Pile on the Focused Confusion of Their New Album, Green and Gray

Originally published on pastemagazine.com

If you’ve found yourself at a show in a grubby Boston basement in recent years, you’ve probably heard of Pile. People in that corner of the world speak of the band with the kind of reverence usually reserved for hometown legends like Pixies or the Lemonheads. They’ve been the subject of entire albums by their peers and countless homemade t-shirts. But the cult of Pile has developed almost entirely separate from the band over the course of their decade-long career, and on their latest album Green and Gray it sounds like they might have grown past their status as Boston’s DIY mascot.

Frontman Rick Maguire and his band have fought hard for their success, touring relentlessly for years and coming back from each tour a little older to a city that was a little bit different. That feeling of transience only accumulated over time, and when Maguire returned to Boston after touring Pile’s last album A Hairshirt of Purpose, it felt like those roots he’d relied on weren’t all there anymore.

“A lot of things had changed in that city,” Maguire tells Paste. “I was living in a new spot, a lot of people had moved. There were just certain things that I was used to that had changed, and I think maybe some of that was internal too. There was just a lot going on within me that felt alienated from the place that I had lived in for a long time.”

Maguire notes that Boston’s sense of impermanence might have contributed to these feelings. “It’s a lot of students, and it’s people that are there for a short time and then they leave.”

As a result, Maguire turned inward, staying in his room in his new neighborhood of Cambridgeport to write the songs that would eventually become Green and Gray. Meanwhile, Pile welcomed two new members—Chappy Hull on guitar and Alex Molini on bass—and the band was more spread out than ever before, with Hull in Nashville, Molini in New York and drummer Kris Kuss also in Boston. Maguire would spend weeks writing new material alone before bringing the band together to work on it in short bursts.

“We would schedule blocks of time to get together to work on stuff, so it was like I was working on a presentation of material almost,” Maguire says. “Then we would all disperse and go back to where we lived and I would internalize all that again, work on it, edit it and then bring it back. So we did that about three times.”

To make this process easier, and to be closer to his family members who already lived there, Maguire decided to pack his bags and move in with Hull in Nashville. It was a difficult move, one that triggered a lot of anxiety and even panic attacks for Maguire. He channelled some of that anxiety into the album’s lead single, “Bruxist Grin,” a restless, seething track filled with lines about white-knuckling your way through change. Bruxism refers to grinding your teeth, so Maguire’s grin was the happy face he put on for the world while taking that leap of faith to Nashville.

Through the move, Maguire’s solitary writing process and the band’s quick bursts of creative energy, Pile emerged with their most sonically lush, intricately crafted and dynamic album to date. Green and Gray channels all those feelings of displacement, transience and wayworn confusion into a remarkably focused and deliberate project, one that feels aware that the path of least resistance might just be to embrace the change.

“No longer burdened by youth,” frontman Rick Maguire sings at the start of the opener “Firewood.” It feels like a weight has been lifted from his shoulders, and that statement carries through the rest of the album like a tailwind urging it forward. Maguire cites “Firewood” as the most challenging song to write on the album, but also the one that he’s most proud of.

“I’d sort of had that in mind as the opener since I started writing it, so I think I put so much pressure on it to be that,” Maguire says. “The first demo of it is unrecognizable from what it is now. It’s in a different meter, the timing and melody are very different.”

The lyrics on “Firewood” and the rest of Green and Gray are tighter and more directly personal, speaking to visceral emotions too strong to be contained. This emotion manifests itself politically as well, like on the album’s searing midpoint, “The Soft Hands of Stephen Miller.” It’s one of Pile’s angriest songs, two minutes of unbridled rage directed at the president’s advisor who orchestrated some of the administration’s harshest immigration policies.

“From a long line of translucent lizards comes our boy Stephen,” Maguire screams. “That inferiority complex passed down generations.”

But unlike on “Soft Hands,” where the lyrics lend targeted thrust to Maguire’s anger, Green and Gray also holds instances where Maguire’s words take a backseat to the dark, serene beauty of the music. Maguire is no stranger to moments when the sun breaks through the clouds, but they’ve never been this reliable and emotionally staggering. The stakes feel higher on Green and Gray, and its palpable tension is all the more rewarding when the dynamics shift and that tension is released.

Much of the album’s lush, orchestral sound is due to Pile’s collaboration with producer Kevin McMahon, whose credits include Swans, The Walkmen, Gang of Youths and Real Estate. Maguire met him during a solo tour with Titus Andronicus, who McMahon has also worked with in the past. They decided to work together then and there, and Maguire went up to McMahon’s studio in upstate New York for a pre-production meeting about the album.

“I told him that I wanted the record to sound dark,” Maguire says. “Not gloomy or anything like that, but sonically dark, like not a lot of bright or harsh sounds. It’s just a sort of frequency thing that comes off in the recording that I was interested in trying to do.”

