Rock The Vote: Teen Vogue X TOMS Event Slayed! – Politically and Socially

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Photo: Courtesy of TOMS, Rock the Vote Attendees at the New TOMS Williamsburg, Brooklyn Store

Covering the Rock the Vote: Teen Vogue X TOMS event has been one of the most thrilling moments for me this year. Why? It was unexpectedly delightful and inspirational. It moved me to act; to care more; to save our democracy; to donate; to tweet and raise awareness about the impact of the midterms and how each of us – really can make a difference. I had this preconceived notion that this event, geared toward Teen Vogue’s Gen Z audience, a far cry from my hazy Generation X/ millennial cusp residency, wouldn’t be relatable to me. Thoughts of ill-conceived, potentially overheard conversations I’d be succumbed to, filled my head: From Cardi B’s/Nicki Minaj’s latest feud-y clap-backs to the best unicorn hair color dye brands on the market. Boy, was I proven wrong. I was surrounded by teens and girls in their early twenties that had founded nonprofits for trans youth in need, created grassroots organizations to get women elected, and launched crowdsourcing campaigns for victims of gun violence. These girls have powerful messages to convey: Get ready. We are changing the world!

Founded in 2003 by parent company Condé Nast, Teen Vogue still caters to fashion lovers, keeping up with the beauty and fashion trends, its sister magazine, Vogue exemplifies as the beacon of  high fashion and beauty . These days, Teen Vogue, primarily a digital magazine, captures the attention and support of political and social activists. According to Alli Maloney, Teen Vogue’s news and politics features editor: “We cover news as it happens. But we also cover things that we reframe in a new lens. We get pushback every day basically with people telling us to stay in our lane, but our readers’ lane includes politics now. It’s a political world.” And on this night the political world took center stage. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was the guest speaker for the Rock the Vote discussion, moderated by Teen Vogue’s news and politics editor, Lucy Diavolo. Gillibrand, who began her political career in Congress in 2006, ran for an incumbent held Republican seat, which she defeated, and in 2009 became Senator of New York State.

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Photo: Courtesy of TOMS, from L to R, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and News+ Politics Editor, Lucy Diavolo

Gillibrand, who’s seat is also up for re-election, didn’t shy away from audience questions on our failed political system under-serving Americans. She acknowledged the system is broken and that young people, women, people of color need to take action to see themselves represented in the House and Senate. The work is tireless and essential to protecting people’s rights for adequate healthcare, education, and women’s reproductive rights. Gillibrand became the first member of Congress to post her official daily meetings, and personal financial disclosures. Her push for transparency in politics led to the passing of the STOCK act, which makes it illegal for members of Congress, their families, and their staff to benefit from insider information gained through public service. Diavolo posed questions to Gillibrand on the minds of many Americans right now: What are the pressing issues, if Democrats take back the House and Senate, that will take precedence? Is she running for president in 2020? What are some bipartisan solutions both parties can agree on and pursue – with gun reform regulation? And of course, with Trump’s proposed agenda to erase Transgender rights, especially affecting trans youth. I asked Lucy, as a transgendered journalist, her thoughts on the following:

DSMC: In a Teen Vogue article from October 24th, you wrote: “As I said in the speech I gave during the Hell No to the Memo rally on Sunday, October 21, I believe voting alone is not enough right now. I believe it is important to go beyond the polling booth and provide direct, material support to transgender people.” Can you elaborate on this statement? What do you mean by “material support?”

Lucy Diavolo: In terms of providing material support to transgender people, I think there’s a number of options. As I wrote on the 22nd, it can be as simple as just checking in on your trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming friends with a kind word, calling a congressperson, or educating your family and friends. In terms of material support, simple things like donating directly to a trans person, taking the time to make a trans friend a meal, helping them cook or clean, giving them a place to crash if they don’t have one, or weighing in on a job application can all be very direct ways to do so.

DSMC: Should the proposed Trump bill reversing Obama-era protections for LGBTQ citizens be instated, what can the LGTBQ community and their supporters do to fight back?

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Photo: Courtesy of TOMS, Lucy Diavolo, News + Politics Editor, Teen Vogue

Lucy Diavolo: If you’re talking about the transgender HHS memo, absolutely not. Under Obama, the LGBTQ community saw serious progress made at the federal level for the first time in history — it’s a low bar, but Obama (like many Democrats) changing his tune on marriage equality and standing up for trans kids in schools was unprecedented. Many of us believed a Trump presidency would undo much of that progress, and the HHS memo was the latest horrifying proof that the current administration is actively engaged in looking for ways to strip our community’s basic human rights.

Lucy Diavolo: Whether you’re a binary trans person, a non-binary trans person, or experiencing your gender in other ways, know that you’re valid. Being young and trans (or any kind of queer) in a hostile environment can be very challenging. I know because I was outed as bisexual in the 8th grade and spent most of high school suffering for it. My best advice for a young person in a situation like that is to look for community where you can. It can be online, where there are lots of great community spaces for learning and having conversations. Or it can be in the other folks who might be struggling at your school, who can commiserate with you over your situation, even if it’s when no one else is listening. A sense of community has made even the most difficult, painful, and ugly parts of my transition feel safe and supported.

