Category Archives: Film News

‘United States vs. Reality Winner,’2021 SXSW FF Review:

Reality Winner in 'United States vs. Reality Winner,' directed by Sonia Kennebeck, 2021 SXSW FF (courtesy of Codebreaker Films)
Reality Winner in ‘United States vs. Reality Winner,’ directed by Sonia Kennebeck, 2021 SXSW FF (courtesy of Codebreaker Films)

This chilling documentary directed by Sonia Kennebeck indicates how far government goes to hide damning information. Using video clips of interviews and access to information not released before, the director exposes the facts about Reality Winner’s arrest and incarceration for leaking classified information. Ultimately, Kennebeck elucidates the scurrilous intent of the former Trump Administration to lie and cover-up Russian interference to get Trump elected. In 2017, the 25-year-old Reality Winner took a stand. United States vs. Reality Winner in its World Premiere at 2021 SXSW FF reveals what happened.

Reality Winner leaked the documents shining a spotlight on Trump and the 2016 election. When Trump commented to the contrary about Russia’s help, extensively investigated in the Mueller Report, we can thank Reality Winner’s patriotic, courageous actions. Her whistleblowing led to a high U.S. alert on election security in 2020. However, she still suffers retaliation with the longest prison sentence of its kind under the Espionage Act. Created in the early 20th century, Kennebeck reveals how misapplying the Act in Reality’s case speaks to injustice, punishment and retaliation. Not only did Reality not receive bail, she currently sits in prison today under a plea deal. Her jailing and labeling as a traitor for heroism to alert the public about Putin breaching election security identifies as cruel and unusual punishment.

Kennebeck obtained access to Reality Winner’s interrogation by suing the FBI in a FOIA request a few years ago. Happily, the Biden administration had the tapes released just in time. Acutely editing the audio tapes, Kennebeck intersperses them with audio of a phone call with Reality in prison. To supplement with salient information she uses video clips of interviews with NSA whistleblowers Thomas Drake and John Kirakou. Throughout, the director includes interviews with Reality’s parents, family and friends. In a full revelation Reality’s story comes to light.

Reality Winner in 'United States vs. Reality Winner,' directed by Sonia Kennebeck, 2021 SXSW FF (courtesy of August Chronicle)
Reality Winner in ‘United States vs. Reality Winner,’ directed by Sonia Kennebeck, 2021 SXSW FF (courtesy of Augusta Chronicle)

When we hear the FBI agents questioning her alone outside and inside her house, we empathize. And we especially note her answers with no lawyer present.

Clearly, the documentarian portrays her risks, the danger and her isolation. Additionally, the director, whistleblowers Drake and Kiriakou excoriate the betrayal by the reporters Matthew Cole and Richard Esposito. Winner mailed a copy of the classified document to The Intercept. Unconscionably, to “verify” the document, Cole and Esposito contacted the FBI, as if they didn’t understand it. Coded, encrypted, dated, the FBI knew exactly who had access to it. Of course this led to Winner’s subsequent arrest and being held without bail. That Donald Trump enjoyed election favor by Putin and received his hacking help and interference clarifies in light of this film and Winner’s brave actions.

When agents visited her house, tipped off by The Intercept reporters, their presence shocked her. Believing The Intercept stood by its sources, advertising themselves as a highly credibly online journal, she anonymously sent the document to them. She should have gone to The Washington Post which appears to be one of the soundest, most secure papers for whistleblowers. The Intercept made famous by Edward Snowden, Laura Poitres and others discredited itself by harming Thomas Drake and John Kiriakou. Indeed, the Intercept leaked those NSA whistleblowers to the FBI. During video interviews, Drake and Kiriakou disclose that Matthew Cole’s and Richard Esposito’s integrity as journalists remains questionable. They hint at subterfuge.

The audio tape discloses how the agents calmly, with benign manner questioned her conversationally. Conveniently, they didn’t read her her Miranda Rights. And the questioning lasted for hours. Later, when Kennebeck asked why Winner cooperated, Reality reveals her fear. She feared that they might harm her cat Mina. And she considered that she, herself, might be harmed. In other words, she remained calm, however, alone, she felt she had no recourse but to speak to them. Both Thomas Drake and John Kiriakou, who understand the terror of interrogation, back Reality. Pointedly they and others discuss that the moment the FBI stood on her property, unofficially they cast the net to pressure an arrest. Reality knew that. They had all of the information they needed before they went to her house because of The Intercept.

Reality Winner in 'United States vs. Reality Winner,' 2021 SXSW FF (courtesy of Codebreaker Films)
Reality Winner in ‘United States vs. Reality Winner,’ 2021 SXSW FF (courtesy of Codebreaker Films)

After the arrest, Reality’s parents held protests and spoke to the media. Taking a stand for our free elections, punished with a five-year prison sentence, seems harsh and politically motivated under the guise of “endangering national security.” A foreign power endangered national security. Reality blew the whistle and told the public to heighten the alert to national security. Indeed, those like Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Michael Flynn convicted for their criminal service to protecting Trump paved the way for Russian meddling and quid pro quos. Yet, Reality’s service to our democracy and the American people in warning us about breaches in election security deserves jail for being a traitor. The reversal is mind-boggling.

Kennebeck highlights Reality’s background, military service, brilliance with languages and qualifications. Indeed, she deserved her high security clearance. In contrast the former administration handed out security clearances undeservedly to unqualified friends and family like candy. On the one hand Reality leaks a document jeopardizing her clearance for a vital moral imperative. Anonymously, she made public election penetration by a foreign power. That attack by Russia remains an extreme danger for our democracy. However, in a corrupt, criminal political culture, the morally bankrupt and corrupt distort right from wrong. Thus, Reality’s justified, heroic action to preserve our elections, the corrupt in the courts and the Department of Justice (Trump) judged as a crime.

Ironically, Kennebeck interviews Edward Snowden from his perch in Russia, the place of the meddling. His presence as a former whistleblower rings hollow. In contrast Thomas Drake who supports Reality with the true grit of one who has been through suffering and retaliation, who stayed and fought for his nation, deserves a National Medal of Freedom. Of course, this won’t happen. However, an impartial, non partisan eye would consider it and for John Kiriakou also. But above all, Reality Winner indirectly delivered our 2020 election alerting us that Russia meddling occurred and it must not happen again. In helping to preserve our democratic process of free elections, she lost her vote. If that isn’t worthy of a National Medal of Freedom, I don’t know what is.

In United States vs. Reality Winner the director raises vital questions.When does leaking a document serve the public interest? Should exposing corruption be retaliated against? Indeed, the film levels judgment against those corrupt who support Reality’s jail time, despite the law breaking and hypocrisy of the former administration. Kennebeck’s laudatory work is a must see. Look for updates on this website about the next screenings. https://www.codebreakerfilms.com/

2021 SXSW FF Reviews: ‘Here Before,’ & ‘Violet’

Narrative Feature Competition film Here Before and 2020 Spotlight film Violet have women as their central characters. Happily, the women directors Stacey Gregg and Justine Bateman approach their subjects and protagonists with authority and sensitivity. In each film the protagonists must stand up for themselves, take their power and establish their agency. Though Here Before takes place in Northern Ireland and Violet in Hollywood, California, by the conclusion we appreciate how both women overcome their internal crises.

Uniquely, Here Before‘s character Laura (the superb Andrea Riseborough) establishes a solid, wholesome, family unit. Interestingly, she keeps it smoothly running even we learn of the loss of their daughter in a car accident years before. Living with the ache in her heart, she encourages their son in his schoolwork and maintains the balance with her husband. However, when a family moves next door in the duplex with a young daughter Megan (Niamh Dornan) the age of Laura’s daughter, circumstances turn inside out

Initially, Megan appears to be canny in her interest in Laura and the family. Returning the interest and fascinated by her, Laura invites her to dinner. Clearly, Megan’s response at dinner reminds her of her lost child, Josie. Events intensify and the son becomes upset that his mom’s obsession seeing and visiting with Megan can’t be healthy. When the husband echoes the son’s comments and expresses his angst, the director throws the audience into the weeds. However, whether Megan channels her daughter Josie, as Laura appears to believe at one point, or as her son considers she’s gone over the bend, the character remains sympathetic.

Psychologically, the stresses caused by, Megan who the husband accuses of lying threaten to break the family apart. Indeed, when Laura challenged by her husband tells him to leave so she can restore order with her son, Stacey Gregg also the writer, shocks us with Laura’s audacity. Clearly, within she tears herself apart by wanting Megan to be Josie. Yet, by yearning for this fulfillment, she fears and she’s losing her hold on reality.

Substantively, Here Before‘s flirtation with the mystical psychological appeals. However, reality lands with a blow and Laura confronts the truth revealed by Megan who wishes the best for both families. Gregg’s strengths of storytelling lie in her editing and shepherding the actors to deliver stunning performances. As they circle around the paranormal and bridge the heavenly and the earthly, we willingly follow Laura’s journey deep into herself. By the startling climax, we understand her statements of forgiveness and reconciliation to what she can bear.

In Violet (Olivia Munn) the titular character reels in a cataclysm of self-doubt. Bateman who also wrote the film creates Violet’s interior monologue that spools in a constant drone of demeaning comments. Ironically, these come in the hyper-critical voice of Justin Theroux. Brilliantly, his snide, cruelty only abates when Violet chooses some self-effacing decision to bow to a male (i.e. her boss or someone else). Interestingly, the acquiescence ultimately infuriates her, as she suppresses her agency and autonomy for another.

Cleverly, Bateman chooses to reveal Violet’s interior rage by fading the screen into a muted red. Ironically, Theroux’s cryptic statement follows, “There! Don’t you feel better?” Of course the antithesis is true. The suppressed rage intimates self-betrayal, accepting someone else’s ideas and abuse. Indeed, Violet retains the power and intelligence to gain agency over herself to respond to them appropriately, but she listens to “the voice. Finally, she discusses “the committee” with a friend and receives help.

Through a number of instances, we note that Violet’s brilliance as a film development executive at a creditable boutique agency places her in forward momentum. Interestingly, the boffos in the agency mistreat her; her boss demeans her with backhanded compliments. Though she ignores their behavior, she takes notice when a black executive who has it together identifies her power and talent and their lame uselessness.

This moment establishes a turning point. And gradually we note that friends like Lila (Erica Ash) abound to her account. The adorable Red (Luke Bracey) provides his caring guidance and support. Incisively, his and other’s love assists, so that she can turn off the “committee” of despots (Theroux’s nasty insults) in her mind. Most probably this committee hails from past negative encounters with her mother, aunt and brother. All it takes for us to understand how misaligned they feel with her includes a few phone conversations and their sardonic facial expressions. Obviously, not close to her brother who resents her, she finally decides to separate, choosing her mother’s funeral to cut the hangman’s noose.

Clearly, Bateman wants the audience to feel and understand the hellishness of Violet’s careening upheaval within, under the duress of her own internalized Nazi. Can she rescue herself from herself? When distinguished looking guys from another outfit approach Violet and offer her a plum position, we hope she takes it. Instead, loyalty to her miserable boss Tom Gaines wins out. Then occurs a superb moment in the film. Helped by Red’s growing love she asserts herself. She explodes the myths Gaines uses to embarrass her for the last time. I imagine this marvelous scene in a theater without the pandemic yielding a chorus of cheers and loud applause.

On her first directing venture Bateman shepherds the rest of the cast to provide a satisfying conclusion after Violet kicks the horrific Nazi to the curb. However, until that occurs, one moves from one nail-biting encounter to the next, happy when loving friends show up to soothe.

For updates on film screenings, go to the website: https://www.violetthefilm.com/

‘End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock’ 2021 Athena Film Festival Review

Protestors came from all over, 'The End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock,' Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)
Protestors came from all over, ‘The End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock,’ directed by Shannon Kring, Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)
Protestors came from all over, 'The End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock,' directed by Shannon Kring, Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)
Protestors came from all over, ‘The End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock,’ directed by Shannon Kring, Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)
LaDonna Brave Bull Allard in 'End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock,' directed by Shannon Kring, Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)
LaDonna Brave Bull Allard in ‘End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock,’ directed by Shannon Kring, Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)

End of The Line: Women of Standing Rock directed and produced by Shannon Kring, is an epic, historic film. Using cinema verite, on the ground style cinematography, Kring follows protest activities of the largest gathering of Indigenous Peoples in the US as they take a stand against the exploitation of their lands given to them in an agreed upon treaty of 1851 by representatives of the U.S. government. This is a film about the women of the Nakota, Dakota and Lakota tribes, who with their men and families, gathered together to stop the destruction of the Missouri River by an oil company, Energy Transfer Partners responsible for the Dakota Access Pipeline.

'End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock,' directed by Shannon Kring Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)
‘ End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock,’ directed by Shannon Kring Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)

She focuses principally on grassroot activities of water protectors Wasté Win Young, Phyllis Young, Ladonna Brave Bull Allard, Pearl Daniel-Means, Linda Black Elk, Ph.D. and Madonna Thunder Hawk. As the movement grows and they gain the moxie as empowered women to forge ahead and take this fight to the world, we revel in the courage, stamina and bravery to fight the good fight until they reach the goal.

Colonial past, End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock,' directed by Shannon Kring Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)
Colonial past, End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock,’ directed by Shannon Kring Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)

The Dakota Access Pipeline is the 1,172-mile-long (1,886 km) underground oil pipeline in the United States. It begins in the shale oil fields of the Bakken formation in northwest North Dakota and continues through South Dakota and Iowa to an oil terminal near Patoka, Illinois. Together with the Energy Transfer Crude Oil Pipeline from Patoka to Nederland, Texas, it forms the Bakken system. Extraction of the oil depends on fracking, an extremely dangerous procedure to the environment. The entire fossil fuel process condemns the area land and water and increases global warming aka Climate Change aka known as extreme weather actions.

Ceremonial dancing, End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock,' directed by Shannon Kring Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)
Ceremonial dancing, End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock,’ directed by Shannon Kring Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)

Announced to the public in June 2014, the almost $4 billion dollar project took off after informational hearings for landowners ending in 2015 that did not include Native Americans who had rights to the land. Dakota Access, LLC, controlled by Energy Transfer Partners, started constructing the pipeline in June 2016. Other companies have minority interests in the pipeline. The pipeline, completed by April 2017 became commercially operational on June 1, 2017 under the Trump administration.

Ceremonial dancing, End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock,' directed by Shannon Kring Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)
Ceremonial dancing, End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock,’ directed by Shannon Kring Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)

Kring focuses the documentary on the women of the Indigenous peoples between the time that the pipeline bulldozers showed up on Standing Rock Reservation until the time that protestors and activists were evicted and the camp pulled down. Also Kring covers the aftermath reflecting on the camp’s power to bring unity and the actions that the Indigenous Americans have undertaken afterward. She examines the strength, resilience, inner power and intelligence of Native American women who have their s*%t together to finally say “enough is enough.” Willing to die for the great purpose to keep the water in the Missouri River clean and unpolluted as it feeds into the water supply of 18 million Americans, the film shadows and highlights water protectors as they maintain their goals in the light of hypocrisy of the Army Corp of Engineers under the Obama Administration. The film also explores the actions of the women beyond the Trump administration.

Wasté Win Young, water protector in End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock,' directed by Shannon Kring Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)
Wasté Win Young, water protector in End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock,’ directed by Shannon Kring Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)

When the standoff is concluded and arrests are made, the coalition of men and women, but led by women decide to go to the UN and European conferences to announce they elicit support in their financial tactics to overwhelm the tyranny of Donald Trump’s quid pro quos with the Dakota Access Pipeline Company. Interestingly, their interests align with climate change activists against fossil fuel development. And thus far in their “Divestment Movement,” they have 1000 divestment commitments made by companies to for a total of over $11.4 trillion worldwide to relinquish use and exploitation of fossil fuels in a forward thrust toward massive projects in renewable energy

Protestors came from all over, 'The End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock,' Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)
Protestors came from all over, ‘The End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock,’ Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)

Kring interviews key water protectors. She follows their protest movements at Standing Rock Reservation Camp as they peacefully and without weapons pray and protest to stop the exploitation of their land and advertise the dangers of the pipeline to their water supply which relies on the cleanliness of the Missouri River. During the process, the Obama Administration’s Army Corp of Engineers is supposed to complete an impact statement. As the water protectors wait on them, the Dakota Access Pipeline moves in. No agreements were made between the Indigenous tribes in the area. And the PR company for the pipeline accuses the tribes of being out-of-state and not directly impacted by the pipeline. Those lies are smashed as the stand-in continues and Democracy Now takes photographs and videos of the abuse of the Native Americans at the hands of the goons hired by the pipeline to run roughshod and with impunity over the land to lay the pipe.

DPAL brought the police, guns and tear gas, 'The End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock,' Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)
DPAL brought the police, guns and tear gas, ‘The End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock,’ Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)

The photographs go viral. And the Nakota, Lakota and Dakota are joined by Viet Nam Vets,Vets of recent wars and environmental activists to fight for the sanctity of water from the Missouri to remain clean from oils leaching into it. All told 15,000 people from around the world protested, staging a sit-in for months. And when they couldn’t resist at their camp on the site of the pipeline and were evicted and arrested in the final days, they took their fight to protests in Washington D.C., and spoke before the U.N. and in global conferences.

