Thursday, November 23, 2017

Popcorn at the First Thanksgiving?

From Popcorn! illustrated by Brian Lies

Popcorn! by Elaine Landau and illustrated by Brien Lies, has a section called "Popcorn at the First Thanksgiving?"

"Some people think that popcorn was served at the first Thanksgiving.  One story says that the Native Americans brought a deerskin bag of popcorn to the feast as a gift for the colonists, who had never tasted this food.  But people who study this stuff say it never happened.  They claim that corn wasn't grown in the area until much later."

But you can have popcorn for Thanksgiving.  If you do or not, I hope it's a happy gathering of people you love and you treat each other with compassion and respect.

The book was from the children's section of the library and has too many words on the page to keep my grand daughter's interest. no problem.  I'm thankful to have grandchildren, to know them, and to be together with my them and their parents this week.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

2020 Presidential Race, Sculpting Pencils, Is Scientology a Religion?, Gender Issue Mapping

Working on a number of posts - film festival stuff and other stuff as well  But I don't want to put them up until they're ready. Also enjoying three grandkids all at once.   Meanwhile, here are a few sites I've encountered recently that might stretch your brain a bit.

President Coach?  The Popovitch Kerr ticket.

pencil art - This artist sculpts the lead of pencils, amazingly.

Scientology - This article challenges the notion that Scientology is a religion and not merely a scam that uses the constitutional protections for religion as a way to avoid taxes and scrutiny.  Talks about how other nations do not give it religious status.

Feeling Other People's Pain - A feminist comic tries to map out the gender landscape.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Dear Rep. Chenault: An Open Letter In Response To Your Commentary On Sexual Assault Of Women

Dear Representative Chenault, 

I read your commentary in the ADN  in which you said you'd raised four young women and you'd supported women's issues as a legislator, but you had had no clue how pervasive abuse was.  
"Yet until now nothing, absolutely nothing, has made me understand the prevalence of sexual abuse and the dehumanizing behavior that women routinely face. In the wake of this scandal, I now see and understand the magnitude of this problem and how women have been taken advantage of, exploited and shamed with little if any consequence to the men taking these unwanted liberties. 
Frankly, I am saddened and shocked that a country as enlightened and great as ours would tolerate and show such indifference to this cultural abhorrence.
As a father and a legislator, I had no idea of the extent of peril women regularly faced. I now understand that this issue that women have lived with is of epidemic proportion. Society has too long tolerated this behavior. This is unacceptable and must change.”
First, I want to thank you for writing this.  So thank you.  

But I want to push you a little further.  And I do this hesitantly.  You’ve done a pretty big thing and you deserve lots of praise for it.  What follows is not criticism, though it may feel like it, but rather strong encouragement to take another few steps in the same direction.  

Here's an overview of my basic points.   
  1. What you did by publishing that commentary, was a big deal that doesn’t happen often to adults.   You thought you understood the topic of sexual abuse and harassment and now you realize you were missing a big part of it.  You’ve made an adjustment to your world view. 
  2. When that happens, some people stop there and close down again.  Others continue to grow.  They ask, “If I missed that, what else am I missing?”  I want to encourage you to ask that question.
  3. This whole process could be bigger than just the issue of sexual assault and discrimination.  It could expand to other issues.  It could also expand to how the legislature works, how legislators regard issues and treat each other.
  4. You aren’t just anybody.  You have been Speaker of the Alaska House and are now the Minority Leader.  What you think and do is not just about you personally.  It affects everyone in the state and beyond.  If your world views are accurate, you can do great good.  If they aren't, you can do a lot of harm.  It’s critical that I take advantage of your commentary to reach out to you and encourage you to keep expanding your world view.

So I’m aiming big.  I do so at the risk of offending you by saying you could do more than you have.  I hope you can listen and accept my assurance that my intentions are the best.  

Part 1:  On the issue of sexual assault, rape, and the barriers women face.  

  1. Your commentary is a big deal.  You’ve not only said how important this is, but more significantly, you’ve opened yourself up by revealing that there was an important public policy area where you had missed something critical. Even though Alaska is at or near the top in bad domestic violence and rape stats.  You’ve exposed a weakness publicly.  And I want to strongly applaud you for that.  And I go on in this letter with trepidation, because I don’t want you to think,  “Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.”  I want you to keep growing in your awareness.  So I continue.
  2. In addition to the #metoo hashtag, there is also an #ihave hashtag where men talk about how they contributed to perpetuating the problem.  They go beyond saying, “This is bad” and after self-reflection, talk about how they have contributed to the situation.  Most men haven’t physically assaulted women, but they probably have passively stood by when other men acted badly toward or talked badly about women.  They may not have paid as much attention to women in meetings as they did men.  Or interrupted them more than they interrupted men.  They may not have questioned policies that made it harder for women to advance or that kept pay for women lower than that for men.  
  3. In your commentary, you acknowledged the problem, but you didn’t acknowledge your contribution to the problem through action or inaction.  In your position as Speaker, you had considerable power.  Just by not making this a higher priority, you allowed this to continue.  I have no idea how you treat women in the legislature.  I have no idea of what conversations you took part in.  But I have to assume in the legislature, dominated by men who are attracted to power, there must have been testosterone tinged conversations where women were discussed as objects, where specific women’s body parts were discussed.  Did you think about your daughters in those situations and protest?  Did you chastise the offenders?  You haven’t discussed that.  If you stayed silent, like most men do in those situations, you helped support the abuse.  
  4. There is one thing that you did that is on the record - you were an honorary co-chair of the Alaska Donald Trump campaign.  That announcement was in May 2016.  I can find nothing via google that says you protested his pussy grabbing comments in October 2016.  Perhaps you did and I missed it.  If you didn’t publicly denounce those comments, particularly since you had publicly endorsed him, you were part of the problem.  
  5. I get that your view of the world has been shaped by your party and that loyalty is a key plank of the Republican party rules.  Your party severely punishes people who do not vote for the budget the party endorses.  But if you are going to actually do something about sexual abuse, you need to take a step beyond acknowledging its existence,  and acknowledge your part in the system that allows it.  I’d point out here that the kinds of pressures on you to lie low in these situations, are the same kinds of pressures on women to not report abuse.  Fear of losing job opportunities, income, social status.  It’s easier to say nothing and not rock the boat.  This code of silence is what keeps this sort of thing going. 
  6. I’d also like to encourage you to think bigger when it comes to the legislative committee you propose in your commentary.  You write, 
“I will be sitting down with my colleagues in the Legislature and explaining that we need to provide awareness and sensitivity training and that we should have a zero-tolerance policy for such behavior.”

  • This goes way beyond awareness training.  This is a structural issue.  
  • What are the systemic pressures that keep legislators from criticizing their own party’s rules and procedures?  
  • What are the economic and political pressures on legislators to vote a certain way?  
  • Why do women get paid less than men?  
  • How do organizations allow for women to take time to have and raise babies without career penalties?  

This is more than individual decisions by individual men.

What does zero-tolerance mean here?  I know you had limited space, but I’d point out that the legislature has - both in Alaska and the Congress - often exempted themselves from rules they apply to others.  It’s hard for legislators to police themselves.  The California legislature is setting up an autonomous body to look into sexual harassment and assault complaints.  I’d just like you to think bigger here than personal restraint.  It takes structural change to have an impact.  

Part 2:  "What other gaps are there and how can I work on them?"

You’ve significantly adjusted a part of your world view.  The logical next step is to ask:  “If I missed this, what else am I missing?”  It may be logical, but it’s emotionally difficult.  What you’ve done already is emotionally a big deal.  For some it’s scary and far enough.  Even too far.  But for others, it’s a chance to expand and grow as a human being.  I’m hoping you’re ready for that second option.  To get there, I’d ask you to reflect on these questions:

1.  Why didn’t you see this before?  
2.  What happened that caused you to see now, what you hadn’t seen?

Which I hope leads you to ask

3.  What else am I missing? and
4.   How can I learn from questions 1 and 2 that will help me with questions 3?

So let’s look at these questions in more detail.

1.  Why didn’t I see this before?

Confirmation bias is a theory that says people accept facts and arguments that support their beliefs and dismiss those that conflict with their beliefs and vested interests.   

You had a vested interest in seeing this, namely  your four daughters whose lives and careers are threatened by the sexist acts of individuals and the stacked system that gives men advantages over women.  

On the other hand, you probably have a strong belief in the fairness of the American system and a belief in the work ethic, that if you work hard you will get ahead.  Most successful men do.  It explains that we are successful because we worked hard and blinds us to the fact that there are barriers to success we don't face, but that other hard workers do - like women and people of color who work just as hard, but don’t succeed as much. That belief makes it easier to dismiss claims by women and others that the system isn't fair.

I’m just speculating here since I don’t know the reasons in your particular case.  You have to think these through yourself.  My thoughts are just an example.

2.  What happened that caused you to see now, what you hadn’t seen?
You write, “I had no idea of the extent of peril women regularly faced.”  But the only clue in your commentary about why you changed is this line:
“The names I see coming forward on Facebook are people we know — our neighbors, relatives and friends, and not just movie stars and Hollywood celebrities.”
I take from this that by seeing names of people you personally know who have been sexually abused, this became personal.   This issue now was directly connected to you.  I even wonder if one or more of your daughters sat you down and explained things.  That has the biggest impact on fathers.  And you are right not to identify people any more specifically than you did.  It’s their jobs to tell their stories, not ours.  

3.  What else am I missing?
Sexual assault against women is an issue you have a personal stake in because you have four daughters.  Yet you missed it. “I had no idea of the extent of peril women regularly faced.”
So now is a perfect time to ask, what else am I missing?  Particularly in those areas where I have a vested interest in NOT seeing things?  
This is the hard part.  Where do you start?  Point 4 addresses that.

4.  How can I learn from questions 1 and 2 that will help me with question 3?

I’ve speculated about possible answers to questions 1 and 2, but you have to do some serious self reflecting to figure out the specific reasons that actually apply to you. 

1.   What happened that caused you to see now, what you hadn’t seen?  
It’s hard to know what you don’t know.  The first step is to acknowledge that there is a lot you don’t know.  The older we get, the less often we think about this.  The more successful we are, the more we think we know everything.  After all, if we didn’t, how did we succeed?  We just have to walk into any library or bookstore to understand how much we still have to learn.  
Right now, you have stumbled upon a gap in your knowledge, so you recognize that you don’t know everything.  I’ve pointed out that vested interests and entrenched beliefs play a role in preventing us from seeing things that might alter our world views.  
Step one: try to articulate your world view.  What do you believe about how the world works?  Why some people do well and others don’t?  Why men occupy most positions of power in the US?   What do you believe about what’s right and wrong, good and bad?  

Few people ever do this, so they don’t really know what they believe in detail.  Just in generalities.  When you write it down, you start to see gaps.

Step two:  Identify how you know each point in your world view.  How did you learn it?  Did you just accept what authority figures told you or did you come up with it on your own?  How did you test it?  What proof do you have that it’s true?  

This is hard stuff, but again, if you do it seriously, it will lead to more questions than answers.  When we have questions, we are open to new information.

2.  What happened that caused you to see now, what you hadn’t seen before?
You suggest in your commentary that it was when you found out that sexual assault and rape happened to women you knew.  Before that, it was others - celebrities you didn’t know.  
Step one:  Make a list of the people who influence your world view most.  As adults, most of us hang out with people who think like we do.  It’s comfortable.  It reinforces our sense that we are right about things.  But it also causes us to be blind to what’s wrong with our facts and our logic.
Step two: Rank the list by who thinks most like you and who thinks least like you.  Which of these people do you tolerate because they are on your team, but have troublesome behaviors?  Who do you admire most?  Why? Is it because they are powerful, because they’re good, because they  are smart, because they win?  Because they listen?
Step three:  Open up authentic conversations with people you know who do NOT agree with your world view.  Ask them about their world view and why they believe it.  Listen.  Take notes.  Be humble.  Be respectful.  Your Democratic colleagues might be a good place to start.  You spend a lot of time together and there must be some that you get along with on a personal level, even though you disagree on policy issues.  Invite some to one-on-one discussions, over lunch, on a walk, playing golf, or whatever comfortable setting works for you.  

Part 3: The Conclusions

I know this is a long letter. The issues are complex and it's necessary to get detailed.   No one pays me to do things like this.  Do I have an agenda?  Yes, better civic discourse and better public administration and more equal treatment of all people.   I taught public administration at UAA for 30 years and retired as professor emeritus.  It was my job to work with my students - mostly public servants - and get them to think about things like this, to see the world differently on graduation than they did when they started.  

I hope you take this letter seriously and understand my intent is a better place for Alaskans to live. I believe that your awakening on this one issue, could lead to awakenings on other issues.  

In Congress now, as well as in the Alaska legislature, things have become a highly competitive game - the object is to win, to beat the opponent.  Positions are frozen and any softening by anyone is seen, at best, as weakness and, at worst, as treason.  

The pressures on individual legislators to conform to their party line is not different from the pressure on women to stay quiet about sexual assault.  They face lots of negative consequences if they speak up.  That’s the structural reality that women face and that all of us face when we feel a need to challenge the status quo, to take on powerful people. 

But all the legislators are in Juneau because they believe they are doing the right thing as best they can.  I’m hoping that you can build on your insights on sexual assault and be a leader in breaking the logjam, in brokering peace between the parties and the individual members, and finally to help lead to policies and legislation that will take this state where we need to go.    

Your commentary convinces me you are serious about this issue.  You’ve stuck your neck out and my intent here is not to cut it off, but to push you further in the direction that will help you be successful in this and in other issues. 


Steven Aufrecht

[I sent a copy of this to Rep. Chenault last Wednesday and asked him to correct any errors of fact or challenge any assumptions I'd made that he disagreed with.  I said I would post this on Monday (today).  I haven't heard anything back from him.]

