Category Archives: television

19th Annual Ojai Film Festival Opens

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Opening Night-1

The 19th Annual Ojai Film Festival (OFF) is up and running. Last night at the enchanting Libbey Bowl in downtown Ojai, a free Community screening of Mel Brooks’ raucous and rollicking Young Frankenstein was the Opening Night Film. OFF President Jonathan Lambert jump started the evening with Opening Night remarks including a plug for Loving Vincent and OFF’s new environmentally-oriented films, “Focus Earth.”

 

Without further adieu Lambert brought forth the evening’s special guest, Hank Wynands. Wynands built the sets for Young Frankenstein and worked on several other of Mel Brooks’ films. Wynands shared some colorful inside jokes on the day-to-day operations on a Brooks film set and the impact budgeting has on a production.

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Special Opening Night guest, Hank Wynands shares his experience on working with Mel Brooks on the set of Young Frankenstein (1974), last night, November 1, 2018, during the 19th Annual Ojai Film Festival at The Libbey Bowl in downtown Ojai, Calif. (Photo credit: Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)

 

 

 

 

 

Tomorrow is the first full day of OFF starting at 10:00 A.M. with the Student Filmmakers Program at the Ojai Art Center Theater. Stay tuned for more on this emerging film festival! Legendary Hollywood producer Peter Guber, Chairman and CEO of Mandalay Entertainment Group, told the audience at a recent Toronto International Film Festival that “Ojai is the next Telluride.”

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Ojai Street entrance to Libbey Park in downtown Ojai, Calif., on November 1st, at the 19th Annual Ojai Film Festival. The festival will run through November 11th, 2018. (Photo credit: Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)
Opening Night_Post Office-1
Welcome sign to the 19th Annual Film Festival on Ojai Street at Signal Street in downtown Ojai, Calif., November 1st. The festival will run through November 11th, 2018. (Photo credit: Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)

See you at the movies!

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Denzel Washington to Receive 47th AFI Life Achievement Award

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Denzel Washington will receive the 47th AFI Life Achievement Award, America’s highest honor for a career in film. The award will be presented to Washington at a Gala Tribute on Thursday, June 6, 2019, in Los Angeles, CA.

The AFI Life Achievement Award Tribute special will return for its seventh year with Turner Broadcasting to air on TNT, followed by encore presentations on sister network Turner Classic Movies (TCM). Audi and American Airlines return as Official Sponsors of the event.

Actor, director and producer Denzel Washington is an iconic leading man whose career spans five decades — an esteemed repertoire ranging from screen to stage, in works defined by his towering presence as heroic everymen, troubling antiheroes and real-life figures with complicated, often controversial histories. His cinematic legacy includes powerhouse, Academy Award®-winning performances in GLORY (1989) and TRAINING DAY (2001), as well as celebrated roles in CRY FREEDOM (1987), MALCOLM X (1992), THE HURRICANE (1999), FLIGHT (2012) and ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. (2017), earning additional nominations for each. Washington has crafted compelling, unforgettable characters in recurring collaborations with master directors past and present, bringing stalwart grit and nuanced complexity to films essential to the American canon, such as Jonathan Demme’s PHILADELPHIA (1993), Spike Lee’s INSIDE MAN (2006) and Ridley Scott’s AMERICAN GANGSTER (2007) — and to blockbuster, crowd-pleasing fare such as Edward Zwick’s (AFI Class of 1975) CRIMSON TIDE (1995), Tony Scott’s MAN ON FIRE (2004) and Antoine Fuqua’s THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (2016).

A creative force behind the camera as well, Washington has helmed critically acclaimed films, including ANTWONE FISHER (2002) and THE GREAT DEBATERS (2007), in which he also stars. He won a 2010 Tony® for his performance in the play “Fences,” and directed, produced and starred in the 2016 film adaptation that earned him Best Actor and Best Picture Oscar®nominations, as well as AFI AWARDS recognition.

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(Source: AFI Press Release)

Meet the Press Film Festival with AFI completes its 2nd year

Posted by Larry Gleeson

In case you missed it, NBC Universal and the American Film Institute partnered up for a timely, election-issue based film festival, dubbed MEET THE PRESS FILM FESTIVAL WITH AFI at the Landmark Atlantic Plumbing Cinema in Washington, D.C., on October 8th, 2018.

Atlantic Plumbing
A MEET THE PRESS FILM FESTIVAL WITH AFI volunteer provides vital information to an early ticket holder at the Landmark Atlantic Plumbing Cinema on October 8th, 2018, in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)

Meet the Press is the number one most-watched Sunday public affairs show and the longest running program in television history. This was the second year in a row NBC Universal teamed up with AFI marking a dramatic brand expansion beyond the television platform. Last year three of the films were nominated for Academy Awards and two were nominated for Emmy Awards. This year nearly two dozen films (twenty-three in all) from HBO, Netflix, The New York Times and filmmakers from across the country spotlighted key political and socio-economic issues while illuminating their impact on American citizens ahead of next months midterm elections.

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This year’s films were moderated by NBC anchors and correspondents Andrea Mitchell, Chuck Todd, Jacob Soboroff, Hallie Jackson, Craig Melvin, Harry Smith, Kasie Hunt and Kristen Welker. Selected films will soon be available for a month-long showcase on the NBC News Digital platforms and apps, including AppleTV, Roku, Amazon Fire as well as Hulu, AOL and Comcast X1.

*Featured photo from left to right: NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs correspondent and political journalist, Andrea Mitchell; Directors, Brett Story, Samantha Knowles and Stefano Da Fre engaging in a panel discussion following the film program, “On the Ballot.” (Photo credit: Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)

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(Source: Meet the Press Film Festival with AFI program)

Snake Oil, Tension and Sexual Assault Underscore Meet the Press Film Festival with AFI “On the Ballot” Program

Posted by Larry Gleeson

 

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NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs, correspondent and political journalist, Andrea Mitchell, introduces the Meet the Press Film Festival with AFI “On the Ballot” Film Program inside the Landmark Atlantic Plumbing Cinema on October 8th, 2018, in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)

Featuring independent filmmaking artists, the Meet the Press Film Festival with AFI “On the Ballot” Film Program captured the audience imagination inside the Landmark Atlantic Plumbing Cinema, on October 8th, 2018, in Washington D.C. Meet the Press is the most watched Sunday morning public affairs show and the longest running program in television history. In a dramatic brand expansion, the television show has joined forces with the American Film Institute for a second consecutive year to spotlight critical election issues facing the American electorate before an impending midterm election.

And as if tensions were not already elevated with the Judge Kavanaugh hearing and subsequent FBI background sojourn into alleged sexual assault claims against Judge Kavanaugh by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, filmmakers Brett Story, Samantha Knowles and Stefano Da Fre crafted their respective documentaries, Camperforce, The Blue Line, and The Girl Who Cannot Speak, on explosive issues of supporting local law enforcement juxtaposed against the Black Lives Matter Movement (The Blue Line), in Warwick, Rhode Island, Amazon giant’s exploitation of workers (Camperforce) left behind following the 2008 housing crisis and financial collapse of major banking institutions and preeminent investment houses with a third party, Camper Force, selling a lifestyle of joy and exercise to financially indigent people living out of recreational vehicles as they work 12-hour shifts for $11 an hour without retirement or healthcare benefits as they try to make ends meet after losing a lifetime of savings, and, five cases of sexual assault including one perpetrated upon a sixteen year-old girl, virtually speechless, (The Girl Who Cannot Speak) shown only stating her name at the film’s conclusion.

Regardless of where your political loyalties fall, these films are eerily timely. And, while truth can be relative, facts cannot. There is no such thing as an alternative fact. Discernment, yes. Alternative facts, no.

 

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From left to right, NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs correspondent and political journalist, Andrea Mitchell; Directors, Brett Story, Samantha Knowles and Stefano Da Fre engaging in a panel discussion following the Meet the Press Film Festival with AFI Film Program, “On the Ballot,”  October 8th, 2018, at the Landmark Atlantic Plumbing Cinema in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)

Without further adieu, I encourage you to watch the select Meet the Press Film Festival with AFI films, soon to be made available for a month-long showcase on the NBC News Digital platforms and apps, including AppleTV, Roku, Amazon Fire as well as Hulu, AOL and Comcast X1. While you won’t be privy to the panel discussions led by the NBC anchors and correspondents, please feel free to post your comments on HollywoodGlee and together we will find common ground. Until next time, I’ll see you at the movies!

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MEET THE PRESS FILM FESTIVAL WITH AFI REVEALS 2018 FILM SLATE

Posted by Larry Gleeson

PRESSING ISSUES HIGHLIGHTED AHEAD OF MIDTERMS

23 Short Films Spotlight Eight Issues Affecting Voters

Second-Annual Festival Will Be Held October 7-8 in Washington, D.C.

NBC News Anchors and Correspondents to Introduce Films and Moderate Discussions

SEPTEMBER 13, 2018 – The Meet the Press Film Festival in Collaboration with the American Film Institute (AFI) hits the big screen this fall for the second year, featuring nearly two dozen films spotlighting critical issues ahead of the midterm elections. This year’s festival will be held in Washington, D.C., October 7-8, headquartered at the Landmark Atlantic Plumbing Cinema, and will feature 23 short-length documentaries from HBO, Netflix, The New York Times and filmmakers from across the country.

The selected 2018 films, three of which are making their world premieres, will focus on issues affecting millions of Americans as they prepare to cast their ballots in November, such as immigration, voting rights and gun control. Each screening will include a Q&A with the filmmaker, moderated by NBC News correspondents and anchors, including Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell, Craig Melvin, Jacob Soboroff, Hallie Jackson, Kasie Hunt, Kristen Welker and Harry Smith.

Meet the Press, the number-one most-watched Sunday show and the longest-running program in television history, announced its collaboration with AFI in August 2017, marking a dramatic brand expansion extending beyond the news-making television platform. During its inaugural year, the festival showcased 16 short documentaries exploring wide-ranging issues. Three of the films were nominated for Academy Awards.

See below for descriptions of the 2018 films. Tickets to the festival are on sale now and available here. Select films will be available, beginning October 8, for a month-long showcase on NBC News Digital platforms and apps, including AppleTV, Roku and Amazon Fire, as well as other on-demand services such as Hulu, AOL and Comcast X1.

Surviving After Service
Veterans and Service, moderated by Chuck Todd

  • “We Are Not Done Yet”: The creative journey of ten U.S. veterans of varied backgrounds that come together in hopes of battling their traumatic military histories through the art of the written word. Grappling with PTSD, the “warrior poets” share fears, vulnerabilities and victories that eventually culminate into a live performance of a collaborative poem under the direction of actor Jeffrey Wright. Directed by: Sareen Hairabedian.

On the Ballot
2018 Midterm Issues, moderated by Andrea Mitchell

  • “Camperforce”: For the past ten years, Amazon has recruited workers for Camperforce, a labor unit made up of RVers who serve as seasonal warehouse employees. Directed by Brett Story.
  • “The Blue Line”: When is a line of paint on the street worth screaming at your neighbor about? Filmmaker Samantha Knowles focuses on a small town that erupts into controversy when a blue line is painted in support of police on a street in the town center. The film is a parable of political division in contemporary America and all the dismay that comes with it — but also an example of how communities can find common ground. Directed by: Samantha Knowles.
  • “The Girl Who Cannot Speak”: Edited by Emmy Award winner Krysia Carter-Giez, the documentary explores five women’s true stories of sexual abuse. It tells the story of women from different countries, ages and walks of life. One victim, Charlotte, a 15-year old girl, embodies a thread to each woman’s story. Directed by: Stefano Da Fre, Laura Pellegrini.

