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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: Reading, PA

6 Mar

February 28, 2017 | HILLEMAN: A Perilous Quest to Save the World’s Children | Reading, PA

Heroes!  The Miller Center on RACC’s campus is full of them.  It’s my last stop of an On Screen/In Person tour that’s been wonderful, filled with so many great people and enthusiastic engagements.

When I arrive, I’m greeted by Brett, the Center’s production engineer who’s ready and waiting to test picture and sound.  He pops my Blu-ray disc into the player and hits play, but the player decides to stop working, with just an hour and a half left before show time.  Brett excuses himself, disappearing through a stage door, and I’m pretty sure he’s loosening his tie as he goes.  Within half an hour he’s back, a new Blu-ray player in hand and this time it works flawlessly.

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The film starts right on time and plays without incident, and afterward I’m joined on stage by Dr. Mark S. Reuben of Reading Pediatrics, and Tracy Scheirer, chairperson of the Berks County Immunization Coalition.  Dr. Rueben has been immunizing kids in this community for the past 40 years, helping them and their families understand why it’s so important to be brave and get your shots.  Tracy and the coalition do the tireless work of educating the public about vaccine safety and providing free clinics so everyone has access to the best that preventative medicine has to offer.

The audience is made up of school nurses, college students, physicians, even a former immigration officer, all deeply committed to their professions, to the safety of their kids, to the service of their friends, to the love of their families.  In HILLEMAN they see a man that’s bigger than the sum of his many accomplishments, and yet, I think they see something of themselves as well, an ordinary American working in the shadows to leave the world a better place than he found it. From Brett and the Miller Center staff, to my fellow panelists, to everyone in the hall, it’s easy to see what makes a hero.  As Hilleman says, it’s “that ethic of doing something useful, and being useful to the world.”

Post provided by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker, Donald Mitchell

On Tour: Lewisburg, WV

28 Feb

February 23, 2017 | HILLEMAN: A Perilous Quest to Save the World’s Children | Lewisburg, WV

“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”  Well, it seems you must first have your film selected for the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation On Screen/In Person series, then travel to Lewisburg, West Virginia to screen it there.  This beautiful Georgian Revival style structure was built in 1902 with a substantial donation from Andrew Carnegie, hence the name “Carnegie Hall.”  In fact, there are just a few such buildings in the United States (and abroad) that can claim the name, which places West Virginia among a distinct few.

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At the time of Carnegie’s gift, the only real vaccine available to West Virginians would have been against smallpox, a terrifying disease that had claimed many millions of lives around the globe for millennia.  It was a vaccine that worked well, but how it worked was not well understood.  In fact, how disease worked in general was poorly understood.  Most people, indeed most physicians, believed that common infections were caused by bad air, or decaying matter, or an imbalance of the “humors” in our bodies (whatever those are).  But scientists in Europe had been pushing a new theory about the cause of disease, which they called “germ theory.”  It was a radical concept, claiming that diseases were caused by tiny organisms in the form of bacteria, or the more recently discovered “non-filterable agents” known today as viruses.  It took some time for science in the United States to catch up and accept this new “theory,” but of course we eventually did. Today the idea that germs cause disease is no theory, but rather common sense understood by all.

And today West Virginia holds another unique distinction among American states: it is one of only three in the country that does not permit religious or personal exemptions from school immunization requirements.  Mississippi is another and California, with its recent Disneyland measles outbreaks, became the most recent state to determine only medical exemptions should be a reason not to vaccinate.

Post provided by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker, Donald Mitchell

On Tour: Waynesboro, VA

24 Feb

February 21, 2017 | HILLEMAN: A Perilous Quest to Save the World’s Children | Waynesboro, VA

The arts community that has convened to restore the Wayne Theater in Waynesboro, VA is impressive.  Not only have they lovingly and impeccably brought this historic building back to life, but by doing so it seems they have revived a local passion in the arts.  It’s a Tuesday evening and I’m taken by the shear number of volunteers helping in the lobby.  The people I meet and the conviction with which they carry out their well-defined roles, from grant writers to administrators to technical personnel to volunteers, are impressive, all engaged and all seeking to make each event the best it can be.

