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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

Volta – A Feast for the Senses

Sunday, October 20th, 2019

Volta is a touring circus show by the Cirque du Soleil. Energetic, urban and contemporary, VOLTA is a captivating voyage of discovery that showcases never-before-seen under the Big Top acrobatics in a visually striking world. Driven by a stirring melodic score and inspired in part by the adventurous spirit that fuels the culture of street sports, VOLTA is a story of transformation. It is about being true to oneself, fulfilling one’s true potential, and recognizing one’s own power to make it possible. Ultimate freedom comes with self-acceptance, and with the liberation of the judgement of others.  VOLTA is playing now in Atlanta through January 5, 2020.

VOLTA: Cirque du Soleil
By Ivey H, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 13

This show is a feast for the senses! All I can say is WOW! It is such a beautiful and captivating night under the Big Top Tent.  This is the 20th Cirque du Soleil show to visit Atlanta and the 15th Big Top to be raised in Atlanta. 

The show is comprised of very talented acrobats that swing, jump, dance, bike ride, skip rope, roller skate, balance and so much more. There is almost no dialogue, which I did not mind at all.  The host of the show Mr. WOW is very amusing. There are some very humorous parts. Even a 3-year- old behind me was engaged and laughed at the comedian, which was so adorable.

I love how the talent engages the audience. I enjoyed the theme of the show and loved the storytelling with its beautiful displays of different backgrounds to enhance the story. The colors are radiant and vibrant. The costumes are absolutely inspiring and very different. They engulf so many different cultures into very urban costumes. They blend looks from Native Americans with African culture and hip hop, all into one.  The costume designer, Zaldy Goco, designed the costumes for Michael Jackson’s “This is It” tour, Lady Gaga’s “Monster Ball Tour” and more. He has received four Emmy nominations and you can see why. His work is phenomenal.

My favorite part of the performance is the couple dancing and the unicycle rider, Philippe Be’langer, with dancer. They are all highly skilled acrobats. I had anxiety watching them display their incredible body strength and balance. Another favorite part is “Hair Suspension,” with the very Zen Lady Vanessa Ferreira Calado hoisted up in the air by her hair. 

The music and singing are a beautiful addition and the lady violist is captivating to listen to. The grand finale is the BMX street bikes. This is a nice ending and these extreme cyclists are impressive! I don’t know how they do it.

The message of this show is about embracing yourself, accept yourself, and love your true liberation and freedom.

I recommend this show is for ages 3 to 18, plus adults and give it 5 out of 5 stars. The show is playing now through January 5, 2020 at Atlantic Station. It is best to park under Dillards and walk to the Big Top Tent. There are plenty of good snacks and drinks available for purchase.  There is a 25 minutes intermission between first and second act. Be sure to check it out, you’ll be glad you did.

Molly of Denali * Delightful and Authentic Portrayal of Three Generations of Native Americans

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019

Molly of Denali is an American-Canadian animated television series created and produced by Atomic Cartoons and WGBH Kids for PBS Kids and CBC Television. It premiered on July 15, 2019. The series is the first ever nationally distributed children’s show to feature an Alaska Native as the main character and protagonist. Thirty-eight half-hours have been ordered. Between the two 11-minute story segments, there is a special live-action segment filmed in Alaska. The series follows 10-year-old Molly, an Alaska Native girl from the fictional village of Qyah, and her family, friends Tooey and Trini, her dog Suki, and other residents. Her family runs the Denali Trading Post. It was created by Dorothea Gillim and Kathy Waugh and stars Sovereign Bill. The Molly of Denali theme song is sung by Phillip Blanchett and Karina Moeller. KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror, Terry S. comments, “This animated show is truly delightful and quite authentic in portraying three generations –  grand parents, parents and children. The images are true to form and culture.” See her full review below.

Molly of Denali – Grandpa’s Drum and Have Canoe Will Paddles (TV series)
By Terry S., KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

Molly of Denali is an animated TV series featuring a strong Native American 10-year-old girl from Alaska. The show I watched has two 11-minute episodes: Grandpa’s Drum and Have Canoe will Paddle. The focus is on problem solving, while incorporating literacy and technology skills.
Alaskan Native values are modeled including respect, sharing, team work and honoring elders, family and cultural awareness.

The program highlights a Native American community in Alaska. The lead character Molly is a strong, energetic young girl, full of life and an inquiring mind. In Grandpa’s Drum, she and Tuli find an old photograph of her grandpa when he was young together with a young girl. They discover he doesn’t like to sing anymore, because he no longer has his drum. They go on a quest to find the girl and his drum by using their research skills. In Have Canoe Will Paddle, Molly, Tuli and Trini get resourceful once again with their literacy skills to learn how to paddle a canoe. With their friendly social skills, they find an appropriate coach to teach them, so they can enter a race.

Native Alaskan children will proudly see themselves and their way of life and a broader audience will be introduced to a new culture. They will experience adventures with the lead characters and see their contemporaries problem solving, learning and having fun. In Grandpa’s Drum, they will see Molly and Trini singing and their Grandpa remembering songs with his drum and teaching them. In Have Canoe Will Paddle, they will see the steps Molly and friends make to learn how to canoe and master the race. They will learn to know that we are more alike than different. Viewers may be motivated to explore their own cultural backgrounds as a result.

This is a very engaging show with fun characters that are eager to learn. Each episode flows well, incorporating literacy and technology skills that young children can relate to. It encourages them to go out and learn the skills they need to problem solve and have fun while doing so.

Young children, parents, teachers and caregivers alike will learn about the Native Alaskan culture and learn new Native vocabulary, as well as the difference between now and then. In Grandpa’s Drum, we learn that when he was a young boy, he had to go to boarding school and was not allowed to celebrate his culture at school. Today, we find out that this does not happen. Children are at home going to school and can celebrate their culture. This animated show is truly delightful and quite authentic in portraying three generations –  grand parents, parents and children. The images are true to form and culture.

In addition to the two animated shorts in each episode, there is a live action piece. In this episode, Molly answers questions about life in Alaska. We see children who live there at the river comparing old photographs of a similar place and see what it looks like today. They learn a traditional song from an elder. One girl says, “When I am dancing with ancestors, I connect with the past.”

Molly of Denali has all the benefits of inviting the viewer to question, probe and problem solve as described above, while introducing the viewer to a new culture and environment. It encourages one to look into situations such as in Grandpa’s Drum when it helps him to reconnect with his youth, re-learning the songs he loved with his new found drum, and then teaching and passing them on to the younger generation. Viewers will be motivated and encouraged to explore their own cultural backgrounds. Similarly in Have Canoe Will Paddle where it shows how one can learn a new sport, if they so desire. The role modeling of determination is inspiring.  

The moral of the series is: if there is a will, there is a way as it models problem solving to get the results you want, gaining new skills and having fun while doing it! Molly and her friends are terrific, inspiring role models for young children to get excited about learning!

I give this series 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 4 through 8. This airs on PBS Kids and CBC Television now, so look for it. Reviewed by Terry S., KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror.

Film Independent: Future Filmmakers by Gerry Orz, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17

Friday, August 30th, 2019
Clara Siliezar, Lacey Brauer, Vivian Munoz, Caitlyn Phu, Chase Okimura, Riley Thomas Stewart; Images courtesy of Getty Images and Film Independent

Recently I attended Film Independent’s Future Filmmaker’s Program where they screened twelve excellent short films of all genres and styles made by filmmakers in middle school and high school. Film Independent’s event showcased the true creativity and expression that exists in kids of all ages and proved most of all that knowing the technicality of filmmaking does not make an excellent film – a vision does. 

In modern cinema, we push for VFX, complicated sets and high resolution. Sadly, for youth filmmakers like me, and the ones premiered at Future Filmmakers, such extravagance exists merely as a pipe dream. Those cameras stray far outside any reasonable budget, as does any hope of professional Pixar animation or Marvel VFX. 

