THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS — Review by Susan Granger

three identical strangers posterWhat if – on your first day as a college freshman – people greeted you as if they knew you, girls kissed you and everyone called you Eddy, even though your name was Bobby? That’s what happened to 19 year-old Robert Shafran in 1980. That’s when he discovered he was one of identical triplets who had been separated at birth and adopted by three different families. His brother Eddy had attended Sullivan County Community College in upstate New York the year before. Continue reading…

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Fork Films Funds 16 Femme-Helmed and/or Produced Documentaries — Jennifer Merin reports

fork films logoAbigail Disney’s Fork Films is dividng $625,000 in grants among 16 new documentaries that align with the company’s dedication to promoting peacebuilding, human rights, and social justice. All are directed and or produced by women. Selected from 500 applicants, the chosen films address topics ranging from refugee and immigration stories, to incarceration, civil rights, disability rights and media depictions of transgender people, as well as other timely topics. The unprecedented number of applications indicates growing demand for nonfiction storytelling in this turbulent time. Continue reading on CINEMA CITIZEN

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Documentary Distribution 101: The Film Festival Effect — Jennifer Merin comments

Developing audiences for documentaries is a daunting task for even well-established filmmakers. Successful documentary distribution depends on audience demand, on convincing audiences that they want to purchase a ticket for a nonfiction film rather than for a narrative feature, even the weekly blockbuster that has a title that has been inked indelibly onto their psyche by big budget, aggressive and effective marketing. How does film festival exposure help documentaries to gain audience, and does a documentary’s success on the festival circuit translate into wider distribution? Continue reading on CINEMA CITIZEN.

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PLAYER HATING: A LOVE STORY (2012) — Review by Jennifer Merin

player hating posterFilmmaker Maggie Hadleigh-West’s retrospective (Brooklyn, NY July 26-29) includes a screening of Player Hating: A Love Story, the 2012 documentary about Brooklyn’s talented hip hop recording artist, Jasun Wardlaw, aka Half-a-Mill, as he and his crew of ‘thugs’ prepare to release his first big record album. Half-a-Mill is hoping that the album will be the kind of success that will catapult him out of Brooklyn’s crime-riddled Atlantic Housing Project, where he’s faced tough — no, make that dire — living conditions since his childhood. He’s deeply in need of relief. And so are his family and friends. In fact, so is the whole neighborhood. Continue reading on CINEMA CITIZEN.

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93QUEEN –Review by Susan Wloszczyna

As documentaries go, 93Queen might be constricted in its scope as it details the recent creation of an all-female Hasidic EMT corps of volunteers that serves the male-dominated ultraorthodox Jewish community of Borough Park, Brooklyn. Given how women followers must steadfastly maintain their modesty to the point where showing their bare legs to a man other than their husband is forbidden, it didn’t make sense that an all-male medical emergency squad known as Hatzolah was the only option to handle calls involving births, miscarriages and other indelicate body-exposing medical situations. Continue reading…

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93QUEEN — Review by Nikki Baughan

93Queen poster“Fasten your seat belt and let’s move,” says Hasidic Jewish woman Rachel ‘Ruchie’ Freier early on in 93Queen, and you would be wise to follow her advice. The subject of Paula Eislet’s fascinating documentary is a one-woman dynamo, a fiercely religious Jewish wife and mother who also happens to be a lawyer with a dream of becoming a civil court judge. Ruchie is also determined to set up an all-female group of volunteer EMT’s, named ‘Ezras Nashim’ (Women For Women) to serve Brooklyn’s closeted Hasidic Borough Park neighbourhood after the all-male force, Hatzolah, refused to allow women to join. Continue reading…

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93QUEEN — Review by Cate Marquis

Documentary filmmaker Paula Eiselt brings us an inspiring story of women helping women in 93Queen. A group of women in a Brooklyn Hasidic community see a need for an ambulance service to help women in their community, a service they dub Ezras Nashim (“Helping Women”). Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK July 13, 2018: DARK MONEY

motw logo 1-35If you’re already feeling cynical about the current state of the United States, fair warning: Dark Money isn’t going to lighten your mental load. But filmmaker Kimberly Reed‘s intelligent documentary is unquestionably an important, timely expose of the dangers that shady untraceable corporate and ‘special interest’ funding of political campaigns poses to the ideals that many Americans still hold dear. Continue reading…

