Friday, April 27, 2007

What's Up Doc-umentaries?

Tribeca Film Festival

(From the Tribeca Film Festival)
Sons of Sakhnin United, Autism: The Musical

My press pass to the festival has given me the benefit of attending preview screenings to movies and documentaries. I recently saw two documentaries I highly recommend.

Saw the documentary, "Sons of Sakhnin United," two days ago. I like documentaries where the filmmaker stays out of the story and just observes how everything unfolds. The tale of a predominantly Israeli-Arab soccer team struggling to stay in Israel's premier league has universal appeal despite its unique and volatile setting. Although there are poignant moments where the doc uses the story of the team to show the clash between Israeli and Arab cultures- most notably, when Arab player Abas Suan is booed mercilessly when he plays FOR the Israeli national team, and when a riot nearly breaks out in Jerusalem- the film is primarily a portrayal of a team on the brink, with a fan base as passionate and crazy as those in Europe and south america. One fan, for instance, won't leave his house for three days after a loss because he fears he might kill someone. He's serious. It's a documentary most sports fans can relate to, whether they're from New York or the Gaza strip.

Speaking of documentaries I can relate to, this morning I saw "Autism: The Musical." As my regular readers may know (all three of you), my sister Shari is autistic. So I was very interested in seeing the doc. I was a bit worried though. Oftentimes, publicized stories about autism tend to focus on high functioning autistic kids, or those with asperger's syndrome... and as a result, some ill-informed people tend to think autism is some sort of "idiot-savant" type of disease. More than a few times, after I tell people that my sister is autistic they ask, "So, she can like, play the piano really well?" That's not the case. With a title like "Autism: the Musical," I worried the doc would only depict that small slice of the autism community that has been given a gift along with the curse.

But my fears were allayed by the first minute of the documentary, where Elaine Hall tearfully talks about praying to God to get through one more bathtime with her adopted autistic son Neil, who often reacts with violent tantrums when faced with a bathtub. I saw a lot of similarities between Elaine's son Neil and my sister. Very limited speech, anti-social behavior, a sweet, kind demeanor prone to breaking out in random fits of violence, set off by the tiniest things.

The kids portrayed in Autism: The Musical come from all over the spectrum of the syndrome. While one can play the cello, others, like Elaine's son, are greatly challanged. Medical science has not been able to determine why one person with autism functions differently from another, and categorizing these kids is not something that can be done with any kind of certainty. There's a scene where a mother and father of a boy named Wyatt visit an advocate to find out about placing their son in a different school, and the advocate informs them (rather bluntly) that their son is "not high functioning." He's basing his analysis on an IQ test that claims to reveal what Wyatt can and cannot do. To me, and anybody else who watches Wyatt in this documentary, the advocate is clearly wrong.

To Elaine an IQ test does not accurately show what these kids are capable of. She believes they can accomplish more. Like a musical.

Elaine created a program, called The Miracle Project, in which Autistic children hit the stage to perform an original musical. They contribute to the script, sing, dance and act. The documentary follows Elaine and five sets of parents and their kids as they prepare for their night in the spotlight (including rocker Stephen Stills and his delightful dinosaur-obsessed autistic son, Henry).

The "miracle" of The Miracle Project is Elaine's ability to harness the unbridled, volatile energy of these kids and focus it into something productive and positive. All while dealing with sometimes misbehaving kids and their often stressed out parents.

Elaine spent four years raising Neil by herself after she and her husband divorced. There are countless points in the documentary that show the severe strain caring for an autistic child can put on a marriage. Luckily, my parents are the strongest people alive.

What I love about the documentary is, by the end of the film, everybody has found something. A strength they never knew they had, confidence, love. It's a movie that doesn't shy away from the more heartbreaking aspects of autism, but gives these kids and their amazingly dedicated parents the respect they deserve. These kids will always be different, but creating the musical helps them, and--perhaps even more importantly, their parents--realize that being different is okay. Joy and fulfillment are not exclusive to the unafflicted. It's an uplifting story and I suggest you check it out, whether you have an autistic child or not. If it doesn't help you understand what autism is, then nothing will.

For More About The Movie:

For More About Autism:

Thursday, April 26, 2007

I Am Paparazzi (For An Evening)

Robert DeNiro

So I went to the Tribeca Film Festival tonight, I thought to see a screening and maybe interview some celebrities. But somehow, I got put into the pen with the still photographers. Which was the coolest thing ever. Those guys are funny. There was one guy, had to be in his sixties, real character, who kept shouting "Front Page Magazine! Right here. Comes out at 10 PM" to get the star's attention. Don't ask me how, but it worked. And no one knew who Paul Haggis was.

One woman photographer was a real bitch to me. When I asked if she could move her bag so I could stand next to her, she took on a real snarky tone and said, "No, I need this room. I'm not standing sideways for you. Why don't you go stand over there."

I looked to where she was pointing. Clearly no room.

"There's no room there."

"Yes there is."

"I'm looking. There isn't."

"Well you shoulda got here earlier."

Finally, I gave up. One nice guy moved over for me. Moved his bag. Very nice photog. Unlike that bitch. I hope she left her lens cap on.

Met some nice photographers from a Russian newspaper. They were as confused about what to do as I was. But they were Russian. They had an excuse.

My head is still spinning. Celebrities are awesome. I didn't interview anybody or see a movie. But I had a fun time. My girlfriend Petra is comin over soon, so I gotta go.

But here are the pictures:

Tribeca Film Festival 4-25-07

Monday, April 23, 2007


Found on today:

That's one way to liven up a baseball game.

And with Chicago White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle attempting to throw a second straight no hitter tonight, I thought I'd link to this article-- about the only man ever to do it. Movie potential? I think so.
And The "Out Of Touch" Award Goes To...

Meg Ryan

"I would say there’s no real upside to fame. No really measurable one. There’s money, but that doesn’t necessarily come along with fame. People always say that they can get dinner reservations, but c’mon. You could always figure out some other way to dinner reservations." - Meg Ryan, in the May issue of Redbook
"No upside to fame"? "Always get dinner reservations"? Lines like this, Meggy, are why you're no longer "America's Sweetheart." Also, you've had some terrible plastic surgery and haven't made a good movie since Sleepless in Seattle.

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