Tag: Documentary

‘The Killing of America’: Director Sheldon Renan Discusses U.S. Release of Ominous Documentary

killingofamericaWhen they asked Sheldon Renan to watch The Killing of America at a recent film festival, it was the first time the director had seen the film he had worked on since it was released thirty-five years ago. Afterwards, Renan remarked how amazed he was at how well the film played more than three decades later and how relevant its message still was in 21st century America.

Originally produced in 1981, Renan, along with co-producers Leonard Schrader and Matachiro Yamamoto set out to document America’s seemingly unending love affair with violence. From iconic newsreel footage to chilling interviews with convicted killers, Renan and his team sought to depict a terrifying aspect of Reagan-era America through a brutally honest lens. Despite some limited theatrical showings, the documentary has never received an official American release, until now.

The Killing of America is told in narrative style. Describing horrifically tragic events of the last half-century with pinpoint accuracy and chilling realism. But perhaps more than anything else, the film is an ominous reminder that social, economic and racial injustice as well as the proliferation of personal firearms has not abated in the thirty-five years since the documentary’s creation.

I recently spoke with Renan about The Killing of America and more in this exclusive interview.

How did you become involved in The Killing of America project?

I had done a lot of heavy research in the world of homicide and gun culture in preparation for a script I was working on when I met Leonard Schrader and Matachiro Yamamoto. They wanted to use the film Faces of Death as a springboard for this new project they were working on about homicide and violence. They were looking to put together a team of young filmmakers that were very ambitions and loved films, but they were having trouble finding clips. I had come out of the film archivist world and put together some clips for them. It was exactly what they were looking for and they asked me if I could help them.

What was the initial reaction like to the film when it premiered and why has it never received a proper U.S. release until now?

The film was initially made to be released in the fall in Japan. It was the seventh highest grosser there that year as well as a hit in a number of other countries. The company that bought the rights to distribute the film in America did a preview for coming attractions, but a high ranking official thought it was taboo and would terrify people. I even remember at the cast and crew screening about a third of the people walked out.

Aside from the fashion and vintage cars, the documentary looks like something you’d see on the news today.

Although it looks like a documentary, nothing is fake or has been rigged. The only change is that the sound has been enhanced in some places. Len’s writing is incredible and Chuck Riley’s voice in the narration could cut through metal. He was telling a complete story. A narrative arc about the subject. By the end, you’re inside the mind of killers, which isn’t very comfortable.

What are some of the parallels you see today as compared to when the film was made?

It’s the same pattern. The main thing is that the person pulling the trigger is usually someone who has a very bad sense of self-esteem. I remember the L.A. coroner telling us that it comes down to the person deciding whether to kill themselves or someone else. When you’re unhappy about something in yourself, you tend to project that flaw onto other people.

What have you learned about us as a society by making this film and seeing it again thirty-five years later?

You observe that if you don’t treat people well or if they’re not raised well and given structure and self-esteem, you’re going to pay for it later in a very bad way. You also can’t let emotion rule you because the long-term effects can be enormously devastating. The third thing is that people have to have the right to have access to and have guns as it says in the Constitution–but not one that can punch a hole in a tank and not without background checks.

Is there a message you think viewers should take away from watching The Killing of America?

If you’ve had a lot of violence in your life this is a film you shouldn’t see or show to your kids, as you’ll find it very upsetting. Early on, the coroner’s office allowed us to film and the day we were there L.A. was in the middle of a crime wave and they were running six autopsy tables at one time. This is a complex phenomenon and something you can’t run away from. This film is one step in thinking about and understanding violence and how epidemic it is in American culture and recognizing that you cannot escape the connection between it and the easy availability of guns. People also need to be careful about this loose talk about destroying our infrastructure because you don’t like one party, candidate or president. Because what lies on the other side is nothing we want to go back to.

Filmmaker Angelo Lobo Discusses New Documentary: “Romeo Misses A Payment”

Romeo MovieFilmmaker and father Angelo Lobo exposes the devastating effects of the American divorce industry in his amazing new documentary, “Romeo Misses A Payment.”

