Amos Carlen and Aline Robichaud’s new documentary Shadows of Freedom tells the story of the organized Jewish resistance movement in Algiers during WWII and its involvement in Operation Torch, an Allied invasion of French North Africa in 1940. Over the years more information about Jewish resistance has come to light. But the Algerian story is not one that is often discussed. It’s been swept under the rug because this event, an attack on the Vichy French in an effort to support the Free French, is considered low point in French history. The history of Operation Torch has also been eclipsed by other more celebrated invasions including the one on Normandy. However, Operation Torch, which was part of the Anglo-American alliance, was key to giving Allied forces an advantage in future battles with Nazy Germany.
Shadows of Freedom serves an important role in enlightening and informing its audience about Jewish persecution in Algiers as well as the staged coup that successfully ousted Vichy Admiral François Darlan. The resistance movement was made up of young Jewish French men, motivated by persecution to fight back. The documentary offers archival interview footage of various key players in the movement. Several experts, professors, policy makers and historians, offer key insights into this little known movement. The history of Jews during WWII often focuses on the Holocaust and rightly so. However, it’s important to know, understand and appreciate how Jews fought back against oppression.
Shadows of Freedom is informative and enlightening but doesn’t offer anything beyond the usual documentary fare. Archival footage, talking heads, narration and talking head interviews make up the basic structure. The history of Operation Torch itself is convoluted and hard to follow. If you’re interested in WWII history and want to learn something new, Shadows of Freedom will be worth a watch.
Shadows of Freedom is available on VOD through iTunes, Google Play and other platforms.
Ever watch two people in public who are deep in conversation and wish you were able to hear what they were saying? Filmmaker Quincy Rose gives us just that opportunity with his new movie The Narcissists. A meta exploration on filmmaking, romantic relationships and friendships, this film makes us the fly on the wall of two separate sets of conversations. First there is the conversation between Oliver (Quincy Rose) and Max (Zachary Tiegen). Oliver is at a crossroads in his 5 year relationship with his girlfriend Cassi (Jessica DiGiovanni). Their apartment lease is up and they must come to the decision of to either move on from each other or to continue investing in their relationship. Max is the polar opposite of Oliver and has is always on the hunt for his next fleeting sexual conquest. Through their extended conversation, Max pushes Oliver to evaluate his relationship with Cassi. At the same time, Cassi is in conversation Letty (Augie Duke). Cassi is mild-mannered and consumed with conflicting thoughts on what to do about her relationship with Oliver. She’s also feeling the guilt of having cheated on Oliver. Letty is a free spirit, the female equivalent of Max, and is constantly provoking Cassi with outrageous statements and declarations, encouraging Cassi to think differently about sexuality and monogamy.
What makes this film meta is that Oliver is a filmmaker and the two parallel conversations are his idea for a new film he his making which is both about and not about himself. The beginning of the film is shot in black and white with Max and Oliver discussing the idea for the film. Then we see the actual film Oliver had in mind. Once we reach the end of that feature within a feature, left open-ended so the audience can decide the fate of Oliver and Cassi, we get to the interview portion of the film. The four characters become talking heads where they discuss their lives, relationships and what they think about the definition of the term narcissists.
One of my biggest complaints about films in general is that we don’t often get to spend enough time with the characters. I love that The Narcissists lingers enough to fully develop this quartet of players. It takes its time to flesh out their conversations, to show us the confrontations, the agreements, the disagreements, and the ups and downs of long form conversations. These characters really talk and the flow of discourse feels natural. There were a couple of times, especially with Max and Letty where I felt like they pivoted too drastically to some out-of-the-blue provocation. Otherwise it felt like I was watching real people having real conversations. The characters are all unlikable but this didn’t affect my curiosity.
The film was shot in Manhattan and Brooklyn and cinematographer Jason Krangel keeps a very still camera with long lingering shots. The subjects are filmed from afar in real settings with pedestrians and cars often blocking our view. The movie was shot on a small budget over five days and with a skeleton crew.
The Narcissists is a contemplative study on filmmaking and relationships that is not afraid to spend time with its characters. It’s inventive, quirky and oddly satisfying. In an age of quick cuts and short attention spans, The Narcissists offers something refreshingly different.
Gravitas Ventures has released The Narcissists is on VOD and the films is available on multiple platforms including iTunes.
“He was that rarest of men. One who simply did what he believed was right. Nothing more, nothing less.” – Charlie Mechem
This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 space mission and the landing of the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle on the moon. Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins set out on a dangerous mission and their accomplishment remains unparalleled to this day. Director David Fairhead’s new documentary simply titled Armstrong focuses on Commander Neil Armstrong. Through archival footage and interviews with the family members and peers who knew him best, the film takes us on a journey through the life of an extraordinary yet reserved man. Actor Harrison Ford narrates the film using Armstrong’s own words in the absence of the man himself who passed away in 2012.
As a young boy fascinated with airplanes, Armstrong sought out a pilot license before he even wanted to drive a car. Soaring above the earth was his natural state of being and his early training as a pilot led to his career as a fighter pilot in the Navy. A near death experience during the Korean War changed his life forever and set the course for his future career as an astronaut. The documentary explores his early days as a pilot, his education and transition into NASA, his home life, the tragic loss of his two year old daughter Karen, his work on Project Mercury, Project Gemini and Apollo 11 and most notably Armstrong’s life and career after that epic mission. Helping paint a portrait of this legendary man are his sons Mark and Rick Armstrong, his first wife Janet Armstrong, his sister June, plus various friends and peers as well as astronauts Joe Engle, David Scott, Frank Borman and Mike Collins, all legends in and of themselves.
The biggest takeaway from the documentary is the lost culture of mid-20th Century Cold War America. Throughout the film, Armstrong is presented as this man who believed in working hard, keeping your nose clean, not complaining and moving on from great tragedies. It was also an innovative time when the field of aeronautics and space exploration was new and rapidly changing. There was this intrinsic desire to accomplish big things for the advancement of mankind. It was a challenging era but also a ground-breaking one. Things have shifted so much and we’ve lost that desire to work hard, keep our emotions in check and to achieve goals for something bigger than ourselves.
Armstrong is an intimate portrait of an extraordinary individual and required viewing for anyone who appreciated Damien Chazelle’s biopic First Manbut craved more. (You can read my review of that film here.) The greatest value this documentary has to offer is the abundance of pristine archival footage, including home video, news clips, footage from NASA, some of which has never before been seen by the public. It plays with format presenting much of this footage in the center of the screen rather than stretching it out to fit the widescreen. A biographical documentary or even a biopic that has the blessing of the subject’s family can be a double-edged sword in terms of output. There’s a benefit of having so much access to people close to the subject but it will come with an inherent bias that will filter the story. Viewers can take the documentary with a grain of salt while still appreciating the fresh new material it has to offer. I for one appreciate what biographic documentaries can do that biopics cannot; rely on the real footage and real stories to tell the story that needs to be told.
Armstrong released in theaters and on VOD from Gravitas Ventures on Friday July 12th.
Singer Joanne (Cobie Smulders) and her band are on a nostalgia tour in Dorset. Big in the 1990s, Joanne is struggling to hold on to the magic from two decades ago. When her bandmates quit and she discovers her boyfriend Larry (Noel Clarke) is cheating on her, Joanne is left to her own devices. She meets up with her best friend Sara (Jessica Hynes) and they drunkenly apply to a local college. The next morning they find out they’ve been accepted. Not willing to deal with the current state of their lives they become part of the college scene, going to parties, challenging each other to ridiculous competitions and making friends with their dorm mates. Joanne meets Pete (Richard Elis), a relatively shy and awkward guy who works as the college registrar. At first Pete is just a potential hook-up. But as she gets to know him she discovers something more meaningful in their encounters. Pete and Joanne are polar opposites and the positive aspects of their personalities start to rub off on each other. Can Joanne let go of her past and embrace a future full of unknowns?
Alright Now was written and directed by Jamie Adams. It’s was shot over 5 days and the scenes are entirely improvised. This is quite a filmmaking feat and I would love to see a behind-the-scenes documentary discussing this aspect of the process. The story and the flow felt more organic, like I was watching a real story unfold rather than a scripted piece.
I really wanted to know more about Joanne’s career and the affects fame had on her. Instead the story focuses more on the love story between Joanne and Pete. At times I think there would be more to Joanne and Sara’s story but the movie would deviate away from them.
Alright Now is a charming indie movie that goes with the flow and lets the main character take her story where it will. Cobie Smulders is a natural fit to play the erratic yet fun loving rock star trying to make sense of her new life.
The movie is available on VOD from Gravitas Ventures.
“One day I will code an app that will make a difference.”
Coding genius and all-around tech nerd James (Kendall Ryan Sanders) is off to a bad start in his first semester in college. Upon arrival, he’s confronted by a trio of bullish classmates who don’t want to do any work in Professor Barnes’ (Kristen Johnston) introduction to computer science course. This trio includes James’ lady killer roommate Lance (Noah Centineo) and his two knuckle-headed friends Dylan (Christian Hutcherson) and Daniel (Nathan Gamble). Matching their desire for anonymous campus liasons and a cover for their course workload, Lance convinces James to create a hook-up app called Jungle. In this app, men and women find matches but are not allowed to learn names or to commit to future dates or any sort of relationship. For James, anonymous and purely physical hook-ups hold no appeal. Instead he’s looking for a lasting connection with Hannah (Shelby Wulfert), the girl he embarrassed at prom and with whom he’s still hopelessly smitten. When the app spreads like wildfire and cannot be contained, it starts negatively affecting users, especially women who are looking for a more lasting connection. The final straw for James is when he learns that his mother Leah (Leigh-Allyn Baker) is using the app. It’s time for some major disruption!
Directed by Ann Deborah Fishman, Swiped is a tender-hearted comedy about the importance of face-to-face connections in an increasingly disconnected world. The story has many layers. It’s a examination into the changing landscape of modern dating. It’s also a celebration of what makes us all different. As a self-proclaimed nerd, I love any movie that lifts us up rather than bringing us down. My favorite part of this movie is the multi-generational comedy with the college age youth in James’ world, his relationship with his high school age sister who is showing signs of emotional disconnect and James’ divorced parents who are navigating the dating world as middle-aged singles. Perhaps the most poignant of all is James’ grandparents Phil (George Hamilton) and Sunny (Alana Stewart), who serve as an example of a long-term relationship completely void of the technology that is complicating the lives of their children and grandchildren. I was drawn to this film as a fan of George Hamilton and I loved his scenes, especially those with Sanders who plays his grandson James. There are some funny and touching moments where we see grandpa Phil trying to get his family to reconnect with the people around them. I especially enjoyed the speech Phil gives to James when James asks what he should be looking for and Phil replies “you have to face people face to face to find it.”
When we discuss how female filmmakers have the potential to positively affect the representation of women, this can be seen in Swiped. Ann Deborah Fishman not only directed but also wrote and produced this movie. The female characters, even those who have small roles, are multi-faceted. And in general, every character in this story has the potential to be a caricature but instead they all defy their own stereotypes. I found this incredibly refreshing.