June 2010

Posted on August 18th, 2010
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June was a whirlwind, climaxing in the New Jersey International Film Festival, where the film received honorable mention in the best documentary category, and an emotional response from the attending audience. The film was attended by both Dave Kiley and Joe DeGironimo, the primary subjects in “For the Life of Me”. The dinner held before the screening was the first moment the two men met – it was a great affair, and it was wonderful how many members of NJ-CARE made it to Rutgers for the film’s NJ premiere.
The film has its very origins in the state of New Jersey, where the first rolls of tape were shot in 2005 with the intention of creating a 45 second PSA. Thanks to Pam Hasegawa’s encouragement, and the kindness and support of many other people, the film grew into a feature. Screening it in New Jersey was like bringing it back home.
With New Jersey on the cusp of passage of adoptee access legislation through both houses – a historical moment – I was also able to film one of the final hearings of S799 as it passed through the Assembly Health committee, and on to the next stage, the entire Assembly, a vote that will take place this fall. If you haven’t weighed in yet with a letter to Governor Christie regarding the bill, please take a moment to visit www.nj-care.org and find out ways you can help. There continues to be a lot of misinformation out there – the folks at NJ-CARE deserve a standing ovation for their tenacity and patience…

May 2010

Posted on June 10th, 2010
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I’ve been on the road for six weeks, and had a good time, despite swine flu and a propensity to lose things (like my boom pole, my phone, my flash drive, my mind). The best thing of all was that my youngest son, Jonathon, graduated from Penn (yippee!) and so there was much partying and celebrating. Yahoo!

I began work on a new film while on the road, spending four days at the National Archives (the motion picture division) in Maryland, outside DC, making some new friends among the researchers, and seeking out footage that’s in the public domain. Project to be announced!

I spent a couple days in New Jersey, hosted by the always hospitable Mary and Bill Mild, while helping Pam Hasegawa man the New Jersey booth at the state capitol in advance of legislative hearings taking place in June. I stand in awe of the tenacity of the NJ folks – they are a hardy bunch who know that while it can take a long time to help educate people about the issue of adoptee access, thirty years is long enough…

The film then screened in Rochester, New York during a day long training session at the Hillside Adoption Agency. Cudos to Lisa Maynard, who kept me on my feet that day (the flu was hitting hard) and who also made sure I had a nice safe place to stay.

I moved onto Massachusetts and continued working through our family member Jomo’s graduation from Brown, finally returning to Texas the beginning of June.

April 2010

Posted on June 10th, 2010
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Okay. This has been a long time coming.

April was a great month, starting off with turning 55 (born in ’55, so it seems like a special year somehow). Mid month, I headed out to Connecticut for the Kent Film Festival. I was blown away by the fact that Larry Newman, my sponsor, and Pam Hasegawa, one of the people who started this all, drove all the way up from New Jersey for the screening, as did Cindy Boynton Wolfe, who not only came but so did her son. Bravo! And equally exciting was that Dave Kiley, the star of the film, was able to see it with an audience for the first time. It’s different, watching it on a big screen with a lot of other people. He cried. Lots of people cried. And then the film won the “Sleeping Giant Award for Best Documentary”. And we all cried somemore. And laughed and drank wine. Kent was a lovely town with lovely people, especially my host, Marcia, and her many friends, who wined and dined me and got me completely hooked on electronic Scrabble. This is why we go to film festivals…

Following Kent was activity down at the state capitol in Rhode Island where legislation is pending regarding access to records. Paul Schibbelhute, of New Hampshire fame (he led the successful legislative effort there), invited me down to Providence for the day, and so we got ourselves on t.v. and in the newspaper, and tried to help ‘push the tree over’ in RI. Every state is different – and most states are struggling with budget issues. Rhode Island doesn’t look like its going to pass this year – but its not because folks aren’t trying hard…

On to MIT where one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended took place. Run by academics like Marianne Novy of Pitt, “Adoption: Secret Histories, Public Policies”. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting several of my idols face to face, from Susan Ito to Ann Fessler. “For the Life of Me” screened again – and Dave Kiley drove across the state to attend. It meant a great deal to have him see both the festival screening and the conference screening. For those who watch the film, having one of the main subjects in attendance allows them an opportunity to explore in more depth the issues his story raises. We all had a great time – and one learns so much from being able to hear the deep thoughts of those who’ve spent the majority of their lives pondering post adoption issues.

April rocked!

World Premiere, Cleveland

Posted on March 27th, 2010
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The feature premiered to a FANTASTIC audience tonight at the Cleveland International Film Festival. It was thrilling to be there, and to have had such support from the staff at CIFF, at Adoption Network Cleveland, and from individuals like Betsie Norris who put me up for five nights, CIFF sponsors Laura and Chris Blake, and my festival sponsor Elise Lewis who drove with two crazy Louisiana women all the way from Washington, DC to attend.

The evening had an interesting beginning, however. A couple of us spoke, then the lights dimmed, a trailer for the festival ran, and then… nothing. The theater was dark. After a minute, everyone began fidgeting. A person from the festival with a walkie talkie whispered to me that they were having trouble with a projector in a different screening that it might be a couple more minutes. So I asked the audience who I couldn’t see because it was pitch black, “Are you enjoying the film yet?” People chuckled and we waited a bit more. Lights still out. A minute later, I said, “I particular like this part here.” A half minute goes by. “I can tell many of you are finding this scene highly emotional.”

I walk from the back of the theater toward the front, hoping that everyone isn’t drifting off to sleep. “Well, I hope you enjoyed the film and I want to thank you all for coming. Does anyone have any questions?”

From the center of the theater comes, “What kind of camera did you use?”

“A Panasonic DVX100B – with the lens cap on.”

Back row left, “Was it hard to edit?”

“This was probably easier than any other film I’ve edited.”

The room is pitch black. I can’t see any faces, but we are laughing together in the dark. For the Life of Me has become a comedy.

A person in an aisle seat. “What’s your next project going to be?”

“I was thinking of something a bit… lighter.”

Finally, the Silver Tandem Production logo filled the screen and For the Life of Me was rolling. And for the first time ever I got an ovation at the beginning of a film.
And, fortunately, there was an ovation at the end of the film too, and a wonderful Q&A with the audience, whose faces I could finally see. It was a great night, one I’ll always remember.

A second screening occurs tomorrow morning. I’m kind of hoping the lights go out at the beginning and we have five minutes of darkness again to get to know each other. It was a magic way in which to launch the feature film!

To see a clip from NBC channel 3 news go to http://www.wkyc.com/news/local/news_article.aspx?storyid=133166&catid=3

March 2010…

Posted on March 25th, 2010
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Screening For the Life of Me in Sacramento at the American Adoption Congress conference was awesome – topped only perhaps by getting to dance with a cardboard cutout of FTLOM sponsor Elise Lewis who was unable to attend. Elise – we learned you are not a wallflower…

There are many new faces at AAC and it energizes me to meet them. The next generation of adoption reformers has arrived and they have much to teach us. Looking forward to AAC’s national gathering next year in Orlando.

The conference was made all the more special by a screening of Sin By Silence followed by a poignant workshop talk by adoptee and birthparent Brenda Clubine. Its impossible to capture the film’s impact in a couple sentences. Check out its website. Its in the ‘links’ section below.

But it was the time spent with friends from New Jersey to Kansas to to Canada to California that made this a journey extraordinaire. Being able to share For the Life of Me with my own tribe – nothing beats that…

So I’m on to Cleveland, for the world premiere of the feature film. The short version has screened before, but the full feature has never been seen in public. Cleveland – home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – quite simply… rocks. I’ve seen some great films, caught up with great friends, and simply can’t wait until Friday, March 26th at 7:30 p.m…

February 2010

Posted on March 10th, 2010
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The Sedona International Film Festival… rocks! For the Life of Me screened twice, to sold out theaters and appreciative audiences. Other attendees included celebs from Michael Moore to Tim Daly to Jane Seymour, and the festival organizers feted us all with galas and opportunities to link up with other filmmakers from across the country. Some highlights included:

an audience member following me out to the parking lot after my screening, and crying in my arms as he told me his own story…

Jerry Stiller’s tale about the effect the infamous Vortex had upon him…

watching J.J. Kelley accept the audience award for his doc – bravo!

eating Milk Duds during screenings… often…

watching the winter Olympics every night back at the hotel – with a fire in the fireplace…

trying to get that darn “Up with People” song out of my mind after watching “Smile Til it Hurts”…
and getting to meet William Storey from the film – elegant insights…

and the entire SIFF staff. Very special folks…

January 2010

Posted on February 11th, 2010
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FTLOM (short version) receives SMOGDANCE FILM FESTIVAL Audience Award for Best Picture!

The short version of For the Life of Me – a 29 minute cut of the feature film focusing solely on the story of Dave Kiley – premiered at the 12th annual Smogdance Film Festival (which runs concurrent with Sundance) on January 24th. The film garnered rave reviews and a surprise audience award. With the beautiful and compelling films in the open category, and filmmakers from as far away as Iran in attendance, it was an unexpected (but welcome!) honor. Perhaps an even greater reward for me was to sit in the Laemmle Theater for the two screenings and witness the audience reactions to Dave’s story. Audible weeping can be as profound as a standing ovation…

A deep thanks to Elise Lewis (and her husband and family) for their support of this festival and others!

In addition, the film had recent screenings on three new continents: Antarctica, South America, and Africa. Top this off with the news at the end of the month that For the Life of Me has been selected by the Women’s International Film Festival in Miami, and January was a stellar month!

December 2009

Posted on January 14th, 2010
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Making a film, like writing a book or any creative endeavor, feels like giving birth. One hopes that everyone else will love ‘one’s child’ and see the potential in it. As one filmmaker recently said to me, “We are all so in love with our subjects that we expect everyone else to be too.” Rejection (also known as ‘not being selected’) can feel highly personal. Yet in the very competitive environment of independent film today, it’s often a matter of just not enough spaces for all the stories that are out there.

December was a month where our first rejections came in, from places that receive so many entries that they are long shots. Sundance. Slamdance. Palm Springs. Big Sky. Sundance had over 9800 films submitted. Programmers must need therapy after such a daunting pile of films to sort through. With social issues from global warming to war to economic meltdowns to presidential campaigns, the competition isn’t just around the storytelling, but often the issues themselves. We are proud to have tried to break into the premiere festivals and we don’t feel rejected so much as… dwarfed!

The very same day we received the rejection from Sundance, the Cleveland International Film Festival programmers called to say they love the film and wanted it. What a huge thrill to receive this nod from Cleveland, which was in our top five list. We were ecstatic. On the heels of this were additional selection nods from Smogdance, Sedona, and Kent, as well as invitations from adoption organizations for screenings in Sacramento, Boston, and Rochester. Every invite, felt like Christmas, every enthusiastic embrace a validation of the importance of the stories “For the Life of Me” tells.

Dave Kiley, the star of the film, has never been able to attend a screening, but will be there in Cleveland for the feature premiere, and his attendance will enhance the experience for us all. It takes a lot of courage to be the subject of a documentary film, to put your life story ‘out there’ for all to see. Dave, and the other adoptees whose stories grace the film, are helping to illuminate the impact lifelong secrecy has had upon the lives of adopted citizens. It is their willingness to be in the spotlight which helps others to understand the need for reform…

To date, almost half the festivals that FTLOM has been submitted to have received sponsorship. We’ve thus far had a 55% acceptance rate, double what we’d hoped for. So to our very special festival sponsorship team, which has helped nurture our submission process, a hearty bravo: our first sponsors Nicole Burton and Pam Hasegawa, standout Elise Holden (my biggest fan I think!), her husband Holden, her parents and inlaws Sissy & John Bateman and Karen & Eliot Tokat, Denise Carroll & Nikki Tidwell, Peter Daulton & Catherine Craig, Anne Blair, Roberta MacDonald and all of NCCAR, Lawrence Newman, and of course Jon Strauss, you are all helping to make this happen with your support. Thank you!

November 2009

Posted on December 6th, 2009
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In 2005, the Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival, the longest running women’s film festival in the world, was a transforming experience for me as a filmmaker. I was humbled to have The Triumvirate included in the schedule of high quality films and to be able to spend four days getting to know some incredibly talented filmmakers as one of the invitees. So when the 2009 Festival invited For the Life of Me, choosing RMWFF as the venue to premiere the film was a no-brainer. The women running the festival are simply incredible, and respect filmmakers in a way that few festival programmers do. Being selected as a two-time attendee was an honor – and the festival exceeded all my expectations.

The premiere audience was fantastic – and an engaging Q&A followed the screening. Joining me on the stage were Rich Uhrlaub and Jeffrey Hannasch, two men who are transforming the way adoptee records are handled in Colorado. It meant so much to have them there – and to have my festival sponsor, Anne Blair, travel all the way from Puget Sound to attend the screening with her sisters.

Thirteen filmmakers representing ten films were invited to attend this year’s festival. We bonded as we were pampered at the elegant St. Mary’s Inn for four days. There is no other festival I know of which provides such a nurturing and productive environment for filmmakers, with its non-competitive, collabortive, supportive schedule. In addition to the festival, For the Life of Me was seen at a community screening at the University of Colorado and at a local alternative high school. Its impossible to quantify the impact these events had on audiences and upon us as filmmakers. Almost every filmmaker in attendance had dedicated years to making their films, many mortgaging their homes, and even risking their lives, to tell stories about issues that captured their hearts from around the world. Films covered everything from the ongoing environmental disaster in the Niger Delta, the amazing community of health workers surviving on the Burma border, the injustice of domestic abuse seen through the eyes of women serving life sentences in prison for killing their abusers, to the trial of a civil rights murderer. Having adoption reform included with these weighty world issues was incredible and saying I was humbled to be in attendance with these women doesn’t quite cover it.

People ask me what its like to attend a film festival, and each one is different. RMWFF is an experience that’s defined by words like fulfillment, fruition, inspiration and enlightenment, and, well… extended slumber party. My only regret is that it only lasted four days…

Rich Uhrlaub got us an additional screen in Colorado. I kidnapped the mother of one of the RMWFF filmmakers and the two of us sped up to Denver to the Mercury Cafe to one of the most unique screenings I’ve ever attended for any film. Suffice it to say, clinking glasses, credit card machines and cash registers, waiters asking viewers if they wanted a beer, a sunlit screen, and ceiling thumps from Zydeco dancers upstairs (not to mention the catchy Cajun music) did not deter a hardy audience from enjoying the film. The audience included my oldest son’s best pal, Pieter, a South African who drove all the way from Connecticut (okay, so the screening happened to coincide with his cross country trip) to attend the film. Great beer, a great audience, and a marvelous Q&A. Bravo Rich and Jason!

October 2009

Posted on October 11th, 2009
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Yikes. Its freezing in Lubbock! For some reason, I didn’t expect the west plains of Texas to ever be cold, at least not in October. Another presumption bites the dust. Just goes to confirm – you’ve got to experience things before you lock in assumptions about them. 2009 is proof that the Lubbock can be freezing and Seattle can be sizzling hot.

Jon and I are ensconced in an apartment near the Texas Tech football stadium, surrounded by college students. Just like old times. It’s been a great boon for me to be here. Few distractions, lots of time to work.

In addition to the release of For the Life of Me, we’re gearing up for the release of Silver Shorts, Vol. 1, a collection of my first four films: the adoption trilogy of The Triumvirate, Holding Hands, Vital Records, and the award-winning short, Breathing: the Mark Stanley Story. Big fun! I haven’t looked at them in a while, and each one brings back a slew of memories. The Triumvirate was just a student film, made while I was at New York Film Academy. That little film taught me so much – perhaps, most important, that you don’t have to be directly involved with adoption issues to be touched by them. The Triumvirate has invited many non-triad audiences to question closed records.

Each project has been a classroom. As I look at each film, I wonder how differently others might have cut it, what different perspectives they might have used to tell the stories. There are hundreds of choices in the editing, down to the individual frames of images as well as the additional elements of words, sounds, music. What would someone else do with the footage? What other stories lie within the hours of tape that should also have been told? And what different points of view might have changed the stories that were told to arrive at different conclusions?

I’m reminded that we can strive to be balanced in documentary work, but its impossible to be unbiased. From the questions asked, to the way in which subjects are filmed to the choices of cuts made, bias is there. Like a scientist trying to prove a theory, one starts off a documentary with an expectation of a certain conclusion, a desired summation, born of passion and personal experience. And then the movie takes you in new directions, leading to ephiphanies that you couldn’t have foreseen in the beginning

Being open to what each film ‘wants to be’ is the essence of the work. It’s, well, it’s like discovering that the Texas plains can be really cold in October. It’s a surprise, something that makes you ponder a good question: what else don’t I know that I thought I DID know? The answer lies through the lens of the camera, and through being open to what’s revealed in each frame…