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United States

The Correspondent

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After AFM First Signal is back in pre-production with production commencing in May.

Sorting through the numerous business cards and materials I gathered at AFM, I began my follow ups a few days after I arrived home. The return correspondence has been very encouraging. For obvious reasons I won’t publish the names of the companies I’m talking with, but suffice to say things are moving in a positive direction for two of my projects. The devil is in the details of course, but as filmmakers we are used to countless details.

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At the American Heritage Museum.

As I begin to ramp up pre-production for First Signal with a May production start date, I was talking to a fellow filmmaker the other day about the importance of insuring there’s a market for our projects after we wrap production. There’s simply too much time and money involved to wind up on a shelf which translates to holding up a return on investment.

I’ve talked about this subject before when I was marketing Justice Is Mind. It was vital to me that Justice was introduced in a theatrical setting. While many submit to film festivals at considerable expense and wait for an acceptance (a practice that was frowned upon at AFM unless it’s an A level festival with potential buyers in attendance), I pushed for a theatrical run. The result was a limited run of 14 theatres, box office revenue, an international premiere on an ocean liner and substantive media placements. If I worked for years to get my film off the ground the last thing I’m going to do is pay $$$ to a second tier film festival. Then wait weeks (if not months) for a decision by a committee, then, if accepted, be at the mercy of a programmer to place my film in a time slot convenient to the festival, ceding box office revenue (filmmakers don’t receive a cut from festivals) and sharing in their public relations efforts with other films.  As you can imagine, the public relations and release strategy for First Signal is already in the planning stages.

Speaking of planning stages, I had the opportunity today to visit the American Heritage Museum in Hudson, MA at the Collings Foundation. Some of you may remember my trips to the Collings Foundation for their World War II reenactment event “Battle for the Airfield” or their “Wings of Freedom Tour” around the country.

Although they are in “preview” until their Grand Opening in April of 2019, what I saw today was truly outstanding. The museum represents the history of war in America. Although it starts with the Revolutionary War all the way to the War on Terror, the primary focus is generally on World War I and World War II.

The tour starts in the orientation theatre and then proceeds to two immersive experiences before advancing to the main exhibit hall. The first is the World War I exhibit complete with a trench you can walk through. From there you proceed to the World War II exhibit which features a Mercedes-Benz W31 and Panzer 1A. Click this link to learn about all the tanks, vehicles and artifacts that will be part of the museum when it reopens in the spring. Of course, as a filmmaker, their use of archival film to enhance the static displays was brilliantly done.

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Never Forget.

 


The Tests

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Testing the drone over Quinsigamond State Park in Worcester, MA.

One thing I’ve often talked about is testing. Whether it’s a screen test prior to a theatrical screening or testing equipment prior to a live event, I’m adamant about testing prior to production or going live.

I still remember to this day, that despite testing equipment the day before, a major live event I produced years ago ran into a major technical problem during the show. What happened? Someone behind the scenes decided to “think” and change the program without consulting anyone. The result? A total screw up. Thankfully the embarrassment was resolved in short order and the venue credited us $14,000 for their mistake.

Production is time and money. If you don’t set aside time to rehearse, test and think things through, the results can be disastrous if not embarrassing.  In the past two weeks I have witnessed two major meltdowns with camera equipment during auditions. How does that happen in today’s day and age? And why don’t you have a backup system ready to go at a moment’s notice? It’s called preparedness.

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As for preparedness, I attended the Memorial Day services at Battleship Cove last Monday. Not only does this museum do a wonderful job in organization and presentation, it’s the location itself that brings forward the meaning of this national holiday. When you are standing on the deck of a battleship that fought in World War II, it doesn’t get any more real than that.

I’ve been to Battleship Cove on a several occasions. There’s always something new to learn and discover. When so many are engaged in the here and now, it’s important that we take the time to never forget how and why well over 50,000,000 perished in World War II.

With less than two weeks to go until First Signal’s table read, pre-production continues on a variety of fronts. At this stage of the production it’s more waiting to hear from certain parties for confirmations, etc.  I will say the DJI Spark continues to perform well for the required drone shots.

Shot list.

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At the USS Massachusetts. Mark 12 5″/38 caliber gun firing on Memorial Dy.


The American Party

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The American flag that flew on the USS Massachusetts during Operation Torch.

Today is Independence Day in the United States. We refer to it as the Fourth of July. 241 years ago the United States declared its independence as a sovereign nation from the British Empire. As we know, the United Kingdom has been one of our strongest allies for over a century and is referred to as the “special relationship” between the two countries.

As for the United States and United Kingdom, this past weekend I traveled to the Maritime Museum in Fall River, MA (the museum is now part of Battleship Cove). After seeing the 1953 movie Titanic, I learned that the model from the movie was on display at the museum. And as Battleship Cove had some new exhibits, it was time for another visit.

It’s impossible not to learn about the many joint cooperative efforts between our countries over the centuries. The United States connection to the Belfast built RMS Titanic is well known along with the numerous campaigns during World War I and World War II. The USS Massachusetts participation in Operation Torch in November 1942 was a joint United States-United Kingdom invasion of French North Africa. And, yet, for all the reasons our countries have fought side by side for democracy against tyranny, both nations are facing internal political turmoil that is testing the very fabric of our respective constitutions.

As an American citizen I won’t opine on events across the pond, but here in this country today it is as much a celebration as it is a contradiction. Oh sure there’s the requisite barbeque or the spirited trips to the beach, but top of mind of the majority of Americans is the direction in which this country is going. Like the RMS Titanic’s inferior rudder that made the ship very hard to turn in a crisis, the United States is most certainly heading towards an iceberg that represents the internal strife we are experiencing. While on the surface it looks like we can avoid it, like an iceberg, the menace is what lies below the waterline.

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The 16 inch guns on the USS Massachusetts.

As I have been a member of both parties, I consider myself a moderate. Put simply, I believe in equal rights, not special rights. I believe in a strong military administered by the federal government, but that government has no business regulating my personal life. The current crisis isn’t so much about political party but extremists on both sides that are locked in a tug of war to win.  In earlier years, it was the moderates that kept the ship on an even keel. Sadly extremists often don’t want to understand the other side. But understanding is the first step in diplomacy in reaching an accord. A democracy is not about winning your point, it is about moderating it.

Perhaps the time has come to look at our friends across the pond for some lessons. In the United Kingdom, France and Germany they have a multi-party political system. Is it perfect? No, of course not. But for too long in the United States there has only had two choices (this one or that one).  Sure we have a nascent third party in this country, but it has about as much direction as the SS Californian did the night the RMS Titanic sank.

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The American flag on the stern on the USS Joseph P. Kennedy with the stern of the USS Massachusetts in the background.

But the one thing we do know is the United States is built on a solid foundation of laws and guiding principles. Sometimes we waiver and falter, but at the end of the day we know what this nation stands for and what it represents. Today is a tribute to the founding fathers of this country and what they laid down over two centuries ago that resonates even more today.

Bill of Rights.

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A Kennedy Anniversary

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Yesterday was President Kennedy’s 100th birthday and it was celebrated by the over 4,500 that attended the Kennedy Library.  The day’s long festivities even included a birthday cake for over 1,000 guests!

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This was my third trip to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and it never disappoints. But given the current political climate in the United States, this visit was even more poignant.

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The one thing that I took away from my visit yesterday was not only the enthusiasm of those that attended, but the messages that the museum offered. A world of hope, unity and democracy was what resonated with me.  Look no administration is perfect and Kennedy’s had its issues, but at the end of the day civil rights, the arts, the space program and strong relations with our allies were the hallmarks that I reflect on.

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President Kennedy on June 26, 1963 at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany.

