Category Archives: Film Festival Screenings
American Factory by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert screened in its New York premiere at Tribeca Film Festival. The documentary is an alarming view of the foreign factory which may presage the downhill slide for American workers as the trend of foreign investment continues. Factories in China and Russia operate differently. And when such investment comes to the U.S., standards of accountability are not what Americans are used to. Foreign ownership dictates process and operation.
The film presents the anatomy of a GM plant closing December 2008 and its rise from the ashes in the form of a refurbished plant bought by Chinese investors. The idea to invest in the U.S. was to establish profitability. For Americans the hope was that the jobs created would bring greenery back to a state which was choking from the massive rust storms its closed industries had caused.
The devastation in industry as a result of the mortgage debacle and Second Great Depression under the Bush Administration was legion throughout the U.S. and globally. Thus, when news of the GM plant’s restoration by Chairman Cao came, there was cause for jubilation. After the dust of the launch settled, expectations shifted and the hard realities revealed themselves.
The filmmakers lay no blame and avoid a political stance. Any reference to politics is my own perspective. The filmmakers present all sides and attempt to be as objective as possible. Because of that attitude they had total access to the factory floor. Using the techniques of cinema verite and acute editing, we see interviews of workers expressing feelings and opinions. In light of the history of the American factory and unions which the film touches upon, what is now happening with foreign investment coming here and opening factories is not the boon politicians would make it out to be. Based upon what the filmmakers discovered and relate through their interviews and portraits of workers at home and on the factory floor, “the handwriting is on the wall.”
A Bit of History
When the Dayton, Ohio GM plant closed in 2008 filmmakers recorded what was a tragedy for blue collar workers. Dayton, the home of the Wright Brothers, had a prodigious history of industry and innovation. At one point it boasted the most patents per capita than any other city in the US. It was the second largest automotive manufacturing city after Detroit at a prosperous time before the Regan administration. Before the Regan years the wealthy were taxed proportionately with the other classes. The corporate tax rate was triple what it is now. The unions protected/advocated for workers and petitioned the government (OSHA) to safeguard their health and well being when there were violations. CEO salaries were not as exponentially wacked in comparison to their workers’ salaries. Workers faced low inflation: by comparison to today, there was little national debt. A single parent wage-earner was able to support a family of four and put kids through college in middle America and the South. Additionally, the medical industrial complex was not profit based.
None of this was socialism! The wealthy were taxed their proportionate fair share. It was good, old-fashioned American citizens paying to support one another’s prosperity, from the wealthy to the poor based on the graduated income tax. The extremes between rich and poor were not galactic. Banks were regulated repositories of citizen funds; they could not invest.
Ronald Regan and a conservative Republican administration exponentially increased corporate socialism otherwise known as corporate welfare. Everything changed in the nation’s economy and social/economic progress among the classes to benefit the wealthiest and slight the poor and middle class (upper middle, middle, lower middle). Republicans increasingly targeted programs for every-day Americans and pushed for more tax breaks for the wealthy. Unions were broken up. Globalism was used as the excuse, but in effect, the 60/40% power balance upended between unions and corporate higher ups to 80/20. Corporates took advantage. Greed blossomed, inequities grew. Corporations closed factories in the U.S. and went overseas, not happy to make a profit, but happier to make a mega profit to pay a hefty CEO salary and benefits to someone more interested in the bottom line than making product. Banking structure continued to change. Banks consolidated, made investments, funded derivatives, subprime mortgages and became “too big to fail.
Surreptitiously, Regan and others that followed had the laws changed to effect this, all to benefit corporates and the wealthy. There was continued downsizing, outsourcing, lower corporate tax rates, higher middle class tax rates, and lower taxes for the wealthy. Factories went overseas and Americans and farmers went bankrupt as the American Dream evaporated. With the mortgage debacle in 2008, it was the apotheosis of the death of the American Dream. Plant closures bankrupted and retrograded the lives of thousands of blue-collar workers in a chain reaction effect on other businesses.
After filmmakers covered the GM plant closing, they did an update of the area. Founder, chairman and CEO of Fuyao Glass Industry Group in a symbolic gesture acquired the old GM factory to establish an American headquarters of multinational Fuyao Glass. For the promise of hiring American workers and having it launched by American officials, he received enormous tax credits from the Ohio Tax Credit Authority. These breaks have increased under the Trump Tax Reform Act, which gives millions of dollars in tax welfare to corporations and billionaires, while making the other, poorer economic classes pay for it in a now swelling $23 trillion dollar deficit, something once considered anathema by conservative Republican tea partyists, now embraced and lauded by Mitch McConnell Republicans.
Documentarians filmed the plant launch and operations of Fuyao Glass which, to Chairman Cao’s consternation, was not immediately profitable as it would have been in China. It was losing money on top of the $500 million invested to open the plant.
Interestingly, Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert examine a cross-section of Chinese and American workers and managers to gauge the cultural differences, language barriers and work approaches. They interview Chairman Cao (a communist party leader hooked in high up to the party through his family). The Chinese workers, used to long hours and little pay are happy. American workers are upset.
The differences between the two cultures are staggering and problematic when the pressure of financial losses increases. Chinese workers, used to 10-14 hour days, find the 8 hour day unrealistic for profitability. US safety regulations established by OSHA are not understood and often ignored imperiling workers. For example Wong He, lead Furnace Engineer in OEM Tempering at Fuyao Glass America in an area where temperatures exceed 1200 F, a 20-plus-year employee of Fuyo, has burn marks all over his arms gotten in China. China’s safety regulations are not like ours. American workers file grievances, something that Chairman Cao doesn’t understand.