This water protect was shot by a rubber bullet in her right eye. She lost her vision. ‘End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock (courtesy of the film)

Interview clips from a scientist reveals that the pipeline is dragged underground through the land to get to its destination. This movement creates breaches which are inevitable with the dragging and placement. Sadly, they are subject to weathering cracks and spring leaks which are practically undetectable until there is a massive accident. Pipelines are notorious for these and over the years in residential areas have created oil pools on lawns creating losses in the millions of housing and costing a fortune to clean-up.

Tear gas, rubber bullets, fire extinguishers were used against unarmed water protectors. 'End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock,' (courtesy of the film)
Tear gas, rubber bullets, fire extinguishers were used against unarmed water protectors. ‘End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock,’ (courtesy of the film)

Kring provides the appropriate background was she asks the right questions from the women who know the subject of the pipeline and its impact blindfolded. When Dakota Access Pipeline was denied access to lands near Bismarck, North Dakota because the possibility of the wealthy commuynity’s water might be polluted and destroyed by pipeline leaks, The Pipeline company petitioned to situate the pipe in a better area where there weren’t any people.

Marching in Washington, DC, continuing Standing Rock, 'End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock,' Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)
Marching in Washington, DC, continuing Standing Rock, ‘End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock,’ Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)

What they refused to research and what the Army Corp of Engineers didn’t look into was the impact on the environment. The pipeline construction and the potential for an oil disaster afterward is typical of any fossil fuel extraction abuse of the land. First, the extraction of the oil from the shale is a disaster of pollution. Secondly, with any oil leaks from the pipeline, the flora and fauna is crippled and destroyed. One of the water protectors discusses that medicinal plants and edible plants that provide forage for wildlife will be polluted and destroyed.

Magically, the buffalo showed up as a sign to hold on. 'End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock,' Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film
Magically, the buffalo showed up as a sign to hold on. ‘End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock,’ Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)

She cites other examples when Native American land was invaded and the flora and fauna was decimated. The near extinction of the Buffalo as a plains animal is one of thousands of examples of what happened when settlers came in and exploited everything they found like dumb brutes not bothering to understand what their impact was having. Furthermore she emphasizes that the pipeline itself is potentially in violation of a number of national acts: Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act to name a few. Equally important, the Pipeline Company was desecrating Native American land: Lakota, Nakota, Dakota. Indeed, running through ancestral lands and graveyards, the pipeline was a desecration.

The water protectors had no weapons but prayer and resolve. 'End of the Line: The Women of Standing Rock,' Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)
The water protectors had no weapons but prayer and resolve. ‘End of the Line: The Women of Standing Rock,’ Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)

Kring’s documentary reveals that these women understand their history and how it entwines with the scourge of colonialism. References to the abuses of schooling Native Americans in Christian schools, sterilization programs, sexual abuse by male clerics and forcing adoptions of children out of wedlock were endemic to Indigenous Peoples in America. Thus, every protest and every fight is an attempt to take their power back.

The water protectors had no weapons but prayer and resolve. 'End of the Line: The Women of Standing Rock,' Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)
The water protectors had no weapons but prayer and resolve. ‘End of the Line: The Women of Standing Rock,’ Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)

The women indicate that they’ve learned the power of keeping their language and customs alive for their children to provide them a nest of comfort, solidarity and the understanding to be proud of their ancestry of Sitting Bull, Rain in the Face and Crazy Horse. Importantly, they recognize the deficiency of colonials, who have forgotten who they are and the culture they came from. Thus, wanting and desperate, colonials have no right to strip Native Americans from their culture, language, land and artifacts. These are sacred treasures of Native Americans. Only now do the women understand the pride of their tribe and their cultural place at the beginning of America.

The American Flag Upside Down=Distress. 'End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock,' Shannon Kring director, Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)
The American Flag Upside Down=Distress. ‘End of The Line: The Women of Standing Rock,’ Shannon Kring director, Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)

This is a film you’ll want to see. It is streaming at Athena Film Festival until 31st of March. Click here for tickets. Click below to get a taste of what you might miss if you don’t see it. https://athenafilmfestival.com/

2021 SXSW Film Festival Review ‘Executive Order’ in its World Premiere

Taís Araújo and Alfred Enoch in ‘Executive Order’ by Lázaro Ramos at 2021 SXSW FF (Mariana Vianna, courtesy of Elo Company)

Executive Order, ‘Medida Provisória,’ the dynamic, often poetic dystopian thriller shot on location in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, draws one in with its immediacy. Though set in the distant future, its contemporary issues and alignment with the BLM movement, reparations for cultures formerly oppressed by slavery, and the authoritarian deportation of immigrants by the former Trump administration resonate with horrific, thematic fury.

Directed by Lázaro Ramos, written by Ramos and Lusa Silvestre with co-writers Aldri Anunciação and Elisio Lopes Jr., the writers based the film on the play “Namíbia, Não!” byAldri Anunciação (2009-2011). The narrative feature (in Portuguese, with English subtitles) won an award for best screenplay at Indie Memphis Film Festival. Judges at Moscow International Film Festival and Indie Memphis FF nominated Ramos, a renowned actor and first time filmmaker, for Best Narrative Feature.

(L to R): Alfred Enoch, Taís Araújo, Seu Jorge in ‘Executive Order’ directed by Lázaro Ramos, 2021 SXSW FF (Mariana Vianna, courtesy of Elo Company)

The music, oftentimes poetic, unique script, cinematography and spot-on acting talents (Alfred Enoch, musician/actor Seu Jorge, Taís Araújo, Mariana Xavier) indicate why the film won awards. Most probably more awards will follow through this film festival season at 2021 SXSW and elsewhere.

From the outset the opening scenes alert us to trouble ahead. We discover that the high-melanins (the word black has been banned from the culture’s wordspeak) have been cheated out of reparations indemnifying a 500 year-old history of slavery. Mrs. Elenita, selected as the symbolic representative to receive reparations to indemnify the country’s history of slavery, never receives payment. The government locks her out of the bank and breaks the promises it made. Later, Antonio overhears an official claim that giving reparations would bankrupt and crash the economy. Indeed, the official identifies the problem. As the Western Hemisphere’s largest population of people with African ancestry, Brazil paying indemnities to approximately 75 million out of 211 million-plus inhabitants would rock the nation.

Alfred Enoch in ‘Executive Order’ directed by Lázaro Ramos, 2021 SXSW FF (courtesy of Elo Company)

Attorney Antonio (Alfred Enoch) sues the government for reneging on its promises to high-melanins. He requests an alternate compensation program. This sets in motion an increasingly noxious series of events to thwart the just payment of indemnifications.

Initially, the writers include satire and comedy presenting the positions of the officials and city council versus the discussions of Antonio, his journalist/blogger friend and roommate Andre (Seu Jorge) Capitu, (Taís Araújo) Antonio’s pregnant wife, and Andre’s white girlfriend (Sarah Mariana Xavier). The humor and satire increases when the government offers a volunteer program to “go back from where they came from.” This would substitute for monetary reparations. This program instituted by the “Ministry of Return” sounds as sinister and wicked as all the deportation programs for immigrants throughout recent history.

Taís Araújo in ‘Executive Order’ directed by Lázaro Ramos, 2021 SXSW FF (Mariana Vianna, courtesy of Elo Company)

Against this backdrop Antonio, Andre, Capitu and Sarah appear successful as middle class contributors of society. Surely, they’ve moved up the social and economic ladder to establish their right to remain in the country of their choosing. Their birthright stamped on their passports gives credence to this. However, as the net closes around them, circumstances change and worsen.

Initially, the classy volunteer program to entice high-melanins to leave includes a “one way ticket” to their dream spots in Africa. There, they may settle in a country of their choice. The scene where “volunteers” choose various countries (one selects Hawaii) becomes humorous, considering a number of them don’t even look “high-melanin.” And some even attempt to use the “return yourself” program to vacation in desirable luxurious areas.

Of course, the campaign to “return yourself,” remains a failure because of its inefficiency and inability to lure and successfully repatriate the thousands of “high-melanins” back to Africa. Brazilians refuse to go because of their positions of social comfort with their language, culture, family and friends. Africa remains a continent with countries as remote, unfamiliar and unappealing as Antarctica. The arguments to stay mirror the arguments Frederick Douglass used with U.S. President Lincoln who suggested to Douglass that the United States might send back freed African slaves to Africa. However, the slave catchers and the Southern planters and others did such a fine job of wiping out the former slaves’ culture, language and society that almost all of the slaves on U.S. shores after 100 years didn’t know their ancestry.

