From ‘Mistress America’ to Majority Rule


, , ,

Lola Kirke, Greta Gerwig, and Noah Baumbach at Sundance in support of 'Mistress America'

Lola Kirke, Greta Gerwig, and Noah Baumbach at Sundance in support of ‘Mistress America’

Snagging an interview with a rising star, a sure-to-be It-Girl player like Lola Kirke, is definitely a catch-as-catch-can proposition. Kirke comes from a family that includes papa Simon, the former drummer for Bad Company and Free; mama Lorraine, a vintage boutique shop owner (her store Geminola supplied outfits for HBO’s Sex and the City); and sisters Jemima (one of the featured leads on HBO’s Girls) and Domino (a New York-based doula and musician). My sense of anticipation was quite high, much more so than one might expect for a quick phone chat.

Part of the reason, rather serendipitously, in fact, was a recent article in Forbes spotlighting the world’s highest-paid actresses for 2015. Jennifer Lawrence claims the top spot with $52 million, thanks in large part to starring in The Hunger Games. But far more intriguingly, we find Melissa McCarthy ranked third ($23 million) — a now proven solo star who also works behind the scenes.

I find anecdotal evidence a bit more compelling, especially when it comes to the evidence that can be seen by audiences. Amy Schumer exploded onto the scene, gaining increased exposure from her Comedy Central show Inside Amy Schumer and then her partnering with Judd Apatow for Trainwreck, one of the certifiable hits of the season. The television and film world seems to be in what can best be considered a hopeful early stage of a women’s movement, ready to take over the industry — with Shonda Rhimes programming our network dramas, the continued success of Lena Dunham’s Girls and the steady ascent of Greta Gerwig in the indie realm.

It is Gerwig’s somewhat muted yet quite indelible stamp that triggered my interest in Lola Kirke. Kirke takes the lead in Mistress America, Gerwig’s latest collaboration with Noah Baumbach, where she plays a young college freshman named Tracy. A bit adrift in New York, Tracy hooks up with her soon-to-be stepsister Brooke (Gerwig), a slightly older, flinty and flighty city dweller with too many dreams and too much interest in broadcasting them to bring them to fruition.

The combination of Gerwig and Kirke provides a pointed contrast in styles and attitudes, while also offering intriguing signs for the current representations of women onscreen. Having already spoken with Gerwig, a comedic dervish, in the past, I was willing to move heaven and earth for the chance to catch up with Kirke. I wanted to hear what she, as a relatively new player on the scene, felt about this moment, and what it might mean as we — and, more importantly, she — head into the future.

With Mistress America, Kirke explains that she signed on without having read the full script. During auditions, she got bits and pieces on a need-to-see basis, but she points out, “Noah and Greta’s names attached promises a lot.” She was overcome by how much the script, when she finally got a copy and had a read-through with Baumbach and Gerwig, actually covers. “The dynamic of female friendship — and friendship in general — and the subtext of what it is to be a writer, and the rights of an artist and the rights of a human,” she says. “It was all a part of this offbeat narrative.”

I wanted to focus on women and our current culture, and Kirke didn’t even need me to fully articulate a question before diving right in.

“What I loved about these two characters [Tracy and Brooke], and all of the female characters, really, is that they were not defined by men,” Kirke says. “There are men involved in their lives and their stories — and this is not to say that men aren’t amazing people — but they are not in search of a man or in despair over a man. I think they are people in search of a way to make their identities their own.”

Looking beyond the film, though, I wondered if Kirke might have the same concerns I have often felt when in the midst of what we assume is a watershed moment (seemingly every few years or so for either women or African Americans in the industry). Can such periods be sustained over time?

“Do I think it’s sustainable [for women, currently]?” Kirke asks. “I would only hope that the more voice that we’re given, as women, is something that can’t be taken away. We’ve seen a lot of reverse progress in terms of racial issues over the last 20 years, so perhaps it’s possible. I think, though, in this case, it is a reflection of the times that we’re in and is exciting in a lot of ways, with power being given to minorities and women being — it’s kinda funny to say that we’re a minority, but you know…” (tt stern-enzi)

MUBI: The Stay-At-Home Film Festival




By T.T. Stern-Enzi

Director & actor Kentucker Audley from 'Christmas, Again' (2015)

Director & actor Kentucker Audley from ‘Christmas, Again’ (2015)

What happens when the revolution is no longer revolutionary, when the heat is not stoked to a fever pitch? We can always continue to feed the fire by supporting the leaders of the new school who have stepped up to the call to hoist the banner and bear it further into the future.

Which leads us to social media and film. It is easier to make movies and distribute them outside the studio system. Hell, you can release it for free. That’s not a better system though. What that amounts to is the nuclear detonation of the floodgates. Damning the dam, if you will.

Thanks to a fortuitous tweet, I happened upon a new service, one of those quietly revolutionary start-ups that boldly defined itself and its aims to change the way we view movies. Welcome to MUBI, which, in its own words, “is a curated online cinema bringing you cult, classic, independent and award-winning movies. Available in over 200 countries around the globe and on multiple devices, a subscription to MUBI is a passport to the world of cinema. Every day, our film experts introduce you to a great film, and you have a whole month to watch it. That’s 365 extraordinary films a year curated by MUBI.”

The key word or idea in that statement of purpose is “curation”—the act of organizing and maintaining a collection of artworks or artifacts. MUBI proudly defines itself through its aim of quality presentation of cinema. This isn’t the typical aggregation of titles spread across categorical or genre-based labels that force us to search endlessly for some Holy Grail. No, MUBI provides heightened specialization, thus narrowing the focus. It, as a service, also understands and appreciates that in order to truly provide “service,” there needs to be a degree of expertise and a desire to share knowledge.

For $4.99 per month (with discounts for six-month and annual subscriptions), MUBI serves up a new film each day and maintains a manageable monthly backlog for subscribers to scroll back through for titles they might have missed. For a culture that has embraced seasonal binge viewing of serialized shows, watching a film a day seems decidedly outdated. Cinema has taken a backseat as a preferred format for the consumption of narrative features. Online forums have replaced the live community (the communal moviegoers), but that virtual collective is no less engaged. There is strength in the numbers accessing and viewing content.

And if that is the case, isn’t it fair to assume people still want informed advice about what they should see. MUBI offers what amounts to the experience of a film festival without the concerns of the overwhelming catalogues of titles, times and locations. Each day, MUBI releases one film for viewing at your convenience. And after each individual screening, MUBI highlights similar titles—usually with trailers to preview—for the more adventurous cineastes to chase down on their own.

A completist may, for instance, catch “Sun Don’t Shine,” the indie release from Amy Seimetz (producer of “Medicine for Melancholy” from Sundance and Steven Soderbergh favorite Barry Jenkins, actress in Shane Carruth’s “Upstream Color”) and then discover lead actor Kentucker Audley also has a string of directing projects of his own (“Open Five” and “Holy Land”). What you end up with is a trail of appetizing breadcrumbs, enough to inspire and sustain a communion of likeminded souls.

In addition, MUBI publishes an online magazine, Notebook, dedicated to this specialized world of cinema, featuring more in-depth news, interviews and criticism on films and subjects not readily available to audiences unable to travel to the exclusive festivals in hotspots around the globe. Even for a critic like myself, who ventures out to a couple of festivals a year, MUBI—and its global cinema curators—provides much-needed access to a constantly proliferating art form and links me to an audience that gains tangible power through active viewing experiences.



, , , ,


The Wexner Center for the Arts steps to the forefront of the complex issues surrounding police and community (especially the African American community) engagement, at a time when both regionally and nationally, we find ourselves in a moment of crisis. It is so easy, in such instances, to get swept up in the immediacy of the situations that we wind up forgetting the historical precedents that paved the way for the current climate.

That is why, the September 2nd screening of “Cincinnati Goddamn” by April Martin (a documentary filmmaker who has targeted the devastation and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, women’s health in under-served communities, and alternative avenues in the justice system in a series of shorts) and Paul Hill (who has trained his documentary gaze on the personal story of his transgendered father in “Myth of Father” and served as a contributing film editor on the Emmy-winning doc “A Lion in the House” by Julia Reichert and Steve Bognar) matters so much. This film explores the encounters between Cincinnati police officers and 15 African American men in a six-year period (1995-2001) that resulted in the deaths of those men, the turmoil of their families, and the escalating civil unrest that culminated in riots that drew national attention.

“Cincinnati Goddamn” juxtaposes the heartbreaking efforts of family members and community leaders in pursuit of the truth regarding their loved ones with the seemingly unfathomable accounts of a group of officers and a criminal justice system that fails to live up to its moral ideals, in respect to serving and protecting all members of society. The outrage borne in that six-year span has gained renewed strength in light of a recent spate of tragic scenarios during the last couple of years. To make matters worse, Ohio again has found itself caught up in this current wave of tense standoffs between the two sides.

Personally, it was difficult screening the film immediately following the announcement of the indictment of University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing in the killing of Sam Dubose. Until this incident, Cincinnati had basked in the enviable position of observing the unrest in other cities, knowingly head nodding as the wave of community outrage rose to a fever-pitch; smug, even, as members of the re-gentrified  OTR neighborhood (which had been ground-zero for the riots) and the surrounding area, preached about overcoming such trials and tribulations. And yet, here we were again, 15 years later, doomed, it seems, to face another sad reminder that precious little has changed.

All of which makes the screening of “Cincinnati Goddamn” so vital and necessary. Coming as part of the Wexner’s Director’s Dialogue on Art and Social Change series, the event includes a follow-up discussion featuring the co-directors as well as Iris Roley and Dr. Rhonda Y. Williams. Roley, a Cincinnati-based businesswoman and activist was instrumental in the creation of the Cincinnati Police-Community Collaborative Agreement, which captured stories of hundreds of incidents of police misconduct and paved the way for collective remedies. Dr. Williams, the founder and director of the Social Justice Institute at Case Western Reserve University (where she is also an associate professor of history and founder/director of the postdoctoral fellowship in African American studies), has written about race and gender issues in “The Politics of Public Housing: Black Women’s Struggles against Urban Inequality” and launched a book series “Justice, Power, and Politics” through the University of North Carolina Press.

What needs to happen, besides educating the community on the details of these cases that tend to be obscured in the media coverage and the rallying of people to one side or the other in the debates, is a real and honest dialogue about the social and cultural realities that allow these situations to ignite. But even more challenging, for all parties, is the willingness to listen and then offer solutions, workable, everyday solutions to the problems. It does little good to pat ourselves on the back for being able to recognize that problems exist; these concerns date back, not just to the mid-to-late 1990s, but the very founding of our country, and it is time that we come together, as communities, cities, states, and a nation to finally address the issues, head-on.

Go watch “Cincinnati Goddamn” and stay for the dialogue, but be prepared and empowered to take action.

The event, part of the recurring Director’s Dialogue on Art and Social Change, will take place Wednesday, September 2, 2015 at 7pm at Mershon Auditorium. It is FREE for all audiences. For more information, visit

Crack Open ‘The Diary of a Teenage Girl’ At Your Own Risk


, , ,


I live in a house with a pair of teenage girls, so the idea of having access to their diaries or their unfiltered thoughts frightens me to no end, especially after watching The Diary of a Teenage Girl. It’s the debut feature of writer-director Marielle Heller, who in 2012 earned both a Screenwriting Fellow and a Directing Fellow at the Sundance Institute along with snagging the Lynn Auerbach Screenwriting Fellowship and a Maryland Film Festival Fellowship.

The film presents a challenge, forcing me to create two distinct analytical perspectives as I enter the frames. On one hand, I approach the film as a critic, a wildly open viewer unafraid of the content or the stylized rendering of the narrative.

Heller embraces Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel on which the film is based and threads the film as if it was still a graphic tale, full of hand-drawn portraits with rich human foibles on display and the kind of surreal fantasies we can conjure up during our teenage years, before we cross over into the cool or hip or staid patterns of adulthood. There is a careless and carefree blurring of the delineations between live action and what happens to be animated, and we happily get more than a few teasing hints, but not too much as to cheapen the effect.

This is truly what it feels like to be inside someone’s head — in this case, a 15-year-old budding artist named Minnie (Bel Powley) with a fabulously flirty mother (Kristen Wiig, in another sad clown role with surprising depth that she plunges into headlong). Minnie is growing up in a rush in 1970s San Francisco, and this coming-of-age tale dares us to sprint along beside her. Imagine your own musings, the interior dialogues, the occasional flights of fancy, the constant testing and questioning of your moral and psychological foundation. It’s all there, wild and loose, thanks to the hormonal currents sweeping Minnie along.

She’s in love with her mother’s boyfriend, Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård), and he’s got feelings for her. The trip-stumble-tumble into an inappropriate sexual relationship between them is explained, in part, by the times.

Even though free love was in the rearview by the ’70s, San Francisco might have been one of the last stops, so it was much closer in the mirror these two were using. But this was no Lolita situation; neither of them is exactly wrapped around the other’s fingers. Minnie and Monroe are far from cultural sophistication, although of the two, it is Minnie who we know will earn the distinction.

I loved her as a character and found myself rooting for her because of that fearlessness she possessed in such abundance, and for those big eyes of hers. Powley looks like the inspiration for a thousand Tim Burton Big Eyes pieces, those searching orbs of hers like twin black-hole suns sucking everything in. It is no wonder she can’t quite figure things out. She’s like a newborn taking in far more visual stimulation than she will ever be able to process.

Powley’s performance reminds me of the open soul Adèle Exarchopoulos laid bare in Blue is the Warmest Color. It comes as no surprise that Powley has been deemed one of Variety’s 10 Actors to Watch for 2015.

Of course, I must get to the second and far more difficult part of the challenge presented by The Diary of a Teenage Girl — the aspect that has nothing at all to do with my critical perspective. I was forced to confront my more paternal reaction to Minnie and her whirlwind awakening as a young woman.

The film reveals the more explicit nature of intimacy and sexuality for teenage girls, which is far deeper than the instant gratification guys seek. We see Minnie raw and naked beyond the flesh.

While it is plain that “everybody hurts,” as a parent, I don’t want to see Minnie go through this pain, especially at the hands of someone like Monroe. He is not an evil predator by any stretch of the imagination, but what he does is impossible to forgive.

I wanted to save Minnie from him and the choices she makes, although without those choices, she wouldn’t emerge as the young woman we know she will one day be. Would I feel the same way about my own girls?

Intellectually and in an idealized philosophical world, I talk progressively. I immediately embrace the right to live and learn.

I can watch Heller’s rendering of The Diary of a Teenage Girl, but I shudder in my heart of hearts when I imagine hearing the voice of one of my girls. It gives me pause, yet I know I must read on. (Opens Friday) Grade: B+ (tt stern-enzi)

Celebrating a Local Screen Outlaw


, ,



By T.T. Stern-Enzi

This week, The Neon plays host to the world premiere of “Diary of a Deadbeat: The Story of Jim Van Bebber.” The Greenville, Ohio, native has the distinction of producing “Deadbeat at Dawn,” the first feature film made in Dayton, which helped to earn him a reputation as an uncompromising, underground, outlaw filmmaker. He followed “Deadbeat” with cult classics “My Sweet Satan,” “The Manson Family” and many others.

Actor and producer Victor Bonacore’s labor of love documentary “Diary of a Deadbeat” explores Van Bebber’s early super 8mm films and his time in Hollywood, using interviews with Phil Anselmo (from the heavy metal band Pantera), Richard Kern (New York underground filmmaker whose erotic and experimental work featured the likes of Sonic Youth, Karen Finley and Henry Rollins), Nivek Ogre (a Canadian performance artist/actor and founding member of the band Skinny Puppy) and many more to highlight the offbeat markers in Van Bebber’s surreal career.

I caught up with Bonacore by phone for a quick chat about Van Bebber and the sway the horror genre seems to have on this region.

You are originally from New York, but what drew you to Dayton?

Victor Bonacore: Actually, it’s kinda weird because my girlfriend lives here. We met through movies because I act in movies too, horror movie stuff. We met when I traveled to a horror movie convention (Horror Hound in Sharonville, Ohio). I went a couple of years ago with a friend who had a table at the convention where he was selling his movie and then right next to us was a table of girls selling their movie, which was made in Brookville, Ohio. I became friendly with one of the girls, we kept in touch and ended up acting in a film together called “Hunters,” which was a really crazy horror-exploitation film coming out in October of this year. I went back to New York, but we started dating and I eventually moved out here.

Oddly enough, though, I was in Dayton four years ago getting B-roll of Dayton and Greenville for [“Diary of a Deadbeat”]. I’ve been working on this for over five years. I was getting shots of locations used [in “Deadbeat at Dawn”] and going to Greenville. So now, I live in the town I was researching for this documentary.

How did you find out about Jim Van Bebber?

VB: I started out working for a distribution company in New York City called Media Blasters, right out of film school. It began as an internship and then transitioned into a salaried position. I ran their theatrical department, booking their 35mm prints [of horror films] all over the world. I handled their press kits, press releases and interviews for DVD releases. So, I met a lot of people and I just got word about Jim Van Bebber, who I had known about for awhile. I heard he was selling off some of his early films. He had 25-30 Regular 8 and Super 8 films, and I got in contact with him about the films. We talked and I told him I wanted to put them out, so I took out a loan for $5,000 and put them out. Then I decided to use them to work on a documentary about this guy because he’s such an interesting dude. I booked a flight in March of 2010 to Los Angeles to meet him and that was the start of it all.

There seems to be a market here for horror-based or cult underground exploitation works. As an outsider who has now settled here, what do you think about the vibe in the region and how it spawns this material?

VB: Yes, there is something going on. There’s another convention in Strongville, Ohio, that’s really cult underground called Cinema Wasteland, and that’s on a smaller scale than Horror Hound, but it’s really amazing. And they are all obsessed with Jim. I went back in 2009 or 2010, and they were showing his films and talking about him. And now there’s a filmmaker in Toledo making underground movies. I love it because there’s less of a competition about it. People are into it and doing it because they love it, whereas in New York, it is much more about the competition, which can be great. But the vibe here is different and ties into the music scene, which is also cool. There’s a lot of character here and the community seems to appreciate the underground.

“Diary of a Deadbeat: The Story of Jim Van Bebber” screens for one night at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 27 at The Neon, 130 E. Fifth St. Director Victor Bonacore will be in attendance. 

2015 Western & Southern Open: Men’s Final and the US Open Narrative


, , , ,

Novak Djokovic versus Roger Federer


A classic match-up of the top two players in the world, top seeds here at the Western & Southern Open. What more could we ask for?

I’ve already stated that Djokovic seems to be obscured by the overwhelming media concern for Serena Williams’s pursuit of the elusive calendar year Grand Slam, which is certainly a monumental accomplishment (last achieved by Steffi Graf in 1988). But how can we ignore the dominance of Djokovic this year. He captured the Australian and Wimbledon titles, and lost to Stan Wawrinka in the finals at Roland Garros (French Open). And despite a few late potential injuries (elbow and abdominal strain), he looks like a strong candidate for a spot in the final Sunday in New York.

The curious thing though is that he just might end up facing his W&S Open opponent there as well. Roger Federer has breezed through the competition in the Queen City, without dropping a set. He bears a striking resemblance to the vintage version of himself, the graceful champion from a few years ago who seemingly was a guaranteed finalist in every grand slam. There is an intriguing difference, which was fully on display during today’s final match against Djokovic.

This Federer, new and improved, strikes with abandon. Glazing first serves. Righteous forehands. That beautiful one-handed backhand. Those lethal volleys at the net. He’s won 17 Grand Slams, so it feels like the pressure’s off. He continues to compete at a high enough level to reach the quarters or the semifinals. At 34, everyone respects the fact that he’s still a threat. So he’s enjoying the time on the court and he’s making the most of it.

And today, something else was evident in Federer, something that makes him far more dangerous than he was back in his heyday. He’s become aggressive and willing to adapt his approach in the moment.

Against Djokovic, serving at less than optimal levels, Federer pressed on the weaker second serves, striking from well within the baseline – at one point, he caught a half volley return seemingly as it came off the ground. This pressure didn’t allow Djokovic to get into as many points as he likely would have wanted. The charging style rendered him punch drunk and frustrated for the most part. Federer worked the point count higher and higher in almost all of Djokovic’s service games, while barely losing a point on his own serve.

There was little concern when the first set went to a tiebreak. Federer’s service wins were never in doubt, but how quickly he dug into Djokovic’s serves proved that he simply would not be denied this day. He claimed the set 7-6 (7-1), which to be honest wasn’t even as close as the abusive score might lead you to believe.

By the second set, Djokovic was broken in his first service game, thanks to a couple of double faults, and the rout was on. Federer’s impeccable service level dipped slightly (to well-above average), but he dazzled the crowd with lucky net cord winners and a cornucopia of shots that Djokovic could only shake his head at.

The Federer win (his 7th at the W&S Open) felt inevitable from the start, but what does it mean, moving forward? This blog, for the last couple of years, has been all about scouting and making predictions for the US Open. So, I’m going on record now, pushing Federer closer to earning his 18th Grand Slam title. He took Murray and Djokovic down here in Cincinnati, and while the best-of-five sets Glam matches mean he will have to work a little harder, it also means they have to work harder too, against a guy who is channeling the champion’s spirit he used to have with a free-swinging abandon that puts him on course to hang around for another couple of years, pestering the next-gen players who thought he would go quietly into the night.

Is it too early to say, 18 and counting? (tt stern-enzi)

2015 Western & Southern Open: Saturday Semi


, , ,



What an intriguing match-up, pitting the number one men’s player (coming off a solid runner-up effort in Canada last week) against a qualifier with a history of pushing the champ to elevate his game. I bring up Canada, in relation to Djokovic because in the late rounds of that tournament, he had to deal with a nagging elbow injury, which may have tipped the edge in favor of the eventual winner Andy Murray who was in the midst of a bit of a losing streak against Djokovic.

Djokovic also has a problem with Cincinnati. This is the one ATP 1000 series event he has failed to win, up to this point, but he seems as eager to rectify that glaring hole in his resume, while on his way to reminding us that Serena’s historic race to the Grand Slam isn’t the only storyline worth paying attention to as we head into the US Open.

But then, during his second service game of the first set, Djokovic gets broken. He’s not quite engaged, displaying mild frustration, much like Stan Wawrinka did during his initial rounds here. Of course, you expect Djokovic to right the ship quickly. Thanks to a couple of double faults from Dolgopolov, he gets a break back, and immediately surrenders another. Dolgopolov plays a few nervous points, but aces Djokovic to take the first set 6-4.

With Djokovic still somewhat listless, the second set meanders along, until Djokovic, while serving to hold at 3-2, seems to experience pain in his abdomen. He calls for the trainer and questions arise. How serious is this? Will he continue? Or save himself for the Open? He ventures on, but it is interesting to note that on major points (especially on his serve), he tends to go with off-speed slices rather than attempting the big boomers. He and Dolgopolov trade service games, setting up a tiebreak. Djokovic uses guile to claim the second set 7-6 (7-5), and it looks like Dolgopolov might crack, realizing that he has let an opportunity slip away.

He ends up calling for the trainer himself in the third, having his foot tended to, but it is his free-swinging ways that eventually sink him. Dolgopolov is an unconventional player, when it comes to setting up points, but this can be a real strength under the right circumstances. He can shift from simply moving the ball with slice and touch to going for a pummeling winner at the drop of a hat. Such improvisation can confuse many players, but Djokovic refuses to bite, maintaining control over the pace and proceedings. The set ends relatively quickly at 6-2, with Djokovic gaining the support of the crowd, which was not necessarily in his corner from the start. Cincinnati tennis fans wanted to root for the qualifier, the quirky upstart, but realized it was time to get on the Djoko locomotion.

But who knows what tomorrow will bring? (tt stern-enzi)

Men In Exile: Can They Go Home Again?

What a marvelous thing it is when politics and/or social causes embrace the personal impact of movements on dynamic individuals. That is where/when such movements begin to matter to audiences, beyond merely providing us with familiar faces that can tend to obscure the issues themselves. It is better to delve into characters and events that are unfamiliar, unknown to us, in fact, and performers with no previous associations to cloud our judgment or appreciation. If handled properly, we find ourselves as exiles, cast out of the lives and world we know, wandering in new and strange (unexplored) territory, searching, if we dare, for points of comparison to what we’ve left behind in the world offscreen.

Fittingly, Ken Loach (The Wind That Shakes the Barley) continues to offer audiences his British socialist outsider narratives, this time delving into the Depression era return of Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward) to his home in Ireland after a decade spent in exile in the United States. Jimmy was a charismatic figure, a common man with dreams of connecting his community – their hearts, minds, and spirits – to one another and possibly to a larger collection of like-minded strivers. But, it turns out, such dreamers are dangerous, especially in a time immediately following a civil war, a battle of wills where ideas and ideologies can lead to fear and the need to authoritarian assaults.

When first we see Jimmy though, he coming home after years in exile. Coming from America, New York City, no less, back to Ireland as a prodigal son. He is a sympathetic figure, visiting the gravesite of someone close who died while he was away, embracing his mother, and celebrating with those closest to him in the community who stayed behind. Without his presence, they persevered, but did not forget or give up on the ideals, which means that a younger generation knows of the legend of Jimmy Gralton and seeks to enlist his aid in refurbishing the old hall he ran, where volunteers taught art and boxing, sponsored book clubs, and held concerts and dances; all outside the purview of the Catholic Church, which felt it was the only moral authority able to guide the community.

Loach takes us back a decade, to the beginning of Jimmy’s Hall, the place where the dream came to life, and where the film of the same name seeks to return. The parallels clearly establish the distinct periods and then melt away just as quickly. Time doesn’t matter because the situation hasn’t changed at all. The Church, in the form of Father Sheridan (Jim Norton), the elder priest, remains the enemy, deathly afraid of Jimmy’s counter-cultural preachings that, if carefully considered, are not antithetical to teachings of Jesus (God’s commie son).

Barry Ward and Simone Kirby in 'Jimmy's Hall'

Barry Ward and Simone Kirby in ‘Jimmy’s Hall’

Jimmy endeavors to stay out of trouble, but he cannot ignore the extreme poverty and the overwhelming oppression in effect, so he decides to re-open the dance hall that initially led to his deportation. What brings it all home is Jimmy’s efforts to re-connect with Oonagh (Simone Kirby), the lover and compatriot he left behind. Each of them moved on with their lives, but again, did not forget or give up on the feelings they shared. And once, Jimmy makes the inevitable choice to commit to re-starting the hall and he begins sharing stories about his time away (and dance lessons from his nights at the Savoy, one of the only places where blacks and whites could come together), he reaches out to Oonagh, using her as a would-be partner to showcase new moves, knowing, of course, where this will lead.

Jimmy’s Hall is about the forces that send a man into exile, the never-ending small injustices, the efforts to strangle a man’s dreams, but Loach shows us that such lofty ideals never belong to just one man, even one as singular as Jimmy Gralton (and Ward perfectly captures the honest idealism of a man who could have been a boring sainted figure, but instead embodies the best of our complex humanity). Jimmy and his hall will never be lost or defeated, even in exile.


Barry Ward, in the second of two new releases inhabits the role of yet another exile in Joseph Bull and Luke Seomore’s Blood Cells (which arrived on DVD and VOD earlier this week via Garden Thieves Pictures). The film makes for a fascinating double feature alongside Jimmy’s Hall, and not simply for Ward’s appearance in each film. The twofer offers a challenging and quite divergent look at how one deals with a life in exile.

In Blood Cells, Adam (Ward) wanders around in a self-imposed state of drifting, away from family and home, obviously seeking to escape or drown/anesthetize himself from guilt. He has no cause, other than his guilt, and when called to return – by his younger brother on the eve of the birth of his child – Adam is given an ultimatum. Come at once for the birth or never come again. The request triggers flashes of Adam’s life before, puzzle-like fragments we must piece together to understand what drove him away, while he begins the pained, and somewhat halting, journey back.

Unlike Jimmy’s Hall, Blood Cells has a contemporary setting, albeit slightly infused with  a dystopian vibe; the sense of a haunted futurescape, a wasted land of strobing lights and burned out plains on the edge of the horizon. At each step along the way, Adam is hungrily gathering the broken pieces of his psyche together to help him find the path.

This time, Ward captures the desolation of Adam’s mind and heart, which stands in stark contrast to Jimmy Gralton, a man overflowing with life and a sense of his place in the world. The question in this second case is whether or not Adam ever truly makes his way home. (tt stern-enzi)

Fall Arts Preview – Film: FilmDayton Festival Lands New Date, Executive Director



LMG headshot

It all began as an answer to a creative alert — a calling, if you will. Back in 2007, the Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education (SOCHE) drafted a Creative Class Taskforce to seek the advice of Dr. Richard Florida, one of the world’s leading urbanists, the author of the international bestseller The Rise of the Creative Class and the founder of the Creative Class Group, a global advisory services firm. This led to the formation of a regional community-driven project spearheaded by 32 “catalysts” working within a five-team system focusing on reinvigorating economic competitiveness. The Dayton collective fully embraced Florida’s approach, which utilizes global data and measurements to target relevant local and regional investment strategies and community interests. Based on the project’s analysis, film was among the leading factors for further development.

Approximately a year later, FilmDayton emerged, conceived as a nonprofit organization dedicated to “building the Dayton region’s film community.” Tackling this broad goal meant expanding educational opportunities (through the creation of 48-hour filmmaker boot camps and monthly Film Connections networking meetings), advocating for greater state tax incentives — which attract more productions to the region that tap into local casts/crews — highlighting diverse locations, offering competitive benefits and showcasing the work of local filmmakers.

The FilmDayton Festival launched in 2009. It was an all-volunteer event spotlighting the myriad filmmaking talent throughout the Dayton region. The aim was to celebrate locally connected films and filmmakers through an invitation-only process — primarily those with winning entries in some of the larger film festivals (South By Southwest, Sundance, etc.).

And now, six years later and with a title sponsor (The Jack W. and Sally D. Eichelberger Foundation) providing a degree of stability and cache, the FilmDayton Festival is poised to charge ahead with a scheduling shift from later summer to the fall (Oct. 23-25) and a new executive director, Lisa Grigsby, a participant in that SOCHE initiative and an active FilmDayton board member from the outset.

FilmDayton, during its relatively short yet highly impactful time, has attracted the attention of Cincinnati filmmakers and audiences. With so many exciting evolutionary changes taking place, this felt like the perfect time to connect with Grigsby to reflect on the organization’s strong foundation and the plans on the horizon.

CityBeat: As one of the people involved with FilmDayton from the very beginning, how would you evaluate where the organization stands currently in relation to the original vision?

Lisa Grigsby: Well, we were incredibly ambitious at the beginning, and what we’ve learned is that we really needed to narrow our scope for now so that we can successfully reach our goals. Our biggest success has been our film festival. From our first festival in 2009, we’ve continued to grow the involvement and showings at the fest.

CB: What do you feel you bring to this position for both the organization and for you personally?

LG: We’ve had some great part-time directors in the past, but this job is just not part time. We were in a catch-22 — we didn’t have the funds to hire the full-time executive director we needed, but without a strong leader and fundraiser, we weren’t going to grow. We sat around at a board meeting and joked, “Who’s going to quit their job and make this work?”

Well, that resonated with me. I’d spent the last six years at the AIDS Resource Center Ohio, where I’d helped raise over $3 million with special events, but I was getting tired of doing the same events. I needed a new challenge. As one of the founders of FilmDayton, who better to understand what we are trying to accomplish?

So I finally made the decision and took over in July. And talk about a challenge. So many exciting opportunities ahead of us. I’ve been trying to meet many of our local filmmakers, and each day I seem to learn of someone else in the region making a living in the business. I’m so encouraged by the talent in the area and am looking forward to using my fundraising background to help FilmDayton grow.

CB: How has FilmDayton positioned itself not only as a resource in Dayton, but as a film resource/advocate throughout the state?

LG: I think the resources we offer are helping beyond the region. Our local crew base has been finding work all over the state, and the strength of the connections that so many of our [Wright State University] alums working in the business today make serve as great connectors for continuing to grow the talent we do have, as well as expand the numbers of those working in the industry. We know that many of our Dayton folks who have moved away for work are starting to return and film their projects here, which allows us to train the next generation as well.

CB: I have spent a great deal of time attending film festivals over the last five to 10 years studying other markets, and I’m curious about the state of FilmDayton as a hub. You don’t necessarily have a dedicated film center. Do you feel like you need one? If so, what would it ideally look like?

LG: I think our focus for the upcoming year is launching the regional film commission, and we’re headquartered at the Dayton Convention Center, which is also home to the Dayton Convention & Visitors Bureau, who are great partners with us. This makes sense for us, and the services we offer at this time don’t require more.

We’ve got so many great places to partner with for our programming: The Neon, The Little Art in Yellow Springs, [the Dayton Visual Arts Center] and Wright State University are just a few of the places we’ve held events. We have an upcoming Film Connections (FilmDayton’s monthly meeting for local filmmakers), where we’ll be exploring filming with drones at Sinclair Community College, a nationally recognized center for [unmanned aerial vehicle] training and pilot certification. What an advantage that gives our local filmmakers, to have the nation’s experts right here.

CB: What was the impetus for moving the festival to the fall? Will this new date continue?

LG: We’ve realized that doing the fest in August, we were missing the students as interns, volunteers and audience. We felt it was important to include them, and thus the move to Oct 23-25 this year. We’ll see how it goes and decide from there.

CB: Each year, the festival tends to have a theme or statement of purpose. What is this year’s theme?

LG: The theme of the festival this year is “The Business of Film.” We’ll be exploring what it takes to make a living in the arts, both through our films and workshops, from the economic development opportunities bringing filming to the region has to the number of jobs involved in making movies to the evolution of the ways films are distributed. At this time I don’t have any film titles I can divulge, but we are working on something big! (tt stern-enzi)

Staving Off ‘The End’ With Donald Margulies


, , ,


The End of the Tour documents an encounter between David Foster Wallace and Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky, who tagged along for the end of the press tour for Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Lipsky’s book, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, chronicles the five days he spent with Wallace and serves as the basis for the film. But it could certainly be argued that Lipsky’s book and the new adaptation from director James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now) also captures a prescience in Wallace, who was reading the signs at the dawn of the Internet age, signaling a foreseeable end to intimately complex human interaction. He died a short 12 years later, so it is not as if we can look to him for answers for how we might turn the present situation around. Instead, I posed a series of questions to the film’s screenwriter Donald Margulies (who also happens to teach playwriting at Yale University, where he taught Ponsoldt more than a decade ago) about the end of many things and the beginning of new possibilities.

Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself was sent to Margulies initially because it was assumed he might be interested in adapting it for the stage since the narrative, such as it is, is little more than a transcription of Lipsky’s taped interviews with Wallace.

“The book was essentially all conversation,” Margulies says via phone. “But I started reading it and I got very excited about the idea of it being a road picture — of putting these guys out there in the Midwest, which is where it took place, in the winter of 1996. And I was particularly excited about putting David Foster Wallace, who was one of the great chroniclers of American popular culture, on the American landscape. And that’s where it began.”

Indeed, it is fascinating to reconsider the film with this understanding because what takes place is a two-person character study, perfectly suited to the dramatic confines of the stage, and yet it unfolds organically, right before our eyes, and transforms into an incisive road trip that starts on a broad Midwestern map, but then detours down uncharted and intimate pathways.

But Margulies and Ponsoldt, along with Jason Segel as Wallace and Jesse Eisenberg as Lipsky, never allow us to get lost along the way. We remain on a well-defined course with Segel and Eisenberg offering clear emotional and psychological signals as to their own soul-searching and the momentary flashes of awareness that appear.

“As a dramatist, I’m always looking for high stakes,” Margulies says. “What are the stakes involved in the conflict? Where is the conflict? For me, placing Lipsky in the foreground of the story — the way I viewed this from the beginning was that Lipsky was the protagonist of the story. It was about a young, talented writer who is at the beginning of his career who encounters a writer who has been anointed, who is only a few years older than he is and who has achieved everything he would ever hope to achieve as a writer at the age of 34. And that person is David Foster Wallace, one of the foremost voices of the last 25 years.”

The literal “end” of Wallace’s book tour, which Lipsky joins as part of his Rolling Stone interview, also highlights several potential metaphoric “endings” as well. Lipsky arrives at Wallace’s house with a copy of his own published novel, a middling release that he obviously feels insecure about passing along.

“At the end of this visit, this stay of Lipsky’s in 1996, Wallace was looking at the rest of his life, which we know will only last 12 years,” Margulies says. “And what I think we were able to capture was that kind of sub-textual malaise, a kind of uneasiness that begins to seep into the story.”

I took that notion a step further with Margulies. The End of the Tour, to my mind, presents one of the final moments where a writer and/or critic has that level of access and unguarded exposure to a subject like Wallace.

“I think you’re right,” Margulies says with a bit of a melancholic laugh. “You know, the story took place not quite 20 years ago, and I think the nature of our media has exploded to such an extent that there are so many outlets. It is so hard to get an exclusive, a real scoop. The idea of a celebrity profile, which Vanity Fair had made an art form, is becoming more and more rare. I can’t imagine anyone permitting a visiting journalist to sleep in their guest room (like Wallace did with Lipsky).”

It is a different era, but we should not fear the end, because in it we might just, by chance, see the best reflection of ourselves. (tt stern-enzi)


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 498 other followers