International films and television,
Independent Films and Documentaries

UNDER THE GUN is a Must-See 
Documentary from EPIX 

Jeri Jacquin

Coming May 15 at 8 p.m. et/pt, 7 central during the free EPIX weekend is the Official Selection at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival exploring gun violence in America with UNDER THE GUN. 

Narrated and Executive Produced by Katie Couric and directed by Stephanie Soechtig, they bring a deeper look into the gun debate. The documentary begins with the questions most American ask themselves, with the rise in gun violence, how is it that more action isn’t being taken to protect people of all ages.

The debate between those who are looking for stricter gun control to the NRA who are afraid their Second Amendment rights are being taken from them, there seems to be no compromise.

Yet our country lives through the tragedies of Newton, Aurora, Isla Vista and Tucson as well as daily gun violence not just in Chicago but everywhere. The rise of mass shootings has become an epidemic and here are a few staggering facts:

On average there are almost 33,000 gun deaths each year
On average, 297 people in America are shot everyday with 89 deaths
Gun violence is the second leading cause of death in children from 10-19
There are between 270 million and 310 million guns in the United States
The manufacturing and distribution of teddy bears is more tightly regulated for health and safety than handguns

The documentary allows viewers to listen to Gabby Gifford who was one of 19 people shot in a mass shooting at a Safeway and Mark Kelly lead Americans for Responsible Solutions; and Jackie and Mark Barden lost their seven-year-old son Daniel began the Sandy Hook Promise. 

Other groups include Sandie and Lonnie Phillips with Jessi’s Message, John Feinblatt and Richard Martinez, who lost son Christopher shot on the UC Santa Barbara campus lead Everytown for Gun Safety; Victoria Montgomery with Open Carry Texas; Shannon Watts with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Finally, Pamela and Tom Bosley with Purpose Over Pain and The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Couric and Soechtig bring the facts forward and actually have no problem calling out the names of the politicians who continually refuse to make any compromise to the safety of Americans. After what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary, it shocks me how those we vote for and put in a place of speaking for us, do not see the horror of what happened that day. 

What brought these two women together to make this documentary? Soechtig says, “I was pregnant at the time of the Newton shooting and it felt like I was bringing my son into a very different world than the world before 12/14. So when Katie called me after the Isla Vista shooting and asked me if I thought we should make a film about the gun violence epidemic, I felt a new motivation”.

Couric is an award-winning journalist and a well-known face that people trust when it comes to the news as co-anchor of the NBC’s Today show. This isn’t the first documentary she has put together to bring awareness to important issues. In 2014, Couric was an executive producer and also narrated FED UP which is a documentary about childhood obesity. Anyone with children please listen when I say FED UP is a must-see!

UNDER THE GUN is another must-see on so many levels. There is absolutely nothing wrong with listening to those who are concerned about losing their Second Amendment rights to bear arms. I am all for hearing gun-owners out and speaking with a cool head and I heard what they said in the documentary. That being said, I still don’t understand their reasoning behind safely, security and precautions.

There is so much in this documentary to take in and after viewing is an amazing way to open the door for discussion to be sure but, more importantly, ACTION! Each of the organizations that speak in the documentary share a goal of making sure that the loss of their loved ones doesn’t happen to any other family.

On May 15th as part of the EPIX free preview weekend, I encourage every family to come together for a documentary that will insight deep emotion of every kind yet is also informative and uplifting by those who have turned their pain into voices of change.

This documentary gives us all a place to start!

JANIS JOPLIN - Janis: Little Girl Blue

Jeri Jacquin

Coming to DVD from writer/director Amy Berg, Sony Music and MVD Visual is the compelling documentary about a woman who sang to the world her way with JANIS JOPLIN - Janis: Little Girl Blue. 

Cat Power narrates this documentary about Janis Joplin from her humble Texas beginnings to her rise through the music scene in San Francisco. Knowing her parents wanted Janis to be a schoolteacher, she took off for San Fran in the 1966 to join the band Big Brother and the Holding Company. It was at the Avalon Ballroom that Joplin would make her first public appearance.

Joplin also had a battle with drugs and alcohol but tried several times to keep out of her life. She would lose many friends to drug use but it still didn't help her addiction.

Performing at the Monterey Pop Festival, Joplin immediately got notice for her clearly unique singing voice. She would soon be performing at Woodstock and then the Festival Express tour. It would be her hits Bye Bye Baby, Call on Me and Coo Coo along with Down on Me would feature Joplin’s lead vocals.

Joplin signed with Mainstream Records and would then sign with Albert Grossman who she had met at Monterey Pop. Joplin and the band made their first television debut on The Dick Cavett Show and Cavett continued a private friendship with the songstress sharing his personal, although at times private, thoughts about it all.

With the success of Joplin and the band it is usually followed by problems as she walked away from Big Brother and moved on to the Kozmic Blues Band and at the same time she began doing hard drugs again. When her new group released their first works The Kozmic Blues, it did not see the same critical acclaim as her previous band. 

Performing at Woodstock would be the first time her heroine and alcohol addiction would be seen by a large number of her fans. It didn't stop the fans from being thrilled with her performance even though her voice was cracking and winded. Taking time off to go to Brazil, Joplin stopped all her drinking and drug use and took up with David Niehause. Her happiness wasn't to last as Niehause refused to put up with the drug use when it began again. 

Joplin decided to return home for her ten year high school class reunion and viewers get a chance to see some of the deep feelings this young woman had trying to be just Janis. Speaking about her return to Port Arthur for the occasion she tells a reporter that no one asked her to prom. Although she was joking toward the end, I didn't feel as if it was a joke.

Returning to Los Angeles, Joplin began working with producer Paul Rothchild. Among the songs released was Kris Kristofferson's Me and Bobby McGee and the song Move Over written by Joplin. When she failed to show up for a recording session on October 4, 1970, Rothchild sent road manager John Cooke to the Landmark Motor Hotel in Hollywood where he found her dead. Cooke said, "When I opened the door I had the simple and direct feeling that nobody was here. I came around the corner and saw Janis lying by the bed. But that feeling of nobody is here is right."

That is what this documentary brings to those who loved the music of Janis Joplin. It is an in depth look at those who were truly part of her life from beginning to end. Sharing their stories, emotions and love for a woman who had so much to give to the world through her music and unique style of singing. The letters are so revealing to her family knowing that they weren't fond of the lifestyle Joplin had chosen.

Hearing directly from family and friends is heartbreaking but listening to her own mother read letters from a fan after her death will bring you to tears. Thoughts from Kris Kristofferson, Bob Weir, D.A. Pennybaker, Pink, Juliette Lewis, Melissa Ethridge, as well as her band mates, former lovers, friends and the Joplin Family are all laid out bare. Finally a piece from John Lennon on what can be done about the drug use then. Lennon's answer is more relevant today than he could have ever imagined. 

The DVD includes the Special Feature of Deleted and Extended Scenes, Big Brother Acapella, Avalon vs. The Filmore, Influences and Walk of Fame Ceremony.

This is a documentary that is meant to be experiences by all those who came to appreciate and even love Joplin and what she brought to women in music. She did not have a ‘genre’; she had a soul that was slashed open for everyone to hear without holding back. That is what makes her an original never to be duplicated.

In the end - her voice and her music changed it all forever!

K2: Siren of the Himalayas

Jeri Jacquin

On DVD from First Run Features and director Dave Ohlson is the journey that only some dare with K2: Siren of the Himalayas.

The film brings viewers up close to a mountain known as K@. Found in the Karakoram Mountain Range, it is the second highest mountain coming in at 8,611 meters. In 2009, on the 100th anniversary of the first expedition, viewers will hear the history and see the modern day alpinist make their own journey.

Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, Jake Meyer, Fabrizio Zangrilli and Chris Szymiec are the dreamers who want to reach the top of K2 and this documentary shares the realities of what that entails.

Sometimes the risks outweigh the dream.

FINAL WORD: I have to give props first to Kaltenbrunner. Not only does she have a stellar mindset and focus but the will to boot. Watching her climb and retreat only to climb again is beautiful. It’s actually a thrill to see the goals she sets and why challenging herself even further is so important.

Chris is so engaging because for each climb I was cheering him on. It wasn’t until his last interview did I embrace what an amazing person he is because of his ability to see the bigger picture of K2. I won’t tell you more because he shares it with so much emotion.

First Run Features brings informative and unexpected documentaries and films to viewers. The diversity of subjects from K2 to JFK to a journey through Israel is done with beautiful photography and clear storytelling. For more of what First Run Features has to offer go to www.firstrunfeatures.com

TUBS OF POPCORN: I give K2: Siren of the Himalayas three and a half tubs of popcorn out of five. There is such a mystery behind the draws of this particular mountain that even I can appreciate. The cinematography of the film will draw the viewer in even deeper to that mystery. 

The film also brings out an informative history behind those who came before. The Duke of Abruzzi was the first to this majestic place and shared his feelings about his own journey as read throughout the film. It would be in those words perhaps a slight understanding of what these alpinists feel about what they do.

This definitely isn’t a sugar-coated story but instead a sharing of triumph, dreams, freezing hardships and even the deaths of those who chose to go forward but didn’t come back. That is the reality of an alpinist and K2: Siren of the Himalayas shares it all.

In the end – it is a sirens call that they can not ignore.