Directed by Byron Hurt, Hazing explores the brutal culture of hazing with a particular focus on HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Hurt meditates on his own experience with hazing in a fraternity to explore why hazing, despite it being illegal in many states, still persists in college culture. Several victims who have died as a result of hazing are profiled. Their stories are harrowing and you can’t help but feel for their families. These needless deaths are a result of an ingrained culture in which young people are socialized to endure violence as a means of attaining respect in their given group. The initiated blindly trust the upperclassmen who then put them through barbaric rituals for no reason other than attaining pleasure from their own gross abuse of power.
Hazing has an important message to convey but it can get lost in a documentary format that is too long and a bit muddled.
Directed by Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman, Town Destroyer examines the contentious debate around Victor Arnautoff’s The Life of Washington. This 13 panel mural decorates the walls of George Washington High School in San Francisco, California. Installed in 1936, the murals tell the story of George Washington and includes images of violence against Native Americans and African Americans. Some see the art as subversive. By painting the scenes, Arnautoff seems to be both telling history and criticizing it. Others find the murals incredibly offensive and believe the art is perpetrating harmful stereotypes and further traumatizing minorities.
This film follows the recent battle among those who believe the mural should remain and others who believe it should be painted over. Many arguments are made and the documentary does an excellent job not taking sides. It’s up for the viewer to draw their own conclusion.
Town Destroyer is a fascinating documentary about the debate between free speech and social justice told through the lens of one controversial piece of art.
This documentary was screened at the 2022 Mill Valley Film Festival.
If you were a child of the ’80s and ’90s, chances are you watched the children’s television program Reading Rainbow and it had a profound effect on you. I was a PBS kid who really took to LeVar Burton’s gentle and inviting demeanor and seeing real kids like myself get excited about books. This influence and my natural curiosity sent me a lifelong journey of reading and loving books. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Just ask any Reading Rainbow kid and they’ll tell you the same: LeVar Burton made books cool and interesting.
“Anybody who worked with us and said oh, it’s just a kids show, never worked with us again.”
Directed by Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb and produced by Bryan Storkel, Butterfly in the Sky chronicles the extraordinary story behind Reading Rainbow, the figures who made it happen and its profound effect on the children who watched the show. The documentary also serves as a celebration for all the incredible work Burton and the production team, who were all interviewed for the film, put into Reading Rainbow.
The show premiered July 11, 1983 but production began as early as 1981. It was a hard sell to get a show about reading on the air and to convince book publishers that they should want their books on the program. While it took a couple of years for the show off the ground, once it did it really started having a profound effect. The show had a solid concept and structure that just made it work: a friendly host, an earworm of a theme song, a memorable catchphrase, book reviews by real kids, readings by celebrity guests, songs and documentary style segments that put the featured book into context. LeVar Burton turned out to be the perfect host. Kids watching felt like he was speaking directly to them. Burton insisted on authenticity, always preferring to be true to himself even when the producers didn’t agree with what he was doing, and this really made the show work.
Butterfly in the Sky is in the same vein as recent documentaries on PBS kids shows including Won’t You Be My Neighbor (2018) and Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street (2021), both of which are excellent in their own right. Butterfly in the Sky is relentlessly positive, even when the show’s many adversities are discussed (it also completely skips the tumultuous life of the brand after it went off the air in 2006). This film serves up a heaping dose of nostalgia while also enlightening viewers on the history and importance of this landmark television program.
Butterfly in the Sky was part of the 2022 Nashville Film Festival.
Set in Beirut, Lebanon, Warsha follows Mohammad (Khansa), a construction worker tasked with operating one of the tallest and most dangerous cranes in the city. Isolated and far away from his fellow workers and the city below, Mohammad has a moment of freedom, tapping into his most secret desire. The climb up to the crane and the fantasy sequence were absolutely breathtaking. I enjoyed the LGBTQ angle. Highly recommended.
Warsha screened at the 2022 Nashville Film Festival.
Lupe (Briza Covarrubias) is a hard-working Mexican-Navajo Diné woman just trying to make ends meet and support her family. When her mother Adamina (Paula Miranda) is hospitalized, Lupe will go to any length to acquire the funds needed for a possible life-saving procedure. Her quest to meet her father Carl (Micah Fitzgerald) and ask for his help leads her on a treacherous journey. Along the way she meets Maddy (Allee Sutton Hethcoat), a gun-toting cowgirl who is on the run from a dangerous cartel. The two form an unlikely bond as they join forces on a roadtrip through the Alta Valley.
Written and directed by Jesse Edwards, Alta Valley offers viewers a classic western style thriller as a platform to share the important story of the Diné people (given name: the Navajo). In his director’s statement, Edwards writes “this project is an honest and heartfelt attempt to make an action film, that starts an essential conversation around colonization, land ownership, and reparations toward Native American people.”
Alta Valley can at times be melodramatic and overwrought. However, its bolstered by interesting characters and its effectiveness as a message film. It explores themes of family, greed, language and land ownership with great respect for the Diné people. It flips the script on westerns of the past while also offering fans of the genre plenty of shoot outs and beautiful cinematography of the vast Utah landscape.
Alta Valley is having its world premiere at the 2022 Nashville Film Festival. Visit the official website for more details on the film.