Cleveland International Film Festival Re-Cap

The Cleveland International Film Festival is such an incredible experience and this year several of our staff members attending screenings. Here’s a compilation of some movies we saw.

The Chaperone

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Directed by Michael Engler, Screenplay written by Julian Fellowes, Based on the book Laura Moriarty

Starring Elizabeth McGovern and Haley lu Richardson

A young Louise Brooks has the opportunity of a lifetime to attend a dance institute in New York City in the 1920s, under the condition that she is accompanied by a chaperone.  Local housewife, Norma Carlisle, volunteers to chaperone Louise and they embark on a life-changing adventure.  Norma seizes the opportunity to find closure with her past and redefine her future.

– Beth

Princess of the Row

Winner of the Roxanne T. Mueller Audience Choice Award

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Directed by Max Carlson, Written by A. Shawn Austin, Starring Ana Ortiz, Taylor Buck, Martin Sheen

A persistent young girl is determined to take care of her mentally ill father who suffered a traumatic brain injury while serving in Iraq, and now lives with severe PTSD on the streets of LA’s skid row.  This movie was beautifully shot with such a powerful message.  If you get a chance watch it, be sure to have tissues on hand.

-Beth

Shorts Program 3

Lunch Break – Directed by Tyler Smith

A Monsoon Date– Directed by Tanuja Chandra

Death Metal Grandma – Directed by Leah Galant

Bertie- Directed by Garry Crystal

Digital Age– Directed by Piripinghi

I am Black and Beautiful – Directed by Hawanatu Bangura

Light Work – Directed by Scott Kawczynski

With Thelma – Directed by Ann Sirot & Raphael Balboni

-Beth

100 things

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Directed and written by Florian David Fitz, Starring Florian David Fitz,  Matthias Schweighöfer, Miriam Stein

Lifelong friends, Tony and Paul develop a software that helps big data companies precisely advertise consumer goods to users.  As they are on the brink of breaking into a huge market, their egos force them to challenge each other in a bet.  They make a bet that the other can’t live without all their stuff for 100 days.  Each day they can reclaim one of their possessions.   The movie was hysterical and a great commentary on how much time and energy we spend being consumers.

-Beth

To Kid Or Not To Kid

To Kid or Not to Kid is a documentary directed by Maxine Trump. My wife and I previously met the filmmaker and identified with the topic, so our schedule was centered around making sure we were in the audience for one of the screenings of this personal film during CIFF43. Maxine interviews several women and traces her own journey of deciding whether or not to be a mother. She explores how the medical industry makes it difficult for women to make choices about their own bodies. She examines the cultural/societal pressure that pushes women to have children and makes them feel as if something is wrong with them if they don’t either by choice or by chance.

-Byron

Storm Boy

Storm Boy is a family drama from Australia directed by Shawn Seet. Geoffrey Rush plays a retired business man. The movie is primarily his reminiscences of his childhood when he raised orphan pelicans. Like the many stories about a boy and his dog or a girl and her horse or any other kid learning about the circle of life from raising a pet this was a bit of a tearjerker. This is actually the second adaptation of a short book by the same name. The production design set in modern day and back in the ’50s is well done, and the cast does an excellent job.
-Byron

Around the Sun

Around the Sun is an indie drama directed by Oliver Krimpas. This British film consists entirely of two actors having various conversations at a French chateau. Our library was one of the sponsors of it. There are multiple chapters and parallel realities imagined through this film where the young man and woman are at the chateau for different reasons and they meet under slightly different circumstances. They discuss big ideas of science and philosophy and human relationships. It is a bit disorienting keeping the different versions of their story straight, but I liked it. It was a challenge like putting together a puzzle.
-Byron

The Kleptocrats

This film is a documentary about the scandal surrounding Malaysian wealth fund 1MDB.  Investigative reporters from The New York Times and Wall Street Journal manage to trace the money trail and unravel the scheme.  3.5 billion dollars was allegedy stolen from a Malaysian government wealth fund called 1Malaysia Development Berhard.  This fund was intended for strategic development projects in the areas of energy, real estate, tourism and agribusiness in Malaysia. To the utter dismay of the Malaysain people, this fund evolves into one of the world’s biggest white collar heists.  Portions of the allegedly stolen money was used to bankroll the 2013 Leonardo DiCaprio blockbuster Wolf of Wall Street.  This is a compelling film about greed and a financial scandal of global proportions. As a viewer, I was very engaged and on the edge of my seat. 
-Mary

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Ohio Poet Stanley Plumly: 1939-2013

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Ever year, it is inevitable, we come across the news of the passing into elsewhere of our heroes.  We don’t know where they go, but we know that we felt blessed to have had them here when they were here.  That’s how I feel today, on hearing about the death of American poet Stanley Plumly.  He was a deep and strong and elegiac poet, who wrote remarkable poems about the natural world and the worlds of human beings who shaped him.  He was the first poet I ever came across, with the exception of Philip Levine, who wrote utterly brooding and moving poems about his parents, how they were who they were, how they danced across the vista of his life and influenced him indelibly.

Sometimes I feel very sad when a beloved poet dies.  There is something, to my mind, very holy about the art of poetry, of speaking and bringing into being one’s own deepest, most vital thoughts and feelings, expressed into a durable form (language) that somehow miraculously outlasts and transcends civilizations.  There is comfort, I think, in encountering these various voices of poetry, for they suggest that something does live on after death, something beautiful about the soul and the spirit, something rich and flowering and fresh and familiarly strange.

But enough of the talk.  I wanted mostly to share a poem by Plumly, who wrote many.  Here is one from Poets.org, called “At Night”:

When did I know that I’d have to carry it around
in order to have it when I need it, say in a pocket,

the dark itself not dark enough but needing to be
added to, handful by handful if necessary, until

the way my mother would sit all night in a room
without the lights, smoking, until she disappeared?

Where would she go, because I would go there.
In the morning, nothing but a blanket and all her

absence and the feeling in the air of happiness.
And so much loneliness, a kind of purity of being

and emptiness, no one you are or could ever be,
my mother like another me in another life, gone

where I will go, night now likely dark enough
I can be alone as I’ve never been alone before.

 

What is the “it” in the first line?  What does it mean to add to the dark?  What is the relationship between loneliness and “a kind of purity of being / and emptiness”?  And what does it mean to be alone in a different, new way, “as I’ve never been alone before”?  Plumly raises these important and fascinating questions, and the poem, in its own unfolding, gestures towards answers that are perfectly capable of being and living and answering themselves within the form and content of the poem, and therefore within us, its readers.  The writing of the poem, as Plumly knew, was an embodiment of the poet’s spirit seeking to understand itself through the weaving and conjuring of a shape adequate to its own great longing.  Plumly was able to convert this longing into a form that seems to understand and speak to and assuage our own longings.  He was a poet who deserves a wide audience.  He will be missed.

New Fiction Roundup – April 2019

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A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C.A. Fletcher – When a beloved family dog is stolen, her boy owner sets out on a life-changing journey through the ruins of a dystopian world to bring her back.

Emily Eternal by M.G. Wheaton – Designed in a lab to help humans process trauma when the Earth’s sun begins to die prematurely, an artificial consciousness discovers a possible way to save humanity, only to be attacked by individuals who would control her technology.

The Affairs of the Falcons by Melissa Rivero – Fleeing the economic and political strife of 1990s Peru, undocumented factory worker Ana struggles to support her family while fending off the challenges of discrimination, sexual harassment and a loan shark’s criminal enforcers. A first novel.

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The Ash Family by Molly Dektar – Drawn by a mysterious stranger to a remote farming community that lives off the fertile mountain lands, a North Carolina teen is seduced by their high ideals before new friends begin to disappear. A first novel.

Beyond the Point by Claire Gibson – Three West Point cadets—including a nationally ranked point guard, an Army general’s faith-driven granddaughter and a rebellious homecoming queen—embark on bond-forging military careers on the eve of the September 11 attacks. A first novel.

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton – Exiled in a drug-oppressed refugee suburb in 1980s Australia, a 12-year-old boy dreams of a career in journalism while fending off the local criminal element to protect his imprisoned mother. A first novel.

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Feast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg – The life of a controversial mid-20th-century photographer is chronicled through her daughter’s memories, interviews with her intimates and excerpts from journals and letters documenting her quest for artistic legitimacy in the face of public notoriety.

Henry, Himself by Stewart O’nan – A 75-year-old retired engineer looks out on 1998 and sees a world he suspects has passed him by, and weighs his life’s dreams against his regrets, in this prequel to Emily, Alone.

Lights All Night Long by Lydia Fitzpatrick – With the help of his American host family’s daughter, Sadie, who has secrets of her own, Russian exchange student Ilya embarks on a mission to prove his brother Vladimir’s innocence in the murders of three girls back in Russia. A first novel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Poetry Month – What is Poetry?

Folks, it is National Poetry Month, which means we really should try to answer an important question: What is poetry?  Or, as many might feel is a more appropriate way of asking the question, What the heck is a poem, anyways?

This is a very valid question that comes from a very genuine place.  I think there are many avid readers out there, readers who consume novels and non-fiction with a kind of ardor, who still come reluctantly to poetry, and wonder how or why people connect to that particular art form.

What is poetry?  How does it differ from the other art forms, like visual art, or theater, or music?  Isn’t poetry a kind of music?  And isn’t it something you have to look at to appreciate its form, and therefore isn’t it kind of like visual art?

One of my favorite descriptions of what poetry is comes from the scholar Elaine Scarry, who writes in Dreaming By the Book that our various art forms all participate in different kinds of content.  What does this mean?  Scarry points out that many art forms, like visual art and music, involve “immediate sensory content.”  We hear a song or a symphony, we see a painting or sculpture.  Our senses come alive during these interactions, and the content is immediate and sensory.

But what about things like musical scores?  That’s art, isn’t it?  Scarry calls that “delayed sensory content.”  In this case, the notes call attention to a sequence that, if honored, produces actual music.

But there’s one more kind of content, and this is my favorite one.  For what happens when we read a novel or a poem?  There is “immediate sensory content” – the weight and feel of the book in our hands, the smell of the pages, the color of the black letters printed into the white page, the different shapes of the letters.  But when we read, we are not only engaging in immediate sensory content, because the letters on the page, as in a musical score, are instructions that help us to imagine a world.  In this case, we are engaging not only in immediate sensory content and delayed sensory content but also….(drumroll please) “mimetic content.”  So what’s that?  Mimetic content does not include any sensory content – it is, rather, what we see, touch or hear through our imagination and memory.  Scarry then points out that the visual arts, film, theater and music are all focused primarily in immediate sensory content, whereas the verbal arts are more grounded in mimetic content.

Phew!  That was a lot of theorizing.  I hope it wasn’t too off-putting.  But we have one more step to take, so that we can think about poetry, and more specifically think about what poetry is.  For poetry, more than the other art forms, participates in all three forms of content outlined by Scarry.  It’s immediate sensory content participates through the visual form of the words on the page.  Its delayed sensory content participates through the way in which the notations on the page are intended to produce actual sound.  And its mimetic content participates through the way in which the poem activates our imaginations, the way it sings in our mind.

Yes!  We are (hopefully) getting somewhere.  But there is actually one more distinction we have to make.  And that’s this: what’s the difference between novels and poems?  Both are weighted primarily in mimetic content.  Both involve the production of worlds, through language, in our imagination and memory.  So how do we differentiate between the two?

I don’t have an easy answer to this, but I think it has to do with the aspect of poetry that involved delayed sensory content and immediate sensory content.  How do I mean?  Well, most poems have a certain form – maybe it’s a long stanza, with rolling and exuberant lines, a la Walt Whitman.  Maybe it’s a short stanza, with more restrained lines, a la Emily Dickinson.  The point being, when one reads a poem, its form is so essential to its content.  Reading a novel, we of course imbibe the paragraph breaks, but the form of the language is not as paramount as it is in poetry.  That’s the immediate sensory content.  But also, poetry, like music, is a form of singing.  Poetry touches upon the boundary that separates language from music, in a way that I don’t think novels often do.    Many novelists employ musical language – Vladimir Nabokov is a good example of that; Proust is another.  But poetry and music, I think, are more intertwined than prose and music.

So that’s my librarian talk for today, with help from Scarry.  And, as it is the first day of National Poetry Month, I feel I would be amiss if I did not include a poem.  So, dear readers, as a great example of poetry’s always-noble attempt to simply break into song, here is a favorite of mine, James Wright’s (Ohio poet) “A Blessing.”  Enjoy!

A Blessing

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,

Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.

And the eyes of those two Indian ponies

Darken with kindness.

They have come gladly out of the willows

To welcome my friend and me.

We step over the barbed wire into the pasture

Where they have been grazing all day, alone.

They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness

That we have come.

They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.

There is no loneliness like theirs.

At home once more,

They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.

I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,

For she has walked over to me

And nuzzled my left hand.

She is black and white,

Her mane falls wild on her forehead,

And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear

That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.

Suddenly I realize

That if I stepped out of my body I would break

Into blossom.

 

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James Wright

 

 

New Non-Fiction Roundup – April 2019

Happy April, y’all!  Not only is it National Library Week coming up, but it is also National Poetry Month.  But don’t you worry – while I did not include poetry titles in this particular non-fiction roundup, we will be sure to offer up some blog posts about poetry in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these titles.  Happy Reading!!

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The Last Stone: A Masterpiece of Criminal Investigation by Mark Bowden – The best-selling author of Black Hawk Down documents the story of how five skilled detectives navigated the deceptions of a prisoner who hid his role in the 1975 disappearance of two young sisters.

American Spirit: Profiles in Resilience, Courage, and Faith by Taya Kyle and Jim DeFelice – The best-selling author of American Wife and widow of “American Sniper” Chris Kyle presents an inspiring collection of stories from history and the author’s personal life that showcase the resilience of the American spirit.

Mama’s Boy: A Story from Our Americas by Dustin Lance Black – The Academy Award-winning screenwriter and political activist presents a candid, resonant memoir of his experiences as a young gay Mormon in Texas whose polio-disabled mother taught him about surviving against all odds.

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Accidental Presidents: Eight Men Who Changed America by Jared Cohen – Illuminates the evolution of American presidential power through the unique lens of the eight successors to presidents who died in office, sharing insights into the significant historical contributions of leaders who came to the office indirectly.

D-Day Girls:  The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II by Sarah Rose – The award-winning author of For All the Tea in China documents the lesser-known story of the extraordinary women recruited by Britain’s elite spy agency to sabotage the Nazis and help pave the way for Allied victory during World War II.

Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates,  Jr. – The NAACP Image Award-winning creator of The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross chronicles America’s post-Civil War struggle for racial equality and the violent counterrevolution that resubjugated black Americans throughout the 20th century.

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The Secret Wisdom of Nature: Trees, Animals, and the Extraordinary Balance of All Living Things by Peter Wohlleben – From the New York Times best-selling author of The Hidden Life of Trees comes the final book in his The Mysteries of Nature trilogy.

I’m Writing You from Tehran by Delphine Minoui – A prize-winning French-Iranian journalist recounts how her first post-revolution visit home to 1998 Iran turned into a 10-year stay during which she witnessed remarkable political transformations and came to understand life under a volatile regime of suspicion and fear.

CSNY: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young by Peter Doggett – In honor of the 50th anniversary of Woodstock and the formation of the band itself, the author presents a biography focused on the formative and highly influential early years of what Rolling Stone magazine called “rock’s first supergroup”—Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.