Jury Coordination and Notes

Archive for the 'Jury Updates' Category

Us Again * Beautiful And Lively Short That Will Get You Up And Dancing!

Sunday, March 21st, 2021

An elderly couple regains their youth in the rain. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Eshaan M. comments, “Us Again is a beautiful and lively animated short film that will surely have you up and dancing! The choreography of the animated characters, the intricate details, and the underlying message all combine to make this a lovely watch.” See his full review below.

Us Again
By Eshaan M., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 14

Us Again is a beautiful and lively animated short film that will surely have you up and dancing! The choreography of the animated characters, the intricate details, and the underlying message all combine to make this a lovely watch.

The seven-minute short film follows an elderly man and his young-at-heart wife living in a vibrant metropolis with echoes of New York City. The man is ever-tired and only wants to sit on his lounge chair reading the newspaper, while his wife yearns to explore the world outside. One rainy, magical evening, their ages truly seem just a number, and the couple re-discover their passion for dancing, salsaing their way across a landscape of memories. It’s a beautiful story told through rhythm and movement.

The animation in Us Again is truly stunning; the design taps into emotions, encapsulating the excitement and hubbub of a huge city, with neon lights, beautiful textural details on the water, and even on the tiny black umbrellas people carry walking down the street.   Us Again shows us Disney’s future; extreme detail in animation. The two main characters of this short also have lots of expressive features, and you can tell that Disney’s animation technology has gone to the next level when light details like crow’s feet are added in. Even their dance steps convey emotion!

Speaking of the dancing, acclaimed choreographers/dancers Keone and Mari Madrid were crucial to the process of creating Us Again because they came up with all of the dance steps, which flow so smoothly and naturally in animated form. There are no jerky movements at all, and it’s as if you’re watching an animated version of Dancing With The Stars. The background score (though it really does push its way to the foreground) also adds so much to this short. Something I noticed in the seven-minute film:  Keep an eye on the puddles, because the characters’ reflections show the characters as their older selves throughout the film, even in scenes where the characters traverse through memories from ages ago. This demonstrates the incredible attention to detail in Us Again.

The message of Us Again is to never let go of your passions (and your youth), and, if you do, be sure to make an effort to rekindle the fire in your heart. It’s an apt message for a time like the one we’re living in now, when we have the time to follow our passions and pursue new hobbies.

I give Us Again 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 8 to 18, plus adults. Us Again will be shown before Disney’s latest film, Raya and the Last Dragon, only in theatres, and it will be available on Disney+ in June of 2021.

Share this page on:

The Father * Psychological Horror Movie, Depicting the Decaying Psyche of an Old Man

Friday, March 12th, 2021

A man refuses all assistance from his daughter as he ages. As he tries to make sense of his changing circumstances, he begins to doubt his loved ones, his own mind and even the fabric of his reality. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Benjamin P. comment, “The Father commits itself to depicting dementia through often surreal ripples in the consciousness of its protagonist. The first sign that things are amiss in Anthony’s flat is a quite alarming moment and so, so well-executed.  What happens is a slight, but perceptible alteration to what we’ve been told by Anthony’s daughter about why she’s come to see her father, that becomes a dire sign for what’s to come.” See his full review below.   

The Father
By Benjamin P., Kids First! Film Critic, Age 15

The Father is practically a psychological horror movie, depicting the decaying psyche of an old man, battered by dementia. Yes, The Father tends to be pretty grim, but its excellent lead performance from Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins and the film’s structural fluidity set it apart from similarly bleak dramas about the deteriorating mental functions of a senior citizen.

The story follows Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) who, at first glance, is an ordinary elderly man in the waning years of his life, pacing around his apartment, awaiting his daughter’s arrival (Olivia Colman) to discuss her new living arrangements. This all serves as a prelude to the mental and emotional fireworks to follow. From there, everything becomes a lot less concrete. Faces of loved ones morph; the layout of Anthony’s apartment shifts; Anne gains a husband; and Anthony is introduced to an in-home care person who bears a striking resemblance to his youngest daughter who may or may not be dead. As dementia wreaks havoc on his brain and mind, Anthony’s only attachment to reality becomes a watch he keeps misplacing, an almost perfect metaphor for Anthony’s spiraling-out-of-control sense of reality.

