July 13, 2016 NEWS
It seems like in the past few years, there have been a boom of music documentaries. Perhaps with good reason.
After all, films on such tortured musical artists as Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain have proven that beyond the ballads, these stars have complex, compelling lives. Now director N.C. Heikin is aiming to give Frank Morgan his day in the spotlight.
An accomplished saxophonist, Morgan played with such legendary jazz stars as Charlie Parker and Billie Holliday before a heroin addiction saw him go to jail for over three decades.
In the new documentary Sound of Redemption, Heikin pays tribute to San Quentin’s most talented inmate and “offers a frank look into the ups and downs of Morgan’s life and a reflective look at African-American culture in 1950s Los Angeles.”
“Unlike documentary filmmakers who bring journalistic training to their films, my back ground is in musical theatre. From this experience, I know that music and dance can be powerful conduits of emotion that disarm the mind and directly touch the heart,” stated filmmaker N.C. Heikin in a director’s statement. “With Sound of Redemption, Frank Morgan’s saxophone speaks for him as eloquently as any monologue. Hearing his music, the audience cannot fail to feel the self‐inflicted pain and ceaseless search for beauty that are the two main themes of Morgan’s life.”
Sound of Redemption opens in Toronto theatres this weekend.
To watch a trailer for Sound of Redemption, view below:
There may be no Mr. Tambourine Man in it but this week’s Reel Recall spotlight movie – 2013’s Expedition to the End of the World – is your ticket to a slightly bizarre, philosophical sojourn on a three-masted schooner through undiscovered northern waters.
While its title certainly works better on a metaphorical level than a literal description, filmmaker Daniel Dencik’s Expedition to the End of the World focuses its cameras on the rag-tag group of scientists and artists discovering frozen Arctic fjords for the first time and
Upon their epic journey, the eccentric crew awaken to “polar bear nightmares, Stone Age playgrounds and entirely new species. But in their meetings with these new and unknown parts of the world, the crew is also confronted with the existential questions of life.”
Although the scenery is gorgeously filmed and the crew is erratically entertaining, the meandering meditation about humanity’s critical relationship to the environment and climate change never quite coalesces much beyond the notion that humans will “only rule for a short time,” as the artist states in the movie, “and then its back to the spiders”. Instead, Expedition succeeds mostly exploring several interesting philosophical questions that never quite find resolution.
However with such spectacular cinematography of ‘the end of the world’, this is one film that’s still an exciting expedition nevertheless.Expedition to the End of the World is available on iTunes. To watch the trailer for the film, view below:
By Steve Gow Feature: THE MUSIC OF STRANGERS
In fact, Yo-Yo Ma hasn’t been going it on his own for a while. For the past 16 years, the musician has been working closely with his international collective of fellow instrumentalists to celebrate the “universal power of music”.
Named after the ancient trade route linking Asia, Africa and Europe, the Silk Road Ensemble “exemplifies music’s ability to blur geographical boundaries, blend disparate cultures and inspire hope for both artists and audiences.” And it has also inspired acclaimed filmmaker Morgan Neville.
The director behind such accomplished features as Best of Enemies and 20 Feet From Stardom, Neville has now turned out the acclaimed doc The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble – a tribute to the more than 50 artists that make up the international troupe.
“It’s about this international music project (and) how he’s trying to change the world with music,” Neville explained during an interview. “How useful music is as a tool for social change.”
Through a mix of performance, interviews and archival film, Neville centers on the “journeys of a small group of Silk Road Ensemble mainstays from across the globe to create an intensely personal chronicle of passion, talent and sacrifice. Through these moving individual stories, the filmmakers paint a vivid portrait of a bold musical experiment and a global search for the ties that bind,” according to the film’s press notes.
It’s a fascinating study that was clearly a passion project for the Oscar-winning filmmaker – who must have rejoiced in the sensational music and characters behind the film.
“Documentaries are the same as any film – the best ones are about story or character,” stated Neville. “The documentaries I stay away from are ones where people say I want to make a film about hunger in rural America or a film about water issues. I don’t want to make a film about ideas – I want to make a film about stories or characters that have ideas in them.”
THE MUSIC OF STRANGERS is now playing in Toronto theatres.
To watch the trailer for THE MUSIC OF STRANGERS, view below:
Help end shark fin soup.
The man behind the acclaimed 2007 documentary Sharkwater has set out reveal the incredible truth behind the shocking number of sharks that are suddenly disappearing from the oceans every year!
Currently in production, filmmaker Rob Stewart just launched Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds to complete his latest movie – Sharkwater: Extinction, which takes “him on a dangerous quest to find 80 million missing sharks, revealing a multi billion-dollar scandal that implicates us all in the greatest wildlife massacre ever known.”
Aimed to be a thrilling cinematic adventure, the film will also illuminate audiences to “how our fear of sharks and complacency as consumers has let sharks be slaughtered and turned into lipstick, moisturizer, pet food, livestock feed, fertilizer and even fast food sandwiches,” according the film’s press release.
Scheduled to hit theatres in 2017, you can help Stewart fund this eye-opening documentary by visiting his Kickstarter page here and supporting the movement to reverse the extinction of these incredible creatures.
To watch a clip from Stewart’s 2007 film Sharkwater, view below:
Turn to the back pages of any weekly urban publication and you’re bound to discover a wealth of phone numbers…
Each promises everything from sex chat to suicide prevention and it’s a phenomenon director Tony Shaff not only became fascinated by in his 2014 doc Hotline, but even tasted first hand taking up the receiver on such services. In this week’s intriguing Reel Recall spotlight, we explore Shaff’s look at some of the world’s most popular hotlines and and replay a chat with the filmmaker from the movie’s Hot Docs premiere.
Steve Gow: Where did you come up with the idea to study phone hotlines?
Tony Shaff: Right out of college, my car broke down and I was desperate to fix my car. I was looking in the back of the LA Weekly and there were jobs where I could work from home as a telephone psychic. I applied for this job and worked for about six weeks as a telephone psychic – although I’m not psychic – and really loved the experience. Then I moved to New York and volunteered for a suicide prevention hotline for two years and during that time, I realized the similarities between the callers on the psychic hotline and the suicide hotline. At the time, I wasn’t thinking I’m going to make a film about this. I was just really enjoying the experience as much as you can, talking to people, hearing their stories and then down the line, I wanted to explore this and find out if other hotlines were having the same experiences and that’s when I branched out and started talking and seeing what other hotlines are out there; how they’re relevant today.
SG: Its interesting to see the similarity between the callers. Do you think the idea of a hotline is a by-product of the pressures of today’s media and pop-culture environment – especially given that you meet (celebrity psychic) Miss Cleo in this documentary?
TS: Right, well, there was a huge rise of these hotlines, these 1-900 numbers, that happened that we all remember in the 90’s, late-80s and those are the things that first come to mind but these hotlines – not just phone sex or suicide hotline or even things like the homework hotline which was one that was invented in Nashville, Tennessee – these are hotlines that are possibly affected by pop culture but also we’ve moved away from this idea of picking up the phone to call somebody. Sometimes its almost rude to call somebody now. You send them an email or send them a text message. But I think there’s this craving in humans to have this voice-to-voice communication. Picking up a phone and talking to a stranger is what hotlines provide now so maybe it’s a by-product of the fact that people don’t have those people they can turn and talk to.
SG: Jeff, One Lonely Guy is one subject in the film that speaks volumes to that in the film – someone who simply posted a sign and became so burdened with calls.
TS: He put up a flyer for his own therapy. He just wanted a friend. Its sort of like getting a dogwalker or getting your house cleaned, (he thought) ‘maybe I can get a friend off this flyer’. And what he found was that, not only were people trying to help him but the people trying to help him were people that needed help themselves so he just built these very temporary, very fleeting relationships with – you know, he’s said he’s had 150,000 calls since he hooked into that flyer – and that just shows you the complete need.
SG: Did you have any difficulty getting anybody on board? Because I could see some of these people being skeptical of a filmmaker coming in and asking a bunch of questions.
TS: The interesting thing about the people in the film is that they’re used to being people that listen to stories. They’re not used to being people that talk about their own stories. So having my own personal experience with hotlines and then talking about their experiences and giving them the opportunity to open and talk about things, I think they were almost shocked to hear themselves saying some of these experiences out loud because they are so used to just hearing other people’s problems. That’s not quite the answer (but) ya, it was difficult (finding people), I wanted to find a really diverse group of people (whether it was) the volunteer hotline or a little bit quirkier hotlines – the one man pastor down in Pennsylvania. He’s one guy as well; he gets 15 calls a day which is much different than Jeff. But that to everything to Samaritans which is a huge suicide prevention hotline in New York and they receive volumes of calls. So I think that people are, I don’t want to say protective but because it’s anonymous and confidential, there is a little bit of need to keep it private but its also about getting these services out there.
SG: Were there any people that you tried to reach out to that weren’t open to being in the film?
TS: There was the Butterball Turkey Hotline – I’m not sure if you’re familiar with that.
SG: No, I’m not.
TS: Every Thanksgiving, they have this turkey hotline where domestic engineers sit around and answer your turkey questions – whether you’re worried about burning the turkey or if that stuffing is cooked enough for Thanksgiving. We really wanted to have the Butterball Turkey Hotline but I think it just didn’t quite work out. There’s a very narrow window of opportunity with them; they open for one week out of the year. But that was one that I really wanted. I wanted to see if it wasn’t just getting tips on cooking turkeys but also that moral support of like, “I’m cooking dinner…”
SG: The stress!
TS: Ya, the stress! The holidays are very stressful. I wanted to see what that was like so we’ll see. I still think I’ll try and get in there. I want to see it for myself.
To watch the trailer for HOTLINE, view below:
by Steve Gow Feature: DE PALMA
Brian De Palma’s movies have been influential, endlessly entertaining and extremely diverse. Having lauched a successful career in the 1960s alongside such iconic contemporaries as Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg, De Palma has been every bit a visionary with less of the limelight – until now.
In the eponymous documentary De Palma, acclaimed filmmakers Jake Paltrow (TV’s Boardwalk Empire) and Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha, Greenberg) sit down with the American auteur to let him discuss his memories, his movies and a few personal and candid anecdotes.
And with over 50 years in showbiz, De Palma surely has no shortage of stories to tell and all the integrity to back it up.
“I was obsessed with Brian as a teenager; I devoured those movies,” explained Paltrow during an interview ahead of this weekend’s theatrical premiere in Toronto (alongside a career retrospective). “But even more than being a fan, (the film) grew out of our friendship with him.”
As a struggling young filmmaker, Paltrow was fortunate enough to meet De Palma and gain his advice while making his debut movie. While the legdendary director’s counsel was invaluable, Paltrow states it was his ultimately his friendship that forged this tribute documentary.
“He doesn’t soft pedal anything so it’s a very unique to have a friend who has your best interests in mind yet won’t give it to you soft if something’s not working, or just in general – and I think in a lot of ways, that’s why we wanted to make a movie about Brian – because of the way Brian communicates,” stated Paltrow. “He’s unguarded in all these sorts of ways and he’s so articulate and he’s experienced so much – what else is the basis of drama?”
To watch the trailer for DE PALMA, view below:
by Steve Gow Interview: KONELINE: Our Land Beautiful
Reminiscent of the works of acclaimed filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal, the documentary KONELINE: Our Land Beautiful focuses on the dynamic “cinematic poetry” in the remote Tahltan territory of northern British Columbia where the impact of arriving mining interests and their infrastructure are affecting First Nations, environmentalists and the drillers and miners in equal measure. In fact, the stunning movie’s less-polemic approach to environmentalism is surprising audiences enough to earn director Nettie Wild the top prize at North America’s largest documentary film festival, Hot Docs – with its distinctly artistic approach. We caught up with Wild recently ahead of the film’s release this weekend in Toronto.
Steve Gow: I read somewhere that you said wanted to make art film for the drillers. Tell me about approach?
Nettie Wild: There’s just a hell of a lot of rhetoric flying around and I think it’s dangerous. I think that we’re in a place where there’s this big shared project that we all have to be in a mutual conversation and that includes the diamond drillers, that includes industry, environmentists – we can’t be writing each other off with this kind of rhetorical roar where nothing is getting through…I figured the one thing I could contribute was art and that its possible if you can create a sensuous, visceral experience for people they might get something that they’re not getting through the rhetoric.
Gow: The one scene that seems to really getting a reaction is the sequence of workers brining in the huge transmission towers (by the world’s biggest helicopters).
Wild: It was beautiful. It was like a choreography that we’d never seen before (so) we kind of went ‘bingo’ – that’s where we want to go…one of my favorite critiques was from one woman who said to me, ‘I hate to say this because I’m really against the transmission line and everything that it stands for but that sequence was really beautiful’.
Gow: As you’ve said, you wanted to make a cinematic poem and not take sides. Is it hard not to take a stance when you’re making and environmental film?
Wild: Once you’re on the track, once you know where the juice is – no. You start to realize it’s a liberation. That’s where I hope my audience is going. It’s a root into seeing all the hearts that beat on the many different sides.
Gow: You have made activist film before – can you talk about activist filmmaking and how to come across as alienating. In some ways, this is probably more effective because you don’t take a stance.
Wild: I’m hoping that in these times, this idea of using a different way of storytelling is in fact going to resonate and its going to touch more people and it’s going to pull diamond drillers and linemen into the cinema as well as people who see themselves as environmentalists.
KONELINE: Our Land Beautiful opens today in Toronto.
June 6, 2016 Reel Recall: THE TRIALS OF MUHAMMAD ALI (2013)
He may have been 74, but it didn’t seem possible that Muhammad Ali would ever die.
After all, the boxing legend has been part of the universal zeitgeist ever since I can recall, and his contribution to sports, religion and politics has been incredibly pervasive.
This weekend saw the passing of the legend after a struggle with Parkinson’s Disease and a recent hospitalization for respiratory issues. In honor of Cassius Clay, we take a look at the 2013 documentary The Trials of Muhammad Ali as our Reel Recall spotlight film.
An unconventional sports documentary, filmmaker Bill Siegel’s The Trials of Muhammad Ali takes a close look at the boxer’s life away from the sport he dominated – “beginning with the announcement of his deeply held and controversial Islamic religious beliefs” and examining his refusal to go and fight in the Vietnam War.
As a legend who’s sporting life has been long documented, this film offers a fresh take on Ali’s incredible life outside the ring – which is worth long consideration.
After all, this is the person who coined the quote, “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”.
To watch the trailer for The Trials of Muhammad Ali, view below:
June 3, 2016 NEWS
As filmmaker Daniel Cross uncovers in this new film I Am The Blues, it may not nearly be the most lucrative of music forms, but it is probably its most everlasting. Even as the director travels to the swamps of the Louisiana Bayou and the shacks of Mississippi in order to catch up to some of the last original blues artists, he finds their music is still alive.
Exploring such geriatric musicians as Bobby Rush, Little Freddy King, RL Boyce, Lazy Lester and many many others, Cross learns that these artists at the forefront aren’t necessarily living in the lap of luxury even after they spent a lifetime doing what they love.
“Cross isn’t interested in constructing a history of the blues, or even placing it in the context of modern music,” wrote reviewer Chris Knight of the National Post. “He’s more about taking a snapshot of an era that is almost by and gone.”