Geneva Anderson digs into art

How do Urban Critters Travel? Ask Photographer Stephen W. Thomson

San Francisco Photographer Stephen Thomson was at the Legion of Honor when he looked over and saw these raccoons and the rest is history! Image: Courtesy of Stephen W. Thomson

I had to meet San Francisco photographer Stephen W. Thomson after I saw his amazing photo “Raccoons at the Legion of Honor.”  No surprise, the photo was chosen as the postcard image for “Night/Light: Bay Area Photographers Take Aim After Dark,” a joint presentation by the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery’s Art at City Hall Program and PhotoAlliance.  This juried photography show, which runs through January 14, 2011, contains the work of 28 artists and is an intriguing collection of over 200 nighttime images that explore what happens after sunset and before sunrise.   Thomson’s image is the stand-out.

 “The photo was taken with a Nikon D50 in 2006.  I was using that camera, mounted on a tripod, to help my then-roommate snap some beauty shots of his tricked-out car against the backdrop of the Legion of Honor which is lit beautifully at night.  It was very late– about 2 or 3 a.m. in the morning—much later than I am normally up.  I was new to the Bay Area and specifically to the Outer Richmond, so the Legion of Honor and the raccoons that apparently congregated there had been unknown to me.  I had seen raccoons in the neighborhood previously, climbing over fences and milling about in the streets, or even running together in pairs for long stretches — but never had I expected to see so many at one time. I was right in the middle of the car shots and I saw the bus pull up…a distraction.  When the bus arrived, the raccoons came out of the woodwork (or granite work, as the case may be), and I didn’t hesitate…I turned toward them and started shooting on impulse.  I had no flash and the light was poor. Fortunately, I was already on my tripod.  I may have moved a little closer to them, but made sure not to appear threatening. I think they may have been too hungry to notice me anyway.  The process was probably 4 or 5 shots.”

Details:Night/Light: Bay Area Photographers Take Aim After Dark,” San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery, San Francisco City Hall, Ground Floor, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlet Place, San Francisco. Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Gallery closed December 24-27, 2010.  Show ends January 14, 2011. Free.

November 29, 2010 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hey Hey, It’s Esther Blueberger,” a gawky teen who break outs of her life to fit in… screens this weeks at the Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival

Attending a posh private girl’s school in Australia, gawky Esther Blueberger (Danielle Catanzariti) just doesn’t fit in and would rather be anyone than who she is. “Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueberger” screens Tuesday, November 30th and Wednesday, December 1, 2010, at the Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival. Image: Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival.

“Hey Hey, It’s Esther Blueberger,” which screens this Tuesday and Wednesday at the 15th annual Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival,  is a coming of age teen dramedy worth seeing whether you’re Jewish or not.  It captures the confusion of growing up from a young girl’s perspective and delivers an important message about feeling weird—it’s perfectly normal!   It does require the ability to revisit that awkward and idiotic world of middle school…which seems to have gotten even more tribal since I was there in the 1970’s.   The film stars Australian newcomer Danielle Catanzariti in her debut role as 13 year-old Esther Blueberger–a dark-haired, pig-tailed outcast with braces who’s invisible and miserable amongst the pink-ribboned conformists at her private girl’s school in Australia.  Esther has the typical anxieties that plague most teens who desperately want to fit in with the cool kids.  In addition,  she appears to be the only Jewish girl in her school.  

Life at home is no better.  Her straight-laced and impeccably dressed mother (Essie Davis) busies herself in their huge home and keeps the family humming along but doesn’t seem to have any real awareness of their emotional needs.  Esther’s dad (Russell Dykstra) shows up admirably when called upon, delivering a touching bat mitzvah speech for her and her brother, but seems oblivious to the fine details of his family life.   Esther has a tight connection with her twin brother Jacob (Christian Byers) and they often hang out together in each other’s rooms but even that seems to be coming apart now that their teen hormones are kicking in.

When Esther ditches her bat mitzvah party and meets free-spirited Sunni (Keisha Castle-Hughes), her world starts to brighten.  Sunni is a smart bad girl—effortlessly popular–she smokes, dresses down, and attends public school.   Sunni’s mother Mary (Toni Collette) is very hip, eats peanut butter right from the jar, and seems the fascinating antithesis of Esther’s mom.  

Keisha Castle-Hughes shines as Sunni, a smart “bad-girl” girl who befriends nerdy Esther and whose mom is played by Toni Collette. “Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueberger” screens Tuesday, November 30th and Wednesday, December 1, at the Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival. Image: Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival

Soon–and here is where we have to suspend our disbelief–Esther has ditched her private school and is attending Sunni’s public school in another part of town and pretending to be a Swedish exchange student.  She finds acceptance in Sunni’s crowd and things are rosy for a while.  The problem is that, deep inside, Esther is still Esther.  She is popular but she’s living a lie.  Tension mounts as she tries to conceal her activities from her family and former classmates at the private school.  This is where the film stumbles as it takes a sharp turn into some emotionally heavy content that seems disconnected from its light-hearted comedic start. 

Predictably, once Esther’s tried smoking, wearing different clothes, has been kissed, and has even bullied a few girls; she’s still left with herself and the question of who she really is.   When she decides to return to her old private school and is suddenly deemed one of the “cool” girls, she begins to see how superficial cliques and the people in them really are.   

Despite the fact that scriptwriter/director Cathy Randall has Esther test several clichéd identities—the popular girls, the nerds, the tough girls, and the properly brought up bah mitzvahed Jewish girls–at the end of the film, we still don’t have any real impression about what Esther has learned and how she will interpret her Jewish identity, especially in an environment where she appears to be the only Jewish student.  This falls on Cathy Randall.  Fortunately, newbie Danielle Catanzariti brings enough to the table in this amazing debut performance that the film comes off as a moving exploration of teen identity–funny, beautiful and sad, all at once. 

