Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving week began with a journey led by Sarah Vowell when she appeared as part of The Denver Post's Pen and Podium series. During her reading, she discussed some of her perspective on Thanksgiving by way of its early origins. Oftentimes, huge Thanksgiving feasts commemorated a major battle and lots of bloodshed. In 1777, a national celebration of the holiday occurred to mark the American victory over the British in Saratoga. War again inspired a celebration following Gettysburg when Lincoln declared a national day of Thanksgiving. And so, with notions of Thanksgiving following major war and bloodshed, I headed off to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, not knowing what to expect.
I admit I went with my stereotypes about Ar-kansas, imagining haunting banjos, empty spaces where teeth once hit the gums, religious fundamentalism, homophobia, overalls, and a sense of feeling far far away from home. But, when we hit the cousin Jean's place and settled in for three days, it was clear that not only was there no war to celebrate, but most of the preconceived notions were just a northerner's sense of hysteria, influenced clearly by an overdose of film filters.

Every time Nan and I entered the house that held forty for a fabulous Thanksgiving Day feast, we were formally announced: "The Cousins are here." No overalls filled the room, no country twang, but rather lots of people giving hugs, welcoming us as long lost family. People bustled together in the kitchen creating the feast, chopping, chatting, and stealing bites of freshly fried turkey skin. At tables people gathered, barely talking between bites of plates filled with an abundance of the season, reconnecting with family they haven't seen since the last celebration. Nan and I were simply the cousins, part of the family gathered to feast and give thanks for the warmth of family.

The following day, when we wandered through the historic tour of Eureka Springs, we got to visit Thorncrown Chapel, built by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. Seeing the blend of the landscape and the use of natural light, brought a natural symmetry to Thanksgiving weekend since a year ago Nan and I found ourselves at Taliesen, learning the traits that defined Wright's architecture. And after three days in Arkansas, I got to know a new family, a family that welcomes everyone, a family that laughs, a family that teases, and a family that gives great hugs.

I give thanks to my new cousins.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Transgender Day of Remembrance

For the past five years, Red Rocks Community College has celebrated the Transgender Day of Remembrance with some type of panel and sometimes an accompanying film. Each year, the panel simply amazes me, making me stand in awe of the courage and sense of self that transgender people display. And each year I am reminded that I get to learn from the panel. This year was no different, and again, all the credit goes to the students who organized the panel.

The panel was preceded by a short 20 minute film produced by PFLAG of Boulder called Faces and Facets. Watching the film brought back memories of past panels, since many in the film had also been on a previous year's panel (e.g. Matt Kailey, Eden Lane, and Nicole Garcia). Following the film, two RRCC students, one student from a local community college, and a co-director of trans programming at The Center shared stories about living authentically as a transgendered person. Rather than concentrating on all the violence and hatred transgendered people face regularly, the panel chose to focus on more of a celebration of who they are, emphasizing how their journey is an ongoing pursuit of being as authentically themselves as they can possibly be.

And what struck me throughout was how proud they stood, just telling their stories, trusting that everyone before them (some fellow students in their class that had never heard their story, an administrator that never fully knew the challenges they face, and a supervisor who constantly mixes up pronouns when referring to a particular student listened to the student explain how that felt) would hear and really get their message about what it means to be transgendered, what it means to get to embrace their authentic self.

I am totally in awe of their trust to come out in front of so many people all at once--people they will see again in their classrooms perhaps looking at them differently, people they will pass in the hallway, and people they will see again as allies, fighting when their voices don't have access.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

When I Rise

"Walk tall girl...don't lean over" Barbara Smith Conrad advises a young black woman after an opera masterclass. These words characterize her attitude, clearly reflected throughout the documentary When I Rise. Growing up in a small rural east Texas town, Barbara developed her vocal abilities and eventually found herself at the University of Texas, Austin in the 1950s amongst a group of approximately 100 African American students enrolled there for the first time. The film shows the racial prejudice of the time, highlighting her experience at the university.

Due to her gorgeous voice and talent, Barbara Smith Conrad was cast in the school's production as of Dido and Aeneas, as the leading lady. Cast in a sea of white males, the Texas legislature, characterized by Klan hatred, put pressure on the university to remove her from the cast. A newspaper headline announced the decision "Negro Girl Withdrawn From UT Opera Cast." Despite the huge racial intolerance, Barbara Smith Conrad decided to stay at UT Austin, even after being offered money by Harry Belafonte to transfer to a more supportive university. 

After finishing her studies, Barbara Smith Conrad went on to a successful international career as an opera diva. The film traces her rise to stardom, but essentially concentrates on her journey to heal the wounds she experienced while at UT Austin. Despite returning to UT Austin as an honorary alumnus years earlier, her final healing does not occur until she returns in 2009 for a series of events, including teaching a masterclass. While there for the visit, the Texas state legislature officially passed a resolution apologizing to Barbara Smith Conrad for its actions more than half a century ago.

As she sings the lyrics "When I Rise" from the spiritual Give Me Jesus, her words illustrate the triumphant spirit that withstood the pervasiveness of racism.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Euclid Hall--seriously yum

I figured I'd take a break from my film blogging, if only for a moment, to wax on about one of my other passions--FOOD. One of the difficulties during the film festival, at least for me, is figuring out how to eat decent food since I end up not being home for dinner most of the evenings. When I have moments between films at the Auraria campus, I am stuck with the option of popcorn (good but often not quite what I want for dinner), the food court (only if desperate), the coffeeshop (good coffee but food options not quite so appealing for a quick dash of 15 minutes), and the pizza place (terrible pizza but usually dinner since it's right there and quick).

Last night though there was a nice chunk of time between films, so Nan and I ventured downtown to check out the new digs at Euclid Hall. Since it was another endeavor by the team that runs Rioja and Bistro Vendome, I expected great; I got spectacular. The space is open, inviting, with two floors of tables, two bars, and plenty of room. We got there during Study Hall (their rendition of happy hour from 3-6pm), with all draught beers available for $3. Normally I like a hoppy hoppy beer, but on the recommendation of the waitress, I opted for Boulevard Brewing Company's Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale. Each sip brought a flavor of hops mixed with an air of citrus--perfect.

Even though I had spent the morning at home cooking up a bunch of cabbage and sausage, it seemed almost sacrilege to not sample the hand-cranked sausages made fresh. After a delicious run-down on all their attributes, we chose the hand mixed boudin blanc, accompanied by four homemade mustards (a yellow, spicy brown, horseradish, and bordeaux--hard to pick a favorite). The perfect accompaniment was the pickle sampler (hops pickles, spicy pickles, bread and butter pickles, and some pickled tomatoes).

The menu features various poutines, something we'd only sampled on a trip through Quebec, in a fast-food establishment, likening it to mushy fries with a bunch of gravy on top. However, with the waitress extolling its virtues, we chose the mushroom poutine, delivered with all its luscious flavors of fresh mushrooms mixed in with a buttery perfect gravy and cheese curds, resting atop perfectly cut fries.

And if all that wasn't enough to satisfy, the oyster po'boy smelled of the sea as the juicy bits of oysters melted together with the bacon aioli.

Euclid Hall will only continue to get busier as word gets out. Grab a beer from its numerous selections, order a poutine, and take the chill off the darkening autumn nights.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Denver International Film Festival: Morning and 127 Hours

Both films caused me to shed tears. Both films had phenomenal acting that got my core, kept me fixed to the screen from start to finish.

Leland Orser's film Morning literally takes you into the collapsed world of Alice and Mark Munroe (Jeanne Tripplehorn and Leland Orser), two grieving parents who have just lost their young son. Unlike Rabbit Hole, Orser's film does not offer a break from the agony of the parents; there are no comedic moments, just sheer angst. As both parents try to find their own way through their grief, separate in their despair, they are tenderly watched over by the housekeeper in her daily ritual of bringing the newspaper to the door and tending to a shrine she's made for the young boy, lighting candles and adding objects to the memory outside their home. Alice's descent into darkness takes her away from her home, seeking temporary shelter in a hotel of anonymity, while Mark remains in the house, using the bouquets of flowers brought by mourners as golf balls, descending into his own darkness while inhabiting the world of his dead child (eating cans of spaghettiOs and fruit loops with his fingers while watching children's cartoons). Their screams are heard by nobody; their pain is felt by everyone.

Danny Boyle's 127 Hours is a nonstop ride with Aron Ralston (James Franco) as he triumphs in the canyons of Utah. Prior to the film, I seriously wondered how Boyle would create a film solely around Ralston's struggle with the boulder, trying to free his arm over the course of 5 days. Where would the story focus? Would the 90+ minutes of film simply focus its lens on Ralston stuck with the boulder, and if so, how would that succeed? True to Boyle's phenomenal directing talents, 127 Hours rests its lens on Ralston, taking the viewer through all his emotions and survival sense from start to finish. There's a bit of preamble as Ralston prepares for his trip to Canyonlands, showing his arrogance and adventure prowess to some girls, and eventually finding himself alone journeying to his destination. The minute the boulder unleashes and immobilizes him, you are stuck there with him, wondering how he will survive and set himself free. You gasp each time he fumbles for water from the Nalgene bottle, wondering when he would lose his grip and drop the bottle; you see into the future with him as he pictures reasons for living; you grimace as he swallows his urine, desperate to quench his thirst; and you scream a bit inside as he tears through his tendons in his arm. Simply riveting from start to finish, 127 Hours is not only a triumph of spirit, but brilliance in acting and directing.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Denver International Film Festival Day One

My high holy days have arrived with the opening of the 33rd Starz Denver International Film Festival. 10 days/16 films/plenty of variety. Last night's film, Rabbit Hole, marked the opening of the festival. The film, directed by John Cameron Mitchell, starring Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, and Dianne Weist, is an adaption of the Pulitzer Prize winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire (who also worked on the screenplay for the film). Both John Cameron Mitchell and Aaron Eckhart were there for the screening, participating in a Q&A with The Denver Post's Lisa Kennedy following the film.

The film examines the struggling marriage of Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie Corbett (Aaron Eckhart) as they grapple with their grief and relationship eight months after the tragic death of their young son (killed in an automobile accident). A mix of uncomfortable silence marked with a lot of tension, anger, laughter, and pain, the film places you in their world as they attempt to sort out how to begin living again. Becca escapes her reality by stalking and then establishing an odd relationship with Jason, a teenage comic book creator who was the driver of the car that killed her son; Howie finds solace smoking pot and hanging out with Gabby (Sandra Oh), a founder of a support group for grieving parents.

"Does it ever go away" asks Becca to her mom, who also has experienced the loss of a child, Becca's brother.

Her mom responds "No, at some point it becomes bearable." It's this transition from the heavy weight of unbearable grief, to a life that will always be marked by loss yet is still livable, that marks the film's journey.