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Posts published in “Film”

Charlie Chaplin: The Great Dictator Screens in Topanga

Special To Topanga Journal

Charles Spencer Chaplin: we all know him as the great “Charlie Chaplin.” He was an American icon, hell he is a legend. Maybe something we didn’t know about this master of comedy — he was a perfectionist. Born in the late 1800s, Chaplin was destined to mold and shape the film world with his twirling cane and impish good looks — and he did. His presence reminds us to speak our truth, share honest emotional processes and express world views through perspective and transformation.

Kriss Perras headshot by Alan Weissman

By Kriss Perras

The experience of watching a film together elicits conversation and future projects. Chaplin’s films, though mostly silent, were loud through passion, promise and political awareness. Seventy-eight years ago Chaplin made a film called The Great Dictator. The film’s core values, messages and societal heartbreak are paralleled in the discussions of our current political climate. Does one listen to their own heart and mind or the persuasion of governmental propaganda?

“He was an American icon, hell he is a legend. Maybe something we didn’t know about this master of comedy — he was a perfectionist. ” Kriss Perras

The Chaplin dialogue continues through an event presented by the Topanga Film Festival and Institute. We received permission to screen the film through the help of The Criterion Collection. Their copies of films are remastered works, to be able to show footage closest to the original. Experience the legend in all his glory.

On October 27th, the same month The Great Dictator was released in 1940, the film will be screened followed by a riveting panel discussion. The event supports the love of film, the support of community and immerses you in all things Chaplin. Join the producers of the event for a night of film, conversation, memories and a Chaplin Speech that fills the heart with hope in a dark time in history.

Chaplin From History: A Short Bio on the Legend and the Event’s Producer

Charlie Chaplin was brought to the Topanga Film Festival by Miranda Robin, a Chaplin aficionado. Her love of Chaplin started in sixth grade studying the Great Depression. The appreciation of Chaplin’s talent, humor and style have encouraged Robin to follow her dreams expressing herself through all art mediums. To relish in Chaplin’s brilliance is an art form eliciting conversation and raw vulnerability. The next Chaplin event featuring The Great Dictator is an opportunity to come together and listen to a speech written 78 years ago that could be current. Chaplin mixes sorrow with happiness along with love and forgiveness all balanced with humor. “A day without laughter is a day wasted.” – Charlie Chaplin

The Great Dictator
October 27th, 2018
At The Topanga Community Club
1440 N Topanga Canyon Blvd
Topanga, CA 90290
3pm – 7:30pm



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Sisyphus in the City: A Review of The Advocates

Special To Topanga Journal

Years ago, we went to L.A.’s Skid Row to attend a rooftop screening of an old film that’d recently been discovered. It was being shown by some local historical society, the big point being that a few seconds showed the same area of L.A. we were sitting in, but nearly 100 years ago. We rode our bikes to get there, and, running late, we focused entirely on pedaling as quick as we could on the way in. By doing so, we avoided noticing the expanse of tents and refuse, the people lingering wherever they could. 

Rick Paulas

By Rick Paulas

But a friend took the bus to meet us, and by the time the film was over, that line had stopped running. This was before Lyft or Uber. And so, in the middle of some late Saturday night, we walked through Skid Row.

Nothing overtly memorable happened, but it’s a kind of journey you never forget. It was only a few blocks from the rest of downtown L.A.—the whole trip couldn’t have taken more than 15 minutes—but it felt like we had been transported to an entirely different country, time, or maybe universe. There were unique smells, garbage fire flickers, and chaotic arguments wafting into night. Residents were holding court inside or outside their tents, passing drugs or booze or food, or whatever else.

the whole trip couldn’t have taken more than 15 minutes—but it felt like we had been transported to an entirely different country, time, or maybe universe.” Rick Paulas

Despite the expensive high heels and tailored suits in the swanky bottle service nightclubs nearby, here was an entire community that had been abandoned. This was the last place these people had to go, and when they got there, they were forgotten. I never looked at the city the same way. 

Homelessness is one of the most pervasive signs of a system that’s fraying at the edges, and since our late-night walk through Skid Row years ago, it’s only gotten worse in America. As one commenter in Rémi Kessler’s new film The Advocates points out, while encampments used to be relegated to the various city Skid Rows throughout the country, they’ve now sprawled well beyond that. Tents are pitched along highways, nestled under overpasses. They populate city parks, while others place cardboard boxes in storefront alcoves. You’d be astounded at the number of folks who spend their nights in their cars. 

While development quickens and high-rises continue to be built, what’s missing in our current urban mindset is building housing for people who need it. There’s already plenty for people who don’t, but have the money to invest; this is how you end up with so many empty, as one commenter put it, “safety deposit boxes in the sky.” But what’s also missing to get there—and this is at the core of Kessler’s film—is the idea that secondary solutions to homelessness (drug rehabilitation, treatment for mental health issues, a good paying job) are not as important as literally making houses.

During my work as a journalist in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, I’ve interviewed countless of homeless folks for a variety of reasons, and whenever I ask them what they need to get off the streets, the one thing they mention is: An indoor place to go. While there are people on the streets with mental health issues, for many, problems like drug abuse or violent mood swings are not the reasons for why they’re on the street, but problems that occurred after they got there. 

Consider: What would it be like to sleep on a city street, with traffic blaring by, unprotected from the elements, unsafe from passersby? Would you feel a little bit groggy every day? Maybe not in peak shape to attend a job interview? Or—and here is the dark secret of homelessness in America—maybe not rested enough to keep the job you have? And then, if someone has a drug that’s take the edge off for a few moments, would you refuse it? 

Kessler’s film begins with the tale of Yolanda and Ruben, a brother-and-sister pair who once had indoor lives. They live in a few cars that double as places to store their possessions, but the cars don’t run, and due to parking restrictions, every week they have to push them across the street to avoid a ticket. Imagine the toll that takes on a life, and how those parking tickets could add up if, one day, you’re not well enough to heft the heavy automobile across the street. Try being in a kind mood, or mentally focused enough to lift yourself up by your own bootstraps, with that lifestyle.

As an expert says toward the end of the film, the solution to homelessness is very straightforward: Give people homes. After seeing The Advocates, you’ll see why.


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Nelly: A Fascinating Portrait of A Sex Worker Turned Superstar

Special To Topanga Journal

Halfway through Anne Émond’s film Nelly, there’s a scene with a group of sex workers hanging around a hotel room suite. Wine glasses in hand, they huddle around the white glow of a laptop, and log onto some unnamed “escort review” website. They then begin to read each other’s reviews out loud. 

Rick Paulas

By Rick Paulas

The site isn’t named or shown; it could be one of many, as sex work has been reviewed and critiqued on the internet since the internet was a place where words could go. These reviews are written by “johns,” ostensibly to warn other people if the worker isn’t on the level, but in reality just a bunch of horny dudes writing erotica for strangers online. In the scene, the workers rightfully mock the reviewers, but there is still a clear sense of being affected by the reviews. After all, someone is publicly judging every single part of their body.

While it’s only a glimpse, it’s a fascinating insight into what goes on behind-the-scenes in the profession, and the various power machinations that develop when sex is exchanged for money. An unprotected-by-law industry, sex workers are vulnerable in ways that so many other professions aren’t — dangerous clients can act with impunity when workers can’t safely contact law enforcement — but there’s also the society veil of silence over the work itself. “It’s illegal, and it’s immoral, so we shouldn’t be talking about it,” is the sentiment.

“While it’s only a glimpse, it’s a fascinating insight into what goes on behind-the-scenes in the profession, and the various power machinations that develop when sex is exchanged for money.” Rick Paulas

Yet these are the kinds of glimpses that makes Nelly, and the book it was inspired by, such important documents. Without them, the work continues to occur — as it always has, as it always will — under the cover of darkness. 

The movie tells the story of Nelly Arcan, born Isabelle Fortier, a sex worker based in Quebec who rose to international fame after the publication of her 2001 autobiographical novel Putain (Whore), a fictionalized story narrated by a sex worker named Cynthia. She would go on to write four more books, each one a semi-autobiographical examination of her life — really: what book isn’t? Each book tried to pry open how society treats women. In 2009, after years of depression, she died via suicide.

While Arcan wasn’t as popular a figure in the U.S. as elsewhere — which certainly says something about the insidious reach of Protestantism that still haunts this country — viewers don’t need to know her backstory to be intrigued by it. 

Unlike standard biopics, this one’s told in a sort of foggy, nonlinear way, with Émond seemingly sampling from a few different characters that make up the entirety of who “Nelly” was. In all, there are five versions on display: An adolescent Fortier being introduced to sexual connections for the first time; a drug-addicted frail woman in a codependent relationship; a confident and fully refined sex worker; a fretful author trying to manage the pressures of publications; a glowing media superstar. The last four are all played by Mylène Mackay, in a series of dynamic performances that see her shifting moods scene-by-scene. I’m unfamiliar with Mackay’s previous work, and it took me about half of the movie to realize she was playing four characters, both a testament to her ability and a criticism of my own attention span.

Despite all being part of the same individual, each is presented dramatically different. One may even be fictionalized. It’s unclear. Reality and performance and truth all seem to blur in this portrait, like one of those 3D posters where, if you cross your eyes just the right way, you’ll see a sharpened vision of a boat or some mountain jutting out toward you. But every moment before and after is just a hazy blur.

If the movie comes off as disjointed, that’s probably part of the point. Life is messy, and trying to tell anyone’s story in such a compressed lens as a film is an act of blinding hubris and logistical chaos. The narrative should be from the moment the person’s born until they die, but as soon as you remove a single moment, you’ve introduced an editorial lens that has to justify itself. Émond pulls off the feat by using the chaos to her advantage. Moments occur, personalities change, other personalities emerge. If it’s unclear which is the “true” version, that’s because there isn’t one.

Toward the end, Arcan admits that she “invented Nelly to protect Isabelle, but I think the opposite happened. I did things to write about them.” In today’s age of social media, where everyone with a smartphone and ego live in a way where they’re constantly thinking if an experience is worth publishing to the world, there are fewer sentiments more relatable.


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Jill Burgeson & How She’s Helping To Change Music: Fender Play

Special To Topanga Journal

Already up for her job as VP of Marketing at Fender Guitar, Burgeson told us of the new project the guitar giant she is recently working for has just launched. It is called Fender Play, the complete learning app for guitar players. Burgeson heads up the marketing for this new project. 

“I’ll be working on this new app called Fender Pay,” said Burgeson. “Essentially it is a subscription based app. It is videos that are awesome. Let’s say you want to learn how to play acoustic guitar. You go through the app. You choose acoustic guitar. There are all these lessons for acoustic guitar. Everything is filmed. It is basically like having a private lesson for way less money and by professionals.”

Kriss Perras headshot by Alan Weissman

By Kriss Perras

Fender Play is Fender’s new subscription based private lesson app. It is a video-based learning platform for iPhone and desktop applications. It has hundreds of easy to follow instructor-guided video lessons that use a song-driven, personalized leaning path that enables even brand new players to master chords and riffs quickly. The app asks a number of pertinent questions when the user first opens it. What is the user’s preferred instrument and genre, like acoustic or electric guitar and pop or rock music? There are a few other steps to set up the app.

“You go through the app. You choose acoustic guitar. There are all these lessons for acoustic guitar. Everything is filmed. It is basically like having a private lesson for way less money and by professionals.”

Jill Burgeson

Once you’re set, the instructor starts by teaching the basics, like how to plug in an amp, attach the strap to the guitar and the basic guitar anatomy, like the bridge, tone control, pickup selector, the strings, pitch and string names E,B,G,D,A,E. The music based learning comes from some majors in each genre like U2, Shawn Mendes, The Rolling Stones, Foo Fighters, Meghan Trainor, Carrie Underwood and others. The curriculum was created with prestigious music programs such as the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and Musicians Institute of Hollywood. Then it is a matter of applying yourself with the lessons the same as you would with a private instructor. The lessons are clear and easy to follow. The app is affordable, especially for the in-depth instruction the teachers provide.


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The Bowling Sisters: Feminism, Film Directing & The Inner Female Monologue

Special To Topanga Journal

Strong independent voices like the The Bowling Sisters – Kansas Bowling (22) and Parker Love Bowling (19) are make it happen people. Their drive and achievements are a refreshing outlook of the millennial generation. No sibling rivalry here. They’re true supporters of each other’s talents, and not to mention they’re best friends. They’re old souls that relish in old cinema, literature and travel, bringing a fire and passion to their inspirations that have become reality.  

Kansas Bowling is currently directing her second feature film while simultaneously directing music videos, two dozen already under her belt. Her latest music video for a band called Death Valley Girls features the legendary Iggy Pop. Her first feature film – B.C. BUTCHER – was shot on 16mm film in the wilderness of Topanga Canyon and the waterfalls of Jalan Jalan. Her film premiered at the Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Blvd in 2016. That same year she was featured in W Magazine as one of the up and coming talents to look out for. She continues to innovate and create imagery to be remembered for decades. Memorize the name Director Kansas Bowling.  

Miranda Robin

By Miranda Robin

Her younger sister Parker Love Bowling is another star on the rise. Her dedication, creativity and confidence are what continue to make her roles captivating and memorable on screen. She is an avid reader and writer who uses her knowledge to build on character choice. In addition she is able to design and make her own wardrobe, wearing her own styles as she sings original standards at The Mint and other Los Angeles venues. The camera loves her. Parker Love Bowling will have her name in lights.   

These women were asked to reflect on the word Feminism, a sensitive subject and a way to guide human choices. It crosses generations, blending ideas to form a new hope of equal rights and a solid voice for all people. The voices of Kansas and Parker are powerful, honest and ready to succeed.    

“Feminism and political correctness today has become rabid and dangerous at times. Its important people think for themselves and read into issues before jumping on bandwagons.” Kansas Bowling

TJ: Do you think there is a difference on views of feminism between decades?

KB – Feminism and political correctness today has become rabid and dangerous at times. Its important people think for themselves and read into issues before jumping on bandwagons. Media has made it very easy for misinformation to spread, and people are becoming brainwashed easier than ever. Remember that you don’t have to agree with every “feminist” issue because it’s what you’re told is the right thing to do. 

PLB – There is definitely a new wave of pseudo feminism that is destructive to the very concept.  So-called feminists should not petition for superiority over men. 


TJ Do You Remember The First Time You Heard The Word Feminism? 

KB – I think I first heard it when my parents got divorced, and my mom started dating a woman. 

PLB – No clue when I first heard the word Feminism, but my guess is it was from my 7th grade English teacher when I read a biography on Margaret Sanger. 

TJ: Do You Consider The Term Feminism More Of A Positive Or Negative Idea? 

KB – I think it rides a fine line. 

PLB – I think Feminism, by text book definition is a positive term. EQUALITY, not female supremacy. 

TJ: As A Writer-Director, Do You Think About Feminism While Writing And Describing Characters And Themes For Your Films? 

KB – I don’t tend to think about any issues while writing. I just write and then the issue / theme presents itself from somewhere in my subconscious. There are occasionally themes that come through in my writing that would be considered feminist. 

PLB – I don’t think about feminist issues while writing, though naturally my films seem to be female driven. I like to write about vulnerability and the inner monologue of the female. 

TJ: When Hearing Feminism, What Are You Interpretations Of How Each Political Party Feels About The Word and What It Demonstrates? What Political Party Do You Find You Standing Ground? 

KB – I don’t feel like either party has a healthy relationship with feminism – one side goes against everything it stands for while the other side exploits it. 

PLB – I think both parties misconstrue the true meaning of feminism. I believe in equal rights, but I certainly don’t believe in the belittlement of men. 

TJ: What Are Your Thoughts On Men Still Getting Paid More Than Women? Do You Think It Is Fair? When You Pay You Actors For A Film Shoot, Is The Pay The Same?

KB – I think the issue lies more in men getting offered bigger roles more often than women and that’s where the pay issue comes into play. It seems to be more of a problem with the types of movies being made. I pay my actors differently based on the project and what roles they’re playing. Usually a more experienced actor will get paid more than someone with no experience at all. But it obviously never has anything to do with gender. 

PLB – It’s obviously not fair for a man to get paid more than a woman if they are doing the same job, but there are exceptions. If a male actor is more well known than a woman, it would make sense that he gets paid more and vice-versa. 

TJ: What Is Politically Correct For Social Media, And What Gets A Site Shut Down? What Are Your Ideas Of Censorship On Social Media? 

KB – Social media could never be a real platform for art because of the censorship issues. It’s not important in the grand scheme of anything, which is why people should focus more on creating rather than advertising.

PLB – Censorship is fascist. Social media platforms should not be allowed to remove art or suppress freedom of speech. 

TJ: As Actors In Film, When You Are Making Roles For Yourself, What Types Of Roles Do You Gravitate Toward? 

KB – I’m only now getting to a point where I can turn down roles so I haven’t yet had the luxury of being able to pick and choose. 

PLB – I take whatever roles I can get, though I prefer to be the antagonist in a film. I feel there’s a wider range of expressing yourself in that niche. 

TJ: How Did Growing Up In Topanga Affect Your Thoughts In Social Interaction And Self-Expression? 

KB – I was practically ostracized from Topanga for having a lesbian mom so it should have instilled introverted conservatism in me, but instead it made me realize how unimportant people’s opinions are if you’re happy. 

PLB – Topanga is very isolated, which has made me extremely shy while meeting new people. Growing up in Topanga also made me very paranoid that the people I meet have secret agendas. 

TJ: Your First Feature Film Was Made In Topanga. Did The Location Inspire Parts Of Your Film Or Were They Written Prior To Location Scout? 

KB – I followed the Roger Corman school of thought – use what you have. My dad lives in Topanga and has the state park at his backyard. A cavewoman movie seemed like an easy and cheap movie to make with what I had available to me.

TJ: What Are The Main Themes In Your First Feature Film And The Second FEature Film? Talk About Similarities And Differences. 

KB – My first feature film had absolutely no themes, moral, or allegory. It was merely a trial of me seeing how to make a film on my own, which then happened to get distributed by TROMA. My feature that I am working on now is about troubled adolescence inspired by all of my friends growing up in Topanga. 

TJ: When Writing For Others To Read, What Female Views Are Mostly Constant In The Characters You Create? 

KB – I write from my subconscious so every character is myself. I don’t write different genders.  

PLB – I write about the worst aspects of myself so I can come to terms with them. I like to write and read about the darker side of any character’s mentality. 

TJ: What Is Your Main Goal/Message You Want To Express Through Your Films? 

KB – There are a lot of messages I put into my work, but most important to myself is to never censor my own work for the sake of others. I would rather get in trouble for something I stand by than never say anything. 

PLB – I’m not sure there is a main goal. I like to explore the subconscious of the characters I play or write.   

Our future is bright with women like Kansas and Parker at the helm. Their views are owned with wisdom, research, knowledge and a love of creating art through any medium. The Bowling Sisters are taking on the world and the world is ready for them. Support talent, support a voice and make your own voice known whenever you can. 


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