Archive for the ‘Downtown’ Category

The Tech Challenge 2014 – Harnessing the Wind

 

Hundreds of teams of students from grades 5-6 and 9-12 put their original innovations the test today, the first day of competition at The Tech Challenge 2014 presented by Cisco, the Bay Area’s largest youth design-challenge competition. The “Bad News Bears” team  of five from St. Martin of Tours first place for “Best Overall Solution” and emphasized perseverance and thinking big as keys to success, “No matter how big the challenge, if you work hard, anything is possible,” said Connor Hearney, 11. Teammate Michael Woo, 11, echoed the same sentiment, “Every problem has a solution.”

The two-day event concludes Sunday, April 13 when students in grades 7-8 take the stage and present their creative devices.

One of The Tech’s deepest beliefs is that everyone is born to be a problem solver,” said Museum President Tim Ritchie. “The Tech Challenge gives participants an opportunity to experience and show how innovative they can be.

Every year, the annual team design-challenge presents participants with a hands-on project geared to solving a real-world problem. This year’s challenge, Harnessing the Wind, saw students use the power of wind to move water to the people who need it most. Participants revealed their entrepreneurial spirits and tried their hand at utilizing the wind as a plausible solution to lowering the total energy consumption in the moving and processing of water.

The Tech Challenge, a signature program of The Tech, provides months of team learning in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and reinforces 21st-century skills of creativity, problem solving, design, teamwork, leadership, presentation, risk-taking, perseverance, and learning from failure.

The ingenuity and commitment exemplified by students at The Tech Challenge is extraordinary,” said Jessica Graham, Cisco’s Community Relations Manager. “Our Cisco volunteers here today welcome the opportunity to inspire the next generation of innovators.

In all, 1,200 students stepped up to the challenge to use the renewable energy source for this year’s competition now in its 27th year. Teams competed for several titles ranging from “Most Sustainable” to “Best Engineering Design” to “Best Prototyping.” Every participant also received a medal, T-shirt, water bottle, and team photo for their hard work, ingenuity and dedication.

For decades, The Tech Challenge has allowed some 13,500 young girls and boys throughout California and other regions to hone their creativity and innovation on a variety of scenarios including building devices to explore Mars craters, fight wildfires, rescue earthquake victims, collect samples in the rainforest, and last year to deploy instruments to an asteroid.

The top award – “Best Overall Solution” – was awarded to three teams in each of the 5th-6th and 9th-12th grade divisions. Best Overall Solution encompasses device performance, engineering and design, style and presentation, and the scientific process. AND THE 2014 WINNERS ARE…

5th-6th grade Division

1st Place

  • Bad News Bears
  • Team # 133
  •  St. Martin of Tours

2nd Place

  • FOuR the WINdz 
  • Team # 15
  •  John Sinnott Elementary School

3rd Place

  • iSolve
  • Team # 372
  • Carden Day School of San Jose, Hyde Middle School, and Kennedy Middle school in Cupertino

9th-12th grade Division

1st Place

  • H2I – Happy to Innovate
  • Team # 72
  •  Fremont Home School Team

2nd Place

  • The Airbenders
  • Team # 322
  • Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula

3rd Place

  • MEKTech
  • Team # 0
  • Head-Royce School

Other teams took home prizes for their achievement in Engineering Design, Spirit, Device Performance, Sportsmanship and Best Use of Cardboard and Duct Tape. View the complete list of winners.

For more information on The Tech Challenge, visit: thetechchallenge.thetech.org/

 

2014 The Tech Challenge sponsors

Presenting

  • Cisco Systems, Inc.

Innovator

  •  Aruba Networks
  •  SAP 

Founding

  • EMC2
  • Intel
  •  Motorola Solutions Foundation 

Principal

  • Fairchild Semiconductor
  • Lockheed Martin
  • TE Connectivity

 

About The Tech Museum of Innovation
The Tech is a hands-on technology and science museum for people of all ages and backgrounds. The museum—located in the Capital of Silicon Valley —is a non-profit, experiential learning resource established to engage people in exploring and experiencing applied technologies affecting their lives. Through programs such as The Tech Challenge presented by Cisco, our annual team-design competition for youth, and internationally renowned program to honor technology benefiting humanity, The Tech Awards presented by Applied Materials, The Tech endeavors to inspire the innovator in everyone.

 

 

Baseball fans flock to GAME ON at the San Jose Rep.

Dan Hoyle and Tony Taccone star in GAME ON

Let’s do full disclosure first, shall we?

1)      My interest in baseball on a scale of 1-10 is 0.

2)      My knowledge of baseball is maybe a 6.

3)      My interest and knowledge in fantasy leagues is 0.

Please don’t run me out of town or take away my citizenship.  I’ll happily cook up party food for every night of the World Series if you like, just please let me read a book during the game.

And I promise not to serve you bugs.  Or DO I????

That said, baseball fans think Game On is a home run.  Set in an upper class home in Los Altos (is there any other kind?) the story is framed by a televised game between the San Francisco Giants and the LA Dodgers.  Local fans are so serious about baseball that I heard several in the audience exclaim they were having panic attacks during the play by play for the game.  But the main storyline is about two men who desperately need financing for their new venture, the use of insects as a protein. This is a real thing, and I actually know more about the trend towards eating insects than I do about baseball.  But in real life as in the show, the hard part is convincing the American public that insects are good for you and tasty too.

They actually had samples of (deep fried?) insects in the lobby before the show started.  I did not try them.  I said I had knowledge of the idea, not that I had ingested any bugs.  However, my guest did try one of each of the four samples, and she said one of them definitely tasted “just like corn nuts.”  So there ya go.

Back to the show.

At just 90 minutes with no intermission, it is a fast paced show with only a few characters but non-stop conversation.  It starts out with tons of laughs about the game, the players, and their fantasy league, but due to my lack of knowledge I had a difficult time following much of it.  Eventually we hear about the company the two main characters are trying to get funded.  And finally we realize that while the buddies really believe in their cause, they also desperately need the financing for their own personal reasons, and the show’s tone gets a little darker.

There are a lot of laughs about the bugs, and there is a fantastic food fight later in the show that released a lot of the building tension and got the comedy back on track.  There are many references to local areas, but using “South Bay”, “Menlo Park” and “Redwood City” as punch-lines will not likely work outside of Silicon Valley.  This local audience was privy to the inside jokes however, and appreciated all the humor.

It felt a little to me like the playwright had a few too many ideas he was trying to cram all into one show, and the dependence on a local audience will prevent the show from being a national hit. But this local audience certainly appreciated and related to all the ideas and situations presented and everyone appeared to be having a fantastic time.  I definitely recommend the show if you are a baseball fan, and if they are still serving insects at the Rep, I heard the toffee mealworms over ice cream are delicious.  YOU should totally try them.

GAME ON
San Jose Repertory Theatre
Through April 19

Don Bugito’s edible insects

Paul Lazarus, Director: SLINGSHOT Documentary at Cinequest

Paul Lazarus, Director of SLINGSHOT

Silicon Valley may know Dean Kamen as the inventor of the Segway. But he is an amazing inventor and trying to use his genius to help solve the world’s clean water problem.  We don’t worry much about water here other than our perpetual drought, but we have it good in the USA – our water is clean for the most part.  50 percent of all human illness is the result of water borne pathogens.  Dean Kamen has invented an energy efficient vapor-compression distiller that can turn any unfit source of water into potable, safe water.  Paul Lazarus directed this important documentary.

1Q: Tell us a little about the origins of SLINGSHOT, from concept to financing.

We have been working on this movie for seven years.  When inventor, Dean Kamentold me about his work on providing the world with clean, safe water, I thought it was potentially the most important challenge he’d ever tackled and I suggested we make a movie about it.  We have covered the development of the machine at Dean’s research company, in Ghana, Paraguay and all across the United States.

2Q: Cinequest is hosting the World Premiere of SLINGSHOT.  Explain to us how it feels to bring this film before audiences for the first time, and what do you think their reaction will be to your film?

After all this time, it’s a little frightening to bring the film before the public.  We want so badly for the film to succeed and help tell the story of this lifesaving technology and help spread this amazing technology all over the planet.  It feels like so much is at stake.   But, as Dean Kamen says, the safest place for a ship is in the harbor, it just doesn’t do any good there.   We hope that the movie both inspires and entertains the people that see it.

3Q: What was your best and/or worst experience while making SLINGSHOT?

Best was going to Ghana two times and meeting incredible people like Lydia Odum, the headmistress of a small school 90-minutes north of Accra.    And the kids, who always seemed happy to see us. Worst was trying to raise the money to make the film.

4Q: Festival audiences often have to make hard decisions about what to see, and the catalog descriptions sometimes run together. In your own words, why should people see your film?

Too often, especially with issue documentaries, you leave the theater feeling helpless and hopeless.  We believe that people who take the time to see SlingShot will leave the theater hopeful, energized and feeling like they might be able to make a difference.

5Q: Time to pre-plan: You just won the Best Picture Oscar for SLINGSHOT.  Give us your acceptance speech.

Thank you to the hundreds of people who helped create this film.   I hope in some small way it will make you think about the world’s safe water crisis.  I want to quote a man who has devoted over 15 years of his life trying to create a machine that can turn any form of bad, unclean water into safe, pure water:  ”We could empty half of all beds in all the hospitals in the world by just giving people clean water.”

See SLINGSHOT at Cinequest!
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Dean Kamen, Inventor

Sarah Smick, Director/Writer: FRIENDED TO DEATH

Facebook Friends: over 4,000. Real friends: ?

Sarah Smick brings her film FRIENDED TO DEATH to Cinequest on Friday, March 7.  In the valley where Facebook was created, this film should be very popular.

1Q: Tell us a little about the origins of FRIENDED TO DEATH, from concept to financing.

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First, let me offer some context. Friended to Death is a dark comedy feature about a Facebook addict (played by Ryan Hansen from Veronica Mars and Party Down) who fakes his own death on social media to see which of his “friends” will show up at his funeral. It will have its U.S. Premiere at Cinequest in San Jose this Friday, March 7th at 7:15 pm. Tickets available here.
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As for the development and making of the film, my co-writer Ian Michaels had read a story in the foreign press a few years back about a man who actually attempted to fake his own death. The man’s friends weren’t fooled by his futile efforts, but we saw a real hook for a compelling narrative that would capture the sensational voyeurism that can accompany social media. Sensing how timely these themes were (and still are), we proceeded to craft a script that would comment on the ironies of social connectivity and then we hustled like crazy to get it made. Now, many months later, we are thrilled to finally be releasing it out into the world!
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2Q: Cinequest is proud to host the United States Premiere of FRIENDED TO DEATH. Explain to us how it feels to bring this film before audiences for the first time, and what do you think their reaction will be to your film?
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We couldn’t be more excited for our film to make its U.S. debut in the heart of Silicon Valley.  Friended to Death is a “bro-mantic” comedy that will appeal to mainstream, but we are also confident that its commentary on social media will be of keen interest to those who live and breathe trends in connectivity.
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3Q: What was your best and/or worst experience while making FRIENDED TO DEATH?
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The making of this film has been a wild ride as it was my first time directing a feature. As a result, I really had to rely on my cast and crew  for support and feedback. Some of the most rewarding experiences were the many moments during the shoot and post-production when my collaborators exceeded my expectations. I was so often impressed by their boundless creativity and hard work. As for obstacles that we encountered, I have to say that the time limitations inevitably placed on an indie film shoot are always frustrating. What director wouldn’t be glad to have one extra day to shoot?
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4Q: Festival audiences often have to make hard decisions about what to see, and the catalog descriptions sometimes run together. In your own words, why should people see your film?
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First off, it’s funny! (or so we’ve observed from test audiences). People seem to connect with the story and the characters in a palpable way. Friended to Death deals with current issues that audiences seem to relate to. And as social media continues to permeate our daily lives, there is no better time for audiences to enjoy a hilarious, timely perspective on how it’s impacting our relationships. As added incentive, a number of cast and crew, including myself, will be present for Q&As following all three of our screenings. It’s a great way for the audience to be interactive and engage with the film.
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5Q: Time to pre-plan: You just won the Best Director/Writer Oscar for FRIENDED TO DEATH. Give us your acceptance speech.
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What a question! At risk of seeming coy, I’ll say this: my speech would be shaped by the guiding sentiments of gratitude, pride, and grace.
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See FRIENDED TO DEATH at Cinequest!
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Cinequest Film Review: ETERNITY

LOL.

I mean seriously, LOL.

This film is so awful it’s just about perfect.  And I mean that in the best way possible.

Look, I grew up in the 80s, I LOVED the 80s, and the 80s actually had some really great music, film and fashion.

It also had some of the worst music, film and fashion in history, no joke.

ETERNITY, because I’m 99% positive they meant it to be awful, hits every level of this.

