Citizen Penn

No matter your views of Sean Penn, this startling documentary about the destruction and lives lost from the shattering 2010 earthquake in Haiti is sure to change how you see him.

Not that he cares what you might think mind you. He didn’t travel to Haiti to bring attention to himself. No. Like other first-responders on site, he too played an admirable, tireless “hands-on” role in the wider humanitarian effort to save lives, and to bring much-needed medicines, money and peace to a disturbing situation. After spending millions of his own money, he tried to raise more funds by hosting galas with celebrity friends only to become disappointed when many did not come through as he had hoped. And on this score, he has no trouble calling people out and speaking his own mind, a feature of Penn’s character which has, in past, elicited controversy. 

Still, this documentary remains truly eye-opening if not heartbreaking, especially for a nation struggling to restore a more tolerable measure of normalcy in the aftermath.

Penn once compared Port-au-Prince to Detroit, saying, “It’s not more dangerous, it’s not less dangerous.”

To quote from the VIFF catalogue:

Penn, whose father Leo was blacklisted as a Communist, has made no secret of his disgust of American imperialism, and has regularly ventured to places like Iraq, Venezuela, Cuba, and New Orleans post Katrina. But as this film chronicles, over the last decade much of his energy has gone into supporting the people of Haiti after the devastating earthquake of 2010, which claimed a quarter of a million lives and displaced many more.

Penn arrived with a small team of volunteers and urgent morphine supplies donated by his friend Hugo Chávez. More surprising, perhaps, is that he opted to stay on the island for months, taking over leadership of the largest refugee camp when the US military left. Culled largely from footage shot on the ground at the time, but also drawing on interviews with Penn, Anderson Cooper and others, the film is a vivid account of first person activism, the expediencies of life and death in a disaster zone, and one man’s dedication to direct action.

In the wake of his efforts in Haiti, Penn went on to create an emergency response NGO known as CORE, which not only trains and empowers local volunteers in the US to help communities deal with natural disasters like hurricanes, but more recently, even the Covid-19 challenge, by getting N-95 masks into the hands of those who need them most, as well as helping with on-the-ground Covid-19 testing for the population at large. 

We were an airplane that built itself after take off, and that’s a perilous ride in so many ways; and how it ended up surviving was the force of will of hundreds of people.

— Sean Penn, Co-Founder & Chairperson of the Board

The bottom line take-away message from seeing this documentary was in witnessing how a single person can leverage their own celebrity power to effect enormous good in alleviating the suffering of others in our world, and how one can inspire others to do likewise. 

I gave it five out of five stars *****

check out more films/documentaries/talks:

https://viff.org/

 

2020 Vision…when life gets blurry adjust your focus

Happy New Year everyone…finally.

We’re already two weeks in but until recently I’ve had company, a floor renovation here in Palm Springs and finally the Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) which has just ended.  So I’ve been somewhat distracted until now. Normally I try to take in as many films as possible.  However this time I managed only four films.  Three fascinating documentaries of which I’ll touch on here to start up my blog.

The Truth – taken from PSIFF film media library.  I think Deneuve is solely responsible for making the “leopard coat” sexy and relevant even today.

I saw one feature “The Truth” starring Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche & Ethan Hawke (above photo).  A celebrated actress (Deneuve) publishes her memoirs amid a choppy relationship with her daughter (Binoche) who lives in her moms shadow and is married to a second rate American Actor (Hawke).  I enjoyed watching this film solely because of the actors.  Deneuve alone was the deciding factor going in with no prior knowledge of what the film was about.  She does a tremendous job of playing a self-absorbed screen diva.  She remains beautiful.

David Foster: Off the Record

David Foster with just a few grammy awards – taken from PSIFF film media images

 I thought for sure that the U.S. premier about the Canadian music icon would not ensure a full house.
But I was wrong.  Albeit a lot of the audience members were Canadians.  He is after all the Canadian equivalent of Quincy Jones.  His musical accomplishments could not be more celebrated in this documentary about his life and career. He discovered Celine Dion.  It explores his creative relationships with Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand and countless others. Fascinating man.

