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

 

For documentary fans, comparisons of Fran Strine’s Hired Gun and Morgan Neville’s ‘Twenty Feet from Stardom’ are inevitable.

‘Twenty Feet’ covers female back-up vocalists in the studio and on tour. ‘Gun’ covers—with one exception—male musicians called ‘side men’ or ‘session men’ in the studio and on tour. (One female player, Eva Gardner, appears in the film.)

The two differences between the films are: ‘Twenty Feet’ achieved a substantial amount of publicity, and ‘Gun,’ not so much. Secondly, the musical genres covered in ‘Twenty Feet’ are R&B and rock, while the genre most covered in ‘Gun’ is heavy metal—with a soupçon of pop.

Caveat: Yours truly turned to progressive rock in the 1970s, while metal began its rapid growth in the same decade, sparked by Iron Butterfly’s ‘In the Garden of Eden.’ Aside from making myself listen to samples of contemporary metal music—just so I can say I’ve done so—I have no relationship to that world. Well…, I did go wild over The Cult’s ‘Edie.’ But, please don’t tell anyone—and, anyway, the song is likely considered a metal antique.

Hired Gun features interviews of the ‘best of the best’ players as they speak of their lives as side men to superstar singers and super groups. Billy Joel appears in archival interviews, Pink appears in interview, and Alice Cooper was interviewed for the film. Other than those stars, the film features several players—guitarists, drummers, and singers speaking of their trials and triumphs.

There is plenty of music.

Despite my unfamiliarity with, and lack of appreciation for metal, I was as thoroughly engaged with and gratified by ‘Gun’ as I was by ‘Twenty Feet.’ The reason being is that filmmaker Strine has, with great aplomb, revealed fascinating characters, relationships, and many human stories—tragic and joyous.

Hired Gun is Strine’s second documentary feature as director. His first was ‘Dolly: Live in London O2 Arena’—a one-hour film of the singer’s performance. I very much look forward to Strine’s next film, and will see about finding that ‘Dolly’ film.

To expand my musical horizon, I have added Five Finger Death Punch to my long list of Pandora channels.

Hired Gun is available on Netflix.

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(Pictured: Eva Gardner)

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(Pictured: Eva Gardner)

Frank Rudolph Olson died on November 28, 1953, when he fell from the 13th floor of Manhattan’s Hotel Statler. Olson was survived by his wife and three children. Legendary documentarian Errol Morris tells Olson’s tragic story in his six-part, four-hour Netflix film, Wormwood.

Wormwood is two films in one: A narrative about Olson’s participation in the infamous CIA/US Army program known as Project MKUltra, with Peter Sarsgaard in the lead role; and a documentary about the circumstances leading up to, and subsequent to Olson’s untimely death. The central character in the documentary is Olson’s son Eric who spent most of his life researching his father’s untimely passing. The two films are masterfully woven together to tell the story of Frank Olson’s death, of his son’s attempts to determine why and how his father died, and to hold the perpetrators accountable.

For those unfamiliar with MKUltra, it was a program that included dosing subjects with various drugs. While working for this program, Olson was surreptitiously given a dose of LSD. He became increasingly disturbed in the days after. Rather than help him or his family seek private help, Olson’s co-workers took care of him in those last days, keeping him away from his family. In an unbalanced state, he was a security risk. During this time Olson, accompanied by co-workers, was checked into a room at the Statler which had a policy that unbalanced individuals be checked into the lowest floor—this time, unenforced. It is likely the hotel was not informed.

Wormwood is a herculean effort which highlights a federal government out of control, not accountable for its destructive acts of commission and omission. The film’s conclusion regarding the tragic demise of Frank Rudolph Olson is equally murky and clear.

Editor Steven Hathaway deserves kudos for editing two different films into one jaw-dropping, eye-opening story.

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Produced and directed by Academy Award winner Simon Kirk, The Pulitzer at 100 celebrates The Pulitzer Prizes on the occasion of the hundredth year since its founding by Joseph J. Pulitzer.

The film features three brilliantly interwoven layers: Writers speaking of their work, the Pulitzer awards, and the power of the written word; celebrities reading excerpts of award winners’ works; and an outline of Pulitzer’s professional biography. Having been introduced to him by this documentary film, I would love to see an elegantly produced film or mini-series about Joseph Pulitzer.

The Pulitzer at 100 is thoroughly engaging, ceaselessly thought provoking, and deserves a wide audience. Kirk’s film honors Pulitzer, the Pulitzer Prizes he inaugurated, and, most significantly, writers of many genres.

The Pulitzer at 100 is produced by Simon + Film, and distributed by First Run Features.

(Pictured: Simon Kirk)

Beginning in the early 1970s, prolific, well-lauded filmmaker Jon Alpert frequented Cuba with one of the earliest versions of a small, professional video camera/recorder. His focus was on the people—and Fidel. For forty-five years, Alpert was given seemingly unfettered access to Castro. The socialist dictator and the American media producer became fast friends.

Alpert also became friends with several salt-of-the-earth Cubans. With each journey south from New York he would visit—or, at least attempt to find—his group of friends.

Alpert and company wove this massive amount of footage into a two-hour documentary diary of the filmmaker and the country. The richness and charm of Alpert’s film are found in the eyes, voices, and stories of the many Cubans the filmmaker befriended—including Fidel.

Cuba and the Cameraman is distributed exclusively by Netflix.

Ceyda Torun’s Kedi explores the world of feral cats in Istanbul. According to one Istanbulian, Norwegian ships inadvertently deposited the felines there many years ago. There are now hundreds of thousands of cats roaming the metropolis.

Torun’s focus is on the relationship between Istanbul’s cats and homo sapiens. The filmmaker follows several Istanbulians as they speak about and relate with their kedis who are free to roam about, yet faithful to their chosen human. It is the cat who adopts—if not rescues—the human.

One gentleman is very clear that it was one particular cat who rescued and healed him from his 2002 nervous breakdown. He has been devoted to caring for several groups of cats since. Some neighborhoods keep a community-based running tab at the vet, as well as public boxes for anonymous contributions—all to cover the costs of feline health care.

Torun also provides drones-eye views of Istanbul. It’s no surprise that development in the city is reducing the beloved cat population’s access to feral-friendly land. Barring a massive calamity, though, the passionate love the people of Istanbul have for their felines will protect their loved ones in perpetuity.

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Under the aegis of the Republican-threatened National Endowment for the Arts lives the National Heritage Fellowship—founded in 1982 by Bess Lomax Hawes.

The Fellowship conducts a national awards program that honors ‘our nation’s master folk and traditional artists with the National Heritage Fellowship Award.’ The honors are formally presented at an annual awards ceremony and concert. You may see and hear the latest ceremony here.

In turn, filmmakers Alan Govenar and Jason Johnson-Spinos honor the Fellowship with their richly produced Extraordinary Ordinary People. The two, of course, are honoring the artists, performers, and craftspeople. The number and variety of artists profiled in the film is overwhelming—that’s a good thing. The film and its website provide the uninitiated, such as your truly, all the images, music, and information necessary to follow up on any style, genre, or craft that tickles the fancy.

As of December 2017, the film is still playing in theaters. Stay in touch with the website, of course, to learn about theatrical screenings and the eventual home video release.

Extraordinary Ordinary People is a First Run Features release.

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Pictured: Sheila Kay Adams

Nothing Is Forgiven tells the story of Zineb El Rhazoui, a Moroccan journalist/activist who immigrated to France to escape her country’s oppressive regime. El Rhazoui found Charlie Hebdo, the Paris-based satirical weekly that was attacked on January 7, 2015. Twelve people were killed, 11 were injured—most were El Rhazoui’s colleagues.

Through interview El Rhazoui tells her daunting story, and expresses her deeply-held convictions. As a well-known survivor she became ‘France’s most protected woman.’ In a very short hour, we are deeply impressed with the courage El Rhazoui embodies, her passion for peace, her agony for its lack, and bewilderment at securing said peace.

Nothing Is Forgiven is distributed in the United States and Canada by Icarus Films. The DVD and/or stream is not yet available for consumer purchase, but is available for institutional screenings. I suggest you check in with the film’s website from time-to-time for expanded availability.

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Cameraperson is a unique documentary film consisting of clips from superstar documentary cinematographer Kirsten Johnson’s 25 years of work. The multilayered film is carefully crafted, and functions as travelogue, memoir, and philosophical statement on the relationship between filmmaker and subject.

The film takes the viewer around the world, and balances the mundane with the intimate and horrific—the inevitable experiences of a talented and prolific documentarian. Cameraperson deserves the attention and countless lauds it has received. Its images and subjects are unforgettable.

The film is available as a two-disc box set with a booklet which features an essay, ‘Getting Close’ by Michael Almereyda.

 

 

 

Disc two contains these special features:

• Editing “Cameraperson”
• In the Service of the Film
• Festival Talks
• “The Above”—a short documentary film by Johnson

I highly recommend seeing Cameraperson in this two-disc format.

Johnson’s career is far from over. Check out her IMDB profile.

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Maggie Hadleigh-West’s Sick to Death! is a highly personal film which tells several health-related stories—her own struggles with thyroid disease, and those of the film’s interviewees. The film provides crucial information about conventional medicine’s seemingly willful ignorance of how to accurately diagnose and successfully treat thyroid dysfunction. It is on this basis alone that I highly recommend this film.

However, Hadleigh-West’s thyroid focus serves as a springboard to get to the inevitable source of conventional medicine’s thyroid negligence—our greed-based medical system which keeps costs astronomical, stifles medical practitioners from utilizing non-allopathic treatments, and makes the United States last among 11 developed nations in quality of healthcare, and first in terms of healthcare costs.

The film’s website provides resources for viewers who wish to follow up on the crucial information Hadleigh-West provides.

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(Pictured: Maggie Hadleigh-West)

“I love dance. I’m putting my heart on stage. My soul is dancing. It’s not just me. It is like I am living a dream.” Carlos Hopuy, a dancer and a Trock.

Americans’ perspectives on gender identity and sexual behavior are going through a dizzying expansion. Having seen Bobbi Jo Hart’s Rebels on Pointe it is obvious that the more than 4 decades of the ballet company called Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo is one of many forces which has nurtured that opening of minds and hearts.

For the uninitiated, the ‘Trockadero’ is a ballet company which features male dancers in drag—dressed, wigged, and made up as ballerinas. Their performances merge ballet with physical comedy, and their appeal is universal.

Hart introduces the troupe, spends time with a few of the dancers, hears from dance critics, company staff, and offers plenty of performances in her ninety minute documentary.

Trockadero artistic director and former company dancer Tory Dobrin appears frequently throughout the film providing a sense of the company’s history. Dobrin affirmed the sense of Trockadero’s social impact I was picking up when he commented, “In our own way, we’ve exposed millions of people to a gay sensibility. And, we did it with a lot of talent and a lot of good cheer. We have definitely made contributions to opening up society to things that are a little bit different than the straight and narrow.”

I found the film’s heart in hearing from the featured dancers (also known as ‘Trocks’) as they speak of the impact the Trockadero has had on their lives and families—and, much to my amazement—as they apply their own elaborate makeup.

Rebels on Pointe tells the story of a unique ballet company, and also a story about the changing of our world. The film is distributed by Icarus Films.

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When viewing documentary films on a regular basis, one must include whimsy and lightness—for one’s mental and spiritual health.

When I discovered Sara Taksler’s and Naomi Greenfield’s TWISTED: A Balloonamentary I took my own advice and consumed it immediately.

Although the film’s topic is whimsical, the countless people around the world who twist balloons to create various and sundry objet d’art for fun and profit are as passionate about their work as they are fascinating—with a soupçon of bewildering.

The film’s stage is the profession’s most prestigious convention called Twist and Shout—one of many such conventions peppered around the Earth. Taksler and Greenfield feature a handful of twisters who share their passions and stories. I noted one twister who makes Christian-related pieces contrasted with another who features adult-oriented balloon art.

The film features people who:

• Twist

• Teach twisting, teach how to teach twisting to twisters and non-twisters, and/or teach how to make a living twisting

• Publish books and related material

• Design and market balloon twisting kits

(I know. The secret is out. The Universe is made of balloons.)

Presiding over all is a ‘Balloon God’ by the name of Marvin L. Hardy who waxes poetic when he recites:

Yes, tis just a tube of latex filled with air, 
yet filled with every possibility,
It has no limit but man’s imagination,
It can become whatever the mind can see.

The countless pieces of balloon art seen in the film fully endorse Mr. Hardy’s verse.

TWISTED is pure fun and fascination—yet, BTW, is not without serious drama. If I was a Hollywood mogul I would greenlight a Christopher Guest-style movie set in this twisted world.

You can find TWISTED here—on the right side of the screen.

Doug Nichol’s California Typewriter has been covered by Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Hollywood Reporter—amongst many other publications. The film deserves this adulation. It is a masterpiece.

Nichol has taken an obscure topic, brought it to life, and told many stories along the way.

The film’s subjects surround a central one: A typewriter supplies, repair, and sales shop in Berkeley, California, called, of course, California Typewriter—one of the very few such shops in existence in the United States, owned and managed by Herbert L. Permillion, III. Around this focus is a cast of characters each of whom is in a passionate relationship with typewriters. They wax philosophical about the typewriter—its history, its virtues, and the meanings of the machine’s apparent obsolescence.

Here is a sample of what you may see and hear:

Tom Hanks who, if this acting thing doesn’t work out, can easily be a highly successful typewriter salesman. He’s already entered the profession in co-creating the Hanx Writer.

Jeremy Mayer makes sculptures from typewriter parts. He and Permillion roam flea markets in quest of typewriters. They support each other in securing the right typewriter at the right price.

The late Sam Shepard speaks of his exclusive use of typewriters in writing his stories.

Silvi Alcivar is The Poetry Store. Customers bring topics to her, and she types out instant poems. Silvi is able to create them only with her typewriter.

The Boston Typewriter Orchestra emulates The Who’s Pete Townsend by, on occasion, including the destruction of a typewriter on stage. I truly hope the band and the typewriter sculptor get together.

California Typewriter is a delightful experience.

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Preface: It is a filmmaker’s dream. Having your film pulled from the internationally-renown Tribeca Film Festival. I am not being sarcastic.

The censor’s demand gave Vaxxed countless thousands of dollars of complimentary publicity, and now countless more people have seen Vaxxed who may not have even heard of it.

I have never felt more like Alice-through-the-looking-glass than I have in witnessing our stilted, manipulated, moronic national dialog about vaccinations. Otherwise intelligent people have inoculated their brains from the horrors of logic and common sense.

If one is uncritically pro-vaccine or if one is uncritically anti-vaccine, one is ignoring science. To be fully ‘pro-‘ or ‘anti-‘ implies one believes all vaccines are equal in safety and effectiveness. To believe so is to deny both science and common sense. Given the raw fact-of-life that not all vaccines are equal in safety and effectiveness, it is incumbent on those who chose to vaccinate themselves and their charges to make informed decisions on what vaccinations are to be received, how many vaccines per injection, and the schedule of these injections. Who takes the time to do this?

Instead, growing numbers of states have enacted requirements that students be vaccinated. Growing numbers of parents are removing their children from public schools. Other sorts of shenanigans are occurring that deprive parents of the right to chose which vaccines, if any, their children are to receive.

I am not anti-vaccine. I’m grateful for the polio vaccine I received. There are legitimate concerns regarding the use of vaccines in the United States. This film documents some of those concerns.

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Produced by Emmy award winner Del Matthew Bigtree and Andrew Wakefield, and directed by Wakefield. Vaxxed reveals incriminating evidence of malfeasance in the research, development, regulation and marketing of vaccines. The most damning is the information about the manipulation of research methods and data.

The information in Vaxxed is stunning. The passion generated motivates the viewer to urge others to see this film—as I so do—or inspires the threatened viewer to squelch the film as much as possible. Hence, the removal of “Vaxxed” from this year’s prestigious (and now infamous) Tribeca Film Festival, as well as the removal of Lance Simmens’s favorable review of the film from The Huffington Post. Since the film’s release it has met the censor’s blade a few more times. I confess to befuddlement because one would think that in today’s world widespread coverage of the censor’s attempts would defeat the purpose of the act of censorship.

I have pondered about these attempts to censor Vaxxed because although there are other cautionary documentaries about vaccines, I have never seen this kind of adverse reaction. I speculate that the difference in this film is that it names names, as well as reveals specific acts of commission and omission.

Vaxxed is expertly produced. It is not an anti-vaccine film. Instead, it points out massive flaws in our use of this medical technology. It also provides solutions.

For those who wish to empower and care for themselves and their dear ones, you may find information about making personal decision about vaccines by consulting the National Vaccine Information Center. If you want to take political action, that is even more reason for you to see this film and its website.

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(Pictured: Producer Del Bigtree courtesy of “Vaxxed.”)

“It’s a real practice-killer.” Roy Seidenberg, MD, on the impact of John Sarno’s book, Healing Back Pain

Produced by David Beilinson, Michael Galinsky, and Suki Hawley, All The Rage shares crucial information about Dr. John Sarno’s approach to treating back pain, and tells the story of filmmaker Galinsky’s healing from back pain and the making of this documentary.

Sarno discovered the mind-body connection early in his medical career, and distilled it to a simple yet challenging idea: Most back pain is caused by emotional trauma. Heal the trauma, heal the back. Over his career countless numbers of people have been spared the risks of surgery and medications (one risk of which is addiction) and, instead, have been relieved of back pain by focusing on their feelings. Sarno’s Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection has sold more than a million copies and been translated into many languages.

Galinsky and company’s interviews include those of Tom Harkin, Howard Stern, John Stossel, Larry David, and Andrew Weil. Many grateful patients also appear. The combination of Sarno’s thoughts together with the experiences of these patients provide a compelling argument for self-examination the moment pain emerges—or, better yet, to do so as a preventative.

Dr. Seidenberg also makes a convincing case. Sarno’s approach is reducing his clientele—but he’s grateful, of course, for the opportunity to make a difference in his patients’ lives.

Our host and narrator, Galinsky is also a subject of the film—one of the many patients who suffered from intense pain. We follow him through years of suffering. His healing is an emotional demonstration of the power of Sarno’s thinking and approach.

I prescribe All The Rage for all those suffering from back pain and for those who do not want to get back pain.

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All The Rage plays San Francisco’s 4 Star Theater for one week starting November 3.

(Photo of John Sarno courtesy of ‘All The Rage’)

“I want the right of life, of the leopard at the spring, of the seed splitting open—I want the right of the first man.” Nazim Hikmet, Turkish Poet, (1902-1963)

Ai Weiwei’s Human Flow is as challenging to view as it is imperative to view. In two hours, the legendary artist/activist/filmmaker takes viewers to the Middle East, Afghanistan, Europe, Africa, and the United States. We see heart-breaking images, hear heart-breaking stories of migrants, and the horrors these 65.6 million face every day—many for decades, for whole lives, for generations.

Weiwei peppers this epic film with quotations and poems, as well as activists sharing their experience and perspectives. The cinematic craft—vision, sound, and music—is standard-bearing, awe-inspiring.

Human Flow is utterly stunning. I will be shocked if it does not win the Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary.

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(Photo courtesy of ‘Human Flow’)

Back in the old days, when Jon Stewart was hosting ‘The Daily Show,’ he had a guest on named Bassem Youssef who was introduced as ‘Egypt’s Jon Stewart.’ Even with my cursory—to be generous to yours truly—knowledge of Middle East politics, religion, and culture, I had a bad feeling about this.

It’s about authoritarian leadership. Like diarrhea and smart-phone addiction, us humans are vulnerable to this ilk of leadership. Back in the Jurassic period, Erich Seligmann Fromm wrote about it in the tragically ignored Escape From Freedom.

Fast forward to the 21th century. Sara Taksler made a movie about Youssef’s Egyptian show he entitled ‘The Show.’ She tells two stories in her film, Tickling Giants. The first is about Youssef who was so inspired by Jon Stewart’s brand of political satire that he left his surgical practice and emulated ‘The Daily Show’ for the people of his homeland.

The other story Taksler covers is that of Egypt’s recent political history focusing on the country’s dalliance with freedom of speech. The brief affair’s inevitable end led to Youssef and family’s departure from Egypt, and immigration to the United States.

Tickling Giants is well produced and thoroughly engaging. Those two cinematic virtues are not the only reasons to make sure you see the film. Us people of the United States of America are emulating Egypt’s struggle with this quaint idea of freedom of expression.

Tickling Giants is available directly from the film’s website here, or on iTunes, etc.

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“I listen to the world, and to me song is life. It is the essence of who we are. And, it joins us all.”

Christopher W. Clark, Ph.D.
Johnson Senior Scientist, Bioacoustics Research Program, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology

Directed by Michelle Dougherty and Daniel Hinerfeld, and narrated by Rachel McAdams, Sonic Sea calls for much more awareness of, and constructive responses to our damaging of marine life via the many sounds of industry and military operations piercing our oceans. In one hour us viewers are educated about us humans’ lethal practices and how we can alter them to reduce the carnage.

Fifteen authorities and activists describe their work and findings, and articulate what can be done now to make improvements. Whether we will do so is an open question. In any case, the purpose of this film is, of course, to be another catalyst for constructive initiatives on our part for our oceans and its magnificent creatures. Sylvia Earle, a superstar of pelagic activism, and Sting, a superstar, are among the interviewees.

Sonic Sea is available from the film’s website.

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From filmmaker Daniel Hinerfeld: “I’m thrilled to tell you that Sonic Sea just won Emmy awards for Outstanding Nature Documentary and Outstanding Music and Sound.”

October 15, 2017

(Illustration of global shipping routes courtesy of Imaginary Forces and NRDC)

I write this review particularly for those who never heard of The Grateful Dead, never heard their music, and/or have preconceived notions and permanently installed negative attitudes toward the band.

I certainly did. I was a progressive rock snob. It took a massive amount of peer pressure and a measure of life experience to see the band, to listen to their songs, to appreciate the immeasurable contribution this phenomenon has made to our world.

Amazon’s Long Strange Trip is, on the surface, about The Grateful Dead. The film is well-funded, artfully crafted, and takes the viewer on a 3 hour and 58 minute outline of the band’s history.

Note the film’s title. It does not contain the band’s name. The film is more about Jerry Garcia, a tragically wounded folk hero, than it is about the band. (The above subtitle is yours truly’s.) To tell the story of the Dead would take many more hours. Better to read books about the band, especially “A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of The Grateful Dead” by Dennis McNally who appears frequently throughout the film.

Although I found myself entertained and fascinated by all the music of, and information about the band, it was Garcia’s story that touched my heart. Wounded by multiple childhood tragedies, and seemingly trapped by the behemoth called ‘The Grateful Dead,’ Garcia could not escape his demons, and we could not escape the deep pain of his untimely passing. Garcia was the heart of the Dead, as he is the heart of this film.

This clarification about the film’s subject is not a disparagement of this epic documentary. Long Strange Trip has great power—it can change minds and hearts. As testimony to such I offer a quote from Owen Gleiberman’s March 17, 2017 “Variety” magazine review: “…the ultimate recommendation I can give the movie is this: I’m one of those people who can’t stand the Grateful Dead… yet I found “Long Strange Trip” enthralling. For the first time, it made me see, and feel, and understand the slovenly glory of what they were up to, even if my ears still process their music as monotonous roots-rock wallpaper.”

The band members and many other interviewees struggle to define the band’s music. Early on in the film’s first ‘Act’ McNally shares a particularly succinct view of their music and its impact:

“It’s a real challenge, if you’re not already a deadhead, to love The Grateful Dead. Because there’s so much distraction. But, if you ignore the rabid fans, and ignore the entire lack of all the expected elements of American entertainment, then you will find there’s a richness that fills your soul.

“The Grateful Dead explored freedom, and they were the cutting edge of a phenomenal re-examination of American values. For me, The Grateful Dead were the most American of all bands because each musician that started that band came from a completely different place musically, and they somehow managed to make it work.

“You got a bluegrass banjo player, you got a blues harmonica player, you got a folky guitarist, R&B drummer, you got a (sic) avant-garde classical composer picking up the bass, and not long after that, a marching band drummer. And, oh, by the way, a genius lyricist who created, in his lyrics, a non-literal hyper-Americana.

“And you take all these streams, and you dissolve egos with acid [LSD], and you stir vigorously. That’s Grateful Dead music.”

Long Strange Trip is currently streaming via Amazon Prime. As of this writing I was unable to find if it is or will be available on disc.

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(Photo of Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia courtesy of Amazon Prime Video)

HAPPENING is James Redford’s most personal film, and I mean that literally. The veteran filmmaker hosts and narrates his journeys across America, and includes his daughter and wife in the story.

Redford is making a point. Renewable energy is happening—rapidly.

He visits a variety of clean energy sources—from the very small to the enormous—speaking with their representatives, learning about the current state-of-the-art in providing renewable energy to the world. There are two over-arching forces of change at work: The need to reduce pollution and global warming, and the positive economic impacts of renewable energies.

The film’s highest drama is in Las Vegas, Nevada, where a very large group of citizens petition the state’s decision to end financial incentives to install solar panels for homes and businesses. Redford and future American President Mark Ruffalo present at this standing-room-only meeting. Countless other petitioners are in front of the building.

The petitioners’ arguments to reverse this damaging decision are incontrovertible. Yet, said arguments fall on deaf ears and cannot sway the pre-purchased ‘no’ votes of the three public utilities board members who are not there in person, but with seemingly dead faces, appear only on a large video screen. The promising, nascent solar power industry is virtually killed. That, however, is not the end of the story.

I am grateful for, and have learned from each and every film Redford has shared—and this one is no exception.

HAPPENING is an HBO documentary film.

(Pictured: James Redford, courtesy of ‘HAPPENING’)

Nansy was suffering from the deleterious effects of multiple sclerosis, she found the off-label drug Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN), and experienced a dramatic reduction of symptoms. Her doctors were skeptical: the result didn’t fit in with their world view of expensive, high-side-effect-laden treatments. This is one story from ‘Norwegian LDN Documentary.’

This YouTube documentary is an episode of the Norwegian television program “Vårt lille land” (“Our Small Country”). English subtitles are included. In a very short 22 minutes the film covers a lot of territory. We get an outline of the drug’s history, its use in treating autoimmune disorders, the struggles patients experience securing a prescription for it—and the life-changing help LDN provides.

LDN is a global people’s movement. There are websites, Facebook groups, books, and videos—and even an internet radio program—devoted to the drug and its value. This brief documentary is a perfect introduction. You may find more information about LDN via LDNinfo.org and LDNResearchTrust.org

Here’s the film’s link

Note: Author Julia Schopick and I met on Facebook. She shared her book, Honest Medicine, with me. In it I discovered Low Dose Naltrexone. Julia and I are working on a book devoted exclusively to LDN.

(Pictured: Dr. Edmond O’Flaherty, MICGP)

Written, produced and directed by Kelly Noonan Gores, HEAL takes the viewer on a journey through the natural healing and health world. At least 17 practitioners and experts are interviewed speaking of the many ways outside of conventional medicine that people are finding healing and wellness. Gores also interviews several patients who have experienced dramatic recoveries through these methods.

In addition to being a journalist, yours truly wrote a doctoral dissertation for the California Institute of Integral Studies on non-medical healing. HEAL is the finest, most inspirational cinematic introduction to this world of healing I have experienced to date. The film is well crafted, covers a lot of territory, and provides hope to many.

When it comes to holistic health I have two major concerns. The first has to do with the challenge of securing the most effective help. There are now many sources of substances, processes, methods, and procedures available. When it comes to making a decision as to what methods to utilize I’ve come to the conclusion that the practitioner’s skill and compassion is more important than the particular method. This puts the onus on the individual and/or their helpers in choosing the most appropriate method(s) and the most able practitioner(s)—which brings me to the second concern.

Money. With rare exceptions, natural health treatments are not covered by insurance. Although they may be massively less expensive than the conventional medical treatments for serious diseases, many of these natural treatments can be expensive for those of us in the lower or middle classes.

Kudos to filmmaker Gores for tackling this difficult issue in her film. This is the first time I’ve experienced a leader in the field acknowledging this painful economic challenge. Finding ways to bring suffering patients together with talented practitioners is the next big step in the natural health world. The challenge is especially daunting, of course, since the United States is trapped in a profit-based health care system. It will take a massive cultural shift in values to make quality health care a human right in the United States, and to include natural healing methods in that right.

See the film’s website for information on screenings.

(Pictured: Kelly Noonan Gores /// courtesy of HEAL documentary)

From the film: “It’s counter-intuitive, ironic even, but obits have next to nothing to do with death—and, in fact, absolutely everything to do with the life.”
__________________

Vanessa Gould is one of those documentary filmmakers who is not prolific. I’ve seen all two of her films: “Between the Folds” about origami, and now Obit about the obituary writers of The New York Times. Although those two topics are light years apart, they share the quality, the passion of a master filmmaker.

Appropriately enough, the writers tell the story in Obit. They speak of the history of obituaries, and the challenges of writing a nano-biography—a flawless, instantly engaging 600 to 900 word piece—in a few hours. The goal is to get the piece in the morning edition.

If you are a famous or infamous person, you can reduce your obituary writer’s stress—and, therefore, increase their lifespan—by dying anytime from early evening through early morning. An afternoon passing spells trouble for the writers. Also, don’t die too young, they will not have an ‘advance’ ready for you—a pre-written obituary.

Obviously, obituaries make a tough topic. Gould has met the challenge, she has created a flawless, instantly engaging 93 minute piece.

Obit is distributed by Kino Lorber.

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(Pictured William McDonald, Desk Editor)

Unacknowledged is the second documentary about UFO/alien phenomena produced by Dr. Steven Greer, M.D. It is the most sophisticated, well-crafted film on the topic I have seen to date. The epistemological power of the film lies in its inclusion of politicians, scientists, bureaucrats, and intelligence agents and officials speaking about the phenomena.

The existence of extraterrestrial intelligence is the film’s given, of course. Greer focuses, instead, on the politico-economic issues and dynamics that suppress evidence and provide disinformation—including false flag events the most outrageous of which is a plan to use human reproductions of alien crafts and technology to create a global false flag attack. Greer also explores ‘free energy’—providing information from Nicholas Tesla’s work, as well as references to alien technology already in human hands.

The film concludes with a utopian vision of our planet free from pollution, and a human population with access to virtually free, non-polluting energy sources. Although I value a world free of pollution, and human beings living in a global society based upon political, social and economic justice, Greer’s particular expression of his vision is my nightmare. In his vision human beings could and would continue our over-populatiing of the ecosphere to the detriment of our natural world which has already been and continues to be massively devastated.

My sour note, though, is not intended to discourage the reader from seeing this film. It is inevitable that ‘full disclosure’ of UFO/alien phenomena will occur in our lifetime. In the chance my statement is accurate, I suggest you see Greer’s film.

I also suggest you see Greer’s website of evidence, as well as his site, The Disclosure Project.

Unacknowledged is directed by Michael Mazzola, and distributed by The Orchard. I found the film on Netflix.

As I do for my reviews of documentaries about UFO/alien phenomena I include below a chapter entitled Extraterrestrial Intelligence from my autobiography:

“A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”
Paul Simon

“It is hard to fill a cup that is already full.”
Moat

“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
The Guy Who Wrote Shakespeare’s Plays

It began at grocery store checkout stands. Magazine racks displaying the latest copy of The Inquirer. Occasionally there would be a front page photo of an alien, accompanied by some outrageous headline. After so many exposures to tabloid stories and photos it became obvious aliens have really broken bad. They have an unquenchable anal fetish. Of all the possible things ‘in Heaven and Earth’ they would want from us humans! Probing our butts?!

I paid no attention. The existence of alien life and intelligence could not be proved or disproved. Unless one has a direct experience, it’s just someone’s story or evidence. In our cyber era that idea is more pertinent being that we can create all sorts of evidence. I ignored anything and everything about extraterrestrial intelligence. I was, and still am, struggling to find my own.

Then, a few things happened.

First, the repetition of stories of that ilk from various other sources.

Movie movies—E.T., Close Encounters. A television movie, Roswell, staring Dwight Yoakam, Martin Sheen, Kyle MacLachlan, and Xander Berkeley. I began to take more seriously the metaphor of the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey as a symbol which intimates alien interventions in our evolution—they contributed to our DNA. We have met the aliens, and they are us.

I saw Fire in the Sky, a movie based upon a 1975 experience in Arizona. The experiencer, Travis Walton, had his Fifteen Minutes of Fame by sharing his story in his book of the same name. The controversy surrounding the event was not so much the event itself as it was the taking of lie detector tests by several witnesses. Most of them passed the test two consecutive times. The probability of that result—if the participants were lying—is less than miniscule.

Two students in my graduate program spoke with me of their experiences. I knew both, and found them to be serious, reliable sources of information. These were particularly sobering conversations.

Around 1980, I learned that the then governor of New Mexico had filed an FOI request with the United States government for information related to the 1947 ‘Roswell Incident.’ Anyone could request a complimentary copy of the material subsequently shared by our government with the Governor’s office. I requested, and six months later received a thick 9X12 manila envelope. I went through the dozens or more pages of this report. A large number of the paragraphs were redacted. Why?

I watched Sightings, a television series about metaphysical phenomena including aliens and UFOs which was on the air during the years 1992-1997. Henry Winkler—Fonzie from ‘Happy Days’—was one of the show’s producers. What stood out was the large number of distinguished military and law enforcement officials who shared experiences of UFOs.

I watched three seasons of The History Channel’s series, ‘Ancient Aliens’. These programs included lots of cheesy stories and ideas—but they also featured utterly mystifying evidence that pointed to alien interventions in our past.

In the mid-1980s I met a DJ from a major FM pop station at a party. As we spoke I learned he had been an air traffic controller early in his career. He told a supervisor he saw a UFO, and was told there would be serious repercussions for him if he were to go public with his experience.

I read two books—Abduction and Passport to the Cosmos—by the late John Mack, M.D., a Harvard psychiatrist who found himself treating people suffering from PTSD who vividly recounted alien abductions. Predictably, the Harvard establishment attempted to have Mack kicked out. They failed.

Mack died tragically and ironically while attending a London conference on the after-death state. Taking field research to the extreme, he was hit by a drunk driver.

Crop Circles: Over the decades I’ve heard about circles with simple or elaborate designs appearing—many overnight—on Earth. These are epistemologically challenging phenomena. With our Internet, and especially, Facebook, I have been able to keep up with the appearance of new circles. Perhaps it is a limit of my imagination, but I simply cannot conceive how—with the more elaborate designs—a group of humans can create these designs in the dead of one night. If humans do such, why hasn’t the complete act of creation been video recorded?

Where is the ‘win’ in believing or disbelieving in extraterrestrial intelligence? Your choice is nothing more or less than an aspect of your identity, your character. Some on both sides of the question benefit by advancing their respective positions publicly. Some pay a price for doing so.

If and when there is mass experience of alien intelligence and/or governments of powerful nations acknowledge such intelligence, the identity of our entire species, our world view, will be threatened and altered—to make an understatement. This time period would be called ‘AD’—‘After Disclosure.’ There are those who believe we already live in humanity’s AD.

BTW: It’s utterly obvious to me that they were here before we were.

John Bryant’s Dare to Drum follows the creation of a piece of music entitled Gamelon D’Drum, described as a musical synthesis of pitch, rhythm, and orchestration, performed with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

D’Drum—a group of Texas-based professional percussionists— conceived and produced this project to expose audiences to percussion instruments from around the world. In addition to securing the Dallas Symphony, the group signed on prolific film composer and Police drummer Stewart Copeland for the music.

The film takes viewers to sites around the world, and to the sounds of a cornucopia of exotic percussion instruments many of which were played in the piece. We also experience the birth pangs of a ground-breaking work of art.

Yes, Dare to Drum is about the writing and performing of a musical composition, but on a deeper level it is a revelation of the intense, transcendental passions that drive musicians and composers. In addition to hearing the film’s music and seeing the creative process at work, there is no want for unexpected drama in this story.

The Kino Lorber disc includes the full 30-minute live performance.

Full Disclosure: My license plate is DRMBEAT

(Pictured: D’Drum)

As documentary films go, it doesn’t get more powerful than this. A young woman—healthy, happy, intelligent, talented, Hollywood beautiful, married to a loving man, living an adventurous, exciting life—is struck down by a debilitating, apparently incurable disease.

This young woman fights back.

The disease is called myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) or chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Medicine denied or ignored this disease, thus adding immeasurable suffering and loss for its victims and their families. From the film’s website we learn that, “It is estimated that at least 1,000,000 Americans, 250,000 British people, 100,000 Australians, and 400,000 Canadians have ME. An estimated 75-85% of them are women and 80-90% of them are un-diagnosed. (*Estimates vary depending on the diagnostic criteria used.)”

In Unrest, filmmaker Jennifer Brea tells her own story, and that of many others. Medicine’s initial response to this spectrum-based disorder was to flatly deny its existence, blaming its presentation on victims’ psyches. Some doctors still do. The lethal impact of this tragic, misguided belief is a paucity of care and research. Medicine’s denials reveal an arrogant, God-like attitude. “If I can’t diagnose this disease, it doesn’t exist.”

Brea tried almost every possible remedy she could find. Through the miasma of all these treatments and her ongoing symptoms, she survived, fought back, and became a powerful advocate for both patients and those medical professionals who seek funding for research.

Unrest” is a film not to be missed. It is haunting, infuriating, and inspiring. It has already garnered much praise, and will be released in theaters in the fall of 2017.

Coda: I was surprised at one missing piece, a pharmaceutical called Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN), which has been shown to be effective in the treatment of many autoimmune diseases, including ME/CFS. It is by pure serendipity that I learned of LDN. I met author Julia Schopick on Facebook, and soon learned about her book, Honest Medicine which features LDN as one of four low-cost, low-side-effects treatments for serious diseases.

I was immediately struck by information Julia shared about patients’ successes using LDN. The two of us are now partners in writing a book exclusively about LDN. It will contain several LDN success stories, one from a woman with ME/CFS who asserts that, of all the medications and supplements she has taken over the years, only LDN has consistently helped her fatigue and mobility.

Although not yet widely known or recognized by contemporary medicine, LDN’s emergence in the treatment of autoimmune disorders is a people’s movement.

There are nearly twenty Facebook groups devoted to LDN; two are devoted to ME/CFS:

I hope that patients with this debilitating disease will learn about LDN. It doesn’t work for all ME/CFS patients, but then, no single treatment works for everyone suffering from a particular illness. However, many people have experienced excellent results.

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Here are links for the two aforementioned Facebook groups:

LDN/LOW DOSE NALTREXONE ME/CFS MYALGIC ENCEPHALOMYELITIS/CHRONIC FATIGUE   -with over 1,600 members

Low dose Naltrexone (LDN) for Fibromyalgia and (CFS) Fatigue  -with over 8,600 members.

In Sea Gypsies writer/producer/director/cinematographer/editor Nico Edwards takes a ride in the Infinity, a 120 sailing ketch(1.). I write ‘in’ rather than ‘on’ because much of his on-camera narration is done from his room while suffering the effects of motion sickness.

When not ill, Edwards’ cinematography is gorgeous. He captures many moods of the sea and of the ragtag crew on their 8,000 mile voyage from New Zealand to Patagonia—via Antarctica. To make an understatement, Antarctica is the adventurous part.

Infinity is the home of captain Clemens Gabriel who has been sailing the oceans for ten years “on a never-ending voyage of nomadic exploration.” Gabriel has raised four children on the boat. I doubt they all have the same mother. The crew is determined by caprice, and varies from voyage to voyage.

As pelagic documentaries go, Sea Gypsies is a one-off—kinda like watching a drunk guy walk a high wire—and with lots of pretty pictures.

Sea Gypsies is available from First Run Features.

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1. From Google: A ‘ketch’ is a sailing craft with two masts. The distinguishing characteristic of a ketch (ketamina) is that the forward of the two masts (the “mainmast”) is larger than the after mast (the “mizzen”). … In modern usage, the ketch is a fore-and-aft rigged vessel used as a yacht or pleasure craft.

I prefer to go into a movie cold. At the most I will know the title and the genre. As I’ve written before, I value the experience of discovery in reading, hearing, and seeing stories.

