Once again, PBS Distribution has released a documentary that demands viewing . . . and a place in your library. Make note, please: Nova: Holocaust Escape Tunnel, available now on DVD and also available for digital download.
For centuries, the Lithuanian city of Vilna was one of the most important Jewish centers in the world, earning the title “Jerusalem of the North,” until the Nazis destroyed it. About 95% of its Jewish population of Vilna, its name in Hebrew and Yiddish, was murdered and its synagogues and institutions were reduced to ruins. The Soviets finished the job, paving over the remnants of Vilna’s famous Great Synagogue, for example, so thoroughly that few today know it ever existed. Now, an international team of archaeologists are trying to recover this lost world. They will excavate the remains of its Great Synagogue and uncover one of Vilna’s greatest secrets: a lost escape tunnel dug by Jewish prisoners inside a horrific Nazi execution site.
After filmmaker Robert Mugge produced Black Wax with Gil Scott-Heron for Britain’s Channel 4 Television in 1982, he and Channel 4’s Commissioning Editor for Music Andy Park wanted to collaborate again. Park suggested Mugge create a portrait of African American gospel star Andraé Crouch. But Mugge, a longtime fan of soul and pop singer Al Green, countered that suggestion. Mugge figured that Green’s rejection of soul music to become a Memphis-based preacher and gospel singer perhaps made him a richer potential subject. (Interestingly, Green was kicked out of the family home while in his teens, after his religiously devout father caught him listening to Jackie Wilson).
Park agreed. Mugge needed 13 months to secure Green’s approval, getting his approval only days before the planned Seventh Anniversary Celebration of Green’s Full Gospel Tabernacle. That Sunday afternoon church service featured not only Green’s usual church choir and musicians, but also a second choir from Ellington, South Carolina and most of Green’s touring musicians and backup singers. Mugge arranged to document that December 18, 1983 service with three 16mm cameras and a 24-track audio recording truck, making it the first (and reportedly still the only) Al Green church service to be committed to film, Gospel According to Al Green.
While in Memphis, Mugge and his crew went on to film an interview with legendary Hi Records producer Willie Mitchell (who had produced and co-written Green’s commercial hits of the ‘70s), a studio rehearsal featuring Green and his musicians and an extended interview with Green himself. In Green’s interview, he explored his early days in the music business, his creation of such popular hits as “Tired of Being Alone” and “I Can’t Get Next to You”, the traumatic events that led to his abandoning of his successful soul and pop career, the purchase of the Memphis church building which he transformed into a church of his own, and the ways in which his soul and gospel backgrounds had each informed the other.
Perhaps the most emotional part of Green’s interview was his discussion of the so-called “hot grits incident,” wherein spurned girlfriend Mary Woodson White assaulted him in the shower of his Memphis home with a pot of boiling hot grits, then ran to another room of his house where she shot and killed herself. (Although she was already married, White reportedly became upset when Green refused to marry her). This interview, conducted two days after his church service, was the first occasion on which he discussed this experience publicly, and he included facts that even his own band members had never heard.
In February of 1984, Mugge also filmed Green and his band in concert at the Officers Club of Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., this time utilizing four 16mm cameras and the same Nashville-based 24-track recording truck he had hired to record the Memphis church service. It should be noted that, at that point in Rev. Green’s career, he had embraced the Southern fundamentalist notion that blues, rhythm ‘n’ blues, and rock n’ roll were “music of the Devil,” and that, therefore, he should now perform only gospel music.
However, among the numbers Green performed at the D.C. concert was Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” which exists somewhere between soul and gospel. In addition, during the staged rehearsal in Memphis, Green agreed to perform “Let’s Stay Together,” which had been one of his biggest commercial successes and now represented a recurring theme in the film. Along with fragments of a few more hits he performed during his interview, these songs helped to depict “Al Green the pop star” who had preceded “Al Green the pastor.”
Among the top Memphis musicians who appear in this film are, number one, Lawrence H. “Larry” Lee, Jr., who was best known for touring with Green and for performing at Woodstock and elsewhere with Jimi Hendrix’s Gypsy Sun and Rainbows; and number two, Mabon Lewis “Teenie” Hodges, who co-wrote Green’s hits “Take Me to the River” and “Love and Happiness” and toured and recorded widely as a guitarist with the Hi Records Rhythm Section. Lee can be seen performing in the church service and rehearsal sequences of the film, and Hodges can be heard, and briefly seen, playing incidental guitar behind Green during much of his interview. Sadly, both men are now deceased.
The resulting 96-minute film, Gospel According to Al Green, had its world premiere presentation in the summer of 1984 at Filmfest Munchen (a film festival in Munich, Germany), its television premiere over Britain’s Channel 4 later that fall, and its U.S. theatrical premiere at Coolidge Corner outside Boston a year later. After each of the two opening night screenings on October 25, 1985, Green sat on the Coolidge Corner stage and, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, freely offered the commercial hits that he had mostly refused to perform during the making of Mugge’s film, thereby demonstrating his storied unpredictability. Naturally, audience members at both shows were enchanted by his presentation, and since these and other premiere screenings, the film has been in constant release around the world.
As to Rev. Green—now Bishop Green—this past December, he and his congregation celebrated the fortieth anniversary of his Full Gospel Tabernacle church. For MVD Visual’s new worldwide Blu-ray and DVD releases, director Mugge has overseen 4K remastering of the film and created a new 17-minute video titled Soul and Spirit: Robert Mugge on the Making of Gospel According to Al Green. Other bonus features include audio of Green’s entire 1983 interview, audio of the climactic final hour of Green’s seventh anniversary church service, an extended film version of a key song from the church service, and the personal telephone answering machine message Green recorded for Mugge in the mid-’80s.
First Run Features continues to live up to its name. What else were you expecting?
FRF offers the Los Angeles theatrical premiere of As Good As Youon June 9 at Laemmle’s Music Hall. The lesbian drama/comedy—named winner of Best LGBT Film by Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival—marks the feature film debut of Heather de Michele. The screenplay is by Gretchen M. Michelfeld, executive produced by Michelfeld and produced by Reena Dutt. Another reason to celebrate Pride Week.
Laura Heisler leads an outstanding cast in this poignant and witty film about a bereaved woman searching for meaning and purpose in the aftermath of her wife’s death. Jo (Heisler) enlists her brother-in-law Jamie (Bryan Dechart) as a sperm donor in an effort to salvage her dream of raising a family. Along the way she leans a bit too heavily on her two best friends, a lesbian punk photographer named Lisa (Anna Fitzwater) and a straight male barfly named Nate (Raoul Bhaneja).
The film also features Peter Maloney, Karis Campbell, Elizabeth Herring and Annie Potts. The story is consistently tender in its portrayal of grief, even as the film becomes a kind of willful, triumphant comedy. Director de Michele navigates the tonal shifts with good timing, taste and craftsmanship.
Director Heather de Michele is a co-founder of the NY comedy troupe Lesbian Pulporama, which included playwright Michelfeld and her late partner. The film is inspired by Michelfeld’s own story and partly a tribute to her partner, also a performer in the troop who died in 2012, made by close personal friends. It is the first feature for both director and writer. In fact, de Michele’s partner plays Lisa in the film.
“Lesbian pregnancy, infertility, hormone shots, artificial insemination–these were subjects I hadn’t seen explored in film yet,” de Michele explains. “I told Gretchen she should get on that; then her partner got sick and it all stopped. Once she passed, too shortly thereafter, Gretchen dove back into her work. She needed to write. We were all grieving madly. The story of As Good As You became a hybrid of all of these experiences. It’s deeply personal for both of us. ”
He’s a dead boy, this Stiv Bators. He was one of the early American punk pioneers, and is primarily known for his work with The Dead Boys and The Lords of the New Church. Classic songs like “Sonic Reducer” and “Ain’t It Fun” continue to inspire fans and musicians from all walks of life.
While Bators made a few films (the camp classic John Waters film, Polyester; a cameo appearance as “Dick Slammer”, the lead singer of “The Blender Children” in the offbeat comedy, Tapeheads), he is now the subject of the upcoming Stiv: The Life and Times of Dead Boy. It will be the first film ever made about the rowdy and controversial performer, and his life will be documented through archive footage, photography, music and all-new interviews with the people who knew him.
Acclaimed director Danny Garcia will helm the project, and already has numerous punk documentaries under his belt, such as The Rise and Fall Of The Clash, Looking For Johnny and Sad Vacation: The Last Days Of Sid and Nancy.
Following in the same gritty underground style that has become Garcia’s hallmark, STIV: The Life and Times of a Dead Boy has a tentative release date of May 2018.
Bators died on June 4, 1990 in Paris, France. He was 40. Drugs? Nope. He 0was struck by a taxi in Paris. Though he was taken to a hospital, he left before seeing a doctor, after waiting several hours and assuming he was not injured. Reports indicate that he died in his sleep as the result of a traumatic brain injury. Bators, a fan of rock legend Jim Morrison, had earlier requested that his ashes be spread over Morrison’s Paris grave. He girlfriend Caroline complied.
In the director’s commentary of the film Polyester, John Waters stated that Bators’ girlfriend confessed to him that she snorted a portion of Stiv’s ashes to be closer to him.
It’s always important to fight for freedom. Always.
The next major big-screen fight will be found in the upcoming film Freedom Fight, starring Sam Neill, David Kross and Ella Purnell. in which Canadian actress Andrea Bucko and leads a cast of “next-generation” actors, in a harrowing portrayal of a true Cold War escape. Directed by Hungarian actor/director Endre Hules, Freedom Fight takes place in 1956, and vividly follows the first-person account of journalist Frank Iszak and his struggle to divert a domestic Hungarian flight across the Iron Curtain to safely find refuge in West Germany. The film is based on the book Free to All to Freedom.
The movie begins shooting this fall, and is director Endre Hules’ powerful follow-up to his CINE Golden Eagle Award-winning feature The Maiden Danced to Death. He is a director whose work has been seen on every continent and at more than 50 festivals, and Hules hand-picked Andrea Bucko’s for the role. “She has impressed me immediately with her talent as an actress,” he says. “Andrea’s sensibility and quirky sense of humor made her perfect for one of the film’s vital roles.”
Bucko brings to light the liberating journey that began on a rainy afternoon on Friday, July 13, 1956. She plays Monika, one of seven desperate young people boarded a twin engine DC-3 in the Eastern Bloc People’s Republic of Hungary, with plans to redirect it to freedom. They had no weapons, no map and no idea whether the plane carried enough fuel. They braved Russian MiG fighters in hot pursuit and a harrowing flight over the stormy Alps, without navigation. Failure would mean certain death.
It is a moment of ascension for the energetic actress. Bucko is a thoughtful artist making a name for herself in Hollywood by selecting ambitious projects that reveal with untold true stories. Freedom Flight adds to a series of films she has in the works, each drawing on historical incidents to create powerful narratives.
“Reading Frank Iszak’s inspiring true story, I felt it must be told,” she says. “Storytelling can make a difference and sometimes have a huge impact on the world. I want to make an impact with the stories I choose to be a part of.”
Other upcoming roles clearly demonstrate her sincere passion. She’s slated to portray Evelyn in Jubilee, a feature film by Mason Freeman that will star Peter Fonda and Tarynn Manning. This movie chronicles the path of the Underground Railroad and the lives of enslaved Americans seeking liberation on a long road towards justice. She will also play the role of Danielle Devert in another of her upcoming film projects, an international co-production that draws from the riveting facts of the 1973 kidnapping of Paul Getty III.
Want her sooner? Bucko will next be seen on camera in September as Trina in Neon Candy, a psychosexual thriller takes place in the early ’90s along Route 66 and the Las Vegas outskirts. written by Courtney Paige Theroux and directed by Kate Twa. The cast includes Sean Carrigan, Courtney Paige Theroux and Sarah Porchetta.
Do we dare say Bucko, known for the films Big Eyes, Gord’s Brother and Meridiem, is also eye candy?
How did an ordinary, middle-aged couple become a symbol of defiance against Nazi brutality?
Alone in Berlin, a true-life tale of courage from award-winning actor-director Vincent Perez, unfolds against the tumultuous backdrop of Berlin in 1940. Otto and Anna Quangel (portrayed by Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson) are a working-class husband and wife doing their best to ride out the war.
Everything changes, however, when their son is killed fighting on the front lines. They begin pouring their rage and grief into postcards emblazoned with anti-Nazi slogans, risking everything to disseminate their messages of protest across the city. But this seemingly small act of subversion rattles the regime, including a police inspector (Daniel Brühl) who will not rest until the culprits have been caught.
Based on the bestselling novel Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada, Alone in Berlin is both a gripping thriller and a stirring ode to resistance.
Whenever I heard the name “Iggy Pop” I smile. Broadly. Karz-Cohl published his book (I Need More!) in 1982, followed by mine (Liza! Liza!, named on of the Best Books of the Year by The New York Times). Now I learn that Cleopatra Entertainment LLC, the movie division of famed indie record label Cleopatra Records, has acquired all domestic rights to Starlight, a feature film by French film maker Sophie Blondy that has found a home on Blu-ray and VOD.
Set in the dunes near the North Sea, a small circus company is suffering from a serious lack of audience for their shows. Spectators are rare but the magic of the circus still thrives.
Each performer rehearses and performs new numbers, but this fragile balance will quickly shatter to unveil their real nature and their most obscure feelings. The circus will then become a place of romantic lust where each will use their powers to satisfy their desires.
Angele, the diaphanous ballerina, her clown lover Elliot and the circus ringmaster, full of cruelty and disturbed by fits of schizophrenia on one side. Zohra in love with Elliot, haunted by an uncanny conscience on the other side. Secrets, jealousy, envy will progressively take hold of them and trigger some irreversible acts. The life of the circus will then take a whole new turn. What does all this have to do with Mr. Pop? Iggy appears throughout the film as an “angel” type character.
Starlight was selected and screened at Tallinn-Black Nights Film Festival (Estonia, 2013); Montreal World Film Festival (Canada, 2013); Moscow-International Film Festival (Russia, 2013); Rendez-vous with New French Cinema in Rome (2013); and Rotterdam International Film Festival (Netherlands, 2013).
Drawing on deep access to key people on all sides of the battle, Frontline: American Patriot (PBS Distribution)investigates the standoffs that propelled the Bundy family into the national spotlight and the crosshairs of the federal government. With “Patriot” groups that rallied to the Bundys’ cause surging to levels not seen in decades, the film also reports on what’s next for the family and the wider movement around them. The riveting documentary will be available on DVD June 13; the program will also be available for digital download.
The effort traces the Bundy family’s story as ranchers in the high deserts of Nevada, grazing cattle for generations on federal land and ultimately going to war against the government.
Now, their fight has become a lot bigger.
What began as one family’s dispute with the government over grazing fees has reinvigorated a national movement of self-styled militias and “Patriots.” They believe the federal government has overstepped its authority, strayed from its founding principles, and is filled with agents they are duty-bound to oppose. They call themselves Oath Keepers, Constitutional Sheriffs, sovereign citizens, Three Percenters. And while each group has its own cause, they rally under the same banner: opposition to federal overreach.
Over the past several years, many of these “Patriots” have answered the Bundys’ call, taking up arms to defend against what they see as government infringement of their rights as American citizens. In 2014, armed men faced down the federal government at the Bundy ranch when agents came to impound their cattle. In the end, the federal agents backed down. Then, last year, armed “Patriots” again joined Ammon and Ryan when they occupied a federal wildlife preserve in Oregon to protest the imprisonment of fellow ranchers, the Hammonds, who were convicted of starting fires on federal lands. Last October, Ammon, Ryan and five other supporters were acquitted of federal charges relating to the occupation. A trial for the remaining defendants is scheduled to begin next month.
American Patriot and the accompanying written and audio story helps audiences to understand the Bundys, their fight and the people who have rallied to their cause.
Beneath the turquoise waves of the Bay of Naples lies an extraordinary underwater archeology site, the ancient Roman city of Baiae. From the first century to the third century AD, Baiae was the exclusive playground for the rich and powerful among Rome’s elite. What made Baiae such a special place? What really went on there? And why did it disappear?
For the first time, an international team of scientists, archaeologists and historians is meticulously mapping the underwater ruins and piecing together evidence that could provide answers to these questions in the riveting documentary Secrets of the Dead: Nero’s Sunken City. The DVD will be available on May 9; the program will also be available for digital download.
While some of Baiae’s ruins remain intact on land, more than half of this coastal city is submerged under water. These underwater ruins are three times the size of those in Pompeii. Archaeologists have found a network of roads, miles of brick walls and villas with rich marble floors, and splendid mosaics. But what they haven’t found are any identifiable public buildings, no forum, temple or market place.
The remains consist of one vast luxury villa after another–a Roman Beverly Hills–with elaborate spas and water features, marble statues inspired by Greek art, ponds for farming fish and more. The villas were like mini-cities. No expense was spared to create these seaside vacation homes where barges floating in the bay were the site of raucous parties.
More than any other emperor, Nero was infamous for his hedonism and Baiae was his escape. Here, he could indulge in his sadistic fantasies. But Baiae was more than a place of opulence, the Las Vegas of its day. It was also the site of some of the most treacherous political dealings of ancient Rome with Emperor Nero and his enemies hatching deadly plots against each other.
What lengths was Nero willing to take to gain his Aunt Domitia’s villa? What plans did Gaius Calpurnius Piso, a wealthy nobleman, have for the emperor as he vacationed at his villa? What scheme did Nero devise in Baiae to end the power struggle with his mother?
In the fourth century AD, seismic activity caused half of Baiae to sink into the bay. Located 150 miles south of Rome, Baiae remains one of the least explored places in the Roman Empire. Until now.
Manatees, parrots and turtles, oh my! There are important conservation efforts underway in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to protect its endangered native wildlife from extinction on land and sea. Once home to ancient rainforests that covered the Caribbean island when Columbus first landed in 1493, centuries of development have impacted Puerto Rico’s rich natural resources. By 1900, only five percent of its rainforests remained, causing a major loss of habitat.
Nature: Viva Puerto Rico(PBS Distribution)follows the work of three conservationists and the ways in which each is trying to restore populations of the island’s most endangered species: the Puerto Rican Amazon parrot, Leatherback turtle and the manatee. The documentary will be available on DVD May 16; the program will also be available for digital download.
The film states that there was a time when only 13 Puerto Rican Amazon parrots were left in existence. But wildlife biologist Jafet Vélez-Valentín, who manages the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program, has devoted his life to increasing their numbers. He and his team run a captive breeding program for these rare birds at an undisclosed location in the rainforest. They have developed techniques to improve the number of chicks that hatch. They employ exercise training for the juveniles to build up their wing muscles and increase their ability to fly long enough to evade predators in the wild. The episode documents the release of Vélez-Valentín’s largest ever flock, composed of 24 parrots, into El Yunque National Forest increasing the wild population by 10%.
The warm tropical waters surrounding Puerto Rico are home to five threatened native species of sea turtles. Carlos Diez is a world-renowned turtle conservationist whose research on the Hawksbill turtle led to an international trade ban on its shell. Diez documents the key evidence needed to make the legal case to protect a crucial nesting site of the endangered Leatherback turtle from potential development at Dorado Beach. At night, a female Leatherback emerges from the sea to dig her nest two feet down in the sand, then lays about 80 eggs. Two months later, the last of the hatchlings are seen at sunrise making a mad dash to the ocean to evade capture by sea birds. Diez then presents his testimony in court along with other members of the community and the judge decides the fate of the beach.
The final story takes place at the Manatee Conservation Center where Dr. Antonio (“Tony”) Mignucci and his team care for, treat, and rehabilitate injured and stranded marine mammals. The film focuses on Mignucci’s efforts to prepare two juvenile manatees for a return to the sea. Before that happens, they will need to weigh at least 600 pounds each and be in good health.
With only 700 manatees left in the Puerto Rican waters, it is hoped the two manatees, a male and female, will also breed when they are released. When it’s time to transport the pair to a fenced off area of a bay to allow them time to acclimatize, the Center receives all kinds of help from the National Guard, Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, the police, and dozens of volunteers. In three months, the gates to the sea pen will open to allow the manatees to head into the ocean. As for the island’s rainforests, more than 60 percent are starting to recover as conservation awareness and efforts continue to be adopted by the people of Puerto Rico.
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