Todd Lucas (Barrett Crake) and BJ Fairchild (Myko Olivier) meet in the 80s and decide to form the greatest R&B band in history, Eternity. The film follows their rise to fame and fortune, their loves, their lusts, their friendship, and finally their falling out and inevitable reunion.

ETERNITY: THE MOVIE is not a tribute to the greatness of the 80s.  I could very well be wrong, but I really think it’s a tribute to the awfulness of the 80s.  There was some really horrid music on the radio back then, and you’ll hear some very similar music in this film (although I actually like the last two songs of the film).  80s fashion could be mind bogglingly terrible, especially for men – and it’s here in all its cheap glory.  Don’t let nostalgia fool you, 80s television was not what you remember either.  And ETERNITY has all the overdramatic arguments from the after school specials, a melodramatic dying scene straight from the nighttime soaps, and the subtle undercurrent of homosexuality blatant homoerotic tomfoolery of the entire decade times infinity.  There is bad acting, bad writing, bad sex jokes, bad ideas and Ridgemont High.  Wait, Ridgemont High is awesome, what wasn’t awesome were all the copycat movies that came after it.

That’s what ETERNITY is, in the most perfect way.

Would *I* watch it again?  LOL.  No.  But I know a lot of people who will love this film and will want to watch it over and over.  ”I get it now, I get it,” says one character near the end of the film.  ”I don’t,” replies Gina Marie (Nikki Leonti) and I started cracking up.  Because that kind of summed up the movie.  I think there is going to be a section of the audience who will be rolling their eyes at this film, and then there is going to be the much larger section cheering and cackling with glee.  It’s all done in good fun, and I think they absolutely accomplished what they were trying for.

See ETERNITY: THE MOVIE at Cinequest!
My interview with the filmmakers!
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Cinequest film review: LAWRENCE & HOLLOMAN

I finally had my first big belly laugh just eight minutes into LAWRENCE & HOLLOMAN, and the laughs just kept coming in this must see dark comedy.

Holloman is a white bread and bologna type guy who just cannot win in life and intends to end his troubles, permanently.  But before he gets a chance he comes across the vocabulary challenged Lawrence who seems to win at EVERYTHING in life without even trying.  Promotions at work, great apartment, sexy girlfriend, and the adoration of everyone he comes across.  Lawrence is everything Holloman is not.

Holloman decides to follow Lawrence and see what his secret is.  Is it just the luck of a shiny new penny? Lawrence’s endlessly optimistic outlook? Fate?  Lawrence takes Holloman under his wing and tries to teach him the benefits of looking on the bright side of things.

But suddenly, Lawrence’s luck takes a downturn just as Holloman’s life appears to be suddenly looking up.  What will it take for Lawrence to lose his optimistic outlook?  Is there a reason for the change of luck, or is it the fault of the mysterious mustachioed man?

Daniel Arnold and Ben Cotton are perfectly cast as the unlikely duo.  Arnold morphs believably from a sad loser to a handsome man of luck, and Cotton just continues to be the insufferable optimist no matter how many anvils fall on his head.  The comedy is dark and so well written with that trademark humor I’ve come to expect from Canadian films.  I really enjoyed this film and I know Cinequest audiences are going to love it as well. Put it on your calendars and get ready for those belly laughs!

See LAWRENCE & HOLLOMAN at Cinequest!
View the Trailer!
“Like” them on Facebook!
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My interview with director Matthew Kowalchuk

Interview originally published at http://popcornandvodka.com/2014/03/04/lawrence-holloman/
 

Mike Whalen, Director/Writer: THE FARMER AND THE CHEF

Mike Whalen, Documentarian

Mike Whalen is a local filmmaker bringing to Cinequest a documentary about the chef from Manresa Restaurant, and the partnership they have with Love Apple Farms.

1Q: Tell us a little about the origins of THE FARMER & THE CHEF, from concept to financing.

I first starting thinking about making a “green” television reality doc series. Back in 2009 I had been approached by a number of production companies that I used to work for and they were looking for documentary reality series with a green-environmental theme. It was the “hot” topic back then. As a result it got me thinking about ideas and one of them that came to mind was the amazing work that David Kinch was doing at Manresa. I’m a huge fan of his and any opportunity to work with him was a dream job. I emailed Chef Kinch and we set up a meeting. At that first meeting he made it crystal clear that if we were going to do anything it had to include Cynthia Sandberg and the partnership he has with her farm, Love Apple Farms. That sounded great to me so we set up another meeting at the farm. Now, at this time the farm was Cynthia’s backyard – about an acre and a half worth. She had a couple of apprentices working with her and a handful of volunteers. As I do on any film I started hanging around my subjects to get to know their daily routine and what makes them tick. A guest chef was coming in from Spain to cook with David at Manresa so I decided to shoot that event – from the guest chef and David walking the farm, choosing the veg for the weekend to the actual cooking of the meal. It was an incredible experience but I realized then that this wasn’t a TV show. David and Cynthia were too “normal.” This wasn’t “Hell’s Kitchen” so no network would really go for it. What I saw was the makings of a great documentary film. A chance to really explore the genius behind both of their artistry because that’s what they are…. artists. They create these amazing masterpieces with food.
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I decided it was worth to spend a year filming to capture the essence of their work, their collaboration and their passion. I have access to all the equipment I want at Santa Clara University (where I teach filmmaking) so I could do this for very little money. As is my experience with all documentary films, the story tends to take on a life of its own. After one year of filming Cynthia decided to buy a new, 20+ acre property and sell the old farm. The problem with the new property is that it would take 2 years to get it going at full production. At the same time David decided to remodel the restaurant. I realized then that my little side project was going to take another three years to make but I wasn’t about to stop now because I had a front row seat to an amazing show.
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In the end I have spent about $1500 on the entire film. I paid a little to have some aerials shot of the farm and the final music and other than that the expenses went to hiring sound people and the occasional second unit DP. I have shot and edited almost everything in the film.
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2Q: Cinequest is proud to host the World Premiere of THE FARMER & THE CHEF.  Explain to us how it feels to bring this film before audiences for the first time, and what do you think their reaction will be to your film?
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I love Cinequest and couldn’t be happier to be premiering the film in San Jose. It’s such an amazing group of people from Halfdan on down and they really embrace the independent filmmaking spirit.  I also love how the festival is so committed to empowerment – whether that be children, new filmmakers or social justice. It’s a perfect fit for the type of films that I make. I hope people enjoy my film, obviously, but I really want them to walk away with a new found respect for the commitment to their craft that both David and Cynthia have. These are two people who are going way out of their way to grow, cook and serve the best food you could possible think about. It’s so imaginative. It’s so precise. They really are artists working at the top of their field. I want people to be inspired by this. To be inspired to commit that much emotion and energy to something in their life. It’s not easy to do this. It means taking risks, but the rewards are amazing. Oh, and I hope they leave really hungry!
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3Q: What was your best and/or worst experience while making THE FARMER & THE CHEF?
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The best is easy… getting to know David, Cynthia and everyone they work with. That’s always the best part of being a documentary filmmaker – getting to know people you wouldn’t normally get to meet. They have become friends. David texts me about US soccer scores all the time and Cynthia constantly invites me and my wife up to farm for special occasions. Another aspect that was awesome was the food. I got to taste a lot of what was being cooked in the kitchen and all I can say is that it’s culinary heaven in there. The worst is the feeling that, as a filmmaker, I haven’t done the story justice. I always worry that I’ll let down my subjects and my film won’t honor their lives as strongly as it should. I hope I have, but until an audience sees it you never know.
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4Q: Festival audiences often have to make hard decisions about what to see, and the catalog descriptions sometimes run together. In your own words, why should people see your film?  
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People should see this film because it gives audiences a front row seat to watch two of the most talented people in the world work their magic. I’m talking one of kind stuff here. Nobody else is doing this in the world and this film lets you get inside the minds of these two geniuses. That and the amazing shots of food. It’s almost like eating at Manresa!!
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5Q: Time to pre-plan: You just won the Best Director Oscar for THE FARMER & THE CHEF.  Give us your acceptance speech.  
After picking myself up from the floor because the Academy actually honored non-fiction directing work I’d quickly thank David and Cynthia. We can’t make docs without amazing people letting us into their lives. It’s intrusive and I can’t thank them enough for graciously allowing me into their worlds. I also have to thank my wife – who grabbed a boom pole when I needed it, sat through three years of filming and editing and never let me settle. She pushes me creatively like only a loving spouse can.
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The music must be playing now.
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This interview originally published at http://popcornandvodka.com/2014/02/10/mike-whalen-directorwriter-the-farmer-and-the-chef/

Dana Nachman, director: THE HUMAN EXPERIMENT

Dana Nachman, director

Dana Nachman is a local filmmaker from Los Altos. This year she is bringing her film THE HUMAN EXPERIMENT to Cinequest.  See below for show times.

1Q: Tell us a little about the origins of THE HUMAN EXPERIMENT, from concept to financing.

I was a producer for NBC Bay Area and I was assigned a series about keeping your home toxic free. It was through that story that I learned that most products that we have in our homes are not tested for their safety before they get onto the market place.  I didn’t believe it was true and after a little bit of research I realized it was true! When I’m shocked about something it usually turns into my next documentary.

This film took a lot of research and a lot of pre-production because it is such a massive topic. I am not a lifelong environmentalist so it took me a while to understand and come to know the players working on this issue and it took a while to figure out which people and storylines we should focus the film around. Research started in earnest in 2010 and we began shooting in 2011.  Financing also took a while and still continues as we raise money for our engagement campaign.  We financed the film in three main ways.  We got investors for part of the budget. We received grants for another chunk and we deferred part of our salaries for the rest.  And finally after all that we had enough money to make the film we wanted to make!

2Q: THE HUMAN EXPERIMENT has done well at previous film festivals. Will you be less nervous now at Cinequest? Does this process ever get any easier?

No, it’s always nerve-wracking to be at a film festival! Always!! It’s this kind of scenario that really brings out my insecurities!! If I sit for the film, I’m constantly analyzing the crowd. Do they like it? Do they get it? Why are they so quiet? It’s not fun to be in my head while the film’s going on! Then there are the Q and A’s… I really have a fear of speaking in public that I’ve had to get over. But still it’s hard. I always think of a better way I could have answered the questions two hours after the Q and A is finished.

3Q: What was your best and/or worst experience while making THE HUMAN EXPERIMENT?

My best experience for this film and all my film is interviewing and then developing a relationship with the people in the film. It really is such an honor to be able to tell people’s stories and then after that to have such inspirational people in my life! I really feel like it is a gift!

The biggest challenge with The Human Experiment is that we feel so much pressure to get this film out into the world because we believe this is such a critical issue that is under exposed! Films take so long from inception to the time they can be seen by the world, so sometimes I get impatient (I’m a little like that) but I know in due time everyone will see this film and help make a change!

The very worst experience is always the raising of the money. I find that very difficult because it’s just a hard thing to do… to ask for money… over and over and over again! It’s hard to be a sales person when you’re really a filmmaker but I think all of us realize that at the end of the day we have to be both even if we don’t want to!

4Q: Festival audiences often have to make hard decisions about what to see, and the catalog descriptions sometimes run together. In your own words, why should people see your film?

The Human Experiment takes audiences on a wild ride… if people want to sit back in their seats and be shocked about an issue that is very personal to them – guaranteed – this is the film they should make sure they come to see! And say hi when you do! I’ll be there answering question!

5Q: Time to pre-plan: You just won an Oscar for THE HUMAN EXPERIMENT. Give us your acceptance speech.

Oh gosh…  I just watched the Oscars last night so I’m super inspired! But I feel like I’m going to jinx it if I really put a speech on paper!!

But I will say, there is so much self doubt and so much rejection in this business that I feel so thrilled for every artist who is given that amazing spotlight, because I know they have all been in a dark place at some point before, because when you put yourself out there as an artist there are always many critics!! I hope to be there one day for sure!!

See THE HUMAN EXPERIMENT at Cinequest!
View the Trailer!
“Like” them on Facebook!
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This interview was first published at http://popcornandvodka.com/2014/03/03/dana-nachman-director-the-human-experiment/

Halfdan Hussey and Kathleen J. Powell, Directors: LIFE IS LOVE

Halfdan Hussey and Kathleen J. Powell are the co-founders of the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose, CA.  This year they have produced their own film, LIFE IS LOVE, premiering at Cinequest on Wednesday, March 5th.  

1Q: Tell us a little about the origins of LIFE IS LOVE, from concept to financing.

