Monthly Archives: January 2017

Five Reasons Why “Whose Streets” is Essential Viewing

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While at the Sundance Film Festival this past week I had the fortune to to see the premiere of “Whose Streets” by Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis – produced by Jennifer MacArthur.   It was even more fortunate because I was able to view this powerful film on inauguration day and it provided wonderful counterprogramming. I was struck by a number of things in the film that still resonate with me almost a week later.

1. The film shows how far we still have to go as a nation to confront a legacy of slavery that is still with us.  The film wisely starts with a reference to the Dred Scott decision in 1846 and compares it to contemporary St. Louis and Ferguson. (In the Dred Scott decision, the Supreme Court in one of its most notorious decisions, declared that since Dred Scott was a slave he was not a citizen. As such he did not have a right to sue for his freedom even though he lived in a non-slave state.)  This initial juxtaposition, along with the quotes from prominent black leaders that served as chapter breaks, was all the contextualization the audience needs.   Very soon we see the largely white police using overwhelming force to intimidate and control the primarily black citizens of Ferguson.  The dogs used for “crowd control” is enough to throw you back to the 60s and beyond.

2. The film does an incredible job of constructing the story of people living through the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death focusing on four activists:  Brittany Farrel, David Whitt, Tef Poe and Kayla Reed. Weaving a narrative from a wide range of filmed and archival/cell phone material the filmmakers provide a visceral experience where you feel that you are there on the streets with the mourners and protesters. You live the events with them, and see how truth unfolds through their eyes.  

3. I believe it might have been the LAPD under Daryl Gates that spearheaded the militarization of local police with armored battering rams being used in the early 1980s. ( The film Do Not Resist ( which came out last year, uses Ferguson as a backdrop to examine the increase in militarization of police forces across the country. But Whose Streets is the first film that I have seen that gives a sense of what it is like for American citizens conducting peaceful protests to come face to face with police in full combat gear flanked by armored personnel carriers.  Our founding fathers would be aghast.

4. I like to feel that I am a savvy media viewer – but the contrast presented by this film between the stories of the people on the ground and traditional news media was stunning.  As shown in Do Not Resist, the events of Ferguson have been used as a justification to increase the militarization of police forces in the US.  But Whose Streets deftly shows the distortion of the mainstream by constructing the reality of events as witnessed by those on the receiving end of force.  There is much talk about media bias these days and real stories not being told.  Somehow my bet is that most of the untold stories and media bias is of and against the marginalized.

  5. On the bus after the screening a white women commented on how she felt that there should have been many more interviews with white people to broaden the appeal of the film. But why does a film about black experience in America need to be mediated by white people?   I think she perhaps missed one of the key points of the film:  having a lived experience of how racism in American society has stayed embedded in our society.

I was inspired by the bravery of the activists in the film and their families in the face of such intense opposition. The film shows through the lives of Brittany Farrel, David Whitt, Tef Poe and Kayla Reed how difficult the struggle for human rights can be.   Coming at a time when our country is facing an attempt to push back gains made across the board in civil rights, women’s rights, environmental protection, etc., the film is a much needed inspiration for activism and the need for continued struggle.



Documentary Magazine Article – Documentary Distribution in Turbulent Times

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During IDA’s Getting Real 2016 conference in September,  Susan Margolin and I hosted a two part panel on the state of documentary distribution.  I conducted a series of case studies with Nanfu Wang, from the critically acclaimed Sundance film Hooligan Sparrow. Christo Brock and Grant Barbeito’s Touch the Wall, and finally Keith Ochwat and Christopher Rufo’s Age of Champions.   Susan then dove into a panel of  industry experts including Josh Braun of Submarine Entertainment; Orly Ravid, entertainment attorney and founder of The Film Collaborative; Annie Roney of ro*co films; Nolan Gallagher of Gravitas Ventures; and Felicia Pride of Tugg, the theatrical event platform.

Susan and I wrote an in-depth article of analysis and case studies for Documentary Magazine which just came out online which you can access on the Documentary Magazine site:

I look forward to your thoughts and feedback.

Artist, Filmmaker, & Renowned Disney Producer Don Hahn Comes to Cal Arts

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Hard to believe we are already halfway through the first month of 2017! So much has already happened this year. I just got back from Winnipeg where it was below -10 degrees. TALK ABOUT FREEZING. Luckily, I didn’t have to leave my hotel too much and I had a fantastic time at All Access 2017 hosted by On Screen Manitoba. I not only got to give a keynote address and take part in a fantastic panel discussion, but I also got to meet with some wonderful filmmakers. That is truly one of my favorite things. There is a lot going on in Winnipeg!

Look out for some informational blog posts coming up in the next few weeks where I will be talking about the importance of planning out the marketing of your films from inception and at various stages of the process which was the subject of my keynote.

In the meantime, I want to tell you about yesterday. As many of you know, outside of being a filmmaker and a marketing and distribution consultant, I have the pleasure of teaching some courses at Cal Arts. Yesterday, we had the fantastic Disney legend, Don Hahn, join us to give a presentation on unlocking one’s creative self. If you aren’t familiar with Don, he is best known for films like Beauty and the Beast and the Lion King. One of the things I truly like about Don is that he is also an avid fan of documentaries and has made some amazing ones himself. Those include Waking Sleeping Beauty, Earth, the incredible Tyrus (which he was the EP on) and many others.

I have to say that his presentation wasn’t only a learning experience for my students, but myself as well. (And I have to say this is always the case in our Guest Artist Workshop class).

Don touched on a lot of really interesting and important topics. He talked to the students about not letting fear hold them back, about the importance of creative collaboration, and about how many artists borrow and take from each other. But there was one message that really stood out to me and I think to my students as well.

That being, there is no such time in life when we are ready. He implored us to remember that it is a terrible thing to sit around and wait to be ready. Sometimes, you have to just get out and create. Don’t worry about the rest. Just get out and create.

What do you all think about that? How many times in life have we all let the fear of failure hold us back? How many times have we said, I’m not ready yet? Don’s message is one I think people from any industry can take heed from.

Thank you very much, Don, for coming and talking to the students at Cal Arts.

And of course, if you want to learn more about Don or check out his book Brain Storm: Unleashing Your Creative Self visit his site at

Keep checking back regularly. I will be posting content from Sundance Film Festival coming up!