Tag Archives: bloomsburg university

On Tour: Bloomsburg, PA

21 Nov

October 16, 2017 | Oil & Water | Bloomsburg, PA

The Road to Bloomsburg

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The Road to Bloomsburg, PA is both beautiful and blighted, with breathtaking views of rivers and forests, as well as vivid reminders of an energy industry that is dead, dying, or fraught.

The route winds through Schuylkill County to Ashland, a crumbling coal town that announces itself from a sign on the chain-link fence surrounding a football field. The “Ashland Black Diamonds” won the Pennsylvania state high school football champions back in 1935. I was struck by the sight, as Oil & Water features footage of a similar athletic field in a poor Ecuadorian oil town, only there the sign on the fence says “Bienvenido” (welcome), with a smiling oil drop mascot.

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Grayish buildings and weathered banners bearing the photos of war veterans line the full length of the main road through town. Ashland’s glory days ended with the Great Depression and the coal mine was closed. Just north of Ashland lies Centralia, an abandoned and polluted town where an underground mine fire has burned since 1962.

From there, the road winds through lushly forest hills to Bloomsburg on the banks of the Susquehanna River. Bloomsburg is an oasis made up of tidy homes and businesses in a valley that looks up the hill to stately Bloomsburg University. Here I was welcomed by Civic Engagement Coordinator Tim Pelton. Tim is the affable former editor of a leading scuba diving magazine, who has stories to tell about working with Jacque Cousteau as well as film crews from the James Bond franchise. Before the screening we chatted about the state of the journalism profession (I’m a former newspaper reporter) and the other environmental films he brings to the university.

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Tim Pelton (left) and Francine Strickwerda

Tim facilitated an engaging discussion with Bloomsburg students and local community members who asked smart, heartfelt questions following the screening of Oil & Water. One audience member wanted to know what I got personally from my experience directing Oil & Water. Filmmaking allows me to explore and find meaning, especially in dark places. With Hugo and David’s story we shined a light on a terrible injustice and saw hope for the future; something we all need. Further, sharing that story in person with communities like Bloomsburg increases the impact and grows connections, and that is awesome.

While my trip to the university was too brief, Tim’s warmth and the earnest interest showed by audience members left an impression. I was buoyed by the people I met and their concern for the world around them, from their own backyard, all the way to Ecuador. As I drove away from the town, toward my next stop on the tour, I wound back past Ashland, the rivers, and the trees.

Post provided by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker Francine Strickwerda

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On Tour: Blue Bell, PA

27 Sep

September 19, 2017 | DEEJ | Blue Bell, PA

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If I have a chance to come back in another life, I’d strongly consider becoming a student at the Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, PA.  It’s a two-year college that provides an entree into the many four-year colleges and universities in the Philadelphia area and beyond.  But many community colleges offer that; what’s especially attractive is the level of exposure to state-of-the-art training and tools – including a web-based radio station, an expansive selection of film production equipment, a sophisticated audio mixing and design studio, and more.

But since that’s not likely to happen, I settled for interactions with some very bright, resourceful filmmaking students, who in their questions quickly moved beyond pure technical questions into the deeper aesthetics involved in documentary filmmaking.

And that was just the beginning of an incredibly stimulating, satisfying day.  The panel discussion that followed the screening of Deej offered an insightful array of personal and professional perspectives.  We were honored to have Brian Foti, a young nonspeaking autistic and self-advocate, share his views via letter board as to what access to communication and inclusion has meant to him.  His aides, Emily and Tom, and his mother, Colleen, added their perspectives.  Alicia Weiss, Director of Disability Services at the College, spoke of the challenges of a diverse group of autistics on the college level; Jean Woods, PhD and RN, gently but persistently brought the conversation back to educators’ responsibilities to make sure inclusion truly and fully happens.

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From a purely personal, even selfish perspective, may I say that I was treated like royalty? I was squired attentively around campus and plied with food and drink in my own private greenroom.  A documentary filmmaker could get used to this treatment! Thanks especially to Brent Woods, Senior Director of Cultural Affairs, and Iain Campbell, Cultural Affairs Program Coordinator for a lovely experience and successful screening.

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(standing): Brian Foti, Dr. Jean Woods, Alicia Weiss, Robert Rooy

Post provided by On Screen/In Person filmmaker Robert Rooy

On Tour: Bloomsburg, PA

27 Sep

September 18, 2017 | DEEJ | Bloomsburg, PA

Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania is an institution that’s been around for a very long time.  Founded in 1839 as the Bloomsburg Literary Institute, it currently enrolls more than 9,000 students.

