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JUNE 11, 2019 BEST FRIENDS
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been lucky to make friends with several people half my age who’ve helped keep me on my toes. Kyle Walsh was the first of this group. We bonded in third grade. Okay, let me clarify.
We were not third grade classmates. I was the teacher, and Kyle was my student teacher, for a roomful of third graders in a school with a large, culturally diverse, underprivileged population. From the start, we were kindred spirits, sharing similar sardonic views of the world, while caring deeply about the success of every student we served. In our classroom we were blessed with more than a few “challenging scholars.”
Kyle and I worked together seamlessly, trading off the lead, while cooking up special strategies for handling tough situations, such as bringing students into the classroom to start the day. Walking in an orderly manner into the building should not have been difficult, but, well, as I said, we had more than a few “challenging scholars.”
So, there we are on the playground, the bell has sounded, and we break into Team Kornblatt and Team Walsh. I take eight students, Kyle takes eight, and we head off in opposite directions to see who can make it to our room first, without mishap. I don’t how many times Team Kornblatt beat Team Walsh, or vice versa, but I do remember the trash talk we did about the daily race, and the trash talking we’ve done since, all treasured memories.
During his time with me, Kyle joined me in making a music video — to view Hard Biscuits, click here — and we’ve been collaborating off and on ever since. When he started teaching first grade, Kyle landed a grant to have me produce a music video celebrating kind behavior — to view Sugar Day, click here — and he brought me back to make one about learning math — to view Mathematical Humdingers, click here — and another about the importance of dancing, hopping, and flopping. To see We Gotta Move, click here.
This is all by way of introduction to the mockumentary that I’ve released today in celebration of Kyle’s wedding anniversary. The piece grew out his wish to make something special with his fiancé Samatha in anticipation of their big day. That is, after he saw Colors of Love (see February 17 post below), a silent romantic movie I had made with another pal of mine and his girlfriend, Kylie Wylie started whining about my liking Matthew more than him. So, naturally, I had to make a romantic film with him, too.
Both films have been made it onto the film festival circuit. Which one is better is for viewers to decide. The number of views the films get on YouTube, coupled with the quality of comments, will play a role in future trash talk, to be sure.
Meanwhile, happy anniversary, Kyle. For the record, you and Matthew have proven to me that a person can have more than one best friend.
To watch On Account of a Hedgehog, click here.
JUNE 8, 2019 THANK YOU!
If there was one project that hooked me as an solo filmmaker, it was Take a Breath, the second music video I produced while teaching full time. The piece, which started as an original song I wrote for my students to sing in class, morphed into an after-school enrichment club and took months to pull off.
As another academic year draws to a close, and I say goodbye to Lincoln Elementary School, in Madison, Wisconsin, from where I retired four years ago, then returned as a part-time music teacher, and am leaving once again, this time to move to Israel, I am deeply thankful for the opportunity my teaching gave me to try my hand at making movies.
You can watch Take a Breath by clicking here.
MAY 31, 2019 HEARING, SEEING, RESPONDING
Making music videos with school children is how I got into filmmaking. Those early projects led me to documentaries, many of them embracing social justice issues. My first full-length doc told the story of homeless people in my city, and it is that subject I returned to in producing I See You, a music video, with a Wisconsin Americana folk rock band called The Whiskey Farm.
The band’s songwriter, a child psychologist named Jason Horowitz, originally wrote the song on behalf of the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI). When I first heard it, the song’s echoes of R.E.M caught my ear, and the message moved me to offer my services for free.
At first, I thought I would create a cinematic story to reinforce the song’s theme of looking beyond a person’s psychological challenges to really see who she, or he, is. Jason and I agreed that featuring people with mental illness in a music video might do more harm than good, exploiting a population he and I both wanted to support.
So, I returned to the homeless community, taking the song’s message of seeing things others don’t, and, created a documentary style music video to present the plight of my town’s homeless in a way that is, hopefully, respectful and constructive. To watch I See You, click here.
APRIL 25, 2019 IN CELEBRATION OF READING
Eight years ago I had the pleasure to meet a guy named Rick Brooks, a man brimming with energy and great ideas. One of his ideas was a book exchange program he and co-founder Todd Bohl called Little Free Library. Over coffee, Rick and I agreed that his project was worth documenting. He put in some of his own money, I threw in some of mine, I hired a small crew and produced a short film titled Because It’s Small.
The award-winning documentary has screened at film festivals across America and been available for sale on a compilation dvd of my early work. (Bring on the Magic and…). Todd Bohl passed away last year, but his and Rick’s brainchild is still going strong. To honor Todd’s passing, and celebrate Little Free Library’s 10th anniversary, I have released Because It’s Small for free viewing on YouTube.
Little Free Library‘s motto is “Take a Book, Share a Book.” So, in that spirit, I hope that people who watch the documentary will share their thoughts in the comment section below the video and spread the video far and wide.
To watch Because It’s Small, click here.
MARCH 15, 2019 TURNING A CORNER?
Donald Trump just vetoed a measure that would block his wall emergency funding. A dozen Republican senators backed the bill. Have we turned a corner in America with this? I wonder…
A year ago, for an episode of my Old Man Workout web series, I slicked my hair back with clown yellow make-up cream, wore a white shirt and too-long red tie and hula hooped to a song by Molotov about a gringo and a beaner. Yes, yes, I was posing as a ridiculous, yet athletic, D. Trump, to ridicule his border wall policy.
The Molotov song included some profanity and an irreligious comment. And, yes, I cursed a bit, too. This irritated a Facebook friend who threatened to stop watching my web series.
At the time, I was eager to attract subscribers to my YouTube channel and hungry for more views and comments in my quest to “go viral,” so I went out of my way to reassure the man, a retired cop and practicing Christian, that I did not intend to offend, as much as amuse and educate. He stayed with me, posting occasionally on my Facebook page, though he never shared his views on YouTube, where past comments are easier to find.
As a moderate liberal, I thought it was a good thing to have a conservative voice on my Facebook page. If we want to fix what’s wrong with America, people from both sides of the aisle need to talk, right?
This man wound up crossing a red line when he claimed that the news of a Florida Trump supporter who sent pipe bombs to Trump critics, including President Obama, was a conspiracy cooked up by the Democrats. Seeing no upside of trying to debate that type of thinker, I blocked him from my page.
Eventually, I deactivated my Facebook account once it became clear that my left-leaning friends, whose posts had become too predictable, didn’t subscribe or comment on my YouTube videos, either. Hence, the birth of this blog, where I can write what I please and not worry about someone responding with a ridiculous remark. No, I’m not talking about censorship; I’m following the old-fashioned journalistic tradition of gate-keeping.
If you want to respond, please write to me through my contact page. As I said in my first blog post, I’ll respond.
Meanwhile, my Trump hula hooping episode has attracted more views than any other of my Old Man Workout segments. If you want a smile, or to pop an irritating Donald pimple, you can watch it by clicking here.
FEBRUARY 25, 2019 A NEW ADVENTURE
So begins, Oleh Hadash, a Refuge Films web series documenting my wife’s and my experiences as we become new Israeli citizens, known in Hebrew as olim hadashim. Privileged people at our stage of life typically don’t leave their homes and start new lives in a foreign land unless they are war refugees or fleeing persecution.
For the record, Judith and I are both proud Americans who love the US. We are not running away from anything. Instead, we are moving toward a new life that allows us to embrace our heritage in a way we can only do in Israel.
The series opens as we prepare to move and will follow us during our first full year as Israelis. If the project draws a sizable following, it could run longer. You can view all of the episodes of Oleh Hadash by clicking here.
FEBRUARY 17, 2019 SHORT & SILENT
Most of my work as an indie filmmaker has been with documentaries, largely because they don’t require funding to pay actors, set designers, carpenters, painters, costume designers, and make-up artists, and the like. That said, I love narratives, and long to do more of them.
I made Colors of Love thanks to two friends who worked for free. To further cut costs, we shot everything without sound, and I wrote and recorded some of the music track myself and found a street performer who worked for a minimal fee. The film screened at festivals in the US and Italy, so it has enjoyed a bit of artistic success. Meanwhile, my two friends got engaged after we wrapped the film. I like to think their relationship flourished during the six months we worked on the film. View the video by clicking here.
FEBRUARY 6, 2019 LOVE SONG FOR AMERICA
With this year’s State of the Union address behind us, I offer Lincoln’s Preamble as my response to what the president told our country. You, of course, are free to draw your own political message from this recently produced music video. For me, beyond teaching about the Constitution and encouraging music appreciation and performance, the piece celebrates collaborative learning, joy, and creativity in the classroom.
At this moment in America, when the #MeToo movement has captured the world’s attention, and more women have found their way to the U.S. House of Representatives than at any other time in our nation’s history, it seems fitting that there is only one boy, who appears fleetingly, in this video. You can draw your own conclusions for why girls take the lead here. As their music teacher and director on this project, I have my own explanation.
Email me through this website’s contact page, if you want to share your thoughts and hear my take. I welcome a dialogue. View the video, by clicking here.
JANUARY 31, 2019 CHANGING THINGS UP
After I turned 63, my doctor advised me to give up road running to spare wear and tear on my arthritic knees. So, I changed things up, doing more low-impact, high-intensity workouts. As part of this new regime, I cut down my food portions, which helped me trim 15 pounds and shave 35 points off my cholesterol count.
Producing short documentaries has become one of my specialities, as the low-budget form allows me to make movies with little funding and no crew. I decided that my modified exercise program would be good project to document, with my tongue firmly in cheek. And so, Old Man Workout was born.
Episode #13 of Old Man Workout features one of my alternative winter workout routines. View the segment by clicking here.
JANUARY 23, 2019 LASTING LEGACY
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday is now two days passed, so America is done collectively speechifying in his memory about the importance of social justice. Like those who wish that the Christmas message of joy and love would linger well beyond the holiday season, I’m one who thinks we ought to celebrate Dr. King every day. So, in this post-MLK-Day entry I’m highlighting a short documentary about a man who did that.
Milt McPike may not have been a world famous Nobel Peace Prize winner, but he was a significant person in his community. I only met him once, briefly, not long before he passed away, so I can’t say I knew him, or could call him friend, but I do admire his achievements.
Working without a crew, I did not capture the sights and sounds of the event as I would have liked. For sure, there are shots in the doc I wish I could swap for more artful ones. Be that as it, here’s hoping It’s About the Kids captures the essence of my subject and the impression he made on others. View the doc by clicking here.
JANUARY 15, 2019 INDIE FILMMAKING
My dreams of having an honest-to-goodness movie career went the way of all things when I gave up acting in Manhattan as I approached 30 and enrolled in graduate school to study journalism, then left the city to settle in the Midwest with my new wife, a university professor.
In Madison, Wisconsin, I wrote a bunch of scripts, came close to optioning one with an LA producer, even wrote a feature-length narrative to produce locally, but at that point, making a professional-quality low-budget film meant shooting on celluloid with a 16mm camera and employing a crew of 3-5 people. It also meant editing out of town, because Madison didn’t have an editing bay. So, budget restrictions kept me from going beyond the planning stage.
Jump ahead 20 years, and I’m a teacher, having found my place in the world, one where I’m doing something productive and, at times, even creative, helping society, yada, yada, yada. You can read my poetical waxing about teaching in a post below (January, 3, 2019).
Anyway, as one friend put it, technology finally caught up with my ambition, and the development of inexpensive digital cameras that gave a film look led me back into moviemaking. No longer dependent on expensive gear, or worried about the cost of developing film stock, I went on a tear. Decades of pent-up energy burst out of me, and I have since produced well over a 100 films, from minute-long web series episodes and short narratives, to feature-length docs. And, at age 64, I’m still churning away.
I’ve made some decent movies, nothing to catch the attention of networks or studios on either coast, but film festivals have welcomed me, as have public libraries. In 2015, I retired from the classroom to concentrate exclusively on filmmaking, and went off on my own to produce In Search of America, followed by a year in Israel where I travelled around the country much as I had done in the US, capturing intimates glimpses of the people.
To produce my first dozen video projects, I managed to find a little funding to hire two-person crews to handle camera and sound. Buying my first digital video camera liberated me even further. So now, funding or not, I can keep making movies. Going solo is not my first choice, as I much prefer collaborating, but I’m an impatient cuss, so when the spirit grips me, I can move.
This brings me to Kids ‘n Cake, the first music video I produced on my own. I cringe when I see all of the out-of-focus shots, but the children’s energy, and the catchy song by Cake, carry the piece well enough to make me smile when I watch it. View the video by clicking here.
JANUARY 7, 2019 PUNISHMENT & REDEMPTION
Several ago, I volunteered in a minimum-security prison, working alongside graduate student volunteers teaching literature and writing. Inmates discussed texts and brought in pieces of their own for critiques. I found their commitment to the class, even though they weren’t earning formal academic credit, impressive. Some of the original writing I heard was quite good. Before my first month of volunteering was finished, I knew I wanted to film a short documentary about the students and their instructors.
I waited five months to get permission from the Wisconsin Department of Corrections to bring a film crew into the prison. The wait was worth it. Once my project got the green light, my crew and I gained more access to the facility than I expected, and I wound up making a full-length documentary with the footage we captured. My goal was to offer a glimpse of life inside the prison that was neither sensational nor sentimental. From what people who have seen Dostoevsky Behind Bars have told me, I believe I accomplished that.
One significant thing that has stuck with me since then is something the warden told me, that putting someone behind bars is the punishment. Once there, the system should help the convict improve himself and prepare to return to society as a productive, contributing member. I hope my film helps reinforce that message. Beyond that, I’ll let the work speak for itself. You can make pay-per-view requests through my contact page.
Eventually, I will release Dostoevsky Behind Bars for free online viewing. In the meantime, I’ve have just released Artists In Absentia, a shorter documentary that serves as a sequel to the first. View the doc by clicking here.
JANUARY 3, 2019 COMEDY + COLLABORATION = COMMUNITY
After pursuing a career in the arts for more than 20, first as an actor, then as a writer, I returned to college in my 40s to earn a teaching degree. That was probably the best career move I’ve made in my life. Teaching not only made me more aware of the need for equity and social justice in public education, it turned me into the filmmaker I am today.
Located in one of my city’s poorest neighborhoods, Lincoln School earned standardized test scores that were a constant reminder of the so-called achievement gap. Hard as I worked, my African-American and Latino children typically performed below their white classmates, many of whom were bused in from a more affluent part of town.
One way I sought to level the playing field was through community-building. Another was through enrichment activities, such as singing every day. This led to my first music videos. Hello Eek!, a short documentary I produced with a colleague who shared my philosophy of joyful, at times raucous, learning, is a prime example of the kind of community-building I did with my children. View the doc by clickinghere.
JANUARY 1, 2019 WELCOME
Welcome and Happy New Year.
Having closed down my Twitter and Facebook accounts, I am starting 2019 with this director’s blog in order to communicate more directly with people interested in my work. For visitors, that means there will be no ads.
For me, it means I can avoid the toxic crap that appears on those other platforms, stop obsessing over the number of likes and shares my posts attract, and liberate myself from featuring lame, or abusive, remarks that show how much “authentic” engagement my content generates. In short, this blog will allow me to document what I’m up to without worrying about my popularity.
Anyone who wants to respond to my posts can write to me through the Refuge Films contact page. Perhaps I’ll quote the remarks in full, or as an excerpt. At the very least, I’ll respond in a return email.
That’s it. Thanks for visiting. Check out my Refuge Films YouTube channel by clicking here.