2018 TCFF Reviews – Belong To Us + Through The Windmill documentary

We’ve actually past the halfway mark for TCFF 2018! Wow, where has the time go? I can’t thank my blogging team enough for helping with the reviews and interviews! Special shout out to Holly Peterson for today’s pair of reviews! We’ve got a family film that’s in keeping with TCFF’s 2018’s Social Justice Cause (Changemaker Series), that is Animal Humanity, AND a fun documentary about miniature golf!


Reviews by Holly Peterson

BELONG TO US

An injured dog finds it’s way into the hearts of a family after escaping an underground dog-fighting ring.

Director: Patrick Rea
Writers: Kristin Rea

Belong to Us centers around a small family and a runaway dog. An animal-loving girl finds and falls in love with that dog – which recently escaped from a dog fighting ring. She names him Duke and sneaks him into her home with the assistance of her grandmother and big brother. The three of them hide the dog from the father: a well-intentioned man who is too preoccupied with his work and too hung up on his destroyed baseball career to be a good father to either of his children.

The biggest mistake that Belong to Us makes is that it takes itself too seriously and tries to do too much. Too much of the story relies on coincidence and overly dramatic events, and there are too many disjointed side stories that add little – if anything – to the overall story. What should be a cute, family friendly film is interrupted by a completely tangential love story and an unnecessarily dark side story about Duke’s dog fighting owner trying to find his dog. The movie clearly wants to argue that dog fighting is bad, but that point could have been made in a way that fit into the otherwise family friendly tone.

Most of the cast is great. Paige (Brooklyn Funk) and Decklin (Matthew J. Lindblom) are both great standalone actors, and their sibling chemistry is really fun. Lindblom is not a convincing teenager, but he makes up for the miscasting with a really solid performance regardless. Worth the ticket price alone, Kathleen Warfel was an absolute delight as the sassy grandma.

I wish that I could suggest this movie for families, but I’d probably respect the PG 13 rating. As it is, if you like feel good family movies and don’t mind a guy getting shot, beat up, and the friendliest bird flipping in the history of flipped birds, this is a fun one to add to your film fest roster. Plus, it’s one of our Changemaker films benefiting the Animal Humane Society! Yay puppies!


Through the Windmill

This film explores the past, present and future of miniature golf through the voice of the talented, often unsung, people who design, build and operate them.

Director: Amanda Kulkoski

If you enjoy people watching, you will love Through the Windmill. Producer and director, Amanda Kulkoski, finds some of the most unique golf courses across the United States and interviews the owners, artists, and fans that she finds at each one. Kulkoski spends the forward half of her film featuring older mini golf courses, most of which are still up and running and then essentially maps out what might be the greatest mini golf road trip of all time. She introduces us to a course centered around a giant (fake) volcano that explodes every twenty minutes, a course that is also a farm, and a golf course that is literally in the basement of a mortuary. And more. So much more.

Over the course of the film it becomes apparent that there is a particular variety of whimsy inherent to those who love mini-golf. The characters that Kulkoski finds in her cross country trip – especially the owners of the courses – are incredibly interesting. Proprietors have been everything from governesses to artists to farmers to formerly disenchanted 9-5ers and, more often than not, their personalities are reflected by their courses.

I disliked Kulkoski’s choice to spend so much time pretending that mini-golf is dying – only to then feature the multitude of ways in which people are re-inventing the pastime. Some courses closing and others opening does not have to be a pain point for the story to be interesting. Generally, the structure of the documentary was pretty haphazard, with historical tidbits sprinkled throughout the film and a really misplaced (but interesting) bit about competitive play.

Through the Windmill is worth seeing. The innovative new courses and classic old ones are fun to see.  The interviews are quirky and fun.  And you’ll learn some stuff!  Do you know the difference between mini golf and Putt Putt?  I didn’t.  Have you heard of guffle board? I hadn’t. And if that’s not enough for you, the Walker golf course is featured toward the end of the film and there are some very Minnesotan interviewees. We’re a delightful breed, us Minnesotans.

Oh, and look forward to an hour and a half of understated carnival tunes playing under the entire movie. 😉


Check out what TCFF 2018 has in store for TUESDAY!

TCFF 2018 Documentary Spotlight: INVENTING TOMORROW & interview w/ filmmaker Laura Nix

Every year TCFF has put together an amazing lineup of documentaries and Inventing Tomorrow that tick all the boxes of what makes an inspiring, fascinating AND entertaining film.

Considered the Olympics of high school science fairs, ISEF is the largest gathering of high school scientists in the world, attracting approximately 1,800 finalists from over 75 countries, regions and territories. Spanning the globe to film students from four different countries as they embark on a whirlwind of social activities and field trips, forming life-changing bonds. The filmmakers didn’t stop there, when the fair ends, Laura Nix and her team follow our characters home to witness how they process their experiences at ISEF. It’s absolutely inspiring, especially given today’s geopolitical climate, to see young people who believe in a shared vision of environmental stewardship and collective action.

INVENTING TOMORROW follows six young scientists from Indonesia, Hawaii, India and Mexico as they tackle some of the most complex environmental issues facing humanity today – right in their own backyards. Each student is preparing original scientific research that he or she will defend at ISEF, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Framed against the backdrop of the severe environmental threats we now face, we immerse the audience in a global view of the planetary crisis, through the eyes of the generation that will be affected by it most.

Q&A with filmmaker Laura Nix

Q1. How did this project come about to you? Are you (or someone you know) involved in ISEF Science Fair prior to making this?

Like a lot of the general public, I had never heard about the fair beforehand. Which I hope changes after this film because it’s extraordinary, and everyone should be familiar with it in the same way we know the World Series or the Olympics. I was approached in 2015 by my producers Diane Becker and Melanie Miller to see if I was interested to make a doc about ISEF, so I attended the fair in Phoenix in 2016 to both film and scout, and I immediately realized there was a great story to tell there. First off it’s huge – almost 1800 kids attend, and 1000 volunteer judges show up to evaluate their projects. The sense of hopefulness and optimism there was infectious. But I was struck by the students I met who were doing projects with environmental impact, especially when they were addressing issues they were confronting at home – whether it was lack of clean drinking water, or air pollution, or some other type of environmental challenge. They weren’t doing research because it would be cool on their college application, but because they were deeply and personally motivated to save their home and the people they love who live there. Those were the kids who made me want to make the film.

Sahithi at ISEF Opening Ceremony

Q2. How did you select the students to feature in Inventing Tomorrow?

We started by reaching out to science teachers and fair directors all over the world, and asked them to identify students who were working on projects with the intention of environmental impact. We worked with local field producers in some countries, and sent out our own field producer to certain places. In the end, we probably interviewed over a hundred kids from all over the world and the US. We were looking for kids who were doing science with a sense of purpose; who were addressing an environmental issue that was local and personal. I was specifically looking for issues that were visual, and for students who could clearly describe their project to an audience. We also were looking for a range of environmental issues that dealt with air, water, and earth.

Most people might think that a documentary about science and the environment is boring, so it was really important to me to create an emotional and character-based film. I was also looking for kids who had a personal story or an obstacle that was compelling, so I could show how they were working to overcome it. We wanted diversity of region, culture, and gender parity. I traveled all over the world to meet the kids we eventually decided to film, and I followed them without having any idea of whether they would win something once they arrived at the fair. I spent time with all of them because I believed in them as people, and because I was fascinated by their ability to pay attention and ask the right questions about the world around them.

Jose in his home in Mexico

Q3. You’ve done over two dozen docs and doc shorts, how do you choose your subject/topic for your next film or do they come to you?

Many of the topics have been introduced to me, sometimes I find the topic on my own. When I look back on my work, I think the greatest similarity is my interest in people who want to make a difference – that seems to keep coming up. These films are really hard to make, and they take a long time as well, so you need to have a deep passion for the topic or you can’t make it through the whole process.

Jared birding with his father

Q4. For Inventing Tomorrow, you had to travel to various countries to film. What has been some of the challenges as well as unexpected delights you & your crew encounter?

When we’re traveling internationally as a film crew, one of the greatest challenges is the language difference. It’s so important to know what is actually happening when I’m directing a scene, so we used interpreters while filming. This is necessary to speak to the film’s subjects, families, sometimes the film crew. The sound person sets up a system where the interpreter stands off set with a remote microphone and interprets live what everyone is saying, and that translation is fed through the sound mixer back to the me and the camera woman as it happens. That way we can make better creative choices about what to shoot and how we shoot it. While we still encounter moments that are lost in translation, the interpreter is essential to the process. My favorite part of filming internationally is getting to meet people and go to places I would never ever have the opportunity to visit as a tourist. For example, getting to visit the armada of pirate tin mining dredges is not on anyone’s tourist itinerary, but that’s one of the most extraordinary places I’ve ever been.

Nuha taking a selfie with her friends

Q5. As I was born and raised in Indonesia, can you tell me just one anecdote about filming in Bangka for Nuha’s story?

People have asked at screenings how did we get access to the pirate dredges, who gave us permission? And because it’s the type of environment that doesn’t have an organized “pirate tin miners association,” we really had to wing it. Our local field producer reached out in advance to some people in the area who had contacts on the dredges, but they all were a no show on the day of the shoot. We had already driven 3 hours before dawn to get to where the ships were, so we just headed out to sea with great hope. And the moment where they gave us permission to film is actually on camera. Nuha, who is this incredible combination of being brave, and also clear about her intention, just asked “Hey can we come aboard your ship?” and they said yes, and so we went. Who could tell her no?

Nuha speaking with pirates in Bangka, Indonesia

Q5. What’s your goal as a storyteller with the release of this film?

We are working hard to have the film reach as many young people as possible, so people their age with courage, clarity of vision, and belief in their ability to save this planet can inspire them. We are using the film to promote equal access to high quality STEM education as well as youth environmental stewardship, so the next generation is empowered with the tools they need to ensure their own survival on this planet. I also want adults to see the vision of these young people and be galvanized to amplify their voices, their approach and their overall message. It’s clear we left a mess behind us, and we need the next generation to lead so we can follow.


Follow INVENTING TOMORROW on social media:

Official Site

Laura Nix on Twitter | Instagram


TCFF screening sponsored by


Check out the trailer below:


Thanks so much Laura Nix for chatting with FlixChatter!

FlixChatter Review: Fahrenheit 11/9 (2018)

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Review by Vitali Gueron

Fahrenheit 11/9 might be Michael Moore’s best movie since he made and released Fahrenheit 9/11 back in 2004. What Fahrenheit 9/11 did for millions of frustrated liberals living a Bush-era world where their democracy is threatened by a failed and dangerous presidency, this film plays on similar fears and frustrations of liberals living in the scarier and even more dangerous presidency of Donald J. Trump.

Michael Moore starts of by recounting the 2016 election, the nomination of Hillary Clinton who became the first woman to accept a major U.S. political party’s nomination for President of the United States, and the rise of reality television star and read estate tycoon Donald Trump. Moore was never a fan of Clinton, and made no attempt to hide his contempt for her in this movie.

Moore showed Clinton’s rise through the Democratic Party’s nomination process, the challenge for the nomination made by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and the seemingly undemocratic use of “superdelegates” by the Democratic National Committee help Clinton ascend to the nomination. He made sure to mention the case of West Virginia’s 2016 Democratic Primary, where Clinton lost every county in the state to Bernie Sanders.

A political analysis done by NBC News showed that Sanders victory was partially a rejection of the Obama administration’s own coal policies, but he was also helped by large numbers of Republican cross-over voters. Their own polling showed that thirty-nine percent of Sanders voters stated that they actually planned to vote for Donald Trump over Sanders in the November general election. Yet, Moore decided to leave out these facts, but rather conclude that while Clinton lost West Virginia’s pledged delegates 11-18 in favor of Sanders, all eight un-pledged delegates voted for Clinton at the Democratic National Convention, meaning the West Virginia delegation voted for Clinton over Sanders by one. There was an outright rejection of Bernie Sanders by the Democratic National Committee and not by the pledged delegates, according to Michael Moore in Fahrenheit 11/9 which can be seen as Moore’s attempt to advocate for his own preferred candidate — Bernie Sanders.

Once Clinton won the Democratic Party’s nomination and Donald Trump was able to knock of all of his Republican challengers to win the Republican Party’s nominator, Moore argues that Clinton made use of tiny bumper stickers and card board cutout of her to send across the country while Trump used the national media to televise all of his rallies, having them wait for him sometimes for hours upon end, with wall-to-wall coverage of the candidate, who bullied them for not showing his large crowd sizes or dismissing him as not a serious candidate. The local Minnesota connection in the movie comes when Moore shows an interview of Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison in 2015 saying on ABC’s “This Week” that Donald Trump could be leading the Republican ticket in 2016, to which the other guests laugh him off and host George Stephanopoulos saying “I know you don’t believe that.” Well, Keith Ellison was correct in his prediction and even Michael Moore himself predicted on Bill Maher’s show, four months before the 2016 election that Donald Trump would win in 2016.

Moore criticizes Trump for talking about extending his presidency beyond the eight-year limit. Moore argues that Trump loves the dictators such as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and says of China’s President Xi Jinping that “He’s now president for life. President for life. No, he’s great.” Fascism, Moore and Maher agree, “happens in little increments.”

While Fahrenheit 11/9 is a very somber and thoughtful movie, it lacks some important factual context. For example, Moore does little to mention that Russian meddling in our elections and their hacking of the DNC and Clinton campaigns in 2016. He doesn’t bring up the Russian’s government’s use of Facebook and other social media to spread fake news stories to make Hillary Clinton look bad and Donald Trump look good. He also doesn’t talk about the ramifications of disgruntled Bernie Sanders voters not voting in 2016 or Green Party nominee Jill Stein’s attempts to corral these voters for her own benefit. To Moore, these two figures had little or no impact on Clinton’s loss and Moore squarely places the blame for Trump’s win on a “rigged system.” Most surprisingly, Moore talks about Trumps’ win in the Electoral College but doesn’t provide the raw, startling numbers: 65,853,514 million people voted for Hillary Clinton while only 62,984,828 voted for Donald Trump. This is a net difference of over 2.8 million people who voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.

The most touching moment in the documentary comes when Parkland, Florida High School student Emma Gonzalez reads off the names of the students who perished in the mass shooting at her school during the March For Our Lives rally. Emma says that no-one could comprehend the aftermath of the shooting or how far it’s devastating effects would reach. For those who still can’t comprehend the gravity of the effects because they refuse to, Emma tells them that their six minutes and 20 seconds with an AR-15 went straight into the ground six feet deep. After she reads off the names of her lost classmates and what they would never do again, she pauses and stares straight into the camera, as if she were looking inside your soul for any humanity you had left.


Have you seen Fahrenheit 11/9? Well, what did you think? 

TCFF 2017 Interview: VICTOR’S LAST CLASS’ Director/Producer Brendan Brandt

One of the many intriguing documentaries playing at this year’s TCFF is Victor’s Last Class, documentary about an acting teacher getting ready to end his life, and a student who attempts to change his mind.

Our blog staff Laura Schaubschlager talked to producer/filmmaker Brendan Brandt on the journey to making his film, where along the course of the project became more than just a filmmaker asking why, but became a close friend trying to change his new friend and mentor’s mind.

1. How did you discover Victor and his blog (and, subsequently, his announcement of ending his life)?

I’m an actor in Los Angeles. I was at a cast party after having just closed a play. The host of the party was a little upset, and when I asked why, he told me that his friend Victor was getting ready to kill himself in two weeks, and he didn’t know what to do.
I was fascinated with the story and asked if Victor would be willing to meet me. I just wanted to talk to him. Before we met, I read all his blogs and got a sense of who he was. At some point right before we met I got the idea to document his story in some way. So I pitched him the documentary idea sort of on the fly.

2. Why were you compelled to make this documentary? How did you hope to challenge Victor’s decision through filming this?

“Why was I compelled” initially is tough to answer. I’m not great at psycho-analyzing myself so there may be some subconscious stuff going on that I’m unaware of. If I was forced to guess I would say I had never truly experienced a death at that point in my life (other than losing a grandpa and grandma). I hadn’t lost a close friend or parent, so I think I was perhaps a little curious about it. That was at first. Then after I met Victor, I bonded with him in a very intense way, and I was compelled to “save” him. I had a mission, to talk someone out of killing themselves. I think that’s how I saw it after awhile.I hoped to do it by asking him some super smart questions. I was on a righteous mission! It sounds incredibly naive and a little arrogant to me now, but I really thought I could get into the philosophy and logic behind the decision and perhaps find a flaw or crack. I was convinced there was a chance to unlock some previously undiscovered angle, and when we fully looked at it, we could come to a different conclusion.

3. Last year, Jojo Moyes’s book Me Before You, which deals with the issue of assisted suicide and ending one’s life due to lifelong medical struggles, was adapted into a major motion picture. Have you read the book or seen the movie, and if so, how did you feel about the depiction of this situation after going through it yourself?

Oh man, I was not aware of that book or film. I will check it out when I’m ready to have a good cry.

4. Victor stated in the documentary that he didn’t believe ending one’s life has to just be due to physical pain (he gives the example of someone losing a wife and child in an accident and not being able to go on), but didn’t feel knowledgeable enough to say it would extend to mental illness.

What do you think? How do you feel it extends (or doesn’t) to mental illness? Where do you think the limit is?

Great question. Let me preface this with I don’t have a clear, concrete answer. One of the main lessons I got from this experience was that life is less ‘black and white’ and more ‘grey’. So you have to take it on a case by case basis. We can do a better job of seeking help for mental pain, and we can do a better job of treating mental illness. I didn’t like Victor’s car accident analogy in the moment. That seemed like an injury that, while horrific, would slowly, at least partially, heal with time, and deciding to die before giving it a chance to partially heal would be unwise. Maybe after 10 years, with no improvement in mental health, still devastated and unable to cope, I would be more willing to accept that.

All that being said, mental pain is often worse than physical pain, and ultimately an individual should be in charge of their own life. So, if a mental health expert could determine that someone who is suffering extreme mental pain and wants to die is not “crazy”, I would probably accept that. The main point would be to make sure they talk about it with experts and loved ones, and that we would get a chance to really explore that decision.

5. After going through all of this with Victor, what advice do you have for anyone who has a friend or family member considering ending their lives due to chronic pain or illness? You state toward the end of the film that while you understand his reasoning more, you still don’t agree with his decision; how do you come to terms with those conflicting feelings?

My advice would be to make sure you listen to the person. I’m very grateful I got to have this experience with Victor. And he was grateful I gave him that experience because we got to really investigate every facet of that decision. It was good for both of us, and I think it’s a healthy process to go through. Tell the truth, listen, question, and seek to understand. Not to be nit-picky, but I said: “I still don’t know that I agree”. I think that’s an important distinction. It goes back to my ‘things are grey’ point. I can’t say what he did was right or wrong. I don’t want to say that. But I do want people to look at it and think about it, and maybe make up their own mind.

When I made that comment toward the end of the film, I was hurting. I thought I made a pretty strong case to continue on. It was a little selfish of me to be honest. He was making my life better, and I didn’t want that to stop. It’s taken time and a lot of reflection, and the conflicting feelings are still there, but basically, at this point, I understand and accept. Wish it wasn’t the case, but I accept. Dealing with the conflicting feelings was interesting. As I spoke with his friends after the fact and heard their takes on it, I found myself swinging back and forth, and that continued for a while until I arrived at ‘there is no right answer. It just is.’


FILMMAKERS’ BIOS:

Brendan Brandt (Director/Producer), is a Los Angeles based actor who has been working professionally for the last twelve years in theater, film, and television. He’s appeared in prime-time dramas for CBS, sitcoms for ABC, Comedy Central, and CMT, and films that have been distributed by Netflix, Amazon, and Directv. In addition, he has been in over twenty commercials as a principal actor. His book “Waiting Tables, Dodging Bullets: An Actor’s Guide to Surviving Los Angeles” was published in 2010. Although he’s worked in the industry for twelve years, this is his first time directing a film.

Arielle Amsalem is an Emmy Award winning editor of feature length documentary films. After graduating from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts film program, where she apprenticed under the editor Sam Pollard, Arielle started her career working on Spike Lee’s award winning documentary “When the Levees Broke” (2006), a film about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. She has since been the editor of many feature- length documentaries including the Edward Norton produced HBO documentary “By the People: The Election of Barack Obama” (2009) for which she won the Primetime Emmy for Picture Editing for Nonfiction Programming. She worked as a Producer on Jennifer Fox’s 6-part documentary series “Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman”, which premiered at Sundance and aired on the Sundance channel. Additionally, she has consulted on the production and distribution of many of the documentaries which she has edited.


What’s in store for Day 4

Today we are screening lots of movies, there is something for everyone!

Victors Last Class, Instructions for Living, Ice House, Coyote, Cold November, Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict, Bill Nye: The Science Guy, Beyond the Trek, Beauty Mark, and two blocks of short films (Age of Innocence – coming of age stories, and True Life Inspired– documentaries).


Stay tuned for my Day 3 & 4 recap tomorrow

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FlixChatter Review: The Eagle Huntress (2016)

eaglehuntress

Director: Otto Bell
Runtime: 101 min

This was one of my most-anticipated documentary of the year, so when it played at TCFF in October I was beyond thrilled. I had never seen eagle hunter doing their thing on screen, let alone an eagle huntress. It’s a world rarely explored on films, and for that reason alone I was excited to see it.

The Eagle Huntress follows Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl, as she trains to become the first female in twelve generations of her Kazakh family to become an eagle hunter. It seems apt that the documentary is narrated by Daisy Ridley, the bad-ass star of Star Wars‘ spinoff The Force Awakens. Within minutes, I was in awe of the beauty of the Mongolian landscape. This is perhaps one of the most beautifully-shot films I’ve ever seen, not just of this year. Not sure what the production budget was, but it certainly looks extremely-well made. I’d jokingly call it eagle-porn for all the stunning sequence of the majestic bird flying in the air, but the most incredible shots are during Aisholpan’s training to catch the bird.

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As the title role, Aisholpan effortlessly won my heart. She has such a great screen presence and charming personality. Growing up in a patriarchal community in a nomadic family, she’s very close to her eagle-hunter father, who often takes her eagle hunting. It’s no surprise that she wants to follow in his footsteps and despite the objections of the community elders who insist that eagle-hunting is a man’s job, her dad fully supports her. If you’re a parent, especially dads, this is a great film to take with your kids. The relationship between Aisholpan and her dad is genuinely heart-warming.

A key scene when Aisholpan and her dad had to snatch a 3-month-old eagle chick from its nets up high in the mountain is quite an adrenaline rush. Aisholpan’s dad literally had to dangle his daughter on a rope over a cliff during a particularly windy day. I’d imagine it’s a tricky job even for a man, let alone a young girl! But Aisholpan defied the odds and she proved the naysayers wrong time and time again as she also triumphed in eagle-hunting competition. But what I admire about Aisholpan is not just her talents and tenacity. Despite being a bit of a tomboy, she also embraced her femininity, as the film shows her wearing a bow and painting her nails. She thrives in a man’s world but she’s still very much a girl and enjoys being one.

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A good documentary immerses you in an exotic world that’s completely foreign to you and The Eagle Huntress certainly did that for me. I love the moments between Aisholpan and her eagle (the one she caught off the cliff) and how she’d talk to her the way a kid would talk to their pet cat or dog. There’s also scenes of her with her girlfriends, most of which don’t exactly share her passion for eagle hunting. It’s truly an insightful, entertaining and emotional experience watching this movie. Apparently director Otto Bell moved Heaven and Earth’ to finish this film as he said in this TIFF interview. I’m glad he did and thanks to him we got to know such an amazing and inspiring story. Kudos to cinematographer Simon Niblett in filming the stunning mountainous Kazhak wilderness, as well as capturing some of the intimate moments in Aisholpan’s journey. They used GoPro cameras to film much of the eagle-hunting action and they’re an absolute blast to watch.

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I’d have rated this film higher if it weren’t for the inaccuracies about Aisholpan being the first eagle huntress. As it turns out she’s also not the only eagle huntress around at present time and that the opposition to her vocation might’ve been exaggerated for dramatic purposes. Now, I wish the filmmaker had been truthful in presenting the story, as I don’t think the fact that there are other eagle huntress lessen the power of Aisholpan’s story. I still think she’s an extraordinary young girl whose story deserves to be told. If you’re curious to read it, this article talks about the real truth of female eagle huntress in Mongolian Kazakh society.

That said, I still highly recommend this film. Perhaps it’s more of a narrative than a documentary, but still it’s a wonderful, uplifting story that’s skillfully-told. A soaring film in every sense of the word. The visuals will no doubt wow you, but it’s the adorable & charismatic Aisholpan who’ll run away with your heart.

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Have you seen The Eagle Huntress? Let me know what you think!

Traveling Through Cinema – Antarctica: A Year On Ice documentary

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I was supposed to see this film a couple of years ago during the Twin Cities Film Festival, but for some reason I couldn’t make it to the screening. The film won Best Documentary from TCFF and rightly so. Well, after finally witnessing this spectacular documentary this weekend, I’m even more gutted I missed it on the big screen. To say that it’s a visual feast is putting it mildly, it’s a surprise my jaw didn’t get stuck on the floor as I was watching it. As I’m not sure if I ever get to visit earth’s Southern Hemisphere in my lifetime, I can always live vicariously through New Zealand’s photographer/filmmaker Anthony B. Powell and his team who spent a year in the icy continent.

