Posts in Interviews

Razvan Stoica shares his thoughts about “Strad Style”

November 20th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “Razvan Stoica shares his thoughts about “Strad Style””

The world-renowned classical violinist, Razvan Stoica, is one of the focal points in the new documentary “Strad Style” now available on digital platforms.  Stoica commissioned Daniel Houck, a backward Ohioan with no training to create a replica of a famous Italian-made violin from the 1700’s.  Unbenownst to Stoica, Houck had more hurdles to overcome to make this violin than a track runner in the Olympics.  The film premiered in Park City, Utah at the 2017 Slamdance Film Festival.  Stoica had not seen the film until the premiere and while the end result is shocking to the viewer, it was even more surprising to Stoica.  He recently shared with me his thoughts.

Reel Honest Reviews (RHR):  I’m guessing that you were unaware of Daniel’s background.

Razvan Stoica (RS):  Yes, I was absolutely unaware of what was going on.  [The] first time I saw it [was] at the screening of the Slamdance Film Festival.  I must admit I was shocked…Stefan (the director) was watching my reactions because he never told me what was going on.  I really lived the movie from [the] outside.

RHR:  Can you describe your feelings after seeing the film?

RS:  I guess that the message I received was, if you believe in yourself, everything is possible.  It gave me hope and made me happy to be a part of this.  And to know it’s reality and that sometimes wonders can happen…

RHR:  That’s a wonderful message!  Do you think you would have pulled back from asking him to make this [violin] for you had you have known what was actually happening behind the scenes?

RS:  Not at all…something dragged me to trust him and even if I would do it again and knowing what could happen, I would trust him 100% because I felt it.

RHR:  Your faith in him is inspirational!  Thank you so much!

To learn more about Razvan Stoica, visit his website and perhaps if you’re lucky, you can attend one of his concerts and see him perform with Houck’s beautiful creation! Go to



Nadia Jordan’s ‘For the Love of George’ wins at CCFF

November 18th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “Nadia Jordan’s ‘For the Love of George’ wins at CCFF”

The 2017 Chicago Comedy Film Festival has come to a close until next year. The festival featured Chicago-made shorts which were featured at The Harold Ramis Film School, a part of The Second City, followed by two nights of shorts and narrative features screening in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. The casual and welcoming atmosphere set the right tone to not only see hilarious new movies, but to hang out with the filmmakers and talent.

CCFF founder Jessica Hardy, began the festival seven years ago and from its inception, has given an award to a top female filmmaker. Hardy explained in a previous interview with FF2 Media, “…because comedy, in the past, has been dominated by masculine voices. We’ve made it part of our objective to accept a fair amount of female producers, writers, and directors…” This year, the winner of this prestigious title as well as the Audience Choice Award went to Nadia Jordan for For the Love of George.

The film is about Poppy (Jordan) who finds out her hubby has been cheating on her. On a whim, she hops a flight to L.A. from England in search of her perfect man — George Clooney. She just knows that if George meets her, they will live happily ever after. Staying with her best friend, Justin (Rex Lee), Poppy’s obsession gets the better of her as she spirals out of control. For the Love of George is as hilarious as it is endearing.

To read the review in its entirety, go to

Brent Kado, Changing the Chicago film scene

November 9th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “Brent Kado, Changing the Chicago film scene”

Chicago’s film scene is evolving thanks to the independent endeavors of  Brent Kado and his wife Jessica Hardy. Together, they have curated the Chicago Comedy Film Festival (CCFF) for the past 7 years, and more recently the Chicago Independent Film Festival (CHIFF) which will celebrate its third year in 2018. Kado sat down to talk about his recent film, “A Short History of Drugs in the Valley,” and the inspiration behind it.

Kado’s relaxed demeanor is at once calming as we sat down to talk.  The Indiana native and adjunct professor at Columbia College described the area just south of his hometown of Goshen, Indiana, which is the setting for “A Short History of Drugs in the Valley.” Kado chuckled, “It’s the most conservative county in Indiana which is kind of saying a lot! …it has this really repressive vibe…[and] it’s one of the worst areas for meth.” The film’s topic tackles the evils of drugs linked with crime and the consequences.

While Kado described Goshen and the college nestled there as liberal, the area south is a factory worker’s town and the script seemed to be a natural outcome of the problems there.  Kado shared, “If you say something about the meth problem, people say, yeah, but at least it’s not Chicago…it’s a lot of racist stuff too because white people are acting like that. If it was black people or Hispanics, it would be a problem.” He added almost as a parenthetical note, “There aren’t black people or Hispanics there.” He continued, “…this crime and situation that people [are] covering up…guys that have no business being criminals get swept up into something just because they’re there. Police officers that don’t really have any clue as to what’s going on…” It sounded much like a walk back in time when, as Kado said, “…people still listen to the radio, read the newspaper. So if you’re a newspaper columnist, you have some sort of power as a journalist…”

Kado actually had two separate scripts written before creating “A Short History of Drugs in the Valley.” The first, he said, “…was about a guy that was just doing a small town TV show and I made it radio…and then I combined it with another script that I had that was the actual criminal element…” Combining the two scripts and anchoring the film with the popular radio show interviews gives the film its beginning and its climax.

Finding the right actor to play the radio show host was key, but Kado had no difficulty casting this role. Unfortunately, the actor who played Dr. Dick Diamond, Jerry Sailor, passed away in a tragic car accident. Kado described the interview with him, a friend of his wife’s family, knowing ahead of time he would probably get the role, but wanted to meet face to face first. “He could have had his own radios show. (Laughing) He probably did have his own radio show! …He did one of those things that you hear about a Hollywood actor doing. He came to the meeting as the character…and I was like, ok, you sold me.” Kado continued, “…he was finally in his 50’s and back at grad school for theater, just trying to do what he loved to do. If there ever was a film around, he would get involved.”

Kado is no newcomer to the film industry and as he looked back on his career, he shared that he has grown as a director. He finds that he now lets “…the actors have control of the scene…trusting that they can deliver which goes into good casting.” As an independent filmmaker, Kado knows that micromanaging isn’t the way to get the best product. “Most of the actors I work with have a really strong improv background which [allows] you to trust them to get into the character and just go into the scene.”

All three of his feature narrative films have been done with improvisors as the cast. Kado quickly stated that he is not an improv actor although he tried that once, and joked,  “It was a terrible experience….for me and my audience.”

Be sure to see Kado’s “A Short History of Drugs in the Valley” now available to see for free on AMAZON PRIME.  The style, story, and music in this film punctuates the background of the fictional tale based upon key points of reality.

"Or Die Trying" producer Sarah Hawkins talks about women in film: collaboration, not competition

October 26th, 2017 Posted by Interviews, News 0 thoughts on “"Or Die Trying" producer Sarah Hawkins talks about women in film: collaboration, not competition”

Award-winning actress Sarah Hawkins is branching out quickly to the executive producer role of a new web series, “Or Die Trying” and creating her own production company, Dadley Productions, with fellow director, also her father, Bradley Hawkins. She’s on fire right now, paving a new path not only for herself, but for other young women in Hollywood and beyond.

“Roller Coaster,” her first film which happens to be a silent one, is filled with more heartfelt emotion in every action than most other dramatic or comedic short films. Based on her own humorous situations as she attempts to “make it” in Hollywood, she auditions and tries to live life on a shoestring. It’s a compelling short film which she and her father created and was the springboard for her next endeavors, “Or Die Trying” and “Filling In.”

Hawkins is shooting for the stars and I had a chance to talk with the talented and ambitious actress/producer recently about being female in this male-dominated world and the making of “Or Die Trying.”

Pamela Powell (PP): You’ve gone from award-winning actress to the lead and executive producer of “Or Die Trying.” Tell me about how you navigated this path.

Sarah Hawkins (SH): I love being on screen, but guiding a project from inception to final product is incredibly fulfilling. I’ve worked for a female-driven production company called Busted Buggy Entertainment, and recently produced a comedy-fantasy proof-of-concept called “Filling In.” It’s exciting to see [ODT] finally out in the world. It was also a fun way to put the acting hat on again as my character “Ellie Hansen.”

PP: Women in the film industry is a hot topic right now, thankfully. How do you see your role in helping to improve where women currently are and what can others do to help?

SH: As women working in the film industry ourselves, we were desperate to change the conversation on this topic as, more often than not, it focuses on depressing statistics and systemic misogyny. We knew our show wasn’t going to fix a patriarchal society like Hollywood; however, by committing to hire a team of at least 85% women, our audience was not only contributing to a female-driven narrative on screen, they were contributing to giving women in the industry a practical leg-up off screen. [And] who better to tell the story of millennial women in film than women in film? We made the decision early on to hire a predominantly female crew.

PP: Women supporting other women…there must be great strength with that!

SH: The simple switch in mentality from being competitive to being collaborative is what makes the women-in-film community so strong. When one woman succeeds in this business, we all do. We received so much support from brands, businesses, and badass women (and men!) who genuinely wanted to move the needle on gender equality. It was overwhelmingly encouraging to witness, and that much more exciting to be a part of.

PP: I’m sure you must have encountered hurdles in completing ODT which was funded through a campaign through Seed & Spark.

SH: Lack of time and money are always obstacles, but I think what is unique about OR DIE TRYING in this capacity is that we shot close to 70 pages within five and a half days, producing the entire series with a budget a little over 13k. It’s definitely not something I’d recommend, but looking back, I think it was a pretty excellent feat that we were able to get it all in.

PP: Do you feel like your show reflects the reality of women in your age group in the film industry?

SH: Absolutely. I have to give props to Myah Hollis, the series creator, writer (and my producing partner). She nails the highs and lows of the industry, and the work/life balance struggle [we] millennials go through exceptionally well. “Success” is an ambiguous term that can mean many different things to many different people. Who you become in the process of balancing your personal and professional lives while trying to achieve “success” AND being a woman on top of that makes for a hotbed of issues [that] I know a lot of our peers grapple with every day.

PP: What have you learned and what are your words of advice after creating this series?

SH: I think the biggest take away was a lesson in faith…the entire process was a little over two years. [And] leave nothing on the table, work fiercely and fervently, and don’t dare [to] give up on the end goal just because things don’t come easy.

Hawkins and her team’s series can be found on YouTube with a season 2 already in development. It certainly looks like Hawkins’ aim was a bulls eye in shooting for those stars.

Everybody Digital

October 10th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “Everybody Digital”

Allen Maldonado has created a new app called Everybody Digital which gives not only a home to short films, but a new life to them!  Listen to Allen talk with Pamela Powell from Fete Lifestyle Magazine about his new app!

It’s Not Yet Dark

October 10th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “It’s Not Yet Dark”

Director Frankie Fenton, producers Lesley McKimm and Kathryn Kennedy, and Ruth Fitzmaurice joined me to talk about the award winning documentary film “It’s Not Yet Dark” from the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

Killing Ground

October 10th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “Killing Ground”

Damien Power, Maya Stange, and Aaron Glenane discussed the creation of KILLING GROUND during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival

Pop Aye

October 10th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “Pop Aye”

The Sundance opening night film POP AYE has met rave reviews.  I had the opportunity to sit down with the writer and director Kirsten Tan and one of the producers of the film to talk about the making of this beautiful film.

Suck It Up

October 10th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “Suck It Up”

Director Jordan Canning spoke with fellow journalist Tom Haraldsen and I about making the Slamdance hit film SUCK IT UP

To The Moon and Back

October 10th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “To The Moon and Back”

Susan Morgan Cooper and Miles Harrington talk with Pamela Powell about the documentary film TO THE MOON AND BACK

Unbroken Glass

October 10th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “Unbroken Glass”

Documentary filmmaker Dinesh Sabu talks with Reel Honest Reviews’ Pamela Powell about making this personal film, “Unbroken Glass.”

A United Kingdom

October 10th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “A United Kingdom”

David Oyelowo sits down with Pamela Powell to talk about his new film A UNITED KINGDOM

Dave Made A Maze Interview

October 10th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “Dave Made A Maze Interview”

Writer/director Bill Watterson and actors Nick Thune and Meera Rohit Kumbhani joined Pamela Powell of Reel Honest Reviews to talk about their new Slamdance Film DAVE MADE A MAZE.

An interview with Chad Friedrichs, "The Experimental City" Part of the Spotlight: Architecture at the Chicago International Film Festival

October 8th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “An interview with Chad Friedrichs, "The Experimental City" Part of the Spotlight: Architecture at the Chicago International Film Festival”

The documentary film, “The Experimental City” by Chad Friedrichs, will be a part of the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival taking place in Chicago from October 12-26 at the AMC River East.  The film, a part of the Spotlight: Architecture program, is a bold, innovative, and entertaining discovery of an almost lost and forgotten story of Athelstan Spilhaus.  Spilhaus lead a team of scientists attempting to develop MXC, the Minnesota Experimental City in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  This endeavor, targeting the results of climate change actually garnered state funding and political support, but just as quickly as it was considered, it fizzled out and was buried…until now.  Friedrichs unlocks the treasure of information and provides audiences with the opportunity to know Spilhaus as well as to ponder the era and the outcome.

Friedrichs talked with me about his discovery of Spilhaus and the arduous journey in making this wonderfully entertaining and enlightening film.


I think outside certain sections of Minnesota, [the Experimental City] has been a largely forgotten subject. I came to it as I was searching for a topic along the lines of retro-futurism which is what people in the past used to think the future would look like…I came across some articles about Athelstan Spilhaus who is this scientist [and] academic…[and] this comic that he had written called Our New Age which of course is featured in the film…The very first ‘Our New Age’ that Spilhaus ever wrote in 1958 was about climate change.  He talked about [the fact] that we lived in a greenhouse and the carbon dioxide that is being emitted from our burning of fossil fuels is on the increase with the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere thus creating warming. And the last panel of that ‘Our New Age’ is NYC under water.  The very first one that he ever wrote!   But it’s one thing to do a profile on an individual, it’s another thing to try and define something far greater.  I actually looked it up on Wikipedia (You never know what you’ll find there!)… it mentioned that he had been a part of this project called the Minnesota Experimental City.  I’m originally from Minnesota, so this was something that I kind of cued in on…and you go down a Wikipedia rabbit hole and you start reading about this very futuristic sounding city.  Now, of course the Wikipedia article doesn’t give you any where near the kind of depth that we eventually arrived at, but it gave me enough of an indication that  there might be something really cool here.    


