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November 1, 2023 MY WORLD CHANGED
On Saturday, October 7, 2023, I was enjoying one of the greatest days of my life. My son Jake had decided that instead of having a traditional bachelor’s party, he wanted to take a three-day hike from from sea to sea with his buddies. In this case, the two seas were the Mediterranean and the Galilee in Israel. Heavy rains last May had forced them to postpone the trek until after Jake’s June wedding. So it was rescheduled for early October.
The way Jake tells it, he didn’t think about inviting me along, but one of his friends did. After all, the members of his crew were all under 40, and I was one year shy of 70. As the friend who invited me tells it, I just had to be included because of my youthful spirit and physical capabilities. So, I joined the gang, and it was beyond great. Fun company, stunning scenery, a few challenging downhill parts that took a toll on my toes, but I kept up without any problem.
The third day of our 30+ mile trek, everything changed. We rose early to complete the final leg, had already eaten breakfast and set off. After a few miles on the trail, our phones started pinging. Hamas terrorists had broken through the security fence along Israel’s southern border and wreaked havoc. Details were trickling in, but it sounded bad. Our group members agreed to end the trip early, and we all went home.
The barbaric details of the Hamas attack, coupled with their abduction of more than 200 hostages, shocked the country that I now call home. It’s been more than three weeks since the terrorist invasion, and the people of Israel are in mourning and at war. As someone who has long believed in a two-state solution that grants Palestinians statehood, and has worked as filmmaker in the disputed territories to help the Palestinians’ story, I feel sad, enraged, and horrified. When I read how people around the world are attacking Jews, who don’t even live in Israel, because of the Israel Hamas War, I feel threatened and isolated with images of the Holocaust filling my head.
As I write this, the hostages in Gaza, more than a few of whom are not Israeli, remain prisoners of Hamas. Air raid sirens have become commonplace in my city of Tel Aviv, as Hamas launches rockets at us every day. Hezbollah forces in Lebanon threaten to open another front in the north, and world is condemning Israel for the toll its counter-offensive has taken on civilian life.
My wife and I have tried to limit the amount of news we watch, but we can’t close our eyes or ears to what has been happening. Volunteer work has kept me busy most days, and, blessedly, I have my numerous projects. The artwork and cover for my new picture book, now titled Mr. Katz and Me, is nearly complete, and the book is on track to be published in the fall of 2024. I have a full-length doc project in progress.
But the work that has consumed me revolves around the war. In particular, I am talking about my web series The Israel-Hamas War, which you can see in its entirety here. I hope I am able to produce a short film about the end of the return of the hostages, and the end of the war, soon.
Some nights, after dinner, boys and girls come to learn how to chant with my father. If they agree, my father lets me sit in the den to listen. Some sing high. Some sing low. Some sing like canaries, others like crows. One evening, a tall, wrinkled man with an accent came to our house.
So begins my new picture book, which was inspired by an experience I had as a teacher years ago. The manuscript has gone through a number of different title changes and is now My Father’s Oldest Student. It’s been a year since I blogged about signing a contract with Behrman House’s imprint Apples and Honey Press to publish the story. The book is slated for release in 2024.
One of the best parts of the publishing process so far has been working with my editor Deborah Bodin Cohen. She offered revision suggestions, all the while respecting my story’s vision, and together we polished the manuscript into something that pleased us both. My publisher is happy, too.
A refreshing surprise has been how much Debbie has included me in the illustration process. My Father’s Oldest Student is my third picture book. (See my others, Eli here, and Sidney here.) I have also published there interactive interactive novels that have a lot of illustrations. Previously, I was never consulted about who would illustrate my books, let alone asked for my input about the artwork. Early on, Debbie shared her top choices for artist, and asked me what I thought. She also sent me preliminary sketches by Nanette Regan, the artist she eventually chose.
I am pleased by how Nanette has captured the personalities of my main characters. Needless to say, I’m eager to see what she sends next.
July 14, 2023 TAMAR & JAKE GOT MARRIED
Our son Jake met a wonderful woman named Tamar. After a year-and-a-half of courtship, they tied the knot. They hired two photographers and a videographer to cover the event, but they gave me their blessing to play around with the stills. I came up with three brief pieces. Here is the first. (Kinks to the other two are in the comments below it.)
June 18, 2023 DANCING DOCTOR
After nearly four decades since I said goodbye to my acting career in New York City, I am back! No, not in Manhattan. I’m talking Tel Aviv.
My first paying gig in a low-budget music video is up on YouTube. To date, it has attracted more than 110,000 views. (That’s more than all of my 300+ videos combined have generated.)
My dear mother always wanted me to be a lawyer, but, if she were still alive, I believe she would have enjoyed seeing me as a quirky surgeon in the video. My dad, a thespian once upon a time, would have gotten a kick out of it, too. We look so much alike, he might have been able to convince his friends that it’s him clowning around with the video’s star.
Who would have thunk it? I’m really back. A low-low budget narrative short, in which I have a meaty part as a psychotherapist, is due for release soon. And this past week I got cast in a commercial that will earn me a pretty good chunk of change for a day’s work.
Okay, so I’m not the young, leading man who way back when went up for the same stage role as Harrison Ford. I’m wrinkled and gray, but I can still move. And I had a hoot working with the director, cameraman and rest of the crew, not to mention the dancers, all of whom were young enough to be my children. (Grandkids?) On set they treated me like one of the gang, and that was as good as it gets. Here’s the music video. Likes, shares, and English comments welcome.
In between writing, filmmaking, and teaching, I’ve devoted countless hours to creating art. Years ago, while we were dating, my wife and I took drawing and watercolor classes together and wound up painting thank-you cards for every person who gave us a wedding gift.
After we married and moved to the Midwest, I got a job with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources as a public information officer specializing in waste reduction, reuse, and recycling. That work inspired me to create art of out found objects. As we said the DNR, “one man’s garbage is another man’s gold.” I have continued doing that kind of work ever since.
My pieces found places on the walls of our homes and the walls of friends. I’ve never made money on any of them; I created as the spirit moved me.
More than three decades later, I have had my first exhibit at a small, long-established gallery in Tel Aviv. Finding someone who appreciated three of my pieces enough to install them in her gallery’s front window came as a wonderful treat. Whether the exhibition leads to other exhibits, or sales, is immaterial. I will continue creating.
Meanwhile, I have now made six short film featuring the creations of Liran Bechar, who was working in a barber shop when we first met. After I sat down in his chair, we got to talking, I found out he was an artist, and, voila! Displayed below are those pieces.
December 11, 2022 COMING FULL CIRCLE
If you look closely, you’ll find me in the still from the cult classic The Warriors, directed by Walter Hill and released by Paramount in 1979. I’m the guy in the military-style green cap near the bottom left of the picture near the guy with the baseball cap and black lips. I was dressed as a member of the Howitzers, a group of Aryan-looking white guys. If you watch the movie, you’ll find a quick shot of some black guys named the Howitzers. I heard that the white guys were deemed too potentially threatening on the set, so we didn’t make it beyond the conclave scene at the beginning of the picture. I was also a member of another gang, the Orphans. You’d have to sit down with me and watch the film, so I could stop it and point out where I in the shot. But I am there.
Great film. Am proud to have been in it. Wish I had landed a real part, instead of being just an extra. During my six years pounding the pavement in New York, I worked on some big films, all as an extra. We’re talking movies directed by John Cassavettes (Gloria), Woody Allen (Manhattan and Stardust Memories), and Ken Russel (Altered States). I was on sets with Peter O’Toole, Jodie Foster, Sylvester Stallone, Gena Rowlands, Rutger Hauer, Billie D. Williams and others, all as an extra.
My speaking roles came in low-budget films, Off-Off-Broadway, regional theater, and on one soap opera. Frustrated by the little amount of pay work I got, I turned to other endeavors, many of which I’ve talked about in this blog.
All of that is history. Now, to my surprise, I’m back! An agent happened to show up at a screening of a film I produced, and asked if I wanted to do some acting. He’s been sending me on auditions for television series and commercials. I’ve already had a good part in a short, indie film, and the other day I was hired to be in a music video, my first paying gig. No links to share yet, but I do have a slew of new headshots.
Finally, after a decades-long dry spell, I have signed a contract for a picture book. I can’t remember when I wrote the first draft of the story. It could be twenty years ago, when my children, now both in their 30s, were not yet teenagers. What I do know for sure is that my last picture picture book (Eli and the Dimplemeyers) was published in 1994.
I put the manuscript aside after numerous rejections from agents and publishers. Then, as teaching at an elementary school took over more and more of my life, I put writing on the back burner. It wasn’t until I retired from the classroom and was offered a contract to bring out one of my middle grade novels in paperback (Understanding Buddy), that I returned to writing for children in earnest. That was in 2017.
Over the past five years, I have worked on a play, two novels for young readers and more than a dozen picture books, some taken from my files, others started from scratch. I have sent out more than 300 pitches to agents and have yet to land one, so I submitted the manuscript that I have titled Such is Life directly to a publisher and negotiated my own contract. (We’ll see if that title makes it through the editorial process.) Coming from a small, niche publisher, the terms of my deal are modest, but Behrman House, is a prestigious publisher, one that I am proud to have them take on my book.
The story was inspired by my experience as a teacher. An elderly man who had come to my town (Madison, Wisconsin) from the Soviet Union asked me to teach him how to chant a Haftorah, which is a section from Scripture that a thirteen-year-old might sing in synagogue for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. The gentleman couldn’t have a Bar Mitzvah in his former country where religious practice was discouraged. He was in his late 70s when we first met, may have been past 80 when he chanted his first Haftorah.
I expect to post more about the book’s development as the months go by. Meanwhile, I captured my book signing on camera, which you can see here.
Back in 2020, as a new citizen of Israel enjoying all of the privileges my passport afforded me, I offered my services to a non-profit organization that serves the refugee population of South Tel Aviv. One of the first things I learned was that the people they served, most of them fleeing war and/or government persecution in Sudan and Eritrea, were not technically refugees. They were “stateless” people hoping to be granted refugee status. Such people live in limbo, with little recourse to challenge the state if it decides to send them back their countries of origin.
Working on a promotional video for the organization, I was inspired to turn some of the footage I captured into a short documentary, which so far has been selected by film festivals in Nigeria, France, Belgium, England, and the United Stated. Short as it is, the film has struck a chord. The story of refugees and statuses people is a universal one. Since making the film, I have become a volunteer music teacher in the organization’s after-school program. Teaching often-times unruly third graders how to play the ukulele has not been easy, but it has proven to be one of the most satisfying things I have done since moving to Israel.
To watch the trailer, click here.
June 3, 2022 IN SEARCH OF THE HOLY GRAIL
At last count, I have produced 20 web series. All have been low-budget projects, filmed, edited, often scored, and produced by me. My longest (Minute Man) ran for 50 episodes, my shortest. (From the Heart of The Gambia) ran for three. Web series have provided me with an outlet as a filmmaker when I haven’t had a budget or a crew to support my vision. Labors of love, they’ve also given me the hope of one day catching the perfect wave.
I’m talking about seeing one of my series “go viral” on YouTube with a million+ views and hundreds of thousands of subscribers waiting hungrily for the next episode to appear on my channel. To date, my most-watched video (from my Rock Regga series), has garnered around 6,800 views, and my YouTube channel has about 450 subscribers. Modest numbers, to be sure.
Still, I keep at it. My latest web series, shot entirely on my smartphone, has been fun. How many more episodes my pal Rami and I will churn out remains to be seen. If one of our segments goes viral, the sky’s the limit. You can watch the entire series here.
A mile from my home, on one of Tel Aviv’s most popular thoroughfares, a Palestinian gunman from the West Bank attacked patrons at a bar. He left 3 dead and more than a dozen wounded. The morning after the attack, I went out on Dizengoff Street, where the tragedy took place, to film whatever came my way. The work I produced, a combination of video footage and stills cut to a piece of music composed by a friend with whom I’ve walked the streets of Tel Aviv, was my answer to terrorism.
To watch Dizengoff Street: The Morning After, click here.
I also wrote a blog post about the event for an Israeli news website, which you can read here.
Hananya Goodman and I met over lunch at a friend’s house. When he told me that he was an artist who had begun creating art late in life, I could relate, having begun my filmmaking career in my mid 50s. When I learned Hananya’s work grew out of the Asemic Literature Movement, something I’d never heard of before, I was intrigued. (Check out the Asemic and Abstract Art on Facebook to learn more.)
Grandma Moses started painting when she was 77. By the time she died, at age 101, she had produced more than 1,500 paintings. Hananya began painting in his late 60s. Since then, he has produced more than 10,000 works. If he keeps producing at his current rate. . . .you do the math.
One thing led to another, and I offered to produce a short video featuring some of Hananya’s work. He provided me with a couple dozen photographs and a piece of music he had composed, and I set to work. I had already produced several videos exclusively using stills for my Tel Aviv Walks series, so I was on familiar ground making Hananya’s pictures dance around the screen. We agreed that naming the video “Untitleds” suited the work well.
To watch Untitleds, click here.
On a trip to Oakland, California to visit my daughter, I spent time walking the city’s streets. With the music video I See You, and the full-length documentary Street Pulse, I had done considerable work with the homeless, or houseless, as some people prefer. Still, I was shocked to see so many houseless encampments on street corners and under bridges around the city.
Having managed to find both beauty and blight during the Covid-19 lockdown in Tel Aviv, I had my smartphone at the ready to do the same in Oakland. P.S. Oakland, I Love You, is the result, which you can see here.
Now that I’m juggling my time between filmmaking and writing for children, it seemed like a natural next step to turn my first picture book, now long out of print, into a video production. The story, which is dedicated to my son, was inspired by Ms. Bagel Bear, his much-loved stuffed animal.
Originally, The Search for Sidney’s Smile was about a lost bear. When an editor turned down the manuscript, telling me that such tales were a dime a dozen, I sent Billie Bear packing and embarked on a search for his smile.
To watch The Search for Sidney’s Smile read aloud, click here.
While spending the year in Tel Aviv back in 2016-2017, I frequented a park near our apartment to work out. On my way there and back, I would often pass an elderly gentleman sitting in front of a tiny store cluttered with all kinds of old cameras.
Every time I passed him, the man smiled and said hello. He didn’t seem to be doing much business, mostly just sitting and watching the world pass by. He seemed so open and friendly, that one morning I stopped and asked him about his cameras. So my short documentary Old Camera Man was born.
The six-minute piece screened at US film festivals on the East Coast and in the Midwest and won a best documentary award in Wales. I had never visited Wales before, so visiting the country was a special treat.
That said, the project turned out to be a bittersweet one. To understand why, watch the documentary to the end by clicking here.
No doubt about it, 2020 was an ugly year. On top of the hardships inflicted by global warming, war, poverty, disease, and starvation, came Covid-19.
As the rise of dictatorships continued around the world, President Donald Trump spread lies across America about a stolen election. And many people believed him. (His rabble rousing bore pernicious fruit on January 6, 2021 with the storming of the US Congress by his supporters.)
Seeking distraction, early mornings I wandered the pandemic-haunted streets of Tel Aviv. Beautiful shapes and patterns appeared before my eyes, and I captured many of them as still images on my smartphone, then turned them into a photo essay.
November 21, 2020 DESPERATELY SEEKING COMMON GROUND
As Election Day 2020 approached, I reached out to someone I had met while producing Where Are We Now Wisconsin? My goal was to engage a voter whose politics were foreign to me. Todd Haskell and I, zooming from opposites of the world, agreed on one thing at the outset, that we would remain civil and respectful. (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, meanwhile, became friends while producing our web series, Blue and Red Respectful Encounters of the Political Kind.
Watch the opening episode here.
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 doc 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. 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 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 Best Documentary Award 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. We also cared 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 know 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 our classroom days together, Kyle worked with me on a music video, 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 kindess. Next, we promoted math, and then we demonstrated the importance of dancing, hopping, and flopping.
This is all by way of introduction to the mockumentary that I’ve released today on YouTube in celebration of Kyle’s wedding anniversary. The piece grew out his wish to make something special with his fiancé in anticipation of their big day. That is, after he saw Colors of Love, a romantic movie I had made with another pal of mine and his girlfriend, Kylie Wylie started whining about my liking that other friend more than him. So, naturally, I had to make a romantic film with Kylie Wylie, too.
Both films made it successfully onto the film festival circuit. Which one is better? Let viewers to decide. Meanwhile, happy anniversary, Kyle. You and my other young bud have proven to me that I 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?
Some 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 and then Good Luck Holly Pebble, a horror film based on short story written by one of my students. The lone adult in the film was a treasured colleague who loved working outside the box as much as I did. 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.