House of Cardin

House of Cardin – image taken from PSIFF film media library

What is Pierre Cardin up to?  Is he even still alive? At 97 years of age his name has a stamp on pretty much everything.  If he sold out, he did so on his own terms.

Pierre Cardin, the Italian born (everyone thought he was French) fashion icon changed the world of haute couture forever.  This documentary traces the life and career of a remarkable trailblazer.  As the trailer points out, it’s filled with eye candy (Sharon Stone among others are interviewed) and is a five-course feast for fashion lovers.  Indeed! If you love fashion this doc is a must!

The Kingmaker

Imelda Marcos on her 85th birthday in KINGMAKER. Photo Credit: Lauren Greenfield.

Dramatic, Dazzling, Disgraceful.

Lauren Greenfield’s cutting portrait of the legendarily extravagant Imelda Marcos starts with the shoes and the servants, then slyly expands into an examination of her dynastic ambitions and the damage that she and her corrupt family have wreaked upon the Philippines.

Stay tuned for updates from Palm Springs on various places to dine, shop and play.

 

 

 

 

 

Documentary: ANTHROPOCENE – The Human Epoch

A masterful collaboration by documentarians Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier.

A world class documentary that is equally stunning and disturbing. Surreal and sobering. The mind boggling cinematography by legendary photographer Edward Burtynsky was the stunning part.  The disturbing part was everything else. It showcases to great effect our unprecedented impact on planet Earth to date.

And there was a lot to be captured.  And there is a lot to be fearful for.  And there is a lot to change…if we still can.

Concentric Circles Forming In Still Water

A short synopsis: scenes of almost inconceivable scale such as monolithic machines hell-bent on terraforming their surroundings, land-fill sites staffed by thousands, heaps of elephant tusks piled high and set aflame, concrete seawalls lining China’s coastline, on and on.  Only some of the things humans are responsible for that endanger and change the structure of the planet.

I knew it wouldn’t be a feel-good film.  But it was a necessary one.  Which brings me to this famous quote:

Seeing is Believing

More films until the 12th at:  https://viff.org/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Culture/Film: Mightier than the Sword

Film for Thought

When you believe in something that’s bigger than yourself you fight to make yourself heard.

Journalist Roberta Staley is fighting for women’s rights in Afghanistan.  Having traveled  undercover to Afghanistan on several occasions,  she took risky chances trying to create positive change.  She’s responsible for the award winning documentary entitled  “Mightier than the Sword” which has helped enpower women over there by giving them a voice to be heard.  A major accomplishment.

Rahibib Rahimi (L) and Roberta Staley (R)

I first met Roberta in a Spanish class over coffee in 2012 and was intrigued when she said she’d be leaving for a few weeks to go on assignment for Elle Magazine. In Afghanistan no less.

The Story (in brief)

Roberta went back to Afghanistan three years later to tell the story of Mozhdah Jamalzadah, a regular person here and a superstar in Afghanistan, where she’s a powerful voice for women similar to that of Oprah.  The Vancouver raised woman is actually referred to as the Oprah of Afghanistan.

This 48-minute documentary focuses on Afghan female journalists and filmmakers and their impact on gender perceptions and gender equality. In Afghanistan, a significant advance since the fall of the Taliban has been the entry of women into the media as reporters, directors, writers, producers and authors.

Excerpt by Lucas Aykroyd from Vancouver Magazine:

The powerful debut by Vancouver filmmaker Roberta Staley examines the impact of female media personalities in Afghanistan’s fight for gender equality. Staley, an award-winning editor and longtime contributor to Vancouver magazine, created the new 48-minute film to complete her Master’s degree in graduate liberal studies at SFU. After spending three weeks in 2012 in the Central Asian nation on assignment for Elle, she returned there in 2015 to shoot Mightier Than the Sword in 35 C weather during Ramadan. Staley remortgaged her condo to finish the film, which cost her more than $80,000. “That’s what you do when you believe in something,” she says. “I was obsessed with telling this story about the media and how it was changing gender perceptions and gender equality.”

