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’m twenty years old, and it’s me that’s nose-to-nose with the American government for chrissake. There’s lots of fear, and the issue isn’t whether you get scared, the issue is what you do after you get scared.”
David Harris, journalist and author

Harris is talking about his decision to resist the United States government’s ‘Selective Service System’ which administered the military draft in the 1960s and 70s. He decided to help end the now-debunked, massively tragic Vietnam war which killed three million Asians, almost 60,000 Americans, and wounded 304,000 Americans. Harris became one of the leaders of the national Draft resistance movement that hastened the end of the war.

An estimated 500,000 young male Americans resisted the Draft, 10,000 were indicted, and 4,000 were imprisoned—including Harris. Countless Americans protested the war, and organized resistance against the Draft.

In The Boys Who Said No! veteran documentarian Judith Ehrlich includes interviews of 30 activists about their roles in supporting ‘Draft Resistors’—as opposed to the propaganda phrase ‘Draft Dodger.’ In-between the interviews we see horrifying clips of the war, and a wide variety of inspiring clips of the national movement that ended the war—and the Draft.

The Boys Who Said No! provides a much-needed lesson that American people can make a powerful, positive difference in the government and culture of the United States.

The film is finely produced, and should be required viewing especially for aging teens and young adults—and for those of us like yours truly who were not paying attention.

The film’s world premier will take place at the Mill Valley Film Festival October 8 – 18

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Rebecca Richman Cohen’s feature documentary film Weed and Wine juxtaposes the viticulture of wine grapes in France, with the cannabis culture in the United States of America. In doing so the film features two families: the Jodrey’s of Humboldt County, in northern California; and the Thibon family in the Ardèche region of the Southern Rhone Valley.

The film features four subjects: Hélène Thibon and her son Aurélien-Nathanaël Thibon-Macagno, Kevin Jodrey and his son Nocona. Brief profiles of each appear beneath this review.

The Jodrey family runs a large cannabis farm deep in the Humboldt woods, and are dealing with the United States’ schizophrenic approach to cannabis as well as California’s chaos of laws and regulations following the state’s legalization. The Thibon’s are dealing with the annual harvesting and vinification of the year’s wine grapes.

Although the film includes a cornucopia of beatific vistas in France and Humboldt, it is the lives and challenges of the two families that we tune into as they harvest and work with their respective crops—and as they relate with their respective families.

How will the year’s vintages fair in the expansive and expanding world of wine? Aurélien is overseeing the vinification for the first time. The entire harvest’s commercial viability is in the hands of this young man. How will Kevin and Nocoma navigate the chaos of California’s legalization of cannabis?

Those questions are answered in this beautiful and delightful film about two families separated by a continent and an ocean. Roger Ebert once pronounced that no bad movie is too short, and no good movie is too long. I would happily spend much more time with these two families.

Weed and Wine is distributed by Submarine.

The film premiers at the 43rd Mill Valley Film Festival October 8 – 18.

Subject Profiles

Hélène Thibon (Hélène)
Hélène Thibon is one of the winemakers at Mas de Libian, a biodynamic wine estate in France’s Ardèche region of the Southern Rhone Valley, which has belonged to the Thibon family since 1670. Raised in a family of “peasant scholars,” as Hélene describes them, Hélene spent her childhood devouring books in her family’s library and caring for the animals on their land. After pursuing studies in viticulture and enology, she and her husband Alain settled at Mas de Libian to raise their son, Aurélien. Along with her parents, husband, sisters–and now son–she has cultivated organic and biodynamic wine at Las De Libian since 1993.

Aurélien-Nathanaël Thibon-Macagno (Aurélien)
Aurélien is the son of Hélene Thibon and a winemaker at Mas de Libian, an organic wine estate in France’s Ardèche region, which has belonged to the Thibon family since 1670. Before returning to his family’s land in 2017, Aurélien worked with winemakers in Germany, Switzerland and New Zealand, and interned at Domaine Méo-Camuzet in Burgundy while studying viticulture and oenology in Beaune.

Kevin Jodrey (“Kev”)
Kevin Jodrey is an internationally respected cannabis expert known for improving and forwarding the modern cannabis movement. Owner of Humboldt County’s Wonderland Nursery and co-founder of The Ganjier, Jodrey has been a cannabis cultivator for decades, running his own operations and offering consulting services to the broader community. A frequent speaker on cannabis-related issues, Jodrey is guiding the industry as it transitions to the so-called “Clean Rush”: a movement to regenerate the land through cannabis cultivation.

Nocona Jodrey (“Cona”)
Cona Jodrey is the son of Kevin Jodrey and helps to manage the family’s Wonderland Nursery in Humboldt County, California. When he is not supporting the family’s business, he is a multi-time and current US national champion kettleball lifter, whose results in his weight class place him in the world’s top-ten kettleball lifters for all competitive lifts.

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Coda: As of today, September 28, 2020, California fires continue to rage destroying both wine and cannabis crops and facilities.

The brothers in Marcia Jarmel’s and Ken Schneider’s Los Hermanos / The Brothers are Ilmar and Aldo López-Gavilán. They were born in Havana in the 1970s to a long line of musical prodigies, and have well extended that line.

Although the brothers took different physical paths, they have always been close, and entertained a dream of performing together in the United States. Los Hermanos / The Brothers tells this uplifting story of how the brothers wove their way through the miasma of United States restrictions of travel to Cuba, and were able to realize their dream to play together in the United States.

As I watched this story unfold I became struck with the great joy the López-Gavilán family was sharing, as well as the film’s soundtrack of beautiful upbeat music peppered throughout—all performed by the brothers.

I cannot overstate the pleasure and excitement this film provides. It is a must-see—including children and teenagers.

Although part of a tightly knit family, the brothers took different paths. Ilmar, the violinist, who, at the age of 14, was sent to the Soviet Union to study the violin, never lived again in Cuba. Ilmar has settled down in Fort Lee, New Jersey, just across from New York City, separated by the infamous Washington Bridge.

Aldo, a pianist, composer and teacher remained in Havana with his lively family. He was mentored by Cuba’s classical and jazz pianists. Aldo’s wife Daiana Garcia is a conductor, and yes, she has conducted her husband.

We are also introduced to the brothers’ father Guido, a conductor prominent in Cuba’s flourishing music world. He headed Cuba’s Ministry of Music for a period of time, and helped found the music department of Cuba’s national school of the arts.

The brothers’ mother, Teresita Junco, sadly passed. She had a fruitful artistic and teaching career at national and international levels. Teresita was a tenured professor of the piano at the Higher Institute of Art, chaired the National Piano Commission, was a member of the Scientific Methodological Council, and a professor at The University of Arts of Cuba, and the Amadeo Roldán Conservatory.

Screenings may be found virtually throughout California via the Mill Valley Film Festival, 10/8-10/18. Here is the LINK to tickets for the festival. Suggested watch time is October 10th, 7 pm PST, followed by a live conversation with the filmmakers and local Latin Jazz legend, John Santos at 8:30 pm. RSVP HERE for the Live Zoom event.

For more information about the film, you can see the trailer HERE

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(Pictured: left to right, Aldo – Ilmar)

meme: 1. an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by non-genetic means, especially imitation. 2. a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc., that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users.

zine: a small-circulation, self-published work of original or appropriated texts and images. Zines are the product of either a single person or of a very small group.

In 2005, artist and cartoonist Matt Furie created a comic called Play Time which initially featured two characters Brett and Pepe the Frog (Furie has always had an affinity for images of frogs). He added two more characters, and published them in a zine called Boy’s Club which initially appeared in My Space. Although Furie did not know what a ‘meme’ was. Images of Pepe quickly turned into one.

People started sending Furie emails with links to images of their own vision of Pepe. His friends suggested he lawyer-up to protect Pepe’s images and Furie’s rights, but the soft-spoken artist saw no need of such—until the Alt-right world claimed Pepe for their own, and our dear sweet frog became a symbol of hate and racism around the world.

Arthur Jones’ Feels Good Man tells Furie’s story of the appropriation of Pepe, and of Furie’s eventual fight to save the massively sullied image of our dear frog.

This is an incredible, instantly engaging film. Despite having next to no awareness of the cultural subjects Jones covers, I was immediately drawn into this strange new world with its all too pedestrian conflict.

Feels Good Man is Jones’ first feature film, and he has knocked the ball out of the park. This is one of the most memorable documentary film I’ve seen, and I fully recommend seeing this finely produced jaw-dropping story. You won’t forget it.

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“Bellingcat doesn’t have institutional support. They don’t have a big building at The Hague, or Brussels where they do their work. They actually publish very detailed analysis, and many of them are volunteers, living at home. They don’t have security.

“What they do is really risk a great deal to find out the truth in very complex situations that include major global players.”
Professor Claire Wardle, Executive Director, First Draft

Written, directed, and shot by veteran filmmaker Hans Pool, Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World tells the story of the creation and dramatic evolution of the international citizen-journalist collective called, of course, Bellingcat. Founded by Elliot Higgins, and based in the United Kingdom, Bellingcat has become a major player in the much-needed and dangerous work of citizen investigative journalism.

As examples of their work, Pool covers the organization’s investigation of the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, Syria’s civil war, and the poisoning of Russian spy Sergei Skripal.

Reviewed by no less than Variety, Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World is an expertly produced, must-see documentary film.

Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World is a First Run Features film that will be released on DVD, on October 13, 2020.

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Bellingcat 

 

“Is it unethical? Using a documentary to meet women? When I started on this path it seemed harmless. But, now I’m not so sure.”
Steve Markle

Steve Markle’s Shoot to Marry is the world’s,—no, the universe’s—first rom-com documentary film. The three-word title can be translated to: ‘I’m going to make a documentary about my attempt to find a woman who will marry me.’

