Review: Thought-provoking doc ‘Life & Life’ is coming to New Hope Film Festival next Friday.

LIFE & LIFE

Synopsis:

NC Helkin’s LIFE & LIFE, which just won Best Documentary at the Brooklyn Film Festival, tracks the journey that musician Reggie Austin takes to redeem his life following a murder conviction 40 years ago. With surprising honesty and depth, the film looks at Austin’s effect on his fellow inmates at San Quentin and his efforts to reconnect with his family, as well as questioning parole and sentencing practices through his story. Ultimately, the film reveals the steep and dangerous hill ex-prisoners must climb upon release to free themselves and create a positive future. LIFE & LIFE is a story of the struggle for redemption and hope against near-impossible odds, accompanied by a soundtrack that comes straight from Austin’s heart.

Professional musician and convicted murderer. Two strikingly different resume items that Reggie Austin carries daily. In NC Helkin’s documentary Life & Life, after serving 35 years in prison for murder, Reggie Austin navigates life back on the outside. We watch his journey as he attempts to successfully balance work and the rebuilding of familial relationships. His grace is startling. His talent is undeniable. His advocacy is inspiring. The film consists of a genuinely effective combination of sit-down interviews, archival records, and Reggie’s musical stylings. Parole board transcripts give us a peek inside the complexities of releasing someone from prison. The editing of this particular section of the film deserves an award. It adds a dynamic and intentional rhythm.

But, Life & Life is not solely the story of one man. It’s a film that tackles the nuanced reach for systematic change within the prison industrial complex. It specifically addresses the “Three Strike Law” and its effects on so many still behind bars. It injects humanity into an oftentimes brushed aside section of the population. Reggie Austin is a success story. It’s not one we hear often, but I’m grateful we’re hearing it now. Life & Life is a lot of things. It’s frustrating, it’s joyful, and it’s artistic. It’s a lesson in compassion and redemption for not only Reggie but the audience as well.


NC Heikin’s Award-winning LIFE & LIFE

Screens at

2021 New Hope Film Festival (Philadelphia) JULY 30

Friday, July 30 at New Hope Arts Center (2A Stockton Ave.) Tickets are available at: https://www.goelevent.com/NewHopeFilmFestival/e/LifeLife.


Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival

Monday, August 9 at MV Performing Arts Center (100 Edgartown Vineyard Haven Road) Tickets available at: https://www.mvaaff.com/tickets/


NBFF 21 review: ‘The Witches Of The Orient’ is an ace.

THE WITCHES OF THE ORIENT

Textile workers are transformed into an Olympic level volleyball team by their coach, whose unconventional techniques emphasize speed and aggression. The team has a record-setting winning streak and a triumph in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

THE WITCHES OF THE ORIENT manages to simultaneously be exhilarating and endearing. The film is a multimedia celebration of an unforgettable group of women who worked tirelessly for victory and pride. The film works its way through intimate sit-down interviews with team members, now in their 70s, to recreate the journey to the 1964 Olympics. These extraordinary women worked diligently under a coach that was deemed harsh and unconventional. To hear them speak about it now, they saw things very differently. They had respect and adoration for a man who took a chance on a group of women who had the weight of their country’s honor on their shoulders.

The soundtrack is incredible. Even though you know the outcome of the final game, watching the tape makes your palms sweat and your heart race. You’ll stand up, cheer, and cry happy tears alongside the team. It’s simply inevitable. The film could not be more relevant as we roll into this year’s Tokyo Olympics. This team paved the way for female athletes to defy the masses. While it continues to be an uphill battle of sexism and controversy for today’s athletes, The Japanese Volleyball Team in 1964 owned their naysayers. Director Julien Faraut gave NBFF 21 audiences a history lesson that charmed the pants off of audiences.

Review: ‘Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes’ debuts parts 3 & 4 tonight on HBO & HBO MAX

Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes, a six-part, half-hour documentary series, brings to life Ronan Farrow’s intimate, revealing interviews with whistleblowers, journalists, private investigators and other sources, conducted for the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist’s podcast and best-selling book, Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies and A Conspiracy to Protect Predators.

