Tag Archives: Virginia

On Tour: Germantown, MD

13 Apr

March 26, 2017 | REAL BOY| Germantown, MD

When I arrived in Germantown, MD, I was welcomed by Krista Bradley, Executive Director, and Jason DeMarchi, Director of Education, at the Black Rock Center for the Arts, a beautiful Arts Center outside Washington DC. The space has three theaters and a wide range of programming that serves the diverse population of Germantown.

The local PFLAG group had adjourned their meeting early to come to the screening and by the time the film started, a sizeable crowd had arrived.

This audience seemed especially moved by the film, as many of them were parents of LGBT youth or were themselves trans or non-binary.

After the screening, I was joined for a Q&A by Sean Lare, a DC-based therapist and gender specialist in private practice, who brought a clinical point of view to our conversation. There were several trans and non-binary teenagers in the audience who asked for advice. One young trans man asked if his body dysphoria would ever go away. My heart went out to them in a big way and I was happy to hear they lived in a community with supportive schools and accepting parents.

I had several great conversations with people after the film, and was grateful to meet a longtime fan of my band, Coyote Grace, who, in his mid-50s, has just begun his transition and was deeply moved by the film and the music.

I left feeling tired, but so grateful to be there.

Post provided by REAL BOY protagonist, Joe Stevens, who joined On Screen/In Person filmmaker Shaleece Haas on tour

On Tour: Lewisburg, WV

12 Apr

March 24, 2017 | REAL BOY| Lewisburg, WV

Lewisburg is a small town nestled in the steeper hills and hollers typical of WV on the west side of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The folks I met told me the hippies came and brought the art scene to Lewisburg in the 60s and 70s. Carnegie Hall is a stately white-columned building that has expanded its programming in the last 25 years thanks in part to several grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Before the screening, we had a reception where I chatted with local community members, people who were artists and interested in the arts. Lots of people moved to Lewisburg after retirement, drawn by the “artsy” feel.

I met a woman whose daughter just graduated from film school and moved to Los Angeles. In talking, we realized that her daughter and I had gone to the same arts boarding school in Idyllwild, California. I also met Janet & Steve, a couple in their late 70s/early 80s who invited me out to dinner after the screening.

The audience was wonderfully responsive. I could hear them laugh warmly throughout the film and several people said afterward that the ending made them cry.

After the screening, Janet, Steve, and I walked down the street to the only restaurant still open, a well-loved fusion restaurant where the owner knew everyone by name. We talked about Steve’s time in the Air Force and Janet’s longtime job as an accountant at a local construction company. Their daughter, who is deaf, works at a school in NY and we talked about how, as hearing parents of a deaf child, they related to much of what Suzy (Bennett’s mom) went through in the film. They were grateful to have a story about trans experience come to Lewisburg and as we parted, I thanked them for making the screening so special.

Post provided by REAL BOY protagonist, Joe Stevens, who joined On Screen/In Person filmmaker Shaleece Haas on tour

On Tour: Waynesboro, VA

12 Apr

March 22, 2017 | REAL BOY| Waynesboro, VA

The Wayne Theater sits in the center of downtown Waynesboro, VA, a once-industrial town nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. A large DuPont plant and the Benger Laboratory (where spandex was invented) once employed many of the town’s residents. But de-industrialization has hit the region hard and by 2010, 18% of the population lived below the poverty line. Waynesboro has been growing in recent years, thanks to visits by Appalachian Trail hikers and the regional tourists drawn to the area for its craft beer and artisanal food. The Wayne Theater’s renovation in 2016 is also part of this resurgence. They program a wide range of events, from live music and theater to film and fine art.

We arrive in Waynesboro and are greeted by Tracy Straight, the Wayne Theater’s Executive Director, who invites us down the road to dinner with two of her co-workers from the theater. She tells us about the town’s history and how important she feels it is to bring artistic diversity to Waynesboro and to program events that engage and challenge their audiences.

“The Wayne Theater is Waynesboro’s largest classroom,” Tracy likes to say.

After Joe’s performance, we are joined for the Q&A by several members of the region’s only LGBT community group, based at the local college. The young trans man on the panel shares his personal experience of transition and family support — and reminds the audience that there are trans people in every community, whether or not they’re out or “visible.” “We’re here. We’re part of your community,” he said. “And we may be listening to the things you say about us.”

Came in reticent – ended up warm and expressed gratitude for bringing a film about gender identity and family support to Waynesboro. As we filed out of the theater, an older man approached me and said, “I’m the father of a gay son. I’m supportive, but I have to admit, I don’t know much about transgender issues. Thank you for bringing this film to Waynesboro. It’s so important that we see these stories.”

Post provided by On Screen/In Person filmmaker Shaleece Haas

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.

reading

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.

carnegie

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.

wayne

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

brphoto

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.

brphoto-2

Director, Donald Mitchell & Dr. Sriram Subramaniam

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

 

%d bloggers like this: