Tag Archives: film

On Tour: Wilmington, DE

1 Dec

October 22, 2017 | Oil & Water | Wilmington, DE

Laurel at the Queen

Filmmaker Laurel Spellman Smith at Queen Theater, Wilmington, DE

It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been on the road with Oil & Water, we finished the film in 2014 after which we spent more than a year touring film festivals around the world. Now it’s been nearly two years since I actually watched the film. As I sat in the audience of my own film at in downtown Wilmington, a thought caught me by surprise, “wow, I was there!” It’s interesting to think that the making of this film consumed my life for 8 years but as my life has changed, those memories have become more distant. Watching the film again reminded me of what it was like to actually film those scenes: in the village, in the jungle, in the oil muck, in the heat. It all came rushing back to me, I could practically smell the damp foliage and acrid air.

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Co-director Laurel Spellman Smith filming David Poritz in Ecuador

As the credits rolled my focus snapped back to my chair in The Queen theater – sitting with a small crowd of Delaware residents I was reminded of just how far I had come. Not just across the country to show this film, but in my initial thoughts about tackling this contentious subject, in a country I had never visited, with a prosumer camera and my film partner, Francine, who also had doubts. But the thing is, we did it. And now, 11 years since we took that initial step off the plane in Quito, Ecuador only to board another flight and then an 8-hour canoe trip to the deep Amazonian rainforest… the story hasn’t become less relevant. In fact, it continues to resonate with communities all over the world. And that’s a pretty amazing feeling.

Post provided by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker Laurel Spellman Smith

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On Tour: Blue Bell, PA

1 Dec

October 19, 2017 | Oil & Water | Blue Bell, PA

Oil & Water — Before Hollywood, there was Pennsylvania

Stars were made in Montgomery County. In the early years of movie making, Betzwood Film Studios on the banks of Pennsylvania’s Schuylkill River, was the world’s largest, most advanced film studio.

I learned this surprising history from Brent Woods, senior director of cultural affairs at Montgomery County Community College, in Blue Bell, PA. Woods is deeply engaged in building an audience for the arts, and his enthusiasm for this community and its role in film history is infectious.

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Today the college is home to the world’s largest known archive of Betzwood movie studio artifacts, thanks to resident expert and history professor emeritus Joseph Eckhardt. According to Eckhardt’s website, https://mc3betzwood.wordpress.com, Betzwood was a sprawling 350-acre complex where more than 100 films were produced and circulated worldwide. It was built by Siegmund Lubin, a German-Jewish immigrant, who by 1912 was America’s first movie mogul. Lubin is credited with being the first to mass market films, and he employed up to 1,000 people who churned out five to six million feet of film at the studio each week. Among the footage Betzwood created was this train wreck, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-SV46oJR8o&feature=youtu.be, which Lubin used in five of his films. Click on it, it’s really a train wreck.

As I toured the campus on my final stop on the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation tour, it was easy to imagine stars emerging from this community today. I observed students composing music, recording a radio show, and pitching projects in a classroom that looked more like an executive suite. I saw several dozen camera bags loaded with gear for students to make films, as well as a television studio and state-of-the-art editing suites. Students at Montgomery County Community College are learning in an exceptional environment. I’m excited for them, and perhaps even a little envious.

I’d like to thank Jerry Collom for inviting me to meet with students in his advanced video production class, as well as Matt Porter for the department tour, and Iain Campbell for the care he took in ensuring a perfect screening. Thanks especially to Brent Woods for taking the time to give me a window into the community’s future, as well as fascinating past. I couldn’t have asked for a lovelier way to end the tour.

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

On Tour: Reading, PA

1 Dec

October 18, 2017 | Oil & Water | Reading, PA

Oil & Water — Learning in Reading, PA

The student looked at me like I was full of bull.  “Money makes the monkey dance,” he said, shaking his head. “The world will never change.”

I felt his anger and frustration, and I knew I needed to do better. Reactions vary to the story of the Cofan people’s struggle to survive the onslaught of oil development and devastating pollution in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Some viewers are hopeful and inspired by Oil & Water’s main characters, Hugo and David, while others are angry and overwhelmed, almost to the point of tears. Still some are cynical; the story reinforces everything they already believe about the way the world works; that the little guys always get squished.

I often say to my young son, “The world’s not fair, let’s make it better.” When I’m touring with the film, I sing pretty much the same tune, only I ask audiences to try to hold back the weight of all the world’s problems, and focus on just one. “Find something you care about, and just do one thing,” I hear myself saying again this past week, this time to students at Reading Area Community College. “If everyone pitched in and did one thing, things could be different. Change does happen.”

And I think that’s mostly true. But then I notice a few students looking at me, shaking their heads in disbelief. I feel pangs of regret, and I realize that the answer about how to live in these challenging times is not the same for everyone.

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The “Frogs” of Reading-based Bullfrog Films

I know that the reality for some is more like Hugo Lucitante’s in the film, just trying to survive. They’re working jobs and going to school, and raising families.  Some are recent immigrants or refugees, or are themselves from poor, marginalized or underrepresented communities. To these people, I would like to say, I see how hard you are working and that you want a better future. Keep questioning and working to be problem-solving community members. And like Hugo does, keep going. Pay attention to what’s happening in the world. Take that learning and use it to dream, vote, and speak up for yourselves and others. And thank you for the conversation, your words make an impact.

Those of us who can do more, should. We can vote with our wallets and choose to buy, or not, based on our values. We can join with environmental organizations in our own communities, and demand that corporate and government leaders behave responsibly. Visit www.cofan.org to learn more about Hugo’s tribe and how to help or support David Poritz’s efforts at www.equitableorigin.org.  Spread the word about www.oilandwaterdocumentary.com, and host a screening with friends or a community group. Rent Oil & Water at www.bullfrogfilms.com, and while you’re there, check out the other 700 documentaries on the site.

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The film director with Dr. Linda Lewis Riccardi’s ethics class

Thanks to Bullfrog Films’ Winifred Scherrer, John Hoskyns-Abrahall, and Alex Hoskyns-Abrahall, who came to the Miller Center for the Arts screening, and brought friends. They distribute my films Oil & Water and Busting Out and have my back as a documentary filmmaker. Bullfrog is the leading American publisher of independently-produced environmental and social justice films, and I am grateful for their mission, humor, friendship and support. I visited the “Frogs” at their Reading, PA offices, in handsomely converted farm buildings with solar panels that help fuel their work. We talked film, politics, and laughed a lot.

Others whom I learned from on this tour include Miller Center for the Arts’ Natalie Babb and Cathleen Stephen, the best hosts a filmmaker could hope for. As well as Reading Area Community College ethics professor, Dr. Linda Lewis Riccardi, and environmental science adjunct professor Bob Hoskins, who invited me to meet their classes. Bob moderated the post-screening Q&A, and his ability to jump in and explain science and social issues was a godsend. I was delighted to spend time with them and their vibrant community of passionate, thoughtful people, and glad for the reminder to meet people where they are.

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

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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”

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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.

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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!

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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:

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  • 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

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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

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