Category Archives: Uncategorized
May 2, 2019. Director Alex Holmes’s documentary, “Maiden,” had its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. Ominous, unforgiving ocean waves begin this story of the first all women crew to enter the “Whitbread Round the World Race” yacht race, 1989 – 1990, the race’s fifth year. The race, starting and ending in Southampton, England, consisted of six legs and 32,000 miles, circumnavigated the globe. “The ocean’s always trying to kill you. It doesn’t take a break,” we are told, as prelude to this story of Tracy Edwards, a 26-year-old woman with little sailing experience, who is determined to have an all-female crew in the Whitbread yacht race.
At this point an all woman crew, in the Whitbread, is not taken seriously. Tracy and her crew are viewed as a humorous curiosity that no one would consider sponsoring in this male dominated sport and sailing sub culture. How Edwards and crew secure financing, plus a boat, and what happens to them in the race is just part of the incredible story – no spoilers here. I will only write that “Maiden” is an exciting, nail biting adventure about courage, determination, sexism and sexual equality that must be seen to be experienced. Read the rest of this entry
April 29, 2018. I will admit that as I was watching “Plus One” I felt way ahead of it…but then, at a certain point in the story, this changed and I found myself re-evaluating, and really liking, the movie.
To begin with, “Plus One” is a “rom com” (romantic comedy) and I’m not really a “rom com” kind of guy, but, what can I say? I got caught up in it, although this took a little while. Two friends, Alice (Maya Erskine) and Ben (Jack Quaid) agree to accompany each other to a series of weddings of friends and families over the course of a summer. Since neither is involved with anyone, they are each others’ “plus ones.” I’m sure, by now, you can guess where this is going.
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April 28, 2019. A middle class, Jewish family living in Los Angeles: a mother, father and three kids. The parents, Karen and Barry Mason, are a happy couple who met at a Jewish singles’ dance many years earlier. Karen attends synagogue regularly, Barry not at all. Karen is aggressive. Barry is passive. They ran a book store, “Circus of Books,” made a decent living and put their kids through college. So, as they say in the movie business, where’s the “hook”? Why should anyone care about the Mason family? Why would daughter and director Rachel Mason even make this documentary? Are you ready? Here’s the hook. “Circus of Books” sold gay male pornography – videos, books and magazines. Read the rest of this entry
April 28, 2019. A powerful indictment of the intolerance of right-wing fundamentalist Christian churches and an affirmation of the power of love to change hearts and minds, “For They Know Not What They Do” follows four families whose children are gay or transgender. Clearly making the point that one is born with one’s affectional orientation and gender identity, this documentary allows us (through incredibly moving interviews with both parents and children) to understand how acceptance can evolve, despite the messages of hate these families have received from their faith traditions and surrounding culture.
Director Daniel Karslake obviously spent a great deal of time gaining the trust of his interviewees to have captured them at their most disarmingly honest and vulnerable. Interspersed are interviews with progressive Christian clergy, notably, Bishop Gene Robinson and the Rev. Mel White, whose voices of love and reason counter the clips of preachers and politicians spewing vitriol. (After having been a writer for the Protestant evangelical movement, Rev. White experienced a 180 degree turnaround after coming to terms with his being gay, and has since been a strong advocate for the LGBTQ community. Rev. Robinson is the first openly gay Episcopal Bishop.) Read the rest of this entry
April 28, 2019. Anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that every has.” Two new documentaries being featured at the Tribeca Film Festival this year exemplify that idea, but profile activists who embody this concept in very different ways.
In the film “Watson,” the eponymous hero who was a co-founder of Greenpeace, and later, of Sea Shepherd, puts his life at risk to save whales and other marine life from human predation. Considered a terrorist by the whaling and sharking industries (and the governments supporting them) and an ecological savior by environmentalists (though not all), Paul Watson is someone who works outside the system to attempt to halt the destruction of marine life around the world. In this alternately beautiful and disturbing documentary directed by Lesley Chilcott, his story is told using archival clips of Captain Watson’s Sea Shepherd vessel in David and Goliath-like encounters with giant whaling and sharking ships, and interviews with Watson today. Read the rest of this entry
April 28, 2019. Profiling a woman who was/is a single mother (married three times), grandmother, Holocaust orphan, a crack shot who became a sniper in the Haganah in Palestine prior to Israeli statehood (although she claims to have never shot anyone), ice skater, skier, renowned sex therapist way ahead of her time, “Ask Dr. Ruth” is a fascinating look at pop cultural phenomenon, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who, at the age of 90, still keeps up a brisk schedule of appearances and book tours. During the Holocaust she was sent, on a kindertransport, to Switzerland where she waited out World War II in an orphanage. Her parents and grandmother were put in concentration camps. Eventually letters from her parents and grandmother stopped when they were killed. It is pointed out that her frenetic life is partly survival mechanism and partly because she loves her work. Dr. Ruth was a real innovator for bringing frank talk about sexuality into the light of day. Read the rest of this entry
February 28, 2019. An eco-fable with a strong female hero, a dash of magical realism and unexpected humor, “Woman at War” is a morality tale that asks important questions about what it means to violate the law in the name of a deeply felt higher purpose. A mild-mannered choral director by day, and a green warrior by, well, also day, Halla loves the mountains of rural Iceland where she lives. Her almost miraculous attempts (though she does have an amazing skill set) to sabotage the new aluminum smelting plant that she fears will despoil her mountains and contribute to global warming are inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela (whose pictures have pride of place in her house). Like them, she takes the pursuit of justice into her own hands, regardless of the legal consequences (though she strives mightily to remain anonymous). Read the rest of this entry
February 11, 2019. On February 21, IFC Center, as part of its “Pure Non Fiction” series, will present a 20th anniversary screening of documentary filmmaker Doug Block’s 1999 documentary “Home Page.” Two decades after its release, “Home Page” is a fascinating time capsule about the early days of the internet.
I recently had the pleasure of discussing “Home Page” with Doug. Doug, along with his wife Marjorie, daughter Lucy (all three of whom are in the film) and “Home Page” main subject Justin Hall, will participate in a post screening Q&A. Read the rest of this entry
A still from “Kirikou and the Sorceress”
February 11, 2019. French animators have produced some of the most vibrant, beautiful, historically rich and uninhibited animated films of any country in the world. The second annual Animation First Festival at the French Institute Alliance Française, which took place during the final weekend in January, did not disappoint, offering up classics and new works to delight and amaze even the most jaded filmgoer.
I was only able to attend Friday night, but was lucky enough to see the opening night feature, “Kirikou and the Sorceress,” directed by Michel Ocelot. The film, whose 20th anniversary was being celebrated, is credited with sparking a renaissance in French animation, resulting in the extraordinary outpouring of creativity we see today. A gorgeous and immersive interpretation of West African folktales that Ocelot heard as a child growing up in Guinea, “Kirikou…” is a humanist fable that uses its often amusing cast of characters to explore why people are the way they are. A lively score by Senegalese singer/composer Youssou N’Dour brings an added dimension of cultural authenticity to the village life portrayed in the film. Read the rest of this entry
January 12, 2019. The thought-provoking and ambitious film “What is Democracy?” opens with a provocative quote from Plato: “Nothing is beautiful without struggle.” I’m not sure if he was referring specifically to democracy, but in this philosophical and political journey by director Astra Taylor, scholars, activists and historians grapple with the ways in which this idea of “rule by the people” has been implemented, exploited, and striven toward (imperfectly) over time and place. She asks these contemporary thinkers, in particular, about the relevance of the (Western) democratic project for us today – some 2400 years after its birth in Ancient Greece. Read the rest of this entry