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In a Brazilian favela, Rocywood actors pose with their screenwriter and their director.

The headlines from the slums of Brazil are hardly ever good. Between the gang violence and the police violence, there is frequent loss of life among innocent bystanders. So anytime I see something upbeat about these places — say, colorfully painted houses or musical instruments created from dump discards — I want to share the news.

This story is about the joy of making movies, even when the movies are about the harshness of life. It’s about the feeling of rising above it all.

Mariana Simões writes at Hyperallergic, ” Stacks of houses that showcase raw, exposed brick frame the rooftop view where I meet screenwriter Fabiana Escobar, or Bibi Danger, as she is known in Rio de Janeiro’s Rocinha, the largest favela in Brazil.

“With around 70,000 inhabitants, Rocinha is a vibrant community made up of low-income improvised homes built atop rolling hills that tower over Rio de Janeiro like a city within a city. Rocinha is also where, since 2015, Escobar and four other filmmakers have championed a budding film scene they call ‘Rocywood,’ combining Rocinha with Hollywood. Their Rocywood production company has one award-winning short under its belt and another short and two features in the making.

The films portray local realities, from the joys of growing up in a tight-knit neighborhood to the difficulties residents face living among drug traffickers and gun violence.

“ ‘When I was a kid, I stayed home to watch the Oscars on TV and I would marvel at every little detail. Hollywood creates that kind of magic that envelops us, even though it’s something that is so distant from our reality,’ Escobar says. …  ‘I grew up with that magic, but the industry doesn’t embrace Rocinha. We have to create our own magic. We are going to make it happen for ourselves.’

“The 38-year-old screenwriter used to own a salon and clothing store, but now rents out her shop while she dedicates her life to making Hollywood magic. But most of the people involved can’t afford to make movies full-time.

“ ‘The actors, the producers, the whole team has a second job. I am a manager at a clothing store, and I make films up here on the hill on the side,’ says Sergio Dias, Rocywood’s 31-year-old director. Dias was born and raised in Rocinha where he is known by his stage name, Sergio Mib. His one-bedroom apartment functions as a dressing room and houses Rocywood’s equipment and props, including three toy assault rifles that look impressively real.

“Rocywood’s productions cost $50 dollars (USD) on average. The filmmakers often take the budget out of their own pockets to cover transportation fees and snacks. With no dedicated financing, everyone in the community pitches in to make the films come to life, from lending filming equipment to styling hair and makeup for free at the local salon. Dias explains that Rocywood makes a conscious effort to include only people from favelas in its productions. The films, made for locals by locals, are screened on the streets of Rocinha using a projector and an improvised tarp as a screen, but are also available on YouTube for a worldwide audience to see. …

“I went in search of Rocinha’s low-budget Hollywood scene after meeting American filmmaker Alan Hofmanis by chance at a traditional Rio de Janeiro fast-food style chicken restaurant in the bustling tourist neighborhood of Copacabana. I struck up a conversation with him about his dessert and ended up learning about Wakaliwood, Uganda’s version of Hollywood, named after Wakaliga, the slum in Uganda’s capital of Kampala where the films are made.

“Eight years ago, after Hofmanis saw a trailer for a feature by Ugandan director Isaac Nabwana that mixed mafia gangs, kung fu, and gun fighting, he hopped on a plane to meet Nabwana. In 2013, Hofmanis sold everything he owned in New York and moved to Wakaliga, where he has been making movies with Nabwana ever since. Nabwana founded Uganda’s first action-film company, has produced about 45 films, and just had his feature Crazy World premiere at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

“Fascinated by Nabwana and his ability to make kitschy action films with budgets around 65 dollars that still draw in millions of online viewers, Hofmanis searched the world for others like him. He found people in Ghana, India, Afghanistan, Peru, and even Siberia who are also making low-budget, Hollywood-inspired productions. He came to Brazil in the hopes of discovering the same scene in Rio de Janeiro. …

“The American filmmaker believes low-budget, Hollywood-inspired films are a growing phenomenon. … ‘They are taking something that is outside their reality and spinning it and making it their own,’ he says. ‘So maybe this [new movement] can be called the Micro Wave because it’s a New Wave movement, but it’s based on these micro-economies.’ …

“Escobar summarizes, ‘I decided our next feature will be a horror film to break free from that stigma that because I live in a favela, I can only make films about drug trafficking and violence. If we want to write about drug trafficking it will be a great film, but we can rock other narratives, too, and we want to break that barrier.’ ”

More at Hyperallergic, here.

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Photo: Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre
Two French photographers spent years capturing the new uses of old movie theaters, like this one. Now a gym, the building was once famed as the Alhambra Theater of San Francisco.

Sometimes spectacular old buildings simply cannot be returned to their original purpose. Times change. But as I learned from pictures by two French photographers, many people value the old movie theaters and are giving them new life.

Michael Hardy writes at Wired, “Between the 1920s and the 1950s, Hollywood studios built thousands of ornate movie palaces in cities across the United States. Warner Bros., Paramount, RKO, MGM, and others competed to build the biggest and gaudiest cinematic cathedrals to showcase their big-budget blockbusters. In this vertically integrated era of filmmaking, when the major studios tightly controlled the production, distribution, and exhibition of movies, these palaces served as the showrooms in which they displayed their wares. Seating thousands of spectators, the theaters were decorated in a fanciful array of styles, including art deco, art nouveau, and ancient Egyptian.

“In 1948 the US Supreme Court found that such vertical integration violated the Sherman Antitrust Act and ordered the biggest movie studios to divest themselves of their theater chains. The decision spelled the end for the era of the movie palace, as the studios were forced to sell or close their theater holdings. Television and suburbanization — the grand old theaters were mostly located in downtown areas — provided the coup de grâce.

“One of the grandest of the old palaces was Detroit’s United Artists Theatre, a 2,000-seat, Spanish Gothic–style venue that showed movies from 1928 until the 1970s. French photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre stumbled across the abandoned theater in 2005 while working on a series about the effects of deindustrialization on the city.

“Stunned by the building’s fading grandeur, Marchand and Meffre began traveling the country, seeking out other abandoned theaters to photograph.

‘The amount of fantasy and detail are amazing in some of the theaters,’ Meffre says. ‘I don’t think we have anything comparable in Europe except for our cathedrals.’ …

“After discovering some tastefully repurposed palaces, such as Brooklyn’s cavernous Paramount Theater—now used as a gymnasium by Long Island University—they expanded the scope of their project. Not all renovations were so sensitive. Marchand and Meffre shot palaces that have been transformed into grocery stores, office buildings, even school bus depots. …

“Because the palaces are so expensive to tear down, many have survived more or less intact, a process the photographer calls ‘preservation by neglect.’ ”

Funny. Here’s to life-saving neglect!

More at Wired, here.

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One of the many reasons I’m grateful to WordPress is that, as the largest self-hosted blogging tool in the world, it gives me some visibility among other bloggers.

One day recently I garnered a “like” from the Girl Scouts of South Carolina Mountains to Midlands. I decided to check out their blog, and I found a good story to share.

Michelle Taylor writes, “Zainab Bhagat has always reached out to the hurting, even when she didn’t realize she was practicing philanthropy. As a child in elementary school, she noticed one of her friends often went without. Her friend never seemed to have school supplies or a complete lunch. Without a second thought, Zainab shared everything she had to offer. …

“When Zainab had the opportunity to earn the Gold Award in high school, she never questioned if she should pursue it or not. She felt it a moral obligation to share her time, talent, and treasure with the world. …

“She knew the project would take her full devotion. She would have to spend at least 80 hours researching, planning, and working her project. She would have to present her concept before a committee, and her project would have to address a real issue in her community. But anything worth doing is rarely easy.

“Zainab created a documentary about homelessness in her hometown of Irmo, South Carolina. She interviewed and became fast friends with a local teen who had endured incredible hardship. Watch her hard-hitting and inspirational documentary [here].”

More at the Girl Scouts of South Carolina blog, here. How reassuring it is to see young people like this readying to enter the world of adulthood. They will make that world better.

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Although Ginia Desmond had been writing scripts for 12 years, she had never made a movie. Now at 74, she has risen to the challenge.

Johanna Willett writes at the Arizona Daily Star, “Ginia Desmond had a decision to make. Buy a house. Make a movie. Buy a house. Make a movie. She made a movie.

“The 74-year-old has been writing scripts for a dozen years, but ‘Lucky U Ranch’ is her first feature-length film to make it to the big screen.

“That’s because she funded it.

” ‘I consider myself the writer,’ she says of the low-budget film, which so far isn’t readily available for viewing. ‘I wrote the script, and I wrote the checks.’

“Writing screenplays is not Desmond’s first career — or even her second. This act follows others that starred Desmond as a mother and wife, professional artist and businesswoman. …

“For almost 30 years, she imported goods such as furniture and baskets to sell in her Tucson store Sangin Trading Co. on Sixth Avenue. She sold the business in 2003. …

“ ‘Ginia is an interesting combination of very creative and very practical,’ says Victoria Lucas, a Tucson screenplay consultant with a 20-year career in Los Angeles.

” ‘She has that sense of the big picture and how a business is run, and with her writing skills and talent, she has the ability to understand characters. … Very few writers write visually so that when you read the script, it’s like you have seen the movie. … Ginia writes like that. She has a real gift for getting under the skin of characters and making the reader or audience understand them. … She is a treasure for Tucson.” Read more here.