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The description on IMDb reads: A visually stunning chronicle of what it is like to live in Antarctica for a full year, including winters isolated from the rest of the world, and enduring months of darkness in the coldest place on Earth. I thought it’d be a typical nature documentary with jaw-droppingly beautiful imagery and some insightful facts about the continent, but what sets this film apart is how affecting and personal the journey is, as told from the perspective of the filmmaker Powell, as well as some of the interviewees who gave us insight into what’s it like working in Antarctica. Ranging from helicopter pilot, fireman, firehouse dispatcher, cook, store clerk, operations manager, etc. they share the psychological perspective of how the extreme weather affect them as a person and how life-altering their experience is. The film takes place in the New Zealand’s Scott Base or United States’ McMurdo Base where most of the crews were stationed at.

Most of the people interviewed seem to have a positive experience, in fact most of them have gone back time and time again, even enduring the Antarctica winter year after year. I said the word endure because that’s a perfect description for it, as one must have a certain endurance power to be able to survive such a harsh condition. It’s interesting that I watch this as Winter is coming to a close, I should’ve watched this in January as it’d make even the harshest Minnesota Winter like a walk in the park! As I was watching the film, it made me wonder if I could survive living in Antarctica. I mean, it’d be a treat to see those adorable penguins up close, but there’s also tragic sights of dying seals who froze to death. Of course there’s the extreme climate itself where four months out of the year you’d be engulfed in complete darkness with temps reaching −89 °C (−129 °F) and even colder windchill. Not to mention the monstrous storms that could freeze anything in sight in a matter of milliseconds.

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The film doesn’t just show the glamorous side of living in Antarctica… the obvious homesickness and missing family members, but there are also times when some of the workers couldn’t even go back home to attend the birth of their sister’s first child or their father’s funeral. On the bright side, Powell himself found love during his time in Antarctica, as the film showed his wedding to Christine Powell who helped him make this film. So there are heart-wrenching and contemplative moments in the film that gives the film an emotional substance on top of just something beautiful to look at. There are also humorous moments, such as when interviewees share about the T3 Syndrome which happens during winter when the T3 hormone in the brain is reassigned to the muscles of the body in an effort to protect it against the extreme cold. You’re probably more familiar w/ the term brain freeze, though most of us probably don’t have their excuse 😉

It took Powell 10 years to make this film, it’s pretty much a passion project for him as he also wrote and produced it, and his wife Christine is credited as second unit director. I’m glad I finally saw this film, if I were to rate it I’d give it a 4.5/5 reels. Featuring plenty of amazing time-lapse photography, it’s one of the most stunning film you’ve ever seen that’s also thought-provoking and inspiring. One of the few female interviewees, who happens to be from rural Minnesota, remarked that many nations get along better in Antarctica than any other parts in the world, now that should also gives you something to ponder. Highly recommended.

Check out the trailer:


With this post, I’m relaunching the Traveling Thru Cinema series that
I launched two years ago
with In Bruges

I hope to keep up with this series at least every other month from now on.


Have you seen this documentary? If so, what did you think?

Documentary Spotlight: 112 Weddings + Interview with filmmaker Doug Block

112WeddingsPoster

The 2015 Twin Cities Film Fest may still be 10 months away but periodically, the organizers run an awesome Insider Series event for film fans to enjoy. Next week, they are featuring a special screening of a thought-provoking and fascinating documentary, 112 Weddings (more info here).

Filmmaker Doug Block is a documentary filmmaker (51 Birch Street, The Kids Grow Up) who does wedding photography on the side for some extra cash. Initially he didn’t really set out to create a film that examines the institute of marriage, but after having shot several weddings over the course of a couple of decades, he often wondered whatever happened to those couples years later. That curiosity sparked the idea for this film, and so we got an intimate and personal look into the lives of about a dozen couples who candidly share their marital stories for the film.

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As the poster tagline says, happily ever after is indeed complicated. And real-life love stories can often be more intriguing and dramatic than whatever Hollywood concocted and that’s what I found when I was watching this film last week. Each couple’s narrative is as varied as their weddings themselves, and it’s clear that marriage is a tricky journey in which there are no shortcuts. One couple is dealing with a child’s debilitating condition, another is dealing with crippling depression and so forth. It’s also surprising to learn which couples stay together and which have ended in divorce, as the film starts with the original wedding footage first. It’s also interesting to see the perspective of a same-sex couple and what marriage meant to them. One of those couples said that marriage sort of ‘solidifies our relationship as a team.’ One older couple decided NOT to get married initially, though they still have a celebration to mark their union as a couple. But later on, after their kids are grown, they did decide to officially marry.