Directed by Emmy-winners Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (HBO’s Carrie Fisher: Wishful Drinking), the series expands on the podcast and book with never-before-seen footage and new insights into this culture-shaking story. Interviews are interwoven with additional sound and imagery from documents, audiotapes, photos, archive footage, and illustrations. With fresh perspectives and detail — not just on the harrowing effort to expose one powerful predator, but on the systems that help cover up terrible crimes to this day — the series presents new revelations in the reporting on one of Hollywood’s most ungettable stories.

Reporters Ken Auletta and Kim Masters explore the roadblocks that stalled their years-long quests to expose Weinstein.​

Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes is set during a period of recent history when the world seemed unrelentingly bleak. The documentary demonstrates that even during those dark times, however, courageous individuals worked hard to expose the truth for the sake of justice.

Throughout six 30-minute episodes, Ronan Farrow guides viewers through a complex web of conspirators fighting against his journalistic investigation into the “open secret” of Harvey Weinstein’s rape offenses. While many may be familiar with the outlines of the case, like the many credible allegations of abuse and how Farrow’s New Yorker story helped trigger the #MeToo movement, the documentary focuses on many lesser-known aspects of the saga. 

Model Ambra Gutierrez reveals the high-stakes police sting operation that captured a chilling admission from Harvey Weinstein – and her plan to preserve the evidence after authorities declined to prosecute.

Each episode in the series uncovers a new layer in a complex web of protection, manipulation, and gentlemen’s agreements that Harvey and others have relied on to shield them from critique and consequences for decades. The thesis of this project is clear: Society should not be content with the conviction of high profile men like Harvey Weinstein alone. Instead, we must dismantle the complicit power structures that allowed Harvey Weinstein’s abuses to continue for years without repercussions. Farrow makes clear that media companies, attorneys, and literal spies worked together to shield powerful men from criminal prosecution and public contempt. 

Although I intended only to watch the first two installments, I ended up binging the rest of them in a single afternoon. Every chapter in the series is intriguing, closing on a cliffhanger that compels you to roll into the next. 

It is said that the arc of the universe bends towards justice. Although there is still a long way to go, Catch and Kill instills a sense of hope that perhaps many of the traditional systems of power that have kept bad men on top for generations are more tenuous now than they have been before.

The documentary series debuted on HBO & HBO MAX with two back-to-back episodes MONDAY, JULY 12(9:00-10:00 p.m. ET/PT), with new episodes airing back-to-back subsequent Mondays at the same time.

 

HBO Documentary films review: ‘The Legend Of The Underground’ Invites You to a Party and a Movement

The Legend of the Underground

This film is a searing and timely look at the struggle against rampant discrimination that exists in Nigeria today, as seen through the lens of several charismatic, non-conformist youth who fight to live life out loud. Through social media, celebrity and bold creativity, they spark a cultural debate that challenges the ideals of gender, conformity and civil rights in Nigeria.

The Legend of the Underground overflows with an unshakable optimism in the face of oppression that is mesmerizing to watch. Told by a tremendous ensemble cast, the film depicts the reality of a new generation of LGBTQ+ youth in Lagos, Nigeria, as they bravely push past a conservative cultural landscape in a quest for freedom and happiness. 

The film shows both the fight against rampant discrimination in Nigeria today and the LGBTQ+ community’s response– a defiant, dynamic, and endlessly creative counter-culture. While honest about the realities that these youth face, the film is not a slog through trauma and hardship. Instead, it is a fascinating deep dive into an in-crowd that is invite-only by necessity. Filmmakers Nneka Onuorah and Giselle Bailey excel in contrasting exciting and brilliant underground club scenes with intimate portraits of human connection so much so that at times it feels like being immediately thrust into a deep friendship with the coolest kids you know. 

The dynamic is magnified by how the film spotlights naturally magnetic real-life characters like “World Famous James Brown”, or WFJamesBrown on his Instagram account (that I now follow). James’ snappy and legally sound retort to aggressive police brutality during a birthday party that local police condemned as a gay orientation(?!) went viral and helped to bring an international social media spotlight to the struggle of Nigeria’s LGBTQ+ community. 

No one can articulate what this film is about and who it represents better than the courageous individuals that make up its cast. Honestly, it was tempting to make this review solely pull quotes from the documentary itself because they are spectacular. There is local underground podcaster Tomi smartly setting the scene: “Lagos is not for vanilla cakes. Mm mm, no way. If you’re born with vanilla, keep those flavors in your house.” To James’ sincere hopeful mantra, “One thing about life is that you have to be extremely happy because happiness is the key to all things.” 

Although many may be familiar with what is happening in Nigeria from international headlines, the film aims to personify bland statistics by introducing faces, names, and stories to the discourse. Primarily, however, it portrays a group of brave young people relying on each other to create the community they need to survive.

Airing on HBO and HBO Max June 29th, 2021

Directed by Giselle Bailey and Nneka Onuorah
Cinematography by Stephen Bailey
Edited by Rabab Haj Yahya
Executive Producers John LegendMike Jackson, and Ty Stiklorius

Netflix review: ‘Sisters on Track’ Proves that You’ve Got to Work for Your Dreams, They Don’t Just Come.

Sisters on Track chronicles the coming-of-age story of the Sheppard sisters: Tai, Rainn, and Brooke who were propelled into the national spotlight in 2016 with their first-time wins at the Junior Olympics. The resulting media storm landed the trio on the cover of Sports Illustrated Kids as “SportsKids of the Year” and they were able to move from shelters into their own home. The film offers a rare intimate glimpse into a tight-knit Brooklyn family’s journey to recover from trauma and tragedy. With the support of their mother, Tonia Handy, and the guidance of coach Jean Bell, the Sheppard sisters aim to beat the odds, dream big, and aspire to higher education as they are finding their voices as athletes and students – all while processing the growing pains of adolescence. At the heart of the story is the bond between sisters and an entire community of women, passing the baton of self-empowerment and hope through track and field, from one generation to another.

“You’re not the only one raising these girls,” Coach Jean Bell says to Tonia Handy, mother of the Sheppard sisters Tai, Rainn, and Brooke in a heartfelt moment that perfectly articulates the thesis of this story. Although the sisters have faced the kind of adversity that makes their success all the more inspiring, the magic of the film is in watching a village pull together to prepare these young ladies for bright futures of their choosing. 

The sisters’ meteoric rise in the track world is only amplified by the challenges they have faced. When they exploded onto the track scene in 2016 with first-time wins at the Junior Olympics, the family was living in a homeless shelter. The resulting media storm landed them on the cover of Sports Illustrated Kids as “SportsKids of the Year” which caught the attention of director Tyler Perry. Inspired by their story, Perry generously secured the family a furnished apartment in their Brooklyn neighborhood and committed to paying the rent for two years. 

The documentary picks up in the aftermath of these exceptional events as the girls navigate the demands of high-level competitive sport and more universal trials like coming-of-age. In the hands of a different group of filmmakers, the documentary may have focused gratuitously on the tragedy and hardship of the girl’s early lives or the precariousness of what they have now. Sisters On Track, however, is a joy to watch. Although the reality of the girls’ home lives is apparent, it is not exploited for pathos. Instead, the bulk of the film is watching a group of talented young women train and compete at the highest levels amid a continuous stream of motivational pep talks from Coach Jean Bell who is an inspiration in her own right (I could write an entire piece on the Jeuness Track Club where they train).  

The documentary is extremely heartfelt and honest, bolstered by the Sheppard sisters themselves who are blessed with vibrant personalities in addition to their clear athletic talents. Middle sister Rainn says it best, “You’ve got to work for your dreams, they don’t just come.”

Watch the Official Trailer:

SISTERS ON TRACK launches on Netflix on Thursday, June 24th
Directed by: Corinne van der Borch & Tone Grøttjord-Glenne
Producer: Anita Rehoff Larsen & Tone Grøttjord-Glenne
Executive Producer: Sam Pollard
Story Consultant: Shola Lynch
Run Time: 94 minutes
Featuring the Original Song:
“The Dream”
Performed by: Mark Batson featuring Tarriona “Tank” Ball
Written by: Mark Batson and Tarriona “Tank” Ball

Review: ‘Chasing Childhood’ is essential viewing for parents and policymakers, alike.

CHASING CHILDHOOD

Overprotected and over directed, American children are wilting under the weight of well-meaning parents. In the pursuit of keeping them safe and creating an impressive resumé of extracurricular activities to wow admissions boards, over-parenting smothers children across socioeconomic classes. This thoughtful film follows education professionals and reformed helicopter parents who seek and offer solutions for developing more confident, independent young people while restoring some joy and freedom to childhood.

I grew up in Simsbury, Connecticut. Getting less than an “A” on an assignment my entire childhood was, shall we say, frowned upon. When I struggled with pre-Algebra in 7th grade, my parents got me a math tutor. I loathed it. To be clear, this was triggered because I had a “B+” grade point average. That pretty much sums up the pressure I felt to excel. I was in dance classes 5 days a week until I aged out of the studio, performing En Pointe at age 9 with girls 4+ years my senior. I was an overachiever born and, most definitely, bred. Once high school began, my anxiety hit new heights. Silently struggling with dyslexia, believing that my peers would hear the millisecond long pause when I had to read a date out loud was panic-inducing. Starring in every school play, managing boys Cross-Country & Track, maintaining a social life, and prepping for college were all-consuming. This was in the late 90s. That disquieting grew exponentially over the years. I used to be fearless, attending a performing arts conservatory in Manhattan, moving across the country to audition for Disneyland on a whim. But social pressure from my parents for not following the “traditional” educational path weighed on me like an elephant on my chest. I never felt like any of my success was enough. I’m 41 now, and that sense of inadequacy remains. Despite the incredible stories I have from living abroad, making movies, writing, teaching, creating a small business, the list is obnoxious, I have been trained to think I can be better.

Chasing Childhood is a film that could not have arrived at a better time. After the year we’ve had in lockdown, it’s time to confront some harsh realities. Chasing Childhood is tailor-made for parents, educators, and policymakers of every age. I have a 4 and 5-year-old living in an apartment we own on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. By all measures, life is great. What you don’t see is the aura of tension that surrounds the admissions process when applying to preschool. Now, we’re entering Kindergarten with my son. The questions of, “Where are you all applying?” have been swirling around me since he was 2. The idea that the school we picked for our 2-year-old would somehow determine what tax brackets my children would fall under in 20 years is exhausting. Filmmakers Margaret Munzer Loeb and Eden Wurmfeld clearly explain how we’re stifling kids. They are exhausted. This trend of micromanaging their futures kills their present joy. The doc talks to parents, teachers, experts, and kids about how we can change this negative trend. With stats about recess and play Vs. standardized testing will undoubtedly move your needle in terms of curriculum and quality of life. Wilton, Connecticut is featured quite heavily, alongside Patchogue, NY, and of course, Manhattan. Wilton is actually one of the towns we’ve considered in making our city exodus. The irony of how I stumbled upon Wilton should not be surprising. I googled, “Top School Districts in Connecticut.” Simsbury was always in the Top 5. I should have guessed that any town along what Connecticut calls “The Gold Coast” would be the other top districts. After watching, Wilton is looking better and better. What makes Chasing Childhood so successful is the film’s honesty. The interviews with every participant are authentic. The implementation of more play is key to a well-balanced life. The film is not preachy. It does not judge. It does explain how we’ve become wired this way. How seemingly small societal shifts went from ripples to tidal waves in policy and parenting. It’s nothing short of fascinating.

I have a greater understanding of my own parents now. We all want better for our kids. I try to keep this in mind when signing up my littles for activities. They are few and far between on purpose. Besides the logistical and monetary commitments involved, it’s because I vividly remember the years before high school. Playing outside until it got dark, riding my bike across town, exploring the woods, jumping off things that most definitely should have broken my bones. I retain the joy and excitement and calm from those moments. If nothing else, Chasing Childhood is a perfect reminder to stop, take a breath, and realize that success in life doesn’t come from the longest resume. It’s time and memories. Let’s step back and honor childhood. Let the kids be kids. Happiness comes first.

Virtual Live Premiere on June 24, 2021, and

Nationwide Watch Now @ Home Cinema Release on June 25, 2021

Directed by: Margaret Munzer Loeb, Eden Wurmfeld

Produced by: Lisa Eisenpresser, Eden Wurmfeld

FeaturingGenevieve Eason, Savannah Eason, Julie Lythcott-Haims, Peter Gray, Lenore Skenazy, Dr. Michael Hynes

 

World Premiere in the American Perspectives section at the 2020 DOC NYC Film Festival 

Official Selection of the 2020 Annapolis Film Festival

Official Selection of the 2021 Portland International Film Festival

Official Selection of the 2021 Cleveland International Film Festival

Official Selection of the 2021 Julien Dubuque International Film Festival

Official Selection of the 2021 Sonoma International Film Festival

Tribeca Festival 2021 review: ‘P.S. Burn This Letter Please’ is a joyous history lesson.

P.S. Burn This Letter Please

A box of letters, held in secret for nearly 60 years, ignites a 5-year exploration into a part of LGBT history that has never been told. The letters, written in the 1950s by a group of New York City drag queens, open a window into a forgotten world where being yourself meant breaking the law and where the penalties for “masquerading” as a woman were swift and severe. Using original interviews, never-before-seen archival footage and photographs and stylized recreations, P.S. BURN THIS LETTER PLEASE reconstructs this pre-Stonewall era as Lennie, Robbie, George, Michael, Jim, Henry, Claude, Tish, and Terry—former drag queens now in their 80s and 90s—reveal how they survived and somehow flourished at a time when drag queens were both revered and reviled, even within the gay community. The government sought to destroy them, then history tried to erase them, now they get to tell their story for the first time.

There’s something both nostalgic and tangible about handwritten letters. With technology at our fingertips, they are few and far between and nearly nonexistent to certain generations. In P. S. Burn This Letter Please, a box of letters from the 50s chronicles the lives of a small LGBTQ circle of friends. Through sit-down interviews with the authors, immaculate archival footage and photos, we delve into history. This documentary is phenomenally compelling. If it doesn’t make you grin from ear to ear, you’re out of your mind.

Happiness isn’t the only reaction this film elicits. It is a lesson in oppression, one that sounds all too familiar. We hear about biological family dynamics, the difference between those who accepted and those who broke these beautiful souls down. The majority of the doc is celebratory and juicy. Oh honey, the exquisite fashion. The delicious stories. Hearing the truth from those who lived it is priceless.

I learned an entirely new vocabulary. I learned about the “who’s who” of drag and female impersonators in those years. What was it like to be a performer? Who was actually running the gay clubs? That answer will shock you. To say I was fascinated would be an understatement. The dramatic readings of the letters are to die for. To think what wasn’t included in the film leaves me wanting more. Outside of its Tribeca Festival screening, you can watch P.S. Burn This Letter Please streaming on Discovery +. You will not regret jumping into its fabulousness.

 

REVIEW: ‘An Unknown Compelling Force’ Takes You Deeper Into the Mystery

An Unknown Compelling Force

An Unknown Compelling Force is the True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident, known as Russia’s greatest unsolved mystery. In 1959 a group of student hikers were attempting a difficult winter expedition in the remote Ural Mountains of Russia when an unknown event lead to the mysterious deaths of all nine. When the team failed to report back, search parties lead by the Soviet Government and fellow students uncovered the grizzly remains of the hikers. Found a mile from their shredded tent, they seemingly fled into the freezing temperatures without their winter clothes or boots. Adding to the mystery, many of the bodies had suffered brutal and inexplicable injuries, and some even showed traces of radiation.
                                                            
The case was closed by investigators at the time, stating that the hikers died from “An Unknown Compelling Force.” For more than 60 years the story has been shrouded in mystery and conspiracy theories, suggesting everything from UFOs, murder to a Soviet Government cover-up. British adventure filmmaker Liam Le Guillou travels under the radar to Russia in search of answers. Braving the dangerous conditions and hundreds of kilometers in sub-polar conditions, the documentary team attempts to reach the very location of the incident, a place the locals call “The Dead Mountain.”

About two minutes into watching this documentary, it occurs to me that I may be its exact target audience. As a lifelong fan of Unsolved Mysteries (the old school 90s version with Robert Stack, naturally), the opening montage with talking heads spouting their pet theories had me instantly hooked. For the next two hours, I was engrossed in Director Liam Le Guillou’s exploration into the unknown events that caused the mysterious deaths of nine student hikers in Russia’s remote Ural Mountains.

The Dyatlov Pass incident is a topic that regularly pops up in true crime and history podcasts because of the many bizarre and cinematic elements at play. A group of experienced young hikers goes on an adventure, something terrifying and inexplicable happens, and no one makes it back alive. More than a week later, the search and rescue team discovers a tragic tableau– the hikers had fled their tent only partially clothed and their bodies were discovered a mile away from the campsite riddled with violent, inconsistent injuries. After an initial investigation, the Soviet government quickly buried its findings and the records were sealed for sixty years.

With a team of journalists, eyewitnesses, and researchers, the documentary sorts through many common theories about what may have happened to the hikers ranging from the scientific and rational (avalanche) to the more whimsical and outrageous (alien abduction/ Russian yeti), and intriguing geopolitical angles (Cold War military experiment gone wrong). The documentary adds color to the historical narrative by bringing a crew into the Ural Mountains to complete the same trek as the doomed hikers, which adds striking visuals into the bleak and unforgiving landscape. 

However, what sets this film apart from other retellings is that the Director has a favorite pet theory that he builds a case for throughout. In the final minutes, there is a bold closing argument to explain the fate of the hikers that I had never heard and seems to not have been fully explored. Although I am not convinced, the argument is compelling and as good as any other put forth to explain this mystifying series of events. 

If the title or synopsis of this project makes you want to spend the next half hour on Wikipedia doing a deep dive, then this film is for you.

 Available Digitally on June 15, 2021

 Order Now: https://geni.us/Watch_UCF

Directed by Liam Le Guillou

Review: Part One of Ja Morant original series ‘PROMISELAND’ premieres today exclusively on Crackle.

PROMISELAND

PROMISELAND takes a fresh, visceral approach to exploring the intimate journey and personal evolution of Ja Morant, a remarkable athlete who comes of age during his rookie season in the NBA. The story unfolds in real-time, shining a spotlight on the evolution of an extraordinary young man working hard to achieve his dreams of basketball superstardom. A small-town kid is thrust into a brave new world, made up of big business, power players, a small-market NBA franchise and a ravenous public spotlight, all while the radically unprecedented twists and turns of the 2019-2020 season come into focus.

Nowadays, it seems like every athlete has a documentary crew following them around.  The definition of “behind the scenes” has broadened, and what once was novel or surprising now can feel like table stakes. What makes the journey of budding NBA superstar Ja Morant in Promiseland unique is that the narrative is almost exclusively articulated via Ja’s network of family, friends, and mentors. The first installment follows Ja from humble beginnings in Sumnter, South Carolina to the bright spotlights of the 2019 NBA draft, where the Memphis Grizzlies select him as the #2 pick.  Through it all, Promiseland’stop priority isn’t to dazzle you with basketball highlights (although it has plenty of those) but to root you in the places and people that motivate Ja daily.

 Dexton Deboree’s focused direction prioritizes small human elements that ground you in Ja’s reality. It’s the hum of cicadas as Tee Morant coaches his son through a difficult drill. The camera lingers on friends, family, and empty chairs acting as phantom opponents as Ja grunts and weaves across his makeshift concrete court. These striking sounds and images paint a portrait of the daily effort and strong foundation of support Ja has needed to reach his current heights. It isn’t flashy – but the grind is approachable, relatable, and ultimately inspirational.

