Category Archives: Documentary

Documentary

Flash Movie Review: After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News

I DID NOT UNDERSTAND WHY NO one mentioned the charitable work our co-worker was doing for cancer survivors. For the past two staff meetings, she was not in attendance; I assumed it was because her charitable legal work was keeping her away. She was a lawyer besides a group fitness instructor, which I found to be an unusual career combination. During what I thought was her absence, I freely mentioned to members the work she was doing for these survivors. Every time her name came up in conversation, members always had complimentary things to say about her. Now, with the news I was sharing the members were putting her on a higher pedestal, and rightfully so I felt. With me teaching mostly night classes and knowing she usually did the early morning ones; I was surprised one evening when I saw her on the fitness floor. Walking over to her, I said hello and asked how she was doing. She said all was going well and asked how I was doing. After telling her fine, I asked her how her charity work was going. She stared at me with a puzzled look and asked what charitable work I thought she was doing. When I explained what I had heard she started laughing. It turns out she was not doing charity work but was helping her folks relocate to an assisted living community. The information I received was false.      LUCKILY THAT EPISODE HAD TO DO with a noble kindness, not like what happened to me several weeks ago. I had received word that a relative had died; it was sad to hear. Reaching out to their son, I sent them a message expressing my sympathies. Not even a minute went by before I received a message back asking me what I was talking about because he had talked to his father earlier that day. I was shocked because I could not have been the first person to notify him of his father’s death; how was I supposed to respond to him? Before I could formulate my thoughts, he responded again to tell me he had just hung up the phone with his Dad and wanted to know who would say such a thing. I was embarrassed and apologized for upsetting him, telling him another relative had told me his Father had died. I told him I would find out the details. It was bizarre to me that someone would say such a thing without checking to make sure it was true. Sadly, I thought telling someone their loved one had died when it was not true was a horrible thing; but after seeing this eye-opening documentary, I see there are many of us who receive and give false information.      BEFORE WE HAD THE TECHNOLOGY, WE had word of mouth in reporting the news. Now, with the many ways one can get the news, it has become harder to discern what is real and what is fake. Directed by Andrew Rossi (The First Monday in May, Ivory Tower), this was one of the most shocking and frightening documentaries I have ever seen. The subject matter was laid out in an easy, comprehensive way that kept me absolutely engrossed with every scene. The use of interviewees such as disinformation expert Molly McKew from Georgetown University added heft to the message in this film. The things discussed in this movie, I need to mention, could easily discourage hopeful individuals. The scenes involving the twisting and lying about a news report was simply put, mind blowing. With the writers setting up the parameters of the past five+ years and the leaning towards the side of politics; I felt this made the impact more powerful for the viewer. After seeing this documentary, I kept playing scenes over and over in my head. I will go out on a limb and say this was such an important film, that I feel everyone could benefit by seeing it.                           

3 ½ stars        

Flash Movie Review: Bee Gees: How Do You Mend a Broken Heart

I WOULD ONLY NEED TO HEAR the first few notes of the song before images of me with my relatives would appear and I would be transported out of state. I would see myself by a lighthouse, overlooking a bay filled with sailboats. On July 4th, my relatives and I sat up on top of a hill so we could see over the surrounding houses and watch the fireworks that were exploding over the ocean in flashes of red, white and blue. Walking up a narrow staircase to see newborn babies sleeping in their handmade cradles is another fond memory that appears anytime I hear the song, “Massachusetts.” When I hear the song, “Nights on Broadway,” I immediately see me at a little food shop, quickly eating lunch, before I needed to get to my 2ndof 5 Broadway plays/musicals I had tickets for over the weekend. It was my first time there and I wanted to see as many things as I possibly could in the shortest amount of time. Seeing the theater marquees all lit up at night looked so much better in person than when I would see it on television. I would walk up and down the street, among the never-ending throngs of people, after leaving the theater because I wanted to soak up every experience possible, even if it included being jostled by the strangers walking to and fro.     THERE ARE SOME SONGS THAT SPEAK to us on a visceral level. We feel them inside of ourselves. There are some songs that I can listen to over and over and each time they will bring tears to my eyes; not necessarily the words as much as the sounds. What comes to my mind is one special song from a Broadway show that I have heard sung by multiple artists throughout the past decades. As soon as I hear the opening notes I start to tear up; it is immediate, before my mind even brings up whatever memory I have stored for it. Other songs tell us what we are feeling inside. “How Deep is Your Love” is one of those songs that hold a special place for me because of where I was at in a relationship during a particular time in my life. I can hear that song and visualize everything that was going on at the time, even down to what clothes I was wearing. Songs and music have such an important place in society and when a musical artist/group comes along to provide us with a multitude of songs that provide us with the markers for our life’s milestones, it truly is a gift.      THREE BROTHERS WITH PERFECT HARMONY HAD to navigate the issues that pop up among siblings while trying to get their feelings down on paper, that people would want to listen to. This film festival winner was literally a “blast from the past” for me. If one is not a fan of the Bee Gees’ music, they may not be as enamored as I was watching this documentary. Directed by Frank Marshall (Eight Below, Arachnophobia), I enjoyed the straightforward and orderly way he directed this picture. The use of archival footage was wonderful to watch, along with the variety of interviews included from such musical icons as Barry Gibb, Eric Clapton and Lulu. One of the surprise treats with watching this film was to see how the brothers created a song. I was fascinated with the recording footage as well as the corresponding concert footage. Whether one is a fan of the Bee Gees or not, there is no denying the Bee Gees were an important part of the musical landscape. This was a special movie watching experience because I was able to reminisce, sing along, learn something new and dance all within a couple of hours.

3 ½ stars

Flash Movie Review: War Dog: A Soldier’s Best Friend

SOME OF YOU MAY LAUGH, BUT I learned about the reproduction process from a dog. I was at a relative’s house and was walking their dog. We had only gone to the end of the block when a dog from the corner house came up to us. My relative’s dog was backing up into me because of the neighbor’s dog’s aggressiveness. Luckily the neighbor came outside and retrieved her dog. As we started to head back home, I heard barking sounds behind me. With a look over my shoulder, I saw two dogs trotting towards me. Where were these dogs coming from, I wondered? I picked up my relative’s dog and started running back to the house. The 2 dogs behind me were in pursuit and they were faster than me. I started yelling at the dogs to get away, pushing then with my leg. My relative had heard me and came out to rescue us. Once back inside I asked why these dogs were after us. The reason given to me was their dog was in heat. I was confused by the use of the word heat, so my relative explained the dog was giving off a scent that male dogs were attracted to because she was releasing an egg. This answer only made me ask more questions. By the time we were done I promised I would never walk their dog again when she was in heat.      FROM THAT EXPERIENCE, I NEVER LOOKED at dogs the same way. All through my early years my only contact with dogs was if a relative or friend had one. Some of them were smart, others not so much; but they were all friendly dogs. The first time I saw a service dog was at a department store. I was of high school age and saw this dog leading a blind woman through the store. Up until that time I did not know dogs could do such a thing. I kept my distance, but I followed them for a short distance because I was so fascinated by it. After that meeting, I discovered a whole new level of working dogs; from guarding scrap yards to being a service dog for the elderly. A week after 9/11, I was at the airport where I saw dogs doing something I had never seen before; they were sniffing all the passengers in line for explosives. The guards who were leading them kept telling us not to pet or engage with the dogs because they were working. It was both amazing and scary watching these dogs. Now from watching this emotional documentary, I know there is another function dogs perform that could be lethal.      WHEN HANDLERS AND THEIR DOGS WORK side by side during military conflicts, it creates a unique bond that can last their entire lives. Directed by Deborah Scranton (Earth Made of Glass, The War Tapes), I feel even if one is not a dog lover, they will be moved by this movie. The story focused on a few veterans and their K9 companions. Seeing the bond between each of them was a glorious sight. I was not familiar with military dogs; I do not know anyone who worked in such a capacity. As I watched this film, it did cross my mind that some of the dogs could be the canine version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I do not want to say too much about the individual scenes; it is best if the viewer goes in and experiences the stories for themselves. From the time I was small, walking a dog that was in heat, up to my love of animals as an adult; I have never seen such a world made up of veterans and their dogs working side by side and loving each other as they are doing it.