Some of the couples featured in the film

The documentary is only 95-min long and it’s quite well-paced. Though each only have a few minutes to tell their story, you still get a glimpse into the intricacies of their lives. There are poignant and heart-breaking moments, as well as funny moments. One rabbi said the funniest lines that couldn’t be more accurate:

“Weddings are easy… just throw a lot of money at it & liquor. But marriage is hard. If you throw a lot of money at it and liquor, usually it doesn’t end up very good.”

I commend Doug Block for tackling on such a project and as someone who’ve been married for over a decade, it definitely makes me reflect on my own married life. Early in the film, Doug asked one of the couples ‘What’s your biggest fear that your marriage will turn into?’ and that’s really a thought-provoking question that I’d think every couple would have to face at one point or another. It may seem at first, to me anyway, that the filmmaker seems to have a rather pessimistic view on marriage. He asks ‘What does it say when the most hallowed institution ends in failure half the time?’ He also quipped, ‘It’s one thing to take a gamble on a marriage, it’s another to have as much of a chance of success as flipping a coin.’ But overall it’s a sobering & honest look at the subject that presents things as they are, no sugar-coating it. The film actually ends in a hopeful note with a young couple walking blissfully following a festive outdoor ceremony, and it leaves me wondering how things would turn out for the happy couple years down the line.

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I had the chance to chat with Doug via email about his film. Read below on the filmmaking process:

DougBlock_112WeddingsOut of the 112 weddings you have filmed, how did you decide which ones to feature in the doc?

Half were couples who popped right into my memory bank as lively and interesting. Others were picked by way of contrast, and to obtain as much diversity as I could within the parameters of who hired me. Finally, I deliberately tracked down two divorced couples, as I felt that aspect of marriage needed to be represented. Needless to say, those were the toughest couples to find and secure interviews with.

How long did it take you to make the film? I’d imagine it involves a pretty grueling editing process?

It’s something I had thought about for many years, for almost as long as I’d been shooting weddings. But once I actually began in earnest it only took about two years to make altogether, which is relatively quick for a feature documentary. The first year was spent not just interviewing our main couples but viewing as many of the 112 weddings I shot as I could to find moments to use interstitially throughout the film. That was done simultaneously with the fundraising. The second year was primarily devoted to the editing. It was actually a lot of fun to edit because I love collaborating with my amazingly talented editor, Maeve O’Boyle.

Out of all the couples that stood out to me the most were Sue & Steve and the interracial couple Yoonhee & Tom who met on a plane. Could you elaborate a bit on the process of filming either one of the two couples and how that came together?

Sue & Steve
Sue & Steve

Yoonhee & Tom
Yoonhee & Tom

In all cases, not just with those two, I simply called the couples and explained what I was doing. I also told them upfront that I was making the film in partnership with HBO, so that they’d be aware that this was something that would eventually be seen widely. As I say in the film, when I shoot a wedding I form a pretty intimate bond with the couple very quickly, as I’m with them at close quarters on perhaps the most extraordinary day of their lives together. Many years later, they all remembered who I was right away and, I’m happy to say, quite fondly. So I think I had their trust from the beginning. That became very clear when I did the interviews, which, like my weddings, I shot by myself without a crew. At times I was astonished at how open and candid they were with me. It was almost like they mistook me for a therapist

What have you learned from the experience of making this documentary? Not knowing what your view is about marriage, did it alter your opinion in any way?

Well, when I started the project I’d been married for over 25 years, so I’d say I knew a thing or two about marriage.  But I didn’t want to impose my own views and go into the filming with any set agenda.  I just wanted to capture a collection of snapshot-like portraits of marriage by revisiting some of my wedding couples and, when put together, seeing what they added up to.  It actually led to a number of surprises, including questioning why we even bother getting married at all.  I never thought that would be a major question that would come up.
Lastly, what would you like people to take away from seeing this film?

I hope it will get them thinking about marriage in a deeper way, and hopefully lead to some lively discussions. I think too often people conflate marriage with the wedding day. Their fantasies are usually directed at the dress and the cake and what it will be like to walk down the aisle. But weddings are just day one of what will theoretically be a lifetime commitment.

So I hope it shows marriage in an affectionate but much more realistic light. As someone says in the film, happily ever after is complicated.

Check out the trailer below:


112 Weddings is available on HBO Go, iTunes, and Dogwoof TV.