Esther’s twin brother Jacob is brilliantly cast in Christian Byers whose innocent quirkiness manifests itself in his penchant for mathematically interpreting all sorts of data.  When he outright lies about a fight he was in and tells his gullible parents that his schoolmates are all anti-Semitic, you begin to see the little weasel at his best.   Castle-Hughes who plays Sunni seems underutilized–her personal presence is just so enormous in this role that it leaves you hungering for more.  Now 20, she lit up the screen in her 2004 performance of “Whale Rider” for which she, at age 13, became the youngest best actress nominee in Oscar history.  And Toni Collette, while she makes a brief appearance, is the most endearing character in the film.   This is a film that will take you way back and make you glad that you survived.   Hey Hey Esther, hang tight…it’s almost over!!!

run time: 103 minutes, Australia (2008)

Details:  Screens this Tuesday, November 30, 7:15 PM, Wednesday, December 1, at 1:00 PM and 7:15 PM (waitlist only for the 7:15 show) at the 15th annual Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival at the Sixth Street Playhouse, 52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa.  Tickets are $10 matinee and $12 evening and are available online.  Pre-purchase tickets online, or phone (707) 528-4222.

November 28, 2010 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tis the Season for Science…the California Academy of Sciences gears up for five weeks of wintry events–extended hours and daily shows of science

Reindeers Yukon (male, seated) and Windy (female) have taken up residence at the California Academy of Science's east garden for the holidays and are available daily through January 2, 2011. With thick fur and short tails adapted to the cold, they are the only deer species in the world in which both male and females have antlers. Their antlers are made of bone and fall off and regrow every year. Photo: Geneva Anderson.

With Thanksgiving just behind us, it’s time to concentrate on the holidays that follow and making the most of the time we have with those near and dear.   I still remember our family outings in the 1960’s and 70’s to the old California Academy of Sciences and Steinhardt Aquarium in Golden Gate Park and what fun we had.  Those memories kick in every time I go back.   This year, San Francisco’s California Academy of Science  is celebrating the holiday season with “Tis the Season for Science,” a five week offering of polar and holiday-themed programs, activities and interactive displays. Visitors can meet a pair of live reindeer, ask a botanist what “mistletoe” actually means, find out what causes the Northern Lights, and more, while exploring the “hows” and “whys” of  life in some of Earth’s most frigid climates.

Been awhile?  If you last visited before the $500 million Renzo Piano re-do, completed in September 2008, the academy is a stunning single structure that contains multiple venues—the Steinhardt Aquarium, the Morrison Planetarium, the Natural History museum and a 4-story rainforest.  A miracle of sustainable design, it is the largest public Platinum-rated (the highest rating possible) building in the world for Leadership in Energy and A miracle of sustainable design, it is the largest public Platinum-rated (the highest rating possible) building in the world for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and also the world’s greenest museum. 

Wintry Events:  Indoor snow flurries will dust the Academy’s central Piazza–and all inhabitants–throughout the day.  And this being the Academy of Sciences, the evaporative snow is appropriately high-tech.  It’s  a foam  that is blown through a special filter that creates small, white, flake-like bubble clusters, that look just like snow. The foam is made of 98% de-ionized filtered water and 2% surfactant and is non-allergenic, biodegradable, non-toxic, non-staining, and even kosher. (Surfectants are elastic chemicals that lower surface tension in a liquid, and make the hollow flakes).

In between snow storms, visitors can take in the stunning photographs by Arctic National Wildlife Refuge photographer Subhankar Banerjee.    There’s  an igloo dome to visit, holiday craft activities and a stage for special shows offered daily.  Young visitors can also meet “Santa Claude,” the Academy’s lovable alligator character based on Claude its albino American alligator who resides in the Academy’s swamp.  They can also get a closer look at rarely displayed stuffed Arctic specimens, including a stunning polar bear, a dall sheep, a snowy owl, and snow geese.

After a breakfast of "Reindeer chow," Yukon takes a snooze, dreaming of the Christmas eve that awaits him. Photo: Geneva Anderson.

Daily festive performances, programs, and interactive activities include—

Reindeer Rendezvous – Drop-in daily in the east garden. Meet Yukon and Windy, a pair of live domesticated reindeer (a.k.a. caribou) and their friendly shepherd, Marie Reeves, from California Reindeer Rentals who can tell you all about how reindeer are engineered for cold environments.  Last Tuesday, Yukon (bull) and Windy (cow) had just made their transition from their ranch home in the Central Valley to the Academy’s East Garden.   When I arrived to photograph them,  they were having a vegetarian breakfast of Reindeer chow which consists mainly of alfalfa pellets and grains with added nutrients.  

Marie Reeves explained that all reindeer have a fur coat with hollow tubular hairs for insulation from the cold and that they can lie down in the snow without melting it.  This fur also makes them buoyant, so they great swimmers. Underneath this fur coat is a very thick wooly coat for additional protection from the cold.  There are about 5,000 hollow hairs and 13, 0000 wooly hairs per square inch. 

Their hooves are also divided in halves that form an almost complete circle.  This helps them walk on the snow.  Beside the hooves are small “cleats” that act like snow tires to give the reindeer traction when running in the snow.  Because there is little snow in California, they need to have their feet trimmed regularly.

Reindeer are the only deer where both males (bulls) and females (cows) have antlers.  The males shed their antlers by mid-December when breeding season ends.  The females hold theirs until spring when their babies (calves) are born.  They both then grow a new set of antlers and antlers are the fastest growing tissue on earth.


This Polar Bear has been in storage and received a fur "touch-up" before going on display at the California Academy of Science. Polar bears evolved from brwn bears about 150,000 years ago, when glaciers isolated some brown bear populations. Photo: Geneva Anderson.

Polar Perspectives

– Shows daily in the Piazza. Step into the igloo presentation dome for a glimpse of the stark, vast beauty of the North Pole.

Polar Jeopardy – Daily at 11am and 3pm in the Piazza. Think you know a thing or two about polar bears, emperor penguins, and the Northern Lights? Challenge yourself in this interactive game show.

Arctic Exploration – Daily at 12:30pm at Science in Action. Explore the extreme north, from the ice of the Arctic to the evergreen Boreal Forests and beyond, with Google Earth.

Cold-Blooded Live Animals – Daily at 1pm in the Piazza. Meet slithering, cold-blooded snakes and learn about their amazing attributes.

“Chill Out” with an Academy Scientist – Every Wednesday at 2pm in the Piazza. Meet Academy scientists who study plants, animals, and climate change in some of the planet’s coldest environments.

Night at the Museum Sleepovers:  The Academy’s popular “Penguins and Pajamas” sleepover program resumes on Tuesday, December. 28, 2010, offering children ages 6 to 17, and their adult chaperones, the chance to camp out for a night at the Academy.  Sleepover guests check-in at 6 p.m. and explore the Academy after it’s closed to the public, taking in a snake demonstration, the 4 story Rainforests of the World exhibit, the Extreme Mammals exhibit, an alligator talk in the swamp, a planetarium show, the Discovery Tidepool, Penguin Central in African Hall, and (weather permitting) the living roof and its telescopes.  There’s a late night snack and a movie in the West Pavilion or a snack and bedtime story in the Boardroom Lobby.  At 11 pm, it’s lights out.  Participants can unroll their sleeping bags in African Hall with the penguins, in the Aquarium, or in the Lower Swamp next to Claude the albino alligator, or in the East Pavilion next to the swaying kelp of the California Coast tank.  In the morning, there’s breakfast at the Academy Café and the sleepover ends at 8 a.m.

The “Penguins and Pajamas” Academy sleepover package requires prepaid tickets ($99 members to $119 non-members). Package includes overnight parking in the Music Concourse parking garage, next-day museum admission, breakfast, snacks, and a special commemorative gift.  Dinner is available for purchase at the Academy Café or the Moss Room.

The Penguin show and feedings at the California Academy of Sciences are a favorite with people of all ages. Academy biologists answer visitor questions while feeding and craing for these lovable penguins. The Academy has a popular sleepover event that allows kids to actually spend the night near the penguins. Photo: Geneva Anderson.

 The new planetarium show: “Life A Cosmic Story:”   How did life on earth begin?  This tantalizing question forms the basis of the new second all-digital show, produced by the Academy and narrated by actress Jodi Foster.  “Life: A Cosmic Story” screens daily in the Morrison Planetarium across its 75 foot diameter screen. The show begins in a redwood forest, derived from photographs taken at Bohemian grove in Muir woods.  One redwood looms large, until we approach its branches and enter one of its leaves, adjusting our perspective to a microscopic level.  We see a pared-down version of its inner workings, learning about the process of photosynthesis and the role of DNA.  This scene sets the stage for the story of life.  From there, we leap backward billions of years to the origin of elements themselves and learn about the early Universe and dark matter which drew hydrogen and helium together to form the first stars.  We then dive into the Milky Way Galaxy of several billion years ago and witness the formation of young Earth and how life may have taken off and continue leaping forward in time, viewing the movement of continents and the changing environment for life, until we reach modern Earth.  In Life’s live section, a Morrison Planetarium presenter will reveal the latest news about the potential for life in our Solar System and beyond.  

 Details:  The California Academy of Sciences is located at 55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park.  For information about all Academy events, including sleepovers, visit , or call (415) 379-8000.

November 27, 2010 Posted by | California Academy of Sciences | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

review: San Francisco Opera’s “The Makropulos Case”—long live Karita Mattila! Eternal middle age never looked so good

Karita Mattila (Emilia Marty) and Gerd Grochowski (Jaroslav Prus) in Act 3 of of Janaček’s “The Makropulos Case” at the San Francisco Opera through November 28,2010. Photo: Cory Weaver

Last Wednesday’s opening performance of Janaček’s “The Makropulos Case” at the San Francisco Opera (SFO) was spectacular. With Finnish Soprano Karita Mattila in her debut role as Emilia Marty and Czech BBC Symphony’s chief conductor Jiři Bĕlohlavek also in his debut, leading the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus; the stage was set for magic—and it was delivered.

What a pleasure to see SFO close an otherwise spotty fall season by nailing it with a highly-creative production of a lesser known Czech opera.   The performance was a co-production with the Finnish National Opera and marked the fourth time “The Makropulos Case” has been performed by the SF Opera, who premiered its first U.S. performance in 1966 with Marie Collier in the title role.  It was last performed here in October 1993, 13 years ago.   Those who follow the San Francisco opera will recall that Janaček is a good omen though.  The November 2001 performance of Janaček’s more popular Jenufa (with soprano Patricia Racette in the title role) also proved to be the stand-out hit in a lackluster fall season.

