The Disability Community in NYC Showed Their Pride and Determination at the 2017 NYC Disability Pride Parade

On July 9, 2017, about 7,000 participants from the disability community marched and chanted with signs and their own voices in NYC, starting at Union Square and ending at Madison Square, as part of the annual Disability Pride NYC (DPNYC) Parade.

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Disability Pride Parade Stage. Courtesy of Paul Sweeney.

Disabilities seen in this parade included autism, mobility issues, vision, and many others. Members of the Deaf Community also participated in this parade with their own pride of carrying on American Sign Language (ASL).

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Disability Pride NYC Parade participants. Photo by Megan Clancy

For example, Paul Sweeney, one of the participants shared his experience about being in the parade for the first time.

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Deaf Pride lives on. Photo by Megan Clancy.

“It was interesting to see many different people who have different types of disabilities such as autism and cerebral palsy. As a hard of hearing person, I sometimes feel alienated around those who can hear perfectly, so communication is my biggest barrier,” Sweeney said. “I will not mind coming back next year.”

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Members from the Deaf Community participated in this parade. Photo by Megan Clancy

The idea of having this annual parade came to life by Mike LeDonne, a jazz pianist, after he had a daughter Mary, who was affected with a rare genetic disorder, Prader-Willi Syndrome.

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Participants in the parade. Photo by Paul Sweeney.

The number of participants has grown from 3,000 participants back in 2015 to about 7,000 participants this year, said Amy Meisner-Threet, an actress who is also a wheelchair user. Threet is a member with SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), and serves as DPNYC Entertainment Chair for The N.Y. Disability Pride Parade.

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Parade Participants. Photo by Paul Sweeney.

Various participants had their own voices such as fighting back for affordable and accessible housing in NYC, pushing for better accessibility with public transit and NYC subways, and more awareness about various types of disabilities.

“Drivers often make you feel like a burden for causing them to do their job,” Threet said. Even at an event like this, we try to include closed captioning during the performances on stage, provide ASL interpreters, and dialogue screens, Threet added.

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Members from the Deaf Community as parade participants. Photo by Paul Sweeney.

“We still need to have more Braille material for our blind participants,” Threet said. “The goal of the Disability Pride NYC Parade from the beginning is to create visibility for an often invisible population. The parade is not meant to be a protest march, but a celebration of pride as to where we have come from and to share the hopes and goals of the future.”

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Danny Woodburn. Photo: Courtesy of Danny Woodburn.

For example, actor and disability rights activist, Danny Woodburn, continues to fight for more hirings of performers with disabilities in the entertainment industry.

“The parade right now is probably the most important aspect of our activism.  People with disabilities need a united front and need to be present to have a public face,” said Woodburn. “We need to be seen out in the world so that we are not forgotten, not only by the public, but by lawmakers and industry leaders because still today when disparity studies are done and when industries wish to be more inclusive and diverse in the workplace and similar environments, we are still very often forgotten.”

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Danny Woodburn gives a presentation on stage at the parade. Photo: Courtesy of Danny Woodburn.

Woodburn also served as the co-author of the Ruderman Foundation White Paper on Disability in Television, which showed that performers with disabilities are still underemployed in show business.

“I wanted to bring attention to the fact that we are NOT included in the diversity discussion.  I want PWDs (performers with disabilities) to be even more emphatic when they are not included,” Woodburn said.

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Anita Hollander. Photo by Kia Benbow.

Joining this discussion about performers with disabilities, Anita Hollander also is another advocate who fights for more employment for PWDs. Hollander began performing at the age of 8 as a fully abled person, but she lost one of her legs to cancer at the age of 26.

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Anita Hollander. Credit: Maurice J. Moran Jr.

Therefore, she has experienced the show business as a performer both as a fully physically abled person and then with a disability.

“It’s a shame that you are so talented, casting directors would tell me (during auditions),” Hollander said. “I want to raise awareness about disabilities, and remove the stigma of disability.”

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Anita Hollander doing a solo show. Photo by Kia Benbow.

Hollander now serves as SAG-AFTRA National Chair of the Performers with Disabilities Committee. “This year, we have done an amazing job in theater, film, and TV,” she said.

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New York City. Photo by Megan Clancy

For example, Scott Silveri, executive producer and creator of ABC’s new sitcom, Speechless, decided to cast Micah Fowler, an actor who has cerebral palsy, to play the starring role of JJ on this show, Hollander added.

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Micah Fowler (from ABC’s Speechless TV show), served as this year’s Grand Marshall for the Disability Pride NYC Parade. Paul Sweeney poses with him. Photo by Megan Clancy

“I also helped to assign Fowler as the Grand Marshal for this year’s parade. I worked with his sister in theater,” Hollander said.

Together, Hollander, Threet, and other members of DPNYC arranged for Fowler and his family to attend this year’s parade. The process to accomplish assigning Fowler as the Grand Marshall took a lot of effort, Threet said.

Entertaining millions of viewers since its inception last fall, Speechless will be having its second season on ABC this coming fall.

“I interviewed (Scott ) Silveri at a media event at the White House, and I asked him if he’d cast more performers with disabilities on his show, and he said yes. We all fight for empowerment,” Hollander said.

Amy Meisner-Threet contributed to this article.

 

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Martin Lawrence Galleries South Coast Plaza and The Westin South Coast Plaza Joined Forces to Show Art

Last June 2016, Martin Lawrence Galleries South Coast Plaza (MLG) had the opportunity to show art works developed by published artists at The Westin South Coast Plaza.

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MLG South Coast Plaza and The Westin South Coast Plaza staff. All photos by MLG.

Both parties have a goal to celebrate their partnership showing artwork to guests who visit the hotel via a joint art promotion called Art @ The Westin amid Costa Mesa’s reputation for its theater and art districts.  For instance, this city is well known for its artistic performances and art events such as what people can experience at the Segerstrom Hall, Founders Hall, and South Coast Repertory Theatre’s Segerstrom Stage to name a few examples.

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The Martin Lawrence Galleries has been around for over 40 years and has ten locations in the USA; we are the largest art gallery nationwide with world-class art by Kostabi, Warhol, Picasso, Miró, Chagall, Murakami and many more.

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published artists every month at the Westin’s lobby. In the meanwhile, to
view further MLG South Coast’s vast collection, the Fall 2016 exhibitions
are slated to show Mark Kostabi, Liudmila Kondakova and Erte at South Coast Plaza on the walls of the gallery at MLG South Coast.  MLG’s art works are displayed in the hotel’s popular spots in the lobby.

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Example of artist Kerry Hallamo’s “Cafe di Porto” being shown in the lobby.

“Our lobby is the heart of the hotel and has been designed to provide a comfortable and creative area where small groups can gather to brainstorm, enjoy a seasonal meal or sip artisanal cocktails from ‘Crafted at Westin,’“ said Trine Ackelman, Director of Sales and Marketing of the Westin South Coast Plaza.

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“The art exhibit enhances the experience of our guests and mirrors the many other art encounters that distinguish South Coast Metro, considered by many to be Orange County’s entertainment, shopping and dining epicenter promoting culture, glamour and excitement.”

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Kerry Hallamo’s Via Fiore piece in the lobby.

In fact, The Westin South Coast Plaza has a discount for its VIP clients and VIP guests who visit the MLG at South Coast Plaza. A portion of the proceeds, from sales of MLG South Coast’s artworks displayed in the Westin lobby, will benefit local arts organizations.

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Bar lobby shows “Crescent Bay” from MLG.

“The Martin Lawrence Galleries South Coast Plaza is very excited to be part of this project,” said Ken Lawrence, the gallery’s Director. “Our galleries have been in business for over 40 years and we understand very well that art can’t be sold like other products.  Art appeals to a sentiment; an emotion deep within the observer. My team and I are mere guides to help people navigate the vast art selection one might encounter and provide what knowledge we have to assist all type of collectors, whether seasoned or fresh.”

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Liudmila Kondakova: Breakfast on the Balcony. Hand-signed archival print with hand-made serigraph texture plates. 28 x 22.5 inches. Photo: Courtesy of MLG

“We do believe that art needs to be promoted and The Westin’s lobby area is as wonderful venue for us to share our artwork with local and international guests alike. Costa Mesa is becoming a burgeoning art mecca for Southern California and we are eager to contribute in any capacity we can,” Lawrence said.

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Mr. Kostabi, who will be present at the MLG South Coast Plaza on Oct. 22, 2016 for the company’s launch event, has an interesting background about growing up in Southern California. He grew up in Whittier, Calif. and is today an acclaimed international artist who is making a successful living from his artwork.

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Mark Kostabi: Be Anything But Daring, Be Mine. Mixed Media on paper. 23 x 30 inches. Courtesy of MLG

After his roots were developed in Whitter, he graduated from fine arts studies at the California State University, Fullerton and then emerged into the New York City arts scene that included artists such as Andy Warhol and Keith Haring.

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When not in New York, Mr. Kostabi lives in Italy eight months each year as his works are established in the Italian art market as well. Mr. Kostabi’s career accomplishments include his art belonging in collections of over 50 museums such as The Museum of Modern Art (New York), Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles), Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Modern (Rome), and Art Museum of Estonia (Tallin).

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The MLG is also available as a free venue for fundraising purposes.  The gallery’s space offers 3,500 square feet at the Crate and Barrel wing of South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa.  For more information about visiting the MLG or for fundraising purposes, call the MLG at 949-759-0134.

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Erte: Masquerade. Bronze sculpture with hand-applied patina and plotted embellishments. 19.75 x 9 x 6 inches. This sculpture was also present at the Art@theWestin launch event in June 2016. Photo courtesy of MLG.

 

 

“Go to Hell” With Jacob Bittens

Meet Jacob Bittens, a recent graduate from NYU film school, who grew up in a very small town in Connecticut.  Growing up in Simsbury was his own hell since he was different from other folks in that town.  However, when he came to NYU to study film, he blended well with other creative people in NYC.

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Jacob Bittens (front) directing a scene during filming for “Go to Hell.” Photo courtesy of Jacob Bittens.

“What is hell for me is hell for the main character  (David) in Go to Hell,” said Bittens.  People in this film live in a small town in the middle of nowhere, and are happy with their environment.  “My own hell is I’m uncomfortable in an environment where everyone is satisfied with what they have,” Bittens commented.  “My own hell is where I’d be prohibited from learning and doing new things.”  This film shows the difference between small town mentality and suburban mentality.

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Alex Herrald stands next to the sign. Photo courtesy of Alex Herrald.

A fan of classic films such as Casablanca and those by Alfred Hitchock, Bittens enjoys writing films that have drama with twists—that involve strange people, strange topics, and strange professions.  Yet, like many young filmmakers, he struggled with coming with a great script that would produce an entertaining piece.

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Clapperboard for the film, “Go to Hell.” Courtesy of Jacob Bittens.

“I had to think harder about how small town life affected who I am now as an adult,” Bittens said.  He had to weave in comedy in his script for this short film—and he also added that in small towns, people live a very traditional life—as doctors, accountants, and lawyers.

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Jacob Bittens as director. Photo courtesy of Jacob Bittens.

“I was a strange child in Connecticut–I was not good at sports.  I was fascinated with making films and wrote comic books during elementary school—which eventually became my storyboard for my films,” Bittens added.  He started making his own films during high school years.

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Jacob Bittens with his crew during shooting of “Go to Hell.” Photo courtesy of Jacob Bittens.

Upon arrival at NYU, Bittens started working on set every week.  He has built a long resume working on set as a director, writer, Grip and Electric (G&E), producer, assistant director, gaffer, and editor.  He was involved with projects run by Paramount Pictures, Marvel, Calvin Klein, Nickelodeon, and CBS.  “I’ve met many people in the film industry who work hard for no money, and they are passionate about the art of film.  They feel satisfied and empowered about their work,” Bittens said.  “As a professional in film, every day is a new adventure as each project is different.  I can’t predict what happens every day.”

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Jacob Bittens with a sign. Photo courtesy of Jacob Bittens.

Zul Atmosudirdjo, Teaching Soundstage Manager at NYU, also mentioned that Bittens has a strong work ethic and sense of humor.  “Jacob (Bittens) is unique because he is active, go-getter, creative, and self-starter.  Bittens can make his own lights—and thinks outside of the box,” Atmosudirdjo said. At the Teaching Soundstages, students learn how to set up the camera, fix gear, print film, handle different types of film, edit films, and handle different types of cameras.  “If I have no power to help others, that’ll be my version of hell,” he said.

Colleagues and mentors call Bittens ‘talented in his craft’.  “Besides being an incredibly talented writer and director, Jacob (Bittens) understands filmmaking incredibly well.  Go to Hell was a complex film with a lot of logistics that could have only been made with him at the helm.  My overall impression of him as a filmmaker is one who can handle drama with a very fine comedic wit,” Baker said.

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Another example of Jacob Bittens’ work with lights. Photo courtesy of Jacob Bittens.

Bittens’ team for Go to Hell worked hard to bring this film to life.  For example, Jacob Baker, who assisted with the development portion of this film during pre-production, shared that it was challenging planning the shooting of this film in two major locations—some in NYC and the others in Hell, Connecticut.  The original script had to be changed since some of the scenes had a change of location for the shooting.  For example, the office scene where David worked in was shot in a local TV station in CT instead of in NYC.

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Cast and crew for “Go to Hell.” Photo courtesy of Jacob Bittens.

Everyone has his or her own version of hell.  For example, Baker hates lousy restaurants with old people.  “There’s a restaurant in Sharon, PA called Eat n Park and it is the worst place in the world. The best way to describe it is as an off-brand Denny’s. The food is horrible and the restaurant is always filled with very old people,” Baker said.  “Not only am I scared of old people, but the restaurant makes me look around and think, “Is this going to be where I end up at the end of my life? Waiting around in this restaurant with horrible food?””

Brian Blum, the script supervisor for this film, shares his version of hell.  “My personal hell is doing laundry. I HATE IT. I would rather go and buy new underwear and socks than wash my old ones,” Blum said.  “Naturally I now have too many clothes to fit in my closet. I could probably put clothes on every homeless person in NYC if I donated my closet.”

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Ben Klein (1st AD) works with director Jacob Bittens during shooting for “Go to Hell.” Photo courtesy of Jacob Bittens.

Ben Klein, first assistant director (1st AD), is a day person who doesn’t want to live in places like Iceland.  “My own hell is a world where the sun shines forever, and there are no nights,” Klein said.

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Alex Herrald played David in this film. Photo courtesy of Alex Herrald.

NYC is heaven for Bittens, while it can be hell for Alex Herrald, who played David in Go to Hell.  “Getting stuck behind slow moving people in the subway or on the streets of NYC, a world without cheeseburgers, bed bugs, the L train possibly shutting down in two years, food poisoning, and crowded bars/restaurants,” Herrald said.

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One version of hell can be boredom in the middle of nowhere..Photo courtesy of Jacob Bittens.

Rachel Lynn Jackson, who played Eve, David’s coworker and romantic interest, agrees with Bittens about the boredom of mundane life.  “It’s a place where everyone is the same, where nothing changes or challenges. Pretty much anywhere with a strip mall and an Applebee’s,” Jackson said.

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Channing Pickett as Abeline. Photo courtesy of Jacob Bittens.

Channing Pickett, who played Abeline in this film, shared that teaching tap to 20 5-year-olds was her own version of hell.  “There are two different metal plates per shoe per child. That’s 40 different little hammers that are supposed to be moving at the same time, to the same beat at precisely the same moment. However, there is never rhythm,” Pickett said.  “In my nightmares I am trapped in a dance studio surrounded by giant 5-year-olds with eight legs stomping around in their giant tap shoes, all at their own pace. Needless to say I no longer teach tap.”

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Alex Herrald as David and Channing Pickett as Abeline in “Go to Hell.” Photo courtesy of Alex Herrald.

Come and see this film in NYC on June 21 as part of Nitehawk Cinema’s screening series, “Screw It, We’ll Do It Ourselves.”  There will be a Q&A and an after-party at the Nitehawk bar.

Now, what is your hell?

Meet Jamie Perlman, a Recent Graduate from Sotheby’s Institute of Art-Los Angeles: she has a good heart for deaf and hard of hearing art patrons and for the environment

Jamie Perlman’s journey into creating the world of accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing started at the nation’s Big Apple.  She was a docent at the Yeshiva University Museum (YUM) to conduct tours for both deaf and hearing patrons through spoken and signed language in 2007.

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Jamie Perlman (2016). Photo from Moncayo Photography

“At (YUM), I was able to share my enthusiasm with participants by tying into the tour of what I learned about the exhibits and its artists to match their potential interests, so that they would gain the in-depth knowledge by exposure, which is an explicit skill,” Perlman said about the five exhibits that included the works by artists such as Ita Aber, Laura Murlender and Zvi Lachman.  Perlman planned outreach towards targeted audiences, such as relevant special-interest organizations, by utilizing inbound marketing strategies.  This is one of the techniques that influence the artist’s success in the art market, Perlman shared.

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Art Business On Site trip went to, Introspection, by Raphael Montañez Ortiz at Labor Gallery, Mexico City (2014).  Credit to Tory Barneson Benoit.  Photo courtesy of Jamie Perlman.

“To achieve this, I had to learn how to reach out and recruit deaf and hard of hearing patrons through networking, and by contacting various organizations based in New York City that serve this population,” she said.  Aside from this endeavor, she also interned in SoHo for studio artist, Siri Berg.  Not only does Perlman communicate with the public, she studies about the artists.  “I understand and appreciate the artist’s commitment to the work.  Each art has a message,” Perlman said.

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From left: Ashley Wisecarver, Jolene Hanson, Aaron McCoy, Jamie Perlman and Elise Roberts (2015 field trip).  Photo source to Jamie Perlman.
Now in Los Angeles, Perlman recently received her graduate degree in Art Business at the Peter F. Drucker School of Management affiliated with Sotheby’s Institute of Art-Los Angeles at Claremont Graduate University.  With its headquarters based in New York City, Sotheby’s Institute of Art has campuses in Los Angeles, New York City, London and China, according to Sarah Conley Odenkirk, J.D., Associate Director of the Center for Management in the Creative Industries at The Drucker School of Management with  Sotheby’s Institute of Art-Los Angeles.  “The four campuses work together to provide curricula that allow third semester students to continue their studies on different campuses,” Odenkirk said.  “For instance, after a student completes his or her first two semesters in Los Angeles, he or she can go to New York City or London for the third semester.  Our faculty members also collaborate on short course programming.”
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Co-horts in Shanghai, China (2015).  Photo credit to Tory Barneson Benoit.  Photo courtesy of Jamie Perlman.

Odenkirk also added that this graduate program is unique because this program allows students to merge their interests in art and business into a viable career.  This program includes highly accomplished faculty, guest speakers and a unique travel opportunity to see the international art world.  For example, Perlman had the opportunity to travel to China with other students and explored Chinese art.  See the captioned video here.

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Art Business On Site trip to Museo Soumaya, Mexico City (2014).  Photo credit to Tory Barneson Benoit.  Photo courtesy of Jamie Perlman.
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Art Business on Site trip to Tim Bavington’s Pipe Dream at Symphony Park by The Smith Center, Las Vegas (2014).  Credit to Sotheby’s Institute of Art. Courtesy of Jamie Perlman.

For instance, Perlman served a 120-hour Gallery Operations internship at The G2 Gallery during the summer of 2015.  This gallery specializes in nature and wildlife photography.  During the internship, Perlman facilitated conversations between deaf, hard of hearing and hearing patrons at open art receptions.

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From left: Buddy Weiss (Photographer), Carl Richards (Photographer) and Jamie Perlman at Off the Beaten Path: Views From Yosemite (2015). Credit to Siddhartha Abbazi.

After the end of the term, the staff contracted Perlman as a member of the event staff to interact with participants at their art events.  Perlman kept deaf and hard of hearing patrons in mind, even though it was challenging to speak for herself while simultaneously including the deaf and hard of hearing patrons in these conversations.  Perlman solved the problem with the arrangement of volunteer ASL interpreters to facilitate efficient communication flow between the events’ various social circles.

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Caroline Wolf (interpreter), Jamie Perlman (G2 Events Representative), Megan Clancy (Blogger Extraordinare), Robert Glenn Ketchum (Photographer), Michael Jones (Master Printer) at Nature LA: Mandalac Gardens.  Credit to Nestor Miranda Photography (2015).

The immersion is unique, because the public is able to find the gallery owners, the Gottliebs, and featuring artists at each open art reception at The G2 Gallery.  “Interacting with the artists is the best way for patrons to understand art,” Perlman emphasized.  “I want everyone, including those who communicate through ASL, to be able to ask the artists questions, and the gentle opportunity has been available for those who are interested to do so.”

Perlman found a way to make deaf and hard of hearing patrons feel comfortable at The G2 Gallery’s art events in Venice Beach, which specializes in nature and wildlife photography.  Perlman booked American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters from California State University Northridge’s volunteer interpreting pool, including Caroline Wolf, for the first sign language interpreted open art reception in August 2015 when The G2 Gallery began its three different exhibits: Diversity of California Wetlands, Nature LA: Mandalac Gardens, and Andrei Duman.

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Photo by Brenton Spies. Pictured is Little Sur River, located in Monterey County on the Big Sur Coast.

For example, biologist and photographer Brenton Spies, had an opportunity to show his photography of wetlands at The G2 Gallery (as part of the Diversity of California Wetlands exhibit) and interact with art patrons at the open art reception last summer.  “The main focus of my photography exhibition was to introduce people to the beauty and diversity of California wetlands and the endangered or threatened wildlife that inhabit these ecosystems,” Spies said.  “I’ve been very fortunate to have worked in over 150 of California’s wetland habitats over the past five years, and have encountered many of the California’s most threatened species.”

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Photo by Brenton Spies. Pictured is Waddell Creek, located in northern Santa Cruz County, part of Big Basin Redwoods State Park. This picture was shown at the G2 Gallery last summer (2015).

Also environmentally minded, Perlman shares that her main concern about today’s environment is pollution.  Carrying around an aluminum water bottle, she makes effort to avoid drinking water from plastic bottles to not contribute to the world’s invisible pollution.

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Jamie Perlman at the Adamson House, Malibu (2012). Credit to Suzette Ward.

Perlman understood conservation when she served as a groundskeeper and museum service aide for California State Parks in Malibu.  Perlman also is a practicing vegan in support of animal rights, which is automatically an environmental stewardship effort.

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Caroline Wolf (interpreter), Jamie Perlman (The G2 Gallery Events Representative) and Elizabeth Ulloa (interpreter) at Emerging VIII (2015).

Back in the early 1990’s, at the age of 7, Perlman received her cochlear implant with the help of surgeon Dr. William Luxford, at the House Ear Institute in Los Angeles.  Born profoundly deaf, Perlman was raised without sign language, and attended mainstream educational programs from K-12, including the former Oralingua School in California that emphasized on spoken and auditory language acquisition.  She was fluent in sign language by the time she entered Rochester Institute of Technology in New York where she graduated in Fine Arts Studio studies.  Now an aspiring entrepreneur, Perlman communicates very well with both hearing and deaf people.  “Inclusion for the deaf/hard of hearing community is a part of my identity as a profoundly deaf person who functions as a hard of hearing independent individual with a cochlear implant,” Perlman said.  At The G2, she opened a unique audience to the photography market.

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From left: Megan Clancy (Blogger Extraordinaire), Shaina Ghodsi (participant) and Jody Stevenson (participant) at Nature LA: Mandalac Gardens (2015).  Credit to Nestor Miranda Photography.

Deaf and hard of hearing patrons have benefited from Perlman’s trailblazing efforts.  For example, deaf people from England followed a panel in British Sign Language (BSL) by a skilled deaf sign language facilitator who knew ASL and BSL, at the 2015 G2 Green Earth Film Festival.  See the video clip here.

“It is a very inspiring experience to see the exhibits, and be able to meet new people and to see my old (deaf) friends,” said Shaina Ghodsi, a deaf patron who showed appreciation since she is in awe of the exhibits.  “Having had grown up in California, I know I cannot live without the ocean and palm trees.”  Spies also commented that the California coast shows so much natural beauty, and people all need to do what they can to conserve and maintain this natural beauty and coastal resources for future generations.

Perlman works as the marketing manager for Martin Lawrence Galleries  at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif.  Follow its social media platforms:

https://twitter.com/mlgsouthcoast

https://www.facebook.com/MartinLawrenceGalleriesSouthCoast/

https://www.instagram.com/mlgsouthcoast/

 

The Young Messiah: A Touching Film About Jesus as a Child

Focus Features released the Young Messiah, a faith-based film directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh, on March 11, 2016.

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Actor Adam Greaves-Neal (left) and director Cyrus Nowrasteh (right) review notes on the set of THE YOUNG MESSIAH, a Focus Features release. Credit : Philippe Antonello / Focus Features

1492 Pictures (Chris Columbus, Mark Radcliffe and Michael Barnathan) produced this film with Tracy K. Price and Mark W. Shaw.  Columbus and Barnathan both graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.  1492 Pictures is well-known for past family-friendly films such as Home Alone and Harry PotterThe Young Messiah focuses on the life of Jesus as a 7-year-old boy, played by Adam Greaves-Neal, a child actor from the U.K.

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Adam Greaves-Neal stars as Jesus in director Cyrus Nowrasteh’s inspiring and unique story THE YOUNG MESSIAH, a Focus Features release. Credit : Philippe Antonello / Focus Features

This fictional film follows the journey of Jesus as a child, and how his parents raised him.    Chris Columbus comments that this film shows the conflict of Jesus being both human and God carrying human responsibilities and special powers at the same time.

“It’s fascinating how (young Jesus) deals with this (conflict), and how his parents help and support him.  The story involves sharing the gospel,” Columbus said.  “Adam immediately knew every scene, memorized every line, and performed in a way that is unusual for a child at that age.”  He also added that the Vatican guided his team to develop the film.

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Director Cyrus Nowrasteh (left) and actor Sean Bean (right) on location of THE YOUNG MESSIAH, a Focus Features release. Credit : Stefano Montesi / Focus Features

Nowrasteh also mentioned that he had to audition 2,000 boys before finding Adam to be the right fit for the role of young Jesus.  Barnathan also added that finding the right actor for the main role can be daunting.

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“We had casting directors in the U.K., Italy, Jordan, Israel, the United States, and one that was looking everywhere else in the world. We knew that we had to find that child who instantly – by looking at him, hearing him – captures the innocence and the intelligence that the character should have,” Barnathan said.  “This is a child who is a product of God and man so the child had to be special, had to have a spirit in his eyes. You know it when you see it.”

Adam describes himself as religious who follows the Bible.  “My favorite moment in the film is during that scene when Mary talks with me, as it was an emotional experience for me,” he said during a red carpet interview in Los Angeles. 

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Adam Greaves-Neal (left) stars as Jesus and David Burke (right) stars as The Blind Rabbi in director Cyrus Nowrasteh’s inspiring and unique story THE YOUNG MESSIAH, a Focus Features release. Credit : Philippe Antonello / Focus Features

“The young boy (Adam Greaves-Neal) cast as Jesus did a wonderful job expressing wonder and maturity simultaneously,” said Danielle Lualdi, one of the attendees at a screening in Boston.  “We often think of Jesus as the son of God first and focus more on his purity and godliness. It was interesting to see him portrayed as a child. Doing this brought his humanity to the forefront and I believe allows the audience to relate to Jesus by providing opportunities in the film narrative to explore our shared human qualities and emotions: that which we have in common.”

Director Cyrus Nowrasteh and his wife, Betsy Geffen Nowrasteh, wrote the screenplay for this film based on Anne Rice’s 2005 fictional novel, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt.  This novel was put on The New York Times bestseller list in 2005.   Betsy was a long-time fan of Anne Rice’s books.  “The book hit me by surprise, bringing a different view about Jesus and his story,” she said.  Cyrus also added that no one has ever produced a film about Jesus’ childhood.  “Telling this story and what it has to say and what it’s about are things that I think are very dear to many, many people, not just Christians. Family and faith are universal,” said Cyrus.

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(L to R) Director of Photography Joel Ransom, actor Adam Greaves-Neal, director Cyrus Nowrasteh and and unidentified crew member discuss a scene on the set of THE YOUNG MESSIAH, a Focus Features release. Credit : Stefano Montesi / Focus Features

Sara Lazzaro, who played the role of Mary, added that she had to imagine what it is like being a mother to a special child like Jesus—since she does not have her own children.  “Mary is an important female model,” she said.

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A scene from director Cyrus Nowrasteh’s inspiring and unique story THE YOUNG MESSIAH, a Focus Features release. Credit : Stefano Montesi / Focus Features

Tracy Price, executive producer from Ocean Blue Entertainment, also added that this film is a “super-hero” story which children can easily relate to.  It can be tough for children to connect with 30-year-old Jesus, but they can relate to him at the age of 7.  Mark Burton, another executive producer, mentioned that this film shows how Jesus’ parents worry about their son’s safety in a hazardous world.  “This is a family story that is very different, original, and beautiful,” Burton said, who is also a father himself.  “Showing Jesus as a child was a very interesting idea, imagining who he was as a child. The film also looked at how Mary and Joseph protected their son–just like other parents.”

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(L to R) Christian McKay as Cleopas, Lois Ellington as Salome, Adam Greaves-Neal as Jesus, Sara Lazzaro as Mary, Vincent Walsh as Joseph, and Finn McLeod Ireland as James in director Cyrus Nowrasteh’s inspiring and unique story THE YOUNG MESSIAH, a Focus Features release. Credit : Stefano Montesi / Focus Features

“I also think the character of Mary did a wonderful job portraying the personal angst, fear and love for a mother has for her child while depicting her acceptance and reverence for the very challenging role she was placed in to be mother to the son of God,” Lualdi said, also a mother herself.  “I think it would be a powerful film for families to bring their children to during the Easter season.”

Talent and filmmaker soundbites courtesy of red carpet premiere footage provided by Focus Features.

Let’s Travel Around the World Online Via Ongoing With Matilde Keizer

Two recent graduates from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, Matilde Keizer and Trevor Silverstein, came up with a unique idea together as a team.  Silverstein, originally from New Jersey, is a filmmaker , screenwriter and journalist who has an eye on comedy.  Keizer, on the other hand, is an actress who is originally from Rome, and an advocate for at-risk youth and art for justice.

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Trevor Silverstein and Matilde Keizer in Sapa, Vietnam. All photos: Courtesy of Trevor Silverstein

Together, Silverstein and Keizer came up with the idea of developing an online comedic travelogue series (Ongoing With Matilde Keizer ) with Keizer serving as the host taking viewers to Rome and Southeast Asia.  They traveled for a total of 10 weeks until they moved to Berlin.

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Trevor Silverstein in Bagan, Myanmar.

Silverstein was the camera man during the entire (length) trip via using the GoPro Hero 3 camera.  When the couple graduated from NYU, Keizer had trouble acquiring a U.S. artist visa, so travel was one of the solutions to avoid this immigration issue.

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Matilde Keizer in Thailand with an elephant.

“The idea was mostly inspired as a way to create content that would allow Matilde (Keizer) to use some of her very natural talents,” Silverstein said.  Keizer also added that Trevor (Silverstein) viewed this as a creative opportunity.

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Trevor Silverstein on the Mekong River in Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Both Silverstein and Keizer have a goal to educate and entertain viewers of the Ongoing series, hoping to inspire viewers to travel to other countries around the world.  “On-Going is a travel show that resembles shows by Anthony Bourdain or other professional travel hosts,” Silverstein said.

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Matilde Keizer with Thai pizza in Thailand.

Keizer, who was born in Rome, would take you to her parents’ house, local supermarkets, and allow you to observe a traditional Roman dinner.  Then, she would take you to many parts of Southeast Asia.

Yet the couple did face challenges during their travels—communication barriers with non-English speakers, transportation disasters including a broken bus in Cambodia, environment change and theft.

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Ambassador Cab in Kolkata, India

Born and raised in Rome, Keizer put a lot of effort to communicate with people in other countries while traveling overseas.  Her first languages are Italian and German, and she learned English in the United Kingdom at the age of 11.  “There were definite moments of miscommunication,” Keizer said.  “As a person who takes pride in my language skills (also fluent in conversational French), I would get so frustrated not being able to learn the language immediately, so I always made sure to be able to say at least Hello and Thank you in each country.”

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Matilde Keizer in Sapa, Vietnam

Silverstein also added that he was impressed with how multi-lingual people can be in other countries, since he only speaks English.  He managed to communicate with people in other countries via English, gestures or body language.

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Trevor Silverstein with the elephants.

Silverstein couldn’t get over about how small the vehicles are in Southeast Asia—he had to squeeze his body into them.  Also, the couple faced air quality issues in Malaysia and Indonesia due to forest fires as they were traveling to Southeast Asia during the summer.  Silverstein and Keizer both had to endure extreme humidity during the summer.

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Borobudor Sunrise – Yogyakarta, Indonesia

“We happened to arrive in Kuala Lumpur at a time when the haze was at some very high points, they were cancelling school days and a marathon,” Silverstein said.

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Matilde Keizer in Mekong Delta, Veitnam

Silverstein and Keizer both tried various foods during their travels.  You’d observe them eating various foods during the web series episodes.  For example, Keizer mentioned that the health codes are different in Italy compared to the U.S.

Keizer sometimes found it hard to adapt to the food in Asia.  “However, I felt my senses reawakened.  The taste buds that I had forgotten about were suddenly there every day. It was incredible, and sometimes also difficult,” Keizer said.

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Buddha in Bagan, Myanmar

The couple, however, have found their travels to be a good learning experience.  “Overall I felt that there is this beauty in the way how people make things work,” Keizer said.  She’d often observe homemade contraptions and constructions of various things in other countries such as taxis and bathrooms.

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Trevor Silverstein in Bagan, Myanmar

Silverstein also added that he appreciates the food and history in countries like Italy.  “The whole region (of Southeast Asia) is filled with so much life and culture.  It’s wonderfully diverse so no matter where you are, you can experience so many new things,” Silverstein said.

Get ready for more upcoming episodes.  Follow them here: http://thisisongoing.tumblr.com/.

Goodbye Vesna, a Short Film by Cristian Sulser, Can Make You Rethink Your Life…

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In the short film “Goodbye Vesna”, you are following Vesna, a grumpy immigrant cleaning woman, on her journey to find happiness on her own terms.  As part of his graduate thesis work with the Directing Class of the American Film Institute (AFI), Cristian Sulser wrote and directed “Goodbye Vesna”–but not without challenges for the small student production.

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Cristian Sulser, director and writer of Goodbye Vesna. All photos courtesy of 107 Film.

Shooting locations, developing truthful characters and finding the right cast, were the most important corner stones for Sulser and his crew of AFI fellows.

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“The script is the most important piece in any movie production puzzle. It took us quite some time to develop a funny, but also emotional, story that sends out a strong message.” Sulser says. “I believe that storytelling is a way of showing an audience a point of view that they haven’t experienced themselves.  The hero or the heroine represents our own struggles in life, and we as an audience want to know how they manage.”

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Poster for Goodbye Vesna. Courtesy of Cristian Sulser.

Watching the film, you notice that the film crew was able to collect shots from many different locations – unusual for a short film production.  Sulser shot the whole movie in nine different locations in Los Angeles over a time of six days, managing to make the scenery cover New York, Spain and Romania.  Finding the fictitious “Manhattan Trust Bank” presented the biggest challenge for the team.

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Irina Dubova performing as Vesna at the “Manhattan Trust Bank.”

“It is hard for a small student production to get affordable shooting locations in L.A. But I knew that I needed a grand location for Vesna’s workplace to sell the tone of those scenes”. Against all odds and with the help of Producer Nick Erickson and Cinematographer Eli Arenson, Sulser managed to shoot the crucial bank scenes at “The Majestic” and the “Banco Popular” in downtown Los Angeles.

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Cristian Sulser on set as the director.

Sulser feels most comfortable working as part of a big team. “Overcoming the impossible challenges and fighting for the best possible outcome of a production reminds me of the family-like atmosphere I know from my theatrical background in Europe,” Sulser said.

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Cristian Sulser discussing a scene with Irina Dubova and Robert Factor.

In fact, Sulser’s past credits include serving as a show host for Nickelodeon Switzerland and working as Assistant Director at the opera. After completing the Director’s program at Swiss National Television, he started his own production company for film and television. Since he graduated from the AFI in 2015, he works as a director in Europe and the US.

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Irina Dubova as Vesna

Finding the “perfect Vesna” presented another big obstacle for Sulser to tackle.  “Because choosing the right actors makes my job as a director so much easier,” Sulser jokes. Looking for an experienced leading lady who could speak Romanian, and casting over a hundred actresses, he found the extraordinary Russian-born stage actress, Irina Dubova. “It’s not that easy to find a grumpy Romanian cleaning lady in Los Angeles.  But I couldn’t be happier with Irina’s performance.  She played the comedic character of the clumsy cleaning woman with a dead serious approach,” Sulser explains. “That made the humor of the script come alive”.

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Irina Dubova as Vesna.

Cristian Sulser has the talent to produce films that you will not forget.  Regarding the philosophy of his film and his own journey as a filmmaker, he says: “I believe that following your own happiness is a good navigator through life. At least, it guides you in the right direction!”

Come and see “Goodbye Vesna”, and meet Cristian Sulser himself at the AFI in Los Angeles on Saturday, Feb. 27 at 7 to 9, with two screenings arranged.