15 October 2008

The Lattice of Coincidence

On the first day of the Brooklyn International Film Festival last year, where DAUGHTERS OF WISDOM had its World Premiere, I met a Swedish filmmaker named Lovisa. I ‘collect’ Swedes, so the fact that I found a bright, talented and eager one at a film festival in New York wasn’t a big surprise. We became friends, and 6 months later she invited me to the holiday party for her company Governess Films at a bar in Hell’s Kitchen. There she introduced me to Joseph, a film director/producer and partner in his own production company, Cypress Films. Lovisa said “You have to meet Joe. He’s looking for someone to direct a documentary in Alaska in winter. You lived in Stockholm in winter, you lived in a rural monastic community in Tibet. You’re it”

I did meet Joe at Lovisa’s party, and again at his own holiday party the following week. Turned out he had directed a film from a script that Mike Jones, my friend and old colleague from Filmmaker Magazine, had written. And he was developing another that Annie Nocenti, my old colleague from Scenario Magazine, wrote. So this was destiny, no? I was working on another project at the time, but I started to do some research and Joe and I kept in touch over the next few months, slowly getting more and more excited about the project’s potential. In February, I went to the Sedona International Film Festival with DAUGHTERS. It was a fantastic festival in one of the most beautiful spots on the planet (see the "Sedona on My Mind" entry below). There I met fellow filmmakers Joe and Steve from Tampa, who I spent a fair bit of time with during the festival. They said, “hey, if you’re ever in Tampa, come stay with us.” Sure, like I pass through Tampa regularly.

But lo and behold, two days after I got back from Sedona,
I got an invitation to the Ybor City Film Festival in Tampa, and I was on the phone with Joe and Steve “booking” my room for April. While I was in Tampa, Joe and Steve had some friends over on Saturday night. I got to talking with this guy Joe (are you sensing a pattern? Ha!), who was at the party taking a break from intense packing for his move to…Alaska. He had gone on a cruise there and had never shaken the place. Three determined years later he had found a job up there and was going to drive from Tampa to Anchorage a few weeks later. He was very excited at the prospect of my visit at some point and we kept in touch over the next few months.

Finally, last Wednesday, Joe did indeed pick me up at the Anchorage Airport. We spent the few days after that roaming around in the rain in the scenery south of Anchorage. But it
ned out that he didn’t actually know Joe and Steve in Tampa and had just gone to their house that night with a friend who told him it was time to get his nose out of moving boxes for an evening. Funny how these things happen. Above is a photo Joe snapped of me on the Seward Glacier Cruise. He's a great photographer, and I'll pass his website on to you soon.

Now I’m in the town of Whittier on Prince William Sound, which is my home for two weeks. The people here are great, and I’ve been enjoying getting to know them. The crew arrives on Monday, and this film will be something special if I can help it. Each film is in its own way. But I am struck this morning as I watch the sun rise slowly at 8:30 am into a grey October day, of just how grateful I continue to be for the opportunity I had to make DAUGHTERS OF WISDOM and to share it with such receptive and thoughtful audiences, and for the gift it has now given me to continue my craft in another community of exceptional people.

14 August 2008

How Many Roads

I went to the Bob Dylan concert in Prospect Park, Brooklyn the other night. Never seen good ole Bobby live before so I was excited about it, though I was warned not to expect much. So I didn't, but fortunately I got a lot more than I bargained for - pretty darn good stuff, Mr. Z. He closed out the show with Blowin' in the Wind, still a powerful and sadly relevant little ditty. And also one that always makes me smile thinking about The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and how the great question to the great answer '42' was "How many roads must a man walk down?"

I guess I was feeling pretty contemplative on that breezy delicious park night, because I suddenly thought "Hey, I'm 42" (yep, just like that) and then thought about this year of 42 I've been having and what a long, strange trip it's been (okay, groan, but I couldn't resist). I've traveled to 15 cities so far this year to attend theatrical premieres and film festival screenings of DAUGHTERS OF WISDOM in the US, Canada and Europe (though the film has been to even more). Throughout the winter and spring, I was on a plane every other week there for a while, so along the way, there's been little time to actually slow down and absorb all that has happened with this special slice of a non-arc, non-character, non-narrated documentary of mine. Except when I've had the chance to blog, of course.

