Category Archives: television

Last Call for the 55th Chicago International Film Festival

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Screen Shot 2019-06-27 at 5.42.39 PM

The ​Chicago International Film Festival​ is still accepting ​​entries for all programs of the Festival’s 55​th​ edition taking place October 16-27, 2019. Filmmakers can now submit feature-length, documentary, and short films on the ​Festival’s website​ through ​FilmFreeway​ or ​Withoutabox​. Competitive programs in the Festival include the ​International Feature Film Competition​, which awarded the Gold Hugo for Best Film to ​Alice Rohrwacher’s ​Happy as Lazzaro​ in 2018, along with the ​International Documentary Competition​, ​New Directors Competition​, ​Short Film Competition​, and more. The Festival continues to be an Academy Award-qualifying festival for the winners of the Best Live Action Short and Best Documentary Short competitions. Last submission deadline for the 55​th​ Chicago International Film Festival for all films is – July 8, 2019

Screen Shot 2019-06-27 at 5.44.25 PM

Full submission guidelines and eligibility requirements can be found at​. Questions about submissions can be directed​.



Posted by Larry Gleeson

Among the thousands of documentaries made every year, this one stands out as something special, unlike anything you have ever seen before.


Screening Tonight!

Director Ben Berman in attendance

An aging magician is dying. A young filmmaker flies to Vegas to follow him around, intending to create his debut feature film. A few weeks into production, it’s revealed there is another documentary crew also making a film about this dying magician, at the same time, with the same access. This hilarious, meta-referential film is a singular work of nonfiction, filled with surprising twists and turns along the way. Among the thousands of documentaries made every year, this one stands out as something special, unlike anything you have ever seen before. Operating on multiple levels of reality, this transcendent film explores filmmaker culpability, the potential traps and rewards of filmmaking and the nature of illusion. –Lane Kneedler

Get tickets here

Screen Shot 2019-06-20 at 2.35.16 PM

(Sourced from blog)

The AFI DOCS Interview: PICTURE CHARACTER With Director Martha Shane

Posted by Larry Gleeson

PICTURE CHARACTER plays as part of the Spectrum program at AFI DOCS at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, MD on Saturday, June 22 and at the Landmark E Street Cinema in Washington DC on Sunday, June 23. Director Martha Shane in attendance. Buy tickets to the screening here.

Screen Shot 2019-06-20 at 3.05.26 PM


PICTURE CHARACTER is fun, informative and shows that these ideograms are anything but simple. Following the proposals of 3 groups who seek approval from Unicode Consortium for new emojis, the film explores many important questions. Are emojis a new language? Who decides whether a new emoji gets added to the universal lexicon? And how do we tell our stories using these pictures? With emojis, representation matters.

Ian Cheney is an Emmy®-nominated and Peabody Award-winning documentary filmmaker. PICTURE CHARACTER is his eighth feature-length documentary. His past films include KING CORN, THE GREENING OF SOUTHIE, TRUCK FARM, THE CITY DARK, THE SEARCH FOR GENERAL TSO, BLUESPACE, THE SMOG OF THE SEA, THE MOST UNKNOWN and THIRTEEN WAYS. A former Knight Science Journalism fellow at MIT, he has also produced short films for the New York Times, the Guardian and The Atlantic. Since 2015, he has been an adjunct professor at Yale.

Martha Shane is an Emmy Award®-winning documentary filmmaker. Her directorial debut AFTER TILLER premiered in the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and won the Emmy® for Best Documentary. Martha produced and co-wrote the award-winning documentary FROM THIS DAY FORWARD, which was theatrically released by Argot Pictures and broadcast on POV. In addition to directing and producing, Martha is an editor whose recent credits include 11/8/16, ACORN AND THE FIRESTORM and PERSONAL STATEMENT. We talked to her about her new film, PICTURE CHARACTER, that she co-directed with Ian Cheney.

Screen Shot 2019-06-20 at 2.58.52 PM

AFI: What led you to become a documentary filmmaker?

I studied film as an undergraduate at Wesleyan University and was lucky enough to spend four years reveling in the films of Hitchcock, Claire Denis, Hong Sang-Soo, Alan Berliner, and many other incredible filmmakers. After college, I wanted to be a fiction film editor, so that was initially what I decided to pursue. But, shortly after graduating from college, I got a job transcribing for a documentary, and from then on, I was hooked. I ended up producing and co-directing that film, and I’ve been working in documentary ever since.

AFI: What inspired you to tell this narrative?

Sometime around 2012 when I first added the emoji keyboard to my phone, I had a week-long text exchange that was comprised exclusively of emoji. It was hilarious to see how much could be communicated with this limited set of icons and also where the communication broke down. Though I didn’t immediately realize it when I signed on to direct this movie, I think the questions generated from that experience are what initially drew me to the project. I was interested in the possibilities and limitations of a language of digital symbols, and yet the film ultimately evolved far beyond those initial questions.

AFI: How did you discover and work with the subjects in your film?

Jenny 8. Lee, our producer, became increasingly immersed in the world of emoji and Unicode during the period that we were making this film. She would send us cryptic texts about different emoji that were coming down the pipe, and, if we were intrigued, we would follow up, arranging calls on the phone or over Skype with the potential participants. The first time I spoke with Rayouf Alhumedhi, the teenage creator of the hijab emoji back in 2016, I was blown away by how eloquently she argued her case for the hijab emoji, and she ended up being the first person whose story we followed for the film.

Screen Shot 2019-06-20 at 3.02.56 PM

AFI: What was a particular challenge you faced while making the film?

Access to the Unicode Consortium was the biggest challenge, but, luckily, we went into the filmmaking process knowing that would be the case. The decisions about which emoji to add to the set each year are made in closed-door meetings of the Consortium, and we were banned from filming inside those meetings, or even filming the short presentations that our main subjects made to the Consortium.

Ultimately, we were able to interview several members of the Consortium, who were surprisingly candid with us about their experiences working on emoji and about the complicated decisions they face.

AFI: What do you hope audiences take away after screening your film?

I hope people will look a little bit more closely at the emoji on their phones and will think more about the stories behind the apps, platforms and devices that have become such an important part of our daily lives. It makes the experience of using the Hijab emoji or the T-rex or the Face with Raised Eyebrow more fun and meaningful if you know the story behind it. And, more broadly, especially given the way that digital platforms and devices increasingly shape real world politics and people’s lives, it’s important that we understand who’s building these technologies and what principles guide their decisions.

AFI: Why is Washington, DC a great location to screen your film?

We’re excited to screen in Washington, DC because it’s such a diverse, international city and because it’s where many policies are set that affect questions central to our film, including how to increase diversity in the tech world, and who should organize and regulate the world’s most popular digital communication platforms.

Buy tickets to PICTURE CHARACTER here.

Screen Shot 2019-06-20 at 2.35.16 PM

* Featured Photo: Rayouf Alhumedhi, creator of the hijab emoji, in Vienna. (photo credit: Lucy Martens)



Posted by Larry Gleeson




to Bookend Five-Day Festival in Nation’s Capital

AT&T Returns as Presenting Sponsor

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: MAY 9, 2019, WASHINGTON, DC — AFI DOCS, the American Film Institute’s annual documentary celebration in the nation’s capital, has announced the Opening and Closing Night films as well as the Special Screenings for its 17th annual edition.  The festival is proud to also announce the return of AT&T as Presenting Sponsor for the sixth consecutive year.  AFI DOCS 2019 will open with the world premiere of HBO’s TRUE JUSTICE: BRYAN STEVENSON’S FIGHT FOR EQUALITY, directed by Peter Kunhardt, George Kunhardt and Teddy Kunhardt, and will close with RAISE HELL: THE LIFE & TIMES OF MOLLY IVINS, directed by Janice Engel.  AFI DOCS runs June 19–23, 2019, in Washington, DC, and Silver Spring, MD.


“We found ourselves this year with a wealth of powerful films focused on the most intriguing individuals, from a crusader for justice in Alabama to a brazen political commentator in Texas,” said Michael Lumpkin, Director of AFI Festivals. “We are thrilled to invite our audiences to share in the extraordinary journeys of Bryan Stevenson and Molly Ivins, two unique personal portraits that also explore the society in which we all live.”

AT&T’s continued support enables AFI DOCS to connect audiences, policymakers and storytellers in the heart of our national government.

The Opening Night screening of TRUE JUSTICE:  BRYAN STEVENSON’S FIGHT FOR EQUALITY will be held on June 19 at the National Archives’ McGowan Theater and will be followed by a Q&A with subject Bryan Stevenson.  The film is an intimate portrait of Mr. Stevenson — Founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama — who has dedicated his life to helping the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned.

The Closing Night screening of RAISE HELL: THE LIFE & TIMES OF MOLLY IVINS will be held on June 23 at the Navy Memorial’s Burke Theater and will feature a Q&A with director Janice Engel.  The film tells the story of Molly Ivins, six feet of Texas trouble who took on “good old boy” corruption wherever she found it.


TRUE JUSTICE: BRYAN STEVENSON’S FIGHT FOR EQUALITY:  DIRS & PRODS Peter Kunhardt, George Kunhardt and Teddy Kunhardt.  USA.  Bryan Stevenson, Founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, has dedicated his life to helping the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned.  He and his staff have won reversals, relief or release for more than 140 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row.  World Premiere.


RAISE HELL: THE LIFE & TIMES OF MOLLY IVINS:  DIR Janice Engel.  PRODS James Egan, Janice Engel and Carlisle Vandervoort.  USA.  Molly Ivins was six feet of Texas trouble.  RAISE HELL illustrates how both sides of the political aisle were engaged and enraged by her sharp commentary and her understanding that “polarizing people is a good way to win an election and good way to wreck a country.”


SEA OF SHADOWS:  DIR Richard Ladkani.  PRODS Walter Köhler and Wolfgang Knöpfler.  Austria.  Featuring everything from Mexican drug cartels to the Chinese Mafia, this environmental thriller is every bit as gripping as any pulp novel but with real world consequences for the imperiled vaquita (the world’s smallest whale) and for local fisherman in the Sea of Cortez. With fewer than 10 vaquita left in the world, time is running out.

CHASING THE MOON:  DIR & PROD Robert Stone.  USA.  This World Premiere utilizes a visual feast of previously overlooked and “lost” archival material to reimagine the race to the moon for a new generation, upending much of the conventional mythology surrounding the effort.  World Premiere.

AMERICAN FACTORY:  DIRS Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert.  PRODS Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert, Jeff Reichert and Julie Parker Benello.  USA.  This riveting story highlights the clash of cultures at a shuttered GM plant in Dayton, Ohio, which has been reborn as an auto glass factory owned by a giant Chinese company.

TONI MORRISON: THE PIECES I AM:  DIR Timothy Greenfield-Sanders.  PRODS Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Johanna Giebelhaus, Chad Thompson and Tommy Walker.  USA.  The legendary writer reflects on her life and career through the themes of history, art, literature and race.

RUTH – JUSTICE GINSBURG IN HER OWN WORDS:  DIR Freida Lee Mock.  PRODS Freida Lee Mock and Meghan Hooper.  USA.  Relying on Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s own words, as illuminated by carefully culled archival footage and interviews, Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Freida Lee Mock crafts an intimate profile that covers the full breadth of Ginsburg’s life, views and career.  Furthermore, Mock succeeds in creating a compelling portrait as authentic, poignant and powerful as the Justice herself.  World Premiere.


Tickets to AFI DOCS, including Opening Night and Closing Night screenings, will be available beginning May 15, 2019.  Passes for AFI DOCS 2019 are now on sale at  More information about AFI DOCS screenings and other special events will be announced in the coming weeks.


AFI DOCS is the American Film Institute’s annual documentary festival in Washington, DC.  Presenting the year’s best documentaries, AFI DOCS is the only festival in the U.S. dedicated to screenings and events that connect audiences, filmmakers and policy leaders in the heart of our nation’s government.  The AFI DOCS advisory board includes Ken Burns, Davis Guggenheim, Chris Hegedus, Werner Herzog, Barbara Kopple, Spike Lee, Errol Morris, Stanley Nelson, D A Pennebaker and Frederick Wiseman.  Now in its 17th year, the festival will be held June 19-23, 2019, in landmark Washington, DC, venues, Landmark Theatres E Street Cinema and at the historic AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, MD.  Visit and connect on,, and

About the 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.

About AT&T Communications

AT&T is proud to be the Presenting Sponsor of the 2019 AFI DOCS. 

We help family, friends and neighbors connect in meaningful ways every day. From the first phone call 140+ years ago to mobile video streaming, we innovate to improve lives. We have the nation’s fastest wireless network.** And according to America’s biggest test, we have the nation’s best wireless network.*** We’re building FirstNet just for first responders and creating next-generation mobile 5G. With DIRECTV, DIRECTV NOW and WatchTV, we deliver entertainment people love to talk about. Our smart, highly secure solutions serve nearly 3 million global businesses – nearly all of the Fortune 1000. And worldwide, our spirit of service drives employees to give back to their communities. For 10 years, we’ve supported AFI’s commitment to honor the heritage of film and the artists who make them.  And through a variety of programs, we’re focused on giving amateur and underrepresented filmmakers the support they need to succeed.

AT&T Communications is part of AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T). Learn more at


Elizabeth Ward, AFI DOCS PR, 202.339.9598,

Ryan Lattanzio, American Film Institute, 323.856.7619,

TCM to Honor Actor & Comedian Billy Crystal with Hand and Footprint Ceremony

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Screen Shot 2019-02-16 at 6.45.30 AM

Celebration to Take Place April 12th During The 2019 TCM Classic Film Festival

Screen Shot 2019-02-16 at 6.21.51 AMTurner Classic Movies (TCM) announced it will honor iconic comedian, actor and author Billy Crystal with a hand and footprint ceremony at the world-famous TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX®in Hollywood during the tenth annual TCM Classic Film Festival on Friday, April12.Crystal, a Tony Award® and six time Emmy® winner and Golden Globe® nominee, starring in cinematic classics such as The Princess Bride(1987), When Harry Met Sally…(1989), City Slickers(1991) in addition to hosting the Academy Awards nine times.

“Billy Crystal has long been among the most versatile talents working in Hollywood. And I say “talent” because Billy is so much more than an actor. Trying to define his careerScreen Shot 2019-02-16 at 6.30.06 AM into a signature role or moment feels futile. Is it his lead performance in When Harry Met Sally, the ensemble he led in City Slickers, or his scene-stealing supporting part as Miracle Max in The Princess Bride? Then again, it might be his prodigious resume of voice acting work or his consistently impressive work hosting the Academy Awards, which he’s done nine times (only Bob Hope has done it more). From Soap to Monsters, Inc. Crystal has emerged as one of the great story tellers of his generation –on the big screen, the small screen, and in front of a live audience,” said Ben Mankiewicz, TCM prime time anchor and official host of the TCM Classic Film Festival. “For these and a fifty other reasons, we’re thrilled to be able to honor Billy for his contributions to this industry with a hand and footprint ceremony outside the TCL Chinese Theatre.”

This marks the ninth consecutive year TCM has featured a hand and foot print ceremony at the legendary TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX®. In 2011, Peter O’Toole was the honoree, followed by Kim Novak in 2012, Jane Fonda in 2013, Jerry Lewis in 2014, Christopher Plummer in 2015, Francis Ford Coppola in 2016,Carl and Rob Reiner in 2017 and Cicely Tyson in 2018.

2018 TCM Classic Film Festival - Hand and Footprint Ceremony: Cicely Tyson
Actor Cicely Tyson attends the Hand and Footprint Ceremony honoring Cicely Tyson during the 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 27, 2018, in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for TCM)

About the 2019 TCM Classic Film Festival

For the tenth consecutive year, thousands of movie lovers from around the globe will descend upon Hollywood for the TCM Classic Film Festival. The 2019 festival is set to take place Thursday, April 11 –Sunday, April 14, 2019. Over four packed days and nights, attendees will be treated to an extensive lineup of great movies, appearances by legendary stars and filmmakers, fascinating presentations and panel discussions, special events and more.

TCM Prime time host Ben Mankiewicz will serve as official host of the TCM Classic Film Festival. The festival’s official hotel and central gathering point for the ninth consecutive year (was it not the first year?) will be The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, which has a longstanding role in movie history and was the site of the first Academy Awards® ceremony. The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel will also offer special rates for festival attendees. Screenings and events during the festival will be held at the TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX, the TCL Chinese 6 Theatres and the Egyptian Theatre, as well as other Hollywood venues.

Whether it’s in the afternoon, at first sight, or in the air, the TCM Classic Film Festival will celebrate love in all of its forms. For the 10th annual Festival, and the 25th anniversary of TCM, there will be many-splendored moments to revel in romance and obsessions, delight in faithful friendships and surrender to the enduring allure of the silver screen with fellow classic movie lovers.

Screen Shot 2019-02-16 at 6.48.10 AM


Guest Artist with Melissa Gilbert and Tim Busfield

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Industry veterans Melissa Gilbert and Tim Busfield premiered their first feature film, Guest Artist, starring Jeff Daniels, under the newly formed Grand River Production Company, this weekend at the 2019 Santa Barbara International Film Festival presented by UGG. Daniels also adapted Guest Artist from an acclaimed play he authored with the same title.

I had the privilege to sit down with Busfield and Gilbert in between screenings. Here is an excerpt from our talk.


Guest Artist is a drama about a a legendary but troubled playwright (Jeff Daniels) who has come to a small Michigan town to mount his latest play. While there he meets a precocious young man who idolizes Daniel’s character. What unfolds during their meeting is sheer brilliance. Guest Artist is entered into the Independent Competition sponsored by Panavision and is screening tonight at the Metro 2 at 8:20 PM and tomorrow at the Fiesta 4 at 5:40 PM. I got a peak at it and the writing is fantastic and I really liked the concept and theme. After our interview, I came up with a title for a forthcoming play: Patience of a Saint. And, stay tuned for forthcoming SBIFF film reviews.

Until next time, I’ll see you at the movies!

I AM MOTHER Picked up by Netflix

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Screen Shot 2019-02-06 at 8.43.20 AM


Netflix has acquired the North American rights to I Am Mother out of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Directed by Grant Sputore in his feature film debut and starring two-time Academy Award® winner Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry, Million Dollar Baby), up-and-comer Clara Rugaard (Teen Spirit, Good Favour), Golden Globe® and Emmy® nominee Rose Byrne (Instant Family, X-Men: Apocalypse), is a sci-fi thriller about a teenage girl (Rugaard), who is the first of a new generation of humans to be raised by Mother (Byrne), a robot designed to repopulate the earth after the extinction of humankind. But the pair’s unique relationship is threatened when an injured stranger (Swank) arrives with news that calls into question everything Daughter has been told about the outside world and her Mother’s intentions.

The film is based on a story by Sputore and Michael Lloyd Green.

SBIFF reaches halfway point and shows no signs of letting up

Posted by Larry Gleeson

The 34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival has reached the halfway point and shows no signs of letting up.

Opening Night-1
Outside the Arlington Theatre before the Opening Night Film Diving Deep:The Life And Times Of Mike deGruy at 34th Santa Barbara International Film Festiva on January 31, 2019 in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)

Beginning with a local flavor, Opening Night featured Diving Deep: The Life and Times of Mike deGruy, from Mike’s wife, Mimi deGruy. Mike deGruy was legendary in his passion for life and his love of the ocean. Fortunately, Mimi shared his passion and love and constructed an emotionally moving call-to-action with Diving Deep setting the tone for this year’s festival.


Vanessa Filho-1-3
Sylvia Earle, left, and Mimi deGruy on the red carpet before the Opening Night Film Diving Deep:The Life And Times Of Mike deGruy during 34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival at Arlington Theatre on January 31, 2019 in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)

With numerous sidebars, panels, forums, public screenings, children’s screenings and tributes, the Santa Barbara community is once again drawn together to celebrate community. Filmmaker Isaac Hernandez organized an opus on the spirit and energy of Santa Barbarans with Better Together. In a Q & A following his premiere screening, Hernandez unabashedly expressed, “I love Santa Barbara and I wanted to make a film about the place I love.”

Filmmakers from around the globe descended to the city of St. Barbara. First-time feature-length film director/writer Vanessa Filho came directly from Paris, France with her Angel Face featuring the Oscar-winning, French leading lady, Marion Cotillard, to premiere her work to the United States.

Ross Clarke ventured in from Norway to make a world premiere with The Bird Catcher, an early audience favorite, screening in the Nordic Film Sidebar. With Ross came an ensemble of cast members.

34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival - Outstanding Performer Award Honoring Rami Malek
Left to right; Trond Morten Kristensen, Lisa G Black, Arthur Hakalahti, Ross Clarke and Jakob Cedergren of “The Bird Catcher’ on the red carpet before the Outstanding Performer Award Honoring Rami Malek during 34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival at Arlington Theatre on February 1, 2019 in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for SBIFF)

As predicted the Writer’s Panel sold out again this year. The Women’s Panel, the Producers Panel, the Variety Artisan Awards have all been conducted and completed. Anyone who missed these will have to wait until next year.

34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival - Women's Panel
Ai-Ling Lee, Domee Shi and Marina de Tavira speak onstage at the Women’s Panel during the 34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival at Lobero Theatre on February 3, 2019 in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for SBIFF)


Tributes to Rami Malek, Viggo Mortensen, Glenn Close and Melissa McCarthy were all well-attended and audiences continue to wholeheartedly express their admiration and gratitude for the participants.

34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival - Outstanding Performer Award Honoring Rami Malek
Rami Malek speaks onstage at the Outstanding Performer Award Honoring Rami Malek during 34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival at Arlington Theatre on February 1, 2019 in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for SBIFF)


34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival - American Riviera Award Honoring Viggo Mortensen
Viggo Mortensen attends the American Riviera Award Honoring Viggo Mortensen during the 34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival at Lobero Theatre on February 2, 2019 in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for SBIFF)
34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival - Maltin Modern Master Award Honoring Glenn Close
SBIFF Director Roger Durling, Glenn Close and Leonard Maltin pose backstage at the Maltin Modern Master Award Honoring Glenn Close during the 34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival at Arlington Theatre on February 2, 2019 in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for SBIFF)


34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival - Montecito Award honoring Melissa McCarthy
Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant speak onstage at the Montecito Award honoring Melissa McCarthy during the 34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival at Arlington Theatre on February 3, 2019 in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for SBIFF)

While many of the panels and tributes have been conducted, the SBIFF programming team, led by Professor Michael Albright, has put together an extraordinarily diverse cross-section of films from around the world. Shadow by Chinese master filmmaker, Zhang Yimou, had audiences oohing, aahing and wowing!

Stay tuned for the second half of this film festival extravaganza currently underway on the American Riviera in Santa Barbara, California.

Until next time. I’ll see you at the movies!


*Feature photo: right to left, SBIFF Programming Director, Michael Albright, with Diving Deep filmmaker Mimi deGruy, producer Shannon Dybvig and editor Brent Sumner. (Photo by Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)


Posted by Larry Gleeson

In the blistering new documentary premiering at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, Advocate, Israeli attorney, Lea Tsemel defends Palestinians: from feminists to fundamentalists, from nonviolent demonstrators to armed militants. Politically and socially engaged filmmakers Rachel Lea Jones and Philippe Bellaïche assemble a comprehensive look into Tsemel’s life work beginning with Tsemel as a firebrand law student who, after the 1967 war, fearlessly distributes flyers on campus warning her fellow Israelis to end the occupation or risk a vicious cycle of violence. In Advocate, Tsemel speaks truth to power before the term became popular and for all intents and purposes will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. She’s spent a lifetime going against the grain of Israeli society, and is as much a product of it as she is an exception to it.

Utilizing archival footage, newsreels, still photographs and primary interviews panning twenty-five years, Jones and Bellaïche bring us into the present as they follows Tsemel’s caseload in real time, including the high-profile trial of a 13-year-old boy — her youngest client to date — while also revisiting her landmark cases and reflecting on the political significance of her work and the personal price one pays for taking on the role of “devil’s advocate.” One thing is still eminently clear – interrogators still infuriate her, prosecutors still madden her, judges still frustrate her, verdicts still disappoint her — and clients still break her heart.

Directing duo Rachel Leah Jones and Philippe Bellaïche have assumed the privileged position of a fly on the wall of Tsemel’s practice, where a year of documenting is like gathering a lifetime of evidence as the two push to bring to light and preserve a mush-needed model of advocacy that balances justice and the system responsible for its administration. This evidentiary mission is a powerful testament to not only the wrongs of occupation but also to the faults of those who try to resist it, the failings of those who try to defend them, and the fundamental flaws of a legal system that purports to serve justice but in fact serves the powers that be.

As a Jewish-Israeli lawyer who has represented political prisoners for five decades, Tsemel, in her tireless quest for justice, pushes the praxis of a human rights defender to its limits. As far as most Israelis are concerned, she defends the indefensible. As far as Palestinians are concerned, she’s more than an attorney, she’s an ally. to put it another way, she’s the little boy calling the Emperor naked, i.e. naming the system’s most fundamental fault – the occupier is judging the occupied – while at the same time she’s the boy with his finger in the dam, doing her utmost to uphold the rule-of-law before the flood of injustice drowns us all. Her rebellious spirit and radical zeal prompted one military court judge to say: “If Lea Tsemel didn’t exist, we’d have to invent her.”

Advocate is an extraordinary film, highly engaging and deeply moving. With a fast runtime of 110 minutes it is highly recommended and required viewing for any cinephile engaged in social justice.