Sunday, May 8, 2016

Rio de Janeiro: City of tomorrow?

Landing in Rio, you wonder how such a large city could manifest in this amazing natural place

When I imagined going to Rio, I didn't exactly picture clouds and rain, but that's what dominated my 9-day visit there in January.  And you know, it didn't really matter.  It was the people who made all the difference.

The default vibe is love.  People look you in the eye.

Delicious traditional tapioca lunch, with pulled pork
& egg whites

Despite recent headlines about political and health challenges, the Brazilians we met were full of optimism and good cheer.  Not that there aren't homeless people, and millions living in poverty.

In fact, we visited Rocinha, one of Rio's infamous favelas, or shantytowns, where thousands of people live in poverty, but with a sense of community you don't find in many places.  Our guide, Leo, told us that there over 400 favelas in Rio, housing 1.5 million of the city's 6.5 million citizens.




He mentioned that, despite their poverty, 98% of residents in Rocinha have Facebook accounts and smartphones.  We saw a number of flat-screen televisions, and the neighborhood is full of beauty salons.  Because many men work in construction, the favela's structures are mostly sound, but because the materials are substandard or recycled it's not unusual to have leaks and mudslides. 


Art and high technology make Rio's favelas more liveable

People are piled on top of each other, so they have to learn to live together - or kill each other, which sometimes happens.  Security is provided by police and drug dealers, who sometimes fight each other.  Leo says the drug dealers are often more reliable than the corrupt police, and that drug lords rule in 70% of the favelas. Some public housing projects are helping bring people out of poverty;  Brazil's government has a plan to grow the middle class by 10% in 10 years.

This building is supposed be remodeled into a luxury hotel by August!
Good luck!

I sensed a country on the make.  The streets in Rio are torn up, creating better transportation and new subway lines in time for the Olympics in August.  The tourist industry is growing, despite setbacks from the Zika virus and corruption scandals.  People seemed friendly and anxious to connect.

One reason I wanted to visit was to see if Rio is at all post-racial.  With 43% of the Brazilian population of mixed race, you see a number of gorgeous people, most of them in physically good shape. Combinations of indigenous tribes, African slaves, European colonists and global adventurers make for a panoply of skintones, and a fascinating cultural mix, but I wouldn't say racism is dead.  We heard stories of discrimination based on skin color.  And the gay bar LeBoy hosted a butt contest, won by a hunky white guy based on audience applause (an audience with lots of locals).  There was a black guy with a much more beautiful butt to my taste, who really knew how to shake it, but he came in third.
Christ the Redeemer - Art Deco overlord of Rio
You might expect a Hippie Fair in San Francisco, but Rio?

Among the goodies at the weekly Hippie Fair - all wooden


Leblon Beach, near where we stayed, abuts Ipanema Beach
The beaches are everyone's happy playground.  Nonstop volleyball and kick-volleyball games, even on cloudy days. Physical fitness equipment. Samba Schools selling snacks, drinks and beach chairs. Coconut milk everywhere. People of all colors and shapes walking, running, swimming, playing.  Pregnant women proudly sporting bikinis. Leathery old men jogging and looking great.  And yes, there were thongs - but not as many as I expected.
Ball games on the beach are common
The beaches have many workout stations - free
Yes, there are thongs!
Thousands of beach lovers
Fabulous fish and vegetables at a beachside restaurant

My frequent traveling companion Orlando and I were in Rio during the long buildup to Carnival (Mardi Gras), so we got to witness some rehearsals for the big event - some spontaneous, on the street.  One night we went (on a 3-hour journey that included pickups at 11 hotels) to the Portela neighborhood, where a large Samba School was rehearsing its song (and dance) for 2016.  The goal is for thousands of people to memorize their neighborhood's song so they can parade impressively through the streets during Carnival.   We spent some hours dancing late into the night, and trying to sing in Portuguese while our new best friends from the neighborhood quaffed beer and danced away.

At Samba School rehearsal - with my traveling companion Orlando

Our new friends, who pulled us onto the dance floor


Yes, coffee is big in Brazil - we went across the street from
out hotel to find a good cup!

I love the mailboxes, adorned with hummingbirds


Rio has a sense of a healthy future, nowhere more than its new Museum of Tomorrow (Museu do Amanhã), which suggests we need to choose each action with future generations in mind.
Santiago Calatrava's building is
stunning. Photo by Edward Guthmann
The most interactive of museums

The world literally melts and erupts as you wait
to experience the Museum of the Future





I played around with the leadership style quiz, and
it suggested I reconsider my choices...
The Museum of Tomorrow is the most interactive
museum I've experienced...and it embraces complexity
Curiosity, spirit, imagination - this museum's
prescription for a better tomorrow
The museum makes you think.  It focuses on ecology rather than technology.  It starts with a cosmic geological film made by City of God director Fernando Meirelles projected all around an egg-shaped theater, situating us in the cycles of life and death.  Then we're invited to explore biology, DNA, and the connectedness of life ~ including various cultural manifestations of media, prayer, relationships, home life and other topics in Portuguese, Spanish and English.

Then you're overwhelmed with giant digital displays showing humanity's impacts on the planet, including images, data, and questions about ocean acidification, ozone depletion, greenhouse gas emissions, and consumption of water, energy, and beef.

The last part of the museum invites exploration of alternative futures, and suggests ways you can be part of various scenarios. I came back to a spiritual sense of possibility, with interactive artistic expressions of community, storytelling, mystery and an invitation to further explore inner life.

The final mystery chamber that invites further reflection,
stories, community celebrations


Monday, February 22, 2016

Taiwan Art Documentary Meditations



I cannot believe how long it's been since I posted on my blog - that's changing this year.
Almost a year ago, I made my first trip to Taiwan, with BIG JOY: The Adventures of James Broughton.
Here's an essay I wrote for them about my experience.

video

i
            Documentary films illuminate worlds within worlds.

            Artists’ lives show how creativity can break barriers and surprise ourselves and each other.

            Documentaries about artists can break barriers between worlds, and nurture a city to more creativity.  I was happy to be part of the second Chiayi City International Art Documentary Film Festival, the only one in Asia, and one of only two in the world that I’ve heard about.

            Film festivals are proliferating like rabbits around the world, but it’s rare to find one that is so focused, so well curated, and so engaging, diverse and accessible for citizens.  I was so pleased to meet filmmakers like Jessica Wan-Yu LIN, who made a beautiful film about HUANG Dawang, a cultural outsider who found ways to communicate through music, rapping, and dance.  And I met Rafeeq ELLIAS from India, who told the story of looking for “Fat Mama,” a legendary woman who made the best noodles in the Chinatown neighborhood of Calcutta.  In Beyond Barbed Wires: A Distant Dawn, he continues the story of how many ethnic Chinese from “Fat Mama’s” neighborhood were sent to internment camps during the Chinese-Indian war of 1962.  Many escaped to Canada and other places.

            Documentaries about artists are not always happy, but they tend to show the human condition in deep and nuanced ways.

            My film, BIG JOY: The Adventures of James Broughton – about a poet and filmmaker who led a cultural and artistic revival after World War II in San Francisco, and went on to inspire many other artists – was extremely well received in Chiayi City.  People asked excellent questions about his troubled family, his love life, his poetry and his creative process.  I always learn so much from interacting with different audiences, and I felt the Chiayi audience was attuned to the subtleties of the film, its imagery and music and its unanswered questions.

            Obviously, family is very important to people in Taiwan, as it is in many countries.  James Broughton valued family, but he was not accepted by his mother, he lost his father in the Influenza epidemic of 1918 (when he was 5), and he ended up being too wrapped up in his own creative process to be a good father to his own children.

            Broughton also grew up in a time when it was not accepted to be openly gay, even though he was primarily attracted to other men.  He was very interested in Zen, and in the psychiatry of Carl Jung, and he wrote about the contradictions in his life.  Ultimately, after much agonizing, he left his wife and two children and spent his last 25 years with his soulmate, who happened to be a man.  His creative life prospered, and he published seven more books and made eight more films.

            Many people in the Chiayi City audience spoke with me afterwards in gratitude for a film that depicted such a complicated life, and that followed Broughton’s admonition to “Follow your own Weird.”  (He knew that the word “weird” comes from a Celtic root that means “fate” or “destiny.”  So his admonition, to me, means to be true to your core self and be on your creative edge at the same time.)


 ii
            A Taiwanese friend told me that Chiayi means “worthy of honor.”  I was well hosted by the city and its honorable festival.  I was amazed to learn of the city’s past glories in the lumber industry. And, not unlike the past of the region where I live in the United States, the big trees are mostly gone so people are finding new ways to make a living. 

            Bringing tourists to the city to see its art and film, listen to music, eat good food, and ride the narrow-gage railroad is one option. So are agriculture, invention, manufacturing, technology, and the arts.
           
            Hopefully these particular films, shown free of charge to people who show up from all over the country, will spark more creativity and invention in the future.



iii
            In “Song of the Forest,” Chiayi’s beautiful egg-shaped sculpture, I found myself interacting with the wood, the stones, and the invocation of the forest, past and present.  I could not help laying down on the central wooden tree stump, peering up through the skylight at the mottled clouds.  It took me to another world.
 
            Never having been to Taiwan before, I didn’t really know what to expect.  I found a robust country, with lots of talented artists and filmmakers, curious viewers, entrepreneurs, and lovers of life.  The fuzzy toy animals people love so much were a surprise.  Also, the popularity of coffee, books, and night markets.  Taiwanese food is incredibly diverse, fresh, and delicious.

            I was entranced by the complexity of many temples, the beautiful handiwork, the symbolic animals and statues, and what seemed like embracing of many paths to spiritual growth – Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and others. 
           
            I could not help but be impressed with Taiwan’s free and open society, with the many mainland Chinese tourists who were experiencing it, learning what it’s like to read whatever books and watch whatever videos they want. 

            Even though it was only a small taste of Taiwan that I experienced, I left with a desire to return, to learn more about the rich cultures that thrive there, and to reengage with many new friends, ideas, and cultures.  Not to mention the fabulous food.

iv

            Festival director HUANG Mingchuan took some filmmakers and visitors to dinner where we discussed our films, learned about each others’ cultures, sang songs and recited poetry.  We hoped other people who attended the festival were doing the same thing. Film festivals, after all, are about building community, as well as watching great films.
            Imagine a world where people really listen to each other, where their inner lives are seen as at least equal in importance to their outer lives.  Imagine a place where people watch films together, then talk about them, and make their own films, write poetry, or express themselves in their own way.

            Imagine a world where parents teach children their values, and children also learn to think for themselves as they age, to value their parents’ values, but also to evolve with society as they discover their own.

            Imagine a place where people tell their own stories, and tell each others’ stories, and even if they are sad, weave them together into new stories of hope and resilience.


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Canadian premiere at DOXA Vancouver





It was a very busy weekend in May when Gordon had his second Open Studio weekend, and I got to drive to Vancouver BC for the Canadian premiere of BIG JOY: The Adventures of James Broughton.

The house was full, and the audience expectant

We'd spent some time in the garden getting ready for both Open Studio weekends, and I must say, it's looking great.

As soon as I set out the signs to point people to Gordon's Bell Studio, I headed north for Vancouver.  The drive was smooth, the wait at the border was short, and I was soon at my friend Gary Atkins' condo. (Gary is author of the recently re-issued book, Gay Seattle.)  After a bit of catch-up, and some lessons in international calling without paying through the nose, I took a much-needed nap.

Gary and his friend YK took me out to an astounding Japanese dinner.   And the amazing and inspirational Ian Hinkle joined us for conversation about everything from global warming to ink blots.

The Vancouver-based Radical Faeries organized an informal before-party, and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (Abbey of the Long Cedar Canoe) hosted an exuberant after-party, so Vancouver celebrated the film well.







The Sisters gave a rich blessing for the film.


As usual the Sisters were resplendent!

It was the first festival where I was only there for my own film, so I was disappointed I did not have time to see other filmmakers' films, nor to visit with them.  Dorothy Woodend and her team put together what appeared to be a very rich festival.


But it was also the first festival where I got to reunite with Cinematographer and Producer Ian Hinkle, who helped guide me through the early creative process of thinking through the film, including some early editing.  And it was the first time in years I had been in the same room with our incredible animator Michael Mann of Global Mechanic in Vancouver.  

Both added their individual stories to the Q&A.  Ian told how the first day we met in 2008 he shot our opening Big Joy Project  ritual at Broughton's gravestone in Port Townsend; when he was handed a glass of champagne, and James's ashes were added, it bubbled over.  "I don't know if that happens with all ashes, or only with James'," he said.  Michael told how he was given great creative freedom to "follow his weird" as he worked on the animations for poems and journals, and the film titles.  He also learned, seeing the film for the first time, that we used his sketches as background for the closing credits of the film.

After the screening, a woman said to me, "Now I am inspired to make the film I've always wanted to make."  That's the kind of response we have hoped the film would get!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Triumph at Tribeca?


Spring in New York!  Radiant!
 Was it poetry or prose? 

I'm scratching my mind to remember and figure out how to describe our 3rd U.S. premiere at New York City's Tribeca Film Festival, and how and whether the creative chromosomes align to adequately scribe the scene.
Michael Mann's animation amazed audiences


It was New York! That alone made it dramatic. Teeming with filmmakers. And filmmakers are all about stories -- inner and outer, upper and lower -- that we hope will move our filmgoers in some way.  We were pleased that so many people in our audiences said they were inspired to be more creative and live a "bigger life."

In other words, to Follow their own Weird.

Chelsea Clearview Cinemas was the
venue for 3 of the 4 screenings









BIG JOY: The Adventures of James Broughton, our new documentary, had a big presence in the Big Apple last month: four screenings, two of which were sold out, at the amazing Tribeca Film Festival.




Broughton's poetry especially grabbed the audiences, and that was more than gratifying.  There were so many great poems that got cut out of the film, and there are also lots in it.  Here's one that didn't make it: 

Ways of Getting There

What makes you think
you know your way around?
You add the mileage
but subtract the scenery.
... 
Why not for once 
wander off a path
without caring how
long it takes?
You might bump into
Time’s older brother
the one who never needs
to go anywhere.
          -- James Broughton

It helps to take a Broughtonian Zen attitude to film festivals, as the politics behind them are bewildering.  We had no idea which festivals would program our film.  (So far, South By Southwest, Hong Kong International Film Festival, Florida Film Festival, Tribeca, DOXA Vancouver, QDOC Portland, Seattle International, Frameline San Francisco). And once you get there, you can either try to have as many meetings with industry people as you can, or you can relax and watch films. I did a bit of both.

My first night in town, I enjoyed the Broadway play by Nora Ephron about old-time journalism in New York City, Lucky Guy, starring Tom Hanks.   Then, it was back to work.

Our "red carpet" featured musician Stavo Craft (who
appears in the film), Producer Max St. Romain, co-
directors Eric Slade and Stephen Silha, and 4 of the
NYC Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence

We were told that it's almost impossible to have a film shown both at South by Southwest (in Austin, TX) and Tribeca Film Festival.  We were fortunate to be one of the few.  And the Tribeca folks - from the founders to the staff to the volunteers - were incredibly kind and affirming to us.  Programmer Jon Gartenberg, who introduced all of our screenings and managed the Question & Answer sessions afterwards, could not have been a more effusive host.  Not only was he a great fan of Broughton (in fact, he programmed the Museum of Modern Art film screenings where I initially met those films), he loved the way the documentary honors Broughton, but also shows his dark side and follows its own "Weird."

Jon Gartenberg (c) introduced all our screenings.
He's seen the film 10 times, and continues to love it.

Three of our screenings were "blessed" by Sister LaDiDa of the New York Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.  (Broughton was an honorary Sister when the drag nun service group started in San Francisco in 1979, and did performance art events with them.) That set the tone for a very charged, engaged audience.
Sold out audience at our New York premiere
April 21

It was wonderful to reunite at last with Dawn Logsdon, our editor and co-director.  She and her partner Lucie Faulknor are working on an amazing new documentary about the public library in San Francisco, FREE FOR ALL.   Dawn observed that since James Broughton never met with much success in New York, it was a pleasure to bring a film about him that was so well received.

In fact, The Village Voice named it one of the 10 films not to miss at Tribeca!
Tribeca was the first time Editor and Co-director
Dawn Logsdon (center) saw the finished film

Eric and I were thrilled to be joined by Robert Haller (r)
of Anthology Film Archives at the premiere

Our intrepid producer Max St. Romain made the trek from Mexico City, and added a lot to the proceedings, including a breakfast with composer Michael Nyman, who lives near Max.  Max has been a guiding star for the Big Joy Project from Day 1.

Thanks to the hard work of our publicist Matt Johnstone and his sparky assistant Elizabeth Trieu, Eric and I did a number of interviews, for media including The Hollywood Reporter, Bomb Magazine, The Times Weekly, FRED Film Radio, COOL Magazine, Nuestra Tele Noticias, Word and Film, and Tribeca Film Festival.

It was wonderful for me that my cousin Francie Fitch Mann and her son Nat, along with second cousins Andy Deck and Craig Wuepper and their fabulous girlfriends, joined us for the final screening April 27, and a great lunch afterward at a Middle Eastern restaurant.

And my hosts, John Haworth and Howard Rubenstein, brought my Principia College friends Margo Goodale and Jeff Sholeen; we had a lunch after the Monday screening with plenty of political debate and gossip.

Kitten Calfee, our Producer for Marketing and Distribution, continues to do an amazing job with our Facebook page (please like it!) and our extensive outreach.

Poetry or prose?  A bit of each, a lot of fun, some amazing parties, some great new friends, and more New York stories to tell...


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Orlando oasis: This is Really It



Each of the feature documentaries in competition
 got a full page in the Florida Film Fest catalog


Florida Film Festival in Orlando (April 5-14) was our second U.S. festival for the new documentary, BIG JOY: The Adventures of James Broughton, and I was the only one of our team who could make it there.  It was an amazing experience, full of insights, surprises, and celebrations.
With my bro-in-love John Reimann, sister
Alice Reimann and mother Helen Silha

One great thing was, my family joined me for the first screening, a matinee on Saturday April 6, at the Regal Theater in Winter Park.  The audience was small – maybe 50 – but spirited.  My mother, sister, and brother-in-law finally got to see the completed film on a big screen with good sound and picture.

We drove back to Sarasota, Longboat Key exactly, where my family has taken winter vacations since I was 14, and celebrated my birthday on Tuesday the 9th.  We also swam, walked the beach, and toured the colorful private rooms in the Ringling mansion.


Birthday dinner - dinner & photo by John Reimann





The view from the tower of the roof tiles at
Ca D'Zan, John & Mabel Ringling's mansion

Mabel Ringling's rose garden



















A winged lion at the Venetian style Ringling Mansion






















I returned to Orlando for four days of spectacular movie-viewing and partying with other filmmakers and with our wonderful “street team” of students (David, Nate, and Brittany) from Florida Central University, who posted and distributed cards and did radio and web publicity for the film.

Our second screening was at the fabulous Enzian Theater,
where you can lounge on couches and eat
(or dance) on tables.

On Friday, I participated in a panel on filmmaking artfully moderated by Rollins College professor Denise Cummings.  

Getting ready to go onstage to introduce BIG JOY

Saturday was the awards brunch at the Enzian, and BIG JOY: The Adventures of James Broughton won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature Documentary!  That was a great surprise.  And it was wonderful that T.R. Boyce and Andrew Mudge's The Forgotten Kingdom won the audience award for Best Narrative Feature.  They participated with us in the 2012 Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP) Labs for first-time filmmakers.



Friday, March 29, 2013

BIG JOY: International premiere sparkles at Hong Kong International Film Festival...


Happy Easter! A typical exhibit at a sparkling megamall
One of the amazing restaurants in Hong Kong
has a fabulous aquarium - don't think this was for eating!
Hong Kong is a mega-mall city full of mirrors and contradictions: stunning skyscrapers, beautiful old hills.  Life drilled up ~ not unusual to find a pub on the 5th or 105th floor … and down into glistening subway malls or ancient tunnels and caves.

Some of the thinnest skyscrapers I've seen!
So it’s a great place to bring James Broughton’s fusion of West and East, male and female, fast and slow, this and that – into the world outside the United States.

It’s an honor to be part of a festival with over 300 films from 68 countries, showing in various places around this polyglot Asian citystate.  And to be part of a festival that honors film as film, that brings such films as Broughton’s “The Bed” and “The Golden Positions” to audiences in the original 16mm format.  Indeed, it’s the first festival to mount a 2013 centennial retrospective of 8 of Broughton’s 23 films, along with our new documentary, “BIG JOY: The Adventures of James Broughton.” 

When I met the festival’s director, Roger Garcia, in New York at Independent Film Week in 2011, he knew Broughton’s films (as an experimental filmmaker himself) and immediately warmed to the idea of a retrospective.  He also offered introductions to other festivals which might consider doing the same. 



Now, my first time in Hong Kong, it amazes me to see the program Roger and his colleagues have assembled.  So many truly insightful and beautiful films.  So much diversity.  Lots of courageous choices.  I walk around amazed at the endless shopping opportunities, both for festival films and for everything from motor parts to duck gizzards, cameras to bling.

Amazing veggies at the wet market

At the same time, thanks to connections made through the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota, I’ve had a chance to give two lectures at City University of Hong Kong’s Creative Media Center, one on the future of journalism (The Sixth W: What’s Possible Now?) and one on the move from journalist to documentary filmmaker (focused on my experiences with BIG JOY). 

City University of Hong Kong's Run Run Shaw