Today’s AFI Movie Club selection received a Best Picture Academy-award-winning Oscar and is based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney.
From writer/director Barry Jenkins, MOONLIGHT was also honored in 2016 with an AFI AWARD, recognizing it as one of the year’s most outstanding achievements in the art of the moving image – with the official rationale stating that, “MOONLIGHT illuminates the peerless power of cinema to inspire empathy for others and embrace a greater understanding of ourselves. Barry Jenkins’ poetic tour de force presents a deeply emotional triptych — the journey of boy to man searching for connection amidst the labyrinth of societal boundaries. An extraordinary ensemble lights the way in this sublime realization of a world where the question ‘Who is you?’ echoes in the pain of dreams deferred and the strength of an inner truth.”
Available to watch on Kanopy, Hoopla, Fubu Tv, and Showtime. Highly recommended viewing!
A Special Tribute to powerhouse actor, Peter Dinklage, generated massive buzz before his world-premiere in the new film musical, Cyrano. Dinklage is a four-time Emmy Award-winner for his work as Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones and has turned in several strong performances on the big screen in Station Agent, Elf, and I Care A Lot.
In Cyrano Dinklage solidly carries the weight of the lead as Cyrano, a man who feels undeserving of romantic love. The film is breathtakingly beautiful with lavish costuming, epic battles, and spirited musical numbers. Numerous pundits are mouthing Dinklage’s performance as Oscar-caliber – the question being is it enough for this record-setting Emmy recipient to become an Oscar recipient? Cyrano is coming out for the holidays. A “don’t miss” viewing.
Benedict Cumberbatch was in the house at the Werner Herzog Theatre for a screening of the Jane Campion written, The Power of the Dog, based on a 1967 novel of the same name by Thomas Savage. Campion seems to be a shoo-in to receive her second Oscar for screenwriting for The Power of the Dog. The screenplay might not be the only Oscar talk as Cumberbatch, always a strong screen performer, delves deeply into the soul of his character, Phil Burbank, delivering a dark presence un-before seen from Benedict.
Last but certainly not to be thought of as the least, is the new Wes Anderson love letter to journalists at an American newspaper outpost in a fictional French city, The French Dispatch. The film brings to life a series of short stories that had appeared in the magazine, “The French Dispatch Magazine.” The ensemble cast includes Timothy Chalamet, Bill Murray, Leas Seydoux, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson, Lyna Khoudri, Steve Park, Matthieu Almaric, Henry Winkler, and Frances McDormand. Sharply written and oh….what a cast!
The Telluride Film Festival has become known as a launch for numerous award season campaign debuts. And this year was no exception. Stay tuned for Part III!
Spending my birthday at the 48th Telluride Film Festival proved a remarkably pleasant experience. Receiving a warm hug from a lovely young woman who had dressed herself on Halloween as Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, I engaged Marcel the Shell with Shoes On lead, director, writer/creator Jenny Slate in a polite and deeply poignant conversation on the Telluride Film Festival and her latest work with long-time collaborator Dean Fleischer-Camp.
Marcel the Shell With Shoes On (2021), is a feature-length mockumentary on the scruffy mollusk and life as it is known. Sharp writing and a creative narrative, and spot-on stop-motion animation made Marcel the Shell With Shoes On ) an audience favorite. According to news reports negotiations for the film’s distribution and exhibition are ongoing. Slate and Fleischer-Camp are adamant Marcel gets its due. I couldn’t agree more. Highly recommended!
Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast is an impeccable work based on Branagh’s own upbringing in Belfast in the late 1960’s. The soundtrack features a plethora of Van Morrison’s greatest hits adding joy and optimism to the challenging circumstances a young couple is facing with their young children.. Beautiful actors and a compelling storyline deliver what appears to be an early favorite for the year’s best film.
Sean Baker ( Tangerine, and The Florida Project) and A24’s Red Rocket, featuring Simon Rex, a standout media personality, Brenda Deiss, and Bree Elrod, tells the tail of a Mikey Saber, a washed-up porn star who returns to his small Texas hometown and attempts to make a fresh start. Rex turns in a tour de force performance as Mikey Saber. Baker’s strongest work to date. Not for the faint of heart. Earthy.
Telluride has become known as a launch for numerous award season campaign debuts. And this year was no exception. Stay tuned for Part II.
(***Above media by Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee featuring the 2021 Telluride Film Festival Opening Night Art Sculpture)
One of the most exceptional films I viewed during Mountainfilm was Us Kids, directed by Kim A Snyder, a filmmaker known for taking on emotionally-wrought films. Snyder also directed the Peabody award-winning, and most-watched documentary film of the last decade, Newtown, that provided a look into the lives of those most affected by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Us Kids documents some of the most prominent students, including Emma Gonzales, David Hogg, and Cameron Kasky in the months following the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School in Parkland, Fla. In case anyone has forgotten, on February 14, 2018, a nineteen-year-old former MSD student opened fire inside the school with a semi-automatic rifle killing seventeen students and wounding seventeen others without any apparent motive.
In opening Us Kids, Snyder utilizes some pivotal archival news footage of classmates Emma Gonzales and David Hogg. Gonzales, a senior survivor of the Parkland Marjory Stoneman Douglas School shooting, stands on the footsteps of the Broward County Courthouse delivering her 11-minute “We Call B.S.” speech at a gun control rally in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., while Hogg responds to a backlash from the right wing-media and nationally syndicated, conservative television host, Laura Ingraham’s mocking tweets. His response precipitated 27 sponsors dropping their ads from Ingraham’s show. Snyder also records Marjory Stoneman Douglas schoolmate Sam Fuentes sharing her difficulties in trusting others “when a kid I barely knew tried to kill me.”
Us Kids is a direct cinema-style, full-length feature documentary film that followed the classmates from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as they launched a student-led political action committee, Never again MSD, advocating for tighter regulations to prevent gun violence and to not only help get out the vote in 2018 but to sway the vote in 2018. The group embarks on a nation-wide, bus tour seeking support for safe learning environments and for politicians to stop taking National Rifle Association (NRA) monies. Stops in cities strife with extreme examples of gun violence and/or a powerful presence such as St. Louis, El Paso, Dallas, Houston, Sioux City, Milwaukee, San Antonio, Las Vegas, and Orange County are made.
Snyder captures the toils and the rigors of campaigning for a just cause as Never Again MSD becomes fearful and afraid of being misunderstood. Attacks on social media became vicious. Furthermore, the students were antagonized and followed into their hotel by gun-toting members of the Utah Gun Exchange. In addition, the NRA counter protested sending nefarious characters in cowboy attire with red mirror-reflective sunglasses to agitate, barking at the young men and women of Never Again, MSD, telling them they are nothing more than pawns and questioning their purpose. The responses from the Stoneman-Douglas Never Again, MSD, survivors were deep, articulate, and heartfelt leaving the agitators dumbfounded and scratching their heads.
US Kids won the Jury Prize for Best Feature at the 2020 Mountainfilm Film Festival. In addition to being an award-winning documentary, US Kids is also a critical and seminal socio-political artifact on school shootings, political activism, and student-led PACs. Highly recommended.
My first Mountainfilm Film Festival also was the first virtual Mountainfilm! Exceptional documentary filmmaking about issues that matter. I count my lucky stars in crossing paths with Nora Bernard.
I recall our first meeting at the 2019 Telluride Film Festival Production Office. We exchanged the usual introductory pleasantries and Nora asked if I’d been to Mountainfilm. I had not and asked her what it was. Anyone who knows Nora when she’s working, pleasantries are one thing – small talk is another. Time passed and we stayed friends on Facebook and I noticed her post in early May of this year regarding Monutainfilm and the new Bivvy Pass. Up to then, I was feeling blue as festival after festival was being canceled. A hundred-plus on-demand films with mesmerizing introductory clips, additional symposiums, events, and special presentations for $75 over a ten-day period sounded pretty awesome and my friend Nora was part of the Programming Team!
I bought it and spent the next ten days watching the best outdoor, political, social, cultural, and environmental films that matter including Watson, Current Sea, By Hand, Personhood, Apart, Big Fur, the Adrenaline Shorts Program w/ Fire On The Mountain and the award-winning short Origins, Mossville: When Great Trees Fall, Second Sight, Snow Wolf, Five Years North, and The Path of the Anaconda.
My first selection fell under the Limited Screening category – truthfully, I monitored this section closely. Baato, a sharply written, sharply executed documentary by Lucas Millard and Kate Stryker, chronicles a family that collects medicinal herbs in the mountainous region of Nepal. Each year the family treks 300 km to a low-lying urban market to sell the herbs to keep the home afloat. Along the way, the family faces shakedowns, a new roadway being cut into the terrain, and a ramshackle bus ride. Baato proved to be a cultural feast with some enlightening perspectives. Highly recommended viewing.
My next selection, Public Trust also a Limited Screening selection, was a Robert Redford executively produced exploration of the United States public lands, utilizing recent news footage, present-day interviews with tribal leaders, historians, government whistleblowers, journalists, of the United States public lands. The public land’s sacredness to indigenous tribes, ranchers and outdoor enthusiasts is revealed as is the Trump Administration’s overt push to privatize the lands for their profits. Public Trust received the 2020 Audience Choice Award. A must-see!
Lost On Everest, a National Geographic film about an expeditionary team tracking one of the early British attempts to stand on top of the world was making its World Premiere at the 2020 Virtual Mountainfilm Festival. I was ready for a mind-boggling extreme mountaineering experience. And, by golly, that’s exactly what I got. “Rising up to a peak of 29,035 vertical feet, Mount Everest has long captivated the imagination of climbers from all parts of the world.
Lost on Everest documents an elite group of research climbers who undertake a mission to locate and retrieve a camera from Andrew “Sandy” Irvine, a twenty-two-year-old climbing partner of the legendary British mountaineer, George Mallory. The two disappeared in 1924 just 800 vertical feet from the top of Mount Everest. Mallory’s body was found in 1999, approximately seventy-five feet from his last known location. Irvine’s body and the camera he was carrying have not been found to this day and have long been speculated about.” (excerpt from Lost On Everest)
Just as I began setting in, I selected (yes, another Limited Screening film) Unsettled from Director Tom Shephard. Unsettled was screened with Eva Rendle’s short film, All That Remains – a sobering look at the undocumented workers in the Santa Rosa, Calif. area following the massive 2017 wildfire that devastated one of the world’s foremost wine-producing regions. All That Remains set the tone for what came next – a case manager’s reality as Unsettled tracked the transition of asylum seekers, Junior, Subhi, Cheyenne and Mari as they navigate new freedom realizing the streets of America are not paved with gold and learning to deal with their lives on life’s terms.
A Home Called Nebraska(Limited Screening) came next. Nebraska, a conservative state, provided many new homes for innocent victims of terrorism, civil war, rape, attempted murder, and persecution through the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program. Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s policies have fueled a growing hatred of Muslims and refugees. 2019 saw the lowest number of refugees entering the US since the inception of the program in 1980. Notwithstanding, A Home Called Nebraska highlights a community welcoming newcomers, building bridges, and dispelling fear while combating the hatred of racist nationalism.
Presentation. Magical Realism Meets Future Fiction. This had me at hello. I was excited before the presentation even began. Charles Lindsay and Nicholas Paul Brysiewicz co-hosted this presentation. Charlie was zooming in from Kyoto, Japan, sharing his cultural perspectives on the intersection of consciousness and enlightenment. Brysiewicz shared his insights on decoupling time/person experience. Both seemed to agree on the premise of alternative time-spaces as sacred. Now that’s what I’m talking about.
One of the most exceptional films, US Kids, a direct cinema-style, full-length feature followed the classmates from Marjory Stoneman Douglas School in Parkland, Fla., as they launched a nation-wide, gun control crusade for a safe learning environment and to effect the 2018 elections. Stops in cities strife with gun violence and a National Rifle Association presence like St. Louis, El Paso, Dallas, Houston, Sioux City, Milwaukee, San Antonio, Las Vegas, and Orange County are made. Along the way, a bond and mutual respect developed among the peers.
They also experienced the rigors of campaigning for a just cause as they questioned the National Rifle Association’s lobbying efforts and the politicians who fill their coffers with dubious contributions. The NRA fights back sending nefarious characters in cowboy attire with red mirror-reflective sunglasses to agitate barking at the young men and women telling them they are pawns. The responses from the Stoneman-Douglas survivors were deep and heartfelt leaving the agitators dumbfounded and scratching their heads.
US Kids won the Jury Prize for Best Feature at the 2020 Mountainfilm Film Festival. Let’s not forget! On February 14, 2018, a nineteen-year-old former student opened fire inside the school with a semi-automatic rifle killing seventeen students and wounding seventeen others without any apparent motive. US Kids is not only a highly recommended film, but it is also a critical and seminal socio-political artifact.
Stay tuned for more as Mountainfilm is scheduled to return next year in Telluride, Colo., with run dates of May 28th – May 31st. Hope to see you there!
Public Trust Takes Home 2020 Audience Choice, Us Kids Wins Best Documentary Feature
It was a year of firsts for Mountainfilm: the first online dance party, the first not-so-social ice cream social, and the first time festival-goers, filmmakers, and staff were asked to forgo a 42-year-old tradition and adapt. The result was proof positive that the indomitable spirit of the Mountainfilm family is alive and well.
It turns out, over 9,500 attendees — the highest number in Mountainfilm history — tuned in to watch over 130 selected films and almost 20 presentations and live events. 20 And certain films rose to the top, capturing the hearts and imaginations of audiences.
Viewers cast their vote for 2020 Audience Choice Award-winner Public Trust, a film that sheds light on something that impacts every American — the threat to our public lands by extractive industries. The Best Documentary Feature Award went to Us Kids, a tale of transformation as highschoolers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas evolve into political activists.
“This film was by far the best of the show,” said a Best Documentary Feature jury member. “It took me on an emotional ride with those incredible kids. It had a strong point of view and ended with a grounded version of what hope looks like.”
The Women in Film Award — a new addition that’s graciously funded by Riccarda de Eccher and Bill Goldston — was given to Welcome Strangers, a Colorado project and Mountainfilm Commitment Grant Winner that highlights the work of Casa de Paz, a temporary home in Denver for families separated by immigrant detention. The Moving Mountains Award, which supports a filmmaker and the film’s associated nonprofit, went to the heavy hitter, Mossville: When Great Trees Fall and the organization, Louisiana Bucket Brigade. The emotionally driven film gave voice to one man’s struggle against an international petrochemical company set on pushing him out of his ancestral home by any means necessary.
The selection of 2020 films was enhanced by presentations from filmmakers like James Cameron, mountaineers like Arlene Blum, and environmentalists like Paul Watson like and 2020 Guest Director Louie Psihoyos.
“We were honored by everyone who took the time to share their work and their stories. While it was sad we couldn’t be together in person, which is really what Mountainfilm is all about, we were happy that because of this twist in the road, we became more accessible and reached new audiences,” said Beraza.
The year of Mountainfilm firsts is punctuated by the move from a 4-day festival to an extended 11-day run, meaning you have until midnight on Monday, May 25 to unlock programs and watch any 2020 award winners you might’ve missed.
I remember the day I rode with my friends, Wally Weilmuenster and Dan Nester, to go swimming at Bone’s Lake jamming to the Grateful Dead’s “Fire On The Mountain.” The world was ours in that moment and it seemed limitless. So naturally as I perused the Mountainfilm shorts programs, I made a mental note when I saw Fire On The Mountain, directed by Chris Benchetler and Tyler J. Hamlet, inside the Adrenaline shorts program. Being 11:30 PM, an adrenaline focused lineup with 12 offerings might not be an ideal choice for most of us. For me, however, it proved to be an optimal experience.
As I’m a meticulous note-taker, I was scribing when Fire On The Mountain hit my tv screen. I noted the coloration and then the unthinkable happened – a textual title revealed the film was set to the music of the Grateful Dead. I didn’t have the pleasure of seeing the Dead perform live. I’ve been tuning into Dead and Company shows every Saturday on Facebook via nugs.tv for the last ten weeks. And, I did have the good fortune to see Further at the Santa Barbara Bowl several years ago. I remember that night vividly as I sat in my seat looking around as it was my first SB Bowl experience. As I looked around, I noticed a figure that I’d been watching since I began playing organized basketball in the St. Louis Metro-East way back in 1973. It was none other than Bill Walton – the same Bill Walton who connected on 21 out of 22 field-goal attempts as a UCLA Bruin at the old St. Louis Arena during the 1973 NCAA Championship Men’s basketball game.
I know you’re wondering, “What does Bill Walton have to do with Fire On The Mountain?” I can tell you one thing for certain Father Time is not playing any tricks. I was listening to the film’s poetically rhythmic voice-over-narration while thoroughly enmeshed in the film’s visuals when I became aware of thought – “that narrator sounds a lot like Bill Walton.” Then, I became aware of another thought – “it’s just somebody that sounds like Bill Walton – but who in the world sounds like Bill Walton?” Walton not only provided an enlightening narration for Fire On The Mountain, but he also is credited in the film’s collaborative writing.
Fire On The Mountain, inspired by the improvisational jam music of the Grateful Dead, features seven of their songs including “Brown Eyed Woman,” “The Other One,” “New Speedway Boogie,” “Dark Star,” “Playing In The Band,” “Fire On The Mountain,” and “Ripple.” From Teton Gravity Research, a Jackson Hole, Wyoming-based action sports media company “committed to fueling progression through its films and website,”Fire On The Mountain incorporates a psychedelic dynamic with trippy visuals, non-diegetic Grateful Dead music, and an in-progress, spot-on creation of a Dead-like mural all in juxtaposition to and simultaneously in ethereal harmony with bold, expressive and acrobatic action sequences in the water and on the mountain. Furthermore, the cinematography, costuming, and the tone was magically Dead inspired.
As the film closed, I sat uplifted and somewhat mesmerized, with the film’s group of talented actors around a bonfire appreciating their world and the freedom to live and experience their form of truth in unspoken ways. The performers executed the action sequences to a T opening up and expanding the conscious realm of human potentialities. Part dreamscape and part action film, Fire On The Mountain illuminates rad surfing and snowboarding talents and weaves the light of the Dead and “all the feels” into an inescapable whole.
Inspired and ready for bed, I started the last short of the program, Wingsuiter Flies Through Narrow Hole. I watched a flying man free fall through some sort of netting. It repeated itself then cut to black. A one-minute short of a man blasting through time and space and through a metaphorical representation of a Native American dream catcher. Only in America. Only at Mountainfilm. Highly recommended.
Having met my featured Mountainfest member, Nora Bernard, at the 46th Telluride Film Festival, my curiosity piqued upon reading her social media post on this year’s Mountainfilm, the Bivvy Pass, and her zeal in being part of this year’s Programming Team. Without missing a beat, I quickly visited Mountainfilm.org and counted my blessings. I viewed the Mountainfilm Intro by Stephen Burns. Stunning photography accented the clip leading me to check out this year’s Guest Director Louis Psihoyos sharing what makes Mountainfilm his “go-to” festival year after year.
My good fortune didn’t end there as Ms. Bernard accepted my proposal for a feature via a virtual Q & A. Please see below.
What do you do for the 2020 MountainFilm Festival?
I was an Associate Programmer for this year’s festival which consisted of reviewing film submissions and giving my recommendations to the Programming Team at Large.
Why did you choose to work for MountainFilm?
I have been working for the Telluride Film Festival for a number of years and quite a few of my colleagues have also worked for Mountainfilm. The Program Manager, Lucy Lerner, was a Senior Manager for TFF and I reached out to her with interest in being a screener for the 2019 festival.
How has your experience been?
It’s been such a thrill. I have to say, I’ve been impressed by a lot of the submissions I have watched. The documentaries screened at Mountainfilm run the gamut from outdoor adventure, climate change, anthropology, and social justice. 2019 was my first time attending and I got caught up in the overall commitment to the community. It’s been so motivating to watch the year-round staff translate that to an online platform in these current circumstances.
Why did you choose Programming?
Well with all the other festivals I’ve worked, I’ve always worked on the logistical side of things. Production, venue operations, ticketing, volunteers…you name it and I’ve probably done it. However, my eyes have been moving toward the creative side and I’m grateful to Mountainfilm for giving me the opportunity.
What other festivals/projects have you worked on?
