The Good Life: Documentary Finds True Happiness In The Shire
By Nichole Dupont
The longer we live, the more essential it is to continue to drink from the elusive goblet of happiness. But where does the elixir come from? Documentary filmmaker Pamela Tanner Boll (executive producer of “Born into Brothels” and director of “Who Does She Think She Is?”) may have found the answer right in our own backyard. “A Small, Good Thing,” her most recent endeavor, chronicles the life of six very different folks living in the Berkshires who have ‘gone rogue’ from the American dream in order to live the best life possible.
“I’m a slow filmmaker,” Boll [right] laughs. “It took me about two years spending time with the questions. What makes a good life? How can we live in a way that doesn’t destroy the earth? I have travelled an awful lot and I wanted to do a small film that was local.”
Jen and Peter Salinetti of Woven Roots Farm.
“A Small, Good Thing” is returning to its Berkshire roots on Sunday, May 31 as part of the tenth anniversary of the Berkshire International Film Festival at the Mahaiwe in Great Barrington. The film has already won Best Indie Documentary at the Boston International Film Festival and will no doubt continue to receive accolades for its simple, powerful message.
So, what does it take to live a good life? According to the film and the people in it, fulfillment requires some simple, yet not-so-simple elements; having a relationship with nature, being part of a community and the old Shakespeare adage of being true to oneself. Not necessarily in that order, says Boll, but certainly each with the same magnitude.
“The whole film comes down to compassion, about living a compassionate life,” says Boll. “All of these characters have had to learn that we are not here alone.”
“It’s hard work, having a good life,” says Jen Salinetti. She and her husband Peter and their two young children are ‘cast’ members. Jen and Pete own and operate Woven Roots Farm in Tyringham. They are young farmers. They’re not in it for the money.
“The rewards of this life aren’t as tactile, they’re coming through on a soul level. I know that sounds corny but it’s just true,” she says.
During the course of filming three years ago, the Salinettis traveled to Rwanda to help farmers there establish a workable composting system. The trip, says Jen, was “the most transformative experience of my life.”
“The happiness level is striking in Africa. There is a tremendous care and understanding of where their place is, their home. There is a simplicity of lifestyle there but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t come with hard work.”
There’s no shortage of hard work depicted in the film, whether it’s the business of getting your hands dirty with farming or the reflective reconstruction that occurs inside the consciousness. Either way it’s got to happen, and it’s not a picnic at Tanglewood when it does. During the process of filming, yoga teacher Mark Gerow was struggling with losing his beloved sister while raising his two young boys as a single parent. It was not an “ideal” time to be filming a documentary about fulfillment.
“Everything took a huge turn that year. My sister was dying and I had to confront that,” he says. “I was kind of wallowing around in all of it, in my role as a parent and as someone who was recovering from addiction. I had to use the tools I learned to do the work on myself. Then I realized, maybe this is part of my calling.”
Shortly after the cameras stopped rolling, and after he laid his sister to rest, something of a miracle happened. Gerow got a call from a drug and alcohol rehab facility where he had been doing part-time work. They offered him a job, full time, with benefits, as the coordinator of a newly minted Mind Body Spirit program.
“I felt like I had walked into my tribe,” he recalls. “This is how I could give back to people.”
Going all in with your community is a pillar to contentment, even the experts in the film (and all over the world) say so. So does Shirley Edgerton [below], founder of the Pittsfield-based Youth Alive Step Team and also the region’s Women of Color Giving Circle. Her approach is very straightforward: You’ve gotta give some to get some.
“I thought this [film] may be an opportunity to share my story with the hope that others, particularly young women, would know that the circumstances that you are born into don’t determine the outcome of your life,” she says. “As a professional, I had opportunities to access employment that would increase my income, but those positions would either lessen my time with my children or decrease the time I could spend being involved in the community.”
Now that she is retired, Edgerton spends even more time with her community as the Cultural Proficiency coach for the Pittsfield School District. She is also enjoying the very simple pleasure of watching her granddaughter, now a year old, explore the great wide world.
“Of course, she is perfect in my eyes,” she says.
A Small, Good Thing, double feature with “Autumnal”
Sunday, May 31, 11 a.m.
Mahaiwe Center for the Performing Arts
14 Castle Street, Great Barrington
Check the website for more information on the Berkshire International Film Festival.
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Williamstown Film Festival: The Screenplay’s The Thing
By Lisa Green
Its winning formula has kept it a Berkshire fall tradition, but the Williamstown Film Festival is opening its 16th year with an experiment, Project Screenplay, and if you’ve ever considered writing a screenplay (or just happen to have one on hand), you shouldn’t miss it.
The Project Screenplay event, the first festival event on Wednesday, November 5 (Rated R for “Real Good Time”), will be presented in a game show format focusing on the art of the pitch. In several rounds, aspiring scribes pitch the audience and act out scenes and the audience decides who gets the green light. Industry pros will offer tips and advice for the page-to-screen process. First prize is a script consultation from New England Screenwriters and a festival all-access pass.
“We’re the first to do this,” says Steve Lawson, the festival’s executive director. “It was conceived in Cambridge by screenwriter Andrew Osborne. Sandra Thomas, my partner who had been at Images Cinema, heard about it and thought it would be a lot of fun. We’ve enlisted MCLA to be a part of Project Screenplay, which is especially meaningful since this is Mary Grant’s last year as college president.”
Attendees who’d rather watch than write will not be disappointed with this year’s lineup. “The season is strong because it’s very eclectic,” Lawson says. “It’s sort of a smorgasbord. When you have 8 or 9 films, there’s something that will appeal to everyone.”
And, of course, there will be the regular lineup of parties and conversations with celebrity artists. Bringing their star credentials this year will be actress Lili Taylor and her husband, writer Nick Flynn (they’ll be speaking at a lunch); and writer, director and producer Tony Gilroy (screenwriter for the Bourne series and Michael Clayton).
Lawson points out that, unlike some of the bigger film fests, the WFF is a linear festival, meaning no two movies are screened simultaneously. A movie diehard could make every single showing.
“Watching people go from a breakfast event to the cinema is fun,” Lawson says. “It becomes a family. There are no barriers — we pride ourselves that [famous] people are here and that you can talk with them.”
Among the strong lineup:
Match, starring Patrick Stewart as an aging Juilliard dance professor who is ostensibly being interviewed by a woman for a dissertation she’s writing about dance. (“Witty and suspenseful at the same time,” says Lawson.) Writer/director Stephen Belber will be present.
Like Sunday, Like Rain
Like Sunday, Like Rain, was a festival submission and has already been picked up for distribution next year. The film centers around a 20-something struggling musician who becomes an au pair for a 12-year-old cello prodigy. Writer/director Frank Whaley, perhaps better known as an actor (Pulp Fiction, Swimming With Sharks), will be in attendance.
Wild Canaries — A late addition to the lineup, it follows a Brooklyn couple in which one of the pair ascribes to conspiracy theories. When an elderly neighbor dies, they go on a reconnaissance mission and everyone is a potential suspect. Think Woody Allen-New York-offbeat style.
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In Its 15th Year, FilmColumbia Branches Out — To Hudson
By Jamie Larson
It’s movie time in Columbia County and this year the FilmColumbia Festival is celebrating its 15th year by expanding its offerings to a venue in Hudson for the duration, October 22-26. Of course, the festival remains centered where it all began, the Crandell Theatre in Chatham and other venues in the town but organizers and film buffs alike are excited about the growth and the opportunity to share more of the year’s best independent films.
“Film Columbia has grown tremendously and coming to Hudson seemed like a natural progression,” says Calliope Nicholas, in her 13th year as festival director. “And it’s an amazing venue. We love the Hudson Lodge [above], and its ballroom seats 200.”
Nicholas says the new location outside of Chatham will expose the already extremely popular festival (in other words, “buy your tickets now!”) to a new audience as well as add convenience for film buffs in Hudson.
The list of offerings this year in films, panels and programming is longer than ever and includes some one-time-only opportunities to see something truly unique.
FilmColumbia always provides a selection of worldwide darlings like Foxcatcher, the true story of a deranged and obsessive member of the Firestone family, played by Steve Carell, who becomes dangerously obsessed with a wrestler, personified by Channing Tatum. Already there is Oscar buzz surrounding Carell’s performance, as well as for the restrictive performance of Michael Keaton as a washed up actor trying to regain professional and emotional relevance while still haunted by his former, career-defining role as the titular Birdman.
Aside from those and a few other indie tent poles like The Imitation Game with Benedict Cumberbatch, FilmColumbia’s eclectic lineup ranges widely from under the radar to obscure to quirky to abstract.
“Personally, I’m really looking forward to seeing Timbuktu” says Nicholas of the prescient drama by seminal African filmmaker Abdarrahmane Sissoko. Set in Mali, the story focuses on a family trying to survive in their once diverse city when it is invaded by Jihadists who then impose extreme Islamic law.
Nicholas also highlights a documentary on the menu, Red Army. It’s a clever look at the story left untold about “the miracle on ice” Olympic hockey game when scrappy American players defeated the evil Soviet super-team. Red Army tells the story of the real human members of the Soviet team through their anxiety- fraught existence as near-literal weapons of the Cold War and what their lives became after they failed their empire. This is recent history and interviews with the players and others involved in the events cast a new light of compassion on this much-discussed moment.
Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language 3D may just be the most anticipated film at the festival by those who travel in circles where these types of things are anticipated. Called no less than “the most original voice in world cinema” by festival promoters, Godard, now 83, has produced a 3D movie like no other, layering words, images, sounds and ideas to show how language in all forms fails us. The film, we are told, is about all that and perhaps also serves as a love letter to his dog.
On Sunday, October 26 FilmColumbia will also host a local filmmakers program at 11 a.m. at the Hudson Lodge, showing short films like Hector is Gonna Kill Nate, from Columbia County resident Ari Issler. There are two offerings from Hudsonians: The Lady of Larkspur Lotion by Sergio Rico and Crazy Assed White Boy, by David McDonald, who will also lead the filmmaking panel at 1 p.m. following these and other local shorts.
The support of local filmmaking is as important to FilmColumbia and its host organization, the Chatham Film Club, as the movies on screen. To that end they’re offering two chances—one in Hudson on Saturday and in one in Chatham on Sunday—for local screenwriters to attend a screenwriting panel with actor Scott Cohen. The word “panel” doesn’t give the opportunity justice, as working and prospective local screenwriters will have the opportunity to workshop their pieces. Cohen, along with local and NYC actors, will be available to do live read-throughs of 5 to 10 pages from participants’ scripts, followed by audience discussion. While certainly a bold prospect for any artist, it’s a real and exhilarating exercise that is as fun to watch as it is informative for the writer.
From Sundance to Hudson, FilmColumbia is bringing together the best in independent films and filmmaking once again this year. The festival is as relevant and vibrant as ever and the new venue in Hudson should serve as a most elegant theater… and proof that Columbia County knows movies.
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Michael Lindsay-Hogg: Author And Director Shows, But Doesn’t Tell
Michael Lindsay-Hogg photo by Lisa Ticknor.
By Robert Ayers
Many artists use ambiguity in their work, but the City of Hudson is about to gain a new resident whose whole life story is shot through with intrigue and uncertainty.
Michael Lindsay-Hogg (born 1940) is definitely not the son of Orson Welles. Or perhaps he is. His memoir. Luck and Circumstance (published a couple of years ago by Random House), manages to say both things. A lot of well-connected people — friends of Welles and Lindsay-Hogg’s mother Geraldine Fitzgerald, among them — say he is, and so do the New York Times and Wikipedia for that matter, but his mother always maintained that he was not. Perhaps we should have the courtesy to believe her.
In any case, there is an awful lot more about Michael Lindsay-Hogg to interest us. By the time he was 24 he was directing Ready Steady Go!, the weekly show that introduced pop music to British television viewers. Not much later he was making the Beatles’ first pop videos (before the term had even been invented) and shortly after that he directed their movie Let it Be, which traces the group’s gradual implosion. It is usually remembered best for the sequence when the Beatles play “Get Back!” on a London rooftop, which is probably among the most celebrated bits of pop music footage ever shot. It was Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s idea.
At around the same time he directed the legendary Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, which, apart from a uniquely revealing performance by the Stones, features The Who, Jethro Tull, Marianne Faithfull, and a supergroup fronted by John & Yoko and Eric Clapton. Though it was shot in London in 1968, the movie was not released until 1996 when it was shown at the New York Film Festival to great acclaim. Like many other things in Lindsay-Hogg’s life, the reasons for its long disappearance are still shrouded in mystery, but he admits it’s a movie that, “I still have a very soft spot for.”
“It has a poignancy to it,” he continues. “When you’re 28 you can’t imagine you’ll ever be 70, nor can you imagine that some of the participants in the movie will soon be dead — in Brian Jones’ case in only five months, in Keith Moon’s in less than ten years, and in John Lennon’s in twelve years — because everybody seemed so incredibly alive, and so in the moment. There wasn’t any future, there was just now.”
So now Lindsay-Hogg wants his new neighbors to see it. On Friday, August 8, he’ll be at Basilica Hudson not only showing the long-suppressed classic, but also (courtesy of The Spotty Dog Books and Ale) reading from Luck and Circumstance and answering questions. Quite how straightforward his answers will be remains to be seen, but he is a legendary raconteur and the evening genuinely makes the not-to-be-missed category. He has plenty to talk about: his directorial stage credits include Agnes of God on Broadway and the original production of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart at Joe Papp’s Public Theatre. He also directed Running Mates with Diane Keaton and Ed Harris for HBO, and wrote and directed The Object of Beauty, which starred John Malkovich and Andie MacDowell.
Then the next day we get the chance to see a side of Michael Lindsay-Hogg that is far less celebrated when BCB ART (also in Hudson) opens his exhibition of paintings and drawings, You Game? I’m Game. Pictures have always had a special significance for Lindsay-Hogg, as he didn’t learn to read until he was nine he could only follow stories in the frames of comic books. He has drawn all his life, but it was only recently that his wife encouraged him to buy some canvases and paints “to see what would happen.” The results are as intriguing as anything else he’s ever made.
He doesn’t begin a picture with a clear idea in mind. “Images will change as I’m doing them,” he says, and “I like to be surprised.” Of one untitled painting he can only say that the ringmaster figure might have something to do with photographs of Mick Jagger in Rock and Roll Circus that he had nearby, and that the figure on the right looks rather like Mandrake the Magician whom he remembers from those old comic books. Other than that, he says, “What’s going on between these characters, I don’t know. I’m quite happy for the viewer to figure it out. Or to not figure it out, perhaps. It’s just as interesting for the viewer to say what it means as for me to say what it means.”
A virtuoso of ambiguity indeed.
Michael Lindsay-Hogg film screening and reading
Friday, August 8 at 8 p.m., $10
Basilica Hudson, 110 S Front Street, Hudson, NY
You Game? I’m Game. art opening and reception
Saturday, August 9, 6-8 p.m.
BCB Art, 116 Warren Street, Hudson, NY
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Carl Sprague’s Concept Illustrations Come To Life In ‘Grand Budapest Hotel.’
Sprague’s concept drawing for the hotel model in The Grand Budapest Hotel
By Jeremy D. Goodwin
It was a bit chilly to be out dodging paparazzi.
Carl Sprague was in Görlitz, Germany last winter, on the set of Wes Anderson’s latest essay of beguilingly affected cinema, when an anonymous bomb threat (later seen to be a hoax) sent the cast and crew out to shiver on the street.
“We were shooting this funny scene where all these army officers are half-undressed, jump out of their hotel rooms and start firing their guns. Everyone fled the building and went out to the street, including all these poor extras in their underpants,” Sprague recalls, before mimicking the avalanche of whirring camera shutters that accompanied the assembled paparazzi’s efforts to take their best shots at the exposed actors. There was particularly good hunting, with Adrien Brody, Jude Law, Bill Murray and many other household names among the cast.
