Jury Coordination and Notes

Hooray For OLD Hollywood By Clayton Pickard

May 18th, 2017

Last month, while visiting a college, I came upon a film on TCM called The Best Years Of Our Lives.   It’s a post WWII film about the difficulties soldiers faced in acclimating back into society after being in combat. Directed by William Wyler, it was released in 1946 and stars Myrna Loy, Fredric March and Dana Andrews. While watching the film, I had an epiphany that older movies flow much better than many current films. There isn’t any rush to change scenes, which allows the viewer to better comprehend what they’re watching. The pace also gives the actors and directors more breadth. I was really able to appreciate the humor of Myrna Loy.

This weekend, I watched Casablanca for the third time (one of my mother’s favorite films). Released in 1942, it is directed by Michael Curtiz and stars Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid. Casablanca is a WWII film taking place in French Morocco.  What I really love about this film and other old movies is that they have amazing close-ups, which allow the viewer to appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of the stars’ faces. In this film, they show close-ups of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman that are heavenly.  Casablanca reveals the ambiguous complexity of right and wrong, unlike most movies of today. It shows the flat out truth of life, that there are no easy answers.

I also screened North By Northwest, which I’ve seen on DVD and at Film Forum. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, it stars Cary Grant, Angie Dickinson and James Mason. It is a thriller/ adventure film made in 1959 about a clueless advertising executive who is mistaken for an American spy. The most extraordinary aspect of this film is that everything is shot on location, without any special effects or CGI. The iconic crop duster and Mount Rushmore scenes are done on location. This creates a real sense of verisimilitude, whereby the viewer feels as if it’s happening to them.

While I used to have a prejudice against old movies. Now, I am gaining an appreciation for them and starting to slowly move away from all the typical Hollywood blockbusters.

 

 

American Black or British Black: Why the Discussion? By Willie Jones, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17

May 11th, 2017

 

Samuel L. Jackson recently spoke about how British black actors have recently been heavily cast in roles that he feels would have benefited more had they been filled by American black actors. He was referring to actors such as David Oyelowo, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Naomie Harris and Daniel Kaluuya. Jackson stated that while these actors are doing fine jobs, the roles of Martin Luther King or Chris Washington could have been more judiciously played by American black actor. Let’s evaluate this.

As of late, yes, black Brits have been coming to the U.S. and taking roles in American films. They give stellar performances as Americans and create memorable cinema. Is that bad? Not necessarily so. After all, they’re still within a minority and represent an underrepresented community. Their country of origin shouldn’t matter. However, there is a reason behind their recent surge in Hollywood.

Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson are noted thespians. They’ve been trained and have experience on the stage and that translates in their screen performances. The problem is that, they’re beginning to be a part of a minority. The likes of Ejiofor and Oyelowo are trained in England, a very theatrical country. Film is still secondary to theater there and so, actors in Britain get classical theatrical training. For the most part, thespians still garner more respect than film actors (excluding Jack Nicholson). Having theater experience is essential to be respected as an actor and Americans increasingly ignoring that. They start in film and never venture into theater until after they’re established such as Jake Gyllenhaal or Leonardo DiCaprio.

When these thespians come to the U.S., they’re cheaper than American black film actors, have more respected training and can speak with impeccable American accents. Why wouldn’t they be hired? And why does that create a rift within the entertainment community? It should inspire American black actors to seek more theatrical training. And while Sam Jackson meant no harm with his statement, there’s a rather large debate over whether or not Hollywood should keep hiring black actors from overseas and not support more American black actors. All I can say is: it’s a business. A very cutthroat business, that’s all about survival of the fittest. If a group of actors comes into Hollywood better trained, does that mean another group of actors should complain about their roles being taken away? No. It means they should sharpen their skills and advance their training.

So before this becomes a bigger issue than it should, let’s just acknowledge that, what matters in the end is good cinema. So whether Martin Luther King’s story is told by a Brit or American, as long as it’s told well, it doesn’t matter. Movies are about stories and the imagination. Those don’t see color or nationality.

Finding Oscar – A Reflection on a Horrific Story from Not That Long Ago by Gerry O.

May 4th, 2017

Finding Oscar tells the heartfelt story of the small village of Dos Erres and it makes you feel inspired and outraged at the same time. There were many horrific events humanity witnessed in the last century – many wars, and lots of innocent people suffered. One event in Dos Erres, Guatemala was a terrible genocide that killed the entire village.

Finding Oscar is a documentary that reflects on historical events and educates people, especially the younger generation. The story that Finding Oscar delves into may seem unrealistic until the viewer realizes that these events really happened and that families were broken apart and young lives were cut short. The events were devastating and the tone of the film reflects that.

In the 1980s, Guatemala was in the midst of a horrendous civil war. In October 1982, the rebels, or guerrillas, attacked a convoy near a small farm village called Dos Erres. A special ops team of the Guatemalan government, very similar to the special ops of US, called Kaibiles, dressed as rebels and infiltrated the village, thinking there were weapons there. They divided the men into one building and women and children into another. Throughout the night, they tormented the entire population of the small village, especially the women and children. In the morning, the Kaibiles killed almost every person in the village, including the children. Only a few kids survived the entire massacre by accident. Two of them were then raised by the soldiers who killed their families.

In parallel, the documentary tells the story of people attempting to bring people responsible for committing the war crimes to justice. To do so and prove their involvement, they must find witnesses of the event, both the surviving kids and the soldiers who participated in the genocide. On top of that, the film looks into the neglectfulness of not only the Guatemalan government, but also the United Sates, which supported the Guatemalan government during the civil war, despite having intelligence about the Dos Erres Massacre and many others similar to it.

Finding Oscar takes a very complex situation and dissects it perfectly. Ryan Suffern (director, producer and co-writer) really tells this story in a masterful way. One aspect I absolutely love has to do with the story. Despite being filmed in the modern world, it talks about the events that happened in chronological order. Finding Oscar doesn’t look at the information as a documentary, but instead tells a story about people who either were connected to this tragedy or feel passionate about uncovering the truth and f inding justice. It begins with explaining the civil war and its causes. It goes on to explain the massacre and its immediate results. Another part that really adds to the effect of the story is the camerawork.

The scene I found the most impactful in this film has to be when one of the survivors gets reunited with his father more than thirty years later. At this point, the boy is grown and has a family of his own. His father, however, thought that the boy and the rest of his family, including eight children, had died in the genocide. The father realizes that he not only has a son and daughter in law, but grandkids as well. The scene is beautiful and so powerful that the entire audience cries.

The message and the story of Finding Oscar are important, but it has many mature elements. I recommend this to ages 13 to 18. The dark aspects of the genocide are rather impactful and unsuitable for younger children. However, I believe this is one of the films that everyone should watch so history doesn’t repeat itself. It is scary to think that these events took place in 1980s – not that long ago. I give this film 5 out of 5 stars for its inspirational story and superb cinematography that add to the power of the plot.

Plastic is Forever – An Interview with filmmaker Dylan D’Haeze by Juanita Seon Leary

April 27th, 2017

The Philadelphia Environment Film Festival, the first of its kind in the city of Brotherly Love played Earth Day Weekend, April 21 through 23, 2017 at the historic Prince Theater in downtown Philadelphia. The festival opened on Friday night, honoring Fisher Stevens, director of the critically acclaimed climate change documentary, Before the Flood and closed on Sunday with James Cameron’s classic award-winning film, Avatar. The festival showcased dozens of new shorts and features from international and domestic filmmakers celebrating the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement, Earth Day.

Despite the rainy day and the March for Science rally, film, environmental and art enthusiasts of all ages attended the festival.  Festival founders Debra Wolf Goldstein and Alexandra Drobac Diagne said “We are extremely passionate about combining powerful moving imagery on the silver screen with educational and inspirational knowledge about the current state and future of the beautiful planet we all call home.”

My favorite part of the festival was viewing the Youth Block of Films and having the opportunity to interview the award-winning young filmmaker Dylan D’Haeze and his mother Dawn D’Haeze. Dylan’s film, Plastic is Forever was featured at the festival. Here is an excerpt of my interview with filmmaker Dylan D’Haeze and his mother and producer, Dawn D’Haeze.

Juanita: Welcome Dylan and Dawn D’Haeze to KIDS FIRST! Thank you for the opportunity to talk with me and share with our KIDS FIRST! audience points about your wonderful documentary Plastic is Forever.  Congratulations on being the youngest winning filmmaker at San Francisco Ocean Film Festival and winner of its 2017 Environmental Award. Dylan, what sparked your interest in plastic pollution?

Dylan: Thank you, Juanita. I am home schooled and it started as a project for school and, as I researched and answered the questions about plastics I became concerned about how plastic can damage the earth.

Juanita: Why did you did decide to create this documentary?

Dylan:  I made this documentary because I’ve learned about plastic pollution and how it’s affecting the planet in a very bad way. As a kid, it scares me and I feel powerless. So, I decided to make a documentary about plastic pollution and teach kids how they can help solve the problem.

Juanita:
Do you have a favorite filmmaker of director?

Dylan:  Yes, my favorite director is Kip Anderson, director of Conspiracy: The Sustainability Secret.

Juanita: What challenges did you face in bringing your son’s ideas to life?

Dawn:   Our biggest challenge was getting interviews. People were reluctant because they did not know us. However, as we continued it got better.

Juanita: Describe how you felt when you went to the beach in Hawaii.

Dawn:   The beach we shot is a two-hour drive from the city. The road is very rough and very rocky.

Dylan: The beach is covered with plastic and they had a clean-up before we visited. So much plastic, it has in the past reached almost 10 feet high. The broken pieces are becoming part of the beach. It was awful.

Juanita: What is your next step to realize your goal of showing kids they are not powerless and that their daily actions affect our future?

Dylan:  This documentary is one in a series of films I’m making called Kids Can Save The Planet. The next film will be about climate change and I’m really looking forward to start filming again soon!

Juanita: Dylan and Dawn, thank you very much for speaking with me today. I want to mention that Dylan’s film, Plastic is Forever is playing now at KIDS FIRST! Film Festivals nationwide so, be sure to check with your local festival to see if it is playing there. We look forward to your continuing series, Kids Can Save The Planet and wish you the best in your filmmaking endeavors. It’s heart-warming to see a young person such as yourself tackling this important issue.               

 

 

 

As Women’s History Month 2017 Comes To An End By Brianna Hope Beaton

April 2nd, 2017

I believe that all people are important for various reasons. However, since March is Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day was on March 8th, the importance of woman is near and dear to my heart. Instead of focusing on one person or even one group of people, I want to focus on the historical progression of woman’s rights in America.

In 1769, women had limited property rights. The colonies declared that women could not own property in their own name or keep any of their own earnings. Years later, in 1848, the first woman’s rights convention was held. Hundreds of activists gathered in New York, to work out a plan to obtain women’s suffrage nationwide. Well-known participants signed the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, modeled after the Declaration of Independence. It called for equal treatment of both genders under the law and voting rights for women.

In 1869, the racial equality problem pared with the arguments and disagreements over Amendments 13 to 15, dividing into two woman’s organizations – the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association. The two came back together in 1890 to form the National American Women’s Suffrage Association. In the same year, the territory of Wyoming passed the first law that give women, over the age of 21, the right to vote. After Wyoming joined the Union, it established itself as the first state to allow a woman the right to vote. In 1872, Congress required federal equal pay for equal work. However, this law was unfortunately not extended to the majority of female employees working for private companies until the adoption of the Equal Pay Act in 1963. Also in 1872, Victoria Woodhull claimed the title for being the first woman to be nominated for president, but ironically no woman was allowed to vote. Woman are reminded of this fact when, later in the year, Susan B. Anthony was arrested for trying to vote and was convicted of “unlawful voting.”

About 30 years later, in 1903, The Women’s Trade Union League was established, unifying women that worked and promoting better pay and working conditions. Nearly twenty years later, in 1920, the 19th amendment was ratified and women were finally able to vote!!!!! In 1963, the Equal Pay act became a federal law for all woman. In 1967, civil rights protections were extended to women. President Lyndon B. Johnson issued Executive Order 11375, which expanded the affirmative action policies of 1965 to cover discrimination based on sex.

A few years later, in 1972, Congress passed, Title IX of the Education Amendments, which required schools receiving federal funds to offer equal admission to educational programs for all genders. This law is credited with the fiery growth of sports for women and girls at the high school, collegiate and professional levels. The law took effect in 1976 after withstanding repeated court challenges. In 1973, the Supreme Court established the abortion right. In and after Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court determined that a woman has the constitutional right to choose whether to have an abortion or carry her pregnancy to term. In the same year, the women-only branches of the U.S. Military eliminated. Women became intergraded into all branches of the U.S Military. Five years after that, in 1978, employment discrimination against pregnant women was banned. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act ensures that employment discrimination on account of pregnancy is treated as unlawful sex-based discrimination. And last but not least, in 2009 the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was signed into law. The new law changed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which stated that discrimination complaints must be brought within 180 days of the discriminatory act.

As you can see, woman’s rights have come a long way. It’s good to know and understand the trials and tribulations that those who came before you had to go through for you in order to do the things that you, as a woman can do today. I hope you enjoyed your International Woman’s Month and celebrated how far we have come.

“I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.”
Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

My Anime Addiction By Clayton Pickard, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17

March 1st, 2017

The first film that turned me onto anime was Fullmetal Alchemist. The intense, adventurous action of Edward and Alphonse Elric captivated me. I find the entire idea of alchemy quite fascinating. The first time I watched this film, I was unaware of the elaborate history of alchemy. I watched it again when I was a bit older and understood it and enjoyed it even more. I was highly bewitched by the dark background of Edward and Alphonse and what Edward sacrificed for his brother. After watching this film, both the original and the Brotherhood version a total of six times, I was finally prepared to dig deeper into the enslaving ways of anime.

The next anime I watched was Seven Deadly Sins which is very similar to Fullmetal Alchemist. They both use the Sins as essential characters, but portray them in different ways. In Fullmetal Alchemist they are the central villains that the Elricks must overcome to accomplish their dire objective. In Seven Deadly Sins they are portrayed as the preeminent heroes of the story who are sadly misunderstood by the public as monsters. After watching this series, I went onto Hunter X Hunter which is where my binding animobsession really began.

I have watched Hunter X Hunter (148 episodes; 22 minutes each) five times. The first time I watched this show I stayed in my room, binge watching it, for two and a half full days until I finished it. This is, by far, the most emotionally intense and adventurous show I have ever seen. The main characters are very relatable and remind me of my own childhood. It is about a young boy named Gon whose father abandoned him in order to take the Hunter Exam. Gon is taken in by one of his father’s childhood friends and raised by her until he decides to take the Hunter Exam, in order to search for his father. The rest of the show is Gon’s journey searching for his father, who doesn’t exactly want to see him. He feels guilty for leaving his son many years ago and makes it as difficult as possible for Gon to find him. After finally getting off my deep addiction to this show, I turned to Sword Art Online to quench my anime thirst.

Sword Art Online is highly intense and thrilling. I ended up getting sucked into it and watched it seven times. This show is about a teenager named Kirito who luckily gets his hands on a highly anticipated game, Sword Art Online. Sword Art Online is a action packed MMORPG (Massively multiplayer online role-playing games) that allows you to dive inside the game when using nerve gear. Once all the players are inside the game, it gets corrupted by the creator and everyone is trapped inside, not being able to log out, until the players beat the 100th floor. Did I forget to mention that if any person dies inside the game, they also die in real life. This anime also has the best intensely beautiful soundtrack I have ever heard, I even listen to it when I am not watching the anime.

I am currently watching the Magi series and am trying to widen my horizons to other animes, like Black Butler, Death Note, Tokyo Ghoul and Blue Exorcist. Please contact me through [email protected] if you need any other recommendations or just want to talk about anime.

The Impact Of Films by Gerry Orz, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 14

February 10th, 2017

In my past blogs, I often look at how film is changing due to new technologies and changing mediums. This week, I don’t want to talk about how film is changing, but how film changes the world. Despite what many think, it isn’t just documentaries that can open up people’s eyes on current issues that need to be talked about. Historically, there are many films that completely changed the world thanks to their stories, messages and legendary quality.

I recently reviewed a film called Never Again is Now which focuses on the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. It not only tells the story of horrible events taking place and their cause, but it also tells the story of Holocaust survivors. It connects the past and the present and shows how thinking that the Holocaust was one terrible event never to be repeated is far from the truth. The film focuses on current events in Europe, but that isn’t the only place it’s happening. It’s been happening in every corner in the world, including here in United States. No one can deny that there is a rise of racism that is very apparent in United States and it should not be allowed to continue. Anti-Semitism is a very strong example of how hatred is at an all time high around the globe.

This signs of hate are a massive issue that seem like no one can stop. But it is very easy to stop hatred of all types. If you see someone behaving in a racist or hateful way, stop them. Confront them. If you hear about an issue (as I learned about with anti-Semitism), don’t stay silent. Speak up. Social media has a tremendous impact on the lives of millions of people and, just a simple post on FaceBook or Twitter helps spread the word about hate. It may seem like just talking about anti-Semitism or racism as a whole won’t do anything, but it will.

In Never Again is Now, one of the most important points made is that politically, no one wants to confront the issue of anti-Semitism. Talking about specific people being racist seems politically incorrect and that makes it even worst. Simply talking about such big issues will do so much.

Like I said, films make huge impacts on society as a whole. A one hour and thirty minute film made me think of the world in a completely different way. I soon realized that I can help spread the word about what is going on around the world. I want to leave this blog with a message to you, the reader. Don’t just stay silent. People stayed silent during the Holocaust and other genocides. If people spoke up instead of staying silent, many horrible events could have been prevented, and hate as a whole might have made a much smaller and more mild impact, if at all. Don’t let history repeat itself. Let us be smart for once and actually learn from our mistakes. Let’s move on to a brighter tomorrow for the sake of our children and their future.

There Are More Colors Than Black and White By Willie Jones, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17

February 2nd, 2017


In the aftermath of two years straight of Academy Awards without black actor nominees, this year’s Oscars has plenty. For the first time in Oscar history, there is a black nominee in every acting category. 89 years later, and it’s finally happening. As a matter fact, there is also a black nominee in the directing category, adapted screenplay and producing. So most of the Big 8 categories (except original screenplay) has a black nominee. That’s a major feat. It certainly makes up, if you will, for the major snubs these last couple of years.

Beyond that, the impact of black cinema even extends into the documentary category. 13th, I Am Not Your Negro and O.J. Made in America are all films that deal, in some way, with the black experience. So even beyond the categories that casual fans really care about, there are black representatives. I mean this year, in general, seems to be destined to erase the unfortunate circumstances of the last two years’ award ceremonies. Just look at the releases – Moonlight, Fences, Hidden Figures and Loving. The uproar over a “White Oscars” this year would have been enormous. However, though I am proud of the Academy’s nomination diversity (having seen all of these films, I can say most of the nominated actors are deserving), I think it’s time we realized that diversity means more than just black and white.

In the 20th Century, all minorities were under-appreciated and under-represented by the Academy. In the 21st Century, the black cinematic community began getting their just due and, this year, they made history. However, what goes completely ignored is the Hispanic and Asian cinematic communities. Admittedly, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Alfonso Cuaron have won the last three Best Director Oscars. With all due respect, neither of them are Steven Spielberg or Tim Burton. They aren’t major directors in the mainstream yet. Their biggest films were led by DiCaprio, Bullock and Keaton. Whereas, the films led by Javier Bardem and Gael Garcia Bernal didn’t the attention their acclaim would have suggested.

It would be nice to see more Hispanic actors nominated multiple times besides Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Benicio Del Toro. Furthermore, I would love for mainstream audiences to know more Asian actors beyond Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu and Ken Jeong. Sure, Dev Patel is nominated this year. But let’s be honest, of Hispanics, Blacks and Asians, Asians get the fuzzy end of the lollipop.

And the issues go back to what I said in the midst of the “Oscars So White” controversy. The Academy cannot nominate what they do not see. While movie buffs and critics may watch foreign films, it has been proven and confirmed that many Academy members don’t even watch the domestic films nominated for Academy Awards. Nominations for Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night, Isabelle Huppert in Elle, and Javier Bardem in Biutiful are referred to as “inspired nominations” – nominations that weren’t expected or predicted, but reflect a passion the Academy has over a little seen performance that deserves attention. That’s what many foreign performances by Hispanics and Asians end up being. There was a time when nomination of a black actor was considered “inspired” (Sidney Poitier and Hattie McDaniel) and now, it’s the norm. No, beyond that. Now it’s EXPECTED. Each year we expect white and black actors to be nominated, yet we don’t expect the same for Asian and Hispanic actors.

It goes back to exposure. The reason black actors started getting nominated more was because more films starring or featuring black people were being produced and entered into the mainstream. Now in 2017, we’re still low on the number of Asian and Hispanic actors that are well known and, even rarer, are good roles for them in mainstream films. Surely, we know about clichés such as Fresh Off the Boat and the Hispanic friend Michael Pena often plays. But where is the Manchester by the Sea for Benicio Del Toro? Where is Adriana Barraza’s Carol? Why can’t Choi Min-sik get the mainstream roles that he deserves? Diversity in Hollywood needs to go beyond black and white, and soon. The “inspired nomination” shouldn’t be primarily minorities. Sure we still have the likes of Laura Linney’s nomination for The Savages, but that type of nomination cannot continually be Asian and Hispanic performances, because those performances should be expected, not unusual.

Producers should realize that these actors have as much talent as the Goslings and Stones of the world. They should capitalize on these talents and understand that marketability can extend to Asians and Hispanics. The Academy simply cannot nominate what they don’t see and aren’t exposed to – plain and simple. Amores Perros and In the Mood for Love were lauded by critics and movie aficionados alike and yet, were still ignored by the Academy. So instead of pigeonholing non-White actors to films in their native tongue, let’s embrace them into our mainstream so that they get proper recognition and we can fulfill what the Academy Awards are for – honoring the best in cinema for the previous year. Last time I checked, cinema expands past the borders of America.

