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.

www.docnyc.net

 

HBO’s four-part Original docuseries review: ‘Murder on Middle Beach’ episode one airs tonight.

HBO Documentary Films’ MURDER ON MIDDLE BEACH, a four-part documentary series directed by first-time filmmaker Madison Hamburg, presents Hamburg’s complicated journey as a young man determined to solve an unspeakable crime and absolve the people he loves, while looking for answers within his fractured family and community.

 

On March 3, 2010, single mother Barbara Hamburg was found violently murdered near her home in the upper-middle-class enclave of Madison, Connecticut. Investigators speculated her murder appeared to be a crime of passion, but without enough evidence, the case grew cold.

Over the course of 8 years, Barbara’s son, Madison Hamburg, interviewed his family members and many others, longing to learn more about his mother and gathering evidence in hopes of solving her murder, sending him into a deep web of buried familial secrets, connections to shadowy criminal figures, and the uncovering of years-old resentments in his deceptively serene hometown. While Madison wrestles with troubling revelations about his mother, the most unsettling conflict comes from Madison’s obligation to bring into question those inside his community and members of his own family.

Madison Hamburg wants to know what happened to his mother in 2010. Growing up in an affluent Connecticut town myself, I found it shocking that I had not heard about this case. Who would want to kill a stay at home mother? What are the motives for such a brutal act? The theories seem straight forward until you’re steered down another road due to lack of evidence. The things that went wrong in this initial investigation will frustrate you to no end. You have to give Madison credit for having the courage and, for lack of a more eloquent way of putting it, balls for putting his entire childhood and now adulthood on the line to solve this mystery and deal with his trauma.

Creative editing places you inside the family dynamic of the Hamburgs. Not just Madison’s odd relationship with his estranged father, but his aunt’s and uncles, grandparents, and his sister Barbara, the 4th of that namesake on his mother’s side. Madison uses home videos and still photography to invite you into the years he had with his Mom. Some of the most unique moments come in the form of vintage voiceovers from what seems like those creepy 1950s classroom movies. It is eerily effective. Intimate sit-down interviews play the largest part as the mystery grows. There are constant hints of family secrets but we only get a tease in the final moments of episode one. You’re so invested in this story, it’s frightening. There is no doubt Madison Hamburg wants the truth. I know I’ll be watching the final 3 episodes on HBO to find out if he gets it. Murder on Middle Beach will air episode 1 tonight at 10:00-11:00pm ET/PT.

Stream on HBO Max: http://itsh.bo/hbo-max

MURDER ON MIDDLE BEACH debuts on November 15 on HBO and will be available to stream on HBO Max.

DOC NYC 2020 review: ‘A Crime on the Bayou’ is required viewing.

 

A Crime on the Bayou

It’s 1966 in Plaquemines Parish, a swampy strip of land south of New Orleans. A young Black fisherman, Gary Duncan, tries to break up a fight between white and Black teenagers outside a newly integrated school. He gently lays his hand on a white boy’s arm and the boy recoils like a snake. That night, police arrested 19-year-old Gary Duncan for assault on a minor.

I wish I didn’t have to call a film timely, but I do. It’s only fitting in this case. A Crime on the Bayou highlights the enduring systemic racism in America. This is Gary Duncan‘s story. This is Richard Sobol‘s story. Duncan’s case is one of the most egregious to come to court. A simple touch of the elbow became a civil rights case that would blow up a small Louisiana town and make its way all the way to the Supreme Court. Civil rights lawyers worked hand-in-hand with the community to fight for fairness. They’re still trying. Local Plaquemines Parish leader Leander Perez was the epitome of white supremacy. When you discover the extent of his sick ideology, it will make your head explode. It sounds like what we’ve been hearing from The White House since 2016… A lot like it. The film is comprised mostly of footage from the 1960s, readings of court transcripts, and present-day sit-down interviews with almost all of the key players in this unprecedented case. But in truth, it’s the same old story; racist white men asserting control over the black population (and anyone that is their ally). In one particular interview with Lolis Eric Elie, son of famed civil rights lawyer Lolis Elie, he recalls never having “the talk” about how to handle being questioned by a police officer. “How often do you talk about humidity? Well, it’s always there.”

Has anything changed since then? It certainly doesn’t feel like it. A Crime on the Bayou might as well be titled “Sleeping in an Ivy League Common Room”, “Sitting in Starbucks”, or “Count My Vote”. This was revenge for Gary Duncan standing up for himself. Pure and simple. It’s infuriating and inspiring. It’s exhausting but important. Gary Duncan should be a household name. So should Richard Sobol’s. A Crime on the Bayou should be shown in every classroom in America.

You can get tickets for A Crime n the Bayou at DOC NYC 2020 here

Directed by: Nancy Buirski
Featuring: Gary Duncan, Richard Sobol, Leander Perez, Lolis Eric Elie, Armand Derfner
Executive Produced by: John Legend, Brenda Robinson (President of the IDA)

A Crime on the Bayou is the third film in director Nancy Buirski’s trilogy profiling brave individuals who fought for justice in and around the Civil Rights era, following The Loving Story and The Rape of Recy Taylor. Together this trilogy demonstrates that regular people standing up for their values are the root of progress. Mildred Loving, Recy Taylor and Gary Duncan did not set out to change history. But they remind us that anyone can.

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

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

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

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

The Disrupted – Trailer from Sarah Colt Productions on Vimeo.

