American Experience Remembers The Boys of ’36

BOYSOF36_27x40I’m writing this blog post from the second floor porch of a Victorian B&B in Ocean Grove, NJ, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. There’s a brisk wind off the ocean today, but the sparkling white caps and the fishing boats hovering close to shore hold promise of a breaching hungry whale or two…and some spunky dolphin dive-bys.

Yes, I’m on vacation and I’m surrounded by water…the optimum venue from which to give you a shout-out about American Experience’s rousing new documentary about Olympic rowers.  Perfectly timed to herald the start of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro later this week, The Boys of ’36 debuts on PBS tonight, Tuesday, August 2, 2016, 9:00 -10:00 p.m. ET. (Check local listings for air times in your region.)

The Boys of ’36 is really an inspiring story,” says Mark Samels, WGBH Executive Producer for American Experience. “These remarkable young men–with nothing more than strength of character, hard work and determination–triumphed over unimaginable odds.”

Inspired by the New York Times #1 bestseller, The Boys in the Boat (Penguin/Random House), by Daniel James Brown, the documentary recounts the individual economic, physical and psychological obstacles faced by nine working-class young rowers from the University of Washington as they prepared to compete for a Gold Medal at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.

Author Daniel James Brown, period and sports historians, and the children of several of the rowers discuss the Depression-era hardships faced by these sons of loggers, shipyard workers and farmers who not only went on to beat the favored U.S. Ivy League rowing teams but Hitler’s elite German rowers as well…with the ever-present Hitler and his minions hovering nearby.

The University of Washington's varsity crew team at the Poughkeepsie Regatta Races in June 1936. Photo courtesy of Corbis.

The University of Washington’s varsity crew team at the Poughkeepsie Regatta Races in June 1936. Photo courtesy of Corbis.

With succinct voice-over narration delivered by actor Oliver Platt in Ken Burns’-cadence, The Boys of ’36 includes wonderful vintage sports footage of the individual team members, their competitions leading up to the Olympic Games and their Gold Medal victory in Nazi Germany circa 1936.

Kudos to Margaret Grossi, the director and producer of this uplifting, sharply focused hour-long documentary, and to the film’s co-producer, NBC-News Olympic Games analyst Mary Carillo.

If you need a shot of good news during this especially nasty U.S. Presidential media blitz, I suggest you catch American Experience: The Boys of ’36 debuting on PBS tonight, Tuesday, August 2, 2016, 9:00 -10:00 p.m. ET. (Check local listings for air times in your region.) –Judith Trojan

Posted in Publishing, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Open Your Eyes and Skip the Trump Dog and Pony Show

When does this reality show end?

When will this reality show end?

“A blind person is a mouth with no hands.”–Nepalese Proverb.

I confess that lately I’ve let too much time elapse between blog posts. I haven’t given up on “media that matter,” the mission of my blog, FrontRowCenter.  But, frankly, I admit that I’ve been short-circuited by media “on the dark side,” i.e., the Donald J. Trump Dog and Pony Show playing out via every news media franchise, talk show and stand-up comedian in the universe. I can’t get my head, hands or heart around the fact that Americans … Americans I know and love … are actually going to vote for Donald J. Trump for President of the United States. Have they become so beguiled by the media coverage and “message” promulgated by this snake oil salesman that “magical thinking” has become the norm?

What will possess American voters to kick common sense and the lessons of our shared past to the curb and give a thumbs up to Donald J. Trump for the highest office in the land?  Do they care to remember the mission of our founding fathers and the hard-won tenets of our U.S. Constitution and the Civil Rights’, women’s and LGBT movements; or the lessons learned from our wars fought at home and abroad, and the seeds that continue to incite fascist regimes on foreign soil.

This is a man whose public cred comes via his ownership of The Miss Universe Pageant and The Apprentice reality show franchise and has a boatload of failed businesses on his unbalanced credit sheet.  This is a man who has farmed out production of his own products to Third World countries and whose get-rich-quick “Trump University” scam bilked hard-working, unemployed middle-class Americans out of thousands of their hard-earned savings.trump-mortgage-company

How do working-class Americans justify Trump’s anti-immigrant stance and Bill Clinton vilification in light of Trump’s own womanizing past, his foreign-born first and third wives, and his collection of solid gold-appointed homes? Will taking an adversarial stand against the free press and our Judicial system pay big dividends?  Some of us are still waiting to see your tax returns, Mr. Trump!

