Saturday, November 03, 2007

The important steppingstone that is What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy

What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy by James Paul Gee (which is accurately titled, but it's too long to type, so I'm going to abbreviate it as What Video Games... from here on) is an important book -- one of those books that I'll refer to (in all senses) time and time again. It is sure to be cited in numerous other books. (To be honest, I special ordered it because of its citation in Game Design Workshop, although maybe that's a false memory because I can't find the reference.)

However, although the seeds of many significant things are there, I think I wanted the book to be more than it is. It so whetted my appetite for a Grand Unified Fun Education Theory (my useless one-time acronym for today is GUFET, pronounced "guffit"), that when no GUFET emerged I felt let down. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Despite my disappointment that What Video Games... didn't solve my life, it resonates so much with me that I want to talk about it in several different genres: first, I feel like I ought to give it a brief review, both to summarize the main thrust and also give a useful preview to anyone else that might be interested in reading it. Secondly, I want to write a book report on it: the book makes fairly strong claims which can be argued with, extrapolated from, and so forth. Hm...that sounds more like I want to be in a discussion group or book club. Yeah, throw that in there too. And, at the moment being a math teacher, I want to translate the book's main points for people who care about teaching math but don't care about videogames at all. (As seen from the title, What Video Games... puts a space in the term "video games", but I don't.) I have questions about the applicability of some of Gee's ideas specifically to mathematics, and I'd like a specifically math-oriented book club to discuss those.

So, that should tell you I think it's a pretty good book, in the sense that it's chock full of provocative ideas.

I plan to do the "book review" part next, though all my half-baked ideas are subject to change by the time they're, uh, full-baked.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Current Book List

On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee. Insanely detailed. Includes in the chapter on milk a description of aurochs - the ancient predecessor to the modern cow.

I'm Just Here for the Food by Alton Brown. Sense a trend? Detailed, but about stuff that's interesting. And it has lots of pictures and recipes. I'm trying Chicksicles for dinner tonight.

Sew Subversive. It's about sewing for the painfully hip craftster. Some of its explanations are very helpful even to advanced beginners like me. The vast majority of the projects are not my taste. The writing style is quite enjoyable. I plan to follow its instructions to mend a split seam, hem pants, and add ears to a hoodie sweat shirt. So just the practical projects. :)

Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson. This was a housewarming gift from my mother-in-law when I moved in with my future husband about eight years ago. I used it briefly as a reference at that time. Now I'm trying to read it from front to back. I've actually implemented, to some degree, her suggested daily and weekly housekeeping routine. I'm a big fan of marketing day, clothes laundry day, and the concept of washing non-clothes laundry on the same day you do your major housecleaning. Unfortunately, I can't get through her major housecleaning action item list and it still takes me six hours to do my abridged version. Also, the second section of the book is all about making coffee and tea. So she gets you all riled up to do this cleaning routine and then bores you to tears with how hot your water should be for the perfect coffee. If I drank coffee, I might care, but I doubt it.

Cesar's Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding and Correcting Common Dog Problems by Cesar Millan. This is the book by the host of the National Geographic television show The Dog Whisperer. Fun book. Most of it is his autobiography, which is a great story. Some of it is really sad stories about rescue dogs. The advice is great, but some of it is clearly something you have to see done before you can really do it right. The first DVD of The Dog Whisperer just arrived from Netflix.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Current book list

Been reading "What Video Games Have to Teach us about Learning and Literacy" by James Paul Gee, and it's quite good. (A bit technical with cognitive theory, or at least that's where I think the jargon is coming from, though.) Interested in education and videogames, then this is the book for you.

Also listening to Runes of the Earth by Stephen Donaldson in the car. I have to say, it's disappointing. (It's a followup to the two Thomas Covenant chronicles, btw.) Partly, it's clearly not a book that reads out loud well, and partly, the heroine is whiny and stupid and I can't stand her. Maybe if I appreciated emo angsty indecision with occasional bursts of resolve which last about a minute before despondency descends once more into the depths of her heart...that's what it reads like.

Once I'm done with that, I'll pursue other fantasy worlds: I've got Pullman's Amber Spyglass on tap, as well as Gaiman's Anansi Boys.

I also need to get back to Lisa Delpit's Other People's Children, because it offers a strong contrast, it seems, to the "active, critical, self-directed learning" notions that seem all the rage. This book concentrates on language and literacy (as does Gee's book, somewhat) -- I think that math genuinely has some issues of its own. In particular, Gee's book very much promotes the idea of real examples over broad generalizations and abstract notions. But, in a real sense, math is the science of abstract deduction. The whole POINT is it's about those ethereal abstract concepts (like number, shape, and function). Should we teach even deduction inductively? Maybe so, but I feel the case has to be made.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Disturbing Radio

The local NPR station, WAMU, broadcasts a weekly show called Homeland Security Inside and Out.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Silverdocs: Shorts 3: You and Me

Shorts 3: You and Me

This was a collection of three short films screened in the fabulous Theater 3. Like the other set of shorts, this set of shorts was screened earlier in the week. I’m including the information from Silverdoc’s website about each film because they’re shorts and they need all the help they can get.

I Just Wanted to be Somebody Jay Rosenblatt, USA, 2006, 10 Minutes

Orange juice ad queen Anita Bryant crusaded against gay civil rights in the 70s, but was important both to the creation of the religious right and to the gay rights movement.

News footage of an interview with Anita Bryant. Title. Orange juice television advertisement featuring Bryant. Intertitle. Anita Bryant led a campaign in Florida to repeal protections for homosexuals. Intertitle: The Homosexual. Black and white footage of an anti-gay rally. Gay rights activists led a boycott of Florida orange juice in response to Bryant’s “Save Our Children” campaign. A still photo shows Ronald Regan giving Bryant a bag of oranges. During a television debate, a person pushes a pie in Bryant’s face. During a photo opportunity, Bryant’s husband kisses her on the lips and says, “That’s what men do.” Eventually she was divorced and filed for bankruptcy. Over home movie footage of Bryant, a voiceover reads a letter to Bryant from a homosexual man talking about her failures and thanking her for giving a face to their enemy. You brought us into the light.

Monsieur Borges and I Jasmin Gordon, France, Switzerland, USA, 2006, 23 Minutes

A portrait of an eccentric French professor who dedicated his life to his friend and hero, the literary giant Jorge Luis Borges.

Black and white television news footage of Borges’s funeral. Contemporary color footage of a tree-lined street. Title. A man shows his office containing Borges’s documents. They were friends for ten years. He has a wall of Fez wedding belts from the 16th and 17th centuries. Black and white slow motion home movie of Borges in a library. This man used to travel from his house in the south of France to Geneva to see Borges. At the funeral people were jockeying for position to be seen by the television cameras. This is a particularly amusing anecdote given that this man is performing for the camera literally by singing and playing the piano. Maria Kordania was his traveling companion. She married Borges eight weeks before his death. Intertitle: She forbade the publication of this man’s collaborative work with Borges. Women were not in Borges’s work or life. The house is the center of the labyrinth. Voiceover of interview with Borges asking him how he would like to be remembered.

Freeheld Cynthia Wade, USA, 2007, 38 Minutes

At the center of the equal rights debate, Lt. Laurel Hester is dying of lung cancer and fighting to pass her police pension to her life partner, Stacie Andree. The city explodes with controversy; Laurel only wants to provide for her love—before it’s too late.

Hearing.Credits and intertitles. TitleLaurel and Stacie on beach. Interview of Laurel. Hearing. Officers speak on Laurel’s behalf. The retired Chief of Police speaks on Laurel’s behalf. The state of New Jersey passed a law delegating the power to grant county employees domestic partner benefits to the County Board. The County Board has the option to give benefits to domestic partners. The Board Members, freeholders, say they don’t have the power. Footage from news report. Interviews. Laurel and Stacie’s house. Stacie rakes the yard and cleans the gutters. She might lose the house without Laurel’s pension. Stacie is a mechanic. She makes $23,800 per year. Stacie calls doctors to work out billing problems. Old pictures of Laurel as a police officer. Interviews with coworkers. Stacie and Laurel have been together for five years. Stacie and Laurel attend church and the small church prays for Laurel and Stacie. Graphic shows the counties that extended benefits to domestic partners of county employees. Interview of Laurel about dying. Laurel videotapes a message to the Freeholders. Hearing. Laurel talking with hospice worker. Laurel attends an emergency meeting of the Freeholders because the Governor called one or more of the Freeholders at home. They vote to extend benefits. Stacie at Laurel’s bedside. Videotape of Laurel and Stacie swimming with dolphins. Funeral. We have gathered here to hear a story.

Q & A with Directors Jasmin Gordon (Monsieur Borges and I) and Cynthia Wade (Freeheld)

Q: For Jasmin Gordon (Monsieur Borges and I), how could Borges’s wife prohibit the publication of work this man did?
A: She has universal rights over Borges’s work. She prohibited the publication of a collection of Borges’s work in French.

Q: For Cynthia Wade (Freeheld), how did you meet Laurel and Stacie?
A: I met them at a Freeholder meeting. I lived with them for ten weeks. Then I did interviews with other people.

Q: For Jasmin Gordon (Monsieur Borges and I), whose house was that shot in?
A: That is the professor’s house, not Borges’s. It is in the south of France. Everything in the house is the professor’s collection of Borges paraphernalia.

Q: For Jasmin Gordon (Monsieur Borges and I), what was the relationship between Borges and the professor?
A: It is unclear. Probably asexual. But clearly the professor was enamored of Borges.

Q: For Cynthia Wade (Freeheld), how much time passed between the change in the policy and Laurel’s death?
A: Three weeks to the day.

Q: For Cynthia Wade (Freeheld), what were the results of the subsequent election?
A: The freeholder who most extremely opposed the extension of benefits is now the director of the Freeholders. The others were reelected by a lesser margin.

Q: For Cynthia Wade (Freeheld), why was the freeholder who most extremely opposed the extension of benefits not at the emergency meeting?
A: He claimed he was on vacation in Florida, but local news reporters found him in his basement.

Q: For Jasmin Gordon (Monsieur Borges and I), how did you find your subject?
A: I met the professor at a cocktail party and he introduced himself as the last companion of Borges.

Silverdocs: What Would Jesus Buy?

What Would Jesus Buy?

This was the East Coast premiere of a film about Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir. One of the producers is Morgan Spurlock, of Supersize Me fame. The intertitles in this film are of a similar style as Supersize Me. I’m a big fan of these intertitles. They resemble Monty Python animation.The film opens with something like a movie trailer voiceover saying “Five million extra tons of trash are generated by Christmas,” over images of frenzied holiday shoppers and newcasts referring to holiday shopping. It was the best opening of a film that I’ve ever seen. The crowd applauded the opening as the titles started. Intertitle: Newborn Bling. Interviewees are introduced with title cards that look like gift tags. Peter C. Whybrow, the author of American Mania (, is interviewed. The Choir Director instructs Billy that he should let the performance emerge from a real situation. Intertitle: Shopping Addiction. Intertitle: What Would Jesus Buy? Intertitle: Eternal Debt. Robert D. Manning, author of Credit Card Nation (, is interviewed. The Stop Shopping Choir carols around a neighborhood of McMansions. They give the homeowner a flyer with the words so they can sing along. The film does a follow the bouncing ball (in this case Rev. Billy’s head) sing-a-long over images of a woman reacting to the song with her children. Judith Levine, author of Not Buying It (, is interviewed. Bill McKibben, the author of The End of Nature (, is interviewed. The Choir Director explains the group’s goals to a local television news reporter over the telephone. They don’t expect people to actually buy nothing. First, they want people to buy products made in America because it is the best proxy for buying products made by workers who were treated humanely and paid a living wage. Next, they want people to try to buy from locally owned stores to keep their money in their community. Andrew Young, the former mayor of Atlanta, is interviewed in his capacity as a spokesperson for a group called Working Families for Walmart (, [for more fascinating information about this group, especially Andrew Young’s involvement and departure go to]The Choir stops at the headquarters of Wal-Mart. Before they arrive the Choir Director explains why they’re going there. It is an interesting way to accomplish exposition: first when she talks to the media and then when she talks to the group. After the Wal-Mart stop, Billy is self-critical of the event. He says he thought he would be teleported over the building and instead he just leaped into a bush. The Choir Director says she prefers actions that have a direct impact on people. The only audience to this event was the camera and the security guards. This is a fascinating reflection in a film that is in many ways like Michael Moore’s oeuvre. This statement differentiates this film and this group’s tactics from Moore’s films and tactics. Moore’s films are primarily structured around or prominently feature these sort of staged assaults. For example, in Bowling for Columbine Moore and a wheelchair-bound victim of a school shooting go to the headquarters of the store the sold the ammunition to the Columbine shooters and try to get someone there to respond to their concerns. Here, this group of activists say that sort of action feels hollow. They are activists first and subjects of a documentary second. Whereas Moore has made the act of making a documentary into activism itself. You have to choose to watch his film for it to have an impact, which is preaching to the choir (pun? intended).On a completely different topic, What Would Jesus Buy? is structured around the Choir’s cross-country bus trip from New York City to Disneyland in the countdown of shopping days until Christmas. Along the way one of the two buses is rear-ended by a semi. This is a horrible tragedy and lots of the people on the bus are injured and wind up in the hospital. But they charter another bus and the people get released from the hospital and the journey continues. The question this segment leaves with me is: was it necessary? Would I include any reference to the bus crash in my version of this film? Did it further the message? I don’t think it did. Maybe it demonstrated the participants’ dedication to the mission. Maybe including it honors the people involved and their suffering. Maybe it adds a bit of dramatic tension: our heroes are in peril. Will they ever make it to Disneyland? Maybe it simply explains why half the choir suddenly stops riding in an old bus miraculously appears riding in a brand new bus. I don’t know. I’d like to see how the film runs without it.The film ends with the Choir’s action in Disneyland. Billy is detained by park security. The filmmakers are asked to turn off the camera. The audio picks up the fabulous line, “Disneyland is not like America. People aren’t free to just . . . sing.”

Q & A with the director, Reverend Billy, the Choir Director, and a selection of the Stop Shopping Choir. The interview is conducted by John Ydstie of NPR.

Q: How did you come up with this subject?
A: (Dir) I was looking for a project to do in my spare time. I found the church in New York City. I joined them for their cross-country trip. Then I got invited to do the feature.

Q: How did you film inside stores?
A: (Dir) We had verbal releases from everyone we spoke to on camera, though perhaps not all the people visible in the stores. During invasions there is a grey area between private and public space.
(Rev. Billy) Starbucks dropped their sponsorship of Silverdocs when it discovered Silverdocs had accepted this film.

Q: How did you get Morgan Spurlock involved in the film?
A: (Dir) I med him when we were both shooting for MTV Spring Break in Mexico to pay the bills. He’s also neighbors with Reverend Billy and the Choir Director in New York City. Morgan saw the Stop Shopping Choir in 1999 while he attended NYU film school.

Q: How do you get a film like this distributed?
A: (Rev) Some distributors are backing away because Wal-Mart sells most of their DVDs.
(Choir Dir.) We’re also limiting our market because we decided only to sell stuff that has content we made. When Morgan made buttons for our world premiere, he had to give them away rather than sell them because there was no content that we made.

Q: What was going on in that interview with Andrew Young?
A: (Dir.) It appears to be his cry for help. He has since moved on to other things.

Q: Something about the effect of the film.
A: (Choir director) The effect we hope the film has is that we can see a positive change. Based on our actions I have seen a positive change.

Q: Something about religion.
A: We do have a spiritual relationship to this topic. Corporations have more control over what people do than the Roman Catholic church did in the 1300s. They are fundamentalists. But we are post-religious. Some of the choir members are preacher’s kids. Others aren’t Christian, but agnostic or other religions.

Silverdocs: Shorts 4: Beyond Belief

Shorts 4: Beyond Belief

It appears that everyone who attends Silverdocs uses Netflix. As an expression of, “Oh, I would like to see that movie you’re talking about but I never got around to it,” I have heard the phrase, “I’ve got to put that in my Netflix,” everywhere I’ve been within a mile radius of the AFI Silver Theatre. I am amazed that a short form has not yet come into common parlance. In our house we’ve at least settled on a plural form, “Netflices” like “indices” (pronounced IN-di-SEEZ) is the plural of “index.” I vote for the verb, “to Netflix.” So the expression would be, “Oh, I’ve been meaning to Netflix Ingmar Bergman’s oeuvre, but I just haven’t gotten around to it.”

This was a collection of six short films screened in the luxurious Theater 3 at the ungodly (pun intended) hour of 11:45 a.m. on a Sunday. This set of shorts was screened earlier in the week. I’m including the information from Silverdoc’s website about each film because they’re shorts and they need all the help they can get.

The Days and the Hours by John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson, USA, 2006, 8 Minutes

A thin paycheck separates many Americans from homelessness. Taking daytime refuge in church, they reflect on the lives they had before they lost their shelter.

This is the short that made the biggest impression. It opened with a series of closeups of hands, feet, heads, and candles. Then it panned to the front of the sanctuary where a small worship service was taking place. A beautiful overhead shot tracked across the pews filled with homeless people sleeping. The soundtrack is natural sounds of the location, particularly snoring. Then a voiceover starts. Men describe the jobs they held, the houses they lived in, the food they prepared. People wake up the sleeping homeless people and sweep the floors and pews where they slept. The homeless people pack up their belongings and walk to the door. In the doorway the light from outside seems blindingly white. The people are silhouettes against the white light as they step outside. Credits roll.

God Provides by Brian Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky, Canada, USA, 2007, 9 Minutes

In Katrina's aftermath, an exploration of faith and loss in Louisiana.

Church parking lot. A man in a wheelchair wheels up to a car and offers them a New Testament. A woman in an electric wheelchair moves down a street while the camera tracks along with her. It seems like the voiceover is her monologue, but the voice does not match her appearance. Insert of a lost person sign written with black marker on cardboard. A man digs through bushes looking for his belongings. A man blames the destruction on the wicked city of New Orleans. During the judgment of God, the innocent get hurt. The voiceover, presumably of the woman in the electric wheelchair, resumes. It says in the Bible you will suffer. God is not testing us. He knows the things you need. He will provide them. The destruction remains. The woman in the wheelchair arrives at the riverside and tilts herself back to lie in the sun. Credits roll. One of the credits is for a narrator. Was the voiceover “narration” and not the words of the woman in the wheelchair?

My Name is Ahmed Ahmed by Matthew Testa, USA, 2006, 9 Minutes

Ahmed, a Muslim American comedian, jokes about his name and about being brown. If his routine changes ideas about Muslims, it's a rare perk in the world of stand-up.

An emcee at a comedy club introduces Ahmed Ahmed at a live performance. The film uses the structure of a stand up routine, starting with his introduction and ending with the end of his routine and the comedy club audience applauding. In between there is a pretty standard interview of Ahmed Ahmed sitting in the comedy club with the stage in the background. Unfortunately, the lighting during the interview was really bad. It really lowered the quality of the film. And it’s a total bummer because that standard format interview really does give the filmmaker the opportunity to light properly whereas most of documentary film is stuck with whatever light is available. Ahmed Ahmed does man-on-the-street interviews. When people say what their stereotypes of Arabs are, the film cuts to inserts of Ahmed Ahmed dressed up as that stereotype. The inserts were well lit, but the costuming seemed a little Halloweeny. But maybe this was intentional, to mock the stereotype rather than fulfil the stereotype. At least, that would be my explanation if I didn’t have the budget for impressive costumes. During these man-on-the-street interviews, Ahmed Ahmed reads a number of statistics and occasionally these are intercut with people’s reactions. The editing here was a little spotty, so it seemed much more like a tool to get these facts into the film without using voiceover or intertitles. And in this case, a rather clumsily wielded tool. But the film was good about including a range of reactions to Arabs as opposed to all positive or all negative. The camera in the passenger seat watches Ahmed Ahmed drive while he tells his life story. He’s driving to a mosque. He prepares to pray and he explains about the ritual washing. He talks about his beliefs and what praying in a mosque means to him. He describes himself as an Egyptian Muslim, which I like because it recognizes both his religion and his nationality, which sort of makes the points that they shouldn’t be conflated. Sort of saying not all “Arabs” are Arab. He is changing people’s minds about Arabs. You can’t hate anybody when they’re making you laugh. The audience applauds at the end of his routine. Credits roll.

Orishas are Our Saints by John Kane, USA, 2006, 4 Minutes

A contemplative look at the modern practices of the Afro-Cuban religion Santeria. The stunning black and white film reverently shows rare images of the seaside rituals and devotions.

This looks like it was shot on black and white film. It might be video. Either way, it’s beautiful. The contrast is stunning. There is a gorgeous shot of a fishtank. A candle burning. A man goes to another man to read shells. He shakes them in his hands and throws them on a mat on a table, like rolling dice. A group of four people makes a sacrifice or an offering to the ocean. A voiceover says Santeria is a religion that came with Nigerian slaves to Cuba. The sounds are natural, but not synched to the visual. Credits.

A Son’s Sacrifice by Yoni Brook, USA, 2006, 27 Minutes

Imran quit being a Manhattan ad man to run the family Halal slaughterhouse in Queens. His faith and patience are tested during Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice.

This short won the Silverdocs Audience Award for a Short. It’s the only film I watched that won an award at Silverdocs. I’m not sure what that says about my taste in films or the criteria for awards. I was sure some of the films I saw were award-worthy. The film opens with one of the subjects tells the story of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son. The main titles appear. Imran, the son, is interviewed. The audio of his interview continues over images of him shaving. Traditional music is mixed perhaps a little too loudly on the soundtrack with the natural sounds synched to the image. Imran works with his father at their Halal slaughterhouse in Brooklyn. Customers pet and feed the animals. Imran’s father talks with the customers. He is then interviewed. He says he built this business from nothing and his son could destroy it in one minute. This is the funniest line of a pretty funny film. The father and son argue about how to run the business. Imran says he may not do things perfect, but don’t say he’s not Muslim. Imran’s mother at home makes tamales in the kitchen. His mother is Puerto Rican and his father is a Bangladeshi Muslim. The community rejected Imran. Imran shows off his collection of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings toys. Imran and his father speak to a police officer at the police station about an upcoming Muslim holiday. They explain it is a three-day celebration of Abraham’s sacrifice. They ask the police officer to be flexible. Flexible about what? Muslim inmates? People coming to their store? It’s not clear. Imran says he’s working hard to prove he is worthy. It is a clash of cultures, not a clash of individuals. Imran prays with others in a mosque. Imran’s dad speaks about his previous jobs and his gambling problem. He says parents have to show their children who they, the parents, are, who they are going to be, and what duty is owed to Allah. Imran and his father deal with trouble with a delivery. Imran’s mother and Imran put his bloodstained clothes into a fancy clothes washer and select a special setting for treating blood stains. Lambs are delivered to the slaughterhouse. Imran carries a lamb to a van. The man in the van asks him if he is Muslim. The van’s license plate says “ISLAM.” Don’t give up. Intertitle: Quir Ban. One person against an army. Customers are admitted one at a time to select a goat. The preparation for the slaughter is shown. Immediately after the slaughter is shown. But the act of slaughtering is not shown. Instead, the camera stays on Imran’s face as he slaughters. This is very different from the shocking images of religious sacrifices in Nepal in Living Goddess or Nigerian butchers in Workingman’s Death ( The focus is on Imran and the customers watching Imran and his father watching him. Imran says he wasn’t expecting to slaughter, but someone had to go home sick. He says he was surprised when customers requested him over the other butchers. Imran’s father says the Muslims trusted his son to slaughter their animal. The slaughterhouse is empty. Imran’s clothes are stained with blood. At home Imran dresses in traditional clothes. He prays in a mosque in the same room as his father. Imran cries as he prays. Credits roll intercut with shots of celebration.

Paradise Drift by Martin Hansen, Netherlands, 2006, 13 Minutes

Hikers trek to a ridge for a shared mystic event. Viewers are left to create their own interpretation of this mysterious and calm nighttime endeavor.

If you thought Orishas are Our Saints was poetic and surreal, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The numbers 1, 2, and 3 white on black appear. Then black and white images of walking feet. The credits roll including the title card: Paradise Drift. People are running into a town. People are walking with candles in the middle of the night. A person speaks over a bullhorn. His words are unintelligible and possibly not in English. People sit on rocks. People take pictures. The audio track is natural sound, but it is very quiet. People continue walking. The angle is unclear it looks like they are walking downhill. Weird music starts and then stops. The sounds of bugs rise as the image is filled with bright white bugs. There is no voice over. There are no explanatory intertitles. People pray to themselves. People cry. People look at the sky expectantly. Tiny flying bugs fill the screen. People applaud. Then the bugs disappear. Is it sunrise? People pray. Weird music rises. Praying continues but we can’t hear what they are saying. The credits roll.

Q & A with Directors Matthew Testa (My Name is Ahmed Ahmed), Yoni Brook (A Son’s Sacrifice), Kristine Samuelson (The Days and the Hours), and Brian Cassidy (God Provides).

Q: How do you feel about your films being programmed together? Do you think your film fit the theme “Beyond Belief”?
A: Matthew Testa (My Name is Ahmed Ahmed): I thought it was a good fit. I hadn’t thought about the film in terms of religion. It was originally filmed as a competition entry for a contest about tolerance. Ahmed didn’t want to force religion too much. He just presented himself.
Yoni Brook (A Son’s Sacrifice): I was trying to tell a story of life in a place built around death. I didn’t focus on religion. I was more focused on the clash between generations. The director is Jewish and the Producer is Muslim and they were both interested in exploring this world of food.
Kristine Samuelson (The Days and the Hours): The church was really the only place in San Francisco where homeless people could sleep indoors during the day. The location served as an entrance into the subject of homelessness. Watching them sleep was very intimate. The project was amazing. It was very good to be a part of this group of films.
Brian Cassidy (God Provides): We experienced a plurality of faith and religion. It was not our original intention to focus on faith. We felt very detached from the images of the destruction after Katrina so we just went down there to get closer and less abstract. We found ourselves more disoriented and understanding less. We just happened to camp out in a church parking lot. Everyone has a faith-based lens through which they coped with this event.

Q: For Yoni Brook (A Son’s Sacrifice), how did you get so much access?
A: We spent a year finding a family that felt comfortable with us filming the slaughtering. The subjects have to want to make the film more than the filmmaker.

Q: I heard My Name is Ahmed Ahmed was screened in Cairo. How was it received?
A: Matthew Testa (My Name is Ahmed Ahmed): There is a different dynamic in the states than in the Muslim world. It was a break from their usual view of Muslims in America.

Q: For Brian Cassidy (God Provides), how did you go about conveying information about the incomprehensible?
A: That’s why it’s structured as a series of vignettes capped with an open-ended narration. It’s foolish to impose too much order on chaos. We wanted to keep it about impressions. That’s why there were no titles or identification of people or places. It was a meditation on place. It could happen in the future. It has happened in the past.

Q: For Kristine Samuelson (The Days and the Hours), the stories of individuals were very moving. Who was the man playing the piano and what music was he playing?
A: He was one of the homeless people sleeping in the church. On his way out he stopped to play. We ran over and filmed. He has a credit in the film.

Q: Something about subject matter dictating style. While shooting did you have style and structure in mind?

A: Brian Cassidy (God Provides): Our documentary was less content leading form. We looked for a fresh and restored sense of imagery. What does it mean to create an image? We had a lot we didn’t want to do. We found a structure that accomplishes disparate motives. We were playing with cinematography. The ratio of film shot to film used was very small. We didn’t blanket cover to find the story in the editing.
Kristine Samuelson (The Days and the Hours): We felt that it was very important to convey the dimensions of the space through camera movement and height. The height allowed us to see people appearing filed among the pews. We worked hard to set up those tracking shots and to record audio that reflected the big space and the sounds of sleeping. It was also challenging getting permissions from the subjects. We chased them down with releases as they were leaving.
Yoni Brook (A Son’s Sacrifice): I am a photographer and a filmmaker. I wanted to the film to be very visually appealing and play down the pervasive death. That is why we focused on only one slaughter and showed that slaughter with respect.
Matthew Testa (My Name is Ahmed Ahmed): I incorporated his act into the film. But we didn’t want to use title cards so we used the man-on-the-street. This film is more directed than verite, for example the set pieces with the costumes. They were just meant to have fun. Structurally there wasn’t time to go for an arch. It was more an impression of a person.

Q: Something about distribution venues for short documentaries.
A: Matthew Testa (My Name is Ahmed Ahmed): This film was actually an entry in a Current TV contest on tolerance. Current TV picked it up.
Yoni Brook (A Son’s Sacrifice): We screened the film at the slaughterhouse and it may be shown on PBS’s Independent Lens.
Kristine Samuelson (The Days and the Hours): Our goal when making the film was to get it into local schools.
Brian Cassidy (God Provides): This is on a compilation of short films from the Journal of Short Films. We’re taking it around to festivals and trying to find television distribution.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Silverdocs: Black White + Gray

Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe

Dear Silverdocs Programmers,
If you’re trying to maximize your audiences, don’t schedule two New York City art films at the same time. The Gates was scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. Given its running time is 93 minutes, that gives us an end time of approximately 8:20 p.m. Black White + Gray was scheduled to begin at 8:30 p.m. Given that advance ticket holders lose their seats to the standby line if they do not occupy said seats 15 minutes prior to the start of the film, that means advanced ticket holders for Black White + Gray needed to have their cheeks in the seats by 8:15 p.m. Even assuming that such ticket holders would be so vulgar as to walk out of The Gates five minutes before the end, that would only be the beginning of their travails. Black White + Gray was screened in the Round House Theater, which is as far as one might ever have to shlep to see a film during this festival. So not only would they miss the last five minute of The Gates and the fabulously entertaining Q & A with Antonio Ferrera, they would have to walk too far for seats so uncomfortable and lacking in popcorn. I risked it. I purchased advanced tickets for both. I did not leave The Gates early and I stayed for the Q & A, in part because I wanted to and in part because I was sardined in the dead center of the last row in Theater 2. I did hoof it from Theater 2 to the Round House Theater. Black White + Gray had already started. But the headsetted AFI mensch said I could still go in. I sneaked in the far door and sat in the front row on the last seat. Were this seat as comfy as those of the valhalla known as Theater 3, my complaints would end here. But it was not. It was plastic and uncomfortable and this was the seventh film I was to see in a matter of five days. I told you that long story to make this small point: Much of the sold out audience at The Gates would have happily attended Black White + Gray had you not scheduled them too close together.
Thank you,

At the moment that I sat down, having prepared my notebook and pen in the hallway, a voiceover was describing the mark Sam Wagstaff left on photography. Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe were lovers. Patti Smith spent much of her life with Sam and Robert. Sam Wagstaff designed Robert Mapplethorpe’s campaign. The only time Patti Smith’s relationship with Robert and Sam was remotely acrimonious was when Robert Mapplethorpe got annoyed with Sam Wagstaff for taking Patti Smith’s picture. Somehow it felt unfaithful. In footage of Patti Smith performing she wears a t-shirt that says, “Fuck the Clock.” Sam was eventually totally forgotten and unrecognized. Interviews start by showing the individual with a subtitle for their name and role. Then their voices play over visuals, usually still photographs. It is a very traditional format. It appears to have been shot on video; it looks digital and grainy in an unflattering way. Projecting on this huge screen is not helping it. It looks like something appropriate for a PBS special, or for continual play at the Getty Museum. Interviews transition from friends who knew him during his hey day to people who knew him in his youth. They talk about his relationship with his mother and his boarding school days at Hotchkiss, listing his famous classmates. He was in the navy. He worked in advertising but found it phony. He didn’t like talking about the 1950s, perhaps because of the suppression of homosexuals. Scavullo’s book On Men. Dominick Dunne is interviewed about how he met Sam while working on a book about Anne & William Woodward The Two Mrs. Greenvilles. Sam had to lead a compartmentalized life. Wagstaff started photographing self-portraits, nude and semi-nude. Maybe this wouldn’t be so good for PBS afterall. Offner at NYU’s art history department talks about Sam’s photos. Bernard Berensen. Sam went through phases. First he was into Gauguin, then minimalism, then Tony Smith, then photography; what was new, good, and resonated with him. Sam was a curator at the Wadsworth Atheneum ( in Connecticut, the oldest art museum in the United States. At that time, the 1960s, curators were more like artists. Curators were figuring it out as it was happening. There was not so much of a PhD state of mind. In 1962 Sam put on an abstract impressionist exhibit at the Wadsworth. It was covered in Time. He followed this with an exhibit called Black White & Gray. It had a huge impact on film. The black and white costumes in My Fair Lady were inspired by it as was Truman Capote, who hosted the Black and White Ball. A Galanos spread was shot in the exhibition. He put on a retrospective of Tony Smith, covered by Time, as well as retrospectives of Tuttle, Michael Heizer (, and Agnes Martin. Patti Smith says Sam was violently expressive while on dope. He held drug parties and experimented with sex and perception. Sam was a catalyst for the intertwining of art and drugs and music and clubs. Patti Smith says Sam brought art credibility to punk and new wave. Sam had a nonsanctimonious spirituality. Robert was uneducated and lower class. A voice over of Robert Mapplethorpe says his home was a good place to come from because it was a good place to leave. Sam and Robert were a double act, a pair of characters who gave to one another. They had well-tailored complimentary strengths. They were like 1890s dandies. Robert was Sam revealing something about himself. Robert found a cash cow and had no sense of kindness. Robert loved nothing but himself. Sam shrunk when Robert was around. Robert could manipulate people well. Robert would not have had a career without Sam and Sam would not have had such a wild art collection without Robert. Sam became the curator at the Detroit Institute of Arts. In 1971 he commissioned Dragged Mass Displacement an earthwork by Michael Heizer. Sam was forced to remove it and replace the lawn. Sam called it, “A triumph for manicured grass over fine art.” Sam collected anonymous photos. Intertitle: Sam buys Robert a studio. Sam was one of the first people to appreciate anonymous photography, also known as vernacular photographs. Previously this genre didn’t have much cache. Dick Cavett talk show interview with Sam. These photos are like art, they are art, but they’re not art. Through a dark alchemical process fantasies are created. Souls are captured. Photography is the least decorative medium. The photos Sam collected create a portrait of himself. [The images are primary created by moving a film camera across a still photograph, like the Ken Burns Civil War technique of enlivening old material.] He published a book of photographs. [The cover of this book would make an amazing quilt.] He said this book was about pleasure, like watching people dance through an open window. Wallace Stevens said a great poem defies the intelligence completely. [Finding the source of this quote defies the intelligence equally completely.] Cecil Beaton’s portrait of a woman with a flower. Art doesn’t have to carry a pack on its back. Possessing mattered to Sam. Sam was attracted to younger mirror images. He was interested in the intent of the photographer, for example, Lewis Carrol’s photo of a half-naked little girl. He was interested in photos of sex and death. He collected pictures of battlefields, executions, medical, ethnographic, historic. He saw the grotesque photos in an abstract sense as provocations.Sam’s position gave Robert cache. In a video of Robert he says he makes an art statement with a feeling of pornography. Sam collected erotic photography especially male nudes. These were sources ideas for Robert’s work. Robert says because of the sexual pictures people hate his other photos. Robert exploited his subjects. Sam was entranced by the importance of black in Robert’s photo of a tulip. He would hold up another photo with black in it and say Robert’s was blacker. Robert set a refined stage for a rough subject. Sam was in purgatory. He said there are many things you will never know about me. If you don’t want to see one of my pictures, you can’t. Intertitle: In 1984 Sam sold his photo collection to the Getty Museum for $5M. Now the highest price for the sale of a single photo is $3M. Robert became ill. Sam became ill. Sam started collecting American silver. He ended as an old man, unshaven, with AIDS, dragging bags of silver to his apartment. In January 1987 Sam died. The art establishment was decimated by AIDS. [Names with dates fade in and out all over the screen.] Sam’s will left everything to Robert. In 1989 Robert sold Sam’s silver collection. Robert loved Sam’s money as much as he loved Sam. Insert of death certificates. The perfect moment. The Mapplethorpe Foundation should be the Mapplethorpe-Wagstaff Foundation. Patti Smith reads a song as the text of the song is shown over portrait of Sam and Robert. More interviews over the credits. The photos tell a different story when put together than all alone. Credits continue over out of focus pictures.

There was no Q & A after the film. :(

Silverdocs: The Gates

The Gates

Another sold out screening, my second in one day. Somehow I arrive late, for me, which means only in the nick of time to avoid losing my seat to a standby line demon. And yet I still have time to settle in to Theater 2 and greet my neighbor who suspects I am a journalist, what with the notepad. I play it off with the classic inside-the-beltway wanna-be-CIA, “I am not at liberty to say.” But I can’t maintain the illusion so I follow up with, “But I don’t have a pass and I’m paying for my own tickets so it can’t be that impressive.” You, gentle reader, know how very unimpressive my reportorial status is, indeed if this even rises to the level of reportorial status at all. But I still feel a notch above the sad people I see flubbing their alternating cheek kisses. So sad to watch such a social faux pas before a film dubbed by the Silverdocs programmers as “hipster.”

The (latest) director Antonio Ferrera introduces the film with a quote from Thomas Hardy: "Though a good deal is too strange to be believed, nothing is too strange than to have happened." My modest efforts at finding a source for this quote have been completely thwarted.

The film opens with news footage of Mayor Bloomberg announcing The Gates while a ticker runs below about war and politics.At a press conference Christo and Jeanne Claude are harangued about the financial cost of The Gates. Jeanne Claude says, “Let them eat gates!”Fly over shots of New York City flying up Manhattan to Central Park.Christo keeps a record of the creation of the art.Two men talking about their involvement in The Gates recall the first time Christo and Jeanne Claude pitched the idea. Fade to older footage of the original pitch. The person their pitching to actually picks up the ringing phone in the middle of Christo’s sentence. Christo and Jeanne Claude say it will cost $4-5 million. They say it is their own money. Their advisor says they need the permission of the Parks Department. The Parks Department will ask will it hurt someone, will it offend someone. The three prepare to approach Gordon Davies, the commissioner of the Parks Department. So far the structure of the film is pretty simple: people talk about doing something, people prepare to do it, people do it. Gordon Davies says if I had $5 million I would not build The Gates. The CEO of Lincoln Center hosts a reception to promote The Gates. People express concern about the propriety of the project. Central Park is landscape art. The Gates would be like painting Guernica over The Last Supper. Another person says the best approach is to assume the worst. A critic says Christo and Jeanne Claude would profit from defacing the park. Another critic says granting Christo and Jeanne Claude’s request would set a precedent that would put the Parks Department in a position where they couldn’t deny any request. A supporter says it would unify the city because it would be installed all over the park including the north side of the park near the parts of New York City predominately populated by blacks, which is usually ignored. A critic says it is designed to look good from the high rises along the park which the urban poor cannot see. Another critic says it is an act of cultural dictatorship and a physical attack on the park. Next you are going to want to paint the rocks. Christo says nothing in the park is natural. This was a man made park. We can restore it again. In this old footage the editing marks on the film are visible at points. Cut back to the two older men who are now talking about the results of Christo and Jeanne Claude’s mission.Cut to news coverage. The McLaughlin Group debates the merits of The Gates. One says it is obstructing public space. Another says it represents banalization and repetition. Another says we like to experience things that are once in a lifetime.Cut to the manufacture of the fabric and the metal posts for the gates. Jeanne Claude explains how The Gates fabric will be unfurled at the same time all over the park. Christo and Jeanne Claude greet the filmmaker who is behind the camera, “Good morning, Brother Maysles.”People in the park react to the installation. “This was a beautiful park until this. I think it sucks.”Jeanne Claude explains that they do not do projects like this because of some reason. The did not do The Gates because of 9/11. It is art. It has no meaning. Christo says he loves New York City because everyone there is an immigrant. A truck driver hauling the metal posts for the gates says something big is going to happen.Volunteers assemble the gates. It’s an example of what you can do even if you have nothing. It is even a sculpture without the fabric. Christo is afraid someone will steal the gates and sell them on eBay. He wants someone to arrange for more guards. Brother Maysles says to Christo, “If someone can get that to the subway, make sure the camera is at the subway to film it when they do.”Cut to news coverage.Jeanne Claude makes an analogy between raising children and making art.Montage of orange sunsets.For the unveiling Central Park is full of people even though it appears to be the middle of winter. Christo keeps pointing all over the park and saying, “Look over here!”A woman says the park is abuzz like the lobby of a theater.Another woman says other art you can walk away from after a quick look. This art you can’t leave.A man with his daughter says he can watch the wind move differently in one part of the park by watching the fabric.A puddle of water reflects the orange of the gates in the rain.Larger gates appear like huge portals.An opera singer sings intercut with a squirrel eating a nut.People talk about the amazing textures of the fabric.People complain that two weeks is not enough.It’s like we’re just looking at the park and the gates with the natural sounds with no voice over and no music for a long time.A docent explains to a group of tourists about the ripstop nylon fabric and gives them each a square. A group of Jamaican kids tell a ghost story about why the gates are orange. One of them says the gate invite something mysterious into the park.When snow begins to fall, music rises. Tibetan monks pray next to gates that match their robes. Other people of other religions pray together. A bride and groom kiss beneath the gates. People talk about the cheerfulness the gates instill. The sound of a siren interrupts. People discuss whether it looks like art. People say the gates make them feel like everything will be alright. Christo and Jeanne Claude walk through the gates and are applauded by a crowd. People snap pictures. Some very posh women are amazed that they got to see them. A homeless black man talks to Christo next to a limousine. He says the money is well spent because The Gates feed the soul. A pushcart vendor says The Gates were good because they brought more people to the park in February than ever normally come. Then he says, “Personally, I like their umbrellas better.”Cut to credits.

Q & A with Antonio Ferrera, the (latest) director
Q: Was it a conscious decision not to show the end of The Gates?
A: I wanted to capture the feeling visitors had when they left the park. It was too sad otherwise.
Q: How did you make editing decisions?
A: We had 400 hours of footage of the event itself, 200 hours of footage of the preceding year, and 30-40 hours of footage from 1979. We had the best New York City cinematographers shooting in the park during the event. We wanted to create a journey for the audience. It took one year to wrangle the shots of the event.
Q: When did you sleep?
A: We didn’t get much sleep during the event. We shot 16-17 hours each day because the story is about light. Light with electricity. Light with a bird.
Q: Did you find the people who originally opposed the project?
A: We hung out with Gordon Davies. He eventually became an advocate for the project. But it didn’t fit into the story. At a screening in New York in April lots of people from the 1979 footage were there. I didn’t recognize them. I felt like something out of Washington Irving.
Q: Did Christo and Jeanne Claude make money on The Gates?
A: It’s published. They make nothing from the ancillaries, like shirts that said, “The Gates” or whatnot. They did sell drawings.
Q: How did you deal with weather?
A: If it happens, it happens. I took a break once during the rain and Christo comes into the trailer and says, “I would be very upset if you didn’t shoot the rain.”
Q: You could really see the pride of the volunteers as they put up the gates. It gave you a glimpse of the experience of it. Do Christo and Jeanne Claude have plans for D.C.?
A: Send them an email from their website ( ). But once you suggest an idea to them, they never do it.
Q: How did it work with the Maysles Brothers starting the film and you finishing the film?
A: It’s a long story. Working on that footage was archaeological. The Maysles followed Christo and Jeanne Claude on four other projects at the same time. So digging through to find footage of The Gates was challenging. We had to put together fragments just to see what was shot.
Q: Was it a conscious decision not to focus on the artists once the piece was unveiled and not to formally interview them?
A: Expression has to speak for itself. Its about the people of New York, Olmstead’s park, the Jamaican kids on the rock. You can’t interview shit like that. I sat and became one of the kids. I listened. You can’t tell them what you want them to say. On 9/11 I saw a city of people look up in horror. At The Gates I saw them looking up together in joy.
Antonio then took a picture of the crowd.

