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Own the Room * Heartfelt Journeys of Young Entrepreneurs

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021

Own the Room chronicles five students from disparate corners of the planet as they take their budding business ventures to Macau, China, to compete in the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards. Santosh is from a small farming town in Nepal; Alondra works the register at her family’s bakery in Puerto Rico; Henry is a programming wiz from Nairobi; Jason is a marketing machine from Greece; and Daniela, an immigrant fleeing the crisis in Venezuela, is taking on the chemical industry from her lab at NYU. In the uplifting film, each of the business hopefuls has overcome immense obstacles in pursuing their dreams, from hurricanes to poverty to civil unrest. As they represent their countries as the top student entrepreneurs, the high-stakes global finals are their opportunity to win worldwide attention and the coveted $100,000 grand prize to make their life-changing business ideas a reality and transform the world. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Dominic D. comments, “…an uplifting movie that has us digging into our “emotional toolbox” as we follow the heartfelt journeys of young entrepreneurs bringing change for future generations. The optimism of these individuals is so incredible and can certainly be appreciated by anyone working hard to pursue their dreams.” See his full review below.  

Own the Room 
By Dominic D., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 11

Own the Room is a new feature documentary from National Geographic Documentary Films directed by Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster. This directing duo delivers an uplifting movie that has us digging into our “emotional toolbox” as we follow the heartfelt journeys of young entrepreneurs bringing change for future generations. The optimism of these individuals is so incredible and can certainly be appreciated by anyone working hard to pursue their dreams. 

Own the Room follows the paths of five young innovators from across the globe who showcase their business plans to “change the world one big idea at a time.” These individuals overcome cultural obstacles and push the limits in order to reach the top.  Santosh, Alondra, Henry, Jason and Daniela have each qualified to represent their country at the annual Global Student Entrepreneur Awards in Macau, China. Each has the dream of taking their business to the next level to become the world’s most influential change-maker. Aside from setting their eyes on the prize of $100,000, each hopes to raise awareness that “no matter where you come from, it does not define where you are going.”  They are each proud of their culture, their family support, and the chance to represent their country. 


I enjoyed the emotional conversations in which the students share their cultural backgrounds and find their words to be genuine and spirited. Their determination, confidence, and fearlessness kept me wanting to see more. Costantini and Foster are clever to include the lifestyle, family background and the obstacles that each of these students face. That allows viewers to appreciate the students’ journeys even more and perhaps to gain a better understanding of each of the young entrepreneurs’ business ideas. The cinematography is fantastic, taking us into five areas of the world and showing viewers a variety of ways of life. The society in which you live does indeed partly shape you as an individual, and yet this documentary proves that it doesn’t have to hold you back. 

Own the Room delivers many messages and mainly demonstrates how determination is at the root of all success. If you are determined, you will be driven to work hard to achieve no matter how many obstacles confront you. Challenges serve to strengthen us. It is this determination that we see in each of the student entrepreneurs and which becomes so inspiring to viewers.  Given the current state of the world right now, an inspiring film such as Own the Room is exactly what we need. 

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Our Time Machine – What an Emotional Journey about the Reality of Alzheimer’s Disease

Thursday, February 4th, 2021

When influential Chinese artist Ma Liang (a.k.a. Maleonn) realizes that his father Ma Ke, an accomplished Peking Opera director, is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, he invites his father to collaborate on his most ambitious project to date – a haunting, magical, autobiographical stage performance featuring life-size mechanical puppets called “Papa’s Time Machine”. Through the creation of this play, the two men confront their mortality before time runs out and memories are lost forever. KIDS FIRST! reviewer David O. comments, “Our Time Machine offers such an emotional journey about the reality of Alzheimer’s disease. This is a documentary about a son doing what he can to show his appreciation toward his father, who is has Alzheimer’s disease. This film is beautifully created, with a very emotional tone as we get to the see the production of the play and the hardships it faces, while we also see the father’s health declining.” See his full review below.

Our Time Machine
By David O., KIDS FIRST! Reviewer

Our Time Machine offers such an emotional journey about the reality of Alzheimer’s disease. This is a documentary about a son doing what he can to show his appreciation toward his father, who is has Alzheimer’s disease. This film is beautifully created, with a very emotional tone as we get to the see the production of the play and the hardships it faces, while we also see the father’s health declining. It shows the ups and downs in the art world and what a son is capable of doing to express his gratitude and appreciation.

A Chinese artist creates the biggest project of his career – an autobiographical play that uses mechanical puppets to tell the story. He struggles with time, money and his father’s health, as he becoming more and more ill with Alzheimer’s disease.

Our Time Machine is the documented story of Maleonn and his father Ma Ke. Throughout the film, we learn about the background of the family, and how invested they are in the art world. The story really shows the emotions that the son is feeling, as he feels frustrated, sad, emotional, but excited at the same time. It is an emotional journey, as there are father/son moments that are very touching, but also the doctor visits for the father are extremely sad as they show his health degrading. The main parts of the film are how the play is taking direction and its process, and the counterpart of how Ma Ke’s health is declining to the point he does not remember the most basic aspects of life.

The camera work is diverse as it moves from scene to scene, depending on the context of the work. There are moments where pictures are shown or celebrations, such as birthdays and anniversaries, take place in real time. The camera moves as the characters move, and capture the complete context of the scenes. The locations vary throughout the film. The flow is very continuous, and everything takes place in different scenarios. The two central sets of the documentary are the parents’ house and the place where the play takes life. In addition, locations from the past and present, and even outside the country can be observed.

There is little background music, and it changes from scene to scene. It does not drive the action in the film as much as the conversations between all the characters. That is what gives life to the film. But the sound effects are essential to get the complete message. They vary and are mostly focused to enhance dialogues between the puppet father and the puppet son. They help with the flow of the play and how it is presented in stage. All the visual effects take place in scenes where the son or the father are reminiscing about the past, and in scenes where the son is dreaming and creating his play. They are remarkable, as they are thoughts that are later done exactly how they were intended.

This documentary took around three years to complete, focusing on the artist Maleonn and his family. There are many persons involved in the film, as it shows the family of the protagonist as well as his team and employees that give life to the play.

Everything that Maleonn does in this film has an ultimate goal – to show his appreciation and gratitude to his father before is too late. He does everything he can to make this possible, but time and money are to his disadvantage. Everything that we see and feel during the documentary just highlights the main message: We need to appreciate and embrace every moment with others before it is too late. In this case, the artist tries to do this with his father who is forgetting everything and everyone around him. This is a hard reality for many families around the world, and it is necessary to live and appreciate those good moments before the bad ones that may come in the future. Sometimes those good moments are the ones that give us strength and hope for the hard ones that can come.

You should know that it contains some profanity and behavior. There is a scene where the artist is celebrating his birthday with his colleagues. They are drinking heavily and use some mild language, d*mn and *ss. Also, smoking is a recurrent act throughout the movie. Almost all the main characters can be observed smoking at some point of the film.

What I love about this film is the engineering process of creating every single thought Maleonn has. I was mesmerized by the creativity and the work that took place to create all the pieces of the stage and the mechanical puppets. They are so realistic and so well designed. The scenarios in the play are breathtaking. They recreate a plane from scratch and everything is neat and planned. I was in awe in every single scene where all these elements are shown, as they are incredibly created and structured. The protagonist is Chinese artist Maleonn. His father Ma Ke, is a well renowned Peking Opera director.

I give Our Time Machine 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 15 to 18, plus adults. This film is beautiful in all areas. It has great production values, a real and emotional storyline, it sends across a valuable message, and the use of art and creativity throughout the documentary is of high quality. It is a rather complex film, as it is intended for older audiences such as older teenagers and adults. Also, it shows the hard reality of a person with Alzheimer’s and the emotional toll that takes on the family. This film shows the frustration, the sadness, the rawness of the desperation in the father’s face, and that makes it more touching and real. I shed some tears when I saw these scenes, as I could see the impotence of both the father and the son in different moments, and that is what really made me think about my family and how to appreciate every moment I get to share with them. Our Time Machine is playing in select film festivals now.

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Safety * Heartbreaking And Yet So Hopeful

Wednesday, December 9th, 2020

The story of Ray-Ray McElrathbey, a freshman football player for Clemson University, who secretly raised his younger brother on campus after his home life became too unsteady. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Nyara A. comments, “I absolutely loved the film Safety. The story is so inspiring and motivational and the camera work is phenomenal. This story is heartbreaking, yet makes you hopeful. Some of the scenes are comical, balancing the problem and the solution perfectly. It was inspiring to watch the two brothers take care of each other, always putting family first. Every scene touched my heart.” See her full review below.

By Nyara A., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 12

I absolutely loved the film Safety. The story is so inspiring and motivational and the camera work is phenomenal. This story is heartbreaking, yet makes you hopeful. Some of the scenes are comical, balancing the problem and the solution perfectly. It was inspiring to watch the two brothers take care of each other, always putting family first. Every scene touched my heart. 

The storyline follows the protagonist, Ray (Jay Reeves) who has been accepted to Clemson University on a scholarship to pursue his dream of being a football player, but his life at home is not so easy. His mother (Amanda Warren), whose husband left her,  is addicted to drugs. Ray is left to care for his little brother Fahmarr (Thaddeus J. Mixson). Can Ray handle school, family, football and a little bit of love life? How can he take care of his brother if Fahmerr is not allowed on campus?

Jay Reeves, who plays Ray, acts with emotion and expression, putting his all into every scene. Some scenes brought me to tears and others had me rolling around in my chair with laughter. Thaddeus J. Mixson who plays Fahmarr, plays his character in a way that is very likeable and funny. Although his character is humorous, some of his scenes still break your heart . The casting directors made an excellent choice for all of the actors. The camera work is amazing. The transitions are very creative and the perspective is wonderful. For example, during a football game, there is a moment where all you can hear is Ray’s breathing. The angle is as if you are looking from his eyes. The background music pumps you up for the games, making you excited and eager to see the results. 

The message of this film is to put family first. Family is the most important thing in the world and you always have to be there for each other. No matter what happens, you can always rely on your family to help you out. There is no violence except during the football games. As usual there is tackling and pushing, although no one gets hurt. There is no bad language although there is a part during the film that is a bit creepy, with a group of men coming out of the shadows.

I give Safety 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 9 to 18. Adults would also enjoy this film. Safety is streaming exclusively on Disney+ starting December 11, 2020.

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Four Kids and It * A Wonderful Fantasy Film with Such Realistic Looking CGI

Friday, June 26th, 2020

A group of kids on holiday in Cornwall meet a magical creature on the beach with the power to grant wishes.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Lindalee R., comments, “Inspired by E. Nesbit’s 1902 serialized novel called Five Children and It,  the movie Four Kids and It is a wonderful fantasy film for all ages that brings the story alive. The CGI seems so real that I believed the Psammead (the creature in the film played by Michael Caine) was actually alive and right there with the actors on the set.” See her full review below.

Four Kids and It
By Lindalee R., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 12

Inspired by E. Nesbit’s 1902 serialized novel called Five Children and It,  the movie Four Kids and It is a wonderful fantasy film for all ages that brings the story alive. The CGI seems so real that I believed the Psammead (the creature in the film played by Michael Caine) was actually alive and right there with the actors on the set.

Full of adventure, Four Kids and It is about two families. Each family has two kids and all four kids want their birth parents to get back together. When the two split families meet up for a vacation, the kids find out their parents are dating each other and they absolutely freak out. While being forced to play with each other and to get to know one another, they meet a magical sand creature called a Psammead who tells them that he can grant each of them wishes, but only one a day. Also, the wishes expire at sunset.

Throughout this movie the four kids get to know each other better, become much closer and start to bond more like a real family. There is a man named Tristan Trent (Russell Brand), who lives in a mansion on the island that they all go to for their vacation. For generations, Tristan’s family were hunters of rare and unique living creatures on Earth. Tristan and his ancestors have been trying to find the legendary Psammead for decades. When the kids come to the island, he knows that he could use them to track the creature down. If he can lure out and capture the creature, he can finally add it to his family’s collection of trophies…and hopefully get in a wish or two as well!

The scenes with the kids each coming up with their own magical wishes and living them out for the day are fun. It also made me wonder what I would wish for if I only had a day to experience a wish.

The message of this film is to be careful what you wish for, but also that sometimes change happens and no matter how bad it seems, that it can offer up new opportunities and maybe create something better than you ever had before.

I give Four Kids and It  5 out of 5 stars, and I recommend it for ages 6 to 18, and adults will love it too! I know my parents sure did.

The movie will be available on Digital, Blu-Ray, DVD and on-demand, as well as major digital platforms like Amazon Prime, Vudo and others, on June 30, 2020, from Lionsgate Film

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Floogals: Investigation Station * Funny, Original, Always Teaching Kids Ways to Explore

Monday, April 27th, 2020

Join the Floogals on a mission of discovery as they explore Earth and the funny “hoomans” who live there! KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Ethan P. comments, “I like Floogals Investigation Station because it is very funny, original and creative… I like that it is not just animation, as some parts are real life graphics.  I also like that it is always teaching kids to explore and experiment in every episode.” See his full review below.

Floogals Investigation Station
By Ethan P., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 11

I like Floogals Investigation Station because it is very funny, original and creative.  It captured my attention the whole time.  I like that it is not just animation, as some parts are real life graphics.  I also like that it is always teaching kids to explore and experiment in every episode.

This DVD is about three purple lookalike aliens called Floogals – Captain Fleeker, First Officer Flo and Junior Boomer.  The Floogals learn new things and report back to their boss to inform him what they have learned on Earth.  This DVD contains six episodes about experimentation, discovery and observation.  Each episode has about 11 minutes of adventure and funny situations.  One of the funniest things of this show is that the aliens call the humans “hoomans.” 

My favorite episode is “Project Popcorn.”  This episode is about the Floogals discovering a food called popcorn.  When a human accidentally lets go of the popcorn, it falls and the dog eats it, so they think it is dog food.  Later they start to realize what popcorn is.  Another one of my favorite episodes is “Project Sleep” which is about how a “hooman” girl invites her friends over for a sleepover.  The Floogals spy on the girls to see what a sleepover is all about.  The Floogals slowly learn about and process the word “sleepover,”  The Floogals do not realize that the whole time they are actually part of the sleepover.  The graphics are real live backgrounds and the Floogals are little animated aliens.  The animation is neat and very colorful.  The voiceover talent suits each character.  I like Junior Boomer’s character the most, because he is clumsy, funny, and always curious about learning new things.

The moral of this show is: don’t ever let someone stop you from doing what you desire.  Don’t allow anyone to discourage you from doing what you are capable of doing.  For example, Junior Boomer investigates this thing call “popcorn” and Captain Fleeker tries to stop him, but Junior Boomer still investigates.

I give Floogals Investigation Station 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it ages 6 to 18, plus adults.  By Ethan P., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic. For more reviews by youth, visit kidsfirst dot org.

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Emma * A Cheerful Adaptation of Jane Austen’s Beloved Novel

Thursday, February 20th, 2020

Jane Austen’s beloved comedy about finding your equal and earning your happy ending, is re-imagined in this film. Handsome, clever, and rich, Emma Woodhouse is a restless queen bee without rivals in her sleepy little town. In this glittering satire of social class and the pain of growing up, Emma must adventure through misguided matches and romantic missteps to find the love that has been there all along. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Arjun N. comments, “Emma is a cheerful adaption of Jane Austen’s beloved novel. Readers of Jane Austen can rejoice as her characters come to screen.” See his full review below.

By Arjun Nair, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 18

Emma is a cheerful adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved novel. Readers of Jane Austen can rejoice as her characters come to screen. Others might not find this to be their cup of tea.

Mia Goth (left) as “Harriet Smith” and Anya Taylor-Joy (right) as “Emma Woodhouse” in director Autumn de Wilde’s EMMA., a Focus Features release. Credit : Focus Features

In this adaptation the “handsome, clever and rich” matchmaker Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor Joy) pursues her adventures through matches and romanticism to find love.

Anya Taylor Joy, as Emma, gives the best performance. Anya has grown from a being newcomer and this demanding performance proves that, allowing for eloquent speaking and characterization. Her conversations with other characters are straight out of the classic Victorian tale; keeping in mind, she is American. Her love interests are Johnny Flynn as Mr. Knightley, a dashingly critical friend, and Callum Turner as Frank Churchill, a rich gentleman. I also enjoyed Mia Goth as Harriet, as she helps Emma find her match.

Johnny Flynn (left) as “‘George Knightley” and Amber Anderson (right) as “Jane Fairfax” in director Autumn de Wilde’s EMMA., a Focus Features release. Credit : Focus Features

Director Autumn de Wilde is artistic, but the pacing could be tighter. This is a slow movie as several scenes are long, drawn-out conversations. I feel this aspect is best achieved in books, though some movies can capture the audience’s attention like that. This movie really must be your forte for it to be enjoyable. The character’s parlance is always olden English, and there is a loss of stakes. The score by Isobel Waller-Bridge is authentically Georgian capturing the grounded roots of genteel women living in England.

The message of this film is to not rush love, as Emma and Harriet let time prove its worth after hasty pursuits. I give this film 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 7 to 18, due to brief nudity, even though younger kids might not be interested in watching this. The movie releases in theaters on February 21, 2020, so check it out.

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2020 Film Independent’s Director’s Close Up: Week Three

Friday, January 31st, 2020

Week Three of Film Independent’s Director’s Close Up ventures into the mysterious world of television. Unlike feature films, television has directors with little authority, writers with all the power and story arcs that can last decades. Directors Kyle Patrick Alvarez (The Stanford Prison Experiment13 Reasons Why), Silas Howard (PoseThis is Us), Marvin Lemus (Gentefield) and Lynn Shelton (HumpdayThe Morning ShowGlow) reveal what happens behind the camera of the most popular television shows.

The role of the director in film contrasts with television directors. In feature films, the director has unlimited creative authority in every single department. In television, some directors may experience a limited amount of authority, but many cannot adjust the script in any way or have little control of the final edit of the episodes.

Wendy Calhoun, Marvin Lemus, Lynn Shelton, Silas Howard, Kyle Patrick Alvarez

Directors will often direct a single episode while crew members, writers, and producers generally stay on the same show for years. Silas Howard compared it to “throwing a party at someone else’s house” and moderator Wendy Calhoun compared it to the relationship between a substitute and a teacher. To help get to know the crew, some directors will greet and speak with every member of the crew or utilize unconventional methods such as bringing the crew candy or baked goods (which, according to the panel, has an impressive success rate). To help initiate directors, “shadowing” sometimes occurs wherein a possible future director will “shadow” the current director to learn the feel for the production and style of the show.

The show writers have so much creative influence that the medium has become known as the “writer’s medium.” The writers ensure that, not only does each episode have an interesting, entertaining and original story, but that the world maintains consistency throughout every episode as well. For some shows, this becomes more complicated when writers must also consider overarching intertwining subplots such as the highly acclaimed Game of Thrones, which throughout its seven seasons had dozens of plot lines with dozens of characters that ranged from a few episodes long to multiple seasons long.

Kyle Patrick Alvarez, Lynn Shelton, Wendy Calhoun, Silas Howard, Marvin Lemu

To assist in production, writers create “show bibles” that give basic information on the characters, settings and other aspects of the world being portrayed. Sometimes, the production also creates “look books” which use a series of photographs, color pallets and more to convey the tone of the show. Showrunners, which lead the production of a show,  meet with directors to discuss each episode in meetings called “tone meetings,” that can last as long as nine hours. 

Recently, the world of television has begun to lose its strangeness as film and TV have merged more and more. Filmmakers now create “cinematic universes” which resemble the styles of TV and TV networks such as HBO develop shows where each episode can last over an hour and the greater show-wide plot has a large singular central conflict, similar to most feature film plots. Perhaps eventually it will be the world of film that seems mysterious, as television and instant streaming shows grow in popularity worldwide. 

For more information on Film Independent, go to https://www.filmindependent.org/

By Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 17

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2020 Directors Close Up * Week Two

Friday, January 24th, 2020

Acting allows a script to transform from words on a page into an emotional and three-dimensional performance. So, Week Two of Film Independent’s Director’s Close Up delved into the relationship between actor and director by hearing from Marriage Story director Noah Baumbach, actress Martha Kelly (Nancy Katz) and casting director Francine Maisler.

Before actors can bring characters to life, a screenplay must be written for them to inhabit. Noah, who also wrote the screenplay for Marriage Story, spoke in detail about his unique writing process. Unlike most writers, Noah includes his actors and crew in the writing process allowing him to “have a dialogue with them.” This included interviewing every actor, so he can tailor the characters to their personalities. At the end of the film, when Adam Driver (Charlie) plays the guitar, Noah explained that the moment had been specifically written for Adam. Similarly, one of Laura Dern’s (Nora Franshaw) monologues directly came from conversations between Noah and Laura. 

Noah focuses on ensuring the script resembles reality as much as possible, so he tends to interview people who have experienced similar things to what the characters experienced. For Marriage Story, he interviewed many individuals who have had experience with both marriage and divorce to ensure that the story maintains as much realism as possible. To add more realism, Noah collected stories that he heard from friends and families and found “the right place for it at the right time.” In a scene from Marriage Story, Charlie accidentally cuts himself. Noah states that the inspiration came from a real-life event that happened to a friend of his. 

While these strategies help ensure the film flows naturally, casting the right individuals has a large influence on the quality of the film. Casting director Francine Maisler spoke on their process, saying Noah treats “every part like it’s the lead.” Noah takes time to find the right actor for each role and works with them to ensure they understand the character. Noah and Francine will sometimes save the names of actors they meet so they can work with them on future projects, one example is Merrit Weaver (Cassie), whom they met years ago and decided she would be perfect in Marriage Story. During the audition process, he wants the actors to not know the lines, to be slightly unrefined, or even “raw.” This allows him to work with the actors to develop a strong character.

After casting and writing have been completed, he conducts rehearsals not to practice the lines but the “blocking and rhythm of the dialogue.” This also helps the actors learn the character. An example is with Alan Alda’s portrayal of Bert Spitz. Alda told Noah that he didn’t understand the Bert’s character until he saw the set for Bert’s office. Onset, Noah avoids saying “action” to push the actors to perform the same way they would off-camera, which he believes allows a more natural performance. He would also does many takes or slightly adjusts the blocking of the actors or gives the actors little things to do during the scene to help naturalize the performances. 

Noah also took inspiration from previous films. He watched “screw-ball comedies from the 30s and 40s such as Persona (1966) and Dr. Strangelove (1964) to prepare for Marriage Story. When working with actors, he collaborates with them instead of ordering them. “They give me ideas in their performance,” he explains. Even with writing, Noah states that when he begins writing any script, he feels that he’s “just an amateur all over again.” Noah’s process speaks for itself, with the film receiving five nominations at the 92nd Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Screenplay, and being honored as one of the best films of the year by the American Film Institute.

Marriage Story is streaming on Netflix now. For more information on Film Independent, go to https://www.filmindependent.org/

By Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 17

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2020 Film Independent Directors Close Up * Week One

Sunday, January 19th, 2020

How does the look of a film get decided? What even encompasses a film’s “look”? Such questions led the discussion in week one of Film Independent’s Director’s Close Up featuring the director of Hustlers, Lorene Scafaria and costume designer of Hustlers, Mitchell Travers.

As moderator John August pointed out, cinema is a visual medium. Thus, unlike many other art forms, it can take advantage of the visual element to help further the themes of the story. For Hustlers the theme focuses on control – whether it is the main characters fighting for control of their lives or control against the greed that leads to the story’s conflicts. To create a look that further drives that theme, director Lorene Scafaria collaborated with cinematographer Todd Banhazl, production designer Jane Musky, and of course, costumer designer Mitchell Travers.

Travers spoke about his approach in creating the “thousands” of costumes for the film. Because the film takes place in a “modern period piece” between 2007 and 2015, he looked back to the styles and trends that represent the era, and not necessarily all the good aspects of the era. He wished to show “the amazing mistakes,” that the era created. He drew inspiration from celebrities of the time such as Nicole Richie, Miley Cyrus, Tila Tequila, Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez who plays Ramona in the film. Travers explains that this helped represent the imperfections of the period. To achieve such visions required work – he explained the tasks required costume assistants and costume supervisors, with a costume department as big as 35 people. The same situation occurs in production design, art department and makeup. The smallest details viewers scarcely notice on-screen require months of work by sometimes thousands of people, yet, without their talents, films would look bare and unrealistic.

Films often use color, or better yet, a lack of color, to develop a theme. Hustlers has a strong focus on the greed of wealth, so Scafaria spoke about the careful consideration of how to treat the color green in the film. Despite having dozens of sets, thousands of costumes and many main characters, only in dollar bills does green appear throughout the film. This helps further bring the viewer’s focus to dollar bills as they drive the characters, the conflict and the story itself.

Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic

Every scene has its look to further its purpose in the greater story. Scafaria and Travers analyze a specific scene where Ramona and Destiny (Constance Wu) have an intense conversation in a diner where Romana attempts to convince Destiny to commit a crime. Scafaria worked closely with cinematographer Todd Banhazl to create this drama in a visual matter. The shots keep tight on the two actresses and viewers can scarcely see the interior of the diner, due to how much the two stars take up the frame. This instantly creates a secretive, pressured feeling to the scene. The movement of characters also helps further this, while Destiny stays still, Ramona moves her head as she talks and the camera moves with her. This creates a distinct energetic separation with Ramona taking a pushing, demanding role and Destiny taking the role of a follower. When the clip gets muted, it maintains that contrast without needing the dialogue to explain the purpose of the scene. Such little details ensure the audience feels the correct mood – a mixture of nervousness and adrenaline – as Destiny carefully considers whether to participate in the crime.

The first panel of Director’s Close Up lived up to its name and gave the audience a close and intimate look at the creative process for Hustlers and the many intimate details that help convert stories from a mere series of events to an emotional and human-like experience on the big screen.

For more information on Film Independent go to https://www.filmindependent.org/

By Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 17

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If the Dancer Dances * An Exquisitely Shot Film Honoring Merce Cunningham’s Choreography

Friday, October 25th, 2019

If The Dancer Dances invites viewers into the intimate world of the dance studio. Stephen Petronio, one of today’s leading dance-makers, is determined to help his dancers breathe new life into RainForest (1968), an iconic work by the legendary choreographer Merce Cunningham. With help from three members of the former Cunningham company, the film tracks Petronio’s dancers as they strive to re-stage this great work, revealing what it takes to keep a dance – and a legacy – alive. Timed to coincide with Cunningham’s centennial, If The Dancer Dances  is the first documentary on the subject of Cunningham’s work since his passing in 2009.