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Anchorage Daily News Returns, After Three Years As The Alaska Dispatch News

For the last three years I've stumbled over the name Alaska Dispatch News.  Just Friday night, as I stumbled yet again, my daughter said, "Everyone I know calls it the "Anchorage Daily, I mean, Alaska Dispatch News."

And that night I got the message that the Anchorage Daily News was returning today.  So here are screenshots of the last edition of the Alaska Dispatch and the first of the resurrected Anchorage Daily News. (There is not Saturday paper, but that happened under the Dispatch name.)

One of the problems I had after the first name change in this new electronic age, was that when looking up old articles, the top bar said Alaska Dispatch News, even though the article was published in the Anchorage Daily News.  People who didn't know Alaska would cite the article as being in the Alaska Dispatch News, when it really wasn't.  

As I checked an ADN article I linked to last week, when it was published under the name Alaska Dispatch News, the banner now is Anchorage Daily News.  Same issue, now in reverse.

Even worse, I checked on this, looking up an old article I linked in 2013, I got this.

Wow, that's even worse than mixing up the name and dates.  Now it's just gone.  I hope they can go back and reroute people using the old url to the new url.  Talk about losing history.

Maybe I'm just to picky, but I think, as an academic, that it matters.  Some part of 'the record' has been corrupted.

Another, more vexing issue for me, is dates.  Articles in the print and electronic editions often are dated a day apart.  An article may go online after the print edition is done, and gets the date of when it goes online.  But that article in print, is dated the next day.  That's been a problem when I've read the print edition and then link on the blog to the online version of the story which has a different date than what I've cited for the print edition.  Sometimes I note the difference between the dates.

Another issue with online journalism is updates.  When you print a story on paper, the paper edition never changes.  There may be a later print notice of an error, but the old story is still there.
But online versions get updated.  Reputable online media note the update time and date.  But it isn't always clear what the change was.

On the blog, I don't necessarily mark spelling or grammatical corrections, or even minor style changes that make a sentence easier to understand, but don't change the substantive meaning.  When I do change substance, I strikeout the old version and [bracket the new version] so it's clear what was changed.

But technically, someone could go in and change the old stories and we wouldn't know.  What safeguards are there to rewriting history?  With paper editions archived in libraries, that couldn't happen.  But if there are no hard copies, it can.  Will cached versions still be available?  When will we know we have to check for the cached version?

Anyway, welcome back Anchorage Daily News.  It will be much easier to tell people where I read your articles again.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

AIFF 2017: Docs In Competition - Saving Brinton, Over The River, The Last Animals, The Cage Fighter, Among Wolves, Alphago

Here are the Anchorage International Film Festival in Competition.

Documentaries are non-fiction feature length films.  "In Competition" means, at AIFF,  these films have been selected by the programmers to be eligible for awards at the festival.  Another way of saying that is these are the films that the programmers collectively liked the best.   There are usually other films that appealed more to individual programmers, this list is there collective choices.

 I haven't seen any of these.  My goal here is simply to make it easy for people to know what's coming at the festival beginning December 1.

My experiences is that the documentary category tends to be very strong at the Anchorage International Film Festival.  They're in alphabetical order.

Docs in CompetitionDirectorCountryLength
AlphaGo Greg KohsUSA 1:30:28
Among WolvesShawn ConveyUSA 1:27:00

The Last AnimalsKate BrooksUSA1:31:50
Over the RiverVanina Lappa Italy1:14:00
Saving Brinton Morgan WhiteUSA 1:27:30


Greg Kohs
Showing:  Tuesday, Dec 5, Bear Tooth, 8pm
Sat. Dec 9, Alaska Exp Small 7pm

This appears to be a man against machine movie - can a computer beat the best human go players?

Here's the Director's Statement:  (Watch for the Alaska connection)
"Early in my career I worked at NFL Films. That experience, of being able to see the drama on the field while having access to the people and stories unfolding off the field, has always been a fascinating intersection for me. In my recent film, The Great Alone, I was able to explore the epic scale of the Iditarod through the comeback story of a single competitor. In AlphaGo, the competition between man and machine provided a similar backdrop, albeit with far larger consequences. 
The complexity of the game of Go, combined with the technical depth of an emerging technology like artificial intelligence seemed like it might create an insurmountable barrier for a film like this. The fact that I was so innocently unaware of Go and AlphaGo actually proved to be beneficial. It allowed me to approach the action and interviews with pure curiosity, the kind that helps make any subject matter emotionally accessible. 
Unlike the film’s human characters – who turn their curious quest for knowledge into an epic spectacle with great existential implications, who dare to risk their reputation and pride to contest that curiosity – AI might not yet possess the ability to empathize. ​But it can teach us profound things about our humanness – the way we play board games, the way we think and feel and grow.​ It’s a deep, vast premise, but my hope is, by sharing it, we can discover something within ourselves we never saw before."