I’ve also worked for the Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, and Telluride Film Festivals and am a part of the FantasticFest features submission team. Each job, I’ve worked has taught me so much and has rolled over into the next. There are so many talented people that put together these events. For now, I’m quarantining in New York City and hoping for the chance to help make that magic again soon.
Mountainfilm, a documentary film festival in Telluride, Colo., showcases “nonfiction stories about environmental, cultural, climbing, political, and social justice issues that matter.” The 2020 edition has gone virtual in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mountainfilm offering its 2020 festival lineup through a secure online platform from May 15–25. The new Bivvy pass provides full access to over 100 films, a symposium, and additional presentations for $75. An option to purchase individual films, shorts programs, or presentations for $10 each is also available. Check it out. You’ll be glad you did!
Until next time, I look forward to seeing you at the movies….
2020 Mountainfilm Intro by Stephen Burns. I’m putting my seatbelt on!
As you’d expect from a film festival with a penchant to inspire audiences to create a better world, Mountainfilm, a documentary film festival that showcases nonfiction stories about environmental, cultural, climbing, political, and social justice issues that matter, has gone virtual in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2020 Mountainfilm edition is featuring over 100 on-demand films and presentations over that viewers can watch at their leisure from the comfort of home in an extended, 10-day festival. To experience Mountainfilm at home, all you really need is a pass and an adventurous heart.
One of the most bodacious aspects of attending the Sundance Film Festival is the opportunity to mingle with other cinephiles. Undoubtedly, the question most often surfacing is, “What have you seen?” I asked and the response was Mucho, Mucho Amor, one of the most anticipated documentaries of 2020. Using inserted Tarot cards as title screens, black and white 1930’s photographic stills and television archival footage, as well as newsreels, present-day interviews and coverage of a defining moment of one of the world’s greatest entertainment personalities, co-directors, Cristina Costantini and Kareem Tabsch, offer a glimpse into the soul of Walter Mercado, an extravagant, flamboyant Puerto Rican astrologer, psychic, and gender nonconforming legend.
Mucho, Mucho Amor was preceded by an animated short, Shawl, a colorful film commentary on a Stevie Nicks concert where two long-lost boyfriends reconnect in a surreal and magical moment. With a sense of the possible in the ether, an opening with non-diegetic classical music and an androgynous figure in a white cape participating in a present-day interview set the tone for this sensational, narrative documentary, Mucho, Mucho Amor.
Born in 1932, Mercado had a rather unusual experience of finding a dead bird and breathing life into it. From this moment forward, Mercado knew he had the grace of God for healing. In 1950, Mercado wound up at the University of Puerto Rico. While taking television acting classes, his psychic and astrological repertoire began to flourish as he learned the importance of looking the part.
Over the following 30 years, Mercado would become a celebrated part of daily life in Latin American life and branch out to mesmerize audiences in over 120 countries with television and radio shows utilizing improvised monologues for his trademark astrology gig, The Stars and You. Often considered the prophet of the New Age, Mercado kept his messaging positive and energetic to instill hope and the sense that a more fulfilling life was a distinct possibility.
The beloved Mercado rising above homophobia and the heteronormative beliefs of Latin society with a message of love and hope would soon fall prey to the auspices of a business manager who nearly drained Mercado’s soulful and healing essence from the spiritual and metaphysical universe. And just like that, Mercado vanished after his October 3rd, 2006, show leaving millions of followers to speculate on the whereabouts of their spiritual seeker and harbinger of hope.
During his post-fame seclusion, Mercado had been engaging in a lengthy court case battle and suffered a heart attack as he sought to take back his spiritual essence. Fortunately, Directors Costantini and Tabsch had unprecedented access to Mercado’s home and interior life capturing his final two years when the pioneering icon grappled with aging and his legacy. While physically unable to fully return to his very public vocation, an ornate celebration was undertaken in May of 2019 allowing Mercado’s fans to meet their hero at HistoryMiami Museum. Mercado passed three months later surrounded by his closest friends and family and continues to be an icon of positivity and self-expression to the gender-fluid youth of today. Mucho, Mucho Amor is a fascinating look at the founder of the global phenomenon, The Psychic Network, and is slated for a summer 2020 Netflix release. Very, very warmly recommended!