Category: Documentary


Audrie & Daisy

August 23rd, 2016 — 8:19pm

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Audrie & Daisy

Every high school student and probably many preteens and their parents/grandparents and close family members should see this documentary film. The husband and wife filmmaking team of Bonnie Cohen and Jon Shenk mainly focuses on the lives of three teenage girls and their families who lived in different parts of the country but had similar experiences. This involves teenagers sending naked pictures through the internet, alcohol, parties, rape, and subsequent humiliations. In the case of one girl there was a fatal outcome. Part of the film is seen through the eyes of two of the boys who carried out the attacks on one girl who was 14 years old at the time and apparently unconscious from drinking.

It would appear that neither the parents of teenagers coming of age nor the teachers, school system, or even the criminal justice system seem adequately prepared to deal with this emerging tragic social phenomenon. It is being fueled by a changing Internet which is best understood by the young people of today some of whom end up hurt and damaged by it. Not only does the Internet provide readily available pornography but it also becomes a vehicle for girls responding to requests from boys for nude pictures of themselves, as a badge of popularity. The result and changes in sexual standards are enhanced by readily available alcohol and marijuana. This film shows caring parents who may have thought they were sophisticated about sexual issues in their children but found out that they were basically clueless.

The majority of people who were experiencing some of the tragic sexual consequences demonstrated in this film would understandably be reluctant to publicly describe their plight. Therefore it is a great accomplishment for the filmmakers that they were able to find some brave young women and their families who were willing to speak up and are motivated to action in order to prevent similar tragedies for others. We also meet the very thoughtful brother of one of the rape victims who not only reflected on how he felt but also what he is motivated to do to address this problem.

We could find some faults with the continuity of the storyline and the abrupt changes and locations. We would have also liked to have seen a better examination of the legal issues which are an important part of the story. However there is enough in this documentary film to be a “game changer” in this crucial issue concerning the destructive use of the Internet in our country. Netflix is now onboard with this film and should greatly facilitate its distribution. It opens up September 23rd in Los Angeles and New York. It should also be available soon for home screen viewing. We also understand that there is a roll-out plan for schools to use it with backup educational material. (2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary

Gleason

July 28th, 2016 — 5:10am

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Steve Gleason was a professional football player who ended his season with the New Orleans Saints. The highlight of his sports career was a blocked punt which symbolized the birth of New Orleans after being so devastated by Hurricane Katrina. A statue of him stretched out with a flying leap to accomplish this feat is present in front of the Saints’ football stadium.

A few years after Gleason retired from football at the age of 33, he developed some mild physical symptoms which turned out to be ALS-Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. This is a progressive muscle paralysis which over time results in total paralysis of all muscles, requiring a wheelchair and even a tracheostomy in order to breathe and survive. There are no cognitive or intellectual deficits with this disease. The course of the illness can be gradual over a few to several years usually resulting in death and as you can imagine, it can be devastating.

Shortly after he and his wife Michel were told about his terrible diagnosis, they learned that she was pregnant. It was at that time that Gleason decided that he was going to make an ongoing video blog of his life. His purpose was for him to record his daily life which would include expressing his memories and thoughts so his unborn offspring would come to know him and also know about the bond that he felt with his child. Sometime after this process was started, Clay Tweel, a documentary film producer learned of this project and met with the Gleason’s. They trusted Tweel and agreed he would help them with the video production, with the idea that he would eventually make a documentary film.

This project in one sense has become the ultimate reality show. The viewer of it becomes a fly on the wall to the everyday interactions in the lives of this very brave couple. We see Gleason’s speech gradually become difficult, his gait unsteady, and ultimately leading to a wheelchair. We are in the delivery room when he participates in the birth of his son, Rivers. We watch Rivers gradually developing into a toddler and ride with his dad on the electric wheelchair. We see the tears in Gleason’s eyes as he looks into the camera and imagines that he’s talking to a more grownup version of his son who he hopes someday will view his video. The viewer also realizes what a remarkable woman his wife Michel has turned out to be. It is hard to imagine how she handled being a wife, mother, caretaker and also finding that she was a skilled artist. The interaction between Gleason and his father is a story onto itself. His dad is a religious Christian who believes in faith healing. This is a source of great conflict between Gleason and his dad. There is a church scene where a faith healer exhorts Gleason to be cured and run which is quite heart-wrenching.

When people with this disease begin to lose their ability to speak, they often can use computerized speech synthesizers. You probably recall seeing video clips of the famous physicist, Steven Hawkings who has ALS himself and talks with an artificial electronic voice. An even more advanced device is one which records the voice of the patient while he still can speak and then the miracle of a special computer program will talk in the person’s voice when they type or even choose letters and words with their eyes. This was particularly dramatically demonstrated during a recorded conversation of Gleason and his wife during some difficult times. Unfortunately, this marvelous machine is not available to people without financial resources or even to people on Medicare. It turns out that Gleason along with family, friends, various donors including some people from the sports world set up a foundation which provided this equipment for people who needed them. They also lobbied Congress and eventually “Gleason’s Law” was passed. So now the US Government will provide this equipment for all who need it.

On one hand, this documentary movie is a sad story but it is actually a very affirming tale. It shows one man’s determination to establish a conversation with his unborn son, the amazing support of a dedicated wife, and the fortuitous involvement of a talented filmmaker. We have here the opportunity to see a very remarkable and uplifting documentary film, which we would strongly recommend to our readers. (2016)

 

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary

It Might Get Loud – Guest review by Leo Blumenfield – Age 12

May 8th, 2016 — 8:04pm

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            This 2009 documentary, directed by Davis Guggenheim, tells how three amazing guitarists, Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White, all from different backgrounds and times can really connect and tell their own story. Jimmy Page comes from London, England, The Edge comes from Dublin, Ireland, and Jack White is from Detroit, Michigan. I thought this was a interesting documentary because of the way you can see the history of guitar and rock-and-roll from these three different perspectives. It is very inspiring, showing how these unique guitarists got their start from playing in a small garage to performing in front of thousands of people. All three of these guitarists have strange and different styles of music and attitude that is so fascinating. 

            I highly recommend this documentary because whether you are a musician or not, this movie really tells you a story that you will never forget. You can also see in this movie what beautiful sounds can come out of some of the greatest musicians when they jam together. Jack White, The Edge, and Jimmy Page talk about some of their favorite songs and musicians and how that inspired their music and their style. They talk about how blues, rock, and soul influences lead them to where they are now.

            Overall, It Might Get Loud is a very fascinating documentary because it shows that wherever you are from, music can always bring you together, and you can bond over something that is so special to you. (2009)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Musical

Presenting Princess Shaw

May 4th, 2016 — 1:20am

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The appeal of this documentary film is that it introduced the viewer to a phenomenon that many of us did not fully appreciate is happening on the Internet. Samantha Montgomery is a black woman probably in her late 20’s or early 30’s who works as an aide in a nursing home in New Orleans. We learned later in the film that she had an unhappy childhood and that she was sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend despite her protests to her mother. As she got older, she had few emotional supports and became one of many people who reported her daily life activities on the internet. She also likes to make up songs and sing her latest creations acapella. She had aspirations to become recognized as a singer and would sing at open microphone nights in local clubs, frequently with just a few patrons in the audience. One time she went to an audition with hundreds of other aspiring singers to try out for the famous TV show “The Voice” but never made it to the stage to be seen by the judges.

Film director Ido Haar and film producer Liran Atzmor had the idea to do a documentary film about the phenomena of people singing their own songs on the internet. They contacted Ms. Montgomery who used the stage name on the internet as Princess Shaw, as one of many who might be the subject of their film. However, the film producers apparently learned something very interesting that Princess Shaw did not know and made the documentary duo decide to focus only on her.

Unbeknownst to Princess Shaw an Israeli music producer by the name of Ophir Kutiel who is known as Kutiman was downloading her singing on Youtube and was inviting Youtube musicians around the world to arrange various musical accompaniments to the singing that Princess Shaw was putting out on her Youtube channel. Through skillful editing, Kutiman used the talents of several musicians who never knew each other or sat in the same room to put together a terrific arrangement of Princess Shaw singing a haunting song titled Give It Up. The documentary filmmaker, who was following her around with one hand held camera was able to capture the tearful surprise and emotion when she first heard the professional arrangement with the various musicians from around the world. Soon this song had over one million hits on the internet. Princess Shaw was then invited to come to Israel to meet Kutiman and appear in a concert in a very large venue. She now has a record contract and travels around the United States promoting this documentary film where we met her in a screening of this movie which opens in Los Angeles and other major cities at the end of May.

So there you have it, a unique story of our modern times. The documentary film is an amalgam of Youtube clips and handheld videos as the main subject was attentively followed around in her various activities. It was an interesting idea for a documentary film and we are glad that we saw it. For a sample of Kutiman’s production of Princess Shaw singing Give it Up on YouTube with musicians from around the world that now has over 2 ½ million hits, click here (2016).

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary

Papa: Hemingway in Cuba

April 29th, 2016 — 11:39pm

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Ernest Hemingway is the iconic writer who is forever linked to Cuba where he spent much of his life. Denne Bart Petitclerc was a reporter for the Miami Globe in the 1950s and for very personal reasons idolized the great writer and wrote him a letter telling him so. This led to a correspondence and then a friendship with “Papa” Hemingway and his wife, Mary Hemingway.” Petitclerc visited Cuba several times and subsequently wrote about his relationship with Hemingway, which is the subject of this outstanding docudrama. This movie offers a sensitive insight into this brilliant writer, driven, complicated man who was an alcoholic, had severe depression and possibly a bipolar disorder as well as a complicated love life. In addition, he was drawn into the Castro Communist revolution and was also in conflict with the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover.

While this all makes a fascinating story, the attraction and success of this movie is the portrayal of Papa Hemingway by Adrian Sparks. This veteran award winning actor has played Hemingway in one-man-shows on the stage for several years in addition to his other stage and film accomplishments. He was the natural choice for this role. Giovanni Ribisi is excellent as Petitclerc and he is called Ed Myers in the film. The movie also stars Joely Richardson as Mary Hemingway and Minka Kelly as Myers’ girlfriend.

Director and producer, Bob Yari also scored an amazing accomplishment in that he received permission to film this movie in Cuba. After much negotiating he was able to do this because the movie is portrayed as a docudrama rather than a commercial film. However, the movie will hold the audience’s attention as well as any good drama. In fact, if you have had any occasion to be a tourist in Cuba in the past several years as we have, you will appreciate the familiar sights. We were particularly pleased to see Hemingway’s house, which is now a treasured museum but was used in the film. In fact, in a post screening discussion, we were told the real items in the house were substituted with props but at the last moment, Cuban officials allowed Hemingway’s actual typewriter to be used in the movie. Knowing this lends a special realism when we see him typing on it in the film. Enlightening, moving and totally engaging, this movie is well worth seeing. (2016)

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Drama

A Classy Broad

April 21st, 2016 — 4:48am

***

Marcia Nasatir

   Marcia Nasatir

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It is ironic that this documentary film about one of the pioneer film producers who often was the key person in getting a film green-lighted has just been completed and is now looking for distribution. Marcia Nasatir, who is about to turn 90 years of age is the subject of this movie. She was the first female vice president of production of a major movie studio (United Artists). The director producer of “A Classy Broad” is Anne Goursaud, an accomplished film editor who is hoping that this movie will be her breakthrough film. It is is all about inside Hollywood.

Ms. Nasatir, the centerpiece of this documentary, is well-known, well-liked, and well respected by many legendary movie insiders some of whom appear in this film. Prominent among this group was Mike Medavoy, former Chairman of Tristar and United Artists, and co-founder of Orion Pictures. Others include screenwriters and directors such as Lawrence Kasdan, Tony Bill, Lucy Fisher, Rob Cohen, Robert Towne and the late Lorenzo Semple, Jr. We also hear numerous stories about Ms. Nasatir’s role in many successful movies, such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Sting, Hamburger Hill, Coming Home, Rocky The Big Chill and many others. Also appearing in the documentary is actress Glenn Close, who is one of the stars of The Big Chill. Ms. Nasatir’s career was “rocky” itself as she was sometimes passed over for promotion, no doubt because women were not just moved into these leadership positions in the film industry during the 1970s and ‘80s.

If there is anything lacking in this movie, it would be not having more of the personal life of Ms. Nasatir. We know very little about her childhood, education, marriage, divorce and her two children. While these details all might make the type of a story that Ms. Nasatir might look for in an interesting feature film, they are certainly not necessary or essential to appreciate this documentary film about this “Classy Broad” and her very successful career in the movie business. (2016)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Biography, Documentary

What Happened, Miss Simone?

March 13th, 2016 — 9:37pm

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This Oscar nominated documentary biography will grab you and hold your attention and your emotions. You will re-experience the meaning that the Civil Rights Movement may have had to you and how you understand its significance in this country. Music as it always does, creates and brings out deep-rooted feelings and the haunting music and lyrics of this gifted singer and musician will do just that. You will come to understand who Nina Simone was and where she came from and what she was trying to do. But this film will also raise questions about Miss Simone, as a wife, mother, and troubled soul that will remain unanswered although undoubtedly you will share our admiration for her.

Nina Simone grew up as the preacher’s daughter in North Carolina. She was noted to have musical talent and as a young girl she played the piano in church. She went on to get formal music lessons and she had a lifelong unfulfilled wish to be the first black classical concert pianist. She also , clearly, experienced the pain of the Jim Crow South and multiple occasions of blatant discrimination because she was black.

This film documents what she did become and that is a widely acclaimed blues singer with a very distinctive style. When the Civil Rights Movement burst upon the scene, her music and words became part of its anthem alongside of Martin Luther King and others. This was symbolized by the controversial song Mississippi Goddamn”( click to hear this great song) which was embraced by the movement but apparently ultimately marginalized Miss Simone’s ability to work in the musical industry.

The details of Miss Simone’s journey were very well documented with film clips and interviews with people who were very close to her including lifelong friends, fellow musicians, her husband, and her now grown daughter. One of the most fascinating and convincing parts of this documentary film was the showing of the handwritten pages of her own diary. These scribbled words with printed subtitles at the bottom of the screen, documented her love and dependency on her husband, a former New York City policeman who guided a good part of her successful career but also apparently viciously beat her according to her own words. We do not really understand why and how she tolerated him so long before divorcing him. Nor do we understand how she could suddenly leave her loved only young daughter with her good friend and abruptly go off to Europe to try to revive her career.

Her own diary also documents her bouts of suicidal thoughts during this period. As a psychiatrist, one of us (MB) knows we can never properly make a diagnosis or understand the clinical issues in someone we have never seen in our consulting room. However, it should be stated that in her late years, we clearly see a very depressed woman. We are told in the words of her grown daughter and others that she had a diagnosis made of manic-depression and was prescribed “Trilafon” (a second generation antipsychotic medication – not usually the medicine of choice for this condition). We are also told that the medication helped her a little bit. It is also stated that she subsequently had certain symptoms of stiffness and twitching of her lip which are common side effects of this medication that was given to her. While we certainly don’t know all the details we can’t help wondering if she had the best treatment

Miss Simone died at the age of 70 and we do not know too much about her last few years. We have come away from this well-done documentary film by director and producer Liz Garbus with an appreciation how this talented woman was able to find her destiny at the same time that she was able to touch the emotions and express the voice of so many people during the Civil Rights Movement in this country. Through this film and her music, there is the opportunity for her work reach future generations. (2015)

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Documentary

Meet The Patels

January 7th, 2016 — 5:09am

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If ever a movie looked like a well done reality TV program, this is the one. It’s clearly  not a classical documentary film (although it won some awards for best doc) and certainly you don’t get the feeling that it is a scripted movie. This appears to be real people who are almost certainly living their real contemporary lives (at least so it seems). Ravi Patel is an actor and a film maker by profession, but this movie comes across as the story of his life. It is filmed mostly by his sister, Geeta Patel with whom he is living and is also a filmmaker. We would not be surprised if there were some redone lines or retakes and maybe even some suggested dialogue but it sure looks like captured real life.

Ravi has recently broken up with his girlfriend of two years and he has agreed to let his parents try to find him a girlfriend whom they hope he would marry. In other words, they are going to do the traditional Indian parental matchmaking approach. However, in order to do this they are going to have to work it out in the modern world. His parents who were born in India and came together with the traditional arranged marriage, now live in the United States. They speak English very well and seemed to be quite well-off. Their quest to make this match for their son begins with a trip to India. It seems that Patel is a common Indian name and there are thousands of Indian families who are somehow related at least with various similar cultural beliefs especially in regard to matchmaking. Friends and relatives (no doubt cousins, many times removed) attempt to find a suitable match of the right woman for Ravi. When things don’t work out in finding a girl for him, he then embarks on a tour of the United States to meet many of the young Indian women that have been searched out by his parents using various methods of communication including the Internet.

The cinematography appears to be cinema verite with many conversations in moving cars and during family get-togethers some of them out of focus or jerky. As this story plays out, we see the struggle of the parents and son who both love each other but yet are of two different generations. They have the same cultural values but each generation is coming from a different place.

Everybody seems quite genuine and there are times when Ravi is reflecting on his personal thoughts. These moments are important to the continuity of the film. He does this through a conversation with his sister, the cinematographer. Rather than just show a headshot of Ravi talking, they have created a simple cartoon caricature of Ravi who is shown talking while his voice is projected as coming from this figure. This technique is quite effective. In fact the entire movie is very effective. We developed great empathy for his parents and for him, as well as for the older sister who is still single herself. In the end we have the feeling that we have just binged on a full season of a great TV series. If anything, the movie seemed to end abruptly and we were ready for season two. (2015)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary

The Armor of Light

October 14th, 2015 — 7:02am

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This thoughtful and original documentary film makes a case that the conservative right in this country led by evangelical ministers should consider that the correct moral position would be to support gun control. The case for this action, as unlikely as it may seem to be, is clearly made by this compelling documentary movie. It follows the conversion process to this point of view of Reverend Rob Schenck, who is a well-known leading American evangelical reverend who ministers to elected and appointed officials in Washington, D.C. and is president of the Christian Outreach Ministry “Faith and Action.”

The filmmaker and the force behind this film is Abigail Disney, who is the granddaughter of Roy O. Disney, co-founder of the Walt Disney Company. She is also a philanthropist, a peace activist, and an accomplished filmmaker. She has developed a deep passion for the subject of this film, which is consistent with many of her other beliefs which includes women’s right to abortion. Once she decided to make this film, she had occasion to meet Reverend Schenck who had become very upset about a mass gun shooting of innocent people near where he lived in Washington, D.C. and began to think about gun control.

After meeting Ms. Disney, he agreed to participate in this film, which was exploring the subject of gun control although apparently, he had not yet made up his mind about his personal decision on this controversial subject. We see him embark upon series of discussions with many lay people as well as other ministers. He himself wanted to understand guns and actually got training in the use of them. He also attended the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association, which was an interesting event in and of itself. All of this is filmed by Ms. Disney and her documentary team.

