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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Full Frame video interview: Jarred Alterman discusses Convento

Posted by on Sat, Apr 16, 2011 at 9:16 AM

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Full Frame Day 2: Thoughts on The Pipe and Oregon, plus Day 2 preview, Barbara Kopple and guns

Posted by on Fri, Apr 15, 2011 at 11:23 AM

Virginia Tech survivor Colin Goddard in Barbara Kopples Gun Fight
  • Virginia Tech survivor Colin Goddard in Barbara Kopple's Gun Fight
Indy scribes fanned out through theaters Thursday. It was gratifying to see familiar faces, and healthy attendance in the rooms. A few thoughts about Day 1 before we dash off for Day 2.

Kate Dobbs Ariail writes in about The Pipe:

My dumpster-diving vegan, abandoned building-sqatting, freight train-hopping niece alerted me to the story of The Pipe a couple of years ago. At that time, she was an aspiring activist journalista without much training in the separation of fact and passion, so I discounted her tale, which she’d picked up while in Ireland. I owe her an apology. The perfidy of Shell and the complicity of the Irish government with Shell and against its own people are horrifying. The Pipe—though a first feature-length film for its director, Risteard Ó Domhanill, is calm, lucid and utterly damning. The filmmaker was right there when people were willing to put their bodies on the line for their land and their waters: when they went out in rubber boots and storm coats to face the Garda and Shell’s mercenaries, in order to be dragged off to jail; when they took their fishing boats up against the tremendous ships of the multinational petro-colossus and the Irish Navy, again and again after making bail; when went go into the water in wetsuits, for God’s sake, to attempt to halt the dredging of an “environmentally protected” area—that’s courage way off the scale of 1 to 10.

We caught Peter D. Richardson's How to Die in Oregon, which lived up to its advance billing as a powerful, sensitive look at people who have taken advantage of that state's death-with-dignity law. Although Richardson and Full Frame programming director Sadie Tillery told the audience we were "brave" for watching this film, the whole point of the central character, Cody Curtis, and her struggle against terminal liver cancer, was precisely that she wasn't particularly brave. Death is a fate we all have to meet, whether we're brave or cowardly, a good person or a bad person. In Curtis, we had a fairly ordinary middle class woman in the prime of life who has to confront early death. Although she prepares to terminate her own life, it's clear that she prefers to die passively, to "drift off." I've seen other assisted-suicide films and I'm always a little frightened of the people we see, such as the first death in How to Die in Oregon, who loudly demand the right to die, grabbing the poison and gulping it down. That's not Curtis, and frankly, that's not me—at least not yet.

According to those of a stoical bent, life is a process of preparing to die. But not many of us are really prepared to welcome at death so openly; for most of us, death is a passive process and we hope to be taken painlessly, when we're not looking. Curtis seems to be no different, and the film's power comes in seeing this appealing, thoughtful and very normal woman spending a year composing herself for her premature death.

How to Die in Oregon is very fine film, though I wish Richardson had devoted a few more minutes to a serious examination of the ethical concerns about legally enabling people to take drugs to hasten their demise. Instead, opposing views are given very briefly to a embittered, wizened old guy who seems to live in a Dixie flag-festooned trailer park and a doctor who seems to be part of a Christian protest rally.

And now to Day 2... Today's heavy hitters are Barbara Kopple's Gun Fight (see below), Nancy Buirski's The Loving Story and James Marsh's Project Nim.

At 2 p.m. in Fletcher Hall, catch Raising Renee, a portrait of Durham artist Beverly McIver and her relationship to her disabled sister (Chris Vitiello's review is here; Ashley Melzer's interview with filmmakers Jeanne Jordan and Steven Ascher is here).

At 4:40 p.m., catch Durham filmmaker Josh Gibson's Kudzu Vine. Read Sylvia Pfeiffenberger's appreciation here.

In Durham Central Park at 8:30 p.m., there's a free screening of the parkour celebration My Playground, which received an enthusiastic reception last night in Cinema 3.

There are two films by career-award winners Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern, The Devil Came on Horseback and Joan Rivers (read Neil Morris' interview with the filmmakers here; read Nathan Gelgud's 2010 Indy review of the latter film here).

But our pick hit of the day is is the double bill of Il Capo and Buck, playing in Cinema 3 at 1:10.. Find out why by checking out our capsule review blurbs.

Last week I spoke to Barbara Kopple about her new film Gun Fight. It premiered earlier this week on HBO and will be rebroadcast and shown on demand through May 8. Although Bowling for Columbine remains the seminal doc on the topic of American gun policy (and it was a watershed in the commercial viability of documentaries, too), I find that I prefer Kopple's lucid, restrained and non-sensationalist treatment of the issue.

But I also found it ironic: In 1977, the 30-year-old Kopple shot to fame with Harlan County U.S.A., for which she won the Oscar for best documentary. This riveting film told the story of a Kentucky coal miners strike and the women who assumed the backbone of the movement. The film achieved the force of a Western as the strikers faced off with the mine company’s hired muscle in an armed standoff, and there perhaps was no scene as memorable as the meeting where one union firebrand, a middle-aged woman, punctuated a speech by pulling a pistol from her bra. [See trailer here; the redoubtable Lois Scott appears at 2:00.]

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Full Frame video interview: Jeanne Jordan and Steven Ascher discuss Raising Renee

Posted by on Fri, Apr 15, 2011 at 10:46 AM

Raising Renee screens at 2 p.m. Friday in Fletcher Hall. Read Chris Vitiello's story about the film here.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"The storytelling animal": Salman Rushdie at Duke

Posted by on Wed, Apr 13, 2011 at 11:23 AM

Salman Rushdie speaking at Duke's Page Auditorium, Tuesday, April 12, 2011 - PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE


Salman Rushdie's lecture Tuesday night, at Duke University's Page Auditorium, was technically "sold out," although tickets were free. So it seemed appropriate that Rushdie began his engaging and witty talk, "Public Events, Private Lives: Literature and Politics in the Modern World," the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute's Distinguished Lecture, by talking about Charles Dickens.

As Rushdie recounted for the audience, Dickens was probably the first really famous novelist. In his travels to America, he "perform[ed] greatest hits from his works"—spicing up the act by adopting the different voices of his characters—for packed houses, and was chased down the street by fans. Dickens was the 19th-century prototype for the rock star (and he "invented Christmas," as Rushdie put it, with a wry grin).

Dickens' overexposure also led to his demise, Rushdie said. That may not be quite accurate, historically—although Dickens grew ill during his second American visit, in 1867-68, it wasn't until over a year later that he had a stroke, and another year after that until he died. But it seems plausible that the poor health that befell Dickens during his wintertime American travels weakened him and made him vulnerable to the maladies that finally killed him.

In any case, opening with Dickens was shrewd on Rushdie's part. Without saying so explicitly, Rushdie essentially anointed himself the Dickens of his time, and he may be right: Like Dickens, he is not only wildly, peerlessly famous (and a Londoner), the author of many beloved books, but also, like Dickens, imperiled by exposure. Hovering over everything Rushdie does is the legacy of what he called "the excrement that hit the ventilation system" after he published The Satanic Verses in 1988. In what was surely the bloodiest valentine ever sent, on Feb. 14, 1989, the Ayatollah Khomeini "sentenced" him to death.

As Rushdie gleefully pointed out, the author of the novel is still alive while the author of the death threat is not—in fact, the Ayatollah died just months after issuing it. Rushdie concluded: "All I can say is, do not mess with novelists."

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The next big thing: Triangle gaming designers to gather today and tomorrow

Posted by on Wed, Apr 13, 2011 at 9:35 AM

angry-birds.jpg
Those heading downtown to the Raleigh Convention Center for the East Coast Game Conference on April 13 and 14 might learn the secrets behind creating the next hit video game that lets players solve a puzzle, learn a skill, or find new ways to dismember an enemy.

