Jury Coordination and Notes

Director’s Close – The Independent Spirit: A Directors Roundtable

March 6th, 2018


Week four of Director’s Close Up: The Independent Spirit: A Directors Roundtable featured four directors and writers who are nominated for the 2018 Spirit Awards. The four talked about many interesting things, but what I found most helpful was their tips on how to keep a film’s budget low. Josh & Benny Safdie talked about attempting to keep budgets very low when filming Good Time, for which they are both writers and directors.

One story that really has a powerful message is when they were trying to get a crane for a shot. They decided to call a construction company that was doing work nearby and were lucky enough to get a crane for a very reasonable price. It shows that, even in what seems like the most unlikely scenarios, it never hurts to ask.

Chloé Zhao (writer/director, The Rider) had different methods for keeping expanses low. For shooting, she was able to get sets for little money by working on a reservation where permits are around fifteen dollars. Then, in post-production, she was able to raise a good amount of money just for soundtrack and editing. This allowed her to make an amazing film with an equally incredible score on a budget. She also talked about attempting to find the right story. She knew the person she wanted to make a film about, but didn’t know what specifically to do. After waiting for a long time, the story came to her. It just shows that allowing life to shape the film may sometimes be best in order to get it just right!

Sean Baker’s stories about directing The Florida Project taught many morals for creators to ponder about. Sean filmed it all on 35 mm, which means it was filmed on film stock instead of digital like most modern movies. Sean talked about various possible challenges in independent filmmaking, ranging from pressuring actors (or them pressuring themselves), to getting it right the first time, to overexposing the lighting in order to get it visible on film. 

I have to say, this event was truly inspiring and educational, especially for a young filmmaker like myself as well as movie enthusiasts in the audience.

By Gerry Orz, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 14

Images courtesy of
Wireimage and Film Independent

Director’s Close Up: A Wrinkle in Time

March 2nd, 2018

Week three of Director’s Close-up featured many people from the new Disney film, A Wrinkle in Time. Instead of focusing on acting, the panel focused on the many departments and resources it takes to make a big film of that proportion a reality. One of the most interesting discussions revolved around props. J.P. Jones,  prop master of the film, talked about the many small details that most viewers will never notice are put into the film. One anecdote shared is about one of the quilts used. He talked about looking far and wide for the perfect and how eventually he had an authentic African quilt made from scratch. Hair stylist Kimberly Kimble and VFX supervisor Richard McBride both talked about their personal lines of work and the challenges of trying to make the world they created real, but filled with a sense of noticeable fantasy.

A true eye-opener was the discussion about the location. Director Ava Duvemay, Director of Photography Tobias A. Schliessle and Supervising Location Manager Alison A. Taylor talked about the difficulties of finding the perfect place to set the film in. Alison travelled up and down California looking for a place to shoot. Tobias had to make sure it was feasible to shoot there  and it was finally up to Ava to see if her vision matched the location. After hours of looking, they settled on the West Adams area – one of the oldest neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Tobias also talked about his part in making the film feel fantasy-like. He used camera setups that purposely made the world they created look somewhat fake and impossible.

Editor Spencer Averick and Composer Ramin Djawadi shared details about their work after the film was done with production. Spencer took a pile of clips and rearranged them into a flowing and unique story. Ramin took Spencer’s work and carefully composed music for different parts, resulting in several final themes. Casting Director Aisha Coley shared a funny anecdote about trying to find the actor to play Charles Wallace. After traveling all over the world attempt

ing to find the perfect kid, they found Deric McCabe in Burbank, who apparently lives three blocks from where the auditions took place. This story stuck out, not only because it perfectly portrays the challenges of the work of good casting directors, but also shows that the answer can be quite literally under our nose (or in this case, three blocks from it).

All of the crew members showed a common message. While the actors are a crucial part of the film, there is a whole part of movie-making rarely looked at which lives behind the camera. If it wasn’t for their often unrecognized hard work, the actors wouldn’t have films to act in and viewers would not be able to enjoy such a masterpiece as Wrinkle in Time.

Images courtesy of WireImage and Film Independent.

By Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 15


Luzia: A Waking Dream Of Mexico – A Spectacular Extravaganza That Will Bring You To Your Feet.

February 24th, 2018

Luzia: A Waking Dream of Mexico takes you to an imaginary Mexico, like in a waking dream, where light (“luz” in Spanish) quenches the spirit and rain (“lluvia”) soothes the soul. With a surrealistic series of grand visual surprises and breathtaking acrobatic performances, Luzia cleverly brings to the stage multiple places, faces and sounds of Mexico taken from both tradition and modernity. KIDS FIRST! Juror Harold W. comments, “You will find yourself gasping, laughing and thrilling with joy as  you explore the themes and mythology of Mexico.” Lily L. adds, “Like a see saw, up and down, more people go from one swing to another. Their tricks are stunning. I really loved this performance and recommend that you should go to Cirque du Soleil every year.” See their full reviews below.

Cirque Du Soleil brings Luzia to Southern California
by Harold W., KIDS FIRST! Juror

Cirque Du Soleil brings the emotion and soul of Mexico’s spirit and culture to life in its newest surreal production, Luzia – A Waking Dream of Mexico. The show continued its tour this week, with a stop in Costa Mesa, California.

Your whole family will be engaged in this two and half hour escape into a wonderland of energy, movement, sound and color that takes you through more than a dozen scenarios of music, dance, comedy and gravity defying acrobatics. You will find yourself gasping, laughing and thrilling with joy as  you explore the themes and mythology of Mexico.

A comedic opening welcomes you to an unmatched plane flight that reveals a plunging sky diver unhooked from his harness and brought to earth.  The scene flows into a simple opening of plumaged dancers and mini-gardeners, pierced by the soulful music of a single Spanish guitar solo into a musical flocking of dancing robots, prancing colorful, acrobatic birds and a crescendo of sound that stirs you in your seat.

The walkway comes to life as acrobat after acrobat tumbles through the air, stabbing their bodies through the smallest hoops and landing in flips and motion in a colorful array. The stage clears and the moving animals arrive. Multi-person puppets and agile puppeteers bring us a parade of horses, dragons, snakes and beetles that entertain us as the whole stage is converted into a beach.

Enter the Strong Man. A powerfully built muscle man begins to balance himself on his hands in an ever-growing construction of skinny balance poles. First one length and two hands. Then two lengths and one hand. Then three lengths…four…five…six…until he is holding himself 30 feet above the stage on spindly poles with one powerful arm.

The music and songs blast through the tent in powerful sound to underscore the energy of the performances. The colors and themes provide a new appreciation for the culture and community of our neighbors to the south.  And the show continues. Dancers fly up and through the air at the hands of their partners.  A basic looking hoop dancer moves in circles that grow into fantastic energy and speed. A simple hanging rope turns into a flight of fancy by the talent of a woman flying through the air. A pair of soccer balls defy the laws of gravity under the footwork of their handlers. Spectacular water effects  create images and forms in sheets of droplets as they fall to the floor of the stage. Acrobats twist on balance poles as they stretch their muscles in parallel motions to the floor.  Trapeze artists take flight. Large tiger puppets bond with a spectacular aerialist as they present a surprise feature through the floor of the stage. A juggler’s fantastic speed creates a blur of pins charging through the air. A contortionist‘s body defies the rules of anatomy and bones.

And More.  All of this is wrapped up in a spectacular finale that brings you to your feet. Don’t miss this experience. My children, grandchildren and I all enjoyed it very, very much. Luzia is playing at the OC Fair & Event Center through March 25, 2018; in Washington DC at Tysons II April 12 – May 13; In Boston June 27 – July 29. For further information, go to:  https://www.cirquedusoleil.com/luzia

Luzia : Cirque du Soleil
By Lily Leffler, KIDS FIRST! Reporter, age 10

Cirque du Soleil’s performances all have unique strengths. The shows have been performing for 34 years. Each year they have a different theme. This year’s show is called Luzia and is inspired by Mexico.

