Jury Coordination and Notes

Variety Boys & Girls Club of Boyle Heights’ New Family Resource Center

December 19th, 2019

On December 18, 2019, the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Boyle Heights dedicated their new Gonzalez Family Resource Center to Patricia (Pat) Gonzalez.

Pat has long been a supporter of the community. Her achievements include raising over $2 million from silent auctions for Variety, the Children’s Charity of Southern California, where she is co-chairperson. She is also on the board of directors for the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Boyle Heights. Her work led her to receive Studio Movie Grill’s Opening Hearts and Minds Award earlier this year.

The neighborhood, Boyle Heights, nestled east of Downtown Los Angeles, has long struggled with providing resources for families, with only 5% of residents in the neighborhood having earned four-year degrees. To improve conditions for families, many film executives support the club including Pat Gonzalez, Senior Vice President of In-Theater Marketing at Paramount Pictures; Scott Forman, Executive Vice President and General Sales Manager of Warner Brothers; and Studio Movie Grill, known for their in-dining movie theaters across the country.

Brian Schultz, founder and CEO of Studio Movie Grill once said, “I don’t like calling it charity, we like to actually support sustainable causes.” This philosophy can be seen in action at the Variety Boys and Girls Club, where children receive assistance with education, college preparation and much more. Outside, the club has gardening sites where children not only learn to grow fruits and vegetables but also receive training in the culinary arts, just two examples of the many activities that children may participate in. 

Beautiful murals created by the children themselves fill the walls around the gardening site. Elsewhere, the club’s encouragement of creativity can also be seen. In the art space, children learn art styles ranging from the Renaissance to Postmodern art. The kids’ accomplishments can be seen in sports as well; the entrance to the club is lined with dozens of trophies.

The Family Resource Center will go beyond helping the children and help entire families with career and college assistance. By doing so, “we break the cycle of poverty by ensuring that our parents and our members’ parents have access to resources so that they are able to secure higher-paying jobs and be able to provide for their family,” explained Patricia Siqueiros, Executive Director of the Variety Boys and Girls Club. The center also contains the club’s brand-new library where children can read books ranging from Dr. Seuss to literary classics such as the works of Jules Verne. Plans in the future include potentially forming a partnership with the University of Southern California to provide dental care for residents.

The film industry has begun giving back in many ways to ensure the health of their local communities. Outside the glamour and shine of Hollywood, many residents of Los Angeles still lack access to base necessities. The work done by Pat Gonzalez, Studio Movie Grill and others can only build a better future if every individual helps improve their communities whether it is in the form of monetary donations, donations of goods or volunteering. 

You can support the Variety Boys and Girls Club at http://vbgc.org/ and you can support the Variety Children’s Charity at https://varietysocal.org/.

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

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The Two Popes * Fascinating Topic, Filled with Humor and Great Performances

December 17th, 2019

Offers an intimate story of one of the most dramatic transitions of power in the last 2,000 years. Frustrated with the direction of the church, Cardinal Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) requests permission to retire in 2012 from Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins). Instead, facing scandal and self-doubt, the introspective Pope Benedict summons his harshest critic and future successor to Rome to reveal a secret that would shake the foundations of the Catholic Church. Behind Vatican walls, a struggle commences between both tradition and progress, guilt and forgiveness, as these two very different men confront their pasts in order to find common ground and forge a future for a billion followers around the world. Inspired by true events. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Katherine S. comments, “I love this movie. Even though the subject of this movie is based on a religious story, it is filled with humor, sport and a fascinating storyline. The acting is also magnificent and the best part of the movie.” See her full review below.

The Two Popes
By Katherine Schell, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 11

I love this movie. Even though the subject of this movie is based on a religious story, it is filled with humor, sport and a fascinating storyline. The acting is also magnificent and the best part of the movie.

The Two Popes is inspired by true events telling the story of Pope Benedict being elected following the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005 and Pope Francis being elected in 2013 when Pope Benedict resigned.  During this time, the Catholic Church is losing followers and is in the midst of various scandals.  Cardinal Bergoglio, who ultimately becomes Pope Francis, is one of Pope Benedict’s harshest critics as he is frustrated with the Catholic Church and wants to retire.  Pope Benedict invites Cardinal Bergoglio to Rome not to discuss his retirement, but to discuss other matters, including a scandal that the Catholic Church is facing that could ruin its stability.

I liked this movie a lot more than I thought I would and I learned a lot about the Papal election process. Even if you are not Catholic, you will still like it. The movie also uses real footage of some of the events.

Jonathan Pryce (Pope Francis) and Anthony Hopkins (Pope Benedict) are absolutely brilliant playing their parts.  As a bonus, they even look like the real life popes that they are playing. My favorite character is Pope Benedict because he slips a joke in whenever he can – even if the joke is not funny.

The message of The Two Popes is that it’s okay to have different opinions and if you work hard enough together you can find common ground. This movie has some bad language, some disturbing violent images and some discussion of child abuse.  It is rated PG-13.

I give this movie 5 out of 5 stars. I recommend this for ages 12 to 18, and adults will really like this movie. This movie is on Netflix December 20, 2019.

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Reflections on Infinity Festival 2019 By Gerry O.

November 16th, 2019

The 2019 Infinity Festival, celebrating “Story Advanced by Technology,” took place November 7 – 9th at Goya Studios in Hollywood, culminating with the 2019 IF Monolith Awards ceremony, presenting awards for technology and narrative arts to the best in the industry. Voted on by a body of professional peers, the Monolith Awards recognize excellent accomplishments in narrative arts and technology that showcase the concept of storytelling. These unique awards are prestigious in that they are given to companies and individuals that are paving the way in the ever evolving film and technology industries. The winners are innovative and have utilized new and futuristic technology to create content that can be experienced at a whole new level.

“Advancements in technology have enabled artists to tell their stories in new, exciting and often unexpected ways,” said Hanno Basse, Chairman, Infinity Festival. “The Infinity Festival Monolith Awards celebrate new versions of content enabled by technology and the inventions  that make them possible. Selected from a panel of their professional peers, these awards truly honor those who showcase the future of technology in storytelling and its incredible impact on how audiences will enjoy content. These awards are unique, because they recognize new ways of storytelling which may not fit into more traditional categories.”   See Gerry O.’s commentary below.

Reflections on Infinity Festival 2019 
By Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 17  

It seems what can be done with technology never ceases to stop changing as society continues to innovate. While the masses marvel at what becomes capable, the entertainment industry monitors on how to implement these new inventions into the art of storytelling, and the Infinity Festival showcased just that – the new possibilities in cinema.

Creators have been experimenting with the new format of virtual reality for several years now, with impressive results. Gloomy Eyes Vol. 2, an animated short film that can be seen on the HTC Vive feels nothing like a traditional film that can be watched in theaters but in its unique way, manages to tell a whole, well-designed story. Structured like a diorama, the animated film happens around the viewer in a series of scenes that carefully guide the viewer where and how to look. While the experience can still be improved, the immense detail and rich storytelling serve as an example that virtual reality movies can be made, in some capacity.

Simulated Reality showed an educational use of this technology with 7 Miracles which allows the user to travel back in time to ancient Jerusalem and experience the life of Jesus Christ. The experience, however, fails in its limited video quality –  in standard “flat” cinema, cameras have delivered crisp video since the 1960s; virtual reality, on the other hand, looks grainy and the user can see individual pixels, to the point where it distracts from the experience. Looking in the future however, the possibilities of physically traveling to historic faraway locations have profound educational opportunities. Students can travel to different planets to learn about our solar system, or to different wars in history. They can take tours of the Louvre for art class, or walk among a Viennese symphonic orchestra for music class.

Intel attempted yet another strategy for films in virtual reality. This experience combines virtual reality with a moving chair to create “virtual reality theaters,” which allow someone to both see and feel the digital world. In an experience set in the How to Train Your Dragon franchise, the viewer gets carried by a dragon through a beautiful and exciting adventure, but at the end one feels as if they experienced a carnival attraction that belongs in a theme park, not a film that belongs in a theater.

Outside of virtual reality, other technologies promise to help streamline the filmmaking process. Lenovo presented demos of their augmented reality headset, Think Reality, which attempts to use advanced glasses to project objects on walls around the user. In concept, this can be a beautiful tool for productions – the Assistant Director could have schedules and shot lists on their display. The Assistant Camera Operator could use augmented reality to help keep shots in focus. Yet, this technology exists in its infant stage today – the demo scarcely worked and, in a complicated environment like that of a film set, it would be far too unreliable due to the current dimness of the projections. 

In post-production, one technology keeps being referenced – machine learning. One concept called AuVive, part of the Immersive Media Challenge at the Entertainment Technology Center at USC, theorizes a system in which machine learning can scan a video and produce an auditory description for those with impaired vision. While the concept sounds like the work of science fiction, many aspects of the technology already exist today, most notably with Adobe VoCo that can synthesize human speech from very small samples.

As the boom of technology continues to amaze and dazzle, one must remember that each new advancement does not mean revolutionary change. While virtual reality has created a whole new sector of the entertainment industry, its capability in storytelling remains limited. Augmented reality exists in mere infancy and requires years of development to be anything close to usable for individuals. While the Infinity Festival may have presented the newest hallmarks in the entertainment industry, it also shows just how much more development is needed before these new advances surpass their status as exciting gimmicks.

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If the Dancer Dances * An Exquisitely Shot Film Honoring Merce Cunningham’s Choreography

October 25th, 2019

If The Dancer Dances invites viewers into the intimate world of the dance studio. Stephen Petronio, one of today’s leading dance-makers, is determined to help his dancers breathe new life into RainForest (1968), an iconic work by the legendary choreographer Merce Cunningham. With help from three members of the former Cunningham company, the film tracks Petronio’s dancers as they strive to re-stage this great work, revealing what it takes to keep a dance – and a legacy – alive. Timed to coincide with Cunningham’s centennial, If The Dancer Dances  is the first documentary on the subject of Cunningham’s work since his passing in 2009.

Merce Cunningham was an American dancer and choreographer who stood at the forefront of American modern dance for more than 60 years. As a choreographer, teacher, and leader of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Cunningham had a profound influence on modern dance and earned some of the highest honors bestowed in the arts, including the National Medal of Arts and the MacArthur ‘Genius’ Fellowship. Cunningham is also notable for his frequent collaborations with artists of other disciplines, including the musicians Radiohead and John Cage (also his life partner), as well as visual artists Andy Warhol, who did the décor for  RainForest, the dance featured in If the Dancer Dances, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg.

If the Dancer Dances
By Cynthia P., KIDS FIRST! Reviewer

If The Dancer Dances is an exquisitely shot film that brings the audience into the studio to watch the company members get interviewed and listen to their opinions and fears as we observe them at work. We observe the technically brilliant Petronio Company goof off, get engaged (which seems a bit staged), rehearse, giggle and crawl – nothing too interesting or special.

The film If The Dancer Dances, directed by Maia Wechsler, was created to document the rehearsal, choreographic reconstruction and performance of the dance RainForest with Petronio’s 30-year-old, New York-based contemporary dance company.

My favorite part which lifted me up from the predictability of the 86 minute film is when dancer / choreographer / company director Stephen Petronio reveals that his “dance parents,” Trisha Brown and Merce Cunningham, are no longer able to dance. Ms. Brown is ill and Merce has passed away. Stephen feels compelled to continue their work and decided to re-stage RainForest. He felt a need to “continue even more” and restage the legendary ballet RainForest on his own company with décor by Andy Warhol, costumes by Jasper Johns, music by David Tudor and, of course, the amazing choreography of Merce Cunningham – a quintessential collaboration by four of the greatest modern artists of their day. As most dancers who have studied modern art or dance, the sight of Warholian silver pillows floating on stage is a vivid image that one cannot shake. Despite the very grainy archival film of this dance, this work remains legendary.

Meg Harper, the Cunningham dancer who performed in the original work, discusses the challenges of setting the piece, her ups and downs with it, and the feelings that she experienced on stage. None of her issues are high stakes, surprising or new. In fact, they are blasé challenges that seem so weak compared to the power of just enjoying the ballet. Every single moment spent not watching the dancers dance seems like filler. It is sweet to hear dancers talk, but it feels as if the filmmakers tried to make it more interesting when actually, they don’t. The dancing in the studio is what elevates this film. I wanted to see exquisite movement shot, edited and presented well. Of course, we want to get to know the dancers, as it  makes the film more textured, but these efforts seem forced and makes so much of the film fall flat.

When former Cunningham dancers discuss Merce and his work, it starts to get a bit more interesting. When we watch Merce kindly teach from his wheelchair and view a dancer break down, thinking of the power he has over her, we get a glimpse of his intensity. I personally remember his feeble hands reaching out to shake mine and his warm lovely smile that was so engaging.

There are no stakes in this film that have excitement for me. Yes, we watch the amazing dancers learn phrases, laugh in rehearsal, make the movement their own and then perform the work at the Joyce Theatre. It doesn’t work for me and is disappointing. The performance just doesn’t have any urgency or excitement.

The archival footage of RainForest sizzled for me. This celebrated work that shaped dance for an eternity costumed the dancers in ripped leotards with holes. This motif is part of fashion today – 40 years later! Those moments just cannot be re-done. Merce asked his company to halt after his death in 2009 for this very reason.

As much as it is nice to see works re-imagined, this film about the process didn’t give me anything new. I’m afraid that I feel some works of art just need to stay asleep. Sweet dreams RainForest, we love you. However, for newcomers to the world of modern dance, dancers and audience members alike, this may well awaken a sense of history and place that they were unaware of previously. So, with that in mind, I can recommend this to teens ages 15 to 18 as well as adults and give it 3.5 stars out of 5. It is available on VOD Nov 12.

“The dance studio is a private and mysterious place. If The Dancer Dances grants us rare access, bringing us into the studio to watch the staging of a Merce Cunningham masterwork on the Stephen Petronio Company. It’s the tracking of this intimate process, a dance being passed one body to another, that makes this film a great gift.”  Mikhail Baryshnikov on If The Dancer Dances

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Volta – A Feast for the Senses

October 20th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 16th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 18th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Farewell – Everyone Can Relate To This Film in Some Way

July 3rd, 2019

A headstrong Chinese-American woman returns to China when her beloved grandmother is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Billi struggles with her family’s decision to keep grandma in the dark about her own illness as they all stage an impromptu wedding to see grandma one last time. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Jolleen M. comments, “This film rocked everyone’s emotions. Although there are multiple instances where the film is a bit slow, the overall emotional impact is great. There are moments of comedic relief throughout. I think that everyone can relate to this film in some way. I made connections with some of the ideas and scenes even though I am not Chinese.” See her full review below.

The Farewell
By Jolleen Mejia, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 14

This film rocked everyone’s emotions. Although there are multiple instances where the film is a bit slow, the overall emotional impact is great. There are moments of comedic relief throughout. I think that everyone can relate to this film in some way. I made connections with some of the ideas and scenes even though I am not Chinese.

The Farewell is about Billi and her family’s reunion in China. They reunite because their grandma has developed lung cancer and the doctor says she only has weeks to live. The family chooses not to tell Nai-Nai (grandma) that she has lung cancer. Instead, they tell her that they are reunited for a wedding. Billi’s family tells her that the reason for not telling Nai-Nai is that it’s not the cancer that kills, but the fear. The film is all about appreciating the time you have on earth and with your family. There are many moments of stillness, included watching the wind blow through the trees, for 30 seconds or more. I find this aspect of the film beautiful, as it reminds me of the phrase, “stop and smell the roses.” But others might interpret these moments as filler scenes and pointless.

Awkwafina, as Billie, is an exceptional actress. You can feel the emotion she conveys through the screen, even if she doesn’t say anything. For her role she needs to show the audience that she is deeply troubled, but also show that she tries to hide her feelings from her grandma. That is very difficult to do and she does it perfectly. Without this, the film would lose a lot of its emotional impact.

The music sets the mood very well for some scenes, but in others silence and black screens are  set the mood. Sometimes it’s the noise of nature, like the wind blowing through the leaves. Scenes like these are what makes the film divergent.

The message of this film is about being appreciative of all aspects of life. Billie begins to realize that while she spends time with her family in China. Every moment is a gift. I love that the film is quite simple yet it has such a powerful effect.

I give this film 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 11 to 18, as well as adults. There are innuendos, use of alcohol, cigarettes and some bad language. Despite this, the film will move you to tears so check it out! It comes out July 12, 2019 in theaters!

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Toy Story 4 Annie Potts Interviewed by Katherine S.

June 18th, 2019
Annie Potts (Anne Hampton Potts), and Katherine S., Toy Story 4

Anne Hampton Potts  is an American actress. She was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Corvette Summer(1978) and won a Genie Award for Heartaches (1981), before appearing in  GhostbustersPretty in PinkJumpin’ Jack FlashWho’s Harry Crumb? and Ghostbusters II. She also voiced Bo Peep in the Disney and Pixar animated films Toy StoryToy Story 2 and Toy Story 4.

Toy Story 4 is an American computer-animated comedy film produced by Pixar Animation Studios for Walt Disney Pictures as the fourth installment in Pixar’s Toy Story series, and the sequel to 2010’s Toy Story 3. Annie Potts stars as the voice of Bo Peep and is joined by the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Tony Hale, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Joan Cusack and more. Toy Story 4 will be theatrically released in the United States on June 21, 2019, in RealD 3D, Dolby Cinema, and IMAX.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Katherine S. attended a special Disney event in Orlando, FL June 7 and 8 where she got to screen the film and meet some of the talent. A highlight of the weekend was having the delightful opportunity to interview film star Annie Potts about her role in Toy Story 4! Here is what she learned.

KATHERINE: How was your preparation different for  Toy Story 4, compared to a live action movie?

ANNIE POTTS: In a normal movie, I get the chance to read the script ahead of time.  But for this movie we read the script at the studio and we never had the full script.  We normally record alone in the studio but this time I spent a lot of time with Tom Hanks in the studio recording our scenes.

KATHERINE:     That’s interesting. Do you change your voice when you play Bo Peep?  Can you give us an example?

ANNIE POTTS: Yes, I do change my voice a little bit.  I try to make it more “breathy,” like “Hi, Woody” and “Oh, Woody.”

KATHERINE: What is your favorite song from this movie?

ANNIE POTTS: “You Got a Friend in Me.”  It always makes me a little teary.

KATHERINE: Yes, I love that song too! What would you like people to take away from this film?

ANNIE POTTS: First, love is so important.  Second, you have to be able to move on in life.

Later at the Press Junket with Mark Nielson, Jonas Rivera, Josh Cooley, Christina Hendricks, Tim Allen, Keanu Reeves…

KATHERINE: It’s amazing that the first Toy Story movie came out 24 years ago and yet there are a core group of actors and characters that star in all the Toy Story movies.  This question is for all of you, what do you do to help make new actors and new characters feel like they belong?

JOSH COOLEY, DIRECTOR: That is a great question. With the new toys in this film, we looked at the toys we grew up and played with.  If you look at the original Toy Story some of those toys are more classic toys like Slinky and Mr. Potato Head.  So we went more to the 70s and 80s in terms of toys and then we just tried to figure out characters that weren’t there on the screen just to be characters, but actually helped the story move along and supported Woody as much as possible.  And overall, entertaining as well.  So it’s a great question because it’s really hard to do if you loved Toy Story already and then tried to introduce new characters and hope you like these characters just as much. Hopefully you do.

JONAS RIVERA, PRODUCER: You don’t do it just for the fun of it.  Gabby Gabby for example –  the story would not work without Gabby Gabby.  She’s an echo of Woody and we needed her to be this legit and real and truthful human character.  Same thing for Duke Caboom and Giggle and everybody new.  They’re not just for fun, although we love them, but this movie would not work without them.  And that’s kind of our metric.

Later at the Press Junket with Mark Nielson, Jonas Rivera, Josh Cooley, Annie Potts, Tom Hanks, Tony Hale

KATHERINE: For Mr. Tom Hanks, thank you for photo bombing me. 

TOM HANKS: Oh, you’re Katherine.  Stand up so I can see you.  Now was that actually, did I photo bomb you when you were presenting?  Sorry I photo bombed you. 

KATHERINE: (blushes) I just want to know if you think Woody and Bo Beep will get married because they are the cutest couple.

TOM HANKS: Awwhhhh.  Well… 

ANNIE POTTS:  Wait, this could be [Disney] talking points. 

TOM HANKS:  I will say that Woody has known since 1994 that Bo was the figurine for him.  He just always knew.  And let me check these talking points.  (Audience laughs) (Tom Hanks pulls out paper with Disney provided talking points) 

ANNIE POTTS: They’re getting harder and harder to find. 

TOM HANKS: (Reads from paper) Toy Story 4 reunites Woody and his long lost friend Bo Peep who’s become an adventure-seeking free spirit.  They discover that they are worlds apart when it comes to life as a toy and yet, they know that fate is an odd thing and there is no substitution for love in this crazy kooky confusing world.  “Come on gang!”

Here’s Katherine’s summary of her awesome visit to the event…

And here’s her review of Toy Story 4 which opens nationwide June 21, 2019.

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