Here a Doc, There a Doc…

Here’s a paradox:  When I’m at my busiest, having the most fun, doing the most things it would be exciting to write about, I don’ t have time to write.  Yeah, life is tough sometimes.  A lot of the time.

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In any case – we spent a long weekend at AFIDocs, a documentary film festival here in town.  We first “discovered” AFIDocs two years ago, when it was called Silverdocs, and it had been going on for many years before that.  The festival has undergone many changes in the last two years, and we sort of miss the halcyon days of the first time we attended, but it’s still a pretty amazing way to spend time.  This year, we saw ten movies in three days.  Some were “small” films that aren’t likely to see wide distribution; others have already been picked up for national distribution.

The overarching theme for us this year turned out to be Personal Responsibility — responsibility to recognize injustice and to act upon it.  (We didn’t plan our movie choices that way; it just happened.)  Movies that fit into that theme included:

  • 1971 — about a group of protesters who broke into the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, intending to steal draft records but ultimately stealing documents that disclosed the existence of the FBI’s domestic counterintelligence program
  • Freedom Summer — about the summer of 1964 and the volunteers who went to Mississippi to register voters, teach students in summer “Freedom Schools”, and create the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party that tried to be seated as the legitimate Miss. delegation at the national Democratic convention
  • The Hand That Feeds — about a group of low-wage workers who organized a union at a New York fast food restaurant
  • The Internet’s Own Boy — about Aaron Swartz, the Internet activist who committed suicide rather than face trial for downloading unlawful copies of journal articles through MIT’s computers

We also saw several movies that were portraits of people:

  • Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me — about the musician and his family and their decision to organize a final musical tour as he became increasingly incapacitated with Alzheimer’s
  • Life Itself — about Roger Ebert and his life as a journalist and film critic
  • Slingshot — about Dean Kamen and his quest to build and distribute a machine that will bring clean water to under-resourced regions of the world

And then there were a few “random” movies:

  • Misconception — about population control efforts, including mandatory family size limitation, lobbying efforts at the UN to fight all efforts to distribute health care to women, and Ghanaian orphans and abandoned children
  • The Search for General Tso — ostensibly about the origin of the dish General Tso’s Chicken, but mostly about Chinese immigration into the United States and the nature of cultural assimilation
  • When the Garden was Eden — about the championship New York Knicks teams of the late 60′s and early 70′s

My favorites ended up being Slingshot — Dean Kamen seems like a child-loving Willie Wonka, who creates gadgets instead of candy — and The Search for General Tso.  None of the movies was terrible (although the horribly uncomfortable seats in one of the auditoriums made some of the movies seem too long…)

All in all, a great way to spend a weekend.  And if you can see Slingshot, do.

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Was That a Weekend?

Wow.  Yet another weekend has mugged us — I can’t believe that three days blew by so quickly!

Suffice to say, I got some reading done, and some writing-organizing.  I fiddled with print editions of FRIGHT COURT and CAPITOL MAGIC (should be out around Halloween…), and I poked at the Diamond Brides romance series.

I finished reading Jessica Scott’s BECAUSE OF YOU (hot military romance, and a recent USA Today Bestseller – go, Jessica!), and I started reading Anna Kendall’s CROSSING OVER.  (Anna Kendall is actually Nancy Kress — I’ve had this book on my to-be-read list for a long time, but I’m just getting to it.  And it’s good, and thought-provoking, and a lot darker than I expected, even though Nancy said it was dark!)

I watched a *lot* of baseball (including the Nationals’ longest game ever (time-wise) which was tied-for-longest-game-ever, inning-wise.  They won, which almost made it all worthwhile.

I watched the movie PROMISED LAND, which wasn’t as bad as I’d feared.  And I watched the latest installments of BREAKING BAD and THE NEWSROOM, both of which feel strange, because I’ve gotten used to power-watching multiple episodes of shows at a time.

I’m working on a new knitting project, a gift for a friend, using an easy pattern that doesn’t take a lot of concentration.  (It’s also quite forgiving; a few mis-stitched stitches don’t even show up!)

And I ate a ridiculous amount of food, without doing any cooking.  In a tragedy for my waistline, I discovered that the really good pizza place down the road *delivers* — not just pizza, but “cheesecake truffles” for dessert.  My life might never be the same…

I did some gardening, digging out the liriope that succumbed to crown rot.  (Sigh…)  Let’s just say that it’s a lot easier to dig out liriope with an appropriate tool.  And a trowel is not an appropriate tool.  (But a shovel, borrowed from a neighbor, is.)

This morning, I took my poor car into the body shop, to have its front bumper replaced.  (For those who missed the drama, someone hit-and-runned the car, cracking the bumper and taking the air grille on the right side.)  The shop was very easy to work with, and I hope the repairs will be done soon.  I have a rental car (covered by my insurance) until the operation is done.

And that’s life in Klaskyville.  How was your weekend?

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The Film Festival That Was

We spent the past four days at AFIDocs (formerly, Silverdocs), a documentary film festival.  While I loved, loved, loved the festival last year, I had major misgivings about this year.  Last year, the festival was held in the D.C. suburb of Silver Spring, where five theaters were within five minutes of each other and countless independently owned (and some chain) restaurants waited to cater to the crowds, along with a Doubletree hotel that hosted visitors and treated them to special discounts.

This year, one of the festival’s key sponsors pulled out two months before the event.  A mad scramble was had, and the event was seriously reconfigured.  While some screenings were still held in Silver Spring, the vast majority of the movies were shown in downtown D.C. venues.  Those spaces were spread out — a fast walker would need about 15 minutes to get between the furthest two downtown spots, and sidewalk- and street-traffic could easily add another 15 minutes to the time.  The cluster of restaurants was gone (although there are *plenty* of good restaurants downtown!) and there was no sponsoring hotel, much less one with cheap event rates.

Oh – and they eliminated their online ticket purchases (at least, for ticket packages), and they scrapped their online scheduler (which helped to calculate which of each film’s two showings made sense, given venues that were already sold out.)

So, I didn’t have high hopes for this year’s festival.  But I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised!  The downtown auditoriums generally worked quite well for the screenings.  (The seats in the Goethe Institut site were too loose, so that the entire row rocked every time someone shifted in his seat, but otherwise…)  We checked out several new-to-us restaurants and enjoyed a couple of old favorites.  We found convenient places to hang out during the inevitable gaps between some films — we both got a lot of reading done, along with movie-watching!

And the films were quite varied!  None of them was an utter failure; even the lowest-ranked (by us; we don’t know the official winner of the Audience Award yet) was still entertaining, or educational, or beautiful, or all three.  We saw:

WHITE BLACK BOY — An albino Tanzanian boy is plucked from his family’s village and sent to an English-only boarding school, so that he can be kept safe from hunters who would kill him to harvest his body parts for witchcraft.

TEENAGE — The evolution of youth culture and youth rights, from 1895 – 1945, focusing on the U.S., England, and Germany.

THE KILL TEAM — The trial of an American soldier (and fellow infantrymen) accused of murdering innocent Afghanis during the war.

EXPEDITION TO THE END OF THE EARTH — A journey to typically ice-locked fjords in the north of Greenland, when those fjords become accessible due to icecap meltoff.

RENT A FAMILY, INC — A Japanese man’s business, renting himself out as a supposed family member to people who need a husband, father, etc. (and a look at his own dysfunctional family).

LIFE ACCORDING TO SAM — A boy born with progeria (early aging), and his parents’ search for a drug treatment.

LOST FOR LIFE — Juveniles sentenced to life without parole.

MISTAKEN FOR STRANGERS — Impossible to describe, “rock documentary” about the indie band, The National, which ends up being an autobiography of the lead singer’s brother (the documentarian), in a very funny, very sweet picture of a guy who doesn’t know how to grow up.

MUSCLE SHOALS — Recording studios in Alabama.

ANITA — Anita Hill, during and after the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings.

My favorite was the utterly quirky MISTAKEN FOR STRANGERS.  The best cinematography was either EXPEDITION or WHITE BLACK BOY.  The movies you’re most likely to see come Oscar season are THE KILL TEAM, LOST FOR LIFE, and ANITA.  And LIFE ACCORDING TO SAM was everything you’d expect it to be from the subject matter, and then some — Sam is a funny, sweet, inspiring boy who you just *want* to spend more time with.

All in all, a great way to spend the long weekend.

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The Weekend That Wasn’t

This weekend, I didn’t go to the Washington Romance Writers all-day Saturday meeting (which was held two blocks from my home.)  And I didn’t go to the Ross King lecture on Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, down at the National Gallery.  And I didn’t take in the Durer exhibit, which closed yesterday.  And I didn’t see any of the handful of movies-in-theater that I have on my “that looks interesting list”.  And I didn’t catch up with friends or relatives by way of email.

But I *did* write 10,000 words on SINGLE WITCH’S SURVIVAL GUIDE, including the most important two words in the book:  “The End”.  And I did edit the first 40,000 words of that book, discovering that the first two chapters were actually *great* (after having a rough birthing process), and the next five have been made great.

And I watched the movie A Late Quartet on DVD, resulting in literally hours of discussion about friends, family, art, and aging.

And I attended a Nationals game (the wrong one for the weekend, alas, as they lost when they shouldn’t have).

And I outlined the heroines in my next series of books (more on that soon).

And I read part of a friend’s manuscript and offered some editorial notes that I was told are helpful.

And I’m ready to face the rest of this week — a few days of hard labor, finishing the revisions on SINGLE WITCH (which will then head out to beta readers on its expedited schedule for publication on August 13!)

So, really?  Not a bad weekend, when you consider all of it!

How about you?  Good?  Bad?  Ugly?

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Great American Pastime

We had a pretty quiet weekend around here — at least, not much to write about.  In a word, our weekend was:  Baseball.

On Thursday afternoon, we went to see the Nationals beat the Tigers.  (This was a makeup game, after the original got rained out on Tuesday.)  The game was exciting — it all came down to the very last out, with Prince Fielder at the plate.  After, we went to Five Guys for dinner, where I indulged in a burger and fries and didn’t even think about feeling guilty :-)

On Friday, relatives came to visit from North Carolina, and we went to see the Nationals beat the Cubs.  I was surprised to find that two games, back to back, weren’t too much for me.  I suspect that the two wins helped that to be the case!  We sat one section over from our usual seats.  (Enter long, boring explanation for why there isn’t an usher posted near our usual seats.)  It was fun to watch a good usher properly handling the crowd — helping people find their seats, holding them in the aisle until breaks in play, etc.  I ended up tracking down the ushers’ supervisor — both to compliment the usher we saw, and to try to remedy the lack of an usher in our usual section.  I was pleased with the customer service, at least the lip service ::wry grin::

On Saturday, I went to see the yarn bombing to which I had contributed several pieces over the winter.  Then, on Saturday evening, I watched BULL DURHAM with our visiting Carolina relatives.  I haven’t seen the whole movie in a long time, and I was surprised by a couple of things — how much baseball I’ve learned since the last time I saw it, and how utterly unquotable-in-a-family-blog most of the dialog is.  I think it’d be about a one-hour movie on TV, once they deleted all the lines they couldn’t satisfactorily bleep…

I’m reeling a bit from the discovery that this is a Monday, and it’s time for me to head to work.  Nevertheless, it’s Writing Day, so I’d better settle down and get my words in – 5000 is today’s target!

So?  Did anyone have a more exciting weekend than mine?  (I like to give you easy assignments, once in a while :-) )

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Black and White and Dead All Over

Last weekend, we headed down to the Newseum for a new documentary, BLACK AND WHITE AND DEAD ALL OVER.

Having attended Silverdocs (a film festival that exclusively shows documentaries) last year, and having watched dozens of them on our own, outside of the festival, we have become something of documentary snobs.  We talk a lot about whether the subject is worth the investment of time, whether the story is told in interesting ways, whether new facts were illuminated, whether the movie itself was enjoyable as a movie.  We have pretty strong opinions — and sometimes they differ from the critics’.

BAWADAO got a solid B from us.

It is subtitled “A Film About the End of American Newspapers”.  As a unifying features, it shows a map of the United States, with dots placed to show cities where newspapers have been severely curtailed or, in some cases, shut down forever.  The film cites various statistics, including the average age of readers (55, and growing older).

But that’s not really what the film is about.

BAWADAO is about the death of *investigative journalism*.  It’s about those reporters who invest months — sometimes a year or more — in developing a story, ferreting out injustice, exposing bad government.  Investigative journalism is very expensive for newspapers; it requires fronting salaries for months, along with the costs of the actual investigations.  It is the very opposite of tweets and Facebook and other social media news.

BAWADAO tracks two investigative journalists from the Philadelphia Daily News, telling their story — both the Pulitzer-Prize-winning series that they wrote and their precarious job position.  The film spends a *lot* of time talking about Philly papers, about how they’ve been bought and sold five times in six years, about how hedge fund managers make lousy publishers.

These are all part and parcel of the problem.  But ultimately, the film claims too much when it says it’s about the (absolute) end of (all) American newspapers.

The Newseum welcomed us to the screening, handing out totebags with the slogan from the movie (“Democracy dies in darkness”.)  The bags also contained a copy of that day’s Washington Post, a bottle of water, and a bag of SmartFood popcorn (you know, so we could enjoy popcorn and a drink at the movies.)

In fact, we’d already read that day’s Post (even though we’re younger than the 55-average-age.)  How about you?  When was the last time that you read a print paper?  How about a mainstream paper, online?  From where do you get your news?

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