Thank you, Cousin Claire for posting the story on Facebook. Like Desmond, Cousin Claire lives in Tucson, and she has at least one script stored away somewhere about an adventurous female ancestor. I read it. And I know for a fact she is under 74, so …

Photo: Kelly Presnell/Arizona Daily Star
Ginia Desmond, 74, is reflected in her movie poster’s glass.

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I added Ello to my social media a while ago but am only now beginning to explore it. A kind of Facebook without ads, it seems to be preferred by people in the arts. Lately, Ello has been publishing interviews with particularly interesting users.

Here are excerpts from Ello Chief Marketing Officer Mark Gelband’s interview with Ben Staley.

“Ben Staley is an Emmy award-winning filmmaker, storyteller, photographer, and professional adventure-haver. His striking portraits and nature photography are a constant source of inspiration to the Ello team. …

“Mark: I started paying really close attention to your work when you were documenting the film you’re making about ships and welders. Could you tell us more about that project?

“Ben: The project is called ‘Starbound’ and it’s about a boat of the same name. The boat is a catch processor that fishes on the Bering Sea. It’s a top performer but the factory was outdated and inefficient and they were losing money. The construction project would lengthen the boat, making it as environmentally friendly as possible and saving the jobs of the 100+ crew members. The owners are doing it for the best reasons. They could have taken the easy way out and and saved a lot of money up front and had no risk, but they undertook this incredible challenge because they care about the environment and their employees and their families. …

“For me as a storyteller it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to capture this process and tell their story. The family that owns the boat are incredibly committed and hardworking people and they will willingly spend more money and take on this risk to do things the right way. …

“Picking a 240 foot-long boat up out of the water, cutting it in half and sticking 60 foot section in the middle, welding it back together and putting it back in the water. All in the space of a couple months. The hard work, skill and craftsmanship are incredible. …  I’ll be making the first trip to sea with the boat later this summer and hope to have the doc done by end of year. …

(more…)

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Here is my latest photo roundup, but the picture I’d hope to start with will not appear.

I thought I was in the 1960s film Blowup. I spent ages (well, at least 30 minutes) zooming in on a photo I took of what I’m pretty sure was a bluebird. When I finally found the bird in the background of woodland twigs and leaves, he was so blurry I couldn’t use the picture to confirm the identification. So no photo of a bluebird for this post.

I have two other photos from walking in the town forest, one of Fairyland Pond and one of trail markers, including the Emerson-Thoreau Amble.

Next is my youngest granddaughter chasing a squirrel up a tree on Easter (love the shot my husband got). My oldest granddaughter is captured mid-Easter-egg hunt. The robin stayed stock-still for his portrait that afternoon.

The window fish was painted by my younger grandson at his Montessori nursery school. As usual, I couldn’t resist shooting shadows.

Now, about the shadows on brick. For nearly three months, until the moment when the sun shone through the alley (like the sun that shone on the keyhole to Smaug’s back door in The Hobbit), I thought the window in the renovated building was smack up against a wall and there was nothing to see there. What a lovely surprise!

I’m wrapping up today’s collection with a license plate from the Pawnee Nation. Since the Pawnee Nation is in Oklahoma and the car was in Providence, I’m intrigued and hope to learn more. Here’s the tribe’s website.

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Don’t you love it when something that is extinct turns out not to be extinct at all? Like coelacanths, which, according to Wikipedia, “were thought to have become extinct in the Late Cretaceous, around 66 million years ago, but were rediscovered in 1938 off the coast of South Africa.”

While I’m waiting for someone to prove unequivocally the existence of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, I will regale myself with Lazarus-like sea snakes in Australia.

I saw this Australian Associated Press story at the Guardian: “A species of sea snake thought to be extinct has been rediscovered off the Western Australian coast. A wildlife officer spotted two courting short-nosed sea snakes while patrolling in Ningaloo marine park on the state’s mid-north coast. …

“The Western Australian environment minister, Albert Jacob, said the discovery was especially important because they had never been seen at Ningaloo reef.

“A Department of Parks and Wildlife officer photographed the snakes on Ningaloo Reef and James Cook university scientists identified them.”

Maybe marine creatures such as sea snakes and coelacanths are more likely to be preserved than woodpeckers — hidden away in the ocean’s unexplored depths. Still, as a movie I reviewed, Revolution, made clear, the seas are threatened, too.

More on courting sea snakes at the Guardian.

Photo: Grant Giffen/AFP/Getty Images
The discovery of the short-nosed sea snake, previously thought to have been extinct, is significant because the species had never been seen in the Ningaloo marine park in Western Australia before.

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