The title of Legendary Polar Explorer is not a title easily earned. Minnesota-born educator, author and lecturer Will Steger earned that title when in the years between 1989–1990, he was the first to dogsled traverse Antarctica, and the International Arctic Project. Then in 1995, he became the first and only person to dogsled traverse the Arctic Ocean from Russia to Ellesmere Island in Canada.
After Antarctica is a feature-length documentary that follows Will Steger’s life journey as an eyewitness to the greatest changes in the polar regions of our planet. Thirty years after his historic coast-to-coast expedition across the coldest continent on Earth, Steger is not only known for being the first in history to complete this historic feat – he is also the last. The documentary, directed by Tasha Van Zandt in her feature debut, goes along with Steger as he revisits the frigid continent, deftly weaving his contemporary journey with rare, dynamic footage of his original, treacherous seven-month odyssey.
After Antarctica is “a journey across both poles [that] follows legendary polar explorer Will Steger’s life journey as an eyewitness to the greatest changes to the polar regions of our planet.” The part of coming out to this documentary is that there will be a Q & A after the movie with the Legendary Polar Explorer himself – Will Steger – who came to St. Louis Park from his home in Ely, Minnesota.
This documentary tells a harrowing, emotional, but ultimately triumphant story about a subject matter I have not heard about before. In the mid 1970s, a violent political repression campaign called Ethiopian Red Terror, organized by council of military members known as the Derg against competing Marxist-Leninist groups in Ethiopia and Eritrea that killed over 700,000 people.
Edgegayehu “Edge” Taye, Elizabeth Demissie, and Hirut Abebe were jailed and tortured in their teens by Kelbessa Negewo, a Derg official nicknamed the “The Nightmare of Addis Ababa.” They managed to survive that ordeal and found refuge in North America, settling in Atlanta, New York, and Canada. Edge later found out that Kelbessa was working in the same hotel she did in Midtown Atlanta, as he was seeking political asylum after the fall of the Derg. The three women decided to finally bring Kelbessa to justice, which meant confronting something so brutal it made me shield my eyes a few times.
There’s often a rather clichéd statement ‘you can’t escape the past’ that you see in an action movie trailer. Well, in the case of these three women though, having to confront such a distressing past is not something banal or trite, but a very real thing. Director Christopher Chambers employed re-enactment technique of the vicious tortures the women endured, which was really difficult to watch. Combined with the personal testimony of the women themselves as they recount their harrowing experience, we get to see their emotional struggles in a visceral way.
The film is produced by Liya Kebede, a renowned Ethiopian-born model and actress. It provides a good political context of Ethiopia that led to the Red Terror campaign, with the helps of political lecturers and their legal team (who worked on their case pro bono). But what really made the film effective is the firsthand account from these three brave women. It’s a powerful human rights documentary that packs an emotional punch.
This film is screening online throughout the entire TCFF run… plus
FREE SCREENING ON SATURDAY!
October 30th, 12pm
Showplace ICON Theatres
PRODUCER/DIRECTOR – Christopher Chambers in Attendance!
To obtain free tickets, simply come to the TCFF Office at least 30 minutes prior to the screening to obtain vouchers.
TCFF OFFICE LOCATION
1633 West End Blvd. St. Louis Park, MN 55416
We’re halfway done with TCFF 2021, but there are still more great films to watch this week!
These film are currently available online throughout the entire Twin Cities Film Fest – Oct 21-30.
A Northwest Passage
Shot entirely in the neighborhood of Northeast Minneapolis, A Northwest Passage tells the story of its residents, neighbors, business owners & employees, and activists who call that part of the largest city in Minnesota their home or place of business. Shot by Gregory Alan Paape and Tyler Paul Hudson during the four months between September and December 2020, the documentary deals with how people of various ages, faiths, skin color and sexual orientations have dealt with the events that came together in Northeast Minneapolis, in Minnesota and in the United States as a whole.
The COVID-19 pandemic, the unrest following the murder of George Floyd, the Presidential Election andthe ramifications of those events coming together made the year 2020 unique for everyone including the residents of Northeast Minneapolis. Paape and Hudson take us throughout one of the oldest neighborhoods of Minneapolis, as people are ordering takeout, catching a bus, shopping at Target or Cub Foods, or shooting hoops with their friends. The interviews they conduct with these strangers show that these people are more connected than they might realize. Even though they might not realize it, they share the same hope, fear and desire to make their community a better place.
I would strongly recommend this documentary for everyone who wants to learn about how one community survived the events of 2020 and came out stronger together.
The premise is quite simple; Paulo (Hugo De Sousa) has travelled from Portugal to Iceland, while still grieving from the recent death of his mother, a trip they were supposed to do together. While there, news the world has been waiting for finally arrives – earth will cease to exist in a matter of days. Unable, and somewhat hesitant to go back home to Portugal, Paulo is stranded in a small Icelandic village where not everyone speaks English, and he spends his last days wandering a delicate foreign land and encountering the people he will spend his final hours with. He makes intimate human connections with a mother and her son, bonds with another younger man with the help of a bottle of alcohol, and uses the help of a middle-aged man, who assists Paulo find his way around the Icelandic countryside. Each brief moment of human connectedness helps Paulo process his grief as he comes to accept the end.
Everything In The End is directed and written by Mylissa Fitzsimmons, in her feature directorial debut. It was shot in Iceland with a crew of seven people and beautifully showcases the quiet natural wonder of waves crashing along the shores, while also exploring subtle themes of climate change and Earths destruction through meaningful visuals. Also, the character of Paulo is written as a relatable, vulnerable and charming young man who shares in film’s main theme; who are we, as humans, as members of society and as inhabitants of this planet? The answers to those questions may not be easily told in words but the film does so by showing us that it’s the small details in life that make us human.
Everything In The End is one of my “can’t miss movies” of the 2021 Twin Cities Film Festival!
This equally funny and outrageous film follows the life of Michael (Charlie Tahan), who recently graduated from college. In his mid-20s, Michael’s futures plans get derailed when his girlfriend leaves him for a job in New York City, and he is left stuck in Ohio without a new plan of his own. The only thing left for him to do is to continue the endless loop of driving the “Drunk Bus,” the debaucherous late-night campus shuttle that ferries drunken college students from parties to the dorms and back. After several physical altercations with drunken college students, the bus service hires a private security guard named Pinnacle (fun fact: his real life name is Pineapple Tangaroa) to watch over the night shift and keep Michael safe.
The 300-lb punk rock Samoan, whose tattooed face is impossible to forget, gives Michael a good ass-kicking to try to force him to break from his “Drunk Bus” loop and start living his own life or risk driving in circles forever. Partly a coming-of-age journey, and partially a crazy, wild night of partying, the movie finds the perfect balance between a rowdy, indulgent comedy and a poignant and heartfelt drama.
Interestingly, this movie would fit well in this year’s TCFF change maker series topic of mental wellness; because Michael’s mental state in the movie really changes 180 degrees from start to finish.
Set in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York, the film follows a relatable and endearing storyline offering a fresh perspective on classic rom-com tropes. Americanish delves into the complexity of trying to both honor and break from cultural traditions while balancing personal values and career goals in a society that does not always accommodate both.
I vaguely remember reading about a painting being sold for a record-breaking $400+ million a few years ago, but I didn’t remember exactly which painting it was. Well, this documentary by Danish filmmaker Andreas Koefoed traced the 12-year journey of the Salvator Mundi (Latin for Savior of the World) that was originally discovered at a New Orleans auction house. It went from $1175 in 2005 prior to its restoration by renowned conservator/restorer Dianne Modestini, all the way to $450 million by the time it was sold at Christie’s in 2017. If you pay attention to the opening sequence graphics, it shows the exponential growth of its value over the years… which goes to show that art world isn’t so much about the love of art, it’s all about money… it’s another avenue to store money for the rich.
One of the talking heads said that “After drugs n prostitution, the art market is the most unregulated market in the world… you don’t know who owns something, how much it’s worth, who’s buying or selling it…” Despite the fact that it’s not 100% certain that the painting is done by Leonardo Da Vinci himself, the elite art collectors and general public alike were in awe of the Salvator Mundi. After being shown at the The National Gallery in London (at the Da Vinci exhibition), the painting gained immense celebrity status that it even dubbed the male Mona Lisa.
I’m always fascinated by the art world, but the film also touched upon art commerce, history, even international politics, such as the feud between a Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev and Le Freeport owner Yves Bouvier. Even CIA operatives were interviewed and one of them talked about how money can be moved in different ways thru the Free Port system, which exists as a tax free haven from the ultra rich so they can keep expensive purchases secret from tax authorities. It’s so sad to see art simply existing in a vacuum, amazing paintings and other art work are sitting in the dark in these big warehouses instead of being seen and appreciated by people.
The film itself is brilliantly-directed. I’ve seen so many documentaries that are so dull to watch despite its intriguing subject matter. It even played like a thriller at times, as the mystery of the painting’s authenticity and where it would go next continues to pique my curiosity. Koefoed keeps the standard talking head interviews from being tedious like in many documentaries. I also like how the news quotes shown like clippings that fade in and out the screen. From art scholars, art critic, investigators, even Yves Bouvier himself talking about his legal battle with Rybolovlev, everyone has something interesting to say about the Salvator Mundi. Art critic Jerry Saltz in particular is the most animated talker and he happens the be the only one who staunchly doubt the painting is an authentic Leonardo.
The film certainly has the ingredients of a good thriller–money, power, greed, treachery–as art is nothing more than collateral or power showcase. The third act plays like a detective story, and I’m glad I didn’t remember the news on it as I was kept in suspense as to who ends up buying the painting for $450 million! Let me just leave you with the acronym MBS… which is just so creepy considering the kind of man he is and the criminal stuff he continues to get away with. One of the talking heads suggest that the reason he bought the painting is that ‘he might have seen himself as the savior of the world’ [shudder]
At the end of the film, I feel the most for Modestini who’s affected greatly by her assessment that the painting is a Leonardo. As someone who truly cares about art and thinks the painting belongs in a museum, it must pain her to see where Salvator Mundi ends up at the hands of people who have no regard for it, or any art form for that matter. I for one can’t imagine a piece of art could be worth SO much, but I suppose it is naive of me to think that people who buy such a painting do it because they appreciate its beauty or that it has some profound meaning to them, and this documentary definitely serves as a chilling eye-opener.
The Lost Leonardo is proof just how riveting a good documentary can be. The production values is top notch as well, with beautiful cinematography by Adam Jandrup and evocative Italian-tinged music by Sveinung Nygaard. Definitely one of the best documentaries I’ve seen so far, and one that just might end up on my best film list of the year.
Have you seen The Lost Leonardo? I’d love to hear what you think!
On its 10th anniversary, more than 60% of Twin Cities Film Fest’s 2019 program are driven by female filmmakers. It’s something I’m happy about of course, but I wish the general statistics about women in Hollywood is something to cheer about. As of right now, according to Women And Hollywood stats, women only make up for a mere 4% of directors.
So naturally I’m intrigued by documentaries that highlight women filmmakers. I featured the doc Be Natural about Alice Guy-Blaché (the Mother of Cinema). This time I had the privilege of chatting with Cady McClain, the director of Seeing Is Believing: Women Direct.
It’s a documentary film which emphasizes the opportunity for women to use their voice through media to change the social and political landscape and achieve full equality. Focusing on inspiring and uplifting young female storytellers through the mentorship and leadership of four diverse directors, Seeing is Believing: Women Direct opens the conversation up to ask “What is the broader role of storytelling in our society and how can women use filmed media as a unique opportunity to catalyze progress?”
The best documentaries are entertaining, insightful and fascinating. Well, this is one of those documentaries and then some. I love that there are clips from their projects along with the filmmakers’ interviews. I also adore the the stunning animation by Chilean artist Xaviera López that supports the themes of the doc.
I learned that Cady McClain is planning of turning this doc into a podcast series with female filmmakers and I really hope that would happen!
Check out the trailer:
Q&A with Director, Producer, Editor Cady McClain
1. What triggered you to make this film as your first feature? I read that it had started off as a 28 minute short, then an 58-minute version before this one (84 min) doc feature?
I actually started out with the idea of doing a feature. But there were two other women who wanted to make a similar feature and we each have our own vision. We all wanted to support each other but also wanted to have our own journey of going about it, which is kind of crazy but that’s how it turned out. So I didn’t want to compete by making another feature, so I thought I’ll make a series. So the short was supposed to be the first episode, the pilot. So I sent it to Soho Film Festival and they called me and said, ‘you should make it into a feature because they think it would be really competitive in their feature doc category.’
When a film festival called you, it was the encouragement I needed. I mean I never made a documentary before, I’ve never trained in documentary, but at least the short helped me understand what documentaries are. Plus I could build it from there, and the 84-minute film ended up winning the Audience Award at Soho International Film Festival which was amazing.
Then we also had a distributor come around who said, this isn’t long enough for iTunes (because it was under an hour). Now I have a little more understanding of how to make the doc feature I had wanted to make in the first place. So I went back and added more women [filmmakers] that I had wanted to but I hadn’t figured out how to fit them in. It’s like weaving a giant quilt to form a certain pattern, and you’re making the patterns as you go along.
2. Out of the filmmakers that were interviewed, I particularly love Lesli Linka Glatter, Li Lu and Sarah Gavron… I love their stories and the way they tell their stories. So how did you choose your subjects?
A lot of it was happenstance. It was who I knew and who people I knew knew… you know, how certain people connect me to certain people. Suffragette [movie] happened while I was making this film, one of my friends who was a member of the DGA invited me to that screening and I was so blown away by it that I wrote to her agent. She said she was too busy touring for this film, but if you fly to London she’ll make time. So I flew to London to interview Sarah Gavron. I was also so inspired by the careers of the people I interviewed.
One was Joanna Kearns (best known for Growing Pains), who was an established actor before she became a director. Some people said it might be easier the fact that we started off as actors, but it’s still very hard to make that transition and to earn your place [as director]. And also with Lesli Linka Glatter, there is a lot of happenstance that comes in any one’s career. As she said in the film, if she hadn’t met that one man in the coffee shop in Japan, she wouldn’t have gone into directing. I learned that no career is a straight line. It’s helpful for me because intrinsically, you don’t just go to film school and then have a film career. It’s a lot to do with the people you’re in school with, the connections you made there, what’s being made now, what are you inspired to make, how you craft your forward movement, etc. Nothing is guaranteed And if you didn’t go to film school and want to be a director, you really have to look around you, what resources are available to you, who are the people you know and what stories you’re inspired to tell. You really have to work with the circle you have around you instead of thinking it’s out there or you’d have to come to LA and expect things to happen.
3. How has your background as an actress help you as a director?
I feel like I could help comfort the actors, even when they push back. Some actors could get very insecure and some deal with their insecurity by becoming very tough. I learn not to take it personally, and just read it as total insecurity as that’s all it is. They need me to be the one in control, to be the strong one. If I’m not the strong one then they get afraid and nervous, ‘oh she’s not in control.’ So they need to know that ‘I’ve got it. You can be nervous and I’m holding the line here for you and I’ve got your back. Everything’s gonna be fine.’
4. Seeing the grim statistics about women in film, what do you think, from your perspective as a female filmmaker yourself, needs to be done in the industry level?
I think there is a comfort factor for the guys. When they work together there is a code of behavior, I don’t know if I would call it a pack mentality, but there’s an unspoken code of behavior. They call it the ‘Boys Club’ for a reason, it’s like in an athletic club you know, if you think about it like that, there is a code of behavior that’s been long held that they’re comfortable with. So when you introduce a randomness, which is the female into that space, they’d have to get into a learning curve. So is this a friendly person, is she going to judge us for our code? What’s their take?? So as a female leader, I feel like I have to be kind about that, and not be like ‘I’m coming in to blow your game away.’ The way I’d do it is to say, ‘I’m coming in to make your show great, to respect the work that you’ve done thus far and respect your set up here, but now I’ll bring in my intelligence, my talent and ability to the story.’ It does take a certain kind of crafting in that conversation, so we can move from a gender conversation but more about ‘let’s talk about the work.’
5. I’m glad you included Alice Guy-Blaché in your film. I watched her doc Be Natural last year and I felt so guilty that I hadn’t heard of her. So who’s been your fave female filmmakers, or those who have helped path the way for you as a filmmaker?
I saw the film ORLANDO, directed by Sally Potter and I was so blown away by it. It’s such a huge production and it’s a stunning story about gender… a person, a being, moving through bodies, through time… yet there is something so inherently similar no matter whether she was a male or female.
There was a glimmer of me ‘Could I do that? Is that possible?’ I was trained intensely by my mother that no, it isn’t something I could do. ‘She [Sally Potter] was British, it’s different over there.’ That old argument… You see, my mom was, you know the 1950s mentality, where if you’re going against the patriarchy if you will, the consequences would not be small. You’d have to have a lot of resilience to buck the status quo. I don’t think she felt she had that external or internal support, she was fighting different battles. She wants us to be safe, you know, she wants us to be happy, to survive. Unfortunately, her understanding of the world of what is possible is so limited. I think for her, standing up for what’s right is more satisfying for her.
What’s next for you? I saw you’re in the process of directing two dramatic features (Paint Made Flesh and Journey to Now)?
I’m afraid I can’t say anything about the projects I’m working on, but yes I’m definitely excited to be working on a narrative feature. Storytelling is what I’m about. Although I enjoyed making a documentary, I don’t want to be branded that I’m only doing certain type of things. I like to jump from medium to medium, I’m glad that these films found me and it resonated in our conversations. It worked out, they like me and then I got attached, so now we’re in long conversations of developing something into being. It all came about in a happenstance way, someone I met while making the doc recommended me for one, and someone else I met through the the process of finding more women directors recommended me as a female director, ‘hey think about Cady McClain.’ I think people who saw the documentary thought ‘oh she could tell a good story.’
One of the perks of covering film festivals is discovering cinematic gems that I otherwise would not have come across. This is one of those sparkling gems I got to see at MSPIFF this year. Not only is this film speaks of a topic that is near and dear to my heart as a female film critic/screenwriter/filmmaker, Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché is eye-opening, inspiring, captivating and absolutely delightful to watch!
Pamela B. Green’s energetic film about pioneer filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché is both a tribute and a detective story, tracing the circumstances by which this extraordinary artist faded from memory and the path toward her reclamation.
‘Be Natural’ Review
Directed by: Pamela B. Green
Written by: Pamela B. Green, Joan Simon
Have you ever heard of Georges Méliès? The Lumière Brothers? Thomas Edison? Most likely your answer would be yes. But how about Alice Guy-Blaché? If you say ‘Alice who?’ then you’re not alone.
I remember feeling really guilty that I didn’t know who Alice Guy was, I mean I consider myself well-versed in cinema history. Or so I thought. But then the opening of this film asked that very question, ‘Have you ever heard of Alice Guy-Blaché?’ to a number of filmmakers working in the industry (i.e. Catherine Hardwicke, Jon M. Chu, Peter Farrelly) and many of them had never heard of her.
By the time Jodie Foster’s voice came on as the narrator, I was glued to the screen, captivated and deeply curious to hear more about this untold story of Alice Guy, the forgotten ‘Mother of Cinema’ who’s seemingly been absent from cinema history through generations. Pamela B. Green has poured her passion and admiration for Alice Guy-Blaché and it shows. She utilized her background in motion design (she’s the founder/owner of Pic Agency in Los Angeles) in her storytelling style. I love that the film goes beyond showing talking heads and an immense wealth of archival photos/footage, but it’s also a thrilling detective story. The animation/motion graphics helped convey the filmmaker and team’s journey in finding the right people to tell Alice Guy’s journey, including her daughter Simone Blaché.
It’s immensely inspiring to see a woman behind the camera in the late 1800s. Alice Guy is shown in various photos directing actors on set. By her own account, she made the first narrative films ever in 1896! However, despite having made over 1,000 films, it’s heartbreaking that Alice had to fight to get credit for her work. It’s also astounding that even a hundred years later, there’s still a huge disparity for women behind the camera. I’m SO glad I finally learned about Alice Guy-Blaché and her crucial place in the cinema history. This film is so overdue, yet it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. As more people are championing gender parity in cinema, this film would likely inspire to keep up the good fight.
I can’t recommend this film enough to anyone who loves cinema, whether you’re a casual movie-watcher or involved in filmmaking at any capacity. Check out where this film is playing next on their official website.
* Photo courtesy of Be Natural Productions
** Photo courtesy of Anthony Slide
Check out the trailer:
Quick Bio on Pamela B. Green
Originally from New York, Pamela B. Green lived most of her life in Europe and Israel and as a result, is fluent in English, French, Italian, and Hebrew. In 2005, she founded PIC, an entertainment and motion design boutique based in Los Angeles, California. Green’s work ranges from feature film main titles, motion graphics, creative directing, directing and producing music videos and commercials. She is known in the industry for creating titles sequences and story sequences using her knowledge of graphic design, animation, editorial, and archival rare stock footage research.
Q&A with filmmaker Pamela B. Green
As soon as I saw Be Natural film, I went on Twitter to share about the film and to thank Pamela for shining a light on such a cinematic pioneer & visionary who’s somehow forgotten/omitted from film history books. I then contacted Pamela via her official site and was thrilled that I got to chat with her over the phone last Wednesday. Check out my Q&A below on some insights into her filmmaking journey.
Q1: What inspired you to tell Alice Guy’s story and let the world know that she is the true #MotherOfCinema?
I saw a tv show about women pioneers in cinema which included her. The show mentioned Mary Pickford (who co-founded Pickford–Fairbanks Studio with Douglas Fairbanks) who’s also well-known as an actress. But the fact that Alice Guy had done so much and had her own studio, she stood out. I had never heard of her at that point, and the more people I asked, I realized that many people also had never heard of her. I did more research and talked to some people in the academics community who said ‘oh everyone knows about Alice’ which made me angry because that [statement] is not true. Only a small group of academics knew about her.
I kept asking people that I work with in Hollywood, those I do jobs for, studios, and nobody had heard of her. I decided to do something about it. At that point I wasn’t sure what it would be yet, but coincidentally I was working with Robert Redford on a couple of films. On a second film, I told him about Alice and he was shocked as well. He said ‘well what are you going to do about this?’ Then I said, well I think I should do a documentary because I don’t think there’s enough work has been done to really explore Alice besides the academic aspect, restoring her films, documenting what she had done, etc. but it wasn’t a full exploration of her.
Q2: How long ago was this, that this journey started?
Oh a long time ago. In 2011 I was talking about this. Then we did a Kickstartercampaign in 2013 which was quite successful. Then the head of Geena Davis’ institute [SheJane.org] found out about it and then she talked to a big producers Geralyn White Dreyfous, Regina K. Scully, Jamie Wolf who came on board. They’re not part of Hollywood, but people who often fund social issues pertaining to women. Hugh Hefner and Jodie Foster also came on board as executive producers. They’re all visionaries who understood right away why I had to make this film. Instead of having to fight the system in Hollywood, I went the other way and they really helped me.
Q3: Did you face resistance from people who try to maintain the status quo of cinema history?
Yes. I get a lot of resistance from France, the Academics, professors. And Hollywood didn’t fund this movie. I mean they participated but Hollywood didn’t fund this movie. It’s completely donation-based. The ‘wallets’ just wasn’t available I guess, so I got funding from social media and these wonderful women. Barbara Bridges from the Denver Film Society is one, basically a lot of women behind the men who helped fund this movie, a lot of philanthropist women helped tell this story. The film is also distributed independently, outside of the studio system. But I see it as a positive thing, I was able to make the movie that I wanted to make, and marketed it the way I wanted to market it. There’s not many ‘fingers in the pot’ while I was making the film.
Q4: I love that the film also plays like a detective story, and the motion graphics helped convey that so wonderfully. Was that a conscious decision on your part to tell the story that way?
Yes, from the very beginning. I wanted to have Skype interviews, contact people around the world. Some people in the industry said to me ‘It wouldn’t be aesthetically correct. Why would you do that? It would look bad, what do you know about editing, etc.’ So I got a lot of resistance and people saying that I didn’t know what I was doing while making this film. So it’s similar to how Alice Guy was treated and had to deal with, that is having people second-guessing her as a filmmaker.
Q5: Where can people see Alice Guy’s extensive work? Is there plans to make her work readily available to the public?
Our film opened at Laemmle’s Monica Film Center on Friday, April 19. Then IFC Center in New York on April 26, then slowly we’re opening in multiple cities in the US and internationally [check out the film’s official site for schedule].
As far as Alice Guy’s films, there’s the Gaumont DVD collection [available on Amazon]. Kino Lorber Distribution company has some of her American films which they’ve released as part of the Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers disc [available on Amazon]. I’m also working on doing her American collections available for streaming. There are about 150 of her films in existence and we’re setting up a foundation that would hopefully support that venture.
There are countless of stories of war that have been depicted on screen, whether narratives or documentaries. They are inherently fascinating to me, and I’m especially intrigued by stories of survival, especially when told by the survivors themselves, as in the case of this remarkable WWII documentary with a Minnesota connection.
Told by U.S. Eighth Air Force Bombardier Lt. Charles Woehrle, one of 10,000 prisoners in Stalag Luft III – depicted in the movie ‘The Great Escape.’ At age 93 this remarkable man, a gifted storyteller, relives his experiences with vivid detail. His personal account of being shot down, captured by the Nazi’s and surviving two long years of tremendous hardship is filled with grit and grace.
In the promotional material for the film fest, the film is billed as ‘saga filled with grit and grace.’ I couldn’t agree more after seeing the film, I feel that it was how the late Lt. Charles Woehrle lived all his life… up until he passed away at the age of 98. It’s truly a good thing that Mr. Woehrle’s niece Louise is a gifted filmmaker, as she brought her uncle’s story to life so beautifully.
