Heval


Michael Enright has a solution for the toilet paper shortage.

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(2021) Documentary (Curiosity Stream) Michael Enright, Mace Gifford, Anthony Delgatto, Bill Park, David Malet, Clay Lawton, Manuel Roig-Franzia, Anne Speckhard, Jason Fritz, Rojda Fielat, Arie Kruglanski, Jordan Matson, Joseph Camby, Keith Caraway, Nuri Mahmood, Jim Dornan, Joanna Palani. Directed by Adam R. Wood

 

Michael Enright is an actor. He was born with what the Irish like to call “the gift of gab.” He came to America in the late 1980s to pursue a career as an actor, and being a handsome and rugged sort, got some roles in movies and TV shows starting out as an extra and working his way up to things like Pirates of the Caribbeanand Agents of SHIELD.

Like many others, he was greatly disturbed by the events of 9/11 and felt he needed to do something and actually called a military recruiter to see about volunteering, but his call was never returned and he decided not to pursue it. However, it stuck in his craw a little bit and when he saw footage of what ISIS was doing in Syria to the Kurds, he felt that he could no longer idly stand by. He volunteered to join the Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Unit (or YPG).

This is where the story gets a little murky. Enright claims he served on the front lines of the fight against ISIS and participated in the victorious assault on Reqqa, which had been the capital of the caliphate until the Kurds went after them. That account is disputed by Jordan Matson, who made several accusations that Enright was a publicity-seeking dilettante looking to further his own career, was distrusted and perhaps hated by the Kurds who had removed the firing pin from his weapons because they were concerned that he might accidentally shoot their own troops in the back. That account was largely picked up by the American press, seeing as Matson was in many ways the American face on the Kurdish militia. Handsome and military-trained, Matson had also, like Enright, volunteered to fight ISIS when it became clear that the American government would not place troops in harms way, preferring to use surgical drone strikes, diplomatic pressure and military aid to the Kurds to fight this particular foe.

But Washington Post reporter Manuel Roig-Franzia investigated the claims of both men and found that Enright was actually telling the truth and that Matson, for his own reasons, was telling falsehoods (Matson was apparently approached to comment for the film but declined). Enright was, in fact, considered a valued asset to the Kurds, who had requested that Enright film his experiences in Syria with a GoPro camera that the YPG provided him. Much of the documentary’s footage was shot by Enright.

Enright is an engaging storyteller; although he is British by birth (he is originally from Manchester) there is an almost Irish flavor to him, given his storytelling ability and his general outgoing nature. He seems to be generally honest, and that is borne out by the reporter’s testimony, as well as testimony given on-camera by officials of the YPG.

One thing Roig-Franzia was unable to verify is crucial. You see, Enright had entered the United States on a tourist visa and had never bothered to get a green card. When he left to fight ISIS, even with the best of intentions – he felt he owed a debt to the United States for his success and he wanted to pay it back – when he tried to return, he was detained at the border. While in detention, he claims that he was approached by a CIA agent identified only as “the blonde,” and given a deal – in exchange for actionable intelligence that he delivered from Syria, his immigration issues would go away and he would be given that precious Green Card. THAT’S the part that nobody has been able to confirm.

So when the fighting ended, Enright was denied re-entry into the United States. He also is unable to return to Britain and currently lives in Belize where he has been petitioning the U.S. government to allow him to return. To this date, those petitions have been denied.

The film is a bit of a strange one, but then again, the story is a bit of a strange one. Enright is certainly a compelling personality and it’s difficult not to like him. The filmmakers certainly do; while the movie doesn’t whitewash his character, they don’t go fully into detailing why he can’t return to Britain, why he didn’t apply for a green card when he began to achieve success as an actor, and what he is doing in Belize.

This is the first original documentary feature to be produced by the nonfiction streaming service Curiosity Stream and it’s not a bad first effort. Personally, I would have appreciated a little more effort to tell a balanced story, but that isn’t a requirement for most documentaries. Nevertheless, the story is a compelling one and it might stimulate you into finding out more about him, which is a “mission accomplished” for any documentary. For now, the movie is only available to stream on Curiosity Stream but may become available for purchase on other VOD platforms at some later date in the future.

REASONS TO SEE: Enright is an engaging storyteller.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit on the hagiographic side.
FAMILY VALUES: There is much profanity, war violence and some disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: “Heval” is the Kurdish word for “friend” or “comrade.”
=BEYOND THE THEATERS: Curiosity Stream
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/1/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Outpost
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
The Jesus Music

Te Ata


The nobility and majesty of the Chickasaw culture personified.

(2016) Biographical Drama (Paladin) Q’orianka Kilcher, Gil  Birmingham, Graham Greene, Mackenzie Astin, Brigid Brannagh, Cindy Pickett, Jenni Mabrey, Marissa Skell, Boriana Williams, Don Taylor, Robert Ousley, Gordon Fox, Tom Nowicki, Zac Abbott, Gail Cronauer, Bill Anoatubby, Jeannie Barbour, Lona Barrick, Robert Cheadle, Chandler Schultz, Stacy Cunningham. Directed by Nathan Frankowski

 

The treatment of the native culture by the American government is not one of our finest and proudest achievements. We have put them in ghettos, marginalized them as a people, infected them with disease and alcoholism and relegated their culture to near-extinction. Some extraordinary Native Americans however have helped preserve that culture for all of us to marvel at and learn from today.

In Oklahoma, the Chickasaw nation has produced a film about one of their favorite daughters. Mary Frances Thompson (Williams) was born on their reservation, the daughter of Chickasaw shopkeeper (and tribal treasurer) T.B. Thompson (Birmingham) and his Caucasian wife Bertie (Brannagh). She was a precocious child who was in love with the natural world and with the stories of her people told to her by her father and grandparents. As she grew older, she developed a wanderlust and her natural intelligence compelled her to attend the Oklahoma College for Women (today known as the University for Science and Arts in Oklahoma) and be the first Native American to graduate from there.

Under the tutelage of Miss Davis (Pickett), a drama teacher who recognizes the light in the young Native, she develops “the bug” for the stage and emigrates to New York over the strong objections of her father (who knowing the racism of whites wants to keep his daughter close to home where he feels he can protect her better) to try to get a part on Broadway. However, although she shows some talent, it is when reciting the stories of her culture to adoring crowds (as she did during a school recital) when the girl most shines. Taking the stage name of Te Ata Thompson (Kilcher), based on a nickname given to her as a child from a Maori phrase meaning “bearer of the morning,” she begins to tour around the country and indeed the globe. One of her performances attracts the notice of Eleanor Roosevelt (Cronauer) who would become a lifelong friend and supporter. However, even more importantly, it would attract the attention of academic Clyde Fisher (Astin) who would at first be enchanted by the stories but quickly by the storyteller. The two would fall in love but in order to get married they would have to get the blessing of a man who would be a most difficult man to sell on the idea – Te Ata’s father.

The movie has a feel like a Disney movie to a certain extent and not necessarily in a good way. The home life feels a bit like Main Street, USA – all theme park-idealized and perhaps not very real. Te Ata early on witnesses an act of racially-motivated violence which was probably quite common and later in the film is upset by the racist depiction of Native Americans in a cartoon, something sadly common at the time. However, the treatment of the Natives is mostly observed through a law forbidding the practice of native customs and dances during a time when the American government felt these practices were heathen and anti-Christian. While it’s true that this symbolizes the prevailing official attitude of the government, we don’t get a sense of the petty indignities suffered by Natives at the time other than through the cartoon.

We do get a sense of the rich cultural heritage of the Chickasaw through the stories, taken from the actual stories the real Te Ata performed in her lifetime. The stories are marvelous and are at the heart of the movie. However, I must caution that when Kilcher (who is also a talented singer and musician) performs the songs of the Chickasaw people, they sound almost like pop songs right out of American Idol and I had to wonder if the real Te Ata would have approved of these interpretations.

Kilcher, who wowed audiences with her portrayal of Pocahontas in the 2005 film The New World (which made her the youngest person ever to be nominated for an acting Oscar, a record that stood until broken by Quvenzhané Wallis in 2012) reminds us that she is an accomplished actress with her performance here. There was some criticism that the storytelling performances depicted were over-the-top and highly mannered, but that was the acting style of the era. Sadly, I haven’t been able to find any footage (or even audio) of her actual performances but maybe with a diligent search you might be able to see them firsthand.

The cinematography is pretty nifty with some beautiful images of the Oklahoma outdoors as well as the small town early 20th century life near Emet, Oklahoma where the real Te Ata grew up (and later near Tishomingo where her family moved to when she was a young girl). The movie is perhaps the most respectful of native American culture since Dances with Wolves but hopefully will inspire more films about the culture and lore of Native Americans which has been sadly underrepresented on the screen. However, my big objection to the movie is that it feels sanitized, like a Native American gift shop of trinkets that capture the elements of the culture that maybe the non-native population wants to see without capturing the real essence of it. Only when Kilcher is reciting her stories do we really feel that culture as a living, breathing entity and in those moments Te Ata really soars. I just wish there were more of them.

REASONS TO GO: The stories Te Ata tells are mesmerizing and touching. Kilcher delivers a fine performance.
REASONS TO STAY: Everything feels a little Disney-fied, the songs too poppy and the atmosphere a little too Main Street USA. The film could have used a little more kick.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some mild violence and depictions of racism.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In 1939 (after the period depicted in the film), Te Ata performed for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England at Hyde Park in New York at the behest of President Roosevelt, an event that was depicted in Hyde Park on Hudson in which Te Ata was portrayed by Kumiko Konishi.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/9/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 60% positive reviews. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Dances with Wolves
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
The Mummy (2017)