If you find yourself in a truly untenable situation, know that, in many cities, there are people, social services, and communities that will support you. Young LGBTQ people have been running to the cities for decades, and in many places, there are not only organizations working to serve them, but entire populations of older LGBTQ folks who want to support them. Look for those organizations and people in online spaces if you feel you absolutely have to get away from wherever you are.

Apart from curating news and politics for Teen Vogue’s monthly 5 million plus monthly visitors to the site, Diavolo help founded the Transfeminine Alliance of Chicago and plays bass in the Chicago-based band The Just Luckies.

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Photo: Courtesy of TOMS

Rock the Vote event host and Teen Vogue advocate, TOMS, opened their new store/café – complete with an outside patio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. DSMC asked TOMS’ Director of Global Brand Marketing, Kate Faith, to discuss the – successful and impactful – Teen Vogue and TOMS collaboration.

DSMC: TOMS has partnered with Teen Vogue in the past, the recent Teen Vogue Summit in Austin last month, what makes this partnership so special?

Kate Faith: Our partnership with Teen Vogue started last year with the first ever Teen Vogue Summit where we hosted the opening day reception at TOMS HQ in Los Angeles. To continue this partnership, this year we hosted meet ups at our TOMS stores across America including Chicago, Austin, Los Angeles, and finally at our new store here in Brooklyn. Teen Vogue is educating and inspiring young people to take action, which is at the heart of what we’re doing here at TOMS. We both know that Gen Z has the power and courage to change the world. We are here to support Teen Vogue as they rally the next generation to create a better world for us all.

DSMC: With over 60 million pairs of shoes donated to children around the world so far, what does TOMS hope to establish with the one-for-one model eyewear? Is eyewear as scarce as shoes around the world? Why this product line?

Kate Faith: Since our founding in 2006, TOMS has given over 80 million pairs of shoes to those in need both abroad and here in the United States. That number is something we’re very proud of, but we also recognize we can do more and have the opportunity to scale our impact beyond our shoe gives. TOMS launched eyewear in 2011 as we saw a need to help more people in a new way that would make a very big difference in their lives. During Blake’s travels, he saw many kids who weren’t able to see the chalkboard at school so would fall behind and elderly people developing cataracts which affected their work life and the livelihood of their family. Wanting to find a solution, he came up with TOMS eyewear – with every pair of sun and optical purchased, a person is provided an eye exam and given treatment through prescription glasses, medical treatments, or sight-saving surgery. We have now provided sight to over 600,000 individuals around the world. I recently was in India on a Giving Trip and was able to witness a cataract surgery first hand. It was incredibly moving to see people’s reactions when their bandages came off and they were able to see their loved ones – some for the first time! I’m proud to work at a company that is creating this level of impact in the world.

DSMC: Does TOMS support/endorse certain politicians for the midterms?

Kate Faith: Our #1 objective is to inspire and educate young people around the importance of using their voice to create positive change. Voting is one (very important) avenue for people to address the issues they care about most, and we want to provide the tools for people to make informed decisions when heading to the polls. We don’t endorse specific politicians, but our hope is that elected officials support basic human rights for all individuals. We are in this together and must create a world that works better for all of us. To learn more about TOMS global work and products, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of TOMS, Attendees at the Rock The Vote Teen Vogue X TOMS Event

This event opened my eyes to a whole new group of passionate activists that are committed to making a difference in our nation. I had once solely perceived them as meme-creating, snap-chat happy simplistic youth consumed with finding the perfect selfie. Sure, they may engage in these activities on their down-time, as most of us have, but they are laser-focused on championing for causes that are vital to their generation and ours.

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2018’s Urbanworld Film Festival Promises to Deliver Groundbreaking Films In Every Genre

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Photo: Courtesy of Urbanworld Festival, (Center: Ava DuVernay)

Now in it’s 22nd season, The Urbanworld Film Festival’s is kicking off opening night with the premiere of Night School, starring Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish. Closing the festival is the highly anticipated film The Hate U Give, directed by George Tillman Jr. During its 5-day run, the independent film festival will showcase documentaries, shorts, and features from filmmakers from around the world.

The Urbanworld Film Festival, founded in 1997 by Stacy Spikes, is one of the largest internationally competitive festivals of its kind. Each year, we curate a slate of films representing the broadest lens of diversity across stories, characters, themes, and cultures. We fight tirelessly to expand the definition of “urban” beyond ethnicity to include sensibility, culture, and proximity. We strive to be “the filmmakers festival” and “the people’s festival,” providing a point of intersection where creators and audiences meet to experience bold and diverse artistic works. Expect no less from Urbanworld on it’s 22nd birthday this September as this year’s program promises even more inclusivity from filmmakers all over the globe.

AMC movie theater will host opening night. The Urbanworld Film Festival is scheduled to run through September, for more info tickets, click here.

The Kew Gardens Festival Of Cinema’s 2nd Year Anniversary Review: Tragic, Timely and Titillating!

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Song of Sway Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema

Kew Gardens isn’t known to be epicenter of film, but with this year’s film festival lineup – it is well on its way. This culturally rich Queens enclave is currently hosting 110 films from 23 countries, including the U.S. Canada, Italy, Turkey and South Africa. The Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema, now in its 2nd year, is claiming its status as a purveyor of cutting edge cinema. Watch out Cannes! This year’s festival categories include narrative features, documentaries, short films, animation, experimental, music video and web series. The Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema has partnered with the Regal Entertainment Group’s UA Midway Stadium 9 and The Queens Museum to bring these brilliant films the recognition they deserve. After meeting their crowdfunding goals, festival organizers are committed to endorse neighborhood businesses to festival attendees.

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(L to R, Elizabeth Pena and Mary Beth Peil. Photo: Courtesy of Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema

On opening night, there’s always a film that steals the spotlight and sets the bar for the rest of the festival, At the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema, this night was no exception. “The Song of Sway Lake” directed by Ari Gold was it. The film about a young man, Ollie Sway (Rory Culkin), who travels along with his friend, a comical and sly Russian transient, to the his family’s once glamorous lake house in the Adirondacks to steal a one-of-a-kind vintage record with the secret recording of the hit “Sway Lake.” Ollie believes the record will improve his life and help him understand his father’s suicide at the famed lake – until his plans are thwarted by his grandmother, Charlie Sway (Mary Beth Peil). The cinematography and original music by the director’s brother, Ethan Gold are expertly sprinkled throughout the film and transport the audience back-and-forth to a simpler elegant era in America. The scoring in the film is a character in itself with nostalgic interludes between scenes. “The Song of Sway” is a romantic drama tackling the complexities of family, love, friendships, and death with beautiful storytelling. Rory Culkin and Mary Beth Peil are extraordinary to watch. The late actress, Elizabeth Peña as Charlie’s housekeeper/confidante/friend/punching bag is resilient and stoic. Known for “La Bamba” and “Jacob’s Ladder,” Peña will be missed.

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(L to R, Aurora Perrineau (Addison) and Rachel Hendrix (Lyle), Photo: Courtesy of Rushaway Pictures

Festival closer and critically acclaimed film, “Virginia Minnesota” also examines complicated friendships. The indie film by Daniel Stine about two friends reconnecting after 15 years for a will reading at the foster home they both lived in as young girls and vowed never to return, due to the mysterious childhood tragedy bestowed on their young friend Virginia. Now in their mid-twenties, Lyle and Addison embark on a journey of painful childhood memories, turbulent relationships, and self-reflection. This film will make you believe in fairy tales and the monsters that sometimes inhabit them – with optimism and faith.

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Murder Made Easy, Jessica Graham (Joan) and Christopher Soren Kelly (Michael), Photo: Courtesy of Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema

Two whodunits worthy of recognition are “Murder Made Easy” by director Dave Palamaro and Canadian film “The Doctor’s Case,” directed by James Douglas and co-director Leonard Pearl. Each offers a creative spin on the murder-mystery genre. “Murder Made Easy” follows Joan and Michael, two friends throwing an elaborate dinner party for their close friends to remember the passing of Joan’s husband, Neil, on the one-year anniversary of his death. The friends may not want to ingest what these hosts are serving – literally and figuratively. Although some of the scenes are far-fetched and a little over-the-top, the plot twists are so entertaining you’re willing to forego some of the missteps in this clever pop horror film. Based on the short story by Stephen King, “The Doctor’s Case” shines the spotlight on Sherlock Holmes’ assistant, Dr. Watson, as he takes the lead in solving the murder of a contemptuous English lord. When you couple The King of Horror’s story with the mastermind detective, audiences are in store for a thrilling ride. Add to that, actors William B. Davis as Dr. Watson from “The X-Files” series and Denise Crosby (also guest-starred on “The X-Files”) as Captain Norton from “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” who keep the suspense going throughout the movie.

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The Doctor’s Case, Photo: Courtesy of Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema

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Modified, Photo: Courtesy of Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema

A film festival isn’t complete without stellar documentaries making powerful statements. And, after watching “Modified” and “Beneath the Ink,” mission accomplished. Filmmaker Aube Giroux takes a startling look at the inclusion of GMOs – Genetically Modified Organisms – for instance: corn crops being injected with pig genes by food manufacturers in the US and Canada with no regulations in place. Scared yet? You will be after viewing “Modified.” Giroux took over 10 years to finish this personal project and interjects touching memoir-style scenes of her family and her love of food throughout the years. It’s eye opening, frustrating and necessary to watch. “Beneath the Ink” by director Cy Dodson is a timely documentary exposing the hate and racism in a Southeastern Ohio (Appalachian region) community and what one tattoo artist is doing to help change people’s views and a chance at redemption. The film shows various facets of racism – how it is taught through generations and the individuals in this community that are committed to changing their indoctrinated hateful beliefs. It’s raw and real and we need more films like these highlighting solutions – not problems – with racism, exacerbated by the current administration.

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Beneath the Ink, Photo: Courtesy of Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema

Short film “R.V” was made right after the 2017 elections by directors Will Hawkes and Melissa Center to give women a voice and take a stand on the injustices seen in this country as basic human rights are consistently stripped away by elected officials. The film follows a couple after they make a difficult decision to have an illegal abortion in a seedy motorhome after the wife is left with no other legal alternative. This film’s subject matter couldn’t be any more relevant as the looming induction of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh is underway. Kavanaugh is a vocal opponent of Roe v. Wade. Time will tell if the landmark case and law that followed to make abortions legal will be phased out.

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R.V, Photo: Courtesy of Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema

On a lighter note, the Belgium animated film “Catherine” by director Britt Raes, is about a girl who loves pets, but has a hard time keeping them alive, until she gets a cat. The film illustrates the universal empathy children display to animals. As she grows up she has a hard time socializing with other people but is comforted by her cat and ultimately becomes a crazy old cat lady. This film is reminiscent and a sweet reminder of the childhood pets we love and become accustomed to and how we recover from the limited time they spend with us – funny and bittersweet film worth seeing.

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Catherine, Photo: Courtesy of Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema

Apart the fantastic screenings, The Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema presents two panels: The Jury’s Out: Meet the 2018 Festival Jurors, and A Change Overdue: Diversity in Cinema, a discussion on diversity in independent film featuring invited filmmakers from the festival at the Center at the Maple Grove in Queens. On Sunday, August 12th, the final day of the festival, the Awards Dinner Gala returns to Terrace on the Park in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Do not miss out on this incredible film festival! To get more information and to buy tickets to the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema, click here:

Brooklyn Film Festival’s 21st Season Delivered Its Finest Cinema To Date!

The 10-day Brooklyn Film Festival Wrapped up its 21st Season. And its festival slogan: “Bad times make great art” undoubtedly established a theme for an array of sentimental, political, satirical, activist, and unflinchingly honest films projected on screens all throughout Brooklyn. What was glaringly different from last year’s festival? Filmmakers commanded the audiences’ attention with their eye-opening subject matter: global female exploitation and oppression, political strife – domestically and internationally, mental illness, prison reform, terrorism and racism. Yes, there was some comedic relief in the mix – worthy of artistic recognition, but 2018’s films I mention below will grab hold of your sensibilities and perceptions of the world with a winding rollercoaster ride of emotions.

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Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

Winner of Best Documentary, “Afghan Cycles” takes you on a journey with the first National Cycling Team for girls in Afghanistan. It’s heart-wrenching to learn, watch and try to fathom the obstacles these girls, featured in the film, endure to be free – to enjoy their favorite hobby: cycling, all while succumbing to oppressive conditions placed on them by their country. It’s often said, that you don’t know what you have until it is gone, is fitting to describe the sacrifices the subjects make to live out their life’s dreams. Director, Sara Menzies seamlessly captures this poignant narrative and makes the audience sympathize and root for these girls.

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Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

Two films about prison life, albeit with starkly opposite narratives are “Hidden BluePrints: The Story of Mikey” and “Prison Logic.” “Hidden Blueprints,” a documentary short by prisoner turned filmmaker, Jeremy Lee Mackenzie is auto-biographical and describes his time in a Kentucky prison as a teenager, after a bank robbery and drug-trafficking charges put him there. The jail that housed Mackenzie burned to the ground after a riot. The director illustrates his time in prison through intricate art and a praying mantis named Mikey – both cathartic outlets to get him through the trials and monotony of life in jail– which later fate manifests into creative professional endeavors. It’s a refreshing perspective on prison life, emphasizing a willingness and fortitude a person can muster to turn their life around. With hope and creativity – anything is possible. The narrative feature “Prison Logic” by multi-talented actor, writer, and first-time director, Romany Malco Jr. gives us the story of Tijuana Jackson, a character he’s been playing on-and-off on the web since 2007, now immortalized on screen. Tijuana Jackson has a dream of becoming a motivational speaker, but his penchant for not following the rules, coupled with his ball-busting, by-the-book parole officer, played by the supremely talented and ageless actress, Regina Hall, present many obstacles in his quest for stardom. We see many stereotypical nuances and gags in this film genre, but Romany Malco Jr. does a great job to inflect humor, evoke laughter from the audience at the right time, and make these scenes memorable. “Prison Logic” won the Best Actor, Male and Best Editing Awards.

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Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

Three female directed films about female oppression that made a huge impact at this year’s festival are: experimental short, “That Part,” narrative features “Are You Glad I’m Here?” and “Can Hitler Happen Here?” Directors Mia Sorenson and Catherine Delaloye’s experimental short “That Part” is a 4-minute spoken word film exploring adversity, inequality, and the ongoing challenges women face in everyday life; voiced by women from different backgrounds and captured visually by dancers expressing the words’ intensity through choreographed dance. This film’s powerful message to women to champion and persevere for their rights – to live freely and happily – on their own terms, is necessary.

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Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

When a curious-yet-naive 20-something American (Kristin) teaching English in Beirut crosses paths with a resilient, yet unhappy 30-something Lebanese housewife (Nadine) – an unusual friendship forms that will compromise each woman’s moral beliefs, we have the film: “Are You Glad I’m Here?” Director, Noor Fay Gaharzeddine does a wonderful job of developing these two characters’ friendship organically, as each woman attempts to learn more about the other’s culture. Tensions rise and each must face a shocking truth about Nadine’s abusive husband that will determine their future. Awarded the Audience Award for Best Original Score, this film addresses complex female relationships we need to see more of in cinema.

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Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

The third female-directed film by Saskia Rifkin awarded the Best Female Actor award is “Can Hitler Happen Here?” Rifkin shoots the film in black and white and her female lead is 74 years old – a reclusive artist played by Laura Esterman (Miriam Kohen) with candor and conviction. Rifkin allows us to enter Miriam’s mind while she endures endless harassment by her neighbors who insist she conform to societal norms and presentation, when Miriam refuses and holds her ground, we enter her shifting psyche’s interpretation of her neighbors’ motives, her sexuality, and creative persona – all clashing to make sense of her current situation. “Can Hitler Happen Here?” explores taboo subject matter through the eyes of a septuagenarian – that is captivatingly eccentric – and we are here for it!

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Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

Lastly, a film that explores the universal themes of family and loss are present in “My Country.” The film about two brothers, one American, one Italian – who’ve never met – take a road trip together to spread their late father’s ashes in the small town (Molise, Italy) where he was born. As the brothers get to know one another, cultures collide, and each find faults in the other, they contemplate their situation and wonder whether they should continue their journey together. The beautiful Italian countryside, its warm and inviting residents, the bittersweet interactions between actor/director, Giancarlo Iannotta and his on-screen brother (Antonio Palumbo) will make you hug your sibling and forget your rivalries – for good!

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Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

Brooklyn Film Festival’s 21st season has come to end, but the extraordinary films they showcased and hosted will not. To learn more about the Brooklyn Film Festival’s line-up and the films featured in this article, click here.

NYC Dance Week is Here! Come Celebrate with Ailey’s Extension Program: June 14 – 23

Ballet, Zumba, yoga, modern dance and hip-hop – just a few class options in the Ailey Extension arsenal – to get you moving! Ailey Extension kick-offs their 6th season of NYC Dance Week beginning June 14th thru June 23rd. NYC Dance Week is a citywide celebration during which Ailey Extension offers three free dance and fitness classes each day for new students – and two free classes for new and returning students – for a total of 30 classes! I was fortunate to try three distinctive class offerings: Afro-Cuban Folkloric, DanceFit, and Absolute Beginner Horton (the modern dance technique created and made famous by Alvin Ailey).

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Afro-Cuban Folkloric Dance Class, Photo by: Christian Miles

When I first entered Studio C at the Joan Weill Center for Dance in Manhattan, I was a little nervous about what to expect. The mounted ballet bars alongside the white walls, mirrors, a piano, and sprung floors seen in a traditional dance studio didn’t ease my trepidation. Plus, the fact that two percussionists with drums would be an integral part of the class repertoire was both nerve-wracking and exciting. Instructor Noibis Licea guided students through various forms of Afro-Cuban dance tradition while representing the Orishas (dieties from the African Traditions brought to Cuba that explores movement within cultural context. This 90-minute class allowed for very little moments of rest, and challenged my coordination and ability to dance along with my fellow classmates. My body responded to the beats of the drums and transported me to the island I was born in. Noibis Licea, the Afro-Cuban Folkoric dance instructor has been with the Extension program for 5 years, also teaches Afro-Cuban Modern Dance. “My music inspiration comes from all types of music primarily percussion, strings, and wind instruments.” Noibis will be participating during NYC Dance Week and you can catch his class on Friday, June 22nd from 7 – 8:30pm.

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Noibis Licea, Photo by: Joe Epstein

Next up – DanceFit: A high-intensity training with R&B, pop, and hip-hop blasting in the background meant to give you a full-body workout without you realizing it, until the next day. This 60-minute class will test your endurance. I stumbled upon the class’s one-year anniversary, created and taught – by the charismatic Karen Arceneaux. Sure, you may think every instructor is full of energy and ultimately their job is to motivate students, but Karen has a synergy you instantly feel upon meeting her. There was a mix of students – young and old – in the class. A delightful couple in their sixties couldn’t stop praising Karen’s class and so were a number of her current students. Her enthusiasm for each student to have fun is contagious. I chatted with Karen Arceneaux about her career in dance and motivation to teach.

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Karen Arceneaux, Photo by: Rachel Neville

DSMC: How long have you been with The Ailey Extension? 

Karen Arceneaux: Wow! I think I’ve been teaching for The Ailey Extension since 2005.

DSMC: You move effortlessly when you teach DanceFit. What inspired you to take up dance?

Karen Arceneaux: Thanks a bunch. Dance was not something I had access to as a child growing up in Louisiana. However, I remember, as clear as if it happened five minutes ago, the librarian giving away old books. I was in 2nd grade and quite shy. I had my eye on a totally worn out, tattered book (cover threading seriously unraveling). It was a book with a pink pointe shoe on the cover. I watched other kids pick the book they wanted and run to the librarian with their choice. I waited on the side, hoping no one would pick up the book I wanted. After the other kids left the library, happy with their book in hand, I walked over to and picked up the book I wanted and approached the librarian. In 2nd grade, I don’t remember being introduced to any form of dance prior, except for my own happy dancing around the house or at family outings. This (the book) was the first time I saw a pointe shoe. I was immediately drawn to it. This was the first inspiration that led me to dance. We would have to sit over coffee or tea so that I could provide greater detail as to what happened after that has led me to here and now. 🙂

DSMC: What made you create the DanceFit class?

Karen Arceneaux: Movement is my life. I’m a dancer. I teach Horton technique. I train private clients and teach group fitness classes. I also create movement for my dance students in classroom and theater settings. I thoroughly enjoy wearing each hat and want my students to have fun while learning. Through dance and fitness, my mission is to inspire, uplift, and transform lives with outrageous passion and energy. As a dancer, a choreographer, and personal trainer, I wanted to create a super fun class experience that would combine my areas of dance and fitness expertise with the goal of fulfilling my mission. With all of that, I created DanceFit.

DSMC: Who are some of your favorite dancers?

Karen Arceneaux: Debbie Allen was the only dancer I saw on television when I was about 12. She was an inspiration then and has remained for the past 36 years. She is my favorite dancer! I just love her.

DSMC: How did you get your start in dance?

Karen Arceneaux: Well after much back and forth with my mom (she was a no) and dad (he was a yes), my mom listened to my dad and allowed me to audition for my high school dance team. Mind you, I had no training in dance. I just loved moving and picked up movement quickly. I didn’t receive formal training until my sophomore year of college.

DSMC: Will you be participating in NYC Dance Week? If so, which classes? 

Karen Arceneaux: Yes, Yes, Yes! I will be participating! I think my Ailey Extension Absolute Beginner Horton on June 16th from 3:30 – 5pm, and DanceFit on June 22nd, which is open to the general public.

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DanceFit Photo by: Christian Miles

DSMC: What tips can you provide to those that are new to dance?

Karen Arceneaux:

My Tips:

  1. Prior to class, let the teacher know that you’re either new to the particular class or new to dance period
  2. Breathe
  3. Come in with an open mind, ready to learn something new
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or make mistakes (that’s how we learn)
  5. Relax. Don’t stress (It hinders learning)
  6. Have FUN
  7. Continue to do Tip#2 throughout class

The third and final class I experienced at the Ailey Extension was Absolute Beginner Horton with instructor, Fernando Carrillo. Right before I walked into the studio, panic set in, after all this class implements the dance techniques used in Alvin Ailey’s signature Revelations performance, which I had previously reviewed . To me, this class embodies ballet and modern dance at its core. It allows students to challenge their flexibility and coordination in ways they hadn’t before. Fernando’s graceful instruction towards new and existing students is a testament to his teaching skills. I came to class with a misguided perception and left thinking about the limitless dance potential my body has – bad knees and all. I asked Fernando about his dance background and what led him to the Ailey Extension:

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Fernando Carrillo, Photo by: Leon Lee

DSMC: What was your first experience with dance? How did you know it was your calling?

Fernando Carrillo: I knew dance was my calling when I was around 10 years old. I became very interested in dance when I would watch my family dance and I loved the rhythmic steps they did to the music. I never danced back then, so it was this unspoken thought that remained in my mind until I went to college and took my first dance classes.

DSMC: How long have you been with the Ailey Extension group?

Fernando Carrillo: I have been teaching for the Ailey Extension for over 10 years.

DSMC: Who are some your dance inspirations?

Fernando Carrillo: My dance inspiration comes from two mentors I had the pleasure to learn from. Milton Myers is a master teacher who has always been very supportive. He helped me hone my skills as a dance teacher. He gave me many opportunities. I was able to teach at The Juilliard School, The Ailey School, Steps on Broadway and Peridance Capezio Dance Center as his substitute. My other great mentor is Mrs. Carmen De Lavallade. I am so grateful for her generosity. She has shared invaluable information with me. Mrs. De Lavallade helped me uncover a sense of home within me whenever I am teaching the Horton Technique. It is an extraordinary feeling of sharing and cultivating a true human relationship with people without bias or judgment.

DSMC: Have you performed in Alvin Ailey’s dance productions? If not, will you be in the near future?

Fernando Carrillo: I performed with Ailey II where I was fortunate to perform many of Mr. Alvin Ailey’s choreographies.

DSMC: Will you be participating in NYC Dance Week? If so, which classes?

Fernando Carrillo: I will be participating in NYC Dance Week. I will be teaching at Ailey Extension the following class:

Absolute Beginner Horton: June 14th from 7-8:30 pm

DSMC: What tips can you give those new to dance classes?

Fernando Carrillo: I recommend they show up to class with an open mind and ready to experience something new they have never tried before. I like to see people walk into the studio with a feeling of belonging to the arts and taking part in the world of dance. People will clearly see that with our passion and power; we have the ability to change people’s perspectives through our art.

I was truly impressed by the Ailey Extension and am considering becoming a permanent member. I encountered talented instructors with a passion for dance and wanted to know more about this extraordinary program and its formation from the woman who oversees it, Executive Director, Lisa Johnson-Willingham. Check out our conversation below:

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Lisa Johnson-Willingham, Photo by: Andrew Eccles

DSMC: What are some of your earliest recollections of wanting to become a dancer?

 Lisa Johnson-Willingham: I was always very active as a child. We played a lot of music in my house. My entire family loved dancing. For my 6th grade graduation, we created choreography to the one of the Funkadelics’ songs. My counselor saw me and introduced me to a National Youth Sports Program – a summer camp with dance program. Ms. Reed was my first dance instructor. When I saw her – so graceful and beautiful – long and lean, I was 10 and said: I want to be her! That was the moment I wanted to be a dancer. I was there for 10 years. When I started, I was the youngest in the program. Everyone else was older. I loved the challenge. It was so much fun. Ms. Reed had just graduated from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in D.C. and I decided that’s where I wanted to go for high school.

DSMC: You had joined the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater in 1994 as a dancer and remained with the company for 5 years. Was becoming a dance instructor a natural progression for you?

Lisa Johnson-Willingham: Definitely, yes it was. After I left the company I was AileyCamp Director in Chicago for 10 years. After that, I became the Director for the Ailey Extension and that was an easy transition for me. AileyCamp consists of 6 weeks in the summer, but you work all year round with 100 kids, bringing dance to the people. Which is the Ailey Extension’s mission: real classes for real people. It was the same, but with children. Dance changes lives. It has a real effect on people’s health, it uplifts the mind, body, and spirit. When you come into this community you get a whole body experience – a spiritual experience. We have classes, workshops, and performance workshops. Last week Robert Battle (Alvin Ailey Artist Director) taught a repertory workshop at the Extension. It was amazing. That connection goes deeper than taking a dance class.

DSMC: What’s your vetting process for selecting the instructors at Alvin Ailey?

 Lisa Johnson-Willingham: We want prominent instructors. We have instructors from around the world. I participate in one of their classes, look at their resume. Teaching at the Extension is different than teaching at the Ailey School. They are professionals. They need to be skilled instructors that can deal with the general public. They need to be skilled at all levels of dance and have experience in teaching. In this room you’re going to have all levels of people who are beginner or advanced. It’s a beautiful thing to have so many people at all levels – and being able to handle that well – is a skill in itself

DSMC: NYC Dance Week is in its 6th season, how involved were you in creating the classes?

 Lisa Johnson-Willingham: My team and I got together and chose classes we thought the public would be interested in. We didn’t want people coming through the doors feeling intimidated. So of course, a lot of the classes are our beginner-level and fitness classes. Horton is on the list. We want to welcome people and allow them to have the Alvin Ailey dance experience.

DSMC: Are there any disclaimers or waivers the public has to fill out before taking  classes during NYC Dance Week?

 Lisa Johnson-Willingham: Everyone can go through NYC Dance Week’s website, fill out a form and retrieve a voucher, and bring it with them before participating in the class.

DSMC: What’s the adequate mindset people need to have before participating in NYC Dance Week?

Lisa Johnson-Willingham: If you’re new to dance, it takes time to perfect the steps. It’s a welcoming environment. You are there to have a good time. There’s no pressure. You can zone out at the gym or any other fitness facility, but with dance, you use your mind, body and spirit – you’re telling a story, expression through movement. And, life is constant movement.

Since its inception in 2005, the Ailey Extension program has welcomed over 83,000 new students with the help of Lisa Johnson-Willingham, creating annual workshops: The Ailey Exeperience, Voices and Visions, and World Dance Celebration. The Ailey Extension shows no signs of slowing down; instead it plans on bringing new and exciting challenging dance classes – to existing and new students. To check out NYC Dance Week’s schedule, click here.

 

 

 

The Brooklyn Film Festival’s 21st Season is Upon Us: Get Ready for Love, Loss, Triumph and Controversy

The Brooklyn Film Festival is back with a vengeance – an artistic, thought-provoking reprisal – in the form of documentaries, features, narrative and animated shorts meant to strike a nerve, inform and leave audiences with a welcomed or unwelcomed – shock to the system. The film festival kicked off its 21st season at the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn with a treasure trove of documentaries produced by The New York Times and a mix of animated and experimental films from the Brooklyn Film Festival. The 10-day festival is comprised of approximately 125 features and shorts from 30 countries spread over all continents, except Antarctica. The lineup includes 19 world premieres, 21 from the USA – 37 east coast debuts and 30 first-time screenings in New York City. The festival will present in total 36 short narrative films, 16 short documentary films, 25 animated films and 20 experimental films. There is bound to be a film for all tastes in this roster of diverse presentations from around the globe.

I’m a film buff and constantly seek out new and exciting films – especially independent films that will stake a claim on my brain and will leave me deep in thought for days. Two films that have ambushed my psyche so far: “Lieutenant of the Alt-Right” and “The Story of Esraa.” As the title suggests, “Lieutenant of the Alt-Right” is about one of the members of an extremist, white nationalist group. At first, I scoffed at this documentary, but as I was watched the film’s subject, Eli Mosley, a rising white supremacist leader, whose deep-rooted white male inadequacies was becoming the focus of his drive to spew hate and present himself as an American hero – was quickly challenged in the film. Bravo! To filmmakers, Emma Cott and Andrew Michael Ellis for letting the narrative take shape and expose Eli Mosley and his group’s false, albeit dangerous beliefs, and shed light on to an unfortunate rising movement.

Lieutenant of the Alt-Right, Credit THE NEW YORK TIMES

Photo: Courtesy of Times Documentaries

The second film that left a lasting impression on me is: “The Story of Esraa” – a young 20-something woman who challenges Egypt’s system by attempting to live her life free of her country’s constraints on family, religion, and personal freedoms as she embarks to rent an apartment with her like-minded friends, only to find obstacles and disappointment. This film will resonate with everyone who’s struggled to find their identity and establish themselves on own their own terms. I felt sorrow and hope for this woman, and as I chatted with one of the filmmakers, Mona El-Naggar, Mark Meatto, and Yousur Al-Hlou, I learned about Esraa’s story further. It made me question the freedoms and choices I currently have in the U.S., but for how long? With this administration at the helm chipping away at our Democratic freedoms daily, who’s to say, we can’t find ourselves like Esraa one day?

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Photo: Courtesy of Times Documentaries

The accompanying films on opening night were fantastic as well. The animated short from Italian director Fausto Montanari, “Weird” about girls being different and perceived as odd is a painstaking glimpse of society’s judgmental lens on how we see each other and ourselves. “Deportation Deadline’s” subject matter, by directors Brent McDonald, John Woo, and Jonah M. Kessel is straight from our current news cycle, as many families are continuously torn apart by ICE agents with deportation orders enforced by the Trump administration. The relevancy is strikingly accurate and telling of the injustices currently happening to undocumented immigrants in our country.

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Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

The Brooklyn Film Festival’s (BFF) theme this year is: “Bad times make great art.” And I for one can’t wait to see what’s in store for the duration of this provocative festival that has been staging international and competitive films and independent production of films and drawing worldwide attention to Brooklyn as a center for cinema. BFF promotes artistic excellence and creative freedom without censure, and has done so since 1998. To see an encore of The New York Times produced documentaries and the Brooklyn Film Festival’s stellar films, click here for ticket info, venues, dates and times. Viva la Cinema!

 

Film Review: ‘Catch the Wind’ (‘Pendre le large’) NY Premiere: Challenges the Pliability of the Human Spirit

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Photo: TS Productions, Actress Sandrine Bonnaire

The French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) hosted the Focus on French Cinema Festival’s 14th annual closing night screening of: Catch the Wind (Pendre le large)’s New York premiere – and what a gem! The film starring acclaimed French actress, Sandrine Bonnaire (Vagabond, Á nos amours) and director Gaël Morel’s muse for writing the screenplay, captivated audiences with a delicate balance of grit and vulnerability. The international film festival showcases the best of contemporary French-language films from around the world – particularly France, Switzerland, Canada, Belgium, Lebanon, and French-speaking African countries. The festival commenced on April 27th in partnership with Alliance Française of Greenwich, continued in Stamford, Connecticut, and wrapped with its highly lauded final film in New York City.

Actress Sandrine Bonnaire portrays Edith, a middle-aged seamstress who is laid off, and is faced with the tough decisions to accept severance or relocate with the company to Morocco; she chooses the latter – to her and her coworkers’ surprise. Leaving behind a son (Ilian Bergala) with whom Edith has a strenuous relationship gives us insight into her motivation to abandon everything and everyone in her native France. Her journey to a new place is met with obstacles, bittersweet realizations, and unexpected new friendships. Bonnaire’s expressive nature in conveying a wide range of emotions, gives her character a depth – sans dialogue, which frankly isn’t necessary, yet audiences will sympathize and identify with. Shot beautifully in Tangiers, Morocco with scenes of the Mediterranean Sea littered with picturesque geometric buildings and intricate mosaic designs – the background is a welcomed and nicely added character to advance the narrative. We don’t see touristic Morocco; instead we witness an industrial interpretation of real-life deplorable working conditions of factory life, Edith endures.

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Photo: TS Productions, Actress Sandrine Bonnaire

Catch the Wind (Pendre le large) explores themes of life-changing events and the resilience of the human spirit to counter life’s wonderful and awful experiences – with earnest. After the screening the audience was treated to a Q&A with writer-director, Gaël Morel. Morel’s homage to the working class in the film is attributed to his father’s time as a factory worker – where he worked for 30 years. Morel used his father’s factory as a backdrop for the opening scenes. Catch the wind (Pendre le large) was co-written by Morel’s Moroccan colleague with the intention to – gain perspective and depict – Moroccan women as warriors and resistors.

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Photo: Mercedes Vizcaino, Writer-Director, Gaël Morel – Center

To learn about more about The French Institute Alliance Française’s (FIAF) upcoming events on French culture, the arts, and programs in education, click here: For more information about Focus on French Cinema’s programs, click here:

Credits, Cast: Sandrine Bonnaire, Mouna Fettou, Kamal El Amri, Ilian Bergala, Farida Ouchani, Lubna Azabal; Director: Gael Morel; Screenwriters: Gael Morel, Rachid O., Yasmine Louati; Producers: Anthony Doncque, Milena Poylo, Gilles Sacuto; Director of photography: David Chambille.