But this summer has given me that time, and I'm thrilled that it was bookended by two pretty amazing events. Bookend #1 came in May, w
ith my trip to Trento, Italy, home of the oldest-running (56 years and counting) and most prestigious mountain film festival in the world. It was an incredible week of great food, astounding films and incredible spirit, and did I mention I was in Italy? And did I mention my favorite restaurant with the chestnut and pistachio gnocchi and chocolate salami?! Not only that, we had sold out screenings where people insisted on sitting in the aisles. But wait....not only that, we WON A SPECIAL JURY PRIZE! The prize was in recognition of the film's 'realistic insight' and inspiring 'positive attitude.' Viva Italia! And now we've been invited to so many wonderful other mountain film festivals all over the world, and there's nothing I wouldn't rather do than travel peak to magnificent peak - ah, for a trust fund to call my own! Oh, and that would be the awards ceremony over there on the right.

Okay, so after Italy, the traveling came to a much-needed slow-down. I've been enjoying the summer in NYC more than I've been able to in years, and prepping for Bookend #2 - our exclusive 7 Weeks of Wednesdays run at the Rubin Museum of Art. Back in May 2006, when Carla Ruff was just beginning her editing magic on the film, we had a rough cut screening of DAUGHTERS at the Rubin Museum. The film was definitely rough, and short and preliminary back then, but the evening's event was lovely, and co-sponsored by one of the biggest champions and supporters of the film, the Hartley Film Foundation. And they've been there for us again this time around, co-sponsoring the delicious and elegant July 9 premiere of the completed film. That's yours truly (right) and the dream team of cinematographer Gena Konstantinakos (left) and editor Carla Ruff (center), at the premiere party, donning Katas offered by the museum during the Q&A. That event, and the four subsequent screenings so far, have been sold out. Thank you, New York, and the patrons of the Rubin Museum, for making our run so successful...so far...

Which brings me to my shameless self-promoting plug now. Put the kids in the other room, put the dogs out in the backyard, this is not for the faint of heart. There are still 2 more screenings to go at the Rubin Museum, so buy tickets ahead of time for the August 20 and 27 screenings. Call 212-620-5000 x344 NOW! I'll even stop writing so you can do it....

Okay, I'm back, and just wanted to let you know that if all of this post has been too Italy- and New York-centric for you, please click here to find a screening near you. And if all else fails,
buy the newly released DVD.

Ciao for now!

19 May 2008

Sedona On My Mind

I didn't write from Sedona back in February, partially because the Sedona International Film Festival came during the throes of a lot of traveling for yours truly, and partially because sometimes the mind just has to stop and enjoy when it's in such a beautiful place. I met many great co-conspirators in filmmaking there, and had a lovely, restful time. It's one of those film festivals that is so incredibly supported by the area locals that you just want to make another film to be able to go back there with it. Hats off to festival director Patrick Schweiss and his incredible staff and volunteers....and here's a little something for your viewing pleasure (the latest in the series of 'What in the World..." entries.

Shout-outs though, to two great films that I saw in Sedona that will be making their way to the Brooklyn Film Festival this June: the fiction feature The Blue Hour (playing June 2 & 3) written and directed by Eric Nazarian (who I know from past lives for sure) and the short film Joburg (playing June 6 & 7) by my Sedona B&B cohabitator Thabo Wolfaardt. Please go out and support them!

17 May 2008

Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Protest (look it up)

I’m back in the Pacfic Northwest. A place I’ve been lucky enough to visit a few times during this tour. First was Vancouver last fall, a place I fell truly, madly, deeply in love with. And that’s not just because the nuns were such a hit. (see previous blog entries for details) After three sold out shows at the Vancouver Film Festival we played for a week theatrically in February. I was doing a lot of traveling and couldn’t retrace my steps back up to that fair city. But between those two events, I had the chance to spend a few days opening the film theatrically in Portland, which felt like a close second geographically.

