Saturday, June 30, 2018

Quakers: The Quiet Revolutionaries

The roots of Quakerism stretch back to mid-17th century England, but the Religious Society of Friends has remained vibrant and influential throughout modern times. A central feature of the Protestant denomination since George Fox founded it in the wake of the English Civil War (1642 - 1651) is activism—and a concomitant passion for shaking the halls of power over matters of injustice. This history explains why so many leaders in areas ranging from abolition to women's suffrage to civil rights and the environment have arisen from or been inspired by Quaker congregations and ideals.

In this probing documentary, filmmaker Janet P. Gardner combines Ken Burns style archival imagery with "captured in the moment" footage, underscoring the combined sophistication and day-to-day relevance of Friends Church, a movement that is rooted in principles yet constantly evolving.

The film is also critical, citing transgressions by Quaker political leaders and lamenting the Quaker approach to desegregation in the 1960s and 70s. Yet the legacy of progress and achievement overshadows these concerns as Gardner paints an overall picture of relevance and high social value.

You can watch the trailer here: Quakers: The Quiet Revolutionaries Trailer

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

An Unknown Country

This beautifully produced film tells the story of European Jews who narrowly escaped Nazi atrocities by emigrating to Ecuador. Many of these refugees stayed in their new homeland to assimilate, build lives and contribute to the long-term prosperity of the nation, while others furthered their journeys to the United States, where they found opportunities more consistent with their educated, European backgrounds. The film documents the fates of many members of this group with impressive care and detail.

Writer/Director Eva Zelig, an award-winning filmmaker whose work has appeared on PBS, The Learning Channel, New York Times TV, ABC, National Geographic and Consumer Reports, already had familiarity with her topic going into this project because her parents were among the exiles depicted in the documentary. However, Zelig goes far beyond firsthand knowledge by incorporating interviews, archival studies, and other forms of meticulous research.

Anyone interested in this period of history, the peoples depicted and the cultures explored will find An Unknown Country rich and immersive. You can watch the trailer here: An Unknown Country Trailer

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 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 danger 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 probably 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