Reel Talk: This summer in film

The film festival: a veritable treasure-trove of aspiring talent looking to gain exposure in one of the hardest industries to crack. 

Traditionally, festivals are designed to celebrate the voices of independent filmmakers, acting as the proverbial catapult to stardom. In reality, the major fests have often leaned towards celebrating the celebrity and, in many cases, left the door closed for truly independent creators. So, that leaves the local festivals to carry the burden of finding that next darling of the cinema firmament. And there are a few happening this summer right here in RI. 

Even before the pandemic, the film fest was becoming a bit of a tough sell. With the pervasiveness of the medium, access to content is easier now more than ever. So, what’s the draw of a live event? What can pry droves of starry-eyed souls off their couches to the local parks and auditoriums to view independent films with hardly any explosions? For a few local groups, the answer lies in creating meaningful programming that relates to their community. 

The folks at FLM FWD, pronounced Film Forward, set out to create festivals that tackle themes that are, according to festival President Lisa Lowenstein, “pressing subjects of our day as well as transversal subjects of interest to many people in our community.”  These issues: empathy and environment, are, according to Lowenstein, “urgent.” Hence the choice to brand the festivals in shorthand and, since their mission is focused heavily on community building, they’ve also removed the “I” from film, “because it is about a community-wide festival. Not an individual initiative.“

The organizers have re-envisioned the area where Barrington’s Town Hall and Library sit to form a temporary “village” that offers food, drink, live music and children’s activities as well as an area of information booths for local organizations to go with the film screenings. This will mark the inaugural year for their Environment Festival, happening June 24 – 26, and the second for their Empathy Festival, Aug 26 – 28. The Empathy Festival will also feature a section devoted to  the military, veterans and their families. 

What’s more?This year we are adding an alcohol-free after-party dance event just after the film screenings, with a DJ behind town hall,” said Lowenstein. “It will be held in the area we call ‘The Boulevard’ that is set up to resemble a European café-lined street with its mood lighting. It should be a blast!”

This is a free event. Follow FLM FWD on social media @flmfwdfestival.

The Block Island Film Festival, founded in 2018, is a non-profit event designed around the Block Island community. Like FLM FWD, BIFF’s organizers are focused on important cultural and environmental issues, as well as opportunities for young filmmakers through their student filmmaker competition. Founder/ Executive Director Cassius ‘Cash’ Shuman is truly excited about this. “The students get to network and learn from other filmmakers at the film festival,” said Shuman. “Education is a central and important part of our mission.”

The fourth BIFF, Sep 7 – 10, features film screenings, spotlight programs, tribute and award ceremonies, question and answer forums and nightly social mixers; most take place in their new venue, the Block Island Maritime Institute.  Shuman said, “It is located right at the edge of the Great Salt Pond, so it should be a spectacular setting for the film festival. We have some terrific documentaries that we are screening, and spotlighting in partnership with BIMI and its mission.”

Shuman is no stranger to Hollywood as, according to the BIFF website, he is an award-winning screenwriter, journalist and filmmaker, but BIFF organizers choose discovery over celebrity, focusing on the quality of the films rather than using energy to attract Hollywood A-listers. Even still, BIFF does attract some attention this year with the Terence Howard, Jeremy Pivens film The Walk.

The organizers are truly about making their community better and it shows. Any proceeds from the festival are donated to an Island nonprofit. Past beneficiaries include Friends of the Island Free Library and NAMI-Block Island, an advocate for those with mental health issues. 

Finally, perhaps the biggest and certainly the longest-running film fest comes from Flickers. Their Rhode Island International Film Festival™ (RIIFF) will take place at venues throughout RI, Aug 8 – 14, and features a hybrid event with a drive-in, outdoor and online screenings, filmmaking workshops, meet-and-greet industry events and seminars. 

Says Festival Director Shawn Quirk, “We make it our goal to highlight films of all shapes and sizes with the goal of appealing to the largest range of audience members possible.  Some will come to discover a collection of international shorts, others will come to support a local filmmaker or see an industry celebrity speak… RIIFF serves as an ideal meeting ground for both the film industry and audience members.”

Quirk is excited to have visiting filmmakers share space again – “RIIFF brings the world to Rhode Island every year, and we’re looking forward to celebrating Flickers’ 40th anniversary with everyone in August.” 

RIIFF also prides itself on connecting future auteurs with established makers. In recent years they’ve showcased films directed by William Fichtner, Karen Allen, Brad Hall, Denis Villeneuve, Bob Balaban and others. Says Quirk, by “placing newly discovered filmmakers in the same context as some of Hollywood’s leading talents, we can empower the next generation of filmmakers. Last year we had the pleasure of featuring the US premiere of You’re Dead Helen. The film was later short-listed for the Oscars and purchased by TriStar Pictures.” A feature version of that film is in the works with Sam Raimi as producer and the original director, Michiel Blanchart, at the helm.  

Learn about this year’s lineup – and the local film night on Wednesday, Aug 10 at Dusk (cosponsored by Motif, Dusk and R1 Entertainment Center) – at film-festival.org

The Future of Movie Theaters: On the brink of change

Most of us aren’t old enough to remember the first few decades when cinemas became a normal part of American life: they’ve been around for well over a century. However, some of the practices film companies engaged in in those early days were abusive and had to be addressed on a national scale.

A key example of this was film production companies owning movie theater chains and holding exclusive rights to their films. This meant that if you wanted to see a film, you would have to go to a theater specifically owned by that production company, and most theaters would not play any films except those from their own film studios. This made it virtually impossible for both independent films and theaters to thrive. 

In 1948 the Supreme Court found in U.S. v. Paramount Pictures that this violated United States antitrust law, and this landmark decision fundamentally changed the way films were produced, distributed and exhibited in the United States. This ruling created the Paramount Decree, which stated that no film production companies could own movie theaters.

However, nearly two years ago former President Donald Trump’s Justice Department moved to throw out this old consent decree, and the sunset period during which the old rules remained in effect will reach its end in August of this year.

The argument for vacating the Paramount Decree is that with so many technological changes, the old decree is no longer relevant. 

Former co-owner of independent theater Limelight Cinema, which closed in 2001, and Motif writer Michael Bilow weighed in. “The old consent decree was limited to traditional movie theaters, putting movie producers at a disadvantage relative to competitors such as Amazon and Netflix who are unrestricted as to owning the entire vertical business chain from production to distribution,” says Bilow. “In other words, the old consent decree was having an anticompetitive effect, protecting Amazon and Netflix from competition.”

However, the total vacating of the decree still presents significant problems for independent theaters and filmmakers. When so much of the entertainment industry has already been monopolized by a select few companies, the choice to vacate the decree entirely rather than alter it to be more relevant to our current era could have serious consequences.

Disney, for instance, has been continually growing its grip on the industry for several years now. The corporation’s assets include not only the traditional animated features associated with the company, but also ABC, ESPN, 20th Century Fox, Marvel, Lucas Films, and Pixar, among many others. With the ability to have Disney-only theaters, they can buy out independent theaters and older chains and, especially for those who may only have one or two theaters local to them, consumers who want to see films in theaters could find themselves entirely limited to whatever production company owns their local theater. 

“I think this will kill independent theaters, which have been a dying business for 20 years, and probably also accelerate the demise of all theaters, which I expect to be gone in 10 years,” says Bilow. He cites the Cable Car Cinema, Acoustic Java, and the Route One Cinema Pub in Attleboro all as local examples of independent theaters that have closed in recent years, although the latter plans to reopen soon after temporarily closing for the pandemic.

“The issue is much broader than the consent decree and really reaches into fundamental changes in consumer behavior,” Bilow adds, citing streaming releases occurring simultaneously or instead of theatrical releases as another variable complicating the issue. This practice became more common in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and puts movie theaters in an even worse position.  

For consumers, the negative impact of vacating the consent decree will likely be mitigated by the existence of streaming. Streaming creates more accessibility for consumers (at least in theory) so that any person can find and watch the film they are interested in online. However, streaming poses an additional threat to movie theaters, as well as to independent filmmakers without the funds to access those distribution channels. 

The true impact vacating this decree remains to be seen. Whether we end up in a reality where, ten years from now, there are no theaters left; or instead one where theaters are bought out by production studios and revived, but monopolized, has yet to be determined. Still, come August this year, the Paramount Decree will be abandoned – for better or worse.

Candyman actor Tony Todd talks Providence

Tony Todd is the face and voice behind one of the most iconic characters in horror films: Candyman. He’s also appeared in hundreds of other roles across TV, films, video games and his first passion, the stage. He’ll be one of over 100 celebrity guests attending this year’s Comic Con at the RI Convention Center November 5 – 7. We caught up with him just before he headed out to the Con from his home in California.

