Documentary

Maiden

First Hit: An extraordinary and heartrending film about women banding together to prove how amazingly powerful they are.

I grew up near boats. My dad and his best friend Frank Schultz built a 32’ cabin cruiser in our driveway so that they could dive for abalone together. My first memories as a month’s old baby are the warm sun, rocking waves, and the sound and vibration of the motor as I lay on the dark green engine cover.

My dad then bought a Mercury class day sailor, and it is here that I learned to sail. It was always exciting to head the boat as close to the wind as possible eking speed wherever possible, and having the boat heal over with water spilling over the rails both scared and excited me.

This film is about two things; sailing the most incredible boat race on earth —The Whitbread, and the first all-women crew to ever sail The Whitbread.

Tracy Edwards was always independent and driven, which is what she learned from her parents. When her dad suddenly died when she was 10, her mother, a new abusive stepdad, and she moved from Pangbourne England to Wales.

Rebelling in high school and eventually dropping out, at age 16 she became a stewardess on a yacht. This became her first introduction to sailing. Loving the independent life of being on boats, she began to learn the different positions by crewing on different ships. Wanting to be a part of the Whitbread race, the most dangerous and prestigious in the world, she sought out a crew position on one of the racing boats. However, the only spot any skipper would let her have was the cook.

Taking the job, she learned three things about this male-dominated sport and race, women were thought of as inferior, she hated how she was treated by the male crew, and she wanted to sail Whitbread again, but this time as an integral crew member.

Realizing this wasn’t going to happen on a boat skippered by a man, she brought together a team of women who would crew a ship that she would captain. Because she couldn’t find a sponsor, she mortgaged her home to purchase a used boat and did a second mortgage to fix it up.

She and her team re-built the boat by hand and got it ready to sail. Finding a sponsor to support the expensive logistics of racing in the Whitbread, she called her old friend King Hussein of Jordan. He said yes, and financed the remaining part of this excursion.

The press and all the other male crewed boats in the race predicted that this all-female crew would give up and turnaround before the end of the first leg of the event was completed. However, they finished the leg in third place, and because this wasn’t enough for Tracy and her crew, they pushed on and won the second and third legs of the Whitbread. Their results gained the respect of all sailors and the press, they were a crew to be contended with. It also created a wave of enthusiastic public support. And as they entered each port, crowds of people were cheering on this women’s team.

That was the real power of this team. The team’s ability to stay together, work hard, and succeed as a top-notch sailing team. The scene when the Maiden pulled into Southampton, England after completing the race brought tears to my eyes and the eyes of Edwards, who, despite her own acknowledged failings, let go and allowed herself the deep joy of doing a fantastic job.

The film used current time interviews with the crew as they recalled the power from completing the race as a team. There were also archive interviews of the Tracy and her team. Along with those clips, there was terrific footage of the race, the crew on the boat, and the power of the ocean.

Alex Holmes did an excellent job of splicing together the archival footage and giving the audience enough historical context of both the race and Tracy to make this story compelling. Tracy and team members Jeni Mundy and Mikaela Von Koskull were the main interviewees of current footage, and it was beautiful to get a sense of their view on the accomplishment.

Overall: Witnessing this sublime slice of sailing history helped to solidify the importance of the women’s movement worldwide.

Rolling Thunder: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese

First Hit: Little insight into Dylan, a lot of insight to the surrounding people and how they made music together.

Bob Dylan has always been an enigma to most of his audience. His music does his talking for him.

Watching this film about the 1975 tour, I was hoping to learn more about Bob, having grown up with much of his music being available to me. I was never a big Dylan fan, but there were songs I’d listened to that I loved and spoke to me, those were my Dylan songs. For many people, all of Bob’s songs were their songs. For others, when Bob went electric, they shuttered and thought him a traitor to the folk movement of the early 1960s.

What I admired most about Dylan was that he sang his own tunes his way, and for that, he deserves all the respect in the world.

This film talks with James Gianopulos the concert promoter of this concert tour, a number of the musicians including Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Ronnie Hawkins, and Scarlet Rivera. Additionally, there was a dialogue with others including Allen Ginsberg, filmmaker Martin von Haselberg, reporter Larry “Ratso” Sloman, Patti Smith, and Sam Shepard.

Many of the interviews were with this group of people in current time and back then, while other discussions were just from the 1975 tour.

Haselberg’s footage is used for the historical sequences, including the performances. While Scorsese shot additional interview footage, including with Bob. Haselberg did an excellent job of getting shots of the band before, after, and during the performances.