(L ro R): Seu Jorge and Alfred Enoch in ‘Executive Order’ directed by Lázaro Ramos, 2021 SXSW FF (courtesy of Elo Company)

Not finding even Angola (formerly colonized by Portugal) comforting, the high-melanins go nowhere and the conditions of institutional racism persist and become terrifying. Indeed, the government employs authoritarianism and passes Executive Order 1888 to legally deport its high-melanin population using law enforcement and armed guards to round them up and send them away. (1888 is the year that Brazil abolished slavery)

We assume that the deportations succeed and the high-melanins arrive at their destinations. But we never see this and we don’t witness holding pens or detention centers. Filmmakers emphasize scenes of individuals, rounded up against their will, running from police, being beaten in the “catchings.” With regard to the removals, we note the chaos, confusion and heavy-armed tactics. Also, filmmakers reveal the wickedness of the government officials as cogs representing the banality of evil. Finally, the deportations occur swiftly so no outside countries intervene. Themes of genocide, the holocaust, the injustice of deportation, racism, discrimination rise to a haunting level.

Seu Jorge in ‘Executive Order’ directed by Lázaro Ramos 2021 SXSW FF (Mariana Vianna, courtesy of Elo Company)

However, the Ministry of Return loses control of its “smooth operation.” Problems occur with the “hold-outs” and a resistance movement strengthens as Antonio and Andre hide out in their apartment building. They attempt to remain strong despite the officials and European types attempting to starve and dehydrate them. Additionally, they turn off their power and block their cell communications. Filmmakers add a convenient loophole so that the police cannot storm buildings to pull out the resisters.

An additional problem occurs when Antonio’s wife Capitu, a doctor, goes into hiding in an Afro-Bunker as part of the resistance to avoid capture. Some of the most poetic and striking scenes occur in this place of refuge. The conflicts between Antonio and Andre heighten the dramatic tensions in their relationship. As they attempt to survive, they spur their own resistance movement that goes digital, gains global attention and inspires the nation.

Executive Order grapples with vital themes and contemporary topics making it acute, insightful and powerful. Strengthened by its superb performances, non-stop tension and excitement, filmmakers excel in their cinematic storytelling. Additionally, the high concept builds in the fear factor that this surreal story happens in parts of China, Russia and elsewhere on the planet currently. The film empowers toward human rights advocacy and social justice.

This must-see film can be found at 2021SXSW platforms. Look for it at its roll-out online.

LIVECHAT / EXECUTIVE ORDER @ SXSWLivechat with Director / Co-writer Lázaro Ramos Thursday, March 18 at 3:00pm PDT / 5:00pm CDT / 6:00pm EDT

2021 SXSW Film Festival Review ‘The Oxy Kingpins’

The documentary The Oxy Kingpins currently screening online at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival is an important film which highlights the Opioid Crisis and more importantly defines the medical industrial complex’s role in addicting the US. to its toxic, lethal drugs. Within the Oxy network are the pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors, retailers, hospitals, doctors, pain clinics and street dealers who ride the OxyContin train for its mega profits.

OXY
‘The Oxy Kingpins’ directed by Brendan Fitzgerald, 2021 SXSW Film Festival (courtesy of TYT Productions)

The documentary emphasizes that the big pharma corporations who are responsible for killing Americans, have walked between the raindrops and not been brought to task, criminally or civilly. In their cool towers above the fray, the CEOs are the unseen criminals. Meanwhile, it is the users, dealers, doctors and pharmacists, like little fish in the wide net, who are caught, tried and convicted for their abuse and often illegal and unregulated distribution of OxyContin (oxycodone). Nevertheless, the pharmaceutical companies have encouraged the distributors to find loopholes in regulations for distribution. In not adhering to the regulations, opioid use has run amuck and the towns where this has been felt the most have been devastated.

Co-directed and produced by Brendan Fitzgerald and Nick August-Perna, the excellent documentary lays the blame where it should be placed. It advocates for criminal as well as civil penalties leveled on the knowing perpetrators who seek to addict their clients then absolve themselves of any guilt or responsibility while raking in their ill-gotten gains. Again and again, the theme of profits over people comes to the fore. Also, as a sub theme we note that a conservative government reduces the need for regulations and their enforcement at the behest of lobbyists. The filmmakers remind us that political parties who eschew enforcing regulations, only hold the “little people” accountable. This is doubly destructive for it punishes by abusing the public with harmful chemicals it should protect it from. Secondly, it expects that they foot the bill cleaning up the mess the unregulated corporations caused to begin with.

The filmmakers get on the inside of the crisis by elucidating the trail of evidence from dealer all the way up to manufacturer revealing that at the highest levels the willful, deceitful and criminal negligence of corporations are directly responsible for the Opioid Epidemic. Fitzgerald and August-Perna state at the end that 700,000 Americans from 1999 -2019 have lost their lives to opioid overdoses or attenuating deaths.

‘The Oxy Kingpins,’ directed by Brendan Fitzgerald, 2021 SXSW Film Festival (courtesy of TYT Productions)

The documentarians reveal the most salient information by interviewing attorney Mike Papantonio and shadowing him cinema verite style as he collects information for the case he is bringing against pharmaceutical companies and distributors. He is joined with a legion of attorneys who are working the case along with Nevada attorney Bob Eglet who is trying the case in Nevada because the laws are more favorable to obtaining documents as part of a public health crisis. If they can win it in Nevada, that will open the doors to win similar cases in other states.

Through interviews, brief cinema verite shots of the Nevada courtroom with plaintiffs and defendants, interviews with various dealers and one former user, we understand what is at stake with the “Big Three” corporations who are the OXY Kingpins of the title. These are drug makers McKesson, AmeresourceBergen and Cardinal Health. Along for the ride are CVS, Walgreens and perhaps others like Walmart may be added.

These are the invisibles one wouldn’t readily associate with the opioid crisis because initially it was Purdue Pharma owned by the Sackler family that has been sued and held civilly liable, though there is a disagreement about the amount of the penalties and whether the company should operate in another form. Nevertheless, like the “Big Three” the Sackler family has not been charged with any criminal penalties associated with their pushing their formula of OxyContin and heavily marketing it to doctors emphasizing that it was a non-addictive pain reliever. Unsuspecting doctors and pharmacists initially believed that the drug was non-addictive. In other words, the Sackler family has not been criminally convicted or even charged with the fraud they perpetrated to addict and kill for the sake of billions.

OxyContin, OXY Kingpins, Brendan Fitzgerald, SXSW
‘The Oxy Kingpins,’ 2021 SXSW Film Festival, Brendan Fitzgerald (courtesy IMBD)

By the time those in the business of pain relief discovered OxyContin’s properties, they became addicted to the profits. Sadly, the cost to cities, towns and rural communities across the nation has been in the trillions of dollars. The corporations responsible for the crisis expect the American taxpayer to clean up their toxic disaster and have lied in hearings to congress as tobacco CEOs lied with practically the same rhetoric. When asked about accountability, the CEO OF McKesson, John Hammergren, the CEO of Cardinal Health, George Barrett, and the CEO of AmeresourceBergen, Steve Collis, to a man said they “did not believe their company contributed” to the opioid epidemic.

Nevertheless, as Alex, former dealer who landed in prison insists, the CEOs of these pharmaceutical companies are the biggest drug pushers of OxyContin. Not only should the companies be held accountable civilly for the devastation leveled on families, the CEOs should be tried criminally. The intent for the suit in Nevada is to do just that on April of 2021.

Alex, now a legal businessman, ran his OxyContin business from Miami, the drug capital of the US. Alex provides the background information of how dealers like him moved from weed to heroin to OxyContin and back to heroin. And he discusses how addicted patients get fake scripts that pharmacists fill. And doctors write scripts like dispensing candy. Alex was on the lowest level in the network of how OxyContin manufacturing, distribution and retailing exploded to the point of abuse. He, the other former dealers who went to prison, Jay, the Cowboy, and user Anne affirm that it is always the “little people” the DEA is interested in. Federal agencies avoid dealing with the manufacturers and distributors who are in effect “legal” drug pushers.

The OXY Kingpins provides a valuable perspective, revealing the impact of corporations on our society’s ill-health and how willing they are to addict and destroy us for billions of dollars. This is made all the more egregious if they can put amoral, hedonistic and wanton CEOs who are concerned only about the corporation’s bottom line at the power points of the company. Look for this documentary at 2021 SXSW screening platforms and when it comes live.


Athena Film Festival Review: ‘Dilemma of Desire’

The poster for the film Dilemma of Desire directed by Maria Finitzio at Athena Film Festival (courtesy of the film)

Maria Finitzo’s documentary The Dilemma of Desire, currently screening virtually at the Athena Film Festival, examines female sexuality and pleasure against the backdrop of the repressive, toxic and macho culture represented by the former Trump administration, QAnon, Trumpers, “Christians,” the paternalistic Republican Party and all caught up in the “normalcy” of misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic and racist folkways. Interestingly, Democrats and other political parties are not exempt from an examination of the patriarchy in this film. The myths and follies of patriarchal thought and behavior are ancient and baked in by males, females and non gender described, who have bought into the lies of female sensuality for millennia.

