g The Film Panel Notetaker: May 2009

Friday, May 29, 2009

A Conversation With Lesley Stahl @ The High Falls International Film Festival, 5/16/09

A Conversation With Lesley Stahl
Saturday, May 16th, 2009 at 9:30 am
Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, New York

Catherine Wyler, Artistic Director, High Falls International Film Festival
Lesley Stahl, Correspondent, CBS News, 60 Minutes

Lesley Stahl (Right) with Catherine Wyler

The friendship of High Falls' Artistic Director Catherine Wyler and Lesley Stahl stretches back decades. Wyler and Stahl were part of a group that met once a month for lunch while living in Washington, DC; the group fell apart after Stahl moved to New York. Over the years, Wyler and Stahl stayed in touch, with Wyler attending the wedding of Stahl's daughter, Taylor, and Stahl being a member of High Falls' Board of Directors. Stahl was scheduled to be at last year's festival until Stahl had to be whisked away to Iran at the last minute.

Catherine Wyler read the opening line of Stahl's 1999 autobiography, Reporting Live: "I was born on my 30th Birthday." Stahl elaborated on that statement, stating, "My career didn't really start until I was 30. The thing with young people is that sometimes they don't know what they want out of life, and I didn't find out until I was 30. [Turning 30] really changed me."

Pushed by her mother to "have a career, not a job", Stahl attended Wheaton College. "A lot of mothers in the 1950s became housewives--it was sort of the ethic then. Betty Friedan wrote about it in The Feminine Mystique. My mother was very frustrated at home. Even before Betty Friedan's book, my mother, when I was in college, told me that I needed to have a career, and that she 'wasn't going to stand for a job'. She wanted a profession out of me." Stahl's mother was willing to support her in whatever field she wanted, so as long as it was something she wasn't going to quit.

Still, journalism wasn't necessarily on young Lesley's agenda; she says that she never worked for any school newspaper. It wasn't until she was working as an assistant to the speechwriter in the Mayor of New York City's office that she decided to become a reporter. One day, she approached a reporter and asked him, "What do you do all day? You wake up, and what happens? " He described his duties, and according to Stahl, "It was like a lightbulb had gone off in my head. I thought, 'I have to do that.'

A few years later, Stahl was working at a TV station in Boston when she heard from CBS News: a memo stated that the next three correspondents hired by the network would be either women or minorities. She said to her fellow producer, "Can you make me a reporter really fast?" Lesley and the producer set about putting together an hour and a half long demo reel, only to be told that most demo reels were only about 20 minutes. In 1972, she was hired along with Connie Chung and Bernard Shaw to be a correspondent for CBS News. Stahl considers herself to be a direct beneficiary of Affirmative Action.

"The first White House I corresponded for were Democrats. They were pro-ERA, and they didn't treat women very well. In comes the Reagan Administration, against the Equal Rights Amendment. All of Reagan's people treated [women] professionally. In the Reagan White House, I was treated like a professional, not a woman."

Wyler brought up a passage from Reporting Live that discussed speculation that Reagan may have already been afflicted with Alzheimer's Disease when he ran for re-election in 1984.

"When a President begins to fail, there a couple of things that come into play," Stahl said. The Wall Street Journal published a piece that noted that Reagan, while debating with Walter Mondale, was "wandering all over the place". While Stahl doesn't insist that Reagan had Alzheimer's then, she spoke with an Alzheimer's specialist, who told her that Alzheimer's "Is a gradual disease. When it starts, there are periods of great lucidity, and then all of a sudden, in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, something's wrong, something's not there, then it hits. People who are having problems try to hide it."

During Reagan's second term, Stahl believes that Nancy Reagan's had more influence and support, and suggested that if Reagan did indeed have an illness, Nancy may have even guarded that secret from the staff. "We'll never know, because she'll never tell." Stahl recently interviewed Nancy Reagan for WowOWow (more about that later), and CBS' Sunday Morning in promotion for a new book by their daughter, Patti:

Watch CBS Videos Online

Stahl emphasized the continuing importance of the media as part of maintaining a democracy. She noted that in countries where press is not free, the Governments have corruption. "When we have corruption, the press calls corruption out." Stahl lamented the current problems Newspapers are facing, but added that this is all part of the system "cleansing itself".

