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.

Multiple Production Companies to Boycott Georgia Film Productions Over New Abortion Law

Originally published on pastemagazine.com.

Several production companies have come forward in the last few days to announce that they will no longer produce films in Georgia as long as the state’s new abortion law stands. The law, referred to by legislators as a “fetal heartbeat bill,” would make it illegal for Georgia women to get an abortion after the fifth or sixth week of their pregnancy. This would criminalize the vast majority of abortions in the state, as many women don’t even find out they’re pregnant until after that cutoff point.

Among the first producers to come out against the bill was David Simon, creator of The Wire. Simon announced on Wednesday that his production company Blown Deadline Productions wouldn’t film anything in the state as long as the bill is in effect.

He later tweeted, “Our comparative assessments of locations for upcoming development will pull Georgia off the list until we can be assured the health options and civil liberties of our female colleagues are unimpaired.”

Mark Duplass also announced that his Duplass Brothers Productions would halt all production in Georgia, and he called on others to do the same.

Multiple other companies have since joined the boycott, including CounterNarrative Films and Christine Vachon’s Killer Films, which has produced Oscar winners like Boys Don’t Cry and Carol.

Several actors have also come out against the legislation. Busy Phillips spoke about her own experience with abortion on her show Busy Tonight and condemned the legislation for stripping away women’s rights. Alyssa Milano also submitted a letter to Gov. Brian Kemp before the law was passed that read in part, “We want to stay in Georgia. We want to continue to support the wonderful people, businesses, and communities we have come to love in the Peach State. But we will not do so silently, and we will do everything in our power to move the industry to a safer state for women if H.B. 481 becomes law.” The letter was signed by more than 50 other high-profile actors, including Don Cheadle, Sarah Silverman, Mia Farrow and Alec Baldwin. Milano has already confirmed to BuzzFeed News that she will honor the pledge now that the legislation has been passed.

While most of the response to these actions from the pro-choice community has been positive, many have raised concerns over the effect this potential boycott could have on those working in the Georgia film industry. Simon responded to one such criticism by saying he was acting only out of responsibility for the people he employs, not out of advocacy for the Georgia film industry. Others, like Duplass, have tried to open a dialogue about how best to serve those in the film industry while still sending a clear message that this kind of legislation will not be tolerated. Duplass compared the potential boycott to supporting unions during a strike, admitting that “it can really suck in the short term for a potentially greater, long-term good.”

The Georgia film industry has grown considerably in the last few years, due in large part to a 20% tax credit for productions in the state. Kemp said this year that it employs about 200,000 Georgians and brings in billions of dollars in revenue to the state each year. It’s possible these financial incentives will be enough to keep bringing productions to the state regardless of the boycott, in which case these companies wouldn’t be contributing to too much of a net loss in jobs for the state by speaking out.

Either way, if the bill is overturned, it will likely happen in the judicial arena. Several other states have proposed similar legislation that’s been deemed unconstitutional because it violates the decision in Roe v. Wade. The ACLU and Center for Reproductive Rights have also vowed to fight the legislation wherever they can.

Meanwhile, Georgia is the fourth state to pass this kind of legislation in 2019, along with Ohio, Mississippi and Kentucky. Those states have become just as dangerous for women as Georgia has, and they don’t have a tax credit that makes big Hollywood names pay attention. Kentucky’s heartbeat bill has been temporarily blocked in court, but Ohio and Mississippi’s bills are set to go into effect on July 1, even sooner than Georgia’s, so every voice matters in the meantime.

Florida Legislature Approves Bill Diverting Education Funds to Private School Vouchers While Public Schools Crumble

Originally published on Paste magazine.

The Florida House of Representatives has voted 76-39 to approve a bill that would divert $130 million in tax revenue to funding tuition vouchers for private schools. The bill is now on its way to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis to be signed into law. Meanwhile, the state has 2.8 million students enrolled in a public school system that’s becoming more overcrowded and underfunded by the day.

The new “Family Empowerment Scholarship Program” would raise the annual income limit for voucher eligibility from $66,950 to $77,250, and would approve the 13,000 children currently on a waiting list to receive vouchers.

Proponents of the bill believe it will increase school choice and help children from the state’s poorest families attend private schools. But the policy behind this bill ignores the real problems at the core of Florida’s education system. The state ranks close to the bottom of the list in terms of teacher salaries and spending per student, despite having one of the largest education budgets in the country. Public schools around the state are in need of basic things like air conditioners and school supplies that the $130 million now earmarked for vouchers could easily cover. Florida parents also have more choice in schools than in most states, with publicly funded charter schools or magnet schools accounting for more than half a million students in the school system.

A similar bill was championed by Gov. Jeb Bush back in 2006, but was ruled unconstitutional by the state’s Supreme Court at the time. The court found that the legislation violated the Florida constitution’s stipulation that the state provide a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high-quality system of free public schools.” However, since the election of Republican Gov. DeSantis last year, the state’s Supreme Court has been stacked with three more conservative judges, and the legislature appears confident that any legal challenges mounted against the bill will now be dead on arrival.

The implication here is that education is a privilege based on wealth and performance, and not a right for all children as public schools believe, and that the state investing in a few tuition vouchers makes it all okay. Many Florida families will never be able to afford to send their kids to private schools, no matter how much money the state throws at them, and with the passage of this bill, the legislature has signaled that those kids’ education means less to them than those who can pay.

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.

What Does Yesterday’s No-Confidence Vote Mean For Brexit?

Originally published on pastemagazine.com.

British Prime Minister Theresa May survived a vote of no-confidence on Wednesday after suffering the worst parliamentary defeat in modern history over her Brexit proposal earlier this week.

May remained in control by 325 votes to 306. All 314 Tory MPs supported her government, along with the 10 elected members of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which has been propping up the Conservative Party in Parliament since 2017.

May already survived one motion of no-confidence in December, and she appears to be on even thinner ice after this latest challenge. Tuesday’s vote saw Parliament strike down her plan for withdrawal from the European Union by a resounding 432 votes to 202. Meanwhile, the March 29 deadline for the U.K.’s exit draws ever closer.

Regardless of who occupies 10 Downing Street, Tuesday’s vote effectively brings Brexit negotiations back to square one, and the legislature appears to have only become more divided. The Remain and Leave camps are no longer identifiable by party line, and those 432 MPs who voted against the plan did so for vastly different reasons. A full 118 of them were from May’s own party. Each faction seems to have dug in on its position rather than moving towards compromise. As May herself said after Tuesday’s results came in, “It is clear that the House does not support this deal. But tonight’s vote tells us nothing about what it does support. Nothing about how or even if it intends to honor the decision the British people took in a referendum Parliament decided to hold.”

Meanwhile, important figures on the other side of the table are losing any hope they had for an effective Brexit. Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, hinted in a Tuesday night tweet that Brexit should be abandoned altogether. “If a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?”

What does he mean by “no deal?” Well, those are the stakes here. If Parliament fails to agree on a Brexit deal in the ten weeks they have left to do so, the U.K. will break out of the European Union with no structure in place to deal with the fallout. This would send everything from air travel to prescription drug access into turmoil.

As Tusk said, most members of Parliament hope to avoid a no-deal Brexit at all costs, and they still have several legal options for doing so. They can agree on a new plan. They can ask the E.U. for an extension. Or they can hold a second referendum on Brexit and maybe reject the idea entirely, while leaving open the possibility of renewed support.

However, there are also those in Parliament who actually believe this is the right way to go. Some feel it’s the only course left to them. Others are more prone to theatrics, like hardcore Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, who intends to break all ties with the E.U. and potentially bring the British economy down with the ship.

The threat of a no-deal Brexit represents a serious test of the fortitude of the U.K. government — not just for May’s camp, but for the system as a whole. Now that she has survived this latest hurdle, May has until Monday to put forward an alternative plan, and the odds of Parliament agreeing appear incredibly slim.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Secures Prime Committee Spot, Proves That Grassroots Power Matters

Originally published on pastemagazine.com.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has secured a seat on the powerful House Financial Services Committee, which oversees Wall Street, the Federal Reserve, and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Ocasio-Cortez took to Twitter to confirm the news Tuesday night with a message reading, “Financial Services is one of just four exclusive committees in the House. It oversees big banks, lending, and the financial sector. I am very grateful for the opportunity to sit on this committee as a freshman, and look forward to working under the leadership of @RepMaxineWaters!”

It is exceedingly rare for first-year members of Congress to be placed on House committees as powerful as the Financial Services Committee. The appointment represents a vote of confidence from party leadership after Ocasio-Cortez was left off the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees economic policy issues like taxes and spending.

The Financial Services Committee is one of the most government’s most powerful regulating bodies when it comes to Wall Street. It played a key role in the formation of the historic Dodd-Frank legislation that aimed to secure the country’s financial sector after the crash in 2008.

Ocasio-Cortez’s appointment makes her one of the most left-leaning committee members when it comes to economic policy and Wall Street. She ran her 2018 campaign without the help of corporate donors, and made breaking up big banks a central point in her platform along with sweeping economic reforms like the Green New Deal.

As for her goals for the committee, Bloomberg reports that Ocasio-Cortez is expected to advocate increased scrutiny of large financial firms. She also outlined a few more issues she intends to tackle in another tweet Tuesday night, saying, “Personally, I’m looking forward to digging into the student loan crisis, examining for-profit prisons/ICE detention, and exploring the development of public & postal banking. To start.”

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.