Nota Bene

Heistbox (popularly known as Dropbox) altered the accounts of its original users earlier this year and created a fee-based "share" model. (See my post, “Dropbox and the Snake Oil Sales Model of Tech Firms,” June 12, 2015). As a result of this change, some links on this page that could previously be viewed with one click, now require a Heistbox account to access. Please contact me if you do not have an account, and wish to read any of my articles.

May 19, 2017

Taking Flight

In case you have not noticed, I just added my new Twitter handle to my Bio: I am still a fledgling, having sent only one tweet, but as a colleague said, there is no turning back now! I expect to use this platform sparingly, to tweet about films worth screening, and perhaps to draw attention to my print work that is not available on the Internet. I hope my former students will tweet, and those who follow this blog. Cari amici: Che c'é di nuovo?

May 5, 2017

Laura Poitras's "Risk"

Filmmaker Laura Poitras (Courtesy of Praxis Films).

Laura Poitras won an Oscar for Citizenfour (2014), which was about whistle-blower Edward Snowden. In her new documentary, Risk, she profiles Wiki-Leaks founder Julian Assange. My review of the documentary is on

Apr 28, 2017

My Tribeca Coverage

Whitney Houston in the mid-1990s. (Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival)

Below are links to my Tribeca Film Festival coverage:

Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives (review):

Elián (review):

Frank Serpico (review):

Newton (interview):
Videotaped Interview:

The Reagan Show (review):

An image from Zohar Kfir's virtual reality installation, Testimony, about survivors of sexual assault. (Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival)

Testimony (interview):

Whitney. Can I Be Me? (review):

Apr 22, 2017

Screening at Tribeca: "The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson"

Transgender activist Martha P. Johnson in one of her signature headdresses of fresh flowers.

Place almost any adjective in front of the word “woman”—poor or gay or immigrant—and she disappears. This is especially true in federal crime statistics: African-American women, and other marginalized groups of women, including Native Americans, are not differentiated in those numbers, although it is common knowledge among law enforcement and legal authorities that they are more often victims of violent crimes, including sexual assault. Marsha P. Johnson’s adjectives were “transvestite,” “transgender” and “African-American.”

Marsha was a drag queen, a fixture of the Manhattan neighborhoods of Chelsea and the West Village. She was a hero of Stonewall, the 1969 riots that marked the gay rights movement. Marsha's broad smile and her kooky outfits led passersby who knew nothing about the gay rights movement to stop and speak with her. She sometimes gave them flowers or a string of beads she happened to be wearing.

In The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, screening at the Tribeca Film Festival, documentarian David France (How to Survive a Plague, 2012) profiles his eponymous subject’s lifelong activism through an investigation into her death. In 1992, Marsha’s body was found floating in the Hudson River; although authorities ruled it a suicide, fellow activists never accepted the finding. Neither did Victoria Cruz.

This is a still of Ms. Cruz from David France's documentary. (Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival)
 An investigator for the New York City Anti-Violence Project (“AVP”), Ms. Cruz revisits the “cold case,” reopened in 2012 by the NYPD—and France chronicles her dogged search for the truth. The result is a disturbing story of discrimination and corruption, as well as the tale of a persistent, although little-discussed rift in the gay community, that of the lack of acceptance of trans women.

Through interviews with family members, lovers, friends and fellow activists, we get a glimpse of Marsha's charm, but France’s documentary is also a quest for understanding, a profiling of the cultural, political and economic forces that oppressed Marsha. They are emblematic of the forces that often fell heroes.

Apr 21, 2017

Tribeca Film Festival 2017

It’s spring in New York, and that means the Tribeca Film Festival is underway. Opening night was at Radio City Music Hall with the premier of Chris Perkel’s documentary, Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of our Lives. About the eponymous music mogul who began his career at CBS, it will screen this weekend. (My review is here:

A very young Clive Davis with Patti Smith.(Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival)
The documentary was followed by a show honoring the 85 year-old executive, best-known to the general public for his longstanding professional relationship with the late Whitney Houston. He signed Houston to a recording contract when she was 19 years old, and was with her on The Merv Griffin Show, her first T.V. appearance.

Jennifer Hudson, who was the first to perform on Wednesday’s Opening Night tribute, celebrated Whitney and Davis with her rendition of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me).” She was followed by Earth, Wind & Fire, Dionne Warwick, jazz clarinetist Kenny G, and the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.

Here is a link to a review of "The Reagan Show," another documentary screening at the festival: Most of my coverage of the Tribeca Film Festival will appear on and on Film Journal International’s “Screener Blog.” You can also check back here for links. Short posts will appear on my Facebook page.

Mar 13, 2017

New Directors/New Films 2017

A still from Alessandro Comodin’s i Tempi Felici Verranno Presto
(This image and others appearing in this post are courtesy of MoMA and FSLC.)

New York City’s most eclectic film festival, “New Directors/New Films,” showcases features, documentaries and shorts by directors and writer-directors who are just beginning their careers. Comprised of debut films or “sophomore” efforts, ND/NF represents the chance for audiences to discover a new artist, and to see a movie that may not receive theatrical distribution.

