Skip to content

TagFirst Run Features

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.


“One of the greatest writers America ever produced.”

Nelson Algren gave a voice to the voiceless. The Detroit-born writer made his way to Chicago where he became fascinated with that city’s seedy underbelly. He got to know those whom the American dream was elusive and every day meant trying to survive some battle. Algren got to know and eventually wrote about junkies, drug dealers, pimps, hookers, gamblers, drunks, etc. He became the poet for the disenfranchised with novels like The Neon Wilderness and A Walk on the Wildside. He’s best known for his 1949 novel The Man With the Golden Arm which was the first to win a National Book Award for Fiction. It went on to be adapted in 1955 by director Otto Preminger and stars Frank Sinatra, Kim Novak and Eleanor Parker. Even with that acclaim, his novels were poorly packaged and marketed, portraying Algren as a master of pulp rather than a literary genius.

“Nelson Algren told the stories of the people who came out of WWII yet who could never achieve the American Dream. Those people are still with us, still being kept down by a brutal and unfair system. It is my hope that by telling Algren’s story, that the next generation will be similarly inspired to focus on the people at the bottom, those whose tales still need to be told.”

Michael Caplan

Director Michael Caplan’s documentary conveys the importance of Nelson Algren’s life and literary contributions through interviews with the people who admired him best. Talking heads include artists, professors, writers, booksellers, film directors and friends. Notable figures include Billy Corgan and William Friedkin. It’s clear that these interviewees admired Algren for his genius and his singular personality. There is also plenty of archival footage and photos, as well as narration of what I believe is Algren’s memoirs. The documentary explores Algren’s journey from journalism to fiction writing, his torrid affair with writer Simone de Beauvoir, his relationship with Chicago and much more. The documentary can be hokey at times. Although I wished it was a bit more polished, I was transfixed by Algren’s story. 

Algren is a compelling documentary about a literary genius who became a voice for America’s disenfranchised.

Algren opens in theaters October 1st. Visit the First Run Features website for more details.

Hot to Trot: Inside the World of Same-Sex Competitive Ballroom Dance

“Dancing is the vertical expression of a horizontal desire.” 

In the world of ballroom dancing, there is a strict gender construct. Men and women. That’s it. To qualify for competition you must have a male dancer as leader and a female dancer as follower. But where does leave members of the LGBTQ community? Rejecting the mainstream ballroom scene, a group of dancers have sought out their own way to participate in their beloved dancesport.

“It makes a difference when you get to dance with the gender you prefer.” – Benjamin Soencksen

In a new documentary by director and producer Gail Freedman, Hot to Trot explores the little known world of same sex ballroom dance. It follows the story of six dancers as they prepare for the 2014 Gay Games, the largest and most prestigious international same-sex dance competition in the world. In NYC we have Ernesto Palma, a former meth addict from Costa Rica who found a new appreciation for taking care of his body and embraces his love of dance. He starts off with partner Robbie Tristan, a Hungarian ballroom champ who runs a dance studio. But when Tristan has to leave the country for urgent medical care, he begins a new partnership with Nikola Shpakov, a Russian dancer who is coming to terms with his sexuality and his father’s traditional values. In San Francisco there is Emily Coles, a diabetic who wears an insulin pump 24/7, and Kieren Jameson, her dance partner. Coles struggles with her medical condition while pursuing her passion for dance. As Jameson starts to slip away, she recruits her partner Katerina Blinova to help her compete.


“Dance relationships are intimate in a way that no other relationship is.” – Emily Coles

The documentary follows these dancers over the span of four years leading up to the 2014 Gay Games in Cleveland, Ohio and beyond. The film includes extensive interviews with the dances as well as their family members and spouses and judges, dance organizers and coaches. We follow as they train, compete and fall in love. Ballroom dancing is an emotional experience and the physicality of it requires the partners to be in tune with each other. It’s fascinating to see how the different pairs struggle with this as they prepare for the big day.

As a former non-competitive dancer, I was particularly fascinating with the training process. But what drew me in was how these dancers are breaking down gender binaries by rejecting the mainstream notion of male-female ballroom dancing. I wish the film had explored how these dancers made a living outside of their sport. I wanted to learn more about Tristan’s dance studio and what dream job was drawing Jameson away from ballroom dance. Did the dance support them enough or did they all have to work full-time jobs to make ends meet?

Hot to Trot shines a spotlight on the little-known world of same-sex ballroom dance and gives the dancers the platform they deserve. Their stories are joyful but come from a place of emotional pain. This compelling documentary is a must-see for anyone interested in dance or the LGBTQ community.

Hot to Trot opens August 24th at the Quad Cinema in New York City and September 14th at the Laemmle in Los Angeles. Other cities to follow. Visit the First Run Features website for more information.

Update: Hot to Trot is available on iTunes and Amazon VOD 1/29/19 and on DVD 2/5/19.

%d bloggers like this: