Southwest of Salem

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Anna Vasquez, one of the San Antonio Four featured in Deborah S.Esquinazi’s Southwest of Salem.

One of the films I saw at the Tribeca Film Festival last month was a documentary about the so-called “San Antonio Four”—four Latina lesbians who, in 1994, were accused and ultimately convicted of sexually abusing two young girls. After the Innocence Project of Texas took an interest in the case, many holes were found in it, and then, about ten years ago, one of the alleged victims came forward to recant her testimony, saying her father told her and her sister to make up the story. I had the amazing opportunity to sit down and talk with the filmmakers behind Southwest of Salem and the women it profiles, all now out of prison awaiting exoneration. The article appears in this week’s Provincetown Magazine, although there are currently no plans to show the film on Cape Cod. I hope that will change. Here on the Cape we have so many independent movie theaters, so I encourage you to call your local theater to request it.

Eating Bugs on the Bowery

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Courtesy of BUGS by Andreas Johnsen

Back in the day, if I ate a bug on the Bowery, it would not have been intentional. But last week at the Tribeca Film Festival, I was invited to intentionally taste grasshoppers, worms, and ant larvae at a small Mexican deli on 4th & Bowery in conjunction with the screening of a new documentary about the gastronomic possibilities of insects, BUGS.

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Crispy Grasshoppers. Photo: Rebecca M. Alvin

This concept of eating insects was not foreign or all that bizarre to me. My 12-year-old son has been telling me for over a year about the possibilities for ending world hunger that consuming insects allows. After all, insects are numerous, varied, and easy to find all around the world (with the possible exception of the extreme environments of Antarctica and the North Pole). But what Andreas Johnsen’s documentary makes clear is that while it is certainly an important facet of the food chain to pursue, there are myriad problems to consider in terms of how the advancement of bugs as a food source will fit into the global industrial food complex.

What makes this 80-minute Danish documentary so good is its refusal to simplify the situation and buy into the hype. We follow chefs and researchers from Nordic Food Lab, a nonprofit research organization dedicated to broadening people’s taste in food and exploring diversity in food sources around the world. They travel to Kenya, Rwanda, Australia, Japan, Mexico, and even Italy, in search of insects that are and have been traditional foods for the people there. In the process, we start to lose ourselves in the enthusiasm for these apparently complex flavored creatures as Chef Ben Reade tastes each one and describes them as only a chef or a foodie can. But as the film progresses, Reade is haunted by the idea that large corporations sit on the sidelines, potentially benefitting from the work of Nordic Food Lab and others like them, while those who do the actual work of raising, capturing, and eating insects that are integral to their traditional diets will see no benefit.

Ultimately, BUGS forces us to face the overall problem of overhyped “superfoods,” the gluttony of first-world nations, and the inequities that cause people to continue to go hungry because of their geography when the world actually has more than enough food to feed everyone plenty. It’s a fascinating, thought-provoking take on the true promise of insects as food.20160418_140256

…Oh, and the ant larvae taco was my favorite dish!

Celebrate Shakespeare 400 with Cinema

SIMON SCHAMA: SHAKESPEARE & US

Picture Shows: Simon Schama at The Globe.

I meant to post this earlier, but have been overwhelmed with a great slate of films and events at the Tribeca Film Festival. There is still one more film in the BBC’s Shakespeare on Film series screening at Waters Edge Cinema this Sunday, April 24th. Shakespeare and Us is an excellent documentary about the bard that really puts his work into proper context. Read all about it…. http://provincetownmagazine.com/2016/04/20/shakespeare-400/

Heart of the Dog… A Belated View

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Still from Heart of a Dog written and directed by Laurie Anderson.

I’m not the type of person who is always the first to see every interesting film that comes out. Although I did travel 85 miles to see the first screening of David Lynch’s Inland Empire when it came out in 2006, and I was willing to travel some 200 miles to see Jean-Luc Godard’s 3D debut  (Goodbye to Language, 2014) in New York, more often than not I see things I want to see when they play near me and the time is convenient. Such was the case with Laurie Anderson’s Heart of a Dog, an essay film that came out several months ago but which I just saw this afternoon at the Chatham Orphuem. And what a delight it was to be the only person in the theater watching this contemplative documentary that spans the terrain of memoir, experimental film, and philosophy.

Although it is often summarized as such, Heart of a Dog is not really about the passing of Anderson’s rat terrier Lolabelle. The film begins with Anderson describing a dream in which she gives birth to the dog after having had it implanted in her uterus some time prior. It starts us off on a thread that is woven through the film’s structure. Anderson admits that the dog did not want to be implanted in her but that “it is just the way it had to be.” As we move from there to discover Anderson’s relationship with Lolabelle over several episodes, it’s clear that it is not the dog’s wishes or thoughts—even when the camera takes the dog’s point of view—that we are witnessing; it is Anderson’s own needs that come through, something pet owners don’t always understand.

Anderson weaves in a discussion about the impact of 9/11 (thankfully not including actual footage from the event), our surveillence culture, Buddhist philosophy, her relationship with her mother, why we dream, and the nature of memoir itself. All of these elements had me searching for connections, trying to understand what the film was about.

Is it an essay on death? Perhaps. But it is also about the ways in which we construct understanding of the world around us by putting ourselves at the center. There is a kind of natural self-centeredness that is unavoidable.

I left the theater in a state that was simultaneously thoughtful and accepting. I was intellectually engaged in trying to understand the work, but also very comfortable with not understanding it, on an emotional level. Ultimately, it was a very satisfying experience for me and I would love to hear from others who have seen the film and enjoyed it. What did it make you think about? (And if you haven’t seen it yet… its’ still in Chatham through Thursday afternoon.)