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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

 

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms – From the Beginning, Your Senses Will be ALIVE!

Thursday, November 1st, 2018

All Clara wants is a key – a one-of-a-kind key that will unlock a box that holds a priceless gift from her late mother. A golden thread, presented to her at godfather Drosselmeyer’s annual holiday party, leads her to the coveted key-which promptly disappears into a strange and mysterious parallel world. It’s there that Clara encounters a soldier named Phillip, a gang of mice and the regents who preside over three Realms: Land of Snowflakes, Land of Flowers, and Land of Sweets. Clara and Phillip must brave the ominous Fourth Realm, home to the tyrant Mother Ginger, to retrieve Clara’s key and hopefully return harmony to the unstable world. Kimbirly O., KIDS FIRST! Juror comments, “From the beginning of the film, your senses will be ALIVE! Every set looks edible with color and life. Truly, this live-action Disney film is a breath of fresh air.” See her full review below.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
By Kimbirly O., KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

Do you remember The Nutcracker ballet? What about Cinderella? As I screened this film, both childhood memories came to mind.

Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms has brought the magic of Disney back to the big screen. From the beginning of the film, your senses will be ALIVE! Every set looks edible with color and life. Truly, this live-action Disney film is a breath of fresh air.

While you may know the story of The Nutcracker, your senses will be awakened by the colors, costumes, and scenery in this film. As with most Disney films, there is a theme of loss, yet it is also so alive!

Clara (Mackenzie Foy) is an amazing young protagonist. I found myself drawn to her curious nature and determination to live up to her mother’s curious nature. As a young girl, she plays a curious and adventurous spirit, who is also very mechanically inclined. She amazed me by her desire to succeed, and her courage.  She walks into dark spaces knowing she is enough, and encounters creatures who challenge her along a path of discovery. She encounters toy soldiers and magical mice – some of whom are not kind! Clara’s quick mind and wonderful, kind skills help her get through a lot of sticky situations!

Without giving too much away,the gist of the story is about a gift, presented by her Father, but left to her by her mother at Christmas. Her second gift is from her godfather Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman) at his annual holiday party, which leads her to a coveted key – which promptly disappears into a strange and mysterious parallel world. From one world to the next, Land of Snowflakes, Land of Flowers and Land of Sweets, Clara and a soldier she meets named Phillip (Jayden Fowora-Knight) must brave the ominous Fourth Realm, home to the tyrant Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), to retrieve Clara’s key.

The Sugar Plum Fairy Sugar (Keira Knightley), we learn, is not to be trusted and at times, gets annoying with her over the top antics. But in the end, this film has all the feels (and reminds me of so many things) of a Victorian English Christmas, the beloved Russian ballet, lively forest creatures from Disney and the bond of family. Misty Copeland makes a magnificent addition to the film, showcasing her balletic perfection.

Hats off to the costumers and make-up artists! I give this film 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 4 to 18, as well as adults. You should know this film deals with the death of a parent. It opens in theaters nationwide November 2, 2018. Look for it! You’ll be glad you did.

Photos © 2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Photos © 2018 Walt Disney Pictures

Intelligent Lives – Eye Opener About the Power to Contribute Regardless of One’s Intellectual Ability

Monday, September 17th, 2018

From award-winning filmmaker Dan Habib comes Intelligent Lives, a catalyst to transform the label of intellectual disability from a life sentence of isolation into a life of possibility for the most systematically segregated people in America. Intelligent Lives stars three pioneering young American adults with intellectual disabilities – Micah, Naieer, and Naomie – who challenge perceptions of intelligence as they navigate high school, college, and the workforce. Academy Award-winning actor and narrator Chris Cooper contextualizes the lives of these central characters through the emotional personal story of his son Jesse, as the film unpacks the shameful and ongoing track record of intelligence testing in the U.S. Intelligent Lives challenges what it means to be intelligent, and points to a future in which people of all abilities can fully participate in higher education, meaningful employment and intimate relationships.

Intelligent Lives

By Terry Solowey, KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

This documentary opens one’s eyes to the power of determination to contribute to society regardless of the label of “intellectual disability”. We follow three young adults through their personal journeys to make a life for themselves. They had me rooting for them throughout the entire film. I admire their chutzpah and determination.

What amazed me are the historical references showing how they would have been treated if born in the early 20th century. They would have been sent to institutions or might have been forcibly sterilized like the 60,000 that were before 1950. This was called the eugenics movement.  As recently as 1975, they would  have had no legal access to a public education.

This film’s mission is to transform the label of intellectual disability once known as “mentally retarded” into a life of possibility.  We watch Naieer, Micah and Naomie as they work through high school, college and the workforce to accomplish their goals. Micah, born in 1984, is determined to succeed. He goes to Syracuse University and graduates with a certificate from the school of education to become a teaching assistant. He gives us a new outlook and perspective on someone with an IQ of 40, being quite savvy with social media.  He is a constant reminder not to underestimate what people can do. After college, he learns to live on his own and becomes close with a fellow classmate, Meghan and helps her to advocate for herself.

Naieer, born in 1999, has a great talent for art, takes general education in inclusion classes, and is a great basketball player at a public high school in Massachusetts. Through the Art for Cultural Inclusion show, he creates six wonderful paintings.  Naomie is 25, loves to sing and dance at her church in Rhode Island with her hip-hop producer brother, and works toward and gets her first paying job through a job training program at a hair salon.

There are many poignant moments as we watch these three work toward their goals.  I have admiration for all of them. Their circles of support – the people,  teachers and family who work with them – have great patience and show great caring for each one of them. My favorite moments are seeing Micah visit Meghan’s family and socialize with her at a party, watching Naieer at his art show and cheering Naomie on  when she learns she has a position at a beauty parlor. Viewing this film gives you a real glimpse and sense of their individual personalities.

These three stories are brought together to examine the nature of intelligence by the actor Chris Cooper and his wife Marianne as they share the connection to the film and tell us about their son Jesse, whose intelligence has been questioned because he has cerebral palsy. Jesse however, became a high school honor student and a poet, before his death at age 17.

We see the fight against segregation based on ability in action.  Intelligence looks different for everyone.

This film gives one a new perspective on disability and labels. Differences make us stronger, not divide us. These three young adults show us what perseverance and chutzpah can to do to work through challenges. It is quite uplifting and makes a powerful statement. People of all abilities and talents can fully participate in life in an inclusive world.

I give this film 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 12 to 18, as well as adults. I highly recommend this film for the insights, knowledge, awareness and accomplishments that have been made by these young peoples who continue to do so. It opens in New York City on September 21, 2018 with a national release to follow.

Digimon Adventure Tri: Coexistence – Graphics and Action that Draw You In!

Thursday, August 30th, 2018

The Adventure Continues…The arrival of the super powerful Meicoomon starts a countdown to the real world’s collapse. The DigiDestined are cast out of the Digital World, and even after returning to the real world, are driven away by people, due to their partnerships with the Digimon. Meanwhile, a cruel fate appears imminent for Kari, who has a more honest and sensitive spirit than anyone. KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror Kimbirly M. comments, “With the well-known Japanese anime style, Digimon-tri has sharp-edge graphics and action sequences that draw the viewers in.” See the rest of her review below.

Digimon Adventure Tri: Coexistence
By Kimberly Michelle Mullins, KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

With the well-known Japanese anime style, Digimon-tri has sharp-edge graphics and action sequences that draw the viewers in. We see them dealing with educational and social struggles similar to those that many have to deal with, but with friends helping out.

This is a continuation of the popular Digimon-tri series. The storyline, generally about dark forces taking over, flows well. There are no lagging sequences that would bore the viewer. One becomes empathetic with the protagonist Kari and even the evil force overtaking Meicoomon. The vocabulary and concepts are appropriate for its intended age group and could further enhance vocabulary and concepts that the viewer may not understand. It portrays pro-social models such as when Kari feels that she might be responsible for a specific situation and one of the others reassures her that this definitely isn’t the case. This entire series is very good at displaying consequences of both negative and positive behaviors. There are also good models of problem solving such as when a Digimon character decides on an action and another vehemently opposes it. The rest of the group has to come to a general consensus to make a final determination.

The underlying message is about seeking out others when you are experiencing tough times. Life has complicated challenges, but you can overcome them. You should be aware that there are two things that make this more appropriate for older viewers. First, a character pulls out a gun, but there is no blast. And second, we see a powerful being shaped like a naked woman, although there are no graphic features. For that reason, I recommend it for ages 10 to 18, as well as young adults and give it 4 out of 5 stars. I would raise the highest age to 25 if I could, because it is so thought-provoking and intelligent. The DVD allows you to select specific scenes and has a bonus feature interview. Reviewed by Kimberly M., KIDS FIRST! Adult Reviewer

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