Silverdocs: Living Goddess

Living Goddess

The line at 10:30 a.m. is quiet. A couple, one crocheting a scarf, the other reading Moby Dick, stand in front of me. Photographers snap the line. A volunteer who looks young enough to warrant a babysitter, is directed to sit still in a chair. The headsetted, suited AFI employee jokes about canceling the screening despite how long we’ve waited. The joke flops badly and we scowl at him on our way into Theater 2. The people sitting next to me debate how to fill in their ballot. At every screening volunteers pass out little strips of yellow paper with the name of the film and the numbers one through five. Audience members are supposed to rip out the number that we rate the film. No one understands the number ripping system. It was clearly designed by someone proficient at test marketing screenings, but not remotely familiar with the inside-the-beltway abject fear of dangling chads. The films with the highest ratings are screened again the last night of the festival. “What do I base my decision on: my subjective opinion,” (as opposed to her objective opinion, I suppose), “or the likelihood that people will attend a screening on Sunday evening? Or based purely on this film’s maker’s ability to feed the media machine. Let’s just circle 5 before we see it.” This filmmaker’s ability to feed the media machine is quite well-developed if the repeated promos on WAMU and the sold out crowd here this morning are any indication. Every seat is full and people are standing, until AFI staff bring them folding chairs. It appears that the entire embassy of Nepal is present. At the theater’s entrance the subject of the film appears as indicated by enough camera flashes to be seen from space (I’m sure there will be a documentary on that phenomenon next year). People stand and lean over to get a peek at the tiny little girl. Once she sits down, commoners with their point-and-shoots line up to take pictures. Non-anglo children pay their respects. Anglo adults pay their respects. The crochet-er from the line ends up sitting next to me an proceeds to crochet at least through the Silverdocs promotional reel if not the beginning of the film itself. After that I did my best to block her stichery from my perception.

The film begins abruptly with a brief history of Nepal and the legend of the living godess, Taleju, a form of Kali. Digital brightly colored amorphous blobs dance behind white text. Cut to a little girl named Sajani in a religious building’s courtyard. The first subtitle, “Hey Goddess, where are you going?” Insert of the TV news talking about the political situation in Nepal. The goddess explains that the goddess is a Buddhist girl possessed by a Hindu goddess. “I am the incarnation of Taleju.” Her mother explains that she prays to her daughter. Sajani explains that she wanted to be a goddess since she was little. She describes what people do when they come to worship her as she plays with a stuffed unicorn. During a formal procession under an umbrella people walk up to touch her. A little boy says, “We always worship my sister even when she is not a goddess.” The father says that things are better now that his daughter is a goddess.To be selected as a goddess a girl must have the 32 perfections. Titles describe some of the perfections as images show that aspect of Sajani or one of the two other goddesses. The king of Nepal gets his power from the child goddesses. There is one adult goddess. She never bled, so she is still a goddess. She recites the history or myth of the goddesses’ origin. Sajani says another god lives in her courtyard. A red statue of a male god is carried out of its place in her courtyard.A political rally includes anti-monarchy demonstrators. The military maneuvers in response. The king’s people sacrifice cows and goats. It is a bloody display as heads are severed and the heads are dragged around a courtyard in a circle.Sajani says, “People look for omens when they worship me.”The older goddess says, “People have wondered if what we say is true.”Riot police stand by at a pro-democracy rally.Her mother explains that Sajani cried in the temple once. This omen led to the king’s brother assassinating him and taking the throne. Some people lose themselves in religion.Intertitle: Ceasefire rejected by the king.Images of people bathing in a river. Women are the source of power and energy. Siblings play in the courtyard while Sajani looks from the throne room window. Police beat protestors at a pro-democracy rally.Even the goddess has to do her homework.People fight back against the police.Sajani says, “I’m scared the army will not let me out. The king’s government hurt me a lot. Because of the protests I cannot play with my friends.Police fire tear gas at protestors and spray them with fire hoses.People sacrifice cows and chickens.Intercut preparing goddess for ceremony and sacrificing animals. Blood in the streets. Animal heads. Father painting the goddess’s forehead. “I’m not allowed to say what happens in Taleju temple.” Cut to the temple doors closing behind her. Cut to black. Then cut to another time when she tells what happens (something about buffalo heads) and another shot of the oldest goddess explaining what happens (they become the physical embodiment of Taleju). Her father carries her after she exits the temple. A voice-over interviewee says the face of the goddess changes when she leaves the temple. Sajani sticks her tongue out at the camera. A man is trying to make an offering to the goddess. He and her family are trying to get her to drink the alcohol he is offering. Sajani appears drunk and upset as they force her to drink.Intertitle: A shoot-on-sight curfew is issued.No one can go outside. They can’t get water. The father says we’ll get peace because we have gods and goddesses but if we get a republic, religion might cease.Police shoot a protestor. Protestors beat a policeman. Policemen guard a collection of corpses.The king abdicates the throne.Sajani plays with a music box. Her mother says she will only be a goddess until she is 12 years old. Sajani is dressed an a uniform just like her sister to go to school.Credits over Sajani dancing.

Q & A with director.
Q: How are the goddesses selected?
A: They are chosen from the caste of goldsmiths. Priests cast a horoscope. Only girls with that horoscope are eligible. They must have no scars or cuts. They must have the 32 Perfect Attributes. Then there is a final initiation.
Q: You said they must have no scars or cuts but the oldest goddess has pockmarks.
A: It is an organic religion that people live within.
Q: Something about the political aspects of the film.
A: I wanted to make this film for 15 years because I was interested in the subject of the living goddesses. As we were developing the film the political situation intensified. Pre-production was finished about February 2006, which was a few weeks after the king’s coup. No one could have predicted the political changes that took place.
Q: What do the goddesses do later?
A: There are many superstitions about ex-kumari. But they get married and lead normal lives. One is a teacher, another a pharmacist, another a university student studying computer science. They are still honored and respected within their community.
Q: Will the tradition of the living goddesses survive in a republic?
A: Political reform will affect ancient customs. Democracy is about people taking control of their own lives. One way that might impact the tradition of the living goddesses is that the caste system might change.
Q: What were the different kinds of demonstrations?
A: There were many different groups. But they are generally grouped as Maoists, the 7 democratic political parties, and the monarchists.
Q: As a goddess was Sajani in particular danger?
A: No. The goddesses would not be specifically targeted. She was just in danger because the unrest was near her house, as was everyone else who lived near unrest.
Q: How did you get footage of the protest?
A: We did have problems getting the tapes out at the end. But we had no problems shooting the film other than getting hit by a stray rock or rubber bullet in the crossfire. We just introduced ourselves and gave cigarettes to the cops and the protestors.
Q: Did you have any shooting agreements?
A: We had no agreements with the police or the rioters. Press passes mean nothing in that situation. We were just trying to maintain relations with both sides.
Q: What does Sajani not like about being a goddess?
A: She doesn’t want to tell you. You’re scaring her.
Q: What do you like about being here?
A: She enjoys being her very much.
Q: [In Nepalese]
A: [In Nepalese]
Q: How did you meet the goddess?
A: I was introduced to her by the head priest. I came to her home and we had tea.
Q: Was there a language problem?
A: There was a total language problem. The associate producer was the interpreter. The sensitivity of the translation was key. Academic translators scared kids. We went through four translators. The one that worked out was honest about what the kids were saying.

Silverdocs: Hard Road Home

Hard Road Home
Later on Friday I went to Hard Road Home, the third in my self-selected, uninterrupted prison film series, and the fourth of my Silverdocs 2007 adventure. While waiting outside to finish a soda perusing the Now Showing posters, I witnessed a harrowing scene. At first I thought it was a post-one-night-stand drama unfolding on the sidewalk. I heard a woman say, “I feel like I’ll never see you again, but I want you to take this anyway.” Then I saw the woman trying to force her business card on what I can only assume was a filmmaker as he gruffly tried to lose her by walking as fast as he could. Having witnessed a similar post-screening frenzy after Miss Gulag, I have come to the conclusion that one should not attempt to foist one’s business card upon a filmmaker at a festival unless you’re offering a distribution deal for this film or a grant for the next film. Has someone already coined the phrase “90 minute stand”?
In line for the film there were, perhaps not shockingly, more African-Americans in attendance than at any of the previous screenings I’d attended. I also noticed more Asian-Americans, a broader range of ages, and more male fashion victims than at previous screenings. In front of me in line a double date shared hot dogs from the concessions. The enormous cup holders in Theater 3 beg to filled. The director sits on the stairs and complains that the muzak playing before his film is too loud and inappropriate. It is ghastly. But is being a diva really the answer?

The film opens with audio of sirens over the visual of a city street. Griffik tells the camera what he did that landed him in prison. He was released three months ago. Though he speaks English, his words are subtitled.I have no idea what this means, but in my notes I wrote, “Hip Hop to Exodus.” Whatever it means, I love it. It might mean the audio is load hip hop music as the visual is the exterior of Exodus, the organization which is the subject of this film. But that sort of ruins the poetry, doesn’t it.Anyway, Julio, the head of Exodus, says their goal is to make sure no one goes back to prison. Exodus is run by former inmates. We know what it takes to succeed. Hip hop music plays over the title sequence.We might not be in “society” - not in prison, not Exodus staff member’s son in prison, on drugs, not dead.Griffik talks to one of the staff at Exodus. He does not have his parole officer’s telephone number. The staff member tells him he needs to keep that with him at all times. He wrote his parole officer’s telephone number on his birth certificate.During a group session with others recently released from prison, another young man like Griffik expresses his resistance to fitting into society. He blames oppressive cops and racism.A former inmate says, “I voted last year for the first time. I’m a free man.”Griffik tries to get a job. He says, “If you allow me to manipulate you, that’s your fault.”Julio worries about funding because they’re in the last year of a federal contract.When a parole officer tells a former inmate they have to do something, like attend anger management classes, or stay home after 9:00 p.m., they use the word “mandated.” Like “My P.O. mandated me to anger management classes.”Julio says people are redemptive.The films shows Julio (or is it the Exodus staff member who looks like Julio, Alberto?) having car trouble and marriage trouble. Alberto has been missing for four days. He is off the wagon. He left his family. The pacing seems slow because between various segments lots of long shots of the city are edited in, possibly showing the geographic transition from one segment to another. The filmmakers is showing the transitions in a film about transitions. Julio says to Griffik, “These cameras are going to stop rolling and that’s when your movie really begins.” Cut to black.

Q & A with the director and Julio

The film is going to be shown on PBS’s Independent Lens next year. The film is tied to two grassroots policy campaigns. On is a public/private partnership dedicated to implementing re-entry best practices. Another is a faith-based group Auburn Media.The contract Exodus was losing that led to their financial concerns was a federal faith-based contract that ended last August. You can make a donation at . To measure success Exodus uses six life area benchmarks. The overall goal is reducing recidivism. Alberto plead guilty and was sentenced to 12 years to life for burglary.Exodus staff built trust before the cameras arrived. The cameras were there for a year so we wanted to show real challenges. It takes the entire staff to make a change in one person’s life.Griffik is working and in school.Many current staff members came through the Exodus program for their re-entry prior to working there. There is no time limit. Their doors are always open.A person in the audience asked whether Exodus went into prisons to begin pre-release programming with inmates six months prior to their release. Julio responded that New York state is challenging and Exodus doesn’t have the resources.The director explained that he selected the topic because he was looking for personal stories to illustrate the issue of transition. He learned about Julio as in individual success story and the challenges of re-entry faced by newly released inmates. Julio and the staff at Exodus were also so different from the burned out, unimpassioned government caseworkers who cannot identify with their clients because a prerequisite of working for the government is that you haven’t done prison time. His goal with the film was to galvanize viewers to promote better policy and to lift up the humanity of this population.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Silverdocs: Hothouse


Friday I left work early to go to the early screening of Hothouse. I was second in the ticketholders line (as opposed to the passholders line who get to budge in front of us ticketholders). I chatted amiably with #1 and #3. #3 was a nineteen year old man. #1 was a woman with a nineteen year old son. This was discovered when #3 says his favorite film is The Sandlot, which is #1's son’s favorite film. I have never seen The Sandlot ( We bonded as three local film buffs sneaking out of work to enjoy the festival. We contemplated taking three days off of work next year to take it all in properly. #1 didn’t know what Hothouse was about. She just bought tickets for everything she could squeeze into her schedule. #1 and I recommended Cinema Paradiso ( to #3. He recommended Clap Your Hands Say Yeah ( to us. Bonding with #1 and #3 reinvigorated my belief in film after it was decimated by the filmmakers’ vapid Q & A after Miss Gulag. Then there were very few passholders to budge in front of us and I found my favorite seat in Theater 1. I was half expecting cartoon birds and squirrels to bring me popcorn and a soda until I was surrounded by women complaining about their hotel rooms and manicures and the party a the Moose Lodge last night and not being able to find a taxi in Silver Spring and why do they have this festival in this god forsaken place . . . and if that’s not bad enough Harry Chapin’s Cat’s Cradle plays over the P.A. I wish my dad was here.

The film opens in February 2006 with a speech by the speaker of the new Palestinian parliament who mentions the members of the council who are in prison. He pledges to free all Palestinians in Israeli prisons. Fourteen members of parliament are in prison. Guard dogs bark at the camera as they run between two rows of fence around a prison.Intertitle: One year earlier.Be’ler Sheva PrisonInmates introduce themselves and state what crimes they were convicted of. Some say they are members of Hamas. For example, one says he sent suicide bombers to two locations. The prison looks modern and clean. Cells contain multiple bunk beds. At least four sets of bunks are visible. As one inmate begins to introduce himself while sitting on the lower bunk in his cell one of the other inmates tells him to speak in Arabic. He starts over again, speaking in Arabic rather than Hebrew. Many of the inmates who introduce themselves say they are from one or another refugee camp. Some say they were arrested for failing to liberate their land. Some cells are full of Hamas inmates. Other cells are full of Fatah inmates. But all of them are Palestinians. The windows of the prison are frosted so they cannot see outside. They joke that all they would see is desert, so why frost them? There is a television in each cell. They get Israeli and Palestinian channels. One says he didn’t think about politics on the outside because he was busy following orders. An off-camera interviewer speaks to Colonel Ofer Lefler, an Israeli prison spokesperson. He says there are 10,000 prisoners. The prison administration used to have a difficult time maintaining order among the Palestinian inmates. Then they decided to work with the leaders of the various Palestinian groups, such as Hamas and Fatah, and they helped to maintain order among the Palestinian inmates. There is a horrible electrical beep when sallyports open. The Fatah prisoners’ representative negotiates with a prison administrator, Warden Eshel, about privileges. When a correctional officer enters a cell the inmates stand by their beds. Inmates say they have political power because they get their families to vote for who they recommend. Inmates focus on politics and the news. The warden says they see Palestinian culture differently in prison. They have military discipline and a hierarchy. Each cell block has a representative. There will be no peace so long as the issue of prisoners remains. Buses passing through a bus sallyport.Hasan Yusuf is a Hamas candidate who was arrested. Israeli security services are trying to prevent a Hamas victory in the elections. Inmates exercise in a courtyard.An inmate performs the call to prayer from his cell. Inmates from around the cell blocks pray. Hasan Yusuf leads his cellmates in prayer.A newspaper shows pictures of all of the candidates from Ramallah. An inmate points out which were arrested. They were all in prison at one time or another. Many of the prisoners have academic degrees, especially in political science. Two inmates write answers to a political science exam while a correctional officer watches. Inmates state their names, degrees, and the school where they got the degrees. One of them got a graduate degree in biomedical engineering from Emory University. They say they are prohibited from studying Arabic. They learn Hebrew to talk to guards and prison doctors. They can get degrees from Hebrew University. An off-camera interviewer speaks with a failed suicide bomber. He says he wants to blow himself up to kill Jews. He is studying to do that when he is released.A man outside of prison says that prison taught him to use his time wisely. Now he gets respect from others because he was in prison for eight years.Hashfaron PrisonThis is a women’s prison. Some inmates wear burka. An inmate says female inmates have become Palestinian leaders. They have turned the jail into a school. They meet women from all over Palestine in prison. They read more. They know more about politics. Then the inmate says she is in prison for asking a friend to do a suicide bombing. Another female inmate says she planned the Sbarro suicide bombing and another suicide bombing. She said her arrest communicated the agenda of jihad. Another woman does not want to be filmed. A guard conducts bar taps in the women’s cells. A prison official says they are in a daily intelligence war within the prison. Inmates direct operations on the outside. A special operations response team conducts a drill. A prison official says coded notes that order attacks on the outside are referred to as “launchers.” A candidate in prison speaks at a political rally on the outside via cellphone over loudspeakers. Cellphones in prison are a huge problem. They are illegal. Intertitle: Ramalla one month before election.Prisons provide the best opportunity to create political activists. They are not allowed to organize outside. In Gaza prisoners who are released became political leaders. Prisoners in different prisons communicate with one another via attorneys and families. Every cell has an account book for each prisoner which records the amount of money and good each inmate has. These are all kept by the prison treasurer. The warden discusses issues with inmate representatives. They have a dialog regarding daily life in prison, for example building a new visiting facility. There are two different classifications, “Security Prisoners” and “Jewish Inmates.” The prison dentist tries to calm frustrated visitors. Each inmate has 45 minutes for visits. There is a digital red countdown clock, like a bomb, in the visiting room. Small children and babies are passed from the visitor to a guard and then to the inmate. A visitor says she refuses to be filmed. She asks the filmmaker, “Are you filming to solve our problem? If you’re just filming for sympathy, no.”An off-camera interviewer asks a female inmate about the children who were killed in the suicide bombing she was involved with. The inmate turns as if talking to another person and asks how is she to respond to that question when she has children of her own. A woman off-screen responds that she should say something about jihad. The camera pans to show the Sbarro bombing planner, smiling at the camera. Clearly she had just told the woman how to respond but when the camera is turned toward her, she appears to have said nothing. This woman was news reporter at the time of the bombing. She reported on the bombings she organized. She says suicide bombings are realizing the bomber’s dream. We don’t feel remorse. We are defending ourselves. If we get rights, we don’t want violence.A man on a donkey says he is going to vote.Intertitle: Ramalla on election dayPrisons prepared Palestinians for democracy because they conducted elections in prison for years and after the voting, they still had to live together. They meet to discuss peace during the voting. Various news outlets begin to report the election results. Fatah prematurely celebrates victory. Time lapse sunrise at the prison tower.Hamas wins majority. The prison leaders of both parties tell their followers to stay calm and act normally. The Fatah cell discusses why they lost. What kind of representatives are we in prison? A prison official says the inmates get to know Israelis not through gunsights. Prison disciplines and trains you. They get the tools to confront oppression.Quick cutting roll call of inmates stating their sentences in ascending order. Fade to black though prison bars. Credits over image of road.

Q & A with the film’s director

Q: Why didn’t you show lives of average Palestinians compared to the prisoners? There was no context.

A: Film is an exercise in limitation. I had curiosity about prison and the difference between the way Palestinian prisoners were portrayed and the way they see themselves. I deliberately tried to keep the film inside prison. At other screenings people have asked why have I not shown the victims of these people’s crimes. The answer is the same. There is limited time and scope.

Q: How did you get access? Did the Israeli Prison Services or Israeli Security Services review your footage?

A: The amount of access I eventually got was surprising. I asked. They said no. Again. No. Friends of mine in the administration said no, but let me see what I can do. Maybe one afternoon. You already got in once? OK, you can come in again. The prison authorities wanted to look good. There were no restrictions once I got in. A spokesperson asked to see the final cut before it was screened, but then he didn’t have time. It’s a grey world.

Q: How did you get access to the different Palestinian factions?

A: Working with the inmates was a process that took place over a year. I got to know them. It became a dialog. They knew I wasn’t in there to get a scoop or a soundbite. The factions are aware of the power of the camera. They used me as I used them. They educate eachother. They have safety in prisons other Palestinians don’t have. The film touches on something that needs to be studied further.

Q: [Something about prison politics versus outside politics]

A: Nothing is permanent. The relationships in prison are friendly. Prison administrators allow Palestinian inmates to congregate based on political affiliation. Productive for them and contal to negotiate with authorities. In response to present crisis, prison authorities separated Fatah and Hamas inmates for the first time.

Q: How was the film received in Israel and Palestine?

A: In Israel it was shown on national television. El Arabiya showed it in three episodes with a panel discussion following each one. In Gaza people saw their family members they had not seen for years. Some in Israel don’t want to give the inmates a voice. They appreciated what I had done and the thought that went into it and that people should listen.

