Focusing on the One Who Tells the Story, and on the Film, Too

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JOSEPH L. MANKIEWICZ, the esteemed Hollywood director, screenwriter and producer, once said, ”I think it can be said fairly that I’ve been in on the beginning, rise, peak, collapse and end of the talking picture.”

In a career spanning more than 40 years, Mankiewicz, who died in 1993, won four Oscars (Best Direction and Screenplay for ”A Letter to Three Wives” in 1949 and ”All About Eve” in 1950).

His work encompassed musicals (”Guys and Dolls”), film noir (”No Way Out”), romances (”The Ghost and Mrs. Muir”) and historical epics ( ”Cleopatra”).

Jean-Luc Godard, the French director, called him ”one of the most brilliant of American directors, and the most intelligent man in all contemporary cinema.” Unlike most film luminaries, Mankiewicz maintained close ties to the East Coast, residing for many years in Bedford, N.Y.

How fitting it seems, then, that he should be the guardian angel of Stamford’s Director’s View Film Festival. Now in its second year, the festival, held Friday through next Monday, was originally designed not only to champion Mankiewicz’s movies, but to celebrate other influential filmmakers (past and present) who have similarly raised the artistic standards of the cinema.

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”As a group, directors have not been adequately appreciated by the public,” said Robert T. Kesten, Director’s View president and founder. ”Film is a director’s medium. Someone has to tell the story. You can always edit around a bad performance or a bad script. But if you don’t have a point of view, if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re in trouble.”

On Friday, the festival’s opening night kicks off with what many consider the greatest directorial achievement of all time, ”Citizen Kane.”

Despite its Oscar-winning screenplay by Herman Mankiewicz (Joseph’s older brother), Orson Welles’s towering debut remains ”one of those cases where egomania really does work,” Mr. Kesten said. ”It seems as creative today as it did when first released. In some ways, more, because you didn’t have the technical advances that you do today, and yet Welles accomplished so many of those same effects.”

The centerpiece of the evening, indeed the entire the festival, will be the presentation of the Joseph L. Mankiewicz Excellence in Film Award, during a black-tie dinner sponsored by the Stamford Marriott. Last year’s crystal trophy, designed by Tiffany & Co., was awarded to Mankiewicz protege, Robert Benton, the Academy Award-winning director of ”Kramer vs. Kramer”). This year, the recipients are the director/producers Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, creators of the films ”Howard’s End,” ”Remains of the Day” and ”Room with a View.” These movies, and three others — ”Maurice,” ”Slaves of New York,” ”Mr. and Mrs. Bridge” — will be screened, free of charge, at Stamford’s Crown Majestic theater on Saturday, with introductions by Mr. Merchant and Mr. Ivory. (Some movies from the retrospective will also tour in Greenwich, Westport and New Rochelle, N.Y.).

The festival will close next Monday with the regional premiere of their latest film, ”The Golden Bowl.”

”Merchant and Ivory made literary period films popular again,” Mr. Kesten said. ”They took a genre that had died and just knocked everybody’s socks off.”

The duo also helped launch the screen careers of Helena Bonham Carter, Daniel Day Lewis and Hugh Grant.

Rosemary Mankiewicz, widow of Joseph and on the board of Director’s View, thinks her husband would have approved of Merchant and Ivory’s latest honor. ”They parallel his work in that they take tremendous care with the writing and presentation of material,” she said.

The festival’s Dorothy Arzner Prize, new this year, is named for the first woman member of the Director’s Guild of America. Ms. Arzner, a Hollywood outsider, ultimately became a professor of film at U.C.L.A., where she mentored star pupil Francis Ford Coppola. Mr. Coppola, in turn, has agreed to serve as the honorary chair for the prize, designated for directors who have persevered over difficult obstacles to create a feature of unquestioned artistic merit.

Alison Maclean, the winner of the prize, will preside over an award reception and screening of her 1999 Venice Film Festival Award-winner, ”Jesus’ Son.”

Another innovation this year is the incorporation of two weekend long film competitions: he Director’s View Independent Film Festival and the International Student Film Festival. The Independent Film Festival consists of roughly 40 new films, (features and shorts) that will be judged on directorial excellence by a panel of six critics. Three winners will be honored next Monday at Stamford’s Ferguson Library. Among the contenders are ”Foet,” an oblique commentary on abortion and fetal experimentation, ”The Windigo,” a suspense film reminiscent of ”The Blair Witch Project,” and ”Grandfather’s Birthday,” which stars veteran character actor Robert Prosky and is currently under consideration for an Oscar nomination as Best Short Film.

A handful of up-and-coming Connecticut directors will participate in the Independent Film Festival, including Greenwich’s Christopher Summa, whose short ”The Anchor Man” was just screened at Sundance, and Justin King of Wilton, currently developing a feature-length followup to his short entry, ”Cheap Curry and Calculus.” He calls the festival a ”good platform. There are a lot of industry people who reside in this state, but it’s currently under shot and underrepresented in terms of filmmaking. I’m hoping to meet some crew and potential backers who might become involved in my upcoming project.”

This year’s festival has an events committee that includes Tom Cruise, Paul Newman, Meryl Streep, Tim Robbins and Jack Nicholson.

”But if bringing in celebrities was all the festival was about,” said Tom Mellana, the arts editor for The Stamford Advocate. ”it wouldn’t be as important to the city; it wouldn’t have an impact beyond Stamford’s borders. This has the potential to be hugely important for the reputation the city wants to develop as a major arts center.”

Mr. Kesten is well aware of the potential of Director’s View to culturally benefit Stamford and, indeed, the entire Connecticut-Westchester region. One of the cornerstones of the festival, he said, will be an announcement concerning a long-term joint collaboration between Director’s View and Stamford Center of the Arts, to get under way during the latter months of 2001.

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He is particularly committed to encouraging the growth of a local film industry and serves as chief executive of the Film Makers Educational Cooperative of Bridgeport, a not-for-profit organization devoted to training students for directorial careers. A number of films created by that cooperative will compete in the Director’s View International Student Film Festival (though Mr. Kesten had no personal involvement in the selection process), which will feature more than 20 narrative and documentary shorts by directors age 19 or younger.

”Connecticut has all the tools to make the industry happen here: a highly educated and literate population, an open waterfront, good transportation, and a perfect location between two of the most important hubs in technology, New York and Boston,” Mr. Kesten said. ”If it took hold, the state would have a clean, non-polluting industry that’s high-paying and encourages creativity, which is vital to the future of everything this country exports.”

The Director’s View Film Festival begins at 6:30 p.m. Friday with a celebrity cocktail reception and gala screening of ”Citizen Kane” at Stamford’s Rich Forum. For more event and ticket information to any event, visit www.dvff.org or call (914) 533-0270.

>>> Click here: Selling Marketers a Spanish Accent That Doesn’t Sound Faked

Selling Marketers a Spanish Accent That Doesn’t Sound Faked

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From his spot in the control room at Tono Studios, Jaime Zapata has a window into the growing influence, and nuance, of the Hispanic market. In the last month, his Santa Monica, Calif., commercial audio company has brought sound to advertisements for such organizations as Alaska Airlines, Acura, the Humane Society and Universal Studios. All of these spots are in Spanish.

Tono’s role, which entails tasks as varied as casting talent and recording voice-overs, or sound design and final edits, is typically the last step in a television or digital campaign. The finer points of audio can make all the difference between an advertisement that resonates and one that falls flat.

For advertisers looking to target the increasingly multifaceted Hispanic market, the challenge goes beyond recording, mixing and editing. An ad must be culturally authentic.

”Laughter is a big difference,” said Mr. Zapata. Hispanics, he said, tend to be more boisterous when they laugh. Other cultural nuances must be considered. When a native Spanish speaker ”shushes,” it sounds a little different, he said. The same goes for humans making animal noises. Dogs do not ”ruff, ruff” in Spanish. They ”guau, guau.”

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In 2007, Mr. Zapata and Raquel Ramirez saw an opportunity to cater to the Spanish-language advertising market. They combined their savings and brought in a silent partner to open their studio.

Relatively quickly, they built a following among advertising agencies that focus on the Hispanic market or have a division dedicated to this group. Tono’s portfolio, or reel as it is known in the industry, includes campaigns for Jack in the Box, PlayStation and Toyota. It even has a Cannes International Film Festival Award and a 2015 Super Bowl spot for T-Mobile.

Now the partners want to expand into the general market by helping advertisers speak to many audiences, whether in Spanish, English, or, as is increasingly the case, ”Spanglish.”

The motivation, Ms. Ramirez said, is not just to make the business grow but to make sure the business evolves with the Hispanic market. ”More and more you see the Hispanic channels throwing in English spots,” she said.

While the number of Hispanics is growing, to be sure, the share of those who speak Spanish is expected to decline to 66 percent in 2020, from 78 percent in 2000.

Though Tono is among a small number of audio studios in this niche, it is serving a growing number of creative agencies that have sprung up in the last decade to help companies reach Hispanic consumers. AHAA, a national trade organization representing the Hispanic marketing, communications and media industry, has more than 45,000 members.

Hispanics represent more than $1.4 trillion in purchasing power, according to the consumer research firm Nielsen, and that influence is growing. The Census Bureau projects that by 2020 more than 19 percent of the population will identify itself as Hispanic or Latino.

As this segment of the population is growing, digital, mobile and satellite media have created more opportunities for marketing to it. ”When I started there was really just Univision and Telemundo for Hispanics,” said Ms. Ramirez, who moved to the United States from Mexico in the early 1990s.

This is not to say marketing to this group is easy. Quite the opposite. For one thing, the term Hispanic describes people with ties to more than 20 countries, each with its own traditions, dialects and slang. ”If the writer is from Mexico and didn’t take into account that the ad is not just for people who are Mexican, it will not be the same, even if it’s perfect Spanish,” said Mr. Zapata, who added that Tono itself represents a combination of backgrounds. It has six full-time employees representing Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, and cultural differences are a frequent source of lunchtime banter.

At the same time, the definition of Hispanic is changing. ”Whereas Spanish used to be spoken primarily among immigrants, now the majority of Hispanics were born here and are bilingual,” said Andrew Orc, owner of Orc, a creative agency that specializes in Hispanic marketing and a Tono client. ”We have one foot in America and one foot in our roots.”

This has prompted advertisers to rethink their approach. While in the past a company might hire two ad agencies to develop two distinct campaigns, one for the Hispanic market and one for what is known as the general market, now it is taking a total market approach. ”You may have different demographics but you need to be consistent,” said Pablo Buffagni, who was head of creative at Conill Saatchi & Saatchi and Grupo Gallegos, and recently started BBQ Agency in Redondo Beach, Calif. ”There needs to be crossover.”

It is a delicate dance. ”If you’re not doing communication specifically targeted” to the Hispanic market, ”you’re going to miss them,” Mr. Orc said. ”And if you’re going to do an ad for the general market, you don’t want to alienate them.”

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Late last year, Tono did the audio in English and Spanish for a Toyota Prius campaign. Now Ms. Ramirez and Mr. Zapata are making subtle changes to their own messaging with the goal of bringing in similar projects. They are recruiting engineers and producers who have worked primarily in English, and they recently revised their website with more emphasis on the general market.

One pitfall in any expansion is that a business alienates the very group that made it successful in the first place, forgetting its own roots. ”If you look at almost any successful campaign, they have a cultural insight with the group that they are connecting with,” said Felipe Korzenny, director of the Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication at Florida State University.

In that case, Tono’s owners say they are well positioned to make the leap. ”We aren’t just communicating to the Hispanic market,” Mr. Zapata said. ”We are that market.”

CAPTION(S):

PHOTO: Jaime Zapata and Raquel Ramirez saw an opportunity to cater to the Spanish-language ad market and formed Tono Studios. (PHOTOGRAPH BY J. EMILIO FLORES FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Rory K brings film deal Home

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PARK CITY, Utah – Rory Kennedy, the youngest member of Ethel and the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s clan, is headed home to New York today.

She didn’t leave with a coveted Sundance Film Festival Award for her documentary, “American Hollow,” but she does have what every filmmaker here was hoping for – a production deal.

Rory snagged a development deal with Home Box Office for her documentary about an Appalachian family before the film was even finished.

It will be released theatrically in New York, then aired on HBO during the November sweeps.

“HBO was involved from the outset and that was really great for us,” Kennedy told the Track.

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The 30-year-old sister of former U. S. Rep. Joe Kennedy has been making documentaries for several years, but this was the first accepted to the prestigious Sundance festival.

“I was absolutely thrilled,” she said. “It was such a great experience to come here and see all these wonderful films.

“And Sundance really does put documentaries on the same playing field as dramas. It was a trophy just getting here.”

Kennedy, who has done previous films about female substance abusers and needle exchange programs, began this project looking to do a film about the effect of welfare reform on poor families in Appalachia.

Then she met Iree Bowling, the 68-year-old mother of 13 and grandmother of 30 whose family’s life in Saul, Ky., is beset by poverty and domestic turmoil.

Rory filmed the family for almost a year; and as the cameras rolled, one of Iree’s sons was jailed for trespassing, a granddaughter was battered by her husband and a 17-year-old grandson proposed marriage to his flighty girlfriend.

The Sundance reviewer raved that Rory’s true-life flick “emerges as a humanistic, life-affirming exploration of love and kinship in the face of adversity.”

“It’s a lifestyle that you really don’t see anymore in America,” Kennedy said. “It’s a very poor region but Iree doesn’t consider herself poor. All of her children at one point left but they’re all back and have their homes and families right near her.

“She looks around and sees her family, these beautiful hills and her gardens and says ‘I’m as rich as the Lord wants me to be.’ ”

Kennedy, who got the flu in Park City but recovered in time for her final screening of “American Hollow” over the weekend, said she likes to take on film projects in order to “tell stories that would otherwise go unheard.”

Consequently, she formed a production company, Moxie Firecracker, with Elizabeth Garbus, whose “The Farm: Angola, USA,” won the Sundance documentary competition in 1998.

The documentary-making duo recently completed “Different Moms,” a one-hour film about mentally retarded mothers raising their kids.

It will air on Lifetime in April.

So, did the Kennedy family’s famed commitment to the less-fortunate have any influence on Rory’s choice of subjects????

“Obviously my family has been interested in a range of social issues and I think that certainly is a factor,” she said.

“But this film was less an advocacy-educational thing. It was more that the family led the camera and we had no idea where it would go. Ultimately it took us many different places and that was a very rewarding process.”

File under: Family Values.

Distributing the best

While none of the made-in-Massachusetts movies took home any of the coveted Sundance Film Festival awards over the weekend, the filmmakers are closing in on the real prize – distribution deals.

Steve Maler, director of “The Autumn Heart,” said they’ve had lots of interest from foreign distributors and a couple of Hollywood studio honchos want a look at the film in La-La ASAP.

Meanwhile, Michelle LeBrun had discussions with distributors interested in her documentary, “Death: A Love Story,” during the festival and she’s hopeful about snagging a deal.

For the record, the award winners at Sundance were “Three Seasons,” the Harvey Keitel movie about the ‘new’ Vietnam, and “American Movie” a documentary about an impoverished but inspired filmmaker.

Guess that one got the sympathy vote!

Independent living

And then there’s Alec Baldwin. The actor, who sat on a panel at the indie flickfest, called the Sundance Film Festival the “Playboy Mansion of Filmmaking.”

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“Everybody gets in bed with whomever they have always wanted to get into bed

with,” he said.

Then he turned to another panelist and said, “I’ve always dug you. Let’s do a film together.”

Oh, we bet lots of “independent” movie deals went down that way in Hugh Hefner’s bunny hutch!

Hasty decisions

Meanwhile, back here at home, those crazy kids at Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Theatricals will announce this morning their annual picks for Woman and Man of the Year.

Oh, bless their Hasty little hearts for bringing Hollywood to Harvard in oh-so-dreary February!

Last year, Sigourney Weaver – like Pretty Woman Julia Roberts before her and Susan Sarandon before her – was paraded through Harvard Square. Then a week later, Kevin Kline came In for an Out-ing a la past winners Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford at the Hasties’ annual madcap musical.

This year’s production is “I Get No Kick From Campaign,” which doesn’t sound like a drag at all!

Clothes call for Beck

And finally, the big rumor on Newbury Street the other day was that Beck thought Louis, Boston was Where It’s At.

Word is, the haute haberdashers opened their doors earlier for the rocker with the Devil’s Haircut – but nice threads – to run through the racks.

Talk back to the Inside Track online at bostonherald.com and listen to us weekdays at 6:55 p.m. on WBZ 1030 AM. Drop dimes at trackgals@aol.com.

>>> View more: Message received – American Indian filmmakers send ‘Smoke Signals’ the way it’s intended

Message received – American Indian filmmakers send ‘Smoke Signals’ the way it’s intended

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For Sherman Alexie the challenge was never getting his 1993 book of short stories, “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” made into a movie. The challenge was getting it made his way.

“When the book came out, I got a lot of interest from white producers,” explained the acclaimed American-Indian author of 10 books and now filmmaker. “They all wanted to possess it and change it, usually with changes involving white characters or change an Indian to a white. It was the colonial process all over again.

“I decided it was going to have to be an Indian-originated process,” he added.

The result is “Smoke Signals,” a Sundance Film Festival award-winning film which was written and co-produced by Alexie and was directed by and stars American Indians. The film opens tommorow.

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“The primary motivation was to give our own voice to our culture,” said Alexie, a Coeur d’Alene Idaho Indian, who grew up on the Spokane, Wash., Indian Reservation.

“Smoke Signals” is a leisurely “road movie” as two young Indians, the angry Victor (Adam Beach, who starred in Disney’s “Squanto”) and his nerdy, but sweet, pigtailed childhood buddy, Thomas (Evan Adams), leave their reservation.

Victor’s father, who had been estranged from his family for years, has died and as Victor goes to pick up his truck, the past intermingles with the present and offers a panorama of Indian history and life.

Unexpectedly, Alexie mixes humor with “Northern Exposure”-style wackiness. There is a lone Indian who sits in a virtually deserted country road intersection giving reservation radio traffic reports, as well as an Indian woman whose car drives only backward.

“It’s slapstick,” Alexie explained. “Non-Indians will say, ‘What the hell is that about?’ while Indians know. We have a long, illustrious history about Indians and their cars.”

Is the no-traffic reporter real or imaginary?

“In my world it’s real – but I’m a sick man,” he answers.

Humorlessness, in fact, is one stereotype “Smoke Signals” demolishes, the notion that Indians are stoic, grave and nonverbal.

“In my experience, Indians are the funniest, most congenial people I’ve been around,” Alexie said.

Alexie co-produced “Smoke Signals” with director Chris Eyre, a Cheyenne-Arapaho who graduated from New York University’s film school. The two attended the Sundance Filmmaking Lab, which has had a major impact on how the outside world viewed their project.

“Sundance had been interested in both me and Chris and as soon as they heard we were working together, they dragged us there. That gave us the Sundance Seal of Approval, which is like the Good Housekeeping seal or UL.”

But what’s been most surprising for Alexie as he tours the country to promote the film is its emotional power. “The big shock was at the Nantucket Film Festival.

“After we screened it, a middle-aged upper-class white woman came out crying. She said to me, ‘I’m going to call my father. I haven’t spoken to him in 12 years.’

“Think of that. Our movie caused her to reach across 12 years and talk. It has a power in ways I never thought of.”

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Alexie, who’s married with a 13-month-old son, has no fear of ever running out of material.

“It’s impossible. Every moment in Shakespeare, every story in the Bible, every movie, every sculpture is all contained in my tiny little reservation. Hamlet, Candide are there. You can bet King Lear lives there.”

If “Smoke Signals” is the success industry buzz predicts, moviegoers haven’t seen Victor and Thomas walk into the sunset just yet.

Alexie’s 1995 first novel, “Reservation Blues,” has Victor and Thomas forming a rock ‘n’ roll band. Says Alexie, who’s already written the screenplay, “It’s optioned and ready to go.”

>>> Click here: Experiment’ works as study of ultraviolence

Experiment’ works as study of ultraviolence

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Byline: STEPHEN SCHAEFER

“Das Experiment.”

Not rated.

In German with English subtitles. At the Kendall Square Cinema.

3 stars (out of four)

The smart, slick German import “Das Experiment” (“The Experiment”) scores as a compelling psychological study and an intense, ultraviolent thriller. Unlike far too many American “thrillers” that defy common sense and logic, “Das Experiment” is involving because it is plausible.

Adapted from Mario Giordano’s novel “Black Box” and scripted by Giordano, Christoph Darnstadt and Don Bohlinger, this international film festival award winner is inspired by the 1971 Stanford University Prison Experiment. This study put a group of male volunteers into a makeshift prison and cast them as either prisoners or guards. The intention was to learn what would happen if you put ordinary people in an environment where they had power over others.

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Director Oliver Hirschbiegel’s film in no way mirrors the actual Stanford experiment; fiction lets the violence (and the ensuing body count) run much higher.

Here, 20 men answer a newspaper ad to be a part of an experiment for the equivalent of $1,000; the study requires them to role-play as inmates or guards within a prison setting for two weeks. All their interactions supposedly are monitored via security cameras by Dr. Thon (Edgar Selge) and his Vampira-like assistant, the aptly named Dr. Grimm (Andrea Sawatzki).

