Tag Archives: Germantown

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

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On Tour: Wilmington, DE

18 Oct

September 27 2017 | DEEJ | Wilmington, DE

I had time for a stroll down historic Market Street, and take in a combination of landmarks such as The Queen, the Old Town Hall and 18th century houses, sprinkled among 21st century businesses, coffee houses and restaurants.

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Wilmington, Delaware: the final stop on the Onscreen/In Person tour!  I have to confess that as a resident of Maryland, I’ve passed through Wilmington many times by train or by car, on my way to New York or other points north.  Screening Deej at The Queen, vintage early 1800’s, was a long-overdue way to connect with downtown Wilmington, past and present.

I arrived early, so I had time for a stroll down historic Market Street, and take in a combination of landmarks such as The Queen, the Old Town Hall and 18th century houses, sprinkled among 21st century businesses, coffee houses and restaurants.  It’s a city center working to reshape itself, fusing old and new, and the Light Up the Queen Foundation is a vital part of that effort.

Thanks to the Foundation’s Tina Betz and Judy Hickman, the Deej screening and discussion similarly drew on local community resources – in the form of advocates in the fields of autism and disability:

  • Annalisa Ekbladh, a parent advocate and leader of Autism Delaware’s family support division, which provides more than 200 social recreational and support events each year;
  • Katina Demetriou, director of Autism Delaware’s POW&R (Productive Opportunities for Work & Recreation), a community-based vocational program working with 85 partner businesses;
  • Brian Freedman, associate director of the University of Delaware’s Center for Disabilities Studies, helping people with disabilities increase their independence and lead productive lives;
  • Cari A. Phillips, special education coordinator for K-5 level children in Delaware’s Red Clay Consolidated School District and PhD candidate at the University of Delaware.
  • Brent Sullivan, 48-year-old nonspeaking Autistic and advocate for neurological difference; ably assisted by Dylan Belnavis-Flexner.

Using a letter board, Brent described what it was like to have no access to communication during his younger years, when his abilities were consistently underestimated – and how his life is markedly different today.

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I am especially grateful to all the screening hosts who gave nonspeaking Autistics a voice in the discussions connected to the screenings.

  • The Wayne Theatre, Waynesboro, VA – Charlie Taylor
  • The Annenberg Center, Philadelphia, PA – Nick Pentzell
  • Montgomery Community College, Blue Bell, PA – Brian Foti
  • The BlackRock Center for the Arts, Germantown, MD – Gordy Baylinson and Jack Alnutt
  • The Atlas Performing Arts Center, Washington, DC – Benjamin McGann
  • Wilmington, DE – Brent Sullivan

I hasten to add that the few who didn’t, simply couldn’t, because of a lack of viable candidates – an indication of how far we as a society still need to go to grant access to communication to everyone.

I’m grateful for all the work the screening hosts invested in choosing the films for the tour in the first place, and then working to attract an audience and assemble dynamic discussion panels.  I want to thank you all, including Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, for a memorable, deeply fulfilling experience!

Post provided by On Screen/In Person filmmaker Robert Rooy

On Tour: Washington, DC

18 Oct

September 26, 2017 | DEEJ | Washington, DC

Heading into the final week of the Deej Onscreen/In Person tour, I’m amazed at how time has flown by, and what an inspiring trip it’s been.  Documentary filmmaking is often a solitary pursuit.  Sharing one’s film with an audience, then talking about it with panelists and attendees who often have a tremendous amount at stake in the issues Deej embraces, is a heady experience.

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This was especially true of our screening at the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Washington, DC.  For one thing, it was co-sponsored by Docs In Progress, a nonprofit based in Silver Spring, Maryland that creates and fosters a supportive community for documentary filmmakers.  In many ways, it was my “go to” support system during the making of Deej – so to have them involved in this screening was a way to thank them and the greater DC film community for all the support that came my way during a lengthy and sometimes arduous process.  Erica Ginsburg, executive director, served as moderator to the post-screening discussion, keeping it moving and on track.

In addition, in this DC event, we were fortunate to be in the backyard of some leading activists for autistic rights, which allowed them to take part in the discussion.  As in several of our previous events, we were fortunate to have on the panel members of the autistic community, including Benjamin McGann, a nonspeaking self-advocate.  Assisted by Elizabeth Vosseller, he shared, “It is refreshing to hear this kind of discussion.  I am an adult; however, many view me as a child because I cannot speak.  But I can think and learn and love and work.”

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[l-r] Erica Ginsberg, Robert Rooy, Julia Bascom, Jenn Lynn, Elizabeth Vosseller, Benjamin McGann

Julia Bascom introduced herself not only as the executive director of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network but also as someone who identifies as an Autistic.  She underscored that this is true of all of ASAN’s staff members – that the nonprofit advocacy organization lives and breathes its motto: “Nothing about us without us.”  She was grateful that Deej is more successful than most films in its depiction of autism by allowing DJ to fully participate in the telling of his story.

Completing the panel were other autism and disability professionals.  Besides serving as Benjamin’s communication aide, Elizabeth Vosseller spoke as the director of the Growing Kids Therapy Center, a DC-based organization that specializes in supporting the communication challenges of children in the autism spectrum, including those who don’t speak.

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[l-r] Erica Ginsberg, Robert Rooy, Julia Bascom, Jenn Lynn, Elizabeth Vosseller, Benjamin McGann

And, Jenn Lynn contributed as author, speaker, and executive director of Upcounty Community Resources, a nonprofit that serves fitness, social and therapeutic needs of adults with special needs.  She also publishes, along with her 14-year-old son Jake, a blog: TheWorldAccoringtoJake.com.

My thanks goes to Doug Yeuell, executive director of the Atlas, and the rest of his staff for their hospitality, and for bringing not just Deej, but an impressive array overall of performing arts to the H Street neighborhood in DC!

 

Post provided by On Screen/In Person filmmaker Robert Rooy

On Tour: Germantown, MD

27 Sep

September 22, 2017 | DEEJ | Germantown, MD

The screening of Deej at the BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown, MD, was special in a couple of ways.  For one thing, it was only twenty miles or so from my hometown of Frederick, so lots of friends came to see it!  And, in a pretty short timeframe, we were able to put together a strong group of autistic self-advocates who joined the conversation onstage after the screening.

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Two Maryland teenagers contributed in a big way to the conversation, each nonspeaking and typing with no physical support.  Gordy Baylinson of Potomac, Maryland is well-known locally for a letter he wrote to a police officer, explaining why she and colleagues need to understand that while Gordy’s brain “knows what it wants and how to make that clear,” his body “is much like a drunken, almost six foot toddler…” With the help of Meghann Parkinson, who held his letter board, he shared his thoughts on what a difference learning to communicate has made.

More regarding Gordy’s letter and life can be found here.

Jack Alnutt, a student at nearby Quince Orchard High School, shared that “it took years of perseverance” to learn to communicate.  His mom, Amy, added that he only succeeded four years ago, and the first thing he typed was “I am trying and I’m really smart.”

Both Jack’s and Gordy’s parents shared the challenges they’ve had in convincing local school systems that their sons deserve to be included in mainstream high school classes, and remarked that they all know children in the area and beyond who have not been as successful in finding educational opportunities for their children.

Sharon da VanPort, founder and executive director of Autism Women’s Network, weighed in as well, describing how using the wrong language in describing autism can be damaging.  Nonspeaking Autistics, for example, are often described as “nonverbal” – which means, “without words” – which is certainly not the case with Gordy and Jack.  She also called attention to the “high functioning” and “low functioning” labels that help perpetuate the assumption that those who cannot speak or who happen to have pronounced issues with body control somehow can’t measure up.

Thanks to JoAnn Pham and Brian Laird at BlackRock for this opportunity to share Deej in an intimate, state-of-the-art space with a very invested audience!

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

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