Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Our Desert Community Plants the Seeds for a New Doc

I apologize for not keeping up with my Reel Inspiration reviews for the past few months - even though there have been several meaningful films that really touched my heart.  I started writing reviews to help promote inspiring, thought provoking movies. I especially felt drawn to films that spoke to the important issues of our time.  In the process, I learned so much! I was inspired to start a new blog that has taken up much of my attention:
 www.sustainablelivingtucson.org

Since Dan and I started blogging about our journey to a more sustainable lifestyle we have had the opportunity to come in contact with so many inspiring community groups cultivating an oasis of sustainability here in Tucson.

Emma demonstrates how to shore up a catchment basin.
Tohono O’odham Community Action (TOCA) is reviving their cultural traditions by having tribal elders mentor youth on their native foods. Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace re-built the Mission Garden, a living museum, to demonstrate how to grow crops from pre-Columbian to those that Father Kino established in that location.  Native Seeds/SEARCH 
maintains community food traditions by preserving diverse and heritage seeds. Manzo ElementaryChangemaker High and City High tend to the next generation of desert gardeners. Through their community garden programs, the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona doesn’t just feed the hungry, but teaches them to grow food for themselves. Iskashitaa Refugee Network assists refugees in becoming self-sufficient (and reduces food waste) by harvesting fruit that would otherwise go unpicked. Dunbar Springs neighborhood worked to make their street an example of an edible, urban forest irrigated by rainwater. Watershed Management Group is building a community that works together to restore Tucson’s aquifer by implementing rainwater harvesting techniques and desert landscaping in people's yards, gardens, streets and businesses. These groups (among others) are gleaning from Tucson’s rich cultural history ways to live in harmony with the desert. This is truly an exciting time to be a part of this vibrant community!

Shooting the first segment with Brad Lancaster at Dunbar Springs
I decided to make a documentary about the accomplishments of these communities with the hope that it would inspire others. So I approached activist/ documentarian Evan Grae Davis with the idea. Evan had just read Edible Baja Arizona’s article about Tucson being the first US city to be designated a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy for the same advancements. He was excited to tell our story!

Our last shoot was for the rainwater harvesting segment featuring Watershed Management Group. Dan and I have planted our roots into the WMG community. In addition to being members of their co-op, Dan recently got the good news that he was accepted into their docent training program!  We love being a part of a community that is working to restore our groundwater and get our rivers flowing again.

Here we are shooting in Jason and Connie Carder's yard. (See Jason working alongside of Emma in the pic above.) They had 3 roadside catchment basins (wow!) and berms installed to control the runoff after their house had been flooded during a recent storm.

Happy owner Connie Carder
Co-op members Grant and Carrie Stratton share why they volunteer
Where's Waldo...uh...Dan? 
Emma helps a co-op volunteer arrange rocks 
Two hard workers: workshop instructor Emma Stahl-Wert and my baby Dan
Purslane!!!
A little patch of purslane ignited a conversation about edible weeds. Later in the day, Dan heard someone call out, "Don't step on the purslane!" A woman after my own heart! It's so great to work alongside kindred spirits who feel as passionate as we do about getting our rivers flowing again and protecting purslane!

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal-Stormont

Monday, May 16, 2016

Reel Inspiration: 10 Years of Movie Blessings

A blast from the past: The Reel Vision Flmmakers Conference. Photo by Wendy Reichenthal.
Recently I happened on to the first review I ever posted on this blog about an empowering little film called “Akeela and the Bee.” Can you believe it’s been 10 years since I posted that first review on the Reel Inspiration blog?

This blog was actually a small aspect of Reel Inspiration. Our mission was to encourage and promote the production and theatrical success of diverse films with entertaining, powerful stories that uplift, challenge, give hope or inspire human consciousness. We encouraged filmmakers by hosting the Reel Vision Filmmakers Conference, film contests, and by promoting their films through our “Reel Members” e-mail list. The idea was that our members would forward the reviews to their film-loving friends. You know…you tell two friends and they tell two friends and together we create a market for meaningful films. We signed up most of our members at the community screenings of our contest finalists. My favorite was the Family Arts Festival. My kids would help me run the zoetrope activity. Then our volunteers, Michael and Sarah, would take over so we could enjoy the fest! The festival is gone now along with most of the e-mail members. 

This blog wasn’t even up yet when we promoted our first film. It was 2004 and the board was on the lookout for a new indie film, when we got wind of “What the Bleep Do We Know.” It was kind of an odd choice because it wasn’t quite a narrative film. It was kind of a mish-mash of documentary, narrative and animation. But the producer was breaking new ground by approaching managers individually and asking them to screen his film. The film would be promoted entirely through word of mouth and an email campaign. “It won’t cost the theater a dime. What do you have to lose?!” he pitched. 

Founding Members: Wendy, Michelle and Jana.
Wendy designed our logo and the poster above.
Michelle came up with our name! 
We were delighted when we heard that “What the Bleep” was on its way to Tucson. It was just the opportunity we needed to see if our marketing plan could work, so we signed on. We sent out e-mails, we put up posters, and we posted board member Wendy’s review on our make-shift website. I made it a point to tell at least five people a day about the film at the coffee shop where I hung out. I did the same thing at my church on Sundays. Eventually, my pastor asked me about it. He began announcing the screenings at the pulpit. When I stopped keeping track, it had already screened for 39 weeks in Tucson! This metaphysical film was a phenomenon in this new age community.

It hasn’t always been that easy to see the impact of our reviews. There were times I got discouraged because I didn't feel like I was making a difference at all. I had to be reminded that it wasn’t about me, it was about the filmmakers and the movies. Like the time Reel Inspiration was featured on Arizona Illustrated. I had been up all night digging through my closet looking for something that still fit and wouldn’t make me look fat on camera. During the interview a mosquito hovered around me. Loopy from lack of sleep, I unconsciously started scratching the itchy bites. It looked like I had the shakes on camera. Not one of my shinier moments. This gave them ample time to highlight the other Reel Inspiration representatives, including contest finalist Justin Mashouf. They showed a nice clip of his powerful short, “Morning Submission” about why Muslims pray. As a direct result of that segment, two Muslim women wearing hijabs were inspired to attend the Reel Vision Filmmakers Conference. 

I am honored to have a platform to promote filmmakers with powerful messages. In 2010 when border issues were really heating up here in Tucson, I received an invitation to the premiere of LuisCarlos Davis’s doc, “389 Miles: Living the Border.” Sensing that his doc could create more understanding of the plight of undocumented immigrants, I encouraged him to screen it as much as possible. I was able to put out a call to the Reel Inspiration community and my facebook friends to host screenings. LuisCarlos became an outspoken advocate for the undocumented, travelling the globe to speak on border issues. (See the entire movie, "389 Miles: Living the Border" for free.)

It hasn’t always been easy to tell if the reviews were reaching anyone. Once I got so discouraged that I stopped writing them for a while. But I actually missed it. It was the films themselves that motivated me to return. "Searching for Sugar Man," (Most Inspiring Film 2012), told the story of  Rodriguez, a Dylan-style rock poet, who disappeared after his one album flopped. Unbeknownst to him, his album became the sound track for apartheid. Just by following his path, he made a huge difference.

Whenever I’m in need of inspiration I can watch Pai’s quest in “Whale Rider” – the movie that set me on my path to start Reel Inspiration. And I am grateful for that journey. To date, I have written 178 articles on films! The Loft Cinema is practically my home away from home. (I saw at least 40 of my "Most Inspiring Films" at the Loft!)  Movies have made such a difference in my life. I especially feel drawn to films that address the challenges of our times. The reviews give me a chance to talk about issues that are important to me. This eventually led to me branching out to a blog on sustainability. Documentaries like “The Anthropologist," and "Ours Is the Land," that I saw at the Arizona International Film Festival, continue to ignite my passion and motivate my work on social justice and sustainability

My first blog review in 2006: "Akeela and the Bee"
Akeela’s spelling coach quotes Marianne Williamson, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure....As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people the permission to do the same."  Let it shine on in films that inspire all of us.

Movie blessings! 
Jana Segal-Stormont
www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com

Indivisible: Love Knows No Borders” is a great example of how powerful films can be – how a film can change people’s perceptions, open their hearts, and inspire action. I’m delighted to continue a Reel Inspiration tradition by putting a call out to our community. Please, support these brave Dreamers by hosting a screening of “Indivisible” at your club, organization, or anywhere with a movie or TV screen. Find out how to arrange for a screening at:  http://www.indivisiblefilm.com/

Interested in being a part of the Reel Inspiration community? If you would like to get reviews e-mailed to you, or suggest a movie to be reviewed, or write one yourself, please, e-mail me at: reelinspiration@hotmail.com

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Arizona International Film Festival: My Fest Within a Fest


I have been attending the Arizona International Film Festival for 18 of its 25 years!  It all started in 1998 when I decided to make my first short film.  I went to find out what exactly constitutes a comic short.  Back then, the genres weren’t clearly labeled on the program, so I picked out any shorts that sounded the least bit funny. I accidentally ended up going to a dreaded doc program! I used to avoid documentaries because I thought they were dry, boring educational programming. I credit the Arizona International Film Festival with igniting my passion for documentaries. I found out that the best documentarians are great storytellers. Docs can be hilarious character studies, heart-breaking human tragedies, breath-taking thrillers, and current, cutting edge insights on important issues that affect us all.


I used to get one or two of the discount passes (5 films for $25.) But it is so worth it to get the all access pass. You can get your money’s worth in one weekend!  With over 100 films screened in 17 days, you can pick and choose to create your own fest within a fest. I managed to get at least four fests in: Human Rights Docs, War Films, International Shorts, and Tucson Filmmakers Fests.

Shorts programs are great because you can be a theater seat adventurer and discover a new interest that you might never have considered. And if you don’t care for one short, they’re short! Wait a few minutes and there will be another one. You can always hang out in the lobby with Angie and Amber and have a brewsky. But you may not get the chance. The shorts have been that good!  

My one regret is not seeing more of the comic and dramatic shorts this year. Ironic, since I started off as a screenwriter and I have made three narrative shorts. Two were screened at the AIFF: “Desert Angel” and the comedy I was doing the research for, “The Bath-a-holic.” Lately, my heart has been drawn to human rights and environmental films. (See my reviews of "Indivisible" and the "Anthropologist.") The short docs program was so inspiring for me.  Kai from “Riding the Highline” shared his adventures hopping trains and read a visceral poem inspired by the experience. (It won a Special Jury Reward for Creative Achievement!)  I am still in awe of Sister Judy Bisignano for her courage in sharing her weaknesses that made “Sister Jaguar’s Journey” so powerful.

The Arizona International Film Festival has grown into an important fest. It receives submissions from around the world.  This fest is not about celebrities. It’s about indie filmmakers connecting with their audience and other filmmakers. And there were plenty to connect with! Howon Kim, the lead actor of the fascinating short "Chalet," flew in from South Korea to spend the day at the fest. An interpreter was provided for the Q & A. But the actor didn’t need an interpreter to exclaim, “Filmmakers! I want to hang out with you!”


One of my favorite parts of the fest is hanging out with the filmmakers between films. The festival holds free Connect with Filmmakers panels each Saturday. I met Kai from "Riding the Highline" and Vinnie, the producer of "Monty and the Runaway Furnace"(Special Jury Award for Visual Storytelling) after one of the panels. A good rule of thumb is to attend the films of the people you meet. The first weekend I had a blast chillin’ with Seth (I ended up writing about his film, “The Anthropologist” that later won Best Documentary) and Doug the cinematographer of the beautifully shot “Caravan" (Special Jury Award Documentary).  It wasn’t about collecting business cards (though collect them I did!) It was about getting to know some really fascinating people!

Attending the fest is a great way to show support of Tucson's own indie filmmakers. I sat with writer/producer Ginia Desmond of the moving family film “Lucky U Ranch” (see my review) during several screenings.  I have enjoyed following Anna Augustowska's ("Our Desert Farms") progress since seeing her touching doc, "Donnie."  Frances Causey squeezed my hand when I showed up for her important doc, "Ours is the Land."  And I was there to congratulate Daniel Hyde when he won the coveted Arizona Filmmaker Award for his incredible short, "Manna."

Another great thing about the AIFF is its commitment to community engagement.  Mia Schnaible, our enthusiastic MC, encourages the audience to be a part of the discussion during the Q & A with the filmmakers.

Here we are in the front row with Ginia.
After screening “A Bitter Legacy” about the secret "Citizen Isolation Centers" built to separate "trouble-makers”within the WWII Japanese-American incarceration camp system, filmmaker Claudia Katayanagi spoke about her family connection to the story. This timely film really hit close to home when she called up an Arizona couple who remembered the camp near their trading post. Other members of the audience recalled the incarceration camp as well.

The filmmaker of “Return to Dak To” shared his experience of returning to Vietnam with four other men from his unit to deal with their unresolved issues from the war. He did a shout out to any other vets in the audience. Some were moved to share memories the film evoked. The audience really got involved in the discussion. We were all very emotional after that powerful doc and "Heart of a Tiger" about a WWII pilot who returns to China to thank the villagers who saved him.


Ferguson 365” filmmaker Christopher Phillips also shared his journey. After Michael Brown was shot in his neighborhood, Christopher picked up a camera. He was arrested for recording a non-violent protest. He said he would be expanding on the theme of how poor black people are exploited by the system in the feature version. (How a $100 traffic ticket ends up being $1000 in fines that lands the driver in jail when he can’t afford it.) The Q & A led to a passionate exchange about social injustices during lunch.  Blown away by the audience response, Christopher said he could “feel the love.” Talking about "feel the love," "Ferguson 365" ended up winning Best Documentary Short! Congrats, Chris!  


This year,  AIFF organizers took advantage of the opportunity to share some cutting edge technology. I tagged along with my roboticist husband to the drone workshop. The filmmakers of “Our Desert Farms” and “Fly Spy” used drones to enhance their films with aerial shots. We enjoyed the spectacular drone footage and then the filmmakers shared their expertise and answered questions from inquisitive audience members. The workshop expanded my own vision about ways I could enhance my projects using drone footage. 

I never dreamed that I would become a pass-carrying fan of the festival docs. But I have been BLOWN AWAY with the quality of the docs this year. One after another of profound, important, mind-expanding docs! In its 25th year, the Arizona International Film Festival attracts filmmakers with their fingers on the pulse of the most current issues we face as a society. On the 16th day of the 17 day fest, I am overwhelmed. My biggest challenge was not having enough hours in the day to watch all the fascinating films or to write about them!

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal-Stormont
www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Indivisible: Love Knows No Borders



One of the reasons I started Reel Inspiration was to reach an audience for diverse films that create understanding by showing that we are more alike than different. There was one time in particular that I managed to accomplish just that.

It was 2010 and border issues were really heating up here in Tucson, Arizona. Hundreds of people were dying in our desert, trying to reach America for jobs to feed their children. The ones who made it lived in constant fear of being deported. Parents were dragged off in front of wailing children, not even given a chance to pack a bag or say, “Goodbye.” It wasn’t that long ago that not having papers was considered a misdemeanor, the equivalent of running a traffic light. But politicians used “illegals” as scapegoats, accusing them of causing the recession by taking American jobs. To bolster ratings, the corporate owned media exploited people’s fears by bombarding us with images of crimes conducted by Mexicans. They created the illusion that all undocumented Latinos were violent drug smugglers and home invaders.

In May of that year, local indie filmmaker LuisCarlos Davis invited me to a screening of his short doc, “389 Miles: Living the Border.”  When I arrived at the theater, it was standing room only. But LuisCarlos pulled out a chair for me. The audience watched transfixed as LuisCarlos documented the problems along the border with his camera. Seeing what was really happening was somehow empowering. People asked where they could get copies. He explained how the producers were in the process of getting distribution, so he could only screen his doc in person. I requested the mic. I told him flat out to forget distribution – that this film was too important. With so much miscommunication in the media, it was imperative that as many people as possible see his doc. Incredibly, LuisCarlos agreed. I put out a call to the Reel Inspiration community and my facebook friends asking them to set up public screenings at their clubs, organizations, churches, anywhere. LuisCarlos became an outspoken advocate for the undocumented, travelling the globe to speak on border issues.

(See the entire movie, "389 Miles: Living the Border" for free.)

This story was brought to mind by a recent screening of “Indivisible: Love Knows No Borders” presented by the Arizona International Film Festival.

Road trip! We ride along with a group of college students headed to Arizona. They are in turns excited and contemplative. They hadn’t seen their mothers since their mothers were deported. For one young woman, it had been six years! It’s not hard to get caught up in their whirlwind of emotions. And that’s exactly the point. Social Justice Activist Hilary Linder got fed up with the way that the corporate media was presenting undocumented teens (Dreamers) as statistics, so she set out to humanize their journey. In the doc “Indivisible” she shares three Dreamers stories of growing up in America and their efforts to be reunited with their families through activism.


I was astonished by the bravery of these students navigating their teen years (in a country that has become increasingly hostile towards undocumented immigrants) without the protection of their parents. One of the girls returned to the parking lot where her mother was pulled over by a policeman. She recalled how she watched in shock as her mom was dragged away in handcuffs like a criminal for not having a license. Despite growing up in the United States, these teens lived in constant fear of being deported themselves. They were raised to be quiet and invisible. But instead of staying hidden in their room, they decide to fight for a path to citizenship and a chance to be reunited with their families. They are making a lot of noise as activists, raising their voices in protest. They are drawing attention to their cause by organizing and attending protest marches, making speeches in the media, and even confronting congressmen. Remember when Obama announced the Dream Act? That was the direct result of their courageous actions.

After watching their profound stories, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as the sobbing teens hugged and kissed their sobbing moms through the metal border fence.


Unfortunately, a wall still separates the Dreamers and their families. Our politicians have stonewalled the Dream Act, using it as a hot button election issue. It is up to the American people to pressure their representatives to get the act passed. During the Q & A, Hilary mentioned that she will be presenting the doc at film festival and community screenings before seeking distribution. She started her Tucson trip with a screening/discussion at Pueblo High School.

“Indivisible: Love Knows No Borders” is a great example of how powerful films can be – how a film can change people’s perceptions, open their hearts, and inspire action. I’m delighted to continue a Reel Inspiration tradition by putting a call out to our community. Please, support these brave Dreamers by hosting a screening of “Indivisible” at your church, club, organization, or anywhere with a movie or TV screen.


Find out how to arrange for a screening at: http://www.indivisiblefilm.com/

I'm delighted to announce that "Indivisible" won a Special Jury Award for Inspirational Filmmaking at the Arizona International Film Festival!

PLEASE, SHARE.

Movie blessings! 

Jana Segal-Stormont
www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com

Monday, April 18, 2016

Docs on Climate Change and Hope: The Anthropologist and This Changes Everything


Since Dan and I started our blog, Sustainable Living Tucson, we’ve seen a plethora of films on climate change. Recently we watched “This Changes Everything,” screened as part of the Social Justice series held at the Loft Cinema. In the opening, narrator Stacey Raab admitted that she didn’t want to make another climate change documentary with polar bears. I found her doc in turns infuriating and inspiring. It was particularly painful to see conference attendees from the Heartland Institute (a think tank owned by the Koch brothers) cheering their success in convincing Americans that there was no global warming. But I loved the overall theme that we could rewrite our story. We don’t have to continue the narrative of profit at all cost. We can work together to take care of each other and the planet.


The film shared powerful stories of people from all over the globe uniting to do just that. Members of the first peoples of Alberta, Canada investigated a pipeline oil spill on their ancestral hunting lands. Indigenous people were studying up on the law in order to better fight for their rights. They were even installing their own solar panels. The movie demonstrated how much power people have when they stand together. Villagers in India succeeded in stopping a coal-fired power plant from being built in their backyard by using their bodies to block anyone from the power company from entering their village. People from around the world are now successfully using this ploy. This is the kind of message that people can get behind – one of hope.


Friday night at the Arizona International Film Festival, we had the pleasure of seeing “The Anthropologist.” One of the great things about attending a film festival is hearing the filmmakers illuminate us on their process and what inspired their projects. Director Seth Kramer also commented on how he didn’t want to make yet another climate change movie with polar bears and scientists explaining the greenhouse effect. Fortunately, the National Science Foundation sponsored the project based on the angle of an anthropologist studying the effect of climate change on people.


Compared with other environmental docs I’ve seen, this is a light-hearted romp. It stars a squabbling mother (Mary Bateson) and daughter (Susie Crate.) Susie is your typical American teenager. She doesn’t understand why she has to go with her mom to third world countries when she just wants to stay at home and hang out with friends. The film also featured segments with legendary anthropologist Margaret Mead’s now adult daughter about what life was like growing up in the field. It was included to explore how Susie might turn out.

As audience members we might relate to her discomfort of being dragged along on physically challenging trips to witness communities suffering from the effects of climate change, while being very aware of the great opportunity it is to see breath-taking scenery and colorful cultures.

Their first trip is a sort of family reunion with Susie’s relatives on her father’s side in Siberia. (Her mom met her father while working there as a young anthropologist.) We soon discover that Susie knows the language. In fact, she has a keen ear for languages and blatantly expresses her embarrassment when her mother struggles to communicate. We watch this teen grow as she sees firsthand how climate change is affecting that part of her family. The permafrost has melted causing the ground to turn to mush. The hay they need to feed their cows (their main source of food) has died as well as the trees. The change in Susie is especially evident when they return home and she visits with her friends. You can see it in her eyes as one of her friends says she doesn’t know if she believes in climate change because her father says it isn’t true.


After witnessing the devastation on island villages in the South Pacific being bombarded by the rising sea or the impact of glaciers melting in Peru, it’s hard not to believe in climate change. Traveling along with an anthropologist, we got a glimpse of the effect on the indigenous people, their cultures, and communities. What we learned about people left us with hope. People are durable and capable of change, and will find a way to adapt.

Both of these movies express hope for the people who inhabit this planet that we call home. “The Anthropologist” shows us how people are capable of change and “This Changes Everything” shows how we can change our story to one where we unite to save it.


PLEASE, SHARE! 

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal-Stormont
www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Growing Up at the "Lucky U Ranch" Trailer Court


Chubby eleven-year-old Junior (Trevor Robins) awkwardly lowers himself onto the tracks. The hollow whistle of a train dissolves into the heckling of cruel classmates - a fresh memory of being bullied at school. He puts his ear to the rail listening for the far off roar of a train. Trains hold a special wonder for Junior as he dreams of escaping to follow in the footsteps of his father. Startled awake by an old-timey locomotive in his dream, he picks up his discarded school books and wistfully tramps home through the harsh desert to the end of the trail: the Lucky U Ranch trailer court. 

Junior has plenty of time to daydream left alone in their trailer while his mother works long hours to support them. His longing for a father is always just under the surface. It comes out in fantasies where he plays a film noir private eye who rescues a little girl. The police detective raves, “Once again you saved the day. Your father would be proud.” His mystified mother (Harris Kendall) is doing the best she can. She can see how much he needs a father. She allows him his fantasies to protect him from the painful truth. But his expansive fantasy life is only making matters worse. When he misses the ball while daydreaming out in left field, he is ridiculed by his classmates.

Then, one day, a shiny Air-stream backs in next to their dilapidated trailer. A vision in pigtails chases her dog into his yard. Melissa (Donovan Droege) asks him to teach her to play jacks, and in exchange she gives him much needed baseball lessons. I love the way this confident pre-teen girl doesn’t shy away from sharing her expertise while coaching. She enjoys his sense of humor and really gets him. There are people who appear in your life just when you need them to teach you a pivotal lesson, and Melissa is one of those angels. Despite dealing with alcoholic parents that fight all the time, she saves Junior. Empowered by their friendship, Junior gains the confidence and courage he needs to face reality and to handle a life altering event.  

The running theme is one that many of us can relate to – longing for the love and approval of an absentee parent. It brought back my own fantasies of running away to find my birth father or of my father just showing up and being so proud of me that he was sorry he ever left. It takes real courage to accept them for who they are, faults and all.

This touching coming of age story draws from writer/producer Ginia Desmond’s years at the Lucky U Ranch trailer court. Like the character of Melissa, she was stuck in a trailer with alcoholic parents who fought. And baseball was one of the joys of her young life.

Guided by director Steve Anderson, the bond between the two child actors is so natural. Brian Shanley’s beautiful cinematography creates a melancholy atmosphere using our stunning desert to good effect.  Production designer Adam Sydney enhances Tucson’s small town feel with a keen attention to detail that gives "Lucky U Ranch" an authentic, nostalgic fifties vibe.

This Tucson-based indie does Arizona proud.

Movie blessings! 
Jana Segal-Stormont
www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com


Sunday, February 21, 2016

In Honor of Women's History Month: Independent Film Arizona presents: "Women in Film"


Join us as five of Tucson's own female directors share their visions and adventures in film-making.


Date: March 1, 2016
Time: 7 p.m
Place: Connect Co-working, 33 South 5th Avenue, Tucson, AZ.


There will be a pre-recorded opening statement by Courtney Marsh, director of "Chau: Beyond the Lines" 2016 Oscar Nominated Documentary Short.




DIRECTORS' BIOS

After writing two books about her life as a professional figure skater and cyclist, Kathryn Bertine worked as a journalist at ESPN and served as the Senior Editor for espnW. She produced, wrote and directed, “Half the Road” about women cyclists. As an advocate for equality in women’s sports, Kathryn started a movement to bring parity to women’s professional road cycling, starting with the Tour de France.



Heather Hale directed two pilots, lots of commercials, and the feature thriller "Absolute Killers" with Edward Furlong (Terminator), Ed Asner and Meat Loaf. She wrote the Lifetime Original Movie “The Courage to Love” starring Vanessa Williams and Stacey Keach.



Anne Dalton provided photography and writing for AZ Public Media. She produced her first documentary, “The Price of Silence,” creating awareness on the rising trend of domestic minor sex trafficking in SAZ. She continues to focus her documentary work on health topics. She mentors others by facilitating the IFA documentary group and workshops. 



Frances Causey acted as national editor and producer for CNN. The team won Emmys for their coverage of the Oklahoma City and Olympic Park Bombings. Frances' documentary, "Heist: Who Stole the American Dream?” was a New York Times Critic’s Pick, distributed in over 50 countries. Frances was honored with the Women's International Film and Television Jury Award for that effort. Frances has become an environmental advocate by presenting, "Ours Is the Land," her short doc about the proposed Rosemont open pit copper mine south of Tucson encroaching on the Tohono O'odham ancestral burial grounds. 



Sarah Sher is a classically trained film and television professional whose disciplines are in writing, directing, and editing. She wrote, produced and directed, "Have Coffin Will Travel" (Reel Inspiration Short Film Contest winner.)  Sarah co-wrote and co-directed (with Dick Fisher), “Stardust and the Bandit.” It won Best TV Pilot at the California Film Awards. With some spare time and good friends she created "The Pet Friendly Traveler," which is due to begin airing on American Public Television in 2017.



Moderator: Jana Segal-Stormont is an award-winning screenwriter, who produced and directed her short scripts, “The Bath-a-holic” and, “Desert Angel.” As the founder of Reel Inspiration, Jana organized the Reel Vision Filmmakers Conference and several directing workshops. For the last 10 years, she has written reviews promoting diverse films with substance. After discovering that less than 7% of studio productions were directed by women, Jana did some research to find out what happened to all the women filmmakers. That resulted in the article “Incredible Invisible Women Filmmakers” and this forum. 


Movie blessings, 
Jana Segal-Stormont

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Most Inspiring Films 2015


For my annual Most Inspiring Films List, I tend to select films that move me emotionally and intellectually. Certainly, the importance and timeliness of the themes weigh heavily on that decision. 

I started writing Reel Inspiration reviews in 2004 because I felt that a disproportionate number of movies were on the dark side and that it was beginning to affect people’s perception of the world. I basically wanted to put more good out there. It was my goal to create more understanding by promoting films that celebrate diverse backgrounds, demonstrating that we are more alike than different.

This year, I found it encouraging that some big action directors are making an effort to counteract some of the media’s negative, fear-based programming. “The Hunger Games” demonstrated how the government uses fear and the media to control us. "Mad Max: Fury Road" used subtext to show the consequences of man’s aggressive quest for profit and power without responsibility. While there is still much to do in the way of diversity, this year saw inklings of progress that gave me hope. Some effort was made in balancing casting between the genders - as seen in "Mad Max: Fury Road" and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” The majority of the films I listed include strong, dynamic female characters.

The force awakens!

“Most Inspiring Films 2015”

Honorable Mention: “Mr. Holmes” is a story about many things: redemption, regret, friendship, loss, and the search for truth. As his memory fails him, Mr. Holmes struggles to write a book correcting the misconceptions that Dr. Watson created in his popular novels. The aging and increasingly senile Mr. Holmes is distracted from his work by Roger, the young son of his housekeeper. At first the boy is intrigued by the reputation of the famous Mr. Holmes, but over time he gets to know the real man. Holmes, who has spent his life remaining detached from others, grows fond of Roger and becomes a role model for this boy who has no father in his life.

12) “The colors of Versailles will be the heart of our kingdom with gardens exquisite and matchless in beauty. Heaven shall be here.” – Alan Rickman as Louis XIV. When I saw the trailer for “A Little Chaos,” I longed to spend a sunny afternoon in this garden. I loved how the writer just let herself dream: What if a free-spirited woman was hired to design the fountains in the garden of Versailles? How would she fit in with courtiers at the Louvre? What if she met the king himself? Sometimes you just have to let go (of all reason and logic) and let a movie sweep over you. I got caught up in the passion and imagination of the writer and her character Sabine de Barra. Impossibly set in 1682 - no matter - I loved being in that world. Watching her gain the respect of her handsome boss, her fellow landscapers, the court, and eventually Louis XIV. A lovely, lovely fantasy. There is a line in the movie when the King’s landscaper sees her garden and asks, “This abundance of chaos is your Eden?” She replies, “My search for it.” Perhaps “A Little Chaos” was director Alan Rickman’s search for Eden.

11) The trouble starts when young Riley is relocated from Minnesota to San Francisco. On the outside, she tries to be the happy girl her parents expect. But on the inside, in her mind’s headquarters, personifications of her five primary emotions: Joy, Anger, Fear, Disgust, and Sadness are fighting for control. “Inside Out” is an animated adventure film. Ironically, the big action scenes happen in Riley’s head where her memories are processed. While trying to protect Riley’s good memories, Joy and Sadness get sucked into the amusement park that is Riley’s brain. It is one crazy ride. “Inside Out” has an important message - that every one of our emotions has a purpose and how damaging it is to suppress any of them. This message is especially important for folks raised to be pleasers who have difficulty coping with so-called “negative emotions.” Watching this movie is a fun first step in learning to cope with them.

Best Animated Film Oscar Winner! 

10) In 2010, people from around the world cheered the rescue of 33 miners trapped in a collapsed Chilean mine for 69 days. “The 33” shows the human side of the story that wasn’t covered on the evening news. Although the action sequences were thrilling, it was really the humanity that drew me into the movie. It was the miners’ courage and loyalty in making sure that no one was left behind as the cave collapsed around them. The group could have deteriorated into anarchy. But instead of turning against each other, they developed a brotherhood. The director chose to show that the men were not alone. The miners got strength from their prayers - and the prayers of their families on the surface. The families never left their side. They camped outside the mine, picketing, demanding a rescue team until the last man was rescued.

9) In “East-side Sushi” a Mexican-American family works hard at two jobs just to eke out a living. At 4 a.m. every morning, Juana drags her sleeping daughter along as she and her father do food prep for their fruit cart. Working long hours is killing the old man, but he has no choice. His boss keeps lowering his pay and increasing his hours. Desperate to improve their situation, Juana applies for a job in the prep kitchen of a sushi restaurant. She soon proves herself with her expert knife skills. She has never even had sushi, but she quickly adapts to the new culture. She even teaches herself how to make sushi by following tutorials online. She experiments on her unsuspecting family, adding ingredients (like jalapenos!) that they enjoy. She finally finds the strength to stand up to the discrimination at the restaurant and demand the promotion she deserves – to be hired as a sushi chef. “I deserve an opportunity like everyone else. Behind every great restaurant there are great Latinos in the back, in the kitchen, hidden, preparing the food, making you look good. Well, I don’t want to be in the back anymore." The result is a delicious blending of two culinary cultures at "East-side Sushi."

8) Presumed dead after a fierce storm leaves him stranded on Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney survives by sheer courage and wit. He deals with feelings of loneliness and hopelessness by being productive and recording a journal. It is inspiring to see his resourcefulness in using his scientific knowledge for practical needs (such as eating and breathing), solving the emergencies that arise, and to communicate to NASA that he is still alive. Drew Goddard, who adapted "The Martian" for the screen, worked with Author Andy Weir and the production team to stay as true as possible to the science in Weir's fascinating, engrossing book.

7) As Kate and Geoff Mercer’s 45th anniversary approaches, Geoff receives a letter that brings to mind a mysterious old flame. “I told you about Katia, didn’t I?” With that, he invites a haunting presence into their seemingly contented lives. This masterful filmmaking expresses volumes with subtle strokes. Kate’s inner turmoil is conveyed by her sad expression as she finalizes arrangements for a place to celebrate their life together. The event coordinator muses on how the hall is perfect for an important anniversary because it has lots of history, “like a happy marriage.” Kate becomes increasingly concerned as Geoff’s thoughts drift farther away. She is awakened in the night by the sound of her husband digging around in the attic. Instead of reminiscing on their lives together, he seems to be pondering a life never lived with a lover whose beauty is frozen in time. Like Kate, we are compelled to reflect on marriage after “45 Years.”

6) In 1926. Danish artist, Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander) painted her husband, Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) as a lady. When the painting gained popularity, Einar started to dress as Lili Elbe - a vision of femininity. "The Danish Girl" follows the couple's incredible and sometimes heart wrenching journey as their relationship grows in compassion and understanding.  In an overwhelming act of unconditional love, Gerda supports her husband's gender transition.

In 2015, the Academy honored Eddie Redmayne for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in "The Theory of Everything." Eddie also received a well-deserved nomination for "The Danish Girl." Alicia Vikander earned her Best Supporting Actress Oscar!

5) “Spotlight” is the true story of how a team of investigative reporters from the Spotlight division of the Boston Globe uncovered a massive scandal of child molestation within the Catholic Archdiocese. The investigation is riveting. The tension rises as the reporters feel the powerful grip of the Catholic Church in Boston - while the threat of continuing abuse starts to hit home. It is a rare picture that moves you without manipulating you with shocking, exploitative images. It is an accurate portrayal of what investigative reporters do. It also highlights why their work is so important. Their Spotlight article gave a voice to the survivors who couldn’t speak up for themselves, and let them know that they weren’t the only victims. The film reminds us why investigative reporting is so vital in a democratic society: It is crucial that the press be a watchdog to keep those in power in line, to hold powerful institutions and people accountable.

"Spotlight" WON Best Screenplay (Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer), and BEST PICTURE! 

4) I was thrust into the brutal world of the “Suffragette” along with weary textile worker and mother, Maud. I was shocked by the unflinching depiction of her dismal work conditions and the extreme use of violence by the police to crush the women who protested. This gritty enactment was born out of thorough research on the first foot soldiers from the early feminist movement (1912-13), when the women were forced to pursue a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the increasingly violent state. A fine piece of visual storytelling, “Suffragette” engaged my heart as well as my mind, showing just why women’s suffrage is so important to protect the basic human rights of women (and children) in a patriarchal society. “Suffragette” reminds us that those rights didn’t come easy. Real women fought hard for over 70 years for the right to demand better working conditions at the polls.

3) “Room” – the only home that five-year-old Jack has ever known. Room and mom are this little dude’s whole world. Mom is doing her best to give her boy a happy, healthy life with plenty of undivided attention. There are strict bedtime rules – for Jack’s protection. Jack must be quietly asleep in wardrobe when mom’s unwelcome visitor arrives. As Jack grows more curious and protective of his mother, it becomes clear that they are in peril. Mom concocts a dangerous plan to get them out of room. The acting is heart-wrenchingly genuine. The authenticity of their connection makes the suspense all the more devastating. But what is truly admirable is that the filmmakers succeed in making the victims heroes, while not glorifying their captor. They managed to create a life-affirming story showing the importance and resilience of the mother-son bond.

Brie Larson won Best Actress! 

2) “Mad Max: Fury Road” is the ultimate guy flick - one long EXPLOSIVE car chase. It is a man’s world. A world out of balance. A world where aggressive masculine traits have overshadowed maternal traits such as responsibility, nurturing, and caring. The result is chaos. The Earth’s resources have been destroyed. It has become a wasteland. Max is everyman - reduced to a single instinct to survive. He is captured and used as a blood bag for an enslaved half-life war boy. Furiosa, an honored driver of the water truck, escapes with the warlord’s pregnant “wives” who are looking for a better life for their children. The suicidal war boy attaches Max to the front of his war buggy and pursues them. When the war buggy crashes, Max carjacks the women’s ride. He is forced to fight alongside the fierce Furiosa to survive. The mothers teach him that there is something more important to fight for – a better future for the next generation.

"Mad Max: Fury Road" WON Best Directing, Cinematography, Editing, Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Sound Mixing, Production Design, Sound Editing.


1) “Mustang” opens like a fairy tale on a Black Sea coastal village in northern Turkey. It is the last day of school, and the students celebrate their freedom with an afternoon frolicking at the beach. The girls’ hair flaps wildly in the wind resembling the manes of mustangs. Five spirited sisters are greeted at home by their irate grandmother who has been informed by a conservative neighbor of their shameful antics. Fearing that their virtue and marriage prospects have been sullied, she drags the girls one by one behind closed doors to whip them. When the uncle arrives home, he locks them in the house. All corrupting influences such as phones and computers are removed. The guardians enlist the help of the conservative neighbor women to prepare the teens for arranged marriages. When the oldest sisters are married off, the remaining girls plan their escape from their matrimonial prisons. Even as it becomes clear that their lives are in danger for defying the rules of this strict patriarchal society, we root for their freedom. Mustangs should not be tamed.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal-Stormont
www.reelinspiration.blogspot.com


NOTE: While there were several strong female roles this year, the industry still has a long way to go in hiring diverse directors - as demonstrated by this year's Oscar nominations. For instance, the Academy only nominated one narrative feature film directed by a woman: Best Foreign Film nominee "Mustang." Last year, after reading that less than 7% of studio productions were directed by women, I did some research to find out how many women directors were out there. That research resulted in the article, “Incredible Invisible Women Filmmakers.” I discovered that there were plenty of qualified women directors, but that most reviewers weren’t covering women’s films. Dedicated to promoting women directors,  I decided to seek out their films. Three films on this list were directed by women: my favorite inspiring film this year “Mustang,” “Suffragette,” and “The 33.” ("The Danish Girl," “Room” and "A Little Chaos" were penned by women). Last year’s list had four. And that's with me seeking them out!

These FEMALE Oscar Winners rocked their acceptance speeches: 

"A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness" won Best Short Documentary. In her acceptance speech, Director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy shared how movies really do make a difference. After watching her doc, the Prime Minister of Pakistan changed the laws on honor killings! 
My new hero Jenny Beavan

After winning her Best Costume Oscar for "Mad Max: Fury Road," Jenny Beavan, donning a fierce bejeweled leather jacket, gave a powerful acceptance speech"I just want to say one quite serious thing, I've been thinking about this a lot, but actually it could be horribly prophetic, Mad Max, if we're not kinder to each other, and if we don't stop polluting our atmosphere, so you know, it could happen,"

Yes, we need women filmmakers. PLEASE, SHARE!

Check out my reviews of films by Women Filmmakers.