The documentary The Blech Effect: The Rise and Fall of the King of Biotech will come out on VOD and electronic sellthrough Aug. 25 from Virgil Films.
The film chronicles the life of David Blech, who would be a multi-billionaire — if only he were in a coma for the last 15 years. In his early 20s, David was a pioneer investor in biotech companies and helped create an industry that has grown to be on the cutting edge of the world’s greatest medical cures, saving countless lives. Blech’s wealth grew with the industry. According to Forbes Magazine, he was once worth more than $300 million, and he was on the Fortune 400 list. He became known as the “King of Biotech” and his influence on the market coined the term “The Blech Effect.” But Blech struggled with bipolar disorder and a gambling addiction. He once hoped to be remembered for helping to create an industry that saves lives; instead he ended up $11 million in debt, struggling to keep his family afloat and awaiting a jail sentence.
The Blech Effect follows a protagonist all too self-aware yet still unable to control his worst impulses, a wife and mother who is both a saint and enabler, and a beloved child heartbreaking in his beauty and disability.
The documentary Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies is coming to Digital HD July 7 from Virgil Films.
It explores the career of Alan Ladd Jr. — known to friends and colleagues as Laddie — the understated studio chief and Oscar-winning producer behind the films Star Wars, Alien, Blade Runner, Chariots of Fire, Police Academy, Braveheart, The Omen, Thelma and Louise, Young Frankenstein, Gone Baby Gone and a staggering 154 more. During his 50-plus year career, garnering more than 50 Academy Award wins and more then 150 nominations, he worked with world-famous filmmakers and actors — many of whom became household names on his watch — and brought to life some of the most influential films of our time.
In Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies, Amanda Ladd-Jones endeavors to better understand her father — to see him not just as “Dad,” the man who spent the majority of her childhood at the office — but the way his collaborators do, as a doyen of modern American cinema.
The documentary film 40 Years of Rocky: The Birth of a Classic will premiere on Digital HD June 9 from Virgil Films & Entertainment.
The film is narrated by “Rocky” star and creator Sylvester Stallone, who shares insights about his battle to get the story of a down-on-his-luck boxer greenlit and onto the big screen.
In 1976, a low-budget movie written by an unknown actor was released, inspiring audiences around the world. Rocky became the ultimate underdog film. More than 40 years later, Stallone recounts the making of the beloved classic through rare home movies provided by director John G. Avildsen and Production Manager Lloyd Kaufman.
Stallone pitched the idea of the film to director Derek Wayne Johnson and producer Chris May after a private screening of their documentary John G. Avildsen: King of the Underdogs, in which Stallone also is featured. The documentary features behind-the-scenes footage that Oscar-winning director John G. Avildsen shot, as well as never-before-seen footage found in “Rocky” production manager and Troma Entertainment president Lloyd Kaufman’s basement nearly 40 years after it was filmed.
An act of kindness had a ripple effect in Tyler Gildin’s family, and he chronicled it in his first feature documentary The Starfish, available now on digital HD from Virgil Films.
The title refers to a parable about a boy on the beach who throws a starfish into the ocean to help it escape the burning sun as the tide goes out. When a man tells him there are so many starfish that he can’t make a difference, he replies, “I made a difference for that one.”
Gildin’s grandfather Herb retold the parable in 2001 when he reunited with a family in Sweden 60 years after staying with them as a refugee German-Jewish boy. During Nazi persecution in 1938, Herb’s parents sent him and his two older sisters to live with non-Jewish families in Sweden. After living in Sweden for two years, the trio made a frightening and chilling journey to be reunited with their parents as refugees in America.
“Ultimately it’s a feel-good story,” Gildin said. “It’s a story of connection and it’s a story of resilience. My grandfather was given a bad hand at first, but he was so fortunate to be ultimately able to succeed.”
Herb went on to build a successful lighting business in America, not speaking much of his early years or his Swedish family. After hearing of the siblings’ ordeal in Herb’s eulogy for his sister Cele, Tyler decided to tell their story — and to interview his grandfather.
“I was surprised at how forthcoming he was,” said Gildin, who also interviewed his grandfather’s nieces, whose mothers had made that fateful journey with Herb.
“Getting a full story from perspectives of all three children was just really interesting,” he said. “As much as this is my grandfather’s story, it’s also their story as well, so I thought that was important — to let them speak for their parents who are not around to speak for themselves.”
After refuge in Sweden, the journey to America was particularly grueling as, instead of traveling through Europe, the trio crossed Russia and the Pacific.
“Because of the war, I guess they were scared to go across Europe,” said Gildin. “I mean you would think to go the other way to come to the East Coast, it should be significantly easier, but for whatever reason, this was the route that I believe HIAS [the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society] guided them on. This is what they were told was the best, safest way, but took the longest.”
The director used illustrations to portray the fear of the journey, with silhouettes evoking the inner turmoil of the trio. He also gathered archival footage and family photos, as well as photos from the Swedes who had sheltered his grandfather.
“The Swedish families in their attic kept all these photos,” he said.
The director had not been to the reunion in Sweden in 2001 because he was at a summer camp where, strangely enough, campers often heard the story of “The Starfish.” Luckily, two relatives had recorded Herb’s speech on VHS, used in the documentary.
“When I saw him tell that speech I got goosebumps,” Gildin said. “Who knows? I could have been told that story at the exact same moment, halfway across the world. When I saw that footage, I immediately knew I wanted to title the film The Starfish, and I wanted to bookend it with that speech.”
The music drama Broken Poet will come out on digital HD May 15 from Virgil Films and Entertainment exclusively through music site Backstreets.com.
The site boasts a large fan base for Bruce Springsteen, who has a cameo in the film.
“On Broken Poet we are experimenting with going direct to the actual fan base, releasing before the national release,” said Virgil president and CEO Joe Amodei. “Backstreets.com is the go-to for every Springsteen fan, so we were lucky to get to work with them on the release and offer the exclusive.”
The film will have a wider digital release in the summer.
Broken Poet is the story of the 1970s rock star Jake Lion, who is presumed dead in Paris until a former roadie happens to be riding in the Paris Metro 40 years after his much-publicized suicide and hears an aged street musician who sounds just like him. Rolling Stone sends a rock journalist to investigate, and she uncovered something unexpected.
The documentary Code Blue, about improving the medical system, will come out on digital HD May 26 and DVD June 9 from Virgil Films.
Through the lens of filmmaker Marcia Machado, Code Blue reveals lapses in the current state of medicine and provides a common-sense solution by featuring the practice of lifestyle medicine to prevent, manage and reverse chronic diseases. Seven of the top 10 causes of death in America are chronic diseases, two of which, heart disease and cancer, account for nearly 50% of all deaths. U.S. health care costs are approaching $3 trillion per year with 86% of these dollars utilized to manage chronic illness. Peer reviewed medical studies illustrate amending lifestyle behaviors, including diet, physical activity, cigarette smoking and body weight, can prevent nearly 80% of chronic diseases.
The film presents the hurdles faced to the proposed shift: antiquated curricula in medical schools, confusion in the media, inadequate government policies, and the underlying influences of the pharmaceutical and food industries.
Code Blue follows a passionate physician, Dr. Saray Stancic, as she reflects upon her journey from a multiple sclerosis diagnosis to wellness through her own adoption of lifestyle medicine. Dr. Stancic introduces viewers to expert physicians and scientists who are paving the way to make change in our healthcare environment.
The documentary The Starfish will come out on digital HD May 5 from Virgil Films.
The Starfish is the true story of a German-Jewish boy whose life was forever altered at the age of 10, when his parents sent him and his two older sisters to live with non-Jewish families in Sweden to escape Nazi persecution. After living in Sweden for two years, Herb Gildin and his sisters journeyed across Russia and the Pacific to be reunited with their parents as refugees in America.
Focused on building his lighting business rather than dwelling on the past, decades went by before Herb told his wife and children about his childhood, resulting in one last journey back to Sweden to attempt to reunite with the remaining family members who had taken him in 60 years earlier.
Sight & Sound Theatres’ Jesus, filmed in front of a live audience, will come out on digital HD and DVD May 15 from Virgil Films and Entertainment.
The musical stage show takes audiences on a journey alongside the most famous person ever to walk the earth and the everyday people whose lives he changed forever. Peter, Nicodemus, Mary Magdalene and a multitude of others journey alongside Jesus from the bustling streets of Jerusalem to the raging Sea of Galilee.
The production portrays miraculous events as Jesus sets sail with fishermen and makes disciples out of the least expected.
William DeMeo went back to his roots for “Gravesend,” a four-episode series streaming now on Amazon Prime and distributed by Virgil Films.
He wanted to recall his neighborhood in the 1980s — the music, the cars, the people and the mob.
Though he toyed with the title “The Neighborhood,” the writer, director, star and executive producer settled on the name of his hometown.
“Gravesend is a section in Brooklyn where I grew up where a lot of these mobsters come from,” he said. “The name was pretty cool, too, because in the life of the mafia, the grave is usually the end of the road.”
Having acted in such productions as A Bronx Tale, “The Sopranos” and Gotti, DeMeo is no stranger to mafia stories, and Brooklyn in the 1980s was teaming with them.
“I can name 20 mobsters off the top of my head, very well-known mafia figures, who all came from this area, and they were all around and there was a lot of testosterone around,” he said. “The younger guys coming up wanted to prove something. They were some really dangerous, uncertain times. If you crossed certain people, there was a problem.”
In “Gravesend,” DeMeo plays Benny Zerletta, a young soldier in the Colezzo crime family circa 1986, who is conflicted, but entangled in the life — much like Tony Soprano in “The Sopranos.” (DeMeo starred as one of Paulie Walnuts’ crew, Jason Molinaro, in “The Sopranos.”) One similarity between the two series is that Soprano has a confidant in his therapist, and Zerletta talks over his problems with the statue of St. Anthony. But DeMeo stressed that “Gravesend” mostly just shares the same genre.
“There’s Westerns, there’s movies about law enforcement. You can’t change the genre, so you try to come up with different scenarios and circumstances,” he said. “’Sopranos’ was New Jersey, and with all respect to Jersey, Brooklyn is Brooklyn.”
DeMeo said he chose to wear multiple hats for the series because he wanted control over a story so close to him.
“You know, it’s my neighborhood. It’s my story. It’s where I grew up,” he said. “All of those characters and the things that happened back then are very realistic to the way it really was. There are people that are very similar to these characters. This is the way it really was. The actions and the clothes and the music and the neighborhood, the people on the streets, the kids getting ice cream, the people outside of Coney Island, all of that, with the diners and the testosterone level. Literally, it was a dangerous place to be.”
“Gravesend” also explores a different time period than the HBO saga.
“The reason I picked the ‘80s was because it was the heyday of the mafia,” he said. “If you think of ‘The Sopranos’ — which was a show that I was on — it started in like 2000, and it showed how the mob was depleted and that they were meeting in malls and that they were kinda hiding out more as opposed to the ‘80s, the John Gotti era. Guys were more out in the open, and there was more stuff happening. There were a lot of killings going on in the ‘80s. Paul Castellano got killed in the middle of Manhattan at Sparks Steak House. The ‘80s is a time where you can show more of them in the streets. They were very powerful in the ‘80s.”
It was also a time with distinctive tunes, and the music was a big part of setting the time period in “Gravesend,” with scenes at bars and dance clubs. It’s a soundtrack not often used in a mafia story, he noted.
“When you think about mafia movies, or just in general the Italian mob, you think of the Scorsese type of music, and it seems most of the time they’ll go with like the Rolling Stones or they’ll go with Italian music like Dean Martin,” he said. “I felt like that music that we listened to then back then, the freestyle music and stuff like that, that’s what we listened to. That was very popular music in the clubs and when you were driving in your car.”
The rides also helped evoke the setting and time period. As a car enthusiast himself, DeMeo was able to get his hands on some classics, including his own Buick Grand National.
Connections among New York actors helped him build a veteran ensemble cast, including Louis Lombardi (“The Sopranos,” “24,” “Entourage,” The Usual Suspects), James Russo (Django Unchained, Donnie Brasco, The Deuce), Paul Ben-Victor (The Irishman, “Santa Clarita Diet,” “Vinyl”) and Nick Turturro (BlacKkKlansman, World Trade Center).
“I have relationships with a lot of those actors,” he said. “You don’t have to second guess these guys. You know they’re gonna deliver. I don’t have to worry that they’re gonna come off as Hollywood guys. They’re New York actors most of them. They get it.”
During one scene in the series that takes place in the pizzeria made famous by John Travolta in the Brooklyn-set Saturday Night Fever, Benny muses over his favorite Italian actors. As for DeMeo himself, Travolta, a personal friend he bonded with on Gotti, is his favorite. “I’m a huge Saturday Night Fever fan, so I love him,” he said. “But [Al] Pacino, who doesn’t love Pacino, and I worked with Robert De Niro in Analyze That. Robert De Niro discovered me from A Bronx Tale. [Sylvester] Stallone. To me, that’s the four.”
Each of the four episodes of “Gravesend” culminates in a cliffhanger, including the last, and DeMeo hopes to get back into production in the next six months to satisfy the fans — barring any continued stoppage due to the pandemic.
“I have thousands and thousands of messages through my social media asking, ‘What happened, when is there going to be more?’” he said.
This documentary uncovers the race, class and political forces behind an educational scandal in Atlanta that many of us may remember, but probably did not fully understand.
In 2009, 1,176 Atlanta teachers were investigated for test cheating; 35 were indicted, 12 went to trial and 11 were found guilty on RICO charges, which are typically reserved for the mafia and drug lords. The guilty, serving 30-year sentences, break their silence in this film that uncovers the more complicated story of what happened. It takes a closer look at the legislation called No Child Left Behind, the politics behind it, and a race and power struggle that forced schools to face sometimes insurmountable challenges. Pressure on schools to solve complicated problems of social inequality came to a head in the No Child policy, which punished teachers, administrators and school districts for meeting performance metrics that weren’t entirely within their control.
That’s not to say the film whitewashes misbehavior; it just puts it in context.
Director Jodi Gomes brings the accused, the whistleblowers, the cheaters and the innocent together to shed light on the forces at work in education. Viewers will leave the film wondering if guilt had been properly assigned.