Is Trump the new role model for our children and our children’s children who may aspire one day to become President of the United States?  Will rude, crass behavior become the norm:  bullying, belittling the handicapped, treating women as sex objects, fanning the flames of paranoia and inciting violence and suspicion against those of different races, religions, nationalities or sexual orientations?  Do Donald J. Trump or his running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, belong in the White House, once the home of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, JFK, and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt?

Nepali farmer Manisara, and her husband of 50 years, have their eyesight restored via free cataract surgery documented in OPEN YOUR EYES. Photo courtesy HBO.

Visually-impaired Nepalese farmer Manisara, and her husband of 50 years, Durga, are persuaded to take advantage of free cataract surgery. Their visual odyssey is documented in OPEN YOUR EYES. Photo courtesy HBO.

As an antidote to the incendiary hoopla that is bound to unfold this week during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, (July 18-21, 2016), I draw your attention instead to Open Your Eyes, a short, touching documentary filmed by Oscar-nominated director Irene Taylor Brodsky.  Her film debuts on HBO tonight, July 18, 2016, 7:30-8:10 p.m. ET/PT.  (Check listings for additional HBO playdates in the weeks ahead and availability on HBO NOW, HBO GO and HBO On Demand.)

Brodsky documents the three-day odyssey of an elderly Nepalese couple, Manisara and Durga, as they journey from their remote farm in the Himalayan Mountains to an eye hospital in the city for life-changing cataract surgery.  Blinded and weathered by a lifetime of exposure to the sun, the couple soon lay side by side in an operating room where their cataracts are removed free of charge in approximately six minutes. They return to their farm and their family with sight restored.  And, after years of being relegated to the sidelines as virtual invalids, they are clearly energized by the sight and feel of the gorgeous Himalayan landscape on the horizon and beneath their bare feet, as well as their “reintroduction” to their livestock, and, most movingly of all, to their children and grandchildren.

After sight-restoring cataract surgery, Manisara is able to see her grandchild, Gauri, for the first time. Photo courtesy HBO.

After sight-restoring cataract surgery, Manisara is able to see her grandchild, Gauri, for the first time. Photo courtesy HBO.

Open Your Eyes notes that “nearly 40 million people worldwide are blind, mostly from cataracts, and 90 percent of them live in the poorest countries.” The film shines a light on the sight-restoring work of the Seva Foundation, the international nonprofit headquartered in Berkeley, California, that is responsible for supporting the implementation of free cataract surgery and other sight-related services to millions worldwide.  

If you need a respite from the empty rhetoric and negativity emanating from the Republican National Convention this week, take a break and explore the work of the Seva Foundation and watch Irene Brodsky’s latest film, Open Your Eyes. This lovely little slice of positivity debuts on HBO tonight, July 18, 2016, 7:30-8:10 p.m. ET/PT.  (Check listings for additional HBO playdates in the weeks ahead and availability on HBO NOW, HBO GO and HBO On Demand.) –Judith Trojan

 

Posted in Cable, Film, Journalism, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Highwaymen Were Friends Till the End

American Masters looks back at the pioneering outlaw country music group, The Highwaymen, featuring (from left): Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. Photo; Jim McGuire, courtesy Sony Music Entertainment

AMERICAN MASTERS looks back at the pioneering outlaw country music group, The Highwaymen, featuring (from left): Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. Photo: Jim McGuire, courtesy Sony Music Entertainment.

“They had a ball together,” recalls producer/director Jim Brown about the legendary subjects of his latest film.

If you’re a fan of Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings or Kris Kristofferson, you might want to kick back and spend an hour watching Jim Brown’s American Masters’ season finale, The Highwaymen: Friends Till the End, premiering on PBS tonight, Friday, May 27, 2016, 9:00 – 10:00 p.m. ET. (Check local listings for air times in your region and http://pbs.org/americanmasters for up-to-date streaming and DVD availability.)

While I never tire of listening to Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash, I’m also a major fan of Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Jim Brown.  In my estimation, his feature-length documentaries– Pete Seeger: The Power of Song  (see my review at https://judithtrojan.com/2014/01/31/ ) and The Weavers:  Wasn’t that a Time!– are two of the most powerful, inspiring and informative films about American musicians and their milieu ever made.

Pete Seeger (1919 - 2014).

Pete Seeger (1919 – 2014).

Seeger and The Weavers were mavericks who stepped outside the music industry’s and the nation’s comfort zone. They suffered consequences; but they persevered. Their music, message and resilience ultimately transcended the small minds who attempted to shut them down. They were a special breed of courageous musicians whose artistry and activism were deeply rooted in the American social and political landscape of their times.  I relish repeat screenings of these films.

While Brown’s latest film, The Highwaymen: Friends Till the End, doesn’t rise to the level of Pete Seeger and The Weavers, it has its own charm and cachet. It boasts rare vintage performance and interview footage featuring a quartet of four friends–Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson–who also happened to be superstars in their own right.

Kris Kristofferson recalls his first meeting and subsequent friendship with Johnny Cash in THE HIGHWAYMEN: FRIENDS TILL THE END. Photo: Sandy Speiser, courtesy Sony Music Archives.

Kris Kristofferson recalls his first meeting and subsequent friendship with Johnny Cash in THE HIGHWAYMEN: FRIENDS TILL THE END. Photo: Sandy Speiser, courtesy Sony Music Archives.

A cursory timeline tracks the formation and decade-long collaboration of their country music “supergroup” (1985-1995).  Prior to 1985, Cash, Nelson, Jennings and Kristofferson had pretty much fine-tuned their voices as maverick country singer/songwriters and social and political activists. “We stood up for what we believed in,” says Kristofferson.

But by the mid-1980s, the Nashville welcome mat was blowing in the wind. Faced with lagging solo careers, they welcomed the chance to collaborate as singer/songwriters. World tours, three albums, Grammys, and even a group acting stint in Hollywood followed. Does anyone remember the 1986 remake of Stagecoach? It’s a hoot.

The Highwaymen: Friends Till the End clearly underscores the strong, respectful bonds forged by the foursome during recording sessions and on the road in performance. Director Jim Brown melds an entertaining, fast-paced mix of rare concert and behind-the-scenes footage of the quartet with vintage interviews with Cash and Jennings and present-day interviews with Nelson, Kristofferson, their wives (including Jennings’ widow, country singer Jessi Colter), and Cash’s son (John Carter Cash), assorted managers and fellow performers.

If songs like “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” “Always on My Mind,” and “Me and Bobby McGee” touch a nostalgic nerve, you won’t want to miss this film. You’ll probably find yourself singing along, mesmerized by the quartet’s powerful stage presence and blown away by their virtuoso guitar playing. And you’ll have a dandy good start to your Memorial Day weekend!

Johnny Cash (19xx-2003) died less than two years after his close pal, Waylon Jennings (19xx-2002) passed away. Photo JT Phillips, courtesy Sony Music Archives.

Johnny Cash (1932-2003) died less than two years after his close pal, Waylon Jennings (1937-2002), passed away. Photo JT Phillips, courtesy Sony Music Archives.

American Masters’ season finale produced and directed by Jim Brown, The Highwaymen: Friends Till the End, premieres on PBS tonight, Friday, May 27, 2016, 9:00 – 10:00 p.m. ET. (Check local listings for air times in your region and http://pbs.org/americanmasters for up-to-date streaming and DVD availability.)

Fans should also check out The Highwaymen Live–American Outlaws, a new CD/DVD or Blu-ray box set of concert performances–including the complete Nassau Coliseum concert film clipped in Jim Brown’s documentary.  It’s available now from Columbia/Legacy, along with a new single-disc compilation CD, The Very Best of the Highwaymen. –Judith Trojan

Posted in Film, Music, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Jungle Animal Hospital Saves Lives and Nabs Criminals

The future looks bright for this adorable baby spider monkey. A near casualty in the Guatemalan illegal pet trade, this orphan was rescued by the ARCAS animal rescue staff in Guatemala, and will be rehabilitated and released into the wild as an adult. Her plight is documented on PBS in NATURE: JUNGLE ANIMAL HOSPITAL. Photo: Anna Place/BBC.

The future looks bright for this adorable baby spider monkey. A near casualty of the Guatemalan illegal pet trade, this orphan was rescued by the ARCAS animal hospital staff. Her plight is documented in NATURE: JUNGLE ANIMAL HOSPITAL on PBS. Photo: Anna Place/BBC.

“There is hope at the end, and we are part of the hope,” says dedicated veterinarian Alejandro Morales at the conclusion of Jungle Animal Hospital. Filmed over the course of one year, the PBS NATURE series season finale highlights the noble work of Dr. Morales, zoologist Anna Bryant, and their colleagues at the ARCAS wildlife rescue center and hospital deep in the Guatemalan jungle.

Jungle Animal Hospital debuts on PBS tonight, Wednesday, May 18, 2016, 8:00 – 9:00 p.m. ET/ 7:00 p.m. CT. (Check local listings for air times in your region and  http://www.pbs.org/nature for online streaming and DVD availability after the film’s debut broadcast.)

Dr. Alejandro Morales and zoologist Anna Bryant examine a rescued baby parrot. Photo ©BBC.

Dr. Alejandro Morales and zoologist Anna Bryant examine a rescued baby parrot in JUNGLE ANIMAL HOSPITAL. Photo ©BBC.

Established in 1989 by a group of environmentally concerned Guatemalans, ARCAS rescues, rehabilitates and releases an incredibly diverse array of injured, orphaned and endangered animals. Many are victims, directly and indirectly, of habitat decimation and wildlife trafficking. The black market pet trade has especially driven the parrot, macaw and spider monkey populations to near extinction in the region.

While Jungle Animal Hospital provides a mere introduction to the extensive work being done overall at ARCAS, Alejandro Morales and Anna Bryant are clearly key to the center’s success. Their dedication knows no bounds.  They greet and treat each patient with the utmost skill and tenderness and must walk a fine line, emotionally, as they face life and death challenges on a daily basis.

Veterinarian Alejandro Morales wakes up his patient, a baby northern potoo bird, after surgery. Photo ©BBC.

ARCAS veterinarian Alejandro Morales wakes up his patient, a baby northern potoo bird, after surgery. Photo ©BBC.

Dr. Morales’ attempt to repair the broken leg of a rare baby potoo bird, for example, forces him to devise operating room and feeding solutions that test his resources and his professional resolve to remain detached from his patients.

Ms. Bryant must also be mindful of her boundaries as she nurtures baby orphan spider monkeys and oversees their rehabilitation and eventual release into the wild. Baby spider monkeys are prime targets for wildlife traffickers.  Torn from their murdered mothers’ breasts, the babies are black marketed as pets.

Spider monkeys that survive this early trauma are quarantined for several months and gradually allowed to interact with other orphans in secure treetops on the ARCAS refuge grounds.  Their successful release into the wild is predicated on their ability to feed and bond properly. Those that come into the ARCAS program later in life, as abandoned and abused pets, for example, face a different set of often insurmountable obstacles.

More than 100 baby parrots a month arrive at ARCAS during breeding season, the prime time for pet traffickers to snatch and smuggle them out of Guatemala. Photo: Anna Place/BBC.

More than 100 baby parrots a month arrive at ARCAS during hatching season, the prime time for pet traffickers to snatch and smuggle them out of Guatemala. Photo: Anna Place/BBC.

ARCAS staffers actively work with local authorities to enforce anti-trafficking laws and catch criminals in the act. Baby parrots are especially prized in the illegal pet trade, but 70-80% of their catch die in transit. The film documents the results of a successful baby parrot rescue mission. Although dehydrated, malnourished and jam-packed into a cardboard box, the tiny individuals had a positive outcome.

ARCAS director Fernando Martinez briefly makes an appearance as he reached a touching milestone during filming: the culmination of the center’s first captive-breeding and release program. As Martinez and his staff transported five majestic, captive-bred scarlet macaws to a hilltop overlooking the Guatemalan rain forest, emotions ran high. The planned future release of 35 more captive-bred scarlet macaws hinged on the successful inter-breeding of this initial batch of captive-bred birds with the dwindling population of scarlet macaws in the wild.

Adult scarlet macaw. Photo: Alejandro Morales.

An adult scarlet macaw. Photo: Alejandro Morales.

“Since its establishment, the ARCAS Rescue Center has grown into one of the largest and most complex rescue centers in the world, receiving between 300 and 600 animals of more than 40 species per year,” which is a mission that deserves the support of anyone interested in the well-being of wild animals and their increasingly endangered habitats.

Jungle Animal Hospital is a co-production of THIRTEEN Productions LLC and the BBC in association with WNET. It debuts on the award-winning PBS series, NATURE, tonight, Wednesday, May 18, 2016, 8:00 – 9:00 p.m. ET/7:00 p.m. CT. (Check local listings for air times in your region and  http://www.pbs.org/nature for online streaming and DVD availability after the film’s debut broadcast.) You can also learn more about ARCAS by visiting their Website @ http://arcasguatemala.org/–Judith Trojan

Posted in TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper Leave Nothing Left Unsaid in New Doc

Anderson Cooper.

Journalist Anderson Cooper and his mom, Gloria Vanderbilt, explore her dramatic life story and resilience in NOTHING LEFT UNSAID.

“I could always tell as a kid that there was this sadness to her,” says CNN anchor Anderson Cooper of his mom, Gloria Vanderbilt, in the fascinating and poignant new feature-length documentary, Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper, produced and directed by Liz Garbus. 

The film debuts on HBO tonight, Saturday, April 9, 2016, 9:00 – 11:00 p.m. ET/PT. (Check listings for additional HBO playdates in the weeks ahead and availability on HBO NOW, HBO GO and HBO On Demand.)  The film will also air on CNN on Friday, April 29, 2016, 9:00 – 11:00 p.m. ET. (Check listings for air times in your region.)

“I always think of my mom as coming from a time and place that doesn’t exist anymore,” reflects Cooper in Nothing Left Unsaid. “She’s stranded here.” Cooper has spent his career reporting from the epicenters of war and nature-ravaged regions across the globe. This drive to bear witness to the human suffering that tragedy and personal loss incite seems to have begun at home. He admits to being in a constant state of anxiety over his mom’s well-being, even as she has managed to forge, against all odds, a viable life for herself.

 A public figure since childhood and muse of many legendary photographers, heiress and artist Gloria Vanderbilt has weathered high family drama and personal tragedies. Her resilience is explored with her son, Anderson Cooper, in NOTHING LEFT UNSAID. Photo courtesy HBO.

A public figure since childhood and muse of many legendary photographers, heiress and artist Gloria Vanderbilt has weathered high family drama and personal tragedies. Photo courtesy HBO.

Their journey back in time, as mother and son, is propelled by Anderson’s obsession with his mother’s over-stuffed storage unit (yes, it houses her artwork and personal letters, but also, he chuckles, a lot of ephemera… including a box of Corn Flakes from the 1950’s!). The thought of cleaning it out has overwhelmed him for years.

Still an exquisite beauty at 91 and passionately committed to creating and orchestrating the content and exhibition of her whimsical, autobiographical artwork, Gloria Vanderbilt has quite a story to tell. And she tells it with grace and the gentle assist of her son, who steers the conversation with questions of his own that need resolving. First and foremost, there are the emotional scars left by Gloria’s impossibly wealthy Vanderbilt, Whitney and Morgan forebears.

To this day, nine decades after her birth in 1924, she struggles with the fear of abandonment and lack of self-worth seeded by the early death of her father, Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt, and the continent-hopping lifestyle of his teenage bride–Gloria’s mother, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt–who was too immature and self-involved to be a mother for most of her life.

Young Gloria Vanderbilt.

Young Gloria Vanderbilt.

The legendary custody battle fought over the “poor little rich girl” by Gloria’s grandmothers; her aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney; and her biological mom, Gloria, was a major headline- grabber during the height of the Great Depression.  When most Americans were standing in bread lines, little Gloria was shuttled back and forth between luxurious estates in New York and abroad by the warring women who wanted to possess and “protect” her.

Despite living in the lap of luxury, Gloria feared that she would lose the only real mother she had ever known, her beloved nanny, DoDo.  DoDo eventually became the collateral damage in the brutal custody battle.  All the money in the world couldn’t buy Gloria a stable, traditional family life, the kind she saw in the movies and never stopped yearning for.

Gloria’s youthful obsession with Hollywood led to a series of  highly publicized liaisons with older men.  There were affairs with Errol Flynn and Frank Sinatra; a teenage marriage to an abusive Hollywood agent; a whirlwind marriage at twenty to 63-year-old conductor Leopold Stokowski; and a short-lived marriage to film director Sidney Lumet But along the way, she hit her stride as a model, actress, artist, fashion entrepreneur and designer of signature jeans and married the love of her life, Wyatt Cooper.  She had two sons by Stokowski (Leopold aka “Stan” and Christopher) and two by Cooper (Carter and Anderson).

Anderson and Carter Coooper, circa 1974. Photo courtesy HBO.

Anderson and Carter Cooper, circa 1974. Photo courtesy HBO.

Especially pivotal in Anderson Cooper’s own journey were the untimely death of his dad, Wyatt Cooper, and the suicide of his older brother, Carter, at age 23. Mother and son travel the difficult emotional path leading up to and following these heartbreaking losses and close the film hand-in-hand at Wyatt and Carter’s snow-covered graves.

Woven throughout Nothing Left Unsaid are exquisite color and black and white home movies, vintage news footage and clippings and family portraits enhanced by a lovely musical score. Gloria’s “magic boxes,” collages and drawings are cleverly animated at intervals, to better illustrate the family demons and happy endings she plays out endlessly in her artwork. Vintage clips of Gloria’s mom–from youthful bride at play in the Paris of Fitzgerald and Hemingway, to her reserved, late-in-life reconciliation with her daughter–keenly illustrate the mother-daughter drama that still haunts Gloria to this day.

Gloria Vanderbilt Cooper relaxing with her family in her NYC apartment, circa 1972. Photo: Jack Robinson/Vogue. Courtesy HBO.

Gloria Vanderbilt Cooper relaxing with her family in her NYC apartment, in 1972. Photo: Jack Robinson/Vogue. Courtesy HBO.

Nothing Left Unsaid is one of the most moving, psychologically smart and information-rich film bios I’ve seen of late. It’s definitely on par with my 2015 favorite: Listen To Me Marlon (reviewed in FrontRowCenter on 11/14/15). The moral of Gloria’s life story (and Marlon’s)–that fame and fortune don’t buy happiness–is obvious, of course. But, like Brando, Gloria’s ongoing creative attempts to work through the detritus of her childhood and surmount tragic losses are lessons we all, rich or poor, can learn from.

This film enables Gloria, in her ninth decade, to revisit her damaged childhood with her own child, now middle-aged, and to bring herself and, especially her son, a good measure of clarity and peace.  Going forward, the film will be an asset in programs in colleges, universities, community centers and churches dealing with troubled parent-child relationships, death & dying, and grieving, as well as museum programs focusing on women artists and designers.

The premiere of Nothing Left Unsaid coincides with the publication of  The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss (HarperCollins, 2016), co-authored by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt.

Anderson Cooper and his mom, Gloria Vanderbilt. Photo courtesy HBO.

Anderson Cooper and his mom, Gloria Vanderbilt, as they appear in NOTHING LEFT UNSAID. Photo courtesy HBO.

You’ll have many chances to catch the film in the weeks ahead, and I urge you not to miss it.  Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper debuts on HBO tonight, Saturday, April 9, 2016, 9:00 – 11:00 p.m. ET/PT. (Check listings for additional HBO playdates and availability on HBO NOW, HBO GO and HBO On Demand.)  The film will also air on CNN on Friday, April 29, 2016, 9:00 – 11:00 p.m. ET. (Check listings for air times in your region.)–Judith Trojan

Note: You can read my review of Listen To Me Marlon at https://judithtrojan.com/2015/11/14

Posted in Art, Cable, Fashion, Film | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Nature Series Documents Powerful Caregiver-Animal Reunions

Dr Jane Goodall receives spontaneous goodby embrace from Wounda, formerly a baby orphaned chimp, now grown, healthy and released back into the wild. Photo courtesy of Tigress Productions.

Dr Jane Goodall receives a spontaneous goodbye embrace from Wounda, once a traumatized orphaned chimp, now grown-up, healthy and about to be released back into the wild. From NATURE: ANIMAL REUNIONS. Photo courtesy of Tigress Productions.

If you’ve ever doubted that wild animals are capable of forming long-lasting, trusting and loving bonds with their human friends and caregivers, I urge you not to miss Animal Reunions, the latest episode of the PBS series, NATURE, debuting tonight, Wednesday, March 30, 2016, 8:00 – 9:00 p.m. ET. (Check local listings for air times in your region and  http://www.pbs.org/nature for online streaming and DVD availability.)  I guarantee you’ll set aside your doubts and be moved to tears during the extraordinary reunions documented in this film.

My long-standing belief in the capacity of wild and domesticated animals to feel and show love and loss, not only for their own kind but for their human counterparts, was validated 21 years ago.  At that time, I was a fan of ABC-TV News 20/20, when it featured empowering think pieces, as well as fascinating reports on “the better angels” of our nation. In a concluding segment one Friday night in 1995, host Hugh Downs explored the problematic exploitation of chimpanzees in the space program and biomedical research; by that time, both of those dubious enterprises were under scrutiny, even by those who were employed to implement them. As a result, retirement sanctuaries for these physically and emotionally damaged chimps were starting to spring up.

Downs zeroed in on animal rights crusader Dr. Roger Fouts, then at the helm of Central Washington University’s Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute (CHCI). Fouts had pioneered communication with chimpanzees through sign language; his first pupil was a baby chimp named Washoe.  Another language studies student, Booee, was taught to sign by Dr. Fouts beginning in the late 1960s. But Booee was inexplicably sold to a medical research lab by his owner in 1982.  In the name of “science,” he was infected with, among other things, the Hepatitis-C virus.

