Thursday, March 20, 2008


Pop Foul
Director: Moon Molson
USA 2007 Run time: 20 min.

When a young boy heading home from Little League game sees his father take a "beat down" from a local thug, the pair enters into a secretive pact designed to hide the disturbing incident from the boy's mother.

DIRECTOR: Moon Molson
WRITER: Moon Molson
CAST: Danielle K. Thomas, Keith Bullard, Sekou Laidlow, Steven Clark
PRODUCER: Moon Molson
cinematographer: David R. Jones

“You dropped the ball…deal with it.” It is fascinating to see the relationship reveal itself between Lavonte and his father, and then the added dynamic between Lavonte and his mother.

Pop Foul opens with Lavonte venting his rage from a baseball field error onto a fence. His father, who was there to support him, cuts to the chase, and has very direct and logical advice for his son.

Issues quickly arise, however, when we see that Bobby, Lavonte’s father, literally cannot walk his talk.

How much issue burying can one boy take? We wonder just how much this young man has had to deal with before the film even opens that he reacts to simply missing a pop foul by needing to release his frustration with such physicality.

One cannot bury secrets in the backyard…they only fester, and erupt with a vengeance. One cannot hide the truth, without it eventually needing to free itself, and one cannot continue to absorb violence without it needing to find a release and expel itself onto a new target.

The direction that Pop Foul heads is not unexpected…but that should make it all the more shocking. Pay attention.

The Sculpture
Director: Rodgers Dameron
USA 2007 Run time: 2 min.

The Sculpture is a stop motion animation that depicts the surreal transformation when man alters stone to fit his image.

DIRECTOR: Rodgers Dameron
WRITER: Rodgers Dameron
PRODUCER: Rodgers Dameron

“When a stone is made into a sculpture, it ruins the stone forever….”

Point taken. Dameron makes a valid one. Who are we, as mere transient occupants of the planet, to take something that nature (or God, depending upon one’s belief system) has taken millions (or thousands) of years to lovingly create and destroy just because we call it our art? Just because we make it into our image?

The execution of the waxy stop-motion animation, however, was so crudely put together it reminded me of nothing so much as the California Raisins commercials from the 1980s and made the film’s theme a challenge to take seriously.

The Good Mother of Abangoh
Director: Nadine Licostie
USA 2007 Run time: 22 min.

The Good Mother of Abangoh is the story of Sister Jane Mankaa, a woman who defies her family to join a contemplative religious order then leaves that community to care for the orphaned children in her village. The inspiration, dedication and willpower of this amazing woman sustains her family of 43 children. Shot on location in Abangoh, Cameroon, this film captures just how Sister Jane helps her children recover from their suffering and flourish in their newfound lives.

DIRECTOR: Nadine Licostie
PRODUCER: Nadine Licostie
cinematographer: Daniele Marracino
composer: Salvadore Poe

It is often said that the camera picks up thought. Filmmaker Nadine Licostie has done a stunning job of carefully designing an environment where her cameras can pick up the thoughts of some extraordinary individuals.

Before Licostie arrived in Cameroon to tell the story of this miraculous orphanage in Abangoh, there was Sister Jane Mankaa. This exceptional woman began a home for the neediest of needy children in Cameroon out of a specific kind of emotional empathy. She says that “Love is such a powerful instrument to make people feel at home.” Having experienced cruelty in her own home in early life, blended with her willful personality and unconditional love upon entering a religious order, Sister Jane somehow developed the genius-level skills necessary to save these children.

It is so lovely to see her share the children’s joy. That joy is the success of her project that we see on the children’s faces. In turn, it is heartbreaking to see her agony: that she is limited to only 40 children in her “family” at one time.

