Jury Coordination and Notes

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: It’s a Beautiful Day Collection – Comprehensive Set of Shows by the Esteemed Mister Rogers

March 26th, 2018

This special set of 32 memorable episodes and over 15 hours of content celebrates the 50th anniversary of the beloved Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the pioneering children’s television series from The Fred Rogers Company. Mister Rogers helps children learn the importance of being kind to others, appreciating what makes everyone unique, recycling and taking care of our planet, and much more in the classic series. The new release also includes a very special bonus episode – the series premiere, in original black-and-white! Through his popular daily TV visits, generations of young children have grown up with the kind and gentle Mister Rogers, who created a calm and safe place that welcomed all to his neighborhood. With real-life guests, adventurous field trips and charming make-believe segments, the iconic Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood encouraged kids ages 2 to 5 to learn about themselves and the world around them, speaking directly to the series’ young audience with his unique one-to-one affirmation of their self-worth. Celebrity guest stars have included: Tony Bennett, Julia Child, Margaret Hamilton, Michael Keaton, Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, Rita Moreno, and Bill Nye. KIDS FIRST! Adult Reviewer, Terry S. comments, “I will always have a special place in my heart for Fred Rogers, for his kindness and understanding of teaching and learning for the preschooler.” See her full review below.

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: It’s a Beautiful Day
By Terry Solowey, KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

This is a wonderful collection of shows by the iconic Mister Rogers. I have fond memories of representing this program when I worked at WNET in New York launching the Ready to Learn program. I represented all the programs on PBS at that time, in workshops teaching preschool instructors how to use TV as an educational, interactive tool to supplement and enhance their curriculum. I will always have a special place in my heart for Fred Rogers, for his kindness and understanding of teaching and learning for the preschooler.

It is a walk down memory lane to view several episodes from the 60s to the following decades. It is interesting to note that, through the years, Mr. Rogers maintained the same routine which made him unique, influential and well celebrated for his kind manner – teaching children that they are special and unique in their own right. He is known for greeting children everyday by coming through his door, taking off his jacket and shoes, and putting on his sweater and sneakers. He invites his audience to share some time to explore, discover and learn new things. He sings to “make the most of this beautiful day, won’t you be my neighbor?” You feel as if he is talking directly to you.

The topics of the episodes varies, from helping children know what to expect on their first day at school to talking about different kinds of families from birds to people, learning about sharing, giving and receiving, and encouraging generosity and gratitude. Children learn about the world and how to live in it.

We are introduced to friends, neighbors and workers such as Mr. McFeeley, the speedy delivery man, Lady Aberlin, a good friend and Joe Negri, a music shop owner, photographer, builder, handyman and guitar player – a man of many talents and trades. We are also introduced to Daniel Tiger, who currently carries on Mister Rogers’ tradition in the animated series.

One of my favorite segments is on disc four, Encouraging Generosity and Gratitude. Here we see how fortune cookies are made: from mixing flour and eggs, that become cookie batter ready to go into baking pans on a conveyer belt, to how the fortune message is put into the baked cookie shape and packaged. Mr. McFeeley delivers fortune cookies to Mister Rogers, who shares some with him. Both men are happy to give and receive. In the trolley car segment and land of make believe, even though King Friday thinks fortune cookies are silly, others on the show love them. The magical part is when a special fortune cookie man pops out and speaks in Spanish and delivers fortune cookies through his fortune cookie hat to others. Daniel Tiger says, “Anything can happen in the land of make believe.”

Another segment that stands out features the celebrated children’s author Eric Carle, who invites Fred into his art studio and shows him how he makes his colorful art papers, which he turns into collages for his picture books. He reads “Head to Toe,” pointing out how different animals move their body parts and they both move their body parts along with the story. Eric Carle gives him a book as a gift, reinforcing the lesson of generosity and gratitude.

I give this DVD 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for young children ages 2 to 5 as well as parents, caregivers and early childhood teachers. If you are a fan of the current Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, then Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is a must see for its ground breaking educational and entertaining programming. This DVD streets on March 27, 2018 so be sure to check it out.

