March 13, 2000
S.B. Fest Concludes with Awards
The Santa Barbara Film Festival concluded its 15th edition Sunday
with the presentation of Awards to an array of pictures...
The Body Shop's Insight Award for best feature doc,
which includes a $2,000 cash prize, was given to James Ronald Whitney's
The Santa Barbara Independent Audience Award, chosen
by popular ballot, was voted to Regis Wargnier's "East/West" from
France, while the Lumina Award for best cinematography was presented
to Spanish lenser Javier Aguirresarobe for "The Girl of Your Dreams."
-- Todd McCarthy
March 17, 2000
South by Southwest Honors Participants
The South by Southwest Film Festival bestowed its Awards late
Tuesday, though the fest continues in Austin, Texas, through
...Docus "The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack" and "Just,
Melvin"--both of which unspooled at the Sundance Film
Festival in January--were runners up, though each received
a surprise special prize award of $5,000 from documentary filmmaker
Michael Moore, who happened to be filming in Austin and stopped
by the Awards.
Louis Black hosted the ceremony, with filmmakers D.A.
Pennebaker and Monte Hellman in attendance.
May 31, 2000
HBO Sets Things Right With 'Just'
HBO has picked up exclusive rights to premiere James Ronald Whitney's
docu "Just, Melvin," winner of best documentary nods at the Santa
Barbara, Newport Beach and South Beach film fests.
Pic, which also screened at Sundance, chronicles generations of domestic
abuse in a family called Just.
"We're excited to be working with Whitney to bring this unique and
powerful documentary about the generational effects of evil to the
widest possible audience on HBO," said Nancy Abraham, VP of original
programming and documentaries.
Abraham and exec VP of original programming Sheila Nevins negotiated
the deal with Whitney.
-- K.D. Shirkani
January 11, 2001
'CHUCK,' 'REQUIEM,' 'ME' LEAD SPIRIT AWARD NOMS
Forster, McCormack, Trachinger helmers to watch
"Chuck and Buck," "Requiem for a Dream" and "You Can Count on Me"
topped the 16th annual Independent Spirit Award nominations, grabbing
five noms each.
Nominees were announced Wednesday night in Los Angeles by host (and
noms panel member) Bill Pullman, along with presenters Angela Bassett,
Don Cheadle, Benecio Del Toro and Amanda Peet...
Docus true and true
Documentary filmmakers nominated for the fifth annual DirecTV/IFC
Truer Than Fiction Award are Vincent Fremont and Shelly Dunn Fremont
("Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story"), David Shapiro and Laurie
Gwen Shapiro ("Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale"),
James Ronald Whitney ("Just, Melvin") and Jem Cohen and Peter
Sillen ("Benjamin Smoke")...Artisan Entertainment was the top distributor
with 11 nominations. "Chuck and Buck" and "Requiem for a Dream" received
five each, while "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai" received one
for best feature.
The 16th annual IFP/West Independent Spirit Awards will be presented
March 14 in Santa Monica...The nominating committee besides actor
Pullman included writerproducer Sherman Alexie, writer-actor Jon Favreau,
casting director Mali Finn, Sundance Film Festival programmer Geoffrey
Gilmore, actor and IFP/West president Vondie Curtis Hall, producer
Jeff Kleeman, director Lynne Littman, New York Times film critic Elvis
Mitchell, and cinematographer Nancy Schreiber. Producer Laurie Parker
chaired the committee.
-- Dana Haris
March 23, 2001
Independent Spirit Awards:
16th edition of indiewood's answer to the Oscars...
Remarkable stories coupled with insightful visions define the feature
documentaries nominated for this year's DirecTV/IFC Truer Than Fiction
award, to be presented at the IFP Spirit Awards on Saturday.
The film's subjects range from a soft-spoken intellectual and former
cannibal to a chain-smoking underground performer to one of Andy Warhol's
Factory entourage to a family devastated by incest...This year's finalists
in the juried competition are Vincent Fremont and Shelly Dunn Fremont
for "Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story," David Shapiro and Laurie
Gwen Shapiro for "Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal
Tale," James Ronald Whitney for "Just, Melvin," and Jem Cohen and
Peter Sillen for "Benjamin Smoke."
Melvin" is a real-life horror story in which director Whitney
examines the cycle of abuse that has perpetrated itself from generation
to generation in his own family. "It's called child abuse but it doesn't
end with childhood," says Whitney, whose aunts and step-aunts were
abused by his grandmother's second husband, Melvin Just. The residual
effects of alcoholism, prostitution and drug addiction are made plain
in the psychological post-mortem.
Whitney wanted the film to be accessible: to be both eye-opening and
entertaining. Moments of comic relief come from the family gatherings
and appearances on game shows by Whitney which are in stark contrast
with an unnerving portrait of evil personified. "The court system
failed us. We've tried him ourselves with audiences," explains Whitney
of the film's indictment of Just.
Audiences at each of the twelve film festivals in which the
docu has screened have responded strongly to its content: it
has also won six festival Awards. "Just, Melvin" will
air on HBO on April 22 during the prime post-"Sopranos" time
slot (Sunday at 10 p.m.). Whitney hopes the film will continue
to awaken audiences and empower now-silent victims to seek help.
-- By Kathy
Tuesday, April 16, 2002
HEADLINE: TRIBECA FEST ADDING 'YA-YA'
NEW YORK --- The Tribeca Film Festival has added special screenings
of Warner Bros. releases "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood"
and "Insomnia." ...Fest will include two world premiere features ---
Miramax Films' "The Importance of Being Earnest," helmed by Oliver
Parker, based on the classic play by Oscar Wilde; and Neil Burger's
"Interview with the Assassin."
"Divine Secrets" will screen May 9 at United Artists' Battery Park
Theaters, which has been closed since Sept. 11. Ensemble drama, helmed
by Callie Khouri, stars Ellen Burstyn, Fionnula Flanagan, Sandra Bullock,
James Garner, Ashley Judd, Shirley Knight, Angus MacFadyen and Maggie
"Insomnia," directed by Chris Nolan ("Memento"), will screen May 11
at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center. It stars Al Pacino, Robin Williams
and Hilary Swank...
Several shorts and documentaries that commemorate Sept. 11 will screen
in a special division of the fest devoted to the terrorist attacks.
The doc feature films in the Sept. 11 program are "Telling Nicholas,"
directed by James Ronald Whitney, and "From the Ashes," directed by
Deborah Shaffer. Jon Stewart will moderate a panel entitled "Sept.
11: How it Changed Us" that includes filmmakers, photographers, writers
-- Charles Lyons
(Documentary -- HBO; Sun., May 19, 10 p.m.)
Taped in New York by Fire Island Films. Produced, written, directed
and edited by James Ronald Whitney.
By STEVEN OXMAN
filmmaker James Ronald Whitney lived just below the World Trade Center
when the towers collapsed on September 11, and he immediately grabbed
his camera and began taping. The shots of the buildings themselves,
though, are easily the least interesting thing about the superb "Telling
Nicholas," which, documenting a ten-day period after the attack,
starts out as the story of informing a 7-year old his mother has died
but ends up depicting the near melt-down of a family. It's a heart-wrenching
film, genuinely deep in its examination of trauma, grief, and the
fissures that divide a family that's not as conventional as they initially
While looking for pictures of people he knew at one of the big posting
sights for the missing, Whitney was immediately drawn to a photograph
of Michele Lanza and, sitting on her lap, her son Nicholas. Within
72 hours of the attack, Whitney went out to meet Michele's family
in Tottenville, at the outer reach of Staten Island.
The focus is at this point completely on Nicholas,
an adorable, blonde-haired kid who knows something has happened
but isn't sure what. A neighbor is watching the boy in order to
keep him away from the television, while Nicholas' father Robert,
a soft-spoken Oklahoma native, is struggling with how to tell his
son the circumstances.
The rest of the family, Michele's mother, father
and two sisters, continue to harbor hope that Michele may still
be alive, and they play for Whitney the phone message she left for
her younger sister Cindy after the first plane hit but before the
Gradually, a clearer picture of the family
emerges. Michele and Robert were separated, with Robert living in
Virginia. Her family has, to be generous, mixed feelings towards
Robert, whose financial situation had lead to Michele's taking the
job in Manhattan to begin with, a job she didn't really want. The
initial trauma of the event gives way to anger, blame and guilt,
with the most blatant victim being Cindy, who falls into a catatonic
state and needs to be treated with anti-psychotic drugs. Michele's
mother, Ethel, still working hard to deny her daughter's death,
is stressed to the limit caring for Nicholas and Cindy's two children.
Whitney brings in another family as well, the
Ahmed family in Brooklyn, devout Muslims. Shabbir Ahmed was a waiter
at Windows on the World and died in the attacks. His 16-year-old
son Thanbir becomes an eloquent voice in the film, and even develops
a bond with Nicholas when Whitney introduces the two.
Whitney is clearly not trying to be a detached
observer here. In addition to bringing Thanbir into the picture
-- in part to blunt the intensity of Michele's family's strong anti-Muslim
feelings, particularly from Ethel -- he also introduces the family
to psychologist Gilda Carle, whom the family trusts in part because
they've seen her on various television talk shows. Carle counsels
the family, with a particular focus on helping Robert deal with
the inevitable, informing Nicholas that his mother is dead.
While that event forms the climax of the film,
Whitney has also delved along the way into the forms of religious
extremism at work within this apparently all-American family. Michele's
older sister, who received a correspondence doctorate and lives
with a plethora of religious icons in the family basement, claims
the attacks were the culmination of prophecy, while also blaming
Robert's evangelical apostolic faith, with a focus on female modesty,
for oppressing Michele.
From Aaron Davies' casual but polished cinematography
to Mocean Worker's sensitively mournful scoring, "Telling Nicholas"
is an expert work. Whitney's own first-person narration helps it
along, and the whole endeavor comes off as deeply felt and highly
personal, never the slightest bit sensational or exploitative, which
in lesser hands might have been a possibility.
Whitney does all he can to give it something
of an upbeat ending, and accomplishes that to a degree with Thanbir
and Nicholas's help. He also shows a statistic, that it is thought
over 10,000 children lost a parent on September 11th. The overall
impact of the film is devastating, and it clearly demonstrates that
the residual effects of that event continue to ripple not just outward,
but inward too.
Executive producer, Richard Reichgut; camera, Aaron Davies; sound
design, Benny Mouthon, James Ronald Whitney, Neil Stephens; music,
Mocean Worker. 85 MINS.