Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson

Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books—-her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Author: Connie Wilson (Page 1 of 89)

Spike Lee Is Back With A Vengeance

https://www.youtube.com/watch/v=f_jOTyxZ-EU

Spike Lee’s new film “Black KlanskKanman,” winner of the Cannes Grand Prix award in May, is based on the early 1970s true story of Ron Stallworth, who was the first African-American hired by the Colorado Springs Police Force. Ron is played by Denzel Washington’s son, John David Washington, a new face to contend with for future roles, but previously better known as the subject of father Denzel’s television comments on his son’s football playing prowess. (John David—his full name, as he has no middle name—was drafted by the St. Louis Rams after graduating from Morehouse College in 2006 and played for the Hamburg Sea Devils as a running back in ’06 and ’07.)

Lee said of John David’s casting (“Time” August 20th cover story by Rembert Browne), “I told him, ‘I knew you before you were born.’ I didn’t have him audition or read. Even before I sent him the script, I knew brother man could do it.” And so, a star is born. IMDB even awarded John David Washington the STARmeter award in Cannes on May 9th, 2018. Expect to see a lot more of him in the future, (even if we’ve seen almost nothing of him in the past).

The improbable story that Spike Lee’s terrific cast brings to life is the story of black police officer Ron Stallworth’s infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan. It is based on Stallworth’s book “Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime,” which shows up now on Amazon with the movie’s poster as a cover, but was out as a hard cover book in June with the close-up of a single eye, peeking out through a KKK hood eye hole.

This film is a direct commentary on the subject of bigotry and racial prejudice in America, and Lee doesn’t mess around. He never has in dealing with racism, violence and inequality in America. Real news clips are used depicting Donald J. Trump speaking, as well as footage of the Charlottesville murder one year ago of 32-year-old white protester Heather Heyer, run down by a car driven by a racist demonstrater. Real film of the event ends Lee’s film, used with permission of Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro. Lee told (“Time”) “I consider her a martyr.”

That event in Charlottesville one year ago also prompted Spike Lee to say, “That is nothing more than home-grown, apple pie, red-white-and-blue terrorism,” in a telephone interview with the New York Times.

The film is certain to make the list of Best Films of the Year and deservedly so. It is Spike Lee’s best non-documentary film in years, and perhaps the strongest commentary on this incendiary topic since “Do the Right Thing” won him an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay in 1989. Spike Lee has been telling America to “wake up” for 30 years and this latest film underscores the need with current film inserts and newsreel and other footage.

FILM REFERENCES:

The film opens with the famous scene from “Gone With the Wind” depicting Scarlett O’Hara is wandering amidst the dead, dying and wounded lying on the ground in Atlanta. It uses footage of 1915’s “Birth of A Nation” to show Klansmen celebrating the abhorrent behavior laid out for us in grim detail by none other than Harry Belafonte in a cross-cut scene with the Klan shouting “White Power!” while the African American group meeting across town shouts “Black Power!” The 70s were, indeed, a time when unrest, bred in the sixties, made it appear that race warfare was going to be our next Civil War. If it wasn’t Stokely Carmichael (using the name Kwame Ture in a speech that he gives onscreen) it was SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) or the SLA (Symbionese Liberation Army) that worried white Americans.

As Alec Baldwin’s character of Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard says in the first few moments of the film, playing a White Supremacist narrator of a propaganda film, “We had a great way of life, until Martin Luther King.” He goes on to refer to the “monkeys, rapists, murderous super-predators and blood-sucking Jews” who have, in his opinion, ruined the country, calling it an international Jewish conspiracy. The “N” word is thrown around quite liberally in the film, as well as many other demeaning names for African American citizens. It is not till film’s end that Ron Stallworth’s character (John David Washington) has the chance to respond in kind to the Grand Wizard of the KKK, David Duke (Topher Grace) during a phone conversation. One small criticism I might make is that the scenes showing the great amusement of Stallworth’s fellow officers during these conversations are over-done at times.

It is a telephone conversation that sets the entire investigation in motion, as Ron Stallworth notices ads in the newspaper for Klansmen and responds by phone, posing as a loyal White Supremacist. Ultimately, he becomes a card-carrying member of the KKK—a completely unlikely scenario—but the investigation could not have gone forward without the in-person substitution of fellow officer Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver of “Star Wars”) for Stallworth’s phone persona.

THE CAST
The cast was terrific throughout. The casting by Kim Coleman was right on the money, with many recognizable faces in the crowd. If John David Washington was an unknown before this film, it is a certainty that he will not be after this film. If you listen closely, you can hear some of Denzel’s cadence in his vocal delivery of lines, but he is clearly a talent in his own right, hitting the right notes throughout.

Contributing to the excellent ensemble, besides Washington and Driver, are Robert John Burke as Chief Bridges. I recognized him immediately from “Rescue Me” where he was Dennis Leary’s “sponsor” at AA meetings. (Bridges was also in “RoboCop”). Laura Harrier, who plays the love interest Patrice, is a more recent arrival, from “Spiderman: Homecoming” in 2017. Ryan Eggold, as Walter Breachway, is a face you’ll know from “The Black List,” where he was the evil husband of the female lead. (Eggold has a new medical drama starting on TV this fall and had a short-lived show that focused on his character from “The Black List.”) Eggold is the Klansman who eagerly accepts Driver as the real deal and wants to make him head of the group! Michael Joseph Buscemi plays Jimmy Creek, one of the police investigators, and, while he is not Steve Buscemi’s son, he is related (nephew?). Brian Tarantino plays Officer Clay Mulaney and Nicholas Turturro, not much in evidence since 1993’s “NYPD Blue,” is a familiar face. The dim-witted Ivanhoe is Paul Walter Hauser, most recently playing a thug in “I, Tonya” (2017). Two faces I did not recognize were Jasper Paskkonen as Felix Kendrickson, the craziest of the Klansmen, and his wife, Connie (Ashlie Atkinson), who worked with Lee in 2006’s “Inside Man.” Arthur J. Nascarella as Officer Wheaton is from “The Sopranos.” All were excellent.

THE MUSIC
Lee has worked with the same music person many times and Terence Blanchard put together a terrific score, complete with seventies hits like “It’s Too Late to Turn Back Now” and “Oh Happy Day.” The soundtrack will be terrific. We are also treated to some dancing scenes to lighten the mood, which has comic moments amongst this dead serious topic.

THE CINEMATOGRAPHY
Chayse Irvin, with whom Lee has worked before, is responsible for many of the trademark Spike Lee camera shots, most notably the double dolly shot, where the actors seem to be floating towards the camera (both actors and cameras are placed on dollies on tracks). The grainy high contrast footage, saturated colors, evocative end credits and the “wake up” call to his audience are also typical Spike Lee touches. In this film, the close-up shots of faces in the crowd at Stokely Carmichael’s (Corey Hawkins of “Straight Outta’ Compton) speech are an added plus. In order to be able to both shoot the crowd scene (which Officer Stallworth is monitoring from inside) and to focus on the faces of individuals in the crowd (Washington and Patrice, for example), a separate camera had to be set up in a side room and the actors had to be pulled aside to shoot them in close-up to integrate the close-ups into the crowd scene.

THE POLITICS OF THE FILM

In a line from the film, heard during Stokely Carmichael’s speech, he tells the black crowd: “We must unite and organize to fight our oppressor. We are being shot down in the streets by white racist cops.” He goes on to add, “If I am not for myself, who will be? If not now, when? and if not you, who?” Powerful stuff on the heels of so many recent shootings. As a student at Berkeley who remembers the protests of the Vietnam War led by Mario Savio (they were locking him up then; now there’s a statue of him on campus!) and lived through the violence of the sixties, the parallels are much more than theoretical. “Wake up!” is, indeed, a call to all right-thinking U.S. citizens when the KKK is quoted as feeling that, “We’re cleaning this country of a backwards race of chimpanzees. First the N—– and then the K—- (Jews).” Is Spike Lee going too far, when, just today, Omarosa’s book is touting the racist epithet’s popularity as used by the man who once was the star of “The Apprentice” and is now President of the United States?

Another telling line that clearly shows the parallels between these two diametrically opposed groups and times is: “We’re a family and, right or wrong, we stick together.” While that line is spoken by a police officer, the comment immediately follows, “That reminds me of another group.”

I went to hear Spike Lee speak years ago in person in Rock Island, Illinois. The author of the “Time” cover story acknowledged that Lee has a reputation for being controversial, “brash, contrarian and intellectually intimidating,”— a guy who is prickly and wonders “when black people, liberals and Americans in general will stop falling for ‘the okey-doke.'” Some have characterized Lee as “indignant.” He was all of those things that night, causing me to ditch my carefully thought-out-in advance question and remain silent. He is said not to suffer fools gladly and to be impatient. He reminds us all of things we would rather forget, like how Muhammad Ali’s status changed from the sixties, when he was characterized as a draft-dodger and thrown in jail, to Ali’s final years, when he was hailed as an American and global icon.

By “the okey-doke” Lee means the skullduggery, shenanigans, the subterfuge and bamboozling that white America uses to stay in control. It is what one of the O.J. documentaries portrayed as being how O.J. became more involved with the white community than with the black community, after he achieved football and movie stardom. As writer Rembert Browne put it in the “Time” cover story: “Lee makes movies to reopen wounds that white America would like to pretend have healed. He’s a provocateur who clearly knows what his role is: to say difficult things about both the history and the present state of race in America.”

MISCELLANEOUS:
Spike Lee inherited this project after “Get Out” director Jordan Peele (who remains as a Producer) found himself too busy to follow up on making it. Lee was exactly the right person for the film. Jason Blum of Blumhouse Pictures (who I recently spoke with at the conclusion of a panel on horror movies at SXSW entitled “The Bleeding Edge”) is also one of the producers.

OSCAR TIME FOR LEE?

Spike Lee has made 35 films since 1983 and is 61 years old. He has also taught film in New York (Tisch Center) and been its artistic director for 16 years. He has had celebrated feuds with others, including one with Clint Eastwood when he criticized Eastwood’s two war films (“Letter from Iwo Jima” and “Flags of Our Fathers.”) Eastwood said that Spike should “shut his face.”

While that feud has been resolved, Spike Lee is still stereotyped as “an angry black man.” Given the fact that the grim story Harry Belafonte relates in the film is true and the lynching of Chicagoan Emmett Till in 1955 for supposedly whistling at a white woman happened 63 years ago (and the men who committed the act were acquitted), can we really blame Director Spike Lee for speaking out at this time in history. Or should we all just wake up

Don’t miss this movie. It’s bound to garner awards at award season…maybe even the biggest of them all.

San Antonio Film Festival, August 1-5 in San Antonio

The 24th Annual San Antonio Film Festival kicked off at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts at 100 Auditorium Circle, San Antonio, Texas, on August 1st, 2018.

Longtime director Adam Rocha, who has led the group for 24 years, did not greet us as we drifted in to get our credentials, and my badge, listing me as a Screenplay Finalist for THE COLOR OF EVIL, was MIA. (I was given a VIP badge, instead.)

Most of us waiting for the 6 p.m. kick-off films were directed to a small café across the street called Pharm Market that was heavily in to health food(s). There were literally no soft drinks (like Coca Cola or 7-Up) but there was a table serving free alcoholic beverages (beer and wine) and many strange delicacies that I did not have the time nor inclination to sample.

We headed over to the opening film(s) at 6 p.m. selecting between “Tecumseh, the Last Warrior” directed by Alvarez Studio and Larry Elikann or “They Call Me King Tiger,” directed by Angel Estrada Soto.

6:00 p.m. Premiere Showing was here.

My husband chose the latter film, which had this synopsis:“In June, 1967, the court of Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico, was assaulted by armed men under the command of Chicano leader Reies Lopez Tijerina.  The outcome of such bold action was the largest manhunt in the recent history of the United States.  Tijerina managed to survive prison, a psychiatric hospital, and several assassination attempts.  The Chicano movement faded away, and everyone thought the same of Tijerina.  People spoke of him as a saint, a man illuminated, a man that used violence looking for a fair cause.  They called him King Tiger.  King Tiger is alive and he wants to tell his story.”

Some of this was misleading, as King Tiger recently died at age 88 (and insisted that he be dressed in his coffin as a Muslim to illustrate his conviction that he was a prophet; people had to be flown in from Chicago to accomplish this).

The story as told by Director Larry Elikann had a meandering documentary quality that did not serve the  extraordinary story well. There definitely was feature film potential in the story of King Tiger, but this treatment, witnessed by only 9 people sitting on hard-backed chairs, was probably not it.

San Antonio, Texas, Aug. 1-5, 2018

For one thing, this was the Premiere of the film and the Director was not present.

For another, as we moved into the main substance of the story, it was still unclear what injustice, exactly, King Tiger was trying to rectify. It purports to be the story of New Mexico’s Hispanic peoples losing their land to “the gringos,” much like the Indians lost their land to European settlers. Quote:  “These lands were robbed, and we want them back.” The 1848 Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty was at the bottom of much of the dissent, but the terms of that treaty are never spelled out for the viewer.

There were allusions to such historic figures as Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez and Malcolm X, but King Tiger’s followers never numbered more than 14,000 to 20,000, from the film’s reckoning, and, when he was a handsome firebrand of a man who had “boundless courage because he was always living in some other realm” he didn’t exercise his power as skillfully as MLK.

A conversation is recounted that supposedly took place between Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy and Chicano leader Reies-Lopez Tijerina. Bobby Kennedy supposedly said, to the firebrand leader, “There was a war.  You lost it and we won it.  Go home.”

Tobin Center for the Performing Arts

A Treaty of Hidalgo is constantly mentioned, supposedly transferring one-half of what was then Mexico’s land to the United States.  The statement is made:  “They lost their lands through diverse legal movements, so he (King Tiger) led a campaign to reclaim those lands.”

How devoted the followers were seemed to be one problem. A friend and acquaintance of Reies’ recounted a rally at which Reies asked how many of those present “will fight like a she-dog fights to protect her puppies” to get back the land. He asked them to stand up, if willing. One-third of the men present stood up. Reies then told his followers that those who didn’t stand up should be among the first killed. This took me back to a horrifying documentary I saw at the Chicago International Film Festival about just such neighbor purging neighbor that happened in the Philippines, when the U.S. encouraged the removal of Communists and atrocities were perpetrated, neighbor upon neighbor.

Interior of Tobin Center for the Performing Arts

The film consisted largely of interviews with the extremely elderly (age 88) Reies himself, who wandered on about dreams and angels and was a shadow of his former firebrand self. If anything, it was an object lesson in how death comes for us all and the most dynamic among us will be weakened and withered by time, as Reies definitely had been. His three wives are interviewed and many of his numerous children, some of whom recount beatings at Reies’ hand. The prettiest daughter from his first marriage was incarcerated after Reies formed a small band of armed men and marched on the courthouse.

He then was arrested in a manhunt (2,000 National Guardsmen were searching for him) that was not as dramatic as the program claimed. He said he was in the back seat of a car on the way to Coyote when he was apprehended. Reies is quoted as saying, “I’m chewing up the gringos no matter who is in the middle.”

One of his wives—a second wife who left him—said, “He wanted to be fighting, fighting, fighting. I didn’t want to do anything.” His son by a second marriage remembered that Dad told him: :You are nothing.  You are never going to be a man like I am.” The prettiest daughter, Rosita, who went to prison after the attack Reies engineered on the courthouse, said, “I don’t want to talk about or remember any of that.  I think that people saw him as a terrorist.  All my 6 brothers and I were beaten by him.”

So, not overwhelmingly positive as a leader and Man of the People.

The English subtitles were also rife with errors. Example:  “”Take this (sic)  pills, please.” This was in reference to what was said to be psychological torture that Reies underwent in prison. His first trial, when he defended himself, he was found innocent, but the film suggests that he was a victim of double jeopardy or that various trumped-up charges  kept recurring. One of his wives, Maria Escobar, had a house that was attacked and Reies swears that the attack was by thugs from the government.

Tobin Center for the Performing Arts

As nearly as I could determine from the meandering plot and lack of  focus, Reies was declaring that all those lands were taken illegally by District Attorney Alfonso Sanchez and that they were taken from Mexican and sold to white people and Sanchez was the person they hoped to get when they marched on the courthouse.

Just before his death, Reies told the interviewer, “What happened, happened, my friend.” His wife said he asked for forgiveness before he died.

The Awards Ceremony for the San Antonio Film Festival will take place at 7 p.m. on Saturday night and the world premiere of “Stella’s Last Weekend,” a new comedy from writer/director Polly Draper (“Thirty Something”) will follow at 9 p.m.

Formerly of “Fame.”

A debut film from Director Jesse Borego (“Fame”) “Closer to Bottom,” will screen on Sunday, August 5th.  It deals with two brothers who are coping with the death of their father when both fall for the same girl.

The San Antonio Film Festival began on August 1st and will conclude with the showing of Boreo’s film on Sunday, August 5th.

Michael Kutza Is Honored In Chicago as Founder and Director (55 Years) of the Chicago International Film Festival

“Celebrate Michael” In Chicago on July 14, 2018 celebrated Michael Kutza’s retirement as longest-serving Artistic Director of a Film Festival in North America.

Michael Kutza, Founder and Artistic Director of the Chicago International Film Festival for the past 55 years, was feted at a gala celebration at Loews Hotel, 455 N. Park Drive, in Chicago on Saturday, July 14th.

(Photos by Connie Wilson)

Michael Kutza with Paula Wagner, producer of the “Mission Impossible” films.

Those present to honor his legendary career as the longest-serving Artistic Director of a Film Festival, (which is also the oldest Film Festival in North America), included Producer Paula Wagner, known for her collaborations with Tom Cruise on the “Mission Impossible” series (among others); Kathleen Turner, star of “Body Heat,” “Romancing the Stone” and many other films; Andrew Davis, Director of “The Fugitive”, Joe Swanberg, Steve James and many others.  Kutza started the Chicago International Film Festival in 1962 as a 22-year-old film buff.

Mr. and Mrs. Terrence Howard. (Photo by Connie Wilson)

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Terence Howard, of television’s “Empire”, (which shoots in Chicago), was present with his wife at the invitation of Chaz Ebert, widow of Roger Ebert, who served as one of the co-chairs of the event. (Howard received a call from their babysitter while on the Red Carpet). Howard said he’d only met Kutza once previously, in 2005, when given an award by the

Michael Kutza, with the co-chairs of the “Celebrate Michael” gala on July 14 at Loews Hotel, including Chaz Ebert, (widow of Roger Ebert), center.) (Photo by Connie Wilson)

Phone call from the babysitter. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

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Chicago International Film Festival, but expressed admiration for Kutza’s contributions to cinema in Chicago. He also told Chinese/American interviewer Meiling Jin that family was important in delineating a character, as it formed the basis for all human emotion.

Meiling Jin has been interviewing celebrities in the United States since high school and now, at 27, is listed as the 91st most influential media expert on films for a Chinese audience, with millions of hits daily. She also models and serves as CEO of Meiling Jin Television and Video Productions.

Kathleen Turner (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Kathleen Turner, in speaking with me, advised that “Less is more” (Mies Van der Rohe) in acting and urged directors to “trust their actors,” but also suggested that a screenwriter might wish to think about the many sets or set-ups in writing a screenplay. (As a Finalist in several screenplay competitions right now, including the Windy City Film Festival to be announced tomorrow at 2:30 p.m., as well as San Antonio’s, this was good advice for me).

(l to r), Connie Wilson, Patrick of the omnipresent hat, and Meiling Jin, CEO of Studio Meiling Productions, LLC. (Photo by Studio Meiling Productions, LLC).

Also on the program this night, besides awarding Kutza a Lifetime Achievement Award, would be bidding on a series of gala items, including a guitar signed by Tom Petty, a poster signed by the entire cast of the movie “Black Panther,” and a limited edition poster from the original “Star Wars” film (only 25 were made) signed by all the original “Star Wars” cast members.

Windy City Film Festival Opens in Chicago on July 12, 2018

The second year of the Windy City Film Festival kicked off on July 12th at the Victory Garden Biograph Theater in Chicago. This is the very same theater made famous by John Dillinger’s assassination outside it after viewing “Manhattan Melody” in the 1930s.

Windy City Film Festival

As a Finalist in the Screenplay Category, I was fortunate enough to be able both to see the interior of the remodeled theater at 2433 Lincoln Avenue in Chicago, a feature length film (“Double Major”) and a series of 8 short films.

We were all warmly welcomed and the choice of hors d’oeuvres was the best and most innovative of any festival I’ve attended as a critic (and I’ve attended a few). Plates of candies  are what they serve at the Oscar gala were arrayed, along with grapes, and the bar offered a discount to those of us who were Festival Finalists. Still, with a glass of wine reasonably priced at $7 that 20% discount wasn’t totally necessary. Bravo to the organizers!

After the opportunity to chat with fellow contestants, I was fortunate enough to chat at length with an actress in one of the selected films,  Jen Buhrow, and, later, had conversations with other contestants, including 2 directors of the shorts that we watched for 2 hours, Thom McCloud and Brad Riddell. All of the films were shot in Chicago.

THE SHORTS

Windy City Film Festival organizers Josh Hope and Mindy Fay Parks .

First, let me compliment the film festival organizers, Mindy Fay Parks and Josh Hope, on the truly great opening credit sequence that introduced several short films. They were as good (or better) than those shown at the opening of the much-larger (and 25 times older) Chicago International Film Festival.

SHORT #1:  RUNNER (Grade: “A”)

This was a riveting short piece featuring Clare Cooney and Shane Simmons. Clare is a runner and, while jogging down an alley in a suburb that had alleys that resembled those in Bridgeport, where my son lived for years, she is an eye witness to a murder. The murder appears to have been an accident caused by an argument between a young couple, when the young man shoves the girl and she falls and hits her head. Still, when the murderer then begins chasing Clare, everyone senses the danger she is in, and when the murderer later turns up at a gathering at a local bar and follows her home, the stress level goes even higher. This one was terrific! Clare Cooney not only acted in it, she directed it. Watch for her in the future.

SHORT #2:  TEN MORE (Grade: “A”)

DePaul Screenwriting Instructor and Windy City Film Festival Finalist Brad Riddell on July 12 at Opening Night.

This was my second favorite of the night. I told Director Brad Riddell that I could relate to it more easily, because, based on a roughly autobiographical brain injury he incurred, it leaves the viewer thinking about his (or her) own mortality and was not aimed exclusively at a young audience. Another huge plus for this film was its star, a local Chicago actor who looks as though he could be Adrien Brody’s brother (if Adrien Brody had a brother, which he does not). The actor’s name was David Tasques and it opens with Tasques playing the piano (which also summoned memories of Adrien Brody’s 2003 Oscar win at age 29 for “The Pianist.”) Puzzled by the water dripping through his ceiling from the floor above and the apartment of the old lady who usually bangs on the floor with her cane when the concert pianist is practicing (causing him to yell “Ten Minutes More”), Tasques’ attempts to find out what is going on leads to a surprising discovery. Director Brad Riddell has written 4 feature films and is currently working on a feature film for a Hollywood studio, as well as on a podcast. He is both a faculty member at DePaul and a working screenwriter.

SHORT #2:  MARGARET AND THE MOON (Grade “B”)

A chubby little girl is watching the film “Danse pour la luna”  that predates cinema as we know it, going all the way back to the Lumiere days and the Man in the Moon. We then see the girl being bullied at school by two young classmates and a lesson about true friendship is learned. Trevor Morgan, who made the film, circled back to the Man in the Moon  film for a sweet ending.

SHORT #3:  SPACEMAN (Grade “B+)

This one was light-hearted, as we follow the adventures of  a young man named Rupert Madursky who refuses to let NASA’s demise stop him from wanting to become an astronaut. As one character reminisces, “Becoming an astronaut was pure and American. We all wanted to grow up to be President or an astronaut.” Christopher Olva wrote, produced and edited this gem, with lighting and lenses by DePaul University. I think one reason I related to it as well as I did is that my husband and I toured Cape Canaveral when they were dismantling one of the towers and having the last NASA manned flight and it was a bittersweet thing to think of this nation’s space program being mothballed. (It still is). The film also had the advantage of being humorous in spots, as when Rupert ticks off a Russian cabdriver by saying to him (in Russian), “Cosmonaut is for second place,” when the driver asks if he is training to become a cosmonaut. (Rupert is fond of wearing NASA gear at all times.) The driver unceremoniously dumps his fare in the street.

SHORT #4:  STEP ONE (Grade: “B”)

Written and directed by Thom McCloud, who is primarily a local Chicago actor, a stressed man in a car is shown sitting near a railroad track and practicing the “Hello, I’m _____” speech that normally means the individual is going to be attending an AA meeting.  As the film opened, the car’s positioning near the railroad tracks immediately made you wonder if the driver intended to join a meeting (he has said his wife will leave him if he doesn’t attend) or if he is suicidal enough to drive that car onto the tracks. Speaking with McCloud later, he shared that the film is autobiographical and that it was shot in one day. Asked about the difficulties of making it, he singled out Pre-production, saying that raising the money to fund it was largely done through crowd funding and by him pitching in his own funds.  It was a thought-provoking piece.

SHORT #5:  CHEESE SHOP (Grade: “B”)

The director of “Cheese Shop”

The director of “Cheese Shop” shared, from the stage after the viewing, that Director Sammy Zeisel also had experience at working in a cheese shop, and learned how difficult things that are seemingly simple can be. The out-of-work actress who takes the job in the cheese shop learns that everything from wrapping wedges of cheese to mopping floors can be difficult. Cheese Shop is a bitter-sweet, funky little film…like a simple wedge of cheese, says the write-up, and it is.

SHORT #6:  BLAKOREA (Grade “B-“)

This film was also an autobiographical story of the marriage of a black G.I. suffering from PTSD and his Korean bride. Two young children are in the middle of their parents strife and are ultimately left with their black grandmother, Pearl.  Christine Swanson, its director, cast the film well and the actors all deliver. The reason it was slightly less appealing for me was difficulty with understanding the Korean battered wife. The film almost needed subtitles for some of her dialogue. I winced when the black grandmother served watermelon to her Asian/American grandchildren on a visit that turns into a permanent placement. Not sure that plays well in the P.C. world of today, but this was obviously an earnest effort and it was well done. The child actors were outstanding and the picture of the real Pearl with her granddaughter at the film’s finale was priceless.

SHORT #7:  MICKEY’s PETS (Grade:  “B-“)

Mickey’s Pets star is fourth from the right.

Ashley S. Brandon made this short documentary about Mickey’s pets, and the real Mickey, multiple tattoos covered by a lovely green dress, was present onstage following the film. She is shown with her pts, saying, “I’m never lonely and they never judge me.” Mickey is working on stuffing a peacock to enter in the 45th Annual National Taxidermy Competition in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania. The winner of the title Taxidermist of the Year will take home a $1500 prize. Mickey Alice Kioapte certainly stood out in the room full of exclusively male animal stuffers (if that is a term). Side bar: I had a boyfriend in college (Frank Cornwell) who used to be in to taxidermy, and, of course, we all know that Norman Bates was. Of course, Frank also used to work for the phone company and randomly climb a telephone pole outside my  apartment window to phone me, so THAT was odd, too, and so is this nice little film.

SHORT #8:  COME TO LIFE (Grade:  “C”)

The plot here is that, when a young man’s wife leaves town for a few days, he is lonely and so creates talking creatures, made from pillow cases and socks to keep himself company. The first problem was that the sound and the lip movements were “off,” (which I was later told was because the film was being “streamed” from a computer.  The second problem, for me, is the current insistence that all marriages onscreen must be inter-racial. If that isn’t true, then there has to be a LGBQT character or somebody has to be handicapped. [This is based on recent reviewing at SXSW and not on these shorts, but it’s getting to be a bit much.] I’m sure many of the viewers were really intrigued by the concept, but, plot-wise, I was not. I do understand that creating them onscreen must have been quite an accomplishment, but the idea that this grown man was so lonesome for his wife because she left for 2 days that he resurrected characters (from his youth?) who he said had been hiding in the attic just didn’t work for me. It sounded incredibly juvenile, since he is depicted as an adult, not a college student.

Still, impressive work from all. Go Chicago! It is an honor to have a screenplay being considered amongst the 24 others (25 total) and I have no illusions of grandeur for what is only my second solo outing in screenplay writing.

Michael Kutza To Be Honored as Retiring Head of Chicago Film Festival

In 1964, film buff Michael Kutza founded the Chicago International Film Festival, with silent screen star Colleen Moore. The debut of the Chicago International Film Festival (now in its 54th year) was at the Carnegie Theatre at Rush and Oak Streets, on November 9, 1965. (Photo of Michael Kutza by Connie Wilson)

Mimi Plauche will become Artistic Director of the Chicago International Film Festival, while Vivan Teng will remain Managing Editor. (Photo by Connie Wilson)

Kutza, then 22, has served as Artistic Director longer than any other film festival director in the country (55 years). The Chicago International Film Festival is the oldest film festival in North America; it is often called a Director’s Festival. Kutza will be passing the torch to Mimi Plauche as Artistic Director and VivianTeng as Managing Director.

Michael Kutza. (Photo by Connie Wilson)

Kutza’s illustrious 55-year career heading up the festival and Cinema Chicago and his contributions to film as a visionary helping advance the careers of so many luminaries in the industry will be celebrated on July 14th. He is being honored (Saturday, July 14th) with “Celebrating Michael,” an event that will take place beginning at 6 p.m. at Loews Hotel Chicago and will culminate in the presentation of a Lifetime Achievement Award to Kutza.

ORGANIZERS

Chaz Ebert, one of the “Celebrate Michael”organizers. (Photo by Connie Wilson)

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Bruce Rauner are Honorary Chairmen and the event chairs are Chaz Ebert (widow of famed critic Roger Ebert), Candace Jordan and Maria Pappas. Many celebrities will be in attendance, either in person or via video-taped salute, including Kathleen Turner (“Peggy Sue Got Married,” “Romancing the Stone”) and producer Paula Wagner (“Mission Impossible I-III”).

GALA AUCTION ITEMS

Exclusive items will be available for purchase at the Gala, including an autographed “Black Panther” movie poster, an autographed Special Edition “Star Wars” poster (one of only 25 in existence), a signed “Godfather” poster, and a guitar signed by Tom Petty, a trip to Naples, Florida and much, much more.

HONORS

Michael Kutza with Michael Douglas at the 1997 Chicago International Film Festival. (Cinema/Chicago Archives).

Kutza has been a ubiquitous presence on the Chicago International Film Festival scene and he will remain affiliated with Cinema Chicago as Emeritus CEO. Over the course of his 55-year career he has received many awards, including the Chevalier de l’Order des Arts et des Lettres from French Minister of Culture Jacques Lang at Cannes in 1984, the Silver Lion Award at the 32nd Venice International Film Festival, the Chicago “Sun Times” award for “Exceptional Contribution to Chicago” and, in 2010, placement by “Chicago Magazine” on their list of the Top 40 Chicago Visionaries. Also weighing in with awards have been the President of the French Republic for Kutza’s achievements as “an internationally recognized graphic designer, filmmaker and the Founder of the Chicago International Film Festival” in June of 2015. In 2017 Kutza was awarded the Onorificenza di Cavalierato, the highest honor awarded to someone in the arts, bestowed by the President of the Italian Republic.

CELEBRITIES

The list of those whose careers Kutza has fostered is long. A partial list would include Martin Scorsese, Rainer Werner Fassbender, Krzysztof Zanussi, Claude Lelouch, Wim Wenders, Margarethe von Trotta, Tsai Ming-liang, Mike Leigh, Michael Moore, Oliver Stone, John Carpenter, Joe Swanberg, and Taylor Hackford.

Clint Eastwood with Michael Kutza at the 38th
Chicago International Film Festival. (Official Cinema/Chicago archives).

Among those who have attended the Chicago International Film Festival over the years, a partial list would include: Harold Lloyd, Bette Davis, Jack Lemmon, Vincent Minnelli, Sophia Loren, Jack Nicholson, Shirley Maclaine, Francois Truffaut, Director Spike Lee, Director Oliver Stone, Director Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Clint Eastood, Liv Ullmann, Dustin Hoffman, Will Farrell, Jodie Foster, Director Kevin Smith, Halle Berry, composer Howard Shore, Director Richard Zemeckis, Al Pacino, Clint Eastwood, Sidney Poitier, Helen Mirren, Director Claude LeLouche, Director Philip Kaufman, Jane Fonda, Chadwick Boseman, Vanessa Redgrave, John C. Reilly, Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg, Director Guillermo del Toro, Director Danny Boyle, Director Peter Bogdanovich, Ed Burns, Alan Cumming, Robert Downey, Jr., Forest Whitaker, Director Steve McQueen, Writer/Director Charlie Kaufman, Sterling K. Brown, Geraldine Chaplin, Gary Cole, Colin Farrell, Jessica Chastain, Helen Hunt, Dennis Farino, Joan Allen,Directors Lilly and Lana Wachowski, Mark and Jay Duplass, Ron Perlman, and the director of “La La Land,” Damien Chazelle.

Said Executive Board Member Byron Pollack, “Michael has had a tremendous impact on the film industry world-wide as well as on the cultural vibrancy of Chicago.” Gala co-chair Candace Jordan said, “We are pulling out all the stops to make this the most spectacular Cinema/Chicago gala ever!”

For tickets to this event, call 312-683-0121, x108, or visit chicagofilmfestival.com. Tickets start at $500.

Two Screenplay Wins for THE COLOR OF EVIL

Just received word that my screenplay based on Book #1 of THE COLOR OF EVIL trilogy (series) has won another Los Angeles Screenplay competition, this time the L.A. Edge Film Awards. Having also just gone out to see “Hereditary” with Toni Collette, which I will review momentarily, I want to quote the June 18th issue of “Time” magazine which heralded “Hereditary” as “among the films forming the swell of a new wave in horror, pictures that are smart, subtle and artfully made.”

The article goes on to say that this is not to put down the “Saw” or “Halloween” more overtly horrific films of yesteryear, but that those who say they don’t “like” horror movies means “you have haven’t met the right one yet.”

W

SXSW proved this to be true with the smash opening of “A Quiet Place,” which, in Mexico, they described as “alien on a farm.” My interview with the two young writers of that film (Scott Beck and Bryan Woods) convinced me that I should go home and write a screenplay based on THE COLOR OF EVIL, which I did in 3 weeks, while reviewing SXSW.

My script (whose ending I reworked 3 separate times) was checked over by producer John Crye for content and looked over for formatting errors (up to page 57, anyway) by founder of the Chicago Screenwriting School and AFI Film School graduate Dan Decker and then off it went to many festivals, which are now weighing in on (yet another) horror film that taps into the zeitgest of the nation right now. It has won two, is a Finalist in several, and is running above a 75% acceptance rate. (Woot!)

CONGRATULATIONS!

We would like to thank you for participating in The LA Edge Film Awards. There were a.lot of great submissions. It was very difficult to choose this month, but we are now excited & proud to announce the winners for MAY 2018!

Best Narrative Feature

It’s Just a Game
by Wilder Troxell
in Narrative Feature
Runner Up
Aakashee Pullover
by 24 OURS
in Narrative FeatureBest Documentary Feature
Crownsville Hospital: From Lunacy to Legacy
by Richard Stevens
in Documentary Feature, Additi

Runner Up
The Bateman Lectures on Depression
by Scott Bateman
in Documentary Feature2nd Runner Up
A Piece of Germany
by Ela Beken
in Documentary Feature

Best Narrative Short
Help Wanted 
by Michael Madden
in Narrative Short 

Runner Up
A View from The Mountain
by Anthony Stoppiello
in Narrative Short2nd Runner Up
No Wonder!
by Anjani Pandey
in Narrative Short

3rd Runner Up
The Projection
by Oleksandr Herasymenko
in Narrative Short

Best Documentary Short
Namibia
by Matthieu VINEL
in Documentary Short

Best Director
The Bateman Lectures on Depression
by Scott Bateman
in Documentary Feature

Best Screenplay
THE COLOR OF EVIL
by Connie Wilson

Runner Up
The Serum
by Tom Thorpe

2nd Runner Up
Joseph (4th)
by Ian Davies

3rd Runner Up
Diu
by Haritrushi Purohit

Best Actor –
Mac Estelle“Mac”- ‘Help Wanted’

Best Actress –
Aloknanda Roy“Subha” – ‘Aakashee Pullover’

Best Supporting Actor –
Virgil Apostol “Kade” – ‘A View From The Mountain’

Best Supporting Actress –
Rene Michelle Aranda “Lucy” – ‘A View From The Mountain’

Best Cinematography –
Namibia
by Matthieu VINEL
in Documentary Short

Best Score –
Crownsville Hospital: From Lunacy to Legacy
by Richard Steven

Best Visual FX –
The Bateman Lectures on Depression
by Scott Bateman
in Documentary Feature

Best Editing-
The Bateman Lectures on Depression
by Scott Bateman
in Documentary Feature

 

Time” said of “Hereditary”, “It’s a movie about feeling small and inconsequential in the larger pattern of danger churning all around us.” Those who have been horror afficionados for years will remember that “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” was often said to be a film about Communism and the cold war threat, although that was denied by the writer and director. Nevertheless, it was films like that one (which was remade several times to varying degrees of success) that captured the mood of the moment.

Whatever your opinion of it, horror is hot, right now.

If anyone out there is reading this: I’ve got literally hundreds of short stories that can be made into great onscreen movies, part of my 50+ year love affair with film and residing in such collections as “Hellfire & Damnation” (Books 1, 2 and 3) and “Ghostly Tales of Route 66.”.

I also wrote THE COLOR OF EVIL, 3 novels that follow a young boy with the paranormal power of Tetrachromatic Super Vision (a real thing, by the way) and put him in peril because others don’t understand that it isn’t necessarily a predictive power. By book three, when we’ve followed Tad (McGreevy) and Stevie (Scranton) and Jenny (SanGiovanni) and Janice (Kramer) through their junior and senior years of high school and on into adulthood, you’ll feel that you know them well.

Set in Cedar Falls, Iowa, in 2003-2005, the books are right in touch with today’s mania of the moment, and I hope those of you in a position to see for yourself check out the e-book boxed set (THE COLOR OF EVIL series by Connie Corcoran Wilson) and find out for yourselves.

Teaching in America Today From the Prism of 37 Years in the Field

It is Tuesday and I have not posted since last Tuesday, May 22nd. In keeping with the title of this blog (WEEKLY Wilson), I will now share some of Fareed Zakaria’s Sunday morning show statistics, leavened with a few personal observations on teachers and teaching in America today.

Fahreed began his Sunday morning GPS show on May 27th with this quote from John Steinbeck’s (1902-1968) “East of Eden:”

“In the country, the teacher was not only an intellectual paragon and a social leader, but also the matrimonial catch of the countryside.  A family could, indeed, walk proudly if a son married the schoolteacher.” Fareed went on to say that Steinbeck’s quote, written in the early part of the 20th century, was “now unrecognizable” as far as the status of teachers in America today.

Nobody knows that better than I do, someone whose mother began teaching school in 1927 and who encouraged her two daughters (my sister Kay and me) to follow in her footsteps.

I went to Iowa on a Ferner/Hearst Journalism Scholarship and a Freshman Merit Scholarship awarded to the entering 5% of the freshman class, and I intended to be where the action was—reporting the news, living in the moment. Then I saw what beginning journalists were paid, and my mother began her refrain of “Get your teaching credential so you have something to fall back on.” (As Richard Dreyfuss said in “The Competition,” “The problem with having a career to ‘fall back on’ is that you tend to fall back.” (He played an aspiring pianist in that one, believe it or not.)

So, I continued as a Journalism major for 3 years and then was forced with the Sophie’s choice of either working all day at the Daily Iowan, helping turn out that student newspaper, or student teaching, which usually meant getting on a bus and being trucked 53 miles down the road to Davenport, Iowa. (*In my case, I lucked out and was given an assignment at the University Lab School which university professors children attended, now defunct, but only because I was a member of Old Gold Singers and needed to be present for practice at noon each day at the Union.)

After marriage and the birth of my first child, I first tried to go to work for our local newspaper, but the pay was  pathetic. Teaching wasn’t much better back in 1969, but it was actually better than being a reporter, and I began teaching for $5,280 a year. If this sounds incredibly low, you’re right.

Silvis (Illinois) was always the worst paid district in the Quad Cities and in those days, we still had the Rock Island Lines Railroad paying taxes AND the John Deere Foundary in Silvis, neither of which still pays taxes to the city and neither of which has really been replaced in the tax base of the Silvis Public Schools.

My pay rose if I went back to school and got additional hours, so I finished my Master’s degree in record time (under 2 years) and my pay eventually rose to the less-than-impressive amount of $25,000 my final year on the job (1984-1985). It was 1985 and I quit to write a book for a New Jersey firm (Performance Learning Systems, Inc.)  which promised they could match my pay level, which wasn’t difficult. The condition was that I had to quit my tenured full-time job as Department Chairperson. (I had asked if I could write it during my summers off.) I was supposed to travel for them, as well, and do interviews for their newsletter. In fact, I was scheduled to interview the “Teacher in Space”—until they blew Christa McAuliffe up.

When I asked what would happen to me AFTER the book came out, no one (including me) seemed to know, but, after 4 terms as Co Chair of the Silvis Education Association, during which I worked tirelessly to earn recognition for our teachers’ union (and succeeded, after 3 contentious years), I was ready to move on.

I had taught 5 years of 7th grade Language Arts, 5 years of 8th grade Language Arts (by request), taken a one-year leave of absence to try to find gainful employment at a higher level, and, unsuccessful, returned to teach a mixture of 7th AND 8th graders. Most of my friends from the struggle to achieve recognition, [which ended when the League of Women Voters was brought in and the district’s 50 or so employees voted to have them recognized as their bargaining agent] had left. Some left teaching all together. Some went to the high school level or to another district, where the pay was better.

It should be noted that our school board first had to be changed to allow us to even HAVE such a revolutionary vote. And it shouldn’t have BEEN a revolutionary vote, since the Silvis Education Association had been formed in 1962,  when I was still in high school! This was 1979-1980, so why wasn’t it “recognized” and why weren’t the teachers being asked for input on their teaching conditions, class size, materials, and pay? (Every other district had been meeting with their teachers’ bargaining representatives for years, but we got to read ours in the paper and it sometimes went down.) 

In order to be allowed to bring in the League of Women Voters we had to first elect 3 members of a 7 member board that would agree it was a good idea; that was the difficult part. The old board would not have allowed it.

We backed some concerned citizens in the community who agreed that Silvis was a bit behind the times ( about 20 years behind) in terms of  agreeing to bargain with its employees in a hopefully constructive manner, and we did not tumble to the IEA (Illinois Education Association’s) advice that we do “bullet voting” and try to elect one member at a time over a longer period. We took on getting 3 board members on at once and we succeeded, which the Powers-That-Be in Springfield said was one of the few times in Illinois history this had occurred. I was even asked to lead workshops around the state to explain exactly how we had pulled off this small miracle.

So, I left Silvis, Illinois as Chairman of the English Department making $25,000 a year, went to work for PLS (Perfomance Learning Systems, Inc.) making the same amount, wrote their book (“Training the Teacher As A Champion”) and handling their news letter, and, at the end of my time writing the book (which was published in 1989), no one had any idea what to do with me.

Thus, I became the founder of a Sylvan Learning Center (2nd in the state of Iowa) and an adjunct faculty member at 6 colleges in my spare time, and performed my duties as CEO, chief marketing director, H&R, community representative, and sometime substitute teacher uninterruptedly until I sold that business and the Prometric Testing Center that I had also founded within our walls in 1995, in April of 2003.

I had noticed that the students coming to me from the elementary grades over the years were coming in with less and less basic knowledge and less and less parental support. The parents usually sided with the student and the teacher was at fault if little Johnny failed. Respect for the profession was sliding even then. As an example of how the students were losing ground I often cite a short story writing contest I ran at Halloween time to write a “scary” story.

When I started teaching, the students wrote fairly good stories of more than one paragraph. By the middle of my 15 years in Silvis, the students had difficulty knowing enough about good grammar and punctuation to even write 3 paragraphs. By the end of my time in Silvis, I was teaching them how to write 5-line paragraphs and we had scrapped the entire idea of writing fiction.

And United Township’s High School Creative Writing Class, which had blind judged the stories and picked the winners, had also been scrapped, so we no longer had judges for my junior high school students’ work. I persisted in teaching Literature, Grammar (yes, we diagrammed sentences), Spelling (a separate grade), and Writing/Composition.

I made sure that my students always were entering any writing competition that was being offered in the Quad City area. (They often won.) I was always correcting papers while waiting in a dentist’s office or a doctor’s office and once left a stack of them there and had to go back to retrieve them. ALL of my students wrote, but, because of the excessive amount of time it takes to truly critique and proof a paper, I had to schedule one class at a time to do their writing assignment, and I did.

I worked at Sylvan for 3 years taking no pay, since we were a new business, and I had an acrimonious break-up with the woman I had invited to join me over ‘creative differences’ in our vision for the business. Since I was the President, founder and CEO, I bought her out and started over again from the bottom of the ladder, right after the birth of my second child in 1987. (She opened one in Cedar Rapids, but it no longer exists, either.)

Here are some facts about teaching today, some of which I researched for the book for PLS entitled “Training the Teacher As A Champion” and some of which Fareed Zakaria highlighted on May 27, 2018:

  1.  The average pay for teachers has declined over the last 15 years, while health care costs have risen substantially.
  2. In 2003, the median household income was $63,777, but teachers made only $59,141.
  3. In 2009, the median household income was $64,803, but teachers made only $58,257.
  4. In 2016, the median household income was $61,768, but teachers made only $61,675.
  5. Teachers are 5 times as likely as the average full-time workers to have a second job; adjunct faculty even approach the poverty level and qualify for food stamps (especially in Chicago, it seems). Colleges are fond of what I term “the sponge mentality,” where they  hire teachers with advanced degrees, but only allow them to have just under the maximum number of hours that would make them full-time, squeeze out all the good, and then cast them aside; hence, no benefits need be paid, like health insurance or retirement pension moneys.
  6. Teachers make 60% less than a professional in another career with a comparable education (I had a Master’s + 30 hours,  the equivalent of a PhD)
  7. Because of low wages and teacher stress, teachers burn out at two  times the rate of other workers. (Linda Hammond of the Lang Policy Institute). the Boston Women’s Study I remember reading for the PLS book pegged the “burn out” time as ten years.
  8. Enrollment in teacher preparation courses is down 35%.
  9. We are facing a massive teacher shortage at at time when teachers are being asked to put their lives on the line for their students and a debate rages nationwide about arming teachers.
  10. The shortage of teachers from the U.S. is so bad that 100,000 teachers are being recruited from countries like the Philippines.
  11. There is a significant link between teacher pay and student achievement.
  12. Singapore/Finland and South Korea can recruit the top graduates because they pay well and there is respect for the profession in those countries, unlike in this country.
  13. “Over the last 30 years, being a teacher in America has become a thankless job. And that is the one profession that makes all the other professions possible.” (Fareed Zakaria)
  14. My own observation(s), from a family that has logged about 200 teacher years (Mother, sister, sister-in-law, brother-in-law): When I graduated from high school (1963), I was offered 3 possible job options: nurse, teacher or office worker.
  15. I graduated second in my class, but no one said I could become an engineer, a doctor, or a lawyer. In fact, when I took the LSAT (Law School Aptitude Test) 3 times as I was graduating from the University of Iowa in 1967, scoring in the top 1/2 of 1% on the English portions, I was told, by my old-fashioned parents that they would help finance a post graduate career in English, but that I shouldn’t aspire to go to law school. Several law students (all male, of course) seconded that assessment, noting how much the professors disliked having females in their classes. [up the spaceLest you think I am making this up, just look for Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s remarks about how her law professors told her that she and her 8 female classmate were “taking  for 9 male students.”] I took the LSAT in the chemistry auditorium, which holds roughly  500 students, and only one other woman was there taking the examination, and she was Forrest Evaschevski’s daughter-in-law.[ *If you don’t know who Forrest Evaschevski was, he would be the equivalent in that day and age of Hayden Fry or Iowa’s current long-time coach, Kirk Ferentz.]

Fareed went on to say, “Have you thanked a teacher for his or her service, like you thank the military?”

There have been 17 shootings in 2018 alone in classrooms, the highest number during any year since at least 1999 according to a Washington Post data base. The debate is raging here in Texas and across the nation about arming teachers in the schools. If I had been approached to carry a gun and be prepared to use it, I would have changed majors so fast it would make your head spin.

An Indiana Middle School teacher (my teaching level), Jason Seaman, was just released from the hospital after being shot 4 times defending his class from a young student who entered with a hand gun and opened fire. Jason Seaman played for Southern Illinois University’s Salukis’ football team from 2007 to 2010 and is 29 years old. He was a defensive end, tallying 88 tackles and 8 sacks with 2 forced fumbles in 47 games. He was a three-sport athlete in Mahomet, Illinois. He ran at the shooter and pinned him to the wall and immobilized him, despite being shot in the abdomen, hip and forearm.

As a student witness, Ethan Stonebraker, described it:  “Immediately, Mr. Seaman was yelling and running right at him and tackled him to the ground. I was trying to stay crouched behind the back table, but also see what’s going on and that’s when Mr. Seaman was running right at him with his arms in front of him, and then he just tackled him against the wall. Then they were on the ground after Mr. Seamans swatted the gun from him an Mr. Seamans just laid on the shooter so he couldn’t do anything else.”

During my teaching years, I was aged 24 to 40. I had played intramural basketball as a point guard who was small and quick, and I had been a cheerleader for 2 years. I once ran out of my own non-air-conditioned classroom when a horde of ground bees invaded through our windows [which had no screens], in the heat of August, followed by most of my class. I was also told I was “too small” to be a lifeguard when in high school, despite having passed all of the coursework. I am 5′ 2″ and weighed about 130 pounds when I was a junior high school teacher. I know nothing about tackling young males who might assault me or my class, either with or without a weapon, and soon learned that, if I had contentious students who were going to throw punches at each other (which happened), I should quickly summon Mr. Pyevich or Mr. White, whose classrooms were on my left and on my right.

How effective do you think I would have been in a shoot-out? Why should my good friend Karen Schootman’s daughter now have to run drills for her classes to decide where they will hide and how they will barricade themselves against shooters when they come in armed to the teeth and start shooting innocent students and teachers? GET IT TOGETHER, PEOPLE. WE NEED GUN CONTROL LAWS LIKE EVERY OTHER CIVILIZED NATION!

And, yes, the cream of the crop does NOT seem to go into teaching any more. (Do you wonder why?) I even quit an Honorary Educators’ group (Delta Kappa Gamma) that was encouraging youngsters to go into teaching, because how could I, in good conscience, tell them this is a “good” job today?

Mr. Seamans, after his shooting, released this statement:  “I want to let everyone know that I was injured but I am doing great. To all students, you are all wonderful and I thank you for your support. You are the reason I teach.”

Ella Whistler, the 13-year-old girl shot in the head by the attacker, is still in critical but stable condition in the hospital.

A small footnote to the screed above: at least 10 states have laws allowing teachers to carry guns on K-12 campuses and 17 states have considered bills to arm school staff since the Parkland shooting. Mississippi, for one, has been interested in this “solution.” But here’s where it gets interesting:insurance firms balk at selling policies to schools if educators are armed. The Pro-Gun NRA (which has been infiltrated by Russians) says this is because the insurance providers are notorious liberals, trying to turn this into a political decision.

The Associate Executive Director for the Kansas Association of School Boards, Mark Tallman, said:  “I don’t think insurance companies are notorious anti-gun liberals. We think they’ve got good reasons for not doing it.” The 2007 Virginia Tech shooting where a student gunman killed 32 people and wounded 17 more cost at least $50 million in security upgrades and lawsuit settlement costs. And all this at a time when federal money is being directed away from education and into militaristic pursuits and Betsy DeVos—the most incompetent and unqualified Secretary of Education in history—is running the show.

In 2014, a sixth grade teacher in Utah mistakenly shot a school toilet. As I said in a previous post, I have known teachers who should not be allowed to operate a pencil sharpener in their classrooms, let alone come in packing a gun!

And so it goes. Comments welcome.

AP, CNN Reporters Barred from Scott Pruitt Public Meeting

Difficult as it is to believe, today journalists from CNN and the AP (Associated Press) were physically shoved out of a public meeting chaired by EPA Chief Scott Pruitt, with only those whose names were on a White House list being allowed to enter and report on this public meeting of the PFAS National Leadership Summit. The information being shared was not classified and it was a public meeting. Journalists being banned from a public meeting or mistreated when attempting to attend is why I no longer cover presidential races in the U.S., but focus on film.

The official excuse used by EPA spokesman Jehan Wilcox was that “there wasn’t sufficient room.” Photographs from journalists who were allowed inside showed plenty of room. 

Oliver Darcy, Senior Media Reporter for CNN, was nearly apoplectic as he was interviewed by Wolf Blitzer and Sally Buzbee, AP (Associated Press) Executive Editor also issued a statement denouncing this obvious attempt to stifle the press press.

Wake up, people. This is how dictatorships seize and hang on to power.

Director William Friedkin Screens “The Devil & Father Amorth” in Austin, Texas

William Friedkin came to town (Austin, TX) to show his 70 minute documentary, “The Devil and Father Amorth.” (Photo by Connie Wilson)

Acclaimed Director William Friedkin came to the South Lamar Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, May 12th, at 7 p.m. with his 70 minute documentary “The Devil & Father Amorth.” It screened to a packed house that came as much for the Q&A that followed as for the dry examination of the Vatican’s exorcist, whom Friedkin described as “the most spiritual man I ever met.”

The film, shot in 2016, was the first time an actual exorcism was allowed to be filmed, but the permission came with restrictions: only Friedkin could be present. No cameramen. No lights. And little action, as it turned out, except for the exorcism of a 31-year-old Italian architect named Gabriela Amorth, who had been unsuccessfully treated 8 times previously.  The actual exorcism, on May 1, 2016, was filmed by Friedkin using a small handheld camera and what he termed a GoPro, which, he said, is often used with drones. He certainly has experience in actually shooting scenes himself, as he proved during the shooting of “The French Connection” when he wrapped himself in a mattress in the back seat of a car driven at 90 mph and shot on the fly through the streets of New York City, (with no formal permissions to do so).

 Amorth was 91 at the time of the filming and Friedkin said he did not set out to film an exorcism. “I had no intention of making this film. I was in Lucca, the birthplace and home of Puccini, getting the Puccini prize for filming his operas. I was just there for 8 days in Lucca and I learned that the Leaning Tower of Pisa was only 30 miles away. From there, you could get a direct flight to the Rome airport, a one-hour flight.” Friedkin said he sent an e-mail asking if it would be possible to meet with Father Amorth, the world’s most famous exorcist, and he received the tentative yes, with conditions. Graydon Carter of “Vanity Fair” magazine (the recently retired publisher) urged Friedkin to go to Rome and interview Amorth and write an article for the magazine.

Friedkin at the South Lamar Alamo Drafthouse on Saturday, May 12th, with “The Devil and Father Amorth.” (Photo by Connie Wilson)

Friedkin did, in fact, write a 6,500 word article for “Vanity Fair” and shot the film we saw this night, which was far from the fiction of “The Exorcist.” He stressed that the Vatican has a very “hush hush” policy about exorcisms, so there really is no way to find out the truth of whether they work or not. But, after observing the 9th such attempt to rid the pretty architect of her demon, this film, dedicated to William Peter Blatty, who died in 2017, was the result. Asked if he thought Blatty would like the film, Friedkin said, “I think he would love it, which is why I dedicated it to him,” but he also noted that Blatty thought Amorth was a charlatan.

With 62 million people in Italy, 500,000 of whom ask for an exorcism to be performed annually, Blatty is not as quick to throw out the idea of an exorcism being ineffectual. Far from being an agnostic, as Wikipedia says he once was, Friedkin professed to believe in Jesus and said, “Who is anybody to say there’s no God?  We don’t know.  There are so many myths in the Bible, but there are billions of people who believed Jesus Christ was the son of God, because emotion trumps logic every time.” Friedkin went on to cite non-believers like Christopher Hitchins, who spoke out against the canonization of Mother Theresa, but, asked if he would banish religion and replace it with rational thinking if he could, he repeated,“Emotion trumps reason every time.  It’s why you have religion.  You cannot banish religion.”

During the Q&A, in addition to sharing that Father Amorth was an avid critic of the Vatican, but never experienced blowback from the Holy See because he was so popular, he was asked about the state of filmmaking today.

Said Friedkin, “They’re not for me,” of today’s movies, calling them spandex movies.  “There’s never any real danger or real suspense. It’s opium for the eyes.  There’s very little being done that I like.” He did, however, cite “A Quiet Place” as one of the few movies he’s seen that he liked very much.

William Friedkin at the Alamo Drafthouse, Austin, Texas,on May 12, 2018. (Photo by Connie Wilson)

When asked if anything weird or supernatural occurred during the filming of the 1972 classic “The Exorcist” Friedkin recalled how he received a phone call at about 4 a.m. from his D.P. (production manager) saying, “Don’t come to work tomorrow. The set burned to the ground about 2 hours ago.” Friedkin said that insurance did pay for the catastrophe and that some theorized that a pigeon (there were birds flying about in the area and on the set) may have flown into a light box, but, he noted, “there was a watchman sitting outside” and he thought the entire set burning down was unusual.  “I did not make the film as a doubting Thomas,” he said.  “I made the film as a believer.”

The chatty Friedkin (whom the interviewer/moderator referred to as “Billy,” which struck me as odd, since the man is 82) probably would have stayed and talked to us for hours, or so it seemed, but the staff needed to clear the hall for the influx of theater-goers coming to see the original “The Exorcist” on the big screen.

Meeting William Friedkin in person (and giving him a copy of “It Came from the 70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now was a real thrill for me. The man has made 15 films in 53 years and given us such classics as “The French Connection” (he was the youngest director to win Best Director at age 32 and the film also won as Best Picture), “The Exorcist,” “Sorcerer” and many, many more. I hope he continues to thrive in life.

The film ended with film of the funeral of the subject of the film, 92-year-old Father Amorth, who caught pneumonia and died very shortly after this documentary was made. The testimony of various psychiatrists and psychologists and the news that the very condition of being possessed is now termed ‘disassociative personality disorder- demonic possession’ was mentioned several times. Said Friedkin, “After I filmed it, it occurred to me that I should take it to 2 or 3 of the best brain surgeons in the world and let them debunk it.  The psychiatrists now recognize demonic possession, although they’ve removed a few disorders from the books, like homosexuality and narcissism.” He noted, with a nod to the current political climate, “I guess they feel that everybody from the top on down in this country has that.”

One thing that came out of the evening was that Blatty’s book was sheer fiction, because Blatty couldn’t find any way to break the church’s policy on letting anyone witness an exorcism and the only two reported ones in this country occurred in the 1922 in Early, Iowa, and in 1949 in College City, Maryland, which is the one that “The Exorcist” was based on. Said Friedkin, “The church does not really want people to know that there are people out there who have gone through it (an exorcism) and it has not been successful.” He described his own emotional experience while witnessing Gabriela’s exorcism as “terrifying” saying, “The fits come and go, like epileptic fits.” He also shared the fact that John Paul II was an exorcist in Poland before he became Pope and passed on 2 cases to Father Anorth when he ascended to the top position in the church hierarchy. And, said Friedkin, his life was threatened for the only time in his 82 years when Gabriela’s boyfriend demanded all the film he had shot of the exorcism back and Friedkin refused, causing her boyfriend, a member of the sinister Pyramid Cult, to threaten to kill him and all of his family. (Friedkin did not return the film.)

As a parting thought, Friedkin said, ‘There is a far deeper dimension to the Universe.  If there are demons there must be angels.”

Teachers in Austin Can’t Afford to Live in District, Says Study

(Book above by Connie Corcoran Wilson & Joseph K. Hasenstab)

Yesterday, while sharing wisdom acquired at the nail shop, I mentioned  short articles to come (about soy beans and teachers.)

I could write a really LONG diatribe about teachers and how it’s about time that teachers, nationwide, rise up and demand to be treated like professionals, but that isn’t this article.   (Indications are that  the movement is already escalating nationwide.)

As the author of “Training the Teacher As A Champion” (Performance Learning Systems, Inc. of Emerson, NJ) and a veteran teacher with approximately 200 teacher years in the immediate family (mother, sister, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, niece) it is a field about which I know a fair amount. I generally say I had a 37-year teaching career, since the Sylvan Learning Center I founded also involved teaching, and I also taught as adjunct faculty at all Quad City area colleges or universities at various times.

This is a short piece, basically lifted from page A7 of the Austin American Statesman, that notes:  “National Council on Teacher Quality data on teacher salary, qualifications, and home affordability reveals that even with 5 years of experience and a master’s degree, Austin ISD teachers cannot afford the median mortgage payments in the city.

Even more shocking, if a local teacher with those qualifications saved 10 % of his  or her income annually, it would take more than 10 years for the individual to generate enough for a 20% down payment on a home.” 

And, notes the Statesman, that is with today’s median home price, which is bound to go up, as it has steadily in Austin in recent years. The report was put together by Ku, Sikes and Edwards, all doctoral students in the College of Education at the University of Texas.

They also noted:  “For 2017-1028, Austin ISD lost 1,600 students in enrollment compared with the prior year—the 5th consecutive year of enrollment decline.  About half of the students are leaving the city to move to neighboring suburban districts because housing is more affordable. However, teachers get left out of the conversation with such gentrification taking over the affordable options.”

At a time when the President of the United States is seriously suggesting that teachers be issued guns to protect themselves and their charges, possibly even laying down their lives to protect the students in their charge, and wanna-be presidential candidates like Scott Walker (of Wisconsin) are destroying unions, in general, (especially those for public employees, including teachers) and Illinois is grappling with keeping promises made through the years, contractually, to retired teachers whose pensions are now coming due (when Illinois did not put in its fair share of that money in years past and is now trying to figure out where to come up with it), it is worth noting that teachers cannot even afford to live in the districts in which they teach, if those districts are popular destination cities like Austin, Nashville, etc.

I had a Master’s + 30 and never made more than $25,000 my best year  teaching in Illinois, with 17 and 1/2 years of experience in the field. I did try to help my SEA (Silvis Education Association) teachers’ organization unionize and gain recognition, in the hopes that our salaries and our working conditions could, at the very least, be negotiated, but whether that 3-year endeavor, which was ultimately successful,  has helped future generations of educators in that district is a question I cannot answer.

It is hard to tell your sons and daughters, your best and brightest, to go into teaching, if they are going to be a primary support of a family unit with sobering facts like those above. Lord knows that the students of today are not getting more respectful and better-behaved and some will argue that the teachers of today “don’t deserve as much respect,” but those are the very individuals I’d like to see do the job for just one semester in the trenches.

It gets even worse for college faculty, who, in Illinois, anyway, sometimes qualify for food stamps because they are squeezed like a sponge and given just enough hours to bring them up to full-time status where they would qualify for benefits like health care, but not enough to pass that threshold. I know this from teaching at 6 IA/IL colleges or universities.

And, since marriage as an institution seems to be on the ropes, too, many girls must face the fact that they may be supporting themselves without a second paycheck for their entire lives. Therefore,those individuals of either sex need to think long and hard about how much they need to live comfortably, and whether the field(s) they have chosen, no matter how rewarding personally, are going to meet their financial needs. It’s not a new question: it’s been one that is relevant to musicians, artists, filmmakers and any number of other occupations. It is now becoming a fact of life for teachers at a time when they are being asked to do much more with much less.

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