Clara Siliezar, Lacey Brauer, Vivian Munoz, Caitlyn Phu, Riley Thomas Stewart; Images courtesy of Getty Images and Film Independent

In a way, this makes films produced by children and teens all the more exciting. We lack the discipline and rules that have become enlisted in the larger overarching film industry, and it shows beautifully. Artists all over have been animating in the most incredibly unique mediums, with Old Man Planet directed by Jessee Quales a prime example where he combines stop motion and drawn animation that enticed me far more than many other recent animated feature films. Both Cannibal Cat, directed by Andrew Martin and The Princess and the P.D., directed by Lacey Brauer demonstrate the pure storytelling ability of animation, where the rules of our world fade away and we can create imaginative new ones for whomever we please. 

The event also visualized a common theme that may lead to becoming a defining theme in the next generation of cinema – identity. The massive majority of youth films shown in this screening dealt with identity in some form or another with Durian, directed by Caitlyn Phu, discussing cultural identity in a very visual way where she tells the story of Clara Chu, an Asian teenager struggling to determine if she recognizes herself as Asian or American. The T is not Silent takes identity on in the LGBT context where director Clara Siliezar interviews transgender teenagers in San Diego about discovering their gender identity. 

Film Independent staff: María Raquel Bozzi, Senior Director of Education, Sarah Berkovich, Film Education Manager and Josh Welsh President of Film Independent; Images courtesy of Getty Images and Film Independent

Most importantly, in all these short films, the filmmakers show that this generation dares to show things that no other generation had dared show. This is Not a PSA, directed by Delana Lewis discusses African American culture;  Brujería,  directed by Vivian Muñoz discusses the taboo nature of receiving mental healthcare in Mexican culture. Many more demonstrate the bravery of this generation of filmmakers to go into the world and show the most unspoken aspects of our society. 

Finally, and most importantly, the next generation of filmmakers shows a willingness to create – no matter what limits they have. Many filmmakers at the event discussed the difficulties of working, either completely alone or with very small crews. They used small DSLR cameras or simple point and shoot cameras. Dyad, directed by Riley Thomas Stewart shows this most of all. The film takes place on a scorched desert world and Stewart filmed most of the story in a real desert, in order to capture the decayed quiet world he wished to create. 

Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17

The commitment from these 12 creators should be an inspiration to anyone interested in telling stories, as cinema does not require money, knowledge or experience. It merely requires time and passion. 

Bunuel In The Labyrinth Of The Turtles * Rare To See Such Mature Animation Like This. Incredible!

Sunday, August 18th, 2019

Paris, 1930. The infamous surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel is left penniless after the scandalous release of L’Age d’Or leads to a falling out with collaborator Salvador Dalí. On a whim, Buñuel’s good friend, sculptor Ramón Acín, buys a lottery ticket and promises to devote his winnings to fund Buñuel’s next film. Incredibly, Ramón wins the jackpot, sending the two friends to the remote mountains of their native Spain to film the documentary Las Hurdes: Land Without Bread. Driven by mad artistic impulse and haunted by childhood memories, Buñuel must confront the specter of mortality looming over the lives of his subjects and his own. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Calista B. comments, “This is an incredibly unique film. It’s rare to see such mature animation like this, and I’ve been wanting more mature animation for a while. So I was incredibly entertained.” See her full review below.

Bunuel In The Labyrinth Of The Turtles
By Calista B., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 15

This is an incredibly unique film. It’s rare to see such mature animation like this, and I’ve been wanting more mature animation for a while. So I was incredibly entertained.

The film is about the Spanish filmmaker Luis Bunuel and it follows him as he films his documentary, Las Hurdes, which is a documentary about the Las Hurdes region in Spain. 

Now, I love animation. However, I am slightly peeved that 2D animated movies are not very popular anymore. So I was excited to learn that this film is 2D. Not only that, but it is incredibly stylized and beautiful 2D. I’ve always liked aesthetics pertaining to historical generations of filmmaking. So it’s not surprising that I love this art style. One thing I find interesting is that many scenes in the film have clips from the actual Las Hurdes documentary, sliced in with animated recreations of the scenes. I can’t really explain why, but I really like this detail.

