The Greater Good, A Shot in the Arm for the Vaccine Argument

When my wife and I had a child, I was horrified at the idea of my kid getting stuck with needles, but I didn’t question the medicine behind it. I figured, if my pediatrician was recommending it, it was the best course for my son.

My child’s mother, on the other hand, didn’t feel the same way. Having done some research on the subject, she suggested slowing it all down and spreading the shots out over time. To her credit, and without realizing it, she’s brought us into the great vaccination debate.

If you’re a parent (or know one), you might have had a similar conversation, and you might have already made up your mind about the connection between vaccination and disease. A new documentary, “The Greater Good”, adds perspective to the issue, asking how much of a good thing a person can take until it’s not all that good any more. (The film opened in New York this weekend.)

“It is an advocacy film,” says “The Greater Good” producer Chris Pilaro, “not a work of journalism and I think that’s very clear in the film, as it should be.”

The filmmakers chose to follow three families whose lives were adversely affected by vaccines because, as director-producer Kendall Nelson says, “Historically, those stories were really not being told… We figured that the general public already believed that vaccines were essentially a godsend.”

One thread follows young Jordan King, who before being vaccinated was a “normal,” happy toddler. After being vaccinated, Jordan’s behavior changed dramatically — He ended up diagnosed with autism. His case is one of many that have indelibly linked vaccines to autism. Read more

RID OF ME sneak preview

RID OF ME director James Westby & actress/producer Katie O'Grady; photo credit: Adam Schartoff (c) 2011

A couple of weeks ago when I moderated a Q&A for the indie film, “The Lie”, I noted my friend Kristin McCracken in the audience.  After the event, she introduced me to her attractive friend who accompanied her, Katie O’Grady.  Katie, it turns out, is the star of yet another indie film, “Rid of Me“, which opened this weekend here in NYC.  [Come to think of it, that makes “Rid of Me” competition for “The Lie”.  Anyway, if you’re reading this…and you are reading this… go see both.]  Between the two films, it led me to thinking: we’re entering into a great time for indie films.  Allow me to clarify, it’s a great time for indie film audiences.

While the playing field might have a ways to go before it’s truly even for all, many good-to-great indie films are being made and getting distribution.  Ideally that still means theatrical (for that beloved New York Times review) but even a film festival, VOD and DVD release stream can mean that a filmmaker can afford to make subsequent movies.  Not that they will have made that much money, that issue has to be resolved in other, more creative ways.  But if these films take advantage of more affordable technology (digital cameras) and assuming the filmmaker knows how to market and distribute in a more fiscally conservative way, the movies will get seen. Read more

THE LIE sneak preview at the Tribeca 92nd Street Y

Filmwax's Adam Schartoff with filmmaker Joshua Leonard; photo credit: Arthur Kleydman (c) 2011

I was fortunate enough to moderate a recent sneak preview screening of Joshua Leonard’s “The Lie” the 92 Y Tribeca last week.  In addition to seeing the solid comedy, I finally got to meet Josh and engage him for a post-screening Q&A.

Leonard both directs and stars in “The Lie” and while he did express his occasional frustration wearing both hats, it doesn’t show in his film.  Based on a 2008 T. C. Boyle short story which he optioned after reading it in The New Yorker, the movie is not so much about the titular lie but its aftermath.  Leonard (“Higher Ground”, “Hump Day”) plays Lonnie who is facing a very premature mid-life crisis shortly after he and his wife, Clover (a fabulous Jess Weixler) have their first baby.  Lonnie, a failed musician, has a dead-end job editing shlocky commercials while Clover, a recent law school grad, is grappling with a corporate job offer.  This event is anathema to the couple; not so much because it runs against their shared values, which it does, but because they would never have considered such an offer earlier in their relationship.

Around this time Lonnie starts playing hooky from work, much to the irritation of his irascible boss Radko (Gerry Bednob).  In truth, Lonnie is taking the day to jam with his old friend Tank (Mark Webber), drink coffee in the local diner, and spend time with his beloved new daughter.   By the third or fourth day of calling out, to stop Radko from becoming apoplectic, Lonnie let’s slip an atrocious lie about why he can’t make it to work.  I won’t give it away or what ensues since that’s the reason to get over to Village East Cinema on 2nd Avenue and see the movie.

“The Lie” is simple and Leonard leaves plenty of space for both the comic moments as well as the more moving ones.  Weixler is a find, both deceptively gorgeous and a fine comedienne in her own rite.  The laughs are not necessarily big but they come regularly.  The movie invites in its viewers and you feel like you’re in good hands.  The ending —not T.C. Boyle’s— feels somewhat patched on but does not undermine the film.

