Thursday, June 21, 2018

East Side Hero

The problem of gang violence in urban America is widely recognized, but adequate solutions for ending it have remained elusive. California filmmaker Daniel Osorio has cooked up a novel approach to reaching the people most at risk—the gang kids themselves—in East Side Hero, a social conscience film with a clearly stated mission of disrupting the generational cycle of violence among Latino communities in Northern California.

The film serves as a tool for teaching more positive decision-making skills, and I have no doubt this dramatic, true to life production will relate its ideas to youngsters in a way that lectures and dictates from adults will never quite achieve.

Osorio deserves an A+ for leading underserved young people in the right direction. You can watch the trailer here (parental discretion is advised): East Side Hero Trailer

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Leaving Malcolm


In this touching and insightful student film, Malcolm Peters is a father struggling to correct the neglect he experienced as a child by being a better father for his own son. And the plan isn't working. His boy is transfixed on an imaginary friend, a spiritual barrier between father and son who engenders heated discussions between Malcolm and his wife. The family wants to connect but something unseen and unheard is standing in the way.

Student filmmaker Lucas Ruderman, who recently earned a Film Directing degree at Manhattanville College, co-wrote the script with his own mother, a detail that underscores the verisimilitude of his art. Set at Christmastime, the film maintains a dimly lit, spiritual feel throughout, and anyone who has dealt with family members who cannot click should find this film both familiar and immersive.

You can watch the trailer here: Leaving Malcolm Trailer

Monday, June 18, 2018

Anna

Anna is scraping by in New York to rid herself of a hard upbringing in communist Czechoslovakia. Working two menial jobs and relatively uneducated, the young woman faces precarious circumstances that worry her mother sick. Mom pleads with her to come home, but her grandfather's grinding experience under Soviet rule produces the opposite advice. He insists she should stay and get an education; it's the only way out.

She would do just that, too, but she has an additional hurdle to overcome. She needs to prove she's in the United States legally, and that is suddenly her biggest problem of all. Now she has two days either to firm up her paperwork or fly home to her mother.

Stories like Anna's are not uncommon in an era of inexpensive flights, rapidly improving technology and global economic expansion. The world is racing ahead at an exponential rate, fostering a dynamic whereby many people feel compelled to seek better opportunities abroad while others question how such migration should take place and at what pace. Anna is a good person in a tough situation, and there may be no clear answer for her in the short term.

This student film by Petra Priborska strikes a sympathetic chord on an intimate and humanitarian level. You can watch the trailer here: Anna Trailer

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Fortune Defies Death

When the wealthy Woods family gathers at a cabin resort to hear the last will and testament of their ten-years-deceased patriarch, everyone is fighting for a share of the fortune. There is a scent of death in the air, too, and the lawyer charged with reading the will wants answers. The late George Woods's beloved, adopted daughter went missing a decade ago, compelling the estate to delay the reading of the will on the outside chance she would reemerge.

She did not. Now everyone in the family is suspected of murder. For excellent reason, too, when one of them is found dead at the resort. Who did it, and who will be next? With a greedy sister, two ambitious nephews, Woods's mistress, his missing daughter's husband and amnesiac granddaughter and an eccentric niece all in the mix—and none of them particularly like each other—the stage is set for an explosive revelation.

Director and writer Jennifer Hulum envisions a dizzying labyrinth in Fortune Defies Death, a film that requires intense concentration and focus to appreciate to its fullest. The players are smart, and treacherous, and often dangerous. And someone, somewhere, might slip up if the shrewd, old attorney gets his way.

You can watch the trailer here: Fortune Defies Death

Monday, June 4, 2018

The Doctor's Case

The Doctor's Case is a devilishly clever murder mystery that features British writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic characters Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Initially set in September 1940 when Watson is 87 years old, the story recounts a time when the detective duo needed to change roles in order to solve a particularly complex crime—a strange set of circumstances that threatened to drag Watson and Holmes themselves into the abyss.

A collaboration of many fine Canadian filmmakers, including co-directors James Douglas and Leonard Pearl, this nearly feature-length production hits all the right acrid and downright frightening notes for the genre. Based on a short story by Stephen King, the script is complex enough to evoke the experience of reading a good, old fashioned book, the kind that lends itself to a fireside read and a long, unnerving return to your darkened bedchamber.

You can watch the trailer here: The Doctor's Case Trailer

Friday, May 25, 2018

We Are Columbine

On April 20, 1999, Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colorado experienced one of the most deadly school shootings in United States history. The incident shocked a country that could scarcely imagine the epidemic of teen violence it foreshadowed.

Filmmaker Laura Farber, a freelance producer with an impressive client roster that includes MSNBC, TLC, The Weather Channel, Discovery Channel, Discovery Health and History Channel, was one of the freshman students on that tragic day, and she has applied the full force of her experience in this jaw-dropping portrayal of what is was like to be one of those most unfortunate kids.

She tells her story through the voices of classmates and high school staff, and their collective trust is pivotal in making this such a staggering and insightful film. The former students are sometimes overwhelmed with emotion upon revisiting the school, as evidenced in the photo above, and you will be suitably moved.

You can watch the trailer here: We Are Columbine Trailer

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Reconnected

A suburban professional devastates his family when he's caught cheating on his wife, but reconciliation will not be easy when his mother-in-law clearly sees the bad side of him. The elder lady Gloria, superbly played by Hollywood stalwart Barbara Bain, and troubled Bob, played by Robert Kerbeck, an award-winning author and actor who also happens to be a scion of Philadelphia's prominent Kerbeck family, square off in a high-stakes scene that leads to grave consequences.

And no clear answers. Now Mother is dead, Bob's wife Deb seems to accept his story, and a shadow of death looms over the family's future. A project of Tica Productions, this film was directed by S.J. Main and co-produced by Derek Classen.

You can watch the trailer here: Reconnected Teaser Trailer

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

At the End of the Day

After losing his wife and counseling practice, the only thing 32-year-old Dave Hopper has going for him is a part-time professorship at a conservative Christian college. His future looks bright for the first time in too long, but when the ambitious college dean asks him to infiltrate a gay support group to stop their plans for building an LGBTQ homeless shelter on land the college wants for expansion, Hopper finds himself torn between universal love and the more qualified love taught at the school. "Love the sinner, hate the sin" is the college's official attitude towards homosexuality, but when Hopper witnesses the wealth of love and compassion shared within the LGBTQ group, his belief system begins to crumble.

Filmmaker Kevin O'Brien knows a thing or two about this subject because he grew up in an evangelical family and attended a conservative Christian university, but like his protagonist Dave Hopper, O'Brien witnessed attitudes and behaviors towards the gay community that struck him as ugly, ignorant and just plain wrong, so he created this film to expose the many harms done and incite change.

This is a hard-hitting story told by a filmmaker whose righteous anger is manifest. You can watch the trailer here: At the End of the Day Trailer

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Two Balloons

Two Balloons is a throughly enchanting and heartwarming animated short about two lemurs who sail dirigibles around the world to meet under a moonlit sky. The artistry behind this highly collaborative project will take your breath away, which helps to explain the film's sweeping success on the festival circuit.

Filmmaker Mark Smith knows something about traveling on wind currents because his wife and he are avid sailors. A journey to Grenada helped inspire this film when the Smith couple witnessed an unearthly funnel cloud that "looked a thousand feet high." Their shared husband and wife experience is evident in the embraces of the two lemurs, creatures who evoke oceans of depth on matters of love.

You can watch the trailer here: Two Balloons Trailer

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Red Lotus

Co-produced by Paula Rossman and Shara Ashley Zeiger and directed by Jessica Alexandra Green, this disturbing story imagines a not-too-distant future where Roe vs. Wade has been overturned and women who are determined to have abortions are forced back into underground medical clinics. A female eye film that easily passes the Bechtel-Wallace test, The Red Lotus doesn't shrink from the eeriness of the circumstances—made even more so by the flaky exuberance of the clinic's supervisor.

A film like this one will get different reactions from an audience, and by dint of its nuance, The Red Lotus provides plenty of room for such interpretation. At the same time, the filmmakers make the tragedy of turning a healthful yoga retreat into a place where women abort their pregnancies, and the impact this place might have on otherwise law-abiding women, abundantly clear.

You can watch the trailer here: The Red Lotus Trailer

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Dirty Laundry

Distraught by the loss of their grandmother, two cousins resolved to ride their bikes across the continental United States to explore the cause of her unexpected passing: mesothelioma. Through interviews and research they uncovered a trail of corporate denial, shady politics, shallow value judgments and broken communities. The story of asbestos—its benefits as a building material and the unacceptable costs borne by people exposed to its dust—is a dark and tragic one. For years, those who knew the human costs refused to warn the public, workers and anyone else at risk about the dangers of exposure.

Co-producers and bikers extraordinaire Conor Lewis and Zack Johnson have created a powerful, informative documentary in Dirty Laundry. Like the mountains they climbed in the American West, the forces of profit, ignorance and plain, old-fashioned obstinance were intractable barriers for many victims of this cancer, but to their immense credit, Lewis and Johnson crossed those mountains and now have quite the story to share.

You can watch the trailer here: Dirty Laundry Trailer

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Clemente

Based on the inspiring yet tragic story of 20th century Major League Baseball star Roberto Clemente, this dramatic feature existed only as a script when it won accolades from Austin Film Festival and the Best Period Script award at the 2017 New Hope Film Festival. Ian Eugene Ryan, who is attached to the film as Clemente, created this work with co-writer Joseph Loizzi as a way to honor an historical figure and shed light on the plight of men of color in professional sport.

As many baseball fans know, Clemente was far more than a ball player, having devoted impressive time to charity work, including relief efforts involving a devastating earthquake in Managua, Nicaragua. Ryan and Loizzi captured the essence of the man in their superb writing—Clemente's intensity and focus both on and off the field, but also a charming, almost childlike innocence and goodness of heart. The two traits combined to make him a dangerous weapon on the field and a remarkable force for healing off of it. 

Ian Ryan plays the role of Clemente in the teaser they shot to raise awareness for the project, and what a performance he delivers—the verisimilitude is striking, down to every nuance and quirk. Beautifully directed by New Hope Film Festival's Director of Submissions Thom Michael Mulligan, the trailer demonstrates with all heart and soul why this film should be made and why Ryan should play the lead.

Sometimes indie filmmakers knock one right out of the park. You can watch the trailer here: Clemente Teaser

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Angels of the Sky

World War II pilots of the 8th Air Force were revered for their toughness and fierce dedication. If they weren't fatally shot or sent careening down to Earth in a ball of flames, they might make it back to base and live another day—maybe. Or they might, if they were half-lucky, get captured by the Germans and spend the rest of the war in a POW camp.

Angels of the Sky features intimate interviews of airmen who were shot down over German lines and taken prisoner. Now well into their senior years, they pry open their pasts, describing frightening experiences and documenting an historically pivotal era that is fading away at the rate of 750 veterans per day. Filmmaker Trent McGee dreamed up the idea for his film in 2011, feeling a sense of urgency about getting these stories on film before they could no longer be told.

Inspiring in the courage it portrays and revealing in the complexities it uncovers, Angels of the Sky is a must-see for history buffs or anyone who loves to learn about people whose experiences are unlike their own. McGee's interviewees are grizzled and wise, traits no doubt enhanced through many wartime terrors. You can watch the trailer here: Angels of the Sky Trailer