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John Lewis: Good Trouble

“The vote is still the most powerful non-violent instrument or tool we have in a democratic society and we must use it.”

John Lewis

We live in turbulent times and it’s difficult to stay optimistic when the future looks grim. One man in particular has been able to sustain a sense of hope and determination that things will change for the better. Over the course of nearly 60 years of public service, this man has paved the way forward with his philosophy for non-violent protest and his own indestructible resolve for doing good. That man is Civil Rights leader and U.S. Representative for Georgia John Lewis. And he has one piece of advice for you: “get into good trouble, necessary trouble.”

Protestors and police officers on Bloody Sunday, in JOHN LEWIS: GOOD TROUBLE, a Magnolia Pictures release. © Spider Martin. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. 

Directed by Dawn Porter, John Lewis: Good Trouble chronicles the life and political career of an extraordinary man. Something that is key to making a good documentary is access. In this film there is seemingly unfettered access to John Lewis himself. We also hear from his brothers and sisters, his staff and many big names in politics. Talking heads include Elijah Cummings (to whom the film is dedicated), Hillary and Bill Clinton, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Nancy Pelosi, Eric Holder and others. The film conveys a sense of gratitude and appreciation for John Lewis’ work and we hear this through the words of politicians and every day people who approached Lewis to offer words of gratitude and appreciation. At the center of it all is Lewis who guides the viewer through his life’s journey.

Porter’s documentary covers the broad spectrum of Lewis’ career in civil service and politics. Lewis got an early start in the Civil Rights Movement when he wrote a letter to Martin Luther King Jr. at the age of 17. Soon he was a member of the Freedom Riders and was one of the key figures protesting on Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. He was arrested 45 times, often severely beaten by aggressors. Lewis’s transition to politics was a natural one. He studied non-violence as a philosophy and has been a staunch believer in that form of protest ever since. He’s been a member of Congress since 1987 and as the film so aptly demonstrates, Lewis is still as active in politics as when he first started.

“John Lewis has consistently delivered a message of doing your best, being honorable, and respecting others for the past 65+ years. I think it’s really needed at this particular moment in history.”

Dawn Porter
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

John Lewis: Good Trouble serves as a much needed call-to-action during troubling times.

John Lewis: Good Trouble is available in virtual cinemas and on demand today. Visit Magnolia Pictures’ website for more information.

Out of My Head

Migraines are not created equal. Everyone has a different experience with them; all traumatic, all painful, but very different. A severe headache is only one aspect of the condition. Some suffer nausea, sensitivity to light, indigestion and fatigue. Others have slurred speech, partial paralysis, vision disturbances and even temporary blindness. Migraines are debilitating. To those who have never suffered from them, they cannot fully appreciate how one can take their target prisoner and make their life a living hell. Migraines are triggered by many things. Sometimes it’s food, smells, stress, anxiety, or emotional trauma. Sometimes it’s completely unpredictable and strikes at the worst times. 

I’ve suffered migraines for well over a decade. During a migraine attack I get a pain so severe that it feels like someone stabbed me in the head. My migraines come with a flare up of IBS, a feeling of disorientation and often lack of concentration and sometimes coordination. Painkillers dull the experience but no longer make it go away. After years of trying to pinpoint my triggers I recently discovered that it’s anxiety. As soon as I went on anxiety medication for another condition (undiagnosed severe physical anxiety) my migraines have for the most part gone away. The medication seems to calm the chaos in my brain that triggers these episodes. But I’m just one case. Every migraine sufferer has a different story to tell. And one film gives them a platform to share their pain.

Written and directed by Susanna Styron and produced by Jacki Ochs, Out of My Head helps migraine sufferers feel validation for their condition and helps legitimize their experience to those who cannot fully comprehend the pain their loved ones are going through.

Styron’s daughter Emma suffers from migraines that cause temporary blindness. She was inspired to make this documentary not only to tell the her daughter’s story but also to shed some light on this mysterious and often misunderstood condition. The film includes extensive interviews with a variety of subjects including real migraine sufferers, doctors, professors, sociologists and headache specialists. Interwoven throughout the documentary are animated sequences that follow Emma on her migraine journey.

Every aspect of the migraine is explored from the scientific, to the sociological to the personal. Migraines disproportionately affect women. 75% of migraine sufferers are female. It can strike at a young age with a different presentation of symptoms. It can be hereditary. And by and large, it is highly misunderstood. 

Out of My Head cracks open the mystery behind migraines and gives those with this condition a voice. The biggest takeaway from this film is that migraines need to be taken seriously.

Watch it. Share it. Out of My Head is an important documentary.

Out of My Head will be available on DVD and video on demand through Kino Lorber on June 9th.

Bull

14-year-old Kris (Amber Havard) is restless. With her mother in jail, she and her sister are spending the summer with their aunt. To impress the local kids, she breaks into the house of neighbor Abe Turner (Rob Morgan), a rodeo clown away at work. Kris hosts a wild party leaving Abe’s home a total disaster. It’s obvious that Kris is going down the same path as her mom, one of crime and recklessness. A deal is made in which Kris will pay for her break-in by cleaning Abe’s house and doing chores for him. Kris is swept up in the world of the rodeo and develops an interest in bull riding. Abe, tortured by old injuries and a penchant for drink, sees his livelihood slipping away from him. Will Kris and Abe be able to help each other before their lives spiral out of control?

Directed and co-written by Annie Silverstein, Bull is a meandering drama that explores the pains of self-destruction. The film takes its time with its characters. There is no rush to get to any big event or final conclusion. This allows viewers to really settle into this world. The film’s major weakness is having a principal character, Kris, with no redeeming qualities. It’s clear that she’s following in her mother’s footsteps and is lacking the guidance to put her on the right path. But there is very little, if anything, to make us empathize with her plight. Abe is a more dynamic and complex character. By the end, the film left me frustrated and ready to move on.

Bull is available on VOD through Samuel Goldwyn Films. You can watch it on Amazon Prime, iTunes and other platforms.

A Towering Task: The Story of the Peace Corps

“Helping other nations build the strength to meet their own problems, to satisfy their own aspirations, to surmount their own dangers. The problems in achieving this goal are towering and unprecedented. The response must be towering and unprecedented.”

President John F. Kennedy

The Ugly American by William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick, published in 1958, demonstrated how Americans working abroad failed to integrate with local communities allowing Russians, who did in fact integrate, to spread Communism. President John F. Kennedy read the book and was spurred to action. His goal was to have Americans volunteer to combat hunger, fight for civil rights and promote world peace by working within the communities they were helping. On September 22nd, 1961, Congress voted to make the Peace Corps a permanent agency.

“To help young Americans understand the rest of the world is vital to American leadership. How can you lead a world you don’t understand?”

Photo courtesy of First Run Features

Directed by Alana DeJoseph and narrated by Annette Bening, A Towering Task: The Story of the Peace Corps is a soup to nuts exploration of the history of this government sponsored volunteer program from 1961 to present day. Viewers learn how the agency has evolved over several presidential administrations with notable high and low points. The documentary features extensive interviews with Peace Corps staff, former volunteers and experts. Notable talking heads include former president Jimmy Carter, Maria Shriver, U.S. representative Joe Kennedy III and former Peace Corps director Carrie Hessler-Radelet. There is plenty of archival footage and photographs of those early days of the Peace Corps. The phrase “A Towering Task” is reference to a document that Sargent Shriver, who was assigned by JFK to put his idea into action, and his task force wrote laying out the plans for the Peace Corps.

Perhaps the documentary’s most significant impact will have is through the voice of the volunteers. The story of Peace Corps volunteers in the Dominican Republic today (helping develop an ecotourism business) and during the revolution in the 1960s is very inspiring. My mother’s family lived through that revolution and received help from Peace Corps volunteers. I was particularly moved by one Dominican woman’s account of how a volunteer brought her rice and beans when she would have otherwise starved.

At first I felt the documentary might whitewash the history of the Peace Corps. However, it does explore some of the issues that have plagued the agency including its reputation as a haven for draft dodgers as well as the inaction on the part of higher ups to address sexual assault. It also discusses whistleblower Kate Puzey, a volunteer murdered in Benin. The film addresses the recent Ebola outbreak in Africa but was made before the current Coronavirus pandemic in which the Peace Corps, for the first time in its history, pulled all of its volunteers from service. 

A Towering Task: The Story of the Peace Corps is a comprehensive look at the history of an agency born out of both patriotism and altruism in an effort to good for mankind.

A Towering Task will have a virtual theatrical release on May 22nd. Visit the First Run Features website for more information.

SXSW: I Will Make You Mine

Rachel (Lynn Chen), Erika (Ayako Fujitani) and Yea-Ming (Yea-Ming Chen) have one thing in common: Goh Nakamura. All three women have romantic ties to the singer-songwriter. Rachel lives a cushy life with her wealthy caucasian husband. His marital indiscretions sour the relationship and Rachel rekindles her feelings for her childhood friend. Erika is a professor and Goh’s ex-wife. They have a daughter together, Sachiko (Ayami Riley Tomine), and the two are reunited when Erika makes arrangements for her father’s funeral. Yea-Ming is a free spirit. Like Goh, she’s a singer-songwriter. She’s been trying for years to make it in the music business and she gets some inspiration from Goh when he’s back in town.

I Will Make You Mine is a beautifully sensitive and lyrical film. It explores the deep emotional bonds of the past and how they can be reignited years later. The film was written, produced and directed by Lynn Chen who also stars as Rachel. It was shot in black-and-white and is Chen’s debut as a screenwriter and director of a feature film. Music is an important part of the film and both Goh Nakamura and Yea-Ming Chen (who play versions of themselves) perform. Yea-Ming sings a beautiful rendition of the title song and the credits roll with Goh performing a touching acoustic number.

“The feeling I most want to share with I Will Make You Mine is hope. Hope that it’s not too late to be the person you dreamed you would be.”

Lynn Chen

I Will Make You Mine was set to have its world premiere at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival. Gravitas Ventures is releasing the film on demand and digital on May 26th. You can pre-order the film on iTunes.

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