The University is located along the Susquehanna River in a mountainous region of north central Pennsylvania.  I’m envious of Francine Strickwerda and Laurel Spellman Smith, the producers and directors of Oil and Water, the next On screen/In Person film to visit Bloomsburg.  When they visit in October, the fall colors should be spectacular!

Carver Hall, built in 1867, is the historic flagship of the campus, and houses the Kenneth S. Gross Auditorium, a wonderful space, evocative of the Victorian era. Randall Presswood, Director of Bloomsburg Performing Arts facilities, who organized my visit, was instrumental in giving the auditorium a facelift a few years back, and the space is an aesthetic delight.

Aided by the administrative and technical skills of a half-dozen students, the screening came off without a hitch and segued into an intimate Q & A session centering on the overall theme of inclusion.

Post provided by On Screen/In Person filmmaker Robert Rooy

On Tour: Blue Bell, PA

2 May

April 13, 2017 | States of Grace | Blue Bell, PA

There has been a lot of planning around this visit and I have received a detailed schedule from Brent Woods, senior director of cultural affairs that includes a tour of their communications facility with Gerry Collom who teaches filmmaking there. It’s well equipped and I enjoy getting to know Gerry a bit and hearing about the program and how it serves a very broad range of students.

Events conspire to bring us a small audience and I use that as an opportunity to turn the Q&A into more of a conversation, asking folks about their reactions to the film and anything that stood out for them.  A young man leads off by commenting how an accident like this could happen to anyone at any time and it’s clear that he can relate to  the experience of someone who is quite different from himself.

A retired occupational therapist comments on Grace’s tremendous motivation and how rare it is to see a patient like this.  I let her know how much Grace’s therapists enjoyed working with her and how much her attitude impacted the quality of care she received.  Before making the film, I hadn’t understood how much reciprocity there is between caregiver and care receiver and how much the patient’s attitude impacts the therapist.

We have an interesting conversation about Fu’s 5-year commitment to caring for Grace, something that has come up in other screenings.  One person sees Fu as being cold and withholding while most others see this as an act of generosity and good boundary setting, especially since Grace and Fu aren’t intimate partners in a traditional (or non-traditional) marriage.  This leads us to talk about the types of expectations that accompany relationships and how, in any type of relationship, it’s important to articulate and negotiate those expectations.

Toward the end of the discussion a woman expresses a view of Grace’s story that I haven’t heard before – that you can see a divine plan behind all of this.  Grace becoming a doctor, Grace and Fu becoming partners and adopting Sabina, the two of them being Buddhists and living in community all create the circumstances for Grace to survive the accident, be well cared for, and heal sufficiently to create an innovative pain clinic that continues to help people.

Post provided by On Screen/In Person filmmaker Mark Lipman

On Tour: Reading, PA

2 May

April 12, 2017 | States of Grace | Reading, PA

It’s almost 400 miles to Reading and I can’t believe I’ve logged close to 1700 miles already.  I’m finding endurance I didn’t know I had and am enjoying seeing the countryside in such a variety of locales.

The Miller Center is a great venue in the midst of a community that is almost 60% Latino.  An ESL class in civics makes up a significant part of the audience and I’m happy to be able to offer Spanish subtitles which a couple of the students need.  Brett, the technical director, is able to make this change at the last minute and we do a final sound check while people already seated in the theatre look on.

Watching the film with these subtitles is a first for me.  We’ve shown it with English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired and with audio description for the blind and visually prepared, but not in Spanish.  I’m very glad we can accommodate so many different types of audiences.

Talking with Brett earlier, I realize that I need to rethink my notion of audience and how to gauge the impact of the film. It turns out that Brett was on the review committee that helped select the films for OSIP and has a son with Cerebral Palsy, which Sabrina also has.  He brought the film home to show his wife and we talk a bit about raising a child with a disability and some of the life decisions he’s made to accommodate his son.

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For Q&A Cathleen Stephen, the director of the Miller Center, has invited Cynthia Huls, director of Visiting Angels, a home care service, and Zuleyka Lopez, one of her home care providers, to participate.  Cynthia notes that in her experience, the level of support Grace has through her many networks of friends and colleagues is unusual and that many of the people they care for are far more isolated. Everyone agrees that emotional support plays a critical part in caregiving and Zuleyka notes that there are times she just sits with her patients keeping them company.

Post provided by On Screen/In Person filmmaker Mark Lipman

On Tour: Lewisburg, WV

2 May

April 10, 2017 | States of Grace | Lewisburg, WV

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Two hundred miles later I’m in Lewisburg, trying not to make bad jokes about finally playing Carnegie Hall (yes, it takes lots of practice).  Walking around town in the afternoon, a gentleman asks where I’m from.  Turns out I’m talking with the mayor of 14 years, John Manchester.  He already knows about the screening that night and has it on his calendar, but a fundraiser that evening means that only his wife will be there.  Still, it’s great how the word gets out in a small town and how appreciative folks are of these kinds of cultural events.

Lynn Creamer, my host, has invited a nursing class to the screening and they enter as a group along with their professor.  In the Q&A one of them comments on how important it is to see the impact of Grace’s accident on the entire family, that in the hospital they only see the patient and only for a short period of time.  The film helps remind them that there’s a much larger context for the patient who is lying there in the bed.  Another student comments on how much she liked Sabrina’s (Grace’s daughter ) frankness.  During the screening I could hear lots of chuckling in response Sabrina’s teenage snarkiness and realized that they are not so far removed from that time in their own lives.

An older woman who has dealt with her own disability notes how much power you have as a caregiver and how you have to give that up as a patient.   She identifies  with Grace feeling like she is a burden and talks about how important it was for Grace to return to work and continue to serve others.

It’s interesting how the film speaks to people in a wide variety of circumstances.  A young man says that what really struck him was Grace saying, “If you can, you must” as she  struggles to maneuver in a bathroom.  I ask why this stood out for him, expecting something related to disability, but he replies that he has just moved to Lewisburg and lost his job shortly after arriving.  He is feeling quite depressed and discouraged, but Grace’s words inspire him to keep moving forward with his life.

Post provided by On Screen/In Person filmmaker Mark Lipman

On Tour: Germantown, MD

2 May

April 8, 2017 | States of Grace | Germantown, MD

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I am actually driving from Durham, NC which isn’t on the OSIP itinerary, but I have managed to fit it into my travel schedule.  Father’s Day, a film I completed in 2003,  had an encore screening at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival as it celebrates its 20th anniversary.  It screened there in 2004 and the artistic director has invited one film from each of the last 19 festivals back for their “thematic” program.  It’s a great honor and especially meaningful as this is a film about my father’s sudden death when I was 17 and a project I worked on for over 20 years.

During the production of States of Grace I often thought that the making of Father’s Day is what prepared me for it, both artistically and emotionally.  Both are films, in part, about sudden loss, grieving and finding meaning within a new and altered reality.  Father’s Day has no sync sound.  It is based on audio recordings of family members and our family doctor and visualizes the story using old home movies, photographs, documents and scenes in nature which I recorded – a snowfall, rippling water, and waterfalls.

When we started working on States of Grace, Helen and I agreed that we wanted it to be a poetic film, that it would need the beauty of nature to balance the challenging emotional terrain it covers.  We didn’t know quite what that would mean, but I think the nature scenes in States of Grace (snow geese lifting up from a pond, birds in flight, reflections in ponds, clouds) are direct descendants of the imagery in Father’s Day.

We get into some of this during the Q&A at BlackRock and it seems fitting to have this conversation in an art center (there has just been an artist talk in the gallery adjacent to the screening space).  The place exudes creative energy and the audience is clearly up for this kind of discussion.

I am also asked about privacy issues.  Did we have any concerns about showing the tough moments Grace went through?  I explain that Grace gave us complete permission to make the film as we wanted to and didn’t even see a cut until it was almost completed.  There was an enormous amount of trust and the issue we struggled with during the editing process wasn’t around privacy as much as balance – finding the right balance between the tough moments and the positive ones in order to create a story that was realistic and true to our experience of Grace’s experience.

For me the day is capped off with a performance of Ragu Dixit at BlackRock.  I had gotten a ticket to this sold-out performance weeks ago and am one of the few white faces among the Indians who have come out to see a cultural hero from southern India. This is a family affair with many young children and dancing in the aisles as the evening goes on.  People introduce themselves to me and sometimes provide translation when Ragu speaks directly to them in their own language.  If there is any question about the power of culture to unify, animate and uplift, it should have been laid to rest that night.

Post provided by On Screen/In Person filmmaker Mark Lipman

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