Category Archives: Film Festival Screenings

Tribeca Film Festival Interview: Trish Adlesic and Geeta Gandbhir, Part II

Tribeca Film Festival, I Am Evidence, Trish Adlesic, Geeta Gahdbhir, World Premiere, backlogged rape kits, rape

Each box represents an untested rape kit. ‘I Am Evidence,’ directed by Trish Adlesic and Geeta Gandbhir. (photo from the film)

After viewing the World Premiere screening of the documentary I Am Evidence at Tribeca Film Festival, a few days later, I sat down with directors Trish Adlesic and Geeta Gandbhir to discuss the making of the film. For Part I of my interview, CLICK HERE. For my review of the film CLICK HERE.

Could you talk about how this is a pivotal moment and talk about where you think the direction with the testing will go. People will see the film and be impacted. One cannot help but be impacted. So the film is a step in the right direction.

Geeta: This is something we mentioned before. This is such a critical moment with the election that happened. It is a dark time in some ways for women, for people of color. The film encapsulates so many issues that right now everyone needs to be motivated and on the forefront, fighting the battle for citizen’s rights. I am referring to sexism, systemic institutional racism, public safety and basic moral issues. And right now, unfortunately, we have a president in charge who doesn’t necessarily support the different communities that really are trying to be heard in this film. So it feels very timely. I can’t think of a better time.

I Am Evidence, Trish Adlesic, Geeta Gandbhir, backlogged rape kits, Tribeca Film Festival World Premiere, rape, backlogged rape kits

(L to R) Geeta Gandbhir, Trish Adlesic, directors ‘I Am Evidence, World Premiere at Tribeca Film Festival (photo Carole Di Tosti, taken at HBO)

Trish: Yes. It’s interesting. As I sit here now, I don’t think anyone over 40 can’t say they haven’t have had some sort of violence afflicted on them whether it’s related to gender, discrimination in the workplace, sexual harassment, domestic abuse, sexual assault…but I must say that sitting here in 2017, I’m really fatigued for having to keep the fight going. We haven’t really made the progress we deserve with all the women who have gone before us from Betty Friedan to Gloria Steinem, to all our leaders. It’s so disheartening that we are still in the fight at this time. When are we going to move forward and have an Equal Rights Amendment? Also, people would say  to me during the making of this, “Oh, you’re worrying too much. Hillary’s going to become president. She’ll have your back; she’ll have your back. You don’t have to worry about this”

But the real problem with this is the deeply rooted cultural biases that are planted by people who are in control of this issue. We have to have required training in police academies across the country.  The decision must be taken out of their hands, for example, so that they don’t get to determine the fate of a kit. Every kit must be tested and there must be proper funding in place to do something with the findings because it’s just not enough to test a kit. It has to be taken to the next level. And laws need to be created to test and protect the evidence in each kit. Those laws must be adhered to. If this occurs, I think we can make significant progress.

Ericka Murria, Trish Adlesic, I Am Evidence, TFF Q & A, World Premiere, backlogged rape kits, rape culture, serial rapists

(L to R): Erick Murria, Trish Adlesic at the Q & A after the TFF World Premiere screening of ‘I Am Evidence’ (Photo Carole Di Tosti)

We need education as well. That’s where the film comes in. But it’s a difficult film in a lot of ways. First of all, it’s a film about women. That’s already a strike against you. Then you have a film about sexual assault. There’s a lot of shame and darkness around this issue. We wanted to make the film very survivor-centric so people could feel the experiences. And make it relatable to everyone. So this is the tool that hopefully will do that and get everyone in the room.

Do we need to get men on board, a lot of men on board?

Trish: Interesting. As a gut reaction, I asked a reporter that in Cleveland, Rachel Dissell, in a follow-up interview. She got very angry by that. She said, “I don’t understand why we need to actually get them on board. They should already be on board.”

Geeta: I think that the key thing is we cannot come from an apologist’s standpoint. That is really the key thing. This is an issue…that is said in the movie. If you have evidence of a crime and you do nothing with it, that in and of itself is a crime.

Trish: That’s a Polly Poskin (Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Violence), quote. She wrote a beautiful quote about this very thing. She said, “When you don’t utilize the evidence given to you, that in itself is a crime because it’s re-victimizing others. You’re letting a perpetrator run free.

Geeta: And I think in these times, if we have this information, this is obvious neglect. If you don’t stand on the side of women in this…

Geeta Gandbhir, Mariska Hargitay, Sheila Nivens, Trish Adlesic, Nancy Abraham, Tribeca Film Festival World Premiere, I Am Evidence

(L to R): Geeta Gandbhir, Mariska Hargitay, Sheila Nivens, Trish Adlesic, Nancy Abraham, Tribeca Film Festival World Premiere screening, ‘I Am Evidence’ (photo Carole Di Tosti)

It’s criminal negligence. The UN has come out and stated that rape is equivalent to genocide. (CLICK ON ARTICLE)

Geeta: It’s used in war as a weapon of war, and is a war crime.

Trish: It has been a psychological weapon used against people in war.

Geeta: It’s been used as a weapon of war. And as a follow-up to that, Helena as one of the survivors says, “The system should be better than a criminal.” We need everyone on our side of course in this fight. But we cannot be concerned about specifically having to target men.

Trish: I think that any human being should be able to relate to this. I understand the intention of the question because it’s commonly asked…

I don’t believe that by the way. If we look at Kym Worthy’s example, she shows us how we must act. She led the fight in Detroit. She took a leadership role that others, including men, followed because they were ashamed.

Trish: I think that it has to go down to…this may sound trite, but, “When you see something, say something.” When we talk about needing to have informed consent, it’s clear. Sexual assault is sexual assault. It is not an invitation to have sex with someone. So we have a lack of education. And this environment of alcohol use can promote rape, and boys and men and women alike need to understand the boundaries around alcohol use.

I Am Evidence, Tribeca Film Festival World Premiere, rape kits, rape, serial rapists, backlogged rape kits

Sealing a rape kit filled with DNA evidence, ‘I Am Evidence’ (photo from the film)

Geeta: You’re absolutely right. Trish makes a very good point. I think this is what Mariska talked about in one of our Q and As. Young people are not educated about what the definition of consent means. They are not educated about sexual assault. We need to educate young men and boys as we need to educate young girls and women. That’s at the root of it, but as far as we’re concerned we think that anybody should be able to see this film.

Trish: It’s certainly not to say, it’s their fault if they’re not aware. But it’s helpful to know to be careful around alcohol use because alcohol can lead to situations that are compromised.

Geeta: There’s also sexism. I have two boys. I feel that it is our job as parents, as schools, as communities, in the church, wherever we go, to also focus on raising feminist boys. Part of the feminist training for boys is for them to understand sexual boundaries and the definition of assault and things like that because men and boys are also victimized.

Absolutely. I forgot the exact numbers…

Trish: 1 in 6 men and 1 in 4 women…

1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are raped on college campuses

Trish: I have a close family member who is a male and was assaulted as a teenager and it really tormented him. It was rough. I don’t think for any one of us that we are far from this issue.

I was amazed at a lot of the information I learned from the film. Was there any information that was just staggering to you?

Trish: Tell me what you learned as a viewer…I’m curious.

The number of rape kits that were allowed to molder on shelves. The fact that there are states and whole police departments that are not looking at them. The fact that they discount them. I found that to be egregious. The fact that New York is doing OK, now, and they have a law that all rape kits must be tested. But New York is only 1 of 8 states. Shouldn’t every state in the union have a law?

Trish: There are different types of legislation being put forth around this issue. There is progress happening. But they’re not the law that we’re looking for which is the requirement for all kits, current and backlogged to be tested and to be followed up on. There are varying forms of those laws being legislated. The movement is happening. I think a number of states now are looking at legislation to improve the conditions.

So that is important. But I remember our travels…we’ve gone to many states. We couldn’t put everything in the film. If we had more time we would have. But I remember being in Kentucky, going to jurisdiction after jurisdiction counting. There are varying degrees. In Kentucky, once they know they are backlogged, they do an audit. The state auditor goes to the police departments and counts. Or they’ll give them a survey. And I remember being in one precinct in Covington, Kentucky, I believe it was.  The auditor was asking, “So when you go into your data base and you look up a rape kit, how do you find the right number for your rape kit in your data base? Do you type in rape, sexual assault?” The woman said, “Other.”

Sheila Nivens, Ericka Murria, Geeta Gandbhir, Mariska Hargitay, I Am Evidence, TFF World Premiere Red Carpet, backlogged rape kits, rape culture

(L to R): Sheila Nivens, Ericka Murria, Geeta Gandbhir, Mariska Hargitay, TFF World Premiere Red Carpet for ‘I Am Evidence’ (Photo Carole Di Tosti)

Geeta: There wasn’t even a category for it.

Trish: So that to me was so stunning. She said we have a category for a bicycle, for a stolen bicycle. And I thought that gives you an indication of the organization around this.

Geeta: I have to say that everything was shocking to me. I would lie awake at night thinking about this issues. And I’m sure Trish felt the same. When you say was there one thing? There was one thing after another after another. I was in shock.

Trish: One thing I wanted to share with you is something that one of the survivors told us when they were investigating and the police came to her house. One of the officers pulled her aside and said to her. “Do you know why this happened to you?” She said, “Because the guy was a jerk?” And he said, “No. It’s because you don’t have a father.” Just to give you an indication of what that feels like.

Geeta: She was a teenager. It’s an indication of the police training.

I just have to say I was shocked when you featured the courtroom scene and the poor woman who was the rape victim was on the stand. The defense was implying that she was responsible for her rape, and she responded, “Well, a gun was being pointed at my head.”

Trish: It’s always like that. It’s standard procedure for Defense Attorneys for rape. They do that for every case. I sat in on many cases from East to West in this country. And  every single case is conducted in exactly the same way by the defense. And sometimes it’s quite colorful and humiliating. What there intention is, is to trip the victim up and to scare the victim, to stifle the victim so that they won’t come across as reliable, as a reliable, credible witness.

Geeta: Ericka spoke to that in the Q and A. She said that she was put on trial, too.  She felt that basically, she had to pull out her underwear in front of the entire place. She felt that she was as much on trial as her perpetrator.

Any plans for International Woman’s Day for showing this film?

Trish: You say where to be and I’ll be there. We’re ready. We’re working toward our broadcast date with HBO. In the meantime we’re going to do many other film festivals.  Social engagement campaigns. East and West, high and low, theatrical campaigns. We’ll do everything we can, and we’ll be there.

You might get in touch with Girl Be Heard! (CLICK HERE for website) It’s a theatrical organization. At one of their productions I first heard about untested rape kits; I had no idea. They are a youth organization in NYC. Lin Manuel Miranda fund-raised for them.  They are a wonderful organization.

Geeta: Also, there is the website if anyone is interested in keeping up with this.

Trish:  CLICK THE LINK https://www.iamevidencethemovie.com/

To see how your state is dealing with the backlog CLICK HERE.

Thanks, Geeta, Trish.

‘I Am Evidence’s’ Trish Adlesic and Geeta Gandbhir, Interview Part I

Geeta Gandbhir, Trish Adlesic, I Am Evidence, Tribeca Film Festival World Premiere, HBO, backlogged rape kits, Mariska Hargitay

(L to R): Geeta Gandbhir, Trish Adlesic, directors of ‘I Am Evidence.’ Interview at HBO Offices after Tribeca Film Festival World Premiere screening and Q & A. (Photo Carole Di Tosti)

Tribeca Film Festival held the World Premiere and screening of I Am Evidence, a compelling documentary which follows the story of four survivors of rape as they attempt to gain justice over a period of many years. During the process that they contact and work with law enforcement, they and filmmakers highlight the fate of what at one point amounted to 400,000 untested rape kits filled with evidence that various police departments left forgotten on storage unit shelves because rape is a low priority, high complexity crime. Behind each of the 400,000 + kits is the DNA of a woman who was sexually assaulted and who waits for her perpetrator’s DNA to be cross-matched with known criminals, serial rapists, murderers, through the federal database, CODIS.

Rape victims often hear nothing from the police departments for years leading to miscarriages of justice and an unfettered crime spree. Research has shown many rapists are serial rapists and some serial rapists murder. In one example in the film a serial rapist raped 10 women until he was picked up. The egregious negligence of  various police departments across the nation, who allow criminals to run free, is one of the many issues directors Trish Adlesic and Geeta Gandbhir examine and explore during their journey shadowing the four women survivors.

Filmmakers show there is hope as the backlog of rape kits is slowly being addressed. More states are passing laws to enforce the testing of the kits. The film focuses on the backlog issues, the causes and solutions and the heroes in the fight, like Kym Worthy, Detroit prosecutor, whose untiring work to have Detroit’s 11,000 kits + tested is resulting in prosecutions that get rapists off the streets. The shining moments of the film reveal the survivors who are overcomers: they remain unapologetic about the miscarriages of justice that have occurred and have become advocates to change the laws so that every rape kit is tested, matched up in the criminal data base nationwide and followed up. They inspire hope as they encourage other women to come forward and join the fight to end this systemic institutional injustice of backlogged rape kits..

I met with directors Trish Adlesic and Geeta Gandbhir at the HBO offices a few days after the film screened.

I loved the film. Could speak to what the title refers to and what the film is about?

Trish: Well, the title came very organically through the process of understanding the journey for women who have been through this violence of sexual assault. In pursuing subjects for the film, I wanted to find someone who had not had their rape kit tested yet in Detroit because Detroit had a backlog of over 11,000 untested rape kits. I thought that it would be incredible to find someone who was still looking for their kit and still looking for justice. There was an organization called The Sasha Center which is geared toward the needs of African American women because the church is predominately African American. The Sasha Center (it provides sexual assault services for holistic healing and awareness) had someone they were working with who was still looking for her rape kit. She agreed to speak with me. When she walked into the room, she had this phenomenally beautiful pink hair and this beautiful skin. Then I look down and see, “I Am Evidence” on her T-shirt. I immediately got chills. I thought, I’m about to have a profound experience.

Ericka?

Geeta: Yes. And what is interesting is that Ericka is deeply involved in her church. That statement is used in her church and it is sort of a traditional saying, “I Am Evidence,” a statement about being a witness. So she took it and basically we reprised it in the sense of talking about her rape kit. It’s a powerful statement. And she makes statements about this in the film. She says that she is evidence that a rape kit is not just a rape kit. It’s not just DNA, there’s a person behind it. It’s also evidence of being able to overcome the struggle that goes along with the violence she experienced as her personal experience. So this background about Ericka was a big part of the decision for I Am Evidence to be the title.

Mariska Hargitay, Sheila Nivens, Trish Adlesic, I Am Evidence, Tribeca Film Festival World Premiere Red Carpet

(L to R): Mariska Hargitay, Sheila Nivens, Trish Adlesic, Tribeca Film Festival World Premiere Red Carpet, ‘I Am Evidence’ (photo Carole Di Tosti)

Trish: Yeah. It’s incredible because it’s a double entendre. The body is a living, breathing crime scene. We are evidence. But the poetry around her is that we are the evidence that we can heal and grow and we can get beyond this, because this kind of violence is so debilitating for people. I found it so inspirational that she had the ability to say those words. I mean anyone can relate to the fact that we are evidence of the lives we live and how we handle trauma and challenges in our lives. I thought that would be something everyone could relate to.

Did she help to evolve the film’s uplifting tone. Could you talk about the extent to which she may have influenced that?

Geeta: I think she did. But there’s an arc, is there not Trish? I think with the subjects that we follow, the women that we follow have an arc and that over a period of time, this was her organic journey. Obviously, her journey was ultimately uplifting. She’s a powerful person.

Trish: Yes, she is very spiritual and that’s the case. She did have challenges. Her kit was found. It was tested and there were really hard days for her to undergo in that process. Ultimately, she came to a place of acceptance characterized by the word that she uses for it in the film: “unapologetic.” In other words we don’t have to apologize for the things that have happened to us. It’s OK to feel that pain and to want to have some satisfaction out of being hurt and you really have justice. And the arc is the unapologetic moment and the moment of acceptance that while I may not get a victory in court, I was heard. That’s what matters most to all of the victims of this kind of violence: the fact that they actually are given the opportunity for justice.

Geeta Gandbhir, Helena, Tribeca Film Festival, World Premiere screening, Q & A, I Am Evidence, backlogged rape kits, rape culture, serial rapists

(L to R): Geeta Gandbhir, Helena (film subject) TFF World Premiere screening and Q & A, ‘I Am Evidence’ (Photo Carole Di Tosti)

You helped in that arc. You helped to inspire her journey. Could you talk a little bit about that and how long the process was as she really was at the forefront of your expose.

Trish: It was about two and one-half years from the moment I interviewed her. I began to contact the prosecutor to find out if there could be some way in which they could try to locate her kit. She simultaneously had met with Ms. Worthy at a fund raising event for the backlog through an organization called the 490 Group. It’s a group of African American women in Detroit who are raising funds to test the kits. Both efforts converged and her kit was located. I think that certainly her participation in the film brought this opportunity. Eventually, her kit would have been found because they are continuing to test all the kits, but it wouldn’t have happened necessarily in the timeline that it did.

Geeta: I have to say that the film had a profound experience on the women because of Trish. Trish is the producer and co-director, and Trish had a profound impact on the women because she was there from the inception. I came onto the film a little bit later, but Trish was there from the beginning. I think that the idea, the thought that someone is working with you, that someone wants to hear your voice, gives you a sense of empowerment. That’s not to decry the fact that these women in their own right are very powerful. But I think that when someone holds out their hand to support you, it makes a big difference.

In our presence at the World Premiere after the film screening in the Q and A, Ericka sang to a packed audience in the theater, which takes courage. And she announced that she’s running for office.

Trish: Yes. City Council. How about that? (she laughs). She’s smart, she’s very smart.

Geeta: She’s an incredible force, I mean with or without us and the film.

So there was a convergence of events which reveals a kind of synchronicity. This leads me to ask this question. Did this project choose you or did you choose it? How did the film evolve?

Trish: That’s a great question and it’s a question we’re always asked. I want to give the backstory so it’s clear. I had worked on the television show Law and Order: SVU for 14 years with Mariska Hargitay, and we became friends through that work together. I began to produce documentaries because I was potentially going to be affected by the issue of fracking in my community in upstate New York. That led me to do these films that had a profound effect on my life (Gasland and Gasland II). I saw the power of the medium and I thought, well, I’m not getting any younger. How do I want to spend my time? I feel like for me this opportunity has been a dream come true to do this work. It’s honestly gratifying.

Mariska saw that journey for me and I knew that backlog was at the forefront of her focus for her foundation (The Joyful Heart Foundation) and we kept saying let’s do a project together. Let’s do something. And it led to doing this film. You know it’s her first documentary. I was excited to do everything I could to give it its best shot and bring it into the light and to bring in all the best people I knew in the documentary world to help complement the work we were doing. So that’s how the film came about.

I brought Geeta on the project. I knew Geeta from working with her before. I trust her work and knew that Geeta would understand and care greatly as I do, and so she was someone that I really wanted to bring in on the film.

Ericka Murria, Trish Adlesic, Geeta Gandbhir, Helena, Maritska Hargitay, Kim Worthy

(L to R): Ericka Murria, Trish Adlesic, Helena, Geeta Gandbhir, Helena, Mariska Hargitay, Kim Worthy in a Q & A, after the TFF World Premiere screening ‘I Am Evidence’ (photo Carole Di Tosti)

Geeta: It was such an honor for me when Trish and I worked together. Obviously, I really respect her and what she’s done. We were talking about doing this film for a long period of time.

Trish: I was serenading her (Trish laughs).

Geeta: I wasn’t able to. I had other things. Then finally there came the time. So it was Trish who brought me on. Also, I had worked with HBO for a long time; I started with them when the levees broke in New Orleans. That was when I became hooked on Social Justice issues similar to Trish, and I realized that these documentaries gave my life meaning. With this work you feel like you’re making some kind of impact, some kind of a difference.

Then, finally, it felt like the time was right. I think Trish and the project and Sheila Nivens (President of HBO documentaries) had something to do with it. Once they all say, it’s time…

Trish: She’s the Goddess (referring to Sheila Nivens).

Geeta: …you come on board. Honestly, it’s been incredibly rewarding and meaningful.

You knew through Mariska that there was a problem.

Trish: I did. We had done an episode at SVU about an untested rape kit. One of the women who actually is in our film, Helena, had an episode written for her. It’s called Behave. That’s when I first learned about the rape kit backlog. I saw what she he had been through with law enforcement being re-victimized by not being heard.

I think for a lot of the women whom I’ve spoken with, that very re-victimization almost felt worse for them than the assault itself. These were the very people who had been set up to be there for them. Yet, these very people in fact were blaming them and not believing them. Rape survivors felt so violated by that. First, it’s incredible that they have the ability to come forward with such a traumatic experience. It is so hard to tell your story. Then for them to go through the re-victimization with the police?

So I learned about the untested rape kits that way and learned more and more when Detroit broke in 2009. And I saw the heroism of Kym Worthy and thought, this has got to be a documentary. It’s amazing to be in this moment at this

Look for Part II of the interview with Trish Adlesic and Geeta Gandbhir.

For my review of the film CLICK HERE.

For the link to the website I AM EVIDENCE, CLICK HERE.

To see how your state is dealing with the backlog of untested rape kits, CLICK HERE.

