Documentary Films

Reviews by Lois Siegel

Documentary Channel

112 Weddings, Directed by Doug Block, 92 minutes, 2003, USA

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Doug Block is a videographer. He shoots weddings of total strangers and delivers the videos. Then he never sees the happy couples again. One day he begins to wonder what happened to all these people he filmed after they lived together. Were they still in love?

He contacted 112 former clients and asked them how their lives were now. Did their marriage turn out as they dreamed it would?  The response is often surprising and very frank.

Although Block’s film is favors the down-side of marriage, it definitely explores the lives of people and the challenges and conflicts they have faced over the years. Marital bliss seems to be strongest the day of the wedding. After that, a new reality sets in.  Block asks couples how they have managed living with another person and how their lives have changed. Women no longer want to be stay-at-home moms. We see how the addition of children affects marriages and what compromises are made. Small grudges grow until couples drive each other nuts.

Block explores less traditional marriages, a partnership ceremony instead of a legal one, and same sex marriages. An articulate rabbi attests that marriage is not a perfect institution. He talks about the economic reality.

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And despite all the pre-wedding planning, things can go wrong… a caterer calls and cancels three days before the event.

But there is also humor – like the guy who shows up for his wedding wearing a long, t-shirt-looking white, unfashionable top and tennis shoes, or the question: Will you still love someone when their teeth are gone

And there is sadness – when a child or parent becomes ill. A man tells of the time he went berserk and spent $7,000 on books in three days.

The dynamics of two families coming together – the relatives from different backgrounds… is also interesting.


In 112 Weddings, “happily ever after” is perhaps wishful thinking….

If you are married, divorced or thought about either, you might want to see this film.
Block explores the “mystery” of marriage and many not so happy endings.

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Review by Lois Siegel


Absolut Warhola, Directed by Stanislaw Mucha, 80 minutes, 2001, Germany

With humor and an affinity for people, Polish born (1970) Stanislaw Mucha traces American pop artist Andy Warhol's family roots back to two small villages in Eastern Europe. Warhol sent some of his art work to his relatives who didn't really know what to do with it.



His eccentric relatives are proud their connection to him, and he has become a legend.

 "Absolut Warhola" takes us on a journey to the grass roots of the infamous Warhol.

Mucha's other documentaries include "Die Mitte" (The Center) and "Mit Bubi heim ins Reich" ("Back Home to the Reich, with Bubi").
Duisburg: Audience Award, 2001.
Mannheim Audience Award,  2001.
Berlin: Best Upcoming Director & Best Upcoming Cinematographer from the DEFA Foundation, 2001.
Society of German Film Critics: Best Documentary, 2002.



Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
Directed by Alison Klayman, 91 Minutes, 2012, USA

Cherish the freedoms you have.

Artists in China are often put in prison for what they say and do. Weiwei is one of them. He challenges the Chinese government more than anyone. He's famous for this. He speaks with his art and uses the Internet to spread his ideas.  He used to write a blog every day. When the Chinese shut that down, he moved to twitter - posting messages eight hours a day.

"Never Sorry" is a demonstration of pure will and courage. Weiwei doesn't apologize for what he does. He provokes, he prods, he defies. "If you don't push, nothing happens," he says.
"Life is more interesting when you make an effort."

He collected the names of all the children who died in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and turned the list into a work of art.  Volunteers helped him collect the names of the dead.  Over 5,000 students died. Poorly constructed buildings crumbled.

Weiwei knows he has to work through the system. "You can't just say it's flawed," he insists.
The Chinese police follow him everywhere.

He has ideas and engages others to implement them as works of art.  He calls them his
"hired assassins."

For the Beijing Olympics, he helped design the "bird's nest, "  Beijing's National Stadium.
As an independent artist, his work is being shown in Australia, England, Germany, Japan,
North and South America, and beyond.

He knows the more he challenges the authority of the Chinese government, the harder his life will be. But Weiwei is an optimist. He's still excited and exuberant about life.

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Aislin: Dangerous When Provoked
The Life and Times of Terry Mosher, Directed by John Curtin, 43 minutes, 2006, Canada
Produced by Kaos Productions Inc.
In Association with The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

This Gemini Award-Winning "Best Biography Documentary Program"  focuses on Terry Mosher, aka Aislin, often called the nastiest political cartoonist.  At the edge of his pen, no one gets out alive.

The film reveals little known aspects of Mosher's life, from his early days in Ottawa, to his adventurous ramblings, hitchhiking across North America as a young man, looking for something interesting to do with his life. He finally decides on art school, leading to a job with The Montreal Star as a cartoonist, and then with The Gazette. The rest is history.

  
Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé

L’Amour Fou, Directed by Pierre Thoretton, 98 minutes, 2010, Italy

Yves Saint Laurent is known for his fashion designer clothes.
But not everyone knows about his partner Pierre Bergé,
who managed Saint Laurent’s business.

When Saint Laurent died in 2008, Bergé arranged for the contents
of a virtual museum of artifacts in the house they shared
to be sent to Christie’s to be auctioned off.
The “Collection” is the centerpiece of the film that tells the story of their life together for half a century.
They had money to buy art work and for 20 years that’s what they did.

Saint Laurent introduced the trouser suit for women.
His modern clothes were not just to beautify
but to add confidence.

Despite his success, Saint Laurent faced a battle with drugs and depression,
eventually forcing him to withdraw from public life.
Fame brought suffering.
Like most relationships, that of Saint Laurent and Bergé had its
ups and downs. The film covers a lifetime of fashion shows,
adulation, and a house full of art objects conveyed through old films,
photographs, and reminiscences.

Their lives were intermingled with Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger, and the most gorgeous models of the time.
The fashions included a dress that looked like a Mondrian painting with a red square and black bars.

We watch as the art objects are dispersed - sent on their way to a new life
“like birds - to perch elsewhere.”

The collected paintings, sculptures, vases… remnants of a life – sold for millions of dollars.
 
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Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens
Directed by Barbara Leibovitz (Annie’s younger sister)
PBS Documentary


                    Annie Leibovitz, Photographer
 
Annie Leibovitz is one of the best known contemporary photographers.  From her “Rolling Stone Magazine” days hanging out and photographing the rock ‘n’ rollers of the 70s, to her entry into the fashion world at Vanity Fair and Vogue, her images have been strikingly unique, as well as elaborate and elegant.

The film is a panorama of stars: Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Hillary Rodham Clinton, George Clooney, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Demi Moore…..

But there are also home movies, pictures of Leibovitz’s family.  The film follows her from her early days at the San Francisco Art Institute where she was a painting major and wanted to be an art teacher.  Then she took a photo workshop… the rest is history.

Working with large teams of technicians and set designers, Leibovitz directs with authority.  She has a reputation for being difficult. In the film she’s identified as “
Barbra Streisand with a camera.”

Note: Leibovitz was recently in the news after she borrowed $15.5 million, due to financial problems. She put up as collateral several houses and the rights to all of her photographs.  

Review by Lois Siegel


Anytown, USA, Directed by
Kristian Fraga, 93 minutes, 2005, USA

The strange works of small-town politics is revealed in this bizarre documentary focusing on an upcoming mayoral election. The incumbent Republican mayor is legally blind, his Democratic opposition looks like he belongs on "The Sopranos," and the independent candidate has limited sight due to a brain tumor that was removed.
Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival: Emerging Filmmaker Award.
Trenton Film Festival: Best Director, Documentary Film

Long Island Film Festival: Best Documentary
Staten Island Film Festival: Best Documentary


Art & Copy, Directed by Doug Pray, 89 minutes, 2009, U.S.A.

Advertising people are some of the most creative people around.  Where do they get their ideas? Everywhere.  "Being a creative person, you don't know where your thoughts come from, and you won't know where they will come from tomorrow."

iPod Billboard, the work of Lee Clow and TBWA
Photo by Michael Nadeau

"Art and Copy is an inspiring film. It makes you want to take risks, to try new things.
Sometimes the simplest images work best.  Look at the Volkswagen ads: a red car and sometimes only a few words:  "Everyone's getting the bug."  After the war, German cars were hard to sell. Good advertising was essential.

Esquire Magazine covers tried to indicate something exciting was going on:  They put a Black Santa Claus up front. Advertising was changing the world and culture. Advertising can be revolutionary and subversive.


Cliff Freeman of Cliff Freeman and Partners, collector of vintage radios
and the man who created Where's the beef? for Wendy's
 in his New York City office
Photo by Chris Glancy

"Art & Copy" focuses on interviews with  the top ad men and their groundbreaking ads.  There's George Lois of Heublein, Inc. To advertise Maypo, a maple flavored hot mush breakfast cereal, he came up with the idea of cameo shots of star athletes: Baseball player Mickey Mantle holds a bat and says, "I want my Maypo."  Footballer Johnny Unitas says, "I want my Maypo."  That's it. Very simple.  It worked.  Sales shot up. Millions of kids across America began yelling, "I want my Maypo!"


Cinematographer Peter Nelson, Adman George Lois
and director Doug Pray at Lois' childhood home in the Bronx, NY
Photo by Michael Nadeau

The Real Mad Men: Art & Copy

Trailer

Review by Lois Siegel


Art and Craft,
Directed by Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman, Mark Becker
89 minutes, 2014, U.S.A.

Art and Craft is a film about obsessions.  Whether it's Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or just a love of collecting miniature ceramic cows, many of us have had similar experiences, but perhaps not to the extent of Mark Landis, an extremely talented forger of famous works of art.

What distinguishes him from ordinary criminals is that he does not financially benefit from his art creations.  He gives them away - to museums all over the country:  Chicago, Memphis, Washington, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Cincinnati, Jacksonville - 46 museums in 20 States, offering over 100 pieces. He likes seeing his work on display.

When he calls a museum to make an appointment, he makes up stories about an Emily, a sister who has an extensive art collection, saying that she is visiting his mother who has a home in Paris. He's good at telling stories.

 
Landis says, "Everyone was so nice that I was soon to get into the habit of donating pictures to museums. Being treated so nicely by people was something I was unfamiliar with and I liked it very much."

He calls himself a philanthropist, and museum aficionados welcome him with open arms. Landis obviously gets a buzz out of duping people, and he has hoodwinked some of the best -known institutions in the United States.


 

He gets away with this because he's actually a very talented artist. His limitation is just that he doesn't like creating his own original art; he likes copying artists. The only real art he has created is an excellent portrait of his mother, whose death has taken its toll on him. He's 59-years-old now, a willowy man who doesn't seem to have any friends. His obsession keeps him alive and gets him out in the world.

Landis, an only child, was often left alone in hotels by his parents who travelled extensively and liked to go out. He loved watching TV.  His favorite musical was "How to Succeed in Business Without Even Trying." He insists, "Ethical behaviour never pays off." At times he dresses as a priest.  He explains that he learned how to be a holy man from the BBC TV series "Father Brown." He certainly could have succeeded as an actor.

Landis introduces us to his methods of creating works of art, starting with shopping at Wal-Mart for supplies and inexpensive picture frames.  He dirties up the frames by adding coffee stains to the back so that they will look old. 

His everyday life exists in a small apartment filled with works of art with papers scattered on the floor everywhere. When he plans on going out, he hides his wine in a vintage Phillip's Milk of Magnesia antacid bottle and takes it with him.

Landis' downfall occurs when an overly-avid museum employee becomes obsessed with tracking him down.  But don't be fooled by this discovery.  Landis is too smart to let this get him down.

Art and Craft is a confounding documentary of one of the most unusual characters you will ever meet.  It's a must see. Even  fake reality TV couldn't come up with something this bizarre.

Review by Lois Siegel

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Auto-Morphosis, Directed by Harrod Blank, 77 minutes, 2009, USA


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Baseball Girls
Directed by Lois Siegel
80 min.
1995


©Photo  by Lois Siegel

Michele Granger

From 7-year-olds playing baseball, learning the rules of the game, to 60-year-olds  playing slo-pitch softball, BASEBALL GIRLS explores the private and professional lives of women obsessed with the sport they love.  Using animation, archival stills and live-action footage, this zany and affectionate feature documentary details the history of women's participation in the largely male-dominated world of baseball and softball.

View Film
Online


Battu's Bioscope, directed by  Andrej Fidyk,
58 minutes, 1998, Poland

Battu's Bioscope focuses on a roaming cinema truck carrying a film projector throughout rural India.  Battu, an ageing cinema fan, and his assistant, Mama, take popular Bombay films 'to the masses.' Many have never seen movies before. The film satirizes Indian cinema.

The Grand Prix in Strasbourg; San Francisco International Film Festival, The 1998 Golden Spire;  and Banff 1999 Special Jury Prize.



Being Mick: You Would If You Could
Directed by Kevin Macdonald, 60 minutes, 2001, UK

I’ll bet you’ve wondered what Mick Jagger does everyday when he’s not performing with the Rolling Stones.

“Being Mick” is a behind-the-scenes revelation trailing the life of Mick Jagger over a short period of time.  It’s a great documentary/home movie: free-spirited and delightful. There’s some old, grainy black and white footage, mixed with lively colour scenes, and Jagger shot some of the images himself.

Jagger has seven children with four women. It’s difficult to keep track of all of them. He lives next door to his ex Jerry Hall: his and her houses.  They can enter from either door. One of his teenage daughters instructs Jagger, “Don’t bring anyone home younger than me.”   We presume he has done this before.

Jagger talks about loving to do other things besides music.  We see him having fun playing with his kids and trying to watch a cricket match while fans keep bothering him for autographs.  When Jagger attends an event, there are mobs of fans waiting for him.  He stops to sign guitars or papers shoved in his face. He greets a long line of fans with “Hi There.”  When a reporter asks him what he’s wearing, he has no idea. He looks at the label inside his jacket. He doesn’t like being engaged in inane conversations.

In 1995, Jagger founded Jagged Films with Victoria Pearman to create his own projects, including “Being Mick.” We see him on set with his first feature, directed by Michael Apted, about WWII and a code breaking centre.   At the premiere. Kate Winslet, one of the stars, doesn’t show.  We’re told, “She’s not afraid of terrorism, she’s terrified of the British Press.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                
Jagger has style. Everything he sings sounds great, and he wears multi-colored socks.


Jagger was born in 1943. He still has tremendous energy and a very busy life.  He exercises to keep in shape. People think he has the same energy all the time – like when we see him on stage.  Reality doesn’t have the same attitude.  He has to work to keep in shape. We meet his father, an ex-physical education teacher. Jagger considered being a school teacher. That’s what his parents and grandparents did.

We see him examining books in a rare book store.  He buys some presents for his kids and ex-wife Jerry Hall: $5500. Life is different if you are a multi-millionaire.

Music is still very much a part of his life. It’s inspiring to see him work seriously on his music in recording studios or constantly writing songs. His writing is stream of consciousness. He explains that everything slows down if you write straight prose. 

And we see him with an array of musicians: Bono, Elton John, Pete Townshend, Lenny Kravitz and Wyclef Jean.  One recording session is at singer-songwriter Lenny Kravitz’s house in Miami.  About the décor, Jagger says,
“Kravitz’s house is like walking into a 1960s Sci-Fi film.” Jagger adds, “There’s two things to do in Florida: Go to Disney and look for alligators.”


Lenny Kravitz, Mick Jagger

 
Activity is constant.  It looks like Jagger is having fun.  His life is full.

Review by Lois Siegel



Bill Cunningham New York,
Directed by Richard Press, 84 minutes, 2010, USA, France

Bill Cunningham is a fashion guru. But you wouldn’t know it if you saw him on the crowded streets of New York City riding his bicycle, dodging traffic.

And you would never imagine that he’s a fashion photographer, capturing images of high society men and women as they rush past him on the street.  And you would be surprised to learn that he’s a veteran New York Times columnist, besides a photographer.  Bill Cunningham is 82-years-young. And he never slows down.

He focuses on trends and how people dress.  And he still shoots film in a Nikon 35mm camera. None of that digital stuff for him.  His photo pages are filled with
fashionestasEach picture layout has a theme.  One might be all legs and shoes, another baggy pants, or men in skirts. It took awhile for the Times to allow images like guys in drag on their pages.

“Shooting in a blizzard is the best time for photographing – people forget about you,” Bill says.” They’re too concerned with the blizzard. If you ask him what he does, he says, “I photograph life.”

Bill Cunningham is articulate, and he knows the history of fashion. He sometimes catches fashion designers ‘stealing’ ideas from decades earlier. They are mortified when Bill juxtaposes their ‘new’ design with one he posts from the past.

You can always spot Bill on the street.  He wears a cheap, blue jacket mended with duct tape.

People seem to love posing for him.  “We all get dressed for Bill,” Anna Wintour, editor of American Vogue says. He has documented her since she was 19.

Besides prowling the streets for interesting images, he also covers evening events - photographing galas. Invitations are piled high as he chooses among them what he will cover; he likes photographing his favorite charities best.  Bill could be wined and dined. People are always offering him food and drink.  He refuses. “I eat with my eyes,” he insists. He doesn’t want luxuries to influence his work. He keeps a distance to be more objective. 

And he would never be a paparazzi. He prefers to be invisible. “I’m not interested in celebrities with free dresses,” he explains. “I’m not interested in the spectacle.” Bill loves the clothes.  “He who seeks beauty, will find it,” he says.

People don’t know much about Bill Cunningham’s personal life.  We learn that he lives in Carnegie Hall… one of the few artists left living as residents in the building, and he’s about to be evicted because the management has  more important corporate concerns.  Bill lives in a tiny room jam-packed with file cabinets…. filled with negatives of every picture he’s taken. There’s a bathroom down the hall, and he has never owned a TV.  He eats in simple, down-to-earth places, like cafes.

When Bill was young, he designed hats. He goes to church every Sunday. When asked what he did in church as a kid, he said, “I looked at the hats the women were wearing.” His family was working class Catholic. They didn’t think fashion was a manly thing to do.

“I’m just this crazy fanatic,” Bill laughs.

Bully
Directed by Lee Hirsch
100 Minutes, 2011, U.S.A.



Bullying seems to be rampant in our schools. And it doesn't seem that much is being done about it. Administrators often turn a blind eye because it's not something easy to deal with or prevent. Parents feel helpless. The result is devastating. Kids commit suicide.

"Bully" introduces five victims. We meet the parents who have lost kids, we see the kids being bullied, we feel their pain.

Mental abuse prevails. One kid is called Fish Face, another is called a faggot.


Alex

We get the impression that in small towns in the country, in bible belts, any kid who is different is doomed.

Social media is now used as a weapon. It's as deadly as a gun. The Internet, Facebook, Cell Phones provide easy access to someone who spreads hate. The schools don't seem to care? They shirk responsibility. What can we do about it?

"Bully" is an emotional film.

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"Chairman George," Directed by Daniel Cross and Mila Aung-Thwin, 68 minutes, 2005, Canada

Introducing George Sapounidis, Greek/Canadian folk singer, who at 40 still lives with his parents. He has issues, but he also has a wonderful "joie de vivre."  And he doesn't give up easily when he wants to do something. In real life, he works as a statistician. He travels to Beijing to play bouzouki and guitar. And the girls flock around him as he bills himself: “the only Greek in the world who can sing in Chinese." The young ladies all find him charming.


His dream is to sing at the closing ceremonies at the Athens Olympics as
the Olympic torch is passed from Athens to Beijing, but his mother wants him to get married to a good Greek girl and make babies.


Chinese Restaurants, Directed by Cheuk Kwan, 15-part documentary series for television, 2005, Canada
5-DVD Set

Kwan explores Chinese Restaurants around the world, telling personal stories
 about people and their food. The films are a delight.


©Photo by Lois Siegel


©Photo by Lois Siegel
Cheuk Kwan

Directed by Aaron Schock, 75 minutes, 2010, USA

  When I was a kid, I read a book about Emmett Kelly, the sad-faced circus clown, a famous attraction with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. Like many other kids, I wondered what it would be like
to run away with the circus.

"Circo" is a not a documentary film about a fancy circus.
It's about a circus that travels through the rural towns of
Mexico, struggling to survive in a land of poverty.



What is unique about this circus is that it is a family circus,
run by the grandparents, parents and children for generations.
As the loud speaker blares an invitation throughout the countryside and small villages, the film reveals small towns with dusty fields
or mud after a rain,
where the  circus people will pitch their tent.

Children chase the trucks, excited about the prospect of stealing a glimpse of another life. "Without children, there is no circus."

Tino Ponce is the ring master. He directs the family business that has existed for 100 years. It's a family tradition.   His children are the main 'workers' in the circus. They set up the tents and perform
from city to city. They never stay in a town more than two days.

We discover the many problems the family faces. Other kids go to school and play. Circus kids train and perform. There is always work to be done.
They live in trailers. That's where they eat and sleep.
They don't go to school.

The acts are impressive: The Spectacular Globe of Death... with a motorcycle racing inside around the sides of a gigantic globe. There are death defying
challenges taming a ferocious lion or tiger. Cascaras is the oldest son. He will be the next lion tamer. He is already practicing in the rink.



One of Tino's young daughters
 is a contortionist. A young son is a trapeze flier. Tino, himself, started performing at age 6.  In turn, he asks his kids
to practice their acts every day.

It's a tough life.

Trailer

Review by Lois Siegel


Close Harmony, directed by Nigel Nobel,  30 minutes, 1981, USA

This delightful, emotional film brings together a chorus of two generations, 4th and 5th graders at Brooklyn Friends School and seniors at a Brooklyn Jewish center.  They practice separately in preparation for a joint concert.  The two groups only correspond as pen pals until a final rehearsal before the concert.   Throughout the film, each group reflects on the other.  The children are delighted to receive letters from their older 'friends,'  the seniors delight in the younger generations tales of what has happened to them during the past few days.

And the concert is jam-packed with families... children and parents who might not normally go to hear a concert.

Filmmakers Library

Emmy Award, 1981
Academy Award, Best Documentary, Short Subjects, Nigel Noble, 1982.


Cool and Crazy, directed by Knut Erik Jensen, 105 minutes, 2001, Norway.
This documentary focuses on a men's choir, most of whom are in their 70s.  We hear them sing, we investigate their lives, and we watch as they travel to Russia to perform for the locals.


Chicago International Film Festival, Gold Hugo, Best Documentary.
Norwegian International Film Festival, Best Documentary, Best Norwegian Feature Film.


Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel
Directed by Alex Stapleton, 95 minutes, 2011, USA

If you were a film buff in the 50s and 60s, you'd know who Roger Corman is:  The King of Schlock films, camp motion pictures, independent, non-Hollywood films.

The Attack of the Crab Monsters
A Bucket of Blood
Monster from the Ocean Floor



In the 70s, Corman moved to exploitation films. They often had no plots, but they did have lots of action and femme fatales.
Rock N' Roll High School - Where the Students Rule
Death Race 2000

In "Little Shop of Horrors," a very young Jack Nicholson plays a character who loves pain. In one scene, we see him at the dentist.  He doesn't want Novocain when having teeth pulled. He shouts in glee as his teeth are removed.  Corman borrowed the dental equipment in the scene from his own dentist. Very low budget schlock.

He made more than 300 films over 60 years.

Lots of Hollywood stars worked for "The University of Corman."  As actors 'graduated,'  they moved on to Hollywood, including Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson, Francis Ford Coppola, James Cameron, William Shatner, Vincent Price, Bruce Dern, and Dennis Hopper.

They would smash motorcycles and when the bikes stopped running, they would blow them up. There was lots of blood, and sexy women. Films would be shot in a week. When that was too long, they'd shoot a feature in 2 days - Guerilla filmmaking at its best.

Corman never went to film school. He studied Industrial Engineering at Stanford University. He started in the mail room at 20th Century Fox and then worked as a script reader. Corman spent two years in the navy, and under the G. I. bill, studied English Literature at Oxford University.  Then he decided to make his own films. Corman learned by doing....

Every now and then he would make a good film by accident.The Intruder was one of them - a controversial film dealing with racial relations and shot in southern USA during the early 60's, starring William Shatner.

The Wild Angels was a big hit.  Corman engaged real Hell's Angels gang members.

When Jaws and Star Wars blockbusters showed up, Corman couldn't compete. He re-invented himself and opened a distribution company, showing films in Drive-Ins - good foreign films by Bergman, Truffaut and Fellini.

Corman is the ultimate independent filmmaker. He didn't rely on Hollywood.  But they knew who he was. Many of their best started with him.  In 2010, Hollywood recognized Corman with a Lifetime Achievement Honorary Oscar.


Roger Corman


"To succeed in the world, you have to take changes." Corman did just that... and he's still at it. "Corman's World" is definitely a hoot, whether you know who he is or not.

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The Corporation  by Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott and Joel Bakan (and about 200 other dedicated and talented friends and professionals), 145 minutes, 2003, Canada.

The pathological nature of the corporation is explored in this film which zooms in on the greed of corporations to make a profit. Although the law regards the corporation as a 'person,' there is nothing ethical about the organization. There seems to be no concern for people or the environment.
Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott and Joel Bakan

Sundance Film Festival:
Documentary Audience Award World Cinema; Vancouver International Film Festival: Most Popular Canadian Film.


Holiday Greeting from Dubai, 2004

Paul Taylor Dancemaker, Directed by Matthew Diamond, 98 minutes, 1998, USA

Dancemaker starts from behind-the-scenes during a performance.  This is a brilliant idea because it makes the viewer understand the energy required to be a dancer. Newsweek called Paul Taylor the world’s greatest living choreographer.


Directed by Nick Brandestini
86 minutes, 2011, Switzerland

Most of us live in cities filled with shopping centers, gas stations,
restaurants, movie theatres.

Imagine living in a place where there were no services.
Welcome to Darwin.
Population 35



Rod Serling would have liked this place.
It's sort of like the "Twilight Zone."

Darwin, California is near Death Valley.
It's desolate, isolated.
Even the cops stay away.

Darwin was named after a physician and prospector - 1874.
Silver was discovered in the area.
In 1877, the population was 3,500.
 It was known as being vibrant, drunken, and dangerous.
Hookers, booze, gun fights.

There are lots of retired folk in Darwin; some with shady pasts.
They've been jailbirds, miners, married 4 or 5 times.
There's a son who used to be a daughter.
Everyone has a personal reason for living there.

But if you are patient, you will also discover that some do have
talents. One man is an outstanding sculptor.



They live in trailers and run-down homes.
It feels like a different century.
But they are resourceful in their own ways:
Everyone donated books for a library situated in one of the trailers.

Oh, there is a US post office. It's a gathering place every day,
except Sunday, at 11:30 a.m. when the mail arrives.
"This is rush hour central," the postmaster says.
"I know more about people than I want to know."
It's the only 'job' in town.
There's no such thing as a mayor,
 but they do have town meetings, of sorts.

Darwin is a film about people's lives.
The Jones tell us their first date was at McDonalds.

It's a curious film.


Trailer


Review by Lois Siegel


Mike Disfarmer

Photos

Disfarmer: A Portrait of America

Disfarmer: A Portrait of America
Trailer 2:30 minutes
by Dennis Mohr

In the small mountain town of Heber Springs, the Arkansas portrait photographer known as Mike Disfarmer captured the lives and emotions of the people of rural America during the two World Wars and the Great Depression. This documentary discovers an American master, his influence on the modern Manhattan art world, and the legacy he left behind in his hometown of Heber Springs.

“Disfarmer” is a documentary exploring the two insular communities of Heber Springs, Arkansas and the Modern Manhattan art world, and the long-dead misanthrope who has unwittingly brought the two together.

Richard Avedon referred to Disfarmer’s photography as “indispensable”; his own series of rural portraits, In the American West, published a decade later, reveals a kinship with - and likely the influence of - Disfarmer's unblinking eye.
- The New York Times

The documentary film is in production.

Dennis Mohr, Producer
Gizmo Films Incorporated (o/a Public Pictures)
220 Kenilworth Ave. • Toronto, Ontario • Canada M4L 3S4
c: 416-573-0265 • e: dmohr67@yahoo.com


Driving the Dream, directed by Harrod Blank, 29 minutes, 1998, USA
Car-Art in America


Hamburger Harry (Harry Sperl)
with his Hamburger-Harley

El Bulli
Cooking in Progress
Directed by Gereon Wetzel, 108 minutes, 2011, Germany


Essentially, you have to be a dedicated foodie to really appreciate this film.  It's slow-moving, documentary cinema, without narration. You watch as chefs move around a kitchen, tasting everything they make. In a way, it's a fascinating, strange world
of machines and vacuumized food.

In the world of molecular gastronomy, only the very rich can afford to indulge. At El Bulli, a dinner can cost over $300.  But where else would you see a fluorescent fish "lollipop" that glows in the dark.


Ferran Adria

Ferran Adrià, executive chef and owner of the famed restaurant "El Bulli" near Barcelona, Spain, is featured tasting one invention after another. Gourmet magazine once referred to him as "the Salvador Dali of the kitchen," and Restaurant magazine once named El Bulli the best restaurant in the world.

The film focuses on the creative process of his staff who are dedicated to discovering new, elaborate food designs that are delicate, beautiful and most importantly, delicious.

Once a year, El Bulli is closed for six months, and the staff moves to Barcelona where they brainstorm ideas and test new dishes. Ferran is the taster. He decides if the recipe is working.
"Don't give me anything that tastes bad," he scowls.

These food designers come up with combinations of ingredients we would never imagine.  Being radical with the flavor is a goal. Textures are important.



One chef recognized the possibility of adding ice to food after some ice cubes dropped onto his plate of gravy and fish. Thus evolved an ice vinaigrette with tangerines and green olives.

It's a world of liquid nitrogen and small plates of designer
morsels.

At the end of the film, we view the menu through a series of exquisite photographs.
The food designs are breathtaking.

Gorgonzola Globe, Imitation Peanuts, Vanilla Chips,
Coconut Sponge, Bone Marrow Tartar with Oysters,
Vanishing Ravioli, Sweet Potato Gnocchi
Pineapple Phyllo


Pea Jelly Banana and Lime Ice Cream

Don't see this film if you are hungry.
And it's not exactly the type of film where you'd want
to be chopping down on popcorn.

Trailer

The English Surgeon, directed by Geoffrey Smith,  94 minutes, 2007, U.K.

Henry Marsh always loves using tools.  He has a woodworking shop in his home. Henry is also a doctor. He uses other tools on people's brains.  He's a skilled brain surgeon from the U.K., and he's also a humanitarian. Henry makes periodic visits to the Ukraine to mentor another doctor, Igor,
 and to offer secondhand medical equipment and supplies that he has collected back home.
 Marsh and his protégé have become good friends.

Igor practices medicine in a small town, west of Kiev.  We see a barren landscape.  The hospital includes a scary-looking, wooden elevator that takes ages to ascend a few floors.  It looks like it might not get there.


The hospital hallways are narrow and packed with people anxiously waiting to see the brain surgeons.  The patients are at different levels of distress.  Some have gigantic, visible tumors rarely seen in other countries. Some ailments are less apparent... but even the individuals who seem perfectly fine, are often doomed to go blind and die. The problem the doctors have is knowing when to operate.  Henry compares it to Russian Roulette with two revolvers. There's treatment or no treatment, and the difficulty is deciding which to go for. Some operations are successful; others leave the patients paralyzed, facing certain death. The most difficult decisions are with the children, especially when they don't survive.

Patients have to be told the risks:  after surgery, their personality can change, they can lose their intellect or their ability to think.  "We are our brain," Henry says.

Why is Dr. Henry Marsh travelling all this way to help people in a remote area? 
"What are we if we don't try to help others - we're nothing. We're nothing at all," he insists.



Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, directed by
Alex Gibney , 109 minutes, 2005, USA


Former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay


©Photo by David Phillip/AP PHOTO
Former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling

This is a very informative and well-made documentary based on the best-selling book
 "The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron,"
  by Fortune reporters Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind. The film focuses on one of the
 biggest business scandals in American history - a frightening study of greed.


ER: The PropMasters, Directed by Bruce Bilson, 30 minutes, USA

This short film is a rarely seen view of behind-the-scenes TV. It consists of a clear and extremely interesting explanation of the people who provide the props for the television hit "ER."  We see the Property Masters and their team as they work with directors, cast and crew to make the Emergency Room look real.

One of the most amazing scenes is a stunt where a 3rd floor balcony filled with party-goers collapses and the resulting human devastation.



We are introduced to the different types of blood required for different situations, we see the automated people models.   It becomes obvious that these prop people are not merely going to the store to buy objects.  They create many of the materials they need, and they accumulate an intricate knowledge of medical procedures and what is required.  They have to instruct the actors how to use the props.  "ER: The PropMasters" is a fascinating production.


Être et avoir, directed by
Nicolas Philibert, 104 min., 2002, France.
You have never seen a one-room schoolhouse like this one, surrounded by farmland, with the most dedicated teacher who is patient and caring for his  13 pupils. He bonds with them and lends thoughtful advice as they move from elementary school to the unknown and often scary world of middle school.
Beautifully shot. Filmed in Saint-Etienne Sur Usson, France. A film to see.
Cesar Award: Best Editing, Nicholas Philibert; European Film Awards: Best Documentary; French Syndicate of Cinema Critics, Critics Award: Best Film; Prix Louis Delluc, Nicholas Philibert; Valladolid International Film Festival: Best Documentary,  
"For its placid view of rural education as a Utopia which is possible." Official Selection Cannes, 2002.


Every Day Except Christmas, Directed by Lindsay Anderson, Black and White, 37 minutes, 1957, U.K. 

The film explores London’s Covent Garden Market and the rituals of the daily routine from early morning to night. The workers are regarded with dignity for the work they do 364 days a year.  It's an unglamorized collection of moods and observations.
Venice Festival, Grand Prix, Shorts and Documentaries, 1957.


Festival Express,
Directed by Bob Smeaton, 90 minutes, 2003, U.K.

DVD
 

In the summer of 1970, a specially equipped chartered train traveled across Canada carrying some of the world's greatest rock bands: The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Band, .... They  lived and partied together for five days, stopping in major cities along the way to play live concerts. Their journey was immortalized on film but languished for three decades, unreleased because of two film producers with different visions of the final product, lawyers, a car chase, a bankruptcy, a food locker, a national film archive, plus lots and lots of money.

Festival Express Takes Off by James Forrester



Finding Vivian Maier, Directed by John Maloof, Charlie Siskel
84 minutes, 2013, U.S.

When you were a kid, you trusted your parents to look out for your safety. Sometimes your parents left you at home with a babysitter, a housekeeper or a nanny. Vivian Maier was a housekeeper and nanny for many children.  It was only in the last decade that the hidden life of Maier was discovered.  It turns out that she was a very strange lady. Maier secretly took photos on outings with the children in her care or when she travelled to other countries:  Bangkok, Egypt, Yemen, South America.

In 2007, John Maloof, bought a large box of negatives at an auction in the Chicago area. When he started printing the photos, he was more than impressed with the images. Maloof decided to find out who Maier was. Only then did the mystery of her other life begin to unravel.  She was a very private woman,
and she was also an outstanding photographer.

With a Rolleiflex in hand, Maier scoured the streets of Chicago, sometimes with the children she was minding, often in questionable neighbourhoods, taking an amazing series of photos.  The Rolleiflex is not like your digital camera that you look through at eye level.  It's a camera that you hold at your waist and look down into.  This allows you to shoot photos less conspicuously; it also makes people in the photos look more powerful.


 

In Maier's collection, Maloof discovered 700 rolls of undeveloped film and 100,000 negatives. He found an obituary under her name in the newspaper. She was a loner. No apparent family.  Then he started checking out where she had worked. He also found out she was a pack rat.

Maloof soon realized that the best thing to do was to organize an exhibition of Maier's photographs. The images she shot were fascinating.  She was definitely one of the best street photographers he had ever seen - in the same tradition as Diane Arbus or Helen Levitt. The images were very well composed.  They reflected humor and tragedy....very human scenes.

Maier never showed her photographs to anyone. The people she worked for didn't know she was taking photos. Maloof also came across audio tapes Maier had made, sometimes talking about politics - making her a kind of private journalist....and there were also movies. Phil Donahue, television personality, was in one of the photos.  She had taken care of his children.

The story of Vivian Maier is definitely captivating.  The film is filled with a most interesting collection of photos.  It's a "must-see."



Trailer


First Position, Directed by Bess Kargman, 90 minutes, 2011, USA

Some people don't like ballet.  But you don't have to like ballet to love this film. First of all, the cinematography is visually stunning.  Nick Higgins, Director of Photography, understands how to photograph ballet. The end credits list at least 20 other names who shot additional photography, but you wouldn't know it because the style was so consistent. Multiple cameras were obviously used to cover every aspect of the dance competitions.

The story of how seven young dancers from different parts of the world prepare for the Youth American Grand Prix is riveting.

"First Position" focuses on


Jules Jarvis Fogarty, 10
Aran Bell, 11
Gaya Bommer Yemini,11
Miko Fogarty, 12
Michaela DePrince, 14
Joan Sebastian Zamora, 16
Rebecca Houseknecht, 17


They work strenuous hours with teachers and mentors. Being under pressure to succeed at such a
burgeoning
age doesn't leave much time for anything else. Strict discipline is essential.
 


And what are the payoffs:  A job as a professional dancer or perhaps a scholarship to an outstanding dance school. Even if they don't win, a dancer is 'seen' - this can be very important to a potential career.

We grimace as Aran uses a foot stretcher.  We cringe when we see the havoc dancing every day can impose on sensitive feet. Yes, raw feet do bleed, skin sheds, and there are scabs.

But we also look in awe as we see brilliant dancers perform with precision and amazing control when moving their bodies. The best have a sense of timing that is beyond our comprehension.

The variety of these kids' backgrounds is very interesting. One is treated like a princess, while a black young lady from Sierra Leone is a war orphan. She has been adopted by a Jewish couple in the States who obvious love her very much.

The competition includes 5,000 dancers in the semi-finals from 15 cities.  After lots of tears, there are finals with 300 soloists.  The youngsters only get 5 minutes on stage to impress some of the top ballet directors from companies all over the world.  We are told that a small head and long legs are essential in classical ballet.


 

All this preparation doesn't come cheaply. A studio has to be rented and private lessons arranged.  A choreographer has to be hired and costumes created.

And the reality is that not every young kid really wants to be a dancer.  We soon realize that Jules (10) is not really a good dancer. But he is very funny.  His teacher also realizes this. He says, "His bow was the best part of his performance." Jules doesn't tell his friends at school that he studies ballet because he was teased in the past when the kids found out.

When we see these young people on stage, their movements look terrific. The setting is isolated, and we are focused on them. As the camera moves backstage, the harsher reality of an uncertain future becomes apparent. For these young “Olympians,” life at the top is not always what it appears to be.

Surprisingly, "First Position" is Bess Kargman' first movie.  It premiered at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival where it took People’s Choice runner-up for Best Documentary
She is certainly someone to watch.

Amazon DVD: October 30, 2012

Trailer


Five Days in September: The Rebirth of an Orchestra
Directed by Barbara Willis Sweete, 72 minutes, 2005 (TV), Canada
Produced by Rhombus Media

Rhombus Media is known for their films on the arts, especially music ("The Red Violin," "Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould," "Making Overtures"). "Five Days" follows the Toronto Symphony Orchestra during the first days of its new season (2004) with their new conductor Maestro Peter Oundjian.

Oundjian was first violinist with The Tokyo String Quartet until he
switched to conducting after he started having problems with a repetitive stress injury and had to stop performing.

What is interesting about the film is that musical footage is intercut with behind-the-scenes activities of the orchestra members and the administrators. We see a double-bass player expertly playing a lovely solo passage, then the screen is split in two, and we see this same musician, backstage, competing in some kind of finger hockey game with another member of the orchestra.

Oundjian's schedule is mind-boggling. He rushes around from television to radio interviews, to orchestra rehearsals.  His energy is impressive. And the intricacies of such a hugh, complex organization, such as The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, are reveling as to the amount of work it takes to make this group succeed.

Cellist Yo Yo Mah, Soprano Renée Fleming, and Pianist Emanuel Ax  are featured artists in the film.
They all reveal an authentic passion for music.


Yo-Yo Ma


42 UP, Directed by Michael Apted, 1998, 139 minutes, TV.
Every seven years Michael Apted revisits a selection of children he filmed years ago. 
The film lends an eerie feeling of putting people in a box, but at the same times it's fascinating.
Class systems become very apparent.

Gambling Boys
Directed by
Laura Turek, 45 minutes, Canada, 2010
CBC News Network "The Passionate Eye"

"Gambling Boys," a documentary produced by EyeSteelFilm, delves in to the world of teen gambling, a world that offers excitement, the potent allure of making big money, and as many are discovering,
the potential for serious addiction problems. 

With the barrage of marketing campaigns, television coverage of poker tournaments, and easy access to online gaming, it is no surprise that teens are increasingly affected. Experts are finding that the rate of problem gamblers among young people is two to four times higher than for adults. 



Photo by Lois Siegel

Trailer


Garbage Warrior, directed by Oliver Hodge, 86 minutes, 2007, U.K.

Architect Michael Reynolds is someone you should know.
He cares about people, and his focus is sustainable housing. 
He created a community in New Mexico:
houses made out of beer cans and other recyclable materials.

Reynolds broke lots of building codes and lost his architecture license.
"I was breaking rules and laws left and right," he admits.


Earthship

It took him seven years to get his permits back.
He did this by designing a legal sub-division, adding a road, sewage and water.

He knows that you only learn by trying things, by failing.
"I had lost the freedom to fail."

Reynolds tests methods of living for the future.

When the tsunami hit the Andamar Islands,  Reynolds and a crew of seven
responded to an urgent call from the Bay of Bengal, India.
There was an 8.9 earthquake, followed by a 30' wave.
In one hour, everything was destroyed. It was like a bomb had hit.
Concrete was shattered, homes lost. Of 35,000 people, only 7,000 were left. 
The power of nature was devastating.

Reynolds and his crew worked on low-tech shelters using local materials,
old tires and empty water bottles. Their efforts were a success.



The film is a must-see.


Garlic is as Good as 10 Mothers, directed by Les Blank, 51 minutes, 1980, U.S.A.

This documentary film is filled with garlic and people who love to cook with and eat garlic.
There are Spanish dancers and vampires and garlic festivals. Best watched while eating food laced with garlic.

The Gatekeepers
Directed by Dror Moreh, 97 Minutes, 2012, | | |

You've probably heard of the Israeli secret service, but I doubt if you know many details as to how this organization works.  The Shin Bet Intelligence Agency's operatives have never been interviewed about their work before. "The Gatekeepers" reveals the story from the "Six-Days-War" (1967) until now as witnessed by six former heads of the institution. You probably won't recognize their names, and the film footage jumps back and forth, so even when viewing the film, you are not always sure who is who, but the history becomes clearer because of behind-the-scenes details as to what really happened.

Essentially, the leaders objectives were to keep Israeli's safe, and this was definitely not an easy task. Peace never lasts long in the Middle East.  The Palestinian/Israeli situation is rife with conflict. Through black and white archival footage, we directly witness a variety of confrontations, as the operatives explain what took place and the decisions they made.

Shin Bet's job was to hunt terrorists and to prevent attacks. Their goal: to reduce 20 attacks a week to 20 a year.


Avraham Shalom

Ethics and morality posed constant dilemmas.  There were always different shades of grey as to what should be done. Decisions often had to be made in seconds. The operations weren't always clean. Sometimes innocent bystanders were killed.  These leaders had tremendous power to take lives.

They did extensive research, and they also learned to speak Arabic. 
Their methods were systematic and well-organized. When they captured suspects, they knew how to make them give up information: sleep deprivation, forced painful positions, heads shaken. They knew how to convince someone to betray their country.
They zeroed in on the weaknesses of their targets: a mother, child or father.  Morality wasn't always part of the picture.

