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2015 San Francisco International Film Festival program notes

April 25, 2015

sfiff58_logo_238x301Here are two program notes I wrote for the San Francisco Film Society’s 2015 San Francisco International Film Festival (April 23-May 7).

Time Out of Mind (2014)

How to pass the time when you have nowhere to go? How to get identification when you have none to start with? Disheveled and red-faced, George Hammond (Richard Gere) wanders New York’s cold streets, facing these questions and, slowly, his past. In a finely nuanced, tour-de-force performance, Gere plays this lost, ragged man movingly against type, bringing a haunted humanity to a man estranged from the world. With gritty minimalism and a plot driven more by character and setting than narrative, writer/director Oren Moverman offers a sympathetic yet unsentimental look at homelessness in the city that never sleeps. Read more…

Ride (2015)

In her sophomore directorial effort, Academy Award-winner Helen Hunt plays Jackie, a high-strung New Yorker editor who must learn to let go, and in the process, learn to surf. With strong support from Luke Wilson, Brenton Thwaites and David Zayas, Ride is an effervescent coming-of-age surf movie with no shortage of hijinks. In this film that oscillates between taut drama and screwball comedy, Jackie follows her son Angelo (Thwaites, The Giver) to Venice Beach after he drops out of college to find his own path in the waves of Southern California. Read more… Workers at Whole Foods demand better wages

December 8, 2014

Whole Foods PicketAfter years of organizing in secret, building bonds over beer and supporting co-workers when issues have arisen with management, team members at a Whole Foods Market in San Francisco disrupted the normal workday and demanded a $5 an hour pay increase last month. More than 20 employees beckoned store management to the floor and presented a petition signed by more than 50 of the store’s workers calling for more paid time off, better health and retirement benefits as well as steady, consistent schedules.

I worked at Whole Foods in the spring of 2012. As is the typical way of getting to know co-workers, I went out for drinks with a tight-knit group of employees. Conversations went quickly from the getting-to-know-you banter to politics, and it was at the time the Occupy Movement was running out of steam. We exchanged battle stories of political engagement and mused about how best to carry the momentum from Occupy in new directions. I asked about organizing at Whole Foods; a few of my co-workers smirked while others played dumb. A week later I was brought into the fold, and found people had been organizing for more than two years. I was feisty for action, but the others knew better; they were in it for the long haul.

Since workers came out after plotting in the shadows for nearly five years, store managers have reportedly attempted to kill them with kindness, while saying nothing of their demands. On the corporate side, Whole Foods Market announced a pay increase in its San Francisco stores effective Jan. 1, shortly after the Whole Foods Union went public.  The $1.25 increase in the starting wage, from $11.50 to $12.75, sits 50 cents above San Francisco increase in minimum wage that will take effect in May of 2015. Outside of that, both the store and corporate management have refused to publicly address the situation. Workers organizing at Whole Foods claim the announced wage increase four months ahead of schedule was likely in response to their demands.

 Read more at…

Teton Gravity Research takes on Olympic aftermath

November 20, 2014

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Every fall dozens of ski movies with high-production values are released as foreplay to the oncoming winter. Most these movies are largely ignored by or totally obscured from those who don’t get their kicks in the snow. Most of the movies also shy away from being political—viewers tend not to like mixing politics with their porn.

But one ski movie released this fall, “Almost Ablaze” by Teton Gravity Research, stands out for peeking behind the Olympic curtain. Amidst the normal jaw-dropping fare of heli-skiing in Alaska, waist-deep powder in Wyoming’s Tetons and elsewhere, TGR takes cameras and a gold medalist to an Olympic wasteland.

A few weeks after the $51 billion Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, slopestyle gold medalist Joss Christensen went to the Balkans. The juxtaposition between Sochi and the ruins of the Sarajevo 1984 games is striking. After Putin and his oligarchs spent lavishly to show the world Russia’s ideal self, 30-year-old vacant buildings covered in graffiti and speckled with bullet holes make up a large part of the forlorn Olympic infrastructure in Sarajevo.

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National Fisherman: A Fair share, deckhand labor rights

September 9, 2014

National Fisherman recently published an article I wrote on labor law in the commercial fishing industry in their September 2014 issue. The legal rights outlined in the piece not only apply to deckhands in the fishing industry but to all seamen working from US ports of call.

photoCommercial fishing is a brutal industry. Whether in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico or the North Atlantic, sleep deprivation, harsh conditions and strained muscles are routine. Those of us dealing with the ferocity of the job are usually in it for more than just the love of the fishing life. There’s got to be a financial reward that comes with getting beat up for a living. The last thing a deckhand should have to worry about is getting their wallet beat up by captains looking to improve their own bottom line.

There is no shortage of stories of deckhands getting ripped off by captains: shares lower than agreed to, inflated expenses and manipulated costs As a greenhorn, I got on the wrong boat for three weeks, got zapped by faulty wiring numerous times, and never got paid — that is, until I showed up to the skipper’s house nearly a year later, more than 1,000 miles away, and demanded my pay. He gave me 500 bucks and told me if I wanted more I’d have to take him to court. There also are many cases of deckhands making spurious claims against skippers for both pay and injury.

