July 15th, 2012, by

Concert movies are one of the most endearing genres of the documentary format, from the epic cultural document Woodstock to the tween-blockbuster Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. Within that niche, the final concert film has a special place all its own. From The Band’s famous The Last Waltz to Jay-Z’s Fade to Black, the final show of a much-loved artist or group is fertile ground for looking back on career and cultural impact, not to mention a great excuse to listen to their most-loved songs.

The latest final concert film to hit theaters is Shut Up and Play the Hits, which immortalizes the final show of LCD Soundsystem, the indie powerhouse started by singer/producer/all-around-indie-culture-fixture James Murphy. The show took place at Madison Square Garden in April of 2011, and the film documents 48 hours surrounding the concert.

The film opens July 18th, but the twist on this doc is that–much like LCD’s final sh0w–it will play in theaters for only one night. For fan’s of Murphy’s music, it’s a great way to turn a film into an event, much like the show itself. For those unfamiliar with Murphy and his band, it will serve as the perfect introduction to one of the most influential performer/producers of the last decade.

Here’s a great recent interview with Murphy, and one of my favorite LCD tracks to get you started.


July 10th, 2012, by

Photo courtesy: Van Evers, Tavis Smiley Media, Inc.

Airdate | Thursday, July 12, 2012

Hometown | Tenafly, NJ

Why You (Should) Know Her

  • She co-starred alongside Lisa Kudrow as Romy in the fake-it-til-you-make-it Post-It inventors in the 1997 comedy, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion.

Why She’s Buzzing | She’s starring in Union Square, a guerilla-type indie film that hits theaters July 13.


  • Her father, Paul Sorvino, is a character actor and director. One of his notable roles was playing Paulie Cicero in 1990’s Goodfellas. According to her IMDB profile, her father initially discouraged her from becoming an actor.
  • Sorvino graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1989 with a degree in East Asian Studies/Chinese. She also helped found the Harvard-Radcliffe Veritones, a co-ed a cappella group.
  • In 1990, she made her acting debut on an episode of Law & Order which, at that time, starred her father. Her scene ultimately was left on the cutting room floor, but she earned a Screen Actors Guild card.
  • In 1997’s Mimic, Sorvino played Dr. Susan Tyler, a character who used genetic engineering on insects. Entomologist Thomas Eisner named the defense mechanism of the sunburst diving beetle “mirasorvone” in her honor.
  • In 2006, she received Amnesty International’s Artist of Conscience Award. She’s been affiliated with Amnesty International since 2004.
  • Since 2009, Sorvino has been a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador and has made efforts against human trafficking in Darfur.

Selections from Filmography

1994   Barcelona
1995   Mighty Aphrodite (won Academy Award, Broadcast Film Critics Association Award, Chlotrudis Award, Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Award,  Golden Globe Award, National Board of Review Award, New York Film Critics Circle Award and Southeastern Film Critics Association Award—all for best supporting actress)
1996   Norma Jean & Marilyn (nominated for Emmy and Golden Globe Award)
1997   Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (nominated for MTV Movie Award)
1997   Mimic (nominated for Saturn Award)
1998   The Replacement Killers
2000   The Great Gatsby
2001   The Triumph of Love
2003   Will & Grace (Episode “Last Ex to Brooklyn” as Diane)
2003   Gods and Generals
2005   Human Trafficking (nominated for Golden Globe)
2007   Reservation Road
2008   House (Episode “Frozen” as Dr. Cate Milton)
2009    Attack on Leningrad
2011   Angels Crest
2011   Union Square
2012   Perfect Sisters

July 9th, 2012, by

Actor Ernest Borgnine was instantly recognizable throughout a show business career that spanned more than half a century. He appeared in hundreds of TV and feature film productions, including the popular series, McHale’s Navy, and the film, Marty, for which he won a best actor Academy Award. A World War II vet, Borgnine was still racking up credits in his ninth decade, with voiceover work for The Simpsons and SpongeBob SquarePants, as star of the Hallmark Channel movie, A Grandpa for Christmas and in the 2010 movie Red. Borgnine’s life and prolific career were documented in his best-selling 2008 autobiography, Ernie.

The multilingual actor sat down with us in 2007 to discuss his projects, share stories about his career, and being “the most hated man in Hollywood” after his character killed off Frank Sinatra’s character in the 1953 film From Here to Eternity. Even then, at 90 years old (and offered his driver’s license as proof!), he cracked jokes and displayed true passion for his craft. Watch the conversation from 2007 when the legendary entertainer visited the set to talk about how working helped him stay young.

“Absolutely. I tell you, if you just let yourself, put it bluntly, rot on a chair, you’re gone. But if you keep going and do the kind of work that you like to do and get paid for it to boot, hey, what could be wrong?”

–Ernest Borgnine, 2007

July 8th, 2012, by

I recently posted about the wave of neo-soul singers gracing us with their musical talents these days; however, I neglected to include in that list the inimitable Charles Bradley (PBS video link here). Bradley’s claim to fame is his debut album, which the singer released at the impressive age of 62. While the album itself is noteworthy, equally worthwhile is the documentary about Bradley’s life, Soul of America.

The film, which opened to rave reviews at SXSW this spring and is now on the festival circuit, follows Bradley in the days leading up to his album’s release, while documenting the singer’s tumultuous life. No stranger to homelessness, poverty and illness, the events of Bradley’s life makes for a vivid and inspiring tale, as does the lead-up to his sold-out album launch concert.


July 5th, 2012, by

Photo courtesy: Van Evers, Tavis Smiley Media, Inc.

Airdate | Friday, July 6, 2012

Hometown | Lawrence, KS

Why You (Should) Know Her

  • Her life and her fight against Pacific Gas and Electric Company were portrayed in Steven Soderbergh’s 2000 film starring Julia Roberts in the title role. Erin Brockovich went on to be nominated for the Academy Award for best picture and best director in 2001.

Why She’s Buzzing | The documentary Last Call at the Oasis features Brockovich at length and has been showing at selected theaters since May 2012. According to the documentary’s website, the film presents “a powerful argument for why the global water crisis will be the central issue facing our world this century” and “[illuminates] the vital role water plays in our lives, exposing the defects in the current system and depicting communities already struggling with its ill-effects.”


  • After a brief stint working at Kmart, she entered a beauty pageant, ultimately winning the Miss Pacific Coast crown in 1981.
  • As portrayed in Erin Brockovich, she was able to play a significant role in making a case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company of California in 1993. However, she was able to do so without any formal legal education.
  • Brockovich had a cameo role in Erin Brockovich as a waitress aptly named Julia R.
  • In fact, according to her biography, it was while organizing papers on a pro bono real estate case that she found medical records that sparked her investigation on PG&E against the small town of Hinkley. The end result? The largest toxic tort injury settlement in U.S. history: $333 million in damages to more than 600 Hinkley residents.
  • On her website, Brockovich claims the film about her is 98% accurate. That includes how the character dressed herself, her “potty mouth,” and how her character was twice divorced with three children. Of the movie, she says, “The movie had its positive and negative effects on my life. I didn’t aspire for this to happen. All I was doing was what was in my heart to do and that was to extend my hand of friendship, understanding and compassion towards another. Had my intentions been anything other than pure, this case, this movie and my life, as it is today would not exist.”
  • She was a host on ABC’s Challenge America with Erin Brockovich and on Lifetime’s Final Justice with Erin Brockovich.
  • Her book, Take it From me: Life’s a Struggle But You Can Win, was published in 2001 and made it on The New York Times‘ Business Bestseller’s List.
  • The city of Barstow, CA named August 16 “Erin Brockovich Day” in 2000.

Selection of Honors/Awards

  • Consumer Advocate of the Year and the Presidential Award of Merit from the Consumer Attorneys of California
  • The Julius B. Richmond Award from the Harvard School of Public Health
  • Honorary Doctor of Laws from Lewis and Clark Law School in 2005
  • Special Citizen Award from the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition
  • Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Loyola Marymount University in 2007
  • Honorary Master of Arts in Business Communication from Jones International University


July 2nd, 2012, by

We closed out the month of June with a lot of self-reflection and insight.

Economist Joseph Stiglitz, actor Jeff Daniels and law professor Peter Edelman each had their own opinions on the state of American politics and culture. While their opinions were quite candid, one could argue that they can spark some positive change. Filmmaker Jonathan Demme had his own input on American politics and culture; he shared with us who his heroes are.

Musicians, actors, songwriters: they’re a lot like us, except touched with fame and recognized talent. But they do a lot of self-reflection. Musician Glen Hansard, actors Morgan Freeman and Kristen Johnston and songwriters Alan and Marilyn Bergman gave us a little insight on how they hone their crafts.

And speaking of insight, filmmaker Peter Berg let us in on why he wanted to make a documentary about boxing trainer Freddie Roach. And Roach let us know just how he felt about that experience.

Farewell June, and hello July!

All images by Van Evers, Tavis Smiley Media, Inc.

June 29th, 2012, by

Photo courtesy: Van Evers, Tavis Smiley Media, Inc.

Airdate | Friday, June 29, 2012

Hometown | Baldwin, Nassau County, NY

Why You (Should) Know Him

  • Surely you’re familiar with the brilliant, cannibalistic villain Hannibal Lecter portrayed by Sir Anthony Hopkins. Well, Demme directed Silence of the Lambs…and won the Academy Award for best director for the film.
  • He also directed 1993’s Philadelphia, one of the first Hollywood pictures to address issues of HIV/AIDS, homosexuality and homophobia.
  • Demme is also making a mark as a documentarian and concert movie-maker, as evidenced by his trilogy of Neil Young documentary concert films and the Talking Heads concert movie, Stop Making Sense.

Why He’s Buzzing | The Oscar-winning filmmaker is out with not one, but two projects—a post-Hurricane Katrina documentary, I’m Carolyn Parker, and his third feature-length documentary on folk-rocker Neil Young, Neil Young Journeys. You can watch the 2007 conversation with Demme below, where he describes why he decided to make a documentary about post-Katrina New Orleans.


  • He’s a protégé of big-time film producer Roger Corman.
  • Demme’s film The Silence of the Lambs was the third film to win Oscars in the five biggest categories: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. The film was also the first horror film to be awarded Best Picture, after being only the second to be nominated for that category. 1973’s The Exorcist was the first.
  • He directed indie film Rachel Getting Married—and even cast some of his friends to counter the “real” actors Anne Hathaway and Rosemarie DeWitt. The film was shot in a naturalistic style, like a documentary.
  • According to his IMDB profile, his trademarks include: frequently casting Charles Napier, Chris Isaak, Buzz Kilman, Tracey Walter and Paul Lazar; working with Taj Fujimoto as his director of photography; using New Order songs in movie soundtracks.
  • On June 3, 1990, he was awarded an honorary degree by Wesleyan University.
  • Entertainment Weekly voted him the 45th greatest director of all time.

Selection of projects and awards


1974    Caged Heat
1978    Columbo (episode “Murder Under Glass”)
1979    Last Embrace
1984    Stop Making Sense (documentary)
1986    Something Wild
1987    Swimming to Cambodia
1988    Haiti Dreams of Democracy (TV documentary)
1988    Married to the Mob
1991     Silence of the Lambs (won Academy Award for best picture and best director; nominated for a Golden Globe, BAFTA Award, Saturn Award; won Berlinale Silver Bear for best director)
1992    Cousin Bobby (documentary)
1993    Philadelphia (nominated for Berlinale Golden Bear Award)
1998    Storefront Hitchcock (documentary)
2001    Bruce Springstreen: The Complete Video Anthology 1978-2000 (video-documentary)
2004    The Manchurian Candidate
2006    Neil Young: Heart of Gold
2007    Right to Return: New Home Movies from the Lower 9th Ward (PBS TV mini-series)
2008   Rachel Getting Married
2009   Neil Young Trunk Show (documentary)
2011    Neil Young Journeys (documentary)
2011    I’m Carolyn Parker (documentary)

Demme’s May 25, 2007 conversation with Tavis
On his decision to film a documentary on post-Katrina New Orleans, featuring the namesake of his latest documentary, Carolyn Parker.


June 27th, 2012, by

Photo courtesy: Van Evers, Tavis Smiley Media, Inc.

Airdate | Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hometown | Dedham, MA

Why You (Should) Know Him

  • As one of the world’s most renowned boxing trainers, Roach also boasts a clientele that pack a punch—this includes Amir Khan, Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. and Manny Pacquiao.
  • He’s the owner of the world famous Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, CA.

Why He’s Buzzing | While his presence is seen mostly ringside or closely behind his clients, Roach’s life is dissected, and we are given a raw, behind-the-scenes look in the HBO cinéma-vérité series, On Freddie Roach. Emmy-nominated director Peter Berg joins Roach for the conversation. Furthermore, he’ll be on the radar again come July 14, when his fighter Amir Khan goes head-to-head against Danny Garcia.


  • He was voted Trainer of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America in 2003, 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010.
  • His father, Paul Roach, was the New England featherweight champion.
  • Roach trained as a boxer as a youth alongside his brothers, Dominic Pepen “Pepper” and Joey. By 1978, he began professionally fighting in the lightweight class. On June 11, 1982, the Fighting Roach Brothers all had bouts at the Boston Garden. Pepper and Joey won their bouts, but Freddie lost in a unanimous decision at the main event against Rafael Lopez.
  • By age 26, Roach went into retirement after showing early signs of Parkinson’s disease. The disease is held at bay with medication and training with boxers.
  • After retirement, Roach worked odd jobs around Las Vegas before becoming an unpaid assistant to his former trainer Eddie Futch.
  • Roach helped train Mark Wahlberg for his role as Micky Ward in the 2010 film The Fighter. Roach and his brothers fought and grew up with Ward and Ward’s brother, Dicky Eklund, as discussed in the video below.

Selection of Honors

2006     California Boxing Hall of Fame Inductee (as a non-boxer)
2008     World Boxing Council Lifetime Achievement Award

Freddie Roach: how I trained The Fighter star Mark Wahlberg

On Freddie Roach trailer, directed by Peter Berg


June 27th, 2012, by

Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-MI) is proposing loan debt reform Photo: U.S. House of Representatives

With the economy still reeling from the Great Recession, many Americans are scraping by on lowered wages and, sadly, lowered prospects. With everything from car notes, housing payments, food and basic necessities, asking Americans to pay on their student loans right now can be a tall order.

If you haven’t heard by now, loan debt in America has reached $1 trillion. And while bankruptcy may have been a welcomed answer for many Americans, according to current laws, many cannot receive approval for it.

In my last post, I talked with Robert Applebaum about the near 1 million signatures he’s helped to acquire to get lawmakers to further work on loan forgiveness. So, my next step was to reach out to one of the lawmakers and hear some ideas on how to get the measure passed in Congress. Here’s my exchange with Rep. Hansen Clarke, of Detroit, about the bill he’s been working on to reduce the repayment process that saddles most Americans.

NIXON: Where did the idea for this bill come from and what’s the number one thing you would like to see this bill accomplish once passed?

CLARKE: Over the past few years, I’ve met more and more people in my community who have college degrees, but lack financial security. They have the diploma to hang on their wall, but they lack the means to support their family and pay the interest on their debt. This is because the cost of getting a college degree has increased at a far greater rate than wages over the last decade. Tuition rates rose 72% at public universities between 2001 and 2011. People of all ages, from all walks of life are drowning in student debt. And, our national economy is suffering as a consequence. People are putting off major purchases and investments, which is stifling job creation. My objective with this bill is to make student loan repayment more simple and fair and to give people more purchasing power in order to jumpstart the economy.

NIXON: How have your peers in Congress responded to this bill? How difficult do you believe it will be to gain consent and cooperation from other members on the House on this bill?

CLARKE: We so far have 16 Congressional co-sponsors on the bill, and, while it’s all Democrats at this point, I feel confident that we will convince our friends on the other side of the aisle to join this movement. The 975,000 signatories on the national petition for this bill come from many different political persuasions. When it comes to this issue, I believe both Democrats and Republicans want the same thing: for Americans to be well-educated and free from the shackles of debt. This bill provides a responsible way to help realize that vision. It requires that borrowers pay 10% of their discretionary income for 10 years before receiving forgiveness.

NIXON: The city of Detroit is working hard to stabilize and grow its economy. Have you heard from your own constituents on this issue of student loan debt? And secondly, how impactful would a bill like H.R. 41 be for citizens of the area?

CLARKE: Thousands of people in Metro Detroit who don’t have a college degree are still struggling with student loan debt. The people who took non-degree courses or had to leave school for one reason or another are often those who are struggling most with the weight of this debt. I meet these folks, as well as struggling graduates, every week in Michigan’s 13th district, and I hear about financial situations that could be transformed by this assistance.

NIXON: Given the nation’s current economic outlook, how critical is it to ensure that this bill is passed, as it relates to Americans’ ability to start families, a new business, buy a home, etc. and not have to worry about student loan debt?

CLARKE: It’s critical. The only way we can get out of this recession is by ensuring that working people have more purchasing power. We took several months to hear from education experts, activists and—most importantly—struggling students and graduates in order to develop the plan that ultimately became the Student Loan Forgiveness Act. The process started this past September, and the bill was finalized in late January.

NIXON: Some people are skeptical of politicians who show up and claim they are on the people’s side on certain issues. However, you’ve gone to, arguably, some of the best schools in the country, and you work in the public sector; so, there’s a sense that you understand the economic frustrations people are facing on this issue. What could you say to a constituent to give them an idea that you are more than familiar with the economic strains of higher education costs and student loan debt?

CLARKE: I took out loans to attend school back in the ’80s, during a time when universities were far more affordable and loans were much more manageable. My passion in dealing with this issue comes from talking with people in my community—ranging from retirees in their 80s to teachers in their 20s—who are struggling with student loan debt right now. It comes from seeing motivated, talented young people in my community given no choice but to accrue massive debt in order to get an education. We don’t want our young people in that situation. You can join the movement by signing our online petition and asking your member of Congress to co-sponsor the bill. All the information you’ll need is available at We are so inspired by the grassroots movement for a student loan solution!

You heard it here folks. By most estimates, it appears Rep. Clarke is off and running. Those interested in learning more about HR4170 can visit the website.

June 18th, 2012, by

In this round of guest quotables, a bold line between the realms of imagination and reality was drawn. On team “imagination/daydream,” we had actors Christina Ricci and John Slattery. On team “reality,” we had writer Buzz Bissinger, singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin and “Miracle on the Hudson” pilot Capt. Chesley Sullenberger.

Love is a frequent topic of discussion, and this week was no exception, thanks to blues musician Buddy Guy, sportswriter Frank Deford and former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Check out the gallery for some extra photos and notable quotes from the last two weeks of interviews and share your thoughts.

All images by Van Evers, Tavis Smiley Media, Inc.

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