rebecca m alvin

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.

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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!

The Marvelous ‘Anomalisa’

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David Thewlis voices Michael Stone and Jennifer Jason Leigh voices Lisa in the animated stop-motion film, ANOMALISA, by Paramount Pictures

Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s Anomalisa is a modern-day manifestation of the goals of the surrealist movement as establish some 90 years ago.While this review was written without the benefit of any special knowledge of the process by which  Anomalisa was created, (and process is central to surrealism), what we experience as an audience is Kaufman’s ability to make visible the very process of thought, just does Andre Breton declared as the goal of the surrealist project in 1924.

In Anomalisa, we see the world through the eyes of a successful business group, Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) who is in Cincinnati as keynote speaker to a conference on customer service. The stop motion animated puppets are all strikingly similar, all voiced by the same actor (Tom Noonan), regardless of gender, age, or other individual  qualifiers. All, I should say, except Michael and a customer service rep/groupie of his named Lisa, (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh). In fact, it is her voice that first attracts Michael to her. Obsessed with meeting the woman whose voice stands out against the aural monotony of everyone else, he tracks are down and finds that she also looks different  from everyone else. And while her personality, intellect, and appearance are all very generic, Michael find her fascinating and irresistible simply because she is an anomaly.

Anomalisa is a film that raises a lot of different issues within the small world of these characters. Stone is a man in search of something different. He’s mastered his profession and, like many middle-aged people, has lost the passion that brought him through his career. He’s also come to realize how very generic the world is. Even as we all know that each individual person is unique, we are more similar than we are different, and so Stone is at a point where he desperately needs to be challenged with something or someone truly different. In his pursuit of “something different,” Stone latches onto Lisa without really seeing who she is. It’s as though he’s actually imagining her and not really seeing her for who she is.

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David Thewlis voices Michael Stone in the animated stop-motion film, ANOMALISA

The film shows Michael’s skewed perception quite directly, both through the use of sameness in voice and appearance of the characters and by showing the plainness of Lisa and Michael. It struck me in a sex scene between the two characters that you could never see this in a live action film because lead actors don’t look like real people for the most part and if their bodies do, they are usually not shown in sexual situations. It was strangely fascinating to see two people making love who, despite the fact that they are animated, more closely resemble the average person than any actual actors do in American cinema.

Kaufman, who wrote Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation, and Being John Malkovich, to name a few, and directed the highly underrated Synechdoche, always brings a touch of the surreal to his scripts, here succeeds in creating a world that is both absurd and totally recognizable, filled with characters who are irrationally rational, in a story that is very real but told with unreal visuals. It is at the core of the Surrealist ethos to occupy the spaces between the real and unreal, the logical and illogical, the rational and irrational, conscious and unconscious. Kaufman always succeeds in doing this in fresh ways that take Surrealism into the 21st century without reducing the power of that movement’s potential. He is a breath of fresh air in a cinematic landscape that resembles the world of Anomalisa, filled with strikingly similar films that no one seems to recognize for their dullness. I am so glad this film has been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. I saw it last year and I hope Cape Codders will get the chance to see it now that the Oscar nomination has brought it to mainstream consciousness.

 

 

Peter and John: On Tour

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Vermont filmmaker Jay Craven, whose film Peter snd John is in the midst of a 100-date Cape Cod tour. It is currently playing in Chatham, but check his schedule because there are dates coming up all over the Cape and Islands.

The film, based on Guy de Maupassant’s Pierre et Jean, stars Jacqueline Bisset and Christian Coulson, and was shot entirely on Nantucket.

Here’s a link to the story I wrote for Provincetown Magazine:

http://provincetownmagazine.com/2015/07/29/somewhere-in-time/