The evening was all about Karita Mattila—with a voice that seemed more powerful in its higher register than usual and a seductive portrayal of lead character Emilia Marty that was brilliantly comedic, she delivered the goods all night long.  Mattila’s known for her unique mastery of Janaček’s music, having recently sung both Jenufa and Kat’a Kabanova to rave reviews.  She can now add Emilia Marty to her list.   Mattila looks a lot like Cameron Diaz (she’s gorgeous) and has an anti-diva vibe that makes her seem approachable and yet there’s enough allure to keep her elusive.  And then there’s her acting ability—from the very moment she (as Emilia Marty) showed up at Dr. Kolenaty’s law office in Prague desperate to get the formula and extend her life another 300 years, it was pure and addictive drama.  She toyed with all the men on the stage all night long and with her character as well, evoking a range of alternating emotions that made the 337 year old Emily Marty fascinating, pitiful, despicable and even enviable.   And for a character whose blood is literally going cold as time passes, she made eternal middle age look enviable.  From her first flash of leg in Act 1, to modeling a stunning cream-colored strapless ball gown inspired by Givency in Act 3, to all out posing on the bed in her La Perla undies in the final scene, she showed us her stuff.  Never mind that the entire point of this opera is that eternal life—her character’s version of it— is a boring drag and she wants out, Mattila nailed it, contradictions and all, and drove the audience wild.

While the opera depends most almost exclusively on this lead character, the rest of the cast was also in top form.  Miro Dvorsky as “Berti” (Albert) Gregor delivered a strong tenor and bass-baritone Gerd Grochowski brought a believable fervor to the emotional highs and lows that crafty Baron Jaroslav Prus experiences.  2010 Adler fellow Soprano Susannah Biller was magnificent as the young wide-eyed Krista, an aspiring singer.

Janaček wrote “The Makropulos Case” in 1926, basing it on Karel Čapek’s play.  Its emphasis on lawyers and the drawn-out settlement of an estate makes it an unlikely theme for a riveting opera but there’s a twist: tied in with a missing will, is the formula for eternal life.  Over three hundred years ago, an alchemist, Makropulos, was employed by Hapsburg emperor Rudolf II to concoct a formula for eternal life.  Not trusting Makropulos’ finished product, he forced him to test it on his daughter, Elina, who was 37 was at the time.  When she became seriously ill, Makropulos was imprisoned, but Elina recovered and escaped.   Unbeknownst to all, the formula actually worked.

As the opera opens, Elina has lived 337 years with many identities and names but always with the initials E.M. and has become a legendary opera singer (more than once).  There have been plenty of love affairs too, including one with a wealthy baron, “Pepi,” (Baron Josef Ferdinand Prus) with whom she had an illegitimate son.  When Baron Prus died almost a century earlier, he left his estate in writing to his illegitimate son.  His legal will is missing and along with it the formula because they were stashed in the same envelope.  Elina knows this because she watched Prus seal the envelope. The lost will has sparked a century-long feud between the two branches of the family, Gregor and Prus, over rights to the estate.  When Elina shows up at Dr. Kolenaty’s law office in Prague, she knows she has to lead the men to the missing will to get her formula.  Like most men she has encountered, they are all too willing to follow her lead.

One of the reasons for this opera’s lasting appeal is the interesting philosophical issue it raises–do we as humans need a limited time horizon to be happy and fulfilled?  As much as she wants the formula, Emilia Marty is disappointed with eternal life.  Were we in her shoes, would we feel the same way?  Marty actually has a form of eternal life that offers a lot of choice—it’s temporary but renewable. Granted, she had no initial choice in the matter—she was forced to drink the formula—but with each dose she gets another 300 years and, at the end of that, she can decide whether to renew or not.  By not taking the formula, she can die a normal death.

In this production, the stage is set with large-back-lit clocks that are running in actual real time, making the audience very aware that time is passing before their eyes and to juxtapose time as mortals spend it against the time experienced by the immortal Marty.

How do living three centuries of life impact one’s character?  Does one essentially keep living the same life over and over or does one learn and grow, transformed by new experiences?  It is obvious that Emilia Marty does have cumulative memory, and yet she is bored and even cruel in the way she toys with people.  She’s living through a very dynamic time in history, in a constantly changing environment, and so the range of human possibilities is always infinite and yet she is disappointed and physical beauty aside, ultimately disappointing.  How can this be?  Does it have anything to do with the age at which she initially drank the formula–age 37, and how that has impacted her further experiences and decisions?  If she could spend eternity at any age, is age 37 ideal?  Perhaps drinking it at a younger age, with more of life ahead of her, would have been better.  When, at the opera’s close, the young Krista, who is just 19 or 20 (and perhaps a much better prospect than an eternal 37) burns up the formula rather take keep it for herself, we have Janaček’s answer  reinforced with striking music.

Performances/tickets:   Sung in Czech with English supertitles. Run-time: 2 hours, 30 minutes with one intermission.  Three remaining performances of The Makropulos Case, which closes the San Francisco Opera’s fall season, are scheduled for Saturday, November 20 (8 p.m.), Wednesday, November 24 (7:30 p.m.) and Sunday, November 28 (2 p.m.), 2010.   Tickets, further information:





November 19, 2010 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

film review: SFFS New Italian Cinema In “18 Years Later” (18 anni dopo), two estranged brothers embark on an Italian road trip in a classic Morgan to lay dad’s ashes to rest

A scene from Edoardo Leo's "18 YEARS LATER," screening Thursday 11/18 and Sunday 11/21 at New Italian Cinema at Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema. Photo: SFFS.

This year’s New Italian Cinema series, November 14-21, 2010, at Landmark’s Embarcadero Cinemas, by the San Francisco Film Society  and Istituto Italiano di Cultura di San Francisco showcases new films by seven emerging young Italian filmmakers, most of whom you’ve probably never heard of but all of whom will be making personal appearances at their screenings to discuss their work.  The annual mini-festival is sponsored by the San Francisco Film Society  and Istituto Italiano di Cultura di San Francisco highlights new trends in Italian cinema.  Established director Turkish-born Ferzan Ozpetek was honored at the series’ opening night last Sunday with a screening of his new film “Loose Cannons” and a retrospective of three of his classics which screened on Sunday and Monday.  Paolo Verzi closes the festival this Sunday, November 21, with “The First Beautiful Thing,” Italy’s official submission for the foreign-language Oscar. 

Being a European vintage car buff and an Italian film aficionado, Edoardo Leo’s “18 Years Later” (18 anni dopo) stood out in the program as a potential gem—showcasing a gorgeous vintage Morgan 4+ or 4-4 roadster in classic British racing green and a road trip through the Italian countryside–a journey that stands to reunite two estranged brothers.  The film screens this Thursday and Sunday.  If you are a car buff, this finicky Morgan will keep you entertained.  And even if  you can’t tell a Morgan from a Fiat Dino, the film  is definitely worth seeing for the touching tale it weaves about a broken family.   Its members have suppressed the truth and their feelings for so long that they each have became stuck in toxic patterns that have drained them and those around them of life.   When a tragedy occurs, the added grief is nearly insurmountable.

Italian brothers Mirko (director Edoardo Leo) and Genziano (co-writer Marco Bonini) haven’t spoken since their mother died 18 years ago in a car accident.  Genziano moved to London after the accident and buried himself in work–becoming a successful merchant banker.  Sweet stammering Mirko stayed at home in Rome helping out in the family’s auto repair garage until he lost sight of himself, got swallowed up in debt and faces losing his wife who sees him as a shadow of the man he once was.   His speech impediment seems directly related to his repressed emotions.

When their father dies, Genziano returns to Rome for a 24 hour visit and spends most of his time on his iphone orchestrating a complex futures sale that is to go through the moment he returns to London.  He is nervous, distracted, unable and unwilling to connect emotionally with the family he left behind years ago.  

When Mirko discovers that their father’s last wish was to have his ashes put to rest beside those of their mother in Calabria some 300 miles away, and that the two brothers are to accomplish this delivery in the Morgan roadster in which their mother mysteriously died, he is beside himself.   He also learns that their father secretly rebuilt the wrecked Morgan and stored it in the garage awaiting his death when it instead could have been sold to get the family out of hock.   

Barely speaking, the two brothers reluctantly embark on their journey with their dad’s ashes in the back seat.  Predictably, they experience a number of setbacks—including encountering a pretty hitchhiker who manages to break their silence, a breakdown, and losing the Morgan and their dad’s ashes. 

There is comic relief at the film’s midpoint when the two brothers are forced to hitchhike and encounter all sorts of characters and situations that bring them together.

The car carries as much symbolic weight in the film as the actors.  It knows the truth about the past but cannot speak it and suffers a breakdown that sets the stage for the truth to surface.   Why an Italian would buy a Morgan, over a classic Italian car  in the first place is a puzzler, but it seems the father and mother lived in London at one point and were wealthy enough to buy the luxury British roadster and returned to Rome to raise their family and brought the car with them. 

In terms of Morgan design features that figure in the film’s plot—the convertible requires a good half hour of wrangling to get its top erected, which involves manually attaching a canvas roof cover to a metal frame and then positioning that frame over the car—an awful task in the rain. It’s even more terrible for two brothers who aren’t speaking and who are transporting dad’s remains in a not so leak-proof ash tray in the back seat.  That the electrical system implodes on this first long run in years is almost a given. Morgans are notoriously finicky.   This sets the stage for stuttering Mirko to shine as he uses his mechanical skills to finesse some bastard repairs while the impatient financial whiz Genziano appears useless.    

Sabrina Impacciatore shines as Mirella and Gabriele Ferzetti as her father-in-law in Edoardo Leo’s “18 Years Later,” playing at New Italian Cinema, November 14-21, 2010 at Landmark’s Embarcadero Center. Photo: SFFS.

A subplots unfolds in Rome involving their grandfather, played wonderfully by Gabriele Ferzetti, who reveals what he knows about his daughter’s death to Mirella (Sabrina Impacciatore), Mirko’s loyal but very frustrated wife.   She is biding the time that Mirko is away by sorting through old photos, looking for clues as to how her husband–silent about the past–arrived at his sorry state.

The ending is magical, proving there no one who knows you like a brother who is near your age and who you have grown up with.  This is a slow-paced film that rests on the solid acting of Leo and Bonini who initially seem as different as night and day but sink into their roles credibly as the film progresses. 

108 minutes, in Italian with English subtitles

Director: Edoardo Leo

Producers: Guido De Angelis, Nicola De Angelis, Marco De Angelis for DAP Italy

Writers: Edoardo Leo, Marco Bonini, Lucilla Schiaffino,

Cast: Edoardo Leo, Marco Bonini, Sabrina Impacciatore, Eugenia Costantini, Gabriele Ferzetti, Tommaso Olivieri, Vinicio Marchioni,

Part of New Italian Cinema, November 14-21, 2010, sponsored by the San Francisco Film Society and the Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco.  Guest appearance of Director Edoardo Leo. 

Screens: Thursday, November 18, 6:00 pm & Sunday, November 21, 3:00 pm,  Landmark’s Embarcadero Cinema.  Tickets: $12.50,

November 17, 2010 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival resumes Tuesday with additional screenings and a venue consolidation–all shows now at Sixth Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa

The Argentinian film “The Camera Obscura” (2008), directed by María Victoria Menis, is set in the late 1800's in an agrarian Jewish colony in the scenic Entre Rios Province, Argentina. Nominated for 8 Argentinean Film Critics Association Awards. Image courtesy: SCJFF

After a three-week break, the 15th annual Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival resumes its 2010 season this Tuesday with a venue consolidation and several schedule changes,  including a newly added  7:15 pm screening this Tuesday of “Camera Obscura” at the Sixth Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa.  All Petaluma shows have been cancelled due to projection issues at the Boulevard Cinemas and Petaluma tickets will be honored in Santa Rosa.  All shows for the remainder of the 2010 season will be at the Sixth Street Playhouse, 52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa.   The festival is sponsored by the Jewish Community Center of Sonoma County and is the main platform in Sonoma County for new independent and foreign films that otherwise get little exposure outside of the film festival circuit.  

Still left in the series—

Camera Obscura: Growing up in late 19th century Buenos Aries, Gertrud  is a disappointment to her mother from the moment of her birth. As the invisible ugly duckling, she is compelled to create beauty in everything she does, while remaining unseen. Married off to an older Jewish rancher, her husband hires an itinerant photographer for a family portrait. Through the photographer’s eyes, Gertrudis becomes visible for the first time. This luminous, artistic film uses archival and surrealistic photographs, black and white film, and hand drawn animation.  Drama, Argentina, 86 minutes, Spanish and Yiddish, English subtitles.  Tuesday, November 16, 7:15 pm, Wednesday, November 17, 1:00 p.m. & 7:15 p.m. (7:15 show sold out- waitlist)

 Yoo-Hoo Mrs. Goldberg:  For two and a half decades, Gertrude Berg, the creator of the wildly popular radio and TV show, “The Goldbergs” was the most famous woman in America, and the winner of the first ever Emmy Award for Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. The Oprah of her day, Gertrude Berg’s blend of comedy and social commentary, with Jewish characters at the center, endeared her to audiences and made her an American cultural icon. This highly entertaining feature length documentary blends interviews with Ed Asner, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Norman Lear,and Susan Stamberg, among others.  Documentary, USA, 92 minutes, English.  Wednesday, November 17, 4 p.m., Sunday, November 21, 8:30 p.m.

Saviors in the Night:  Based on the true story of three German farm families who hid and saved a Jewish family during Nazi rule, the film reveals the complex relationships and emotional and physical hardships of saviors and saved. Ultimately hopeful, this example of a new self-reflective German film movement shows the potential for the heart to care for all humankind. The names of the farmers have been immortalized in Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.  JFF audience award winner.  Drama, Germany, 95 minutes, German, French and English, English subtitles.    Sunday, November 21, 6:30 p.m.

Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueberger: In this coming-of-age comedy, Esther, a feisty outsider at her posh private girls’ school, becomes desperate to fit in and discover her true self at the time of her Bat Mitzvah. Secretly, rebelling against her “perfect” upper middle class parents, Esther befriends Sunni, a public school bad girl and her super hip mom. Adopting a new identity, Esther becomes entangled in a web of lies, betrayal and bullying, ultimately finding a more honest self in the process. Actors include Keisha Castle- Hughes, Toni Collette and Danielle Catanzariti (winner of AFI Young Actors Award). Comedy, Australia, 103 minutes, English.  Tuesday, November 30, 7:15 p.m., Wednesday, December 1, 1:00 p.m. & 7:15 p.m. (7:15 show sold out—waitllist)

Nora’s Will:  Nora plots to reunite her family and friends by ending her life on the eve of Passover. In this dark comedy, her curmudgeonly ex-husband of 30 years propels the zany and poignant events forward, including hilarious burial plans, the expectations of several orthodox rabbis, answers to long held secrets and Nora’s meticulously pre-planned Seder. Winner of seven Ariel Awards (Mexican Academy Awards) including Best Picture, Best Original screenplay and Best Actor,  Comedy,  Mexico, 92 minutes, Spanish, English subtitles.  Tuesday, December 7, 7:15 p.m.

Tickets: $10 per matinee tickets, $12 per evening ticket. For further information on tickets, locations and times, contact the Jewish Community Center, Sonoma County (707) 528-4222 or Ellen Blustein (707) 526-5538  or or visit the JCC website and click on Film Festival.

November 15, 2010 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Precious Cargo—Cavalia Horses arrive in San Francisco for 4 weeks of magic: November 16 – December 12, 2010

Cavalia which opens November 16 in San Francisco features 54 horses representing 12 different breeds many of whom perform without bridles to hand gestures. Photo: Geneva Anderson

I love my work!  Thursday afternoon’s arrival of the Cavalia horses at their new San Francisco base at the White Big Top adjacent to AT&T Park was magical.  As a caravan of a half dozen or so huge KC Horse Transport semi-trailers pulled up to site–which is most definitely “under construction”— we got to see the unloading of these magnificent horses, one by one, and to meet Cavalia’s human team.  The horses, of course, stole the show—54 magnificent horses representing 10 different breeds— Pure Spanish Breed (P.R.E.), Quarter Horse, Arabian, Lusitano, Paint Horse, Percheron, Mustangs, Comtois, Criollo and Warmblood–that come from France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Canada, and the U.S.  They range in age from the 7-month-old rescue colts Rocky and Roucao to a regal Lusitano stallion named Edros, who at 18 years is the eldest of Cavalia’s performing horses.  The horses’ long journey to San Francisco began in Denver, Colorado, where they performed in September and October, and included a stop-over in Salt Lake City and a two week vacation in Elk Grove where they rested up before their San Francisco run which begins Tuesday. 

As the doors of the luxury trailers opened, we got to see just how this precious cargo travels and it’s first class all the way.  From the padded shock- absorbing floors of the temperature controlled trailer to the full complement of hay, along with a name plate and travel passport for each horse, I was impressed.  Donned in protective leg-wraps, tail guards and fabric main braids, more than 50 horses, a mix of roughly half stallions and half geldings, stepped out to meet the press and their new home without incident. 

After a vacation in Elk Grove, the Cavalia horses arrived Thursday in San Francisco where they will perform though December 12. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Most impressive was the people-to-horse ratio which works out conservatively at about 2 to 1.  Cavalia doesn’t seem to cut corners —the tour employs 120 people on a permanent basis and hired 200 extras for San Francisco.  As each horse disembarked, he was handled off to his own personal assistant who led him back to an exercise area, thoroughly checked him, and later escorted him to a large comfy stall where he was groomed and fed.   Most cool though was the loving vibe that permeated the Cavalia village–Cavalia people love horses and you can sense it in their every move and so can the horses who follow them around like puppies.

