Let Me Tell You About NYC – A Film by Andrei Shah

Let Me Tell You About NYC

Once upon a time the place was called (among other things) the center of the world. That’s along with The City that Never Sleeps. And New York is famous for The Great White Way (aka Broadway and Times Square) as well as having a Little Italy, and a Chinatown which make up just two of a multitude of neighborhoods – what you might call ‘villages’ within the overall confines of New York.

I know this for a fact as I am a former New Yorker who lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan (East 91st Street between Park and Madison Avenues) through parts of four decades. My neighbors at times were Woody Allen, journalist and author Carl Bernstein, film director Sidney Lumet, actor Burt Young, hockey star Wayne Gretzky to name but a few.

Across the street was The Dalton School – First Program where the children of Diana Ross and Donald Sutherland attended and napped in their very first classrooms. I think I saw Kiefer Sutherland in a pram before he was even old enough to count to 24. Across Madison, but still on 91st was the The Spence School, an all-girls school. The daughters of the Bouviers, Bloombergs, Fricks, Astors, and Bianca Jagger went to school there. And at the end of the block – on the corner of 91st Street and Fifth Avenue is the Convent of the Sacred Heart, once a private home, now a private school.

Let’s see, Ethel, Joan, and Caroline Kennedy went to school there. As did Gloria Vanderbilt, Elaine Stritch, Suri Cruise (yes, that would be Tom’s daughter), as well as Stefani Germanotta who these days is widely known around the world by her working name – Lady Gaga.

That was my neighborhood.

Nowadays I take the sun, my morning coffee, and when I shave, the cuttings circle down the drain in Sarasota, Florida. So I’ve lived in the Big Apple, rooted for the Yankees, Jets, Knicks, and Rangers for so long that I can recite the New York anthem, called New York, New York and made famous by Frank Sinatra – by heart.

But that’s just me.

For others, visiting or living in New York is either a strong desire, a fond wish, or a bucket-list item, so they come, and they’ll struggle to survive (to make it) and maybe they do, or maybe they don’t. But they continue to come and give it a try.

New York is not the easiest place to live – just have a look at the lyrics from Tom Waits crooning about the Downtown Train

Or Billy Joel singing about coming back because he’s in a New York State of Mind.

Then there’s Alicia Keys known best for her stirring and hopeful Empire State of Mind.

Concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There’s nothing you can’t do
Now you’re in New York!
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you
Let’s hear it for New York, New York, New Yooork!

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The Last Great Circus Flyer – Bonus Coverage from The Twin Cities Film Fest

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There’s been plenty of movies about circuses. I’ve even been to an actual circus, albeit back in the last century. The Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus may not have set up their tents on Long Island, at least that I know of.

But they did take their version of The Greatest Show on Earth to Madison Square Garden. right in the heart of New York City.

Aside from seeing a live circus, I’ve managed to take in a few circus films. Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) heads the list.

Next would be Trapeze (1956), and the smallest of the three,

and oldest would be Marx Bros. At The Circus (1939).

Even though I’ve already departed Minneapolis, and the Twin Cities Film Fest, today we have some bonus coverage. The Last Great Circus Flyer is a documentary about Miguel Vazquez, who certainly can be called the last great circus flyer.

I met the film’s director Phil Weyland at the fest. He had been given my name by Anahita Ahrar (above), of Mediahrar, a PR firm.

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Finding Noah: Day Five at the Twin Cities Film Fest

MV5BMTQ4Nzg4NDA1M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODAxODI0NDE@._V1__SX1037_SY469_Thomas Edison: I have not failed, I just found 10,000 ways that did not work.

That’s one of Edison’s most well-known quotes, and it is repeated in the Brent Baum documentary film called Finding Noah.

Anthropologists, religious scholars, biblical students, adventurers, archeologists, people of strong faith, and scientists of many stripes have been kicking around the question of Noah’s Ark for literally centuries.

Did God really warn and give Noah specific instructions about how to build an ark because he was going to flood the earth, and destroy every living being excepting those on this vessel.

As we hear in this terrific documentary, if God did that, then he did intervene and change the course of human kind. For a number of reasons, over the many years, it has been thought that the final resting place of the Ark was on Mt. Ararat in what is now Eastern Turkey.  At one point this Mt was part of the Ottoman Empire, and was also a part of Armenia. Because of shifting political alliances and warfare, this Mountain now is a part of Turkey.

So a trek is organized. Funding, permits, equipment, and weather all come into play. On top of that there is only a specific time of the year when authorized expeditions can be allowed to set forth. The plan is that on Day One, they will hike to 3200 feet and stay in Base Camp. Actually base camp is not a formal or structural presence or location. It is mainly a piece of a plateau big enough and relatively flat enough to sustain about a dozen tents going up.

