The Congress @ The Ross

Robin Wright animated  in her psychedelic world.

Robin Wright animated in her psychedelic world.

My father always would offer these stern words of caution when I went to a social gathering. He would say, “you may go, but know when to leave the party.” My father’s caution is exactly what I would have offered to film director Ari Folman if I had the opportunity. Folman takes the audience on a psychedelic mind trip in his film The Congress, starring Robin Wright and Harvey Keitel.

I got it — this excursion into the world of primary colors and dreamscapes—this alternative universe into which Robin Wright travels to escape the reality of aging. But Folman stays so long in that sphere that it no longer matters what happens to anybody; it wears on the mind. I also got the messages that Folman doles out with a heavy hand. There is a critique of celebrity culture and how the operators of it salivate over young flesh with a hatred of its natural ability to age; how fans become so hungry for its stars that they will virtually eat and/or drink them alive; and, how film studios and their mogul administrators tire of handling the volatile personalities of actors.

Robin Wright in the Digital Laboratory "recording" all of her mannerisms

Robin Wright in the Digital Laboratory “recording” all of her mannerisms

Miramount, the fictional film studio has just the solution to assuage its woes: digitize the still youthful looking Robin Wright, upload all of her mannerisms and feelings into a database, and cast that digitized image in films for all eternity. There is a devil in the catch, and it is evil: Robin Wright must never act again – not in theater nor onscreen. Robin Wright signs the contract, and Folman rightly imagines then answers the question: what happens when an artist never can practice her art nor lend her talents to the world again. She turns to chemicals and trips out on a fantasy filled with a la-la land of personalities, to include Jesus, Michael Jackson, Queen Elizabeth, Elvis Pressley, and a Tom Cruise look-a-like.

The plot becomes convoluted with twists and turns that end up somewhere that is nowhere. Folman tarries so long in the animated realm that I found myself conjuring up a shuttle to take me out of there! My father taught me well, though. I pulled my emotions from the story and waited for its end. I knew when to leave that party!

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The Congress plays through October 2d at The Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

Listen to The Congress @ 1:00:05 recorded for Friday Live at The Mill!

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White Space ~ A Review

Maya Washington

Maya Washington

The clink of penny change on a sidewalk
The cuddle of coffee cups on a waitress’s tray
Sounds …

Love notes whispered
Sounds we take for granted

Sounds. Spoken Words. Each conducts the melodies of everyday life, but speaking the word is celebrated as the most powerful of social exchanges. In her beautifully imagined film short White Space, however, film director Maya Washington (White Space Poetry Project) gingerly dramatizes silence as the ‘other’ manner of communication in a space that privileges the spoken word: the stage. Washington shrewdly casts subtle clues that lead to an ‘opening night’ so affectionate that the heart stirs to rejoice; it has one other outlet for infinite expression.

The film opens on a street as the echoes of the night accompany a determined young man in a hoodie walking to somewhere. Matt Koskenmaki’s impassioned score forges the film’s serious almost haunting tone with bluesy bass chords dancing with percussion and the brassy buzz of the trumpet. The process of addition by subtraction produced the music’s blend Koskenmaki remembers:

I first saw the film … there was no music; it was very rare for someone to give me a short film like that … most temp in the music. [White Space] was a blank canvas, so what I did was write a lot of music–more music than was needed. When Maya came to hear what I had done, we went for low tones to [evoke] intimacy.

On the way, Koskenmaki’s musical pulses emphasize the intimacy between the young man and the writer of the uplifting phone texts he reads: “I know you can do this; Love you”; and then a plea: “Please don’t mess this up”; “Get here!!!” Cinematographer James Adolphus builds audience curiosity as he alternates between the dots of street sounds and the warm jollity of a small theater called The Alabaster located in the backroom of a laundromat. Slam Poets serve as an entertaining preface to what is to come with their respective rat-a-tat rhythms to socio-cultural critique,

You’re right! I’m overreacting to white folks who liberate they coon selves through the culture of black people replacing stereotypes in hip-hop music with caricatures from Dixie!
–Ant Black

and smooth stylistic musings on the power of inner beauty,

No reflections on glass, shadows or shapes, pictures on the wall, or shimmering lakes can show you what you are: A truly undefinable beauty. – Tanya Alexander

Enter The Poet, the young man in the hoodie, played by deaf performance poet Ryan Lane (Dummy Hoy: A Deaf Hero; Switched at Birth). Koskenmaki stops the music, and the scene transitions from a lively night at the coffee house to an awkward but reverent silence bathed in white light.

Sayna (Washington) and The Poet (Lane)

Sayna (Washington) and The Poet (Lane)

Lane excels in this precarious moment as he laudably conveys The Poet’s self-conscious hesitancy on-stage along with his virtuosity in communication. “When we suck the sound out of the coffee house, the absence of sound becomes more intense,” reveals Washington. For approximately two minutes and nineteen seconds, The Poet transcribes the issues from his heart through his hands. It is silent. “I can’t tell you who I am without telling you where I’ve been,” he signs with such spirit and emotion that patrons nod with understanding. Washington plays Shayna, his girlfriend, whose texts are the love notes of encouragement that drive the poet past his fear.

The Poet (Ryan Lane)

The Poet (Ryan Lane)

It is without question. Lane performs his own frustration as a deaf actor navigating within a business that more often than not recognizes those who hear. The film’s chief virtue, then, is courage—the courage of the deaf artist to perform live and the courage of the audience to hear him. These diegetic collaborations are the fruits of Washington’s own collaborative labors:

Ryan and I collaborated with a hearing poet Herschel McPherson; a poet/interpreter Mona Jean Cedar; and, a deaf poet/actress Zendrea Mitchell (the woman at the train station) to create the poem in the final scene. We had to shape a poem written in spoken English into [American Sign Language] then back into English subtitles. Cinematographer James Adolphus and I thought a lot about how we wanted the audience to experience the ASL visually. [The work of] Brett Bachman (Editor) and Matt Koskenmaki (Composer) […]made the emotion of the scene tangible.

Washington reaches deeply to shift our perspective on live performance and its conventional venue. In the process, she attends to those issues that tug her own heart. “I want hearing people to […] feel a little anxious and uncomfortable, even if they aren’t sure why,” she explains, “a lot of deaf artists walk in both the hearing and deaf world. I feel like it’s time for hearing artists to do the same.” That ‘walk’, no doubt, is fragile, and as the luminous alabaster stone requires care, so does the journey taken together by the hearing and the deaf. White Space makes that happen, and in all of eight minutes and fifty seconds.

White Space is scheduled to screen at the Langston Hughes African American Film Festival in Seattle, Washington, Monday April 15 (; the Indie Boots Film Festival in Chicago ( and the Toronto International Deaf Film and Arts Festival in May 2013 (

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Watch for in-depth Film • Television • & More reviews & commentary.

In the meantime, Catch a film … Share the Popcorn … Feed Your Soul!

Brooklyn Castle @ The Ross

Master Chess Player Rochelle Ballantyn

Master Chess Player Rochelle Ballantyn

“Playing to win” is the mantra of “The Yankees of Chess”, the chess champions from P.I.S. 318, a junior high school in Brooklyn, New York known for its championships. Yes, in Brooklyn Castle, the geek and the nerd are the athletes in the crowd. In her inspirational documentary, Katie Dellamaggiore charts the day-to-day activities of these students, who work tirelessly to juggle the twists and turns of life. The one constant is the mastery of chess with its intellectual challenges and intricate strategies. The game itself is the anchor, and chess opens the door to a wealth of opportunities and, even more significant, the game paves the way for the building of determination, confidence, and intellectual stamina within the students. The nurture of relationships between parents and teachers is very apparent.

practicing the game

practicing the game

Brooklyn Castle is intoxicating for a number of reasons. Witnessing student eagerness to learn the game and the all-out investment of time, belief in, and engagement with the students by the teachers are amazing. Seeing the chess game taken apart in its pieces by a teacher brings the audience into the classroom. These particular scenes no doubt will inspire you to at least learn more about the game. Each competitor’s commitment to the game of chess above is impressive above all as is the unquestioned faith in the ability to win!

Brooklyn Castle plays through February 21 at the Ross Media Arts Center.

Abridged audio version @ 48:00 on Friday Live at the Mill!

A Royal Affair @ The Ross

Dr. Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), the Danish King Christian (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard), and Queen Caroline (Alicia Vikander)

Dr. Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), the Danish King Christian (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard), and Queen Caroline (Alicia Vikander)

Courtly madness and arrant passion combine for A Royal Affair, Nikolaj Arcel’s lavish historical drama set in 18th century Denmark. It is based on the true story of a love triangle between Dr. Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), the German physician to the mentally ill Danish King Christian IV (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard), and his love affair with the well-versed English Princess turned Queen, Caroline Matilde (Alicia Vikander). It is the Age of Enlightenment, and Dr. Struensee and Queen Matilde contemplate the ideal of personal freedom. Arcel’s production unleashes the usual suspects once the affair is discovered: the lovers’ carelessness, intrigue, and, of course, the set-up. The device Arcel cleverly uses to set-up the attraction between Dr. and his patient, the King, and for the love affair to materialize is the seduction of the written word. Dr. Struensee earns the Royal Physician’s post by trading quotations from Shakespeare with the King like an experienced chess player. When the Dr. examines the Queen for a possible illness in his office, she spies his library and borrows a book on the Enlightenment. Later, the Dr. sends the Queen a gift of Rousseau and Voltaire for her private reading. These literary gestures endear physician, King and Queen to each other as each word conjures up intense friendship and fascination; loyalty and trust.

The Dr. and Queen in a stolen moment

The Dr. and Queen in a stolen moment

Worth noting in A Royal Affair are the sumptuous eye-pleasing costumes overrun with rich brocades, lace and silk. Nikolaj Arcel has produced an astonishing smartly executed period piece drawn with a very modern feel.

A Royal Affair plays through February 21 at The Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

This weekend’s Met HD Live opera is Rigoletto February 16 and Sunday, February 17.
The Coffee and Conversation film on Sunday is Soul Food Junkies.

Abridged audio version @ 49:36 on Friday Live at the Mill!

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