Mike Ryan (Motif): I usually ask Comic Con guests if they’ve been to RI before. But in your case, you have some real local ties.

Tony Todd: I did spend some time at Trinity Rep, long ago near the start [of my career]. It was an amazing, formative experience with a group of people who were invested entirely in their art – fermenting creativity in ourselves and each other constantly, and in every part of the artistic process theater involves. The acting, finding the character, but also writing and music and set design and costuming – we were all involved in all of it.

I lived on Federal Hill and would walk to Trinity. It was a fun, interesting neighborhood. People would be sitting in front of the shops talking to you. There was a bakery where they would say, ‘There’s that kid, that theater kid – give him a cannoli!’ Those were great cannolis.

But mostly we were at work creating. We were in the theater twelve hours a day and it was the most intense artistic experience. I think three of us from that group are still acting professionally. I still work with Bob Sacchetti on scripts we write together today — we met in that program. We had talented people working very hard there, and it was remarkable.

MR: What is the difference between commanding a stage and commanding the camera, or a film environment? 

TT: Nothing compares to working on stage. There’s something organic and exciting about being in the same space with your audience. You feel a connection and there’s an energy that flows back and forth. You have to rely totally on the human instrument. Don’t get me wrong, I love film too, but it’s very different.

MR: What about working in video games?

TT: That’s a whole different process. They do MoCap [Motion Capture] and cover you in little dots. You have to move and speak very precisely, and everything – everything – has to be in your imagination. You’re acting against nothing, with no set or costume, so you have to have these things in your head. I enjoy it, but it’s a whole different process.
MR: Are you a gamer yourself?

TT: I am. I don’t have a lot of time for it, but I go back to Colecovision – remember that?

MR: Yes! [Coleco made a gaming system in the early 80s] What have you been playing lately?

TT: I’ve been doing a lot of sports games. And Call of Duty. That’s a good one. But surprisingly, I don’t even have a PS5 yet!

MR: Are there any Rhode Island landmarks you’re looking forward to seeing again?

TT: I want to get some of those hot dogs – the NY System? There used to be these great music clubs around the downtown, like the Heartbreak Hotel, Leo’s. The Met had $2 beers. David Byrne had just graduated from RISD and you could walk into a venue and listen to his music with just a few people in the audience. And the Brothers, near city hall. 

MR: Haven Brothers?

TT: Right, Haven Brothers. And you could smell the Providence River from there.

MR: They’ve fixed that!

TT: There were a few good dive bars downtown too.

MR: You like visiting dive bars

TT: When I visit a new city, that’s where I like to go first. A good dive bar is real. That’s where you find the locals, people who really have a sense of the place.

MR: You’re involved in other areas of the arts?

TT: I love all the arts. Painting, music, performance – it all brings people together and builds communities and energy. It helps people think outside of themselves, and that’s important. I think that’s something we’re missing more right now – society is split into these little cultural slivers that don’t interact the way they used to. We used to have a lot more elements of common culture. I also love to read — you gain so much by reading the classics, starting with Shakespeare. But I just read 11 works by August WIlson. You take so much from that. Writing and directing were my original focus in college and at Trinity, but then I got more into acting.

MR: Let’s talk a little bit about your most iconic role. Why do you think Candyman has had such a lasting impact?

TT: I think it just resonated with people. The director, Bernard Rose was looking to capture a fable, but when he moved the setting to Chicago, it came to life with an urban perspective that hadn’t really been exposed before, not so much in the horror genre. The film and the character really resonated.

MR: What was it like to revisit that character again after all this time?

TT: It was a pleasure. That whole film was just a great experience. With Jordan Peele there was so much creativity, and the film was able to deal a lot more head on with some issues. And it was wonderful to work with Nia DaCosta. Working with a female director was great, and I think so important right now. I think it’s a great continuation of the story.

MR: Was the recent reboot a handing off of the Candyman baton?

TT: What is the last shot in the film? That has your answer!

MR: What projects do you have coming up?

TT: There are three unpublished screenplays I’m working on with Bob Sacchetti. No one has picked them up yet, but we keep working on them. I also just finished shooting Travelling Light, LOOK UP CAST. It’s an amazing cast, and that should be coming out. I just did some video games as well — we shot one in Sweden, that was interesting. Venom 2 and a new Spider Man game are coming out.

This interview was edited for length. Tony Todd is at RI Comic Con Nov 5 – 7

Kevin Smith’s Mooby’s Pop Up Heads to Trinity Beer Garden for RI Comic Con!: Rhode Island Comic Con brings the fictional restaurant to Providence to celebrate the largest Clerks cast reunion to date

21-11-03 – Mooby’s P

Starting this Thursday, Mooby’s, the fictional restaurant set in Kevin Smith’s View Askew-niverse, will be in Providence for RI Comic Con!

Mooby’s Shadoobies

The iconic pop-up will set up shop in Trinity Beer Garden right by Kennedy Plaza, just around the corner from RI Comic Con. Mooby’s was originally featured in Smith’s Dogma and eventually became the backdrop of Clerks II. This year’s RI Comic Con event will feature the largest Clerks cast reunion yet to be seen, including Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Jason Mewes, Marilyn Ghigliotti, Scott Schiaffo, Kevin Weisman, Trevor Fehrman and Kevin Smith himself.

Mooby’s Pop Up co-owner Derek Berry is excited for the event. “Mooby’s is PUMPED to be taking over Rhode Island, for our first ever Comic Convention!”

“RICC is a top notch event for Mooby’s and to top it off, it’s housing the biggest Clerks reunion ever, so how could we not pop up! Come snack on some Cow Tippers and Cow Dongs in REAL life, while sipping it down with an I Assure You We’re Open beer!”

Mooby’s Pop Up will open at Trinity Beer Garden, 2 Kennedy Plaza in Providence. Hours are Thursday, November 4th – Sunday, November 7th from 11 AM to 9 PM. Walk-ups are welcome but ordering ahead is recommended. You can place your order at moobyspopup.com

We Assure You RI Comic Con is Open: “Clerks” Reunion & Beer

RI Comic Con is back after the 2020 hiatus and it’s going to be bigger than ever. Starting Friday, November 5th through Sunday the 7th, the Rhode Island Convention Center will be overflowing with artists, vendors and celebrity guests, including a nearly complete reunion of the cast of Clerks. Clerks was the first movie by director (and Comic Con headliner) Kevin Smith. The black and white film indie was a true labor of love for Smith and didn’t come to be without any sacrifice. In efforts to scrounge together a bare-bones budget, the future comic book store owner ironically sold his extensive comic book collection, maxed out his credit cards and depleted his college fund. The film — depicting the mundane yet magical everyday life of two convenience store clerks — became an icon for the everyman, and a beacon of hope for DIY filmmakers and artists everywhere. 

Local breweries are no stranger to the hard-working do-it yourself-spirit, so it’s fitting that Proclamation Ale of Warwick, RI is partnering with Altered Reality Entertainment and RI Comic Con for a third time to create a Clerks themed beer for the event. The beer is the successor to 2019’s “Take a Vacation to Rhode Island ComicCon,” an IPA featuring the Griswold family station wagon from National Lampoon’s Vacation, honoring that year’s headliner Chevy Chase. 

“Beer? Do people still even drink that? At Quick Stop we had a strict weed-only policy!” says Bryan Johnson – Kevin’s real-life friend of whom the film was based off of. 

The Clerks Beer will be a 7.2% Abv Double IPA conceptualized by Proclamation owner Lori Witham, offered throughout the con for Clerks and comic book fans alike. 

Beer won’t be the only concession collaboration from Smith this year, as he also presents “Mooby’s Pop-up” – the fictional fast food chain from Clerks II

Kevin and his team kicked offPin his hometown of Red Bank, NJ in September of 2020. Since it’s debut the fake food chain appeared in cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, Nashville, St. Louis and Boston. Now Rhode Islanders will have a chance to get their hands on a Mooby’s signature Cow Tipper with a side of Hater Totz 

Be sure to check out the  rare panel, featuring the film’s main cast. Actors Brian O’Halloran (Dante Hicks), Jeff Anderson (Randal Graves), and Marilyn Ghigliotti (Veronica) will be joined by director and Silent Bob himself Kevin Smith and his counterpart Jason “Jay” Mewes. Other View Askew guests include Trevor Fehrman and Kevin Weisman of Clerks II, and Scott Schiaffo of Clerks

All guests will be available for photos and autographs as listed on the RI Comic Con website. The 2021 con-beer will be offered throughout the Rhode Island Convention Center and at select vendors through Craft Collective, so fans should take advantage of the opportunity to crack a cold one with their favorite Clerks cast member. Have one, have 37, we don’t judge! 

The SENE Scene:Post Covid Camaraderie

Filmmakers from other states and other countries converged on Rhode Island once again for the annual SENE celebration of film, music and art. On a somewhat restricted scale due to the planning uncertainties, this festival took place October 13 – 16, 2021 at the Artists’ Exchange, where screens at 50 and 82 Rolfe Sq. allowed simultaneous screenings.

Still SENE

The spirit of collaboration and love of film was in evidence throughout the festival, with filmmakers and enthusiasts comparing notes between screenings. There were several examples of films created by collaborators who had met at previous SENE events and gone on to work together, and the social atmosphere created by festival founders Phil Capobres and Don Farias made it easy for strangers to talk to each — seeing each other’s films made for instant ice-breakers.

The SENE festival focuses on thematic collections of short films, including animated, sci-fi, horror, comedy, international and drama. It also saw the RI premier of the award-winning horror feature Seeds by long-standing local filmmaker Skip Shea. Among the shorts, one could catch everything from creepy undead teen girls to URI-based alien predators, from the Weinsteinian straight white guys who solve sexism for all of us to haunting raven-girls who solve bullying.

This year’s award winning films are posted here: senefest.com/awards.html

SENE is an annual event, with a few films being rescreened as part of Motif’s ongoing monthly film series and at other events through the year in RI and other parts of the country.

Women Trailblazers in Music: Film to Premiere at RIC

Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Tchaikovsky — when thinking of great composers, there is no shortage of household names. It is unlikely, however, that many, if any that come to mind are female. Dr. Judith Lynn Stillman is remedying that imbalance. 

Stillman is a professor of music and RIC’s artist-in-residence and has been producing prolifically through the pandemic. The film of her quarantine opera, “Essential Business” which she composed towards the beginning of COVID-19, won first prize in the international OperaVision #OperaHarmony competition, and featured Metropolitan Opera star baritone Will Liverman. The film was also presented earlier this year at RIC. 

Most recently, Stillman was inspired to create a film about talented and inventive yet often forgotten female composers of the past.

“My talented mother and grandmother’s musical careers never took off in the male-dominated societies,” she said. “This propelled me to champion women composers who were repressed, undervalued, discouraged, and forgotten due to the politics of their existence.”

Women Trailblazers in Music: Noteworthy Composers, which premiers November 4 at Rhode Island College, depicts the extraordinary lives of these female composers across a span of twelve centuries and features their revolutionary compositions. Stillman cites her inspiration to create the film as part of her ongoing dedication to giving voices to the voiceless. The incredible ways these women changed music should have earned them recognition and acclaim, but instead, their music has been routinely forgotten when it should be lauded. Previously, she has also created projects addressing the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, refugees, artists of color, and the climate crisis. 

The film begins in Constantinople with the 9th century Byzantine composer Kassia. “She became an abbess, and that ensured the longevity of her music for twelve centuries,” Stillman said. “Hers was a calculated career choice. Many of her hymns are used in the Orthodox Church liturgy to this day.” 

She added, “Women composers had to be quite clever. For example, several of the featured composers [in the film] married music publishers to secure the survival of their music. Some adopted male pseudonyms. It took a lot of ingenuity.” 

She also emphasized the importance of recognizing Florence Price, another composer featured,and the first Black woman to have her compositions performed by a major symphony orchestra.

 “In Western music history, women were permitted to be the interpreters, but not the creators,” Stillman said. “They were not encouraged to pursue music professionally. Gender inequality has been rampant throughout the industry.” 

The world is still not close to redressing this historic imbalance, but progress is slowly being made. “The climate for female composers is still problematic as the dominance of male composers remains strong, but the tide is shifting. Slowly,” Stillman explained. “Statistics confirm that only a handful of male composers comprise the majority of all programming. We need to encourage and empower women and women composers and make a concerted — pun intended — effort to redress the historic imbalance and harness momentum for change. Many [women] should have earned a crucial place in Western history and should be household names, but are merely in the process of being fully recognized and celebrated.”

While COVID-19 caused difficulties in made producing the film challenging, it also gave her opportunities to build connections resulted in opportunities for building connections for Stillman. “The pandemic created the necessity for a remote platform,” Stillman said, which afforded me the opportunity to work with artists from all over North America. Los Angeles, Montreal, New York City, Chicago, Vancouver, Hartford, in addition to Boston and Providence. ,” says Stillman. She adds, “I am filled with so much gratitude to all my amazing colleagues who joined forces with me to be a part of this groundbreaking film and help bring the project to fruition.”