Israel is comprised of different factions. There are the extremist rabbis and illegal West Bank settlement activists. Witness: the 1995 assignation of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a young religious Zionist.

People always want revenge. Suicide bombers began to invade with bomb belts. Situations became frustrating.  They warn: you can win the victory but lose the war.

Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award: Best Documentary Film
Best Nonfiction Film 2012: National Society of Film Critics.
Nominated: Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, 2012

Trailer

Review by Lois Siegel

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould

 

Photo by Peter Bregg
Copyright: 2009 White Pine Pictures Inc.

Directed by Michèle Hozer & Peter Raymont

If you are interested in classical music, musicians, piano, or human nature, this documentary film is a must see. It’s excellent. There have been other films about eccentric pianist Glenn Gould, specifically “On the Record” and “Off the Record,” (National Film Board of Canada, 1959) and “Thirty-Two Short Films about Glenn Gould” (1993) - a series of vignettes about his life.  “Genius Within” is the most comprehensive film study to date. It follows Gould’s development as pianist from his early years until the day of his death in 1982 at the age of 50. 

Gould was only 22 when he made his American debut at Town Hall, New York City (1955). The following day, he was offered an exclusive recording contract with Columbia Records. His recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations received immediate critical acclaim. The rest is history.

And what an interesting character Gould was.  Draped in a long coat, scarf, and gloves in the middle of summer, he had his own way of dealing with the world.  He refused to shake hands with anyone, fearing injury.  As well, Gould was a nocturnal being, often rehearsing with others late at night.  He used a special rug and chair for recordings and performances. The chair looked like it had fallen off the back of a truck, and it had a tendency to squeak while he was playing.  Trying to eliminate these sounds from recordings, as well as Gould’s habit of singing while he was playing, drove Columbia recording technicans nuts.


Photo Courtesy of Sony
Glenn Gould


Eventually Gould refused to play concerts, preferring to edit his recordings meticulously instead. He was obsessed with having absolute control over every aspect of his work.

The film’s structure is masterful. The extensive research undertaken for over two years to create this production is impressive. Information about Gould is smoothly interwoven with stock footage from previous films about him, interviews with people with whom he worked, music critics, and former lovers - all providing a new insight into the private world of Glenn Gould.

The interesting aspect of the film are the personal interviews with people who knew him but had never spoken publically about their relationship with him.  Cornelia Foss, the wife of German born, American composer/conductor Lucas Foss, left her husband and took their two young children to live in Toronto.  The news about her four and a half year affair with Gould only broke two years ago.

Gould seemed to be happiest when he was playing the piano. Other aspects of his life were not so comforting. His hypochondriac and paranoid tendencies became more acute later in life - his dependence on pills more intense.  The positive and the dark side of genius is explored in the “Genius Within.”


Girl Model, Directed by David Redmon and Ashley Sabin, 77 minutes, U.S.A., Russia, Japan,
France,
2011

The attraction of being a 'star' is fueled by the media. No one escapes the enticement of being in the spotlight - Warhol's 15 minutes of fame. "Girl Model" isn't American Idol. There are no cheering crowds at auditions. There is tension and uncertainty in this 'cattle call.'

We've all seen fashion models on television. The beautiful clothes, the flashing cameras, the promise of money and fame.

The documentary "Girl Model" destroys the fairytale.  In this film, the imagined dream doesn't come true.

We are introduced to Nadya. She is Russian and lives on a farm in Siberia. We meet her during a scouting session as she auditions for Ashley, who is looking for models to bring to the Japanese market.  The Japanese like their models young, thin and not too tall.  Nadya is 13 and fits the profile.


Nadya (Before)

Ashley, herself, is a former model. She got out of the business after 15 years because she hated it.  Now she is subjecting others to an occupation she detested. Ashley selects inexperienced, innocent, young girls and promises them riches. "Every model does well," she insists.

These girls can make more money in Tokyo then they can on the rural farms where they have been living, but only if the 'meat market' chooses them once they arrive.  There are always more auditions to pass, and promises don't always come true.  Homesickness is another factor.

Exploitation is rampant, and the line between modeling and prostitution becomes blurred. The reality of the real world can be very harsh.


Nadya 17 (After)

Trailer

Groupies, directed by Ron Dorfman and Peter Nevard,  1970, 84 minutes, USA. 

 Both men and women chase the rock stars in this film. Features Plaster Casters and Ten Years After, Terry Reid, Spooky Tooth, and Joe Cocker.
 
Haunts of the Black Masseur:  The Swimmer as Hero , directed by Jeff McKay, 53 minutes, 2004, Canada

This is a fascinating documentary about water and the swimmers that are obsessed with entering water in all its forms. The film was inspired by Charles Sprawson's book of the same name (Pantheon, 1993).

  These swimmers go where other swimmers have never dared to go, they swim across vast expanses of seemingly thick, black masses of darkness. They conquer their fears. The culture of swimming is the focus of the film, and we wonder why these swimmers do what they do.


 Lynne Cox

Lois:  What makes these swimmers challenge themselves in the water like this?
Jeff McKay: It's very weird – as a prairie boy I am ‘auto-freaked’ by the sea.  I just immediately think of myself as the lunch buffet special as soon as I dive into water that is any distance off shore.  The sea is so alive!   Dolphins, fish, jellyfish, all kinds of stuff – plants, animals, fish, decay, blood, sperm, eggs. It’s like a global hot and sour soup that has everything in it and does everything -  inches apart; it creates life and brings death.  So it is exciting, I think, because of that vulnerability.  And because of that,  when you swim naked in this vulnerable way it is so arousing because you are so aware of everything that you feel – as the water glides over you. So I think this has a lot to do with it.


  Charles Sprawson

In fact there is a clip from the show at the beginning when Charles Sprawson says something like this.  I found that rivers freaked a lot of people out, but I like swimming in rivers, except city rivers because they are usually so skanky.  But that didn’t stop Charles from swimming in the Tiber. I really, really tried to stop him from swimming in it. But the more I told him he shouldn’t the more convinced he was that he should. While we were shooting him after he got into the Tiber, several mambo-sized, well-stretched condoms floated just past his head. We all screamed out ...'watch out Charles,' but I don’t think he even saw them.  Two years before when we were in Rome shooting the sewage film, Crapshoot: The Gamble with Our Wastes,  I got to know exactly how completely polluted the Tiber is and how it is really an open sewer - pretty to look at from a distance but that is about it. Charles seems to get a thrill out of these physical dangers in the water, whether it’s a shark or a French tickler.


Charles Sprawson

Lois:

I was amazed by the story about David Yudovin who suffered a cardiac arrest while swimming - and how angry he was because he had not completed his swim.  

Jeff:

He is so into these swims. He will do anything. I really get the sense that for him, to die swimming would be a great way to go because he loves it so much. This would be perfect for him. His entire life revolves around the sea.


Jeff McKay on the set of
Crapshoot: The Gamble with Our Wastes

Herb & Dorothy
Directed by Megumi Sasaki, 87 minutes, 1980, USA


It doesn’t matter if you don’t like Minimalist or Conceptual Art, if you don’t like abstract art, if you don’t like blobs on a canvas.  This film is not only about the art. It’s about two New Yorkers… and these New Yorkers are special.  They aren’t rich, they don’t have a big house, but they love collecting art.

Herb is a postal worker. Dorothy is a librarian.  They are the Vogels, and they live in a thriving city where you can spend every night going to gallery openings, to theatre, or to literary events. 

They met in 1960.  There were no singles bars then.  There were dances. After they married, they went to Washington, D.C. to the National Gallery for their honeymoon. They loved art and took courses. The Vogels wanted to be artists during their early years. Then they decided others were better at it. They turned to collecting.

They stuffed their tiny, one-bedroom Manhattan apartment with art… the art was everywhere… on the ceiling, covering every inch of every wall, in every corner of every room, piled high. They collected work by artists they liked and followed their careers.  Over the years, they collected almost 5,000 pieces of contemporary art.

Most of the people whose work they purchased eventually became famous:
Andy Warhol, Sol LeWitt, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Robert Rauschenberg, Willem
de Kooning, Claes Oldenburg; Roy Lichtenstein, Donald Judd; Robert Motherwell; George Segal, Jasper Johns, and Nam June Paik.

And the Vogels became famous took, as art collectors.  Everything comes around.


Hold the Ketchup, directed by Albert Kish, 20 minutes, 1977, Canada


©Photo by Lois Siegel

The documentary focuses on new Canadians and what they eat.



Funny, mouth-watering and visually delectable
 it takes us into the specialty food shops
 where the ingredients are bought, and into the homes


 where the food is prepared and served in the traditional way.

     

They are French, Italian, Hungarian, Japanese, Portuguese, Romanian….

“Immigrants can sleep like a Canadian, dress like a Canadian, do things like a Canadian… but we can never
eat like a Canadian.”

Available Online: The National Film Board of Canada
https://www.nfb.ca/film/hold_the_ketchup/


Home Movie, directed by Chris Smith, 66, minutes, 2001, USA    

The film focuses on five eccentric people and the places they call home... places regular people would never call home: a houseboat surrounded by alligators in Louisiana, a treehouse in Hawaii,  an inventor who drove his wife from their home because of all his automated devices, a man and wife who live underground in an abandoned missile silo, and another couple who filled their house with cats....  You won't believe it until you see it.

The Human Scale


Directed by Andreas Dalsgaard
Documentary
77 minutes, 2012, Denmark, Bangladesh, China, New Zealand, U.S.


Planning cities is an important undertaking. Some governments focus on making money as opposed to concentrating on the human side of life. If good design is ignored, the consequences can be destructive.  Urban towers isolate people. Architects have learned that
human social interaction creates happiness. Megacities cause serious problems. Our populations are growing. People are fleeing the countryside
and moving into the urban landscape. Gigacities are predicted for the future.

In the past, people lived in tribes, clans, and big family groups. Now our households are smaller - often 2 to 3 people.  "The Human Scale" considers the consequences of poor city planning. "We shape our cities - they shape us."

Our lives have changed.  We commute to city centres from the suburbs. We travel on crowded busses. Highrises are springing up everywhere. Small neighborhoods, where everyone knows their neighbors, are disappearing.  Shops were nearby; you didn't have to travel long distances to buy food.  China is the fastest growing economy in the world. Their physical landscape is constantly changing. Now there are  shopping malls, cars, and traffic jams. Previously, people rode bikes to commute. Now the distances from home to work are too far, so more people drive cars.  Today, cities are designed around a car culture. "The Human Scale" showcases improvements created in various cities around the world to make life better for their inhabitants. For instance, Copenhagen has 350 km of bike lanes.

The overall question "The Human Scale" poses is "Are we creating chaos?" Dhaka, Bangladesh is a perfect example. This megacity's population is more than 15 million. It's the fastest growing city with one-half million people moving from the countryside to the city every year. The streets are not planned. Parking is a nightmare.  Cars are everywhere. The traffic looks like someone's bad dream. Besides trucks and other vehicles, there are 400,000 cycle-rickshaws on its streets every day. It's also in an earthquake zone.

In 2010, Christchurch, New Zealand experienced a 7.1 earthquake, and another, 6.3, in 2011.
Most of the casualties were in high-rise buildings; they have to tear down 1500 buildings before rebuilding. When asked, people said they would prefer low-rise structures, and they wanted a lively public centre, but the government had investment concerns.

The Danish architect and professor Jan Gehl has studied human behavior in cities over 40 years. "The Human Scale" warns of disaster if cities don't face their problems now. We've seen this with the growing increase in suicides in China. It is said that every two minutes a Chinese person takes his own life, Today, 50% of the world's population lives in urban areas. By 2050, this will increase to 80%. The decisions we make now
will affect everyone in the future.

Review by Lois Siegel

Trailer


If Brains Were Dynamite You Wouldn't Have Enough To Blow Your Nose, Thomas Burstyn, John Laing, Julie Wildman, Peter Bors, 28 minutes, 1976



                   ©Photo by Lois Siegel

Mark Prent is a Canadian artist whose exhibitions provoke outrage and have resulted in violent reactions and trials for obscenity.
I've Never Had Sex, Directed by Robert Kennedy, 3 minutes, 2007

Humorous documentary with man-on-the-street interviews about people's sex lives.

 

 


 

 


 

 

                                                                                                          
Director Robert Kennedy

View Film


Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Directed by David Gelb, 81 Minutes, 2011, U.S.A.
Japanese with English Subtitles

There is something enticing about a chef who is obsessively dedicated to his work.
Jiro Ono has visions of sushi at night. These images are then transformed into a culinary art.

We see mouth-watering close-ups of delicately assembled pieces of sushi - one or two items on a plate. Simplicity.  We wish we were there tasting what we see. Jiro's Tokyo 'restaurant' is not a big operation in the sense of space.  There are only 10 seats. I've read that sometimes there is a three-month waiting list to book a reservation. Although it is small, Jiro received three stars from Michelin. This rating is rare. It's the highest honor you can receive.

Jiro's restaurant, "Sukiyabashi Jiro" is not in a fancy location. It's hidden in a basement subway station in an area that looks like lifeless business offices. The restaurant does not have a menu. They do not accept payment by credit cards, and the price of 20 pieces of sushi per person is $30,000,00 yen -  close to $300 - one of the most expensive restaurants in the world.


"You Must Fall in Love with Your Work."

Jiro is obsessed with what defines deliciousness. He is focused. There are no appetizers for dinner. There is only sushi. He works with his oldest son, Yoshikazu, who, in his late 50s,
is still waiting to inherit the business. There are also dedicated assistants.

Jiro is the oldest three-star chef in the Guinness Book of Records. He's now 86. The routine is the same every day. Jiro is the taster. The assistants prepare the sushi. He supervises.

Jiro is passionate about his work. To call him a perfectionist is an understatement:
we learn that the octopus is massaged for 30 minutes to give it a soft texture.

Jiro checks every detail. He's the maestro of a fine food orchestra.


Trailer


Review by Lois Siegel

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
Directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg, 84 minute, 2010, USA



A Year in the Life of a Legend.

No one is as funny or X-rated as comedy icon Joan Rivers.  If you are easily insulted,
this is not the film for you. Rivers is the Queen of Political Incorrectness.
The result:  wall-to-wall laughter. There's never a dull moment.

Rivers on Halloween
A kid complains when he's given an apple instead of candy.
Rivers tell him,
" If you don't like the apple,
eat the razor blade."

At 75, Rivers is still a workaholic, taking any gig she can get.
For her, a full agenda is happiness. She'd like to be busy all day.

The film is about growing older and what happens to you when you are no longer 'hot.'
 You have to re-invent yourself and fight back.
 Rivers works at this every day. She was at the top of her game at one point,
 but when you are over the hill, no one wants you.

Now she plays the Bronx at 4:30 in the afternoon where the backstage decor is low rent:
grimy and decrepit, with peeling walls and bad lighting.
For her, the show must go on.  She wants to keep up her life style:
an apartment with chandeliers and fancy furniture.
"No one lives like this - maybe the Queen of England."
Rivers thinks it's ridiculous to live carefully.



She works at her trade, keeping index cards of jokes in separate boxes by subject,
like those old file trays you would see in the library in the 50s. 
Rivers was before her time, shocking audiences with racy remarks about abortions,
saying things you weren't supposed to say.

One of her books is called "Men are Stupid - and They Like Big Boobs."
She tells it like it is.
 "No man has put his hand up a woman's dress to get her library card, " Rivers insists.

Interspersed throughout the film are clips of Johnny Carson, Ed Sullivan, and Jack Paar.
She was a regular on the Carson show.

Rivers is also the Queen of Plastic Surgery.  Every inch of her face looks preserved.
She tells photographers, "Be kind, not too close."

Her real fear is losing ties with the past - when there is no one left to remember her experiences.
Nothing is yours permanently; you must enjoy it when it's happening.
She's only truly happy on stage. "I'm a performer."

This film is terrific.


Trailer

Review by Lois Siegel

Just Another Missing Kid, Directed by John Zaritsky, 90 min., 1981, Canada



His major honors include an Academy Award® in 1982 for his documentary “Just Another Missing Kid.
”The story of a rich and powerful Ottawa family trying to find their teenage son who had gone missing while on his way to summer school.  But everywhere they went, police refused to help and finally a private detective was hired to track down the two killers of the teenage boy. First broadcast on the CBC’s Fifth Estate, April, 1981.


Watch Online: http://www.cbc.ca/fifth/missingkid/

Kings of Pastry
Directed by D. A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, 84 minutes, Netherlands | USA | UK | France, 2009

I like food films, and I’m fascinated by chefs who are so obsessed with perfection.  Is it hubris to overcome the pastry gods?

“Kings of Pastry” reveals the most amazing creations you’ll never get to eat. The elegance and artistry of these sculptures is not what you’ll see at your corner bakery.

“Chefs are like the new rock stars.” 

The film focuses on 16 French pastry chefs who compete in Lyon for the prestigious title “Meilleurs Ouvriers de France.  Before the competition, they persevere a gruelling schedule of test after test, analyzing their dessert sculptures that are so fragile that they often crumble at the last minute before they are presented.

The film follows Chef Jacquy Pfeiffer, co-founder of Chicago’s French Pastry School - the only school in the U.S. that only teaches pastry, and two other finalists - Chef Regis Lazard and Chef Philippe Rigollot. The competitors are all men.  It’s still an Old Boys Club.  And the experience is only for the most courageous.  For three nerve-racking days of “blood, sweat and tears,” chefs have to make 40 different recipes. Their work includeseverything from delicate chocolates to six-foot sugar sculptures.”

Over these three days, the judges will eat 16 cakes. 

Recipes are evaluated on artistry and taste.  We learn that taste is affected by where the ingredients are placed in the layer of a cake.  Some creations with elaborate designs take eight hours to execute. Little details are crucial. We learn that humidity is deadly when working with sugar.  

Once, when something went wrong, 50 gallons of syrup had to be poured down the drain.  The chefs work and re-work the recipes, and they have to move quickly. There are time limits.

At one point we see a chef sanding down his dessert sculpture to make it
as smooth as possible.

This reminds me of my favorite Julia Child quote:  “It’s so beautifully arranged on the plate - you just know someone’s fingers have been all over it.”

After you see the film, watch the “Special Features.”
They include an interview with the filmmakers and a unique Chocolate Fashion Show where the models wear chocolate: chocolate purse, chocolate ornaments, chocolate clothes.

An added plus is the Stéphane Grappelli-type music (French Jazz Violin) throughout the film.

“Kings of Pastry” is directed by two well-respected American documentary filmmakers. Veteran D. A. Pennebaker is best known as a pioneer of Cinema Vérité.  Co-founding a collective of filmmakers in 1959, Drew Associates produced, “Primary,” a documentary following J. F. Kenney and Hubert Humphrey during their 1960 Wisconsin Democratic Primary Election Campaign.  Filming took place dawn to midnight for five exhausting days. 

“Don’t Look Back” followed Bob Dylan’s 1965 tour in England for three weeks.  Dylan was 23. 

An engineer, Pennebaker developed the first fully portable synchronized 16mm camera and sound recording systems. The sound machine no longer had to be tied to the camera, giving the cameraman previously unknown freedom.


La La, Making it in L.A.  Directed by Frank and Caroline Mouris, 58 minutes, 1979, USA
A guide to what you need to do to 'Make it in L.A."

Frank & Caroline Mouris
273 Hanley Road
Nassau, New York
12123-9407
USA
cmouris@aol.com


The Last Mogul: The Life and Times of Lew Wasserman, 110 minutes, 2005, Canada/USA
Directed by Barry Avrich

From rags to riches is a common theme, but in this case, the amazing story is of a man who rises to fame taking over Hollywood and then controlling politicians in Washington, D.C. It’s a tale of show business at its fiercest.  Wasserman’s 50-year career started on the east side of Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Russian immigrants who came through Ellis Island.  He learned his trade on the tough streets of Cleveland, working his way to La La Land. Hollywood was never the same. Wasserman was a  powerful talent agent at Music Corporation of America (MCA) and Head of University Studios before becoming an influential fundraiser in the Democratic Party.



Last Train Home, 85 minutes, 2009, Canada/China/UK
Directed by Lixin Fan

The Chinese New Year is approaching. Every year, thousands of Chinese are crammed together trying to buy tickets in train stations across China, hoping to go home.  They return to their families to celebrate the New Year. This human migration is of gigantic proportions – the largest anywhere in the world.  If you are at all claustrophobic and don’t like crowds, “Last Train Home” will challenge you.


“Last Train Home” is a fascinating portrait of China, contrasting life in the city with the country.  Thousands of Chinese leave their small villages to earn more money in the city.  They are hired to work in factory sweatshops, toiling long hours, often on night shifts, and they are housed in close quarters. Their entire lives revolve around grueling work.  They make jeans with large waistlines, 40 inches, for foreigners. “Americans are fat,” they explain.

These factory workers leave their children at home to be cared for by grandparents.  “Last Train Home” follows one family: two parents, one grandmother and two children. The parents rarely see their children. They want to make money so that their kids will be able to have a good education and a better life.

Their 15-year-old daughter says, “The country’s a sad place.” She wants the excitement of the city and leaves for a city job.  City life is enticing for young people.


Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man, directed by Lian Lunson, 105 minutes, 2005, USA

Leonard Cohen, the Canadian singer/songwriter (“Suzanne”), poet and novelist (“Beautiful Losers,” 1966), is a legend, if not an enigma. He spent five years in seclusion as a Zen Buddhist monk.

Cohen grew up in Montreal -  Westmount to be exact.  At McGill University, he was President of the McGill Debating Union. In the late 60s - early 70s he toured the US, Canada and Europe. You can hear his music in Robert Altman’s film “McCabe & Mrs. Miller,” and “Everybody Knows” (co-written by Sharon Robinson), in “Pump Up the Volume,” directed by Allan Moyle, another former Montrealer.

Filmmaker Lian Lunson creates a most enjoyable because of wonderful performances by Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Rufus & Martha Wainwright, and Antony Hegarty
of Antony and the Johnsons singing Cohen's songs.  The production features flashbacks to Cohen's life, photographs of him over the years, and, most importantly, his own reflections on what was happening at any given moment.



Rufus Wainwright

Hegarty sings "If It Be Your Will," and moves like Joe Cocker. His performance is riveting because he seems to be in his own special world. I immediately became a fan.



           Antony Hegarty            


"Mad Hot Ballroom," Directed by Marilyn Agrelo, 105 minutes, 2005, USA

This film is pure entertainment as we watch New York City 5th grade school kids being introduced to ballroom dancing.  They take it up with energy and enthusiasm.  You'll see great dancing and great photography. It's one of the best dance films.

"Ballroom" is reminiscent in some ways of 1984 Oscar-winner "He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin'" directed by
Emile Ardolino,  featuring Jacques D'Amboise teaching school children in New York City to dance.

Mad Hot Ballroom reveals the maturity and wisdom of 11-year-olds.



Gotham Award, NYC; International Documentary Associate, IDA Award; Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, Best Documentary - Special Mention; Philadelphia Film Festival, Audience Award.
Making Overtures: The Story of a Community Orchestra, Directed by Larry Weinstein, 28 minutes, 1984,  Canada


Larry Weinstein

The charm of a small-town community ensemble, The Northumberland Symphony Orchestra (Cobourg, Ontario), makes this film come alive. Delightful characters express their love for music in its purest form. 

Academy Award, Nomination Best Documentary, Short Subjects, Barbara Willis Sweete , 1986


           Tony Koulakis

Man of Grease, directed by Ezra Soiferman, 50 minutes, 2000, Canada

Tony Koulakis, 67, chef and owner of Montreal’s legendary eleven-stool greasy-spoon, Cosmos, has been serving up his famous cholesterol-loaded all-day breakfasts since the late 1960s, without taking a single serious vacation. One year before retiring, Tony places his beloved Cosmos in the trust of his three children, and flies - for the first time in nearly three decades - back to his homeland of Greece.



Ezra and Tony

Tony is affectionately known as “The God of the Potatoes”. The film examines the culture of his restaurant through interviews with the legions of his many devoted, outspoken customers.



 
©Photo by Manuel Avila
Cosmos Snack Bar

Screened on six Canadian TV networks, eight film festivals, and nominated for a Quebec Jutra Award for Best Documentary, 2000.

Contact:  Ezra Soiferman



Manufactured Landscapes,
Directed by Jennifer Baichwal,  80 minutes, 2007
Photography by Edward Burtynsky
Produced by The National Film Board of Canada

For almost three decades, internationally renowned Canadian artist Edward Burtynsky has been creating large-scale photographs of landscapes transformed by industry.

"Manufactured Landscapes" follows Burtynsky to China as he travels the country capturing the evidence and effects of China's massive industrial revolution.


Genie Awards: Best Documentary 2007
Toronto International Film Festival: Best Canadian Film
Calgary International Film Festival: Best Canadian Documentary
Atlantic Film Festival: Best Canadian Documentary
Toronto Film Critics Association Awards: Best Canadian Film & Best Documentary Feature


Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China, Directed by Murray Lerner, 84 minutes, 1981, USA

Isaac Stern visited Beijing and Shanghai on his trip to China. Besides showing the violinist mentoring young Chinese students, the film reveals a disturbing history, the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), when western influences were opposed and the playing of classical music was forbidden. Ironically, in 1979, he was invited by the government to perform and teach the techniques of Mozart to Chinese musicians.
Academy Award, Best Documentary, Features, Murray Lerner, 1981


March of the Penguins, Directed by Luc Jacquet, 85 minutes, 2005, France

Luc Jacquet's heart-wrenching documentary about heroism, self-sacrifice, sorrow, and unflinching love is surely this year's Oscar fave. It's also about penguins... not the Disneyfied Madagascar critters, but the real-life Emperor variety. Each year these magnificent tuxedo creatures swim gracefully from the sea to waddle 70 miles to their mating grounds, find a spouse, produce one egg and share parental watch till the chick is hatched. This cycle includes 125 days (without food) with father roosting the egg in conditions of minus 80-degree temperatures and howling 100 mph winds.

Meanwhile, mother bird is foraging food at sea to feed the young. If she does not return to the nesting grounds, the baby chick will be abandoned. The harshest forces of nature, the hazard of the egg cracking, and threatening predators stalking newborn chicks further complicate the precarious hatching of the egg. In the face of all this adversity, these creatures soldier on to propagate their species. Watching the dedicated mothers' return, sometimes to the mournful anguish of discovering the carcass of a frozen baby, challenges even the deadest of hearts to tears. Anthropomorphically speaking, if we were even a wee bit more like them, it would lend our species a better name...

Review by
S.B. Berger


Margaret & Evergon, Directed by Don Winkler, 45 minutes, 2011, Canada

I
n 1999, celebrated Montreal photographer and Concordia photography professor Evergon took a remarkable series of nude portraits of his own mother, then 80-years-old. The film "Margaret and Evergon" sets out to explore what lay behind those images, uncovering in the process a poignant family history, a woman's determination to be her own person, and a unique and inspiring relationship between mother (Margaret Lunt) and son.

Mother courage by Matthew Hays, Montreal Mirror, May 2011


A Matter of Taste: Serving Up Paul Liebrandt
Directed by Sally Rowe,
68 minutes, 2011, USA

In 2000, Paul Liebrandt was awarded 3 stars by the New York Times. He was only 24 - the youngest chef to receive such acclaim.

The New York Times has a 4 star system:
1 star is good
2 stars is very good
3 stars is excellent
4 stars is extraordinary
The rating measures the scope of the restaurant's accomplishments and the intensity of the pleasure you feel while eating the food.


©Evan Sung Photography
Kampachi with Persimmon and Caviar

Food as eye-candy. The images of the food in this film: Exquisite.

Imagination
Colored sauces, Chocolate Covered Scallops, Beer and Truffle Soup
Wasabi Apple Sorbet
Paul Liebrandt isn't afraid to try things.

The film follows Liebrandt through the trials of becoming a top-notch chef. We follow him as he works his way through the restaurant business.

2001
"Papillon" in NYC - A modest Bistro.
Liebrandt constantly works at his art. "Some chefs are never in the kitchen," he says.


©Evan Sung Photography
Rabbit with Ruby Red Shrimp and Pomelo

Liebrandt was born in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, but he was raised in London, England. His parents divorced, and he was shipped off to boarding school from the age of seven. 
"There's no food culture in my family," he explains. His father wanted him to go into the military, but he was hooked on the beauty of food. Liebrandt paid his dues in the culinary equivalent of special forces - kitchens run with military precision.

A chef is married to his kitchen. Private lives suffer.

2002
Budget Cuts

Liebrandt moves around to different restaurants. He feels like a culinary mercenary - on hire to the highest bidder.

2005
New York City - Post 9/11
The economy is bad. He's a consultant for gourmet marshmallows.

He accepts a job at the "Gilt Restaurant" and deals with hotel people, working 20 hours a day.
"Gilt" gets 2 stars. Liebrandt loses his job.

Food is a sensory experience. You can't just plop it on the plate.


©Rowe Road Productions LLC
Roasted Quail Leg with Basil Espuma

2007

Dichotomy. Vogue magazine features Liebrandt in a three-page spread, despite the fact that he's unemployed. He needs stability. He creates cocktails for a beverage company.

Then his big break comes. He becomes chef and part owner of a new restaurant in Tribeca: "Corton" with a new partner, famous restaurateur Drew
Nieporent. Liebrandt has paid his dues. It's his time to shine. Being a chef is like putting on a stage performance.



The looming question is: Will Frank Bruni, food critic of the New York Times, give "Corton" 3 stars....

Trailer


Maxed Out, Directed by James D. Scurlock, 87 minutes 2006, USA

"Maxed Out" is a stark revelation about millions of people who have over-extended their credit lines.
After they have maxed out their cards, their only alternative is to declare bankruptcy.  The film is jam-packed with credit horror stories.  One woman, a wife and mother, had a secret life of credit card addiction. She fled when she realized she was probably going to jail.  She vanishes in desperation. Her husband and daughter fear that one day her car will appear in the muddy depths of the local river.

Gigantic houses can be constructed through bank loans. We are seeing the consequences of this in the news now. "USA Today" reports that n
early 3 million homeowners were behind on their mortgages at the end of last year (2007). High-interest loans were given to people with poor credit ratings, and they are in default.  It is not a pretty picture.
 
Miotte Vue Par Ruiz, Directed by Chilean Raoul Ruiz, 80 minutes, 2001, France

The documentary features the work of French painter Jean Miotte as he creates a work as we watch. His sense of composition is amazing.


Mondovino
Directed by Jonathan Nossiter, 159 minutes, 2004, France

An entertaining documentary, examining the impact of globalization upon the international wine industry. Nossiter used digital video to film across three continents. He documents the reactions of  growers, tasters, consultants, importers and critics and explores how giant American firms are influencing independent producers in Europe by buying up vineyards and imposing their methods of production. The result: the wines start to taste the same.

Official Site

Wine at your Table: Going Organic by Hugh Kruzel

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers
Directed by
Judith Ehrlich & Rick Goldsmith, 92 minutes, 2009, USA

Daniel Ellsberg, a top policy analyst at The Rand Corporation and consultant to the Department of Defense and the White House, was labeled a dangerous man.

After having supported the government for many years, he realized that the War in Vietnam had to be stopped when he discovered the Pentagon Papers, 47 volumes, 7,000 pages of a Top Secret study
revealing a war strategy full of lies. He Xeroxed these papers and leaked them to the New York Times. He knew he could go to jail for this.

The documentary is a fascinating story, filled with the drama surrounding the release of the Pentagon Papers. It's told with interesting juxtapositions of images and quotes, and startling revelations.
An individual's right to free speech and the freedom of the press was seriously questioned. It's a brilliant history of the times that led to the end of the War in Vietnam when 2 million Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans died.
Nominated for an Oscar 2010: Best Documentary Feature


© THINKFilm

Murderball, Directed by Dana Shapiro and Henry Rubin, 85 minutes, 2005, USA.

Murderball is an Oscar-caliber documentary of the punishing roughhouse sport of quad rugby, aka Murderball, with a cast of characters worthy of fiction. Directors Dana Shapiro and Henry Rubin chose their subject matter rightly, not only educating the audience on the perils of the sport, but also zeroing in on four people and their varying struggles adjusting to life in a wheelchair.


© THINKFilm

We get to love these guys by the film's end, not merely for the empathy card, but because the filmmakers have captured them endeavoring to overcome their physical challenges with genuine zeitgeist.

Review by S.B. Berger


My Flesh and Blood, directed by Jonathan Karsh, 83 minutes, 2003, USA

A haunting film about a suburban single parent, Susan Tom, and the 13 kids under her care.  She has adopted 11 of the children, all of whom  have some kind of devastating disability.

The Tom kids face their challenges with laughter, tears and
perseverance. Your opinions about the limitations of the physically handicapped
will change after you’ve seen this film.



Sundance Film Festival: Audience Award, Documentary; Director's Award: Jonathan Karsh
Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival: Audience Award, FIPRESCI Prize
Florida Film Festival: Special Jury Award

Official Site


 

Motherhood with Disabilities:
Susan Tom's Flesh and Blood

by John Kerkhoven


Neil Young: Heart of Gold, Directed by Jonathan Demme, 103 minutes, 2006, USA

“Neil Young: Heart of Gold” was shot during a two-night performance at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, original home of the Grand Ole Opry. It reflects the different stages of Young’s life and reminds us that we all have a lot in common. Our parents have grown older and may no longer be with us. Young’s father, sportswriter Scott Young, passed away just a few months before this concert. When Neil was 7 or 8-years-old, Scott gave him an Arthur Godfrey guitar. “You might need this,” he said.  Turned out to be an important gesture.


The filming is elegant: simple and smooth - no fancy tricks. The cameras don’t get in the way of the down-to-earth music. Demme knew exactly what he was doing.


Experiencing the Other Side of Youth by Lois Siegel

 









Norman Jewison, Filmmaker, Directed by Douglas Jackson, 49 minutes, 1971, Canada.

The film is an excellent behind-the-scenes look at the making of the feature film, "Fiddler on the Roof" (1971).

Shot in Zagreb, Yugoslavia and at Pinewood Studios in England, the movie is an in-depth portrait of filmmaker Norman Jewison as he struggles to complete a film under a lot of pressure.  Between scenes, he talks about the problems he has with the money men back in Hollywood who call him debonair because he refuses to shoot a scene when the weather isn’t right. He needs snow. It snowed the year before when he was scouting locations, but now it’s not snowing, and he has to use marble dust to create the effect of winter. If he goes over budget, then he will lose control of the movie. He talks about creativity and the role of a film director. It becomes evident how difficult and exhausting it is to make a feature film.

Pina, Directed by Wim Wenders, 99 minutes, 2011, Germany 

Documentary featuring the dancers of
Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch

"Pina," the 3-D dance documentary directed by Wim Wenders,
is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature


"Dance, Dance, otherwise we are lost, " Pina

Pina Bausch was a German modern dance performer,
choreographer and dance instructor noted for her influence on dance style.
She died of cancer in 2009 at the age of 68, just before shooting
was scheduled to begin on a film about her and her work.
"Pina" is a tribute to her.

She appears in the film through archival footage.  Her seamless movement is amazing.


Pina Bausch

Pina's choreographies are not confined to stages. Dancers perform on the street:
parks, busy, traffic-clogged intersections, airport walkways,
streams, on a monorail, in an industrial park, or on a flatbed of a railroad car. 
Dancers perform inside:  in a swimming pool, in an art center encased in glass




The works are inventive, unusual, unpredictable. One lady dances in water with a huge hippo.
Dancers move on a floor coated in dirt. A stage is filled with chairs in all types of positions
and individuals move through the space.
 The angst and tension in this composition reminded one of a mental hospital. 
A man dances with a leaf blower, another dances at the edge of a cliff.

"You just have to get crazier," Pina once said.

Her works have incredible force.

Another dance seems to be based on vaudeville, and there's one that features
a dance with a dog. One fascinating dance is only with hand movements,
 like pantomime.

Her dancers are often barefoot, but at other times
they wear high heels, ballet pointe shoes, or regular shoes.
 One of her dances incorporates teens over the age of 14 and elders over 65.

Stravinsky's striking "The Rite of Spring" (Le Sacre du Printemps)
accompanies a dance with sharp movements.
Another dance uses sound effects, and a slow tune changes to a boogie woogie.
Stay for the credits.... the dancing isn't over yet.

Anyone interested in the arts or, specifically, in dance must see this film.

Trailer


POM Wonderful Presents:
The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Directed Morgan Spurlock
90 min. U.S., 2011


Product placement in Hollywood motion pictures is almost a given these days. If you can read the label on a beer bottle in a movie, you can be sure that company paid for the exposure.
Morgan Spurlock, who stuffed his face with McDonald’s food for a month in “Super Size Me,” has taken advertising one giant step further.  He paid for his entire film by placing company products within the film: 1.5 million. It’s a first for this new extreme sport: exploitation of products for financial gain. And it worked….

The film is the ultimate blockbuster of co-promotion… I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.  Does this work?  Spurlock says that basically 4 major companies spent close to $412 billion on product placement in Hollywood films last year…. So they must think so.

POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is a documentary about Spurlock’s process… it’s delightfully entertaining and informative about the business process of how all this works.  Spurlock makes cold calls to companies. He often gets turned down by some of the biggies, e.g. Coke, Pepsi…. so he goes to a media placement agency.  They can predict the next big trends in advertising.  Then he goes to the companies. We see him moving from one boardroom to another as he asks corporate advertisers to give him money for his film. Many are dubious; others kick in to various degrees. The bonus for him: In exchange for placement in his film, he gets things for his production: clothing, flights, hotels, cars….  He asks companies what their ‘brand’ is. He’s looking for a headliner ‘brand.’  That’s where POM comes in.

POM Wonderful is the “Brand” that buys into his scheme.  And POM is everywhere in the film…. And so are other products that are constantly speckled throughout the production. You can’t miss them… Subway, Dr. Pepper, Federal Express……Mane ‘n Tail shampoo – with directions for use for humans and animals….

He also does ‘man-on-the-street’ interviews asking people what their brand would be if they had one. One guy responds:  Hippy/Brooklyn, failed writer, alcoholic brand.

The film is a laugh-riot.  It’s fast-moving: the sponsors keep flashing their products.  If there’s an interview, there’s a sponsor sign behind the interviewee. It becomes a guessing game of ‘spot-the-sponsor,’ except you don’t have to guess… they are always blatantly there.

Spurlock talks to a lawyer who normally charges $770/hour.  The lawyer appears in the film pro bono as an advertisement for himself with his name clearly placed on the screen.  Spurlock also asks Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader for advice.  Nader, who always warns people about company control, is delighted with a new pair of Merrell shoes he receives for free. Spurlock has even gotten Nader to sell out!

POM becomes the official beverage in the film for a cool million… other beverage competitors are blurred out.  Thirty-second commercials for POM appear throughout the movie. Spurlock appears on “Late Night with David Letterman” wearing a POM suit.  Everyone only drinks POM in the picture. The POM boardroom table is littered with funny-shaped POM bottles. And POM people drink POM.  You get the idea….

“Being successful is taking chances.” 

POM did… and it worked. I went out the next day and bought four bottles of different flavored POM: blueberry, cherry, lime and pomegranate. I had never tried it before. I liked it.

Spurlock:  He wasn’t selling out, he was buying into “POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.”


Review by Lois Siegel

Prom Night in Mississippi
Directed by Paul Saltzman, 90 minutes, 2009, USA

May 17, 1954: The Supreme Court announces that the system of
segregated public schools in the United States is unconstitutional.

1970: Mississippi public schools are integrated.

1997: Actor Morgan Freeman offers to pay for an
integrated senior prom at Charleston High School in Mississippi.
Black and white students have separate proms. His offer is declined.

2008:  Morgan Freeman repeats his offer. The school board accepts.
Charleston plans its first integrated prom.


I couldn’t believe that a high school would still have separate proms.
I thought this type of segregation was over long ago.

The documentary film “Prom Night in Mississippi” reveals another world
- that of a small town mentality obsessed with hatred. 
The problem doesn’t seem to be with the students.
It’s the older generation who have not let go of their racist beliefs. 
But there is hope for change. The younger generation is moving away from old attitudes.
They are receptive to change and social interaction.

Charleston, Mississippi: population 2,100.  Location: East Tallahatchie County.
Current statistics: the 46th lowest income in America.

The film: Director Paul Saltzman immerses us in the life of teenagers
in a tiny Mississippi community. We meet some of the senior high school students
through a home movie cam. They tell us their opinions. 
The grown-ups use the excuse of ‘safety’ to support segregation. 
Some parents still insist that their kids go to a separate, white prom.




“Prom Night in Mississippi” is filled with humor, humanity, and emotion…
the high school kids talk about the restrictions placed upon them by their parents. 
They also talk about their boyfriends, girlfriends, and buddies at school both black and white.
A white girl talks about her black boyfriend. We see them together,
happily enjoying each other’s company. Their relationship seems natural.

The only white basketball player on the school team is nicknamed “White Chocolate.”  

here is talk of discrimination regarding a black student
who tells us she was supposed to be Valedictorian of her high school class.
Someone else was chosen, although her marks were higher.  This isn’t fair.
She knows it. She’s frustrated because she can’t do anything about it.

We see the preparations for the prom: Black girls trying on prom dresses -
White girls showing off their dresses. A white, slick limo snakes its way into a poor,
black neighborhood where well-dressed students exit from well-worn trailers
or shanty houses with crumbling exteriors and couches on the front porch.  
The context is almost startling – a moment of relief from the walls of poverty.

There is a white prom held days before the integrated prom. 
A fight breaks out, but there is no fighting during the integrated prom.
So much for safety concerns when mixing black and white kids. 

The integrated prom is a real delight with a live band and terrific music,
rap singing, and line dancing as the entire senior class jives on the dance floor.

A humbling, emotional moment comes when Glen, the father of Heather who is dating a black boy,
tells us he’s racist because his granddaddy and daddy were, and they taught him,
but he says that whatever his daughter decides to do, he’ll back her. There's hope. Attitudes do change.

Prom Night in Mississippi has been sold to HBO, Super Channel and Global.
 

Review by Lois Siegel

The Queen of Versailles
Directed by Lauren Greenfield
100 Minutes, 2012, US/Netherlands/U.K./Denmark
Documentary Feature
PG


David and Jackie Siegel

We've heard many stories about greed.  This one takes all the cakes.  David, 74, had been married twice before when he met Jacqueline, 43.

She came from humble roots... a small town in New York.  She had a degree in engineering, decided to become a model, moved to New York City, married a Wall Street guy, divorced. Entered the Miss World competition. Won. Met David. And there you go....

She was a 'well-endowed' beauty queen and looked good on his arm.
He asked her to marry him. She did. He said, "I don't know what she sees in me.”

It's not rocket science.  He had money. His dough was from Westgate Resorts - the largest privately owned time share enterprise - 28 resorts in 11 states.

They settled in. Eight children share their home - a cozy abode of 26,000 square feet with 17 bathrooms. There are so many children by different marriages, that it's hard to keep track of them.

The Siegel
mansion is in Orlando, Florida... in the same neighborhood as Tiger Woods.  There are nannies and housekeepers... so they don't have to lift many fingers. The kids are spoiled. It goes with the territory.  Jackie goes boating in her fur coat.

Despite the gigantic home they already have, they are in the process of building their real dream home -  modeled after Versailles in France. It will be bigger than the White House. It will have 30 bathrooms, a bowling alley, 10 kitchens, 2 tennis courts, a full-sized baseball field that can double as a parking lot during parties in the Grand Ballroom, Louis XIV Furniture - The largest home in America.  And it will be a bit bigger: 90,000 square feet.

Jackie is addicted to shopping. David loves his work. It's the only thing he likes. The kids run all over the house, dogs poop everywhere. The kids zoom around on Segways inside the house. There doesn't seem to be any rules. The girls have colored hair and piercings.  Jackie's eldest is 12, but there are other grown up children from David's other wives. We only meet one of them.

Fantasy worlds have a way of crumbling. Market meltdowns change lives. The dream house is put on the market. Hired help are let go. Kids can no longer go to private schools. Jackie has to cook. But she still goes shopping, even though money is tight. She can't control her addiction. "Marriage is like having another child," David says.

Now David has to spend time looking for money. His house is in default with the bank. He realizes Westgate expanded - too much too fast. The banks were happy to loan him money.

And it's not a good time to sell an unfinished $100 million mansion.

This is a film you have to see to believe. Spend some time with David and Jackie Siegel.  Then do a reality check.

Winner: Best Director, Sundance Film Festival

Amazon DVD: November 13, 2012

Review by Lois Siegel


The Recipe Diaries, Directed by Jacques Menard, 47 minutes, 2005, Canada
Documentary for Television


Rice and Lentil Crepe
 Native to Sri Lanka and South India


How Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid simultaneously raise a family, travel around the world looking for good recipes, and put a cookbook together.


              Jeffrey in Sri Lankan Village                                                              Naomi in Ahmedabad, India

A Cultural Odyssey
By Lois Siegel

Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s, Directed by Matthew Miele, Documentary, 93 minutes, 2013, USA

Bergdorf’s, as in Bergdorf’s Goodman, is a very high-end department store on Fifth Avenue in New York City. It was founded by Herman Bergdorf in 1899, and was later bought by Edwin Goodman.

Luxury fashion and very rich clients are its trademark.  The film is basically composed of a series of talking heads, but the remarks are fascinating because they tell the story of an unusual operation – how clients are encouraged to spend thousands of dollars on well-known designer clothes.  It’s a tightly run organization that worships perfection. And it makes money, as much as 5 million a year in revenues.

We are introduced to the movers and shakers… Linda Fargo decides which designers will be represented in the store, a dream come true that will promote a designer to stardom. Not everyone gets in, and it might take years, if not decades. Not everyone can be an Oscar de la Renta or Karl Lagerfeld.



David Hoey

And then there’s David Hoey who is the genius behind Bergdorf’s windows –  intricate artistic displays of brilliant creations – for example, the “Carnival of Animals, which tells a story – to highlight a dress design by Valentino or Alexander McQueen – fantasy pieces.


Joan Rivers:  “People who take fashion seriously are idiots.”

“It’s all about getting laid,” another fashionista remarks.

Bergdorf’s has personal shoppers – people who encourage clients to spend more money.  Massaging someone’s ego seems to be the key to success

The stories in “Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s” are delightful.  Elizabeth Taylor bought 200 pairs of custom-made, white mink earmuffs.

Shopping at Bergdorf’s is the extreme of retail therapy. John Lennon and Yoko Ono bought $400,000 of furs on impulse one Christmas Eve. The store came to them - with ten truckloads. They must have suddenly remembered they needed some Christmas gifts.

“Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s” is a captivating look at what goes on behind the scenes of a famous department store. You might just want to take a peek.

Trailer

Review by Lois Siegel


The September Issue
Directed by R. J. Cutler

Queen of the fashion vampires, Anna Wintour, devours 'wanna be' designers by the dozen.
She can suck the blood out of anyone with one wicked glance. 
Her lackeys shake with fear and trembling when they show her their work for approval. 
Who is this lady who lords over the flies...
She's the American goddess of Vogue magazine, and she can make or break someone. 

You may have seen the 'fictionalized' version  of Anna played by Meryl Streep
 in "The Devil Wears Prada."   This is the documentary.
Anna rarely smiles and is not a warm and friendly person.

Cuddly is not a word that comes to mind. 
The only person who can handle her, so to speak, is Grace Coddington, Creative Director at Vogue. 


Grace and Anna

She was a former glamour model, posing for famous British photographers
 Lord Snowdon and David Bailey, although you wouldn't know it to see her now
 as the result of extensive plastic surgery after a car accident years ago. 
Grace is a major character in this documentary focusing on the preparation
of the September 2007 issue of Vogue. The film is  fascinating. 

Grace arranges the shoots, supervises them, and even dresses the models,
 rare at her level, but she's admittedly old-fashioned.
She's the most important kid on the block when it comes to selection before things get to to Anna.
When photos go up on the white board for Anna to keep or kill,
 it's usually Grace's photo shoots that live.

Vogue is a world of glamour. The locations are intricate and beautiful,
the clothes are far beyond what people wear every day, and the shoots can easily cost $50,000.
Talented photographers are hired and fired.  And Anna often rejects the best photos.
We see one particular picture that Grace can't believe Anna has dumped.
It's an amazing, brilliant, intricate shot with an array of models. 
"She took out the best two pictures," Grace gasps in disbelief, looking very disappointed.
 We learn that working for Vogue is an extremely frustrating job.
The September Issue of Vogue is 840 pages, weighing almost five pounds.



The film is a must see into a cut-throat world that most of us have never experienced.

Trailer



Small Wonders, aka Fiddlefest,
Allan Miller, 77 minutes, USA

Anyone who has ever had the opportunity to learn to play an instrument will appreciate the effort that goes into teaching East Harlem kids the art of playing the violin. Roberta Guaspari-Tzavaras is devoted to teaching music.


Roberta Guaspari-Tzavaras

When the arts funding is cut in NYC schools, she starts a non-profit organization
 to enable three East Harlem public schools to offer violin lessons to kids.
In the film we see Roberta convey her love for the violin to her students.
She insists that all children are artists.

Roberta brings her students to a Knicks basketball game to play the national anthem
and later hooks them up with internationally known violinists in a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall.
On stage with the children are
Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman, Midori, Arnold Steinhardt, Joshua Bell, and Mark O'Conner.

Meryl Streep stars in the feature film version "Music of the Heart." 
The documentary is much more interesting.

Academy Award, Nominated: 1996 Best Documentary, Features - Allan Miller, Walter Scheuer
Cleveland International Film Festival, Best Film, 1996

SNIFF, the Dog Movie

Directed by Barry Stone, Produced by Kim Webster


 

There will be a pre-screening  welcome by filmmakers Barry Stone and Kim Webster,
with a Q and A to follow.

 

Ten percent of  proceeds from DVDs sold after the screening
will support Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind.

 

Sniff is a family-oriented hybrid of fiction and documentary. Veteran British actors Neil Morrissey and Richard Huw star as unemployed actors Neil and Richard, who travel from London to San Francisco
to work as concierges at Infinite Paws, a high-end dog hotel run by Neil's old flame Juliette (Amanda Plummer) and her husband Derek (Maurice Godin). On the job Neil and Richard wear proper suits and giant dog masks, but during off-hours they make a documentary about dogs. Outgoing Neil favors heart-warming vignettes about dogs that skateboard and surf, but straitlaced Richard is drawn to the heroic stories of guide dogs and search-and-rescue dogs. With locations including San Rafael's Guide Dogs for the Blind and the backdrop of scenic San Francisco, Sniff explores the world
through a dog’s eyes, ears, and nose.



Director Barry Stone explains, "By setting the dog stories in a family-oriented fiction, we’ve made detailed information about the motivation and training of a Guide Dog  and a Search Dog accessible to a wider audience. There’s no anthropomorphism – just a great collection of fun-loving real-life vignettes about dogs. So we’ve managed to make a film that is both entertaining
 and educational for people of all ages.”
The Music:

 Grammy award-winning Laurie Lewis, Bobby McFerrin Jr., Kitka Womens Vocal Ensemble, Outback, Zydeco Flames, and surf-music icon Dick Dale. Berkeley composer Jon Herbst wrote the original score.

The Socalled Movie

Directed by Garry Beitel, 90 minutes, 2010, Canada
Co-Produced by
reFrame Films and  The National Film Board of Canada

He's the Jewish Cowboy of Klezmer Funk.  He's a rapper who's not into politics or religion.
And this film is about him, but it's also a celebration of creativity.

His name is Josh Dolgin, but they call him 'Socalled."  He grew up in Chelsea, Quebec,
where he played the piano, performed magic tricks, and drew cartoons
for The Ottawa Citizen's 'Teen Page." 
Chicken "Freud" Rice and "Jazz Legends of the Animal Kingdom" - Charlie Porker and Thelonious Mink.

But right now he's setting new standards for performance in Montreal.
Dolgin
is a musician who isn't afraid to experiment. 
He can take a small sampling of a Klezmer tune and turn it into something
that reflects a mixture of cultures what he calls "Kosher Funk." 
"People should get along," he says. He insists that people should
put aside their differences and celebrate them.
"I'm like the Mahatma Gandhi of hip hop," he says, "except I'm not as skinny."

The film is filled with talented people playing good melodies and harmonies.
Socalled's side-kick is singer Katie Moore.
Her voice is lovely -  reminiscent of Kate and Anna McGarrigle.
Dolgin is a collaborator: He tracks down artists of all ages:
Fred Wesley, trombone; Matt Haimovitz, cello; Irving Fields, piano.
His point:  Generations can work together.

His explanation of show business: "This is it, Garry Beitel," he says to the film director...
excitement, drugs, sex, violence.
No, it's more like waiting around, being very tired, hungry,
sexual frustration."

"The Socalled Movie is entertaining in a way you wouldn't expect.
It's full of surprises. Dolgin is very upfront about his life.
He's a good show.

Directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy & Andy Schocken
82 minutes 2015, Pakistan/U.S.
In English and Urdu with English Subtitles
 

If you are into jazz, Song of Lahore is a "must see."  The film takes us to Lahore, Pakistan where we meet a group of serious musicians coming from a long tradition of music. They once were able to earn a living with this profession, but in 1977 there was a coup creating the Islamization of Pakistan.  Once the Taliban took over, music was considered a sin. Under Sharia law, it was forbidden. Sharia infidels were shot and killed. Instruments were destroyed.

Through archival footage we learn that violins were brought to Pakistan by the English, but after music was forbidden, there were no longer parts to repair a broken instrument.  Music studios, where recordings took place, lie in waste, broken shadows of what they once were.

This signaled the "Death of Pakistani Arts."  Former working musicians, took other jobs to survive, for example,  driving a rickshaw. The musicians feared a loss of their culture.

They decided that something had to be done.  They formed a group and rehearsed in a sound-proof room so that the authorities couldn't hear them.

They put their version of Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" on YouTube and on their website.  Brubeck heard it and wrote:  "This is the most interesting recording I've ever heard."  The message spreads worldwide.

If you are familiar with Brubeck's "Take Five," you must hear the version by the Sachel Jazz Ensemble from Pakistan.  The instrumentation will blow you away: sitar, tabla players, flute...

 


                          Tabla

They are invited by jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis to join his big band for a concert at Lincoln Center in New York City where he is the artistic director.  We see them packing for their journey. Curiously, this is the only time we see women with them. The jazz ensemble is all men.

The Pakistanis travel to America (the flight takes 14 hours) and are anxious to prove they are artists, not terrorists. They are ambassadors of culture.
We follow them four days before the concert. Rehearsals are rigorous, and they have to get used to playing with a very large, professional band. It's not easy coordinating with the American musicians. Their own sitar player doesn't work out. They have to find another one who lives in NYC.

The big band includes trombones, trumpets, piccolo, flute, clarinet, bass, drums...

One of the outstanding sequences during a rehearsal is the intercutting of the Pakistani flute player Baqir Abbas with the American flute player Ted Nash.  Equally amazing is a similar shot intercutting the tabla player Ballu Khan with the big band's drummer Ali Jackson.

Song of Lahore is essentially people from different worlds coming together to share music. The concert is a grand success.  They achieved what they dreamt would happen - creating hope for the musicians of Pakistan. Finally, we see them as they appear for a big concert in Lahore during the end credits of the film. This is a new beginning....

Trailer

  Southern Comfort, directed by Kate Davis, 2000
90 minutes, USA.

Probably one of the most challenging documentary films because you find yourself constantly trying to remember what gender the people in the film are.

The film considers intimacy and what love really is all about.  It also confronts social issues and preferred treatment because of the sexual choices people have made. 


Spellbound, directed by Jeffrey Blitz, 2002, 95 minutes, USA.
Terrific documentary featuring eight teenagers in the American 1999 National Spelling Bee. Their idiosyncrasies, their parents, their dedication to studying, and their obvious differences from other kids and from their elders makes this film a must see. It's well put together and entertaining. And the words they are given are impossible for us earthlings to spell. Academy Award Nominee:  Best Documentary Feature, Audience and Special Jury Prize Los Angeles Film Festival , Best Documentary Woodstock Film Festival, Best Documentary Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Audience Award Best Documentary Sarasota Film Festival, Best Documentary  Best First Feature and Audience Award Portland International Film Festival.


Standing in the Shadows of Motown, directed by Paul Justman, 108 minutes, 2002, U.S.A.
If you like a good beat, you'll love this documentary film. The Funk Brothers backed the Motown artists who made it big, but those who listened to the music didn't know who the back-up band was.  They were the best musicians from Detroit's jazz and blues scene. This film is a history of those musicians.  Great entertainment. Great music.


Jack Ashford











Stunt People, directed by Lois Siegel, 47 minutes, 1989, Canada
“Stunt People” features four generations of the Fournier family from Quebec, smashing cars, catching fire, and falling off buildings for the fun of it. The film moves behind-the-scenes to give an insight as to how stunts are done and why stunt people risk their lives to perform stunts for films.

 The Fourniers performed stunts for over 100 feature films. They were back-woods stunt people who didn’t use fancy computers to calculate a stunt. They learned by instinct and trial and error. Their armor was simple:  football pads to protect their knees from getting destroyed on impact.  “Stunt People” shows them in action: car rolls, crashes, explosions.
Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television: 1990 Genie Award: Best Short Documentary


Super Size Me, producer, director, guinea pig,  Morgan Spurlock, 96 minutes, 2004, USA.
Do you eat Super-Sized Big Macs?  Don’t eat them before you see this documentary. The film looks at 30 days of indulging in fast food. Morgan Spurlock submits himself to a grueling challenge of eating everything on McDonalds menu during one month.
He risks his own health as he gains almost 25 pounds. He also surveys what other people are eating and what children are being fed in schools.  It's a scary revelation.

60 % of all Americans are either overweight or obese.


