Tag Archives: mercyhurst

On Tour: Erie, PA

9 Sep

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Tour: Erie, PA

8 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Tour: Erie, PA

24 Mar

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

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

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

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


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

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


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3.16 Baby IMG_2622

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

On Tour: Erie, PA

10 Feb

February 9th, 2014  | The Exquisite Corpse Project |  Erie, PA

At the rental car dealership in Erie, Pennsylvania, I was delighted to be handed the keys to a silver Chevy Impala – the same car that Ryan Gosling’s character expertly wields in the opening scenes of Drive. Unfortunately, the make and model of our cars would end up being the only commonalities between Gosling and I, as I don’t think I ever exceeded 15 mph on the snow-covered roads of Erie.

2.9 bp-erie1

Four years ago, just two weeks after completing production on my first feature film, The Exquisite Corpse Project, my wife Joanna and I left the snowy Northeast and moved to an island in the Caribbean. It was a decision motivated by our shared spirit of adventure, our love of the ocean, and my need to avoid another winter of seasonal affective disorder (a made-up-sounding condition that I wholeheartedly believe to be real). We’ve lived there happily ever since. We still experience some semblance of winter in the Caribbean, however the seasonal low is still in the high 60’s, so even then long pants are often excessive.

Packing tip for those traveling from the Caribbean: long pants are not excessive in Erie, Pennsylvania, where there have been over 115 inches of snow in the past three months. I asked the concierge at the hotel if it ever stops snowing, and she said, “Oh, sure! For about fifteen minutes in the middle of June. Then it starts up again.” I did not pack appropriately.

2.9 bp-erie2

My frostbitten toes aside, Erie is beautiful. Dozens of sheds clutter the surface of the lake, where fishermen sit huddled together over holes in the ice and wait for a tug on their line. Everywhere I go, people are talking about how great the snowboarding had been that weekend, and where they were going to snowboard next. When I told someone that I’d never been snowboarding, he said, “When you live in this kind of climate, you have to find things to love about the winter.” I really liked that. He then asked me where I live, and I told him that I live in the Caribbean. He chuckled and said, “Do you know what people around here call people who live in the Caribbean?” He smiled. “Cowards!”

He might be right.

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

On Tour: Erie, PA

27 Nov

November 17th, 2013  |  Mr. Cao Goes to Washington |  Erie, PA

Hello again, Philly Airport terminal F. I suppose one cannot travel around the mid-Atlantic states without passing though the same airport over and over again, and my airport of choice is apparently PHL. I don’t recall having ever been on so many propeller planes in such a short stretch, and today I am taking one from Baltimore to Philadelphia, and another from Philly across Pennsylvania to Erie.

11.17 Flight Shadow
I know next to nothing about Erie, except that it is a rust belt city 2 hours from Cleveland, Buffalo, and Pittsburg. The city, which sits on the Great Lake that it is named after, is bigger than I thought. I arrive at my hotel to witness dozens of middle-age ladies filing off of a tour bus. The hotel clerk tells me that this particular area in Erie, right off Interstate 90, is a popular shopping spot for folks in the surrounding towns, and women take chartered buses so they can come on weekends to shop. This is confirmed when I enter the elevator surrounded by giggly women taking up twice as much space as they should because each is holding at least a half-dozen shopping bags.

My OSIP activities start the following morning at WQLN, the local NPR/PBS affiliate. I meet Tom, the station programmer, and Jamie Grady, the director for Mercyhurst Institute for the Arts and Culture (MIAC), which is the On Screen In Person host site. Boy, are these guys punchy for a Sunday morning. They banter about the performers who are in town. Apparently, the Mr. Cao Goes to Washington screening this afternoon is up against a popular Japanese taiko drum troop that sells out whenever they are in town, as well as, of all people, Elton John. I guess I should adjust my expectation accordingly! Tom and I have a long chat about Mr. Cao for his radio program “On Film.” Then Jamie and I are off to his arts management class at Mercyhurst University. There I speak to his students about the sustainability of a documentary filmmaking career. I do believe that programmers and arts managers should learn as much as possible about the realities of the artists whose work they exhibit.

11.17 WQLN Building

11.17 Jamie Tom
We get a pretty good turnout at the screening in spite of Sir Elton John playing across town. During the Q&A, one older lady is particularly vocal. “Does the Congressman still have a relationship with your President?” My President? She goes on to compare “Obama and Osama” and recites some other Tea Party choice quotes. After the Q&A, she comes up to me and complements me some more on the film, then purchases a copy of the DVD. Should I have refused her and told her that the inflammatory words she has been echoing are tearing this country up? But she seems just a harmless, eccentric, and misguided old lady, instead of a scary “Tea Bagger.” Things are always more complicated in practice than they are in theory.

11.17 Paper

After a nice detour downtown with Jamie for a snack, a couple of beers, and some good conversation, I head back to the hotel fairly early in the evening. A severe weather system has been wreaking havoc in the Midwest. Dozens of tornados destroyed several towns in Illinois, killing 3 people. Erie will be under a high wind advisory tonight. I hope I will be able to get out on the morning flight. Lake Placid, New York, is next.

Post by OSIP Touring Filmmaker, S. Leo Chiang

On Tour: Erie, PA

15 Oct

October 13th, 2013  |  FUREVER |  Erie, PA

The only other time I’ve ever been to Erie was when I filmed my banjo documentary, Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart. The film’s location was set in Guthrie, Oklahoma, except for one small segment filmed in Erie. Oddly enough, my hotel room presented a splendid view of the dilapidated Y.M.C.A. (located directly across the street), where I filmed that segment.

At 11am, I met Christine Olivier from Mercyhurst’s Institute for Arts & Culture at the local NPR station, WQLR. She’s an absolute delight, and we became fast friends, along with Tom New, the President/CEO of WQLN, who was conducting the interview (to be aired in a few weeks).

10.13 TomNew

They’re both hysterically funny and they explained that they wanted to do the interview off-site at their local pet cemetery, but that they were worried I might take offense to that, as they never know what personalities to expect from the filmmakers. I would, of course, have loved it, especially when Tom told me that Bonzo (of Bedtime for Bonzo fame, was buried there)! Apparently poor Bonzo became ill while traveling through Erie with a circus, and ended up there. Here’s the trailer, in case you’re unfamiliar with the 1951 Ronald Reagan masterpiece that made Bonzo a star. (Coincidentally, Tom had asked me earlier about the solution used to mummify cats in FUREVER and I said it was similar to DMSO, a chemical I first heard about from a Dead Kennedys song, off of their album Bedtime for Democracy, named after said film)!

10.13 Bedtime for Bonzo 3

10.13 Bonzo

10.13 PetCemetery

Seeing Bonzo made up for my inability to see “Mad Anthony’s Cauldron of Death,” another Erie “attraction” (that no one in Erie seems to have heard of).

10.13 mad_anthony

Our next stop was Mercyhurst, where I spoke to a few students about filmmaking before FUREVER screened. We had a nice turnout. For the Q&A I was accompanied by Ruth Thompson, who does amazing work at Erie’s no kill shelter, A.N.N.A., and Nancy Bird-Blackwood, a psychotherapist, who works with A.N.N.A. as a pet loss grief counselor. We had a long discussion about euthanasia and pet parents who extend their pet’s life too long, due to their inability to let go. We also discussed the human animal bond in detail.

10.13 Christine_Ruth_Amy_Nancy

I was particularly excited to hear post-screening impressions after Christine told me that Erie used to be the biggest test market site in the U.S., as its population most perfectly reflected “middle America.” Fittingly, FUREVER’s audience had a group of college students, but a much larger legion of golden-aged women.

Christine, her boyfriend Anthony, and I topped off a great day with dinner in an old firehouse. We drank beers brewed in Erie (Mad Anthony’s, naturally, and Railbender) and then visited a local resident’s lawn late at night. It was pitch black so we couldn’t see the various sculptures made out of cars, wrenches and mufflers, but my iphone was able to capture some of its glory.  A fitting conclusion to an adventure in a town called Erie.

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10.13 stranger_lawn_1Post by OSIP Touring Filmmaker, Amy Finkel

On Tour: Erie, PA

18 Sep

September 15th, 2013  |  Shored Up |  Erie, PA

The fourth stop on the tour brought me to Erie, PA after a 24-hour pitstop with my family in Philly.  I’m not sure whether there are any other places on the east coast where you could drive 400 miles in one direction and still be in the same state, but I doubt it.  Not that I drove, but I’m just saying.

Fourth stop on the tour, fourth coastal community.  In this case to be fair we’re talking about a lake coast and not an ocean coast, but there are issues with erosion on Lake Erie like there are everywhere.  My hosts, Christine Olivier and Jamie Grady were terrific.  Christine lined up a post-screening panel with Dr. Jennifer O’Donnell of Coastal Ocean Analytics and Jacob Moore of the PA DEP, and once the audience got going in the Q&A they didn’t stop until Christine stepped in to call it a day.  Special thanks to Christine’s mom and dad who traveled all the way from Mystic, Connecticut for the screening and then got the Q&A rolling with a couple of great questions.

I didn’t get a picture of it but there’s this strange geologic formation that runs at an angle to the shore on Lake Erie for 14 miles which is called Presque Isle.  In many ways it resembles a barrier island, but between the two coastal experts on the panel and myself, a truly amateur scientist, none of us could figure out how it was formed other than it probably had something to do with the glacier that was there during the last ice age.  They’ve been building breakwaters off of it recently to try to keep sand in place…sounds familiar.

9.15 Herzog Van

This truck caught my eye in the parking lot next to where I was parked for lunch.  When it rolled in with the big “Herzog” on the side, I couldn’t help imagining Werner on some sort of “rail testing” documentary road trip.  It’s not totally implausible.

9.15 Radio

And here’s the amazing Tom New.  He’s the President/CEO of WQLN in Erie whose very modern, almost post-modern building is tucked away in the woods on the outskirts of town. Tom and I did an interview which will air sometime in late October.  As we talked some gophers were hanging outside the glass doors as blue-jays swooped around.  It reminded me somehow of the Van Gogh Museum I visited in a nature preserve in the Netherlands many years ago.

Post by OSIP Touring Filmmaker, Ben Kalina


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