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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: Lancaster, PA

4 Jan

November 9, 2017 | Mind/Game: The Unquiet Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw | Lancaster, PA

Host Barry Kornhauser really went to bat for this screening, with able assistance from Amy Banks, Arts Communication Manager of Lancaster’s Ware Center, where Mind/Game was screened in a beautiful 300+ -seat theater.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In Lancaster, I was busy for the good part of two days!  An interview with a student named Alex, for an article in the local paper, the first day.  The next morning Chamique Holdsclaw herself showed up (yes, it was expected, Barry went the extra mile to make it happen), and ‘Mique and I did a podcast with John Walk, which can be heard here: http://lancasteronline.com/sports/wnba-star-chamique-holdsclaw-talks-with-john-walk-for-inspirational/article_0f24abea-c587-11e7-b510-bb59b923df8f.html

Then Chamique and I did a couple of sessions with students and faculty during Millersville’s “common hour.”  A shout-out especially to Beth Powers-Costello and Tiffany Wright for making that happen, inspiring their students and asking great questions.

Then off to Wanja Oganji’s social work class; and from there Chamique to an African-American studies class while I was whisked off to a filmmaking class at nearby Franklin & Marshall College– very sharp and creative students working on their own short films– I hope my insights helped them.

In the evening, the Mind/Game screening was preceded by an excellent panel with mental health professionals and educators (who had pre-screened the film) preparing the audience with background on some key mental health issues that would come up in the film they were about to see.

5-MIND GAME pre-screening panel

A crowd of 328 (!) packed the sold-out Ware Center Theatre.  A very live crowd watched the film and then Chamique and I did our thing with a long and spirited Q&A.  Chamique was subsequently mobbed by admirers and entire high school and college sports teams, for photo ops.  A reception followed, Chamique and I autographed Mind/Game DVDs that were purchased, conversations ensued well into the evening.  It was a visit to remember!

One last note: Barry Kornhauser– though he was too modest to mention to me during the visit– had just two weeks earlier been awarded the Governor’s Awards for the Arts in Pennsylvania “Artist of the Year” award!  Read about it here.

An honor to have spent a couple of days in your company, Barry!

Post provided by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker Rick Goldsmith.

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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