Mascots Matter: Gender and Race Representation in Branding

March 15th, 2018

Mascots Matter: Gender and Race Representation in Branding
Presented by Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media

How are products being marketed to children through brand mascots? And what role does gender and race play? Are boys and girls being marketed to differently and if so how does that effect the way they perceive gender roles? Join us as we answer these questions and present the first findings from our Mascots Matter: Gender and Race in Branding Study. Panelists include: Tiffanie Darke, Moderator, Editor in Chief, A+E channels History, Biography and A&E; Sarah Barclay, Global Executive Creative Director, J. Walter Thompson New York; Madeline Di Nonno, CEO, Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media; Torsten Gross, Executive Planning Director, J. Walter Thompson New York; Courtney Parker, Writer; Laura Treviño, Vice President, Marketing, The Jel Sert Company.

Mascots Matter: Gender and Race Representation in Branding
By Imani Baptiste-Green, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 16

The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media presented a Salon recently called Mascots Matter: Gender and Race Representation in Branding.  This salon touched upon varioua points of gender and race. The event’s main focus is on power, and how people succeed as long as they put their mind to it, no matter what the circumstances. The event was hosted by Madeline Di Nonno, CEO of Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, whom I had the pleasure to meet and talk with. The branding of mascots was discussed as how they convey the essence of brand marketing. This topic helped me formulate my own thoughts on the issues discussed.  

The atmosphere of this event has such a welcoming feeling, from when you walk through the front doors. I really enjoyed speaking with the other guests to get a better sense of the importance on how branding plays a role in how we view things! The mingling and meeting of new people made the night that much more memorable.

The five panelists shared their own stories which showed their strengths and the hardships that they still deal with, but embrace. For instance, being a woman of color, Courtney Parker, Executive Creative Director, JWT New York, expressed how she had to accept who she is in order to fight for what she wanted to do in life. And she has! I really admire every word that she had to say, especially since I too am a woman of color and have big dreams in life. She also quoted something her father once said to her: “There are two things that you will never be able to change and have to accept –  being black and a woman.” This really stuck with me, because I am now learning to embrace the skin that I’m in and loving it. Our society sends out so many hurtful stereotyping of people of color and women in general, which makes it difficult to work our way to the top. This event really enlightened how powerful women are and I adored it.

Torsten Gross, Executive Planning Director, J. Walter Thompson New York, was the only male panelist and had an amazing and powerful story to offer. He appeared to be very strong and comfortable, despite the fact that he has a disability. Not many people in this world accept people who struggle with disabilities, but Torsten did not let that affect his accomplishing what he wished to achieve in life. Sure, people treated him differently, but Torsten did not let that define who he is as a person. That too is a powerful message that was brought forward by this panel.

Women need to have a platform that gives them a place to show their projects and uniqueness that men cannot always offer. Their voices need to be brought forward and heard because, even though we are not men, we are equally important and have the same or more to offer. Our creativity needs to be expressed throughout the world and acknowledged! Without women, there would be no world!

Photo: Imani B. G. and mother

Director’s Close – The Independent Spirit: A Directors Roundtable

March 6th, 2018


Week four of Director’s Close Up: The Independent Spirit: A Directors Roundtable featured four directors and writers who are nominated for the 2018 Spirit Awards. The four talked about many interesting things, but what I found most helpful was their tips on how to keep a film’s budget low. Josh & Benny Safdie talked about attempting to keep budgets very low when filming Good Time, for which they are both writers and directors.

One story that really has a powerful message is when they were trying to get a crane for a shot. They decided to call a construction company that was doing work nearby and were lucky enough to get a crane for a very reasonable price. It shows that, even in what seems like the most unlikely scenarios, it never hurts to ask.

Chloé Zhao (writer/director, The Rider) had different methods for keeping expanses low. For shooting, she was able to get sets for little money by working on a reservation where permits are around fifteen dollars. Then, in post-production, she was able to raise a good amount of money just for soundtrack and editing. This allowed her to make an amazing film with an equally incredible score on a budget. She also talked about attempting to find the right story. She knew the person she wanted to make a film about, but didn’t know what specifically to do. After waiting for a long time, the story came to her. It just shows that allowing life to shape the film may sometimes be best in order to get it just right!

Sean Baker’s stories about directing The Florida Project taught many morals for creators to ponder about. Sean filmed it all on 35 mm, which means it was filmed on film stock instead of digital like most modern movies. Sean talked about various possible challenges in independent filmmaking, ranging from pressuring actors (or them pressuring themselves), to getting it right the first time, to overexposing the lighting in order to get it visible on film. 

I have to say, this event was truly inspiring and educational, especially for a young filmmaker like myself as well as movie enthusiasts in the audience.

By Gerry Orz, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 14

Images courtesy of
Wireimage and Film Independent

Director’s Close Up: A Wrinkle in Time

March 2nd, 2018

Week three of Director’s Close-up featured many people from the new Disney film, A Wrinkle in Time. Instead of focusing on acting, the panel focused on the many departments and resources it takes to make a big film of that proportion a reality. One of the most interesting discussions revolved around props. J.P. Jones,  prop master of the film, talked about the many small details that most viewers will never notice are put into the film. One anecdote shared is about one of the quilts used. He talked about looking far and wide for the perfect and how eventually he had an authentic African quilt made from scratch. Hair stylist Kimberly Kimble and VFX supervisor Richard McBride both talked about their personal lines of work and the challenges of trying to make the world they created real, but filled with a sense of noticeable fantasy.

A true eye-opener was the discussion about the location. Director Ava Duvemay, Director of Photography Tobias A. Schliessle and Supervising Location Manager Alison A. Taylor talked about the difficulties of finding the perfect place to set the film in. Alison travelled up and down California looking for a place to shoot. Tobias had to make sure it was feasible to shoot there  and it was finally up to Ava to see if her vision matched the location. After hours of looking, they settled on the West Adams area – one of the oldest neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Tobias also talked about his part in making the film feel fantasy-like. He used camera setups that purposely made the world they created look somewhat fake and impossible.

Editor Spencer Averick and Composer Ramin Djawadi shared details about their work after the film was done with production. Spencer took a pile of clips and rearranged them into a flowing and unique story. Ramin took Spencer’s work and carefully composed music for different parts, resulting in several final themes. Casting Director Aisha Coley shared a funny anecdote about trying to find the actor to play Charles Wallace. After traveling all over the world attempt

ing to find the perfect kid, they found Deric McCabe in Burbank, who apparently lives three blocks from where the auditions took place. This story stuck out, not only because it perfectly portrays the challenges of the work of good casting directors, but also shows that the answer can be quite literally under our nose (or in this case, three blocks from it).

All of the crew members showed a common message. While the actors are a crucial part of the film, there is a whole part of movie-making rarely looked at which lives behind the camera. If it wasn’t for their often unrecognized hard work, the actors wouldn’t have films to act in and viewers would not be able to enjoy such a masterpiece as Wrinkle in Time.

Images courtesy of WireImage and Film Independent.

By Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 15


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

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.




Black Panther – One Of The Best Marvel Films Within The Ever Expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe

February 22nd, 2018

After the events of Captain America: Civil War, King T’Challa returns home to the reclusive, technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda to serve as his country’s new leader. However, T’Challa soon finds that he is challenged for the throne from factions within his own country. When two foes conspire to destroy Wakanda, the hero known as Black Panther must team up with C.I.A. agent Everett K. Ross and members of the Dora Milaje, Wakandan Special Forces, to prevent Wakanda from being dragged into a world war. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Willie Jones comments, “Strong black women drive this movie and give young black girls true heroes. And, they never need a cape.  To top this all off, it’s one of the best Marvel films released within the ever expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe.” See his full review below.

Black Panther
By Willie Jones, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 18

Has a superhero film, in the history of cinema, ever been so socially involved? While Wonder Woman was an important film in the blockbuster cannon, the social context about Black Panther feels a little more amped.

At a point in time in which race-relations are still tumultuous, and women’s rights are being re-evaluated and improved, this movie contains themes and content that satisfy and challenge the changes we all wish for Hollywood to make, and the changes we all wish for the world to undergo. Black on black violence is subtly yet powerfully addressed. Strong black women drive this movie and give young black girls true hereos. And, they never need a cape.  To top this all off, it’s one of the best Marvel films released within the ever expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s well paced, well acted, well written and is very nearly flawless.

The pace of this film is exceptional. Kudos to director Ryan Coolger and editors Michael P. Shawver and Claudia Castello. No scene lingers too long, no sequence halts the forward momentum. The 134 minute run time goes by in a breeze. Ryan Coolger and Joe Robert Cole write a tightly constructed screenplay that includes all the Marvel cinematic conventions without ever compromising the story.

The screenplay is expertly and smartly written. It is filled with dialogue that never gets unattractively melodramatic, and every so often says something that goes beyond the screen. The issues and debates brought up in the film, particularly about sharing resources within the black community and the fine line between conflict avoidance and complacency, are brilliantly implemented. They are themes and ideas that aren’t just dumped into the movie to give it a faux social relevance, but are instead used as motivations to advance character development and feed the plot with stakes. The movie is also laced with genuine comic moments that aren’t used as relief or brought about forcefully, henceforth interrupting the flow of the movie. Any and every comic moment within the film is very much natural and stems from well timed writing and acting.

Leading man Chadwick Boseman is known for being typecast in biopics (a bit of an oxymoron). He’s known for playing Jackie Robinson, James Brown and Thurgood Marshall. Here, he brings the charisma needed to do a biopic, and graces the screen with it. He doesn’t miss a single beat, whether it be dramatic or comic. He’s all at once suave, funny, likeable, questionable, dangerous and frankly, cool. He has swagger. Supporting him is a cast made up of Lupita Nyong’o, Daniel Kaluuya, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Michael B. Jordan, Forest Whitaker, and Angela Bassett. There’s no overacting. There’s nothing but an incredible chemistry. Each cast member performs with a sense of urgency. Their passion for this project is apparent and it feeds into their performances. A special shout out to Michael B. Jordan, who plays a villain and doesn’t completely overdo it. Often times, we find ourselves wondering whether his intentions as the villain are actually malicious. Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira serve as the backbone of this movie. Their gentle ferocity is strongly alluring and their stillness accentuates their beauty while simultaneously exuding great power. Your eyes will be glued to their performances.

Ryan Coolger directs this film with confidence and gives it an indelible flavor. Every directorial choice is warranted, thought through, and well executed. His use of fluidity with the cinematography gives the movie its suave feeling, which makes the moments of stillness so powerful. And there are some very striking images in this movie. Coolger makes full use of the beautiful art direction and costume design without glamorizing the aesthetic. Some of the costumes in the movie are destined to be iconic, and I mean more than just Black Panther’s suit. Lupita Nyong’o is given costumes that could make her the Audrey Hepburn of the Marvel Universe. She wears her costumes with more than beauty and grace, but with total confidence. The sets and environments in the movie are more than attractive, they’re unique. The production design firmly sets us in Wakanda, and we don’t want to leave. Marry that with Marvel’s greatest costume designed movie, and the pure attractiveness of the movie is almost in itself worth the price of admission.       

The soundtrack is fantastic and helps push the film along. As a matter fact, to get back to the cultural impact the film has already made, the marketing campaign was brilliant. Kendrick Lamar, a major musician, produced and wrote an album inspired by and used in the film as a sort of companion piece – kind of like an opening act to a concert. It can be heard on Spotify and I highly recommend it, just as I highly recommend this movie. I give this film 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 10 to 18. It can be seen at a local theater near you.




Directors Close Up: Storytellers: Writers and Directors

February 19th, 2018

Week two of Directors Close Up: Storytellers: Writers and Directors featured writers Mike White and David Branson talking about their methodology for writing scripts. It’s common knowledge that writing a feature-length movie script or a season of TV series is no easy feat. Mike White talked about different events that influenced his thinking. One specific scene from a film he wrote, Beatriz at Dinner, features a man talking rather proudly at a dinner party about being an animal poacher. Mike talked about how he imagined what might happen at a dinner party where someone spoke about doing something like that? What would happen? David also spoke about how scenes with little dialogue may seem easy, but are in fact the hardest of all to write. Having a character talk to themselves or to try to create a natural awkward conversation presents many challenges to writers. ­­­­­

Something I found particularly interesting was the different writing styles these two have. Mike has the need to write early in the day and have a sense of accomplishment. If he doesn’t write anything before noon, his day is wasted. David’s style involves a rhythm and discipline. To help him write, he likes to do the same thing every day, at the same time, in the same location. It may range from going to a coffee shop every morning, to swimming in the ocean every day.

The two also talked about the relationship between director and writer. The writer creates this story and it’s the director’s job to be able to interpret and project it in a way that will be enjoyed and understood by viewers. Both talked about how they see their scripts as their children. Giving away something they love is rather difficult. And, seeing it transformed into something unrecognizable causes a mix of emotions, just like seeing your child grow into adulthood.

The take away for me is that a film’s writer has the biggest influence on the story. But in many ways, the smallest influence on the audience. Looking into a writer’s world can truly reveal a new side of watching films.

From left to right: Moderator Jennifer Cochis,
Writer Mike White, and Writer David Branson Smith
Images courtesy of WireImage and Film Independent

By Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 15


We’re Going on a Bear Hunt – Vibrant Visuals and Brilliant Musical Score Make The Story Come to Life!

February 12th, 2018

Based on the bestselling bedtime story book written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, which has sold over 11 million copies globally, the film follows siblings Stan, Katie, Rosie, Max, the baby, and Rufus the dog,  who decide one day to go on an adventure through whirling snowstorms, oozing mud, and dark forests in search of bears! Featuring the voices of Olivia Colman (The Night ManagerBroadchurch), Pam Ferris (MatildaCall The Midwife), and Mark Williams (Harry Potter), this animated story is filled with stunning visuals sure to enchant viewers along with its story of perseverance, optimism, and love of nature. KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror Terry Solowey comments, “The vibrant visuals and brilliant musical score add a special quality to telling the story of a group of five siblings and their dog Rufus who decide to go on a bear hunt while their parents go to aid Grandma and her broken down car.” See her full review below.

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt
By Terry Solowey, KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

This animated film, based on the best-selling storybook We’re Going on a Bear Hunt written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, brings the story to life! The vibrant visuals and brilliant musical score add a special quality to telling the story of a group of five siblings and their dog Rufus who decide to go on a bear hunt while their parents go to aid Grandma and her broken down car.

Their big brother Peter leads them on their quest over the countryside, lakes, oceans, and mountains and through a treacherous snowstorm. Throughout, they sing the famous chant: “We’re going on a bear hunt. We’re going to catch a big one. What a beautiful day! We’re not scared.”

I love the children’s positive outlook and excitement as they never give up, continue and approach their various destinations.  As they encounter “long, wavy grass”, “a deep cold river”, “thick, oozy mud”, “a big dark forest”, “a swirling, whirling snowstorm” and “a narrow, gloomy cave”, they also sing their other chant:  “We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh, no! We’ve go to go through it.”

When one of the siblings, Rosie and their dog Rufus become separated from the rest of the family, their adventure takes an interesting turn, delivering more than they ever expected. I really enjoyed the suspense the additional storyline adds to the film.  It brings an extra excitement to the story. Do the paw prints add up to anything? You will have to see this film to find out!

I have fond memories of reading this story in my early teaching days as well as singing the chants with the children.  Currently I read to children in the schools and look forward to sharing this film with them in addition to reading the story. The accompanying Adventure Field Guide is a perfect addition for children, teachers and families as a supplement to explore their own great outdoor adventures!

I give this film 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 4 to 9 as well as parents, caregivers and  teachers.  It will be available on DVD February 13, 2018, so be sure to check it out.




2018 Directors Close-Up: Lady Bird: Adolescence, Angst and Acting by Gerry Orz

February 9th, 2018


The first event of the 2018 Director’s Close Up featured four crew members from the brand new phenomenal movie, Lady Bird. What makes this film unique is not its use of cutting edge technology, or appearance of noteworthy actors. Instead, the film shows something much more involved – reality.

Throughout the event, director Greta Gerwig describes the process of how she was able to accomplish this goal. Instead of simply telling a story, Greta was able to make it feel real, like something that could have happen to any of us. The eye-opening discussion also talked in detail about the costume design. Just like the film as a whole, it feels realistic and natural. April Napier, the costume designer of the film, talked about how they worked hard on every single detail to make the clothes look terrible on purpose.

Images courtesy of WireImage and Film Independent. From Left to Right, Moderator Jeff Duplass, Director/Writer Greta Gerwg, Marielle Scott (Shelly Yuhan), Jordan Rodrigues (Miguel Mcpherson

What can only be called incredible is the ability to combine stark realism with humor. This combination worked due to the Greta’s masterful writing and brilliant directing. She, along with the two of the film’s actors, Jordan Rodrigues (Miguel Mcpherson) and Marielle Scott (Shelly Yuhan), talked about how crucial timing is. Conversations are not slow, they are as quick as bullets going back and forth between the people as it would happen in any regular family. Lady Bird nails that with thirty-second long scenes that not only enhance the story but show amazing character development.  I found this Q & A truly an eye-opener to the fact that making a film that feels real has many challenges. However, a talented filmmaker can overcome them to produce a beautiful work of art just like Greta Gerwig did with Lady Bird.

By Gerry Orz, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 15

My Daddy’s In Heaven – A Bit Overly Dramatic

February 8th, 2018

Becca, Adam and their 5-year-old daughter Acie are a perfect family until a tragic accident during a 4th of July celebration kills Adam. Struggling with the grieving process, Becky decides she needs to step away from the family farm and all its reminders of the life she once had. She leaves Acie with her grandfather Ben and visits an old friend from school, June. With all the best intentions, June offers Becky plenty of distraction from her shattered family life. Fueled by her anger at God and loss of faith, Becky starts drinking heavily and making other self-destructive choices. After Becky is arrested for public intoxication and disorderly conduct, Ben threatens to keep Acie until Becky sets herself right. A chance encounter in a bus station with a guitar-toting traveler gives Becky the inspiration she needs to reignite her faith and reunite her family. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Calista B. comments, “The storyline of this film is a bit incoherent to me and lots of things don’t make sense. The writing is confusing and the acting rather mediocre.” See her full review below.

My Daddy’s In Heaven
By Calista Bess, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 14

The storyline of this film is a bit incoherent to me and lots of things don’t make sense. The writing is confusing and the acting rather mediocre. The story is about a Christian woman named Becca (Jenn Gotzon Chandler) who is trying to recover after her husband’s death, while also learning how to regain her faith.

Many things in this story are unclear. The death is quick and you don’t have much time to connect with the character. As a viewer, I would have appreciated more backstory on Adam and his life with Becca and his daughter, Acie (Riley St. John). Adam dies by falling off an ATV. He doesn’t crash into anything; he just falls off. He’s not drunk and he doesn’t seem to have any medical issues. The ATV doesn’t even fall on him. He just falls. Then, it appears as if he gains even more bruises at the hospital. Make-up is very important in a movie and should be consistent. After he officially dies, two weeks after the accident, Becca is visited by a man named, Jimmy Urban who gives her Adam’s Bible, which appears to be a message from her husband to believe in God. I’m not sure as that is unclear too.

Sometimes the acting feels either too over dramatic or too blunt. The characters are all rather bland. You automatically sympathize with Becca because we all know loss is hard. She’s definitely depressed and trying to drink her sorrows away. Her old high school best friend, June helps her through her grieving period. June is my favorite character in the movie. She reminds me a lot of the characters Rebel Wilson plays and she has the best lines in the film. Unfortunately, she has not yet been given credit on IMBd, but according to the movie credits, her name is Jill Morrison. It’s weird how she’s the only one not credited. I hope she is soon.

This movie is based on a book called “My Daddy is in Heaven with Jesus”. I have not read the book, but from what I know, the movie is not completely accurate to the source material. The movie is more about the wife experiencing the loss of her husband, while the book appears to focus more on the daughter’s grieving.

I give this movie 2 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 13 to 18. This is definitely more of a movie that Christians would enjoy. It also reminds me of Hallmark Channel movies. If you like those, you might enjoy this. It comes out March 13, 2018.

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