Another interesting aspect of the animation is the imagery. Luis Bunuel is often associated with surrealism and I assume that’s why the movie includes several strange and nonsensical sequences. There’s also a consistent theme involving religion, which I didn’t really understand if I’m being honest, but it is interesting.

A major aspect of this film is Luis’s relationship with the anarchist painter, Ramon Acin. The film was made thanks to Ramon, so it’s understandable that the film heavily focuses on their friendship. It’s interesting to see their conflict on the purpose of the film, and in general it makes for some compelling drama.

In a way this can serve as an introduction to Luis Bunuel and his work. I never knew of him before this film. However, now I’m somewhat intrigued by him and his work. Although, there is something I should warn people about. Despite the film being animated, this film is absolutely not a kid’s movie. There are lots of dark jokes, mature themes and a surprising amount of animal violence. It is important to point this out as many people assume all animated films are for little kids, when that couldn’t be further from the truth.

I give this film 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 13 to 18. If you’re a fan of history, the art of film or both, and you can stomach some uncomfortable subject matter, I highly recommend this. It comes out on August 16, 2019.

Toy Story 4 Special Press Event by Katherine S., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 10

Tuesday, June 11th, 2019

I had so much fun while I was at Disney World for the Toy Story 4 press events! I attended a screening of Toy Story 4, rode some great rides, watched amazing outdoor animation shows at the Magic Kingdom, took pictures with the Toy Story 4 characters and some of the voice actors of those characters, interviewed Annie Potts who voices Bo Peep and attend two press junkets! Wow! It was a very full two days.

On Thursday, I flew to Orlando with my parents and settled in. On Friday, I rode some fun rides at Disney World and went to the screening of Toy Story 4, which is the best one of the Toy Story movies. By the time the screening ended, the park was closing so I had dinner with my parents.  As the park closed, there was a vibrant display of fireworks, animation and a Star Wars laser light show.  Disney kept Toy Story Land open for the press after the park closed and I got to take fun pictures with the Toy Story characters.

When we were filming an intro for my video, Tom Hanks ran into the screen and totally “video bombed” me! That was absolutely awesome. He is such a nice person!  Then I went to two press junkets and got to ask a question in each session. The director complemented me on my questions and Mr. Hanks made me stand up during my question so that we could talk about his video bombing.  He made me laugh the entire time. Once the press junkets ended, we flew back to Chicago.

On Saturday, I interviewed Annie Potts who plays Bo Peep in the movie. Annie Potts is so, so, so  lovely and inspiring. 

My trip was one of the best ever. Everyone from Disney to the actors in the movie were so kind to me. I will remember it forever.

The Hustle – Entertaining But Filled With Raunchy Humor

Monday, June 10th, 2019

Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson star as female scam artists, one low rent and the other high class, who team up to take down the men who have wronged them. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Abraham F. comments, “The Hustle is an extremely mixed bag of a movie.  On one hand, it’s very entertaining and had the entire theatre laughing because of the raunchy humor and continuous jokes, but this is also its weak point.” See his full review below.

The Hustle
By Abraham F., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic,  age 14

The Hustle is an extremely mixed bag of a movie.  On one hand, it’s very entertaining and had the entire theatre laughing because of the raunchy humor and continuous jokes, but this is also its weak point. The jokes keep on coming and coming, but they are all so similar that after awhile they get boring. The jokes are either fat jokes or raunchy sexual jokes and easily get stale. 

The Hustle is adapted from the film Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and it features two huge stars in the lead:  Anne Hathaway as Josephine and Rebel Wilson as Penny.  The story follows Penny, a con artist who catfishes men and takes their money. She is coincidentally on a train with world-class con artist, Josephine. Josephine overhears Penny’s tactic to get money from an old man. She is afraid that Penny is going to “take over the market”. So to get Penny out of the city she operates in, Josephine trains her and doesn’t pay her, just to make her mad and force her to leave. This causes Penny to retort and purpose a turf war.

The Hustle has two huge stars leading the film. Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson are both predominant stars. Anne Hathaway is an Oscar-winning actress for her works in Les Misérables and has gotten praise for her performance as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises. Rebel Wilson has been in franchises like Pitch Perfect and Night at the Museum.  

My favorite part of this film is when Penny is getting trained by Josephine to be world-class con artist like herself. Josephine shows Penny how to react to any situation by teaching her tricks that are used in a heist and not really to scam a man for money.

The message in this movie is that just because you’re a con person trying to steal money from men who have done you wrong doesn’t make all men evil. This movie has a lot of swearing and crude sexual remarks, and I strongly advise parents to look into the content before taking their kids. This film is no doubt entertaining, but once the jokes get stale the film does as well. The Hustle is appropriate for children 14 to 18. I give it 2 out of 5  stars. The Hustle hits theatres Friday, May 10, 2019.  

Director’s Close-Up: Another Type of Narrative: The Truth of Docs

Saturday, February 16th, 2019

This has been a stellar year for documentary film. From fresh new voices telling compelling personal stories to veterans who continue to push the boundaries of storytelling, the form continues to evolve and grow into an exciting canvas for filmmakers to represent the world we live in. Join us as we discuss many of the questions and challenges inherent to nonfiction films, with the directors behind some of the most acclaimed documentaries of the year. They’ll explore how they go beyond letting reality unspool on screen to carefully crafting narratives that bring us closer to the truth.

Director’s Close-Up: Another Type of Narrative: The Truth of Docs
By Gerry Orz, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 16

In the world of cinema, there is a division between jobs, between mediums and between genres. Yet, no bigger division exists than that between the world of fictional films and the world of documentaries. The third week of Director’s Close Up examined the documentary world by creating a panel of some of the most premier documentarians of the last year. It featured Alexandria Bombach (director; On Her ShouldersFrame By Frame); Talal Derki (director; Of Fathers and SonsThe Return to Homs); Bing Liu  (director, Minding the Gap); Morgan Neville (director; Won’t You Be My Neighbor?20 Feet from Stardom); Sandi Tan (writer/director, Shirkers) and was moderated by Lisa Leeman (director; One Lucky ElephantOut of Faith)

Each documentary had its own unique challenges. Alexandria’s documentary is about Nadia Murad, a victim of sexual violence that was abducted by ISIS. The story had to carefully tell her story and discuss her career without victimizing the heroine and making her relive the nightmarish experiences that she suffered. Talal perhaps had the most dangerous experience where he gained the trust to follow a radical Islamic family for two years. Bing’s journey to make his documentary was brave and complex as he examines three friends living in volatile families in a small rust-belt town. Morgan, a highly seasoned and Oscar award-winning documentarian took up the challenge of telling the story of Fred Rogers and revealing the depth of what everyone assumed was a simple two-dimensional TV personality. Lastly, Sandi chronicles the discovery of  16mm tapes for a film she made over two decades ago, that were stolen by the film’s director and her journey of reconnecting with old friends.

Talal told many stories of his experiences portraying the level of dedication he had to his project. He talked about how he had to delete photos from social media and go on pro-jihadist syndicates in order to seem supportive of radical Islam. This sacrificed many friends, but he succeeded. His troubles did not end there though. He explained that he could never have too much cash on him out of fear of being kidnapped, and had to cut his stay in dangerous territory after he learned that bloodthirsty leaders began hearing about him and his filmmaking. During the entire project, it was simply him alone in very dangerous zones with a camera. He had no crew, no backup and no friends in the foreign land. His journey is a prime example of the levels of danger and dedication a documentarian needs to have in order to get the access to material needed to make the film.

Many of the panelists discussed changes they made in the process of creating their films. Neither Bing nor Sandi planned on being in their own films, until very late in the production process, with Sandi having to use every second of footage of her available. Bing’s film features skateboarding often and he discussed his style of filming skateboarders, where he keeps the camera at eye-level, causing the focus to be on the skaters and their emotions instead of on the footwork and the skateboard. Morgan stated the importance of sound in Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, due to how meaningful music was to Fred Rogers. He also discussed the editing process and how to establish a certain mood, flow and style. He explained that “The Instructions for the film you are making are in the film you’re making.” Morgan also discussed how he wished to show the concept of nature leading to harmony and, at first wished to include many nature shots, but ended up deciding on one simple shot of a bird at the beginning to communicate his message. Their stories demonstrate so clearly just how much a documentary can change and how many elements must be considered in the filmmaking and editing process.

These five creators opened the eyes of the audience to the remarkable art form of the documentary. By bringing together such a varied group of filmmakers, Film Independent was able to show that, not only is each documentarian unique in their craft and the story they choose to tell, but also how unique their challenges are. Talal, in the Middle East had very different challenges from Sandi or Alexandria. It also shows how any scale of a story can be eye-opening. Alexandria’s story about Nadia should be listened to by all equally to Morgan’s story on Fred Rogers. The most captivating films are not ones of mass proportion, but – just as this panel demonstrated – are ones that are real, emotional, relatable and natural. 

The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical – The Electrifying Off-Broadway Musical Heads Out On Tour

Friday, January 25th, 2019

The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical – The Electrifying Off-Broadway Musical Heads Out On Tour. Lightning struck Off-Broadway theater Lucille Lortel’s stage in the form of The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical in early 2017. The updated hit musical garnered three Drama Desk Award nominations including Outstanding Musical and now brings its action, magic and music to a theater near you on a mammoth US tour beginning last fall. Based on the cult-classic Young Adult novel by acclaimed fantasy author Rick Riordan (which also spawned a feature film), the production may be aimed at a younger audience, but its self-aware humour, ubpeat pop rock score and satisfying special effects make it perfect for older mortals too.

Life is tough enough when you’re going though puberty, but Percy Jackson’s not only facing teendom with ADHD and dyslexia, he’s just discovered he’s a demi-god, son of the God Of the Sea Poseidon. In this epic coming of age tale, Greek myths are very much real! When Jackson’s human mom is kidnapped and the lightning bolt of Zeus is stolen by malevolent forces, the wonderkid and his newfound friends go on a quest to set the world to rights.

KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror Juanita Seon Leary comments, “I am a fan of musicals and this production is an excellent adaptation. It takes place in present day, starting out in Camp Half-Blood in Long Island, NY and moves to several places as it develops.” See her full review below.  

The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical
Juanita Seon Leary, KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror     

The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical opened at the Merriam Theater on Tuesday, January 22, 2019 and I was thrilled with the production. This musical is based on the books written by Joe Tracz and adapted by Rick Riordan.

I am a fan of musicals and this production is an excellent adaptation. It takes place in present day, starting out in Camp Half-Blood in Long Island, NY and moves to several places as it develops.

The story follows a young man, Percy Jackson (Chris McCarrell), who finds out that he is half human and half god.  He struggles with being expelled from six schools in one year. Percy feels as if he cannot do anything right. After he learns that his father is Posiedon, one of the Twelve Olympians in ancient Greek religion and mythology, god of the Sea and other waters and of earthquakes and horses, Percy sets out to right a wrong caused by a war between the gods.

I enjoyed watching Percy Jackson as he joins the other half-bloods (children with one human parent and the other a god) in their quest. It was exhilarating to watch the cast of young actors work together to to prove that Percy did not steal the lightning bolt. 

One of my favorite scenes is when Percy and his friends Annabeth (Kristin Stokes) Grover (Jorrell Javier) set out on their quest and, while traveling on a bus that is bombed by the gods to deter them, confetti of gold strips of paper fly out into the audience. I received several bursts of confetti which was fun and exciting.

All the cast members are excellent singers, dances and actors. The sets and stage props are magnificent and well-constructed. This show has messages of friendship, never giving up and appreciating your life.

The Lightning Thief:The Percy Jackson Musical is now playing at the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia, PA Through Sunday, January 27, 2019. I recommend it is for ages 8 to 18, as well as adults and give it 5 out of 5 stars. For a complete list of dates and locations through July, 2019 go to: http://www.lightningthiefmusical.com/ – home

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: CAST AND CREATIVE

CAST
Chris McCarrell as Percy Jackson
Kirstin Stokes as Annabeth
Sarah Beth Pfeifer as Clarice
James Hayden Rodriguez as Luke
Jorrel Javier as Grover and Mr. D
Ryan Knowles as Chiron
Jalynn Steel as Sally

Understudies
Izzy Figueroa
Sam Leicht
T. Shyvonne Stewart.

CREATIVE
Book by Joe Tracz
Music and lyrics by Rob Rokicki
Directed by Stephen Brackett
Choreography by Patrick McCollum
Set design by Lee Savage
Costume design by Sydney Maresca
Sound design by Ryan Rumery
Lighting design by David Lander
Fight direction by Rod Kinter
Orchestrations by Wiley Deweese and Rob Rikicki

Green Book: An Unlikely Bi-Racial Friendship In the 60s Deep South

Friday, November 23rd, 2018

Dr. Don Shirley is a world-class African-American pianist who’s about to embark on a concert tour in the Deep South in 1962. In need of a driver and protection, Shirley recruits Tony Lip, a tough-talking bouncer from an Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx. Despite their differences, the two men soon develop an unexpected bond while confronting racism and danger in an era of segregation. KIDS FIRST! Reviewer Kimbirly O. comments, “American History is often not pretty. When it comes to Green Book, it is purely ugly and lovingly told. From the stereotypical Italian-American neighborhood of the Bronx in New York, to the Deep South during the 60s, this film is based on a true story of unlikely friends.  See her full review below.

Green Book
By Kimbirly O., KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

American History is often not pretty. When it comes to Green Book, it is purely ugly and lovingly told. From the stereotypical Italian-American neighborhood of the Bronx in New York, to the Deep South during the 60s, this film is based on a true story of unlikely friends.  Tony “Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortenson) is a working-class Italian-American bouncer and sometimes “assistant” within the mob, who becomes the driver of an African-American classical pianist, Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), on a tour of venues through the 1960s American south. A classically trained virtuosic pianist, Dr. Shirley embarks on a journey to play for the wealthy throughout the south – the same people who will not eat with him, nor share a restroom, among other things. The title of the film refers to the Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel book Tony and Shirley follow to guide them to “approved” hotels and restaurants during their travels. Dr. Shirley’s journey to and through the south is truly more than a drive of a thousand miles; it is a road to self-discovery for both men.

Tony “Lip”, not Tony the Lip, mind you, is a family man. He, like his father before him, is a hard-working proud Italian man, who lives in the same neighborhood as the generations who came before him. He is married (his wife is played by Linda Cardellini)) and they have two sons. He prides himself on being a “bullshit artist.” When he loses his job, he is recruited to serve as the driver to a renowned pianist, who just so happens to be African-American. Dr. Shirley, on the other hand, is estranged from his family and searching. The two men are cast perfectly and bring the best both offer and then some. There are some very touching scenes within this film.

I will not dwell on the racial stereotypes prevalent throughout the film, instead I will focus on the unlikely friendship, which continued throughout the lives of both men. This film is based on a true story. It is co-written by Nick Vallelonga (Tony’s son), Bryan Currie and Peter Farrelly, who is best known for films written with his brother Bobby and more sophomoric in nature (i.e. Dumb and Dumber). Peter Farrelly also directs the film.

Awards buzz – 18 wins thus far and the major film awards have not yet begun. This film has been the darling of 2018 film festivals with many audience wins. History shows us how The Academy loves true stories. I am looking for several names from this film on January 22.

I give this film 4.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 12 to 18, as well as adults. There is a LOT of smoking, I mean SO MUCH SMOKING. It takes place in the 60s and everyone seems to smoke. There is also a lot of drinking in the film. Racism is prevalent throughout as it takes place in the Deep South where people were referred to as “colored” and segregated. There is also a brief scene, which intimates a sexual encounter between two men, although there is no true nudity. This film opens in theaters nationwide November 16, 2018. See it! Stay for the credits.

 

Photos by Universal Pictures - ©2018 Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved

 

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