Sophia Wallace conceptual artist during the Women’s March, ‘Dilemma of Desire,’ directed by Maria Finitzio, Athena FF (courtesy of the film)

More specifically, it has been males who define their own machismo by the ways that they oppress and control women. To dominate, whether for the profit motive or more psychological reasons, males and accepting females define conceptualizations of beauty, femininity, sensuality and the pleasure they are psychologically and scientifically able to seek based upon these confined and erroneous definitions. Finitzo, a two-time Peabody Award-winner blows apart the taboos and shameful strictures about how women must think, react and define their bodies and their sensuality. Focusing on four women who have broken open the boundaries in themselves to understand their bodies, Finitzo conducts extensive interviews with them as they help empower others in their journey deeper into their own sexuality and sensuality.

Sophia Wallace’s work demonstrating “Cliteracy,” ‘Dilemma of Desire’ by Maria Finitzio, Sophia Wallace’s website

Finitzio approaches central themes that paternalism for centuries has rendered women powerless and voiceless, manifested in the simple act that women do not even understand or know their own sexual organs to be able to draw them. This lack of literacy about their sensuality and sexuality has been a revelation in the life and work of Sophia Wallace, whose work about “Cliteracy,” Finitzio uses as a focal point around which she creates the grist of this documentary about four women who in their own way are attempting to change folkways and cultural assumptions about female pleasure and desire.

Dilemma of Desire, Sophia Wallace, Maria Finitzio, Athena FF
Sophia Wallace, ‘Delimma of Desire,’ directed by Maria Finitzio, Athena FF (courtesy of the film)

Memed by artist Sophia Wallace, “Cliteracy” is the scientific knowledge that the clitoris is fundamental to the female orgasm. The lies that the vagina is the seat of desire is a myth propagated by males, for obvious reasons. When women have felt let down in sex with their partners, they have taken the shame and blame upon themselves. The educated male has countered this with his empathetic understanding that female genitalia is more complex and deserves its own attention during intimacy. If the male partner is not empathetic or understanding, women for centuries have been left to “endure” sex as a chore and do it to beget children which they alone have been tasked to raise until recent times. Women who have established intimate relationships with women have actually received much more sensual pleasure during their lifetimes. Thus, the idea that most women don’t experience vaginal pleasure during intercourse (only 25% do according to the scientific data Finitzio states in the film) is a much needed revelation that Dilemma of Desire emphasizes.

Maria Finitzio, Sophia Wallace, Dilemma of Desire, Athena FF
Work by Sophia Wallace, ‘Dilemma of Desire,’ directed by Maria Finitzio, Athena FF, (courtesy of the film)

Using her interviewees as gatekeepers into this revelation, Finiztio chronicles key points about how the patriarchy has kept women in the darkness about their own bodies. The end result has been to hamper their freedom, their voice, their courage, their empowerment. The documentarian examines how Wallace is changing culture; how Dr. Stacey Dutton, a neuroscientist, enlightens medical science about the biology of the clitoris; how Dr. Lisa Diamond unravels outdated notions about women’s arousal; and how Ti Chang, an industrial designer, creates elegant vibrators for women that look nothing like the novelty toys in sex shops which are useless and created by men. To elucidate what these four have discovered, Finitzio interviews Umnia, Becca, Jasmine, Sunny, and Coriama who provide their life experiences about themselves and their relationships with men and women in their investigation of their own body’s capability of receiving pleasure.

Sophia Wallace, Maria Finitzio, Dilemma of Desire, Athena Film Festival
Sophia Wallace, Maria Finitzio directs Dilemma of Desire, Athena Film Festival (Sophia Wallace’s website)

Finitzio’s work is mind-blowing. She uses a maximum of effort to cobble together the interviews and create the backdrops that enhance the commentary of these truth-tellers. The cinematography, music and editing all enhance the overarching message that to be free, women must understand all parts of their being to appreciate all of who and what they can be. A defining moment comes when Sophia Wallace discusses what she heard from her cousin about her grandmother’s confession. Their grandmother had five children, but didn’t think she had ever experienced an orgasm or pleasure during sex. Meanwhile, of course, their grandfather’s experience was a sure thing. For Wallace, this was an eye-opening tragedy because her grandmother didn’t understand or enjoy what her body was capable of experiencing because she was intellectually, philosophically, culturally, sensually chained by the patriarchy whether wittingly or unwittingly.

This is a must-see film for men, women, non-binary, all who are walking around in a fleshly body and want to break free from the dilemma of desire that especially ties women up in knots and oppresses them in all of their being. The point is to understand and become “cliterate.” At least that opportunity must be allowed and Sophia Wallace’s work should be in a book, not just on a TEDTALK or as a conceptual museum piece in an art gallery. Thus far, book publishers are afraid to deal with such an important and culturally revelatory work. The excuse is that female editors are hesitant about sharing the information in book form with other females in the industry, for example libraries, universities. The fear exemplifies why “cliteracy” has remained in the realm of the arcane and it is a tragedy of oppression.

Finitzio’s film spotlights the core issues of this tragedy. And in due season, Wallace will be known globally in print as well as virtually for her work “Cliteracy.” Dilemma of Desire is screening on the Athena Film Festival website and other screening platforms. CLICK HERE FOR ALL THE ATHENA FILM FESTIVAL OFFERINGS INCLUDING THIS EXTRAORDINARY FILM.

‘The Last Vermeer,’ Telluride/Toronto Film Festivals Review

(L to R): Guy Pearce, Claes Bang in ‘The Last Vermeer’ (courtesy of the film)

The Last Vermeer which premiered at the Telluride Film Festival and Toronto Film Festival as Lyrebird was renamed to refocus upon the genius Dutch Baroque Period painter Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) who is one of the national treasures of The Netherlands. Vermeer specialized in domestic interior scenes of middle class life, exemplified in his renowned Girl With the Pearl Earring and The Milkmaid. As the film elucidates Vermeer used unique, expensive pigments and was most concerned about the masterful use of light like the other great painters of the Dutch Golden Age, i.e. Rembrandt, Frans Hals.

Vermeer worked slowly and produced relatively few paintings which brought him moderate success. When confronted with financial difficulties during his country’s two wars, he went into debt, which his wife and children had to recover from after he died. For two centuries Vermeer fell into obscurity until his discovery in the 19th century which grew until his paintings became valuable. His works’ value is what intrigued Hermann Goering enough to purchase a Vermeer from dealer Han van Meergren for the highest price yielded by the Nazis for confiscated and stolen works of art during WW II.

Claes Bang, Vicky Krieps in ‘The Last Vermeer’ (courtesy of the film)

The film starring Guy Pearce, Claes Bang and Vicky Krieps is based on the book The Man Who Made Vermeers by Jonathan Lopez. Directed by Dan Friedkin who has numerous producing credits of intriguing films (The Square, Hot Summer Nights, All the Money in the World, {2017} Ben is Back {2018)} to name a few) the film was scripted by James McGee (Jon Orloff), Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby and is about the amazing true story of the recovery of a Vermeer that was counted among Nazi loot after the fall of Hitler.

The film begins in the aftermath of the bombing of Rotterdam and takes place in Amsterdam when allied troops helped restore order to the governments that had been upended by the Nazis. Part of the process of restoring order was to divine the Nazi collaborators and punish them. At the time Canadians were in charge after which the Dutch government would assume control and command. As the film opens we note a Dutch Nazi collaborator is being summarily executed in the public square as a crowd cheers.

Claes Bang in ‘The Last Vermeer’ (courtesy of the film)

In this environment there are friends and foes and it remains unclear the extent to which one should judge another’s way to survive under horrific oppression and slaughter, such as the Nazi occupiers delivered to the Dutch people. In the instance of Nazi looted art, recovery takes take precedence and those caught in the crosshairs of vengeance receive little mercy from others who may have collaborated on a higher, more obscure level in the occupied government who look to hold the reigns of power.

Claes Bang portrays Captain Joseph Piller, a Canadian Jew tasked to locate and return a Vermeer purchased by Hermann Goering and afterward, to seek justice for the original theft of the art work. Along with his wife who compromised her fidelity to gain information, Piller was in the resistance, and if he was caught as a Jew, it would have gone badly for him. Indeed, Piller and his wife courageously negotiated an opaque moral tightrope to overthrow their Nazi enemies, a detail which is inferred and not explored with any depth.