The film will premiere for the public on November 4th at 7:30 PM in Sapinsley Hall. Presented by FirstWorks and Artists & Activists Productions, it will be followed by a live concert featuring the works of both historical composers featured in the film and contemporary women composers as well. Admission is free, but registering for tickets in advance is mandatory because of social distancing and contact tracing protocols. Unregistered guests will not be admitted. Tickets can be obtained through the box office at Rhode Island College, by emailing boxoffice@ric.edu or calling (401) 456-8144.

Out this September: Looking for some new entertainment? Look no further!

Motif contributor Katarina Dulude rounded up her top picks for entertainment this September, including a few local selections. 

September 2: If spooky season can’t come soon enough for you, check out What We Do in the Shadows, which will be returning for its third season on September 2. This horror comedy mockumentary was created by Jemaine Clement and produced by Taika Waititi, who is perhaps best known for directing Thor: Ragnarok and the upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder. The show is based on the creators’ earlier film of the same name and tells the story of four vampire roommates and their familiar living in modern times in Staten Island. Its third season will be available on September 2 on FX and Hulu. It’s worth taking a bite out of this incredibly hilarious and absurdly fun show.

September 3: The latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings takes place after the events of Avengers: Endgame and Loki and follows Shang-Chi, a skilled martial artist, who is drawn back into The Ten Rings, a shady organization, to confront the past he left behind. Director Daniel Cretton described the film as both funny and “a cross between a classic kung fu film and a family drama.” The film will receive a 45-day theatrical release.

September 9-17: Looking for a live performance? The Historical Fantasy of Esek Hopkins by Haus of Glitter will be presented outdoors through the Wilbury Theatre Group at the former home of Esek Hopkins. The activist dance opera is described by co-directors Anthony Andrade, Assitan Coulibaly, ​Steven Choummalaithong, Matt Garza and Trent Lee as “a story of mermaids, revolution and resilience [that] exposes how our BIPOC lineages intersect with Hopkins’ legacy of white supremacy.” Tickets are available here.

September 14: For those who enjoy a good romance, Farah Naz Rishi’s It All Comes Back to You will be released midway through September. The contemporary romance book centers around teens Kiran and Deen. Kiran doesn’t know what to make of her sister’s new quickly moving relationship. Deen is thrilled his brother has found a girlfriend so that the attention can shift off of him for a while. However, when Deen and Kiran come face to face, they agree to keep their past a secret. Four years prior they dated until Deen ghosted Kiran without an explanation. Now, Kiran is determined to find out why and Deen is equally determined to make sure she never finds out. 

September 17: Netflix’s hit British dramedy series Sex Education makes its return this September. For those who haven’t seen the series, it begins with Otis, the teenage son of a sex therapist, who discovers that despite his own inexperience, he is adept at giving sex advice to others. With his best friend and crush, he turns this into a business. The series explores the emotional (and sexual) likes of teens in a way that is funny, awkward and incredibly heartfelt. Much of the third series has been kept under wraps, but it’s clear that a new headmistress will be changing things up at the teens’ school, for better or worse.

September 21: Inspired by the story of Wu Zetian, the only female emperor in Chinese history, the book Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao will be released this month. Described as Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale, the sci-fi reimaging follows Wu Zetian, who seeks vengeance for her sister’s death at the hands of an intensely patriarchal military system that pairs boys and girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots used to battle mecha aliens. While boys are revered, girls must serve as their concubines and often die from the mental strain. When Zetian gets her vengeance on the boy responsible for her sister’s death and emerges unscathed, it is discovered that she is an Iron Widow, a special type of female pilot, much-feared and much-silenced. She is paired with the strongest and most controversial male pilot in an attempt to tame her, but after getting a taste for power, Zetian will not give it up.

September 30-October 24: Opening their 37th season, A Lie Agreed Upon will be premiering at The Gamm Theatre on the last day of September. This play, written and directed by Tony Estrella, modernizes Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. “Inconvenient truths fight alternative facts, minority rights battle majority rule, and individual conscience clashes with economic interest in this powerful reinvention of Ibsen’s masterpiece.” More information is available here.

