Video: Tracy Droz Tragos on Rich Hill, Best Documentary at 2014 Sundance Film Festival

The gap between the rich and poor is growing. This widening economic gap is a constant refrain we hear these days. How are people trying to make their ends meet and lead a decent life? How do people deal with their poverty? What does poverty in a small mid-western town in Missouri look like? Those are the questions that went through the minds of filmmaker Tracy Droz Tragos and her cousin. They turned to a small mid-western town of Rich Hill in Missouri and that is where they made their documentary.”Rich Hill” won the best documentary award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

Tragos and her cousin spent their summers in their grandparents home in Rich Hill. The two cousin had seen and heard about the struggles in Rich Hill and that became the subject of their film.  “Rich Hill” film puts a face on what poverty looks like in a small farming town, where jobs are hard to find and economic growth is a distant dream.

“Rich Hill” tells the story of poverty in Rich Hill through the eyes of 3 young teenagers – Harley, Andrew and Appachey. Each one of them has their own set of issues that includes some terrible, dark secrets. We witness how this crushing poverty dashes their hopes and dreams how it derails their families from leading a normal life. It is quite devastating to watch how these young men and their families valiantly try to stay positive through their everyday struggles. The film serves as an eye-opener to the struggles and shattered dreams of families in this small town. And Rich Hill is just one small town in Missouri. If you zoom back and look at the larger picture you have got to wonder about poverty in other towns in the US.

We spoke with Tragos, a local San Francisco bay area filmmaker about “Rich Hill.” In this interview Tragos takes us behind the scenes and shares how she found the 3 teenagers and how they let her and her cousin document their struggles. She also brings us  up to speed on how the 3 young adults are doing.

“Rich Hill” releases in San Francisco bay area in August 2014.

Update: “Rich Hill” is now available on Netflix Streaming.


Video: San Jose Jazz Summer Fest Celebrates 25 Years

San Jose Jazz Summer Fest celebrated its 25th year of its annual music festival.  The 3-day music festival (Aug 8-10, 2014) was held in downtown San Jose and featured local, national and inter nation artists. It was spread across 12 stages.  Booty Coolins headlined the show on opening night on the main stage, while the local Grammy Winning Latin group Pacific Mambo Orchestra played on the Salsa stage.

Here is a quick look at some of the musicians that played at the festival.

San Jose Jazz Summer Fest 2014

This gallery contains 6 photos.

I wish these pictures could play the music we heard at the 25th San Jose Jazz Summer Fest that just concluded yesterday. Bootsy Collins headlined the show on the opening night on August 8, 2014 in the main stage right … Continue reading

Podcast: Filmmaker John Michael McDonagh on Calvary

[LISTEN John Michale McDonagh writer/director of “Calvary”]

Calvary” is written and directed by John Michael McDonagh. This is his second film in a trilogy that he is making. “The Guard” was the first, and “Calvary” is the second and his third film is ” The Lame Shall Enter First.” Brendan Gleeson, the Irish actor is the star of this trilogy.

Calvary” is about a good Catholic priest Father James Levelle (Brenden Gleeson) who is given 7 days notice before he is going to be killed by one of his congregation members. He find out about hisdeath threat when one of his confessor says he wants to kill a good priest as a revenge for the sexual abuse he suffered as a child. The confessor informs the good father that he has a week to put his house in order before he kills him. We don’t know who this confessor, and only hear his voice.

Over the course of  the next 7 days we are introduced to a handful of oddball characters from Father James’ congregation. But, who is the one that threatened Father James? How does Father James put his house in order? And how come he is not perturbed by the imminent threat to his life? These are some of the questions that went through my mind as I sat there watching this intensely, absorbing narrative with dark undertones. Like the Irish coast it had its moments. Sometimes there was laughter and at other times it was uncomfortable to sit and watch the film unfold

McDonagh it appears is fascinated with the notion of “opposites” and his characters are a mix of opposites. Take the Catholic priest, who is surrounded by bad people.But then there is a twist. This good Catholic priest was previously married and has a  grown-up daughter. He has also had problems with the bottle and appears to have to overcome his addiction. After the loss of his wife he decides to embrace the life of a priest. McDonagh is also fascinated with the notion of an “outsider.” The priest is an outsider to this small Irish town. And yet as an outsider he tries to work with his congregation and bring them a little joy and happiness into their troubled lives.

“Calvary” is set in Ireland, McDonagh pays homage to Ireland and the county that his parents came from. He himself was born and brought up in London. The Irish coast is almost like a character in the film. It is sunny, green and inviting in one scene, and cold, grey and uninviting in another scene. The Irish coast is almost like a character and McDonagh admits in the interview we did with him in San Francisco. He wanted to create a character similar to Monument Valley of John Ford’s films.

In this interview McDonagh talks about the title of the film and how he came to select “Calvary,” and what it means. He also talks about the various references in the film. There are references to Alfred Hitchock, John Ford, Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone. (Hint: The Sergio Leone influence is the black cossack that Gleeson wears and the stark, white-washed room that Gleeson calls home.) The film is studded with literary and musical references and we talk to him about that.

Calvary” releases in San Francisco bay area on August 8, 2014.



Video: Paul Lazarus on Dean Kamen and Slinghsot

Filmmaker Paul Lazarus has a new documentary Dean Kamena prolific, enterprising innovator and inventor. Kamen created the Segway. But, that is just one of his inventions, he has many more inventions in the medical and other field. All Kamen does day in and day out is dream of new inventions, prototype, tweak, tweak, tweak and then introduce them to the world. While this process may seem easy, it requires a lot of dedication, patience and hard work and above all laser-sharp focus. And that is the Kamen we see in this new documentary “Slingshot” by Lazarus. You can put any kind of water from any source and Slingshot will filter all the impurities and gunk and give you clean, potable water adds Lazarus.

In “Slingshot” we see how Kamen struggles with an idea to create an economical and efficient water filtering system to be used in Africa and Asia. Potable water is a distant pipe dream to millions of people in many countries around the world. And water, points out Kamen is the main source of many of the diseases in the world. By providing clean drinking water you can reduce the instances of various diseases and let people lead a healthier and normal life and that is the goal that Kamen is trying to get to through his invention – Slingshot.

Entrepreneurship is often seen through a sexy lens of doing what you want, raising money, going IPO or staying private and making boatloads of money. But is that what an entrepreneur’s life is about?  Entrepreneurship is a “messy” process as Kamen points out in the film. It is interesting to see that even a successful and proven entrepreneur like Kamen has to struggle to find traction with investors for this new water filtering system. He finally succeeds by working with Coca-Cola. By partnering with Coco-Cola Kamen and his team take Slingshot, an economical and efficient water filtering system to different parts of Africa.

We caught up with Lazarus at the 2014 Cinequest Film Festival to talk about what got him interested in making this film and about Kamen’s single-minded dedication to his work. Apparently Kamen has visited a grocery store just a couple of times in his lifetime. Now, how is that for single-minded focus and dedication?

Here is our extended interview with Lazarus.