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Friday, October 24, 2008

Concord, NH: Enthusiasm chasm


I started off my day in Concord doing an hourlong interview on the WKXL AM 1450 ("Thoughtful Community Radio") show "Movies Are My Business" (archive will one day be posted here). I enjoyed talking about the film to a film buff - host Barry Steelman - and getting to sound off on film-specific things, rather than the same old music and religion snake oil I've been peddling for three years. I thought I'd done a good job, but two hours later, listening to the interview on the car radio in the NHTI parking lot, I did in fact doze off and woke to the sound of a chiropractor talking about his business. So I now have the distinction of having actually put myself to sleep talking about my film.

After meeting my NHTI Film Society sponsor, Steve Ambra, I went back downtown for a haircut and then a few hours with the Obama campaign, where the lowlight of my afternoon was my phone conversation with an "undecided" voter (he sounded too brittle with anger to be anything other than a McCain supporter) who claimed to be concerned about something he was just reading about Obama refusing to release his birth certificate to prove he was an American citizen eligible for the presidency. I refered him to Snopes and resisted the temptation to share David Sedaris's take on the undecideds.

On my way to the screening (big success, with friends and family in the audience and a warm reception to film, remarks, and violin performance), I stopped by the big fancy McCain / Sununu headquarters on Main Street to take the Republicans' temperature. If attendance is any indication, they're cooked.

Speaking of the election, here's a Mamma & Obama in 2008 update: (pdf)


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fall / New Hampshire


Today I reported to Obama headquarters in Manchester, NH, and worked the phone for four hours. I made 231 calls from the senior citizen pile, reached nearly that many answering machines, and persuaded a minority of callers reached to tell me their presidential preference. Nine will vote for John McCain and Sarah Palin, sixteen will vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden, a dozen were undecided (see below).
One woman who began our conversation undecided said she was leaning toward Obama at the end of it, so if the election is decided by New Hampshire's four electoral votes and Obama wins by the thinnest of margins, you will have me to thank.
So, nu? Sununu? The senator is so fucked his gold-plate lettering is spontaneously detaching from the wall

Most fun was the little bell everyone had by their phone - after hanging up with an Obama supporter, you gave it a triumphant little ding and the phone bank erupted in applause and hoots. Early in the day, someone came over and took my bell, so when I left four hours later I announced that I'd saved all mine up and hit someone else's bell sixteen times in a row. (The crowd roared.)

I have something to say about getting involved in the presidential election. Two weeks remain. Each of us must do what we can to help Obama win in a landslide, win with an indisputable mandate. It does not matter if you are in a "safe state" like California or New York - phone banks will put you in touch with voters in swing states to convince them and help hone get-out-the-vote ground games Nov. 4th. Even for those of us in safe states, the popular vote counts importantly toward a mandate, and besides, California has crucially important ballot measures, like Prop. 8, which would rescind the right of same-sex couples like James and me to marry. We must defeat it, and recent polls show it leading.

But I want to emphasize a selfish reason for you to overcome inertia, thrift and shyness to donate money, time, or, preferably, both. When I think back on the last four and eight dismal, shameful years - when I think of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, Iraq and the lost opportunity of Afghanistan, the deregulation orgy that has despoiled the environment and eviscerated the economy, the ideological troglodytism that has disfigured the Supreme Court - each of these American tragedies and humiliations, these depredations against conscience, I was helped to endure by reminding myself I hadn't stood by in 2004 and done nothing. I hadn't done so very much, but at least I had overcome inertia, shyness and thrift, gotten on a plane, shelled out money and knocked on doors in Ohio for ten days. Of course it was crushing to lose Ohio then. But having fought for it eased my conscience as an American to a degree that I could not have foreseen. Going to Ohio turned out to be a huge gift - to myself.

This time, donate your time and your money so that when President Obama is inaugurated, you will share in the victory, the accomplishment and satisfaction, and the repudiation of what we have done as a nation and endured as its people. Please do not let yourself off the hook for the next thirteen days. It would be an act of self-robbery.

I have the New Yorker and staff to thank for causing me to double over twice today. From the Oct. 27th issue of the magazine:

Shouts and Murmurs: Undecided
David Sedaris

I don’t know that it was always this way, but, for as long as I can remember, just as we move into the final weeks of the Presidential campaign the focus shifts to the undecided voters. “Who are they?” the news anchors ask. “And how might they determine the outcome of this election?”