The Chinese and American workers try to become friends; there are humorous clips of Americans bringing Chinese workers for barbecue and for entertainment, showing them how to use guns for target practice. The Chinese workers who are away from their families and room together in tiny apartments are shocked that some Americans have to work two jobs (FGA pays $14.00 per hr.) to make ends meet. Clearly, American standards of living are not what Chinese hear about. Filmmakers interviews who lost homes, went bankrupt and live in one room in a relative’s house with few belongings. Thus, FGA seemed a dream come true. There are caveats.
In the past the former jobs at GM paid $28.00 an hour and the inflation rates and cost of living were lower. With their lower salary and higher costs, inflation and the shrinking purchasing power of the dollar, the FGA workers cannot afford to pay for their own education to retool or pay for their children’s college. Some are happy to have a job. But it is longer hours (they are not paid for training) with unsafe working conditions. The Chinese workers are younger and are used to long work hours under stressful conditions. Chinese workers come from a militaristic/communistic approach to company loyalty. They obey all commands without question, even if it means sacrificing their safety. Americans if have been used to a long tradition since unionization of asking “why?” Chairman Cao and the Chinese officials see this approach as disloyalty. They should just obey orders.
As the financial pressures increase, the Chinese attempt to show American company officials how FGA should be operated; they even pay for their visit to China to understand how plants are run. The hand of the Communist Party is all over the company in China; there are songs, banquets and entertainment to praise Fuyo Glass and the Chairman for his goodness. The sessions appear like brainwashing PR advertisements which inculcate the workers to be loyal, obedient employees for the good of the company/communist party. The visit to mainland China is an eye-opener.
Though American managers who visited China attempt to rein in their American workers when they return home, the historical, socio-cultural and economic disparities get in the way. Everything explodes when American workers at FGA attempt to unionize with the help of the U.A.W. Chairman Cao will not brook this assault on his company. He hires American lawyers and lobbyists to thwart unionization and mount an attack campaign against the union so workers will vote it down. The firm he hires, the Labor Relations Institute is paid over one-million for its assistance to provide everything that Chairman Cao and Chinese managers (Chairman Cao brings over new managers to tackle what the American managers can’t) need for the union vote to fail.
Filmmakers catch all of these interactions on camera and edit cogently so we understand the events with voice over explanations by workers. Surveillance of union representatives at FGA is taken. The right of the worker to voice complaint is discouraged; union reps who work at the plant are the equivalent of traitors. The vote fails; FGA has no union. There are promises made to lift the employee wages. Eventually, with no profitability, American management is fired; union reps are fired and anyone who gives “what for” or doesn’t work at the level required of their Chinese counterparts is put on notice. Retribution for asserting the right to speak out will occur, thus workers fear filing grievances with OSHA. At the end of the film’s shooting in December of 2017, a Fuyao employee was accidentally crushed to death. Additionally, to avoid conflicts in the future, the plant is being increasingly automated. Regardless, workers will be out of jobs, even if they prove loyalty.
Is there any way of knowing what injuries are occurring or what violations are happening in a corporation in the US, a foreign run company, which follows Chinese policies and practices? Only whistleblowers could reveal this; but they need their jobs and would be fired if the the identity of the whistleblower was revealed. The law of profitability is supreme, under a system of loyalty to the Chairman and the company which expects its workers to meet its own standards, not American standards.
Since the film the number of OSHA complaints against the company is down-exactly why is not known. The company has been profitable in 2018; but one of the stipulations for tax incentives of $15 million is that the company fulfill its promise to hire 800 employees, generate an annual payroll of $32.5 million and stay at their current facility for at least 18 years. Filmmakers also discovered that in March of 2018 a Fuyao employee was accidentally killed while working. Fifteen years ago in plants across the nation, to avoid citations, OSHA standards were being followed and the press would have publicly shamed the company.
Chairman Cao is spending $16 million to build a new processing center in South Carolina. It’s a new day. Foreign investment is here. It’s been a long time coming. Those in the “know” needed to prime the nation for such a situation with sub prime loans, so workers could go bankrupt, corporations could make more money overseas, the unions could be broken and those pesky regulations could be obviated. All of this happened and happens so that corporations pay little for a desperate, broken-down, poor, workforce, and foreign companies find the US an attractive place to invest, helped by politicians looking to make a little spare change for their states and themselves. But as automation takes over jobs, much of the need to oversee human production will be moot.
How do we handle the coming foreign factories that are populating our American landscape, offering jobs at what cost to Americans?
The situation has exponentially worsened under Trump. Workers are expendable and invisible; the rule of law and regulations are a thing of the past. No one is watching except Chairman Cao, and other foreign corporate chairmen and Trump. They are watching their bottom line at the expense of workers and the American people. But don’t believe what I’ve written here. See the film for yourself. Corporate socialism has everything to do with what is happening to the “American” Factory. Equitable economic, democratic practices and tax structure had everything to do with why the U.S. was thriving up until Regan. Only the .001% are increasing their wealth exponentially. The reset of the nation is treading water or drowning in rust. Automation will exacerbate these problems.
The film is truly a siren call to citizens in the South and in the Rust Belt who are debilitated and hurting economically, despite promises by Trump. Fox News reports which ADVERTISE for the next election, a “booming economy” (yes for billionaires and Wall Street) are great sources of brainwashing to convince Americans that the shrinking purchasing power of the dollar is not happening and their existing paycheck to paycheck is a good thing. Just don’t get sick. The film posits what is happening and I’ve suggested this is no coincidence if you look at the larger picture. The economy is global. Corporations are not bound by nation-states,’ laws. They are free; their CEOS make incredible salaries; workers can’t afford a night out on the town if they have children. And under Citizen’s United, corporations are people; they can donate any amount they like to their preferred political candidates to perpetuate corporate welfare.
An example of foreign investment that is happening as I write this concerns Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska who is bringing money and jobs to Mitch McConnell’s state of Kentucky after Trump lifted heavy sanctions applied by Obama. against Russia for the Crimean invasion. Oleg Deripaska,Putin’s close friend, is building an aluminium factory in Kentucky. Deripaska has a history of looting, money laundering, corruption, silencing whistleblowers (one woman who shot her mouth off that Deripaska knew about Russian meddling with the U.S. election has been jailed in Russia). Deripaska/Putin have covered up corruption that is the basis of his oligarchic empire which he is making global with the help of Trump and McConnell.
If Deripaska is given carte blanche treatment to “stimulate jobs,” for McConnell’s Kentucky, his company will not ipso facto be subject to former American factory standards, especially if Trump and Mitch McConnell (who has turned a blind eye to Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the Mueller Report’s findings of potential conspiracy and definite obstruction of justice) are in power. If the company pollutes and run roughshod over American workers? Only an aware public and vigilant government can stop any abuse by a company that is processing one of the most toxic substances on this planet, a poison connected to Alzheimer’s and other debilities.
Under Trump, the skies are the limit with foreign investment and foreign companies coming to the US to “create jobs.” There are no regulations worth keeping to improve the profitability of corporations. US tax payers will be subsidizing these corporations and individual states will be subsidizing tax breaks; certainly Mitch McConnell and the Kentucky state tax commission will be offering Oleg Deripaska tax breaks as a condition of hiring American workers. One wonders what else McConnell and others from Kentucky will be offering to “bring jobs” to one of the poorest states in the Union?
If we learn anything from American Factory, we will note that unless guarantees are made with workers, foreign investment will not improve American citizens’ plight and the economy in states that are hurting. Coupled with workers’ inability to easily retool and get an education (they cannot afford it because of bank strangleholds on student loans and interest rates) their options are so limited they are forced to work in such foreign industries for lower pay and questionable safety conditions. The vicious cycle will continue and the divide between rich and poor, the coastal cities and the red States will exponentially worsen. We must ask who does this foreign investment help?
This is a film worth seeing and thinking about. The point is to keep on learning. Ignorance is not a luxury we can afford.
In Washington, D.C. the beautiful monuments and treasured capitol building are icons Americans accept with reverence to appreciate their history. Also in an area that encompasses 17 blocks in the shadow of the capital there is a slaughter going on which is shameful and hidden.
The documentary film 17 Blocks by filmmaker/journalist Davy Rothbart with screenplay and editing by Jennifer Tiexiera, who won a Tribeca Award for Best Editing, exposes one of the most violent areas and gives us pause to ask why must gun violence continue, even in the very capital whose politicians refuse to deal with it because of money and power? We also ask, what is the value of human life to individuals whose lives have apparently been thrown away by a society and culture that doesn’t care?
Rothbart’s powerful and poignant film exposes the raw underbelly and extremes of life and death, that exist for black Americans who abide in the shadows of racism, poverty, drug addiction and the dwindling hope that their lives will ever get better in the capital of a ountry whose history has been plagued by war from its inception. In the chronicling of one family’s experience living in the 17 block radius, a picture unfolds that explains all we need to know about our country’s ethos in the hope that there can be improvement. If people see and understand, then they can change and help others change. It started with a filmmaker and someone who liked the idea of filming and from there, 17 Blocks was born.
The film begins with 9-year-old Emmanuel (the name means “God is with us,” and in the New Testament, Jesus Christ) using the camera in cinema verite style to capture the daily life of each member of the Sanford-Durant family.
Rothbart met Emmanuel who expressed an interest in being a filmmaker after he and his older brother Smurf become friendly with Rothbart. Eventually, the ball was set in motion for Emmanuel to chronicle snippets of family over a period of two decades. Emmanuel used Rothbart’s camera to shoot homely scenes, for example of his sister Denice preparing dinner, his mother getting ready to go out, as well as the family dynamic, their relationships and struggles. Various scenes express a rawness and poignancy that shows their love, concern, stress, anger and the full range of emotions that beset a family that is going through hard times, including the lack of finances or the education to start a successful career path.
Emmanuel introduces us to his mother Cheryl and other family members, Smurf, his brother who is six-years-older and Denice the oldest sister who has a job and attempts to take care of everyone. Over the years we watch their aging. We understand that Smurf battles a drug addiction and then goes full blown into dealing and then is arrested. We note that Cheryl has been struggling with a drug addiction that has financially bled her family dry and has dispossessed herself from a life of success by using. this goes on for years and is exacerbated when she is with her boyfriend Joe. Emmanuel even tapes their arguments.
Through it all, we watch Emmanuel grow up to capture what it is like living in the not so safe haven of family and the unsafe streets that they must negotiate as they attempt to get through each day. Emmanuel captures Denice’s children and Smurf’s holiday gatherings, parties, Cheryl’s elderly father who is not well and the general mayhem of the household which does not have enough room for all of them.
Denice who works, attempts to do the best she can but is not a good housekeeper and Cheryl chides her for this. But taking care of her children, cooking for them, working and moving in the direction of being a cop, then dealing with her addicted mother and brother is stressful. Somehow she manages to shore up her strength and be the mother and rock for all of them.
We are upset by their lows and happy that Emmanuel who has found an interest in being a firefighter and who has made good grades in school is graduating. He has a lovely girlfriend who is a good influence on him and it is clear that capturing on film his and his family’s lives may have made a difference in his choices away from running on the streets like so many of the other kids in this 17 block radius.
However, Cheryl and Smurf are on a downward slide with nothing to buoy them up and take them away from the destructive habits that have overwhelmed them. We understand this by how Cheryl has aged and by Smurf’s attitude, that the drugs will eventually do them in unless there is an intervention to make them realize their lives are worth something and that they still have a purpose in living.
Happily, their intervention comes. However, how and when it comes is not only unexpected, it is tragic.