Image from Among Wolves Kickstarter page

Among Wolves
Shawn Convey
Showing:  Monday, Dec 4, Bear Tooth 8:15pm 

From the beginning of the trailer, my thought was:  This is not the movie the title suggests to most Alaskans. 

This is a movie about veterans of the wars in the former Yugoslavia, specifically in Bosnia.  Here's elaboration on that from the Among Wolves  website:

"A paramilitary leader at the young age of 20, Lija helped defend the town while neighbors fell to the invading forces. Now he heads the Wolves, a motorcycle club that resembles the stereotype in rough image only. Under his leadership, this wild crew has become a positive force for good with a self-defined humanitarian focus. As their numbers grow, so do their successes, like holding charity events for the neediest in their community and securing badly needed supplies for hospitals in Livno an Srebrenica. 
One mission, though, rich in symbolism, captures their spirit more than any other. On what was once the front line, they now tend to and defend a herd of wild horses that society has similarly deemed expendable. A harsh environment, poachers, and urbanization continually threaten the herd. Stirred by their strength, the Wolves are determined to control their own fate and finally emerge from the shadow of war."


From The Last Animals website
The Last Animals
Kate Brooks
Showing:  Tuesday, Dec 5  Bear Tooth  5:30 pm

This is a movie about how rhinos and elephants are being slaughtered for their horns and tusks.  Hard to watch stuff.  As I wander the internet reading about this film, it's clear it's doing a good job of marketing itself.  The website is slick and full of gorgeous photos. There's even a piece about it in Glamor, not where you normally see stories about film festival documentaries.
"Kate Brooks may be missing the fear gene: At age 20 she was infiltrating state orphanages in Russia to document child abuse, work she published in The Boston Globe and *Newsweek*. By 25 she was capturing the American invasion of Iraq for Time. Ever since, she’s lived in war zones, sending back images of bombings in Pakistan, conflict in Syria, and amputees in Afghanistan.
In 2010 she finally took a much-needed vacation and headed to a national wildlife reserve in Kenya. “I was lounging by an infinity pool,” remembers Brooks, now 39, “and out on the horizon this herd of elephants walked by. It realigned everything inside of me. I left knowing I wanted to give the animals back some of the peace they gave me.” She returned to work, but the memory of those roaming giants stayed with her, and in 2012 she began looking into why such a staggering number—30,000—are killed every year for their tusks. When she learned the reason was related to terrorism, she set out to tell the world. The result is her eye-opening documentary, The Last Animals, which takes viewers on a journey into the violent epicenter of the ivory trade."

I doubt though that it will be screening at the White House any time soon, given that the Trump administration has reversed the ban on importing elephant ivory from Africa trophy hunts.

Here's a bit from Screen Daily:
"What distinguishes The Last Animals from other films on the subject (in particular last year’s Netflix doc The Ivory Game) is the raw urgency of Brooks’ direct conflict reportage: she is a war correspondent who lets us understand that what is happening here is nothing short of an all-out battle. This investigative mission, coupled with her painterly eye, elevates this doc – for the most part – into something filmic, often elegiac, and hopefully galvanising. After all, who are we, she asks, as guardians of this planet, if we allow the slaughter of these mystical, beautiful beasts to continue."

I couldn't find a trailer, but maybe this interview at the 2016 Women in the World Summit in New York City with the director Kate Brooks about the film is a better introduction.


Over the River 
Vanina Lappa
Showing: Sunday, Dec 3, Alaska Exp Small, 4pm
Sunday, Dec. 9 Alaska Exp Small 5pm

I've learned from the director via FB, that this film has been seen in Europe and Kathmandu, the showing in Anchorage will be its North American premiere.

As I looked this film up, I forgot we are in the documentary category.  It has the look of a feature.  But it's not.  Which will make it interesting.