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I must admit, the turnout for our film is a little disappointing, but right before the movie begins a gaggle of people file in and find their seats: it’s the volunteers.  This intimate crowd proceeds to laugh, or gasp, or fall silent at all the right times.  When the credits finally roll the questions are many and the discussion lively.  It’s fun and engaging and from a filmmaker’s point of view it couldn’t be better.  I’d rather have the film resonate with a small crowd than fall flat in a packed house.   And as we wind the evening down someone says, “Next time we’ll do things differently and get more people here.”  I think to myself, you’re doing just fine, Waynesboro.  A few more volunteers and you’ll have a packed house!

Post provided by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker, Donald Mitchell

On Tour: Germantown, MD

24 Feb

February 19, 2017 | HILLEMAN: A Perilous Quest to Save the World’s Children | Germantown, MD

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Artistic rendering of the surface of a human dendritic cell illustrating sheet-like processes that fold back onto the membrane surface, from Dr. Sriram Subramaniam’s lab at NIH – National Institutes of Health

Germantown, Maryland sits close to where Maurice Hilleman lived with his young family while working at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in the late 1940s and 50s.  Having come from E.R. Squibb & Sons right out of graduate school, the government institution offered the perfect hybrid environment for young Hilleman.  It had resources enough to allow him to follow vaccine candidates to their full development, and it provided him the freedom to pursue basic science challenges of his choosing, as long as they were relevant to the needs of the military and its troops.

Just down the road, in Bethesda, MD, the NIH (National Institutes of Health) buzzes with the constant hum of scientific discovery.  In the process of making HILLEMAN, I became aware of Dr. Sriram Subramaniam’s lab at NIH because of our desire to create 3D animations that could help relay the scientific story behind Dr. Hilleman’s many vaccines.  We determined to work with XVIVO in Wethersfield, CT because they had proven to be in a class of their own when it came to scientific animation.  And Dr. Subramaniam’s lab, with its team of scientific sleuths, had revealed rare insights about the structure of many immune cells and the pathogens they combat.  Their work offered inspiration by allowing us to view, with amazing detail, the shape of these tiny heroes and villains.

How did they do this? — By using IA-SEM (ion-abrasion scanning electron microscopy) and other high resolution electron microscopy to reveal the 3-dimensional structure of agents involved in the immune system’s battle against infectious disease.  The process is pretty cool; freeze or fix a microscopic specimen, grind away a super-thin layer by shooting an ion beam at it, then take a photograph with an electron microscope.  Next step: grind away another super-thin layer and take another photo.  Repeat.  And keep repeating until you grind through the entire specimen.  Finally, combine the many two-dimensional photos, one on top of the next, inside a computer program to reveal a 3-dimensional representation of the specimen’s structure.  It’s like a 3D MRI for the super small.  With Black Rock being so close to NIH, I’m honored to have Dr. Subramaniam join us for today’s screening of HILLEMAN.

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Director, Donald Mitchell & Dr. Sriram Subramaniam

Post provided by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker, Donald Mitchell

 

On Tour: Brookville, NY

24 Feb

February 16, 2017 | HILLEMAN: A Perilous Quest to Save the World’s Children | Brookville, NY

Resolve to be always beginning—to be a beginner!

–Rainer Maria Rilke

The Tilles Center at Long Island University seats more than 2,000, by far the largest venue on the tour thus far.  With both a College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences and a School of Nursing I’m expecting that in the Q&A after HILLEMAN screens I’ll have to field a variety of questions about science or diseases, and I get a few of those.  But what surprises me are the couple of students that seem interested more in the filmmaking side.  “How did you come to choose this subject?”  “How did you approach the editing process?”  “Was the story written out first or did it evolve?”

Along with providing answers, the questions get me questioning, and I come to learn that one of these curious students is toying with making a film herself, and not a film about just anything, but about a loved one who is in the midst of battling disease.  It’s a documentary that started as a way for her to deal with a difficult situation and now she’s trying to figure out how to deal with telling the story of that difficult situation.  She’s faced with the unknown; of how her story will end, or how it will begin, or how it will even come together because she’s still in the midst of discovering what the story is truly about.

I’m hard pressed to offer comfort other than to say that she’s in an enviable position, that of being a true documentarian, which is to say that at this moment she can simply let her camera roll and see what it reveals.  The prospect is no doubt a scary one for it requires that she trust in the process of discovery and creativity.  And yet, it’s like being a beginner in anything; it can be uncomfortable, even daunting, but if you embrace it you’re suddenly free to ask any question and at liberty to make any mistake.  And that’s a freedom too often ignored in our haste to find experience.

Post provided by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker, Donald Mitchell

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