There’s nothing like a baby to get people oohing and awing.  When rescue colts Rocky and Roucao— newbies to trailering and to the Cavalia lifestyle—skittishly disembarked, they looked a little shell-shocked but quickly warmed to solid land and the adoring press corp.  The giant Percheron stallions–Edros and Emilio–stole my heart with their commanding physical presence, ham-bone personalities and extreme gentleness.   While the breed’s exact origin is unknown,  the Percheron was originally bred as a war horse, and turned up in France’s Perche Valley in the 17th  Century and was brought to the US in the 1930’s where it was used almost exclusively as a draft and range horse.  The breed has recently experienced a renaissance here in the States and it’s not uncommon to see these one ton plus beauties perform in horse shows.   

Cavalia’s founder Canadian Normand Latourelle, who also co-founded Cirque du Soleil, was on hand supervising the activities.  In addition to Thursday’s arrival of the Cavalia horses, the Cavalia village was going up—nine tents including the White Big Top tent which is 110 feet high–the equivalent of a ten story building– with a 160-foot-wide stage that is large enough to allow horses to reach a full gallop as they race past the audience.  This is

7 month old rescue colt Roucao bounds out of the trailer, happy to be on solid ground. Photo: Geneva Anderson

where the magic occurs. And thanks to new technology that allows for stunning multimedia effects, that magic has evolved since Cavalia was last here seven years ago explained Latourelle.   The horses will frolic with acrobats, aerialists, dancers and entertainers in front of a constantly changing background, projected on a 200 ft wide screen, transporting the spectators into amazing dream-like virtual settings.  The audience is just a few feet-away, seated theatre-style facing this enormous stage, taking it all in.

Latourelle explained that “Cavalia” is actually a “made up poetic name” that captures the essence of how man connects with horse which is really the driving theme of the show.  Cavalia is the result of a 10 year quest to find a dramatic way to incorporate the power of horses and their mysterious beauty into a captivating multi-media experience that is “absolutely unique” and “unforgettable.”  With special effects like images projected against a sheet of water, the experience is certainly dramatic but most of the people I’ve spoken with about Cavalia remember the horses themselves with their flowing manes and tails and the intimacy of the connection between man and horse which sparks a kind of yearning in them.   How ironic that Latourelle whose vision has molded Cavalia into a wildly successful show, doesn’t ride horses himself and jokes off all attempts to get him to try it.  “I knew nothing about horses before this and obviously now I know a lot more.  I get a thrill every time I see these horses move.  In fact, I fell in love with the aspect of the horse as a performer, but I’ll stick to what I do best which is the business of selling that to the world.” 

The Cavalia horses are all males—stallions and geldings.  When I asked Latourelle about the added difficulty of working with stallions who are more spirited and more difficult to train and work with he said “Actually these guys are pretty calm and not so difficult because they have never been around mares so they don’t know what they are missing.  They are just like boys, if they get it just once, they want it all the time.  We hope they never get any.” 

What followed next was Cavalia star Sylvia Zerbini working over a dozen Arabian horses in an arena on her “Liberty act.”  The horses, all grey, except for a young black stallion, entered the tented arena prancing, playing, and full of energy–like a glorious carousel that came to life—but quickly responded to the petite Zerbini’s every command.  The Liberty act features horses performing while remaining unbridled and free, or “at liberty.”  Zerbini controls them with hand signals and about 10 vocal commands that vary in tone and pitch.  This is where words fail me.  Watching those horses move freely is something that a thousand over-used adjectives can’t begin to touch…you feel it deep in your core .   

Cavalia's Arabian horses practice the "Liberty act," as they respond to trainer Sylvia Zerbini's hand and voice commands. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Cavalia’s Arabian horses are between 4 and 13 years in age and have been sold to Cavalia through many channels but their preparation for performing Cavalia-style requires years of training which is done at the farm in Canada.  

“Sometimes when we buy a horse, it has been ridden before but Sylvia doesn’t really ride them except bareback and with no bit or bridle.  She occasionally jumps them” explained Latourelle.  “We have been touring for seven years now and when we introduce new horses, we will do it gradually, carefully in a process we call “illumination” where we keep some of the audience, a few hundred or so, after a show and the horses slowly get to understand what the public is.”

Zerbini has toured with Cavalia for three years now but began as a Cavalia trainer at the farm in Canada for 6 months before joining the tour.  She replaced Cavalia’s former equestrian co-directors, the internationally celebrated husband and wife team Frédéric Pignon and Magali Delgado, who now reside in France’s Loire Valley and no longer work with Cavalia.  “We started in North American and then toured a lot in Europe and they didn’t make that move back with us to North America, which is where we’ve been since 2009,” explained Latourelle, “so we a have new equestrian director and new artists.” 

Sylvia Zerbini works to pose the horses for a group easy task. Photo Geneva Anderson

“She looks relaxed but she is aware of everything in the ring at all times,” explained Latourelle. “Look how they come to her with so much affection…it’s just amazing.” Indeed, Zerbini appears to be in perfect communion, reading the horses and getting back messages that range from “we’re having fun” to “I don’t understand what you want.” 

“They have been on vacation for two weeks,” says Zerbini, “so they are a little excited right now but what you are seeing here is horses playing and socializing just as they would in the wild.  You see how they are hanging out—the stallions on one side and the geldings on the other, that’s nature.”   

As Zerbini holds court, she seems perfectly comfortable with mediating squabbles that come up with her boys, the most common of which is biting their team member in the butt or giving a hefty shove that provokes retaliation.  The new black stallion, who is just 4, was bought a year and half ago.  He is a bit uncomfortable with the others and he stays close to Zerbini, like a child clinging to his mother on the first day of school.  He currently works one show and then has two shows off and is being eased into the performing life.  “This is his future place,” explains Latourelle, he just doesn’t understand it yet, nor does he know he is black.”

Standing just inches away from the path they cut on the edge on the arena, my heart surged as I moved in to take a picture of the galloping horses racing by.  The feeling was primal, pure elation, deep in my gut.  As the group calmed down some, I noticed that the horses frequently came to Zerbini to both give and receive affection.  Witnessing that was both healing and exhilarating.

Sylvia Zerbini works to pose the horses for a group easy task. Photo Geneva Anderson

The process of posing the horses for a group press portrait was humorous and very similar to the antics we all go through to obtain a family portrait.  It started with getting them into a line and all facing the same way and then trying to get them to all keep behaving so they looked like a loving family.  The urge to nip is sometimes irresistible and just as Zerbini would coax one horse into posing, another would act out with antics of his own.  Slowly, and with a quiet grace, it came together.  

Next, Cavalia star performer Gregory Molina demonstrated Roman riding—a feat of balance and control that entails standing on the backs of two horses simultaneously as they gallop around the arena.  The sport hails back from Roman times when Roman generals stood on their horses’ backs to survey the battle field.  It was later adapted by Hungarian “post riders”—these were mail delivery workers who discovered they could carry more mail if they stood on their horses and rode as opposed to having one horse carry the mail and one horse carry the rider.  

Sylvia Zerbini works to pose the horses for a group easy task. Photo Geneva Anderson

At Cavalia, specific horses are used for each act and specific riders will work only with those horses that they click best with.  Cavalia uses Quarter horses for Roman riding because they are good at the fast quick bursts of energy the sport requires and they tend to be calm.  

At Latourelle’s urging, Fairland Ferguson jumped in next to do an impromptu demonstration of her Roman riding skills, not wearing any riding boots at all. Ferguson hails from Virginia and came to Cavalia as an experienced trick and Roman rider a year ago and loves performing before a huge crowd.   With masses of red hair, riveting blue-green eyes, and a fearless persona, she acts a lot like the lost twin of Olympic snow-boarder Shaun White.  She admits that she took quickly to these more experimental and dangerous forms of riding.  “I started out riding Western Pleasure and liked it, but it was pretty boring.  When I realized that I could go really fast and have no rules per se, I was all over it.”  During one of her laps around the ring she shouted exuberantly, “It’s just like skiing, except your skis have minds of their own and you’re not hooked in with bindings.” 

The protocol for taking a fall—which happens every now and then— is “styling it off” and continuing the routine, making it seem like it’s no big deal.  Ask any Cavalia performer though, and they will tell you that the majority of mistakes that occur result from human error—not being adequately prepared or anticipating.  “We’ve done a lot of training and preparation and you can’t control everything, but we like to think that we have really tried to minimize the risk and done everything to ensure the smoothest and safest show possible,” said Ferguson.

Cavalia's resident femme daredevil, Fairland Ferguson, demonstrates Roman riding as she straddles two galloping Quarter horses. Photo: Geneva Anderson

We finished our afternoon with a walk through the stables, meeting horses, workers and experiencing horses being groomed and loved.  Each horse has approximately two hours of play time a day and works about an hour a day.  They are groomed and washed down daily and when it’s show time, an elaborate mane-styling can take hours.  

That gorgeous Cavalia poster that is up EVERY WHERE advertising the San Francisco show is actually a drawing based on Cavalia’s beloved Lusitano stallion Templado—he’s the horse that is universally associated with Cavalia and he died in 2008.  Try Googling “Templado” you will come upon hundreds of images of this luminous angel.  

Back to Latourelle with the two final questions:

GA:  “Normand, what’s next for Cavalia?  

NL:  “Actually, I am working on a brand new show which I’m hoping will be ready next August.  You’ll have to come back for that.  We know that our audience really responds to horses running free and we’re going to be emphasizing more of that and trying to get away from bridles and reins in the stunt work.  We’ve been working on this for four years now and it’s very challenging but also very exciting.  

 GA: “Do you think you’ll ever get on a horse? 

NL:  “No!  They put me on one once to take a picture and when I look at that picture, I say that’s really enough.”    

 Performance Details: Cavalia opens Tuesday, November 16, 7 p.m. and runs on most Tuesdays-Thursdays at 8 p.m, on Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m. and on Sundays at 2 p.m. Closes December 12, 2010. 

Location: All performances at the Cavalia Big Top Tent, 4th Street and China Basin Street, adjacent to AT&T Park, San Francisco.

Tickets: $29.50 to $229.50. “Rendez-vous” package includes pre-show meal, wine, stable tour.   (866) 999-8111 or

November 13, 2010 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

San Francisco Giants Clinch World Series–Now that’s Art

San Francisco Giants Pitcher Tim Lincecum fierce that the Rangers forgot that they were a hitting team.


Art takes many forms.  Tonight’s World Series game was a spectacular performance…with the combination of Giant’s pitching ace Tim Lincecum’s 8 inning torrent, a 7th inning a home run by Edgar Renteria that brought in two Giants teammates on base, and Brian Wilson’s confident 9th inning closing pitches, the Giants won tonight’s game again the Texas Rangers 3-1 and their first World Series chamionship since 1954.   I am proud of our champions. 

Edgar Renteria's 7th inning home run over the left-center fence brought in two teammates and gave the Giants a 3-1 win over the Rangers, clinching the World Series for San Francisco. John G, Mablanglo/ European Pressphoto Agency.

November 1, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment