Category Archives: Random

The Black Panthers and the Second Amendment

“Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary.”Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948)

Not quite my farm life in rural Wisconsin

Not quite my farm life in rural Wisconsin

As a writer, I find myself delving into all sorts of things I never imagined I would as a young girl growing up in rural Wisconsin. There were about 12,251 people in my hometown and not a single one of them was black. Not one. I don’t remember any brown people, either. While there were a few Asians (doctors and their families), the people of color were primarily Native American. And they were generally discussed derisively. Growing up gay in the upper Midwest was (and still is) challenging. It made me sensitive to what it means to be the other, the outsider.

The Civil Rights Movement, The AIDs Movement and the Women’s Movement were a big deal to me. I sang the Desiderata and Abraham, Martin and John at the top of my lungs. I marched. I chanted. I volunteered. I burned for the Apartheid Movement. As a child, I believed we were making the world a better place for everyone. So, it will probably be no surprise that the events in Ferguson and plethora of postings about the current state of the Civil Rights Blackslide has me distressed.

I’ve spent the last three years researching the Symbionese Liberation Army and the women at the heart of that tragic movement. During that research, I discovered that the Gun Rights Movement and Second Amendment Insanity is firmly rooted in the Black Panther Movement of the 1960’s. The Black Panthers on the Capitol StepsOn May 2, 1967, Black Panther leader Bobby Seale led 24 men and six (6) women carrying .357 Magnums, 12-gauge shotguns, and .45 caliber pistols to the state capitol in Sacramento. Citing an obscure state statute which made it legal to carry loaded weapons if the were not concealed, Seale said, “The time has come for black people to arm themselves against this terror before it is too late.” Decades of abuse at the hands of unchecked police brutality, the Panthers decided to take up arms.

The Pathers’ efforts provoked an immediate backlash. Republicans in California eagerly supported increased gun control. Big-Man-Elbert-Howard-Black-Panther-Party-founding-member-oakland-1968 Governor Reagan told reporters that afternoon that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.” He called guns a “ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will.” California passed the Mulford Act prohibiting carrying loaded weapons but the spark had be ignited.

Founded on November 17, 1871, The National Rifle Association was primarily an organization for sportsmen and hunters until the Black Panther actions of the 60’s and early 70’s. In 1977, Wayne LaPierre joined the NRA and, over the next two decades, lobbied and catalyzed it into the overwhelmingly powerful organization that it is today.

Getting Personal

It has been almost a year since I’ve written on this blog. It used to be mostly about indie filmmaking, film festivals and digital fine arts. Then I moved to the coast to try my hand at writing. I have two writing partners and, with them, have had some great “reads,” great forward progress, and tremendous validation. My writing career wasn’t a resounding success but it wasn’t a failure either.

Then in June, I went back to Wisconsin to help my parents. I helped them move back to our hometown because my Dad’s health was failing and my mother was overwhelmed. I returned to writing with a plan to return in the fall to “check up on their progress.” But then, I called my Dad for his birthday, 26 August. He told me he wasn’t feeling well and asked me to come home and help him figure it out. I booked a flight for September 8th but my father was hospitalized prior to when I got home. They couldn’t find anything wrong. By the time I got home, he was out of the hospital with a clean bill of health. But he was 37 pounds lighter than he had been in May. So, I took him to another doctor, got a few more tests and, on 18 September, got a grim medical report with a terminal diagnosis. A mass in chest, a spot on his lung, a mass on his adrenal and a growth in his liver. Three weeks later, my father died at home. On 11 October 2012, he slipped from this world and I have been struggling to make sense of everything.

I got back a couple of days ago to find someone had hit my car in the parking garage while I was gone. No note. Just a bunch of damage to try to fix. A fitting conclusion to the last few months. A crash I hadn’t seen coming.

Sundance 2012 U.S. Dramatic Competition

The world premieres of 16 American narrative feature films.

Beasts of the Southern Wild / U.S.A. (Director: Benh Zeitlin, Screenwriters: Benh Zeitlin, Lucy Alibar) — Waters gonna rise up, wild animals gonna rerun from the grave, and everything south of the levee is goin’ under, in this tale of a six year old named Hushpuppy, who lives with her daddy at the edge of the world. Cast: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry.

The Comedy / U.S.A. (Director: Rick Alverson, Screenwriters: Rick Alverson, Robert Donne, Colm O’Leary) — Indifferent even to the prospects of inheriting his father’s estate, Swanson whiles away his days with a group of aging Brooklyn hipsters, engaging in small acts of recreational cruelty and pacified boredom. Cast: Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim, Kate Lyn Sheil, Alexia Rassmusen, Gregg Turkington.

The End of Love / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Mark Webber) — A young father unravels following the loss of the mother of his child. Cast: Mark Webber, Shannyn Sossamon, Michael Cera, Jason Ritter, Amanda Seyfried, Frankie Shaw.

Filly Brown / U.S.A. (Directors: Youssef Delara, Michael D. Olmos, Screenwriter: Youssef Delara) — A Hip Hop-driven drama about a Mexican girl who rises to fame and consciousness as she copes with the incarceration of her mother through music. Cast: Lou Diamond Phillips, Gina Rodriguez, Jenni Rivera, Edward James Olmos.

