Why Did You Kill Me?

(Feature Documentary, Netflix, 2021)

A mother pledges to find the people who killed her daughter, and uses MySpace to do so. Why Did You Kill Me? is all about the tireless efforts of Belinda Lane, who stopped at nothing to get justice.

The documentary tells the story of Crystal Theobald and her mother. Crystal was killed by gang members in 2006. After her death, Crystal’s mother used social networking site MySpace to investigate the people she believed were responsible, resulting in reverberations for multiple families.

Directed by: Frederick Munk

Produced by: Julian Cautherley, Lucy Walker

Edited by: Barry Poltermann & Matt Prekop

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Murder Among the Mormons

(Docu-Series, Netflix, 2021)

Murder Among the Mormons documents one of the most shocking crimes to have ever taken place among the Mormon community and the criminal mastermind behind it all.

The three-part docuseries takes a look at what happened in Salt Lake City in 1985, when a series of pipe bombs killed two people and severely injured another, jolting the epicenter of the LDS Church. The murders sent further shockwaves through the community when a trove of early Mormon letters and diaries were found destroyed in the vehicle of the third victim, Mark Hofmann, a renowned collector of rare documents, including the infamous White Salamander Letter — an artifact whose contents threatened to shake the very foundations of Mormonism. As Hofmann fought for his life, investigators raced to uncover the truth.

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The Last Blockbuster

(Feature Documentary, Netflix, 2021)

There weren’t cameras around to document the closing of the last buggy-whip store, but that’s the sensation one gets watching “The Last Blockbuster.”

This new documentary is about more than just nostalgia, however, coming as movie theaters — closed by the pandemic — face their own existential threat and wrenching changes, in ways that seemingly echo the demise of the video-rental chain. In that sense, the film proves timely in its warning about how a brave new digital world can claim casualties in terms of existing businesses and social interaction.

Filmmakers Taylor Morden and Zeke Kamm tell the story somewhat whimsically, in part through the last remaining Blockbuster store in Bend, Oregon, whose manager, Sandi Harding, has fought to stay afloat while larger trends and economic forces consume those around it. The store’s emergence as a media novelty and even tourist attraction is the micro half of this larger, macro story.

Inevitably, the film must include the rise and fall of Blockbuster, as told in part through the eyes of media figures who actually worked in the stores, among them director Kevin Smith, who immortalized those times in the movie “Clerks.”

Still, the business half of the story is equally fascinating, as the presumption that Blockbuster was simply killed off by Netflix, shifting habits and new technology is presented as a simplistic version of events.

Kevin Smith in the documentary 'The Last Blockbuster.'

Kevin Smith in the documentary ‘The Last Blockbuster.’

As detailed here, the chain’s downfall owed as much to corporate greed, misguided decision-making (like an ill-advised “No late fees” campaign) and the 2008 financial crisis, which dried up Blockbuster’s liquidity at just the moment when resources were needed to grow and evolve its business.

–Bryan Lowry, CNN


Editor: Tim Skousen

Story Supervisor: Barry Poltermann

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(Branded Feature Documentary Feature, 2020, Client: WP Engine)

From the heyday of TV advertising, to the dawn of the Internet, to the rise of the digital experience, make|SHIFT explores the art and science behind the advertising industry’s 20+ year evolution.

See how creative technologies drove a shift from pushing messages through TV, radio, print and outdoor ads to delivering increasingly engaging, immersive and valuable digital experiences to consumers. While some advertisers struggled to evolve, a brave new generation grasped the possibilities—both creative and strategic—and harnessed these fast-changing technologies to enhance their creativity, test new business models and press ahead.


makeSHIFT is a story about the agencies and makers behind the brands. Our team interviewed a range of leaders from developers to designers to creative directors to founders at some of the most innovative agencies in the world, both small and large, digital and traditional.

The film takes an inside look at how these makers and agencies have shifted and re-shifted their skillsets, creativity and businesses, as new creative technologies emerged, declined, and were replaced by the next technology in an endless cycle of change. makeSHIFT shines light on this beautifully frustrating pattern, and celebrates the makers that have embraced the shift and thrived.

Agency/Co-Production: Hey Let’s Go

Director: Casey Suchan

Co-Director: Tim Cawley

Editor: Matt Prekop

Executive Producers: Barry Poltermann & Jeremy Coon

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(Feature Documentary, Tribeca Film Festival 2020)

In 2001, the band System Of A Down partnered with music producer Rick Rubin to record their sophomore album. Against all odds, and during one of the most painful and precarious months in American history, the album Toxicityskyrocketed up the Billboard chart and catapulted to Number One. But just as System Of A Down achieved their commercial triumph, in a post-9/11 world their politically-charged lyrics were suddenly the subject of scrutiny; they were thrust into headlines, and their songs were pulled off the radio. The band’s global fanbase saw in frontman Serj Tankian a spokesperson for their disillusionment. Tankian had always been outspoken and political, both on stage and off, but when he found his message inspiring a popular movement on the other side of the world, he began to realize that his music was more revolutionary than even he could imagine.

The film follows Tankian down an unexpected path as his passion for human rights and activism led him to become a social justice organizer in Armenia. Fueled by interviews with the band, their producers, and fellow rock icons, Truth To Power is both an energizing rockumentary and an inspiring call to action for our turbulent times.

Editor: Michael Vollmannn

Story Supervisor: Barry Poltermann


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(Feature Documentary, Premiere Sundance Film Festival 2020)

Flying high above Los Angeles in a whirling news helicopter, Marika Gerrard and Zoey Tur (known then as Bob) captured some of the city’s most epic breaking news stories. The two recount the salacious details of their career as a husband-and-wife journalist team doing whatever it took to catch an unfolding story. Their camera captured the extreme adrenaline of the culture of live news and, as a result, the strain it took on their relationship—and, ultimately, a major life transition for Zoey. A wholly unique take on the story of Los Angeles told through stunning aerial footage and remarkable home videos, Whirlybird reframes many of the city’s pivotal moments of the 1990s, including the O. J. Simpson pursuit and the 1992 riots.

In Matt Yoka’s sprawling debut feature, he deftly mirrors the peaks and valleys of one unique American family to the city of Los Angeles, showcasing their parallel growing pains and their search for a sense of self. Whirlybird is a completely original and intricately woven tapestry that reveals the agony and the ecstasy of breaking news.

Director and Co-Editor: Matt Yoka

Editor: Brian Palmer

Story Supervisor: Barry Poltermann

Additional Editor: Erin Elders

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Boys State

(Feature Documentary, Winner SUNDANCE Grand Prize 2020)

Strap up your saddle and get ready for a wild ride. Boys State is a political coming-of-age story, examining the health of American democracy through an unusual experiment: a thousand 17-year-old boys from across the state of Texas gather together to build a representative government from the ground up. High-minded ideals collide with low-down dirty tricks as four boys of diverse backgrounds and political views navigate the challenges of organizing political parties, shaping consensus, and campaigning for the highest office at Texas Boys State—governor.

Documenting impeachment threats, dramatic debates, underdog victories, and even nefarious internet memes, filmmakers Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine (The Overnighters, 2014 Sundance Film Festival) chart the dramatic twists and turns of these intersecting stories to reveal profound truths about our political choices and civic obligations and to remind us, ultimately, that democracy is not a spectator sport. With cunning insight that will have audiences buzzing, Boys State holds a mirror up to our divided country. This is a film for the ages in every sense of the term.

Edited by Jeff Gilbert

Co-Editor: Michael Vollmann


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(Documentary Feature, Premiere Austin Film Festival, 2019)

The Animal People, executive produced by Joaquin Phoenix, follows a group of six activists from the United States arm of British animal-rights group Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) who were surveilled by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and ultimately indicted as domestic terrorists for leading protests against Huntingdon Life Sciences, a major animal-testing company. The FBI used its surveillance of the activists as a model for targeting later movements such as Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter. Prior to the activists’ indictments, the US Congress rewrote laws to bend to corporate pressure, potentially weakening the free-speech rights of all Americans.

“This film is about much more than just this case,” Phoenix said. “It’s about fundamental questions concerning free speech, social change, and corporate power that have never been more urgently relevant in our world.” The Animal People features interviews with the six activists spanning more than a decade and aims to illustrate the result of activism being classified as terrorism when insitutions of power are involve

Director: Casey Suchan

Editors: Sasha Perry and Brian Palmer

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I Am Not Alone

(Feature Documentary, Winner Audience Award, TIFF 2019)

The 2018 Armenian revolution fuels Garin Hovannisian’s gripping documentary about a modern-day political power struggle and the citizen activists who refused to accept it.

This galvanizing chronicle of the 2018 Armenian revolution combines gripping front-line reportage with new interviews that describe incidents the cameras could not capture. Hugely informative, briskly paced, and offering a laudable balance of perspectives, I Am Not Alone is a feat of nonfiction storytelling and a must-see for anyone eager to make sense of recent history.

In March of last year, after changing the constitution to bestow new powers upon the Prime Minister, the Republican Party declared that it would allow Serzh Sargsyan to continue his dominion over the Republic of Armenia as PM, despite having already served his maximum two terms as President. Nikol Pashinyan, Member of Parliament and head of the Civil Contract Party — and also a former journalist who had already served a year in prison for inciting public disorder in rallying people against Sargsyan’s rule — wasted no time in responding to the news.

He led a two-week march from Gyumri to Yerevan’s Liberty Square. It would prove to be but the first in a series of daring demonstrations of resistance, including the storming of the national broadcaster and numerous clashes between demonstrators and police.Helmed by Garin Hovannisian (codirector of 1915, which re-examines the Armenian genocide), I Am Not Alone extracts fascinating commentaries from an array of individuals on both sides, including Pashinyan and, most surprisingly, Sargsyan. Defying one interview subject’s characterization of Armenians as a people “who had forgotten how to dream,” the film ably demonstrates that fundamental change brought about by the people can be made manifest.— THOM POWERS

Editor Barry Poltermann

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Red, White & Wasted

(Feature Documentary, Premiere Tribeca Film Festival 2019)

“The Florida Project” captured one kind of poverty in the shadow of Disney World; “Red White & Wasted” depicts another. Embedding in a culture where the term “redneck” is used proudly, the documentary follows the family of Matthew Burns, who, with the nickname Video Pat, was a tireless chronicler of the off-road revelry at an Orlando-area mudhole — a site where locals would drive their trucks through the muck and engage in gone-wild-style partying. The directors, Andrei Bowden Schwartz and Sam B. Jones, follow Burns and his daughters through a period of transition, including an unexpected pregnancy and certain evolving attitudes. (This is a movie in which people say things like, “I’m not fully racist. I’m not racist at all, really.”) The result is an oddly poignant portrait of family and of the wisdom that comes with aging.

 -Ben Kenigsberg, New York Times

Directed by Andrei Bowden Schwartz and Sam B. Jones

Editors: Michael VollmannBarry Poltermann

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The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann

(Documentary Series, Netflix 2019)

It’s hard to explain to people who weren’t in Britain in 2007 what living through the Madeleine McCann news cycle was like. At the time, the 3-year-old’s face was everywhere a picture could ever be replicated—on T-shirts, on posters, on fliers adorning car windshields, on banners over soccer stadiums, on every front page of every paper every day, on a giant inflatable billboard the News of the World commissioned to publicize its £1.5 million reward for information leading to Madeleine’s return. It felt like the biggest story U.K. newspapers had ever experienced. It never seemed to end. It never did; Madeleine remains missing, and the investigation into her disappearance continues to this day

The eeriest thing about watching The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann now is how efficiently it replicates what it was like to experience the story of Madeleine in real time. There was the visceral shock of the news when it first came, the monstrousness of a child being snatched from her bed in a Portuguese resort town while her parents had dinner nearby. The ferocity and hunger with which the media clamped down on the story and did not let go. The first wave of suspects, implicated, named, and damned by the tabloids before they’d so much as set foot inside a police station. The way the story spawned its own particular vernacular, like “the Tapas 7” and arguido. The details and insinuations and defamations and theories, unspooling hourly for audiences who could not get enough of them. – The Atlantic

A Netflix Original Production / Produced by Pulse UK & Paramount

Executive Producer: Emma Cooper

Director: Chris Smith

Editors: Michael Rolt, Matt Prekop, James Calderwood & Barry Poltermann

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(Television Pilot, 2018)

For almost two decades, the Yes Men (Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno) have been pulling off hilarious political actions that make global headlines.

In this pilot episode for a potential television series, The Yes Men take on gun control.

Directed by The Yes Men

Editors: Michael Vollmann & Matt Prekop

Story Supervisor: Barry Poltermann

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Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond

(Documentary Feature, 2017, Premiere Venice International Film Festival)

In 1999, Milos Forman cast Jim Carrey to play cult comedian Andy Kaufman in the biopic Man on the Moon-but only after Carrey had convinced the renowned Czech director by nailing Kaufman in an audition. When Carrey heard that he had the part, he was in Malibu looking out at the ocean. What would Kaufman say? Carrey wondered before deciding that Kaufman would communicate telepathically. At that moment, a pod of some thirty dolphins broke the surface of the sea-and Carrey’s odyssey into Kaufman began.

Jim Carrey earned critical acclaim and a Golden Globe for the performance, but many of the production’s most Kaufmanesque moments played out behind the scenes, thankfully captured on video by Andy’s former girlfriend, Lynne Margulies and former writing partner, Bob Zmuda. In Jim & Andy, Carrey looks back at the resulting footage 18 years later, reflecting on how he and Andy came up in oddly parallel universes, his experience channelling Andy and Tony, and more broadly the spiritual journey of his career.

Production Company: Vice Documentary Films & Netflix

Producers: Brendan Fitzgerald, Danny Gabai and Spike Jonze

Director: Chris Smith

Editor: Barry Poltermann

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Don’t Break Down: A Film About Jawbreaker

(Feature Music Documentary, 2017)

In 2007, 11 years after one of the most influential American punk bands, Jawbreaker, called it quits the three members, Blake Schwarzenbach, Chris Bauermeister, and Adam Pfahler reconnected in a San Francisco recording studio to listen back to their albums, reminisce and even perform together.

Follow the band as they retell their “rags to riches to rags” story writhe with inner band turmoil, health issues, and the aftermath of signing to a major label. Featuring interviews with Billy Joe Armstrong, Steve Albini, Jessica Hopper, Graham Elliot, Chris Shifflet, Josh Caterer and more.

“Directors Keith Schieron and Tim Irwin have not only got an utterly fascinating documentary on their hands but the subject matter, as it’s laid out, is wildly compelling. A band is on the brink of hitting it big, toss in some self-sabotage, infighting, and the kinds of things that make things like keeping the band together such a tenuous proposition for some people. I am completely in when it comes to listening to a story about a band I may have never heard of as it’s the insights into these people who could have been more than just a band that meant something to some people. They could have broken through in a big way.”

— Christopher Stipp, SLASHFILM

A Rocket Fuel Production, in association with September Club

Directed by Tim Irwin & Keith Schieron

Producers: Dan Didier & Keith Schieron

Editor: Erin Elders

Supervising Editor: Barry Poltermann

Official Site

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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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Zedd: True Colors

(Documentary Feature, 2016, Premiere LA Film Festival)

A countdown hits zero and EDM fans hit the ground running, scouring the city for clues to be the first to get exclusive tickets. Their destination? They have no idea.

Embark on a journey with multi-platinum, Grammy winning, electronic dance music artist ZEDD. From his classically trained roots, through his brief career in a metal band, to stepping on the stage of the biggest music festivals in the world, ZEDD has shot up the charts to mega-pop stardom. Ride along with some of ZEDD’s most passionate fans as he explores new territory with his latest album, ‘True Colors,’ and get to meet him as they did – up-close, personal and performing like you’ve never seen him before.

A 42 Entertainment / Zedd Music Production

Director/Producers: Susan Bonds & Alex Lieu

Editor: Barry Poltermann

Trailer Editor: Matt Prekop



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Operation Allie

(Documentary Short, 2016, Big Sky Film Fest)

Anthony Marquez, a former Marine and military dog handler, has returned from Afghanistan. He lost 17 friends in the war, and has been suffering from the effects of PTSD. When he finds out that the dog that he went through the war with, Allie, is being retired from the Marine Corp, he sets out to adopt her.

Currently on the festival circuit.

Director: Manny Marquez

Editor: Matt Prekop

Executive Producer: Ryan Dembroski

Story Supervisor: Michael Vollmann

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(Documentary Feature, 2015, Premiere SXSW)

There’s a good reason why TV and movies have adopted the disclaimer “Remember kids, don’t try this at home.” As inventive as they were impressionable, pint-sized super-fans Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala and Jayson Lamb nearly killed themselves on multiple occasions attempting to remake the first Indiana Jones movie, breaking it down shot-for-shot and filming each scene as best as their limited resources would allow over the course of eight summers. The result has become the stuff of fan legend, inspiring magazine articles, movie deals and what feels like the perfect Hollywood ending, which the geek-bait documentary “Raiders!” reveals for the first time, as the original trip reunite a quarter-century later to finish the airplane scene they deemed too difficulte to film as kids. Often poignant, occasionally pathetive, but never short of entertaining, “Raiders!” captures the obbsessive hold movies have on young people’s imaginations, as exemplefied by such pics as “Son of Rambow,” “Super 8” and the upcoming “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”

Today, Zala’s son is roughly the age his father was in 1981 when he and best friend Strompolos hatched their ambitious fan-film project. “I think it’s amazing that Steven Spielberg needed $20 million to make ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ and my dad only needed his allowance,” the kid says in the documentary, which clearly shares that same charitable affection toward a project undertaken in total earnestness and executed with almost reckless naivete.

It would be easy to treat Zala, Strompolos and especially Lamb (their truly eccentric vfx maestro) as comic figures, the way “American Movie” and “The Disaster Artist” presented their inept indie-filmmaker subjects. For directors Jeremy Coon (a producer on “Napoleon Dynamite”) and Tim Skousen, however, “Raiders!” represents something more than an excuse to poke fun. These two seem genuinely inspired by the kids’ story and eager to do it justice, balancing a respectful retelling of how the project came to be (supported by amusing anecdotes and priceless outtakes) with genuinely encouraging coverage of the amateur filmmakers’ most dangerous stunt yet: their decision to complete “the lost airplane scene” all these years later — the one where the bald Nazi backs into the propeller and gets sprayed across the cockpit of the Flying Wing, before everything blows sky-high.

In many ways, the story behind the “Raiders” adaptation has outgrown the film itself, which is sampled somewhat sparingly. Back in 1989, Strompolos’ mom organized a small public screening of her son’s home-movie tribute in Mississippi, but the boys’ friendship was already on the skids — for personal reasons which the documentary explores, doing a remarkable job of not shying away from the double-crosses, drug addiction and disappointments that followed (nor the divorces, abuse and psychological motivations that likely enabled it in the first place). The trio had closed the door on that chapter in their lives when Eli Roth got his hands on a VHS copy of the film and brought it to Butt-Numb-A-Thon, Harry Knowles’ 24-hour binge-viewing geekstravaganza, in 2002.

Both Coon and producer Scott Rudin have expressed an interest in making scripted versions of the “Raiders” adaptation story, and the docu digs deep enough to show where the heart of such a project could be. As cover versions go, this amateur tribute can’t touch the original “Raiders” (though the airplane scene, which unspools over the end credits, is a huge improvement over the VHS footage they shot as kids), but there’s no question that it boasts a much better behind-the-scenes story — one whose divided-family dynamic and corny group-hug ending further echo Spielberg’s unmatched influence on a generation of filmmakers.

Peter Debruge, Variety

A Jeremy Coon Production

Directed and Produced by Tim Skousen & Jeremy Coon

Edited by Barry Poltermann

Official Site

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The 414s

(Documentary Short, 2015, Premiere SUNDANCE)

This short documentary premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, and tells the story of the first widely recognized computer hackers — a group of teenagers who gained notoriety in 1983 when they broke into the pentagons computer systems.

Director: Michael Vollmann

Producer: Chris Thompson

Editor: Amanda C. Griffin

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(Documentary Feature, 2014, Premiere MIFF)

Oklahoma garbageman Victor Marquez has held a lifelong dream of creating gruesome makeup effects for Hollywood movies, but life got in the way and Victor deferred his dream to start a family with the love of his life. Twenty-five years later, husband and wife pool their life savings to purchase acreage where Victor will put together a haunted house that showcases his ghoulish talents, a risky business venture in rural Oklahoma where such celebrations of the macabre raise the ire of locals who perpetuate racial stereotypes. A documentary from Victor’s nephew, Manny, Psychopath is a portrait of a self-made entrepreneur following the American dream despite long odds.

Director: Manny Marquez

Producer: Ben Leiser

Executive Producer: Jack Turner

Editor: Barry Poltermann

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(Dramatic Feature, 2014, Winner SXSW)

Bobbie and Jude are a young couple living in their broken-down car parked alongside Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo. Their days are a continuous ritual of theft and scoring until they must confront the difficult truth of their relationship after one of them is hospitalized.

