2013 CIFF interviews short film directors of “Computer Potato” and “The Hunt”

Wednesday, 18 September, 2013

Here are two of my 2013 CIFF interviews with Alberta Spirit award nominated short film directors of “Computer Potato” and “The Hunt”.

“Computer Potato” director Todd Kipp interview

“The Hunt” director Spencer Estabrooks interview

Interview with CIFF documentary Bending Steel director Dave Carroll

Saturday, 7 September, 2013

The 2013 Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF), running September 19-29, just announced the moving documentary Bending Steel is having its Alberta premiere on Sept 20th & 21st (CIFF info & tickets purchase), a film that world-premiered at Tribeca, selected by Hotdocs and has received praises from The Hollywood Reporter, Indiewire, and Toronto Standard. Bending Steel‘s trailer is quite moving . It is a documentary “about an introverted man who decides he wants to become an old-time strongman.” Director Dave Carroll said, “The conflict in the film is when he tries to get out and perform in front of people, he is really up against some of his greatest fears, interactions with people and judgement, and it becomes quite a problem, something he has to overcome.

Bending Steel is Carroll’s documentary directorial debut funded out of his and award-winning producing partner Ryan Scafuro‘s own pockets with friends’ help and money from a $25,000 Kickstarter project. Carroll first met the documentary introverted subject Chris “Wonder” Schoeck when he and his dog heard a noise while doing laundry in the basement of the building he and Schoeck lived in and  that “startling” chance encounter lead to an idea for a short documentary which turned into a feature-length documentary project that spanned 2.5 years and generated 200+ hours of footage.

Have a watch of my interview with Bending Steel director Dave Carroll, which has made me want to watch Bending Steel even more. Carroll told me that Schoeck and producer Scafuro plan to attend CIFF so you may get to meet them.

I love the spirit contains this excerpt from Schoeck‘s “Why Bend?” blog entry (with emphasis added), “Always remember constant progress. Grab a tougher bar and push with everything you got. The bar may not go at first, but remember if it flexes it can be bent. Through time you will bend it. The struggle forces you to reach deep into your mind. Remember its all about the journey. Soon you pity those that have early success. They miss out on that journey.” Have a watch of Schoeck doing some cool steel scrolling! Love it!

Here is Bending Steel‘s short synopsis via CIFF,

“Introverted, middle-aged Chris Schoeck has lived in the New York City borough of Queens his entire life. He feels no sense of home or belonging—until he starts bending steel, transforming himself into an old-time strongman. Suddenly, his life changes.

Bending Steel follows Chris as he prepares for a major performance at Coney Island. As he trains Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Interview with Lixin Fan, director of “Last Train Home”

Wednesday, 24 March, 2010

Last week I reviewed the wonderfully made documentary Last Train Home 《歸途列車》 and highly recommended it. To celebrate the film’s screening at the prestigious Hong Kong International Film Festival on March 26th & 29th, the following is my email interview with the film director Lixin Fan. My questions are in bold, follow by his answers.

1) From what I could tell, the film was filmed, at least, in 2006, 2007, and 2008. Was I right? How many trips did you make to China and how many hours of raw footage did you end up shooting? What equipment did you use to shoot the film?

We’ve done seven filming in China ranging from a few months to a few weeks in the course of three years. We have roughly 300 hr of raw footage shot over three different cameras – DVCPRO 50, and then small handheld HD cameras Panasonic HVX-200 and Sony EX-1

2) How did you come to select the Zhang family to feature? Did you know them before? Were you worry, at any point, that they might pull out from the documentary project? Tell me more please.

I traveled to city of Guangzhou for my research where I visited many factories. I strolled around these factory neighborhoods and talked to the workers I met. I didn’t know the Zhangs before. When I first met the them, they were cautious about discussing their family lives, but I revisited them many times in the following weeks and we became friends. I wanted to film with them because I think their story of migrating for nearly two decades. Their story represents the lives of millions and also touches upon many complicated social issues that China is experiencing.

3) The scene where the parents fought with Qin was very hard to watch but ultimately very important to tell the story. Can you tell me what you were thinking at the time? Was it tough for you and the sound person to keep shooting?

The moment the father hit the daughter, I as in another room, my cameraman was shooting. I heard the shouting and came to the scene, and went into the frame to calm everyone down. A that point, I asked myself, shall I put down the camera or shall I capture this emotional moment to give the film a stronger narrative to reach a larger audience and eventually create changes? In such a conflict of ethics versus professionalism, everyone is challenged to make a sensible decision. I chose the greater good, but very importantly, not at the cost of creating harms. The Chinese believe that the world in which we live is not a world of black and white. As the Taoism’s yin and yang philosophy explains: every action creates a counteraction as a natural and unavoidable movement. Also, as the Taoijitu diagram shows, there is black in white, and also white in black.

4) Have all the family members in the film seen the film yet? If you have, what were their reactions? In particular, what was Qin’s reaction? If not, do you plan to show it to them?

I went back to Guangzhong at end of last year to show the film in Guangzhong Documentary Film Festival. The couple still works in that city. My crew member and I visited the Zhang couple again and wanted to show them the film (Qin is working in another province and I didn’t meet her.) The Zhangs couple is quite happy to see us coming back to visit, but they preferred to watch the film by themselves. I respected their choice and gave them a DVD of the film. After watching the film, the father told me it made him sad to watch three years of their life on the screen; and the mother told me till this day she still couldn’t understand why Qin hates them so much.

5) I understand your film will be premiering in Hong Kong International Film Festival and you will be attending the March 29th screening (which is sold out).
If my memory serves me, HKIFF will be your film’s Asia premiere, how do you feel about your film screening in Hong Kong,China?

I think it is a great honor to have Last Train Home to be premiered in the prestigious HKIFF. As a special part of China, freedom and democracy are more generously allowed than in mainland. HK is a city known as the financial power house for Asia therefor. It’s an important link in the global trade chain. I’m curious to see how would the HK audience find the film in their own context.

6) Do you keep in touch with the Zhang family? In particular, Qin? The film certainly ended on a note that the audiences are worried about Qin. And knowing how slippery that the slope she was standing, I am worried about her. Do you have an update on Qin?

Yes, I still keep a close relationship with the Zhang family. I often call the couple to ask about the updates in life and at work. The couple went back to the New Year this time. The mother told me that Yang (the boy) got a number one in his class this year. Monther spent eight month at home caring the boy and fields. The father told me business in their factory is picking up since the economic is bettered from last year. So, once again, both the mother and father are about to leave home for work after the New Year.

The mother also told me Qin called to say happy new year but she didn’t came back home. Apparently she found work in a hotel at a small city in Hubei province. She’s 20 years of age this year, and I think she is definitely claiming her independence from her parents now.

7) I may have other followup questions, but I will start with the above questions for now. Thanks a lot for answering my questions.

If I may add one small thing in the end, I’m working on my next film which is on environmental issues in China. China is currently building a Wind Farm on Gobi desert and aim to complete the project in the next 10 years. The wind energy produced by the Wind Farm is going to be exceed that of Three Gorges Dam, and therefore, named “Three Gorges on Land.” Besides documenting China’s effort to focus on and implement green energies, I want to explore the balance between industrial development and nature sustainability through the philosophy of Taoism; for example, how much control human should place on nature; how far we can go in developing our society as the expense of exploiting the environment, etc


2019 Nov 30 Update: 香港紀錄片拓展計劃Hong Kong Documentary Initiative was so kind in sharing Mary Stephen‘s, editor of Last Train Home 《歸途列車》, masterclass in editing. Here I link to timecode 57:32 when Mary showed a clip after discussing some ideas used.


Sebastian’s Voodoo – great animation from NFB competition

Tuesday, 29 December, 2009

“A voodoo doll must find the courage to save his friends from being pinned to death.”

Another great film from the National Film Board (NFB) of Canada competition.

“Joaquin Baldwin is an Annie Award nominee director and animator from Paraguay. Living in Los Angeles, he is now finishing his MFA in animation at UCLA. He has received over 50 international awards for his animated films Sebastian’s Voodoo and Papiroflexia, and also several grants including the Jack Kent Cooke full Graduate Scholarship in 2006.”

And here is a bonus chat between Joaquin Baldwin, director of Sebastian’s Voodoo, and Lucas Martell, director of Pigeon: Impossible.

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