View Trailer:

http://www.mightierthanthesword.ca/videos/

More to come

Monday Mood:  Sinatra state of mind

The Place He Called Home

I could change the heading to Melancholy Mood a song sang by Frank Sinatra but that sounds pretty gloomy.  After viewing a special screening of the fabulous documentary film by *Leo Zahn which ended Modernism week here in Palm Springs, we know Sinatra’s life was anything but gloomy.

Sinatra in Palm Springs – The Place He Called Home.

I, like so many others have always loved Sinatra’s music, his style and well…the lifestyle was anything but dull. Because I’ve spent the last several years coming to Palm Springs and now live here part of the year I was really looking forward to seeing this film if only because it explored Frank Sinatra’s deep attachment to Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley, his primary home for almost 50 years.

His wife Barbara called him a desert rat.  Meaning he embraced the dreamy “desert rat” lifestyle of tennis, golf, cocktails, cards and entertaining.  Very similar to my lifestyle minus the tennis, golf and cards.

Nelda Linsk, one of the subjects of “Poolside Gossip,” the famous photograph shot by Slim Aarons in 1970, was Barbara Sinatra’s best friend (she’s the one in yellow).  She is also interviewed in this doc.  She’s still beautiful.

The film captures the spirit of the Sinatra era and pays tribute to the unique lifestyle especially surrounding the renowned racquet club. Revealing interviews bring to life a bygone era . . . beginning with the post-WWII years and Sinatra’s 1947 home in Palm Springs, tumultuous times with Ava Gardner, his 1954 move to Rancho Mirage, his marriage to Barbara, and life at the “compound.” Major sequences are dedicated to historic restaurants Sinatra frequented for decades.  Many still here and some I’ve gone to.  My husband and I had the pleasure of meeting and sitting with Mel Haber who owned the historic Ingleside Inn and Melvyn’s cocktail bar which Sinatra frequented.  He described Sinatra as having “an aura” about him. He’s the first and last person to be interviewed in this wonderful documentary.  It didn’t matter which president or other famous person frequented your estabishment.  Everyone wanted to know if Frank or “Mr. S” as they referred to him came in.  If he showed up with his entourage and liked it, you were good.  If he didn’t like the pasta it could get thrown against the wall.

‘Sinatra in Palm Springs’ tells the story of a man whose generosity and compassion for his fellow citizens had no bounds. He loved the desert and its people. He loved the local restaurants and bars. His best friends lived nearby.

How many people can aspire to live like him?  It’s a large, legendary life and that’s why the screening was sold out.  He really did do it HIS WAY.

At the end of the screening Mr. Zahn (*the filmmaker) was here for an audience Q&A.

And that’s another thing I love about being here.  The filmmakers are on hand to answer questions especially during Film Fest and Modernism.

 

 

 

 

 

Film/Culture: Le Ride

A bad attitude is like a flat tire.  If you don’t change it, you’ll never go anywhere.

Cycling is an enjoyable sport.  Recently I’ve gotten on my bike to do a grocery run,  pick up pizza from a nearby restaurant and meet friends for coffee.  Sometimes it’s fun to be part of a local event even if you’re not a big enthusiast.  But I might become one.

The *Tour de Palm Springs may not be The Tour de France but there are some similarities.  For instance, thousands of cyclists riding along gorgeous scenery while challenging themselves for many miles to help fundraise for a variety of charities.

February 10th: I just did the 100 10 mile tour which although hardly challenging, was worthwhile and rewarding in the sense that I tried it out for the very first time.  It wasn’t a race, it was a ride – there’s a difference. Bands and cheerleaders entertained us by playing the American anthem & then as we began filing out, the theme from Rocky.  With so much energy it made us feel like athletes.  Actually, there were some authentics. 

