Cancer runs rampant in my family gene pool and ovarian cancer is what ultimately claimed the life of my grandmother in the early70's, shortly after her 50th birthday. The preventative meds and treatments available today did not exists then. If they had, my grandmother and so many of my relatives who succumbed to cancer might still be here.Read More
Sundance 2015 was full of worthy documentaries to screen. I caught three of them, Listen to Me Marlon, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of a Revolution and Larry Kramer: In Anger & Love. However, here is a brief synopsis of those and some others that had a lot of people buzzing while I was in Park City...
WHAT HAPPENED, MISS SIMONE?
Directed by Liz Garbus and making its debut at Sundance before premiering later this year on Netflix was What Happened, Miss Simone. Garbus sensitively explores the constant state of opposition that trapped and tortured Simone—as a classical pianist pigeonholed in jazz, as a professional boxed in by family life, as a black woman in racist America—and in so doing, reveals a towering figure transcending categorization and her times. The film stays true to Simone's subjectivity by mining never-before-heard tapes, rare archival footage, and interviews with close friends and family. Charting Simone’s musical inventiveness alongside the arc of her Jim Crow childhood, defining role in the Civil Rights Movement, arrival at Carnegie Hall, self-imposed exile in Liberia, and solitary life in France, this astonishingly intimate yet epic portrait becomes a non-fiction musical—lush tracks and riveting story resonating inextricably.
There were two prolific nights featuring the music of Miss Simone. After the premiere screening, John Legend performed his version of "Please, Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood". Footage is courtesy of J. Adler.
Later on in the week, Common, Erykah Badu, Aloe Blacc other stellar artists took the stage for yet another musical tribute. Here are some of those highlights...
LARRY KRAMER: IN LOVE & ANGER
While at Howard University completing my degree in Broadcast Production, I decided to run for Miss America. Of course, you have to win a local and then the state title in order to do so. I called Atlantic City, got the info of where to compete in Maryland and ran for a local. I won and was elated to have to opportunity to run for Miss Maryland and if I were lucky move on to Miss America.
During those days talent and interview made up more than 70% of your total judging score. Rock Hudson had just died from A.I.D.S. and America was in a panic, as they associated this dreadful disease with only being related to the gay community. Having lost two family members and a multitude of friends in the theatre community to this dreadful disease, my emotions were very raw when it came to this subject. Remembering it like it was yesterday, my interview was all fun and games until one of the judges presented me with this question, "Do you think A.I.D.S testing should be voluntary or mandatory?' I couldn't believe someone would even contemplate such a thing.
Needless to say, I responded, "AIDS does not discriminate. It doesn't care if you are black, white, rich or poor. It is a disease like any other and strikes at any given time...I don't recall anyone ever asking if there should be voluntary or mandatory testing for polio or cancer". I'm pretty sure that answer did me in and I never made it to Atlantic City. However, I stood up for what I believed and my opinion was based on the facts not rumors. My Mom was a registered nurse and made sure that I was educated properly on this issue, because like I said...I had family members and friends taken out by full blown A.I.D.S or HIV.
Si, it suffices to say, when I read about a documentary being screened at Sundance on Larry Kramer, it was a necessity for me to attend.
Larry Kramer - In Love & Anger is the story of how one person said NO! Using that two letter word is how you start a movement and how you change the world. Kramer, affectionately known as the worlds's "Angriest AIDS Activist" was Yale educated and started out with a job finding projects for Columbia Pictures to produce. Some of those projects include such iconic films "Suddenly Last Summer". It didn't take long for Kramer to catch on producing a film called "Women In Love", which is notoriously known for a naked wrestling scene in front of a fireplace that ironically earned him an Oscar nomination.
Kramer had many accomplishments along his journey writing many books and plays. The Normal Heart opened on Broadway in 1985 and was made into a television film for HBO that garnered nominations for its stars Mark Ruffalo and Julia Roberts.
His anger over gay rights and discrimination leading to the delay of the AIDS cocktail, that ultimately saved millions of lives led to the birth of organizations like The Gay Men's Health Crisis and ACT UP! His tenacity paid off when after year of berating the FDA the cocktail was made public and saved many lives including his own.
The film is set to be released on HBO in June just in time for Kramer's Birthday in June 2015. I don't have a clip of the trailer yet, but here is speech Kramer gave in 1993 and it will give you the essence of this passionate, brave soul...
THE BLACK PANTHERS: Vanguard of the Revolution
I don't know about you, but I wholeheartedly associated the The Black Panther Party with varying images of Huey P. Newton from eh 60's. My knowledge about them, what they stood for, how they came into existence was limited at best until I attended a screening at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival in Park City.
What I learned is that 50 years later, there is very little progress in the civil rights movement for citizens of the U.S. With incidents happening in New York, LA and in Ferguson (located in the suburbs of my hometown - St. Louis), it feels as though all the lives lost to make way for a better way of living have been for what?????
Director, Stanley Nelson declared that he had "always been interested in the Black Panther Party...I was 15 years old when they started and I thought they had swagger." It is Nelson and producer Laurens Grant's wish that the film m will be used to educate young people when it premieres a year from now on PBS (although they are shooting for a limited theatrical release in fall of 2015). Having just completed editing of the doc Monday, January 19th, it was seven years in the making and sheds the light on the reality vs the myth of the Black Panther Party, its members and its goals.
We were treated to a Q&A with the wife of BPP member Eldridge Cleaver - Kathleen Cleaver. She's a tough cookie and still adheres to the code by which she and the BPP lived so many years ago, but is very clear about what that code is (I AM A REVOLUTIONARY) and why it was and still is important in the 21st century.
Even though many members like Elaine Brown, David Hilliard, Jamal Joseph, Jim Dunbar, Willian Calhoun, Roland Freeman, Kathleen Cleaver and others were interviewed, there was a noticeable absence of Bobby Seale (who is still living in the Bay Area). It was understood that Seale may be holding out to tell his own version of the BPP story, how it unfolded and reached its demise.
To date, there are still 20 members of the Black Panther Party incarcerated. The party met its untimely demise when Newton and Cleaver had differences of opinion on how the party should continue, meddling to tear the party apart from the inside out by Herbert Hoover and the CIA and the shift in responsibility from Newton from community to drugs.
Although there is no trailer available at this time, here is an interview with the Director Stanley Nelson
With funky, fat-laced Adidas, Kangol hats, and Cazal shades, a totally original look was born—Fresh—and it came from the black and brown side of town where another cultural force was revving up in the streets to take the world by storm. Hip-hop, and its aspirational relationship to fashion, would become such a force on the market that Tommy Hilfiger, in an effort to associate their brand with the cultural swell, would drive through the streets and hand out free clothing to kids on the corner.
Fresh Dressed is a fascinating, fun-to-watch chronicle of hip-hop, urban fashion, and the hustle that brought oversized pants and graffiti-drenched jackets from Orchard Street to high fashion's catwalks and Middle America shopping malls. Reaching deep to Southern plantation culture, the black church, and Little Richard, director Sacha Jenkins' music-drenched history draws from a rich mix of archival materials and in-depth interviews with rappers, designers, and other industry insiders, such as Pharrell Williams, Damon Dash, Karl Kani, Kanye West, Nas Jones, and Andre Leon Talley. The result is a passionate telling of how the reach for freedom of expression and a better life by a culture that refused to be squashed, would, through sheer originality and swagger, take over the mainstream. (this description of the film comes from www.Sundance.org)
Check out this interview with Deadline Now...
GOING CLEAR: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
When I first moved to Los Angeles, I had my own little up-close brush with the Church of Scientology. It was not a pleasant nor positive experience and that is all I will say about it in public. Having said that, this doc was the talk of the festival for one reason - Tom Cruise.
In Going Clear - Director Alex Gibney profiles eight former members of the Church of Scientology, including A-list Hollywood celebrities. Shining a light on how the church cultivates true believers, including their experiences and what they are willing to do in the name of religion, the film covers a broad range of material from the church's origins—punctuated by an intimate portrait of founder L. Ron Hubbard—to present-day practices and alleged abuses as reported in the media.
Check out this interview done by the Associated Press with Gibney and other key players associated with Going Clear...
LISTEN TO ME MARLON
LISTEN TO ME MARLON
There is no doubt Marlon Brando was one of the most brilliant acting talent of our time! Director/Screenwriter Stevan Riley gives us the greatest gift of all by allowing us to witness a master class in humanity and acting with The Godfather himself - Marlon Brando.
Listen to Me Marlon sheds light on the artist and the man. Charting Brando's exceptional career and extraordinary personal life with the actor himself as guide, the film explores his complexities, telling the story entirely in his own voice. No talking heads, no interviewees: just Brando on Brando.
Like most celebrities, we feel as though we know their whole story, but we only have the opportunity to scratch the surface. Marlon Brando was an activist against those whose voices were muffled in American and abroad, Black Americans, Indians and Tahitians. He used his status to shed light on these injustices at the risk of placing his own mortality in jeopardy.
