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Thumbnails 12/19/16

This is a special edition of Thumbnails, where we refer to articles of interest in other publications that we think you will enjoy reading. In the spirit of the holidays, I sought to gather articles that had some of the spirit of my mission of encouraging empathy, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. I challenged Matt Fagerholm to find items that met that statement. I think he did a fine job of putting together heartwarming articles about film. The first article is about someone in the film world that I greatly admire, Ava DuVernay. Not only is she a topnotch filmmaker, but as April Wolfe has shown, she is also a fine human being. Our Thumbnails ends with a video that is absolutely one of my favorites on the internet. It makes me cry every single time I watch it, and this morning was no exception. It is about a little girl receiving a gift of a doll—but watch as she discovers how the doll is like her. And be sure to grab your kleenex.—Chaz Ebert


"How Director Ava DuVernay's South L.A. Roots Helped Her Shatter the Film Industry's Glass Ceiling": According to L.A. Weekly's April Wolfe.

“DuVernay may not reflect on her personal history often, but maybe that's because she hasn't changed much. That girl leading the pep rally? She's now charged with lifting the spirits of millions. ‘I don't want to put too much of a burden on Ava's shoulders,’ Chaz Ebert says on the phone from the offices in Chicago, ‘but I think what she is doing will transcend the world of film and TV. I think that she is one of the people who will actually help bring more empathy and compassion into this world.’ Chaz met DuVernay through her husband, the late critic Roger Ebert, who championed DuVernay's earliest feature, ‘I Will Follow;’ in the documentary ‘Life Itself, ‘which chronicles Roger's last years, DuVernay testifies to his warmth and humanity. Chaz was moved by DuVernay's speech at Roger's funeral: "She said he was a force of goodness, always reaching out to all people, no matter your color. But I think about that now, and that's Ava, too.’”


"Top 20 Films of 2016: Part II": At Indie Outlook, I reveal my Top 10 Films of 2016, including Roger Ross Williams' wonderful documentary, "Life, Animated."

“With Barry Jenkins poised to make Oscar history this year, it’s worth remembering that Roger Ross Williams recently became the first black director in history to win an Academy Award. His 2010 film, ‘Music by Prudence,’ won for Best Documentary Short Subject, and there’s a good chance his latest feature will earn a nomination in January. It is, quite simply, one of the most moving films I’ve ever seen. In the opening moments, we are introduced to Owen Suskind, a film enthusiast so intelligent and passionate that he reminded me why I fell in love with cinema in the first place. Growing up autistic, he spent years unable to communicate with his family. Disney movies became his obsession, and after a series of small breakthroughs, he learned that he could connect with others through his understanding of the animated classics. Now a young man on the cusp of independence, Owen must learn how to engage with the world existing outside of his thriving fantasy life. Based on the book by Owen’s father, Pulitzer Prize-winner Ron Suskind, this film is one of the most profound explorations of how visual storytelling can alter our perception of existence and ourselves. ‘To me, it’s not a film about autism,’ Williams said during our interview in July. ‘It’s a coming-of-age story about the power of story.’ I grew up with the same films that Owen did. They were housed in the same big plastic VHS cases, and they formed so much of my own idealized worldview, which was destined to be shattered by the heartache and disillusionment that serve as rights of passage toward adulthood. Kudos to Disney for licensing the various clips of their films, which are brilliantly integrated throughout the picture by editor David Teague.”


"Inside the elite team risking their lives for elephants in Netflix's 'The Ivory Game'": A vital report from Fusion's Sophie Tremblay and Willy Lowry.

“Down a quiet street in an affluent suburb of Dar es Salaam lies a sprawling one-story house. Nestled behind a high security wall and surrounded by lush palm trees, it is hard to believe that this is a crucial location in Tanzania’s war on poaching. A rusted metal cage with plywood benches sits in the backyard and serves as a makeshift detention center. Inside, the house’s bedrooms have been transformed into interrogation rooms and offices for Tanzania’s elite anti-poaching taskforce. The group, which was formed in 2012 at the peak of Tanzania’s poaching crisis, is one of the subjects of the newly released Netflix documentary ‘The Ivory Game.’ The film, directed by Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani and executive produced by Leonardo diCaprio, details the devastating effects poaching has had on Africa’s elephants. Since the early 2000s the country’s elephant population has plummeted. The latest data suggests that since 2009 the population has fallen by almost two-thirds, from 109,000 elephants to just 43,500 in 2014. The dramatic decrease in numbers is the result of increased demand for ivory in Asia, where elephant tusks are carved into decorative ornaments. At the taskforce headquarters the outlook on the current poaching situation is surprisingly optimistic. A fleet of new LandCruisers sits in the parking lot, ready to be deployed, as officers busily comb over new evidence from a recent ivory bust.”


"Gary Sinise's 'Of Mice and Men': An Appreciation": A terrific essay from The Talkhouse's Jim Hemphill.

“This canard that movies aren’t good at conveying characters’ thoughts has endured in spite of how easily disproven it is. Even a casual study of Bergman or Ozu, or more recently Barry Jenkins’ ‘Moonlight,’ confirms the exact opposite truth: that depicting characters’ interior lives is one of the things movies are best at, and that some of the finest films ever made capitalize on this fact. Gary Sinise knows this, and he knew it from the beginning. His first feature film as director, ‘Miles From Home’ (1988), is a master class in visually expressing complex emotions — for exhibit A, just look at the scene in which young lovers Kevin Anderson and Penelope Ann Miller meet. The looks and gestures exchanged between the two, and the way they’re cut and framed by Sinise, turn the cliché of love at first sight into an organic, wholly authentic moment of immense power and resonance. It’s a great scene in a great movie, but Sinise was just getting warmed up — his second (and to date last) film as director, an adaptation of John Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ (1992), is even better, and is now ripe for rediscovery courtesy of a gorgeous Blu-ray released by Olive Films.”


"'Moonlight' director Barry Jenkins on his think piece-worthy film": In conversation with another excellent filmmaker, Michael Smith, at Time Out

“[Smith:] “Moonlight’ shows how identity intersects with masculinity, sexuality, race and class. Do you think there’s pressure on young men within the black community to act ‘hard’ and is that what prevents Chiron from coming out?’ [Jenkins:] ‘Yeah, I think it’s the case but I don’t think it’s something that is just born of the black community. I think it’s a response to the outside stimuli, the world around the black community and this need for black men to sort of protect themselves and their families and the community from the world at large. Because there are a lot of assumptions that come with blackness. When the world sees a black man walking down the street they assume this or that about him. I think the movie is inherently intersectional but I think the idea with casting three different actors to play Chiron is the notion that when all these assumptions, all these expectations, are constantly projected at a person, it’s hard to self-identify. Because your identity starts to be derived from your reaction to all these things projected on you. So I don’t think it’s born purely within the black community. I think that, in the history of this country, black folks have had to create this network, this sort of shield, just to find a space to be. But it’s funny because I never think of the film as being this intellectual; Chiron is a kid from a particular block with a particular mom going through a particular ordeal. And then I think it lends itself to this kind of unpacking.’”

Image of the Day

In a new interview with GQ's Lauren Larson, Michael Caine professes his love for Brian Henson's 1992 holiday classic, "The Muppet Christmas Carol."

Video of the Day

Here is one of the most moving videos from 2016, showing a girl with a prosthetic leg receiving a doll that has been made to look exactly like her.  

Matt Fagerholm

Matt Fagerholm is the Literary Editor at and is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association. 

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