What was really great was attending a carb loaded dinner with outdoor seating the night before, then watching an award winning documentary at the **Palm Springs Cultural Centre (used to be the Camelot Theatre).

In partnership with the American Documentary Film Festival, Tour de Palm Springs presented Le Ride The story of the first English speaking team to ride the Tour de France.  Multi Award winning producer Phil Keoghan (creator The Amazing Race) showed us what it was like to do the ride in 1928 when he re-created a history that many are not aware of.  He challenged himself to the toughest road race in the world by retracing the 1928 Tour de France riding an original vintage bicycle with no gears, breathtaking scenery all along the way.  Keoghan was in attendance for the screening and for a Q&A at the end. He was also riding on the Tour de Palm Springs. But I have a feeling he did the whole 100.

The **Palm Springs Cultural Center, a non-profit organization, was established to encourage the development of the cultural arts in the Coachella Valley with a specific focus in the areas of film, fine art, live performance, dance, music, and community festivals. The Center is dedicated to advancing education, to nurturing community-wide participation in the cultural arts, and to sponsoring scholarship awards for deserving individuals.

*Tour de Palm Springs is a sponsored event designed to raise money for nonprofit organizations in the Coachella Valley and helps support more than 100 local charities.  It’s also great exercise.

  Have you ever done one of these?

VIFF: Borg Vs McEnroe

The Perfect Match

The game of Tennis is somewhat compared to the game of Life

When you commit a fault, you are given another chance to get it right.

If you make the same mistake again (double fault) you pay for it.

When you have an advantage, it’s up to you to make use of it. If you don’t, someone else will.

Any point in the match can be a turning point.

Every new game begins with “love all

All of us make our own unforced errors (we all have our imperfections). That doesn’t stop us from trying.

We always want to ace it.  This movie did.

I’m normally not so into sports movies but this one is about one of, if not the, greatest tennis match of all time. The 1980 Wimbledon Men’s Finals between cool Swede Björn Borg and hot tempered New Yorker John McEnroe. It was a stimulating battle of opposite personalities.

Borg was the top tennis player in the world, dominating the sport both on and off the court.  He had already won four Wimbledon championships in a row and this would be a record-breaking fifth.

McEnroe, considered among the greatest in the history of the sport, was famous for his shot-making skills, as well as his confrontational on-court behaviour.

The players are incredibly acted out by Shia LaBeouf (McEnroe) and Sverrir Gudnason (Borg).  It delves in and out of how they first started out in the game and the enormous pressures put upon them.  You realize they have more in common than what is initially perceived.

In the end I found myself rooting for both of them.

The real deal

Last two days for screenings.  Get your tickets here: https://www.viff.org/

 

 

 

VIFF: Bombshell – The Hedy Lamarr Story

Beauty and the Brain

It’s a complicated story. Hedy Lamarr was one of those women who had it all.  Beauty, brains and a career as a Hollywood actress. Perhaps most famous for her movie Samson and Delilah and a whole bunch of other lesser known films.

Born Hedwig Eva Kiesler in Vienna, Austria, to Jewish parents, she was considered an icon, regarded by fans and critics as the most beautiful woman to ever grace the silver screen. But she had so much more to offer than only her looks and it’s a shame she wasn’t recognized for that.  She also had a beautiful mind.  She could have been a scientist. What is so amazing about this documentary by Alexandra Dean, is that it delves beneath the surface of a legendary glamour queen and 40’s sex symbol to explore the depth of her other talents, specifically her mind.

Of course any legend worth her weight in salt is not without scandal. She was no exception and it was a hot mess.  Six ex-husbands, denounced by the Pope at 18, drug addiction and financial ruin. Can you imagine what kind of reality show that would make?

