Slavery ended throughout the British Empire on “Emancipation Day,” August 1, 1834, when the Slavery Abolition Act came into force. Free Blacks in the United States began celebrating the anniversary as many had personal and community connections with the former slaves of the British West Indies, the Caribbean Islands (including Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago) where 95% of the slaves brought from Africa to North America were forced to cultivate sugar cane. Because slavery continued in the United States until the Civil War ended in 1865, these annual commemorations throughout the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s were rallies in support of abolishing it.
That tradition is being revived now in a radically different context, and a celebration rally with speakers and music is scheduled for 3 – 8pm, Saturday, August 1, at the Temple to Music in Roger Williams Park in Providence (facebook.com/events/747105509428811). Speakers include historian Keith Stokes, who provided a copy of an advertisement in the collection of the RI Black Heritage Society for the 20th anniversary march in Providence in 1854, using the florid language of the era: “assemble in Nature’s garden, with the blue vault of Heaven for a covering” (meaning outdoors). In addition to Stokes, the speakers list includes event organizer Khalif Andreozzi, Mayor Jorge Elorza, City Council President Sabina Matos, Sen. Harold M. Metts, Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, Rep. Anastasia Williams, NAACP President Jim Vincent, Cultural Equity Initiative founder Raymond L. “Two Hawks” Watson, Muslim American Dawah Center of Rhode Island imam Farid Ansari, Lisa Ranglin, and Zuli Vidal. Performers include Maxx Major, Jahmal Brown, Michael Clark (gospel), Cam Bells, MrDeep Positivity, Indigo (poetry), and Infinite Power of Culture (youth dance). The master of ceremonies will be Jermaine Whitehead-Bailey. Attendees should wear face coverings and are invited to bring water to stay hydrated, signs, lawn chairs and umbrellas for shade. For more information, text “emancipation” to 797979 or telephone 401-263-1691.
Get Your Flea Fix!: Providence Flea returns to the great outdoors
If you, like us, have been missing your casual Sunday shop along the river at the Providence Flea, have we got some good news for you! On Sunday, August 2, Providence Flea will begin a 5-week outdoor trial run that welcomes shoppers back to the river.
Providence Flea takes safety seriously, and it’s made some changes to its format to ensure the health of its vendors and shoppers. Fewer vendors will attend each event — rather than three rows of vendors, shoppers can expect two for a total of 38. Vendors prefer cashless payment, and crossing rows between vendors will be prohibited. Masks and social distancing will be required.
As always, food trucks will be available at the Flea. Some of them might require preordering, which can be done on site. And although eating while browsing isn’t allowed, there’s plenty of space along the river for a picnic. What better way is there to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon?
Providence Flea takes place Sundays, Aug 2 – 30 from 10am – 2pm across from 345 South Water St, PVD; for more information on social distancing guidelines, go to providenceflea.com/covid-19.html
Get Out!: PVDFest announces a Downcity scavenger hunt
PVDFest has joined the ranks of organizations stepping up to entertain and delight cooped-up locals despite the changes social distancing has forced. This certainly isn’t the summer for the throngs of people dancing in the streets PVDFest usually encourages, but an outdoor scavenger hunt with your bubble? That idea kind of has us dancing.
On August 3, PVDFest will announce via its social media platforms its 15 scavenger hunt locations, all located on the PVDFest footprint. Then you and your bubble, armed with cameras, are tasked to find those spots and snap a picture or video of yourself at each location. Post your finds on social media with #PVDFestHunt and you’ll be eligible to win some prizes!
Functional Art on Empire Street: PVDFest sculpture installation encourages socially distant viewing
“Bee Violet” is an outdoor art installation on PVD’s Empire Street that was created by Allison Newsome and Deborah Spears Moorehead. Its patented design, a symbolic metal fish combined with a growing vegetable garden, redefines what is possible aesthetically and environmentally with art.
“It was made on a wing and a prayer,” says Newsome, referencing the difficulties COVID-19 posed while creating this sculpture-and-garden set that contains a message of self-reflection and a call for change. The sculpture, along with two others commissioned as part of this year’s unfortunately cancelled PVDFest, was installed this season.
Its engineering matters as much as its aesthetic allure. “Bee Violet” is frog green with a lilypad-shaped canopy on top. Its cylindrical body is embellished in fish repoussé with luscious fuchsia petals underneath. While the aluminum sculpture easily attracts the eye, its designed purpose is to attract water.
“I have two patents for ‘Bee Violet,’” Newsome says, “which is the most you can get for one thing. I have a utility patent for the rain chain and a design patent for the petals.” Here’s how it works: raindrops gather in the canopy and are funneled through the cylindrical body, the rain chain. The petals draw in more water at the base of the rain chain and what is collected gets stored inside the flowerpot base. “For 1 inch of rain, it holds 50 gallons of water,”says Newsome, who called this process “rain harvesting” and the structure a “rain keep.”
Highlighting the connection between New England’s conservation efforts and its Native American ancestry, artist and painter Deborah Spears Moorehead drew illustrations from an Indigenous creation story, which Newsome translated into aluminum repoussé with help from her teacher in Thailand.“They were all so curious about the creation story. They wanted to know every detail,” said Newsome about explaining the sculpture to her teacher’s family.
The story involves Sky Woman, who sits on a tree branch in the universe and wonders what lies in the “puddle below.” Caught up in her curiosity, she falls and animals (such as squirrels and frogs) try to stop her fall by creating various things until they create Earth to catch her.
A key detail in this story that is reflected in the sculpture is that Sky Woman is nine months pregnant. There is a garden next to the double-patented rainkeep where The Three Sisters — corn, beans and squash — grow, contained in a giant basket handwoven by Spears Moorehead. This trio traditionally planted together is a key part of sustainable farming and it starts with burying seeds in a soil mound that is the size of a nine-months pregnant belly.
In her sculpture, Newsome echoed the garden’s tenderness for the earth. She used powerwash, an eco-friendly coloring for metal. Unlike most rain barrels sold at local hardware stores, Newsome’s rainkeep is made from aluminum. “The rain barrels at the store are typically plastic,” she says. “Even if they look like clay, that’s actually just an epoxy. And this plastic wears down in the sun. You have to think about what will happen to them in 10 years.”
The underlying message of “Bee Violet” is togetherness despite distances, and with plenty of space surrounding it, the piece empowers socially distanced viewers to carefully study its visual details, eco-engineering, story representations and ultimately, humanity.
View the installation at 444 Westminster Street through the fall. For more information on this and the other sculptures installed by PVDFest, go to pvdfest.com/public-art
Ride the Tide: This summer, there are many ways to explore the Providence River
Providence is a hopping city — usually. We find ourselves a bit limited this summer, because COVID, but because Phase 2 reopened some businesses and parks in the state, we once again have recreation options on the water. In fact, more options than ever before!
Matthew “Marcello” Haynes became a gondolier in 1999, something he’d always wanted to do. You’ve likely seen him rowing down the river at a WaterFire event. In 2007, he bought the company La Gondola. Right about that time, Tom McGinn bought the Providence River Boat Company. Then, in spring 2017, as Marcello describes it, “I, Tom and his partner, Kristin Stone, sat for a pint one night and decided we’d like to open a kayak company. So we’ve been contemporaries on the river for quite some time.”
Together they started Providence Kayak, now in its fourth season. Venn diagram aside, whether you’re looking to ride the Providence River in a gondola, kayak or river boat, they’ve got ya covered.
They started with a dozen kayaks and built up from there. Ever expanding to accommodate their customers, this year includes additional choices. “We have 17 kayaks on the water right now,” says Marcello, “and we’re working on getting a fleet of ‘pedal’ boats on the water, which hold up to four passengers. Instead of having a flywheel, they have propellers attached to each pedaling mechanism,” explains the former physics teacher. “They’re more like bullets so they’re a little more efficient and move along pretty well. It’ll be yet another option on the water.”
Kayaking is a great way to see Providence from a different perspective and learn the local waterside history. “In addition to being able to rent either single or tandem kayaks, last year we added guided tours. So they have a guide, someone who is well versed in the history of the river,” says Marcello. “Usually the tour itself is about an hour all the way up to the top of the river to Waterplace Park from down here. We start on the Providence River and then move on to the Woonasquatucket and stop just before the mall. Then everybody usually has about a half an hour to make their way back down to the dock at their leisure. It’s just another way to give people an experience they can’t necessarily do themselves. It’s more of an informative and educational thing than just being out on a beautiful day.”
Marcello is very passionate about what he does. “It’s always simply been the greatest summer job. I couldn’t love a job any more. I loved teaching, but rowing is part of my soul. It is what I am supposed to do. And I am very fortunate to be able to do a job that I love as much as I do.”
Regarding La Gondola, Marcello says, “We have 15 gondoliers, including myself, normally four gondolas plus a different kind of Venetian boat called a sandolo. It’s a different style of boat that’s used, and they’re just finishing the maintenance on that one. We already have two gondolas on the water now, and we’re hopefully launching gondola three very soon.”
COVID precautions are in place. “We’ve been kind of easing ourselves into the season. Normally we start in early April. We lost two full months with the gondolas. We didn’t start until June 1 with Phase 2 reopening.” The pace is starting to pick up, though. “The gondolas have been busier. Captain Tom has been getting busier as well. Hopefully that will be an indicator of what the summer could be,” says Marcello optimistically. “Definitely not what it has been in the past. We were well aware that would be the case. It’s just a matter of making smart decisions. We have the hand sanitizer. The boats are washed more frequently. Paddles as well. Once you’re out there, you’re already keeping distance. It’s more about protecting people on the dock when interacting with us. When groups check in, they’re staggered, sending multiple groups down one at a time rather than all together.”
Customer service is top notch. The dock crew is very helpful getting you in and out of the sit-atop kayaks. Booking a trip online is easy, and you can always call if you have questions. Rates are super reasonable to begin with, and if you bring back five pieces of trash you can get $5 off your next ride! I took advantage of this and, 16 hours after my first ride, was back on the water taking the guided historical tour. Marcello, one of several tour guides, gave us the lowdown on Roger Williams, local Native American influences, Revolutionary War tidbits, info on the oldest buildings and the great floods. The ride is relaxed, and there are plenty of spots to take shade if need be. Leave valuables at home or with the dock crew in their bin. Cell phones can be carried in a water resistant life vest pocket. Bring sunglasses, a hat and sunscreen, and water shoes and clothes you don’t mind getting a tad wet.
For more information on Providence Kayak, call 401-829-1769 or visit their website, Providencekayak.com. They are located at the Providence Marina, 15 Bridge Street. Contact Gondola RI at gondolari.com, 401-421-8877. Contact Providence River Boat Company at providenceriverboat.com, 401-580-BOAT.
Providence Tours go Viral: A monumental scavenger hunt
There is a lot of history hidden throughout Providence in plain sight. The memorials, monuments or statues you may encounter in your daily travels probably pass you by without you ever noticing what they stand for or where they came from.
The Providence Tour Company normally would take you on a fun-filled amble through local history. But under coronavirus, tours have understandably been a whole different animal (the company will do private tours, on request). Founder Bradly VanDerStad wanted to find a way for people to enjoy PVD history without a group or hands-on guide. There are plenty of self guided tours online, of course, but even the least droning of voices can lull you into a gentle sense of boredom when there’s little challenge or interaction.
So Providence Tour Company developed an interactive scavenger hunt approach to bringing a little PVD history to life — a technique that’s social-distance-friendly, but entertaining enough that you’ll have fun with it long after quarantines have lifted. (We’re betting PVD history will outlast the invasion by our viral antagonists.)
Motif writers had the honor of taking the first official Scavenger Hunt, and it worked exactly as promised. There were five clues, and it took us just over two hours — 30 minutes of which were spent arguing with our GPS about what state we were in, which was no fault of the game.
Each clue involved a little figuring out, even if we were already familiar with the location. Each was also linked to an historical celebrity of local proportions. Sometimes we could identify the person, but didn’t realize there was a monument or where it was. You’re encouraged to use the internet, so all things can eventually be puzzled out there. Just make sure your phones are charged — you don’t want to be that person, going, “What does it say, what does it say?” while others thumb their phones.
We found all the puzzles engaging enough to make us talk to each other and having Googlers talk through the next clue while the driver brings the group to the current location was pretty efficient. You do have to work with your current germ circle — being in the same car is a must. We found it enjoyable with two, three or four people.
The clues were also themed to their periods in history, each doing a great job of invoking an era while staying fun and amusing. They included poems and songs and other indirect references.
Providence Tour Company emails a clue every 10 minutes; we fell behind pretty quickly (thanks GPS), but if you don’t try a side-trip to Connecticut for no reason, the pace should keep you on track. Eventually you end up with a few clues you can try to solve in any order. They all lead to landmarks; once you’ve gotten close, they’re pretty easy to identify. You take a selfie with them, and send that to the Tour Company. They give you a thumbs up or thumbs down, and there’s a point system where — like a good escape room — you can ask for hints. Bradly gets right back to you if you have any questions or concerns. We only hit him up twice, but he responded immediately and with just the right level of cryptic-but-helpful. The driving around was pretty minimal; you cover much of the city, but not the farthest flung parts, and if you know where you’re going each drive was 15 minutes or less. Surprisingly, as Rhode Islanders, we also didn’t have much trouble finding parking at each spot!
Overall, it was a really fun way to spend a few hours — especially if the weather is nice — without having to get near anyone but while still exploring a sample of the rich history of Providence (Pro tip – no matter what the internet seems to tell you, no clues take you outside of the city). And once you’re familiar with your set of landmarks, you’ll probably spend months pointing them out to others whenever you find yourself nearby.
They’re Doing it Live!: Live music returns to Rooftop at the Providence G
As coronavirus took over the town, live music had to step aside for everyone’s safety. But this weekend it returns! Rooftop at the Providence G has scheduled three live performers Friday, Saturday and Sunday, from 3 to 6pm.
On Friday, acoustic guitarist James Grande will perform as the sun sets. His intricate guitar playing will provide an excellent soundtrack to a rooftop cocktail. Saturday, Briana White takes the stage. Briana is the 2018 Motif Music Award winner for “Best Americana Singer/Songwriter.” Her acoustic pop songs mixed with a loop pedal entrance audiences. Brian Cabral performs on Sunday. He’s known for recording loops live so he gives the sound of a band while performing solo.
Performances take place Friday – Sunday, June 19 – 21, from 3 – 6pm. For more information on this weekend’s performances, go to rooftopattheg.com
The Skye Is the Limit: Skye Gallery adjusts to life under lockdown
When I visited Skye Gallery on March 7, it was packed – people spilling out onto the sidewalk, voices bubbling and music throbbing inside the brightly lit reception for DIVINE 2020. On April 29, Jonny and I faced each other across a white table in the back room, masks in place while keeping a careful social distance. The opening seemed like a memory from another world. I asked this Providence gallery owner how the pandemic had gone down at Skye.
Jonny Skye: I was closely monitoring online; every day there was a new unfolding. We’d had that very well-attended opening on March 7; even then, a couple of concerned people wore gloves and stayed outside. This gave me pause. By March 12, when Mayor Elorza declared a state of emergency and the city stopped issuing entertainment licenses, I knew I had to cancel all events. By March 28, Governor Raimondo said all non-essential businesses must close. Everyone was staying inside by that point anyway.
Cathren Housley (Motif): Did you have a plan in place for adjusting to the new restrictions?
JS: I did not have a plan. I am still making it up as I go. There is no solid ground in this dilemma we face. Being flexible and paying attention to all the information available is daily work; it has taken some time to sort through what makes sense business wise for the gallery.
CH: RI has really stepped up to help the people of the state. What was available for sole proprietors like you?
JS: I applied for over eight grants and supports. As soon as I saw something go up, I dropped everything and applied. The Artist Relief Fund (RISCA, RI Foundation, Providence Dept of Art, Culture and Tourism, and the Alliance for Artist Communities) responded first and really gave me a bolt of confidence that I wasn’t going to lose the gallery. Soon after, the money through the RI Dept. of Labor and Training for small businesses also came through. The other grants I applied for I haven’t heard from yet. I really need to find grants, as my business model is commission based – I don’t have assets to borrow against.
CH: What other responsibilities and problems have you had to take on because of the pandemic shutdown?
JS: There is too much to say here. I am responsible for supporting the health and optimism of the artists I work with – ongoing conversations, sending opportunity links, writing and submitting on their behalf, and generally sharing woes and hopes. The gallery is not just a business, it is a support system for many people; I do consulting with local businesses outside of the gallery as well. I am a mother of four grown children who are navigating the situation independently, yet need varying degrees of support. For me, and most others, providing emotional and tangible support to family and friends, along with the daily worry of infection, has added a lot of extra responsibility.
CH: So, how do you do business with all that going on, when people are being hit with a global crisis like this one?
JS: I felt morally conflicted. How could I promote art sales when people were anxious, sick, dying, hungry and housing insecure, when the scaffolding of everyday life was being taken away? I know art is critical to humanity, but I couldn’t reconcile it in my heart. When the idea of virtual openings was pushed by folks, I couldn’t reconcile that for the gallery either. I see art objects as talismans, not just images. They hold the spirit of the artists who poured themselves into their creation. Being able to gather at events and opening celebrations were key marketing and community building efforts of the gallery. So I’ve had to let my thoughts and feelings unfold, along with all this new input, to find the right mix of respect for people and art that aligned with the mission of the gallery, and the reason I am doing this anyway.
CH: How do you keep going in the meantime?
JS: I was heartened by some early success from the DIVINE 2020 exhibition – mostly friendly neighbors who wanted to ensure the gallery would remain and were also excited to acquire a new piece of art while supporting an artist and a giving positive boost to their creative confidence. This energy has waned in the past month or so, but luckily, the added supports I mentioned earlier are allowing me to cover the basics of rent and utilities and give me room to imagine and build the framework for a new business model. I want to capitalize on the need of folks for intimacy and a sensory experience with art, as it connects us with humanity. I have decided to hang shows in the front of the gallery through the end of the year so people can clearly view new work from the sidewalk. I will operate by appointment, encouraging patrons to come safely one or two at a time, experience the work, enjoy conversation and check out our back room stock. I have built a new scheduling function into the website, skye-gallery.com, as well added more work to the website. I will continue my IG and FB promotion and add new initiatives as the days unfold, to stay relative to what’s going on.
CH: What do you think the biggest disadvantages to lockdown are? And do you see anything positive coming out of it?
JS: The negatives are the anxiety, fear, separation, dying alone, mourning alone and the seeding of more distrust.
At the same time, we have been given the gift of slowing down – the earth gets a breath and we get a breath. There is an opportunity in this for each of us to reflect on the meaning of our lives and the ways our patterns aligned or didn’t align to what truly matters to each of us. It’s a short trip our spirits get to take in the human body. Taking the time to see who we are outside of work hustle and consumption is good for our culture and the collective energy of the planet.
CH: Any parting thoughts?
JS: I am supremely grateful that Skye Gallery is important to this community. I am committed to the artists and patrons who value it and will continue to ensure its relevance so that it can continue to uplift and help us see a way forward with respect for life and our culture.
Skye Gallery will present new paintings by Brett Cimino, on view beginning Saturday, May 23, 2020. INTERTWINED, the current show featuring the work of Nepalese artist Ragini Upadhayay Grela (see story at motifri.com/ragini-upadhyay-grela) will continue to be available for view and purchase at skye-gallery.com, along with the works of other artists. You can schedule a visit to 381 Broadway in Providence at skye-gallery.com; Skye Gallery can always be reached at email@example.com and 401-481-4480, and be sure to follow@skye_gallery
Something for Everyone: The Providence French Film Festival returns
The Providence French Film Festival 2020 (“PFFF20”), now in its 22nd year, will screen all of its events on the Brown University campus at the Granoff Center for the Arts, 154 Angell St, PVD. All screenings are open to the public, and tickets may be purchased on the web either in advance or by entering credit card data at the door; cash will not be accepted. The festival offers its “CinePass,” a package deal to buy three film admissions and get the fourth free.
There are 14 feature films, most of which are screened twice and most are in French with English subtitles. The main festival runs Sat, Feb 29, through Thu, Mar 5, a more compressed schedule than in the past. Regina Longo, audiovisual archivist and historian at the Modern Culture and Media Department of Brown University, in her first year taking over responsibilities as programming director for the festival, said that she tried to group together films she thought would appeal to similar audience interests to create de facto double- and triple-features so patrons could enjoy them in a convenient schedule block. “I tried to encourage people that maybe they’ll stick around for two screenings because I think they pair well together,” she said.
The festival opens with a free reception on Fri, Feb 28, at 7pm in the Englander Studio upstairs on the second floor at the Granoff Center, which includes a free screening of a 9-minute short American film We Eat Socca Here (dir. Scott Petersen, 2019), “the hidden story of a savory local specialty found only on the French Riviera and the surrounding areas. Socca enjoys a historical and cultural significance that far outweighs its simple and rustic four ingredients.” Known as “farinata” elsewhere, socca is the definitive street food of the Côte d’Azur, made from gluten-free chickpea flour.
Some films Longo wanted for the festival were unavailable, notably Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Portrait de la jeune fille en feu, dir. Céline Sciamma), because rights are locked up with streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu. She sometimes even watches films on her smart phone. “I think that people should access media as they can, and I believe that the diversity of platforms is a good thing. But, in terms of what a festival to me has always been about, is that collective experience, bringing people together and thinking through curated content for local audiences, making sure that there are titles and subjects that appeal to a local audience, and then also challenging that local audience, giving them something that they enjoy and also giving them a challenge and creating a space where you spill out of the theater, you may see three shows in one day, you may see three over the course of the festival. We do have the Cinepass: buy three, get your fourth one free. So you may see four over the course of the festival, being able to extend those conversations. Go out to dinner afterwards, talk about what you’ve seen. Those spaces open up much more during a collective viewing experience. You can gather around the TV and watch things, you can stream something… in a college classroom and create a conversation in that sense, but the kind of dialogue that happens when it’s less constructed, but still a formal, theatrical kind of atmosphere, allows for people to keep a conversation going. I really do think that theatrical screenings, public screenings, collective screenings, do bring different elements than watching on a small screen or watching in the privacy of your own home.”
All of the films this year will be sourced from digital media, and Longo said she was disappointed that the festival would be unable to screen even a single historical work from 35mm stock because, she explained, Brown’s facilities require splicing reels together for use on a “platter” system to run through a single projector rather than changing over between multiple projectors, and most archival prints now are authorized only for change-over systems to minimize physical wear and tear. Brown’s digital projection is capable of 4K quality, she said, but most films are supplied in only 2K quality.
Longo said, “I’m happy with the program that we have. We have managed to do a number of different genres, a little bit of something for everyone… We didn’t get enough attendance from people not on [College] Hill or on the East Side of Providence, so I tried to reach out a bit more this year. We are hosting two screenings of a film called The Fall of Sparta, which is from Quebec, and it’s geared towards teenagers… a high school story – a Bildungsroman, I guess you could call it – and the struggles inherent in that, for the main character, Steeve, whose name is spelled with two E’s. He’s in love with the popular girl, he’s struggling in school, he’s struggling with friends, but that all plays out in a really creative way. He’s an avid reader, so he’s reading ancient Greek and Roman myths, and they play into his own imagination as he’s working out his anxieties with relationships and friends in school… We’re opening that to Hope High School students. I delivered a bunch of tickets to the principal there, Matthew Buchanan, and so that screening is happening on Sunday afternoon and on Monday afternoon after school. I’m really excited about that because I just feel like Hope High is so close… and we should be doing more to reach out to the community. I’ve noticed – I haven’t been here that long, so I’m learning the demographics – I’m learning how the city is divided in many ways.”
