Cinema Returns to Pawtucket

Pawtucket, like all cities, once had a theater-studded city center. One online archive has 11 movie palaces listed for Pawtucket. All of them have now faded into the history of the early 20th century of the city, the last one demolished in 1998. Now to see a film in Pawtucket, one has to go to the Visitor Center, itself on the site of one of the cinema halls of old. It, too, is listed on CinemaTreasures.org, to the disgust of its commenting community. But every year for the last 14 years, the Visitor Center has hosted the Pawtucket Film Festival.

The Pawtucket Film Festival is one of the closing acts of the Pawtucket Arts Festival, rounding out the month of September with two days of films and musical performances, with the opportunity to get up close and personal with the filmmakers. Festival organizer Rick Roth started the festival 14 years ago when he moved his t-shirt printing business, Mirror Image, to Pawtucket. “I saw that the beautiful little theater in the Visitor Center was very much underutilized,” Roth said via email, from the former Soviet Republic of Georgia where he was helping organize a youth film and musical festival, One Caucasus.

The theater, which is usually used to screen a continuous loop of historical footage about the Blackstone Valley, holds some of the relics of Pawtucket’s film past. It is decorated with some of the interior decoration from the Leroy Theater, the last of the Pawtucket film houses to be demolished.

“The basic purpose of the Festival is to bring some art and culture to Pawtucket, and particularly to bring film to Pawtucket,” Roth said in email. “It is also, above all, to show that Pawtucket is a genuinely artist-friendly place.”

The basic structure of a film screening at the Pawtucket Film Festival opens with a reception for the artists and the attendees, followed by 20 minutes of short films, then 30 minutes of live music, then either another batch of short films, or a feature-length film, followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers. Film festivals usually focus on the director, but Roth explained that the Pawtucket Film Festival tries to buck that trend. “We don’t necessarily just invite directors; we like to have a variety of artists who have worked on films. Our presenting artists have included musicians who scored the films, actors, producers and even the distributor of a film, besides the traditional director presentations,” he explained.

Another distinguishing feature of the film festival is the selection process. Filmmakers don’t submit their films in hopes of being approved for the festival; instead, the organizers of the festival invite various artists to contribute to the Pawtucket art scene. “We have a longstanding commitment to try never to reject a film or filmmaker. It is difficult enough to make a film, no arduous application, additional cost or rejection is necessary in the world of film and we strenuously avoid receiving applicants,” Roth wrote.

The artists are not paid much to come share their work. The Festival is run entirely by unpaid volunteers on a shoestring budget, but they are compensated for travel costs. Roth said that the Festival views the artists’ visit and display of their work as a contribution to the arts community of Pawtucket.

The Festival has hosted a variety of genres of both film and music, from documentaries to fiction, and singer-songwriters to rock and rollers, such as the Blackstone Valley Sinners, the Dresden Dolls, Matt Height and Paper Tiger Television, and Karen Aqua. Some of the cinematic highlights include RI-centric films Federal Hill, Buddy and The Werewolf of Pawtucket.

Roth, a graduate of the Harvard Divinity school, said that his connections in the filmmaker world were part of what urged him to establish the Festival. But Roth is also a committed social justice activist. He joined Amnesty International in 1981 and has been an active member since. He also worked on the board of Students for a Free Tibet. In August, he spent time in Georgia, in a village called Tserakvi, working with volunteers to host a youth music and film festival called One Caucasus. The borderland program is working to create a space where Caucasian youth can meet and share experiences through art.

The Pawtucket Film Festival takes place on the last weekend in September, 27-28. For more information, check out their website at thepff.com

Mobile DIY Antifolk Rockers Celebrate 10 Years

Durham, North Carolina based folk rockers Beloved Binge will be stopping in RI on their country wide tour. The couple, who describe their music as, “rubble pop in a punk pot,” have been compared to Olympia, WA indie record label k-records, placing them somewhere in the ranks of indie folkies and shoegaze rockers. Beloved Binge is celebrating 10 years of making music, their 10 year “bandiversary”. Their music spans the rolling sounds of folk, and extends out to the feedback filled backbone of garage rock. The constant that winds through their recent album Pockets is the way the duo’s voices come together, part folk chorus, part rock anthem.

Eleni Vlachos is the self-identified drummer of the multi-instrumentalist duo, which will be gracing the stage at AS220 this Wednesday. She and husband Rob Beloved, quit their jobs and got in an ‘82 camper van with their dog, to tour the United States in celebration of making it 10 years.

Beloved Binge does more than just make music. Both members are vegan and work to raise awareness of the suffering of animals, especially as part of the high production food system. On a trip while touring they were traveling from LA to San Francisco and passed a feedlot for dairy cows, the conditions in which the animals were being kept convinced them to take the step from vegetarianism to veganism.

“One of our interests is reducing suffering in the world,” Vlachos explained. Animals make up a lot of life on the planet, and the members of Beloved Binge believe that with increased awareness of plant-based food options, people can make the switch.

“It’s hard to change,” she acknowledged, “Every meal is choice.”

Vlachos is also interested in film work. She has made two films, one called Seeing through the Fence which focusses on the reasons for switching to vegetarian and vegan diets, and why people are reluctant to do so. She will be giving out free copies at the show. While they are on tour this fall she is working on a new project called Big Talk. She is asking the artists they meet while touring questions off her “big questions” list, such as “What is the hardest part of being alive?”

Vlachos grew up in Seattle, working the cash register at her father’s pizza place. Her mother’s family had many classical musicians. She started playing the drums at age 21.

In 1998, Vlachos traveled to Crete, as part of a trip around Greece to get to know the country and visit her father’s family, there she bought a bouzouki (μπουζούκι, pronounced: boo-ZOO-kee), a Greek instrument resembling a lute.

“My father was embarrassed,” she joked, the instrument is usually played by men.

Vlachos met Rob while they were both still living in Seattle. She was looking to get involved with a new band. After the third member of their group left, they re-located to Durham, North Carolina.

“We were kind of broken-hearted,” Vlachos said. They decided to move somewhere new. They had heard nice things about the weather in North Carolina, so they packed up their stuff and moved.

“When we got there it was like a ghost town,” she remembered. But the town opened itself up and revealed a welcoming arts community that has helped them feel at home.

When planning their tour to celebrate 10 years of music making slotting Rhode Island in was an easy choice. Rob’s father lives in the city.

They have played AS220 before and are fond of its DIY ethos. The DIY movement is a large component of what they do. Their tour is self-organized and they are traveling by camper van with their dog.

Looking back on ten years of writing and performing Vlachos finds that the biggest changes are those of perspective.

“You look for ways to entertain yourself,” she said. Tired of playing gigs the same exact way every time they incorporated a theatrical element. Once, they put on a show of Three’s Company inside their performance.

But touring is a major draw when for Vlachos when it comes to going around the country.

“Playing shows is a way to connect with a community that you don’t get when you’re just traveling.”

Beloved Binge will be playing AS220 Thursday August 14. Check out their music at belovedbinge.bandcamp.com.

Making the Stage: Local open mic picks up

There is a stage in Providence looking for performers. Join the PVD Hoot for a chance to perform or sit in the audience for an opportunity to cheer on local musicians of all types.

The PVD Hoot is an open mic that makes its home at Anchor, a work-exhibition space on Rice Street in Providence.

Started by Josh Aromin and Sarah Mead in October of last year, the Hoot has embarked on a year-long venture to bring a performance space for all to the city. The performance stage has gone walkabout in an effort to become more of a “mobile mic” bringing the stage to the people who want to perform on it, and to audiences in the heart of downtown. The Hoot is using Grant’s Block to get outside, but this past Sunday, the rain moved them inside to the Providence Polaroid Project (the old Craftland location), across the street.

This collaboration between the PVD Hoot and Providence Polaroid is the only the first of many, or so hope Hoot co-founders Aromin and Mead.

“People keeping saying, ‘we need to work together,’” said Aromin. They have been looking to work with more of the projects that are part of Popup Providence initiative.

A rainy Sunday didn’t see the turn out that the Hoot usually gets. Only four people performed, two of whom are involved with the Hoot, including Aromin. When the stage is set at The Anchor, between 30 and 40 people usually show up. When the performance has been hosted at Grant’s Block they’ve drawn crowds of up to 100 people.

“We got rubberneckers,” Mead said with a smile.

The Hoot started when Aromin’s cousin, Armand Aromin, a violin-maker, moved his workspace into the Anchor. The Anchor provides free performance and exhibition space to its residents. Armand asked Josh for ideas of events to host.

“I said, ‘An open mic would be great,’” Aromin recounted. Cafes and restaurants often will host open mics, but inviting people in to perform or to watch people perform does not necessarily turn a profit, and the open mic remains secondary to the goal of establishment, namely selling food and beverages.

Aromin wanted to re-create the vibe that the erstwhile Tazza Cafe had at their open mics.

When they’re at home at The Anchor, they serve free beer and coffee, donated by Narragansett brewery, and New Harvest, respectively.

“We wanted to be an open mic that just happens to have free coffee and beer,” Aromin explained.

When Aromin was set to make the open mic happen, he invited friend and co-worker Mead to help him put it on. Mead has a degree in marketing, and had experience putting on events.

“Sarah had never done an open mic before,” Aromin laughed.

But Mead took on the planning and they’ve been successfully drawing a crowd since.

“Once you’ve done the first event, you figure out what to do. Every time we do it it’s tiring, but definitely worth it,” Mead said.

Sunday’s Hoot was also a send off party, because Mead is moving back to her home state, Connecticut. Aromin sang her a song he wrote, I hope when you pass through Providence it still feels like home.

One goal of the Hoot is to expand the project to other cities, so Mead’s move signals a future for the Hoot outside Providence. Until then, the Hoot will be continuing at The Anchor until this October.

Aromin recited the Hoot’s unofficial motto, “Our stage is your stage. I don’t care what your talent level is.”

For more information visit their website at http://pvdhoot.com

You can head out (and perform) 2PM performances at Grant’s block, 5PM at The Anchor:
Aug. 10 – Grant’s Block
Aug. 20 – The Anchor
Aug. 24 – Grant’s Block
Sep. 7 – Grant’s Block
Sep. 17 – The Anchor
Sep. 28 – Grant’s Block

Growing Awareness: The Story of Seeds

How a RI Whole Foods Market and an independent director are shedding light on the seed crisis

Open Sesame Poster

by Despina Durand

The upcoming July screenings of Open Sesame: The Story of Seeds are the end result of a serendipitous ambition sparked by the film itself. Bonnie Combs, Marketing team leader at the University Heights Whole Foods Market, saw the film when it screened at the Cable Car Cinema & Cafe this past April after a friend of hers in the bakery at Whole Foods told her about how she had contributed to the Kickstarter that funded the film.

Open Sesame is a documentary that looks at the struggle between seed farmers and big agri businesses, such as Monsanto, over who has the rights to seeds. Seeds, the film argues, are the source of all life, and the basis of civilization. Without them, none of the things that we have today would exist. The move to patent seeds has gravely endangered biodiversity and farming.

Open Sesame director Sean Kaminsky, based out of Brooklyn, did not intend to make a full length film about seeds. The project started as an idea for a short film when he realized that the things he had been reading about seed patenting had a lot in common with the conversations happening around proprietary formats in digital media. (Proprietary formats are processes of encoding files that mean that they can be only opened with a specific program. For example, .doc, .ppt, and other Microsoft file formats.)

“I felt like they were turning seeds more into information than food,” Kaminsky explained.

But he discovered as he set off to his interviews that it was a very emotional topic. Sophia Maravell of the Brickyard Education Farm, one of his subjects, told him that 95% of the vegetable biodiversity has disappeared in the last 100 years. Each interviewee prompted him to speak with another on the subject, snowballing the project to a new level.

“It crept up on me.”

Combs originally approached the RISD Metcalf auditorium to screen the film, but while she awaited a response, she learned that the Cranston Public Library had started a seed library of their own, and they quickly agreed to host a screening of Open Sesame. Combs still wanted a screening in Providence, and ultimately Metcalf got back to her with an affirmative.

Kaminsky will be at the screening at the William Hall Library in Cranston, on July 30, to talk with the audience about the film. The following day representatives from the Seed Savers Exchange will lead a workshop on saving and sharing seeds.

“What I felt was that I wanted to leave people feeling inspired and hopeful, rather than in a place of anger and sadness,” Kaminsky explained of Open Sesame’s contrast with the trend of food documentaries to leave viewers drained or frustrated by the actions and indifference of big business. Kaminsky’s hope is that the film will inspire people to engage in learning more about seeds, advocating for them, and even saving them.

And from the way Combs has reacted, it seems he has already succeeded. Combs described how the film left her wanting to bring people together to educate them about seeds. And she has already thrown herself head first into the issue; she is going on a retreat to Decorah, Iowa for a summer conference hosted by the Seed Savers Exchange.

“It takes so much to make a film– you want to believe it will make a difference, and to know that it impacted someone so much. It’s been really inspiring,” Kaminsky said of Combs.

But Kaminsky does not want to tell people how they should engage with what they learn, and realizes that not everyone will in the same way.

“If there is only one thing you can do, plant a seed,” he said. The experience of planting a seed is powerful, he explained. Putting it into the earth and watching it grow connects us to our ancestors who created civilization through the millions of seeds they planted and cultivated.

Combs’ journey has mirrored Kaminsky’s. From that first screening, she has tapped into the local seed saving culture. She learned that the person who requested that first screening of the film at the Cable Car was Bill Braun who runs the Ivory Silo Seed Project in Westport. He will be one of the speakers at the Providence screening of Open Sesame. The issue has swept her up. She wants to make it a priority for people to know about the importance of seeds. And she has high hopes.

“Bringing people together with an interest in a topic is the greatest thing. It’s so rewarding,” Combs said.

Open Sesame: the Story of Seeds will be screening July 24 at 7pm at Metcalf Auditorium. And July 30 at 6pm at William Hall Library. The seed saving workshop will be July 31 at 6:30pm. For more on the film visit  www.opensesamemovie.com.

PVD Lady Project empowers in style with their Summer Guide

by Despina Durand

Men get the run of most professional spaces. But Providence knows that men are not the only ones exploring new ventures and ideas in the professional world. And the PVD Lady Project is here to prove it.

The Lady Project started in 2012 when local business women Sierra Barter and Julie Sygiel, then 24 and 25, decided that professional women in Rhode Island needed a space to get together.

The Lady Project kicked off their Summer Gift Guide (here) with a party at the Providence Marriott Downtown, poolside, with drinks, nibbles, and a crowd of well-dressed women from all walks of life.

The Summer Guide’s main spread featured Lady Project members.
“The goal was to showcase women doing amazing things, what Lady Project already does,” said art director Mihaela Hinayon. She, along with GoLocalProv’s Kate Nagel, Craftland’s Kristin Crane, and photographer Brittanny Taylor spoke as part of a 3×3.
A 3×3 at the Lady Project invites three women from different backgrounds, to talk for three minutes, on a topic. In keeping with the summer theme, the ladies were asked to talk about their favorite things to do in Rhode Island in the summer. The suggestions ranged from hikes and picnics to making the rounds of the Providence bars. Crane’s list of “food, wine, outdoors” was a hit.
The guide showcases a couple of businesses run by Lady Project members, as well as articles, in addition to the gift guide and a list of summer suggestions from Lady Project members.

In the words of PVD Lady Project’s Communication and PR manager, Piya Sarawgi, the Lady Project is an opportunity for women, especially young women who might not have a professional direction yet, to meet with other women who are pursuing their goals, professionally and otherwise.

In a state as small as Rhode Island it can feel like one has met everyone already.
“Every event I meet someone and I ask, ‘How did I not know you?’” Barter said.
Most new faces, she explained, come on the recommendation of a friend, coworker, or boss.
The goal is to get passionate and creative women together and help them form connections, both as interpersonally and professionally.
“You realize you’re not alone in what you’re doing,” she said.

One of the more gratifying experiences for Barter is when the Lady Project connects people in a professional way. Because the Lady Project is volunteer based, they can’t pay the people who work for them. So when someone asks her, “Do you know anyone who does this?” and she can hook someone up with a paying gig, it is a rush.

The Lady Project is expanding beyond the bounds of little Rhody, this year chapters opened in Boston and in New Haven. At the Summer Gift Guide celebration Barter announced that new chapters were preparing to open in Nashua, NH, and New York City. Though the network is growing, the larger non-profit, Lady Project.org, will keep its home in the Ocean State.

“I like it because it’s a self-selecting group of women,” said social media intern Natalie Shay, who, as a student at Johnson and Wales, met Barter in the university’s communications office, “Everyone there is interesting, because everyone wants to be there.”

Barter’s advice for women of all ages, looking to break out of their current job, or into a new one is to start before you’re ready.
“You’re never going to have a good age to do it. You’re never too young or too old.”

PVD Lady Project will be hosting an “Active Night” at the Barrington Pilates & studio 47 on June 26 to benefit Girls on the Run RI. More here.

Photo by Brittanny Taylor.