Tag Archives: erie

On Tour: Erie, PA

2 Mar

March 1, 2015  | Still Dreaming | Erie, PA

For a filmmaker, there is truly nothing like seeing your film in a darkened theater, on a big screen, in the embrace of an enthusiastic audience. This experience mends the cracks in your spirit which were caused by long lapses in funding and rejections along the way. It heartens you after the requisite struggle with narrative, character development, and the question of ‘what is the right stylistic approach?’ And it reconnects you to other human beings after a protracted process of working in solitude. This is the magical time of bringing forth a story into the world.


Still Dreaming on the big screen at Mercyhurst University.


Here I am in Erie, PA, for my first stop of the 6-city ON SCREEN/IN PERSON tour, sponsored by the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation and supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. I am so grateful for this opportunity. STILL DREAMING is still very new, having only screened 3 times thus far. Today, I got the opportunity to see how the film plays to a small city audience, one made up mostly of retirees.


Charlotte Fairchild reminisces about her understudy role in Mame on Broadway.


The audience was fairly quiet during the screening today, whereas the NYC and Washington DC audiences had been raucous. I felt that they were enjoying it, but I wasn’t sure how deeply it affected them. They were a kind and respectful bunch, asking polite questions about the subject matter and the filmmaking process. Where I really felt the impact of the film on them was after the Q&A. People started coming up to me, telling me how deeply they had been touched by the film, and how important its message is. Many people bought DVDs to share with friends, and gave me ideas of where to screen the film next. This is when you know the film is successful – when people just can’t wait to share it. Thank you Erie! Now you know how I have felt for the past three years, working to finish the film! Onward to St. John – if I can get outta this beautiful, snowy place!

Post by OSIP touring filmmaker, Jilann Spitzmiller.
To listen to a podcast interview with the filmmaker, click here.


On Tour: Erie, PA

23 Feb

February 13, 2015  | REBELS WITH A CAUSE | Erie, PA

Screening 1: 88° day, 86° night
Screening 2: 43° day (feels like 33°), 20° night
Screening 3: 48° day, 30° night
Screening 4: 43° day, 25° night
Screening 5: 43° day, 20° night
Screening 6: 11° day, 2° night (feels like -8°)

A lot of people I met while I was in Erie apologized for the weather, but when the OS/IP tour schedule came together, I was excited about coming here in February. Growing up in Massachusetts, winter was my favorite season. I’ve lived in the beautiful, temperate San Francisco Bay Area for decades, call me crazy, but part of me still misses the big drama of northern seasons. Snow groans underfoot in below-zero temperatures! I love walking out of doors prepared for the cold: coat, hat, boots, and gloves.

The people I met in Erie wanted to introduce me to its natural world—my host Christine Olivier took me on a tour of the Tom Ridge Environmental Center, where I saw a fascinating exhibit about something I didn’t learn when my parents took me and my sister to Niagara Falls: how water flows from one Great Lake to another, to the cliff that becomes Niagara Falls. Christine and I climbed up a tower to look over Lake Erie and Presque Isle, a peninsula that extends into Lake Erie, now a state park. Everyone told me about the ice dunes that form on the lake in winter. Wind-blown waves freeze in mid-motion, then the next waves wash over them and freeze, on and on. They get very high. “They are extremely dangerous,” people told me, “you aren’t supposed to walk on them.” And then, each one admitted doing exactly that! Darn it, I didn’t have time to walk the beaches and see the ice dunes up close…And there were people I wanted to meet—the ice fishermen/women. My hotel room overlooked the frozen, snow-covered bay, where their huts broke the white expanse. There were a lot of them…but I didn’t have time to walk out on the ice and see that world.

