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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: Waynesboro, VA

3 Dec

October 26, 2017 | Oil & Water | Waynesboro, VA

It started with a fire in Atlanta. Tracy Straight’s apartment burned to the ground while she was visiting family back in her hometown of Waynesboro, Virginia. There was nothing to go back to, so she stayed.

Since that time, she got married and had a few kids and built a new life in her old community but with an unexpected new purpose. The year she moved back home she heard that the old, long defunct, Wayne Theater in the center of Main St. was to be torn down. A parking lot would replace it. This news kicked off the second fire in Tracy’s life. A burning passion to save this theater.

After 17 years and over 11 million dollars raised, the 1926 building was ready to shine again. It’s not just the theater that revitalized, the whole of Main Street benefited too. Busy restaurants and cute new shops line the street, no doubt boosted by something happening at the Wayne seven days a week.

Tracy is now the Executive Director of the Wayne and her passion hasn’t (I can’t help it…) waned. She is just as enthusiastic about the On Screen/In Person tour as she is the marionette show this week, My Fair Lady next week and the art gallery upstairs from the theater currently featuring art from Montana.

Laurel and ED of Wayne Tracy Straight

It’s this kind of community potluck of entertainment that can give a small downtown life. I wouldn’t be surprised if more people move back home to Waynesboro or any small town that gets a cultural shot in the arm like Tracy has given to her hometown.

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

On Tour: Washington, DC

2 Dec

October 24, 2017 | Oil & Water | Washington, DC

It was a long, sad, exhilarating and fascinating day in D.C. I woke up at 6:32am to snag online tickets to the African American Museum knowing it would be one of the highlights of a trip to the Capital. Clicking through the time options 10am: Not available. 10:30: Not available. 11am Not Available… finally, 12:30pm 2 tickets available! I felt like I had won the lottery.

When we arrived at the gorgeous bronze laced building, I was full of anticipation. It’s really a jewel on the Mall. With the current and historical racial tension that haunts D.C., this new space on the national lawn feels sacred. The museum does not disappoint. In fact, it over-delivers. It’s so chock-a-block full of information that we only got half way through before I realized we had to run out to get to the sound-check for the Oil & Water screening.

As we raced over to the Atlas Theater, I thought about how this city was built on the backs of African American, who make up 50% of the city’s population, yet this critically important museum was debated for 100 years and only finished last year!

Atlas and new H Street Car

Just outside the Atlas on H Street there was a sign discussing the importance of the theater, a community hub in the vibrant and racially mixed neighborhood. Though it opened as a white-only establishment in the 1930’s, in the 1950’s it became a desegregated venue in a heavily segregated city. After the riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, the Atlas fell into disrepair and closed like many of the businesses in the area. In 2006, the theater was renovated and reopened as part of a larger plan to revitalize the neighborhood.

I’m so glad the theater is back up and running. It’s a beautiful space and an important part of the community. But I realized from my research about the neighborhood that the tensions aren’t over. Current residents now feel the gentrified street is pushing them further and further away from the city. Conflicts arise from what type of businesses are valued on the street and by whom. Rents are going up. And the new street car is a visible sign of the changes being made to this ever-changing city.

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

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.

Laurel filming David

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

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

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