After So Many Days: A 365 Day Journey With Musicians Jim Hanft & Samantha Yonack


By: Amanda Guarragi

After So Many Days is a documentary that will take you on tour, with a newly married singer/songwriter duo, Jim Hanft and Samantha Yonack. They decided to embark on a tour, to play one show a day, every day, for a year. It is a concept that not many people have even come close to attempting, but they wanted to see how everything would play out. Jim and Samantha’s love of music, their creativity and determination sent them on a journey that changed them forever.

The film has been an official selection at more than 30 film festivals worldwide and has just been released today, along with a companion album “Songs from After So Many Days”. It is incredibly candid, as they film each other and their experiences, travelling to different cities and performing for everyone. Samantha felt really grateful for this experience and how interacting with their audience has been affected by the pandemic, “At a time where we can’t tour and we can’t physically be there in front of people, we’re hoping that this film can do that in place of us doing that. So it’s kind of touring for us at the moment which is nice.” The film festival circuit has been incredibly rewarding for both Jim and Samantha, they truly appreciated sharing their music and their journey with the world.

Photo Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures

Jim and Samantha travelled to 14 different countries. There were so many beautiful moments and it was lovely to see the reception to their music on a global scale. One moment that popped into Jim’s head, was when they performed at a memory care facility. “We went in there and we learned a couple of songs, some old timey songs, to kind of bring some of that musical spirit in there.” It has been said that people who suffer from Alzheimer’s are able to piece some memories together through music because a memory can be tied to a song, which at some point in their lives evoked an emotion. “Seeing some people who were kind of suffering, hearing the music, light up and start to dance, that was really moving.” Something as simple as playing a song, triggers a memory, and that is what makes music so incredible.

Photo Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures

The beauty of this documentary is that it is a 2-in-1 tour for the audience. Not only do you have a front row seat to their show but the behind the scenes of their day-to-day process. An entire year of travelling, performing and meeting new people, is definitely exciting but it can also be exhausting. It is such a well rounded piece. You really get to know Jim and Samantha so well. Their personalities fill the screen and their passion for their craft is truly inspiring.

After So Many Days is a wonderful documentary because it takes the viewer into a space where creativity and art is a necessity. This film speaks to creative minds and the hearts of determined individuals who want to pursue their dream. Jim and Samantha’s journey will uplift anyone who has been struggling with their process. The power of music demands to be felt in this documentary and it’s a great feeling.

Return To Hardwick Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Return To Hardwick is a generic World War 2 documentary that highlights the 93rd bomb group. Director Michael Sellers brings together sons, daughters and other family members to share their memories of their loved ones who served in the war. Michael Cudlitz (Band of Brothers, The Walking Dead) narrates this journey as the younger generation attempts to travel to the Southern part of England, to uncover the history of a disappearing World War 2 air base.

It was a very nice three part structure that was beautifully shot. They chose to use still photos, archive footage and reconstructed set pieces to tell the story. It is emotional at times because the children/grandchildren of this soldiers, were talking about their experiences in the war and their own relationships with them. What they did really well was integrating the archive footage, with present day, as the younger generation made their way to the air base.

This film offers viewers an in depth look into the lives of those who fought in World War 2 bombing crews. This documentary felt so wholesome and genuine, in the way it was presented because the heart of the director, was with his own grandfather who fought in the war. Those connections are stronger than people think and it came from such a pure, honest place when delivering this story.

The one thing that also worked quite well, was seeing the veterans retell the horrors they experienced in the war. It was really nice to hear their version of the story, while Sellers chose to recreate certain moments from World War 2 in very unique ways, in order to enhance the stories that were being told. It felt like a whole other life time, when watching this film because we have never experienced war the way that generation did.

Return To Hardwick is an emotional World War 2 documentary, that hits all the right notes and leaves you with a better understanding of the hardships soldiers faced during that period. The film is like a heartfelt love letter to that generation serving in the 93rd bomb group, it pulls at your heartstrings and takes you on the journey with the children and grandchildren of those soldiers who served their country.

 

 

HOT DOCS 2020: LOVE & STUFF


By: Amanda Guarragi 

“The only good thing about time running out, is that it pushes people to find the strength to show up.” 

Love & Stuff is a deeply personal documentary on motherhood and the cycle of life. Peabody Award winning filmmaker Judith Helfand, documented her terminally ill mother’s final moments, at home-hospice before she passed. The camera, helped Helfand stay connected to her mother during hard times and it was used as another form of communication. In this feature, Helfand continues the story that she began two decades ago, with Healthy Baby Girl (Sundance, Peabody 1997) through these films, Helfand adds emotional layers, by openly discussing her own traumas, addressing grief by using dark humour and reflecting on the power of family.

This feature is incredibly emotional because of the raw, human connection the viewer has with Helfand, as she goes on this journey with her mother. Helfand has normal, everyday conversations with her and integrates old home footage to show the drastic change in her mother. Her mother, like every mother, wanted what was best for her daughter and it was revealed that Judith could not bear any children of her own. So the connectivity to motherhood, was the strongest part of this feature because at a time where Judith needed her mother, to guide her through the adoption process and in raising her daughter, she had passed away.

“How do you live without your mother?” it’s a question – through our own paranoia of the endless possibilities that could happen to our mother’s – that we ask ourselves daily. How can any part of my life be possible without the woman that gave me life? How can I grow as an adult without her guiding me? It doesn’t matter what age you are, life is always hard to navigate and everyone confides in their mother or motherly figure. In Judith’s case, her baby girl Theo, was born right after her mother passed and many said it was a gift from her. How does one learn about motherhood, if they’ve never been a mother before? No one is ever prepared to look after a child and to have an entire being, be so dependent on you, it is definitely a challenge in itself.

As Judith’s mother was getting to her final months, she had become her baby to practice on, before she was able to complete the adoption. It was a humorous moment, but no one fully understands how heartbreaking it is to watch a person, who you have known your whole life to be physically strong, to lose that very part of themselves until they are in that situation themselves. I have gone through those stages with my grandparents, I have looked after them and I have struggled with understanding the aging process. How? How can we go from such strong, independent beings, to being children again? This is why my heart is always with the senior community, they have lived such full lives and then to see them in such a fragile state is hard.

I also find it quite interesting that seniors are always more open and candid discussing death, almost as if they start preparing us past a certain age. They make plenty of jokes centering around death, once they hit the age of seventy five and in a way, it’s good that they do that. What parents do their whole lives, is try to set up their children for a strong, healthy life and we don’t realize that is what they’re doing, until we have achieved our goals.

The one thing that really stood out to me in this feature, is that Judith went through all of her mother’s belongings with her and then kept everything in boxes after her passing. The emotional attachment to objects is very hard to break because of all the memories that are tied to them. I thought the individual shots of the objects Judith decided to highlight, were very important because whether it was a piano or a tube of lipstick, it reminded Judith of her mother. Instead of a memory locked in your mind, there is a physical, concrete object that you can hold in your hands, which will still have traces of your loved one.

Love & Stuff is a beautiful documentary about life and death. It shows the value of family and the power of motherhood. It handles grief with such tenderness and shows a side of seniors, that many do not see before their passing. Somehow, it is more difficult to grieve your loved one, while they are alive because you know you have to let them go eventually. It is important to remember that even if your mother is no longer with you, she taught you everything you needed to know to survive this life and as time goes on, you will incorporate what she taught you and add your own anecdotes.

 

 

How Do We Process Grief? An Interview with Director Katrine Philp of “An Elephant in the Room”


By: Amanda Guarragi 

In our lives there are moments that we will remember forever and all of those key moments, shape us into the people we are today. Majority of us tend to stick to the happy memories, in order to outweigh any pain or trauma that we have encountered. Currently, we are all living through the COVID -19 pandemic and people are grieving all over the world. People are paranoid, anxious, scared and are feeling immense loss.

As adults, we understand how everything works. We try to understand the choices the government makes and we adapt to what is happening around us. However, the ones who will be affected by this the most are the children. It is hard to explain any of this to them. Yes they understand to a certain degree, but for kids who are in elementary school and are constantly active, how are they handling any of this? It also raises the question of how children handle the loss of a loved one. What concepts do they understand? How do they even begin to process any of that? Right now there are children grieving the loss of their mother/father, their siblings or their grandparents.

In the middle of March, I watched a documentary called An Elephant in the Room. Katrine Philp directs the documentary feature and it was supposed to premiere at SXSW film festival. An Elephant in the Room focuses on a holistic way of dealing with grief at a centre called “Good Grief” in New Jersey. Philp shares the stories of six children and their companions who have lost their parents. It shows many different approaches in handling grief and acts as a catharsis for everyone involved, including the viewer.

It’s a subject that not many people touch upon because of how painful these stories can be, especially if those stories involve a child’s point of view. Philp had her own experience involving her brother and his family. At one point they almost lost her sister-in-law and she saw the trauma her brother and three children went through during that period of time. “She miraculously survived, but it left marks – and I started getting interested in making a film about how children experience grief.” When she began research on her film, she didn’t know that her own father would fall sick and also pass on, “Feeling my own grief while filming the families during their own made complete sense. I fully understood what the families were going through and the challenges they faced.” Sometimes sharing the pain and these stories help people connect more and feel like they aren’t alone in feeling what they are feeling.

When it comes to children processing anything, it’s always interesting to have these discussions with them, touching upon difficult subject matters. How do these children process these emotions? What are they absorbing and how is it affecting them? So how does one even begin to have a conversation with children about grief? Well, Katrine Philp weighs in on her process and how she approached the children during filming,

“Shooting in a sensitive situation with grieving children and their families for this documentary, we had to be fairly discrete. The children were going through some very deep emotions and it was important for me to be close to them, but not to overwhelm them with an extra pressure. Filming children is different than filming adults, especially when they are challenged by sadness. The children are more impulsive and can go from feeling very sad one moment to being happy and playing two minutes later. It was very common and kind of difficult to film. The cinematographer was always chasing the moment. Some days we couldn’t use any of the footage that we shot and other days magic happened and we captured a lot of fantastic scenes. We had to film a lot, be patient, and wait for the moments to appear. Our method in the interviews was to get them started and then not interrupt them and ask a lot of questions. I just wanted it to come naturally from them and in every pause they had, I waited and then they just kept talking. So patience was key.”

