April 22, 2022 marks the 52nd Earth Day, an event that began in America in 1970 and is now celebrated in over 190 countries. Disneynature is celebrating by releasing a new documentary that gives voice to a lovable and vulnerable animal: the polar bear. Directed by Alastair Fothergill and Jeff Wilson, who collaborated on Disneynature’s Penguins (2019), Polar Bear takes us on a grand and enlightening journey with a young female polar bear as she learns how to hunt, play, survive, and eventually, take care of a cub of her own (of course, the filmmakers did not actually follow one particular bear from her cub years to adulthood, but the narration is written to make it seem that way). While the overall structure of Polar Bear isn’t that different from the average nature documentary, it has a heartwarming and personal tone that you might not expect from this kind of movie.
Stories of Livestock Mutilation Bring Seth Breedlove and Shannon LeGro to Colorado for their latest documentary, “On the Trail of UFOs: Night Visitors”
Documentarians and paranormal researchers Seth Breedlove and Shannon LeGro continue their investigation of strange encounters and unidentified aerial phenomena in their latest film, On the Trail of UFOs: Night Visitors. In their previous documentary, On the Trail of UFOs: Dark Sky (2021), Breedlove and LeGro took their investigative efforts to West Virginia, where they explored the potential connection between UFO sightings and coal mines. In Night Visitors, they investigate similar UFO sightings and unusual experiences in Colorado — specifically, in the San Luis Valley. This time, Breedlove and LeGro are on the hunt for information about livestock mutilation, a frightening and unexplained phenomenon that some have linked to theories about alien life. Much like Dark Sky, Night Visitors is more of an appetizer than a full meal. The personal interviews that make up the documentary are interesting, but the movie lacks the strong hook and compelling narrative needed to hold our attention. Unlike Dark Sky, however, Night Visitors has a clear framework and a solid structure, making Breedlove and LeGro’s investigations and theories much easier to follow.
UFO researchers Seth Breedlove and Shannon LeGro take their investigations to West Virginia in “On the Trail of UFOs: Dark Sky.”
Originally published on Elements of Madness.
When we talk about strange and mysterious subjects that we’re nowhere close to understanding, like unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) and the possibility of extraterrestrial life, it’s more useful to pose open-ended questions than to try and pinpoint definite answers. Asking broad questions about strange lights in the sky and creepy experiences allows us to consider a vast array of possible explanations and eventually land on an interesting theory. After investigating eyewitness accounts of UFOs in West Virginia, paranormal researchers Seth Breedlove and Shannon LeGro didn’t have any more answers than when they started. However, they did land on a useful question that could lead to further research: Is there a connection between UAPs and energy sources like coal mines? In On the Trail of UFOs: Dark Sky, Breedlove and LeGro share the eyewitness accounts and stories from their West Virginia investigations and ask intriguing questions about the connection between extraterrestrial sightings and energy sources. Although their questions are a useful piece of the UFO puzzle, they unfortunately don’t make for the most engaging documentary. Dark Sky is clearly a labor of love, but the final product is a loose musing rather than a structured and informative documentary.
Samarth Mahajan subverts expectations with "Borderlands", a human-focused documentary illustrating the effects of political borders on the Indian subcontinent.
I don’t think that anyone has ever convinced me to change my mind about my political or moral beliefs by using academic theories and 25-cent vocabulary words. However, when someone tells me a personal story, I can’t help but open my mind to new thoughts and ideas. As I participate in and observe political battles on social media, I’ve also learned that it’s easier to communicate with others via storytelling rather than through theoretical explanations filled with progressive buzz-words (which will just make people mad unless they already agree with you). Naturally, then, a narrative film can easily garner sympathy from a wide audience, while a politically-charged documentary will struggle to communicate with audience members who don’t already agree with its message. This is unfortunate, since many narrative films about social justice issues often go all-in with the drama, making the audience feel like they’ve done their part just by displaying an emotional response (as in, “I thought The Help was sad so clearly I’m not racist.”) So, what are some effective strategies that filmmakers can use to educate their audience about social justice issues? Samarth Mahajan gives us some ideas with his human-centered documentary, Borderlands.
Nature documentary “Awaken” is a magnificent cinematic experience, reminding us that humankind is part of a much larger narrative.
Press materials for Tom Lowe’s Awaken describe the film as a documentary that explores “humanity's relationship with technology and the natural world.” Although I didn’t realize it until I was halfway through the film, this description set me up to expect a depressing film about climate change. Of course, it’s more important than ever to educate ourselves on the reality of climate change, but Lowe doesn’t use depressing imagery and horrific statistics to send a message about preserving nature. By using breathtaking montages of our planet’s most exquisite sights, Lowe puts nature itself at the center of the story and positions humanity as an integral part of the natural world rather than an inherently destructive force. The visually stunning and immersive documentary sends a hopeful message of renewal while reminding us of our responsibility as Earth’s caretakers.
Refreshing political doc “Kid Candidate” goes beyond the unconventional candidacy to call out corruption in local government.
Originally published on Elements of Madness.
Spike Lee brings David Byrne’s once in a lifetime musical experience “American Utopia” to HBO and HBO Max.
Originally published on Elements of Madness
On October 9th, The Broadway League announced, to the severe disappointment of theatre professionals and fans, that Broadway will remain closed until June 2021. It’s difficult to imagine that the musicals, concerts, and plays that have been a New York City staple and a popular tourist attraction for years just aren’t taking place right now. However, even before the pandemic, filmed versions of Broadway shows brought these performances to audiences across the country who couldn’t otherwise afford to experience Broadway theatre. The success of the Hamilton pro-shot, released earlier this summer on Disney+, revealed how these filmed performances can keep the love of theatre alive, even while Broadway remains closed. While film and live theatre are entirely different mediums, and a film certainly cannot replace the experience of a live performance, a pro-shot can create an entirely new perspective on an already amazing show. Oscar and Emmy-winning director Spike Lee has done just that with David Byrne’s American Utopia, which captures a breathtaking, sold-out performance in a way that only film can.
During the past two years, between graduating from college, helping my family relocate for my mom’s new job, heading out to graduate school, and moving back in with my parents because of the pandemic, I’ve had to make several big moves. One of the most difficult challenges of moving around so much, aside from packing and unpacking and repacking my DVD collection, is making all of those new places feel like home. Out of all the places that I’ve lived, however, the place that continually feels the most like home to me is the one-stoplight town of Boiling Springs, North Carolina, where I lived for four years while attending Gardner-Webb University. Any GWU graduate will tell you that the university’s sense of family and community is one of the best parts about the GWU experience, and it certainly makes the campus feel like home to many. As a liberal arts university with a student population of roughly 4,300 students, GWU tends to fly under the radar. However, the community’s dedication to one another and their school spirit can make extraordinary things happen, like when the 2018-19 men’s basketball team made it all the way to the NCAA tournament for the first time in GWU history. Now, a group of three GWU graduates, Christian Jessup, Eli Hardin, and Brendan Boylan, and current GWU student Thomas Manning, have captured that extraordinary season in a feature-length documentary, The Dancin’ Bulldogs. Filled with heart and honesty, the documentary is a creative and memorable demonstration of the faith, perseverance, and team-spirit that makes Gardner-Webb such an extraordinary school.
Originally published on Elements of Madness
Among the list of things that you might expect to save your life one day, perhaps one of the least likely is a night with an escort and a headfirst dive into the world of feminist pornography production. For middle-aged housewife Morgana Muses, who had silently suffered through a loveless, sexless marriage for years, it just so happened that the simple act of holding hands with an escort while on a date to the theatre was exactly what she needed to start fighting back against overpowering suicidal thoughts. In a fantastical documentary about her life, which is simply titled, Morgana, this housewife turned porn-star shares the story of how she left behind a hollow, meaningless life to pursue a career in adult films, embarking on a healing journey that would give her the identity and community she had always craved. Directed by the feminist dynamite duo of Isabel Peppard and Josie Hess, Morgana is not just a documentary about porn and sex-work, but an invitation to flourishing self-love. As an official selection of this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival, Morgana gives women of all shapes, sizes, and ages permission to seek out people and communities that can meet their basic human needs, sexual or otherwise.
The 2020 American presidential election is well underway, one that may prove to be the most interesting (or frustrating) elections of the past few decades as the candidates navigate campaign strategies in the midst of a global pandemic. As voters tune in to the presidential debates and our social media accounts flood with political ads and memes, it may seem like the next chapter in our country’s history all depends on the winner of this next big election. It can be easy to forget about the smaller, local elections and the changes we can make in our communities by researching and voting for local officials. As Marc Levin’s new documentary, Stockton On My Mind, shows, local elections can be a catalyst for social justice and meaningful changes in our own backyards. In 2016, on the same day that Donald Trump won the presidential election, 26-year-old Michael Tubbs became the first black mayor, not to mention the youngest, of Stockton, California. Stockton On My Mind highlights not only Tubbs’s journey and the positive impact he has had on his hometown, but the strength of local communities and the power of reform from within. It’s a thought-provoking film that seeks to tell a different narrative about low-income, high-crime communities and to inspire audiences to pursue lasting changes in their own towns.
"Our embodied spectator, possibly perverse in her fantasies and diverse in her experience, possesses agency...finally, she must now be held accountable for it."