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On Tour: Big Sonia

1 Apr

On Tour: March 2018 | Big Sonia | Leah Warshawski

BIG SONIA Hits The Road To Make a BIG ImpactIMG_0610

Over the last few years I’ve watched it become harder and harder for filmmakers to bring their films to remote audiences. The trend now seems to be towards an “ala carte” approach for hybrid distribution and niche audiences, and a more grass-roots approach to make sure you can reach the most people and have broad and meaningful impact. The On Screen/In Person tour is one of those rare and unique opportunities for filmmakers that allows you to make lasting contacts and engage with audiences in small communities. It fuels all other avenues of distribution and reminds you over and over how there’s no substitute for showing up in person and shaking someone’s hand. It validates the creative journey and makes you feel like the “rollercoaster” of making a film was worth the ride! The tour is inspiring, exhausting and emotional at the same time. Having done a few film tours in the past on my own I was so grateful that my co-director and husband Todd Soliday was able to meet me halfway through to share some of the driving and participate in a few Q/A’s. This was a memorable and fantastic few weeks on the road and I do believe we were able to spread the #SoniaEffect as much as possible!

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First stop was Atlas Performing Arts Center in Washington DC where Doug and his team gave me a tour of the historic venue and then proceeded to run a first class event. Oddly, 75% of the audience had either met Sonia at some point in their lives or knew members of my family, which was comforting on the first screening of the tour. Councilwoman Heather Hall from Kansas City happened to be in town and came to say hi right before the show started – she is solely responsible for initiating “Big Sonia Day” in KC and it was a joy to celebrate with her in DC.

Next I drove to the Wayne Theater in Waynesboro, VA where Tracy and her team put together a panel after the film and encouraged community members to “pay what you want” to attend. It was a very special evening in a beautiful small-town theater that has become a hub of activity. Our panel included a Rabbi from Charlottesville and a second generation Holocaust survivor and we were able to have an engaging and relevant conversation about how our film relates to current themes and social justice issues. I was honored that Tracy took the time to find panel members who made the entire evening more special.

Off to Wilmington, DE and the home of most of the banks in the US, thanks to banking regulations and taxes. Despite the empty streets on a Sunday, when we walked into The Queen at noon it felt like we were in a nightclub and the techno music was pumping. We were suddenly flanked by two drag queens and learned quickly that it was “Drag Queen Brunch” on the third floor, right below our screening room! It definitely made the day fun, and everyone who came to the screening didn’t seem to mind that we were competing with the brunch. This is emblematic of how these film tours go and why we love them so much – you just never know what will happen when you show up and a Drag Queen Brunch is a first for us!

 Unfortunately our next two screenings at Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia and Millersville University of Pennsylvania in Lancaster, PA were cancelled due to the snow storm and we were stuck in Philly for a few days. Ukulele practice and bad reality TV are a great way to wait out the storm. Lancaster scheduled a Skype Q/A for another time so we were still able to show the film.

We felt lucky to be able to try a few farm-to-table restaurants all over the east coast and highly recommend eating at Judy’s in Reading, PA if you’re ever passing through! Reading Area Community College was another impactful screening with a panel that included a history teacher from the college and local community leaders. We talked about why Holocaust history matters now and was inspired to learn that the teacher has a lot of hope for the future based on the engagement of her students. Only 9 states mandate Holocaust education in middle schools and high schools and this was a big topic of our panel discussion as well.

Next stop on the tour was BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown, MD where we filled every seat in the room and saw some friends of the project from Kansas City. We met a few second-generation survivors who were grateful that they could relate BIG SONIA to their own lives. This screening happened to be the same day as the March For Our Lives and we talked at length about our current events and the rise in hate-crimes over the last few years. We almost drove to DC in the morning to join the March but we would not have made it back in time – so in a way the screening was our way of doing something positive and making an impact in people’s lives where we can, in our own small way.

On the way to our next event we drove through Amish country on a Sunday amidst horse-and-buggy drivers and women riding bikes home from the market. It’s a side of America that most people don’t get to see and felt like we had landed on another planet. Thanks to our friends at Wild For Salmon, we ate at a delicious farm-to-table restaurant in Bloomsburg, PA before our screening at Bloomsburg University – highly recommend The Blind Pig where all of the food is sourced from local producers. We were a little worried about filling the enormous 1800-seat theater but 15 minutes before the show we had a line out the door or high-school and college students who had come for extra credit! A big part of our audience for the film is 7th graders and above, so we’re always thrilled when students come to the film. It warmed our hearts to see so many people and we hope the teachers will send some of the student’s thoughts or papers.

Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, PA was our final – and most lively – screening on the tour. It was fitting that this was the last show and Brent and Iain went out of their way to take care of us. Thanks to the local Hadassah chapter we had a full house and a local Holocaust survivor, Rita, joined our panel discussion. Things got lively when people mentioned “Poland” and the current state of politics there, which is a debate we aren’t prepared to have because we have never been to Poland. Thankfully, the Hadassah team is used to these kinds of debates and it’s a testament to the tense climate in our world right now. Brent was so kind and gracious and we certainly hope that our paths cross again in the near future.

 

 

– Leah Warshawski

Director, BIG SONIA

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On Tour: Little Stones

1 Mar

On Tour: February 2018 | Little Stones | Sophia Kruz

The first week of February, I set off from my home in sunny Southern California to the wintry hills of western Virginia for the first stop of my On Screen/In Person tour: the Wayne Theater in Waynesboro, VA.

My film, LITTLE STONES follows four women who are using art –music, fashion, painting and dance – to end violence against women globally. Production on the film took me to Rio de Janiero, Calcutta, Berlin, Nairobi, Dakar, New York, Little Rock, and many smaller villages in India, Senegal and Kenya along the way. The film was released for festivals in April 2017, and over the past six months, we’ve done over 70 community screenings of the film – most of which I’ve been present for! So, LITTLE STONES has taken me around the world multiple times over.

That said, before my OSIP tour, I hadn’t had the opportunity to show the film in a small American town like Waynesboro, VA. Before the screening, I was excited, and a little apprehensive. Would audiences relate to the women profiled in the film, and their stories of sex trafficking in India, female genital cutting in Senegal, and extreme poverty in Kenya? The short answer was a resounding YES. And sadly, “me too”.

One member of the audience wrote to me after the Waynesboro screening to tell me:

“I was honored and privileged to view the documentary LITTLE STONES last night. Unfortunately being qualified for the #MeToo movement made the film resonate all the more intensely for me. I admire the courage and the vision of all the people involved in the ongoing process of the Driftseed Organization. What truly struck me was the intense sense of empowerment that these women obtained once their sense of self worth and pride was restored. Never have I been so moved by a documentary.”

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I asked this audience member if she would allow me to publish her words on Facebook, and she agreed. Later that day, my non-profit organization Driftseed (www.driftseed.org) received a very generous $5,000 donation – our largest unsolicited individual gift to date – from this same audience member. Her donation will support our ongoing education and impact work around the film.

My fears of LITTLE STONES not resonating with small town American audiences were put to rest after that first stop in Waynesboro.

The next day was a free day, so I stopped by Thomas Jefferson’s estate for a tour on my way to Germantown, MD for a screening at the BlackRock Center. At this, and really all the screenings on my OSIP tour, the theme of the #MeToo Movement kept reappearing. It was interesting to see, in the Q&As after the film, how many people in the audience connected the stories of gender-based violence in the international context we show in the film, with their own experiences here in the United States. It was also heart-wrenching for me to hear, night after night, survivors self-identifying in the audience. I continue to be surprised and grateful that the film fosters the level of trust with viewers that allows a survivor to share their own story publicly – sometimes for the first time. We’re experiencing an interesting moment in women’s rights history in the US, and I hope the conversations started by MeToo, and LITTLE STONES continue on in all the communities I visited. There is so much left to do.

