Tag Archives: reading area community college

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

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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

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: Reading, PA

27 Sep

September 20, 2017 | DEEJ | Reading, PA

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Reading Area Community College (RACC) provides a vital path to the future for almost 5,000 students.  Once a thriving metropolis and transportation hub for the coal industry, (remember “Reading Railroad” on the Monopoly board, anyone?), the city of Reading is working to redefine itself economically in the 21st century – taking advantage of its central location halfway between Philadelphia and Harrisburg – and RACC is a vital part of that.

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Kym Kleinsmith, Robert Rooy, Kathi Bashore

One of the highlights of the On screen/In Person tour is the chance to meet and exchange ideas with students.  I can’t thank Natalie Babb, the Miller Center for the Arts’ Outreach Coordinator, enough for digging deep into my past, way earlier than the creation of Deej.  I found myself in Associate Professor Danelle Bower’s Honors Sociology class, chatting with bright, inquisitive students about international poverty issues and strategies to address them.  I would see a considerable number of them later that evening at the screening of Deej.

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Robert Rooy, RACC student Ali Young, Associate Professor, Danelle Bowers

Natalie, along with Cathleen Stephen, Director of the Miller Center, and Brett Buckwalter, Production Manager, organized a social hour before the screening in which a number of local and regional autism advocates could meet each other and audience goers.  Attendees included:

  • Kym Kleinsmith (RACC Director of Disability Services and Student Behavioral Intervention)
  • Kathi Bashore (M.A. Psychology and Author of Can You Just Love Her? A Mother’s Journey with Autism)
  • Suzie Carpenter (author of On the Bright Side: A Mother’s Story of Love and Healing through Her Daughter’s Autism)
  • Sharon Jones (Director of Include Me, an initiative of The Arc of Pennsylvania)
  • Luci Shaeffer (co-founder of the Unending Promise Fund of the Berks County Community Foundation, geared to improve the quality of life for adults living with autism)
  • Mathew Malfaro, (artist and Autistic, who offered a number of sculptures for sale to patrons) and his mother, Claire.

Kym and Kathi joined me onstage following the screening for a stimulating, informative discussion with an audience whose members seemed unusually invested in the issues that Deej raises.  Thanks, Natalie, Cathleen and Brett!

 

Post provided by On Screen/In Person filmmaker Robert Rooy

On Tour: Blue Bell, PA

2 May

April 13, 2017 | States of Grace | Blue Bell, PA

There has been a lot of planning around this visit and I have received a detailed schedule from Brent Woods, senior director of cultural affairs that includes a tour of their communications facility with Gerry Collom who teaches filmmaking there. It’s well equipped and I enjoy getting to know Gerry a bit and hearing about the program and how it serves a very broad range of students.

Events conspire to bring us a small audience and I use that as an opportunity to turn the Q&A into more of a conversation, asking folks about their reactions to the film and anything that stood out for them.  A young man leads off by commenting how an accident like this could happen to anyone at any time and it’s clear that he can relate to  the experience of someone who is quite different from himself.

A retired occupational therapist comments on Grace’s tremendous motivation and how rare it is to see a patient like this.  I let her know how much Grace’s therapists enjoyed working with her and how much her attitude impacted the quality of care she received.  Before making the film, I hadn’t understood how much reciprocity there is between caregiver and care receiver and how much the patient’s attitude impacts the therapist.

We have an interesting conversation about Fu’s 5-year commitment to caring for Grace, something that has come up in other screenings.  One person sees Fu as being cold and withholding while most others see this as an act of generosity and good boundary setting, especially since Grace and Fu aren’t intimate partners in a traditional (or non-traditional) marriage.  This leads us to talk about the types of expectations that accompany relationships and how, in any type of relationship, it’s important to articulate and negotiate those expectations.

Toward the end of the discussion a woman expresses a view of Grace’s story that I haven’t heard before – that you can see a divine plan behind all of this.  Grace becoming a doctor, Grace and Fu becoming partners and adopting Sabina, the two of them being Buddhists and living in community all create the circumstances for Grace to survive the accident, be well cared for, and heal sufficiently to create an innovative pain clinic that continues to help people.

Post provided by On Screen/In Person filmmaker Mark Lipman

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