Tag Archives: conversation

On Tour: Bloomsburg, PA

21 Nov

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

The Road to Bloomsburg

IMG_9841

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.

IMG_9851

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.

IMG_9821

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

Advertisements

On Tour: Germantown, MD

21 Nov

October 15, 2017 | Oil & Water | Germantown, MD

A Gentleman (from the Amazon) and a Scholar

Once you finish a film, it takes on a life of its own. The people you spend so much time filming and learning about must go their own way. It can be hard to let the story and people go. I found this to be especially true for Oil & Water, after we spent seven years dropping into the lives of our characters for brief and intense sprints of filming in the U.S. and Ecuador.

Every so often we hear from the stars of Oil & Water, boys we watched grow into amazing men. Recently we got some news from main character Hugo Lucitante that I’ve been crowing about at every Oil & Water screening on the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation tour.

IMG_9807

Black Rock Arts Center

One of Hugo’s greatest personal challenges in the film was his struggle to get a college education. This is the dream of so many Americans, but an almost impossible feat for a kid from a small, endangered tribe in the remote jungles of the Ecuadorian Amazon. We saw Hugo return to Ecuador after growing up mostly in Seattle. He traveled home knowing that he was expected to help fight the oil companies, armed only with a high school diploma.  Hugo dealt with culture shock and the demands of tribal membership, and eventually, becoming a husband and father. When the pressures became too much, Hugo and his wife Sadie moved back to the U.S. for a while to sling burritos, clerk in a video store, and serve cocktails. Like so many Americans, Hugo worked more than one minimum wage job at a time, and still barely made ends meet.

Today, Hugo is more than achieving his goal. He and his wife Sadie are both studying at Brown University on full ride scholarships. They make regular trips back to the Amazon to do research projects and work on behalf of their Cofan community. But wait, it gets better. The biggest news is that when Hugo graduates with his bachelor’s degree a year from now, he’s headed into a PhD program.

IMG_9811

Director Francine Strickwerda with Black Rock Arts Center’s Brian Laird

Hugo has been awarded a prestigious Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship. As a fellow, Hugo is supported by a program that increases the number of PhD candidates from historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. This is huge news for Hugo, and for his Cofan tribe, a people who have been under siege from the oil industry for decades, and who have fought their way back from the brink of extinction.

This past week on Mid Atlantic Arts tour, I was passing time at a flea market between screenings, when I met a group of locals who also happen to be Ecuadorian immigrants. I invited them to join me at the screening at the Black Rock Arts Center in Germantown, Maryland, and they took me up on the offer. Like me, they were profoundly moved by Hugo’s story of hope. As I share his story on the film tour, people from all walks of life just light up. And for people from Hugo’s part of the world, who deeply understand the hardships Hugo has faced, his success makes them swell with pride.

IMG_9813

Kim Nugent (left), Jorge Eduardo Landeta, Francine Strickwerda, Rosa Leonor Armas, and Ana Lucia Mohebbi at Black Rock Arts Center, Germantown, PA

We live in challenging times, and the depth of Hugo’s strength and resilience explored in Oil & Water show us what is possible.  We need young people like Hugo to lead us all into a better future. Congratulations Hugo. You deserve this honor, and I and so many others are so very proud of you. We can’t wait to call you “Dr. Lucitante.”

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

On Tour: Lancaster, PA

21 Nov

October 12, 2017 | Oil & Water | Lancaster, PA

Oil & Water — Just Say “Yes”

BarrysEvents 099

I was a little overwhelmed by the email asking if I would add extra time to my visit to Lancaster, PA, as part of screening “Oil & Water.” Would I be interested in speaking with classes on both ends of the screening? Could I arrive a day early, and leave a day later?

The mail was from Barry Kornhauser, and as it turns out, the only good response to an opportunity from Barry, is “YES.”

Barry is one of those rare, radiant, bright light people. He uses his power for good; connecting artists with audiences to thoughtfully explore the critical issues of our time, as the assistant director of Campus & Community Engagement at Millersville University. Barry is also a prolific playwright who recently received the governor of Pennsylvania’s Artist of the Year Award.

BarrysEvents 134

A whirlwind of a man, Barry walks fast, knows everybody, and stops frequently to listen with genuine concern and delight. I am so grateful for the care Barry takes in planning unusual engagement, including two different nature activities for “Oil & Water,” a canoe excursion and nature hike with local naturalists, in partnership with the Lancaster Department of Parks and Recreation. Free “Oil & Water” movie tickets for the participants!

BarrysEvents 104

The turnout for the film screening at the Ware Center theater was huge and enthusiastic. We were fortunate to have the documentary’s star David Poritz, founder of Equitable Origin (www.equitableorigin.org) join us thorough Skype to chat with the audience, as well as an impressive panel of experts. It’s not every day that filmmakers get to hear experts like these take the stage to analyze their films, and it was a pleasure. Many thanks to:

BarrysEvents 101

  • Andrea Campbell, Board Member, Lancaster County Conservancy
  • Nadine Garner, Director of the Center for Sustainability and Associate Professor of Psychology, Millersville University
  • Eric Hirsch, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, Franklin & Marshall College
  • Mary Ann Schlegel, Naturalist, Lancaster County Parks
  • Chris Steuer, Sustainability Manager, Millersville University
  • Amory Lovins, physicist and chairman/chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute

Named one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People,” Amory Lovins was a last-minute addition to the panel, since his reason for visiting Lancaster was to give Franklin & Marshall College’s Mueller Fellow lecture, “Astonishing Energy Futures and the Future of Global Change.”  Check out his TED Talk and prepare to be astonished: https://www.ted.com/talks/amory_lovins_a_50_year_plan_for_energy#t-50668

BarrysEvents 123

Lastly, I want to thank Millersville University’s Changfu Chang and Jean Boal for having me visit with their documentary film and biology classes, as well Franklin & Marshall College’s Dirk Eitzen with his film class. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of life. Barry, his community, and this film tour reminded me of the gift of saying “YES.”

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

On Tour: Philadelphia, PA

24 Oct

October 10, 2017 | Oil & Water | Philadelphia, PA

Oil & Water — On the Road Again

As I arrived at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia last week for the first screening on our new Mid Atlantic Arts tour, I checked the newsfeed on my phone to discover the latest threat to the planet. The Environmental Protection Agency had just announced plans to withdraw the Clean Power Plan, the Obama-era rule regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s been three years since we released Oil & Water to the world. The film, about two boys coming of age as they fight for environmental justice in the Amazon, has never been more relevant, and not for reasons we could have expected. Environmental protections in our own country are increasingly under attack. Who could have predicted that the EPA would be run by Scott Pruitt, a man who had previously sued the EPA 14 times, or that we would have a president who campaigned on the promise of dismantling the very institution itself?

Oil & Water came about in part because there was no EPA in Ecuador, and the oil industry behaved in whatever ways they could get away with. Hugo Lucitante, one of the film’s main characters, and his tribe, the Cofan people, are still dealing with the crushing effects of oil pollution, and trying to protect the land they have left against the threats of oil companies and other outsiders. They’ve been pushed to the edge of their territory, and every day that passes brings them closer to future with a diminishing likelihood of survival.

After the screening, audience members wanted to know, “How can we help?” For those moved to help in Ecuador, there are a variety of non-profits that are working on the ground, including the organizations featured in the film, The Cofan Survival Fund (www.cofan.org) and Equitable Origin (www.equitableorigin.org). But one also need look no further than one’s own backyard, because these problems are everywhere.

In Pennsylvania where I’m touring the film, controversy swirls around fracking and new natural gas infrastructure projects like the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, that when completed, will carry natural gas through 10 counties. Despite opposition from farmers and other land owners, industry is seizing private land through eminent domain. Many are protesting out of fear for the safety of their drinking water.

As a filmmaker, I’m feeling especially grateful to the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation and all our screening hosts for the opportunity to get out and talk about the work of Oil & Water’s extraordinary young stars, Hugo Lucitante and David Poritz. And especially for the opportunity to listen to the stories of the people I’m meeting in audiences and university classroom visits along the way. Energy issues and the care of our environment affect us all. As I like to say, we’re all in this together. Let’s figure it out.

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

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.

IMG_5125

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”.

IMG_5113

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: Reading, PA

6 Mar

February 28, 2017 | HILLEMAN: A Perilous Quest to Save the World’s Children | Reading, PA

Heroes!  The Miller Center on RACC’s campus is full of them.  It’s my last stop of an On Screen/In Person tour that’s been wonderful, filled with so many great people and enthusiastic engagements.

When I arrive, I’m greeted by Brett, the Center’s production engineer who’s ready and waiting to test picture and sound.  He pops my Blu-ray disc into the player and hits play, but the player decides to stop working, with just an hour and a half left before show time.  Brett excuses himself, disappearing through a stage door, and I’m pretty sure he’s loosening his tie as he goes.  Within half an hour he’s back, a new Blu-ray player in hand and this time it works flawlessly.

reading

The film starts right on time and plays without incident, and afterward I’m joined on stage by Dr. Mark S. Reuben of Reading Pediatrics, and Tracy Scheirer, chairperson of the Berks County Immunization Coalition.  Dr. Rueben has been immunizing kids in this community for the past 40 years, helping them and their families understand why it’s so important to be brave and get your shots.  Tracy and the coalition do the tireless work of educating the public about vaccine safety and providing free clinics so everyone has access to the best that preventative medicine has to offer.

The audience is made up of school nurses, college students, physicians, even a former immigration officer, all deeply committed to their professions, to the safety of their kids, to the service of their friends, to the love of their families.  In HILLEMAN they see a man that’s bigger than the sum of his many accomplishments, and yet, I think they see something of themselves as well, an ordinary American working in the shadows to leave the world a better place than he found it. From Brett and the Miller Center staff, to my fellow panelists, to everyone in the hall, it’s easy to see what makes a hero.  As Hilleman says, it’s “that ethic of doing something useful, and being useful to the world.”

Post provided by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker, Donald Mitchell

On Tour: Lewisburg, WV

28 Feb

February 23, 2017 | HILLEMAN: A Perilous Quest to Save the World’s Children | Lewisburg, WV

“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”  Well, it seems you must first have your film selected for the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation On Screen/In Person series, then travel to Lewisburg, West Virginia to screen it there.  This beautiful Georgian Revival style structure was built in 1902 with a substantial donation from Andrew Carnegie, hence the name “Carnegie Hall.”  In fact, there are just a few such buildings in the United States (and abroad) that can claim the name, which places West Virginia among a distinct few.

carnegie

At the time of Carnegie’s gift, the only real vaccine available to West Virginians would have been against smallpox, a terrifying disease that had claimed many millions of lives around the globe for millennia.  It was a vaccine that worked well, but how it worked was not well understood.  In fact, how disease worked in general was poorly understood.  Most people, indeed most physicians, believed that common infections were caused by bad air, or decaying matter, or an imbalance of the “humors” in our bodies (whatever those are).  But scientists in Europe had been pushing a new theory about the cause of disease, which they called “germ theory.”  It was a radical concept, claiming that diseases were caused by tiny organisms in the form of bacteria, or the more recently discovered “non-filterable agents” known today as viruses.  It took some time for science in the United States to catch up and accept this new “theory,” but of course we eventually did. Today the idea that germs cause disease is no theory, but rather common sense understood by all.

And today West Virginia holds another unique distinction among American states: it is one of only three in the country that does not permit religious or personal exemptions from school immunization requirements.  Mississippi is another and California, with its recent Disneyland measles outbreaks, became the most recent state to determine only medical exemptions should be a reason not to vaccinate.

Post provided by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker, Donald Mitchell

%d bloggers like this: