Review: ‘The Disrupted’ puts a face to wealth disparity across the United States.

THE DISRUPTED dives deep inside the lives of of three Americans working harder than ever, as their place in the middle class slips away.  For a farmer, a factory worker, and an Uber driver, rising income inequality betrays the American Dream.

What does the American Dream even look like anymore? When  I was a child, it was always something cliche like, “Married, with a house, a dog, and 2.5 kids.” When I graduated college in 2002, I moved back in with my parents for a few months transitioning from NYC to California. When I began to hear how many of my classmates had done the same, I was less embarrassed and more surprised. I began to notice my parents discuss money for the first time. How fellow upper middle class families were in  way over their heads with newly built McMansions and more than one kid in college at the same time. My mother checked out a scholarship book from the library the size of three phones books put together. (Did you know you can get one for being left handed?) This time, it was for my two youngest sisters that were merely in 7th and 8th grade at the time. It was very eye-opening. Over the last almost 20 years, this has become the norm. Getting a job immediately following graduation and then working at that job until retirement wasn’t a thing people were doing any longer. Now in 2020, with a global pandemic, the economic wealth gap in more front and center than ever before. Gen Xers knew things were bad. Now that we’re parents and the luckiest of us is homeowners, we’ve come to understand that there is nothing equal in this country. In Sarah Colt’s debut documentary The Disrupted, we follow three different workers struggling to keep food on their table and maintain dignity for themselves.

The harsh reality is that while the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the rich keep it that way. The dichotomy of the working place is unmissable. Attempting to get an entry level job only to be told that it requires years of experience in that position is baffling. Companies like Uber are using drivers as a temporary solution. “Employees” will become completely obsolete once self-driving cars are fully on the market. Their exploitation is rampant and growing worse as each month passes, not to mention the massive hit they’ve since taken from the pandemic with its subsequent lockdowns and travel bans (albeit necessary ones for health and safety). Farmers have been feeling a massive strain since President Obama was in power and the current administration’s “bailout” doesn’t save the most vulnerable of family farms. These hardworking people, the people who feed America should not be pawns in a trade war. The Disrupted speaks to depression, guilt, frustrations, and anger, at its tipping point. If you care about human beings at all, it will crush your soul. You cannot help but feel invested in these people’s lives. Colt and co-director Josh Gleason’s editing walks a delicate line in filming the tumultuous highs and lows of how money has weight over a family dynamic. What it can do to your health, marriage, children, self-esteem, the way we speak to others, and how we are perceived by society. At times it feels intrusive but that’s what great documentary filmmaking is all about. It is a deeply personal look into how our system is broken. We are hopeful that this upcoming election brings forth change for the better. We cross our fingers for equal justice and more realistic economic policies. The Disrupted is a reminder that we’re more alike than we are different. We’re all trying to have pride in ourselves. We’re all trying to leave a better future for the next generation. We’re all looking for a chance.

The Disrupted – Trailer from Sarah Colt Productions on Vimeo.

Directed by Emmy® Award-winning NY filmmaker SARAH COLT and co-directed by JOSH GLEASON the film will be released exclusively in over 20+ Virtual Cinemas by PASSION RIVER FILMS and 8 ABOVE starting September 25th, 2020, followed by a Digital VOD release on October 13th, 2020!

 

Review: ‘Robin’s Wish’ becomes our own in this new doc from Tylor Norwood.

SYNOPSIS:Robin’s Wishtells the powerful true story of actor/comedian Robin Williams’ final days. For the first time, Robin’s fight against a deadly neurodegenerative disorder, known as Lewy Body Dementia, is shown in stunning detail. Through a gripping journalistic lens, this incredible story sheds entirely new light on the tragedy, beauty, and power behind the mind of one of the greatest entertainers of all time.

The name Robin Williams is a household name. From his early standup days to his iconic voiceover work for Genie in Aladdin to perhaps one of his most quotable film Mrs. Doubtfire, we all desperately miss this talented man and his gentle heart. We felt like we knew him. We understood that if he was booked as a guest on a late-night show, there was no script. The host might as well put their requisite question cards down because Robin was going to take the segment so far off the rails, there was little point in preparing. He could make us belly laugh but also mesmerize us with his ability to master heavier roles like Dead Poets Society and his Oscar-winning performance in Good Will Hunting. He was a god. He wore his heart on his sleeve, always. What we didn’t get to see in private was more than we can imagine.

“An emotional avalanche of mourning and celebration” is perhaps the best way to describe the viewing experience. Director Tylor Norwood has mixed intimate sit down interviews with neighbors, friends, and Robin’s wife Susan, with television appearances, personal photographs, and most notably to the subject at hand, Robin’s doctors. As someone who’s grandmother recently passed from the same disorder, this hurt just a bit more. To have an inside view of the pain and fear and confusion that Williams (and his loved ones) must have been feeling, it makes this all the sadder. His doctors agree that his high level of cognitive function, much higher than the average person, is most likely what made the diagnosis so elusive. The man was nothing short of brilliant. Weaved into the film is his love story with Susan. She has become an advocate for the disorder. When you think of soulmates, these two are it. It is beautiful to watch. For the cinephile, Robin’s Wish is also a fantastic insight into his work and mindset from some of his most iconic career moments. But it is the personal asides, the conversations with injured troops from his USO tour days that will solidify him as one of the most treasured human beings of our time. To see him celebrated properly and more fully understood feels like vindication from the tabloid mess that initially ensued following his death. It was not deserved. It was shameful. This film is both a tribute and an education for so many suffering in silence. Robin’s Wish can come true in this documentary.

“I want to help people be less afraid.”  ~ Robin Williams

 

 

Vertical Entertainment will release the documentary film ROBIN’S WISH on Demand and Digital on September 1, 2020.

OFFICIAL WEBSITEhttps://www.robinswishfilm.com/

ROBIN’S WISH features interviews with Susan Schneider WilliamsShawn LevyJohn R. Montgomery, Rick Overton, and David E. Kelly. The film is directed by Tylor Norwood (directorial feature debut) who co-wrote the film with Scott Fitzloff (The United States of Detroit).

SUSAN SCHNEIDER WILLIAMS STATEMENT:

When my husband Robin Williams died, the whole world grieved. It’s enough to grieve personally over this type of loss, and then to have the entire world grieving with you—that pushed it into a different realm altogether. Robin was one of the most beloved artists in the world, a comic genius, whose mind functioned on a mighty level. Yet in the end, it was a little known disease in his beautifully gifted brain that became his greatest and final battle.

During the last year of his life, Robin was confronted with anxiety, paranoia, insomnia, scary altered realities and a roller coaster of hope and despair. With our medical team’s care we chased a relentless parade of symptoms but with very little gain. It wasn’t until after Robin’s passing, in autopsy, that the source of his terror was revealed: he had diffuse Lewy body disease. It was one of the worst cases medical professionals had seen.

Armed with the name of a brain disease I’d never heard of, I set out on a mission to understand it, and that led me down my unchosen path of advocacy. With invaluable help from leading medical experts, I saw that what Robin and I had gone through, finally made sense — our experience matched up with the science. And what I discovered along the way was bigger than me, and bigger than Robin. The full story was revealed during the making of this film and it holds the truth that Robin and I had been searching for.

Robin’s Wish is Robin’s story, it’s our story, and in some ways it’s a universal one — as we all understand what it means to search for answers, to experience love and loss and the power of healing that keeps us going.

Finally, a note about the film title: Robin wanted to help all of us be less afraid. That was Robin’s wish. We had been discussing what we wanted our legacies to be in life; when it was our time to go, how we wanted to have made people feel. Without missing a beat, Robin said, “I want to help people be less afraid.”

 

DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT: 

Robin’s Wish is the retelling of an ending to a story that was never done the justice it deserved. Robin Williams was very much an influence on my life and so when he passed with such violence and general uncertainty it affected me deeply. However, like most people, I quickly buried that uncertainty as I went about my life, too busy with my day to day affairs to treat the questions around Robin’s passing as much more than a place I’d rather not go — telling myself instead that I would remember him only as the man who made me laugh and feel so much in my life. This process of denial of Robin as a man instead of a string of characters was interrupted when his widow, Susan, reached out to me to ask if I’d have any interest in making a science documentary about a neurological disease I’d never heard of — Lewy body dementia. I told her no, and that it would take years until we’d be sitting in a theater and watching any movie I agreed to make, so I asked her what would sustain her in that. She began telling me about herself and Robin, and what they went through in the last year and a half of his life. I told her if that was the film, I was in.

What followed was years of tracking down the facts of Robin’s case from his friends, neighbors, co-workers, widow and medical professionals that gave me a clear view of a compelling story I’d never heard before about one of the greatest entertainers to ever live. In the end I think we’ve done the work of restoring a legacy that had been tainted by a fundamental misunderstanding. It was in the spirit of completing the record, and honoring Robin with giving the world the truth of what took him from us that I think this film shines, and can serve as a moment for the world to look deeper into this beautiful man’s story. It is a moment for us to understand the pain he felt as his talents and faculties rapidly slipped away, and moreover how in the face of that terrifying reality, he was more heroic, more compassionate than any character he ever played in any of his movies. So I hope this film rights a wrong that was done to him, and takes away a cloud that has unjustly hung over his legacy for far too long.

Fantasia International Film Festival 2020 review: ‘Morgana’ opens with a bang.

‘Morgana’ is an artistic character portrait of a 50-year-old housewife, who re-invents herself as a sex-positive feminist porn star.

After 20 years as a dutiful housewife stuck in a loveless, sexless marriage, Morgana has had enough of her dreary life. Desperately lonely and starved of intimacy, she books a male escort for
one last hurrah before ending it all.

Her final night takes an unexpected turn when her relationship with the escort opens up a new world of personal and sexual freedom. After hearing about a competition for first time erotic filmmakers, Morgana directs and stars in a film about her own story, ‘Duty-Bound’. Unexpectedly her film wins, catapulting her into the international Feminist Porn community.

Life merges with art as Morgana uses erotic filmmaking as a tool for creative catharsis while struggling with demons from her past.

This year’s Fantasia International Film Festival brings feminist porn to audiences that may not even know it exists. Morgana Muses is not simply breaking all the gender norms, she is blowing them to pieces in the sexiest, most honest way, ever. This doc beautifully tackles depression and the lasting effects words can have on the human psyche. Touch is a human need. Lack thereof can mean the death of the body and soul. We are privileged to be witness to Morgana finding herself, in a sense giving us full permission to say, “Fuck it, this is what I like.”  Directors Josie Hess and Isabel Peppard have presented us with an in-your-face, fearless look, at a woman to be respected, loved, and held as an example of the ever-changing times. The mixture of sit down interviews, stunning still photography, exquisite miniatures,  and scenes from Morgana’s own films paint a vivid picture. In 70 minutes, Morgana will enlighten you, entice you, and turn you on.

A Feature Length Documentary Film: TRT 71 mins in English
Official Selection Fantasia Film Festival 2020
Screening Digitally August 20 – Sept 2
Directed by Isabel Peppard + Josie Hess
Produced by Karina Astrup

Review: ‘TIME WARP: VOLUME 3 COMEDY AND CAMP’ is now available for your viewing pleasure.

SYNOPSIS: The final volume of Time Warp digs deep into what makes us laugh over and over again as we reveal the greatest cult comedies and campy classics of all-time. From “Fast Time at Ridgemont High” and “Office Space” to “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” and “Showgirls.”

 

This is the longest in the Time Warp series. Starting off with Fast Times and the insight from Amy Heckerling, it’s a cinephile’s film class from the very beginning. Focusing first on high school films, we get a great mix from Rock N Roll High School to Napoleon Dynamite. Then we dive into Clerks and how a single film made on credit cards for $30K launched Kevin Smith’s career. The late Fred Willard talks Best In Show. The Bill Murray stories from King Ping are epic. John Cleese‘s presence for Monty Python and The Holy Grail reminds us that the best comedy is smart through its silliness. The first half focuses on Comedy for an HR and 15 minutes. The last 45 is Camp cult films. Rightfully so, Showgirls is covered. Gina Gershon’s character study background for Cristal Connors is masterful. Ed Wood’s editing style and relationship with Bela Lugosi made him one of the greatest cult filmmakers of all time. He was way ahead of his time when you look at his body of work. Speaking of being ahead of its time, Hedwig and the Angry Inch still has such an impact in so many ways. It may be more relevant right now than it was in its original run for the trans community. I’ll give you three guesses, and the first two don’t count, as to which film gets the final curtain call.

With Volumes 1 & 2, as with this third installment, these docs are like the YouTube rabbit hole we all fall into. Hours of different behind the scenes clips and stories all in one glorious place. You cannot go wrong with these films. You’ve seen more of them than you’ll realize. Feel a little cooler and a whole lot more informed after viewing. Then tell a friend so they can tell a friend and so on. All three docs are now available to stream.

TITLE: TIME WARP: THE GREATEST CULT FILMS OF ALL-TIME VOLUME 3 COMEDY AND CAMP
ON DEMAND AND DIGITAL: June 23, 2020
DIRECTOR: Danny Wolf
DISTRIBUTOR: Quiver Distribution
HOSTS: Joe Dante, John Waters, Ileana Douglas and Kevin Pollak
CAST: Gina Gershon, John Cleese, Ron Livingston, Jim Gaffigan, Fred Willard, Jon Heder, David Cross, Mary Woronov, Michael McKean, Kevin Smith, Amy Heckerling, Mike Judge, Peter Farrelly, John Cameron Mitchell
RUN TIME: 128 minutes

Review: ‘You Don’t Nomi’ documentary takes a good, hard look at the phenomenon that is Showgirls.

Paul Verhoeven‘s Showgirls (1995) was met by critics and audiences with near universal derision. You Don’t Nomi traces the film’s redemptive journey from notorious flop to cult classic, and maybe even masterpiece.

Peaches Christ plays Cristal Connors in the stage production of “Showgirls! The Musical!” as featured in the documentary YOU DON’T NOMI, an RLJE Films release. Photo courtesy of RLJE Films.

Paul Verhoeven directed RoboCop, Total Recall, and Basic Instinct, three incredibly influential films of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Then he directed Showgirls. Oftentimes known as the rise and fall of Elizabeth Berkley‘s career, it is a film that gets s visceral reaction no matter what. You Don’t Nomi is a documentary about the ins and outs of the film’s effect on critics and audiences alike.

The film is edited to show his other films “reacting” to whatever scene we’re discussing. Which eventually becomes massively cathartic in juxtaposing sexual violence in Verhoeven’s films. Author Adam Nayman uses his book’s structure; Piece of Shit, Masterpiece, and Masterpiece of Shit. You can see how many of his films are wrapped into Showgirls. There is fascinating filmmaking happening once it’s broken down for you. You also meet April Kidwell, the star of I, Nomi, the Off-Broadway tribute to Showgirls. She discusses her parallel past and how performing a musical comedy based on the film has been her therapeutic outlet. Peaches Christ uses drag to, in a sense, improv shadow cast the film for sold-out crowds. The audience still loves this movie, no matter where that love comes from is a total phenomenon.

Audience at Showgirls at Midnight Mass in San Francisco in the documentary YOU DON’T NOMI, an RLJE Films release. Photo courtesy of RLJE Films.

The opposing opinions all make weird sense. I walked away feeling like I had just had a cinematic lobotomy. I still don’t know how I feel about Showgirls, but I know I want to gather friends and colleagues when this pandemic is all over and watch the hell out of it again. Same thing with this doc. You Don’t Nomi is brilliant in all the ways it challenges viewers and fellow critics to rethink Showgirls so many years later. It may just upend your brain, too.

YOU DON’T NOMI On Demand and Digital June 9, 2020

Free Virtual screenings of ‘Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice’ June 4th-10th from BrightFocus Foundation!

The life and career of singer Linda Ronstadt is traced from her childhood in Tucson through her decades-long career and to her retirement in 2011 due to Parkinson’s disease.

If I’m being honest, when asked to review this film, I wasn’t able to name a single Linda Ronstadt song. Growing up, The Beach Boys and Carole King were on constant rotation in Mom’s station wagon tapedeck.  How then, 40 years later, was I recognizing so many hits from a woman whom I assumed was a country singer when I heard her name? Clearly I was mistaken. This film was a reeducation, and boy am I glad for it. In watching Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice I came to realize I have always been a fan.

Linda Ronstadt’s extraordinary rise to fame is almost like a fairytale. Her incomparable voice quickly rose her from the LA club scene to a record deal. She broke genres and records along the way. Her intellect and wit were evident in the way she promoted herself and other female artists. She was fearless in calling out the toxic masculinity that was rock up until that point. Her vocal range was unmatched by almost any other artist. When a producer told her not to make a certain album, she went ahead and did it anyway… and usually won awards for it. Linda Ronstadt is someone to be respected and amazed by. You can tell, simply by the number of industry stars that participated in sit down interviews (Cameron Crowe, Bonnie Raitt, Dolly Parton, Don Henley, to name a few) what an impact she made in her long and successful career. Without even knowing it, I’ve been a Linda Ronstadt fan through Blue Bayou, Don’t Know Much, A Different Drum, Rescue Me, Desperado, When Will I Be Loved, You’re No Good, It’s So Easy To Fall In Love, and many many more. She is someone I can look up to as a performer and as a woman. Linda Ronstadt: The Sound Of My Voice is a stunning lesson in music history. You will find yourself singing along and living in the music just as Linda does.

Lucky for audiences, LINDA RONSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE At-Home Movie Night with BrightFocus can
be watched for free at brightfocus.org/movie, or via Facebook Live and viewed on any computer, tablet, or phone from June 4-10. BrightFocus Foundation, a nonprofit organization funding
scientific research and promoting public awareness to end diseases of mind and sight. The at-home movie night will feature an introduction from producer James Keach, and interviews with key scientists discussing their current research.

“I believe in the power and promise of science to end disease and save lives, and this is why I am glad to showcase both the transcendent beauty of Linda’s voice in this film as well as
the bold, groundbreaking research of BrightFocus,” Keach said, noting that Ronstadt’s iconic career was cut short by a neurodegenerative disease.

Stacy Haller, BrightFocus Foundation President and CEO, added, “The scientists supported by BrightFocus are relentless in their drive to slow and end diseases that rob us of our memory and
our sight. We could not have found a better film to both bring back so many great memories and remind us how now, more than ever, the need for innovative science is abundantly clear.”
In addition to James Keach’s introduction prior to the presentation of the film, four BrightFocus- funded scientists will briefly introduce their work. They include: Sarah Doyle, PhD, Assistant
Professor in Immunology, Clinical Medicine, Trinity College Dublin; Makoto Ishii, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience and Neurology, Weill Medical College of Cornell University;
Amir H. Kashani, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Ophthalmology, the University of Southern California and Roski Eye Institute; and Yvonne Ou, MD, Associate Professor, Ophthalmology,
University of California, San Francisco. They are among over 200 scientists around the world whose ongoing research is supported by BrightFocus.

FREE VIRTUAL SCREENINGS beginning Thursday, June 4 at 7:00 PM EST to benefit the BrightFocus Foundation. More information at brightfocus.org/movie

Review: ‘TIME WARP: THE GREATEST CULT FILMS OF ALL-TIME VOLUME 1 MIDNIGHT MADNESS’ available now!

SYNOPSIS: From “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” to “The Big Lebowski” and everything in between, this fascinating deep-dive documentary begins its celebration of the greatest cult movies of all-time discussing the birth of the midnight movie.
I was 13 the first time I saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show. My life was forever changed in every way. I was a Catholic school kid who knew that a lot of what I was being taught felt wrong. I had danced since the age of two and had seen how music and showmanship affected an audience. This film was singlehandedly responsible for my college choices and the path I’ve taken ever since. There is something about a cult film that makes you feel at home. You’re in a room filled with people who get “it”, free-spirited, open-minded individuals with a sense of humor. What’s better than that? TIME WARP: THE GREATEST CULT FILMS OF ALL-TIME VOLUME 1 MIDNIGHT MADNESS is now available for everyone to experience themselves. With sitdown interviews with some of the greatest stars and directors of the most famous midnight madness films like Pink Flamingo, Reefer Madness, Freaks, The Warriors, just to name a few. This doc is a genre, cult, cinephile’s dream. It discusses the cultural shifts that occurred because of these films. How they influenced not only the audience but films that came after. There will be two more volumes; VOLUME 2 HORROR AND SCI-FI & VOLUME 3 COMEDY AND CAMP. I cannot wait to see who and what come up in the last two docs. They are undeniably fun and incredibly informative. What until you find out who was originally supposed to star in Point Break! You’ll feel like you’re in good company watching these films and maybe even add some films to your watch list (at least you should). So, set a virtual watch party with friends and catch Volume 1 now! Check out the trailer below!
TIME WARP: THE GREATEST CULT FILMS OF ALL-TIME VOLUME 1 MIDNIGHT MADNESS – April 21
RUN TIME: 105 minutes
CAST: Jeff Bridges, Pam Grier, Rob Reiner, Barry Bostwick, Michael McKean, John Turturro, Gary Busey, Jeff Goldblum, Fran Drescher, Penelope Spheeris and Peter Bogdanovich

COMING SOON:

TIME WARP: THE GREATEST CULT FILMS OF ALL-TIME VOLUME 2 HORROR AND SCI-FI – May 19
TIME WARP: THE GREATEST CULT FILMS OF ALL-TIME VOLUME 3 COMEDY AND CAMP – June 23

Review: ‘Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind’

As UFO’s suddenly grace the covers of the NY Times and Washington Post in the age of “fake news” and #conspiracy memes, how can we make sense of these revelations without losing our grip on reality? “Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind” is a feature documentary presented by Dr. Steven Greer, the global authority on extraterrestrials who created the worldwide disclosure movement and routinely briefs presidents and heads of state on the ET phenomenon.

 

His previous works, Sirius and Unacknowledged, broke crowdfunding records and ignited a grassroots movement. In this film, Dr. Greer presents the most dangerous information that the architects of secrecy don’t want you to know: how forgotten spiritual knowledge holds the key to humans initiating contact with advanced ET civilizations. The film features groundbreaking video and photographic evidence and supporting interviews from prominent figures such as Adam Curry of Princeton’s PEAR Lab; legendary civil rights attorney Daniel Sheehan, and Dr. Russell Targ, who headed the CIA’s top secret remote viewing program. Their message: For thousands of people, contact has begun. This is their story.

My little brother had that famous X-Files poster on his wall as a kid. The one that Mulder displayed in his office that read ‘I Want To Believe’. I have seen things that I cannot explain, both otherworldly and perhaps alien spacecraft related in my almost 40 years on Earth. All of that being said, Close Encounters Of The Fifth Kind would be better consumed as a series. There is a lot of information thrown at you, especially on the front end. While I was immediately suspect at the use of Fox News clips 4 times in the first 15 minutes, I was genuinely intrigued by information from Dr. Greer, founder of CSETI. As a total nerd myself, I am very familiar with this organization. My issues with the doc come in the very conspiratorial terms that get thrown at the audience. Not only that but also the complete shift in tone when Dr. Greer begins to explain how we are already communicating with beings from space. The videos of sightings and contact incidents are severely undermined by a distracting electronic soundtrack. It feels like an infomercial for one of Dr. Greer’s CE-5 workshops. I should be high on peyote in a yurt in Crestone. While you can see the passion behind what Dr. Greer is trying to communicate, the editing hurts the messaging. It takes what little we are given in way of video evidence and dumbs it down to YouTube-style nuttiness that you might run across on Reddit these days. I do encourage people to make their minds up for themselves as the new information does lead you to question life as we know it.

You can watch Close Encounters Of The Fifth Kind is available to purchase digitally on today, April 7th and available to rent on April 21st. Check out the trailer below.

On Digital today April 7th and available to rent on April 21st.