Opening night is Wednesday, March 15th, at the Museum of Modern Art, with Geremy Jasper’s Patti Cake$ (U.S.A.). Twenty-nine feature-length films and two programs of short films, from over two dozen countries, screen through March 26th; all the movies at the 46th Annual ND/NF will be shown at both the Museum of Modern Art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

A still from el Futuro Perfecto, featuring star Xiaobin Zhang.

Several features meld fiction and documentary, such as Alessandro Comodin’s i Tempi Felici Verranno Presto (Happy Times Will Come Soon, Italy/France), in which two stories are set in the same forest (in the Friuli region), in two different eras, and Locarno winner Nel Wohlatz’s el Futuro Perfecto (The Future Perfect, Argentina) that explores language as a vehicle for self-realization. (See my Facebook post for more on "el Futuro.") Both are beautifully photographed and well-edited, yet they have very different appeal. Comodin’s sophomore effort is for viewers who appreciate abstract narratives, while Wohlatz’s debut has a recognizable arc.

Menashe and his son in Weinstein's Menashe.

Joshua Z. Weinstein’s impressive debut narrative feature Menashe (U.S.A.) is set in a Hasidic community in Brooklyn, its eponymous hero a recent widower whose emotional maturity is barely a match for his 10 year-old son. The rules of Menashe’s sect prevent from him living with the boy until he remarries—but the lonely supermarket worker does not want another wife. He was 22 years old when his father sent him to Israel to meet his first bride. Menashe does want to be with his son, but for the time being the rabbi places him with Menashe’s brother-in-law, a successful businessman. In the subtext of Weinstein’s entertaining film, there lies a gentle critique of Hasidic life, including the limited role of women in these communities. On the other hand, Menashe provides dimension to those mysterious men in black coats and large hats, especially for non-Jewish audiences.

A production still from Quest, featuring (L to R) daughter PJ, her mom, Christine'a and her dad, Christopher.

South Philadelphia is the setting for Jonathan Olshefski’s absorbing and skillfully made first documentary, Quest; it follows the Rainey family through eight years of struggling to make ends meet. Like Weinstein, Olshefski is overturning stereotypes, in this case, negative portrayals of African-Americans living in the equivalent of East New York or Crown Heights in New York City. Parents Christopher (aka “Quest”) and Christine'a, are devoted to their children, and toil at several jobs to support them, as well as sustain Christopher’s home recording studio. Christine'a works at a homeless shelter, and at first is content to care for her young daughter, and to bolster her husband’s musical pursuits. Over the course of the documentary the Raineys confront trials that test their commitment to each other, and while there are tense moments, for the most part, they do what every other family does to stay together—they weigh what is in everybody’s best interests and accept the circumstances that limit their choices.

For those who revel in neurotic, 19th century female literary characters in the French tradition (think Gustave Flaubert and de Maupassant), New Directors/New Films includes in its 2017 line-up William Oldroyd’s debut film, Lady Macbeth (U.K.). Not for the faint-hearted, or the feminist, the movie nevertheless features several good performances by young actors, including that of Florence Pugh in the lead, and Naomi Acki in the role of her maid. The adapted screenplay is from Russian author Nikolai Leskov’s 19th century novel, published a decade after Flaubert’s "Madame Bovary." For more information on the festival, visit its website:

Mar 8, 2017

Showing the Pink!

Here is a picture from my roof of the Empire State Building, with its pink lights in celebration of International Women's Day. To all my wonderful female students in Tsaile: A woman's place is wherever she wants to be!

Mar 5, 2017

Returning Home . . .

Two weeks ago, I made the difficult decision to resign my appointment at Diné College, and I returned to New York City. While I miss my students, and the friends I made in Tsaile, Arizona, the college is an unpleasant place to work. My department chair was unqualified for her position, and the result was a dysfunctional department. Just before I left, the Faculty Association held a vote of "no confidence" in the administration (my chair was on that list), and it passed by an overwhelming margin. 

As my husband and I drove home, reversing the cross-country trek undertaken in August to get me to the Navajo Reservation (we have crossed the country by car three times in all), I had time to reflect on what I will miss. For the first time in my life, I lived on a mountain, and in a hogan, a six-sided version of the traditional Navajo home. Tsaile is a fly-way, and nearly every morning in late summer and early fall, there were bluebirds on my bird feeder. Lately, there have been juncos and the ever-present, bright blue pinon jays.

I will miss living in a culture where every mountain and prominent rock formation on Diné ancestral land is attached to a story, sometimes from the Diné Bahané or the Navajo Creation story. For instance, Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelley, is the dwelling place of Spider Woman, who sheltered the warrior twins during their quest to rid the people of the monsters who plagued them. As a Native New Yorker, these stories, the beauty of the land, and the sight of the Milky Way on clear nights, often served as my antidotes for the isolation of Tsaile where the nearest supermarket was 45 miles away.

On a lighter note, I miss my F-150, which now belongs to Anderson, a neighbor in Tsaile. For the uninitiated, this Ford is an iconic pick-up truck, and mine had great personality--so much that Anderson once motioned me over to the side of the road to ask if he could buy it because he had so long admired it! I never thought I would own a truck, much less yearn to be behind the wheel of mine again, but we are always altered by journeys, especially when we take a wrong turn! 

On our long drive cross-country, we stopped in Amarillo for Texas barbecue (which I always miss!). I will never forget the ladies at the UPS store in Amarillo who waited nearly a half-hour for us on a Saturday afternoon; because I had gotten sick with the flu on the second day of our journey, we were delayed in picking up the contact lenses I had shipped there.

Later that evening, on a lonely expanse of highway . . .

. . . we stopped for cough drops and Tylenol at a trailer park store. The next night, my husband took me to Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Missouri, with a temp of 102. When you walk into Mercy's ER, the first question they ask is: "How are you feeling?" In New York City, the first thing they ask in an ER is: "Do you have insurance?" My nurse was terrific, and the next morning, when I called for the results of my X-ray, I was immediately put through to the radiologist. I love my city, but nothing here works this well. Thank you, Mercy Hospital.

By the fourth day on the road, we were all exhausted . . . even our Road Warrior Cat, Lucia, who had lived with me in Tsaile. It was Lucia's third cross-country journey, the second in a Penske truck. Here she is nestled in between the seats of the truck's cab.

Our last night on the road, we stayed in a delightful B&B, the Somerset Country Inn in Somerset, Pennsylvania. The owners had attended President Trump's inauguration; we saw their security badges hanging on a nearby hook. We never spoke about politics. Instead, my husband and I, and the other two guests, all of us left-leaning Democrats, were introduced by our hosts to a neighbor's dog who visited the B&B each morning. We fussed over the dog a bit, ate a hearty breakfast and drank the best cup of coffee we had had all week. We complimented our hosts on their graciousness, too. 

About two hours later, we pulled off the Interstate to get gas, and passed this sign:

On our way back to the Interstate, we saw a horse-drawn buggy ahead of us and realized the need for the sign. The driver of the buggy was a member of a nearby Amish community. We slowed, and he pulled to the side of the two-lane road. I lowered my window to say "hello" and to thank him, and the young man waved and wished us a "good journey." Suddenly, I felt very hopeful for our country.

America has not yet realized the dream of "justice for all," but while we bandy opposing views and struggle to forge a better nation, we need to do it (especially now) with the great civility we were shown by a couple of Trump supporters and a young man who surrendered his right-of-way to two weary strangers.

Oct 8, 2016

"Fuocoamare" ("Fire at Sea")

A still that depicts Samuele, one of Gianfranco Rosi's subjects in the documentary Fire at Sea (courtesy of Kino Lorber)

I have just added a link (to the left of this column) to my post on Film Journal International's "Screener Blog." It is an interview with Italian human rights filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi (El Sicario, Room 164). His documentary, Fire at Sea, won the Golden Bear at Berlinale earlier this year; it is about Lampedusa's role in the rescue of refugees arriving by boat from Libya. Fire at Sea, which screened at the New York Film Festival today, is Italy's entry for the Academy Awards. Rosi's film follows several of Lampedusa's denizens, including an adolescent boy, Samuele (pictured above) and Dr. Pietro Bartolo, the Sicilian island's sole physician.

Sep 30, 2016

Faculty Appointment in the Navajo Nation

This is Buffalo Pass, a mountain road in the Navajo Nation.
This time of year, New York City-based film critics are attending press screenings at the New York Film Festival. That is where I would be as well, but this past August, I accepted a faculty appointment in the English Department at Diné College, in Tsaile, Arizona. It was founded as a community college in 1968, the first Native American institution of its kind. The college now offers several B.A. degrees to its approximately 1,600 students, the majority of whom are Navajo. Students also come from neighboring tribes, including the Hopi, and from indigenous communities across the United States, as well as from other countries.

Tsaile consists of a gas station and its store, and Diné College. The town is about 7,100 feet above sea level, and is in the Navajo Nation, the reservation of the largest group of indigenous people in the United States, the Diné ("the people" in the Navajo language). A reservation that my husband and I have visited many times over the last 20 years (we were here on 9/11), the Navajo Nation is known to most Americans as an area that encompasses some of America's most beautiful national parks, including Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelley. For the Diné, it is their homeland, the place of their ancestors, its boundaries the four sacred mountains, Mount Blanca, Mount Hesperus, Mount Taylor and the San Francisco Peaks. The nation spans three states, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, and its official language is that of the famous Navajo Codetalkers.

I will continue my work as a film critic and feature writer, so please do check back here for links to my movie reviews and features. I am at this moment preparing for several filmmaker interviews with directors of documentaries and features screening at NYFF. I will also continue to cover new quest films on my Facebook public page (, which I began with the publication of my recent book, Cinematic Quests for Identity: The Hero's Encounter with the Beast.

This is my backyard in Tsaile, where I see bluebirds every morning.