American Music

(Feature Music Documentary, Work in Progress)

The textbook American cult band of the 1980s, the Violent Femmes captured the essence of teen angst with remarkable precision; raw and jittery, the trio’s music found little commercial success but nonetheless emerged as the soundtrack for the lives of troubled adolescents the world over. The group formed in the early ’80s, and comprised singer/guitarist Gordon Gano, bassist Brian Ritchie, and percussionist Victor DeLorenzo.

After being discovered by the Pretenders’ James Honeyman-Scott, the Violent Femmes signed to Slash and issued their self-titled 1983 debut, a melodic folk-punk collection which struck an obvious chord with young listeners who felt a strong connection to bitter, frustrated songs like “Blister in the Sun,” “Kiss Off,” and “Add It Up.” The album remained a rite of passage for succeeding generations of teen outsiders, and after close to a decade in release, it finally achieved platinum status.

“American Music” is a warts-and-all exploration of the bands history, including all the of music and the turmoil. For instance, Gordon Gano and bassist Brian Ritchie have navigated lawsuits over the use of their iconic punk masterpiece, “Blister In the Sun”, after Gano licensed the song for use in a Wendy’s TV commercial. Other infighting has also plagued the band in recent years, including the departure of original drummer Victor DeLorenzo not once, but twice.

From idealistic youth to extended layoff, the Violent Femmes have navigated some significant obstacles along the way to alternative rock icons. “American Music” will take us through it all.

For a treatment on this project click here.

Directed by Tim Irwin & Manny Marquez

Produced by Jeremy Coon

Edited by Barry Poltermann

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The Blood is at the Doorstep

(Documentary Feature, 2017, Premiere SXSW)

The policeman who killed Milwaukee resident Dontre Hamilton in April 2014, in a public park in the middle of the day, shot him 14 times. He wasn’t the first cop to approach Hamilton as he dozed in the downtown park — others had been there and seen that he was doing nothing wrong. Why an employee at a nearby Starbucks saw the need to call the police about him, and not once but twice, is one of the sorriest aspects in the horrific chain of events that robbed Hamilton’s family of their son and brother. The 31-year-old black man was schizophrenic and, except for the baton that he reportedly grabbed from the officer, unarmed.

Ljung’s clear-eyed film finds hope within terrible circumstances, and strength within heartbreak. Given the continued unfortunate timeliness of the subject, the doc would certainly find an audience in a wider platform beyond the fest circuit.

Opening with a James Baldwin quote and ending with riots in Milwaukee over another police-involved shooting, Ljung’s film illuminates an American crisis — the emotional fallout as well as the vigilance and hard work required to address the use of lethal force by police, their accountability, and the need for better training in dealing with mentally ill people. In Nate Jr. and Maria Hamilton, he shows that vigilance in action, heartbroken but unwavering.

— Sheri Linden, The Hollywood Reporter


Directed by Erik Ljung

Edited by Michael Vollmann

Trailer Editor: Matt Prekop

Executive Producer Barry Poltermann

Official Site

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After the Apocalypse

(Feature Documentary, Work in Progress)

On the murky brown river that runs from Pagsanjan Falls in the Philippines there is a particular bend. Every few minutes, boatloads of tourists paddle noisily by in plastic canoes, but no one takes any notice of this spot, and it’s not hard to see why. There is nothing here but a small tourist office, a few grimy resort villas and a stray yellow dog stretching in the sun.

You’d be excused for thinking the most exciting thing ever to happen here would be the rancor of disappointed package tourists demanding their money back. But you’d be wrong. Rewind about 30 years and this unremarkable river bend was the center of the cinematic world, engulfed in the explosive, sky-scorching finale of one of the most expensive, traumatic and spectacular film productions ever attempted.

At the Cannes Film Festival premiere of “Apocalypse Now”, director Francis Coppola says “‘My film is not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam. The way we made it is the way Americans were in Vietnam. We had too much money, too much equipment and little by little we went insane.” This quote is the jumping off point for the classic documentary “Hearts of Darkness”, an exploration of the making of the film from the perspective of the American crew.

But did the Filipino’s involved with the making of “Apocalypse Now” also see the making of the movie as similar to the Vietnam War? Did they feel that Coppola took an occupying force, also known as a film crew, and used the land and people for his own personal agenda?

Or was the making of “Apocalypse Now” the greatest thing that ever happened to this remote region?

Since 2016 marks the 40th anniversary of the filming of “Apocalypse Now,” we decided it was the right time to go back to the Phillipines and discover through the villagers, business people, filmmakers, expats and tribe members that lived the experience, what it was like to be a Filipino on the 14 month production. And what has happened since

Humorous and offbeat, “After the Apocalypse” will be rife with local color and characters… as we learn about the rumored growth of the sex trade in Pagsanjan due to prostitutes employed by the film’s crew. The birth of the Filipino surf culture that developed out of the filming of the “Charlie’s Point,” scene. The “Apocalypse Curse,” leveled upon the filmmakers due to rumors that real dead bodies were used in certain scenes, and the crew hired grave robbers to provide these bodies.

And through all of this, we witness the birth, collapse and re-birth of the Filipino film production culture, which first grew out of ‘Apocalypse Now’, and then was nearly destroyed by it.

We have all seen “Apocalypse Now.” Now we will see what happened “After the Apocalypse”.

A September Club Production

Director: Manny Marquez

Producer: Barry Poltermann

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Art of the Steal

(Documentary Feature, 2009)

An exploration of one of the art world’s most fascinating controversies and the struggle for control of Dr. Albert C. Barnes’ $25 billion private collection of modern and post-impressionist art.