Promiseland unfolds in real-time, so we already know the challenges lying in Ja’s future: an uphill climb towards the NBA playoffs, a brutal pandemic, and the harsh realities of systemic racism. Watching Promiseland, you understand why this young superstar is ready to meet the moment.

PART ONE OF THIS ORIGINAL SERIES
PREMIERES JUNE 3 EXCLUSIVELY ON CRACKLE
PART TWO PREMIERES JUNE 17

Created and directed by Dexton Deboree (Unbanned: The Legend of AJ1)

PROMISELAND features interviews with:
Ja Morant, NBA star for the Memphis Grizzlies, 2020 Rookie of the Year
Carmelo Anthony, NBA All-Star
A’ja Wilson, WNBA MVP
Tee Morant, Ja Morant’s father
Jamie Morant, Ja Morant’s mother
Teniya Morant, Ja Morant’s sister
Phil Morant, Ja Morant’s uncle, and manager
Taylor Jenkins, Memphis Grizzlies head basketball coach
Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies NBA star
Brandon Clarke, Memphis Grizzlies NBA star
Matt McMahon, Murray State head basketball coach
Moneybagg Yo, Rapper
and more

Produced by DLP Media Group (30 for 30’s Lance, Rodman: For Better or Worse),
Falkon Entertainment, RTG Features, Interscope Films, and Waffle Iron Entertainment
Soundtrack from Interscope Records, Original score from Steve “Swiff D” Thornton

Review: ‘GENIUS FACTORY’ on Discovery + is mind-blowing story of money and mad science.

GENIUS FACTORY

In the 1980’s an eccentric billionaire named Robert Graham wanted to create the world’s smartest kids, so he funded the largest legal genetic experiment in human history. He felt that unintelligent people were breeding too often and smart people weren’t breeding enough, so he decided to do something about it. Today, 30 years later, the children of his eugenics experiment walk the streets of America as adults. These super babies seem normal enough, but there is a hidden struggle to understand who they are and why they came to be. They struggle to understand if the Genius Factory rewarded them or condemned them.

The founder is dead, the sperm bank is closed, and the records were burned. But now, for the first time, people who worked at the bank are ready to talk, the genius children are going to meet each other and find out who their fathers are. Never before has nature vs nurture ever been tested quite like this.

Discovery+ documentary Genius Factory tells a remarkable story. In the 1980s a wealthy optometrist became fixated on creating the world’s smartest babies through selective breeding, or as it’s more commonly known, eugenics. Now the children from the largest legal genetic experiment in the U.S. are in their 30’s. As one might expect, they have decidedly mixed feelings about their origins. 

The documentary takes viewers on a journey from the eccentric billionaire Robert Graham’s personal philosophy behind the clinic to first-person accounts of clinic operations with a colorful cast of former employees in sequences reminiscent of Tiger King. Some of the most intriguing interviews, however, are with the adult children of the genetic experiment. They grapple with the knowledge of where they came from and whether their lives measure up to the grand expectations that they were born into. 

Genius Factory is a fascinating watch that mostly does an adequate job explaining complex subjects like the dark history of genetic science, the racist personal beliefs of many of the clinic’s supporters, and how the experiment weighs into the “nature vs. nurture” debate. That being said, I question the decision to include commentary from an uncompromising supporter of eugenics here. For decades, the public debate on this issue has been closed. I am not sure it is the right choice to provide a tv credit to an unapologetic eugenicist in 2021. Overall, however, the documentary does a good job shining a light on the darker aspects of this science.       

It is telling that the first frame of Genius Factory is the legendary quote from Jurassic Park: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” As a lifelong fan of Jurassic Park, I found the introduction to be an absolute delight. Genius Factory spends the next 75 minutes detailing how much thought actually went into creating a sperm bank for Nobel Prize winners and how many people thought on balance that it seemed like a good idea.

Streaming on discovery+ May 20, 2021

Directed by Daryl Stoneage (Donkey Love, Pizzicato Five, Shlomo Arigato)

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