Top 10 Life-Wire News Service Stories of 2016

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Life-Wire News Service had a spectacular first full year.  Here are our most popular stories of 2016.

1- Koko Gets Her PBS Close-Up

 Our crew reviewed the PBS/BBC documentary Koko: The Gorilla Who Talks.  Koko lives at the Gorilla Foundation with Penny Patterson, who taught her sign language. -Anthony Pabon

2- Living with Down Syndrome: Eric Schwake

Eric’s video helps people understand what it is like to live with Down Syndrome. We are all the same inside.  -Joseph Padalino

Eric Schwacke. Photo: Sam Villalobos for Life-Wire News Service.

3- Inclusion in Fashion II: FTL Moda Runway Show

People with disabilities can do anything, even in fashion.  I photographed model Madeline Stewart – she is so sweet. Because I’m short, the other photographers let me move to the front row. At the runway show, I stayed in one spot right in front and didn’t move.  I also met model Shaholly Ayers and singer Meredith O’Connor – I loved the dress she was wearing. -Meredith Arout, photographer.

Meredith O’Connor

4- Hamilton’s America Shines on PBS

History comes alive in Great Performances’ Hamilton’s America on PBS. You get to see all the actors and actresses put their heart into it in behind-the-scenes interviews. We reviewed the documentary, and our colleagues Larry Oliveri and Meredith Arout covered the premiere. Check out their interviews with star of the show. Lin Manuel-Miranda, Ron Chernow and many others. -Salvatore DiBenedetto, reviewer.

Lin-Manuel Miranda. Photo: Meredith Arout for Life-Wire News Service.

5- 59th New York Emmy® Awards

I remember how tired I was and how my feet hurt.  It was different.  I never thought I’d cover the Emmys, but I did it. Please check out my photos. -Meredith Arout

She did a magnificent job. I hope to work closely with Meredith in the near future. -Joseph Padalino


6- Mandela Future Leaders Visit Staten Island

It was an experience for me. I got to interview people from all over Africa and I enjoyed it. -Anthony Kefalinos

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The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. Photo: Meredith Arout for Life-Wire News Service.

7- Willowbrook Mile Ribbon Cutting

It got really bad when I lived at Willowbrook.  I hope it never comes back. Geraldo’s interview tells us how things are better now.  Never again. -Anthony Buscarello

Photo: Meredith Arout for Life-Wire News Service.

8- Sen. Lanza Responds to SIDDC Rally

I think this video inspires everyone to help people with disabilities find housing. Don’t give up the fight. Watch this video and learn hat you can do. -Joseph Padalino

Andrew Lanza. Photo: Meredith Arout for Life-Wire News Service.

9- Holy Week Procession in Ferrol, Spain

This is a Catholic parade for Good Friday in Ferrol, Spain. I found it interesting and some people find it unfamiliar.

NWN Photo

10- S.I. MakerSpace: Making Dreams

MakerSpace is an interesting place to work.  They have tools and machines you can use to build all kinds of interesting things.  When I was there, I met a guy making a replica of rhythmicon, an instrument that only two exist in the world.  -Anthony DiFato

Scott Van Campen (left) with Eric Schwake. Photo: Aeneas Jenkins for Life-Wire News Service.

Put ‘March of the Wooden Soldiers’ on holiday to-do list

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“March of the Wooden Soldiers,” 1934

The 1934 version of “The March of the Wooden Soldiers” is an annual holiday treat for the whole family. Also known as “Babes in Toyland,” the black and white classic will be shown on Christmas Day from noon to 2 p.m. on WPIX 11.

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy star as Stan Dee and Ollie Dum. They live with the Old Woman in the Shoe and are trying to save Little Bo Peep from marrying Silas Barnaby, the heartless landlord. In the end everyone unites with the Wooden Soldiers to fight him and the Bogeymen.

The plot involves a comical misinterpretation of Santa’s orders – just part of the many laughs for all ages provided by slapstick and hilarious punchlines. Music, nursery rhyme characters, including Mother Goose, and a rousing community spirit add to the movie’s appeal for kids and adults.

“Watching a classic movie together provides great memories,” says Sal DiBenedetto.

“And you learn to never turn your back on a cannon,” adds Anthony DiFato.

– Sal DiBenedetto, Anthony DiFato, and Sam Stone with Kathryn Carse.

An ‘Eary’ Van Gogh Mystery at Arles on PBS’ Secrets of the Dead

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In Secrets of the Dead: Van Gogh’s Ear, Researcher Bernadette Murphy travels back in time to learn the truth about Vincent Van Gogh. Premiering December 14, 10 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), the program explores if the infamous story of Van Gogh cutting off his own ear on December 23, 1888.

Reviewer Joseph Padalino watching PBS’ Secrets of the Dead: Van Gogh’s Ear.  Photo by Anthony Buscarello for Life-Wire News Service.

Van Gogh’s Ear will give you insight into the life of the artist. The documentary is a really intriguing mystery of his days in Arles, answering the questions – was the story of his ear a fake, and who was the mystery girl ‘Rachel’ who they say received his gory gift?

  • By Joseph Padalino, edited by Edward Gregory.



Watch a Preview at Secrets of the Dead Online


‘Off the Rails,’ Story of A One-Track Mind

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From the time he was a young boy, Darius McCollum was fascinated by trains.  The trains were his hiding spot to get away from his troubles.  But when he took it upon himself to steal trains, he became infamous.

Off the Rails, a film by Adam Irving that tells Darius’ story, gets its United States theatrical run this November, qualifying it for Oscar consideration. It can be seen in Los Angeles at the Laemmie Music Hall, November 4 through 10, and in New York City at the Metrograph Theater, November 18 through 24.

Darius McCollum, Off the Rails publicity photo.

McCollum, who is said to have Asperger’s Syndrome, has been in jail more than 30 times for taking trains and buses for joy rides (often with passengers unaware), trespassing, and impersonating various mass transit personnel. A panel of individuals with disabilities reviewed the film, making their own observations.

“I never saw someone who took so much pride in his job,” said reviewer Joseph Padalino. “He doesn’t hurt the passengers.  He calls out the stops with more enthusiasm than the real drivers. I wouldn’t even care about his disability. I would ride with him.”

“It makes you wonder how safe the train system is,” according to Anthony DiFato. “You have him in jail and there is no counseling. The criminal justice system is not fair.  It’s not like he killed someone.”

McCollum’s story is also being considered for a feature film, starring Julia Roberts as McCollum’s attorney, Sally Butler.  Meanwhile, Darius sits in jail since November 2015 for his latest escapade and is facing a possible 15-year sentence behind bars. A $15 million lawsuit has been filed by Butler on McCollum’s behave, citing the lack of mental health services that he has received thus far in prison.

-Written as a group, including Dolores Palermo, Joseph Jones, Anthony DiFato, Joseph Padalino, Anthony Kefalinos, Anthony Buscarello, Jonathan Chernock, Andre Fitzgerald, and others, edited by Edward Gregory and Kathryn Carse.

Hamilton’s America Shines on PBS

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Hamilton’s America is revolutionary documentary that tells how Lin-Manuel Miranda and his collaborators made a hit Broadway musical. Premiering Friday, October 21 on PBS’ Great Performances (9 p.m. Eastern – check local listings), the documentary, three years in the making, is a before-and-after look at the making of Hamilton, the hottest show on Broadway.

Miranda read Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow’s book about the man and his life-long conflict with Aaron Burr. He imagined the characters speaking and he wrote a rap song. Then he kept adding more until he had a full musical. We follow Lin and his collaborators through the tag-team process all the way to the show’s Broadway opening.

In Hamilton’s America, we meet the Chernow and filmmaker Alex Horwitz, who made the film for Great Performances. We also meet presidents Barack Obama and George Bush, and other national leaders along with musical theater luminaries Stephen Sondhiem and John Weidman, late night host Jimmy Fallon, and musicians Questlove, Black Thought, and Nas.

-Written as a group, including Salvatore DiBenedetto, Joseph Jones, Joseph Padalino, Meredith Arout, Gregory Perosi, and others, edited by Edward Gregory using their content and PBS press materials.

Life-Wire News Service was on hand at Great Performances’ Hamilton’s America preview on October 17 at the United Palace in Washington Heights.  Lawrence Oliveri interviewed the stars in the following video and Meredith Arout captured the red carpet event in photos below:

Photos: Meredith Arout for Life-Wire News Service.

Learn about Great Performances’ Hamilton’s America documentary film on PBS here.

Check out more about WNET’s Hamilton’s America preview at Washington Height’s United Palace Theatre here.

To use Great Performance’s Hamilton’s America in your classroom, check out the resource page on PBS Learning Media here.

Find out more about Ron Chernow’s book, Alexander Hamilton, that inspired the musical here, on Good Reads.

Koko Gets Her PBS Closeup

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The unique relationship between Koko, a western lowland gorilla who can speak sign language, and Penny Patterson, the psychologist who taught her to sign, is revisited in-depth in a new PBS and BBC documentary called Koko − The Gorilla Who Talks, premiering Wednesday, August 3 at 8 p.m. (Check local listings.)

Koko with Penny Patterson. Courtesy of (c) 2015 The Gorilla Foundation/ Photo by Ron Cohn.

Koko is a female western lowland gorilla, born on July 4, 1971. The name Hanabi-Ko, meaning “Fireworks Child” in Japanese, was selected as the winner of the “name the baby gorilla” contest at the San Francisco Zoo where she was born.  That is where she began working with Patterson, who moved Koko to Stanford, where she later set up the Gorilla Foundation.

Koko − The Gorilla Who Talks gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the unconventional life of the world’s most famous gorilla,” said Pamela A. Aguilar, Director of Programming and Development for PBS. “Through new footage and rarely seen photos and videos, the film reinvigorates our fascination with Koko and the relationship Penny first established between animals and humans more than 40 years ago.”

Koko is amazing. She listens. She knows what she wants. She is very lovable. She is very calm with Penny and she wants to learn so much.

If I was Koko, I would like to learn as much sign language as I could so I can impress people. According to Patterson, Koko learned over 1,000 signs.

Project Koko started as Patterson’s Ph.D. assignment to teach sign language to a baby gorilla. As Koko began to communicate with Penny, an intense bond forms between them. Over four decades, the teacher is transformed into a mother figure and student into a daughter figure. The public’s fascination with Koko made her a star.

The documentary captures some of the dramatic moments of Koko’s life including Penny’s battle to keep Koko from being reclaimed by the zoo where she was born, Penny’s clash with experts who doubt her success with Koko, the founding of The Gorilla Foundation, and the image of Koko mourning the death of her kitten – a moment that bought her international fame.  

Finding a mate for Koko is one of the conflicts in the story. You could tell Koko would like to be a mother. She had kittens and she was very gentle with them.  She loved the cats. One of them got run over by a car and she was very sad. She was as distraught as a human would be. A children’s book, “Koko’s Kitten” is written about the special bond and is published around the world.

The zoo wanted to take Koko back. They wanted her to have a boyfriend, but she had a difficult time mating with another gorilla.

I didn’t like the part when they said Penny had to give Koko back to the zoo because Koko loved Penny like a mother.  They knew each other for years. If Penny didn’t care for Koko, she would not have dedicated her life to teaching her.

The whole controversy could be avoided if Koko could speak because then Koko could say what she wanted to do. Koko was misunderstood because some people are ignorant and don’t understand that animals have feelings just like a human does.

If Koko had been taken away, the project would have stopped and Koko probably would have gotten sad or depressed.

Including the controversies made this a better documentary. If they cut parts out it would not be good for the show. If they didn’t have a little sadness or difficulties, people wouldn’t watch because it wouldn’t be realistic.

In order to keep Koko, to provide shelter and other gorilla companions,  Patterson began The Gorilla Foundation. It helps to continue Patterson’s research and teach people about gorillas so that they are appreciated. You can visit them on their Koko & The Gorilla Foundation Facebook page as well.

-By Joseph Padalino, with Kathryn Carse for Life-Wire News Service.

Watch the PBS preview:

And watch more clips here. at PBS.

Photos courtesy of (c) 2015 The Gorilla Foundation/ Photo by Ron Cohn.

Fab Cup: A Coffee Review

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I have been to many coffee houses, but the Fab Cup is very good.  The coffee is very smooth.  We visited recently to check it out.  Please enjoy our review with myself, Anthony DiFato and Joseph Jones, hosted by the lovely Dolores Palermo.

– Joseph Padalino with Edward Gregory for Life-Wire News Service.