Thursday, May 14, 2015

Ridiculous Netflix: Sterlin Harjo Discusses Netflix and Adam Sandler’s Ridiculous Six

“The movie has ‘ridiculous’ in the title for a reason — because it’s ridiculous. It is a broad satire of Western movies and the stereotypes they popularized, featuring a diverse cast that is not only part of — but in on — the joke.”

So comments Netflix in the wake of the recent exodus of a dozen Native American extras from the set of Adam Sandler’s Ridiculous Six, its first film in a four-movie deal with Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions. The comedy features characters with names like “Beaver’s Breath” and “No Bra,” so, yes, “ridiculous” certainly seems to be the aim of the script. Yet what’s even more ridiculous is Netflix’s tone-deaf assertion that the film features a cast “in on the joke.” Really?

I decided to approach Sundance vet Sterlin Harjo (Four Sheets to the Wind, Barking Water), who I interviewed prior to the 2014 Park City premiere of This May Be the Last Time – a very personal documentary that looks back at the events behind the mysterious disappearance of Harjo’s grandfather, alongside the history of the Muscogee (Creek) hymns the Seminole community sang as it searched for him. Harjo, whose latest Mekko is set to debut at the Los Angeles Film Festival, is not only refreshingly vocal about what he sees as pragmatic solutions to Hollywood’s insidiously ingrained misrepresentations of indigenous people, but also about avoiding unintentionally harmful easy fixes. (Hint: Don’t cancel that Netflix subscription just yet.)

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Monday, May 4, 2015

An Interview With the Directors of Kumu Hina, A Hawaiian Transgender Story

Mark your calendars and set your DVRs. If orange is the new black, then Hawaii is the new cool state. Premiering Monday, May 4th on PBS’s Independent Lens is Kumu Hina, Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson’s uplifting portrait of gender and cultural empowerment in the Pacific. This enthralling documentary follows titular subject Kumu (“Teacher”) Hina Wong-Kalu, a married woman and dedicated cultural mentor at a native Hawaiian school who also happens to be māhū – or what the west would call a transgender person. As we watch Hina ready her all-male hula troop (which includes one kickass sixth-grader, born female but an out-and-proud māhū) for their year-end performance, and struggle in her relationship with a heterosexual, cisgender Tongan man, what emerges is something extraordinary. Through their patient, cinema vérité style, Hamer and Wilson give us a glimpse into a world where aloha – “love, honor and respect for all” – is not just a catchy word or an abstract idea, but truly a way of life.

I was fortunate enough to speak with the award-winning co-directors prior to the doc’s public broadcasting debut (programmed in celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month).

To read my interview visit Global Comment.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

(T)ERROR at the Tribeca Film Festival 2015: An Interview with Director David Felix Sutcliffe

Executive produced by Eugene Jarecki (“The House I Live In,” “Why We Fight”), and winner of the 2015 Sundance Special Jury Prize for Break Out First Feature, co-directors Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe’s (T)ERROR is an eye-opening look at one place where our war on terror, taxpayer dollars are going – namely to guys like the doc’s main subject Saeed “Shariff” Torres, a sixtysomething FBI informant and onetime Black Panther. Though the flick has the distinction of being “the first documentary to place filmmakers on the ground during an active FBI counterterrorism sting operation,” what’s most notable about (T)ERROR is not the dubious tactics Shariff uses to befriend an (American) Taliban-loving target. No, it’s the way the Bureau itself has created a sinister system, one in which down on their luck dudes like Shariff are lured then entrapped in a disturbing economic cycle, building case after case just to get to the next payday.

I caught up with co-director David Felix Sutcliffe prior to the doc’s April 16th Tribeca Film Festival premiere.

To read my interview visit Global Comment.

Monday, April 20, 2015

“Your Obstacles are Basically Everything”: Writer/Actress/Producer Naomi McDougall Jones Talks Grassroots Female Filmmaking

Once again, the two-decade-old Bermuda International Film Festival, where I’m on the international advisory board, provided some truly unique networking opportunities. While I didn’t find myself star-struck like at last year’s fest – when I had the once in a lifetime chance to serve on a jury with a spry legend, Kubrick’s producer and brother-in-law Jan Harlan – the 2015 edition hosted several impressive names. Rounding out this year’s Academy Award qualifying shorts jury were producer/writer Hilary Saltzman (daughter of Harry Saltzman, best known as the producer of the first nine Bond films), the inimitable Killer Films co-founder Christine Vachon, and Oscar-nominated screenwriter Craig Borten (Dallas Buyers Club).

The Dallas Buyers Club scribe also participated in a workshop titled “The Write Stuff” alongside screenwriter James V. Hart (Spielberg’s Hook), Bermudian filmmaker Lucinda Spurling, and NYC-based writer/actress/producer Naomi McDougall Jones (Imagine I’m Beautiful) – whose contagious passion for DIY filmmaking from a female POV made me want to hear more. (Indeed, if she weren’t so busy making movies Jones could easily serve as an independent filmmaker life coach, having penned pieces with titles like “Why It’s a Great Time to Be an Independent Filmmaker” and “Being the Change.”)

Filmmaker decided to follow up post-fest with this multi-hyphenate artist who believes that, “while it’s good that Lena (Dunham) has a seat at the table, we don’t just want a seat. We would like a whole table.”

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Three Must-Sees at the Tribeca Film Festival 2015

Running April 15th-26th the Tribeca Film Festival, NYC’s own Hollywood on the Hudson, has become a borderline unwieldy affair over the past few years. In addition to the usual film festival talks, panels and parties – and, uh, screenings – there are now mini festivals within the festival. For example, Storyscapes, sponsored by Bombay Sapphire, is dedicated to immersive projects, while the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival features mostly (stellar) sports docs. Indeed, there’s a corporate-branded something for everyone – including, thankfully, me. So as a certified documentary junkie I decided to stay away from the glitz, and survey several nonfiction films in this 2015 lineup. The following are just three of my top picks – which cover ground from southern Africa, to Castro’s Cuba, to the South Side of Chicago – all enthralling slices of life that prove that this 13-year-old fest still knows how to mix deep substance with glammy chic.

To find out my picks visit Global Comment.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Director Ronni Thomas on Walter Potter: The Man Who Married Kittens

If you’re a fan of Victorian anthropomorphic tableaux then Walter Potter needs no introduction. For those not in the know (and in NYC), head over to this year’s Tribeca Film Festival where Walter Potter: The Man Who Married Kittens screens starting April 18th. This fascinating documentary short is the brainchild of Brooklyn filmmaker (and connoisseur of the strange) Ronni Thomas, who tackles his titular subject – an English taxidermist who died nearly a century ago after founding a museum dedicated to his whimsical and unsettling dioramas – via five modern-day Potter enthusiasts. From taxidermied cats having a tea and croquet party to 48 stuffed bunnies immersed in schoolwork – to yes, those elaborate kitten nuptials – you’re guaranteed a one-of-a-kind viewing experience. Not to mention some unforgettable, post-screening show and tell. Filmmaker was fortunate enough to speak with the Morbid Anatomy Museum’s “filmmaker in residence” prior to the doc’s Tribeca premiere.

To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.