The First Time / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Jonathan Kasdan) — Two high schoolers meet at a party. Over the course of a weekend, things turn magical, romantic, complicated and funny, as they discover what it’s like to fall in love for the first time. Cast: Brittany Robertson, Dylan O’Brien, Craig Roberts, James Frecheville, Victoria Justice.

For Ellen / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: So Yong Kim) — A struggling musician takes an overnight long-distance drive in order to fight his estranged wife for custody of their young daughter. Cast: Paul Dano, Jon Heder, Jena Malone, Margarita Levieva, Shay Mandigo.

Hello I Must Be Going / U.S.A. (Director: Todd Louiso, Screenwriter: Sarah Koskoff) — Divorced, childless, demoralized and condemned to move back in with her parents at the age of 35, Amy Minsky’s prospects look bleak – until the unexpected attention of a teenage boy changes everything. Cast: Melanie Lynskey, Blythe Danner, Christopher Abbott, John Rubinstein, Julie White.

Keep the Lights On / U.S.A. (Director: Ira Sachs, Screenwriters: Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias) — An autobiographically inspired story of a passionate long-term relationship between two men driven by addiction and secrets but bound by love and hopefulness. Cast: Thure Lindhardt, Zachary Booth, Julianne Nicholson, Souleymane Sy Savane, Paprika Steen.

LUV / U.S.A. (Director: Sheldon Candis, Screenwriters: Sheldon Candis, Justin Wilson) — An orphaned 11-year-old boy is forced to face the unpleasant truth about his beloved uncle during one harrowing day in the streets of Baltimore. Cast: Common, Michael Rainey Jr., Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton.

Middle Of Nowhere / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Ava DuVernay) — When her husband is incarcerated, an African-American woman struggles to maintain her marriage and her identity. Cast: Emayatzy Corinealdi, David Oyelowo, Omari Hardwick, Lorraine Touissant, Edwina Findley.

Nobody Walks / U.S.A. (Director: Ry Russo-Young, Screenwriters: Lena Dunham, Ry Russo-Young) — Martine, a young artist from New York, is invited into the home of a hip, liberal LA family for a week. Her presence unravels the family’s carefully maintained status quo, and a mess of sexual and emotional entanglements ensues. Cast: John Krasinski, Olivia Thirlby, Rosemarie DeWitt, India Ennenga, Justin Kirk.

Safety Not Guaranteed / U.S.A. (Director: Colin Trevorrow, Screenwriter: Derek Connolly) — A trio of magazine employees investigate a classified ad seeking a partner for time travel. One employee develops feelings for the paranoid but compelling loner and seeks to discover what he’s really up to. Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, Karan Soni.

Save the Date / U.S.A. (Director: Michael Mohan, Screenwriters: Jeffrey Brown, Egan Reich, Michael Mohan) — As her sister Beth prepares to get married, Sarah finds herself caught up in an intense post- breakup rebound. The two fumble through the redefined emotional landscape of modern day relationships, forced to relearn how to love and be loved. Cast: Lizzy Caplan, Alison Brie, Martin Starr, Geoffrey Arend, Mark Webber.

Simon Killer / France, U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Antonio Campos) — A recent college graduate goes to Paris after breaking up with his girlfriend of 5 years. Once there, he falls in love with a young prostitute and their fateful journey begins. Cast: Brady Corbet, Mati Diop, Constance Rousseau, Michael Abiteboul, Solo.

Smashed / U.S.A. (Director: James Ponsoldt, Screenwriters: Susan Burke, James Ponsoldt) — Kate and Charlie are a young married couple whose bond is built on a mutual love of music, laughter and… drinking. When Kate decides to get sober, her new lifestyle brings troubling issues to the surface and calls into question her relationship with Charlie. Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Octavia Spencer, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally.

The Surrogate / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Ben Lewin) — Mark O’Brien, a 36-year-old poet and journalist with an iron lung, decides he no longer wishes to be a virgin. With the help of his therapist and the guidance of his priest, he contacts a professional sex surrogate to take him on a journey to manhood. Cast: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy.

Sundance 2012 U.S. Documentary Competition

The world premieres of 16 American documentary films.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry / U.S.A., China (Director: Alison Klayman) — Renowned Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei has garnered international attention as much for his ambitious artwork as his political provocations and increasingly public clashes with the Chinese government.

The Atomic States of America / U.S.A. (Directors: Don Argott, Sheena M. Joyce) — In 2010, the United States announced construction of the first new nuclear power plant in more than 32 years. A year later, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck the Fukushima Power Plant in Japan sparking a fierce debate in the U.S. over the safety and viability of nuclear power.

Chasing Ice / U.S.A. (Director: Jeff Orlowski) — Science, spectacle and human passion mix in this stunningly cinematic portrait as National Geographic photographer James Balog captures time-lapse photography of glaciers over several years providing tangible visual evidence of climate change.

DETROPIA / U.S.A. (Directors: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady) — The woes of Detroit are emblematic of the collapse of the U.S. manufacturing base. This is the dramatic story of a city and its people who refuse to leave the building, even as the flames are rising.

ESCAPE FIRE: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare / U.S.A. (Directors: Matthew Heineman, Susan Froemke) — What can be done to save our broken medical system? Powerful forces are trying to maintain the status quo in a profit-driven medical industry, but a movement to bring innovative methods of prevention and healing is finally gaining ground – potentially saving the health of a nation.

Finding North / U.S.A. (Directors: Kristi Jacobson, Lori Silverbush) — A crisis of hunger looms in America and is not limited to the poverty stricken and uneducated. Can a return to policies of the 1970s save our future?

The House I Live In / U.S.A. (Director: Eugene Jarecki) — For over 40 years, the War on Drugs has accounted for 45 million arrests, made America the world’s largest jailer and damaged poor communities at home and abroad. Yet, drugs are cheaper, purer and more available today than ever. Where did we go wrong and what is the path toward healing?

How to Survive a Plague / U.S.A. (Director: David France) — The untold story of the intensive efforts that turned AIDS into a manageable condition – and the improbable group of (mostly HIV-positive) young men and women whose amazing resilience broke through a time of rampant death and political indifference.

The Invisible War / U.S.A. (Director: Kirby Dick) — An investigative and powerfully emotional examination of the epidemic of rape of soldiers within the U.S. military, the institutions that cover up its existence and the profound personal and social consequences that arise from it.

Marina Abramović The Artist is Present / U.S.A. (Director: Matthew Akers) — Marina Abramović prepares for a major retrospective of her work at The Museum of Modern Art in New York hoping to finally silence four decades of skeptics who proclaim: ‘But why is this art?’

ME at the ZOO / U.S.A. (Directors: Chris Moukarbel, Valerie Veatch) — With 270 million hits to date, Chris Crocker, an uncanny young video blogger from small town Tennessee, is considered the Internet’s first rebel folk hero and at the same time one of its most controversial personalities.

The Other Dream Team / Lithuania, U.S.A. (Director: Marius Markevicius) — The 1992 Lithuanian National Basketball Team went from the clutches of Communism to the Summer Olympics in Barcelona – a testament to the powerful role of sports as a catalyst for cultural identity.

The Queen of Versailles / U.S.A. (Director: Lauren Greenfield) — Jackie and David were triumphantly constructing the biggest house in America – a sprawling, 90,000-square-foot palace inspired by Versailles – when their timeshare empire falters due to the economic crisis. Their rags-to-riches-to-rags story reveals the innate virtues and flaws of the American Dream.

Slavery By Another Name / U.S.A. (Director: Sam Pollard) — As slavery came to an end with Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, a new system of involuntary servitude took its place with shocking force, brutalizing, terrorizing and ultimately circumscribing the lives of hundreds of thousands of African Americans well into the 20th century.

Love Free or Die: How the Bishop of New Hampshire is Changing the World / U.S.A. (Director: Macky Alston) — One man whose two defining passions are in conflict: An openly gay bishop refuses to leave the Church or the man he loves.

We’re Not Broke / U.S.A. (Directors: Karin Hayes, Victoria Bruce) — As American lawmakers slash budgets and lay off employees, leaving many people scrambling to survive, multibillion-dollar corporations are concealing colossal profits overseas to avoid paying U.S. income tax. Fed-up Americans are taking their frustration to the streets.

Sundance 2012 World Dramatic Competition

Fourteen films from emerging filmmaking talents offer fresh perspectives and inventive styles.

4 Suns / Czech Republic (Director and screenwriter: Bohdan Sláma) — Immature Fogi attempts to straighten up and accept his responsibilities as a new husband and father, as well as role model to his troubled son from a previous relationship, but finds himself unable to change his nature, leaving him to watch haplessly as his family begins to crumble. Cast: Jaroslav Plesl, Aňa Geislerová, Karel Roden, Jiří Mádl, Klára Melíšková. World Premiere

About the Pink Sky / Japan (Director and screenwriter: Keiichi Kobayashi) — A high school girl finds a wallet full of money and tracks down its owner, leading to unexpected consequences for the girl and her friends. Cast: Ai Ikeda, Ena Koshino, Reiko Fujiwara, Tsubasa Takayama, Hakusyu Togetsuan. International Premiere

Can / Turkey (Director and screenwriter: Rasit Celikezer) — A young married couple live happily in Istanbul, but their decision to illegally procure a child threatens their future together. Cast: Selen Ucer, Serdar Orcin, Berkan Demirbag, Erkan Avci. World Premiere

Father’s Chair (A Cadeira do Pai) / Brazil (Director: Luciano Moura, Screenwriters: Elena Soarez, Luciano Moura) — Following the trail of his runaway teen son, Theo confronts his own identity as a son, a father and a man along the way. Cast: Wagner Moura, Mariana Lima, Lima Duarte, Bras Antunes. . World Premiere

L / Greece (Director: Babis Makridis, Screenwriters: Efthimis Filippou, Babis Makridis) — A man who lives in his car gets caught up in the undeclared war between motorcycle riders and car drivers. Cast: Aris Servetalis, Makis Papadimitriou, Lefteris Mathaios, Nota Tserniafski, Stavros Raptis. World Premiere

