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CategoryDocumentaries

Double Exposure: The Other Little Black Book

“Jeffrey Epstein got away with what he got away with because of who was in his address book.”

— John Cook, The Insider

Directed by Barbara Corbellini Duarte and Mark Adam Miller, The Other Little Black Book is a fascinating short documentary about a recently discovered “little black book” that may have been owned by Jeffrey Epstein. 

In the mid-1990s, Denise Ondayko discovered  the address book on a 5th Avenue sidewalk in New York City. Decades later, collector of the obscurities, Christopher Helali, took ownership of the book, sending it off to Insider for authentication.  That little book is a small window into a world of power and corruption.

The Other Little Black Book was part of the 2022 Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival

Mill Valley Film Festival: Town Destroyer

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.

Nashville Film Festival: Old Friends, A Dogumentary

What happens to old dogs when their owners either no longer want them or can no longer care of them? Many of these dogs are put down. Others languish in shelters. These dogs are not as appealing to adopters. Their days are dwindling and many suffer from health issues that require expensive treatments. But what if there was a way to extend the quality of life for elder pups? What if they could enjoy their final days in a happy environment where all of their physical and emotional needs met? For Zina and Michael Goodwin, this was the goal. At first they began caring for a few elderly dogs. And then they took care of more. And more. A few became many. While some dogs lived for just a few weeks or a few months more, those final days were happy ones.

Directed by Gorman Bechard, Old Friends, A Dogumentary is the story of the Goodwins and their elderly dog sanctuary Old Friends in Mount Juliet, Tennessee. What started as a small charitable effort out of the Goodwin’s home blossomed into a whole operation complete with a state-of-the-art facility. Old Friends has an on-site veterinary hospital, full-time caretakers and even physical therapists on hand to care for these dogs in their final days. It’s like an upscale retirement home for elderly dogs. They manage a dog’s health problems, are regularly evaluating their residents quality of life and even work on problem behaviors. They’re regularly expanding and by the end of the documentary we see their plans for the near future. Old Friends is funded by donations and have found much support from their social media. Members of the local community, referred to as Geezer Guardians, help out by fostering the dogs and essentially expanding Old Friends’ efforts. 

This is a very bare bones (pun intended) documentary. It watches more like a very long advertisement for Old Friends than it does an actual documentary. However, dog lovers, like myself, will easily overlook this as the film’s story pulls on our heart strings. You’ll want to have some tissues nearby because it will leave you a sobbing mess. 

Old Friends, A Dogumentary is a relentlessly positive and uplifting film that will appeal to anyone who truly loves dogs.

Old Dogs, A Dogumentary premiered at the 2022 Nashville Film Festival.

Nashville Film Festival: Butterfly in the Sky

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.

Free Puppies! The True Story of Rescue Dogs

Directed and produced by Samantha Wishman and Christina Thomas, Free Puppies!: The True Story of Rescue Dogs explores the lives of abandoned and neglected dogs in the rural South and the extraordinary efforts made to rescue them and to control the ever-growing population in the community.

This documentary focuses primarily on the work of Monda Wooten, a small business owner and city commissioner for Trenton, Georgia, who has made it her life’s mission to help rescue dogs in her area.  We follow along as Wooten and other rescuers as they work with locals to get dogs spayed and neutered and to place abandoned dogs in loving homes. 

This film really touched my heart because my dog Rollie is a rescue from a rural region of West Virginia. He and another dog were abandoned on the side of the road and with the help of a nice lady they were rescued, fostered and ultimately transported up to New England where they were adopted.

A rescue puppy arrives on transport and meets her new owner at the Vince Lombardi Service Station in NJ, as seen in Free Puppies!, a film by Samantha Wishman and Christina Thomas. A First Run Features release. (Photo courtesy of First Run Features)

The work Wooten and the rescuers do is invaluable, especially all of their efforts to make spaying and neutering affordable for low-income families. In the doc we see a veterinarian whose sole job is to spay and neuter which keeps her overhead costs down so she can offer the service to these communities. This is such a fantastic idea.

Free Puppies! will take viewers on a gentle rollercoaster ride of hope and heartbreak. It’s both rewarding to see the rescuers at work and sad to see the state of things. This film offers an abundance of empathy for both the dogs and the people in the community.

Free Puppies! is distributed by First Run Features. It hits theaters across North America on August 12th, 2022. Visit the official website for more details.

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