Blackfish

Blackfish, a film by Gabriela Cowperthwaite

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I put off watching this film for quite some time as I consider myself an animal advocate. I couldn’t bear the thought of watching animals be mistreated and misrepresented, as well as punished and harmed. I finally had enough people tell me how important this film is to watch, and how if my dream of making a documentary that will create change, then Blackfish was the one to watch.

Cowperthwaite didn’t make this movie to create conflict or start a controversy, she was a filmmaker who was interested in investigating the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau. Despite Cowperthwaite’s interest in simply making an investigatory documentary, she has definetally rocked the boat in more ways than one. She made a powerful and horrifying case against keeping orca whales, and by extension any wild animal, in captivity.

Through years of archival footage, as well as interviews with many former SeaWorld trainers, Cowperthwaite told the story of Tilikum, the killer whale, and the events leading up to Dawn’s death. She was able to capture heartfelt and remorseful moments from those who first captured Tilikum as a 2 year old, separating him from his family and native ocean home.

Cowperthwaite’s initial instinct that “there had to be more to this story” and her determination lead her on what she describes as a “journey of shock and discovery”.

This film is a must see. It is people like Cowperthwaite that have the strength of purpose to direct a film that will make a change in this world. Blackfish could very well be a film that we not only see nominated, but win the Oscar for Best Documentary.

I give Cowperthwaite a standing ovation.

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Nelson Mandela

There are many of us that talk about starting a revolution, but there are few of use who have the bravery and strength to actually start a revolution. His actions spoke just as loudly and clearly as his words . Nelson Mandela’s activism should be forever honored and always followed.

Nelson Mandela

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5 Broken Cameras

5 Broken Cameras, a film by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi

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Early on in the film, Emad says, “I kept thinking what should I do? I had to believe that capturing these images will have some meaning.” There is no point during this film that as a viewer I wasn’t biting my nails and squirming in my chair. The images that Emad was capturing surrounding the Israeli – Bil’in conflict were horrific. The footage that came from the 5 broken cameras had, and still holds tremendous meaning.

With his first camera in hand, a project that initially began in 2005 to film the moments surrounding the birth and early childhood of his fourth son, Emad Burnat found himself on the front lines of the demonstrations protesting the barrier that was being built to separate his village of Bil’in from Israel.

Led by two of his best friends, the protestors were peacefully demonstrating their frustration in having lost 60% of their land to the building of the barrier. Emad was there to document it all. His bravery is apparent in the footage captured. One camera would break or be shot – and the next would be rolling within days. Throughout the film, his friends and his brothers are either shot or arrested. Some are even killed.

For the fact that Emad didn’t realize he would one day be making a film out of the events he was capturing, he wasn’t held back by any filmmaking “rules”. He just filmed because he loved to film and because he had hope that his footage would produce meaningful insight and important memories. He was the lens through which not only others in Palestine saw the struggle, but eventually the world would have eyes on.

5 Broken Cameras is remarkable visual essay that deserves much appreciation and is a must see.

“The only protection I can offer him (Gibreel, Emad’s youngest son) is allowing him to see everything with his own eyes, so he can confront just how vulnerable life is.” 

-Emad 

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Searching for Sugar Man

Searching for Sugar Man, a film by Malik Bendjelloul

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This true story is a filmmakers dream. This film is a dream that became a true story to tell.

Director Malik Bendjelloul was given a gift when he came across this story in South Africa back in 2006. It was what he did with that gift that was life changing for Rodriguez, those close to him and to the story, and all his past and future fans.

Bendjelloul crafts the beautiful and almost unbelievable tale of how a wildly talented and almost forgotten singer-songwritter is unearthed after decades of obscurity in this outstanding documentary. Thanks to two South African “super fans” and their dedication to finding out who Sixto Rodriguez really was, Bendjelloul was able to discover this story.

Bendjelloul recalls spending “every single cent and every single second of my life for four years to make this film”. Similarly, Rodriquez is compared by one of his bosses to a silk worm, in that he took raw materials and transformed them into something that wasn’t there before. Something beautiful and transcendent.

Both the artist and the filmmaker created something that represents possibility and triumph through the human spirit.

“Just because people are poor, or have little, doesn’t mean that their dreams aren’t big and their soul isn’t rich…” 

– Eva Rodriguez (oldest daughter) 

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Stevie

Stevie, a film by Steve James 

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I think one of the most powerful scenes in this film is when Stevie, the main character, is re-united with one set of his foster parents. During their meet up, Hal says to him, “It’s going to work out…It always does…Just always doesn’t work out like we want it to”. I feel like that statement could be used to describe the through line of this film.

Director Steve James decided to reconnect with Stevie Fielding, who he had mentored as a Big Brother, 10 years earlier. When James enters Stevie’s life again 1995, it was evident this wasn’t going to be an uplifting reunion.

James has such an eloquent and gentle way of taking us through Stevie’s past as well as the trouble he had gotten himself in to during the time the film was being made. This film is heavy and raw. I commend the honesty of those who participated in the making of the film. Their participation encouraged me to want to know more about why these horrible crimes are committed. James’ brilliant use of cinéma vérité captivated me as a viewer. I learned a lot about the craft of documentary filmmaking while watching this film. Thank you Steve James for your strong work.

This film changed Stevie’s life, whether it was for the good or the bad. Things worked out, but not necessarily how everyone close to Stevie wanted them to.

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The Power of Song

The Power of Song, a film by Jim Brown 

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Filmmaker Jim Brown had me captivated from start to finish while watching this documentary. I forgot at times I was even watching a film, I felt like I was in Pete Seeger’s backyard listening to him tell stories of his past.

Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul, and Mary describes Pete Seeger as the genesis of the folk revival. “It was his spirit, and his way of embracing folk music as a tool for justice and consciousness and caring that became the model for all of us”.

This film takes us on not only the journey of Pete Seeger and the obstacles he overcame through the early to mid 1950s, it demonstrates the power and dedication of one man to lead a movement through song. Pete describes himself as a planter of seeds. Indeed he was.

Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks describes Pete as a living testament to the first amendment. “You can’t just say you have rights. You have to use them to prove that you have them”. Pete led through his actions and his singing. He led through his words and his never wavering belief in how music can be used to gather people together, uniting them to sing out. Pete led others to sing out for Civil Rights as well as the Vietnam War.

This film is a beautiful and affectionate portrait about a pioneer of folk music. Pete Seeger was a man who shepherded songs of peace and justice, that led to the end of a war, championing common causes, and daring to sing about things as he saw them.

It’s funny how powerful a single song can be. It’s truly amazing how powerful a man and his banjo can be behind that song.

“The Pete Seeger I know, and the Pete Seeger that June and I have come to love, I’d say is one of the best Americans and Patriots I’ve ever known”

– Johnny Cash 

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Hello Everywhere

Hello Everywhere, a film by Sam Jones 

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Director Sam Jones defines photography as discovery. He believes that with a camera in his hand, he is more aware of the space and the sounds that surround him. Hello Everywhere is an extension of that awareness. Music, as described by some:

“I’ve heard that music speaks the language that words can’t speak”.

“Music helps embrace the moment”.                                                                          

“Singularity in time when we can appreciate everything that is going on around us”.

This documentary takes us on the journey to an epic night in Austin Texas where one well known band, Passion Pit, and their opening act, the “baby band” Wildcat! Wildcat! perform at the Hype Hotel.

Jones’ background is telling stories through images, both moving and still. In Hello Everywhere, he creates such a powerful connection between the members of the band, and those of us watching. There is refreshing blend of performance video along with band interviews as well as candid fan interviews. From the start of the film, we are drawn in by the realness and authenticity of each band. One having just recently played Madison Square Gardens and the other embarking on their biggest show yet.

Jones seems to feel the same way about photography as do most music lovers. The almost unexplainable connection between the sound, the space, and the moment, creating an unforgettable story. Those feelings and beliefs are portrayed through this film. The band members seem to let down their guard and speak to camera very honestly. It was fun to watch two bands, both in different stages of their careers, come together for one epic night.

“You’re not like close to their level necessarily…but you are literally doing the same thing, like sound checking. You literally are just playing music”. 

– Jesse Taylor 

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