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.

Dads Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Dads had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019 and it is Bryce Dallas Howard’s directorial debut. The documentary covers a wide range of diverse families, across the globe, that show the true meaning, of what it takes to be a father. Howard opens the film with home footage of her being born and then has her father, Ron Howard, shared his views of fatherhood. It integrated celebrity fathers and true stories, from every perspective imaginable, some stories were fun and light, others were heartbreaking to sit through. At the end of the day, parenting does not come with a manual and Dads shows that in a very candid way.

It was such a lovely film because it has fathers at the forefront. We all know women can do it all and a mothers love is extremely important. When a father is present and involved in the child’s life, it is wonderful to see that dynamic of a father with his children. I am extremely close to my dad and I often find that films or tv shows, rarely have a positive father/daughter dynamic. There is always some conflict or the father is not in the picture at all. So films that have a positive and loving relationship representing that fatherly bond is a step in the right direction.

It is important to show, how fatherhood has changed and how men, in general, change their perspective of what it means to be a man. Celebrity dads such as, Ron Howard, Patton Oswalt, Will Smith, Neil Patrick Harris, Hasan Minaj, Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Fallon, Ken Jeong, Kenan Thompson and Judd Apatow all had very insightful moments throughout the documentary. Howard had this steady flow when having the open discussions about fatherhood with each of them. It was candid because all of the anecdotes shared were realistic and grounded. You could feel Howard’s connection, to the men in her life and it was lovely.

Howard brought together different family units, that included diverse cultural representation, sexual orientation and economical backgrounds, in order to have viewers appreciate and understand what it means to be a father. The stories were truly special and to watch these fathers pull through, under their own health issues or financial issues was really moving. It had a very nice structure and it allowed the stories of Rance Howard, Reed Howard, Glen Henry, Robert Selby, Thiago Queiroz, Shuichi Sakuma, Rob Scheer and Reece Scheer to be the emotional centers of the documentary. The celebrity stories were used as the comedic relief, while these true stories shed light on so many different issues.

Dads is a documentary that shows the journey of the modern dad. There are plenty of heartfelt moments in this film and there is a perfect balance of humour, that counters the serious subject matter. Whether your child was adopted, or has gone through multiple surgeries, or has kept you up at night, causing you to be delusional, they have shaped you into the man you are today. Fathers are important and this documentary shows all the good dads, who have been there for their children. It is a really special film and a wonderful debut for Bryce Dallas Howard.

 

 

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 Selection: Love & Stuff Interview with Judith Helfand


By: Amanda Guarragi 

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. 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.

Judith and her mother, just wanted more time to spend with each other. Time is something so valuable and we often take it for granted. “There’s so many things that she probably wanted to tell me, that she couldn’t find the language for, it’s really hard to say, here is my life long lesson, here’s what I want you to know before I die, here’s what I think you need to know.” said Helfand about having discussions with her late mother. Watching a loved one pass away is extremely difficult and emotional. How do we even calculate time? We tend to get whisked away into our busy lives and forget what it is like to spend time with our loved ones. Then for some reason, we ask for more time when we know it’s too late.

It is something that I’ve often questioned about elders, all they want to do is pass down their knowledge and experiences before they leave us. Why do they feel the need to do this at the end of their life? Do we only start listening when they are about to pass because we did not think of paying attention to the stories before?

“They want to give you advice, the stuff that you never wanted to listen to, they were probably right about. They want to keep this connection possible and if they never had a chance to do that, whether they were working too hard or your relationship was on the rocks or something like that, I think that they want the time and the space to be able to try and fix that before they die.” – Judith Helfand 

That is the most wonderful thing about Love & Stuff it takes these conversations about death and turns them into life lessons, so others can understand how to approach the end of their loved ones life. It is a cathartic piece, not only for Helfand but for everyone that worked on the film. It presented a safe space for everyone who had lost someone. “I mean it just started out as a way, for me to not be alone with what I knew. What could be a very private universal moment and by private I mean, I’m not letting others into our life, and into this moment, and into our space, into our home and into our hospice, but I did the opposite.” Helfand wanted everyone to be present for her mother’s passing, in order to give them time to say goodbye.

Helfand’s 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. “The thing that my mother wanted the most at the end of her life, was the thing my daughter wanted at the beginning of hers and that’s time. My mother just wanted time and my kid just wants to play, she just wants time.” Helfand believes that her daughters birth, was a gift from her mother after she passed and that full circle connectivity is the heart of Love & Stuff. 

This film helps viewers re-evaluate their own connection with their parents or loved ones. Helfand had 2 and a half years to prepare for her mother’s death and it was important to her, to find away to utilize that time. “I wanted to figure out how to keep her in my life and keep our conversation dynamic, even if it wasn’t current and present. It could be ongoing and I wanted to figure out how to be a mother, without having a mother and I felt like all that material was locked inside an archive, and I needed to get to it, as soon as I could.” 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 made a follow up video to Love & Stuff, called Absolutely No Spitting and it shows the journey of her, now 4 year – old daughter Theo taking a DNA test to discover her ancestry. What starts out as a factual journey, turns into a path of self discovery and acceptance for young Theo. The love shared between Helfand and Theo is very quirky and heartfelt. Helfand shared her own ancestry with Theo and she will continue to explore value in the people around her. She identifies her daughter’s Blackness and incorporates that into her Jewish ancestry.

 

 

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.