The name LITTLE STONES stems from that idea that we all have a role to play in creating gender equality. It comes from a quote by suffragist Alice Paul who said, “I always feel the movement is a sort of mosaic. Each of us puts in one little stone.” When I first read that quote, we were in post-production on the film, and as soon as I read it, I knew it perfectly encapsulated my whole idea behind the documentary. That each of us has a role to play in the fight to end global violence against women. The problem is just too great – too massive – for any one individual to fix on their own. I believe that if we all do our part, piece by piece, stone by stone, we’ll get there.

From Germantown, I went on to events at Montgomery Community College and the Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. At every stop, the organizers were such wonderful hosts, taking me around their campuses, introducing me to faculty and students, and ensuring I was well fed and housed. I’d never been to most of the cities and towns on the OSIP tour, and was at times overwhelmed by the generous hospitality that awaited me at each stop.

After the screening in Bloomsburg, I went home to Los Angeles for about a week of rest and enjoy the sunshine before heading back out for the second half of my OSIP tour. The second half of the tour, my partner Oliver and our dog Misti came along to help out with the merchandise table (Oliver) and give my mother in law, who lives near Philadelphia, lots of kisses (Misti). The second half of the tour kicked off with a screening at the Reading Area Community College. Then, the three of us piled into our rental car to head down to Washington DC for the screening at the Atlas Performing Arts Center.

The OSIP Atlas screening was the first of two events I’d be doing in DC with the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Last December, my non-profit Driftseed received a grant from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities to bring all four women from the documentary to the US to meet for the first time, and to do a series of events around International Women’s Day, March 8. When we received the grant, I knew we’d want to do a public screening with all the women in Washington DC, and the Atlas Center graciously agreed to be our hosts!

At this first OSIP Atlas Screening, which was part of the Atlas’ Intersections Festival, Nicole Ellis from the Washington Post moderated the Q&A. It was an intimate event, and a welcome opportunity to meet Doug and Heidi from the Atlas in person before our larger events planned at the Atlas on March 11.

At our second screening at the Atlas Center, Sohini Chakraborty from the film came all the way from India to do a dance/movement therapy workshop on the main stage. Chakraborty has developed her own form of dance therapy to heal sex-trafficking survivors in India, and it was really a special treat for US audiences to be able to experience her work first-hand!

After Sohini’s workshop, we showed the film to about 110 people, and then were treated to a special live performance from Sister Fa, who works to end female genital mutilation in Senegal through hip hop music.

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After Sister Fa’s performance all of the women from the film joined her onstage for a Q&A, followed by a pop-up shop with fashion designer Anna Taylor, whose work to empower women economically in Kenya is also featured in the film. I’m so very grateful to OSIP and the Atlas team for partnering on this special event, and providing such a beautiful space for the centerpiece of our DC residency!

After the OSIP Atlas screening, Oliver, Misti and I made our way to the Queen Theater in Wilmington, DE for a memorable screening and luncheon Q&A. I particularly loved the community members selected for the Wilmington panel discussion, and was grateful so many American Dance Therapy Association members came to this event! After Wilmington, we headed back to Philadelphia for an intimate screening at the Annenberg Center.

My last stop of the tour was perhaps the most memorable – two full days of back to back activities in Lancaster, PA! I arrived in Lancaster early on a Wednesday morning and was whisked off to class at Millersville University with my host, Barry Kornhauser.  Barry is an accomplished playwright and such a wonderful cultural ambassador for his community. I knew right away I was in good hands.

After my first class visit, Barry had set-up an interview with the local TV station. The screening of LITTLE STONES that night at the Ware Center had already been sold out for a week, so this was just an opportunity to give the project more exposure – which is always appreciated!

That evening, the screening at the Ware Center did not disappoint. I loved how Barry organized the expert panel to speak before the film. Often I find when experts join me on the panel after the film, the audience is so excited to ask me questions about the film and filmmaking process, they forget to take advantage of the wonderful experts I’m sharing the stage with! So, I thought the format of having experts view the film in advance, and then each give a 5-minute preview of what they thought audiences should pay attention to during the screening worked really nicely.

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After the film, the audience in Lancaster had many wonderful questions, and I was treated to a long, engaging Q&A. The next day, Barry had organized two more class visits with students at the local colleges before I packed my bags, and headed onto the next LITTLE STONES event after OSIP!

Thank you to everyone from the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, and all nine arts non-profits who selected LITTLE STONES, and helped make this tour possible. February 2018 was a month to remember!

– Sophia Kruz

Director/Producer, LITTLE STONES

Co-Founder, Driftseed

Learn more: www.littlestones.org

 

On Tour: Bethlehem, PA

21 Mar

March 8, 2016 | REBEL | Bethlehem, PA

As I drove into Bethlehem I was greeted by the giant industrial abandoned warehouses and machinery rising hundreds of feet hulking over the gentle hills of Bethlehem, a town once prosperous from an American industrial steel industry no longer dominating the global market.  Bethlehem Steel’s warehouses and Plant now stood silent, but was once the builder of famous US landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge and the Empire State building.

My host, the energetic and welcoming Deborah Sacarakis, head of Lehigh University’s Zoellner Arts center, toured me through these industrial ruins to show me the ongoing revitalization of these buildings into art centers, clubs, and even a nearby Casino.  But we were there to screen REBEL and Lehigh had been preparing the students for my visit!

2Zoellner Arts SculptureThe campus of Lehigh University is a picturesque jewel in the center of, but removed from the town with quiet greens and historic buildings.  We screened REBEL in the Zoellner Arts Center, a sleek and modern building bursting with performance spaces and theaters, classrooms and study spaces.

1Baker hall screens REBEL

A lively discussion followed the screening with students and townsfolk staying afterwards to talk about the film.  Several people asked questions about what motivated me to make REBEL. I would say it is my boundless curiosity for the stories that shaped our past, especially untold stories, and exploring how they inform and create the societies that we live in today.  It was a particularly great day to screen this film, as it was International Women’s Day, March 8, and a great day to think about one of the women who had lived through this pivotal moment of American history.  Loreta writes about being a soldier and spy in the American Civil War.  But she also writes that war is not a solution to anything.  To paraphrase Loreta:

“War fare inevitably breeds corruption, and the longer it lasts, the more does demoralization spread among all classes of society…right thinking people would be apt to hesitate more than they do… about encouraging appeals to arms for the settlement of national and international differences.”

So in this post, I will need to digress from my own film, to share what I learned about one community that believed in worship and tolerance of differences, in this fascinating town of Bethlehem.

3Maria at Zoellner entrance

I love history and this town is steeped in it, most fascinating to me was hearing about the Moravian community that had settled and founded Bethlehem in the mid 1700s in the colonial era.  Deborah had been raised going with her family to Moravian church services, and took me to see the historic section of town that still contained many of the public houses erected by the early Moravian settlers.

Once a communal society, the Moravian Church is considered the oldest Protestant denomination in the world, and were founded in 1457 in Europe by followers of a Roman Catholic priest named John Hus who would be burned at the stake for his efforts to reform the Catholic Church a hundred years before Luther’s Reformation.  His followers would eventually emigrate, seeking to build a new, more tolerant society.  Bethlehem would become the central governing organization for all of the Moravian communities in North America.

They were a religious community that welcomed and Christianized American Indians and Africans and eventually established over 30 mission towns I found this historic drawing of Moravian missionary baptizes Munsee-Delawares Natives, from the Historical Society of Philadelphia.

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Deborah took me to the cemetery, where you could find the names of Indian and African members of the community buried alongside the white settlers.

5Moravian Cemetery

Moravian children would stay with their parents until 18 months, where they would then be cared for in nurseries, the boys and girls living together until four, when they would be separated into communal living groups called Choirs.  There were Boy’s Choirs and Girls Choirs where they lived together until 19, then either men’s or women’s Single Brethren Choirs.  Married adults then moved into Married People’s Choirs.

Members of the same choir ate, worked, worshiped, slept in dormitories, and attended school together.  The Moravians established schools, where they educated both the men and the women (unusual for the time) and encouraged industry as well as “Lovefeasts” where music and drink and religious worship blended together.

In the Choir system, the entire congregation depended on each other to fulfill the goals of the church as a whole. Rather than receive money for their work, members were supplied with food, shelter, an education, community support, and a place to worship. It was not until 1762 that members began operating their own businesses and were able to lease Church land for their own family homes.  The Choirs still stand, as well as beautiful schools and libraries built by this tolerant and communal society, with Bethlehem standing as the center of all the Moravian communities.

Although the communal societies are no longer operating, the Churches still exist, and Deborah explained that when her Greek father moved to Bethlehem and started working in the Steel industry, he wanted to join a Church and the Moravian church was the closest in their neighborhood, so she would be introduced to this fascinating society.

I wish I could show you pictures of the beautiful old historic structures, but it was so dark by the time we drove around the Moravian architecture that I didn’t take any.  You’ll have to visit for yourself!

Post by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker Maria Agui Carter.

On Tour: Newport News, VA

21 Mar

March 10, 2016 | REBEL | Newport News, VA

1Maria on Newport Campus

As I was checking into my hotel, my host John Nichols, head of the Newport News College Film department waited to take me to whisk me to campus speak to a Women’s Leadership class.  These students came from all disciplines, from economics to history. Among other things, they had been studying the ongoing diversity debates that have been raging in industry news in the past year.  They wanted to talk about why women were so shockingly underrepresented in the film industry.

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As a Latina writer (less than 2 % of all writers in the Writer’s Guild are Latino) and a woman director (less than 17% of films are directed by women), I know firsthand the difficulties in finding opportunity, funding, and executives to greenlight projects that I’m trying to make. I have worked in advocacy and professional development for Latino filmmakers for over 17 years and served four years as the Chair of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers.  I am now a Trustee and advise on strategy and development for the organization. I am also a longtime member of Women in Film, a woman’s industry trade group with chapters around the country, and of the New York Chapter of Film Fatales, a group of women directors who have banded together to create opportunities and support one another, in an industry that has not supported our work as well as they should.

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The statistics are so bad for women in our industry that this year, the Federal Employment Opportunity Commission is investigating possible Anti-Female Bias in the Hollywood industry. According to a DGA study, women currently receive only 16% of the episodic TV directing jobs, and last year directed less than 5% of the major studio releases.

Spurred by a group of female directors who urged the ACLU to take up their cause, the ACLU then filed a complaint with the EEOC (The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a Federal Agency). This could be a first step towards a class-action lawsuit against the industry, exploring sexism, racism, and wage-ism (unfair underpayment of women compared to men).

4UCLA Bunche Ctr percent white actors 2

The numbers are noticeably worse for racial minorities in front of and behind the cameras.  The #OscarsSoWhite campaign has received a lot of attention, urging a boycott of the Academy Awards televised show because not a single actor of color was nominated in the male or female Leading Actor categories.  That is not surprising given that less than 10% of all roles go to actors of color.  Winning a golden statuette can vault an actor to stardom, add millions to a movie’s box office and boost a studio’s prestige.  The Oscars are not just another prize to stick on a shelf, they translate to increased income and box office, and increased opportunities for all the winners in all categories, from directing to composing to writing films. Most likely because of this controversy, this year saw Oscar viewing ratings down 16% according to Variety, a big hit to the Academy of Motion Pictures, which is the most watched show on television after the Super Bowl.  Reduction in viewership means reduced advertising income, and the Academy has swiftly responded to protests by vowing to include more diverse members in its ranks of about 6000, which now stand at over 94% white members and 76% percent male members, according to the Los Angeles Times.  Blacks are about 2% of the academy, and Latinos are less than 2%.  To illustrate how stark this disparity is, I share a photo sent by a friend on my facebook page, of all the nominees for the 2016 Oscars.

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Diversity, is in fact good for business.  Although it was originally very difficult for me to find support and funding for my film about an exploration of the story of Loreta Velazquez, a Latina woman soldier of the American Civil War, a film that was also to be written and directed by a Latina, when PBS posted the announcement of the upcoming film on their Facebook page with a photo of my actor portraying Loreta Velazquez, it was shared by thousands within the first few hours.

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Without any budget for marketing, we had over 42 million media impressions in the first month alone.  Single PBS hours have a hard time getting that level of attention even with paid marketing, I would venture to say that contrary to accepted opinion in the industry, audiences are actually hungry for diverse stories that look at our society through fresh perspectives.

The Ralph Bunche Center at UCLA has put out an excellent recent study on the business of diversity in media.  They found that as America diversifies, minority audiences are more and more important. For example, one in every four movie tickets are bought by a Latino in the US.  And as global box office is beginning to bring in a larger share of film income, diversity becomes even more important to success.   Their “2014 Hollywood Diversity Report” asserted that films with a relatively high amount of minority involvement (21% to 30%)  achieved the highest median global box office receipts at $160.1 million while films with less than 10% percent achieved a median of $68.5 million.

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Given how difficult it is for women and Latinos to make our films, I constantly remind myself how fortunate I am to be able to make my films and to share them with audiences.

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Post by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker Maria Agui Carter.

On Tour: Bethlehem, PA

29 Feb

February 11, 2016 | Winding Stream | Bethlehem, PA

I make documentaries in no small part because I’m interested in history. I love good stories, I love historical locations, I love the artifacts that illuminate the past. These all play a role in my filmmaking and I think they’re in evidence in The Winding Stream and its tale of the family at the heart of country music.

So when I arrived in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, it was immediately a place that spoke to me. As you sweep into town from the south down a long hill the panorama is amazing. Dwarfing a massive valley of homes on either side of the Lehigh River (some the former dwellings of the immigrant labor force, some the abodes of the owners and management of place they worked) is the rusted yet impressive hulk of the former Bethlehem Steel Mill. It’s hard to exaggerate its presence on the skyline and its role in this city’s history.

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Lehigh University has had an important role in Bethlehem as well, founded 150 years ago by Asa Packer, a railroad magnate. Today it’s a campus boasting many beautifully maintained historical buildings. I was invited to lunch with some terrific members of the faculty and staff at one of these turn of the century buildings and it was there that the subject of music and musical instruments came up. American Studies Professor John Pettigrew mentioned that the Martin Guitar Factory was nearby and when my eyes lit up my host, Deborak Zacarakis, the director of the Zoellner Center for the Arts immediately arranged for me to see it.

IMG_4759To many in the know, Martin is one of the finest guitar makers in the world and it’s certainly one of the oldest. Many practitioners of the old timey music pioneered by the Carters (and sometimes Maybelle Carter herself) played Martin guitars.

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So, with hours of lunch I was at the Martin Guitar Factory in Nazareth with archivist and head of Artist Relations Dick Boak. Upon learning that I was a filmmaker who was touring with a film about the Carter Family, the first thing Dick did was show me a letter from Mother Maybelle Carter to the Martin Guitar company from 1929 requesting information about their special Hawaiian Steel guitar. To see this document was such a treat for me. Then Dick proceeded to show me the way guitars are made there and he also gave me a tour of the museum with some mind-boggling artifacts like the tool bench and tools used by C.F. Martin himself in the 1830s.

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This tour certainly put me in the proper historical frame of mind for the screening of The Winding Stream at the Zoellner Center. I am very grateful to everyone at Lehigh who made my visit so memorable.

Post by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker Beth Harrington.

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