Posts in Film Festivals

SXSW “Critical Thinking” Spotlights Premiere of Director John Leguizamo

March 24th, 2020 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on “SXSW “Critical Thinking” Spotlights Premiere of Director John Leguizamo”

John Leguizamo makes his directorial debut with “Critical Thinking,” a story of an inner-city chess team fighting stereotypes, gang violence, and more in an effort to win the U.S. National Chess Championship. The film was set to premiere at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival, but due to Covid-19, the film’s theatrical premiere will have to wait which is unfortunate because works of social awareness and inspiration like this need to be seen.

Dito Montiel adapts the true story of a Miami Jackson High School teacher, Mario Martinez (Leguizamo) who leads troubled and misfit teens to this championship. Given little resources which is typically the case for inner-city schools like this, Martinez’ class is the dumping ground for these teens many of whom have less than desirable home lives much less any support from any adult. It’s a bleak environment, but Martinez’ passion and hope shine through, giving these young people a bit of balance and stability.

While the story sounds familiar, and it has been done before in many forms, the brutal honesty in which these students are portrayed has never felt so real. Teaching takes a special person, but in today’s society and the problems of poverty in the inner-city, being a teacher is not for the faint of heart. “Critical Thinking” conveys this expertly within the first 20 minutes as we meet the character we think will be our protagonist. Abruptly, we find this is not the case.

Each of the teens has their own issues and while we delve into each of them, the main focus is on Martinez and his impact upon their lives. Playing chess to many of us is just a pastime or even an enigma for those of us who don’t/can’t play, it becomes a life ring that keeps them all afloat together or as Martinez says, “Chess is the great equalizer.” This concept is put into play at each and every championship match as they are pitted against more prestigious schools. They are certainly the underdog and the prejudices and confidence levels are as palpable as their beating hearts. The tension rises as the stakes become greater, but so, too, do the obstacles. It’s this intensity that connects us even more to the kids and Martinez.

Corwin C. Tuggles portrays Sedrick Roundtree, a complicated young man who shines in this film, leading the group into an emotional final scene. His understanding of this character and the bond he develops with his fellow “students” as well as Leguizamo’s character of Martinez is exceptional. Leguizamo naturally falls into the role of the teacher who understands the plight of these kids and never judges them. We feel his compassion and his hope for these kids to not only survive but to eventually thrive despite their situation. And within all of this, we, too, have hope for the future of these young men who represent a multitude of others struggling in similar situations but perhaps don’t have a Mr. Martinez or chess to guide them.

Leguizamo takes on a heavy task of a lead character as well as director, skillfully navigating the waters to sail smoothly with both. As I watched the film, I wondered if Leguizamo’s portrayal of Martinez was similar to his own skills as director with these young men depicting students. The performances he elicits allow every actor to shine in their own role, all supporting one another much like the story itself.

“Critical Thinking” is an inspiringly uplifting film reminding us of the potential of each and every student out there. Additionally, it punctuates the difficulties and dangers faced by teachers, administrators, and students as they fight an uphill battle to teach and learn. When you see this film, stick around for the credits as we get to meet each of the real characters.

3 1/2 Stars

“Knives Out” is an ingeniously funny and smart whodunit movie

November 24th, 2019 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on ““Knives Out” is an ingeniously funny and smart whodunit movie”

Writer and director Rian Johnson changes gears from “Star Wars: Episode VIII-The Last Jedi” to his newest film “Knives Out,” an ingenious, whip-smart comedic thriller with an incredible all-star cast. This old-fashioned “who-dunnit” crime story takes us on a ride of mystery, intrigue, and puzzle-solving while laughing the entire time. This is a standout film of the year.


Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is the family’s patriarch having made his fortune writing murder mysteries. Coincidentally, the old man dies in his palatial mansion and his family, focused on the inheritance and not shedding a tear, are stopped short of the treasure chest as the famed Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) suspects foul play. This, of course, would change the cause of death from suicide to murder and now puts each and every family member under the microscope as suspects.

Oh, what a family this is! Timing the release perfectly for Thanksgiving, you’ll find that your own family isn’t quite so dysfunctional after watching this one. Johnson covers all his family relationship bases with an ex-wife, a trust fund, shallow grandson named Ransom (Chris Evans), a controlling daughter, Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), and Valley Girl Joni (Toni Collette) as well as the disappointing son Walt (Michael Shannon). There are plenty of in-law issues beginning with Richard Drysdale (Don Johnson) and strange grandchildren. We even have the Keystone Cops lead by Lieutenant Elliott (LaKeith Stanfield).

It’s evident from the beginning that we are in for a rip-roaring good time as the interrogation begins. Flashing between each of the suspects, a lone man slouches off in the corner at a piano, intermittently hitting a single key. Confusingly funny, the subjects make comments as to this man’s presence. We see the tangled web of deceit has been spun perfectly and now the players are all accounted for. The story then takes us back in time using a non-linear storytelling technique to put the pieces of the puzzle in proper order to solve the mystery of who killed Harlan Thrombey…or was it a suicide?

“Knives Out” keeps you on your toes with its clever unveiling of clues while distracting you with these bizarre and over-the-top characters who all have a motive or two. Collette and Evans take on roles and perform like you’ve never seen them before adding to the unexpected twists and turns as well as the hilarity. Johnson’s genius writing is always a step ahead of you, never putting all the pieces of the puzzle together until he wants you to.

The film, in all is jocularity, actually finds a way to address a common theme of movies this year: the haves versus the have-nots. Of course, with this wealthy family comes the topic of entitlement and work ethics, but these heavier subjects are all boiling well beneath the surface, fostering the hilarious situations and consequences.

While all the characters and performances are uniquely strong, the commonality among them is the actors truly seem to be having fun, elevating their performances to the highest level. Plummer just gets better and better, showing audiences that he truly can take any role and bring it to its ultimate potential. His character of “Harlan” is smart and strong with great wisdom and verve all delivered with a knowing twinkle in his eye. Each actor’s character gets a moment in the spotlight, allowing us to know who they truly are and what drives them. Two surprising performances come from Craig as he stuns us with his comedic timing. It’s a dry humor, the writing creating a strange interaction to make us laugh, but it it Craig’s interpretation and presentation that adds just the right touch. And then there’s Evans who certainly doesn’t come off as Capt. America. He’s a narcissistic, entitled, blue blood who is despicably condescending—but all of these attributes are presented in unexpectedly delightful ways.

Another surprise is a relatively unknown actor who has a lead in this film, Ana de Armas who portrays Marta Cabrera, the nurse and caregiver for Harlan. Her storyline stitches all the characters together while the social issue of immigration plays every so perfectly into this narrative. de Armas’ performance hits all the right notes as she invites us to walk in her shoes. She’s remarkably engaging, honing her ability to connect with the audience no matter her circumstances.

As you can see, there is one enjoyable and entertaining surprise after another. Its fast pace never lets you catch your breath as you happily try to see the full picture, but alas, Johnson is the driver of that car and you’ll get there when he wants you to. To find such an entertaining murder mystery with the feel of a film from days gone by is an absolute treasure. This incredibly smart and funny film with standout performances from actors who are having as much fun as the viewer is sure to be tops on not just critics’ lists, but yours as well.

4/4 stars

“Red Penguins” – An interview with director Gabe Polsky and subject Steven Warshaw at TIFF

October 3rd, 2019 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on ““Red Penguins” – An interview with director Gabe Polsky and subject Steven Warshaw at TIFF”

Who could possibly create a documentary about Russia, hockey, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Mafia that is funny, educational, and insightful? None other than Gabe Polsky who gave us “Red Army” in 2016. While you might be thinking that this is just an extension of his first film, think again. This is one of the most bizarre, underreported, and unfathomable sports stories in history. Polsky’s subject, Steven Warshaw, a marketing genius, took it upon himself to attempt to save the Russian hockey program and create interest and financial stability for this Red team. What he found was corruption, embezzlement, and mind-boggling sordid situations proving the adage that truth truly is stranger than fiction.

The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and I had the pleasure of sitting down with Chicago native Polsky and his subject, Steven Warshaw, for an entertaining and insightful conversation about the making of this film.

Pamela Powell (PP): How did you two become acquainted?

Gabe Polsky (GP): I was promoting “Red Army,” …at one of the festivals in NY and Steve came up to me afterwards and told me that he has a great story [and] that it’s also about this Red Army team, but it’s about the ’90’s and what happened afterwards. … But I told him, “Look, I’m not interested in even going near Russia or hockey again.” I just did this big film and I was kind of mad, actually, about the idea of doing something like that. Anyway, Steve asked for my address and I did give it to him. (Chuckling) He didn’t look like a creepy guy. He was a little strange (more laughter) … I got this huge box of materials, videos, documentation, photos, all this stuff about this story and I opened it up and looked through it and was kind of amazed and shocked … but then I pushed it away again.

PP: What made you open it back up and delve into the making of this film?

GP: It was the kind of thing that even to this day I was reluctant to go for because

Steven Warshaw (SW): This is the antithesis of what he had seen. [He] documented maybe the greatest hockey team in history and now he’s going to look at the train wreck that ensued after the Soviet Union. And we were that train wreck.

PP: And you were the engineer? (Laughing)

SW: No, I was the conductor, the engineer, and the toilet cleaner! (Laughing)

PP: Why did you hold on to all of this stuff?

SW: I am a pack rat. I save everything that’s flat. … I don’t save plush animals or hockey pucks. If it’s flat, I save it. Photos, tickets, contracts, archival material, artwork, anything that I can stack. And this was a really important part of my life. I fell in love over there, not just with the team, but I fell in love with a fantastic Russian woman. I was 34 at the time. I fell in love with the culture. … When we were just blown out of there, it hurt. It was like getting your doors blown off in a romance. … I always saved my love letters from my girlfriends, maybe I’ll be able to resurrect this too. So that’s why I did it.

PP: They say that with age comes wisdom. This is a two part question. What would you tell your younger self and would you do anything differently?

SW: Second question first. I would much rather have gone to Italy or Spain or done this in a better country. You look back and I had attributed it to just youthful insanity. In retrospect, obviously, it was crazy. I should have taken the other job offer I had … I had two offers at the same time. Either go to Russia or to come to Canada. So in retrospect I should have definitely gone to Vancouver and had a beautiful life in Canada instead of this crazy mad [one], but then Gabe wouldn’t have had a film. (Laughing) There you go. It was intriguing for us because we were young and stupid so the danger element was almost an adrenaline rush for us. Yes, you look back, I didn’t have kids so I could take chances back then. Now I wouldn’t, of course.

PP: What did your mother think?

SW: She thinks I [was] a greeting card salesman! (Laughs). Actually, they came to see us in (Russia). They came on Revolution Day. Nov. 7, 1993 … They had a great time over there. They didn’t see all of the criminal elements. They didn’t know about it. I didn’t tell them.

GP: Now they’ll know.

SW: Now they’ll know they raised a stupid kid. (Laughs!)

PP: Steven, how did all of this influence your future career and choices?

SW: I made a lot safer decisions. Blue chip type of deals instead of wild fantasy deals, but I still think I’ve got one more in me before I check out of here so maybe I’m looking at some other crazy, third world country and bringing badminton or I don’t know. There’s one more chapter in me … for you (looking to Gabe)!

PP: Gabe, there was one particularly chilling scene in the film where you discovered someone lurking behind you; you were being watched and followed when you were in Russia. Did this give you pause about completing film and presenting it publicly?

GP: It did! The answer is yes, I did feel kind of weird being in Russia at that time. Sanctions were going strong and the sentiment toward Americans wasn’t great. I wouldn’t say just regular people. The government position was pretty clear, but people were generally warm. I don’t know why, but when I was there, I felt a little bit paranoid and I’m not a super paranoid guy, but I felt weird. And when that happened, it was a WTF moment. Yes, I’ve been thinking a little bit about … the danger.

PP: Given today’s political environment, what do you think viewers will take away from this very timely piece even though this took place back in the 1990’s?

GP: I would hope that first of all, understanding the history and what happened in the ’90’s has relation to what’s happening now and their views toward Americans. Our working relationship, I think this is a good example of what [was] happening to all companies that were coming to Russia at the time. … and as soon as they saw success, they saw almost insurmountable challenges from encroaching interests. But more than even that, it’s this idea to understand the Russian psychology and behaviors in a deeper way. We read a lot of facts and allegations about that, but no one really gets to see how people behave and talk and deal with people. I think this story, by experiencing the story, we get to know the culture a lot better. Not just their culture, but ours too.

PP: Steven, when you watched the film, the interviews with those who spoke about you, what did you think or feel when you heard what they had to say?

SW: I’m still shocked that Goshen’s still breathing oxygen. That guy, he’s a walking heart attack. And everyone else died, except him.

PP: What does that tell you? (Laughing)

SW: That he’s Rasputin. He’s the devil! (More laughter) To me, it was frightening because I didn’t know how crazy I was back then. I wasn’t a kid, I was 34. We just threw caution to the wind and we were just worried about accomplishing our mission, to fill the arena and sell sponsorships, create tours, merchandising, a great story.

GP: But when you saw those other characters, the KGB guy and even Gusev, how did you feel? How did you feel?

SW: I wasn’t really shocked because I had lived it. But the one shocking element to me that I learned from the film was just how close the Mafia got to Gusev, my Russian partner. They really read him the riot act that he’s gotta leave Pittsburgh. I didn’t know that until I saw the film. I didn’t realize the Mafia was so deep into Viktor Gusev’s life that they had threatened him.

PP: But there’s that haunting laugh from Goshen.

GP: Yeah, how do you feel about that scene?

SW: It’s vintage Goshen. He’s brain damaged from alcohol. He’s had heart attacks, he’s been in car accidents, he’s been in prison. I mean the guy’s had an incredible life. So to me, he’s the perfect foil.

GP: Why is that vintage Gushen? What is that laugh?

SW: It’s demonic. He’s the evil empire that Reagan referred to. He’s a cartoon character that came to life and I’m just flattered that he said he’d still be my friend! (Laughs!)

PP: Flattered or scared?

SW: Scared! The same thing is that he would rather fail on his own that succeed with the [Americans]. I think that’s the critical point. They had such pride and that’s why they couldn’t take it. … It was embarrassing for them because it took foreigners to come in and do their job for them. They resented us for that and they actually rooted against us.

4 out of 4 Stars

Be sure to check back to find out how and when you can see this timely and entertaining film.

EBERTFEST Q&A’s prove to be unpredictably hilarious

April 14th, 2019 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on “EBERTFEST Q&A’s prove to be unpredictably hilarious”

Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon entertain a packed house at Ebertfest for their film BOUND. Watch the entire Q&A here: EBERTFEST

David Mirkin sets the record straight and sings a little song during his Q&A for ROMY AND MICHELE’S HIGH SCHOOL REUNION. Watch the entire Q&A here: EBERTFEST

An Interview with writer and director Josephine Mackerras, SXSW Feature ALICE

March 10th, 2019 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on “An Interview with writer and director Josephine Mackerras, SXSW Feature ALICE”

(Published in FF2 Media, Sunday, March 10, 2019)

Award-winning writer and director Josephine Mackerras’ first feature film, “Alice,” premiered at the SXSW Film Festival recently. Living around the world, this NYU educated filmmaker delves deeply into how one woman, a wife and mother, reacts to her husband’s double life, leaving them in debt and on the brink of eviction. Filled with extraordinary performances from this ensemble cast, Mackerras turns the psychological tables on acceptance and understanding of one of the oldest trades known to women. Mackerras shared her insights on the making of “Alice” and the complexities of creating a story that questions the concepts of marriage, dependency and motherhood.
To read the interview in its entirety, go to FF2 Media

“Well Groomed” A vibrant work of art and an affirmation of women

March 10th, 2019 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on ““Well Groomed” A vibrant work of art and an affirmation of women”

Director Rebecca Stern follows three veteran creative dog groomers for one year, all at the top of their game, and one newcomer, vying for the grand championship in this little-known arena of competition. While many of us have never heard of this competitive art form, and perhaps it’s initially strange to see, Stern takes us along these women’s journey as she not only highlights their artistic skills, but their personal path as well. We begin to understand who these women are and their love for what they do. It’s a compelling and beautiful story that captures our hearts as we watch these dogs and women transform, lifting one another yet still fiercely competing for the ultimate prize.

(Full review and interview with the filmmaker coming soon)

3 1/2 out of 4 Stars

“Words From A Bear” The eloquence, history, and spirit of N. Scott Momaday

January 29th, 2019 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on ““Words From A Bear” The eloquence, history, and spirit of N. Scott Momaday”

Pulitzer Prize-winning Native American author N. Scott Momady’s story comes to full living cinematic splendor thanks to the documentary storytelling skills of Jeffrey Palmer in his directorial debut “Words From A Bear.” Momaday, a Native American from the Kiowa Tribe, has had a remarkable life which resonates with incredible strength and emotion as we walk back in time, following his footsteps, and experiencing his youth, elders’ lessons, and finally his own teachings. “Words From A Bear” is a vibrant and mesmerizing story connecting us with him, our own history, humanity, and most importantly the land upon which we are charged with caring.

We meet the elderly, yet very mentally spry Momaday, now seated in a wheelchair, having his photo taken professionally. With a candidly sly comment, we are at once enchanted by his voice and his knowing smirk. The award-winning author holds nothing back as he relays his ancestry and their storytelling techniques, describing these memories of history. Using archival photos and sweeping landscape cinematography, we hold images of the Great Plains, the desert, and the blood that was shed over the years, yet the spirit remains strong within those who are connected.

As we see these images, Momaday’s balanced and symmetrical utterances elegantly glide over your mind and heart, saturating and satisfying your thirst for knowledge while the words comfort you. Momaday’s open portrayal of who he is and how he came to be is luxuriously poetic. It strikes an intrinsic chord as we watch images of a man, his world, and nature as it changes with great meaning over the decades.

Never have I been transported, imaginatively whisked away by a voice, a tone, a timbre as I was by Momaday’s meaningfully lyrical and emotive descriptions. I could feel the texture of the surroundings he described as an inexplicable emotion welled up within me. Artistically, Palmer then skillfully interjects interviews with celebrities who have known Momaday and his writings such as Robert Redford, Jeff and Beau Bridges and Native American scholars across the continent. This gives viewers just a sample of the impact Momaday’s work has had on our literary world.

“Words From A Bear” provides a better understanding of the plight of Native Americans and the beautiful craft of verbal storytelling. While literature, as pointed out in the film, is a storytelling craft in writing, so too is it in the word of mouth form. To listen to Momaday’s stories as he recalls his childhood and his name’s origin, he elicits a focus with his calming presence, engaging you as he reassures you that there is hope within the understanding of nature.

Palmer has a keen sense of storytelling as he gives Momaday his time and space on screen, but he augments every aspect with not only the interviews from celebrities and scholars, but also with capturing landmarks from the past, photos from bygone days, and graphic art as he maintains Momaday’s voice and words. We step not only back in time to understand an unwelcoming and intolerant era but also get to know Momaday’s direct ancestors and their personalities through eloquent and rich descriptions. We see through oral storytelling how the ancestors live on via this art and their spirit.

It is the spirit, the strong spirit in his voice, that we gain insight into our own past, his past, and how we are all connected. As Redford said, Momaday has a “spiritual poetic connection to the land” and “Rock Tree Boy” as he was named by an elder, is our connection. “It is the spirit that counts and it is the spirit that is indomitable,” says Momaday and he is truly an indomitably spirit.

I am truly grateful for my own discovery of this great man, his essence, his knowledge, his words, and most importantly, his spirit. I am changed by having seen this film, gaining an understanding of a history I didn’t fully know and somehow identifying with his story. This is a film to connect us all and give us a greater understanding of who we are and who we can be. And it is with sincere gratitude that I give to Jeffrey Palmer for bringing this man and his story to everyone.

“Words From A Bear” premiered today, January 29th at the Sundance Film Festival and will continue to have 3 additional screenings. Go to SUNDANCE.ORG for more information and watch for an upcoming interview with Jeffrey Palmer!

“Anthropocene: The Human Epoch” Beautifully portrays the horrors of man’s new era

January 28th, 2019 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on ““Anthropocene: The Human Epoch” Beautifully portrays the horrors of man’s new era”

“Anthropocene: The Human Epoch” is the third film by Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky to address the environment, preceded by “Manufactured Landscapes” (2006) and “Watermark” (2013). The film, narrated in layman’s terms by Alicia Vikander, gives us a stunning visual education of our current world’s state as we leave behind the Halocene Era, one which nature provides changes, to the Anthropocene Era, where man is responsible for all of them.

The opening scene is visually gripping as you are drawn to the flames like a moth that fill every corner of the screen, mesmerizing you with its beauty. You then find the source of the flames which engulf your visual field. The beauty quickly turns to horror and this visual slight of hand pattern occurs throughout the film. What initially is gorgeously striking suddenly comes into comprehensible view to create a disturbing image. It perfectly imitates our own consciousness as we are at first ignorant about issues, but then, with information, we are awakened and see things for what they truly are.

Baichwal and Burtynsky takes us on an extraordinary journey through time and around the world to explore and explain the effects of mankind on our world. Chapter by chapter, beginning with “Extraction,” we understand how our need for earth’s resources have inadvertently depleted other necessary resources. We start in Russia at a huge metal factory. To fuel the fire, trees are cut, but that is a source of oxygen not to mention the benefits of helping with processing carbon dioxide. There’s a delicate balance that has been tipped too far in one direction as the community depends on this plant for wages, but at the same time it’s hurting them. This juggling act, understanding and caring for our environment while attempting to give people a way to support themselves is always at the forefront as is the gluttony and greed, and the land is losing.

This is the theme throughout the film as we travel to Carrara, Italy and witness the extraction of the finest marble in the world. Seen from high above as a gorgeous symmetrical design we plunge more closely and our breath is taken away by the image that lies before us. This cinematic accentuation upon the narration clearly defines the irrevocable damage upon our planet. From the phosphate mines in Florida to the grinding jaws of machinery in Germany which appear like monsters rising above the clouds, we see a land that replicates a scene from “Mad Max” or “Mortal Engines.” There’s a sense of hopelessness at what has been lost.

The film looks at this new era of man, dissecting how we have impacted climate change and extinction of animals. Interviews with residents, employees, and those who are stepping up in an effort to make a difference, save endangered species, or protect our current state from getting worse, support the underlying feel of an emergency. For example, the president of Kenya eloquently states, “…blessings come with duties” as he refers to the land and the gracious endangered species of elephants and rhinoceroses roam the land. As we extrapolate the information, it is evident that our own demise or extinction is eminent. This is a warning tale, an eye-opening, riveting masterpiece of art and story that shakes your soul as it hopefully alarms you into action.

“Anthropocene: The Human Epoch” is masterfully detailed, captivating you visually with a subtle yet haunting musical layer to tell a difficult yet necessary story. From streets comprised of compressed trash surrounded by mountains of rubbish looking serene from high above and plats of water that reflect a contemplative neon green to rocky striations of reds, blues, purples and whites, appearing like ancient stone carvings only to be revealed as a signature of our chemical times and the imprint upon the earth’s surface. There’s an artistry in our devastation making it even more disturbing as you initially find beauty in it.

“Anthropocene” The Human Epoch” is a wake up call. A call to action. A call to awareness. And a plea to understand how we have left the Halocene Epoch and are now in an era of man’s giant and crushing footprint upon our world. The film’s beauty is undeniable as are the horrors it reveals. This is one of the most visually arresting and informative films about our world and our future.

For more information about the film at the Sundance Film Festival, go to SUNDANCE.ORG


The 2019 Slamdance Hot List

January 23rd, 2019 Posted by Film Festivals, News 0 thoughts on “The 2019 Slamdance Hot List”

The 2019 Slamdance Film Festival will open its doors at the top of Main St. in Park City, Utah at the Treasure Mountain Inn on Jan. 25 and run through Jan. 31st. This intimate, competitive, and ever-growing festival gives independent filmmakers and fans of creative films, many of which push the boundaries in both topic matter and style, a different lens with which to view them. And many of these films will be picked up for distribution and just might be the start for the next Christopher Nolan.

If you’re in Park City, this is a festival not to be missed and here are my top picks so far:

In the superficial world in which we live, looks determine not only how others perceive us, but even who we are. Co-written and directed by Alexandre Franchi, “Happy Face” tackles this subject, introducing us to a teenager, struggling with his mother’s diagnosis of cancer that will result in a resection of her face. Joining a patient support group for those who have congenital anomalies or resulting disfigurements from an accident, he disguises himself to fit in. This is an eye-opening look into our own reactions and perceptions of those who may not initially be physically perfect. With no make up, these real people eloquently tell their own stories in this fictional tale.

Mystery and intrigue are at their highest as the residents of a small town are distracted by a local basketball game. Only a switchboard operator and a radio DJ have an inkling that something is askew. Written by James Montague and Craig Dietrich, and directed by Andrew Patterson, the film stars Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowtitz in this “sci-fi adventure” film.

One fateful summer, Fiona and her cognitively impaired brother set a course that will slowly change their futures. Written by Anders Emblem and starring Amalie Ibsen Jensen and David Jakobsen, this Norwegian story promises to connect our own lives with theirs as it dissects family and individuality as it relates to responsibility.

Written and directed by Jennifer Alleyn the lines of filmmaking and reality are blurred to create a surreal story of love, loss and what drives us forward. With an experimental and sensual feel, the film finds a common thread, stitching themes together into one glorious tapestry of a story.

A crazy, fast-paced story about Margaret (Kate Lyn Sheil) and Daryl (Joshua Leonard) who attempt to solve the mystery of a missing friend. Their antics and issues of past love interests intersect, sometimes creating a roadblock in finding their friend. What they ultimately find creates even more surprises, many of which they might not be ready or able to handle.

The film is part real life and part re-enactment, promising to entertain and connect us with the residents in a village a world away in South Africa. Showing the power of film and filmmaking, Siyabonga Majola wants nothing more than to be in a movie and as luck would have it, one is being filmed nearby. What lengths will he go to in order to make his dreams come true? Interestingly, this film is also re-enacted by the very people who experienced what happened that fateful year.

If you thought Disco was dead, think again as “Dons of Disco” powers into Slamdance. This documentary is filled with comedy and music as it discovers the identity behind the artist Den Harrow. Part mystery, party history, director Jonathan Sutak will give audiences plenty to ponder during film and after the credits roll.

Following along the beat of music is “Memphis ’69.” The 4th annual Country Blues Festival took place in Memphis. It was an historic event and until recently, the color footage had not been located. Now, almost 50 years later, we see the talent of blues masters such as Sleepy John Estes and Nathan Beauregard and many more, in full color footage. These legends and the amalgam of people who loved them are restored and brought back to life thanks to this discovery.

Check out the full schedule of films which include shorts, features, documentaries and exclusive to Slamdance, “Anarchy Shorts.” Tickets are affordable and the venue is small and welcoming. SLAMDANCE SCHEDULE

“Care To Laugh” An Interview with Director Julie Getz

December 5th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on ““Care To Laugh” An Interview with Director Julie Getz”

(This article is from FF2 Media which is temporarily unavailable.)

“Care To Laugh” has been creating laughter through the love of caregiving across the country at film festivals as it gathers not just awards but the praise of everyone who sees it. As it continues to DOC NYC, the AARP Studios film is using this medium to tell personal stories that touch us all. In “Care to Laugh,” comic Jesus Trejo balances his life each and every day as he cares for his elderly parents and perfects his art as a comedian in Los Angeles. It’s a difficult balancing act, but it’s one that Trejo knows is helping his parents age gracefully, acknowledging that while a few sacrifices are made on the professional front, it’s only right to give back to his parents who sacrificed for him. Director Julie Getz partners with Executive Producer of AARP Studios Jeffrey Eagle to tell Trejo’s inspiring story filled with relatable humor and love.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Getz, Eagle, and Trejo recently in Chicago as the film also screened as the opening night film of the Chicago Comedy Film Festival. Their admiration for one another and their hopes for this film and more from AARP comes shining through with hope and positivity.

Pamela Powell (PP): Julie, I understand this is your first feature film that you’ve directed. Tell me about your background and working with AARP.

Julie Getz (JG): My experience in the TV and film business is that I was a documentary producer for about 16 years for outlets like Discovery Channel, National Geographic, PBS, a lot of the big Washington, D.C. outlets there About 2 years ago, I took a job at AARP studios with Jeffrey Eagle, we used to work together, back in the day, and I’m the Director of Development for AARP Studios. I focus on TV and film and podcasts. When we met him (Jesus) and we decided as a group that this was something we were going to pursue, Jeffrey entrusted me and the team to direct this film!

PP: With documentary filmmaking, I’m assuming you didn’t know how the story was going to turn out.

JG: What we knew when we first met Jesus is that he had an incredible story that we knew we wanted to share with the world and we knew we had some bits and pieces of information, right? It was decided that, let’s follow him. It just naturally unfolded as things came up in his life. As documentary filmmakers you want to be flies on the wall and we don’t want to intrude too much. You want to just let it happen and then just document his day to day activities and his relationship with his family. … It’s his story as his journey unfolds.

PP: What was one of the most surprising elements in filming this story?

JG: Just how incredible of a human being Jesus Trejo is and we felt so special and honored to be a part of this. Here he is juggling all these responsibilities and again, you see in the film, you can tell he’s got grit. He’s tenacious. He puts his foot on the accelerator and he doesn’t let up. He goes full throttle…for the love of his parents, for his career, and he knows that the stakes are high. Just to be a part of that and to tell his story in a way of how he did it, how it came across in the film …and then capturing those funny, light moments as well. I think we had that balance when we were putting all the pieces together, when you come back and look at all the footage, how do we tell this story, when to take a deep dive in, when to come out. I feel like how it all unfolded is the best way. … and hopefully it resonates with people.

PP: What do you hope people will take away from the film and what have you seen so far after screenings?

JG: With any project that I do, from a filmmaker’s perspective, is that I always want people to learn something, something they didn’t know before. … And for this film, that they walk away and learned something … and they know where to go, what to do. … AARP, they’ve got the resources, the caregiving guide, and again, the groups, so people don’t feel like they’re alone.

…After the films, we walk out of the theater, people are coming up to us, they’re sharing their stories of how they just recently lost their parents or how they were caregivers for their parents and they didn’t know that AARP was in the caregiving business or that we’re actively involved in caregiving. That’s just to us a huge opportunity, being out there, letting people know where to go, what to do that you’re not alone, giving people direction to find a support system. Again, the whole point of this film is for people to walk away and be inspired and be engaged. If you’re not a caregiver, you eventually will be one day or you will be taken care of. If you know someone right now, pick up the phone and call them and help them out.

Of course, at the conclusion of our interview, I began to share my own caregiving tales, relating to Trejo’s road trip as I crashed through a toll gate in Ohio only to look in the rear view mirror to see my mother who had dementia, laughing out loud at what happened. As Trejo said, this film and its topic is the “universal truth,” one which we all know and understand.

“Care to Laugh” will play at the DOC NYC Film Festival on Wednesday, Nov. 14 and Thursday, Nov. 15. For ticket information, go to DOCNYC

“Care to Laugh” An Interview

November 23rd, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on ““Care to Laugh” An Interview”

“Care to Laugh,” a documentary from AARP Studios, addresses the issues behind caregiving while making us laugh. The laughter (and tears) are thanks to the comic genius and candor of the film’s subject, Jesus Trejo. The film recently screened as part of both the Chicago Comedy Film Festival and DOC NYC and while in Chicago, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Trejo, director Julie Getz, and Vice President and Executive Producer of AARP Studios Jeffrey Eagle. Their excitement about the film and the future of sharing experiences relating to aging using film as the medium was infectious. Enjoy their insights and be sure to put this film on your list to see when it’s released in 2019.

Pamela Powell (PP): Jesus, what was your initial thought when you were approached about doing this documentary?

Jesus Trejo (JT): I was very flattered to know that they wanted to consider me to be the subject of a documentary film. I know they had done a project before with Don Rickles, but this was the first documentary feature length that AARP was doing. It came about because I met the awesome people at AARP, Jeffrey Eagle, Julie Getz and the crew … at an event that happened at the Hollywood Improv that AARP put on for caregivers and the headliner was Jim Breuer and I opened for that show. That’s when we got to know each other and they knew about my story. And then sometime later they wanted to have a similar event in NY and they reached out and I couldn’t do it. That was when I was at a fork in the road with comedy and caregiving and they found out more of the story and they thought this was a story worth telling.

PP: What was your parents’ reaction to doing this?

JT: It was definitely difficult for my parents. We definitely took some days before we got back to AARP because … explain to your immigrant parents that there are going to be cameras on us for a year. Wait. What? It’s hard to digest. Pretend like they’re not there. And my dad was like, ‘They are there. I can see them.’ … It was difficult for my parents. It was difficult for me. … It was difficult but fun.

PP: Jeffrey, I had no idea that AARP was making feature films.

Jeffrey Eagle (JE): AARP has had studios in the Washington, D.C. for about 10 years … We did this event at the Hollywood Improv back in December of 2016 and AARP, as you know, is the largest non-profit organization in America- 38 million members- [and] caregiving is a focus. … It’s often seen as an end of life story as opposed to just a life story… when we started digging into the research … caregivers want two things. They want time and they want to laugh. Time and laughter. So we thought why don’t we have something that gives caregivers time. Well, that would be a night out. And what could we do that would make them laugh? How about a comedy show? And oh, by the way, who’s telling the jokes? Wouldn’t it be great if the comics were caregivers? Jim Breuer’s a caregiver. Jesus is a caregiver. Caregiving has ups and downs. There’s intense love of family and love of craft and hard knocks of rejection and hard knocks of health. The film is able to be in those places and dip in and dip up and take the valleys and the peaks with laughter and light. And that’s what I think we’ve done. AARP studios, we are about making these big issues, fraud, and caregiving and health and financial matters, personal and that’s what we’ve done with this film. … We want to do more stories like this.

PP: Julie, what was most surprising to you, as a director, in making this film?

Julie Getz (JG): Just how incredible of a human being Jesus Trejo is … Here he is juggling all these responsibilities and again, you see in the film, you can tell he’s got grit. He’s tenacious. He puts his foot on the accelerator and he doesn’t let up. He goes full throttle. … capturing those moments that can often be hard and sad and challenging and then capturing those funny, light moments as well. I think we had that balance when we were putting all the pieces together…

PP: Jesus, what do you hope people will take away from this film?

JT: After seeing it a couple times, I’m reminded of this quote that Galileo said, “The only constant thing in life is change.” And seeing that that was a picture of a moment in time, things change and we just have to accept change. Change doesn’t necessarily have to be a negative or a positive thing. It’s just change. … And looking back I almost think of what was happening in that moment and it’s like oh man, that was heavy, but then it wasn’t half as heavy as what I dealt with last month or the previous month or now. It just puts things into perspective …

PP: We Baby Boomers are aging and taking care of their parents and our children will be in the same boat in the next 20 years. I see other studios also addressing the issue of aging as Elizabeth Chomko’s film did in “What They Had.”

JE: … Blythe Danner and Hilary Swank are on the cover of our magazine right now. … November is National Caregiving Month. … The power of film is limitless, as you know, because this is your world as much as it is ours, but I think it’s just the way people are engaging with media with stories. We’re visual story tellers. We’re trying to bring these issues to life [and] finding characters that feel real. … As I said, this wonderful, magical documentary came out of a simple question “What do caregivers want? Time and Laughter.

PP: Julie, what do you hope viewers gain from watching “Care to Laugh?”

JG: With any project that I do, from a filmmaker’s perspective, is that I always want people to learn something, something they didn’t know before…to be almost shocked. And for this film, that they walk away … they know where to go, what to do. And that’s why AARP, they’ve got the resources, the caregiving guide, and again, the groups so people don’t feel like they’re alone.

PP: Jesus, any other thoughts you’d like to share?

JT: Family’s first. Everything else will always be there. Family, you get one shot at it. Make sure they’re taken care of. Like comedy, comedy will always be there. I did and I’m doing the right thing. I’m helping them age gracefully.

PP: How are your parents doing now?

JT: They’re hanging in there. Some days are bettter than others, but over all I’m just happy to have a second chance with both of them. Things are going well.

Eagle shared statistics with me that are remarkable, reminding me that while I have had aging parents and continue to help my father-in-law as he ages, we aren’t alone in this boat. According to Eagle, there are 40 million unpaid family caregivers which probably affects you or someone you know. AARP, through the medium of film, helps us all relate and understand, but even more importantly, it’s a resource of information and support.

To learn more about this film, go to “Care to Laugh.”

The filmmakers behind “Patrimonio” at DOC NYC

November 16th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on “The filmmakers behind “Patrimonio” at DOC NYC”

Each and every year at DOC NYC Film Festival, the films are extraordinary, providing insight and knowledge about topics, many of which were previously unknown. This year, we have a classic David versus Goliath tale in Baja Sur Mexico thanks to the dedicated talent and determination of filmmakers Sarah Teale and Lisa F. Jackson with their film “Patrimonio.” The film takes us on a journey located in a quaint Mexican seaside village, Todos Santos, where American investors attempted to not only create a vacation paradise, but also destroy a way of life for local residents. This David versus Goliath story is filled with surprise twists and turns as we peel away the layers of political corruption spurned by greed. With devastating environmental consequences, the town, initially set into division, bands together, reminding us all of the power of persistence, knowledge, and belief in doing what’s right for the right reasons. It’s one of the most inspiring and gripping tales of how sometimes money can’t buy everything.

I had the pleasure of talking with the filmmakers to learn more about the making of this uplifting documentary. Their candid responses gives viewers even more appreciation for their relentlessness in depicting the situation, their own personalities, as well as this how this beautiful film and story came to be.

***** Warning: Spoiler Alerts Ahead, but all very happy ones! *****

Pamela Powell (PP): How did the two of you first become connected?

Sarah Teale (ST): Lisa and I both make documentaries for HBO and knew about each other for years but in 2011 I invited Lisa to visit us at our farm in upstate New York. I was starting a cooperative for grass fed beef farmers and Lisa started filming the farmers and edited them into short films for the new co-op’s web site. We then realized that this was a much larger undertaking and their stories said a lot about the state of our food systems today. So Lisa kept filming. The result was the documentary Grazers: A Cooperative Story, which also screened at DOC NYC.

Lisa F. Jackson (LFJ): Also, I had just finished three docs in a row about rape and sexual violence and I jumped at the chance to spend time in the Adirondacks with Sarah and her cows.

PP: How did you first hear about Tres Santos and then decide to document the citizens fight to regain control?

ST: My husband has owned a house in Todos Santos for 35 years and I have been going there for years. In 2015 he noticed a huge foundation wall being erected on the fishermen’s beach and we heard about plans for a massive mega development starting on the fishermen’s beach. We also heard that the fishermen were fine with this but we decided to go and ask them and that started a three year odyssey in which the fishermen led an ultimately successful fight to stop the development.

LFJ: Sarah and I were looking for another project to work on together and she invited me to visit Todos Santos in the winter of 2015 with an eye towards researching a film about the Sea of Cortez, but the real film was closer to home. That day on the beach we met fisherman Rosario Salvatierra and his rage and passion was contagious: we knew we had our main character and the beginning of a story.

PP: Your film is refreshingly unusual in that we truly have a happy ending in a documentary about human rights. This “David vs. Goliath” scenario could have gone either way. As you watched the events unfold, as I’m sure this is true with many documentaries, is your story line constantly changing as you’re editing it in your mind?

ST: We had no idea where this story was going and mostly dreaded that the outcome would be as it had been in Cabo San Lucas. Cabo is just an hour south of Todos Santos and the developers have totally taken over the community. As with any cinema verité film you take off after a story and hope that it will pan out. Lisa and I grew up in the HBO stable of filmmakers where Sheila Nevins allowed you the time and the space to follow a story until there is a logical end so that is what we did. We are both rather stubborn.

LFJ: There were many times over those years when it indeed looked like the fishermen – and their supporters – would be crushed by the devious and unscrupulous developers – but I just stuck with the fishermen, knowing that they were not going down without an epic fight.

PP: Tell me more about gaining access to the citizens in this community.

ST: I think at first the fishermen were just grateful that someone had come to ask them their opinion. After that they were grateful that we just stuck around. Lisa speaks perfect Spanish and soon picked up their particular accent and prodigious swear words and after a while they more or less forgot that she was there. Todos Santanians are on the whole very open and trusting and I think they just trusted us to tell their story.

LFJ: We told the fishermen straight up that we wanted to follow their fight and I just kept showing up, both at the beach and at their homes. Total immersion was the only way to get the intimate footage that Patrimonio required: long days on the boat with Rosario, long nights shooting the blockade, endless meetings and rallies and vigils and never knowing if the next day would bring an intimidating lawsuit or a devastating high tide, a new baby or the death of a patriarch. I felt in a way that the fishermen were cheered by the camera, that it was validating their resistance and that we were all in it together.

PP: What was one of the most surprising hurdles you encountered and how did you tackle it?

ST: Lisa was sued along with five other people. It is mentioned in the film but we left out her name. On several occasions the police arrived at our house to serve her papers. This could have meant serious jail time and a massive fine and was not something to take lightly even though it was based on nothing. John Moreno kept on top of the paperwork and filing the right counter arguments and Lisa registered with the US Consulate but the only way to tackle such hurdles from a personal point of view is to carry on and try not to be intimated. Not easy.

LFJ: John’s jail time was hairy for everybody but the four of us who – along with John – had been sued by the company and threatened with arrest couldn’t help but wonder if we were next. Mexico is not a safe place for journalists and keeping my focus in the face of that was tough at times. One hurdle we couldn’t overcome was the developers’ adamant refusals to be interviewed, but their despicable acts began to pile up and in the end that told us all we needed to know about them. Another hurdle was the heavy logistical load of living in New York City while shooting a film 3,000 miles away, a problem I solved two years ago by selling the apartment where I’d lived for 30 years and moving to Todos Santos!

PP: When John was arrested and detained for months, can you share with me what was your thought process about the film and your ability to continue?

ST: At the beginning we did not think that John’s jail time would last too long but it was shock to everyone when he was denied bail. But it was in fact a gift for the film and a gift for the fight. Everyone in town was horrified and the developers revealed who they really were and how the were connected both politically and to the judiciary. John’s arrest united the community in the fight and gave our film a focus and ultimately a rather joyous ending.

LFJ: John and his family are friends of mine, and his arrest sickened all of us: in Mexico activists are routinely “disappeared” and things could have gone very badly. But after a moment of stunned paralysis the fishermen – and the town – just ramped up the fight and those responsible for having him arrested knew that we were all watching. Not continuing was not an option.

PP: I’m sure that as a documentary filmmaker, it’s hard to stay removed from the situation at hand, especially when you’re witnessing injustices. As documentarians, can you share with me some of the more difficult moments in this particular film, to stay removed?

ST: We asked ourselves that question a lot throughout this film but sometime there is simply right and wrong and we knew which side right was. The developers could have done the right thing at any time but with every step they made things worse and hoped that their aggression, their money and their political connections would win, as it usually does in Mexico and the United States. But the people of Todos Santos are very independent minded and fierce that they wouldn’t give up so we didn’t either.

PP: What is the message you hope viewers and even other “Davids” (vs. “Goliaths”) to take away from your film?

ST: We feel that the fishermen’s fight and the tactics used by John Moreno offer a blueprint for other communities and other fights. The fishermen stood up for their legal and human rights and kept that mission front and center at all times. They appealed to universal values and backed it up with law and they used every available outlet to get their information and their truth out there – marches, brochures, meetings, social media and ultimately lawsuits.

LFJ: The fight against Tres Santos was a rolling snowball and I think the film shows how the fishermen’s concern about their beach became a cumulative and collective outrage against this threat to the town’s very existence. It only becomes a David v Goliath story when the underdog decides to pick up a rock and put it in their slingshot and the audacity that the fishermen showed in speaking truth to power was that rock. It’s a simple story, but a universal one.

PP: What is it about making documentaries that appeals most to you as a creative filmmaker?

ST: Nothing beats real life for good stories. Nothing. It is scary but I also love that you never know what is going to happen and when. As with life, you just have to roll with it and hope. I have always loved documentaries and always will and was inspired by the generation before us who essentially invented the form.

LFJ: I have been involved in documentary filmmaking ever since I left MIT film school in 1971 and my career has been one where every project has been an immersion in a different reality, and the challenge and thrill of that hooked me immediately. My mentor, Ricky Leacock, was one of the fathers of cinema verite and his great advice to me was “get closer”. It’s been my great privilege to have spent over 40 years with that as my job description.

PP: And finally, as female filmmakers, how do you see, if at all, the environment changing for women in this industry?

ST: Lisa and I were lucky enough to work for a very powerful and dedicated woman at HBO. Sheila Nevins has done more to promote documentaries than anyone ever and she always supported women but more than that she supported good filmmakers wherever she found them and good stories. That was all that mattered to her ultimately and that was both very freeing and very challenging – she wouldn’t commission you just because it was you but only if you could deliver a good film. There are more opportunities these days for women and that is a very good thing but they still have to deliver and that will always be the ultimate challenge.

LFJ: Women are more technically hands-on than ever before and fearless about picking up a camera and just doing it. Documentary filmmaking has always seemed more egalitarian than the world of Hollywood fiction and it’s thrilling to see so many women taking up the challenge of telling the female-focused stories that we’ve been missing, and they’re seeing the effect that those stories can have. In the 70’s when I was starting out I didn’t have any female role models but I now see many women mentoring other women and that makes me sanguine about how far we’ve come and where we’re headed.

It is with absolute gratitude that I give to both Teale and Jackson for not being intimidated and to deliver such a cinematically courageous and inspiring film. If you missed “Patrimonio” in NYC, you’ll be able to see it on DVD and VOD in March, 2019 via First Run Features.

Michael Glover Smith finds balance in artistry and entertainment in his 3rd feature film “Rendezvous in Chicago”

October 18th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on “Michael Glover Smith finds balance in artistry and entertainment in his 3rd feature film “Rendezvous in Chicago””

Writer and director Michael Glover Smith creates his third feature film “Rendezvous in Chicago.” Set in the Windy City, Smith continues to tackle various aspects of complicated relationships in three separate vignettes. While the short stories feature three different sets of couples, all at various stages of their relationships, the stories are interconnected by not only location, but by looking either into a crystal ball or the rearview mirror of life. Life and relationships are on a continuum, and Smith finds uniquely intriguing couples to portray this as he strikes a balance between artistry and entertainment.

Smith’s first story begins with Paul (Kevin Wehby) and Delaney (Clare Cooney) who first meet in a bar. This isn’t an ordinary bar scene, however. Delaney is almost hiding in the back of the bar with no one around her, buried in her computer and intent on completing her dissertation. Paul happens into the empty bar to finish his work, only to catch a glimpse of this focused woman. There’s something that pulls him to her as he tries desperately to engage her, but she’s wise beyond her years. The two swap barbs, but then there’s a connection like a strike of lightning thanks to 19th century Russian literature. It’s serendipitous, but Delaney’s too smart to let Paul take the lead. Where she leads him is wonderfully surprising and at times comedic, but always, this woman is “wearing the pants” in the beginning of this relationship.

Cooney is comfortably confident in her portrayal of Delaney while Wehby gives us a familiar performance of an overly self-assured young man who eventually has the tables turned. He beautifully and ever so slowly peels away the layers of his superficial persona to surprisingly reveal a male with deep emotional potential and appreciation of the woman he just met. The pacing and genuine interaction between Cooney and Wehby is refreshingly fun, creating a longing for knowing what happens next with these two individuals.

Smith then introduces us to a couple, Rob (Matthew Sherbach) and Andy (Rashaad Hall), who are madly in love, looking into becoming committed to one another officially. The tenuous excitement is palpable as they discuss unimportant topics of conversation such as dog vs. cat people, but what lies beneath is so much more important. There’s a surprise waiting as Rob has been keeping this a secret for awhile. Their sweet connection to one another immediately connects you to them, pulling you into their situation and anxiously anticipating the outcome.

While the first vignette allows you to recall the spark of interest and even lust or excitement in a relationship and the second creates the beauty of true love, the third story, starring Nina Ganet, is explosive, typifying the end of a relationship. As the first two stories are more traditional in story-telling style, the third is more experimental, pushing the envelope of emotion. Julie (Ganet) walks in on a cheating significant other and we, the audience become her sounding board as the dust begins to settle. This raw pain is exquisitely performed and we feel that we are her best friend, allowing her to bare her soul on this difficult day.

In all three of Smith’s feature films, he concentrates on various aspects of relationships, delving deeply into the stages. (There’s even a fun connection in the first vignette to “Mercury in Retrograde!”) In “Rendezvous in Chicago,” these stages are quite ordinary, however, there is nothing ordinary about these stories. We can all relate to each and every aspect as we recall our first meeting with a potential love-interest, or reminisce about taking that next step in a relationship or even breaking up, but where Smith pushes the envelope is with the strength of the women in the first and third story. Delaney is intelligent and witty, but not every guy is deserving of her. She hammers this home in subtle ways, thanks to the adroit writing skills of Smith and credit to her skillful delivery. Ganet finds power in her emotionally wrenching reaction to her character’s cheating significant other. She’s honest with herself and the viewer, and Smith’s direction creates an unusual relationship between the camera or viewer and Julie. Ganet is simply extraordinary.

Smith also deftly and rather slyly creates a traditional relationship in a gay couple, Rob who is white and Andy who is Black. Smith is able to subtly punctuate the fact that love is the same no matter what your gender, your orientation, or your race. There is a simple beauty in this overtly complex situation.

“Rendezvous in Chicago” finds strength and harmony in three seemingly disconnected stories set in Chicago. With the Second City as a backdrop and even character of the stories, there is so much more that connects these couples at the beginning, middle, and end of their relationships than Chicago. It’s the continuum of life and love that we all experience. Smith blurs the lines of traditional thoughts and storytelling techniques to create a throught-provoking and intriguing montage of love.

TIFF 2018: It’s a wrap!

September 14th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “TIFF 2018: It’s a wrap!”

Films seem to come in a myriad number of flavors and styles. Where better to sample all of these tastes than at the Toronto International Film Festival? This year’s TIFF proved to be one of the most competitive and entertaining festivals with more Oscar buzz-worthy films than ever before.

With hundreds of feature films from all over the world, there were plenty to please every film palate. Some of these films continue to gain critical acclaim and audience appreciation from other festivals, such as “The Kindergarten Teacher” and “Colette,” while others are shooting quickly to the top, such as “First Man” and “Widows.”

Seeing more than 25 films at this year’s fest, I’ve compiled my “Best of the Fest” list to share with you. Many of these films will be released in the coming months, just in time for Oscar consideration.

To read all about the best of the fest, go to the Friday, Sept. 14th edition of The Daily Journal:

Filmmaker Michal Aviad talks about her empowering and realistic TIFF film “Working Woman”

September 5th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “Filmmaker Michal Aviad talks about her empowering and realistic TIFF film “Working Woman””

Michal Aviad’s newest film, “Working Woman,” has its international premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on Tuesday, Sept. 11. The film depicts the story of Orna (Liron Ben Shlush), a happily married woman who is financially struggling to make ends meet as she attempts to balance motherhood and career. With an opportunity to support the family and her husband’s opening of a new restaurant, Orna becomes a sales sensation for the real estate mogul Benny (Menashe Noy). The price she pays is higher than anticipated, combatting the advances of her boss while attempting to keep her job. This riveting and realistic portrayal of women in the work place is as disturbing and eye-opening as it is empowering. With extraordinary performances and an intuitively thought-provoking script co-written by Aviad, Sharon Azulay Eyal, and Michal Vinik, Aviad directs her cast to bring to light a subject matter that is timely and relevant while allowing others to more accurately understand a woman’s perspective and challenges in life.

I had a chance to talk with Aviad about her inspiration in developing such an intricately real story as well as her own empowering actions in life. Her strength both behind the camera and in the film industry elicits a sense of camaraderie and motivation to make a difference in our own communities right now.


Pamela Powell (PP): You’ve been in this industry long enough to see the tides begin to turn.  Looking back on your career, was any of this story inspired by your own life or observations?

Michal Aviad (MA):I worked ten years as a waitress, and since the late 1980’s as a filmmaker and film teacher. I’ve experienced many things at work and in life – from humiliating sexual comments to sexual abuse. Struggling to work as a woman filmmaker was and still often is accompanied by degrading behavior towards me as a woman. On the other hand, luckily, as an Independent Film Director, I don’t have bosses. In addition, I have been working with feminist colleagues for many years to bring issues of female equality into the national consciousness. For example, in our industry, two years ago, with The Israeli Forum of Women in Cinema & TV, I took part in writing a treaty which calls everyone to report sexual harassment at work and detail the actions that will be taken against harassers.