When I began this project, like all projects, you have no idea what this thing is going to look like, but…once I read the story of the MXC…[I thought] I’ve got to make this story somehow.  And I didn’t even know that those archival recordings were out there.  Walter Van den Broeck…who was one of the leads on the project donated all of these recordings and all of his materials associated with the MXC to the Northwest Architectural archives at the University of Minnesota.  A quick internet search revealed that they had these boxes. We didn’t know what was in these boxes, but it did mention that there were some reel to reel audio recordings.  Those are the kind of things that can change a film…when I say recordings, probably 40 or 50 reel to reels, and it says Steering Committee meeting, July 1967…this is going to be Spilhaus and all the rest talking about it and sure enough it was.

That was the first find and then the second find was when we went down to Texas to interview Louise O’Connor, Spilhuas’ friend. She mentioned off-hand that she had these recordings when she compiling his biography…In her recordings with Spilhaus, [he was] drinking heavily during the recording… he could say whatever he wanted, he was liberated. That was fun to listen to! That really gives you a sense of this character… we had 200 hours of audio…We had way more audio that we ever knew what to do with.  It’s a wonderful problem to have, but it is a problem.


The people (shown seated from the neck down) who are reading the MPCA transcripts at the end of the film, they’re all family members.  Even through editing, that was always the question mark, were audiences going to accept it? The idea: I’ve seen a film called “The Arbor,” that has lip-syncing involved. I didn’t have either the chops or the budget to pull off something like that. Another obvious choice would to be to do comics, to do an animation, but for some reason I just wasn’t feeling that.  And I really wanted to make sure that those recordings didn’t feel abstract.

So when you’re exposed to all this archival footage, all these still images…it’s going to distance you away from that audio…it just doesn’t have that same kind of immersion  when you’re actually seeing people talk even if you know in the back of your mind that those people aren’t real.

It’s the documentarians burden I’ve struggled with all my career.  Sometimes you have fabulous material from one aspect of the film but then you have to find ways to fill in the other aspects of the film, in this case, the visuals. 


It’s tempting to look at that.  Let me give you my point of view on that.  I always, from the very beginning, try to strike a balance.  I always want audiences to come out kind of  a 50-50 split. I want audiences to see virtues of both sides. The people from [Minnesota] absolutely had to do what they did.  I mean it’s crazy to think that the city would come in, and if you believe in where you live is a good place, that’s the last thing you want to do is have that taken away… It’s very possible that this could have ameliorated some issues that created climate change today.  It’s very possible that it may not have done anything and become a ghost town after 20-30 years.  It does show [that] Spilhaus very early on was aware.  He was on the fence.  They knew that some sort of change was going to be taking place, but throughout the 70’s they weren’t sure whether it was going to be the climate change that we know or things were going to get cooler because of particulates in the air from pollution and that would block sunlight and it would have gotten cooler.  So he was on the fence.  To cast Spilhaus as this totally prescient person about our predicament today, is to do an historical injustice to him.  He was operating on the best information he had at the time.


A lot of people expect relevance out of documentaries…[However], this film is a kind of time piece as well.  It captures the spirit of a toxic era, so I wanted to remain true to that era  I didn’t want to move it forward to the 21st century.  It was a story about the 1960’s and ’70’s…At the same time, I think it’s great that people find relevancy that makes your work fresh; it keeps it interesting. 


Number one, I want people to be entertained. There’s a burden that’s placed on documentary filmmakers to have this larger social outcome from a film.  That is not my desire, nor is it my particular talent.  Mine is making the movie and then letting other people use it as a tool.   The reason I got into this is that I’m attracted to the story…if audience walks out of it and they’re happy and entertained or sad and entertained, that’s enough for me.

CHASING THE BLUES co-writer and director Scott Smith talks about making this Chicago gem

October 8th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “CHASING THE BLUES co-writer and director Scott Smith talks about making this Chicago gem”

chasing the blues

The 53rd Chicago International Film Festival, October 12th-26, has one of the most memorable line-ups in its history.  Unique to this festival, CIFF features “City & State” films showcasing “local characters and settings” and this year, there are 6 standout films in the category.  “Chasing the Blues,” starring Grant Rosenmeyer, Jon Lovitz, and Steve Guttenberg and co-written and directed by Scott Smith is just one of the truly wonderful films to see.

“Chasing the Blues” takes us into the life of Alan (Rosenmeyer) who is behind bars.  This soon-to-be released convict, previously a teacher in Chicago, has his story to tell as to how he ended up in this lowly state.  Lincoln Groome (Lovitz) visits Alan just before he’s released to dangle a carrot, hoping to entice Alan to look for the record album that landed him in prison 20 years ago.  The temptation is too much and Alan takes the bait.  We take that journey with him as he recounts to a random (and beautiful) fellow bus traveler the sordid and simply hilarious details of a mythical 1930‘s blues musician, a cursed rare record, and his rivalry with a fellow collector.film_chasing-the-blues_1200x800


I had the opportunity to talk with Smith, currently a filmmaker as well as a creative director at Leo Burnett in Chicago about making this Windy City independent gem and  creating the mystery and intrigue of the fictional blues legend Jimmie Kane Baldwin.

Pamela Powell (PP):  Tell me about your background and how you got into filmmaking.

Scott Smith (SS):  Long ago, when my interest in filmmaking started to get more present in my life, I decided to shoot a couple of spec commercials for myself to see what it was like. I came up with these fake commercials for a fake yoga studio…targeted to men.  There are two guys who are calling a baseball game, but there’s a rain delay.  To show something, they went out to this yoga competition and they had to announce the [it].  It’s them trying to understand what’s going on.

PP:  That sounds hilarious!

SS:  It’s a 30 second thing and it was done with a couple friends that are improv actors.  Eventually, I wrote a short film about a guy who breaks all ten commandments ( in a couple minutes!  That one was the one that really encouraged me and validated my interest and belief that I could have some sort of competence.  And that short allowed me to compete in the third series of Project Greenlight.  I was one of three director finalists in the third season…I didn’t win…[but] it boosted my confidence and my ability to do something semi-worthwhile.

PP:  “Chasing the Blues” isn’t your first feature though.

SS:  It’s the first narrative feature.  The first feature was a documentary feature called “Being Bucky.”  “Chasing the Blues” was based on a short story that my friend wrote.  He and I wrote the screenplay…John Fromstein, the executive producer, was reading an anthology of short stories about Blues in Chicago and he read this one and said, “Oh, my God!  You have to read this.  It would be a really great short film.”  I read it and I looked at the author and said, I’m pretty sure I know Kevin Guilfoile.  The first thought I had was, yes, this would be a great film, but it would be a great feature.


Smith shared that he and Kevin would take turns writing a scene and passing it back and forth, but then the project sat on a shelf for several years.  Then, 3 years ago, they picked it up again and began rewriting it as well as beginning the fundraising process.

PP:  You have a great cast.  Tell me about getting Lovitz and Guttenberg on board.

chasinglovitzSS:  Our first goal was to keep everything in Chicago.  When we weren’t finding what we needed, we expanded out…Steve Gutenburg came to us and was really interested in playing the lead…he wanted to be a part of the project and ended up being “Diamond Dan” and his agent is the same as Jon Lovitz’.  I started re-imagining the role before he actually came on—just the potential and the possibility of it.  We had a phone call.  He was totally into it.  He wanted to put on a southern accent [and] he signed on.


PP:  That’s great that you focused on keeping as much as possible in Chicago and it really has the flavor of our city.  What says “Chicago” most to you in this film?


SS:  Record stores here in Chicago.  When we were shooting at Val’s (Records) in Oak Park, that was a really fun scene to shoot.  Just being in there, to me it really reflects the depth of music in Chicago.  Chicago has 15-20 record stores that are prominent and busy with a great knowledge.  Re-creating the studio scene, Cicero Studios, felt Chicago-y to me.  It gave it that historic blues feeling.  And approaching the three flats… the apartment and Mrs. Walker felt very uniquely Chicago to me.


PP:  Your actors who played Paul (Ron Connor) and Alan were polar opposites, but so wonderfully compatible in their roles!  They really seemed like they were having fun while they were antagonizing one another!


SS:  The three of us rehearsed a bunch [and] luckily Ron Connor is from Chicago…we went through a lot of the scenes and pre-blocked [them].  They did bring a different energy to it and we capitalized on it.  They were really fun together and there was a lot we had to cut out!

PP:  There’s something special about filmmaking in Chicago, don’t you think?

SS:  One of the things John and I wanted to do is to really emphasize Chicago and really use a Chicago crew; support Chicago as much as we could.  There was a conscious effort to keep it here and use people from Chicago.  It’s like a family.  It’s all the same attitude:  let’s get it done [with] enthusiasm.

Energy, quick wit, and definitely enthusiasm can be found in “Chasing the Blues.”  Check out the trailer and the video that had me believing in the myth of Jimmie Kane Baldwin right here:  TRAILER   JIMMIE KANE BALDWIN VIMEO


TULIPANI: LOVE, HONOUR AND A BICYCLE Blossoms with love and humor

September 11th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “TULIPANI: LOVE, HONOUR AND A BICYCLE Blossoms with love and humor”


Seeing the world through rose-colored glasses never looked as beautiful as it does in “Tulipani: Love, Honour and a Bicycle.”  Oscar-winning writer and director Mike van Diem makes a comeback with this sweet and whimsical love story starring Ksenia Solo, Gijs Naber, and Giancarlo Giannini.  van Diem came to the project as a “crisis manager” after the original director left suddenly due to health reasons.  (Read van Diem’s interview here)  After a re-write and a few casting changes, van Diem creates an engaging, comedic, and oftentimes bitter sweet tale.

Upon her mother’s death bed, Anna (Solo) travels to her homeland of Italy from Canada to learn about her unknown origins.  The “madonna” is met with open arms as she learns about her father and her real mother, all the while explaining to a police detective (with her singed buttocks) how she isn’t responsible for the death of a former mafia ring leader.  “Tulipani” expertly brings us back and forth between the here and now and the days of yesteryear, recreating this complicatedly funny and downright romantic story.

We meet Gauke (Naber) early in his life as he escapes the soggy Netherlands after the historic flood of 1953, on a bicycle with a basket full of tulip bulbs, vowing to find a new— and drier— place.  As luck would have it, at the same time, he meets and falls in love/lust with Ria (Anneke Sluiters) also vowing to find her when he is established in his new home.  Gauke with Olympic speed and ability on a bicycle, lands in Puglia, Italy and, not speaking the language, somehow  puts down his roots in Puglia, Italy.  Through the kindness of others, this tall, blonde man who doesn’t foreigner who has never eaten spaghetti (properly), develops friendships and a home.  Ria, with a babe in arms (remember, I said the word “lust” in the beginning) shows up and the two seem to have the perfect little family and life.  That is, until the mob interferes.  All hell rains down, creating havoc, but again, van writer/director Diem finely balances this open display of heartbreak and tragedy with the brilliant comedic effects using his current day character actors to their fullest potential.

There’s always a surprising lightness to this story given some of the events of their lives.  The pace of the story and tempo of his characters interactions allow the film to flow effortlessly.  Solo has a fine-tuned performance as she embodies the Canadian-Italian beauty counter-balanced by Michele Venitucci as the now-grown Vito.  Their connection is palpable as they stay at arms length during their ordeal of tripping down memory lane to tie up loose ends.  Young Vito, in flashbacks, simply steals the screen and every scene he’s in.  He’s adorable as he creates this boy who admires Gauke to no ends.  The connection between the adult Vito and the young boy is absolutely real.  We truly believe this is the grown Vito with his appearance, interactions, and mannerisms.  Naber couldn’t have been cast any better and given his Dutch heritage, he fits the role perfectly.  Giannini and Lidia Vitale who plays Vito’s mother, give this film the levity it needs, accentuating that not only Italians love a good story, we all do.  Giannini, gruff initially (read the interview to find out why!) portrays another level of character itching to surface.  His comedic timing is unconventional and refreshing, setting the stage for the rest of the cast to follow and have fun.  It is their interaction and reactions that remind us that stories and history are frequently blown out of proportion for the sake of that interesting and entertaining story.  Who would have thought that Giannini had the makings of a comic actor!

van Diem pays careful attention to every detail in this film including the ability to capture Italy and the historic flood in 1953 in the Netherlands.  Coordinating with the cinematographer with precision gives this film that overall lightness to a sometimes tragic story.  And it is with this ability that we not only love the characters, we are invested in them and their home country.  van Diem said, “If there’s one feeling you get from watching this film, it’s that we do love Italy and we do love Italians.”  Grazie Sr. van Diem e salute!

“Tulipano” is the ultimate immigrant comedic love story filled with lore, exaggeration, and passion.  van Diem’s touch with stellar performances create a technicolor dream story.


Oscar-winning director van Diem is back: This time, he’s stirring up passion all over Europe

September 3rd, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “Oscar-winning director van Diem is back: This time, he’s stirring up passion all over Europe”


The 2017 Toronto International Film Festival isn’t just for big names and big stars — it also finds and polishes the hidden gems of the film industry.

As TIFF begins next week, films from all over the world will be vying for the spotlight. In years past, several featured films have gone on to procure Oscar fame — and this year promises to have a similar outcome. One lesser-known film that I believe will shine is “Tulipani, Love Honour and a Bicycle,” a Dutch-Canadian-Italian romantic comedy directed by Academy Award-winner Mike van Diem.

I had the pleasure of talking with this talented writer and director about the tumultuous path this film and his life have taken after winning that little gold statue for his first feature film “Karakter” (1997).

To read the interview in its entirety as it was published in the Friday, Sept. 1, 2017 edition of The Daily Journal, go HERE

"The Unknown Girl" A realistic and visceral experience in guilt

August 28th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “"The Unknown Girl" A realistic and visceral experience in guilt”


Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the brothers responsible for a myriad number of films, most recently the Academy Award nominated “Two Days, One Night” starring Marion Cotillard, have brought us yet another intriguingly disturbing study of personal psychology with “The Unknown Girl.”  As a young and quickly rising general practitioner, Jenny Davin (Adele Haenel) makes a fateful decision one evening at her clinic to not answer a frantic knock at the door by a young woman.  She is found dead the next morning.  Ridden with guilt, Jenny is consumed with finding out not only what happened to her, but to also give her an identity.  It becomes a crime-thriller, but never dismisses the feeling of possible causality for this woman’s death.

The Dardenne brothers, over the course of decades in creating deeply meaningful and relatable films, sat down to talk with me at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival to discuss this film and working together.  Their light-hearted yet thoughtful demeanor immediately alerted me as to why these siblings can continue to create such beautiful works of art.  While I don’t speak French (there was an interpreter), the artistry in their communication style was wonderfully overpowering, communicating what mere words cannot.