Merce Cunningham was an American dancer and choreographer who stood at the forefront of American modern dance for more than 60 years. As a choreographer, teacher, and leader of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Cunningham had a profound influence on modern dance and earned some of the highest honors bestowed in the arts, including the National Medal of Arts and the MacArthur ‘Genius’ Fellowship. Cunningham is also notable for his frequent collaborations with artists of other disciplines, including the musicians Radiohead and John Cage (also his life partner), as well as visual artists Andy Warhol, who did the décor for  RainForest, the dance featured in If the Dancer Dances, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg.

If the Dancer Dances
By Cynthia P., KIDS FIRST! Reviewer

If The Dancer Dances is an exquisitely shot film that brings the audience into the studio to watch the company members get interviewed and listen to their opinions and fears as we observe them at work. We observe the technically brilliant Petronio Company goof off, get engaged (which seems a bit staged), rehearse, giggle and crawl – nothing too interesting or special.

The film If The Dancer Dances, directed by Maia Wechsler, was created to document the rehearsal, choreographic reconstruction and performance of the dance RainForest with Petronio’s 30-year-old, New York-based contemporary dance company.

My favorite part which lifted me up from the predictability of the 86 minute film is when dancer / choreographer / company director Stephen Petronio reveals that his “dance parents,” Trisha Brown and Merce Cunningham, are no longer able to dance. Ms. Brown is ill and Merce has passed away. Stephen feels compelled to continue their work and decided to re-stage RainForest. He felt a need to “continue even more” and restage the legendary ballet RainForest on his own company with décor by Andy Warhol, costumes by Jasper Johns, music by David Tudor and, of course, the amazing choreography of Merce Cunningham – a quintessential collaboration by four of the greatest modern artists of their day. As most dancers who have studied modern art or dance, the sight of Warholian silver pillows floating on stage is a vivid image that one cannot shake. Despite the very grainy archival film of this dance, this work remains legendary.

Meg Harper, the Cunningham dancer who performed in the original work, discusses the challenges of setting the piece, her ups and downs with it, and the feelings that she experienced on stage. None of her issues are high stakes, surprising or new. In fact, they are blasé challenges that seem so weak compared to the power of just enjoying the ballet. Every single moment spent not watching the dancers dance seems like filler. It is sweet to hear dancers talk, but it feels as if the filmmakers tried to make it more interesting when actually, they don’t. The dancing in the studio is what elevates this film. I wanted to see exquisite movement shot, edited and presented well. Of course, we want to get to know the dancers, as it  makes the film more textured, but these efforts seem forced and makes so much of the film fall flat.

When former Cunningham dancers discuss Merce and his work, it starts to get a bit more interesting. When we watch Merce kindly teach from his wheelchair and view a dancer break down, thinking of the power he has over her, we get a glimpse of his intensity. I personally remember his feeble hands reaching out to shake mine and his warm lovely smile that was so engaging.

There are no stakes in this film that have excitement for me. Yes, we watch the amazing dancers learn phrases, laugh in rehearsal, make the movement their own and then perform the work at the Joyce Theatre. It doesn’t work for me and is disappointing. The performance just doesn’t have any urgency or excitement.

The archival footage of RainForest sizzled for me. This celebrated work that shaped dance for an eternity costumed the dancers in ripped leotards with holes. This motif is part of fashion today – 40 years later! Those moments just cannot be re-done. Merce asked his company to halt after his death in 2009 for this very reason.

As much as it is nice to see works re-imagined, this film about the process didn’t give me anything new. I’m afraid that I feel some works of art just need to stay asleep. Sweet dreams RainForest, we love you. However, for newcomers to the world of modern dance, dancers and audience members alike, this may well awaken a sense of history and place that they were unaware of previously. So, with that in mind, I can recommend this to teens ages 15 to 18 as well as adults and give it 3.5 stars out of 5. It is available on VOD Nov 12.

“The dance studio is a private and mysterious place. If The Dancer Dances grants us rare access, bringing us into the studio to watch the staging of a Merce Cunningham masterwork on the Stephen Petronio Company. It’s the tracking of this intimate process, a dance being passed one body to another, that makes this film a great gift.”  Mikhail Baryshnikov on If The Dancer Dances

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