Livin’ the Dream (3/4)

Written By: Spurlock Sisters! Kim & Mai

Actors: Laura Campbell, Meng Ai, Geri-Nikole Love, Shannon Beeby, Erin Fritch, Samuel Douglas Clark, Annie Unold, Priya Anita, Laura Barbiea, Nick Ordway, Marianne Tatum, Katie Morrison, Olivia Costello, Todd Cerveris, Remy Germinario

Producers: Stavroula Toska, Byron Beane, Vassilea Terzaki, Erik Urtz

The Spurlock sisters have come up with an excellent 8 episode web-series highlighting the ups and downs of Indie film writing, directing, casting, and the type of tasks to achieve in order to make a film happen.  The genre is comedy.  The first few episodes easily do an amazing job with character exposition and setting up a climax to keep you wanting more.  Kit gets an award in Film school.  She is not exactly viewed as a confident hot-shot. Kit is nerdy, quirky, intelligent, and oh-so pretty at 35 years old.  This web series shows the triumphs, emotions, trial-and-error part of striving to be an Indie film director/writer. It highlights the entrepreneur, always-working side of the business.  It’s a reminder that there’s going to be barriers. There’s going to be people who are hard to work with.  There’s going to be stressful days.  I think this can be inspirational for any career path and entrepreneur to keep believing in yourself, your passion, and your purpose.  The genuine always win.  Do they? See this web series!

I recommend this web-series to anyone, whether it be a writer, performer, or someone not in the Entertainment industry. You never know what opportunity is around the corner…

Note: These ratings and review are personal opinion of the author.

The Three Hikers

The Three Hikers is a documentary about the three Americans hikers, Joshua Fattal, Sarah Shourd and Shane Bauer (Sarah and Shane are a couple) who were arrested in Iran for entering illegally the country.

The documentary starts by giving us a brief introduction about three young Americans, which goes like this: Three good kids who are interested in international relations, travelling and helping through NGO, teaching or a more journalistic approach. 

They were travelling for a week-long holiday in « the other Iraq », in the Kurdistan part of the region, that shares a border with Iran. They decide to go hiking but somehow loose the hold of their trail. That is when they mistakenly enter the Iran territory and everything goes downhill from there as they get arrested and imprisoned.

The documentary approaches the subject in a very humanistic approach. We understand the horror of the situation through recollection of the pictures they took during their trip, they are happy, they are on holidays, having a good time, but in a fraction of time, they are put into tiny cells and taken hostage of a bigger political context.

We meet their family and live the entire process with them, from the shock of the news, but also, and that’s the most interesting part, their willingness to act, to help any ways they can. It is very interesting to see the transition from a regular family with regular jobs into spokespersons, organizing demonstrations in order to make the release of their kids/siblings, a national priority. Not to mention the inextricable complexity of the political situation, all ties between Iran and the United States having been cut since 1979.

Many questions arise: Who could be the most suited representative to negotiate their releases? Those interlocutors are, in fact, a mix of different representatives through time, the Swiss ambassador, The sultan of Oman mainly but also other supports from Muhammad Ali, Sean Penn or Ban Ki Moon.

The documentary depicts well the terribly slow passing of time in the cells, the boredom (especially for Sarah, being the only woman, that is alone in her cell while the two others are at least together). It depicts how such a situation changes all family dynamics because now their families in the US are revolving entirely around their kids arrest and how to organize better, how to make people and the media talk about it, how to be seen. The ones that are left are in prison too, a different one, yes, but a prison never the less. They are awaiting answers, awaiting letters form the hostages, their entire life has been taken over, their ties to each others are weakened, no more daily routine, it is about doing as much as possible, raising money to continue the mobilization, surviving on hope.

The mothers are allowed to go to Iran and meet their children, after months of anxiety and disruptive communication. We share their joy as they reunite and their suffering when it is time to say goodbye.

Sarah is the first one to be released, after 14 months in detention and very actively seeks the release of her friends. She becomes the most represented in the media and the new, unified, face of the campaign; she has the legitimacy of having been one of them. The different tactics used to continue a dialogue with Iran are well depicted in the movie.


The trials for the two remaining hostages in Iran starts and they are charged with espionage. Ironically this charge is reinforced after Shane admits he was covering American wrong doings in the Middle East.

Eventually after more than two years, hundreds of protests, media coverage, talk shows, marches, many negotiations, ups and downs, delayed information and over two years of imprisonment, Shane and Joshua are released to the Sultan Oman.

The documentary is very well done; the recollections of the visuals are impressive, even the reconstitutions that can sometimes appear cheap are done in a way that adds interesting visuals to voice-overs. The different relationships in terms of politics between the actors in this crisis are also well depicted.

A few critics (in my opinion) are: the emphasis on the emotional instead of the political. There were a lot of interviews and shots of the families going though anxiety /fear/ despair and some were not needed, it would have been interesting to have more insights into what it is like to suddenly become the face and spokesperson of an international complex situations, how do you start ? how do you prepare for interviews and the media madness ? Did they have to study the subject deeply to avoid any misconceptions that could hurt their case?

Some events were not explained well in terms of the underlying’s interests or politics. For example, why would Iran allow their « prisoners » to meet with their mothers (and in a hotel)? What is the underlying motive?

Another thing is the very happy ending; it would have been interesting to deal, even lightly, with the possible traumatisms and how prison affected their lives (especially in the case of Sarah that is release a year before the others and becomes a main figure of the campaign).

All in all, I would recommend this documentary, it is enjoyable, interesting and gives you some insights into complex international relations and diplomacy.

Note: These ratings and review are personal opinion of the author.

RUNOFF (3/4)

Written and directed by Kimberly Levin

Starring: Joanne Kelly, Neal Huff, Alex Shaffer, Kivlighan de Montebello, Tom Bower & Darlene Hunt

Runoff, an Independent Feature was screened for New Yorkers to view at the chic Crosby Street hotel in SoHo on June 21st. While reading the description of the film beforehand, I was eager to see a film about farm life, which is polar opposite from a life we are used to in New York.  The film exceeded my expectations with a depiction of a life utterly opposite from city life.  Relationship wise. Lifestyle wise. Economic wise.  Now, we live in a society where—for the most part—there are infinite possibilities. Infinite ways to go about a goal or issue.  This family did not have such widespread choices.  The family in Runoff is threatened to leave their land, in financial struggle, a health issue, and much anxiety that surfaces and flows like that of a river. The problem at hand can leave for a bit, but it will just come right around as the stream cycles.

The debutant director Kimberly Levin, who's also the writer of the film, has created a complex story with even more complex characters. In this world nothing is black and white, and no one is good and evil. The story and the characters are all in that gray zone, just doing their best to survive. It does get overly complicated and close to confusing at points, but the story does bind together to deliver a powerful punch with a thoughtful story.

With beautiful cinematography, color, nature, and plenty of wide shots showing farm life, this film created an awe. A  sympathy for the family, even though I as the viewer do not live on a farm.  Betty, is the mother who holds everything together like glue, for as long as she can.  I think her character can be a metaphor for all of us and our actions in day-to-day life.  Some things require a sense of urgency.  Sometimes the issue at hand completely has to do with money, and sometimes, we as humans don’t realize how our actions can affect more than just our family. Those are some of the beautiful and insightful feelings I was left with as the film was coming to a close.  When I make a decision, is it only best for me? For my best friends?  Am I being selfless or selfish? How can I help the community? I think this colorful film highlights family troubles, decision making, with nuclear family dynamics still highlighted, and a farm lifestyle that may soon become extinct, this film is an eye opener to remember that we are all being affected by the same stream.

The film is filled with beautiful performances by entire cast including lead actors Joanne Kelly and Neal Huff. Joanne's performance has lots of shades and she play in beautifully. Neal Huff shows the charisma of a charming and loving husband and father, girth and pain of a hard working farmer and man struggling hard to support his family. The supporting cast is amazing and beautiful performances by children make it even more flavorful.

Runoff will open Theatrically on June 26th, by Monterey Media.  It will also be available on On Demand, iTunes, Amazon Prime, Xbox, and more.

(with addition inputs from Art Shrian)

Note: These ratings and review are personal opinion of the author(s).