In mid-September, Grace Talusan, Fulbright Scholar, English professor at Tufts University in Boston, and winner of the 2017 New Immigrant Writing for Nonfiction by Restless Books, contacted me to let me know that the Boston Filipino-American Club (BFAB) was going to be reading my novel, A Village in the Fields, for the month of October. Grace, whose memoir, The Body Papers, will be published in the Fall of 2018, asked if I would be willing to Skype with the members at their October 29th meeting following their traditional brunch. Absolutely, I let her and book club founder and artist Bren Bataclan know.
We sat bathed in luscious darkness, Casco Bay’s thousand islands spread out before us like a diamond quilt. ‘I don’t get enough of this,’ she said.
– Mike Bond, novelist, environmental activist, poet, war and human rights correspondent, and international energy expert
Every summer, I am treated to a week in Maine, thanks to the fact that my company is based in Portland, Maine. Every summer, I fly into Portland, and I immediately fall in love all over again. The bay, the islands with the homes dotting the shore, the billowy clouds floating across a brilliant blue sky, the fresh air, the fantastic restaurants, the cute shops. I gush about moving to Maine. Or at least summer in Maine.
This year, the out-of-towners at my company got to stay at the Press Hotel, which is a boutique hotel that was once home to the Portland Press-Herald newspaper. But not only is the building an historic building, but the owners got it right by decorating the interior of the hotel with a newspaper theme. The sales team at my company, who are just great to work with and for, thanked me for my service to them in a very sweet call-out before my boss’s presentation on our department. And they presented me with two Press Hotel mugs and ceramic tray, which now sit on my desk to remind me of my stay there and the wonderful memories from this year.
Meals for the week! Portland is well known for its great restaurants. And I was lucky to hit a number of places. Some new, some welcomed me back.
The tradition for dinner the last evening of our summer sales summit is taking the ferry to Peak’s Island and having a lobster dinner. Fun was had by all. And, of course, my colleague and partner in crime, Deb, accompanied me as we shopped in Old Port, the old part of town.
After the summer sales summit concluded for me, I spent the weekend with my good friend Jack and his wife, Fay, and their daughter, Camille. But first, we walked around Portland, as I discovered for the first time since I’ve been coming here, that Henry Wadsworth-Longfellow lived here and his home is an historic landmark. We walked around the gardens.
Jack and his family moved to Brunswick in 2015, but since we went directly from Portland to Stonington Island, where they have a home there, I never spent time in their new abode until this year. Brunswick is lovely, and I had a relaxing time exploring the historic town.
Brunswick is home to Bowdoin College, a lovely private liberal arts college established in 1794 when Maine was still part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Along the way, we walked through the local cemetery, in which Joseph Chamberlain, hometown hero of the Civil War, is laid to rest.
Knowing that I love gardens, Jack took me to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, where I took upwards of 200 photos at least. Here are just a few, though it was tough to narrow them down.
I had another great time in Portland and Brunswick. Thanks to my great friends and hosts, Jack and Fay. Looking forward to next year!
I think the best role models for women are people who are fruitfully and confidently themselves, who bring light into the world.
– Meryl Streep, American actress
As LUNAFEST East Bay wraps up its LUNAFEST season, it’s worthwhile to look at the committee’s impressive 10-year run.
Nineteen filmmakers have attended our film festival since its inception in 2008.
LUNAFEST screened a total of 89 short films “by, for, about women.”
Two hundred attendees came in 2008. Last year, 377 filled the El Cerrito High School’s Performing Arts Theater. The final numbers haven’t come out yet for this year, but we’re looking at approximately 325 people.
LUNAFEST East Bay has raised $32,053 in its 10 years for the Breast Cancer Fund, now called the Breast Cancer Prevention Partners.
The committee raised $13,984 for El Cerrito High School’s Information Technology Academy (ITA), which has purchased, among other things, a 3D printer for the ITA students. LUNAFEST East Bay began funding the ITA in 2012.
At least 151 attendees filled out our 2017 survey. While many attendees hailed from El Cerrito (62), Berkeley (20), Richmond (17), Albany (14), and Oakland (13) were well represented at our event. For 31 people, it was their first LUNAFEST. Four people have attended all 10 screenings. Twenty people have gone five times, while 24 have gone three times, and 26 have gone twice.
How did our attendees find out about LUNAFEST? For 74, word of mouth made a difference. Emails drew 31 attendees, while the infamous “other” lured 47 attendees. One-hundred forty-four affirmed that they enjoyed the films, with 150 saying that they would tell a friend about next year’s LUNAFEST. So if you came this year or came in previous years but had a conflict this year, be sure to come next year and tell a friend. We’ll see you next year!
Every accomplishment begins with the decision to try.
– John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States
Ten years ago, LUNAFEST East Bay was created, chaired by the indefatigable, ever resourceful, community leader Joann Steck-Bayat. This year, LUNAFEST toasted its first decade of bringing the traveling, fundraising film festival to El Cerrito. What a major accomplishment. And we are the richer for it. In the course of watching fabulous, funny, thought-provoking, moving short films “by, for, about women,” we have learned about environmental risks for breast cancer and supported research done by the Breast Cancer Fund, our main beneficiary.
As we enlarged our world view by watching films by women filmmakers all over the world, we raised money for El Cerrito High School’s Information Technology Academy (ITA) to purchase such equipment as a 3D printer and supplies. We were moved and exhilarated watching the short film that the ITA students put together to let us know how the money we raised for their program enriched them and enabled them to realize their creative dreams and carry out their technological projects.
We got to know, as one of this year’s guest filmmakers, Diane Weipert, noted, some “kick-ass” women who are making important films that speak to a woman’s point of view and are making noise to be heard. We hear!
The morning after, as I looked at all the photos that I and my behind-the-scenes LUNAFEST partner and husband took, I knew that I would let the photos tell the story of yet another successful LUNAFEST film festival. I ran into a friend as I walked our dog Sunday afternoon in the neighborhood. She called out, “Brava!” Another fine show. Thank you to my LUNAFEST committee members, our guest filmmakers – Lara Everly and Diane Weipert – to our families and the ITA students who helped us out, and to our wonderful community who welcomes us every year.
I can see myself in all things and all people around me.
– Sanskrit phrase
We’re almost a month out from LUNAFEST East Bay’s annual LUNAFEST film festival – “by, for, about women” – which means it’s time for my annual Top 10 reasons to attend. This year is extra special, as you’ll see as you go down the list.
10. VIP event
If you’re attending the VIP event, which precedes the film screening, you’re in for a real treat. First of all, you’ll be served fantastic food created by J. Gourmet Catering. The flavorful fare will be paired with an assortment of spirits – wine donated by Clif Family Winery and Folsom & Associates (Robert Mondavi and Franciscan) and beer donated by Lagunitas Brewing Company and Trumer Pils. You will get to meet our two guest filmmakers whose short films were selected for LUNAFEST this year. Listen to great music performed by El Cerrito High School student musicians while mingling with other VIP attendees who love film and raising funds for worthy causes. This year, we’ll all be raising a glass of champagne for a toast – but I won’t let on why until further down the list. Intrigued? Sounds like your kind of event? You can get VIP tickets here. But hurry, number of tickets are limited and they are selling quickly!
9. Raffle prizes
Every year, LUNAFEST East Bay raffles off fabulous prizes, and this year is no different. Among the LUNAFEST 2017 prizes are a $100 certificate to Chez Panisse and $100 cash. Check out the raffle board at the VIP event and in the lobby of the El Cerrito High School (ECHS) Performing Arts Theater to peruse the themed basket of prizes, and then nab an ECHS Information Technology Academy (ITA) student who will be selling raffle tickets. $1 a ticket, 12 tickets for $10, and 25 tickets for $20.
8. ECHS alumna Anna Schumacher
Master of ceremony duties belongs to Anna Schumacher, whose short film, “Finding June,” was a LUNAFEST 2016 selection. Anna, who grew up in Kensington, Calif., is a local alumna of Portola Middle School (now Fred T. Korematsu Middle School) and El Cerrito High School. If you went to school with Anna, come on out and reconnect.
7. LUNAFEST filmmakers Lara Everly and Diane Weipert
This year we are lucky to have two filmmakers join us – both at the VIP event and in an on-stage interview. Diane Weipert, who lives in San Francisco, will be showing her short film, “Niñera,” “a story that looks at the bitter irony many nannies face: raising the children of strangers for a living while their own children are virtually left to raise themselves.”
Diane Weipert has worked in film for over a decade. Her screenwriting debut premiered at the World Cinema Competition at Sundance in 2006 (Solo Dios Sabe – Diego Luna, Alica Braga). Her award-winning radio piece, “The Living Room,” was named best story of 2015 by Wired and The Atlantic, and is being developed as a feature film. Weipert is a two-time resident of the San Francisco Film Society’s Film House, where she is in development on her feature, Boyle Heights. Read my profile of Diane here. Then get to know her in person and ask her about her feature film!
Our second guest filmmaker, Lara Everly, hails from Los Angeles. Her short film, “Free to laugh,” is “a documentary that explores the power of comedy after prison.” Lara is a director, actress, and writer championing women in comedy – both in front and behind the camera. Her directorial debut, “Me, You, A Bag & Bamboo,” was awarded Best Family Film at the Canada International Film Festival and won the Viewer’s Choice award at the Ovation Short Film Contest, which led to a televised screening of the film. Lara’s short films have played the film festival circuit, won awards and procured distribution through Shorts HD, Snag Films and Oprah.com.
Lara loves directing comedy, partnering with companies like FunnyorDie, Comediva, Hello Giggles, and College Humor. Web Series work includes “Love Handles” for FunnyorDie and a music-video web series called “The Queue” for PopularTV. She most recently directed a musical comedy pilot called “Patriettes” about a mock government summer camp for teenage girls. Read my profile of Lara here. Be sure to meet Lara at either the VIP event or at the film screening – she’s as funny as her short films!
6. The Breast Cancer Fund and ECHS ITA benefit
When you attend a fundraiser, you want to ensure that it’s working to make the world a better place. LUNAFEST East Bay is supporting both a local organization and the Breast Cancer Fund. The Breast Cancer Fund “works to prevent breast cancer by eliminating our exposure to toxic chemicals and radiation linked to the disease.”
The nonprofit organization translates the “growing body of scientific evidence linking breast cancer and environmental exposures into public education and advocacy campaigns that protect our health and reduce breast cancer risk.” The Breast Cancer Fund also helps to “transform how our society thinks about and uses chemicals and radiation, with the goal of preventing breast cancer and sustaining health and life,” and finds “practical solutions so that our children, grandchildren and planet can thrive.”
ECHS’s ITA is our local beneficiary. ITA is a small learning community supported by TechFutures, a nonprofit organization started by Mr. and Mrs. Ron Whittier. Their objective is “to give the underserved WCCUSD students an opportunity to have career focused courses in digital art and computer systems management.” From the funds raised by LUNAFEST East Bay, ITA has purchased, among other things such as art supplies, a three-dimensional printer, which is serving tens of hundreds of students. The students have created short films that will be shown at the film festival, which is paving the way for future filmmakers.
5. Women’s Night Out
Historically, women have had to fight for too many things – the right to vote, protection of their reproductive rights, equal pay, and the list goes on and on. And we’re still fighting on many of these issues! Just as Black Lives Matter, there’s a reason why a film festival “for, by, about women” exists. It’s not meant to be exclusive. Rather, it highlights the fact that women have not had equality or equity in the film industry. Especially during these times, let’s celebrate the accomplishments of women. Let’s be right beside them when they dream big and make good on their vision. Let’s celebrate their artistic vision. If you went to one of the women’s marches around the Bay Area, gather your friends again and celebrate LUNAFEST by making it a Women’s Night Out.
4. Mom/daughter night out
Following on the theme of the recent women’s march and Women’s Night Out, it’s important to think of our daughters, as they are the future of our world and what happens now affects their future. Taking our daughters to LUNAFEST is a way to introduce them to films with a woman’s perspective, to other cultures, to other ways of thinking and seeing. It’s a way of expanding their world and connecting them with people outside of our community. My daughter, Isabella, will be attending her third LUNAFEST. Technically, we’re not together in the audience since I’m in and out, behind the scenes, so she sits with a good friend of hers, who also comes with her mother. It’s a tradition that I’m thrilled to share with her, but it’s also something that she’ll take with her when she’s an adult – appreciating and supporting women filmmakers, raising awareness of the environmental impact on breast cancer, and raising funds for worthy causes.
3. Family night out – LUNAFEST is for everybody
So I’ve been advocating Women’s Night Out and Mother/Daughter Night Out, but I believe in inclusivity, so if you feel inclined, bring your whole family and make it a Family Night Out. In fact, my husband, David, and my son, Jacob, who is in the ECHS ITA, also attend LUNAFEST. I feel that it’s important for everyone – not just women and not just for preaching to the choir – to see films made by women filmmakers. Let your sons and husbands be exposed to and appreciate short films that speak to a woman’s view. It’s a great way to expand their capacity for compassion.
2. 10th anniversary of LUNAFEST East Bay and 100th anniversary of City of El Cerrito!
It’s our 10th anniversary of bringing this fundraising film festival to the San Francisco East Bay. Sure, more than 175 cities across the country have been showing this year’s films, including local communities in the area. But we’re special: to date, in nine years, LUNAFEST East Bay has raised more than $27,000 for the Breast Cancer Fund, a distinction that has been recognized by both the nonprofit organization and LUNAFEST. We have also been supporting ECHS ITA for the last six years, raising nearly $11,000 for the learning community. We look forward to adding to those amazing totals with our 10th film screening. So come on out and celebrate this banner year! Our LUNAFEST film festival is also one of the official events recognizing the 100th anniversary of the City of El Cerrito. So, if you’re a resident of El Cerrito, join us in celebrating our host city’s centennial!
1. LUNAFEST films are fantastic
If you’ve been to LUNAFEST film festivals in the past, then you know how wonderful the films are. Quiet, rebellious, thoughtful, laugh-out-loud funny, sad, biting, gentle, animated, innovative, traditional – for the past 15 years, LUNAFEST has honored a broad spectrum of short films. If you’ve never been, join us and see why our event keeps growing in attendance every year, and many attendees return and make the event a tradition. We support excellence in short filmmaking. Be entertained. Be awed. Become full of wonder. Expand your world and your love and compassion. Get to know your neighbor in the theater and talk about which short film was your favorite and why. Connect and share. Walk away changed by the vision of these talented women filmmakers.
Note: For more information on LUNAFEST East Bay’s LUNAFEST screening, click here.
True art, art that comes from the center of a people, from their very core, is inherently political.
– Beverly Smith, American artist
While Frederike Migom’s “Nkosi Coiffure” – one of this year’s LUNAFEST film festival’s official selections – is, on the surface, about a woman who escapes into a hair salon in Brussels after a fight with her boyfriend in public, the short film pays homage to her Flemish mother’s unlikely friendship with her Senegalese friend. Whereas her mother is reserved both emotionally and in appearance, her mother’s friend is the exact opposite. “It was really interesting to see them relate,” she said of the two women. “It was really beautiful to see both of them together.” The Belgian filmmaker and actor was also inspired by her family’s connections with Africa – her father was born in what was once the Belgian Congo in Central Africa, and her brother studied in Senegal. Although her brother passed away while in the West African country, Frederike noted that positive things came out of her family’s tragic loss.
The idea for “Nkosi Coiffure” (2015) grew out of photos that her mother had sent to Frederike in a text message. Her mother’s friend had convinced her to go to the hair salon where she worked to have her makeup done and extensions woven into her hair. The photos surprised and amused Frederike because, as she related, “that was so not my mom.” Over a cup of coffee with her mother’s friend, Frederike laid out her vision of building a story around her mother’s salon visit for a short film. She knew that writing the script would be difficult because it wasn’t her culture. “It was going to be a challenge to portray the community honestly and with respect,” she said. So together, she and her mother’s friend wrote the script.
Fusing art and social engagement
Frederike shot on location in a Congolese neighborhood hair salon, and “Nkosi Coiffure” premiered at a small African film festival in the same neighborhood. Brussels is home to a tight-knit Congolese community. “It felt important,” she said, of her choices in location and screening, “. . . to bring people together.” While mixing art with social engagement is more apparent in her other work, it’s still inherent in “Nkosi Coiffure.” And yet, Frederike insisted, “I did not want my film to be political at all because I don’t have the desire to do that.” She went on, “There are a lot of ways to tell stories that involve or hint at these themes without actually trying to exploit them or to pretend that I have the answers – because I don’t. All I know is that we’re all here in this city together.” In Europe, she pointed out, many films about immigration often focus on the problems of immigration for host countries. “But I want to tell a positive side of the story,” she said. “We’re going to have to learn how to live together.”
“Si-G,” her first documentary, which premieres locally at the end of February, embodies her fusion of art and social engagement. By happenstance, Frederike was watching a local news story about students at a school and was intrigued by a girl in special needs education who performed an impromptu rap. She originally wanted to write a fictional story about Cansu, who gave herself the rapper name of Si-G. As she awaited word on government funding to make the short film, she got to know the girl better. Cansu had recently moved from a small town in the Netherlands to a small apartment that she shared with her father and sister in Brussels. “Rap for her was a need,” Frederike explained.
Frederike connected Cansu with a hip-hop workshop at the local library and filmed the event. The rapper who led the workshop became Si-G’s mentor and the two ended up collaborating on a song. When funding didn’t come through, Frederike decided to make the short film a documentary, taking a look at rap from a kid’s point of view. At that time, terrorists had attacked Paris in multiple locations and the news media reported that the terrorists came from Cansu’s neighborhood in Brussels. Soon after, the area received international scrutiny and negative press. “She’s had to be on guard a lot, but she just had this really energetic, positive story to tell,” Frederike declared. “This rap comes from the heart and it’s a way to express yourself.” She believes Cansu can be a role model to the kids in her neighborhood and to adults, too, with the film being the messenger that shows them: “Don’t judge these kids.”
The evolving dreams of our youth
When Frederike was a child, she wanted to be a storyteller and thought that becoming an actor was the natural next step. She studied at the performing arts conservatory American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, but she discovered that acting didn’t give her creative satisfaction. So she started writing to stay creative. When her student visa ended, Frederike didn’t want to return home and instead landed in Paris and attended film school. Commitment to being a filmmaker didn’t take hold when she was a student because the school’s technical approach over artistic focus didn’t appeal to her. It wasn’t until she graduated and worked in production that she found her true place behind the camera.
“I’ve always been fascinated by people’s dreams,” she related. People may have dreams as children and grow up chasing those dreams. Over the years, however, when the prospect of accomplishing those dreams dims, the dreams evolve as people make necessary adaptations, according to Frederike. Her short film “Adam and Everything” (2014) explores that theme – the fork in the road where one must make decisions and then gracefully accept those changes. “When I was an actor in New York, I saw how hard it is and how so many people struggle and you have to make a decision – am I going on with this or am I choosing a more stable life?” she posed.
Frederike is continuing to explore that theme. A Belgium television station commissioned her to make a short documentary in Flemish about any subject she wanted to do, so long as it was a personal story. So she settled on filming a documentary on her classmates from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. “We’re all 30 now – where is everyone? What are they doing?” she wanted to know. As it turns out, many of her classmates are no longer acting. When they were in the performing arts conservatory, such an outcome would have been deemed a “terrible thing,” she declared. But with lives changing and presenting new challenges and opportunities, she concludes: “It’s okay.” The documentary, she says, is “more about dreams and the question of what really defines success.” Frederike is contemplating making a second version in English after the Flemish version is completed at the end of January.
Beginnings and endings all lead to hope
Communicating and connecting are also themes in her emerging body of film work. “Malakim” (2014), the story about a lonely boy and an angel on the street, was inspired by a living statue dressed as an angel that Frederike spied when she was in Sấo Palo, Brazil. He never moved because nobody gave him money. She wondered: “What if nobody sees him? What if I’m the only one who sees him because nobody is giving him any money?” Intrigued by “loneliness in crowded places,” Frederike explores the desire to communicate amidst the challenge of not being able to connect. While she admitted that “Malakim” is a “dark film” because the boy is so desperate to communicate that he throws a rock at someone, she argues that in the end boy and angel find one another.
“All of my films end with a new beginning,” Frederike said. In “Nkosi Coiffure,” the main character, who is making a momentous decision, sees life in a different but positive light after her discussion with the women in the hair salon. Frederike confessed that she had always wanted to be a “complicated, dark artist,” but to the core she has always been a positive person. While there’s a lot of negativity in the world today, she points out, “Life is really a beautiful thing in the end. We’re all together in this, and we need to find a way to live together and find your place in the world. I think my stories, in the end, will always have hope.”
Frederike is currently working on her first feature film, Binti, about a 10-year-old Congolese girl who has lived her whole live in Brussels with her father and who dreams of being a television presenter. When their undocumented status is exposed, father and daughter run away. Binti meets 10-year-old Elias – a “nature boy,” as Frederike describes him – who has taken to hiding in his treehouse ever since his father had run away with another woman. Binti hatches a plan to get her father and Elias’s mother to fall in love and marry so that she and her father can remain in Belgium and she can still pursue her dream. This family film, Frederike points out, is perhaps her most socially engaged film to date. “I’m very shocked by the deportation of children, especially if they’ve lived in another country their whole life,” she declared. “It’s the most ridiculous thing to spend time and money kicking them out to a place that they’ve never been.” With Binti, Frederike wants to instill hope. She recently received word that the Belgian government has awarded her funds to develop the film – good news, indeed. The grant will enable her to move forward, with shooting expected to commence in the summer of 2018. With the world in uncertain times today, it will be interesting to see what kind of world exists when Binti premieres.
Note: You can see Frederike’s short film at LUNAFEST East Bay’s screening on Saturday, March 18th, 7:30pm, at the El Cerrito High School’s Performing Arts Theater. For more information, click here.