Monday, November 16, 2009

H.G. Wells

But in these plethoric times, when there is too much coarse stuff for everybody and we struggle for life takes the form of competitive advertisement and the effort to fill your neighbor's eye, there is no urgent demand either for personal courage, sound nerves or stark beauty, we find ourselves by accident. Always before these times the bulk of people did not overeat themselves, because they couldn't, whether they wanted to or not, and all but a very few were kept "fit" by unavoidable exercise and personal danger. Now, if only he pitch his standard low enough and keep free from pride, almost anyone can achieve a sort of excess. you can go through contemporary life fudging and slacking, never really hungry nor frightened nor passionately stirred, your highest moment a mere sentimental orgasm, and your first real contact with primary and elemental necessities the sweat of your deathbed. -H.G Wells

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The San Francisco Mime Troupe

Since I call myself "interested in theatre" and I have lived in San Francisco for four years, it's probably some sort of sin that I had never heard of the San Francisco Mime Troupe before a few weeks ago. When I saw the Mill Valley Film Festival was having an event: Troupers: 50 Years of the San Francisco Mime Troupe I was intrigued, but also sincerely thought I was in for a night of miming- in my mind silent acting.

The illustrious Peter Coyote introduced the event by reading a section from his book, Sleeping Where I Fall, about his own introduction to the Troupe.

"Miming- not like Marcel Marceau- a mime uses words, movement and props to extend ideas," he explained. The Troupe performed Commedia Dell'Arte style theatre- ‘pass the hat' old Italian street theatre. You had to be entertaining, to be good, or you wouldn't make money. And most of the Troupers survived off of what was put in the hat. No room for boring theatre.

"It was the tail end of the beat era," said Coyote. "The Mime Troupe was just a successor in a long line of cultural expression."

Following Coyote's introduction we saw the very well done 1985 documentary Troupers- directed by Glenn Sibler and Claudia Vianello, and that's when I got the full story of the Mime Troupe.

Rock music promoter Bill Graham was the Business Manager of the Troupe for a long time. The Mime Troupe prevailed in the 60s. "Theatre is for people to see their own fears and preoccupations acted out on stage," said one actor. The San Francisco Mime Troupe served as the theatre for San Franciscans during a tumultuous, emotional time- the Cultural Revolution of 1962-1972. They would often set up in Golden Gate Park and hundreds of people would come watch. The Troupe still does performances like this in San Francisco, ( but I imagine in the 60s they were more prominent- that a more unified San Francisco supported them. The Mime Troupe became a collective by default.

"The Troupers seemed to speak for humanity instead of against it," said one Mime Troup fan in the documentary.

Troupers intimately follows the actors and we get an idea of why they are involved in the Troupe. One actor talks about how he used to be very religious and we get the impression that the Troupe now fulfills what Church did for him -"I switched from a faith in God to a faith in people," he says.

Another says the Mime Troupe was, "An integration of fun, sex, what you believed, and a vehicle to talk about it."

After Troupers, the filmmakers, and SF Mime Troupe alums Joan Holden and Wilma Bonet joined by Peter Coyote, sat on stage for a discussion. They all agreed that the Mime Troupe was something special in their lives, and that it was a special group of people who were part of it. Now later in their lives, "No one ever changed or backed down on their principles. We all have that fundamental, progressive, humanistic quality," said one.

The moderator asked the group something they most took away from the Troupe. "It gave you great confidence. You could go into a room with nothing and be magnificent. You may fall on your ass but you'll fall confidently," said Coyote.

"The fantastic feeling was that we could do anything, make anything work. There was a feeling of great power and mastery," said Holden.

If you haven't seen it Troupers I highly recommend it. Anyone interested in theatre or San Francisco should know the history of the San Francisco Mime Troupe.

*photo credit Margot Duane

Monday, November 2, 2009

My Grandfather's Nose -Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children

I just started reading Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children for a book club a friend started. Yay for book club! I'm excited to connect with some friends in that way and feed my brain that way. Brilliant. Anyway it feels great to be reading something for myself again, (I generally put off reading books to read the paper and the internet) something I feel challenges my brain- I have to read some sentences aloud to process them- and MAN the writing is glorious. Wanted to share this paragraph on pg. 8 starting "My Grandfather's nose..."

My grandfather's nose: nostrils flaring, curvaceous as dancers. Between them swells the nose's triumphal arch, first up and out, then down and under, sweeping in to his upper lip with a superb and at present red-tipped flick. An easy nose to hit a tussock with. I wish to place on record my gratitude to this mighty organ- if not for it, who would ever have believed me to be truly my mother's son, my grandfather's grandson?- this colossal apparatus which was to be my birthright, too. Doctor Aziz's nose- comparable only to the trunk of the elephant-headed God Ganesh- established incontrovertibly his right to be a patriarch. It was Tai who taught him that, too. When young Aadam was barely past puberty the dilapidated boatman said, "That's a nose to start a family on, my princeling. There'd be no mistaking whose brood they were. Mughal Emperors would have given their right hands for noses like that one. There are dynasties waiting inside it," -and here Tai lapsed into coarseness- "like snot." (Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie, 1981)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Inside Programming the Mill Valley Film Festival

I got to interview Zoe Elton, Director of Programming at The Mill Valley Film Festival, 3 days before the close of this year's fest. She's been with the Festival since it's inception 32 years ago, when she sort of fell into the position at random. Previously she worked in England as a theatre director and writer. Check out our conversation below to see what she has to say about the video art community in the 80s, how documentary has changed, it feeling like a "vintage year" for film, and on what programming for the Mill Valley Film Festival is all about. (The italicized parts are the things she said that I feel are especially awesome or interesting.) Thanks Zoe!

ZoeElton & director John Woo Oct17 2009 by Tommy Lau

What was the attendance last year?
Just shy of 40,000.

And about how many films are there this year?
Around 150 films this year.

What's the mission of the Mill Valley Film Festival?
To celebrate film as art and education.

Has that stayed the same for the 32 years?
That's always been the core thing... this festival has never been competitive. The role model for us back then was Telluride... Given the proliferation of festivals in the past ten years, it's been interesting to go down that path [of being non-competitive].
Structurally and ambiently it's very different than being a competitive festival. Look around, it's beautiful (Looks around at the park we're sitting in- people sit on benches in the shade of big green trees, sunshine, flowers, as were nestled between the hills in Mill Valley). We bring filmmakers here from all over the world, and there are great connections made in this environment.

What is the Festival budget?
I don't know the exact number, but the Festival is part of California Film Institute (It's a sort of umbrella non-profit for the Fest). The Festival is the major part of CFI. There's also the Smith Rafael Film Center and CFI Education. The Smith Rafael Center has esteemed guests all year round.

What came first, CFI, or the festival?
In 1978 the festival began. Then a few years later CFI started. 12-15 years later we were offered the chance to open the San Rafael Film Center...Last year the Sequoia Theatre went on the market. Mark [Fishkin, festival director] got a group of investors together to buy the theatre.

And in what capacity did you first get involved?
I was the first actual employee of the festival. I continued and developed the video festival.

What was the video festival?
Well there was a burgeoning video art community at that time... some people looked down on it. We asked one reviewer to come and he wasn't interested in reviewing the video portion- but a lot of people in this area were tracking what was ultimately going to be digital film. The video festival was a smaller, dedicated audience. There were a lot of really amazing innovators- Coppola was a really amazing innovator at the intersection of video and film...The videos we showed were a lot of short work, a lot of documentary stuff that had been made for TV and never made it on too, and documentary was a lot different then...

We would avoid using the word "documentary" for a while to describe a film because it would kill it at the box office. Then around the opening of the Smith Rafael Film Center, there was an upsurge in documentary.

What do you think are some of the reasons for the upsurge in documentary?
I think there are several reasons. In a parallel universe, there was an upsurge in books where people were telling their autobiographies in a compelling way...And politically, people were looking for documentaries that told the truth. I think ultimately documentary makers are engaging with their art in a way that speaks to a larger audience...films like Rivers and Tides, Errol Morris's films, even films like the Buena Vista Social Club. You know before that in the 80s and early 90s a lot of documentary workers worked for PBS, so documentaries had this PBS aesthetic.

How have things changed since you've been with the festival?
Well, it's much more sophisticated now. It started as a 3 day fest and now it has grown to 11 days, and our reputation has grown immensely. A lot of times with descriptions or reviews of films you will now see "Toronto, New York, Mill Valley"

Did you get the job in programming because you were viewed as having an overall objective perspective on good film?
Well I came into it with the sense as a writer/director - no films were teaching programming etc. at that point in time...My partner at that time was a cinematographer, and I noticed that although we came at film from different parts of the art form, we often ended up with the same conclusion... A lot of the people working at the fest in the beginning were working artists...that sensibility is really important [The sensibility of knowing what it's like to be on the ground].

It seems to me there's a general rule of nature that if you're looking at 10 of something, whether it be film or paintings or what have you, there's always 1 amazing one, a few really great ones, a bunch of good ones, and a few not so great ones.

Being on a programming team, does it mean that everyone has a general agreement on what's good or does it mean everyone has a unique perspective that adds to the team?
In our screening committees we try to get people coming from diverse grounds... It's always about discussion. A part of it is that we all kind of get each other and definitely we would, you know hold each other to our arguments and opinions. It's about discussion- and there are certain things that are always indisputable.

What are the parameters for deciding whether to include a film in the festival?
Well, sometimes people say, ‘That's a Mill Valley film.' And we wonder what that means. We are very international- we have films representing 40 or 50 countries, so it's wide reaching. There's something about films that are smart, well-crafted, with a compassionate sensibility... overall they are films made by artists who are passionate about what they do. We have a lot of audiences who really support artists in achieving a vision. And the fact that we're not competitive- it really gives filmmakers a chance to offer their work up to the public, and there's always a good discussion...

Have you ever considered turning the festival into a competition?
A board member came back from Sundance once and said, let's make it competitive. We didn't see the reason for it.

Did any sponsors decrease their support this year? If so what did you cut to balance the budget?
Yeah. We made cuts across the board. We were pretty "lean" beforehand anyway- there wasn't a lot of fat to cut. We tried to balance it in such a way that we maintained quality, so that substance was still pretty significant. There were some staff offered me the opportunity to do some "housekeeping"- I tried to restructure the department, make things go more efficiently without losing vision, quality. And I think I succeeded at that.

It feels like such a "vintage year" - a lot of really, really good films out there. I don't know why. Maybe a few years down the road we will see the affect of the economic crisis.

What's a particular festival film success story that sticks out in your mind?
There's one that's kind of great. Caroline Link did a film "Beyond Silence" that coming out of the Festival got picked up by Miramax, she got an academy award nomination for it, and her next film won an award.

Anything notable about the pool of films submitted this year?
We don't try to impose a theme or focus, but we do try to pull the prevalent theme from the pool- this year there was really an "Architects of the Avant-Garde" theme that emerged.

What's the hardest thing about being a festival programmer?
Really, really long hours. Another thing that's hard is when there are films we really, really love that we just can't fit in- making tough decisions.

What's the secret to making a good idea into a good film?
Being clear on what your intention is, and having the courage of your vision, and the courage of your aesthetic.

What do you anticipate as the role of festivals in the future?
Well I think one thing that festivals do now that won't go away is they bring the community together. One of the great things festivals do is bring filmmakers together with their audiences. Festivals offer a chance to come together. Filmmakers get a glimpse of their film's affect on audiences.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Burning Man and the Future Memory

Burning Man is an easy place to have a special experience. As you are living in a man-made city in the middle of the desert, with an extreme climate to exist in, and the week open wide without obligation to anything at all, including workplace / real-life stresses left behind at the gate to this new dimension, you find yourself doing lots of personal exploration.
Who would I be if I could be whoever I wanted?
People seem to have this in mind as they mill around the desert in tutus, shiny spandex, sparkles, or whatever it is that makes them feel most like themselves as they explore.

And I, at a time in my life where I am eager to ponder the answers to these types of questions, went into Burning Man this year open- minded, ready to receive whatever came my way.

