Tag Archives: maryland

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: Lancaster, PA

2 May

March 30, 2017 | REAL BOY| Lancaster, PA

We couldn’t ask for a more wonderful end to our tour than the events at Millersvillle University and the Ware Center in Lancaster, PA.

The day starts early and our host Barry Kornhauser comes to pick us up in downtown Lancaster and takes us out to the university, which is four miles out of town. The campus is beautiful. There are ducks, swans, and turtles in a large pond at the center and the entire campus is beautifully landscaped. As we walk through campus to the classroom where we’ll be presenting, Barry tells us about the history of the college, including the bit of trivia that an early president of Millersville University from the late 19th Century is best known for writing the song “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”

Our first stop is a lunchtime gathering of students from the social work department. We show the trailer and then gather in a circle to talk about gender identity and the other issues in the film. Joe shares his own personal experiences of coming out as trans and how his family responded at the time.

Dr. Tiffany Wright, chair of the Millersville University President’s Commission on Gender & Sexual Diversity, has joined us and she also shares with students the work being done on campus to create greater inclusion. The school already has a preferred name policy and the commission is working on putting other policies in place to support their trans students and teachers.

I am struck by how important these small, informal conversations are. Students asked for advice for their own lives and took the opportunity to learn more about how to ask respectful questions about gender. They also learned more about how they can become involved as active allies at their university and with their future clients.

We then head across campus to a joint class of undergrads, including those from a Philosophy class entitled “Gender, Utopia and Society.” The room is full and the students ask fantastic questions about both Joe’s experience as a trans man and a musician and my experience as a filmmaker and storyteller seeking to honor and represent people with love and integrity. We talk about gender and media and music and addiction and families.

One student in the back row thanks Joe and I for bringing these stories into popular conversation and shares that she is also trans. Her voice is shaking and she confesses that it’s scary and vulnerable to tell people, especially in such a public way, but that it feels good to be open about it. Everyone in the room claps for her.

We head back into town and start the tech check for the evening’s event. The lobby is already starting to fill with people. When the doors open, the audience starts pouring in. The beautiful Ware Center fills with people. By the time the program starts there are more than 200 people in the theater.

The event begins with a panel discussion featuring Dr. Meg Day, a professor at Franklin & Marshall College; Dr. Tiffany Wright from the Millersville University President’s Commission on Gender & Sexual Diversity; Alexis Lake, a local therapist specializing in LGBT practice, and Tara Stark, a member of the Pennsylvania Youth Congress. They each share their thoughts on the film and the ways it resonates for them personally. They invite the audience to track what is—and isn’t—present in Ben’s story and to look for the nuances. As a director, it is an honor to know that these people have taken the time to watch the film, think deeply about it, and prepare these comments to share with the audience.

The film begins and I can feel the engagement of the audience. They laugh and respond audibly to moments in the film. In the final scene, I can hear the sniffles in the room. I am deeply honored and so happy to be here.

Following the screening, Joe plays a set of music. He’s on fire and people are LOVING it. This night really feels like a special event, the culmination of an amazing month on the road. I’ll soon be on a plane home, but for now, I am so grateful to be in this theater in Lancaster, PA. We have truly done what we set out to do — engage, connect, discuss, and share a story we care so much about.

Post provided by On Screen/In Person filmmaker Shaleece Haas

On Tour: Wilmington, DE

2 May

March 29, 2017 | REAL BOY| Wilmington, DE

The sun is low and warm as we arrive in Wilmington’s arts district, with its old brick buildings, some newly renovated and others in disrepair. We’re staying at a BnB just blocks from the venue, so we are able to walk through the neighborhood to get a sense of the place. Joe walks in front of me, carrying his guitar case, and I’m filled with a moment of deep gratitude that we are able to be part of this tour across the mid-Atlantic — to see so many places, meet so many people, and share our film with them.

Before the screening begins, and as we wait for the sun to drop behind the nearby buildings, Joe performs a few songs. He performs his usual set and then, because the sun has not quite set and the room is still speckled with sunlight, he shares some of his new music, including “Following the Sound”, a song that will be part of the upcoming musical he is writing the music for. The musical is about Albert Cashier, an historical figure who was assigned female at birth and then enrolled in the Civil War as a soldier and lived as male the rest of his life.

After the REAL BOY screening, the event organizers invite the audience to have some pizza and gather at the tables set up in another part of the room. We are joined by the other panelists: Karla Fleshman of the LGBTQ Youth Mentoring Initiative at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Delaware and Cristina Valcarcel Mikijanic, Health and Physical Education teacher at Cab Calloway School of the Arts. The space feels very intimate and informal, which allows us all to have more of a conversation than simply to answer questions from the audience. People share their own experiences as parents, as members of the LGBTQ community, and as allies. Many people have come to this event to find out how they can better serve the trans youth in their lives. They are teachers, health care professionals, friends. I am heartened by their stories and their genuine desire to make a difference. We talk about our own lives, about our own communities, about Albert Cashier, and about the ways we are working to show up to make their communities more gender-inclusive.

Post provided by On Screen/In Person filmmaker Shaleece Haas

On Tour: Brookvale, NY

2 May

March 28, 2017 | REAL BOY| Brookvale, NY

The screening at the Tilles Center on the Long Island University Campus is our northernmost stop on the tour. It has been raining hard all day when we arrive and we’re led into their huge 2,000-seat auditorium, where they host a wide range of events, from large concerts to live theater and touring musicals. The walls of the venue are lined with headshots of famous people who have performed at the Tilles Center — from YoYo Ma to Kristin Chenowith to Kevin Bacon’s musical duo, the Bacon Brothers.

As showtime approaches, the space is mostly empty and we start to worry the rain is keeping people at home, but at the last minute, students from the university begin filing into the theater and by 7:05, a decent-size crowd has settled into their seats.

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The film looks and sounds fantastic and it’s great to see it on the HUGE screen. The students ask great questions during the Q&A following the film and after the official program is over, they flock to the front of the theater to talk and take selfies with Joe and have him sign their CDs.

It’s wonderful to screen the film on college campuses, where so much conversation is underway about gender identity and so many intersecting issues. We’re grateful for how much we learn from young people and look forward to more.

Post provided by On Screen/In Person filmmaker Shaleece Haas

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