There is also an Animated Children’s Shorts Weekend Matinee (Sat, Feb 29, at 12:30pm and Sun, Mar 1, at 12:00pm) comprising nine shorts programmed by Eric Bilodeau, the artistic director of the Providence Children’s Film Festival. Longo said, “He had screened a lot of material that they didn’t program for the Children’s Film Festival that just ended, so we have a whole series of 75 minutes of French and Belgian short, animated films that we’re offering… We’re also partnering with the French American School of Rhode Island to get some complimentary tickets to those students. But that one hopefully should be well attended. Something to do where your kids… they’re looking at a screen but they’re not on an iPad, something a little bit bigger.”
An additional presentation of four shorts by legendary Nigerien director Moustapha Alassane, a major figure in African film from the decolonialization era in the early 1960s until his death in 2015, will be screened on Sat, Feb 29, at 2:15pm, followed by a conversation between Longo and restoration artist Bill Brand who worked on preserving Alassane’s films.
Highlights (with comments from Longo)
Varda by Agnès (Varda par Agnès, dir. Agnès Varda and Didier Rouget), 2019 – “I do encourage everyone who’s a fan of Agnès Varda, and I think that spans all ages. She really in the last decade of her life and career opened up to brand new audiences and younger cinéastes and younger filmmakers as well, and artists across the board. We are screening the final film that she made in conjunction with another director and that her daughter produced… that just showed at Acoustic Java, and that was the only other showing in Rhode Island… She’s a great proponent of her own work… She just died in 2019 and it’s her last work. She was terminally ill with cancer and was aware that the end was near, so she was cognizant of that as she was making this film. It’s a love letter to cinema. It’s a love letter to her collaborators, and in a way it was her chance to almost eulogize herself in some way, which not everyone gets a chance to do, not all of us get to write our own obituary… I think that there’s a lot of beautiful themes in that… but also the conversations that happen in the course of shooting for this film.”
On a Magical Night (Chambre 212, dir. Christophe Honoré), 2019 – “I love… Honoré’s latest film… It features Chiara Mastroianni, who is the daughter of Catherine Deneuve and Marcello Mastroianni… It’s a feminist tale and I think it’s kind of fun that it’s playing up here on College Hill. She’s a law professor at university in Paris. She and her husband have been together a lot of years. She’s the one stepping out, not him. So it’s a twist on that kind of tale in some ways… He’s the one who would never cheat on her, flip the standards in French culture, and she was constantly chasing her young students. So there’s a reckoning that she and her husband have. She leaves the house for a night to try to figure out, what are they going to do? She doesn’t want to leave the marriage, she thinks it’s working just fine. He can’t live with somebody who can’t be honest with him… She’s going through all of these relationships and everything plays out again, in her head, the cast of characters returns and she’s trying to come to terms with all of that. It’s comic, it’s poignant, sometimes it’s frustrating. It’s very well acted. It’s well written… It’s fun. It’s quirky. It ends in a way you don’t expect it to end. It plays with a lot of different tropes, it turns certain more conventional ideas of gender on their head and who plays what role in a relationship.”
Happy Birthday (Fête de Famille, dir. Cédric Kahn); 2019 – “This is Cédric Khan, who is a French comedic filmmaker. He’s actually in the film himself as the eldest son of [Catherine] Deneuve. She is the matriarch of a wacky family. They’re all getting together for her 70th birthday. All hell breaks loose. That one daughter who’s the wild card will come back from Los Angeles after a failed relationship there. One of the sons is living locally and he’s there with his family. Another son comes in from Paris where he’s kind of, sort of, an artist filmmaker in love with this Argentinian woman he brings with him. It starts off as kind of farcical, and then you peel back the layers and you see all the struggles that happen within families. So there’s some very tender moments, very funny moments and very tough moments. It deals with mental illness, it deals with betrayal and relationships. It deals with struggles of children growing up either parentless or with only a single parent. So it’s really putting it all out there.”
Zombi Child (dir. Bertrand Bonello), 2019 – “A fantastic film. It’s the follow up film… to Noturama that came out two years ago, which was a group of young people living in Paris who camp out in in a high-end mall and then end up involved in… murder and all kinds of things that ensue. Zombi Child is quite different. I would say Zombi Child is definitely a political film. Bonello cites Maya Deren as an influence for the kind of style he was trying to create with this film.” (Deren collaborated with the African American dancer and anthropologist Katherine Dunham on studies of Haitian culture and Vodou.) “It’s a group of young women who are in a very elite high school. Everyone going to that high school has somebody who’s been involved in the government in France or has received Legions of Honor, and so on. A new student arrives who is Franco-Haitian and she is living with her aunt who practices Vodou. One of the white French students who befriends her is obsessed with a relationship she’s had with a young man, and she’s trying to find a way for that to continue even though it’s ending, so she starts dabbling in Vodou despite warnings from her friends from Haiti and warnings from the aunt who actually lets her in to help channel her contact with this individual. And then we see a cross-cutting of scenes between Haiti and France… That [film] has a very political undercurrent, which is really trying to address France’s post-colonial legacies, and it’s doing it through a story that is personal and intimate, but making a much larger critique. Anyone who’s from 25 to 40, everyone’s dying to see that film: I had friends from New York saying, ‘I don’t even think it’s gonna play here at Film Forum, but maybe I’m going to come and see it while you’re screening it in Providence.’”