PP: Studying both literature and philosophy, how do these combine to help in creating such articulate and deep characters like Orna and her husband?

MA: The education I received in the Humanities helps me to understand the world. It also opened me to reading feminist philosophy and theory, as well as film theory. All those have shaped my values and outlook on society and cinema. In addition, for many years I’ve been making documentaries, which brought me to communities and women who belong to different classes and ethnicities than my own. Meeting people through work gave me the opportunity to deepen my thoughts and feelings about the ways gender issues manifest themselves.

In WORKING WOMAN, I wanted to understand how and why working relations between men and women, so often go wrong. I know women like Orna: talented and ambitious young mothers, who have to work full time to survive, but also strive for success at their jobs. I knew I wanted to tell a story about such a woman. Also, while writing I wanted to shape Orna and her husband as a loving couple, since I wanted my heroine to reject her boss’s advances because she is simply in love with another man, her husband. I wanted to make Ofer, Orna’s husband, lovable and sexy, and what is sexier for women (I wish men realized this) than a caring father? We were writing a story in which I wanted to find out how sexual harassment at work affects not only the victim’s soul, but also her relations with her entire environment. I wanted to find out why Orna and many women do not tell even loved ones about the struggle they go through.

PP: This film’s story will most certainly, and unfortunately, resonate with a majority of women in the workplace.  With such an empowering end, what do you hope others will take away from it?

MA: I am glad you see the end as empowering, since Orna, like most women and unlike the #MeToo heroines, does not go public. According to an Israeli law against sexual harassment created in 1998, Orna doesn’t stand a chance of proving her case at court. In reality, women who go through sexual harassment at work, more often than not, lose everything: their job, promised money, their hopes to advance and the ability to find a similar job. But Orna is not just a helpless victim, she goes out to fight for what she can get.

I wanted to put a magnifying glass on the much convoluted issue of sexual harassment at the work place. I wish viewers, women and men, will come out of the film with an understanding how and why it happens and how complicated it can be at times. I hope that audiences identify with Orna and what she is going through, and hope they see the blind spots the protagonists and we all have. By understanding how common and deeply engrained sexual abuse is in our culture, we can fundamentally change women-men relationships and build a society in which, rather than power, treating the other as equal humans, guides our lives together.

PP: Tell me how you worked with Liron (Orna) whose performance was subtle yet complex and exuded intelligence and strength. (Photo courtesy Matt Johnstone Publicity)

MA: First of all, Liron is an extremely intelligent and talented actress.
During auditions, most of the young actresses who auditioned for the part knew about sexual harassment from personal experience. But when Liron auditioned, I felt that she knew Orna. Liron was 20 weeks pregnant at the time, but I felt she was my heroine, so we waited for her to give birth and recover. While filming, Liron was breast-feeding, which was an additional feminist angle to the set. In the months prior to filming, Liron and I researched Orna together. We met with women who sell real estate, we toured the neighborhood where I wanted Orna and Ofer to live, and we talked for days. We slowly shaped every step of Orna’s journey. We knew her strengths and flaws. In each scene we knew how she acts and reacts. During production, Liron, who appears in each shot in the film, knew Orna as well as me, and sometimes better. She became my main partner on the set.

PP: The hotel scene literally stopped me from breathing as I hesitantly watched the details unfold. Can you tell me about the research about sexual harassment and assault that you did to portray such realistic responses? 

MA: My previous narrative feature film, INVISIBLE (2011), is about the trauma of two women who were raped many years earlier by the same serial rapist. My personal experience and years of reading testimonies on the subject, helped me grasp the complex reactions of victims of sexual abuse. Shaping the assault scene at the hotel, stems also from watching films, the majority of which were made by men. I was trying to veer away from creating a scene that can sexually stimulate viewers. Rape and harassment scenes in cinema are traditionally directed to combine the greatest ticket sales formula: sex and violence on the screen. I do not want to be part in that tradition. I wanted to show a horrific scene that didn’t involve nudity and blood.

PP: Benny’s character is slowly unveiled allowing the viewer to understand Orna’s response to stay in her job.  Tell me about collaborating with Menashe (Benny) to get such a strong and realistic portrayal of this character.

MA: … Menashe and I have worked for many years within the film and TV community in Israel and both of us personally know men who were accused and charged with sexual abuse. We agreed that Benny cannot be an evil caricature. We shaped a character that has lots of charm and generosity, a boss that appreciates Orna, his employee, and seeks to advance her, but is blind to his power and to the will of the woman he likes so much.

PP: To say that this is a timely tale is an understatement.  What are your thoughts about the timing and issues that apparently are not only happening in the U.S., but around the world?

MA: When #MeToo happened I was in the middle of shooting. The news was for me a breath of a new hope. Finally we are moving from the frustrated margins to the mainstream of the struggle against sexual abuse. But from the 200 hundred years history of the feminist movement, I know that achievements often meet powerful waves of oppression. In Israel, the variety of reactions to each new story about sexual abuse always include men who lament the death of flirting, warn against a plague of false accusations and protest against a return to puritan times. Fear and fantasy get mixed up. On the other hand, so far the women that came out in the #MeToo moment are famous, wealthy celebrities who make news. I would love nurses, chambermaids and secretaries to come out with their stories without paying a terrible price. I wish for WORKING WOMAN and for society that men as well as many women realize that we have to re-think the old values we grew up on and re-shape the society we live in. I feel optimistic, but the road is still long.

PP: You also capture the difficulties in balancing children, work, and home along with financial pressures associated with all of this.  

MA: Women struggle to prove that we can work as hard and as many hours as men do. In most Western societies, this is the only way women can obtain a career and sufficient income. But we, women, are also brought up to take primal responsibility for the home and children. Orna, in comparison with most women, is lucky to have a husband who takes some of the domestic workload off her shoulders. I hope that with the wake-up call to eradicate sexual abuse, we will change many other cultural “arrangements” between the sexes. I wish for a society where all adults work shorter days, and men join women in the joy and responsibility of caring for and raising children.

PP: In making this film, what was the most difficult aspect for you in bringing this to life?

MA: The very banal but still true answer is: funding. For four years we searched for funding. The competition for funding in Israel is fierce, but in addition, we received responses from funders in Israel and in Europe which ranged from: The script is not an interesting enough subject for a film, to not believing that Orna does not want sex with Benny, to suggesting to make the sexual abuse more brutal to create “real drama”.

It is with sincere gratitude that Aviad received the funding necessary to complete this timely story as its importance cannot be understated.

Be sure to see “Working Woman” at TIFF and walk in the shoes of a working woman, wife, and mother. For more information about this film, go to

TIFF 2018, An interview with filmmaker Thom Fitzgerald

August 26th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, News 0 thoughts on “TIFF 2018, An interview with filmmaker Thom Fitzgerald”

The 2018 Toronto International Film Festival is just around the corner with hundreds of features, short films and documentaries from around the world.

TIFF also has virtual reality experiences, conferences, presentations by legendary directors and even a few parties beginning Sept. 6 and running through Sept. 16.

This “festival of festivals” began in 1976 and has grown to be one of the premiere festivals in the world as both seasoned filmmakers and up-and-comers walk the red carpet and wait for the audience’s reactions to their creations.

Thom Firzgerald’s newest film, “Splinters,” will make its world debut at TIFF, and I had a chance to talk with the award-winning filmmaker about the film, inspired by the play of the same name by Lee-Anne Poole.

Set in a small farming community in Nova Scotia, Belle (Sophia Banzhaf) attempts to find peace with the loss of her father and to rectify and repair her relationship with her mother, who finds difficulty in accepting her sexual identity. It’s a beautiful and heartfelt drama, capturing the love of family and self as it explores the complexities of life.

Fitzgerald shared his thoughts about his characters and creating this timeless and relevant film.

To read the interview in its entirety go to

“Pick of the Litter” Opens the 2018 Slamdance Film Festival

August 17th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on ““Pick of the Litter” Opens the 2018 Slamdance Film Festival”

Dana Nachman and Don Hardy, Jr. are teaming up once again to bring viewers a meaningfully beautiful and emotional story with the 2018 Slamdance opening night film, “Pick of the Litter.”  The pair are also responsible for this critic’s favorite documentaries of year’s past such as “Batkid Begins” and “The Human Experiment.”  Now, they take us on a journey in the lives of 5 labrador retriever puppies who were bred with the intention of becoming a guide dog for the blind.  We join these puppies from the moment of birth to their final destination, but only the best of the best can make it as a guide dog.  Will any of these 5 puppies, Phil, Primrose, Patriot, Poppet , or Potomac, make the cut?

“Pick of the Litter” is a thrillingly heartfelt story as we get to know the puppies, the loving people who train them in their homes for a short period of time, and two visually impaired people who are hopeful of receiving one of these dogs to help them lead more independent lives.  Tears of joy and tears of sorrow are a constant in this film, just like “Batkid Begins” proving that this Dynamic Duo has done it again. 

We meet the “P” litter as they are literally being born.  3 black labs and 2 yellow.  Your heart immediately melts even though at this stage they look more like fat gerbils than pudgy little puppies.  We know from the very beginning that these dogs were bred for one purpose…to lead the blind.  The process is a long and tricky one as we see them grow into those adorable fluffy fur balls filled with energy and they begin their training by being placed in a home.  This, as we will see, is a tough aspect of the process as the temporary owners get quite attached to their new buddy.  And then we find ourselves predicting which one we think has all the right stuff to make it as a guide dog, rooting for each of them, and being surprised as their personalities develop and they mature.

As the viewer, we get to know these little guys and gals, their home-trainers, and the hopeful future owners needing assistance.  With candid and open interviews with all involved, we are able to walk in each of their shoes, understanding what it takes to love, raise, and then let go of these smart and loving animals.  I fell in love with Phil when he was 5-weeks old.  I can’t imagine raising him and then letting him go, but it is for the greater good—a blind person gaining independence.

The film captures the process of raising and training a guide dog with such exquisite skill that we feel we are a part of the journey.    The camera work brings you down to the dogs’ level and the storyline brings you to the humanity of it.   By the end of the film, it’s like watching a race, seeing which dogs will cross the finish and become the winner of helping a disabled adult.  Those that don’t make it become “career changed,” but that’s not a bad thing.  Perhaps they will become a breeder dog, or maybe just a great companion for someone.  But in your heart, you want each of these dogs to go on and fulfill their destiny, but you know that not all of them have the potential to do this.  This is where your tears begin to stream, most of which are happy tears.

Nachman and Hardy tell a beautiful, educational, and heartfelt story that lifts you up, reminding you of the importance of helping one another and how dogs can be an integral part of our lives.

The film opens tonight, Friday, Jan. 19 at 7 pm at the Treasure Mountain Inn in Park City.  For more information about tickets, go to

Tribeca Film Festival 2018 is a wrap

April 27th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals 0 thoughts on “Tribeca Film Festival 2018 is a wrap”

The 18th Annual Tribeca Film Festival is coming to a close and is one I consider to be the best in years in terms of quality, equality, variety, and special presentations.  With close to 100 feature films not to mention the seemingly myriad number of short films, I have the best of the fest.

TULLY:  Diablo Cody (Juno, Young Adult) writes this screenplay perhaps as she looks in the mirror, depicting life as a mother in one of the most raw and truthful films addressing the subject.  Charlize Theron stars as Marlo a mother of 2 and pregnant with her 3rd, whose wealthy brother offers to pay for a “night nanny.”  With 2 active and demanding youngsters, a newborn, and a “typical” husband, Marlo is exhausted and bites the bullet, taking her  brother up on his generous offer.  As  Tully (Mackenzie Davis) and Marlo begin to bond, life takes a wonderfully positive turn, but as the layers are peeled away we discover so much more.  It’s an eloquent and insightful film that humorously and dramatically portrays the thoughts, emotions, and harsh realities of what motherhood is like on a daily basis as we are reminded of our dreams, our past, and our futures.  Opens in theaters May 4.




STOCKHOLM:  The psychological term “Stockholm Syndrome” originated from this “absurd but true story” starring Ethan Hawke, Mark Strong, and Noomi Rapace.   The good-hearted bank robber, Lars (Hawke) hatches a hair-brained plan to get his best buddy Gunnar (Strong) out of the Swedish penitentiary, taking 3 hostages captive.  His plan unfolds in the most unpredictable, almost slap-stick silly way, making you fall in love with Lars as well.  It’s an incredibly entertaining and comedic slice of history suiting Hawke’s comedy skills to a “T” a skill we didn’t even know he had.

WOMAN WALKS AHEAD:  Written by Steven Knight (Locke Hundred Foot Journey) and directed by Susanna White, this story is also based upon an historical event.  Catherine Weldon (Jessica Chastain), a Brooklyn-based artist in the late 1800’s, travels to the Dakotas to paint Sitting Bull’s portrait.  Arriving in a hostile environment, she is unwelcome by the military, but with a determination not characteristically seen in women during this era, she perseveres.  The relationship she develops with Sitting Bull is heart-wrenchingly beautiful and the integrity she shows in fighting for Native American’s rights is inspiring.  Chastain is extraordinary, Sam Rockwell hones his skills as a dislikable misogyntist and racist, and Michael Greyeyes reincarnates a virtuous and complicated Sitting Bull.  The exceptional cinematography beckons you to see this on the big screen.  Opens in theaters June 29.

LOVE, GILDA:  The life of the beloved comedic performer from Saturday Night Live, Gilda Radner, is featured in Lisa D’Apolito’s documentary, “Love, Gilda.”  Using journals, audio recordings, found family footage, and photographs from her life, Radner’s history is brought to life.  We learn about her childhood, her struggle with her weight, her love interests, and what drove her to be such a star.  Interviews with those who knew her best and those she inspired, such as Chevy Chase, Maya Rudolph, Lorne Michaels, and Martin Short to name a few, keep her spirit alive and allow all of us to know her better.  D’Apolito creates a flawless portrayal of one of the most iconic performers in the 20th century. (Release date yet to be determined.)

O.G.:  Written by Stephen Belber and directed by Madeleine Sackler, Jeffrey Wright (“Westworld”) stars in this thought-provoking and poignant film about Louis, a man incarcerated for murder, serving 24 of his 60 year sentence, soon to be released on parole.  The emotional angst and uncertainty push him to reach out to a new, young convict, attempting to pass the torch and his wisdom as he looks in the rear view mirror of his life.  The complexity of the structure of prison is revealed and impacts Louis’ future as he is placed between survival and his future.  Beautifully filmed, we are taken inside the closed quarters, feeling as if we are walking along side Louis.  And Wright’s skillful performance lets us inside the mind of an “original gangster,” perhaps even gaining understanding for the decisions he has made and continues to make.  Filmed in an actual prison in Indiana, few actors were used, creating a formidable and impactful scenario not to be missed.  (Release date yet to be determined.)

It was a difficult task to limit my list of the best films as every film I saw stood out.  Never before have I attended such a festival where no film was a disappointment.  Other films that could have easily made my top list include:  “Diane,” “The Seagull,” “Blue Night,” “All About Nina,” “Mary Shelley,” Back Roads,” “Red Roll Red,” “Egg,” “General Magic,” “Ghostbox Cowboy,” and “M.” Additionally, TFF was represented by 48% women-directed films, three of which were my top films and “Tully” was written by a female.  TFF 2018 is one for the records!


April 16th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals 0 thoughts on “WHAT’S ON THE HOT LIST AT THIS YEAR’S TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL”

Excerpt from the April 16th edition of Fete Lifestyle Magazine:

It’s show time for the annual Tribeca Film Festival taking place April 18-29 in New York City.  With 96 feature films, both narratives and documentaries, let’s see what’s top on the list this year. 

Go to Fete Lifestyle Magazine to see the entire list!

“Women Represent at the SXSW Film Festival”

March 16th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals 0 thoughts on ““Women Represent at the SXSW Film Festival””

The SXSW Film Festival, now a quarter century old, will run from March 9-17 in Austin Texas.  The premier festival showcases festival favorites from Sundance, world premieres from around the country, and Texas shorts and Texas high school shorts.  The line up is always amazing and the distractions include an array of music events, comedy headliners, and of course, barbecue!  

As I perused this year’s SXSW Film Festival line up, I had an immediate rush of hope.  Hope that this festival could feasibly be the best in representing women!  The first category was “Narrative Features” listed in alphabetical order.  The first one, “Family” is written and directed by Laura Steinel.  The second, “First Match,” was written and directed by Olivia Newman.  I began to sit more erectly in the chair in front of my computer, scrolling a little more quickly as I read through the entire list.  Number 3, 4, and 5 on the list were also projects of female filmmakers!  In fact, 80% of the Narrative Feature films at this year’s SXSW Film Festival are by women!  

To read the article in its entirety, go to Fete Lifestyle Magazine

An Interview with Yeardley Smith at SXSW

March 14th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals 0 thoughts on “An Interview with Yeardley Smith at SXSW”

Yeardley Smith is a woman of many talents, one of them is possessing the most recognizable voice in television history—the voice of Lisa Simpson.  Actress, podcaster, author, and producer also fill her lengthy list of accomplishments, but this talented woman whose success came quickly and early in life, hit a few road blocks along the way.  Smith took time away from her schedule (and noshing on delectable barbecue) in Austin where her film “All Square” premiered to talk about her career path, words of advice, and the future of women in Hollywood.

Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

PP:  What advice would you give your younger self?

YS:  Do not attach your value to your accomplishments…I didn’t realize I was doing it until I was 20 years into my career, that I had tied my identity and my value to  external things.  And of course you can’t fill up the inside from the outside.

PP:  And you do a one woman live stage show?

YS:  I did.  Do is the wrong tense.  Did.  I’ll never do it again.  Around that time that I thought, ok I better pull up my socks and do it myself.  Sadly, the NYT reviewed it like your mother would write.  Pretty much everyone else disliked it.  I think it was terribly misunderstood where people thought, you have everything.  I don’t know why I should feel sorry for you.  And I was like, Oh my God, you’ve missed the point!  That’s what I’m telling you, I have everything and how come it didn’t work.  How come all of that material wealth and all of these opportunities didn’t make me feel like whatever I felt was broken inside of me is now fixed.  The audiences really loved it, but because it was not well reviewed, we couldn’t fill the houses and it closed. 

The audio interview in its entirety here


“Son of Sofia” A hauntingly powerful story portraying a current day Oedipal conflict

March 12th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on ““Son of Sofia” A hauntingly powerful story portraying a current day Oedipal conflict”

“Son of Sophia” had its world premiere at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival and is now a powerful part of the annual Chicago European Union Film Festival.  Written and directed by Elina Psykou and staring Victor Khomut as a young boy, wrestling with issues of betrayal, abandonment, and love as he leaves childhood behind.  This thought-provoking and psychologically deep film about a mother and her son creates an intriguingly insightful look at growing up in less than ideal circumstances.

Misha (Khomut), a quiet and reserved 11 year-old travels on his own from Russia to Athens to live with his mother, Sofia (Valery Tscheplanowa).  The two have been separated for years and their reunion shows the unfamiliarity but obligatory connection.  The living situation is just one of the many surprises for Misha as he learns that he and his mother will be living with an older gentleman, Mr. Nikos (Thanassis Papageorgiou).  This man, he will discover, is also his new stepfather.  It’s evident that Misha still needs his mother and isn’t ready for this new “father” in his life.  He is still a young boy at heart as we see him clinging to the comfort of fairy tales. Jarringly, he is then abruptly pulled into the world of an older boy with no parental influence.  The struggle is palpable as Misha grows up in this foreign land, not understanding the language and thrust into a surprising situation which push the envelope of emotional capabilities of any child.

“Son of Sophia” is a complexly layered story, delving into not just the growing pains of young Misha, but of the conflicting loyalty that Sofia now has.  She’s torn between the love of her son and the needs of her new husband as well as her financial dependency upon him. She is treated as less than a person, demands placed upon her, and commanding her son to do the same. This heartbreaking and internal  struggle is beautifully portrayed, demonstrating what many wives and mothers deal with on a daily basis.

“Son of Sofia” develops another story within the film as we see another viewpoint; that of Misha.  He longed to be only with his mother and finds Mr. Nikos to be a competitor.  It’s a classic representation of a boy with an Oedipus Complex, attempting to do away with his competition.  Misha’s new-found friend, Victor (Aremois Havalits) couldn’t be any worse of an influence, but with no parental involvement, Misha delves into inappropriate situations.  His ability to understand right from wrong seems to become less clear as do his skills in coping with losing his childhood.

Khomut is the lead actor, supporting the film completely with his nuanced performance.   Balancing on the edge of childhood’s imagination and the dark world of adults is intellectually difficult, but Khomut finds a way to do exactly this.  Tscheplanowa gives us a beautifully dramatic performance, creating a conflicted and apprehensive character.  She brings us a character who is not only real, but believable.  The interaction between the two is familiar and relatable while the cinematography gorgeously captures each and every mood and feeling.  The story-line does become disturbing, but it is required to do so in order to expertly bring the Oedipal Complex to its bitter-sweet conclusion.

“Son of Sofia” is remarkably haunting and dramatic as it captures the love between a mother and her son and his need to grow up.  Its complexities are revealed through deft direction and writing, allowing the cast to shine.

“All Square” A dark comedy at SXSW gives Michael Kelly a chance to shine in new ways

March 10th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on ““All Square” A dark comedy at SXSW gives Michael Kelly a chance to shine in new ways”

Remember when films took you away to a not so different place, yet one that let you escape your own life?  Movies that were filled with interesting characters, perhaps one that you could even identify with?  Or somehow, that imperfect character who was the focal point of the story allowed you to root for him even with all his flaws?  “All Square,” which premiered at the SXSW film festival, is just that movie.  It’s good old-fashioned storytelling complete with characters we love, identify with, and hope beyond hope that they make it across home plate.

Michael Kelly stars in “All Square,” the story of a small-town bookie, following in his not-so-successful father’s footsteps, after failing to be the town’s baseball prodigy oh-so-many years ago.  John (Kelly) is constantly behind the eight ball, attempting to collect on debts, having a heart when he shouldn’t and trying to be tough in all the wrong ways.  Caring for his elderly father, paying medical bills and for cigarettes (oh, the irony) John attempts to up the ante and score it big…in a youth baseball league gambling ring he has devised.  After a one-night stand with Debbie (Pamela Adion), a former flame, John connects with her son Brian, a pitcher with perhaps some skills yet to be mined.  John’s foresight is a bit lacking and his actions not getting any votes for stand in father of the year, his plan spirals out of control, with the fallout unpredictable—at least to John.

Kelly’s role as John, the lovable loser who never seems to learn a lesson, is certainly a departure from his typical roles as Doug Stamper in “House of Cards,” or numerous law enforcement agents.  He seems to comfortably slip into this role as blue collar worker with a heart as well his Carharts.  His comedic timing in this dark comedy allows him to show a different and very entertaining side of his skills which I hope we will see more of in the future. 

Partnering with a child actor who must have the skills to  lead Kelly’s character to develop is a tough act to find, but Sheps is a natural.  The love and antagonistic relationship the two develop give such depth to not only their characters, but to the overall story.  Sheps portrays “Brian” with touch of maturity while still maintaining his youthful innocence that John could only dream to have had at such a young age.  And Sheps never takes this role over-the-top as some films and actors might have done.  He always finds that level of reality to bring to the character, allowing the audience to somehow find compassion for both main characters.

The cast is exceptional as is the writing and succinct and deft direction by John Hyams. The storyline of “All Square” has a touch of drama and suspense as well as comedy, albeit most of it either ironic or pitch black.  With writing and characters that connect with the viewer, the film is sure to be an audience pleaser as it comes full circle.  Filming in Dundalk, MD, the understated suburb of Baltimore, the town’s personality shines through to accentuate the story and its message.  Adion, Josh Lucas, Harris Yulin, and a cameo from Yeardley Smith (interview coming soon) round out the talented cast of characters to create a story that is as engaging as it is entertaining.

 “All Square” will screen again at the SXSW Film Festival on March 13 and 15.  For more information, go to SXSW FILM SCHEDULE

Watch for the upcoming interview with Yeardley Smith, Producer (voice of Lisa Simpson from “The Simpsons”)

The Best of Sundance 2018

January 27th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on “The Best of Sundance 2018”

The 2018 Sundance Film Festival is winding down and having been a part of the first 5 days, there was a different feel to it this year. The streets weren’t as crowded with pedestrians. The traffic was much less congested. And the lines to attend the films didn’t seem too terribly long. Perhaps the addition of “The Ray” theater and better traffic management explains this calmer, more quiet feeling. Or has attendance dropped precipitously from last year?. Only the final numbers not yet available will tell, but I can attest to the fact that the energy level certainly seemed less intense, overall.

For women in film, that was certainly not the case as numerous panel discussions, presentations, and a significant number of female-written and -directed films were available to festival goers. In addition, the Women’s March took place in town drawing locals, festival attendees, and celebrities. Coincidentally, 6 of the top 10 films of the fest, from my viewpoint, were either written and/or directed by women. Here are my festival favorites:

Jennifer Fox adapts her own life story to tell the tale of sexual abuse as a child. Starring Laura Dern as “Jennifer,” we meet her as an adult, rediscovering through an old English class story her mother found, the reality of what happened more than 30 years ago. Her perspective as an adult and revisiting those memories, sometimes clouded by time and stitched together with the aid of others during that fateful summer, allows Jennifer to confront her thoughts, current fears, and most importantly, herself. Ellen Bernstein portrays Jennifer’s mother, adding a realistic and often-times humorous touch to the movie. But what is most heart-wrenching and painful is the visually emotional manipulation of an adult with a child. The film cuts deeply with the precision accuracy of a surgeon into the mind and emotions of a strong yet damaged woman. It’s a painful journey that is at once genuine, allowing the viewer to begin to understand the depth of sexual abuse.

Written and directed by Sara Colangelo, the film stars Maggie Gyllenhaal (Lisa), a kindergarten teacher, mother of two teens, and wife, just going through the motions. She’s struggling with her disappointment in life and the world in general until she finds Jimmy (Parker Sevak), a child prodigy in the art of poetry. Lisa becomes overly involved in this child’s life and skills, crossing moral boundaries for the sake of nurturing a lost appreciation of art. The tension is palpable and the suspense almost unbearable in this uniquely introspective look at society and values. Gyllenhaal’s performance is breathtaking and the final words uttered leave you speechless.

Tamara Jenkins and her team of writers adapt Nick Hornby’s novel “Juliet, Naked” about a rock legend who inadvertantly falls in love with his biggest fan’s significant other. Directed by Jesse Peretz, this rom-com stars Ethan Hawke (Tucker Crowe), Rose Byrne (Annie), and Chris O’Dowd (Duncan) creating a hilarious situation with dramatic overtones that is thoroughly entertaining. It’s a current day romance that never loses its sense of humor and never a dull moment. I haven’t laughed and been this engaged in a rom-com since “When Harry Met Sally.”

Who could have suspected that a film about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg could be absolutely entertaining? Directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West weave together Justice Ginsburg’s youth, law school career, marriage, family, and legal experience, portraying all the ups and downs of each and we truly get to know this petite yet intellectually formidable woman. At the age of 83 years young, she is more popular than ever, inspiring young women to make a difference in this world. By the end of the film, after a few tears are shed along with many, many laughs, I learned about history and our judicial system. But most importantly, I know the woman that changed my life and every woman in America. Without her, we would still be ironing our husband’s shirts, never feeling valued as a viable person in the workplace.

Paul Rudd takes on an usual role, portraying the real life Moe Berg, a catcher in the professional baseball league and an Office of Strategic Services (OSS) spy. This brilliantly gifted man, speaking more than a half-dozen languages fluently, lead a very secretive life. No one ever really knew this man, but because of his skills, bravery, and intellect, the entire course of WWII may have taken a different path. Rudd immediately creates a believable character, always keeping his emotions close to the vest, but giving viewers those subtle features allowing us to see inside. This film has all the right components to create an informative yet entertaining story.

Kiera Knightley finds a revolutionary role in portraying Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, a young woman lacking a dowry in the countryside of France. The older and more sophisticated Willy (Dominic West), woos and marries her, taking her to the refined city of Paris. There, the two battle one another as their financial woes worsen. Her eloquent writing skills become their life-line, but she is not allowed the credit. On the surface, it sounds like a typical time-period story, but Colette pushes the day’s viewpoint on sexuality, fidelity, and gender acceptance. It’s an unexpected story filled with beautiful surprises that are relevant even in today’s world. Knightley and West are magical together, even when they are oil and vinegar. Beautiful imagery and costuming bring us into this world as we are captivated by this true story.

Writer and director Debra Granik (“Winter’s Bone”) adapts Peter Rock’s novel of the same name to give us a slow-burn film about a father and daughter living off the grid in the gorgeous mountains of Oregon. AS they are forced to leave their unique “home,” Will (Ben Foster), suffering from PTSD, plunges more deeply into his inner-demons, affecting his relationship with his astute daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie). This gorgeously shot film takes you deep inside the confines of society and one’s ability to cope in this world as it explores love, relationships, and mental health.



Brett Haley has done it again. He finds a voice that does not imitate his own reflection and creates a story and characters that we are all craving to hear. Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman) and Sam (Kiersey Clemons) are a father and daughter, struggling with the next stage of life. Frank’s failing record store and seeing that Sam is ready to move across the country for college is more than he is able to bear. Discovering his daughter’s amazing songwriting and performing skills during their “jam sesh,” Frank tries to create a band via Spotify which goes viral. It’s a balancing act as Frank pulls Sam back and Sam attempts to cut the apron strings. The film explores topics of young love and sexuality as well as father-daughter relationships using humor and poignancy. Did I mention the music is simply amazing? It is! Haley stated that he is truly proud of this film…and he should be!

Pentecostal preacher Bishop Carlton Pearson (Chiwetel Ejiofor) has a come to Jesus moment as he hears the voice of God one night. Finding a new way to interpret the Bible, Pearson begins to preach a different story—one that his congregation and mentors find to be heresy. Based on the true story originally told by Ira Glass on WBEZ’s ‘This American Life,’ director Joshua Marston (“Maria Full of Grace,” “Complete Unknown”) brings us a human story with divine intervention. Ejiofor, Jason Segal, and Martin Sheen star in this revelatory story that may allow you to see Christianity in a new light.

Mor Loushy and Daniel Siven give us the untold account of two warring people, the Israelis and the Palestinians, and the representatives that secretly met in the hopes of establishing peace. This historical recounting of events in the 1990’s allow us to see the countrys’ attempts to negotiate as well as the conundrum of how to compromise and maintain the constituents’ support. Getting to know these men on a personal basis brings a level of humanity and understanding that we wouldn’t otherwise know.

Check out interview with Claire McCarthy (“Ophelia”), and Q&A responses with Brett Haley (“Hearts Beat Loud”), Julie Cohen and Betsy West (“RBG”) and Debra Granik (“Leave No Trace”) at


“Ophelia” director Claire McCarthy talks contemporary take on Hamlet

January 26th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on ““Ophelia” director Claire McCarthy talks contemporary take on Hamlet”

From the January 26, 2018 publication of FF2 Media:

Director Claire McCarthy who earlier this month was named as one of 10 “directors to watch” in Variety Magazine, sat down to talk with me at the Sundance Film Festival just days before the world premiere of her film Ophelia.

Shakespeare is nothing new to McCarthy having had an immediate connection to the renowned author from her early high school days.  “There was something about the words of Shakespeare that are sublime and the themes that really kind of struck me…I did study Hamlet quite intimately…so I knew it from the perspective of its faithful original text.  Our version is taking the original text and turning it on its head.”


Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute


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