One morning friend and fellow burner Nicole and I rode our bikes out to outer playa, where lots of cool art installations live. We found ourselves riding towards a little hut surrounded by wire trees temporarily planted in the desert floor. We ducked inside the hut to find the walls plastered with what looked like lots of different family photos (We later found out these were photos of "happy memories" people had sent in to the artist as he requested). A few people sat around cross-legged chatting, quietly taking a break from the outside dust, or intently writing on plastic leaves. Someone passed a laminated instruction sheet our way. If we wanted to participate we could. We curiously read up. On these plastic leaves we were instructed to write "A memory from your future," supposedly a "powerful, powerful brain exercise." Hmmmmmm say what?

I struggled. I understood the instructions and why this would be a powerful brain exercise (that once you point out something in your future all you have to do is draw a line to get there), but I had such trouble coming up with what I wanted to be my memory from my future. How do I sum up everything that I will have learned at a certain point in my future and write an event that will happen? I couldn't imagine an event because I struggled to wrap my brain around what knowledge I would have at that certain point, what event would happen, and then be able to reflect on that.

Amidst my struggle, a tall, tanned dreadlocked man decorated with loose linen, sturdy leather boots, and beads ducked in, smiling peacefully and purposefully looking around. He and another man jollily greeted one another. We soon realized he was the artist of the installation. Knowing there must be a lot of ideas behind this project, and that like most at Burning Man he would be open for a deep conversation, I approached him with my struggle. He was eager to chat. "Maybe I'm taking this too seriously," I lamented.

I stood and let him preach to me for awhile, and soon some golden words came out of his articulation. "You're never going to get to a place of ultimate achievement and understanding," he said. "That place does not exist."
I squinted and furrowed my brow, nodding slowly, realizing.
"When you get to that place you're thinking of, you'll be standing on those shoulders looking out for what's next."

Yes! It's true. Far too often I think of life as being a path to this ultimate place of understanding, success, and knowledge. Unfortunately, this means that often instead of living in the moment and focusing on what I am doing at the time, I am thinking ahead, stressing about what I should do next in order to get me to that place I think of.
I think this is an easy pattern of thinking for people to fall into. (Not that it's a bad thing to think ahead, but it is bad when it's all you can focus on).

I was struggling so much with the future memory because I was trying to think of this very point in my future when I would 'have it all figured out.' I couldn't wrap my brain around the knowledge that I would have then, because how could I? That time does not exist.

"Start with this weekend," he said. "What is something you want to happen this weekend, somewhere you'd like to be?" I nodded. The artist and I hugged goodbye. He smiled and said, "Have a great life." I, feeling much more clear, ducked out the entrance to the hut, hopped on my bike and Nicole and I rode off into the desert.

Soon enough this sign came into view.

I got off my bike and appreciated it for a moment, and took this photo. YES! There was the message again! It's so true. Don't focus on the big place or thing you want to achieve down the road, do focus on what you're doing now and put all you've got into it, because those little things will add up.
We rode on.

That night, around three or four in the morning, (The nightlife at Burning Man is just as equally awesome as the daytime life, and so one should balance when out there and get in some of each) the message came again. I and a different fellow camper Smitty, not ready yet to sleep, decided to stroll over to Center Camp -the only place at Burning Man where things are for sale, only coffee and ice, and also the hub of all the action- a stage is occupied at all hours with various performers. To our delight, a jazz trio was onstage. What a treat! At night techno music takes over the Burning Man nightlife, and the desert turns into a booming sound swamp. It's awesome, but sometimes you need a break and a new genre of music just soooothes your senses. We searched and spotted an empty couch up front- and plopped down. The musicians played a few songs, we relaxed in pleasure, Smitty fell asleep, then the keyboardist spoke up: "I'm going to kick these guys off for one last song...It took me about a year and a half to write. The chorus just came to me last month."

He sang a delightful tune, the lyrics, about finding yourself and not stressing, spoke me to clearly. Then the chorus came in,

Take - it - slow.
Let - it - go.
And soon you'll know, who you really are.

Man, could the universe be speaking to me any more clearly? We strolled back to our camp slowly, by way of the outer empty streets, which since it was only Tuesday hadn't been filled with campers yet. An hour or two before sunrise, darkness surrounded us and the stars were glorious. The chorus still plays out in my mind.

Take - it - slow.
Let - it - go.
And soon you'll know, who you really are.

ahhhh, thanks, Tuesday at Burning Man, 2009. I needed that.

*here's some interviews with burners I did post Burning Man at the car wash.

Local Swimmer Achieves her Dream

You know how people give the advice, make a goal and you'll get there? About 40 years ago, Karen Rogers was seven years old when she looked out across Lake Tahoe and told her Dad that she was going to swim (21 miles!) across it one day. This August, she did it! She started at 3am, and it took her about ten hours. The only struggle she had during the swim was about three hours in when she cramped up. Her coach on a nearby kayak gave her a bottle of Cytomax, she pounded it, and continued on her way, feeling better. Besides that she said the swim was, "easy." WOW!

I interviewed Karen about her feat for ActiveReno last month. She was September's ActiveReno athlete of the month. The thing I found most interesting about what she said was how it is while she is swimming that she is truly at her happiest. A swimmer for 10 years, I have encountered more than a few people who are like this. Swimmers tend to be a quirky bunch! It's like they only feel complete when they have swimming in their lives. I have periods like this too, when the only thing that will make me feel OK is getting in a pool and swimming hard. Karen said about halfway through these long swims is when she feels "normal." She feels most like herself in the water. She says she considers this to mean she has not fully adapted into a human.

I relate. There's something magic about being in the water for long periods of time while getting exercize. Some people just need it! I do. Maybe it has to do with connection to the earth in an intense way, as you must adapt your breathing pattern to be able to stay in the water.
Check out this video portrait of Karen Rogers.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pyramid Lake Triathlon 2009

Most people around these parts agree Pyramid Lake is eerie and special, and there are even stories that things gone missing in Lake Tahoe have ended up in Pyramid Lake- that there's some sort of secret underwater vortex between the two lakes.

Anyway there's a triathlon out there. I did it one year, and it was the hardest thing I'd ever done (next to climbing in and out of the Grand Canyon in a day). This year Jim Conkey, 78, did it, and he said it was the hardest thing he's done since around age 40.

check out the recap vid I shot and edited! And note local athlete Scott Young's 7-ish second bike- run transition. Impressive!
Done as a part of ActiveReno.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Trans Tahoe Relay Swim 2009

The Trans Tahoe Relay Swim is a 30+ year tradition where teams of six individuals complete an 11 mile course across the glorious Lake Tahoe- starting at Sand Harbor Beach and ending at Skylandia Beach. Each individual swims for 30 minutes, then 15, then 10, until their team lands at Skylandia Beach. Speedboats filled with teammates bob alongside their swimmers until their turn in the 60-ish degree water. Then the swimmers touch, and switch.