While we hear these stories of skippers and deckhands getting the better of each other, one thing is clear: Too few have a solid grasp of what rights deckhands on commercial fishing vessels have under federal law.

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Closet Cleaning Part 2: Bordering Hell

September 9, 2014

Silvia Plath once noted, “[n]othing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing.” If this is the case, I have amassed quite the stinky pile. For a little end-of-summer cleaning, I’m freshening up my closet (aka hard drive), mixing metaphors and  posting a few stories I like but for which I have yet to find suitable homes.

Photo by  Jonathan McIntoshThe U.S.-Mexico border; for many it can be hell. It where the national sins of both the United States and Mexico combine to create an ever-increasing mass of displaced people, broken families and death. The political border, built on blood and dollars, is guarded on the U.S. side with more than a billion dollars of militarized manpower and surveillance equipment.

Every day more than $800 million dollars in goods and services are legally exchanged across the border. Every day between $20 and $68 million of illicit drugs—mostly marijuana—enter the U.S. from Mexico, and an unquantified, yet large, amount of handguns and assault rifles legally purchased in the U.S. are shipped to Mexico. Every day people working in the U.S. send roughly $68 million to their families in Mexico. And, every day around 2,000 people are detained by the Border Patrol for crossing the vast and varied expanse from Tijuana to Matamoros without papers—only to be sent back to Mexico where they will more than likely attempt the trek again.

“The U.S.-Mexican border es una herida abierta (is an open wound) where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds. And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country—a border culture,” wrote Gloria Anzaldúa in her landmark book Borderlands/La Frontera. Many claim the bi-national land as their familial home for generations, starting with the indigenous peoples, then to mestizo, Chicanos and finally to whites who have been settling the region for the past 150 years.

Read more…

Closet Cleaning Part 1: The Lucky Ticket

September 9, 2014

Silvia Plath once noted, “[n]othing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing.” If this is the case, I have amassed quite the stinky pile. For a little end-of-summer cleaning, I’m freshening up my closet (aka hard drive), mixing metaphors and  posting a few stories I like but for which I have yet to find suitable homes.

She had been down on her luck for so long that she began to appreciate what she did have: a roof over her head for the time being, a family to take her in if that changed, a strong mind and a healthy body. She began to understand what the old women at the rural church she had attended as a child said three times every Sunday, “Count your blessings.” Those women believed that their pious, humble lives of country poverty would be rewarded tenfold by God when they entered the gates of heaven.

Now she was in the city. She waited tables three nights a week, just enough to cover rent. She would also go on a few dates a month for a free night out. It’s not that she was a fan of chivalry or wanted to be dependent on any man, but a night of free food and drinks was available with a little flirting, so why not take advantage? Of course, she was looking for her kicks too. A good lay could be quite the anti-depressant.

Sometimes she longed for her life to be as simple as just making rent, but it wasn’t. She was two deep breaths from going ape-shit on a manager at Bank of America earlier that day. She reminisced the event as she sat in the small backyard of the house she shared with a few other people. She sipped on a bottle of sparkling water. She had joined the belief that bottled water was extravagant, wasteful and a symbol of a decadent and shortsighted society, but the tap didn’t provide bubbles and lime essence.

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The key to IFC’s success, a teenager’s quest for boobs

July 8, 2014


While bored in New York City on a chilly winter night I decided to venture out and see a movie at the IFC Center in the West Village. Of all the cinematic offerings in NYC, I specifically wanted to go there because I had significant influence on the economic conditions that allowed IFC to acquire the historic Waverly Theater in the early 2000’s. My claim of great influence on the media outlet formerly-known-as Independent Film Channel is less self-aggrandizing than it is a comment on the ridiculousness of the Nielsen rating system in the 1990’s that allowed a horny teenager like myself the viewing power of tens of thousands.

It was hard for a teenage boy in the mid-1990’s to set his eyes on the disrobed female form. My childhood home in rural Connecticut didn’t have dial-up Internet until 1999, so I would have to wait until my later teenage years to discover online porn. My family’s cable plan didn’t include premium—uncensored—cable stations, but it did include the newly founded Independent Film Channel. The channel didn’t fit my tastes of sports, action movies and sophomoric comedy so I largely paid it no mind.

Then one day while flipping through the channels I stumbled upon Walkabout, a 1971 film by Nicolas Roeg about two white kids stranded in the Australian Outback who were helped by an Aboriginal youth on his coming-of-age walkabout. I had read the book of the same title by James Vance Marshall in seventh grade, so the film sparked my interest. Then with no lead up, the protagonist, a teenage girl played by British actress Jenny Agutter, is shown swimming naked in a remote water hole exposing all that she was born with. The scene was far from sexual, but for a small-town teenager from a church-going family, all female nudity was sexual.

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