The Father commits itself to depicting dementia through often surreal ripples in the consciousness of its protagonist. The first sign that things are amiss in Anthony’s flat is a quite alarming moment and so, so well-executed.  What happens is a slight, but perceptible alteration to what we’ve been told by Anthony’s daughter about why she’s come to see her father, that becomes a dire sign for what’s to come.  A miniscule shift in our perception of events, as filtered through Anthony, balloons into far more concerning and substantial lapses in memory that we witness through Anthony’s point of view.

Anthony Hopkins’ performance is a consistently surprising lead performance, representative of a film that is just as unpredictable. He doesn’t play it too big, even in the very erratic and sporadic launches between an almost effortless effervescence and the prickly, defensive edge that comes to the surface whenever his self-sufficiency comes into question. Hopkins not only has to channel a frequently changing demeanor, but also a changing frame of mind. He goes from distant—resigned in his cloud of seemingly eternal confusion—to “in-your-face,” saying truly cruel things to his daughter to finding himself reduced to tears, calling out for his mother. Hopkins’ performance stays in line even in its frequent transformations in his mind and mood. Everything feels of a piece with that character and  what we know about him.  And he is just as compelling when he putters down a hallway as when he explodes at his daughter, the person who cares for him most.

I give The Father 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 11 to 18 for some language. You can see The Father in theaters March 12, 2021, and it will be available on Video On Demand platforms starting March 26th.

Share this page on:

The Orphanage * Message of Hope, Despite All Circumstances

Sunday, March 7th, 2021

Set in late Soviet-era Afghanistan, this coming-of-age tale from Shahrbanoo Sadat follows her acclaimed debut Wolf and Sheep, and is the second film in a planned pentalogy based on the diary of writer Anwar Hashimi. Protagonist Qodrat returns, now a 15-year-old boy who is sent to a state orphanage after getting caught selling black market cinema tickets. Coping with bullies, friendship and a nascent romance, Qodrat finds escape in Bollywood-esque song-and-dance fantasies that delight him – and the audience – even as his homeland starts to fall apart. Sadat captures the innocence of late 1980s Afghan youth with pleasing and nostalgia-tinted charm, while remaining keenly aware of the violence that history would soon thrust upon them.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Erin M. comments, “The message of this film is about the importance of hope, despite all circumstances. The protagonist, Qodrat, remains hopeful and looks for positive routes of escapism throughout his struggles of growing up without a family, and his struggles at the orphanage. You should be aware that the film contains strong language and minor adult content.” See her full review below.

The Orphanage
By Erin M., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 16

The Orphanage is a stellar film conveying the need for true heartfelt cinematic experiences. Beautiful cinematography creates a transcendent movie experience, with a script based on the unpublished diaries of Anwar Hashim, who plays a supporting role in the film. Acclaimed director Shahrbanoo Sadat uses personal experiences to convey an uplifting message.

Wolf and Sheep, the prequel to The Orphanage, premiered in 2016. Like its predecessor, The Orphanage is based on real life experiences in Afghanistan. The movie chronicles the main character, Qodrat (Qodratollah Qadiri), who spends his days trying to survive by illegally selling overpriced movie tickets and key rings. He is then brought to a Russian-operated orphanage along with other teenage boys, where he is given the opportunity to get an education alongside his peers. The Orphanage details his experiences in the orphanage and how the quarrels between roommates of the dorms are dealt with by the director Anwar (Anwar Hashimi). All throughout a war torn country in 1989, Qodrat remains hopeful, through fantasy sequences shared with the audience.

The cinematography is what truly stands out in this film. Directory of photography, Virginie Surdej captures the beauty of the country while adding to the heartbreaking story. My favorite part of this movie is the performances by the young people, including Qodratollah Qadiri, who gives rare insight into real life in Afghanistan, as they are all natives of the country.

The message of this film is about the importance of hope, despite all circumstances. The protagonist, Qodrat, remains hopeful and looks for positive routes of escapism throughout his struggles of growing up without a family, and his struggles at the orphanage. You should be aware that the film contains strong language and minor adult content. There are also two graphic descriptions of war and violence. There is also some references to sex and pornographic images (very far away from the screen, but still visible) that are unsuitable for younger kids.  

I give The Orphanage 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 15 to 18, plus adults. This film is available March 2, 2021 on Amazon Prime.

Share this page on:

Archibald’s Next Big Thing * Cute Series That Makes It Okay To Be Curious And Learn From Your Mistakes

Thursday, March 4th, 2021

Archibald’s Next Big Thing is an American animated comedy streaming television series created by Tony Hale for Netflix. The plot revolves around Archibald Strutter, a positive chicken who often goes astray from home, but eventually always finds his way back home. Season 3 debuts on the Peacock Channel. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Calee N. comments, “This cute series makes it okay to be curious and encourages children to learn from their mistakes. Archibald is far from perfect, but the theme of acceptance and compassion guides him through the process of solving his problems. Being a silly chicken turns out to be a lot of fun.” See her full review below.

Archibald’s Next Big Thing 
By Calee Nowak, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 11

Archibald’s Next Big Thing is a unique animation series filled with adventure and kid-friendly humor.

In this season of Archibald’s Next Big Thing, Archibald goes on all kinds of wacky adventures with his siblings, Loy, Finly and Sage. Being a chicken and living in an egg shaped house with neighbors of all different species, Archibald finds himself making multiple mistakes and learning valuable lessons through his experiences. From damaging a doctor’s office to body switching and even shrinking himself, you never know what situation Archibald will be in. Now matter what, with the help of his friends and family he is able to solve his problems in unusual ways and also with a happy ending. 

Tony Hale’s, Archibald’s Next Big Thing is the next chapter for Archibald Strutter. Producers Eric Fogel and Tony Hale continue to make Archibald a likable character with a great sense of humor. The talented voice-overs of the lead characters Archibald (Tony Hale), Loy (Chelsea Kane), Finly (Jordan Fisher) and Sage (Adam Fally) make the characters believable and bring life to the series. The music, produced by Matthew Janszen, seamlessly transitions the scenes and creates a silly and fun atmosphere. The art director, Sierra Lewis and visual effects directors, Karla Monterrosa and Jessica Oh, are to be commended for designing an animated series adapted from the book and staying true to the original book. The animated drawings and visual effects easily tell the stories of Archibald’s never-ending curiosity while being visually engaging.

This cute series makes it okay to be curious and encourages children to learn from their mistakes. Archibald is far from perfect, but the theme of acceptance and compassion guides him through the process of solving his problems. Being a silly chicken turns out to be a lot of fun.

I rate Archibald’s Next Big Thing 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 3 to 10. Archibald’s Next Big Thing is available now on the Peacock Channel and Netflix.

Share this page on:

The Crew * Even For Non-NASCAR Fans, This Series Will Grip Your Attention And Sweep You Into A Riptide Of Emotions

Sunday, February 14th, 2021

Life in the garage goes off track for a NASCAR crew chief and his racing team when a new boss shakes things up. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Eshaan M. comments, “The Crew is truly a show about community, friendship and sticking together. All of the members of the NASCAR team featured in the show are, as the High School Musical jingle goes, “all in this together.” They bear their new boss Catherine together, and help each other through their problems. Even for those who aren’t NASCAR fans, this ten-episode show will grip your attention and sweep you up into a riptide of emotions.” See his full review below.

The Crew
By Eshaan M., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 14

The Crew is an enjoyable watch that teaches you in equal measures about racing and being there for your friends. Even for those who aren’t NASCAR fans, this ten-episode show will grip your attention and sweep you up into a riptide of emotions.

THE CREW (L to R) KEVIN JAMES as KEVIN in episode 105 of THE CREW Cr. ERIC LIEBOWITZ/NETFLIX © 2020

Honestly, there’s not much technical detail given about racing; the deepest the show gets into the subject matter is describing the inner workings of a muscle car engine. But viewers will not be disappointed. The Crew follows a group of coworkers – Kevin, Chuck, Amir, Jake and Beth – at Bobby Spencer Racing (a small NASCAR team out of North Carolina) through their daily lives – their highs, their lows and their in-betweens. Catherine Spencer, Bobby’s daughter, takes over the company within the first episode. The high-and-mighty Stanford graduate right out of Silicon Valley is tasked with completely revamping the company. Careers are put in jeopardy, game hunting goes wrong (no animals were hurt in the making of this show) and we see exactly how much NASCAR teams love steak in all forms.

This rip-roaring show is led by the comedy powerhouse Kevin James, a true legend, who plays Kevin. He’s the ‘personality’ of the office, a former racing driver who retired to the garage after an injury. Gary Anthony Williams plays the fix-it man, Chuck. Dan Ahdoot is the socially-awkward and anxious Amir. Freddie Stroma plays the slightly slow, but incredibly adorable Jake. Sarah Stiles is the curly-haired, sweet, Southern Beth. The femme-fatale of the show, Catherine Spencer, is played by Jillian Mueller. Of all the characters, I love Kevin (obviously) as well as Beth and Catherine. Both of the women have such layered characters, especially Catherine. We are only given hints at her childhood – save for the frequent mention of her Stanford degree, which is turned into a drinking game by Kevin and Frank. The cast is incredibly talented, especially in terms of their comedic timing. Their chemistry is visible on screen. You can tell that they would be the best of friends on set. The sets of The Crew are also so realistic!

The Crew is truly a show about community, friendship and sticking together. All of the members of the NASCAR team featured in the show are, as the High School Musical jingle goes, “all in this together.” They bear their new boss Catherine together, and help each other through their problems. There’s slight profanity at certain points in the show, and there are hunting scenes, but they’re not graphic.

I give The Crew 5 stars out of 5 and recommend it for ages 13 to 18, plus adults. The Crew will be available on Netflix on February 15, 2021.  

Share this page on:

What a Disaster! * Unique Format, Engaging Challenges, Crucial Messages

Saturday, November 28th, 2020

BS SoCal, Southern California’s home for new PBS program premieres, debuts an entertaining new spin on emergency preparedness with the special What A Disaster! The fun new game show hosted by Jay Jackson (Parks & Recreation) challenges three Southern California families to test their emergency readiness plans in the event of the next wildfire, earthquake, flood or other disaster. Viewers will follow the contestants’ progress through a series of fast-paced, exciting tasks that include comical twists designed to educate and teach critical, lifesaving guidance.

The competition-themed special seeks to raise awareness on the importance of disaster preparedness as well as equip viewers with an understanding of the “do’s and don’ts” in emergency situations. Produced during the COVID-19 pandemic, each family’s strategies will be judged remotely by two disaster response experts: El Sol Neighborhood Educational Center in San Bernardino’s Lulu Lopez and LISTOS National Program Director Liliana Encinas. The family with the most creative and resourceful solutions will be rewarded with a $1,000 cash prize. The other families with the least number of successes will be receiving a Disaster Preparedness Kit. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Eshaan M. comments, “What A Disaster! is an enjoyable family watch, after which you’ll be prepared for any disaster that might come your way. The unique format, engaging challenges and crucial message all make this an amazing movie to watch over Thanksgiving!” See his full review below.

What A Disaster!
By Eshaan M., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 14

What A Disaster! is an enjoyable family watch, after which you’ll be prepared for any disaster that might come your way. The unique format, engaging challenges and crucial message all make this an amazing movie to watch over Thanksgiving!

What A Disaster! is a game-show style program hosted by Jay Jackson, centering around three Southern-Californian families (The Yang family, the Smith family and the Luna family) competing to be crowned the most prepared for any natural disaster that may come their way. They’re also competing to receive $1,000. The families are led through a series of challenges that include knowing where your utilities are and what to pack if you’re running out of a burning building.

As this is a PBS production, the 40 minute film is stitched together quite well.  The contestants are spontaneous and bring life to the film, especially the little kids! I also enjoyed Jay Jackson’s bubbly hosting. He looks upon these families as his neighbors, and the care he has is evident. There are some points where the contestants’ voices seem to echo or reverb, though. It is also a bit obvious that the judges are reading from a script, as their eye line is off-center. But overall, the production value does not drag What A Disaster! down.

As its title would give away, the film promotes disaster preparedness and staying safe in any situation. Also, this film endorses messages of sticking together, especially with family, and teamwork. This is an especially important message for 2020, given the wildfires that SoCal has suffered, and I’m super glad that PBS produced this program.

I give What A Disaster! 4.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 7 to 18. Adults would enjoy this film as well. What A Disaster! premieres in Southern California this Thanksgiving on Thurs., Nov. 26 at 7 p.m. on PBS SoCal and encores on Sat., Nov. 28 at 8 p.m. on KCET.

Share this page on:

Mr. Soul! Focuses How Ellis Haizlip Used His Program To Show Black Talent In Positive Ways

Friday, September 11th, 2020

Mr. Soul! is right on time given the subject – Ellis Haizlip – and his accomplishments as America’s first Black nighttime talk show host during the Civil Rights Movement/Black Power Movement from 1968 – 1973.  It is a rich story that will resonate with audiences across the nation and across generations.  With Black Lives Matter and the current state of our country and our communities addressing racism in a meaningful manner – Haizlip’s story and his inspiration is now even more important.   Ellis was innovative, political and gay. In his personal fight for social equality, this man ensured that the revolution would be televised. Along with the incredible music performances from Gladys Knight, Al Green, Earth Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder  and more; historical interviews with folks like Muhammad Ali, Sidney Poitier, Cicely Tyson, James Baldwin, Nikki Giovanni, Kathleen Cleaver, Stokely Carmichael, Harry Belafonte   and others; and performances from Sonia Sanchez, George Faison, The Last Poets, Alvin Ailey and more, MR. SOUL! captures this monumental movement in America, at a time when the whole nation was going through a change.  This time now feels very familiar. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Tiana S. comments, “This movie focuses on African American music, dance and literature and how Mr. Haizlip used his program to show Black talent in positive ways.” See her full review below.

Mr. Soul!
By Tiana S., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 11

The documentary Mr. Soul! is entertaining and touching! It is remarkably interesting and makes you want to research more about Ellis Haizlip. He made a huge difference in the way African Americans were shown on television by creating his own show called “SOUL!. This movie focuses on African American music, dance and literature and how Mr. Haizlip used his program to show Black talent in positive ways.

OK – 3/10/14

Mr. Soul! is a movie about Ellis Haizlip’s life as the creator, co-host and producer of an TV show featuring Black performers called SOUL!. It tells the story of Haizlip, the show, and the talent he showcased. You hear about his life and accomplishments from the performers he had on SOUL! and from his friends. You also see different footage from SOUL!, and pictures from Haizlip’s  personal life. The documentary also demonstrates how Haizlip went from being the producer of the show to also hosting it.

The main character is Ellis Haizlip. I love how kind he was and how he always made SOUL! fun for everyone. He gave so many differaent people opportunities to show off their talents on SOUL!. The director, Melissa Haizlip, is a talented storyteller. She uses different elements such as a narrator (Blair Underwood), videos from SOUL!, interviews from the shows’ guests, and testimonies from his friends to tell Mr. Haizlip’s incredible story. The movie includes great music from different Black culture genres such as Gospel and R&B. There are incredible dance numbers and bands shown that were also on the show. The film has some funny parts, and it will take you through different emotions, which makes it more interesting. I was incredibly surprised to learn that Mr. Haizlip was a television host before Oprah Winfrey and that he was a musician before he became a TV host.

The message of this film is that anything is possible and that sometimes you have to take risks to get where you want to be in life. For example, when Mr. Haizlip’s friend decided not to host the show anymore, Mr. Haizlip took a risk and became the host and made history. Parents might need to look out for the use of the “N-word” in the beginning in a short video clip from one of the show’s acts and mentions of suicide.

I rate Mr. Soul! 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for kids 13 to 18. Adults will love it as well! You can find Mr.  Soul! playing in the America Black Film Festival, October, 2020

Share this page on:

Dragons: Rescue Riders: Secrets of the Songwing * Excellent Animation and Cast

Tuesday, July 21st, 2020

When a musical dragon with a beautiful voice hypnotizes the dragons and people of Huttsgalor, the Rescue Riders have to find a way to break the spell. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Katie F. comments, “I really enjoyed this new, exciting film, Dragons: Rescue Riders: Secrets of the Songwing! The cast and animation are incredible!” See her full review below.

Dragons: Rescue Riders: Secrets of the Songwing
By Katie Francis, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 11

I really enjoyed this new, exciting film, Dragons: Rescue Riders: Secrets of the Songwing! The cast and animation are incredible!

The story follows Melodia (Renée Elise Goldberry), a songwing dragon who tries to hypnotize the town of Hudsgalore with her beautiful singing voice.  When Aggro (Marsai Martin) and Zeppla (Cassidy Naber) are hypnotized, the dragon gang have to help stop Melodia’s song. To the rescue come Winger (Zach Callison), Summer (Skai Jackson), Burple (Noah Bently) and Cutter (Andre Robinson) as they save their friends and the rest of the town of Hudsgalore. Alongside the dragons are brother and sister Dak (Nicolas Cantu) and Leyla (Brennley Brown) in this musical special that fans of Dragons:  Rescue Riders will love.

The animation in this musical special is excellent, although there are some parts where the sound seemed that it is out of sync with the character’s mouths a few times.

The message of the story is that you shouldn’t use one of your best qualities  — such as the gift of being able to sing like Melodia can — to trance everyone else and make them do what you want.

I recommend Dragons: Rescue Riders: Secrets of the Songwing for ages 4-13, but it is a family-friendly film so adults will also enjoy it. I give this film 5 out of 5 stars as it is very enjoyable. You can find this film on Netflix on July 24th. Dragons: Rescue Riders: Secrets of the Songwing is definitely worth the watch!

Share this page on:

I Still Believe * A Sincere and True Love Story With Subtle Messages

Thursday, April 16th, 2020

The true-life story of Christian music star Jeremy Camp and his journey of love and loss that looks to prove there is always hope. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Arjun N. comments, “The message of this film is to always keep the faith and stay close to those you love. They make us for who we are, and unfortunately, tragic things can happen. It’s best that we stay close and not waste any day with them.” See his full review below.

I Still Believe
By Arjun N., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 18

I Still Believe is a sincere and true love story, held down by clichéd dialogue and plot development. The subtle messages and radiant leads stick their landing without feeling preachy. Adults and kids will admire this faith-based tale, perhaps in a matinee and a box of tissues.

This story brings the true-life story of Christian music star Jeremy Camp (KJ Apa) and his remarkable journey with his wife Melissa (Britt Robertson). Their faith in God is tested when Melissa is diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Still, Jeremy believes there is always hope and a faith worth sharing through his music and memories.

The two leads share great chemistry allowing for a believable relationship. KJ Apa, as Jeremy Camp, steps into the shoes of the Christian music singer, through his original music and devotion towards his wife Melissa. Speaking of which, Britt Robertson, as Melissa, is the best performance nailing the emotional gravitas of the real-life counterpart’s plight. She fares much better in emotional scenes, and while KJ has great screen presence, he could improve his emotional chops. Both characters absolutely deliver a heart-warming dynamic that makes the ending all the more tragic, but also reminiscing. Nathan Dean, as Jean-Luc, adds a love-triangle dynamic that feels more at home in a CW show than a dramatic real-life story. Still, his character is charismatic and relatable in his struggles. Gary Sinise, as Tom, is Jeremy’s father, adding more heart to Jeremy’s unwavering love and choices.

Directors Andrew and Jon Erwin return after directing the Christian film I Can Only Imagine. The Erwins have a good grasp on not being preachy and instead, focus on the human relationships that bind. However, this film’s first half panders with one instance of egregious product placement, unbecoming of its more mature second half. It feels tonally inconsistent in spite of KJ and Britt’s natural chemistry. There’s a scene involving a broken jar of pickles where the film becomes thoughtfully complacent about its conflicts. This is where the film began to click, and it ends up being moving and lyrically heartwarming.

The message of this film is to always keep the faith and stay close to those you love. They make us for who we are, and unfortunately, tragic things can happen. It’s best that we stay close and not waste any day with them.

I give this film 3.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 8 to 18 due to strong thematic material. The movie is available now on Amazon Prime and elsewhere. Be sure to check it out.

Share this page on:

2020 Director’s Close Up: Week Five

Wednesday, February 19th, 2020

The final week of Film Independent’s five-week-long Director’s Close Up focused on one of the most crucial aspects of cinema, an aspect that easily makes up half of the movie-going experience, an aspect that the viewer rarely notices, but exists across nearly the entire run time of every film ever made. That aspect? Sound design and scoring. Benh Zeitlin, director of Wendy, and Dan Romer, composer of Wendy, unveil the massive impact of cinematic sound. 

Sound design involves the process of creating naturally occurring noises anyone would hear in the real world. This can include footsteps, creaking floors, squeaking doors, rustling leaves and far more. Even though such additions may seem minuscule in the long run, they have a tremendous impact on how realistic the cinematic world feels. Imagine watching Star Wars without the wooshes of TIE fighters, the hums of pod racers, or the buzz of lightsabers? The film would lose many of its immersive qualities. So, director Benh Zeitlin puts careful attention into sound design. As an example, in his previous film, Beasts of the Southern Wild, the sounds of Hurricane Katrina can be heard with the growling wind, the shrieking shaking shutters and the pounding rain. While very little rain or lightning appears on the screen, the audience feels terrified by the audible aspect of the hurricane. Such elements can also help keep the budget to a minimum as rain machines and lightning visual effects can increase the cost of production dramatically, but taking out a microphone and recording a thunderstorm has a near-zero price tag.

Composer Dan Romer does a similar job with the score of a film, a lengthy musical work that helps guides the emotional tone of certain scenes as well as the entire story. For Wendy, because it re-imagines the classic Peter Pan story of children who never grow up, the score mimics a child’s perspective. That means that it must be epic and orchestral when the children do seemingly minor things, like play in the mud or chase each other. Zeitlin stated that he took inspiration from his own childhood when he would mentally play the grand Indiana Jones soundtrack while he did the small task of looking for an ant in the grass. Dan Romer also tried to mimic a local band in the instrumentation of the orchestra, by having a mix of traditional symphonic orchestral instruments and instruments found in smaller bands such as steel drums. This gives it a grounded feeling that agrees with the world the children come from. Music can also reflect tone shifts in the film. In the beginning, when the story takes place in the normal world, the music has a searching, almost wanting quality. Yet, once it goes to the magical world of Neverland, it explodes in triumph. At times, assembling an entire orchestra can be outside of a film’s budget. So, Romer hired and recorded individual musicians and combined their performances on a computer. This allowed the entire film score to require only nine musicians and a small room, versus a dozen or more musicians and a symphony hall.

Sometimes, score and sound design merge as it does in Wendy, when the audience meets a large sea creature called Mother. This involved so many layers of sound design that the production of Wendy hired a sound designer from Animal Planet to create whale noises for the creature. On top of the sound design, Romer composed an ambient score that adds to the grandeur of the creature being displayed on the screen. Such challenges can require unconventional methods. For example, the score utilizes whirly tubes, a children’s toy that makes a humming sound when spun. This, on top of the whale sounds, creates a mysterious but peaceful atmosphere around the sea creature.

While it receives little attention in award shows, critiques or from the average moviegoer, the sound and score of a film make up half the experience. Benh Zeitlin said it best, “it’s impossible for the film to speak in any way” without the sound to assist in communicating the character’s perspectives, emotions and tone.

Wendy opens in theaters on February 28, 2020. For more information on Film Independent, go to https://www.filmindependent.org/

If you are interested in more information on sound in cinema, check out my interview with Midge Costin, director of the documentary Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound at https://youtu.be/zvlChCb138Y

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

Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17
Share this page on:
Kid movie news & Free DVDs:
Join KIDS FIRST! on Twitter Join KIDS FIRST! on YouTube Join KIDS FIRST! on Instagram Join KIDS FIRST! on Facebook Join KIDS FIRST! on Pinterest