The conference’s highlight is “Unreal University,” highlighting Cary-based Epic Games’ Unreal Engine, a game development tool that’s been licensed out to other companies to help create such hits as BioShock and Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Along with offering previews of such anticipated Epic projects Gears of War 3 and Samaritan, the conference features veteran Unreal Engine 3 developers offer free advice for young designers looking to create their own games with the Unreal Engine. Representatives from major companies such as Bungie (Halo), Insomniac Games (Ratchet & Clank) and many more will also be in attendance, with critique sessions offered for attendees.

Veteran game creator Mark Cerny’s keynote “The Long View” examines a distinct aspect of the Triangle gaming industry: Though it took a few hits in the economic downturn, it’s remained a strong center of creative, technological and economic innovation in the Triangle.

“We’ve been nicked up, but the fundamentals are good,” says Wayne Watkins, project manager with Wake County Economic Development and one of the conference’s co-founders. “It’s not a false economy.”

Watkins touts the 1,000 attendees of last year’s conference and more importantly, House Bill 1973, which went into effect Jan. 1. The bill provides a 15 percent tax credit on “compensation and wages for employees involved in digital media production, or the creation of a platform or engine that runs such digital media.”

Though there have been a few setbacks in the last several years, such as Atomic Games’ Iraq-themed game Six Days in Fallujah losing its publisher shortly before its scheduled release and Cary’s Icarus Studios laying off 70 percent of its staff last year (the company recently raised $8.1 million from investors in efforts for a comeback), Watkins is confident that the local game industry will continue to grow.

“We’re still doing well, and a lot of smart people want to come here,” he says.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The wearable lightness of being: roadkill and electric lights at Art to Wear

Posted by on Tue, Apr 12, 2011 at 8:24 AM

Veronica Tibbitts prepares for tonights Art to Wear show.
Wire, fiber optic lights and skinned roadkill are three things not often grouped together, but the designers of N.C. State’s annual fashion show, Art to Wear, don’t see it that way.

This year—tonight, in fact—marks the 10th anniversary of the collaborative show between the College of Design and the College of Textiles, and the designers are pulling out all the stops. They’re exhausted, but more than anything, they’re inspired.

I spoke with several of these designers, mostly late at night because that was the only time they could pull away from their work long enough for a conversation. Even so, I had to strain to hear them over the commotion in the background of many fervent students racing against the deadline.

Of all the students, though, it is a safe bet that none of them are going quite as extreme as Veronica Tibbitts, who scoured Raleigh’s back roads with a plastic bag, searching for mostly intact roadkill. in order to find her materials.

Tibbitts started with an idea about how much we consume every day, and she ended up picking up road kill on the side of the road. Although I was bracing for a kind of gonzo reality television star gleefully skinning animals, Tibbitts is, in fact, a strikingly collected and poised personality. And thoughtful, too as the concept behind her clothing line is memorable.

“I was inspired by unconventional or throwaway materials, and how they make you think about consumption. My first inspiration was seeing a fox killed on the road, and I thought about how if it had been killed on purpose it could’ve been a purse or a wrap, but on the road it has a much different reaction.

“When you see the face, you see another living animal and you identify with it, and you don’t want to use it as a product,” said Tibbitts, who is a senior Anni Albers scholar, a designation that means she will receive a dual degree from the colleges of both Design and Textiles.

A pair of shoes Tibbitts created from a pair of salvaged opossum skins.
Tibbitts’ impulse, then, was to claim the tossed-aside, or carelessly used, remnants of our lives, such as electricity, discarded price tags, air conditioning filters and, well, roadkill, and then throw it right back at us.

“I wanted to put them on the body to make people aware that they don’t just disappear,” she said.

After watching what she calls “countless redneck YouTube videos” on skinning animals, Tibbitts worked to skin the animals she found, and in stilettos nonetheless. She kept the faces intact in hopes of getting empathy for the creatures, and to make the audience—or customers—reconsider our wasteful practices.

“So many people see fur as fabric and it’s definitely not the same thing. These animals were killed by the lifestyle that we have. Doing this [show] will make a lot of people uncomfortable and will make them think, and that’s what I want,” she said.