Portland is a great city, and my experience was enhanced by the excellent hosting of Richard Beer, who runs the Hollywood Theatre, and Tara Johnson who co-sponsored the event as part of the POW Fest (which if memory serves, is actually running this weekend). The Hollywood is a grand dame of a theater, an old art deco façade with cavernous space inside, which of co
urse has been divided into three screens at this point, but still. We got some comprehensively stellar reviews in the Portland press, and the turnout was diverse and enthusiastic. I was particularly moved to have several members of the Tibetan community at the first screening who subsequently sent others to follow. They uniformly thanked me for steering clear of the politics and getting to the heart of the people and life in their homeland and I couldn’t have asked for more.

But really, the highlight of the whole trip
was Richard’s young son Harry (Hi Harry!). Harry and I bonded on the ice. In full disclosure, I brokered that deal. I had discovered an ice skating rink in the shopping mall near my hotel, but also discovered to my dismay that there were no adults skating without a wee one by their side. So I lovingly ‘borrowed’ Harry and his sister Maddy for my own selfish ends. In my own defense, Maddy is quite a skater, with her own fancy skates and fabulous skating skirt so it’s not like it was child labor or anything. And Harry and I had a blast playing tag. Here’s my wobbly feet in ugly rental skates.

But now I am in Washington State. Just closed out the run in the Pickford Cinema in Bellingham. I met Michael Falter last year at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival where we sneak previewed last February. He approached me afterwards and said “whenever you want to book a week in Bellingham, you’ve got it.” And so now, nearly a year and a half later, this was the week. It was great hanging out with him and his partner Susan in that beautiful waterside city. The crowd was again very receptive and a group of ‘fans’ even took me to dinner Thursday night. Thanks ladies! Michael and Susan are busy at work renovating a new space to house an expanded cinema/art space in town, and I can’t wait to return to their new home.But now for the past two days I’ve been in sunny Seattle. (who’d a thunk it?) Sunny, hot as blazes, Seattle. I even got sunburned today. Another week run at another jewel of a volunteer-fueled arthouse cinema, the Grand Illusion. Buddha bless you all! It’s been a tough opening, with competition from both the sun which until now hasn’t made an appearance in months. And a pretty great street festival going on right outside. The walls are thin, the street bands loud, so darned if there aren’t going to be people leaving the theater remarking their surprise that live reggae has made it to Tibet. I did manage to purchase a long-sought toe ring. A very kind and overly-enthusiastic chick even windexed my stinky foot and custom fit me (don’t ask). Ticket sales have steadily grown over the last 6 screenings, and hopefully our rave reviews across the board will keep the momentum going. I’m hoarse from a string of 30-minute Q&As (thank you, Seattle) and red-eyeing out of here tonight to catch His Holiness the Karmapa in NYC. The beat goes on!

31 March 2008

Gotta Love the Haight

I’m sitting now in the lobby of the Red Vic Movie House, San Francisco’s gem of a cooperative cinema in the heart of Haight Ashbury. I don’t think there could be a better place for the theatrical premiere of DAUGHTERS. And don't get me started on the popcorn...it's proven after two days that I don't (can't) stop. It's particularly wonderful to be back here in San Francisco and to once again be sharing the film with dear old friends - Sharon, Steve, Eric - who were with me ten years ago, in July 1998 (gulp) when I came here for the World Premiere of my first film, the short doc MAH-JONGG: THE TILES THAT BIND, the little engine that could that a decade later is still going strong.After introducing the first screening yesterday afternoon, I took a walk down Haight Street and had one of those rarified moments when it all sinks in - after 15+ years of independent filmmaking (some of my own work, some for hire), the first feature documentary that I’ve directed is actually playing in theaters (this has actually been going on since January, but my brain is just beginning to catch up to it now).

Then the moment of WOW fades away and all I feel is pure, unadulterated exhaustion…from the push I’ve made over the last months (not to mention years) to get the film – and myself – out there into the world, and to get people into seats to see it. I have grabbed the proverbial brass ring that is theatrical distribution, and damned if I’m not holding on for dear life. So much so that last week my distributor, Udy Epstein of Seventh Art Releasing, gave me an honorary ‘Oscar® for persistence” (they’re not doing such a bad job themselves).

And they like the film, they really like the film. The San Francisco Weekly named us one of the "Three Best Things to Do in San Francisco" tonight, and raves from the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Onion spur me forward through the jetlag and into presentation mode. And a very special thanks to Brigitte Erickson, a fabulous new filmmaker friend I met at the Sedona Film Festival, who booked my interview on KCBS News Radio. So far, I’ve done six 45-minute Q&As (with two more to go tomorrow) to receptive audiences eager to talk about the lives of the nuns, my experiences with them, and of course the current situation in Tibet. Just before coming out to San Francisco, I met with Lama Norlha Rinpoche to find out about any news he’s had directly from Nangchen, and hauntingly, there hasn’t been any yet. We can only hope that the relative spiritual and other freedoms that the people of Nangchen have experienced since the mid 80s will continue.

More coming on some of my recent travels, including to the Sedona and Green Mountain Film Festivals, and the incredible screening at Rivertown Film in Nyack. And Full Frame here we come!

19 February 2008

What In the World...Can You Name a Squirrel?

I met Nan in the lobby of the posh hotel headquarters of the Santa Fe Film Festival. We were fast friends, and we spent a lot of time chatting during my comings and goings to festival activities since she spent all day sitting in the lobby watching people's comings and goings. Eventually, she allowed me to film her for the "What in the World..." project. Sadly left on the cutting room floor are her explanation that she was visiting Santa Fe to attend a meeting of the mansion preservation committee, the story of her nickname "The Countess" at one of the restaurants she visits frequently, and her repeated requests that I meet the two young gentlemen who were 'escorting' her. So without further ado...and yes, those are rhinestones decorating her eyelids - she's phenomenal.

11 February 2008

“You Never Know When a Cow Will Catch Air”

Last night, between films, I was sitting having a coffee with Eva, an Amsterdam-based painter, when she taught me the above expression. We were discussing art-making and you never know what the people will take to, or as we say in the States, what will ‘fly’. I guess for the Dutch, it's those few lucky cows. I wonder if they ever bump into pigs up there. Hopefully, more often than not.

Okay, enough about farm animals. More on the festival. The festival was very lovingly curated by Glenn Mitrasing, a Dutch/Nepalese doctor who just loves Himalayan culture and created this film festival 7 years ago, as well as a Himalayan Film Archive which he now stores in two large safe-deposit cubbies in a bank vault. (That's me with him, voiceless but proud, hanging out at the end of the loooong weekend). There was a very enthusiastic crowd and a great mix of films including a film I first loved at Mill Valley, Riding Solo To The Top Of The World. I also really enjoyed Journey of a Red Fridge, and that’s not just cuz we have the same international sales agent. And even though I screwed up and missed Henriette Lavaulx-Vrecourt's A Long Way To Freedom, if it was a spirited and lovely as she is, I'm sure it was great! (Sorry again!) Saturday night boasted a performance by a Dharmasala-based Tibetan rock group JJI Exile Brothers (to be posted on YouTube shortly - I'll keep you posted). And I frequented the momo stand so often, its proprieters exclaimed “Veggie Momo!” whenever I came near.

And once again, to my delight and gratitude, we had a sold-out show of 300 filmgoers, followed by a lively half hour question-and-answer session that only ended in deference to the next screening. Being the European premiere, with my first non-English speaking audience, I had been concerned about the film’s ‘translation’, more specifically how well they would make it through the delicate balance between getting absorbed in the viewing, and furiously reading subtitles in a foreign language (as good as the Dutch are at English, even Americans have a tough go of it). But clearly it went off well, and there were laughs and gasps in their respectively proper places.

Interestingly, there was one audience member who took me aside afterwards to ask if I didn’t suspect that Lama Norlha Rinpoche was only ‘playing to the camera’ a bit in his wish to elevate the status of nuns and grant self-determination. Surely, a Tibetan Lama would never *really* do such a thing, so naturally he must have just been putting on a show for us. And I once again was reminded just how authentic and unprecedented and *radical* a Lama he really is.

And of course, there is another audience member that needs to be mentioned here. At the end of the Q&A, as I was reaching down for my bag, I heard a familiar voice say “I have a question for you…” It was my dear old friend Eric Vansevenant, who had driven up from Antwerp with his girlfriend Nancy for the screening (which he was late for, but who the *@&# cares?!) Eric and I spent two memorable months living in a communal backpacker community in Tel Aviv in the winter of 1987. We met on the ferry from Athens to Haifa. He oozed pseudo-macho bravado, and after four days of cabin fever, putting up with his antics and ego-infused card-playing, I wrote in my journal that I hoped I never saw the jerk again. Fast forward a week, and we were inseparable. Fast forward 20 years, and except for my gaggle of Swedes, he’s the only one from that one-year backpacking expedition with whom I’ve been steadily in touch. Seeing him Saturday, the years melted away – as they always do as soon as I hear his voice – and it was a joyful afternoon. Thanks for answering the signal, Batman (that’s another story). Again, another one of those moments where you just have to figure that the people in your life, that *stay* in your life, are there for a very good reason.

Speaking of which, I’m now sitting in a pub on Earl’s Court Road in London, meters away from my old flat when I was a student here in 1986. It’s my first time back since then, and this is a much more modern a city than it was so many years ago. But at the same time, it’s feeling so familiar already. This is where my own cow first took wing, and it’s good to come back to the pasture.

07 February 2008

It started out in Amsterhmmmmm

This morning, I arrived in Amsterdam to attend the Himalaya Film Festival, which will host the European premiere of DAUGHTERS OF WISDOM on Saturday. Coincidentally (?) today is Losar, Tibetan New Year, and I am reminded that last year on Losar, I was in Missoula, Montana for the ‘sneak preview’ of the film at the Big Sky Documentary film festival. Makes me wonder what next year has in store, because this last one has been a helluva ride.

Amsterdam holds a special place in my life and my filmmaking career. In the fall of 1987 after I graduated from college, Amsterdam was the gateway to my 11 month + 11 day back-packing expedition through Europe, the Middle East and North Africa (an adventure I am now developing into a film project). In the summer of 2000, I was here en route to Samye Ling Monastery in Scotland to shoot a segment of a film I was producing, and it was there that I joined forces with a European Co-Pro
ducer George Weiss who I had met at the Berlin Film Festival a year earlier.

After landing at Schiphol over an hour early (my good travel karma continues – Chicago? Four hour delays each way into O’Hare? A blip, a dream, a cosmic blooper) I got to the Hotel Asterisk, which miraculously had a room ready for me. I spent all day sleeping (which goes against all ‘tactics’ I’ve ever developed for surviving European jet lag, but was the natural course as soon as I saw the pillow in my hotel room). I awoke, showered in the bathroom down the hall (ah, budget European hotels!) walked out into the beautiful, canal-ed streets of this fair city, and within about ten blocks, found myself standing in front of a Nepalese/Tibetan Restaurant. Butter tea and momos for Losar! A stop into a shop for salt licorice and Droste chocolate pastilles, and the evening was complete.

Tomorrow night, I will again see George Weiss, who now runs a humanitarian NGO called RADIO LA BENEVOLENCIJA, and his partner Robin Brinster of ILLUMINA FILMS who as a result of email blasting George when DAUGHTERS premiered last summer, has now become my international sales agent. My dear friend Liz Locke, an incredible woman who has lived in many corners of the U S of A - most of them dusty – once said that she never leaves a place until she knows why she ended up there in the first place. The odd set of circumstances that led me to meet George in Berlin at the start of my film career, and eventually to Robin in Amsterdam who will shortly be making my first international broadcast sales, presents one of those “oh that’s why” moments I am certainly gratefully humbled by.

I heart Amsterdam!

18 January 2008

Joey Miserable and the Tequila Worm

Santa Fe, say it and you hear music (or mariachis….) I was last there ten years ago and couldn’t wait to return. And the Virgen Guadalupe clearly was smiling down on us because as sure as the yak grunts, the Nuns and I were on our way the first weekend in December for the Santa Fe Film Festival. My good car karma carried over from the great red convertible mustang surprise in Mill Valley, because I became the proud driver of not a Hyundai as anticipated, but a spiffy brand new Jeep Liberty. Welcome to Tamale-wood!

