Thursday, November 29, 2007

What is Reel Inspiration?


Reel Inspiration is a grassroots, non-religious, apolitical organization created to encourage and promote the production and success of diverse films that inspire, give hope, or raise human consciousness.

THE IMPACT: Films have always had a huge impact on our society. At their best, films have the power to inspire, empower, enlighten, uplift, challenge and create change by reflecting the condition of our society and illuminating the issues of our times. We need more of these meaningful films.

THE BIZ: Filmmaking is a business. The cost of promoting films has skyrocketed, so studios need blockbusters to break even. The common misconception is that the only way to make money is to produce big event movies, remake current blockbusters, or to market movies towards a younger mind set. As a result, we have movies that are more about special effects, gross out humor and violence than good art and storytelling. Is this how we want our society reflected and our children influenced? You can make a difference.

THE CHALLENGE: Send a message to Hollywood by attending meaningful films on opening weekend (or at least while it's in it's first run.) Box Office numbers have a huge impact the film industry. You can help create a market for these films by sharing them with your friends. Join our grassroots campaign by becoming a REEL MEMBER. (There is no charge.) To become a REEL MEMBER and receive reviews of high quality, inspiring films, e-mail:

We invite filmmakers with distribution to submit their inspiring feature length narrative films to be considered for our grassroots promotional campaign. For guidelines, e-mail:

THE EDGE: Reel Inspiration hosts conferences and workshops to further develop the talents of those courageous filmmakers who choose to create films of substance. In 2005, we hosted the popular Reel Vision Filmmakers Conference in Tucson, AZ. COMING SOON: Reel Inspiration Directing Workshop: Working with Actors.

THE CELEBRATION: Reel Inspiration is proud to present a selection of the finalists of the 2004 Reel Inspiring Film Contest and the 2006 Pura Inspiracion Film Contest. We send our heartfelt thanks and congratulations to these filmmakers who chose to make movies about the good in the world. Look out for our upcoming Reel Inspiration film contest for filmmakers of all ages.

Reel Inspiration is about giving the movie audience another choice: films that leave us feeling hopeful about human potential. Films that inspire us to be heroes in our own lives. For more information on the contest or directing workshop, go to:

Saturday, November 24, 2007

"August Rush"

"A boy stands in a wheat field conducting a symphony that only he can hear. As the wind picks up, the stalks of wheat bend and sway in rhythmic harmony, each sound of nature becoming a note flying off instruments in the boy's mind." The boy narrates, "The music is all around us. All we have to do is listen." This opening sets the mood for the soul lifting film, August Rush. The story is presented as a musical fairytale. I found it to be a spiritual parable.

"August Rush," is the story of a supposedly orphaned boy (Freddie Highmore) who can hear the harmonic connection between all living things -- including his musician parents. He believes his parents are communicating to him through the music in the world around him. He eventually runs away in search of his parents and his musical destiny.

First, the boy must deal with adults who don't understand his gift and orphanage bullies who try to silence the music by tormenting him. I think many artists will identify with the theme of society trying to squash their creativity. I know I did. It took years for me to silence the voices in my head, "When are you going to get a real job?" so I could live up to my potential as a writer. It was inspiring to watch him overcome the influence of the skeptics and reach his potential as a music prodigy. His parents' stories represent the other side of the coin - how we can sleep walk through life if we don't follow our dream.

Some skeptics, eh, reviewers called the movie hokey or schmaltzy, and there were times when the story treads into that territory with a wacky Oliver Twist storyline with Robin Williams playing the Wizard, a musical conman resembling Dicken's Fagon. I found myself wondering how director Kirsten Sheridan could build suspense when the ending is telegraphed in the film's trailers. It is actually the Wizard storyline that successfully builds that suspense. One reviewer couldn't tolerate the coincidences. If this is taken as a spiritual parable, those are serendipities. Serendipities signal that you are going down the right spiritual path.

If you thought it was hokey when Will (in Good Will Hunting) picked up the chalk and figured out advance math problems with no higher education, you may cringe when our hero picks up a guitar and expresses the music of his soul without prior training. To me this scene is nothing less than a miracle. To justify his sudden ability, Director
Kirsten Sheridan fashioned his guitar playing after the work of teenage Michael Hedges who used the same innovative method of slapping the guitar strings to make music. Sheridan was prepared to cast a real music prodigy in the role but was won over by Freddie Highmore. Freddie practiced for six months and does an amazing job with the musical performances. Another theme of the film is how music touches the soul and connects us with others. The music in August Rush uplifts the soul with its blend of ambient sound with rock, classical, and gospel.