DOG LOVERS: 3 ½ stars                                                           NON-DOG LOVERS: 3 stars 

Flash Movie Review: The Soul of America

HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF IS A SAYING I have heard many times. The idea behind it, I believe, is to be a teaching tool; where one can learn something by looking at the past. I’ve used it to see how a person acquired a behavior or trait. There was a boy in my neighborhood growing up, who was a bigot/racist/anti-Semitic; take your pick. On the inside of his notebook cover was a swastika he drew in pencil. I happened to see it because I sat next to him in class. He was not aggressive with his prejudices, but I was always curious to know what happened to him where he learned this behavior. An opportunity presented itself to me one day when I spotted him and his father in a store. I stayed out of sight as best I could; while still being near enough to hear them talk. There was little conversation between them; however, as they passed a fellow shopper their shopping carts bumped together. The shopper excused herself and continued on her way. As the father and son walked away, I heard the father say a derogatory remark in a low voice. What he said was hateful and ignorant; but I now understood why my classmate was prejudiced.      WHEN I STUDIED WORLD HISTORY, IT seemed to me every major conflict began due to religion, hope for world domination or a prejudice. The examples for this would be the crusades, World War II and the Rwandan Civil War between the Hutu and Tutsi groups. Century after century the conflicts I studied usually fell into one of these categories. If history is repeating itself, which it appears to be doing, why have we not learned something from it? I look at the struggles of disenfranchised people and more times than not they are being persecuted because some other group doesn’t like them. To this day, I do not understand how someone can form a dislike towards a person solely based on how they look. I am not talking about their hygiene or type of dress; one can form an opinion of a person if they have food stains across their clothing. More than ever, I have witnessed acts of hatred being played out on a massive scale. It seems as if some people thrive on hatred, making themselves feel better when they can dominate someone else. This is such a warped view of the world; I can barely comprehend it. If what I have said sounds confusing, let me suggest watching this documentary that does an infinitely better job of explaining the phrase history repeats itself.     EACH GENERATION MAY FEEL AS IF they are the first to experience such an event when it is presented to them. However, if one were to look back in history, they might find a similar event had taken place some time before. Directed by K.D. Davison (Ordinary People-TV), I found this film to be fascinating. Having as the central character Jon Meacham (The Front Runner, former editor of Newsweek) was a wonderful idea. He is a likeable and easy to understand historian, who was filmed at times during several discussions and lectures he held across the country. Seeing the comparisons between past and current times; I found it to be eye opening. I also enjoyed the variety of archive footage that was used in this documentary, with a wide assortment of celebrities and politicians such as George Takei (Star Trek franchise, Heroes-TV), Franklin D. Roosevelt and Edward R. Murrow. Seeing the historical challenges people have faced then comparing it to present times was an informative history lesson to me without feeling as if I were being lectured. This was a well-done picture that had a hefty amount of substance.

3 stars

Flash Movie Review: The Perfect Weapon

I WAS TIPPED OFF ABOUT THE animatronic bank teller; so, you can imagine how amused I was when I stepped out from the other tourists to ask the robot teller for a deposit slip. The robot turned its head towards me and asked what kind of deposit I wanted to make. The tourists around me, who had been watching and listening, burst into howls of laughter as they were totally taken by surprise. I replied to the bank teller, saying I wanted to make a deposit that would earn me interest. The robotic teller told me I would first have to earn his interest in me; the growing crowd around me hooted and hollered as they egged me on to continue talking to the animatronic teller. My exchanges with the teller became one of the highlights of my amusement park visit. I thought it was a brilliant idea to have an interactive mechanical puppet set up in a storefront imaginary bank that had a real ATM machine in it. Granted if I had not said anything, the tourists who were inside with me would not have experienced my exchange and simply walk through the faux lobby before exiting back onto the main thoroughfare of the park. From my day spent at the amusement park I saw how technology can enhance the experiences of the visiting tourists.      WHEN TECHNOLOGY IS IN THE HANDS of those who seek to make life/living a better experience, it is a wonderful thing. However, I have learned there tends to always be a negative aspect attached to a positive. Just last week the news was reporting on those video doorbell systems. According to the newscast, it appears these devices can be easily hacked to let someone not only watch you while you are in your home but talk to you. That is beyond creepy! If you are not convinced that some technological advances can turn bad, just look at my movie review from a couple of days ago, where I talked about my identity being stolen. The idea that there could be a person out there who is trying to use my stolen social security number for illegal gains is horrifying to me. A couple of years ago I had an incident on one of my social media platforms, where it no longer recognized me as the authentic user of my account. It took weeks for me to prove to them that I was the person who set up the account. It is frightening to me that the more we make advances in technology, the more we find out there is a sinister side to them that is growing. All you need to do is watch this documentary to see what I am talking about.      IT WAS A FUNCTION THAT WAS to remain a secret, but once it was discovered it would set off a race around the world to create a new form or warfare. Based on the book, this film was directed by John Maggio (Panic: The Untold Story of the 2008 Financial Crisis, The Newspaperman: The Life and Times of Ben Bradlee) starred Dmitri Alperovitch, a cybersecurity expert. As I watched this movie, a sense of dread and fear crawled up me. Listening to Dmitri and seeing how countries are using cyber conflict as a weapon was eye-opening. Add in the ability to use technology to plant the seeds of disinformation and I honestly do not know how one can protect themselves from such an onslaught. I thought the way the story was laid out in this documentary was perfectly done to show the growth of such activities. Not that I needed any further proof about the rise of cyber conflicts but sitting and watching this movie was certainly an astounding encounter.

3 stars   

Flash Movie Review: The Go-Go’s

MY FRIEND INSISTED I WATCH THE video clip because he was sure I would agree with him afterwards. The video was of a musical group that was his new favorite band. I sat alongside him and watched the group perform their song. It had a decent beat and I agreed that the band members’ voices were good as well as the song. When the video clip ended my friend did not give me a chance to say anything before he said he wanted me to listen to another of the band’s songs. He quickly pulled up another clip for me to watch and I did think this song was just as good as the first one I watched. Knowing what he was like, my only concern was my friend would continue showing me clips while talking up the band’s virtues, as if he was trying to sell them to me. Before the video ended, I told him I could see why he was enamored with the group. I then told him I wanted to show him one of my favorite performers and took over his computer. The only reason I did this was to stop him from showing me another video clip; I wanted to get out of the house and do something.      LATER IN THE WEEK I WAS exploring the internet and decided to look up the history of my friend’s favorite musical group. What I found surprised me. The group had a television show, but what shocked me was the fact the members did not know how to play their musical instruments. I saw them playing them in the video; but it turns out they pretended to play the guitars and drums. This reminded me of a scandal about a duo who lip synched their songs. And if I am not mistaken, they even had won an award for their singing that was taken away, once the news about them pretending to sing came out. At least my friend’s group were using their own voices for singing. That is one thing that does not sit well with me; singers who lip synch their songs in concert. I always feel cheated when I go to a concert to see a musical artist who does not sing all their songs live. If I am sitting there listening to a recording, I could have easily done the same thing sitting at home without spending the money for the concert ticket and parking. As far as I could tell, the band in this documentary were always singing live.     STARTING OUT IN LOS ANGELES’ PUNK scene, a group of females formed a band that would make history. Directed by Alison Eastwood (Laurel Canyon: A Place in Time, Magic Trip: Ken Kesey’s Search for a Kool Place), this film was the equivalent of a gold record; I not only enjoyed watching the band perform in archival clips, I learned so much about them. Much of the movie focused on the band’s formative years, which I felt shortchanged the following years as the members transformed themselves into a successful, multi-platinum selling band. There were a few scenes that were sad to watch as hard choices were being carried out by various band members. But the thing I appreciated was the honesty that came across from the various film clips and interviews. The director did a wonderful job of keeping the viewer engaged throughout the picture, while still teaching those viewers who might not know much about the band. For myself, I knew the band was a success; however, I did not know about their rightful place in history. From watching this film, I do not know what makes a band great as opposed to a one hit wonder; but I will say after seeing this band in this movie, I would have bought a ticket to see them in concert.

 

3 ½ stars       

Flash Movie Review: What Happened, Miss Simone?

I WAS IN THE MIDDLE OF PICKING out songs for a playlist to give to a close friend. There was one song I remembered from a movie I saw many, many years ago. The song has always stuck with me, though I never knew the title. Searching online I sought out the movie first to see if I could get a list of its song titles. I remembered an older woman in the film sang the song as she stood still in place. It did not take me too long to find the song I remembered and see its title. Once I had it, I typed the title into my computer’s search engine to see what would come up. Little did I realize this was a popular song, because the choice of artists who sang this song went on for pages. Besides having a list of artists, there were also music videos of artists performing the song. I found myself going from one video to another to see what the musical artist would do with the song. It was interesting to hear the multitude of variations; every artist was trying to put their own spin on the song. I was enjoying this musical journey despite it causing me confusion in not being able to decide which performance I wanted to include in my playlist.      TIME WAS SLIPPING AWAY AND I was no closer to completing my project. I had no idea how many renditions of the song I had seen or heard; but somewhere in the list of artists I saw this name that I had heard, but I had never heard her perform. I clicked on the link and out of my computer speakers came this rich, earthy, passionate voice. At times it delved into the alto range but would veer right into a tenor level; I think her voice would be considered a contralto. Her voice captivated me because I could not recall hearing a female voice with such a strong lower register. It was as if I was listening to this song for the very first time; it was something fresh and new as the notes hung in the air around me like Spanish moss. Who was this woman who could take a song from the past, from a film musical, and make me feel as if our hearts were beating in synch? As soon as the song ended, I replayed it several times. And once I had my fill, I sought out other songs this musical artist performed. Having this as my introduction, there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to learn more about Nina Simone.      WITH PLANS ON BECOMING A CLASSICALLY trained concert pianist, one night performing at a nightclub would change the course of Eunice Kathleen Waymon’s life. Directed by Liz Garbus (Girlhood, Bobby Fischer Against the World), this film festival winning documentary delved into the life of Nina Simone. With archival footage, interviews and performances; I found myself yearning for more musical performances as the movie went on. This biography touched on many aspects of Nina’s life, from childhood to adulthood to political activism; all of it was interesting, but part of me wished there would have been more details offered in the non-musical scenes. The interviews with her daughter, I found to be telling. I read somewhere the daughter was upset about a film that came out about her mother, so she got involved in the creation of this documentary. I am glad she did because not having any knowledge per se of Nina’s life, this film was a beautiful way to learn about her. And I have that playlist I made for a friend to thank.

 

3 stars

Flash Movie Review: Mountain

SOME OF MY FAVORITE VACATIONS INVOLVED mountains. Having grown up in a flatter part of the country, as soon as I see a mountain range in the distance, I start to get a thrill. There was one trip where we were driving on a road that was laid out like unfurled ribbon that had been pulled from its spool. Everyone on the road had to drive at a slow speed because of all the hairpin turns. By the time we reached the peak the sun had started to set, and the sky had this red and purple hue that gave the clouds a darker silhouette. Though I was starting to get nervous about driving down in the dark, we stepped out of the car to take in the view. There was dead silence except for the wind that brushed across my ears and gently prodded the hood of my jacket. I could see all the way down into the valley with its long shadows crawling towards me. It was such a beautiful sight; I felt as if I had entered an oasis or bubble that filled me with a peacefulness I had not experienced before. It was an effort to leave and walk back to the car to make our trek down the mountain, which was starting to look deeply wrinkled in the limited light.      ON ANOTHER VACATION I WENT FROM one of the lowest spots in the country to one of the highest. After spending time exploring the bowels of the canyon with its multicolored layers of minerals and rock, we traveled to the base of one of the largest mountains on the mainland. A specially designed train car transported us up to the top after we were instructed to keep our arms inside the train car because the ice ripples, we would be passing through, were as sharp as a chef’s knife. Reaching the top, I had to first bundle up with the layers of clothing I had brought with before venturing out into the cold. The first thing I noticed was the strength of the wind as it tried to push me back into the train car. With a posted sign stating the temperature was at zero, the ends of my scarf that was wrapped around my neck were flapping behind me like a captured bird. The view was literally and figuratively breathtaking. Due to the cold this was one of my more challenging mountain experiences. Call me a lazy hiker, but I prefer being transported in some type of vehicle up to the top of a mountain instead of me hiking on a challenging trail. And I certainly would not consider trying what the people were doing in this film festival winning documentary.      IT WOULD BE SAFE TO SAY I BELIEVE; most individuals would look for a way to get around a mountain instead of having to climb over one. That was not the case with the people in this documentary. Directed and written by Jennifer Peedom (Sherpa, Miracle on Everest), also written by Robert Macfarlane (Mountain Quest, Upstream) and narrated by Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate, The Florida Project); this movie’s best asset was its beautiful filming work, that was accompanied by a wonderful classical soundtrack. For those viewers who have a fear of heights, there were several scenes that might be uncomfortable to sit through. I do not know for a fact, but am guessing drones, helicopters, handheld cameras and mounted ones were used to capture the scenes. As much as I enjoyed watching the variety of mountain peaks, I wished there would have been more to the script. There were times I had no idea what mountain range I was looking at; this may not be important to some, but it was to me. I would have liked to have learned something new about the climbers and their experiences. For the most part I felt I was watching a repeat of something seen before. Despite this, I still enjoyed viewing this picture and still would never consider climbing a mountain.

 

2 ½ stars

Flash Movie Review: Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado

WALKING INTO THE SHOP, I WAS immediately hit with the smoky smell of burning incense. There was the soft sound of a small bell or chime tinging at random intervals. The middle of the store had a few free-standing bookcases; leaning up against the walls were shelves filled with a cornucopia of crystals, rocks and oils or lotions. My friend convinced me to go with him to this shop. Honestly, I did not know whether to call it a bookstore, rock shop or coffee shop; since there were a few tables and chairs huddled around a short counter, that had a coffee machine and filled pitchers resting on top of it. I did have to give him the exact time of my birth, down to the minute and time zone. When I asked him why, he told me he wanted us to go see an astrologer/psychic, who needed this information before he would sit with us. I was okay giving this a try, to see what they would say about me. My friend walked over to a man reading a book, sitting behind a glass case. He told the employee about our scheduled appointment and the man nodded his head towards an entryway that had strings of rainbow-colored beads hanging across it. We walked through, entering a dimly lit space.      A PLAINLY DRESSED OLDER MAN CAME up and introduced himself to us. He asked for our names then wanted to know which one of us wanted to get our reading first. Before I could say anything, my friend volunteered me to go first; I did not object. The man led me to a 2ndroom that was better lit and had a round table in the middle with a white tablecloth covering it. Sitting down, the man pulled what looked like a folded map from a box on the floor next to him. He started unfolding it so he could press it out on top of the table. I saw my name written in a corner and a large circle drawn in the middle; it looked like a partially built bicycle wheel. The man did not waste any time as he immediately began telling me that the timing of my birth was unique. For the time I sat with this man, I was given a lot of information. For example, he told me I was a true Scorpion who had strong likes and dislikes. I was a loyal friend but if trust ever got broken, I would completely cut the person out of my life because once trust was broken it could never be completely repaired. There was a lot to take in, in such a short time. I would have enjoyed knowing what Walter Mercado would have said about Scorpions to compare the two, if I had only known about him. For those not familiar and those who are, you can now learn about him in this film festival documentary.      AT A YOUNG AGE WALTER MERCADO was different. It started when someone saw him bring a bird back to life. Directed by Cristina Costantini (Science Fair, Awakening: After Parkland) and Kareem Tabsch (The Last Resort, Dolphin Lover), this movie was a loving tribute to Walter. As I said, I had never heard of him; but as I watched this film, I was amazed and fascinated with Walter’s life. From humble beginnings, Walter looked at things differently and certainly did not conform to standard perceptions. I enjoyed seeing the reactions from his fans, especially the scenes that included Lin-Manuel Miranda (Mary Poppins Returns, Hamilton) and Eugenio Derbez (Instructions not Included, Overboard). The story had elements of sadness, fun and joy that were complimented by the tight editing between archival footage, animation and interviews. At first glance, I would have said Walter was a real character; however, seeing this film and hearing about his story made me appreciate the things he was trying to do. Hugely popular for years, I now wish I could have heard him tell me about my horoscope. There were multiple scenes that had Spanish dialog with English subtitles.

 

3 ½ stars

Flash Movie Review: Spelling the Dream

FROM AN EARLY AGE, I WAS ENTHRALLED with the written word. I was one of those kids who was a regular at our public library. Where most people would check out one to 4 books at a time, my usual batch of books totaled eight to twelve. However, during the summer months, I was known to check out 20 books at time, using a wagon to transport them home. One of my babysitters was an avid reader who started teaching me words that I was not being taught in school. Taking out the lettered tiles from a boxed game, we would turn all of them face down then mix them up. Next, we would split the tiles between us and turn them face up. The object of this made-up game was to create as many words as you could with the tiles picked. Obviously, she could have easily out listed me each time; but she always kept herself in check, along with helping me with my tiles. It did not occur to me until much later that she did not want me to ever feel defeated. When I made as many words as I could, she would move my remaining tiles into unfamiliar words for me. We would then get a dictionary to look up each word. This game was one of my favorite ones to play.      AS I WAS LEARNING ALL OF THESE new words, I had one semester where I had a teacher who was a horrible speller. At first, I thought they were joking and trying to test the students, but it was not the case. They were simply bad when it came to spelling; it was a good thing they were not teaching us English or literature. The irony of it was right after that class I had a class where the teacher was constantly telling us the origin for many of the words, he spoke to us. None of us really cared it turned out; though, I still have a memory that the word candelabra comes from a Latin term that literally means candle tree and the word hippopotamus comes from the Greek word for water horse. In the classroom there was a massive dictionary that the teacher kept at the side of the room on a ledge. Whenever a student did not understand or mispronounce a word, the teacher would have them walk over to the dictionary to look it up. Obviously, this was not enough preparation if any of us wanted to enter a spelling contest and especially if we wanted to go up against the students in this amazing documentary.      THE NATIONAL SPELLING BEE HAS BEEN around since the 1920s, but since the 1990s the contest has been dominated by one group of Americans. What was their secret? This film festival winning picture was written by first timer Chris Weller and director Sam Rega (League of Millions, Miami Noir: The Arthur E. Teele Story). With appearances by Sanjay Gupta (Anderson Cooper 360-TV, Monday Mornings-TV) and Hari Kondabolu (All About Steve, Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell-TV) among others, I was impressed by this movie. Since I have never sat and watched the telecast of the contest, I was surprised by the competitiveness and intensity that was on display. There was a mix of older and younger students that added levity and insight to their passion or maybe I should say desire. When I started watching this documentary, I thought I was going to witness parents who were dominating and strict, with only one thing on their mind—the contest. There were a couple of scenes that felt a bit repetitive; but overall the kids’ stories were so engaging and entertaining that I found myself getting anxious whenever a contest was in progress. This was a cinematic treat that provided me sustenance; I better look up the word sustenance, to make sure I am using it properly.

 

3 ½ stars      

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