Monday, August 11, 2014

Filmmaker Mick Caouette Shines New Light on Thurgood Marshall

Image Courtesy of Mick Caouette

Most of us learned about Justice Thurgood Marshall in school. We all know he was the first black Supreme Court Justice, nominated by Lyndon Johnson in 1967. But few know of the heroic life he lived leading up to that high profile position. Filmmaker Mick Caouette has set out to change that with his new documentary Mr. Civil Rights: Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP, scheduled for a fall 2014 release.

Mick said he wanted to make the film because he hoped to shine a light on the Thurgood Marshall none if us knew. He states, "He was the first black Supreme Court Justice, which is probably the most significant thing… A lot of people only know him from that period… But the early part of his life was, in many ways, more courageous — from 1908, when he was born, to the early 1950s… So the story we're telling is that story of that period."

He continues, "He traveled the south as an NAACP lawyer and fought case after case in these white courtrooms. It was really dangerous. He was at the foot of death wherever he went. And he traveled a lot alone. Always running from the Ku Klux Klan and other people. He slept in three or four different houses some nights and just kept moving, and all by train from Harlem to the South. He was a really courageous person."

Marshall was trying to do what no one else at the time would dare. Mick explains, "He was trying to bring equalization to education. He was trying to enroll African Americans in colleges and high schools. So the Brown vs. Board of Education decision was the culmination of his journey in 1954 and 1956."

The filmmaker, who has been making docs since the '90s, didn't know much about Marshall himself when he decided to make the film. He recalls, "I knew something about him from [my earlier film, "Hubert H. Humphrey: The Art of the Possible"] because they knew each other. Humphrey was Vice President when Marshall became Supreme Court Justice. For the Humphrey film we interviewed Roger Wilkins who was Roy Wilkins nephew. Roy Wilkins and Thurgood Marshall were best friends and they ran the NAACP together." When Mick contacted Wilkins to do a film about his uncle, Roger suggested he look into Marshall instead. "So I dug into it a little bit and he is a colorful person."

The film tells the story of how Marshall paved the way for the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Mick tells us, "He had a dozen Supreme Court cases that had been decided that he had won, that were the foundation for all the things that happened in the '50s and '60s, like Rosa Parks. Those decisions were based on his victories in the Supreme Court."

During his research, Mick was most surprised to learn about Marshall's courage. He claimed, "I had no idea that he did what he did. At one point they brought him to the river to lynch him and he was arguing in the Supreme Court within weeks. So absurd. He got away from them at the last minute, because another group of black guys that came back from World War II had guns in the car and they chased the crowd and got him freed. That's the kind of courage he had. He was going to these kinds of places where they wanted him dead… It's not a well known story and that's why I wanted to do it."

Marshall went about his crusade under the radar and was never really acknowledged for his contribution to the Civil Rights Movement. Mick points out, "He was a real hero… He was not out in the public. He was behind the scenes doing all this. He laid the foundation for the [Civil Rights Movement] and never really got credit for it."

In fact Marshall was so behind the scenes that it posed a problem for Mick while making the film. "It was tricky because he didn't really travel with a camera person, so it was hard to find visuals."

But he found resources to help round out the doc. "There were a few black filmmakers from the '40s and '50s that were shooting around Harlem and they were shooting these amateur films. And I found a number of those that were public domain and used scenes from them. And also there a lot of photographs of Marshall. And then I used contextual film from the time of Harlem and New York and other places… But I panicked at first at what I got into. There's nothing. There was no TV, no anything at the time… If you look through the old newsreels, everything's covered except African Americans, through the whole period. They were nonexistent. So it was tricky but it worked."

Mick hopes the film will be an inspiration to all people facing any kind of hurdle. He says that the film is evidence that "incredible obstacles can be overcome with persistence and drive and the belief that you can change things. What [Marhsall] changed and what he did is no less difficult than any problem we face now. He was overcoming everything. He was overcoming race. He was overcoming opposition everywhere he turned, and yet he did it. It's a story of inspiration and courage."

To find out more about Mick Caouette's film Mr. Civil Rights: Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP visit Mick's website at and watch for the doc on screens this fall.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Anaitte Vaccaro Brings the Surreal to Life through Digital Scenography

Image courtesy of Anaitte Vaccaro

For some artists, the essence of their creative endeavors it to capture one single moment in time. That is not the case with Anaitte Vaccaro, who chooses to visualize her paintings in motion through what she has dubbed “digital scenography.”