Here’s some reviews:

  • “By letting the troubles creep in, Schiffli’s accomplished first feature makes (their) conundrum both accessible and intimately unsettling at once.”- Eric Kohn, INDIEWIRE
  • “The details ring true and the performances are compelling in this indie drama. Dastmalchian and Shaw are thoroughly convincing both as vividly drawn, emotionally complex individuals…”- Joe Leydon, VARIETY
  • “Dastmalchian and Shaw are both dynamite, fusing into an instantaneous chemistry that’s constantly alive…. Animals is a bold and assured debut from a fresh voice, that of Collin Schiffli,”- Matt Barone, COMPLEX MAGAZINE
  • “David Dastmalchian and Kim Shaw are terrific….” “A grippingly gritty and bleak film – and all the better for not puling its punches.” – Mark Adams, SCREEN DAILY
  • “Grimy and sad but not sensationalistic, the debut feature is like Drugstore Cowboy drained of its hipness and sex appeal…”- John DeFore, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
  • “A love story about two highly relatable, flawed characters struggling to make it work. You can’t help but root for them.”- Ashley Moreno, THE AUSTIN CHRONICLE
  • “…a character study that reminds me of the first time I saw Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy. And it could eventually herald the arrival of as important a talent.”- Brian Tallerico, FILM THREAT
  • “A lucid, psychologically complex depiction of a path to redemption.” – Nick McCarthy, SLANT MAGAZINE

Director: Collin Schifli

Writer/Actor: David Dastmalchian

Producers: Mary Pat Bentel & Chris Smith

Editor: Amanda Griffin

Consulting Editor: Barry Poltermann

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(Documentary Short, 2013, Premiere ESPN “30 for 30”)

The rust-belt city of Milwaukee, WI, used public funds to commission an eccentric, openly-gay artist Robert Indiana to paint the Bucks basketball floor in the 1970’s. But after the Bucks moved across the street to the newly constructed Bradley Center, the MECCA Arena floor was left in storage and all but forgotten by the general public.

A September Club / Matador Content / Good/Credit Production

Director: Chris James Thompson

Editor: Michael Vollman

Producers: Chris James Thompson & Jack Turner

Story Supervisor: Barry Poltermann



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The Jeffery Dahmer Files

(Documentary Feature, 2012, Premiere SXSW)

In the summer of 1991 Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested in Milwaukee and sentenced to 957 years in prison for killing 17 people and dismembering their bodies. Through the use of archival footage and interviews with the local medical examiner, police detective, and Dahmer’s neighbors, this documentary explores the ordinary man behind the horrifying acts.

Directed & Edited by Chris James Thompson

Produced by: Chris James Thompson & Jack Turner

Written by: Chris James Thompson, Andrew Swant & Joe Riepenhoff

Cinematography: Michael Vollmann

Executive Producers: Barry Poltermann & Chris Smith

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(Documentary Feature, 2009, Premiere TIFF)

Meet Michael Ruppert, a different kind of American. A former Los Angeles police officer turned independent reporter, he predicted the 2008 financial crisis in his self-published newsletter, From the Wilderness, at a time when most of Wall Street and Washington analysts were still in denial.

The current documentary landscape is chockfull of doom-laden scenarios of every stripe: If global warming (An Inconvenient Truth) doesn’t get you, then maybe genetically engineered Frankenfoods (Food, Inc.), will. Or contaminated water (Flow). Or crushing personal (Maxed Out) and national (I.O.U.S.A.) debt. But few apocalyptic visions are as comprehensive and frighteningly assured as the one offered by Michael Ruppert, the subject of Chris Smith’s mesmerizing new documentary Collapse. A former Los Angeles police officer turned independent reporter, Ruppert has chased big stories for his self-published newsletter, From The Wilderness, on everything from CIA involvement in drug trafficking to the current economic crisis, which he claims to have predicted long before it gobsmacked the mainstream media. His latest obsession is the issue of “peak oil,” the concern that oil production has reached its apex, and as fossil fuels decline, our entire industrial and economical infrastructure will collapse along with it.

Shooting the tortured, chain-smoking Ruppert inside what looks like a bunker, Smith’s film takes the form of Errol Morris’ The Fog Of War, illustrating long, feverishly intense monologues with dazzling montages. Ruppert may appear like just another crackpot, the sort of obscure, raving prophet who regularly offers up worst-case scenarios in Glenn Beck’s War Room. (Or Stephen Colbert’s Doom Bunker, for that matter.) But he isn’t an ideologue, which makes his Chicken Little panic more authentic—as do his confident voice and meticulously crafted arguments. The scope of his argument is suspiciously immense, yet thought through to the smallest detail; every time a “Yeah, but” question comes up (as in “Yeah, but what about these alternative energy sources?” or “Yeah, but what about human innovation?”), Ruppert has an answer. “I don’t deal in conspiracy theory,” he says. “I deal in conspiracy fact.”

That said—and this is important to remember—Collapse is by no means an endorsement of Ruppert’s worldview. Smith (American Movie) has enough faith in his audience to allow them to sort it out for themselves. He gives Ruppert the floor, but his occasional interjections question whether his subject has walled himself into an argument by accepting only the information that supports his point of view. And in several exceptionally poignant moments, he also allows us to see an angry, lonely, vulnerable man whose life epitomizes the title as much as the globe does. There are many layers to the man and the movie, and it’s hard not to leave the theater shaken.

Scott Tobias, The Onion / AV Club

A Library Films Production

Directed by Chris Smith

Produced by Kate Noble & Chris Smith

Edited by Barry Poltermann

Music By Joe Wong & Didier Leplae

Official Site



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The Pool

(Dramatic Feature, 2007, Winner SUNDANCE Jury Prize)

A boy in abject poverty works in a hotel and becomes obsessed with a swimming pool in the opulent hills of Panjim, Goa, India. His life gets turned upside-down when he attempts to meet the mysterious family who lives at the house. Winner of the 2007 Sundance Special Dramatic Jury Prize.

You can also check out an excerpt from the “Behind The Scenes” documentary here… directed and edited by Chris James Thompson.

A Library Films Production

Directed & Photographed by Chris Smith

Written by Chris Smith & Randy Russell

Produced by Kate Noble

Edited by Barry Poltermann

Music By Joe Wong & Didier Leplae

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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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The Life of Reilly

(Documentary Feature, 2006, Premiere SXSW)

As a child, game-show fixture Charles Nelson Reilly had a lobotomized aunt, an institutionalized father, a racist mother, and was the only gay kid on the block. So how did he end up a Tony winner, a staple of television, and a generational icon? The Life Of Reilly is his funny, sad, surprising, and ultimately touching life story.

With equal measures of prickly wit, gleeful pride and bemused gratitude, Charles Nelson Reilly looks back at his life, and invites his audience to share the view, in this thoroughly engaging filmization of his one-man stage show.

Helmers Frank Anderson and Barry Poltermann wisely refrain from efforts to “open up” the stage production. Instead, they simply train their cameras on the casually-attired star as he offers a free-wheeling series of autobiographical anecdotes about his misadventures as talkshow gadfly, sitcom co-star, quiz show regular and, not incidentally, Tony Award-winning Broadway vet.

For auds who know him only from television, pic’s biggest surprises may be Reilly’s stories about studying acting under Uta Hagen — with Jason Robards and Hal Holbrook as classmates — and his own experiences as a thesping coach. (He nabbed a Tony nomination for directing Julie Harris in a 1997 revival of “The Gin Game.”)

When he describes how he silenced a snooty talkshow guest by powerfully rendering a “Hamlet” soliloquy, Reilly gets a big laugh. At the same time, though, aud can’t help wondering if maybe the irrepressibly comical Reilly always possessed under-valued (and seldom utilized) dramatic chops as an actor.

Except for some fleetingly serious scenes — recollections of a troubled childhood, and miraculous escape from a 1944 circus fire — the tone is light, bright and shamelessly dishy. There’s a suggestion of still-simmering anger when he recalls a brutal brush-off by an NBC talent scout in the early 1950s: “They don’t let queers on television.” Ultimately, however, “Life of Reilly” is vivid proof that living well, and laughing heartily, can be the best revenge.

Joe Leydon, VARIETY

You can also check out our ‘behind the scenes’ of the shoot available here.

Directed by Barry Poltermann & Frank Anderson

Edited by Barry Poltermann

Music by Frank Anderson

Producers: David Dahlman, Steve Farr, Adrian Selkowitz, John Lyons Murphy, Bob Fagan, Wrye Martin, Carrie Heckman, Peter McDonnell

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American Movie

(Documentary Feature, 1999, Winner SUNDANCE Grand Prize)

On the northwest side of Milwaukee, Mark Borchardt dreams the American dream: for him, it’s making movies. Using relatives, local theater talent, slacker friends, his Mastercard, and $3,000 from his Uncle Bill, Mark strives over three years to finish Coven, a short horror film.

Meet Mark Borchardt, the funny, garrulous subject of the not-to-be-missed documentaryAmerican Movie. He’s someone you won’t soon forget. He has dedicated himself to making a no-budget black-and-white horror film that features homemade scarecrows and primitive acting, one that’s not about to rival The Blair Witch Project in anything but the expletive department.

But that doesn’t matter. The point is that Borchardt cobbles together this project as if his life depended on it, because it does. Insightfully and stirringly, not to mention hilariously, American Movie shows why.

“The American Dream stays with me each and every day,” Borchardt says when he speaks of his motivation. And he likes to drive past big, sterile new houses to illustrate what that dream means. But as captured here so intimately by Chris Smith, Borchardt is already living through a much darker and more authentically American story. As hard as he works to attain what he wants, he’s struggling even harder to escape what he has.

Because American Movie is the rare documentary that combines a wildly charismatic subject with an elegant structure, it begins very simply, with the lanky, long-haired Borchardt talking about his big ambitions. (“If he is able to do even 25 percent of what he says, that is more than most people accomplish,” a girlfriend later says of him.)

Then the film starts to open, like a slow iris shot, onto the larger landscape of his life. When it comes to obstacles, he has a brother who announces that Borchardt would have been best suited for a factory job. And that’s just for starters.

Smith, who made the film working closely with Sarah Price, builds a surprising amount of suspense and even shock into this documentary’s gradual revelations about its subject. By the time Borchardt is seen doing a dead-end job at a cemetery and describing the worst kind of work he’s ever been faced with, the film has built up an enormous amount of empathy and hope for him.

But even those parts of American Movie that display the most Crumb-like poignancy have their share of affectionate humor. Take Uncle Bill Borchardt, the only family member who might conceivably lend Mark any money.

Mark Borchardt woos his uncle into the movie business by flashing a picture of a pretty young actress and announcing, “She wants to be in your movie, Bill.” Almost before Bill can exclaim, “Oh, my gosh,” he has been enlisted as the producer of “Coven,” which his nephew likes to mispronounce as KO-ven because he doesn’t want it to rhyme with oven. When he gets an idea, he tends to stick with it all the way.

“I see great cinema in this,” he says at one point, causing the woozy, pitifully fragile Bill to ask, “Cinnamon?” Smith has a wonderful ear for moments like that and does an expert job of extracting them from the 70 hours of film he originally shot.

Because Borchardt had been recruiting friends and relatives for projects like “The Creeps,” “I Blow Up” and “The More the Scarier III” since he was 14, everyone here is very comfortable with a camera rolling, and very revealing.

Borchardt’s friend Mike Schank, who seems to have wandered in dazed from a Kevin Smith movie, tells about a near-death experience on drugs. Then he giggles nervously and offers to tell some more. While Borchardt struggles to overcome a history of alcoholism, Schank goes him one better. He has an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor who also drives him to Gamblers Anonymous meetings.

American Movie begins with Borchardt’s ambition to make an autobiographical film called “Northwestern,” American Movie which is meant to be an ambitious exploration of his upbringing in Milwaukee. Since this soon proves to be a non-starter, he vows to raise the money for it by completing “Coven” and selling 3,000 video copies.

It is soon revealed that this won’t be easy, as Borchardt lies in the snow filming friends in black hooded capes (“Now you guys gotta look menacing!” he directs), bungles a scene in which a cabinet door is supposed to break on a friend’s head, and otherwise shows why the road to a finished “Coven” is full of potholes.

By the time American Movie completes its own mission, it has blossomed wonderfully into much more than a portrait of one fiendishly determined filmmaker. For anyone wondering where the spirit of maverick independent filmmaking has its source, you need look no further.


A Library Films Production

Directed by Chris Smith

Produced by Sarah Price

Edited by Jun Diaz & Barry Poltermann

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