Sunday, April 29, 2018



by Dwight Casimere

From an Executive Producing team led by Robert Redford comes one of the best sports movies in a generation, Momentum Generation, which is screening in the final days of the 17th edition of the Tribeca Film Festival. The film tells the story of a rag-tag group of surfing enthusiasts from some of the unlikeliest coastal backwaters and socio-economically starved communities and some of the unlikeliest places (try Chicago) to spawn an interest in the then-unlikely sport of surfing. Their various backgrounds were all but ideal. In fact, most of them grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. More than one of the subjects might well have spent a lifetime of dodging the law or in jail, were it not for the love of surfing. 

Surfing is probably one of the most dangerous endeavors you can engage in, but it has spawned a following of cult-like enthusiasts around the world. All that's needed to participate is a wooden surf board, not much bigger than an ironing board, and a steel-willed daring to brave the elements and possible death at the hands of an unforgiving sea. Using archival footage, much of it shot by the participants themselves, the film traces the rise of the sport from a mere personal interest into the big moneyed international phenomenon it has become today, complete with sponsorship, corporate endorsements and big money. 

The core subjects of the film are its presumptive progenitors, Kelly Slater, Rob Machado, Shane Dorian, Taylor Steele, Kalani Robb, Paul Roach, BenjI Weatherly and Pat O'Connel, who by happenstance all came together in their early teens in the home of Weatherly's mom on the north shore of Oahu in the early '90s. Over the next 20 years, they nurtured their dreams of becoming the world's premiere surfers. Field by their camaraderie and fierce competitiveness, the hapless crew managed to rise to their top of their sport on the world stage. Their growth in expertise mirrored the rise of the sport from a mere amateur endeavor for daredevils, to a big money proposition, which brought with it rivalry and broken friendships. Just as the Beach Boys rose to fame romanticizing the surfer lifestyle in song, so did the careers of these young daredevils. Their ascent was not without tragedy. The specter of death arose just as the zenith of surfing was on the horizon. The previously tight-knit crew unraveled under the weight of fame and fortune. Directors Jeff Zimbalist and Michael Zimbalist weave a masterful cinematic journey combining archival footage, private photos, personal interviews and early TV film and video to create a comprehensive survey of the sport that is both informative and inspirational. Much of the early unedited  and some of the most poignant and telling material in the film is supplied by the unedited footage by surfer Taylor Steele, then a burgeoning amateur filmmaker and one of the original surfing posse.  MOMENTUM GENERATION earned second place in the Audience Award Documentary category at this year's Tribeca Film Festival. Its a film that merits more than a single viewing as a testament to what sincere commitment and loyalty to an ideal and to one's comrades can accomplish.


Friday, April 27, 2018




 A young Thelonius Monk (c) 1947
 Blue Note Principals, the late Bruce Lundball, then President and CEO, current Blue Note President Don Was and Founder Alfred Lion
Cover art from a recent Hip-Hop recording

 Director Sophie Huber
Pianist Herbie Hancock, Blue Note artist and interview subject in the film

by Dwight Casimere

The history of American Jazz, social movements and evolving cultural landscapes are inextricably twined in the carefully constructed Feature Documentary Blue Note Records; Beyond the Notes by Director Sophie Huber. The film had its World Premiere screening at Tribeca Film Festival with a post performance by Common and some of the movie's principals Robert Glasper, Kendrick Scott and Derrick Hodge at Spring Street Studios.

Blue Note Records was born in the maelstrom of the Holocaust. Founders Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff fled their native Berlin as German-Jewish refugees and arrived in New York. The two had already developed an early interest in jazz and set about recording the stride piano and early jazz artists such as Sidney Bechet, Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis. That trend continued for a while until Blue Note musician, and Alfred Lion's confident Ike Quebec took Lion on a trip up to Harlem in 1947 to meet a young pianist named Thelonius Monk. His music was like nothing heard before. It was unorthodox, to say the least, but with a captivating and haunting power to enthrall the listener. It was indefinable, yet it inspired other musicians to reach for their creative heights. Interview subject Robert Glasper describes Monk as "the first Hip Hop pianist" in the film. His words are prescient as we will later see the socio-musical thread that would later spawn the burgeoning form in Blue Note's later years.

For the next half century and more, the film charts Blue Notes rise as the most important jazz record label in history. From its humble beginnings in the living room of Chief Engineer Rudy Van Gelder's parents' home in Hackensack, New Jersey, to its cathedral-like sound studios in Englewood Cliffs, the label would bring together the likes of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Lou Donaldson, Herbie Hancock, Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter, among many more. 

The recordings are landmarks in modern American music and marked defining moments in the nation's history, from the early days of Jim Crow, through the Civil Rights Movement and the rise of gang violence in the nation's ghettos and the rise of Hip Hop as the younger generation's  backlash against crushing poverty and violence of the inner cities.

The film also covers the low points and transitional periods of the label, when it was sold to a larger company, Liberty Records, in 1965, which was more interested in profits than artistry. Ironically, the move marked yet another chapter in the label's revival and the parallel rejuvenation of audience interest in jazz with the arrival of new artists such as Norah Jones.

Interviews are carefully woven with historic footage and archival photos taken by founder Alfred Lion, which were also used in the label's iconic album artwork, designed by Reid Miles, who also worked with Esquire magazine. The album covers were an integral part of the listening experience and are considered as stand-alone works of art just as much as the music inside.

Blue Note: Beyond the Notes is an arresting piece of cinematic work by Director Sophie Huber who is best known for her unconventional documentary on the actor and filmmaker Harry Dean Stanton, Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction in 2013. This is a singular body of work that will go down as a definitive record of one of the most enduring contributors to the vitality and relevance of jazz in American culture.

Early Blue Note Jacket Covers Designed by Reid Miles




17th Edition of Tribeca Film Festival Opens with Premiere  CNN FILM'S LOVE ,GILDA

by Dwight Casimere

Dwight Casimere on the Red Carpet Opening Day Tribeca Film Festival

Tribeca Film Festival's 17th Edition could not have opened with a more appropriate film, the exuberant portrait of Emmy and Grammy-winning comedian Gilda Radner, Love, Gilda. Director Lisa D'Apolito, best known for Goodfellas (1990) and Gynotician (2013) carefully constructs a documentary tracing the brilliant performers' rise from a Jewish middle-class upbringing in boom-time Detroit to her destiny-changing matriculation in Toronto, where she failed to complete studies at the University, but found her real calling in the burgeoning comedy scene. Largely told in her own words from rediscovered audio tapes, diary excerpts and archival footage of comedy sketches, the film also includes the words of her collaborators from her earliest days in Toronto,where she cut her comedic  teeth at Second City, to her ground-breaking days at Saturday Night Live. On camera voices include Lorne Michaels, SNL founder, who selected her as the show's very first cast member, to original cast members and writing staff  Chevy Chase, Martin Short Laraine Newman, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Melissa McCarthy and a host of other cast members, writers, family members and close friends. Awash in vivid photographs, home movies and performance footage, the film gives an accurate 360 degree examination of her meteoric rise to fame and the crushing whipsaw episodes of ovarian cancer that later claimed her life.

This CNN film is one of the most thorough documentaries you will ever see. In addition to highlighting the career of a brilliant performer, it leaves behind a lasting message  for those confronting women's health issues. Gilda's Club, a support group and resource program for women, remains as her legacy and continues as a beacon of hope for women across the nation.

Gilda Radner with husband and film collaborator Gene Wilder

Friday, April 13, 2018



Placido Domingo as the father, Miller, and Sonya Yoncheva as his daughter in the title role
Photos: Chris Lee/Met Opera

by Dwight Casimere

Placido Domingo is the sole reason to see the Metropolitan Opera's current production of Verdi's Luisa Miller. At 77 years old, the famed tenor-turned-baritone is taking on a new role as the father, Miller, his 149th role at the Met.  There are moments when his performance is mesmerizing, even transcendent, as he portrays a father torn by the anguish of familial love and its struggle against social conventions and class restrictions.

Luisa Miller is considered one of Verdi's transitional works, moving from his early Rossini-influenced operas, to a middle period, which produced many of the staples of opera repertoire today. Luisa, sung brilliantly by Sonya Yoncheva, is in love with a young man named Carlo, who is, in fact, Rodolfo (the terrific Czech tenor and Met favorite  Piotr Beczala). Her father, Miller, sung by Domingo, is skeptical. Rodolfo is the son of the local lord, Count Walter  (Alexander Vinogradov in his Met Debut). Walter's hired gun, appropriately named Wurm,  has his own designs on Luisa and sets the wheels in motion to end the relationship.

The plot is very predictable and by the end of the first act, the tragic ending is all too apparent. What makes this opera work is the superb singing and the dramatic flourishes, particularly from Domingo and Yoncheva. Domingo is a powerful presence on stage. In combination with Yoncheva full throttle vocal powers, the effect is mesmerizing. There are some terrific duets and more than a few brilliant moments, both dramatically and vocally in this Luisa Miller. The opera hasn't been done at the Met in the decade. Perhaps that's to its benefit, as audiences will be able to look at this performance with fresh eyes and appreciate its dazzling properties. There's a matinee Saturday, April 14 at 12:30pm, followed by performances Weds., April 18 at 7:30pm (with Luca Salsi as Miller) and a final matinee performance  at noon Saturday, April 21. Visit for more information.

Sonya Yoncheva ass Luisa Miller with Piotr Beczala as her lover Rodolfo

Wednesday, April 11, 2018



 Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen with the New York Philharmonic
Metacosmos composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir presents her2017 commission from the New York Philharmonic Society-the Marie-Josee Kravis Prize for New Music-photo/Stephanie Berger

by Dwight Casimere

The New York Philharmonic gave one of the most satisfying concrerts of the current subscription season with guest conductor and favored orchestral collaborator Esa-Pekka Salonen at the podium. With a searing performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor by towering young pianist Benjamin Grosvenor, bookened by the World Premiere of the 2017 New York Philharmonic Commission by the petite and soft-spoken composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir and a fiery performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 2 in E-flat major, Sinfonia eroica, the evening expressed the very definition of excellent programming.

Iceland is perhaps the smallest of all of the Nordic countries, but it is a relative giant in terms of the amount of musical talent that flows from its frigid shores. There are about 80 musical schools in this country of barely 33,000 residents.A virtually tuition-free system  ensures that students have access to music education beginning at the age of six. An impressive number of composers and performers have staked a prominent presence on the international stage. Among them is the young composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir, who was named the New York Philharmonic's Kravis Emerging Composer in 2015, and who was commissioned in 2017 to create the orchestra society's 198th commission, Metacosmos. 

The work totally belies the composers angelic, petite appearance. Though only 12 minutes in length, the work is structured from a framework that acts as an ecosystem of materials that are carried from one performer and one section of the orchestra to another in a series of textures, harmonies, phrases and lyrical lines. The composer described the experience; "When you see a long sustained pitch, think of it as a fragile flower that you need to carry in your hands and walk the distance of a thin rope without dropping it." That, in a nutshell, is the sum and substance of Metacosmos.

British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor's imagining of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3, was the polar opposite of the preceding piece. Big and brash with sweeping glissandos and cascading chord progressions, this was the Voice of the Master, thundering across the ages. At just 25 years old, Grosvenor is one of the most accomplished solo pianists currently on the concert stage. Close your eyes and you'd swear you were listening to someone far more advanced in years, so sensitive and self-aware is his playing style. His depth of understanding of the music and his careful execution on the keyboard is astonishing. Even when using the pedal, each note is clar and distinct with dynamic expressions moving rapidly from one mood to the next with seamless clarity. Beethoven himself considered this his most mature work for piano and marked his ascendency to the pinnacle of virtuosos in Vienna. Grosvenor's interpretation captured the majesty and glory of his work to perfection.

Esa-Pekka Salonen is one of the most exciting conductors to watch. His conducting style consistently finds the cellular rhythmic core of a piece and extrapolates it to its most logical extension. Thus, he and the orchestra found in Beethoven's Eroica a new dynamic tension.It was a heart-pounding performance that caused the blood to race right through the explosive ending. Beethoven had orginally intended the piece as a tribute to Bonaparte. His later disillusionment led him to re-write the title page and rename it Sinfonia eroica. The work became a metaphor to Beethoven's life and his personal view of famous leaders who often fail to iive up to idealized expectations. Untethered from its grounding in the image of Napoleon, the eroica stands as searing commentary of the events taking shape today. As shaped by conductor Salonen and the New York Philharmonic, the work sounded as relevant today as it perhaps did at its inaugural performance.  

Monday, April 2, 2018


by Dwight Casimere

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela-"Mother of South Africa" and South African Parliament Member
Dies at 81

 Dwight Cashmere at the S.W.A.N. Day screening at SVA Complex in Chelsea
 Sundance Bet Director Award winning French director Pascale Lamche via SKYPE
 ImageNation Excecutive Director and Founder Moikgantsi Kgama

Terra Renee-Founder AAWIC Film Festival

by Dwight Casimere

NEW YORK-The announcement that the "Mother of South Africa." Winnie Mandela has died at 81 comes just days after her legacy was honored with the screening of the Sundance Best Director Award winning documentary "Winnie"as the final day event of the Women in the Arts and Media Coalition film festival at SVA Center on S.W.A.N.  (Supporting Women in the Arts Now) Day.

Presented by ImageNation, Founder and Executive Director Moikgantsi Kgama and AAWIC Film Festival Founder Terra Renee introduced the film and a post-screening discussion with the director, Pascale Lamche via SKYPE from her home in France.

"The U.S. was given a very sanitized version of the transition of power to Nelson Mandela," Lamche told the audience, " and a rather confusing and conflicted portrait of  Winnie Mandela, which either presented her as a saint or drug her down to the level of sinner in the days after the fall of apartheid," Instead, the film gives a rather complex and nuanced portrayal of the actual events that surrounded Nelson Mandela's incarceration, and the concurrent movement, led by Winnie Mandela, that kept her husband's memory, legacy and cause alive and which led to the firestorm that swept him into power. Her thanks was a humiliating public trial for sedition, which was played out in cringe-inducing detail in the film. Chief among those who betrayed her was her closest friend, Bishop Desmond Tutu, an act which elicited both tears and the subsequent ire of Winnie Mandela. The vicious attacks led by her enemies and the subterfuge of the ANC are all explored in depth in the film. 

Winnie Mandele's march into the pages of  history began with her assertive and single-handed resurrection of the anti-apartheid movement.  "The whole objective of the government was to put her husband away so that people would forget about him," Winnie says in the documentary.  We see her leading countless demonstrations, proudly raising her fist in defiance, while crowds cheered her on. Her efforts were later transposed across the globe,  creating the international pressure cooker that sprung his eventual release from prison after 27 years.

The victory did not come without a price, both personally and politically. By the time of Nelson Mandela's ascendency to the presidency of South Africa, their marriage was on tatters. Subsequently, the efforts by the ANC, the party for which she sacrificed her personal life, the well-being of her family and her own personal safety and security, abandoned her and made her the object of a smear campaign that had seismic repercussions.

Winnie Mandela herself spent time in jail for her alleged acts of sedition in the early days of the struggle. Her experience was recounted in the biography 491 Days; prisoner 132369, which was the basis for Lamche's documentary.

It is not a pretty picture, but one that bares the blemishes, scars, and soul of a dedicated warrior who put the welfare of her country and her people above all else. "It was difficult," Winnie says of her marriage to Mandela. "You have to understand that after we were married, we were only really together for a few months. After that, the entire relationship was carried out through letters and through visits through bars. At times I felt terrible guilt because of my children. They suffered because it was a choice between them and the survival of the nation."

"Winnie" is the portrait of a woman of great strength who forged a path to freedom, head bloodied but unbowed. Her efforts led to eventual victory and to an exalted place in the firmament of stars bearing the names of the great leaders of out time.


by Dwight Casimere 



The 50th Anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will be recognized with the airing of the HBO Documentary, King In The Wlderness, Monday, April 2 at 7pmET/6pmCTHBO. Drawing on personal recollections of his closest associates, former SCLC Executive Director, US Ambassador to the UN and Mayor of Atlanta Andrew Young, King's personal secretary, Xenonia Clayton, personal friend and financial backer Harry Belafonte, strategist C.T. Vivian, Rev. Jesse Jackson and others, combined with archival news footage and photographs,  Emmy Award winning director Peter Kunhardt weaves an at times dark portrait of the final three years of the Civil Rights leader's life.

Beginning with the signing of the Voting Rights Act by President Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1965 to his assassination on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis on April 4, 1968, the film portrays the conflicts surrounding his movement and the personal strife and crisis of confidence he faced in his personal life.

During the time of covered in the film, the anti-Viet Nam war movement was emerging among white radical students, the Black Power Movement under Stokely Carmichael was gaining traction in the northern cities, which were on the verge of erupting like a social volcano.  Mix into this fermenting cauldron reports of Dr, King's alleged extra-marital affairs, behind-the-scenes infighting within his own ranks and the ongoing very public debate with the Black radicals and what remains is a very compelling film on a pivotal moment in American history, which still has lingering seismic repercussions. The biblical parallels to the final days of Christ were not lost on this reviewer. The audience is left to draw their own conclusions as to King's state of mind in his final moments in this powerful and well structured documentary from a superb filmmaker. On HBO, Monday, Aprl 2, 7pm ET.