 

‘I Am Evidence,’ World Premiere at Tribeca Film Festival, Review

I Am Evidence, Tribeca Film Festival World Premiere, untested rape kits, backlogged rape kits, rape, serial rapists

Untested rape kits moldering on shelves. ‘I Am Evidence,’ Tribeca Film Festival World Premiere (photo from the film)

I Am Evidence is one of the most important documentary films to come out of Tribeca Film Festival. It is a groundbreaking criminal and social justice documentary about women, rape, and the folkways that allow this crime to fly under the radar. The film centers around rape survivors and the process of rape crime evidence collection, sealed in a rape kit which then is sent off to be tested. Central to I Am Evidence is the egregious miscarriage of justice that happens in a predominance of states in the U.S. Rape kits, loaded with critical evidence, languish sometimes for years in police storage untested, forgotten, trashed. Is this institutional misogyny, the banality of evil or something else?

With meticulous, clearly organized information, the filmmakers answer these questions and examine how and why this unconscionable backlog of known untested kits (once numbered 400,000 nationwide) happened. The number was probably even greater if one considers those thrown away, negligently stored, lost, displaced. Rape victims are loathe to file a police report; most probably the number of rapes is greater. The backlog exacerbates our culture of sexual violence (every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted).

Through salient interviews of rape survivors (i.e. Ericka, Helena, Amberly), journalists, investigators, law enforcement, researchers, and other experts (Mariska Hargitay identifies the substantive issues at the outset as she interviews Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy), directors Trish Adlesic and Geeta Gandbhir cogently examine why the testing of rape kits needs to be a nationwide law enforcement priority. The filmmakers’ approach is winning; the documentary is a heartfelt and human drama told through the uplifting testimony of rape survivors like Ericka Murria. Murria shares her triumph over psychological and physical trauma as she seeks justice and takes a stand to advocate for others. As Ericka, Helena Amberly and others share the arc of their journeys from chaos and depression into the light, filmmakers outline the breadth of the problem about untested rape kits.

Adlesic and Gandbhir establish that every untested rape kit represents a victim. The kit contains material DNA evidence. Once the evidence is tested in a lab, the results can be placed in a data-base (CODIS) which matches rapes, crimes and murders nationwide with the DNA evidence from perpetrators. If the evidence is never tested, the kits left to molder on a shelf in a storage unit, that crime and the potential match-up with criminals (especially serial rapists/murderers), and other crimes they’ve perpetrated will remain unsolved.

Mariska Hargitay, I Am Evidence, Tribeca Film Festival World Premiere, rape kits, backlogged rape kits, rape, serial rapists

Mariska Hargitay at the Tribeca Film Festival World Premiere screening of ‘I Am Evidence,’ (Carole Di Tosti)

Through the testimony of investigative teams and prosecutors, the filmmakers reveal the endemic nature of the problem. Each ignored kit means that a rape is not going to be investigated, even though a victim has emotionally steeled himself/herself to go through the shame of filing a report that takes 4-6 hours for evidence collection and placement in the kit. The message inadvertently sent to rapists and serial rapists/murderers is that they are permitted to to rape and/or kill again.

The message sent to victims is that their rape doesn’t matter and they don’t matter. Ultimately, the victim, traumatized by the sexual assault and battery, is further abused by the negligence of their un-investigated crime. Humiliation is compounded by the silence of injustice. An additional noxious side effect of untested rape kits is that word gets around that no one called about the rape investigation. Other victims are less likely to file a report. Rapists are emboldened. A significant point the filmmakers underscore from the research on rapists is that many rapists are serial rapists. They continue to rape until they are stopped. And some of those serial rapists also murder. Sadly, there is no way to gauge how many women are raped and how many serial rapists/potential murderers have committed multiple crimes.

When one considers that an untested rape kit that sits for years (the filmmakers reveal this occurred in places like Detroit, Los Angeles, see END THE BACKLOG), might empty even one cold case file, one begins to understand the staggering negligence that is multiplied as untested rape kits mount up in the thousands. (see your state’s numbers on END THE BACKLOG). In a lurid example of the impact of just one untested rape kit (sitting over a decade), filmmakers show how serial rapist Charles Courtney (a truck driver who committed crimes in various states along his driving route), was free to rape again and again. (click here for Helena’s story)

Mariska Hargitay, Sheila Nivens, Trish Adlesic, I Am Evidence, Tribeca Film Festival World Premiere Red Carpet

(L to R): Mariska Hargitay, Sheila Nivens, Trish Adlesic, Tribeca Film Festival World Premiere Red Carpet, ‘I Am Evidence’ (photo Carole Di Tosti)

 

If kits had been tested, law enforcement could have checked the databases, identified Courtney’s multiple rapes and gotten him off the streets, never to rape, threaten her family, and traumatize Amberly, one of his victims who filmmakers interview. From that rape, Amberly suffered PTSD that sent her life spiraling downward into addiction, a devastation which she is turning around. Indeed, one of the investigators who helped get Charles Courtney off the streets stated that if all the kits nationwide were tested, she would bet that his DNA would match up with a few unsolved murders.

I Am Evidence incisively, humanly directed by Trish Adlesic and Geeta Gandbhir, is an extremely valuable work of social justice. The filmmakers make a precise, clear, and thorough examination of how this holocaust of abuse has been allowed to continue fueled by our culture’s mores, folkways and prejudices leveraged by institutional racism, negligent law enforcement, misogyny. The clips that reveal this are devastating. Though the documentary is a painful and frustrating look into the egregious criminal negligence committed by various police departments with an incredible number of backlogged rape kits (over 100,000 nationwide), I Am Evidence is also an unforgettable journey of hope, healing, redemption, and activism.

I Am Evidence, Tribeca Film Festival World Premiere, rape kits, rape, serial rapists, backlogged rape kits

Sealing a rape kit filled with DNA evidence, ‘I Am Evidence’ (photo from the film)

I cannot praise this film enough for its solid story-telling, its unabashed strength in unspooling the themes that inspire one to advocacy. From the outset, with empathy and poignancy, filmmakers elicit the soulfulness of the survivors who have gone through the hell of rape and reporting, and have attempted to deal with the psychological and emotional trauma of what they experienced only to then confront the truth that they may never receive justice. The documentarians also highlight the heroes-the investigators and prosecutors who have gone through the stressful frustration of dealing with the monumental backlog of untested rape kits.

Along the journey we watch specific examples of effectively functioning teams who are getting things done, pitted against interviews with former law enforcement officials who make dismissive comments about lack of funding and the terrible difficulty of prosecuting rape cases. Rather than admit the tragedy behind each and every untested rape kit, there remains a dilatory lack of accountability to problem solve or acknowledge that rape correlates with murder and other crimes.

What is particularly uplifting is that filmmakers show successes: they follow a team’s painstaking work to tackle the backlog that eventually results in successful prosecutions. They focus on undaunted heroes like Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy (Detroit, Michigan had 11,000+ untested rape kits that had been placed in an abandoned, wrecked building, home to nesting birds and other creatures). When Worthy takes Mariska Hargitay to the site of the abandoned building to view where the kits had been left, we are shocked knowing that each kit is a person. When Worthy discovered this (2009), despite the insurmountable problems including lack of funding, she went into action, got kits tested, and criminals off the streets (some serial rapists had raped 10-15 times).

Survivors, law enforcement icons, The Joyful Heart Foundation, and End The Backlog are in the forefront of overturning the systemic criminal negligence perpetrated by the dilatory law enforcement agencies and their sub rosa misogynistic, racist behavior which deems rape a low priority crime, especially in ethnic communities. Some states are reforming their laws. Others are not. Why not? Is it because some law enforcement and prosecutorial departments don’t want to “waste” time, effort and finances on rape kits while there are other “more important crimes” to investigate? Indeed! By not testing rape kits, they are promoting more felonies instead of stopping them.

I Am Evidence is the filmmakers’ incredible work of hope and progress. Yet, it reveals we are not out of the labyrinth of unawareness and egregious systemic negligence. This must-see film is a clarion call for the public to  demand all rape kits be tested as a matter of safety and security. Our criminal justice system must be accountable, especially now as the political winds shift.

This is a film everyone should see. For screenings check HBO and the film website.

 

 

‘Wasted! The Story of Food Waste’ Starring Anthony Bourdain, Mario Batali at Tribeca Film Festival

Anthony Bourdain, Danny Bowien, Dan Barber, Massimo Bottura, Peter Madonia

(L to R): Anthony Bourdain, Danny Bowien, Dan Barber, Massimo Bottura, Peter Madonia, Tribeca Film Festival World Premiere Q & A, ‘Wasted! The Story of Food Waste’ (Carole Di Tosti)

Anthony Bourdain (star of Parts Unknown), is his edgy, humorous self in Wasted! The Story of Food Waste. The film,  which screened in its world premiere at Tribeca Film Festival, Bourdain produced with Zero Point Zero Productions’ partners Lydia Tenaglia, Christopher Collins, Joe Caterini and co-director Nari Kye (Anna Chai also directed). However, Bourdain whose narration threads through the key issues about food waste globally and in the U.S. is more acerbic and ripping than ever I imagined he could be. But he, Dan Barber (Stone Barnes, Blue Hill), Mario Batali, Eric Ripert (Le Bernardin), Danny Bowien (Mission Chinese), Massimo Bottura (Osteria Francescana), Tristan Stewart (Toast Ale) and others who are in the forefront of trying to figure out how to rescue food and use it to create delicious meals, must tell it like it is. The situation is bleak.

Food waste is perhaps the most dire problem we face as Americans that we can do something about right now. Consider a few of these facts that directors bring out through interviews and celebrity chef comments in the initial segments of their amazing documentary.

Tribeca Film Festival Red Carpet, Wasted! The Story of Food Waste, Peter Madonia, Nari Kye, Danny Bowien, Anna Chai

TFF Red Carpet for ‘Wasted! The Story of Food Waste,’ (L to R): Peter Madonia, Nari Kye, Danny Bowien, Anna Chai (photo Carole Di Tosti)

Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for “people consumption” (approximately 1.3 billion tonnes yearly), gets lost or wasted. Food losses and waste amounts to around US$ 680 billion in industrialized countries and US$310 billion in developing countries. Ninety percent of the food produced ends up in landfills. According to Anthony Bourdain, all along the processing of food for consumption, there is waste at every junction from the farm, and the harvest, to the distribution, to the grocery story or green market, to the preparation, to the dinner table, to the leftovers.

And where does this food predominately end up? In landfills. In garbage dumps. If we could only redistribute the unused food to those who need it. Even if just one-fourth of the food currently lost or wasted globally could be rescued, there would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people in the world. But globally, people are not just hungry. It is a tragedy that globally, thousands of individuals face chronic starvation and die from disease and malnutrition. In the U.S. one in six individuals is food insecure, (in Europe it is 1 in 20). These are not just lazy, “good-for-nothings” as politocos would have us believe so we can dismiss them and de-fund programs which they label entitlements. The families are working in low paying jobs (an employment situation which has never been recovered since the second Great Depression), and many of them are white. In the film, Mario Batali looks dead into the camera (in the US we are the worst perpetrator), and he brings the problem right into our homes. He says, “This waste is criminal!”

Tribeca Film Festival Red Carpet, Wasted! The Story of Food Waste, Eric Ripert, Le Bernardin, food rescue, City Harvest

TFF Red Carpet ‘Wasted! The Story of Food Waste,’ Eric Ripert (owner of Le Bernardin) rescues food for City Harvest (Carole Di Tosti)

Anna Chai and Nari Kye’s efforts are subtly brilliant because of how they have structured their film and carried us along a journey of discovery to recognize the staggering numbers and the criminality of food waste that resonates profoundly for our own lives. First they identify the unimaginable and make it visible. They outline the causes (taking us to farms, showing the process of food distribution, etc.), then bring us to the end of the line-the food devastation in landfills.

This is where the concept of food waste goes exponentially unconscionable and Batali is not kidding when he points out the egregiousness of waste as not only “stealing” food from the hungry, but also wantonly, negligently stealing all of the resources our planet offers for us to make it to the next generation. We won’t get there if the situation continues into the next decades if we continue to be as brazenly stupid as we have been culturally.

Anthony Bourdain, Danny Bowien, Wasted! The Story of Food Waste, Tribeca Film Festival World Premiere

(L to R): Anthony Bourdain, Danny Bowien in a Q & A after the TFF World Premiere screening of ‘Wasted! The Story of Food Waste,’ (Carole Di Tosti)

Filmmakers and experts reveal how food in landfills exacerbates global warming-climate change. As the food decomposes methane gasses are released. Methane, heavier than CO2 is a worse pollutant of clean air. It erodes oxygen supplies, acidifies the oceans, chokes off marine life, harms ecosystems that sustain plants, animals and us. You didn’t note any discussion about the higher degree temperatures increasing glacial melt did you? We won’t acknowledge that is happening for fear of offending those government leaders who think global warming is a matter of belief.

You thought you had handled the problem of plastic by shopping with your cloth bags? Well, what about the food you are throwing away? Filmmakers point out that one head of lettuce in a landfill takes twenty-five years to break down. You have to throw away some lettuce because your guests won’t eat wilted leaves? Throw it in your composting bin or bring it to your green market for them to compost. If you multiply your leaves and that head of lettuce you threw in the garbage last week with thousands upon thousands of heads that got wilted and that grocery stores daily en masse throw away because housewives like their lettuce crisp and fresh-looking (even though it has no taste and the wilted leaves at the green market have much more nutrition and taste because they were picket in the morning), then you begin to see the extent of the problem of why food waste is so endemic.

Massimo Bottura, Wasted! The Story of Food Waste, Tribeca Film Festival Red Carpet, Refettorio Ambrosiano, Milan, Food for the Soul

TFF Red Carpet ‘Wasted! The Story of Food Waste,’ Massimo Bottura who created Refettorio Ambrosiano in Milan as “Food for the Soul” (photo Carole Di Tosti)

 

Filmmakers show that unsustainable farming practices expend and do not replenish resources (air, water, rich soil). Think of the water wasted to irrigate veggies that end up in your waste-can and end up in a landfill. The amount of money that can be saved with careful planning and husbanding water, crop yields, etc., not only can be realized by farmers and businesses and grocery stores and distribution centers, but it also filters but can also filter down to families if thoughtful planning is accomplished and if consumers don’t mind selecting some bruised fruit at a lower price (often more delicious), than the perfect apples and oranges with no taste.

Food and resource waste directly correlating to global warming and climate change, whether deaf, dumb and blind politicians acknowledge this or not, insidiously correlates to shifting population migrations as refugees challenged by drought, famine and war in a subtle and complicated connection with dwindling resources (food, clean water) seek areas to live that are not under such duress. When Bourdain implies that everything about food is tied to everything else, the message not only “hits home,” filmmakers have brought you to a place where you need to see interventions and programs and innovations that are eliminating and reducing our criminality of food waste.

Anthony Bourdain, Tribeca Film Festival World Premiere Q & A, Wasted! The Story of Food Waste

Anthony Bourdain of ‘Parts Unknown’ hosted the TFF Q & A after the screening of the film he produced with others, ‘Wasted! the Story of Food Waste’ (Carole Di Tosti)

The interviews and visits with celebrity chefs are legendary. They follow Tristam Stewart to England as he shows how he  recovers 900,000 tons of bread wasted a year by making artisinal beer). They travel to Modena, Italy and then Milan to see Massimo Battura who created Food For the Soul and the divine concept of the artistry of the Refettorios.  With beauty and elegance he has found a way to touch the hearts of the “invisible needy” that rivals dining at The Four Seasons and uplifts their souls. At the outset they visit Dan Barber who takes us through his guided veggie discoveries and tastes as he educates us to the egregiousness of food waste with produce (fruits and vegetables, roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of any food). And they shadow Danny Bowien’s travels to Japan where chefs surprise him with delicious dishes that use unbelievable cuts from the animal that he never tried including the uterus and vows to take home to his restaurant.

These entertaining, enlightening and uplifting segments of the film, which are woven into the dialogue about food waste, dissolve the “doom and gloom” of the underlying problems by showing there is much we can do. Indeed, entrepreneurs and innovators,  spurred by funds from the Rockefeller Foundation (which is supplying grants through YieldWise) are working to ameliorate the situation and move the paradigm to Zero Food Waste in the next decades, regardless of the lack of political will that recently has been demonstrated. The uplifting examples of how other countries and individuals are curtailing food waste are inspiring. They encourage us to toward activism on a personal and local level:  at the very least composting, wiser food shopping and more.

This is a must-see film for its clarity, for its inspiration, for its no-holds-barred revelations, for its love and good will, for its energy. Its unforgettable incisiveness magnifies the importance of our individual and national global food waste imprint. Its generosity and positive outlook spur us to become leaders in our own lives and communities so that we can have a global impact. The situation is bleak, but it is not without hope. We can positively shape our future and the future of the generations that come after us. It is only a matter of starting today.

Check the website for updates.

Check this page for more information on global food waste.

Fisher Stevens, ‘Before the Flood’: Video of the Q and A at Hamptons International Film Festival 2016

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Fisher Stevens at the HIFF 2016 speaking to me about his documentary ‘Before The Flood’ (photo Carole Di Tosti) See the video clip on Theater Pizzazz by clicking HERE.

Fisher Stevens’ Before the Flood is a prodigious effort by the filmmaker who is also an actor, writer and producer. The film, starring Leonardo DiCaprio (he also co-produced the film), which screened at the Hamptons International Film Festival 2016, comprehensively details the subject of climate change through cogent interviews by scientists, activists, researchers, world leaders and more. Stevens’ perspective could have been a browbeating doom and gloom treatise on global warming. Instead, after seeing the film, one leaves the theater feeling the urgency that there are ways one can individually make a difference in the fate of the planet.

Stevens’s documentary is compelling and memorable as he traces how climate change impacts every being on this planet, every microscopic creature and every seed, every spore, every molecule of life that has managed to evolve and survive through the eons up to this point in time.  He shows how experts in climatology and related, supporting fields have been monitoring the planet for years and have produced the facts, details, information, data, maps, visuals, photographs that predict signs of impending global catastrophe. In an overwhelming consensus, they have explained what is ongoing and current: rising seas, melting glaciers, disappearance of the Greenland ice sheet. They have almost uniformly predicted the subsequent inundation of coastline cities, mass population migrations, starvation and decimation of a planet caused by greenhouse gas overload which created chain reactions that many believe are irrevocable.

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(L to R) Fisher Stevens and Artistic Director of HIFF David Nugent before the screening of Stevens/ superb documentary ‘Before The Flood’ (photo Carole Di Tosti)

Stevens also reveals the antithetical arguments to climate change and why they exist. Despite scientific consensus, climate change deniers managed, with Fox news propaganda prestidigitation, for expedience and profit, to turn black into white, to twist up into down and to morph fact into fiction. The result has been a quicker burn, a delayed global response which even after the Paris Climate Summit 2015 is not effectively doing enough to stem the glacial melt, dissipate the acidification of the oceans, ameliorate the dying of coral reefs, end unsustainable practices employed by energy corporations and create an effective reduction of carbon emissions to cool the planet.The scenario scientists, researchers and experts paint has far reaching dire consequences that impact every global culture and every land or oceanic ecosystem with supporting marine and wildlife. This result may be likened to the ushering in of the four horseman of the apocalypse: pestilence, war, famine, death.

But this must-see documentary is uplifting despite the revelatory evidence of overarching power demonstrated by a handful of genocidal nihilists (climate change deniers), who are egregiously and willfully deaf, dumb and blind to the earth’s reality show. How Stevens’ journey (which follows the investigation and work of Leonardo DiCaprio as United Nations Messenger of Peace on climate change), arrives at the realm of hope that suggests a possible rainbow in our future, is miraculous, invaluable filmography.

The film must be seen for its poetic script, its breathtaking cinematography and concurrent dark and soaring music, its cogent analysis and exhaustive documentation through experts’ interviews, visuals, maps, data and much more. Fisher’s documentary is an accessible and definitive work on climate change. It will inspire all those who see it to become involved on a personal and community level to overturn the climate change denier’s lies and take action before it is too late. The film Before the Flood is being aired on National Geographic and is screening at City Cinemas Village East and elsewhere. Check about dates online.

Here, Fisher Stevens speaks to the moderator at the Hamptons International Film Festival 2016 after the screening of this seminal film.

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Hamptons International Film Festival 2016 and NYFF 2016 Review: ‘Manchester by The Sea’

Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by The Sea, HIFF 2016, NYFF 2016

Kenneth Lonergan at the NYFF 2016. He was unable to appear at the HIFF 2016 for Manchester by The Sea, his best film to date. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Manchester by The Sea is a pageantry of human emotions that Kenneth Lonergan prodigiously marches with relentless precision across the screen, encapsulated by the astonishing performances of Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, and a superb supporting cast. The plot development is a complicated paradox which exists on two levels. One is the emotional, interior level where protagonist Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck is breathtaking and magnificently drafted as the tragic everyman), reflects about a past he wishes to escape. The other is on the level of linear time in the present where Lee confronts his brother Joe Chandler’s (Kyle Chandler) death and the multiplicity of mundane details that must be carried out. Joe’s passing forces Lee to return to Manchester by The Sea, settle his brother’s affairs, and possibly assume the guardianship of his brother’s son, Patrick.

Lee’s former hometown is a place of great beauty, but Lonergan reveals by the film’s conclusion, that Manchester by the Sea may be a scenic paradise only if one has peace and joy within. For the protagonist it is the razor’s edge slicing his already bleeding soul. Of all the locations on earth, it is the last place he would wish to be to thrive emotionally in wholeness.

Manchester by The Sea, Michelle Williams, NYFF 2016, HIFF 2016

Michelle Williams in ‘Manchester by The Sea’ at the NYFF 2016 and HIFF 2016. Photo from the film

Cinematically constructed with a canny, unaffected minimalism, Lonergan alternates between the vividness of exterior scenic beauty of the coastal New England setting, and the nullifying, hackneyed interiors of families in homes which are supposed to be comfortable, but which are less than warm or real. The film’s tones are elusive and ever changing with haunting echoes spiked with humor, levity, somberness, and poignancy. Striking glimmers of scenes flare into one’s consciousness long after one has left the theater. It would be an understatement to say that this film is remarkable. It pulses with the vibrance of what makes us cling to our lives in hope, long after we, like Lee Chandler, may have been emotionally blasted by circumstances to merely exist in a roiling inferno of quiet subterranean rage and immobilizing despair.

At the heart of this film there is mystery and lustrous revelation. Lee Chandler’s suppressed identity and what he has experienced is gradually made alive to us so that we may empathize with him and wish for his redemption and healing. Lonergan has created a powerful human drama with broad and masterful strokes of storytelling. He unspools the underlying dramatic events with flashback. The flashbacks are the raw, vibrant dynamics which are Lee’s place-induced memory reflections as he robotically goes about the task of returning to Manchester to deal with his brother’s remains, hold the funeral, settle the financial estate, and monitor his teenage nephew whose enthusiasm for activities and girlfriends is a blind for the pain of losing his father and having his life upended by his uncle’s impending guardianship.

During the activities in the present, Lonergan alludes to Lee’s past through the townspeople’s off-handed comments; his identity remains a cypher. The mystery of Chandler’s going through the motions of existing in the present while living in a hyper-drive of emotional memories from the past, we later discover, is tied up with a horrible accident. For Lee and his former wife, Randi (Michelle Williams is simply, completely stunning), it is a cataclysmic, life-altering devastation. The writer gradually uncloaks the keystone revelation in a swift cut of shockingly unexpected visual images that explode on the screen and in our minds, then reverberate like the aftereffects of an earthquake.

Kyle Chandler, Casey Affleck, Manchaster by The Sea, Kenneth Lonergan, NYFF 2016, HIFF 2016

(L to R): Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck in ‘Manchester by The Sea.’ Photo from the film

It is a revelation that occurs well into the film, and it coalesces all our understanding about who Lee Chandler is and what he is going through. From then on, our empathy with his plight includes the hope that he will be able to forgive himself, end the self-flagellation and eventually reconcile his emotions to walk the road of healing. For the present it is perhaps just enough that Chandler can breathe and experience the physical manifestations of living until deliverance arrives, if it ever does, an uncertainty that concludes the film.

We know nothing of this as the movie opens. We only discern the flattened affect of Chandler’s mechanical non-existence as the superintendent of a building in Quincy, Massachusetts. It is an existence from which he is interrupted when he must return to his former hometown, a place of exterior beauty and, for Lee, emotional terror, to deal with his brother’s death. Once there he must confront family, his nephew, and former friends under the continual oppression that reminds him that Manchester by the Sea, represents a wasteland. There, he has lost everything meaningful he has ever known.

Lonergan takes us painstakingly through the details of Chandler driving to Manchester reflecting (one of a number of flashbacks), upon the day he first heard of his brother Joe’s (Kyle Chandler is memorable in the supporting role), physical diagnosis that eventually leads to his sudden demise. The flashbacks create mesmerizing storytelling; they reveal family history, Lee’s relationships with Joe and his nephew Patrick (a humorous, heartfelt performance by Lucas Hedges). They also highlight the fragmented relationship between Joe and wife Elise (Gretchen Mol). If one studies the flashbacks as Lonergan integrates them with the arc of the plot development in the present, we understand that the whole is defined by the sum of its parts. Brick by brick Lonergan constructs the foundation of Lee’s condition and life path showing they have been arranged by these telling and vital moments revealed in the memories upon which hang his emotional threnody.
Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Manchester by The Sea, Kenneth Lonergan

(L to R): Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges in ‘Manchester by The Sea.’ Photo courtesy of the film.

With functionality the filmmaker also uses Lee’s reflections and memories to provide the solid plot points upon which are built the conflicts and the issues Lee must confront in the present as he is forced to deal with the horror of his past. We discover why his brother wanted him to take on the guardianship of Patrick. Underlying all of this is the linchpin issue: the conflict between Patrick and Lee which must be resolved. Will Lee force Patrick to live in Quincy where Lee’s job is, a safe haven for Lee far away from the hell of Manchester by the Sea? Or will Lee sacrifice himself for Patrick’s happiness so Patrick can be with friends, girlfriends, and activities he loves, fulfilling his life in Manchester by the Sea? One’s fulfillment is the other’s sorrow. For Lee, in Manchester floats the ashes of his former happinesses that are gone forever.

Patrick asks his uncle, why go back to a one room apartment and a job that he could do anywhere? It is an irony. And Lonergan answers Patrick’s question through an extended flashback, Lee’s memory of the horrific accident. Lonergan paints Lee’s remembrance in sharp visual images that emotionally stun, accompanied by an amazing selection of music (the music is brilliantly chosen throughout). Through this pointed flashback the mystery of Lee’s being and changed identity is brought into the unfortunate light.

The meat of the film is how Lonergan carefully patterns the relationship between Patrick and Lee starting with a joyful memory Lee has (in flashback), before tragedy strikes both brothers when Patrick was a youngster. It is a happy moment during a fishing outing and Lee kids Patrick about choosing him over his father. The irony is tremendously layered in the jump from the past to the present where it becomes twisted and sardonic; Lee must tell Patrick about his father’s death.  Of course, if he could choose, Patrick would rather his uncle have been the one to die, not his father. And Lonergan clarifies as the film progresses, Lee would gladly have chosen to be the one who would die rather than Joe. But fate twists reality into the antithesis of their desires.

Lee gradually adjusts to his nephew whom he hasn’t seen in a long while.  In Lee’s case, he appears to be emotionally non-present (we learn later it is  because his feelings are acutely raw; he must attempt to freeze them or erupt in a white heat electrical storm of rage). Patrick in youthful oblivion to his uncle’s state and even his own, blows him off temporarily for his two girlfriends, his hockey, his band, and his future prospects. But the strain and pull of youth and age, of humor, and the light and dark between them encompass the high points of the film which are immensely entertaining and an effective counterpoint to the sorrow and stirring scenes of heartbreak.

The emotional variety and seeming random reality of the actors’ performances captivate. It is impossible not to identify with the protagonist, despite how much one wants to extricate oneself from Lee’s engorgement on self-flagellation and broken heartedness. The scene between Randi and Lee toward the conclusion is Shakespearean and is incredibly human and real. Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck are not rendering performances, they are rendering a kaleidoscope of raw, emotional power. They are devastating.

Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by The Sea, HIFF 2016, NYFF 2016

The irrepressible Kenneth Lonergan posed for me at the NYFF 2016 after a Q and A about ‘Manchester by The Sea’. Photo Carole Di Tosti

Lonergan presents the case, that some hardships might be too much for any individual to bear. Lee Chandler finds a way, even if it it brings him into a state of oblivion. Catastrophe has sifted his soul and he has found himself wanting. It and his response to the accident place him in a limbo akin to an eternal process of dying without the imagined peace of finality. Lonergan’s film is a case study in the tragedy and triumph of the human spirit, even if it is to just get to the next second in linear time while enduring a parade of painful images erupting from one’s unconscious.

Lonergan’s acutely crafted storytelling emerges from his discrete human characterizations. His dialogue throbs life like a palpitating heart. His visual craft seamlessly modulates his characters’ feelings and interplay. Like life’s dynamism, the effect is so intricate and whispering, that one can miss the broader picture of beauty in suffering and redemption in nanoseconds of humor and felt connection with others. All this is to say that the film is absolutely fantastic. It is a must see for the levity and pathos and the incredible cast Lonergan has marshaled to relay what is most tragic, humorous and uplifting in our lives.

This review first appeared on Blogcritics.

 

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New York Film Festival Review: ‘Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words’

Ingrid Bergman, New York Film Festival, Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words

Ingrid Bergman in ‘Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words.’ Photo courtesy of the film.

Celebrations of Ingrid Bergman’s 100th birthday (August 29, 1915) have been taking place all year, as fans and film professionals honor the iconic Swedish actress, winner of 3 Academy Awards, 4 Golden Globes, 1 Tony and 2 Emmys. But perhaps the greatest celebration of Bergman’s amazing career and life is the documentary Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words, directed and written by Stig Björkman and Dominika Daubenbüchel. Björkman offers a fresh and intriguing perspective of Bergman: the person and the actress.

The documentary is a fascinating account of Bergman’s life, cobbled together using Bergman’s own 8 and 16 mm family film clips, Bergman interviews, pointed snippets from Bergman’s childhood diary entries, letters to best friends (the voice-over narration read by Alicia Vikander), and vibrant commentary by her four children Pia Lindstrom, Isabella, Ingrid and Roberto Rossellini. Bergman was a pack rat who saved, letters, photographs, and other personal memorabilia.

Her diary and letters are a treasure trove of her evolving thoughts, impressions and personal growth over the years. Her letters, and the interviews about her relationships with her husbands, her agent, her close friend Ruth Selznick (wife of David O. Selznick), and her own self-described identity as a bird of passage, who flew to new ground where she forged another milestone in her life marked “change” as the only permanence she would cling to.

The amazing and juicy tidbits Bergman wrote in letters and diaries, and the film clips that she, herself, took, chronicle her life and the times in which she lived. The material makes for a thrilling historical glimpses into the aura of film studios (Hollywoodland’s golden times), the hypocritical social folkways of the times (the culture’s response to her affair and marriage to director Roberto Rossellini), her film directors (Hitchcock), her travels through European cities a few years before WWII, and much more. The director includes Bergman’s pre-WWII footage of marching Nazi Youthregiments, and Storm Troopers doing maneuvers. Prewar anti-semitic slices of life in Berlin–prescient warnings–Bergman captured in footage and photograph: a glimpse of the horrors to yet to come.

Ingrid Bergman, Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words, New York Film Festival

Ingrid Bergman and her children. ‘Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words.’ Photo courtesy of the film.

In every country she lived (Sweden, the U.S., Italy, France and England),  Bergman carried her most prized possessions with her. These mementos represented her very being. To leave them behind or destroy them would have meant obliterating a part of herself and her past. Considering that she had to pack them up each time she moved on, whether to a new city or new partner, this was no small feat. It is clear that the artifacts symbolized her heart’s love and held profound meaning for her. The public is fortunate that they are archived at Weslyan University, and many are revealed in this documentary.

Putting the pieces together from these slivers of history, the director traces her life voyage as Bergman attempts to put down roots for herself and her family. Her personal films reveal the human woman and her interconnected, loving, down-to-earth persona as friend, wife, mother, and general ambassador of good will. The clips also exhibit that when the roots deepened, she changed her garden landscape and pulled them up to transplant herself. The director includes her perspective that whenever she became stifled or felt she was not progressing within, she had to release herself to the universe and embrace another adventure, another world that she would create at will.

Ingrid Bergman, Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words, New York Film Festival, 100 Year Celebration of Ingrid Bergman's Life

Ingrid Bergman in ‘Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words.’ Photo courtesy of the film.

Using Bergman’s own metaphor, “bird of passage,” she became inspired to move on, not wanting to remain settled or stationary. The documentary material reveals how much Bergman enjoyed her freedom. Thus, although her children often rued her departure because she was so much fun to be around, she never took them with her. She understood the instability, insecurity and upheaval caused by her need for continual movement, and likewise comprehended that her children required a solid foundation. They needed to finish their schooling and be embraced by the comfort of familiar surroundings. During her travels and transformations, the children were raised by her former husbands and their wives or family members. In leaving her families and moving on, there was sorrow, and whenever she could she would see them and bring them to visit in the next city where she remained for a time.

This candid and very open view offered by her adoring adult children, and her archived material reveal what was paramount in Bergman’s life. As a young girl, she wanted to be a great actress; she made this dream real and in the pursuit of this goal she remade herself in her personal and professional life. She was a maverick, an autonomous and independent woman ahead of her time.

Stig Björkman discloses that the colorful, charming and beautiful creative spirit was as flexible and strong as a reed in the storm. Hence, she took on the creative challenge to be brilliant at her craft: that was the force that flooded her veins and propelled her to flight and transformation. It propelled her into Swedish films and then to Hollywood. It propelled her away from her first husband into the arms of director Roberto Rossellini and into a hiatus of filmmaking, scandal and media vilification. It propelled her away from Rossellini back to a declining and morphing studio system that embraced her and forgave. It propelled her onto the stage and to TV. It propelled her into the arms of her third husband, a stage producer.

Ingrid Bergman shooting family films in 'Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words.' Photo courtesy of Mantaray AB.

Ingrid Bergman shooting family films in ‘Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words.’ Photo courtesy of Mantaray Film AB.

Throughout her life existed the compulsion to be a great actress. Next to Katherine Hepburn, Bergman is the most awarded actress in the film industry, and one of the most celebrated. Acting, she realized, stirred her to the finest joys in her life. In establishing her career, she lay her own self-evolved identity apart from anyone else. In the craft, there could be boundless creativity. In the process, there were no tethers to rein her in. Because of acting, Ingrid Bergman was her own woman. Because of her prodigious talents she possessed her own soul.

The director wisely reveals the maverick Bergman through her own 8 and 16 mm films, with only passing reference to her movie persona. By the end of the documentary, we understand that Bergman was an iconic woman for all time, in her ambition, her recreations of her own identity and especially for her courage in breaking through the restrictions of cultural hypocrisy and double standards.

The documentary is an homage to the film industry and the personal life of one of its enduring actresses. The editing is a bit uneven and a few sections could have been tightened, even though a fine musical selection adds to the film’s poignancy when relating her early years. Nevertheless, the director avidly selects and shapes Bergman’s mementos in a presentation that clarifies a salient theme. It is a reminder to us that, like Bergman, we must do exploits. It is a call to be one’s own person, regardless of social hypocrisy or the social pressures to conform to an image that is not our own.

If Ingrid Bergman had lived longer, surely she would have supported women’s power constructs in the entertainment and media industry. Included in one of her last TV interviews, she comments on ageism and the illogic of it. Sadly, the industry has not budged from her time to ours; roles for “older” women (in their 30s, as Maggie Gylenhall implied recently) are in short supply. Bergman spoke out and though her comments may have been only noted by a few men, she encourages that women must raise their voices continually. By using Bergman’s “own words,” the director cleverly emphasizes the power of voice. It is her power of voice and her example that challenge us from beyond the grave. In this Stig Björkman has done a masterful job.

This review first appeared on Blogcritics @ http://blogcritics.org/new-york-film-festival-review-ingrid-bergman-in-her-own-words/

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