I went into Icarus cold.

I was confused when I began watching this Netflix-distributed documentary. Icarus begins with an extended electronic dialogue between Russian scientist Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov and American filmmaker Bryan Fogel. At the time, Rodchenkov was the director of a Moscow-based drug testing lab for athletes. Fogel, a competitive cyclist.

If I understand correctly, Fogel and Rodchenkov were conducting an experiment to see if Fogel could take performance enhancing drugs, become a faster cyclist, yet be able to have a version of his otherwise positive urine test altered negative for the drugs. Rodchenkov was teaching Fogel about the process of faking incriminating urine samples as clean—and he was doing so with excitement and joy.

Their communication was over the Internet and cell phones, and they met in Russia and the U.S. It did not seem like they were attempting to hide the substance of their dialog from any or all parties who would obviously be interested. I did not know where the story was going. I was worried for Rodchenkov, he’s making it easy to be caught. Why is he doing this? What’s this film about? One clue was Rodchenkov’s interest in George Orwell’s “1984”. He reads lines from the book throughout the film.

Ultimately, the story shifts to a life-threatening situation for Rodchenkov—and an incendiary documentary for Fogel. The film’s primary focus is on Russia’s elaborate state-sponsored faking of athletes’ drug tests—and on the world’s reaction to this scam. We see filmmaker Fogel, Rodchenkov, and various allies work to secure verifiable evidence of Russia’s criminal malfeasance, and make that evidence available.

Rodchenkov pays a painful price for speaking truth to power. It seems as if he was set up as the patsy, the fall-guy for Russia’s malfeasance.

Fogel has told a thoroughly engaging and provocative story. It could be made into a Hollywood film, but that film could not be any more stunning than this documentary.

Fairsport

(Pictured: Filmmaker Bryan Fogel)

Patty Greer’s films cover the phenomenon called ‘crop circle.’ I put the phrase in quotes because perfectly formed circles with elaborate designs have been found around the world in media other than agricultural crops.

Greer covers the metaphysical, and films of this ilk tend to be viewed by those who are interested in such—also known as ‘preaching to the converted.’ Skeptics, of course, may watch these films in their quest to delegitimize both the topic and the evidence proffered. The fearful or arrogant will also avoid them.

For yours truly the metaphysical is not ‘meta’—rather it refers to phenomena we do not understand, comprehend, and/or are threatened by. I have reviewed a couple films about UFO/Alien phenomena, and have written a brief autobiographical essay about it which I’m happy to share.

Greer has produced eight feature films about UFO phenomena with a primary focus on the circles. In her latest—Crop Circle Diaries—she tells a more personal, overarching story of her experience. But, she is not the film’s sole subject. Greer also introduces the work of William Levengood and his lab partner Penny Kelly. The information is very metaphysical, of course, and yours truly could not comprehend much of it. However, this information is also provocative and thoroughly intriguing. The viewer, though, can take the information and dig deeper.

Being somewhat simple minded, what is utterly clear to me, though, are the circles. I looked crop circles up in Wikipedia. The authors of the piece bent over backwards to discredit the idea that they are created by metaphysical means. It was a flimsy attempt, at best. Apparently, Shakespeare’s “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy” is nothing more than a bit of meaningless poetry to the authors.

In our digital era one can argue that still and moving images have been created rather than recorded. I find the phenomenon of crop circles to be the most compelling, incontrovertible evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence on our planet. Kudos to Patty Greer for covering the phenomenon so well, and placing it in greater contexts.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for sending two films about two artists who have little in common except for the power and impact of their work.

Marcie Begleiter’s Eva Hesse covers Hesse’s tragically-shortened and previously over-looked life. An abstract artist, Hesse created a large body of work in a very short period of time.

Milton Glaser was born with a drawing implement in his hand, and a brilliant visual aesthetic in his brain-mind. In Wendy Keys’ Milton Glaser: To Inform and Delight Glaser offers a fundamental contrast about art which never occurred to this philistine here. There is art made for someone’s home or museums, and there is art for the public. Taken together, these two films dramatically reveal that contrast.

Glaser is the proverbial legend in his own time. Having seen Keys’ film, that legendary status is well-deserved. A thoroughly charming character, Glaser tells much of his story in the film. The breadth and depth of his design and art work are nothing less than jaw-dropping. You may want to view the film before dinning. There is much talk about food and restaurants, and images of same.

Hesse’s life was one of many tragedies, yet her life and work are triumphant. By film’s end I wanted many more people to know her story. If I was a Hollywood mogul I would immediately green-light a film of her life. In the interim we have this expertly produced documentary.

Both Kino Lorber discs contain ‘Extras.’ In the documentary film world I do not consider ‘Extras’ extra, but, rather, integral parts of the film.

I heartily recommend viewing both films consecutively.

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Photograph of Milton Glaser by Michael Somoroff. Used with permission.

Jeff Orlowski is a master at making films with images that are as exquisitely beautiful as they are horrific. With 2012’s Chasing Ice he covers the melting of glaciers and ice caps, and now with Chasing Coral he covers the global die-off of the sea creatures we call corals.

In Orlowski’s film we learn that without reducing—if not reversing—global warming, the class of animals called coral will disappear in 30 years. This is more than a loss of these creatures, it is the destruction of one of the Earth’s fundamental ecosystems. With the increasing rate of global warming, I would not be surprised to see that 30-year figure sadly reduced.

The film focuses exclusively on the deleterious effects of rising ocean temperatures; but, from watching other documentaries about our oceans I’ve learned that the oceans are also absorbing more carbon dioxide which is acidifying the water. This chemical process is adding to the deaths of coral reefs.

Most of Chasing Coral covers the work of eco-heroes capturing images of this die-off. The cinematic technology is fascinating, the challenges are daunting, but as can be seen, the images are gorgeous, yet the stories they tell disheartening.

But, Orlowski did not put his heart, soul, and filmmaker’s mastery in this film to discourage. He wants us to change, and concludes his film with initiatives to bring more public attention to this loss and ways to stop it. Of course, that’s what I want, too.

So, see this film! It’s distributed by Netflix. Then go to the film’s site and learn how we can be part of the solution. And, if you don’t have Netflix, go directly to the film’s site—you get the picture.

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Photograph courtesy of The Ocean Agency: XL Catlin Seaview…hard Vevers.jpeg from “Chasing Coral” (Exposure Labs)

Note: At the conclusion of this review I have added a personal note regarding my epistemological relationship with the UFO/ET phenomenon. This is the second documentary of this ilk I have covered, The Hidden Hand being the first.
_________________

Once in awhile I begin a documentary film review with displayed text that introduces the film. Here is text that concludes Extraordinary.

“The intention of this film is not to answer questions, but to stimulate new ones. Go forward. Challenge conventional thought. Wonder. And above all else, ask yourself: What if this is all true?”

Extraordinary covers the UFO/ET-filled life of Stan Romanek. The UFO/ET phenomenon is befuddling enough. Romanek’s reported experiences include those of the spiritual, paranormal, or metaphysical kind. That is, this film is even more challenging to our beliefs.

Produced with high production values, Extraordinary allows Romanek to tell his story of daunting experiences, and to share evidence of same. This is a film that those with absolute beliefs of what is not possible will likely avoid. If your approach is not absolute, the boundaries of your understanding of what is possible may very well be expanded. That is, I recommend the watching of this film which is available on disc and via Netflix.

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***

A Personal Note

“A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” Paul Simon

“It is hard to fill a cup that is already full.” Moat

“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” The Guy Who Wrote Shakespeare’s Plays
__________________

It began at grocery store checkout stands. Magazine racks displaying the latest copy of The Inquirer. Occasionally there would be a front page photo of an alien accompanied by some outrageous headline. After so many exposures to tabloid stories and photos it became obvious aliens have really broken bad. They have an unquenchable anal fetish. Of all the possible things ‘in Heaven and Earth’ they would want from us humans! Probing our butts?!

I paid no attention. The existence of alien life and intelligence could not be proved or disproved. Unless one has a direct experience, it’s just someone’s story or evidence. In our cyber era that idea is more pertinent being that we can create all sorts of evidence. I ignored anything and everything about extraterrestrial intelligence. I was, and still am, struggling to find my own.

Then, a few things happened.

First, the repetition of stories of that ilk from various other sources. Movie movies—E.T., Close Encounters of the Third King. A television movie, Roswell, staring Dwight Yoakam, Martin Sheen, Kyle MacLachlan, and Xander Berkeley. I began to take more seriously the metaphor of the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey as a symbol which intimates alien interventions in our evolution—they contributed to our DNA. We have met the aliens, and they are us.

I saw Fire in the Sky, a movie based upon a 1975 experience in Arizona. The experiencer, Travis Walton, had his Fifteen Minutes of Fame by sharing his story in his book of the same name. The controversy surrounding the event was not so much the event itself as it was the taking of lie detector tests by several witnesses. Most of them passed the test two consecutive times. The probability of that result—if the participants were lying—is less than minuscule.

Two students in my graduate program spoke with me of their experiences. I knew both, and found them to be serious, reliable sources of information. These were particularly sobering conversations.

Around 1980, I learned that the then governor of New Mexico had filed an FOI request with the United States government for information related to the 1947 ‘Roswell Incident.’ Anyone could request a complimentary copy of the material subsequently shared by our government with the Governor’s office. I requested, and six months later received a thick 9X12 manila envelope. I went through the dozens or more pages of this report. A large number of the paragraphs were redacted. Why?

I watched Sightings, a television series about metaphysical phenomena including aliens and UFOs which was on the air during the years 1992-1997. Henry Winkler—’Fonzie’ from Happy Days—was one of the show’s producers. What stood out was the large number of distinguished military and law enforcement officials who shared experiences of UFOs.

I watched three seasons of The History Channel’s series, Ancient Aliens. These programs included lots of cheesy stories and ideas—but they also featured utterly mystifying evidence that pointed to alien interventions in our past.

In the mid-1980s I met a DJ from a major FM pop station at a party. As we spoke I learned he had been an air traffic controller early in his career. He told a supervisor he saw a UFO, and was told there would be serious repercussions for him if he were to go public with his experience.