SENE on Screen: The beloved film festival returns for its 13th year

For more than a decade, the annual SENE (rhymes with scene) Film Festival has celebrated film, art and music, and this year’s festival, which takes place October 13 – 16, will screen 130 films from around the world.

SENE was created by producing director Don Farias and artistic director Phil Capobres, who work to create a welcoming atmosphere for festival entrants and attendees. And their efforts paid off — for four years in a row, SENE was named one of the Top 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee by MovieMaker Magazine, one of the most respected voices in the film industry, and was rated one of the best reviewed festivals by FilmFreeway.

The festival made its COVID comeback over the summer. “We were thrilled that we were able to host fun events for visiting filmmakers in June,” said Farias. “It’s the first time in over a year that the world felt almost normal. I was impressed with the attendance, especially since I was not sure if people were actually ready to leave their homes. It was nice to see the filmmakers meeting new friends at our networking events. Everyone was ready to collaborate and begin creating films again. We expect October to be bigger with more filmmakers attending.”

SENE has been a powerful force in building community within the local film world, and while the festival receives films from all around the world, it makes a point to highlight all things local.

The festival will kick off on Wednesday, October 13, with a special screening of local filmmaker Christian De Rezendes’ SLATERSVILLE, a much-anticipated episodic documentary on the 200-year history of the first industrialized mill village in the U.S., located in the heart of the Blackstone Valley. The screening will take place at the Old Slater Mill in Pawtucket.

If you need more local film, a block of New England-made shorts and music videos will play on Thursday, October 14, and many of the filmmakers will be in attendance. “I enjoy meeting the filmmakers and hearing their stories,” said Farias. “Everyone learns something new when the filmmakers share their experiences during the casual, fun Q&A sessions after each program.”

The festival will primarily take place at the Artists’ Exchange in Cranston, with screenings going on simultaneously in both the Black Box theatre (50 Rolfe square) and Theatre 82 (82 Rolfe Square). Detailed film and schedule details are available at senefest.com.

On the Big Screen: SENE Film Fest premieres LGBT shorts

SENE Film Fest, or Southeast New England Film Fest, one of the longest-running film, music and arts festivals in the country, premiered a series of LGBT short films at Theatre 82 in Cranston. 

The 10 films selected for the festival were: Reshaping Beauty: Round In All The Right Places (dir. Tom Goss), Summer Vacation (dir. Matthew Brennan), Night and Day (dir. Peter Anthony), Plunge (dir. David James Holloway, Samuel Lawrence), Sunset Park, warehouse (dir. Dazhi Huang), Friends Like That (dir. Francesca de Fusco), Ticking Boxes (dir. Robert Metson), Doesn’t Fall Far (dir.  Joshua Michael Payne), Kama’āina (Child of the Land) (dir. Kimi Howl Lee), and TarGay (dir. Rachel Garlin). The shorts ranged from three minutes long to 15. More information about each film can be read here

While I thoroughly enjoyed all the films, my favorite had to be Doesn’t Fall Far, directed by Joshua Michael Payne. Doesn’t Fall Far tells the story of a father and son who both are hiding secrets about themselves. One night, these secrets come disastrously, and hilariously, to a head, and the two men must figure out how to move forward after learning more about each other than they ever wanted to know. 

Two of the directors were also in attendance: Dahzi Huang and Rachel Garlin. Huang, a recent graduate of California Institute of the Arts, created Sunset Park, warehouse. The film depicts a short-term romance between two immigrants in New York City while juxtaposing how prosperity is portrayed on social media versus the reality that many are excluded from prosperity in late-stage capitalism. Huang also spoke about his next project: a love story between two exes that includes an airport chase scene. 

Garlin, a folk songwriter based in San Francisco, created TarGay, a lighthearted critique of rainbow capitalism through song. She spoke about her impromptu creation of the film. She decided to make it while she was walking through a Target in San Francisco. She noticed just how much rainbow apparel they had already stocked in May for Pride Month and recruited fellow shoppers to participate in the film’s creation. Garlin is currently on tour for her most recent album and will be performing in several cities across the Northeast through August. 

Something I appreciated from this festival was though all the films centered around queerness, each was distinct and unique in its portrayals of queer experiences. The varied depictions of queerness in the films help to do away with the idea that LGBTQ experiences are monolithic, a lesson many creators in Hollywood and many people not a part of the LGBTQ community more broadly have not yet learned.