His goodwill would soon be eclipsed by his womanizing, family tragedies and eccentric behavior as he became older in a business that doesn't embrace age or loss of good looks.
About 30 minutes too long, it was enjoyable and I wouldn't have traded that experience for anything in the world. Listening to Brando lit a fire under my behind creatively and I will forever be grateful for that master class in the dark.
Growing up in St. Louis, my Mother, brother and I would watch Siskel and Ebert eagerly awaiting to see which films would get the "thumbs up" or "thumbs down". What was even more entertaining was when the two disagreed on how whether a film was work going to see or if it was a real stinker. I have to give it to them...they were like dogs with the last bit of meat left on the bone...not giving up without a real good fight to the finish.
However, what I most miss about Roger Ebert is that acerbic wit conveyed through the written word to those of use who loved the movies and no one loved them more than Roger Ebert. Let it be duly noted that Ebert is the "only" film critic to ever receive a Pulitzer Prize, a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times for decades and discovered before any of us, the impact of blogging and how that technological advancement in media would change how movies are talked about, streamed and promoted forever.
Roger Ebert is the main reason I decided to review films via blogging. Unsurprisingly, most film bloggers and/or reviewers are mostly middle-aged white men. There are less than 5% of women that are reviewers and an even a less percentage of those are of ethnic backgrounds. So, this little girl from St. Louis decided it was time to put that B.A. from Howard University in Communications to good use and set an example for others the same way Roger Ebert set one for me.
Life Itself, based on Ebert's bestselling memoir, is a colorful love letter to a funny, painful, transcendant life that was bigger than the movies he reviewed. Roger Ebert was a loving husband, friend, adversary and journalist who became one of the most influential cultural voices in American Cinema.
He better half, Chaz Ebert is a woman whose backbone is stronger than either one of them could have ever imagined. "No" is not in her vocabulary ...nor was it ever an option for her when it came to Roger. The universe always knows who is right for you at the right time in the right place and in the right space. Chaz and Roger Ebert were magical and powerful together. Chaz continues the legacy of Roger to keep his voice as poignant now as it was when he was here with us in the physical realm through his website www.rogerebert.com, where you can find his blog posts and reviews from his various colleagues.
In the words of the legendary critic, Pauline Kael, Roger Ebert was an Urbana, Illinois "soldier of cinema", who loved Dave Brubeck, old bookstores, old diners, attended Cannes Film Festival often over the years despite flunking French five times in school, inspired a whole new generation of filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Ava DuVernay...but most of all Robert Ebert loved the movies.
I'll let Roger have the final words for this post as he prolifically says it best in his last online journal entry...A Leave of Presence
R.I.P. Roger Ebert...I will always love you and be grateful for planting the seed with me as a young girl to appreciate the love of film through the eyes you and my Mother. Here's hoping you and Gene Siskel are somewhere in the universe duking it out one last time:)
2014 has featured an impressive number of documentaries. Life Itself, about dearly departed film critic Roger Ebert; Keep on Keepin' On, a chronicle of an old man and a young man helping one another; Documented,a portrait of the undocumented immigrant experience in 21st century America; The Case Against 8, which takes one into the center of the gay marriage debate; and the list goes on and on. However, none of them made me break into the "ugly cry" like James Keach's...I'll Be Me.
As I 've mentioned many times writing this blog, I am a HUGE fan of country music. Especially the old school country...Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, Tanya Tucker, Barbara Mandrell, Alabama and Glen Campbell.
In 2011, Glen Campbell made two major announcements. He was going on tour and had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. In the midwest, when we had a relative who was having memory issues, we would just say they "lost time" or "were crazy' or "senile". Alzheimer's disease is a progressive mental deterioration that can occur in middle or old age, due to generalized degeneration of the brain. It is the most common cause of premature senility.
The farewell tour was chronicled for Glen Campbell ... I'll Be Me, which premiered at the 2014 Nashville Film Festival, is the documentation of Glen's slow descent into dementia witnessed by his family, friends, mentors, fans and county music community. For three years, a film crew captured the singer as he confronted the illness.
Sitting in a small, dark theatre with his wife Kim, they gaze on a larger than life movie screen watching a myriad of images with Glen ranging from childhood to adulthood, revealing various children and wives. He is barely able to recall any of them, their names or the situations being witnessed onscreen, but the minute he watches himself playing a song or hear his recordings, his memory becomes razor-sharp. Throughout the doc, we witness clips on tour and at home which show Campbell struggling to retain those moments that made him famous.
