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Documentary

Image from ‘Seasons of Change on Henry’s Farm’. Photo credit: Ines Sommer

Throughout this summer, Huntington’s Cinema Arts Centre has been offering free pop-up film screenings around Long Island in order to bring attention to local agriculture. Presented in partnership with Suffolk County Department of Economic Development & Planning, the local economic development initiative, Choose LI, the Cinema’s new ‘LI AgriCULTURE’ series has offered a unique look at farming on Long Island.

This October, the Cinema Arts Centre is partnering with Fink’s Country Farm, a family-owned and operated farm in Wading River, for a free day of fun and a screening of the independent documentary film, ‘Seasons of Change on Henry’s Farm.’

Image from ‘Seasons of Change on Henry’s Farm’. Photo credit: Ines Sommer

The LI AgriCULTURE series engages the local community in Long Island’s rich landscape of sustainable food production through the power of documentary film, helping to foster pride in our shared agricultural and aquacultural heritage, and inspiring Long Islanders to choose more local foods. Presenting dynamic documentary screening and discussion programs, virtually and in a variety of locations, this program will connect audiences to local food producers and encourage and empower the community to include more locally and sustainably produced foods in their daily diets. Learn more at: https://cinemaartscentre.org/li_agriculture/

The October event of the LI AgriCULTURE series will take place on Friday, October 1st at Fink’s Country Farm in Wading River. The program will be presented in partnership with Fink’s Farm, and planned with guidance from the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development & PlanningChoose LI, and Peconic Land Trust. The free program will feature a day of fun including a petting zoo, hay rides, a corn maze, pumpkin picking, food and refreshments, a discussion with a panel of experts, and a screening of the independent farming documentary, Seasons of Change on Henry’s Farm.

Seasons of Change on Henry’s Farm: Surrounded by GMO-heavy industrial farms in Central Illinois, for a quarter-century Henry Brockman has successfully operated a small family vegetable farm based on principles of organic cultivation and biodiversity. But farming takes a toll on his aging body and Henry dreams of scaling back. While his former apprentices run the farm, Henry spends a “fallow year” with his wife Hiroko in Japan. But things don’t turn out as planned, and Henry must grapple with the future of farming in a changing climate on personal, generational, and global levels.

This program is made possible with support from the Long Island Community Foundation.

“The Cinema Arts Centre has always used the power of film to educate, inspire, and mobilize the Long Island community,” says David M. Okorn, executive director of the Long Island Community Foundation. “We are proud to support this film initiative that will connect residents to Long Island farms and fisheries and help them understand the importance of locally-grown food.”

Event Information:

Date: Friday, October 1st 4:00 – 9:00 PM (A rain date is scheduled for October 7th)

Location: Fink’s Farm, 6242 Middle Country Road, Wading River, New York 11792

Fees: FREE to attend. Attendees are encouraged to RSVP on the Cinema Arts Centre website: www.cinemaartscentre.org. Or by visiting the event page: https://bit.ly/SeasonsofChange

Schedule:

4:00 – Pumpkin picking, hayrides, corn maze, animatronic chicken show, animal feedings, food, and tabling with local organizations

7:00 – Screening of the documentary film ‘Seasons of Change on Henry’s Farm’

8:00 – A panel discussion with local experts

A scene from 'Roadrunner'. Photo courtesy of Focus Features

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Not since Julia Child has a chef had a higher profile than Anthony Bourdain. Smithsonian Magazine labeled him “the original rock star” of the culinary world. Gothamist referred to him as a “culinary bad boy.” His uncensored television persona was known for its profanity and sexual references. 

Born in Manhattan in 1956, Bourdain graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 1978. He ran several high-end kitchens, notably serving as executive chef of New York’s brasserie Les Halles. Bourdain’s memoir Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (2000) became a bestseller, followed by additional works of both fiction and non-fiction. His television work included A Cook’s Tour, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, The Layover, and appearances on a variety of television programs. 

A scene from ‘Roadrunner’. Photo courtesy of Focus Features

On June 18, 2018, while in France filming Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, he committed suicide. He was sixty-one years old.

In Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, director Morgan Neville explores the controversial celebrity chef through extensive video and interviews with friends and associates. While his childhood and early career are mentioned, the timeline begins with his rise to fame with the publication of Kitchen Confidential. 

With a two-hour running time, the expectation is a complete look at Bourdain. Fans will embrace the documentary, showing the subject in a sympathetic, if complicated light. Those who are less enamored will find it unsatisfying. Bourdain talks, smokes, eats, smokes, preens, and smokes. It touches on his drug use and hedonistic lifestyle. But mostly, the film consists of watching him smoke, talk, and preen. He ponders about life and his purpose. He travels. He smokes. In one particularly ghoulish cut, he eats a beating cobra heart. But mostly, he talks and smokes.

Neville almost ignores Bourdain as a chef for highlighting the man “hooked on travel,” describing him as “always rushing (thus the title). Bourdain was on the road at least two hundred and fifty days a year, covering hundreds of thousands of miles. The film emphasizes the exotic places: Lebanon, Port-au-Prince, Laos, and most dangerously, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, his Apocalypse Now/Heart of Darkness moment.

This would all be fine if it did not feel so posed. Neville constantly presents a brooding Bourdain, looking lost and despondent, or walking alone on the beach. Whether this reflects Bourdain or the filmmaker cobbling together footage to support his thesis, it is hard to parse. Particularly squirm-worthy is a clip of Bourdain in therapy that rings false and hollow.

There is a nod to his nearly thirty-year marriage to Nancy Putkoski that dissolved with Bourdain’s rise in fame, which “burned down [his] previous life.” His second wife Ottavia Busia (to whom he was married from 2007 to 2016) is interviewed extensively and has mostly kind things to say (whether this is fact or editing …). It was with Ottavia that he had his only child, Ariane. 

A scene from ‘Roadrunner’. Photo courtesy of Focus Features

In 2017, he began seeing the much younger Italian actress, Asia Argento. She became heavily involved with and perhaps manipulative of his professional life before ending the relationship. The film less than subtly speculates that this contributed to his suicide. Argento declined to be interviewed, leaving a large hole in the accounting of his final days.

Neville alludes to Bourdain’s controlling side, illustrated by Bourdain’s range of obsessions, including taking up jujitsu at age fifty-eight. He became outspoken during the #MeToo movement, but this might have been due to Argento’s activism more than his personal beliefs. (One fascinating detail references him speaking ad nauseum about Argento’s skill at parking.) But nothing lasted with him—“not a person, place, or thing.”

The talking heads range from his producers and travel companions to various artists and musicians who became confidants. They seem to speak freely and appear devastated by his death. What is missing are interviews with people outside in the inner circle, who might cast light on the less sensitive behaviors and actions of which there are only hints.

There are multiple clips of Bourdain referencing violence against himself or others. His talks of self-doubt may be real or just part of the façade. Given the myriad footage, these could be passing comments. Even more damning is Helen Rosner’s interview with Neville in The New Yorker. Neville admitted to using A.I. technology for the construction of some of Bourdain’s voiceovers: “There were three quotes there I wanted his voice for that there were no recordings of … I created an A.I. model of his voice.”

Roadrunner feels incomplete, vaguely disingenuous, and almost rigged. And while all documentaries have a point-of-view, one wishes for a more objective and whole look at an unusual individual with a troubling legacy.  

Rated R, Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is now playing in local theaters.

Rita Moreno in 'West Side Story'. Photo courtesy of MGM/Roadside Attractions

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

At age 89, Rita Moreno has shown no signs of slowing down. The actor-singer-dancer’s seventy-plus year career spans from Hollywood to Broadway to London’s West End, from clubs to television to regional theatre. The documentary Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It is a fascinating glimpse of this iconic figure.

Rita Moreno in a scene from the film.
Photo courtesy of MGM/Roadside Attractions

The film, made around the time of Moreno’s eighty-seventh birthday, is a revelatory exploration. Moreno is candid, whether speaking of the highlights of her career or her personal demons. She is one of the most award-winning performers, including that rare EGOT — Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. (Only fifteen people have achieved this honor.) Moreno also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, has received a Screen Actor’s Guild Life Achievement Award, and was presented with a National Arts Medal by President Barack Obama. 

But in all her fame, the documentary shows a warm, humorous, down-to-earth individual who has never let discrimination or gender inequality from stopping her. She faced some of the worst mistreatments common to young women in Hollywood. She braved setbacks and disappointments as well as violence. Moments of self-doubt have plagued her for seven decades. And yet, in all of this, she maintains a remarkable and inspiring sense of self.

Born December 11, 1931, in Humacao, Puerto Rico, Rosa Dolores Alverío Marcano was brought to the United States by her divorced mother when she was only six years old. (She never saw her brother again.) While barely into her teens, she began performing in New York City before a talent scout brought her out to Hollywood, where she began a film career that would span well over half a century. 

Landing a contract with MGM, Moreno was given the look of a Latina Elizabeth Taylor. Subsequently, her roles consisted of playing “ethnics,” often with darkened skin and thick accents. One exception — and an experience that she clearly prizes — was playing Zelda Zanders in the Golden Age musical Singin’ in the Rain. Here, she was allowed to eschew the stereotype that had been and would continue to dominate most of her career.

She achieved cinematic immortality (and an Oscar) for her portrayal of Anita in West Side Story. She expresses deep gratitude for the opportunity to play what she saw as an empowering role. She hoped that it would lead to more varied roles, but the offers that followed were much the same type — gang-related films and the like. 

Moreno continued to work on stage and in film and television, garnering praise and accolades. For many, she is the “Hey, you guys!” cast member of the PBS children’s show The Electric Company. The show ran from 1971 to 1977 and led to her Grammy Award.

The 1990s saw her as Sister Peter Marie Reimondo on the prison series Oz, something she credits with bringing her back into the public eye. Most recently, she featured as the grandmother in the short-lived reboot of One Day at Time. In addition, Stephen Spielberg created a role for her in the remake of West Side Story, due out on Dec. 11. 

Rita Moreno as a young girl with her parents. Photo courtesy of MGM/Roadside Attractions

Moreno shares openly about her personal life. Her Hollywood agent raped her; to her horror, she continued to use him as her agent. She speaks of her emotionally abusive seven-year on-again-off-again relationship with Marlon Brando, by whom she became pregnant. (Brando insisted she have an abortion.) Her heartbreak over the actor led to a suicide attempt. 

Equally as revealing is the frank discussion of her marriage. In 1965, she wed cardiologist Leonard Gordon, to whom she remained married until he died in 2010. To the world, they were the perfect couple. However, she admits that she was never truly happy with him and wished she had left him. Nevertheless, she remains close with their one daughter, Fernanda Gordon Fisher, and her two grandsons.

Throughout the film, her colleagues give insight into her success. Morgan Freeman (with whom she appeared on The Electric Company), producer-director Norman Lear, playwright Terrence McNally (for whom he wrote her Tony-Award winning role in The Ritz), her West Side Story co-star George Chakiris, fellow EGOT-winner Whoopi Goldberg, and one of the film’s executive producers, Lin-Manuel Miranda, marvel at her talent and tenacity. Film historians chime in with commentary about how she managed to rise above what were often dimensionless roles.

The film emphasizes Moreno as a social trailblazer, including her involvement in fighting racism and sexism. She is shown with Sammy Davis, Jr. at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech in August 1963. She continues with her social activist work to this day. 

Director Mariem Pérez Riera has constructed an elegant and eloquent film that celebrates not just Moreno’s fame but, more importantly, her humanity. The story is of a life both rich and challenging and one that led to the fullest. Any biography is a “version” of the subject. Riera presents Moreno in the strongest and most positive light. But there is something so completely present and unpretentious about the dynamic Moreno that one would be hard-pressed to doubt her sincerity.

Moreno’s recent remarks defending Lin-Manuel Miranda and the casting of In the Heights overshadowed the film’s release. Shortly after, she walked them back, but the controversy still hovers. It would be sad if this affected the documentary’s success. Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It is an honest look at an important figure: a survivor, a role model, an exceptional talent, and a vibrant and valued human being. 

In her own words, “You always have to be able to get up, dust yourself off, and move forward.” Hopefully, viewers will keep this in mind and embrace this incredible portrait. Rated PG-13, the documentary is now playing at local theaters.

The film follows Belinda Lane and her quest to find her daughter's killer. Photo from Netflix

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

catfish (noun)

cat·fish | \ ˈkat-ˌfish  \

Definition of catfish

1. any of an order (Siluriformes) of chiefly freshwater stout-bodied scaleless bony fishes having long tactile barbels

2. a person who sets up a false personal profile on a social networking site for fraudulent or deceptive purposes

— Merriam-Webster Dictionary

On February 24, 2006, in Riverside, California, twenty-four-year-old Crystal Theobald was fatally shot in the head while riding in a car with her boyfriend, Juan Patlan, and her brother Justin. (Patlan was hit in the abdomen but recovered.) The case would not be fully resolved until January 2020. The investigation revealed that the attack was due to mistaken identity. The shooter, a member of the gang 5150, mistook the car’s occupants for members of MD, a rival gang.

The driving force behind the Netflix documentary is Crystal’s mother, Belinda Lane, and her vow to find her daughter’s killers. Her use of MySpace to collect information is central to Why Did You Kill Me? 

At first, Belinda, who was in the car ahead of her children, identified the shooter from a picture and selects him in a lineup. But it turned out that the boy had a legitimate alibi and was released, making her an unreliable witness. Following this, Lane used MySpace to track down those involved. 

Crystal Theobald was only 24 years old when she was murdered by a 5150 gang member. Photo from Netflix

Lane’s niece, Jamie McIntyre, began with a fake profile — party girl “Rebecca” — selecting a random photo she found on the internet. At that time, MySpace was relatively new as a social media outlet and quite popular, with sixty-six million users. “My typing was acting,” said McIntyre, who spent every day after school until the early hours of the morning on the site.

Through the Rebecca profile, they connected with various 5051 gang members. Lane decided that McIntyre should build another fake MySpace profile for “Angel,” using Crystal’s photo. Eventually, McIntyre became overwhelmed by the experience. “Making someone fall in love with someone who’s dead is not a good feeling inside.” Pretending to be her every day was a double-edged sword. It kept Crystal’s memory alive and close to her; yet it was a constant reminder of what happened. 

When the toll became too much for McIntyre, Lane took over. She created a plan to lure and shoot members of 5150 at “An End of the World Party,” scheduled for June 6, 2006 (6/06/06). “I made a plan to go murder people,” said Lane. But the day before it was to occur, she confronted the driver, William Sotelo, who was infatuated with the non-existent Angel. Lane sent messages beginning with “I know who you are” and “Do you love me?” on to “Then say it,” ending with “then why did you kill me?” Sotelo disappeared and would not resurface for over ten years. Lane gave up the MySpace ruse and released the passwords to the case’s detective, Rick Wheller.

Amid this, the police interrogated William and Manuel Lemus, brothers who had been in the back of Sotelo’s car. They were reluctant to cooperate until members of their gang burned their parents’ home. The pair then turned over the shooter, Julio Heredia. It was not until 2016 that Sotelo, the final perpetrator, was located in Mexico, extradited, tried, and sentenced.

What runs alongside the entire catfishing expedition are revelations about Belinda Lane and her family. Their reluctance to trust Detective Wheeler was rooted in the family’s extensive run-ins with the law. The Lane-Theobold family had “issues back in the day,” including fighting, arrests, and drug issues. Most had been in and out of jail. Belinda admits to being a meth user who became a drug dealer. “I sold a lot. I did a lot of damage out there.”

As she gathered intel through MySpace, Lane did everything she could, including trying to get them deported — calling the FBI and ICE. She contacted members of the Casa Blanca gang, inciting them against 5051. She readily admits that she caused all kinds of violence. As one close friend described her, Belinda was “psycho,” “crazy,” and “insane.” Also, the Lane sons wanted to “handle it their own way.”

Crystal Theobald was only 24 years old when she was murdered by a 5150 gang member. Photo by Netflix

Why Did You Kill Me? feels no different than most shows found on the True Crime Network. Ominous music accompanies quick cuts. Sound effects are heightened — including a heart monitor ceasing its beeping, indicating Crystal’s death. Footage of driving to various areas fleshes out the voiceovers. There is a model of the neighborhood where the killing took place, recreated in miniatures. Throughout, various cast members manipulate the cars in the street. Harrowing footage recovered from the security cameras outside a grocery store shows the wounded and dying Crystal in her brother’s arms. Archival family videos and photos are interspersed.

While we get background about the family, we never know who Crystal was. The facts shared are few: she was married and had won $38,000 on a slot machine. The couple used the winnings to open a heating company. At the time of Crystal’s murder, they were estranged, but no other information on their lives is offered, other than her husband had fallen back into drugs. After being mentioned at the outset, her current boyfriend, Juan Patlan, is conspicuously absent from the film. 

While we know that the family had its plethora of problems, Crystal’s life and challenges are never addressed. 

The gang crises and turf wars are touched upon but also not fully addressed. To give greater depth to the problem and tragic consequences, the creators could have developed this background. No history or explanation is given regarding the origins and presence of the Los Angeles 5150. A nod is given to the investigation into Heredia’s history — revealing drugs, alcohol, and neglect that drove him into gang life. But it does nothing to address the fact that this ruthless, complicated world caused Crystal’s tragic death.

Late in the film, Belinda says, “Justice and revenge. Yes, they are just about the same thing. One means you can stay in the free world, and the other means you can go sit in the defendant’s chair. And that’s a line I almost crossed myself.” Her self-reflection is one of the most powerful moments in the entire documentary. 

Lane’s statement contains the kernel of what the film could have been: something valuable, insightful, and cathartic. As it stands, Why Did You Kill Me? is just one in a long line of sensationalist rubbernecking of today’s violence. Should we marvel at the sleuthing? Delight in the internet as a tool? Find entertainment in Belinda’s eccentricity? There is no call to action, no reflection, and no lesson. Sadly, the result is a simple story of a life senselessly ended.

Why Did You Kill Me? is now streaming on Netflix.

The last Blockbuster Video in existence located in Bend, Oregon

Reviewed (sort of) by Jeffrey Sanzel

You see, there’s this new movie — The Last Blockbuster — and it’s fun, you know (ya know)?

‘Cause, when you watch it, sure, you’re going to (gonna) watch it, but what you’re really going to (gonna — all right, I’ll stop now) do is remember. For a movie about a business that was only around for thirty-five years, it evokes a nostalgia for days-gone-by — for a kinder, gentler time before the world went to streaming-in-a-handbasket, and those crazy kids wouldn’t stay off your lawn. Or something like that.

But seriously. (Kinda …)

Writer-director Kevin Smith

As the various celebrities you might have heard of (and a whole bunch of people you’ve never seen) share their thoughts about Blockbuster, you’ll exclaim, “Right! That’s it! That’s what I did! That’s exactly right!” (And, yes, every sentence you say or think is going to end with an exclamation point.)

As I watched The Last Blockbuster, written by Zeke Kamm and directed by Taylor Morden, I thought of my video watching history. I was twenty when I bought my first VCR — a Goldstar I believe. I had memberships at two mom-and-pop stores (one was actually just several shelves in a pharmacy) where the prices ranged from $1 to $2.  

By the time I was in my early twenties, Blockbuster had replaced most small operations. I alternated between the two in Port Jefferson Station and the one in Rocky Point. It always the time/geography formula:

Let’s see, I’ll be coming from work, but I won’t be going back that way until Monday, so maybe if I swing by the one in Rocky Point before going home, that would make more sense. But, if I don’t rent any new releases, it would be just as easy to go to the one on Route 112, and I can return it when I’m on my way in to work on Monday. 

It became the world’s least significant word problem. “If a man leaves the house at noon, on a Tuesday, with one movie due the following day, but two movies rented three days earlier at $2.99 …”

So … The Last Blockbuster.

The Last Blockbuster, ironically, is now streaming on Netflix. Ironic because services like Netflix, while not directly killing video stores, were one of the final nails in its plastic coffin. The documentary goes to certain lengths to explain that it was the financial meltdown of 2008 that caused Blockbuster’s true downward spiral. But there is no question that streaming services and VOD were detrimental to the traditional setup.

Sandi Harding, manager of the last Blockbuster video store

The movie begins by tracing the history of the business. It follows the rise and the decline of the video rental service, giving insight into the shift from the small operations through the Blockbuster takeover, and the corporate stores versus the franchises. 

It points out that revenue sharing changed the entire face of the video industry. Blockbuster would sell movies to the stores at the lowest costs, and then they would take a percentage of the rental fee. It reduced the store owner’s costs from $100 a movie to a few dollars, enabling the purchase of multiple copies. As small video stores were incapable of competing, Blockbuster created a monopoly. 

At one point, Netflix offered to sell to Blockbuster for a surprisingly low price tag. The film’s hypothetical reenactment depicts this with great whimsy: Muppet-like puppets around a board room table laugh a Netflix rabbit out of the room.

The movie takes some time to find its rhythm. The filmmakers were concerned that the company’s history would not be interesting enough to be presented linearly so they’ve interspersed it with individual remembrances, which muddies the progress. Once they are past that, it flows better.

Comedian Doug Benson

The catalyst for the entire project is The Little Store That Could. At its peak, there were 9,000 Blockbuster stores. Supposedly, there was a time when one was opening every seventeen hours. When the filmmakers began, there were twelve remaining stores. Then there were four, with three of them in Alaska. And then there was one. 

As of 2019, the last existing Blockbuster is in Bend, Oregon, managed by Sandi Harding, the Blockbuster Mother. Much of the film focuses on Sandi, following her around the store and in her home, interacting with customers and her family, and shopping for stock at Target. 

Sandi is beloved, having employed dozens of young people in her community and many of her family members. She is charming, open, and honest. There is something truly noble about her desire to keep the store going — almost a mythic figure on a hero’s quest. We can’t help but root for her. 

Throughout, she is waiting to hear from Dish, the monolith who bought the bankrupt Blockbuster. The film’s only suspense is whether they will allow her to renew for another five years. The Bend store has now become a place of pilgrimage. People come from all over the world to take pictures and buy souvenirs. It is a Grand Canyon of pop culture.

Various men in the video industry offer insight into the business side. Often, there is a sense that they are reluctant witnesses, tight-lipped and uncomfortable, weighing in on both the smart and less savvy choices made by the company, including the infamous eradication of late fees, costing the company two-thirds of its revenue. They make for a strong contrast with the others who are interviewed simply for their love of the place. 

Brian Posehn in a scene from the film.

Writer-director Kevin Smith (Clerks) has only the fondest memories. Comedian Doug Benson is giddy when he finally visits Bend. Others singing the praises are actors Ione Skye, Brian Posehn, Paul Scheer, Samm Levine, and Jamie Kennedy. 

Particularly entertaining are the random musings of Ron Funches, whose free-associating is one of the film’s quirkier delights. Some have direct connections to Blockbuster in their pasts, having worked in local outfits in their teen years; others simply reminisce.

As I watched, I realized that everyone was saying the same thing, which brought me to the realization that what The Last Blockbuster truly celebrates is the universal experience. We are all part of a collective memory because we all had the same experience:

It’s Friday night, and we enter the blue and yellow temple with our significant other or spouse or family or friends. Occasionally, we make a solo visit. We breathe in the smell of stale popcorn and slightly opened soda, the library aroma of media dust, and the unique scent of plastic cases. We walk the perimeter of new releases, looking at each one, staring at the covers, occasionally reading a blurb. 

Oh, look, the one we wanted isn’t in. We go to the register and ask the clerk when it’s due back. It was due back today. So we stand at the counter and hope that it gets returned. After a bit, we roam the aisles, meandering into the older sections, neatly divided by genre. We make stacks of videos (and later DVDs). We negotiate: If we rent that for you, can we get this for me? Finally, we’re ready to check out. The clerk goes through each one to make sure that the tape matches the case.  (Ah, the plastic VHS cases with their brick-like weight and satisfying click as they close with a perfect snap.)

Sometimes we spent more time looking for the movies than we did watching them.

That was the Blockbuster culture. And that was a great part of the joy. “Ah,” we think, “the youth of today will never know this as they scroll through their My List of a hundred movies and a thousand television shows.”

The Last Blockbuster is not a great documentary. For something that doesn’t even run a full ninety minutes, it is often repetitive. But it has an enormous heart and genuine nostalgia. It celebrates the last bastion of a bygone era. So, when you watch it, be kind. (And rewind.)

Photos courtesy of 1091 Pictures

A scene from 'Bagpipes Are Calling!' Image from CAC
Photo from CAC

In anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day, the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington will present a virtual screening of “Bagpipes Calling!” on Thursday, March 4 at 7 p.m. Less than a year ago, the cinema hosted the world premiere of the short music documentary celebrating the Celtic spirit as it lives on through the members of a Long Island cultural institution, the Northport Pipe and Drum Band. They are now partnering with filmmaker Andrea Wozny and the Northport Pipe and Drum Band once again for this special live screening and a post-film discussion with director, cast, and crew!

Watch host Andrea Wozny and the Northport Pipe & Drum Band as they celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at their favorite pub in Bayport-Bluepoint, Long Island – the legendary Grey Horse Tavern. Weaving together music, history and culture, the film captures a behind the scenes experience of life in the band during this festive piping season.
Featuring the extraordinary talents of Luke Powers on the Uilleann pipes and the Great Highland Bagpipes, Tom Falco on guitar, Long Island’s own Northport Pipe & Drum Band, and Linda Ringhouse, beloved owner of the Grey Horse Tavern.
The post-film Q&A will feature panelists Andrea Wozny, Luke Powers, Tom Falco, Linda Ringhouse, and Kate Best.
Fee is $12, $10 members. To register, visit www.cinemaartscentre.org. For further information, email [email protected]

'The Upstanders'

The Town of Smithtown Youth Bureau has partnered with the Smithtown Horizons Counseling and Education Center and the Town of Smithtown Youth and Community Alliance to host a free virtual screening of the anti-bullying documentary “The Upstanders.” The screening will take place on Thursday, December 3 at 6 p.m. via Zoom. “The Upstanders” is a 55 minute film, to be followed by a Q & A session featuring a panel of professionals from the film.

“Families can watch the film together and discuss their own thoughts about bullying, perhaps even bringing to light a bullying situation that a young person may be experiencing.” – Stacey Sanders, Smithtown Youth Bureau Director

Students can earn community service credit through the Town’s Youth & Community Alliance for registering and participating in this virtual community education event.  Interested participants must register, watch the film and subsequent Q&A session, then email the Youth Bureau at [email protected] to request certificates be emailed to them.

“This film is a perfect way to really address many of the Youth and Community Alliance’s primary areas of focus: Substance Abuse; Healthy Relationships; and Bullying.” – Kelly Devito, Smithtown Horizons Youth Services Coordinator

About “The Upstanders”: 

The Upstanders is a new documentary film by IndieFlix Foundation about resilience and the power of connection to end bullying. The film explores cyber-bullying, bullying among friends, families, co-workers and the brain science behind it all.

This film is appropriate for anyone 13 and older, and is a good conversation starter when viewed as a family.  Even with less social interaction temporarily due to coronavirus limitations, cyberbullying still persists. “The Upstanders” is relevant not only for those who personally experience bullying, but also for adults and students who witness or become aware of bullying (bystanders). “The Upstanders” encourages people to stand up when they see or become aware of something wrong happening, and explains how people can be upstanders in a safe way.

The film also encourages viewers, young and old, to seek balance in their life, particularly with their use of social media.  Although potentially addictive and a vehicle for bullying, social media can be a positive form of communication. “The Upstanders” is about resilience, connection and fostering healthy communication, on and off-line.

Registration is required in advance in order to attend. To register, visit: https://www.smithtownny.gov/215/Youth-Bureau or via Facebook https://www.facebook.com/smithtownyouthbureau/.

The film uncovers footage that the congressman/activist had never seen. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
New documentary is a loving tribute to an American hero

Reviewed By Jeffrey Sanzel

Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.

Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America by John Lewis

When Congressman John Lewis passed away on July 17 at age eighty, the world lost the man who was called “one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced.” Lewis was a beacon for the protection of human rights and won the respect and admiration of colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

Having dedicated his life to the Civil Rights movement, he was a member of the “Big Six” who organized the legendary 1963 March on Washington. In 1965, he led the first of three Selma to Montgomery marches across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. In the infamous Bloody Sunday (March 7, 1965), he was one of the nearly six hundred marchers who were viciously attacked. Lewis suffered a skull fracture, and he bore the forehead scars for the rest of his life.

Now, Dawn Porter has directed the powerful and absorbing documentary John Lewis: Good Trouble. The title refers to a belief that Lewis held his entire life: 

Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.

Lewis said that age fifteen he was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks to get into “good trouble.”

The ninety minutes are a portrait of a man of deep belief and unfathomable courage. Much of the film focuses on the all-important voting rights. Instead of taking a traditional linear biographical approach, it alternates between his work in the 1960’s with his continued work in the 2000’s. Porter is clearly drawing a parallel between the two eras. The first where there was a struggle to secure equal voting opportunities for African Americans and other minorities, and the present where these secured rights are once again imperiled. 

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

The documentary opens with and frequently returns to Lewis watching film footage of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s, much of which he has never seen. In his stillness is the wisdom of a man who has seen much and experienced more. His pain is mixed with pride and awareness. Occasionally, he comments on what he is watching, but mostly he just takes it in. It is incredibly moving in its simplicity as he reviews many of the most disturbing moments in a long history.

Interspersed with archival clips, many featuring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as well as John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy (for whom Lewis worked at the time of his assassination), George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Barack Obama, are short interviews including Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton, Elijah Cummings, Nancy Pelosi, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cory Booker, and Ilhan Omar, all praising the Congressman’s work and his commitment. These help shape the overall picture of Lewis and his journey.

He is shown on the campaign trail with young, vibrant contenders, frequently first time candidates. Beto O’Rourke and Stacey Abrams are just two of the many he has supported. There are wonderful clips of his unchecked joy watching the returns of the 2018 mid-terms. 

The film gives only a sketch of his personal life and history, with appearances of his sisters and brothers, who clearly love him but remain slightly in awe of his accomplishments. His wife and son are briefly touched upon, and her passing in 2012 was clearly a blow. There is a brief bit about his friendship with Julian Bond that turned acrimonious when they ran against each other. Few details are given but clearly this was a difficult personal time in his career.

What continues to come across is Lewis’s incredible warmth and generosity, a gentle leader and a continuing inspiration. His humor is in stark contrast with the often fiery passion he shows when speaking.  His speeches are mesmerizing in their raw honesty. These are as much a part of him as are the amusing anecdotes that are introduced throughout. (His preaching to the chickens as a boy can only be appreciated by listening to his telling.)