It opens with birds coming in with robots while a band plays. Swordfish and dancers come onto the stage. The mini robots get out their maracas and the music becomes upbeat. Now the show.

Soon after that, birds flip through the air – in and out of hoops. In the third scene a woman is thrown, caught and passed by three men. This flexible woman is wonderful. Another woman descends from the ceiling on a rope. She gently wraps herself in the rope and a younger girl spins and twirls in a hoop underneath. They set up the stage while we are distracted by a silent and mysterious game. Then, a pole climber stacks sticks, climbing slowly and conquering the stacked sticks as he goes up and down in handstands.

The performers do wonderful soccer tricks in the rain inside the tent. In the eighth scene, a woman sings a lovely Spanish song while water falls from the ceiling in different patterns and shapes. Then, pole dancers flipped on poles, spinning and spinning. More amazing tricks happen all the time. Most of the performers come out with a tall, long swing. A man goes around on the swing like a gymnast. A man on a thin rope swings in the air, water dripping from his hair and his feat. A man starts to juggle with three pins that go up at least ten feet in the air. Then he has four and then five pins. This man is amazing. Six pins quickly zoom into the room. The juggler drops down to three pins and goes into the crowd. A contortionist literally bends in half. There are not enough words to explain him.

Like a see saw, up and down, more people go from one swing to another. Their tricks are stunning. I really loved this performance and recommend that you should go to Cirque du Soleil every year.




Black Panther – One Of The Best Marvel Films Within The Ever Expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe

February 22nd, 2018

After the events of Captain America: Civil War, King T’Challa returns home to the reclusive, technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda to serve as his country’s new leader. However, T’Challa soon finds that he is challenged for the throne from factions within his own country. When two foes conspire to destroy Wakanda, the hero known as Black Panther must team up with C.I.A. agent Everett K. Ross and members of the Dora Milaje, Wakandan Special Forces, to prevent Wakanda from being dragged into a world war. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Willie Jones comments, “Strong black women drive this movie and give young black girls true heroes. And, they never need a cape.  To top this all off, it’s one of the best Marvel films released within the ever expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe.” See his full review below.

Black Panther
By Willie Jones, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 18

Has a superhero film, in the history of cinema, ever been so socially involved? While Wonder Woman was an important film in the blockbuster cannon, the social context about Black Panther feels a little more amped.

At a point in time in which race-relations are still tumultuous, and women’s rights are being re-evaluated and improved, this movie contains themes and content that satisfy and challenge the changes we all wish for Hollywood to make, and the changes we all wish for the world to undergo. Black on black violence is subtly yet powerfully addressed. Strong black women drive this movie and give young black girls true hereos. And, they never need a cape.  To top this all off, it’s one of the best Marvel films released within the ever expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s well paced, well acted, well written and is very nearly flawless.

The pace of this film is exceptional. Kudos to director Ryan Coolger and editors Michael P. Shawver and Claudia Castello. No scene lingers too long, no sequence halts the forward momentum. The 134 minute run time goes by in a breeze. Ryan Coolger and Joe Robert Cole write a tightly constructed screenplay that includes all the Marvel cinematic conventions without ever compromising the story.

The screenplay is expertly and smartly written. It is filled with dialogue that never gets unattractively melodramatic, and every so often says something that goes beyond the screen. The issues and debates brought up in the film, particularly about sharing resources within the black community and the fine line between conflict avoidance and complacency, are brilliantly implemented. They are themes and ideas that aren’t just dumped into the movie to give it a faux social relevance, but are instead used as motivations to advance character development and feed the plot with stakes. The movie is also laced with genuine comic moments that aren’t used as relief or brought about forcefully, henceforth interrupting the flow of the movie. Any and every comic moment within the film is very much natural and stems from well timed writing and acting.

Leading man Chadwick Boseman is known for being typecast in biopics (a bit of an oxymoron). He’s known for playing Jackie Robinson, James Brown and Thurgood Marshall. Here, he brings the charisma needed to do a biopic, and graces the screen with it. He doesn’t miss a single beat, whether it be dramatic or comic. He’s all at once suave, funny, likeable, questionable, dangerous and frankly, cool. He has swagger. Supporting him is a cast made up of Lupita Nyong’o, Daniel Kaluuya, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Michael B. Jordan, Forest Whitaker, and Angela Bassett. There’s no overacting. There’s nothing but an incredible chemistry. Each cast member performs with a sense of urgency. Their passion for this project is apparent and it feeds into their performances. A special shout out to Michael B. Jordan, who plays a villain and doesn’t completely overdo it. Often times, we find ourselves wondering whether his intentions as the villain are actually malicious. Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira serve as the backbone of this movie. Their gentle ferocity is strongly alluring and their stillness accentuates their beauty while simultaneously exuding great power. Your eyes will be glued to their performances.

Ryan Coolger directs this film with confidence and gives it an indelible flavor. Every directorial choice is warranted, thought through, and well executed. His use of fluidity with the cinematography gives the movie its suave feeling, which makes the moments of stillness so powerful. And there are some very striking images in this movie. Coolger makes full use of the beautiful art direction and costume design without glamorizing the aesthetic. Some of the costumes in the movie are destined to be iconic, and I mean more than just Black Panther’s suit. Lupita Nyong’o is given costumes that could make her the Audrey Hepburn of the Marvel Universe. She wears her costumes with more than beauty and grace, but with total confidence. The sets and environments in the movie are more than attractive, they’re unique. The production design firmly sets us in Wakanda, and we don’t want to leave. Marry that with Marvel’s greatest costume designed movie, and the pure attractiveness of the movie is almost in itself worth the price of admission.       

The soundtrack is fantastic and helps push the film along. As a matter fact, to get back to the cultural impact the film has already made, the marketing campaign was brilliant. Kendrick Lamar, a major musician, produced and wrote an album inspired by and used in the film as a sort of companion piece – kind of like an opening act to a concert. It can be heard on Spotify and I highly recommend it, just as I highly recommend this movie. I give this film 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 10 to 18. It can be seen at a local theater near you.




Directors Close Up: Storytellers: Writers and Directors

February 19th, 2018

Week two of Directors Close Up: Storytellers: Writers and Directors featured writers Mike White and David Branson talking about their methodology for writing scripts. It’s common knowledge that writing a feature-length movie script or a season of TV series is no easy feat. Mike White talked about different events that influenced his thinking. One specific scene from a film he wrote, Beatriz at Dinner, features a man talking rather proudly at a dinner party about being an animal poacher. Mike talked about how he imagined what might happen at a dinner party where someone spoke about doing something like that? What would happen? David also spoke about how scenes with little dialogue may seem easy, but are in fact the hardest of all to write. Having a character talk to themselves or to try to create a natural awkward conversation presents many challenges to writers. ­­­­­

Something I found particularly interesting was the different writing styles these two have. Mike has the need to write early in the day and have a sense of accomplishment. If he doesn’t write anything before noon, his day is wasted. David’s style involves a rhythm and discipline. To help him write, he likes to do the same thing every day, at the same time, in the same location. It may range from going to a coffee shop every morning, to swimming in the ocean every day.

The two also talked about the relationship between director and writer. The writer creates this story and it’s the director’s job to be able to interpret and project it in a way that will be enjoyed and understood by viewers. Both talked about how they see their scripts as their children. Giving away something they love is rather difficult. And, seeing it transformed into something unrecognizable causes a mix of emotions, just like seeing your child grow into adulthood.

The take away for me is that a film’s writer has the biggest influence on the story. But in many ways, the smallest influence on the audience. Looking into a writer’s world can truly reveal a new side of watching films.