In 1922, Dr. Albert C. Barnes created The Barnes Foundation in Lower Merion Pennsylvania, five miles outside of Philadelphia. He formed this remarkable collection of Post-Impressionist and early Modern art to serve as an educational institution. Dr. Barnes built his Foundation away from the city and cultural elite who scorned his collection as “horrible, debased art,” and set it on the grounds of his own home, an arboretum in the leafy suburbs.

Tastes changed, and soon the very people who belittled Barnes wanted access to his collection.

When Dr. Barnes died in a car accident in 1951, he left control of his collection to Lincoln University, a small African-American college. His will contained strict instructions, stating the Foundation shall always be an educational institution, and the paintings may never be removed. Such strict limitations made the collection safe from commercial exploitation.

But was it really safe? More than fifty years later, a powerful group of moneyed interests have gone to court to take the art – recently valued at more than $25 billion – and bring it to a new museum in Philadelphia. Standing in their way is a group of former students who are trying to block the move.

Will the students succeed, or will a man’s will be broken and one of America’s greatest cultural monuments be destroyed?

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Rock The Bells

(Documentary Feature, 2006, Premiere TRIBECA)

Personifying the fierce independence and do-it-yourself spirit of the Hip Hop movement, festival producer Chang Weisberg puts everything on the line for his impossible dream of reuniting notorious no-shows The Wu-Tang Clan.

In July 2004, concert promoter Chang Weisberg organized a hip-hop festival in San Bernardino, California, headlined by the reunited Wu-Tang Clan, the legendary supergroup infamous for its no-shows on tour. The RZA, the GZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon the Chef, U-God, Ghostface Killah, and Method Man, plus unofficial member Cappadonna: It was a gathering of the gods, nearly as inconceivable as a set by the Beatles, including the dead ones. Corralling every member of this supremely unreliable crew onto the same stage at the same time was challenge enough; nailing down Big Baby Jesus qualified as a superhuman achievement even before the notoriously unpredictable MC holed up in his hotel room, immobilized on crack.

Whether Ol’ Dirty can get his shizat together long enough to rock the mic (or just stand up without help) is the least of Weisberg’s problems in Rock the Bells, an electrifying, occasionally terrifying documentary by filmmakers Denis Henry Hennelly and Casey Suchan. Condensed from 200 hours of fly-on-the-wall footage, it follows the event from (naive) planning to (inadequate) preparation, to (sloppy) execution, to imminent disaster as thousands of frustrated Wu fans threaten to riot. Think Dave Chappelle’s Block Party booked on United 93.

Kicking off with a behind-the-scenes glimpse of nuts-and-bolts concert promotion, Rock the Bells(co-produced by Weisberg) initially appears to be of little interest to anyone but hip-hop nerds seeking dope organizational strategies. Hang the posters like that, yo! On the legal tip, Weisberg dons his best XXXL T-shirt to reassure the authorities that a large gathering of hip-hop fans does not necessarily entail obscene quantities of weed. There’s a charming mom-and-pop quality to his company, Guerilla Union, whose staff consists of a feverishly multitasking honey named Carla Garcia and a bug-eyed stress case named Brian Valdez. They’ve got passion out the ass, which is super-nice for them, and a lot of phone calls to make, which is rather dull for us. Talking-head interviews with select Wu keep the momentum going, as Rock the Bells heads toward the big day—and into the pantheon of classic concert docs.


A Gather Films / September Club Production

Produced, Edited & Directed by Denis Henry Hennelly & Casey Suchan

Executive Producers: Barry Poltermann & John Lyons Murphy

Editorial / Story Consultant: Barry Poltermann

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Mad Hot Ballroom

(Documentary Feature, 2005)

Eleven-year-old New York City public school kids journey into the world of ballroom dancing and reveal pieces of themselves and their world along the way. Told from their candid, sometimes hilarious perspectives, these kids are transformed, from reluctant participants to determined competitors.

This engaging film combines the warm charm of Spellbound with the kinetic energy of Strictly Ballroom. It will make you want to laugh, cry and do a little dancing yourself, maybe all at the same time.

Mad Hot Ballroom focuses on an annual citywide competition that encompasses the program’s five dances: fox-trot, merengue, rumba, tango and swing. The action, directed by Marilyn Agrelo, cuts back and forth between three public schools in different parts of the city. The film culminates in an emotional dance-off for the enormous trophy that goes to New York’s number one dance team.

The film’s fourth- and fifth-graders, still a few years from the mad hormones of adolescence, seem hardly likely to embrace the physical touch and constant eye contact ballroom dancing demands. But the wonder of Mad Hot Ballroom is that these kids embrace dance and even get to love it. `It’s like a sport that hasn’t been invented yet,’ one boy enthuses about ballroom’s so old it’s new charms.

These dancers get all but addicted to the chance to do something well and feel good about themselves in the process. And because they are so young, not old enough to dissemble and hide their feelings behind bland facial expressions, their disappointments and their joy are easy for us to read and to share in.

As the film progresses, we can literally see these young people start to feel better about themselves as their dancing skills improve. When one teacher says, between tears, `I see them turning into these ladies and gentlemen,’ you know what she’s crying about. Though the kids who don’t do well in the citywide contest often end up in tears themselves, the film makes you believe they are all winners. They just don’t see it yet.

Kenneth Turan, NPR

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