TCFF 2019 Documentary Reviews: Like Harvey Like Son + 8 Seasons of Art + Juice: How Electricity Explains The World

Documentaries always plays a big part of Twin Cities Film Fest and we’re all the better for it. It’s always fun to learn something new by watching an insightful, fascinating doc. There are a plethora of subject matters, from environmental sustainability (TCFF’s social justice cause this year), films about art/culture, and inspirational journey of a son and his father conquering the Appalachian Trail in record-breaking fashion.

Yours truly w/ Kelly Lamplear-Dash

Check out the reviews below, thanks to our doc reviewer Kelly Lamplear-Dash, an award-winning screenwriter known for producing documentary films on historical figures, like Isaac Asimov and John Berryman, and historical moments, like The Dinkytown Uprising.

For more film fest coverage, reviews and interviews, type TCFF2019 in the Search box for ALL of the posts we’ve done so far this year.


Like Harvey Like Son

Stunning first documentary feature from Rudy Harris Jr. As if the gorgeous landscape wasn’t enough, there is a wonderful unfolding of the lives of both Harvey Lewis Jr. and III. Being an amateur hiker that journeyed on a seven day hike, I appreciate the style he presented for Harvey’s quest to break the record running the Appalachian Trail. The way he interwove the personal revelations and reflections along Harvey’s path is reminiscent of the actual experience of being on the trail: you’re focused on the needs of the day, but then there’s something that brings back an old memory, or there’s a moment of thought that creates introspection, and, of course, simply enjoying the surroundings. He beautifully captures these interweaving moments in the way he edited the film.

My only criticism was the use of music was a little too much. I liked the choices of musical score; however, I felt it was a little too much. It seemed like there was never a moment to breathe and enjoy the ambient sound of the beautiful surroundings. I especially appreciated the comments by Harvey Lewis III about his definition of “success” from his quest. Is it defined by what society dictates, or what personally enriches us? Great reminder.


8 Seasons of Art: A Black Arts Story

Artivists. Twin Cities art activists share their art, poetry, and music, along with their personal stories of purpose and struggle in our community. Raw and edgy footage carries the tone for the critical dialogue that is at the heart of this documentary. Intentional imagery underscores the artistry and performances that were shared. It is a fantastic glimpse into the local black culture that isn’t always readily accessible. This film is a great platform to help these underserved voices be heard.


Juice: How Electricity Explains The World

Juice: How electricity explains the world (Oct. 18)

Thought provoking. I really consider myself educated on the issues of clean energy and energy conservation; however, this film brought up some engaging important global perspectives on energy use. What energy means in a broader sense of existence is a truly critical discussion. There is no easy answer or quick fix approach to this film. It is about broadening our concepts and realizing our interconnectedness over this issue. A great source for starting important conversations.

This film is a must see for everyone.


Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and interviews!

 

 

TCFF 2019 Spotlight: The Ringmaster documentary + Interview w/ creator/producer Zach Capp

What do world-famous onion rings, legendary band KISS, a beloved chef from Minnesota and a former gambling addict have in common? A loving tribute to a special family in Minnesota.

Hi everyone, Ruth here. This is perhaps one of the most unusual documentaries I’ve seen… it’s rare that a documentarian ends up being part of the subject of the film he’s creating, but that’s what happened here. Zach Capp initially wanted to make a film about a film about the Worthington chef and his famous onion rings, but The Ringmaster is what I would call a ‘meta’ film as it turns the camera on the filmmaker and ends up documenting the efforts and almost-failures over a 3-year journey. The result is something extraordinary… bizarre, sometimes even painful to watch, but also fascinating and endearing. I think the film is a sweet love letter to chef Larry Lang and perhaps even the town of Worthington as well. Zach said to me at the beginning of our chat that the film reminds us of an onion – the more you peel away the layers the more you discover. 

Before I get to the interview, let me share a bit about the background behind the film, and Zach Capp specifically.

Zach’s subject, shy, quirky chef Larry Lang, is loved by his town, Worthington, MN and known for making the best onion rings in America (as verified by food critic Tom Sietsema of the Washington Post). Zach’s mother is from MN and his family vacationed in southwest MN when he was a young boy. Zach never missed an opportunity to sample the world-famous rings at Michael’s which was the Lang family’s restaurant. Larry’s father Michael created the “secret recipe” in 1949 – the 70th anniversary in 2019.

 Zach’s beloved grandfather, Martin Capp spent his formative meager beginnings in St. Paul and later in life became a huge philanthropic figure in the Twin Cities area. His name appeared on downtown hotel towers in Minneapolis and St. Paul and thousands of families would live in houses built by his company, Capp Homes, which pioneered affordable pre-fabricated housing in the postwar years. Martin and wife Esther Capp aided many charities in the Twin Cities including the Minnesota Children’s Museum.

Papa Martin with his grandson Zach Capp – photo credit: Zachary Capp

Martin Capp thought that his grandson Zach should pursue his passion and become a filmmaker. When Martin passed away, Zach decided to use the inheritance his grandfather left him to make a documentary. The young former gambling addict began a four-year journey filming onion ring chef Larry and sister Linda Lang with the intent of making them and their onion rings world famous. Much of the hundreds of hours of filming took place in Minnesota. Additional footage was shot in South Dakota and Las Vegas.

Larry Lang and his famous onion rings – Photo Credit: The Daily Globe

This documentary was made in loving memory of Martin Capp, who had such strong roots in The Twin Cities. Zach is continuing his grandpa’s philanthropic endeavors. Part of the proceeds from the film will go towards Alzheimer research.

Check out the trailer:

Listen below for the Q&A with Zach Capp:

1. Have you shown this documentary to Worthington residents who knew Larry? If so, how has the reception been?

2. In the doc, you said that ‘maybe I should’ve cut my losses and walk away.’ I’m curious as to the main reason why you didn’t walk away and persisted in telling this story?

Zach Capp & Larry Lang – still from The Ringmaster

3. Watching the doc, it’s evident that you really had a heart for Larry Lang and want to see him succeed. But it was evident that you faced some challenges in making this film. What was the toughest day filming in your 3-year journey?

4. How was working with directors Dave Newberg + Molly Dworsky?


Dave and Molly helped me see what I couldn’t see because I was too close to the story… they really reshaped the whole narrative, they breathe new life into this whole project. I’d say they helped the film find its voice.

5. Some people might see the film and think that you and the directors were unfairly coercing Larry into doing something he didn’t want to do. How do you feel about that viewpoint?

Larry Lang with a KISS band member and the band promoter – still from The Ringmaster

6. The part in the film with the KISS band and seeing Gene Simmons ate those famous onion rings, that must have been surreal. How did that scene come about?

7. Now that Ringmaster film is done. Are you still interested in making the American Food Legends series?


Thank you, Zach, for chatting with FlixChatter!


TCFF screening time:
Monday, October 21st 7:15 PM

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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