But that was only the beginning of my good fortune. Upon receiving my check-in bag from the lovely Festival folks, I discovered that there was to be a party that night at which Santa Fe’s own JONO MANSON would be performing. Ladies and gentleman, back in the glorious early 80s, your humble narrator squandered way too many hours of her youth to recount (remember?) being as close to a groupie as she’d ever be, listening to the croons and jams of said Jono Manson (nee Frankie Sominex) knocking ‘em out with Joey Miserable and the Worms at Nightengale’s (RIP) in the East Village (RIP again). Ladies and Gentlemen, if you’ve never been fed gummi-worms by a transvestite singing “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me…” then you did indeed miss the glory that was the 80s. And who can forget such timeless ditties as “Pooper Scooper” (‘you gotta jump down, turn around, gotta pick that poop up off the ground’)? Not this Worm-head!

But I digress…for a change. Jono and I did indeed reconnect at the party, and he even sang some of the old tunes I remember well from the vinyl I still own. And that contributed to that building feeling that I was right where I was supposed to be, which had started once I got in that Jeep o’mine.
Not to mention that at the first festival happy hour after my arrival, I had the incredible serendipity (that would become the word of the weekend) to run into a fellow filmmaker at the festival, ANNE NORDA, who I had first met in New York through my friend Ezra. I knew she was going to be out in Santa Fe with her film RED IS THE COLOR OF, but didn’t expect to run smack dab into her (and her mom Tuula) at the first festival event. But keeping in the emerging theme of the weekend, there she was, and we were film fest buddies for the rest of the weekend. At the party where I reconnected with Jono, Anne and also met JAYNE McKAY, a fellow documentarian at the fest for the World Premiere of her film MAYNARD DIXON: ART AND SPIRIT. (Click here to see all of our webcast interviews from the festival, hosted by the fabulous PASHA HOGAN).

I had padded my trip to Santa Fe with an extra day just to visit Chimayo, a Mexican town about an hour outside of Santa Fe –
it had been ten years since I’d been there, but the taste of a shot of Chimayo red chili powder chased with pistachio nuts was still fresh on my tastebuds. Have Jeep Will Travel, and so the next morning, Jayne and I headed up to Chimayo listening to the set of CDs Jono had gifted me with (he’s been very prolific since migrating West). We wandered around tasting chilis, snapping photos, and lighting candles and eating holy dirt (if you have to ask…don’t) in the magnificent old adobe Sanctuario. (Stay tuned for the video of the artist/chili harvester we met there, but here’s a production still courtesy Ms. Jayne - I'm the one on the left.)

It was a beautiful day in the mountains, and we returned to Santa Fe to catch up with Anne and her mom, refreshed and ready for the rest of the festival festivities which included astounding New Mexico cuisine at Café Paquale (yum), chocolate confections at Todos Santos (double yum) and all sorts of other madcap adventures and culinary treats.

And of course, the screening. Full house…again…for the show on Sunday afternoon. The festival did a great job reaching out to the community about the film, and once again, we had a very responsive audience and a lively Q&A. Unfortunately I had to high-tail it to th
e airport right afterwards so couldn’t stick around to hang out with the fabulous Dharma community of Santa Fe including fellow filmmaker DEBRA DENKER, whose short WE ARE THE MOTHERS, opened the screening. Good news, the festival organizers also program the year round screenings at the Santa Fe Film Center, and brought us back a month later for another round of screenings. Bad news, I couldn’t make it back there (sniff sniff).

One other blessed event at the festival was
the start of a beautiful friendship with the fabulous Nan Rogers. Actually, if I had to venture a guess, Nan and I have been pal-ing around on this earth together since our knuckles hit the ground (or maybe even since we had gills). I will say no more about her than to offer this photo – again courtesy Jayne McKay - and a promise that my mini-biopic will be forthcoming on these hallowed pages as soon as I stop traveling so much and start editing!

Speaking of which, on that note I say goodnight from Portland, where DAUGHTERS will screen tomorrow at the Hollywood Theatre. News from that incredible historic movie house to follow….