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Vaccaro became interested in art at a very young age, albeit the more traditional disciplines. Her focus on painting and sculpture ultimately evolved. As she explained in a recent one-on-one interview, her “desire to express the full story behind one single image was how I then came into this ‘digital scenography’ world that gave me more tools to express that type of time inside a message.”

After earning her BFA from Escuela de Artes Plasicas in Puerto Rico, Vaccaro decided to move to the U.S. to get her Master of Fine Arts in Visual Effects from Savannah College of Art and Design. Unlike her fellow students, she never intended to pursue a career in the film and TV world of digital production.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sparky Campanella’s horizon Series

Photo courtesy of Sparky Campanella

What is it about staring at a horizon that is so calming? Watching the sunset over an ocean. Being mesmerized by the road disappearing straight ahead on a highway. Lying on the grass taking in the blue sky and puffy clouds. Photographer Sparky Campanella set out to explore the relationship between land and sky, man and nature, in his series appropriately called horizon. And through his work he has achieved an unexpected level of tranquil beauty in everyday scenes.

In a recent interview Sparky told us the images “have a calmness to them. They’re quiet and they’re powerful. I like that combination. I was trying to have the biggest impact with minimal and often abstract content. It’s calming. It’s contemplative, but there’s still energy there.”

He began the series one day on the top of a friend’s studio. The roofline of the white stucco building against the cloudy sky caught his attention. He recalled, “I saw this scene that just struck me. It just grabbed me. That’s true of a lot of the horizon work. A lot of times I go out looking for things, driving around, walking around, at a slower pace and just observing. And some things just click.”

This minimalism is something Sparky tries to achieve in all his work. He explained, “I aspire to have minimal content and maximum impact — both conceptual impact and visual impact. I try to make pictures that are beautiful because I want to make stuff that I would want on my own wall. And yet they are not just ornamental but they have layers of conceptual depth to them.”

He went on, “The conceptual side is focused around the relationship between man and nature.” He talks more about this notion on his website saying, “I believe that man and nature can co-exist. horizon manifests my belief through the urban horizon line, a point of reference common to all city dwellers… Our urban landscapes are bounded by the geometric architecture of buildings, rooftops, walls and even passing trucks. My love of both city and country draws me to scenes where man-made and natural complement one another.”

Sparky hopes the horizon series inspires people to appreciate the common sites around them. He said he hopes those who see his work will develop “an appreciation for the beauty that’s all around us. A lot of these shots in the horizon series are pretty mundane scenes — buildings or rooftops or walls — but with the right lighting, at the right time of day and at the right angle they become extraordinary. That’s around us all the time, all day long. If you don’t notice it, you’ve missed a lot of life.”

The artist had advice for people thinking about exploring the field of photography. And it’s all about being authentic. He suggested, “Go out and look at a lot of work — not just photography, but anything — architecture, performance art, anything — and pay attention to what captures you, what resonates with you. And slowly piece together that puzzle of what it is you are drawn to in other people’s work."

He emphasized that having a knowledge of art history is crucial to finding your own voice. “Be worldly. Take art history courses to realize what has come before you and how whatever you’re doing is different from what’s already been said. Does it build on previous ideas? Is it an extension of them or is it just repeating the same thing? And from that, put together what your special niche is. It’s important to have your own look and for people to recognize that.”

Sparky is preparing for his first museum showing this fall at the Crisp Museum at Southeast Missouri State University. He will have 14 of his images in large scale (40” x 50”) all hung in a special way. He described the set up, “All images are exactly divided in half. There’s always a mid-point between nature and manmade. So when they are all hung consistently, this line creates this a virtual horizon line in the space and it’s almost that’s transformative in terms of how calming it is.”

Find out more about Sparky at his website

Monday, July 14, 2014

Dr. John Day Heals the Body, Mind, Emotion and Spirit

Photo courtesy of Dr. John Day

As a young man growing up in post-World War II Alabama, John Day lived in a household that was dedicated to healing others. His father was a surgeon and his mother was an internist, who often took him on house calls or on her hospital rounds. But no one could predict that an encounter with a pop culture icon would help the future Dr. Day forge his own unique path in the medical profession. 

When Day was nine years old, his mother introduced him to Helen Keller. The author and political activist’s story, who was immortalized in The Miracle Worker, was stricken with an illness when she was just 19 months old which caused her to go deaf and blind. But even as a child, Day new that Keller had senses far beyond the physical realm.

“I knew that Miss Keller could see, despite her physical blindness. I had a real sense of knowing that,” recalled Day of his meeting with Keller in the parlor at her sister’s home in Montgomery, Alabama. “She was very aware of my presence as a child. She offered me her blessing in a particular, intimate way.”

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Roseanne Barr Discusses Last Comic Standing

Photo by Ben Cohen/NBC

We’ve watched Last Comic Standing since the early seasons with Dat Phan, Ralphie May, Alonzo Bodden and John Heffron and are so happy to hear that after a four-year hiatus, it’s back and better than ever. The new season features Roseanne Barr, Keenen Ivory Wayans and Russell Peters as judges and JB Smoove as host. And with Executive Producers Wanda Sykes and Page Hurwitz at the helm, it’s sure to deliver.

In a recent conference call Roseanne talked about what drew her to be a judge on the show. “I just thought it would be really fun. And when I heard that Keenen Ivory Wayans was one of the judges, I really love him. I like Wanda a lot, too, so I thought it would be fun to work with some really great comics and get right in the middle of stuff that has to do with standup comedy.”

And working with these heavy hitters did not disappoint the four-time Emmy winner. She said of Keenen, “I’m blown away, every week. I’m sitting next to a bodhisattva. I’m sitting next to Keenen Ivory Wayans. That guy, his commentary and the way he sees… He discovered a lot of great performers and comics on his shows and movies… I’m always like, ‘Let Keenen go first.’ And then I go, ‘I agree with Keenen.’ He’s just a brilliant… It’s just amazing.”

Roseanne also lavished praise on her other co-panelist Russell Peters. “I never even heard of the guy, to be honest. And they’re like, ‘This guy is like the Beatles.’ And so I went on YouTube… he’s playing on like 70,000 seat arenas. And is right now kind of in a Russell Brand thing. He’s real new to the United States. And that guy is so funny. It’s like non-stop. He gives feedback like a standup comic — joke, joke, joke. And I mean there’s nothing on earth that he doesn’t have a joke for. It’s amazing. And it made me go, ‘Oh this is so cool to be back in this arena.’”

And Roseanne was not just enlightened to the comedy of Russell Peters during this experience, she also rediscovered the world of standup. She noted, “I was thinking that it was pretty static and kind of boring, actually, over these last few years. But becoming a judge on this show and seeing people who are actually writing jokes that I’ve never heard before, it’s exciting. I’ve never heard these premises in so many of my favorite comics who are competing. It’s very brave. And it’s cool. So that brought me back into comedy.”

She continued, “Keenen and I were talking about it, this is like comedy coming back. It’s like a re-birth of comedy. Not just on this show — but certainly including this show — but all over the place. Yes, there’s a whole different everything. It’s exciting. It’s kind of like punk-rock.”

So what is Roseanne like as a judge? She sums it up in one word, “Intelligent!” She said she doesn’t fit into any other reality judge mold of the nice judge or the mean judge. “I’m just me. I didn’t try to copy somebody else. I’m just me… I just give my honest opinion, as I have done for all these many years when it comes to writing and comedy.”

There are several changes to the format of the show in Season 8. The 100 comedians are handpicked by Sykes and Hurwitz and they are bringing back the challenges. But perhaps the biggest adjustment is that there are no more viewer votes. The three judges alone will select the winner. But Roseanne was quick to point out that the audience still plays a part. “They win because they kill the audience. So the audience is part of it. It’s the laughs they’re getting from the audience, that’s how we judge. But no non-expert opinions are needed. You want people who’ve never acted to vote on the Academy Awards? It’s people who know the craft who should be voting on it. But it is about if they’re getting over and making that audience come out of their seats. Then they’re going to win.”

So if Roseanne Barr back in the 1980s did her Domestic Goddess bit on Last Comic Standing how would she fair?  She modestly stated, “I would’ve won. I did, in fact, win the Denver Laugh Off. And that is what propelled my career. I did a number of other untelevised comedy contests. But I think I would’ve really worked really hard. That’s what I like about these comics because they’re prepared. I wouldn’t become part of any contest unless I was really prepared and thought I could win. And that’s what I think we have here. We’re seeing who’s prepared and who isn’t prepared. And that’s like the most exciting part to me.”

She added, “But, of course, I have to say I would’ve won. Because you have to have that kind of self-confidence being a standup comic. You have to really believe in what you do and that you’re the best at doing what you do. And so we’ve seen a lot of people on this show come in like that and falter. But the ones who want it the most, are the ones who make it.”

Tune into Last Comic Standing tonight at 9 p.m. on NBC.