McMahon helped Pile stay on track with this vision and gave the band the opportunity to work with a whole set of new toys that they’d only begun to explore on past albums. The results can be found throughout Green and Gray: the soaring strings on “Hair,” the atmospheric synths at the start of “Hiding Places” and the soft keys on the closer “No Hands,” which the band simply referred to as “piano ballad” right up until it was finished.

The band has already begun working on new material out of their new home in Nashville while they gear up for their Green and Gray tour. Maguire says he’s been writing mostly on piano.

“It’s sort of like I’ll take a tiny venture out of what I’m comfortable with each time, but it’s never been a huge leap,” Maguire says on how his records have progressed. “I feel like with the next batch of stuff it might get a lot more odd.”

The members of Pile may not be as young as they once were, but they’ve learned to confront change head on, even if that means gritting their teeth a bit. They’ve got a new house, a new city, a bigger, fuller sound. But they’re still the same band whose raucous, wild songs can be heard spilling out onto the street from houses all across Boston on a cold winter night. Green and Gray finds Pile diving deeper into the strengths that brought them where they are in the first place, while recognizing that things are quite a bit different now, and that’s okay.

The World is Finally Ready for Duster, the Droning Space Cadets of Yesteryear

Originally published on pastemagazine.com

The music of the band Duster is hard to classify. It’s been called many things, but none of these classifications have managed to stick all that well. There’s more natural propulsion behind Duster’s music than slowcore contemporaries like Codeine and Bedhead, and it’s more spaced-out than artists like the Microphones or Built to Spill.

A more apt description of Duster’s music might be a ride in one of those airplanes that simulate zero-gravity. Your feet leave the ground of their own accord, and you spend a few moments suspended there, maybe spinning around a little bit, totally out of control. Then you land back on the ground and feel a little bit dazed and totally confused as to how you got there in the first place.

Duster is a trio from San Jose, Calif. Clay Parton and Canaan Dove Amber founded the band in 1996 and released a handful of cassettes and seven-inches before putting out their debut record Stratosphere in 1998. Jason Albertini contributed drums to three songs on Stratosphere but became much more involved on the follow-ups, the 1975 EP released in 1999, and the band’s second full-length album Contemporary Movement, which came out in 2000.

The band’s brief discography was relatively well-received by critics, but it never really found an audience, and before anyone could blink they had broken up. Their label, Up Records, then home to Modest Mouse and Built to Spill, was experiencing a downturn following the passing of founder Chris Takino in 2000, and Duster’s music had been little more than a blip on the radar commercially. So the band members moved on. Parton and Amber started a recording studio called Low Earth Orbit, and Albertini dove headfirst into his own band Helvetia, which was initially distributed by Parton’s Static Cult label. They were fully prepared to let Duster rest as a droning, hazy footnote to the indie rock explosion of the ’90s.

But now, almost two decades later, Duster has a devoted, even rabid following. Vinyl copies of their albums sell for hundreds of dollars on the online marketplace Discogs. If you ask the right people, Duster are revered as legends and pioneers—not just by fans of the genre but by important contemporary artists—and they’re suddenly poised for a comeback, having played their first shows in 18 years this winter.

The music was always good, so why are people just now starting to come around to it? The answer starts, as with most things these days, with the internet. Duster were painfully obscure in their time, and they mostly relied on Up Records and their friends in bigger bands to carry their sound to new ears. Now they don’t need a label to reach new people. Word of mouth travels at lightning speed, and people no longer have to go digging through record bins labeled “miscellaneous” or “rock/pop” to find a Duster record. If you dig through the related artists for your favorite indie band on Spotify, you’re bound to come across Duster before too long.

Another helpful byproduct of the streaming era is a rising indifference towards genre lines and labels. The fringes of the “rock music” classification are bleeding into adjacent areas like pop, jazz, ambient and electronic music and even hip-hop. Artists who create their own spaces between genre signifiers are no longer just labeled experimental and shunted to the side. That space between genres is where Duster has always operated, and it’s where people are finding them today.

There’s still the pesky business of reconciling Duster’s sluggish, fuzzy sound with the aesthetics of the current scene. Duster have never been concerned with the whims of the mainstream, a fact that’s evident in how they’ve chosen to make their slow return to the limelight. But this time around appears to be different, because Duster’s listen-if-you-want-to attitude is working out in spite of itself, and they fit in now in ways they never did before.

Since 2000 when Duster was last active, and particularly in the last decade or so, guitar music has undergone a radical transformation. It’s now acceptable and even cool to rock at your own pace and play as loud or as quiet as you want. In Duster’s time, the norm—at least in the circles that might actually pick up one of their records—was late-career Pavement and Sonic Youth. It was Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker screaming “Dig Me Out” as Sleater-Kinney, and artists like PJ Harvey and Beck adopting a new sound entirely almost every year. It was bands like Foo Fighters and Pearl Jam desperately carrying the torch for the grunge movement. With all of that going on, it seems almost inevitable that a hazy, unassuming project like Duster would get buried in the detritus of the alternative explosion.

Duster’s entire lifespan fits into the three-year period between Radiohead’s OK Computer in 1997 and Kid A in 2000. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Duster’s sound could also fit neatly somewhere in the aesthetic flyover country between those two albums. Now, Radiohead’s latest effort is a melancholy, mostly slow-burning reverie that feels similarly unconcerned with tangibility or lucidity, and the field is littered with artists who owe at least part of their sound to Duster.

One such artist is (Sandy) Alex G. The renowned Philly songwriter has been putting out ragged, lo-fi weirdo pop since 2013, and his music builds on a lot of the ideas Duster first put forth. Any number of Alex’s songs could fit snugly into Duster’s discography, from the low hiss of “Memory” to the melodic shuffle of “Walk.” Both artists have a propensity for taking truly sweet and beautiful melodies and obscuring them as if underwater, only letting them shine through when absolutely necessary. Duster accomplishes this to great effect on the Contemporary Movement cut “Unrecovery,” with clear, ringing lead guitar breaking through the wall of noise around it. (Sandy) Alex G does something similar on his recent loosie “fay,” building tension with a tangled mess of soft guitar before the chorus comes and opens everything up. It’s unclear how much Alex knew of Duster when he was writing these songs, but there’s definitely some mutual respect there now, as Duster’s first gig in 18 years was an opening slot for him at Warsaw in Brooklyn.

Also on that bill was Harmony Tividad of the L.A.-based duo Girlpool. “I walked in during their soundcheck and I was shocked, just so deeply shocked that it was them,” Tividad says of her experience at the show.

Duster’s music has had a huge effect on Tividad’s approach to songwriting, both on her own and with Girlpool. “It’s poppy, but in a way that’s really subtle and untraceable really, like you don’t know why, it just is, and I love that about it,” Tividad says. “It’s rare for people to trust in a song when they’re writing it… but I think what really struck me about their music was that it was just so trusting in itself and it didn’t seem like it was sacrificing any moment to thinking about what someone else would want to hear.”

Everything about Duster’s music has a sense of deliberation to it, from the motley production and low vocal mix to the unique tone and mood the band brings to each of their songs. Girlpool have this same quality of effortless purpose on their most recent album What Chaos is Imaginary, especially when the duo’s guitars grow big and shoegazey on tracks like “Roses” and “Where You Sink,” the latter of which Tividad cites as being particularly influenced by Duster. Numerous other young bands wear their Duster influences on their sleeves whether they know it or not, like Horse Jumper of Love, The Spirit of the Beehive, Ovlov and Hovvdy just to name a few. They all bring something new and different to the table, but no one has since been able to replicate that implacable honesty and foggy, weightless state that Duster’s music achieves.

Duster just wrapped up a short run of tour dates along the West Coast, and they’re putting out a box set of their entire discography plus a handful of unreleased tracks on March 22. Other than a one-off Instagram post from last April saying they were “recording a bit,” no new music has been announced, although there have been rumors of an EP of new material on the way. Duster’s sound might have changed in the intervening years. It might be a bit more hi-fi now, a bit more precise. But unlike most bands who return after a 20-year absence, change is not a necessity for Duster. They fit in better now than they did when they were first active because their peers today are also their fans, and the indie-rock world has caught up to them at last. If Duster does decide to make a full-scale comeback, it’ll be to an audience that’s finally ready to float away into space with them and not look back.

Joe Biden Says He Regrets Treatment of Anita Hill in 1991 Hearings

Originally published on pastemagazine.com.

Former Vice President Joe Biden spoke openly of his role in the 1991 Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, saying that he regrets not giving Anita Hill “the hearing she deserved.” The 2020 presidential prospect made the remarks at a New York City event hosted by the Biden Foundation and It’s On Us on Tuesday night that was meant to honor young people who help combat sexual assault on college campuses.

Biden lamented the “white man’s culture” that still persists today and that sought to undermine Hill’s credibility when she testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee almost 30 years ago. “The hearing she deserved was a hearing where she was respected, where the tone of the questioning was not hostile and insulting, where the fact that she stepped forward was recognized as an act of courage in and of itself,” Biden said. “I wish I could’ve done something.”

Biden’s role in the 1991 hearings, which he oversaw as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, represents one of the biggest challenges to his potential candidacy for president in 2020, which is widely rumored but still unconfirmed. He has been criticized for contributing to the hostile and prejudiced environment that the committee imposed upon Hill during the hearings, particularly since the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Though still officially undeclared, Biden sits neck-and-neck with Sen. Bernie Sanders at the front of the ever-growing pack of Democratic primary candidates in most early polls. A recent Emerson College poll of Iowa voters had Biden leading the Democratic field with 25 percent of the vote to Bernie’s 24 percent, while an Emerson poll of Wisconsin voters had Sanders at 39 percent to Biden’s 24 percent.

If and when Biden decides to enter the race, he will have a lot to answer for from the left wing of the Democratic Party, even on top of his role in the Hill hearings. He has recently been criticized for his rhetoric surrounding the 1994 Crime Bill, as well as some resurfaced remarks from 1975 in which he argued that integrating schools was a rejection of the “whole movement of black pride.”

Biden’s remarks on Tuesday night signal how he might choose to confront some of those issues on the campaign trail, as does the rumor that he’s considering naming star Georgia progressive Stacey Abrams as his running mate. It’s unclear how such a move might affect Biden’s candidacy on a more substantive policy level, as Abrams generally sits much farther left than Biden on issues of criminal justice reform and voting rights. But it’s important to note that Biden’s central defense so far has been to point back to these specific, very public moments and lament his inability to do more, when in reality he had all the power and opportunity in the world to act—he just chose not to. This is another of those big public moments, and the way he chooses to approach it will determine both how his candidacy and political legacy will be remembered for years to come.

The Photography of Ansel Adams Is Coming to the MFA

Originally published on bostonmagazine.com

The work of legendary landscape photographer Ansel Adams is set to go on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in a new exhibition titled Ansel Adams in Our Time. The exhibition will include around 100 Adams photographs alongside works by the 19th century photographers who influenced him and contemporary artists who followed in his footsteps.

The Adams photographs on display will include notable works spanning his entire career, from his beginnings capturing the dramatic landscapes of the West to his time in San Francisco documenting urban sprawl and the Depression. The famous snow-tipped peaks of 1942’s “The Tetons and Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming” will be featured prominently in the exhibition, as will “Freeway Interchange, Los Angeles,” which was made some 25 years later.

The MFA decided to expand upon a 2005 Adams show to celebrate the recent gift of over 450 of his photographs, this time bringing the iconic artist into the modern day and contextualizing the lasting impact he had on landscape photography.

“It’s roughly the same sized show, but the emphasis is very different,” says the show’s curator, Karen Haas, who currently serves as the Lane Curator of Photographs for the MFA. “He’s this phoenix-like character, and knowing where he was coming from and who he admired seemed so much more interesting than redoing the show we did earlier and just looking at his career in a thematic, chronological way.”

The exhibition will primarily be organized around Yosemite National Park and the American Southwest, which are the areas where Adams first picked up the camera and began his career in the 1920s. It places his early work in the context of 19th century government survey photographers like Carleton Watkins and Eadweard Muybridge, who shot some of the same views as Adams and inspired him to expand upon their ideas.

As for the contemporary photographers on display, Haas wanted to focus on artists who took inspiration from Adams’ subject matter and technique, but added their own visual or emotional perspective. Some artists included in the exhibition are more clearly connected to Adams than others, but Haas stresses that they are all “in conversation” with his work somehow, whether thematically, aesthetically, or technically.

On the surface, these contemporary artists deal with many of the same issues as Adams: vast untouched wilderness, land rights, natural resources, urban sprawl, and the human impact on the land. But they all bring a unique perspective that isn’t found in the photography of Adams or his predecessors.

“The photographers I chose for that space were virtually all foreign-born,” says Haas. “I think that says something about the national park as a symbol of America. As Americans it’s something we take more for granted, but for foreign-born photographers it seems to have another layer of meaning.”

A good example of this is Binh Danh, a Vietnamese photographer who came to America from what was then Saigon with his family in the 1970s. Danh uses daguerreotypes, a 19th century process that produces images with silvery, reflective surfaces, to capture the national parks of the Southwest. The resulting images allow the viewer to see themselves reflected in the vast, otherwise empty landscape.

Another featured artist is Abelardo Morell, a Cuban-born contemporary photographer who taught at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design for many years. Morell brought a massive tent into the wilderness to create a makeshift darkroom and fixed it with a high-quality digital camera, a periscope, and a mirror. This allowed him to capture some of the same views that Adams photographed and project them onto the ground under the tent, resulting in more impressionistic landscapes in which the cracks in the pavement and terrain under the tent are clearly visible in the photograph.

Haas also focused on including as many women in the exhibition as possible in order to debunk the longstanding belief in the photography world that the Western landscape was the domain of the white male photographer. She highlighted in particular the work of Laura McPhee and Victoria Sambunaris, both of whom capture stark, beautiful landscapes in their work.

McPhee is an environmental photographer who looks at the aftermath of human-caused forest fires and the plant life that begins to take hold after they pass. Sambunaris revisits many of the same sites that Adams shot and captures them in massive, high-definition color prints, some of which stretch up to eight feet across.

Haas also hopes to include a live stream of Yosemite National Park from the viewpoints that Adams documented in his work. Visitors to the exhibition will see the national park as it is at that very moment, and if they stay long enough, they’ll see the light change and move across the valley.

“When we say ‘In Our Time,’ we literally mean the day you’re there,” she says.

The exhibition attempts to impress upon the viewer not just the singular nature of Adams’ work, but also the astounding visual legacy that he left on the collective consciousness of the country, often without us even realizing it.

“For many of us who might never go to some of these places… when we conjure up Yellowstone National Park, the view we conjure up is actually an Ansel Adams photograph,” said Haas.

Alexander McQueen, M.I.A. films added to 2018 Hot Docs line-up

Originally published on screendaily.com

Canadian documentary festival Hot Docs has added 17 additional special presentations.

They include McQueen, Ian Bonhôte’s documentary about fashion designer Alexander McQueen, and Steve Loveridge’s MATANGA / MAYA / M.I.A. (pictured), the Sundance world premiere about British rapper and record producer M.I.A. that has been picked up for the UK by Dogwoof.

Other highlights in the programme include Liz Garbus’s The Fourth Estate, a look into how The New York Times covered the first year of the Trump presidency, and Mercury 13, the story of NASA’s first female astronaut training programme.

The full selection from Hot Docs, which runs from April 26-May 6 in Toronto, will be announced on March 20, including the remainder of the special presentation titles and the opening night film.

Full list of new special presentations

All synopses provided by Hot Docs.

ACTIVE MEASURES
Dir. Jack Bryan
Dive deep into one of the most deft espionage operations in history. Featuring exclusive interviews with Hillary Clinton, John McCain and more, this explosive film uncovers Trump-Putin ties dating back to the ’70s and Soviet-style information warfare tactics used to affect the 2016 US presidential election.
World premiere

ALT-RIGHT: AGE OF RAGE
Dir. Adam Bhala Lough
Trigger warning: everything. Set against the horrific violence of the 2017 Charlottesville riots, alt-right leader Richard Spencer squares off against antifa activist Daryle Lamont Jenkins in this provocative look inside the two movements boiling over in America.
Canadian premiere

ANDY IRONS: KISSED BY GOD
Dirs. Steve Jones, Todd Jones
Three-time world surfing champion Andy Irons chased perfect pipe on the waves but dark demons on shore. Breathtaking cinematography captures the gorgeously wild star, but as mental illness troubles the waters, a heartbreaking tragedy unfolds.
World premiere

BEHIND THE CURVE
Dir. Daniel J. Clark
A rapidly rising number of people are convinced that the Earth is flat. Follow the leaders behind this conspiracy theory du jour as they rally to spread their message, challenge scientific proofs and flatten the globe once and for all.
World premiere

BLUE WALL
Dir. Richard Rowley
Oscar-nominated director Richard Rowley offers a searing examination of the police killing of Laquan McDonald, tracing the conspiracy of silence that extended up to the Chicago mayor’s office and revealing the journalists, activists and lawyers whose perseverance exposed the truth.
World premiere

THE FOURTH ESTATE
Dir. Liz Garbus
Granted unprecedented access and interviews with editors and reporters on the front lines, Emmy-winning and Oscar®-nominated filmmaker Liz Garbus’ The Fourth Estate follows the inner workings of The New York Times, revealing the challenges, triumphs and pitfalls of covering a president who has declared war on the free press.
International premiere

THE GAME CHANGERS
Dir. Louie Psihoyos
Oscar-winner Louie Psihoyos’s (The Cove) explosive doc examines elite athletes’ dramatically improved strength and performance when they switch from animal- to plant-based diets, and upends antiquated notions of masculinity and virility along the way.
Canadian premiere

MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A.
Dir. Steve Loveridge
Two decades’ worth of personal footage capture the complex evolution of M.I.A., the rapper and social justice activist whose outspoken rhymes tore up the charts, stoked political fires and captivated fans and critics worldwide.
Canadian premiere

MCQUEEN
Dir. Ian Bonhôte, Peter Ettedgui (co-director)
An intimate account of the life, career and artistry of legendary couturier, fashion maverick and creative genius Alexander McQueen, vividly brought to life via rare archival footage and revealing interviews with his inner circle.
International premiere

MERCURY 13
Dirs. David Sington, Heather Walsh
The pioneers enrolled in NASA’s first female astronaut training program finally open up about their top-secret testing, which pitted them against the established boys’ club of American astronauts of the 1950s.
International premiere

MORE HUMAN THAN HUMAN
Dirs. Tommy Pallotta, Femke Wolting
With artificial intelligence potentially on track to surpass human capabilities within the next two decades, one filmmaker tests his own job security by building a robot to replace himself and discovers the truth of what’s really at stake.
International premiere

MR. SOUL!
Dirs. Sam Pollard, Melissa Haizlip
Go backstage with the first all-Black variety show broadcast nationally on PBS, and meet its openly gay host, who was instrumental in ushering radical Black talent into American living rooms in the wake of the civil rights movement.
International premiere

THE NIGHT OF ALL NIGHTS
Dirs. Yasemin Şamdereli
In frank and funny interviews, four couples from across the world, united under vastly different circumstances but each together for more than 50 years, reflect on their relationships and share their secrets for long-lasting love – for better or for worse.
International premiere

OUR NEW PRESIDENT
Dir. Maxim Pozdorovkin
In a horrifying and hilarious collage, the story of Donald Trump’s path to the presidency is told entirely through Russian propaganda, laying bare an empire of fake news and the cynical tactics of information warfare.
Canadian premiere

PICK OF THE LITTER
Dirs. Dana Nachman, Don Hardy
A litter of newborn Labrador puppies begins “basic training” to become service dogs for the blind – but who will make the cut? Their successes and failures are shared equally with the devoted caretakers who guide them on this rigorous two-year journey.
International premiere

TINY SHOULDERS: RETHINKING BARBIE
Dir. Andrea Blaugrund Nevins
With sales at a historic low and women’s rights campaigns at fever pitch, Barbie is getting a radical makeover. Gloria Steinem, Roxane Gay, Mattel designers and others renegotiate the iconic doll’s place in a world that both loves and loves to hate her.
International premiere

UNITED SKATES
Dirs. Dyana Winkler, Tina Brown
When America’s last roller rinks are threatened with closure, thousands pull together to save and celebrate the vibrant underground subculture that has provided a safe space for the Black community since before the civil rights movement.
International premiere

‘On Body And Soul’ wins top prize at 2018 Hungarian Film Awards

Originally published on screendaily.com

The 2018 Hungarian Film Awards were presented in Budapest this weekend, with Ildikó Enyedi’s On Body And Soul winning both best film and best director.

The Golden Bear-winner, which also earned a best foreign language film nomination at this year’s Oscars, won five awards in total.

It also took home best screenplay, best actress for Alexandra Borbély and best supporting actress for Réka Tenki.

The awards were handed out by the Hungarian Film Academy at the Vígszínház theatre in Budapest on 11 March.

The best actor award went to Péter Rudolf for his performance in 1945, a story of guilt and reckoning for Hungarian villagers at the end of the Holocaust.

István Znamenák won best supporting actor for Citizen, and the audience award for best feature film went to Kincsem — Bet on Revenge, a period drama by Gabor Herendi about a famous Hungarian racehorse.

The full list of winners are here.

Netflix takes North America, UK on Berlin Silver Bear winner ‘Dovlatov’

Originally published on screendaily.com

Dovlatov, which was well received at this year’s Berlin Film Festival and took home a Silver Bear for costume designer Elena Okopnaya, has sold into 23 territories.

Sales agent Alpha Violet has inked a significant deal with SVoD giant Netflix covering the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Ireland and Scandinavia.

It has also locked distribution in France (Paradis Films), Italy (Satine Film), Spain (Abordar), Portugal (Leopardo Filmes), Bulgaria (Artfest), Turkey (Bir Film), Taiwan (Joint Entertainment), Brazil (Imovision), Argentina (CDI), China (Times Vision), Greece (AMA Films), the Baltic region (Estin Films) and Romania (Bad Unicorn).

Previous deals were done for China (Times Vision), Greece (Ama Films) and Estonia and Latvia (Estin Film).

The film will have its release in Russia via Disney on March 1.

Directed by Russian filmmaker Alexey German Jr., Dovlatov covers six days in the life of influential Russian writer Sergei Dovlatov.

The film premiered to strong reviews in Berlin, with Screen’s critic describing it as ”an imaginatively realistic recreation of a bygone era of Russian culture.”

City of Boston Presents Artist Fellowship to Five Local Artists

It is a good year to be an emerging artist in Boston. As part of its ongoing Boston Creates program, the city has started an annual Artist Fellowship that awards $10,000 per person to five local artists working in a variety of media. The winners were chosen by a jury of local arts leaders from a pool of 304 applications submitted from all across the city.

This year’s recipients were announced on October 11 and included Roslindale trumpeter and composer Jason Palmer, documentary filmmaker and Boston University professor Mary Jane Doherty, Roxbury artist Michelle Fornabai, performance artist Marilyn Arsem, and Dariel Suarez, a Brighton-based author who is currently working on his second novel.

Suarez, age 34, thinks he heard about the Artist Fellowship from one of his fellow staff members at GrubStreet, a creative writing center located in downtown Boston. Suarez works there full-time planning writing courses and often picks up teaching gigs on the side to make ends meet and continue writing his own work. He is hoping that this award will allow him to take a step back from teaching and focus on his novel, which will deal with the intersection of political dissidence and art in his native Cuba.

“It’s a huge help because I’m a writer with a full-time job,” Suarez said. “This really reduces the amount of extra work that I would have to take on in order to focus on the actual writing. Otherwise I would have to claw and scrape to find time to write.”

One of the biggest goals of the Artist Fellowship was to make it accessible to as many people as possible, no matter their specific discipline or background. According to Julie Burros, Boston’s Chief of Arts and Culture and the main organizer of the fellowship, the application process was specifically designed to place each distinct genre of art on a level playing field and designate at least one grant for each discipline. In an effort to make the process more inclusive, applicants were only required to have lived in Boston for three years in order to be eligible for the award. The city also accepted applications in six different languages and allowed applicants who were not fluent in English to submit a video of themselves describing their work in their native language in place of a resumé.

Suarez, who immigrated to the United States from Cuba in 1997, is excited that the city is recognizing the talents of all of its inhabitants.

“I noticed there were different language options and there was a lot of focus on different neighborhoods in the city, and I think that’s really important moving forward because Boston has a lot more diversity than people think,” he said. “I’m really glad they’re putting the tools out there for people to get access to this kind of support.”

Unlike many grants of its kind, the Artist Fellowship is not specific to any particular project, but rather leaves it up to the artist to decide how they spend the money. Mary Jane Doherty, another recipient of the fellowship, is planning on using the funding to get a professional sound mix on a film she is working on about the Boston Children’s Choir. She feels that getting a professional sound mix is one of the largest barriers of entry for independent filmmakers, and the higher production value would allow her to get more exposure at festivals than she has for most of her thirty year career.

“No filmmaker can afford the equipment that you need for a mix, and most filmmakers are not engineers, so there are a lot of arcane things you have to deal with,” Doherty said. “I’m excited to use this for a project where sound is the storyteller.”

The framework of the fellowship is the result of years of careful planning by the city’s Office of Arts and Culture.

“We looked at the structures of several different kinds of fellowship grant programs and decided that we wanted to have as few strings attached as possible,” Chief Burros said. “In the end we’re not funding a project, we’re funding a person.”

The award’s only stipulation is that each artist is responsible for collaborating with the city on bringing their work to the people of Boston in some way.

“The idea for Boston is, ‘How can we support our artists, and how can they support us?’” Doherty said. “So there’s an expectation that you’ll take your work and find ways to engage with the public, particularly kids and young people.”

Dariel Suarez feels that the city’s loose approach to the award is a huge vote of confidence for struggling artists starting out in Boston. For many, this kind of fellowship program is a welcome change of pace from the typical world of arts funding that is so dominated by museums or big foundations like the National Endowment for the Arts. There are very few opportunities for emerging artists who are independent from those organizations to get funding. According to Burros, one of the foremost goals of the Artist Fellowship was to combat this problem and make funding accessible to talented creators in the city who are not necessarily attached to a big name foundation or museum.

“If you can prove your dedication to your art, I think it’s important for the city to say, ‘We want you to stay here, we want you to produce work here, and we want you to succeed as an artist,’” said Suarez. “And the way that we pay that back is by representing the city in our work.”

“There is almost no funding for individuals, and that’s often where the really cool things come from,” Mary Jane Doherty said. “The fact that you don’t have to prove your connection with another organization is a very rare gift.”

Burros says they have the funding to continue the fellowship for the foreseeable future, and they have no plans to stop. She hopes that the Artist Fellowship and other programs like it can encourage new artists to develop their craft here and show them that Boston will continue to support them for as long as they are making art.

 

 

 

Jamaica Plain Artists Fight to Save Their Studios

 

Testimonials from artists working on Brookside Avenue in Jamaica Plain.

 

It was a bright afternoon in late September and Jamaica Plain’s Brookside Avenue was alive with activity. Birds were chirping, bubbles floated through the air from a humming machine on the sidewalk, and a small crowd had gathered for the 120 Brookside Farewell Fest, an open gallery event with live music, food, and drink. The event was a celebration of the building that housed a group of artists’ studio spaces for decades but is now being torn down by the city in favor of a luxury condo development. But it was also the launch of a new advocacy group called Brookside Artists that is hoping to raise awareness about the need to preserve spaces like theirs in Jamaica Plain.

The condo development on Brookside Avenue is part of a large-scale redevelopment effort being carried out by the city in this area. One of the goals of the project is to convert light industrial sections of the neighborhood where artists have traditionally lived and worked into residential areas.  As a result, many artists have already been priced out of their studios or forced to move to make way for entirely new structures.

“Artists came down here to Jamaica Plain back when nobody else would and sort of colonized the place, and we’re the first ones on the chopping block based on the fact that we  don’t historically have any real power economically. It’s just a case of the bottom line being the bottom line,” said Brendan Killian, one of the leaders of Brookside Artists. “So we’ve decided to rally our forces and try to stop it from happening.”

Killian is an oil painter who has worked at 128 Brookside Avenue for over 25 years. When he heard that 120 Brookside, the collection of studio spaces and galleries just next door, had been bought and scheduled for demolition, he knew he had to do something. The artists who worked in the two buildings formed their own little community, often collaborating and helping to promote each other’s work, and from that community came Brookside Artists.

“For us it’s about artists having a right to live and work in Jamaica Plain. Local politicians and the mayor talk about having neighborhoods in Boston with large cultural zones and artist galleries. But at the same time, the current policies and the market are pushing us out,” said Clive Moloney, a sculptor based at 120 Brookside. “Since the building has been sold, we’ve kind of pulled together. Before that it was just about making art, that’s all that really matters to us.”

However, when the proposal came before the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council Zoning Committee this summer, almost every attendee at the crowded July 19 meeting was in favor of it.

“Part of what happened in this case is the developer came in with a Memorandum of Understanding about things like putting in a privacy fence and whether or not they were going to keep the trees on the property,” Zoning Committee Chairman Dave Baron said. A Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, is a document signifying the developer’s intent to heed some of the community’s demands about a project. “Typically, if there are things a developer can do to satisfy the neighborhood, they will.”

This left the majority of attendees convinced in favor of the project from the outset. In an attempt to win over the remaining holdouts, most of whom were artists, the developer also suggested allocating some of the proposed residential units as live-work spaces that are zoned to function as both workspaces and housing. However, these spaces failed to meet the needs of the artists who have worked on Brookside Avenue for years.

“The space that we’re in now is a workspace only. A lot of artists in this building can’t make the kind of work that they’re making in live-work spaces. When you talk to the greater Boston community, when you talk to government officials, they all offer live-work spaces and say, ‘This is what we can do,’” Brian Wilson said. Wilson is a photographer who uses pinhole cameras to capture light field images and then mounts them on patterned sculptures, something he needs the wide-open space of his studio on the second floor of 128 Brookside to do properly.

When met with opposition on the live-work spaces, the developer finally settled on building three small commercial spaces on the property in addition to the residential units. These proposed commercial spaces would be vastly more expensive than the current rent at 120 Brookside, and despite the developers offering to hold a lottery to allow a potential tenant to occupy one of the spaces at reduced rent, the artists displaced by the project would be unable to afford them.

“At that point the artists who showed up at the meeting were somewhat resigned to it. They saw it as the best they were going to get,” Baron said. “If we had been more alert about the preservation of artist spaces then maybe there could have been a better result here.”

Beyond any hope of saving their building, the displaced artists of 120 Brookside have begun to search for new locations to work from. Unfortunately, the city’s ongoing redevelopment efforts have made it almost impossible to find space with affordable rent in the area. According to Moloney, many of them are even considering relocating to Hyde Park, the next suburb past Jamaica Plain, for its relatively untapped housing market. But abandoning Jamaica Plain is their last resort, and those who have been displaced are still working tirelessly with their neighbors at 128 Brookside to raise awareness about their situation and salvage what is left of the artist community in the neighborhood they love.

“Ultimately what we’re talking about is the death of the art culture in Jamaica Plain. It’s really that critical in my mind,” Killian said. “If we are able to rally ourselves to the point where we relocate or find some stability, some stable place to work, I would absolutely include in that a space where younger artists can come, either at very low cost or for free. Otherwise, there won’t be anyone to take our place, and that’s essential.”

“This space is like a second home to most of the artists here,” said Wilson. “It’s a community outside of our home. It’s a place where we can come and create our work, but also think and visualize what’s next. And without spaces like this, I don’t know where we’re going to be.”

 

 

 

 

 

Live Review: LVL UP are the boyband America needs in the 21st Century

Originally published on Vanyaland

 

LVL UP are the great American boyband.

Or, at least, that’s how they jokingly described themselves at the start of their set at the Middle East Upstairs on Thursday (October 5). After a few doses of their distinctive brand of fuzz rock, not one member of the spirited crowd would disagree.

Bolstered by a pair of phenomenal sets from openers Littlefoot and Loone, LVL UP kicked things off at the Cambridge club with “Hidden Driver,” the breakout hit from their most recent album that recalls the frantic strums and vocals of Neutral Milk Hotel. The band started the song with a slow, deliberate build-up, exchanging cheeky glances and withholding any melodies that could reveal which song they were about to play. When they finally exploded into the verse and guitarist Dave Benton started singing, all four members broke out into uncontrollable grins, as if they had reached the punchline of a joke that only they were in on.

Even after more than six years as a band, it makes sense that LVL UP would be this excited to play. After all, they have had a pretty fortunate run since their formation while attending college at SUNY Purchase. Exhausted from years spent grinding away in New York’s DIY scene, LVL UP was on the verge of calling it quits when representatives of the indie giant Sub Pop caught a few tour dates following their beloved 2014 album Hoodwink’d. Charmed, the Seattle label offered to release their follow-up, the critically-acclaimed 2016 full-length Return to Love.

Now when LVL UP perform, it’s as if they’ve been given a hall pass, a second chance to keep going and just have fun with it. This translates to a looseness on stage that energizes the crowd and lends a fun, imaginative flair to established hits like “I Feel Extra-Natural” and the all-out freneticism of “Blur.” But even at their most boisterous, the band’s underlying musicianship comes through to bring everything back together. This became especially evident on Return to Love standout “Pain,” when vocalist Mike Caridi stealthily replaced the bridge with a few lines from Elliott Smith’s “Roman Candle” before descending into a cacophony of pounding drums and squealing guitars.

When the four members of LVL UP looked up from their instruments to proclaim that the next song would be the last of the night, they seemed to share in the groan that rose from the audience, wishing they could keep playing forever. LVL UP have found themselves part of a long tradition of American guitar bands trying to forge a place for themselves among their ’90s heroes while they wait for their big break. But when they finally launched into “The Closing Door” and the crowd began to move again, it was easy to believe that they could be the band to carry that torch to great new heights.