The Hollywood Reporter:

“A mechanically minded, self-taught inventor, Lamarr was 5 years old when she took apart and reassembled her music box; years later, when she was dating Howard Hughes, she allegedly revised his designs for a plane she knew wouldn’t be able to do what he wanted. Her biggest claim to the glam-nerd hall of fame, though, is “frequency-hopping,” an idea she came up with during WWII: Hearing that Allied forces’ radio-controlled torpedoes could be thrown off course by jamming the frequencies transmitted to them, she teamed with a friend, composer George Antheil, to implement a solution. Perhaps inspired by an early remote-control for home radios, the two adapted the mechanism of player-pianos to propose a system that would skip from one frequency to another as a torpedo traveled, with only the broadcaster and the torpedo knowing which frequency would be used at any moment. The two were granted a patent for the device in 1942, but the Navy rejected it. (They put her to work selling war bonds and entertaining troops instead.) But a version of the design was used in the Cuban Missile Crisis, after the patent expired, and worked its way into practically all modern wireless communications tech. “Wi-Fi and Bluetooth — that’s my mother’s technology,” boasts Lamarr’s son.”

Before even seeing this film I loved watching a rare TV interview where she appeared on the Merv Griffin Show in 1969 joined by Woody Allen.  She had a sense of humor and an amazing personality to boot. A total delight. What a woman!

The Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) ends on Friday, October 13th.  If you want to see about tickets please visit: https://www.viff.org/

 

VIFF: BLUE 

What lies beneath the waves falls on silent shores

The very first time I went scuba diving was in the Bahamas. Fascinated with what lay beneath the sea, I was lucky enough to go out with a team from National Geographic and swam with sea turtles and lots of Grouper.  I was hooked!  Since that time, and in other locales, I noticed it getting rarer and rarer to spot certain fish and especially sea turtles.  A lot of these creatures have been around much longer than me, and sharks have been around since the time dinosaurs roamed the earth. Which is a lot longer than me.

Karina Holden’s Blue is an important and timely documentary for everyone living on planet Earth. Filmed on location in Australia, Hawaii, the South Pacific, Philippines and Indonesia, it’s a very tough closeup look at our oceans and all disappearing marine life.

It really hits home, as it should. It makes you consider your choices and makes you question how you can make a difference.  How even one person can help make a difference.   Think about it.

Why on earth, in this day and age, are people still cutting off shark fins and throwing shark bodies back into the ocean?  It’s sickening and it made me cry. Seabirds who rely on fish to sustain them are also in rapid decline. We, as a whole, have to do something about it. But there is a chain reaction because uneducated people who have no money and who live in small fishing villages in third world countries thrive on the livelihood of this industry. And $100 per shark fin is a lot of money. It is wasteful and horrific.

WARNING: More than half of all marine life has been lost due to plastic pollution, over fishing, habitat destruction and the expansion of industrialization.

While we get closer to a trek to Mars, why not concentrate first on what we can do here on Earth to make our planet a better place for all living species?

Because a healthy ocean is key to a healthy planet.

Please WATCH this short Trailer:

The Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) is on until Friday, October 13th.  For tickets and information please visit: https://www.viff.org/

 

 

 

 

Contemplating what’s Real

No chaos, damn it.” – Jackson Pollock.pollockmovieHey, you never know…

Netflix: When trailer park resident Teri Horton bought a painting for five bucks that she was unable to fit through the doorway of her friends home, she tries to sell it in a garage sale. Little did she know it could be a genuine Jackson Pollock worth millions.

To get an idea of the art world’s opinion of Teri’s painting, the filmmakers showed it to Thomas Hoving, the legendary former director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This film documents her dealings with the art world’s elitist establishment to authenticate the piece. Throughout the brash woman’s 15-year endeavor to validate the painting, the clash between stuffy art dealers and the cussin’, beer-drinkin’ Horton is funny, eye-opening and utterly unforgettable.

quotes by JP

Abstract painting is abstract. It confronts you. There was a reviewer a while back who wrote that my pictures didn’t have any beginning or any end. He didn’t mean it as a compliment, but it was. – Jackson Pollock

It doesn’t make much difference how the paint is put on as long as something has been said. Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement. – Jackson Pollock

He had a lot to say