Monday, May 29, 2017

Zen Dog

Take a trip of imagination and adventure in this vivid new indie feature from LA-based producer, director and writer Rick Darge.

The film centers around two friends, one who's life is enclosed and tormented by what one might call his limiting cognition, and the other a freethinker at a level that could be hazardous. Together, they spark a journey across wide open, American spaces, conveying freedom in a cinematically resplendent way while driving that thin line in the road between liberation and self-delusion. The lead character travels with the help of an exotic potion and a Volkswagen, but the film suggests that getting to a truly blissful place might require no more transportation devices than a will of mind and cognoscenti other than one's self.

There's a touch of surrealist painting in Darge's film, his first feature, as he unveils a kaleidoscope of sights, and with them, liberating truths, that lie beyond what the routine mind perceives. With periodic narration from British philosopher, writer, and speaker Alan Watts, whose background in theology and Asian Studies led him to cutting-edge ideas of mysticism and aesthetic fusion in the 1950s and 60s, the film also conveys a sense of intelligentsia, with Watts as both participant and otherworldly observer.

Zen Dog isn't a drug film or a pitch for LSD. It's something else, and that something else, lying just beyond the conscious mind yet paradoxically within your grasp, is what makes it so good. You can watch the trailer here (parental discretion advised): Zen Dog Trailer

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Surviving International Boulevard: Domestic Child Sex Trafficking

Witness the testimonies in this searing and profoundly heartbreaking documentary, and you'll know, if you didn't already. Child sex trafficking is a saddening reality in the United States, and brave activists in child advocate organizations such as MISSEY.org and S.H.A.D.E. Project are doing everything in their power to stop it.

The sight of a mother patrolling a dangerous, urban street at night to find her teenaged daughter, as you'll see in this film, is beyond description. The idea of young girls cruelly exploited by their so-called "boyfriends" is so raw, and so painful, that society might tend to look the other way instead of act, but director Sian Gowan puts these hard, bitter truths on film for all to see, making action a moral imperative.

An unflinching expose and a powerful cry for help, Surviving International Boulevard is aimed at rescuing vulnerable members of our society who are too young to understand their exploitation and who don't even have a voice.

To contribute and otherwise help this most worthwhile cause, please visit the Surviving International Boulevard website. You can watch the trailer here: Surviving International Boulevard Trailer

Sunday, May 21, 2017

D-Love

A couple with longstanding marital issues lands at LAX after a getaway in Europe. For a few years now, Stefania has been working a job she detests and Dan hasn't worked at all. Their palpable strain is only made worse when a vagabond, Ditlev Dharmakaya, asks for a ride to the busiest freeway in Los Angeles and Dan, much to his wife's horror, offers to take this total stranger home.

Ditlev is a ragamuffin in every sense of the word, and now that he's a third wheel, too, he has quite a challenge ahead of him because he's likely to be homeless again real soon. But Romanian-born director Elena Beuca has plenty in store for the childlike, wandering soul.

Although it's home to the only member of the Romance language family spoken in Eastern Europe, Romania's Slavic influences are manifest. It's not entirely surprising, then, that Beuca lends qualities to Ditlev reminiscent of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's characters Alyosha and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Prince Myshkin. That is, Ditlev is a pure spirit who acts as a conduit for something far beyond the material world. In further pursuit of this spiritual theme, Beuca also utilizes the motif of the wandering Buddha made famous in the West by German writer Hermann Hesse's 1922 novel, Siddhartha.

It's worth exploring such literary undertones to appreciate better what is less a dramatic film than a meditation on what is takes to banish conflict from your life and achieve nirvana. Fans of spiritual literature and grassroots independent film alike will find much to love in D-Love.

You can watch the trailer here: D-Love Trailer

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Reality Disorder

In this cheeky and high-spirited TV pilot, Nikki and Gerard, two struggling New York City producers, are desperate for a hit. Most of their rather humdrum options are likely to land them more rejection, and that is the last thing they need. They need something fresh. Something bold. Exciting—even risky, but with the potential to take off like wildfire.

They need it now, too, and in this urgent moment, only one, singular option shines through: build a reality show around Gerard's rich, playboy cousin. Their willing dupe readily agrees, and soon all parties are on the yellow brick road to stardom.

Enter the love interest. Even wealthy playboys can fall under the spell of a chaste stand-up comic, after all, and after this stunner enters the picture, there's no telling where this pilot is heading.

You can watch the trailer here: Reality Disorder Trailer

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Working Out the Kinks

After an upwardly mobile African American woman invites a clueless white girl from the suburbs to share a city apartment, her other roommates will have nothing of it and all mayhem ensues. This new media webisode with echoes of a '90s sitcom is laugh-out-loud hilarious while probing material that in lesser hands might come across as mean and decidedly not funny in today's hypersensitive culture.

