Category Archives: television

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.

Enoch and Andrew call college admissions offices_Juliane Dressner
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.

Rory Kennedy’s Above and Beyond: NASA’s Journey to Tomorrow

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Quite a day getting an opportunity to sit down with documentary filmmaker, Rory Kennedy, before the screening of her AFI DOCS 2018 Centerpiece film, Above and Beyond: NASA’s Journey to Tomorrow.


Following my interview, I gathered my gear and waited for the evening’s festivities. A brief reception was held before the screening in the Space Museum with some light appetizers and refreshments.

National Air and Space Museum Director Ellen Stofan discusses ABOVE AND BEYOND_ NASA'S JOURNEY TO TOMORROW during AFI DOCS 2018. Credit_ Gediyon Kifle
Dr. Ellen Stofan, the former Chief Scientist of NASA (2013-2016) and current Director of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, makes introductory remarks on June 15, 2018, at the  Mueum’s Lockheed-Martin IMAX theater before the screening of Above and Beyond: NASA’S Journey to Tomorrow. (Photo credit: Gediyon Kifle)

The screening was held in the Lockheed-Martin IMAX Theater. Introductory remarks were made by Dr. Ellen Stofan, the former Chief Scientist of NASA (2013-2016) and Director of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, who served as principal advisor to the NASA Administrator on the agency’s science-related strategic planning and programs. Stofan glowingly praised Kennedy’s work before bringing George Stevens, the American Film Institute’s (AFI) Founding Director, to the podium to make Kennedy’s formal introduction. And, after informing the audience of Kennedy’s nearly 50 films and that Kennedy’s middle name, Elizabeth, was in honor of Stevens’ wife, Stevens introduced Rory Kennedy.

ABOVE AND BEYOND_ NASA'S JOURNEY TO TOMORROW Discussion at the National Air and Space Museum during AFI DOCS 2018. Credit_ Gediyon Kifle
Rory Kennedy, second from left, speaks on making her newest film, Above and Beyond: NASA’S Journey to Tomorrow, during a panel discussion moderated by Ted Johnson, Senior Editor and Washington Bureau Chief for Variety, at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Lockheed-Martin IMAX Theater on June 16, 2018. Panel members seated left to right: Ellen Stofan, Director of the Air and Space Museum; Rory Kennedy; Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator from 2009-2017; William “Bill” Barry, NASA Chief Historian; and, Ted Johnson. (Photo credit: Gediyon Kifle)


Kennedy thanked the Discovery team, as well as several other notable figures, including John Hoffman, for their support and stated what a great honor it has been to make the film. And, without further adieu Above and Beyond was screened. A lively panel discussion followed the screening on the NASA mission and the future safeguarding of Planet Earth.

Stay tuned for more on the panel discussion. In the meantime, keep an eye out for Above and Beyond. For your reading pleasure, I’m including a review of the film!


Documentary Filmmaker Rory Kennedy delivers a powerful payload of stunning and breathtaking imagery in her latest film, Above and Beyond: NASA’s Journey to Tomorrow. Kennedy has made a slew of award-winning and critically acclaimed films including American Hollow (1999), The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib (2007), Ethel (2012), and Last Days in Vietnam (2014). In, addition, Kennedy has been nominated for both the Oscar and Primetime Emmy – winning an Emmy with Last Days in Vietnam (2014). Above and Beyond, a Moxie Firecracker film, might be the film that puts her over the top when it comes to Oscar.

The film opens with an aerial shot of the Challenger Rover landing on the planet of Mars. Non-diagetic music aids in adding to the suspense of the momentous occasion. The  archival footage shows the final moments of the landing with a voice-over narrator informing the audience the module had entered the atmosphere at 1100 miles and slowed to a final descending speed of one and a half miles an hour. A nice transition is made to a loud, cheering operations room at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory leading into the title and rolling credits. Various space images of NASA machinery accompany the opening and set the mood for the film’s narrative.

Kennedy provides a good portion of the  film’s voice-over narration and reads some poignant words her uncle, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK), spoke in the early, transformative years of NASA. President Kennedy believed the Space Program and NASA offered America its greatest opportunities for its best and brightest minds as well as its able and fit bodies and tripled NASA’s budget from 1961 to 1962. Filmmaker Kennedy expertly crafted the words with complementary imagery. Archival footage of President Kennedy purveying an early rocket launch site as well as his wise and inspirational speech at Rice University as to why America would go to the moon, “not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills…” signifies the advent of the Space Race between the United States and Russia. Kennedy wanted to see space used for knowledge and understanding rather than a place for the deployment of weapons of mass destruction.

Over the course of the next six decades NASA would lead the way in space exploration. There were budgetary setbacks and unfortunate mishaps resulting in untimely deaths that temporarily halted some exploration efforts. But, more importantly, there were massive strides made and Rory Kennedy manages to weave them into the complex history of NASA with some inspirational words of her own at film’s end. Surprisingly, while NASA has been known predominantly for its space exploration it has also engaged itself in the exploration of the earth. And, Kennedy manages to keep pace with this duality through a precise curation of NASA archival clips.

Having been approached by The Discovery Channel about making a documentary on NASA, Kennedy answered the call and incorporated numerous interviews with astronauts and leading NASA officials, coupled with stunning visuals and copious amounts of research materials as she delved into the known and unknown dealing with a simple philosophical premise:

“Human beings, more than any other species, are driven by an insatiable curiosity, a remarkable ability to wonder. It is a need to know that lies deep within our DNA as we seek to answer some of time’s most fundamental questions: Where do we come from? Are we alone? What will become of us?”

And, much like her famous uncle, JFK, Rory Kennedy rallies NASA with its plans for space exploration and throws down the gauntlet with a call to action to moviegoers to safeguard our Planet Earth.

Above and Beyond is an ambitious film containing a wild and dangerous universe while inherently addressing the earth’s fragility and our place in it. One of the year’s most important films. Highly recommended.

*Featured photo: Rory Kennedy (Photo credit: Gediyon Kifle)




The AFI DOCS Interview: THE PROVIDERS Directors Anna Moot-Levin & Laura Green

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Laura Green and Anna Moot-Levin’s THE PROVIDERS follows three “country doctors” — health care providers working for a small network of clinics in northern New Mexico — as they confront the challenges of keeping those in their poor and opioid-plagued communities healthy and safe.

The film movingly shows each doctor’s day-to-day responsibilities, while also revealing their own struggles with addiction and crime, and a complex portrait emerges of small-town America. This absorbing documentary is a quiet yet urgent reminder that the country’s heartland is in trouble, and that the very nature of general practice medicine needs to be rethought to address a devastating epidemic.

AFI spoke with the directors in a joint email interview about the film, which was recently selected for the AFI DOCS Impact Lab. THE PROVIDERS plays AFI DOCS on Friday, June 15. Get tickets here.

AFI: What led you to pursue documentary filmmaking?

We were drawn to documentary filmmaking as a way to explore how people experience and imagine their surrounding worlds. Documentary has the distinct power to represent subjective realities and, in doing so, can reveal dimensions of the human experience that are often unseen. Narratives that build empathy for others help audiences develop and enrich their understandings of the systems and realities at work in the world around us. We see documentary not only as a product, a vehicle for conveying ideas and stories, but also as a profound act of research: the process of making documentaries is a way not only to represent actuality but an engagement with those realities the filmmaker seeks to represent.


AFI: What inspired you to tell this story?

We are both children of doctors and share a lifelong fascination with medicine. We grew up with lunches stored in the “biohazard” fridge and dinner-table discussions about the unequal and often unreasonable American healthcare system. Back in 2014, Laura — who, like many freelancers, benefits from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — heard a radio story about how even after the ACA, many Americans remained unable to access care in rural communities where doctors are often few and far between. As we spent more than 100 days filming in New Mexico over three years, we saw the ways the healthcare problems in these small towns are entwined with the broader challenges facing rural America — such as rural brain-drain and aging populations. Through making this film we witnessed firsthand the insidious connections between poverty, lack of opportunity, illness and addiction.

AFI: How did you find the subjects in your film?

Through a good old-fashioned shoe-leather approach. We started by trying to find outstanding rural healthcare practitioners. Each provider we spoke to would refer us to a few other providers, and our research became a nationwide phone tree of passionate healthcare providers. After speaking with between providers all over the country, we ended up on the phone with Matt Probst. Although we spoke with many incredible providers, Matt was unique in that he came from the community that he served, and the challenges in his personal life mirrored those of his patients. As medical director and clinician at El Centro Family Health, he was also unusual in that he was trying to simultaneously tackle the challenges in rural healthcare both from a structural perspective, and patient-by-patient in the clinic.


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

One mentor said to us that a director’s first film is often multiple films jammed into one. While we planned to structure the film around three healthcare providers from the outset, during production we were drawn in many unexpected directions — from the stories of the many phenomenal patients we met, to the funding crisis nurse practitioner Chris Ruge’s program faced. We ultimately decided to feature five patients, in addition to the three providers — which is a lot of people! It was extremely difficult to figure out a structure that could support so many arcs.

AFI: What do you want audiences to take away from your film?

While THE PROVIDERS addresses many aspects of the crisis in rural healthcare, the core of the film speaks to the profoundly positive impact of human connection within healthcare, particularly for people who have been marginalized. In different ways, each of the providers in the film connects deeply with their patients and the communities they serve. While nobody disputes that clinicians must excel at the “science” of medicine – diagnosis and prescription – the film illuminates the ways that the “art” of patient interaction can itself be healing. As is articulated when Chris’ program is cancelled, it is sometimes feeling cared about that makes the greatest difference for the most vulnerable patients. We hope to leave audiences thinking about the ways that healthcare centered on human connection can heal both medical and social ills.


AFI: Why is Washington, DC, a valuable location in which to screen your film?

Our film is set both physically and figuratively far from the rooms in Washington where healthcare policy is made. Yet clinics like El Centro (where our film is set) are where the life-and-death consequences of those decisions play out. The ongoing challenges of rural healthcare are the subject of discussion and debate among both legislators and civil society in Washington, DC. Our film offers something rare in policy discussions — intimate, compelling access to the lives of both healthcare providers and patients that shows how rural people are affected by national healthcare policy. We hope that our film will offer a unique form of insight and serve as a catalyst for discussion and action among committed stakeholders in Washington DC.



75th Golden Globes List Of Nominations

Posted by Larry Gleeson

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) nominations for the 75th annual Golden Globe Awards have The Shape of Water, a fantasy love story between a mute woman and a sea creature, holding a leading seven nominations with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and The Post garnering six each.

Click here to see the full list of the Official 2018 Golden Globe Nominations

The 75th Golden Globe Awards, hosted by comedian Seth Meyers, will be held January 7th, 2018 at the  Beverly Hilton Hotel and will be broadcast live by NBC-TV.


The HFPA has recognized excellence in film and television, both foreign and domestic since 1944 and announced its 75th nominations on Monday, December 11, 2017.


Gal Gadot to Receive the Rising Star Award at 29th Annual PSIFF Film Awards Gala

Posted by Larry Gleeson

The 29th annual Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) will present Gal Gadot with the Rising Star Award – Actress at its annual Film Awards Gala for her performance in Wonder Woman. The Film Awards Gala, hosted by Mary Hart, will be held Tuesday, January 2 at the Palm Springs Convention Center. The Festival runs January 4-15, 2018.

“Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman showed us a strong, capable, poised, curious and compassionate character, and her performance has been universally praised, resonating with audiences everywhere.  Gal plays the immortal warrior so well, and the film’s themes are especially apt for today, empowering all types of people—women and men, young and old—the world over,” said Festival Chairman Harold Matzner. “The Palm Springs International Film Festival is honored to present Gal Gadot with this year’s Rising Star Award – Actress.”

Past recipients of the Rising Star Award include Ruth Negga, Alicia Vikander, Jennifer Lawrence, Scarlett Johansson, Anna Kendrick and Dakota Fanning.

Warner Bros. Pictures’ Wonder Woman is based on the iconic DC character.  In the film, an American pilot crashes off an island and is rescued by Diana, an Amazonian princess and warrior.  He tells the them about the ongoing World War, and Diana decides she must help, leaving with him to fight, discovering her full powers and true destiny along the way.  Wonder Woman, which earned more than $410 million in the U.S. and over $820 million worldwide, set numerous box office records, including becoming the highest-grossing film directed by a woman, the highest-grossing superhero origin film domestically, and the largest opening for a female-led comic-based film.  The action adventure, starring Gal Gadot and Chris Pine, was directed by Patty Jenkins from a screenplay by Allan Heinberg, story by Zack Snyder & Heinberg and Jason Fuchs.

Gal Gadot is an actress born in Rosh Ha’ayin, Israel.  In 2004, she was crowned Miss Israel; then, like all Israeli citizens, went on to serve two years in the Israel Defense Forces.  She studied at IDC Herzliya College before pursuing modeling and acting.  While cultivating television work both in Israel and the U.S., Gadot made her film debut in Fast & Furious, as well as its sequels Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6, also performing her own stunts.  She appeared in the 2010 action comedy films Date Night and Knight and Day, the 2014 Israeli film Kicking Out Shoshana, and the 2016 films Triple 9, Criminal and Keeping Up with the Joneses.  Gadot was cast as Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, before playing the title character in the 2017 mega-hit Wonder Woman, which earned Gadot a Teen Choice Award for Action Actress.  She will reprise the character in the DC extended universe film Justice League, to be released on November 17, 2017.

About The Palm Springs International Film Festival

The Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) is one of the largest film festivals in North America, welcoming 135,000 attendees last year for its lineup of new and celebrated international features and documentaries. The Festival is also known for its annual Film Awards Gala, a glamorous, black-tie event attended by 2,500.  The Film Awards Gala honors the year’s best achievements in cinema in front of and behind the camera.  The celebrated list of talents who have been honored in recent years includes Ben Affleck, Javier Bardem, Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Bradley Cooper, George Clooney, Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Clint Eastwood, Tom Hanks, Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey, Julianne Moore, Brad Pitt, Eddie Redmayne, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep and Reese Witherspoon. For more information, call 760-778-8979 or 800-898-7256 or visit


(Source: press release from bwr, public relations)