Category Archives: Film News

‘Love Type D’ A Semi-Satire About ‘Born Losers in Love’

Obsessive love stinks. When women or men are attacked by Cupid, they may move on a scale from fools to killers. Love is potent stuff. But what happens if you have a gene to be “lucky in cards and unlucky in love?” Love Type D written and directed by Sasha Collington is a crowd pleaser that removes you from reality which is a necessity, but it also disavows the serious topics it touches upon with a too light tone. A missed opportunity for this comedic, ironic film.

The premise is high concept; it is easy to understand how the pitch for this film worked. However, in its execution, the plot has dead spots, ups and downs, moving from laugh riot (infrequently) to gentle gruntles to “yeah, ho hum.” If only it mined the gold in the themes it touches upon! The group ensemble scenes work well as do some of the implausible farcical moments. The background music “mostly lighthearted” not so much.

Frankie Browne (Maeve Dermody) winsome, twenty-something in love with Thomas Lacey (Oliver Farnsworth) waits for him at a lovely London restaurant for their romantic dinner. Surprised by 11-year-old Harry Potteresque Wilbur (Rory Stroud) Thomas’ brother, she wilts at the message Wilbur gives her. To avoid a scene, Thomas has sent the pipsqueak to break up with Frankie forever in a humiliating, abrupt, “let her down hard so she can’t come back to bug me” way. The devastated Frankie attempts to discover why Thomas has dumped her to no avail.

To make matters worse, Wilbur who is involved with his friend in a research competition takes advantage of her neediness. He eventually reveals (Frankie pries it out of him) that she most probably has a “loser love gene.” Her love relationships starting with tweenhood have ended worse than badly; she reflects about her past loves. Collington fills in her heartbreaks with two flashbacks. Look for Natacha Basset playing the young Frankie.

As many women are wont to do, Frankie judges her past eleven breakups through the eyes of her failed relationship with Thomas. She must have an inherent fault as a “love loser,” a liability in her DNA, says scientist Dr. Elsa Blomgren (a scary Tovah Feldshuh). She is a Type D (the dumped on type). As commercials do subliminally, the ones made by Epigenica featuring Dr. Elsa promote guilt and pile on condemnatory negativity, converting watchers to losers in every aspect of their lives, particularly in love. Affirmed again and again as a loser, Frankie watches the sales pitches and becomes convinced that via Type D, she irrevocably has been and will be dumped in love relationships. It’s terribly depressing, and an imperative to purchase a $500.00 test to see if genetically she is destined to be dumped eternally.

In human beings’ worst moments, including suicidal moments, the misery of humiliation, the thought of being a loser, and feeling that things will never change have persuaded more than a few to end it. The film flirts with this notion of love’s impossibility and nihilism in the human heart and mind. And it flirts with the gene theory of irrevocable inherent inferiority (rather fascist, master race stuff) as a subliminal, noxious message. However, this message is converted mildly to farce and keeps that terror at bay with light humor.

There is a missed opportunity here. The farce could have been broader and more extreme. That Frankie so willingly accepts this “scientific” designation is alarming. And somehow, the signals are muddied as we laugh. If the humor was darker, more sardonic, the film’s themes would have been strengthened. But that involves adding a character with a critical, observer’s eye and that character of reason is absent in the midst of those who are either “perfect” or “inferior.” (a main problem with the plot and themes of the film)

Frankie, with the help of Wilbur, eventually goes through a journey of twists and turns, some of which are hackneyed, others surprising. First, after getting tested for the gene and finding she is irrevocably a loser, she collaborates with her work colleagues in a love loser cult of “woe is me.” Some of these ensemble moments are beautifully paced and LOL funny.

However, in her attempt to still reconcile with Thomas, who has picked a lovely winner for his girlfriend (an astronaut, fit, brilliant, to be envied) she eventually works with Wilbur to find a solution to the “love loser” problem. Wilbur and his friend have discovered if the losers dump their first love to reverse the “curse” of being dumped and do this with all those who dumped them, then the gene will somehow switch off. It is at this point that the plot goes into the stratosphere and not necessarily in a good way. However, for all those who have “lost” in love, been defamed, humiliated, reduced to worms and slugs, the idea to “dump the dumper” is appealing, if not vengeful and psychically/emotionally unregenerative and narcissistic.

Frankie is such a loser that she is “stuck” on trying to get Thomas to love her. She uses every deception with the help of Wilbur (hypnosis to name one) to get close enough to “dump” him. However, Cupid’s arrow is so deep, she’s a hopeless case. Her obsession is so ridiculous, that he is forced to take out a restraining order against her. By this point older, seasoned women will throw up their hands in exasperation, while younger women will be rooting for her, indignant at the cruel and heartless Thomas. Meanwhile, Frankie’s work colleagues have been successful at going back and reversing the tables with former boyfriends/girlfriends by dumping them.

In a Deus Ex Machina (the miraculous intervention) solution, Wilbur and his friend develop a liquid “Love Potion Number 9” made of pheromones at “elephant strength,” (that’s how much of a turn-off Frankie has made herself to Thomas) to use on Thomas to get close enough to dump him and trigger a reversal of the gene. The scene at the nightclub where Frankie croaks out a song which the power of the potion converts so that she has the voice and allure of Katy Perry (all the men including Thomas are entranced) is hysterical.

The conclusion ties up neatly with a protagonist who walks into the camera speaking her wisdom philosophically. But the depth of what she has learned is surface and the danger of what she and others have missed in all of the machinations of cultural definitions of success and failure, genetic engineering for “success,” and mastering ourselves so that we love ourselves “for who we are,” remain unsatisfactory. But, since it’s all in good fun, it doesn’t really matter what we consume, does it?

Love Type D screened at the Charlotte Film Festival, Manchester International Film Festival, RiverRun International Film Festival and Washington DC Independent Film Festival where it won awards. Look for it screening online 9th July.

‘The Lost Leonardo’ World Premiere at Tribeca Film Festival 2021

Robert Simon inspection of the Salvator Mundi at the National Gallery (2011). Copyright Robert Simon - Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. Updated by Charlotte Sather for Tribeca Film Festival 2021
Robert Simon inspection of the Salvator Mundi at the National Gallery (2011). Copyright Robert Simon – Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics, updated by Charlotte Sather for Tribeca Film Festival 2021

The Lost Leonardo directed by Andreas Koefoed and written by Duska Zagorac, Mark Monroe, Andreas Dalsgaard, Christian Kirk Muff and Andreas Koefoed. The film is a fascinating documentary that delves into the nail biting discovery of the painting Salvator Mundi (a portrait of Jesus) that was ill-used, in ragged condition and an obscurity for decades or centuries depending upon what you believe. It was sold for a mere $1,175 in 2005 by New Orleans auctioneers who didn’t really pay much attention to provenance or the possibility of its potential greatness. However, purchasers who hunt for sleepers (undiscovered renowned works) thought it might have value. They wanted it to be restored with the intention of reselling it. How lovely if it slipped under the radar of the New Orleans merchants who were not schooled in high Renaissance art. Finders keepers and all that!

Thus begins the journey of a painting that remains a mystery to this day and has been examined, pawed over and quibbled about by some of the most prestigious art galleries, museums and their curators in the world. Like a well-heeled detective, Andreas Koefoed cobbles together the video clips of individuals who pondered over, investigated and worked on the Salvator Mundi. He also interviews art critics, museum curators, experts, scholars, art historians, investigative journalists, the Founder of the FBI Art Crime Team and shady art dealer businessmen who profit off of billionaires who purchase such costly works privately or at auction. These wealthy could care less if the provenance is in question as long as the perception remains that it is authentic. They do this in order to bury their money in the painting purchase which hides a record of their wealth from the pernicious eyes of tax collectors.

The adventure Koefoed embarks on is thrilling, and he unspools the clues like a master mystery writer. The chase of whether this work is truly the “lost Leonardo” keeps one enthralled. However, there is no conclusive finality and uncertainty reigns with every word his subjects use to speak about the painting.

Perhaps conceived with hope initial buyers Alexander Parrish, sleeper hunter, and his friend Robert Simon (an old masters paintings expert) fantasized about what the Mundi was and who painted it. They acted on their conceptualizations, and to satisfy the curiosity of their wallets, they brought the Mundi to top art restorer Dianne Modestini who had partnered with a spot-on expert recently deceased, from whom she had learned. With his assistance, over the years, she had gained expertise and knowledge restoring fine paintings.

As Modestini worked on the Salvator Mundi, she nearly fainted examining the mouth of the figure in the painting. The Salvator Mundi‘s similarities around the right side of the upper lip resembled that of the Mona Lisa. The more she worked, the more she concluded that only one individual could paint in this way: Leonardo da Vinci. As time progressed, the Salvator Mundi in verbal shorthand is referred to by ironist art critics as the male Mona Lisa.

‘The Lost Leonardo,’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021, (Sony Picture Classics)

Only eight known paintings are globally attributed to the Renaissance master who was “forward thinking” by about 500 years; among his papers are drawings of space ships and underwater submersibles. He was a scientist, painter, mathematician, inventor and all-around genius. However, that this is a “da Vinci” turning up at auction, like a ghost from the backwaters around New Orleans, remains as implausible and incredulous to some global art experts as unicorns are to empiricists. And these scholars are prepared to deny the work’s authenticity as are those experts who are prepared to defend it to the death as a Leonardo. Belief and faith in the power of money trumps any concern about whether it is a fake that a highly skilled genius painter tossed off and was happy to get some money for.

The problem with any work of fine art, is to establish the provenance and period when it was painted based upon the artist’s technique, any underpainting, the chemicals used to mix the paint as well as the chemical composition of the pigments. Art restorer Dianne Modestini affirms on pain of death that the Salvator Mundi, which sold in 2017 for a record-setting $450 million, is the “lost Leonardo” based upon her understanding of the demonstrated technique and brush strokes.

On the other hand, art critic Jerry Salz who is knowledgeable about the corruption embracing high art sales, auction houses and art galleries who benefit from them is the receptacle of a vast skepticism about the Mundi. Saltz’s demonstrated wisdom is not to be underestimated. Indeed, the art industry has been taken over like other arts industries, for example theater, by the philistines. When money is concerned, auction houses and dealers allow the presence of fakes to take a backseat to money, power and the perception of authenticity, backed by lucid, clairvoyant analyses and explanations.

If you can get away with billionaires offering you hefty sums for works they believe to be authentic, but may not be, who is hurt? If the billionaires are squirreling away their treasures for the purpose of tax evasion in Freeports (tax free airport storage, above the law of all countries) no one will see these fakes anyway and the benefiting institution and billionaire are content. By the time they may have to sell them at a loss, most probably they’ve made twice as much in their corrupt enterprises in the interim. These rich guys are good for art; they are easier than the overhead of collecting subscriber donations and the hard work of charitable fund raising galas to run galleries and museums sometimes at a loss.

Examining ‘The Lost Leonardo,’ Tribeca Film Festival (courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

An additional factor to consider as to why the allure of wealthy anonymous buyers is so great for the art industry is that running public museums and private art galleries, one must pay exorbitant insurance costs and for security to prevent the little people from thieving works off the walls and reselling it to rich clients who can only display them privately. Better that the art dealers, auction houses and galleries contract with these billionaires who risk purchasing fakes which will most likely be kept in locked rooms in their mansions, Freeports, villas or one of their 15 million-dollar condos neatly situated in favored cities around the world.

The only ones concerned about fakes are the renowned public museums with a rich history of standing by their experts’ knowledge, respected institutions like the Louvre or The Metropolitan Museum of Art or the British Museum. They do not take kindly to displaying fakes or works that are questionable alongside their incredible proven treasures. And perhaps millionaires who don’t have the money to burn on fakes might be concerned. Other than that, billionaires have entered the art world and they are a sure thing for art dealers and auction houses.

In this amazingly instructive film about the upper classes and the corruption of geopolitical wealth, the filmmaker and writers launch off into three thematic threads emphasizing the concept at work which is the “game.” Sectioning off three segments to keep our understanding regular, he amasses a tremendous amount of research in video interviews, archived photos of works and voice overs. These are structured as the “Art Game,” the “Money Game” and the “World Game.”

It is in this discussion of how art is a game, we begin to understand the shadowy dark money world that fuels fakes and authentic pieces alike. Clearly, the filmmaker reveals that one doesn’t engage in this game naively or without experience and circumspection or you will be taken and regret it. How well can you play the game? How well can you game the auction houses and art dealers? How thoroughly can you game yourself?

If you (like the Russian oligarch who purchased the Salvator Mundi from a French Freeport owner are stuffing away your potential fake in Freeport storage units, then art is a safe, untraceable transaction far from Interpol or Vladimir Putin. As an investment it is unrecorded in any bank unless it’s the safely corrupt Cyprus Bank which deals with foreign transactions from corrupt leaders, and practices money laundering.

Such art has no significance to oligarchs, least of all the meaning of “the savior of the world” Salvator Mundi, which may be a joke to the oligarch or afterward MBS who purchased it anonymously as revealed by the FBI art crime bureau. If you truly care about seeing the Mona Lisa or a work of Rembrandt, then the corruption of viewing a fake is monstrous. The reason why the public purchases memberships in museums and donates millions is because they believe what they view is the “real deal.” The fiasco with the sales of the Salvator Mundi and its dubious authentication based on faith has exposed the art industry’s realm of “alternative realities” and the grand con possibilities. Is it or isn’t it a fake? Only the “little people” are self-righteously outraged if what they look at are fakes hanging in the walls of prestigious museums.

Auction houses and galleries and museums have bridged the reality gap into the alternate Donald Trump/Vlad Putin universe (my intimations, not the filmmakers though it is an important theme for our time). These dealers, auction houses and their buyers justify the authenticity or value of the works they sell because they can, especially if the industry trafficks in bullshit. The honest critic or expert is unwanted then, no matter their weight in gold. These themes Andreas Koefoed raises in this profound documentary which is a sweet siren’s warning. And it gives the average museum goer the fodder to ruminate and feel rage at how art has become an untrustworthy commodity, not a historical, cultural legacy.

Bruce Lamarche, Yves Bouvier’s business partner, ‘The Lost Leonardo,’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021, (courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics, Bruce Lamarche)

But billionaires don’t mind the cache that goes with owning various works, for example, MBS who was anonymous until the great reveal by the FBI. Why would the murderer of WaPo reporter Jamal Kashoggi be interested in a painting that means “the savoir of the world?” The thought of his repentance at his villainous acts of killing family and the “traitorous” reporter is laughable.

On the other hand the notoriety of buying it because he could, was alluring. Owning the painting was a way to gain acceptance and prestige. This was so much so that he enticed the curators of the Louvre that he would loan the Salvator Mundi to them as representative of the “Lost Leonardo,” the male Mona Lisa with its provenance and authenticity in doubt. They were interested, until they heard his conditions. They must hang his purchase with the clouds of fakedom wafting off it—next to the Mona Lisa. The publicity alone would be tremendous. In 2011, the UK’s National Gallery displayed the male Mona Lisa with all its warts of uncertainty so that crowds could show up and imagine it was real. For the Louvre to hang the “Male Mona Lisa” next to the “Mona Lisa” would be a validation of it, sort of like riding the Mona Lisa‘s coattails into veracity, truth and art reality.

The Louvre refused. They were not willing to display a potential fake next to their acquisition whose provenance they were certain of. And MBS, annoyed that his offer was spurned, didn’t take them up on allowing them to display the Mundi in a separate room, explaining its restoration and questionable provenance. Of course the film does not go into the irony of a MBS with all his murders on his head, owning the portrait of Christ as the “savior of the world.” It doesn’t have to. The irony is stunning as is MBS’s arrogant longing.

With the exception of museums who display art so that the public can enjoy it, this whole industry is a philistine’s game (the money lenders and buyers who trade). They could care less if David Bowie (no offense meant to this fabulous artist whom I adore) smeared some of his dung on a canvas and signed it and sold it to the highest bidder. Such was the case with Pablo Picasso who became so disgusted with the “trade” aspect of art in the hands of philistines, he used to draw on napkins at restaurants and depending upon whether he liked the wait staff or not, signed the napkin and gave it to them. In some instances, he drew it, signed it and then destroyed it as they hungrily watched. For the artist commercialization of their work is loathsome and welcome, but only if they reap the rewards in their lifetimes, which usually does not happen. However, what can be done if the vultures pick their bones clean after they’re dead and gone? No wonder Banksy rigged the shredding of his “Girl With the Baloon” after the gavel hit in an auction that garnered a record price for his work.

The Lost Leonardo presents a vital perspective of the “art industrial complex” as it were. Who decides what is great art, even if it is potentially fake and not all the experts can agree on its authenticity? The fact that it’s MBS who purchased it for (after a circuitous route of sales from $1175, to $87 million, then $127 + million) $450 million does nothing to establish its credibility. And after the National Gallery exhibited it to great celebration as a da Vinci in 2011, they mired themselves in the smut of gaming when the FBI revealed that MBS purchased it for a price which means it’s now unsaleable and unpresentable if he persists in riding on the coattails of other Leonardo paintings which he could afford, but which should not be sold to him. This is especially so after it has been proven that he ordered Kashoggi to be brutally murdered, an M.O. of his despite his vapid denials.

However, like many billionaires who remain anonymous he worked through an agent. Would the auction house have sold this work to him if they knew he was purchasing it? They know how to play the game. And as a result, they have smeared themselves and the art world with BS which is what the Dutch filmmaker subtly infers in The Lost Leonardo.

This is a film to see, if not for a good look at the painting which is mostly a restoration and therefore, is more Dianne Modestini’s effort than da Vinci’s. It finished screening at Tribeca Film Festival. Look for this beautifully edited and scripted documentary streaming on various channels or perhaps at your favorite Indie theater after its release on 13 of August. Don’t miss this Sony Pictures Classic if you love art and are interested in learning more about the specious and scurrilous art traffickers which unfortunately find dueling interests with renowned museums who cannot afford works of art, after the traffickers bid the works to obscene heights.

‘LADY BOSS: The Jackie Collins Story’

7/27/95.Beverly Hills,California.Jackie Collins At Jackies New Home In Beverlyhills She Designed Herself (Photo By Paul Harris/Getty Images)
7/27/95.Beverly Hills,California.Jackie Collins At Jackies New Home In Beverlyhills She Designed Herself (Photo By Paul Harris/Getty Images)

If you are a fan of Jackie Collins’ florid and racy descriptions, plots and characters, and especially if you adore the third wave “feminist” character Lucky Santangelo, you must run, not walk to screen the documentary LADY BOSS: The Jackie Collins Story. The documentary which lovingly and cheekily chronicles the best-selling novelist which premiered at Tribeca Film Festival 2021 is set to premiere on CNN — Sunday, JUNE 27 at 9:00 PM ET and PT.

This is a must-see for many reasons, chief of which is director Laura Fairrie’s exhaustive research on Jackie Collins. The filmmaker reveals the woman behind her characters and examines her three marriages and how she was able to negotiate the changing view of women despite hawkish criticism at the end as the #METOO movement was forming its ethos. Of course the irony is that Jackie Collins exemplified with grace, power and vitality how women must “step up to the plate,” and take charge in a world of men.

Indeed, through a series of trials and errors that Collins reversed into boons, director Fairrie reveals the arc of her life story and solidifies that Collins was an overcomer who refused to take life in all its wheels and woes on the chin. It is an amazing history of sorrow, setback, triumph and reformation and at the end, courage and legacy. Fairrie shows great equipoise in her highlighting the competition with her sister Joan Collins who encouraged her to go to Hollywood and have a film career. She reveals Collins signed a $2 million-dollar-book deal, though in no way did she display the writing talent for description and story-telling that Jackie did. Acting on film and television was Joan’s medium. On the other hand Jackie’s talents were as an observer, a listener and wordsmith who converted life into art.

Joan Collins 'LADY BOSS: The Jackie Collins Story' Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (courtesy of the film)
Joan Collins ‘LADY BOSS: The Jackie Collins Story’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (courtesy of the film)

Using videos from personal archives starting when the Collins sisters were young up until her death of cancer in 2015, the sourced material is extensive and Fairrie cobbles it together switching different time periods. She organizes the documentary not chronologically but via themes that threaded through in Jackie Collins’ life. Thus, we follow videos of her troubled, brief, first marriage, to manic depressive drug addict Wallace Austin to her successful marriage to second husband Oscar Lerman and her third husband “larger than life-gigolo type character” in Frank Calcagnini.

This second marriage to the co-owner of the successful London celebrity nightclub Tramp lasted 23 years. It was Oscar whose supportive encouragement initiated Jackie’s writing career. With him she finished her first book, The World is Full of Married Men. Unlike Austin who was jealous, grasping and abusive, Oscar was a loving husband and father who adored Jackie. Because he was a success in his own right, he didn’t fear playing “second fiddle” to her growing celebrity as a best selling novelist.

Indeed, to burgeon her career, he agreed to move the family to Los Angeles when Collins decided to expand her empire and publicize her novels appearing on talk shows and soliciting media to improve US market share. The move brought the sisters together and Collins, who launched her own empire writing and marketing her work with aplomb was a maverick entrepreneur in the 1980s. Interestingly, she paved the way for another novelist empire builder from Scotland, J. K. Rowling.

Wisely, Fairrie includes video interviews from a host of family and friends that include clips of her daughters, Joan Collins, her friends (wives of celebrities) and Hollywood heavyweights at parties that Jackie went to (Michael Caine, etc.). In one segment, three friends share how they were Jackie Collins “best” friend. Another celebrity friend ironically indicates that Jackie was so saavy as to make everyone she spoke to feel important and loved.

Jackie Collins, ‘LADY BOSS: The Jackie Collins Story,’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (Charlotte Sather)

She apparently also did this when she did book tours, signings and talks. There is a clip of Jackie taking the time to briefly chat with women fans creating long lines. However, her readers, who always came back for more, felt it was worth the wait to talk to the beautiful and talented novelist.

Jackie Collins’ life was difficult, especially with her third husband who was abusive. And it must have been heart-wrenching when she battled stage four cancer when no one knew or understand what she was going through, i.e. at times she had difficulty walking because she was in pain. However, her persona of “being Jackie Collins” moved her forward so that she triumphed with mind over matter determination. Much of the persona she created to discuss her novels helped her market herself and her works. Thus, she was able to rise to the top and have her novels serialized on television. Currently, her novels are contracted for films.

The smooth, lovely Jackie Collins persona arose especially when she was challenged for writing belittling characters who were not worthy of the fourth wave of feminism. She was measured, controlled and steely eyed in her responses, though the harsh critics attempted to bloody her. Sadly, they were intellectually inferior, missing the positive impact she had to empower women.

Though you may not be a fan of Collins’ racy, sexy, sometimes softly raw “hot and heavy” descriptions, her characters explore women’s sexuality and assertiveness as men’s was explored by Ian Fleming of James Bond fame. Her women are as bold and as assertive as men. She thrillingly portrays them so to demonstrate the intelligence and allure of inner strength and they eschew being men’s toys. The beauty of Collins’ work is that she elevated the esteem of women at a time when they needed to feel powerful sexually. She loosed women from the categories of “whore” and “slut” that women often used competitively against each other. She gave women permission to explore and revel in their own identity.

Jackie Collins, 'BOSS LADY: The Jackie Collins Story,' Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (courtesy of the film)
Jackie Collins, ‘BOSS LADY: The Jackie Collins Story,’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (courtesy of the film)

Collins’ descriptions openly presented sexual women who enjoyed the pleasure they found. For that reason her novels are a success. Though the current wave of feminism which is hyper-aware of men’s predation, having suffered through the menopause of late revelation (i.e. Placido Domingo’s forward behavior of forty years ago) her writing is skilled, arousing and delicious. It is also brilliant, maverick and underestimated by intellectually dense “trending” women’s groups. Collins’ novels raised the consciousness of women so that they examined their gender beyond men defining it for them. In that she is a vital chapter in how women historically see themselves as free, whole beings. Of course Collins’ characters are a danger to men who would oppress women so that they remain objects to be abused and manipulated.

Interspersed between Collins’ home life and relationships, Fairrie indicates how Collins’ writing also reflected who she was. Thus, in select parts in the documentary she has hosts read from Collins various novels. The result is ironic and humorous.

LADY BOSS: The Jackie Collins Story is an important retrospective on a women entrepreneur who broke the mold created by men to keep women unsettled and easily dominated. She did this in her home life and how she approached the obstacles life placed before her. She used the therapy of work to muscle quietly through when Oscar died of prostate cancer which he didn’t discuss or burden the family with. And though her third husband businessman Frank Calcagnini was jealous and abusive, once again her work embodied her strength to face his death from a brain tumor.

LADY BOSS: The Jackie Collins Story premieres on CNN June 27th at 9 PM. Look for it; you’ll be glad you did.

‘Ascension’ Tribeca Film Festival Documentary

'Ascension,' Documentary World Premiere, Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (Charlotte Sather)
‘Ascension,’ Documentary World Premiere, Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (Charlotte Sather)

Ascension, Jessica Kingdon’s documentary feature explores the rise of capitalism in the communistic political system of China. Accepted in the feature documentary category at Tribeca Film Festival (which it won) Kingdon’s film defies linear documentary structure. The documentary is a uniquely impressionistic portrait of Chinese culture and society. Thus, Kingdon turns filmmaking chronology on its head by using Chinese delineations of class structure to organize her film.

Highly visual, Ascension slices into cross sections of China’s lower, middle and upper classes. With minimal use of dialogue or voice-over narration, she presents a vision of the new China. Pointedly, the observer follows each segment of economic society clearly categorized and stuck in it place. Importantly, we note the individuals caught in the strata like one-celled creatures made part of a gigantic, layered, interdependent whole.

Initially, Kingdon begins with freelance workers looking for jobs at a street sight where agents hawk menial jobs for low pay. From there she moves through the various locations revealing what these jobs entail. Essentially, the factory work, like all factory work on an assembly line remains mindless and robotic. Nevertheless, the jobs promise a better lifestyle in the city. Importantly, these workers manifest China’s evolution from an agrarian economy. And as we follow, we see our recent past, our industrial revolution, manufacturing, automation. Ironically, with outsourcing, China’s factories of immense scale have long overtaken ours. Subsequently, Kindgon reminds us that we have been engulfed by the stratification of Chinese economic development.

Deftly, Kingdon explores how the Chinese pursue their version of the American Dream, Chinese style. Through gradual visual revelation Kingdon identifies the various factory locations. Then she manifests how their manufacturing produces product for middle class consumers. Often these are products the lower classes cannot easily afford. As a result each class depends on the other as they redefine the meaning of success for their class.

Nevertheless, the Chinese culture’s economic divide categorized by labor, consumerism and wealth mirrors the worst of our economic history. As menial cogs in the wheel of production, workers struggle through long hours. Meanwhile, the middle class mercantiles promote consumerism. Indeed, considered successful, they enjoy the fruits of the lower classes’ labor. Likewise, the wealthy upper classes revel in leisure time and find indulgent ways to waste it as an affordable luxury.

Of course as with its counterpart of the American Dream in the U.S., the “Chinese Dream” can only be attained by a few. Sought after by all who climb the economic ladder who would integrate into society, the dream is magical thinking. And like all fairy tales, it dissolves and diminishes each day of boring labor, routine and relative poverty.

Shot in 51 locations across China, Kingdon’s work strikes at the heart of the issues China and the U.S. face today. How does an evolving nation remain strong economically yet keep the divisions of wealth equitably stable? Ultimately, in the pursuit of the fairy tale, even the wealthy find meaninglessness and purposelessness inescapable facts. That a historically philosophical culture panders to materialism, hedonism and global domination remains ironic. Indeed, at the film’s conclusion Kingdon suggests that the meretricious values of the U.S. infected Chinese culture in the negative. And her documentary warns of the cultural and spiritual dissolution that comes with embracing such values.

Ascension’s sound design, cinematography and editing become the mainstay to elucidate Kingdon’s visual expressions. The film premieres in Tribeca’s Documentary Competition on 12 June. Check out the Tribeca FF link HERE.

‘Poser’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021

Sylvia Mix in 'Poser,' Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (Brendon Burnett)
Sylvia Mix in ‘Poser,’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (Brandon Burnett)

The inherent charm of Lennon (Sylvia Mix) the protagonist in Poser, in its World Premiere at Tribeca Film Festival 2021 is that she embodies what average talents reflect, the yearning to go past fandom, the need to be a part of something larger than herself; to be somebody, to belong. And if that means reporting on artists, to receive a smidgen of their glory, it is enough. On the other hand obsessions take root in stoking the need to crawl into the celebrity’s skin. This is especially so if one lacks the ability, confidence or ambition to work very hard to achieve what artists of all stripes have: talent and/or the work ethic to achieve the skill to stumble into talent and originality.

Such is the stuff that Poser is made of. Written by Noah Dixon and directed by Dixon and Ori Segev, Poser explores and provides a cross section of the soul of an individual who circles burgeoning artists. Oftentimes, like Lennon Gates (a coolly deep and therefore opaque Sylvia Mix) they are seekers and searchers who have not yet defined themselves but who yearn to ride the coattails of the celebrated and connected artist. And one way to achieve any connection with the talented is to report on them and therefore convince oneself of the illusion of being a part, yet remaining so apart, they never honestly connect because they are posing as celebrity, but are only a wannabe.

Emotionally a cypher, Lennon Gates, a dishwasher and hotel worker by day and music groupie by night, insinuates herself into the art and music scene in Columbus, Ohio. Persistent in first digitally recording via her phone then transferring the recordings to tapes, she collects experiences and teaches herself to interview for her own podcast in a DIY fashion. Her subjects are the musicians and artists who are beginning to “make their bones,” in the business.

As she meets these singers and bands who identify their own music with hysterical abandon as they take themselves seriously, Lennon does too. She keenly watches and provides an audience and the publicity, however, smallish it is. She, too, is “making her bones,” as a quasi reporter who is not quite a hanger on, though Dixon satirizes reporters who never are the talent, but who ride the coattails of celebrities so some of the glam rubs off.

(L to R: Sylvia Mix, Bobbi Kitten in 'Poser,' Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (Brendon Burnett)
(L to R: Sylvia Mix, Bobbi Kitten in ‘Poser,’ Tribeca Film Festival 2021 (Brendon Burnett)

Being in the right place at the right time after hanging on and around the Columbus, Ohio’s underground music scene, Lennon has a breakthrough. She endears herself to the charismatic, energetic and fun-loving Bobbi Kitten (the real Bobbi Kitten) and becomes a member of Kitten’s crew for partying and enjoying their youth and drugs. That Lennon perceives her relationship with the talented Kitten means she has arrived is reflected in a turning point which is symbolic and foreshadows the abrupt ending.

For company Gates keeps a goldfish. The irony is superb, for the “pet” requires nothing deeply emotional from her caretaker except a shake of food and clean water. Apparently, even those simple tasks are too onerous for Lennon. When we see her flush the goldfish down the toilet bowl to join the sewage of Columbus, this signals her transformation to come. She plays guitar and sings for Kitten who encourages her. Influenced by her relationship with Kitten and her posse, Lennon attempts to come into her own, except she has little to recommend herself. However, riding Kitten’s magnanimous, compelling and sterling coattails, Lennon believes her own delusion that she, too, can be a singer, performer and entertainer like Kitten.

Noah Dixon’s intriguing script and the spot-on cast, especially Kitten and the superb Mix and other performers who city natives will recognize provide a thrilling and compelling expose of the dangers of fandom, the need to be worshiped and admired, and the absolute consummation of music and art in the souls of entertainers, performers and wannabes of the burgeoning next generation that is happening. Segev’s and Dixon’s direction is anointed. The music from the Columbus “scene” to the ancillary moodiness and suspense riffs that overtake the warmth of the various groups also is spot-on and memorable.

From music to editing, to cinematography and acting, Poser delivers from beginning to ending. For a first time out, every “i” is dotted and every “t” crossed. Poser is one to see. It’s screening at Tribeca Film Festival until 23rd of June. Click HERE for details.


Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Dali Lama in ‘Mission: Joy-Finding Happiness in Troubled Times’

Archbishop Desdmond Tutu, His Holiness the Dalai Lama in ‘Mission: Joy,’ Tribeca Film Festival, (Tenzin Choejor)

Sometimes, wisdom hides in simplicity. When His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu agreed to a sit down on camera, the delightful and profound Mission JoyFinding Happiness in Troubled Times emerged. Screening in Tribeca Film Festival 2021 Online Premieres, the documentary offers a welcome perspectives from these icons of peace. Mission: Joy-Finding Happiness in Troubled Times remains an important film for our time.

Indeed, Mission: Joy-Finding Happiness in Troubled Times directed by Academy Award®-winner Louie Psihoyos reveals the humanity of these divines. First, the New York Times bestseller The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World inspired the film. Secondly, Psihoyos highlights the great friendship between these two mischievous spiritual brothers. Third, book coauthor Doug Abrams’ questions, provide the pathway to discovering their lightheartedness. Psihoyos emphasizes their process of staying the course while confronting human nature’s most egregious manifestations of wickedness.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desdmond Tutu in ‘Mission: Joy,’ Tribeca Film Festival (Miranda Penn Turin)

As Psihoyos showcases the exchange between these two humble men of different faiths and backgrounds, we marvel at their relationship. Not only do they tease each other, they express affection, hold hands and share endearments as old friends. Ironically, they hail from entirely disparate backgrounds and life philosophies. Yet, their similarity remains in their advocacy for their people and encouragement to triumph over oppression.

For Tutu South Africa’s Apartheid oppressed and destroyed his people and culture. However, he and the ANC led massive protests to change world opinion and the government. Similarly, His Holiness the Dali Lama escaped his country of Tibet in the face of China’s aggression. Ironically, his escape elevated his global renown and respect.

Intriguingly, Buddhism meets Christianity in Mission: Joy. And Tutu’s adjures that the Dali Lama’s confrontation with China freed him to be an ambassador of peace to the world. If the Chinese foresaw how their war-like actions might increase the Dali Lama’s reach and influence, they surely would have acted differently. Thus, Tutu affirms that every action against us holds opportunities for strength and triumph. We have only to envision it. Once envisioned determination grows to bring it to pass.

Rounding out their stories, the filmmaker uses archival footage. And indeed the commentary from van Furth and the Dalai Lama’s translator Thupten Jinpa Langri, clarify the differences between these Noble Prize winners.

Archbishop Desdmond Tutu, His Holiness the Dalai Lama in ‘Mission: Joy,’ Tribeca Film Festival (Charlotte Sather)

In order to provide video access, the men agreed to meet over 5 days at the Dalai Lama’s residence in Dharamsala. As a result, the never before seen footage reveals the treasured acumen of these elders. Surely, the fiery trials they faced refined them for peace and joy. In order to understand the breadth of what they faced, Psihoyos includes graphic renderings. Additionally, Tutu’s daughter Mpho Tutu van Furth fills in salient moments of her Dad’s backstory. Additionally, she likens their enthusiasm, delight and innocence in each other’s company to that of children. Significantly, their advanced age and keen minds reflect their inner contentment and satisfaction. In light of the troubles they endured, their joyful relationship, love and inner peace provide an example for us to mirror.

With respect and affection, these unlikely friends share their simple, infinite wisdom in Mission: Joy-Finding Happiness in Troubled Times. How easy their sage maxims flow off their tongues. Yet, how impossible for us to be generous, selfless, humble, forgiving. We need to hear such maxims again and again. For only with practice and mindfulness as these two men have accomplished can daily peace and joy be ours.

In its extraordinary perspective of these mavericks of goodness, Mission: Joy is a balm for soul wounds. Indeed, in its hope it reveals if these individuals can employ the wisdom of joy, so can we. It is only a matter of doing.

For more on the film and its screenings since Tribeca Film Festival 2021 has ended CLICK HERE.

‘TRUMAN & TENNESSEE: An Intimate Conversation’ Telluride Film Festival, Hamptons International Film Festival, Seattle International Film Festival Review

American journalist and writer Truman Capote sitting on a low wall in front of the small harbour of Portofino with his bulldog in his arm. Portofino, 1950s (Photo by Leonida Barezzi/Mondadori via Getty Images)

Truman Capote and Tennessee William were friends over the forty year period they wrote, teased/ridiculed each other, basked in each other’s humor and love and grew envious, only to meet for dinner one last time before Williams died of a barbiturate overdose and Capote followed him, dying of alcohol complications 18 months later. Tennessee, the 13-year elder, met Truman when he was 16-years-old. He was charmed and delighted by his wit and personality and Truman believed Tennessee to be a genius. From then on they became fast intellectual friends whose relationship provides a fountain of lyricism, wisdom and exquisite writing for the curious.

This beautifully rendered poetic account of these two giants of American literature by Lisa Immordino Vreeland is a haunting, must-see, cinematic in memoriam. What makes her film doubly enjoyable is the superb and spot-on voice-over narration by Zachary Quinto (as Tennessee Williams) and Jim Parsons (as Truman Capote). Without their appreciation of these individuals, the realism that they brought to Capote’s and William’s voices and intentions would not have been as acute.

Vreeland selects choice quotes from the writers’ letters, telegrams, articles, TV interviews (David Frost and Dick C avett) and illustrative snippets from the original films of their work (A Streetcar Named Desire-1951, Baby Doll-1956, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof-1958, Suddenly Last Summer-1959, The Fugitive Kind-1960, Sweet Bird of Youth-1962, The Night of the Iguana-1964, The Glass Menagerie-1987, Breakfast at Tiffany’s-1961, In Cold Blood-1967, The Grass Harp-1995). The last three films in the list are from Capote’s works.

The filmmaker astutely supplements these clips with many archived photos (a rare one of Laurette Taylor in the original production of The Glass Menagerie). These also include historical, personal photos from Capote’s and Williams’ youth through the aging process. Thus, we see photos of their parents, relatives, studio portraits, friends and imagistic reflective moments. Also presented are their visits to Ischia and video clips of Rome and elsewhere with intriguing voice-overs by Quinto and Parsons.

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES – 1946: Author Truman Capote at work on his first novel in the Tower Room at Yaddo Colony. (Photo by Lisa Larsen/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

Vreeland wisely moves in chronological order starting with their beginning successes, after she introduces both individuals in their separate David Frost interviews. David Frost and Dick Cavett remind us of their insightful, sensitive attention as listeners. Their winsome charm elicits the trust of their interviewees who allow them to go to places which at times are uncomfortable. Just seeing these clips as a remembrance of how in-depth interviews were conducted is a historical record. It was something the seeing public was used to (not duplicated anywhere on mainstream TV today).

Success for Williams began in 1945 with A Glass Menagerie (one of the most performed plays on the planet). With Capote his first novel Other Voices, Other Rooms was published to acclaim in 1948. Vreeland carefully organizes her subjects with refreshing candor. She often backtracks according to Capote’s and Williams’ responses to the searching questions by David Frost and Dick Cavett. The hosts ask them about friendship, love, self-identification, sexuality, parents, upbringing and more. Then Vreeland extrapolates and illustrates with voice-over quotes and snippets of their work. She ties all together with narrative and bridge photography of scenery or stills that relate to their lives (where they lived, traveled, partied).

As a result of this varied structure, she remains flexible in her use of archived photos, videos and films and Williams and Capote’s thoughtful comments that Parsons and Quinto narrate. This is a kaleidoscope that elucidates brilliantly; it is a fascinating intimate capture of both men as writers, celebrities and individuals.

Heightening the exceptional and seamless account are the voice-over quotes spoken by Parsons (Capote) Quinto (Williams). Their inflections, accents, the expressed emotion, pacing and silences immeasurably resonate to meld with the carry-over shots. The visuals and the audio with smooth synchronicity are stunning because of the matched cinematography; it’s like words and music that cohere and inform one another.

The film is a tone poem. What Vreeland and her creative team deliver is breathtaking. Importantly, because it is so well crafted, the personal information we learn becomes a delightful exercise in the study of who these mysterious writers were and still are, for their impact on our culture and global culture continues. Certainly, these artists have achieved a timeless immutability in their work. Vreeland’s respect for these artists helps us appreciate them and their relationship all the more. Whatever the weather between them, it is clear that they influenced and impacted each other’s work.

Foremost, Williams and Capote considered themselves artists, then writers and celebrities. Brutally honest in the interviews with Frost, they also reveal their playful mischievous natures. They express their reactions to their homosexuality growing up and afterward when they had to reside in worlds of pretense which sheltered them. Both were rejected by parents. Williams mentions that he and his father didn’t get along; his father didn’t like him very much the more he stayed home and got to know him. Capote’s mother remarried. She took him to a doctor because of his homosexuality and asked that he be given shots. Capote interpreted this to mean she thought him a monster.

Their honesty about whether they “like” themselves, if they think friendship is more important than love, whether they had affairs and a discussion of their thoughts as writers and how writing is paramount to who they are remain telling. Both battled depression with drugs and alcohol. Dr. Feel Good was their man for escape as it was for many celebrities at that time. Their responses to Frost’s questions, “Are you happy?” are both wise and intensely human. Williams’ discussion about the subjects in his plays (lobotomy, mental illness, cannibalism, rape) are philosophical and realistic.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Dan Grossi/AP/Shutterstock (6657519a) Tennessee Williams Playwright Tennessee Williams at his typewriter in New York. Williams’ “The Eye That Saw Death,” will appear in the spring issue of The Strand Magazine. “The Eye That Saw Death” has a fable-like quality even as its plot recalls Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart Books Tennessee Williams, New York, USA

Capote discusses how his work and effort on In Cold Blood took so much out of him, he was never the same again. He did witness Perry’s death which must have given him PTSD. The research and interviews of the murderers so impacted him, he asked his great friend Nell (Harper Lee) to join him to keep him company as well as have her help him solicit interviews with the otherwise aloof townspeople. He says that in a way, he died working on In Cold Blood; the metaphoric comment is just the tip of the iceberg in what Capote wanted to achieve and achieved in creating a new genre: narrative non-fiction.

Truman ad William admitted that, like all authors, their work has elements of auto-biography and is personal. Additionally, they affirmed their compulsion to write and create worlds of their own inhabited by characters they liked to spend time with. Williams pointed out the loneliness of writing. Though acknowledging it, Capote didn’t mind that as much.. Vreeland makes clear that their writing and the characters in their works occupied them with surprising turns of behavior. Capote likened writing to artistry that can reach a form of grace. Without mentioning the G-o-d word, he implied that there is a divinity or extraordinary place that great writing touches making it human and identifiable.

This certainly is a must-see film for anyone who is a writer or anyone who aspires to be a writer. They will be affirmed and encouraged by what these two icons share.

From editing to cinematography, from direction of Parsons and Quinto and the selection of all the quotes, video clips and archived material, all kudos to Vreeland. Her amazing work should be shown to literature and drama classes in colleges and high schools who investigate and read Williams and Capote. The film flies by, never snagging in dead spots, a feat in itself.

TRUMAN & TENNESSEE: An Intimate Conversation opens JUNE 18 in New York at Film Forum. It opens in Los Angeles at The Nuart and Laemmle Playhouse & Town Center 5. The film also is available in virtual cinemas nationwide through KinoMarquee.com

‘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/

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