I have been fortunate to have travelled most of Europe and have seen first-hand the good relations the United States projects to our allies. These weren’t just holidays, in most cases they were business trips where I worked with a variety of colleagues on numerous projects. Like Kennedy, I’ve been to the Brandenburg Gate but not when the wall was standing. For me, I drove in a convertible right under it. Or in this case, right through history.

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The Kennedy Nixon debate exhibit.

At the Kennedy museum a piece of the Berlin wall stands alone in a corner. I can only imagine what the Berlin Wall looked like at the height of the Cold War never mind its intended purpose. We know from history that the building of walls does nothing to bring people together, it divides them.

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I like to think that the word UNITED in the name of my country means more than just states but the world at large.  On June 26, 1963 at the gate in Berlin, President Kennedy stated, “Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was civis romanus sum [“I am a Roman citizen”]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is “Ich bin ein Berliner!“… All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner!”

One of the highlights from yesterday was the performance by the United States Navy Band. It doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on, hearing them play was truly something to be remembered.

But it’s important to remember that yesterday was Memorial Day. A day to remember those who died while serving in our armed services. Those that made the ultimate sacrifice so we can enjoy the freedoms of democracy today. Think for a moment living in a world where freedom of the press, religion, choice, assembly, and so many other rights that we take for granted not existing.

Today we live in a complicated world, but I wonder if it’s really any different from the world that existed during the Kennedy Administration. The difference today is that social media has illuminated all facets of society here in the United States and abroad. It’s what we do with that illumination as a country and as a society that will mark our place in history. As President Kennedy famously said in his inauguration speech, “And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

Elections.

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Cars, Coffee and Forts

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A 1958 Rolls Royce at the Cars & Coffee at Rosecliff event.

The title of this week’s blog pretty much sums up my day yesterday in Newport, RI. No, I wasn’t back at the Naval Justice School, it was literally a day trip of cars, coffee and forts. With the warm weather back here in New England (for the most part), this is the time of year when I look for interesting day trips on the weekends.

The Preservation Society of Newport County and Audrain Automobile Museum teamed up for a terrific event at Rosecliff that brought together cars and coffee (thankfully it was Starbucks!). The one thing about car enthusiasts is we are passionate people. Yes, conversations start around a particular vehicle but then generally migrate to other topics.  In the end we learn something new. In this connected (yet disconnected) electronic age we live in, events like this get us out of the house and into social settings.

Passion was also evident when I took a tour of Fort Adams. I’ve seen the signs for years pointing towards Fort Adams, but finally visited yesterday. The history of this fort is beyond impressive. From its founding, to how it was constructed to its unique place in American history, our tour guide was not only a wealth of knowledge but enthusiastic. I can’t recall when a tour guide conveyed such a diverse amount of information during a tour.

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The entrance to Fort Adams.

It is about passion how things move forward. If you’re one of those people that live in a “someday” world, you will miss out on things that inspire. When I travel, meet new people and learn something new that’s just one more idea for something I might build or create at some point. Rosecliff, built from a fortune made long ago, is now visited by tens of thousands a year. Fort Adams, built to defend the United States and known for its technical innovation is now being showcased by guides who share its enthusiastic history in a modern world.

Creating does take time and nothing happens overnight. The one thing that’s important is to surround yourself with people that are supportive. I know that sounds like some sort of off the shelf self-help book, but it’s true. It’s OK that you might not share my vision or passion for something, but you’ll forgive me if I steer my ship past your port.

Putting aside for a moment what drives our motivations to create, yesterday was also about the preservation of history. In parts of our world where museums and heritage sites have been destroyed by terrorism, yesterday reminded me about the importance of preserving history for future generations. So while you may read about history in a textbook, there’s nothing like experiencing it in real life.

Tour.

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A panorama view of Fort Adams.


Space History

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I have been a space enthusiast ever since I was kid. I remember to this day some of the last Apollo missions to the moon, a time in our nation’s history when the United States achieved great accomplishments, when we worked through the problem to solve the impossible. But while the 1960s was a time America moved forward in the direction of science, it was far from forward when it came to civil rights.

Last night I saw the acclaimed Hidden Figures to a packed audience at The Strand Theatre in Clinton, MA. I’ve been wanting to see this movie ever since I heard about it. The story itself can best be summed up by its logline, “The story of a team of African-American women mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the US space program.”

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Katherine Johnson, played by Taraji P. Henson, was a mathematician at the Langley Research Center.

The balance in story that director Theodore Melfi achieved between the rapid progress of the space program contrasting to the glacial pace of civil rights, created not only a must see film but one with a lasting message of hope. Hidden Figures is a movie that champions the possibilities of the human race when working towards a common goal, in this case the space race between the United States and Soviet Union.  Indeed this is a movie for the history books, one that will be long remembered decades after its release.

But long remembered was another character in the film, astronaut John Glenn. This past week Glenn was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. It was on February 20, 1962 that he boarded Friendship 7 at Cape Canaveral. It was this pivotal moment in the fledgling space program that was prominently featured in Hidden Figures.

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John Glenn in Friendship 7

Perhaps the one thing that made last night’s screening so memorable was the reaction of the audience when the credits started to roll—applause. When a film moves an audience to such a degree that they enthusiastically applaud that does make the journey for all those involved in making the film a worthwhile endeavor.

As I have often said, movies need to be seen in a theater. While I’ve been a champion of VOD since its inception, it is the theatrical experience that creates the event. In that moment a group of complete strangers (usually) get together for a single purpose—to be entertained.

Liftoff.

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The launch of Friendship 7


Launch Pad

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Serpentine: The Short Program premieres tomorrow.

The media has reported. The DVD has been tested. We have a green board on Amazon. The file has been transferred to the Ice Network. No, this isn’t LC 39 at Kennedy Space Center, it’s the preparation for the world premiere of Serpentine: The Short Program tomorrow night at The Strand Theatre and on Amazon and the Ice Network the following day.

When launch day, or better known in the industry as “release date” arrives for a film, that’s when the story you’ve worked on for so long is transferred to the audience. As Bill Sampson said in All About Eve, “You’re in a tin can.” Of course in this age the tin can reference is more about DCP and DVD.

This past week was just about some final details, finishing up the copy for various email templates and our official press release as part of the VOD launch on Tuesday.  The highlight was this article that appeared in The Item. While national press is great for general awareness for VOD, there’s nothing like local press that can drive traffic to a theater. This newspaper circulates in Clinton and the neighboring towns.

Tomorrow night looks to be a star studded affair with many of the actors and crew from both films attending. I have to say I love these reunions. Not only does it give everyone a chance to catch up, but to see our collective efforts on the silver screen. And then there is the overlap. Audiences will see several of the actors and crew from Justice Is Mind in Serpentine: The Short Program.

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But with each project comes an expanded network and new processes. While Amazon certainly existed five years ago, the opportunity to distribute directly to several countries did not. Since Evidence premiered at the Strand, the number of VOD platforms has exploded. Not only does this mean the need for programming from TV shows and movies, but the ability to rise above the crowd and be heard.

Like Evidence that resulted in Justice Is Mind, the goal with Serpentine: The Short Program is to develop enough interest to produce the feature film version this year to release after the Winter Olympics in 2018. What this comes down to is building an audience and not getting lost in the crowd. When you consider that there are 10,00050,000 films made a year, you can’t wait for an audience that may never find you, you have to tell them where you are.

As the saying goes, when opportunity knocks you take it. But none of this comes without passion, dedication and being steadfast for the long haul. A haul that can seem like forever until the day arrives.

Standby to launch.

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World Reunion

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Philippe Candeloro and Lynn Plage.

As I was driving to Boston on Wednesday to attend my first World Figure Skating Championships since 2003, there was the fair share of wondering, and a bit of apprehension, how things would go. In years long past, there was a series of things I had to accomplish from interviews, to pictures, to attending the right functions and even going to the right official hotel bar post events (and perhaps the coveted invite to the after party). It was a tried and true agenda that served me well. But that was well over a decade ago when the sport was at its height in popularity in the United States. But now, there was no agenda just observation. To turn a phrase, I needed to get a lay of the ice.

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Ari Zakarian and Christine Brennan.

I passed through the same security gate that I long remember from attending the Stars on Ice and Champions on Ice tours.  The former is still with the sport but vastly abbreviated, the latter is sadly gone. Indeed, I knew that the “studio system” of the sport had long passed. But like the Hollywood of yesterday, motion pictures are still made, they are just presented differently. And different is the current state of the sport of figure skating. But it is the familiar faces of those off the ice that have always made the sport tick.

After riding a freight elevator to the 9th floor (this is the slowest elevator in the world, best bring a snack) to the media center I soon saw Lynn Plage. Lynn is the sport’s consummate publicist who has promoted, guided and mentored more skaters, events and journalists than I could ever count. No sooner did we exchange the mutual reunion greetings and obligatory “catching up” and it was like we picked up where we left off those years ago.

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Tonia Kwiatkowski.

And while there are the publicists there are also the journalists. The sport has many fine journalists that regularly cover the sport, but there is the quintessential reporter of them all, Christine Brennan of USA Today. I met Christine at my first World Championships in Birmingham, England in 1995. We shared a train down to London after the event and she taught me the “pyramid” in writing. These are life lessons and moments you never forget.

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Christine Brennan, Jirina Ribbens (Exec. Director Ice Theatre of New York) and David Baden.

Arriving at the media seating I was soon greeted by Ari Zakarian. In those early days I needed a “foreign correspondent” who was everywhere and knew the European and Russian world of the sport. I armed him with a pager and the reports flowed in. In those pre-internet days, it was all about print for the latest news. Now an agent to skaters, event producer and country representative, his days of hard work traversing the globe had paid off.

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Sheryl Franks.

As for agents, like the importance of having a solid publicist to promote the skaters and sharp journalists to report on them, there is David Baden of IMG. I’ve known so many agents over the years, particularly those that work in “Hollywood”, but no agent works harder for his clients than David. But David also was the consummate collaborator. I can’t tell you how many marketing partnerships I worked on with David, partnerships that worked for all concerned. At the end of the day, it’s about building a mutual business.

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Kim Merriam and Beth-Anne Duxbury.

Of course there is the one component that all publicists, journalists, agents and producers need and those are the skaters themselves. I’m not just talking about technically proficient skaters, I’m talking about those that have a personality. Those that understood that it wasn’t enough to just to land the jump you had to present yourself just as much off the ice as on. Philippe Candeloro is such a skater and it was great working with him on one of my skating cruises. Running into him and Tonia Kwiatkowski, another skating cruise alum, fondly reminded me of when we boarded Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas for a skating event at sea! (Cruise ships and events. Does this sound familiar? Justice Is Mind’s international premiere on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth).

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Moira North.

Indeed, the teams of people I worked with during my days publishing a figure skating magazine, most certainly led to my work as a filmmaker. Working with actors (skaters), crew (productions) and marketing/PR elements in the sport most certainly paved the way. But there was a path before that was the foundation of what I do today.

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Dick Button.

A couple of weeks ago Sheryl Franks and Elin Schran sent me a Facebook event invite for a reunion party at World’s.  This was one, if any, of the few social events happening during World’s but my invitation was a maybe until I committed to attend. Of all the parties I have been to over the years in skating, this one, I think, may have won the Gold medal.

