Short Film: THE BLESSING AND THE CURSE, 5min., Music Documentary

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The Blessing and the Curse is the surprising and inspiring story of folk, Americana, and rockabilly musician Lance Canales, who rose from humble California Central Valley farmworker beginnings to prominence in the international music scene.

Starting from his modest upbringing in the small campesino town of Orosi, California, we follow Canales on his journey from childhood to adulthood to his ongoing drive to bring working-class folk music to the masses.

Canales garnered a reputation as a child of being able to train wild horses, and for years took lumps to help his family make ends-meet. It wasn’t until he confiscated an older sister’s beat-up guitar and combined it with his vocals that he discovered (in his mother’s fire-and-brimstone church) that he was able to pursue music as a way to slowly carve out a path from his hard-toil life.

Following Canales into adulthood, we learn about his deep-seated desire to bring working-class spiritual folk music to the masses. Through sweat and determination, Canales records over five albums and tours throughout the world to enthusiastic audiences. He recently completed a two-month European tour, where his album hit number five on the European charts in the Americana category.

Additionally, Canales collaborated with Nora Guthrie, the Guthrie Foundation, and his childhood friend, American Book Award-winning Valley author Tim Z. Hernandez, on a concert to raise $10,000 for a memorial headstone for the 28 deportees project. Canales initiated the idea and fundraising effort to place a memorial headstone with the names of the 28 deportees and plane crash victims who were discovered buried nameless in a mass grave in Holy Cross Cemetery in Fresno, California. Canales’ idea was to record and read the names of the deportees in the background of Canales’ cover of the famous Woody Guthrie song about the incident.

In September 2013, in a historic moment, the headstone was unveiled and hundreds of people attended from all over the country, including coverage by The New York Times. A Los Angeles Times reporter captured a shot of Canales kneeling down to the unveiled monument in a moment of clear emotional triumph next to the grandson of one of the plane crash victims. Hernandez’ corresponding book, All They Will Call You, was recently released in January 2017 and is a genre-bending work labeled a “documentary novel” based on the Woody Guthrie song, Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee).

Today, Canales is with Americana folk label Music Road Records, which put out his album, The Blessing and the Curse.

Canales recently ended a two-month European tour in tandem with his internationally and critically acclaimed album. Yet, with all that, Canales stays local and rooted in the Central Valley. He plans to “make it” while keeping his home-base in the heart of California. The question is, can a local artist truly thrive internationally while staying based in the Valley? Is it imperative for a musician or artist to move to LA, NYC or Nashville to make a career? Or can that be achieved while living in the Valley, and if so, what are the challenges and benefits of doing so?

But in addition to his personal journey, we are now seeking funding for a feature-length documentary to simultaneously tell the unusual story of Americana’s enormous and surprising popularity abroad, a particularly noteworthy oddity in today’s political climate. It’s a cultural subject we haven’t yet seen fully explored.

In general, the entire documentary would be told through interviews, live events, and theatrical recreations. Animations and other motion graphics elements would be incorporated into the video. The visual feel will be that of a retro vibe.

Project Links

Director Biography – Lauren Wolkstein (TAKAKO VS NINE LIVES)

Lauren Wolkstein is a NYC-based filmmaker originally from Baltimore, Maryland. In 2017, her debut feature THE STRANGE ONES, starring James Freedson-Jackson and Alex Pettyfer, premiered at SXSW to critical acclaim. She co-directed the film with Christopher Radcliff, based on their Sundance short of the same name. Lauren’s previous shorts, including SOCIAL BUTTERFLY (Sundance ’13) and CIGARETTE CANDY (SXSW ’10 Grand Jury Prize), have played festivals around the world. She most recently directed an episode of QUEEN SUGAR for the show’s third season. In 2013, Filmmaker Magazine listed her as one of the “25 New Faces of Independent Film.” Wolkstein is a 2017-2018 Women at Sundance Fellow through the Sundance Institute, and she is a MacDowell Colony Fellow for Summer 2018. Lauren received her MFA in film directing from Columbia University and is an assistant professor of Film and Media Arts at Temple University.