The first swimmer of each team starts on the beach at 7:30 am. The first finishers come in around three hours, and keep coming in for about three more hours. Ambitious individuals who want to swim the whole thing alone are also allowed to compete.

This year instead of swimming I interviewed swimmers and created a video portrait of the event, in collaboration with my friends at ActiveReno. Check it out!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Joe Orrach on Feeling 'On Purpose'

I sat down with Joe right after the first run of his first solo show-In My Corner- ended with a bang, all shows sold out, last fall. In My Corner is Joe's life story. The second run opens tomorrow! in Oakland. Details here.

Lis What came first: Your desire to tell your story or your desire to do a solo show?
Joe I think my desire to tell my story. I did a piece around ten years ago that was really the beginning of this whole thing, that ended up being about my dad and me. I think after I did that I had the desire to write the whole story. Then I started journaling and that turned into this show.

L Have you always wanted to do a solo show? Or is it something that comes with time as a performer you think? Like you get more confidence as you go?
J I never thought about doing a solo show when I first started. I didn't even know they existed. When I started I was just trying to get work and doing that whole thing...I saw a teacher of mine Noal Parentey do a one man show that was my first introduction to doing a one man show, and I was totally knocked out! It was about 20 years ago. I watched him and I was really moved and that kind of changed my whole idea about what performing was, because up until that time I was just learning how to tap dance and I was just starting.

* photo credit Liz Hafalia, Chronicle

L When you were younger dancing and doing other performing did you feel something special when people were enjoying watching you?
J Yeah. No doubt. And that started actually on the street. I pretty much got my start on the streets in New York City. I had a partner and the very first night we went out on the streets 77nd and Columbus actually. We knew something was going on. The reaction from the public, people on the street, walking by, and stopping... Because they could just keep going. The street teaches you a lot, and it teaches you how to hold an audience. What happened was, we did a few tap dance numbers and we had a huge crowd. And I had a friend come down that night, and he said it wasn't just the dance- there was something else going on. I knew in my gut that it was kind of special and that was really great. And after awhile we went inside and put a show together and went around performing pretty much around the world.

L What role do you think performance plays in peoples' lives? Why should you do it for other people? What's that need to even want to see a show? For you, or other people to want to watch you?
J The theatre for me is a really special place. And I'm just gonna say it- I feel it's church. It's a place to really move souls. Unlike a lot of conventional churches today where people aren't moved, I think the theatre is sacred grounds. And at the end of the day that's really the best way I can explain what it does for me and why I have to perform and why I really believe when they leave the theatre, that's why they're moved and transformed from that experience. And so when I perform, I really, somewhere, tap into that. It's...divine in a way. I call it vertical- it's a very vertical thing it taps into that what's beneath us and above us...

L Is that something you can get in a movie theatre too?
J You can, you can. But I don't think it happens as often. I think you can, but it's not the same, because there is a division. That screen stops that incredible magic. Although I think a great movie does go beyond the screen and can touch you and move you, there's nothing like live performance.

L So it must just have to do with human connection?
J Yeah I think so. Yes. It's human connection and it's also soul connection that we all have and which I believe makes us all the same. We're very different, but it makes us all the same. Because I can do this particular piece in China let's say, and people will get it- the language maybe they wouldn't get, but if the performance connected into that soulful place, you can do it anywhere and people will get it. And that's rare to be able to connect to another human being on that level...And we as performers are so fortunate to be able to do that when we're really doing what we're supposed to be doing.

L So the moment when you got the desire to tell your life story...?
J It was a germ somewhere in me, like whoa I need to tell this story...I wrote it over maybe just a few nights, and it was a very, very strange period in my life. But for some reason I felt I had to make sense out of certain things, and so I started writing this and it turned out to be pretty much about my father and me. It wasn't about telling it to other people. I needed to tell it to me. I needed to... talk to myself. Because I needed to make sense, somehow out of my life...Because it wasn't making sense. But you know how when you can do something and get it out of your brain it does become smaller?... And then stepping back it started to make a little sense. But not until a few years after, until it settled down. But it was really good to go through that experience, and it was pretty intense.

L How do you feel now that you've told it? It seems like the most honest thing a person could do...
J Incredible. One, the dream, saying I want to do this I want to have a solo show, that's great, and then to be able to say I've done it, I started on it, I finished it...and what's most gratifying is the reaction from the audience. I can't begin to tell you how gratifying that is, because when I started doing this I would talk to Liz (co-writer, wife) I would say why would anyone want to hear this? It's your [my] story but, so? Who is to say that other people are going to want to listen? And the reaction from the audience, which was beyond my wildest expectations, to have people come up to me, to receive emails and letters, to have people call me, some people I knew, some people I didn't know, just their reaction.

L So was it the co-writer Liz that helped you to get the confidence to think that your story might mean something to other people? or maybe you had that realization?
J Well Liz put it into a narrative. She made it like a story. It did give me confidence because she said 'This is a very unusual story," one that she liked. And up until a few days before it opened I'd say 'Liz do you think it's good? Do you really think it's good?' And she'd say, 'I think it's great.' And I don't know if that's being a performer you're really insecure, it's probably part of that but also I think I was trying to say Are people going to find this interesting?

You didn't know somewhere inside that it would mean something to people?
J Maybe I did...And that I don't know if it's really me or if I need someone to tell me it's good... I don't know. I thought the story was interesting, and then more than interesting, it was honest. And then on top of it which I didn't realize later, it's everyone's story. Who can't relate between a child and their parent? An adult and a young person? And, it's kind of one of these old stories.

L Explain the cathartic experience of telling the painful story of you and your dad.
J Well, it was definitely cathartic. I would practice for Liz...and as I was doing it I was just crying, and crying and crying...because you re-live some of that. And you don't want the audience to see that, want them to feel it. So each process just went deeper and helped me to work out things on another level. So now I can talk to my father and I can look at him and stuff and it's much easier and it's much cleaner. But it took me this whole process to work that stuff out. Especially because what I didn't want to be was exactly what I was, which was my dad. So I really had to look in the mirror and look at myself, and do some soul searching. And the show really helped me, this story really helped me.

L So it could be thought of as a healing process for people to perform their life stories?
J Well one of the main reasons I wanted to perform it for people was to heal. Because in the process of getting the show up I really started to heal my relationship with my father, and really more importantly I think, I started to heal myself. And I figure if someone can come away after watching the show with some kind of purging or healing, (it cant come right away but) well as I was saying before quite a few people told me, 'I had to sit with that for 24 or 48 hours and just really let it digest or let it sink in more,' and it seemed like a lot of people were really touched by it, where they could take that story and kind of put it into their life, and say my father or my mother or this happened to me, and really, let them heal.

L But do you think performance could be a healing process for a lot of people?
J Yeah. Absolutely. I don't see why not. It sounds silly but I think performing, or acting or whatever you want to call it, first of all I know it's healing. I know it's healing. Like I said before anytime you get to be able to take some of the stuff that's inside that's kind of rolling around in your head, that becomes bigger than life because it's rolling inside, if you can try to stop that wheel spinning by writing about it, by singing about it, by talking about it, by performing it, whatever means, yes, I think everyone should do it. It can be scary but, gee, we only have one life, and like people say it's not a dress rehearsal.

L Did you ever know your life would make such a good story?
J (Laughing) That's funny. No no because you just try to live your life. But I knew somewhere along the line that we had a pretty interesting household. My dad's from Puerto Rico and he's out there, he's demonstrative, he's an egomaniac, he's charming, he's handsome, he moves well, he's got all of these things in him that make him an interesting guy. And then he's got all of these negative qualities that also make him ...And then my mom's Italian, born and raised in New York and so in that household there was a lot of... just a lot. Everything was loud. Everything was big and strong. So if that wasn't your natural thing, you had to learn how to survive in that. And I don't think naturally I'm that kind of a guy. Naturally I am and I'm not, and I had to use that side of me to survive in there. So I knew when I'd go over to other friends' houses that not everyone was like us (laughing). And I had my older brother Michael always getting in trouble... So to watch him in action I just knew something was going to happen. And then my uncles. I had some pretty crazy uncles. So I knew something was up. But not with myself. Just watching these people it was like 'Whoa! Am I part of this?'

A few times in the show you say, "dancing makes me happy." People have said how they connected with this, so touch on the deeper meaning of it.
J The deeper part of that is- well it might not be so deep. But every time I seem to dance, when I was 5 or 6, or 10 or 20, or now, 21, it changed, it literally changed me. And it would change the dynamic in the room. Whether I was in my house or a party or a wedding, it would just change, for the better. Everyone around me would change- they'd smile, they'd stop and point and watch. I would have people just stopping and watching me because I was.. I don't know, performing. So that made me happy. And it made people happy. And so being a young latino, which I really identify with because that's how my father raised us, that was really in my blood, I just had to moooove. I don't know if it's innate intelligence of the body, but when I started moving and dancing, it just vibrates differently. And it made me happy and I saw how it changed everyone around me, and that was a good thing. When you make someone smile who's not smiling that's a good thing....From the earliest times I can remember dancing to now, it just changes something. And it's really who I am. I don't consider myself really a dancer but more a mover. I think movement really has a profound impact on people.

L So you think there should be more dancing?
J I really do I think there should be more arts, more dancing, more movement...
Back back back to the beginning of time, people communicated through movement.
The arts saves people's lives. I believed it saved mine. Not that I'd be dead but I can't imagine where I'd be if it weren't for the arts. And without sounding 'oh woe is me,' it's really huge. It's really huge. I mean I come from a boxing family. Nothing wrong with boxing in and of itself, but it's pretty brutal....Most of the cats I used to fight with, some of them are punchy, most of the guys I revered growing up as professional fighters, most of them are punch-drunk, none of them had an opportunity to find the arts...

L You think everyone has the capacity to be artistic?
J I really do. I don't know to what extent but I think there's an artist in all of us. For some reason I think that's our birthright... I'm not sure if some of us just don't listen to it or don't have the opportunity..

L So having told your life story and having had it touch people how do you feel? How do you feel as the living breathing subject of a play that's touched people?
J Incredible. It's beyond my wildest expectations. I didn't know that you could feel so humane to be able to move someone else in that kind of a way. I feel that somehow when you're an open channel and you're being used in a way that you feel you're supposed to be used, with this bigger thing out here called the universe, you just feel like you're on purpose.

L What do you hope your show does at it's best?
J Touch really move someone, to the point where they think about why they're here or maybe think about their father or mother or son or daughter...just to pause and say, wow.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Swimmer Jim

I present you with Swimmer Jim! It's a little video portrait of Reno area Masters swimmer Jim Conkey, done as a part of Project Moonshine, and last winter's 'I Like Winners' exhibition at UNR's Sheppard Gallery. The basis for the exhibition was to explore through art the ideas of winning and athleticism. Here's Jim and his thoughts.

Swimmer Jim from lis bartlett on Vimeo.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Out of Business

Our corner store is out of business! After a sign yesterday morning that said, 'Closed Today' this one came up last night.

I mean, the place was kind of deficient. We complain about it all the time. Everything was overpriced, they barely ever restocked, often unexpectedly expired items were for sale (I once bought a muffin, had some bites, THEN realized it was moldy), and they didn't sell much a sober adult would want to eat often: Chips, candy, soda, ice cream, overpriced alcohol, other packaged goods that have at least 40 ingredients...

But it's still weird. Makes me feel like preparing for the worst. I guess it's the most prominent reminder I've had of the economic crisis in awhile.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Animal Collective Seducing Montreal 5/15/09

The multi-sensory experience of live music.

Animal Collective started their show Friday night LOUD. loud sound pulsing and flashing lights felt jarring at first. This seemed quite contrary to the first time I saw them at Great American Music Hall in San Fran a few years ago.
Bands become louder as become bigger? Somethin like that.

I'm overheating because of the loudness- music gets louder, harsh lights flash brighter, look around, crowded, no way out, sweating neck, PANIC

.... sitting on the sidewalk outside for a cool down.
On the upper stairwell in front of a screen overlooking the stage. I could see about half of the stage here.

You see where I'm going. Screen AND live. perspective perspective...

Well the screen quite disturbed me actually. I think it was hd. I could feel it looming over me and it was hard not to look. The better option for screens during performance is the kind of screen I've seen Radiohead play with. Rather than an -as close to perfect as possible- representation (also known as HD) of what's happening live, Radiohead had screens up of artistic bizarre close-up angles of the stage, manipulated, strangely colored. Lets suggest to the viewer another perspective, let's let them guess what's this? Let's inspire their curiosities with oddity in a manipulated shot of part of the action, perhaps. Not just simply give them an hd picture. No need for this, Metropolis. I'd rather just listen than have a view of an hd screen of live performance happening in front of me.

Here in the stairwell is when the show got better *hmm funny Montreal is noted for their stairwells. Katie says it's because back in the day during the building of the city (arrround 1850?) people wanted stoops. For example in NY the stairs are on the inside of buildings, but in Montreal they're outside. Which means there are stoops.
What an idea! Oh how stoops add to a city in a Jane Jacobsian type way.

Swamp sounds verberate throughout the audience. "There's a lot of reverb up here" says [I think it was] Avey Tare.
"No shit." says the dude next to me, commenting on the load of electronics on stage.

Mutually exclusive sounds become inclusive
= love?= connection? I always come back to love= connection.

2 sounds become three three become four four become five
five become one
All sounds one, we're ALL one. The audience feels it too.


trickle tickle, wave, smooth, expand, involve, hum, shriek, cover, arrest, embolden embody empower, birth, surround, bloom boom, feather flutter heighten explain express understand, fall, breathe, rest

all the verbs that go with sound
The fact that I feel so much nostalgia right now has to do with this.

The reverb seduces me.. it's a trick?

Sway me bring me lift me out of my box lets go. Later, put me back. or not.

The more I experience Animal Collective the more I hear the music in everyday life. Individual sounds work into each other, play off one another, All building into something eventually......

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

'Age of Stupid' Finally, BOLDLY, Shows Fate of Earth (at SFIFF)

Last night 'Age of Stupid' had its North American premiere at the San Francisco International Film Festival, and after watching I feel more called to action than I have in my 23 years on earth.

"I hope you enjoy the film- well not enjoy exactly- it's not a feel good movie but a feel inspired movie," director Franny Armstrong said before the show.

This is not your average documentary. Age of Stupid starts in the future- the year 2055 at a [computer generated] "digital archive" in Copenhagen. Our narrator is Pete Postlethwaite. Pete talks to the camera, directly to the audience, and takes us on a tour of our path to destruction of the earth, showing us news video clips of events that have led us to where we are now, and to where Pete is, alone in 2055.

The decision to make the film in the future, with all other footage and information completely real and and factual, only came after the first draft of the film was done, Armstrong said during q&a. In preview screenings the audience was confused and the film needed something to tie it all together. That's when the crew got the idea to set it in the future. The rest of the story is told (so effectively) by way of six peoples' intertwining stories- an idea stolen from the movie Traffic, directed by Steven Soderbergh. The six differet stories show us the reality- that "there is no right or wrong, or good or bad, we're all just people," said Armstrong. An Indian airplane entrepreneur who also wants to solve global poverty, an English man who develops wind turbine fields, and a Nigerian girl suffering the effects of a nearby Shell oil camp, are a few of the characters who help tell this story.

Some particular facts set us straight. If the whole world consumed as much as Americans, Canadians, and Australians, we would need 5 earths right now.

Destruction of railroads, death of electric cars, building cities where a car is a must...We don't have the right laws running our country because oil-business men have had an unhealthy impact on those who run our country. Now they run our country.

Energy is so ridiculously cheap that this has been an economical way to do things.

"It's like we had an unspoken collective pact to ignore climate change."

"Plenty of politicians are talking about it, but when it comes down to is, it's just not happening folks. It's just not happening," says one of the six.

"Why wouldn't we save ourselves if we had the chance?" asks Pete.

Quirky, humorous animation often mixes in to simply illustrate complex issues, like the idea that China is polluting so much right now, when Americans are the ones consuming what China manufactures, buying it in plastic, only to throw it away, where it sits in landfills...

The passion of the crew in portraying this important issue correctly, and
effectively, show through in the high quality of the film. Not
only is it inspiring but entertaining.

The San Francisco Film Society is right in saying, "Armstrong delivers a cautionary, pre-apocalyptic documentary that succeeds in piercing our complacency to a degree matched only, perhaps, by An Inconvenient Truth."

The Age of Stupid is the movie that goes with the Not Stupid campaign. The goal of the campaign is to get 250 million people to watch The Age of Stupid, which will be strategically released from now until September worldwide, and "to turn 250 million viewers into physical or virtual
activists, all focused on the Copenhagen Climate Summit in December
2009, where the successor to the Kyoto Treaty will be finalized and the
future of our species decided. Clearly the overall aim is to prevent
runaway climate change and the deaths of hundreds of millions, if not
billions, of people."

Go to, where you can send letters to politicians, and pledge how you will help this cause for the earth.

this article is also posted on

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Rockwell the Inspiration for Duncan Jones' 'Moon'

WHOA! This movie is a mind-blow.

Let me start by saying that I am quite unfamiliar with the genre of science fiction. When I read about this movie I didn't think, 'Oh what a cool sci-fi this movie will be.' SO it was a surprise to me when during the Q&A at the West Coast premiere of the movie at the SFIFF Sunday night so many questions and answers had to do with the sci-fi genre (themes borrowed from other movies, etc).

When I first started watching I immediately thought of Herzog's 'Grizzly Man' because of the perspective issue. We see astronaut Sam Bell ( Sam Rockwell) talking to a camera (The U.S.) back home. SO I thought of the idea of only being with yourself and the camera, the relationship formed there, and the perspective of the camera. Timothy Treadwell was alone in the wilderness with his camera, Sam is alone on the moon with a camera...
Well not completely alone. Kevin Spacey plays a robot friend.

Sam Rockwell gives quite a performance. It turns out the movie was inspired by him. Jones wanted to work with Rockwell, and Rockwell had ideas about wanting to play a working class hero type...

The moon setting is especially notable! I found myself wondering about why and how they decided to make it look the way it did and how the set worked. I learned during the Q&A it was built as a miniature model, and that's probably why it looked so beautiful. Often we see Sam driving the rover over the surface of the moon and it appears in slow motion, moon dust filling the dark air, which is only lit by the out-of-place man made machinery in outer space...

Whoa! Googling Duncan Jones just now I found out from Wikipedia that he is the son of David Bowie. Full circle. Last week at the SFIFF I watched Crude, in which David Bowie's wife and supermodel Iman Abdulmajid plays a key role in creating press buzz around a huge Chevron oil spill in Ecuador.

I'm not going give away anything about this movie, but I will say that it's soul-wrenchingly sad. About 3/4 way through I wanted to give up. At one point Sam says, "I just want to go home." And then earth comes into view.
But instead of giving up I became intrigued by the plot, and started questioning my own sadness- curious about why I felt so sad by this subject.
Sadness turned to curiosity.

Jones made the movie on a 5 million budget. and with only 30 days to shoot. 450 special effects shots. Damn!!!

Go see it. Be boggled.
Opens wide release June 12.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Coppola, American Zoetrope Founders Thrill San Francisco Crowd

Forty years ago Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Carroll Ballard, and Walter Murch moved to San Francisco from Los Angeles, and founded the film company American Zoetrope. Three years later Coppola made ‘The Godfather.’

Accompanied by their wives, last night the men sat around on stage at the world-renowned Castro Theatre, telling the story of how it all began.
Zoetrope was $30,000 in dept before Coppola did ‘The Godfather.’ Worried about the debt and knowing that Coppola was “the only one of us who knew how to get a job” Lucas pressured Coppola to take the offer he had to direct ‘The Godfather’. Coppola said, “George was telling me to do the Godfather. ‘Do it however they want you to,’ he said,” to a chuckle from the sold-out audience.
“So thanks, George, for telling me to do the film,” Coppola said.

It turns out the studio had huge objections with how Coppola wanted to make it (Little did they know). They were opposed to Al Pacino and especially to Marlon Brando. In order for Brando to be cast the studio required that he do a screen test, that he do the part for free, and that there would be a million dollar bond for him in case he damaged anything. When shown the screen test of Brando, who Coppola described as “a brilliant man,” the studio was astounded.

Coppola, who made the1988 feature ‘Tucker’ about a maverick car designer and his ill-fated challenge to the auto industry, had a few words to say about the fall of the auto industry. “It’s heart breaking. America has spent decades making beautiful cars.” And on a broader note about the fate of the economic crisis, “Hard times will bring us closer together personally.”

Moderator David D’Arcy asked the group if there was any hesitancy to the idea of moving from the booming movie industry in Los Angeles to much smaller San Francisco. Overall the men said there was no hesitancy and that one of the reasons to leave Los Angeles was to leave all the legal and industry. “Why should the person who edits the sound not mix the sound?...Being in San Francisco was more like being in school…We wanted to be film makers.”
Coppola’s wife Eleanor spoke up. “This [San Francisco] is really about people who want to make films…In Los Angeles there are so many parties that revolve around things that really are peripheral to film.”

Lucas said, “We were all desperate to make movies.”

The four couples seemed truly pleasured to be on stage reminiscing about their lives and projects together, and the San Francisco audience, who lined up around two corners for hours in advance to see the event, were just as thrilled. “Can we bring the house lights up to see the beautiful faces of the audience?” Coppola jollily requested at one point.

Often the group teased one another. Murch said, “Lucas used to say- ‘Why am I the only one with a vision around here?’”
And Coppola and Lucas joked about Lucas’ writing skills back in the day. Lucas said he was more of a visual guy, didn’t think you needed anything else besides the vision.
“Like a script,” Coppola joked.
Coppola didn’t believe Lucas couldn’t write, and made Lucas write a screenplay for a job.
“But then you read it and said no, you’re not a writer,” Lucas said to Coppola. They all laughed along with the audience.

Ballard piped up about how these days more often than not the director has nothing to do with the writing of the script, rather the director comes in without any prior knowledge of the script and then takes over. “We were under the notion that if you were going to make a film you’d write it,” he said.

Coppola talked about his latest project, ‘Tetro’ (premiering later this month in Cannes) which is in black and white. “With black and white it’s different because it’s the light that’s used to separate, since there’s no color. No one will buy black and white movies. It’s hard…. For awhile if you wanna do it [make movies] you have to have a day job.”
“It’s fiction but it’s filled with personal memories,” he said about the film.

Coppola said there are really only about four films he made that are the ones he really wanted to make, from his own personal ideas. He noted Rain People, Conversation, Rumble Fish, and Youth Without Youth. "Film should be personal. Each person here, we're all unique and that unique perspective is reflected in what we create... which makes it all the more beautiful."

“The curse is that people just don’t go and see them,” he said.
“If you don’t have that kind of violence, or thrills and spills, the audience just won’t come.”

This review is also published on

Saturday, May 2, 2009

'Everything Strange and New' Showing at SFIFF

For the last time tonight! at 6:30 at kabuki cinema as part of the SFIFF. It was shot in Oakland.

Two minutes in I wanted to skip back to the beginning because I was stopped in my tracks by the style of film making. I wanted to watch it over so as to catch every detail.

This is a BLEAK movie. And man, the film making is incredible at illustrating bleakness.

Eerily slow zooms and dolly shots (which my cinema major roommate says is a trend right now) come one after the other and don't stop. Voice over has a huge role in this bleak illustration too. Often the camera holds on one vacant, nonliving space in the protagonist's daily life (like parts of the construction site where he works, or the empty street he lives) while we hear voice over of him talking about his life, or of he and his wife arguing. slow. silence. pain. monotony of daily life.

The shot that brings us down the most is a frequent long shot of protagonist Wayne, walking. Just walking. But he walks so slow, in no hurry, without any cares, not looking forward to anything next. Silence. Walking. After half a minute we are depressed too. Because we can feel it. We fear it for ourselves.

Director Frazer Bradshaw says on the film's website that his goal is to "create work that opens viewers to themselves."

While watching and after, I did spend some time assessing parts of my life (I guess to make sure it isn't going where Wayne's is). And though while watching most of the film I was quite depressed and down, today I feel extremely happy. Coincidence? Purging?

Bradshaw says further "I hope that viewers will reconstitute characters and events for themselves, bringing their own ideas and sensibilities to bear. In shaping my stories and characters, I leave important narrative and emotional spaces to be filled by the audience. My characters develop naturally, as if they absorbed what the audience imagines about them. I leave moments of silence so that viewers can employ their own motivations in driving the film's emotional content."

WHOA. I'd like to talk to Bradshaw more about this. I feel like that's exactly what this film did.

'Everything Strange and New' gets scarily depressing. (AT least that's how I feel?) Wayne and his wife detest each other. They're unhappy. There is no smiling and there aren't any birds chirping. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, Wayne and his wife embrace in a thick hug. Love and hate at the same time? I'll keep watching.

Frantic orchestral interludes accent.

I recommend this movie. The film making is incredible, so much that it's maybe a bad thing because it's all I could focus on. It shows that Bradshaw has experience as a director of photography for over 200 productions.

This post is also posted at

Friday, April 17, 2009

Jean-Michel Cousteau

I saw Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of the obvious, speak at the California Academy of Sciences Nightlife Thursday night.

Twas great!

First of all, what a brilliant idea the nightlife series is. Pay less than half the usual admission, maybe check out an illuminating lecture, order a drink or two and mingle among the fish with other San Franciscans who appreciate California Academy of Science style values. I'm in! If you haven't checked it out yet I highly recommend.
Even though a beer is seven dollars, you have to admit the Greenest museum in the World is (at least ONE of) the coolest places you've had a drink.

On to the important stuff. I think Jean-Michel is trying to bring the idea of saving our oceans back to pop culture. I'm not sure if it ever was a part of pop culture. But the Green movement is, and so now maybe that can mean oceans too. I never hear people talking about how polluted our oceans are and what a big deal it is. I never talk about it either. In reality our oceans will not be full of life anymore if we don't act now.

Ever think about how much money and thought we put into space exploration compared to how much we put into exploring our own oceans here on earth?

The reason I say this about Jean-Michel is because his show Ocean Adventures has a new special, Call of the Killer Whale, that's premiering this Wednesday, April 22 (Earth Day) on PBS nationwide, and the show is fantastic! We got to see snippets Thursday night. Full of drama, and real drama at that. This messed up shit is actually happening! I think because of the right mix of perfect timing (Earth Day, and the Green movement getting bigger all the time) awesome (underwater video camera action), drama and emotion, and celebrity too, the show will bring some buzz.

Before going to bed I was setting the radio alarm for the morning and heard a familiar voice on KQED- Jean-Michel being interviewed by Michael Krasny. And finally Thursday he also made an appearance at the Commonwealth Club for an interview, which means next week, he'll be on

Monday, March 30, 2009

Phone Books Are Such a Waste of Paper

Right? These pages have been sitting in our apartment lobby for weeks because nobody wants them.

After all, I don't even remember the last time I used a phone book to look up the number or location for something when I could just google it instead. And I think it was less then half a year ago when we got a new set, which have been sitting on the fridge until I replaced it with one of these...

Hmmm I guess during generations before us if I met a Harold Jones at the grocery store say, and then later was thinking how nice he seemed I might look him up in the phone book, call and say it was lovely meeting him, and maybe we'd become friends?

I think now if I met Harold at the store, he would probably only say his first name - "Hi I'm Harold." And I'd do some facebook and google stalking, maybe even second guess my first impression of him, and try to find out more about him before calling to make sure he wasn't "some weirdo," or something.
Ok slight exaggeration hopefully.

On a contradictory to saving paper and different note, I just signed up to receive the NY Times on Sunday, in a sort of effort to fight for the survival of journalism. I also love the Sunday NY Times. The culture reporting is like solid gold. And what a lovely Sunday to lay around with different sections of the paper fluttering in the breeze of open windows, or a Bay, all day...

-ha I just realized the Sunday New York Times is #46 on Stuff White People Like-

But at a mere $3.40 a week because of a 50% off special right now, and accounting for costs of things like paper printing costs, the driver's wages and gas for the delivery truck to get to my apt, I'm not even sure my subscription will help.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sutro Baths Then and Now Portrait

Here's a portrait of the Sutro Baths I made for our first assignment in Sam Green's doc class last Spring at USF! Sam gave us a list of places to choose from in the city, and I chose to do a portrait of the baths (named after San Fran's 24th Mayor, Adolph Sutro) because I have always been intrigued by the eerie history of the Cliff House and it's surrounding areas.

For this assignment I was really interested in sound mixing, from sounds found online to the music included and the sounds recorded live at the Baths. Thanks for the Marcus Guenter Sky. Enjoy...

Monday, February 16, 2009

January 20, 2009 at San Francisco Civic Center

On inauguration day in San Francisco, I took my camera down to the civic center and interviewed people about the switch, the time in history, their emotions, what's next, and what it all means...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Synecdoche, New York

If you'd like your soul and heart and mind twisted and turned over and over until you are simultaneously so drained and sad yet relieved, see Synecdoche, New York. A cathartic experience. Playing only until Wednesday in SF, at the Roxie Theater, in the Mission.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Walkmen / Beach House Show in SF!

Last night, on President Obama's first full day in office, I saw The Walkmen and Beach House play the Fillmore. Man it was great! Of the two The Walkmen really rocked-- I say Beach House sounds just as amazing digitally as live, but I'm still definitely open to them.
And it's great being in a city where almost every time a band is on stage they say something like, "This is our favorite place to play," or "We love this city," and mean it.

Hell yes. Rock on. I'd see either of the bands again.

*The Walkmen above. I didn't take this picture but it's quite studly eh?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Wrestler

Just got back from seeing The Wrestler. Though enjoyable to watch because of the intimate follow style of filming / storytelling, I give it an eh.
I hadn't seen any previews but had heard some buzz and for some reason it sounded interesting to me. Though I really don't like wrestling or violence in movies. I guess I thought it would be an interesting character sketch.

Here's what it made me think about- which I already knew before- focus on self can equal loss of human connection

Welcome to 2009!

About to start doing a lot more blogging. I guess it took me 13 days in to say that, but now I'm ready.