The Brooklyn Film Festival’s 21st Season is Upon Us: Get Ready for Love, Loss, Triumph and Controversy

The Brooklyn Film Festival is back with a vengeance – an artistic, thought-provoking reprisal – in the form of documentaries, features, narrative and animated shorts meant to strike a nerve, inform and leave audiences with a welcomed or unwelcomed – shock to the system. The film festival kicked off its 21st season at the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn with a treasure trove of documentaries produced by The New York Times and a mix of animated and experimental films from the Brooklyn Film Festival. The 10-day festival is comprised of approximately 125 features and shorts from 30 countries spread over all continents, except Antarctica. The lineup includes 19 world premieres, 21 from the USA – 37 east coast debuts and 30 first-time screenings in New York City. The festival will present in total 36 short narrative films, 16 short documentary films, 25 animated films and 20 experimental films. There is bound to be a film for all tastes in this roster of diverse presentations from around the globe.

I’m a film buff and constantly seek out new and exciting films – especially independent films that will stake a claim on my brain and will leave me deep in thought for days. Two films that have ambushed my psyche so far: “Lieutenant of the Alt-Right” and “The Story of Esraa.” As the title suggests, “Lieutenant of the Alt-Right” is about one of the members of an extremist, white nationalist group. At first, I scoffed at this documentary, but as I was watched the film’s subject, Eli Mosley, a rising white supremacist leader, whose deep-rooted white male inadequacies was becoming the focus of his drive to spew hate and present himself as an American hero – was quickly challenged in the film. Bravo! To filmmakers, Emma Cott and Andrew Michael Ellis for letting the narrative take shape and expose Eli Mosley and his group’s false, albeit dangerous beliefs, and shed light on to an unfortunate rising movement.

Lieutenant of the Alt-Right, Credit THE NEW YORK TIMES

Photo: Courtesy of Times Documentaries

The second film that left a lasting impression on me is: “The Story of Esraa” – a young 20-something woman who challenges Egypt’s system by attempting to live her life free of her country’s constraints on family, religion, and personal freedoms as she embarks to rent an apartment with her like-minded friends, only to find obstacles and disappointment. This film will resonate with everyone who’s struggled to find their identity and establish themselves on own their own terms. I felt sorrow and hope for this woman, and as I chatted with one of the filmmakers, Mona El-Naggar, Mark Meatto, and Yousur Al-Hlou, I learned about Esraa’s story further. It made me question the freedoms and choices I currently have in the U.S., but for how long? With this administration at the helm chipping away at our Democratic freedoms daily, who’s to say, we can’t find ourselves like Esraa one day?

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Photo: Courtesy of Times Documentaries

The accompanying films on opening night were fantastic as well. The animated short from Italian director Fausto Montanari, “Weird” about girls being different and perceived as odd is a painstaking glimpse of society’s judgmental lens on how we see each other and ourselves. “Deportation Deadline’s” subject matter, by directors Brent McDonald, John Woo, and Jonah M. Kessel is straight from our current news cycle, as many families are continuously torn apart by ICE agents with deportation orders enforced by the Trump administration. The relevancy is strikingly accurate and telling of the injustices currently happening to undocumented immigrants in our country.

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Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

The Brooklyn Film Festival’s (BFF) theme this year is: “Bad times make great art.” And I for one can’t wait to see what’s in store for the duration of this provocative festival that has been staging international and competitive films and independent production of films and drawing worldwide attention to Brooklyn as a center for cinema. BFF promotes artistic excellence and creative freedom without censure, and has done so since 1998. To see an encore of The New York Times produced documentaries and the Brooklyn Film Festival’s stellar films, click here for ticket info, venues, dates and times. Viva la Cinema!

 

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Jonathan Baker Discusses The Resilience of Filmmaking in his New Documentary: ‘Becoming Iconic’

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Photo: courtesy of Jonathan Baker

Jonathan Baker isn’t new to the Hollywood scene. In fact, the writer, producer, entrepreneur and first-time director has immersed himself in show business for the last two decades – one interesting venture at a time. His appearance in “Amazing Race” season 6 along with his then wife, Victoria, sparked controversy, but that didn’t deter him from pursuing worthwhile opportunities and make his artistic mark in entertainment. Serving as writer/producer on Warner Bros.’s Through Scavullo’s Eyes, a documentary on fashion photographer, Francesco Scavullo and the comedy, Dirty Tennis, starring Dick Van Patten and Nicolette Sheridan – earned Baker The VSDA and the New York Film Festival Award for Best Comedy Video of the Year.

Back in the film festival circuit with his new documentary: Becoming Iconic, premiering at the Manhattan Film festival, April 21st, Baker presents audiences with a captivating look at what it’s really like to be a first-time director and directing a feature-length Hollywood film. The documentary chronicles Baker’s experience making his first feature film, Inconceivable – released June 2017, and interjects interviews with industry titans: directors, Jodie Foster (Money Monster, Little Man Tate, Netflix’s “Black Mirror”), Adrian Lyne (Fatal Attraction, Jacob’s Ladder), Taylor Hackford (Ray, Dolores Claiborne) and John Badham (Saturday Night Fever, Short Circuit) on their experiences with directing – particularly the struggles and rewarding moments they endured. Inconceivable is billed as a “sexy dramatic thriller” and is about an unhinged woman (Nicky Whelan) escaping her abusive past that moves to a new town and befriends a mother (Gina Gershon) with fertility challenges and supporting husband (Nicholas Cage). Whelan’s character becomes obsessed with Angela’s (Gina Gershon) daughter. There really isn’t anything “sexy” or “thrilling” about women not being able to conceive naturally or the process of egg donation, but I was intrigued to discover the impetus behind the making of this film and what led to it’s production. The screenplay, penned by Chloe King (“Red Shoe Diaries”, Poison Ivy II) is the daughter of Zalman King, who made erotica films popular with 9 ½ Weeks and Wild Orchid. As I watched Becoming Iconic, I quickly stopped to think about the nuances of making a film, Baker’s painstaking challenges in the film depicted with candor and put my thoughts about Inconceivable to the side. I recently chatted with Jonathan Baker on his journey to filmmaking, lessons learned, and what the future holds for this eclectic risk taker.

DSMC: What was the defining moment you knew you wanted to be a director?

Jonathan Baker: It wasn’t about being a director. Directing became part of my journey. Because I’m a control freak, I didn’t want to work on a project and leave final say up to someone else. I wanted to do it myself. I want to own it from beginning to end. Two directors that influenced me are Robert Evans and Warren Beatty. I was playing poker with Robert Evans once and he said: “Jonathan, if you don’t own your content they’ll run you over.” And, that scared me to the core. That was 20 years ago. He said, “You either write it or you buy it. Because if not, you’ll never have the control you want.” I kept that under my hat for a long time. Wanting to be a creator, but not necessarily a director. Then I ran into Warren Beatty and he said “Jonathan, if you can write and produce and do all this stuff, you might as well direct. I told Warren that there are other people out here who can do it better than me. Beatty said, “If you don’t direct your own pictures you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.” These are all monumental moments that you’re absorbing. Whether you get what you want or don’t. You’re still scared shitless! It doesn’t matter. I’m a filmmaker, and I love all aspects of this business. I love to touch every point of it and that’s why I put myself in as an actor in the film.

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Photo: courtesy of Jonathan Baker, Jodie Foster with Jonathan Baker

DSMC: How did your relationship with Warren Beatty come about? How did you first meet? I know he was very influential in the work that you’ve done with Inconceivable, Becoming Iconic?

Jonathan Baker: Warren was introduced to me through Hugh Hefner. I would play cards with him every Wednesday. Every Sunday, Hugh would have movie night at his house. I was peripherally hanging out and was able to get to know him. Ten years later, we were still friends and Warren was looking to sell his house. He had never sold a piece of property ever. I convinced him to sell me his house. Reluctantly, he did. It’s kind of him passing the torch, from old Hollywood to new Hollywood.

DSMC: While making Becoming Iconic, you were also directing your first feature, Inconceivable – which wasn’t the film you initially wanted to direct. When everything was said and done with the production partners, Emmett/Furla, and the studio, Lionsgate, what was the outcome of these relationships?