Directed & Written By: Michael Mazzola

Produced by: Phillip James, Jim Martin

Starring: Dr. Steven Greer, Jeremy Piven, Daniel Sheehan, Adam Michael Curry, Joe Martino, Jan Harzan, Dr. Russell Targ

NYFF57 review: ‘College Behind Bars’ makes the case for education for all, coming to PBS in November.

COLLEGE BEHIND BARS

  • Lynn Novick
  • 2019
  • USA
  • 222 minutes

World Premiere 

 COLLEGE BEHIND BARS, a four-part documentary series directed by Emmy and Peabody Award winning filmmaker Lynn Novick (co-director of THE VIETNAM WAR), which world premieres at New York Film Festival later this month. This film, premiering on PBS in November, marks Novick’s solo directorial debut and is executive produced by her longtime collaborator Ken Burns. Distilled from nearly 400 hours of cinéma-vérité footage, the documentary explores the lives of a dozen incarcerated men and women as they struggle to earn degrees in the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI), one of the most rigorous and effective prison education programs in the country.

This 4 part doc series explores New York State’s college degree program, BPI: Bard Prison Initiative. We follow a group of students as they make their way toward graduation. I say students and not inmates because when they are in class, they are students. While we as an audience are eventually privy to the subjects’ backstories, BPI as a program does not focus on why each individual is imprisoned. BPI focuses on their education.

This series is about humanity and ambition. These men and women are striving to better themselves and escape the environment they have, in most cases, created for themselves. The series also addresses the very real statistic that socioeconomic circumstances oftentimes lead to a life of crime. Inmates are not afforded the rights and freedoms of the average American. They must contend with the chaos of prison while engaging in a vigorous Bachelor’s degree program. College is difficult enough without being constantly interrupted by lockdowns, race wars, or the ultimate chaos of being surrounded by mental illness and other inmates in general.

The admissions process is cutthroat. It is based on an essay and an interview. It begins with an AA and then an even luckier few continue on to the BA program. Students are studying things like Plato, Mandarin, Debate, and Calculus. They are earning their degrees in the same way any other student would outside prison walls. Professors do not give pass/fail grades. They are legitimately working with each individual just as they would at a stand-alone university. This is a college that just happens to be on prison grounds. Before they graduate, they must submit a senior project. The paper must be between 80-100 pages. It is the equivalent of a Master’s thesis.

The series makes an interesting case for free college for all throughout the country. It’s an intriguing commentary on the misconceptions about who deserves an education. Shouldn’t it be a right? It should not belong solely to the lucky few, the wealthy, or the white population. Losing your liberty should not mean losing your right to an education. If anything, education has been proven to lift people out of poverty and violence. The political hockey puck that this type of program has become since it’s inception in the 90’s has seen taxpayer dollars bounce in and out of the system. Resentment permeates the perception of the system by politicians to everyone from the prison staff to voters. Even though it actually monetarily benefits the taxpayer in the long run. Would you rather pay for an inmate to learn or sit inside a cell? Guess which one actually costs less.

College Behind Bars puts faces and voices to those benefiting from but genuinely fighting to improve their lives and thus, the world all we live in. We, the viewers, are forced to come to terms with the prison industrial complex, systemic racism, and our own moral compass. And the students are forced to come to terms with their pasts and their futures. College Behind Bars is both informative and eye-opening. It breathes life into the stories of a population oftentimes swept under the rug. You will cheer on the college students, no matter what your views on how they got their opportunity to learn and earn their degrees.

Premieres: Monday, November 25, 2019 & Tuesday, November 26, 2019, 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET

COLLEGE BEHIND BARS

The four-part documentary film series, directed by award-winning filmmaker Lynn Novick, produced by Sarah Botstein, and executive produced by Ken Burns, explores the transformative power of education through the eyes of incarcerated men and women trying to earn college degrees. Shot over four years in maximum and medium security prisons in New York State, the series examines America’s failure to provide meaningful rehabilitation for the over two million men and women living behind bars.

Premieres: Monday, November 25, 2019 & Tuesday, November 26, 2019, 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET

NYFF57 review: ’45 Seconds of Laughter’ Tim Robbins’ doc brings levity to the lives of those who need it most.

45 SECONDS OF LAUGHTER

  • Tim Robbins
  • 2019
  • USA
  • 95 minutes

North American Premiere

In his contemplative, pared-down, and wildly engaging documentary, Tim Robbins captures a series of extraordinary sessions in which a group of inmates at the Calipatria State maximum-security facility take part in acting exercises that enhance bonding and emotional connection.

Zip. Zap. Zop. This is one of the most familiar improv games for theater nerds all over the country. In the first 20 minutes of Tim Robbins‘ new doc we watch a group of maximum security prisoners experience their very first acting class with The Actor’s Gang Prison Project. Ordinarily divided by race and gang affliction out in the yard, these men from all different backgrounds allow themselves to be free. They allow happiness, vulnerability, doubt, fear, and reflection into their normally regimented day and existence. The human connections and breakthroughs made in an acting class can change the very way you think and process information. It is an outlet that is unique and to see the effect it has on this particular group of people is profound. As the classes progress, they are challenged to emote, not just feign happy or sad, but truly feel anguish, rage, glee. To see men who are oftentimes not allowed to express themselves because of toxic masculinity and their specific surrounding, finally, feel safe enough to do so is truly breathtaking. Robbins and his teaching team, which includes an ex-prisoner, give us a masterclass in this documentary. 45 Seconds of Laughter (which is also how they end each class) is more than a film, it is a brilliant human experience. You will see transformations right in front of your eyes. Destroying boundaries through art, building friendships through mask play, and repairing relationships with loved ones by taking a chance on something completely outside of their comfort zone is nothing short of extraordinary. 45 Seconds of Laughter is a joyous film. Bravo to all.

 

Review: ‘Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements’ is an ode to sound and silence.

MOONLIGHT SONATA

DEAFNESS IN THREE MOVEMENTS

A Film by Irene Taylor Brodsky

 

Moonlight Sonata is a deeply personal memoir about a deaf boy growing up, his deaf grandfather growing old, and Ludwig van Beethoven the year he was blindsided by deafness and wrote his iconic sonata.
Their lives weave a story about what we discover when we push beyond loss.

Jonas inherited his deafness from his maternal grandmother and grandfather. We learn so much from watching him communicate with and without his cochlear implants. We learn by watching the interaction between him and his grandparents. Genetics determined that Jonas and his grandparents had a tiny “typo” in a specific gene causing them to be deaf. Music became another way to communicate and bridge the generational gap. Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata was Jonas’ personal challenge he set for himself. His goal was to study for 7 months in order to perform it in a recital. The history of Beethoven’s own deafness weaved into this doc is stunning on every level. While rehearsing, Jonas’ music teacher explains the emotional impact of the piece not only to him but the audience. Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements is an ode to sound and silence.

Utilizing home movies, truly immersive sound editing, sit-down interviews, and lush animation to express how deafness affects the world, Moonlight Sonata moves an audience. Jonas’ grandfather puts it’s so frankly, “You can’t understand the world through your ears.” The challenges are unfathomable for those of us who can hear in a typical fashion. Determination, pride, frustration, discipline, acceptance, and evolution all guide this film towards an emotionally high close. You feel the music and the joy. Be sure to watch through the credits to experience the full effect. Filmmaker Irene Taylor Brodsky has given us a true gift.

Opening in NY on September 13 at Landmark 57 and in Los Angeles on September 20 at Laemmle Royal

Directed by: Irene Taylor Brodsky
(Academy Award-nominee®, Peabody Award-winner®, Hear and Now, Beware the Slenderman)
Produced by: Irene Taylor Brodsky & Tahria Sheather

Review: ‘Leaving Neverland’ exposes the man in the mirror. The two part doc airs this Sunday and Monday.

PRESENTS

LEAVING NEVERLAND

Debuts on HBO March 3rd and 4th

This two-part documentary explores the separate but parallel experiences of two young boys, James Safechuck, at age ten, and Wade Robson, at age seven, both of whom were befriended by Michael Jackson. Through gut-wrenching interviews with Safechuck, now 37, and Robson, now 41, as well as their mothers, wives and siblings, the film crafts a portrait of sustained abuse, exploring the complicated feelings that led both men to confront their experiences after both had a young son of their own.

I’ve started this review many times in the past seven days. It’s been difficult to put into words how Leaving Neverland has made me feel. For my sixth birthday, I can only recall receiving one particular gift. It was Micheal Jackson’s Thriller on cassette. This was my very first album that was all mine, outside of Sesame Street or Disney songs. I had already been dancing for three years and MJ would influence my musical and performance taste going forward. In 2009, my husband and I were in the car and the radio came on with the breaking news on Michael’s death. We were stunned, devastated, conflicted. We’d lived through the accusations at the same time his accusers and fellow defenders had. Macaulay Culkin was my childhood crush and one of Jackson’s close friends. Culkin has categorically denied anything inappropriate ever happened. He and Wade Robson‘s testimony had a huge effect when Jackson went to trial. I was relieved when Michael was acquitted of all charges in the early 2000s. I wanted to believe that his hands were clean. Now, I think my idolization of this once in a lifetime artist is destroyed.

The personal risks for Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck coming forward now are immense. Hardcore fans are up in arms. Threatening to protest in droves at the film’s premiere at Sundance. But in the doc, we see and hear more evidence than ever before. Family photos, home video, faxes, and to top it off, voicemails, all from Michael. There is new video from inside Neverland. The sheer number of bedrooms hidden onsight should have been alarm enough. The pattern is laid out for us to see. The grooming is there. The gifts, the promises, and all the personal attention. But obviously most upsetting is the sexual abuse itself. Each act described in illicit detail. I want so badly for these stories to be lies. I do not think they are. In a time when victims’ voices are more important than ever, we have to respect Robson and Safechuck for finally feeling healthy enough, physically and emotionally, to share their stories. They are not being paid for the film. They have confronted the abuse that they were groomed to believe was love. Now, as father’s of little boys themselves, they have to come to terms with not only their hurt but the onus of their mothers who failed to protect them. There are no winners here. No amount of money can bring back the childhoods that were stolen. What emotion comes after denial? I think it’s anger. Now, after Leaving Neverland, I’m just really angry.

RT: Part 1: approx. 2 hours
Part 2 approx. 2 hours

Directed and Produced by Dan Reed
Edited by Jules Cornell
Featuring Wade Robson and James Safechuck

Review: ‘WHAT IS DEMOCRACY?’ is poignant and timely and terrifying.

WHAT IS DEMOCRACY? could not be coming at a more tumultuous time in history. How did we get here? Director Astra Taylor poses the question to people from every corner of the globe in this poignant documentary. The film explores the past, present, and theorizes what will become of our future if we do not pause to learn from our previous mistakes. The world is in what feels like total upheaval but it is not the first time we as a civilization have been on the precipice of either disaster or triumph. We march, we vote, we are inundated with fake news, and yet the people continue to strive for peace and equality against all odds. But democracy goes both ways. That’s the very essence of the word itself. Can good prevail without its counterpart? What we gather, on the whole, is that the naive promise of democracy is beginning to feel like an unfulfilled promise. That no matter the world’s location, race, socio-economics, and money rule. Let us not become numb to the negative but continue to seek compromise and understanding. Truly, WHAT IS DEMOCRACY? should be required viewing in every high school civics class. Hell, it should be required viewing by every human being.

Acclaimed director Astra Taylor‘s WHAT IS DEMOCRACY? (TIFF 2018) opens Jan. 16, 2019 at IFC Center in New York via Zeitgeist Films in association with Kino Lorber, followed by theatrical engagements nationwide.

Synopsis: Coming at a moment of profound political and social crisis, What Is Democracy? reflects on a word we too often take for granted. Director Astra Taylor’s (Zizek! and Examined Life) idiosyncratic, philosophical journey spans millennia and continents: from ancient Athens’ groundbreaking experiment in self-government to capitalism’s roots in medieval Italy; from modern-day Greece grappling with financial collapse and a mounting refugee crisis to the United States reckoning with its racist past and the growing gap between rich and poor. The film features Cornel West, Angela Davis, theorists, activists, asylum seekers and a diverse cast of people from around the world.

DOC NYC review: ‘FAMILY IN TRANSITION’ is more complicated than it appears.

This doc explores the boundaries we push for love and acceptance. Amit is a husband, a father, and business owner. She is also transgender. This story is about her transition and how it affects the family and friends that surround her. It’s a timely film here in the US as the government is attempting to legally discredit transgender identity by legally defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth. Amit has four children with her wife Galit. Daughter Agam is beyond wise for her years and the most vocal about their unique family dynamics. She understands that people’s ignorance is not her problem. She chooses to surround herself with open-minded peers. The emotional toll of transitioning seems endless. It has the highest highs and lowest lows. How does a marriage survive when circumstance completely changes? What happens after she goes to Thailand for gender reassignment surgery for a month? It’s not a glamorous film. It’s real, it’s honest. It’s exactly what people need to see. Family in Transition is a story of unconditional love and the ultimate sacrifices we make to become whole from the inside out.

DOC NYC International Premiere on November 11 / Opening Nov 16 in LA and Nov 23 in NY

Amit, a husband, and father of four, living in Nahariya, Israel, reveals to his family that he’s a transgender woman. Amit’s wife, Galit, decides to stick with Amit through this journey. Despite personal difficulties and social stigmas, the family insists on staying together, believing that love will overcome all difficulties.

Review: ‘SONGWRITER’ gives birth to Ed Sheeran’s best album yet.

I feel like if you don’t like Ed Sheeran‘s music you may be a bit of a sociopath. His songs are the ones you here over and over on the radio and either find yourself singing or waxing philosophically about. In the new doc by Murray Cummings, Songwriter, we get to go behind the magical creativity that becomes an Ed Sheeran album. Specifically, his third (and latest) album, “Divide”. One gorgeous hit after another is created by Ed, producer Benny Blanco, and a slew of family, friends, and fellow songwriters. The songs come in waves and sometimes tsunamis. Cummings, who just so happens to also be Sheeran’s cousin, has real-time studio, tour, and vacation footage mixed with childhood films of Ed. We’re even treated to his very first recording session, something altogether different from the songs we’ve fallen in love with. I often wonder how many babies exist in the world because of his melodies. Sheeran’s passion and talent permeate the screen. He is as charming and genuine offstage as he is on. Songwriter deserves to be watched on a device with superior speakers. Sheeran and his cohorts let us peek behind the curtain of their process. It is honest, funny, emotionally indulgent, and damn near perfect. Sheeran is something akin to a modern-day Shakespeare, in a word of 140 characters of all too often vitriol. So, if music be the food of love, play on Ed Sheeran, play on.

In Theaters on August 17th in NY and August 24th in LA and exclusively on Apple Music August 28th

Songwriter is an intimate and personal look into the writing process of one of the world’s leading artists – Ed Sheeran. Songwriter details the creation of Ed’s third studio album “Divide” and gives an authentic insight into Ed’s life through never before seen home videos. Witness firsthand the creativity, from the very first chord to the finishing touch – as the sounds become the songs.

DOC NYC review: ‘Abacus: Small Enough To Jail’ will cause you to rage against the machine.

ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL

 Abacus Federal Savings Bank is a modest institution of New York’s Chinatown that came under harsh prosecution in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. While other banks were considered ‘too big to fail,’ Abacus was ‘small enough to jail.’ Filmmaker Steve James (Hoop Dreams) follows the bank’s founder Thomas Sung and his family as they fight back in court against Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance, Jr. in an effort to redeem their name and to dispel biases against Chinatown. Courtesy of PBS Distribution
Wall Street got a free pass, once again. But someone had to be made an example of. Most of us probably didn’t now that one bank was taken to court, but it’s no one you’ve ever heard of outside of Chinatown in Manhattan. In Abacus: Small Enough To Jail, the saying, “No good deed goes unpunished,” could not be truer. You will be witness to one family’s battle as they are thrown under the bus to save face.The film is filled with strong daughters who go to bat for their father, family honor, their employees, and community. It will floor you as you watch the bogus claims and prejudice that occurs because it seemed to be easier than taking on the Wall Street household names. Abacus: Small Enough To Jail will expose lies we’ve been fed for years. Get ready to rage.

Showtimes:

Wed Nov 15, 2017, 11:45 AM Cinepolis Chelsea
Official Site: https://www.abacusmovie.com
On Twitter: AbacusMovie
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/abacusmovie
Director: Steve James
Producer: Mark Mitten, Julie Goldman
Cinematographer: Tom Bergmann
Editor: John Farbrother, David E. Simpson
Music: Joshua Abrams
Running Time: 88
Language: English, Mandarin & Cantonese with English subtitles
Country: USA
Year: 2016

DOCNYC review: ‘What Haunts Us’ is unfortunately a timely film.

Why are the men of Charleston, South Carolina’s Porter Gaud School killing themselves? Alarmed by the latest in a long-running series of suicides from her high school in 1979, filmmaker Paige Goldberg Tolmach returns to her hometown for answers. Stonewalled by administrators, she mines her own memories, and those of her former classmates, to uncover long-held secrets, revealing a disturbing cover-up centered around a popular teacher and sports coach.

With years of sexual assault/abuse allegations surrounding the current political administration and entertainment industry, let us not forget that this problem is pervasive anywhere and everywhere. The coverups go deep and pride and reputation often cause the guilty to go free. Shame is a killer of dreams and, as we see in What Haunts Us, it is also a killer of people. Unravelling the mystery that surrounds not even a well-kept secret in this particular story will anger and shock you. Along with intimate sit-down interviews with our subjects, both innocent and guilty, memories are illustrated in beautifully vibrant colors. What Haunts Us is a stunning film that will hopefully open eyes to the ongoing abuse so many face on a daily basis. We have to change our rhetoric and realize the consequences of staying silent.

WHAT HAUNTS US
at DOC NYC Film Festival
Monday
 Nov 13, 2017
7:30 PM with Q/A following with
Paige Goldberg Tolmach, Matt Tolmach and
Special Guests from the Film

IFC CENTER
323 6th Ave. New York, New York 10014

New York Film Festival 55 Review: ‘The Rape of Recy Taylor’ persists.

Sometimes a documentary teaches you more than you ever expected. Sometimes a doc is so relevant to the present it’s shocking. Nancy Burski’s, THE RAPE OF RECY TAYLOR, caught me by surprise from the very beginning. I learned not much has really changed in the past 80 years when it comes to everything I hold dear with respect to racism and sexism.

1944 brought forth a horrific event perpetrated by 6 white boys on one black woman. A married mother, minding her own business, was forced into a car at gunpoint, driven into the woods and raped. She was not believed, she was threatened, she was silenced. Nevertheless, she persisted. The film utilizes “race films” (something I had never heard of prior) and intimate sit-down interviews with Recy’s siblings. Both are extremely effective in illustrating her journey for justice. With the help of Rosa Parks, yes THE Rosa Parks, Recy Taylor did not shut up. She did what so many women still don’t for fear of retribution. Nevertheless, she persisted. The Rape of Recy Taylor is powerful in its narrative and triumphant in its storytelling. In a world that tries its hardest to keep women down, particularly women of color, we should revere someone like Recy Taylor and commit to educating the masses because Recy Taylor persists.


The film had its World Premiere at Venice (only American Documentary in its category) and will make its North American premiere at the New York Film Festival on October 1st.

The numbers of women raped in Jim Crow South were staggering. In danger of their lives, they did not report the crimes and their stories went hidden. Not Recy Taylor, a 24-year-old mother who was gang raped by 6 white boys in 1944 Alabama. Unbroken, she spoke up, and with the help of Rosa Parks and legions of women spreading the word, they worked to get Recy Taylor justice.

Nancy Burski is the director of THE LOVING STORY and BY SIDNEY LUMET.

Review: ‘VEGAS BABY’ shows the pricey gamble of IVF. Premieres tonight at 8pm!

From Executive Producer Morgan Spurlock

VEGAS BABY

U.S. Television Premiere Tuesday, June 27, at 8 P.M. on the New Season of

PBS’s AMERICA REFRAMED

Synopsis:

Some think an in vitro fertilization contest sounds crazy, but countless Americans desperate to start a family believe this social media experiment is their only hope. Oscar-nominated director Amanda Micheli’s provocative documentary follows several aspiring parents who desperately want to have a baby but are struggling with infertility and the high cost of treatments. They place themselves in the hands of a Las Vegas doctor who loved to gamble with læs mere and his annual contest, which offers a prize of a free round of in-vitro fertilization—with no guarantee of success. Contestants post their video entries on YouTube, counting on the votes of strangers to make their dreams of parenthood come true.

Despite the fact that nearly 1 in 6 couples worldwide are unable to naturally conceive and carry a baby to term, for fear of judgment or heartache or both, infertility stories are largely kept secret.  While exposing private pain online to win a contest is a brutal proposition, IVF is rarely covered by insurance in the U.S., so many infertile couples consider this a gamble worth taking. Through this controversial contest, VEGAS BABY navigates the complexities of America’s burgeoning fertility industry and unveils the class disparity within a topic that is often clouded by judgment and stereotypes. Micheli explores universal themes of desire and loss through her intimate portrait of the diverse individuals – from a devoutly Catholic Latino couple in Texas to a lesbian Lady Gaga Impersonator in New York – determined to have a baby against all odds.

100 whittled down to 10, talk about odds. Entering a contest for a free round of IVF, people put their most intimate struggles out into the world via Youtube and strangers control who moves onto the final round. Then a smaller panel of folks makes the decision and one lucky couple gets a no guarantees shot at a baby. The doc ultimately follows three finalists on their two-year journey with Dr. Sher and beyond. Infertility is not discussed often enough in our culture and when it is, there is a stigma surrounding its cost. It’s an emotional rollercoaster for the audience but an honest and important story to be told. Nothing is sugar coated in its presentation, nor should it be when matters of the heart are at stake. Dr. Sher and co are very honest about the fact that the business of infertility is a business. Emotions are difficult to set aside but the reality is clear. The industry is booming. Money does not equal success. Vegas Baby delves into the vulnerability of creating and sustaining life.

Director:                                                Amanda Micheli

Producers:                                            Serin Marshall

Executive Producers:                          Morgan Spurlock, Jeremy Chilnick

Editor:                                                    Greg O’Toole

Director of Photography:                   Amanda Micheli

Original Music By:                                Paul Brill

Run Time:                                              77 min

Release Date:                                       U.S. Television Premiere Tuesday, June 27, 2017 at 8 P.M.

Distributed by:                                     PBS’s AMERICA REFRAMED

Review: ‘GOD KNOWS WHERE I AM’ documentary is a tragic look at mental illness.

In January 2008, the body of a homeless woman is found in an abandoned New Hampshire farmhouse. Beside the body, lies a diary that documents the last months of her life. The woman turns out to be Linda Bishop, a well-educated mother and sister who suffered from bipolar disorder with psychosis. What starts as a whodunnit quickly evolves into a poignant exploration of sanity and systemic failure within the mental health system to protect those who cannot protect themselves.

This insightful doc is has a gorgeous structure. Including sit-down interviews with local police, Linda’s family, and narrated passages from Linda’s diary entries, the impact of God Knows is massive. It’s heart-wrenching as you slowly realize that this poor woman’s death could have easily been prevented. The system failed her in an atrocious way. As Bishop descends into starvation and deeper mental state, we already know the writing on the wall, but that does not make the outcome any less shocking. While difficult to watch on many levels, it’s an important and timely film in many ways in our national discussion of how we treat mental illness as a nation. I highly recommend you catch God Knows Where I Am this Friday, March 31st. Check out the trailer below for a peek into this sad true story.

GOD KNOWS WHERE I AM (Trailer) from Brian Ariotti on Vimeo.

Premiers March 31st at Lincoln Plaza NYC Followed by National Roll-Out 

Directed by Todd Wider and Jedd Wider (Producers of Emmy Award-Winning Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God and Academy Award-Nominated Kings Point)

RT: 97 Minutes

http://godknowswhereiam.com/

https://www.facebook.com/godknowswhereiamfilm

https://twitter.com/god_knows_where