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

 

Review: ‘American Murder: The Family Next Door’

SYNOPSIS:

In 2018, 34-year-old Shanann Watts and her two young daughters went missing in Frederick, Colorado. As heartbreaking details emerged, their story made headlines worldwide.  Told entirely through archival footage that includes social media posts, law enforcement recordings, text messages and never-before-seen home videos, director Jenny Popplewell pieces together an immersive and truthful examination of a police investigation and a disintegrating marriage. AMERICAN MURDER: THE FAMILY NEXT DOOR is the first film to give a voice to the victims.

I am a huge fan of true crime. Whenever I can’t find something I want to watch on television, I’ll immediately turn to one of the numerous 24hr true crime oriented stations and leave it on in the background. My husband and I always joke when an episode begins, “The husband did it.” We laugh because it’s cliche but usually true. Netflix’s new documentary from director Jenny Popplewell is a different approach to this kind of investigation on film. This carefully crafted doc has an intimacy that feels invasive. That is entirely the point. Through eerie bodycam footage, you’re in the room experiencing what officers, friends, and family did as the truth is slowly revealed. The audience feels like they are living this tragedy in realtime.

We are privy to  Shanann’s text messages that lead up to these horrific events. We see videos she shared with her followers on social media.  Little by little, we see the deterioration of a relationship. Rather than the stale, faceless narration that usually accompanies the genre, we are hearing directly from Shanann as she confronts her own faults, questions her choices, and gets real with her husband Chris, and her closest friends. It is one of the most brutally honest docs I’ve seen. Oftentimes cringeworthy. You’ll think to yourself, “I shouldn’t be reading these messages,” but they are essential pieces of the puzzle.

Once the truth came to light, I was weeping. As a mother of two young children, the same ages as Bella and Cece, I could not wrap my brain around these atrocities. I cannot seem to shake this film. It is a visceral sadness. Fair warning to any viewer with children of their own. This will tap into something primal. The most successful aspect of this film is that it focuses solely on Shanann and the girls. No traditional sitdown interviews with anyone, with the exception of video footage of Chris and the police while he is interrogated. There are zero crime photos or autopsy reports. It is the most humanizing true crime doc out there. Netflix and Popplewell have given genre fans a new form of storytelling and a voice to the victims.

AMERICAN MURDER: THE FAMILY NEXT DOOR will be released globally on Netflix on September 30.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

OFFICIAL WEBSITEhttps://www.robinswishfilm.com/

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

SUSAN SCHNEIDER WILLIAMS STATEMENT:

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

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

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

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

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

 

DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Review: ‘Dear…’ Apple Tv+ new series is coming this Friday!

Dear…

One person’s story can change the world. From Emmy-winning filmmaker R.J. Cutler, this ten-part docuseries profiles game-changing icons and the people whose lives they’ve inspired.

 

Dear… is a brand new docuseries featuring letters to some of the most influential people of our time. These fan letters affect the reader as profoundly as the author. ‘DEAR…’ explores the histories of our subjects, what inspired them to be artistic, brave, and to step into the unknown. Like each letter illustrated, the series is one of a kind.

Episode 2:

Lin-Manuel Miranda understood that if you don’t tell your story, someone will do it for you in a way that might not be as authentic. He talks about creating In The Heights and literally changing the face and sound of musical theatre. He learned how to say, “No”, and how to wait for the right opportunity. Finally, Latinos were able to see themselves onstage. His fans’ letters speak to the ability to celebrate their heritage. Wait until you see how and where he shares the first 16 bars from Hamilton. Through this show and his subsequent speech at the Tony Awards, he gave renew voice to the LGBTQA+ community. Love is love is love is love is love.

Episode 6:

Jane Goodall is a huge figure for someone so small in real life. What she has done for research and extinction awareness is a gift to the Earth. In her Dear… episode, her letters tell the stories of other people and their journey to protect the planet and its creatures. Jane’s love of animals and Tarzan inspired her to study Africa. Footage of Goodall in 1960 in Tanzania in search of chimpanzees is gorgeous. Thus began her life’s work. Her fans span generations, creating foundations, becoming conservation activists and journalists, mentors, and environmentally progressive teens. Her message through Roots and Shoots is about encouraging each child to be part of the solution and have the courage to raise awareness to those who don’t understand the effect humans have on climate.

Episode 7:

Big Bird, yes our giant 8-foot tall Sesame Street herald, has his very own episode of Dear… Big Bird is technically only 6 years old, but he’s been around since the incarnation of Jim Henson and PBS’ children’s series in 1969. Children follow the social-emotional growth of someone just like them. In 1982, the actor who played Mr. Hooper passed away, and Sesame Street used it as an opportunity to teach young kids about death. Whenever major events happen in the world, Sesame Street deals with them head-on using Big Bird as their universal child. He shows the same vulnerability that a viewer would. His letters are from the adults that grew up with him. With 2 toddlers of my own, we watch Big Bird learn new lessons every day. He teaches them how to be a good friend, how it’s ok to make mistakes, and how to be accepting of those who are different from us. Now that Sesame Street has Julia, a character with autism, my connection with Big Bird is stronger than ever. I am a Mom with a child on the spectrum. He has taught us that being yourself is the best way to be, that would celebrate how special and unique each of us truly is. In a way, this review is my very own letter saying Thank You for continuing to teach us all.

DEAR… also showcases the lives and letters of Spike Lee, Aly Raisman, Misty Copeland, Oprah Winfrey, Yara Shahidi, Jane Goodall, Stevie Wonder, and Gloria Steinem. The beautiful juxtaposition of the authors’ letters dramatized while reading them is stunning. You’ll have chills. The show is hopeful and real. It’s incredibly well done. It’s a series we need right now, in this moment of history. DEAR… can be seen beginning June 5th in its entirety on Apple TV+.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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