Day Two’s distance traveled will be up to 4200 feet. That is only about a thousand feet above Base Camp. But the grade is much steeper, so the going is harder, slower, and more grueling. They will stay at this level for two nights to acclimatize themselves to this altitude.

Don’t forget that while at this level, while you are doing more of mountaineering than rock climbing, you are dealing with the cold weather, the thinner oxygen, and you are carrying everything necessary to reach the summit on your own backs. And yes there is a deep gorge in the area as well as many deep crevasses. This is not Nepal, and Ararat goes only to 17,000+ feet. But there are no Sherpas here.

Eventually, the summit is reached – but that is just a part of the story. Now common sense dictates that if the Ark was to be found, the likelihood is that it would have been found long before. In today’s world, there are technologies available to assist in finding the remnants of the ark. Satellite imagery, sonar listening devices that can send out sound waves that can detect the differences in the returned signals that are bouncing off ice or bouncing off a different kind of material.

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Autism in America World Premier – Day Two of the TCFF 2015

MV5BMTUyMzMyMjQ1MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzIxNTkzMTE@._V1__SX1037_SY469_My second film on Day 2 of the TCFF is the documentary Autism in America.  This film was written and directed by Zac Adams, and I was fortunate to have spoken with him briefly earlier in the day.

He told me that the reason for the film was to take away the misconceptions, to help people understand what the disease is about, and to create an awareness in the general public.

Both  Adams and his producer Tim Vandesteeg were on hand for this world premier. I saw the 5:00 PM showing, and we were told that the 8:30 PM showing was a near sellout.

In the words of Jatin Satia, the Executive Director of the TCFF, there’s only a small handful of remaining available seats.

So how was the film?

TCFF Logo

First off – it is a true documentary. There is a narrator, Chandra Wilson from Grey’s Anatomy, but we hear her only sparsely. We see nothing of the filmmakers. I specifically asked in the Q & A post screening if this was by design, by accident, or as they went along in making the film it just evolved that way?

Zac Adams answered me by saying – We are not journalists. We have no interest in appearing in front of the cameras. This film is not about us.

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What we saw was families with young autistic children, and a few autistic adults. We even met Joe Sullivan and his mother. Sullivan was one of three autistic people that Dustin Hoffman modeled his portrayal of Raymond Babbitt (Rainman) after. Sullivan’s mother was also in the film.

She told us a tale of how quickly young Sullivan assembled a jig-saw puzzle.  She said she was so astounded by the speed that she turned the puzzle over and asked her son to assembly the picture again – this time with all pieces face down. And in almost the same time he did the reassembly.

But in this film we have no savants. We watch and hear about children who don’t speak,  who may have some motor impairments,as well as those who have cognitive issues, or social issues. The thing of it is, that these all look like normal children.

As. one mother said – there is NO LOOK for autism. Unlike Down’s Syndrome, one cannot simply look at a child or an adult with autism and immediately KNOW that this is an autistic person.

We learned about such topics as Autism and Bullying, Autism in Public schools and the lack of proper training for the teachers. We listened and learned about Autism in the workplace, the impact of diet on autism, the cost of autism, and much more including amount of stress and wear and tear on the parents who have an autistic child.

Then we saw that some mothers have had two or three autistic children. We heard about the skyrocketing costs in caring for an autistic child, as well as the emotional cost on the parents themselves.

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Opening Night at the Twin Cities Film Festival 2015: Part One – A New High

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Ruth arrived a few minutes after 4:00 PM, and quickly she acquired her tickets. Since all the seats are reserved, I would have to swap my ticket in so we could then select two seats together. Not a problem said the ticket maestro.

So we headed upstairs for dinner in the Lobby Lounge, The Royal Burger Sliders came two per serving along with a nice supply of chips. How does this sound to you: Two Mini Black Angus burgers with American Cheese, Tomato, Lettuce, House made Pickles and 1000 Island dressing. Not only does that sound good, they were wonderful. Bon Apetite!

I was seeing two films tonight, and Ruth – just one – the opening feature – a documentary called A New High.

There was a slight delay in starting as Jatin Setia, Executive Director of the Festival was attending a social gathering for some of the festival sponsors. So Instead of starting at 5:30, by the time the greetings, festival trailers, and Jatin’s opening remarks had concluded it was nearly six PM.

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A New High was the title of the film, and it literally was all of that. Meaning this film was about the efforts of the Director  of Special Projects as a part of the Addiction Recovery Program at the Union Gospel Mission in downtown Seattle , WA. His name is Mike Johnson, and his program started with people in both dire and desperate circumstances – homeless, penniless, and addicted.

He got them to buy into it – and this was the deal, the training would take a year. It would ask these men and women to take a hard look at themselves, and decide if they wanted to go up and experience the highest of highs, and that’s meant to be taken literally.

They began with in town lectures and others things to help them decide. Then came the physical work. They climbed the stairs in the mission, again and again. They worked out in gyms, they were taken out for day hikes. And what was the goal – to reach the summit of Mt. Rainer. This mountain reached to 14,411 feet above sea level, and is considered one of the most dangerous mountains in the world.

As Johnson told them,  We are going up to a place where no one can live. He also told them – It’s up the mountain or down into the grave.

This was a film that was both harrowing and heartbreaking, joyful and jarring, and for the folks who went through this program we heard: It was the hardest thing I’ve  ever done in my life. And with a successful climb they’d experience the elation and ecstasy at the highest of elevations.

Two weeks before the climb to the summit of Mt. Rainier, they were asked to do a make or break climb – that is to the peak of Mt. Hood in Oregon. If you washed out on this climb, you would not be permitted to tackle Ranier. Most of the trek up Mt. Hood had to be done at night – and that  was to minimize the danger of avalanches.

For Dawn, as she said, this was the hardest thing she’d had ever done. Dawn didn’t finish Mt. Hood. At the point of being just three hundred feet or roughly the lengthy of a football field, Dawn announced that she could not go even one step further. She had given the mountain all of what she had and it wasn’t enough.

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Transindia – A Documentary by Meera Darji

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From the USA Today newspaper:

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Monday issued two directives moving the Pentagon closer to allowing transgender men and women to serve openly in the military.

First, Carter ordered the creation of a Pentagon working group “to study over the next six months the policy and readiness implications of welcoming transgender persons to serve openly,” Carter said in a statement released Monday afternoon.

Earlier this year, it was announced that TV and Film actor Taye Diggs, who can currently be seen playing a San Francisco PD Homicide detective in the TNT television series Murder in the First, has agreed to perform in the live theatrical production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. This production won the 2014 Tony for Best Musical Revival. Mr. Diggs will take over the role of Hedwig on July 22nd at the Belasco Theater on West 44th Street – the epicenter of New York’s theatrical zone known as Broadway.

Then there’s the near constant coverage of Caitlyn Jenner in the supermarket tabloids and the gossip press and media.

We are all aware of the success of the TV series Orange is the New Black, as well as the award-winning TV series Transparent.

All of the above are references to transgenders in the news and in the media, as well as in the arts. But what about the transgenders who you don’t read about. The ones that are living their lives not only here in the States, or in the European Union, but in other places in the world.

UK filmmaker Meera Darji has recently completed her Documentary Short called Transindia. It is a moving documentary that explores the Transgender community (Hijras) in Ahmedabad, India. The Hijras, long ago, in the days of the Mughal Empire, were accepted in society, where they earned a good sense of respect.

The days of the Mughal Empire were followed by the era of the British Raj, when Britain had colonized India. During this period, in 1871, a law was passed. Section 26 of the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 – basically classified all Hijras as criminals. The nuts and bolts of the act basically allowed that any Hijra, appearing in public places or streets, either dressed or ornamented as a woman, who plays music, dances, or performs any public exhibition, could be arrested without warrant, and would face either 2 years of imprisonment, or fines, or both.

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Citizenfour

I recall reading about Edward Snowden‘s revelations concerning the NSA and the surveillance apparatus only AFTER he arrived and set up camp in Hong Kong. The reality for me was that despite living in the US all my life, I knew far more about Hong Kong than I did about either Snowden or ‘big brother IS listening’.

That said, I spoke to a trusted source who said he had seen Citizenfour and considered it one the best films he had seen in quite some time. So to get this review up and running with only a little more background, I had spent about 4 plus days in South Carolina during the week before last week. But I left Beaufort, SC, on Saturday the 21st of February, to make the 425 mile drive back to Sarasota, so I’d be sure to be home for the Oscar broadcast last Sunday night.

When they announced that Citizenfour had won the Oscar for Best Feature Length Documentary I learned the name Laura Poitras. Hers was not a name that I knew. In fact, before Citizenfour, I was completely unfamiliar with any of her works. For the record, I had no knowledge of the names Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, or William Binney either.

Then I was lucky enough to be able to see Citizenfour the very next day, Monday the 23rd when it aired on HBO.

What I did know was the Mira Hong Kong Hotel. The hotel is located on the corner of Kimberly Road and Nathan Road, literally just a few steps from the most northerly exit of the Tsim Sha Tsui, MTR stop in Kowloon. I’d walked past the hotel on numerous occasions and I’m sure it was conceivable that I might have gazed up, at the upper floors of this hotel,where much of the film was shot, from standing on either a walking path in Kowloon Park (across the street from the hotel), or from the corner of Haiphong Road and Nathan Road, where the MTR exit was, and just 3 very short blocks away.

For me, the impact of the film was far greater than whether or not the film was either entertaining, or something to see for its style or amazing cinematography. The fact is that Poitras’s film showed, at least to me, what I hadn’t previously known. Yes I knew that Edward Snowden had revealed via copied documents, the inner workings of the security and surveillance apparatus ; and when he touched down in Hong Kong – it made the front page of newspapers all over the world.

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TransIndia – Documentary on Transgenders by Meera Darji

Did you watch the Amazon Series Transparent?

Have you considered watching it now that it walked away with two Golden Globe Awards courtesy of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association? One to creator Jill Soloway for Best TV Comedy. and Jeffrey Tambor won for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical.

I watched when it was still new and unknown. I liked the series and gave the show a very positive review which you can read here.

https://jmmnewaov2.wordpress.com/2014/10/21/20540/

If you wish to hear what the show’s creator, Jill Soloway. thinks and how the show came to be, you can listen to her interview here.

http://www.npr.org/programs/fresh-air/2014/10/30/360132135/fresh-air-for-october-30-2014

All of the above is basically a preamble. I happen to have an acquaintance who lives in Leicester in the UK. She’s in university in an honors program for film studies. Her name is Meera Darji, and film is her career.

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Hamburgers – America’s Favorite Food for the 4th of July

We’re out in the middle of nowhere. You know, and the good thing about it is, we are the only thing in nowhere.

So says Joe Maranto the owner of the Meers Store and Restaurant, home of the Texas Long Horn Beef Burger. Location: Meers, Oklahoma – population six people, eight cats, and a dog.

Well I found out about the Meers store in a documentary film called Hamburger America. This film tells the story of eight deliciously unique hamburger emporiums. Some are small, some are bigger, they’ve all been around for a while, and almost all are described as ‘world famous’. As they say at the Meers store – Eat Beef, the west wasn’t won on salad.

We’ll come back to Meers shortly. So it has been my tradition to do a post on art for the July 4th, and Thanksgiving Day holidays. But what could be more traditional than a July 4th cookout. So here we go with a look at one of the American food items most often consumed on this the July 4th weekend. Whether you are cooking burgers outdoors on a charcoal grill, or flippin’ burgers on an electric grill, or if you prefer them fried in a cast-iron pan, it seems obvious that you must really love just plain wolfing them down. The hamburger is an American tradition and is as popular today as ever and that’s taking in to account the recent rise in the cost of beef.

Hamburger American is filmed, directed, and edited by George Motz. I can’t say with certainty, but it is likely that Motz was influenced by TV Journalist Charles Kuralt, who in 1967, convinced his bosses at CBS News to let him get out of the studio, and travel across America finding stories. Kuralt claimed he was tired of the grind and the competitive nature of TV Broadcasting’s version of the news. They said okay – we’ll give it a go for three months.

The title of the series was On The Road With Charles Kuralt, and it ran for 20 years.

In Motz’s film – we visit eight different hamburger restaurants across the country. The segments are about the making of the burgers, some of them in ways you wouldn’t or couldn’t ever imagine, but the real focus of the film is the story of these establishments, some of which predate me, you, our parents, and even our grandparents. And per the film, some of these establishment’s long-time clientele are certainly old enough to be our grandparents.

So off we go to visit these hamburger emporiums. We’ll sample the burgers only visually of course, but it is interesting watching the owners of these places talk about their burgers and their restaurants which have become their life’s work. First stop: Memphis, Tennessee – where you can find Graceland, the home Elvis A. Presley, and on Beale Street, you will find Dyers World Famous Hamburgers. They proclaim that their burgers, which are deep-fried in 102 year old grease, are the best burgers anywhere. Dyers began in 1912, and the present owner… Dyers2 … Tom Robertson says the grease is processed and strained daily, but they’ve never thrown it out and started over, so somewhere in there, are molecules from 1912. Robertson said, I won’t reveal the ingredients with which they season the grease, but if your grease isn’t from 1912, it won’t matter anyway. Have you had your Vitamin G today, with G standing for grease?

He said on an average day, they sell anywhere from 300 to 500 burgers. As Robertson says – It’s all about the grease. If you’re watching your health at all, I’d recommend that you go next door.

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