I read two books—Abduction and Passport to the Cosmos—by the late John Mack, M.D., a Harvard psychiatrist who found himself treating people suffering from PTSD who vividly recounted alien abductions. Predictably the Harvard establishment attempted to have Mack kicked out. They failed.

Mack died tragically and ironically while attending a London conference on the after-death state. Taking field research to the extreme, he was hit by a drunk driver.

Crop Circles: Over the decades I’ve heard about circles with simple or elaborate designs appearing—many overnight—on Earth. These are epistemologically challenging phenomena. With Facebook, I have been able to keep up with the appearance of new circles. Perhaps it is a limit of my imagination, but I simply cannot conceive how—with the more elaborate designs—a group of humans can create these designs in the dead of night; and, if they do, how they have not been video recorded in the act of creation.

Where is the ‘win’ in believing or disbelieving in extraterrestrial intelligence? Your choice is nothing more or less than an aspect of your identity, your character. Some on both sides of the question benefit by advancing their respective positions publicly. Some pay a price for doing so.

If and when there is mass experience of alien intelligence and/or governments of powerful nations acknowledge such intelligence, the identity of our entire species, our world view, will be threatened and altered—to make an understatement. This time period would be called ‘After Disclosure’, and there are those who believe we already live in humanity’s ‘AD.’

BTW: It’s utterly obvious to me that they were here before we were.

***
D. Schwartz July 6, 2017

Under their Tribe of Heart moniker Jenny Stein and James LaVeck have produced and distributed—for free—the two most powerful documentaries about non-human animal rights I’ve seen to date. The power of their films lies in the profound human stories of transformation they tell.

In The Witness Brooklyn contractor Eddie Lama tells and shows his story of transformation into an animal rights activist. His journey began simply enough with the finding, helping, and adopting of an abandoned kitten. One tactic Lama utilized was to outfit a van with a video monitor and a loud-speaker which he drove around town showing images of trapped fur-bearing animals struggling to be free. The faces of the viewers are as unforgettable as the images are disturbing. Yet, it is Lama’s passion and commitment which are so touching and inspiring.

In Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home five farmers speak of their journeys from animal exploiters to animal care-givers. All the stories are dramatic, of course, but none more than Howard Lyman’s. He is a fourth generation farmer, rancher, feedlot operator—and was a successful rancher with 7,000 head of cattle. Like Coleridge’s mariner, Lyman now travels the world most of the year telling his story and lecturing “about the proper amount of animal products people should have in their diet—which is zero.” He covers much more territory than diet, of course. His story is told via interview and clips of his lectures.

Both films are found at Tribe of Heart, and play for free. The website and the films are available in English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and French. I suspect more languages are on the way. The documentaries have been seen in almost 100 countries—if not more by the time you’ve read this review.

Tribe of Heart films have received mainstream media attention as well as many festival awards. Yours truly will stay in touch with the Tribe.

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Commonly called the Faeroes, the Faroe Islands lie smack-dab between Iceland and Norway. Humans have lived in the Faeroes for about two millennia. Today’s 48,000 humans are self-governing, but do so under the aegis of the Kingdom of Denmark. The people have their own language, Faroese, and Danish is taught in schools. They live in a technologically modern society, and secure foods from the sea for their consumption and economy.

Produced, directed, and shot by Mike Day, The Islands & The Whales explores a dilemma faced by the people of the Faroe Islands. The seas and lands of Earth have been and continue to be polluted with mercury and, of course, many other chemicals. Ubiquitous mercury pollution comes primarily from the mining and burning of coal.

The far-north Faeroes are not suitable for agriculture. The people maintain the millennia-long tradition of hunting pilot whales. They keep their eyes on the ocean, and when a group of whales are spotted there is an island-wide alarm, men sprint to their boats, and if they’re ‘lucky,’ they’ll herd the pod to a cove, and slaughter the creatures. The islands are linked by underground tunnels, and the men communicate now with phones. That is, there is a rapid, country-wide response when a pod is spotted.

There is a broader issue: Bird and fish populations are being decimated by both hunting and environmental toxins.

A distinguished professor who has monitored mercury levels in whales and humans for 25 years has the unhappy, difficult job of informing the Faeroes’ people that they—especially their children—are being poisoned. His life has been threatened for informing the islanders of this sad, predictable fact of life. This is the central dilemma of the film—one which the entire human population of Earth is facing every moment.

Day covers daily life and community events, follows a few islanders on their hunts, listens to a few people share their opinions and experiences. He peppers the film with beatific, utterly stunning images of the islands, as he does with narration by an elder who speaks of the ‘huldufólk’ a kind of nature spirit who supports humans—but have ‘fled the light for the hills.’ They do not approve of man’s destruction and pollution of the land.

The Islands & The Whales is a masterfully crafted documentary film that reveals and explores our human defenses, fears, and ignorance as we approach our destruction of our ecosphere. I will make sure to see all of Mike Day’s films.

Nope. Not the Lady’s husband, brother or father. Gaga is an approach to dance developed by Ohad Naharin, the subject of this masterpiece of documentary filmmaking written and directed by Tomer Heymann.

Heymann tells Naharin’s professional and personal biographies which begin in early childhood—since that is when the dancer began dancing. We follow the charismatic teacher from Israel, to New York, and back again. Naharin tells his own story, and Heymann saturates the film with a cornucopia of dance clips.

By film’s end I found myself stunned by the epic nature of this 100-minute film and the power of Naharin’s presence. The story and Naharin’s character transcends the subject of dance. I have viewed many dance films. Mr. Gaga is the most haunting.

The DVD is available from Icarus Films. I streamed the film via Netflix.

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Almost Sunrise begins with this text:

“’Moral Injury’ is a wound to the soul caused by participation in events that violate one’s deeply held sense of right and wrong.”

Although not a prolific filmmaker, when Michael Collins makes a feature documentary, it is powerful, compelling, and haunting. His first feature, ‘Give Up Tomorrow,’ is unforgettable, as is Almost Sunrise, the story of two deeply wounded veterans of the Iraq war—wounded in heart and soul.

Iraq war veteran Tom Voss was suffering from PTSD, his marriage was on the line, his very life, too. Although a seeming non sequitur, Voss decided to go on a 2,700 mile trek from Wisconsin, to the Pacific shore of southern California. Anthony Anderson, his brother-in-arms also suffering greatly, joined him.

The two became a cause célèbre which was intended, of course—but the focus was on their healing from ‘moral injury.’ In a short 98 minutes, Collins covers the entire journey from before the beginning through after the end. In addition to their secular pilgrimage, the two found healing from unexpected sources.

This is yet another war-related documentary film that needs to be seen by all members of the United States Congress, Senate, the President, his or her Cabinet, and by the leaders and bureaucrats of our Veterans Administration. Many—if not most—veterans, are still not receiving the care and healing they deserve. In that light, I whole-heartedly encourage you to see and share Almost Sunrise.

I also suggest you visit the film’s website and click on Take Action where you can join me in signing the “Pledge to support Almost Sunrise in the movement to promote and expand complementary and alternative wellness programs for veterans and their families.”

Ryan White’s The Keepers is a Netflix documentary series focused on the 1969 murder of Sister Catherine Cesnik, a loving, high-spirited, multi-talented young woman approaching the prime of her life. Both her character and personal story are fully worthy of this quality of respectful attention, but it is the perpetrators of her murder who are the de facto subjects of this series.

The inciting incident for producing this epic film is the unsolicited work of two former students who attended Archbishop Keough High School, in Baltimore, Maryland, in the late sixties—Gemma Hoskins and Abbie Schaub. They wanted to know who killed Sister Cathy, their beloved English teacher at the school, in November of 1969.

Schaub’s and Hoskins’ dogged approach uncovered a story of the wholesale sexual abuse of high school students, a years-long crime which was hidden with the support of the police, the Church, and the government’s prosecutor. The story is not over. As I type, the investigation continues—as do attempts, feeble as they may be, to reform the Church’s culture of pedophilia.

The Keepers is a thoroughly engaging film that highlights the most horrific and the most compassionate of us human beings.

Having seen a few documentary and Hollywood films about the Catholic Church and sex crimes, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Church is a centuries-long Boys Sex Club. Yes, the current Pope has a campaign to rid the Church of this scourge, and that is, of course, a noble goal and initiative. I am skeptical, however, of how much reform has been implemented globally, or even how much can be implemented given the Church’s global reach and entrenched culture. For more background on the Church’s history of sex abuse, I suggest Alex Gibney’s HBO documentary Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In The House of God

“We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who would pervert the Constitution.” Abraham Lincoln

 

Directed by Mary Mazzio, and narrated by Jessica Chastain, I Am Jane Doe focuses on three children who were ‘trafficked’—that is, raped countless times—and their families in their fight for justice.

The three, of course, represent the countless number of underage girls who have been and are being trafficked. These three are the lucky ones—returned to their families, now part of an incendiary documentary which reveals another gross negligence perpetrated by our system of justice.

Mazzio outlines many years of litigation to stop a website called ‘Backpage’ from publishing advertisements for sex with trafficked girls. The company’s seemingly unbeatable defense is Section 230 of the ironically titled Communications Decency Act of 1996. This statute indemnifies website owners from liability for third-party content on their sites. The vast majority of advertisements for sex with underage children—mostly girls—are on this international site which has generated hundreds of millions of dollars, probably more than a billion by now, of profit.

Mazzio documents the kind of support Backpage has enjoyed. The Center for Democracy and Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation both submitted legal briefs supporting Backpage in its cases against J.S. and Jane Doe—two of the three girls featured in the film. She also provides a Google-generated list of companies who contributed to The Center for Democracy and Technology. Funds from these companies were used to support Backpage in its defensive litigation. Here is that list: AT&T, California Healthcare Foundation, Facebook, Google, Inc., Macarthur Foundation, Markel Foundation, Microsoft, Open Society Institute, and Yahoo!

Mazzio’s film follows years of hope and defeat as parents and lawyers fight to have 230 amended. In an exceedingly rare circumstance for documentary films and their makers, I Am Jane Doe was privately screened in Washington, D.C., for members of Congress. As I type, renewed action is taking place to address this unspeakable state of law allowing for the ease of sex traffickers in plying their horrific trade.

I am fascinated. Would thinly-veiled ads for contract killings be acceptable? Probably not. Why are advertisements for the raping of children acceptable to so many federally elected politicians? to so many judges?

I Am Jane Doe is available from iTunes, Vimeo, Google Play, Amazon, Netflix, and DVD.

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With Miss Sharon Jones! massively prolific filmmaker Barbara Kopple has delivered a joyful, tearful film about the trials and triumph of the formerly unheralded Sharon Jones. With grace, respect, and affection, two time Academy Award-winning Kopple follows the soul singer through a year of treatment for pancreatic cancer—one of the more lethal varieties of this disease.

‘Indomitable’ is the first word that comes to mind after seeing Jones suffer from her illness and its treatment, maintain her golden heart and joyful spirit, survive, and return to the studio and the road.

Jones is surrounded and supported by her band, The Dap-Kings—as well as her manager, steadfast friends, and her doctor who attends her triumphant return to the stage. Along the way Jones visits places of her past. She shares reminiscences—including the horrors of racism she experienced directly.

Coda: Tragedy and dark humor merged when Jones suffered a stroke while watching the 2016 election results on television. She was aware of this irony, and joked about the coincidence. Sharon Jones passed away on November 18, 2016.

Miss Sharon Jones! can be found in iTunes, Netflix, and possibly other on-demand sites.

 

But, we already know that.

One point that can be surmised from Robert Kenner’s Command and Control is yes, be horrified, but, no, don’t be surprised when there is an accidental detonation of a nuclear weapon on U.S. soil. I know, I know, a terrorist attack is also possible, but that’s another story.

Kenner’s film is an outline of a 1980 accident at an Arkansas-based Titan II missile complex. (William Jefferson Clinton was Governor at the time.) A worker used the wrong tool during maintenance of a missile, a fuel tank ruptured, and after many hours of confusion and panic which included mistakes made by the Strategic Air Command base thousands of miles away, the leaking fuel combusted. At least one crew member died, many were injured, and many were blamed and victimized by their Air Force leadership.

The film is a reminder. Yes, there have been plenty of nuclear accidents associated with non-military use, but our arsenal is still here—on the ground, in the air, and under the sea. (Are there weapons in orbit?)

In addition to covering this tragic accident, Kenner weaves information about the history of our arsenal into his film which, per usual, is another documentary covering a woefully under-covered issue of life and death which, in turn, is under the command and control of our government.

Like Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, Command and Control tells the story of a barely averted tragedy—the possible detonation of the largest nuclear weapon in our nuclear arsenal—the end of which we know, yet we are captivated by the story, and haunted by the impact it had on its players.

This story deserves the same high-budget treatment by Hollywood as given to Apollo 31. Our obsession with ‘defense’ and its countless and limitless weapons, however, will probably stymie any possible producers from initiating such a much-needed movie.

But, we have Command and Control, and it’s easy to find. You can stream it from its website, iTunes, Amazon, or Netflix.

BTW: Nuclear safety is an oxymoron.

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“Those mountain people who have been shut out of the world all these years, I know them. If I live…perhaps we can do the justice they deserve.” Abraham Lincoln

You go to the bottom of the website for Mari-Lynn C. Evans’ Blood on the Mountain and you find a section called ‘Partners.’ Beneath that section’s name is a list of 35 environmental, labor, and justice organizations supportive of the film’s production and distribution. This measure of support has helped create a standard bearing documentary about the history of coal’s impact on the people of West Virginia.

The film covers more than a 150 years of economic and environmental exploitation and the subsequent damage to the state’s land and people. Evans describes what appears to be a Balkanization of a State in order to create a single-industry economy and a brainwashed population with mental blinders to the massive forces dominating, controlling, and destroying their lives, land, and environment.

The film’s structure is built on the many accidents that have occurred in the mining of coal, and the tepid responses to those ‘incidents.’ Within that structure we learn about how the people’s lives have been impacted, introduced to a few of the perpetrators, and hear from authorities and experts about the massive tragedy that is West Virginia.

Although the film is not about the global environmental impact of coal extraction and use, it serves as a microcosmic view of how humanity has destroyed and continues to destroy the very sources of its existence.

Blood on the Mountain is a bitter pill—and would not, could not have been a powerful, captivating film if it were not so. It is documentary film at its best, and can make a difference in our future dialogs about coal, politics, and our ecosphere—if we watch it.

Sorry, Abe. Justice has yet to be done.

In addition to iTunes, Blood on the Mountain is currently on Netflix.

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Casey Cohen’s A Matter of Time is as heart-wrenching as it is inspiring.

Cohen tells the story of singer/songwriter Kathryn Calder who, in the middle of her rise to indie rock stardom, found herself caring for her mother, Lynn, who was dying from the devastations of ALS—amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Mother and daughter had a deep, loving bond, and daughter didn’t hesitate to interrupt her career to care for her mother. One of the activities Calder included in her care was to entertain and express love to Lynn by writing and producing her first solo album. Calder set up a recording studio in their living room, wrote the songs, sang, played piano. She had members of her former band, Immaculate Machine, and current band, The New Pornographers—sit in on the tracks. Lynn’s room was next to the living room. The album is entitled “Are You My Mother?” and was released in 2010.

Although the film is intrinsically a call for support to find a cure, that call is graciously in background. The primary focus is Calder’s story, and the loving mother-daughter bond.

Casey’s film is deeply touching, the courage of mother and daughter, deeply inspiring.

A Matter of Time is distributed in the United States by First Run Features, and in Canada by Kino Smith in Canada.

At the age of 32, Maiko, a prima ballerina, decided to become pregnant, but did not decide to conclude her career. She kept on dancing several weeks into her pregnancy, suspended her career, delivered her child, and determined to regain her prima ballerina status.

Maiko was given that name at birth. It means ‘dancing child.’ No one knew the name portended two would be dancing.

Aside from seeing many documentaries about ballet, that terpsichorean word denotes a faraway foreign territory to yours truly. My best guess, though, is that for a 32 year old soloist to bear a child, make a triumphant return in one of ballet’s most challenging dances, Swan Lake, is an unprecedented phenomenon. I doubt this jaw-dropping phenomenon will ever be repeated.

My only kvetch about this film is that it is so captivating, so challenging to our credence, and so beautifully shot, I wanted much more of the story.

Directed by Åse Svenheim Drivenes, Maiko: Dancing Child is a First Run Features release.

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The title says it all in Justin Hunt’s latest documentary, Addicted to Porn: Chasing the Cardboard Butterfly. Hunt’s intention is to catalyze a wide-ranging public dialog about this currently ignored addiction. To that end, the film models that intent, that dialog—it serves as a microcosm of what the hoped-for public dialog could and should cover.

There is no doubt viewing large amounts of pornography changes behavior. But, is it an ‘addiction’? One of the film’s interviewees says, ‘no.’ However, it was not the other interviewees who convinced me porn is an addiction. Instead, it is the film’s centerpiece—the marriage of Betsy and Nate—that makes the point. They were in love, and perfect together except for Nate’s addiction. Speaking separately on camera we learn that the two spent years together and had two children as they struggled with his addiction. Nate did not find the inner resources to break out. The pain and tragedy of their marriage is visceral.

The consuming of pornography is a moral, ethical, legal, political and public health issue. Although Addicted to Porn is just one film, it successfully invites a massive amount of serious consideration and understanding of humanity’s use of pornography.

I have seen and reviewed two of Hunt’s previous films: American Meth about our nation’s addiction to that drug, and Absent about fatherlessness in the United States. I spoke with him about Addicted to Porn. He noted that this is his most controversial film released to date, and reiterated the damaging impact individually and society-wide of porn addiction. Hunt also emphasized this film is not a campaign against pornography. He is, though, passionate that its risks, damage, and ubiquitous presence in our world demand much more attention—especially to our children.

Like a growing number of documentary films, Addicted to Porn is more than a movie. It is an initiative with a strong intention to make a positive difference. To that end, in addition to seeing the film, I encourage you to go the film’s website and explore both the Shop and Resources at the top of the homepage.

Hunt is a serious young man and a talented filmmaker with great compassion for us human beings. Addicted to Porn contains no erotic or pornographic imagery. He is concerned about porn addicts—current or recovered, or any prospective viewers—who may be disturbed by that imagery.

Narrated by Metallica’s James Hetfield, Addicted to Porn is available from iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vimeo, Vudu, XBOX, and YouTube.

You can support Justin’s work by purchasing his films and related materials directly from his website.

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Pictured: Justin Hunt

Note: Although this story is a footnote to a footnote of American cultural history, it’s intriguing to yours truly. I took one of those Orange Sunshine tabs more than four decades ago. The experience was life-changing.

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Nicholas Sand and Tim Scully wanted to save the world—humanity, to be specific. They did the obvious—manufactured LSD in mass quantities.

Their product became known as Orange Sunshine on account of it was orange and created inner sunshine. Their customers likely numbered in the hundreds of thousands, or more. In The Sunshine Makers Director Cosmo Feilding-Mellen tells of these two men of opposite characters who turned the world on—and, of course, landed in prison.

Scully and Sand tell their respective stories in interview. Sand adds some unsolicited nude yoga during his face time. Feilding-Mellen interviews several other actors in this compassion play, including the undercover officers who had supporting roles.

The story takes place in upper-state New York, at the Hitchcock Estate in Millbrook, New York, where Timothy Leary held court to psychedelic glitterati, various posers, and undercover officers; in Colorado; and northern California.

There is no want of drama, intrigue, action, suspense, and unintentional humor in Feilding-Mellen’s film. That is, you need not be a psychedelic relic to enjoy it, and, especially, to learn this story which may very well be remade as a Hollywood film or, better yet, a mini-series.

The Sunshine Makers is available on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play, and Netflix.

Coda: Nicholas Sand passed away on April 24, 2017.

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When one cultivates the habit of seeing documentary films—simply by virtue of the genre—and when said one chooses to limit their self-censorship as to the scope of subjects to be explored, said one will be confronted with ego-dystonic information, ideas, and images. (‘Ego-dystonic’ is a fancy word for ‘inconvenient truths.’) For yours truly two subjects farthest from my interests and concerns were ballet and childbirth.

I have seen five films about childbirth and postpartum care—one focused on legendary midwife Ina May Gaskin, and four produced by the filmmaking team of Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein.

