Chicago Sun Times
"Body of War," written and directed by TV personality Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro, uses the structure of a roll-call ballot to hold each lawmaker accountable for his or her vote on what the filmmakers present as a dark day for American democracy. It juxtaposes the difficult post-service life of Young, a T-4 quadriplegic and Purple Heart honoree, with excerpts from speeches by President Bush and by elected officials on the floor of the Senate in October, 2002. They are equally painful to watch. The history of the United States and its place in the world since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, is only now starting to be written and understood -- in large part through documentaries like "Body of War".
National Board of Review
“A visually and sonically rich film”
“This is a film about guts, over there and back here. It is BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY and COMING HOME for a new generation.” - Sean Penn
“Superb Documentary! Unbearably Moving”
Ellen Spiro's surprisingly sprightly documentary, Troop 1500 concerns a Texas Girl Scout troop whose mandate is "to strengthen the bond between girls and their incarcerated mothers in order to break the cycle of crime." While empathetic to their subjects' plight (pic follows five women and seven girls), and in tune with the social experiment the troop represents (the girls are regularly brought to prison in structured encounters), filmmakers remain aware of the ironies of juxtaposing jail time and brownie points. Pic's calm evenhandedness incorporates video-within-video experimentation and deliciously campy interpolated snippets of vintage Girl Scout newsreels.
"O", The Oprah Magazine
"Heartwarming and heart wrenching, Troop 1500 shines a light on an ignored segment of society and considers how America can prevent the children of the incarcerated from feeling punished themselves."
"Troop 1500" directed by Ellen Spiro, is another documentary about kids on the brink. It focuses on a Girl Scout troop in Texas whose frequent field trips are visits to the local prison to see their mothers. The girls were all given cameras to conduct interviews on their own: "Mom, why did yo do it?" (Note to Spiro, if this gets picked up ask Kleenex to sponsor it.)
"compelling ... powerful ... dauntingly complex."
Girls Scouts behind bars? Be prepared for an unorthodox and transforming story that follows the girls of Austin Texas Troop 1500. Well-versed in the "Be Prepared" mantra of the Girl Scouts, spunky troop leader Julia Cuba guides her girl scouts into the concrete jungle in which their mothers live. The daughters must continually adapt to new emotional territory, and the mothers find that their best intentions are too often trumped by their weaknesses. With its beautiful camerawork and skillful use of videotaped interviews conducted by the daughters and their moms, Troop 1500 is a candid, moving look at families torn apart by crime but trying to relate beyond prison walls.
The Chicago Reader
"Inspiring and compelling, Troop 1500 steers clear of sentimentality and drives home the magnitude of the difficulty of breaking the cycle of crime."
People's Weekly World Newspaper
Women Making Movies
Moving audiences to laughter and tears at a sneak peek screening at the New York MoMA Documentary Fortnight exhibition in February, this extraordinary documentary was a labor of love for veteran filmmakers Spiro and Bernstein. The directors volunteered with the troop for two years, then began filming monthly meetings at the Hilltop Prison in Gatesville, Texas, as well as capturing scenes in the girls¹ homes to explore the painful context of broken families.
ATOMIC ED & THE BLACK HOLE
San Francisco Examiner
"My favorite short film in the South by Southwest Film Festival was "Atomic Ed and the Black Hole," about a former bomb maker who now runs a shop selling (or not selling, as the case may be) used doodads from the nuclear age. "
"How do you live with the fact that you helped build something that killed millions of people within seconds and thousands (millions?) more over the next fifty years? That's the rather lofty question that this documentary tries to answer by documenting the life of Atomic Ed, an old man in Los Alamos, NM who used to work at the the Los Alamos National laboratory. Now he collects bits and pieces from the lab (only the non-radioactive ones, of course) and keeps them in his shop (The Black Hole) to remind him and the world of something that should never happen again. This guy and his friends are a little crazy, and they seem to know it. That's what makes this totally celebratory instead of it poking fun at the guy."
"An entertaining and bizarre film."
The Hollywood Reporter
"There are a lots of ways the media - mass or otherwise - has hit the road: There were Steinbeck's Depression-age "Grape" roadies, Kerouac's angst-filled, hipster roadies, even Willie Nelson's country road songs. Now we have filmmaker (and road traveler) Ellen Spiro's geriatric roadies - folks in their later years who've retired to their RVs and, yes, hit the road. "Roam" is a captivating tale that rediscovers America - and life in the not-so-very-fast-lane."
"This leisurely documentary tracks so-called Geritol gypsies, retirees who wander America in vintage trailers. Filmmaker Ellen Spiro, and RV'er herself, has a special affinity for these vagabonds. Her efforts are supported by the sage narration of her dog Sam (since deceased), who had ghostwriting help from novelist Allan Gurganus. In case the RV life doesn't seem unfettered enough, we also meet a 66-year-old woman who's walking across the country. Grade: A"
"Here is a filmmaker who is not merely in touch with her work -- she lives her work. The documentary, Roam Sweet Home, is a meandering and intensely poetic look at what some call "the Geritol Gypsies," a loosely connected group of senior citizens who have abandoned the safe mores of a settle-down retirement to roam the Southwest in RVs (usually Airstreams) insearch of new adventuress and experiences."
National Media Owl Awards
"There is a wild sense of discovery at every turn ... visually striking and deeply moving."
- Gene Siskel