HBO original documentary review: ‘ADRIENNE’ lets us peek inside the life of the immensely talented Adrienne Shelley.

ADRIENNE

As the muse of Hal Hartley’s indie classics and as writer/director of the critically acclaimed Waitress, Adrienne Shelly was a shining star in the indie film firmament.


Indie film darling, writer, and director Adrienne Shelley‘s tragic death in 2006 sparked immediate action by her husband, Andrew Ostray. His new documentary explores Shelley’s childhood, her artistic talents, and her legacy. What happened that fateful day? How would he explain everything to their then 2-year-old daughter? Andy sets out to let people into Adrienne’s world, her career, and to help his own family navigate their grief.

Adrienne’s rise to fame seemed written in the stars. Certainly in her diary entries. Her daughter Sophie, who bears a striking resemblance to her mother, reads passages from the diaries through the years. Andy talks to Adrienne’s childhood friends, co-stars, and former directors as they recall her talents and loyal friendship. He documented conversations he had with Sophie about Adrienne. Richard O’Connor creates beautiful line-drawn animation with Sophie and Andy’s voiceovers that become great transition moments. 

Adrienne was so self-aware. It’s inspiring to watch the interviews where she expresses her values. Her uniqueness and vision allowed her to make a space for herself in the entertainment industry and quickly. She was also making a doc herself about happiness. There is so much insightful footage of Adrienne being Adrienne. A repeating theme is a sadness that she carried with her for a great deal of her life. It’s a heaviness that hovers over the entirety of the film. But she and Andy’s love story is never diminished. It’s the reason we have Waitress; this glorious celebration of a woman breaking free and understanding unconditional love. 

The doc swells to the gut-wrenching moment when Andy confronts the man who murdered Adrienne. It is a powerful interaction that had me trembling. But, most likely, you’ve already wept while watching ADRIENNE. You cannot sit through Jessie Mueller’s rendition of “She Used To Be Mine” from Waitress: The Musical and not be a complete emotional wreck. It’s not physically possible. This film is partly a gift to his daughter and Adrienne’s fans. It’s undoubtedly a physical catharsis, leaving the human experience of how one single person can impact everyone around them. It’s a legacy of an extraordinary woman and her story. ADRIENNE will touch your soul. 



Director: Andy Ostroy
Executive Producer: Marc Levin, Nancy Abraham, Lisa Heller
Producer: Andy Ostroy; Co-Producer: Jillian A. Goldstein; Supervising Producer: Daphne Pinkerson
Cinematographer: Trish Govoni
Editor: Angela Gandini, Co-Editor: Kristen Nutile
Music: Andrew Hollander
Language: English, Spanish
Country: USA

Year: 2021


So many stories left to tell. Adrienne, an HBO original documentary about the life and legacy of actress, director, and screenwriter Adrienne Shelly, premieres December 1 at 8 pm on HBOMax.


DOC NYC (2021) review: ‘Come Back Anytime’ is a Visual Feast with Charisma to Spare

Come Back Anytime

For more than forty years, ramen master Masamoto Ueda has been serving his legendary Tokyo-style ramen to a community of regulars who are not only his customers, but true friends.


Sometimes the simple pleasures are the best: good food, great friends, and a cold glass of sake. “Come Back Anytime” is a lovely tribute to Bizentei, a cozy ramen noodle restaurant located on a quiet corner of suburban Tokyo. Within this neighborhood gem, ramen master Masamoto Ueda has served comforting bowls of noodles for over thirty years while cultivating a cast of charming regulars that return week after week. While the lush cooking scenes bring to mind the much-heralded “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” Bizentei has a relaxed communal atmosphere much more akin to “Cheers.” Serving a ramen style considered somewhat old-fashioned but with seriously upgraded ingredients, the regulars cherish the nostalgic qualities of the food as much as Master Ueda’s company. Through first-person interviews with the patrons, viewers gain privileged access to a cozy hub, and it quickly becomes apparent why it holds such a special place in the community. 

The film opens with the subtle ASMR of Chef Ueda opening his shop for the day. Beautiful cinematography captures both art and skill as Chef prepares delicate broths that simmer gently in the background forming swirls of quiet steam, then sharpens glistening knives on a dark stone before chopping picture-perfect vegetables into neat symmetrical rows. I was captivated less than five minutes in. 

“Come Back Anytime” grabs your attention with a stunning presentation of traditional Japanese cuisine, but it is the intimate portraits of friendship forged over crispy fried gyoza or melt in your mouth chashu that will capture your heart.


For more info on DOC NYC 2021 click here!


DOC NYC (2021) short film reviews: ‘Coded: The Hidden Love of J.C. Leyendecker ‘ & ‘Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma’

Coded: The Hidden Love of J.C. Leyendecker  

This is what most short films aspire to be– a brief 30 minutes that conveys a story so completely it feels like a much longer narrative. An exposition on the homoerotic imagery within the art of J.C. Leyendecker, Coded excels at blending what is essentially an art history lesson with its present-day significance and with a deeply romantic love story to boot. As someone who is always here for a story about true love, this one left an impression that is unlikely to fade.


Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma

Overflowing with cool-kid energy, this short film dazzles and delights. A tribute to the Black ABCs and growing up in New Jersey, Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma excels in quickly establishing a sense of place. This is a film about black people that is made for black people, i.e. Art that deeply respects its subject. The colors and angles of the shots are gripping, trippy, and mesmerizing. Viewing was akin to walking through an art exhibit: what do all the disparate clips mean? You get the sense of it but it’s mostly vibes.


For more info on DOC NYC 2021 click here!


DOC NYC (2021) review: Questlove Flawlessly Mixes Music + History in ‘SUMMER PF SOUL’

SUMMER OF SOUL

In his acclaimed debut as a filmmaker, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson presents a powerful and transporting documentary—part music film, part historical record created around an epic event that celebrated Black history, culture and fashion. Over the course of six weeks in the summer of 1969, just one hundred miles south of Woodstock, The Harlem Cultural Festival was filmed in Mount Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Park). The footage was largely forgotten–until now. SUMMER OF SOUL shines a light on the importance of history to our spiritual well-being and stands as a testament to the healing power of music during times of unrest, both past and present. The feature includes concert performances by Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King, The 5th Dimension and more.


Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s directorial debut is simply brilliant. It might almost be a given that as a world-famous and beloved D.J., every musical and visual choice in Summer of Soul masterfully cultivates a vibe and maintains that dazzling energy for the length of the entire film. In addition to showcasing a great party, Summer of Soul provides viewers with the essential historical and cultural context to fully appreciate what they are witnessing. Through passionate first-person narratives from attendees, the film balances what in less experienced hands might have become merely a history lesson with one hell of a show. 

 Piecing together recently discovered footage from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, Summer of Soul is a celebration of black culture as it transitioned from the tumult of the 1960s into the black liberation movement of the 1970s. In a time of great uncertainty and political unrest, the concert series set in Mt. Morris Park was a time for black pride and celebration. The film includes never before seen live performances by a young Gladys Knight and the Pips, Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone, and many more. Every shot is colorful, powerful, and tells a story. The music is phenomenal. The costumes are dazzling– maybe men should reconsider brightly colored ruffle shirts?– the Black Panthers provided security in full regalia, including the berets. Each shot is a wonder and a visual feast. 

 Summer of Soul is a vital inclusion to narratives around the Summer of Love and essential addition to understanding the complete history of the era.


SUMMER OF SOUL premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award. It is streaming on Hulu in conjunction with Disney General Entertainment’s Onyx Collective; Searchlight Pictures released it theatrically.


DOC NYC (2021) review: ‘GO HEAL YOURSELF’ takes a deep dive into alternative medicine.

GO HEAL YOURSELF

Against the wishes of her family, Yasmin sets out to find a treatment for her
epilepsy via alternative medicine. Meeting inspiring people all around the
world, she learns that this route is not as easy as simply taking a pill.


My aunt has always used homeopathic remedies. She’s beaten breast cancer twice. As someone with chronic pain from a neck injury caused by a car accident, anxiety since childhood, severe dance injuries, and phantom pain and diastasis recti from two C-sections, I would love to find ways to heal myself. You hear testimonials constantly on the internet or get messages on social media from women in health and wellness, aka the newest pyramid scheme. In Go Heal Yourself, filmmaker Yasmin C. Rams goes on a mission to explore alternative medicine for her epilepsy and her father’s Parkinson’s. It is a journey fraught with emotion. 

The argument of western vs. eastern medicine will never fade. Alternative medicine is a rare topic in my house. We believe in science, but that never discounts the science we aren’t familiar with yet. Although, my neck injury was so painful that I did my first and only session of acupuncture. It did not move the needle (pun intended) on my pain scale. I’ve since watched two aunts go through breast cancer treatments. Neither of their stories is the norm. While one used homeopathic medicine, the other did chemotherapy but never got sick. I’ve never heard of that before. 

In Go Heal Yourself, Yasmin’s father is skeptical. Her attempts to change his diet or convince him that his medication isn’t helping fall of deaf ears. Her epilepsy seems to reach a point of no return as CBD and herbal supplements become too expensive. In her search for answers, Rams reaches out to those individuals across the globe who claim their sickness wained due to a drastic lifestyle change and not medication. You cannot help but become emotionally attached to the people featured in Go Heal Yourself. You’d be hardpressed not to know someone in your life that isn’t afflicted similarly. While some of them heal, others struggle. Each believes that holistic medicine will lessen their ailments in the end. It’s the mental aspect that seems the most powerful. With mindfulness becoming more mainstream, those who practice may feel vindication from this doc.

We are fully invested in Yasmin’s journey. It’s a personal, oftentimes dark, diary of sorts. Undoubtedly, we’re hoping to find our miracle cure as we watch. Go Heal Yourself is going to rattle people, and there’s no getting around it. But if it causes us to stop and think for a moment about what our health means in our souls, then it has succeeded wholeheartedly. At the very least it opens up the dialogue.


Online Dates

Sunday, November 14 – Sunday, November 28, 2021


Director: Yasmin C. Rams
Producer: Yasmin C. Rams, Rodney Charles
Cinematographer: Vita Spiess, Nic Smith
Editor: Kirsten Kieninger
Music: Patrick Puszko
Language: English, German, Spanish, Mandarin
Country: Germany
Year: 2021


DOC NYC (2021) review: ‘YOUNG PLATO’ dares kids (and audiences) to use their words.

YOUNG PLATO

An inspiring documentary from the filmmakers of School Life (Released by Magnolia Pictures), YOUNG PLATO charts the dream of Elvis-loving school headmaster Kevin McArevey – a maverick who is determined to change the fortunes of an inner-city community plagued by urban decay, sectarian aggression, poverty and drugs. YOUNG PLATO hums with the confidence of youth, a tribute to the power of the possible. 


Teaching is hard. It’s also perhaps one of the most underappreciated careers. You cannot fully comprehend the emotional and physical burdens if you’ve never been in a classroom. In Belfast, a headmaster named Mr. McArevey teaches Philosophy to his primary school students. He makes it approachable. He creatively breaks down ideas to facilitate communication and critical thinking. Holy Cross Boys’ Primary School could be a blueprint for schools all over the globe.

Dealing with their anger is a running theme. Considering the neighborhood’s history, this is vital for these boys’ survival. I’m 41 years old, and until watching Young Plato, I don’t think I truly understood the chaos of religious politics in Ireland. Directors Neasa Ní Chianáin and Declan McGrath juxtapose volatile footage from 2001 with present-day footage of those same streets, now lined with school-age children. It’s a chilling effect.

 Holy Cross’s methods of discipline, under the guidance of McArevey, are fantastic, as the students actively and knowingly utilize philosophical strategies. The social-emotional impact that this could have in every school would be mind-blowing. In an area where violence is so prevalent, using the power of words is priceless. These young boys, even during reprimand, are unafraid to express their feelings. The intimacy and care that Young Plato takes in showcasing the children are beautiful. As a former teacher, this is a school that has all the tools. As a mother of a Kindergartener on the spectrum, focused, individual attention can change a child’s life. Holy Cross is a shining example. 

As the kids learn about their area’s recent violent past, the profound thoughts of peace from these youngsters give me hope. McArevey makes kids accountable for their words and actions. The staff does not let them off the hook while simultaneously extending consistent praise. Watching these lads progress through the school year, seeing the unique brand of teaching should inspire us all to do and be better with one another. Young Plato is a guide to a better world. 


For tickets to see Young Plato click here!


Director: Neasa Ní Chianáin, Declan McGrath
Executive Producer: Lesley McKimm, Justin Binding, Andrew Reid, Catherine LeGoff, Grainne McAleer
Producer: David Rane, Co-Producer: Hanne Phlypo, Jackie Doyle, Céline Nusse, Declan McGrath
Writer: Neasa Ní Chianáin, Etienne Essery, Declan McGrath
Cinematographer: Neasa Ní Chianáin
Editor: Philippe Ravoet
Music: David Poltrock
Language: English
Country: Ireland, UK, France, Belgium

Year: 2021


DOC NYC (2021) review: ‘The Business of Birth Control’

The Business of Birth Control

Sixty years after the pill revolutionized women’s emancipation, THE BUSINESS OF BIRTH CONTROL examines the complex relationship between hormonal birth control and women’s health and liberation. The documentary traces the feminist movement to investigate and expose the pill’s risks alongside the racist legacy of hormonal contraception and its ongoing weaponization against communities of color.  Weaving together the stories of bereaved parents, body literacy activists and femtech innovators, the film reveals a new generation seeking holistic and ecological alternatives to the pill while redefining the meaning of reproductive justice.


Is “the Pill” killing us? Perhaps not, according to the innumerable doctors who prescribe it to 11 million women. 35% of which are for reasons other than preventing pregnancy. Anytime I heard about my girlfriends going on birth control in high school or college, it was the same complaints; weight gain, mood swings, depression, and suicidal ideation. I never went on the pill because I was terrified by the side effects. In The Business of Birth Control, get ready to have your mind blown because everything you think you know about contraceptives and The Pill is about to change. The entire FDA approval study was based on only 132 women in Puerto Rico. What?! Under the auspices of body autonomy, the side effects were hidden or swept under the rug by the medical industry. Not a damn thing has changed. Profit and politics and old white men making decisions for women. Follow the money. Why fix a $17 billion industry? 

The Business of Birth Control utilizes doctors, educators, activists, and people passionate about giving you as much information as possible. We also hear about the fatal links to products like Yaz and NuvaRing. Director Abby Epstein introduces us to a group of parents who lost their daughters to the side effects of these hormonal contraceptives. They have become activists and not by choice. They wonder why there aren’t clear visual warnings on the front of contraception packages, much like cigarettes. I always pause when I watch drug commercials, and they rattle off the giant list of potential side effects.

I struggled to get pregnant for eight months. Every month I cried when the pregnancy test was negative. Then someone turned me onto an app very similar to the method discussed in the doc. I tracked my temperature each morning and some other information because you cannot get pregnant every day of your cycle, but that’s not what has been drilled into our heads since Sex Ed class in 5th grade. Within three months, I was pregnant, and I knew because of my spike in temperature. I knew before taking a test because I had learned the natural cycle of my body. 

Abby Epstein and Executive Producer Ricki Lake (The Business of Being Born) have given us so much to consider with this doc. There are more ways to maintain reproductive autonomy than I ever imagined. The fight continues to bring these options to every corner of the country, and much like the battle to keep abortion safe and legal, we cannot slow down in educating the masses. This film is not strictly for cis-gendered women who menstruate. The Business of Birth Control is knowledge every person should consume. Let’s keep talking to each other because that is empowerment. 


November 10th – November 18th

For tickets to watch The Business of Birth Control click here!


Directed by: Abby Epstein (The Business of Being BornWeed The People)

Executive produced by: Ricki Lake (Hairspray)

Producers: Abby Epstein, James Costa (Lunch HourWelcome to Chechnya), Holly Grigg-Spall, Anna Kolber (Chasing the Present)


DOC NYC (2021) review: ‘OBJECTS’ taps into our tangible sentimentality.

OBJECTS

Why do we sometimes save objects for years that seem precious to us, yet have no intrinsic value? For some, these mementos are the root of clutter and materialism, but for others, they are a treasured record of their lives. A way to hold on to time and life itself. A tangible nostalgia.

OBJECTS explores a very different kind of ‘collector.’ Through the lives of three unique individuals who have held onto a seemingly meaningless object – a fifty-year-old clump of grass, a sweater that once belonged to a French actress, and a forty-year-old sugar egg – the documentary explores how we find meaning. These objects are not things to be flaunted, rather they are items that profoundly touch their owners in ways that few others can understand.


Vincent Liota taps into our inherently sentimental human hearts. As someone who has a box of objects dating back to at least age 5, as someone who married a man with his own small chest of treasured things, and a mother that fills her home with memories (including a broken flamingo ornament that I would hide in the Christmas tree to avoid its demise), OBJECTS speaks directly to me.

While looking through the memories hidden inside his bookshelf, Robert Krulwich, former host of RadioLab and current NPR correspondent, says something that struck me, “That’s time travel.” Objects are stories. Objects are history. As for the doc, OBJECTS features items spanning from a clump of grass to a sugar egg. Hearing the meaning of these things directly from the people who keep them moves you. You are instantly invested in their safety and fascinated by their existence. The walkthroughs of spaces filled with memories create an emotional gravity that is undeniable. We all know the old saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” OBJECTS proves just that.

I adored the time focusing on the methods of Marie Kondo. Like everyone else, when her series hit Netflix, I started to rummage through my drawers, cabinets, and boxes of things. I pulled all my clothes out of the closet and threw them onto my bed to decide what sparked joy. It was much more difficult than I could have ever imagined. In the end, I think I tossed things based more on logic and not at all on sentimentality. When it comes to my children, well, that is another story. I have a box filled with their sweetest baby outfits. 

OBJECTS captivates you with its ceaseless charm. Items that seem to have zero connection to the viewer go from innocuous to deeply meaningful. As we bounce from one unique narrative to the next, you cannot help but think about what is most important in your life. Perhaps it is not the object itself but the memory it envokes that we cherish so much. Regardless, OBJECTS reminds us that we are all connected, how a passing moment affects an entire lifetime. To quote Doctor Who, “We are all stories in the end, just make it a good one, eh?”


https://www.objectsfilm.com/trailer

For more information and tickets to watch OBJECTS click here!


Director: Vincent Liota
Executive Producer: Sally Roy, Vincent Liota
Producer: Vincent Liota
Writer: Vincent Liota
Cinematographer: Sam Cullman, Vincent Liota, Jason Longo, Bryan Margaca
Editor: Vincent Liota
Music: APM Library, Mark Orton
Language: English, French, Italian
Country: USA

Year: 2021


DOC NYC (2021) review: ‘JAGGED’ is everything you oughta know about Alanis Morissette and Jagged Little Pill.

JAGGED

JAGGED, directed by Alison Klayman, takes viewers to 1995 when a 21-year-old Alanis Morissette burst onto the music scene with the first single off her ground-breaking album, “Jagged Little Pill.” With a rawness and emotional honesty that resonated with millions, and despite a commercial landscape that preferred its rock stars to be male, she took radio and MTV by storm and the album went on to sell 33 million copies. Featuring an in-depth interview with Alanis, as well as never-before-seen archival material, JAGGED explores her beginnings as a young Canadian pop star, the rocky path she faced navigating the male-dominated music industry, and the glass ceiling she shattered on her journey to becoming the international icon and empowered artist she is today.


I went to rehearsal one night only to have my Mom hit play on the kitchen cd player to find my Jagged Little Pill album spinning. She’s cooking dinner and suddenly hears the lyrics, “Would she go down on you in a theatre?” That was an interesting conversation when I got home, mainly because I’m not even sure I knew what that meant at that point in my high school life. I was a pretty sheltered kid. Maybe that’s the reason Alanis’ music spoke to me. It was raw and emotional. JAGGED is Alison Klayman‘s new doc about one of my first feminist heroes, Alanis Morissette. As soon as the film begins, so do my goosebumps and unadulterated, joyful belting. That album gave me the confidence to be unabashedly me. I’ll be eternally grateful. 

JAGGED is a mix of sit-downs with industry greats, behind-the-scenes footage, and concert performances. The concert footage is so crisp you’d think it was filmed yesterday. As Alanis’s handwritten lyrics crawl across the screen in real-time, it remains clear that her writing is brilliant and forever relevant. The sit-down interviews with Morissette are insightful. Like her lyrics, she’s brutally honest, fearless, and funny. Alanis has a great laugh. It’s genuine and from the diaphragm. Watching her tell her own story feels incredibly relatable. In some ways, it adds more weight to Jagged Little Pill‘s lyrics. Twenty-five years later, screaming these songs with the knowledge of the emotion and experiences behind them, I love them even more. How could you not?

The juxtaposition of the bullshit from critics is glorious and pointed. Morissette flashes a middle finger to every single one of them. At the height of her fame, empowerment was not welcome. Certain critics don’t enjoy female artists talking about their love lives. It becomes misogynistic fodder. Ask Taylor Swift, who gets featured in the film. Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think? Jagged Little Pill was, and continues to be, an anthem for so many women. Her audience spans generations. Because of her, women continue to cultivate and hold female artists in high esteem because their music represents the masses. Alanis a goddamn icon. Anyone who claims differently is wrong. I’ll die on this hill. 


For tickets to JAGGED click here!


Executive Producer: Bill Simmons, Jody Gerson, Marc Cimino; Co-Executive Producer: Geoff Chow, Sean Fennessy, Noah Malale
Producer: Jaye Callahan, Alison Klayman, Kyle Martin
Cinematographer: Julia Liu
Editor: Brian Goetz
Music: Ilan Isakov, Tom Deis
Language: English
Country: USA

Year: 2021


#JaggedHBO, the second film in the #MusicBoxHBO series premieres November 18 at 8 PM on HBO Max.


DOC NYC (2021) review: ‘The Bengali’ breaks cultural and physical barriers.

THE BENGALI

Fatima Shaik, an African-American author (Economy Hall) from New Orleans, and whose family has lived in Louisiana for four generations, embarks upon an unlikely quest from The Big Easy to a part of India where no African-American (or American) has ever gone. Her search for the past is fraught with uncertainty as she looks for her late grandfather Shaik Mohamed Musa’s descendants, the land he claimed to own, and the truth behind the stories she grew up with. Her incredible journey is told in New York City-based award-winning filmmaker Kavery Kaul’s (Cuban Canvas, Long Way From Home) new feature documentary THE BENGALI.


In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, people lost homes, heirlooms, family, and stories. In The Bengali, African American writer Fatima Shaik leaves her birthplace of New Orleans to follow the path of her grandfather, Shaik Muhamed Musa. His history becomes the mystery Fatima seeks to unravel. Director Kavery Kaul was born in Kolkata. These two women travel to India on a mission of recovery and emotional enlightenment.

I lived in India from the end of 2008 into the beginning of 2009. In many cases, I was the first Westerner many of the locals in Hyderabad had ever seen. Most certainly, the first white woman. I was fascinated by the lush history of my surroundings. I watched as the landscape changed around me, sometimes quite literally. I witnessed the erection of modern malls and office buildings, as tent cities surrounding the community we initially lived in were simultaneously bulldozed over. The difference in culture was overwhelming. But unlike Fatima Shaik, I had no familial connection to the country. In The Bengali, Fatima and Kavery are there to seek answers and validate the stories passed down from Fatima’s grandfather. The greater the roadblocks, the more she questions. The locals are suspicious, and rumors begin to fly about her presence. Is her entire family history a lie?

Watching The Bengali is like a time warp for me. Fatima is just as lost and overwhelmed in the country’s bureaucratic ridiculousness. It’s a palpable frustration I know all too well. Merely attempting to travel from point A to point B is a challenge. Never mind the daunting sense of direction within street signs and, in many cases, house numbers. The handheld camera work immerses you into the chaos. In most cities, the people speak at least a few English words. In a small village, that was always less likely. Thankfully, Fatima had Kavery to assist in translation. Attempting this journey without her aid would be near impossible. But, like my own experiences, the most intriguing conversations occur between her and the village women. Discussions of gender roles, education, arranged marriage vs. love marriage give us insight into rural Indian culture. Religion becomes a point of contention, but that should not be of any surprise. But it is the often forgotten story of immigrants that rings the loudest. There is an entire history of Indian and African American culture in America that I had never heard of. The documentary became a new page in our history. 

Finding roots changes a person, no matter the outcome of information. The Bengali is a candid and revelatory dive into past and present, and thus the future. It breaks social and physical barriers, showing the viewer we’re all part of a much larger community than we could imagine.


Director: Kavery Kaul
Executive Producer: Deborah Shaffer
Producer: Kavery Kaul, Lucas Groth
Writer: Kavery Kaul
Cinematographer: John Russell Foster
Editor: Lucas Groth
Music: Nainita Desai
Language: English, Bengali
Country: USA
Year: 2021

Winner of the Special Jury Award at Roxbury Film Festival and the International Humanitarian Award at Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival, The Bengali will make its New York Premiere at DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival. The film will screen in person on Saturday, Nov. 13th at 4:45 pm at IFC Center with additional virtual screenings from Nov. 14-28. For tickets, visit https://www.docnyc.net/film/the-bengali/.


 

DOC NYC (2021) review: ‘MR BACHMANN AND HIS CLASS’ is a lesson in compassion and kindness.

MR BACHMANN AND HIS CLASS

Where does one feel at home? In Stadtallendorf, a German city with a complex history of both excluding and integrating foreigners, genial teacher Dieter Bachmann offers his pupils the key to at least feeling as if they are at home.


When children get caught in the crosshairs of sociopolitical complexities, it’s rarely a good thing. In one specialized German school, an extraordinary teacher treats his students like his own children. Through language, history, German, and music, Dieter Bachmann breaks down the walls of his classroom and the industrial landscape in which they reside. Their families mostly hail from Turkey, having left to find work at the local factories. They must learn to adapt to new languages and ideas, thus breaking a cycle for their generation.

Director Maria Speth immerses the audience in the cinema verite style, and the choice is perfection. As a former teacher, placing the camera inside the action gives the viewer a real sense of the minute-to-minute chaos of a classroom. Kids are laughing, rolling their eyes, struggling, learning, expressing opinions all at once. Their anxiety is palpable as we watch parent-teacher conferences. The heart of Bachmann is the purest. You are invested in these children as they navigate challenges in and outside of school. You get to experience the aha moments that are some of the most rewarding times as a teacher. The kids are bright and thoughtful. Their opinions often differ, but the conversations sparked from those differences are brilliant. Mr. Bachmann and His Class reminds us that the human spirit needs encouragement. We cannot do it alone. While it does take a village to raise a child, Stadtallendorf is lucky to have Dieter Bachmann. 


For Tickets to Mr. Bachmann and His Class click here!


Director: Maria Speth

Producer: Maria Speth
Cinematographer: Reinhold Vorschneider
Editor: Maria Speth
Music: Oliver Göbel
Language: German
Country: Germany

Year: 2021


DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, runs in-person November 10-18 at IFC Center, SVA Theatre, and Cinépolis Chelsea and continues online until November 28.


DOC NYC (2021) review: Don’t you dare roll your eyes because ‘Listening To Kenny G.’ is freaking cool.

LISTENING TO KENNY G.

LISTENING TO KENNY G (December 2nd), directed by Penny Lane, takes a humorous but incisive look at the saxophonist Kenny G., the best-selling instrumental artist of all time, and quite possibly the one of the most reviled musicians today. The film investigates the artist formerly known as Kenneth Gorelick, unravelling the allure of the man who played jazz so smoothly that a whole new genre formed around him, and questioning fundamental assumptions about art and excellence in the process. In his own words, Kenny G speaks candidly about his musical background, his stringent work ethic and his controversial standing in the jazz canon.


Are you ready for a doc to charm the pants off of you? I don’t think you are. Listening to Kenny G. is no joke. It’s the name of a new HBO music documentary. Push aside any cliché you have in your brain when you hear the name Kenny G. because director Penny Lane wants to introduce you to the man and his music in an intimate fashion.

He’s so aware of his abilities, is self-deprecating, and undeniably talented. You’ll be blown away by his work ethic. He’s one of the most genuine guys. You cannot help but fall in love with him as you hear him talk about his history, his goals, and his astoundingly gracious aura. Watching him create music is nothing short of fascinating. You’ll find yourself transfixed by the melodies, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Lane includes sitdowns with critics and scholars, forcing them to confront their own biases. The film isn’t all sunshine and roses. Besides the eye rolls, critics seize on race and the history of jazz. None of that delegitimizes the massive fandom that Kenny G. maintains today. The evolution of his career is shocking. Clive Davis’ marketing ideas for Kenny’s music in the early 80s were wacky. But to both of their credit, Davis stuck with Kenny and vice versa. 

Listening To Kenny G., as a film, is undeniably enjoyable. Much like his music, it goes down easy. If you’re not smiling from ear to ear while watching, your cynicism has gotten the better of you.


For tickets to Listening To Kenny G. click here!


Director: Penny Lane
Executive Producer: Bill Simmons, Jody Gerson, Marc Cimino; Co-Executive Producer: Geoff Chow, Sean Fennessy, Noah Malale
Producer: Gabriel Sedgwick, Co-Producer: Nick Hasse
Cinematographer: Naiti Gamez
Editor: Cindy Lee, Adam Bolt
Music: Charlie Rosen
Language: English
Country: USA
Year: 2021
“Listening to Kenny G” debuts on HBO December 2nd

DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, runs in-person November 10-18 at IFC Center, SVA Theatre, and Cinépolis Chelsea and continues online until November 28.


Review: ‘Enemies of the State’ takes the courtroom drama into the digital age.

ENEMIES OF THE STATE

ENEMIES OF THE STATE is a documentary thriller that investigates the strange case of Matt DeHart, an alleged hacker and whistleblower, and his former Cold War spy parents who believe they are at the center of a government conspiracy and are ready to do anything to save their son from prison. This stranger-than-fiction story takes audiences on a wild ride of unexpected plot twists and bizarre discoveries in an artistic and cinematic documentary that blurs the line between reality and paranoia. With extraordinary access to all lead characters and key sources, this film presents many contradicting viewpoints as it attempts to solve a mystery that has kept attorneys, activists and journalists occupied for over a decade.


If an innocent man was sitting in front of you, would you even know it? This is a question I asked myself several times throughout Enemies of the State, Sonia Kennebeck’s propulsive new documentary. Years ago, movies made these kinds of questions easy on us: there’s that old western stereotype of the gunslinging hero wearing the white hat, staring down a villain dressed in black. These days, our digital lives have complicated that confrontation. In a world where stories of hackers, deep fakes, and police corruption flood the headlines, who can truly be trusted?

Enemies of the State’s subject is Matt DeHart. Through one lens he is an online activist, presumed hacker, whistleblower, and WikiLeaks courier. Through another, he is a convicted felon, guilty of soliciting child pornography from multiple victims. We will meet Matt’s supporters – family, friends, and online activists who all suggest these charges amount to little more than a government cover-up. We also see the case from law enforcement and hear the testimonials of the alleged victims. Who to believe?  This is Law and Order meets Mr. Robot.

In a film where nothing is certain, Kennebeck’s balanced direction is welcomed. Pains are taken to give equal air time to protagonists on each side of the conflict, to keep the viewer in check. I naturally found myself empathizing with DeHart’s family early in the film. In the immediate next scene, the camera lingers on the variety of medals on Detective Brett Kniss’ walls – as if to say, “You don’t want to believe this guy? He’s an Eagle Scout!”

I found the re-enactment scenes, featuring actors supported by authentic audio clips, robotic and less compelling. While robotic may indeed have been Kennebeck’s intention, sections in which the audio played simply over a black background were more resonant and unsettling.

Ultimately, the question of DeHart’s guilt or innocence depends on trust. Do you trust Matt’s family, his friends, or the FBI? Enemies of the State doesn’t take it easy on you – that answer is probably going to change a few times over the course of 103 minutes. I won’t give away where I landed – I’ll just say the image of the empty chair at the end of this film stuck with me long after the screen faded to black. Don’t understand? Just trust me.


In Theaters and On-Demand
July 30, 2021

Directed by: Sonia Kennebeck (National BirdUnited States vs. Reality Winner)
Produced by: Ines Hofmann Kanna, Sonia Kennebeck
Executive Produced by: Errol Morris


*OFFICIAL SELECTION – 2020 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL*
*OFFICIAL SELECTION – 2020 DOC NYC*

*OFFICIAL SELECTION – 2021 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL*


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

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**

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*

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

 

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: ‘Toxic Beauty’ documentary reiterates that beauty is pain… and the industry knows all about it.

Synopsis: Toxic Beauty reveals the harmful health consequences of chemicals found in everyday cosmetic and beauty products, the huge corporations that knowingly use them and the lack of governmental regulations to protect consumers.

The first thing I did after the credits of Toxic Beauty rolled was rabidly google chemical names of the ingredients on the labels of our products. I filled a garbage can with bottles of all shapes and sizes. What have I been putting into my and my family’s systems?

Johnson & Johnson is one of the largest beauty corporations in the world. The class-action lawsuit against them for not informing the public of the toxic ingredients in their talc has caused an uproar and rightly so. What did they know and when did they know it? The answers will shock you. We meet a group of women, including the whistleblower herself, Deane Berg, who have been diagnosed with cancer because if their use of Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder. The most recent class-action lawsuit is one of the largest in history so why in the hell is this product still on the shelves?! The FDA is being bought off to block the truth. Unsurprisingly, there is a plethora of evidence. The film validly ties this to the lies we were told from the tobacco industry. The same chemicals in cigarettes are hiding in lotions, toothpaste, shampoo, makeup, and soap. The list goes on and on.

The film also follows Mymy Nguyen, a young woman who is about to be a med student at Boston University. She decides to be the subject of her own experiment, testing the chemical levels of her daily beauty routine, a detox, and then her use of alternative self-care products. Juxtaposed with scientists that have been tracking this for years, Toxic Beauty is scary and informative.

Toxic Beauty shines a spotlight on the industry, the American government, and our own personal responsibility to do a little research to protect the environment, ourselves, and our children. It challenges the early indoctrination of beauty standards. Write/Director Phyllis Ellis has put together an eye-opening documentary.

TOXIC BEAUTY

Directed by Phyllis Ellis
Out on Digital and On-Demand 1/28
Documentary | 90 Minutes