Ted Baryluk's Grocery
Directed by John Paskievich, 10 minutes, 1982, Canada
The National Film Board of Canada

Bread and Shoe Polish

Ukrainian-Canadian Ted Baryluk's grocery store has been a fixture in Winnipeg's North End for over 20 years. In this photo study, Ted talks about his store, the customers who have come and gone and the social changes his multicultural neighbourhood has seen. But most of all he wonders what will become of his store after he retires. He hopes his daughter will take over, but she wants to move away. The film is a wistful rendering of a shopkeeper's relationship with his daughter and a fascinating portrait of a neighbourhood and its inhabitants
See Film


Tim’s Vermeer
Directed by Penn & Teller, 80 minutes, 2013, USA

If you are an artist, then you know that Johannes Vermeer was a 17th century Dutch painter.  You know about paints and brushes, and you are familiar with his work. But what you may not know is how Vermeer achieved the glowing quality of his images that resemble photographs.

Tim Jenson wants to paint a Vermeer. He chooses "The Music Lesson." "It seems almost impossible," he realizes, "because I'm not a painter."  He's an Video Toaster, he invented the Electric Moth, and he's the founder of New inventor.  He can fix things, he's a computer graphics guy, he created the Tek in San Antonio, Texas.

"Tim's Vermeer" is not for everyone.  It's a technical film that will fascinate you if you are into details, if you are an inventor or if you like to find out how things work. You may not understand everything Tim Jenison explains, but that doesn't matter. The study engages your attention.

We are told that Vermeer's paintings reveal no sketches underneath. The work seems almost magical, similar to a photograph. Tim believes a camera obscura was used: an optical device that projects an image of its surroundings on a screen. He decides to create his own apparatus using a mirror. This allows him to copy the colors exactly as those Vermeer produced.  The projected image can be traced. He only uses paint materials that Vermeer had: he grinds and mixes pigments to make paints. He learns how to make lenses - builds them like those in the 17th century. He learns to read Dutch. The project becomes a way of life as he immerses himself in Vermeer's world.

The story goes abroad. Tim wants to see the original Vermeer paintings in person.  He also arranges to meet English artist David Hockney, artist Martin Mull, mathematician Philip Steadman, and British neurobiologist, specialising in vision and the development of the brain Colin Blakemore.  He even asks the Queen of England to allow him to see the original "The Music Lesson" by Vermeer that hangs in Buckingham Palace. This is no minor endeavor.

The creation of the Tim's Vermeer is seen through a series of dissolves. We watch in amazement as the picture evolves. A tremendous feat is accomplished over a period of 1,825 days. There are times during the process that you sense that Tim would very much like to be finished with this project. But Tim doesn’t quit... and his Vermeer now hangs in a bedroom over a fireplace.

Review by Lois Siegel


April 29 - May 3, 2011

The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls
Directed by Leanne Pooley
84 minutes, 2009, New Zealand



Lynda and Jools Topp are identical lesbian, activist, yodeling twins.  As a comedy team, they can be outrageous, but they are always very funny. They grew up on a farm, love horses, and each have live-in girlfriends. All four live together in the same house. These country girls will delight you. Their routines include frequent changes of costumes, creating new characters. Sometimes they don man- suits, next you'll see them wearing high-class frocks and sipping tea. Their shows are never the same. They adlib and obviously have great fun on stage. Their characters are out of control. They never know where they will go. Sometimes they are dressed matronly and the talk turns to sex.  The contrast between content and image is good.

Their homemade tunes speak of ideas and interests, and their harmony is professional. They have entertained audiences around the world. "It's not a career, it's a lifestyle."  They've done it all: cabaret, busking, protest marches.  "The Topp Twins" is their story; it's a documentary about the freedom they had growing up on the farm, the respect their parents have for them, and the development of their comedy acts.  

When they were younger, they joined the army to get free trips. "It was like a pyjama party with guns. You meet interesting people and then learn how to kill them."
 

They are cheeky and political.  They know how to attract their audiences' attention. "People will listen to a song before they will listen to a speech."  Their audiences are all types:  steel mill workers, farmers, town folk, and even high society. And when they toured New Zealand in their tractor-gypsy caravan, they weren't in a hurry - ambling along at 15 miles per hour, 15 days on the road, 3-4 shows a week performing in small towns to 1000-1500 people.  Every gig was full. "People would come by and leave pickles and jams at the caravan."

From  1996-2000 they even had their own TV show.
It's comedy on the run.... everyone has an old-fashioned good time.

Don't miss these two naughty girls.

Review by Lois Siegel
 

Trouble the Water
Directed by Carl Deal & Tia Lessin
90 minutes, 2008, USA
Rated 14A, Coarse Language

Hurricane Katrina

Nominated for an Oscar 2009 Best Documentary, Features

starSundance Film Festival, Grand Jury Prize, 2008star

"Trouble the Water" interweaves home movie footage,
 shot by  Kimberly Rivers Roberts and her husband Scott,
 with professional documentary footage shot by the filmmakers. 
You will be taken behind-the-scenes to experience what it was really like
 in the poverty stricken 9th Ward where those who had no way to leave
 tried to survive 165 m.p.h. winds, rain, thunderous sounds
and destruction without assistance from outsiders.
The police weren't going to come out until the weather was better.
People were left to fend for themselves. All they could do was try to help each other.
Their government let them down.
This is America.

Sick people were abandoned in the hospitals to die.
Prison guards fled, leaving inmates locked up to die.
They didn't even know a hurricane was coming.
Their TVs and radios weren't working.
Without food, they ate toothpaste.

After the storm, people started walking along the highways.
One lady sits in an office chair, moving her feet
as she slowly inches forward.

The tenacity of those who were left behind is uplifting.
They refused to give up.  Their good spirits are inspiring.
The incompetence of authorities at every level is blatant.
100,000 people couldn't get out.

Stay for the credits.
They are part of the film story.



©Photo by Lois Siegel
Laurie Kahn-Leavitt

Directed by Laurie Kahn-Leavitt, 62 minutes, 2003, U.S.A.
“Tupperware!” is the story of Earl Silas Tupper, small town inventor of the
‘soon to be in every household’ product, and Brownie Wise, his side-kick sales lady.
 They were the 50’s version of the Mary Kays of plastic-dome.
They gave their top sales force minks and modern appliances,
 instead of  Pink Cadillacs.   “Tupperware!” is a delightful, entertaining documentary
that puts the 'cult' of Tupperware and its party women into an historical perspective.
Were they really the first feminists? See it to believe it.

Under the Sea

Directed by Howard Hall
Imax

Canadian Museum of Civilization

Showing until September

If you like watching sea creatures, and you’re curious about how they live, then you’ll find “Under the Sea” a fascinating 3D adventure. On a giant screen, you’ll experience sharks that look like carpets – until they move to suddenly capture their prey, frog fish that look like yellow sponges, venomous sea snakes, six-foot garden eels, rare Australian sea lions, jellyfish with stinging tentacles, giant sea turtles, sea dragons, the world’s largest stingrays, and a great white shark that is 17 feet long. You’ll feel like you are meeting them face-to-face.

“Under the Sea” focuses on the coastal regions of Southern Australia, New Guinea and the Indo-Pacific
.  Narrated by Jim Carrey, the film also considers the environmental effects of sea water that becomes too warm and bleaches coral reefs.


Up the Yangtze, directed by Yung Chang, 93 minutes, 2007, Canada
Produced by EyeSteelFilm in co-production with The National Film Board of Canada

China is changing faster than most people realize.  One of the major disruptions to Chinese life is occurring along the Yangtze River where the Three Gorges Dam resides.  The dam is the largest hydroelectric power station in the world. It's not expected to become fully operational until 2011.

The potential benefits of the dam are flood control because millions of people live downstream of the structure, as well as hydroelectric power. The dam should reduce coal consumption by 31 million tons per year, cutting the emission of greenhouse gas. The downside is that 2.3 million people have to relocate, including 4 million more by the year 2020.  Residents complain of government corruption and a lack of proper assistance for relocation, and there are hints that people who protested the move were beaten and had their property destroyed.

Also, the dam sits on a seismic fault.
 


Three Gorges Dam

"Up the Yangtze" introduces teenagers Cindy (Yu Shui) and Jerry (Chen Bo Yu). Cindy comes from a poor family living on the edge of the river, a family that barely survives by raising a few crops and a few farm animals. The parents can't read or write.  Their daughter must postpone her education to earn money.  Jerry is an urban only child, spoiled and over-confident. Both Cindy and Jerry find jobs on a luxury cruiser that transports rich tourists along the Yangtze River as they view a last glimpse of an ancient version of China, a life that is rapidly disappearing.



Excellent cinematography puts us right in the picture as the boat moves through the locks into the Yangtze.  We feel as if we are there.

Two lifestyles are contrasted in the film, that of Cindy's family in the country, eking out a minimalist living and that of Jerry, enjoying the city during an evening hanging out with friends.

The city has also changed. Now we see cars instead of bicycles and well-dressed young people toting shopping bags. 

Then we see how Cindy and Jerry progress with their new jobs on the luxury cruiser.  Their lives are also in contrast to that of the tourists.  They are workers, and the work is difficult. They have a lot to learn, whether it be how to greet the tourists:  "Welcome Aboard," as opposed to a mere "Hello;"
washing never-ending piles of dishes in the deck below;  learning not to ask for tips and not to call the Americans 'Foreign Devils."  Their instructor gives them a Wal-Mart-type pep talk and spews clichés like "When there's a will there's a way," and "Rome wasn't built in a day."
 

We see the tourists singing "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean," enjoying silly rhymes by entertainers who try to teach them a few words in Chinese, and having their photos taken in elaborate Chinese costumes.
 

The film is replete with contrasts.
These images stay with us and make us consider the volatile future of China.

The Very Best of the Ed Sullivan Show, Volume 1
Directed by Andrew Solt, 90 minutes, 1991, USA

The Ed Sullivan Show ran on television for 23 years, showcasing over 10,000 performers.  Featured were the best bands in the 50s & 60s: The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Mamas and the Papas and singers: Elvis, Janis Joplin, Barbra Streisand, The Supremes, James Brown….
There were comedians:  Jerry Lewis, Johnny Carson, and Joan Rivers.

Ventriloquist Senor Wences introduced Johnny, a child’s face drawn on his hand atop a headless doll. He would converse while rapidly switching his voices between Johnny's high voice and his own voice. He moved the “lips’ by flexing his thumb. Another character was the gruff-voiced Pedro, a disembodied head in a box. When the box was opened, Pedro would growl "s'awright" ("it's all right"). YouTube

You’ll see an 11-year-old Michael Jackson, lead singer of The Jackson 5 (1969).  Michael’s talent is astounding.


Then there were the variety acts reminiscent of Ripley’s “Believe it or Not.” One of the most surprising performances was sexy blonde bombshell Jane Mansfield playing a classical piece on her violin.

There was strong censorship during this very conservative time in television.  Elvis was filmed only from the waist up because of reactions to his gyrating hips during previous shows. The Stones were instructed to change the wording to “Let’s Spend the Night Together” to “Let’s Spend Some Time Together.”  Mick rolled his eyes every time he had to sing “spend some time together.’ It was the same with The Doors and “Light My Fire.” The Doors were told to change “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher” to “Girl, we couldn’t get much better.”  They agreed to do this, but then on air Jim Morrison sang ‘higher,’ much to the wrath of NBC management.  The bad boys were banned from ever appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show again.

Review by Lois Siegel


Watermarks, directed by Yaron Zilberman, 80 minutes, 2004, France, Israel, USA

“Watermarks” is an observation of the times - a history lesson focusing on a Jewish sports club, Hakoah Vienna, in existence when the Nazis came to power. It documents the story of what happened to a team of women championship swimmers who had to flee after the political unification of Nazi Germany and Austria in 1938. Their escape was organized by Hakoah administrators who arranged an illegal ship that saved their lives.

Watermarks: Memories of Survival



Wild Wheels, directed by Harrod Blank, 64 minutes, 1992, USA
Car-Art in America

Have you ever seen a Hippomobile or a Fruitmobile.  How about a Mirror Mobile
or Cowasaki, a motorcycle that looks like a cow.
They all appear in "Wild Wheels."

And the characters who own them are as interesting as their cars.
There's the Button Car, created by Dalton Stevens, the Button King.
He completely covered his car in buttons.

Larry Fuente created "Cowasaki." The motorcycle, disguised as a cow, has a horn that goes "moo."
To put gas in the bike, you have to lift the tail. The nozzle goes into the rear end.


It's art on the street. There are art car festivals.
They are like a carnival sideshow.

The "Ultimate Taxi" is Aspen, Colorado
 is essentially a disco taxi. It looks like a normal, yellow cab from the outside.
Once you step in, the fog machine starts and a shiny mirror ball spins from the
ceiling.  Jon Barnes created the nightclub on wheels. He sings as he drives, while a laser light show entertains.


 Art Car World

 
The Winners
, directed by Paul Cohen and David van Tijn, 85 minutes, 1998, Netherlands

"One of the best documentaries about classical music ever made
 and probably the best about the limits of virtuosity." - Variety

"The Winners" explores what happens to four classical musicians who won the prestigious Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels.  Winning is not a guarantee to a successful life or career in music.

Long Feature Documentary and Public Award, First Prize , 1997
International Documentary Film Festival,
Nyon, France
North South Award,
Gent, Belgium, 1998


The Winners: When Winning Isn't the Only Thing
By Stephen Holden

Wonderland, directed by John O'Hagan,  80 minutes, 1997, USA
People live in identical houses in the post-war, experimental community of Levittown, N.Y.  Features Bill Griffith, cartoonist creator of Zippy the Pinhead.

Young@Heart, Directed by Stephen Walker, 108 minutes, 2008, UK
Made for British TV

"You're Never too Old to Rock"   - that's the motto of the septuagenarians (70s) and octogenarians (80s) who charm their audiences with renditions of  the Bee Gees, James Brown, and the Pointer Sisters. They sing "Stayin' Alive," "I Feel Good," and a real challenger "Yes, We Can Can."

These old rockers, who average 81 years, are part of the "Young at Heart Chorus" in Northampton, Massachusetts. And you can tell they're having a grand ole time.

The film's opening soloist is 92-year-old Eileen Hall, a British lady who asks "Should I Stay or Should I Go" (The Clash). She's terrific.



Eileen Hall


The 24-member chorus of senior citizens plays to packed audiences of all ages who love the group's music. Their performances are exhilarating and touching.  These old folks persevere, always choosing to perform despite severe health problems: one man lungs around an oxygen tank. No matter. The show must go on. Music is their source of survival.


I watched "Young@Heart" and can't wait to join a rock group when I turn 80.

Atlantic Film Festival, Audience Award, 2008
Los Angeles Film Festival, Audience Award, Best International Feature, 2007
Warsaw International Film Festival, Audience Award, Documentary Feature, 2008

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