My best friend Kim Merriam and I were the first ones to arrive (Kim was one the producers on Justice and we used to skate together back in the early 80s). But soon, skaters and coaches I worked with locally started to arrive, then the personalities from the legendary Dick Button, Tenley Albright, Ken Shelley and Paul Wylie, to venerable producers of Broadway and skating events (some on cruise ships!), to choreographers, coaches and those that have long linked the sport behind the scenes with their executive experience and philanthropy. One of these great links is Moira North who founded The Ice Theatre of New York. Coordinating their annual gala one year during my New York City days was a real eye opener on how to run an event. Lots of lessons learned!

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Darlene Parent.

As for lessons, I’ll never forget my first credentialed event as a member of the media. It was called Skates of Gold and was held at the old Boston Garden back in 1993. It was at the post event reception that I first met Dick Button. I remember mustering up the courage to introduce myself and mentioned I was going to start a figure skating magazine. He graciously smiled and said, “How very good for you.” For anyone that knows Dick you can picture the response! He soon became one of our biggest supporters and a friend.

One of the absolute highlights of the party for me was seeing my old skating coach Darlene Parent. When I lived in New York City in the 1980s and got up at 4 in the morning to skate (before I went to work at TIME magazine), I trained at the old Sky Rink. Not only was Darlene my skating coach she was also the chef and made us breakfast after our lessons. She would literally show us moves while flipping an egg (you can’t make this stuff up!).

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Ken Shelley.

Indeed, this week has been a world reunion and great trip down memory lane. But in the here and now in 2016, like the entertainment industry itself, the sport of figure skating is going through a transition. A transition that has seen its fan base seismically erode. Some say it’s the change in scoring. Some say it’s because the United States hasn’t produced “stars” like it once used to. Some say it’s because there was a saturation of sameness back in the heyday of the 1990s. Some say there wasn’t enough innovation.  What’s the answer? Perhaps a bit of all those reasons. But something tells me that this downward trend could possible see a bit of reverse.

One only has to see the enthusiasm of the Japanese and Russian audiences to know that the sport is alive and well in those markets. I have seen video excerpts of a figure skating event in Russia that literally presented the sport as “Cirque du Soleil” on ice. These events were sold out. But there was something else that was nearly sold out as well—the events this week at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships. Is this a new trend? It could be.

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Dennis Grimaldi.

If you told me 14 years ago that the United States would medal in ice dancing I would have laughed in your face. But here we are in 2016 with Maia Shibutani / Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock / Evan Bates winning the silver and bronze medals respectively. While the United States men did a glorious job, it’s all about the quad. I wish I could say it wasn’t but it is.

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It was so great seeing Michelle Kwan again.

As for an electrifying moment, Ashley Wagner’s win of the silver medal ended the 10 year drought of an American woman winning a medal at the world championships.  Skating last to a capacity audience you could just tell with every second passing this was going to be a performance best for Wagner.  Her gracious enthusiasm at the press conference reminded me of earlier days. Could those days be returning? One thing is for sure, this is a sport about personalities and Wagner certainly understood that off ice is just as important as on.

In the end this is a sport that endures. It is owned by no one but graced by everyone. It is these collective contributions that have always given the sport its edge and vibrancy. That may sound like a colloquialism, but this sport will never be judged by a stopwatch and because of that uniqueness it earns a special place as both sport and art.  And just like Hollywood itself, figure skating is about performance and box office. Some pictures do well and some…well…you get the point.

As for the entertainment industry, having accomplished what I wanted to this past week, I return to writing my political thriller around the sport and art of figure skating.

Finally, I just have one thing to say to the organizers of the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships and all those that made it a memorable event.

6.0

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Ashley Wagner, the 2016 World silver medalist, at the press conference.


I’m An American

Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima on February 23, 1945 during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II.

Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima on February 23, 1945 during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II.

Yes, I am an American and proud of it. But it’s also dialogue from one of my favorite films Citizen Kane. Here’s a film made in 1941 by a 25 year old director by the name of Orson Wells. Citizen Kane is arguably one of the greatest films ever made. The film was controversial at the time because it was largely discussed that it was about William Randolph Hearst who owned an empire of newspapers. Hearst was so enraged by the film’s perceived comparison to his life that he made countless efforts to ban it.

July 4, 2015 – Independence Day here in the United States. Unless you live under a rock or just arrived from another planet, the world knows the fierce patriotism that engulfs our entire nation during this time, and rightly so.  To be an American means to be able to have a voice. A voice of expression without fear of persecution from the state.

But it is the state of the film and TV industry in our country that perhaps gives us the greatest voice around the world. Yes, we have the world’s largest and best military and we forever give thanks to the men and women in uniform that defend the ideals of this country here and abroad. But it is our entertainment industry that shines a light on what it is to be an American. No matter your station in life, your political or religious beliefs, there is a film or TV series for you.

Orson Wells as Citizen Kane.

Orson Wells as Citizen Kane.

Those that know me, know what I like when it comes to my viewing pleasure. I tend to gravitate to films that tell a story with larger than life characters, but also ones that have some sort of message (apologies to Louis B Mayer).  Films that highlight World War II and the Cold War tend to get my attention as they present the human spirit against the conflicts of mankind as they look to sort out the trials of hope against tyranny. But the one thing I have a zero tolerance for is the banning of films or TV shows.

When Judgment at Nuremberg was made it set forth to illustrate the atrocities of World War II that were perpetrated by judges in NAZI Germany.  Was the film controversial? Yes, in some circles. But where did the film have its world premiere? Berlin, the former capital of the Third Reich that is now the capital of a unified Germany. My point? As controversial as it may have been at the time, it was important to present the film in a setting to spark conversation because if there is one lesson we must never forget from World War II is – to never forget.

Spencer Tracy, Ray Teal, William Shatner and Maximilian Schell in Judgment at Nuremberg.

Spencer Tracy, Ray Teal, William Shatner and Maximilian Schell in Judgment at Nuremberg.

In the United States these past couple of weeks, we have had to sadly relive the horrors of a Civil War that ended 150 years ago after the execution of innocents at a church in Charleston. At issue, of course, is the Confederate Flag. In my view it represents sedition and the enslavement of a people. To the view of others it represents a way of life that has long past. While I most certainly don’t condone the flag of another country (one we defeated) flying over United States state capitol buildings, the outright ban of it and pretending it doesn’t exist isn’t helping the larger conversation. Sadly, our country was founded on slavery. It is part of our history that so many want to forget, but we cannot forget. We cannot erase our history, but we learn from it the best we can and try to form a more perfect union.  But when TV Land reacted by pulling the TV series The Dukes of Hazzard this past week, that wasn’t the answer.

My favorite movie of all time - Gone With the Wind.

My favorite movie of all time – Gone With the Wind.

History teaches us what happened when a certain country started to burn books, films and destroy artwork.  If you don’t know what the country was, it was referenced earlier in this post. As Americans we cherish our right to choose, our right to live life free from oppression. My favorite film is Gone With the Wind. Yet, the calls to have that film banned by the overzealous is just an ignorant reaction. And to be frank, I don’t give a damn about those voices.

This is America. We don’t ban films and TV shows if we don’t like them we simply don’t watch them. I can tell you I find plenty of films and TV shows offensive, I’m not going to launch a boycott. I’m simply not going to support them. Do we really want to bring back the Hayes Code? Do we want to go back to McCarthyism?  Do we want to be oppressed? I think not.

But putting aside my position on freedom of speech and expression, I have had the good fortune to be able to travel a good part of this small “pale blue dot” of a planet we live on called Earth. Indeed, our planet is a fragile one as is our society. One that we must all take care of. But throughout all my travels, there is a certain pride I feel when I pull out my passport or tell people where I’m from.

The United States of America.

Earth. As seen from NASA's Cassini spacecraft through Saturn's rings on July 19, 2013

Earth. As seen from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft through Saturn’s rings on July 19, 2013.