Working Out the Kinks hits its mark with terrific writing, zany characters and a wildly risk-taking yet deftly controlled spirit. Props to producer and writer J. Nycole Ralph, director and editor William Alexander Runnels and producer Artesia Balthrop for their fine work. Watch this episode and you'll be hooked!

You can check out the trailer here: Working Out the Kinks Trailer

Wash Up

Many young people dream of making it big in the world of sport, but few have the chops to succeed. What happens when you lend your body, mind and soul to the dream only to fail? Pushing hard in a realm where performance counts above the myriad factors that would help you advance elsewhere, athletes often face an unsettling truth: they weren't born to do this. No matter how hard they try, the cards are stacked against them; they never even had a chance.

When this happens, the one person who brought you into this world, your mom, may be your only backstop, but she is also the last person on earth you'd want to look in the eye and tell you're a failure. Such is the layered and textured drama behind Wash Up, a thoroughly Canadian film with a heart of gold that will lift you up as much as it tears you to pieces.

Lead character Mason O'Brien, superbly played by Allan Yates, has just the downcast eyes and broken spirit one would expect from someone tossed out of the minors, but he still has plenty of fight in him. Actress Jennifer Redford delivers an MVP performance as Mason's strong and deeply perceptive mother, Jo, who would be the most steadfast winger the young man could have if only he would look towards her.

This is a touching film, and with the sublime Canadian outdoors as a backdrop and a concomitant score, it's somehow enchanting, too, in a manner unlike the sweat and drama of professional sport. Wash Up will resonate with any ambitious person who has fallen on hard times, because it offers a glimpse into how you can be a loser in competition yet a champion in life.

You can watch the trailer here: Wash Up Trailer

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Hobbyist

Based on the 1961 short story by Frederic Brown, this chilling neo-noire thriller centers around a clever druggist with a reputation that has brought him various characters, but most notably those with dark intentions. 

The tale features one such character, Sangstrom, a seemingly ordinary man who comes to the druggist to request an untraceable poison, but finds out the hard way that murder will change him in ways he did not expect. 

The Hobbyist is a short film that packs a big punch, blending the perfect mix of creepy and pleasing to match its dark yet purposeful message. With cinematically beautiful shots and a soundtrack that will keep you on the edge of your seat, The Hobbyist sets up a world in which morality can shine in even the darkest of places, and right and wrong can be taught in the most peculiar of ways.



You can watch the trailer here: The Hobbyist Trailer

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Hilleman -- A Perilous Quest to Save the World's Children

Born into poverty on the eastern plains of Montana, Maurice R. Hilleman began his life in obscurity before spending many, highly productive years immersed in sedulous research. Few people recognize his name, yet he is one the most important scientists in human history. It's likely you owe him a debt, if not for saving your life, then for saving the lives of people you care about.

Hilleman developed more than half of the vaccines children receive today. He prevented pandemic influenza at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, he developed the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and the first vaccine against cancer. He tackled chickenpox, hepatitis A and B, meningitis and more. American biomedical researcher Robert Gallo, who played a key role in discovering the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and the HIV blood test, called Hilleman "the most successful vaccinologist in history."

By many accounts, the eponymous subject of this film was an irascible man, but he was also a deeply caring and ethical one who showed an eager willingness to pull drugs from the market if they posed troublesome and unknown health risks. He thrived in an era when the public and medical establishment cooperated in an environment of mutual respect and trust. Nowadays, layman opinions are often formed individually after Google searching a world wide web where any and all sides of a debate are presented in unsifted search result lists. The current way we process information makes it difficult to gain facts, context and perspective when making personal and public health decisions. Members of the medical establishment often feel they're squaring off against New Agey pseudoscience in the public square. Questions of personal choice and freedom versus the public good arise. Powerful testimonies of adverse reactions to vaccines are presented without the support of meticulous research, leaving many people confused or highly opinionated. In this toxic environment, parties to the vaccine debate can harden and refuse to listen. As a learned friend of mine once put it, we've gone from "'it's right because God says so,' to 'it's right no matter what the opinion is because all truth is relative,' to 'only my way is right because I say so.'"

This superb documentary puts such debates in the context of a much wider truth: a child in the industrialized world today has a far better chance of surviving childhood than kids ever had when all food was organic but the closest thing to a hospital was a small town doctor visiting a sick person's bedside. No one wants to be given a shot, but thank goodness we have them. New frontiers of science offer hope for drugs that better match one's DNA, but in the meantime, director Donald Mitchell and his team gravely caution us against returning to the days of polio epidemics.