“Raise It Up” was nominated for best Song. (See 2008 Academy Award Nominations for more details.)

August Rush received a standing ovation at the Heartland Film Festival. Why the mixed reviews? The audience at the Heartland Festival was looking for a heartwarming, moving experience and they got it. What do you bring to the movie as an audience member? I believe that if you go with an open heart, seeking a spiritual experience, you will find it in August Rush.
Read more about the music: Finding the Right Notes for 'August Rush' by Robert W. Welkos, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer. 

Movie Blessings!
Jana Segal

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Explorer News Article on Reel Inspiration (Life section)

More than film buffs

Local group Reel Inspiration aims to get everyone involved in movie-making process

November 21, 2007

If you keep waiting for Hollywood to flood the market with inspiring, uplifting films, Jana Segal has a tip: Make your own.

These days, amateur moviemaking requires nothing complicated.

All you need is a cheap video camera, free downloadable editing software and a venue for showcasing your work.

Segal has that last one covered.

Her organization, Reel Inspiration, holds a film festival once every two years to encourage local filmmakers to forget about gore, violence briefly and create short flicks that derive meaning from the world and people’s relationships.

Select films from the 2004 and 2006 contests received a viewing last month at the Greater Oro Valley Arts Council’s fall festival at Riverfront Park. Several of the filmmakers featured have Northwest connections.

“I started the contest to say there’s really an audience if you want to make meaningful films,” Segal said.

But if Reel Inspiration’s reaches seem geographically limited, you’re not seeing the broader picture. Not only does the organization support fledgling filmmakers that sometimes go on to receive wider acclaim, it also inspires ordinary moviegoers to vote with their feet, so to speak. Hollywood puts much stock in opening-weekend ticket sales, so Segal writes reviews of films that move her, and she encourages her organization’s 100 members by e-mail to see the films quickly and tell friends about them.

“All they have to do is forward the reviews,” she said.

Reel Inspiration began in 2003 after Segal, who holds a master’s degree in dramatic writing from Brandeis University, tried to market a screenplay she wrote in Hollywood. The work received praise at conferences in America’s movie capitol, but still, it ended up in a shoebox under her bed.

“I got good comments from people there who wanted to encourage me, but they said the screenplay didn’t have enough edge, and nobody wants to see a movie about old people,’” Segal said.

At the time, the Academy Award-winning movies depressed her, and she suspected such films also were darkening the collective conscious.

“When someone tells you something negative, it sticks with you all day,” she said. “It runs through your mind and becomes part of you.”

Segal believed consumers could consciously affect the success of movies. And if a movie of substance brought in big bucks the first weekend, Hollywood would likely take a chance on a movie again.

In 2005, Reel Inspiration held its first filmmaking conference featuring big names, such as Linda Seger, a top Hollywood writing consultant, and Pamela Jaye Smith, who consults with the big studios about how to incorporate myth into films.

A writers and directors workshop is planned for later this year.

Reel Inspiration’s top awards in its 2004 film festival went to Bill Kersey, who lived in Oro Valley at the time. Kersey’s short film “Solace,” about a man grieving the death of his son, won the audience’s choice award, and the film “Garpenfargle,” a joint project with a fellow University of Arizona student exploring what dogs do when their owners leave, won top honors in the juried category. “Garpenfargle” is what a dog hears when you say, “Stay out of the trash.”

By the time the organization’s film festival arrived, the short film made the rounds to 10 festivals, including ones in Toronto and Los Angeles. It also had earned the distinction of regional finalist for the Student Academy Awards.

Kersey’s prizes involved encounters with well-connected people in the filmmaking world.

“Winning these awards allowed me to put myself in very helpful situations,” he said.

Other films shown at the Greater Oro Valley Arts Council’s fall festival included “Just One Wish” by Warren Lazar, a short piece about a teenage daughter of a single mom whose life changes forever with just one wish.

Segal said she wants to see Reel Inspiration grow to the point at which members are taking an active role and are writing guest reviews. Last week, she posted the first guest review at her blog site,

“If they’re going to preach to me, that’s not what we’re about,” she said. “I want to be moved, and I want to see films that make me think.”
To become a REEL MEMBER and get FREE reviews of meaningful, inspiring films, please, e-mail:

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


A New Kind of Love Story

After the success of the Passion of the Christ, there was new interest in the Christian market. Hollywood still wasn't sure how to handle this potential market. Some Christian films had come out, but most weren't good enough to show that this was a viable market. In 2005, I attended the Screenwriting Expo presentation on "The Christian Market." An experienced Hollywood Producer/Writer spoke about how Hollywood wasn't ready for overly Christian films. To break in, Christian filmmakers needed to produce films with Christian morals but not preach at the audience. I've been known to get a little preachy myself -- preaching that the theme or lesson should come out of the action. The consequence of the character's action proves the theme.

This Fall, two movies came out that took this concept to heart: "Bella," and, "Lars and the Real Girl." (Really!) The characters did not preach but demonstrated Christian values through their actions.

I went to Bella because it won the People's Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival and sounded like an inspiring independent film to review for Reel Inspiration. I didn't even realize until I was well into it, that it was a Christian film. (It becomes clear that the main character is Christian when he prays silently before a meal.) When a waitress is fired from her job for being late, the owner's brother chases after her to see if she is alright. All around them is the hustle and bustle of New York, people busy making another dollar. The film seems to say that there are more important things than making money -- like taking care of each other. This guy takes the day off to comfort and listen to this woman without judging her. He gains her trust. This is a new kind of love story -- where people show love through acts of kindness.

This heartfelt film is beautifully acted and has some important themes. The only problem I had was that it took a while to get going probably because the conflict is internal. There's not a lot of conflict in sympathetic listening. I'm not a big fan of flashbacks and there's a few. It may seem a little talky to some people - reminiscent of Before Sunrise. 

"Bella," is the true love story that shows how one day in New York City changed three people's lives forever. Jose, an international soccer star (Eduardo Verastegui) is on his way to sign a multi-million dollar contract when a series of events unfold that bring his career to an abrupt end. He retreats from the world. A waitress (Tammy Blanchard) struggling to make it in New York City, discovers something she's unprepared for. In one irreversible moment, their lives are turned upside down...until a single gesture of kindness brings them both together, turning an ordinary day into a unforgettable experience.

"Lars and the Real Girl"

"Lars and the Real Girl," is a touching comedy about how a lovable, extreme introvert decides to open up to the possibility of love by ordering a rubber girlfriend on the internet. When the members of his church learn that Lars has a delusion, they decide to help Lars resolve his issues by embracing his silicone girlfriend without a hint of judgment. They accept her into the community even bringing casseroles and sitting with Lars when his girlfriend is sick.

I embraced the story because, like the congregation, I genuinely cared about Lars. This is in part because of excellent performances
poised between earnestness and farce. Don't miss this tender comedy. It is the feel good movie of the year.

Nancy Oliver was nominated for Best Screenplay. (One of four women writers nominated!)
Lars Lindstrom is a lovable introvert whose emotional baggage has kept him from fully embracing life. After years of what is almost solitude, he invites Bianca, a friend he met on the internet to visit him. He introduces Bianca to his brother Gus and his wife Karen and they are stunned. They don't know what to say to Lars or Bianca--because she is a life-size doll, not a real person and he is treating her as though she is alive. They consult the family doctor Dagmar who explains this is a delusion he's created--for what reason she doesn't yet know but they should all go along with it. What follows is an emotional journey for Lars and the people around him. 

If you're looking for movies where people are genuinely kind to each other -- a new kind of love story -- watch, "Bella," and, "Lars and the Real Girl." You'll be thankful you did.

Movie Blessings,
Jana Segal

Friday, November 16, 2007

Political Thrillers Flop at Box Office

Tis the season for Oscar caliber films. Why is it that so many of the political thrillers are currently flopping at the box office? After a poor opening weekend, Entertainment Magazine wondered if Tom's Cruise's heavy hitter, "Lions for Lambs," could be "Mission Possible?" for opening after the star-studded, political thrillers, "Rendition" and "In the Valley of Elah" flopped. Why is the public avoiding political films this fall?

After explaining Reel Inspiration's goal to promote thought provoking films to a reporter, she asked why I wasn't recommending any of this season's political dramas on my blog . Good question. They are certainly thought provoking. In the Fall of 2005, I was thrilled that Entertainment Magazine did an article about the trend of Hollywood filmmakers towards making more meaningful films like, "Syriana," and " Good Night, and Good Luck," and later "Babel." After a Summer of sequels and remakes, I think the movie audience was ready for something deeper. Why the lack of interest this year? Why aren't I recommending political films?

To tell the truth, after watching their heavy handed, star-studded trailers, I didn't want to see these films. I feel hopeless and frustrated about how our country is being polarized by opposing views on the war. I don't want to be hit over the head with it at the theater as well. I don't need to be force fed the medicine no matter how good it is supposed to be for me. So, for now, I prefer to share films that bring us together, not separate us. Films that show that we're more alike than different.

After a seemingly endless summer of action flicks, My Big Greek Wedding became big breakout hit of 2002. Film goers were looking for something different, something funny with heart. What is the current climate of the movie going audience? Apparently, it's not political thrillers. Are we longing for escapism? An epic or fantasy that transports us to another time and place? A belly-buster comedy? A good romance?

As for me, I could use a good laugh and a good cry. How about both in the same movie? Give me a great story that moves me and let the medicine go down.

Movie Blessings,
Jana Segal
Reel Inspiration

"The Darjeeling Limited"

By Guest Reviewer
Mike McMullen

You either like Wes Anderson movies or you don't. I have met few people who feel lukewarm about them. Not that they hate them, it's just "not their type". Well they are exactly my type. Quirky, awkward at times, but always with heart.

"The Darjeeling Limited," is no exception. Staring Owen Wilson (as Francis), Adrian Brody (Peter) and Jason Schwartzman (Jack) as three brothers who have had a distant relationship with one another since their father died. Francis gets them all together on a train in India to take a "spiritual journey and become brothers again". Francis is compulsive, having an itinerary written for the trip. Peter is a kleptomaniac (sort of) and is expecting a baby with his wife, which ruins his plans of eventually getting divorced. And Peter is, hard to nail down. He makes long distance calls to check in on his "ex"-girlfriends answering machine. He also has sex with the "stewardess" (Rita) on the train. You get the sense he feels rootless. Rita asks him what's wrong with him. He answers "let me think about that."

The film does take place in India, and you certainly do see a lot of the culture. It's not a living Places to See in India book though. It doesn't make any attempt to show us the India of 'Gandhi', or the India of 'Seven Years in Tibet'. It shows us the India of India. The characters walk among people, not around them. They buy trinkets (and a cobra) at the street market.

The film does weave, as Anderson films are prone to do, and arrives at the credits. Maybe not a solid point, or end. You do get the sense that through this journey, something deep has happened to these men. If it was spiritual or not, we are not told. Maybe the brothers don't know themselves. But there is healing, there is redemption in a way. The men at the end of the film are not the ones we meet at the beginning, but they are the same. The last shot is a train going to a new destination. Fitting, because that is the story of these brothers. At the end of the film, the next chapter in their lives is just starting.

This is a very nice film. It's not overbearing, but not listless either. It does meander, but knows that not all who wander are lost.

For more reviews from Mike, visit:

2006 Pura Inspiración Winners Announced

It was a fantastic screening at the Fox Tucson Theatre. I want to thank all the filmmakers for creating meaningful films! What a inspiring program! The ambiance was enhanced by our soulful singers Eric Hansen and Lupita Duran.

Thanks to Cox Communications for sponsoring the event and our partner Puro Mexicano: Tucson Film Festival and to all our generous prize sponsors. Also, thanks to our judges, hosts, entertainers, and volunteers. We couldn't have done it without you!

Reel Inspiration and the Puro Mexicano: Tucson Film Festival are proud to announce the winners of the 2006 Pura Inspiración Film Contest:

Celebrating Cultural Diversity Award: New York City Spirit by Muriel Stockdale of New York City.

Best of Tucson: Have Coffin, Will Travel by Sarah Sher.

Best Narrative: Linear Progression by Kat Kosmala from La Habra, CA.

Best Narrative, 2nd place: Mariposa Canyon by Ben Lobato

Best Documentary: 87 Topaz by Bill Kersey from Tucson

Best Documentary, 3rd place: Just Coffee by Roberto Gudins & Eli Cordova

*Bill Kersey also won Best Film for Garpenfargle and the Peoples Choice award for Solice in the 2004 competition!

TEEN COMPETITIONFirst Place: Multiple Choice by Teresa Tuan
Second Place: Atordecer by Oscar Rivera
Third Place: A Long Walk Home by James Curtis
Best of Tucson: Essence of Ironwood by Csenge Molnar
Cultural Diversity Award: Culture by Avijit Halder

CHILDREN'S SHOWCASEFirst Place: The Pen by Lineweaver Elementary Cub Club Advanced Media Arts Class
Second Place: The Amazing Defiant Monkeys by Joshua Segal
Third Place: Wheels by Lineweaver Cub Club
Best Use of Music: The Power of Music by Jeremy Nelson
Budding Writer Award: The Tamale Bully by Jeremy Segal
Most Creative Award: Gender Clash by Lineweaver Cub Club

Congratulations to our filmmakers! You all are winners!

Arrange for these films to be screened at your fest, church or organization, contact:

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Reel Inspiration Contest Winners Update.

Wonder what became of our Reel Inspiration Contest Winners? Here's what they're up to....

The 2004 Winners Reel has been screened at writers organizations, churches, schools, and the Arts Festivals around Tucson, AZ. All the winners were screened October 27 -28, 2007 to an appreciative audience at the Oro Valley ArtsFest. (See October archives for list of films.) Justin Mashouf (Morning Submission) represented the contest finalists on Arizona Illustrated.
Bill Kersey:
2004 RI Film Contest Winner for Garpenfargle
2004 RI Film Contest, Popular Choice Award for Solace
2006 PI Film Contest, Best Documentary, 87 Topaz
After playing the festival circuit around the world, Bill's award winning shorts are still popping up here and there. Garpenfargle recently played at CineGlobe in Switzerland.
Nicole Koschman's Black, White, and Yellow, (which Bill edited) was screened as part of the Loft's Cinema Lounge in Tucson, AZ. The short film, Life List (16 minutes) directed/produced by Tom Dunlap and edited/produced by Bill Kersey was also featured. Bill is currently editing another film.
For a complete list of Bill's screenings and awards or to watch his short films , go to:
Directed by Nicole Koschmann, Edited by Bill Kersey
BLACK, WHITE AND YELLOW is a compelling documentary look at racial identity, familial bonds and cultural differences. Growing up in a multi-racial family in three different countries, two sisters (one black, one white) struggle to define their own identities as well as their relationship with each other.
Black, White and Yellow won the 'Best of Arizona' award at the 2007 Arizona International Film Festival.LIFE LIST, an insightful and often humorous documentary, explores the world of birding by examining the philosophies and field behaviors of two master birders. It's been in several film festivals, including last year's AZ International Film Festival, and it won Best Documentary Short at the Northern Lights Film Festival in Massachusetts. It's been picked up by a short film distributor.

Derek Griffith
2004 RI Film Contest, Best of Tucson Award
Somebody Loves Me.

Derek writes,
"Somebody Loves Me," but not as much as Garpenfargle! Man, that was a classic film! Since that cool September night when that little white dog warmed the audience's heart, I have been working on several films that vary in an array of genres. From horror to comedy and from drama to musicals, I've dabbled in it all. Most recently, I'm working on a feature script entitled "Visors Down" that is a political-thriller depicting slanted political views. As I circulate my filmmaking-dabbling, I will once again cycle into a light-hearted comedy/drama in the vein of "Somebody Loves Me" but for now, I must plug away, plug away at my baby, "Visors Down".

For more on Derek, visit:

Muriel Stockdale,
2006 PI Film Contest, Cultural Diversity Award
New York City Spirit

Muriel Stockdale is an accomplished artist, writer, filmmaker, costume designer, and was a valued member of the teaching faculty at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, Graduate Design Department for 14 years. She is completing a final draft of her second screenplay, Gabriel’s Flight, and she has won a commission to write the book for the musical version of the Indian epic myth, Ramayana. She is in pre-production on the feature length version of New York City Spirit.
New York City Spirit depicts a composite day in New York through rich and colorful images of New Yorkers practicing the diverse ways that they choose to connect to God or Spirit. The film travels through all five boroughs of New York City and presents an unbiased display of multiple cultural, religious and spiritual disciplines. It is about how individual New Yorkers choose to connect to a higher truth and meaning in everyday life.

Sarah Sher
2006 PI Film Contest, Best of Tucson
Have Coffin, Will Travel

Sarah Sher's film about Bisbee-based artist/activist Dale Clark, Traveling Coffin, has been picked up by Al Gore's TV Network, Current TV. Traveling Coffin -- originally titled Have Coffin, Will Travel -- follows Clark as he hitchhikes around the country with a coffin to draw attention to the deaths of children in Iraq, Afghanistan and other current war zones. Sher is the owner of Red Eagle Post (a post-production studio.) Visit the Current TV web site to see film:

Kat Kosmala
2006 PI Film Contest, Best Narrative
Linear Progression
Strange creatures! Beautiful animation! Grass! What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? Such conundrums abound in this charming traditionally drawn and digitally painted short. Simple but rich in its design, and with a dialog track of only grunts and sighs, animation proves itself once again to be the universal story-telling language.

Linear Progression has won several awards since Pura Inspiracion including Best Animation at Hollyshorts, Veneration, Pencilheads Dusk 'til Dawn Animation Festival, and Woods Hole Film Festival, as well as winning the Ai Showcase at Dam Short Film Festival. It has screened at over 50 film festivals. Currently, Kat is working
as Supervising Animator at Animax, an LA based Flash Animation studio. A new film is in the works, but won't be finished until next year. For a list of screenings, visit:

Check back for more winners' updates as they come in.