A viral dance, his reaction to the election of President Obama as well as that president’s gratitude towards him, and his easy banter with his longtime chief of staff, Michael Collins, are just some of the glimpses into his gracious humanity. His message of non-violence is continually emphasized. The right to protest but the responsibility to do it without intentional harm was deeply rooted in his choices and actions. 

But central to the film and Lewis’s story is the quest to eradicate voter suppression. This is been the head and heart of Lewis’s life. In addition to the many important moments of the 1960’s is the bipartisan Voting Rights Act of 2006. The subsequent 2013 attack on it led to the 2016 election being the first without the protection of this act.

I fear that we are facing the end of democracy. As long as I have breath in my body, I’ll do what I can.”

The film builds to a quick sequence highlighting the dozens of bills that Lewis co-sponsored, the breadth of his work including not only voting and civil rights but gun control, health care reform, immigration, and a host of other important social issues. It is clear that his goal has been to make a better, freer, and more equal world:

As a nation and a people, we are not quite there yet; we have miles to go.

Porter never shies away from presenting disturbing and often brutal images, including attacks during marches, sit-ins, and lunch counter desegregations. There is nothing sensationalist about her choices; they are an honest representation of a dark blot on our country’s history. But the film truly honors the spirit and accomplishments of John Lewis. It is a documentary that should be viewed by families and seen in classrooms, discussed, contemplated, and taken to heart. The final words of the film are appropriately his:

We will create a beloved community. We will redeem the soul of America. There may be some setbacks, some delays … but as a nation and as a people, we will get there. And I still believe, we shall overcome.

Rated PG, John Lewis: Good Trouble is now streaming on demand.

Dr. Jane Goodall Photo courtesy of National Geographic

National Geographic commemorates Earth Day with a special screening of the new two-hour documentary Jane Goodall: The Hope on April 22 starting at 9 p.m. The film, which will air globally in 172 countries and 43 languages on National Geographic, Nat Geo WILD and Nat Geo MUNDO channels, takes viewers through chapters of Dr. Goodall’s journey, highlighting how she inspires hope for our planet, love for its animal inhabitants and actions of stewardship for this generation and those to come.

Dr. Jane Goodall and Prince Harry at Windsor Castle for the 2019 global leadership meeting of Roots & Shoots. Photo courtesy of National Geographic/Hitesh Makan

Featuring an extensive collection of photographs and footage that spans over seven decades, the special depicts the formation of the Jane Goodall Institute’s “Tacare” community-centered conservation approach and Roots & Shoots youth empowerment program, her remarkable advocacy and leadership on behalf of chimpanzees and humanity. 

“Being out in the forest of Gombe, I had a great sense of spiritual awareness; I began to realize that everything is interconnected,” says Goodall. “Since then, every day, it’s become clearer that climate change is an existential threat to our natural world, and if we destroy this world, we destroy our own future.”

Dr. Jane Goodall signing book for young girl at Esri Conference in 2019. Photo courtesy of National Geographic/Michael Haertlein

“Each day, every single person has the chance to make an impact through small, thoughtful choices, and when billions of people make the right choices, we start to transform the world,” added Goodall. “Don’t give up; there’s always a way forward.”

The documentary includes appearances by Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex, and U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, among others.

“The need to protect our planet has never been more urgent, and we’re using Earth Day’s 50th as an opportunity to inspire viewers through the wonders of our planet and its incredible species for viewers around the world,” said Courteney Monroe, president, National Geographic Global Television Networks. “With the Earth Day takeover across all of our networks and platforms, we are able to reach the largest audience possible to celebrate this momentous day and ensure that viewers fall in love with our planet and act to protect it.”

Photo from CAC

‘The Cat Rescuers’

The Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington will present the documentary “The Cat Rescuers” on Jan. 23 at 7:30 p.m. With over 500,000 street cats struggling to survive in NYC, spirited volunteers like Sassee, Claire, Stu and Tara have come to their aid. Their beat is Brooklyn, where the problem has exploded. Combing the borough’s alleys, backyards and housing projects, they trap the cats, get them fixed and returned to their colonies, or adopted. “The Cat Rescuers” shows the skill, resilience and humor they bring to this challenging and rewarding work, and how their mission to reduce animal suffering, has changed their lives. With director Rob Fruchtman in person. Tickets are $16, $11 members. Visit www.cinemaartscentre.org for more information.