From left to right: Moderator Jennifer Cochis,
Writer Mike White, and Writer David Branson Smith
Images courtesy of WireImage and Film Independent

By Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 15


We’re Going on a Bear Hunt – Vibrant Visuals and Brilliant Musical Score Make The Story Come to Life!

February 12th, 2018

Based on the bestselling bedtime story book written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, which has sold over 11 million copies globally, the film follows siblings Stan, Katie, Rosie, Max, the baby, and Rufus the dog,  who decide one day to go on an adventure through whirling snowstorms, oozing mud, and dark forests in search of bears! Featuring the voices of Olivia Colman (The Night ManagerBroadchurch), Pam Ferris (MatildaCall The Midwife), and Mark Williams (Harry Potter), this animated story is filled with stunning visuals sure to enchant viewers along with its story of perseverance, optimism, and love of nature. KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror Terry Solowey comments, “The vibrant visuals and brilliant musical score add a special quality to telling the story of a group of five siblings and their dog Rufus who decide to go on a bear hunt while their parents go to aid Grandma and her broken down car.” See her full review below.

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt
By Terry Solowey, KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

This animated film, based on the best-selling storybook We’re Going on a Bear Hunt written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, brings the story to life! The vibrant visuals and brilliant musical score add a special quality to telling the story of a group of five siblings and their dog Rufus who decide to go on a bear hunt while their parents go to aid Grandma and her broken down car.

Their big brother Peter leads them on their quest over the countryside, lakes, oceans, and mountains and through a treacherous snowstorm. Throughout, they sing the famous chant: “We’re going on a bear hunt. We’re going to catch a big one. What a beautiful day! We’re not scared.”

I love the children’s positive outlook and excitement as they never give up, continue and approach their various destinations.  As they encounter “long, wavy grass”, “a deep cold river”, “thick, oozy mud”, “a big dark forest”, “a swirling, whirling snowstorm” and “a narrow, gloomy cave”, they also sing their other chant:  “We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh, no! We’ve go to go through it.”

When one of the siblings, Rosie and their dog Rufus become separated from the rest of the family, their adventure takes an interesting turn, delivering more than they ever expected. I really enjoyed the suspense the additional storyline adds to the film.  It brings an extra excitement to the story. Do the paw prints add up to anything? You will have to see this film to find out!

I have fond memories of reading this story in my early teaching days as well as singing the chants with the children.  Currently I read to children in the schools and look forward to sharing this film with them in addition to reading the story. The accompanying Adventure Field Guide is a perfect addition for children, teachers and families as a supplement to explore their own great outdoor adventures!

I give this film 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 4 to 9 as well as parents, caregivers and  teachers.  It will be available on DVD February 13, 2018, so be sure to check it out.




2018 Directors Close-Up: Lady Bird: Adolescence, Angst and Acting by Gerry Orz

February 9th, 2018


The first event of the 2018 Director’s Close Up featured four crew members from the brand new phenomenal movie, Lady Bird. What makes this film unique is not its use of cutting edge technology, or appearance of noteworthy actors. Instead, the film shows something much more involved – reality.

Throughout the event, director Greta Gerwig describes the process of how she was able to accomplish this goal. Instead of simply telling a story, Greta was able to make it feel real, like something that could have happen to any of us. The eye-opening discussion also talked in detail about the costume design. Just like the film as a whole, it feels realistic and natural. April Napier, the costume designer of the film, talked about how they worked hard on every single detail to make the clothes look terrible on purpose.

Images courtesy of WireImage and Film Independent. From Left to Right, Moderator Jeff Duplass, Director/Writer Greta Gerwg, Marielle Scott (Shelly Yuhan), Jordan Rodrigues (Miguel Mcpherson

What can only be called incredible is the ability to combine stark realism with humor. This combination worked due to the Greta’s masterful writing and brilliant directing. She, along with the two of the film’s actors, Jordan Rodrigues (Miguel Mcpherson) and Marielle Scott (Shelly Yuhan), talked about how crucial timing is. Conversations are not slow, they are as quick as bullets going back and forth between the people as it would happen in any regular family. Lady Bird nails that with thirty-second long scenes that not only enhance the story but show amazing character development.  I found this Q & A truly an eye-opener to the fact that making a film that feels real has many challenges. However, a talented filmmaker can overcome them to produce a beautiful work of art just like Greta Gerwig did with Lady Bird.

By Gerry Orz, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 15

My Daddy’s In Heaven – A Bit Overly Dramatic

February 8th, 2018

Becca, Adam and their 5-year-old daughter Acie are a perfect family until a tragic accident during a 4th of July celebration kills Adam. Struggling with the grieving process, Becky decides she needs to step away from the family farm and all its reminders of the life she once had. She leaves Acie with her grandfather Ben and visits an old friend from school, June. With all the best intentions, June offers Becky plenty of distraction from her shattered family life. Fueled by her anger at God and loss of faith, Becky starts drinking heavily and making other self-destructive choices. After Becky is arrested for public intoxication and disorderly conduct, Ben threatens to keep Acie until Becky sets herself right. A chance encounter in a bus station with a guitar-toting traveler gives Becky the inspiration she needs to reignite her faith and reunite her family. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Calista B. comments, “The storyline of this film is a bit incoherent to me and lots of things don’t make sense. The writing is confusing and the acting rather mediocre.” See her full review below.

My Daddy’s In Heaven
By Calista Bess, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 14

The storyline of this film is a bit incoherent to me and lots of things don’t make sense. The writing is confusing and the acting rather mediocre. The story is about a Christian woman named Becca (Jenn Gotzon Chandler) who is trying to recover after her husband’s death, while also learning how to regain her faith.

Many things in this story are unclear. The death is quick and you don’t have much time to connect with the character. As a viewer, I would have appreciated more backstory on Adam and his life with Becca and his daughter, Acie (Riley St. John). Adam dies by falling off an ATV. He doesn’t crash into anything; he just falls off. He’s not drunk and he doesn’t seem to have any medical issues. The ATV doesn’t even fall on him. He just falls. Then, it appears as if he gains even more bruises at the hospital. Make-up is very important in a movie and should be consistent. After he officially dies, two weeks after the accident, Becca is visited by a man named, Jimmy Urban who gives her Adam’s Bible, which appears to be a message from her husband to believe in God. I’m not sure as that is unclear too.

Sometimes the acting feels either too over dramatic or too blunt. The characters are all rather bland. You automatically sympathize with Becca because we all know loss is hard. She’s definitely depressed and trying to drink her sorrows away. Her old high school best friend, June helps her through her grieving period. June is my favorite character in the movie. She reminds me a lot of the characters Rebel Wilson plays and she has the best lines in the film. Unfortunately, she has not yet been given credit on IMBd, but according to the movie credits, her name is Jill Morrison. It’s weird how she’s the only one not credited. I hope she is soon.

This movie is based on a book called “My Daddy is in Heaven with Jesus”. I have not read the book, but from what I know, the movie is not completely accurate to the source material. The movie is more about the wife experiencing the loss of her husband, while the book appears to focus more on the daughter’s grieving.

I give this movie 2 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 13 to 18. This is definitely more of a movie that Christians would enjoy. It also reminds me of Hallmark Channel movies. If you like those, you might enjoy this. It comes out March 13, 2018.

Sundance Film Festival 2018 by Nancy Kenney

January 31st, 2018

Have you ever been to Sundance Film Festival?  The festival that movie star Robert Redford created? The festival where every actor and filmmaker wants their film premiered? Well, I’m here at Sundance and here’s a peek at why you may want to attend someday!

First of all, I came with my daughter, Conci Althouse, KIDS FIRST! ‘s very first film critic and now, a 28-year-old cinematographer, DP. We wanted to make connections with other filmmakers to see how we might fit in with the cream of the crop. Coming to Sundance is more than seeing what films are trending, it is about meeting people who work in the magical world of film.

As we walked up the snowy streets of Park City, Utah we could feel the thrill of accomplishment. Most of these people are at the cutting edge of their creative endeavors. In their search for connection, they are being treated to schmooze parties with yummy food, drinks and music by hosts like WMEntertainment Agency, CNN, IMDb, Sundance Institute, PBS, Netflix, New York Times and a zillion other businesses that thrive on the talents of good story ideas and production people.

For example, our first day we went to five such parties, invitation only. Luckily, Conci’s hard work as a cinematographer and KIDS FIRST! Film Critic paid off! She has friends from college, the American Film Institute, who screened their films at the fest and, hey! we were on their  guest lists. Almost immediately, I was offered a camera package for my urbanism project and Conci had an opportunity to promote her Director of Photography skills as seen in her award winning film, Land of the Free!

At the base of Park Street, skiers would shoosh down the hills and place their skies right outside the theaters. I kept waiting and watching for celebrities to walk past. Movies and skiing – what a combination. It doesn’t get any better than that. No. Wait. It does!

There were interesting panels – actors, writers, directors and this year, even Supreme Court Judge – Ruth Bader Ginsberg – who dug into the deeper issues of society and morality. Each inspired moment was a discussion about finding the story behind the story.

It is the hidden meaning that makes a story rich. Getting to the ‘bottom of things.’ And this is important in every way in our lives. It’s why I became involved with KIDS FIRST! twenty years ago. It isn’t enough to be entertained. It is important to understand the hidden agendas behind stories we see. Who is behind the camera is just as important as who is in front of it. I learned that sometimes it is risky to tell the truth, but with the support of such an amazing community as Sundance, you realize that the world ultimately honors all of us who speak out about the injustices and the glories of being human on this precious planet.  Next year I hope to see you there at the amazing Sundance Film Festival!


Forever My Girl – Beautiful Setting, Sappy Story

January 19th, 2018

After being gone for a decade a country star returns home to the love he left behind. KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror, Kimbirly O. comments, “The setting is beautiful, a fictitious city in the south where everyone knows each other. The southern charm is palpable and warm. I was hoping for a solid romantic story about young love. What was delivered is the very element of sap, much like what is broadcast on the Hallmark Channel, complete with a happy ending.” See her full review below.

Forever My Girl
By Kimbirly Orr, KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

If you love a love story, especially in the vein of a Nicolas Sparks novel, this film is for you. The film is based on a novel written by a woman, Heidi McLaughlin and the screenplay is written and directed by a woman, Bethany Ashton Wolf.


Forever My Girl depicts a man who left his bride at the altar. This does not seem like a story any woman wants to tell. Given the marketing mentions Nicholas Sparks and seeking to attract his audiences, it tells me a lot about the studio’s lack of faith in the film.

I cannot lie, Forever My Girl did not set the bar high for a committed relationship, nor the reality of parenting. Liam (Alex Roe), the lead male character, left his beloved fiancé Josie (Jessica Rothe), at the altar to seek fame and fortune as a country singer. His success as a musician is colored with drug and alcohol abuse. After a decade on the road, a funeral in the quaint hometown of the country star brings him back in time to a life he led and seemed to love. The ease with which the lead actors fall back into rhythm with each other appears far-fetched, maximized by Liam learning he has an 8-year-old child he was never told of, Billy (Abby Ryder Fortson), who is by far the star of this film. Her sweetness and snarky delivery of lines mix to deliver a fantastic performance by a child actor.

The setting is beautiful, a fictitious city in the south where everyone knows each other. The southern charm is palpable and warm. I was hoping for a solid romantic story about young love. What was delivered is the very element of sap, much like what is broadcast on the Hallmark Channel, complete with a happy ending.

I give this film 3 of 5 stars for the casting of rising stars, charming location and music. This film will appeal to tween and teen audiences, ages 10 to 18. I caution younger viewing due to drug and alcohol use and abuse. It opens in theaters January 19, 2018 so, check it out.

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