ABC documented Dr. Fouts’ reunion, after a 16-year-separation, with Booee, who was then forlorn and isolated in a small, barren lab cage. Would Booee remember his old friend and mentor and the communication they had shared?  As Fouts entered the lab and called out and signed to Booee, the chimp joyfully recognized Fouts, signed Fouts’ name and easily communicated and engaged in the games the pals used to play together. Booee reached out of his cage to kiss and touch Fouts.  When it came time to say goodbye, Fouts sadly noted Booee’s heart-breaking acceptance of his friend’s departure; the chimp continued to sign as Fouts waved and signed good-bye. You can watch a repeat of this broadcast @  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0T8ozlxqJI

I was not the only viewer that night who was overwhelmed by this gut-wrenching reunion and its moral implications. I immediately wrote to ABC News to find out how I could help Booee.  I was not alone. The episode drew unprecedented response and was followed up with an update on Booee’s status.  The moral outcry incited by this ABC News report led to Booee’s retirement from medical research; but because he had been infected with Hepatitis-C, Booee could not be returned to Fouts.   The chimp was released into a sanctuary in California where he could live out his life in a healthy environment.

Conservationist Damian Aspinall reunited with chum Kwibi after the gorilla, who was raised in Aspinall's animal sanctuary in the UK, had been released for five years in a West African national park. Kwibi's journey is documented in NATURE: ANIMAL REUNIONS. Photo courtesy Tigress Productions.

Conservationist Damian Aspinall reunited with chum Kwibi after the gorilla, who was raised in Aspinall’s animal sanctuary in the UK, had been released for five years in a West African national park. Kwibi’s journey is documented in NATURE: ANIMAL REUNIONS. Photo courtesy Tigress Productions.

It’s apparent, as witnessed in the remarkable human-animal reunions documented on PBS in Nature: Animal Reunions, that animal researchers and conservationists have made great strides in the two decades since that ABC News 20/20 episode aired. They have ably added to our understanding of interspecies communication, respect for animal emotions and feelings, and acknowledged the positive bond that can grow between wild animals and responsible human caregivers.

Animal Reunions recalls, in riveting fashion, recent examples of how Great Apes, like chimpanzees and gorillas, as well as elephants and even cheetahs have formed lasting bonds with caring human beings.  The caregiver and animal rights champions profiled include Dr. Jane Goodall, wild animal conservationist Damian Aspinall, chimp veterinarian Dr. Rebeca Atencia, wild animal photographer Kim Wolhuter, and elephant rehabilitator Edwin Lusichi.

Head Keeper Edwin Lusichi with once traumatized orphan elephant, Lempaute, as they reunite during the elephant's reintroduction to the wild at Tsavo East National Park, Kenya. From NATURE; ANIMAL REUNIONS. Photo courtesy Tigress Productions.

Head Keeper Edwin Lusichi with once-traumatized orphan elephant, Lempaute, as the pals reunite after the elephant’s reintroduction into the wild at Tsavo East National Park, Kenya. Lusichi recalls his tender relationships with elephants under his care in NATURE: ANIMAL REUNIONS. Photo courtesy Tigress Productions.

The hour-long film focuses especially on the years following the restorative rehabilitation of orphaned, traumatized and/or captive-born animals and their reinstatement back into the wild…and how they never forget and continue to cherish their human saviors.  It’s a must-see for anyone who respects the well-being of animals, wild or domesticated, and the depth of their emotional core.

The latest installment in the award-winning PBS series, NATURE, executive produced by Fred KaufmanAnimal Reunions is a Tigress Production for ITV in co-production with THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET.

Animal Reunions debuts tonight on PBS, Wednesday, March 30, 2016, 8:00 – 9:00 p.m. ET. (Check local listings for air times in your region and  http://www.pbs.org/nature for online streaming and DVD availability.)  Be sure to have a box of Kleenex handy while you watch!–Judith Trojan

Posted in TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nora Ephron Scripted and Unscripted in Everything Is Copy

Young and feisty writer Nora Ephron in the 1960s. Photo: Dan Greenburg. Courtesy HBO.

On the cusp of greatness, young and feisty journalist Nora Ephron in the 1960s. Photo: Dan Greenburg. Courtesy HBO.

Sharp-tongued, witty (“writers are predators”) and beloved by notable New York and Washington literati, Nora Ephron is the subject of her eldest son Jacob Bernstein’s touching, smartly filmed and edited profile, Everything Is Copy. The film made its world premiere at the 53rd annual New York Film Festival last fall and debuts on HBO tonight, Monday, March 21, 2016, 9:00 – 10:30 p.m. ET/PT. (Check listings for additional HBO playdates in the weeks ahead and availability on HBO NOW, HBO GO and HBO On Demand.) At this writing, the film is also in limited theatrical release.

I was shocked like many others to hear of Nora Ephron’s untimely death at 71 in 2012. Driven by her mother, screenwriter Phoebe Ephron’s mantra that “everything is copy,” Nora (1941-2012) dove head first into public consciousness as a print journalist, essayist, novelist, humorist, screenwriter and playwright. She also was one of the few women who managed to successfully crack Hollywood’s old boys’ club when she added “film director” to her lofty resumé.

everythingiscopy05

All of them writers… from left: Carl Bernstein, Jacob Bernstein and Nora Ephron in 1996. Photo courtesy HBO.

Journalist and fledgling filmmaker Jacob Bernstein, Nora’s son with second husband Carl (All the President’s Men) Bernstein, does a bang up job of evoking his mom’s mindset, drive and personal peccadilloes in Everything Is Copy.

The film juxtaposes a rich mix of color home movies from her Tinsel Town childhood; clips from her Hollywood films; witty vintage TV “tête-à-têtes” with the obviously smitten Dick Cavett and Charlie Rose; sharp insights from her esteemed literary colleagues; heartfelt recollections from her three younger sisters (Delia, Amy and Hallie) and two ex-husbands (Dan Greenburg and Carl Bernstein); and charmingly breathless readings by her actress pals Meg Ryan, Rita Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Gaby Hoffmann and Lena Dunham.

“When you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you,” says Nora Ephron early on in Everything Is Copy.  “But when you tell people you slipped on the banana peel, it’s your laugh. So you become the hero, rather than the victim of the joke.” Her son Jacob captures quite astutely the reality of his mom as hero and victim in her own life and others’ lives as well.

Especially enlightening are the connections made between her words on the page and the drama played out in her life, the secrets she revealed about others and those she didn’t (most notably, her own fatal illness). Bernstein not only joins, on camera, an impressive line-up of articulate literary and Hollywood giants, whose timelines are important to this story; but he also gives ample screen time to his dad, Carl.  Father and son manage an honest dialogue as they and their shared friends discuss Carl’s impact on his ex-wife’s life and work. (His affair during Nora’s second pregnancy led not only to their break-up, but Nora’s best-selling novel and 1986 film adaptation, Heartburn.)

Fortunately, the writer/director/feminist’s body of work lives on to give us a much-needed boost during challenging times of our lives.  Her female characters, most memorably embodied by Meryl Streep and Meg Ryan, tackle many of the issues we face as women as we attempt to forge healthy, loving communicative relationships with men (When Harry Met SallySleepless in Seattle), reinvent ourselves (Julie & Julia, You’ve Got Mail) and navigate the minefields of infidelity (Heartburn), toxic environments (Silkwood) and aging (I Feel Bad about My Neck). There are great clips from all of her movies in Everything Is Copy and readings from her notable essays.

Nora Ephron, film director. Photo courtesy HBO.

Nora Ephron, film director. Photo courtesy HBO.

In real life, Ephron made a good match with husband #3, author Nicholas Pileggi.  In an industry run by men, she conceived, wrote and directed a string of box office hits featuring memorable female protagonists.  Few women, then and now, have had such a track record.  She was raised and dodged bullets in the Hollywood trenches and came out with a solid marriage, two kids and a fine body of work that encourages women to challenge the status quo.

While Ephron’s New York sensibility and sense of humor permeate her work, her films give all women–Blue State, Red State and those in-between–a voice and a happy ending.  For Ephron, obstacles were meant to be surmounted, a point she made clear in her commencement speech to 1996 grads, all women, at her alma mater, Wellesley College (MA):

“My class went to college in the era when you got a master’s degree in teaching because it was ‘something to fall back on’ in the worst case scenario, the worst case scenario being that no one married you and you actually had to go to work. … We weren’t meant to have futures, we were meant to marry them.  We weren’t meant to have politics or careers that mattered, or opinions, we were meant to marry them. … Be the heroine of your life, not the victim. … Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there.  And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.”

College days at Wellesley. Photo: Wellesley College. Courtesy HBO.

College days at Wellesley. Photo: Wellesley College. Courtesy HBO.

Nora Ephron covered a lot of “trouble” as a writer and feminist. Her son does right by her in Everything Is Copy and certainly has the potential to make his own mark as a filmmaker as well. The film should be an evergreen programming choice in journalism, film appreciation and women’s studies in high schools, colleges, universities and libraries.

You can catch Everything Is Copy on HBO tonight, Monday, March 21, 2016, 9:00 – 10:30 p.m. ET/PT. (Check listings for additional HBO playdates in the weeks ahead and availability on HBO NOW, HBO GO and HBO On Demand.) The film is also currently in limited theatrical release.–Judith Trojan

Posted in Cable, Film, Journalism, Magazines, Newspapers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments