The Champions

The Champions, a film by Darcy Dennett

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This film strips away stereotypes and breaks down barriers. This film makes you feel something. I am finding it hard to put in to words how incredible it was to follow along as we watch 5 of over the 50 pit bulls that were at one time part of Michael Vick’s dog-fighting ring, come to life. We also get to see another pit bull rescue, Slater, remain in a loving and healthy environment despite his battle with breed discrimination.

As much as I want to stand on my soap box and preach about how terrible it is what Michael Vick has done and how I don’t feel he could ever possibly redeem himself, I want to focus on the hope that these dogs and their caregivers share throughout the course of the film. A hope, that in this crazy world, we could all use a little bit more of.

Filmmaker Dennett and her team told not only an amazing story about these heroic dogs and the unconditional love they were given by rescue organizations across the country as well as individuals who fostered and ultimately adopted them, but she captivated me with beautiful cinematography and meaningful and poetic score. The film was visually stimulating as well as a wonderful web of stories.

I would recommend this film to anyone who not only loves animals, but loves a story about an underdog, no pun intended. These dogs, against all odds were brought back to life. They were given a second chance. I think this film has the power to change the way the world sees pit bulls. The Champions is a story of resilience; Cherry, Slater, Little Red, Handsome Dan, Mel, and Johnny, overcome what could have been the end and found peace, love, life, and happiness.

 

 

 

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The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young

The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young, a film by Annika Iltis & Timothy James Kane 

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I hadn’t heard of this film until it popped up on my Netflix queue and I am so glad that it did. The filmmakers take us back to the epic journey of those racing in the 2012 Barkley Marathons.

Up until this point, there had only been 10 finishers of the 100 mile race since it’s conception in 1986. Gary Cantrell, former ultra-marathon runner and creator of the Barkley Marathons, has been driven by challenges his entire life. With his love of chasing the limit and an inspiration from James Early Ray’s prison escape into the woods of what is now part of the race route, the birth of the Barkley Marathons began.

With Gary’s help and all those participating in the 2012 race, we are able to join in the hellish, but heroic journey of 35 runners over the course of 60 hours.

Although I’ve only become a runner in the last few years and have fallen in love with the sport, I couldn’t imagine attempting something as profound as the Barkley Marathons. Watching the runners as they proceed on the course and hearing their thoughts along the way was very inspirational. Gary says, “…people that go through this, they are better for it. They’re not made of better stuff than other people, but they’re better for what they have asked of themselves.”

This is film that motivates, encourages, and awakens the desire to challenge ourselves to be our best person.

 

 

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Cartel Land

Cartel Land, a film by Matthew Heineman

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I apologize for my 9 month nap. I am back and just in time for the Oscars!

There was no better way to break out of hybernation than watching Cartel Land. Not since Restrepo, had I seen a filmmaker physically risk his life to capture such sordid stories as those of the anti-cartel vigilante group Autodefensas and those behind one of many meth-cooking operations deep in the Mexican jungle.

As in all great documentaries, a filmmaker sets out on a journey to tell one story, and along the way finds many twists and turns and curves that lead them on a path to a much different, and in this case, all-important story.

Heineman followed not only the Autodefensas and their leader at the time, but he gained the trust of Tim ‘Nailer’ Foley, leader of the Arizona Boarder Recon, and was able to follow Tim and his men while they patrolled the US – Mexico Boarder in Southern Arizona.

Throughout the film, you can feel the passion Heineman felt for the stories unfolding all around him. He put himself in a position to film in real time, to capture things as they were happening. Whether that was a man being interrogated at gunpoint, or a takedown by Foley and his men, what Heineman and his small crew did was brave. He put himself in complete danger to allow us to see first hand how cartel violence is affecting everyday people. He captured men and woman rising up to fight back and the potential outcome that may lead to.

When asked about the film, Heineman said, “I thought it was this very simple story of good versus evil, guys in white shirts versus guys in black shirts. Then over time, those lines between good and evil became ever more blurry.” His love of storytelling and his desire to tell this story from the inside rather than the outside may just be the best documentary of 2015.

“You can’t stop the cartel, no matter what you do…it’s a never ending story.”

– annoymous meth cook & member of the Policia Estatal Fuerza Rural

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mile, Mile & A Half

Mile, Mile & A Half, a film by Jason Fitzpatrick and Ric Serena

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I have always had a love for the outdoors, but my affection for all things wild has grown exponentially over the last few years. Summiting Mount Whitney last fall was a life changing experience for me. I felt connected to nature and myself and those I was with, in a way I never had before. After having just a taste of the John Muir Trail, I was so excited when this film came across my radar.

Mile, Mile & A Half is a “collective journal” come to life. This film documents the experiences of what started as a group of five friends, that by the end had over doubled. Along the way, they met artists, musicians, and others just out for an adventure. Each individual adding to the overall experience.

The filmmakers invite you to “Come laugh, limp, sing & walk with us” and this is truly the essence of the film. Mixing those elements with beautiful images and an incredible soundtrack create the overall dynamic and meaning, which in the end is what John Muir’s life mission was all about; his letters, essays, and books telling of his adventures in nature, hoping to help preserve the Yosemite Valley, Sequoia National Park, and other wilderness areas.

Watching this film made me feel a part of something special. It made me feel refreshed and ready for the next big adventure, whatever that may be.

“Keep close to Nature’s heart … and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”

– John Muir

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Virunga

Virunga, a film by Orlando von Einsiedel

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In a world where there are those that believe the conservation of nature is second to oil exploration and the protection and preservation of wildlife and land is of less importance than that of the discovery of finite resources always causes friction, and in some cases war. The film itself, as well as the entire crew that was behind the making of Virunga, and those that continue to protect the park, are infinitely courageous. There were a lot of factors playing a part in the unrest that unfolded during the course of the film, but throughout, the park rangers and the investigative journalist also involved in telling this story, stood bold and fearless.

As much as this film demonstrates what is wrong and twisted in the way the world thinks about and depends on oil, it highlights a group of people who have made it their life purpose to defend and protect the Virunga National Park. They unwaveringly stood their ground when the conflict with M23 began in April of 2012. The rangers were not only faced with conflict by the Congolese Revolutionary Army, but the interest of the British oil company Soco International, which continues to carry out exploration for oil in the park.

I learned that Virunga National Park, Africa’s first national park is home to nearly half of the world’s 700-some remaining mountain gorillas. The park is known for its exceptional biodiversity and the Virunga Mountains host a chain of volcanoes. Over 140 of Virunga’s rangers have lost their lives protecting the park and the indigenous park wildlife since 1996.

There is no simple solution to changing the current situation in Virunga, but if anything we can take away the powerful message of being bold. Not being afraid to fight for change. Each day we can take steps towards creating a better world.

“Only the proper environmental conditions are required to allow the underlying and natural ‘seed of compassion’ to germinate and grow.”

– The 14th Dalai Lama 

virungamovie.com

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Living on One Dollar

Living on One Dollar, a film by Chris Temple, Zach Ingrasci, Sean Leonard, and Ryan Christofferson

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The is a beautiful film, a beautiful story, a beautiful journey, and a beautiful cause. It is rare to find people who are willing not only to live out of their comfort zone to learn more about the world we live in, but that have devoted their lives to raising awareness and inspiring action around extreme poverty.

In 2010, four young college friends traveled to rural Guatemala to capture their struggles, sacrifices, and strengths while living in a small village town on less than a dollar a day. Dedicated to emersing themselves in the culture and the community, they were able to begin to understand what impoverished people around the world struggle with on a daily basis in order to simply survive. While battling hunger and getting to know their neighbors, Chris, Zach, Sean, and Ryan realized there are no simple solutions.

Everytime I seem to forget what matters most, I find a documentary like Living on One Dollar to ground me and remind me where my focus needs to be. This film is extrememly important and the mission that has developed out of the film and the filmmakers experiences has the power to make impactful, positive, and lasting change.

“Please don’t forget the people here in Peña Blanca, because we are not only fighting to better our lives, we are also fighting just to survive.”

– Anthony, a member of the Peña Blanca village 

[http://livingonone.org]

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Finding Vivian Maier

 Finding Vivian Maier, a film by John Maloof & Charlie Siskel

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I hadn’t heard of this documentary until coming across it on a long plane ride from London to Los Angeles the other day. I thought, I love documentaries why not give it a go. This film totally surprised me. I didn’t want the story to end.

I am always skeptical of films that are told through the eyes of the director, but Maloof did a sensational job of telling Vivian Maier’s story. Right off the bat he has the viewer intrigued by this unknown artist, a photographer that has no record of existence other than her obituary. Maloof and Siskel take us on the journey of their discovery of who they come to find out was a mysterious nanny who in her lifetime took over 100,000 unseen photographs.

Watching this film you could feel the authentic desire the filmmakers shared in wanting to discover the answers. They were on a true quest to find who Vivian Maier truly was. Where she came from? What her deep dark secrets may have been. Where say may have lived during her life. Who she had worked for. What was the meaning behind all of her photographs.

Directors Maloof and Siskel capture their discoveries of Maier’s strange and riveting life through her never before seen photographs, films, and interviews with dozens who thought they knew her.

I give a standing ovation to Maloof for being the champion of not only Maier’s work, but her story. Must see.

[www.vivianmaier.com]

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