The primary emphasis of these films is the value of natural childbirth. Being exposed to this information and these images, I consider it crucial that everyone should have easy access to these films. More to the point, we—especially us males—should be persuaded to take advantage of that easy access. The experience of seeing these films can alter one’s character for the better.

I previously viewed two films from the Lake-Epstein partnership: Breastmilk and The Mama Sherpas. The Business of Being Born, a Kino Lorber release, contains two distinct films the second of which is entitled MORE Business of Being Born.

The first film, The Business of Being Born, presents information and images of natural childbirth, and contrasts that approach with the medicalized approach which is the most common. The inconvenient truth here is that, barring specific clinical risks, the natural approach is better for mother and child, and provides better outcomes on several parameters—including the rawest one, lower birth mortality rates. The film also covers the 19th and 20th century history of childbirth practices. It is an horrific story.

MORE Business of Being Born covers the emergence of birth centers which serve as a meeting ground of sorts for medical and non-medical practitioners. The film also introduces the ‘doula’—a kind of assistant to the mother before, during, and after labor, and, typically, works in conjunction with the midwife. The last half of the film presents more pluses and minuses of C-sections. Again, for women without specific birth risks, the pluses of a fully natural birth—one which avoids the introduction of intravenous injections of pharmaceuticals—are much greater than the minuses.

The United States does not have a monopoly on unnecessary C-sections. There are high unnecessary C-section rates throughout the world. The film spends some time in Brazil where C-section births comprise up to 93% of births amongst middle- and upper-middle class mothers. The high C-section rate there has sparked a grass roots movement promoting natural births.

The United States mainstream media coverage of women’s reproductive rights has focused primarily on abortion, and secondarily on birth control. Having seen these five films about birthing it is clear this is another front in the struggle for choice—how one grows and delivers a baby. The first battle in this struggle is information. Mothers and prospective mothers need to be provided with complete information regarding the risks and benefits of all the possible ways they may deliver their baby—or, babies.

A note about water: When water birthing was first introduced to the media around the 70s or so, it was presented as something silly, ignorant hippies do. In these five films we learn that the availability of warm water to women in labor has become common in the natural birth world—and can also be found in birth centers.

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What more can you ask of a movie?! A true love that shone more than five decades, Hollywood insiders talking about inside Hollywood, and behind-the-scenes images of movie making—Big Time movie making, that is—all lovingly crafted.

Daniel and Jennifer Raim’s Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story tells the stories of Lillian and Harold Michelson—their respective professional biographies, and, especially, their love story. The two love birds tell their stories, and we hear from many admiring filmmakers including Mel Brooks, Danny DeVito, and Francis Ford Coppola.

Lillian worked as a researcher providing images and information to filmmakers in support of all aspects of production design. Harold drew storyboards, and did production design near career’s end. Together the lovers contributed to hundreds of Hollywood films many of which became instant classics. Their services were in demand—out of respect and admiration the King and Queen characters in Shrek were named Harold and Lillian.

Lillian had the tenacity, raw talent, and southern charm to meet virtually every demand made of her by filmmakers. She was quite disappointed, though, when Harold disallowed her to get on a drug lord’s private jet to go to South America in order to capture images of a drug lord’s digs. She relented on the idea when Harold reminded her she has three children. Lillian had to deal with the chaos of Hollywood business—moving her ever-growing research library several times. It seems the high point occurred when the library was at Coppola’s southern California Zoetrope studio. Lillian is a living legend. The Lillian Michelson Research Library is currently located at the Art Directors Guild, in Studio City, California.

Harold was born with an artist’s genes. His love and work came together with drawings, cards, notes, poems and collages he frequently made for Lillian. This film is an expression of love in many ways, and the expression that most touched me was this large custom hardbound book Lillian shares. It contains a lifetime of Harold’s loving verbal and visual expressions of affection.

Another affectionate touch in this love story are the original images by Patrick Mate, drawn in Harold’s storyboard style, of scenes from the lives of Lillian and Harold.

A Zeitgeist Films release, Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story is a rare film about an even rarer love.

See the film’s website for information about screenings.

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Prologue: Self-taught documentary filmmaker Eric Merola makes films about health and disease. ‘The God Cells’—his latest—is about the therapeutic use of ‘fetal stem cells.’ That phrase instantly evokes the controversy regarding women’s reproductive rights. Humanity will take this passionate disagreement over a woman’s right to choose to its collective grave. This review acknowledges this contentious subject, eschews discussion of same, and addresses directly the film’s subject.
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The God Cells: A Fetal Stem Cell Journey is Eric Merola’s fourth film about healthcare. His previous films are Burzynski, the Movie about pioneering physician and biochemist Stanislaw Burzynski; Burzynski: Cancer is Serious Business, Part II; and Second Opinion about a whistleblower, Ralph Moss, Ph.D., at New York’s renowned Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

In The God Cells Merola takes the viewer on his own journey of discovery about how fetal stem cells are already helping people suffering from debilitating, life-threatening illnesses—and, more significantly, about the potential these cells have to help sufferers around the world. His revelatory journey leads to Kiev, the capitol of Ukraine, where EmCell is located. This treatment center offers the most advanced, refined fetal stem cell therapy currently available.

Merola interviews patients, family and friends along with authorities and healthcare practitioners. The filmmaker is also a subject of his own film—he goes through a comprehensive rejuvenation treatment at EmCell, and takes us along for the ride. Needles notwithstanding, the treatment and its promises are inviting. Yours truly is ready for his journey to Kiev.

Merola points out that not all stem cells are the same, and that fetal stem cells have been found to be the safest and most effective at treating illnesses—and, as mentioned above, consequently a seemingly permanent lighting rod of controversy. He also states the obvious: Not a drug, not patent-able (yet), the use of fetal stem cells as a treatment threatens conventional medicine—especially Big Pharma which, with its billions of dollars, and with the assistance of Pro-life supporters, will quash the use of fetal stem cell therapy in the United States as much as it can, as long as it can.

Hope springs eternal. There are initiatives the most promising of which is the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine which stands ready to move forward with research and advocacy if and when there is a reformation of deep economic and political forces in the United States.

The God Cells is a stunning, compelling, riveting film that covers a healthcare game-changing treatment which holds immeasurable potential for the health and well-being of human and nonhuman animals. From beginning to end, the documentary challenges its viewers’ beliefs and values. Merola has given an invaluable gift to our world—especially the people of the United States. The more people who unwrap this gift, the better off our world will be.

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Many thanks to Julia Schopick, author of Honest Medicine, for insisting I view Eric Merola’s film. I would never have seen it, let alone learn of his many contributions if not for Julia.

 

(Pictured: Eric Merola)

‘Romantic decline’ Errol Morris calls it at film’s beginning—a kinder word for one of fine art photographers’ favorite subjects, ‘decadence.’ But, as the man who wrote Shakespeare’s plays says, “A piece of rotting wood is a piece of rotting wood.”

After viewing Molly Bernstein’s documentary—An Art that Nature Makes—which introduces the photography of Rosamond Purcell, it is abundantly clear that this artist is the master’s master on the subject of photographing decadence. Purcell will cover virtually any object or material from nature or human endeavor, and does so in a unique style—a style that deserves Morris’s preferred vernacular.

Bernstein’s film is the richest, most densely packed documentary about an artist I’ve seen to date. Purcell is the picture of a life-long, dedicated artist who goes to extreme lengths in support of her art—she travels the world, does physical work in obtaining her photographs, and collaborates with a variety of authorities and experts when covering specific categories of objects. Purcell has written or co-written nine books which you can find here.

By film’s end, the attentive viewer will understand and appreciate the beauty of a glass-encased, desiccated animal; an old, water-damaged book; or worm-holed piece of wood. These three examples do no justice, however, to the breadth and depth of the materials Purcell covers, nor to the thought she gives to the creation and meaning of her work.

Bernstein’s documentary deserves at least two viewings.

An Art that Nature Makes is a Kino Lorber release.

In Gary Numan: Android in La La Land filmmakers Steve Read and Rob Alexander follow the 1970s British pop star into and through a midlife renaissance of his professional career. The attempt to revive a music career is inherently risky—highly risky—and, therefore, fears and dread are inevitable. Through interview, Alexander and Read capture those feelings. They also provide a profile of the prolific artist and his family, as well as an outline of Numan’s professional career.

The film was shot in 2012-13. Gary Numan, wife Gemma, and their three daughters are moving from their British homeland for the first time. They plan to install this renaissance in Los Angeles. There is much more than risk here—feelings of separation and loss also dominate this familial quantum leap. The personal stakes are enormous, and the film pulls its viewers into the drama of this gamble.

Given Numan’s robotic image established in the late 1970s, and given the man we see and hear in this film, the subtitle word, ‘android,’ is an anachronism. Decades of life have melted the musical Pinocchio into a human being. The words and music in Numan’s 2013 renaissance release, Splinter, reveal an emotionally accessible human being.

Gary Numan: Android in La La Land is a First Run Features release.

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Accomplished African American musician/author/lecturer Daryl Davis received a phone call from a member of the Ku Klux Klan asking for a referral to a business that would rent him a bus. Their group had planned a march, and the local transport rental companies had refused to do business with the Klan. Davis loaned the group his bus asking only that they replace the fuel used in the trip.

When the group returned the bus, all 15 of the Klansmen came into Davis’ home and partied—two of them refused drinks from Davis, and later quit the Klan.

This is the first of many stories told by Davis in this documentary about his unique work addressing racism in the United State. In Matthew Ornstein’s Accidental Courtesy we follow Davis as he speaks with the likes of the then-Imperial Wizard of the KKK, and the leader of the largest white nationalist organization. Davis’s charm, charisma and intelligence virtually force enduring friendships with some of these hardcore, life-long racists.

On the JDI (Jaw-Drop Index), I give this film an 8, on a scale of 1 to 10. Davis’s aforementioned charm—and courage—will keep you glued to the screen.

According to IMDB this is Ornstein’s first feature. It is stunning.

Daryl Davis is yet another heroic human being making an inestimable positive difference in our world—someone I would never have had the opportunity to learn about without the services of a talented filmmaker and the distributors who make the film available to one and all.

Accidental Courtesy is released by First Run Features.

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