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AFI Fest: Golden Age Karate

From a very young age, Jeff Wall showed that he had the chops to be an athlete. When his mom enrolled him in karate classes he thrived. He won pretty much every competition he entered into and quickly moved up the ranks to earn his black belt. It wasn’t enough to just compete, he wanted to share his love with others. In Sindha Agha’s short film Golden Age Karate, we see Wall teach karate to elderly residents at a local nursing home. He empowers his students by teaching them something new and helping them get in tune with their bodies. This delightful and heartfelt documentary short is a glimmer of hope in an era of generational strife.

Golden Age Karate premiered at the 2021 AFI Fest as part of their Meet the Press programming.

How They Got Over: Gospel Quartets and the Road to Rock & Roll

Produced by Robert Clem and Mike Tannen, How They Got Over is a vibrant tribute to the gospel quartets of the early to mid-20th Century. Groups like the Soul Stirrers, Dixie Hummingbirds, Highway QCs and the Blind Boys of Alabama, performed all over the country bringing their energy and exuberant showmanship to eager audiences. Gospel quartets became so incredibly popular especially with their spirited performances, that they went on to  have a major impact on secular music, in particular R&B and Rock and Roll. The same emotion put into a song of worship could easily be transferred to love songs. Some artists like Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin and Lou Rawls got their start in gospel before making the transition over to secular. And once that transition was made, artists were no longer welcomed back into the tight knit world of gospel music.

Gospel quartets and their influence on the energy and style of rock and roll has been overlooked and  How They Got Over seeks to change that. I would have liked to have seen more analysis of the correlations between gospel and rock and roll. Overall the film could have used more structure and a more defined purpose.

With that said, this documentary is a time capsule gem that gives viewers insight into the importance of these black artists and what they brought to the world of music. It boasts plenty of footage of those spirited performances by gospel quartets it’s clear to see how secular musicians, like James Brown and Elvis Presley, fed off that energy and imbued their own performances with it. In addition to a historical timeline of how gospel quartets were born out of spiritual, minstrel and jubilee singers, there are also several interviews with gospel quartet singers who are now no longer with us. A must-see for anyone interested in music history.

How They Got Over hits theaters both live and virtual today. Visit the First Run Features website for more details.

Somewhere With No Bridges

It’s been more than two decades since fisherman Richie Madeiras perished off the coast of Oak Bluffs in Martha’s Vineyard. His distant cousin Charles Frank revisits the life of this much beloved husband, father and friend by creating a moving tapestry of memories. He visits Oak Bluffs, ventures out with Richie’s son and his best friend, interviews those who knew and loved Richie best and even interviews his mother and father. This eulogy paints a portrait of a dynamic character, full of life, who was tragically taken from his loved ones and his community far too soon. The documentary is a tone poem, weaving tender memories and powerful visuals into a lyrical piece that will envelop the viewer. Somewhere With No Bridges is unlike any biographical documentary I’ve ever seen. It requires patience and calm, which is a welcome respite in our fast-paced world.

“My greatest hope is that this film will remind anyone that feels divided or distant from someone they love to search for that one thing that connects them. To build a bridge in a place that seems to have none.”

Director/writer/producer Charles Frank

Somewhere With No Bridges releases Spring 2022 from First Run Features.

Double Exposure Film Festival: Elena

Elena is a 20-something social worker living in the Dominican Republic. She’s the daughter of a Haitian sugar cane worker and is struggling to get her government issued ID so she can continue her work. An ID would allow her to vote, give her more rights as a citizen and open up educational and career opportunities for her. But there is a deep-seated animosity that Dominicans feel towards Haitian immigrants. It’s one that is deeply entrenched into the history of the Hispaniola and is not changing anytime soon.

Directed by Michèle Stephenson, Elena is a moving short documentary about the strife between Haitians and Dominicans as told the story of one woman. I’m half Dominican and have studied the history of my mother’s homeland over the years. Anyone who has read Edwidge Danticat’s The Farming of Bones or knows anything about Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo’s  government imposed massacre of Haitian immigrants will know that this has been a longstanding problem on the island. For others, Elena will serve as a gentle and worthwhile introduction to this ongoing conflict. Stephenson chose a great subject for this poignant documentary. I was thoroughly invested in Elena’s story and by the end felt I like I made a new friend.

Elena was part of the 2021 Double Exposure Film Festival.

Double Exposure Film Festival: Burning

The Australian bushfires of 2019/2020,  aka the “black summer”, was one of the most devastating natural disasters in recent history. It would have been one of the defining events of 2020 had the COVID pandemic not spread like wildfire around the world. Over 59 million acres burned causing mass devastation to homes, forests and wildlife and 33 people lost their lives. This catastrophic event is a prime example of the consequences of climate change but many, including Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison, continue to ignore the warning bells.

Directed by Eva Orner, Burning is a sobering look at the effects of climate change. It’s brutal, unflinching and unfortunately necessary to watch. I’m not sure climate change deniers will be convinced that this situation is real and not caused by “arsons”. But it is enough to wake up anyone even remotely worried about the future of our planet.

Trigger warning: there are images of raging fires and dead animals that some viewers will find disturbing.

Burning was part of the 2021 Double Exposure Film Festival.

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