Last year, Stahl added "entrepreneur" to her resume, launching WowOWow.com with Joni Evans, Liz Smith, Mary Wells Lawrence, and Peggy Noonan. WowOWow is targeted at women over 40 with an emphasis on Politics, Fashion, Foreign Policy, and Gossip, among other things.

"I always wanted to own something," Stahl stated, and added that "like Newspapers, we're struggling with ad revenue, and I hope we find a good model, whatever that's going to be."

Q: In what way do First Ladies put their stamp on the White House?

Stahl: I think we would be surprised to find out how important First Ladies are. Presidents become skeptical during their time in the White House of who they can trust. They have to create inner circles that allow them to say what they think, and let their hair down. Today, with blogging and the internet, they have become even more aware. As their circle shrinks, who's left? They go home at night, and probably discuss everything in their lives. Of course, their wives have been partners in their public life.

Most Presidential Marriages get better in the White House. Up until then, the Public isn't around all the time. They travel a lot, they have wives greet people [at the White House]. The wife, 24 hours a day, is a confidante. So the marriage gets stronger, they are together as the President comes home at night.

Q: How do you think Hilary Clinton is doing as Secretary of State?

Stahl: I interviewed her as well [for the Joe Biden interview]. She and Joe Biden have breakfast together every Tuesday. It's part of the Team of Rivals, to make sure that they all get along. My sense from what I got from interviewing her that day was that she was really liking this job. And that was the big question: "Would she really enjoy this?" She wasn't the most powerful senator, but she was certainly the most famous one. I get the sense that the job is another challenge for her. Her specialty as a Senator wasn't Foreign Policy, but she finds the work challenging, and she's really enjoying it.

Q: I'm curious. Do you consider yourself a Feminist?

Stahl: I was working when the Women's movement was really, really powerful. When Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Bella Azbug, were marching, I knew that they were helping me. I knew that I'd gotten to CBS News through Affirmative Action, and I knew that I would be getting equal pay because of them. I was not a feminist in the political sense, because I wanted to achieve that through my abilities. But in my heart, I was a feminist.

(Addressing the questioner, a young woman) Women your age don't like the word feminist, don't want to be called feminist. My daughter doesn't like the word, but when you sit down and talk with them about the struggles and the changes that happened in the '70s, what they were fighting for, and they admire that. Somewhere along the way, the word "feminist" got a negative reputation.

Q: I was watching a TV show several years ago that was a roundtable of women journalists, and they were all talking about their experiences in the business. They were going around the table, and going on and on about, "Oh, it was so terrible, they way me treated us," and it came to you and you said, "Gee, I didn't have those problems. It wasn't that way for me." And they all looked at you like they didn't know what to say. What made your experience different from theirs?

Stahl: Well, for one thing, the attitude. When I was hired, and as Connie was saying [in the roundtable]--we were hired together--I knew the man who hired me wanted me to succeed. He was invested in me coming up. And all the men who were my colleagues also wanted me to succeed. I didn't feel that anyone was trying to sabotage me, unlike my peers. The cameramen were really hard for me to work with, but my eye wasn't there. My eye was on my boss, and doing my job as a reporter. And if I didn't do well, I never allowed myself to fail, never blamed on being a woman. I just felt in my heart that they system would help me as long as I did well. And if I heard someone say something a little off color, I ignored it, and moved on.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Conversation With Pat Carroll at the High Falls Film Festival, May 14, 2009

A Conversation With Pat Carroll
May 14th, 5:30pm, Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, New York

Pat Carroll, Actress
Fred Armstrong, Animatus Studio

Pat Carroll (left) with Fred Armstrong

Pat Carroll first gained recognition in the early days of television, appearing as a regular on Make Room For Daddy, as well as appearances on The Red Buttons Show, The Danny Kaye Show, Password, and To Tell The Truth. In 1956, Carroll won an Emmy for her work on Caesar's Hour. Here's a video from her appearance on Password with Johnny Carson:

Her television work continued with appearances in the 1965 TV version of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella, The Carol Burnett Show, Too Close For Comfort, She's The Sheriff, and ER. For the last 20 years, concentration of much of her work has been doing voice overs for animated shows, including Pound Puppies, A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, Chip 'n' Dale's Rescue Rangers, as well as the movies A Goofy Movie and My Neighbor Totoro. Carroll's best known voice-over role, however, has been as Ursula in The Little Mermaid, which she has reprised for its sequel, the Kingdom Hearts game series, and several episodes of House of Mouse.

A member of The Actors Studio, Carroll has appeared in stage productions of Our Town, Electra, The Merry Wives of Windsor, as well as Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, for which she won a Grammy Award for its recording in 1981. Her career extends to motion pictures, with live-action appearances in With Six You Get Eggroll, Songcatcher, Freedom Writers (as Miep Gies), and Nancy Drew.

The conversation began with Fred Armstrong introducing Carroll with her extensive list of credits on stage, in movies, and in television, followed by a ten-minute montage of her screen work. Armstrong asked Carroll how she got into show business. At age 5, while living in El Paso, Texas, her family's Mexican maid, Maria took Pat to a play in Mexico, which mesmerized the young girl. At age 12, now living in Los Angeles, Pat looked up a theater company in the Yellow Pages and was soon cast as Emily in their production of Our Town. She commented, "Whenever people ask how I got started, I always say "The Yellow Pages!"

Our Town is Carroll's favorite American play, and Thornton Wilder is Carroll's favorite American playwright. She may have been cast as Emily, but her favorite role was as the Stage Manager. At the time, the role was played by a man, but in 2002, Carroll got her chance to play the role in a Bethesda, Maryland production. When a friend of her daughter's saw Carroll play the role, she remarked to someone, "Isn't it wonderful that Pat Carroll is playing that role?" and the other person responded, "That isn't a male role! That was written for a woman!"

Carroll went to college and taught drama at a Catholic High School. She wanted to go to New York right after high school, but her parents refused. At age 20, she finally did go to New York, made the casting rounds, getting cast in Summer Stock productions. This led her to getting cast on television on The Red Buttons Show (her first TV appearance), and Make Room For Daddy (now known as The Danny Thomas Show). Carroll believes she owes much of her recognition on stage by the audience to her TV work.

Segueing into the voice-over work, Carroll talked extensively about her work in The Little Mermaid. The Little Mermaid was Disney's first big hit in years, following a long slump that included The Fox and the Hound. Carroll doesn't believe it was any accident, though.

"The quality control on that film was superb." She said.

One day, while she was working on the film, she was speaking to her daughter. Carroll was very cranky and felt exhausted by the work when her daughter pointed out to her, "It seems to me that you were raised on quality Disney Films, you raised your children on quality Disney Films, and even after all the theater and television you have done, 50 years from now, this is what you'll be remembered for." Carroll realized her daughter was right.

She also spoke of collaborating with animators, saying, "Many times, you people who animate are artists. You are creative. We who are voice actors, are not. We are interpretive." As she was doing voice work, she noticed that they had video cameras on her and she wondered why. After asking, she found out that they tape the voice over sessions to help the animators with drawing the character.

She talked about preparing for her roles as Gertrude Stein and Miep Gies. Dialect work has long been out of fashion, as Carroll remarked, but decided to take the role of Miep Gies anyway. To prepare for her role in Freedom Writers, Carroll watched and listened to Gies everyday for three months to pick up her dialect.

Q: What did you do to win the Emmy for Caesar's Hour?

Carroll: I did hard work! Actually, I played a waitress who is about to get fired for being truthful, and my character goes up to Sid Ceasar and asks, "Is there anything I can do to help you? I'd be happy to do anything!"

Jack Garner: When you're doing your voice work, what is your reaction to doing it? On one hand, I'd think you'd have a lot of creative freedom, because you only have your voice to worry about--you don't have to worry about what you look like. On the other hand, your body is limited so you can't use all of it.

Carroll: When you're concentrating on your voice-over work, you're not thinking about your body. Unbeknownst to you, you might say something, and your hand will come up, and that's why the bloody camera is there!

The Disney Studio, for the first time in their history, had a reading of The Little Mermaid at a recording studio in Hollywood. They flew in all the New York actors, I was there, and all of our people were there. We started our show. It was a 2 1/2, 3 hour session, and I had to get to another studio after it was recorded. After it was done, they found out that nothing had recorded. I was so disappointed. It was the first time in the history of the studio that they had even attempted to do that, and it was blown technically, and I can't tell you why.

Interesting that as you get accustomed [to voice-over work], you become part of the loneliness. It's always good to be surrounded by other actors. When you're doing voice-overs, it's just you and the folks in the booth.

Armstrong: Who was your favorite comedian to work with, and your least favorite comedian to work with, and why?

Carroll:My favorite was Jimmy Durante. I was doing a series of revues. He spotted me, and hired me for a special. As a little girl, I adored him. During rehearsals, I was so nervous. After a week of rehearsals, he asked me to [come out to Hollywood] and do his show. I called my parents, who also adored him, that I was coming out to do his show, and at the time, they didn't own a television, so they went out and bought one. Then they decided to come to the taping and see me live.

When it was time to introduce me on his show, Jimmy announced, "Now, folks, I found this little girl, and her name is Pat Crowley!" The director looked at me and he said, "He does that." I came onstage and said, "Jimmy, I thank you for the introduction, but my name is Pat Carroll, not Pat Crowley" and he says, "Who's Pat Crowley?" He was the kindest human being who could walk with presidents and kings--that's the kind of man he was.

My least favorite comedian to work with? Danny Kaye. He used to say he liked children, but in reality, he hated them. If you don't like kids, just come out and say so! I don't like that type of phoniness in a person, never have, whether it's a star, or a human being. He was wonderful to work with, until he found out that I was pregnant with my third child.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Q&A for "Saint Misbehavin" at High Falls Film Festival, May 13, 2009

Q & A Session for
Saint Misbehavin'
High Falls Film Festival
Little Theatre, Rochester, New York
May 13, 2009


L-R: David Becker, Michele Estrick, Wavy Gravy, and ???? (name

Q: To the producer and the director, how did you start, how long did it take--

????: The genesis of the film--

Estrick: I met Wavy in '92, we did some benefit work in '96 for a couple of years, and I've never met anyone like him in my entire life.  I thought that everyone who got the privilege to be around him felt like going out and helping somebody.  I saw a light around him, a good light.  So I thought, "I've got to introduce him, the real Wavy Gravy, not what a lot of people think of him as."  But also, I really wanted to put him in front of as many people as possible around the world to see how fun it is to make world a better place.

Q: Just to follow up, I read that you worked on the film for a decade.  How did that happen?

Estrick: How did the decade happen?

Q: Did you literally start ten years ago?

Estrick: Yes.  The first shoot was at Woodstock '99, which didn't end up in the film at all.  We ended up with about 350 hours of footage, and the movie is 87 minutes long, so we have lots of Gravy!  We were in the editing room for two years.  Wavy has about ten films, at least.  I could've made a film about anything.  I didn't want to make a biography, I wanted the film to be his message.  You really have to figure out which story you want to tell, and picking the right story to tell.  And if you're ever with Wavy, he'll tell a story about right now, and then he'll go back to the past, and then come back to the present, and so that's what it's like to be with him.

Q (to Wavy Gravy): What are the major differences between the '60s and now?

Wavy: I've always believed that we're the same person trying to shake hands with ourselves.  These are the good old days.  Everyone says, "Oh, God!  I miss the sixties!  I loved it!"  Well, Eternity Now!

