Review: ‘STREET GANG: How We Got To Sesame Street’ is a nostalgic hug of legacy and love.

STREET GANG: HOW WE GOT TO SESAME STREET

STREET GANG: HOW WE GOT TO SESAME STREET reintroduces this visionary “gang” of mission-driven artists, writers, and educators that audaciously interpreted radical changes in society and created one of  the most influential and impactful television programs in history.

This eclectic documentary traverses from the inception to the nuance of programming this iconic television show. Everything from the production design to intimate interviews with the actors, from the musical guests to the writers’ room is in this film. It hits on the social, racial, and educational impact of the show. The show’s schedule was one of the most intense I’ve ever heard of. 100 episodes per year filled to the brim with original sketches (both muppet and street scenes), animation, and original songs, Sesame Street has changed the lives of countless families across the globe.

John Stone isn’t a household name in the way that Jim Henson and even Frank Oz are. Stone was the director chosen by television executive Joan Ganz Cooney. His passion and work ethic combined with an extraordinary group of artists made Sesame Street the beloved program we know today. Street Gang doesn’t sugarcoat the naysayers. It does not ignore the internal conflict. It’s an honest look at bringing it to life. The conversations between the curriculum creators and the writers were key to reaching the audience, making learning both fun and engaging.

Some of the most charming bits in the film are the blooper reels. The genius, off-the-cuff moments between cast members staying in muppet character will slay you. One very poignant time in the show’s history was anything but unscripted. The death of Mr. Hooper was a carefully curated scene. It sticks with me still today. In 1990, when Jim Henson passed at the age of 53, the world mourned alongside the cast and crew of Sesame Street. Caroll Spinney as Big Bird singing “It’s Not Easy Being Green” at Jim’s funeral is heartbreaking and eternal.

I grew up with this show. As a 40-year-old moth of a 4 and 5-year-old, my children are now growing up with this show. I’m not ashamed to say I sit and watch with them. I’m just as enthralled with Sesame Street as I ever was. Their ability to grow with the times is what keeps them relevant and brilliant. Each scene in Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street held me with its nostalgia as it peeked behind the curtain. It left me with the hope that the show will continue its legacy long after we’re gone.

THE CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED DOCUMENTARY WILL OPEN IN THEATERS ON APRIL 23, 2021, AND ON-DEMAND MAY 7, 2021

Directed by Marilyn Agrelo (Mad Hot Ballroom) and produced by Trevor Crafts (Experimenter 2015) and Ellen Scherer Crafts, the documentary chronicles the improbable origins and expansion of the groundbreaking show that not only changed children’s television programming, but had real-world effects on equality, education, and representation worldwide. The film is inspired by Michael Davis’ New York Times best-selling book of the same name.

About Screen Media Ventures, LLC

Screen Media Ventures, LLC, a Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment (Nasdaq: CSSE) company, acquires the rights to high-quality, independent television series and feature films. Screen Media Ventures acquires worldwide rights for distribution through theatrical, home video, pay-per-view, free, cable and pay television, video-on-demand, and new digital media platforms. The company acquires AVOD rights for third-party networks and is the main supplier of content for Crackle Plus and other Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment properties. With a library of over 1,500 television series and motion pictures, Screen Media Ventures is one of the largest independent suppliers of high-quality tv series and motion pictures to U.S. and international broadcast markets, cable networks, home video outlets, and new media venues. For more information, visit: www.screenmedia.net

About Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment

Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment, Inc. (Nasdaq: CSSE) operates streaming video-on-demand networks (VOD). The company owns Crackle Plus which owns and operates a variety of ad-supported and subscription-based VOD networks including Crackle, Popcornflix, Popcornflix Kids, Truli, Pivotshare, Españolflix, and FrightPix. The company also acquires and distributes video content through its Screen Media subsidiary and produces original long and short-form content through Landmark Studio Group, its Chicken Soup for the Soul Originals division, and APlus.com. Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment is a subsidiary of Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC, which publishes the famous book series and produces super-premium pet food under the Chicken Soup for the Soul brand name.

 About Macrocosm Entertainment

Trevor Crafts and Ellen Scherer Crafts created Macrocosm to bring dynamic engaging content to global audiences by building and showcasing unique worlds. Films include Sundance Film Festival World Premiere Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street (2021), 7 Splinters in Time (2018) Manson Family Vacation (Netflix, SXSW 2015 premier), and Experimenter (Magnolia, Sundance 2015 premier). In publishing, they created Lantern City, one of UPROXX Top Ten Comics of 2015, and The Not-So-Secret Society (2017) the first original children’s graphic novel for KaBOOM! an imprint of BOOM! Studios. For more information visit: www.macrocosm.tv.

SXSW 2021 reviews: ‘The Lost Sons’ & ‘United States Vs. Reality Winner’ are two mind blowing docs from this year’s virtual fest.

THE LOST SONS

1960s Chicago, a baby is kidnapped from a hospital. Fifteen months later, a toddler is abandoned. Could he be the same baby? In a tale of breathtaking twists and turns, two mysteries begin to unravel and dark family secrets are revealed.

When my son was born in 2016, I remember the extreme level of security on the floor we were staying on. We all had bracelets on with his name, while he also had an electronic ankle bracelet which would beep if he were taken past a certain threshold. The idea of some stranger coming in and taking my child terrified me. I hoped to God that I never heard that alarm go off while we stayed in the hospital. Reenactments, newspaper clips, photographs, archival footage, home video, and sit-down interviews with witnesses all make up the massively intriguing and mystery-laden doc. Who is Paul Fronczak? This is a loaded question. The Lost Sons attempts to answer this question and so many others. The editing is mesmerizing. You don’t have a moment to catch your breath as this story unfolds. The twists and turns will shock you. They are relentless. I found myself shouting at the television more often than usual in one true crime sitting. It unravels like a James Patterson novel. If you are a homegrown detective, The Lost Sons at SXSW21 will be a true highlight for you.


UNITED STATES Vs. REALITY WINNER

A state of secrets and a ruthless hunt for whistleblowers – this is the story of 25-year-old NSA contractor Reality Winner.

Reality Leigh Winner saw something that she thought the entire country should know. She decided the public had a right to evidence the government was keeping secret. For this act, she was severely punished. The line between right and wrong can be blurry, but in this instance, it feels clear as day that Reality Winner was right. The film follows Reality’s mother, Billie J. Winner-Davis, as she tracks the public and the court’s response to Reality’s case. We learn about the kind of person Reality is through diary entries and jailhouse phone calls. She’s funny, talented, with a sharp wit. With the full understanding that most documentaries have an agenda, I cannot imagine someone walking away from the film without a ferocious sense of injustice. Including never-before-heard audio from Reality’s FBI  initial interview, sitdowns with her attorneys, family members, and fellow whistleblower Edward Snowden, you will finally learn what was in the document in question. Understanding the content is key to grasping the fact that Michael Flynn was pardoned and Reality Winner was given the harshest sentence in history for any whistleblower. I cannot stress this enough. I am thankful that United States Vs. Reality Winner is being shown to audiences when Joe Biden is now President. I join in the urgent call for justice. #FreeRealityWinner

SXSW 2021 review: ‘Broadcast Signal Intrusion’ and ‘Alien On Stage’

BROADCAST SIGNAL INTRUSION

In the late 90s, a video archivist unearths a series of sinister pirate broadcasts and becomes obsessed with uncovering the dark conspiracy behind them.

Harry Shum Jr was one of the most underutilized actors on GLEE. With a true leading man role in Broadcast Signal Intrusion in the Midnighters section, he was up against genre fans’ huge expectations. I think he definitely delivered. He gave us brooding vulnerability and a badass attitude that played well against the jarring imagery of the tapes. They were truly skin crawling. The film’s score has a throwback feel. It’s pure noir thriller deliciousness. The cinematography is certainly noteworthy. There is no denying the inspiration from Brian De Palma‘s ‘Blow Out.’ Gentry’s finale leaves a lot of unanswered questions but Shum holds his own in an inspired by true events screenplay. I was fully invested as he went down the rabbit hole of mystery and obsession. Please cast him in more roles with the complexity of Broadcast Signal Intrusion. A few things that stuck out like a sore thumb; James’ newly acquired detective skills get him further than any FBI agent, and the mystery of his stalker breaks late then peters out to less of an impact. Aside from a few script tweaks, this is a solid entry from this year’s lineup and well worth being disturbed by.


ALIEN ON STAGE

Alien On Stage is a Documentary about a unique crew of Dorset Bus Drivers whose amateur dramatics group decides to ditch doing another pantomime and try something different. Having never done anything like it before, they spent a year creating a serious adaptation of the sci-fi, horror film, Alien; finding ingenious homemade solutions to pay homage to the original film. The show is a crushing flop but fate gives them a second chance to find their audience. Whilst still adjusting to the idea that their serious show is actually a comedy, the group finds out they’re suddenly being whisked from their village hall to a London West End theatre to perform this accidental masterpiece for one night only.

This charming doc is the perfect family watch. More specifically, it is theatre nerd deliciousness. It’s Waiting For Guffman in real life. The rehearsals are almost painful to watch. I felt director Dave’s anxiety as his cast muddled through forgotten lines, missed cues, and disastrous blocking. You’re just rooting for it all to come together in the end. Each actor has a genuine love for the show. Most of them are completely clueless about dialogue delivery, making it a laugh riot for a hyped-up, tuned-in, sold-out audience. The amount of work these bus drivers and their family and friends put into this stage production of Alien is astounding. Every set piece, prop, and costume is made by hand with more love than a Broadway play. You will absolutely fall in love with them all. You’ll be cheering along with their live audience. Bravo to directors Lucy Harvey and Danielle Kummer for having the foresight to nurture this local charity production and turn cameras on them. Everyone involved in Alien On Stage deserves a standing ovation.

Review: Extraordinarily personal doc ‘GROOMED’ comes to Discovery+ this Friday.

GROOMED

GROOMED is the devastatingly powerful story of filmmaker Gwen van de Pas as she returns to her hometown in search of answers about the man who sexually abused her as a child. To understand her ongoing traumas, Gwen travels to meet survivors, psychologists, and even a convicted sex offender. Produced by Gwen van de Pas, Bill Guttentag, and Dylan Nelson, GROOMED addresses a common yet little understood manipulation type called ‘grooming’, how to recognize it, and how to stop it. What begins as an exploration into grooming becomes a dramatic journey where Gwen faces unexpected revelations in her case, finally finds her anger, and boldly confronts the evil we’d rather ignore. Executive produced by Blumhouse in association with Yellow Dot Films.

Gwen Van De Pas’s trauma has never gone away. As an 11 year old, an older swim teammate groomed her. The term was one she only learned 20 years after the abuse occurred. To regain power, she returns to Holland to decide whether or not to report her abuser. Her life cannot move forward without healing. The insight Gwen gains from sitting down with her parents are very impactful. They’re able to explain that when at 17 years old Gwen told them about her abuse that they were at a crossroads based on her mental health. Their guilt is palpable. As a parent myself, I completely understand their desire to protect Gwen from self-harm first. This is not simply about her healing. This film is about the healing of everyone around her. Sexual abuse infiltrates entire families.

The structure of the doc takes us through the grooming bullet points one by one, through the words of a convicted sex offender and behavioral experts. (1. Target The Victim 2. Gain The Family’s Trust 3. Build A Relationship 4. Sexualize The Relationship 5. Maintain Control) She interviews other victims, of all ages, sex, and backgrounds. Not only is this a part of understanding just how pervasive sexual abuse is, but it was a chance for Gwen to feel less isolated for once. Speaking with psychologists, her ultimate goal is to finally report him, but she is rightfully afraid. The evidence she kept still has a profound emotional stronghold. Watching her battle the words and the intentions of her abuser is heartbreaking. She feels complicit and he groomed her to think that way. In their interviews, other victims express how it has affected them physically. Hospitalization, eating disorders, disassociative habits, physical intimacy, panic attacks are just the tip of the trauma iceberg.

This incredibly personal and powerful doc is something parents need to watch. It’s a film survivors should watch. Reporting is not easy. Retraumatization is one of the key factors in every single one of these cases. Gwen Van De Pas was brave. Groomed is her victory lap. If we could all just have a fraction of her courage, we might be able to prevent others from becoming victims. The cycle has to stop.

Streaming Exclusively on discovery+
March 18, 2021

SXSW21 review: ‘Lily Topples The World’

LILY TOPPLES THE WORLD

WORLD PREMIERE – Documentary Feature Competition

LILY TOPPLES THE WORLD follows 20-year-old sensation Lily Hevesh – the world’s most acclaimed domino toppler and the only girl in her field – as she rises as an artist, role model, and young woman.  Filmed for over 3 years across countless cities and featuring appearances by Jimmy Fallon, Katy Perry, Will Smith, YouTuber Casey Neistat, and a steady stream of Gen-Z creators, LILY TOPPLES THE WORLD is a coming-of-age story cloaked within a unique portrait of an artist, a story of how passion and artistry can make dreams come true, and an unlikely American tale of a quiet Chinese adoptee who transforms into a global artistic force with over 1 billion YouTube views.  From director Jeremy Workman (The World Before Your Feet) and from executive producer Kelly Marie Tran (Star Wars: The Last Jedi), in her first film in a producing role.

I accidentally stumbled upon domino toppling videos on YouTube with my 3 and 5-year-old. We went down a rabbit hole of competition and exhibition videos and haven’t looked back. Little did I know that one of the best domino artists in the world was already on our radar. Lily Hevesh builds mesmerizing creations. SXSW21 doc Lily Topples The World follows Hevish on a journey of self-discovery and entrepreneurship.

After her freshman year, Lily decides to leave college to pursue dominoes full-time, despite finally feeling like she’s made real friends. When you step back, it’s easy to see the metaphor from this choice in respect to her artistry. This was the first domino in what would become Lily’s journey to conquer her own goals, both through social media, business, and personal growth. Patience, creativity, and engineering are only a few attributes it takes to master domino toppling. There’s real math involved, but Lily also manages to make it accessible through classes and her lovely disposition. She is incredibly generous and humble with her fan base. Her male peers respect the hell out of her. It was so refreshing hearing the way they spoke of her talents. Her goals are huge. Lily wants her own brand of toppling domino. She and her father pound the pavement to find a partner to make the best product that’s ever existed. Can she hustle the corporate world and navigate her artistry at the same time? Lily might be small in stature but she is a huge force to reckon with. She knows her stuff. You’ll be in awe of her ability to own a room, regardless of who is around her, all while maintaining grace, poise, honesty, and ambition.

In the doc, we learn about her adoption, her childhood, and during the course of filming, we watch her grow into a fully self-aware young adult. Mixed with her simply stunning domino displays, Lily Topples The World gives parents and kids hope that nonconforming is still magical. You’ll find your niche in the world and they’ll always be people who want to be part of it. Happiness begets happiness. Kelly Marie Tran executive produces for the first time. After experiencing her own racist backlash from her role in Star Wars, backing a project about a Chinese American girl who also receives vile troll comments feels right. Lily Topples The World is triumphant. Lily Hevesh is the kind of role model we need on screen.

Directed by Jeremy Workman

Produced by Jeremy Workman & Robert J. Lyons

Executive Produced by Kelly Marie Tran

Edited by Jeremy Workman

Cinematography by Michael Lisnet & Jeremy Workman

National Geographic and Disney+ review: ‘OWN THE ROOM’ is at the crossroads of passion and presentation.

OWN THE ROOM

Directed by Emmy® Award-Winning team behind Science Fair, Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster, OWN THE ROOM chronicles five ambitious students from disparate corners of the planet and the victories and setbacks they face as they take their budding business ventures to Macau, China to compete in the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards. Santosh is from a small farming town in Nepal; Alondra works the register at her family’s bakery in Puerto Rico; Henry is a programming wiz from Nairobi; Jason is a marketing machine from Greece; and Daniela is an immigrant escaping the crisis in Venezuela, taking on the chemical industry from her lab at NYU.

Every year, students represent each country in an entrepreneurial pitch competition where 1st prize is $100,000. The Global Student Entrepreneur Awards is a life-changing opportunity. In Own The Room (filmed in 2019) New York by way of Venezuela, Nairobi, Nepal, Puerto Rico, and Greece, were represented by Daniela, Henry, Santosh, Alondra, and Jason. You will absolutely fall in love with all five of them. While these young entrepreneurs are unique in personality and ideas, their dedication is familiar and infectious. Sustainability, housing, well-being, accessibility, and communication are merely the broad categories for each of their pitches. With intimate sit-downs and real-time competition footage, this film immerses the viewer in this global, high-stakes competition.

An intriguing highlight of Own The Room is the fact that all five students have the love and encouragement of their parents. It was great to hear the families support each dream, instilling them with the confidence to succeed. Watching the preparation, their anxiety and excitement are visceral. You’ll be on the edge of your seat as you wait for their pitches in Macau. First, they must get past the semifinal round. Contestants are split between seven rooms. The winner of each room makes it to the finals. You won’t believe the last-minute obstacles that Henry faces. It’s simply exhilarating. As a viewer, you’re proud of these young people. They give you hope that our future is bright. Own The Room is an inspiring documentary.

National Geographic will premiere OWN THE ROOM on Disney+ on March 12, 2020.

SXSW21: What we’re excited to dive into at this year’s virtual fest.

SXSW21 is virtual, allowing it to reach a wider audience. Screenings begin Tuesday and we’re already salivating at the lineup. Here are just a few films we’re excited to watch.


NARRATIVE:

RECOVERY

Directors: Mallory Everton, Stephen Meek, Screenwriters: Whitney Call, Mallory Everton, Producers: Scott Christopherson, Stephen Meek, Abi Nielson Hunsaker
Two directionless sisters brave a cross-country road trip to rescue their grandmother from a COVID outbreak at her nursing home. Cast List: Whitney Call, Mallory Everton, Anne Sward Hansen, Julia Jolley, Baylee Thornock, Jessica Drolet, Stephen Meek, Tyler Andrew Jones, Noah Kershisnik, Justin Call (World Premiere)

It’s officially been a year since we locked ourselves in our homes. If anyone can make pandemic humor relatable, it’s Whitney Call and Mallory Everton with their improv and sketch comedy background. Also, the fact that they’ve known each other forever, I’m guessing that will only help make this the most believable chemistry between co-stars. 

WITCH HUNT

Director/Screenwriter: Elle Callahan, Producers: Eric B. Fleischman, Maurice Fadida
In a modern America where witches are real and witchcraft is illegal, a sheltered teenager must face her own demons and prejudices as she helps two young witches avoid law enforcement and cross the southern border to asylum in Mexico. Cast List: Gideon Adlon, Elizabeth Mitchell, Abigail Cowen, Nicholas and Cameron Crovetti, Christian Camargo (World Premiere)

I know women who practice witchcraft. To think their wellbeing could ever be put in jeopardy is a terrifying thought. Originally slated to screen at SXSW2020, it’s time to share this film with the masses. The synopsis alone gets the gears turning on possible political parallels from the past few years.

PAUL DOOD’s DEADLY LUNCH BREAK

Director: Nick Gillespie, Screenwriters: Brook Driver, Matt White, Nick Gillespie, Producer: Finn Bruce
When Paul’s chances of winning a national talent contest are ruined and his dreams of fame are slashed, he plans a deathly revenge rampage!! 1 lunch break, 5 spectacular murders! Each wrongdoer dispatched in a fitting manner by the sparkly suited Paul! Cast List: Tom Meeten, Katherine Parkinson, Kris Marshall, Alice Lowe, Mandeep Dhillon, Johnny Vegas, Steve Oram, Craig Parkinson, Kevin Bishop, Pippa Haywood (World Premiere)

Here is another cast list that grabbed my attention right away. Plus sequins and murder aren’t usually synonymous. British humor gets me every single time.

JAKOB’S WIFE

Director: Travis Stevens, Screenwriters: Travis Stevens, Kathy Charles, Mark Steensland, Producers: Barbara Crampton, Bob Portal, Travis Stevens, Inderpal Singh
The disappearance of a young woman threatens to change the beige and banal lives of Anne Fedder (Barbara Crampton) and her pastor husband Jakob Fedder (Larry Fessenden) forever. Cast List: Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden, Bonnie Aarons, Mark Kelly, Sarah Lind, Robert Rusler, Nyisha Bell, Phil Brooks (World Premiere)

Travis Stevens gave me one of the most gagworthy practical FX-filled films in 2019 with GIRL ON THE THIRD FLOOR. Starring genre queen (and Timelord in my own mind) Barbara Crampton and the legendary Larry Fessenden, the buzz around this newest work is electric. Crampton’s uncanny ability to own the screen with a glance will undoubtedly captivate audiences, yet again. Also, knowing that Stevens is a huge horror fan himself (his producer credits give him away as does his totally down-to-earth Twitter feed) gives me the warm and fuzzies knowing that he’ll take care of audiences in all the ways we need.


DOCUMENTARY:

LILY TOPPLES THE WORLD

Director: Jeremy Workman, Producers: Jeremy Workman, Robert J. Lyons
Lily Topples The World follows 20-year-old Lily Hevesh — the world’s most acclaimed domino toppler and the only woman in her field — in a coming-of-age story of artistry, passion, and unlikely triumph. Executive produced by Kelly Marie Tran. (World Premiere)

My kids (and I) have become obsessed with toppling videos on YouTube. Once you go down that rabbit hole, you’re not coming out. The sheer patience it must take to build these feats is something I cannot even fathom. Knowing that this entire doc centers on a young woman at the top of her game encourages me to watch with my kids. I have a feeling SXSW audiences may do the same.

THE LOST SONS

Director: Ursula Macfarlane, Producer: Gagan Rehill
1960s Chicago, a baby is kidnapped from a hospital. Fifteen months later, a toddler is abandoned. Could he be the same baby? In a tale of breathtaking twists and turns, two mysteries begin to unravel and dark family secrets are revealed. (World Premiere)

This is a story I was slightly familiar with from its 20/20 broadcast. Since we’re all true crime junkies now, The Lost Sons should garner a sold-out audience.


SHORT FILMS:

THE THING THAT ATE THE BIRDS

Directors/Screenwriters: Sophie Mair, Dan Gitsham
On the North Yorkshire Moors, Abel, Head Gamekeeper, discovers the thing that is eating his grouse. (North American Premiere)

Gunpowder & Sky’s horror brand, ALTER will be premiering the horror short film by writer and director duo Sophie Mair (Ella, And the Baby Screamed) and Dan Gitsham (Ella, And the Baby Screamed), The Thing That  Ate The Birds. They had me at the title. Since horror is my jam, and the name alone instills a sense of fear and anxiety, I have to know what “The Thing” is!

NUEVO RICO

Director: Kristian Mercado, Screenwriters: Kristian Mercado, Juan Arroyo
A brother and sister stumble upon a celestial secret that changes their lives forever and propels them into Reggaetón stardom, but they soon discover that their newfound fame comes at a deep price. (World Premiere)

Animation with edgy social commentary will catch my attention every time. Filmmaker Kristian Mercado Figueroa is known for this skill. With the voice talents of Orange Is The New Black alum Jackie Cruz, this one caught my eye from its press still alone.

STUFFED

Director: Theo Rhys, Screenwriters: Theo Rhys, Joss Holden-Rea
Stuffed is a short musical about a taxidermist who dreams of stuffing a human and the man she meets online, so afraid of aging he volunteers to be her specimen. An unexpected romantic spark between them complicates their plans. (North American Premiere)

You had me at the categories Horror and Musical. Since Sweeney Todd, Repo: The Genetic Opera, and Anna and the Apocalypse, I’ve been dying for more genre musical goodness. STUFFED may just fill that void even in short form.

MARVIN’S NEVER HAD COFFEE BEFORE

Director: Andrew Carter, Screenwriters: Andrew Carter, Kahlil Maskati
Marvin Wexler tries coffee for the first time and desperately tries to talk about it with anyone who will listen.

I grew up a tea drinker. I loathed just the idea of coffee until I was in my 30’s. Now I have 10 bags in different flavors and roasts and an obnoxious coffee maker in my apartment. I remember the joy of discovering this drink that fuels my days and some of my nights as a writer and a Mom.


You can find the full lineup of events and grab yourself tickets at

SXSW

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: ‘My Beautiful Stutter’ speaks to everyone.

MY BEAUTIFUL STUTTER

My Beautiful Stutter follows five kids who stutter, ages 9 to 18, from all over the United States and all walks of life, who, after experiencing a lifetime of bullying and stigmatization, meet other children who stutter at an interactive arts-based program, The Stuttering Association for the Young, based in New York City. Their journey to SAY find some close to suicide, others are withdrawn and fearful, exhausted and defeated from failed fluency training, societal pressures to not stutter or the decision to remain silent. Over the course of a year, we witness firsthand the incredible transformation that happens when these young people of wildly different backgrounds experience for the first time the revolutionary idea at the heart of SAY: that it’s okay to stutter.

This heartfelt doc is incredibly eye-opening for anyone who doesn’t have information about stuttering. While we learn about the neurological reasons, more importantly, we learn about the social-emotional effect on children. Bullying is already such a pervasive issue. Add on stuttering and it can really be a recipe for an exponentially challenging childhood. These beautiful, intelligent, glorious kids should not be “fixed”. They aren’t a problem. It is society that should be more accepting.

Growing up stuttering, Taro Alexander wanted to create a program to improve the lives of kids who stutter now. He understood the weight of feeling viewed as different. He founded SAY The Stuttering Association for the Young. Then came CAMP SAY. CAMP SAY is a safe environment where kids of all ages can come and learn, play, make friends, and be accepted for exactly who they are. The film features the summer of 2015. The kids have group therapy sessions, not necessarily clinical, but it allows them to share their feelings without judgment. Outside of all the typical camp activities like sports, ceramics, campfires, and swimming, Alexander utilizes theatre and creative writing to break down their barriers.

The film features members of CAMP SAY community. Juliana, now graduating from the program uses singing to boost her confidence. Malcolm’s stutter was triggered after witnessing a violent act. His passion is baseball. This is his first year at camp. Sarah and Emily are best friends at CAMP SAY. They explain how important it is to be able to connect with someone who can genuinely relate and to finally realize that they’re not alone. Travis is one of the counselors at camp. He also uses music to feel uninhibited by his stutter. Will features his college entrance essay. The gorgeous, astute, poetic writing in that essay undoubtedly wowed any essay reader. My Beautiful Stutter brings together footage from home, camp, and beyond to immerse you into a world where communication is a double-edged sword.

One of the greatest days at camp happens when an older camper is paired with a younger one and they answer questions like, “What’s your favorite subject in school?” or “Something I’ve always wanted to try but haven’t had a chance to yet…” Watching these kids grow is profound. The amount of sadness they carry with them every single day will stay with you. As a former teacher and current parent of a child on the spectrum, it was disheartening to hear that these kids all recall their teachers not understanding how their stutter affects them emotionally. The stories of constantly being cut off by others must be ceaselessly frustrating. Frankly, they all feel exhausted.

The timing of My Beautiful Stutter is incredible considering President Biden stuttered as a child. He actively reaches out to kids across the country, even giving them his cell phone number so he can pass on techniques on how to ease their frustration. Kids and parents alike can learn more about Taro Alexander, SAY and CAMP SAY here. My Beautiful Stutter is an important watch. This is a family film. Make it a movie night. Sit down with your loved ones and feel the unadulterated love these children bring to the world. As Emily says in the film, “Stop and Listen.” Solid advice.

Premiering Exclusively on discovery+ This Thursday
March 11, 2021

Directed by: Ryan Gielen (Stop The Bleeding, The Graduates)
Produced by: Michael Alden and Ryan Gielen

Executive Produced by:
Paul Rudd, Mariska Hargitay, Peter Hermann, Patrick James Lynch, George Springer

Since 2001, SAY has offered comprehensive and innovative programs that address the physical, social and emotional impacts of stuttering.

**Film Festival Awards**
Best Documentary at Boston International Kids Film Festival
Audience Award Best Documentary at the Rhode Island Film Festival
Best Documentary at the Golden Door Film Festival
Best Documentary at Doc Sunback Film Festival
 

discovery+ is the definitive non-fiction, real life subscription streaming service. discovery+ features a landmark partnership with Verizon that gives their customers with select plans up to 12 months of discovery+ on Verizon. discovery+ has the largest-ever content offering of any new streaming service at launch, featuring a wide range of exclusive, original series across popular, passion verticals in which Discovery brands have a strong leadership position, including lifestyle and relationships; home and food; true crime; paranormal; adventure and natural history; as well as science, tech and the environment, and a slate of high-quality documentaries. For more, visit discoveryplus.com or find it on a variety of platforms and devices, including ones from Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Roku, and Samsung.

RT: 90 Minutes

SLO Film Fest 2021 review: ‘BLEEDING AUDIO’ rocks.

BLEEDING AUDIO

Told through the eyes of quirky, charming and humble bandmates Shawn, Jon, Matt and Justin, BLEEDING AUDIO is an intimate portrait detailing The Matches’ promising career, defeating break up, and inspiring reunion, as they reflect on what success truly means for musicians in today’s digital industry. Their story overlaps with the drastic changes the music industry has undergone in the past several years. From declining record sales, to excessive touring, to illegal downloading and streaming, this film digs deeper into the challenges the average musician faces in the digital age and how artists can navigate their careers today

How do I not know about The Matches? Their sound is right up my alley. The minute I heard their songs in the introduction, I was hooked. Shawn, Justin, Matt, and Jon have distinct personalities and styles, and together they are unbelievable. This is the most badass entrepreneurial band I’ve ever heard of. The things they did to become known were geniuses. This was pounding the pavement in its truest form. Members Justin and Shawn made all the band’s art. Their parents worked the door, security, snack bar while they slowly wracked up fans.

Huge names in the industry like Mark Hoppus of Blink-182,  Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman, Tom Higgenson of Plain White T’s (just to mention a few) all wonder why the hell these guys aren’t one of the biggest bands in the world. Their consensus is they had everything they needed to be massive; catchy songs, genuine talent, an ambition that blew people away. Why aren’t they household names?! Bleeding Audio breaks down the music industry. Literally explaining where the money goes and why. I think we all sort of understood this concept when Taylor Swift took Spotify to task over streaming but I don’t think I ever thought about what happens to get to the album itself. The money comes from publishing. The Matches didn’t necessarily go searching for a label. Once they were popular the labels came to them. Epitaph was their dream. They got it. Warped Tour was next. Meeting other bands who became their fans opened even more doors. These guys were loved. Their creativity surpasses anything I’ve ever seen from a single band. Then… Napster happened. Music was about to change forever.

After their third album, they were burnt out. The band played one final beautifully, raucous show. 2 years later, they find out that their overbearing manager Miles didn’t register their songs, with the exception of 4. The amount of money they lost because of this was ultimately the reason they broke up. It was a brutal blow. In 2014 the guys meet up for pancakes. This leads to a show that sells out in 2 minutes. Then another. Then another. The Matches were inexplicably back for what would become a sold-out world tour.

The doc has an unreal amount of footage, art, interviews, it’s pretty magical. If you’ve never heard of The Matches, there’s no way you’ll walk away from Bleeding Audio without needing to go find their music. Thank you to director Chelsea Christer for introducing me to my newest musical obsession.

Bleeding Audio – Official Trailer from Chelsea Christer on Vimeo.

You can get tickets to a watch BLEEDING AUDIO here

 

Review: ‘Black Holes: The Edge of All We Know’ is a mind-blowing doc.

BLACK HOLES:

THE EDGE OF ALL WE KNOW

What can black holes teach us about the boundaries of knowledge? These holes in spacetime are the darkest objects and the brightest—the simplest and the most complex. With unprecedented access, Black Hole | The Edge of All We Know follows two powerhouse collaborations. Stephen Hawking anchors one, striving to show that black holes do not annihilate the past. Another group, working in the world’s highest-altitude observatories, creates an earth-sized telescope to capture the first-ever image of a black hole. Interwoven with other dimensions of exploring black holes, these stories bring us to the pinnacle of humanity’s quest to understand the universe.

It sounds like the stuff of science fiction but the discoveries that have come from the study of Black Holes are actual science. Stephen Hawking has essentially told us that everything we know could be an illusion. Black Holes do not follow any laws of physics. That idea is mind-blowing. As humans, we year to understand the structure of the universe. The challenge continues to be that seeing is believing, even for scientists.

In Black Holes: The Edge of All We Know, a group of scientists called Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) are collaborating around the globe. They have set up stations around the world to communicate with one another to act as one massive Earth-sized telescope in an attempt to capture the first image of a black hole. The amount of data is larger than any other experiment, ever. As the information finally gets developed into images in 2018, they were deemed top secret. They didn’t even share the images among the 4 EHT teams until they were finally in person. The final picture shared with the public in 2019 is simply breathtaking. This is when theory becomes reality.

Before his passing, Stephen Hawking and colleagues thought that information was not actually eaten by black holes but that some information makes an imprint and comes back. How much? That’s just another mystery they’re trying to figure out. They work tirelessly through equations on chalkboards, step back and wonder if anything they’ve just done makes sense. Stephen would enter the conversation and flip the work on its head. Watching them work through possibilities is like watching a tennis match of genius. Witnessing how each mind contributes is incredible. Sasha Haco, Malcolm J. Perry, and Andrew Strominger continue what the four began together. The work continues.

If you are someone who watched the most recent rover land on Mars and cried, as I did, you will be captivated by this film. With an effective score, beautiful black and white animation, and real-time tracking of their project, your heart is in your throat as you root for their success. You’ll learn things you never knew were possible. Black Holes: The Edge of All We Know is a fascinating look at the minds and circumstances pushing the boundaries of the unknown. This is the stuff of dreams, science, the human spirit, and a little bit of magic.

*Available on VOD March 2nd, 2021*

Directed by Peter Galison (Co-Founder, Black Hole Initiative at Harvard)
With a score by  Zoë Keating

Featuring
Shep Doeleman, Founding Director, Event Horizon Telescope
physicist Andrew Strominger,
theoretical physicist Malcolm Perry,
Co-Founder/CEO Unitary Sasha Haco  (Black Hole Entropy from Soft Hair)
and Stephen Hawking

 

Review: Will HBO docuseries ‘ALLEN v. FARROW’ finally lead to accountability?

ALLEN v. FARROW

The four-part documentary series Allen v. Farrow, from award-winning investigative filmmakers Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering and Amy Herdy, goes behind the years of sensational headlines to reveal the private story of one Hollywood’s most notorious and public scandals: the accusation of sexual abuse against Woody Allen involving Dylan, his then 7-year-old daughter with Mia Farrow; their subsequent custody trial, the revelation of Allen’s relationship with Farrow’s daughter, Soon-Yi; and the controversial aftermath in the years that followed.

There is a chilling feeling while watching this series. As a critic, I long fell into the same category as the journalists featured at the beginning of the episode. You grow up with the notion that Woodey Allen represented the quintessential essence of what New York City culture was. You’re enamored with it all. While inarguably furthering the early careers of actresses Diane Keaton, Mariel Hemingway, and Mia Farrow (they made 12 films during their relationship), the pattern of behavior and theme of his obsession with young women run through his scripts. Woody Allen has somehow been allowed to continue to work mostly unscathed, even after the world knew about his relationship with Farrow’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi, even after the #MeToo movement continues to rain hell down on abusers. Allegations swirled about the sexual abuse of adopted daughter Dylan. This is the first time that Dylan gets to tell her story in earnest. This doc utilized Allen’s own words against him as excerpts of him narrating his 2020 memoir play in between intimate sitdown interviews with Mia, Dylan, Ronan, family, and friends of the once power couple. Mia took endless hours of home videos for years, adding to the amount of readily available footage from the media. Finally hearing all the details from the source is brutal. It’s a visceral watch.  As a parent, it is next-level painful. Watching the cycle of emotional abuse Mia endured from one man to the next, all while unconditionally loving her children adds another complex layer to this situation. This series will undoubtedly be controversial. It will be interesting to see the apologists come out loud and proud. There’s an enormous amount of evidence to digest. You will be shocked, sickened, furious, heartbroken. All this just at the end of the first of four episodes. ALLEN v. FARROW has to potential to reopen old wounds for a lot of trauma survivors. It also has the potential to knock another man off the pedestal we’ve kept him on for far too long.

The remaining episodes of ALLEN v. FARROW will air over the next subsequent Sunday nights on HBO at 9 pm.

Slamdance 2021 review: ‘WORKHORSE QUEEN’ the good, the bad, and the drag.

WORKHORSE QUEEN

By day, Ed Popil worked as a telemarketer in Rochester, New York for 18 years. By night, he transformed into drag queen Mrs. Kasha Davis, a 1960’s era housewife trying to liberate herself from domestic toil through performing at night in secret –an homage to Ed’s mother. After seven years of auditioning to compete on RuPaul’s Drag Race, Ed Popil was finally cast onto the tv show and thrust into a full-time entertainment career at the late age of 44. Workhorse Queen explores the complexities of reality television’s impact on queer performance culture by focusing on the growing divide between members of a small-town drag community – those who have been on television, and those who have not.

I was 19 years old in my freshman year at college in New York City when I entered a multileveled club in borrowed pleather pants and hair I had dyed blonde (without stripping first) when I found my way to a restroom after dancing my little suburban grown heart out. While washing my hands someone was next to me checking their lipstick in the mirror and casually asked me for the time. I glanced over to tell them, and without skipping a beat I told them 12:16. They thanked me and exited the bathroom. I had encountered my first live drag performer and I could not wait to tell my friends how much cooler I now was for it. After that, I regularly attended drag brunch, drag bingo, had a standing table at Lucky Cheng’s, and have sung on stage at Don’t Tell Mama. When RuPaul’s Drag Race began, I thought, “Yes! Now the world can experience what I’ve been so enamored with as a theater kid for so long.” To me, drag was and still is art. As for many a performance artist, the craft requires sacrifice, thankless long hours, and money for costumes, makeup, and hair sometimes just for the chance to be seen but always for the chance to live out your dream. Drag is performance at a showstopping level. And while Drag Race has certainly widened the platform, that same platform only has room enough for a small number of girls (and guys).

Slamdance 2021 audiences get to peek behind the curtain of what drag is really like. In its world premiere, WORKHORSE QUEEN gives Mrs. Kasha Davis her own time to shine, with and without the glitter and fanfare. This doc is about Ed Popil, the man under the wig and magic. His story is one that will most likely ring true for many individuals trying to find out who they are, told they are too much, and yet not enough. There is such an intriguing dynamic in this doc. Family is front and center. Not just Ed Popil’s husband and kids but his drag family. Mrs. Kasha Davis and Ed are genuinely loving and kind; everything you want and need them to be. Ed exposes his childhood trauma at the hands and words of his father, the decaying relationship with the mother he idolized, and his alcohol addiction. When you’re a queen with a catchphrase, “There’s always time for a cocktail,” how does your career survive rehab? The doc isn’t shy about the inequities faced by performers with lower profiles both on social media and among fellow performers. Drag Race is a competition, life should not be. WORKHORSE QUEEN is triumphant in its honesty. There is so much deliciousness packed into its hour and 27-minute runtime. It’s raw, celebratory, passionate, and revelatory. It honors living your true authentic self and how one person impacts people’s lives in ways you never thought possible.

WORKHORSE QUEEN
Directed by Angela Washko
USA I 2021 I Documentary I 88 minutes
SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2021
Virtual Screening Information
Friday, Feb. 12
For Festival Passes, click here
Please Note: Audience caps may affect film accessibility

Netflix Original Documentary review: ‘STRIP DOWN, RISE UP’ is raw and revelatory film on the power of pole dance.

STRIP DOWN, RISE UP

STRIP DOWN, RISE UP is a cinema verité film about women from different walks of life—all ages and ethnic backgrounds—who shed trauma, body image shame, sexual abuse, and other issues locked in their bodies to reclaim their sensuality and sense of self through sensual movement and pole dance. While pole has the stigmas of being a strip club activity, and more recently, an exercise fad, the film tells deeply transformative stories of women within this little-known, supportive community who embark on a journey to heal themselves.

Did I think I would be weeping while watching a documentary about pole dancing? Absolutely not. Strip Down, Rise Up is one of the most personally impactful docs I’ve ever seen. As a dancer, a competitor, a choreographer, a performer, a wife, a mother, a sexual trauma survivor, a film critic, this movie is a therapy session and motherf*cking triumphant scream into the abyss. The stigma that pole dancing carries were created by, everyone say it with me, “Patriarchal Structure!” When I say this, I don’t just mean men. When someone tells you that a particular thing “isn’t feminine” they are part of the problem. Suggesting a stripper is a whore, that’s definitely part of the problem. These are just two examples of how we’ve all been trained to toe the line in outdated gender normative behavior. Take your bullshit standards and eat them. Strip Down, Rise Up is empowerment to the nth degree.

Actress Sheila Kelley began The S Factor after doing research for a role. After falling in love with the art and sport and strength of pole she decided to start a studio. This movement is about the reclamation of our bodies. The power, both physically and emotionally it takes to do pole is beyond most of our basic understanding. The women profiled in the film come from every background, are every age and shape. One is a widow, one a victim of Dr. Larry Nassar. Another is a cancer patient, another a first-time mother. Then there’s the lawyer, pole competitor, and studio owner. And that’s just a few of the unique individuals spotlighted here Through pole exploration, these women are allowed to feel sexy, build strength, and reclaim their bodies. Too often they are sexual assault survivors. The fear and disconnection spread so much further than I ever thought, even after the #MeToo movement kicked off. The amount of trauma is both shocking and not. Which is a scary commentary unto itself. There is so much complexity built into the intimate stories of these women. Director Michèle Ohayon has given every viewer a gift. Throw your expectations out the window. Burn them to the ground. Strip Down, Rise Up will free you.

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Michèle Ohayon‘s new doc feature, STRIP DOWN, RISE UP, is now on Netflix.

HBO documentary series review: ‘The Lady and The Dale’ tells the unbelievably true story of a transgender entrepreneur.

The Lady and The Dale

This four-part documentary series from Emmy®-winning producers Mark and Jay Duplass (“Room 104”) traces the audacious story of Elizabeth Carmichael, a larger-than-life entrepreneur who took the world by storm with her promotion of a fuel-efficient, three-wheeled car known as The Dale in the middle of the 1970s oil crisis. Liz’s promotional zeal thrust her into fierce public and media scrutiny which uncovered a web of mystery and suspicion about the car’s technology and her own checkered past.

This HBO docu-series about a mad genius who happened to be a trans woman, The Lady and The Dale comes from Emmy-winning Mark and Jay Duplass and is co-directed by Nick Cammilleri and Zackery Drucker. Who is Elizabeth Dean Carmichael? Perhaps the first question should be, “Who is Jerry Dean Michael?” Smart, fearless, and loyal, Jerry might as well be the subject of Catch Me If You Can. Then everything changes as entrepreneur Liz arrives on the scene. She would be the one to rule. Using eye-catching 2D animation and archival footage to illustrate intimate sit-down interviews, it’s insanely engaging. The way this family was brought up sounds like it cannot be true but boy, is it entertaining. The FBI, the mob, the police, the media all wanted a piece of Jerry or Liz… or both. And this is only the first episode of this docu-series! To think this is merely a set-up for what is coming in Liz’s story is surreal. Last night, The Lady and The Dale debuted with back to back episodes. They are explosive and completely unreal. If you’re not completely hooked a few minutes into episode 1, I would be flabbergasted. The amount of information thrown at the audience is massive and completely intriguing. How do one woman and a three-wheeled car make history? Just you wait and see. This is a captivating story of a woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer. Elizabeth Carmichael would take on the auto industry and the world, for better or for worse. The final two episodes of The Lady and The Dale will air over the next two Sundays and will be available to stream on HBO Max.

Review: ‘Narratives Of Modern Genocide’ forces us to stop talking and start listening.

Narratives of Modern Genocide

After the holocaust, the world said, “never again,” yet genocide is happening in the world right now. The stories we forget to tell, of the survivors we never knew, will haunt us until we listen and act. Narratives of Modern Genocide challenges the audience to experience first-person accounts of survivors of genocide. Sichan Siv and Gilbert Tuhabonye share how they escaped the killing fields of Cambodia and the massacre of school children in Burundi. Mixing haunting animation, and expert context the film confronts our notion that the holocaust was the last genocide.

Sichan’s Siv narrative is all too familiar. He suffered unimaginable losses at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, enduring forced labor and the eventual execution of his family. But for Sichan, it becomes a tale of bravery and audacity.  After a failed attempt to escape, he tries a second time, fleeing on foot for three days with only the sun and moon to guide him to Thailand. He is the epitome of “The American Dream”. After emigrating to CT then New York City, he would eventually end up working for President George H. W. Bush as a translator. Think about the gravity of his journey. He went from being persecuted by his native government to becoming a prominent figure in the American government. That’s extraordinary.

Gilbert Tuhabonye was just a schoolboy when he witnessed atrocities that will haunt any viewer. He was the fastest runner in his Burundi community and it served him well when escaping torture and the mass murder of his classmates and teachers. Now living in Austen, he is a motivational speaker, author, retired professional long-distance runner, and a cross-country and track coach. Gilbert also the co-founder of the Gazelle Foundation which provides clean drinking water in his homeland.

We think genocide isn’t as prevalent, but we must learn from our history. The release of this doc is eerily timed with the events of insurrection at the US capitol last week. We have to pay closer attention to the calls of violence. Our democracy is on the brink and vigilance is key. Narratives of Modern Genocide will undoubtedly punch you in the gut. Sichan and Gilbert’s stories are difficult to hear but they cannot be ignored. While this may seem like the story of two men, it is the history of too many. Combined with beautifully drawn animation and starkly contrasted news clips, this doc strikes a cord. It’s important. It must be shown to as wide an audience as possible. It must serve as a warning to future generations.

ON DVD AND DIGITAL
January 12, 2021

Review: ‘The Reason I Jump’ is a megaphone for nonverbal autism.

The Reason I Jump

Based on the best-selling book by Naoki Higashida, translated into English by author David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas), The Reason I Jump is an immersive cinematic exploration of neurodiversity through the experiences of nonspeaking autistic people from around the world. The film blends Higashida’s revelatory insights into autism, written when he was just 13, with intimate portraits of five remarkable young people. It opens a window into a sensory universe that guides audiences to Naoki’s core message: not being able to speak does not mean there is nothing to say.

Based on the book of the same name by Naoki Higashida, The Reason I Jump is an emotional rollercoaster. I was already welling up listening to the opening monologue. The echolalia, the sensory overstimulation, the hand flapping, and ear covering all punched me in the gut when presented on screen. I’m a lucky Mom. At 5 years old, my child is now very verbal, he’s hyperlexic which means he’s been reading since he was two. He loves hugs, sleep, and eats well. On the autism spectrum, he would be closer to Asperger’s, if that were a diagnosis recognized nowadays. None of these facts lessen the fear, frustration, exhaustion, and pure elation in raising an exceptional human being. The Reason I Jump is tailor-made from the words of a nonverbal 13-year-old boy’s experiences from the inside out. In film form, it’s simply triumphant.

In the doc, we are introduced to 5 unique young people with autism.

Amrit (India)
Her mother realized she was using art to communicate. Her paintings are extraordinary, some visually akin to continuous line drawings. It took time for everyone to realize they are snapshots of her day.

Joss -(UK)
His anxiety is palpable. His impulses and tendency to meltdown are understandably unpredictable. Joss’s ability to show unadulterated joy is magic. His parents break down their own existence in the most relatable ways, both the highs and the lows.

Ben & Emma – US
These two have learned to spell with letterboards and keyboards to communicate. Best friends since very early childhood, what they have to say will shock you.

Jestina – Sierra Leone
With Jestina, we tackle stimming and perception by others. Stimming a sensory-driven repetition of behavior like rocking or flapping to self soothe. Sometimes it’s a visual stim, sometimes watching wheels turn or glitter shine. Culturally, her mother and other parents in her autistic adjacent community are told their children are possessed. It destroys the spirits of entire families.

The narrated excerpts from the book directly correlate with whichever child is being highlighted at that time. Voiced by Jordan O’Donegan, they have a poetic feel to their profundity. Naoki writes, “Making sounds with your mouth isn’t the same as communication.” That quote did me in. When you hear that, truly hear it, you will be taken aback. Jestina, Ben, Emma, Joss, and Amrit all communicate in a different way, we just had to learn how to listen. The heightened sound design immerses you into the world of an autistic person. We do not understand what it is like to be utterly overwhelmed not being able to be fully understood. The cinematography is breathtaking. Quick cuts, predominantly in close-up form combined with a gorgeous soundtrack put you in an alternate headspace. The editing takes all these elements and blends them into a viscerally stunning documentary.

As a mother of a child on the autism spectrum, I feel like I can see I want to broadcast this film to the world so that neurotypical individuals can understand my son and every other person on the spectrum. The label of autism, whether people realize it or not, creates implicit bias. We are missing out on the potential and impact of an entire faction of our society. It is our duty to meet each other in the middle. The Reason I Jump is a captivating peek behind the autism curtain. Don’t look away now. Thank you Naoki Higashida for writing this book. Thank you David Mitchell for translating it for your son. Thank you Jerry Rothwell for directing such an important film. Thank you to the families that shared their lives. Watch this film, then choose to listen and learn in a new way.

The Reason I Jump will be in theaters and virtual cinemas Friday, Jan 8th

**WINNER – Audience Award, World Cinema Documentary –
Sundance Film Festival 2020**
**OFFICIAL SELECTION – AFI Docs 2020**
**OFFICIAL SELECTION – BFI London Film Festival 2020**
**OFFICIAL SELECTION – Chicago International Film Festival 2020**
**OFFICIAL SELECTION – Hot Docs Film Festival 2020**
**OFFICIAL SELECTION – Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival 2020**
**OFFICIAL SELECTION – SXSW Film Festival 2020**
**OFFICIAL SELECTION – WINNER’S CIRCLE – DOC NYC 2020**

Review: ‘Higher Love’ is in your face and important.

“That’s what happens in America.” When jobs depart, drugs arrive. That’s what happens in America. Nani and Daryl have a tumultuous relationship and drugs are to blame. Daryl is desperately trying to save both Nani and his infant son. Higher Love gets deep inside Nani’s addiction and those around her. We watch them get high while they enable one another.

They live in Camden, NJ. I remember driving home for Thanksgiving in my mid-20s. It was approaching 2 am and I was having trouble staying awake on my way to CT. I was about to turn off the highway when on the radio DJ says, “Murder capital in the U.S.? Camden, NJ.” I swerved and took the next exit. Higher Love does a fantastic job of highlighting the systemic disintegration of American cities. The police literally sit idly by as crackhouses act like revolving doors. Rehab, as we learned from American Relapse, is an economic boom. It comes down to people willing to help themselves or help each other. Daryl is an awesome father. He takes care of his children and adores them, wholeheartedly.

Nani just cannot kick her addiction. She claims she wants to be part of her son’s life, but chooses drugs over and over. Daryl is just guilty in the ways he facilitates her habits. It’s heartbreaking to watch him have so much confidence in a woman who will most likely overdose. When he snaps at her you don’t blame him one ounce. He’s doing his best and she’s doing crack. The emotional hold she has on him is stronger than almost anything, except the love of his children.

Higher Love tells the stories of the lives and deaths of so many locals. But the tragedy is everywhere. Iman, one of Nani’s associates, gets his path highlighted, as well. He explains that with a phone call, one can procure whatever they need whenever they need. His story is like so many others, he has a family that loves him and they only want his rehab stints to stick. He is the highest motivated individual we come to know. We could not be rooting for him any harder. The most engrossing aspect of the intimate conversations with these addicts is the fact that they are actually incredibly self-aware. They understand they are ultimately responsible for their behavior. It’s a cycle of sadness, confusion, trauma, and sickness. How do we, as a society, fix this? What can the government and the people do together to help this ever-growing population? I’m not sure what the answer is, but with the problems exacerbated by a pandemic, 2020 might be the worst year on record for drug deaths.

The doc could probably benefit from a trim in time, even at a tight hour and 17 minutes. One beautifully impactful moment occurs when we are treated to a slam poem presented over quick cuts of the city and it’s residents. If that does not move you, nothing will. Higher Love is honest and important. It’s not just Nani’s story, or Daryl’s story, or Iman’s story. It’s the story of the forgotten, the oppressed, the ones we find easier to gloss over. Don’t sleep on this film.

WATCH THE 7X FESTIVAL WINNER NOW ON VOD

HIGHER LOVE was directed by first-time filmmaker Hasan Oswald, executive produced by Stephen Nemeth (Rhino Records), and produced by Oswald, Alexander Spiess, & Derek Rubin. Oswald used a Robert Rodriguez-inspired zero-budget strategy to make the film, selling his blood-plasma, racking up no interest credit card bills, and learning all things films on youtube tutorials in lieu of film school.

Coming out of DOC NYC 2020, ‘THE WALRUS AND THE WHISTLEBLOWER’ will be available on VOD on November 24th, 2020

THE WALRUS AND THE WHISTLEBLOWER

will be available on VOD on November 24th, 2020.

Synopsis:                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Phil Demers is a part-time mailman who lives in a bungalow across the creek from Marineland, the iconic amusement park in Niagara Falls, where he had his dream job as an animal trainer for over a decade. He swam with killer whales and ran the show, until he quit and blew the whistle, claiming animal abuse and calling for an end to the 60-year-old practice of keeping marine mammals in pools. Known as the ‘Walrus Whisperer’ on Twitter, with over 27,000 followers, Phil has appeared four times on the Joe Rogan show and is being sued for $1.5 million for plotting to steal Smooshi, the walrus. Playing out in the swell of a paradigm shift in our relationship with animals, the film pierces the veneer of a media story and goes behind the battle lines of a stranger-than-fiction custody fight to #SaveSmooshi. At its heart are questions of compassion for others – humans and animals alike – the nuances of all our stories, and the hills we are willing to die on.

*Winner’s Circle – DOC NYC 2020*

Shudder original review: ‘LEAP OF FAITH: WILLIAM FRIEDKIN ON THE EXORCIST’

A lyrical and spiritual cinematic essay on The ExorcistLeap of Faith explores the uncharted depths of William Friedkin’s mind’s eye, the nuances of his filmmaking process, and the mysteries of faith and fate that have shaped his life and filmography. The film marks the sixth feature documentary from Philippe (78/52, Memory: The Origins of Alien), continuing his thoughtful analysis of iconic genre films. Starring William Friedkin. Directed by Alexandre O. Philippe. A SHUDDER ORIGINAL. (Also available on Shudder Canada, Shudder UK and Shudder ANZ

This is truly a peek behind the wizard’s curtain. The most shocking part of the in-depth conversation with William Friedkin is where he admits what was planned and, more strikingly, what wasn’t. He was often flying by the seat of his pants, but you can tell by the passionate way he describes his process that there was more planning than we can ever imagine. He uses music as a device in directing. In the doc, side by side juxtaposition from other iconic films and scores make his point perfectly. The editing makes you want to have The Exorcist on another screen to experience the full moments that are being referenced in snippets. The meticulously placed subconscious effects on the audience are profound. Once they’re explained, they will blow your mind.

Friedkin’s believes that every moment surrounding the creation of The Exorcist was fate. From getting the book to casting choices, to existing shooting circumstances in Iraq. He uses art to inspire the look of scenes. Discovering the painting that is responsible for the iconic cover art takes your breath away. The battle over the score is nothing short of epic. For someone who boasts about asking for one or two takes, his obsession with the minute details will astonish you. Friedkin is pretty much a mad genius. He explains how his faith had to be separated from the job. The philosophy behind the story is what solidifies the meaning for him. While this is solely Friedkin’s perspective, and we know the permanent physical and emotional damage on Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn, hearing so much detail from the director’s mouth, his creative process, and the effect the experience had on him is nothing short of fascinating. You don’t have to be a fan of The Exorcist to completely love this documentary. The insight on what goes into making a film come alive is gold unto itself.  For genre fans, in particular, it’s magic.

LEAP OF FAITH: WILLIAM FRIEDKIN ON THE EXORCIST is available today on Shudder

ABOUT SHUDDER:

AMC Networks’ Shudder is a premium streaming video service, super-serving members with the best selection in genre entertainment, covering horror, thrillers and the supernatural. Shudder’s expanding library of film, TV series, and originals is available on most streaming devices in the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Germany, Australia and New Zealand. To experience Shudder commitment-free for 7 days, visit ​www.shudder.com​.

 

DOC NYC 2020 review: ‘CRUTCH’

SACHI CUNNINGHAM and CHANDLER EVANS’ 

CRUTCH

AT DOC NYC

Two decades of exclusive access, plus a lifetime of archival footage depict Shannon from his early years to his rise as an award-winning dancer and cutting-edge performance artist. CRUTCH examines Shannon’s controversial street performances as he exposes a myriad of prejudices disabled people encounter in public on a daily basis.

Crutch is about Bill Shannon‘s extraordinary life. Shannon wants to be recognized as a performance artist, and rightfully so. As a dancer since the age of three, I can attest to how the physical and emotional energy toll performing can have. Like many dancers, my body is ravaged from the work I asked it to do when I was younger. But I wasn’t faced with the challenges that Bill Shannon faced from childhood. Bill Shannon is on another level from us all. He is a relentless artist and it’s magic.

He grew up making home movies, being a daredevil, skateboarding, and creating a new language for dance, all while having a rare degenerative hip condition. He is a provocateur. Exploring his own pain and emotional hurt by placing others into his realm. He essentially created “What Would You Do?” scenarios before it was mainstream. As a breakdancer and choreographer, he presented the world with evolutionary milestones in thinking and accepting. But this is only a sliver of what he deals with and tries to effect. This doc tackles ableism at its core. He uses his filmed setup moments to organically teach an audience about the human mind. It’s a refreshing perspective that will grab your attention. He never lets up. His innovation is astounding. That’s true artistry. Crutch pushes past cynicism to teach and entertain and delight.

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