Review: ‘Human Nature’ (2020), starring Fyodor Urnov, Jennifer Doudna, Antonio Regalado, Jill Banfield, Alta Charo, George Daley and Stephen Hsu

March 26, 2020

by Carla Hay

A scene from “Human Nature” (Photo courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment)

“Human Nature” (2020)

Directed by Adam Bolt

Culture Representation: This science-intensive documentary about human genetics includes interviews with a racially diverse group of scientists, medical professionals, entrepreneurs and people affected by health conditions who are mostly in the United States.

Culture Clash: The ethical dilemmas over altering human genetics continue to be debated in scientific communities.

Culture Audience: “Human Nature” will appeal mostly to people who like documentaries that go into great details about human genetics, but the movie might bore other people who have no interest in this topic.

A visual representation of cas9 in “Human Nature” (Photo courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment)

Should people have the right to alter their own genetics? And should they also have the right to decide how their children will be genetically engineered? Those are the dilemmas presented in the fascinating but very slow-paced documentary “Human Nature,” which bites off a lot more than it ends up chewing.

The movie (directed by Adam Bolt) ambitiously examines this very broad and wide-reaching issue by taking a deep dive into all the scientific breakthroughs and progress that have had led up to where scientists are now—having the capability to alter human genes before someone is born. It’s a step that most medical professionals aren’t willing to take yet on humans (it’s been done for years on plants and non-human animals), but the step has reportedly already been taken with unidentified twin girls born in China in 2018, according to the documentary’s epilogue.

Most of the documentary’s experts believe it’s only a matter of time when genetic engineering will become a possibly widespread option that people will take for themselves and for their unborn children. Whether it’s genetic cloning, selecting the genetic qualities that a living being should have, or removing unwanted genetic qualities, it’s now possible for science to do this on humans.

The movie goes into a lot of detail about how the family of DNA sequences known as CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) is the key to the science of altering genetics/DNA in humans. Cas9 (an immune-system protein that helps bacteria fight off DNA viruses) is also mentioned as extremely important in the area of genetic altering that aims to get rid of genes that cause health problems. Without going into all the details that the movie does, the simplest way to put it is that CRISPR is a DNA system that can be programmed to prevent viruses from attacking the immune system, and Cas9 is like the “police inspector” for the system.

But instead of spending so much time covering the “how” of altering human genetics, “Human Nature” should’ve spent more time covering the “why” and answered this question: “What are we going to do about it, now that it’s already happened?” The fact that human genetic engineering is no longer science fiction and there are already at least two known genetically altered people who are living right now (something that should’ve been mentioned in the beginning of the film, not the end) makes much of this documentary look like a long-winded science lecture.

For example, the documentary explains that most people who want to alter human genetics have two main motivations: (1) to stop or prevent life-threatening diseases and (2) to pick and choose which types of genetic qualities they want for themselves or their children. The first reason doesn’t present as many ethical dilemmas as the second reason.

But even the first reason prompts a major question which the documentary doesn’t adequately address: If genetic alterations can get rid of genes that cause life-threatening illnesses, then that will result in millions and possibly billions more people who can live longer and healthier lives. But is planet Earth prepared for this massive surge in the world’s population? Are there enough resources in the world to sustain this population?

Scientists have been warning that Earth is already overpopulated. Experts are predicting that by the end of the 21st century, the world’s environment and resources will reach dangerous levels of depletion, based on how things are going now. It’s one thing to tout these genetic breakthroughs that will help millions or billions of people live longer. It’s another thing to look at the long-term consequences and discuss how or if the world is prepared for these consequences. Unfortunately, “Human Nature” missed this opportunity by focusing only on the “cause” and not the “effect.” (This omission is ironic in a movie about scientific research, since the “cause and effect” rule is a basic rule of scientific research.)

To its credit, “Human Nature” has an impressive list of people who are interviewed, even if the documentary is a little too overstuffed with these talking heads and should have interviewed at least a few experts in population science. The documentary’s talking heads include Harvard Medical School dean George Daley; Fyodor Urnov of the Innovative Genomics Institute; University of Wisconsin at Madison bioethicist Alta Charo; and University of California at Berkeley scientists Jennifer Doudna (a biochemist) and Jill Banfield (a microbiologist).

Also interviewed are Jorge Piedrahita, who works in transitional medicine at North Carolina State University; Harvard University geneticist George Church; Max Planck Institute biochemist Emmanuelle Charpentier; the Broad Institute bioengineer Feng Zhang; Stanford University sickle-cell researcher Matt Porteus; University of Alicante microbiologist Francisco Mojca; MIT Technology Review reporter Antonio Regalado; and Stanford University archaeologist Ian Hodder.

“Human Nature” does a great job of illustrating (with eye-catching graphics) a lot of the science that’s discussed in the movie. It’s a big help for people who are not scientists. But it won’t be a big help for people who don’t want to feel like they’re stuck in a biology class, because much of the documentary looks like something that would be shown in a school.

“Human Nature” (which is divided into six chapters) also could’ve been edited with better focus. The documentary jumps around from profiling a young sickle-cell anemia patient in the beginning of the film, and then goes into a very long section with the talking heads discussing CRISPR and genetic research. Somewhere in the middle of that, the movie introduces viewers to a couple who has an albino daughter. And then toward the end, the documentary finally explores what should have been the movie’s focus all along: How and why will this genetic science effect the world’s population?

UC Berkeley’s Banfield gives one of the more memorable quotes in the documentary when she says that she sometimes has a nightmare where she dreams that she’s met Hitler, who asks her: “So, tell me how Cas9 works.” Banfield says, “I wake up thinking, ‘Oh my God! What have I done?'” It’s that very real possibility that human genetic alteration will be used for nefarious purposes which is keeping it from being a mass-market science for now.

However, “Human Nature” does interview people who’ve started businesses that are involved in pushing research for human genetic altering for the greater good. They include Synthego co-founders Paul and Michael Dabrowski; Genomia Prediction founder Stephen Hsu; and eGenesis co-founder Luhan Yang.

Of these entrepreneurs who are interviewed in the documentary, Hsu seems to be the most eager to make this science available to the general public. On the one hand, he says it’s “insanity” to think that people might use this science with Hitler-like intentions. On the other hand, he also freely admits in the documentary that people who want to alter genetics on others (their own children, for example) will usually gravitate to choosing genetic qualities that will make the genetically altered people look more like them.

Unfortunately, the movie barely acknowledges what it would mean if humans could preserve DNA of dead people and use that DNA later. (It sounds creepy, but that’s a dark side to this genetic science that “Human Nature” doesn’t really mention it at all.) And the movie only scratches the surface on what the long-term consequences would be if people use science to mess with the natural evolution of the human race. Likewise, the issue of genetic alteration being available to only those who can afford it is briefly mentioned but not adequately explored.

Ultimately, “Human Nature” excels if you want to know the details about what goes on in the science labs that are part of this groundbreaking research. However, the movie falls short if you’re the type of person who wants to know how this research is going to apply to the real world not only today but also for decades to come.

Greenwich Entertainment released “Human Nature” in select U.S. theaters, on digital and on VOD on March 13, 2020.

Review: ‘Kill Chain: The Cyber War on America’s Elections,’ starring Harri Hursti, Sue Halper, James Lankford, Jake Stauffer, Jeff Moss, Sandy Clark and Philip Stark

March 25, 2020

by Carla Hay

Harri Hursti and Maggie MacAlpine in “Kill Chain: The Cyber War on America’s Elections” (Photo courtesy of HBO)

“Kill Chain: The Cyber War on America’s Elections”

Directed by Simon Ardizzone, Russell Michaels and Sarah Teale

Culture Representation: This politically oriented documentary, which examines the effects of cyber hacking on U.S. elections, interviews a predominantly white group of people, including cybersecurity experts, government officials, journalists, university professors and hackers.

Culture Clash: Almost everyone interviewed in the documentary says that there is widespread denial or suppression of information about hacking and other manipulation of voting machines in the U.S. election system.

Culture Audience: This documentary will appeal mostly to people who want to know more about how voting in the U.S. works behind the scenes, even if what’s uncovered might be disturbing.

Voting booths in “Kill Chain: The Cyber War on America’s Elections” (Photo courtesy of HBO)

When people vote in elections, are their votes really safe from hacking or other illegal manipulation? Absolutely not, say the experts and other officials interviewed in the chilling documentary “Kill Chain: The Cyber War on America’s Elections.” The movie’s directors Simon Ardizzone, Russell Michaels and Sarah Teale focus on U.S. elections that have taken place since 2016. “Kill Chain” sounds the alarm that sinister forces that are inside and outside the U.S. are working to manipulate elections that are happening in 2020 and beyond.

Ardizzone and Michaels directed another HBO documentary that covered a similar topic—2006’s “Hacking Democracy,” which featured election security expert Harri Hursti (a native of Finland) showing how easy it was to hack into a voting machine. Hursti is prominently featured in “Kill Chain,” to the point where he could’ve almost been the film’s narrator. He’s definitely the star of the movie, since the filmmakers follow him going to various U.S. states to investigate the current state of voting machines used in U.S. elections and probable cases of voting fraud in recent elections.

Because voting methods in the U.S. are usually determined by counties within a state, there are vastly different voting machines that are used across the United States. Most voting machines, even if they use paper, still rely on computers for scanning. In addition, many voting places use computerized machines not just for ballots but also to verify identification and residential addresses of voters. Because the trend in newer voting machines is to become more computerized (including machines that turn votes into barcodes), several people in the “Kill Chain” documentary say these computer revamps will leave these machines more vulnerable to being hacked.

The “Kill Chain” documentary gets its name from the “divide and conquer” concept of how one entity can conquer another through a chain of events. As Hursti explains in the documentary, it’s a five step-process: (1) Reconnaissance, which is gathering information about the enemy’s landscape); (2) Identify, which is seeing who the targets are; (3) Weaponize; (4) Paralyze; and (5) Attack. When voting systems are manipulated and hacked, it means that the attacker is in the “weaponize” phase.

Throughout the movie, Russia is repeatedly mentioned as the country that’s most likely to hack a voting system—and not just in the U.S., but in other countries, particularly in Europe. However, “Kill Chain” also makes it clear that voting fraud can easily be perpetrated by Americans in U.S. elections, from the highest federal levels to the smallest local governments.

Hursti says in the beginning of the film: “This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. This is our common problem, owned by everyone living in the United States. And we have to solve it in order to preserve our way of life, our society, the rule of law, and our right to self-govern.”

He adds, “The key element to restore the votes is a removable medium,” such as flash drives or hard drives, which most voting machines have. Once those drives are removable on a voting machine, says Hursti: “Every step of the way, it’s vulnerable to attack.”

The movie shows that there are certain signs that indicate a voting site has probably been hacked: Numerous people at the site have problems with their ballots being processed. Another red flag is when voters arrive at the site, they are detained or turned away because the computer system at the site shows inaccuracies in the voters’ names or registration addresses. And these problems usually result in long lines of people waiting for several hours to cast a vote, going well beyond an acceptable wait time for casting a ballot. These long lines cause numerous people to either leave or not get a chance to vote before the polling site closes.

“When you prevent people from casting a ballot, you’ve hacked an election,” comments Sue Halper, an author and contributor to The New Yorker. Michael Daniel, who was a White House cybersecurity coordinator from 2012 to 2020, says that a voter registration database is the part of a computerized election system that is the most vulnerable to hacking.

The “Kill Chain” documentary uses the contentious 2018 election of Georgia’s governor as an example of an election that showed signs of being hacked and other voter fraud. For starters, Republican candidate Brian Kemp had a conflict of interest because in 2018, when he was Georgia secretary of state, he moved Georgia’s Center of Election Systems (CES) to his office, where he oversaw CES. Kemp’s Democrat opponent Stacey Abrams and her supporters repeatedly called for Kemp to recuse himself from overseeing the election, due to this conflict of interest. But the protests were to no avail, because Kemp stayed in the position that gave him the power to oversee the voting process of his own election.

Then, on election day (November 6, 2018), there were widespread reports of voting machine “malfunctions” and long lines in districts of Georgia that were heavily populated with people of color and/or registered Democrats. In addition, even before election day, there were reports of thousands of voter registrations being purged from computer systems and thousands of voter registrations not being processed in time for the election, mostly in areas of Georgia where there is a high percentage of people of color and/or registered Democrats.

The voting results were so close that it took 10 days and a recount for the official tally to be announced. Kemp ended up winning by 1.4% more votes than Abrams. The political group Fair Fight Action, which is backed by Abrams, then sued the Georgia board of elections in November 2018, and included allegations of voter suppression in the complaint. As of this writing, the lawsuit has not been resolved.

As a result of these numerous claims that the election was tainted by voter fraud and problematic AccuVote machines, Georgia stopped using AccuVote machines. However, the documentary mentions that Georgia is now using Dominion’s barcode voting machines (which make the votes impossible to count by human eyes), thereby making the vote counting more computerized and more susceptible to hacking. It cost Georgia about $106 million to switch to these new voting machines, according to the documentary.

“Kill Chain” shows Hursti on that 2018 election day in Gwinnett County, Georgia, at one of the voting sites experiencing machine “malfunctions” and extremely long lines. (Many people were waiting up to five to seven hours to vote, according to news reports.) At the voting site, Hursti speaks to Gwinnett County Democratic Party chair Gabe Okoye, who expresses complete surprise when Hursti tells him that the county is using the same type of voting machine that Hursti was able to hack into in 2006.

In a separate post-election trip to Georgia, Hursti meets with Marilyn Marks of the the Georgia-based grassroots organization Coalition of Good Governance, who was working at a voting site in Clarke County on that 2018 election day. She noticed that out of the seven machines used on that day at a heavily Democratic precinct, one machine was churning out ballots that were overwhelmingly showing votes cast for Republicans. The voting site’s exact voting results were public information.

For this trip to Georgia, Hursti invited Professor Philip Stark, who works in the statistics department at the University of California at Berkeley, and Stark’s assistant Dr. Kellie Ottobani, to run the statistics to find out the odds of that voting machine’s results being accurate at that polling site on that day. They found that there was less than a one-in-a-million chance that this outlier machine gave accurate results, based on the number of registered Democrats and Republicans who could vote at that voting site on that particular election day.

So with all this real and potential hacking going on, what’s being done about it? According to the people interviewed documentary, the companies in the business of making the machines want to do nothing. (The filmmakers note in the documentary that several of these companies were asked to participate in the film, but declined.) Some of the biggest suppliers of voting machines and/or software are companies such as Dominion Voting Systems, Election Systems & Software (ES&S), VR Systems and AccuVote.

Jake Stauffer, director of operations at cybersecurity firm Coherent Cyber, tells a story about how his company started a testing plan for voting machines, and the plan was approved by the state of California. Coherent Cyber used the testing plan on Dominion and ES&S voting machines and found “multiple vulnerabilities” (his words) that would allow hackers to change an election or shut the system down. But when those vulnerabilities were pointed out to Dominion and ES&S, both companies shut down the investigation and said that Coherent Cyber’s services were no longer needed.

Stauffer says, “How can a vendor sell a voting system with this many vulnerabilities? I can’t find a straight answer.” Jack Braun, who was the Department of Homeland Security White House Liaison from 2009 to 2011, agrees that companies that manufacture and sell voting machines and voting software cannot be counted on to take responsibility for hacking problems, since these companies usually deny that the problems exists. Braun says that these companies are the opposite of transparent when it comes to reporting security breaches with their machines or software.

What are politicians or other government officials doing about this problem? U.S. Senators such as James Lankford (a Republican from Virginia), Amy Klobuchar (a Democrat from Minnesota) and Mark Warner (a Democrat from Indiana) are among the co-sponsors of a bill called the Secure Elections Act, which gives the Department of Homeland Security the primary responsibility within the federal government for sharing information about cybersecurity hacking and vulnerabilities with federal entities and election agencies. “Kill Chain” notes that U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (a Republican) has repeatedly blocked this bill.

Lankford, Klobuchar, Warner and U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (a Democrat from Oregon) are all interviewed in the documentary. Warner says the the U.S. should’ve seen warning signs that Russia would interfere in U.S. elections because back in 2011, Russia’s deputy defense minister Gen. Valery Gerasimov publicly made statements saying that Russia might not be able to compete with Western countries when it comes to military weapons, but Russia could compete when it comes to “cyberwars, disinformation and sowing dissension.”

Ion Sancho, who was supervisor of elections in Leon County, Florida, from 1988 to 2016, gives his own Russian hacking story in the documentary. In an interview with Hursti, Sancho says that sometime in 2016, he and other election supervisors were summoned by the FBI into a top-secret meeting, where on a conference call, the FBI issued a warning that a foreign power had penetrated an election vendor in Florida.

Sancho says, “It didn’t take us long to figure that they were talking about GIU, Russia’s military intelligence service, and the vendor was a Tallahassee vendor (VR Systems), which did all the programming for the majority of the counties in the state of Florida.” (The documentary also notes that VR Systems also supplies voting machines and services to the states of New York, California, Virginia, West Virginia, Illinois and North Carolina.) Sancho goes on to say that Reality Winner—the former National Security Agency intelligence contractor who went to prison for leaking NSA documents that showed Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election—is a “heroine” for leaking the documents.

In order to illustrate how widespread the denial is over hacking of the voting system, the documentary shows a video montage of several government officials—including former FBI director James Comey and Election Assistance Commission chairman Thomas Hicks—giving Senate testimony saying some version of, “The voting system is not connected to the Internet,” as a way of denying that the system could be hacked. But then, after the video montage is played, Hursti shows several examples of exactly how voting machines are connected to the Internet and can be hacked.

In one example, Hursti and his business partner Maggie MacAlpine go to an Ohio business called eCycle Solutions that sells recycled products from a warehouse and on eBay. Hursti and MacAlpine buy some outdated voting machines called the AccuVote TSx, which is a type of voting machine that’s still being used in several U.S. counties. Hursti takes the computers and shows them to Professor J. Alex Halderman from the University of Michigan’s school of computer science and engineering, and they do an on-camera demonstration of how the computers need the Internet to process the information and can be hacked.

An even more dramatic demonstration of how voting machines are very easy to hack comes about midway through the documentary, when Hursti goes to Def Con (the annual computer-hacker convention in Las Vegas) and invites attendees into a room filled with different types of voting machines that are currently used in U.S. elections. With help from hacker Jeff Moss, also known as the Dark Tangent (who co-founded the hacker conventions Def Con and  Black Hat), Hursti tells the Def Con hackers that they have free reign to hack into the voting machines and show how it can be done. (The documentary notes that the companies whose machines were used were invited to this demonstration too, but they all declined to attend.) The Def Con “hackathon” test of the voting machines showed that all of the machines in the test were “effectively breached,” according to the documentary.

Douglas Lute, the U.S. Ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization from 2013 to 2017, comments: “We need to shift the mentality away from the Internet being secure and no one is able to tamper with the American election system to the reality that has been demonstrated in 2016.”

One of the most memorable parts of the documentary is toward the end, which features an interview with a hacker in India who uses the alias Cyber Zeist. He does the interview while wearing a disguise and in entirely dark shadows so his face can’t be seen. However, his voice doesn’t seem to be altered.

Cyber Zeist gives a disturbing account of how he was able to hack into the elections computer system for the state of Alaska, and that he could’ve made a fortune (“millions”) from what he was able to find. “I could’ve made any changes to the system,” he brags. Cyber Zeist claims he just “looked around” and didn’t steal information, but Hursti believes that Cyber Zeist dropped enough hints in the interview to admit that a tool was deployed during the hacking session, and that Cyber Zeist might activate this tool later.

The documentary shows Hursti in Alaska meeting with former Anchorage Daily News reporter Nathaniel Herz, who plays excerpts of an audio recording of an interview that he did with former Alaska Elections director Josie Bahnke, who had the position from 2013 to 2018. In the interview, Bahnke says that during her tenure, the Alaska Elections website was hacked by Russians and an IP address from India, but that “there was no breach” because she claims that nothing was altered or stolen. The documentary doesn’t prove that Cyber Zeist was involved in hacking Alaska Elections, and lets viewers draw their own conclusions over how credible this mystery hacker is.

Although “Kill Chain” certainly delivers on presenting several points of view on cyber hacking of elections, what’s missing from the documentary are investigations on what can really be done to combat the problem. The documentary instead wastes some time showing Hursti going back to his hometown in Finland and visiting with his mother. He and his mother look through old photo albums and scrap books together. The only reason this hometown footage seems to be in the documentary is to show the audience that Hursti was a child prodigy in computer science. Instead of this filler and unnecessary footage, the documentary should have shown something more substantial, such as a look into what any grassroots organizations or coalitions are in the U.S. are doing to have voting systems that are the least likely to be hacked, since decisions about voting machines are made on the local level.

The closest the documentary offers to possible solutions is when it shows comments from some of the interviewees (such as statistics professor Stark), who believe that the best voting system to have is a voting system that can leave a paper trail where people can count paper ballot votes by hand, in case there are any disputes. Even though making voting machines more computerized is supposed to make the process easier, the more computerized these machines become, the more likely the election system can be hacked.

After watching this documentary, many people will probably feel the same way that University of Pennsylvania security researcher Sandy Clark feels, when she says: “I feel like we’re in terrible danger of losing what it means to be a democracy. If elections can be altered in a way that’s undetectable, how does one trust the results of their election? Democracy functions on trust. Without that trust, things descend into chaos and anarchy. Those of us who know how vulnerable the systems are in the elections are terribly afraid right now.”

HBO will premiere “Kill Chain: The Cyber War on America’s Elections” on March 26, 2020.

 

Review: ‘The Rescue List,’ starring Stephen Kwame Addo, Peter Samuel, Edem Akpalu and Teye Adi

March 23, 2020

by Carla Hay

Stephen Kwame Addo in “The Rescue List” (Photo courtesy of Collective Hunch)

“The Rescue List”

Directed by Alyssa Fedele and Zachary Fink

Culture Representation: Taking place in the area around Ghana’s Lake Volta and featuring an all-African cast, the documentary “The Rescue List” follows a grass-roots group of child-welfare advocates and children they’ve rescued from modern-day slavery.

Culture Clash: The group faces opposition from the slave masters and has an overwhelming task of rescuing thousands of child slaves in the area, as well as rehabilitating them.

Culture Audience: This compelling movie will appeal primarily to people who have an interest in issues about human rights and social justice, but the disturbing subject matter might make it difficult for some people to watch.

Twi, Fante, Ewe, Ga, Ada and Efutu with subtitles

Peter Samuel (front row center) and Edem Akpalu (front row, far right) in “The Rescue List” (Photo courtesy of Collective Hunch)

Slavery and human trafficking are tragically still happening in the everyday lives of an untold number of people around the world. The emotionally raw but ultimately inspiring documentary “The Rescue List” takes an unwavering, up-close look at a grassroots group in Ghana called Challenging Heights that runs a children’s shelter, rescues children from slavery, rehabilitates them, educates them, and then places the kids into homes that pledge to keep the children safe.

Challenging Heights, which is not funded by the government, includes rescue-group leader Stephen Kwame Addo, who used to be a child slave until he escaped, found a safe place to live, and got an education. Challenging Heights also includes social workers Bernice Jaama Akromah and Peter Kwesi Smyth, who help the kids recover from their trauma with therapy. The children who leave the shelter for permanent homes get follow-up monitoring for two years by the group’s social workers.

According to some sobering history and statistics presented in the film: “In 1965, foreign mining companies built a hydroelectric dam on Ghana’s Volta River, creating the largest man-made lake on Earth. Traffickers began to pay families facing extreme poverty to send their children to the lake for short-term work. But the children often disappear. There are now an estimated 20,000 children enslaved to fishermen in remote regions of Lake Volta.”

In addition to suffering abuse, children who’ve become fishermen’s slaves often get trapped with fishing nets and die. And, of course, many of these children are prevented from going to school because they spend most of their waking hours doing slave work.

“The Rescue List” focuses on three of the boys who’ve been rescued: Peter Samuel, who was 17 at the time the documentary was filmed; Edem Akpalu, who was 12 during filming of the movie; and Teye Adi, Peter’s best friend who was 14. At the beginning of the movie, Peter and Edem have already been in the shelter (their rescues are not part of the movie), while Teye’s rescue is shown in the documentary.

In addition to being a rescuer, Addo (who goes by his middle name Kwame) is a de facto private investigator. He and his team spend an untold number of hours finding the necessary information to put on their “rescue list,” which includes the names and locations of suspected slave masters and the children who are enslaved. Addo describes his mission to rescue child slaves as “a calling.”

The movie shows Addo scouring Lake Volta for children to rescue, and it’s clear why he is often successful at his mission: He approaches children who appear to be fisherman slaves with a calm and friendly demeanor that allows them to trust him in a short period of time. Because many of the children are brainwashed into thinking that rescuers will harm them, he immediately assures them that he’s taking them to a safe place where they won’t have to spend long hours fishing anymore. Most are happy to be rescued, but one boy in the film is terrified, and tries to swim away when Addo approaches him and offers him an escape from his life of misery. (The boy eventually goes with Addo and his team.)

Peter and Edem have a story that is common with these children who are sold into slavery. Their mothers were the ones who let them be trafficked, and their slave masters often abuse and starve the kids to do what they want. Peter is a friendly kid but his rescuers notice that he’s distressed because being rescued meant that he had to leave his best friend Teye behind. Peter feels guilty about it and asks the group to rescue Teye.

Meanwhile, Edem, who is shy and insecure, is dealing with the trauma of losing his best friend Steven in a drowning accident. In therapy sessions, Edem describes Steven as someone who supervised him and was a protector who never abused him. During an especially poignant scene, two of the social workers take Edem to the beach and tell him to say a prayer and talk to Steven. Edem’s soul-baring prayer might bring tears to some people’s eyes.

The rescue of Teye is tense, but not violent. It resembles the negotiation of a hostage release. As Teye leaves with Addo, a woman shouts from a nearby house, “My investment is lost!” Teye’s reunion with Peter is one of the most heart-warming moments of the film.

But even after they’ve been rescued, the children still experience a lot of anxiety, because many face an uncertain future, especially if no family members claim them. Peter and Edem do have family members (including their mothers) who come to visit them in the shelters and want to take them home. The movie doesn’t judge Peter’s and Edem’s mothers for essentially selling their children into slavery.

But “The Rescue List” does show the very real emotional damage that these decisions caused, as now the mothers and children are virtual strangers. It’s clear from the guilty and tearful reactions of the mothers that coming home for these boys will not be an easy emotional journey. Although it’s never openly discussed in the documentary, they will all have to come to terms with what whatever they feel about forgiveness and emotional healing. Peter is old enough to decide if he wants to live with his mother or with a village elder who has offered to raise Peter. The documentary shows his decision.

Not all of this documentary is depressing. The shelter’s children (who are almost all boys) are shown to be well-adjusted to their surroundings. And they have a camaraderie that’s evident when they play soccer or when they gather in recreation room to watch TV or a movie. (One of the movies they watch with fascination is “The Gods Must Be Crazy,” the 1980 South African comedy about how the discovery of Coca-Cola bottle set off a chain of events for an African tribe.)

“The Rescue List” directors Alyssa Fedele and Zachary Fink take an observational yet empathetic approach to their subjects by allowing them to tell their stories without the annoying interference of voiceovers or talking heads. Although it’s certainly a relief that these children have been rescued, the movie doesn’t least viewers forget that not everyone is that fortunate and there will always be a need for groups like Challenging Heights.

PBS premiered “The Rescue List” on its “POV” series and on POV.org on March 23, 2020.

Review: ‘Dosed,’ starring Adrianne, Mark Howard, Trevor Millar, Garyth Moxey, Mark Haden and Geoff Acres

March 20, 2020

by Carla Hay

Mark Howard (right) with Adrianne in “Dosed” (Photo courtesy of Mangurama)

“Dosed”

Directed by Tyler Chandler

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Vancouver, the documentary “Dosed” advocates for the use of plant-based psychedelics to treat hardcore drug addiction and mental-health issues, with an emphasis on white people from the middle and upper classes.

Culture Clash: This entire movie portrays pharmaceutical medicines as the enemy and psychedelics as the best solution to certain people’s addictions and mental illnesses.

Culture Audience: “Dosed” won’t change the minds of people who already believe the agenda that this movie is pushing, but for other people who need to hear both sides of an issue in order to make an informed decision, “Dosed” falls irresponsibly short.

Adrianne in “Dosed” (Photo courtesy of Mangurama)

“Dosed” is the type of one-sided agenda documentary that needs to be viewed with a healthy amount of skepticism and common sense. It’s clear that the filmmakers (including director Tyler Chandler) are not objective in the least and have no background in journalism, since they’ve deliberately chosen not to present different sides of a very serious issue that can severely affect people’s health. The filmmakers’ agenda is to make people believe that using plant-based psychedelics (such as Iboga and Ibogaine) is the “best” and “safest” way to treat drug addictions and mental illnesses, such as clinical depression.

As “proof,” the documentary follows just one person who goes through this “treatment”: a Vancouver woman in her 30s named Adrianne (her last name is not mentioned in the film), a longtime friend of Chandler who says in the film that she has a long history (more than 20 years) of drug addiction (heroin, cocaine, prescription drugs, you name it). Adrianne also has psychological issues, such as clinical depression, anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Because Adrianne frequently has suicidal thoughts, Chandler decided to make a documentary about her desperate attempt to get help for her serious medical problems by showing what happens when Adrianne uses a great deal of the psychedelic drug Iboga.

At least Chandler admitted this “I’m filming a movie about my friend” bias upfront in the beginning of the film, but it does not help the movie’s credibility when people see how irresponsibly so many things are handled in this documentary. You don’t have to have a medical background to see there’s almost nothing science-based about the “conclusions” that the so-called psychedelic “experts” in this documentary make about Adrianne’s medical condition when they “treat” her, so it’s no surprise that she ends up in the emergency room. At least the filmmakers were honest enough to not edit out Adrianne’s disastrous trip to the ER, because it shows how this medical emergency was absolutely avoidable and due in large part to the bungling of the so-called psychedelic “experts” who were involved in her “therapy.”

Most of the so-called “experts” who are interviewed in the documentary do not seem to have any legitimate medical/scientific university degrees. One of the few exceptions is clinical psychologist Rosalind Watts, who does psychedelic research at Imperial College in London, England, and who is not involved in Adrianne’s “treatment.” Watts talks about how using psychedelics can be a tool (not a crutch) in treating depression, but she emphasizes that psychedelic usage is not for everyone, and it requires a lot more work and practice in therapy for people to overcome problems like drug addiction and mental illnesses. She also doesn’t claim, like most of the non-medical people in this movie do, that taking illegal psychedelic drugs will help keep drug addicts sober, because any fool can see that taking illegal psychedelics is not being “sober.”

Two of the people interviewed in “Dosed” are Mark Haden, who’s identified as a “psychedelic researcher” from Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) Canada, and Mark Howard, one of the people with a dubious background who was involved in Adrianne’s psychedelic usage. (Howard was present during Adrianne’s psychedelic “therapy session” that ended with her trip to the ER.)

Also interviewed in the documentary are Liberty Roots Therapy founder Trevor Millar, who’s identified as an “opioid addiction expert”; Inner Realms Center founder Garyth Moxey, who’s identified as a “psychedelics provider”; and MAPS founder Rick Doblin, who’s identified as a “psychedelic researcher.” Most of the “experts” in the documentary are people with no medical licenses but who have started businesses to administer “psychedelic therapy,” when in reality they’re just glorified drug pushers. We’ll get to that issue in a moment.

Adrianne says in the documentary about her drug use: “I’m always on something, whether it’s prescribed by a doctor or prescribed by a drug dealer.” Based on the long list of drug prescriptions that Adrianne says she’s had over the years (including Zoloft, Lithium and Wellbutrin), in addition to her ongoing use of heroin and methadone, it’s incredibly infuriating that anyone would think she would be an ideal subject to experiment on like a human guinea pig. She has so many drugs in her system that so many things could go wrong. And the ER trip is proof that things went terribly wrong. Adrianne is lucky that she survived that health crisis.

Adrianne willingly participated in these experiments, but considering that she was not mentally or physically well for most of the documentary, her state of mind has to be called into question. And just as importantly, there’s no mention in the documentary that she ever told her doctor(s) that she was undergoing this psychedelic “treatment” (it’s implied that she kept it a secret from any doctors she has), which put her health further at risk. But hey, why worry about serious health dangers like that when you’ve got a documentary to make?

That isn’t the only secret that Adrianne keeps. For most of the documentary, she claims she’s only using heroin “occasionally” (whatever that means) and that the only drug she’s using daily is methadone. But one of the reasons why she ended up in the emergency room is because she lied and was actually still using heroin heavily during her “psychedelic therapy,” which is a type of “treatment” that is only supposed to be done when people don’t have serious drugs like heroin in their system. It’s only after she’s taken to the emergency room that she admits to lying about still using heroin on a regular basis.

Adrianne shouldn’t get all the blame, because she landed in the ER because of incompetence by the people who didn’t give her any medical tests before they allowed her to take psychedelic drugs. People who are truly experienced in treating drug addicts know that junkies often tell lies about their drug use. That’s why people who are in legitimate drug treatment get drug tested before any further drugs are put into their system.

But there is no sign of Adrianne getting drug tested before the psychedelic experiments are eagerly administered to her by the people who call themselves “experts” from this non-medical organization called Iboga Soul. One of the Iboga Soul people is identified as “registered nurse” Patrick Fishley, who apparently has no qualms about being seen on camera as someone involved in illegal drug activity, which is a serious violation of a nursing license.

Apparently, the people from Iboga Soul and anyone else who encouraged Adrianne to use illegal psychedelic drugs just took Adrianne’s word for it that she wasn’t doing heroin. And the result was she ended up in the emergency room. In one very telling scene, Iboga Soul manager Geoff Acres has a shocked and terrified look on his face when he finds out that Adrianne had to be taken to the emergency room after she got “dosed” with one of Iboga Soul’s “treatments.” It’s the kind of look where he seems to be thinking, “I hope she doesn’t die and I hope we don’t get sued.”

Not surprisingly, the movie shows Adrianne sending text messages to members of Iboga Soul to go to her home and find her drug stash to get rid of it. And the documentary does show them confiscating the drugs on camera. For the cameras, they make it look like getting rid of the drugs is all about Adrianne’s health. But let’s be real: It’s also about making sure the police don’t find any of her illegal drugs in case they show up at Adrianne’s home, which can happen after a drug addict is taken to the emergency room and tests positive for illegal drugs in their system.

One of the documentary’s many flaws is that it’s so aggressive about pushing its agenda that it doesn’t honestly investigate the things that have gone wrong with this type of psychedelic use. Yes, there could be people who might benefit from using psychedelics, but how many more (or less) people go through the same “treatment,” and it has terrible effects that make their health worse? The “Dosed” filmmakers never attempt to answer this question or try to get the other side of the story from people who’ve had bad experiences from seeking this type of “treatment.” However, the movie goes out of its way to present the pharmaceutical industry as being largely responsible for people’s bad experiences in seeking health treatment. It’s obvious that the “Dosed” filmmakers only want to present a psychedelic usage story with a “happy ending.”

When Adrianne describes some of the nauseating physical side effects that she’s experiencing after taking the psychedelics, “Dosed” director Chandler can be heard asking her off camera something like, “But you still feel pretty good, right? You aren’t depressed anymore, right?” At another point in the movie, she legitimately snaps at him when she tells him that he doesn’t understand addiction. In making this movie, Chandler seems to want to think that this type of “treatment” is a straight line to wellness, when in fact there are some terrifying zig zags that can go south very quickly.

And the disclaimer that the documentary has about how psychedelics like Iboga should be administered under medical supervision is almost laughable, when “Dosed” and other documentaries just like it show that the people making money off of running these “psychedelic therapy sessions” almost always do not have the medical qualifications to administer these psychedelic drugs and monitor their effects. Some of the “psychedelic therapists” might have good intentions to help people get better, but it seems like making money is the real intention. The push to make these treatments legal has a lot to do with people wanting to get rich off of it.

You don’t have to look any further than who’s being targeted for these psychedelic treatments: white people from the middle and upper classes. Time and time again, in documentaries like “Dosed” and “From Shock to Awe” and “Psyched Out,” the participants (the so-called “healers” and the patients) are not a diverse group of people from different races and socioeconomic backgrounds, but they’re almost exclusively white people who can not only afford to buy these drugs but they brazenly put themselves in documentary films that show them (and their real names) as actively participating in illegal drug activity.

If you consider that most people who use drugs in the U.S. and Canada are white (and the numerous documentaries on drug addicts in America prove it), but most people in jail for using drugs are not white and are usually poor, it shows how much of a racial and social divide there is, in terms of who’s most likely to end up in prison for being involved in illegal drugs and who isn’t. Of course, the “Dosed” filmmakers completely ignore this major problem because they wouldn’t have a movie if certain people didn’t feel comfortable flaunting their illegal drug activity and dressing it up as if they’re better than the people who go to jail for also selling or possessing illegal drugs. Adrianne certainly fits that “privileged” profile, since she’s seen taking illegal drugs on camera and she mentions that her divorced mother has paid for Adrianne’s multiple trips to rehab.

This entire movie has a “privileged blind spot” by failing to point out the obvious: If this “psychedelic movement” really cared about helping all drug addicts and all people with mental-health issues (since these problems affect people of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds), it wouldn’t be targeting white people from the upper and middle classes to pay for these “services,” so there’s obviously a biased financial agenda behind this movement.

Ironically, the psychedelics that are being used in this agenda to target white North Americans have been used for centuries in predominantly non-white countries. Iboga and Ibocaine are made from a plant root in found in Africa, in countries like Gabon, and have been used in tribal psychedelic rituals. Mexican mushrooms are also a popular drug that’s being pushed in this psychedelic movement.

The members of the all-white Iboga Soul “psychedelic therapy group” even dress up in African clothing and use the same elements of African psychedelic rituals (tribal horns and incense paper torches) during their “therapy sessions,” which give a whole new meaning to “cultural appropriation.” If any people of color in the U.S. or Canada ever did this kind of illegal drug activity so openly in a documentary, see how fast they would be arrested.

Whether they call themselves “psychedelic administrators,” “psychedelic therapists” or “psychedelic providers,” if they’re encouraging people to use illegal drugs that could have dangerous consequences, they’re really just illegal drug pushers, but they do their drug deals in middle-class and upper-class homes, instead of stereotypical street corners. At one point in the film, Adrianne says something that is very true: Most people think drug addicts are the type of dirty, homeless junkies that you might see in crime-infested areas, when most drug addicts are actually functioning addicts who have jobs and aren’t poor.

“Dosed” also doesn’t properly address the differences in the health-care systems in Canada and the U.S., which have an effect on how drug addicts can get treatment in each nation. Canada has universal health care and usually has much lower costs for prescription drugs than the U.S does. A drug addict like Adrianne, who lives in Canada, doesn’t have to worry about paying for a trip to a hospital emergency room and she won’t get kicked out of a hospital because she can’t afford to pay the bill. As someone who has Canadian health insurance, she doesn’t have to worry about not being able to afford prescriptions because she doesn’t have the right insurance or because she no insurance. It’s yet another “blind spot” that this movie has that shows how unprofessionally this serious topic is handled by the filmmakers.

And even if “psychedelic therapy” became legal in the U.S., which is what a lot of its advocates are pushing for, it’s clear that it will probably be available only to the people who are privileged enough to afford it. That’s why it’s not being marketed to “everyone,” but only to certain people who fit a certain demographic.

The documentary also has a “holier than thou” attitude toward the pharmaceutical industry. Adrianne and other drug addicts like her can certainly make a case for how they’ve been over-prescribed prescription drugs. But at the end of the day, pharmaceutical companies and the “psychedelic providers” are drug pushers with the same agenda: get as many people as possible to buy your drugs on a regular basis, even if the side effects might damage some people’s health. It’s very hypocritical to pretend otherwise. At least you need a legitimate license to be a pharmacist, whereas the people who sell these “doses” of illegal psychedelics, under the guise of medical treatment, are not regulated at all.

The one time a drug test is shown briefly on camera is after Adrianne’s ER crisis. The test kit with negative results is quickly flashed on camera, and viewers are told that those are Adrianne’s test results. But for people who aren’t naïve enough to believe everything they see in a biased documentary, a couple of things are noticeable: We never actually see Adrianne take the test. And if she did take that drug test, how do we know she didn’t use someone else’s urine? (It’s a common way for drug addicts to fake their drug tests.) Given all the lies that Adrianne tells in this documentary, her statements should be taken with a huge grain of salt. If the filmmakers wanted to choose a “human guinea pig” for this documentary who would be credible and sympathetic, they picked the wrong person.

It should come as no surprise that at the end of the movie, Adrianne professes to be “sober” for a year, but then she also says she still uses illegal psychedelics on a regular basis. How is that being “sober”? But considering that Adrianne exposed herself in this documentary as a chronic and convincing liar who lied about all the heroin she was doing, it’s understandable if people watching this documentary question if she’s telling the truth about how “sober” she really is, thereby undermining the point that “Dosed” is trying to make.

Ironically, “psychedelic therapist” Howard says something before Adrianne’s ER medical crisis when commenting on the agenda that this movie is trying to push: “When people start getting ideas off of documentaries, that’s when things get dangerous. It is dangerous. We have seen enough to know that.”

Mangurama released “Dosed” on digital and VOD on March 20, 2020. From March 20 to April 2, 2020, 10% from every purchase of the film will be donated and matched by Facebook for a total of 20% towards coronavirus disaster relief (CDC Foundation, UN Foundation, and the World Health Organization).  

 

Review: ‘After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News,’ starring James Alefantis, Jerome Corsi, Kara Swisher, Jack Burkman, Paul Pape, Keith Alexander and Elizabeth Williamson

March 20, 2020

by Carla Hay

Infowars founder Alex Jones in “After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News” (Photo courtesy of HBO)

“After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News”

Directed by Andrew Rossi

Culture Representation: This politically oriented documentary, which examines the effects of “fake news” in the United States, interviews a predominantly white group of people, including mainstream media journalists, government officials, university professors, right-wing conspiracy theorists and victims of “fake news” stories.

Culture Clash: While the documentary mentions that false news reports can come from anywhere, the movie focuses primarily on “fake news'” spread by right-wing, anti-establishment conspiracy theorists, and the movie shows how this “fake news” affects the targeted people and journalists.

Culture Audience: This documentary will appeal mostly to people who are comfortable with mainstream media outlets as their main source of news, since these outlets are portrayed in the movie as the best watchdogs for “fake news.”

Comet Ping Pong owner James Alefantis in “After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News” (Photo courtesy of HBO)

What is “fake news”? It depends on who you ask. In the documentary “After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News,” what’s defined as “fake news” are false reports and lies that go viral and reach the mainstream. The movie, directed by Andrew Rossi, takes particular aim at right-wing conspiracy theorists as the purveyors of fake news that do the most damage. The documentary takes the position that mainstream media outlets, although flawed, are the still the best ways to combat fake news since they have the resources to fact-check stories. Meanwhile, the conspiracy theorists firmly believe that mainstream media outlets are the enemies and the real spreaders of fake news.

Tabloids have been publishing fake news for decades, but a more recent type of fake news has arisen through people in the general public using social media to spread their messages. “After Truth” takes an even narrower scope of this new type of fake news, by zooming in on politically motivated “fake news” stories (instead of tabloid staples such as celebrity gossip) that have occurred in the U.S. since 2015.

Why the year 2015? According to  Georgetown University disinformation expert Molly McKew, who’s interviewed in “After Truth,” the summer of 2015 was the start of this current “fake news” era. And most of the experts interviewed think that it’s not a coincidence that this era started soon after Donald Trump began his campaign to become president of the United States. Although the documentary focuses mostly on Americans involved in the war of spreading and debunking fake news, there is some mention of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

“After Truth” puts a spotlight on some of the biggest “fake news” scandals in recent years, starting with the hysteria created in the summer of 2015 from Jade Helm 15, an eight-week military exercise in Bastrop County, Texas. The exercise was intended to train military personnel on what do in wartime, including re-enactments. Somehow, false stories began spreading on the Internet that the military was really there to detain people who were known to speak out against then-President Barack Obama, and that the military was really there to enforce “martial law.”

The documentary shows angry citizens at a crowded town hall meeting expressing disbelief and fear when a military official at the meeting assured them that the stories were fake and that no one was going to be arrested for their political beliefs. Paul Pape, a judge in Bastrop County, was one of the people who had to deal with the flood of backlash from misinformed people who were panicking over the military presence. In the documentary, Pape made it clear in saying what he learned from the experience: “Social media is the devil.”

Perhaps the most extreme case that’s spotlighted in the documentary is Pizzagate, the conspiracy theory that began in 2016 about Comet Ping Pong, a family-oriented pizza parlor/ping-pong facility in Washington, D.C., that’s frequented by many people who work in politics. One of the customers was John Podesta, a former White House chief of staff and chair of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

After several of Podesta’s personal email messages were hacked and leaked on WikiLeaks, the email showed that he was a customer of Comet Ping Pong. Conspiracy theorists (the documentary names Infowars founder Alex Jones as a chief culprit) took the information in the email and twisted into the Pizzagate theory that Comet was a secret meeting place for a pedophile ring. Podesta, Clinton and billionaire George Soros (a high-profile supporter of Clinton and other liberal Democrats) were all named by the Pizzagate conspiracy theorists as being perverted participants in the ring.

In December 2016, one of the conspiracy theorists (a then-28-year-old armed gunman) was so agitated by this belief that he drove about 350 miles from North Carolina, burst into Comet Ping Pong, and started shooting. Luckily, no one was injured or killed, thanks to employees who quickly evacuated customers from danger. The gunman was arrested and sentenced to four years in prison in 2017. In 2019, another man, also identified as another right-wing conspiracy theorist, tried to set fire to Comet Ping Pong. He was also arrested.

In the documentary, Comet Ping Pong owner James Alefantis (who says the Pizzagate theories are all lies) and some of his employees give emotionally compelling accounts of the terror they felt the day of the shootout and the underlying threat of violence that they still feel, since they know that Comet Ping Pong is still a target for conspiracy theorists’ hatred. Alefantis says that he and Comet Ping Pong associates frequently get death threats and hate mail.

Alefantis, who is openly gay and has a LGBTQ-inclusive policy for customers and employees, also believes that homophobia is probably fueling some of the violent threats against his business. And he also talks about how he thought about closing the business many times, but because of the loyal support of his customers and employees, he’s vowed not to cave in to the bullying and death threats. “It’s a simple recipe,” he says of why Comet Ping Pong is still in business. “Family, community, truth. That’s why we’re here.”

“After Truth” also interviews several right-wing conspiracy theorists to show that they seem to care more about money and fame than reporting facts. They include political operative Jerome Corsi (who’s described in the documentary as the godfather of the current “fake news” era), Republican lobbyist Jack Burkman, Derrick Broze of the Conscience Resistance Network, and Jason Goodman of Crowdsource the Truth. None of them has a background in journalism—and they’re proud of it. As Goodman says in the documentary, “Whatever you think is journalism, I think of as fucked up.”

Burkman freely admits that fake news is “a political weapon,” yet he and others just like him don’t think they bear any responsibility for firing the weapon. “Yeah, there are terrible, negative consequences, but so what?” He adds with a smirk, “Let the people judge, despite the dangers. There is no reality, only perception.”

In the midst of the documentary’s very heavy subject matter comes some comic relief about how fake news can be bungled. Toward the end of the film, there’s a behind-the-scenes look at a debacle that was spearheaded by Burkman and fellow right-wing conspiracy theorist Jacob Wohl. In October 2019, the two men claimed that a woman had come forward with a sexual-assault accusation against United States Department of Justice special counsel Robert Mueller, who at the time was heading the investigation into Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Burkman and Wohl promised that they and the woman would be at a press conference to give more details.

Although Burkman and Wohl went through with the press conference, the “mystery woman” never came forward. The press conference and the alleged sexual-assault claim were largely exposed as hoaxes. The documentary shows how, even after being confronted by angry and skeptical reporters, Burkman and Wohl tried to talk their way out of their inconsistent and contradictory statements. And after the press conference, Wohl seemed mostly concerned about whether or not they were “trending” on social media.

That “fake news” fiasco fortunately did not end in violence. But the effects of fake news on threatening people’s safety, as well as how it often crosses the line into hate speech, have led to growing backlash against conspiracy theorists. The documentary mentions that people like Infowars founder Jones (who’s now been banned from all major social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube) have no qualms about spreading false/questionable information about others, but are very thin-skinned if they think the same thing is being done to them. There’s footage of Jones, after he lost much of his income due to being banned by these social-media platforms, angrily confronting CNN senior media reporter Oliver Darcy and accusing CNN of spreading lies about him.

“After Truth” doesn’t let all mainstream media off the hook. Many of the people interviewed in this documentary say that social-media giants such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are corporate enablers of fake news and only try to stop to fake news when there’s widespread public backlash or a government investigation. Smaller social-media platforms such as Reddit and 4Chan are also mentioned as places that spread a lot of fake news and thrive on it. However, Facebook is singled out in the documentary as the worst corporate enabler of fake news.

Recode co-founder Kara Swisher says of Facebook’s relationship with fake news: “They created the platform where it gets spread and then they’re like, ‘Oh, what can we do?’ They hide behind the First Amendment, and they are not the government. They can make choices. They just don’t want to.”

Although many conspiracy theorists and spreaders of fake news who’ve been kicked off mainstream social media say that they are being “censored,” the documentary points out, for people who are ignorant about censorship, that censorship is when the government, not a business, stops or prevents free speech.

Also covered in “After Truth” is the conspiracy theory (which has been widely debunked) that Clinton had something to do with the 2016 murder of Seth Rich, a Democratic National Committee employee. Police have reported the case as a murder that happened during an attempted robbery. Seth Rich’s older brother Aaron is interviewed in the documentary to reveal how much damage (death threats and other harassment) that conspiracy theorists have caused to his family.

And although the documentary shows extreme right-wingers as being the worst offenders in spreading fake news, the movie gives just one example of a liberal who freely admitted to spreading fake news to get a Democrat elected in the 2017 contentious and controversial race for U.S. Senator in Alabama. The opponents were Roy Moore (a conservative Republican) and Doug Jones (a liberal Democrat). LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman said he created fake accounts on social media, pretending to be right-wing supporters of Moore, so that they would alienate moderate Republicans and spur the moderates to vote for Jones. (Jones won the election.)

Hoffman says he has no regrets about spreading fake news: “I felt empowered to give Republicans a taste of their own medicine.” However, Jones (who’s interviewed in the documentary) expresses disgust that anyone used fake news to help his campaign, and he condemns these tactics. Jones says, “Two wrongs don’t make a right. That’s crazy.”

There are several journalists (all from mainstream media) who are interviewed in the documentary, including CNN’s Darcy; BuzzFeed media editor Craig Silverman; Washington Post reporter Keith Alexander; and The New York Times reporters Adam Goldman and Elizabeth Williamson. University professors interviewed include Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, as well as Yokai Benkler of Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center, who has this to say about fake news: “It’s very clear what you have is a propagandist effort trying to achieve a result.”

On the one hand, this documentary does an excellent job of showing the real and very human collateral damage that can result in “fake news.” On the other hand, in its zeal in singling out conspiracy theorists as the worst of the worst, “After Truth” could have been a little more balanced in showing that mainstream media outlets can report false stories too.

The executive producers of “After Truth” include CNN’s Brian Stelter, and so that’s perhaps why the documentary turns a blind eye to all the political “fake news” that mainstream media outlets like CNN and The New York Times have ended up having to retract or correct since 2015. However, the difference between these mainstream media outlets and the conspiracy theorists is that when mainstream media outlets have been exposed as reporting false information, they usually admit their mistakes and make the necessary corrections or retractions. Conspiracy theorists almost never correct or retract statements that have been proven to be false, even if they’ve been sued over these false statements.

Whether people are politically liberal, conservative or somewhere in between, the main takeaway from “After Truth” is that in this digital technology age where it’s easier than ever before for people to have false online identities, manipulate photos and videos, and create “fake news,” it’s up to news audiences to be more pro-active in finding out the truth instead of believing stories at face value.

HBO premiered “After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News” on March 19, 2020.

Review: ‘The Booksellers,’ starring Dave Bergman, Adam Weinberger, Rebecca Romney, Fran Lebowitz, Nancy Bass Wyden and Justin Schiller

March 6, 2020

by Carla Hay

Argosy Book Store owners Adina Cohen, Judith Lowry and Naomi Hample in “The Booksellers” (Photo courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment)

“The Booksellers” 

Directed by D.W. Young

Culture Representation: This documentary focuses on booksellers in New York City, and most of the people interviewed are white, middle-class and middle-aged.

Culture Clash: Independent booksellers, especially those who own brick-and-mortar bookstores, are facing uphill struggles with rising costs, changing technology and fierce competition from Amazon and other Internet-based businesses.

Culture Audience: “The Booksellers” will appeal primarily to literary enthusiasts, especially those who want to find out more about how the bookseller industry works behind the scenes.

Book dealer Adam Weinberger in “The Booksellers” (Photo courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment)

If you believe all the gloom-and-doom naysayers who predict that Amazon and other Internet retailers are going to permanently kill off brick-and-mortar bookstores, then you would be wrong. At least it’s not going to happen in the 21st century. Because despite the fact that it’s more difficult than ever before for brick-and-mortar bookstores to be profitable, let alone stay in business, as long as people read books, there will be a market to sell them. The absorbing documentary “The Booksellers,” directed by D.W. Young, puts the spotlight on a specific part of the book industry: booksellers who are based in New York City, the book-publishing capital of the world.

Borders Books. Crown Books. B. Dalton Bookseller. These retail-chain bookstores used to be titans of the industry. And now they’re all dead. For now, giant retailer Barnes & Noble and a shrinking number of independent bookstores are still holding on to what’s left of the appetite for buying books.

The documentary does a good job of explaining industry trends. There are three types of book buyers: private collectors (who are increasingly rare), dealers and institutions. The Internet has been a blessing and a curse. The type of booksellers hardest hit by the Internet have been those selling first editions of books.

On the other hand, the Internet can be used to a bookseller’s advantage with the right marketing, because the Internet allows a bookseller to reach customers all over the world. And most of the booksellers say that in order to stay in business, they have to sell other things besides books. Memorabilia is the top choice as an additional product to sell because memorabilia can easily complement books.

What the documentary should have addressed more is the prejudice that these booksellers have against electronic books (also known as e-books), because e-books are described as the enemy of independent booksellers. However, it seems like the booksellers in the documentary are in denial that future generations will shift to more “paperless” options in many aspects of life.

That’s not to say that traditional paper books are going away. It’s just that booksellers either didn’t want to talk a lot in this documentary about this inevitable trend of more people reading books on mobile devices, or the booksellers did talk about it a lot, but that footage was largely was cut out of the movie. At any rate, this denial about e-books is very similar to denial that brick-and-mortar music retailers had back in the 1990s and early 2000s, when they didn’t want to fully admit that digital music was taking over. And now, most of those retailers are out of business.

As younger generations shift to a more digital world (one that seems to favor watching videos over reading), booksellers are rightly concerned that their business will continue on its downward spiral. But it wasn’t too long ago that people were saying that vinyl records were dead. And now, sales of vinyl records have been making a huge comeback. And the largest percentage of buyers of vinyl records are people who weren’t even born when compact discs were invented in the ’80s.

But the biggest difference is that music will always have a young audience willing to buy and sell music. Will books still have a young audience? As buyers, yes. (As long as every generation has a blockbuster book series such as “Harry Potter,” young people can be counted to buy books.)

But as sellers? Well, the jury is still out on that. Based on what “The Booksellers” documentary shows, book selling is a profession that doesn’t seem to have a huge, enthusiastic influx of young people coming in to take the reigns of a struggling industry. Almost everyone interviewed in “The Booksellers” is middle-aged or a senior citizen.

Early on in “The Booksellers,” the movie addresses the diversity problem among booksellers, not just in New York but in the industry overall. For centuries, American booksellers were expected to be white men (usually middle-aged) because that was the demographic mostly likely to have the education and resources to buy and sell books. A.S.W. Rosenbach, who was considered the quintessential American bookseller in the first half of the 20th century, is mentioned in the documentary as being the epitome of people’s stereotype of a bookseller: a white, older man who’s an intellectual literary snob and probably someone who likes to wear tweed.

Although there are more women and people of color in the New York bookselling community than there were several decades ago, the documentary acknowledges it’s still an industry dominated by white men. To its credit, the documentary does make an admirable effort to interview a diverse array of people, not just those who are in the middle-aged, white male demographic.

A great deal of the documentary features female booksellers. Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine B. Stern (co-owners of Rostenberg & Stern Rare Books, from 1945 to 2005) are mentioned the most frequently as women who broke gender barriers in bookselling. Stern also co-founded the annual New York Antiquarian Book Fair.

Among the female book dealers interviewed is Type Punch Matrix book dealer Rebecca Romney, who’s best known to TV audiences as a book expert on the reality show “Pawn Stars.” She talks about how there’s still a lot of ingrained sexism in the book industry and that women in the industry have an added responsibility to continue to prove that they can be just as knowledgeable as men about books. However, she’s very optimistic about the future of the book industry.

Also interviewed are Honey and Wax Booksellers owner Heather O’Donnell; Imperial Fine Books owner Bibi Mohamed, whose specialty is leather-bound books; and private collector Caroline Schimmel, whose focus is on literature by and about women.

But you can tell that the makers of this documentary probably had to struggle to find African American booksellers in New York City to interview, because the African American who gets the most screen time in the movie is hip-hop archivist Syreeta Gates, who spends most of her interview not talking about books but about old hip-hop magazines that she’s collecting so she can digitize them for posterity. This movie is called “The Booksellers,” not “The Magazine Collectors.”

Another African American who’s interviewed in the film is The New Yorker poetry editor Kevin Young, who is an author and the director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. He’s not a bookseller either, but he does offer some great insight into book collecting from an African American perspective and how things get prioritized in his work with the Schomburg Center. Meanwhile, Asian and Latino booksellers have very little screen time in the movie.

As for the most well-known independent bookstores (past and present) in New York City, “The Booksellers” has interviews with some of the owners. Almost all of the long-standing bookstores in New York City are family-owned business that have been passed down from generation to generation. They include The Strand (whose co-owner Nancy Bass Wyden is interviewed) and Argosy Book Store, which is run by sisters Adina Cohen, Naomi Hample and Judith Lowry.

And, of course, New York City’s rising rent (which has forced out many small business owners) is mentioned as one of the top reasons why it’s extremely difficult for a bookstore to survive in the city. Not being able to afford the rent is why former Skyline Books owner Rob Warren (who’s interviewed in the film) says he had to shutter the store in 2010, after 20 years in business. Warren is now a private book dealer. The Strand, which always seems to be busy no matter what time of day or night, has been able to stay in business partly because the family owns the building.

Perhaps the most fascinating people interviewed in the documentary are not the owners of famous bookstores but the independent dealers who’ve turned their homes into libraries. The most fabulous showcase in the documentary is from Priceline.com founder Jay Walker, owner of the Walker Library of the History of Human Imagination, which is a personal library that could easily rival any great book museum in the world. It’s not a typical cluttered space with stacks of books. The architecture and even the lighting in the space are truly stunning.

Unlike a lot of the private dealers shown in the documentary who work in spaces that look like they haven’t dusted or neatly stacked the books in years, Walker’s collection looks clean, almost immaculate. It’s obvious he’s spent the money not just to collect the books but also to properly maintain them.

The most memorable eccentric in the documentary is Justin Schiller, whose specialty is children’s books. He started collecting as a child, by owning a first edition of “The Wizard of Oz.” At age 12, he says he began dealing books to Columbia University. And he currently has a unique collection of Maurice Sendak and Chairman Mao memorabilia that he’s gathered for public display. He officially has bragging rights to have the only public space dedicated solely to Sendak and Mao.

Adam Weinberger (who can be seen on “Pawn Stars”) and Dave Bergman are perhaps the closest to most people’s stereotypes of the modern-day New York City private book dealer. They’re middle-aged men who live alone in cluttered apartments that are stacked to the brim with books. It’s not quite extreme hoarder territory, where it’s impossible to walk around, but it’s kind of close. They’re obvious workaholics, which doesn’t seem to leave much time for a personal life. And it would probably be hard to find a live-in partner who would be okay with having all those books cramped in one space. (Weinberger lives in a studio apartment.)

A subset of the bookselling community are book scouts—people who aren’t fully committed to having their own bookstores, but who are always on the lookout for rare books and will often get paid commissions by booksellers. Martin Stone, a British native who died in 2016 at the age of 69, is mentioned as a legendary New York book scout. (He was also a respected musician.) Another subset consists of seekers—people whose specialty is looking for the rarest of the rare books.

“The Booksellers” film also has commentary from notable people who aren’t retailers but are authors (such as the hilarious Fran Lebowitz and the witty Gay Talese) and auctioneers, such as Christie’s New York book department founder Stephen Massey, a third-generation auctioneer who auctioned off Da Vinci’s “Hammer codex,” one of the most valuable books ever sold. From the perspective of an auction house, Massey says that because most books aren’t one-of-a-kind, books are considered a less-rarefied form of collecting than collecting art such as paintings and sculptures.

This documentary is undoubtedly very niche and won’t be of much interest to anyone who doesn’t like to read books. And the movie’s cinematography and editing are very basic, but it’s not necessary for this film to be artsy or fancy, given the subject matter. However, the documentary is very well-researched and very accessible for people as young as 10 who are avid book readers and want to know more about the industry. In fact, beyond traditional cinemas, “The Booksellers” should be shown at interested libraries and schools. After all, if the book industry is going to survive, it’s going to need enough people in younger generations to have the type of passion for books that the people have in this documentary.

Greenwich Entertainment released “The Booksellers” in New York City on March 6, 2020.

Review: ‘Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street,’ starring Mark Patton

March 3, 2020

by Carla Hay

Mark Patton in “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge” (Photo courtesy of New Line Cinema)

“Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street”

Directed by Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen

Culture Representation: In this documentary which has mostly white Americans and some Latino representation, actor Mark Patton (who’s best known for starring in “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge”) tries to make sense of the circumstances that led to him quit acting in the 1980s, including the homophobia that he says ruined his career.

Culture Clash: Patton places a lot of blame for his career downfall on “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge” screenwriter David Chaskin, who gave interviews saying that Patton made the movie too gay.

Culture Audience: This movie will appeal primarily to horror fans, audiences who care about LGBTQ issues, and people interested in “whatever happened to” stories.

David Chaskin and Mark Patton in “Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street” (Photo courtesy of Virgil Films)

Faded actor Mark Patton says that the 1985 horror flick “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge” was the best thing that ever happened to his career and also the worst thing. He never starred in another major motion picture again after this sequel got mixed-to-negative reviews. And in the documentary “Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street,” he tries to make sense of what went wrong.

Patton is one of the producers of the documentary, which was capably directed by Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen. Because Patton is a producer of the documentary, it explains why the film is mostly a sympathetic portrayal of him. It’s a compelling story, even though Patton (who still calls himself a “movie star”) at times seems to have an exaggerated sense of importance about his impact on the movie industry. He certainly isn’t the only actor who’s become a “has-been.”

Narrated by Cecil Baldwin (who sounds like he could be narrating a true-crime documentary), the movie starts off with Baldwin’s voiceover saying that “the world wasn’t ready for a male scream queen” when “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge” was released in 1985, when Patton was in his 20s. Although Patton’s Jesse Walsh character in the movie wasn’t explicitly gay, he had effeminate mannerisms, and the movie had some homoerotic undertones, which are explained in this documentary.

The basic premise of “Freddy’s Revenge” was that “A Nightmare on Elm Street” villain Freddy Krueger—the slasher serial killer with full-body burn scars, a striped sweater and gloves with knife blades as fingernails—had invaded the body of Jesse Walsh, a nerdy and sensitive high-school student. Jesse has been having nightmares about Freddy after moving into the same house where Freddy terrorized the main female character in the first “A Nightmare on Elm Street” movie. Jesse finds out later that his body has been possessed by Freddy—which is a departure from the first “Nightmare” movie, where Freddy only appeared when the main character was asleep.

In one of his dreams, Jesse goes to a gay bar and orders a drink. He’s seen at the bar by his gym teacher, who later punishes him for underage drinking. Freddy then kills the gym teacher in a homoerotic shower moment that includes the naked teacher getting slapped with a towel on his rear end. And the very concept of Freddy entering and leaving Jesse’s body has also been pointed to as homoerotic. Although Jesse shows a romantic interest in his friend Kim Myers (played by Lisa Webber), many people who’ve seen the movie think that Jesse is gay and in the closet.

“A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge” director Jack Sholder, who’s interviewed in the documentary, swears that he didn’t see any gay overtones when he was making “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.” Sholder says that he cast Patton in the starring role because Patton looked like he had the vulnerability needed for the Jesse Walsh character. The movie’s screenwriter David Chaskin is more evasive when he’s asked about any homoerotic content in the movie. Chaskin says that although he didn’t intend for “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge” to be a gay horror movie, he understands why people think it is.

Patton was a closeted gay man during his brief acting career in the late 1970s to mid-1980s. After “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge” was released to profitable box office but mixed-to-negative reviews, there were minor rumblings in the media about the gay overtones in the movie. Patton says the chatter was enough for his agent to get scared and demand that Mark only audition for roles where he played an obviously heterosexual character.

But except for two roles in television in 1986, Patton didn’t work as an actor again for decades. (He resumed his acting career with a small role in the 2016 independent horror film “Family Possessions.”) As far as a lot of people where concerned, he had disappeared. What really happened?

Patton places a lot of misdirected anger on Chaskin, whom he accuses of getting him “blacklisted” from the industry by “outing” Patton in interviews, where Chaskin would claim that he never wrote the Jesse Walsh character as gay and that Patton just played the character as gay. In the documentary, Chaskin gives his perspective: “‘Nightmare 2′ was a possession movie. I like the concept of an innocent person being invaded.”

But the more Patton tells his life story, the more it becomes obvious that Chaskin is just a scapegoat for what really led Patton to suddenly “disappear” from showbiz. Patton’s on-again, off-again live-in boyfriend—actor Timothy Patrick Murphy, best known for his early 1980s role as Mickey Trotter in “Dallas”—had AIDS, and so did many of their friends.  Murphy was “in the closet” about being gay, at a time when almost no working Hollywood actors were openly gay.

In the documentary, Patton candidly talks about finding out around the same time that he was filming “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2” that he was also HIV-positive. Because his lover and many of his friends were HIV-positive or dying of AIDS, and because he didn’t know if or when he was going to die too, Patton says in the documentary that he had a “nervous breakdown,” and he decided to quit acting. After admitting all of that, why does he have so much hatred for Chaskin?

As Patton tells it, Chaskin deliberately and cruelly fueled the homophobia that Patton believes led to him becoming an industry pariah. Patton says that the AIDS crisis was just one of the reasons why he quit acting, but he believes that Chaskin and homophobia in Hollywood were the main reasons. It was also during a time when Rock Hudson revealed he had AIDS, and there was a “gay panic” in Hollywood to not hire actors who were rumored to be gay. (This was during the beginning of the AIDS crisis, when many people mistakenly thought that only gay men could get the disease.)

Even though homophobic ideas about AIDS certainly affected how Hollywood did business, Patton comes across as too paranoid and illogical when he says that Chaskin was out to get him. Chaskin never had that much power to get Patton blacklisted from Hollywood. “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge” was Chaskin’s first movie screenplay, and his Hollywood career never really thrived after that. Chaskin has written only three feature-length movies since then (all little-seen independent films), the last one being 2000’s “Love Hurts.”

Furthermore, an untold number of gay actors were in the closet back then who had rumors swirling that they were really gay, but they still kept working. Patton’s boyfriend Murphy was one of them. Murphy’s last movie was released in 1988, the year that he died from AIDS at the age of 29. The reality is that Patton just gave up because of all the personal problems in his life. If he has anyone to blame other than himself, it’s probably his agent at the time, who obviously didn’t have enough confidence that Patton could find work because of the gay rumors.

We’ll never know what would’ve happened if Patton had a better agent at the time. But in hindsight, from the way that Patton describes his epic meltdown, he probably would’ve quit acting anyway, even if he had been getting steady work. He says he left Los Angeles, moved to Mexico, cut ties with showbiz, and spent years in a deep state of depression. He says that by the time he left the entertainment business, he had found out that he had “HIV, cancer and tuberculosis” and he was “bedbound for a year.” With all of these health problems that would affect his ability to work, exactly how is that David Chaskin’s fault?

And when Patton describes how he got into acting in the first place, it’s easy to see why he couldn’t handle the first major rough patch that came along. He never really struggled to get his big break. It all happened very quickly for him.

He describes his childhood in suburban Missouri, where he grew up in a Christian household, as living in an area where people looked just like him (white and wholesome-looking). However, his parents’ marriage was troubled (they divorced when he was 14), and his mother spent time in and out of psychiatric institutions.

In the documentary, Patton says he knew he was gay from an early age, but he went to great lengths to keep it a secret. He caught the acting bug when he would perform at talent shows in school. When he made the decision to move to New York City after high school, Patton says it was the first time in his life he felt he could be openly gay among his friends. (Although Patton’s IMDb page lists his birth year as 1964, more likely he was born in 1959 or 1960, because in the documentary, he says he moved to New York in 1977, after he graduated from high school.)

And how Patton broke into showbiz is the stuff that people dream about but rarely happens. Within days of getting his first agent, he was working as an actor, and he says it’s because he had the right “look.” (In other words, a pleasant-looking boy next door.) Getting work in commercials led to his first big break: a supporting role in the Broadway play “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean,” starring Cher, Sandy Dennis and Karen Black. In 1982, Robert Altman directed the play and the movie, which had the same stars as the Broadway show.

That kind of luck—co-starring in your first movie with that level of talent at such a young age—almost never happens to most actors. Therefore, it’s easy to see why Patton took for granted that things would continue to go that easily for him. In the documentary, he’s somewhat arrogant in describing how lucky he was to have such smooth sailing in his first few years as an actor. His attitude comes across as, “Of course I got work right away. I was cute and I had a great personality.” He doesn’t fully acknowledge that the opportunities that he got at the beginning of his acting career is not how it happens for most people when they first become actors, even for those who reach the A-list.

Because he never really paid his dues before getting high-profile roles, Patton comes across as a little too entitled in thinking that the ride should’ve kept going that way for him because he thinks he deserved it. Even the biggest entertainers have had career flops and pitfalls. The ones who survive the bad times (such as Patton’s idol Cher) are the ones who don’t give up, like Patton did.

Early in the documentary, Patton quotes something that Cher told him: “In show business, you always have to do what’s best for you.” Patton should also have learned more than a few other things from Cher about how to get through career slumps. (He’s old enough to remember how Cher became a laughingstock of showbiz in the early 1990s when she did infomercials for Lori Davis hair-care products.)

Patton says he decided to return to the entertainment business shortly after he was tracked down in Mexico by the filmmakers of the 2010 documentary “Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy,” which was a comprehensive history of all the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies up to that point. It was through that movie that Patton realized how the “Nightmare” fandom was still large enough that he could start making money by doing personal appearances, such as going to fan conventions that specialize in fantasy entertainment.

A considerable amount of the documentary shows Patton doing just that, as he’s seen interacting with fans, doing Q&As at “Nightmare” events, and traveling with his assistant Bill Nugent from personal appearance to personal appearance. The documentary also features commentary from “Nightmare” fans, some more famous than others. (Podcast host John Fozzie Nelson and drag queens Peaches Christ and Knate Higgins are among those who say glowing remarks about Patton.) Most of them either comment on the “Nightmare on Elm Street 2” movie, Patton’s identity as a gay man and/or how he and the movie helped them accept their own sexuality.

To his credit, Patton seems very grateful for fan appreciation, now that he knows how fickle fame can be. He has this to say about interacting with fans: “They don’t want to know about your problems. They want to see a movie star.” And he offers this response to people who think that doing the convention circuit is degrading: “If it seems whorish to do this, then be a good whore, because you’re taking their money.”

When he’s not traveling, Patton runs a gift shop in Mexico, where he lives with a man who’s described in the movie as his husband Hector Morales, who didn’t know when they first met about Mark’s past as a Hollywood actor. Because Patton is now a passionate AIDS activist and because he seems to have found true love with Hector, it’s safe to say that Patton is in a much better place in his life right now.

One of the best parts of the documentary is when it shows the 30th anniversary reunion of “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge,” which took place at Shock Pop Comic Con in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The reunion included director Sholder, along with cast members Robert Englund (who plays Freddy Kreuger), Patton, Myers, Clu Gulager, Marshall Bell and Robert Rusler.

Although his co-stars have good things to say about him, Sholder is the only one shown on camera giving Patton a much-needed reality check that he needs to let go of all this hatred toward Chaskin. (Chaskin was originally announced to attend the 30th anniversary reunion, but he ended up not going, for reasons that weren’t made clear in the documentary.)

And so, it’s inevitable that near the end of the film, Patton and Chaskin agree to sit down together and hash out their differences, after not speaking to each other for decades. It’s a necessary part of this documentary, since all of Patton’s whining about Chaskin gets very irritating after a while. Ultimately, “Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street” is a cautionary tale about bitterness, and it’s a wake-up call for any actors who think they’re owed a long and successful career in showbiz just because they starred in a couple of movies.

Virgil Films released “Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street” in Los Angeles on February 27, 2020, and on VOD on March 3, 2020.

 

2020 Tribeca Film Festival: features lineup announced

March 3, 2020

Tribeca Film Festival - white logo

Drew Barrymore and Drew Barrymore in “The Stand-In”

The following is a press release from the Tribeca Film Festival:

The 2020 Tribeca Film Festival, presented by AT&T, today unveiled its feature film lineup. Continuing its tradition of championing the discovery of emerging voices and celebrating new work from established talent, the 19th edition of the Festival foregrounds comedic, music-centered, political and socially-conscious films from diverse storytellers who use art to inspire positive change and community restoration. The 2020 Tribeca Film Festival will run April 15-26.

The features program will include 115 films from 124 filmmakers from across 33 different countries. The line-up includes 95 world premieres, 2 international premieres, 4 North American premieres, 4 U.S. premieres, and 9 New York premieres and one sneak preview. This year’s program includes 19 directors returning to Tribeca with their latest projects, and 44 of the feature films have one or more women directors. The feature program was curated from 3,385 submissions, and this year’s Festival received a record 10,397 total submissions across all categories.

“First comes the story, then empathy, then comes change.  When you change the narrator, you empower different voices to show audiences new worlds through their eyes,” said Paula Weinstein, Chief Content Officer of Tribeca Enterprises and program advisor.  “We are privileged to have so many new and rich worlds brought to life by visionary storytellers. We hope audiences leave the Festival deeply touched, moved, and entertained.”

“This year’s festival embraces the unique power of film to bring people together — whether that’s literally the communal experience of watching a film in a packed theater, or the more intangible way a great film can make you empathize with a stranger’s struggle,” said Cara Cusumano, Festival Director. “In an election year where we will go to the polls to make big decisions about our future together, these films are an opportunity for connection and understanding.”

“The 10 films in our International Competition reflect the power of political and artistic filmmaking from all over the world. From returning filmmakers to new voices, we will welcome and celebrate the diverse storytellers who will share their personal visions of their own cultures. Tribeca audiences will embark on 10 journeys full of poetry and emotion in these innovative international tales,” said Frédéric Boyer, Artistic Director.

The competition category includes 10 U.S. Narratives, 10 International Narratives, and 12 Documentary competition features. Additionally, the feature line-up includes 16 Spotlight Narratives, 20 Spotlight Documentaries, 17 Viewpoints, 5 Midnight, 13 Movies Plus selections; 6 Tribeca Critics’ Week, 3 films as part of this year’s new Women at Work section, and a family event.

As previously announced, the 2020 Festival will open April 15 with the world premiere of award-winning director Mary Wharton’s documentary, Jimmy Carter Rock & Roll President, at the Beacon Theatre as part of the City National Bank Screening Series with live performances from music legend Willie Nelson, Musical Director Paul Shaffer, Nile Rodgers and others. New this year, the Festival will be expanding across the Hudson river to the city of Hoboken, NJ, using cinematic storytelling and experiences to connect to this culturally vibrant community.

In addition to Weinstein, Cusumano, and Boyer, the programming team includes VP Filmmaker Relations and Shorts Programming, Sharon Badal; Senior Programmers Liza Domnitz (features, TV, and online work), Loren Hammonds (immersive and features), Lucy Mukerjee (features); Programmer Ben Thompson (shorts); and a team of associate programmers.

 

2020 Feature Film Selection:

U.S. NARRATIVE COMPETITION

Tribeca’s U.S. Narrative Competition showcases extraordinary work from breakout independent voices and distinguished filmmaking talent. These 10 world premieres will vie for the Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Actor, and Best Actress.

Angela Bettis in “12 Hour Shift”

12 Hour Shift, directed and written by Brea Grant. Produced by Jordan Wayne Long, Tara Perry, Matt Glass, Christina McLarty Arquette, David Arquette. (USA) – World Premiere. Nurse Mandy is just trying to make it through her double shift alive, but her nasty drug addiction, annoying coworkers, needy patients, and devious cousin are making it pretty tough, not to mention organ-stealing criminals and an injured convict. With Angela Bettis, Chloe Farnworth, Nikea Gamby-Turner, Kit Williamson, Tara Perry, David Arquette.

Cowboys, directed and written by Anna Kerrigan. Produced by Gigi Graff, Anna Kerrigan, Dylan Sellers, Chris Parker. (USA) – World Premiere. Troy and his young transgender son Joe are on the run from his conservative mother in the Montana wilderness, with a detective in hot pursuit in this emotionally powerful narrative. With Steve Zahn, Jillian Bell, Sasha Knight, Ann Dowd.

Fully Realized Humans, directed and written by Joshua Leonard. Produced by Sean Drummond, Chelsea Bo. (USA) – World Premiere. Parents-to-be Elliott and Jackie (an eight-months pregnant Jess Weixler) embark on a quest for self-actualization before the imminent birth of their first child in this strikingly honest and hilarious portrait of parents and children. With Joshua Leonard, Jess Weixler, Tom Bower, Beth Grant, Michael Chieffo, Janicza Bravo.

The Half of It, directed and written by Alice Wu. Produced by Anthony Bregman, M. Blair Breard, Alice Wu. (USA) – World Premiere. In a modern-day Cyrano-meets-Pygmalion, Ellie, a shy Chinese-American straight-A student finds herself helping the school jock woo the girl they both secretly love. With Leah Lewis, Daniel Diemer, Alexxis Lemire, Collin Chou. A Netflix Release.

Little Fish, directed by Chad Hartigan, written by Mattson Tomlin. Produced by Lia Buman, Rian Cahill, Chris Ferguson, Tim Headington, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Mattson Tomlin. (USA) – World Premiere. A pandemic attacking people’s memory is spreading around the world at an alarming rate. Two young newlyweds struggle to hang onto who they are, both as individuals and as a couple. With Olivia Cooke, Jack O’Connell, Raúl Castillo, Soko.

Lorelei, directed and written by Sabrina Doyle. Produced by Francesca Silvestri and Kevin Chinoy, Jennifer Radzikowski. (USA) – World Premiere. Reformed ex-con Wayland returns to his hometown and reconnects with his high school girlfriend Dolores, now a single mom with dreams of Hollywood in Doyle’s fable-like tale of second chances. With Pablo Schreiber, Jena Malone, Amelia Borgerding, Parker Pascoe-Sheppard, Chancellor Perry.

Materna, directed by David Gutnik, written by David Gutnik, Jade Eshete, Assol Abdullina. Produced by Liz Cardenas, Emily McEvoy. (USA, Kyrgyzstan) – World Premiere. Four women whose lives are separated by race, culture, and class but connected by the complexities of motherhood become inextricably bound together by an incident on the New York City subway. With Kate Lyn Sheil, Lindsay Burdge, Jade Eshete, Rory Culkin, Michael Chernus, Sturgill Simpson, Assol Abdullina. In English, Russian with English subtitles.

My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To, directed and written by Jonathan Cuartas. Produced by Kenny Oiwa Riches, Anthony Pedone, Jesse Brown, Ian Peterson, Patrick Fugit. (USA) – World Premiere. Dwight and his sister Jessie reach a crossroads over what to do about their little brother Thomas, a sickly child with a mysterious affliction, in this moody American indie feature debut. With Patrick Fugit, Ingrid Sophie Schram, Owen Campbell.

No Future, directed by Andrew Irvine, Mark Smoot, written by Mark Smoot. Produced by Jonathan Duffy, Kelly Williams, Jeff Walker, Lisa Normand. (USA) – World Premiere. Following the overdose of an estranged friend, recovering addict Will, still struggling with his own sobriety, returns to his hometown where he begins a troubled affair with his friend’s grieving mother. With Catherine Keener, Charlie Heaton, Rosa Salazar, Jackie Earle Haley, Austin Amelio, Jefferson White.

The Violent Heart, directed and written by Kerem Sanga. Produced by Ed McDonnell, Shawn Levy, Dan Cohen, Tobey Maguire, Matthew Plouffe, P. Jennifer Dana, Mark Roberts, Ross Putman, Dave Hunter. (USA) – World Premiere. Fifteen years after the murder of his older sister, taciturn Daniel finds himself falling for Cassie, a vivacious high school senior in this southern gothic-inspired Romeo & Juliet story set in the American heartland. With Grace Van Patten, Jovan Adepo, Lukas Haas, Mary J. Blige, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Jahi Di’Allo Winston.

DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

Over Tribeca’s 19-year history, the non-fiction film selections have exhibited work from emerging and renowned filmmakers, including future Academy Award® winners. This year’s films will compete for Best Documentary Feature, Best Cinematography, and Best Editing.

Eduardo San Juan Breña in “499” (Photo by Alejandro Mejia/AMC)

499, directed by Rodrigo Reyes, written by Rodrigo Reyes, Lorena Padila. Produced by Inti Cordera, Andrew Houchens. (Mexico) – World Premiere. The powerful hybrid documentary 499 examines Cortez’s legacy almost five centuries later through the eyes of a stranded conquistador traveling through Mexico. The film is a cinematic meditation on the violence that still vibrates through society. With Eduardo San Juan Breña. In Nahuatl, Spanish with English subtitles. TFI supported.

Dear Mr. Brody, directed and written by Keith Maitland. Produced by Megan Gilbride, Melissa Robyn Glassman, Keith Maitland, Sarah Wilson. (USA) – World Premiere. In 1970, eccentric hippie millionaire Michael Brody, Jr. decided to give $25 million away to anyone who needed it, sparking a media frenzy and thousands of letters from strangers all requesting his help.

Enemies Of the State, directed by Sonia Kennebeck. Produced by Ines Hofmann Kanna. (USA) – World Premiere. When their hacker son is targeted by the US Government, the DeHarts will do anything to protect him.  And so begins to unravel a web of secrets in this twisty, stranger-than-fiction cyber-thriller story. With Joel Widman.

Father Soldier Son, directed by Catrin Einhorn, Leslye Davis. Produced by Leslye Davis, Catrin Einhorn, Kathleen Lingo, Nancy Donaldson Gauss. (USA) – World Premiere. This intimate documentary from the New York Times follows one American family over the course of ten years, becoming an intergenerational exploration of the meaning of sacrifice, purpose, family and American manhood in the aftermath of war. A Netflix release.

Jacinta, directed by Jessica Earnshaw. Produced by Jessica Earnshaw, Holly Meehl, Nimisha Mukerji. (USA) – World Premiere. An astonishing and ultimately hopeful record of the hereditary nature of trauma, Jacinta follows the lives of three generations of women struggling to maintain stability. TFI supported.

Landfall, directed by Cecilia Aldarondo. Produced by Ines Hofmann Kanna, Cecilia Aldarondo. (USA) – World Premiere. Chronicling the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Landfall is a sensitive and urgent portrait of the continued fraught relationship between the US and Puerto Rico, a land in mourning and resistance. In English, Spanish with English subtitles. TFI supported.

The Last Out, directed by Sami Khan, Michael Gassert, written by Sami Khan. Produced by Michael Gassert, Jonathan Miller, Sami Khan. (USA) – World Premiere. An affecting story of raw talent, passion and naivete, The Last Out follows three Cuban baseball players with Major League dreams who, facing difficult choices, embark on radically different paths when those dreams don’t pan out. With Happy Oliveros, Carlos O. González, and Victor Baró. In English, Spanish with English subtitles. Also playing as part of the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival.

Pray Away, directed by Kristine Stolakis. Produced by Jessica Devaney, Anya Rous. (USA) – World Premiere. Pray Away is a powerful exposé on gay conversion programs, revealing the damage inflicted by shame and repression through intimate testimonies from current members and former leaders of the pray the gay away movement. TFI supported.

Socks on Fire, directed and written by Bo McGuire. Produced by Tatiana Bears, Amy Dotson. (USA) – World Premiere. Bo McGuire returns home to rural Alabama to document the bitter property feud between his homophobic aunt and gay uncle. Blending home videos with cinematic reenactments, McGuire paints a riveting picture of a house divided. With Odessa Young, Carron Clark, Chuck Duck, Michael Patrick Nicholson, John Washington.

Simple as Water, directed by Megan Mylan. Produced by Robin Hessman, Megan Mylan. (USA, Syria, Turkey, Greece, Germany) – World Premiere. Megan Mylan’s closely observed fragments of lives cut between Turkey, Greece, Germany, and the U.S.. Each unfolding scene portrays the elemental bonds holding together Syrian families pulled apart by war, searching for a new life. In Arabic, English with English subtitles.

Wake Up on Mars (Réveil sur Mars), directed and written by Dea Gjinovci. Produced by Sophie Faudel, Dea Gjinovci, Britta Rindelaub, Jasmin Basic. (France, Switzerland) – World Premiere. Two teenage sisters lie in a vegetative state in the small Swedish home of their Kosovar family, the cause of their mysterious malady, known as “resignation syndrome,” entwined with their personal trauma experienced as refugees. With Furkan Demiri, Djeneta Demiri, Ibadeta Demiri, Nurje Demiri, Muharrem Demiri, Resul Demiri. In Albanian, Swedish with English subtitles.

Wonderboy, directed and written by Anissa Bonnefont. Produced by Stella Maris Pictures. (France) – International Premiere. French fashion house Balmain’s creative director Olivier Rousteing allows the camera to become his confidante as he embarks on a search for his birth mother, in this enchanting documentary about adoption and identity. In French with English subtitles. 

INTERNATIONAL NARRATIVE COMPETITION

The New-York based Festival breaks its geographical boundaries with the International Narrative Competition, welcoming filmmakers from abroad to join a global platform for contemporary world cinema. These films will compete for Best Narrative Feature, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Actor, and Best Actress.

Kantu Shimokura in “Ainu Mosir” (Photo by Sean Price Williams)

Ainu Mosir, directed and written by Takeshi Fukunaga. Produced by Eric Nyari, Harue Miyake. (China, Japan, USA) – World Premiere. In an indigenous village in Northern Japan, sensitive 14-year-old Kanto takes his first tentative steps towards manhood as a debate brews among the community about a controversial ceremony. With Kanto Shimokura, Debo Akibe, Emi Shimokura, Toko Miura, Lily Franky. In Japanese with English subtitles.

Asia, directed and written by Ruthy Pribar. Produced by Yoah Roeh, Aurit Zamir. (Israel) – World Premiere. Asia is not your average mom. She’s free-spirited, open-minded and non-judgmental; but all that is put to the test when her teenage daughter – who happens to be differently abled – announces that she’s ready to lose her virginity. With Alena Yiv, Shira Haas, Tamir Mulla, Gera Sandler. In Hebrew, Russian with English subtitles.

Contactado, directed by Marité Ugás, written by Marité Ugás, Mariana Rondón. Produced by Mariana Rondón. (Peru) – World Premiere. Tribeca alums Mariana Rondón and Marité Ugás return with a captivating drama about an aging self-proclaimed prophet who revisits his past as a spiritual guru after an eager young follower entices him to return to preaching. With Baldomero Cáceres, Miguel Dávalos, Lita Sousa, Samantha Castillo, Solange Tavares, Beto Benites. In Spanish with English subtitles.

The Hater (Hejter), directed by Jan Komasa, written by Mateusz Pacewicz. Produced by Jerzy Kapuściński, Wojciech Kabarowski. (Poland) – International Premiere. Disgraced Law student Tomek will do what it takes to impress Gabi and her liberal family. Taking a job at a sordid PR company, he finds he excels at spreading political misinformation. But at what cost? With Maciej Musiałowski, Vanessa Alexander, Maciej Stuhr, Agata Kulesza, Danuta Stenka, Jacek Koman. In Polish with English subtitles.

Kokoloko, directed and written by Gerardo Naranjo. Produced by Gabriel Garcia Nava, Gerardo Naranjo. (Mexico) – World Premiere. In a tropical seaside village, Marisol pursues personal freedom while navigating between the two men in her life – her lover and her violent cousin who is keeping her captive. With Alejandra Herrera, Noé Hernández, Eduardo Mendizábal. In Spanish with English subtitles.

My Wonderful Wanda (Wanda, mein Wunder), directed by Bettina Oberli, written by Cooky Ziesche, Bettina Oberli. Produced by Lukas Hobi, Reto Schaerli. (Switzerland) – World Premiere. Wanda nurses the patriarch of the wealthy Wegmeister-Gloor family. When an unexpected complication arises, family secrets come to light and arrangements are made to try and appease everyone in this biting family drama. With Agnieszka Grochowska, Marthe Keller, André Jung, Birgit Minichmayr, Jacob Matschenz, Anatole Taubman. In German, Polish with English subtitles.

Nobody Knows I’m Here (Nadie sabe que estoy aquí), directed by Gaspar Antillo, written by Enrique Videla, Josefina Fernández, Gaspar Antillo. Produced by Juan de Dios Larraín, Pablo Larraín. (Chile) – World Premiere. Memo lives on a remote Chilean sheep farm, hiding a beautiful singing voice from the outside world. A recluse with a glittery flair, he can’t stop dwelling on the past, but what will happen once someone finally listens? With Jorge García, Millaray Paz Lobos García, Luis Gnecco, Alejandro Goic, Gaston Pauls, Eduardo Paxeco. In English, Spanish with English subtitles. A Netflix release.

She Paradise, directed by Maya Cozier, written by Maya Cozier, Melina Brown. Produced by Mishka Brown, Jeniffer Konawal, Kara Baker, Jolene Mendes, Marie-Elena Joseph. (Trinidad and Tobago) – World Premiere. When naïve teenager Sparkle joins a dance crew of confident older girls, she encounters an alluring but unsettling new world of sex and money in this snapshot of sisterhood in Trinidad and Tobago. With Onessa Nestor, Kimberly Crichton, Chelsey Rampersad, Denisia Latchman, Kern Mollineau, Michael Cherrie.

Sublet, directed by Eytan Fox, written by Eytan Fox, Itay Segal. Produced by Gal Uchovsky, Micky Rabinovitz, Moshe Edery, Leon Edery. (Israel, USA) – World Premiere. In this heartwarming latest from Eytan Fox (Yossi), John Benjamin Hickey plays a gay travel writer who trades New York for Tel Aviv, where a charming young man helps him get perspective on his long-term relationship. With John Benjamin Hickey, Niv Nissim, Lihi Kornowski, Miki Kam, Omri Loukas, Tamir Ginsburg. In English, Hebrew with English subtitles.

Tryst with Destiny, directed and written by Prashant Nair. Produced by Manish Mundra. (India, France) – World Premiere. A billionaire learns there is something money can’t buy, a lower-caste couple attempts to build a new life, and a corrupt city cop finds himself far outside of the law in Nair’s slyly biting triptych on class in contemporary India. With Ashish Vidyarthi, Suhasini Mani Ratnam, Viineet Kumar, Kani Kusruti, Jaideep Ahlawat, Palomi Ghosh. In English, Hindi, Telugu with English subtitles.

 

SPOTLIGHT NARRATIVE

Anticipated premieres from acclaimed filmmakers and performers are the focus of the Spotlight Narrative section which continues to be a launching pad for compelling stories.

Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney in “Bad Education” (Photo by JoJo Whilden/HBO)

Bad Education, directed by Cory Finley, written by Mike Makowsky. Produced by Fred Berger, Eddie Vaisman, Julia Lebedev, Oren Moverman, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Mike Makowsky. (USA) – US Premiere. In the wake of an impending embezzlement scandal, a charismatic superintendent struggles to maintain order to keep his high school district prosperous in this energetic dark comedy based on an outrageous true story. With Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, Geraldine Viswanathan and Ray Romano. An HBO Films release.

Clean, directed by Paul Solet, written by Paul Solet, Adrien Brody. Produced by Daniel Sollinger, Adrien Brody, Paul Solet, Elliot Brody. (USA) – World Premiere. Tormented by a past life, garbage man Clean attempts a life of quiet redemption. But when his good intentions mark him a target of a local crime boss, Clean is forced to reconcile with the violence of his past in this brutal and bloody thrill ride. With Adrien Brody, Glenn Fleshler, Richie Merritt, Ari Chandler-DuPont, Mykelti Williamson, Rza, Michelle Wilson, John Bianco.

Don’t Tell a Soul, directed and written by Alex McAuley. Produced by Merry-Kay Poe. (USA) – World Premiere. Joey’s older brother Matt convinces him to rob a house for their sick mother and security guard Hamby falls in a well chasing them. Now Hamby must match wits with the teenagers in order to get out. With Jack Dylan Grazer, Fionn Whitehead, Rainn Wilson, Mena Suvari.

The God Committee, directed and written by Austin Stark. Produced by Molly Connors, Amanda Bowers, Jonathan Rubenstein, Ari Pinchot, Jane Oster, Bingo Gubelmann, Benji Kohn. (USA) – World Premiere. When a donor heart arrives at a New York City hospital, a committee of doctors and bureaucrats must convene to decide which of three patients deserves the life-saving transplant in this ethically charged medical drama. With Kelsey Grammer, Julia Stiles, Colman Domingo, Janeane Garofalo, Dan Hedaya.

Happily, directed and written by BenDavid Grabinski. Produced by Jack Black, Nancy Leopardi, Ross Kohn, Spencer Berman, BenDavid Grabinski. (USA) – World Premiere. Joel McHale stars in this Jack Black-produced romantic-comedy-thriller about a happily married couple whose friends perform an intervention to put an end to their constant public displays of affection. With Joel McHale, Kerry Bishé, Stephen Root, Natalie Morales, Paul Scheer and Natalie Zea.

Inheritance, directed by Vaughn Stein, written by Matthew Kennedy. Produced by David M. Wulf, Richard Barton Lewis, Arianne Fraser. (USA) – World Premiere. When the patriarch of a wealthy and powerful New York family suddenly dies, his daughter is left with a shocking secret inheritance that challenges her beliefs in justice and threatens to destroy her family’s lives. With Lily Collins, Simon Pegg, Connie Nielsen, Chace Crawford, Patrick Warburton, Michael Beach. A DIRECTV release.

The King of Staten Island, directed by Judd Apatow, written by Judd Apatow, Pete Davidson, Dave Sirus. Produced by Judd Apatow, Barry Mendel. (USA) – New York Premiere. Judd Apatow directs Staten Island’s own Pete Davidson in this bracing, emotional comedy about a burnout who has to learn to let go of the past and finally grow up. With Pete Davidson, Marisa Tomei, Bill Burr, Bel Powley, Maude Apatow, Ricky Velez and Steve Buscemi. A Universal Pictures release.

Love is Love is Love, directed by Eleanor Coppola, written by Eleanor Coppola, Karen Leigh Hopkins. Produced by Anahid Nazarian, Adriana Rotaru. (USA) – World Premiere. Tribeca alum Eleanor Coppola delivers a heartwarming triptych that explores love, infidelity and romance. With Maya Kazan, Joanne Whalley, Chris Messina, Kathy Baker, Marshall Bell, Cybill Shepherd, Rita Wilson, Rosanna Arquette, Polly Draper.

Love Spreads, directed and written by Jamie Adams. Produced by Jamie Adams, Maggie Monteith. (Wales) – World Premiere. Rock band Glass Heart seclude themselves in a remote cottage to find inspiration and energy for their next album. It all hinges on star Kelly, but inspiration won’t come, and tensions start to build. With Alia Shawkat, Eiza Gonzalez, Chanel Cresswell, Nick Helm, Dolly Wells, Tara Lee.

Monday, directed and written by Argyris Papadimitropoulos. Produced by Christos V. Konstantakopoulos, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Damian Jones, Deanna Barillari. (Greece) – World Premiere. Mikey and Chloe are two Americans living in Athens. Both are romantically unattached when they meet one hot summer Friday. Their instantaneous chemistry leads to a whirlwind weekend and questions about their future when they wake up Monday. With Sebastian Stan, Denise Gough.

My Zoe, directed and written by Julie Delpy. Produced by Malte Grunert, Gabrielle Tana, Andrew Levitas, Julie Delpy, Hubert Caillard, Dominique Boutonnat. (Germany, France) – US Premiere. In this hybrid of drama and science fiction, audiences are treated to director and star Julie Delpy’s newest exploration of modern relationships—here the eternal tie of parent and child. With Julie Delpy, Daniel Brühl, Gemma Arterton, Richard Armitage, Sophia Ally. In English, French, German with English subtitles. A Blue Fox Entertainment release.

Silk Road, directed and written by Tiller Russell. Produced by Stephen Gans, David Hyman, Duncan Montgomery, Alex Orlovsky, Jack Selby. (USA) – World Premiere. Ripped from the headlines, Silk Road captures the birth of the titular darknet marketplace through an elaborate, thrilling cat-and-mouse game between its ambitious creator Ross Ulbricht and a disreputable DEA agent desperate to bring down the millennial kingpin. With Jason Clarke, Nick Robinson, Alexandra Shipp, Katie Aselton, Jimmi Simpson, Paul Walter Hauser.

The Sound of Philadelphia, directed and written by Jeremie Guez. Produced by Aimee Buidine, Julien Madon, David Hinojosa, Christine Vachon, Trevor Matthews, Nick Gordon. (France, Belgium, Netherlands, USA) – World Premiere. Raised as brothers, cousins Peter and Michael are the progeny of Irish hitmen. Thirty years later, both are caught in an endless familial cycle of revenge and destruction. With Matthias Schoenaerts, Joel Kinnaman, Maika Monroe, Paul Schneider, Nicholas Crovetti, Ryan Phillippe.

The Stand-In, directed by Jamie Babbitt, written by Sam Bain. Produced by Tom McNulty, Caddy Vanasirikul, Ember Truesdell, Chris Miller, Brian O’Shea (USA) – World Premiere. Drew Barrymore stars in this comedy about a Hollywood actress who trades places with her enthusiastic stand-in so that she can take a break from the public eye. With Drew Barrymore, Michael Zegen, TJ Miler, Holland Taylor, Charlie Barnett, Ellie Kemper, Andrew Rannells, Lena Dunham.

Stardust, directed by Gabriel Range, written by Christopher Bell, Gabriel Range. Produced by Paul Van Carter, Nick Taussig, Matt Code. (UK) – World Premiere. In 1971, David Bowie embarked on a transformative road trip through America with struggling publicist Rob Oberman. Stardust provides an intimate glimpse into the moments that inspired Bowie to reinvent himself in order to truly become himself: his iconic celestial alter-ego Ziggy Stardust. With Johnny Flynn, Jena Malone, Marc Maron.

The Trip to Greece, directed and written by Michael Winterbottom. Produced by Melissa Parmenter. (UK, Greece) – World Premiere. Back for their fourth cinematic travelogue, Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan head out together on a Greek excursion inspired by Homer’s The Odyssey—and, naturally, fueled by sharp-witted banter and the best Werner Herzog impressions imaginable. With Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon. An IFC Films release.

SPOTLIGHT DOCUMENTARY

Documentaries consistently make waves at Tribeca as notable filmmakers and major stories are represented in this section through high-profile premieres.

Bishop Juan Gerardi in “The Art of Political Murder” (Photo courtesy of Prensa Libre)

The Art of Political Murder, directed by Paul Taylor. Produced by Teddy Leifer, Regina K. Scully. (UK) – World Premiere. The shocking murder of human rights activist Bishop Juan Gerardi in the aftermath of the Guatemalan Civil War sets the ground for a powerful battle between justice and corruption in this political crime thriller Executive Produced by George Clooney. With Francisco Goldman, Ronalth Ochaeta, Claudia Méndez Arriaza, Leopoldo Zeissig, Rubén Chanax, Arturo Aguilar. In English, Spanish with English subtitles. An HBO Documentary Films release.

Athlete A, directed by Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk. Produced by Serin Marshall, Jen Sey, Julie Parker Benello. (USA) – World Premiere. In the riveting Athlete A, filmmakers Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk delve into the world of elite competitive gymnastics and the toxic culture within that allowed sexual abuse to go on for decades unchecked. A Netflix Release. Also playing as part of the ESPN/Tribeca Sports Film Festival.

Banksy Most Wanted, directed and written by Aurélia Rouvier, Laurent Richard, Seamus Haley. Produced by Laurent Richard. (France) – World Premiere. Banksy is a household name, but behind this name hides a multitude of stories, artworks, stunts, political statements and identities, leading to one of the art world’s biggest unanswered questions- who is Banksy? In English, French with English subtitles.

Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road, directed by Brent Wilson, written by Brent Wilson, Jason Fine. Produced by Tim Headington, Theresa Steele Page, Brent Wilson. (USA) – World Premiere. The Beach Boys’ lead songwriter takes a drive around Los Angeles with Rolling Stone editor and longtime friend Jason Fine in this nonlinear cinematic memoir, as vivid and multifaceted as his music. With Brian Wilson, Bruce Springsteen, Sir Elton John, Linda Perry, Jim James, Nick Jonas, Gustavo Dudamel.

Helmut Newton: The Bad and the Beautiful, directed and written by Gero von Boehm. Produced by Felix von Boehm. (Germany) – World Premiere. Catherine Deneuve, Grace Jones, Charlotte Rampling, Isabella Rossellini, Anna Wintour and others give their take on legendary photographer Helmut Newton’s life, art, and legacy, in this portrait of a man who was at once provocative, unconventional, subversive and genius in his depiction of women. With Grace Jones, Sylvia Gobbel, Isabella Rossellini, Anna Wintour, Nadja Auermann, Phyllis Posnick, Charlotte Rampling, Marianne Faithfull, Claudia Schiffer, Hanna Schygulla, Carla Sozzani, Arja Toyryla, June Newton.  In English, French, German with English subtitles.

Hydration, directed by Mimi Valdés. Produced by Pharrell Williams, Mimi Valdés, Jerry Kolber, Adam “Tex” Davis. (USA) – World Premiere. Hydration takes audiences backstage and behind the scenes of Pharrell’s ground-breaking Something in the Water festival, using music to bring together his divided hometown of Virginia Beach. Featuring exhilarating live performances by legendary music artists Jay Z, Missy Elliot, Gwen Stefani and others. With Pharrell Williams, Gwen Stefani, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Pusha T, Dave Grohl, Snoop Dogg and more.

Ice Cold, directed by Karam Gill, written by Karam Gill, Nicholas Stafford Briggs. Produced by Peter Scalettar, Carmen Garcia Durazo, Andrew Primavera. (USA) – World Premiere. From Executive Producers Migos & Quality Control, explore one of rap music’s most elaborate forms of personal expression…jewelry. Fans love it; haters only see superficiality. Ice Cold cuts deep into the “bling bling” obsession to examine its often overlooked socioeconomic motivations. With Migos, Lil Yachty, J Balvin, Slick Rick, Ben Baller, ASAP Ferg.

Kubrick by Kubrick (Kubrick par Kubrick), directed and written by Gregory Monro. Produced by Jeremy Zelnik, Martin Laurent. (France) – World Premiere. A rare and transcendent journey into the life and films of the legendary Stanley Kubrick like we’ve never seen before, featuring a treasure trove of unearthed interview recordings from the master himself. In English, French with English subtitles.

Larry Flynt for President, directed by Nadia Szold, written by Nadia Szold, Tchavdar Georgiev. Produced by Ben Browning, Lauren Mekhael, Steven Prince, Ivan Orlic. (USA) – World Premiere. Assembled from never before seen footage shot in 1983, this fascinating film documents controversial Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt’s unlikely bid for the White House after a gunman’s bullet left him partially paralyzed. With Larry Flynt.

Not Going Quietly, directed by Nicholas Bruckman, written by Amanda Roddy, Nicholas Bruckman. Produced by Amanda Roddy. (USA) – World Premiere. An intimate, inspiring look at activist and loving father Ady Barkan, diagnosed with ALS at age 32 and who, in spite of declining physical abilities, embarks on a nationwide campaign for healthcare reform. With Ady Barkan, Rachael King, Elizabeth Jaff, Ana Maria Archila, Nate Smith, Tracey Corder.

Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles, directed by Laura Gabbert. Produced by Steve Robillard, Mohamed Al Rafi, Jeff Frey, Lauren Deuterman. (USA) – World Premiere. Follow celebrity chef Yotam Ottolenghi as he assembles a star-studded team of the world’s most innovative pastry chefs to put on a Versailles-themed culinary gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. With Yotam Ottolenghi, Dominique Ansel, Ghaya Oliveira, Dinara Kasko, Sam Bompas, Janice Wong. In English, French, Hebrew, Russian, Ukrainian with English subtitles.

Rebuilding Paradise, directed by Ron Howard. Produced by Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Sara Bernstein, Justin Wilkes, Xan Parker. (USA) – New York Premiere. Director Ron Howard profiles several survivors of California’s deadliest wildfire who must decide whether to leave or to remain and rebuild in a town that is now on the front lines of the climate crisis. With Woody Culleton, Michelle John, Carly Ingersoll, Matt Gates, Zach Boston. A National Geographic release.

Ricky Powell: The Individualist, directed by Josh Swade, written by Josh Swade, Christopher McGlynn. Produced by Josh Swade, Christopher McGlynn, Eamon O’Neil. (USA) – World Premiere. Ricky Powell boasts a quintessential New York story, rising to fame as a street photographer in the 80’s and 90’s and touring with the Beastie Boys, capturing some of the wildest moments in popular culture. With Ricky Powell, Natasha Lyonne, Debi Mazar, Mike D, Laurence Fishburne, Chuck D, LL Cool J, DMC.

Somebody Up There Likes Me, directed by Mike Figgis. Produced by Peter Worsley, Louis Figgis. (UK) – North American Premiere. A series of intimate conversations with Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood, whose extraordinary music career placed him at the forefront of the British R&B explosion to rock ‘n’ roll stardom. With Ronnie Wood, Sally Wood, Imelda May, Damien Hirst, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Sir Rod Stewart, Charlie Watts.

Stockton on My Mind, directed by Marc Levin, written by James Lester, Marc Levin. Produced by Marc Levin, Mike Marangu, Cassius Michael Kim, Daphne Pinkerson. (USA) – World Premiere. In 2016, Stanford graduate Michael Tubbs became the youngest and first African-American mayor of Stockton, California. Stockton On My Mind follows Mayor Tubbs through his first term in office as he tirelessly advances his innovative proposals for a city at a turning point. With Mayor Michael Tubbs. An HBO Documentary Films Release.

This Is Paris, directed and written by Alexandra Haggiag Dean. Produced by Aaron Saidman. (USA) – World Premiere. There’s Paris Hilton and there’s “Paris Hilton”, the latter a character created by a teenage girl desperate to escape into a fantasy. Alexandra Dean’s revealing documentary offers the real Paris’ untold story. With Paris Hilton, Kathy Hilton, Nicky Hilton Rothschild. A YouTube Originals release.

Tough Love: The Lennox Lewis Documentary, directed by Rick Lazes, Seth Koch, written by Josh Dubin, Seth Koch. Produced by Chad A. Verdi, Rick Lazes, Nick Koskoff, Tom DeNucci. (USA) – World Premiere. Lennox Lewis’ rise from humble beginnings in the East End of London to the top of the boxing world defied the odds. Using never before seen footage from Lewis’ personal archives, Tough Love: The Lennox Lewis Documentary shines a light on what makes a true champ. With Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson, Dr. Dre, Nelson Mandela, Emmanuel Steward, Jim Lampley.

Wojnarowicz, directed by Chris McKim. Produced by Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato, Chris McKim. (USA) – World Premiere. A collage-like, incisive look at the life of writer, painter and thinker David Wojnarowicz, whose powerful, unapologetic way of seeing the world gave voice to queer rights at a critical time in US history. With David Wojnarowicz, Fran Lebowitz, Peter Hujar, Kiki Smith, Richard Kern, Nan Goldin, Carlos McCormack.

Yung Lean: In My Head, directed and written by Henrik Burman. Produced by David Herdies & Michael Krotkiewski, Ludvig Andersson. (Sweden) – World Premiere. When a Swedish teen rapper finds a rabid fanbase via the internet, international superstar Yung Lean is born. But as his fame grows, darkness settles in, blurring the line between reality and his own vivid imagination. With Jonatan Leandoer Håstad, Axel Tufvesson, Carl-Mikael Berlander, Benjamin Reichwald, Emilio Fagone, Oskar Ekman.  In English, Russian, Swedish with English subtitles.

Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn, directed by Muta’Ali, produced by Jevon Frank, Victorious De Costa, Muta’Ali (USA) – World Premiere. In 1989, a black youth was murdered in Brooklyn when he was misidentified as the boyfriend of a local white girl. The aftermath of Yusuf Hawkins’ death exploded into a social movement, exposing racial prejudices that continue to plague us today. With Al Sharpton, Amir Hawkins, Diane Hawkins, Freddy Hawkins, Mayor David Dinkins. An HBO Documentary Film release.

VIEWPOINTS

Viewpoints, which includes narratives and documentaries, recognizes distinct voices in independent filmmaking by creating a home for bold directorial visions and embracing distinct characters or points of view.

Ben Irving in “Giants Being Lonely”

Giants Being Lonely, directed and written by Grear Patterson. Produced by Olmo Schnabel. (USA) – North American Premiere, Feature Narrative. From lauded mixed-media artist Grear Patterson, this engrossing coming-of-age drama centers around two troubled high-school baseball players — the gifted star-pitcher, Bobby, and the overlooked coach’s son, Adam — as they struggle with sex, love, difficult family dynamics, and teenage isolation. With Jack Irving, Ben Irving, Lily Gavin, Gabe Fazio, Amalia Culp.

A Glitch in the Matrix, directed by Rodney Ascher. Produced by Ross Dinerstein. (USA) – World Premiere, Feature Documentary. Are we living in a simulation? Acclaimed documentarian Rodney Ascher (Room 27, The Nightmare) tackles this question with compelling testimony, philosophical evidence and scientific explanation in this engaging journey for the truth.

Harley, directed by Jean-Cosme Delaloye, written by Jean-Cosme Delaloye, Lila Place. Produced by Jean-Cosme Delaloye. (USA) – World Premiere, Feature Documentary. With inklings of American Movie, Jean-Cosme Delaloye’s Harley stands out as an outrageously entertaining portrait of Harley Breite, a thriving criminal defense lawyer attempting to win over his Dulcinea.

Honeymood, directed and written by Talya Lavie. Produced by Eitan Mansuri, Jonathan Doweck. (Israel) – World Premiere, Feature Narrative. Following a fight in their honeymoon suite on the night of their wedding, a bride and groom embark on a surreal urban odyssey through the streets of Jerusalem in Tribeca award winner Talya Lavie’s dazzling romantic comedy. With Ran Danker, Avigail Harari. In Hebrew with English subtitles.

I’m No Longer Here (Ya No Estoy Aqui), directed and written by Fernando Frias de la Parra. Produced by Gerardo Gatica, Alberto Muffelmann, Gerry Kim. (Mexico) – US Premiere, Feature Narrative. 17 year old Ulises loves to dance. But when the local cartel mistakenly targets him, he’s forced to flee his home in Mexico, landing alone in the wilds of Queens. With Juan Daniel Garcia Treviño, Bianca Coral Puernte Valenzuela, Jonathan Fernando Espinoza Gamez, Luis Leonardo Zapata, Leonardo Ernesto Garza Ávila, Estefania Judith Tovar Ramirez, Rocio Monserrat Rios Hernandez, Brandon Yahir Alday Vazquez, Yesica Avigail. In Spanish with English subtitles. A Netflix release.

La Llorona, directed and written by Jayro Bustamante. Produced by Jayro Bustamante, Gustavo Matheu. (Guatemala, France) – New York Premiere, Feature Narrative. As the patriarch of a privileged family stands trial accused of genocide, a new housemaid comes to the house. Her presence unleashes something– is it the pent-up tensions of a family at the breaking point, or does she bring something more sinister with her from the depths of Guatemalan folklore? With María Mercedes Coroy, Sabrina De La Hoz, Margarita Kenéfic, Julio Díaz. In Spanish with English subtitles. A Shudder release.

La Madrina: The Savage Life of Lorine Padilla, directed, written, and produced by Raquel Cepeda. (USA) – World Premiere, Feature Documentary. While the Bronx burned, Lorine claimed her place as queen of the NYC street gang The Savage Skulls. 40 years later, she examines her impact in the intervening years: as mother, spiritual advisor, activist, and keeper of a controversial legacy. With Lorine Padilla, Elizabeth Maldonado, Senator Luis Sepulveda, Council Member Ritchie Torres.

Looking for a Lady With Fangs and a Moustache, directed and written by Khyentse Norbu. Produced by Max Dipesh Khatri. (Nepal) – US Premiere, Feature Narrative. Plagued by otherworldly visions, a young Nepali musician and entrepreneur is told that he only has one week to live. Norbu’s atmospheric, trancelike fourth feature sees him reckon with his spiritual skepticism. With Tsering Tashi Gyalthang, Tulku Kunzang, Orgen Tobgyal Rinpoche, Tenzin Kunsel, Tulku Ngawang Tenzin, Rabindra Singh Baniya.  In Nepali, Tibetan with English subtitles.

Marvelous and the Black Hole, directed and written by Kate Tsang. Produced by Carolyn Mao. (USA) – World Premiere, Feature Narrative. A teenage delinquent befriends a surly magician who helps her navigate her inner demons and dysfunctional family with sleight of hand magic. With Miya Cech, Rhea Perlman, Leonardo Nam, Kannon Omachi, Paulina Bugembe,  Keith Powell. TFI Supported.

Miracle Fishing, directed by Miles Hargrove, written by Miles Hargrove, Eric F. Martin. Produced by Eric F. Martin. (USA) – World Premiere, Feature Documentary. In 1994, Tom Hargrove was kidnapped in Colombia by the FARC. With a $6M ransom price and without support from the authorities, Tom’s wife and sons pick up the phone (and a Video8 camcorder) to negotiate directly with the largest terrorist group in the Western Hemisphere. In English, German, Spanish with English subtitles.

The Outside Story, directed and written by Casimir Nozkowski. Produced by Frank Hall-Green, Brian Newman, Joseph Stephans, Casimir Nozkowski. (USA) – World Premiere, Feature Narrative. Having just broken up with his girlfriend, introverted video editor Charles gets locked out of his apartment, accidentally embarking on a transformative odyssey through his neighborhood. With Brian Tyree Henry, Sunita Mani, Sonequa Martin-Green, Olivia Edward, Asia Kate Dillon, Rebecca Naomi Jones.

P.S. Burn This Letter Please, directed and written by Michael Seligman, Jennifer Tiexiera. Produced by Jennifer Tiexiera, Michael Seligman, Craig Olsen. (USA) – World Premiere, Feature Documentary. A box found in an abandoned storage unit unearths a time capsule of correspondences from a forgotten era: the underground drag scene in 1950’s New York City. Firsthand accounts and newly discovered footage help cast a long overdue spotlight on the unsung pioneers of drag. With Henry Arango, Michael Alogna, James Bidgood, Robert Bouvard, Terry Noel, Joseph Touchette, Claude Diaz, George Roth, Esther Newton, Joe E. Jeffreys, George Chauncey, Robert Corber, Thomasine Barlett, Michael Henry Adams.

Pacified (Pacificado), directed and written by Paxton Winters. Produced by Paula Linhares, Marcos Tellechea, Darren Aronofsky, Lisa Muskat, Paxton Winters. (Brazil) – New York Premiere, Feature Narrative. Following the violent clean-up and occupation of Brazilian favelas for the Rio Summer Olympics, timid teenager Tati is drawn to the father she’s never met in this layered, vivid portrayal of a world where loyalty to your neighbors comes above all else. With Bukasa Kabengele, Cassia Nascimento, Debora Nascimento, José Loreto, Raphael Logam, Lea Garcia.  In Portuguese with English subtitles.

The State of Texas vs. Melissa, directed by Sabrina Van Tassel. Produced by Isaac Sharry, Sabrina Van Tassel, Philippe de Bourbon. (France) – World Premiere, Feature Documentary. Melissa Lucio was the first Hispanic woman sentenced to death in Texas. For ten years she has been awaiting her fate, and now faces her last appeal. Van Tassel’s urgent documentary is the portrait of a woman against the entire system.

Stateless (Apátrida), directed and written by Michèle Stephenson. Produced by Michèle Stephenson, Jennifer Holness, Lea Marin. (USA, Dominican Republic, Haiti) – World Premiere, Feature Documentary. In 2013, the Dominican Republic stripped the citizenship of anyone with Haitian parents, rendering over 200,000 people without nationality, identity or homeland. Stateless explores this complex history and politics through one young woman’s fight to protect the right to citizenship for all people. With Rosa Iris Diendomi-Álvarez, Teofilo Murat, Gladys Feliz. In Creole, Spanish with English subtitles. TFI supported.

Stray, directed and written by Elizabeth Lo. Produced by Elizabeth Lo, Shane Boris. (Turkey, Hong Kong) – World Premiere, Feature Documentary. Bringing us into the world of Zeytin, a stray dog living life on the streets of Istanbul, Stray delivers a deceptively simple and wonderfully touching journey of marginalization and resilience. In Turkish with English subtitles.

Through the Night, directed by Loira Limbal, written by Loira Limbal, Malika Zouhali-Worrall. Produced by Jameka Autry. (USA) – World Premiere, Feature Documentary. This poignant and intimate documentary examines the emotional toll on families in pursuit of the American dream, told through the lens of a 24-hour daycare center in Westchester, New York. With Delores “Nunu” Hogan, Patrick Hogan, Marisol Valencia, Shanona Tate. In English, Spanish with English subtitles.

MIDNIGHT

Tribeca’s Midnight section provides a space for fans to discover new projects in genre filmmaking.

“Becky”

Becky, directed by Cary Murnion, Jonathan Milott, written by Nick Morris, Ruckus Skye, Lane Skye. Produced by Raphael Margules, JD Lifshitz, Jordan Yale Levine, Jordan Beckerman, Russ Posternak. (USA) – World Premiere. Mourning her mother’s death, teenaged Becky doesn’t think she could possibly have a worse time during a lake house trip with her dad. The unexpected arrival of four escaped convicts is about to prove she can. With Kevin James, Joel McHale, Lulu Wilson, Amanda Brugel.

The Boys from County Hell, directed and written by Chris Baugh. Produced by Brendan Mullin, Yvonne Donohoe. (Ireland, UK) – World Premiere. For decades, the residents of Ireland’s Six Mile Hill have traded urban legends about an ancient blood-craving ghoul that sleeps beneath their land. Bad news for the locals: A father-and-son team of pipeline workers have woken it up. With Jack Rowan, Nigel O’Neill, Louisa Harland, Michael Hough, Fra Fee, John Lynch.

The Dark & The Wicked, directed and written by Bryan Bertino. Produced by Bryan Bertino, Adrienne Biddle, Sonny Mallhi, Kevin Matusow. (USA) – World Premiere. On a secluded farm in a nondescript rural town, a man is slowly dying.  His family gathers to mourn, and soon a darkness grows, marked by waking nightmares and a growing sense that something evil is taking over the family. With Marin Ireland, Michael Abbott Jr., Xander Berkeley.

Honeydew, directed and written by Devereux Milburn. Produced by Dan Kennedy, Alan Pierson. (USA) – World Premiere. Unfortunately for a young couple on a camping trip, their car broke down in the middle of the night. Even more unfortunate: In hopes of using a phone for help, they’ve stepped foot inside a house of, to put it lightly, very strange horrors. With Sawyer Spielberg, Malin Barr, Barbara Kingsley.

Sputnik, directed by Egor Abramenko, written by Andrei Zolotarev, Oleg Malovichko. Produced by Mikhail Vrubel, Alexander Andryushenko, Fyodor Bondarchuk, Ilya Stewart. (Russia) – World Premiere. The lone survivor of an enigmatic spaceship incident hasn’t returned back home alone—hiding inside his body is a dangerous creature. His only hope: a doctor who’s ready to do whatever it takes to save her patient. With Oksana Akinshina, Peter Fyodorov, Fyodor Bondarchuk, Anton Vasiliev, Pavel Ustinov. In Russian with English subtitles.

MOVIES PLUS

A Tribeca tradition, Movies Plus offers audiences the unique opportunity to continue the experience of a film through buzzworthy conversations or performances after each special screening. Past Movies Plus experiences have included a Sheryl Crow tribute to Linda Ronstadt (2019), the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus performed after the world premiere of Gay Chorus Deep South (2019), and a Broadway-style performance following Bathtubs Over Broadway (2018).

Sean Penn in “Citizen Penn” (Photo courtesy of KTF Films)

Citizen Penn, directed and written by Don Hardy. Produced by Shawn Dailey, Don Hardy. (USA) – World Premiere, Feature Documentary. On January 12, 2010 a devastating 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti altering the landscape and lives of millions. Aid workers from around the globe descended on the island, along with one unlikely leader – actor and filmmaker Sean Penn. With Sean Penn, Ann Lee, Anderson Cooper, Cecile Accilien.

After the Movie: A conversation with director Don Hardy along with Sean Penn and CORE CEO Ann Lee.

Disclosure, directed and written by Sam Feder. Produced by Amy Scholder. (USA) – New York Premiere, Feature Documentary. Executive Producer Laverne Cox amplifies this study of transgender representation in the media, bringing together trans creatives and activists to deconstruct scenes from cinema through the ages in order to confront our evolving understanding of gender. With Laverne Cox, Lilly Wachowski, Yance Ford, Jen Richards, Mj Rodriguez, Chaz Bono.

After the Movie: A conversation led by Laverne Cox (Executive Producer), and Sam Feder (Director) with some very special guests, about the current rise and history of transgender representation in film and television.

Call Your Mother, directed by Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady. Produced by Eleanor Galloway. (USA) – World Premiere, Feature Documentary. Comedians’ mothers take center stage in this documentary from the directors Rachel Grady & Heidi Ewing (TFF 2006 selection Jesus Camp), a hilarious ode to moms and the way they have shaped the work of some of comedy’s biggest stars. With Louie Anderson, Awkwafina, Jimmy Carr, Bridget Everett, Fortune Feimster, Rachel Feinstein, Jim Gaffigan, Judy Gold, Jen Kirkman, Jo Koy, Bobby Lee, The Lucas Brothers, Norm Macdonald, Jim Norton, Tig Notaro, Yvonne Orji, Kristen Schaal, Roy Wood Jr..

After the Movie: A conversation with comedians Bridget Everett, Rachel Feinstein, Judy Gold, Roy Wood Jr. and more.

Don’t Try to Understand: A Year in the Life of Earl “DMX” Simmons, directed by Christopher Frierson. Produced by Clark Slater. (USA) – World Premiere, Feature Documentary. Hip-hop icon DMX returns from a recent stint in prison determined to reignite his career, but his comeback proves ill-fated when faced with the mounting pressures of fatherhood, faith and addiction. This unfiltered documentary presents an intimate glimpse into the man behind the public persona.

After the Movie: A special performance by DMX.

Freedia Got a Gun, directed by Chris McKim. Produced by Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato, Chris McKim. (USA) – World Premiere, Feature Documentary. After losing her brother to gun violence, New Orleans’ queen of bounce Big Freedia uses her national platform to shine a spotlight on gun reform in this achingly honest and human documentary plea for activism and reform. With Big Freedia.

After the Movie: A conversation with musician Big Freedia, journalist and executive producer Charles Blow, director and producer Chris McKim and producer Randy Barbato.

Fries! The Movie, directed and written by Michael Steed. Produced by Christopher Collins, Lydia Tenaglia. (USA) – World Premiere, Feature Documentary. To better understand the globe’s obsession with the fried potato, chefs, food scientists, historians and celebrities, including Malcom Gladwell and Chrissy Teigen, take the audience on a joyous and mouth watering journey around the world to delve into everyone’s favorite fried food. With Chrissy Teigen, Malcolm Gladwell, Eric Ripert, Dave Arnold, Harold McGee.

After the Movie: A conversation with cookbook author and model Chrissy Teigen, chef Eric Ripert, Museum of Food and Drink founder Dave Arnold, and director Michael Steed.

The Go-Go’s, directed by Alison Ellwood. Produced by Trevor Birney. (USA) – New York Premiere, Feature Documentary. Through a wealth of archival material and candid interviews, Director Alison Ellwood takes us on a nostalgic look back at the Go-Go’s rise to fame in the 80s all the way to today, as the band collaborates on new music for the first time in nineteen years. With Charlotte Caffey, Belinda Carlisle, Gina Schock, Kathy Valentine, Jane Wiedlin. A Showtime release.

After the Movie: A special performance by The Go-Go’s.

John Lewis: Good Trouble, directed by Dawn Porter. Produced by Laura Michalchyshyn, Dawn Porter, Erika Alexander, Ben Arnon. (USA) – World Premiere, Feature Documentary. Using a combination of vérité and archival along with the 80-year old Georgia Congressman’s own words, John Lewis: Good Trouble examines Lewis’ current work and activism, and takes a look back at a lifetime of campaigning for political and social change. A Magnolia Pictures and Participant release.

After the Movie: A conversation with director and producer Dawn Porter and subjects from the film.

Kiss the Ground, directed by Josh Tickell, Rebecca Tickell, written by Josh Tickell, Rebecca Tickell, Johnny O’Hara. Produced by Rebecca Tickell, Josh Tickell, Bill Benenson, Darius Fisher. (USA, France, China, Uganda, Zimbabwe) – World Premiere, Feature Documentary. A revolutionary group of activists, scientists, farmers, and politicians band together in a global movement of “Regenerative Agriculture” that could balance our climate, replenish our vast water supplies, and feed the world, narrated by Woody Harrelson. With Woody Harrelson, Ian Somerhalder, Gisele Bündchen, Patricia Arquette, David Arquette, Tom Brady, Jason Mraz. In English, French with English subtitles.

After the Movie: A conversation with model and activist and Executive Producer Gisele Bündchen, actor and activist Ian Somerhalder and directors Rebecca Tickell and Josh Tickell.

The Sit-In: Harry Belafonte Hosts The Tonight Show, directed by Yoruba Richen, written by Yoruba Richen, Valerie Thomas, Elia Gasull Balada. Produced by Valerie Thomas, Joan Walsh. (USA) – World Premiere, Feature Documentary. While the country was embroiled in a divisive election with racial tensions flaring, civil rights activist Harry Belafonte guest hosted The Tonight Show for one week in 1968 transforming it into a multicultural political experience. With Harry Belafonte, Whoopi Goldberg, Questlove, Tamron Hall.

After the Movie: A conversation with Artivist, Producer and Executive Director of Sankofa.org Gina Belafonte, director Yoruba Richen and Producer Joan Walsh. Moderated by Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editorial director and publisher of The Nation.

Truth to Power, directed, written and produced by Garin Hovannisian. (USA) – World Premiere, Feature Documentary. The Grammy-winning lead singer of System of a Down, Serj Tankian helps to awaken a political revolution on the other side of the world, inspiring Armenia’s struggle for democracy through his music and message. With Serj Tankian, Rick Rubin, Tom Morello, Shavo Odadjian, John Dolmayan, Carla Garapedian.

After the Movie: A special performance by System of a Down’s Serj Tankian, accompanied by the NYU Symphony Orchestra.

Underplayed, directed by Stacey Lee. Produced by William Crouse. (USA) – World Premiere, Feature Documentary. From Delia Derbyshire to Alison Wonderland this inspiring music documentary portrays radical female artists breaking the rhythm of inequality in the electronic music industry and opening doors for the next generation. With Alison Wonderland, Tygapaw, Tokimonsta & Suzanne Ciani.

After the Movie: A World Class performance by iconic Brooklyn artist, Tygapaw, presenting an inspiring interactive vision of electronic music today.

With Drawn Arms, directed by Glenn Kaino, Afshin Shahidi. Produced by Glen Zipper, Sean Stuart. (USA) – World Premiere, Feature Documentary. At the 1968 Olympics, gold medalist Tommie Smith iconically raised his fist in a symbol of black struggle and solidarity. With Drawn Arms follows Smith as he looks back 50 years to the moment that helped define a movement and changed the course of his life forever.

After the Movie: A conversation with directors Glenn Kaino and Afshin Shahidi, subject Tommie Smith and musician and executive producer John Legend.

TRIBECA CRITICS’ WEEK

In its second year, Tribeca Critics’ Week is a section of the Festival that presents a curated slate of six feature films from New York-based film critics including Eric Kohn (IndieWire), Joshua Rothkopf (film critic), Bilge Ebiri (film critic and editor, New York Magazine/Vulture), Alissa Wilkinson (Vox.com), and Leah Greenblatt (Entertainment Weekly).

Christian Bale in “American Psycho” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

American Psycho, directed by Mary Harron, Produced by Christian Halsey Solomon, Chris Hanley, Edward R. Pressman. (USA) – Feature Narrative. Twenty years after its debut, Christian Bale’s turn as the murderous NYC yuppie Patrick Bateman has lost none of its simultaneously hilarious and chilling power. With Christian Bale, Justin Theroux, Josh Lucas. Join Tribeca and director Mary Harron for a special 20th anniversary screening and conversation.

I Carry You With Me, directed by Heidi Ewing. Written by Heidi Ewing, Alan Page Arriaga. Produced by Mynette Louie, Heidi Ewing. (USA, Mexico) – New York Premiere. Acclaimed documentarian Heidi Ewing’s narrative debut is a cross-border romantic drama about a gay New York chef reflecting back on his experiences coming of age in Mexico. With Armando Espitia, Christian Vázquez, Michelle Rodríguez, Ángeles Cruz, Raúl Briones, Arcelia Ramírez, Pascacio López, Michelle Gonzáles, Luis Alberti, Yael Tadeo, Nery Arredondo, Alexia Morales. A Sony Pictures Classic Release.

Lux Aeterna, directed and written by Gaspar Noé. Produced by Gary Farkas, Clément Lepoutre, Olivier Muller. (France) – North American Premiere, Feature Narrative. In the midst of a hectic shooting day, a women-led film set gradually descends into psychological disarray. Singular provocateur Gaspar Noé’s latest sensory experience takes a piercing look at the dark side of the collaborative filmmaking process. With Beatrice Dalle, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Félix Maritaud, Karl Glusman, Clara 3000, Paul Hameline, Luka Isaac. In English, French with English subtitles.

The Nowhere Inn, directed by Bill Benz, written by Carrie Brownstein, St. Vincent. Produced by Carrie Brownstein, Lana Kim, St. Vincent, Jett Steiger. (USA) – New York Premiere, Feature Narrative. What’s meant to be a documentary about St. Vincent’s music career devolves into a mind-bending distortion of reality once the singer hires her best friend as its director. Deliriously warping the mockumentary template, Portlandia veteran Bill Benz’s directorial debut defies genre categorization. With Annie Clark, Carrie Brownstein.

Shirley, directed by Josephine Decker, written by Sarah Gubbins. Produced by Christine Vachon, David Hinojosa, Sue Naegle, Sarah Gubbins, Jeffrey Soros, Simon Horsman, Elisabeth Moss. (USA) – New York Premiere, Feature Narrative. Shirley Jackson, the celebrated author of the iconic 1948 short story The Lottery, is brought to blisteringly sharp life in Josephine Decker’s immersive drama. With Elisabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlbarg, Odessa Young, Logan Lerman. A Neon release.

Sweet Thing, directed and written by Alexandre Rockwell. Produced by Louis Anania, Kenan Baysal, Haley Elizabeth Anderson. (USA) – North American Premiere, Feature Narrative. In this follow up to Rockwell’s acclaimed Little Feet, Billie and her younger brother Nico struggle through adolescence with an alcoholic father and negligent mother. Forced to run away, this band of outsiders find solace in a new friendship. With Will Patton, Karyn Parsons, Lana Rockwell, Nico Rockwell, Jabari Watkins, ML Josepher.

WOMEN AT WORK

What does it mean to be a working woman today? As the question becomes a more urgent part of the cultural conversation, Tribeca has curated a group of documentaries that seek to answer it across industries from sports, science, and law enforcement. These films consider how women in the workplace have struggled and thrived and always gotten the job done.

Frieda Zamba in “Girls Can’t Surf” (Photo courtesy of Frieda Zamba)

Girls Can’t Surf, directed by Christopher Neliusm and written by Christopher Nelius and Julie Anne DeRuvo. Produced by Michaela Perske and Christopher Nelius. (Australia, USA) – World Premiere, Feature Documentary. Under the radical glow of Australian sun, peroxide hair and fluorescent surf-shorts, a dark wave of male chauvinism crashed down on 1980’s surf culture. Girls Can’t Surf shares the untold story of pioneering women who surfed against this tide. With Pam Burridge, Lisa Anderson, Wendy Botha, Jodie Cooper, Rochelle Ballard, Pauline Menczer, Jolene Smith, Jorja Smith, Nic Carroll, Jamie Brissick, Ian Cairns, Alisa Schwarzstein, Frieda Zamba. Also playing as part of the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival.

Picture a Scientist, directed by Ian Cheney, Sharon Shattuck. Produced by Manette Pottle, Ian Cheney, Sharon Shattuck. (USA) – World Premiere, Feature Documentary. Despite the minimal news coverage, sexual harassment and gender inequality against women are no less prevalent in science than they are in pop culture and corporate America. Picture a Scientist illuminates this uncomfortable truth while also advocating for change.

After the Screening: A conversation with directors Sharon Shattuck, Ian Cheney and groundbreaking scientists and film subjects, Raychelle Burks Ph.D., Jane Willenbring, Ph.D., and Nancy Hopkins Ph.D.. Hosted by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Women in Blue, directed and written by Deirdre Fishel. Produced by Beth Levison. (USA) – World Premiere, Feature Documentary. After a high-profile police shooting rocks the Minneapolis Police department, its first female chief is forced to resign. Women in Blue takes a look at policing in America, as it follows the stories of the women officers who carry on the effort to reform the department and restore trust in the community. With Alice White, Melissa Chiodo, Janée Harteau, Erin Grabosky, Catherine Johnson, Nekima Levy-Pounds, Medaria Arradondo. TFI supported.

FAMILY EVENT

“The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run, directed and written by Tim Hill; Story by Tim Hill and Jonathan Aibel & Glenn Berger; Based on the Series “SpongeBob SquarePants” Created by Stephen Hillenburg. Produced by Ryan Harris. (USA) – Sneak Preview. SpongeBob SquarePants, his best friend Patrick Star and the rest of the gang from Bikini Bottom hit the big screen in the first-ever all CGI SpongeBob motion picture event. After SpongeBob’s beloved pet snail Gary is snail-napped, he and Patrick embark on an epic adventure to The Lost City of Atlantic City to bring Gary home. As they navigate the delights and dangers on this perilous and hilarious rescue mission, SpongeBob and his pals prove there’s nothing stronger than the power of friendship. With Tom Kenny, Awkwafina, Matt Berry, Clancy Brown, Rodger Bumpass, Bill Fagerbakke, Carolyn Lawrence, Mr. Lawrence, Reggie Watts. A Paramount Pictures release.

2020 JURIED FEATURE FILM AWARDS:

Awards in the three main competition sections — U.S. Narrative, International Narrative, and Documentary Competition — will be determined by a jury and presented in the following categories: Founders Award for Best U.S. Narrative Feature; Best Screenplay in a U.S. Narrative Feature; Best Cinematography in a U.S. Narrative Feature; Best Actor in a U.S. Narrative Feature; Best Actress in a U.S. Narrative Feature; Best International Narrative Feature; Best Screenplay in an International Narrative Feature; Best Cinematography in an International Narrative Feature; Best Actor in an International Narrative Feature; Best Actress in an International Narrative Feature; Best Documentary Feature; Best Editing in a Documentary Feature, and Best Cinematography in a Documentary Feature.

In addition, the Festival juries will present awards for Best New Narrative Director and The Albert Maysles Award (Best New Documentary Director) for first time feature directors in any section.

Two feature films—one narrative and one documentary—will be selected to receive the Audience Award, the audience choice for best feature film. Films playing in the Competition, Viewpoints, Spotlight, Midnight, Movies Plus, and Tribeca Critics’ Week screenings sections are eligible.

Passes and Tickets for the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival:

All festival passes are on sale now. Ticket Packages are currently available for purchase and will remain on sale until March 8, 2020. Single tickets to attend the Festival go on sale on March 17, 2020. Visit: https://www.tribecafilm.com/festival/tickets

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About the Tribeca Film Festival:

The Tribeca Film Festival, presented by AT&T, brings visionaries and diverse audiences together to celebrate storytelling in all its forms, including film, TV, VR, gaming, music, and online work. With strong roots in independent film, Tribeca is a platform for creative expression and immersive entertainment. The Festival champions emerging and established voices; discovers award-winning filmmakers and creators; curates innovative experiences; and introduces new technology and ideas through premieres, exhibitions, talks, and live performances.

The Festival was founded by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, and Craig Hatkoff in 2001 to spur the economic and cultural revitalization of lower Manhattan following the attacks on the World Trade Center. Now in its 19th year, the Festival has evolved into a destination for creativity that reimagines the cinematic experience and explores how art can unite communities. The 19th annual edition will take place April 15 – 26, 2020. www.tribecafilm.com/festival.

#Tribeca2020

Twitter: @Tribeca

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Facebook: facebook.com/Tribeca

About Presenting Sponsor AT&T:

As Presenting Sponsor of the Tribeca Film Festival, AT&T is committed to supporting the Festival and the art of filmmaking through access and innovation, while expanding opportunities to diverse creators around the globe. AT&T helps millions connect to their passions – no matter where they are. This year, AT&T and Tribeca will once again collaborate to give the world access to stories from underrepresented filmmakers that deserve to be seen. AT&T Presents: Untold Stories -an Inclusive Film Program in Collaboration with Tribeca, is a multi-year, multi-tier alliance between AT&T and Tribeca along with the year-round nonprofit Tribeca Film Institute.

About the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival Partners:

The Tribeca Film Festival is pleased to announce its 2020 Partners: Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), BVLGARI, CHANEL, City National Bank, CNN Films, Diageo, ESPN, HBO, Montefiore, National CineMedia (NCM), New York Magazine, NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, P&G, PwC, Spring Studios New York, and Squarespace.

2020 Berlin International Film Festival: award winners announced

February 29, 2020

The following is a combination of press releases from the Berlin International Film Festival:

The 70th annual Berlin International Film Festival took place in Germany from February 20 to March 1, 2020. The awards were announced on February 29. A complete list of awards for can be found here.

PRIZES OF THE INTERNATIONAL JURY

Members of the Jury: Jeremy Irons (Jury President), Bérénice Bejo, Bettina Brokemper, Annemarie Jacir, Kenneth Lonergan, Luca Marinelli, Kleber Mendonça Filho

Golden Bear for Best Film (awarded to the film’s producers)
Sheytan vojud nadarad (There Is No Evil) (Es gibt kein Böses) by Mohammad Rasoulof; produced by Mohammad Rasoulof, Kaveh Farnam, Farzad Pak

Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize
Never Rarely Sometimes Always by Eliza Hittman

Silver Bear for Best Director
Hong Sangsoo for Domangchin yeoja (The Woman Who Ran | Die Frau, die rannte)

Silver Bear for Best Actress
Paula Beer in Undine by Christian Petzold

Silver Bear for Best Actor
Elio Germano in Volevo nascondermi (Hidden Away) by Giorgio Diritti

Silver Bear for Best Screenplay
D’Innocenzo Brothers for Favolacce (Bad Tales) by D’Innocenzo Brothers

Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution
Jürgen Jürges for the cinematography in Dau. Natasha by Ilya Khrzhanovskiy, Jekaterina Oertel

Silver Bear — 70th Berlinale
Effacer l’historique and Delete History by Benoît Delépine, Gustave Kervern

PRIZES OF THE ENCOUNTERS JURY

Members of the Jury: Shôzô Ichiyama, Dominga Sotomayor, Eva Trobisch

Best Film
The Works and Days (of Tayoko Shiojiri in the Shiotani Basin) by C.W. Winter, Anders Edstrom

Special Jury Award
The Trouble With Being Born by Sandra Wollner

Best Director
Malmkrog by Cristi Puiu

Special Mention
Isabella by Matías Piñeiro

GWFF BEST FIRST FEATURE AWARD

Members of the Jury: Ognjen Glavonić, Hala Lotfy, Gonzalo de Pedro Amatria

GWFF Best First Feature Award endowed with €50,000, funded by GWFF
Los conductos by Camilo Restrepo produced by Helen Olive, Martin Bertier, Felipe Guerrero

Special Mention
Nackte Tiere (Naked Animals) by Melanie Waelde produced by Anja Wedell

BERLINALE DOCUMENTARY AWARD

Members of the Jury: Gerd Kroske, Marie Losier, Alanis Obomsawin

Berlinale Documentary Award endowed with €40,000, funded by Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (rbb)
Irradiés (Irradiated) by Rithy Panh produced by Catherine Dussart

Special Mention
Aufzeichnungen aus der Unterwelt (Notes from the Underworld) by Tizza Covi, Rainer Frimmel produced by Tizza Covi, Rainer Frimmel

PANORAMA AWARDS

The audience has voted: The 22nd Panorama Audience Award for the best feature film goes to Otac (Father) by Srdan Golubović. Welcome to Chechnya by David France wins in the category Panorama Dokumente. The prizes are awarded by the Berlinale section Panorama together with radioeins and rbb television (Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg).

Otac (Father) shows Nikola fighting for his children. After they have been taken away from him by social services, he sets off on foot to lodge a complaint in Belgrade. Srdan Golubović delivers a moving tale about inequality. Welcome to Chechnya is the first documentary about the activists who join forces to save other people’s and their own lives in the face of the systematic persecution of the LGBTQI* community carried out by the Chechen authorities. David France’s film is a tour de force charged with resilience and courage.

The official awards ceremony will take place on Berlinale Publikumstag, Sunday, March 1, at 5 pm in CinemaxX 7 at Potsdamer Platz. Martina Zöllner, rbb programme manager for documentation and fiction, and Robert Skuppin, radioeins programme director, will present the prizes. Knut Elstermann, radioeins film expert, will moderate the event together with Panorama head Michael Stütz. The award-winning feature film will be shown immediately after the award ceremony, the winner of the Panorama Dokumente will be shown at 8 pm, also in CinemaxX 7.

The Panorama Audience Award has been bestowed since 1999. As of 2011, both the best feature film and the best documentary have been honored. During the Berlinale, all cinema-goers are invited to rate the films in the Panorama section on a voting card. In total around 20,000 votes were cast and evaluated.

This year, Panorama presented a total of 36 feature films from 30 production countries, 13 of them were in Panorama Dokumente.

Panorama Audience Award Winner – Feature Film 2020:
Otac (Father)
Serbia / France / Germany / Croatia / Slovenia / Bosnia and Herzegovina
by Srdan Golubović

2nd Place Panorama Audience Award Winner – Feature Film 2020:
Futur Drei (No Hard Feelings)
Germany
by Faraz Shariat

3rd Place Panorama Audience Award Winner – Feature Film 2020:
Håp (Hope)
Norway / Sweden
by Maria Sødahl

Panorama Audience Award Winner – Panorama Dokumente 2020:
Welcome to Chechnya
USA
by David France

2nd Place Panorama Audience Award Winner – Panorama Dokumente 2020:
Saudi Runaway
Switzerland
by Susanne Regina Meures

3rd Place Panorama Audience Award Winner – Panorama Dokumente 2020:
Petite fille (Little Girl)
France
by Sébastien Lifshitz

Review: ‘Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations,’ starring Andrew Goldberg, Brad Orsini, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Deborah Lipstadt, Jean-Luc Slakmon and Valerie Braham

February 21, 2020

by Carla Hay

Andrew Goldberg and Russell Walker in “Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations” (Photo courtesy of Dark Star Pictures)

“Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations”

Directed by Andrew Goldberg

Culture Representation: This documentary examines the rise of anti-Semitism in four countries: the United States, Hungary, the United Kingdom and France, featuring interviews with various people (almost all Caucasian) who are experts or have firsthand knowledge of the topic.

Culture Clash: Most of the people interviewed in the documentary say that anti-Semitism is a prejudice that has gotten worse in recent years, due to conflicts over economic uncertainty, immigration and more political leaders who openly express hatred of Jews.

Culture Audience: This movie will be of interest to anyone who is interested in contemporary news and social issues to find out the root causes of this bigotry and what can be done about it.

Jean-Luc Slakmon in “Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations” (Photo courtesy of Dark Star Pictures)

The excellent documentary “Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations” takes the concept that prejudice against Jews is like a viral infection that keeps spreading, and the movie focuses on four mutations in particular. Each mutation gets a chapter in the documentary.

“Chapter I: The Far Right” examines the far-right ideologies in the United States that have led to an increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes. “Chapter II: Blaming the Jew” puts the spotlight on Hungary and certain political leaders’ noticeable obsession with demonizing Hungarian Jewish billionaire George Soros. “Chapter III: The Far Left” takes a look at anti-Semitism in far-left factions of the United Kingdom’s Labour Party, as exemplified by former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. And “Chapter IV: Islamic Radicalism” investigates anti-Semitism in France, particularly from radical Muslims.

Jewish actress Julianna Margulies (“The Good Wife,” “ER”) provides narration in the beginning and end of the film, but the main narrator is writer/director/producer Andrew Goldberg, who’s also seen on camera interviewing some of the people in the documentary. Goldberg is a longtime journalist, and his expertise in newsgathering shows in the quality of this film. The editing by Diana Robinson (who’s also a producer of the documentary) is also top-notch. This is the type of movie that could be shown not only in traditional cinemas but also in schools and for groups that have an interest in news, anti-hate activism and other social issues.

In Chapter I, which covers anti-Semitism in the United States, among those who are interviewed are people who were witnesses or connected to the 2018 horrific mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh that killed 11 people—the deadliest massacre of Jewish people in the United States. Those interviewed include Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, Rabbi Jeffrey Meyers and former FBI agent Brad Orsini, who is currently security director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.

Meyers says that, based on the rise of anti-Semitic crimes in the U.S., the massacre was sadly inevitable. “To many, we will always be ‘other’ and not welcomed here,” he adds. Orsini has difficulty holding back tears, as he remembers witnessing the carnage at the scene of the crime, and he describes his current work in helping train synagogues in protecting themselves from these crimes in the future. Rabbi Elisar Admon of the Jewish Burial Society holds up a copy of a Hebrew Bible and shows a bullet hole that cut right through the word “God.” Admon says it’s a sign that even under the threat of violence, Jewish people “have to keep going” and never lose hope.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton believes that “economic stagnation” and a “feeling of powerlessness” fuel the anti-Semitism that has been on the rise in America. Meanwhile, former white supremacist Arno Michaels admits that when he was in a hate group, he would usually target young white Christians who had something wrong in their lives—whether it was an abusive home or other lack of support system—and tell them warped lies to feed their insecurities that their problems were caused people who aren’t white or Christian. Other people who weigh in with their observations about anti-Jewish hatred in America are “Antisemitism: Here and Now” author Deborah Lipstadt, journalist/CNN host Fareed Zakaria, conservative political commentator George Will and Eric Ward, an expert on bigotry-related violence.

In one of the most memorable sections of the documentary, director Goldberg travels to Hoke County, North Carolina, where he interviews former chemical engineer Russell Walker, who ran for the North Carolina State House of Representatives as an openly white supremacist Republican. Even though Walker lost the election, he still managed to get 37% of the votes. During the interview, Walker shows Goldberg one of his campaign signs. On one side, it says, “What’s Wrong With Being a Racist?” and on the other side it says, “God Is a Racist.”

The interview is an example of what several people mention is the documentary: Bigots don’t just look like the radicals seen marching at hate rallies or committing terrorists acts. Many of the worst bigots are friendly and polite to the faces of people they hate (as Walker is when he interacts with Goldberg), but behind closed doors, they are plotting dangerous ways to eliminate the people they consider enemies because of their races or religions.

Many of these bigots are running for political office and using patriotism to disguise their hate-filled beliefs. Some of the people in the documentary mention U.S. President Donald Trump and Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orbán as two examples of politicians who have influenced the rise of anti-Semitism. (Some of the murderers who have committed the worst anti-Semitic crimes have quoted remarks made by certain politicians in power.)

The documentary’s Chapter II shows what many people outside of Hungary do not know: Hungarian native Soros, who has made sizeable donations to liberal politicians and liberal causes, has been labeled as the biggest Jewish enemy to Hungary. There are anti-Soros billboards, display signs and ads almost everywhere in Hungary that describe Soros as a Jewish “boogeyman/puppet master,” and Orbán frequently makes public remarks denigrating Soros. Hungarians interviewed in the documentary say that anti-Semitism in Hungary has been increasing for the past four years.

Chapter III of the documentary shows that in the United Kingdom, anti-Semitism has become more noticeable in the left-wing Labour Party, which has prided itself on having a “justice and equal rights for all” image. However, people interviewed in the documentary, such as former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair and Margaret Hodge (a Labour Party MP), say that economic uncertainty has fueled anti-Semitism for many British people who are on the far left of the political spectrum. Communist/Socialist-leaning left wingers who don’t like Western capitalist policies often see Israel as an ally to the West. This belief also plays into negative stereotypes that Jewish capitalists are greedy.

The documentary mentions that British politician Luciana Berger resigned as MP and left the Labour Party altogether in 2019. She says she quit the party because of anti-Semitism. Berger is now a member of the Liberal Democrats political party. Labour Party MP/chancellor John McDonnell says the Labour Party “hasn’t been quick enough in dealing with [anti-Semitism].” Many believe that Corbyn’s open distaste for Israel is based more on anti-Semitism than based on political beliefs. Several people in the documentary have cited Corbyn’s criticisms of Israel as causing divisions in the Labour Party and being one of the reasons for Corbyn’s downfall.

Chapter IV of the documentary has gut-wrenching descriptions of hate crimes targeting Jews in France, which experts in the documentary say is the nation with the highest-levels of anti-Semitism in Europe. Hate crimes against Jews in many other countries are often perpetrated by people who identify as Christians. But in France, the most high-profile hate crimes have been committed by people who identify as Muslim/Islamic.

One of the people interviewed is Jean-Luc Slakmon, who was an employee working at Hypercacher kosher supermarket in Porte de Vincennes, France, on January 9, 2015, when a radical Islamic man held 19 people hostage and murdered four of them. Slakmon, who is shown in the documentary taking a Krav Maga self-defense class, believes his life was spared because of his diminutive height and because he fully cooperated with the gunman. Slakmon goes back to the scene of the crime, and his anxiety is visible, as he says being there is like reliving everything all over again. It’s obvious that he wants to break down and cry on camera, but he doesn’t.

Meanwhile, Valerie Braham also gives an emotional interview about the devastation caused by anti-Semitic hate crimes. Her husband of nearly 10 years, Philippe Braham, was murdered in the Hypercacher massacre. She describes what kind of man he was (a great husband and father) and how the family will never recover from the loss. Simone Rodan-Benzaquen of the American Jewish Committee in France says that it’s common for Jews in France to constantly think about moving out of the country.

What should people take away from seeing this movie? This is what director Goldberg said in a statement: “I am a filmmaker and journalist, not an activist. We tried very hard to make a documentary that was not just a report but an actual feature film people would want to see. Many asked us if we had a ‘call to action’ for how people could help fight antisemitism, or if we offered solutions. We purposefully did neither. I have always believed that a well-educated populace is where we need to begin for people to make the best decisions.”

Dark Star Pictures released “Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations” in New York City on February 21, 2020. The movie’s U.S. theatrical release expands to more cities, as of February 28, 2020.