The children in the documentary had lost their mother, father or even both and their guardian took care of them. There were moments in the feature, which were extremely emotional because of how the children openly discussed how they were feeling. Thankfully these children were not alone, not only did they have their guardian helping them through this difficult time; they attended counseling at “Good Grief” in New Jersey. “Good Grief CEO, Joe Primo invited us to come and film and after the first day of filming I was sure that there was a film to be discovered at Good Grief. “ Philp and her team were able to connect with the families and they started filming, both at Good Grief and their homes.

The stories of the children were so incredibly moving and to see them talk to other children about their new families or how they are feeling, really put so much into perspective. It made me realize that it’s okay to feel the way you are feeling and still be able to have an open conversation with people who are willing to listen. Philp began to film these children at Good Grief and their stories kind of candidly developed on screen for her, “When you start filming it is often very clear who would be good characters in a film, so instead of looking at their stories, because every one of them is heartbreaking, we started filming the ones that we kept filming, in a life situation like this, not all families are ready to invite a film crew home and we totally respected that.” Philp was also very conscious to choose families that she felt were capable of having her team around, filming on and off during the year.

An Elephant in the Room will take you on an emotional journey with these young children and will make you reminisce on how you processed your own grief. “Good Grief” is an organization that deserves more recognition for what they are doing because they are giving children a safe space to express their pain. Children are affected by everything and need to be guided during difficult times. To all those suffering around the world during this time, please remember your feelings are valid and there are many sources of expression for everyone experiencing any type of loss, trauma or mental anguish. We must work together and help each other overcome tragedy on a global scale at this current time.

How To Save Our Planet Through De-Extinction: An Interview With “We Are As Gods” directors Jason Sussberg and David Alvarado


By: Amanda Guarragi 

The world as we know it, has drastically changed and our planet has slowly deteriorated. There are so many aspects such as, industrialization, deforestation and pollution, which affect Global Warming and our climate is changing more rapidly than ever. It seems as if the vicious cycle of capitalism has made the global population forget about taking care of our planet. Recently I watched a documentary, which was supposed to premiere at SXSW this year, called We Are As Gods. It is an in depth look at Stewart Brand’s life and his interest in de-extinction. This documentary shows the reasons why our planet has been deteriorating and that humans are to blame for the current state we are in.

Co-Directors Jason Sussberg and David Alvarado wanted to shed light on Brand’s ideas of long-term thinking and how people could save the planet. “The idea of doing a feature film on Stewart’s remarkable life and controversial de-extinction project seemed so cinematic, fascinating, and urgent: we’re losing (and have lost) keystone species causing impoverished ecosystem; and humans are to blame.” It educates the viewers about the history of the Earth and the current state humans are living in. They showed that there is a possibility that useful sciences could eventually restore some sort of balance to our deteriorating planet.

The documentary shows the longevity of theories and that it takes one man, to create a hypothesis to counter scientists or environmentalists. I had asked Sussberg and Alvarado about their thoughts on the current state of the world, as we are living through a historical event with global pandemic COVID -19, causing panic and tragedy across the globe.

“It’s hard to answer this question while in the middle of a global pandemic and likely economic depression. It’s bleak and going to get a lot worse, before it gets better. We’ll lose friends and family to the virus, people will feel isolated and depressed, and then the economy is going to be destroyed for a while… Our minds are solely focused on survival in the immediate, but we need to think long-term to maintain civilization. All of the missteps so far (not testing early, not going on severe lockdown sooner, not mobilizing industry to build ventilators and protective equipment) were motivated by short-term thinking—making the markets happy and not grinding capitalism to a screeching halt. By thinking long-term, you make near-term sacrifices, knowing that the outcome will be better in the future—lives will be saved, the healthcare curve will be flattened, economies will rise again, and the overall health of civilization will be prosperous.” – Directors Jason Sussberg and David Alvarado

The title of the film, We Are As Gods is the opening line of The Earth Catalogue that Stewart Brand created in the late 60s. “As the title suggests, “We are as gods.” The second half of Stewart’s quote is “and we might as well get good at it.” Beyond environmentalism and conservation, this concept extends to the current crisis.” Sussberg and Alvarado link it to the current pandemic and how it came about, “Our global civilization created the ingredients for a pandemic to flourish. But our god-like powers (science and technology) will solve this problem. A COVID-19 vaccine is the only solution that will safeguard our civilization from a major contraction in life and prosperity.” It’s a simple quote that can be interpreted in so many ways and can definitely apply to anything.

We Are As Gods shows the future of biotechnology and how we, as a civilization, can move forward. As stated in the documentary, if we bring certain species back it will restore their own ecosystem and create a balance. Sussberg and Alvarado have put their faith in the restoration of these ecosystems and do believe de-extinction can work. This documentary about Stewart Brand’s life holds so much value because of his views on humanity, science and the entire planet.