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November 21, 2020 DESPERATELY SEEKING COMMON GROUND
As Election Day 2020 approached, I reached out to someone I had met while producing my documentary Where Are We Now Wisconsin? My goal was debate, without rancor, someone whose politics were foreign to me. Todd Haskell, living in Northern Wisconsin, and I, living in Tel Aviv, Israel, not only talked civilly with one another, we wound up becoming friends as we zoomed over the internet. (Here’s background.)
As I write this, nearly three weeks after the election, Donald Trump has yet to concede that he lost. His charges of voter fraud and refusal to cooperate with the Biden’s transition team has further polarized America. Todd and I are thinking about producing a second seasons of our web series Blue and Red Respectful Encounters of the Political Kind.
What all seven episodes of Season 1 here.
September 30, 2020 LOVE SONG TO AMERICA
Commentators, ironically, have called the 2020 presidential campaign very stable. What they mean is that since Joe Biden accepted the nomination by the Democrats to represent his party against Donald Trump, polling numbers for Trump vs. Biden have remained virtually unchanged. Biden has led throughout.
The national scene, on the other hand, has been anything else but stable. With the number of Covid-19 deaths having surpassed 206,000, as of this writing, the number of people unemployed reaching unprecedented numbers, unrest across America in the wake of the George Floyd killing by Minnesota police officers, not to mention threats to the Black Lives Matter movement coming from Alt Right militias, the United States is suffering through one of its most challenging periods times in the country’s history.
Last summer, when the nation seemed comparatively calmer, and I say this ironically, I produced a follow-up to my feature-length documentary In Search of America. A long-time Democrat, I intentionally sought out Republicans to produce Where Are We Now Wisconsin?, a film celebrating the art of listening and respectfully responding.
The half-hour documentary represents my love song to the state where I lived for 32 years, and the country where I was born, before my wife and I pulled up stakes and moved to Israel.
Watch Where Are We Now Wisconsin? here.
What a difference three months make!
The last time I posted here, Argentina has just reported its first coronavirus case, and only nine people had died of the disease in the United States. As I write this, the world have recorded a total of more than 11 million cases and nearly 525,000 dead. Sadly, the United States is leading the way with nearly 3 million of those cases and 130,00 of those deaths. Unemployment has skyrocketed around the globe with economies tottering on the brink of collapse.
When I last I posted here, the video of George Floyd dying on a Minneapolis sidewalk as a police officer held him face down with a knee on his neck had not made its way around America. The protests, peaceful and violent, that the video set off are still roiling his country.
How long the pandemic will rage remains to be seen. What makes everything seem worse is that researchers are more likely to create a vaccine to combat covid-19 well before the American people can fix what is ailing their country’s soul.
Meanwhile, the 2020 presidential election looms, pitting the moderate Joe Biden as the Democrats’ standard bearer against the Republicans’ Donald Trump, whose angry, self-centered leadership style has made him one of the most divisive presidents in the nation’s history.
Which brings me to In Search of America, a feature-length documentary that I filmed over six months during the 2015-2016 presidential primary. I traveled to 14 different states and interviewed dozens of people about the major issues of the day.
I did not ask my interviews whom they supported for president. My goal was to let them speak about what mattered to them without editing them in a way that turned my work into a liberal or conservative manifesto. I took it as a compliment when people who watched the film said they couldn’t tell on what side of the aisle I stood.
After In Search of America completed its film festival circuit, it enjoyed a second life screening at high school and libraries, two audiences that appreciated the work as a study in civil discourse, something that seems almost entirely lacking in today’s polarized society.
In celebration of American Independence Day, I decided to release the documentary on YouTube. Hopefully, people who see it will come away more hopeful about the future of America, and the next time I post here things will look better than they do right now.
See In Search of America here.
Before I was a filmmaker, I was an elementary school teacher. Before I was a teacher, I was a children’s book author. Before that I was a journalist, a screenwriter, a playwright, and an actor.
It turns out that I am still all of those things, except that I have switched my focus now and again to preserve and rejuvenate my creative spirit.
To put it plainly, rather than reach a breaking point from countless rejections, I have shifted to a different form, because, in the end, I am a storyteller. Whether I am working on a short story for Cricket Magazine, an obscure literary journal, a script for Hollywood, or a non-budget horror movie, I love the art of telling a good tale.
When a publisher approached me a few years ago about bringing out my middle grade novel Understanding Buddy in paperback, that helped jumpstart my dormant children’s book career. Now, I find myself, once again, spending more and more time writing for young ears and eyes.
Now and then something has happened in my career that has helped make my usually thankless work as an independent filmmaker worth it. Such a moment came recently in Swansea, Wales where my short film, Old Camera Man won the award for Best Documentary at the Copper Coast International Film Festival.
The 6-minute film actually began as three separate shorts for my web series Rock Regga. I decided my story about a retired photographer, who every day sat in front of his a tiny store overflowing with old cameras and smiled at all who passed, deserved an uninterrupted telling. If you see the film, you’ll find that the man was a living illustrated history book and a natural ranconteur.
Old Camera Man is still on the film festival circuit, so it is not yet ready for streaming, but you can watch all of the other episodes of Rock Regga here.
My father Lloyd B. Kornblatt passed away on November 27, 2019, soon after I filmed Taste Test with him and my siblings. He lived a long, full life, was blessed to die in his own home. So, we said good-bye to him with a soothing sense of closure.
