On Tour: Germantown, MD

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September 18, 2016 | Sweet Dreams | Germantown, MD

“People watched the film while sitting at cafe tables cabaret-style, which seemed to add to the intimacy.”

image-1In the leafy outskirts of Washington D.C., the BlackRock Center for the Arts hosted Sweet Dreams and paired the film with an ice cream social and drumming performance from the fabulous D.C. based women’s drum troupe, Bele Bele. People watched the film while sitting at cafe tables cabaret-style, which seemed to add to the intimacy. During the Q&A, a young woman from Rwanda got up to thank us for making a film that shows the positive side of her country and widens the discussion about the country’s history and progress. “When I tell people that I am from Rwanda, people shake their heads and tell me how tragic it must be coming from there. I tell them ‘No, our country is beautiful and doing well.’ ” Claudine, 9 months pregnant, joined the drummers after the film, thinking they might help her hasten her delivery! Bele Bele brought extra drums and invited the audience to drum with them, and suddenly Rwanda and the women drummers of Butare felt much closer.

 

Post by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker Rob Fruchtman.

On Tour: Lewisburg, WV

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September 15, 2016 | Sweet Dreams | Lewisburg, WV

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“With few resources but a determination to succeed, the women did just that.”

I drove from Lancaster, PA south through Virginia and into the hills of West Virginia coal country to the small vibrant town of Lewisburg. In addition to being a center of culture and education in rural Greenbriar County, Lewisburg is proud home of Carnegie Hall, one of only three such named buildings in the country. In 1902, Andrew Carnegie was asked to help Lewisburg residents build the hall after a fire destroyed the one before it, which he did. Carnegie Hall is now a thriving cultural center, and on the night of the 15th, it hosted a screening of Sweet Dreams. Before the screening, I was asked to address the Greenbriar Women’s Fund, an organization that raises money for programs to help women in the region. West Virginia women rank near the bottom in health and education in the country, and the Fund is fighting to change that. At a dinner in the local church (the women cooked a traditional Rwandan stew – yum), I spoke about the Rwandan women that we feature in our film, and how they came together to form a successful drumming troupe – breaking the taboo that only men could drum – and then forming a cooperative to open the country’s first and only locally owned ice cream shop. With few resources but a determination to succeed, the women did just that.

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Before the film began, a group of young women from nearby Greenbriar Academy performed excellent West African drumming for the audience, to great applause. After the screening, many people asked questions about themes that the film addresses: forgiveness and reconciliation, grass roots entrepreneurship, and the empowerment of women. It was a great discussion and one, I felt, that related to their own community in many ways.

 Post by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker Rob Fruchtman.

On Tour: Lancaster, PA

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September 13, 2016 | Sweet Dreams | Lancaster, PA

Two hours south of Bloomsburg, I cruised into the picturesque city of Lancaster, PA in the heart of Amish country, where I was met by Barry Kornhauser, Millersville University’s director of student engagement. Barry heavily advertised the film and invited professors to bring their students to the film, offering them free ice cream as a bonus (the film tells the story of a group of Rwandan women who open their country’s first ice cream shop). That evening at the Ware Center, their state of the art Arts Center, over 300 people filled the seats for a panel discussion about the roots of Rwanda’s genocide, followed by a screening of the film and a long talk back with many questions and lots of discussion. We’ve shown Sweet Dreams all over the country, and this was one of the best audiences we’ve encountered. They loved the film and wanted to know more, about the women, Rwanda and even about how to siblings can work together to make a film!

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Before the screening, I spoke to two classes. One was African American studies and the other was about intercultural communication. Many students were interested and as a result, came to the screening. The following morning I spoke to two other classes – encounters with diversity and art and entrepreneurship. Both were excellent, but the entrepreneurship students were particularly interested in a story of Rwandan women with no previous business experience setting out to introduce community t a brand new product – and succeeding. It was rewarding for me as a filmmaker, and I believe it was rewarding for them.

Post by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker Rob Fruchtman.

On Tour: Bloomsburg, PA

15 Sep

September 12, 2016 | Sweet Dreams | Bloomsburg, PA

I arrived in Bloomsburg University in the afternoon of September 12th, the date of my first Mid-Atlantic Tour screening. Fortunately, there was time for me to walk around the town and the campus, and get a sense of college life in central Pennsylvania. For an entrenched urbanite, the bucolic setting was delightful; I wished I could return to my college years and attend a school like this in a community like this (I went to a large city university). Randall Presswood, Bloomsburg University’s director of the Mid-Atlantic Arts program, welcomed me and duly I formed me that in his 31 years of running the arts program at Bloomsburg, the university had never hosted a film with the filmmaker present. I told him that I was glad to be the guinea pig for this experiment.

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“Both of these themes – entrepreneurship and women’s empowerment – are major components of Sweet Dreams”

Randall arranged a panel prior to the film’s screening. The panel consisted of a local female architect who spoke of the challenges of starting her own business and overcome the stereotyped image of a female in the largely male world of architecture. Both of these themes – entrepreneurship and women’s empowerment – are major components of Sweet Dreams, a local Rwandan story that can be applied to countries and communities everywhere. Other women on the panel echoed this theme.

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The screening, while not heavily attended, did create a very engaging Q&A afterwards. I was happy to bring the film to this campus, and hope they continue to bring films (and filmmakers) to their students as a way of opening the world to them.

Post by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker Rob Fruchtman.

On Tour: Bethlehem, PA

25 Apr

April 19, 2016 | Deaf Jam | Bethlehem, PA

Zoellner Arts Center was the last stop on the tour and I decided to take my 11-year-old son along on the trip. Planes, trains, subways, and buses – all modes of public transportation were my means of travel for the tour and it gave me a chance to immerse myself in the landscape of the sites visited and meet other travelers. The bus ride to Bethlehem was an adventure beginning with a mix- up in hotels! We arrived at our destination and phoned the Holiday Inn Express for a shuttle ride from the bus station. It was a quick 5-minute ride but when we arrived at the Hotel, I found that we needed to go to the other Holiday Inn Express across town. Cyndy Brinker, my contact at Zoellner, had arranged for a pick up from the Hotel to the Theater but I wasn’t sure which Holiday Inn Express the ride would be arriving at. It was a very funny predicament that worked out fine in the end but in the midst felt like a comedy of errors.

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Zoellner Arts Center is a state of the art theater complex. The screening had an intimate gathering of members and students. The post screening discussion allowed for a personal dialogue with all the members of the audience.

One person asked if I had considered submitting the film to the U.N. or other organizations dealing with diplomatic relations. While the film has participated in the American Embassy program, it has not participated in a U.N. program yet. It was an intriguing idea to pursue and one that had not occurred to me.

After the screening, Deborah Sacarakis, brought my son and I to an amazing Greek restaurant where we indulged in a delicious meal and delightful conversation with the restaurant owner – a relaxing closure to an inspired tour.

A round of applause is due to the amazing efforts of the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation staff and host sites. I am humbly grateful to have had the opportunity to bring Deaf Jam to Carnegie Hall, BlackRock Center, Light Up the Queen, Christopher Newport University, Monmouth University, the Tilles Center, and the Zoellner Arts Center.  I hope the film was an inspiration to all that saw it. It certainly was an inspiration sharing it with all the diverse communities I met and had the pleasure of speaking with.

Post by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker Judy Lieff.

On Tour: Brookville, NY

25 Apr

April 13, 2016 | Deaf Jam | Brookville, NY

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Sharon Maier-Kennelly, General Manager and Director of Programming Initiatives, led me on a tour of LIU – Brookville – formerly known as C.W. Post.  The campus was the former home of C.W. Post’s daughter Meriwether, and is reminiscent of a tranquil English Country Estate. Inside the Admissions building we were invited to climb into a tower off limits to most visitors. The top of the tower holds an octagonal room surrounded by windows looking onto a garden area – not quite big enough for Rapunzel but magical.

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The Tilles Center holds a beautiful theater with a terrific sound system.

Clara Zahler, Campus Arts Liaison, and Sharon were fantastic hosts who reached out to the surrounding schools for the Deaf as well as the campus community. We had one of the largest attended audiences of the tour with over 60 people.

The post screening discussion-included questions about the characters, inspiration for the film, future plans, and a potential poetry slam between the schools for the Deaf next year!

Post by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker Judy Lieff.

On Tour: Long Branch, NJ

25 Apr

April 11, 2016 | Deaf Jam |Long Branch, NJ

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Interior Pollack

The projection and sound at the Pollak Theatre was superlative!

For the Q+A, I was very fortunate to be joined by Liz Wolter, the driving force from Lexington School featured in the film.  Liz is also the author of the companion guide for the Deaf Jam educational DVD. She is the kind of teacher that every parent hopes his or her child is fortunate enough to work with.

We fielded questions concerning the current climate of deaf education. The most recent out cry had just occurred a few days prior to the screening when the A.G. Bell Association released a statement negating the importance of sign language acquisition for Deaf and hard-of-hearing children. 

In a recent Washington Post column, (Polus, March 28, 2016), Nyle DiMarco, the popular star of “America’s Next Top Model” and now, a favorite contestant on “Dancing with the Stars”, shared his views that there are many deaf children who are being deprived of their own language, American Sign Language. He also shared that he recently established a foundation, the main goal of which is to improve deaf infants’ access to ASL. A firestorm was ignited when the Alexander Graham Bell (AGB) Association characterized the comments of Mr. DiMarco, who is profoundly deaf himself, as spreading myths about the benefits of American Sign Language and in so doing they alleged that the need for American Sign Language had diminished for children who are deaf. Additionally they alleged that the use of ASL is declining dramatically and that “the window for a deaf child to acquire listening and spoken language is much shorter than the window in which ASL can be acquired.” Ironically, no actual research was cited.

A detailed editorial favoring bilingual education and siting factual evidence contrary to the AG Bell association’s statement was published by a reporter for the Gallaudet Publication – The Buff and Blue.

While Deaf Jam is not a political film, it does showcase the profound attributes of ASL practice. Of note, was that the audience at Monmouth was entirely hearing and the discussion regarding the on-going controversy over best practices for deaf education was new for everyone.

Post by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker Judy Lieff.

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