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AFI Fest: Lead Me Home

Nobody deserves to be homeless. And yet, the United States is dealing with a serious homelessness crisis, exacerbated by the pandemic and bound to get worse. Directed by Pedro Kos and Jon Shenk, Lead Me Home is an empathetic and eye-opening look at the homelessness situation in three major American cities: Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. It gives a face, a name and a story to these individual facing this crisis. It may not win over those who chose to turn a blind eye to the situation but it will reawaken a sympathetic spirit in those of us who do ultimately care. Lead Me Home is distributed by Netflix and will launch on the service November 30th. I hope this film will be submitted for Academy Award consideration because I think it’s a strong candidate for Best Documentary (Short Subject).

Lead Me Home 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: Unrelinquished

Directed by Amina Waheed, Unrelinquished investigates how a lax justice system allows for perpetrators of domestic violence to carry otherwise illegal weapons. In 2018,  22 year Jazmine Willock was found dead in her Tucson, Arizona home. She was the victim of a murder-suicide enacted by her abusive boyfriend. Jazmine is one of many domestic violence victims that die by armed abusers. Waheed’s short documentary examines Jazmine’s case and how others like her are caught in a system that doesn’t fully protect them. The film includes conversations with Jazmine’s mother and sister, a spotlight on another similar case and breaks down the flaws in the justice system. In a time when Gabby Petito’s murde,  and the domestic violence that led to it, has caught national attention, Unrelinquished serves an important role in shedding light on how the system continues to fail these women.

Trigger warning: this film includes crime scene photos, descriptions of domestic violence and audio of Jazmine recounting her boyfriend’s abuse to the police.

Unrelinquished was part of the 2021 Double Exposure Film Festival’s Short Cuts program.

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