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Fighting With My Family – Captures Your Heart With Big Family Values

Friday, March 22nd, 2019

Born into a tight-knit wrestling family, Paige and her brother Zak are ecstatic when they get the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try out for the WWE. But when only Paige earns a spot in the competitive training program, she must leave her loved ones behind and face this new cutthroat world alone. Paige’s journey pushes her to dig deep and ultimately prove to the world that what makes her different is the very thing that can make her a star. KIDS FIRST! Adult Reviewer Kimbirly O. comments, ” When I heard about this film, I thought, “What a crazy title!” Well, it is not so crazy; it is enchanting.” See her full review below.

Fighting With My Family
By Kimbirly O., KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

Florence Pugh stars as Paige in FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY, . Credit: Robert Viglasky / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures © 2018 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

When I heard about this film, I thought, “What a crazy title!” Well, it is not so crazy; it is enchanting. This film is based on a true story and follows the antics of a former wrestler and his family, as they make a living wrestling in small venues in northern England. The family is in the business, and the kids dream of making it in big in the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment).

While wrestling is not my jam and the film is slow at times, it captured my heart with big family values – life lessons about believing in oneself and each member of one’s family. The sibling wrestlers Saraya (Florence Pugh) and Zak Knight (Jack Lowden) have trained for the big stage of wrestling since they were young. In fact, Zak reminds us that this was his dream since he was three. When they get the call from a WWE scout named Hutch (Vince Vaughn), it is a dream come true. On the other hand, is it?

Nick Frost as Ricky Knight and Jack Lowden as Zak Knight in FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY. Credit: Robert Viglasky / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures © 2018 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

Florence Pugh is fantastic and I cheered for her throughout the film. Her family brings a lot of comedy and grit to their roles. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is in all the trailers and has some key scenes. He will definitely help sell tickets! It is great to see Vince Vaughn in a positive and upbeat role.

I give this film 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 8 to 18, as well as adults. The stunts are detailed and outstanding. The choreography is flawless. The casting is great. The costumes are authentic and there are many laugh-out-loud lines. You do not have to be clan of grapplers in Norwich, England to like this film! The film screened at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and opens in theaters nationwide February 22, 2019. Look for it!

See Jane Salon – Gotta Keep on Tryin’!

Sunday, March 10th, 2019

Shining A Spotlight on Women in Literature and Hollywood
Hosted by 72andSunny & LAI Communications

The 2nd Annual Black History Month celebration once again shines a spotlight on women and girls of color in Hollywood and media using literature as its entry point. The evening featured dramatic readings from the works by New York Times best-selling authors, Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant, along with the newest release of the novel, Blurred Lines, by Courtney Parker and Mona Scott Young. An empowering panel discussion followed on the current state of women of color in Hollywood and media. The panel also highlighted recent research studies by Baylor University as well as Creative Artists Agency and shift7. The former study found that movies starring women of color had strong staying power (which equals profitability) in movie theaters on an average of 20 weeks. The latter study looked at movies, from 2014 to 2017, and found that films with female leads earned more than their male-led counterparts. With all of the great successes and progress for women in 2018, there is still more work to do. We “Gotta Keep on Tryin!”

Moderator: Madeline Di Nonno, CEO, Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media; Panelist: Yolanda Brinkley, Founder, Diversity in Cannes; Kellee Edwards, Travel Expert & Television Host; Sharon Liggins, PR Strategist; Tyrha M. Lindsey-Warren, PhD/MBA, Business Executive, Artist, Entrepreneur; Courtney Parker, VP Alternative Programming, Adaptive Studios and Co-author, Blurred Lines; Actors: Joni Bovill, Napiera Groves, Benita Krista Nall, Fredericka Meek

Gotta Keep On Tryin’!
By Samantha Marcus, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 19

I absolutely loved attending the stage reading and panel discussion about gender in media. It left me feeling empowered, driven and motivated. While there aren’t as many women in media as there are men, we can change that. After hearing about five successful women finding their voices and making a difference in the world, I can’t wait to do the same.

Hosted by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, this event highlighted the dynamics of gender in media, shining an immense spotlight on women of color in literature and Hollywood. Women of different races, backgrounds and lifestyles gathered to view stage readings from two pivotal novels: Gotta Keep On Tryin’! by Virginia Deberry and Donna Grant, and Blurred Lines by Mona-Scott Young and Courtney Parker. Both novels illuminate the power of women and recognize how women need to be a driving force in changing the way they are represented in society today. The panel discussed their career paths and struggles within our ever-growing and diverse society

The panel consisted of Yolanda Brinkley, Keller Edwards, Sharon Liggins, Dr. Tyrha Warren and Courtney Parker. Each woman emphasized how never giving up is imperative in making your dreams come true. I admire how Courtney Parker, co-author of Blurred Lines, personalized her writing passions by sharing how she questioned Goldilocks and the Three Bears, when she was only four years old. Kellee Edwards developed her own show Travel Channel after she filmed herself traveling the world on YouTube.

My favorite part was meeting Geena Davis. She is such an inspiration to me and she was so happy to take a picture with me. I aspire to be like her when I grow up. The message of this event is to find your voice. It wasn’t easy for these women, but once they did, nothing was impossible. This event was appropriate for ages 13 to 18, as well as adults. Teenage years are divine in a young woman’s life, so make the most of them. To learn more about the Geena Davis Foundation, become a member and attend their monthly events, go to www.seejane.org. To all the young women reading this, promise me you’ll let nothing stop you. If men can do it, so can we!

Tryin’ to Sleep in the Bed You Made
Shining A Spotlight on Women in Literature and Hollywood
By Jordan M., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 12

On February 20, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media hosted a See Jane Salon celebrating the 20th anniversary of Tryin’ to Sleep in the Bed You Made by New York Times best-selling authors Virginia Berry and Donna Grant. Held in honor of Black History Month, the event was a lively discussion about the state of people of color in media.

Founded by Academy-Award winning actor Geena Davis, the Institute is a research-based organization in the media and entertainment industry focused on eliminating bias, highlighting gender balance and challenging stereotypes.

The event featured dramatic readings from some of the authors’ most popular books including Tryin’ to Sleep in the Bed You Made, Gotta Keep on Trying, What Doesn’t Kill You and Far from the Tree. Readings featured actors Roseanne Currry, Magaly Coleman, Lisa Wilkerson and Harry Lennix.

Each of the performances took the audience through a range of topics from friendships to a troubled marriage to young womanhood. Some of the scenes were humorous and others were more traumatic and emotional. It was interesting to see all of the books portrayed live, a much different experience than just reading them. It was like watching a play in action with each book a different scene.

The readings were followed by a panel discussion on the state of people of color in the media. The panel was moderated by Madeline Di Nonno, CEO of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Madeline kicked off the discussion by asking each of the panelists to share their journey to success, including challenges, and then provide advice for breaking into the industry and share their thoughts on where media is now. It was a lively discussion filled with humor and honesty.

Authors Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant shared their journey to becoming best-selling authors and the challenges of breaking into the literary industry as women of color. They discussed their journey from meeting as plus size models in the fashion industry, to becoming best-selling authors. Tyrha Lindsey-Warren discussed her experience working in television and film development with the Creative Artists Agency and Edmonds Entertainment. Actor Harry Lennix, currently on NBC’s hit show The Blacklist, discussed his process to becoming a successful actor from stage to screen. He noted that in order to become an actor, you need to study the work of those that you admire. Entrepreneur Yolanda Brinkley, discussed founding Beyond Borders: Diversity in Cannes. The goal of her program is to highlight diversity in independent film at the international festival each year. Yolanda discussed the importance of people of color in Hollywood having a seat at the table. Because Beyond Borders is not yet an official part of the festival, Yolanda stressed pushing hard to advocate for what you are passionate about doing. She is still striving to make it an official event, but shared how she works to reach out to actors and filmmakers of color to get the word out and the event is growing each year.

Talking with author Virgina DeBerry about the direction of women and people of color in the media, DeBerry stated “We need to continue to get better representation, especially for women in the media. We are so interesting and have so many facets and the media tends to pigeon hole people. We need to be able to break out of the slot and show all that we have to offer.”

The event and the panel discussion was inspiring. It was good for the audience members to not only hear the journeys of the panelists, but get their advice on how to begin journeys of their own.



Director’s Close: Up Thrill Seekers: Directing Dynamic Genre

Thursday, March 7th, 2019

With a new generation of critically acclaimed genre films making big bucks and becoming indispensable internet memes, ever wonder why certain movies just seem to keep you on the edge of your seat more than others? The final night of the 2019 DCU features a crack team of cutting-edge midnight movie mavericks, whose collected works have shocked and thrilled millions of audience members the world over.

Director’s Close Up: Thrill Seekers: Directing Dynamic Genres 
By Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 16 

In the cloudy evening of February 27, 2019, Film Independent hosted the final panel of their month-long event, Director’s Close-Up. The event featured many directors in the horror genre such as Fade Alvarez (writer/director, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, Don’t Breathe), Drew Dowdle (writer/producer, Waco, Quarantine), John Eric Dowdle (writer/director, Waco, Quarantine),  Aaron Katz (writer/director, Gemini, Land Ho!) and Daniel Stamm (director, Fear the Walking Dead, The Last Exorcism). The panel was moderated by Scott Mantz (film critic, Collider).

These filmmakers had no interest in monsters, giant bugs, ghosts, or ghouls. They all wished to invest their time into a much deeper side of terror. Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe made the audience afraid to move or make a sound. Drew and John Dowdle’s As Above causes viewers to feel claustrophobic, struggling to breathe and wishing for more room. While it may seem simple to terrify an audience, Stamm pointed out a fundamental crux of horror filmmaking:  There is only a finite amount of methods to scare someone, causing a completely brand-new concept in horror to be a rare sight. 

Horror has also been the place for many directors with smaller budgets to undertake. Drew and John attempt to make their film like a business for investors. They illustrate a detailed step-by-step plan that allows the film to have high chances of making a profit. Their strategy gives investors a clear end goal, motivating them to contribute to the film. They did add though, that a smaller budget can perhaps make a film even more terrifying, since the crew cannot afford to actually show what causes the fear. Merely hinting at the presence of something can greatly increase the intensity. Katz thought that dealing with a low-budget properly can make the film even more exciting and Stamm believed that a micro-budget and no budget gives you true creative freedom to do what you wish instead of running after investors. After receiving funding, all filmmakers go through a lengthy period of pre-production, but the exact details of what should occur in pre-production differed between panelists.

Alvarez personally only does storyboards if it works for the crew, such as a car crash that requires careful planning and coordination. The Dowdles similarly both opt to do them,  depending on what the scene has and they also added that they only show storyboards to department heads. Showing it to all the crew can lead to confusion if the director decides to skip or modify a shot. Katz prefers a different method entirely – overheads of the scene. He likes to go to the location where filming is taking place and see how the different shots of the scene work with each other. After planning and filming a movie, a filmmaker must now complete the tedious process of editing the project.

While most consider the film to be fully put together in the editing room, Alvarez believes that editing can only do so much. Production and pre-production make the film. No amount of editing can drastically raise the quality of the film. Drew Dowdle believes three films are being made – one in pre-production, one in production and one in post-production. Drew and John Dowdle added that you cannot begin to think about sound design until the editing room. In horror, sound makes up at least 50% of the quality of a movie. Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe and the year-old A Quiet Place by John Krasinski demonstrate the power of sound. In both films, the audience becomes terrified of every noise that comes from the screen. But this amount of intensity and fear only exists with masterful sound design and editing.

The panel added some important lessons for all filmmakers. Drew and John Dowdle stated that, “as a filmmaker, you cannot work on a film focusing on making money back, but must focus on the craft of cinema itself.” Stamm added the important lesson that many indie and new filmmakers attempt to make a movie look as close to “Hollywood style” as possible. In truth, good films are those that stand out and look different from the norm. The panel showcased the intricate art involved in causing fear in movies and the many lessons to learn when trying to create a film. 

Film Independent’s Director’s Close Up series, as a whole, truly showcases the deep complexities of being the director of a film and how much goes into making each film we enjoy on the screen.

Director’s Close Up: Independent Spirit: A Director’s Roundtable

Thursday, February 28th, 2019

At this year’s perennial favorite, 2019 Spirit Award-nominated directors discuss their craft, their journeys as artists and the ways in which they have been able to balance their artistic integrity while making movies that resonate with audiences.

Director’s Close Up Independent Spirit: A Director’s Roundtable 
By Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 16

The grand gem of Film Independent’s Annual Director’s Close Up event is “The Independent Spirit: A Director’s Roundtable.” Hosted by Film Independent President John Welsh, this year the panel featured premiere directors from the industry including Bo Burnham, Debra Granik, Barry Jenkins, Tamara Jenkins, Boots Riley and Paul Schrader. The six highlight the modern world of moviemaking and how it is transforming for the next generation of directors. 

The panel began by discussing the image and color of the film. All six directors mastered color and style in their films  into something unique for each of them. Paul Schrader discussed how technology has improved so much to allow for a colorful, crisp, modern look of cinema with tablets and apps allowing cinematographers more opportunities in the light set up than ever before. Barry Jenkins shared just how many options filmmakers have now with modern cameras. He discussed how in Moonlight they reprogrammed the way the cameras processed color, in order to better reflect darker skin. Debra Granik discussed how modern cameras’ ability to read green color better allowed her to capture the forest beautifully in her film, Leave No Trace. Schrader also shared a story from the making of Star War:s Episode 1, where Liam Neeson and George Lucas disagreed on how a role should be played. When Neeson refused to do what Lucas wanted, Lucas simply changed Neeson’s face in post!

Boots Riley and Paul Schrader both discussed their experiences in taking inspiration from other films, with one example of Riley using inspiration from one of Shrader’s films. This fact demonstrates an important key aspect in cinema. It is collaborative, not competitive. Filmmakers can take from each other’s ideas and build their own unique strategies. 

The panel also debated heavily on the concept of rehearsals before filming. Paul Schrader was adamant about the cruciality of rehearsals stating, “It is for the director, not the actor.” Schrader discussed how it allows for the story to be rewritten, dialogue tested, interactions perfected and more. He believes that a director should not test things or figure things out on the day of shooting. Burnham disagreed. In his directorial debut, 8th Grade, he only rehearsed the daughter and father and left the rest to be done fully and openly. This strategy, coined the “Bo Burnham approach,” was supported by Barry Jenkins as well. While Jenkins did table reads that led to changes in the script, he, like Burnham, likes letting the actors explore the role in front of the camera. Tamara Jenkins had a different take on rehearsals. In her film Private Life, Tamara’s story revolves around a couple and, in order to get the actors to get along as a couple might, she simply made them do chores that a married couple would typically do, in order to get them to bond. In 8th Grade, Burnham had the challenge of portraying kids realistically and he discussed how it often isn’t the child actor’s fault for an unrealistic representation, but simply poorly written dialogue. All panelists agreed that each actor has requirements and strategies unique to themselves.

One of the most interesting parts of this panel was when each member delved into the philosophical side of their films and filmmaking as a whole. Barry Jenkins described how literature and film differ. Literature forces the brain to imagine all the senses, while film only connects to the visual and auditory. So, when trying to make powerful emotional scenes, Jenkins had to carefully structure the elements of his scenes to evoke emotions. Burnham discussed the connection we have to the Internet and how it is developing as years go by. He shared how he wished to capture our relationship we share with the Internet behemoth in his film, 8th Grade, as Bo felt that no film had truly captured the Internet and how we interact with it. One of the most powerful things he discussed was the times we use the Internet in the late evening before going to sleep. We always have a choice. We can close our eyelids, or we can open up our phone to the totality of human knowledge. “It is infinity or oblivion,” he explained. Panels like these show just how filmmaking has changed and adapted to new technology and artistic styles. Film, like all other arts, goes through a constant transformation and these six panelists are only one of the thousands of filmmakers all around the world finding new and innovative ways to express themselves and tell stories. Paul Schrader said it best, “a script is not literature – it is an oral tradition.” 

Director’s Close Up: The Storytellers: Writers and Directors

Monday, February 11th, 2019

By Gerry Orz, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 16

While the first week of Director’s Close Up featured the beautiful web of relationships between actor and director, the second week takes a look at much earlier process in a film’s production: the writer and director. The event included Jane Anderson (writer, The Wife, Olive Kitteridge) and Billy Ray (writer, Captain Philips, co-writer, The Hunger Games) as well as moderation by Robin Swicord (writer/director, Wakefield, writer, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button).  All three have both directing and writing experience and shared with the audience on how to best form a strong partnership between two of the most conflicted roles in the film industry.

Most known is the tension that exists between the writer and the director. Billy compared it to a track race. He related the writer to be the first on the track. You write your script and you finish the lap around the track and then hand it off to the next runner. The next runner starts running their lap and the success of the game falls in their hands instead of yours. A film shares many similarities – the writer runs first, the director runs second. This act of trusting another with a developed piece of art such as a script can lead to great conflict and tension or a great success.

Billy and Jane also shared strategies they use such as encouraging the director they’re working with to help them with parts of the script in order to build a solid foundation of trust. They also explained that, at the end of it though, the writer must give the reins of control over to the director and let them fly with the film themselves.

Both Billy and Jane shared their experiences with this. On Captain Philips, director Paul Greengrass and Billy had many different arguments and fights. Billy explained that he originally wished for the Captain’s wife to be part of the story. Paul disagreed and also wished for the Pentagon to have a side story, as they attempt to organize a rescue, much to Billy’s protest. Billy explained that it was Tom Hanks (Captain Philips) who told them both that the story should never leave the ship that Philips was on. This led to the Captain Philips we know today. 

Jane had her own experiences with writing and directing. Her script for The Wife took fourteen years for her to make and involved many rewrites and defeats. The film failed again and again in being produced, due to the simple fact that it has a female protagonist and the male characters of the story are secondary to her. Finally in 2018, we are able to see this incredible story. She said there were many troubles along the way, with many directors wanting her to change it to be more masculine with a male lead, but she was able to persevere. Robin shared her own stories and tips. She recommended to the audience to go outside their comfort zones and attempt to write something they would be fearful to direct.

Jane Anderson, Billy Ray, Robin Swicord  

The art of writing holds many challenges and all three shared tips in the craft. Billy related writing to marble. His analogy was that writing is like a block of granite. You start with the entire world in your screenplay, that is the granite, and chip away everything that is not the story. You are left with a beautiful statue that is your film. They also explained the challenges of an ending. Jane, Billy and Robin all discussed how, at times, the ending must be so perfect that it is sometimes necessary to go back and change earlier parts of the film to make the ending flow just right. Jane explained how the climax scene for The Wife took many rewrites and redesigns to get right, while Billy explained how the climax scenes in Captain Philips were one of the rare cases where both him and the director had no arguments, fights or disagreements. Jane also shared an important note to those who write and direct their own films. She said that many director/writers will write their scripts as directors, where they get immersed into the shot design, set design, actors and the many details a director has to deal with. She recommended that you write a script as a writer only, and you direct a script as a director only. Then, the story is completed preserved in the writing process and is held to the highest importance. 

The art of writing has many challenges and is one of the most under-looked places in the film industry. For every incredible motion picture ever made, there is a 120 page script that took weeks to years to write and polish. All three shared how the creator of this blueprint and the director who develops the blueprint are at times in conflict, but their goal never differs –  to tell an incredible story. Billy, at the beginning of the panel, said it best, “It’s okay to disagree about the how, as long as you’re not disagreeing about the what.”

Images courtesy of Getty Images and Film Independent

Director’s Close UP: Nicole Holofcener: The Land of Stellar Performances

Thursday, January 31st, 2019

Film Independent’s 2019 Director’s Close-Up Series began this week with one of everyone’s favorite indie auteurs, Nicole Holofcener. It is often said that a director’s job is 90% complete in the casting room. Hear from both sides of the camera as Nicole, her long-time casting director Jeanne McCarthy and actor Thomas Mann discuss the art of casting and directing actors, and what it takes to bring memorable and believable characters to life. Panelists: Nicole Holofcener (writer/director; The Land of Steady HabitsEnough Said); Jeanne McCarthy (casting director; The Land of Steady HabitsPrivate Life); Thomas Mann (actor; The Land of Steady HabitsMe and Earl and the Dying Girl); Moderated by Karyn Kusama (director; DestroyerThe Invitation)

Director’s Close Up 2019 – January 30th
By Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 16

The annual Film Independent’s 2019 Directors Close-Up began on January 30, eventfully with a deep and compelling discussion on the relationships between the director, casting director and writer. The panel included director Nicole Holofcener, casting director Jeanne McCarthy and actor Thomas Mann. All three have proven themselves over and again in the film industry as talented creators with a true love for cinema. Moderated by Karyn Kusama (director of Destroyer and The Invitation), the first night left every audience member with a fresh new perspective in the acting world of movies.

The evening began with Nicole and Jeanne discussing the role of a casting director. Some very interesting conversations emerged, mainly about finding the right person for the role. Nicole shared her many experiences of attempting to decide which person she felt was best for her stories and Jeanne shared her perspective in the casting director role of trying to find who she thought not only would be best suited for the part, but best suited for Nicole as well. It seems booking a role in a film does not simply come from the performance of a person, but their relationship with the director as well.

Nicole shared many examples of how she makes sure an actor and she can get along before ever stepping onto a film set. She discussed the necessity of meeting with the actors she is considering, in order to make sure that she will be able to work with them for lengthy periods of time and under heavy stress. Both Karyn and Nicole made it clear that an actor can be incredible at acting, but a character in a film will always reflect the chemistry of the actor and director, no matter the talent of either. Another point Nicole noted was the sad case where an actor does not make the performance needed. She stated that, after a certain amount of takes for a scene, she realized that she will never get the performance she wants and must just figure out how to make the best of it in the post room. Of course at times, the process may fail and an actor must be replaced. “It’s painful, but I do it,” Nicole said solemnly.

Thomas shared many experiences from the third angle, that of the actor themselves. Thomas and Nicole shared their experiences with rehearsals. For Nicole, she enjoys the fact that, not only does the time allow for her to build a stronger bond with the actors, but also time to understand different ways of running the scene and how the actors approach their characters. Thomas had a slightly different benefit, building a relationship with fellow actors. Thomas brought up the point that, very often the first shooting day can include very emotional scenes and it can be difficult to deliver a natural performance if the scenes are with actors who have never met each other. The rehearsals allow them to build their relationships in order to deliver a natural performance.

Of course, once on set, the relationship does not end there. The actual film must be made and the art of directing actors came up many times in the evening. Nicole honestly shared her many mistakes when she was starting out as a director. She often would give lines and lines of back story to an actor, explaining every detail, every reasoning for emotion and every single aspect of that character. She realized an actor doesn’t need all this. They need simple commands. Thomas also backed that up. While many first-time directors go the route of too many details, they both explained that, in reality, an actor simply needs to hear very basic instructions such as “do it again louder,” instead of the deep reasons why this actor in this specific moment must say that line louder.

The event held a much larger range of insight, advice and proverbs that enriched the mysterious process of choosing and working with an actor. Thomas also discussed the unique situation of being in a supporting role of a film, when you come in as the filming is already in progress and leave before the production is wrapped. Thomas explained that it creates an interesting challenge when the actor must hit the ground running and be prepared to handle the already established energy of the crew who have been there since the first day. This event lasted a couple of hours, but the panelists truly she a light into the hidden relationship between acting, casting and directing. This was another successful and memorable event hosted by Film Independent!

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

Saturday, February 24th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

SAG-AFTRA – Power Of Portrayal – Inspiring Performances Driving Social Change

Sunday, November 12th, 2017

The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media is the only research based non-profit working with the entertainment and media community to improve gender diversity in children’s media including more positive role models, equality of opportunity and diverse representation on screen.

On November 6, 2017 at the newly built SAG/AFTRA – Robin Williams Center in New York City, an inspiring group of six strong, diverse women from the film, television and sports world spoke about their personal careers and life journeys, looking for the strong women parts and opportunities.

Led by Madeline Di Nonno, CEO, Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, the panelists included: Gabrielle Carteris, President, SAG-AFTRA; Swin Cash, Athlete/Sports Analyst; Megan Boone, Actor; Alysia Reiner, Actor and Activist; Maggie Siff – Actor and Producer. The women first spoke of choice and pivotal moments in their careers and in life, then about having a voice and power. Here are some highlights and take aways reported by each of the women.

Gabrielle Carteris, widely known for her role as Andrea, a studious newspaper editor in Beverly Hills, 90210 says that role was a transformational opportunity that changed her life.  It gave her great courage.  She still receives comments about this role, which had an incredible impact on her life and reflected society. As the president of Sag-AFTRA, she never imagined herself in this position, yet felt prepared having worked with Ken Howard, the prior President.  She believes being of service is the highest calling and also believes in paying it forward and using power for the good. This was a pivotal moment for her – exciting and frightening at the same time.

Swin Cash got recognition from playing basketball and, in the eighth grade got a modeling opportunity.  She focused on academics, majored in drama and theater and continued to play in sports. She was the first girl and first African American to be in the WNBA when it was started twenty plus years ago. She reached out to Robin Roberts as a mentor, when Robin was at ESPN, to help her make choices with her career. Currently she is the female lead on We Need to Talk a CBS Sports Network first-ever, nationally televised all female, weekly sports show. She rose from humble beginnings, inspired by her grandmother who owned her own home and encouraged her to create wealth. Service is an important part of her life as founder of both Swin Cash Enterprises LLC and Cash Building Blocks, LP, an urban development company that renovates and offers affordable homes for low-income families.  An Olympic medal winner in 2004, she feels her service to help women and underprivileged kids is essential.

Maggie Siff, grew up in an acting, academic and artistic family, went to Bronx High School of Science and then to Bryn Mawr College.  She got her MFA at NYU and started her career in theater.  Her first big break, in her 30s, was the role of Rachel on Madmen, never imagining a role in film and television. She didn’t think she belonged there. She auditioned many times for this iconic role, which she thought read like an amazing film script or play. In its 1958 setting, Rachel was an unusual character for that time, as the female head of a department store.  She connected to this character, claiming it was very familiar. The other point she made is that the writer’s room on this program had more female and diverse writers which made a great difference in character portrayal. Currently, she plays a powerful in-house performance coach and therapist to the head of a hedge fund company on Billionaire.  She claims women appreciate her in this professional role, committed to both her job and family. She uses Tony Robbins as her inspiration to step into her “biggest self.”

Alysia Reiner struggled in her 20s and 30s with her acting career and wondered if she should stay or go. It took a long time to get a part and her advice is to live your life and find your joy, while you are in that struggle. Early on, she did a one-woman show portraying Virginia Woolf at the Edenborough Festival.  She went through a period of grief and loss when her father died of cancer in ten days and was inspired to do a grief counseling film as a way of coping.  As an activist, she believes in art as science and has a deep respect for all women in all fields that create change and make a difference. She loves working on an all women crew for the freedom it provides. Orange is the New Black, the show she currently works on, has a 90% male crew, which gives it quite a different feel.  She is a strong advocate to be in service, and works for the women’s prison association in Tulsa, Oklahoma to aid incarcerated women.

Megan Boone studied theater and struggled socially as a young woman. She was bullied while a student at Florida State Theater.  She studied with Jane Alexander and Ed Sherin, and in an impulse exercise with them, she decided to stick with acting. Her struggles led to an audition on Blacklist for the role of Liz Keene. She knew this was her part.  Megan is working on a sustainable business degree, as she is concerned with our natural environment.  As an advocate for policy change, inspired by Corey Booker and Kristen Gillebrand, she works for solutions in the public/private sector.

The panel stressed the importance of service in these most difficult times we live in and how we need to continue the fight for gender, race and the natural world.

By Terry Solowey

Camp Cool Kids – Perfect Summer Family Movie

Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Camp Cool Kids
By Morgan B., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 12

Camp Cool Kids is a perfect movie for the whole family! Summer is the best time of the year for kids. We are out of school and the best kids’ movies play. I love that while I watched Camp Cool Kids, I came up with quite a few ideas on what to do for entertainment this summer. I can go outside and have fun with my family and friends. This is one of the many fun, eye-catching things that makes Camp Cool Kids so enjoyable.

I love that it includes all different kinds of sports such as swimming, rock climbing, paintball and archery. Every sport has its own scene and that is something that I really enjoyed. I was able to get a glimpse of each sport and see how they are played at summer camp. I have to say that my favorite scene would be where all the boys have a paintball war. It is hilarious and I couldn’t stop laughing.

Camp Cool Kids is somewhat religious based. They mention David and Goliath and other Bible stories. Grandpa Norman (Michael Gross) tells David’s tale and how he took on Goliath all by himself. His faith in God is what helped him through that journey.  The storyline is somewhat quirky and, although it’s not new, it does have a few twists and turns along with a new perspective. Spencer (Connor Rosen), my favorite character, is a shy, honest, goodhearted kid that wants to stay at home and be with his family during the summer. Grandpa Norman (Michael Gross) says it is time for Spencer to go to summer camp and make new friends. His older brother Dean (Sean Ryan Fox), the handsome, cool kid who seems like he has it all, goes to summer camp to make friends and meet girls. Shy Spencer goes a long way from home and off to Camp Cool Kids for the summer, against his wishes. Spencer meets many new friends that he will remember forever such as the adorable Tater (Jacob T. Phillips), his lovable twin Tot (Jordan A. Phillips), the man whose has got the fire, nickname Firefly (Tyree Brown) and the quirky, always-there-for-you kind of friend, Little John (Juliocesar Chavez).

Spencer also makes a new enemy as well, Zach (Logan Shroyer), the cute but not-so-kind villain. Zach and Dean become friends and amuse themselves by pulling a prank or two on the younger boys including Spencer, his brother. There are lots of pranks and silly fun in this adventure.

I recommend this for ages 7 to 18. Kids will love the idea of summer camp and will want to try some of the events. Adults will have memory flashbacks. It is full lessons, humor and heartfelt moments. I give this 4 ½ out of 5 swimming campers’ fun tale.

The Resilient Heart – A Must See If You Have Been Touched by Heart Disease

Friday, July 7th, 2017

The Resilient Heart explores the keys to preventing heart disease on a worldwide scale. At the film’s core is the story of Dr. Valentín Fuster, a world-renowned cardiovascular scientist, and Director of Mount Sinai Heart and Physician-in-Chief at The Mount Sinai Hospital. Through his exploration of the heart at the molecular level, Dr. Fuster discovers that the real answer to defeating chronic disease lies in a much larger place: early education. By highlighting scientific contributions ranging from basic science to translational research, the film addresses the improvement of clinical and surgical care efforts to promote lifestyles that prevent or slow the progression of heart disease. Ultimately, it shows how the intersection of science, medicine, research, education and compassion bring about changes that are not only important but also replicable by physicians and patients throughout the world . The film follows Dr. Fuster and his team as they travel to Eldoret (Kenya), Bogota and more. If you or someone you know has ever been touched by a heart disease, you really must see this film. 

The Resilient Heart
By Samantha Marcus, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 17 

This inspirational film kept me glued to the edge of my seat. I didn’t know that heart disease is the number one killer in society today. It fascinates me that there are incredible individuals in this world such as Dr. Valentin Fuster who want to make a difference in the lives of others, especially with a disease that is so common.  

In this documentary promoting worldwide heart health, we see cardiologist Valentin Fuster working with doctors around the globe to help individuals realize that behavior is the key to combating heart disease. Traveling to countries like Kenya, Colombia and Grenada, Fuster works with both children and adults to help facilitate healthy behavior, through group therapy sessions, classroom instruction and community volunteering. 

Valentin Fuster has the biggest heart. He flies to other countries once a week to help people. He gets up at 4:30 every morning, works 7 days a week and works with kids for 15 years to help them understand the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. I wish I could meet him, because I would love to thank him for all of the incredible work he has done for kids and adults around the world.  

I really admire that the film is not based in a single geographical location. It is fascinating to see different cultures and compare them, and see how heart disease affects poor countries, which most people are not aware of. The fact that I was able to see how different areas of the world need so much help from future generations motivates me to follow in Fuster’s footsteps – first starting in my own community, then making my impact even bigger. 

My favorite part of this film is when Dr. Fuster talks about his motivation and says that if he died tomorrow, he would be okay with it, because he has helped so many people. This is rewarding to him. The message of this film is that we have the power to keep our hearts healthy. You can start focusing on heart health at any age and, although we can’t necessarily cure heart disease, we can prevent it by exercising, eating right and avoiding incredible amounts of stress. I give this film 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it to kids ages 12 to 18. Adults would love it too. No age is too young to begin taking care of your heart. You can watch this film on Amazon now! This is the documentary of a lifetime.

 

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