What this film did point out was that Bob Dylan does what he wants. Watching his critical eye while on stage, looking at his band, guiding them with slight gestures from his eyes or a head nod was mesmerizing. The tangent discussions that resulted in how people were added and removed from performances were interesting. “How do we fit Ginsberg in?” Will Joni get enough stage time? What about Joan?

The performances were held in small venues which allowed the film to reflect the closeness Dylan had with his audience. I was enchanted by the stage presence and violin playing of Scarlet Rivera, a highlight as was watching McGuinn playing the twelve string.

However, what was truly amazing was the during the credits, Scorsese listed all of Dylan’s concerts from 1976 on by year through 2018. This man never stops working.

Scorsese did a fantastic job of creating a drop-in, slice-of-life feeling, of what it was to be on this tour. An amusing touch was seeing Bob behind the steering wheel multiple times, driving the motor home to each of the locations – he was an engaged man.

Overall: Although I didn’t learn much about Dylan, I learned how he liked to make music.

Framing John DeLorean

First Hit: It was wonderful to learn more about John DeLorean, his life, and what happened to this risky innovator.

First off, this film is a combination of straight documentary film and reenactments. There is plenty of original documentary footage, including FBI footage of a sting operation, and interviews of John Z. DeLorean and his family. There are also current interviews with players in John’s life, including his two children. However, the wrinkle is that this movie also consists of reenactments of specific scenes in John’s life. Alec Baldwin plays John in these reenactments.

Being a car enthusiast, starting in the late 1960s, I was very aware of DeLorean’s impact at General Motors. His first impact statement with GM was the Pontiac GTO, the first bonafide muscle car. This was a “gotta have car” in the 60s. In this film, we learn how he figured out how to get the car made and out to the public under the strict design, build, and delivery structure at General Motors.

Because he bucked the traditions to get things done at General Motors, he was observed by senior managers. John’s everything-he-touches-turns-to gold successes at increasing sales at GM led him to become the youngest Division Head at General Motors at age 40. Although he pushed the buttons of the staunch old guard at GM, his bold work had him being touted as the next CEO and President.

However, tired of run-ins with the old guard, and having a lack of design flexibility, DeLorean left GM in 1973 to start his own motor car company, the DeLorean Motor Company (DMC). To find financing he touted his prowess at GM. He got private funding of about $17M and also got a lot more money from the British Government because he was going to build his manufacturing plant in Ireland. This was a real win for the Irish people.

The interviews of the factory workers were wonderfully touching. They loved working there because they were building something together, and the riff between the Protestant and Catholics fell away on the factory floor. This was great for both the people and the governments of Ireland and England.

However, technical issues and quality control issues caused problems with the automobiles, and they didn’t sell. Additionally, the economy took a downturn just as John introduced these cars but what really sank this ship was Margaret Thatcher deciding she didn’t want to continue under the support agreement DeLorean and England had created.

Needing money to keep his dream alive, fix the manufacturing problems, and sell the cars, he got caught up in a drug deal that was going to get him some $24M. However, it was a sting operation by the FBI.

The film goes into more detail about the trial and how it affected his family that what was reported in the papers. Current interviews with his son Zach and daughter Kathryn share how hard it was on the family.

Then it was discovered by a forensic accountant that the original $17M that DeLorean collected had been laundered with the help of an Italian group who took half the $17M, while John took the other half. I didn’t know beforehand about this issue, and it really added to the sneaky way John worked.

Some of the scenes during which Baldwin plays DeLorean, are modeled after the tapes and film of John, like being busted for the cocaine deal, and it’s effective.

DeLorean did not really spend much time behind bars, but he ended up broke and still trying to finish the dream with the DMC2 model. He died in his apartment, alone.

However, it was the film “Back to the Future” that may cement the DeLorean Motor Car as iconic.

Baldwin was very good as John, and I sensed he came close to sharing what DeLorean was like. Dan Greeney and Alexandra Orton did a great job of scripting this hybrid film. Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce did a fantastic job of directing this complex story of a complicated driven dreamer.

Overall: I really enjoyed learning more about this visionary.

Echo In the Canyon

First Hit: Although not great in a lasting way, I loved this film because it brought me home.

I was fortunate enough to be interested in and excited by the music developed during the mid-1960s. I had gotten a guitar at age 12, and by 1965, at age 15, I wanted to be a rock and roll star. Music, popular music, was changing radically during this time and up and through 1970 a profound change was taking place both culturally and musically. I wanted to be part of it. It never happened, but watching this film, I got to see how the music I loved got brewed.

This film endeavors to put some context to the change that was happening and specifically, the LA music scene. To do this, Jakob Dylan (Bob’s son), uses his interest in how music changed during this time to discover more about what happened. He interviews a number of those musicians, producers, and through archival footage, we are taken back to what happened.

There is a canyon in LA called Laurel Canyon, where musicians lived, hung-out together, but more importantly, played music together. Founding members of the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield,, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, The Beach Boys, Mamas and Papas, and several other bands and musicians all lived at some point in Laurel Canyon.

Because I grew up in Southern California, I was aware of the scene on Sunset Blvd and the clubs these bands played. The Whiskey a Go Go, The Roxy, and the Troubadour and others were where these bands publicly tried out their material.

The interviews in this film I found fascinating. David Crosby, Steven Stills, Eric Clapton, Roger McGuinn, Graham Nash, Tom Petty, Michelle Phillips, John Sebastian, Ringo Starr, Brian Wilson, Jackson Browne, and Lou Adler were illuminating and brought forth fantastic memories.

Vintage footage of these bands playing pulled at my heart. I cried as my own memories of this music flooded my soul.

Jakob staged a concert playing some of these songs, including some of the lesser-known numbers (Buffalo Springfield’s “Questions” to name one) to an enthusiastic audience. And although he put his, and his group of musicians, own wonderful flavor on these songs, I was really only hearing the original music in my head and wanted to sing along all the songs. Alas, I was in a movie theater and didn’t – my heart did.

And that’s what I loved about this film. I reminded me of my youth, the importance of music, and my relationship with these songs. This movie gave me a more in-depth perspective of the music I grew up on.

What didn’t work for me? I would have liked less of Jakob’s band playing the songs in the studio and on the stage. But I get why this is part of the film. It is a potent reminder that these songs can be carried on by younger generations. Watching Fiona Apple, Beck, Justine Bennett, Nora Jones, Jade Castrinos, and Jakob Dylan sing these songs from their hearts was outstanding as well.

Eric Barrett and Andrew Slater have the writing credits, but it was some of the responses by musicians that grabbed me. Slater did an excellent job of taking me back home, musically.

Overall: I quickly accessed beautiful memories and feelings while watching this film.

The Biggest Little Farm

The Biggest Little Farm – Documentary

First Hit: Inspiring to see how nature taught this couple how to work within earth’s elegant framework.

This is a story for all of us. Nature has created its own way of balancing life, death, and survival. We humans, when we don’t look, watch, and listen, don’t learn about how the system works. This film shows us a couple, Molly and John Chester, who learned how nature works, all because their rescue dog Todd barked for freedom.

Todd, a filmmaker, and cinematographer, and his wife Molly who was a foodie and food blogger, together with the persistence of their rescue dog Todd found themselves buying a rundown, desolate 200-acre Apricot Lane Farm in Moorpark, CA.

The story of how Todd barked his way to the farm is every dog owner’s and apartment renter’s nightmare. Todd barked all day, every day when left alone, and finally, the landlord evicted the Chester’s.

This spurred Molly and John to fulfill Molly’s dream of growing everything they ate while blogging about the experience along the way. Selling the idea to friends, family, and other small investors, they looked for a farm to buy.

The farm they found, Apricot Lane Farm, was broken in every sense of the word. The irrigation pond was dried up, the dirt was lifeless and had no nutrients, and almost nothing was alive. They bought it anyway.

Investing in Alan York, a man who believed farms can and need to work within nature’s flow of life helped guide the Chester’s in what to farm, and how to build an infrastructure that works. There are times, I wondered if Alan was off his rocker or a charlatan, but slowly, just as he said it would, the land began to work in harmony.

The movie is filled with heartbreaking, loving, and most of all, fascinating moments where I found myself learning just as the Chester’s were learning. I suspect, everyone in the San Rafael theater, where I saw this film, learned something. One lesson I learned from John was when Todd taught him how to look and learn about how things work. Embracing the art of patient seeing, the whole framework of how John approached new issues shifted.

Along with the gritty pain of learning, there was also humor. Emma, the pig, and Greasy, the rooster, are great to watch. There’s even humor in a scary event. After Molly packing everything in the home she wanted to flee a raging fire (which both starts and ends the film), the comical moment arrives when it is revealed what Molly decided to pack up as they readied to leave their farm because of the fire threat.

This film has it all. But mostly it has a lesson for us. Nature knows how the world works, and very few of us abide by that native code.

 John Chester and Mark Monroe wrote this wonderfully paced story. Chester also directed this film and his ability to capture some of the most amazing photographs of nature only added to this excellent story.

Overall: Molly’s inspiration and Todd’s persistence has given us a lesson on how things work.