Through interviews with parents, attorneys, judges, and other law officials on all sides of the issue, the film explores the complicated world of divorce and child custody through interviews with common folks; some perhaps even like people you already know who believe they’ve become just a number and not a name.

“Romeo Misses A Payment” is controversial, insightful and at times heartbreaking. But through all of its harshness, Lobo’s film encourages us by showing that there is hope. “Romeo Misses A Payment” is a must-see documentary for both parents and other concerned citizens.

I spoke with Lobo about “Romeo Misses A Payment” and what we can do to help raise awareness about what’s going on in our court systems.

What inspired you to make this documentary?

My story is similar to all of the millions of other ones about non-custodial parents. It got to a point to where I just wanted to take the pain and emotion that I was feeling at the time and turn it into a positive to help other people. I started thinking about the power of video and knew that if I could show some of these emotions and touch on what people were actually feeling, then maybe people would start a discussion.

The problem is, no one really wants to talk about it; or if they do they automatically feel that the non-custodial parent is somehow a “bad” person. Saying things like “What did you do wrong?” or “You must not be paying” or “You’re not a good person” when most of the time, that’s not the case. A lot of the time you have normal, everyday people who are feeling tremendous pain and heartache and aren’t able to talk to anyone because the climate has been built against the non-custodial parent to make them feel like they’re not a good person.

How long did the film take to complete?

I started the project back in 2006. I bought a camera and just started going around to courthouses and filming. I just wanted to get as much footage as I could and interview as many people as possible. And it was the same heartache story: “I can’t see my kids”, I’ve got to pay this…” The judge ordered this..” It started to get overwhelming. That was when the parent organizations found out about what we were doing and came to us and said, “You know, we’ve been trying to do something like this for the past 15 years.”  And before long, people started emailing and calling. Doing whatever they could to send us in the right direction.


Did you find that a lot of the people you interviewed were eager to discuss their situations?

I think when a non-custodial parent finds someone who’s willing to listen and can relate to what they’re saying, it’s almost a relief that they can talk about it. That’s what we found. People were sharing with their hearts what was happening, and that in turn helped us move forward with the movie.

Was there a reason you chose some of the cities you visited? Like Dallas, Texas for example.

At the time, Dallas had one of the highest rates of incarceration for a failure to pay child support. That’s what brought us there at that time. The worst part was that these were average citizens who, because they weren’t able to pay $2000, were being put in jail with rapists and murderers. It was hard to believe that it was happening. How is the system helping parents by doing this?

Did you ever risk being arrested yourself during the course of making the film?

In a few interviews we were escorted out once they found out some of the questions we were asking, but the goal was the same. We had to keep moving and bring awareness to this and realize that one court document can ruin an entire family. I’m not saying that the courts aren’t trying to do their best. The fact is, they’re overwhelmed with a lot of cases.

Filmmaker Angelo Lobo
Filmmaker Angelo Lobo

What would you like people who are going through this issue to take away from watching this film?

I want them to realize that they’re not alone. There are other people out there who are going through the same issue, but there’s hope. We’ve got a great resource page on our website where you can reach out to organizations close to home. Stop and take a couple of deep breaths and know that you’re going to be ok, and your kids are going to be ok too. Just being able to talk to someone and not holding in the pain is a step in the right direction.

What do you think are some of the things we can do to solve this issue?

I think we really need to look at the laws that are in place. It’s a non-partisan issue so let’s have the legislatures really look at it and determine what the best interests are not only for the country, but for the children who grow up in it. Right now there are a lot of bills out there, but I think we should focus on the education end and maybe teach people who want to get married that certain things could happen down the road. Make sure that they’re really ready and also how to be good parents. Things that can benefit them before a disaster. Look at ways to strengthen things to create a better home for children. My hope is that this film will bring about that dialogue.

For more information on Romeo Misses A Payment
Check out the Official Website