Then you’ll see this man or woman— someone, I always think, who looks very happy to be on TV. “Well, Charlie,” they say, “I’ve gone back and forth on the issues and whatnot, but I just can’t seem to make up my mind!” Some insist that there’s very little difference between candidate A and candidate B. Others claim that they’re with A on defense and health care but are leaning toward B when it comes to the economy.

I look at these people and can’t quite believe that they exist. Are they professional actors? I wonder. Or are they simply laymen who want a lot of attention?

To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?”

To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.


And this, gleaned from Alex Ross's blog The Rest Is Noise:



Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Austin in grainy cell phone pictures


The Austin premiere of Apparition of the Eternal Church Monday night, at the University Presbyterian Church, featured live organ accompaniment - Scott McNulty playing the title work and Paul Keith playing the Celestial Banquet. The show started off with movements from Messiaen's Glorified Bodies (a title even he made jokes about) and Nativity Suite (God Among Us). After the screening, I skipped my usual reading from OH MY GOD: Messiaen in the Ear of the Unbeliever and went right to the Q&A, which was lively. Then I performed, with Chris Oelkers, the final movement, for violin and piano, from Quartet for the End of Time - it went over big. I remember thinking several weeks ago that I would have to become a better violinist to be able to play that piece. Messiaen, G-d love him, is a bitch to play.
In addition to being the Austin premiere, this was also the Presbyterian premiere. It was the sixth church screening after the two at St. Bartholomew's in New York, the SF premiere at Grace Cathedral, the Boston premiere at Marsh Chapel on the BU campus, and the Norway premiere at the Church of Our Lady in Trondheim (the Lutheran premiere). As I said at Grace Cathedral: when I made this film, with all its rough language and what is referred to by presenters as "adult themes," I did not expect it to play in church. But who can resist a nice, big organ?


I like Austin's politics - I saw one McCain/Palin bumper sticker, and dozens of Obama/Biden signs, stickers, buttons, etc. This was my favorite.



I have spent an unbelievable amount of time in the air the last several months - well, all year. I feel terribly guilty about this, for environmental reasons (there's pretty much nothing you can do that's worse for the climate, except set oil fields on fire), but I've grown to actually like the experience of enforced leisure minus Internet access. I would take this to Workaholics Anonymous, but first I need to deal with my political-news and election polling addiction.


I write from New Hampshire, where the movie screens in Concord on Friday, and where I'll do my first volunteering of the campaign season tomorrow, in Manchester. I'm also planning to canvas/volunteer when I'm in DC next week. Will they send me to the real Virginia or the other one? (Question for Sarah Palin or Maria Bachmann: as a San Francisco liberal atheist homosexual, am I a fake American, an anti-American American, or a fake anti-American American?) One of the things I enjoyed about today's flights was annotating all the route maps and vacation ads in the inflight magazine with "anti-America" (California, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, the Northeast, Missouri, France, Canada, Mexico, South America, Africa, Asia, the Atlantic Ocean, etc) and "pro-America" (Arizona, Alaska, Wyoming). Hours of inflight entertainment.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

my new film premieres in Canada

Greetings from Sackville, New Brunswick, where Mount Allison University and the Vogue Theatre are screening my new film "Apparition of the External Church." It's based on the radical premise that 20th-century French-Gothic organ music should be performed in the outdoors.

Next stops, with the Eternal Church: Austin Oct 20, Concord NH Oct 24, DC Oct 31 with Coolidge Auditorium recital Nov 1. I still owe this blog a Chicago wrap-up but am still trying to get my mind around Christopher Taylor's performance of the Vingt Regards.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

US to Sarah Palin



I got the idea for this Sarah Palin poster about a week ago (click on image for larger one). This morning, email popped into my box about the Palin Political Poster Project. With 48 hours to prepare for the next leg of the film tour, I had no business designing this poster - but as John McCain likes to say, country first.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Chicago, IL: critical mass



Lots to catch up on since leaving SF Sept. 24th - successful, sartorially triumphant and emotionally twisted days in Dallas, incomparable week in Tennessee, and a so-far terrific time in Chicago with the exception of being cornered last night in my in-laws' suburban garage by a baseball-bat-wielding gangsta teen (I froze, James saved us). More about all that later! For now, the reviews are in, and Chicago likes my film:
"Stunning...Perhaps the finest film ever made on how people experience music, and one of the best-crafted and moving documentaries in a very long time."
- The Chicago Sun-Times

"Fascinating."
- The Chicago Tribune

"A remarkable film...highly, highly recommended."
Back east, they still like it:
"Intensely personal...nothing can quite prepare you for the experience."
- New Yorker critic Alex Ross
I don't think I mentioned that the film won a prize at the Rome International Film Festival (one of the finest regional film festivals in the southeastern United States) a few weeks ago:
Best Experimental Film
Most fun in Chicago so far was the morning I spent with Andrew Patner at WFMT. The interview was fluid and lively and Andrew did a great job segueing in and out of the musical selections, which included Messiaen playing "God Among Us" from the Nativity Suite, Albert Fuller playing the first movement of the Rameau Suite in A (Allemande), and Olivier Latry playing the Apparition. Favorite part was rummaging around the station's huge CD and LP collection to come up with those three tracks - when have I felt like such a kid in a candy shop? Oh yeah - Tennessee.

The interview with Andrew aired last night between 11 and midnight and I didn't get to listen. But it should be available as a podcast soon here.

If you're in Chicago or know someone who is - two more screenings of the film this week, including tomorrow's big show at the gaudily gorgeous (English rococo?) St. James Cathedral downtown:
• Saint James Cathedral, Chicago
Screening accompanied by Bruce Barber, organ
Q&A/reading/remarks
Wabash and Huron
Chicago
Wednesday, October 8, 2008, 7 p.m.
Free admission


• Loyola University Museum of Art
820 North Michigan Avenue
Chicago
Sunday, October 12, 2008, 1 p.m.
***UPDATE***
The WFMT interview is posted here:
10-06-08: Paul Festa (Filmmaker)

And a blog called "The Listening Sessions" just posted this write-up:
Thursday, October 9, 2008
... Paul Festa's "Apparition of the Eternal Church" ...

***SECOND UPDATE***
Another blog posting on the event:
Sunday, October 12, 2008
"All of this has happened before"
Apparition of the Eternal Church

"A fascinating portrait of how people experience music."


***THIRD UPDATE***
Chicago is apparently teeming with bloggers - more posts from the St. James show than in the last two years of screenings combined. Modesty prevents me from quoting this one, but secretly I'm pleased someone noticed the outfit.

Monday, October 13, 2008
The Year of Musical Thinking
Ghost Light Monday -- Apparition of the Eternal Church documentary film




About Me

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Paul Festa’s first film, Apparition of the Eternal Church (2006, 51 min), captures the responses of 31 artists to the apocalyptic music of Olivier Messiaen (with Justin Bond, John Cameron Mitchell, Harold Bloom; screenings: Grace Cathedral, Barbican Centre, Library of Congress; “Remarkable”The New Yorker; “Stunning”Chicago Sun-Times; “Sublime”Globe & Mail; numerous awards). Festa performs the Tchaikovsky violin concerto, opposite members of the San Francisco Ballet and The Cockettes, in his award-winning second film, The Glitter Emergency (2010, 20 min), a silent-film drag ballet comedy (“Enormous visual and musical inventiveness…full of pleasure and joy...Festa gives a bravura performance."—Film Threat). He produced, wrote and edited, with director Austin Forbord, and was chief archivist, for the Emmy-nominated documentary Stage Left: A Story of Theater in San Francisco (2010, 80 min: with Robin Williams, Bill Irwin, Peter Coyote; screenings: Geary Theater, KQED; “Intriguing...entertaining...a valuable record”—Variety). Performances as violinist and actor: ODC Theater, Center for Performance Research, Kunst-Stoff, TheatreFIRST, North Bay Shakespeare, Albert Fuller's Helicon Ensemble (Merkin Hall, Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall). US, Boston, NYC, SF, LA and DC (Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress on the “Betts” Stradivarius) premieres of Messiaen’s Fantaisie for violin and piano. He is the author of OH MY GOD: Messiaen in the Ear of the Unbeliever, based on Apparition of the Eternal Church, and several anthologized essays, and has written for The Daily Beast, Salon, Nerve, and The New York Times Book Review. Current projects include a novel and Tie It Into My Hand (2014, ca. 80 min), a documentary feature that has screened as a work in progress at the Cannes film market and at ODC Theater in San Francisco (with Alan Cumming, Gary Graffman, Peter Coyote, Mink Stole, Robert Pinsky; "A fascinating exploration of the artistic life, as rollickingly entertaining as it is insightful and stirring."San Francisco Bay Guardian). Education: Yale (B.A.; prizes, honors, distinction), Juilliard (Cert., Adv. Cert., scholarships). Residencies: Yaddo, MacDowell, ODC Theater, Centre des R├ęcollets.

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