Our hero does just that, he sets up meetings with a variety of women—one at a time, that is—spends time with them in a variety of contexts, films these encounters and dates, and narrates the whole thing. Just reading this logline, let alone watching the film, the controversial yet inevitable name pops up: Woody Allen—both in style and substance.

Shoot to Marry is hilarious, touching, and a fascinating study in chutzpah. The film won a well-deserved Audience Award at Slamdance Film Festival 2020, and Best Feature at the Canadian Film Festival 2020.

I enthusiastically recommend this film.

See the film’s website to learn how to find the film. If you have Amazon Prime, you can see it there.

PS: Markle is also a well-trained pianist and airplane pilot.

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the Book Makers is prolific filmmaker James Kennard’s first feature documentary, and he has hit the ball out of the park. The film covers a world I had never head of until this film: the art of books. Although it does not speak well of yours truly’s imagination or intelligence, I never even conceived that there is an art to the physical aspect of making books. Suffice it to say, I am fully informed now.

The film features book makers at work, speaking about and showing their art which is awe inspiring. We also take field trips to the annual Codex exhibition of book art in Richmond, California, and the Internet Archive in San Francisco—together those two experiences are also awe inspiring experiences of organizations and people who treasure words, images, books and the art associated with all three.

Although the documentary is less than an hour running time, I experienced the richness, care and love of a much longer film in this deceptively short hour. As soon as the film is available on disc, I will grab one and share this jaw-dropping experience with my near and dear ones.

Like the many books we see in the film, the Book Makers is expertly produced. I enthusiastically recommend the film to everyone, including children.

AND, the Book Makers will be easy and free to see!

The film is playing at the 19th San Francisco Documentary Film Festival through September 20th, and currently available to stream HERE. Next in the Bay Area is DocLands October 8-18—at which point in October the film can be seen on local public broadcasting stations (PBS) nationwide, presented by American Public Television. Additionally, there will be a ‘focus event’ on the WORLD channel Tuesday October 27, at 4 pm and 11pm PT, and on Wednesday October 28, at 7 am PT.

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(Pictured: Book by Artist Julie Chen)

What are us humans doing with the technologies of robotics and artificial intelligence? What is the impact of AI and robotics on humanity, the ethics and values of the development and applications of these technologies?

These are the questions explored in Iiris Härmä’s Who Made You?. The film goes around the world to Japan, Greece, Sweden, Spain, and Finland to address these questions.

Dr. Michael Laakasuo is the film’s de facto host, appearing and speaking at points throughout the film. In-between his statements we see other commentators, humans and robots communicating with each other, a self-made cyborg who walks around with a device buried into the back of his brain, people having chips placed in their bodies, the inevitable hyper-real sex bots, people performing AI-created music and poetry, and much more.

Two different versions of the film are available from First Hand Films: 58 minutes or 80 minutes. Yours truly went for the 80-minute version. I could easily have watched a two-hour or longer version, I was so captivated with the images and information about AI and robotics.

Who Made You? is a First Hand Films production. You may find the film by emailing your request to: stories@firsthandfilms.com

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“Ancient native prophecies say: ‘When the Eagle of the North and the Condor of the South fly together, Indigenous peoples will unite the human family’”.

Sophie Guerra’s and Clément Guerra’s The Eagle & the Condor follows four Indigenous leaders in their visits to the United States and Canada (the Eagle’s North) and to Ecuador and Peru, (the Condor’s South). The four—Casey Camp-Horinek, Melina Laboucan-Massimo, Yudith Nieto, Bryan Parras—are creating bonds and connections with Indigenous peoples in efforts to end the ecocide of Earth driven by the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. The goal is to ensure social justice as our ecosphere is healed. (Information about each of the four climate justice leaders is below.)

We are disturbed, of course, as we see the human harms and environmental damages perpetrated by the global fossil fuel industry, and inspired by the noble intentions and powerful actions of these defenders of Earth’s natural world.

This is a rare environmental film that left me with a glimmer of hope in a seemingly hopeless world. I would love the filmmakers to consider a docu-series about these international movements for environmental healing and social justice.

The Condor & the Eagle has been screened by more than 50 renown film festivals, has won at least 12 festival prizes, and was nominated in at least six additional film festivals.

If you are as inspired by this film as yours truly, I heartily encourage you to explore the film’s website. Docuseries or not, there will be many positive reverberations as the film is seen by more and more people.

The Four Stars

Casey Camp-Horinek: Hereditary Drumkeeper of the Womens’ Scalp Dance Society of the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma is a longtime activist, environmentalist, actress, and published author. Because of Casey’s work the Ponca Nation is the first Tribe in the State of Oklahoma to adopt the Rights of Nature Statute, and to pass a moratorium on Fracking on Tribal Lands. Casey was also instrumental in the drafting, and adoption of the first ever International Indigenous Women’s Treaty protecting the Rights of Nature. Casey often collaborates with I.E.N, Movement Rights and W.E.C.A.N.

Melina Laboucan-Massimo: Melina is Lubicon Cree from Northern Alberta. She has worked on social, environmental and climate justice issues for the past 15 years. Currently a Fellow at the David Suzuki Foundation, Melina’s research is focused on Climate Change, Indigenous Knowledge and Renewable Energy. Melina holds a Masters degree in Indigenous Governance at the University of Victoria with a focus on Renewable Energy in First Nation communities. As a part of her Masters thesis Melina completed a 20.8 kW solar installation in her home community of Little Buffalo in the heart of the tar sands which powers the health centre. Melina is often collaborating with NDN, Indigenous Climate Action, Seeding Sovereignty and the Indigenous Clean Energy Network.

Yudith Nieto: Yudith is a queer Mexican-American artist, interpreter, and organizer, enjoying spending time in the bayous of Louisiana working on projects like CRY YOU ONE, Amor y Solidaridad, a solidarity house in support of undocumented Transwomen, and recently BanchaLenguas, a Language Justice interpreters collective. Currently, she is part of the core leadership circle for Another Gulf Is Possible, and a youth organizer with Los Jardines Institute. For over five years, Yudith has been fighting for the rights of her fenceline community in Manchester, Houston in collaboration with T.E.J.A.S, and last year was named one of Grist.org 50 Fixers of 2018.

Bryan Parras: Bryan is a co-founder of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (t.e.j.a.s.) and the Sierra Club of Texas ‘Beyond Dirty Fuels’ campaign. A longtime environmental justice advocate based in Houston, Texas, Bryan co-founded the Librotraficante movement, serves as an Advisor to the Gulf Coast Fund, and sits on the board of the Environmental Support Center. Bryan was recently awarded a Gulf Coast Fellowship, and has been working to help organizations use media for education, organizing and advocacy.

Click HERE to find the film—scroll down to see all the options

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Sisters Rising features six Native American women who are fighting back against systemic violence against their sisters.

Four out of five Native American women have experienced violence. One out of three will be raped. Native American women are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual assault than all other American women. Most of the perpetrators are non-Native men. A federal statute disallows Native Americans from prosecuting acts of violence against Native Americans that occur on tribal land—a dirty little trick non-Native men know about.

This story is set in the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, North Dakota, which includes three affiliated tribes: Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nations.

The six inspiring sisters are:

Dawn White

Sarah Deer

Loreline Lacroix

Lisa Brunner

Chalsey Snyder

Patty Stonefish

The documentary is produced, directed and shot by Willow O’Feral and Brad Heck. The soundtrack is by Allison Leialoha Milham. (I’m a big fan of music composed for movies of many ilks.)

Sisters Rising is a disturbing, powerful film that shines a light on systemic violence against Native American women—and seeds hope via the empowerment of sisters by sisters.

You can support efforts to end the violence by contributing to:

Stronghearts Native Hotline

White Buffalo Calf Women’s Society

Alliance of Tribal Coalitions to End Violence

You can support the vitally important dissemination of Sisters Rising by a tax-deductible donation to fiscal sponsor Women Make Movies.

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(Photo of Executive Producer Tantoo Cardinal courtesy of ‘Sisters Rising’)

John and Molly Chester decided to follow in the footsteps of Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor who as Green Acres’ Oliver Wendell and Lisa Douglas left the Big City to a farm in ‘Hooterville.’ Unlike this fictional, six-season 1960s sitcom, the Chester’s left their real-life Los Angeles jobs for a 200+ acres plot of land 40 miles north of the Big City.

An accomplished and prolific documentarian, John covers the couple’s eight-year, potentially Quixotic quest in the delightful, harrowing, and truly inspiring The Biggest Little Farm. But, theirs is not just any kind of farm. The couple intended for their farm to be certified USDA Organic, a certification that comes with significant compromises. So, they also obtained Demeter Certified Biodynamic® certification, a much stricter approach to nature-based farming. The land they chose was virtually barren, the soil incapable of growing healthy trees and plants.

Yet, in addition to their own undaunted perseverance, the couple had two real-life angels supporting the realization of their farm which they named Apricot Lane Farms—‘Allen’ who was their Yoda, and ‘Todd,’ their magical dog. The film follows the gradual building of the farm through many accomplishments and a few demoralizing disasters, with lessons learned along the way.

Thanks to the Chesters, Apricot Lane Farms is much more than a farm. It is one of many beacons around the world calling human beings to eat and live with grace and health. In addition to visiting the farm, we can online order the farm’s products.

The film also features gorgeous music by the legendary Jeff Beal.

The Biggest Little Farm is a not-to-be missed wonderful film.

You can secure the film on Blu-ray, DVD, or Digital directly from this Page from film’s website. Or, you may purchase a public screening license to organize and host your own screening of The Biggest Little Farm at the venue of your choice (25+ guests). This includes schools, libraries, community centers, workplaces and—of course—farms!

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Written and directed by veteran filmmaker Sue Williams, Denise Ho: Becoming the Song is one of those documentary films that could easily be lost in the shuffle of this genre that has finally found its way in the worlds of filmed entertainment. Thanks to Kino Lorber, this film has been found and made available to the world.

Williams tells the epic story of Cantopop singer Denise Ho who found a few moments of musical superstardom fame in Hong Kong and China, and who became passionately involved with China’s takeover of Hong Kong, fighting for freedom and civil rights for the people of Hong Kong. In doing so, she lost her superstar status, and became a much more powerful and empathetic human being.

Ho tells her own story, and Williams provides clips of increasingly more violent protests as the people of Hong Kong struggle for democratic values, and are met with escalating force by police. Ho participated in these protests, and was banned from China.

The film follows Ho from her huge stadium shows in China and Hong Kong, through the loss of these shows, to the emergence of her political activism on behalf of Hong Kong, and the birth of her authentic self. Williams includes clips of Ho’s singing performances in huge stadiums, to smaller, intimate venues.

Ho came out as ‘gay’ at the age of 35, and is a champion of civil rights for the LGBTQ community. She is a speaker for international human rights, and has been working as a film, TV, and voice actor since 1998. I am out of breath just typing these words about the many accomplishments of Denise Ho, as well as what her future promises for herself and our world.

I whole-heartedly recommend the joy and inspiration of Denise Ho: Becoming The Song

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“I was involved with the skinheads scene from the late-eighties, all the way to the mid-nineties. It was the birth of my daughter, seeing that little girl in the delivery room. My son, he was born 15 months later. They saw the magnificence in me when I couldn’t see it. They gave me the gift that allowed me to re-humanize.”
Former Skinhead

Healing from Hate introduces the inevitable counter response to the tragic emergence of American neo-Nazis, White Nationalists, and Skinhead groups who are fostering epidemics of hate and violence across the nation. The film covers former members of these groups who have found their way out, and those who are supporting the men and women who are contemplating exiting these groups, or have already done so, but are in need of continued support in creating new lives.

With input from sociologist and author Michael Kimmel—(GuyvilleAngry White Men and Healing From Hate)—and interviews from members of Life After Hate we hear and see tragic, harrowing, and inspiring stories of men internally trapped in hate mindsets; former hate group members who are reaching out to the trapped; and those who have found liberation from the hateful mindset and hate groups they have peopled for years.

Directed by the multi-talented and well-lauded Peter Hutchison, Healing from Hate is one of a triad of films the director is producing in his coverage of hate. The other two documentaries are ‘Angry White Men: American Masculinity in the Age of Trump’ and ‘Auschwitz: Journey into Reconciliation’.

Healing from Hate is a very well-produced, much-needed film addressing the emergence of a devastating subculture searing the people of the United States of America. It deserves to be, it needs to be seen by a very large audience.

The film opens in Los Angeles on September 4 at the Laemmle Virtual Cinema and will expand out nationwide from there.

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A portrait of photojournalist Burk Uzzle, 2018’s F11 and Be There is filmmaker Jethro Waters’ first documentary feature film, and it is a stunning, inspiring, unforgettable film that deserves a wide audience.

Born on August 4, 1938 in Raleigh, North Carolina, Uzzle began taking pictures as a young child, and never stopped. As of the waning months of 2020, the photographer continues his prolific, well-lauded career.

At the age of 23, Uzzle became the youngest photographer hired by the legendary LIFE Magazine. In the midst of his long career Uzzle began portraiture work of African Americans—an expression of his deep concern for racism and the centuries of suffering African Americans have experienced, and still experience in the United States.

No need for a narrator, Uzzle appears throughout the film telling his own story, sharing a passionate concern for the disenfranchised and the suffering. Yet, his photography covers countless aspects of American life and culture. Uzzle also works with and teaches young people photography, focusing on the essence of this medium.

F11 and Be There is more than a documentary film, it is a jaw-dropping experience of an American icon.

In addition to director, Jethro Waters also served as director of photography, editor, sound engineer, colorist, and music director. The soundtrack was composed and performed by Natalie Prass and Eric Slick, with additional material from Luke Norton.

F11 and Be There is a First Run Features release.

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(Burk Uzzle. Photo © Jethro Waters, 2020.)

“I say we live in a throwaway society. We throw everything away. Society sees our children as not good, at that moment, because we gotta put so much stuff into them, so we just throw ’em away. As we started this process, everything was scrap. And so what we do is we let children make something productive. So, they take the drums, and they design ’em, and they get ’em nice and beautiful. And then they’re able to take their creative spirits, now that they found that ‘hey, I am worth somethin.'”
Edward ‘Nardie’ White, Co-Founder, River City Drum Corp

Anne Flatté’s and Marlon Johnson’s River City Drumbeat is an expertly produced documentary film of joy, sorrow, hope, and dreams fulfilled. The subject is the African-American River City Drum Corp in Louisville, Kentucky. The Corp was co-founded 30 years ago by Zambia Nkrumah and her husband familiarly referred to as ‘Nardie’.

The youth service organization’s mission is: ‘River City Drum Corp Cultural Arts Institute, Inc. programs are designed to enhance the development of African-American families with children through education, arts, and culture.’

The film covers a dramatic transition in the organization’s leadership. Nardie is retiring from his position as Director, and Albert Shumake is assuming the role as Director. Nardie is the film’s de facto host as he speaks throughout about his organization, his personal story, and as we see him interacting with students and peers. We also learn of the untimely passing of Zambia Nkrumah who is deeply revered by the community surrounding the Drum Corp.

The film is chock full of drum and other kinds of music, yet it is the stories about the Drum Corp’s leadership and the young people participants who are transcending the sequela of poverty and disenfranchisement through music, teamwork, and the caring of adults that is truly inspiring to those of us lucky enough to see and learn from River City Drumbeat.

Stay in touch with the film’s website to learn how you find and be moved by this film.

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(Pictured: River City Drum Corp’s leadership with Edward ‘Nardie’ White in the center.)

‘capital’ — the wealth–whether in money or property–owned or employed in business by an individual, firm, corporation, etc.’

Directed by Justin Pemberton, and based on Thomas Piketty’s book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the documentary Capital in the Twenty-First Century is a history of wealth and its relationship to social progress and social justice. (Please note that as of this posting the above link brings the reader to the only formal website available for the film–Japanese. However, in the upper-right hand corner of the site is the English language option.)

Although the film’s subject matter may seem dry, this film is anything but. Pemberton and company have produced an exceedingly well-done film rich in imagery (and that is an understatement), information, ideas, and music.

The film’s temporal scope begins in opulent 18th century Europe, and takes us through to our 21st century—with glimpses into the future. Eight interviewees tell the story in plain English some of which is found in the subtitles—Piketty speaks French.

Capital in the Twenty First Century is an utterly sensational documentary. Yours truly has viewed the film twice, so far.

Kino Lorber release, the DVD or Blu-ray Disc includes the following bonus features: Interview with director Justin Pemberton / Theatrical trailer / Deleted Scene / Interview with producer Matthew Metcalfe / The New Republic Roundtable moderated by Chris Lehmann, TNR Editor

With theaters closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this film will be released in “virtual cinemas” supporting independent art houses. Click here to learn more and find a theater near you to support.

Here is a list of interviewees’ names in the order of their appearance:

Thomas Piketty, Professor of Economics at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS), Associate Chair at the Paris School of Economics, and Centennial Professor of Economics in the International Inequalities Institute at the London School of Economics.

Prof. Kate Williams, Historian, University of Reading

Suresh Naudum, Economic Historian, Columbia University

Bryce Edwards, Political Analyst and Commentator

Rana Foroohas, Global Economic Analyst

Prof. Joseph Stiglitz, Economist, Columbia University

Ian Bremmer, Global Risk Advisor

Prof. Francis Fukuyama, Political Economist, Stanford University
_________________

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“All I’ve ever known how to do is fight. And so we just keep fighting, and even though we’re tired, and know it’s exhausting and maddening, it’s what we do.”
ACLU Staff Attorney

Directed by Eli B. Despres, Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinber, The Fight introduces the work of the American Civil Liberties Union. The making of this standard bearing documentary film marks the first time that the organization has allowed a film crew into their national headquarters.

There are five issues covered:

  • Transgender Military Ban
  • Family Separation of Immigrants
  • Abortion Access
  • The Census Citizen Question
  • Middle East Travel Ban–read Muslim travel ban

The film follows staff attorneys as they plan for and argue in district courts and the Republican dominated Supreme Court on behalf of these crucial civil rights issues. As always, there are winners and losers.

Regarding the separation of children from their immigrant families, as of production date, 1,300 hundred children remained separated from their parents. I doubt if we will ever know the total number of children and parents traumatized by this inhumane policy. Whatever that number, just the idea of even one family’s separation is horrifying. I sometimes wonder how many domestic terrorists we are birthing.

The film also touches on the ACLU’s controversial defense of self-proclaimed Nazis, white nationalists, etc.–the perpetual irony of Jews defending Nazi’s freedom of speech.

The power of The Fight is its tight focus on the attorneys’ struggles to make a difference in the highest stakes issues of the day. The attorney arguing against the proposed requirement that the decennial Census include the question “Are you a citizen of the United States of America?” had never argued before the Court before. We empathize with his frayed nerves.

There will always be attacks on civil liberties in the United States of America. As long as we have the ACLU up and running, we will have a champion to counter those attacks.

The Fight deserves as large an audience as possible in order to inspire more of us to be a part of the fight.

A Magnolia Pictures release, The Fight opens July 31, in theaters and on-demand, and will be screening as a part of San Francisco’s Roxie Virtual Cinema. Here is the link: https://www.roxie.com/the-fight/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FightTheMovie

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(Pictured: Dale Ho, courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

 

 

“And I know that if John Lewis as a nineteen, twenty year-old, wasn’t doing what he did, I would not be here today.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

After reading, seeing, and hearing about the life and work of John Lewis over the past six decades, when his name comes to mind now, or appears anywhere within sight, I automatically add ‘legend’ to his name. The words, sounds, images and stories that emerge from Dawn Porter’s John Lewis: Good Trouble affirm my view of Lewis’s legendary status.

Porter’s film tells Lewis’s biography, and highlights crucial moments in the unending struggle for civil and human rights in the United States. Her film juxtaposes interviews of people who know Lewis—his work and triumphs—with a contemporary interview of Lewis at 80 years of age. The film’s subtitle, ‘Good Trouble,’ is the adjective Lewis uses to describe political activism—initiatives that make for a better world.

The predominant political issue threaded through the film is voting rights—the struggle to counter initiatives to disenfranchise as many American citizens as possible from being able to vote. As I write these words, the attacks on voters and voting are coming fast and furious.

The stakes are high in Presidential elections, and every four years they get higher. The upcoming Presidential election itself is facing an existential threat. As the days, weeks, and months ahead unwind I will bear in mind Lewis’s life and work.

A Magnolia Pictures release, John Lewis: Good Trouble is made with exemplary production values.

The film opens July 3, in theaters and on-demand.

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“From 1920, until 1970, this whole half-century of American history, the rate of incarceration was roughly level, at about 110 per 100,000. This is a broad spam of our history—the Roaring Twenties, prohibition, the Depression and all the social change there, World War II, the post-war economic boon, the Fifties, the explosion of suburbia, the Sixties and all the social turbulence. During this whole period the rate of incarceration is roughly level in the United States, at about 110 per 100,000. And this reflects the policies of police departments, prosecutors, and judges operating all over the country at local and state level.

“And, in 1970, this all changes so that by now the rate of incarceration nation-wide is over 700 per 100,000. The rate for African Americans is over 4,000 per hundred thousand. And so you have to wonder ‘what changed?’ Why did this half-century of stability get upended with this dramatic increase in incarceration in the United States?”
Attorney Eric Sterling, Founder, Executive Director of The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation (1989-2020)

Incarcerating US answers Sterling’s question.

Although we can’t trust reports of numbers from Russia or China, it has been widely reported that the United States has the largest population of incarcerated people in the world. There are currently somewhere between 2.3 and 2.4 million people incarcerated in the United States. Directed by Regan Hines, “Incarcerating US” is an overview of the causes of mass incarceration in the United States of America. The film profiles a few victims of injustice, highlights the causes, and provides resources to promote reform of sentencing policies.

The film covers:

• the war on drugs

• addiction as a crime instead of a disease

• broad-range conspiracy laws—that takes some explaining

• mandatory minimums or even life for non-violent crimes

I would add innocent people without resources choosing incarceration instead of taking a chance on the results of a trial, and the raw power of the well-established prison industrial complex.

Regarding the war on drugs, we learn that in the late 1960s, before the drug war began in earnest, law enforcement made arrests in 90% of homicides and other violent crimes. That figure is now approximately 60 percent. More killers on the street, more Americans needlessly incarcerated.

Naturally, this is one of those documentaries that infuriates, yet the reformers profiled are inspiring. Incarcerating US is another significant documentary that needs to be seen by teenagers and adults.

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Resources provided via the film:

Can-Do

Families Against Mandatory Minimums

The Sentencing Project

Drug Policy Alliance

LEAP

The Messages Project 

A ‘cordillera’ is an extensive chain of mountains or mountain ranges. Mountain ranges of this type have a complex structure, usually the result of folding and faulting accompanied by volcanic activity. In South America the ranges include numerous volcanic peaks.

The definition above is of a generic noun. Legendary writer/director Patricio Guzmán capitalizes the ‘C’ because he is referring to the specific Cordillera in his home country of Chile which he left when Augusto Pinochet became Chile’s dictator in 1973. Pinochet’s military junta slaughtered somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 of the nation’s people during a 17-year reign of terror. The coup d’état was financed by the United States of America. It is this massively tragic event that has been the primary subject of Guzmán’s filmmaking career.

Released in 2019, The Cordillera of Dreams is a cinematic meditation on the stark contrast between the tragic political history of Chile, the socially and economically inequitable nation it has become, and the quiet majesty of the Andes Cordillera adjacent to the nation.

In addition to Guzmán’s own narration, he interviews a variety of people speaking about the Cordillera from a variety of perspectives. The film also features prolific Chilean filmmaker Pablo Salas who has been documenting the political and social life of Chile for four decades, mostly in the capital of Santiago. And, of course, there are a cornucopia of exquisite views of the Cordillerra.

Winner of the Best Documentary award at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, The Cordillera of Dreams is distributed by Icarus Films.

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Written and directed by Thomas D. Herman, and narrated by Sam Waterston, Dateline-Saigon profiles the work of five Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists who, as young, naive men, found themselves in the early 1960s covering the nascent American war in Vietnam. The five are: Peter Arnett, Malcolm Browne, David Halberstam, Horst Faas, and Neil Sheehan.

The film covers the years 1960-1963, as President Kennedy grappled with a war of someone else’s making, based on the unsupported, flimsy idea that if South Vietnam were to be united with the Communist North Vietnam, all of Asia would become a collection of Communist countries. That was a ruse, of course.

Each journalist tells their journey of discovery of the insidious forces at work, pushing an imperialistic, not-so-hidden agenda. As they learned about the deep commitments of the North to wage war, their effective tactics and strategies—and the lack of an authentic, intense commitment of the South Vietnamese soldiers, as well as the distracting internal political conflicts of the South—one-by-one the journalists came to understand the divide between reality and the United States government’s phantasies that they could easily win this war. The journalists found themselves in a micro-war between themselves and the US government. That is, they were seriously risking their lives by revealing the truth.

The bits and pieces of information about the conditions of South Vietnam during those three years foretold the inevitable failure of the United States’ chosen war. The successes of the journalists in revealing the actualities of that war to the world is commendable, yet it also led to an inevitable restrictions in US military policies of journalistic coverage of US-chosen conflicts.

Although Dateline-Saigon tells a seven-decade old story, the issue of journalistic transparency is as vital and urgent and dangerous as ever. These five reporters made a contribution to journalistic freedom in those early sixties, and with this film, they’ve made another contribution by telling their stories for all to hear and learn today.

Rich in character and story, this film is another significant documentary that could birth a narrative film or series.

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(Pictured: Neil Sheehan)

“When I look out this window which had been chewed by polar bears, both from the outside and inside, I think maybe I belong to the last generation who will see a polar bear walking on the ice outside.”
Asgeir Helgestad

Asgeir Helgestad is a prolific, multi-talented wildlife cameraman from Norway. For more than 20 years his second home—and the location of this film’s production—has been on Svalbard, a group of islands between Norway and the North Pole about which he says, “The amazing lights, the vast landscapes, the silence, and the feeling of being completely alone with nature gives me a feeling of peacefulness I cannot find anywhere else.”

Queen without Land tells the story of his meeting with, and four years following a female polar bear he named Frost. Requisite to a film of this subject Helgestad also tells the story of global warming’s impact on the arctic region’s ecosystem—in more detail than I’ve heard from previous documentaries.

The film’s cinematography is utterly exquisite, virtually demanding multiple viewings. Helgestad’s character is sweet and caring. The story he tells of polar bears and the damages done by global warming is, of course, demoralizing. Yet the many cinematic images of polar bear mother and cubs playing together penetrates the heart and soul.

Stay in touch with the film’s website to learn its release dates.

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Directed and shot by Daniel Traub, with music by Simon Taufique, Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own introduces the artist, her life’s path, and her sensational work—all in under an hour.

The film’s website describes von Rydingsvard as one of the few women in the world working in ‘monumental sculpture’—a new-to-me term. Being an amateur philistine, I am not able to describe her work in any other terms than what I was able to glean from the numerous film clips and photographs presented in the film.

Von Rydingsvard creates with a dizzying variety of media, in a variety of sizes—including very large pieces (the above mentioned monumental sculptures) which have been permanently installed in public places. Three of the media used in the large pieces are: 4-inch by 4-inch blocks of cedar wood, or copper, or bronze.

Her personal story is daunting. She was born in Poland during WWII, her family was forced to work for Nazis. She was raised in a displaced persons camp, and arrived in the United States with her nine-person family. Her father was angry, abusive, and punishing. Her husband was also abusive, and diagnosed with schizophrenia. She escaped her marriage with her daughter, and moved to New York in the seventies to devote herself to art full time—and the rest is art history.

An Icarus Films release Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own is a thoroughly engaging, sensational film about a massively talented artist.

Note: I am so impressed with the work of director Daniel Traub, and composer Simon Taufique, that I have provided the above links to their websites.

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“Before bringing me to meet her family in Italy, my mother told me, ‘you will find out who you really are.’”
Matteo Troncone

 

Had my mentor David Hakim not shared arrangiarsi: Pizza… and the Art of Living I would have never experienced the joy of Matteo Troncone’s cinematic ode to Naples, pizza, and life.

According to the film’s DVD cover, “arrangiarsi is the process of arranging yourself to make something out of nothing.”

In his autobiographical film Troncone faces three challenges: finding himself, making his peace with money, and learning arrangiarsi. Over the course of the film Troncone triumphantly meets those three challenges.

 

Troncone, of course, is of Italian descent. His film escorts us back and forth between California and Italy, especially southern Italy, especially Naples, especially Neapolitan pizza.