The Pleasures of Oscar Season by Clayton Pickard, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17

January 30th, 2017

From December through February is the time of year I love best because there are so many substantial films out in theatres, be they Hollywood, Indie or Foreign films. This year especially has brought us so many terrific movies such as Manchester by the Sea, La La Land, Moonlight, Lion and 20th Century Women. All of these films have been nominated for Best Picture, except 20th Century Women, which was my favorite film of the year.

I was fascinated with all the catchy, get me up dance numbers in La La Land. I thought it captured the essence of the beginning of a relationship, when two people first fall in love. Lion is so emotionally harrowing, but captivating at the same time. Dev Patel portrays grown up Saroo so well and has justly been nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in it. Manchester by the Sea is a spectacular, but serious, family film that is very relatable because of its teen protagonist. This film is the flat-out truth about how horrible or exciting life can really be. It doesn’t pull any punches. It just tells an honest story about a dysfunctional family. 20th Century Women is a hip, pop and lock sort of punk rock movie that young teens will love. I am very surprised that it was not nominated for Best Picture.

Out of the nine Best Picture nominations, I have only seen three. I plan to see many more over the next few weeks before the Oscars. I meant to see Moonlight for the past two months, but the subject matter seems so intense. I also look forward to seeing Hidden Figures. The trailer makes it seem like an important feminist take on the moon landing. Everybody seems to love Arrival, but I usually don’t enjoy alien movies. This one sounds rather interesting, since it’s about a linguist trying to decipher the Alien language.

I have seen three out of the five films up for Best Animated Feature: Kubo and the Two Strings, The Red Turtle and Zootopia. The two that I haven’t seen are Moana and My Life as a Zucchini. My Life as a Zucchini is a great “title.” It’s the premiere film this year at the New York International Children’s Film Festival, so I will probably see it there. I believe Kubo is the most creative and enchanting film up for the award. Can’t wait to see who wins the Oscars for all of these. Until then, I’ll just keep judging and guessing.

Fences – Lives Up to its Award-winning Status! by Juanita Seon Leary

January 1st, 2017

Fences_1.jpgFences is the story about an African-American father struggling with race relations in the United States while trying to raise his family in the 1950s and coming to terms with the events of his life. KIDS FIRST! juror Juanita Seon Leary comments, “Adapted from the stage play by August Wilson (who also writes the screenplay), it lives up to its award- winning status.” See her full review below.

Fences,
By Juanita Seon Leary, KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror                       

I saw Fences as a play with James Earl Jones years ago and was very anxious and looking forward to seeing the filmed version. Adapted from the stage play by August Wilson (who also writes the screenplay), it lives up to its award- winning status. I am a fan of both Denzel Washington and Viola Davis who star in this film.

Throughout the film, we see life through the eyes of Troy (Denzel Washington) an African American man struggling with issues of race and economics and all the events of his life.  He lives with his family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 1950s.

Fences opens with Troy and Bono (Steven Henderson) riding on the garbage truck. As they work, they talk about the inequality of their jobs.  Troy questions why “a black man cannot drive the truck”? He asks the question to his supervisor who is a white man and is facing possible firing. so it is thought. Troy and Bono arrive at Troy’s house and we begin to learn about a fence.  It is Friday and payday. We see Troy and Bono sharing a bottle of liquor.  Troy tells stories and his wife Rose (Viola Davis) sits on porch and interacts to keep Troy honest. We learn about Troy’s past, his excellent skills in baseball, time he served in jail and how he met Rose.

The film has excellent scenes that let us feel and see the streets of Pittsburgh. The main center of action is the backyard. There is a baseball on a string and Troy’s baseball bat.  Rose asks Troy to build her a fence. At one point, Bono speaks to Troy about fences.  “Fences are built to keep something or someone out or to keep something or someone in.” He lets Troy know that Rose wants to keep him and their son Cory (Jovan Adepo) inside.  In Fences, we see the relationship and interaction of a father with his sons. His older son, Lyons (Russell Hornsby) comes by on paydays to ask for a loan and his younger son Cory wants to play football to attend college. 

Fences is excellent and has many lessons and messages. Because of the language and suggestive references, I recommend it for ages 14 to 18 and believe that many adults will enjoy it also. I give it 5 out of 5 stars.  It opens on December 25, 2016 so be sure to check it out.

  

 

 

 

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