Local rebel, Nate Millet, who is an educator at Environment Erie, joined me for the post-screening discussion. More than in any other stops in the OS/IP tour, these people seemed discouraged and powerless. And no wonder: a hotel was being built on the last bit of undeveloped bay front land and one woman described her futile efforts to prevent the city from cutting down some well-established trees in front of her house. But one woman in the audience said, “This is the case I would make for the trees. They create oxygen. They provide shade.” And another woman in the audience described her so far successful defense of the trees in front of her house: “I tell them if they cut down those trees, I’ll sue the city. But they come back every year.” Someone else in the audience had recently attended the first public meeting of a fledgling movement to create a federally protected marine sanctuary in Lake Erie. Then Nate described his environmental program at a school in a low-income neighborhood, whose students are immigrants or children of immigrants. He said last year was very tough—he did not have the support of the principal or teachers, who didn’t want to let the students leave the classroom for out of doors activities, they wanted them to stay indoors to study for state tests. But because the school has very low-test scores, at the end of last year, almost everyone at the school got fired, and a new administration and teachers replaced them. Started. This year, 7 teachers from a variety of disciplines including English and math support him. With 50 students and an $18K grant, this fall, he and a lot of students planted 1500 daffodil and narcissus bulbs at the entrances to the school and fruit trees in a vacant lot across the street from the school. Everyone is eagerly waiting for spring.

2-13_Snowy Road

Traveling to that part of the world turned out to be challenging. The pilot of my plane from Philadelphia to Erie decided it could only fly with 27 rather than 36 people, so although my seat was empty, but I didn’t get on the plane. I knew Christine had things planned for me the next day, so I flew from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, rented a car, and drove a couple hours to Erie in the dark, wind, and near zero, maybe below zero weather. In Philadelphia, I agreed to drive Jim, a fellow unfortunate passenger who didn’t get on the flight to Erie and lived there. The road was dark, not well-traveled, with periods of whiteout from windblown snow. Jim knows that road well, he’s driven it all his life. I told him I felt bad for him, since I was driving kind of slow. In the same calm, supportive voice my father used when he taught me to drive decades ago, Jim said, “Take your time.” My father died 4 years ago and for a few seconds, I felt like he was in the car with me. What a wonderful, if fleeting, moment. As we inched our way through the darkness, we discovered it’s a small world. Jim’s sister lives in San Francisco and was on the California Coastal Commission with rebel Phyllis Faber.


Post by OSIP touring filmmaker, Nancy Kelly.
To listen to a podcast interview with the filmmaker, click here.

On Tour: Erie, PA

10 Feb

November 9, 2014  | The Phantom Tollbooth: Beyond Expectations | Erie, PA

The first stop on my On Screen/In Person tour was Erie, PA – a part of the country I have never been to before. It’s beginning to be winter so the sky is low and grey and there are still a couple of orange and yellow trees, but most of them are skeletons.

The tour allowed me to book my own accommodation so I did so through Airbnb, a website where you can stay in people’s homes – it’s a wonderful way to feel a little bit less like an outsider in a new place. I arrived to this incredible house, the second oldest continually inhabited home in Erie, and met my gracious and welcoming hosts, Erika and Mike. Coincidentally they are great friends of Christine, who is the director of the Mercyhurst Institute for Arts & Culture where my documentary would be screening the next day. Before I knew it we were all having dinner together at the house the night of my arrival, and we stayed up late talking about art, Shakespeare, films, scuba diving, and seemingly everything in between.  It was the best introduction to this tour that I could have hoped for!  Not only did I feel incredibly welcome, but I was privileged to meet a group of artistic, passionate, engaged and genuine people. And that first day and night set the tone for the rest of my stay in Erie.


The following day I had my screening at 2pm. I arrived early and we tested in the film in the beautiful Taylor Little Theater on the campus of Mercyhurst University. The picture looked great, the audio sounded great, and as people started taking their seats we dimmed the lights and began. After the film finished I was grateful to have a chance to talk with the audience and immediately opened it up to questions. We talked about the creative process (both of filmmaking and of the collaboration between author Norton Juster and illustrator Jules Feiffer which the documentary centers around), about different educational approaches, about children’s books, and about people’s own experiences of discovering the book The Phantom Tollbooth, whether it was at age 70 or age 7. It was a great discussion and it’s always gratifying for me when the film inspires people to share their own stories about their connection to the book or more generally to reading, literature, education and the creative process.


Post by OSIP touring filmmaker, Hannah Jayanti.
To listen to a podcast interview with the filmmaker, click here.

On Tour: Erie, PA

10 Feb

October 26, 2014  | Fly By Light | Erie, PA

Erie definitely surprised me. The lake that swelled like an ocean, the old barns converted into microbreweries and railway cars into diners, the once grand rust belt buildings and new blown glass galleries, the record number of young people killed by gun violence each year.  Right before the screening of Fly By Light at Mercyhurst University, I asked Sonya Arrington why she started the Lead Mentoring Program. “My son was killed. I had to do something. And then I realized I had many more children in this town that needed my love.” I was so struck by her ability to change something so tragic and incomprehensible into something so positive for her community. Illustrating that capacity for people to transform themselves was definitely a motivation for making Fly By Light. Although I recognize the need to identify the problems, the overemphasis on the negative in the mainstream media has always frustrated me. Especially as it is precisely where you see that possibility of turning a corner, where the real story begins. After the screening, it was such an honor sharing the stage with Sonya Arrington, Councilman Andre Horton, and one of the youth from the Lead program, and hearing about their personal connections to the film and their own journeys of transformation. The youth shared “ I was bullied a lot in school. I used to be real angry. After going to Lead I started turning around. I finished school. I stopped taking drugs. I started to believe in myself again.”  A statement which echoes the last line of the film, when Martha shares about how important it was for her to have mentors that believed in her. Job opportunities, better schools, gun-control are all critical pieces to confronting violence. But just as important sometimes is the basic feeling of being of value. As Sonya shared “One requirement for entering my program is that you get a big hug from me. Although at first they may be hesitant, you should see how they hug me now.”

Post by OSIP touring filmmaker, Ellie Walton.
To listen to a podcast interview with the filmmaker, click here.

On Tour: Erie, PA

9 Sep

September 7, 2014  | The Hand That Feeds | Erie, PA


From the window of the tiny connector plane, Lake Erie stretches so wide behind the eponymous town, a mottled map of green farms and industrial infrastructure, that you can see the curvature of the earth in its glassy surface. This is only my second visit to the Great Lakes ever, after the Traverse City Film Festival in Michigan, just over a month ago. The man sitting next to me on the flight, a burly ex-marine who now works in sales at a large tech startup company, was born and raised in Erie, and recommends that I “hotwire a car” to more easily travel between the Super 8 motel and my scheduled activities around town. (I’m not sure if this is a deadpan joke or a regional or slang usage of the term that I haven’t heard before.)

I decide to rent a car. The energetic young woman working at the Enterprise desk asks why I’m in town and, when I tell her it’s to present my film at Mercyhurst, exclaims that she is an alumna and has seen the publicity on social media. “Brooklyn, New York,” she says with a smile as she examines my driver’s license. “I can’t even imagine what that’s like!”

The audience at the screening is comprised of several dozen viewers including students, professors, community members spanning a wide age range, union members, and the owners of of local coffee roasting company called Happy Mug featuring fairly traded coffee. After the screening, they offer freshly brewed samples of their wares to stimulate the discussion.

One student asks about the conflict between immigration reform and labor, stating his belief that both “open borders”—which he says he supported—and raising minimum wage “artificially” would lead to unemployment. I reply with a couple of ideas. On the one hand, raising the “floor” of wages for low-wage workers benefits the whole economy, because these consumers have more to spend and they do so. I also don’t believe that any market process, such as setting wages, happens “naturally”—governments, institutions and individuals make decisions and intervene constantly. On the other hand, it’s interesting to see that the traditional conflict between organized labor and immigration has been changing in recent years, as many large unions like the AFL-CIO have realized that the future of their movement lies in organizing low wage workers, including the millions of undocumented workers that are already here.

This last point sparks some really interesting comments from Michael A. Hanson, the Business Development Coordinator of Local 56 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. “My union has done a complete 180 on the immigration issue in the past 10 years,” he says. “Now we organize lots of undocumented workers in the building trades. Calling immigrants ‘illegal’ is a strategy of the 1% to divide us.”

For me, this comment reveals in a nutshell the incredible potential of the historical moment we’re living in right now to begin to reverse the tide of economic inequality—if only enough people have the courage to find common cause with others across the divides that keep us separate in so many ways.

Post by OSIP touring filmmaker, Rachel Lears.
To listen to a podcast interview with the filmmaker, click here.

On Tour: Erie, PA

8 Apr

April 6th, 2014  | United in Anger: A History of ACT UP | Erie, PA

The great adventure began inauspiciously on Saturday, April 4th, when the flight from New York was late getting into Detroit and I had to run from one end of the Detroit airport to the other. I made the flight to Erie with 2 minutes to spare. That evening though the Greater Erie Alliance for Equality held a lovely reception for me at the Alta Cucina restaurant in Erie.

I met about 25 members of the community, including one woman who was married to a man named Jim Hubbard. I had a delightful time talking to Brandon, David, David, Rex, Mike, Kevin, Katie, Mary, Leah, Josh, Daisy and a lot of people whose names I promised to remember, but didn’t.

The next day began with a long discussion on film with Dan Sullivan at WQLN. It was for a film show to be broadcast later, so we talked about a wide range of filmic topics including my early work such as Stop the Movie (Cruising) and Elegy in the Streets. It was Dan’s first radio interview and he asked interesting questions that I didn’t have pat answers to. I really enjoy an interview like that because it makes me consider what I’m doing and saying. Also, it was a rare opportunity to talk about work other than United in Anger and speak about how my experimental film work influenced and shaped United in Anger.

The screening later that day in the charming Taylor Little Theater had a small audience, but we had a lively discussion about the AIDS crisis and other aspects of HIV. Several college-age women spoke about their experiences with AIDS education and they were not always what one would expect. In one Pennsylvania small town there was no AIDS education; in a suburb of Buffalo, another young woman had extensive education. One woman recounted the story of her aunt, a high school gym teacher who insisted on doing AIDS education in her high school during the 90s. She was told that she would have to do abstinence only education and she refused and told the kids the truth. The one man in the audience who had lived through the early crisis in Erie spoke movingly about the stigma, the isolation, the silence and the lack of information that local people with AIDS endured.

Afterwards, Christine Olivier and her boyfriend Anthony took me on a tour of Erie. I especially wanted to see Presque Isle State Park, which is a magnificent peninsula jutting into Lake Erie and wrapping back around Erie and a very important birding site on the Atlantic Flyway. I even identified a bird I had never seen before – a Bonaparte’s Gull. Then we had dinner at a picturesque spot overlooking the lake and had a spirited discussion about travel, immigration and film.

Oops, I forgot to take pictures! Next stop I promise I will.

Post by OSIP touring filmmaker, Jim Hubbard.
To listen to a podcast interview with the filmmaker, click here.

On Tour: Erie, PA

24 Mar

March 16th, 2014  | Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines| Erie, PA

Stop one on our tour. This is a special tour for me as I am traveling with my entire family. My partner, and one and a half year old daughter decided to fly into Cleveland because it was the most direct flight. That meant we had one extra day to acclimate and investigate! My daughter has never seen snow and has no vocabulary for cold weather. Every time the wind blew in her face she screamed, “Hot!” By the time we got to Erie, she was excited about the “icey” and though the snow was rock hard, thrilled at each snowball we managed to sculpt.

We drove into Erie right on schedule, our car packed to the brim with suitcases, snacks, toys, cold weather clothes, along with the requisite postcards and DVDs for my film, Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines. My family dropped me off at the local NPR station, WQLN, for a radio interview, while they explored town. I met Christine Olivier at the station, my gracious host and coordinator of the performance arts series at Mercyhurst University. Christine told me about the town of Erie, a historical railroad terminus and Great Lakes port, and a couple spots to hit while we were there.

My first screening was a Sunday matinee and while the good weather (by Erie standards) and approaching festivities of Saint Patrick’s Day may have kept some away, the audience was warm and receptive. The Mercyhurst Taylor Little Theatre was charming and classic. As I waited outside the lobby during the screening (I’ve seen the film a few times!), I caught one of the ushers watching the film from a cute little peekhole that had once functioned as a projector cutout.


I always appreciate my chance to speak with the audience and this Q & A was no different! I was delighted to hear from one audience member who thought the film would be a hit with the women in the senior citizens’ organization she coordinates art events for. After the Q & A, one woman even asked me to sign the postcard. I have a fan!

Our biggest thrill was visiting the Presque Isle State Park, a jutting peninsula onto Lake Erie. We were told to watch for the ice fishers, their colorful tents looking like tiny bugs out on the frozen lake, and the kite surfers skitting across the surface. We even saw one family playing a little ice hockey. We braved the wind and darted onto the beach, marveling at the icey, 15-foot wave formations from currents pushing up under its frozen surface. We let my daughter, Zora, test the ice until she begged to go back “side” (inside). And then it was time to hit the road again.


3.16 IMG_2636

3.16 Baby IMG_2622

Post by OSIP touring filmmaker, Kristy Guevara-Flanagan.
To listen to a podcast interview with the filmmaker, click here.

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