Riding in the El Cerrito Centennial parade

It’s been my belief that learning how to do something in your hometown is the most important thing.
– Pete Seeger, American folk singer and social activist

My town of El Cerrito, Calif., where I’ve lived since 1996, is celebrating its centennial this year. One of the major events for the celebration was the Showcase Parade, which featured 59 groups or distinguished individuals. I was invited to participate as a local award-winning writer. But the biggest honor was sharing the red convertible with Gail Tsukiyama, award-winning writer of eight novels and resident of El Cerrito.

Pictures say it all, so I will let them do the talking.

Everyone is getting ready for the start of the parade at the staging grounds. Lots of convertibles and jeeps.

Ruth, our driver and owner of the red convertible, took a picture of Gail and me before the parade started.

And we’re off! That’s Nathan the Magician behind us, who unicycled and juggled all the way to the end of the parade – and wearing a dress shirt and tie! Nathan is an El Cerrito High School grad who, after college, became a full-time magician.

The parade in front of us. We turned right onto Richmond Street, which is a major street in El Cerrito. The ECHS marching band was in front of us, too.

We’ve got our signs up!

Looking behind us. Keeping Nathan honest.

My sad attempt at a selfie with Gail as we enjoy the 70s music that the El Cerrito High School dance group was dancing to.

The energetic ECHS dance troupe entertaining us all.

Residents waved from their picture windows of their homes on residential Richmond Street, and many pulled up their chairs and waved from the curbside.

I recognized a number of families from our schools, and was pleasantly surprised to see our long-time friends Yoko and Bruce at one of the street corners.

Coming up Moeser Street and getting closer to Cerrito Vista Park, our destination.

More crowd shots.

We have an active El Cerrito Arts and Culture Committee, thanks to parent and San Francisco State professor Chris Sterba. Marching in the parade is Maw Shein Win, El Cerrito’s Poet Laureate, in the red with the hat.

David, my husband, was near the park entrance and took this picture of Gail and me. And that’s Chris Sterba on the left, handing out leaflets on the Arts and Culture Committee.

A close-up as we drove by.

And I had to include this photo of Ernie Broglio, who is an ECHS alum who also pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs. Best known as the player who was traded to the Cubs from the Cardinals in exchange for Lou Brock. Yep, you know which team made out big. But the other big thing is that our house is Ernie’s childhood home. His family was the first owners of our current house. We are the second owners. After the parade, David went up to tell him we own his house. What a pleasant surprise that was for him!

The end of the road for us, while more townspeople gather at Cerrito Vista Park. What a great event.

El Cerrito Centennial Parade

This coming Saturday, September 16th, I’ll be in the El Cerrito Centennial parade, riding in a convertible – red, no less – with former El Cerrito resident and author Gail Tsukiyama (Women of the Silk, The Samurai’s Garden, Night of Many Dreams, The Language of Threads, Dreaming Water, and The Street of a Thousand Blossoms). I’m honored and thrilled to be riding with her in celebration of my hometown and her former hometown’s 100th anniversary of its founding. The route starts at the Safeway on San Pablo Avenue near Del Norte BART station at 8:30am and ends at Cerrito Vista Park at noon. See you there!

Second home in summer – Portland Maine

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.

My picture of the building didn’t turn out because the sun wasn’t on my back. But here’s info on the history of the newspaper and building.

In the lobby, one of the walls displays typewriters from all eras.

In the lobby, an old-fashioned typewriter and complimentary stationery.

Mod carpeting and tables with enlarged old newspaper clippings.

In the hallways, the wall paper is taken from actual headlines found in old microfiche (yes, look up that word).

The room across the hall from me. I love the detail of the room number being illuminated.

The chair and its quote in my room.

My last night at the Press Hotel: lobster rolls and homemade potato chips.

My Press Hotel gifts and souvenirs….

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.

Marcy’s Diner, if you want a hearty meal, with my colleague Julie.

Boats pointing to Casco Bay.

DeMillo’s on the Bay, Portland.

Branzino at Scales, with a great view of the Bay.

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.

One of my favorite shops in Maine. From jewelry to unique clocks and other furniture to whimsy decorations like these bookish birdhouses.

I read about Flea-for-All in the local magazine in my hotel room. What a fun place to browse. This is where I discovered Michelle Estell jewelry.

Beautifully curated Flea-for-All on Congress Street.

The interior of Flea-for-All.

Maine Potters Market in Old Port has beautiful pottery made by artists from Maine.

Selfies on the ferry ride to Peak’s Island – with Erin and Claretha.

A mix of sales and editorial staff – with Jane, Kelly, Gus, Julie, and Deb.

Claretha and I bonded last summer with our love for big earrings. The pair that I’m wearing was given to me by Claretha on the first day of summer summit.

Peak’s Island lobster – a tradition.

On the way back to the ferry – a familiar sight of colorful hanging lobster floats.

Farewell, Peak’s Island!

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.

Longfellow’s statue in Portland.

The lush Longfellow’s Garden.

Tranquil setting.

Vibrant greenery.

Colorful bouquet.

At the Portland Hunt and Alpine Club for drinks with Eric and Jack. Love the simple green bouquets on the table. This place is all scarred wood, clear glass, greenery, and old-time maps. And good drinks!

Still bad at doing selfies, but I guess that’s a good thing. With Eric and Jack.

First time at Empire – one of the favorites, Peking duck buns. To. Die. For. If you ever go to Portland, you must eat here. The hour wait is worth every second.

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.

The picturesque Brunswick Inn, in the main street of town.

This is a great shop, though pricey and questionable customer service. But still a great place to browse.

Wyler’s of Brunswick, a charming shop with jewelry, clothes, housewares, toys, locally crafted gifts, and accessories. You can spend a lot of time browsing here.

Hatch on Maine is a cute vintage and antique shop. There are a few vintage/antique shops on the main street. This one was a favorite of mine.

The shores of Brunswick.

The Frank J. Wood Bridge, which spans the Androscoggin River between Topsham and Brunswick, at twilight.

Contemplating life, Fay and Jack overlook the Androscoggin River.

Can’t get enough of the clouds here.

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.

Bowdoin College Chapel.

Inside the chapel.

Hubbard Hall.

Lovely white hydrangeas all over the campus.

The second majestic lion.

Illuminated clouds.

Along the way, we walked through the local cemetery, in which Joseph Chamberlain, hometown hero of the Civil War, is laid to rest.

Walking through the Brunswick cemetery.

Something about headstones in a cemetery that draws me, especially when the cemetery is an old one.

Joseph Chamberlain’s headstone.

A row of headstones.

A family of headstones like rows of old teeth.

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.

Adirondack chairs await visitors at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.

A view of the Back River.

A field of daisies with monarch butterflies, if you look more closely.

Charlie’s bench.

Daisy.

One of the more inventive interpretations from a visitor to the Fairy House Village.

Gaillardia.

Rabbit sculpture by Lisa Becu.

Lush lime green greenery.

Petunias.

Slater Forest Pond.

Vayo Meditation Garden pool.

Close-up of the Basin sculpture by David Holmes.

Hostas.

Wind Orchard by George Sherwood.

Colorful hostas.

Windsound by Val Bertoia from Bertoia Studios.

Echinacea.

Ethereal plants.

I had another great time in Portland and Brunswick. Thanks to my great friends and hosts, Jack and Fay. Looking forward to next year!

It looks like I’m wrestling with Holly, the Beaudoin Family dog, but I’m really awkwardly trying to do a selfie with her.

Last meal in Maine in Portland at, of course, Empire.

Fay and me at Empire.

Brunswick architecture. Love the homes here in Brunswick, in Maine.

My last attempt at a selfie with Jack and Fay in front of their lovely Brunswick home.

LUNAFEST East Bay – 10 years, by the numbers

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.

Our VIP event.

Nineteen filmmakers have attended our film festival since its inception in 2008.

In 2015, Emily Fraser and Katherine Gorringe, were our guest filmmakers.

LUNAFEST screened a total of 89 short films “by, for, about women.”

The Lunafest filmmakers for the 2014-2015 season, at the San Francisco premiere at the Palace of Fine Arts.

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.

A full house once again!

LUNAFEST East Bay has raised $32,053 in its 10 years for the Breast Cancer Fund, now called the Breast Cancer Prevention Partners.

Jeanne Rizzo, RN, president and CEO of the Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, spoke at our 2015 event. She is amazing, energetic, and inspiring!

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.

The ITA students served food and greeted guests at the VIP event. They sold raffle tickets, checked in ticket holders, helped with the raffle prizes, and did so many other tasks during the evening that made for a smooth event. Thank you, ITA and committee members Melody Shah and Crystal Ngo, who oversaw the students.

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.

Happy campers anticipate the 2017 screening.

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!

LUNAFEST in review – oh what a night!

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.

LUNAFEST filmmaker Diane Weipert and her son, Theo.

Welcome to the LUNAFEST VIP event! Our bubbly committee member Jeannine Pagan is ready to check you in.

Tanner Nevill, committee member Stephanie Nevill’s husband, is ready to hand VIP’ers their glass of champagne to toast 10 years of LUNAFEST East Bay.

Our ITA student greets our VIP guests.

Our LUNAFEST VIP event was catered this year by Joanne Bailey, owner and chef of J Gourmet Catering.

ITA servers offer vegetarian stuffed mushrooms and pulled pork sliders with coleslaw.

VIP attendees getting their raffle tickets.

LUNAFEST committee member Peggy Murphy is excited about the 10 raffle prize packages.

Our scheduled piano player didn’t show up, but one of the ITA students tickled the ivories in a pinch. Note the tip jar – a LUNAFEST East Bay VIP event staple!

Nice spread of fruit, veggies, cheese and bread and crackers, thanks to LUNAFEST committee member Stephanie Nevill.

The weather cooperated and many guests enjoyed the outdoors.

Our cheerful bartenders and runner – LUNAFEST committee member Rebecca
Boe’s son and husband and Hossein Bayat, committee chair Joann’s husband.

Our veteran raffle ticket sellers at the VIP event – Dylan and Wyatt, sons of committee members Anja Hakoshima and Peggy Murphy.

Anja’s husband, Tom, and son, Dylan, assist VIP guests on which raffle packages are the most popular – such as the $100 gift certificate to Chez Panisse.

Selfie with LUNAFEST filmmaker Lara Everly and Elease Lui Stemp, producer of Lara’s film, Free to Laugh.

Committee member Carol Seuferer and former committee member Rhoda Haberman.

Chatting it up outside where the temperature was pleasant.

Peggy, Stephanie, and Hazel Nevill – her first LUNAFEST as raffle ticket seller!

It’s time to head to the El Cerrito High School Performing Arts Theater. ECHS alumna Anna Schumacher, who was also a LUNAFEST filmmaker last year, was our master of ceremonies, and our guest filmmakers were Lara Everly and Diane Weipert.

Time to interview Diane and Lara on stage before the film screening (photo credit: David Rossi).

Diane discusses what inspired her short film, Ninera – her experience as a new mom amid the Latina nannies who were taking care of children other than their own (photo credit: David Rossi).

Lara talks about wanting to highlight an underserved community – women who were formerly incarcerated – in her short film, Free to Laugh (photo credit: David Rossi).

I really enjoyed how passionate Diane and Lara were when talking about their film projects and why they are so relevant in today’s world (photo credit: David Rossi).

Diane listens with rapt attention as Lara talks about her next project, Patriettes, about an undocumented girl who gets kicked out of the mock government summer camp. Lots of respect for each other’s work – and deservedly so! (photo credit: David Rossi)

Lara agrees with Diane about how politics is central to what they are creating – and how important it is to be vigilant about these issues, especially in today’s political climate (photo credit: David Rossi).

During intermission, the ITA table was covered by ITA lead teacher and LUNAFEST East Bay committee member Melody Shah and English teacher and committee member Crystal Ngo, with one of the ITA students.

Last chance to view the raffle prize packages!

Attendees knew where to go to get the scrumptious Braxtons’ Boxes baked goods in the lobby.

The best baked goods ever by Pamela Braxton and her son Zachary of Braxtons’ Boxes.

The films are done and now it’s time to announce the raffle ticket winners! Peggy entertained us while the ITA kids helped out. Side note – that’s my son, Jacob, trying to be cool on stage.

Somebody went home with this gorgeous and enormous bouquet of flowers.

The Pine family – Tim and Anne Marie and daughters Charlotte and Maddie – make it a family night at LUNAFEST. Thanks for coming out and supporting our film festival!

Joey Ally: making films with integrity

All any filmmaker can do is focus on creating something that has depth and resonance, and do whatever possible to get it seen by audiences and hope the word spreads.
– Megan Griffiths, American director, writer, and producer

As a child actor, who has appeared in such television shows as Sesame Street, Joey Ally pointedly noted, “I was not one of those kids who grew up with a camera in their hand – quite the contrary.” When the time came to attend college, however, the writer, director, actor, and producer opted not to go to a conservatory for acting. Instead, she attended Amherst College to study political science and French, with an eye toward entering law school later. “I wanted to work in the international criminal court,” she said. “I wanted to move to human rights law.” While at Amherst, Joey met a playwright who then wrote the lead part of his new play for her. As soon as she got back into acting, she realized how much she had missed it. “It got me back into acting,” Joey said, of the experience. “I just purely loved it so much, I realized I had to try to do this before I decide to go to law school. That changed my trajectory.”

Joey Ally

She returned to New York City, where she was born and raised – she also spent part of her childhood in Connecticut – and acted for a couple of years. But, she confessed, “I didn’t really love the business side of it. I didn’t love auditioning. I didn’t love what I was auditioning for.” She also didn’t love a lot of the scripts she was reading, so she started writing for herself. Although Joey was trying to avoid moving to Los Angeles when her apartment lease was up, it became her temporary destination when her best friend relocated there. Another friend who was going to volunteer at the Sundance Film Festival convinced her to join her in Park City, Utah. “I’d never been exposed to indie films much before that,” Joey admitted. At Sundance, she saw the film The Off Hours (2011) and loved it. When writer and director Megan Griffiths spoke to the audience after her screening, Joey said, “She was inspiring to me. The things she said, I thought, ‘I feel that I understand that person. I feel the same way as that person. I think I’d like to do those things.'” At that moment, the notion of being a director opened up to her. “It was such a revolutionary thought at the time,” she recalled. The Off Hours was the kind of film that she wanted to work on from behind the camera.

She got her first 9-to-5 job as an assistant for Whitewater Films, which, she says, was “the best decision I ever made to that point.” She met Megan on the job and asked if she could be her assistant to get hands-on learning on the set. Joey then moved to Seattle where Megan is based to assist her on the film Lucky Them. While there, Megan recommended Joey to director Lynn Shelton, and she stayed in Seattle to assist on Laggies as well.

Still from the film “Partners.”

From ‘Minimum Wageto ‘Partners’
After that experience, Joey made her first film. “It was very fast once I found it (directing),” Joey said. She wrote the script for “Minimum Wage,” a short film about a cocktail waitress who, at the end of a bad day, is walking home after her car is towed and is solicited by a man who thinks she is a prostitute. The inspiration for the “mixed-morality” film came from an incident that happened right after college – a man solicited her while she was on her mobile phone in front of a grocery store. She wondered what she could have done differently in that situation and what would have happened had she taken the guy’s money without having to do anything for it. The incident occurred during the financial crisis, and many of her friends were losing or had lost their jobs. “The world felt really dark and unfair,” she said, of the time. “This whole story came out of thinking about what morality means, purposefully choosing to do right over wrong, when the world itself isn’t reflecting those values to you.”

Although Joey admitted that she hated the process of writing, she said, “I think certain stories need to be told – I want the stories that I want to be told, to be told. So I keep doing it.” She started writing to create roles and scripts for herself, but by the time she had worked under Megan and Lynn, and started making her first film, she realized she wanted to write and direct even independent of acting. Although she wrote “Minimum Wage” with the intention of playing the lead role of “Kit,” she ultimately decided to cast the role. “It was a life-changing experience to work with Sarah (Ramos), and to really be able to focus on directing exclusively,” she said.

On the set of “Partners.”

One of the perks of directing is the ability to collaborate with others. An official selection of LUNAFEST this year, “Partners” was a collaboration between her and Jen Tullock and Hannah Pearl Utt, who both star in the short film. “I had been wanting to work with improv more heavily in my work,” Joey said, of the experience. They workshopped and rehearsed the script together, with filming and editing lasting two days. “Then we were done,” she said simply. “It really showed me that prep makes a difference.”

Both “Minimum Wage” and “Partners” are productions of SilverOx Pictures, a creative partnership between Joey and T.J. Williams, Jr., an award-winning cinematographer whom she was introduced to by Megan. The partnership allows them to create their own work but also to be involved in co-productions mostly brought to them by friends and their film community. While they won the 2014 MOFILM for Cannes Award for the first SilverOx commercial and won 2015 Video of the Year at WME|IMG, Joey noted that SilverOx Pictures is focused mostly on narratives.

Joey Ally giving direction on the set of “Partners.”

Changing the world – and the industry – with invested stories
“When I gave up the idea of being a human rights attorney, I didn’t give up the idea of working in the human rights sector,” Joey pointed out. “It’s really important to me that my work reflects that, on some level, every time.” The points needn’t be made emphatically. “It can be as simple as changing the gender, sexuality, or the race of a character – and say nothing about it,” she said. “I want to push on those things.”

Although Joey has experienced gender discrimination as an actor, she insisted, “I’ve had a really strangely easy experience entering the industry as a director. Although I’ve been lucky, I know a lot of people who haven’t. I’ve been treated like a normal human being, and that should be the status quo for everybody.”

Her two apprenticeships with diverse crews under two strong, well-respected female directors contributed to her positive experiences. She learned from Megan and Lynn to “treat each other fairly” as a director. “It’s really important to treat everyone around you with not only respect but respect for their position because as much as you are the film, they are the film,” she said. Joey strives to create a “crewtopia” – coined by Megan and Lynn – within her own projects and hopes that culture is embraced in the Los Angeles filmmaking industry. Just as she’s learned from the two veteran filmmakers, Joey says she’d advise young directors: “Don’t just make it because you think it will do well; make it because you really care about it. Otherwise, why are you making stories?” she said. “That’s the first thing. And then work on it until it’s good. When it’s good for you, then you’ve made your piece of art. But make what you want to make, with integrity. And surround yourself with people with integrity.”

Note: You can see Joey’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.