Cave of Forgotten Dreams 3D

Thursday, 28 April, 2011

Don’t know if or when Cave of Forgotten Dreams 3D will be shown in Calgary but have a read of Roger Ebert’s review of the film. Looks like a great film that I will enjoy very much.


PEACE won Best Documentary Award at the Hong Kong Int. Film Fest

Wednesday, 30 March, 2011

Peace - Pix 01 - cats_confrontation

PEACE has just won Best Documentary Award at the Hong Kong International Film Festival. Congrats to the wonderful documentary filmmaker Kazuhiro Soda!

Here are the HKIFF Jury’s comment:

Peace is a quiet film with an unusual power to move. By following the ordinary lives of people and cats, the camera leads the audience to discover the concept of peace in its most fundamental sense, not as a state of negotiated, reluctant coexistence, but as an idea that lies at the core of our humanity. The film reveals the sublime through the mundane.

I was touched by what Soda wrote on Facebook,

What I said at the Award Ceremony: I’m from Japan. I’ve been so overwhelmed by the tragedy my country is experiencing that I almost cancelled the trip to Hong Kong. But I’m a filmmaker. It’s my job to make movies and to show them to people. So I changed my mind to come here. I’m now confident that I made a right decision. I’ll continue to make movies.

Here is a film trailer

The film has won audience award at Tokyo Filmex and screened at MoMa. You can see my film review and interview with Soda.

Personal note: Since watching Soda’s films for the first time and interviewing him over the years for a few times, Soda has been a true inspiring documentary filmmaker for me. I try to find my own path in documentary filmmaking and it is nice to be inspired by filmmakers like Soda.


PEACE @ HKIFF March 28 & 31 (w Filmmaker Soda Q&A)

Saturday, 26 March, 2011

Peace - Pix 01 - cats_confrontation

The wonderful documentary filmmaker Kazuhiro Soda is screening his award winning new documentary PEACE at the 2011 The 35th Hong Kong International Film Festival on March 28th and March 31st and doing Q&As afterward! Check out the film if you have time. Highly recommended.

Here is a film trailer

The film has won audience award at Tokyo Filmex and screened at MoMa. You can see my film review and interview with Soda.

Film synopsis (emphasis added)

What is peace? What is coexistence? And what are the bases for them?

PEACE is a visual-essay-like observational documentary, which contemplates these questions by observing the daily lives of people and cats in Okayama city, Japan, where life and death, acceptance and rejection are intermingled.

Three people and stray cats are the main characters. Read the rest of this entry »


Documentary “Nuclear Ginza” by Channel 4, Great Britain, 1995

Thursday, 24 March, 2011

A Japanese documentarian friend recommend checking out the insightful and timely documentary “Nuclear Ginza” (with English subtitles) by Channel 4, Great Britain, 1995. [HT Soda]


Documentary “The Game of Death” on CBC The Passionate Eye – Watch Online in Canada

Monday, 21 March, 2011

Last night on CBC News Network, I watched the French documentary “The Game of Death” (full doc can be watched online in Canada). To me, a good documentary is engaging and makes us think at the same time. In fact, I am watching “The Game of Death” for the second time to understand the “harm” many of us (yes, us) are, unfortunately, capable of delivering. Highly recommended. (note: One way of “vaccinating” ourselves may be become more aware of what we are capable of doing.)

Here is an excerpt from the CBC program info for The Game of Death (emphasis added),

“In 1963, an infamous scientific experiment led by Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram demonstrated that a majority of people would administer unbearable electric shocks to another man, when encouraged to do so by an authority figure. [note: I remember the Milgram Experiment as one of the infamous/controversial research that we have to study in PSY 100.] Surprisingly, more than sixty per cent of the participants completed the experiment. They learned afterwards that the ‘victims’ were in fact actors and no pain was ever inflicted.

Filmmaker Christophe Nick re-creates Milgram’s experiment in the form of a TV game show, where 80 participants are asked to follow its onerous rules. The participants are recruited for a test TV show and are brought into a real game show set in a television studio with technicians, a live audience, and an attractive hostess. Despite the contestant’s increasingly urgent protests and howls of pain, will they obey the TV host’s commands and inflict electric shocks on an unseen man? Or will they stop before it’s too late?

You can watch a Passionate Eye trailer of the doc (probably viewable in Canada only). Also check out a Reuters English report video (see below), a TIME magazine article “The Game of Death: France’s Shocking TV Experiment” and a BBC report with audio interview “‘Game of Death’ French TV show sparks controversy“.

If you understand French (which unfortunately I don’t), you can check out this French news report.


Backing “Urbanized: A Documentary Film” project by Gary Hustwit

Wednesday, 9 March, 2011

I am excited to support “Urbanized: A Documentary Film” project by Gary Hustwit using KickStarter. I loved and really enjoyed Gary‘s last two docs Helvetica & Objectified, I am really happy to be able to help fund Gary’s new film.

I wrote about KickStarter helping creative people find funding for their projects in Oct 2009 “Designing Obama – The Book” and in Dec 2010 “$600,000+ for iPod watch kit project – Kickstarter”. I am excited to become a kickstarter and did my small part for “Urbanized”.

I encourage you check out Gary’s film info and consider using KickStarter to back the film if you like what Gary said. If you contribute $10 or more, you can even get a digital download of “Urbanized” when the film is released in late 2011/early 2012.

Note: By the way, Calgary public library has DVDs of HelveticaObjectified for you to check out.


Canadian directed ‘Last Train Home’ nominated for DGA documentary prize

Wednesday, 12 January, 2011

"Last Train Home" Review - pix 1

I am excited to report the Lixin Fan directed Canadian made ‘Last Train Home‘ is nominated for DGA Documentary Prize.

Last Train Home, a documentary that looks at Chinese peasants, and four other documentaries that focus on various hot-button topics from the American scene, have been nominated by the Directors Guild of America for its outstanding directorial achievement in documentary.”

Congrats Lixin, I am really excited for Lixin as ‘Last Train Home‘ is his debut film!

Check out my previous entries about the film,

* My March 2010 interview with Lixin Fan, director of “Last Train Home”

* “Last Train Home” directed by Lixin Fan is one of TIFF Top 10 feature films

* “Last Train Home” Review – 130 million Chinese migrant workers making inexpensive “Made in China” goods possible

* NYT article, “Following Workers’ Trails of Tears in China”

Also check out Roger Ebert’s review of the film.

Here is a trailer of the film,

Here is a Mandarin interview with the director Lixin (訪紀錄片歸途列車導演范立新) posted on Dec 7, 2010 conducted by a US TV station.


“Last Train Home” directed by Lixin Fan is one of TIFF Top 10 feature films

Tuesday, 14 December, 2010

I really enjoyed “Last Train Home” directed by Lixin Fan so I am excited to report the film is one of 2010 TIFF Top 10 feature films. Also check out,

* my interview with director Lixin Fan earlier this year,

“Last Train Home” Review – 130 million Chinese migrant workers making inexpensive “Made in China” goods possible

Following Workers’ Trails of Tears in China

Here is a film trailer.


BBC Imagine Ai Weiwei 艾未未 documentary

Tuesday, 7 December, 2010

Sunflower Seeds - pix 28

For the record, a very insightful BBC Imagine Ai Weiwei 艾未未 documentary “Ai Weiwei Without Fear or Favor”. Highly recommended.


Ai Weiwei: Sunflower Seeds – Tate documentary

Tuesday, 9 November, 2010

Sunflower Seeds - pix 29

Sunflower Seeds - pix 28

I love the Tate documentary of Ai Weiwei: Sunflower seeds. Good art and good documentary make you think, make you question, and make you want to understand more.

I am a sentimental man at times and I got a bit emotional watching the Tate documentary, thinking about the plight of people living/working in Jingdezhen (景德鎮), Chinese people in general, and the Chinese political and economics systems.

See “Ai Weiwei, 100 million sunflower seeds, house arrest” for more.

More stills from documentary.

Sunflower Seeds - pix 02 Read the rest of this entry »


Review of documentary PEACE plus interview with director Kazuhiro Soda

Friday, 22 October, 2010

Peace - Pix 01 - cats_confrontation

Since last year, I’ve grown to enjoy and admire Kazuhiro Soda’s observational documentaries very much (love Campaign & Mental). In the summer of 2009, DMZ Korean International Documentary Festival in the border city of Paju, South Korea, commissioned Soda to make a 20 minute-short documentary about peace and coexistence which has now grown into a full length documentary.

Background and serendipity of PEACE

Soda originally wasn’t too keen on the idea of making a film on a board topic like “peace and coexistence“. But while shooting footage of his father-in-law and mother-in-law because Soda has always been interested in their work (respectively running an affordable taxi service for the elderly and disabled, and running an non-profit organization that sends home helpers to houses of the elderly and the disabled), Soda got the idea of making the feature-length documentary PEACE. Soda’s observational documentary style was key because he prohibited himself from doing any research or meeting prior to shooting to avoid having preconceptions.

The film was partly financed by DMZ KIDF and it was scheduled as the opening film for DMZ KIDF.

Film trailer

Film synopsis (emphasis added)

What is peace? What is coexistence? And what are the bases for them?

PEACE is a visual-essay-like observational documentary, which contemplates these questions by observing the daily lives of people and cats in Okayama city, Japan, where life and death, acceptance and rejection are intermingled.

Three people and stray cats are the main characters.

Toshio Kashiwagi runs an affordable taxi service for the disabled and the elderly, having retired as a principal at a special school. Meanwhile, he feeds a group of stray cats everyday. However, there is a growing tension in the cats’ peaceful community because a male “thief cat,” an outsider, is trying to invade it.

Toshio’s wife, Hiroko Kashiwagi, runs a non-profit organization, which sends home helpers to houses of the elderly and the disabled. But, her organization is facing financial difficulties because of budget cuts from the government. At home, she has been grumbling about the way Toshio feeds his cats.

As a professional caregiver herself, Hiroko regularly visits 91-year-old Shiro Hashimoto to help his daily routines. Living in a mice and tick infected small apartment, Hashimoto is spending his final days thinking about his own death. His memories of being drafted to World War II come back to him while dealing with Hiroko.

Film review + interview with director Kazuhiro Soda

Peace and coexistence are big and abstract ideas that are difficult to turn into a documentary without being too semental and corny. I think Soda’s observational documentary style worked well in dealing with the theme without making it a hard sell. The audience was able to experience the theme through the daily lives of three main characters and a group of revolving stray cats that Toshio feeds.

Peace - Pix 02 - toshio holding_chiro

Peace - Pix 05 - hiroko_kashiwagi1

To my surprise, I found out during my interview with Soda that Toshio and Hiroko are actually Soda’s father-in-law and mother-in-law! Both Toshio and Hiroko were totally natural and engaging on screen. Soda “kinda forgot that they are the in-laws”, and in turn, the in-laws forgot that he is their son-in-law for the most part. [note: By the way, Toshio and Hiroko also played an important role in connecting Soda with Dr. Yamamoto, the doctor in Mental.]

Through the eyes of Toshio and Hiroko, we got to also see how the elderly and disabled in Japan are being treated and the challenges they face.

The stray cats

 

Peace - Pix 04 - thief_cat3

Toshio’s stray cats kind of started this film as Soda has always been interested in Toshio’s feeding of the stray cats. And as the serendipity of documentary making will have it, Soda noticed the new cat (the “thief cat”) had conflicts with the existing cats. Read the rest of this entry »


The Man Who Saved Geometry – Donald Coxeter – TVO documentary

Friday, 22 October, 2010

The Man Who Saved Geometry (TVO 2009) (56:21 video)

By the middle of the 20th century, Geometry looked dead. The excitement in math had moved to computers and chaos theory. But one man – Donald Coxeter – kept the torch burning. Inspired by Siobhan Roberts book, King of Infinite Space: Donald Coxeter, the Man Who Saved Geometry.

I had the honour to have one lecture by Prof. Donald Coxeter, it was a really cool class even I had little idea how important a person he was in math and in life.

[HT Erik Demaine who is in the documentary]


Congrats: Leave Them Laughing – VIFF Most Popular Canadian Documentary Award

Sunday, 17 October, 2010

Congrats to Leave Them Laughing for winning VIFF Most Popular Canadian Documentary AwardLeave Them Laughing is one of my favourite film at CIFF (see my review).


Interview with Orgasm Inc. director Liz Canner plus what I’ve learned from the documentary

Wednesday, 13 October, 2010

Orgasm Inc. - The Strange Science of Female Pleasure

I had a lot of unexpected fun and gained much insight (FDA-approved clinical trials, drugs vs placebo, etc) from watching the internationally widely acclaimed documentary Orgasm Inc by director Liz Canner. And I was fortunate to be able to arrange an interview with Liz to talk about her doc and issues raised by her film.

[Note: Feel free to check out the included film trailer and and film synopsis at the end of this article. If you live in Canada, I highly recommend you watch Orgasm Inc. for FREE online at CBC The Passionate Eye. Other countries may have similar arrangement, check Orgasm Inc for more info.]

Here is my interview and insightful chat with Liz – Part 1 (See my comments after the interview video clips.)

Interview – Part 2

Now, before I start discussing some serious issues, I want to say Orgasm Inc. is “upbeat, engaging, enlightening, and provocative” and indeed will “change the way you think about sex.” In short, the film is fun (pron selection for medical study) and thoughtful at the same time, so don’t let the seriousness in the following discussion scare you from watching Orgasm Inc.

- The claim of “43% of American women experienced sexual dysfunction

In the film, Liz dug deep and discovered the origin of the “43% of American women experienced sexual dysfunction” claim was from the article “Sexual Dysfunction in the United States: Prevalence and Predictors” (JAMA 1999). Problems with the widely publicized “43%” claim, as Liz explained in the film and the above interview, include:

* the 1999 study was based on extremely liberal interpretation of sociological survey conducted in the early 90s. In fact, a woman answering “yes” to these questions will qualify her as “sexual dysfunction“.

* the authors’ financial ties with the drugs companies. (originally undisclosed when the article was first published)

- The Berman Sisters and other “experts” in the media

Dr. Laura Berman, a very photogenic/charming lady,  has been on Oprah and different TV shows many times and she will even have a TV show on Oprah’s new TV station in 2011. At the same time, the film posts some serious challenge to Dr. Berman’s credibility (financial ties with drug companies) (doc info based on this detailed LA Times article “Dr. [Jennifer] Berman’s Sex Rx“) and talks her beliefs of drugs’ benefits when these “benefits” have not been shown as scientifically significant (i.e. no better than placebo) in FDA-approved clinical trials.

I am now more cautious when I see “experts” speaking on TV in advance of drugs launches, the public need to know drug companies often spend millions to promote drugs. For example, P&G spending $100 million to advertise a drug can be powerful and influential enough to create the need for the drugs when people are not really “sick” and don’t really need the drugs.

It seems wrong to me that “medical experts” are permitted to be much less careful on TV speaking to the general public, declaring their “beliefs” of the benefits of certain medications when the drug companies’ own FDA approved researches have clearly failed to prove the benefits in a scientifically significant manner.

- Off-label use of medications

Quoting Wikipedia, “Off-label use is the practice of prescribing pharmaceuticals for an unapproved indication.” I now am much better aware of the potential danger of off-label use which may not be work to the benefit of the patients.

- Medical ethics

In some way, Orgasm Inc expose the lack of medical ethics in our society. In an age where drugs are billion dollars businesses, there are many doctors, “experts”, TV/showbiz personalities who are willing to do and say things for money. So it is very important for the public to be careful to not blindly trust anyone.

I first read about medical ethics in Dr. A. J. Cronin‘s classic novel “The Citadel” and I am saddened to see there are enough “doctors” today willing to bend or disregard their medical ethics in order to make money.

To recap, here is a film trailer.

Here is the film synopsis (emphasis added),

In the shocking and hilarious documentary ORGASM INC., filmmaker Liz Canner takes a job editing erotic videos for a drug trial for a pharmaceutical company. Her employer is developing what they hope will be the first Viagra drug for women that wins FDA approval to treat a new disease: Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD). Liz gains permission to film the company for her own documentary. Initially, she plans to create a movie about science and pleasure but she soon begins to suspect that her employer, along with a cadre of other medical companies, might be trying to take advantage of women (and potentially endanger their health) in pursuit of billion dollar profits. ORGASM INC. is a powerful look inside the medical industry and the marketing campaigns that are literally and figuratively reshaping our everyday lives around health, illness, desire — and that ultimate moment: orgasm.

Upbeat, engaging, enlightening, and provocative, ORGASM INC. will change the way you think about sex.


Kings of Pastry – CIFF review

Monday, 11 October, 2010

2010 CIFF Picks: Kings of Pastry

Kings of Pastry is one of my 2010 Calgary International Film Festival Picks. The film was great to watch for food/pastry lovers as the pastry were all beautifully made , creatively inspiring, and made with all the attentions to the smallest details. On a deeper level, I also see Kings of Pastry as a film about the journeys for a group of people (pastry chefs in this case) who are willing to go really far (to the extreme) in their pursuits of excellence.

Kings of Pastry made me felt like one of the chefs, experiencing their ups and their downs with them. I highly recommend you check out Kings of Pastry when you can.

Here is a trailer of the film.

Here is a clip from the film.


Leave Them Laughing – CIFF review

Monday, 11 October, 2010

Leave Them Laughing

In Leave Them Laughing, a documentary about Carla Zilbersmith, a Canadian comedian diagnosed with ALS (commonly known as Lou Gerhig’s Disease), the Oscar-winning director John Zaritsky managed to make dying funny. Leave Them Laughing achieved the unthinkable by making the audiences laugh, giving us a chance to know the funny Carla and learnto appreciate the lives we have.

Leave Them Laughing is one of the films that made me laugh and touched my heart the most in the 2010 Calgary International Film Festival. I highly recommend you go check out the film. According to the film’s website, the film is back in Calgary on Oct 21, 2010 for a fund raising screening.

You can check out Carla’s blog here. And a loving eulogy by Maclen, Carla’s son. And here is Carla’s Final Video – Blog From Heaven. And I warn you, it is really funny. :)

P.S. I previously worried that there might be some problems with audio quality. After watching the film, I think I worried unnecessary.


“Out of Infamy: Michi Nishiura Weglyn” documentary review & film talk

Tuesday, 28 September, 2010

"Out of Infamy: Michi Nishiura Weglyn" documentary review

Good documentary is a great way to get to know someone. In the 2010 Calgary International Film Festival, the wonderfully made Out of Infamy: Michi Nishiura Weglyn introduced me to Michi Weglyn.

Here is an excerpt from Huffington Post’s detailed and insightful review of the film,

In Out of Infamy, Sharon and Nancy, using archival film footage and stills, tell the story of the camps by focusing on one particular detainee, Michi Nishiura Weglyn, who spent an impressionable part of her youth during World War II in the Gila River War Relocation Center near Phoenix, Arizona. Her story is especially interesting because she later became a successful fashion designer, probably best known for doing the costumes for The Perry Como Show on network TV during the 1960s. Several years after leaving the Como show, Weglyn took a bold turn in life and did extensive research on the concentration camps and wrote a definitive history called Years of Infamy that exposed this shameful stain on America’s recent past. The book’s road to publication was fraught with resistance from American publishers who didn’t want to touch the story. Weglyn should be known as a hero to all Americans for her tireless struggle to reveal such an unpopular truth.

Watching Michi in Out of Infamy reminded me of Audrey Hepburn as I think both ladies shared the same sense of grace and beauty and both did wonderful work for the greater good. If you have a chance, go watch Out of Infamy: Michi Nishiura Weglyn.

Here is Sharon Yamato, co-director of Out of Infamy, giving a film talk and doing Q&A in Calgary. Also check out the film synopsis and trailer.

Sharon Yamato, "Out of Infamy: Michi Nishiura Weglyn" and Jeff Chiba Stearns, "One Big Hapa Family" film talk at Calgary Japanese Community Association


Soda’s new documentary – PEACE

Tuesday, 14 September, 2010

Kazuhiro Soda (everyone calls him Soda) is one of my favourite documentarians. Here is the director’s statement of his new documentary – PEACE. And here is a trailer.


Two great friends and documentarians – Werner Herzog and Errol Morris

Tuesday, 14 September, 2010

Roger Ebert wrote a wonderful blog entry and posted video clips about a 2010 TIFF chat between Werner Herzog and Errol Morris, two great friends and documentarians.

Here are the four video clips from Roger’s entry. Also check out the full 20 minutes documentary “Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe” (in honour of Errol Morris making his first feature film).

P.S. I found research almost always bring up new and interesting things. In this case, I haven’t seen the full documentary “Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe“, only short clips of the shoe eating bit. So it was wonderful to watch it for the first time.


Dr. Temple Grandin – The Woman Who Thinks Like a Cow (BBC Horizon)

Tuesday, 31 August, 2010

Dr. Temple Grandin has become my latest heroine. She is one super smart scientist. For more, see a previous entry. I’ve included Dr. Temple Grandin as one of my latest “Great Minds of Our Time“.

The amazing story of Dr. Temple Grandin’s ability to read the animal mind, which has made her the most famous autistic woman on the planet.” – BBC

The Woman Who Thinks Like a Cow (BBC Horizon) on YouTube. Highly recommended.

Read the rest of this entry »


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