Reverend Schenck speaks with many members of his congregation as well as others across the country. He, of course, reflects on this subject with deep thought and prayer. He also had occasion to meet Lucy McBath, mother of Jordan Davis, an unarmed teenager who had been murdered and whose killer was using the so-called Stand Your Ground defense in the State of Florida. Ms. McBath is a devout Christian and becomes moved by her son’s loss to use her grief to bring about political action for gun control. Her faith, passion, and advocacy lead her to interact with Reverend Schenck, first in trying to influence him and then, becoming his ally in the crusade for gun control.

Perhaps the most dramatic and powerful portion of this documentary is the passion and determination of the Christian ministers and others who attempt to justify citizens owning and using weapons and the recitation of their dictum that “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Equally dramatic is the evolution of Reverend Schenck’s position to where he passionately concludes that the moral, ethical and Christian decision is an anti-gun viewpoint.

Obviously, this film does not solve this controversy but its presence and availability at the present time could have great significance and influence in this debate. The film is in the process of creating a controversy that centers around Reverend Schenck and the prominent position that he holds. In a post film discussion in which he was present, he indicated that he has already received significant criticism from evangelicals as well as support from some ministers. His organization has also received threats of the withdrawal of funds because of his evolving position on gun control.

Ms. Disney is planning to open this film in 24 cities in the United States many in the Bible Belt. We already see that the political debate and the presidential campaigns will expose some of the major disagreements among candidates, which includes gun control and “right to life.” This documentary film could be shown at local churches and civic meetings and have the potential to allow people to consider that there may be good moral reasons to change their position on the issue of gun control even if they are not yet ready to compromise on other social issues. Whether this potential will be realized remains to be seen.(2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary

He Named Me Malala

October 12th, 2015 — 12:59am

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Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani girl who grew up in the Swat Valley in Northwest Pakistan. As she was growing up, the local Taliban became increasingly powerful and instituted a policy of banning girls from attending school. Malala who is named after a famous poet and female warrior from Southern Afghanistan was approached by the BBC and asked to write a blog talking about how girls were prevented from having an education. She agreed to do so and began making speeches which were covered by the local and international press criticizing how the Taliban was taking away the rights of girls to get an education. Supported and encouraged by her father who was a teacher and a political activist himself, Malala continued to speak out. Soon, many of the schools in this area were destroyed by Taliban bombings. Malala’s activist speeches received worldwide recognition. Then. on October 2012 when Malala was 15 years old, a Taliban gunman approached her and identified her as who she was and point-blank shot her in the head. Miraculously, she recovered after extensive surgery and rehabilitation in England. Having the world spotlight on her in her campaign for girls’ rights to education, she continued her determination to speak out. In 2014, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 17.

This movie is a documentary film directed by Davis Guggenheim, which shows a clear picture of this charming, most well spoken and dedicated young woman. Her personality shines through whether it is from actual video or film footage of her interacting with her parents and her precocious brothers at home, meeting President Obama or speaking before the United Nations. Through photographs and video clips as well as the use of animated cartoons, her pathway to this unique position on the world’s stage is depicted at the same time that we see her struggling with her school homework.

There is also some attempt to show the influence of her father upon her. Incidentally, he insists that he never pushed her to speak out and the decisions to do so were all her own. While that is the narrative of the film, it is clear that her father certainly was a powerful influence in her life. There is much less shown about her mother who does seem to be a vivacious and quite intelligent although uneducated woman.

The chronology in the film is not clear. The lack of focus on the time sequence of events may not be crucial as the story is probably well-known to the moviegoers who choose to see this film. Malala is amazingly articulate. She speaks English quite well and of course she is also fluent in her native language. She gives a heck of a speech with memorable lines that are obviously inspirational to young and old alike. We want to read her book ( I am Malala) and we are sure that we will want to give it to our granddaughters. This movie should have special appeal to those who know of her story and want to see the real person up-close. (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary

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