Rothbart’s cobbling together these cinema verite pieces that Emmanuel captured during this time period is an ethnographic study in one black family’s life attempting to make it to the next day. Emmanuel portrays them lovingly through his lens so that we feel we come to know them, empathize with them and want the best for each of them. We are happy for Emmanuel’s goodness and Denice’s ambition and we hope against hope that Smurf and Cheryl will somehow dig deep within to change their lives.
We also stand in their shoes through the intimate approach that Emmanuel takes loving every one of his family members. And we can’t help but ask what would I do if I lived in that 17 blocks? Would I be so desolate I would turn to drugs as a way out and into oblivion? Where do I go for hope when I am so depressed and don’t have the means to seek a doctor’s help when what ails me is I’ve objectified what the culture and society says about who I am; that I’m worthless?
Rothbart has presented this documentary with perfection, keeping the inexpertly shot footage by Emmanuel as a nine-year-old and merging it eventually with the footage Emmanuel shot later and the scenes he himself has shot toward the conclusion of the film. We are left with a heartbreaking portrait of a family who is like us and who wants out of living in an environment prevalent with drugs and violence. And so would we if we stood in their shoes. And that is Rothbart’s point. Deliverance must come to this area. It has been a long time coming and ultimately seeing from the perspective of a nine-year-old who grows into manhood, the heartbreaking message is clear. We must stop the proliferation of illegal guns by making it unprofitable for gun manufacturers. There is no time better than now.
Our Time Machine won the Tribeca FF Best Cinematography for the Best Documentary Feature Awar, as well it should. The atmospheric lighting and shot compositions helped to create the poignance and poetic beauty of the film.
The arc of development concerns the relationship between the aging Chinese artist (Ma Ke) and his son the famous Chinese photographer and award winning graphic artist (Maleonn). Together, they work on a theatrical project which Maleonn believes will bring them closer together. Through Maleonn’s creation of life-sized father-son machine puppets and a theatrical installation propelled by his family story of life and death, Maleonn hopes to ground his father in a familiar theatrical milieu. Thus, he will receive his father’s wisdom as they work on the project together. Ultimately, Maleonn hopes this artistic endeavor will forestall his Dad’s worsening dementia by linking him with his beloved art form, theater.
Chinese artist Maleonn creates elaborate photo tableaus that blend the real and the surreal in ways that echo his own memories. The installation he hopes to create is his family’s time machine that will symbolically suggest the past, present and future. The filmmakers capture steps of the creative process, the engineering of the puppets, the workshop where they assemble them and various spaces which reveal how the actors/puppeteers gradually take on the ethos of the characters Maleonn has created in his family story.
The documentary directed by Yang Sun and S. Leo Chiang is fascinating on a number of levels: artistic, historical, personal, human, cultural. In reflecting upon the lives of Maleonn, one of China’s most influential conceptual artists today, and Ma Ke, the former artistic director of the Shanghai Chinese Opera Theater who put on more than 80 operas, we are encouraged to see the connections of China’s artistic and cultural past and the burgeoning, innovative artistic China of the present. The new China is reaching out to make its artistic mark internationally, helped along on Social Media and the Internet.
Sun and Chiang reveal the artistic threads between the old China and the China of the digital age as they chronicle Ma Ke’s experiences growing up in a China of varying artistic contours and morphing political philosophies. For Ma Ke, being involved with Chinese Opera Theater (his love and expertise created a wonderful career for himself and his actress wife) was verboten during the Cultural Revolution. He was unable to work for a decade and was humiliated as all theater was politically themed, extolling the glories of communism and the various heads of the Communist Party. There was no place for traditional art forms and especially Opera Theater with its costumes, make-up and hairstyles that reflected ancient China.
After a decade the bans were lifted. Ma Ke was free to work in the theater and he feverishly made up for the lost years. Maleonn appreciated his father’s artistry, but was never involved in it. And he felt excluded because his father’s time and life centered around an art form that had nearly been eradicated. Father and son were on different paths and embraced different artistic endeavors. Maleonn felt resentment. Though he appreciated his father’s artistic passion, he did not like that he was away from home and the family.
The filmmakers relate the historical perspectives using archival footage and photographs of Ma Ke and his wife and some of the operas that he directed. Parallel to Ma Ke’s story is how Maleonn made a name for himself in photography. However, Maleonn decided it was time to return home when his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and his mother was stressed taking care of him. It is then that Maleonn conceives of the life-sized puppets, the symbolism of going back in time to stir his father’s memories, and a theatrical installation that will be presented in China and abroad.
As Maleonn’s amazing team and Maleonn work to create the human-sized puppets and develop the story, obstacles arise. They manage to overcome each one with enthusiasm. However, there are two they find nearly impossible to overcome: the lack of money and Ma Ke’s deteriorating condition. It is a race against time to find the money and finish the installation so that his father remembers his involvement with it and is inspired by the creation to which he contributed his wisdom and vast experience working in opera.
The filmmakers touch upon the history of China before the Cultural Revolution, during and afterward as they chronicle Ma Ke’s past. In their revelation of the incredible development of Shanghai, we understand the changing world and understand that Ma Ke is losing his place, memory and identity in it. Pushing back against time and the stresses of his own artistic ambition, Maleonn attempts to remain keep his family calm in the face of his father’s forgetfulness and forge ahead with the project. But Ma Ke forgets the operas he worked on and is frustrated that he forgets. He must be reminded about how he is involved with his son’s project and what Maleonn is endeavoring.
The filmmakers chronicle the family’s trials at home, a visit to the place where Ma Ke grew up (which he remembers) and visits to the doctor’s. He juxtaposes the creation of the life-sized father-son puppets, in a symbolic representation of the two of them. This is most poignant for as the puppet creations have life breathed into them, so to speak, Ma Ke loses more of his memory to dementia.
From the shattering of their past relationship overshadowed by theater, Maleonn redeems his resentment during this theatrical creative endeavor making his Dad a part of it as best he can. The documentary is finest in its intimate look at a father-son relationship as it moves toward love and redemption from dislocation and fragmentation. The symbolic transition reflects the cultural divide between the old China and the new reconciled China that is moving into first-world status.
Filmmakers reaffirm that from the past and the present can come inspiration and wholeness that through art, represents the best of the old and the new. It is a powerful message for our time, for China and for countries around the world who are grappling with maintaining their monuments and in the case of Notre Dame now, restoring them. We must develop, yet retain the best of the past as outgrowths into the present.
By the end of the film, Maleonn and his father are reconciled and the installation is able to move forward. One generation springs into the next. Maleonn marries an artist on his team and together they have a child. Ma Ke’s exclamations of excitement and surprise at the baby are touching. Of course, he asks every 10 minutes the name of the baby and whose it is. But Maleonn exclaims that his Dad’s joy returns again and again as he tells Ma Ke that the baby is his.
This is a soaring film that is emotional and sensitive in how it chronicles the family history, and also in how it reflects that the inherent spirit of artistic creation is carried on from generation to generation. Indeed, there is much to learn about how art can be used to sustain memory and identity in the face of the debilitating effects of dementia.
I heartily recommend this film. Look for it. In addition to screenings at the Tribeca Film Festival, tomorrow, the film screens at HotDocs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival, the DocLands Documentary Film Festival, the 35th LA Asian Pacific Film Festival, CAAMFest 2019 and the 2019 Chicago Film Critics Film Festival. The filmmaking team is expected to be at each festival.
‘Our Time Machine,’Maleonn working on bird sculpture. Courtesy Maleonn Studio.
OUR TIME MACHINE
Directed by Yang Sun & S. Leo Chiang
Executive Produced by Jean Tsien, Sally Jo Fifer, & Nick Fraser
World Premiere – Documentary Competition – 2019 Tribeca Film Festival
Official Selection – 2019 Hot Docs Film Festival
Pre-Festival 2019 Tribeca Film Festival Screening:
Tuesday, April 16th at 6:00 PM at Tribeca Screening Room (375 Greenwich St.)
To RSVP – Email Vince Johnson at VJohnson@tcdm-associates.com
2019 Tribeca Film Festival Screenings:
Sunday, April 28th at 5:30 PM at Village East Cinema – World Premiere
Monday, April 29th at 4:00 PM at Village East Cinemas – Press/Industry Screening 1
Tuesday, April 30th at 7:00 PM at Regal Cinemas Battery Park
Wednesday, May 1st at 1:30 PM at Village East Cinemas – Press/Industry Screening 2
Friday, May 3rd at 7:00 PM at Regal Cinemas Battery Park
About the film OUR TIME MACHINE
43-year-old Maleonn is one of China’s most influential conceptual artists today. His father, Ma Ke, was the artistic director of the Shanghai Chinese Opera Theater. After being humiliated and forbidden from working for a decade during the Cultural Revolution, Ma Ke immersed himself in theater. The mysterious excitement of Ma Ke’s creative world inspired the young Maleonn, but his father’s absences stoked early feelings of resentment.
When Ma Ke is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Maleonn pours everything into an ambitious new theater project: “Papa’s Time Machine,” a visually stunning time-travel adventure told with human-sized puppets. At the play’s heart are autobiographical scenes inspired by Maleonn’s memories with his father. He hopes this will bring the them together artistically and personally.
With enthusiasm both domestically and from abroad, the play shows signs of a promising future. But Ma Ke’s condition deteriorates. Maleonn is torn between the original goal to honor his father and the pressure towards commercial success. Ma Ke struggles to contribute to the play, and barely recognizes the play when it is completed.
Facing his father’s painful decline, Maleonn becomes more aware of life’s complexities. There are no effortless masterpieces or simple solutions. And there’s no traveling back in time to retrieve what has been lost. There, is however, the relationship that has developed with co-director Tianyi. He proposes to her, ready to become a partner and a father, and to carry on forward with a new outlook on his art and life.
About Filmmakers Yang Sun & S. Leo Chiang
Yang Sun is a documentary director and cameraman based in Beijing. He was on staff at China’s Central Newsreel and Documentary Film Studio, making documentaries for broadcasters including CCTV, Youku and the Travel Channel. He has directed several short and mid-length documentaries, including THE SECOND ALBUM, AKEN, BACKPACKERS FOR 10 YEARS, AFTER HE ROSE TO FAME, as well as the ten-part series TAKE ME TO TRAVEL. He worked as a director of photography on A CENTURY WITH NANJING, CENTURY MASTER, and SOUTH OF THE OCEAN. Sun Yang holds a Master’s degree from the School of Television and Film Art at the Communication University of China. OUR TIME MACHINE will be his first feature-length documentary.
S. Leo Chiang is a Taiwanese-American filmmaker based in San Francisco and Taipei. His documentary, MR. CAO GOES TO WASHINGTON, won the Inspiration Award at the 2012 Full Frame Documentary Festival. His previous film, Emmy® Award-nominated A VILLAGE CALLED VERSAILLES, picked up eight awards and aired on the American PBS series, Independent Lens. Leo’s work has received funding support from the Sundance Documentary Fund, the Tribeca Film Institute, and ITVS. He also collaborates with other documentarians as editor and a cameraman. Leo received a MFA in film production from University of Southern California. He is the co-founder of A-Doc, the Asian American Documentary Network, and a documentary branch member of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences.
IN ATTENDANCE AT TRIBECA 2019: S. Leo Chiang (Director), Sun Yang (Director), Jean Tsien (Executive Producer), Bob Lee (Editor), Ma Liang (Subject)
YEAR 2019 | COUNTRY U.S.A., CHINA | RUN TIME 80 mins
Group photo of puppets and puppeteers in a gallery. Courtesy Maleonn Studio.
FILMS AT TRIBECA FF
THE SHORT HISTORY OF THE LONG ROAD
*World Premiere Screening at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival in the U.S. Narrative Competition*
Written & Directed by: Ani Simon-Kennedy
Starring: Sabrina Carpenter, Steven Ogg, Maggie Siff, Danny Trejo
For teenage Nola, home is the open road with her self-reliant father and their trusty van, two nomads against the world. When Nola’s rootless existence is turned upside-down, she realizes that life as an outsider might not be her only choice.
Saturday, April 27th at 2:30 PM at Village East Cinema 07 (World Premiere)
Sunday, April 28th at 5:00 PM at Regal Battery Park 06
Wednesday, May 1st at 5:45 PM at Village East Cinema 03
Saturday, May 4th at 9:00 PM at Regal Battery Park
Purchase tickets by going to Tribeca Film Festival website. See the film guide at the top of the website page. TRIBECA WEBSITE: CLICK HERE
FRAMING JOHN DELOREAN
The Day Shall Come directed by Chris Morris, co-written by Chris Morris and Jesse Armstrong takes real-live accounts of how the FBI attempts to trap terrorists and hate groups and spins a fantastical yarn that is in whole is frighteningly realistic. Indeed, Morris culled research from stories which run to the overarching plot of this film, NOT the specifics. The events recall dastardly Keystone Cops episodes of law enforcement who entrap faux criminals, while real killers, i.e Parkland, 911, Columbine, Tree of Life Synagogue, Las Vegas, etc. have their way with US citizens.
Chris Morris creates a complicated, humorous and sardonic plot to send a powerful message to us about real terrorists and the convenient conversion of folks into harmless, safe, FBI-styled terrorists in the wake of the Bush era “war on terror” and Trump era terrorists on the border mantras used to herd the brains of American Citizens. At the bottom of Morris’ contentions? If we are not circumspect watchmen, law enforcement can become overweaning and abuse its powers. This is especially so when the risk reward ratios are tied to terrorist quotas which allow agents to convert folks to terrorism rather than locate actual terrorists and skillfully infiltrate their groups which takes years/decades.
In The Day Shall Come, Morris’ compact film resounds with currency, insanity and selects as its hero a black man. Considering historically blacks have proportionately not engaged in terrorist activities and have continually been victimized by law enforcement, this is an extremely satiric choice.
Moses, a self-proclaimed Floridian preacher, his wife Venus and four saintly “soldiers” attempt to raise up a religious following and by peaceful means, overcome the corrupt white culture that is displacing hundreds with gentrification and soulless development that decries affordable housing. On a wing and a prayer, some meds for bi-polar disorder, his converts and his raggedy church/farm that sells eggs and chickens to make ends meet, Moses (a hysterical and well-paced performance by Marchánt Davis) attempts to stop the continual threats of eviction and sell-out to developers with a shuck and jive routine that grows tired even for his once empathetic landlord.
Money is king. Money is the soul and song of existence in a culture which has extruded Moses and his church from its society and left them on the precipice of humanity. Without money, one cannot live even a meager existence with dignity. And Moses rag tag group Star of Six, cannot even begin to think about activism with any viability.
Desperate to forestall the end of his ministry and the abject misery of extreme poverty for himself, his children and his church family becoming like the thousands of Floridian homeless, Moses is driven to use “any means necessary” to fulfill his destiny and keep his church in the promised land where God has placed him. But where will he come up with the rent?
Enter a slimy pedophile miscreant with a taste for teenage girls and the FBI’s immunity to abuse them in a continual quid pro quo. Reza (Kayvan Novak) is the enslaved puppet informant of the FBI whom they send out with gobs of taxpayer cash to lure, entrap and capture those groveling for their last dimes (like Moses) to turn them into “enemies of the state” and terrorists. Terrorists are needed to prove this branch of the FBI “are worthy” of their budget and the jobs they hold.
In the case of Moses who goes off his meds to speak to God and Satan and refuses to carry rifles, AK-47s, glock pistols or anything that shoots bullets, the impoverished preacher, his wife and four congregants are hard cases to prove as terrorists, even though they are an uber tiny “radical” group. The nature of who the FBI is willing to convert to terrorism is beyond the pale. But Reza is the perfect foil for his handlers to squeeze. He is stressed to come up with a ready plot to snag Moses, though a three-year-old can see Moses has mega mental issues and terrorism is not one of them.
But desperate to continue his sexual abuse of teen girls, Reza’s urges compel him to work quickly or his equally amoral, slimy handlers Kendra Glack (Anna Kendrick), Andy (Dennis O’Hare) and other FBI officials will cut off his chick supply and throw him in a greasy Florida jail with worse perverts. That they are more into “fighting” terrorism with the most unlikely of candidates than get a red, hot, live sex offender, is ironic and damning. But, hey, this is credible considering the backlash against the #metoo movement and rampant world sex trafficking that could be ameliorated if… but it is not considered that important, nor is rape, for that matter.
With Reza’s lust working overtime, a plan is conceived to snare Moses who by this time, enveloped with stress about money, has gone off his meds and is convinced the lightening strike on a large crane in a development zone is God’s sign that he is with Moses whatever he does. How Moses goes from a poor, non-violent preacher who means well to an FBI terrorist supplying arms to the KKK is the stuff of satiric greatness that only a Brit like Chris Morris could evolve with horrific authenticity, supple comedy and riotous laughter. The coda at the end which identifies what happens to Moses, his wife, his four congregants and the FBI agents is both sickening and too realistic.
The Peter Principle is alive and well according to Chris Morris in The Day Shall Come, which also proves that in a septic tank, the really big turd chunks rise to the top. By comparison, Moses and his church are crystal clear water preyed upon by evil creatures twisted by their own hellishness.
The actors who portray the agents are depicted with skill. We dislike them immediately once we understand their self-dealing intentions. And indeed, Davis’ comedic “performance with a purpose” as the bi-polar preacher who hears from God and Satan is truly exceptional. The supporting cast and wife Venus (Danielle Brooks) do their wacko leader proud.
The themes Morris touches upon are numerous, varied and styled with clever twists. Many vital concepts about human nature and the human condition, good vs. evil reversals, abide with humor in this clever work. Most importantly, we understand how corruption self breeds like a toxic bacteria once it begins. When there is no moral force to oversee the rabidly power-hungry and abusive who are supposed to be caretakers of the law, every wicked trope, every sick meme congregates on the warped and diseased host, then spreads. This is not a pretty portrait of the FBI, but it is a darkly wicked one which will resonate. Physician? Heal thyself or your own disease will rot you from within.
The Day Shall Come will be released later in the year. Don’t miss this sardonic, zany and “too-true-to-look-away” film. And do not in any way confuse it with satire against black activist organizations. This is aimed front and center at the FBI. Moses and his group are cast in the most extreme and crazy light possible to reveal “how” terrorists are made and how economic inequality and overweaning power structures mold harmless, faux “terrorists” into bogey men then use them in their institutional PR campaigns.
HBO DOCUMENTARY FILM THE APOLLO ON WEDNESDAY, APRIL 24
Academy Award® winning director Roger Ross Williams’ film celebrates the historic New York City cultural landmark where musical legends were discovered
Features interviews with Pharrell Williams, Jamie Foxx, Patti LaBelle, Ta-Nehisi Coates and more
NEW YORK, NY – February 13, 2019 – The Tribeca Film Festival, presented by AT&T, will open its 18th edition with the world premiere of the HBO Documentary Film The Apollo. Helmed by Academy and Emmy Award-winning director Roger Ross Williams, The Apollo chronicles the unique history and contemporary legacy of the New York City landmark, the Apollo Theater. The film will debut at the iconic theater itself on Wednesday, April 24, 2019 and later this year on HBO. The feature-length documentary weaves together archival footage, music, comedy and dance performances, and behind-the-scenes verité with the team that makes the theater run. The Apollo features interviews with artists including Patti LaBelle, Pharrell Williams, Smokey Robinson, and Jamie Foxx. The documentary is produced by Lisa Cortés, Nigel Sinclair’s White Horse Pictures, and Williams. The 2019 Tribeca Film Festival runs April 24-May 5.
The Apollo covers the rich history of the storied performance space over its 85 years and follows a new production of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me as it comes to the theater’s grand stage. The creation of this vibrant multi-media stage show frames the way in which The Apollo explores the current struggle of black lives in America, the role that art plays in that struggle and the broad range of African American achievement that the Apollo Theater represents.
The Apollo Theater is internationally renowned for having influenced American and pop culture more than any other entertainment venue. The space has created opportunities for new talent to be seen and has served as a launchpad for a myriad of artists including Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5, Luther Vandross, Dave Chappelle, Lauryn Hill, Jimi Hendrix, and more.
“We’re excited to finally be going uptown to play the Apollo,” said Jane Rosenthal, Co-Founder and CEO of the Tribeca Film Festival. “The Apollo gives audiences an inside look at the major role this institution has played for the past 85 years. It’s seen the emergence of everything from Jazz to R&B to Soul and Gospel – all quintessential American music genres, and this is the time to remind people of our nation’s rich history. ”
“The Apollo is about so much more than just music, it’s about how we used music and art to lift ourselves out of oppression,“ commented director Roger Ross Williams. “The story of the Apollo is the story of the evolution of black American identity and how it grew to become the defining cultural movement of our time. I was fortunate to make my first film with HBO and I am thrilled to be coming back home with The Apollo. Premiering at The Tribeca Film Festival, at the Apollo Theater in Harlem is a dream come true.”
“The Apollo Theater is a symbol of the creative spirit of New York and beyond, and I’m very happy that we’re kicking off our 18th Festival celebrating it with this documentary from Roger Ross Williams,” said Tribeca Co-Founder Robert De Niro.
The Apollo, directed by Academy Award-winning and Tribeca alumnus Roger Ross Williams (Music by Prudence; Life, Animated) and is produced by Lisa Cortés (Precious), White Horse’s Nigel Sinclair (George Harrison: Living in the Material World; Undefeated), Jeanne Elfant Festa (Foo Fighters: Back and Forth, Pavarotti) and Cassidy Hartmann (The Beatles: Eight Days A Week, Pavarotti) along with Williams.
The Apollo will have additional screenings during the Festival. Passes and packages to attend the Festival go on sale on February 19, 2019.
The 2019 Tribeca Film Festival will announce its feature film slate on March 5.
For atheists death is a macabre subject if they fear oblivion. For the religious death is an inevitable part of life and nothing to fear because there is something beyond. Those of various religious persuasions believe that as the mortal body turns “to dust,” the immortal spirit is in the loving embrace of a God of light, forgiveness and joy. The conundrum occurs for the religious who have a crisis of faith: 1)in a loving God; 2)in a spiritual dimension beyond the physical plane. When that siege of doubt appears and embraces the coffin of a loved one as a cemetery caretaker lowers it into the ground, depending upon the ability of the individual to “bury” fears and doubts, death and the mourning process can be catastrophic. In the instance of the Hasidic Cantor, Shmuel, (played by the wonderful Géza Röhrig of the Oscar winning Son of Saul), death turns him inside out and upside down. And it is his “turning” that creates the wonderful comedic situation of To Dust.
Part of the charm of To Dust, written by Jason Begue and Shawn Snyder and directed by Snyder lies in the superb casting of Röhrig and Matthew Broderick. as research buddies getting a handle on the rate of body decomposition after death. Röhrig has the right measure of intensity and frenzy as he attempts to confront the stark and unsettling images of what has happened to his wife’s soul and body. She died suddenly and unexpectedly leaving him with two young children. Broderick is his perfect foil. He portrays the dead pan, unassuming, steady, science professor (Community College, upstate New York), who Shmuel seeks out for information about the progress of his dead wife’s physical decomposition. Clearly, Shmuel cannot confront the emotional impact of his wife’s absence so he obsesses about her burial underground. He worries that she must suffer for a long the time until she finally turns “to dust,” an injunction of the scripture. In his own logic Shmuel imagines when her body arrives at its final “dust” phase, she will have arrived at peace.
There is no reasoning with him that the contrary might be true, that at the point of death, she entered realms of joy. And though Broderick attempts to shake Shmuel from his obsession, there is no stopping a man addicted to tormenting himself with emotional devastation handily submerged by a preoccupation with precise facts about decomposition. There is only the opportunity to extend one’s kindness, befriend the tormented one and help him relieve his misery going down the path of least resistance. And that is what Broderick does.
Cleverly, the writers and the director quickly pass over the logic of the circumstance that anyone but Albert would dump Shmuel, ignore him, or call the police on him. However, the haunted Shmuel is a wandering ghost who does not know that his “deadness” outside covers up his raw bleeding wounds inside. Thus, if Broderick doesn’t help him with this scientific experiment, Shmuel’s state is such he will be haunted forever. Who knows what he might do? Thus, the kind teacher/helper, gradually allows himself to be persuaded to partner with Shumel on this secret adventure. Their friendship and rapport becomes the humanity and beauty of To Dust and the emotional payoff in satisfaction points is huge.
Broderick’s impeccable comedic timing and his fabulous intuition for what can get a laugh comes from his extensive experience acting on Broadway and Off Broadway. It is this pacing garnered from years of sensing audiences that he translates humor flawlessly to the screen. The comedy of the situation bounces back and forth on Shmuel’s and Albert’s journey of discovery. Broderick’s Albert becomes hooked out of curiosity, compassion and the fact that he has nothing much else going on in his life. And besides. He’s an open-minded stoner, not an uptight evangelical Christian.
The adventures they encounter involve grave robbing, but for a good purpose, research, and a visit down South to a “Body Farm” and other experiences. Many of the scenes at the grave or woods dealing with the wife’s shrouded body are hilarious and the ironies abound. The scenes with the pig are hysterical. The very idea that they would experiment and even touch the animal considered filthy among the Jewish orthodox who do not eat pork indicates the extent to which Shmuel is beside himself in horror at her death. His shuddering torment is worse than touching the porker a 5000+ year-old tradition of banning the cloven-hoofed from the Jewish Orthodox diets and presence. How Broderick and Shmuel deal with the unclean or ” trade” — האַנדל (טמא — is beyond the pale riotous.
Also, there is the apprehension that they could be stopped and questioned by the police for their secret deeds. How would they answer for themselves? Making rational sense of what they are doing with Shmuel’s wife’s body to the legal authorities conjures all sorts possibilities. This alone is priceless sardonic humor.
The dialogue is exceptional because these actors are so authentic in their attempts to deal with the absurdity of death from their perspective as citizens of life. The concept of death taken to its existential extreme is one we all must confront. What happens to us after our hearts stop and our brain function completely ceases? Does consideration of what is beyond and of what we will look like 10 years after death terrify? Certainly, we identify and empathize with Shumel. So does Albert. We have to because we are mortal. And how fast do we decompose if we are not embalmed? The Jewish tradition stipulates burial before sundown of the day of death.
If the actors and the situation created by Snyder and Begue weren’t so humorous, we would be as frightened as this husband is every time his imagination resurrects his wife. She torments him with the only thing left of her, her body. If not for the situational absurdity and humor, we would be saddened for this husband’s emotional debility in not being able to get over her loss.
That would be a different film. As a result, there is not even an affirmation that there is a life after death or that she resides in another dimension, or has achieved a God consciousness. In all that these Orthodox Jews have sacrificed in their lives to uphold their religious culture and folksways, one would think that there would be much consideration and comfort available to the living as they mourn the passing of their beloved. However, introducing the concept of the sweet hereafter would throw in an inappropriate twist based upon religious tradition. And it would change the tone of this film. Its richness in moving between surprise, comedy and sardonic jokes forces us to shift on a dime and follow along. The fact that the director and writer have engaged us in this very dark subject, then made us laugh about it is sheer perfection.
Also, another irony is not lost on us as aa truism in life: those who readily help others cannot easily help themselves. Here is a religious cantor who sings at funerals and helps others grieve by stemming their sorrow with his beautiful, anointed voice. In his own life he is incompetent at helping himself grieve and mourn. Indeed, the religion to which he has devoted his life and purpose is insufficient until he confronts his loss in real time and doesn’t disassociate from it. Albert’s friendship and camaraderie is crucial for Shmuel. And then occurs a brief intervention by his young children which forces him into the realization that he and his wife are in different mediums. One way to engage with her is to be present for his children and shake off the concept that she experiences soul torment based on a material/empirical time constraint.
To Dust works on many levels. It captivates, entertains and enthralls us with unanswerable questions that we will never answer in our bodies. And that’s the rub of it. Thankfully, laughter, too is a part of the mourning process. To Dust reminds us of this with bucketfuls of humor. For that and the adroit way the writers and directors negotiated this particular and inventive story with grace, humanity and love makes it a must-see.
This film screened at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival and 2018 Hamptons International Film Festival. It won the audience award at the Tribeca Film Festival. It opens on 8 February 2019.