Along the film’s way we learn about Naples then and now—its history and culture, the joy of the people, and the only real pizza in the world. We also learn about Troncone and his family, share in his discovering who he really is, and, of course, learning to live life with arrangiarsi.

arrangiarsi: Pizza… and the Art of Living was written, directed, produced, photographed, edited, narrated, and arranged by Our Hero. The Solare Films DVD includes the following supplemental ingredients: Trailer, Deleted Scenes, Extras, and Photo Slideshow.

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Aaron Weisblatt’s Land of Little Rivers introduces the worlds of trout fly fishing. In a very short 90 minutes the film introduces a growing community of people dedicated to this particular approach to fishing—one which demands hard-earned expertise and infinite patience, along with therapeutic benefits.

From the film’s website: “The Land of Little Rivers, a network of tributaries in the Catskill Mountains of New York, is the birthplace of fly fishing in America, and the mecca for resident and visiting anglers obsessed with the sport.”

The film features a large number of anglers viewing fly fishing from a cornucopia of angles: History / Gender Demographics / Geography / Rivers and Water Politics / Flies and Fly Tiers / Rods / Environment / Politics / Iconic Characters / Guides (those who teach) / Clients (those who are taught) / Museums, Centers, and Exhibitions

As the film flowed on, I became more and more fascinated with this highly evolved sport, and, especially with the people so fully dedicated to it.

The Cinema Libre Studio DVD includes these special features: Angler’s Round Table, A Tour of the Catskill Hatchery, Rob Lewis on Tying Realistic Flies, and Land of Little Rivers Trailer.

Land of Little Rivers streets May 19, 2020, on DVD and streaming on Amazon and Vimeo.

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“It took me years to understand how deeply the Peace Corps experience affected my ability to be a good journalist. It was in the Peace Corps that I really learned empathy.”
Maureen Orth, Journalist

A Towering Task is exactly what the film’s subtitle suggests, a history of the United States’ Peace Corps. I wonder how many Americans have read or heard the words, ‘Peace Corps.’

The Peace Corps is a volunteer governmental organization authorized by the US Congress on September 21, 1962, based on an executive order by John F. Kennedy in March of 1961. The agency’s unwavering formal mission statement is:

 

 

To promote world peace and friendship by fulfilling three goals:

1. To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Since its beginning, more than 235,000 Americans have served in the Peace Corps, in 141 countries.

Directed by Alana DeJoseph and narrated by Annette Bening, A Towering Task covers the agency’s triumphs and existential challenges through six decades of its history. DeJoseph interviews volunteers, administrators, statesmen and politicians who walk viewers through this highly dynamic history.

The topic of this film may seem dry to some, but the stories and events A Towering Task relates are both daunting and inspiring. This dynamic history continues with the agency and volunteers finding their way through the coronavirus pandemic.

As of March, 2020, all volunteers have been evacuated because of the virus. Having seen and heard the passionate dedication volunteers bring to their work, I would not be surprised to learn that some have managed to remain in their region of service.

A Towering Task is a First Run Features release, and opens May 22, 2020, at ‘virtual cinemas.’ Play dates will be available HERE on the weekend of May 16.

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“Frequently, when they come to the office they say, I want my migraine cured. I would look at them and say, If I can cure your migraine, I’m going to get the Nobel Prize. That’s how big that is.”
Dr. Allan Purdy, Prof. of Neurology, Dalhousie University

Written, directed, and narrated by Susanna Styron, Out of My Head is a powerful, provocative cinematic essay about migraine. You may note I did not write ‘migraine headaches.’ I learned from the film that there are multiple components to migraines—including abdominal issues—and that this painful, disturbing condition should be seen as a whole body condition rather than limited to the brain.

Styron became deeply involved with migraines when her daughter Emma developed the condition. The mother used her filmmaking talents to shine much more light on the condition, and, especially the life-changing, debilitating impact it has on the one billion sufferers around the world. Styron also includes stories of celebrated artists who have lived with migraine including Hildegard of Bingen, Lewis Carroll, and Joan Didion.

The film features interviews with sufferers, physicians, and researchers—as well as still and moving images capturing the agony these one billion people endure. Finding a silver lining, Styron also covers the mysterious relationship between art, artists, spirituality and migraine. That relationship could be another feature documentary.

Out of My Head makes it abundantly clear that migraine has not been given the attention needed to find effective treatments for its sufferers. I refer you to the film’s Take Action page which gives us the opportunity to make a small contribution which could make a big difference.

Kino Lorber release, Out of My Head is an expertly produced film which brings vital attention to the subject of migraine, and, especially to the people who suffer its impacts. It is currently available for educational and non-profit institutions, and will be available for commercial sales June, 2020.

What a beautiful, loving gift Susanna Styron has given her daughter—and to all who suffer.

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“If they’re given a command that might put their person in harm’s way, they have to make the decision to not take that command. Every other service dog is trained to take commands no matter what.”

 

Pick of the Litter is an introduction to the work of Guide Dogs for the Blind which trains dogs, and matches them with their persons. The organization has two campuses: San Rafael, California and Boring, Oregon.

With footage from both campuses, directors Dana Nachman and Don Hardy follow a litter of five puppies through the rigorous—for both trainees and trainers—process of training which begins before conception. That is, the organization carefully chooses the mother and father of the puppies to be conceived, gestated, and birthed. Approximately 800 puppies are born every year, about 300 become guide dogs. The remaining 500 find loving homes—and a select few of female dogs become mothers for the puppies to be trained.

For reasons unbeknownst to yours truly, all five puppies in this film must have names beginning with the letter ‘P’. The five names are Phil, Potomac, Patriot, Primrose, and Poppet—two females and three males.

The dogs are fostered for a short period of time with vetted volunteers who take their jobs very seriously. Both foster parents and subsequent trainers participate in the dogs’ development and training. I was touched to see fosters and trainers become disheartened—blaming themselves when there are problems along the way. Of course, it’s all worth it. The film demonstrates the inestimable value these dogs bring to their people.

The gorgeous music of composer/performer Helen Jane Long deeply enriches the experience of this film.

Roger Ebert once noted that no good movie can be too long, and no bad movie can be too short.

I became entranced and awe-struck by Pick of the Litter from the beginning. I simply did not want the film to end. And, I got my wish! Guide Dogs for the Blind announces a Pick of the Litter docu-series on Disney+ which I am already viewing.

You may find Pick of the Litter by going to the film’s website, scrolling down to WATCH THE FILM, and viewing the many ways the film may be accessed.

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“The new generation is fascinated with obsolete technology. They’ve grown up with extendible fingers, Game Boy, texting—and here’s letterpress? You betcha.”
Paul Brown, letterpress printer

For a little more than four hundred years printing was done by a process called ‘letterpress.’ Good ol’ Johannes Gutenberg started the craze which slipped away in the mid-twentieth century, replaced by our computerized printers—and something called ‘offset’ for big printing jobs.

First-time feature directors Erin Beckloff and Andrew P. Quinn let us viewers know that Gutenberg’s letterpress is alive and well in the United States, and that the craft has a small number of highly dedicated practitioners. In Pressing On the filmmakers listen to these passionate craftspeople tell their stories, and show off their wares and the many documents that are still being produced. Most of the letterpress enthusiasts featured are approaching or in the later years of their lives, but some are teaching young people how to print via letterpress.

The four main ingredients of letterpress are:

• Fonts that are designed and crafted into various sizes.
• Various kinds and sizes of trays into which the individual characters and graphic designs are placed.
• Inking of the press.
• The pressing.

In addition to serving businesses and organizations, some letterpress printers are selling their handcrafted work at farmers markets. We also learn that the Smithsonian Institution has a large warehouse of letterpress machines and accoutrement that the letterpress community wants taken out of the de facto basement, and back to work.

The film also introduces two letterpress museums: Platen Press Museum and Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum

Available from Amazon and Amazon Prime, Pressing On is an excellently produced documentary that reveals a small, vibrant community keeping this four century old art and technology alive and expanding.

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“My grandmother was a storyteller. She knew her way around words. She never learned to read or write, but somehow she knew the good in reading and writing. She’d learned how to listen and delight. She had learned that in words and language—and there only—she could have whole and consummate being.

“You see for her, words were medicine. They were magic and invisible. They came from nothing into sound and meaning. They were beyond price—they could be neither bought nor sold. And she never threw words away. She told me stories, and she taught me how to listen. I was a child, and I listened.”
N. Scott Momaday

 

 

Produced and directed by Jeffrey Palmer, Words from a Bear celebrates the work and accomplishments of Native American
N. Scott Momaday, Kiowa Poet, Writer, Painter, and Professor. The film is an episode of the PBS American Masters series.

For yours truly, and likely for many readers of this review, Momaday is a discovery. He is a multi-dimensional human being, and Palmer has produced a rich, multi-dimensional film that well deserves a wide audience.

In the film, Momaday tells his own story, recites selections from his novels and poems—and via his filmmakers, weaves Native American stories, myths, history, culture, photographic and animated visuals, and exquisite music by Aska into his personal story—ultimately addressing existential issues of origin and identity.

Amongst the celebrities celebrating Momaday’s work and life are Beau Bridges, Jeff Bridges, Robert Redford, and James Earl Jones.

Like the film’s subject himself, Words from a Bear is quietly powerful—and a film that quickly became one of my all-time favorite documentaries.

Words from a Bear is available via Shop PBS.

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Of Fathers and Sons is Talak Derki’s bold and brilliant documentary of his return to his homeland, covering the lives of a radical Islamic family and their small community. From the summer of 2014, through September 2017, Derki spent 300 days with a Syrian family living in the detritus of chronic war.

The central characters are father Abu Osama, and his two sons Osama and Ayman. Abu is one of the founders of Al-Nusra, the Syrian arm of Al-Qaeda. Abu believes in an Islamic society under Shari’ah law, and is raising his male children to join the jihad. The family’s allegiance to their interpretation of Islamic law kept the women literally and figuratively out of the picture.

It is the children who form the film’s character and narrative arc. Over the film’s hundred minutes we see them first playing, and eventually entering guerrilla warfare training. By film’s end, they are ready—from Abu’s perspective—to join the endless fight.

Abu Osama died in October 2018, attempting to defuse a car bomb. He left behind two wives and 12 children.

Of Fathers and Sons was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 2019 Academy Awards®. It also received a nomination from the 2019 Independent Spirit Awards, as well as the Grand Jury Prize in the World Documentary category at Sundance Film Festival. It was also nominated in seven film festivals, and won awards from ten additional film festivals.

Of Fathers and Sons is a powerful, stunning documentary. The film reveals a world we occasionally ponder about and then forget. Talak Derki’s film is unforgettable. I am in awe at his and his crew’s cinematic accomplishment.

The film is available for streaming here

It is available for DVD or Blu-ray purchase here

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“When I started my experiment to see what would happen to my mental well being if I meditated every day for a year, I didn’t plan to end up in the middle east, a region which is the front line of a global humanitarian crisis, in the heart of so much suffering.”
Shannon Harvey

My Year of Living Mindfully is journalist/filmmaker Shannon Harvey’s persuasive documentary about the benefits of meditation.

Intending to help both herself and the world, Harvey searched for and found a possible method to address the world’s and her own mental health challenges in mindfulness meditation. One of the criteria she established in her search for help was that it must be scientific.

Harvey opens her film with a brief glimpse of herself standing in the middle of the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan—one of the largest camps in the world. She then introduces her personal story, and interviews both scientists and meditators speaking about the global pervasiveness of mental illness, the paucity of effective treatments, and the positive physical and mental benefits of meditation.

Harvey then takes us on her year’s odyssey. But, her story is longer than this year. She first spent more than three months preparing for this year. In addition to her pre-research and interviews, she endured a large number of medical tests before and after the year in order to establish a mental and physical health baseline.

What are the limits of meditation? At film’s conclusion we are back at Za’atari, in Jordan. There is no apparent way out for the people living in this camp. Yet, Harvey finds meditators who are making positive difference for themselves and others.

The strong implication of the year’s results is that people—including children—would benefit from making meditation a core part of our lives. How to prove definitively, in terms of pure science’s epistemological standards, that meditation is beneficial for all is still a question Harvey has yet to answer for herself objectively. Yet she discovered promising results for herself and our world. And, she most certainly convinced yours truly.

To watch My Year of Living Mindfully, and find out about how you can bring this film to your community, go to the film’s website.

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“People don’t have the patience to go look at a shelf of books like that. The average buyer wants to buy a particular book. I mean it takes a certain kind of interest in books to begin with to even arrive at the stage at which you want to be surprised by something that you want to find that you aren’t looking for.”
Interviewee

Although the title of this masterfully produced documentary film indicates that it is about those who sell books—in this case, with a central focus on rare book traders—D.W. Young’s The Booksellers is also about several other aspects of books and the people who love them.

The film was produced during a resurgence of used and antiquarian book stores in New York City. In addition to these stores and their proprietors, Young explores auctions, collectors, women in the book trade, hip-hop, diversity in the book world, and people who curate authors’ archives. Amongst other places, the filmmaker takes us to small dusty bookstores, a jaw-dropping private library, and a huge convention center of book traders and their customers.

A cornucopia of interviewees speak of their work, the impact of our cyber age, and, of course, the value they place on books. The legendary—in my opinion—Fran Lebowitz appears several times throughout the film.

The Booksellers has been well-reviewed by Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. It is the finest possible documentary film that could be produced on the topic of books and the people who love them.

Yours truly would love to find and purchase the cool jazz soundtrack by David Ullmann.

The Booksellers opened theatrically in New York, in March, and will launch in Los Angeles on April 17, as part of Greenwich Entertainment’s ‘Virtual Cinema Initiative’ at participating LA theaters—Laemmle Royal, Laemmle Monica, Laemmle Town Center 5, Laemmle Noho 7, Laemmle Glendale, and Laemmle Playhouse 7. Information and tickets will be available at BooksellersMovie.com

Access this site for more information on how to see the film.

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“When I was young, novelists were much more important in the culture than they are now. I mean, to me, a book is the closest thing to a human being. That’s why I think that writers are like gods.”
Fran Lebowitz

“When you’re starting a new company, you labor in obscurity for what feels like years. You tell your friends what you’re working on, and they kind of glaze over. They don’t understand, no one recognizes the name. And you wonder, ‘who am I doing this for?’”
Marc Randolph, Netflix Co-founder and Former CEO

Netflix vs. The World tells the story of the birth and emergence of… well, you know.

Director Shawn Cauthen interviews or features a handful of Netflix’s creators including the above referenced Mr. Randolph who appears peppered throughout the film. Together with Reed Hastings, the two are the egg that gestated the company to its current dominance. Randolph’s frequent appearances seems to make him the host to this story.

But wait. There’s more. The central story of this drama is a ‘Ford v Ferrari’ duel between Blockbuster and Netflix. Along with a few other Blockbuster executives, Cauthen interviews former Blockbuster Chairman and CEO John Antioco. Blockbuster was positioned to either destroy Netflix, or, more likely, subsume it. That could have happened had Blockbuster taken the nascent Netflix’s offer to purchase Netflix for $50 million, or had Blockbuster had not been ‘raided’ by the vampire corporate raider known as Carl Icahn.

If you want to know how you find yourself, like yours truly, watching countless hours of fiction and nonfiction entertainment via Netflix, Netflix vs. The World is the movie for you. Perhaps some narrative filmmakers will cover that Blockbuster v Netflix battle. If so, I’ll be fascinated to see which current or future streaming service gets that one.

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“It is not right that 2.5 billion people in the world still do not have access to proper sanitation—when we can send spacecraft to land on Mars.”
Jack Sim

Mr Toilet: The World’s #2 Man is a profile of toilet and sanitation crusader Jack Sim who wants to rid the world of open-air urination and defecation, and to provide, instead, private sanitary toilets.

From the film’s website: “Not having a place ‘to go’ isn’t just an inconvenience, it’s a problem that impacts 2.4 billion people worldwide. In India alone, 200,000 children die each year from lack of safe sanitation, while women are regularly raped because they have to defecate in public spaces.’

That’s some serious ‘shit’—Sim’s preferred term for feces.

Sim was born in, and is based in Singapore. He has a loving wife, Julie, and four children—Faith, Truth, Earth and Worth—all of whom appear in the film. Sim started out as a successful businessman, felt a sense of meaninglessness, and dedicated himself to the goal of ensuring that everyone has access to a sanitary, private toilet.

Sim is energetic, creative, innovative, joyful and passionate in his pursuit of this admiral goal—one which takes him around the world. He now has a global profile which includes starring in this excellently produced, fully engaging documentary directed by Lily Zepeda.

The film proffers some of Sim’s accomplishments. I include his Wikipedia page Here, however, simply because I was overwhelmed by the amount and quality of contributions he has made and continues to make to our world.

To get you started, though, Jack Sim is the founder of World Toilet Organization. At his bidding the United Nations, in 2013, declared November 19 World Toilet Day.

True Confession: I chose this film to cover because I became fascinated and bemused by the world’s obsession with hoarding toilet paper in response to the Corona virus pandemic.

The whimsy of that impulse aside, I am happy to relate that Mr Toilet: The World’s #2 Man is an important documentary film that everyone should see—especially politicians and their staffs at every level of government around the world.

This Just In: Mr. Toilet, the film, has signed with distributor Journeyman Pictures. Check the website occasionally for ways to see the film.

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“Overall, I would rather characterize farming as a constant play between hope and despair. And in the despair, we have to be able to step away for a minute and see that it has shown you something that can give you hope.”
Terry Mierau

Opera singers Monique Scholte and Terry Mierau met in Amsterdam. They coupled virtually immediately. Somehow, they ended up in Canada, as farmers.

Terry, Monique and their three children live in a house barn in the traditional single-street village of Neugberthal, in Southern Manitoba. The family practices ‘natural systems agriculture’ as described by the Land Institute. The family is part of a community of Mennonites in their region which also influences their approaches to food and farming. Rather than participate in large scale farming, the family shares their vegetables and meats via ‘direct to market farming.’ They know their customers.

In From Seed to Seed filmmaker Katharina Stieffenhofer spends a year on the farm with this passionate, dedicated family. She also visits other farms and farmers in their region. The farmers speak of their thoughts about and struggles with the issues of genetic manipulation and organic versus ‘conventional’—i.e. chemical—farming.

Activist Dr. Vandana Shiva, and climate scientist Dr. Ian Mauro address issues related to farming in a changing climate. Interviewees talk about the growing preference for organic food and how this pushes the momentum toward ‘ecological agriculture.’

The film’s story affirms Terry’s quote above. There are unprecedented, devastating storms the year of shooting. Human generated global warming is a permanent visitor, and the family is making adjustments to their farming strategies to accommodate this unwelcome visitor. One adjustment is the need to find ‘off farm’ work—not their ideal way of being farmers.

Despite the existential challenges they face, this farming family is delightful and inspiring—as is the film which highlights their lives and their work.

“When I see farmers on the landscape, whoever they are, wherever they come from, whatever practice they are employing, they are heroes to me. The range of skills that farmers have, and that is required to actively farm, and be a farmer, it’s absolutely inspiring.”
Dr. Ian Mauro, Associate Professor, Department of Geography, University of Winnipeg, Prairie Climate Centre

From Seed to Seed has won nine film festival awards, and is distributed by Bullfrog Films.

You may book the film under ‘Special Title Request’ HERE.

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Congratulations to Marin County documentary filmmakers Nancy Kelly and Kenji Yamamoto on Kino Lorber’s re-release of their very underrated narrative film Thousand Pieces of Gold

Yours truly fondly remembers viewing the film’s original release at the Sequoia Theater, in Mill Valley, California—in 1990!

I am thoroughly delighted to learn that ‘Thousand Pieces of Gold’ is available again.

Producer/director/editor Christian Frie, and co-director/cinematographer Maxim Arbugaev have given our world a masterpiece of documentary filmmaking.

Genesis 2.0 introduces three stories.

1) Groups of men who scour the remote, uninhabited New Siberian Islands for wooly mammoth (mammuthus primigenius) tusks for commercial purposes, and, as an aside, for mammoth remains that may contain living cells. Arbugaev films and narrates this portion of the film. The men’s story is woven throughout the film.

2) Russian and South Korean scientists working to clone a mammoth.

3) A new-to-me approach to the use of genetic information—‘genetically engineered machines’ (also known as ‘synthetic biology’) refers to the use of genetic technology to create machines of various ilk. Frie attends the 2016 International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition put on by iGEM.

The competition was first held in 2014. One team in the competition provided a promising ‘machine’—a biological camera that worked. The picture it took displayed the portentous—and for some, ominous—words ‘HELLO WORLD.’ That accomplishment sparked the community of young people working in this area. The numbers participating in the competition have snowballed.

Frie also visits scientists working on ‘gene sequencing.’ One interviewee at the China National GeneBank wants to sequence the world.

Music by Max Richterand and Edward Artemyev haunts the film and its viewers.

The film has received at least 20 film festival awards.

Available on Amazon, Genesis 2.0 left me gratified having seen a superlative documentary film, and wondering: What are all these giant, not so giant biotech companies, and CRISPR users around the world producing?

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Yours truly has viewed at least five documentaries about cannabis. Grass Is Greener is the most important film I have seen on this subject. The film’s significance is grounded in its coverage of the African American experience of cannabis.

Directed and narrated by accomplished actor/director, Fred Brathwaite (aka Fab 5 Freddy), Grass Is Greener provides the socio-political-cultural history of cannabis. That history is saturated with tragedy—the victimization of generations of African American—countless lives destroyed or lost.

Despite the partial decimalization of the plant’s use, that unhappy history continues, and there is no end in sight—Biden has said no way will he support legalization, and Trump…well, you know.

Despite the serious nature of the film, Brathwaite and company express excitement and hope about the growing emergence of cannabis in mainstream America. One interviewee, however, made a critical observation:

There are plenty of predictions about the countless billions of dollars to be made, yet the oppressed African American community does not have the support necessary to emerge as major players in this boon. One interviewee suggests focused reparations. Whatever the method of support, having learned so much more about the history of cannabis, it certainly is ethical, just, and moral that this suggestion be taken seriously by the people and government of the United States.

Distributed by Netflix, Grass Is Greener features standard bearing production qualities, is thoroughly engaging, and deserves the widest possible audience.

The Raft is a documentary film about one man’s folly of an ocean odyssey, and the unanticipated results of same.

Mexican social anthropologist Santiago Genovés designed an ‘experiment’ to address—and forgive me for being inarticulate here—something about humans, peace, and violence.

On May 11, 1973, Genovés and ten carefully chosen people set out westerly from the Canary Islands on a raft across the Atlantic ocean, destination Mexico.

I am not clear on what kind of a results he was seeking. He went through the motions of tracking and recording some data regarding his human guinea pigs’ behavior on this journey, but he seems to have made a few flawed assumptions the central one being that somehow he was not a guinea pig in his own experiment.

Director Marcus Lindeen’s film approaches this story from two perspectives the first of which is the cornucopia of archival footage of the 101 day voyage on a craft without a motor—subject only to ocean currents and winds.

 

The second perspective is a contemporary model of the raft crafted for the film, and peopled by the six survivors of the voyage who share with each other the happenings on the raft, as well as their thoughts and feeling about these events.

My friends will attest: I am obsessively concerned with ‘spoilers.’ Rather than tell you what happens on the ocean, I encourage you to see this brilliant documentary film that keeps its viewers glued to the screen.

The film will be released on VOD and home media on May 19.

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Directed by Katrine Philp, An Elephant in the Room highlights the work of Good Grief—an organization that provides support to children who have lost parents or siblings. The film has no narration. Instead we are with the children, their facilitators, and the childrens’ remaining family caregivers as facilitators do everything they can to compassionately support their charges’ healthy grieving process.

Although grief is an intense, painful emotion which includes crying, this film is not maudlin. Instead, we witness healing conversations and interactions between the kids and their caregivers.

Good Grief’s website includes a succinct description of their history and work which I include at the end of this review.

An Elephant in the Room is an important documentary film which offers insight and hope in the caring and support of grieving children. The more people who know about and utilize these services, the faster and healthier will childrens’ losses be healed. It is in that spirit that I suggest you share this review far and wide, or simply share the availability of these services for children.

“Good Grief started in 2004 with a group of concerned volunteers who believed grieving children lacked advocates. In those early days, we began by educating teachers and community groups. In 2007, Good Grief started providing direct programming to children and their families. The need and response was tremendous, requiring Good Grief to grow our programs each year. In 2012, Good Grief responded to the emerging need of families traveling long distances to Morristown by bringing Good Grief programs to Princeton. In 2017, we launched our first satellite location for urban youth through our In Community program in Jersey City, which expanded to include Newark programs in 2019. In 2017 we also launched Routes to Resilience, a social-emotional learning program that is based on over 15 years of education and programs.

“While we are best known for the thousands of lives we have impacted through our direct programming, our comprehensive education and advocacy efforts throughout New Jersey and across the nation have acquired notoriety and prestigious partnerships, including Sheryl Sandberg’s Optionb.org, KIPP NJ, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Big Brothers Big Sisters Essex, Union, and Hudson county, Arizona State University, Duke University, Scholastic, National Funeral Directors Association, Outward Bound Adventures, the National Alliance for Grieving Children, and more.”

Good Grief

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Directed by Pedro Ruiz, Havana, From On High is a cinematic, poetic, and unofficial sociological study of Cuba in transition. Eleven Cubans are interviewed and followed speaking about their lives as well as their thoughts about Cuba with references to the Revolution, Fidel, Che, the United States, and, of course, Trump. One interviewee expresses himself in poetry.

They live above the streets. Housing is sparse, and this section of Havana has buildings with elevated rooms of various ilk you can inhabit. Most have lived there for many years. The impoverished conditions are mitigated by the beautiful cityscapes and skies that surround them. Animals, too, are featured. One Cuban has been raising pigeons for decades. At least one has chickens—and dogs appear throughout the film.

Havana, From On High is superbly produced with striking visuals, fascinating people and stories. By film’s end I was stunned by the visions and, especially, by the people making the most of their challenging conditions.

A production of Faits Divers Média, Havana, From On High is an official selection of more than two dozen film festivals, and won the Grand Prize, Best Feature Documentary at the Rhode Island International Film Festival.

Director Ruiz has been nominated for 2020 BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY IN A FEATURE LENGTH DOCUMENTARY, by the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television.

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Cindy Meehl’s The Dog Doc is both a profile of integrative medicine veterinarian Marty Goldstein and an affirmation of the healing power integrative medicine provides—to both human and non-human animals.

When Goldstein entered veterinary practice he was well educated and skilled, yet he was in chronic poor health. He found his way to alternative medicine supplements and practices, recovered good health, and applied what he learned and experienced to his treatment of dogs and cats.

Meehl covers Goldstein’s and staff’s work at the Smith Ridge Veterinary Center in South Salem, New York, the clinic Goldstein established decades ago. We follow a few dogs and their human companions through diagnosis and treatment for cancers and other life threatening maladies. Throughout the film Goldstein and staff talk about this philosophy of practice as well the unique approaches and techniques he provides his patients.

The stories Meehl covers are inspiring and emotional—for the clinic’s staff, its customers, and us viewers. The Dog Doc makes a strong case for revolutionizing veterinary practices in order to achieve more and better outcomes in veterinary care.

Goldstein has since sold his clinic, and now devotes his work to promoting and advancing integrative health care for non-human animals—of course, us human animals would also benefit from this approach to healing and health.

The Dog Doc was selected for at least 23 film festivals, and is a crucial documentary film for every animal lover.

Cindy Meehl is founder of Cedar Creek Productions.

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Barefoot: The Mark Baumer Story is a profile of, a eulogy to, and an homage to, of course, Mark Baumer (December 19, 1983 – January 21, 2017).

Our hero was a prolific writer and poet, and a passionate environmental activist. Mark died while walking along a roadside. Attempting to walk barefoot from the east coast of the United States to the west coast, he was killed when an SUV swerved off the lightly traveled road and hit the lone walker.

Baumer was on his Hero’s Journey, an odyssey the purpose of which was to raise money for an environmental organization.

An only child, Baumer was beloved, intelligent, gifted, quirky, child-like, and energetic. He seems an amalgam of Wavy Gravy and Andy Kaufman.

Writer/director Julie Sokolow tells Baumer’s story via his parents (Mary and Jim), his friends—and, especially, via our Hero who posts several video clips of himself a day on this daring pilgrimage. To state the obvious, this is a very emotional documentary film which immediately went on my ‘best of’ list of documentary films.

One of Sokolow’s interviewees is Anna Heyward who wrote the following article for The New Yorker magazine: The Tragic Death of Mark Baumer, a Prolific Poet and Environmental Activist for the Social-Media Age

There is also a fundraising organization called Mark Baumer Sustainability Fund. When you go to this site make sure you scroll down to the section called ‘MARK STILL WALKING’ which consists of three or four posts a year by his father Jim.

Everyone has their own opinion. Mine is that Mark Baumer fully and successfully completed his Hero’s Journey.

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“I remember, they took us to Old Town, there’s a great big house. There were other state foster kids there, and they left us there. I remember we all slept in one big room. We had bunk beds. If you wet the bed, you had to stay in that bed for 24 hours, and you couldn’t get up. If you had to pee, you had to pee in the bed. If you stole food, you couldn’t eat for 24 hours. (crying) I never cried, I never cried.

“I think it was only one time we told the state worker what happened. Because after she left we got the worst beatings we ever had. And we never told again. And we spent four years there—and every single day there was torture.”
Native American woman providing testimony for the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Directed by Adam Mazo and Ben Pender-Cudlip, Dawnland covers the first government-sanctioned truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) in the United States. The Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission took place in the State of Maine. Between 2012 and 2015 the TRC received testimony from members of the four tribal communities which collectively make up the Wabanaki people of Maine. You may read the report here.

Most of the testimony featured in the film is of indigenous women who were literally kidnapped as children by government officials, torn from their communities, and raised by white people as fosters or in group homes. The children were stripped of their culture, treated with abuse and neglect, and wounded for life. These actions were supported by United States federal legislation. The cultural genocide of Native Americans continues in one form or another to this day.

The TRC was initiated by REACH—Reconciliation-Engagement-Advocacy-Change-Healing—which continues to support Wabanaki communities and the reconciliation process.

Produced and distributed by Vision Maker Media, Dawnland is a provocative yet hopeful documentary film that should be seen by every American adult and teenager.

DAWNLAND won the Emmy® award for Outstanding Research at the 40th annual News and Documentary Awards.

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“Plastics are treated as a product that miraculously appears from nowhere and it goes to nowhere. That invisibility, that magic nature of plastics is something that the oil and gas industry has perpetuated and promoted very effectively for decades. But what was once invisible is becoming visible. The plastic crisis doesn’t start when the plastics enter the ocean, it starts when the oil and the gas leave the wellhead, and it keeps on being a problem at every step along the way.”
Carroll Muffett, Center for International Environmental Law

Deia Schlosberg’s The Story of Plastic is the latest documentary film about plastic, and it is the most urgent and powerful of the films I have viewed. With high quality production standards, Schlosberg takes us way back to the origin of plastic—both historically, and especially to the origin of the manufacturing methods of plastics. That production process begins with fossil fuel extraction and processing.

To make matters worse, turns out that the fossil fuel industry has not hesitated in addressing their loss of business from improved efficiency of transportation vehicles—including, of course, all electric powered cars and SUVs. Consequently, there is a boon in the extraction industry driven by the simple fact that plastics come from hydrocarbons which come from the earth.

While the public dialog about plastics continues, and there are small victories in reducing plastics pollution, yet, the fossil fuel industry builds and operates more and more extraction plants around the world, creating an exacerbation of the continuing deluge of plastics production.

But wait, there’s more! There is this clever idea to address the scourge of plastic pollution via incineration which, of course, takes the solid pollution, transforms it to smoke and gas, and blows the smoke and gas with its toxic chemicals—and, of course, carbon—into our atmosphere. That’s going on right now. You need to see this documentary.

Schlosberg takes her viewers around the world, reminds us visually of the horrors of plastic pollution, and interviews or features dozens of activists fighting on behalf of our environment and ourselves—as well as those trumpeting the virtues of plastic.

Schlosberg’s film is thoroughly engaging, and elicits personal reflections regarding our contribution to the problem, as well as our participation in the solutions. I encourage readers to access the website’s Take Action page.

“So many parts of our economies, so many places in the world are dependent on this relatively small group of corporations who are making a tremendous amount of money poisoning the rest of us. And so figuring out how to break out of that cycle, that’s the project of our lifetime. ”
Zoë Carpenter, journalist

The Story of Plastics is a production of The Story of Stuff.

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“What I’ve been able to do up to now is just plan the next footstep—one step ahead on the next goal to overcome. But, now we’ve done it, I can take a moment to actually see what is around, and it’s beautiful, it’s a beautiful place. And, I just consider myself very fortunate to have had this opportunity to see it through”
Desmond O’Keeffe

The title says it all in Michal Sulima’s Piano to Zanskar.

Piano tuner Desmond O’Keeffe takes a 100 year-old, 80 kilo, Broadwood and Sons upright piano from his London workshop to a village named Lingshed, cradled in the Lingshed Valley, in the region called Zanskar. Names aside, the point is the piano was hauled from sea level to 14,000 feet up in the Indian Himalayas. This piano is the highest on Earth.

Sulima follows O’Keefe and friends from workshop to one of the most isolated settlements on Earth. On the surface of it, this endeavor seems a fool’s errand. Indeed, the inevitable requisite unexpecteds confront O’Keefe and team on this odyssey, yet in addition to this incredible accomplishment, we have this dear and sweet festival-winner of a film which deserves a large audience—and, there is no want of delightful serendipity at story’s conclusion.

The icing on this cinematic cake is Ernst Reijseger’s absolutely perfect music to accompany the journey. I’d buy the soundtrack if it was available.

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(Pictured: Desmond O’Keefe)

The mill in David Craig’s well-produced environmental documentary is in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, Canada. The multinational company has been manufacturing paper products there—mostly tissue paper and paper towels—since the 1960s. Within Pictou County is the Mi’kmaq fishing community of Pictou Landing.

For more than six decades Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Corp. has been pumping a toxic pulp effluent into a body of water called Boat Harbour which is adjacent to the Mi’kmaq indigenous community. The company has been mandated to find another place to pump its effluent, and has proposed a pipe to the sensitive fishing grounds of the Northumberland Strait.

The fishing community, of course, would be devastated by this proposed action. Mill officials say without this action, they will shut down the mill, devastating the region’s economy.

The Mill covers this conflict between the fishing community—both indigenous and non-indigenous—and the mill workers who live in the same region. The people of Pictou County are divided, each group has legitimate concerns. The livelihood of thousands of people are threatened, the livelihood of the fishing community is threatened—and the already compromised environment would remain polluted, or become more so. Craig makes sure that each of the two sides of this dilemma are thoroughly represented in his film.

“The Mill” features high production values, and is a living documentary film. That is, the story is still unfolding as I type these words, and the film’s comprehensive website includes Ongoing Updates.

By virtue of both the film’s topic and the excellence with which this story is told, “The Mill” is a must-see environmental film telling a micro-story emblematic of high-stakes environmental dilemmas found around the world.

 

(Effluent photo courtesy of ‘The Mill’)

(Mi’kmaq Chiefs photo courtesy of K. Night)

“I absolutely think you can draw a line between voter suppression efforts and the gerrymandering efforts, and election results. We are seeing efforts to undermine the very core values of American democracy. Nothing is more fundamental in America than having the right to vote, and having the right to representation. And those two core values have been undermined by this new assault on democracy.”
Ari Berman, Journalist, Mother Jones.

Gerrymandering is one of several political practices sabotaging American democracy. For those unfamiliar, it takes quite a few words to describe the gerrymandering process in detail. Suffice it to say, the practice is an attempt—all too often successful—to control the outcomes of state and national elections. Both Republicans and Democrats practice this form of Dark Politics.

In Slay the Dragon directors Chris Durrance and Barak Goodman introduce the gerrymandering process, and focus on its recently refined use by Republicans which fostered a massive sea change in American politics—one which disenfranchised American voters, and enabled a far right-wing takeover of state and national politics.

Goodman and Durrance offer a ray of hope in their coverage of national gerrymandering issues—and in their focus on Wisconsin, Michigan, and North Carolina politics. They highlight initiatives to sabotage the saboteurs the most dramatic of which is the Voters Not Politicians movement created by one woman—Katie Fahey—who, in an epic struggle, brought an end to partisan gerrymandering in her home state of Michigan, and inspired voter activism beyond her state’s borders. Fahey grabbed a tiger by the tail, held on for dear life, and achieved her goal of reforming Michigan politics. Her story deserves a Hollywood narrative film treatment.

“It’s a fixed system. That’s what gerrymandering is all about. Congress would never, ever fix this problem—because they have one interest, and one interest only, this is to stay in power”
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Former Governor of California

A Magnolia Pictures release, Slay the Dragon is a must-see, inspiring documentary about our threatened democracy and those meeting this threat head-on. The film is set to open on VOD on April 3rd.

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(Pictured: Katie Fahey)

‘Compassion: A feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.’
Dictionary.com

There is no want for documentary films about plant-based, vegetarian, and vegan diets. A few of these films have found a relatively large viewership.

A Prayer for Compassion stands out by virtue of its intended audience—adherents to religious and spiritual traditions. Producer-director Thomas Wade Jackson has made a powerful call for us humans to consume a vegan diet. Although the film has a specific intended audience, it should be seen by one and all.

Jackson travels around the United States and the world speaking with a wide spectrum of religious and spiritual leaders, teachers, and authorities about the virtues and values of living on a vegan diet.

Pondering the film’s topic, the first thought that came to mind was ‘cognitive dissonance’—‘the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.’

When it comes to diet, and to the many documentaries I have seen about said subject, I live in an acute and chronic state of cognitive dissonance about the food I eat. I have no argument about the information I have received from these documentaries, and I have a great passion for the natural world, yet I am far from making what would be a radical, difficult, and challenging shift to a vegetarian diet, let alone a vegan one. I confess this with the understanding that I am not alone.

Despite my cognitive dissonance, I am deeply moved by Jackson’s film, and I recommend it to all who come upon this review. The film’s website provides a comprehensive list of resources about adopting a vegan diet. Click on ‘The Challenge’ and ‘Links’ icons at the top of the film’s home page.

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(Pictured: Thomas Wade Jackson and friend)