The Last Elvis (El Ultimo Elvis) / Argentina (Director: Armando Bo, Screenwriters: Nicolás Giacobone and Armando Bo) — A Buenos Aires Elvis impersonator who believes that he is the reincarnation of the King struggles to shake free from reality and live his musical dream. Cast: John McInerny, Griselda Siciliani, Margarita Lopez. World Premiere

Madrid, 1987 / Spain (Director and screenwriter: David Trueba) — The balance of power and desire constantly shifts during the meeting of an older journalist and a young student, of two generations completely foreign to one another. Cast: José Sacristán, María Valverde, Ramon Fontserè. International Premiere

My Brother the Devil / United Kingdom (Director and screenwriter: Sally El Hosaini) — A pair of British Arab brothers trying to get by in gangland London learn the extraordinary courage it takes to be yourself. Cast: James Floyd, Saïd Taghmaoui, Fady Elsayed. World Premiere

Teddy Bear / Denmark (Director: Mads Matthiesen, Screenwriters: Mads Matthiesen, Martin Pieter Zandvliet) — Dennis, a painfully shy 38-year-old bodybuilder who lives with his mother, sets off to Thailand in search of love. Cast: Kim Kold, Elsebeth Steentoft, Lamaiporn Sangmanee Hougaard, David Winters, Allan Mogensen. World Premiere

Valley of Saints / India, U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Musa Syeed) — Gulzar plans to run away from the war and poverty surrounding his village in Kashmir with his best friend, but a beautiful young woman researching the dying lake leads him to contemplate a different future Cast: Gulzar Ahmad Bhat, Mohammed Afzal Sofi, Neelofar Hamid. World Premiere

Violeta Went to Heaven (Violeta se Fue a Los Cielos) / Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Spain (Director: Andrés Wood, Screenwriters: Eliseo Altunaga, Rodrigo Bazaes, Guillermo Calderón, Andrés Wood) — A portrait of famed Chilean singer and folklorist Violeta Parra filled with her musical work, her memories, her loves and her hopes. Cast: Francisca Gavilán, Thomas Durand, Luis Machín, Gabriela Aguilera, Roberto Farías. International Premiere

Wish You Were Here / Australia (Director: Kieran Darcy-Smith, Screenwriters: Felicity Price, Kieran Darcy-Smith) — Four friends embark on a carefree holiday, but only three return home. Who knows what happened on that fateful night? Cast: Joel Edgerton, Teresa Palmer, Felicity Price, Antony Starr. World Premiere.

WRONG / France (Director and screenwriter: Quentin Dupieux) — Dolph searches for his lost dog, but through encounters with a nympho pizza-delivery girl, a jogging neighbor seeking the absolute, and a mysterious righter of wrongs, he may eventually lose his mind… and his identity. Cast: Jack Plotnick, Eric Judor, Alexis Dziena, Steve Little, William Fichtner. World Premiere

Young & Wild / Chile (Director: Marialy Rivas, Screenwriters: Marialy Rivas, Camila Gutiérrez, Pedro Peirano) — 17-year-old Daniela, raised in the bosom of a strict Evangelical family and recently unmasked as a fornicator by her shocked parents, struggles to find her own path to spiritual harmony. Cast: Alicia Rodríguez, Aline Kuppenheim, María Gracia Omegna, Felipe Pinto. World Premiere

Sundance 2012 World Documentary Competition

Twelve documentaries by some of the most courageous and extraordinary filmmakers working today.

1⁄2 REVOLUTION / Denmark, Egypt (Directors: Omar Shargawi, Karim El Hakim) — In January 2011, two filmmakers captured the reality of the Egyptian revolution as it occurred out of view from the world’s media in the alleyways and streets away from the square – and in the process were arrested by the secret police. North American Premiere

5 Broken Cameras / Palestine, Israel, France (Directors: Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi) — A Palestinian journalist chronicles his village’s resistance to a separation barrier being erected on their land and in the process captures his young son’s lens on the world. International Premiere

THE AMBASSADOR / Denmark (Director: Mads Brügger) — What happens when a very white European man buys his way into being a diplomat in one of Central Africa’s most failed nations? Welcome to the bizarre and hidden world of African diplomacy, where gin and tonics flow and diamond hustlers and corrupt politicians run free. North American Premiere

BIG BOYS GONE BANANAS!* / Sweden (Director: Fredrik Gertten) — The behind-the-scenes story of a full-scale attack on freedom of speech. When Dole set its sights on the WG Film production Bananas!* in May 2009, confusion was the method, aggression was the tactic and media control was the story. North American Premiere

China Heavyweight / Canada, China (Director: Yung Chang) — In central China, where a coach recruits poor rural teenagers and turns them into Western-style boxing champions, the top students face dramatic choices as they graduate – should they fight for the collective good or for themselves? A metaphor for the choices everyone in the New China faces now. World Premiere

Gypsy Davy / Israel, U.S.A., Spain (Director: Rachel Leah Jones) — How does a white boy with Alabama roots become a Flamenco guitarist in Andalusian boots? A tale of self-invention and the pursuit of happiness, regardless of the cost to others. International Premiere

The Imposter / United Kingdom (Director: Bart Layton) — In 1994 a 13-year-old boy disappears from his home in San Antonio, Texas. Three and a half years later he is found alive thousands of miles away in Spain with a shocking story of kidnap and torture. But all is not what it seems in this tale that is truly stranger than fiction. World Premiere

Indie Game: The Movie / Canada (Directors: Lisanne Pajot, James Swirsky) — Follow the dramatic journeys of indie game developers as they create games and release those works, and themselves, to the world. World Premiere

The Law in These Parts / Israel (Director: Ra’anan Alexandrowicz) — Israel’s 43-year military legal system in the Occupied Palestinian Territories unfolds through provocative interviews with the system’s architects and historical footage showing the enactment of these laws upon the Palestinian population. International Premiere

Payback / Canada (Director: Jennifer Baichwal) — Based on Margaret Atwood’s best-selling book, Payback explores how debt is a central organizing principle in our lives – influencing relationships, societies, governing structures and the very fate of this planet. World Premiere

Putin’s Kiss / Denmark (Director: Lise Birk Pedersen) — 19-year-old Marsha is a model spokesperson in a strongly nationalistic Russian youth movement that aims to protect the country from its enemies. When she starts recognizing the organization’s flaws, she must take a stand for or against it. North American Premiere

Searching for Sugar Man / Sweden, United Kingdom (Director: Malik Bendjelloul) — Rodriguez was the greatest ‘70s US rock icon who never was. Hailed as the greatest recording artist of his generation he disappeared into oblivion – rising again from the ashes in a completely different context many miles away. World Premiere.

Development … not Hell … yet

It has been so long since I’ve blogged, I barely remember how to do it. Decided to get back to it again because I finally have things to talk about. A little over two years ago, I moved to the coast and it has been a tad grueling. The economy hasn’t been helping the industry much and the competition is fierce! Let me just that NO ONE is sitting around waiting to see what you might be writing. The reality is that everyone has a dozen scripts (or more) sitting in their offices and at their homes … a dozen scripts they already don’t want to read. The news that you have one ready is rarely welcome news.

I’ve been really lucky in that I’ve had super talented, super supportive readers (a former Development Exec and a current Assistant to a studio head) who have been really to read what I’ve got and pass it on.

And, now, I’ve almost got something in development with a couple of terrific producers. A few more details to iron out but the work is already getting into some really amazing hands. In the past, whenever I heard the word “Development,” it was always followed by the word “Hell.” Everything may end up there. This business is known for deals collapsing, talent becoming unavailable as the deal progress, and challenges in production.

If it were easy, I guess everybody would be doing it … believe me, this is NOT easy. But it is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.

I used to blog about teaching visual media, animation and filmmaking from the teacher’s perspective. Now, I’m blogging from a different vantage point in the industry. Let’s see how it goes.

SUNDANCE LIVE

Sundance Streaming Live events can be found here! You can see everything from the Shorts Awards Ceremony at the Jupiter Bowl (that’s right, at the bowling alley) to events at the major venues. They’ve got links to lots of other interviews and conferences.

Choke
Diarchy
The External World

Sundance Film Festival 2011: World Dramatic Competition

vampire

This year’s 14 films were selected from 1,073 international narrative feature submissions.

Abraxas / Japan (Director: Naoki Kato; Screenwriters: Dai Sako and Naoki Kato) – After botching a speech on career guidance at a local high school, a depressed Zen monk with a heavy metal past realizes that only music can revive his spirit. Cast: Suneohair, Rie Tomosaka, Manami Honjou, Ryouta Murai, Kaoru Kobayashi. North American Premiere

All Your Dead Ones (Todos Tus Muertos ) / Colombia (Director Carlos Moreno; Screenwriters: Alonso Torres and Carlos Moreno) – One morning, a peasant wakes to find a pile of bodies in the middle of his crops. When he goes to the authorities, he quickly realizes that the dead ones are a problem nobody wants to deal with. Cast: Alvaro Rodríguez, Jorge Herrera, Martha Marquez, Harold Devasten, John Alex Castillo. World Premiere

The Cinema Hold Up (Asalto Al Cine) / Mexico (Director: Iría Gómez Concheiro; Screenwriters: Iria Gómez Concheiro and Juan Pablo Gómez) – Four childhood friends in Mexico’s Guerrero colony toy with the idea of robbing a cinema. Each hopes that the heist will hurtle them past life’s obstacles, only to realize that the caper risks the only thing they have: their friendship. Cast: Gabino Rodríguez, Juan Pablo de Santiago, Ángel Sosa, Paulina Avalos. World Premiere

A Few Days of Respite (Quelque Jours de Repit) / Algeria, France (Director and screenwriter: Amor Hakkar) – A pair of gay men who have escaped from Iran seek safe harbor in a small French village, where a lonely middle-aged woman offers aid. Cast: Marina Vlady, Samir Guesmi, Amor Hakkar. World Premiere

The Guard / Ireland (Director and screenwriter: John Michael McDonagh) – A small-town cop in Ireland has a confrontational personality, a subversive sense of humor, a fondness for prostitutes and absolutely no interest whatsoever in the international drug-smuggling ring that has brought a straight-laced FBI agent to his door. However, a surreal chain of events pulls him into the action. Cast: Don Cheadle, Brendan Gleeson, Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot, Dominique McElligot. World Premiere

Happy, Happy (Sykt Lykkelig) / Norway (Director: Anne Sewitsky; Screenwriter: Ragnhild Tronvoll) – A perfect housewife, who just happens to be sex-starved, struggles to keep her emotions in check when an attractive family moves in next door. Cast: Agnes Kittelsen, Henrik Rafaelsen, Maibritt Saerens, Joachim Rafaelsen. International Premiere

Kinyarwanda / Rwanda, USA (Director and screenwriter: Alrick Brown) – Based on accounts from survivors, Kinyarwanda tells the story of Rwandans who crossed the lines of hatred during the 1994 genocide, turning mosques into places of refuge for Muslims and Christians, Hutus and Tutsis. Cast: Edouard Bamporiki, Cassandra Freeman, Cleophas Kabasiita, Hadidja Zaninka, Kennedy Mazimpaka, Hassan Kabera. World Premiere

Lost Kisses (I Baci Mai Dati) / Italy (Director: Roberta Torre; Screenwriters: Roberta Torre and Laura Nuccilli) – A 13-year-old girl in the deprived outskirts of a sprawling Sicilian city becomes a local celebrity to her needy community when word spreads that she just might be able to perform miracles. Cast: Donatella Finocchiaro, Pino Micol, Giuseppe Fiorello, Carla Marchese, Martina Galletta, Tony Palazzo. International Premiere

Mad Bastards / Australia (Director: Brendan Fletcher; Screenwriters: Brendan Fletcher in collaboration with Dean Daley-Jones, Greg Tait and John Watson) – In a frontier town of northern Australia’s Kimberley Region, an urban street warrior meets his match in a local cop. Performances and stories from real people in Kimberley are woven through the music of legendary Broome musicians, The Pigram Brothers. Cast: Dean Daley-Jones, Greg Tait, John Watson, Ngaire Pigram, Lucas Yeeda. International Premiere

Restoration (2011) (Boker Tov Adon Fidelman) / Israel (Director: Yossi Madmoni; Screenwriter: Erez Kav-El) – Aided by a young and mysterious apprentice, an antique furniture restorer struggles to keep his workshop alive, while his relationship with his own estranged son, who is trying to close down the shop, begins to disintegrate. Cast: Sasson Gabay, Henry David, Nevo Kimchi, Sarah Adler. World Premiere

The Salesman (Le Vendeur) / Canada (Director and screenwriter: Sébastien Pilote) – Car salesman Marcel Lévesque operates by the rules of a bygone era, turning on the charm to make his quota. But the increasing decline of his fading industrial town threatens to plummet this peddler of dreams into an unfriendly reality. Cast: Gilbert Sicotte, Nathalie Cavezzali. World Premiere

Ticket to Paradise (Boleto al Paraiso) / Cuba (Director: Gerardo Chijona Valdes; Screenwriters: Gerardo Chijona Valdes, Francisco Garcia Gonzalez and Maykel Rodriguez Ponjuan) – A teenage girl running away from her father’s sexual harassment meets a young rocker who has escaped to Havana with his misfit group of friends. Set in 1993, during a period of acute shortages in Cuba, the local AIDS hospice begins to look like an unlikely refuge to the hopeless teens. Cast: Miriel Cejas, Héctor Medina, Dunia Matos, Jorge Perugorria, Luis A. Garcia. International Premiere

Tyrannosaur / United Kingdom (Director and screenwriter: Paddy Considine) – For Joseph, a man plagued by self-destructive violence and rage, a chance of redemption appears in the form of Hannah, a Christian charity shop worker with a devastating secret of her own. Cast: Peter Mullan, Eddie Marsan, Olivia Colman. World Premiere

Vampire / Canada, U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Iwai Shunji) – On the surface, Simon seems like a fairly normal, average young man, devoted to his teaching job and ailing mother. Secretly, he is compelled to hunt through online chat rooms and message boards, searching for the perfect girl who will ensure his own survival. Cast: Kevin Zegers, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rachel Leigh Cook, Kristin Kreuk, Aoi Yu and Adelaide Clemens. World Premiere

Webisodes aka The Web Series Phenom

Everyone has been discussing web distribution since my first Sundance Film Festival in 1996. I swear! There has been a panel on alternative forms of distribution at nearly every Sundance for the last fifteen YEARS. Serious film producers would always turn up their noses and say disparaging things about web content.

“No one is making any money at it,” they would sniff. “No serious filmmaker would consider such a thing.” After 15 years of promoting and prognosticating, it seems like Web Phenomenon is finally here.

At last year’s Power Premiere, I met the delightful Susan Miller. A terrific writer with a boatload of credits, she talked about her web series ANYONE BUT ME. It sounded like a fun concept and the series is now heading into its third season. It has over 4 million views worldwide and has been awarded with: 4 Streamy Nominations & Best Actress Win; Webby Honorees for Drama & Writing; 4 Indie Soap Awards; AfterEllen’s Visibility Award.

This last weekend, Meredith Baxter mentioned her latest acting gig. The web series WE HAVE TO STOP NOW with Cathy DeBuono and Jill Bennett. Two therapists on the verge of divorce discover the relationship book they co-authored is on the New York Times bestseller list. A reality show/documentary film crew moves in to capture the “magic” that made the book so successful. Comedian Suzanne Westenhoefer starred as their distressed therapist in season one. Now, Meredith Baxter is joining the cast for season two, as a rather odd therapist who doesn’t want the clients to talk too much during their sessions.

You may recall I was the production manager on a feature film called GIRLTRASH: All Night Long that Angela Robinson, Alex Kondracke and POWER UP developed from a Showtime web series. To understand more of how that series became a feature, you can take a look at the GIRLTRASH Blog to get the inner workings of that process.

Jamie Lieberman (Alec’s girlfriend) went to school with a bunch of people at Emerson (in Boston). They developed a web series that has now been picked up by Warner Brothers. Starring a bunch of young unknowns, DOWNER’S GROVE is a funny slice of life in a boring, small town.

There are a lot of plusses to making your own web series.

Webisodes tend to be short. Three to six minutes in length. You don’t need a huge budget or massive time commitment to put them on. You get to create your own characters in their own world. You don’t have to wait for a production executive to give you the green light. Since they tend to avoid risky projects, you can go out on a limb and prove the merit of your idea. Web series tend to build rabid fan bases that become their market for future stories. I have noticed that many web series reach out to their fan base for funding. Some sell subscriptions to support the series. Others get traditional advertisers to back their projects.

The biggest negative to a web series is the one faced by everyone in this business. Being wildly successful is a long shot. You have to invest a lot of time and money and creative energy in a project that may not go anywhere. If you’ve got a great concept and can serve a loyal market niche, you can have a life devoted to creating stories you love for people who greatly appreciate them. And, if you’re really lucky, they may catapult you into the big time.

Three Months Later

I haven’t blogged since we finished writing the Sally Hayfron script. I don’t know if I could say exactly why I stopped writing then. I just did. Now I look back on it and wonder if I should keep this blog going anymore.

When I was teaching animation, filmmaking, art and design, I’d post about indie films, festivals, books and other resources. There were several hundred people checking in regularly to see what was new and exciting in the field. Ironically, according to my internet stats, there are still several THOUSAND hits to this site every day. I guess that’s what happens when you have seven years of content on a site AND a lot of the content is about Sundance and indie films. Search engines help people find the unusual things they’re seeking whether I’m actively promoting it or not.

I moved to the LA area a year ago to work in film. It seemed like the logical progression for me. In that time, I worked on three films. A MARINE STORY (which played at OUTFEST this week), ELENA UNDONE (which screens at OUTFEST tomorrow night) and GIRLTRASH: All Night Long (which is in post production now). My writing partner, Pam, and I finished the feature script on Sally Hayfron. We started working on a pilot. And, I joined a writing group to have a structure for the novel I’ve been trying to make myself write for the last fifteen years.

Alec got a job with Sony/Screen Gems working on visual effects as part of The Creative Cartel team on the film PRIEST. He’s still working there. All in all, it’s been a pretty eventful year. We’re both still learning a lot.

I remember doing a personal growth workshop a few years back. One of the things they kept saying over and over again, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Having been here in Movieland for the last year — seeing how major films are made, meeting and greeting new people, networking with industry insiders — I was unaware of how many things I did not know. And we’re still learning. Oy.

Sally Hayfron Mugabe

I have spent the last two years of my life learning, thinking and writing about SALLY HAYFRON MUGABE. I have absolutely fallen in love with this woman. It all started when we were in Zambia in 2006 working on BAD TIMING. We went up to Victoria Falls and everyone was cautioning us not to cross over to the Zimbabwean side. They told us the economic and political situation was desperate; the people were dangerous. Staying at TAITA FALCON LODGE, the owner and his wife told us about how Robert Mugabe, the President of Zim, had changed after his wife died. “The death of Sally Hayfron was the death of Zimbabwe,” they said.

The romantic in me latched onto that story and wouldn’t let go. Imagine that. A love so powerful, an entire nation knew when it was gone. It took a couple of years before we could really start looking into the story. My writing partner and I were busy on the Zambia projects and then THE LAND OF REFUGE (about the Mormon Colonies in Mexico). We had to finish those before we could delve into the story about Sally. Being the dyed-in-the-wool romantic, I have always believed that “more is possible” when you find the “right person.” Would this story be an example of the real power of love?

After two years (and 120 pages), I can honestly say this story is even more amazing than I had imagined. Born in Ghana in 1931, SALLY HAYFRON was a teen when her homeland was gaining its freedom from the colonial British empire. A bright, inspiring, compassionate woman, Sally fell in love with Robert Mugabe, a visiting professor from what was then known as Southern Rhodesia. At that time, about 5 million blacks were governed by 270,000 whites. They were not allowed to vote. They were restricted in where they could live and work. They had virtually no schools. And, they were not allowed to own land designated for “whites only,” which comprised over 45% of the nation (about 90% of the best land).

Sally willingly went to live in this land, to help the citizens gain their freedom. Robert soon rose to prominence in Rhodesia’s National Democratic Party. As civil unrest grew, whites retaliated by electing Ian Smith as Prime Minister. Smith promptly declared independence from Britain and jailed all opposition leaders, including Robert Mugabe, who spent 11 years in prison. As Sally traveled the globe seeking support for his freedom, a bloody civil war consumed the country. Finally, in 1980, Southern Rhodesia was able to hold its first free election and Robert Mugabe won it in a landslide.

Sally was a tireless champion of the common people. Over the next decade, she encouraged the construction of schools and hospitals (many in places they’d never been before). The more I learned about Sally, the more amazed I was with all she had accomplished. Especially when I learned she had suffered from kidney problems most of her adult life and spent the last EIGHT YEARS of her life on dialysis. She traveled the world with a medical assistant in tow to manage her health care. Sally died on January 27, 1992 at the age of 60. Ironically, she was born in the first African country to gain independence from Britain and died in the last.

To this day, people in Zimbabwe write songs about AMAI SALLY (Mother Sally) and how they wish she were still alive and caring for her people. So do I.

(Photo above: Robert and Sally Mugabe depart from Andrews Air Force Base, 26 September 1983)

A Loss in Zambia

Word has come that AUGUSTINE LUNGU has died in Zambia. According to the reports, he died on the 20th of March 2010. He was only 40 years old. This was very sad news to get early this morning. I first met Augie in August of 2006 at the Lusaka Playhouse in Lusaka, Zambia. Augie had agreed to play the role of the villain, Don Pelikan, in our film BAD TIMING. Additionally, he had acted as the liaison between the director, Jabbes Mvula, and the other actors and location providers in Zambia prior to our arrival.

The obituaries say that he is survived by his wife and four children. (His wife, Kamwengo, was also in the film, she played the part of Sullyna.) My heart goes out to them. Augustine was tireless and fearless in his effort to grow the film industry in Zambia. He was an avid supporter of the arts. Most recently, he was the Director of Programs at Muvi Television. He performed often with the Zambia One Comedy Group. His last role was in the yet to be released movie titled VANGUARD, a MUVI TV production.

There’s a Facebook page dedicated to Augustine, if you’d like to drop in and leave a comment.

(From the Zambian News today) Augustine Lungu has been put to rest at Lusaka’s Mtumbi Cemetery. Mr. Lungu who was Muvi TV Director of Programmes, died on Friday March 19, 2010 after an illness.

Hundreds of mourners from political figures, government officials, artists and clergy turned up at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Lusaka to pay their tribute to Mr. Lungu. Lusaka Province Minister Charles Shawa described Mr. Lungu as a multi-talented person who rose from being an artist to an accomplished broadcaster.

And opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) President Hakainde Hichilema says Mr. Lungu contributed in uniting political figures. A cross section of Zambian artists including Lusaka lawyer and former National Arts Council of Zambia Chairman Mumba Kapumpa has described Mr. Lungu in different ways.

The Cathedral of the Holy Cross was a hype of activities as artists avoided mourning and decided to celebrate Mr. Lungu’s contribution to the arts. For Mr. Lungu being an Easterner, Northerners took advantage of this and smeared their traditional cousins with Mealie Meal and white powder.

Mr. Lungu was featured in numerous theatre productions and once represented the country at the prestigious Edinburgh Arts Festival together with Benne Banda in the two man act play entitled “Headers and Footers”. Before he joined Muvi TV in 2007 he worked for Standard Chartered Bank, BD Studios and also provided private consultations. He was part of the team that spearheaded the rebirth of the Zambian film and theatre.

Lungu, who was born on December 12, 1970, died last week on Friday and is survived by a wife Kamwengo and four children.

Top photo: Augustine Lungu as Don Pelikan. Photo by Michael Montesa.
Middle photo: Kamwengo Lungu, family and friends, mourn the loss of actor Augustine Lungu.
Bottom photo: The wedding of Augustine and Kamwengo Lungu.

Capturing Zambian Storytellers

We’re gearing up for another documentary filmmaking project in Zambia. Ever since our 2006 visit to support native Zambian Jabbes Mvula in his quest to make the first full-length, dramatic narrative feature in the country, we’ve been aching to get back and capture the stories from each of the 73 tribes. Our goal has been to capture the oral history and tradition of the nation before national media and mass communication replace tribal storytellers as the conveyors of cultural knowledge.

The early people who settled Zambia were probably of San descent, as in other areas of Southern Africa. Between 300 B.C. and 400 A.D., Bantu speaking tribes moved south and dominated the area that is now Zambia. Currently, Zambia’s 73 tribes have 286 chiefs, 54 senior chiefs and five paramount chiefs: Kalonga Gawa Undi and Mpezeni of Eastern Province, Chitimukulu of the Northern Province’s Bemba people, The Litunga of Lozi in Western Province and Mwata Kazembe of the Lunda people of Luapula province. Thus, Kalonga Gawa Undi and Mpezeni advantage Eastern Province with two paramount chiefs!

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