Silverdocs: Miss Gulag

Miss Gulaghttp:// Gulag was a puff piece compared to the thick meat of State Legislature.The second screening I attended was Miss Gulag on Thursday night. It started past my bedtime and was in the Round House Theater. This was my first time inside the Round House Theater. Unfortunately, it was not my last. While Theater 3 in the AFI has plush seats and a stadium seating layout that would make a cinephile weep with joy, the Round House has cheap plastic office chairs squeezed together on rickety wooden risers. Still, it’s raked, so it could be worse. The shaky staging makes you appreciate the well-spaced padded armchairs of Theater 3. As if that weren’t enough, no food or drinks are allowed. If this film is about deprivation, the audience will empathize. We certainly couldn’t have survived 217 minutes of State Legislature in here. Compared to State Legislature there were more industry tags and fewer staff tags, more housewives and fewer khakis. Sardined next to me was a mother talking on her mobile to her child. “It’s called Mizz Goolahg. Yes, Goolahg. Yes, doesn’t that sound funny? I’ll tell you about it tomorrow. I haven’t seen it yet.” Behind me I hear people talking about their relief work in Kazakstan and how they met film producers working for the United Nations. The director and two producers are present for a Q & A after the film. The film is set in UF 91-935 a prison for women located in Novosibirsk, Siberia. The pageant started in 1990. The film follows three women. The film was shot in 2004. The inmate tells her story then a prison official reads the charges she was convicted of and her sentence. Then a family member talks about the woman before her crime. The women admit their crimes and explain why the committed them. There are 1000 women in the prison. There is a prison factory where they sew uniforms for the military. One of the inmates describes how she has sexual relationships with other women in prison, but that it’s sort of experimental.The above paragraph is the extent of the notes I took during the film. The rest is from the Q & A with the director and producers after the film.The filmmakers did not want to show atrocities. Atrocities are well-covered. They wanted to see the lives of women of our generation seeking independent paths and different destinies. The pageant contestants were secretive about their costumes because they were competitive. Each woman was picked by her unit to represent them in the pageant. Participating in the pageant looks good for parole. They got grants from the Ford Foundation and Sundance based on a 30 minute rough cut. Funding came one year after the film was made. They got access to the prison because the administration wanted to publicize their programming. It was a risky endeavor for the prison administrators because their jobs were on the line. The producers worked closely with the administrators. There were lots of restrictions. Guards were with them constantly. There were lots of things they were not allowed to film. When they arrived at the prison the first time the administrators wanted the filmmakers to sign a document that said if they filmed certain things the filmmakers could be prosecuted and sentenced to three to five years in prison. They signed it. They had to go through official channels to do anything. They were the first film crew inside a Siberian prison. The director got the idea for the film because she was searching the internet for a topic for her next project and stumbled upon something about a beauty pageant in prison. Her next project is probably going to be about Azerbaijan because she married a man from Nagorno-Karabakh and lives there now. The film hasn’t been shown in Russia yet. Russian prisons are well-covered in local news there. Russians would probably think that this film is from a very Western perspective. They filmed for one month. They found the characters because two were in the story online that the director read on the internet. Tatiana’s parole hearing was on the first day of filming, so we could see her get released. Natasha wrote all the songs. She still has no passport. She sees her girlfriend once a month. She’s trying to develop her career. The questions asked at Tatiana’s parole hearing were standard. All three women have very strong connections with their families. The filmmakers became close friends with all three women during filming. It made them ask about themselves, “What would have happened to me if I stayed in Russia?” We were weeping while shooting Yulia and her mother. They met at a Women Make Movies grant writing seminar in New York City.

Silverdocs: State Legislature

Yes, it’s been over a week since my documentary-a-thon. I needed some distance before I could process everything I saw. The first film I went to see was State Legislature by Fredrick Wiseman. was the first day of the festival, Wednesday. There was insanity at the box office. People were buying all their tickets for the entire festival coupled with people picking up tickets purchased in advance online who are desperate to get to their seats before the standby line is unleashed 15 minutes prior to the start time. Pass holders budge with identical ID tags dangling from lanyards around their necks and swag bags slung over their shoulders get to budge in front of the line. We are in the fabulously utilitarian Theater 3. A big rig could drive between these gorgeous seats. As we are waiting for the lights to go down, firmly attached to our seats lest they be mistaken for empty and auctioned off to the nearest standby line, someone is snapping along to the muzak accompanying the PowerPoint of sponsors. Standard uniforms: earthtone golf shirts with khakis or suits deconstructed, haircuts slightly longer than average, thinning, grey, professional Einstein impression. Someone is whistling improvisational accompaniment. More filmbuffs sitting on the ends of the rows rather than the center. The movie is 217 minutes long. They choose to suffer through a less than optimal sight-line in exchange for easy access to the loo. Someone is fanning through their inter-screening Borders purchase: Lolita . . . what happens at Silverdocs stays at Silverdocs or lands you an Adam Walsh Act civil commitment. Near-univeral post-dinner gum chewing. We will all have TMJ by hour three. No fear of neighbors reading my notes over my shoulder given the near-universal reading glasses. The metallic gold curtain closes.This is Wiseman’s 35th film. Technically, it is the North American debut. But it is showing on PBS immediately following this screening. Hence the empty seats in the smallest theater. Wiseman couldn’t make it to the screening because he’s working on his next film (a comedy?) in Paris. He sent a videotaped introduction which he said was about two minutes long and is actually five minutes long, the irony of which is lost on none of the fools sitting here wishing they were like the rest of the world tuning into PBS, curling up on their couch with their TiVo ready to pause when they have to go to the loo. He looks like an aged hobbit wearing a grey hooded sweater over a golf shirt with a red collar. The film is shot on 16mm. Wiseman is dedicated to shooting on film. He shot the entire 12-week 2004 legislative session in the state of Idaho. His goal was to show the democratic process in action. He shot 160 hours of film. It took him over a year to edit. He says he makes long films because he has a responsibility to the people who gave him permission to make a fair response. Ideas change from shooting through immersion in editing. Each film is a report on what he thinks he’s learned studying the material. He has done a series on institutions. All institutions he has studied are touched by the actions of a state legislature. Idaho is a citizens legislature, meaning they all have occupations aside from being legislators.The introduction ends, the film begins. It’s not the cleanest print. It opens with shots of the Idaho state capitol. The speaker of the house talks to guests in the rotunda. He analogizes the election of state legislators to cattle. The first 105 is who you get. No better people that you are. Makes them cognizant of their impact on their constituents.Cut to opening prayer on the floor. They pray for specific sentators’ sons who are ill. Refers back to Iwo Jima 59 years ago. Entreats them to taste and hear each word they say in the Pledge of Allegiance. The pledge is modified. Cut to a senator crying while saying pledge.Tours Committee64% of democrats? think monetary contributions change votes. This needs to be addressed systematically. Representative government is core of American values. How do we protect public confidence? The institution of representative government is worth fighting for.One committee discusses a threat of an attack on school and the lack of a law pursuant to which the threatener could be arrested.Another committee discusses mad cow disease and a proposal that imported cattle from Canada be branded with the letter “C” as cows from Mexico are already branded with the letter “M” and also chipping cattle.Another committee discusses electronic waste, i.e. obsolete computers.Another committee discusses adding a provision to allow organ donors to specify that the do not want their organs to go to a for-profit entity.Another committee hosts a police chief who describes the problem of video voyeurism and the problem posed by imaging devices like camera phones. They’re discussing the wording of a law that would criminalize such acts. Limited to places with reasonable expectation of privacy. Nothing on books addresses upskirting. Also hotels recording what’s happening in their hotel rooms. Taping in women’s locker rooms. Father posting video of himself having sex with his daughter - there is a law against the act but not posting the video.Information desk, rotunda.Discussion in back of committee room about the difference between legislation and rules. “RS” means “routing service.” Once committee votes to print the R.S. it becomes a public bill. Chairman can refer the public bill for a hearing. Chairman has discretion because he or she controls who speaks and how long. The power of the committee chairman is very great.Another committee discusses who is allowed to speak at public hearings about proposals to use land for a confined animal feeding unit. But the subject matter is not revealed until toward the end. Mostly the discussion of who has a right to speak and who doesn’t without reference to what it is they may want to speak about. A person does not have a right to be heard if they do not own a primary residence within one mile of the proposed site. Freedom of speech can be inconvenient. Do we allow the government to say who can and who can’t comment? Notice is a separate issue. This is an issue of government power versus the power to be heard. Unlimited hearing rights might be cumbersome. What if the radius is increased to ten miles? Otherwise people get bussed in to jam up the system by special interest groups. All lines would be arbitrary. Let them all talk. Rather have them talking to us than talking about us. These unlimited hearings would kill projects. It’s a $2 billion industry. Private property right to build one of these things. This is the moment when the subject of the hearings at issue is revealed. We don’t have a right to tell people they can’t talk. Roll call vote. Motion dies on a tie.LobbyRobot demonstration of AI. Scientist is pitching to a legislator who appears most attentive to the free food.Another committee tries to honor a Congressional Medal of Honor winner, but forgets his name and it’s just embarrassing to all involved. Then they launch into a discussion of increasing utility and medical costs.Another committee discusses teachers. Some people refer to experience teaching as “seat time.” Four years of experience is worth more money than one year of experience. The current pay scale is driving old teachers out. Tough budget year so you have to prioritize. Give school boards more freedom. Even if we give them more money, local government might not use it on our priority.Another committee discusses a law about sex offenders. They don’t want pranksters to have to register. They want deviants to have to register. Not the football team and frat boys on the sex offender registry. What if they make the first offense a misdemeanor and the second offense a felony? What if they remove the registration requirement from the law? What if they make a different law for juveniles than for adults? Dissemination of images should be a felony. Dissemination is not a prank. A prosecutor present for the discussion suggests giving egregious offenders without dissemination a misdemeanor at most is problematic because the victim is no less victimized. The prosecutor is not opposed to limits on who has to register, but is not sure making a first offense a misdemeanor is a solution. Only register if second offense? Only register for dissemination? If he shows three friends in his basement but doesn’t post it on the web is that dissemination? What is more important: punishment or who registers? Rationale of the registry is to track recidivists with a problem. Overcriminalizing for 18 year old kids. Does it make sense that it’s a misdemeanor to expose one’s genitals but a felony to take a picture of another’s? Could petition for waiver to prosecute a minor as an adult for this offense, but prosecution as a minor is not automatically waived. What are we trying to address? Should we come at it from the victims point of view? What about this act offends us? Is it the sexual nature? Concerns of video broadcasting websites trying to avoid liability are what brought this to our attention. Are fraud investigators going to be in trouble? That’s why “sexual nature” language is there. We need to statisfy the business community and address the needs of law enforcement officers and prevent pranksters from cluttering up sex offender registry.Interview in lobby about legislation proposed by Congress regarding undocumented people without drivers licenses. If we are willing to hire them we should be willing to let them drive. Not an immigration issue. Reality is these people are here and working hard. Didn’t get a hearing on the issue. Going to keep trying.People talking to legislator about illegal immigration. We can’t address federal issues. We need to deal with people in our community. I employ people by helping them get here legally. This is a transportation issue not an immigration issue. Do you know why people come here? If you fix immigration you fix the drivers license issue. But we’re not at the federal level.Chess in rotunda.Pianist in rotunda.Another committee is hearing a rabbi. He is speaking about a proposed American Heritage Monument which would include the most important documents. He suggests Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists. in which Jefferson introduced the idea of a wall between church and state. This is theocratic grandstanding to place the ten commandments in the statehouse. There are three versions of the ten commandments. Whose version will we use? What religion’s version does this state want to endorse over the others’? A person with an opposing viewpoint says that what the rabbi suggests is we should rewrite our heritage to say the founders were evil, godless men. This is the work of the United Nations and humanism. If we forget our foundations like San Fransisco and New Orleans, where people are ruled by their hearts and not the rule of law, destruction will come. Take a stand so more people may be submissive before the lord. Another person suggests they establish a committee of historians to determine appropriate documents to include. For example, the proposed monument does not include the constitution (, John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government (, Montesque’s Spirit of the Law (, Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments (, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense (, The Age of Reason ( which describes deism, The Rights of Man ( The Federalist Papers ( Pericles Funeral Oration ( This smacks of the Inquisition. There is no emergency as the proposed legislation states. So let’s do it right.RotundaOfficesDiscussion between the Speaker of the House and a reporter. The reporter says it is hard to get readers interested in water politics. Native American issues and interstate contracts intertwined with water rights. Here, an otherwise bumbling Speaker of the House rattles off the technical and political issues of every body of water in the state.Support staffAnother committee discusses the jail population. The number of females is increasing at an increasing rate. The jails are not prepared. Females need more programs. They don’t do time as well as mails. This increase is a consequence of methamphetamine and equal rights in that judges are not letting women off with light sentences as often.Exterior of the statehouse.Mailroom, senate pages.Rotunda.Debate on the Senate floor about banning smoking in restaurants and bars. A senator is reading facts and figures about second hand smoke. When he switches to extemporaneous speaking there is a huge increase in his persuasiveness. Insert a computer screen of votes. Businesses should be in control. People choose where to eat. Free enterprise. We have to be business friendly. Less government is good. Free choice. Every time the legislature gets together we lose another freedom. Free agency versus risk to others. When the risk is too great, then we must act. In the case of second hand smoke, the risk is too high. We don’t want to go too far into private homes and cars. Free enterprise and individual initiative. A Senator reads the Republican party’s platform. Government provides people only those critical functions that cannot be performed by individuals or private groups. Private property rights. Strong enforcement of the Takings Clause. With freedom comes responsibility. Government regulation is not new regarding public health and safety. Regulation protects majority from the few without regard for others.RotundaLatino kids dancing in traditional ethnic outfits while white people look on disparagingly.Another committee discusses the level of detail they went through the health and welfare budget in years past. What effect do we want to make during the debate on the house floor? We are sending a message to the people who care with no effect on the body. There will be press conferences before and after. Write letters to constituents. The department is making the budget unintelligible intentionally.Support staffAnother committee hears the testimony of a representative of the hotel and hospitality industry seeking legislation that would protect them from suits related to obesity. He is tripping over his words. A legislator says she understands his concerns regarding frivolous lawsuits but would the industry be willing to include in such legislation a requirement that they publish nutritional information? Another legislator says no attorney in Idaho would file such an action. Special legislation for a special interest group. We have civil procedure protections. Do we trust our judicial system? Do we have to protect every company? We have good judges and we get rid of frivolous suits. Government shouldn’t regulate common sense consumption.MailroomDebate on the house floor about bill requiring all children of age to attend kindergarten. Right of parents to decide whether they’re ready for kindergarten. Insert of reflection of computer screens on legislator’s glasses. Kindergarten is parents passing the buck. Mandatory public schools don’t solve the problem. Government should stay out of the way. Children are at risk and allowing them to fail is not acceptable, particularly if budget is the reason. While it is primarily a parental responsibility, society has a right to be involved in raising kids. Society pays the price if those kids fail in the form of jails and unemployment. Insert of people in the gallery. Parents know best whether kids are prepared. The Communist Manifesto ( included government control of education.RotundaAn organization called ( is pitching to the legislators. A legislator doffs a virtual reality headset that allows people to experience a day in the life of a schizophrenic. Helps people to empathize with people who have an invisible disease. It is not a lifestyle choice. Mental health drugs are currently covered by Medicaid. We shouldn’t tinker with what doctors know works. The consequences of untreated mental health problems are severe. Parity in private healthcare coverage of mental health care. Most private insurance covers all mental health drugs. Value of advocacy groups.Two legislators talking about their positions on a bill. Matter of fundamental fairness. Where are the Blues? I.e., what position does Blue Cross/Blue Shield take on this issue?Debate on the floor about telephone rates. Local landline rates are determined by Qwest. Qwest did not show effective competition. Price deregulation means there would be no limit on the price they could charge. In all other ways the telecom industry is already deregulated. There will be excessive rate increases without competition. A telephone is a vital service. Deregulation would allow Qwest to haul huge profits out of Idaho. Deregulation is not always good.Another committee discusses victim impact statements. These are relevant and admissable in capital cases within Booth v. Maryland and Payne v. Tennessee. [Booth v. Maryland, 482 U.S. 496, 504-05 (1987), held that introduction of a victim impact statement at the sentencing phase of a capital murder trial violated the Eighth Amendment. Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808, 827 (1991) overruled Booth holding that the Eighth Amendment erects no per se bar if a state chooses to permit the admission of victim impact evidence and prosecutorial argument on that subject; the state may legitimately conclude that evidence about victim and impact of murder on victim's family is relevant to jury's decision as to whether to impose death penalty, in the same manner as other relevant evidence.] The Eighth Amendment does not bar victim impact statements in capital cases. Cathy Figoretto testifies before the committee about her daughter, who was murdered in her town of Mountain Home. We need to have a voice for victims, who are powerless.Another committee discusses a bill that would require contractors to be registered with the state. The committee hears testimony of an attorney representing the builders association. Currently there are no standards. This bill would create a registry with grounds for discipline and state intervention for fraud outside the civil court system, which is cost prohibitive. I can change my name if my reputation is ruined. It’s a shell game. When drafting this bill we surveyed people who have opposed similar bills in the past and tried to work out our differences. Committee notes no one signed up to testify against the legislation though they see people in the room who rallied the opposition to similar bills in the past. The committee hears testimony of a representative of Idahoans for Tax Reform. He opposes any permit issued by the government to go to work. Bad guys are still going to be bad guys. He sent the committee members copies of John Stossel’s book Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media... ( Established players control the licensing board and keep competition out. Licensing is a restriction on trade and inhibits small businesses from forming. A committee member counters that we already license a lot of things. He’s never heard this witness except on the issue of contractor licensing. These other professions are licensed, so what is your position on that? The ITR representative says he’s resistant to licensing in general. The committee member starts reading the different professions that are licensed asking the man if he opposes the licensing of each profession in turn. The man says school teachers should not be licensed. There should be no liquor licenses. Attorneys are a tough question but are licensed by their own bar. He doesn’t know whether physicians should be licensed. Auctioneers should not be licensed. He’s not familiar enough with bail agents to have an opinion. Stock traders are bound by a fiduciary trust which allows consumers particular protections. He gives the UL ( as an example of a non-governmental compliance oversight. The committee member and the man go through the entire list of licensed occupations. The man says he thinks consumers should not be protected by government agencies. Another committee member moves that the committee should pass the bill to the floor with a recommendation that it be passed. The motion is approved unanimously by voice vote.Support StaffFour men meet in an office. It initially appears that two legislators are telling jokes to the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tem of the Senate. The joke is about Governmentonium ( ). Actually, the two men telling the joke are lobbyists. They are meeting to discuss a public transportation funding bill. There are three ways to fund public transportation: federal, state, or local option funding bills. Local option could mean a personal property tax on personal passenger vehicles. The lobbyists are trying to get the bill into interim committee. The legislators tell the lobbyists to talk to other legislators and generate interest in the bill then give them a list of who is interest. These legislators are running unopposed so they have time to do this in an election year. People won’t use an inadequate public transportation system. Right now we can’t generate sufficient local funding to get matching federal funding. Lobbyists have drafted a resolution and are asking the legislators how to proceed. The speaker explains how.Rotunda - choirAdministrative staffMarine showing off his Purple Hearts to administrative staff.A legislator and an administrative staff woman are looking through the rules together. If the committee doesn’t do what the body wants it to do the body can intervene. Bills are referred to the committee not to the committee chairman. The committee can call the bill from the committee chair.Another committee discusses whether local people have a say in charter school grants. Should a commission in the capital do whatever it wants? There are incentives for the charter to work with the local board. When the local board has animosity toward the charter, then there is an alternate route through the state commission. First era of charter schools were started by dedicated visionaries. This era is corporate education management lobbying the state board trying to get money from the state. The committee votes to reject the amendment.The ITR representative who was involved in the committee hearing on construction licensing talks to another man about what they’re going to argue. They’re going to propose bonding and self-certification. They are going to draft legislation for voluntary registration.Senate pages.A small group gathered on the floor discusses running a roll call vote on the phone rate issue. Two senators are talking about tactics. We lost this vote because of organized labor. It is easier to get things from people who aren’t the regulators, like the legislature. Newspaper reporter is among those discussing.The legislator we saw discussing the rules with the administrative staff woman calls for a hearing on a bill despite the committee chairman’s opposition. She says the tactic shows this issue is a litmus test and lack of trust in the State Supreme Court. We have to rise above that fear. At this point it is revealed that the issue in question is an amendment to the Idaho state constitution prohibiting same sex marriage. The law already describes marriage as between a man and a woman. The Supreme Court will not overrule it. The bill proposes an amendment to the Idaho state constitution. This is divisive. The legislator who called fo a hearing says it is a vote on the faith in the strength of government. Idaho has an expanded privacy right in its constitution which is broader that the Equal Protection Clause so that gives cause for pause. An appellate court would be compelled to take a closer look at a challenge brought to this law. No negativity toward chairman. The motion is within the procedures allowed. We need to do our due diligence to bring this issue to the floor. With a hearing we’ll give the citizens the chance to express their views. Fostering debate and expression of the will of the Senate. Then a ballot measure to express the will of citizens. Not an expression of the Chairman’s will alone. Another legislator says this is misdirecting their attention and resources. We have immediate problems. What is the magnitude of the problem? Another legislature says he has respect for the chairman and the committee process. What this does is strengthen the current law. The legislative process has obstacles because the minority needs to be protected from an overzealous majority. There is no imminent threat. We’re Idahoans. We have faith in the Supreme Court and future legislators. The motion fails so the topic of a constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage is not going to hearing.RotundaA woman is giving a eulogy for a former legislator who recently passed away. Inserts of bored legislators not listening. Reading of a psalm. Prayer. Bagpiping police officer plays Amazing Grace and walks alone from the room. The doors close behind him. The film ends.