Director Biography – Ryan K. McNeal (THE FIRE WITHIN)

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Ryan K. McNeal is a director and colorist based in Los Angeles. He graduated Columbia College Chicago in 2012 with a BA in Film Directing. Most recently he works as a freelance colorist on music videos, commercials, and film. As a director, his passion lies in telling stories that explore pain and loss, but are ultimately inspirational. Also being an accomplished painter, Ryan’s attention to color, composition, and tone are always strong considerations for any new project.

Director Statement

This video has been a joy to work on. With Jennifer and Kimberly’s music it was easy to imagine the video, but hard to craft the visuals that could measure up to the balanced elegance and intensity of the performance. I knew as soon as I heard the piece that the video had to be special. We set new bars for ourselves, and every single person involved in this project gave their 110%. These kinds of projects are miracles, especially when everything works out and exceeds your expectations. Thank you to all my crew and thank you to Jennifer for letting me be a part of this project and sharing this vision. We’re a great team and I feel like we’re just getting started!

Director Biography – Fiona Tinwei Lam (PLASTICPOEMS)

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Fiona Tinwei Lam has authored two poetry books and the forthcoming Odes & Laments (Caitlin Press, 2019). A finalist for the City of Vancouver Book Award, she edited The Bright Well: Contemporary Canadian Poems on Facing Cancer and authored the illustrated children’s book about Alzheimer’s, The Rainbow Rocket. Her work appears in over thirty anthologies, including The Best of the Best Canadian Poetry: 10th Anniversary Edition and Forcefield: 77 Women Poets of BC. Her poetry videos have screened at festivals locally and internationally including the Co-Kisser Poetry Film Festival (Minneapolis), Visible Verse (Vancouver), Sadho Poetry Film Festival (Delhi), Athens International Video Poetry Festival, Zebra Festival (Germany), Interfilm Short Film Festival (Berlin), Ani’mest Animation Festival (Budapest), Northwest Animation Festival (Portland), Cadence Video Poetry Festival (Seattle), DOXA documentary film festival (Vancouver), and the Film & Video Poetry Symposium (L.A.). She teaches at Simon Fraser University’s Continuing Studies in Vancouver, BC.

Director Statement

Each poem asks for a different approach. Text, visual images and sound are woven together in video poetry to create something quite new. Synergies develop when poets and animators collaborate!

Director Biography – Burke Heffner (LEADING ME STRAIGHT)

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Burke Heffner’s stills and motion work have appeared at The Sundance Film Festival and Berlin Film Festival, as well as in LA Times, Village Voice, Timeout New York,, and more. When he’s not creating visual poetry for TV, commercials, and music videos, he enjoys long walks in the woods of New York with his chihuahua, Niney.

Short Film: THE SHE-WOLF, 10min., France, Dance

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Marion mysteriously appears in a clearing populated by marauding wolves. Attracted by the melody of a cello, a strange dream brings her to the heart of a wonderful forest. But as she tries to get closer to the cello, their bodies gradually cover themselves with a strange bark-colored skin.

Director Biography – Cass Mortimer Eipper (BRUTE)

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Cass trained at the Australian Ballet School and has performed with the West Australian Ballet, Sydney Dance Company, and was co-director of the Australian dance/media company, Ludwig. He won the Helpmann award for ‘Best Male Dancer’ in William Forsythe’s Quintett.

His other awards include ‘Most Outstanding Performance’ at the Rome International Choreography Competition’ for ‘Solo 1.5’, which was also presented at the renowned ImPulsTanz Festival, Vienna. He won 3rd prize at the Stuttgart International Dance Festival, where he performed Emma Sandall’s ‘Body Song’. He won the prize for ‘Most Outstanding Choreography’ at the West Australian Dance Awards for ‘Fleck & Flecker.’ He created three works for Sydney Dance Company, including their collaboration with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s ‘Le Grand Tango.’

He has also created for Link Dance Company and ‘So You Think You Can Dance Australia’, and has collaborated on music clips with Katie Noonan, Ben Folds and James Michael Thompson.


Director Statement

‘Brute’ is about duality – how we try to restrain the untameable beast within us, and how this in turn contorts and mystifies our consciousness. We are confused, desperate creatures. We yearn to be unique and empowered, whilst ignoring our default settings. We are wild, wonderful, anxious, desperate animals.