Q (from ????): How did you get through the past eight years?

Wavy: One breath at a time!  As I say, I prefer to smoke bush rather than pay attention to him.

Q: I'd like to know how you learned about clowning.

Wavy: My own training came about through an improvisational group called The Committee.  The type of clowning I employ is called intuitive clowning, rather than classical clowning.  There's the Ringling College in Sarasota if you want to learn that type of clowning.  The kind of stuff that I do comes from within.

Q: Can Grown-Ups come to the camp?

Wavy: We have nine weeks for the children, and one week for the grown-ups.  You can come for one day, or one week.

I would also like to say one thing.  This film was made before the last election.  For many years, I supported Nobody for President, and a lot of anarchists got steamed because I defected to Barack Obama.  So I told them, "Nobody made me do it!"

Q: How long did you work with Tiny Tim, and what was he really like?

Wavy: For many years.  Tiny Tim would have these old time Philco players come inside him and he would channel them.  I remember one time we were doing a show and he came off the stage upset, and I asked, "What's wrong, Tiny Tim?"  and he said, "Rudy Vallee came inside, and he wouldn't leave."

Q: Did you ever write with Robert Hunter, and if so, what was that relationship like?

Wavy: No.  He's writing with Dylan.

Q: Do you still see Bob Dylan?

Wavy: I haven't seen Dylan much lately, he tends to be pretty reclusive.  But he put out another damn fine album this year, I don't know if you have checked it out.

Q: There's a controversy about what kind of lunch box you used to sell weed out of.  Was it a [inaudible], or a Donald Duck lunch box?

Wavy: I would stand on the corner of Haight and Ashbury and sell a lid, but they were just the tops of my Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Flavor.

Q: Why couldn't the Hog Farm vehicle persuade Jerry Rubin to come out of his madness?

Wavy: Jerry was on his way.  He'd started a big vitamin company and was jaywalking when he was terminated.

Q: Mr. Gravy, this is a serious question.  I think you're a sage and a visionary.  What do you believe will happen with aging flower children?  I mean, what's going to happen to all of us?

Wavy: I am nostalgic for the future.

Q: With all the things you've done in your life, is there anything else you would sort of like to accomplish?

Wavy: First of all, you gotta know that 501 (c) 3's are really taking it in the gut, and the Seva Foundation is an organization that is near and dear to me, and is in desperate, dire straits.  And if you want to, check us out at seva.org.  Seva is a sanskrit word that means "to service of humankind".  We not only work with blindness, but we're also taking on diabetes in the Indian Reservations.  With talking circles and elders, and their campaign to bring back the Buffalo, and actually have made a Winnebago reservation made for it.  So I'm more than just another pretty face!

Estrick: I like it when Wavy says when we're at a restaurant, and the waiter says, "Can I get you anything else, sir?", and he says, "a side order of humankind while you're at it!"

Q: What are you planning on doing with the movie now?

Becker: One of the things that we're going to do is do a college tour with the film. We're going to bring Wavy and some of his friends, and some musicians along with us. We really want to reach the younger generation at colleges and at public schools--those are great places to take the message. So it's going to be a big part of the outreach program that we do to get the film in front of young people. We think that now is a great time to tap into young people, with all the hope and inspiration that's going on in the country. To show that you really can change the world, and have a good time doing it. That's one of the goals for the film.

Q: Can you talk about the distribution of this wonderful film?

Estrick: We would love for you to go to our website, and sign up to be on our e-mail list so that we can let you know where we'll be next, and what's happening. We're talking to distributors now. We're not sure what's going to happen, we just know that we want to pour some Gravy on the world.

Q: Where will you be next?

Becker: We premiered at SXSW, and played the Santa Cruz and Full Frame Documentary festivals. We'll be doing Michael Moore's Film Festival, The Woods Hole Festival in cape Cod, a festival in Oklahoma City called The Dead Center Film Festival, and we're going to do a big, free screening.

* If you know the name of this person, don't hesitate to contact Erin. (But remove the "dontspamme" part).

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

IndieGoGo Passes $100,000 in Member Contributions

Slava Rubin sent me excellent news that over $100,000 has been raised by filmmakers on IndieGoGo in its short 15-month history so far. Congratulations to IndieGoGo, and thank you for continuing to include The Film Panel Notetaker as a resource. Read more about the announcement below. Cheers!

Berkeley, California, May 13, 2009 – Indiegogo.com, the most trafficked website for film funding, marked its fifteen month anniversary by passing $100,000 in member contributions. Founded on the principles of opportunity, transparency, choice, and action, IndieGoGo addresses fundraising and promotion challenges by giving any filmmaker an open platform and the turn-key solutions to pitch their projects to the world. Fans get the opportunity for VIP perks and influence the once inaccessible world of filmmaking.

Since launching in January 2008 at the Sundance Film Festival, IndieGoGo has:

  • Become the most trafficked website for film funding with over 1,000,000 pageviews
  • Raised over $100,000 in contributions ranging from $5-$5000; many contributions have come outside of the filmmaker’s immediate network
  • Empowered over 5,000 filmmakers in 93 countries
  • Enabled over 1600 free project profiles including award winners at Sundance and beyond
  • Included projects ranging from comedies and horrors to social cause documentaries; from features to webisodes, and scripts to distribution support
  • Reached 100’s of thousands of widget impressions across 1100+ sites
  • Given fans access to many VIP perks including film credits, cast parties, and speaking roles
  • Partnered with Facebook, IFP, the largest U.S. non-profit film organization, Tubemogul, and the Workbook Project
  • Participated in industry-leading discussions at the Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals, Internet Week NY & Power to the Pixel
  • Built a strong grassroots following in the blogosphere, Facebook, and Twitter

"IndieGoGo is proud that its members have raised over $100,000 in contributions,” said IndieGoGo Co-Founder Slava Rubin. A Wharton undergraduate-educated former strategy consultant, Rubin traded his eight years with Fortune 500 clients like Goldman Sachs and Fedex, to partner with a pair of UC Berkeley MBA graduates to create IndieGoGo and empower filmmakers. Danae Ringelmann, a six-year veteran in media banking with clients including Lionsgate, Pixar, and Universal, became the chief of finance and customer development. While Eric Schell, a tech consulting veteran with clients including AOL and VISA, became the Chief Technology Officer.

With over 1600 projects on IndieGoGo there have already been many case studies of fundraising and promotion. “As projects demonstrate success on IndieGoGo, they have parlayed that into reaching new production milestones, winning festival awards, and even getting distribution deals,” said Rubin. Some highlights include TAPESTRIES OF HOPE, FLOW, THE LILLIPUT, UP WITH ME, and GEMINI RISING. "Like the music industry, filmmakers are looking for easy online solutions. We are excited so many members have chosen IndieGoGo to empower their DIWO (Do-It-With-Others) approach to fundraising and filmmaking.”

About IndieGoGoIndiegogo.com is a website that connects filmmakers and fans to make more film happen. Launched in 2008 on the principles of opportunity, transparency, choice, and action, IndieGoGo’s goal is to addresses fundraising and promotion challenges by giving any filmmaker an open platform and the turn-key solutions to pitch their projects to the world. IndieGoGo is the most trafficked site in film funding and has been featured in top-tier media and blogs including BBC, AP, Reuters, Filmmaker Magazine, Techcrunch, and global conferences like the Sundance Film Festival. IndieGoGo is headquartered in Berkeley, CA.


Saturday, May 09, 2009

Route '21 Below' QEW (not BQE) to HotDocs

My mom and I drove from my hometown of Grand Island, New York (an actual Island between Buffalo and Niagara Falls), to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on Friday to attend HotDocs (my first trip back since 2006). At the end of our day, I stopped at a gas station in downtown Toronto to ask for directions to get back onto the BQE (Brooklyn-Queens Expressway) heading towards Niagara Falls. I quickly corrected myself and asked for the QEW (Queen Elizabeth Way) instead, realizing I'm not in Queens/NYC (where I actually call home now) anymore. How ironic my confusion, as the feature documentary we saw earlier that afternoon, 21 Below, takes place in Buffalo, "The Queen City" as it's nicknamed, and also in a sense, questions just exactly where home is, especially in one of its leading characters, Sharon, who now lives outside of New York City, but goes to Buffalo to help take care of her family.

While touching on issues of health, race and economic hardships, the heart of 21 Below is a personal and intimate journey of familial relationships, which at times is both humorous and heart breaking. Directed by Samantha Buck, 21 Below centers on a suburban Buffalo family headed by matriarch Peggy whose daughters all live very different lives, whether it's eldest Sharon, who lives five and half hours away with her husband Jason, or youngest Karen, who lives in a low-income neighborhood with her former gang-member African-American boyfriend Courtney and his daughter. Karen has children of her own, one of whom has a rare genetic disorder known as Tay-Sachs Disease. Sharon, who is pregnant with her first child, comes to town to help Karen take care of Maya, and also to help mend Karen's relationship with always worried Mom Peggy, showing that the ties that bind a family can either bring everyone together or tear everyone away.

Samantha, Sharon and producer Jennie Maguire, spoke after the film during a Q&A. When asked by the moderator what the process was of making the film and how they all met, Samantha said it all started back in 2004. The three of them originally wanted to make a film about young feminists during the 2004 U.S. Presidential campaign. Karen was in Samantha's apartment when baby Maya was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs. It was then that they had a gut moment to write about this, and three weeks later they were in Buffalo.

Where did the title 21 Below originate from, an audience member asks. Samantha said it stemmed from the City of Buffalo itself and the stigma of it being a cold city. That and the fact that Karen already had three kids by the time she was 21. But the deeper meaning behind the title is the temperature within a family's walls and their desperation to communicate with one another.

With Karen being so central in the film, another member of the audience asked if the film is meant to be about her or the family. Samantha replied that she always thought the main protagonist was the family itself. She wanted the audience to relate to the family. The situation with Maya was an extraordinary circumstance, and the rest is typical of most families.

Sharon was asked how it felt to see such an intimate aspect of her life on a large screen with strangers, and what was her family's motivation to make this film. She exclaimed that it was bizarre and not particularly pleasant. Everyone was hesitant to do it. Sharon's father who was in the audience said it was extremely uneasy for him to watch the film, but he was very proud of their work.

One final comment from the audience was how the film seemed to capture a great sense of place, that being Buffalo. I agree. There were many locations I recognized from growing up in and around the city and its suburbs, but even if I were not from there, I would get a good understanding that there's more than the stereotype of the chilly, snowy winters of Buffalo. It is also a place of warmth and comfort, even in the hardest of times. And while I don't call it home anymore, I will always be drawn back to it.

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Monday, May 04, 2009

Richard Gere attends "Mustang - Journey of Transformation" at Tribeca Film Festival

Last week, I met filmmaker Will Parrinello at the Documentary Press Meet & Greet at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival. Will's short documentary Mustang - Journey of Transformation screened Sunday night at Tribeca Cinemas where actor Richard Gere, who narrates the film, appeared for a Q&A with Will. Because I was unable to attend the screening myself, Will kindly sent me an email discussing the events of the evening. What follows is Will's email:

Will Parrinello and Richard Gere. (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)

After shorts programmer Sharon Badal intro'd us, I talked about the reason I asked Richard to narrate the film (his 25 years supporting the Tibetan people, as a founder of the Tibet House NYC and Chairman of the Board of the International Campaign for Tibet). He then joked that I only selected him because I knew he knows how to pronounce all the unusual Tibetan words. Having just returned from a visit to India and Nepal, he went on to give an update about the political situation for the Tibetan's there as well as some background on the cultural significance of Mustang - once the most important outpost of western Tibet.

I was obviously thrilled and honored to have him there and appreciated how he generously and egolessly gave of himself and his time.

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