Tag Archives: On Screen/In Person

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

Advertisements

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.

IMG_9949

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: Bloomsburg, PA

21 Nov

October 16, 2017 | Oil & Water | Bloomsburg, PA

The Road to Bloomsburg

IMG_9841

The Road to Bloomsburg, PA is both beautiful and blighted, with breathtaking views of rivers and forests, as well as vivid reminders of an energy industry that is dead, dying, or fraught.

The route winds through Schuylkill County to Ashland, a crumbling coal town that announces itself from a sign on the chain-link fence surrounding a football field. The “Ashland Black Diamonds” won the Pennsylvania state high school football champions back in 1935. I was struck by the sight, as Oil & Water features footage of a similar athletic field in a poor Ecuadorian oil town, only there the sign on the fence says “Bienvenido” (welcome), with a smiling oil drop mascot.

IMG_9851

Grayish buildings and weathered banners bearing the photos of war veterans line the full length of the main road through town. Ashland’s glory days ended with the Great Depression and the coal mine was closed. Just north of Ashland lies Centralia, an abandoned and polluted town where an underground mine fire has burned since 1962.

From there, the road winds through lushly forest hills to Bloomsburg on the banks of the Susquehanna River. Bloomsburg is an oasis made up of tidy homes and businesses in a valley that looks up the hill to stately Bloomsburg University. Here I was welcomed by Civic Engagement Coordinator Tim Pelton. Tim is the affable former editor of a leading scuba diving magazine, who has stories to tell about working with Jacque Cousteau as well as film crews from the James Bond franchise. Before the screening we chatted about the state of the journalism profession (I’m a former newspaper reporter) and the other environmental films he brings to the university.

IMG_9821

Tim Pelton (left) and Francine Strickwerda

Tim facilitated an engaging discussion with Bloomsburg students and local community members who asked smart, heartfelt questions following the screening of Oil & Water. One audience member wanted to know what I got personally from my experience directing Oil & Water. Filmmaking allows me to explore and find meaning, especially in dark places. With Hugo and David’s story we shined a light on a terrible injustice and saw hope for the future; something we all need. Further, sharing that story in person with communities like Bloomsburg increases the impact and grows connections, and that is awesome.

While my trip to the university was too brief, Tim’s warmth and the earnest interest showed by audience members left an impression. I was buoyed by the people I met and their concern for the world around them, from their own backyard, all the way to Ecuador. As I drove away from the town, toward my next stop on the tour, I wound back past Ashland, the rivers, and the trees.

Post provided by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker Francine Strickwerda

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.

IMG_9807

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.

IMG_9811

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.

IMG_9813

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

On Tour: Philadelphia, PA

24 Oct

October 10, 2017 | Oil & Water | Philadelphia, PA

Oil & Water — On the Road Again

As I arrived at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia last week for the first screening on our new Mid Atlantic Arts tour, I checked the newsfeed on my phone to discover the latest threat to the planet. The Environmental Protection Agency had just announced plans to withdraw the Clean Power Plan, the Obama-era rule regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s been three years since we released Oil & Water to the world. The film, about two boys coming of age as they fight for environmental justice in the Amazon, has never been more relevant, and not for reasons we could have expected. Environmental protections in our own country are increasingly under attack. Who could have predicted that the EPA would be run by Scott Pruitt, a man who had previously sued the EPA 14 times, or that we would have a president who campaigned on the promise of dismantling the very institution itself?

Oil & Water came about in part because there was no EPA in Ecuador, and the oil industry behaved in whatever ways they could get away with. Hugo Lucitante, one of the film’s main characters, and his tribe, the Cofan people, are still dealing with the crushing effects of oil pollution, and trying to protect the land they have left against the threats of oil companies and other outsiders. They’ve been pushed to the edge of their territory, and every day that passes brings them closer to future with a diminishing likelihood of survival.

After the screening, audience members wanted to know, “How can we help?” For those moved to help in Ecuador, there are a variety of non-profits that are working on the ground, including the organizations featured in the film, The Cofan Survival Fund (www.cofan.org) and Equitable Origin (www.equitableorigin.org). But one also need look no further than one’s own backyard, because these problems are everywhere.

In Pennsylvania where I’m touring the film, controversy swirls around fracking and new natural gas infrastructure projects like the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, that when completed, will carry natural gas through 10 counties. Despite opposition from farmers and other land owners, industry is seizing private land through eminent domain. Many are protesting out of fear for the safety of their drinking water.

As a filmmaker, I’m feeling especially grateful to the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation and all our screening hosts for the opportunity to get out and talk about the work of Oil & Water’s extraordinary young stars, Hugo Lucitante and David Poritz. And especially for the opportunity to listen to the stories of the people I’m meeting in audiences and university classroom visits along the way. Energy issues and the care of our environment affect us all. As I like to say, we’re all in this together. Let’s figure it out.

Post provided by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker Francine Strickwerda

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.

Wilmington 02

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.

Wilmington 01

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.

Atlas 03

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.”

Atlas 01

[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.

Atlas 04

[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

%d bloggers like this: