Posts Tagged ‘Green Mountain Film Festival’

like a refugee

June 27, 2009

Ashade Pearce, lead guitar

Ashade Pearce, lead guitar

“You left your country to seek refuge, in another man’s land…you will be confronted by strange dialects, you will be fed unusual diets…you’ve got to sleep in a tarpaulin house, which is so hard…you’ve to sleep on a tarpaulin mat, which is so cold…living like a refugee… “

I first heard those lyrics a couple of years ago – a snowy afternoon, if I remember right – on St. Patrick’s Day during the annual Green Mountain Film Festival.

I knew I should have been focusing less on the lyrics and more on the visuals of the film that day. But it’s that kind of music.

The Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars‘ story is widely known now, as the individuals who make up the group fled their country’s brutal civil war in the ’90s and came together to make music in a neighboring Guinea refugee camp. That’s where Woodstock, VT native Zach Niles caught up with them. A fan of African music, Zach and a partner went to Africa to create a film about the role of music in West African refugee camps. He made the Refugee All Stars film in 2005, and has  continued his involvement with the group since then as their manager.

The lineup has varied a little from the original six members, most recently with the unexpected death last March of bassist Idrissa Mallam Bangura. In their common mission and experience, though, they remain constant: messages of peace, happiness, and unity still rest firmly at the heart of their music.

Today’s blue skies and sunlit afternoon countered those first snowy film festival memories of  the Refugees, as they lit up the Green at Dartmouth College and launched the “eMotion” Arts Festival.

A most fortuitous omen  for a positive, creative, artistically inspirational summer ahead!

the goddess sings

March 26, 2009

Aesop’s moral might be: when you dump an artist, you must be prepared for the most extraordinary of responses.

‘Extraordinary’ is just the word for Nina Paley’s 82-min. animated tour-de-force, Sita Sings the Blues, showing now at the Green Mountain Film Festival. I haven’t raved like this about a film (ranted, tried to convert friends and family and coworkers…) since last fall, upon seeing Let The Right One In – coincidentally, another of this year’s Festival offerings. Before that? I don’t remember.sita-blues1

The single fact that Paley’s work is autobiographical goes a long way to fast-track it to the top of the genre, and advance this remarkable vision far beyond most definitions of an ‘animated feature’. More than a breakup catharsis (surely must have been that too, though) Sita speaks to the greater arc of human relations, survival, and self-realization – in the most humorous ways imaginable.

The film employs the full range of artistic devices and expression. An epic Indian text (the Ramayana) gives us the story of Rama, an Indian Prince, and Sita, his virtuous, suffering, and wrongly accused wife. This is interwoven seamlessly with Paley’s own incredible experience of getting dumped (by e-mail!), while she’s on a business trip in New York and her husband is in India.

Three congenial Indonesian shadow puppets offer contradictory interjections in a sort of ‘chorus’ role, to advance (and, sometimes hilariously confuse) the narrative.

The story is visually realized through a combination of paper collages and cutouts, hand-painted watercolor backdrops, and lush, colorful computer-generated 2D animation techniques that appear to exist in their own unique universe of time/space relationships. There is art of untold riches to be found in breaking the rules, and Sita is nothing if not artful.

And finally, now that your imagination is nearly saturated, I’ll mention that the whole story is punctuated by Sita’s clever music/dance interludes, overlayed by the superb singing of ’20s-era diva Annette Hanshaw. It’s eerie how the well-worn lyrics to standards like “Mean to Me”, “Moanin’ Low” and “Who’s That Knockin’ At My Door” take on new life in this setting, it’s as though they’ve been waiting the better part of a century for this very chance to come together in a single voice and illustrate the story of Nina, Sita, and lovers everywhere. Why Annette Hanshaw? The filmmaker can explain that one.


Sita is  joyous. It’s naughty, irreverent, exuberantly inventive, and, deeply touching.

When you see Sita, you will likely find it so captivating you will want to own it. To watch it over and over again yourself, and share the special experience with others. To which Paley says, ‘no problem’! You can buy a copy (when the film becomes available commercially, possibly next month…or not…) but you can also download, share and copy the film absolutely free under the creative commons provision.

And then of course there’s the other option: you could make your own version of the film. If you’re the creative-minded type you may want to seriously consider going to the website’s store and buying Nina Paley’s 320G hard drive, signed by the artist (how do you sign a hard drive? :) and jam-packed with all of the original, high-resolution digital files that were used to make the movie. Think of the possibilities there!

How fitting that Sita is so accessible, for a film about love, loss, (empowerment!) and other such commonly shared human experiences.

“That’s all”!


Sita Sings the Blues has two more screenings at the Festival; Sat. the 28th at 6:30am and Sun. the 29th at 11:30am. With greatest thanks to Ms. Paley for the gift of this exceptional film, her genorosity in sharing this personal experience in such an inspired creative expression, and – for the laughs! Preview Sita here on YouTube.

freedom AND joy

March 25, 2009

Please find your red pencil there on the music stand, and note:  it’s The Art of Conducting. Not the ‘discipline’, not the ‘science’, not the ‘practice’, not the ‘profession’. The Art.

In last night’s 6:15pm feature at the Green Mountain Film Festival, Leonard Bernstein – young, charming, sharp and acutely articulate – patiently and passionately unraveled the complexity of skills one must have to rise to the rarified eschelon of the truly GREAT conductors.

He knew. Instinctively, it seems. Only 37 years old when this film was made (in 1955, for the popular “Omnibus” TV show), by that time Bernstein had held prominent conducting positions  with the New York Philharmonic, the New York City Symphony and Tanglewood, along with many guest conducting appearances around the world.bernstein

The film begins with an engaging tutorial on the basics of conducting: how to understand a conductor’s baton gestures; what considerations a conductor makes when opening a new score for the first time; and, how one goes about synthesizing all of the dense information in a score into a unified understanding of the music, and the composer’s intent.

Early in the film as Bernstein begins to apply these basics to a real score (Brahms’ first symphony), he reads aloud the tempo marking at the top: “un poco sostenuto“, he says, then asks in mock exasperation, “how can you tell the rate of speed from three Italian words?

That got a chuckle from the audience, and yet it illustrates definitively the relative negligibility of  a composer’s markings – and music notation, too, for that matter – isolated from the conductor’s interpretation, which brings all of the information together and breathes life (music!) into a performance.

The Art of Conducting ends with Bernstein reviewing the list of ‘must have’ conducting  mechanical and musical skills, and he observes that proficiency in all of these areas makes for a very—adequate conductor.

Surprising. After all of that, what else could there possibly be to it?

Bernstein pauses, and then offers in a nearly conspiratory whisper, “it’s communication“: that innate ability to translate the acquired knowledge and gestures into the kind of passion and artistic singlemindedness that fuses orchestra with conductor, and ultimately fuels a group’s musical vision, combustion, and success.

This film came as a timely supplement to an article I had just read, in the new debut issue of  Listen magazine. Victor Lederer discusses the exhibit of Bernstein’s working (notated) scores, which were  displayed recently at Avery Fisher Hall.

Most telling of all? – Bernstein’s own handwritten marking in the fourth (‘ode to joy’) movement of Beethoven’s Ninth. Lederer notes that “freheit” is penciled in over “freude“, as ‘freedom’ trumped ‘joy’ for his historic 1989 Berlin performances celebrating the fall of the Wall.

Beethoven was both composer AND conductor, and yet it still takes an artist of Bernstein’s skill to give that already sublime score a final coat of wax before rolling it out in public. He interprets the score in a vision that’s both right for the music, and right for the occasion of its performance.

That’s a great conductor.


The Green Mountain Film Festival isn’t even halfway over yet – please support them and their dynamic creative vision by checking out the diverse offerings over the next few days!

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