Jonathan Baker: I wanted to make Fate and Icon simultaneously. Lionsgate just sat by and let everything unfold. They were more interested in protecting the entity instead of protecting the film and me. Emmett/Furla and I have run into problems. Sometimes you say what you do and do what you say. And, when that doesn’t happen, I don’t take that lying down pretty quickly. I’m a force to be reckoned with. I got the job done. You take the high road in this business. Because of the relationship with Inconceivable and me owning 50% of the copyright – I only had half the say. Going forward, I will own the full copyright. That’s where the real problems came about. At the end of the day you make your decisions and have to live with the decisions you execute. As a director, I’m responsible for the content. I worked with Emmett/Furla because they brought in 50% of the financing, but I didn’t let our disagreements get in the way of making the film.

DSMC: How did you connect with documentary filmmaker Neil Thibedeau to make Becoming Iconic?

 Back when I was with CAA (Creative Artists Agency) and talking to Warren Beatty, I went on a quest to interview all these directors; the love of them, the love of their work. For me, the greatest part of learning is getting these commentaries. The commentaries are fascinating. I loved it! The things that you don’t know – that you don’t understand about movies. I thought would be great to start with Warren Beatty. And, work my way down the list. It was a journey for me. Many of the greats didn’t make it into the documentary: Mel Gibson, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin Costner. When I was in the midst of collecting all this information, Lionsgate had asked me to direct. And, I had all this footage of these interviews. I thought, maybe I can juxtapose these interviews with my stories. I got Neil to come in and tell my story. In the middle of telling the story we ran into issues with Inconceivable. I sugarcoated it pretty well. It was interesting to say the least. I thought I was going insane, but when I called up these directors, they confirmed that all these obstacles were part of the filmmaking experience. It was just really worse for me.

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Photo: courtesy of Jonathan Baker, on the set of Inconceivable, Nicolas Cage and Jonathan Baker

DSMC: Were you discouraged as a first-time filmmaker by the negative reviews Inconceivable received? Did these affect you? Is this par for the course?

Jonathan Baker: I read them. When you have an ego, and put yourself in a movie, make a documentary and you want to write and direct it, the haters are out there. I get it. The thing is this: if they’re not writing about you then you’re in worse shape. Inconceivable is popcorn movie for women. With this film, the substance was cornered by the performances and that’s what we all had to work with. What I would disagree with is all the people’s commentary. I read them too. I don’t fight their reviews. As long as people actually saw the movie and have something to say about it. For me, the journey of reviews is taken with a grain of salt. Given the options, limitations, and pressures I was put under by the studio, I’m happy with the results of Inconceivable.

DSMC: What do you want emerging filmmakers to take away from Becoming Iconic?

Jonathan Baker: First of all, like Project Greenlight, this documentary needs to be shown in all the colleges and film classes. It’s a 101 requisite for this business. I give complete insights into not making an independent film, but a studio film. What it takes. How hard it is to hold your vision because it’s extremely easy to be derailed from your vision by producers, studios or even production staff. You have to be completely malleable, but still a leader. These are the most important elements from Becoming Iconic. What I hope people can relate to. I get to step alongside these iconic directors that have made a difference and convey their knowledge to others. The greatest gift each of us can offer one another is education, understanding, and guidance. That’s how we are human.

Becoming Iconic will premiere at the Manhattan Film Festival Saturday, April 21, 2018 at the Cinema Village. For more information on the screening and to get tickets, click here. To learn more about Jonathan Baker’s new films and fashion projects, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parkland and Other Outspoken Student Activists Led Protests For Gun Reform – With No Plans Of Slowing Down!

march-for-our-lives-washington-17-gty-er-180324_hpMain_4x3_992In the midst of the highly anticipated and highly rated Stormy Daniels Interview on “60 Minutes” and the “Who Bit Beyoncé?” controversies, there was the student-led ‘March For Our Lives’ protest Saturday in Washington, D.C., with sister marches across cities in America supporting their mission for gun control reform. I was in D.C. for the march and I’ve been to many rallies protesting all the unfathomable and inhumane policies pushed by this new administration in New York City. But, this march was different. The cause felt universal. There was solidarity in the air that permeated and touched every man, woman, and child present. Emma-Gonzalez-MarchforOurLives-RTR-imgEmma González’s six minutes and twenty-seconds of silence included in her speech – to demonstrate the short amount of time it took the gunman to wipe out the lives of 17 victims – solidified the fact that this tragedy happened, and it could happen to ANY one of us, ANYTIME, ANYWHERE. And, if we don’t fight collectively for effective gun policies from our government, these mass-shooting epidemics will cease to exist. González, one of the student organizers and survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High shooting in Parkland, FL sparked a movement, along with her classmates, in just 5 weeks of the massacre on February 14, 2018. There were donations and support given to the teens by some of Hollywood’s A-listers, Oprah Winfrey and George Amal Clooney to name a few. Kimye (Kanye West and Kim Kardashian) and Steven Spielberg were in attendance. As much as I love these celebrities it was great to see that their association with the protest – or even their presence didn’t overshadow these students’ mission. Although the crowd was wowed by performances from Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande, and Lin- Manuel Miranda – the true superstars were the inspirational Parkland students and fellow gun violence survivors/activists who took to the podium visiting from Los Angeles and Chicago.

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Two little girls (King, (from left-to-right) Adler) that stole the spotlight and gave the most impressive and touching speeches of the day are Yolanda Renee King, Martin Luther King’s granddaughter and Naomi Wadler. King led a chant that had the crowd enthralled and enamored with this spirited 9-year-old, descendant from the iconic civil rights leader. Not to be left behind, 11-year-old Naomi Wadler quickly commanded the crowds’ attention with her choice words: “I am here to acknowledge and represent the African American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead on the evening news,” Wadler said. “I represent the African American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls full of potential. For far too long, these names, these black girls and women, have just been numbers. I am here to say ‘Never Again’ for those girls, too.”

The national and international ‘March For Our Lives’ protests continues to have momentum and is receiving equal parts media coverage and backlash from the NRA and pro NRA supporters. Close one million people attended the ‘March For Our Lives’ in D.C. alone. Rick Santorum, former Republican senator recently stated students should forego protesting and learn CPR – to which Parkland teens responded: “CPR won’t save gunshot victims’ lives” as drew ridicule from healthcare professionals and other ‘March For Our Lives’ supporters condemning the former politician. One thing is clear: these young leaders have proven they can articulate their message with eloquence and class and will not be silenced or bullied by adults with power. They have tenacity and conviction to AFFECT real change in Washington to prevent further mass shootings.

Big Gay Ice Cream x Hot Sox Sock Hop Event Evokes Nostalgia In NYC

The South Street Seaport District was a backdrop to popular, consumer fan favorites: Big Gay Ice Cream and HotSox. The two brands hosted an event at Mr. Cannnon’s Speakeasy recently, celebrating a collaboration between the ice cream powerhouse and the fashion-forward original novelty sock line – with a launch of the Hox Sox x Big Gay Ice Cream limited-edition socks. The socks have the city’s skyline set against Big Gay Ice Cream’s signature motif with the words “Big” and “Gay” emblazoned on each sock.

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Donny Tsang, @donny_tsang on Instagram for the BGIC Event

With its zany and iconic designs, the sock brand has maintained its pulse on pop culture and art throughout the years. Their collections include the Norman Rockwell line, the Artist Series for both men and women and now the wildly popular emoji designs. Growing up in New York City, I’d frequent Greenwich Village as a teen and would find the wildest and original patterns at their stores. With striped and polka-dot hosiery in my fashion arsenal: I was unstoppable in high school and college. The sock brand has been a beacon of self-expresion since it launched in 1971 with silkscreened bright opaque socks. Now HotSox is in 1,700 U.S. stores and can be found throughout Europe, Asia, and Latin America.

Co-founder, Doug Quint of Big Gay Ice Cream has been a fan of the quirky and stylish sock brand and was approached by Hot Sox for a collaboration. Big Gay Ice Cream, with its high quality ingredients and untradational toppings has been around since 2009. You can spot their colorful trucks parked around New York City’s famous streets in the summer. In 2011, they set up a brick-n-mortar outpost in the East Village, a second in the West Village, and branched out into Philadelphia’s Center City with another store. They produced their first cookbook: Big Ice Cream: Saucy Stories & Frozen Treats in 2015. Quint and his business partner Bryan Petroff, have been approached by other companies for merchandising opportunities, but opted out to stay true to the brand until they relaunched their site with original products.

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Donny Tsang, @donny_tsang on Instagram for the BGIC Event (from left-to-right, Doug Quint and Bryan Petroff)

When I asked Quint if these limited-edition socks were designed to advocate for the LBGTQ cause, Doug said although we do support and are active in the LBGTQ community and currently support the Ali Forney Center (an organization whose mission is to rescue homeless LBGTQ youth from the streets and place them in safe environments) their motive was to create a fun, durable, unisex sock to make people happy. And guess what? They do. When I put them on – they stay on – and if only for a brief moment, remind me of younger care-free years.

Whether you love history, art, geography, pop culture – or just fashion, check out HotSox latest sock designs and the limited-edition Big Gay Ice Cream x HotSox retailing for $12, here

For everything Big Gay Ice Cream News and Products, click here

Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi Ad – Who’s at Fault? Everyone!

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Social Media has revolutionized the immediacy of how the public reacts to news and entertainment. Forget the days of snail hate mail of yesteryear sent to networks and celebrities in large bags. Every single person has a voice – and social forum to be heard. Less than 24 hours since the new Pepsi ad was launched featuring Kendall Jenner, one of the hottest it-models of the moment – the ad has been pulled from every marketing vehicle imaginable. What happened exactly? I follow the Kardashians on social as I’m a pop culture junkie and after I viewed the fury-inducing ad on Kris Jenner’s Instagram, I wasn’t moved, I brushed it off, yet I had a sinking feeling it wouldn’t be well received by the public. It was awkward in execution, odd images of Kendall Jenner abandoning her “model” duties and joining a protest. After having attended two protests this year: The Women’s March in following the inauguration and Not My President’s Day March in February. This commercial didn’t necessarily poke fun at protests – it trivialized the protesting experience. It lumped protests into the next “cool” thing young people are doing or engaged with. Similar to the “Cash me outside, How bout’ Dat?” teen or the incessant iterations on the Internet of Salt Bae. Yeah, nope. The Twitterverse was not having any of it. Everyone and their, mom, aunt, dad and grandpa had to something to say about it. Martin Luther King Jr.’s youngest daughter, Bernice King, posted: “If only Daddy would have known the power of #Pepsi” with a picture of cops strong-arming Martin Luther King Jr. in the 60s.

Pepsi is such a well-known global brand and being asked to be a Pepsi ambassador is mecca for any celebrity: A sign that you’ve made it. Recognition is absolute. Your star power is blinding! If you look at Kendall Jenner’s Instagram post just days before the controversy unfolded, there’s a picture of her idol, Cindy Crawford in a 1992 Pepsi ad.

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Kendall and her clan (momager, Kris included) were so clouded by the prestige Pepsi invokes – that they forgot the messaging behind this partnership. It was an afterthought. No one said, “Hey! maybe this is ad’s message is a little insensitive to people’s causes” As an adoring public, fans, spectators on the sidelines, we want our favorite models, actors, and sport stars to reach the pinnacle of success with all the advertising, movie, fashion deals out there – but one misstep and the crucifixion begins. Kendall Jenner has removed all traces of her ad on her social media accounts and Pepsi has apologized and lamented their insensitivity. But we as a the public must not go on the attack and instead educate companies, and clueless celebrities about history and what protests mean and can achieve for the misrepresented and people without a voice. Not once did I see or hear anyone say: “Hey Kendall, come to my town or join my group so you can see what protesting is really like and what the impetus behind this march means.”

Were the Factcheckers on Vacation during the Oscars 2017?

Just one more round of eyes! That’s the collective sentiment the producers of this year’s Oscars may have wished for before green-lighting all the programming events during the live telecast on Sunday night. First glitch: the”In Memoriam” segment that erroneously presented a photo of a very-much-alive producer: Jen Chapman; instead of her colleague, costume designer, Janet Patterson. According to an email exchange with Variety, Chapman said: “I was devastated by the use of my image in place of my great friend and long-time collaborator Janet Patterson. Patterson was a four-time Oscar nominee and per Chapman, “It is very disappointing the error was not picked up.” Chapman had urged Patterson’s agency to confirm the use of her image with the Academy.

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Fake News? No, just a blatant disregard for quality fact-checking. How mortifying and indignant it must be to explain to people in your industry, heck! your family and friends – that you are indeed still alive!

Jimmy Kimmel’s jokes and sketches – aimed to shock and get laughs were not the true surprises of the show, although the unsuspecting tourists entering the Dolby Theatre – had just the right amount of hilarity and awkwardness, past hosts/comedians have strived for and experimented with. The unexpected higlight: Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty mistakenly awarding LaLa Land the Best Picture Oscar instead of Moonlight and the mayhem that ensued was equal parts – priceless and embaressing. PricewaterhouseCooper (the global accounting firm administering the balloting for the Oscars for over 80 years) immediately took the blame hours later, but not before all the media outlets reported LaLa Land as the Best Picture for 2017 – and then retracted their stories. But the few minutes of confusion solidified the importance of fact-checking and how even the most prestigious of organizations can slip with this crucial journalistic tool.

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Teen Titan Kylie Jenner’s New York Pop-up is Cosmetics Gold: Beauty Brands Take Note

fullsizerenderIt’s the fifth day of Kylie Jenner’s New York’s pop-up store being open and there are no signs of her customer/fan base waning down- to get their hands on the coveted beauty products. I was there to check out the scene at the pop-up’s Soho location on Mercer Street. I arrived around 11am to find a line-up of about 80 enthusiastic customers braving the cold temperatures, patiently waiting, while barricaded along the street until they were let inside.

While on line, I decided to get into the minds of these beauty die-hards and ask them a series of questions: Do you love Kylie Jenner and would buy anything she promoted? Or do you love the quality of her cosmetics? What brings you here, really? As I surveyed the crowd to look for my participants, I had a preconceived notion that I would encounter pre-pubescent and teenaged girls. Boy, was I was wrong! There were fans ready to plunk down their cash – in their teens, early and late twenties, and early forties. I couldn’t believe Kylie Jenner’s demographic had such mass appeal and such a big age range. As I questioned more people, I found that they knew their beauty brands. Tarte, Anastasia, Too Faced are some of their favorites, but the majority of respondents said they preferred the quality of Kylie Jenner’s products. “I really like how long-lasting the lip kits are,” said one girl in her twenties. Others said they love the packaging and have been following Kylie on Instagram before her makeup line launched.

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After about an hour, I was let in. Yes! I was given a wristband and asked to enter my name and email by staffers for a quick checkout. Very efficient! I thought. Unlike New York City fashion sample sales I’ve attend in the past, this crew had it together, and want customers in and out.

Once inside, you realize the store isn’t very big. There was a “pseudo-recreation” of a bed by the back wall with a brown furry throw on it and large screens with seductive video images of Kylie staring at you. Fans of current and previous collections will be delighted to see most sold-out products available for purchase: The Birthday, Holiday and Valentine’s collections are hanging on different walls. Sprinkled throughout the store, you’ll find Arthur George socks with Kylie’s logo, phone cases, patches, hoodies and other clothing from the https://kyliejennershop.com.

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Jenner, who introduced her glosses in 2015, officially launched her global cosmetics line in 2016 and hasn’t stopped churning out, instant sell-out products – readily sought by fans – ever since. While Kylie Jenner has faced some obstacles along the way; comparisons of ColourPop Cosmetics’ significantly cheaper line; both makeup lines are produced by the Seed Beauty Factory; she’s determined to distinguish her line from others. Well-known bloggers/vloggers slammed Jenner on this detail, yet fans still show their unwavering support with their credit card purchases. The New York pop-up will be open until supplies run out.

In short, Kylie Jenner’s influence on the beauty industry has been solidified. Over 10 million in sales to date with her cosmetics line has the heavy-hitters in makeup paying attention and eager to mirror her success. Jenner’s success is a combination of cult followers and Jenner’s role as brand ambassador keeping her ahead of the beauty game.