Carole Dean – The Art of Film Funding Blog

Carole Dean founded From the Heart Productions in 1992 to help indie filmmakers get their films funded.

In her blog, she shares her knowledge and advice on:

  • Raising Money for Your Film
  • Getting Distribution
  • Manifesting Money and Success
  • Crowdfunding
  • Fiscal Sponsorship

And more with the goal of giving filmmakers the tools to get their films produced.

She hosts the weekly podcast, The Art of Film Funding, interviewing those involved in all aspects of indie film production. She is also the author of The Art of Film Funding, 2nd Edition: Alternative Financing Concepts.  See IMDB for producing credits.

Don Schwartz Spotlight on Documentaries

October 10th, 2021

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

“I know art has power, and I am absolutely convinced that although a painting will never stop a bullet, a painting can stop a bullet from being fired.”
William Kelly

Directed by Mark Street, and produced by Fiona Cochrane, Can Art Stop a Bullet: William Kelly’s Big Picture tells the story of Kelly’s creation of his collage-based installation Peace or War/The Big Picture in Australia’s State Library Victoria.

The collage consists of works by a number of artists and others addressing the crucial issue of violence versus peace. The art contains no explicit images of war or violence. Instead, Kelly sought images which contain point and counter point between the idea of the peace that some of us are able to live in generally, and the war and violence which others are suffering—with the aspirations that we will be able to bring a bit more harmony into the world.

Kelly is the host of the film, and in telling the story of this work we hear from a large number of people from many places speaking their thoughts on war, violence, and peace. Below is a list of the people who present on camera.

Can Art Stop a Bullet: William Kelly’s Big Picture is a quietly spectacular film that deserves a massive audience.

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PRESENTERS

Raymond Watson, artist IRA, 12 years imprisoned

Rita Duffy, artist

Maze Prison – County Down, Northern Ireland

Halina Wagowska, Author, Activist, Holocaust Survivor

Mikael Levin, Artist

Sarah Sentilles, Author, ‘Draw Your Weapons

Professor A. C. Grayling, Philosopher

Nick Ut, Photographer

Professor Sasha Grishin AM, Art Historian and Curator

Martin Sheen, Actor/Activist

Professor Ian McLean, Art Historian

Ben McKeowm, Atist

J. D. Mittmann, Curator, Blackmist Burnt Country Exhibition

Rosemary Lester, Anti-Nuclear Activist

Dr. Tilman Ruff AM, Co-Founder, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) Nobel Peace Prize Winners

Yukinori Yanagi, Artist

Don Brown, Film Translator

Emiko Okada, Hiroshima survivor/Peace Activist

Kiyomi Kohno, Hiroshima survivor/Peace Activist

Luis Iriondo, Artist survivor of the bombing of Gernika

Iratxe Momoitio Astorkia, Director, Gernika Peace Museum Foundation

John Keane, Artist

Peter Sparling, Dancer/Choreographer

Denise Navarrete, The Facing History School

Emerald O’Shaughnessy, Artist/Director, ArkT Arts Center, Oxford, UK

Michael Diaz, Teacher, The Facing History School

Wendy Flores, The Facing History School

Jayson Rivera, The Facing History School

Chaz Young, The Facing History School

Rokhayatau Ndiaye, The Facing History School

Emma Gonzales, Parkland High School Student

David Hall, Parkland High School Student

Zakia Bassou, Co-Founder, 1000 Roses, London

Cocovan, Artist

Francesco Pisano, United Nations Library, Geneva

Dr. Rama Mani, Founder, Theater of Transformations

“We are the generation that are allowing the African elephant and rhino to go extinct. If you can’t bring economical value to the local people to protect animals, then you will never win this war.”
Interviewee: Remco Dykstra, Technical Advisor, GRI

Written, directed, and shot by Mirra Bank, No Fear No Favor covers African efforts to reduce—and, ideally, eradicate—the $20 billion a year poaching industry and to create environments that support both wildlife and human communities.

Over a period of more than two years Bank filmed in Zambia’s Kafue National Park—one of the largest intact wilderness areas in the world—and in wilderness reserves in Kenya and Namibia.

The film includes a few images of the usual horrific slaughter of noble creatures, yet the primary focus is on conservation efforts of non-African and African citizens. Local people, working with NGOs like Game Rangers International support the establishment of community-led programs to save their wildlife.

We hear from a few of the wildlife protection workers, and see plenty of elephants—along with quite a few pangolins. One of the workers, Kingsley Munsyamba, was a poacher who got caught, and now helps protect orphaned elephants, rescued and nurtured by humans, then released to the wild when ready.

Poaching is very much alive and well, of course. I can only wonder who is winning. Global organized crime is driving the slaughter of precious wildlife with helicopters, night-vision technologies, and sophisticated weapons. The United Nations estimates African countries lose $50 billion annually to corruption—money that could and should be used to benefit both the peoples and wildlife of Africa.

On the side of compassion and wisdom we have non-profit organizations, community organizers, and documentary filmmakers like Mirra Bank fighting the good fight on behalf of wildlife. Who’s winning? I suspect the killers—and would love to be proved wrong. Another concern I have is the impact of the pandemic on African wildlife and human efforts to support it.

From the filmmaker:
My goal, of course, is to greatly expand the number of empowered viewers who—once aware of the problem and the value of grassroots interventions—will step up to make sure that:

1) international cartels DON’T win in the fight against the 20 billion a year black market wildlife trade

2) and that Africa’s rightful/local stakeholders are full participants and sharers in the green profits that derive from protecting wildlife and wild environments. Ecotourism is the fastest growing non-extractive sector of Africa’s economy.
When wildlife and natural resources belong to local people—when sustaining them brings material benefit—they are hugely effective partners in conservation.

No Fear No Favor is distributed by Bullfrog Films.

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Awards and Festivals

Filmmakers’ Choice Award, Andrew Sabin Family Foundation Environmental Award, Hamptons DocFest

Outstanding Cinematography, Tallgrass International Film Festival

Outstanding Excellence: Cinematography,

Excellence: Feature, Nature Without Borders

Award of Excellence, Impact Docs

Award of Excellence, Docs Without Borders

Award of Excellence, Accolade Global Film Competition

Award of Merit, IndieFest Film Awards

Annapolis International Film Festival

Woods Hole International Film Festival

Port Townsend Film Festival

Out of Africa International Film Festival(Kenya)

Lighthouse International Film Festival

Friday Harbor Film Festival

March on Washington Film Festival

Produced by Kartemquin Films, and directed by Gordon Quinn and Leslie Simmer, For the Left Hand tells the story of Chicago native Norman Malone who, at age 5, discovered and began playing the piano. At ten years old Malone’s father attacked him with a hammer to the head. He was left with right-side paralysis, but could still use his left hand—and that he did.

It turns out there are piano compositions exclusively for the left or right hands. Malone taught himself to play piano with his left hand, and fully mastered his playing. When not performing, Malone became a beloved music and choir instructor and conductor. He taught in public schools for 34 years, and has a very large wall of testimonial plaques.

In For the Left Hand Quinn and Simmer cover Malone’s childhood, his family, his philosophy of life, and, of course, we see him playing pieces throughout the film. The film concludes with Malone presenting his first orchestral piano performance, and continued doing so beyond this first performance.

For the Left Hand is as inspiring a film as I’ve ever seen. It is still running in the festival circuit. However, you can request a screening for up to 50 attendees. As of this writing, Malone is 82 years old.

The film is presented by the United Nations Association Film Festival—UNAFF 2021. This year’s festival runs October 21-31, 2021.

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(Photos of Norman Malone courtesy of Kartemquin Films)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The film is presented by the United Nations Association Film Festival—UNAFF 2021. This year’s festival runs October 21-31, 2021. Here is this year’s lineup:

“When society is detached from reality—bad things happen. The 21st century will either be our greatest century, or our worst. That’s going to depend on the choices we make in the next couple of decades.”
Eric Beinhocker, Economist

Introduction: Throughout the ages, each time a new technology has appeared, it has transformed our lives and society—today more than ever. Lead by digitalization, followed by new living and intelligent technologies, our world is being transformed in a way that’s difficult for us to comprehend.

In response, a group of 20 of the world’s leading scientists isolated themselves for 10 days at the renowned Santa Fe Institute, hidden away in the desert of New Mexico. They came from all corners of science representing environment, economy, democracy, social media, education, status of institutions, and artificial technology. Together, they intended to start a revolutionary movement with an ambitious goal: To secure the future of humanity through science by finding the path to a new paradigm.

Note: The meeting took place prior to the Corona pandemic.

Directed by prolific documentary filmmaker Pernille Rose Grønkjær, “Solutions” begins with ‘A Lineup of Humanity’s Most Challenging Problems.’ The film is organized by major categories the first of which is ‘VISIONS: The Mission for the Meeting and Visions for the Future.’

As the film progresses each major category concludes with a few key points. For instance, the first category is ‘SUMMARY’: (I know. Sounds like it should be the last.)

INDETIFY MAIN CHALLENGES and WORK ACROSS DISCIPLINES /// FIND IDEAS and SOLUTIONS THAT CAN HELP PUSH SOCIAL, POLITICAL and TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE /// FACILATATE A GLOBAL DIALOG ABOUT COMMON VISIONS /// TEACH HISTORY OF HUMANITY

Viewers see and hear the leading scientists presenting to camera individually and in group settings. Their passions, concerns, and hopes for humanity are palpable. This is another crucial film addressing humanity’s urgent practical and existential issues. Yet, it is challenging. I challenge and urge readers to view and talk about this film. A second viewing would be worthwhile—as I have already done.

Solutions” is produced by Danish Documentary Productions, with music by Jonas Struck. The film is presented by the United Nations Association Film Festival—UNAFF 2021. This year’s festival runs October 21-31, 2021. Here is this year’s lineup:

IMDB 

(Photo of Pernille Rose Grønkjær courtesy of ‘Solutions’)

Filmmaker Stavroula Toska was born and bred in the small town of Sindos, Greece. She spent her childhood and schooling there. By the time she was 21, she was in drama school pursuing a career in acting. She worked in Greek television, playing in soap operas. Although Toska feels a strong connection with Greece and her family, America called. She was in Manhattan by the age of 23. A few years into her time in New York, Toska met Academy Award and Golden Globe winner Olympia Dukakis at an event. The two connected as friends and soon collaborated on Toska’s award-winning feature documentary ‘Beneath the Olive Tree.”

 

 

Toska has directed three films so far:

Switch: a TV series based on true events that takes place in the world of professional domination in New York City.

In The Vice: a glimpse into the world of a high-powered Wall Street woman who resorts to an unorthodox way of enhancing her work performance, while trying to keep up with the challenging demands of the corporate world.

Beneath the Olive Tree: a documentary covering the hidden atrocities perpetrated on Greek women caught up in the Greek Civil War in 1946-1949. This war was much longer than three years. It went far into the 1970s and was backed by the US and British governments.

Mysterious circumstances brought me to Toska via my simple curiosity about the title. ‘Beneath The Olive Tree’, a film that stunned me to the core.

Stavroula, how were things like for you when you first arrived in the US? 

You’re taking me all the way back, Don. I arrived in New York in September of 2000, with about $400 in my pocket which was the most money I ever had in my life at that point. That was a lot of money back then in Greece and I expected to rent an apartment, sign up for school, start paying my tuition, and then I’d find a job. I quickly learned that $400. won’t take you far in New York. So, I stayed at the American Youth Hostel which was charging about $20. a night, on the upper west side. Within a month or so I started working as a waitress in a diner in Manhattan, and began putting money aside to pay for school.

Looking back now I might not have taken the chance if I knew how hard things would have been. But, I was young, and I thought, oh, whatever, I will go to America, if something doesn’t work out within a year or two, I’ll just go back to Greece, or I’ll go to London, whatever, the world is my oyster—but, I stayed in America and I’m very glad I did.

What part of New York did you settle down in?

Soon after the American Youth Hostel I found a room to rent at an apartment on the upper west side. I got really lucky because I had an amazing roommate, an American girl, who was extremely supportive and understanding of my circumstances. She and I are dear friends to this day, we’re more like sisters, actually. Then I started working and attending acting classes at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, I did a little bit of acting in off-off Broadway plays, and then I got my work papers. I started working for corporate America because I wanted and needed to make some real money. I didn’t want to be a struggling artist. A few years later, when I decided to quit my corporate job and make my first film I moved to Riverdale, a residential neighborhood in the northwest portion of the New York City borough of the Bronx.

Did you always know you wanted to be a filmmaker?

Not at all. I actually started out wanting to pursue a career in acting. I was a little girl, in a small town, watching movies that came to Greek television from America. I remember watching ‘Coming to America’ and thinking ‘I’m going to grow up, go to America, and work at McDonalds!’. This was like a dream of mine, Don (with a big smile). We didn’t even have McDonald’s in Greece at that time. But, it was images of big cities, and the type of people I would see in the movies that called me.

Fast forward to a few years later, I had graduated from school with a degree in Marketing and Public Relations, and then went on to study acting in Athens. I worked on Greek television doing a couple of soap operas and some guest appearances on shows but I quickly decided that I wanted to come to the States and have a career here. I look back now at the things I wanted to do, and the career I was hoping to have 20 years ago—I was a girl with a really heavy accent from Greece, my English wasn’t so good, had no connections, didn’t know anybody in America, let alone trying to find an agent or a talent manager, trying to get auditions and build a career as an actress.

I’d say I was pretty naïve about it all. The truth is it’s been a long journey full of adventures, good and bad experiences, life changing moments and countless lessons. Things started changing for me when I realized that I needed to create my own opportunities and build my career step by step; that was what led me to getting behind the camera to tell my own stories, what brought meaning into my life and what I truly feel more aligned with.

Tell me about your encounter with Olympia Dukakis.

I went to an event where Olympia Dukakis was speaking, and she was talking about how she never really sat around waiting for Hollywood or anybody to knock on her door and give her the opportunities to play the big roles that she wanted to play. So, she started her own theater company in New Jersey, and she decided what were the big productions that they were going to put on. And that really spoke to me, it made me feel like ‘OK, I can totally take control of the stories I want to tell, and make it all happen.’ The woman had so much passion and conviction. She was beyond inspiring and I got high just from hearing her speak! Needless to say that before the event was even over I ran after Olympia to introduce myself and asked her for advice. I had no idea at the time how my life was about to change because of that one encounter.

Tell me how ‘Beneath the Olive Tree’ came about in the first place.

Well, I approached Olympia that night at the event and told her I had started writing, that I was taking writing classes, and that I wanted to find my voice as a storyteller, as a woman, as a Greek woman in particular, as an immigrant. We just hit it off, and that was the beginning of a very special friendship and mentorship.

What led me to my first directing job was Olympia handing me a book one evening as I was leaving her home; the book was called Greek Women in Resistance. This was the first time I was reading about Greek women fighting in the resistance movement during World War II against the Germans. Soon after the war was over these same women were being persecuted and accused of being Communists, enemies of the state.

I was in quite a shock because I had grown up in Greece, went to school in Greece, and yet I knew nothing about the Greek Civil War and the stories of these women. I had no idea that Greek women who had fought in the Resistance were later persecuted by their own people, their own government. I became fascinated with this story and started doing research. At some point I didn’t go to sleep for three nights in a row, was completely taken by this story and couldn’t get away from the computer, reading everything I could find online about that period in Greece. That led me to go back to Greece to make my first documentary ‘Beneath the Olive Tree’ which Olympia executive produced and narrated.

And then you went on to direct a short fiction film and a series. Tell me about that.

Soon after ‘Beneath the Olive Tree’ was completed I wanted to try my hand at directing fiction. That’s when ‘In The Vice’ came along. I was looking for something to direct, but I didn’t want it to be something that I had written. I wanted to find a story I was interested in, something that another person had written and would trust me to direct, take it from the page and make it come alive on screen. A woman I’d known for a while and I met at the Sundance Film Festival in 2017. We were catching up at an event when she mentioned a script she had written—a short film. She was looking for a director, and I said ‘I’m looking to direct something. Let me read the script, see if I’m a good fit for it.’ I went back to her a few days later with ideas about how I wanted to shoot it. She agreed and that’s how ‘In The Vice’ came about.

What is ‘In The Vice’ about?

‘In The Vice’ is inspired by a true story that has to do with a woman who is very successful in the world of finance, Wall Street, and the stock market. The film is about what she does behind closed doors in order to be able to cope with all the pressures of that world. The film is about addiction, about the face we show to the world, who we really are behind closed doors, and what it takes to survive in New York City when you’re really hungry for money.

And ‘Switch’?

‘Switch’ started out as a documentary project. I had gone out for dinner with a friend, and we started out talking about different projects, and he brought up the word ‘dominatrix.’ We had just gone by a place downtown, and he said, ‘that used to be a BDSM establishment.’ I had no idea what any of that meant. To be honest, I thought he was talking about prostitution. I did not have a clue about the world of professional domination and that it’s all legal because there is no sex involved.

I became fascinated with finding out who are these women who do this work for a living, and what type of men go to them as clients. What is the psychological turn-on, the appeal? What are these men looking for if they are not looking for sex? What is it that draws a woman to become a professional dominatrix, and what is it that makes a man a regular client? I thought this was going to be my next documentary.

I had discussed this with Olympia at some point. She knew nothing about this world, but the idea was fascinating to her as well. Everyone I spoke to about this project was genuinely curious and wanted to know more. I was determined to do some research, find a few professional dominatrices and their clients, put them on camera, and explore the psychology behind all of this. Well, it sounded easier than it was…I wasn’t able at the time to find people who’d allow me to follow them with my camera inside their work environment, and also when they go home, pick up their kids from school, attend a family gathering. So, I decided to sort of go undercover and experience this mysterious and stimulating world for myself.

I began training and then working as a dominatrix for a couple weeks to see where it’d take me. The plan was to make some contacts, build some friendships so that people could trust me, and allow me to put them on camera for the documentary. After my first week of training and working I was completely hooked, and I did this job for about five and a half years. I took those experiences, and turned them into a scripted series called ‘Switch’ which became my third project as director. We got to work with an incredible cast, including Olympia Dukakis, and the series has found an audience around the world and has won 17 awards and honors in the US and abroad.

I want to go back to ‘Beneath the Olive Tree’ which blew me away.

Thank you, Don. That means a lot to me, and I appreciate you taking the time to watch it twice—there’s a lot of information in the film for someone who doesn’t know this part of history at all.

The very first time you learned about the Greek women and the horrors and deaths they suffered. What was that point?

That was when Olympia handed me the book called Greek Women in Resistance. That was early in 2010. By June of 2010, within a few months after Olympia and I were talking about this project, and what we could do with this story, my business partner, Sophia Antonini and I took our first script to Greece to meet with the women, and start filming interviews.

Mind you, these were the same women who as teenagers were sent to concentration camps and accused of committing all sorts of crimes that the government was never able to prove they committed, but that was the excuse for keeping them in the camps; torturing them and teaching them how to love their country again. I don’t want to give too much away, but I really hope that people will watch ‘Beneath the Olive Tree’ so they can understand the propaganda that was used by the Greek, US and British governments in order to keep these women exiled in the camps or even imprisoned in various prisons around Greece.

So, I found myself reading about these women, and on one hand feeling so proud and inspired by the stories of these young women who dared to speak up for what they believed to be right and fair, for justice, for equality and on the other hand feeling completely heartbroken about how the Greek government punished them, destroyed their lives and took away their best years. I was in disbelief for a while…I honestly could not believe that all this had taken place in my country just a few decades before I was born.

‘Beneath the Olive Tree’ is a very important film and I highly recommend it to anyone who is a lover of history or interested in social and justice issues, women’s issues and history.

Thank you so much, Don. We had a very successful festival run in the United States. For close to four years we had festivals reaching out, asking to set up screenings for the film. It was overwhelming at first, but then it was really incredible to see people who are not of Greek background to come out and watch the film, and then come up to me at the end with tears in their eyes—talking about the women and what they had to endure, how moved they were, and that they knew nothing about this part of Greek history, and how blown-away they were by it all. You can imagine how much it meant to me and the whole team to experience the film through other people’s eyes.

What’s on the horizon for your work?

This is an interesting time for me as I am ready to take my work to the next level. At the end of 2019, and then into 2020, I was going back and forth to LA frequently because I was interested in getting into the networks and the studio system. I no longer want to work as an independent filmmaker. I am ready to get into the studio system and work on bigger productions where I can put my skills and talents to even better use, create projects for the networks, and be able to reach a wider audience. This is the reason why I started my own production company, The Toska Matrix, and have been developing IP (intellectual property) through it, but also producing other people’s works under the company.

Now, as I started to make this transition, Covid hit. I was in LA last in March of 2020 looking at apartments, and they put us into lockdown. It was like, ‘oh my god, what am I going to do now?!’ But, long-story-short, I got back to New York and focused on staying healthy and developing various projects. I have a couple of documentaries I want to produce because I love documentary filmmaking, and I have some scripted and reality shows I’m working on. And, I just optioned a book that I want to adapt into a series; I can’t say more about it at this time, but I’m very excited about this project as well.

Are there any specific projects you wish to mention?

I’m under contract with a well-known production company in Hollywood. We have a development deal for a show that explores human nature, human sexuality, and all that. I can’t say anything more about it until we get the green light, but I will say that this has been a really great experience for me and one that shows me I’m on the right path. I absolutely love creating, developing, producing and I’m blessed to be doing that with a great team of people by my side.

I imagine that a narrative version for ‘Beneath the Olive Tree’ will be high on your list.

Yes! It’s on my to-do list. Olympia, soon after receiving her Oscar for ‘Moonstruck,’ was approached by studios asking what she would like to do next. She wanted to work a narrative about the Greek women, based on true events. They hired a scriptwriter, and it turned out to be very Hollywood. They wanted to leave out the politics, the fact that these women were brutally tortured or killed. Olympia was disappointed, and that was the end of that project. She, Sophia and I agreed, though, that we should produce the narrative film. Olympia is no longer with us, but I am determined to produce this project in her honor and for all the incredible Greek women featured in ‘Beneath the Olive Tree.’

Thank you, Stavroula, for sharing your life and work with me. I’m in awe of your work, and for all that’s coming next in your career.

If you’re interested in learning more and viewing Stavroula’s work you can visit the links below for more information:

www.thetoskamatrix.com

https://vimeo.com/ondemand/beneaththeolivetree

www.switchtheseries.com

*****

“Right now all we’re doing is trying to just stay alive in the business. We’re just trying to get it done within the regulations, so that we can survive, so that we can go forward.”
One of the Lady Buds

A prolific filmmaker and exhibited fine art photographer, Chris J. Russo has directed her first feature—the documentary film Lady Buds—about women and cannabis in California. Russo spends time with farmer/entrepreneurs Chiah Rodriques, Sue Taylor, Felicia Carbajal, Karyn Wagner, and ‘The Bud Sisters’—also known as Pearl Moon and Dr. Joyce Centofanti.

The primary issue faced by the lady buds is the inevitable expansion of the industrialization of cannabis. Farmers are facing seemingly nonstop State-based bureaucratic challenges to the running of their hitherto bucolic farms, as well as the falling prices of cannabis. The women are doing anything and everything they can to maintain a community of relatively small farms.

Lady Bud Sue Taylor wanted to open an Oakland dispensary geared toward the health care needs of seniors. She did so, but it took a massive amount of effort, patience, and time to realize her dream, and, once realized, she suffered a riot sparked by the killing of George Floyd. Deeply committed to her dream, she weathered the loss gracefully.

It appears that California’s governmental bureaucracy will continue to push against small farms. And farmers will do what they can to push back. Cannabis, of course, is still a Federal Class 1 Drug. Eventually, though, cannabis will be decriminalized at the Federal level. When that happens there will be much more open business, of course, along with a good measure of chaos.

Lady Buds has received positive attentions from press: Screen Daily, The Hollywood Reporter, Forbes, POV—Documentary Culture, DEADLINE, Candid Cinema, The Film Stage, Film Threat, and SKUNK.

Lady Buds is a very well-produced film that, by the way, features beautiful northern California scenes. I also appreciated the work of Abby Posner and Taylor Rowley who provided the film’s music score.

The film is currently playing at the Mill Valley Film Festival, on October 11 and 12, and will be available virtually on the Mill Valley Festival website for the duration of the festival. Stay in touch with the film’s website to find ways you can see the film.

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(Photo courtesy of ‘Lady Buds’)

“A couple of teenagers with a Twitter account, and a former Senator from Alaska have been able to put ourselves in front of the political establishment—jarringly. We’re in the face of the Democratic electorate, and I think we’re making a difference.”
Henry Magowan—Politically Active Teenager

Mike Gravel (May 13, 1930 – June 26, 2021) was a United States Senator from Alaska. He made a 2008 run for the Presidency. His politics were decidedly liberal. I do not know the precise origin of this story, but here’s what transpired:

A group of high school students—David Oks, Henry Williams, Henry Magowan, Elija Emery, Alex Chang, and Jonathan Suhr—with a strong liberal bent set out to give the then 89 year old politician another run at the Presidency.

Directed by Skye Wallin, American Gadfly follows the students as they work with Gravel and make a run for his place on the debate stage. There were two criteria needed to get on that stage: the number of donors and a polling criterion. The students managed to collect enough donors, 65,032, but missed the polling criterion which takes precedence over the number of donors.

The old adage applies, ‘it’s not the goal, it’s the journey.’ This run was important for, and gratifying for all the participants. The story is not over. Two of the students presented at the Young Democrats of America National Convention. And the group sparked the creation of The Gravel Institute.

Perfectly crafted, American Gadfly is another example of the growing number of young people taking responsibility for themselves and their world.

The film is currently playing at the Mill Valley Film Festival, on October 11 and 12, and will be available virtually on the Mill Valley Festival website for the duration of the festival.

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(Photo courtesy of ‘American Gadfly’)

“Long ago, when the earth was just lava, rock and ocean, something happened in the water. Something flickered to life. It came at first like the mist atop an emerging wave—just the first expression of a building momentum. And in time, a massive wave of life energy lifted from those oceans and covered the planet in a blanket of life forms. Life emerged there in those oceans, and it expresses itself now wherever there is water. It’s almost as if this quality of aliveness is just a glint that shines through the water in all things.”
Emmett Brennan

In Reflection: A Walk with Water director Emmett Brennan joined and covered a group of walkers in the Owens Valley, in the eastern Sierras, in southern California, to walk three weeks next to the Los Angeles aqueduct. The walkers were concerned about our changing climate—concerned, ultimately, about the quality of life on Earth.

Along the aqueduct’s way we hear from a variety of ecologists, indigenous people, and permaculture practitioners sharing their knowledge and wisdom. Water, of course, is the prime focus. Brennan interviews farmers, engineers, grazers, and city planners all to address the health of our planet, our flora and fauna, and ourselves.

Reflection: A Walk with Water is very well crafted. I have viewed and enjoyed the film two times so far. I was also moved by the film’s music put together by a team of musicians and composers: Jacob Collier, Justin Kauflin, Emmett Brennan, Jiordi Rosales, Tammy Ari, and Geir Brillian. Yours truly would love to have the music sound track to enjoy.

Note: Reflection: A Walk with Water will be playing at the Smith Rafael Film Center on October 14 and 15, as part of the Mill Valley Film Festival.

ORGANIZATIONS

Walking Water: https://walking-water.org/

TreePeople: https://www.treepeople.org/

Occidental Arts and Ecology Center: https://oaec.org/

Regenerative Design Institute: https://www.regenerativedesign.org/

East End Eden Farm: https://numundo.org/center/united-states/east-end-eden

Singing Frogs Farm: http://www.singingfrogsfarm.com/

Grass Nomads: https://www.grassnomads.com/
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Kudos to Emmett Brennan on directing his first documentary film, and hitting it out of the park.

(Photo courtesy of ‘Reflection: A Walk with Water’)

 

“We are born outside the regime of your civilization. With all the killings and planet-wrecking humanity has committed, perhaps autism could help you remember what truly matters. Autistic people obsess over certain things because we’d go crazy if we didn’t. Repetitive things are comforting. They soothe me, and protect me from uncertainty.

“I want to grow up learning a million things. There must be countless other autistic people who have the same desire. We, too, want to grow. The hardest ordeal for me is the idea that I am causing grief for other people. Please, keep battling along side me.

“When I was little there was always a question that was a big, big worry: What am I going to become? Will I ever be able to live properly as a human being? I don’t pretend for a moment that everything I’ve written applies to all autistic people, but I wrote this book so that you can come to understand me, in the hope that my future will be connected to your future. Above all, that’s what I want.”
Naoki Higashida

Based on the book, The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida, and produced as a documentary film by director Jerry Rothwell, The Reason I Jump is an exploration of autism as a way of being.

A narrator speaks the written words of the 13-year-old Higashida. We hear from five children with autism, and from their parents. The film acknowledges the challenges children and their parents face, but the overall focus is a positive vision of people with autism. The challenges children and parents face are both about the nature of autism, as well as the stigma human beings apply to those with this way of being. In this film, these challenges are well met—with joy.

The Reason I Jump is the most touching, moving, compassionate documentary film I’ve ever seen. I will see it a few more times—and will spread the word. This is a film everyone should see and digest.

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The film is available in the United States on DVD and on Netflix. See the film’s website for more information about releases elsewhere.

(Photo courtesy of ‘The Reason I Jump’)

 

A Tweet from Leonardo DiCaprio: “Attenborough’s documentary puts everything into perspective, not just the way we impact our planet, but specifically the way we can solve our environmental crises. It’s an incredible journey into the science of our living planet. This may be the most comprehensive narrative yet.” — 4:43 PM · Jun 10, 2021·Twitter Web App

With its record breaking damage to the good-ole US of A, it seems that hurricane Ida and the west’s record-breaking fires have garnered more than the usual explicit concerns about global warming by our mainstream media. To learn the down-low of our environmental degradation and what to do about it, I suggest you see Jonathan Clay’s “Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet”

What’s most unique about Clay’s film is the elegance and clarity with which he treats this ongoing urgent topic. This story, our story, starts with a 10,000-year period of time on Earth called the Holocene which was characterized as a stable period of time that enabled the emergence of our modern civilizations. That stability disappeared sometime in the twentieth century when we left the Holocene, and entered the Anthropocene—the Age of Humans—the age of warming and instability.

Our well-known David Attenborough along with Swedish scientist Johan Rockström are the film’s primary hosts with additional specialists speaking throughout the film. The boundaries in the film’s title refers to the stable global systems we were living in, and which are no longer stable. These are the ‘breaking’ boundaries—the ones we don’t want to break.

The first environmental system covered in the film is the obvious one: global warming which has obviously broken its boundary for stability and entered a global period of unknown proportions of heating, and, therefore, unknown amounts of global loss and damage.

Other boundaries covered in the film are habitat loss, the presence or absence of flora and fauna, the loss of forests, loss of biodiversity, mass extinction, loss of fresh water, the flow of two crucial nutrients—nitrogen and phosphorus, ocean acidification, air pollution, and loss of the ozone layer.

Of the many environmental films I’ve seen “Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet” is the most comprehensive. One viewing of this relatively short film—one hour and 13 minutes—provides the viewer an efficient education about the environmental catastrophes we have created, and what we can do now to reverse the losses and damages. When asked ‘what is THE most important documentary I should see,’ it is now “Breaking Boundaries.”

Like a few of the documentaries I’ve covered, this one is on Netflix. I will repeat what I’ve said about crucial documentaries. If you don’t have Netflix, find a neighbor, or friend, or relation who has Netflix, and see this film.

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“She’s both a victim and a villain. She’s both. She is both in this story.”
Evelyne Haendel, Belgian Genealogist, Holocaust Survivor

Directed by Sam Hobkinson, Misha and the Wolves is a finely produced documentary about a lifetime falsifier who named herself ‘Misha Defonseca’. The ruse began as a young child. She feigned a connection with wolves, and constructed a story about being a Holocaust survivor. She did secure a friendship with the proprietor of a wolf sanctuary, but her story of walking in the woods of World War II Germany alone except for the wolves by her side… that simply added some adventure to this story.

Defonseca’s book, Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years, was wildly popular, and was translated into 20 languages. A French language film of Misha’s story as a little girl, Surviving with Wolves (Survivre avec les loups), also became popular.

After decades of pretense and money-raising for herself as a Holocaust survivor, a few people became suspicious about Misha’s story. They began asking questions and seeking answers. The above mentioned Evelyne Haendel spent countless hours meticulously seeking and finding the archival information that finally ended this sham.

Hobkinson also added a much-needed coda—we learn what really happened to Defonseca’s parents.

I have viewed this film three times so far. The story is utterly fascinating, and the production quality is outstanding.

Misha and the Wolves is a Netflix film. If you don’t have Netflix, find a friend, relative, or neighbor who does!

Music by Nick Foster 

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(Photo courtesy of Netflix / Misha and the Wolves)

Directed by Robin Bicknell, and narrated by David Suzuki, Nature’s Cleanup Crew covers the scavenger species who do our world much-needed good. We are introduced to the very fine services of: Ants, Opossums, Foxes, Bacteria, and Vultures

Ants: Urban Ecologists Amy Savage and Clint Penick tell of the virtues of ants 23 species of which are found on and below Broadway, the one in Manhattan. They consume the equivalent of a quarter million in doughnuts annually. If you piled them up, they would reach twice the height of the Empire State building.

Opossums: Psychologist and Biologist Suzanne MacDonald was studying raccoon behavior which was convenient since they lived in her backyard. One night an opossum showed up, and to make a long story short, MacDonald fell in love with opossums. They are the only marsupial species in the United States and Canada. MacDonald comments that almost all the common beliefs about opossums are false, and she lists the many virtues of these very maligned creatures. The most well-known virtue is their massive consumption of ticks so many of which cause Lyme disease.

Foxes: We go to Berlin where we meet Evolutionary Ecologist Sophia Kimmig from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research. She studies wolves in metropolitan areas, and notes that global warming—my word for ‘climate change’—has brought populations of foxes farther north. One benefit Kimmig notes is their role in controlling populations of rodents and rabbits.

Bacteria: Environmental Engineer Satinder Kaur Brar of York University Institut national de la recherché scientific is working with a bacterium called Alcanivorax which can break down hydro-carbons into Co2 and water. She has completed tests of this process, and her next step is a large scale attempt to break down hydro-carbons—a potential global game changer.

Vultures: Evan Buechley Conservation Biologist of HawkWatchInternational/Smithsonian is supporting vultures who are decreasing in numbers around the world. This decline in vulture populations is increasing the incidents of human diseases (long story). Vultures are experiencing loss from hunting, poisoning, and habitat loss.

All of the people supporting ‘nature’s cleanup’ are heroes in my book. Like other environmental documentaries I’ve seen, this film should be seen far and wide.

Nature’s Cleanup Crew is produced by Kensington Productions, and distributed by Bullfrog Films.

Music is by Eric Cadesky and Nick Dyer

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(Photo courtesy of Kensington Productions)

“The Greek Civil War (1946-1949) is considered one of the worst periods in Europe’s modern history. There is no accurate account of the lives lost, and it was never recorded in Greek history books. Years after the war ended, secret journals kept by women in exile were found buried beneath an olive tree.”

Directed by Stavroula Toska, and narrated by Olympia Dukakis, Beneath the Olive Tree introduces a heretofore hidden horror, ‘The Greek Civil War’ and decades of the horrific aftermath that ensued. The film’s focus is on the persecuted, tortured, exiled, starved, and execution of approximately 100,000 Greek women. The civil war lasted much more than the aforementioned three to four years. Attacks on women continued well into the 1970s.

The inciting incident to this story is the unearthing of a set of seven documents buried beneath olive trees revealing the horrific attacks men perpetrated on women.

In addition to revealing these decades of attacks on women, this is a deeply personal film. Toska’s mother was a victim. Having learned about the decades of attacks on Greece’s women, Toska visited her mother in Greece. We see, hear, and feel the love between mother and daughter—and we empathize with both women as they confront the impacts on each other of the revelations of the documents.

During these decades of unrest, Greece was torn apart by global politics—Western forces verses communist forces. Amongst countless others, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt participated in the socio-political splits that still haunt and hamper Greece to this day.

Although there are now books and presenters who write and speak on the devastation perpetrated on these women. There is still the call for a full reckoning of this hidden horror. Toska’s film and the resources it provides help each of us who are just now learning about, and sharing about the books under the olive tree.

Beneath the Olive Tree left me utterly stunned. I’m still reeling from the hidden horrors revealed in the film, and in awe of the survivors, and everyone in this film who suffered, as well as those who revealed. I grieve for all of the victims. “Beneath the Olive Tree” is a story I will revisit from time-to-time.

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(Photo of Stavroula Toska courtesy of ‘Beneath the Olive Tree’)

“Sometimes I ask myself ‘what would stop a person from helping somebody?’ I really can’t answer that. But, what I could imagine is fear. I truly believe that one day something greater than all of us is going to force us all to come together and see each other for who we really are. It’s not going to matter how much money you have in your pocket, it’s not going to matter what you’re wearing, it’s not going to matter if you have a car or not, it’s not going to matter none of those things. The only question that’s going to matter is, ‘are you hungry, are you okay, may I help you.’”
Gerald Hall
Veteran, U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant
Served from ’93-’97, Infantry Gunner, Aircraft Rescue & Fire Fighting Specialist
Homeless for 5 Years

Gerald Hall is our host in Van Maximilian Carlson’s touching and hopeful Skid Row, Los Angeles. Hall speaks of his own travail as a homeless veteran as well as that of several other veterans and many others. Of course, homelessness can be and is usually associated with hopelessness, but not in this documentary. Hall and the many other people in this film are fighting for their lives, for their dignity, decent homes—for acknowledgment of their worth in this world.

The residents of skid row live in tents. Throughout the film Carlson pans several times along the road these tents are on, pressing the point that this is simply not humane, nor respectful, nor just. But, the film’s point is these skid row residents have intrinsic value, and that value should be honored, respected, and supported.

Specifically, the residents are seeking decent and safe homes, health care, meaningful community, and meaningful lives. They are fighting against non-stop development, careless and cruel policing.

Carlson also covers the hope provided by caring people who are supporting skid row residents. Here are the organizations highlighted in the film:

Volunteers of America Los Angeles

Los Angeles Urban Voices Project of Leeav Sofer and Christopher Mack 

Skid Row Neighborhood Council  

This year, 2021, Los Angeles Eric Mayer pledged one billion dollars to help end homelessness in Los Angeles.

Skid Row, Los Angeles is a crucial addition to the ongoing, preventable scourge of homelessness in the United States of America.

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Note: In addition to being a prolific filmmaker, for this film Van Maximilian Carlson directed, produced, shot, edited, colorist, provided the music along with Phil Lober, and wrote the song, “Where Is My Home”

 

Note: To state the obvious, some readers of this review will accept the veracity of the stories told in this documentary film. Others, not so much. In any case, I encourage all readers to view this moving and endearing film.

Introduction: “When the Vikings, the first human settlers, arrived in Iceland during the 9th Century, they encountered a land in the making. The Earth quaked, volcanoes erupted, wind and sea carved the cliffs. Nature was alive and all powerful. And the land was full of spirit beings. Trolls, hidden people, sprites and elves lived in every river and waterfall, mountain and lava rock. The Vikings knew that the only way to survive here was to become friends with these spirits of the land.

“But when conflicts arose and the Vikings upset the spirits of the land, those who possessed Second Sight, called Seers, could intervene between the human and the spirit worlds. Seers could repair the wounds in nature that the humans had wrought. The humans and the beings of the land made a pact to work together. The humans would protect nature and the beings of the land would protect the humans. But, time passed and the humans broke the pact…”

We are in Reykjavík, Iceland. Our leader into this seemingly magical realm is Ragnhildur ‘Ragga’ Jónsdóttir. Ragga is a wife, mother, and born seer. She is one of a number of Icelanders who, to various extents, accept and live in the existential reality of unseen beings. Ragga is in frequent—if not constant—contact with these beings.

Whether or not one accepts this world, there is another way to understand Ragga’s world: A reverence for nature.

Director Sara Dosa’s The Seer and the Unseen follows Ragga during a particularly difficult challenge—the continued expansion of development of Iceland’s sacred land, and the concomitant loss of the unseen. She is not alone. There are other Icelanders who accept the unseen in their lives, and share in the loss.

Lava fields of Iceland are being destroyed, fields that house the unseen. Ragga is, of course, in pain because of this loss. She and her many friends and followers—seen and unseen—are fighting to save these lava fields. We are with Ragga as she confronts these losses, and finds a measure of success.

The Seer and the Unseen is a touching and endearing film. Irrespective of the challenge most of us face in considering the phenomena of the unseen, I whole heartedly encourage readers to enter Ragga’s world.

The film’s music is by Tara Atkinson and Giosuè Greco.

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(Photo of Ragnhildur ‘Ragga’ Jónsdóttir courtesy of ‘The Seer and the Unseen’)

“Humans are animals who kill other animals of the same species. They also develop the opposite, because we are herd animals. So, we develop sympathy, and love and collaboration and so on because a herd cannot exist without that. And so there are two conflicting elements in all of human society, and all attempts to fight the kind of Hitlerism that we are discussing here are really the attempt to strengthen one human reaction against another human reaction.

“The problem that we have is not that the Nazis were inhuman, but that they were human. That’s the basic problem that we have with ourselves, not with the Nazis. We also live out our own ideas. Fortunately, they are not Nazi ideas, but the Nazi ideas were acted out by people who were absolutely normal.”
Prof. Yehuda Bauer, Historian

“When somebody’s the President of the United States the authority is total.”
Donald Trump

Directed by Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker, based in part on Sebastian Haffner’s book The Meaning of Hitler, and narrated by Matilda Tucker, the documentary, The Meaning of Hitler, is a focused review of Hitler’s impact and fundamental role in the massive carnage of World War II. As a matter of course, the film includes a cornucopia of archival material as well as contemporary footage of the current re-rise of fascism in Western nations.

The film presents a large number of thinkers on Hitler’s role in World War II and the Holocaust. The film’s first speaker, Martin Amis, makes an immediate connection between Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler. Trump appears a few times throughout the film. And as a matter of course, the film includes a cornucopia of archival material as well as contemporary footage of the current re-rise of fascism.

One third through the film we meet David Irving—historian, holocaust denier, anti-Semite, and racist. In his feeble attempts to separate Hitler from the atrocities of his own doing, Irving takes people on ‘real history’ tours in Poland in his quest to absolve Adolph Hitler of the massive damage he caused. Once introduced, Irving appears a few more times throughout the film.

The Meaning of Hitler is a superbly crafted documentary film that reminds us of the choices human beings are obliged to intentionally or capriciously make.

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(Photo courtesy of ‘The Meaning of Hitler’)

We’re in Oakland, California. It is 2019, the beginning of the school year. Director Peter Nicks and crew are on site covering the lives of this years’ Seniors through the school year. There is no narration. These students are participating in a cinema vérité documentary film.

The film focusses on students who have volunteered to participate on the All-City Student Union Governing Board. Beyond that focus, Nicks’ Homeroom takes us on campus, viewing daily life, and hearing students talking about and participating in their charge to provide leadership to the schools’ student body as well as to the adult leadership. That is to say, students have some say in school and district-wide policies.

In addition to simply being high school seniors, this student body and the student volunteers on the Student Union Governing Board grapple with a multitude of policy and social issues: school closings, budget cuttings, student deaths, teacher strikes, the school district’s 6-million-dollar annual budgeted police and security force which students deeply resent, the seemingly non-stop killings of people of color, the existential threat of global warming, and to top this list: the multiple impacts of Covid 19. (My one and only concern as a Senior was how to get out of PE.)

In a story that could have easily degenerated into sensationalism, and despite the above overwhelming challenges these students face, Homeroom is ultimately a joyful celebration of a hopeful and caring youth, and a reminder to adults that these young ones are our future. Let’s put ourselves in their shoes

The film’s music is by Mike Tuccillo.

Homeroom is distributed by Hulu.

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(Photos courtesy of Hulu, LLC)

Juliane Dressner’s, and Edwin Martinez’s Personal Statement is much more than a very well-done, inspiring feature documentary film. It is also a crucial campaign.

The filmmakers seek to give young high school students—especially the disadvantaged—the opportunity to receive and complete a college education. In addition to the usual documentary website, the film includes a strong media campaign called #WeBelongInCollege to promote high school students moving on to college.

The film’s heroes are three high school students: Christine, Karoline, and Enoch. All three are talented, motivated and passionate about their education. All three face many challenges the most daunting of which is living in a society that does not effectively support the college education of young people.

Yet, recognizing that there is an inadequate number of well-trained counselors who specialize in supporting high school Seniors on their move on to college, each of these three students provide counseling and encouragement to their peers who are considering or seeking this advancement to college. And, of course, there is the agonizing requirement of students to compose and provide a ‘personal statement’ to impress and entice their ideal school.

The film covers each student’s home life, school life, the counseling they receive, and the three’s work as counselors themselves to their peers. We see the tough time they have determining their preferred school of choice—whether or not they get that choice. But, of course, these three students do move on, and we see the ultimately gratifying results.

Personal Statement is an engaging and inspiring film—with the inevitable soupçon of painful and happy tears.

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#WeBelongInCollege

(Photo courtesy of ‘Personal Statement’)

‘In 1983, the people of Ireland voted to add the 8th Amendment to their Constitution giving the unborn an equal right to life to that of its mother. Ever since, abortion rights advocates have been fighting to overturn it.’

Directed by Aideen Kane, Lucy Kennedy, and Maeve O’Boyle, The 8th is an Ireland-based documentary film about that nation’s reversed stance on abortion. The directors cover a brief history of abortion in Ireland, and follow the hard-fought battle to abolish ‘The 8th’. Finely crafted, the film gives voice to both sides of the abortion issue—and joyously celebrates these new-found rights.

There are many heroes in this battle, but one stands out. Her name is Ailbhe Smyth. As head of the ‘Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment’ Smyth spearheaded the initiative that passed the legalization of abortion in Ireland. Smyth appears throughout the film sharing hope, passion, and wisdom.

At the moment the United States’ Supreme Court consists of six conservatives and three liberals—for want of better terms. In the background of environmental catastrophes and a pandemic that has destroyed or damaged countless lives—and continues to do so—there is a gnawing concern about what will happen when the Court inevitably rules that States may go their own way on the subject of legal, safe, and accessible abortions.

The 8th has not yet secured release rights for the film in the United States, though that release will likely happen within a matter of months. The film, however, is receiving strong coverage in the US festival circuit.

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(photo of Ailbhe Smyth courtesy of ‘The 8th’)

With The Loneliest Whale prolific filmmaker Joshua Zeman took on a very long bet with his latest shot—to seek and find a virtually legendary whale called ‘52’—or, as the above title suggests, a forlorn whale which may or may not now exist.

A presumed cross between a blue whale and a fin whale, this whale had—or has—a call-out frequency of 52 hertz. This frequency is the only possible frequency for this whale. There was strong evidence that such a whale exists or existed. However, oceanographer Dr. Bill Watkins who discovered ‘52’ passed away many years ago before he could provide formal documentation to the scientific community.

The ‘loneliest whale’ became an international legend which included the belief that there is only one ‘52’ left in the oceans. Zeman wanted to search for and find this ‘52’ despite the gargantuan odds. He gathered a highly qualified team, and went to work. As luck would have it, there was information that suggested if ‘52’ exists now, she or he may be swimming the Pacific region along or near the southern California coast, wouldn’t you know.

Zeman and many others see something more to this story than taxonomy. The film’s ultimate overarching theme is isolation and connectedness. We anthropomorphize at the thought of this whale’s aloneness and disconnectedness, as we ponder our own.

Bleecker Street film, The Loneliest Whale is an expertly crafted documentary that keeps viewers thoroughly engaged from beginning to end. Kudos to the filmmakers who are also pointing out via this film the ongoing degradation of our oceans.

The film’s music is composed by Alex Lasarenko and David Little.

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“I mean, I think for a lot of young people right now, life is really scary—because we’ve never seen a moment like this in history. And our feelings about our life and our future is all because of choices that we had no participation in. And so the plaintiffs join this case because we all know who’s to blame, and what needs to be done.”
Young Litigator

Christi Cooper’s documentary film Youth v Gov tells the story of 21 young people fighting for our environmental future. The young ones are supported by a large number of caring people including a powerful attorney, Julia Olson. Their weapons of choice are federal courts.

We follow the young people and their supporters through the agony and hope, the ups and downs as they face and traverse the federal courts system. They want to ‘force’ the federal government to effectively address the decades of massive damage perpetrated by—and still being perpetrated by—our government’s support of fossil fuels.

Post Film: The young ones and their team are still on it!

Cooper reports: “The case is not over yet! It is currently with the district court, and Judge Aiken has ordered the Department of Justice attorneys to meet with plaintiff attorneys to begin settlement discussions. In addition,18 Republican state Attorneys General have filed a motion to intervene in the case, and want a seat at the settlement table. So, the case is heating up again, and definitely on the radar of fossil fuel-supported politicians. We hope that if Judge Aiken allows the plaintiffs to amend their complaint that it will be quickly back on the track for trial again!”

Whatever the final outcome may be, in my humble opinion this team of young litigators won their case, and are still winning. They have joined the growing number of people and organizations who are doing anything and everything they can to reverse the catastrophes us wayward adults have created.

Youth v Gov is ultimately a celebration, and one of the most moving and most significant environmental documentaries I have seen. This is more than a film; it is a movement. I whole heartedly suggest you also view the film’s organization, Our Children’s Trust.

The film’s original score is by John Jennings Boyd.

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we fish, we fish, we merrily swim, we care not for friend or foe, our fins are stout, our tails are out, as through the seas we go
Herman Melville

This is a crucial benefit of documentary films. They can unearth little known worlds of destruction and optimism, facilitating awareness and actions. Little did I know that something as seemingly innocuous as aquarium fish tanks are yet another source of pollution and sorrow in our planet.

Paula Fouce’s The Dark Hobby exposes the horrors of the global trade of those who capture and traffic reef fish for hobbyists’ tanks. The film’s focus is on Hawaii, and a long-standing political initiative there to stop the aquarium trade in the State of Hawaii. Of course, this is a global issue which the film acknowledges. There are only a few places on Earth that are protected from the ‘hunters’.

Approaching the film, I had no thought, idea, or knowledge of the existence of the issue of captive aquarium fish. Yet, in just a few minutes, after hearing and seeing the information, I, too, became an activist on behalf of fish.

The film proffers several rationales why it is imperative that we let our captive fish free. For instance, cyanide is used to stun the fish to make it easier to catch them. Many stunned fish are simply killed by this poison. And, longtime perpetrators of catching fish end up with yellowed skin from working with cyanide. Or, the hunters will use dynamite to stun the fish en masse, destroying reefs which, of course, are already in great peril.

Teresa Telecky, Ph.D., Executive Director, Humane Society International, estimates that 90% of wild-caught fish that are imported to the U.S. were caught with cyanide.

That, of course, is just one of many concerns the film presents. The fundamental issue, in my humble opinion, is our beliefs, values, and attitudes about non-human life. To what extent do we attribute beingness to non-humans? If we believe the totality of the information Fouce has proffered, yes, even small fish are beings. And, the overarching issue is their wellness and freedom. In a little over an hour, hearing the many people participating in the film, sharing their knowledge and experience, Fouce has convinced me: Let the Fish Swim Free!

And of those people presenting in the film, the one I found most engaging was Robert Winter who pops up throughout the film, speaking with verve and good humor about the issue of aquarium fish.

Lest I forget, of course, there are plenty of scenes of gorgeous ocean seascapes.

I whole heartedly suggest you see and take seriously The Dark Hobby—and that you check out the film’s well-produced website—especially the Take Action page and the Fish Welfare Initiative.

The film’s music is by Luciano Storti.

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Picture a Scientist is a vitally important documentary about the oppression, suppression, gender and racial biases women scientists have faced since science was created.

Directors Sharon Shattuck and Ian Cheney interview several scientists and others about the plague of negative experiences women have faced throughout their careers, and about the painfully gradual yet hopeful increases of participation women in science have appreciated.

The film offers a cornucopia of statistics, stories of the featured women, and a litany of the overt and covert negative experiences women have faced including:

unwanted sexual attention /// coercion /// assault /// subtle exclusions /// being left off crucial emails /// not being invited to collaborate /// vulgar name calling /// obscene gestures /// hostility /// passed over for promotions /// relentless pressure for dates /// remarks about bodies /// sabotaging equipment /// mistaken for a custodian (a.k.a. janitor) /// ignored in meetings /// inappropriate emails /// treated like a technician /// allotted about a thousand square feet less of lab space than men /// questioning competence—and likely more.
Fifty ways for misogynists to sabotage your career.

Jane Willenbring, Ph.D., Associate Professor at Scrips Institution of Oceanography, part of the University of California, San Diego tells a story emblematic of the misogamy women in science have experienced.

Willenbring had the very exciting and potentially rewarding opportunity to go on an expedition in east Antarctica. The primary leader of the four-person group was the well-lauded David Marchant, Ph.D. This was her dream come true. But, it wasn’t. The otherwise distinguished Marchant turned her dream to a nightmare by consistently harassing and abusing her throughout the expedition. Marchant physically damaged her, leaving a physical malady for life. Willenbring’s story, though, has a gratifying ending.

There have been much-needed advances of women in science, yet even today one finding from the 2018 National Academies of Science, Medicine, and Engineering report on sexual harassment in STEM fields was that the best estimates are about 50% of women, faculty, and staff experienced sexual harassment, and those numbers have maintained so far.

Although there is still more work to be done, the film ends on an optimistic note painting a picture of much improvement in the worlds of women in science. I was left feeling and believing that advances for women in science will continue.

Available on Netflix, Picture a Scientist is a masterfully crafted film that urgently deserves a wide audience.

The film’s music is by prolific composer Martin Crane.

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(photo of Sharon Shattuck and Ian Cheney courtesy of ‘Picture A Scientist’)

From Science and Nonduality: ‘Trauma is the invisible force that shapes our lives. It shapes the way we live, the way we love, and the way we make sense of our world. It is the root of our deepest wounds. Dr. Gabor Maté gives us a new vision: a trauma-informed society in which parents, teachers, physicians, policy makers and legal personnel are not concerned with fixing behaviors, making diagnoses, suppressing symptoms, and judging, but seek instead to understand the sources from which troubling behaviors and diseases spring in the wounded human soul.’

Directed and produced by Maurizio Benazzo and Zaya Benazzo, The Wisdom of Trauma does exactly what the title promises—revealing the crucial role trauma plays in human illness and wellness. The film is actually two films: A cinematic essay about the work of Dr. Gabor Maté, and an exploration of the impact trauma has on human lives.

In the body of the film we hear and learn from Maté throughout the film and from a plethora of students of trauma and the work they do in helping people heal from it. We also hear directly from those who have suffered from and healed from their childhood traumas. Maté and additional interviewees share their experiences and thoughts about trauma. We also hear from several people who have been trapped and suffered greatly, in one form or another, by virtue of their early childhood experiences. And we also see Maté working with victims of trauma.

This film covers a lot territory. I was struck with all of the information, of course, but there was one scene that most moved me:

We are at a very large prison yard. It is daytime, just a few clouds in the sky. A giant circle of prisoners are standing or sitting along the outer edge of the yard. A woman with a loud speaker is standing alone in the center. The woman addresses the men saying, “During your first 18 years of life, if a parent or other adult in the household often or very often would swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you—step inside the circle.”

Some men step inside the circle. She makes another announcement about a possible verbal assault, more men step in the circle. By the end of the exercise, the circle is much tighter.

 

Crime / Addiction / Homelessness / Mental Illness / Autoimmune Disease

If The Wisdom of Trauma was received and recognized as it deserves, the above list of social maladies would be significantly diminished.

A Science and Nonduality production, The Wisdom of Trauma is one of the most important documentary film I have witnessed. In addition to deserving a wide audience, this film should also be found in the political and medical worlds’ halls of power.

Dr. Gabor Maté

Science and Nonduality

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(Photo of Dr. Gabor Maté courtesy of self)

“If I just had this magic power, I would like to alleviate poverty, because when you’re poor, never mind the individual suffering, you’re destroying the environment because you have to. You have to cut down the last trees to try and grow a bit of food, to feed yourself and your family, or to make some charcoal. Or, you have to buy the cheapest food even if that did cause horrendous suffering to animals. I would like to change the unsustainable lifestyle of everybody else. We’re just greedy, and I always think about Mahatma Gandhi saying this planet can provide for human need, but not for human greed. And that is so right.

“And maybe the hardest of all, I really, really, really would love to change—without causing any pain or suffering—reduce the number of people on the planet because there’s too many of us. It’s a planet of finite sources, and we’re using them up. And that’s going to mean so much suffering in the future.”
Jane Goodall

Victor Velle’s 8 Billion Angels is the documentary film about human overpopulation I have been waiting many years for. It has been utterly obvious that human beings are responsible—through our greed and ignorance—for our own continuing demise.

Velle organizes the film in a set of major topics:

Oceans

Land

Air and Rivers

Population

Solutions

The solutions section is, of course, the most crucial. Not surprisingly, the number one solution, which has been batted about for years, is female empowerment—the most compassionate approach to population reduction. Along with distinguished interviewees, the film introduces the work of schools and organizations that promote empowerment and the impressive results of their efforts. And, we are also reminded of cultures that squelch females.

The film’s interviewees share hope that somehow or other we are going to eventually reduce overpopulation. My question is: Will the much-needed reduction be due to some form of Armageddon, or to reasonable, humane strategies which are already available if and when the world choses to implement them.

I can only hope that people will find this film, put two and two together, and participate in compassionate solutions to overpopulation.

8 Billion Angels is an Abramorama release.

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“This question of how much of the universe is understood is very much a moving target, because as we are able to stand in a new place, because we’ve learned something new, we then see other wonders that were not even visible to us before.”
Jennifer Macalady, Ph.D.
Microbiologist, Penn State University

Produced and directed by Ian Cheney, The Most Unknown is about scientists and their searches. Cheney, with a little help from Werner Herzog, takes nine scientists from around the world and pairs them up. The nine represent different disciplines, and each pair shares thoughts and experiences about their work. We are witness to the dialogs of the twosomes as they share their respective worlds.

This may sound like a dry film, yet it is anything but. Cheney takes viewers into the worlds of these scientists, revealing their human sides—their aspirations and dilemmas, and the challenges they face. Within their dialogs the scientists are addressing the origins of life, what is the nature of time, of consciousness, life in the deeper parts of the ocean, the scientific search for life in space, can the human mind move objects, and more. Along the way we are treated to awe-inspiring images of huge facilities designed to finally reveal the nature of dark matter, giant observatories, a large submersible vehicle that plums the ocean’s depths, and deep into dangerous water-filled caves in search of a few more microbial species.

The film’s atmospheric soundtrack is by Ben Fries and Simon Beins.

The Most Unknown is a previously hidden gem of a film easier found now that it is available on Netflix. Yours truly will view the film several times—especially once with my scientist-aspiring niece.

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(PS: Did you know that there are approximately 35 trillion microbial species, and that science has discovered about a million of them? Well, you do now.)

“Not everyone has a place to go. And there are often times where I don’t want to send a patient out into the cold with bad lung problems and no access to get medicines that night. I can’t just send him to the street. So, there’s no movement on that bed, and nobody in the waiting room can use that bed until that patient has a place to go. If I was a patient in the waiting room, knowing that there’s somebody who is completely stable, and didn’t need to be admitted, but there’s nowhere else to go, and I was stuck waiting for that bed, I think I’d be pretty darn frustrated.”
Emergency Department Physician

Peter Nicks’ The Waiting Room is another indictment of the United States’ fractured and economically failed healthcare system. The documentary follows a few doctors, staff, and patients during the night shift of a public metropolitan hospital that serves a largely uninsured patient population. Viewers see the pain, struggles, frustration, fears and hopes of all the people in this one night.

The film is also a testimony to the care, compassion and heroism of the staff and caregivers who work 24 hours, 365 days a year dealing with human life and death. I was most touched by a father who had brought his 10-year-old daughter to the ED suffering intense pain from an apparent throat infection. The father, as I would be, is in his own pain and fear for his child’s wellbeing, and is holding back tears of fear and care.

Distributed by Bullfrog Films, The Waiting Room is a very well-funded film, and the results of that support confirms the film’s powerful impacts on its viewers.

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In their documentary film, Last Breath, directors Richard da Costa and Alex Parkinson take viewers on a suspenseful journey to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean’s North Sea.

Dave Yuasa, Chris Lemons, and Duncan Allcock are working for a crude oil extraction company. We don’t know specifically what tasks they are performing, we only know that these hard-working, technologically trained men are placing themselves in jeopardy.

The film starts at the top—the raging ocean. As their container is lowered, the three bodies are accommodating to the increasing pressures of the ocean’s depths. At the bottom they are breathing a mixture of oxygen and helium creating humorously sounding voices which are simply a part of the job.

Their equipment is heavy-duty and high tech, with plenty of failsafe mechanisms, but not enough. Lemons, who is engaged with his beloved Morag Martin, is the first to work on this round of tasks.

Workers on the job at the bottom of the ocean use thick multi-functional ‘life lines.’ One of the carriers breaks away, as it drifts, Lemon’s life line tightens and quickly breaks. To make matters worse, there are equipment failures elsewhere. Lemons is adrift in 4 degree centigrade water.

The film follows the three workers as they struggle to save their compadre.

Distributed by Dogwoof, and available on Netflix, Last Breath is a captivating, well-crafted film that keeps viewers fully engaged from beginning to end.

The film’s perfectly haunting soundtrack is by Paul Leonard-Morgan. (I am making a point of acknowledging composers and performers of documentary sound tracks.)

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(Photo courtesy of ‘Last Breath’)

Directed by well-lauded veteran filmmaker Alex Parkinson, Lucy the Human Chimp tells the epic story of a young woman’s devotion to the care of a chimpanzee who had been raised by psychologist Maurice Temerlin and his wife Jane as an experiment. Eventually, Lucy became unruly, and the couple made the painful decision to send her to Gambia, in West Africa, where the Abuko Nature Reserve would prepare Lucy for life in the wild.

Months before that decision the Temerlin’s had hired a young woman, Janis Carter, a graduate student, to care-take Lucy. Janis was 25 years old, it was 1976, she was working at the University of Oklahoma’s primate studies group.

Even though Janis was sternly warned not to bond with Lucy, the two bonded very quickly. When Janis finally confessed her misbehavior to Maurice, he was sympathetic, and let Janis know they were going to take Lucy to Africa. The couple invited—‘insisted’ is a better word—that Janis join them.

This was the inciting incident that changed forever the path of Janis Carter’s and Lucy’s lives. Janis remained with Lucy, in Africa, mostly in solitude, for at least six years.

Lucy the Human Chimp is amongst the most sensational, touching, moving documentary films I have viewed. Janis Carter’s journey is nothing less than jaw-dropping—and gratifying—a testimony to love, devotion, caring, and the dignity of non-human animals.

Lucy the Human Chimp is an HBO Max / Channel 4 film.

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(Photo of Janis and Lucy courtesy of HBO Max and Channel 4)

“For the first time in my life I can say I enjoy a job.”
Cara Participant

Directed by Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel, The Road Up is a masterfully produced documentary about a Chicago-based program called ‘Cara’ which supports people who aspire to recreate their shattered lives in a healthy and fruitful manner. Cara’s centerpiece is a month-long ‘boot camp’ called Transformations held in a meeting room. The film profiles four attendees in a Transformations program.

The program’s conductor—and, in my opinion, hero—is Jesse Teverbaugh, a brilliant leader who experienced his own fall into hopelessness, fought his way out, and has changed the lives of a countless number of adults. Teverbaugh’s leadership is as confronting as it is compassionate. I noted with admiration the acceptance of crying in these meetings—including Teverbaugh himself.

On the surface it may seem Transformations to be a jobs program, but Transformations addresses much more. The following information comes directly from the film’s website:
“[Cara’s approach] essentially flips the script on the traditional formula, making the case that the first step on the road up isn’t finding employment, it’s finding hope, connection, and community. What some dismiss as ‘soft skills,’ Cara calls ‘harder skills’—conflict resolution, impulse control, even the ability to express love and accept it in return. To Cara, these are the essential skills that give their students the resilience they need to persist, and ultimately to thrive. By explicitly and emphatically stressing the ‘love’ in ‘tough love,’ Cara’s model pointedly critiques how we approach the entire issue of job training in America, essentially asking the question, “what if we’ve had it wrong all along?”

The Road Up is a hopeful film about people finding new paths to living constructive, productive, and loving lives.

The film is currently on the festival circuit. You can stay in touch with the film’s website, Facebook page, or Instagram page for updates on the film’s progress. Anyone interested in hosting a virtual or in-person community/organizational screening may contact the filmmakers at: info@siskeljacobs.com The film’s wide release will be in the first half of 2022.

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(Photo courtesy of ‘The Road Up’)

Phil Demers was working as a trainer at Canada’s MarineLand, in Niagara Falls. The park decided to add walruses to their show. The first walrus, a baby, was named ‘Smooshi’—on account of her affectionate way of ‘shmooshing’ her face against Demers’. One day there was a need to draw blood. Demers was taking care of Smooshi as the veterinarian was in the process of preparing the draw when Smooshi’s eyes and Demers’ eyes met. The two instantly bonded. Demers’ life was radically changed forever.

Watching the beginning of Nathalie Bibeau’s The Walrus and the Whistleblower I immediately empathized with Demers’ experience, as I had a similar totally unexpected experience that changed my life. I inadvertently bonded with a dog, but my life was not quite as changed as Demers’

Demers realized the cruelty of keeping marine mammals in captivity. The young man morphed into a whistleblower and animal rights activist, and went on a personal odyssey to obtain legal custody of his beloved Smooshi, to give her a better and safer life.

He spent years in conflict with MarineLand’s founder and leader, John Holer, in this David and Goliath story. Demers’ legal battle lasted at least eight years. The result is gratifying in that the battle was won. The intensely fought-for legislation—S-203: Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act—was passed without amendments. Canada is the first country to make the captivity of whales and dolphins a crime of animal cruelty. But, there is a bittersweet ending for Demers who has yet to secure custody of Smooshi.

A vividly told story, The Walrus and the Whistleblower has won at least two film festival awards, and was an Official Selection of 11 film festivals. The film is an excellently produced, heartrending, and inspiring documentary that deserves a very large audience.

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(Photograph above of filmmaker Nathalie Bibeau)

  • Can You Hear Us Now? is another painful reminder of democracy’s frailty, as well as a call for hope and change from inspiring candidates.

Director Jim Cricchi and writer Susan Peters of Twelve Letter Films tell this all-too-common story of the sabotage of American democracy. This time the battlefield is in the State of Wisconsin. Governor Scott Walker is the bad guy, and this guy has plenty of minions—in the State and around the nation. Tony Evers is the good guy seeking the Governorship, fighting for a compassionate and just Wisconsin.

The film finds Walker in his third Gubernatorial race following his previous two consecutive wins, while Trump is seeking his second Presidency. The primary foci of the film, however, are the several women Democratic candidates running for various local and State positions They are struggling mightily to get back their Wisconsin, the one with neither abusive gerrymandering, nor voter suppression, and no ID laws—the one that cares for all its people, and encourages them to vote, to participate in the ongoing political process.

Distributed by bullfrogfilms, and Amazon, Can You Hear Us Now? takes its audience on a rollercoaster ride of nonstop, State-based political battles and machinations. The passionate candidates are thoroughly inspiring. The film is expertly produced, and the soundtrack by Caleb Stine perfectly surrounds this dynamic story.

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(Pictured: Jeni Estrada, a single mother working three to four jobs at any one time, and a candidate for Assembly District 25.)

Five Years North is a deeply moving, expertly produced film taking place in the world of U.S. immigration as seen by a young illegal immigrant (‘Luis’) who ended up in New York City, and as seen by Judy—a Cuban-American ICE Supervisory Detention and Deportation Officer who also lives in Luis’ neighborhood.

The inciting incident that led to the film’s making occurred when filmmakers Zach Ingrasci and Chris Temple met the eight-year old Luis in his home town of Peña Blanca, Guatemala, while working on another project. Filming began in New York and in Guatemala when Luis arrived in New York, in late 2017, at 16 years old, alone and without papers. Naturally, Luis faced a deluge of challenges to stay in and thrive in the United States.

The film alternates between New York and Guatemala, and between Judy and Luis. We are introduced to Judy’s home life as well as her work as an ICE agent. She is candid in speaking her thoughts about ICE, yet is grateful for and committed to her agency and its work. And we are introduced to Luis’s life in New York, and his family in Guatemala. The love between Luis and his family, and the pains of separation his immigration has evoked within himself and his family are palpable.

T. Griffin’s original compositions effectively enhances the film’s impacts on us viewers.

Five Years North is thoroughly engaging. I would happily welcome a follow-up documentary film about Luis and company.

“We hope ‘Five Years North’ deepens the immigration conversation and can support the incredible work of activists and organizations helping those crushed by the system.”
The Filmmakers

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The title says it all in Louise Hogarth’s Elephant Refugees.

The film covers a lodge called Elephant Sands located in Africa’s dry, sandy, Kalahari woodlands of eastern Botswana. Created by founders Marie and Ben Moller in 2002, the lodge is dedicated to the care and feeding of wild African elephants under the duress of drought.

Starting in 2014, Botswana became the only southern African nation that disallowed elephant hunting. Elephants quickly learned this was the place to be. This change coupled with the global-warming-caused draught turned Elephant Sands into a challenging—to make an understatement—ongoing project.

As of the film’s making, the most difficult challenge was securing water for the elephants. The problem was exacerbated by the five years of migration to Botswana. As of filming, 60% of Africa’s elephants were in Botswana. I would not be surprised if that figure is higher now. Sadly, though, after five years of freedom from hunters, Botswana reinstituted the legalization of elephant hunting.

In any case, the family and their crew have weathered every difficulty and crisis they have faced in supporting elephants and in growing the lodge. I attempted to learn more about what’s happening now by emailing the lodge, but did not receive a response. In any case, the lodge is doing well as far as I can tell.

Elephant Refugees is a lesson in perseverance, dedication and love. The film won the Best Documentary Jury Award at the 2020 Sonoma Film Festival, and was an Official Selection of at least three other festivals.

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(Photo courtesy of ‘Elephant Refugees.’

All Light, Everywhere begins with the following narration:

‘At the back of the eye is the optic nerve. It connects the eye to the brain. The optic nerve receives no visual information. It’s a blind spot. At the exact point where the world meets the seeing of the world, we’re blind. We do not perceive this blind spot in our vision. The brain invents a world to fill the hole at the center of it. I am an actor who will give voice to the hole at the center of this film—because every film is, in part, an autobiography, because every image has a frame, and every frame excludes a world beyond its edges. And yet, when we understand something we still say, “I see.”’

Written, directed, and edited by Baltimore-based Theo Anthony, All Light, Everywhere is a meditation, an amalgam of vision, observation, bias, crime, policing technology, weapons, privacy issues, contemporary media, and justice.

Among several other people, Anthony introduces us to Steve Tuttle, spokesperson for Axon International, a large corporation which manufactures state-of-the-art Taser and surveillance equipment. We spend quite a bit of time with Tuttle and company learning the virtues of Axon’s products. In the last third of the film we are with African Americans sharing their thoughts and concerns about the policing technologies covered by the film.

Anthony does not propose answers, conclusions, nor solutions in his film. Instead, he journeys back and forth in time covering 18th century technologies of photography and measurements of several ilks, and 21st century policing and surveillance technologies including body cameras used by police, and measuring human brain activities (though what was being measured is not revealed). Viewers are left with intimations, a call to do their own meditation.

The film’s narrator is prolific voice actor Keaver Brenai. Composer Dan Deacon provides a consistently haunting sound track.

All Light, Everywhere is the winner of the Sundance Film Festival 2021 Special Jury Prize for Nonfiction Experimentation.

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Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=luHmSqY0Xsk

Directed and narrated by well-lauded veteran filmmaker John Walker, the flippantly titled Assholes: A Theory is a serious-as-a-heart-attack documentary film about rampant narcissism. The film is based upon the New York Times bestseller Assholes: A Theory by Aaron James who received his PhD from Harvard University, is a Professor of Philosophy at University of California, Irvine, and an avid surfer.

Walker’s film features at least 22 interviewees—including James—addressing the topic of ‘assholes’ some of whom are unabashedly self-proclaimed assholes.

James defines an ‘asshole’ as: ‘a guy who allows himself special ADVANTAGES in cooperative life / out of an entrenched sense of ENTITLEMENT / that immunizes him against COMPLAINTS of other people.’

We then are taught the large quantity of asshole types via an interviewee montage: boorish, smug, drunk, arrogant, etc.

I was particularly touched, though, by two of the interviewees:

Sherry Lee Benson-Podolchuk secured her life’s dream of being an officer in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police only to confront a nightmare of misogyny. She fought for justice for 20 years—including filing a class action suit with Canada’s federal government. She received over 3,000 women’s signatures. Two years later the federal government appointed Canada’s first female head of the RCMP.

The recently passed Paul E. Purcell was the Chairman of the Board, President, and CEO of BAIRD financial services. In interview, Purcell presented a corporate culture driven by unwavering integrity. He noted that his was the only financial services company to not fire any personnel as a result of the 2008-2009 global financial breakdown.

The legendary John Cleese also appears throughout the film. In one segment he opined, “Bad behaviour is as old as human history, something we all encounter at some point—whether on the playground, in the workplace or in public life. But the phenomenon seems to be amplified in an age of venomous social media and resurgent authoritarian politics.”

And that’s the thing—a seemingly unstoppable virus of narcissistic behavior poisoning many cultures, including, of course, people of the United States. Walker’s film presents possible solutions, but it seems at the moment that ‘assholes’ reign supreme in many parts of American culture. Walker also spends time in and about Italy which has its own forms of narcissism.

Asshole: A Theory is expertly produced by John Walker Productions, this documentary deserves a wide audience.

The film is available in Canada from CBC Gem 

Available in the United States from this LINK

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(Photo of John Walker courtesy of John Walker Productions)

Iain McGilchrist is a former Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, an associate Fellow of Green Templeton College, Oxford, a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a Consultant Emeritus of the Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital, London, a former research Fellow in Neuroimaging at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, Baltimore, and a former Fellow of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Stellenbosch.

Note: Although this documentary is about the divided human brain—left and right hemispheres—my proposed subtitle above refers to a unified world that our hero very much prefers, as do I.

Directed by Manfred Becker, narrated by Seana McKenna, and hosted by Iain McGiltrist, The Divided Brain takes the viewer through many worlds of thought regarding our brain, our culture, and our destiny as a species. The film’s initial focus is on the overactive logical left hemisphere of the brain, and transitions to the underutilized intuitive, emotive right hemisphere.

Becker and company take us on a journey through worlds of thinkers, scientists, and philosophers sharing their thoughts and experiences regarding our brains left and right hemispheres. McGilchrist eloquently states the problem: “We behave like we have right-brain damage.” His call is to focus on the much-needed care and nurturing of the left brain, and his hope is to see that focus help heal global sociological, psychological, and environmental maladies.

Amongst other places and people, the film’s journey takes us through a young children’s school, a clinic for brain damaged patients, time speaking with the legendary John Cleese, and a visit with iconic brain researcher Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor at her home. We also see a clip from her TED Talk presentation where she speaks of the stroke that changed her life.

Taylor categorically states that upon her recovery she was a completely different person. I was jaw-droopingly impressed by her home with its massive amount of art work Taylor has created and curated at home subsequent to her recovery. This time with her was in and of itself worth the price of admission to viewing this film!

The Divided Brain is distributed by bullfrogfilms.

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(Photo courtesy of bullfrogfilms)

 

“The astonishing speed and variety of nature’s response [to the pandemic] has shown that even modest changes to our lives can make a vital difference to wildlife around the world.”
Richard Attenborough

Directed by Tom Beard, and hosted by Attenborough, The Year Earth Changed covers the dramatic improvements the Coronavirus pandemic has given the natural world. The film displays many abandoned urban environments around the world that became peopled with animals, improving their lives, and supporting much-needed expansions of their populations. The film includes interviews of several passionate caretakers of our natural world.

The lessons learned from the pandemic can be applied to humankind’s post-pandemic behaviors. We can institute modest reforms and rectifications such as small shutdowns in the summer, nightly beach closers, and countless more opportunities to improve our natural world.

“This extraordinary year, the year the Earth changed, has not only shown us that we can help wildlife to flourish, but if we chose to do so, we can also transform the health of the planet for all. And far from being separate from the natural world, we’ve discovered that our lives are interconnected in deep and surprising ways. If we are to thrive in the future, now is the crucial moment to find ways to share our planet with all the life on Earth.”
Richard Attenborough

The Year Earth Changed was produced by BBC Studios, and is distributed by Apple TV+.

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“You would be surprised that no matter what country you’re from, it’s more likely than not some member of your family was involved in this war. … The thing that I hope the film does is it encourages people to actually ask questions, do a little bit of research… you can find out a lot about the history of your own family. And now’s the time to do it because if you have parents or grandparents who are alive, it’s probably their parents that were fighting in the war. But in twenty years or so, that generation’s gone, that link will be forever lost.

“That’s all I wanted to achieve with this film, really, is to have people inquire into their own family’s involvement. In the end of the day, the strategy detectives, that stuff belongs in the history books, and the academic books. But, the film, and the humanity of it involves all of us in how our own family was shaped by this war.”
Peter Jackson

In addition to directing the mega-films, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies which have given Peter Jackson legendary status, he is a World War I aficionado. The master filmmaker took 100 hours of WW I archival footage sourced from Britain’s Imperial War Museum, together with his 600 interview hours of WW I soldiers to tell a story of this war. The focus is on the United Kingdom’s four years of participation on the western front fighting Germans.

Jackson brings his perfectionist predilections to this harrowing yet engaging documentary. He worked with the finest craft persons available to bring the most accuracy possible to the film’s visual authenticity. As the story unfolds we listen to WW I veterans telling their stories.

The story arc is as simple as it is heartbreaking: The excitement of naïve—an understatement—young men marching through training, into battle, and then abandoned by post-war British society

Naturally, the film does not spare viewers from the carnage of battle.

The film has a well-deserved IMDB rating of 8.3—with more than 30,000 raters.

They Shall Not Grow Old is a Warner Brothers film. The DVD includes one Special Feature—‘The Making of They Shall Not Grow Old’ which is also quite engaging.

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Directed by the late Francine Parker, F.T.A. is a feature documentary film of an early 1970’s tour by an American troop of performers putting on anti-Vietnam/anti-war shows throughout a few Asian countries. The film was released in 1972, and squashed less than two weeks later.

The FTA show was conceived by Howard Levy, an ex-US Army doctor who had just been released from 26 months of incarceration at Fort Leavenworth military prison in Kansas, for refusing orders to train Green Beret medics on their way to the Vietnam War. The show’s idea was inspired in part by Bob Hopes’ years of putting on shows in support of Viet Nam troops and the war itself. Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland were the two most prominent FTA performers.

There are a few versions of the show’s title: The FTA Show, Free The Army tour, and Free Theater Associates. These titles were, in turn, a mockery of the Army slogan, ‘Fun, Travel and Adventure.’ The tour’s performers and troops much preferred their ascribed meaning of FTA as ‘Fuck The Army.’

Much kudos to Kino Lorber for curating F.T.A. which yours truly viewed on Blu-ray. Kudos, too, for these four bonus extras:

• Introduction by Jane Fonda

• 2005 interview of Jane Fonda

• ‘Sir, No Sir! — a 2005 83-minute documentary by David Zeiger

• Booklet with essays by historians David Cortright and Mark Shiel

I consider it crucial that viewers see the film with subtitles on.

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“It’s a singular event in history.”
Arlo Guthrie

In Mike Richards’ Creating Woodstock 22 performers and business people share their experience of the creation of the three-day concert called the ‘Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music.’ The producers and staff recount both the ups and downs, of course, and the seemingly countless barriers to the festival even occurring.

The plan was for an audience of 100,000. People, however, turned the festival into a free concert when 350,000 more people arrived. Consequently, the festival started in chaos with the only performer festival personnel could find on hand—Richie Havens—who, without even an announcement, was practically pushed on stage. Over two and a-half hours Havens played every song he knew. There were still no other performers available, so he performed a few encores ending with his creating and improvising the anthemic song, ‘Freedom.’

There were countless barriers to the festival even occurring. For instance, New York’s Governor Rockefeller was about to bust the festival using the National Guard. The producers convinced the Governor that the festival moving forward would be less problematic than the otherwise inevitable riot of 450,000 people with its likely injuries and probable deaths.

Or, when an agent from the New York State Health Department showed up unexpectedly to scour the entire site for health violations which would have been plentiful to find. The agent arrived at the production trailer with his 15-year-old daughter who promptly disappeared. Instead of inspecting, this young man spent three days looking for his hip daughter. One festival producer opined that this wayward teenager may have single-handedly saved the festival.

In my opinion, what did save the day was the festival producers who had a very specific approach to their production—peace and trust in this mass of young people. Having seen 1970’s iconic documentary film, ‘Woodstock,’ and now this behind-the-scenes documentary, I can vouch for the wisdom of that approach.

The film’s DVD contains the following Bonus Features:

Arlo Guthrie Walks on Stage, Grateful Dead Do Over, Creating the Woodstock Posters, Concession Stands On Fire, and Off Duty Police on Working the Festival.

Creating Woodstock is a Cinema Libre production. See the film’s website to learn how to find the film on streaming services.

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Ross Taylor is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Colorado Boulder. Previously, he was a visiting professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I discovered Taylor via his feature documentary film, The Hardest Day about veterinary performed in-home pet euthanasia.

I’m an animal lover, and had never heard of this way of saying goodbye. I watched and reviewed the film, and was profoundly moved by the heart, power, and quality of Taylor’s first feature documentary.

I quickly contacted Taylor, and we found ourselves in a friendship. In addition to Taylor’s film, I learned about his work as a photojournalist and was again moved by the quantity and quality of his human-centered photographs. Although photojournalism will always be in his DNA, Taylor is pursuing filmmaking. Based upon the quality and impact of his first film, and his passion for film, I believe he is going to have a successful career in filmmaking.

Taylor’s professional recognitions include National Photographer of the Year, Northern Photographer of the Year, New England Photographer of the Year, Virginia Photographer of the Year, and North Carolina Photographer of the Year (twice). His coverage of an Afghanistan trauma hospital garnered numerous international and national awards, and his work has also appeared twice on the cover of the Best of Photojournalism magazine.

Taylor was the inaugural fellow in the Multimedia, Photography and Design department at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication at Syracuse University. His master’s project was a series of films in the local burn unit. He is the lead creator of The Image, Deconstructed.

I spoke with Taylor telephonically from my northern California home to his Boulder digs.

Ross, tell me about the process of becoming a photographer and then a film director/producer.

I became interested in doing film from an early age, but I’m from a small town in the South, and we didn’t have any kind of resources to pursue film. It was never really an option. But, what was an option was visual communication through photography which was a cheaper entry point, and I found that very appealing.

So, I pursued journalism for quite a long time. I became very involved with the field. I was enthralled the idea of telling stories through visuals. My entry point was photojournalism, and I was quite involved with that for a long time.

I began to see the shift as the cameras we were using enabled us to do video production. There was one documentary that struck me called ‘Restrepo’—a war documentary. I had done some conflict photography as well. ‘Restrepo’ set something in me that seemed to make it possible that I could do video.

It’s not the only reason, but in part I left the field of photojournalism, and returned to graduate school where I studied short-form video production in a program at Syracuse University that addressed students who were leaving the field of photojournalism for producing video shorts. It was there I started thinking ‘how does one do a feature film?’ I’d always been interested in doing it. But, this was later in life, I was fortyish when I went back to school.

Fast forward, I was on a creative tenure track at the University Colorado at Boulder, and I did a photo project as part of that. It was about at-home pet euthanasia—the last moments people were sharing with their animal. There’s been very little media representation on it. It was very, very intense as you can imagine.

I was documenting the last photo appointment of my first trip where I realized I wanted to do a feature film. There was a thunderstorm, lightening was hitting all around, and you could hear the mourning sounds of a woman over her pet. It was very visceral, and there was no way you can convey this in a photograph as well as you could in a video camera. I thought maybe I could do a film on this. That’s what began the feature film.

Let’s go back a bit. Tell me about your formal education.

I’m from North Carolina, and went to school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I received my B.A. in photojournalism, and my Master’s degree from Syracuse University in New York—in short-form video production.

I got into photojournalism because of my father. He was an amateur photographer with a darkroom in a utility closet back when not many people had one. I was about ten or twelve years old. I just wanted to spend more time with my dad. It could have been anything that he did. But, it was because he did photography that I picked up a camera. I took pictures in high school for the year books.

And then in college I luckily took up a photojournalism course. I was pretty wayward in my education. I didn’t do that well academically, I struggled to find motivation within a major, or a course of study. Luckily, I took a photojournalism course, and it was like the light went on. I thought, ‘well, this makes sense.’ While other subjects were more difficult for me, photojournalism spoke a language I could understand—visual communication is easier for me to process.

I was from a pretty small area, and my thinking was pretty restrictive, I was unable to think expansively. I remember going to Washington, DC and thinking it was the most massive city on the planet. But, photojournalism opened that door. It was a series of peaking around the corner of photojournalism and thinking, ‘oh god, what’s next, what else can I see, can I witness?’ It just continued for quite a long time, and it kept just expanding. That’s the best way for me to process retroactively what the career arc was—an expansion of thought via visual communication.

What happened next?

After graduate school I was a visiting professor at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and then a visiting Professorship opened up at the University of Colorado Boulder. After that I received a creative track for tenure.

What were you doing?

You build a case for tenure with a particular expertise. My expertise is working and documenting in photographic and documentary film form the effects within, and the aftermath of traumatic experiences through a more intimate lens. I think because it was on my path or because of some of the things I’ve witnessed along the way, this was an easier connection for me—one that I’m more familiar with. I can move with respect and honor in these spaces. I feel very comfortable documenting and being present with people dealing with trauma.

I’ve found that people want to feel connected in trauma, in difficult experiences. They want to feel less alone. There is value in being with people in these moments, in documenting these moments, and in sharing them with others so that they know they’re not alone. I certainly see this trauma in pet loss. This is a quiet sadness people have felt.

When the story published of my photographic essay of people participating in their pet’s in-home euthanasia, it went viral, worldwide, it just exploded. I couldn’t believe how it took off. It appeared in many publications, and every time I would publish there would be a spinoff effect and other publications would pick it up. This was about a years’ cycle of exposure. It just shows that people have this experience, and it just had been bottled-up, and people haven’t seen representation of something so many people have felt.

When did you make the decision to move forward with a film?

In the summer of 2017, I was closing the photographic wing of the project, and that’s when I had that experience with that one family that was so visceral. I was photographing a very sweet family – Wendy and Rich Lehr in Florida, who had a dog named Mimosa. I wanted to attempt feature film, because it was then I realized it was only in a video that the experience could be properly documented. I started the project in 2018—not really knowing what I was doing. I knew one person that’s done a feature film. I didn’t have much connection to the industry.

Given that, you are a natural.

We had to balance the idea of documentation with the respect of the moment because it is profoundly intense. We worked with a former student of mine at Syracuse who does video, and became my cohort in this. We had to learn pretty quickly how to produce audio and video as a two-person team in very difficult situations. The gravity of the situation was reflected in the footage. It was intense, and it was something that I’ve never seen, never witnessed. It tended to present the reality of the moment at hand.

We worked about a week alongside what’s called Lap of Love—the largest at-home euthanasia service in the country. I became good friends with the CEO, Dr. Dani McVety-Leinen, who was instrumental in this film. She believed in the project and understood the importance of it. She helped introduce me to the veterinarians and we’ve become friends. We spent a lot of time together during this project, and I’m grateful for her (and the vets) support.

I always do this. I want people to know what I’m doing. I wanted to make sure that they understood the mission of the project. And, because they understood the mission they were on board with it.

Lap of Love gets a lot of media requests they deny because a lot of media outlets don’t come at the topic with the respect it deserves.

As far as I can tell, you are the only person who has addressed in-home euthanasia in photographic and filmic media.

I’ve not seen anything in a feature film on the topic, and certainly not as much in photo. The film became by default one of the first large bodies of work on this topic in photojournalism and feature film.

What’s next?

I’m working with the refugee community with a man named PJ Parmar who is a doctor. He owns a place called Mango House which is the largest facility in Colorado—and probably the greater West—that provides medical and dental services for refugees. The facility also has space for refugees run by refugees. It is a massive complex giving a leg-up to the refugee community. The film and photographic coverage is about Mango House, but Dr. Parmar is the film’s central character. I’ll finish the film over the summer.

This project, does it have to do with issues of immigration and the law?

Yes. My eyes have been opened. I thought I knew something about the refugee community, but I was ignorant. I’ve learned a great deal about the refugee experience. They deal with a whole host of issues that the average person could not imagine. My heart goes out to that community. Like The Hardest Day I really want this project to work, to get out there. I’m hoping to learn what I can from everybody that’s been of help, including you, for the first film, and apply it to this next film.

Where are you at in the production process?

I would say 80% done. I’m waiting until we get post-mask. A lot of refugees are still wearing masks. I really want to be careful of ‘othering them.’ I want to make sure that we see plenty of faces. I’ve done a lot of the structure of the film. I’m just waiting until there’s a little bit of normalcy so that we can identify more with this community.

That film’s very exciting to me. But, then again, I think anything you do will be of great interest to me.

I have photographically covered the Boulder mass shooting that took place on March 22nd which I will continue to document as an archive of the Boulder experience.

Here’s one of my favorite questions: If you suddenly found yourself with ten million dollars, what would you want to cover?

My heart goes towards enriching community. It would probably be a hybrid of working in arenas where I would try to identify unresolved grief or disconnected grief that many people are sharing, and then come together through the documentary form. I don’t know what exactly that project is. I just see the natural arc where all the projects I’m exploring would tend to gravitate towards identifying experiences that we all share but don’t want to outwardly express as readily. And if we can find creative expressions that can unite people in that grief, I think there’s real power in knowledge that you’re not alone in that grief.

I also think about creating a center for visual communication in Boulder. If I can get funding, that’s something that I’d like to do both in photographic and film form through fostering community.

What would that involve, what would the substance of that be?

I’ve done a lot of training in the field of photojournalism. I’ve run national workshops. I find it exceptionally rewarding—helping and training professionals in ways of maneuvering with intent, and purpose, and respect. I think many people are not born with understanding how to document somebody’s pain or struggles. It can be a very bumpy experience for people as they learn in real time how to do that. But, I think there’s an impetus and a need to continue to train people how to respectfully add to the documentary experience in film and photo people going through these difficult moments. This work can be more powerful and more respectful.

That sounds like a great project. The sooner the better.

The tenure path is helping me to crystalize my overarching vision, and what I’m about. I think when I was a photojournalist I just responded, and I worked hard, but I didn’t have an undercurrent I was attuned to. But, I see more clearly now.

Film is a direct link to that. You can’t film people in a difficult moment like the loss of a pet without really understanding your purpose. You can’t just show-up, you have to know why you’re doing that. And you have to convey that quickly, and people have to pick up on that, and accept that, and believe in it.

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Halina Dyrschka’s Beyond the Visible is the finest feature documentary film about an artist I have seen to date. The filmmaker unearths the story and work of prolific Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (October 26, 1862 – October 21, 1944). In a very short 94 minutes the film reveals an artist whose massive body of work had been buried and ignored by an illiterate, oblivious, and misogynistic artists’ world for many decades. (As far as I can tell, this is Dyrschka’s first feature documentary film—an amazing accomplishment.)

The central focus of the film are af Klint’s abstract pieces she began painting in 1906. These paintings are considered to be the very first works of abstract art. She continued painting abstractions the rest of her career.

The body of af Klint’s work is driven by her experiences and beliefs of a spiritual world. With an understanding that I am unqualified to make this statement, the impression I received having seen the many pieces presented in the film is that these abstract pieces are more than abstract. They include hidden symbolism ‘beyond the physical.’

Dyrschka’s film draws viewers into af Klint’s worlds and keeps us thoroughly engaged and mystified throughout the film. I whole heartedly suggest viewers see the film via Blu-ray. The Blu-ray disc includes additional interviews, deleted scenes, a rich painting gallery, and trailers. Plus, you have the visual benefit of Blu-ray standards.

In addition to the visual world displayed in the film, Damian Scholl’s music beautifully, perfectly reflects the virtues and qualities of af Klint’s work.

I cannot overstate my recommendation to see Beyond the Visible.

Beyond the Visible is distributed by Kino Lorber.

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(Photo of Hilma af Klint courtesy of Kino Lorber.)

‘What humans have done to the Earth is no less than a massacre of the other species.’
U.N. Convention on Biodiversity

‘The United Nations has declared 2020 – 2030 to be the decade of Ecological Restoration. This work is essential for mitigating climate change and protecting biodiversity.’

Along the Spanish/Portuguese border is a section of land called ‘Campanarios de Azaba Nature Reserve’ which consists of 34,800 acres of woods and agriculture. A growing community of people are working to ecologically restore this land. This project is in a state of non-stop becoming. The project began as 2,800 acres, and over the years large ranches have amended 32,000 acres to the project. The acreage will likely continue to expand. This land is the largest remaining tract of wild nature in western Europe.

Greta Schiller’s The Land of Azaba introduces viewers to this project, its people, along with the flora and fauna they are caring for. We spend time in the fields hearing from project staff and supporters, and seeing many animals such as horses, pigs, deer, rabbits and much more running free. But, these aren’t ordinary animals. The project made sure that they have the most ancient version of these species available. One of the primary values driving the project is “humans working to live in harmony with other species.”

As of the film’s release pray species were not included in the project, but plans were to add them soon. Indeed, near the end of the film we see rabbits being released. Given that, it is likely that pray species have already been added.

The Land of Azaba is another well-produced film about the beauty, power, and necessity of recreating our world in a more compassionate and sustainable manner. The people and their project are noble and inspiring.

The Land of Azaba is a Kino Lorber release.

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Between three and four million adoptable pets are euthanized annually in the United States. Some are euthanized compassionately, the rest are put into bins and suffocated in one manner or another.

Michael Samstag’s and Josh Gildrie’s A Southern Fix offers solutions to stem this tide of slaughter. The film begins with the usual unhappy news and images about our lack of care, let alone our mis-care of animals, but the film quickly goes on to feature people and organizations doing all they can to end the slaughter, and to provide loving homes for cats, dogs, and the occasional Pot-bellied pig.

The film features passionately dedicated people many of whom are volunteers working on animals’ behalf. This is the first time I heard the term ‘compassion fatigue.’ Having seen countless reports of medical personnel suffering from the hopelessness of saving many lives in this pandemic, I well understand the term as it applies to care for both humans and animals.

It appears that the American southeast has the highest concentration of euthanasia in the United States, and, consequently, the most compassion fatigue.

Since there is more demand for pets in the northeast, and too many in the south, we follow a group of southern people throughout the film who are arranging a caravan of dogs and other pets who would have otherwise been euthanized being transported from the south to the north. Their destination is an understandably impatient group of people excitedly waiting to receive their chosen pet. These people are committed to their new pet’s care. The arrival of the caravan is the film’s much welcomed climax. This southern fix is in. It’s time now, to ‘fix’ the United States’ mistreatment of animals.

A Southern Fix is one of four films under the RESCUE DOC FILMS umbrella.

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(Photo courtesy of ‘A Southern Fix’)

Directed and shot by Anders Hammer, Do Not Split is a documentary short that covers the violent conflict between Hong Kong’s citizens and Chinese forces for Hong Kong’s democracy.

Hammer simply lets his camera tell the story on the streets of Hong Kong—including protesters’ responses to this battle for freedom. The film ends in the pandemic with the streets emptied.

The film is available gratis from a few sites. My preferred site is Field of Vision.

Do Not Split has been nominated for an Oscar in the Best Documentary Short category. China will not allow the Oscars to be aired in Hong Kong on account of the Oscar nod to the film, and because of filmmaker Chloe Zhao who made comments about China years ago that the government disliked. This is the first time Hong Kong has been stripped from seeing the annual awards broadcast of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences since it was banned in1969.

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(Photo courtesy of ‘Do Not Split’)

In March, 2018, Jason Reid and his wife were vacationing in Puerto Vallarta when they got the text and the call. Ryan, the youngest of their four children texted he was going to kill himself, and Reid’s mother-in-law confirmed that their youngest son committed suicide at the age of 14.

Ryan hung himself in the attic of their upper-middle class home. His approach was particularly well thought out with separate notes for his mother, father, and three siblings. He emptied his smartphone except for one post: HELP.

Going through Ryan’s room, Reid discovered a drawer with two separate short notes one of which contained only three words: ‘Tell My Story.’ The family was forever changed.

Directed and shot by David Freid, and produced by Philippe Diaz and Beth Portello, Tell My Story does just that. Only the story told is of the whole family, and of the ongoing tragedy of teen suicide. The film is a very powerful call to address and reduce teen suicide. Reid’s specific goal is to end teen suicide by 2030.

Freid follows Reid as he travels the nation learning about and speaking about his personal experience and what he has learned about himself, his family, and teen suicide. We also hear directly from the family’s three children as well as many other teens. Throughout the film we see clips of a joyful, playful Ryan Reid which are as endearing as they are gut-wrenching.

I whole heartedly suggest you see Tell My Story and that you consult the website’s Resources Page. The more people who view this film, the fewer teen suicides we suffer.

Tell My Story is distributed by Cinema Libre Studio.

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(Photo of Jason Reid participating at Camp Marin Sierra courtesy of Cinema Libre)

“We are the generation that are allowing the African elephant and rhino to go extinct. If you can’t bring economical value to the local people to protect animals, then you will never win this war.”
Interviewee

Written, directed, and shot by Mirra Banks, No Fear No Favor covers African efforts to reduce—and, ideally, eradicate—the $20 billion a year poaching industry and to create environments that support both wildlife and human communities. For two years Banks was in Zambia’s Kafue National Park—one of the largest intact wilderness areas in the world—and in Kenya and Namibia.

The film includes a few images of the usual horrific slaughter of noble creatures, yet the primary focus is on conservation efforts of non-African and African citizens. Workers from Game Rangers International support the establishment and on-going developments of these efforts to save African wildlife.

We hear from a few of the wildlife protection workers, and see plenty of elephants—along with quite a few pangolins. One of the workers, Kingsley Munsyamba, was a poacher who got caught, and is now dedicated to taking care of orphaned elephants raised by humans, and released to the wild when ready.

Poaching is very much alive and well, of course. I can only wonder who is winning. Global organized crime is driving the slaughter of precious wildlife with helicopters, night-vision technologies, and sophisticated weapons. The United Nations estimates African countries lose $50 billion annually to corruption—money that could and should be used to benefit both the peoples and wildlife of Africa.

On the side of compassion and wisdom we have non-profit organizations, community organizers, and documentary filmmakers like Mirra Bank fighting the good fight on behalf of wildlife. Who’s winning? I suspect the killers—and would love to be proved wrong. Another concern I have is the impact of the pandemic on African wildlife and human efforts to support it.

From the filmmaker:
My goal, of course, is to greatly expand the number of empowered viewers who—once aware of the problem and the value of grassroots interventions—will step up to make sure that:

1) international cartels DON’T win in the fight against the 20 billion a year black market wildlife trade

2) and that Africa’s rightful/local stakeholders are full participants and sharers in the green profits that derive from protecting wildlife and wild environments. Ecotourism is the fastest growing non-extractive sector of Africa’s economy.
When wildlife and natural resources belong to local people—when sustaining them brings material benefit—they are hugely effective partners in conservation.

No Fear No Favor is distributed by Bullfrog Films.

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Awards and Festivals

Filmmakers’ Choice Award, Andrew Sabin Family Foundation Environmental Award, Hamptons DocFest

Outstanding Cinematography, Tallgrass International Film Festival

Outstanding Excellence: Cinematography,

Excellence: Feature, Nature Without Borders

Award of Excellence, Impact Docs

Award of Excellence, Docs Without Borders

Award of Excellence, Accolade Global Film Competition

Award of Merit, IndieFest Film Awards

Annapolis International Film Festival

Woods Hole International Film Festival

Port Townsend Film Festival

Out of Africa International Film Festival(Kenya)

Lighthouse International Film Festival

Friday Harbor Film Festival

March on Washington Film Festival

Ross Taylor and Luke Rafferty have made the best possible feature documentary about in-home pet euthanasia. Until watching their documentary, I did not know that was even an option, let alone how widely available it has become.

Likely, many people do not know about it. Hopefully, more will learn about in-home pet euthanasia now that the two gentlemen have produced The Hardest Day.

The film covers several families who chose this more compassionate way of saying good bye. We are with these families and their veterinarians as they conduct the procedure at home, with family members participating. Taylor and Rafferty interview a few advocates of in-home euthanasia one of whom is Dr. Dani McVety-Leinen, CEO and Founder of Lap of Love—a nationwide resource that helps individuals and families find and utilize veterinarians to perform this noble service.

According to CNBC journalist Lorie Konish “A new survey from TD Ameritrade finds that 33% of Americans have considered fostering or adopting a furry friend now that social distancing is the norm. Across generations, that rate is highest for millennials, who came in at 50%, versus Gen X, at 33%, and baby boomers, 25%.” And according to The Washington Post, dog adoptions and sales have soared during the pandemic. This is all to say that even more people are going to face saying goodbye to their pet.

Having to put down my suffering cat at a clinic a few years ago, I can say with experience that in-home euthanasia is much, much preferable. I would be very remiss, though, if I did not state the obvious: Losing a pet means tears, many tears. Even the highly experienced Dr. Dani teared up during her interview. Unless you have a heart of glass, you, too, will tear up viewing The Hardest Day. This is a measure of how well the filmmakers have crafted their film, and how much they care for pets and their human companions.

Stay in touch with the film’s Website for information on how you can see the film.

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Entangled is a masterfully crafted documentary film directed by David Abel, and edited and co-produced by Andy Laub. Both gentlemen are vastly multi-talented and highly accomplished. Their film covers a classic conflict between environmental values and commercial concerns.

The North Atlantic Right whale is on the verge of extinction. Fishing lines, ropes and ship strikes are the primary culprits. Further exacerbating this environmental tragedy are changes in the whales’ available food sources. As I write, there are approximately 350 Right whales in existence, with about 85 reproductive females left.

Passions flare on both sides. Fishing interests are facing existential economic losses, while the Earth faces the loss of another rare and noble species. The film gives both sides equal time in making their respective cases.

Of the obstacles to saving Right whales, vertical fishing lines cause the most deaths. As I watched the film I thought, ‘there’s gotta be a technological solution, a way to have ropeless commercial fishing.’ Near film’s end it is revealed and demonstrated that a workable solution has been designed and created. It will cost, of course, but, if the Federal government can subsidize very large industries, it could subsidize the implementation of ropeless fishing systems.

Entangled is another crucial environmental film that deserves a very large audience. In addition to seeing the film, I encourage viewers to access the website—especially the link to Right Whale News.

You may find the film Here

David Abel Website

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