This was my second experience hosting such an event for the 92Y Tribeca.  The last one was a month or so back for another Seattle filmmaker, Megan Griffiths, with her film, “The Off Hours”.

Maysles & Me

Filmwax's Adam Schartoff with the great Al Maysles in the offices of Film Forum; photo credit: Bradley Kaplan (c) 2011

For even the most seasoned journalist, interviewing Albert Maysles is a pretty big deal.  I met Al a while back at a NYFVC event on documentary ethics in which he was a panelist.  I saw him sitting in the front of the auditorium before the event began and introduced myself.  He immediately began to ply me with anecdotes about “Grey Gardens” and “Gimme Shelter”.  As he was talking, I realized that I should probably be recording this for my own posterity.  So I quickly reached into my pocket and took out my iPhone and hit the voice memo app.  Here’s the link to that blog post.

More recently I was invited to a press screening of Al’s latest documentary, co-directed by his creative partner, Maysles Films President Bradley Kaplan.  The new documentary, “The Love We Make”, follows Paul McCartney around the streets of NYC a couple of weeks prior to the Concert for New York he organized after the wake of 9/11.  I immediately took advantage of the opportunity by pitching an interview with the granddaddy of docs to P.O.V., they happily accepted.  That interview appears on this blog and on POV’s.   What follows is a transcript of the entire interview.

Schartoff: Well, thanks for coming downtown for this.

Bradley Kaplan: It’s our pleasure to do something with P.O.V. We should do something with P.O.V., shouldn’t we, Al? Other than them airing Salesman a decade ago. Remember that, Al? You got a kick out of that.

Al Maysles: How recent was that? Read more

INTERVIEW: Albert Maysles & Bradley Kaplan (POV)

Al Maysles (left) with Bradley Kaplan; photo credit: Adam Schartoff (c) 2011

[Article first appeared:]

Recently I’ve been running into Albert Maysles all over New York City. There was the interview, which was the catalyst for this piece, of course. Then there was the chance encounter in the subway station where he stopped and chatted with anyone who wanted to interact with him. There was the special screening of “Salesman” (POV, 1990) up at the Maysles Cinema on Lenox Avenue in Harlem. At a DOC NYC screening of “Better Than Something: Jay Reatard“, a film co-directed his editor Ian Markiewicz, I passed Maysles on the subway steps at West 4th Street as he was making his way up to the IFC Center. If not for the fact that I had to get home, he was ready to bring me into the theater as his guest.

His latest film (with artistic partner Bradley Kaplan), which opened at Film Forum in New York, is “The Love We Make”.

Maysles, who turns 85 on November 26, 2011, is still an incredibly vital filmmaker and shows few signs of slowing down. The lesson when meeting him is, don’t be fooled by his soft-spoken demeanor. He’s a prolific and generous individual who still finds great pleasure in the work he’s been doing for over 60 years. When asked during the post-screening Q&A of “Salesman” who are his current favorite documentary filmmakers are, he didn’t hesitate to answer: those students currently working at the Maysles Institute.

For many years Albert Maysles’ creative partner was his brother David. David died almost 25 years ago, and it should be noted the pair also maintained a significant collaboration with editor Charlotte Zwerin (“Gimme Shelter”, “Salesman”). About five years ago, a friend who worked for Maysles suggested a young documentary filmmaker named Bradley Kaplan come down and meet with him at their Harlem offices.

Read more

November at Flaherty NYC

The Robert Flaherty Film Seminar‘s program of innovative docs continues for three more Tuesdays in November at New York City’s 92YTribeca.

If you New York doc fans haven’t had a chance to swing by the 92YTribeca to sample of the tasty morsels at The Robert Flaherty Film Seminar since its start last month, there’s still time! 2011 marks the first year that The Flaherty Seminar and the 92nd Street Y’s downtown arts center have collaborated, and the results speak for themselves.

The theme of this season’s series, curated by programmer and writer Miriam Bale, is “Snapshots: Tourism in Cinema.” As the press release describes it, “the films in this program will be exploring documentary as a form of tourism, of the filmmaker as an outsider looking at a place through the gaze of the outsider.”

There are still three more opportunities in November to experience the series, which 92YTribeca will been screening on Wednesday evenings through November 16, 2011. Here is a brief rundown on the balance:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011
“Mur Murs” (dir. Agnès Varda, 1981): A visitor (Juliet Berto) explores street life in early eighties Los Angeles, looking at music, subcultures and where murals interact with graffiti, in this little seen Varda documentary, one of several of her documents of California life. The screening will be followed by a party DJed by Dave Tompkins, author of the book How to Wreck a Nice Beach. Read more