All posts by outcastfilms

Booklist Review Untold Tales

The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin.
First published March 26, 2018 (Booklist Online)

In the 1970s, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a column called “Tales of the City,” a fictionalized account of a young woman arriving in the city and drawn into the counterculture scene. The author was Armistead Maupin, raised in the conservative South and coming to terms with his sexuality. Using excerpts from the columns and clips from the PBS television series of the same name, this documentary tracks Maupin’s evolution from his younger years to his role as a major player in the literary and gay-rights scenes. Extensive interview footage with Maupin (both current and archival) as well as commentary from Laurie Linney, who starred in the PBS dramas, and recollections and thoughtful comments from Sir Ian McKellen, Neil Gaiman, Amy Tan, and others add depth to the coverage. This entertaining program is a good fit in literary collections in public libraries and colleges.

Buy the Film Here

Booklist Review Shored Up

Booklist Review
First published
October 14, 2014 (Booklist Online).

Shored Up

Sandy beaches and beautiful ocean views are the dreams of many. But dreams can become nightmares when severe weather, eroding sand, and rising water levels decimate the shoreline. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy tore through the East Coast, wiping out neighborhoods and scattering possessions. Interviewed survivors in New Jersey talk about seeing their household goods “on the curb” and making decisions about rebuilding. In North Carolina, Outer Banks residents worry about disappearing shorelines yet decry attempts by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to put in artificial barriers to curb erosion. Efforts to restore beaches with costly sand-reclamation projects are wiped out when devastating storms hit the region. Experts debate questions of who should finance beach-replenishment projects and the wisdom of continuing to develop and build houses on endangered coastal regions. This thought-provoking video sparks discussion for environmentalists and those directly affected by beach erosion. Extras include an interview with director Ben Kalina.  Candace Smith




Video Librarian
November/December 2014  (Volume 29, Issue 6)

Shored Up

Highly Recommended

Closed captioned.

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

Filmmaker Ben Kalina explores the continuing debate over the government’s stance regarding erosion of coastal regions that are also popular residential sites. The problem is brought home by extensive footage of areas devastated by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, but the focus here is on two places that were immediately affected by the controversy over governmental response: Long Beach Island, off the coast of Ocean County, NJ, and the outer banks of North Carolina. In the first instance, the filmmakers question the wisdom of the beach replenishment program of the Army Corps of Engineers, which draws on generous amounts of general tax revenue to protect and rebuild the summer homes of the affluent. In the second, they cast a somewhat ridiculing eye at the decision by state legislators to set aside the findings of scientific researchers regarding the probability of future deterioration—an action in response to arguments from a business-oriented group that those alarmist predictions would have harmful economic ramifications. Shored Up features an impressive array of interviewees on all sides of the issue, but clearly represents the view that this problem—exacerbated by climate change—will only worsen, and that serious fact-based discussion should become an urgent priority among decision-makers and the general public.

DVD extras include interviews with Kalina and editor Marc D’Agostino, as well as bonus scenes.


Reviewed by Tom Ipri, Drexel University

Highly Recommended 

Shored Up

Ecology, Environmentalism, Global Warming

Date Entered: 3/2/2015

Focusing mainly on the New Jersey and North Carolina shore lines, Shored Up examines the troubled relationship between nature and those who want to build beach homes and communities. Taking Hurricane Sandy as a starting point, Ben Kalina’s film traces the history of shore development with an emphasis on the more recent trend of building expensive homes in flood and erosion prone areas.
Shored Up presents a short but effective overview of the history of shoreline development along the east coast. This growing development clashes with the effects of climate change and communities are forced to keep rebuilding. Some areas enlisted the Army Corp of Engineers to extend their beaches.

Scenes of the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy provide a timely and moving example from recent history. Interviews with longtime residents of select coastal towns put a human face to the threat of property destruction.

The film cumulates with the shocking and disturbing decision by North Carolina politicians to ban discussion of the accelerated rise of sea level. Shored Up excels at showing the conflicting interests at play. It provides a great overview of the effects that climate change is having on coastal communities and provides a disturbing portrait of how those who have economic interests in these areas have their heads in the sand, so to speak.


EMRO Review: Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin (The)


The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin
February 2018


Early in this film, author Armistead Maupin asserts that he is not a gay writer, but rather a writer who is gay. But it’s quickly evident from the film that his personal story encompasses many of the plot arcs of the larger story of LGBT+ people in San Francisco and beyond.

The AIDS crisis, hepatitis, friendships with straight women, open relationships, coming out, chosen families, censorship, San Francisco as promised land: all of these topics appear in the film. To its credit, the film explores these issues as parts of Maupin’s story, rather than trying to generalize them to all gay men. Yet, also to its credit, the film allows space for Maupin’s friends and acquaintances to voice their own stories, as when fellow author Kate Bornstein explains her objections to Maupin’s outing actors Rock Hudson and Lily Tomlin.

Untold Tales is, in fact, a frustratingly difficult film to summarize, because rather than following a definite plot, it is like a day-long visit with a new friend, learning about his life and the people therein. Happily, it is a consistently interesting one, and one that demonstrates the humanity underlying those aforementioned social issues.

It is highly recommended for academic and public libraries.


Video Librarian Review: Remittance


February/March 2018

Filmmakers Patrick Daly and Joel Fendelman examine the global plight of migrant workers by telling the unhappy story of Marie (Angela Barotia), a Filipina wife and mother who leaves her husband, sons, and daughter for a job as a housekeeper to a well-to-do Singapore family so that she can send money home. Although not a documentary, the script is based on the experiences of Barotia and other non-professionals in the cast, and the directors stage the action—shot in Singapore and the Philippines—in a gritty style. Marie discovers that her salary will be reduced to cover the costs of her training and transportation, so she has to take on additional jobs to meet the needs of her family. And they, in turn, undermine her efforts: her philandering husband spends the cash she sends on another woman rather than repairing his taxi, and her daughter gets pregnant before she is able to finish school. As a result, Marie is forced to return home, her hopes of opening a hair salon dashed. Once back, Marie’s situation deteriorates further in what clearly appears to be a sad cycle. A realistic and timely film that carries the ring of truth, this is recommended. (F. Swietek)


Video Librarian Review: By Blood


By Blood 
February/March 2018

Co-directors Marcus Barberry and Sam Russell tell the story of the “freedmen”—African Americans who trace their lineage to freed slaves who became members of various tribes, including the Seminole and Cherokee Nation—in this troubling documentary. The filmmakers focus their inquiry specifically on Oklahoma, where Jon Velie—an attorney who majored in Native American history at the University of California at Berkeley—has been representing freedmen since they were disenfranchised by their tribe in 1999. One of his clients, Sylvia Davis, is an African American woman of Seminole descent. After being disenfranchised she lost access to tribal benefits including healthcare and housing assistance. In 2003, freedmen also lost the right to vote in tribal elections. Although Velie’s litigation helped to overturn that restriction, benefits remain elusive. And even though a lay advocate named David Cornsilk won his case on behalf of Lucy Allen, the Cherokee Nation proceeded to amend their tribal constitution in order to disenfranchise African American members again. The film’s title, By Blood, comes from a section of a turn of the century census which was used to make the restricting amendment (as opposed to the Treaty of 1866, which recognizes freedmen as tribal members). In 2008 a bill was introduced that aimed to withdraw federal funds until such time that the Cherokee Nation recognizes the freedmen, but by 2009, this bill—which the Cherokee Nation fought with all their might—was dead. As the documentary ends, legal battles on behalf of the freedmen continue, but it’s hard to tell if they will receive the recognition they seek. A thought-provoking film—with extras including bonus scenes—this is recommended. Aud: C, P. (K. Fennessy)


Booklist Review: All Eyes and Ears

March 2017

All Eyes and Ears

“The relationship between China and the U.S. is often fraught over disagreements on human rights and other issues. This insightful program follows former U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman as he relocates his family, including adopted daughter Gracie Mei, to China. Huntsman and family visit far- reaching areas in China, including Gracie Mei’s former orphanage, trying to interact with citizens as well as local leaders. His trips are carefully structured by the Chinese government and watched by “minders.” As Huntsman searches for diplomatic solutions to global problems, forces within China are seeking change. At the center of these protests is legal-advocate Chen Guangcheng, who wants existing laws to be enforced. Extensive interviews with Hunstman, Guangcheng, and other experts add depth to the coverage. Revealing yet never didactic, this 2015 copyright title will spark discussions on Chinese government policies and related topics.”  Candace Smith


VL Review: All Eyes and Ears


All Eyes and Ears

Jon Huntsman, former governor of Utah and a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, is reportedly slated to be Donald Trump’s ambassador to Russia. Filmmaker Vanessa Hope’s documentary centers on Huntsman’s ambassadorship to China under Barack Obama from 2009-11, which was a natural fit since Huntsman speaks fluent Mandarin (he was once a Mormon missionary in Taiwan). All Eyes and Ears also emphasizes the experience of his daughter Gracie Mei, an abandoned infant whom the Huntsmans adopted from a Chinese orphanage in 1999. Gracie returned to her Chinese homeland with her parents, and the film offers fly-on-the-wall footage both of the ambassador fulfilling the duties of his post—negotiating with leaders, interacting with people on the street, taking a trip to Tibet—and of Gracie reacquainting herself with the country of her birth. The juxtaposition of the political and the personal makes for a diverting portrait of a family in often challenging circumstances that they all handle quite deftly. One of the major demands of diplomatic service in China involves maintaining good relations with the government while also acknowledging protestors, a balancing act addressed here in the case of Chen Guangcheng, a blind dissident jailed for bringing legal action against the regime’s one-child policy and kept under house arrest even following his release in 2010. Guangcheng eventually escaped, took refuge in the American embassy, and emigrated to the U.S.—although not until 2012, after Huntsman’s resignation. All Eyes and Ears sometimes feels like a panegyric, but it’s certainly an appealing portrait. Extras include additional scenes. Recommended. Aud: C, P. (F. Swietek)


EMRO Review: All Eyes and Ears


All Eyes and Ears

“This exquisitely done production uses the Ambassadorship of Jon Huntsman, Jr. to the People’s Republic of China (2009-2011) as a vehicle to look at a number of issues in contemporary China and its relationship with the United States. The main focus is on Huntsman’s adopted daughter, Gracie Mei, who was born in China. Gracie Mei’s origins often become a springboard to introduce the Ambassador to the Chinese – she is even welcomed to the orphanage where she spent her first few months of life. There are also a number of recent cameos of Gracie Mei in a recording studio where she comments on her experiences in China and how she views her experiences now. Ambassador Huntsman is fluent in Mandarin and it is a delight to see him interacting with various individuals in their native tongue. The producer/director of this film had amazing access to Ambassador Huntsman and we see an intimate portrait of the Huntsmans as they travel throughout the country meeting with various groups and individuals. Most of the talk pertains to trade, but military affairs, China’s emergence as a global power, and human rights, including Tibet, are also discussed/portrayed. Interspersed throughout the production are comments by a large number of scholars, “experts,” and activists. One of the latter, and the one with perhaps the most face time, is the blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng. All of this makes for an informative, and even entertaining, look at China.

Of the several productions that this reviewer has had the privilege of reviewing in the past few years, this is one of the most professionally rendered in terms of script along with visual and sound elements. Recommended for all libraries, but especially those that deal with China. ”