In keeping with Jewish tradition, I did not shave for thirty days after Dad died. The day I picked up a razor again, I decided to end my Oleh Hadash web series. So, “Newcomer,” provides additional closure at this point in my life, seeing that the series began a year ago when my wife Judith and I decided to immigrate to Israel.
See “Newcomer” here.
People who have followed my documentary work over the years are probably familiar with my father Lloyd’s face. He first appeared with my mother Dolores in a short video I shot back in 2014 around their home in South Brunswick, New Jersey.
I believe the piece succeeds as an intimate study of two elderly people welcoming their son home. It was my mother’s first appearance in a work of mine, and her trust in me as a filmmaker, and love for me as her son, are obvious from the moment she appears on screen.
I did not film anything with Mom after that, so Last Seder? serves as her Refuge Films debut and swan song. She passed away in January, 2017, at the age of 92.
Dad, now 96, is featured in Role Model, the opening episode of my web series, Old Man Workout, and in Goodbye Family, a segment from Oleh Hadash, my latest series. Both short pieces show a paragon of resilience living at home with determination and a zest for life.
Taste Test, which I filmed on my iPhone at a liquor store and at my dad’s hospital across the street, may be Lloyd Kornblatt’s final appearance in a Marc Kornblatt film. But I could be wrong.
Over the past year, Dad has been in and out of hospitals and rehab facilities, always keeping his arms outstretched, his eye on the prize. As I write this, he is in rehab, preparing to grab the prize once more: Home.
See Taste Test here.
SEPTEMBER 17, 2019 HELLO
What better way for a filmmaker to get to know a new place than to walk around at all hours filming images that catch his eye? This montage of Tel Aviv, which is part of my web series Oleh Hadash, is my way of saying hello to my new home.
The segment offers some pre-dawn and morning views of the city together with a bit of humorous political commentary. See “Tel Aviv Election Montage” here.
AUGUST 12, 2019 GOODBYE
After spending more than thirty years in Madison, Wisconsin, my wife Judith and I decided to pick up stakes and move to Israel. To document our experience, last February I began a web series, Oleh Hadash.
The first 18 episodes are mostly tongue-in-cheek, but my final segment from Madison is unabashedly sentimental. After all, this is not only one of the greatest cities on Earth, it is also a place where we raised our two children and lived productive, friend-filled lives.
So, cue the tear ducts, and watch “Madison Montage” here.
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 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 some…
So, there we are on the playground, the bell has rung, 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 worked with me on a music video (see Hard Biscuits here), and we’ve been collaborating ever since. When he started teaching first grade, Kyle landed a grant to have me produce a music video celebrating kindness (see Sugar Day here). Next, we promoted math skills in Mathematical Humdingers (see it here), and then we demonstrated the importance of dancing, hopping, and flopping (see We Gotta Move 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. Meanwhile, happy anniversary, Kyle. For the record, you and Matthew have proven to me that a person can have more than one best friend.
See On Account of a Hedgehog 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.
Watch Take a Breath here.
MAY 31, 2019 HEARING & SEEING
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. Watch I See You, here.
APRIL 25, 2019 LOVE 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 doc 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. To honor Todd’s passing, and celebrate Little Free Library’s 10th anniversary, I’ve 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.
See Because It’s Small here.
MARCH 15, 2019 POP A PIMPLE
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 long red tie and hula hooped to a song by Molotov about a gringo and a beaner. Yes, I was posing as a ridiculous, athletic, D. Trump, to ridicule his border wall policy.
The Molotov song included some profanity and an irreligious comment. I also cursed a bit. This irritated a Facebook friend who threatened to stop watching my web series.
At the time, eager to attract subscribers to my YouTube channel and hungry for more views and comments in my quest to “go viral,” I went out of my way to reassure the man, a practicing Christian, that I did not intend to offend, as much as amuse and educate. He stayed with me, posting occasionally on my FB 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 such a thinker, I blocked him from my page.
Eventually, I deactivated my Facebook account to avoid such exchanges. Hence, the birth of this blog, where I can write what I please and not worry about ridiculous critics. And 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.
Meanwhile, my Trump hula hooping episode has attracted more views than any other of my Old Man Workout segments. If you want to smile or pop a Donald pimple, watch it here.
FEBRUARY 25, 2019 A NEW LIFE
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. See all of the episodes of Oleh Hadash here.
FEBRUARY 17, 2019 SILENT TAKE
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, make-up artists, etc., etc. Still, I love narratives, and long to do more of them.
I made Colors of Love with 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 some artistic success. Meanwhile, my two friends got engaged after we were through. I like to think their relationship flourished during the six months we worked on the film. See the video here.
FEBRUARY 6, 2019 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 here.
JANUARY 31, 2019 CHANGE 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 here.
JANUARY 23, 2019 A 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 here.
JANUARY 15, 2019 INDIE AT LAST
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. At 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 teaching to focus on filmmaking, and went off on my own to produce In Search of America, followed by a year in Israel where I travelled around that country much as I had done in the US, capturing intimate glimpses of 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 calls, I 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 here.
JANUARY 7, 2019 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 here.
JANUARY 3, 2019 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 here.
JANUARY 1, 2019 WELCOME
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 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 this website’s 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.
Visit the Refuge Films YouTube channel here.