Guy Pearce in ‘The Last Vermeer’ (courtesy of the film)

The Vermeer was one of thousands of Nazi stolen artworks, documents and valuables that were hidden when the allies came through (see the film The Monuments Men {2014}). To this day there are paintings that have been recovered, but they cannot be matched to their former owners. In some instances, museums and art galleries purchased the works on the QT to keep the historic, priceless pieces in the country of origin, rather than work to locate the family of the original owners (see the film Woman in Gold {2015}).

Captain Piller is not the only one looking to recover stolen works from the Nazis, jail or execute collaborators after restoring the works to their original owners. This is a high stakes conflict to exact justice. On the one side are the allies. On the other is the Dutch government has its own processes of dealing with collaborators, including letting some go free depending upon the quid pro quos to be made.

Guy Pearce in ‘The Last Vermeer’ (courtesy of the film)

Piller must discover the truth of a mystery about the Vermeer before the compromised Dutch Ministry of Justice, represented by Alex De Klerks (August Diehl) regains full jurisdiction over the matter. Time is running out for Piller to “get the job done,” before the Dutch can pardon, get payoffs from the collaborators, or look the other way and allow the Nazis and collaborators to depart or go underground until the culture forgets and moves on.

Guy Pearce finely portrays the wild and ostentatious Han van Meergren who Piller discovers was in possession of the Vermeer before it ended up in the hands of Goering. Piller gains the trust of van Meergren and vice-versa. Together they pull apart whether or not as an art dealer van Meergren collaborated with the Nazis and betrayed the Dutch people or was in fact like Piller and his wife, part of the resistance and on the side of the Allies.

Guy Pearce in ‘The Last Vermeer (courtesy of the film)

In the process of revealing this mystery the film goes into the type of paints Vermeer used as well as his technique. It further unveils the flamboyant identity of van Meergren and through him it excoriates the art world for its tenuous and corrupt practices to gain illicit and unconscionable profits off the backs of artists who do the work and beg to be exploited for the sake of recognition and a few coins to help them live.

The ironies abound in The Last Vermeer. The high points occur every time Guy Pearce is onscreen and taking charge of the mysterious which we attempt to understand. When it is revealed in the courtroom when the judge, defense, jury and art expert examine van Meegren’s role in the world of the Nazis, the high jinx are quickly and shockingly revealed in an exuberant twist. That Piller and his staff assist van Meegren in his revelatory exploit is all the more delicious.

Guy Pearce in ‘The Last Vermeer’ (courtesy of the film)

Though the film has slow moving parts related to the exposition and falters in not revealing the backstory of Piller and his wife, when the conflict comes to the fore, it takes off into a fascinating account of a true story. The cinematic elements, costumes, hairstyles, and the recreation of historical setting is excellent.

There is no spoiler alert here. You will just have to see the film which will be released 20 November 2020.

‘Banksy Most Wanted,’ a Tribeca Film Festival Review

The Flower Thrower, Love is in the Air, Banksy, Banksy Most Wanted, Bethlehem, West Bank

“Love is in the Air,” or “The Flower Thrower,” originally in 2005, Ash Salon Street, Bethlehem, West Bank, (courtesy of the site) ‘Banksy Most Wanted,’ directed by Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley.

The “romantic” reality of the starving artist exploited by predatory promoters has been turned on its head by the graffiti artist, political activist and filmmaker Banksy. Over the past two decades Banksy has bested art dealers and beat them at their own game. In the process he has hyped up his own notoriety and sweetened his Robin-hood-like credibility by remaining anonymous to all. That is, all except the few sworn to secrecy who are privileged to be his inner circle.

Banksy’s mural ‘Girl With the Pierced Eardrum,’ featured on city graffiti tours in Bristol, UK in a 2019 photo. From ‘Banksy Most Wanted directed by Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley (photo from the film)

Banksy Most Wanted, directed by Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley, is a Tribeca Film Festival offering that I screened recently. I enjoy that Banksy thrives on anonymity, travels the world and uses buildings as his canvases. He paints and stencils ironic hieroglyphs, insuring they are accessible to the multitudes who appreciate his stark images and socially important messages. Cleverly, rakishly he tantalizes and exploits art dealers who would traffic his work like vultures.

Banksy Most Wanted, Show Me the Monet, Banksy

“Show Me Monet,” ‘Banksy Most Wanted,’ directed by Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley (courtesy of the site)

In their straight-shooting documentary Rouvier and Healey visit a multitude of locations. Using a mixture of video news clips and their own cinematography, they investigate the Banksy ethos with depth and humor. First, they chronicle his origins in Bristol, UK. Next, they trace his evolution from the 1990s. For then he painted by hand. Subsequently, he decided upon spray painting. With it he could cover more mileage. Therefore, upping the ante by preparing stencils in his studio beforehand, he left off labor intensity. Most probably, stenciling offered the ease and speed to get in and out of locations without detection.

Banksy Most Wanted, Brexit Dover Mural, Banksy

Brexit mural in Dover by Banksy, ‘Banksy Most Wanted’ directed by Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley  (courtesy of the film)

More recently, Banksy’s evolution extends to outrageous, live installations. Irreverently, he painted a live elephant in Los Angeles riling animal rights activits. For the sheer cheek of it, he unleashed 200 rats in a London gallery. And with a nod to her sainthood, he embellished a portrait of Mother Teresa with the words “moisturize everyday.”

Identifying his most famous works in Bristol, London, Paris and New York, Rouvier and Healey relate the impact of these Banksys on the surrounding community. In one instance a town litigated a dealer who took “their Banksy” which had great significance to them. They refused to allow him to steal the honor of Banksy selecting Port Talbot, Wales as a site for his art.

Seasons Greetings, Banksy, Port Talbot, Wales, UK, John Brandler, Banksy Most Wanted, Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley

Banksy’s mural “Season’s Greetings” in Port Talbot, UK. John Brandler, who bought the piece for more than 100,000 Euros. ‘Banksy Most Wanted,’directed by Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley (courtesy of the site)

To establish ownership the dealer purchased a garage wall with the Banksy located in Port Talbot, Wales. Subsequently, he removed it with cranes to carve the images from the concrete to auction them off. As a result, the town sued him. During the litigation he discovered the art’s value to the community. Indeed, they believed Banksy had chosen their town to bless with his work.

Interestingly, the court found that the town’s freeholder rights as a community superseded the dealer’s free-holder rights. This was a Banksy triumph for the little people and a gut-wrenching blow to the stomachs and wallets of art dealers everywhere.

Seasons Greetings, Port Talbot, Wales, Banksy, John Brandler, Banksy Most Wanted

Banksy’s mural “Season’s Greetings” in Port Talbot, UK with its buyer John Brandler, who bought the piece for more than 100,000 Euros, in a 2019 photo. ‘Banksy Most Wanted,’directed by Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley (courtesy of the film)

The filmmakers explore a few of Banksy’s satiric, temporary art installations. For example, they revisit the 2008 Porta-Potty Stonehenge.  With self-demeaning brio, Banksy dubbed it “A Pile Of Crap.” Likewise, the 2015 Dismaland Bemusement Park offered a tortured happy rides with macabre convolution. Dismaland was a “sinister twist” on Disneylands everywhere. Banksy described it as “a family theme park unsuitable for children.”

Dismaland Bemusement Park, Banksy, Banksy Most Wanted

Dismaland Bemusement Park, ‘Banksy Most Wanted,’ directed by Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley  (courtesy of the site)

“Dismaland Bemusement Park,” ‘Banksy Most Wanted,’ directed by Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley  (courtesy of the site)

Additionally, the directors highlight his adventurous pranks. One of these incurred self-shredding the print “Girl With Balloon” at a Sotheby auction right after the banging gavel closed the purchase.

Girl With Balloon, Banksy Most Wanted, Banksy, Sotheby's, Girl With Balloon Shredded

‘Banksy Most Wanted’, Girl With Balloon, Banksy, Girl With Balloon Shredded directed by Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley  (courtesy of the site)

Throughout, the filmmakers question the Banksy ethos. His stenciled works increasingly find their way into areas of economic repression and cultural upheaval. Some appear in the West Bank. These, include the restored Walled Off Hotel positioned across the street from the Israeli-Palestinian West Bank barrier. All of them raise questions. Indeed, Banksy fans and critics alike interpret them as an addendum to his political activism. And they label him a postulate critic of the dominant powers who would prevent others from securing a viable place at the table of life.

Walled Off Hotel, Banksy Most Wanted, West Bank

“The Walled Off Hotel,” ‘Banksy Most Wanted,’ directed by Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley (courtesy of the site)

Banksy Most Wanted, Banksy Kitten in Gaza

‘Banksy Most Wanted,’ Banksy Kitten in Gaza (courtesy of the site)

With his works having become ubiquitous, Banksy globally imprints his perspective to sound the underlying truths of our reality. And his searing and irreverent statements against imperialism, capitalism, earth destruction, climate change, consumerism, poverty, corporate fascism, racism empower the viewer.

However, all is not anti-establishment. Occasionally, he counterbalances these themes and subjects with images of love, innocence and endurance. For the documentarians focus on how he makes his guerilla art a velvet weapon to war against killing and uplift peace. Furthermore, they reveal how his dichotomous images heighten the culture’s oblivion to their being accessories to enslaving and harming Third World Countries. With singularity and precision the directors emphasize how he employs juxtaposition in his creations. And they do justice to Banksy’s indictment of the West’s contributions to crimes against humanity in its greedy value of money over people.

Banksy's, Rodin, West Bank

Banksy’s Take-off on Rodin in Gaza West Bank (courtesy of the site)

Throughout the visual explication of Banksy’s subject matter and themes, the filmmakers delve into his message to the art world. Another lucid indictment emerges. For Banksy, great artistry moves beyond boundaries and walls of brick and mortar. It remains exclusive of hyped-up, artificiality and “Tulip mania” trends.

For this reason he has left the art world spinning in circles. As they chop up walls to obtain his works in the hope of making a bundle, he intentionally dislocates their obsession. Most recently, to thwart the rapacity of dealers, owners of buildings have become Banksy fans. They refuse to sell. Instead, they plexiglass their Banksys to protect them. With an irony of their own, they reinforce Banksy’s overarching instruction to street people. Art exists everywhere

Banksy, Bristol, UK, Phone Lovers

Banksy’s Phone Lovers, Bristol, UK (courtesy of the site)

Over the years Banksy has garnered himself and a beleaguered art world a delicious, capitalistic profit. Reputedly his worth totals up to a rumored $50 million. So, for those who admire his anti-capitalistic, anti-consumer spirit, think again. Perhaps, this anonymous rogue doth protest too much. However, the vital question remains.

Who is Banksy? For me peaking behind the anonymity becomes a crucial high point of the film. With incisive interviews, the directors weave in and out to explore three possible identities. And these they unravel, playing with the uncertainty of facts and details of “reliable” narrators. Afterward, they suggest a fourth possible Banksy.

Banksy, West Bank

Banksy in the West Bank Barrier Wall, a guard tower converted to an amusement ride (courtesy of the site)

Clearly, the directors love their subject. And they have done their homework. They’ve presented the diorama that his anonymity has served a charitable purpose . Yet, they’ve proven Banksy also serves his own interests.

Thanks to his anonymity, others have been able to claim his work, either legally or emotionally. And his fans love adding to his aura by fantasizing about who is hiding behind the name. These investigations reveal a novel perspective of the artist, his salient/sardonic world view, his links with the music scene and his entrepreneurial acumen. They also expose the importance of identity to art and society and our need to triumph over invisibility.

Through the testimonies of those who know him and have worked with him, but also of those who exploit him, hunt him down and claim him, Banksy Most Wanted paints a profound portrait of “one” of the foremost artists of our time. It concludes with the vitality of the spirit that channels through the group of artists that effect Banksys. And that makes all the difference in the world.

Banksy during the pandemic.

Apparently, Banksy is staying indoors following the UKs sheltering in place lockdown orders. However his famed mural “The Girl With A Pierced Eardrum” has received a COVID-19 update which includes a blue surgical mask.

Banksy, Girl With the Pierced Earring, COVID-19

Banksy, “Girl With A Pierced Earring,” COVID-19 update (courtesy of the site)

First appearing on the side of a building in Bristol’s Harbourside in 2014, this Banksy spoofs Vermeer’s “Girl With A Pearl Earring.” But the earring incorporates Banksy’s thoughtful wall selection, an outdoor security alarm. Banky’s “girl” sports not a “pearl,” but a ‘stretcher’ supplied by the security alarm.

Wild speculation deems Banksy broke the lockdown and sneaked out to spray paint his work to give a kick in the pants to those who will tour his graffiti most probably with masks and appropriate social distancing when Bristol “opens.” However, fans argue the COVID-19 mural can’t be by Banksy who usually reveals his works on his Instagram account.

Banksy in lockdown

Banksy in lockdown (courtesy of the site)

For official COVID-19 works Banksy, on his account you will find rats running amuck and making themselves at home in his bathroom. It’s captioned: “My wife hates it when I work from home.”  Banksy’s irreverence during this pandemic makes this Plague go down a bit easier. #Banksy

Network Film Festival, Culver City Film Festival Review: ‘Lullaby’

Lullaby, Nicole Gut, Nicholas Ferrara, Susan Jane McDonald

(top to bottom): Nicole Gut, Nicholas Ferrara, Susan Jane McDonald in ‘Lullaby,’ directed by Kae Fujisawa, written by Nicole Gut and Kae Fujisawa (Merciful Delusions Productions)

How many times have we walked by homeless people on the NYC sidewalk overbundled with blankets and towels in the wintertime? Did you toss change in their cup and walk away free from the guilt? Or did you have a conversation if you had a bit of time to spare, in a show of human decency?

I’ve often thought that the change didn’t begin to answer the loss of a life of connectedness that the individual experiences daily bracing against the elements as he or she determine to live on the streets. If the individual is an older person, I’ve wondered how they might have gotten there. Was it a downhill spiral from drugs or alcohol or not taking their meds? What do we do with their presence which represents a failure of our culture and government to care for its own? Do we walk by ignoring them as invisible people, throw change or when no one is looking use them for an occasion to unleash our devils within?

Ryan Mills, Lullaby, Network Film Festival, Culver City Film Festival

Ryan Mills, ‘Lullaby,’ directed by Kae Fujisawa, written by Nicole Gut and Kae Fujisawa, Network Film Festival, Culver City Film Festival (Merciful Delusions Productions)

Nicole Gut Executive Producer, Author, Songwriter, Composer, Actor, Singer considered these issues and wrote a short play about a woman who has lost her singing voice. Through a series of events the woman ends up living on the streets of New York with the hope of returning to herself one day. It is a day which never comes.

Lullaby premiered at the John Cullum Theatre at the American Theatre of Actors in Manhattan in New York on October 2018 as an entry for Paul Michael’s New Short Play Festival. The play was directed by Kae Fujisawa and was a success.

Ryan Mills, an actor in the production gave a hard and long look at what the team accomplished. He was convinced there was so much more to the story that must be told. With his insight and assistance, Nicole decided to transform LULLABY into a SAG narrative short film. Kae Fujisawa whose dedication and perceptiveness as a director who helped to shepherd the play to a home run would be the director and co-writer of the film. At that point events moved quickly. Nicole and Kae worked on the script to add complications and deepen the themes.

The resultant film from Nicole Gut’s titular short play Lullaby is a work they are proud of. It had a number of screenings, one at the Network Film Festival in New York City where it was well received. Nicole Gut garnered a Best Actress Nomination and Jack Utrata was nominated for Best Cinematography.

The film stars Ryan Mills as Brian Mills and Nicholas Ferrara as Michael Franklin who portray friends and near-do-wells who are ethically and morally challenged. Both, especially Brian, are unable to solve the overwhelming issues that threaten to destroy their lives. Alcohol is never a panacea to heal soul damage. In fact it exacerbates the damage and launches one into a place that is an abyss of misery and torment.

Susan Jane McDonald, Ryan Mills, Lullaby, Network Film Festival, Culver City Film Festival

Susan Jane McDonald, Ryan Mills, ‘Lullaby,’ Network Film Festival, Culver City Film Festival, directed by Kae Fujisawa, written by Nicole Gut and Kae Fujisawa (Merciful Delusions Productions)

And so it goes for Brian and Michael who on a drunken spree come across a homeless woman and former singer Sarah Hughes (Nicole Gut) who has lost her voice. The alcohol overtakes Brian and Michael and they allow it to dominate their will, self-hood and decency. Sarah tries to defend herself, but her response provokes the men, especially Brian. We learn later why he moves against her with venom. Susan Jane McDonald as Brian’s mom reveals Brian’s untoward actions, which are deeply rooted in sorrow. Indeed, when old wounds do not heal, they bleed out onto other individuals and the reckoning is horrific for everyone involved, a reckoning which has no answer and no end.

I screened Lullaby at a private screening at Shetler Studios after the Network Film Festival. It was then I learned that the film was accepted to Culver City Film Festival as a narrative short and screened 6-12 of December. I can understand why. It is well conceived, acted and directed; the cinematography (by Jack Utrata) lighting and shot construction are cogent and propel the story and atmosphere of the film toward its ironic and eerie conclusion. Kudos to Nicole Gut, Kae Fujisawa, Jack Ultrata and other members of the team who worked to effect a story that has currency with our time.

Nicole Gut, Lullaby, Network Film Festival, Culver City Film Festival

Nicole Gut, Lullaby, Network Film Festival, Culver City Film Festival, directed by Kae Fujisawa, written by Nicole Gut and Kae Fujisawa (Merciful Delusions Productions)

The creative team intend to submit the film to additional festivals as they work on a full-length feature that promises to broaden the characterizations and themes. These center around issues of homelessness, bullying, psychological trauma, discrimination, and the mistaken assumptions that kindness is weakness and machismo shows one is powerful.

Lullaby screened at Culver City Film Festival in Los Angeles, California where it won the Best Short Suspense Award. To learn more about Lullaby on Instagram, go to @LullabySweetDreamsFilm. On Facebook CLICK HERE.

To become a part of the LULLABY team by donating to their Indie Go Go campaign, CLICK HERE.

For the Lullaby website to stay apprised of the events related to the film CLICK HERE.

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‘Night Hunter,’ a Psychological Thriller Starring Henry Cavill, Alexandra Daddario, Ben Kingsley, Stanley Tucci

Night Hunter, Henry Cavill, Ben Kingsley, Stanley Tucci, Alexandra Daddario, David Raymond

‘Night Hunter,’ starring Henry Cavill, Ben Kingsley, Stanley Tucci, Alexandra Daddario, directed by David Raymond (photo courtesy of Saban films)

Strong performances by Sir Ben Kingsley and Brendan Fletcher as a psychotic sexual predator killer make Night Hunter an intriguing film for those who are able to pay attention. If you watch it on a small screen and take frequent breaks from focus, you may get lost with the opacity of the plot which largely rests as a mystery whose reveal builds brick upon brick and slams into crystal clarity at the end.

Written and directed by nascent filmmaker David Raymond, the film is not without flaws in its sound and audio delivery. Indeed, the fine music score at times drowns out the dialogue instead of whispering the insidiousness and suspense that is inherent in the storyline, a storyline which pays homage to psychotic schizophrenics in other films that have a better handle on terrorizing the audience, perhaps. But make no mistake. This film is not of that genre. Night Hunter has its moments and if you are a fan of Tucci, Cavill and especially Kingsley, who as usual is spot-on terrific in a small, meaty part, you will receive what you came for.

Night Hunter, Henry Cavill, Ben Kingsley, Stanley Tucci,

‘Night Hunter,’ starring Henry Cavill, Ben Kingsley, Brendan Fletcher, Stanley Tucci (photo courtesy of the Saban films)

Henry  Cavill portrays police detective Marshall, a “night hunter” of sexual predator/killers who has become so overwhelmed by his career that he has allowed it to occlude his family relationships. He’s lost custody of his daughter and is divorced and has been drawn inward by guilt and the darkness he hunts. His characterization is largely intuited; Cavill is dour, depressed and cold, a warning to those who believe that “hunting” killers is all fun and video games. It’s not and Raymond indicates that Marshall has been largely undone emotionally. He’s siphoned off feelings and warmth to remain sharp for his incredible journey into the minds of the psychotics. Fun it is not!

Along this particular journey looking for a murderous sexual predator, he is aided by former girlfriend Rachel, the lovely Alexandra Daddario who is a sweet-faced, kittenish damsel in distress (especially at the end). Continually against type she alternately proves she can and can’t profile killers, but nevertheless she somewhat successfully draws out the monstrously weird, mentally challenged, deaf Simon who Brendan Fletcher portrays with lightening empathy and terrifying reality.

Stanley Tucci as Commissioner Harper keeps his force together and weathers the embarrassment (it’s a humorous scene) of facing down the press and public infuriated by the police force’s incompetence at locating enough proof to put away the predator stalking their city. Unlike American Law Enforcement who readily finds their killers and then years later are upended by DNA testing which proves they got the wrong guy, Canadian law enforcement intends to get it right. Of course, amidst botch jobs and misdirection down wrong paths (the mentally challenged Simon is being abetted by someone who is keen to kill and has the brilliance to outsmart and dispatch the police) the community’s patience wears thin as the serial killer remains on the loose to strike again and again.

Night Hunter, Henry Cavill, Alexandra Daddario, Ben Kingsley, Stanley Tucci,

Brendan Fletcher in ‘Night Hunter,’ directed by David Raymond (courtesy of Saban films)

It is no surprise that Kingsley, who portrays retired judge Cooper converted into a vigilante who protects the community against sexual predators without killing them appears a hero. His rationale beautifully delivered to Cavill’s Marshall in the benign brightness of a diner, seems right-on and clear-eyed considering he succeeds where law enforcement continually stumbles. Well, their emotional motivations are as different as night and day. For the police, looking for predators is just a job. For Cooper it is a mission in which he is emotionally invested. Actually, women have suggested that predators be dealt with as Cooper deals with them. Stopping the assaults and ending ruining the emotional ethos and psyches of women, however, is not important enough for the male-driven law enforcement officials to even lobby for.

Law enforcement, full of brio and testosterone (Marshall, Harper) find his methods beyond the pale, except at the end when Cooper joins the team. How Cooper goes about stopping predators from their chronic obsession to sexually abuse, prey upon and even kill young women is ironic and profound. Perhaps such a method should have been used on Jeffrey Epstein, Harvey Weinstein and other misogynistic (rape is a crime of violence and against young and old has been characterized as a weapon of war) sexual criminals whose privilege (if they are rich) places them above the law to predatorize women with impunity.

Night Hunter, Henry Cavill, Ben Kingsley, Stanley Tucci, Alexandra Daddario, David Raymond

Alexandra Daddario, Henry Cavill in ‘Night Hunter,’ starring Ben Kingsley, Brendan Fletcher, Stanley Tucci, directed by David Raymond (photo courtesy of the Saban films)

Indeed, Cooper outshines all of law enforcement and makes the self-righteous Marshall, who can’t even get his own role as father in sync with his daughter and is in a state of panic with the predator on the loose, look like a wimp. In all fairness, Cavill is not Superman in this film which is a refreshing switch. And up against Kingsley who is just terrific, he is bested/awed in the two-minute scene where Cooper makes his case for going after predators “his” way with his side-kick the wry and sometime funny Lara (the fine Eliana Jones) as the lure for the men attracted to underage, “unwitting” GIRLS.

Night Hunter, Henry Cavill, David Raymond

Henry Cavill in ‘Night Hunter’ (courtesy of Saban films)

Not enough credit has been given to Raymond for exposing the two different approaches to sexual predation: one as a medical condition, the other as a crime whose predators, once they fulfill their sentence, move back into the culture to prey upon victims again. Law enforcement’s and the male culture’s myopia perceive sexual predation as a sexual phenomenon. It is not; it is a mental/physical condition as Cooper suggests, or worse, a hate crime especially regarding serial rapists (who eventually turn out to be killers). To end the deaths and destruction of women’s lives, Cooper’s methods seem less than harsh. However, as long as the patriarchy runs things, women will have to suffer and sexual predators, always men (identified with by male law enforcement) be given lenience. Kingsley’s performance brings all the nuance, depth and controversy to these issues. As Cooper he is heartfelt. The arc of that character’s development by Raymond is drawn well and acted superbly by Kingsley who gives the judge great substance and moment.

Night Hunter, Henry Cavill, Alexandra Daddario, Alexandra Daddario, Ben Kingsley, Stanley Tucci,

Alexandra Daddario, Henry Cavill in ‘Night Hunter,’ directed by David Raymond (courtesy of Saban films)

The themes about how “night hunters” who are hunted (the psycho killer avenges himself on the police) survive and the emotional toll it takes on them are interesting, as is Daddario’s Rachel in her empathetic sweetness to lure Simon to speak the truth. The psychological aspects of law enforcement are notes in the film, which is not just about apprehending a psychotic sexual predator/killer. See if you can figure out the mystery; clues are present.

Considering that many murders/disappearances (sex trafficking ends in murder, the womens’ bodies often disappeared) end up cold case, the elements Raymond pinpoints are vital; but as in most films about rape, sexual predators, psychotic killers, i.e. the Silence of the Lambs series, SeVen, etc., the plots are fantastic fiction regarding the success of law enforcement. Holding serial rapists and killers and sexual predators to account is hard won and more often than not, they are allowed to go free, abetted by law enforcement’s malaise about rape (see the film I Am Evidence). Thus, Night Hunter effects an interesting response to the issue of sexual predation through the characterization of Cooper, unlike any seen before. That males will easily dismiss and overlook these elements seems moot.

Currently on DIRECTTV, Night Hunter will be screening in theaters and ON DEMAND in NYC, LA and other cities beginning 6th September. Look for it.

 

 

 

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