If Tibbitts stretches our comfort zone the furthest, then Bryan Bullard spent the most money. , Bullard, a senior in fashion and textile management and the only male in the show, effectively emptied his bank account for the sake of art, dropping more than $1,000 on wire and LED lights. He says his line, however, was well worth it.

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Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Shape of the Table and the Iron Curtain Trilogy:
The Independent Interview with David Edgar

Posted by on Sat, Apr 9, 2011 at 4:59 PM

Playwright David Edgar
  • Playwright David Edgar
Over the past decade, playwright David Edgar has become one of the region’s most frequently produced British playwrights. Only Shakespeare and Tom Stoppard come to mind as having had more shows mounted in that period—and of the three, Edgar’s the only one to have actually come around for a visit.
Years before PlayMakers Rep’s abridged 2009 version of Edgar’s two-part adaptation of NICHOLAS NICKLEBY, Raleigh’s Burning Coal Theatre introduced us to the playwright in its audacious first-season production of PENTECOST. In that gripping political drama, the meaning of an ancient fresco in an abandoned Eastern European church becomes intertwined with the fate of a group of refugees who take several art historians and the artwork itself hostage in their desperate bid for freedom.
Following a 2008 production of THE PRISONER'S DILEMMA, this week Burning Coal completes what Edgar calls his Iron Curtain Trilogy by presenting the American premiere of the first play in the series, THE SHAPE OF THE TABLE, a 1998 work based on the fall of Communist governments in several Soviet-bloc countries of the time. (Edgar will speak about his works during a talkback after its opening night performance on Thursday, Apr. 7.)
The Shape of the Table takes us into the rooms where an Eastern European country’s present government and its opposition ultimately decide whether an historic transfer of power will be a monument to peace or an all but unimaginable bloodbath. Given present developments in Northern Africa and the Middle East, the issues in Edgar’s work remain decidedly of the moment.
We spoke with him at his home by phone on Sunday, April 3.


INDEPENDENT: As I look across the works that make up your Iron Curtain Trilogy, I’m struck repeatedly by the primacy of language. The specific words are so crucial in the negotiations between the leaders of the protest movement and the rulers of the composite Soviet-bloc country depicted in The Shape of the Table.
In my review of
The Prisoner's Dilemma I noted as well the difficulty of building a bridge of words while you're standing on it at the same time, as the UN representative in that play strives to do with violent ethnic faction leaders in a country similar to the post-liberation Czech Republic.
In both cases, they’re venturing out into untested territory, almost solely on the strength of the discourse they are trying to create—one that tries to forge a common understanding.

I think that’s true, and it’s a good observation. Of course, the plays are obviously different in some ways. In The Shape of the Table we imagine that all characters are speaking the same language. It isn’t English, but it is the common language of fictional country. What we hear has the same relationship to what they’re saying that our listening to a translation of Chekhov play would have.
On the other hand, in [Pentecost and The Prisoner’s Dilemma], they don’t all speak the same language. The people are saying what they’d be saying if you simply walked into the room; the different languages are what you’d hear.
I bring that up because all three plays are about translation. Even The Shape of the Table, in the sense that I was fascinated by the nature of this Communist language that everybody would have grown up understanding and speaking, whether they were Communists or dissidents.
Not the literal language, in the sense of French or German, of course. But it was a kind of international Communist language. If you read [Gustáv] Husák, the leader of Czechoslovakia and [Romania’s Nikolae] Ceausescu, and [Erich] Honecker, the head of the Community Party in Eastern Germany, essentially they’re speaking the same jargon, just in different languages. And it’s a jargon that has a very particular character.
All jargons have a kind of purpose. Often, in bureaucratic jargon, the purpose is euphemism. One of the things I heard first in America—it’s now very common here as well—is the use of the word “challenge” to mean a problem. I did hear in a theater company once, “We have a challenge with the lighting,” (laughs) which meant that the lighting had failed.

The word softens the edge a bit, doesn’t it? (laughs)

It does. It also always makes it sounds solvable. Because if it’s a challenge, well, you meet it. If it’s a problem, it may be insoluble. (laughs)

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