John Gregory Dunne and daughter Quintana Roo Dunne. John died in 2003, and Quintana in 2005.

The film’s subtitle refers to Didion’s early life experiences. This was at a period of time when she felt “paralyzed by the conviction that writing was an irrelevant act, that the world as I had understood it no longer existed. It was the first time when I had dealt directly and flatly with the evidence of atomization—the proof that things fall apart. If I was to work again at all, it would be necessary for me to come to terms with disorder.”

I immediately thought of the concept of entropy—lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder. I also thought of the Hindu triumvirate of gods: Brahma, creation; Vishnu, preservation; and Shiva, destruction. Didion was addressing Shiva. Obviously, Joan Didion did deal directly with the fall into disorder as evidenced by her cornucopia of magazine articles, essays, books, produced film scripts, and her play, ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ based upon her book of the same name. The play was produced by Scott Rudin, directed by David Hare, and performed as a one-woman show by Venessa Redgrave.

Yet, we have the subtitle ‘the center will not hold.’ The meaning and implication of those words are up for conjecture. It seems that Didion’s center held throughout her life. Perhaps it is the world’s the title references.

Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold engages the viewer from its first moments to the credits. Kudos to Dunne, and, especially, editor Ann Collins.

The film is distributed by Netflix.

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Beyond Iconic is Hanna Sawka’s introduction to the work and thought of Dennis Stock, a photographer who, by the way, opines that the word, ‘iconic,’ is overused.

Sawka provides an outline of Stock’s biography, and focuses on his work and teaching. We see Stock teaching various classes and speaking on-camera. Through it all he reflects on his work, life, and American culture.

Choreographed by a twist of fate, Stock became close friends with legendary actor James Dean. The two spent a considerable amount of time together providing the photographer with countless opportunities to shoot Dean. Sawka presents many of Stock’s photographs of Dean in a variety of contexts.

‘Zen’ is how I describe Stock’s approach to photography. That’s my fallback conclusion being that I was confounded as to how to summarize his approach. He shot in black-and-white for most of his career, and did not hesitate to disparage Photoshop when given the opportunity.

Stock is a co-founder of the photographers cooperative Magnum Photos, and, in addition to this film, you can find much of his work here. The relationship between Dean and Stock was covered in a narrative film entitled Life starring Robert Pattinson. One Magnum photographer expressed his opinion that the movie mischaracterizes their relationship as adversarial, that the two had a collegial friendship. Having seen Beyond Iconic I suspect that photographer’s opinion is accurate.

Stock was a jazz aficionado, and Sawka’s inclusion of original jazz tunes by composers John Menegon and Teri Roiger provides a fitting backdrop to the photographer’s work and world.

Beyond Iconic is distributed by Emphasis Entertainment Group.

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City of Ghosts covers a group of citizen journalists from the now-infamous Syrian town of Raqqa who cover the takeover of their region by ISIS aggressors. The dozen or so men call themselves Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS). Veteran filmmaker Matthew Heineman follows the group and their activities from the horrors of ISIS in their home town, to their attempted refuge in Turkey and Germany. The group’s founding father, Naji al Jerf, was assassinated in Gaziantep, Turkey. ISIS tortured and killed some Raqqa-based RBSS members and their close relatives.

Working from safe houses in Turkey, Germany, and within Raqqa, RBSS continued to provide images and stories to international media—despite ISIS’s efforts to completely isolate the people of Raqqa, people who also struggled against the oppression of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

At film’s beginning Heineman paints a picture of Raqqa as a joyful community seeking freedom, justice, and safety. At film’s conclusion Raqqa is the giant pile of rubble and debris that is now seen in moving and still images shared around the world.

The members of RBSS won the International Press Freedom Award in 2015, from the Committee to Protect Journalists, as well as The Civil Courage Prize from The Train Foundation. Their work continues.

Heineman won the 2017 Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentaries. As of this writing, the film is a leading contender for the Academy Award’s Best Documentary Feature.

City of Ghosts is distributed in the United States by Amazon Studios.

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Produced in France, directed by Marie-Ange Poyet, and distributed by Burbank’s Cinema Libre Studio, Injecting Aluminum provides viewers with all the information needed to chose not to have themselves and their children inoculated with vaccines containing aluminum.

Poyet interviews authorities and experts who provide this crucial information—as well as people who have become seriously ill after receiving a vaccine containing aluminum. She takes an unconventional approach to identifying her interviewees. Instead of the usual name flashing on the screen when each interviewee first speaks, there is a list of the interviewee’s names at film’s conclusion. Much more helpful is the distributor’s webpage which contains information about the interviewees.

I’ve been hearing about aluminum and brain damage for most of my adult life. The fundamental message of this film is that much more research needs to be done regarding aluminum’s impact on biological systems. And, of course, while waiting for the results, err on the side of caution—don’t inject aluminum.

For objective information about vaccines, go to The National Vaccine Information Center. For a list the specific ingredients of particular vaccines, go to Vaccine Ingredients Calculator.

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Pictured: Didier Lambert

Around the world six girls a minute suffer the horrors of female genital mutilation (FGM).

Eve’s Apple reveals the depth of this global horror, and highlights initiatives to stop it. The film features interviews with those who have suffered this brutal, lethal insult to women’s bodies and minds, and activists devoted to ending the practice.

One of the film’s interviewees appears at the very beginning. Through her interview peppered throughout the film, she tells an epic personal story of tragedy and triumph.

Although I have been aware of FGM, I was disturbed with both the statistics regarding its use as well as the details of the procedure. FGM is performed in unhygienic circumstances, with unhygienic instruments, by people without medical knowledge or skills. Its context includes arranged marriages for the young girls with older men. In addition to its tragic impacts on the bodies and lives of millions of girls around the world, FGM kills some of its victims. If not killed by the procedure, women die in childbirth because of the damage done by the procedure.

Eve’s Apple is directed by Jose Manuel Cólon Armario, a Spanish production, distributed in Spain by Genial Media, and available on Netflix.

I found only one website directly related to the movie. It is in the Spanish language. Here is the URL: La manzana de Eva.  You may find the film’s IMDB page under the title ‘La manzana de Eva.’

On a personal note, I became quite unhappy when I learned about the adverse effects of MGM, and have had my share of self-pity in response to being one of its victims. However, for the guys reading this, FGM and its impacts are much, much more damaging. We are the ones who most need to see this film.

(For us guys, there is The National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers.)

Barry Avrich and Jonas Prince have created the most concise feature documentary about the current art world possible. In Blurred Lines they interview critics, players, observers, and, of course, artists all providing a myriad of perspectives, experiences, and opinions. Flashing in the background are the expected myriad images of the tokens traded within this world. All done with excellent filmmaking craft.

The two filmmakers have structured their film in several sections called ‘Lots’—for instance Market, Galleries, Auctions, Art Fairs, etc. After seeing and hearing all these Lots—that is, the entire film—the non-art-world viewer will likely be overwhelmed at the complexity, scale, and richness of this multidimensional world of images, ideas, and money.

Speaking of images, they fly by fast, many are sensational. I whole-heartedly encourage viewers to keep their fingers on the pause button. Or, for wealthier viewers, be prepared to shout out ‘Pause!’ at any moment to your voice-controlled device. For even wealthier viewers, you can, of course, simply control your device with your thoughts.

Blurred Lines is distributed by Netflix, iTunes, and probably other sources.