Part 1: “Cats,” “Little Women,” “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”

By Matt Neufeld
The Washington Film Institute

Yes, don’t be alarmed, it is indeed that somewhat-dreaded, somewhat-anticipated, always-frightful time of year–the end-of-the-year holiday season film season, full of an annual overload of too many releases overall; too many bombs; too many hits–to see in the theaters in such a short time; too many cookie-cutter, form-fitting studio purely-moneymaker popcorn blockbusters that are really, in the end, just big average movies that are too-soon forgotten; and too many–to see–actually quite good smaller, smarter, high-quality films that should be seen but aren’t seen by most people. Yet, somehow, on the brighter side, in the spirit of the season, every year, to the great good film fortunes of all of us, some of those smaller, more independent-minded, or simply more-intelligent, quality films, do indeed get discovered, do find their audiences, and do indeed instill comfort and joy to the masses, much like Ralphie finding his wonderfully surprising Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot BB gun tucked safely behind Dad’s corner desk in the fantastical living room of the eternal Christmas mind.

And, fortunately for all of us somehow living and surviving in a most un-seasonal-like, horrendously-dispiriting holiday season of 2019 overall–with the collective worldwide political, environmental, cultural, journalistic, militaristic, economical, health apocalypses engulfing every saddened, corrupt, broken and dented corner of a maddeningly suffering world–four surprisingly enjoyable and wonderfully eclectic and overall entertaining films have arrived in theaters to lift up our dispirited spirits, to un-humbug our darkened humbugged souls, and to offer some bit of hope, reflection and positive, life-turning upward mood and spirit changes and redemption–much like ol’ Ebenezer Scrooge’s newly-found, wide-eyed joy at discovering there’s indeed still time in the year and season for a second chance, for a renewed focus on turning things around in life and making everything all right in the world!

Thus, it’s a tiding of great joy to report that “Cats”–yes, “Cats,” no matter what anyone says, including all of the humbugs currently bashing the movie–and “Little Women,” “1917” and “Bombshell” are all very much high-quality, intelligent, well-produced, well-directed, well-acted and well-written films–yes, even “Cats,” which barely has a story, yes, we know that–and are indeed four overall-entertaining films that are recommended to be seen in the theaters this suddenly upbeat and encouraging 2019 holiday season film season!

Yes, “Cats.” We don’t care what the naysayers, humbugs, Scrooges, Grinches and Scott Farkuses of the world say or think–“Cats,” somehow, inexplicably, amazingly, bafflingly, bizarrely and, yes, quite strangely, ends up working and entertaining–despite its many obvious, dumb and evident mistakes, misgivings and misfires. But more on that later, below, in the movie’s respective review.

Ah, you ask, eyes wide in anticipation, but what about “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker?” Good question–and a question that is answered, below, at the very end of this holiday season film season round-up of reviews.

In the meantime, please feel assured and happy and festive enough to don your gay (happy) apparel and enjoy the major seasonal prize of four quality films to see this holiday season–“Cats,” “Little Women,” “1917” and “Bombshell.”

Starring Judi Dench, James Corden, Ian McKellen, Francesca Hayward, Jennifer Hudson, Rebel Wilson, Jason Derulo, Les Twins, Idris Elba, Taylor Swift
Screenplay by Lee Hall and Tom Cooper
Based on the stage musical “Cats,” conceived by and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Original stage musical lyrics adapted and written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Trevor Nunn and Richard Stilgoe
“Cats” is based on T.S. Eliot’s book of poetry, “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”
Directed by Tom Hooper
Produced by Debra Hayward, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Tom Hooper
Cinematography by Christopher Ross
Edited by Melanie Ann Oliver
Music for the film composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler

I’m going to say something here that is going to cause noticeable, seismic shockwaves in the film, theater, musical theater, entertainment, film reviewing, journalism, animal world, cat world and human world time and space continuums: I liked the movie version of “Cats,” it’s not the disaster many, many, many cynical people are saying it is, it’s actually fun and enjoyable and funny and light-hearted and entertaining, and I recommend it as a bubbly, escapist bit of holiday season song-dance enjoyment. There. Feast on that! And humbug detractors should choke on their roast beast in rushing to bash the film before taking some eggnog time-outs and actually finding what’s actually good and positive about this movie.

And that, of course, is simply Webber’s creepily infectious music, full of fluff and stuffing and fur and triviality and nonsense and craziness and weirdness and oddness and puzzlement–much like Ralphie’s aunt continually thinking he’s a girl and sending him a pink bunny suit for Christmas. People want so much and so hard to think that “Cats”–stage musical or film version–is terrible, awful, a piece of crap, something horrid, something unspeakable, something garish and confusing and lacking in story and even entertainment. Ah, but, there is joy in Whoville, you see, because “Cats”–the stage musical and the film–trickily succeeds precisely because of all this hair-pulling and critics’-notebook-shredding and high-mindedness snobbery and eliteism. The stage musical and the movie version succeed because they are indeed–are you ready–garish, confusing, lacking in story, lacking in dialogue, and, yes, full of fluff and fluffery and air and lightness and its own crazy, weird, odd, trival, nonsensical and crazy, puzzling world of reverse, anti-snobbery. Webber somehow wrote a musical that has succeeded despite itself on every level–again, on state and in the film version. It’s so crazy, so anti-everything, so bizarre, audiences embrace it for its, well, weirdness, and, yes, by no chance, its earworm-causing, melodic, bouncy, goofy, fun-loving…songs and dances!

“Cats,” much like T.S. Eliot’s book of poetry that originally inspired Webber to write the stage musical, is much like the phenomenon’s subject matter of real-life cats—-puzzling, mysterious, at once affectionate and stand-offish, at once beautiful and slyly menacing, at once welcoming and fearful, and at once appealing to the masses but out of reach for the more particular, choosy, falsely-high-minded, joyless and soulless members of the world society. That the musical and now the movie prompts derision, arguments, nastiness, confusion and, again, puzzlement, is one, big, grand testament to all of the cats of the world, slinking, rubbing, stretching, running and meowing to their little hearts’ content, all the while eating well, relaxing in their favorite comfortable spots sleeping the days and nights aways, and, inside, laughing at the foibles and idiocy of these humans walking, running and stressing around them every day, chasing their own wagging tails in pursuit of home unreachable human holy grail of satisfaction. The cats of the world sit back, watch the rest of the world–and laugh. And that’s, again, exactly what Webber has done with his stage version and his movie version of “Cats”–he slyly slinks around convention, turns convention upsidedown, plays with convention for a few moments until he finds it all boring, and then races back across the room in a dizzying array of sudden energy to capture attention yet again.

And that’s precisely, completely, wholly what makes the stage version and movie version of “Cats” succeed–this musical laughs at the rest of the world, enjoys that laugh, succeeds by capturing the attention of the masses, scores big in score and music and dance and spectacle, revels and celebrates and flaunts its distinction and craziness and distinctly unique individualism, and, in the meantime, whoops it up, meows loudly, and has a grand ol’ time having a grand ol’ time, either on stage or on screen!

And this is what the Scrooges, Grinches and Farkuses just don’t understand. And not understanding this crazy world makes them angry, upset, jealous and joyless–as if their hearts were two sizes too small.

All of this–this celebration of being weird and crazy and different–is what gleefully sets apart “Cats”–the stage musical and the movie.

First, it’s notable to note that the movie succeeds despite several admittedly glaring, even fateful flaws–the most obvious being the huge mistake of actually discarding one of the most memorable elements of the original musical, aside from the songs and dances–the show’s eye-dazzling, inventive and colorful costumes. Strangely, weirdly and bizarrely–again–the movie version opts instead for some creepy, unworkable, un-dazzling, and decidedly un-beautiful body-hugging, body-enveloping, CGI-enhanced and motion-capture-enhanced and special effects-enhanced and computer-imagery-enhanced body costumes that are about as far, far away from the stage musical’s original costumes as any musical theater fan could have imagined. And, yes, that’s not a good thing. The movie costumes, as they are, completely do indeed detract from the movie, pull the audience away, and stand as one of the more obviously dunderheaded, boneheaded mistakes in recent movie musical decisions. The movie simply should have kept the wonderfully colorful original costumes from the original stage musical. That’s it, that’s what most people think, that’s what thought here, and even the most diehard “Cats” fans will surely, likely agree. There, it’s said.

However, much like any movie, or television show, or play, the whole sum of the many parts involved in a production cannot always be brought completely down by one horrendous. And, like so many modern-day special effects-overloaded movies, special effects–sometimes no matter how prominent–cannot wholly bring down an entire production. One has to consider other factors–especially with musicals, and movie musicals. And, again, even with this horrendous costuming and special effects decision with the movie version of “Cats,” the movie builds and builds and eventually wins, based on a talented ensemble’s worth of acting, dancing, singing, poetry and movement just plain exception talent; confident, original and inventive–and, yes, fast-paced–direction from talented director Tom Hooper (the excellent movie version of the musical “Les Miserable,” “The Danish Girl”); dazzling dancing in many forms–traditional, hip-hop, jazz-inspired, tap, ballet, modern-day, freestyle; wonderful acting from several leads who steal the movie out from everyone else; beautiful, at times dazzling art direction, set design and overall production design; and, once again, an overall spirit of genuine goofiness, craziness, weirdness and, often, just pure joy.

Put all of these movie, movie musical and stage musical elements together as a whole, and the whole wins out, even over some horrid costuming decisions.

“Cats” tells the, yes, loose, very loose, almost-not-there story of a bunch of energetic, slightly crazed and diverse cats living in the streets–they’re called Jellicle cats–who live in anticipation of a Jellicle Ball, a celebration in which the elder, wiser and much-revered and feared cat Old Deuteronomy will choose one Jellicle to advance to some mysterious, glorious, spiritual higher plain of existence and life. The various, somewhat-lovable, quite goofy cats sing and dance in a sort of oddball competition to win over Old Deuteronomy and be chosen for this mystical ascension to a state of higher being. Meanwhile, to provide a whiff of suggestion of conflict, the somewhat-evil, dark force cat Macavity appears and disappears and does all he can to disrupt the proceedings, put down everyone else, override the competition and try to be chosen himself for ascension. Meanwhile, young, innocent cat Victoria tries to fit in, make sense of it all, and be accepted as a Jellicle cat. Meanwhile, chastised and down-on-her-luck cat Grizabella struggles to overcome a downtrodden life of despair, misery and misfortune. Yes–there’s not much of a story, there’s never been much of a story, and many people find the story irritating, baffling and weird. However, as we were saying…

Once the songs and dances take over–on stage and in the movie–all of these trifling concerns such as story, costuming quirks and general oddities become lost in the cattish celebration. A wonderfully talented and buoyant company of dancers and singers bring wonderful life to Webber’s songs; Webber’s composition and orchestration is appropriately filmic and respectful of his stage version; and movie choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler brings that aforementioned array of dance numbers, styles and forms to eclectic life. And Hooper knows how film movie song and dance–applying just the right mix of filmic movement, camera movement, lighting, camera choreography and awareness of when to simply step back and let the camera be still for a moment and capture the joy of the songs, the dancing, the movement and the acting. Hooper brought the same wise judgement and talent to the 2012 production of the musical “Les Miserables.” In that film, as in “Cats,” Hooper, in conjunction on both projects with the producers, writers and composers of the original stage productions, knows when to let the filmic aspects take over, and when to let the stage aspects take over on film.

And meanwhile, talented musical, stage, film and television actors Judi Dench, as Old Deuteronomy; song-and-dance man and quadruple-threat James Corden (he can sing, dance, act and successfully host a late-night talk show with equal talent) as the funny, bumbling Bustopher Jones; and Ian McKellen as Gus the Theatre Cat wonderfully and completely steal this entire production right out of the wings and stage of everyone else on the dazzling, fantastical and beautifully-designed set. Dench, Corden and McKellen are just a joy to watch in “Cats,” as they are in everything they do. And, additionally, watch out for an equally-scene-stealing, powerhouse, blow-you-away performance from Jennifer Hudson as the forlorn Grizabella. Hudson’s breathtaking performance of Webber’s classic show-stealing song “Memory” brings the movie, and all of the proceedings, to an appropriate climax that more than makes up for shoddy costuming and overly-produced special effects. Additionally, ballet dancer Francesca Hayward is appropriately innocent, wide-eyed, wonder-filled–and, yes, strikingly beautiful–as Victoria. Hayward doesn’t get quite enough appropriate chances to display her considerable dancing talents, but her body movements, participation in company dance numbers and physicality do indeed show her extensive and talent-filled dance training.a

Dench, Corden, McKellen, Hudson and Hayward envelope this film with their considerable talents, and their performances, along with the aforementioned songs and dances, slyly slink together to warm over your hearts, grab your attention and affection, and bring out some love and positivity–just like the real cats that inspired Eliot and Webber and Nunn and Stilgoe all those years ago, in the late 1970s and early 1980s when they were all putting together what would become “Cats.” The musical premiered in May of 1981–and promptly went on to extensive, years-long, wildly-successful, phenomenal runs in the West End and on Broadway, eventually becoming literally one of the most successful stage musicals of all time. So there.

And one very interesting note about the movie version–the film is a 38-years-in-the-making wonderful gift from Webber and company to the wonderful Judi Dench. Way back in 1981, Dench was Webber’s first choice to play Grizabella and another character, Jennyanydots. During rehearsals, Dench injured her ankle and had to drop out–just one week before the first preview. So, here we are, 38 years later, and Dench is in a starring role in the movie version–and she promptly steals the show.

​Dench and company do steal the show, and, for true believers, they will eventually, indeed, cause some of those too-small hearts to increase tenfold, spreading joy and good will. Just likes cats tend to do in the end in real life. Love it or hate it, cats and “Cats” the stage musical and the film musical, will somehow strangely win you over in the end.

​Starring Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothy Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, James Norton, Louis Garrel
Screenplay by Greta Gerwig
Based on the book “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott
Directed by Greta Gerwig
Produced by Amy Pascal, Denise Di Novi, Robin Swicord
Cinematography by Yorick Le Saux
Edited by Nick Houy
Music by Alexandre Desplat

Director-writer Greta Gerwig’s wonderfully smart, witty, insightful, meaningful and well-acted drama “Little Women” also succeeds–wildly succeeds–despite some barriers that some would expect, namely that this 2019 version of writer Louisa May Alcott’s Civil War-era American New England coming-of-age and, yes, positively feminist and joyfull independent drama is the sixth feature film adaptation of the book, and one of at least twenty–that’s twenty–varied adaptations of the book in various medium. The film also succeeds despite the fact that a beautifully-produced, directed and acted film version of the book, 1994’s version with a shining Winona Ryder at her peak, is still fresh in filmgoers’ and the public’s mind, even twenty-five years later. And, finally, “Little Women” arrives as a sixth version of a familar book and film series amid a soul-crushing, continual, un-original overload of films from Hollywood that envelope sequelitis–unneeded and unwanted sequels, remakes, reboots, prequels, re-imaginings and re-whatevers that continues to crush originality and inventiveness in the film industry.

However, as noted, Gerwig’s “Little Women” does indeed succeed–it’s not necessarily better or worse than all of the other equally-well-received and well-liked versions, but it is an above-average film, succeeding due to all of the necessary filmic elements need to lift up the sixth feature film version of a familar book–strong, sturdy and highly-emotional and talented acting from an impressive ensemble of talented actors, several of whom are working at the top of their game, too, just like Ryder was twenty-five years ago; Gerwig’s confident and poised and modern-day-leaning—but still strongly period-respectful–screenplay, infused with touches here and there of strident feminism and independence that quietly alludes to and symbolizes several of the glaring problems still facing women in society all of these years later in 2019; Gerwig’s well-paced and well-timed directing–albeit with a caveat that she did need to slow down things at several points, and she did seem to over-rely on overly-quick and overly-snappy dialogue, as if she feared if she slowed down the action and dialogue in a mostly-talky film, she’d lose portions of her attention-deficit, brain-addled, digital-addicted modern-day audiences; and a lush, stylish, classy and generally beautiful overall period production design that has consistently above-average and detailed and explicitly-produced set design, art direction, costuming, hair styling and props. Filmgoers will believe that they are in 1860s New England–albeit, yes, a plush, lush, somewhat exorbitantly-designed movie version of a generally high-end 1860s New England.

“Little Women” tells the coming-of-age story of four energetic, life-embracing, close-knit, literate, educated, talented, and, yes, beautiful force-of-life sisters–Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth March–who are growing up fast with their mother and sympathetic, loving and understanding housekeeper in a crowded house in New England. Money is a constant concern–despite the caring and helping from their nearby, quite-rich friends and neighbors; Dad is absent, off fighting in the Civil War; and the sisters struggle with the familiar struggles of all itching-to-grow-up-and-move-out-into-the-world talented, smart tweens, teens and twentysomething–boys, men, careers, education, sexism, finances, health and family fights. Everyone in every family everywhere–no matter their economic status, race, nationality, background, nation, creed, gender, religion, geography or family dynamics or demographics–face the same problems–locally, regionally, nationally, internationally. And that’s one of many factors that keep audiences coming back to various generational version of Alcott’s “Little Women”–we, girls or boys, men or women, again, mo matter our backgrounds, see a little, or a lot, of ourselves in these four spunky, very-alive, very compassionate, caring and lovable March sisters.

The struggles of the March sisters are our struggles, yes, but perhaps most of all the struggles of the March sisters in the 1860s–even in the affluent, educated and advanced New England of the 1860s–mirror the generational struggles of millions of women around the world, then and today. The March sisters must put up, deal with–and fight–a male- and macho-dominated society that is so filled with sexism and is so intent on keeping women in the kitchen, wash room dining room and bedroom, it’s irritating and annoying to see this–then and now–and it’s also equally enjoyable and gratifying to see the independent, intelligent and appropriately forceful, confident and activist March sisters fight against these horrific societal biases, sexism and discrimination. This at-time quiet and at-time loud feminism is a rousing, positive aspect of this 2019 version of “Little Women,” and all previous versions. But with Gerwig’s strong statement of female independence and strength in 2019 as women fight for dignity, respect and equal rights in the age of continued sexual harassment and discrimination at the highest levels of business, entertainment, media and politics, this version of “Little Women” arrives like a firestorm of protest, demonstration and independence–all without actually loudly protesting, demonstrating in an obvious, lecturing, pandering or pounding-on-the-head manner. Instead, Gerwig lets her 1860s female protagonists proclaim their independence and strength through controlled, quiet dignity, determination, fortitude, courage and honor.

Thus, Saoirse Ronan as Jo, Emma Watson as Meg, Florence Pugh as Amy and Eliza Scanlen as Beth will assuredly steal your hearts–and minds–as the four March sisters. They live, they play, they love, they like, they socialize, learn, aspire and they fight in a dignified, stylish and classy manner, eventually winning over everyone in their forceful path–including moviegoers. These four talented young actresses carry this movie ever forward, delivering wonderful performances, remaining likeable and even lovable, and symbolizing so many important themes, morals and messages, it’s a film that will have audiences not only relishing the entertainment factor, but analyzing, wondering about and discussing the inherent, important meaning of the film’s stances and statements.

“Little Women” manages to entertain and make one think, and combine that with the elaborate period production design, audiences will be reminded that women decades and even centuries put their lives on the line to fight for what is right and just–and that women today, here and now in 2019, are doing the very same work, every month, every week and every day. “Little Women” reminds everyone that today, here and now in 2019, there is still much work to be done for women’s rights, civil rights and human rights. For that message alone, “Little Women” is an important–and, yes, entertaining–film to see in 2019.

​Starring Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiamid, Billy Dee Williams
Screenplay by J. J. Abrams and Chris Terrio
Story by Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow, J. J. Abrams and Chris Terrio
Based on characters created by George Lucas
Directed by J. J. Abrams
Produced by Kathleen Kennedy, J. J. Abrams and Michelle Rejwan
Cinematography by Dan Mindel
Edited by Maryann Brandon and Stefan Grube
Music by John Williams

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” from Disney and directed, co-written and co-produced by J. J. Abrams, is the ninth film in the originally-planned nine-film, three-trilogy classic continuing storyline saga series of “Star Wars” films that was first envisioned by George Lucas. This 2019 film, scheduled to be released on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019, follows the most recent films in the most-recently-produced trilogy, 2017’s “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” directed by Rian Johnson, and 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which was also directed by J. J. Abrams. Also, a prequel that exists somewhat outside of the continuing storyline of the original nine-part, three-triology series, “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” directed by Ron Howard, was released last year, in 2018.

Yes, that means that “The Rise of Skywalker” marks the fourth “Star Wars” film to be released in five years, and, yes, while all four of the films are watchable and enjoyable enough on certain levels, satisfying even the most basic science fiction, fantasy, Western and “Star Wars” cinematic needs, there is an argument to be made that once studio behemoth Disney bought the “Star Wars” rights and ownership from George Lucas in 2012 for about $4 billion, everyone’s worst fears about the franchise have somewhat come true–that Disney would over-saturate, over-market, over-produce, over-release and over-sell the entire package.

Thus, the public has indeed received four “Star Wars” films in five years–and a television show, “The Mandalorian,” on Disney’s digital, or “streaming,” pay channel.

That’s a lot of “Star Wars,” even for the most diehard fan.

So it’s interesting to note that “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” was not made available to the press for an evening advance screening in the Washington, D.C. area, and that the one and only advance press screening was held in the afternoon on a weekday. Since many, and possibly most, of the film reviewers in the D.C. area work full-time jobs during the day on weekdays, the afternoon press screening was an odd choice, and that scheduling possibly prevented several reviewers from seeing the film in advance of its Dec. 20, 2019, release date. This means that many members of the public who also usually attend advance evening screenings were also possibly unable to see the advance screening held in the afternoon. Alas, this scenario was indeed the case in this corner–because of a full-time job obligation on weekdays, and on the day of the one and only afternoon advance press screening for the entire D.C. area, this reviewer was unable to see “Skywalker” in advance of the Dec. 20 release date.

Usually–not all of the time, but usually–when a film is not made available for an evening screening in advance, or when a film is not made available for a screening at all (which is called a cold open), that means studio officials are nervous about the film’s quality and want to hedge their bets by not having too many film reviewers or members of the public see the film in advance. This is not to say that that is the case with “Skywalker,” and this is not saying that that was the reason for the sole, singular advance afternoon screening in the D.C. area. There could have been scheduling conflicts with local theaters, or other reasons, for having just one advance screening.

However, one would think that with such a huge, highly-anticipated release of the final film in such a popular, beloved series, Disney executives would have planned far in advance, and would have been able to find at least one screen at one multiplex movie and at least one night to screen “Skywalker” at a night advance showing for the full contingent of local film reviewers and for eager members of the public–even if they were worried about the film’s quality. Surely, “Skywalker” will make a ton of money, with negative reviews or positive reviews–it’s likely that a combination of diehard fans, casual fans, science fiction and fantasy fans and just curious onlookers and film fans will turn out to see this fan in huge numbers on the opening weekend, through the week of Christmas, on the second weekend, and even during the film’s first few weeks of release. It’s likely that “Skywalker” will make hundreds of millions of dollars, no matter what the level of quality of the film.

So it’s a mystery, a puzzle and a question as to why there was only one afternoon advance screening of the movie in the D.C. area, and why no advance evening screening was held for the multitude of reviewers and for members of the public. Perhaps it was just a fluke, perhaps there’s some other reason for this screening scheduling. Or, perhaps not.

Nevertheless, there are plans to see “Skywalker” during the coming weeks, and once that plan is fulfilled, please look for a complete, in-depth film review to be posted in this space.

Coming up soon in Part 2 of the Holiday Season Film Review Round-up 2019: The excellent and highly-recommended films “Bombshell” and “1917.”

In the meantime, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!


John Hanshaw

John Hanshaw

founded WFI in the Fall of 2007. He has worked in film and television for over ten years at such institutions as NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), PBS and most recently National Geographic. He has degrees from Amherst College, Cambridge University, and GW Law.