You see, most people with Glen's advanced stage of Alzheimer's can barely function or speak and need around-the-clock care. His doctors were baffled until they realized that there was the part of his brain where he memorized lyrics and dealt with music that was slowed down his progression on a significant level. It’s a heart-breaking battle that is all too familiar to millions of individuals and their families.
And then, there are the moments when you realize he is slowly becoming a danger to himself, when he places a pocket knife in his mouth to get "something out of his teeth" or the irrational emotional outbursts over what most would consider little to nothing...but are monumental to him. As his condition worsened, Campbell was forced to cancel live dates in Australia and New Zealand. It became no longer feasible for him to stay at home. The mansion in Malibu is for sale and Campbell was moved to an Alzheimer's facility in Nashville.
“It’s really sad to see someone losing their memory bit by bit,” says Campbell’s wife Kim Campbell. “Especially when you’ve had such a fantastic life and then not to be able to remember it.” Kim also told Country Weekly that he now has trouble speaking and requires constant attention, adding that his advanced disease has brought on side effects including anxiety, agitation and depression.
It’s been a difficult journey for a musical legend; Campbell was one of the first musicians to top both country and pop charts. There are wonderful moments of him sharing the stage with his beloved children and the joy he gets just from the roar of an audience welcoming him back home...on stage.
His daughter Ashley says his advancing Alzheimer’s had compromised his musical abilities, noting that when she toured with him in 2011, he would often forget the words to his own songs while onstage. “I think a person’s life is comprised of memories, and that’s exactly what Alzheimer’s disease takes away from you,” noted Ashley. “Now when I play banjo with my dad, it’s getting harder for him to follow along and it’s getting harder for him to recall my name. It’s hard to come to the realization that someday my dad might look at me and I will be absolutely nothing to him.”
Rolling Stone profiled Campbell in 2011, with various musicians speaking about his musical influence. "He had that beautiful tenor with a crystal-clear guitar sound, playing lines that were so inventive," said Tom Petty. "It moved me." Fellow session legend Leon Russell also spoke about his guitar finesse: "He was the best guitar player I'd heard before or since," he said. "Occasionally we'd play with 50- or 60-piece orchestras. His deal was he didn't read [music], so they would play it one time for him, and he had it."
Whether you like country music or not, Alzheimer's disease and the people we know affected by it is truly six degrees of separation. Many of my dearest friends have relatives suffering from this disease or have had them slowly deteriorate into someone they don't recognize anymore. Go see I'll Be Me if for nothing else to be encouraged by Campbell and his family's courageousness of telling his story with the hopes of helping someone else understand the symptoms and seriousness of Alzheimer's, as well as, the joy that can be experienced by celebrating a loved one NOW and not after they are gone.
Contact your Congressman, The White House and anyone else who will listen and urge them to stop so much spending on nuclear weapons and deal with a real war on the mind in our own backyard...Alzhieimer's Disease.
For more information and/or to make a donation please log onto www.illbemefoundation.org to donate in honor of Glen Campbell, his family and all those yet to be diagnosed.
Thanks to Eric Osuna/LTLA Communications for his assistance in securing interviews at the premiere and with I'll Be Me Director...James Keach. Enjoy those events below...
Growing up in St. Louis holds very fond childhood memories for me. One of the things that was soooo much fun was when my parents and their friends would have a night out on the town. What that meant is that my brother and I got to spend the night with our cousins for the weekend. We would all pile up in one bed..sometimes as many as six of us laughing and playing throughout the night. Completely sleep deprived the next day, we would stumble through getting dressed for church with my grandparents, aunts and uncles and preparing to sing in the "sunshine band".
Unfortunately, for children in many other countries, piling in bed is a necessity...not a luxury activity.
Georgiana Halmac turns 15 this winter and lives with her six brothers and sisters in a social housing condo on the outskirts of Bacau, Romania. With their mother forced to leave the family behind and go to Italy to earn money, Georgiana has been catapulted into the role of matriarch. Caught between her adolescence and adulthood, Georgiana navigates it all through phone conversations with her Mom guiding her along the way.
Ironically, this documentation is basically history repeating itself. Filmmaker and Director Teodora Ana Mihai's parents left her behind at seven years old in order to flee the Ceausescu regime in Romania. Eventually, they were granted asylum in Belgium after leaving their daughter behind for a year.
Therefore, Waiting For August is an intensely personal film for Mihai. "I thought it was time to talk about it...I don't know one Romanian family that doesn't have someone abroad. Someone is always somewhere sending money back. It can break these families, and that is just incredibly sad".
My heart broke for Georgiana in the moment she was preparing to hang out with her friends and endured her younger siblings weeping as she walked out the door. With the Mom and Dad being absent, they probably felt like she would leave and not come back. What a huge burden of guilt for such a young, vibrant teen.
The story of Waiting for August hasn't ended just because the film is completed. Summer of 2013, Mihai invited Georgiana to visit her in Belgium and took her to visit Paris. Mihai says, "I just wanted to thank her and give her an opportunity to be able to do something she would not otherwise be able to do".
Waiting For August is screening in New York on October 10th and in Santa Monica on October 15th. For more up-to-date info regarding screenings, please log onto www.waitingforaugust.be
After a matinee of "How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying", I asked one of my castmates to go out for lunch when he told me that he had plans to hang out with Elaine. I naively asked who she was and he said, "...you'll know when she gets here". Not even five minutes later, I heard that booming, gravely voice bellowing for her friend to come down the stairs, because she wasn't coming up...LOL. That was my introduction to Elaine Stritch. I loved her immediately, because she NEVER suffered fools gladly and wouldn't let anyone waste her time. So when that uniquely bold personality left this realm over the weekend, I was curious about her entire career and not just her affiliation with Stephen Sondheim and "Company". What I found was absolutely fascinating. She had worked in many shows, but her big break came when Noel Coward wrote "Sail Away" for her making her a star, however, it was the memorable song, "The Ladies Who Lunch" from Sondheim's "Company" that made her a Broadway Legend. Her status was further solidified when she won a Tony for her one-woman show "Elaine Stritch at Liberty". In 2013, Stritch was the subject of a documentary called "Shoot Me", where she is seen looking back on her life, career and ultimately says goodbye to the bright lights of Broadway for a simpler, quieter life back home in Michigan. Elaine Stritch was one of a kind and we were lucky to have her if just for a little while. "Shoot Me" and "Elaine Stritch at Liberty" are available now on NETFLIX.
One of my favorite shows to watch back in the day was Rockford Files with James Garner. What was not to like? He was acerbically funny, handsome and there was something about his presence that made you want to be friends with him. Garner, was one of the last true "movie stars", and made a career out of simply being himself. Younger audiences became familiar with him when he starred opposite Gena Rowlands as the older couple version of Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams in the film version of Nicholas Sparks' novel "The Notebook". Garner passed on over this weekend as well, but thanks to film restoration, we can watch him and get a giggle one last time anytime we want.
RIP Elaine Stritch and James Garner
As I have mentioned several times during the blog, I am a HUGE fan of baseball, being from St. Louis and rooting my whole life for the St. Louis Cardinals. So it suffices to say, when I heard this film was showing at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival, I couldn't wait to see it! It had already played Tribeca and Sundance to rave reviews! Needless to say, I got sidetracked and attended the screening of another film that was hugely popular. It was only until I was watching LIVE! wit Kelly an Michael and saw an interview with Kurt Russell did I discover all was not lost...I cold catch it on NETFLIX...yaay! So, I did exactly that.
Nowadays, everyone is familiar with The Mavericks, not everyone is as familiar with Bing Russell. Who was Bing? In 1973, Hollywood veteran Bing Russell (best known for playing Deputy Clem on "Bonanza")created the only independent baseball team in America at the time, the legendary Portland Mavericks. Bing operated without a Major League affiliation while playing in a city that was considered a wasteland for professional baseball. Tryouts for the Mavericks, which were open to the public, were filled with hopefuls who arrived in droves from every state in America, many of whom had been rejected by organized baseball. Skeptics agreed it would never work. But Bing's Mavericks generated unprecedented success: they shattered attendance records, signed Kurt Russell - Bing's son - as a player and team Vice President, produced the most successful batboy in baseball (filmmaker Todd Field), re-launched the controversial career of Jim Bouton, hired the first female general manager in Baseball, and inspired one of America's beloved bubblegums - Big League Chew. The Mavericks' in your face attitude was contagious to fans, and during their short reign, they - and Bing Russell - basically held up their middle finger to the sports establishment and said we're playing this game on our terms, not yours.
When the PCL (Pacific Coast League) saw the success of a team that "everyone" had written off, they approached Bing with an offer above the traditional offer of $5000 for $26,000. Bing said, "put a "0" between the 2 and the 6 and we have a deal. A massive lawsuit ensued and Bing triumphantly walked away with $206,000...the largest amount of money ever to be be awarded under these circumstances.
If you love baseball, Kurt Russell or you are a fan old westerns...you will love "The Battered Bastards of Baseball". You can watch it now on NETFLIX.