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Kimberly Reed on DARK MONEY — Nell Minow Interviews

kimberly reed 1We know “dark money” is distorting democracy but it is very hard to understand how and why, and how much damage it does. The very nature of dark money in political campaigns is secrecy. In the post-Citizens United world of unlimited, undisclosed political contributions by ultra-rich individuals and corporations, forces we cannot see now control even the most small-time local elections. Kimberly Reed (Prodigal Sons) shows us how the story of her home state of Montana in Dark Money, a powerful and profoundly disturbing story of tireless, courageous heroes and greedy villains who destroy without dark money poster ever being seen. She uses stunning images of the Montana landscape and Norman Rockwell-esque scenes in modest government buildings, newspaper offices, and courtrooms to show us how our most precious American institutions are being affected. In an interview, she talked about the challenges of making a very abstract, sometimes arcane story real on screen. Continue reading…

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DARK MONEY — Review by Susan Wloszczyna

dark money posterThe documentary Dark Money sheds light on the effects of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010 that opened the door to undisclosed corporate funding of smear campaigns and political agendas that served not we, the people, but they, the big-pocketed rich and powerful. Although the subject is highly relevant, it might not sound like a scintillating night at the movies. But director Kimberly Reed (Prodigal Sons) smartly grabs our attention by using the gorgeous and thinly populated state of Montana as a microcosm for the ongoing corruption of the election process. Continue reading…

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DARK MONEY — Review by Cate Marquis

Kimberly Reed’s Dark Money is a chilling but fascinating look at the way money from hidden, out-of-state and even foreign government sources can be used to influence or disrupt state-level political races in this country. Reed uses a state legislature race in Montana as an example, where out-of-state organizations use dark money to fund an effort to gain control of its legislature and direct public policy for those special interests. Although the specific example is Montana, it it is a clear illustration of the power of unlimited hidden money to influence local elections in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, a cautionary tale for other states also being targeted for similar efforts. Continue reading…

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DARK MONEY — Review by Jennifer Merin

Kimberly Reed’s documentary is an explosive expose about the tremendous threat the influence of concealed corporate funding of political campaigns poses to the democratic process and the legitimacy of our elections. Dark Money is a cautionary tale that shows how independent candidates for public office are targeted and defeated by special interest groups hiding behind nonprofit organizations that are funded by wealthy and influential individuals and.or corporations — the Koch brothers, for example — who are basically buying elections and gaining control of the future laws and policies of the United States, and the rights of US citizens. Reed follows an independent investigative journalist who takes a penetrating look at election regulations regarding campaign contributions, tracks dark money back to its sources and pulls the veil back on corrupt individuals who are abusing the basic tenets of our government. The well-researched and extremely important documentary is a political shocker that should be mandatory viewing for all Americans. Read full review on CINEMA CITIZEN

motw logo 1-35EDITOR’S NOTE: Dark Money is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for July 13, 2018

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EATING ANIMALS — Review by Martha K. Baker

Eatings Animals is hard to watch, but watch it we must if we’re to maintain any semblance of a healthy society. Director Christopher Dillon Quinn based his hard-edged documentary on Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2009 book of the same title. Actor Natalie Portman co-produced; she also narrates. Continue reading…

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THE EXPERIMENTAL CITY — Review by Diane Carson

The Experimental City chronicles an inventive, futuristic venture. Athelstan Spilhaus is not well-known but should be. He can still teach our environmentally abusive and wasteful society a great deal, for he spearheaded an impressively progressive, inventive futuristic venture beginning in the 1960s. Spilhaus and a distinguished steering committee, including Buckminster Fuller, researched and proposed an experimental city of 250,000 residents to be built in northern Minnesota. Continue reading…

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THE WEEK IN WOMEN: Filmmaker Amy Scott talks HAL and Women in Hollywood — Brandy McDonnell interviews

amy scott hedshotAmy Scott was inspired to helm Hal, her first feature film, after reading Nick Dawson’s Being Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel. Chronicling the influential insider’s career, Scott’s documentary is an insightful chapter in Hollywood history. “It was a fascinating look at his life and his journey. And I just connected with Hal because he was an editor for a number of years, won an Oscar for editing ‘In the Heat of the Night.’ And he directed his first film when he was 40, and I thought, ‘Hmm, OK, it’s not too late,” Scott said. Continue reading on THE WEEK IN WOMEN.