Though this film depicts a harrowing story, it has such hopeful, uplifting tone, a certain quiet grace that shines through when the then 93-year-old Charles Woehrle told his story on camera. Director Louise Woehrle used footage from 13+ hours of interviews with her late uncle, and combined them with various photos, real footage, countless memorabilia, plus re-enactment scenes to tell an inspiring tale of survival.
Lieutenant Woehrle spent 22 months at Stalag Luft III prison camp along with other Allied officers. This film allowed him to provide the voice for his fellow comrades who couldn’t tell their own stories. There’s also a delightful story about how he received an unexpected gift from Patek Philippe, the luxury watch company from Geneva while he was a prisoner of war. I was so invested in the soldiers’ stories that when I saw the footage of General Patton liberating the Allied prison camps, I literally cheered. As a movie fan, I was amused to see footage of classic Hollywood star Clark Gable who joined the Army Air Force and was part of the 351st Bombardment Group.
This is a film told with passion and care. The amount of meticulous details is astounding, and they’re woven together seamlessly with the ‘talking head’ interviews and re-enactments to tell a cohesive story that’s suspenseful, thrilling, deeply-touching and inspiring. I have to mention the wonderful music which mixes the classic theme from The Great Escape by Elmer Bernstein, as well as those made specifically for this film. Great music adds such richness to the whole experience and that is definitely the case here.
I’m glad I got to see this film and learn more about a real life hero, as well as others whose stories are told through him. A brilliant showcase of the triumph of the human spirit. Lt. Woehrle’s and his comrades’ experience certainly gives me a whole new appreciation about life and the freedom we enjoy every day. …
Q&A with filmmaker Louise Woehrle
Q1. What sparked the idea that you wanted to tell your uncle’s story?
The idea was sparked after my dad died in 2006. I was still working on my feature documentary Pride of Lions (co-directed with my brother John Woehrle) so I knew it couldn’t happen right away. By 2010 when my uncle was age 93, I could wait no longer, and that’s when I got busy. I knew that even if my uncle passed away after I shot his interviews in the studio, I could still tell his story.
Q2. Sounds like you filmed this five years before your uncle passed (when he was 93), how long was the interview process with him specifically?
The interview process happened in 3 in-studio interview sessions, lasting 3-4 hours each. I had subsequent interviews at his apartment later.
Q3. Did you learn new things about his tale you didn’t know before?
Yes, I learned a lot of new things. The one that stands out the most is the watch story. We had been shooting at a Stalag Luft III reunion in Detroit. I was interviewing a PoW who was on oxygen. He was wearing a Rolex watch that was broken and he said he never took it off because he had it in prison camp. So, when my uncle and I were flying back to Minneapolis, I asked him if he had a watch in camp? He looked at me and said, “Let me tell you a story about a watch.” That’s the first time I heard about the Patek Philippe. I think it was never mentioned because his house was robbed in the 70s and the watch was one of the stolen valuables. He just moved on and did not talk about it. I knew, at that moment, what that watch meant to him and so began my search for the watch and ultimately a replacement watch from Patek Philippe.
The watch from Patek Philippe
The watch was specially engraved for Charles Woehrle
Q4.When watching the film, I was astounded by the amount of details of footage, photos, memorabilia, etc. that really makes for effective documentary storytelling. Would you share a bit about the research and process of collecting all of those items?
My uncle held on to his WWII documents, logbook, journal, artifacts, letters from home, Patek documents and the negatives from the photos he took at the end of the war with the Voigtlander camera that ended up in the Nuremberg Trials. I also attained scans from Col. Clark’s photo collection from the Air Force Academy Library. Those photos were taken with clandestine cameras by the PoWs. I also worked with the Minnesota Military Museum at Camp Ripley in Little Falls, MN. They provided uniforms, tin cups, red cross parcels, the French Box car and more.
I was able to attain 2 film reels from the footage that was used in William Wiley’s 1944 documentary film Memphis Belle: The Story of a Flying Fortress. 16 mm reels from an archival film licensing online platform, Critical Past. I did a deal with them. If they sent me the reels of film, we would do the digital transfer for them. My colorist, Dave Sweet at Pixel Farm specializes in the transfer of 16mm and 35mm. Because we worked out an even trade, Critical Past did not charge for the use of the film. I also scored on the use of the B-17 from EAA in Wisconsin. That’s a whole other story of convincing them why they should work with me. All things led back to Uncle Charles and his true story. He lived it and we get to document that story! It was a 95-degree day when they landed for 4 hours at Anoka Airport. I had to rent commercial air conditioning units so none of our re-enactors would pass out from heat stroke with all that gear on.
Q5.I thought the re-enactment scenes were well-crafted and looked very believable. How’s the process of casting the actors and recreating those air battle scenes?
We used green screen while shooting the B-17 on the ground at the Anoka airport. The goal was to shoot as much as we could with the limited time that we had. VFX were always going to be a part of the equation but I had no idea how far we could take it. I saw this sequence as being critical to the film. I was working with one of my several shooters on the project, Alex Fournier, who also assisted in some editing too. He studied art at the Chicago Institute of Art so he had a real talent for learning VFX. Alex fell down the rabbit hole learning what he needed to make a bullet coming through the fuselage look real, taking a still image and animating it and creating a scene of jumping out of the B-17 look real. He must have worked for 3 months, straight. I was very involved in editing that sequence. I knew it had to have the right rhythm to work and so did Jim Stanger, my editor who seamlessly connected each piece. Splice came in and took the VFX to the next level with their contributions.
For the B-17 air battle sequence, I had to rely on Minnesota Military Museum’s help, specifically historians Doug Thompson and Charlie Pautler. I told them that I wanted young guys for the roles who were in shape and could wear their hair short. My historians delivered a great group. I also used some of the same guys on the forced march sequence. Three of the PoWs were family, my son Luke Enyeart (age 19), nephew, Dylan Woehrle and my uncle Charles grandson, George Kelly. Keep in mind, none of my reenactors were actual actors. The only true actor in the film was the voice over for Charles mother, Anna. That was voiced by veteran actor Sally Wingert. The woman who played the mother role, Joan Lambert had acted in high school and she was a mother, therefore, she could relate to the story. How I found Joan is yet another serendipitous event.
Q6. Did you make contact with any of Charles’ former crew that you’re making this film?
Actually, it was a family member of one of my uncle’s fellow crew members who contacted me. The daughter of Sgt. Charles Eaton (Top Turret) who is standing next to Charles in the photo of the 4 PoWs standing after they were captured. Eaton is standing next to my Uncle. They pretended they did not know each other. The daughter called me because her dad did not talk about the war and she hoped that Uncle Charles could shed some light on some unanswered questions. I arranged a conference call with Charles, the daughter and her sister and myself. They asked what their dad was like back then because the man they grew up with seemed fractured emotionally from the war. Their dad could never get over the fact that he could not get the radio operator to jump. The kid was too scared so he went down with the plane. After Uncle Charles told them about want a great guy he was and how you could always count on him, etc. they started to cry. Later they wrote to us and said how healing it was to talk to my Uncle and that it explained a lot. Uncle Charles also told them that their dad did everything he could to help the radio operator but had to jump at the last second to save his own life.
Q7. And was it Charles’ idea to honor their stories, as in providing a voice for those who didn’t make it?
Uncle Charles honored his fellow airmen, always. When he went to France as the last survivor of the crew, he took it upon himself to represent all his crew in the best way he knew how. He documented every part of the trip and put together books for each family of the crew and sent to them. He felt it was his duty as the last man standing. That’s just how he lived his life. So when you ask, was it his idea to provide a voice for those who did not make it, I would have to say yes. Was it my idea to include that theme in the film? Yes. The mission for Whirlygig Productions from inception in 2002: “Telling stories that help us see ourselves and others in new ways, promote healing and connect us as human beings.” I have shortened the tag line to “Shining a light on stories that need to be told.” For me, there always needs to be the purpose of a greater good that can come from a story. Uncle Charles lived his story, I was lucky enough to document it through this film.
Q8. Sounds like your uncle lives his life with ‘grit and grace.’ Would you share one personal moment of you and your uncle that you’ll always carry with you?
Yes – one day we were talking over dinner and I asked him who in the family reminded him of my Dad (his identical twin). I was thinking one of my 4 brothers, maybe my sons. He gently pointed his finger at me. I was moved. Uncle Charles and I were there for each other – at that moment, I understood our connection on another level.
Q9. The moment where Charles went to a Detroit Air Show is very moving, esp when he got inside the bomber airplane similar to his B-17. Please tell me one of your favorite moments making this film.
Well, that was one of my favorite moments because up until that point he was telling me there would be no way he would ever get into a B-17 again after all he had been through. So when the young captain on the tarmac asked Uncle Charles if he wanted to go up into the plane and he said “no, no, no,” and the guy driving the golf cart said “yes, yes, yes,” or something like that…something switched in him and he did it! I was blown away. It brought a lot of joy to not only him, but the rest of us watching him.
Q10. I love the music used throughout and you’re credited as the Music Supervisor. I noticed that you used the theme from The Great Escape film by Elmer Bernstein.
Thank you. Music is the bedrock of my storytelling. I studied music growing up and into college. I became a music therapy major at the U of Minnesota. Music is integral to every story. When we were editing the Stalag Luft III prison camp sequence my editor, Jim Stanger asked if we could use the music from the Great Escape movie to get us in the spirit of being there. Of course, I said yes but was worried we would get so attached that I would never be able to find music to replace it. Elmer Bernstein composed beautifully to the spirit of that film. Well, as I thought, I got attached to the music so much that I reached out to the Elmer Bernstein Family Foundation. They referred me to Sony ATV. It took 4 months of emails back and forth with detailed examples of how the music cues would work with the sequences. Finally, they said yes and allowed me to use 4 cues at a minimal fee. They understood this was an independent film about a pretty impressive man who lived the real Stalag Luft III. I am very grateful that they got on board.
Q11. How did you select the music for this film?
I have a good sense of what a scene or sequence needs emotionally and musically. I used that inner knowing when diving into the various music libraries. The right music sort of jumps out at me. I lost myself for days looking for various music cues. There were a few cues that my editors used to cut to that we left in too. My music editor Ken Chastain did a great job providing transitional music or creating certain classics, like Silent Night, Amazing Grace or tonal segues.
My son Luke Enyeart composed 4 cues after Uncle Charles capture and during his time in the cold and hardship in prison camp. Luke wrote a couple of the cues with his good friend Will Honaker. Luke’s primary instrument is the guitar. He has composed music for 4 of my film projects and possesses great emotional intelligence in his music. You can’t teach that.
Q12. Lastly, what would you want people to take away from after seeing this film?
I hope they feel like their hearts have been opened and tended to by the life of Charles Woehrle. I hope they can walk away feeling inspired by kindness, compassion, and love for our fellow man. I want future generations to know how much we owe the Greatest Generation and hope that my Uncle’s story starts a conversation and offers some healing for families like the Charles Eaton’s.
The 9th annual Twin Cities Film Fest may have come and gone, but hey, we still have some reviews to share with you!
MANY THANKS to our blog volunteers Holly, Laura, Vitali and Andy for their great work before and during the film fest! For ALL of the 2018 coverage that include reviews AND interviews, click here or just type TCFF 2018 in the search box.
Review by Holly Peterson
Director: Steven Luke
Before you see Wunderland, you should know that it is more of an action movie than it is an historical drama. The story leads up to the Battle of the Bulge, but the events at the Western Front are very decidedly a backdrop, not a plot. The audience is left following the meandering adventures of Lt. Cappa (Steven Luke), which mostly consists of him speaking in his most gravely voice and pulling his rosary out of his jacket – when he’s not shooting Germans, of course.
The choice to make Wunderland an action movie is confusing because it is clear that the filmmakers did research surround WWII. This was most apparent in the historical profiles of men who fought in WWII that scrolled at the end of the credits, but as far as I could tell, none of those men were characters in the movie which is, again, confusing.
Wunderland is a beautiful movie. Editing is choppy at times, but Peter Wigand has an eye for capturing scenery and does a great bringing the audience into a winter “wunderland”. The score is also great, although sometimes misused. (For instance, there were a couple scenes where the soundtrack playing behind the Germans was so victorious that I started to think that I had missed something and they might actually be Americans.)
The strongest part of Wunderland is the fight sequences. Steven Luke has one great bit of hand-to-hand combat about halfway through the movie and the firefights are fun to watch. It feels a little weird to enjoy watching people shoot each other when you know that the story is about actual events, but, like I said earlier, this is an action movie. It is fun to watch everyone run around in a snowy forest shooting service rifles, anti-tank rifles, and setting up trip wires.
You should see this movie if you want to see some of your favorite Minnesotan actors in action, if you are looking for an action movie with just enough historical reference to give it a little weight, and if you like goats. I’m not even going to explain that one. See it for the goat. Thank me later.
Review by Laura Schaubschlager
Director: Vanessa Magowan Horrocks
Witch follows a babysitter, X, who plays an ongoing game with their ward, Aima, where they pretend to be in a constant fight with an evil witch. Soon, however, the lines of reality blur, and it begins to seem as if their game isn’t as imaginary as X originally believed.
While Witch is listed under the “horror” section on the TCFF schedule, I wouldn’t categorize it as such. While there are some horror aspects to it (especially the character design of the witch), it’s much more of a psychedelic sci-fi fantasy- which is awesome, but I wish I had known that going in, rather than assuming it would be a horror film, since I kind of had to mentally shift gears and adjust my expectations while watching. That said, this is an absolutely beautiful movie. It’s full of dream-like animation, lush set design, and detailed costuming. Even the sound is gorgeous, from the background noises to the score. There are some moments where the music and sound effects overwhelm the dialogue (which is unfortunate, because the script is lovely and really makes me want to read the novella the movie is based on), but overall, this is a stunning film, visually and in terms of sound.
The acting in Witch is excellent as well. The cast is small but solid. The standouts are, without question, the actors playing X and Aima. X is funny and genuine, and Aima is ridiculously talented for such a young actor. The two have excellent chemistry.
While Witch isn’t available for purchase yet, the filmmakers are working with a distributor, so if you weren’t able to catch it at TCFF, hopefully you’ll be able to buy or stream it soon. In the meantime, the soundtrack is available on Bandcamp and is absolutely worth listening to. I sincerely hope this movie is shown at more festivals in the future, because it definitely deserves the screen-time.
Nor Any Drop to Drink
Review by Andrew Ellis
Director: Cedric Taylor
Nor Any Drop to Drink takes a deep look into the problems that caused the water crisis in the first place as well as showing us how much has changed – or hasn’t. The documentary forgoes the tradition of having a narrator guide us through the story, and lets those involved in the fight tell it instead. While there were many captivating moments in the feature length documentary that kept you hanging onto every word, there were also those that made you wonder how long this was going to go on for.
The shining moments belong to the residents for Flint who have been effected by the crisis, and are still paying the price long after the reporters and activists are gone. The film opens on an older African American woman who we see throughout the documentary using bottled water for everything, and explaining the effect the lead-infected water has on the human body overall. Two other women talk about the effect it has on their kids and how it changed one of them to a point where her son is now homeschooled.
Then are the other interviews. These are with government officials and other experts who attempt to explain the circumstances that lead to crisis, and what kept it from being solved. While they were important they were explaining details that most viewers might find hard to follow. They have plenty of expertise, but when they get into the hard details of certain aspects it becomes hard to follow especially with no accompanying visual graphics to highlight key information for the viewer. And in the age of short attention spans it’s an easy way to allow one’s mind to wander away from the screen.
The heart is there. There is no doubt the filmmaker cares about this topic. Unfortunately, passion does not always lead to a well-crafted story.
– Review by Andrew Ellis
Stay tuned for additional TCFF reviews/interviews… as well as two Halloween Specials coming tomorrow and Wednesday! …