This Magnificent Cake! (Ce magnifique gâteau!, dir. Marc James Roels and Emma De Swaef), 2018 – “Critiquing the post-colonial scenario in the Belgian Congo that’s actually a stop-motion animation film… that takes five different individuals and traces their vignettes, their relation to Belgian colonialism in Africa… a mix of black Africans and a mix of white Europeans, who are re-examining their status and their role in the late 1800s.”
Marona’s Fantastic Tale (L’extraordinaire voyage de Marona, dir. Anca Damian), 2019 – “Animated film totally for adults… looking at adult relationships through the eyes of the dog.”
L.A. Tea Time (dir. Sophie Marcotte), 2019 – “A film by a Canadian documentary filmmaker from Quebec who is obsessed with Miranda July and does this documentary-slash-road movie where she starts contacting Miranda July to try and arrange a meeting, and then heads out cross-country to actually meet her in L.A., and everything that happens along the way.”
By the Grace of God (Grâce à Dieu, dir. François Ozon); 2019 – “It’s François Ozon who won the Silver Bear with this film at Berlin last year… It deals with pedophilia in the Catholic Church in the French Diocese of Lyon, which is the wealthiest diocese in France. Ripped from the headlines. As late as late 2018, the archbishop and the bishop who are featured in the film with their real names are still [awaiting] their sentences being handed down in the French public court. So the individuals who are involved are a group of victims who are now adults who band together and form a support group in France, and really start getting the message out and really wants to make a change and bring this to trial, and they actually succeed in doing that. So this film, again, is based on a true story, but with more nuance about the individual… It wasn’t just men who were abused in this diocese, but it’s all men who formed the support group and who push forward and make public their victimhood and push for the changes in the church, so it’s an intense critique.”
It Must Be Heaven (dir. Elia Sulemain); 2019 – “His first film in 10 years. He’s an actor and the director. And that one takes place in Palestine, Paris, Montreal and New York City. He speaks maybe four lines in the whole film. He’s considered a Jacques Tati-esque kind of character; that’s how the French press bills him. It’s another film that made huge waves at Toronto [International Film Festival] last year and also at Cannes. And that is an absolute political critique of contemporary global cosmopolitan violence in society. And the last vignette is in New York and it has a – I don’t want to spoil it, people should come and see it, it’s super fun – challenging ending, not violent or frightening to watch but like ‘whoa,’ just kind of hits you.”
The Girl with a Bracelet (La fille au bracelet, dir. Stéphane Demoustier), 2019 – “A courtroom drama… for parents of teens and for young adults… Effects of social media on relationships between teens. And a woman is accused of murdering her best friend because of things that appeared on social media. These girls were lovers and friends. They’re teens, they’re young, they’re experimenting, they’re bi, they’re involved in what a lot of teenagers are involved in. But the focus of this film is is less on what happens that causes this young woman to be accused of murder and put under house arrest. It’s more about how this is playing out in the courts and tensions within her family, and she maintains her innocence the entire time and how that has created a lot of tensions between her and individuals in her peer group, her group of friends, her family, even at the level of the court, how things are playing out and, again, not so subtle critique of how women, young women, are also stereotyped particularly in the way that things are portrayed on social media. There’s a lot of interesting stuff there. That actually is not based on a true story, but it’s an adaptation of an Argentinean film that got rave reviews and came out just one year prior, so they saw the Argentinian film, liked it, adapted that, and put it out.”
Africa Mia (dir. Richard Minier and Edouard Salier), 2019 – “A great documentary about the 1964 collaboration when a bunch of musicians from Mali were supported by the Cuban government to go to Cuba to record music and to study at the Cuban music conservatory, and then end up creating a group Las Maravillas de Mali which becomes a worldwide global sensation. The French filmmaker who made this film had seen one of the remaining members of the group perform a show in France, got enamored with the story, and then basically followed the story back to Mali, back to Cuba, to find out what happened to the members of the band – it took him about 10 years to make the film, great music – goes back to Cuba and he learned about all the intricate relationships but they they stayed a short time in Cuba – a year, year and a half, one of the members actually ended up living out his life in Cuba. But families, relationships, romance, children that were left behind, contacts that will maintain even after the musicians went back to Mali or to France. Great music, great stories, really poignant in so many ways. Definitely worth watching.”
