Going to the Sitges Festival and having lunch with William Friedkin across the table would be quite the star-struck moment. When he comes to you and gives you that trust to go ahead and make a documentary about him in regards to his journey when making The Exorcist would be like winning the lottery. This is was an opportunity that director Alexandre O. Philippe could not turn down. As a result, he presents the world with this informative documentary Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist and it has been almost four decades since the movie started to scare the wits out of everyone. To do that you would have to pull from all the things that would conjure human emotion in which Friedkin does in so many ways in the film. The Exorcist is cinematic art that stems from Friedkin’s faith in which everything fell into place for him. The impact that this film made on popular culture, the film industry and the art world, would have not shifted if it wasn’t for the blood, sweat and tears that Friedkin put into the film. You will gain a greater appreciation of The Exorcist after watching Leap of Faith which is set to make an appearance at this year’s Hot Docs Virtual Film Festival.
Watching the first couple of minutes while Friedkin discusses his film is eye-opening. It is almost like we are director profiling when we see how Friedkin looks like, how he dresses and talks in his lavish living room. Today’s horror or genre filmmaker looks a lot different from what Friedkin looked like when he was filming The Exorcist. Today’s notable horror filmmakers such as Rob Zombie, Mike Flanagan and James Wan fit that postmodern horror filmmaker look or swagger. Whereas Friedkin looks like he was cut from the same cloth as Walter Hill, Brian DePalma, Stanley Kubrick, and Steven Spielberg. This has us floored but it only makes sense because an epic film cannot be made without the influences of people who have made epic films. You can see that Friedkin is a legendary filmmaker rather than just a horror filmmaker.
Friedkin begins to speak of the earlier stages of the production with writer William Peter Blatty, the original writer of The Exorcist novel, and how this film first fell into his lap and how this is all fate. He speaks of the film Citizen Kane and stresses how that film is all about fate just like how Charles Kane who became a newspaper tycoon after coming from obscurity. He spoke of this film like it was resembled his journey in making The Exorcist. After many directors passing on the project, The Exorcist became the brainchild and the tycoon for Friedkin once he accepted the project.
It began with Friedkin’s trip to Iraq because Blatty’s novel begins in the country in the same way. Friedkin speaks of how he was filming during an archaeological dig in Hatra south of Mosul. He was in excruciating heat where it was only possible to film early in the morning meaning that he was already restricted in what he could do but were still able to get in his eyes some rare yet beautiful shots. The wonderful scenes that Max Von Sydow was in such as going through the bazaar with limited lighting and finding the amulet of Pazuzu which was a demon of ancient origins were not intentionally premonitions of things to come. He was still able to film sequences like the man with only one eye which was not supposed to warn of the child’s eyeless possession scenes. Shakespeare had a lot of foreshadows in his plays or better known as warnings to the audience but Friedkin did not believe in this type of storytelling but fate just brought him to these scenes that were unintentional yet pivotal.
Friedkin speaks of this throughout Leap of Faith of how he wanted things to be ambiguous in the Exorcist. He loved the fact that in some scenes, The Exorcist was filmed like a documentary and that how he urged his cameramen to keep filming. Friedkin was far from other filmmakers that he spoke of just like Stanley Kubrick who took so many takes to get that perfect shot in which he stressed out actors like Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut and Shelley Duvall in The Shining. Friedkin speaks of how those rough edges when filming made it that much rawer rather than premeditated.
The genius of Friedkin is how he built his expectancy set for the film The Exorcist. Alfred Hitchcock does this with the film Psycho and what filmmakers have done since The Exorcist is to use images of assault on the screen. When The Exorcist was released in 1973, millions of people lined up outside the theatre in hopes to get scared which Friedkin speaks of in setting that expectancy. Audiences even lined up in frigid weather for many hours as many of them conversed about how the film was scarier than Psycho. The fate of Exorcist was determined in these lineups as the film went on to become successful and impactful on popular culture. If that wasn’t a sign you will see that this was the only R-rated film that accumulated millions at the box office for decades.
This all wouldn’t have happened if Friedkin did not have faith in his cast. The role of Father Karras was supposed to be handed out to Stacy Keach who Friedkin gave the role to and was more than suitable for the role. Jason Miller of whom Friedkin was first introduced to when he went to go see his play That Championship Season on Broadway continually persuaded of how he should be Father Karras. After several auditions, the role was given to him and Friedkin had faith in Miller. We can say that was all fate for the role as Miller was nominated for an Academy Award for the best-supporting actor.
Many directors passed on the film because it was an exorcism of a 12-year-old girl named Regan, played by Linda Blair and that it would cause much distress. Especially went it came to the scene where she was masturbating with a crucifix and blood is all over her and the set. Over and over Regan would look as though she is stabbing herself with the crucifix right in her vagina is where the directors who passed on the film had no time for. Friedkin did have a vision for the character of Regan and this particular scene where he had so much faith in Linda Blair and his film crew that this became the most shocking, disturbing and groundbreaking in cinematic history. This is what factored into the expectancy set that Friedkin spoke of.
There was so much put into the complex character of the demon that was possessing Regan that it was a challenge in putting that final product together. Friedkin wasn’t convinced that Blair’s voice was the end all and be all. After trying to get a male voice to be the demon, like radio host Ken Nordine, Friedkin decides to bring in a female voice instead. Mercedes McCambridge, who had done many old radio shows and films, was brought in by Friedkin. She asked to be tied up to a chair with the presence of two priests after having many alcoholic drinks, some eggs and many cigarettes. Here was where the voice of the demon that possesses Regan was born in which Friedkin calls a gift of God.
Friedkin speaks of how The Exorcist was an experimental sound museum. He loved the many sounds that made the experience of watching The Exorcist spooky and eerie. Opportunities to work with great film composers such as Bernard Hermann and even his friend Lalo Schifrin went south as their work was not convincing enough to score the whole film. It left the fate of the score of The Exorcist in Friedkin’s own hands. He did not want an overpowering score that would give clues to the audience what was going to happen. He especially did not want to have this banging immediate in your face score right at the beginning sequence in Iraq. Friedkin loves the sound of the men working away in the archaeological dig. He wanted things to build and wanted things to be ambiguous in The Exorcist.
Many of the scenes that were filmed by William Friedkin were influenced by his favourite artists. The first scene that they ever shot for this film The Exorcist is when Max Von Sydow is about to enter the house and where the light from the bedroom where Regan is shining upon him. The artist René Magritte’s 1954’s Empire of Light is the print that influenced this film sequence. This is where the scene became the shot of the official movie poster and the VHS cover which became the image that rolls through the minds of those who have seen the film. The temperature of that shot alone gave you the chills when you saw this at the video store and made you think twice whether or not that you wanted to be a spooky night in your household. Even today you would be able to get this print of The Exorcist in many different forms from many different artists. That’s how iconic this scene is. Was this painting of René Magritee another gift from God?
Despite Friedkin saying that he was a true believer in this journey of filming the Exorcist, his faith in making this film and riding the line between ambiguity and clarity is what made everything fall into place. Sure this may be something that all film directors do but not all their films become groundbreaking and iconic in cinema history after riding this slippery slope. Friedkin may have lost friends, made enemies, made mistakes or decisions that were not favourable to the crew of the film but above all Friedkin relied on his directorial instincts to make this all happen. It is almost as if he was a quarterback throwing a “Hail Mary” (no pun intended) for a touchdown in where many things that can go against him in which Friedkin did and overcame by winning all those small battles.
There are many more examples of what William Friedkin considers fate or faith when it came to the production of The Exorcist but not all of them could be mentioned because it would spoil it for those who haven’t seen the film. What is most intriguing about William Friedkin is that he is a jack of all trades in which most directors should be when it comes to directing films that director Alexandre O. Philippe exemplifies in this documentary. All those facets and elements that Friedkin implemented in The Exorcist fulfilled his vision of what this film was supposed to be. What the audience tends to forget is how he tells this story that was originated from William Peter Blatty’s original novel was a classic work of art. Friedkin was able to work with the hand that was dealt to him and played the cards so right that this film was hailed as the scariest movie of all time. What Friedkin made was a film based on the human experience and he tells that story seamlessly which makes it all that more horrifically beautiful.
The 98-year old toy inventor has no signs of slowing down
Most of us when we were children would have come across or played with one of Eddy Goldfarb‘s toys. The man who has invented over 800 toys has not only made a name for himself but has brought many families together who have played with his inventions. It did not all start on the right foot for Eddy who served on the submarine Batfish in WWII before becoming a toy inventor. He met his wife Anitas June Stern in 1947 and knew that she was the one and quickly married her afterwards. She supported him for two years after his service in the war when he was unemployed. Eddy worked diligently on his inventions in this downtime and in 1949 he had three toys in the New York City Toy Fair which included the Yakity-Yak Teeth, the Busy Biddy Chicken and the Merry Go Sip.
The wisdom that Eddy shares with the audience about leading a meaningful life is charming and inspiring. He gets up every morning to create something in his garage in California where he has a 3D printer along with all the tools to make his magic. This key to keeping on enduring in his life is simply stated. Eddy has been disciplined behind his mantra even after going through tumultuous events such as his service in WWII and the death of his wife. Incredibly, a man of his age of 98 can keep on doing what he loves without missing a beat. Where many would have thrown in the towel by now, Eddy Goldfarb is still to this day works to achieve a fulfilling and meaningful life. He is currently in a relationship with Greta Honigsfeld whom he met six years ago and is also involved in a writing group where he writes 100-word stories. These stories uplift his colleagues.
His daughter Lyn Goldfarb who directed this short biopic Eddy’s World gives the audience a most charming perspective on the life journey of her father. They get a fresh look at life from watching Eddy’s consistent and inspirational work ethic. He makes you think that the only person that is stopping you from achieving success in life is you. Now Eddy does not come out and say that to the audience in the film but his actions do the talking. For many of us who feel that there is not enough support to help you achieve in life then it’s time to watch Eddy’s World. He makes no excuses and produces results and of course magic. That’s the key.
Army Ranger Jon Jackson sets up farm to help veterans with PTSD.
Comfort Farms will be available on December 8th by Gravitas Ventures on all major VOD platforms
There has been much propaganda when it comes to war especially as of late now that we are living in a technological and digital chapter. War is seen to be patriotic and is the act that seeks freedom and peace but there is many downsides. Aside from death which is the most fatal negative aspect of war, the aftermath for those who come out of it alive is a very difficult process and transition. Army Ranger Jon Jackson has set up Comfort Farms in Milledgeville, Georgia to help veterans transition back to a normal life. Much takes place here on the farm where these unlikely veterans are teamed up with animal-loving butchers and chefs to form a positive community. Not only do they conduct an ethical way of eating they inspire all the veterans who are having trouble with PTSD and thoughts of suicide.
There is much dedication that is put into Comfort Farms that no individual seeks to find an end to its means or means to its end. Comfort Farms is one of those grassroots programs that no government would pay much mind to because there is nothing in it for them. There is a lot in it for founder Jon Jackson who has been spiritually enlightened for all those who are participating in this farm especially those who have shared his experience with war. FERNTV spoke to director Carlisle Kellam about the true health and wellness behind Comfort Farms and why it takes a lot more than anyone would think to help veterans with PTSD.
FERNTV: There is much inspiration when it comes to Jon Jackson and Comfort Farms to document this into the film. What was the turning point when it came to actually give this film the “GO”?
Carlisle: I was asked to take some photos for a culinary publication at Comfort Farms. At that point, all I knew about it was that it was a therapy farm founded to help veterans suffering from PTSD. The first light bulb went on for me while listening to Jon, the founder of the farm, offer his perspective on PTSD. His perspective was that PTSD, although a real problem – and definitely not to be marginalized – has, for a lot of people, become a generic term to refer to anything afflicting a veteran. And it’s not uncommon for a veteran to be diagnosed with PTSD when that’s not necessarily what’s going on with them, simply because, although PTSD is a real thing it’s not the ONLY thing. In fact, a lack of purpose, missing the camaraderie, going from a black and white world with a clear mission to a world of grey were the types of things I heard mentioned most while making the film. The phrase I remember most was that “most veterans don’t want to be coddled, pitied, or worshiped, they just want a chance to serve again.” I knew almost right away I wanted to make a short film about the farm, simply because the work being done there is so important and unique, but I didn’t quite see a full feature.
After talking to Jon and some of the other folks at the farm, I learned a lot. I was disabused of a kind of cliched understanding of the veteran experience. Something I hadn’t given a ton of thought to all of the sudden became profoundly interesting and started to make a lot of sense. And after exploring a little bit I realized soon after that that being at Comfort Farms, the place, although it deals specifically with veterans or veterans’ issues, brings up several interesting questions about the human condition as a whole. For example, I started to piece together the idea that being in the military, or war, in and of themselves, do not necessarily create a specific set of issues, but more than the nature of these environments can quickly magnify issues that all walks of life are capable of experiencing. Through war and military life one can learn a lot about the nature of mankind. And I think that’s one of the most important things when it comes to understanding this film. When I sat down to contemplate the place, and the people I met there, the overall takeaway for me was a better understanding of human nature. When all of these things came together is when I knew I wanted to make a full feature.
FERNTV: PTSD is a difficult experience for veterans. Before actually making this film, can you explain how you prepared for the stories these veterans wanted to share with you in regards to PTSD?
Carlisle: Honestly I didn’t know what to expect or how to prepare. A lot of that was because, as a director, I was used to dealing mostly with actors. Until then I’d had limited experience sticking a camera in someone’s face and asking them about their true-life experiences. The thing I was most afraid of was getting wrapped up in the filmmaking process and forgetting I was dealing with real stories and the people that really experienced them. Going into the interviews I’d only met the founder, Jon. But he instantly comes across as genuine and someone who says what he means. I told him I’d like to do some interviews but I wasn’t really sure how to handle doing them respectfully. He told me there was nothing to worry about and personally recruited the guys to do them.
FERNTV: When you interviewed your subjects, the shots were close-up to their faces. Can you explain why you did it this way?
Carlisle: My first instinct was to shoot them that way but I contemplated shooting them that way for some time before finally settling on it. I knew it was a little risky. But as the place is unique, I decided to design and compose the film that way. I decided to employ certain stylistic choices to help try and capture the essence of what I was picking up on. As a professional photographer and director of photography, I’ve shot more portraits and interviews than the average person. Almost all of them have used longer lenses to avoid distorting the face. Medium close or close-ups were typically used for b-roll. I’d consider that to be the standard. And being standard it feels comfortable. With this film, I chose a wider than typical focal length to try and capture a certain intimacy and also a certain intensity. It’s kind of in your face and personal. And that’s purposeful because the stories and the place are kind of in your face and personal. The place, Comfort Farms, is meant to take people out of their comfort zone. I wanted to add an element of this without stylizing so much as to end up taking people totally out of the film.
FERNTV: This film also shows the ethical practices of raising animals for consumption which is actually a lot better as opposed to the ways that corporate farms do it today. Can you comment on that?
Carlisle: For those who haven’t watched it yet, the film is made up of several narratives that intertwine to form the film. One of those narratives deals with humanely harvesting animals and the effort put into raising those animals with love and care. Also respecting what the animals give to the community in the form of sustenance. They really put a lot of effort into this. Second, helping their fellow veterans and community it’s what they’re truly passionate about and is central to what they do. So accordingly, it’s also a big part of the film. It would be much easier for them to do it a different way. But they choose not to. Someone would be hard-pressed not to respect that.
FERNTV: Much would say that this film cannot relate to them because they never went to war but wouldn’t a film like this relate to many especially during the pandemic that we are facing where we are experiencing much loss and camaraderie disappear?
Carlisle: I think it absolutely relates to people of all walks of life. And I say that for several reasons. But to address the question directly, first, many veterans struggle who have never been to war. What I’ve gathered is that the transition process is hard for many veterans not necessarily because of an event that they experienced while in the military but the process of adapting to the new world once they are out of the military. The military world, according to Jon and some of the others I interviewed, is a world of black and white with a very little gray. You have a mission or an objective, your goal is to accomplish that mission. That goal provides a sense of purpose. You form close relationships with others who are working toward the same goal. When you throw the element of danger in there it starts to get even more interesting and unique.
Finding purpose in the “regular” world of gray is difficult for a lot of these guys who are used to living in the black and white. Now, concerning those who do go to war, these things only intensify on top of the added element of a possible trauma directly related to a combat experience. For some reason, I (before making this film) was one of the many people who seem to view veterans’ struggles as specific to combat veterans. As if there is some war- or military-specific disease. But what veterans experience and struggle with is what anyone is capable of struggling with if given a certain catalyst. I think during the pandemic, isolation, losing loved ones, transitioning from a routine to something unfamiliar are the kinds of things that can be that catalyst albeit maybe on a less severe level. And another way people can relate during a pandemic is that the farm is very much focused on the basics of living – I think during times like these we become more attentive to things like sustainability, self-sufficiency, relationships and supporting the community, working with our hands and getting back to the earth.
FERNTV: After doing this film, what are your primary thoughts in regards to Jon Jackson?
Carlisle: He’s courageous and devoted. He’s an inspiration to so many people.
FERNTV: This film is all about finding getting out of your comfort zone and finding discomfort? Did you as well experience this when it came to your filmmaking career?
Carlisle: I did, yes. In so many ways. I approached this, and put it together, differently than anything I’ve done before. I typically do a lot of plotting and planning. With this one, I kind of went searching in the dark until I found what was there. I could see a straight path – by way of a kind of traditional approach, more like an information piece about the farm or scientific analysis of why people struggle – but I really didn’t want to do it that way. I really wanted to try and capture the essence of this slice of American culture and through analogy show how it has a lot to say about our nature as human beings.
Available on December 8th by Gravitas Ventures on all major VOD platforms
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A Year in Film: 1986 brings back my wonder years.
Watching the upcoming episode of A Year in Film :1986 from Hollywood Suite brought back so many memories, feelings and emotions when it came to how things were back then. Much of those memories were fond of the timeless classics that were brought that year in film but I had to be reminded of where we were politically and socially to look at how far we have progressed. The comments and analyses that were made from respected Toronto-based film experts such as Alicia Fletcher, Geoff Pevere and Cameron Maitland just to name a few really put things into perspective and why these films became so intertwined with pop culture. There was so much greatness in film that was all packed into one year. To understand what it was like to grow up as a tween when we ourselves did not know the term even existed was something else when growing up with these films.
For starters, you were not able to watch certain films like The Fly and Aliens which had the label “Restricted”. So a kid who was a decade-year-old was not able to get into these films even with the accompaniment of an adult. Remembering that Aliens would play at the Square One Cinemas in THX Dolby in Cinema 4 and hearing all the loud gunfires that would come out of the closed cinema doors while taking a trip to the washroom would ring up any kid’s curiosity of what the hell is playing in the theatre. There was no way a kid would be able to sneak into these theatres because all of the older looking ushers would spot you out in an instant with their flashlights and tell you to get out of the theatre. Movie classifications were strict back then and all movie theatres took this seriously.
What a child like myself had to do back in the day was to get his cash-strapped single mother to subscribe to First ChoiceSuperchannel to even get a remote chance to watch The Fly or Aliens. Both of these films would from what I remember only play once or twice that month with a late schedule. So you had to plan to watch these films by getting and reviewing the First Choice Superchannel guide that was mailed to you. You had to record these films with your VCR and set it that it would start recording late at night usually starting at 11:00 PM because you were hiding the recordings from your parents. If your mother was not shouting at you to get to bed because she was just way too tired at that time or already sleeping then you were ecstatic beyond belief to watch Aliens or The Fly and it was a taboo underground and sinful experience. When you were a kid you knew who David Cronenberg was because your parents rented Scanners and you accidentally watched a head blow up with an intense pulsating soundtrack in the background throughout the whole film. Maybe your parents were less strict and let you watch it because you wouldn’t be able to understand so it was okay because they probably did not understand either. It was just background noise.
The other manner as to how you were able to get to watch some of these classics is to go to your local video store. Blockbuster Video did not exist at the time but I had to go to the non-corporate Video 99 store where an older Chinese man ran the store and was very strict. He was like the gatekeeper and of course, would not allow you to rent certain movies especially if they were restricted. I was able to get a hold of movies such as John Hughes‘ classics Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Pretty in Pink because there were so many copies of them that were available. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was the film that I remember every single line to and would be the conversation piece during recess because we were all inspired to be like him once we got to high school. I would have watch parties at my house because it was such an event for us tweens. No need to re-rent this film over and over again because you had two VCRs going and were able to pirate these films into your own collection and because this film was from Paramount Pictures, it was not a problem. The one thing that struck me at the video store was that there was only one copy of River’s Edge and it was always rented out. I don’t remember if I was not allowed to rent this film or not but this cult classic that starred a young Keanu Reeves had an alternative.
That movie happened to be Stand By Me which almost had the same premise as River’s Edge where a dead body is found or sought after. Already a must-watch for girls in elementary school, because they had the hots for River Phoenix, Stand By Me was a film that sold to tweens because it was the four boy’s desire for adventure and freedom. Again we were all inspired to take those little adventures with our good pals as far away as we could from our parents. It was weird that the film was not marketed towards the fact that Stephen King wrote the story at least from what I can remember. Films like Maximum Overdrive, Christine and Cujo were films that we associated with Stephen King but if us tweeny boppers knew that the legendary author had his hands on this film then we would have looked the other way. Stand By Me had that “Goonies” feel to it that every young tween moviegoer loved and made us all feel comfortable at being that age. One of the major factors that sold Stand By Me was the resurgence of Ben E. King‘s song “Stand By Me” which helped ticket and soundtrack album sales skyrocket.
“If You Leave” by OMD helped market the film Pretty In Pink as well as its soundtrack album sales so this was a great period for soundtracks for films and records stores such as Sam the Record Man or A&A who had these albums smack dab in front of the store. Nothing took the cake more than Top Gun in which Kenny Loggin‘s “Danger Zone” inspired many young boys to become fighter pilots and wear the same type of flight bomber jackets that Tom Cruise wore. “Take My Breath” away from Berlin was one of those songs you would play on cassette at those tweeny birthday parties in elementary school where you wanted to slow dance with your crush. It was the start of being curious when it came to love, sex, romance and relationships in which we had no clue about. The Top Gun soundtrack was heavy and it all made an impact on all of us young people because to us the songs were bigger than the film itself even though it was number one at the box office that year.
If A Year in Film: 1986 did not mention the film Howard the Duck then I would have not remembered how much of a hassle it was to see this film. It was rated AA and nobody in my family wanted to see the film let alone bring me along with them to go see it for reasons I was not too sure of. Even trying to sneak into the Eaton Centre Cinemas to watch the film was not doable. Nevertheless, I had to wait for it to come out on First Choice Superchannel as well to see what all the fuss was about. Low and behold the film was not meant for delinquents like myself and that it had many adult-like controversial moments in it. Excited to see some superhero-like moments in the film, the film did not make much sense to me as I child and why it was even made. For many little boys though, Lea Thompson was our celebrity crush back in the day because of films like Back to the Future and SpaceCamp. Lea Thompson was the redhead that we boys coveted not Molly Ringwald. To see her in her skimpy pink underwear and getting into bed with Howard the Duck was a moment that we could not forget. It was a lot for us back then in which today would be nothing sadly. It was probably the only thing we boys were able to get a hold of.
A Year in Film: 1986 premiering December 13, 2020, at 9:00 pm ET on Hollywood Suite 80s Movies (HS80)
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