From Film Italy:
"'We are too old, that's the problem. We look at the moon, look at too many things ...'. So it's been said to Angelo, a young waiter who lives in Caselle in Pittari, a small town that lies on a river basin Bussento in southern Cilento, at the foot of a sacred mountain, where there is the St. Michael's cave, inside which , the legend says, there's an ancient guarded secret."
Here's from an Italian review of the movie, you can get the whole review here:
"Angelo, giovane cameriere di Caselle in Pittari, nel Cilento meridionale, vive nel tempo sospeso e fuori dalla storia che sembra caratterizzare l’intero paese. La comunità, ancorata a rituali più o meno antichi, è insieme nutrice e gabbia per il giovane; e tale è anche per il suo omonimo Angelo, barista più anziano di lui, con uno sguardo sulla vita più radicale e disilluso. I due dovranno decidere tra la permanenza e la fuga: ovvero tra due, contrastanti, idee di esistenza. [sinossi]
C’è costantemente una doppia dimensione, la percorrenza di un doppio binario, a guidare lo svolgimento di un lavoro come Sopra il fiume. Il documentario di Vanina Lappa, regista e montatrice italo-francese, è infatti saldamente ancorato alla terra che racconta, ai suoi rituali, al carattere misterico e al potere aggregante delle sue simbologie, ma contemporaneamente punta a mettere in scena la tensione con l’esterno, la pressione della modernità, la voglia di fuggire di alcuni abitanti del paesino che è teatro del film (quello di Caselle in Pittari, nel Cilento meridionale). La regista approccia qui il genere del documentario etnografico mettendo sempre in primo piano questa dialettica: lo fa fin dalla sequenza iniziale, che racconta il territorio attraverso un’antica leggenda che viene narrata al protagonista quand’era bambino, a illustrare lo sguardo sul fiume e sugli incontaminati territori che sovrastano e cingono il paese; poi, l’obiettivo si sposta sulla vita quotidiana della cittadina, sulla concretezza delle sue i(n)terazioni, sempre uguali a se stesse, su un tessuto sociale che sembra demograficamente condannato, incapace di favorire il ricambio tra generazioni, e quindi la sua stessa sopravvivenza."
Here's how renders this in English:
"Angelo, a young waiter of boxes in Pitters, in southern Cilento, lives in the suspended time and out of history that seems to characterize the whole country. The community, anchored to more or less ancient rituals, is together nourishment and cage for the young; And such is also for his namesake angel, bartender older than him, with a look on the most radical and disillusioned life. The two will have to decide between permanence and escape: that is between two, contrasting, ideas of existence. Synopsis]
There is constantly a double size, the journey of a double track, to guide the conduct of a job as above the river. The documentary of Vania Lappa, Italian-French director and upright, is firmly anchored to the earth that tells, its rituals, the mystery character and the aggregating power of its symbology, but at the same time aims to stage the tension With the exterior, the pressure of modernity, the desire to flee some inhabitants of the village that is the theatre of the film (that of Caselle in Pitti, in southern Cilento). The director approaches here the genre of the ethnographic documentary always putting in the foreground this dialectic: it does so from the initial sequence, which tells the territory through an ancient legend that is narrated to the protagonist when he was a child, to To illustrate the gaze on the river and the uncontaminated territories that dominate and surround the country; Then, the goal moves on the everyday life of the town, on the concreteness of its I (n) teras, always equal to themselves, on a social fabric that seems demographically condemned, unable to favor the replacement between generations, and therefore its Same survival."

From Box Office Mojo
Saving Brinton
Tommy Haines & Andrew Sherburne
Showing:  Sunday, Dec 3  Bear Tooth, 7:30pm

This feels like a film makers' film - it's about the finding and restoring of turn of the (20th) century films in Iowa.  Last year we had an Indian film, The Cinema Travelers, about a business that traveled the festival circuit in India showing large reel-to-reel films as DVD's and online downloading were starting to challenge this old film showing tradition.  It won best documentary.

We can get a sense of things by looking at where the film comes from: Northland Films:
"Northland Films are non-fiction storytellers in the Upper Midwest devoted to producing challenging and engaging films on timely social issues. Working throughout North America, the filmmakers work boldly to uncover themes of nature, history & community and in unexpected places."

From an interview with the filmmakers at the American Film Institute (AFI) where the film premiered June 17, this year:
"AFI: What inspired you to tell the story of SAVING BRINTON?
TH & AS: The common threads through all of our feature documentaries are notions of community and place and the interplay of tradition and modernity. This story had all of those elements.
TH, JR & AS: On top of all that, we’re film nerds. So here are 130 films, many of them unseen for a century, and we get to be a part of bringing these back into the public consciousness. Of course, we were in from day one.
AFI: How did you find Michael Zahs?
TH & AS: Our last film, GOLD FEVER, was about gold mining in Guatemala, and we were looking for something closer to home. Our eyes lit up when we got a call about a man, in a small town just south of us, who had discovered a basement full of nitrate films from Thomas Edison and Georges Méliès. Our first reaction was the same as most everyone: “In Iowa? Really?” That was the beginning. But in that first visit to Mike’s house, we sensed that the man who had saved these things was the real story — you can see it in the opening scene of the film. I think we left that day and told Mike 'you’ll be seeing a lot more of us.'”
[TH is Tommy Haines, AS is Andrew Sherburne, and JR is John Richards - Director of Photography]


UPDATE Nov. 18, 2017:  A film that was in this list before dropped out because of 'distribution.'

Friday, November 17, 2017

Republican Senate Leadership Fund Head Equates Electing A Pedophile to Electing A Democrat

Interviewed by Rachel Martin on Morning Edition today, Steve Law, the head of the Senate Leadership Fund, which supports Republican Senate candidates equated being a Democrat to being as bad as a pedophile.
"[Alabama voters] are going to be faced with a very, very unsavory alternative.  Either they vote for a guy who’s been accused of being a pedophile or else they hand the Senate seat to the Democrats."
This is where Republican politics stands today - picking between a pedophile and a Democrat is a hard choice.

It's this campaign of hatred that we've seen from conservative talk radio, Fox News, and people like Steve Law, that has made it difficult for people to talk civilly.  That has elected Republicans who think Democrats are inherently evil people, not simply people who see the world differently from them.  And as a side-effect, many Democrats have become hardened to believe the same of Republicans.

The part I quoted comes around 5:23 of the audio.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

AIFF 2017: Features in Competition - Pale Blue Dot, Painless, Muse, The Drawer Boy, and American Folk [UPDATED]

Features are full length fictional films.  Films in competition are those chosen by the original screeners  to be eligible for awards. 

I'd note that while these are the screeners picks, screeners don't always agree, so some might have chosen other features as the best.  I often disagree with the screeners, but this is a good start as you try to figure out what to watch.  There are always gems that don't make it to this list.  And you might find films on topics that you want to see or from a country you're interested in, even if they aren't in competition.

Features in CompetitionDirectorCountryLength
American Folk 
David Heinz
The Drawer Boy
Arturo Perez Torres
Jordan Horowitz
Pale Blue Dot Girish Mohite
What If It Works? Romi TrowerAustralia1:35:00

I'm not making any judgments here except that I'm posting the films in competition - those eligible for an award.  These are just descriptions, interviews, pictures and video I've found on line to give people a sense of what's coming to Anchorage Dec. 1.

American Folk
David Heinz
Showing: Sunday Dec. 3,  at 8:15pm Beartooth

"When their plane from Los Angeles to New York is grounded on the morning ofSeptember 11, 2001, strangers Elliott (Joe Purdy) and Joni (Amber Rubarth) are unexpectedly thrust together amidst the chaos of that historic day. With little in common but both needing to get to NYC urgently, they accept help from Joni's family friend Scottie (Krisha Fairchild) who lends the duo a rusty old 1972 Chevy Van. The shock and stress of 9/11 quickly threatens to derail their cross country journey until the pair discover what they do have in common: a love for old folk songs. Armed with a pile of guitars left in the van from Scottie’s touring days, Elliott and Joni raise their voices together (and with those they meet on the road), re-discovering the healing nature of music and bearing witness to a nation of people who, even while mourning, manage to lift each other up in the wake of tragedy.?


The Drawer Boy  
Arturo Perez Torres
Showing:  Monday Dec. 4  5:30pm Bear Tooth

From  Evan Dossey in the Midwest Film Journal:
"The Drawer Boy (Draw-er, as in, a boy who draws) is an adaptation of Michael Healey’s 1999 play about Miles (Jakob Ehman), a traveling actor who shows up at a farm owned by Angus (Stuart Hughes) and Morgan (Richard Clarkin) with the hopes of staying in their house, helping around the farm and learning what it’s like to be a rural Canadian.
Angus takes care of most of the work as well as Morgan, who has severe short-term memory loss. As Miles learns the ebb and flow of a farmer’s life, he also begins to uncover the tragic story that led to Morgan’s condition.
To director Arturor Perez Torres’ credit, The Drawer Boy captures the staging and performances you’d expect from a stage production without sacrificing opportunities afforded by the cinematic lens. It’s a beautifully shot movie. There’s a tendency for stage-to-film adaptations to sometimes come across as something stuck between the two mediums in a way that satisfies neither. That’s not the case here."

 This is probably a movie that you don't need to know anything about.  Just go and let it unfold with no expectations.

The Drawer Boy - Trailer from Open City Works on Vimeo.

What If It Works?

Jordan Horowitz
Showing:  Saturday Dec 2, 1:45  AK Experience Small 
                  Friday Dec 9, 7:45pm AK Experience Large

Here's the Painless website synopsis:

"Henry Long was born with a rare condition that leaves him unable to feel physical pain. Life for him is a daily struggle, never knowing when he might become seriously injured without realizing it, or worse, die from an internal injury he never knew existed. He lives in a constant state of fear and is completely alienated from those around him who cannot relate to his daily struggles.
Barricading himself in a world of science, Henry has dedicated his life to finding a cure so that he can one day know what it’s like to feel ‘normal.’ When he discovers a promising drug that he is unable to obtain on his own, he gets involved with a dangerous scientist with a dark past and his own secret agenda. Henry must decide if his need for normalcy is worth paying the ultimate price before it’s too late.
Based on actual medical science, Painless looks at the dark side of life with a rare condition and the challenges both symptomatic and social that people with these conditions face."

You can listen to David Majzlin's sound track for Painless here.


Pale Blue Dot 
Girish Mohite
Showing:  Sunday, Dec. 3  11:45am AK Experience Small 
                      Saturday, Dec. 9, 2:30pm AK Experience Small 

I couldn't find much on this film.  

From Filter Copy - An Indian website reporting on this year's Mumbai Film Festival last month which highlighted 13 of the festival films including Pale Blue Dot.
"Synopsis: Sarvanaam, or the Pale Blue Dot, was birthed when a photograph taken by a NASA Voyager showed the earth to be smaller than a pixel from a distance of 6 billion km in space. The very fact that the Earth is as miniscule as a grain of sand in the eternal expanse of the universe brings forth questions about the weight of our existence and death."

From The Hindu, a page of very short questions and answers at the Mumbai Film Festival dated October 2017.  Directer Girish Mohite was asked

What is your film about?
"It is about the existence of hum life and our fear of death - the eternal question that haunts us all our life"
I can imagine his head rolling back and forth as he gives this answer.
The next question was:  What should the MAMI crowd expect to see?
"I have filmed the entire feature film in natural light without resorting to artificial sets.  I have treated the subject as seen through the eyes of the central character - a man who is struggling with these thoughts about life and death when a person close to him in on the verge of dying."
UPDATE Nov. 23, 2017:  The film maker, Girish Mohite, has sent me this synopsis of the film.

"A specific name underlines the existence of a given individual but Sarvanaam i.e. an Eternity is a collective notion. Even while living this life making an effort to  preserve one's own identity, often the destiny plays its cards in such an incomprehensible manner that one is imperatively left with no alternative but to ignore one's own personal existence or unique identity and dissolve oneself in the mighty oblivion of the Sarvanaam, the eternity.  The film 'Sarvanaam', the Pale Blue Dot makes you aware of this insurmountable truth.  
Thus, the existence of LIFE is PALE BLUE DOT.
'Death' is an ultimate truth. Each one of us is radically aware that at some or the other point of time in life, the death, is going to come to meet us and end our role. But even then every human being feels afraid of the death of his near and dear ones rather than being frightened of one's own death. That is why, every individual gets disturbed when the same death starts lingering around in the lives of your near and dear ones. This close shadow of the death destroys the peace of mind of every individual howsoever invariable truth it may be. An approaching shadow of that evil arouses a feeling of unacceptable injustice in his mind and he leaves no stone unturned to unveil the answer of this riddle. The unbearable sorrow of this inhuman destiny and the agonising journey of every human being's life saga is the gist of the Marathi feature film 'Sarvanaam'."

I couldn't find a trailer for this film. [UPDATE Nov. 23:  Girish Mohite sent me the trailer, so here it is:


What If It Works?
Romi Trower

I don't recall ever citing the Catholic Church of Australia, so it seems a good time to check that off my blogger list of things to do.  Here's from their review of What If It Works?
"There have been many films over the years, especially in recent years, about relationships, romantic relationships, potential healing relationships between people who are physically and/or mentally disabled. We don’t always expect to see these stories acted out in the ordinary streets, in the ordinary suburbs of Melbourne. They are acted out here – but, at the end, there is still the question that the title raises, will it work, what if it works?
It takes a few moments to get into the feel of the film We are introduced to Adrian, Ford, a young man in his 30s, driving a fast car, getting into trouble, landing unsuspectingly into a group of drag queens. Who is Adrian? When we see him behave, gloved hands, hands raised in the air, wary of touching anything, fastidious, we realise that he is absolutely obsessive, has a compulsive disorder. Which means that while he is friendly in his way, it is not always easy to like him. Non-compulsiveness will feel very impatient with him. But, as we get to know him, see him in all his foibles, there has to be some sympathy. In fact, he is very intelligent with science and engineering and is able to help people in the art commune, even calling in the aid of the drag queen friends.
He almost runs over a young woman (Anna Samson) who lives just up the street, who walks dogs (which he abhors). When he encounters her on his session with his therapist and she comes to visit, mistaking him for the therapist and pouring out a rather salacious life story, he is upset. He later meets her in the street."

And from FilmInk:
"Giving the leads of your romantic comedy mental health issues is tricky ground to navigate. Jokes built around your characters could be seen as laughing at them, rather than with them. Additionally, in the pursuit of true love, there’s a certain danger of downplaying their daily struggles. What if it Works?, from first time director Romi Trower, not only tackles these issues, it does so with success."

[UPDATE Dec. 18 - I've swapped out a film that is no longer in the festival for one on the list that I didn't see in the first list].