PFFF20 is presented at Brown University by the Department of Modern Culture and Media and by the Department of French Studies, with support from Brown Arts Initiative, Sevaux Family Fund and Malcolm S. Forbes Center for Culture and Media Studies.
Reading Across Rhode Island: A conversation with Kate Lentz of the Rhode Island Center for the Book
Around the world, shared-reading programs bring communities together to experience a single work of literature. Canada’s public broadcaster sponsors a nationwide Canada Reads campaign. In Dublin, Ireland, One City, One Book welcomes readers into a narrative tied to the city. As Ocean State residents begin a new year by collectively opening Rising: Dispatches from a New American Shore by Elizabeth Rush, Motif’s Sean Carlson interviewed Kate Lentz, executive director of the Rhode Island Center for the Book, about the nonprofit organization and its 2020 Reading Across Rhode Island selection.
Sean Carlson (Motif): Now in its 18th year, how did this Rhode Island-wide reading initiative begin?
Kate Lentz: We created Reading Across Rhode Island in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001, when fear, loathing and misunderstanding were palpable in our communities. Librarians, readers and educators committed to civic engagement as a way to create greater understanding across differences came together to select an inspiring book and to engage in a statewide dialogue. Through the power of stories, we designed the program with the intention of sparking discussion, creating spaces for sharing multiple perspectives and promoting new understandings of ourselves, our neighbors and the critical challenges that we face as a community. It was a positive step forward in the aftermath of such a tragedy, and it continues to be a powerful model to promote the common good.
SC: What’s your process for managing partnerships and raising awareness about the 2020 program?
KL: Rhode Island Center for the Book distributes thousands of books to libraries, schools and senior centers across the state. Our January kick-off event at the Save the Bay Center in Providence aimed to showcase resources and available programs for teachers, librarians and book-discussion leaders, to help infuse their conversations with scholarship and context. These enrichment materials include a resource guide, developed by our committee, and a curriculum guide, created by RI high school teachers. A collective of artists and educators called Living Literature will bring the subject matter to life through performance, amplifying the themes of Rising by organizing a theater adaptation and facilitating talk-back discussions for intergenerational audiences. These efforts are designed to promote discussion at libraries, bookstores, community centers, senior centers and businesses across the state and to inspire our community partners to develop their own programs and enrichments related to the book’s themes.
SC: Although a local connection isn’t required, have you taken proximity into consideration?
KL: Our 2017 selection, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, reinforced for us the importance of proximity in achieving social change. Stevenson showed how we cannot isolate ourselves, that to create change in the world we each need to get closer to other people on the margins of society. We’ve tried to stay proximate since then, viewing each of our selections as a catalyst to talk about racism, environmental justice, democracy, immigration, identity and more. There’s something so powerful about how books propel critically important conversations and raise consciousness. Literature can take us places it’s often difficult to go.
SC: What kind of meaningful and measurable impact have you seen following previous picks?
KL: I believe the 2017 program featuring Just Mercy helped move the needle on the Justice Reinvestment Initiative in Rhode Island [ed. note: criminal-justice reform legislation signed into law by Gov. Raimondo in October 2017]. The following year, I received one of my favorite emails from a Providence teacher, describing her students’ enthusiasm for our pick, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: “I cannot believe how interested and involved the students are. They’re begging to take the books home and some are actually hiding them and sneaking them out of the school!” Last year, the Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Management started agency book groups and brought Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha to speak to an inspired crowd about her memoir What the Eyes Don’t See detailing the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. It was meaningful that the event was sponsored by the two administrative branches of our state government most closely aligned with the themes the book explores. And the Childhood Lead Action Project in Providence further connected with our local communities, helping to educate audiences about childhood lead poisoning and environmental injustice here in Rhode Island.
SC: Elizabeth Rush’s Rising examines the significance of rising sea levels with scientific research woven into deeply personal stories. What do you hope to see with this year’s selection?
KL: We’re really lucky to have a local author who has gifted us such lyrical prose, while including our state’s landscape in the narrative.Rising is a fascinating book, and it can move the needle on Rhode Islanders’ awareness of the climate crisis. Rather than be overwhelmed by the ominous prospects we face, we’ll be partnering with groups and focusing on presentations from folks pursuing positive action to give people a sense of the movement afoot that’s working to address this issue.
SC: And what kind of response have you heard thus far?
KL: Before we even kicked off the 2020 program, we already had requests for books from more than 40 schools, libraries and senior centers. I don’t think we’ll be able to meet the demand. There is so much happening across our state, and it has been overwhelming in the best way possible to connect with all of the people and organizations who want to be involved.
As part of the 2020 Reading Across Rhode Island program, Elizabeth Rush will participate in events on Thu, Mar 12 at 6pm at Barrington Public Library and on Thu, Apr 2 at 1:30pm at the University of Rhode Island (South Kingstown) and at 6:30pm at Salve Regina University (Newport). Living Literature performances of Rising will take place across the state, and other events are planned. For more information, go to ribook.org/rari