The Land I Love
Climate, Home and Tradition, moderated by Hallie Jackson

  • “Alaska DGAF”: On July 4, 2017, North Korea tested a long-range missile that, for the first time, would be powerful enough to reach the United States — specifically, the great state of Alaska. And instead of the doomsday preparations you might expect from a place threatened by nuclear annihilation, Alaskans collectively…shrugged. Directed by: David Freid.
  • “Home Beyond the Water”: The community of Isles de Jean Charles, Louisiana, is fighting to survive as its land sinks into the encroaching waters. Now, winning the first-of-its-kind, multi-million-dollar grant for a climate resilience project may help it survive, and its community relocation may provide a template for the future. Directed by: Nicky Milne.
  • “Climate and the Cross”: America’s evangelicals have traditionally been the bedrock of conservative politics, including on climate change. But a loud debate is happening across the country, with some evangelical Christians protesting in the name of protecting the Earth, seeing it as a duty to be done in God’s name. With stories from across the country showing the conflict between generations, races and classes, could it be a surprising section of Christian America that might show hope for the country’s attitude to climate change? Directed by: Chloe White.

My Democracy
Voting Rights and Civic Associations, moderated by Craig Melvin

  • “Let My People Vote”: Filmed in Tampa during the 2016 presidential election, this vérité short covers a day in the life of civil rights activist and former felon Desmond Meade. What begins as an upbeat day of faith in our democratic process ends in a heartbreaking realization for Desmond: Jim Crow is not dead. Directed by: Gilda Brasch.
  • “Public Money”: Since 2012, the New York City Council has steadily increased investment in a process called “Participatory Budgeting,” wherein community members gain a role in deciding how to spend part of a public budget. Through an eight-month process, neighbors come together and work with the government to propose, debate and ultimately vote on budget decisions that affect their lives. Directed by: Jay Arthur Sterrenberg.
  • “Voting Matters”: More than 50 years after the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most extensive pieces of civil rights legislation, people of color across the United States are still engaged in a battle to protect their right to vote. “Voting Matters” follows one dynamic woman working tirelessly on the ground and in the courts to ensure that they are not denied this right. Directed by: Dawn Porter.

Active Shooters
Gun Debate Takes Its Next Step, moderated by Kasie Hunt

  • “G Is for Gun”: Since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, schools in at least 13 states have started arming teachers as a security measure. How did this happen, and what does it mean for American education? “G is for Gun” follows the story of teachers being trained to carry firearms, and a small city in western Ohio divided by bringing arms into its schools. Directed by: Kate Way, Julie Akeret.
  • “Guns Found Here”: When there’s a gun crime in America, there’s only one place to go to trace the gun back to its owner: Martinsburg, West Virginia. That’s where the ATF’s National Tracing Center handles roughly 8,000 active traces per day — all while inside a government-mandated technology time capsule that makes searching a database of gun owners impossible. With more gun stores in the U.S.A. than McDonald’s, Starbucks and supermarkets combined, there’s a lot of paperwork to manually sort through. It’s truly a sight to behold. Directed by: David Freid.
  • “No Sanctuary”: Explores human nature and behavior through the personal lens of those who have been affected by America’s indifference to gun violence. Directed by: Nathan Knox.

Do We Belong?
Religion and Xenophobia, moderated by Kristen Welker

  • “Do We Belong?”: An Indian immigrant in Kansas is shot and killed in a senseless hate crime, leaving his wife to grapple with the question of whether America is truly her home. Directed by: Sofian Khan.
  • “Graven Image”: Using archival footage, director Sierra Pettengill explores the history of Georgia’s Confederate Memorial Carving, the largest Confederate monument in the United States, and the memorial’s close ties to the Ku Klux Klan. Directed by: Sierra Pettengill.
  • “The Hidden Vote”: In America’s largest Arab-American population in Dearborn, Michigan, an unprecedented number of Arab-Americans are running for city council during Trump’s first year in office. Nada is a 26-year-old Palestinian-American liberal, and Mike is a 23-year-old Lebanese-American conservative and Trump supporter. Both are Muslim, and for very different reasons, both were inspired to enter into politics after Trump’s presidential win. We follow Mike and Nada’s campaigns as they work their way toward Election Day, and explore how their life experiences have shaped their political beliefs. Directed by: Adithya Sambamurthy, Ben Rekhi.
  • “Loyalty: Stories”: A national storytelling project about American Muslim veterans that explores themes of citizenship, identity and faith in the post-9/11 era. Through ten documentary-style short films, “Loyalty: Stories,” which is making its world premiere, profiles a diverse group of men and women — immigrants, converts and American-born Muslims who gave an oath to protect the United States and uphold the Constitution. Directed by: David Washburn.

E Pluribus and Unum
Coming to America, moderated by Jacob Soboroff

  • “Out of Many, One”: A Netflix original documentary short, “Out of Many, One,” which is making its world premiere, is a film about how one museum is using art, artifacts and historical documents to help green-card holders prepare for the Naturalization Test and, in turn, become U.S. citizens. Directed by: Emmy Award winners John Hoffman and Nanfu Wang.
  • “Deporting Myself”: “Deporting Myself” is a documentary about Zsuzsanna, an undocumented New York housekeeper who has been living and working in the U.S illegally for almost 20 years. Ever since the election of President Trump, who’s made a promise to the American people to crack down and deport undocumented immigrants, Zsuzsanna has been living in fear. The constant worry of eventually being found out, captured and deported by ICE is one of the many reasons she decides to leave on her own terms. This film highlights Zsuzsanna’s final 72 hours in a place she once called home. Directed by: Julia Neumann.
  • “Libre”: A private company purports to help people held in immigration custody secure bail. In exchange for this service, its clients are forced to wear ankle monitors until their debts are paid. See how two New Yorkers’ daily lives are affected by this practice. Directed by: Anna Barsan.

Making it Work
Poverty and Rebuilding, moderated by Harry Smith

  • “Pa’Lante”: This film tells the brave personal stories of local Puerto Ricans five months after they were impacted by hurricanes Irma and Maria, and showcases an Apprentice Program led by volunteers who teach carpentry to locals while rebuilding roofs on the island. Directed by: Ramón Rodríguez.
  • “Insecure”: An undocumented family struggling to make ends meet takes matters into their own hands in order to create their own American Dream. World premiere. Directed by: Cayman Grant.
  • “The Children of Central City”: “The Children of Central City” provides an in-depth look into the players, coaches and families surrounding the A.L. Davis Park Panthers youth football program in one of New Orleans’ most crime-riddled neighborhoods. The film showcases how attempts to treat the children’s post-traumatic stress are repeatedly thwarted by state budget cuts to mental healthcare. Directed by: Mark Lorando, Emma Scott.

More to follow!

NBC NEWS’ MEET THE PRESS WITH CHUCK TODD

Meet the Press with Chuck Todd is where newsmakers come to make news — setting the political agenda and spotlighting the impact Washington decision-making has on Americans across the country. It is the #1 most-watched Sunday public affairs show across the board for the 2017-2018 season, reaching more than three million viewers every Sunday and millions more through social, digital and on-demand platforms. Meet the Press brings its authority and influencer interviews to MSNBC with MTP Daily weekdays at 5 p.m. ET and to the 1947: The Meet the Press Podcast. It’s the longest-running show in television history, expanding its brand to include a political documentary film festival in collaboration with the American Film Institute. Chuck Todd is the political director of NBC News and the moderator of Meet the Press; John Reiss is the executive producer.

AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE

The American Film Institute was established by presidential proclamation in the White House Rose Garden, and launched its national mandate on June 5, 1967 — to preserve the heritage of the motion picture, to honor the artists and their work and to educate the next generation of storytellers. AFI’s founding Trustees included Chairman Gregory Peck, Vice Chairman Sidney Poitier, Francis Ford Coppola, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Jack Valenti and George Stevens, Jr., as Director. Visit AFI.com and connect with AFI on Twitter.com/AmericanFilm, Facebook.com/AmericanFilmInstitute, YouTube.com/AFI and Instagram.com/AmericanFilmInstitute.

(Source: Press release provided by NBCUniversal)

AFI DOCS Film Review: Hesburgh (Creadon, 2018): USA

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Viewed by Larry Gleeson as part of the 2018 American Film Institute’s AFI DOCS.

Hesburgh is a biographical account of Father Theodore Martin Hesburgh, an ordained priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross. Hesburgh is widely known for his tenure, from 1952-1987, as President of the University of Notre Dame, located in South Bend, Indiana. Others knew Fr. Hesburgh as a confidante and as an advisor to American Presidents including, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard “Dick” Nixon. But, Director Patrick Creadon and Producer Christine O’Malley get behind the public persona and weave a story of mythic proportions.

Beginning with his ambitious plan to transform Notre Dame from an average academic institution with a great football team into a leading university for personal examination, exploration and learning, Hesburgh began wooing captains of industry for financial support and invited Fr. John Courtney Murray to lecture on the highly controversial tome The Catholic Church in World Affairs, at the University of Notre Dame. The voice-over narration and black and white still photos add a sense of historical significance and deification of what Hesburgh was engaging in. The Roman Catholic Church responded with an order to cease and desist from teaching such books ending with a formal “Roma locuta; causa finita est” (Rome has spoken; the cause is finished). Hesburgh defied the order arguing that it was the institution saying no and not him personally (as he had taken a vow of obedience to the Pope). According to Creadon, this sets a precedent for how Hesburgh navigated the world of power politics including the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the student protests of the Vietnam and Cambodian Wars as well as his graceful transition from the University of Notre Dame.

Beginning with the International Atomic Energy Agency, Father Hesburgh emerged in Vienna, Austria, as a free-thinking clergyman who was respected by both sides of the Cold War without stirring up controversy. Hesburgh had a penchant for schmoozing with bourbon and cigars resulting in a detante allowing both sides to sit in a room at the same table.

Afterwards, Hesburgh was named to President Eisenhower’s federal Commission on Civil Rights. As the University of Notre Dame was struggling to find a commencement speaker, Hesburgh called in a mark – President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered the 1960 Commencement Address with Cardinal Giovanni Montini (later to be named Pope Paul VI and leader of Vatican II) in tow! Cardinal Batista and Hesburgh would become close friends in the ensuing years sharing a love for space travel during the Apollo era of the United States Government’s accelerated Space Program in the 1960’s.

Sensing formidable opposing positions on the Civil Rights Commission, consisting of three democrats, two republicans, and Hesburgh, an independent priest. Hesburgh utilized his human touch, and the resources of a well-heeled Notre Dame philanthropist, to smooth out differences and gain a consensus resulting in a twelve point report recommendation to Congress. Hesburgh continued to serve on the Civil Rights Commission and was appointed chairman by his old friend, Richard “Dick” Nixon.

Uncharacteristically, however, Hesburgh dealt a stunning blow to Notre Dame student body curtailing student protests during the Vietnam and Cambodian Wars as he felt the protesting interfered with student learning. Later, Hesburgh would lament his decision to limit protesting feeling he had made an unfortunate decision that actually inhibited a student’s experience but at the time felt it was necessary and proper to institute it in an effort to curtail violence and also to guarantee the rights of other students who wanted to partake in their own education. Meanwhile, Dick Nixon praised the move and used it as propaganda.

Nixon would later pressure Hesburgh to resign from the Civil Right Commission as part of Nixon’s Southern Strategy. So, Hesburgh turned his focus full force into the campus life of Notre Dame declaring it a co-educational institution in 1972 with overwhelming approval from the male students. On May 17th, 1987, Father Theodore M. Hesburgh received the University of Notre Dame’s highest honor, the Laetare Medal, an annual award given to honor and recognize an individual who has given outstanding service to the Catholic Church and society.

While I did find the historical moments of the film enlightening, what really caught me by surprise were the human elements; the relationships cultivated, the emotional warmth expressed, and the joy and love expressed by those who knew Hesburgh. What I was left with was a powerful human interest story that served as both a testimonial to a life well lived for the noble causes of justice and freedom and a welcome addition to the national historical archives.

Employing present-day narratives from family members, fellow clergy members and a highly effective first person voice-over narration, interspersed with an up-tempo musical score and flashing images, and coupled with historical black and white photos, archival film footage and newsreels, Creadon sets the tone, mood and pacing for nothing-short of a miraculous life. Highly recommended.

Film Capsule: Personal Statement (Dressner, 2018): USA

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Viewed at the Annenberg Theatre inside the Newseum in Washington, D.C., as the Opening Night film of the 2018 American Film Institute’s AFI DOCS Film Festival.

Personal Statement, directed and produced by Julianne Dressner, made its world premiere as the 2018 American Film Institute’s AFI DOCS Opening Night Film. The film follows three Brooklyn, New York, high school seniors, Enoch, Christine, and Karoline, as they prepare themselves for college and try to inspire and encourage their classmates to make the jump with them.

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Enoch Jemmott, right, a Brooklyn, New York, high school senior, prods his friend and classmate as the pair prepare to finalize thier respective college admission processes. (Photo courtesy of Julianne Dressner – Reify Films)

 

The film opened with a nice out-of-focus frame of a night-time city-scape slowly coming into focus as a textual overlay informs the viewer of the setting. A transition reveals a young black male doing homework with his niece. Another transition reveals a young bi-racial female in dialogue with a young Hispanic female as she explains some of the challenges she is facing. A third transition reveals an Hispanic mother in the kitchen followed quickly by another transition revealing Christina, one of the film’s protagonist. An upbeat non-diagetic score shows the three characters on their way to school meeting. The meeting turns out to be a training so the three protagonists can work as school guidance counselors.

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Brooklyn, New York, high school senior, Christine, addresses her classmates on the importance of vocalizing their wants and needs followed up by taking positive actions as a way to get their needs met. (Photo courtesy of Reify Films)

This forms the crux of Dressner’s film. Shot in a direct cinema style interspersed with fragments of cinema verite, Personal Statement uncovers societal issues as it reveals the struggles minority students are facing as they attempt to, not only go to college, but also navigate what will be their collegiate experience.

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Karoline, who has undergone bullying for her dress and sexual orientation, shows her counselor a copy of her personal statement for her college application to Smith College, an all-female institution. (Photo courtesy of Reify Films)

Karoline, an LGBTQ student, wants a place where she can meet people who will accept her for who she is. Enoch, a standout high school football anxious to become his own person, lives with his sister. Christina lives at home with a strong-willed mother, who feels Christina needs to consider the financial undertaking in attending college. All three are passionate about going to college and they want their peers to undertake the collegiate journey as well. At the heart of the narrative is the personal statement that explains why each student wants to go their respective schools.

Karoline is a colorful character who had twenty-three absences in her first year of high school has progressed to where she has perfect attendance in her senior year. Enoch faces obstacles that include a mother who lives in a homeless shelter and a lower than desired grade-point-average from the college of his choice, Cortland. Christina, whose mother financed her older brother’s college education, has reservations in supporting Christina’s college choice. Christina’s brother has been out of work for the last four years and her mother has had her work hours reduced.

While all three students wind up attending college, difficult choices are made along the way and challenging issues are revealed surrounding their pursuit of higher education.

Personal Statement will have its U.S. broadcast premiere on public television’s WORLD Channel and PBS on Tuesday, October 23, 2018 at 8:00 pm. This is a film that needs to be seen and the issues it raises need to be addressed sooner rather than later. Highly recommended.