Sprague at home (Photo: Jeremy D. Goodwin)
Sprague sits in his Stockbridge living room on a bright winter afternoon as he recounts some more-pleasant events during the shoot, including bowling expeditions with the cast (“Jeff Goldlbum turned out to be a very impressive bowler,” he recalls with admiration), or anytime Anderson looked over Sprague’s shoulder, as he sketched out his proposal for a set model, and offered approval.
Anderson, of course, is famously preoccupied with design aesthetic, including the obsessively detailed sets that articulate the carefully curated world of his imagination — a familiar but disorienting place, where oceanographic documentaries are received at lavish premieres like the magnum opera of auteurs, and there’s good swimming to be had at the 375th St. YMCA.
Sprague was concept illustrator for Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, sketching out designs for key elements like the titular hotel’s façade, seen above. (The film did remarkably well in its initial, limited release, and opens locally at Great Barrington’s Triplex Cinema and in Pittsfield at The Beacon Cinema on March 28.) He did the same for Anderson’s previous film, Moonrise Kingdom; their relationship began with the director’s 2001 breakthrough The Royal Tenenbaums, for which Sprague was art director.
Sprague is on a hot streak. After Budapest, he was brought on as concept illustrator for the eventual 2014 Best Picture Oscar-winner 12 Years A Slave. The Anderson connection is a particularly fashionable one, but Sprague cut his teeth on the sets of a couple fairly well-known folks named Spielberg (Amistad) and Scorsese (The Age of Innocence), both of whom employed him as assistant art director. He even wound up onscreen in Budapest, securing an acting credit as Distant Relation (seen in costume below) in a will-reading sequence.
Sprague’s concept drawing for the dock set in 12 Years A Slave
The glitz of these types of film shoots is certainly fun, but he has a freer hand over the look and feel of a production when he works closer to home, in the theater. Sprague is familiar as the set designer for innumerable productions at Berkshire Theatre Group, Shakespeare & Company, Oldcastle Theatre and elsewhere. He’s clearly an adaptable guy when it comes to this stuff; he was even production designer for Gregory Crewdson’s signature series of conceptual photographs, Beneath the Roses. (For that project he built some sets at MASS MoCA, where Sprague Electric Company once ruled the roost.)
Though his family goes back awhile in the Berkshires, this Sprague spent his childhood on the Upper East Side, summering in Lenox before his family moved back full time when he was 12. He wasn’t satisfied with just one concentration as an undergrad at Harvard, so he earned a double major (in film and philosophy), graduating magna cum laude.
Wearing his actor hat (literally) on the set of The Grand Budapest Hotel
His brother Kevin is well known locally as the marketing/design guru of Studio Two. But Carl cuts a lower profile, quietly dispatching to movie shoots when not working at his drafting table at home, where he lives with his painter wife Susan Merrill, their three corgis, and a slightly claw-happy cat.
It’s particularly satisfying, he says, to work on projects where he’s truly telling a story through his work. He confirms something we’ve long suspected from looking at the onscreen results: Anderson has particularly specific tastes when it comes to art design. “He’ll tell you what he wants,” Sprague explains, “and he’ll tell you if you’ve gotten there or not, and then he’ll keep on tinkering with it absolutely right up until the moment it shoots. With Wes’s stuff, everybody — from the production designer down to the standby prop man — is really working to execute his vision. He really is driving the train.”
He’s seen other approaches. On the set of Amistad, Sprague remembers the extensive prep work that went on before its legendary director arrived on-set. “When he arrived, it was sort of like the world-famous heart specialist who walks into the room at the moment the surgery is supposed to be performed. He stretches on his gloves,” he says, mimicking the gesture, “and the whole staff is lined up with all the instruments all clean and perfect, the patient all draped and ready.”
But Sprague was stunned to watch first-hand as the maestro’s personal touch transformed a scene into something indelible. “Then there’s a little fog, and Mr. Spielberg pulls together a little crowd of actors and they’re walking up into this courthouse, and you suddenly think — ‘Oh my gosh, this is one of those archetypal Spielberg images.’ The whole picture falls into place, where every little piece is just right.”
Sprague has paid his dues, translating other directors’ visions into reality. But he wants to turn his attention next to a long-simmering project of his own — a film adaptation of Edith Wharton’s Summer, which he aims to direct.
You can safely say he’s learned from the best.