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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: Waynesboro, VA

13 Sep

September 7, 2017 | DEEJ | Waynesboro, VA

Not all school systems and not all school administrators, go the second (and third, and fourth) miles to make sure that every child has access to language and to communication. But if energy and enthusiasm is an indication of potential progress, there’s certainly hope!

Thursday, September 7 was the inaugural event in my whirlwind, nine-destination MAAF tour with our film Deej, a film profiling DJ Savarese, a nonspeaking autistic and advocate for himself and others; and it was a terrific way to begin.  Waynesboro, Virginia, is a venerable old town with roots reaching back into the early days of America.  Downtown is undergoing a renaissance, and the Wayne Theater, a real gem dating back to 1926, is the centerpiece of Main Street.

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The local community and the theater’s staff was warm and welcoming, beginning with Tracy Straight, director – and including a wonderful pre-screening dinner at the Green Leaf Grill, just down the street.

What made this screening of Deej especially gratifying was the robust attendance, helped no doubt by the co-sponsorship TASH Virginia, the state affiliate of the national disability awareness organization by the same name.  TASH VA, and local teachers Taylor Flavin and Kristen Brooks, helped the Wayne Theater in assembling a panel of engaging people, who answered questions from a very invested audience.  To start, there was Charlie Taylor, a very young man, nonspeaking, who participated in the discussion with the help of his mother, Patricia.  His first comment, via letter board: “DJ is my hero”.

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And that was just the beginning.  Dr. Leslie Daniel, Associate Professor of Education and Human Development at Radford University and Vikram Jaswal, Associate Professor in the University of Virginia Department of Psychology, joined in as well.  And, Professor Jaswal brought with him two students from UVA, Jaclyn Lund and Hazel Lindahl, who were participants in an eye-opening university seminar in which they engaged on an ongoing basis with 10 college-aged nonspeaking autistic people from northern Virginia who call themselves “The Tribe”.  So many questions, so many insightful answers, so little time!

It was clear that there were both audience members and panelists who looked upon DJ’s experiences of inclusion, especially in middle school and high school, with envy.  Not all school systems and not all school administrators, go the second (and third, and fourth) miles to make sure that every child has access to language and to communication. But if energy and enthusiasm is an indication of potential progress, there’s certainly hope!

Post by On Screen/In Person filmmaker, Robert Rooy

On Tour: Blue Bell, PA

24 Oct

October 18, 2016 | You Belong to Me | Blue Bell, PA

“You Belong To Me was screened to a diverse audience who not only asked great questions but brought up stories of prejudice – both subtle and not so subtle – of their own lives.”

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I would be scheduled to screen You Belong To Me at Montgomery Count Community College on the same day that former President, Bill Clinton made an appearance! What a great opportunity for students!
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It is a beautiful campus with first rate facilities and Director of Cultural Affairs, Brent Woods, met me in the green room where we were joined by Dr. Tim Connolly, Associate Professor, for a very thoughtfully provided lunch. The three of us had a discussion about race and politics – two subjects most people shy away from!
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You Belong To Me was screened to a diverse audience who not only asked great questions but brought up stories of prejudice – both subtle and not so subtle – of their own lives.
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It is rewarding to hear people compliment the documentary, but even more exciting to know that Dr. Connolly intends to get a copy of the documentary for the College’s library. I mentioned to him that we have a companion workbook written by Dr. Ruth Thompson-Miller who is an interviewee in the documentary.

What a great experience!

Post provided by On Screen/In Person filmmaker Jude Hagin

On Tour: Wilmington, DE

17 Oct

September 28, 2016 | Sweet Dreams | Wilmington, DE

Wrapping up our tour, I arrived in Wilmington Delaware, where we screened Sweet Dreams at the restored Queen Theater – a community arts venue supported by the Light Up the Queen Foundation. After the screening, audience members were invited to gather around café tables for pizza, salad and informal discussion.

Though we have been fortunate that Sweet Dreams has had both a robust festival life as well as a theatrical and semi theatrical roll-out, the On Screen/In Person series brought the film to parts of the country and types of audiences that we had not yet reached. Many thanks to the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation for hosting this remarkable series and  choosing us to be part of it!

Post submitted by On Screen/In Person filmmaker Lisa Fruchtman

On Tour: Reading, PA

17 Oct

September 27, 2016 | Sweet Dreams | Reading, PA

At my next stop in Reading PA, Cathleen Stephen, Director of The Miller Center and Outreach Coordinator Natalie Baab chose to organize an extra outreach screening at Women in Crisis – a safe haven for women facing abuse and violence. The center provided an art activity for the children so the women had the rare chance of a couple of hours just for themselves. And it was very gratifying for me to see how the film affected them and how we were able to talk afterwards about the ways it inspired them to think about how they could change things in their own lives. They were also particularly touched by the special effort that was made to bring the film to them. The cap on the evening was ice cream for all – provided by Cathleen and Natalie.

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The next evening was our primary screening at the beautiful Miller Center and since this was both their 10th anniversary and the first year they have hosted the On Screen In Person series, we were featured prominently in their beautiful calendar. A reception preceded the film, hosted by a local woman owned business called Mi Casa Su Casa, and an ice cream bike cart (Sweet Rides) provided dessert. The event was co- sponsored by Women 2 Women and again we had a large and diverse audience including RACC Students and faculty, members of the Olivets Boys and Girls Drumming Club and the general public.

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Afterwards I was joined onstage by Johanny Cepeda proprietor of Mi Casa Su Casa and Dr. Danielle Bower, Assoc. Professor of Social Work at RACC. who talked about the ways the film affected them and connected to their own lives and work.

Post submitted by On Screen/In Person filmmaker Lisa Fruchtman

On Tour: West Long Branch, NJ

17 Oct

September 22, 2016 | Sweet Dreams | West Long Branch, NJ

“It added a special layer to have Eugenie there in person to answer questions about her own experience both in Rwanda and in the US.”

At Monmouth University, Vaune Peck, director of Center for the Arts put a lot of effort into drawing a large and diverse audience for the film and also invited Rwandan genocide survivor Eugenie Mukeshimana to join me in the Q&A afterwards.  Eugenie was a young adult who gave birth to her first child while in hiding during the genocide. When she emigrated to the US in 2001 to pursue a degree in social work she was surprised how little most people knew of the Rwanda genocide. In 2010 she founded the Genocide Survivors Support Network (GSSN) to provide support for other survivors living in the US and to educate communities about the genocide.

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The audience was moved and inspired by the film and had many questions afterwards. It added a special layer to have Eugenie there in person to answer questions about her own experience both in Rwanda and in the US. Eugenie had seen Sweet Dreams when it first showed at the United Nations – but drove all the way from Baltimore to be part of this screening and conversation.

Post submitted by On Screen/In Person filmmaker Lisa Fruchtman

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