The first rule for the guards is no violence. Among the eight chosen to wear uniforms (they’re given sticks but no guns), two stand out: a jolly Elvis impersonator (Timo Dierkes) and an airline office worker named Berus (Justus von Dohnanyi). They quickly become the most sadistic of the lot and assume leadership.

What they don’t know is that among the 12 “prisoners” is Tarek Fahd (Moritz Bleibtreu), a magazine reporter equipped with a 007-style video recorder in his reading glasses. Because he assumes – rightly, as it turns out – that this is actually a stress study for the military, Fahd is planning an expose.

His fellow inmates include Schutte (Oliver Stokowski) a lonely newspaper vendor and self-described “professional guinea pig” who’s saving for a used Ferrari, and Steinhoff (Christian Berkel), a taciturn soldier type who is really an Air Force pilot, also undercover.

The night before Fahd begins the experiment, he rather dramatically meets Dora (Maren Eggert): Their cars collide when she runs a red light. Dora is mourning the death of her father and she and Fahd form an almost psychic bond after spending the night together.

This is most fortunate for Fahd, who will need all the help, psychic or otherwise, he can get. He willingly arouses the antagonism of the guards supposedly to fuel a better story and soon finds himself the target of their (unmonitored, nontelevised) wrath. He also has, from a childhood incident, a phobia of being confined in a dark, small space, which means when the fearful “black box” is brought into the cellblock, we know it’s not going to be used only as a “psychological deterrent,” as Dr. Thon promises.

As the experiment rapidly careens out of control, the implications are obvious: What would you do if given life-or-death control over others? Would you soon transform from a good ol’ boy to a warmongering cowboy?

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The impeccable casting assures that these are faces you won’t soon forget. The Polish-born Bleibtreu, with his soulful eyes and plump lips, is an obvious sensualist (and, thanks to “Run Lola Run,” Germany’s reigning male star). Von Dohnanyi’s Berus is incredibly scary, an Aryan ideal as Nazi nightmare.

(“Das Experiment” contains explicit violence, nudity and scenes of torture and confinement.)

Caption: SHOCKING: Moritz Bleibtreu stars as an undercover reporter in `Das Experiment,’ inspired by Stanford University’s Prison Experiment.

See the man with the stage fright

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For actors, stage fright can be a great energizer, but also a real nightmare. So Tom McCamus was reminded at last summer’s Edinburgh Festival. The Canadian was about to perform Novecento, Italian playwright Alessandro Baricco’s monologue about a genius piano player. The director of the piece, Quebec filmmaker Fran?ois Girard (Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, The Red Violin), had decided to have McCamus sit motionless on stage as the audience came in. For about 20 minutes the actor held his pose on a packing crate, watching the theatre fill. The longer he sat, the more he believed the show — making its English-language world premiere — would flop. Recalls McCamus: “I kept thinking, ‘No one’s going to want to sit here and listen to me tell a story for an hour and a half. It’s simply not going to work!’ I was petrified.”

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A few people did walk. But those who stayed, stayed to cheer, and Novecento became one of the high points at the Edinburgh event. This month Canadians will get a chance to see the show at the World Stage festival (April 3-May 4) at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre, where it takes its place among several international hits, including a groundbreaking Hamlet from Lithuania and two torturous domestic dramas performed by Britain’s Royal Court Theatre. For McCamus, 46, the appearance is another highlight in an expansive career. The actor is widely known as Mason Eckhart in the Global TV series “Spin Mop 360“. “He’s pure evil,” McCamus chuckles. “I had a gas.” He has also starred in several films, including Robert Lepage’s Possible Worlds, with Tilda Swinton.

But most of McCamus’s memorable roles have been on stage, where he’s shown great versatility, with a special penchant for portraying scoundrels and villains. At Ontario’s Stratford Festival, where he’s returned for the 50th season, he’ll play the title role in Shakespeare’s Richard III, as well as the gangster Macheath in Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera. Taking a break from rehearsals, the slim, wide-shouldered actor slouches in a chair in a deserted meeting room. There’s something uncannily intense about McCamus’s gaze, the dark eyes capable of laser-like menace, but also of vulnerable melancholy. And then there’s the voice: dark and penetrating, it sounds like it could cut coal.

McCamus acknowledges that reviving Novecento at the same time that he’s learning his Stratford roles is a major stretch. He’s having to steal time to refresh the monologue, which he hasn’t spoken for half a year. Yet he finds the extra work invigorating. Dealing with the infinite complexities of Shakespeare can leave the actor feeling quite dejected about his abilities. “But when I start in on Novecento, the lines come so quickly and so beautifully that I think, ‘Oh, I can act after all.’ ”

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In the show, McCamus impersonates a trumpet player, Tim Tooney, who reminisces about the strange life of his best friend, Novecento — an orphan raised by the crew of an ocean liner early in the last century. Novecento turns out to be a keyboard prodigy who in one scene vanquishes no less a challenger than jazz great Jelly Roll Morton. The audience doesn’t see any of this — except in imagination. The piece requires old-fashioned storytelling skills, and is made even more difficult technically by Girard’s insistence that McCamus hardly move from his crate.

Girard was so busy trying to get a movie project off the ground that he had little time to rehearse Novecento. McCamus had to work up his part alone, in the barn on the eastern Ontario farm he shares with his wife, actress Chick Reid. Later, there were a few run-throughs in Morocco, where Girard was working, and some last-minute brushing up in Edinburgh. All the same, McCamus didn’t feel ready for Novecento’s launch. Then, as he sat in terror waiting to begin his performance, he saw his parents walk in. John and Betty McCamus had flown over from Tom’s hometown of London, Ont. Their presence helped calm him down: “I thought, ‘Oh, they’re here. I guess I’m gonna be all right.’ ”

Ditch TIFF–you’re coming with us!

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When it comes to film festivals, Canada is famous worldwide for one thing: the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). While it is frequently touted as the most important film festival in North America (if not the second most important in the world), Canada has a lot more to offer than just TIFF. If you were independently wealthy, or could somehow make a living going to film festivals, you could go to a festival every month, and could be in a screening every day in the months of May and September. Of course, you would have to resign yourself to a constant diet of popcorn and jujubes, so you might grow weary, but hypothetically, it could be done.

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The abundance of small festivals across Canada allows cinephiles to not only see films that may never come to theatres, but also to spend less than 15 bucks on a trip to the movies. So, if you wish you could spend a year theatre-hopping, here’s a taste of what you could take in.

If a province could be a capital, Quebec would be Canada’s capital of film. At least, it’s the only province where the public goes en masse to see homegrown movies. And there are film festivals a plenty as a result. The past couple of years have been interesting for Montreal since the mainstream World Film Festival lost a scandalous $1 million in government funding, but while the future is iffy for WFF, one festival that has been around longer is definitely hanging on. Now in its 34th year, the Festival du Nouveau Cinema delivers a strong combination of mainstream, independent and experimental films in a laid-back atmosphere. An honourable mention should go to the FanTasia Film Festival, a festival of kung fu, fantasy and horror. Its expansion to Toronto may not have been a success, but the atmosphere of rowdy audiences creating their own commentary was priceless.

When it comes to Toronto festivals, ditch TIFF. You can wait up to four hours in line just to buy an overpriced ticket. Springtime is when Toronto’s theatres really get interesting. Though the city is full of festivals that function less like film festivals and more like a string of thematically linked movies, there are a few smaller festivals that are worth visiting every year. The Canadian Film Centre’s Worldwide Short Film Festival (WSFF) is one of the best in the city. Featuring a week’s worth of international short films and special presentations from short filmmakers such as Chris Landreth (Oscar winner for Ryan) and the claymation geniuses Aardman Animation (Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run), the WSFF is perfect for those who want something different but don’t have very long attention spans.

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British Columbia has the Vancouver International Film Festival and the smaller Victoria Independent Film & Video Festival; Saskatchewan has the first North American film festival the Yorkton Short Film and Video Festival; the Yukon has its own Dawson City International Short Film Festival. There are festivals all over this country, but one province wins for using the most unique locations….

Manitoba is home to the National Screen Institute’s Winnipeg-based FilmExchange where, in the middle of March, films are projected onto a screen made of snow. In the summer, sitting in the sand of Gimli beach and facing a screen that rests above the waves of Lake Winnipeg, the audience of the Gimli Film Festival gets to take in the latest offerings from Winnipeg’s own Guy Maddin and–since the Gimli area is home to the most Icelandic people outside of Iceland–many films from the homeland. While Canadian films continue to struggle for attention at home, it’s clear that the neglect must be due to apathy, because it sure isn’t for a lack of venues.

Gibb, Lindsay

>>> View more: The fine arts of gift giving: in a multi-tasking age, why not combine gift giving with patronage of the arts and industrial design?

The fine arts of gift giving: in a multi-tasking age, why not combine gift giving with patronage of the arts and industrial design?

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The art of “the perfect gift” eludes many of us, who opt more often than not for the quick and sure card, stuffed into a seasonal envelope. So what’s an erudite, cultured Westerner to do in the December present crunch, when the latest electronic toy has long been snatched up?

Think outside of the Xbox. Westerners will out-bling most other provinces this year, with shoppers in Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba taking the retail lead across Canada, says TD Canada Trust. So go big and curry good karma by becoming a patron of the arts. Get your name on the “Bless you and all your progeny” contributor page of the local opera/theatre/symphony program. Trill to Rossini’s Barber of Seville, Feb. 3, 6 or 8, with the Edmonton Opera; groove with the Celtic Tenors and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Jan. 24; or have a laugh during Hockey Mom, Hockey Dad, Jan. 27-Feb. 7, at Persephone Theatre in Saskatoon.

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The perks of such gift giving include fawning during pre-gig meet-and-greets with the artists. “I wish that everyone would buy High Performance Rodeo tickets for stocking stuffers,” says Michael Green, curator of Calgary theatre company One Yellow Rabbit’s three-week international festival of the arts, Jan. 3-20, featuring almost two dozen pieces.

Enough about everyone else; how about an intimate image of oneself? No, not boudoir photography. Think CSI: Ottawa-based DNA 11 harvests a gene sample from a swab wiped on the inside of your mouth, then prints a digitally enhanced genetic image on a canvas, using colours specified by the donor. The resulting piece looks like abstract art: strands running down the page, bisected by fluorescent bars. They’re an investment, too–DNA portraits run between $390 and $790.

Gift-wrap a couple of tickets to a ritzy international festival, close to home. Sort of. The eighth annual Dawson City International Short Film Festival runs April 6-8 in the Yukon. A mere 536 kilometres northwest of Whitehorse, filmmakers from around the world make the trek to the city of approximately 2,000 people each year.

No matter where, “If I had a wish it would be that people would think of seeing a Canadian movie, and that people would realize what a great wealth of talent we have here,” says Terry McEvoy, filmmaker and programmer of Canadian content for the acclaimed Vancouver International Film Festival. “Most importantly, they tell our stories, whether it’s a documentary about a different land, or based in Canada; the films come from a Canadian perspective.”

Topping McEvoy’s list of must-see flicks is the documentary Mystic Ball. Winner of the Vancouver International Film Festival’s most popular Canadian feature award, Greg Hamilton’s film is about the ancient Burmese game of chin-lone, a non-competitive sport played in a team but not against any team. Next in line is actress Sarah Polley’s feature-film directorial debut, the lyrical and bittersweet Away From Her, based on a short story by Alice Munro about a couple separated by Alzheimer’s. If you must buy an electronic gadget, combat dust bunnies with the iRobot Roomba Scheduler Intelligent Vacuum, and win over your favourite clean freak, too. For just under $450, this little guy will vacuum the house in your absence, following pre-set schedules. The machine (which looks like a portable CD player) even plugs itself in for a recharge at the end of the day.

Or increase an outdoorsy computer geek’s odds of survival in the bush with the Victorinox Swiss Memory Knife. From the makers of the all-purpose Swiss Army Knife comes an updated model with a 64MB USB flash drive, as well as a blade, nail file, ballpoint pen, scissors and red LED light. If the laptop has to be used to start a fire, the removable flash drive will store vital info until a rescue crew is downloaded to the site.

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Finally, spread some salve on retail burnout at Ten Thousand Villages, the Mennonite Central Committee’s program that pioneered the concept of fair trade 60 years ago. Give a gift through their popular Living Gift Donation program. Your picky auntie just might be tickled you bought some poor family a pig in her name, or the 18-rabbit option might go over well.

Happy holidays. May your bills be small and your spirit tall.

The Harvard of hairstyling schools: ‘profs’ include Bill Clinton’s hairdresser. And tuition at Elan Sassoon’s academy: US$19,500

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Beauty schools are usually tucked behind plate-glass windows in strip malls, cheek-to-jowl with taco joints and second-hand clothing stores. With names like XCell Academy, they endeavour to teach the finicky profession of hairstyling–cutting and dyeing, washing and setting, perming and straightening–and seem to get the job done for the average grad. But what of the hairstyling overachiever? The truly gifted student of the art of coiffure? Next September, these wannabe style gurus will have a chance at the education of a lifetime, according to Elan Sassoon, son of the most famous hairdresser on earth, the legendary Vidal Sassoon. On Boston’s Commonwealth Avenue, beside Boston University, no less, the US$22-million Academy of Hair and Skin by Elan Sassoon will aim to take the lowly cosmetology school and transform it into an institution of higher learning. “It will be the Harvard of hair schools,” Elan promises. And he is only half-joking. Tuition will be US$19,500, significantly higher than the average beauty school, which is US$10,000.

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Elan’s academy will be the first of its kind in North America. “We will teach all the influences–architecture and design,” he says. “Every weekend we will have great shows, lots of extracurricular activities. We really want the place to be a centre of cosmetology and design in the city of Boston.” Aside from its sheer size–six storeys, 90,000 sq. feet encompassing 180 dorm beds, an unheard-of convenience–it will house a 200-seat auditorium where Elan’s friends, the cream of the crop of New York’s stylists, will come to lecture. With his family background, Elan knows well that hairstyling can be every bit as fashion-forward as couture. And he is betting that two decades after his father hung up his scissors, the family name can still galvanize what he calls the luxury hair industry.

Some details are still sketchy. Teachers will be chosen, Elan says, for their expertise and their connections. Boston’s Patrick McGinley, who worked as a stylist for Vidal Sassoon for 16 years, has been recruited to craft a curriculum. New York’s stylist du jour, Michael “Vaughn” Acord, formerly of Bumble and Bumble–his clients, who have included Bill Clinton, Anderson Cooper and Sir Paul McCarmey, know him simply as Vaughn–will teach. There will be a new textbook, Elan says, with “all the icons and the distributors and how the business really evolved in the past 100 years.” And there will be an exclusive line of hair care and colour products. As for the students, the school will teach 600 at a time, chosen “for their passion,” Elan says–and their ability to pay the hefty tuition.

Of course, Elan has had big ideas before, and could be accused of spreading himself a trifle thin. The son of Vidal and Beverly Adams, the Edmonton-born, 1960s-era film starlet, has at 38 already gone through one career as a Hollywood film producer and another as a director of a salon/spa chain owned by Louis Vuitton. In the past two years, he has built a number of beauty businesses. With a partner, he operates two high-end salons, both called Mizu (one in Boston’s tony Mandarin Oriental hotel, the other due to open next week on Park Avenue in New York), as well as four salon/spas called Green Tangerine in suburban Connecticut and Massachusetts. This even though he never learned to cut hair, despite being pulled out of school to travel to salons and fashion shows with his father.

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He did learn his dad’s panache. Calgary hair guru Jerome Pinsonneault remembers Vidal’s flamboyance in the late ’60s, when he worked beside him for six months in Toronto. “When he cut hair he was quite theatrical,” he recalls with a laugh. “But he did good work. I learned a lot from him.” Famed Toronto salon owner Robert Gage, a Sassoon contemporary, says “he took a lot of bland, colourless people and gave them a momentary thrill.” By 1983, Vidal had sold his line of hair care products–Elan says under pressure from his shareholders–then his salons and beauty schools, losing the right to his own name in the process. “He doesn’t talk about it, but I think he still misses the business,” Elan says. “He loves to be in a salon.” In fact, it was after Elan tried and failed to buy back part of the Vidal Sassoon name in 2002 that he decided to give the business a whirl of his own.

In the next two weeks, Elan says, construction will begin on the school. And though it seems a little airy so far, says Pinsonneault, “if he has the right teachers and the right curriculum, that’s what’s important. With his father there as background, he should do well.”

Way beyond the lemonade stand

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APAINTBALL playing field, a lawn-care business, a pet-grooming service, pre-mixed jars of ingredients for making pastries, a smoothie store in a school cafeteria, and an online jewelry collection: All of these businesses were founded by teenage entrepreneurs who showed up at an April dinner in New York honoring the 25th anniversary of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), a group dedicated to getting low-income kids interested in business. The thought of becoming a real entrepreneur can be thrilling for children accustomed to play money. But the reality is tough. Kids have to learn real responsibility and make sure they have insurance and pay taxes. NFTE (pronounced “nifty”) is there to help, from providing small start-up loans, to getting vendor licenses, to hosting 80-hour “mini-M.B.A” classes in high schools that teach students about supply and demand, cost/benefit analysis, record-keeping, the present and future value of money, advertising and marketing, and working with suppliers. The value of its programs have been touted by entrepreneurs ranging from cosmetics creator Bobbi Brown to Internet pioneer Steve Case to rap artist Sean Combs.

During the past quarter century, NFTE has trained more than 500,000 young people across America and branched out by founding programs in 13 countries. Its leaders believe that getting people to start their own businesses is a key route to reducing poverty and teaching self-reliance. Its programs have drawn praise from across the political spectrum. “Teaching, exporting, and expanding entrepreneurship is the single most important thing we can do to improve the lives of the poor,” said the late Jack Kemp in praising NFTE.

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“There’s something to the idea that some ethnic groups are more entrepreneurial than others,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Lester Thurow told the Wall Street Journal. “And it doesn’t have anything to do with race. The question is: Can you teach entrepreneurialism? Every leading M.B.A. program tries to do it, and with mixed results. So why not NFTE?”

ONLY ABOUT ONE in eight NFTE graduates go on to start lasting businesses, but even those who don’t learn important skills. “Schools usually don’t teach a lot of practical things people need such as balancing a checkbook or financial literacy,” says California high school teacher Dennis Miller. “At a minimum, NFTE helps impart those lessons in a fun way by involving die kids in their own businesses.” As for diose kids whose businesses succeed, NFTE can be a life-changing experience. When she was 11 years old, Jasmine Lawrence lost 90 percent of her hair after using a hair relaxer with harsh chemicals. She vowed never to use chemical products again. Instead, using techniques she learned from NFTE, she started an all-natural line of hair care products that currently brings in over $100,000 a year. Jasmine has turned over operation of her company to her mother so she can finish her studies at Georgia Tech. Jimmy “Mac” McNeal took NFTE classes as a high school student back in 1989. Today he runs BDG Industries, a talent management company that handles the careers of music and sports stars.

The most touching NFTE stories often come from foreign programs. Oil-soaked Saudi Arabia isn’t known for having much of a private sector–or female entrepreneurs. But 16-year-old Muneera Al-Maneea found a niche by designing a scale to measure the exact amount of dust in the air. “Measuring dust is a necessity in Saudi Arabia,” she says. “Dust is a health issue, especially for children.”

Niall Foody is a 16-year-old Irish lad diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. After becoming frustrated at not being able to find the keyhole for his family’s front door in die dark, he developed a glow-in-the-dark key-lock surround strip. “I am now planning on developing other lines, including luminous suckers for light switches or door bells, and luminous numbers on keypads,” he told me at the NFFF dinner.

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NFTE began with, of all things, a mugging. Steve Mariotti, a former Ford Motor Company financial analyst, was teaching special education classes in the Bronx in 1982 when he was mugged for $10 by five teenagers. This experience changed the way he approached his classroom duties. Mariotti noticed that even the most alienated students became interested in learning when he talked about the nuts and bolts of starting a business. He got a $20,000 grant from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Newark, supplemented that with help from financier Ray Chambers, and began NFTE in 1987. “I am continually amazed by the dedication, passion, and creativity of these budding entrepreneurs,” he says. “With youth unemployment skyrocketing, its a privilege to not only help youth recognize business opportunities but to ultimately create economically self-sufficient lives. His advice for budding entrepreneurs? “What happens to you is important: Write down what you do, write down all the obstacles, and one by one work against the obstacles to make your dreams come true.”

Ericka Dunlap believes NFTE can help fulfill dreams. While not a NFTE graduate herself, she became aware of the program during her 2004-2005 reign as Miss America. She told me one of her most fulfilling activities is working to inspire NFTE graduates. “Self-confidence and the right image are a key to success, and I love teaching people just how far those qualities can take them,” she told me. They may even take Dunlap into elected office. She’s currently vying for a seat on the Orange County Commission, the governing body for Orlando, Florida. Shes running as a Democrat, but is quick to remind me that she’s “a pro-business Democrat because of NFTE.”

In this way, NFTE can be a bridge across the country’s ideological divide. It reminds us that having a generation of self-sufficient young people is in the interests of conservatives, liberals, and everyone in between.

John Fund is a senior editor of The American Spectator.