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Reel Honest Reviews (RHR):  The psychology behind this film is intense and extraordinary, particularly as we, as humans, deal with remedying guilt.  What was the impetus for this film?

Luc Dardenne (LD):  The beginning of this film was not based on reality.  We were more interested in a situation where somebody is responsible for the death of somebody else but we don’t actually kill [that] person.  We imagined a doctor because the work of a doctor is to save lives…We took this story of a person feeling guilty for kind of killing somebody so she needs to find her name to in a way save her.

Jean-Pierre Dardenne (JPD):  We hope that Jenny’s obsession is shared by each of the [viewers].  When we made the film, the migrant crisis had already begun, so the young girl in the film dies near a river…it’s a metaphor for all those immigrants who died…and are without a name.  It is a necessity to give them a name.

RHR:  Why a female doctor instead of a male?

LD:  We never hesitated if it should be a man or a woman.  It was always a woman.  What we hesitated about was…having it be an older woman, but we couldn’t develop the film that we wanted to make [with an older woman].  We happened to meet Adele and we realized that she could be our doctor.  Her naiveté.  Her naiveté of her face.  We thought we could construct the film around her.

JPD:  The first time [we] met [Adele] was at an author’s society.  It was really her face that made [us] feel like we could film around that face…and the way she could communicate with the other characters.  She’s a French actress, but she’s not really well-known here in the Americas.  She was a child movie star [and completed] three or four movies before our movie.  Two years ago, she won the Cesar for best actress.

RHR:  Guilt is the driving force behind Jenny’s actions.  Can you tell me about this part of human psychology and how you incorporated it?

LD:  We thought that Jenny’s ability of being possessed by this dead girl, but didn’t want to show this possession by showing some kind of supernatural effects, but more by showing that she does the same gestures again and again.  [For example], she often shows on her phone the picture of the unknown girl.  She doesn’t stop that.  She doesn’t have a life anymore apart from this obsession.

RHR:  I’m not familiar with all of your films, but perhaps there are some stylistic similarities.  In this film, there is a sense of simplicity within the complexity of human actions.  The walls are stark white or orange.  There aren’t any extraneous or distracting information particularly when someone is talking.  You’re completely focused on their face and their words.

JPD:  It’s not typical.  We gave a lot of importance to the dialogue because each character must speak and the quest is to give birth to speak the truth. So to talk in silence is very important in this film.  The abstraction of the setting [augments] that.

LD:  It’s our target.  When you see her face and the wall, the white wall, the viewer goes to her head.  It’s difficult to explain that, but we felt that and we tried.

RHR:  Yes, there’s not music overlaid, is there?

JPD:  It accentuates what’s happening in the film.

RHR:  I have to ask about working together as siblings.  I know what my brother and I are like.  What is it like for the two of you when you disagree?  I’m sure you have differences of opinions.

JPD:  No, never! [laughs]

LD:  It happens that we work together and that we speak a lot and we have the same intuition.

JPD:  I believe it’s because we happen to [have met] a theater director and to start working together.  He was like our spiritual father.

LD:  Maybe it’s better not to know!  [laughs]

We continued to discuss the differences in medical care and practices in Belgium versus the United States, all of us intrigued by the other’s situation.  I’d like to thank the interpreter for her skills in communicating my questions and relaying the brothers’ responses.  I’d also like to thank Jean-Pierre and Luc for their time and for their efforts in using English which were extraordinary.

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VEGAS BABY’s creator, Amanda Micheli, lends personal insight to the high stakes gamble of In Vitro Fertilization

June 20th, 2017 Posted by Interviews, Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on “VEGAS BABY’s creator, Amanda Micheli, lends personal insight to the high stakes gamble of In Vitro Fertilization”



The stakes are high when it comes to the inability to have children and Amanda Micheli, Academy Awarding documentarian, explores the personal and financial toll it takes on a couple as they vie to win a chance at a round of IVF (In Vitro Fertilization).  It’s an emotionally raw journey as couples bare their souls and share personal stories of the need to complete their family…no matter the cost.

Watch the trailer here

micheli_colorheadshot-300x278Micheli spoke with me about her background and personal association with the project.  Her unique insight allows the film to unfold in an unbiased and informative way while still unveiling the emotional layers just under the surface.

Reel Honest Reviews (RHR):  Tell me how you first became interested in filmmaking.

Amanda Micheli (AM):  I started out in still photography.  In high school, I was the photo editor of my high school newspaper.  That’s where I cut my teeth and learned to navigate the somewhat terrifying world of high school .  But it was great because I was able to be the photojournalist and cut though a lot of cross sections of that culture.  I just really felt comfortable with a camera.  It gave me license and a purpose.

RHR:  You went to Harvard for film studies—I don’t usually associate Harvard with filmmakers.

AM:  I’ve always loved movies and have had that desire to lean that direction, but I wasn’t sure what it meant.  I never would have expected to go to Harvard for film, for undergrad.  It’s not a department that gets a lot of notoriety.  Most of the professors focus on documentary work. It’s a hidden jewel, a well-supported program that’s not really known and you’re able to make a movie as your undergraduate thesis.  So I dove in and made an hour long documentary as my undergrad thesis called “Just for the Ride.”

RHR:  Your film went on to win a Student Oscar, travel film festivals, and have distribution on PBS!

AM:  I don’t think I realized at the time how amazing that was!  I thought that was what happened when you made a film.  My sophomore effort was a lot harder when I woke up to the reality of what it costs to make a movie in the real world and how hard it is to get distribution.

RHR:  What drew you to the topic for your film “Vegas Baby?”

AM:  Unfortunately, I came to the subject matter through my own personal experience. My husband and I have been struggling with our own infertility story for about 5 years now.  When we first started [trying], I waited until later in life…we were both older when we got married and I would say woefully ignorant about our fertility. Then, unfortuantely, once we got a diagnosis that my husband had a low sperm count and nobody knew why,  everybody said we don’t have time to figure out why you just have to get moving because Amanda’s getting up there.  Then we found out that after our first failed IVF that my husband had testicular cancer so that kind of compounded everything for obvious reasons and derailed us because we were focused on health and his mortality…and that just intenisfied the experience to the “n”th degree.

We spent our savings on a round of IVF.  We were told that that was the only way we could have a biological child.  We wanted to give it a shot. We never thought we would be in that position. I think we had a lot of stereotypes and judgments around IVF ourselves.  We’re not THOSE kind of people.  I think when we stared trying, we were like if it works it works, and if it doesnt it doesn’t… all of sudden you have to get real and [think] what would I be willing to do to make this happen.  When it didn’t work and we were faced with the expense— over $20,000, getting our hopes up, and feeling invested and doing something outside our comfort zone, and just realizing that I was really uneducated about the odds of success [and] the costs— the emotional physical and financial cost of reproductive medicine.  As a filmmaker, I felt compelled to do something with that experience. It was actually when I was researching funding options for our second round of IVF … I came across an article in the New York Times about these clinics that were having raffles and contests for people who couldn’t afford treatment.  My first reaction was, this is insanity.  But when I sat and thought about it and what I had been through, I felt for these people and I felt like there was something to it.  If there was this many people who were willing to bare their souls on the internet for the hope, for the shred of a hope, to have a child, it felt like it was speaking something, it was like a zeitgeist.