HH: My wife, Roz, heard Somaly Mam speak in Hong Kong, when we were dating, and sent me an email about how moved she was by this woman whose philosophy was “life is love.” Roz brought me a business card. Inspired by that email, Kathleen J. Powell and I decided to do a Cinequest Picture The Possibilities (youth empowerment) session in Cambodia…As we developed this, Kathleen and I had the idea to do a feature film on Somaly Mam and her amazing young heroes, which she calls her Voices For Change YouthMarcela Villegas Castenon (line producer and PTP manager) and Kathleen put the relationships together and created the opportunity to make a very special movie. Kathleen and I decided to donate our time to the movie, since we believed very deeply in the stories of these women, and the rest of the costs of the movie were covered via donations from friends, family, PTP supporters and companies.

2Q: Cinequest is hosting the World Premiere of LIFE IS LOVE.  Explain to us how it feels to bring this film before audiences for the first time, and what do you think their reaction will be to your film?  Does the “home turf” aspect make you more comfortable or more nervous?

HH: Kathleen and I started and run Cinequest because our first feature film (she produced and I directed) gave us a phenomenal experience at the Venice Film Festival and beyond. We wanted to give that back to other artists and to add the technology/empowerment component. What started off as a film festival focusing on discovery and empowerment of artists has led through time to a company with three divisions focusing on the empowerment of artists, innovators, audiences and global youth. PTP is the year-round youth movement where we give youth the tools, processes and inspiration to create their dreams from art to science.

KJP:  It feels incredible to bring LIFE IS LOVE before an audience.  This film is about amazing young heroes that have survived horrors most of us could not possibly imagine.  It is such an honor to be able to bring their stories, their words, their feelings to the world.  If this film were to help one victim realize they too can stand up, survive, and help others, than it will all be worth it.  I think the reaction to the film will be powerful.  I don’t believe it is a film that you can watch and forget about next week.

3Q: What was your best and/or worst experience while making LIFE IS LOVE?

HH: The film was an incredible blessing to make so there’s probably thousands of best experiences from the rich visual opportunities in Phnom Penh to the incredible women who shared their stories with such vulnerability and warmth. One of the ‘best’ experiences has been how much they’ve all inspired us from the initial encounters to the crying (many times) and joy in the editing room engaging with them further. A personal best was shooting in the rice fields of Cambodia on my birthday with these wonderful women and the team of Life Is Love. The ‘worst experience?’ Although I run a film and innovation company, I can’t say that the business side of releasing a movie is very easy for any artist.

KJP:  Every moment of the film shoot was rewarding.  We were shooting in the middle of August, it was 115 degrees in the shade.  Forget about trying to fix your hair or put on makeup. There was no complaining and you never thought about it.  We were with AMAZING young women that were sharing their stories.  Every interview we did, I sat there and cried.  Even if another language was being spoken, I could look in their eyes and feel throughout my entire body their pain, their joy.  I did not need the words translated, I knew.  And then when the camera was switched off, and we all were able to recompose ourselves, there was laughter.

My worst experience was the deep understanding I now have of the horrors young children, babies have experienced.  What was done to their childhood, to their bodies, to their foundation as a human being.  That understanding will never go away … and I would never want it to.

4Q: Festival audiences often have to make hard decisions about what to see, and the catalog descriptions sometimes run together. In your own words, why should people see your film?

HH: If you are willing to take a journey into the darkest and most inspirational sides of the human experience…all in one setting.

KJP:  We all experience trauma in our lives.  Some more than others.  From the loss of a loved one, trauma to our bodies, a lost job or relationship, we all are on these journeys thru life.   I LOVE the world of film because it allows you to step outside of yourself and go on a journey, to a place you have never visited, to somewhere that can only be imagined, to another culture, experience, world.  What a great honor that is, to be invited, even if only for a short period of time, to walk in someone else’s shoes.

5Q: Time to pre-plan: You just won an Oscar for LIFE IS LOVE.  Give us your acceptance speech.  

HH: I’d use the platform to expose more people to Cinequest Picture The Possibilities and the incredible future we all will have because the new generations can create a better world than the one we currently have…if we help them and let them.

KJP:  In the end it is never about how much money you have in the bank, how many companies you launched, how many awards you have won.  It will always be about your connection with other people.  Did you help someone take that next step?  Did you open a door for them to walk through?  Did you inspire them not to give up?

See LIFE IS LOVE at Cinequest!
View the Trailer!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Originally published at http://popcornandvodka.com/2014/02/06/halfdan-hussey-and-kathleen-j-powell-directors-life-is-love/

Madama Butterfly brings magic and tears to Opera SJ

Cast 1: Soprano Cecilia Violetta López as Cio-Cio-san (Madame Butterfly). Photo by Pat Kirk.

Last weekend I was lucky enough to see Opera San Jose’s tremendously entertaining production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, starring one of opera’s most dastardly villains: Lt. BF Pinkerton.

When you have two strong, educated, feminist women in the audience of Madama Butterfly for the first time, you can expect a lot of crossed arms, raised eyebrows, and smirks.  But though the story of an American lieutenant – who believes wives can be as changeable and temporary as the screens in his Japanese home – is barely tolerable, the opera as a whole is gorgeous, tragic, emotional and an auditory blessing.

The story:  Lieutenant BF Pinkerton signs a 999 year lease on a house in Japan that (Bonus!) comes with a free geisha wife!  Even better, the lease is also sort of month to month, and Japanese divorce laws are subject to the whim of a husband, so it’s a win-win deal for Pinkerton.

Not so lucky is sweet young Madama Butterfly, who has fallen in love with her husband and believes this is a till death do them part situation. Unfortunately, Pinkerton has other ideas, and already plans to get a “real” wife when he ships back to America.  Sweet 15 year old Butterfly, to Pinkerton, is merely a “toy” for sex while he’s in Japan, and there is a lot of talk of “breaking her wings” and pinning her for display purposes.  Nice.

Cast 1: Tenor James Callon as BF Pinkerton and soprano Cecilia Violetta López as Cio-Cio-san. Photo by Pat Kirk.

Even better, Butterfly gives birth to Pinkerton’s son after he leaves for America, and during the entire three years he is gone she believes he will return to meet his son and they will be a permanent family.  On the contrary, Pinkerton plans to return to Japan with his new American wife, and take the child from Butterfly to raise as their own.

Without giving away the ending, you can assume it follows the typical line of opera tragedies.  However, I have learned that the last few seconds of Opera SJ’s show, which brings a swift karma payment to Pinkerton, was added for this production.  I don’t know how opera purists feel about this change, but for me it made the whole story much more palatable.

I have always known I am very lucky to be able to see all these opera productions for the last several years.  This show, however, I felt truly privileged.   The music and singing is beautiful perfection as always, but in Act II Madame Butterfly sings “Un Bel Di” (One Beautiful Day), and it was a magical experience.  I have never felt that before at the opera, but Cecilia Violetta López made me feel I was present for something important.  By the end of Act III López is singing with tears in her eyes, and they were still present during the standing ovation at the end.  Cecilia Violetta López, having previously charmed me as Leila in The Pearl Fishers, has earned her place in this company, and should be considered a huge benefit to Opera SJ.

Cast 1: Soprano Cecilia Violetta López as Cio-Cio-san (Madame Butterfly). Photo by Pat Kirk.

Resident tenor James Callon is a perfectly awful BF Pinkerton (in the best way possible) with an amazing voice as usual. Lisa Chavez and Zachary Altman (Suzuki and Sharpless) are spectacular as the only two characters who speak any sense.  And special mention goes to an actor who really deserves mention: Sammy Tittle as Butterfly’s son.  Sammy is quite young and the part requires him to be on stage for much of the show.  He was a quiet scene stealer because he was so absolutely perfect.

There are many visual treats in this production.  The main feature of the set is a changeable lighted screen at the back of the stage.  This provided an impressive opening when the curtain went up.  The screen was lit with giant red and white stripes, and the figures of Lt. Pinkerton and friends standing at attention in uniform set the scene and mood immediately.  Later in Act I Madame Butterfly and her friends and sisters appear in their full geisha costumes and make-up, and gorgeous multicolored parasols.  But while there were some individual scenes that stood out, I was underwhelmed by the stage setting as a whole.  I have seen some drop-dead stage designs at Opera SJ before, and I was really looking forward to being immersed in a gorgeous Japanese setting.  On the contrary, I was not.  However, this is a minor disappointment in what quickly became one of my best experiences at the opera.

I am open about not knowing anything technical about opera, but I know entertainment and a great show when I see one.  Not only is this show now one of my favorite operas I’ve seen so far (and by now I’ve seen quite a few), but some scenes moved me in ways I’ve never felt before.  It’s a show that is suitable for both opera experts and opera newbies.  It’s a show you should not miss.

Madama Butterfly
Opera San Jose
Through March 2nd
California Theatre

 

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