How can one not be completely absorbed in the personal accounts of the children of Good Shepherd: Gilbert, Mirabelle, Kelvin, Juliet, Kevin, Petee, Divine, and Doreen? These are children who literally did not consider themselves to be people before they arrived to live with Sister Jane. Through the lens Licostie has provided us, we are able to share their stories of the new home they are a part of as they can at last let their pasts begin to fade.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Volcanic Sprint

USA 2007 Run time: 53 min. Director: Steven Dorst & Dan Evans

The sleepy town in Buea in the Southwest Province of Cameroon hosts Africa's most grueling footrace: the Mt. Cameroon Race of Hope, a marathon-length sprint 10,000 feet up a live volcano and back down again.To conquer the mountain, racers must overcome some of the cruelest conditions in sport: temperatures fluctuate 50 degrees, altitude sickness claims the weak, and loose volcanic stones can cause serious injury and even death as runners fly back down the mountain.For a select few, the rewards are lucrative: the top runners earn more in five hours than the average Cameroonian earns in four years. But nearly half of all runners will quit the race conquered by Mt. Cameroon.

DIRECTOR: Steven Dorst & Dan Evans
WRITERS: Dan Evans, Steve Dorst
PRODUCER: Steve Dorst
cinematographer: Ryan Hill
composer: Steve Steckler

Volcanic Sprint is a compelling film that shows us how much is possible when means are truly limited. How else would a farmer from Southwest Cameroon become a revered extreme racing icon?

The fact that this film was a low-budget endeavor even speaks to that. The filmmakers suffered altitude sickness right along with the athletes while in production.

We live in a global society where affluent world citizens regularly pay in the neighborhood of $100,000 to challenge Mt. Everest (not to mention the added gratuity of their lives should she so require it.) They climb for the challenge and love of climbing.

On Mt. Cameroon, the majority of the people who annually run the Race of Hope are driven by a completely different force. Most of them are citizens of Cameroon who race for the prize money. They see it as a type of job opportunity, as the financial reward for a first place finish can equal five years’ salary toward family survival. There is a very specific sense of greater purpose to the race participants, a conscious superobjective.

There is no thought to high tech footwear for the locals, and rehabilitating an injured knee for a regional athlete is unheard of. They race with only what little they have, as we watch shoes fall off on the mountain trail, and knees give out while runners somehow continue….Magic happens on screen before us.

While reflecting upon Volcanic Sprint, I have started fantasizing about a dream Celebrity Deathmatch: Five-time Female Division Champion Sarah Etonge (did I mention she accomplished most of these as a grandmother?) vs. Mt. Everest:Beyond the Limit athlete Tim Medvetz.

Sarah Etonge would kick his ass, I have no doubt.

Dorst and Evans do a beautiful job of weaving into their film that this community is anything but a sterile “sporting” environment. This race doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Singing, dancing, and libation ceremonies are interwoven into the fabric of preparation for this race along with a rigorous training schedule. We see how the people of Mt. Cameroon lead whole, integrated lives whether they are rich with material possessions or not.

Testing Hope: Grade 12 in the New South Africa
USA 2007 Run time: 40 min. Director: Molly Blank

Testing Hope: Grade 12 in the New South Africa's chronicles the lives of four young people in Nyanga township, South Africa, as they work towards their crucial Matric exams, which one student calls, "the decider". These students began school in 1994, the same year apartheid ended and Nelson Mandela became president. While this is the new South Africa, many vestiges of apartheid persist. "Testing Hope" follows the students as they prepare for the exams which they believe will determine their future. It explores what hangs in the balance if students pass Matric and what awaits those who do not. How do they achieve their dreams in a country where so many obstacles remain?

DIRECTOR: Molly Blank
PRODUCER: Molly Blank
cinematographer: Kristin Pichaske
composer: John Keltonic

Filmmaker Molly Blank introduces us to South Africa’s Matric exams through the lives of four remarkable students: Babalwa, Noluyanda, Mongamo and Sipho. These students take nothing for granted and treat every day and each sliver of opportunity as a blessing. This documentary is remarkably personal as we see just how high the stakes are for each of these students. We know that they represent an entire generation fighting for opportunity and denied a fighting chance.

Striking details include footage of students preparing for school doing things like shining their shoes. Do American students even know how to do this? Have we, as a culture that has become accustomed to such a high level of ease and comfort sacrificed a high level of drive as well?

One constantly wonders during this film what the next step will be for those who pass the MATRIC. What will South African society offer them next?

See Testing Hope, and then try to look at education in our country the same way you did before your experience.


Thursday, March 13, 2008


Director: Will Kim
USA 2007 Run time: 5 min.

And the plot synopsis:

While a male peacock and a female peacock (peahen) exchange a spiritual, love talk, a snake makes his own journey to connect the two lovers and to take away the peacock's desire till the last moment of the peacock's life. Emptiness is what the snake leaves behind after he accomplishes his wants in this film, 'Naked Branches.' The filmmaker Will Kim uses watercolor to explore his one hope that's vanished into air.

WRITER: Will Kim
composer: Kirin Kapin

Naked branches are, of course, without leaves. They are a foundation without that which they support. In our contemporary Western culture, we often strive to impose a linear plot upon any film we experience, whether there are spoken words or not. Will Kim has given us a reprieve from that with the lyrical Naked Branches, which is an experience much closer to that of dance.

The warm realm of recognizable characters, an almost Eden-like world of peacock and peahen flows through a life-altering encounter with a snake that is violently depicted through negative space…all seamlessly and liquidly woven together with Kirin Kapin’s music so that what Kim shares with us isn’t just a visual experience. Instead, it is able to seep in through our ears and pores, bypassing our intellects, and affecting us on a very emotional level.

Director: Jan Dunn
United Kingdom 2007 Run time: 112 min.

And the plot is:

At 65, Jack (Bob Hoskins) is consumed by past guilt and regret. His strained relationship with his son is severed on the death of his wife. Jack is lost and alone in his self loathing, and spirals into decline. Hope arrives in the unlikely form of eight-year-old, Florrie, a soft-natured girl who moves in next door and delights in his long neglected racing pigeon Ruby. When his glamorous French neighbor, Stephanie (Josiane Balasko) takes pity on him, Jack cannot help but fall for her charms. Encouraged by Stephanie, Jack helps a local hooligan by giving him his prized Ruby. When an innocent friendship with Florrie is thrown into question and Stephanie reveals a well kept secret, Jack’s life is thrown into turmoil once again. Jack finally cracks, consumed with sadness and humiliation, until tragedy forces him to confront his prejudices, face his fears and challenge those around him in a bid to win back Stephanie’s love.

WRITER: Jan Dunn
CAST: Bob Hoskins, Josiane Balasko
PRODUCER: Elaine Wickham
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ole Bratt Birkeland

Most of us love to play detective. Just look at the popularity of shows like Law and Order. All versions of Law and Order. We love to put together the clues in the comfort of our loungewear and accuse strangers daily and feel good about how we solved the crimes brilliantly. It is a powerful feeling. I’m as guilty as anyone. With Ruby Blue, Jan Dunn taps into that very human tendency. This tendency can lie where it is in our loungewear, progress out of us to a bit of gossip with another, or steamroll into to a full on slander fest in the true spirit of The Children’s Hour where law enforcement is involved and peoples’ lives are literally at stake. Ruby Blue has us on the edges of our seats, and seeing ourselves everywhere we turn.

There are four pivotal characters: Grumpy Jack (Bob Hoskins, who has never been better), the glamorous Stephanie (Josiane Balasko), Ian the hood (Jody Latham), and eight-year-old Florrie (Jessica Stewart). Three are fronting…the world knows them only by façades. In reality, the three fronters have so much more on the inside than their façades let others get away with thinking they are.

The fourth, Florrie, is the key to unlocking all of them. Florrie is beautiful on the outside, beautiful on the inside. With Florrie, what you see is what you get. She keeps it real. She doesn’t ever see the façades to begin with because she doesn’t have one of her own. She sees that Jack is a sweet, if lonely man in need of straight talk….She tells him that he smells because he smells. She tells him that if he were nicer, people wouldn’t call him “Grumpy Jack.” Her attitude is infectious. The characters start to open their eyes to one another.

Likewise, Jack gives Ian some plain talk, probably the first he’s had. Ian springs to life almost magically, at the opportunity to take some responsibility with the prized Ruby Blue. It might, in fact, be hard to believe his 180º turnaround had we not heard earlier from his little sister that he’s actually nice...he just fronts. Most of all, it is Ian that eventually gives Jack the key perspective on what is important with Stephanie, who starts out good and just gets better the deeper you dig. One just has to accept her issues. See Ruby Blue just for Josiane Balasko’s performance, if for no other reason, by the way. She is a powerhouse.

What is so fascinating in this film are the clues that Dunn sprinkles for us as viewers along the way. We start piecing together Jack’s past…what has he done that is so horrible that his own son kicks him to the curb the very day of his wife’s funeral…that he won’t let him see his own grandchildren…ah…he resists the temptation to go into the pub…and again he leaves a bottle of whisky untouched with great effort…and is quick to lose his temper….

We also play detective with Stephanie…did her daughter just say she was talking to her mother? The daughter just mentioned a secret that her mother tells people and they always leave afterwards. Jack comments to Stephanie about how strong her hands are….

We are not alone…most of the neighborhood has been playing dime store detective just like we have. They have been whispering in their loungewear, piecing together their own clues about Jack, and they have decided that they sum up to him being a dirty old pedophile, instead of being happy at being given a second chance by fate and his own goodwill at becoming a decent human being.

How ironic that due to the neighborhood whispering, Florrie’s mother leaves her with her friend’s neglectful mother, who in turn runs off to the pub leaving the two unsupervised to wander off and get into trouble.

Dunn does a beautiful job of utilizing juxtaposition in a scene where Ian’s mother is judgmentally griping about her erroneously drawn conclusions about Jack’s supposedly inappropriate behavior. She rants on and on while swearing in front of her 8-year old daughter and halfheartedly forbidding her to watch violent cartoons.

There is more than one prize in this film, more than one Ruby Blue. One just has to have Florrie’s perspective to see who it is.



Director: Ari Selinger
USA 2007 Run time: 13 min

Plot synopsis, because everyone loves them…..Based on Cheryl A. Davis's short memoir about her life as a paraplegic, 'Day on Wheels' follows Chet Davies, a 30 something paraplegic who hates dealing with incompetent jerks who rudely confront him about his disability. During the course of two days, the audience sees how poorly Chet is treated and his struggle to cope with such situations. When a fellow paraplegic named Nick shows Chet that all he has to do is to tell people to 'piss off', Chet begins to use this new strategy. After several tests, the new and improved Chet becomes even more assertive and aggressive to the point where he gets himself in trouble by accidentally telling off a blind woman.

DIRECTOR: Ari Selinger
WRITER: Ari Selinger
CAST: David Harris, David Ressel, Harrison Davies, John Haggerty, Kate Kuen, Kyle Argenbrite, Marlise Garde
PRODUCER: Ari Selinger
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Rogier van Beeck Calkoen

I thought of Day on Wheels as The Day Chet Became a Bitch on Wheels. Don’t we all have days like that?? At least -- don’t we all have days where we really, really want to just let it fly like he does? We get so tired of being judged by others based on a singular external quality. People take one look at us, make a quick decision, sum us up, and don’t bother to go any further. There is so much to feel in this film.

Chet calls the film we see his “true life sitcom.”

What bothers Chet most is how the average person analyzes him with a single glance that says “thank God I’m not him”.

“Thank God I’m not him….” There’s a man in a wheelchair living in my building and I don’t think I’ve ever had that thought about him. It’s because of the attitude he projects. I guarantee he’s a happier person than 70% of the people in our building. Many people know him. A lot of folks talk to him, I would imagine far more than talk to me. I see him hanging out in the cigar bar across the street, and down in our internet café. He puts it out there.

Ironically, what Chet does at the end of this film is exactly the same as what everyone else does to him, and nearly misses a vital connection as a result…a connection with someone who can truly understand him and empathize with him.

Isn’t a lot of what Selinger’s message is that you have to find your own healthy balance between taking everyone’s judgmental shit and absurdly, over sensitively telling everyone to fuck off and driving the good ones away? This is useful no matter who you are or where you live….

I’m more inclined to think “Thank God I’m not him” about litigation attorneys, actually….


Monday, March 3, 2008


I have been looking forward to this festival for a few months, and lo and behold..... The flu season has struck most of my LA based writers. LOL! Lara Berman was able to pull herself away from family and a graduate school exam to attend part of the festival for us. Thanks Lara!

2008 International Family Film Festival
Short Film Reviews by Lara Berman

Many of the short films at this year’s International Film Festival, although filled with heart, were regrettably forgettable.

Just Breathe
Directed By: Julie Rappaport & Joy Langer

Just Breathe, a series of short films that focused on a failing marriage, attempted to show that just because a marriage comes apart does not mean the family must cease to exist. This message was eloquently conveyed to the audience after the screening by Julie Rappaport, the film’s producer, co-writer and star who was in attendance. But, the message grew muddied in the execution. Unbelievable acting, a creepy ending and corny interjections of self-help made the film off-putting and kept the viewer at a distance.

Masterpeer Theatre
Directed By: Anny Slater

Over before it began was Masterpeer Theater, a 2-minute film answering the question of what would a dog’s version of “Masterpiece Theater” be like. Amusing graphic work made our master-mutt-of-ceremonies entertaining, but the quick delivery, thick English accent and unsynchronized lips left many jokes incoherent. Nevertheless, second and third viewings of this whimsical romp would undoubtedly reveal clever quips and nuances imperceptible to first-time watchers. Any dog lover will appreciate this pup-ular version of an American classic.

Generation XXL
Directed By: Teresa MacInnes

The stand-out piece of my evening at the festival was a Canadian documentary about overweight teenagers called, Generation XXL, directed and written by Teresa MacInnes. Unlike many films about obesity, there is no underlying agenda or implicit disapproval conveyed. Instead the viewer meets young men and women who are smart, sensitive, self-aware but challenged by food. They choose to attend a “fat-camp,” but when they arrive there are no drill-sergeant exercise instructors or food police monitoring the dining halls. Instead, the teens are taught “mindful eating;” they face hurtful comments people said to them in the past and are taught that they can choose whether to agree or disagree with those statements.

The cast of adolescents is exceptionally wise, articulate and honest. That vulnerability allowed intimate access to the characters and, matched with the film’s superb editing choices and poignant selections of scenes and sound bites, involved the viewer immediately. It’s no wonder that this film won the documentary category at this year’s film festival. Instead of basing all success on pounds lost, viewers cared about the participants and felt invested in their journey to address the true root of their food problems.

Dietitians and studies spout reasons why young people today face obesity issues, but audiences will gain compassion and understanding by listening to this thoughtful piece featuring the exceptional members of generation XXL.

Thank You Lara Berman. It is always a pleasure to have you on board!


Directed By Kim Longinotto

As apt a title as you'll ever find, "Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go" is a fully absorbing, often traumatizing insight into Mulberry Bush, a (boarding) school in England for troubled kids. Attending the school with 108 teachers are 40 boys and girls between the ages 9 – 12, each of whom has experienced severe emotional trauma and has been unsuccessful in "typical" school settings.

During the film, we witness the teachers practicing more patience and enduring more suffering than most of us would likely be able to manage. The teachers are often kicked, hit, cursed at and spit upon as they try to reach the students in a way that no one else has been successful. It was quite obvious that these children had never previously been shown how to react to everyday difficulties and to make appropriate decisions.

This film, directed by Kim Longinotto, was incredibly compelling, though certainly not a feel-good movie. I found myself feeling frustrated with the students' parents for not having given their children the loving home environments that may have allowed the behavioral issues to be avoided altogether.

The teachers in Mulberry Bush are trained to gently restrain the students when they are becoming violent toward themselves and others. While it is difficult to watch the children being held down by the teachers, it was a profound symbol of the love these children have most likely never experienced. I wondered, "Have these children ever been held out of love and concern before?"

In one scene we see Alex, one of the children with terrible anger issues, saying goodbye to his mother and sister. Throughout an entire year, Alex only gets to see them five times. Alex is clearly distraught at having to let them go, and his 2 year-old sister runs back to him to give him one last hug. His sister's concern and affection so far outshone his mother's that I can only wonder what will become of his sister in the future.

"Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go" is a film that clearly portrays what happens to children who witness horrific events and experience abuse and neglect. At times it was funny and poignant, at other times heart-wrenching. Sadly, at the end of the film, I wasn't left with a sense of hope for the children in the school, the society in which we live, or in humanity as a whole.

Stranded: I've Come From a Plane That Crashed in the Mountains
Directed By Gonzalo Arijon

In "Stranded: I've Come From a Plane That Crashed in the Mountains", directed by Gonzalo Arizon, the audience is transported to a different time and horrific place following the plane crash of the Uruguayan rugby team in 1972. On their way to a weekend trip in Chile, the passengers and crew of Flight 571 found themselves crashed in the frigid Andes Mountains. The weekend was to be a fun-filled vacation for a group of young men, a coming of age of sorts, but turned into a nightmare that lasted over two months.

The days that followed were a hell beyond anything most humans could comprehend. The survivors of the crash had to witness the dead bodies of friends and family and of those who were dying. Over the radio they heard the news that the search and rescue had been called off due to terribly inclement weather.

Upon receiving this news, the men were forced to attempt to save their own lives, not knowing if they would ever be found. They struggled to survive in the massive and freezing Andes mountains, and were forced to do things that many would consider inhuman, such as eating the flesh of the dead. They considered the spirituality behind this cannibalism, referring to Christ as having given his body and blood to save the rest of humanity.

The cinematography of this movie was spectacular, and the story couldn't have been told more clearly. I had had a preconceived notion that the cannibalism aspect of the film would be too disturbing and too chilling to watch. However, all I could think was how absolutely necessary the cannibalism was in order for the rest of the men to survive. The subject was handled so gracefully that I perceived this act as a truly beautiful one in which the dead were able to give the gift of life to the survivors. What struck me most about the film was the amazing strength of the human spirit.

Meredith Julian


True/False Film Festival
By Meredith Julian

We would like to welcome Ms. Meredith Julian to our list of festival bloggers. Ms. Julian is a highly accomplished actress and we are excited to have her as a part of the team!

Directed By: James Marsh

There's no doubt that "Man on Wire" was the most compelling of the documentaries I had the pleasure of seeing at the True/False Film Festival. The story behind Phillipe Petit's tightrope walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center was at times frightening and fantastical and at others inspiring and even quite funny.
Petit's lifelong motivators have been entertaining, living on the edge, defying the rules. He did all three when he succeeded at his 45-minute walk between the two tours without a safety net. He walked back and forth between the buildings eight times, and even lay down and kneeled in the middle of the rope for a more dramatic effect.

The execution of this stunt required a team of accomplices. One wonders from where these characters came but their account of this event, and of Petit as a human being, added a great deal to the storytelling in "Man on Wire". I was saddened to discover at the end of the movie that Petit and his "team" are no longer in contact with one another. In a question and answer session following the film the director, James Marsh, explained that after this huge feat and with his first taste of real fame, Petit cut off relations with his friends and cohorts.

Though fame seems to have played a part in harming the relationships and friendships behind the act, Petit himself proclaimed it wasn't an option not to attempt this feat. He knew he was teetering between life and death, as a mere puff of wind could have led him to his inevitable death. Petit explains that he would rather die in the middle of the pursuit of his passion than to not pursue it at all. One can see the slightly crazed joy that this man finds in his passion, and it is truly inspirational, if a bit uncomfortable, to watch.