RHR:  Your film addresses many issues about IVF.  What do you hope this film will accomplish?

AM:  I think for me there’s hope in starting the conversation around it and raising awareness about it and also education.  Hopefully the millenial generation is already more educated than I was.  I think I was specifically a post-feminist generation where my mom didn’t want me to feel pressured about having a family.  She wanted me to feel independent and free to pursue my dreams.   Even for people with medical diagnoses that aren’t age related, we have a lot to learn about this. Also just to raise awareness about the odds and the cost of what people are getting into…you have to go in with your eyes wide open and be your own advocate. And also… get really good mental health support.  That’s one of the things I really rallied about with the film is this is a medical problem, but it’s also a social problem and it’s also really a psychological problem.  It’s something that needs counseling to make an informed decision around and I don’t think that IVF doctors are necessarily the best person to advise you…

RHR:  Your film touches on many different adjacent topics using  a unique style.

AM:  There are so many layers to it and I hope that my film brings up questions that the audience can continue to think about and discuss…This isn’t pure “cinema verite,” but it certainly has an element to it…you’re observing as it’s unfolding.  You don’t have the filmmaker speaking, [but] you run the risk that people think you’re not being critical enough…It’s just a different approach where you’re asking the audience to think critically based on what you’re putting in front of them.

RHR:  The style also allows you to remain impartial, balanced.  Was that difficult to do given how personal of a topic this is to you?

AM:  It wasn’t hard to have a balanced point of view.  To me, that was critical to reaching our audience in the most authentic way.  People need to be educated, but it’s not for me to say how someone should choose this path or that path to build a family….[This] film uses the provocative premise of the contest as a way to make people look at the deeper issues beyond the topic.  What are the human desires and emotions that lead people to go to the lengths and move beyond the black and white, the good guy and the bad guy, who do we blame. I don’t think the world is that simple.

RHR:  Speaking of simple, it must not have been easy to gain access to the Dr. Sher’s infertility clinic to film.  Was it?

AM:  I made the pone call and I thought for sure they would say no, especially because the New York Times article was very critical.  They just said, ‘Sure.  Come on down.’  I was flabbergasted.  I would never usually do this, but I said, ‘You’re not concerned about getting negative press?  I want to be clear that you know that I’m going to have full control over this film.’  And they said they had nothing to hide.  I thought they were very courageous.  I really credit them…And I think I really lucked out that they were willing to take that risk to let me in.  I can tell you we tried to film in a lot of other clinics…and we didn’t have that success at any other location.

RHR:  With your personal connection, did you have difficulty in becoming attached to the subjects of the film?

AM:  It’s always an issue when you’re making a film…and I think in this case, even though we had similar experiences, we had pretty different backgrounds.  I don’t think that means being detached or aloof, but for me, the primary thing was making the film and trying, of course, to see their experience as empathetically as I could, but also with the eye of an observer…

RHR:  What surprised you most about making this film?

AM:  It’s the toll this can take on a marriage…it’s already hard enough to have a relationship and when you’re having something that’s affecting your most intimate [part] with your partner, your self esteem, your confidence, your sexuality, it’s incredibly layered and complicated what that can do to a relationship.

RHR:  What have you learned from making this film that you hope others will as well?

AM:  I just don’t want anyone to take their fertility for granted nor do I want people to quickly pass judgment on people…I hope the film will open people’s eyes to seeing [infertility] in a slightly different way.


“Vegas Baby” is now available on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, and Vudu.  On June 27th, see it on PBS World Channel and on Netflix,  July 4.






"The Hero" Creates real and dramatic power with Elliott leading the way

June 16th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews, Review, Weekly DVD 0 thoughts on “"The Hero" Creates real and dramatic power with Elliott leading the way”



Written by Brett Haley and Marc Basch

Directed By Brett Haley

Starring:  Sam Elliott, Nick Offerman, and Laura Prepon

Brett Haley, the daring and brilliant man behind the curtain of “I’ll See You in My Dreams” is back in action with “The Hero,” starriSamElliottHerong the renowned actor Sam Elliott.  The film is a character study of Lee Hayden (Elliott), a man waning in his career as he ages and is diagnosed with cancer.  Lee  wrestles with the legacy he will leave behind and attempts to reconcile broken relationships.  It’s a self-reflective, heartfelt, and often-times humorous film showing us how we are connected as we witness Lee looking out over the horizon of life.


Haley and Offerman spoke with me at the SXSW Film Festival a few months ago.  The inspiration for the  film is all Sam Elliott, Haley gushed.   After working with him  in “I’ll See You in My Dreams” he said, “I’m inspired by him not only as an actor, but as a human being.  He deserved his own movie where he was in every scene and it was about him and he got to show off what an amazing actor he really is.”  He and co-writer Marc Basch came up with Elliott’s character as something “…he could sink his teeth into…and a non-Western where he’s not on a horse.”

Elliott’s character of Lee is incredibly real with the most raw and believable emotions that are true to life.  “The Hero” reminds us that time zips past us as we have neglected aspects of life that are most dear.   Haley identified with “Lee” even though he admits he’s still quite young.  “We are always looking back on our lives and what it means to make a mark.  He ends up really thinking about his personal reheroemotoinlationships which, at the end of the day, are what really matters.”

“The Hero” allows us to see the world from Lee’s perspective—his hopes, his dreams and his failures—but most importantly it takes us inside his heart.  We feel the regret and the pain it has caused, but we also see the glimmer of love and life, never wanting to be extinguished, no matter how old the candles on the cake say we are.

Meeting and falling in love with a much younger woman, Charlotte (Laura Prepon), takes Lee on a fast-paced ride that he wasn’t quite prepared for.  Their relationship is simply beautiful as they both allow each other to see things differently.  Relationships are at the heart of this film and none is more painful than that of Lee and his adult daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter).  As they bare their souls, the open wounds have obviously not healed, the resentment and remorse heartbreakingly shine theropreponhrough.  However, as in life, there is also humor in “The Hero.”  It’s more situational humor thanks to social media and Offerman’s character.  Haley added,  “He’s way more than Ron Swanson.  I wanted to give him something that he could do that was way outside of that box.  I didn’t have him do any woodworking or steak eating.  He plays a pot dealer and a very unique one!” Offerman and Elliott, on screen, are as comfortable with one another as two brothers as they live, reminisce, and support one another.

Elliott is simply extraordinary.  His small, yet vital roles in “Grandma,” and “I’ll See You In My Dreams” tipped us off as to this man’s true skills, but never have I seen such a passionate and powerful performance—certainly Oscar-worthy.  Offerman confided, “The ‘business’ would say to you, ‘Why don’t you have some younger, better looking people?’  And I would say to them, ‘There’s no one better looking than Sam Elliott.  People over 45 also have lives that we are interested in.”   Haley’s instinct to cast him as the lead truly allows this remarkable actor to show his depth of skill.  Elliott brings you directly to him, looking you in the eye, making you a part of the scene.  His emotions are palpable as you are connected with him and his situation.  We all have regrets in life, crossroads where we perhaps took a left turn instead of the right one and Elliott conveys this understanding with expert skill.

IMG_1346Offerman creates a  “unique” character with skill and charm.  There is no doubt that his character and Lee are long-time friends.  While he adds the comedic lift to the film, Offerman shows us he has the depth and understanding to give us this meaningful performance.  Prepon’s portrayal of “Charlotte” is equally as layered and complex, one that you don’t typically see for women her age.  Yes, she’s beautiful, but her character is also smart, well-read, creative, and wise beyond her years.  Seeing Katharine Ross, Elliott’s real-life wife, in this film as well as Ritter with her small but sublime performance as a dejected and hardened daughter gives “The Hero” the golden touch.

“The Hero” is a beautiful and sincere look at life, regrets, and the spark that flickers from within, wanting to continue to shine.  Haley has done it again.  He has created a film with heart about a character that is real and, get ready for this, is over 40.  In fact, he’s over 70.  My sincere gratitude goes to daring filmmakers like Haley who write films for older actors and then remind us of what’s truly important in life—our relationships.

To watch the interview at SXSW with Offerman and Haley check out YOUTUBE INTERVIEW


4/4 Stars



‘Wink’ director tests waters of short films

June 12th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “‘Wink’ director tests waters of short films”

WINK still (lean on tub)

(Published in FF2 Media, June 12, 2017)

Now in its 20th year, the Los Angeles-based film festival, Dances With Films (DWF), lives up to its words of conception: a festival where ‘who you know’ doesn’t matter, but the quality of your work does. First-time writer and director of a narrative short film, German-born Monika Petrillo jumps into the filmmaking waters with Wink. Her film’s topic sounds a bit unusual—a frustrated and lonely suburban housewife and a goldfish—but Petrillo laughingly said, “How can you go wrong with a beautiful woman and a goldfish?”

The inspiration behind not only this film, but Petrillo’s decision to become a filmmaker was her godmother, Li Erben.  Erben’s late husband, Russian-born French film director Victor Vicas had written a story about a blonde, a winking goldfish and a bath.  After hearing that description, Petrillo could see the whole film. “I came home…and before I knew it, I had written the whole 12-page script.”


‘To the Moon and Back’ tackles politics of Russian Adoption Ban

June 12th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “‘To the Moon and Back’ tackles politics of Russian Adoption Ban”



(As published in the June 12th edition of FF2 Media)

Now in its 20th year, the Los Angeles-based film festival, Dances With Films (DWF), lives up to its words of conception: a festival where ‘who you know’ doesn’t matter, but the quality of your work does. To the Moon and Back by Susan Morgan Cooper is a heartbreaking look at two intersecting narratives about the Russian Adoption Ban leaving approximately 259 children, 75% disabled, stuck in limbo in their adoption process to American parents.  The reason?  Politics.

It’s a “chess game between Obama and Putin,” Cooper explained.  Cooper hopes that her film can help make changes in the lives of these children and in Miles and Carol Harrington’s lives, the blame upon which Putin placed this ban.

Cooper didn’t start out directing impactful and life-changing documentaries.  She began as an actress and had a small role in a Clint Eastwood film.  However, she says, “I just never had the passion for acting and one day someone took me into an editing room and all of a sudden, the lights turned on! You can manipulate an actor’s performance with timing and a reaction shot.  So I started being involved in editing.”

To read the interview in its entirety, go to FF2 Media


Listen to the entire Audio interview

Parks and Rec star Jim O’Heir on new film ‘Middle Man’

June 10th, 2017 Posted by Interviews, Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on “Parks and Rec star Jim O’Heir on new film ‘Middle Man’”



Jim O’Heir, the lovable loser from the hit television series “Parks and Recreation,” takes on a dramatically different role as Lenny Freeman in Ned Crowley’s dark, dark comedy “Middle Man.” It’s set to open at the AMC River East in Chicago this weekend.


Lenny (played by O’Heir) is a throwback to a bygone era. He is a 50-year-old accountant who lived at home with his mother until her death. Inheriting a mound of debt and her antique ’53 Oldsmobile, Lenny pursues his dream of being a stand-up comic. The problem? He is not funny. Traveling to Las Vegas to compete on the television show “Stand-Up Stand-Off,” Lenny befriends hitchhiker Hitch (Andrew J. West) and finds himself caught up in a killing spree.


It’s a homage to the comic greats of the past.


I had the pleasure of sitting down for a casual conversation with O’Heir near Loyola University, his alma mater. At Bar 63 where we met, he couldn’t make it 3 feet without being recognized, but he readily stopped to take selfies with patrons.

To read the entire interview in the June 10, 2017 edition of The Daily Journal, go here

‘Being Black Enough or (How To Kill A Black Man)’ reveals meaning behind what it means to be a Black man in today’s society

June 5th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on “‘Being Black Enough or (How To Kill A Black Man)’ reveals meaning behind what it means to be a Black man in today’s society”

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Devin Rice’s new film “Being Black Enough or (How to Kill a Black Man)” is an emotionally and intellectually  confrontational film addressing racism and perception. I had the pleasure of talking with Rice and his co-star/co-producer (and fiance) Jaqueline Corcos about the genesis of the film and how you create a big budget movie for less than $25k!  Their answers are just as enlightening as the film itself.


“Being Black Enough” is based  upon Rice’s personal experiences of being told he wasn’t black enough.  As a youngster, after hearing this, he recalled feeling saddened by the words, but as he grew up, he generally shrugged it off as he knew there was no malice behind those words.  The character of Cody (Rice)  experiences the same thing as well as many other real life situations replicated in the film, but takes the reaction to a whole new level.   Cody is a young college student who was raised in a predominately white neighborhood.  He begins to question his identity as a Black man and what this truly means by seeking out his cousin Kyle (Bruce Lemon) who lives in the dangerous L.A. neighborhood of Compton.   GiveScreen Shot 2017-05-10 at 11.16.33 AMn all the privileges anyone would need to succeed, Cody tosses this to the wind, emulating his cousin and his gangster friends.    Kyle initially pacifies his little cousin, attempting to show him that this life isn’t for him, but Cody spirals downward quickly, grasping on to any sense of camaraderie and convincing himself that he’s fighting for what he believes is right.  The cost may be more than he bargained for.

“Being Black Enough” begins with a sense of humor as this bright young man listens to Tupac, singing along, and his mom observing unbeknownst to him. He’s embarrassed, as any kid would be.  His conversation with his mom is endearing, but there is a pain behind his words or perhaps an emptiness and he is looking to fill that void.  Cody’s attempts to become “more black” are also quite humorous as he imitates what he sees in mainstream media. Blurring the lines of his reality, Cody begins to sever his ties with one of his best friends—Serah, a white woman (Corcos) who is in the police academy—as well as his family.  As you watch Cody quickly become engulfed in this very dangerous world, you still hold out hope that he can come back from the edge of the cliff.

Talking him off that edge is his wise-beyond-his-years cousin Kyle.  He has seen it all and has experienced it all in his very short life.  His attempts to guide Cody are emotionally poignant and eloquent.  He is educating not only Cody, but the viewer as to what it means to be Black and what it means to be a Black man in this hostile environment.  Gang wScreen Shot 2017-05-10 at 11.05.08 AMarfare is real.  The consequences are real.  And there are no winners.  It’s the truth of what’s happening every day in every city.  Rice shared with me the spark that ignited writing this film—a Youtube video about a young Black man who challenged the police to shoot him after stealing a bottle of liquor.  He said, “This has to be written because this can’t happen [anymore].”


Screen Shot 2017-05-10 at 11.08.32 AMThe conflicts we see within the community are reminiscent of “West Side Story’s” the Sharks and the Jets.  There are leaders, retaliation, and a love that is forbidden.  Rice readily shared with me that West Side Story was a huge influence on the film.  He also admitted that there’s a 4 hour version of the film that fully utilizes all the parallel story lines found within that amazing musical.  While “Being Black Enough” in its 90 minute version is not a musical, music is a huge component and driving force behind the film.  Rice had originally written this story or a version of it many years ago while in high school when 50 Cent was all the rage.  The story grew to be more complex than the original because “…I really had more life experience…and with the way the music has changed in the last 10 years, rap music has gone in an even stronger direction.”  Tupac’s lyrics ring true to this young character as he embraces his every word.  The film also brings elements of Spike Lee’s “Chi-Raq” to the forefront as we see racism, lack of future hope, and police perception in this film, but as Rice explained, “We made the film before ‘Chi-Raq.'”

Rice expertly weaves together a complicated story of today’s racial imbalances and perception and then somehow portrays the innocence of love with the utmost of care.  No matter our race, we can empathize with Cody’s need for identity and longing for love.  How he achieves this is another story.  We see him innocently stepping into a war zone and we better understand the circumstances under which these young men are surviving.  They are not living; they are surviving.

Rice and Corcos are exceptionally strong as actors and the supporting cast is equally skilled.  Finding these unknown and unpaid actors speaks volumes to the story’s depth and importance.  Rice and Corcos passionately spoke about finding these exceptional actors as being a “magical” moment.  Corcos said, “Somehow they just came, all the right people.”  I would have to agree that all the right people were drawn to being a part of a film that has a powerful message, one that resonates with many and is applicable to us all.  Rice said, “I wanted people to realize that you can just be yourself.  You don’t have to destroy yourself and lose yourself…just because other people have this idea of what you’re supposed to be.  Don’t stereotype yourself…Expand yourself.  Use your culture to expand who you are and not limit who you are.”  Crocos supported Rice’s statement wholeheartedly and added, “It’s not just about this one race…Just be true to who you are…We really hope this movie can save some lives.”

“Being Black Enough” is shot with absolute precision.  The attention to every detail brings you into the scene so that we are as much a part of the film as Cody.  The range of emotions we feel, captured through the art of cinematography is extraordinary.  We feel the bond between he and his mom as they lie on the grass outside, chatting like friends.  We gasp and almost duck as the bullets come flying from every direction.  And we hold our breath as we see what might possibly happen next. Creating this high calibre of a film for the price tag of $23k seems impossible, but for Rice and Corcos, educating themselves in all areas of filmmaking enabled them to have this highly polished final product.  Rice wore not only the writer and director hats, but also the cinematographer.  Rice and Corcos “…watched all of Kubrick’s best films, Spielberg’s, and Quentin’s.”  Rice continued, “I wanted to see what the greatest movies looked like and I wanted to see a bunch of low budget indie movies like “El Mariachi” and “Clerks” [to see] what kind of mixed techniques from the two…we can use.  Corcos interjected, “Devin [said] we need to make this movie for a crazy low budget, but it needs to look like a huge Hollywood movie.”  It does.  Corcos also said with a huge note of gratitude in her voice, “With locations, I just basically asked people [and] got everything for free” including a cop car!  Crocos attributed the generosity of the community to the powerful message of the film.

The message of this film comes through loud and clear, but without the impressive story-telling skills of Rice, it wouldn’t have been so brilliantly bold and beautiful.  It’s a great story told remarkably well—exactly what a film is supposed to be.  To see this poignantly creative film, go to Dances With Films

Elena Beuca’s Directorial Debut Finds Heart in "D-Love"

May 27th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on “Elena Beuca’s Directorial Debut Finds Heart in "D-Love"”

D Love Poster

When a film leaves you speechless, with tears rolling down your cheeks, and you find your hand over your heart as you watch the final scene fade to black, you know you have just seen a masterpiece.  First-time director Elena Beuca and husband/writer Dave Rogers take their own life-changing experience, cast the lead roles with the actual rIMG_8151smalleal-life characters, and bring us a story filled with heartbreak and hope—hope in the meaning of life and the goodness of others in “D-Love.”

“D-Love” stars Beuca and Rogers as Stefania and Dan Michaels, a couple in the midst of a calm crisis.  Upon returning from a vacation abroad, awaiting finding their car at LAX, the two are approached by  Ditlev Dharmakaya (D-Love), a young free-spirit asking for a lift going east.   It’s apparent from the outset that Stefania and Dan are at odds with one another, their marriage struggling to stay afloat.  Inviting this young “vagabond” to stay with them is not a part of Stefania’s plan, but Dan welcomes him with open arms.  Over the next three days, Dan and StefaJQ4A1538smallnia confront their buried thoughts, feelings, and emotions, as the centered and calm D-Love appears to be the grounded force allowing them to find who they were meant to be.  “D-Love” is simply beautiful with its powerfully emotional themes that could easily be a part of anyone’s life.  It touches upon the very core of who we are as people and how we evolve in life and relationships.

Stefania is in a thankless job with a boss who is verbally cruel and abusive.  She is the bread-winner, but is resentful of Dan’s inability to pick himself back up after losing both of his parents.  He drinks too much…way too much.  The resentment she harbors toward Dan is palpable.  While Dan’s personality seems to be more of the comedic type, he too seems lost and together, this couple isn’t on the same page.  D-Love’s easy-going, almost spiritual persona counterbalances the two, but there is always a sense of mistrust from Stefania.  All three characters reveal their inner-most secrets, regrets, and hopes, allowing us to not only understand who and where they are in life, but to empathize with them.  While D-Love’s personality may not be typical, there is an admiration for this wise-beyond-his-years young man who seems to have figured out the meaning of life.

What sets “D-Love” apart from so many movies is the unique story-line and the genuineness of the characters’ development.  Using the real-life characters to portray themselves is also quite

IMG_9341small daring, but it works.  Beuca’s performance as Stefania is wonderfully heartfelt, capturing the real emotions of life’s ups and downs until she reaches a tipping point.  Balancing this role with directing could have been a daunting task, but for her, this appears to be as natural as her performance.  Rogers as writer and lead is equally skilled as he portrays a man who deeply cares, but is struggling emotionally.  Humor paired with a complex and delicious cabernet are his tools for coping.  It is the unusual performance by Dharmakaya as D-Love that is simply breathtaking.  His ability to bring a sense of calmness to each scene makes you sit back and truly hear his thought-provoking words.  He’s beautifully unique in every sense of the word.  Together, this small ensemble cast creates one of the most well-balanced and meaningful stories about life and love.

If the powerful and real story isn’t enough to win you over to “D-Love,” then adding the gorgeous cinematography will.  Each and every shot brings you into the moment, visually and emotioJQ4A0983smallnally.  We feel the claustrophobic situations of Stefania’s work situation, the walls closing in on her home as she is unable to find freedom from the impact of her brother’s death, and the soothing and serene open areas, allow you to experience a sense of healing.

“D-Love” is an impressive directorial debut for Beuca.  This gorgeous and rich story is filled with love and heart reminding us about what is truly important in life and the connections we make.

“D-Love” premieres at the film festival Dances With Films on Saturday, June 3rd at 7:15 pm.  For more ticket information, go to DWF TICKETS



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