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Summer Docs Watch: The Missing Honeybees — Documentary Retroview by Jennifer Merin

more than honey posterCommentaries posted across the internet report that as summer progresses across the nation, fields of clover coming to bloom sweeten the air with their delicate fragrance. But the web buzz is that the honeybees, usually attracted to pollinate the flowers, are in absentia this year, as they have been for several years past. Several extremely good documentaries that have been released during the past decade, have set off alarms about the missing honeybees by chronicling and explaining ‘colony collapse disorder,’ the phenomenon that threatens to put honeybees on the endangered species list, to upend the ecosystem and to disastrously disrupt our food supply. Continue reading…

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POPE FRANCIS: A MAN OF HIS WORD — Review by Martha K. Baker

In 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. He was the first pope to take the name of Francis. He was also the first pope from the Americas, South America to be exact. He faces the camera in a biodoc dedicated to his life. Continue reading…

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WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR — Review by Diane Carson

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? celebrates the amazing Mister Rogers. It is wonderfully uplifting in those increasingly rare instances when we learn that a dear television star is, in fact, the persona he projects. Welcome, Mister Rogers, who, it turns out, not only embodies the amazing person hosting Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood but actually has supreme humility given the literally life-changing work he did. Continue reading…

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A LEAF OF FAITH — Review by Jennifer Merin

a leaf of faith posterIn A Leaf of Faith, filmmaker Chris Bell, best known for Bigger Stronger Faster about steroid ‘doping,’ pursues his ongoing concerns about drug issues by focusing on crippling, death dealing addiction to opioid painkillers. Having reached epidemic proportions, opioid dependecy — ranging from heroin addiction and overdose to synthetic opioid abuse while withdrawing from heroin and the prescription of opoids to relieve chronic pain — is currently among the top causes of death in the U.S. The stats are staggering. In his compelling investigation, Bell introduces and advocates for a possible solution — the use of Kratom as an alternative.
Continue reading on CINEMA CITIZEN

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BIG SONIA — Review by Diane Carson

Big Sonia captures the love and beauty of Holocaust survivor Sonia Warshawski. There are those who endure inconceivable challenges: refuges to the U.S. who arrive as survivors of nightmare wartime experiences, including loss of family members. The resiliency of these individuals is both admirable and astonishing. But few have Holocaust survivor Sonia Warshawski’s ability to communicate her astonishing life and fewer still her grace to inspire listeners to defy hate. Continue reading…

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RBG — Review by Diane Carson

RBG celebrates Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s amazing career and life. Twice in the documentary, Ruth Bader Ginsburg quotes nineteenth-century abolitionist and suffragette Sarah Grimké, “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.” RBG’s decades of legal work is testament to her lifetime commitment to human dignity and equality. Continue reading…

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HITLER’S HOLLYWOOD — Review by Jennifer Merin

hitler's hollywood posterFilmmaker Rudiger Suchsland’s Hitler’s Hollywood is a compilation documentary that uses clips from films produced during the Nazi regime to show how the movies were used to indoctrinate the masses and influence their behavior. Subtitled German Cinema in the Age of Propaganda: 1933-45, the film is more analysis than homage, presenting a fascinating profile of how Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels used cinema to creates positive stereotypes and present mythic illusions about current and historic events that influenced the zeitgeist. Continue reading on CINEMA CITIZEN

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK May 11, 2018: MOUNTAIN

motw logo 1-35The word “majestic” doesn’t do justice to the stunning visuals in Jennifer Peedom’s documentary “Mountain” — but it’s quite possible that no word is up to the task of capturing this film’s sweeping, monumental imagery. When combined with the gravitas of Willem Dafoe’s narration and the power of the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s score (composed by Richard Tognetti), the result is a movie that begs to be seen on the largest, highest-definition screen available. Continue reading…

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Julie Cohen and Betsy West Talk RBG — Interview by Nell Minow

Julie Cohen and Betsy West

Julie Cohen and Betsy West

Shakespeare could have been writing about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg when he said, “Though she be but little, she is fierce!” When she was a law professor in the 1970’s, Justice Ginsburg helped design the strategy and argued the Supreme Court cases that were as critical to defining the rights of women under the Constitution as the Brown v. Board of Education case was for defining the rights of racial minorities. She was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton and now, at age 85, the tiny, opera-loving Supreme Court Justice who proudly wears a lacy collar when she dissents from the majority decision has become an unexpected popular icon, lovingly mocked by Kate McKinnon on “Saturday Night Live” and nicknamed “Notorious RBG.” A new documentary called “RBG,” directed by Betsy West and Julie Cohen, is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week (#MOTW). In an interview, Cohen and West spoke about the film’s production and the impact of RBG — both the person and the documentary. Continue reading…

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK May 4, 2018: RBG

motw logo 1-35As the saying goes, not all superheroes wear capes. In fact, some might even be clad in black robes and lace collars. That’s the emotional takeaway from Julie Cohen and Betsy West’s excellent documentary “RBG,” which tells the story of iconic Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Tracing her life from childhood through the present, the film both humanizes Ginsburg and cements exactly why she’s so beloved by those who are passionate about women’s rights and gender equality. Continue reading…

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