It's a crying shame that such a great man remains obscure. This film helps fix that problem, too. You can watch the trailer here: Hilleman Trailer

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Extra Cheese Please

When Annie throws a surprise birthday party for an exchange student friend, hardly anyone shows up. The friends who do are, well, rather odd and dull. The fun activities Annie had planned are, shall we say, a little weird...but well-intentioned. No one really finger paints past preschool anymore, but she really tried to make things fun. Things are so mucked up, Annie might as well have burned the birthday cake, too.

Yes, Annie feels crushed. Drained. Abandoned. Lost. Then out of nowhere, a minstrel shows up in the form of a pizza delivery guy who speaks in wordplay galore, and although he's an utter fool, he sure can strum a guitar. Suddenly, somehow, hey! Annie has a party!

If you've ever thrown a party and felt stood up, or if you've ever burned the entree at your holiday extravaganza, you know that withering feeling. Filmmaker Teresa Dabback oven baked these moments into her student film with a recipe that includes colorful cinematography, engaging characters and a pinch of Shakespearean farce.

It's all quite tasty, proving once again that comedy is often best delivered extra cheesy. You can watch the trailer here: Extra Cheese Please Trailer

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Dogs of Democracy

Dogs are cherished members of the community in many parts of the world, but in the cradle of western civilization, Athens, humankind's canine friends have achieved a status heretofore unimaginable.

Pro-democracy protestor.

The story of how this shift in perception took place is gloriously captured in Dogs of Democracy, a documentary by Australian director Mary Zournazi. Beautiful strays like Loukanikos, pictured to the right, have become newfound symbols of hope amidst social unrest. Of course, no one is suggesting that dogs are leading intellectuals in the protests against austerity measures and foreign interference in domestic affairs, but dogs do show an understanding of square offs with police and the need to protect something dear from overwhelming, blunt force.

Witness the bravery of Loukanikos and others as they march to the front lines of protests, risking life and limb for their own, relatable, values. You can watch the trailer here: Dogs of Democracy Trailer

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

An Undeniable Voice

The Holocaust.

So much has been said and written about this most horrific time in human history, and the words must continue until the end of time, because no matter how much is said, the enormity and utter insanity of the era cannot be adequately conveyed by words. And the evidence of Nazi atrocities must be presented, ever again, to ward off future generations from another monstrous path.

Philanthropist, activist and actress Sharon Stone operates from these substrata in An Undeniable Voice, a fine and moving short documentary. As she interviews Holocaust survivor Sam Harris, who recounts one strange, devastating story after another, she doesn't inject her own words. Instead, she listens. As photographic evidence of Harris's memories pour across the screen in overwhelming fashion, and as Harris conveys his memories with crystalline clarity, she is moved.

You will be, too, if you watch this undeniably great film.

The trailer contains upsetting images, so please follow this link to the film's website, where you can watch the preview at your own discretion: An Undeniable Voice

Friday, April 21, 2017

Generation Hope

This gorgeous short documentary celebrates and promotes Mary's Meals, a top-notch organization that feeds schoolchildren in fourteen countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. Filmed in Malawi, Haiti and India, Generation Hope demonstrates the impact a charity will have when its mission is clear and passionately delivered.

The radiance of the people served by this UK-based organization is tear-inducing, and you can help because Mary's Meals offers many ways to get involved. If you want to get your feet wet first, you can also watch this film and/or join them on Facebook and Twitter

Witness something special today by watching the trailer here: Generation Hope Trailer

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Bunnie

New Hope Film Festival alumnus Steve Besserman first demonstrated his eye for compelling biographies when he released Only a Number, an award-winning documentary about his Holocaust surviving parents. The film enjoyed a successful run after its screening in New Hope, including airtime on PBS Thirteen. Besserman furthers the biographical side of his filmography with Bunnie, an inspiring film about soon-to-be centenarian Bruna Bellotti, a true Jersey girl not only for her Long Beach residence but also for her pluck.

Bunnie, as we're allowed to call her, endured the Great Depression, a broken hip, the loss of her World War II veteran husband to cancer, and the many slings and arrows of a long, assiduous life to lend the world her story on the cusp of turning 100. Having performed a strip tease act for AARP and church group audiences in her nineties, Bunnie is no stranger to the spotlight. This 23-minute short documentary captures her vitality and spirit, offering a century-long perspective on girl power and the meaning of perseverance.

You can watch the trailer here: Bunnie Trailer

Monday, April 17, 2017

Landed


In this fun modern day movie musical, a boy from South Africa and a girl from Sweden separately arrive in New York City, each with their own purpose, where in just their first twelve hours, they must both navigate the strange new city and, with the help of new friends, find themselves along the way.

A New York Film Academy original movie musical, this charming and whimsical musical features Broadway's James Monroe Iglehart, as well as a catchy original music score that explores the glittery appeal of New York and the hardships of being in an unfamiliar environment, all while crafting a tale of culture, diversity, and friendship. 



You can watch the trailer here: LANDED Trailer



Thursday, April 13, 2017

Beyond the Bombs


When three cool musicians in Tehran decided to launch a metal band, they knew the authorities would have no quarrels with the venture as long as the band kept its activities in a basement. Anxious to save their electric guitars and other equipment from confiscation, the band dutifully complied with the rules of their land—for a time.

As their playing gelled and their aspirations widened to include live gigs and an album release, they decided they had only one option, and it was a challenging one for Iranians: they must go to America. They already had a contact in LA, and with little else but a burning passion for their music, they headed west through Turkey with no idea how their story would end.

Despite the ease and charm of its characters, Beyond the Bombs is a cliffhanger of a documentary. You can watch the trailer here (parental guidance suggested for smoking): Beyond the Bombs Trailer

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Beautiful Dreamer

Sci-fi films are often characterized by spectacular special effects and epic narratives, so it's interesting when a filmmaker decides to zoom in close and reveal characters on a microcosmic scale. Director David Gaddie and writer Steven Kelleher have done so with Beautiful Dreamer, a visually captivating yet character-driven story about a terminally ill mother who uses time travel to be there for her daughter throughout her daughter's life.

Although the film showcases imaginative technology, the emphasis is on how people use inventions to better their lives as opposed to celebrating the future for its own sake, a refreshing antidote to modernity's relentless push. Intimate, soft and low-key, Beautiful Dreamer offers an opportunity to reflect on your own relationships through a story that is both timeless and earth-shattering.

You can watch the trailer here: Beautiful Dreamer Trailer

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Hatchet Hour

In her directorial debut, South African filmmaker Judy Naidoo combines a Machiavellian villainess with ultramodern style to deliver a thriller that is aesthetically pleasing yet chilling. The contrast between what is seen and what is felt mirrors the surfacy beauty and inner machinations of lead character Isabelle Sudlow (Erica Wessels), who uses her loyal to a fault best friend, Jade Mokhachane (Petronella Tsdhuma), in a cold-blooded plot to cover up a deadly mistake.

Sudlow, a high-flying attorney, knows how to play the game. There remains only one problem: once you have woven a crafty web of lies, how do you unstick yourself from it?

You can watch the trailer here: Hatchet Hour Trailer


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

25 Tracks

What do you get when you combine two talented songwriters, a woman whose influences include The Sound of Music and a man who warms up by riffing Black Sabbath on his guitar, and set them inside a 1957 rail car with the ambitious goal of writing, recording and releasing a new song every two weeks for a year?

25 Tracks, an uber-hip, foot-stomping documentary from the industrial west of Melbourne, Australia's music capital. Produced and directed by Fiona Cochrane, this uptempo film offers a great variety of musical flavors and heaps of insight into the songwriting process. Musicians and music fans alike will find much to admire here.

True indie musicians at heart, songwriters Cath Sheahan and Nick Larkins are unencumbered by the pressure of a record label, freeing them to follow their muses and create great music for music's sake.

And they do.

You can watch the trailer here: 25 Tracks Trailer

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Mazurkas

Local Bucks County artist Marty Krzywonos cites a long history of performances, beginning with his 8-year-old boy recreations of West Side Story that included leaps off his parents' sofa, and this film continues in that energetic history because, as a first feature, it is a risky and bold leap. But that is about where the similarities between his early life as a producer and his current one end, because Mazurkas is a mature and serious work.

The story centers around elderly widower Sydney Flanders, who is convincingly played by auteur Krzywonos himself. A semi-retired piano teacher who gives private lessons in his own home, Flanders is a lonely man who has little to keep him going except his memories, which torment his soul, and his creative works—and the latter are amazing. Yellow Rose Mazurka, his magnum opus, is a work of ethereal, neoclassical genius, putting Krzywonos's under-appreciated talents on full display with depths of feeling and melodic complexity reminiscent of Beethoven. Watch the trailer for a sample.

The musical score of Mazurkas is astonishing, but credit is also due for the film's true to life portrayal of an aging man who lives under the weight of his sins. How can he possibly lift these burdens as his life slips and slides away? His former and beloved wife, who is now deceased, was a promising concert pianist until he sabotaged her career to serve his jealousy and male insecurity, and to add gasoline to the fire, he lives with full awareness of how far he let his own life crumble. The life of a solo performer is unique, and when placed in a committed relationship, such pyrotechnics can and do arise.

You can watch the trailer here: Mazurkas Trailer