- Supreme Court Blocks Extension of Ohio Early Voting
- No Ruling on Kansas Democrats Picking Candidate
- Intruder Made It Deeper Into White House
- Senate Race in Kansas is a Toss Up
- Dead Heat for Massachusetts Governor
September 29, 2014
Call it the little movie that could. “Fort Bliss,” a feature film about an Army medic/single mom returning stateside after a tour in Afghanistan and struggling with re-entry, is enjoying an extended theatrical release in Washington, continuing its rise from festival favorite and video on demand to big screens, thanks largely to grass-roots support.
The movie, directed by Claudia Myers and starring Michelle Monaghan, focuses on the challenges Monaghan’s character, Maggie Swan, has reconnecting with her young son and simply adjusting to not having bullets flying overhead. It’s a timely film, particularly as the country continues to grapple with questions about U.S. troops’ presence in Afghanistan and calls for more investment of blood and treasure in Iraq and possibly Syria get louder.
That doesn’t mean it was an easy sell. Josh Levin, general manager of the West End Cinema, said, “I originally turned it down. I turned it down cold,” when contacted by distributors about a run at his Foggy Bottom theater. He said it was an easy call “without any editorial comment about the films,” because he’s seen over and over again that when it comes to movies about Iraq and Afghanistan, there’s just no audience. “I just dismissed it out of hand.” Full story
September 26, 2014
As Sam White, an aspiring filmmaker, strolls through the courtyard at fictitious Winchester University, her teaching assistant tells her the best way to reach viewers is to make her film a mirror and hold it up to the audience. The film in which the scene takes place, “Dear White People,” does just that.
“I want people to ultimately see themselves,” writer and director Justin Simien said in a recent phone interview. “I think that’s sort of the role of art in general.”
White and Winchester are fictional parts of the satirical film that explores the lives of four black students at the predominantly white college. The film is smart, funny and provocative, with characters often making insightful statements about black culture that whiz by before you know what hit you.
“Dear White People” is the name of White’s college radio show, where she confronts racial stereotypes with quips such as, “The minimum requirement of black friends needed to not seem racist has been raised to two. Sorry, but your weed man, Tyrone, does not count.”
Though the discussion of race is evident from the title of the film, the movie also confronts how we identify ourselves and how we reconcile our often-conflicting identities with ourselves and society.
“I wasn’t interested in making a morality play,” Simien said. “I wasn’t interested in the conclusion being ‘racism is wrong.’”
Instead, Simien shows the complexities and contradictions of young black college students attempting to define themselves today, particularly in predominantly white institutions.
The Sundance Film Festival hit certainly resonated with the audience at the National Museum of the American Indian on Sept. 24, which was the film’s first stop on its screening tour.
“Dear White People” drew enthusiastic cheers from the audience as the credits rolled.
The audience consisted of many young black college students from around D.C., but also a number of Hill staffers. Also spotted in the audience was Rep. John Conyers Jr., the 85-year-old Michigan Democrat who is also the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee.
“Dear White People” was shown as 10,000 people from around the country attended the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 44th Annual Legislative Conference in Washington. Although the screening was not part of the conference, its timing was not a coincidence.
Marshall Mitchell, a spokesman for Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions, which own the rights to the film, said the screening was planned around the conference.
Mitchell, a former Hill staffer, said the CBC conference “is a time when issues of importance to African-Americans from legislation to social justice are talked about in Washington, D.C., so the timing was perfect in terms of the release of the film and the ALC weekend.”
Mitchell reached out to local colleges and Hill staffers to advertise the screening and thought it would be particularly important to legislative staffers.
“It’s a relevant film to inform them of the culture going on on college campuses,” he said.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the Center for American Progress teamed up to host the screening, which included a discussion after the film.
“The world of Winchester is a microcosm for the larger American experience,” Simien said at the panel. He noted the pressures to fit into a sphere of black culture persist throughout one’s life.
Simien was inspired by his own experience in college, where he was one of the few black students on campus. “I often found myself being a black face in a white place,” Simien said. “And me and my black friends often found ourselves sort of toddling between the different worlds, modulating our blackness.”
“All of my characters are very messy and they’re complicated and they’re contradictory,” Simien said. That “messiness” is part of what makes the characters so relatable.
The characters also confront how white students interpret black culture in one of the most jarring scenes in the films when students paint their faces black, blaring hip hop and playing at being “gangster” by sporting toy guns and gold chains.
Simien said he chose a to highlight a blackface party because it “really articulated the horror of seeing the black experience interpreted through people who have no sort of contact with that experience.”
That interpretation persists in media portrayals of “popular black culture,” as Simien put it, which is used in marketing campaigns and films. Blackface parties are also a reality at some universities, which Simien reminds his audience by interspersing pictures from actual parties in the credits.
“I definitely made this movie to spark a conversation,” Simien said. The conversation will continue as the film hits select theaters on Oct. 17 and goes nationwide on Oct. 24.
September 25, 2014
Heels pointed toward the Soldiers’ Home Cemetery in Petworth, runners in the Freedom XC 5k on Saturday will cross near the home where the Emancipation Proclamation was conceived and then continue further. Leg muscles expanding and contracting, they’ll move along the paths, normally closed, that wind through the grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home, passing a golf course, community gardens and fishing ponds.
Or, they could scrap the running idea and walk it instead. Full story
September 23, 2014
It finally makes sense why Method Man’s character on “The Wire” was named Cheese.
Strolling down Pennsylvania Avenue on Tuesday, one may witness a chalkboard with a Wu-inspired message: “Cheese Rules Everything Around Me.”
The riff on the Wu-Tang’s iconic anthem “C.R.E.A.M.” (Cash Rules Everything Around Me for those slow on the uptake), works two ways, cream being so important to the dairy minded. A bit, ahem, cheesy? Sure. Why not?
For the record, Sona Creamery’s Wu-Tang name, as concocted by the Wu-Tang Name Generator, is Chocolatey Shatner.
One of the nation’s foremost architecture critics says Washington has already given up too much of its openness and beauty as a city and that the recent security lapse at the White House “is an institutional, organizational problem; it does not require an architectural solution.”
The argument that Philip Kennicott lays out in the Washington Post is not merely an aesthetic one, though. Rather, he notes that in cutting off access to the Supreme Court, the West Terrace of the Capitol and the White House in recent years, all in the name of security, the very pillars of representative democracy are being compromised. “The loss of public space and the intrusion of the security apparatus into daily life are not merely inconveniences. Among the most cherished symbols of democracy is openness, including direct access to our leaders. … It is not reasonable to ask a free people to continually submit to police control; doing so becomes ingrained, and when we freely submit to unreasonable searches, we lose the all-important reflexive distrust of authority that helps keep us free,” the Pulitzer Prize winning writer asserts.
Kennicott’s plea that the nation’s leaders think before stringing up barbed wire and more bollards is one that goes against the one-way trend of increasing levels of lockdown in the seat of government. Monday’s White House press briefing suggests the executive mansion’s staff is leaving things to the Secret Service, who were responsible for the breach in the first place, to decide. Kennicott reaches back to ancient Greece for his closing argument: “‘We throw open our city to the world,’ Pericles said in his Funeral Oration. We, alas, have become the descendants not of that fine and fundamental sentiment of democracy, but of the brutal imperial arrogance that corrupted the Athenian state in later years.”
If people, staffers, tourists, citizens alike, can’t literally see the beauty and good things around them in Washington, at the Supreme Court, at the Capitol, at the White House, should anyone be surprised there is distrust and disdain for the place?
September 19, 2014
A poster pasted on H Street Northeast draws pedestrian attention to a familiar palette.
The pastel and dark blues, beige and a solid primary red were once seen on Shepard Fairey’s 2008 “Hope” poster, which advocated for President Barack Obama in a presidential race where candidates collectively broke records by raising over $1 billion for the first time in U.S. history.
This poster was also designed by Fairey, with the same colors and style — but with a more cynical message. It advertises “Pay 2 Play,” a documentary that critiques and exposes a political system, using street art as one of many focuses, in which big money interests hold more sway. After initial success at the Angelika Pop-Up theater, showtimes for the documentary were extended until September 25.
“I think corruption is an abiding story,” director John Wellington Ennis said, referring to a common topic in many of his films. “It evokes back to childhood when you’re bullied or when someone takes something from you knowing that you can’t get it back.”
For Ennis, though, big money is just one way to gain influence.
Street art, he said, can be a powerful tool of political expression that can give a voice back to “grown ups” who are being wronged by the power money has in the political system.
“Street art struck me as an interesting parallel as sort of a last resort for people who have next to nothing to put out a message,” Ennis said. “It’s in a public space … and you don’t have to be in on something to appreciate it.”
“Pay 2 Play” documents the journey of the filmmaker from 2005 on, when Ennis went to Ohio to tell the story of the Coingate scandal. His father had been auditing the scandal on behalf of the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, and when Ennis, a comedian at heart, heard about what was happening, he felt he couldn’t pass up the chance.
“The details of it were so funny and over the top,” Ennis said. “I felt like, if I could tell that story, then maybe people could see how these things come back to running for office.”
Over the next decade Ennis put together the film, which includes the “secret” story of the game Monopoly and interviews with Los Angeles street artists, to explain big money in political campaigns, especially in the years after the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision.
“Eventually you see a whole bunch of different people and they’re saying the same thing,” Ennis said. “It’s fun to let the audience make those connections as they occur.”
Just like his idea of street art, he wanted the movie to be accessible to all sorts of people.
“You know, in the end it’s just going to be a funny movie that people will watch and have fun with,” he said. “There are so many people who come here to make a difference and I want this to be an inspiration to them.”
And, Fairey art isn’t the only thing Pay 2 Play has in common with big political campaigns.
Going forward, Ennis hopes to build a “limited activist” movement across the country, using online tools such as NationBuilder, a campaign tool developed by a former 2004 John Kerry presidential campaign staffer that streamlines volunteer organizing and fundraising.
September 16, 2014
“My brother Chris says I make two kinds of films: depressing and really depressing. So, that may be my range,” Rory Kennedy says, laughing a little bit. “I don’t really see it that way. … A lot of my films, and I would throw this one there, are about people overcoming great odds.”
That sentiment comes through in the documentary filmmaker’s canon. The youngest child of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, D-N.Y., has trained the camera on subjects that certainly have depressing elements, but ultimately show underdogs hanging on. Her body of work includes movies about poverty in Appalachia (“American Hollow”), torture in a military prison (“Ghosts of Abu Ghraib”), breaking workplace barriers (“Thank You, Mr. President: Helen Thomas at the White House”) and her own mother’s path after RFK’s assassination (“Ethel”).
Rory Kennedy’s latest movie, “Last Days in Vietnam,” fits nicely into the darkness/overcoming dichotomy. Chronicling the days in April 1975 as the North Vietnamese finally pushed the U.S. presence from Saigon, it doesn’t sound like brother Chris is too far off. But the movie combines archival footage with contemporary interviews of U.S. and South Vietnamese personnel, composing a story of courage and grace under fire.
“To me, one of the lessons of this film is, once you get to the point where it’s the last days, there are very few good options,” she says. And yet, the ingenious ways in which U.S. personnel went against the odds, and sometimes direct orders, to ensure safe passage for U.S. and South Vietnamese citizens alike, shows the few good options available were put to maximum use.
“I was shocked with how much I didn’t know,” Kennedy says. “The good news and bad news is that I’m not alone.”
Among the things one might learn is that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, then a Navy officer, led a mission to move South Vietnamese naval ships out of the Saigon River and ended up facilitating the evacuation of thousands of refugees. (The details of the mission reek of a covert operation that combines elements of “Apocalypse Now” and “Exodus.”) Or that U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin frustrated the hell out of his charges by delaying evacuation planning but then quickly mobilized to turn the devolving embassy grounds into an impromptu pick-up spot that rescued thousands more. Or that Congress failed to grasp the enormity of the human rights situation and failed to help out because it was paralyzed by gridlock.
Wait. Never mind that last one.
“I love storytelling,” Kennedy says, explaining why she picked documentaries to be medium to her muse. In “Last Days in Vietnam,” Kennedy takes a set of information and facts, does some digging and weaves a story that sheds light amid the darkness. It’s like cinematic proof of Bob Dylan’s theorem in “Meet in the Morning.”
“They say the darkest hour/is right before the dawn.”
September 15, 2014
“No other family has touched as many Americans as the Roosevelts,” documentary filmmaker Ken Burns said at a Monday National Press Club lunch about his new film, “The Roosevelts.” The three share a “complicated, Russian-novel of a story,” that has never been shared as one multifaceted narrative.
This is your week to grab all the Roosevelt you can handle. “The Roosevelts” debuted on PBS stations Sunday night and the network will broadcast the entire 14-hour, seven-part series during primetime evenings this week, with the last episode on Sept. 20.
A few snippets of what you’ll discover in this Burns-epic of the presidential family: Teddy never stopped outrunning his demons. Franklin tried to be everything to everyone. Eleanor overcame a seemingly impossible childhood. The film covers from Theodore’s birth in 1858 to Eleanor’s death in 1962, while keeping a steady eye on the monumental changes America experienced in that century.
Burns, a documentarily filmmaker for more than 30 years, spoke of the Roosevelt trio with an earned intimacy at the sold-out luncheon. He introduced his reasoning for making this new epic, saying it’s been a conceptual dream for decades, shared with his colleague Geoffrey Ward, a writer and historian who also attended the event with Burns on Monday.
“We tend to form conventional and superficial wisdom about subjects,” Burns said. He wants this documentary to let viewers move past the labels associated with these towering figures in American history. He shows the Roosevelts to be human: flawed, influenced and driven.
Other attendees at the luncheon included Selwa “Lucky” Roosevelt, the U.S. chief of protocol from 1982-89 and the wife of the late Archie Roosevelt; Nik Apostolides, the deputy director of the Capitol Visitor Center and a co-organizer of the event; and Paula Kerger, the president and CEO of PBS.
At the end of the event, as attendees were nibbling on Teddy, Eleanor and FDR-themed cupcakes, Burns shared what’s next on his list of projects. He has five films in the works, with pieces on the history of cancer (due spring 2015), the life of Jackie Robinson, the war in Vietnam (due in 2017), the history of country music and a biography of Ernest Hemingway.
Want even more? There’s a free Ken Burns app on iTunes, with film snippets and music, centered on “themes” of knowledge. The full-version of the app, with more content, costs $9.99.
If there is an epicenter of the Washington Tourist-Industrial Complex, it may very well be the Hard Rock Cafe in Penn Quarter.
At the peak of tourism season, during the warm spring and summer months, the self-styled “Embassy of Rock and Roll” caters to an audience that is 90 percent visitor and 10 percent local, according to the establishment’s management team. In business at 999 E St. NW since 1990, the embassy is strategically located next to Ford’s Theater, the (for now) FBI headquarters, the Washington Welcome Center and, of course, a Cosi.
“People come to Hard Rock for an experience,” said A.J. Laban III, general manager of the D.C. outpost of the 43-year-old international hospitality provider. Laban was speaking at a recent dinner touting the Hard Rock Cafe’s new menu. “This is the biggest overhaul of the menu since we opened in London in 1971,” he said, citing the deleting of some 17 items, including such customer favorites as the Rock Your World chicken pineapple quesadilla and the Haystack Chicken Salad, all for the good of the enterprise. Full story
September 11, 2014
In the middle of a political season, with members of Congress hunkering down amid the midterm election season, it’s refreshing to pick up a book — a policy book even! — that makes the case that it’s possible to work across party lines for the common good.
Aneesh Chopra, former chief technology officer for the United States and Virginia’s former secretary of technology, writes in his book “Innovative State” that the way to go beyond the management cliches of “working smarter” and “doing more with less” is to both keep in mind that innovation has defined basic human progress and good people usually come around to good ideas, whether it’s a non-spoils civil service or digital communication.
Another valuable lesson Chopra, a proud Democrat, offers is that it’s not necessary to trade in your party identification to work effectively across party lines. Ego is another thing, presenting perhaps the biggest challenge, but not an impossible one. As an example, he ends the book with anecdote about his talking to the Congressional Future Caucus at its inaugural event about one year ago. Reps. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, and Aaron Schock, R-Ill., the co-chairs, prevail upon him to tell them more about “pragmatism and collaboration,” a sign that not everyone in Congress is interested in using their time in Washington to scorch the other side.
Another positive sign Chopra sees is that, despite some negative perceptions of government, the best and the brightest continue to want to work in public service. “Where it matters, on the recruiting front, I will say, it’s never been a better time to recruit people to try to solve the big problems. It’s an incredible group of people,” Chopra told CQ Roll Call, saying the quality of resumes you see for people lining up to work on Capitol Hill and the adminstration is an extremely hopeful sign and one of the first steps to having government “deliver world class service” to the people it represents.
Meanwhile, Gabbard and Schock are fast friends to this day. Another example to add to the list is a story from CQ Roll Call’s own Emma Dumain and Lauren Gardner, whose story in Thursday’s Roll Call details how Reps. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and David McKinley, R-W.Va., are working together on climate change, an issue that has cut along partisan lines for years. Along the Southern border, Reps. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, and Steve Pearce, R-N.M., are working together, much to the chagrin of their leaders.
In the partisan garden, a few pragmatic weeds seem to be stubbornly clinging on.
Roll Call Book Club returns on Sept. 16 at Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital with Aneesh Chopra to discuss his book. The free event starts at 6 p.m. at 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE and includes a free book, beverages and snacks. To register, go to our spot on Eventbrite.
September 9, 2014
After months of being relegated to pop-ups and soft openings, District Doughnuts is poised for its grand opening on Barracks Row on Friday, bringing to Capitol Hill a heaping dose of yeasty treats.
The last couple of weeks the pastry slingers have practiced with soft-launches on Fridays at their 749 8th St. SE locale. This Friday, starting at 8 a.m., its their tasty brown butter confection will have its official permanent home.
The grand opening weekend festivities will continue Saturday and Sunday, with the doors opening at 9 a.m. on those days. They say they’ll stay open until the sell out. Given the hype, and DD’s popularity at such events as the DC Donut Crawl, there might not be too long a window to claim your confection.
September 8, 2014
The documentary “Woodhouse Divided” illustrates the political divide between the real life political version of the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots: the Woodhouse brothers, Brad and Dallas.
Brad, the former communications director for the Democratic National Committee and current honcho of Americans United For Change, and Dallas, former director of the North Carolina chapter of Americans For Prosperity and currently heading up Carolina Rising, are deeply steeped in politics, both nationally and in the Tar Heel State. If you work in Washington and have email, odds are good you’ve heard from one or both of them about how — take your pick — President Barack Obama/the Koch Brothers are destroying America.
They’re also tight and have a great deal of affection for one another, even if their arguments, which have played out mano a mano in the public sphere on cable television and the like for years, get heated. They always seem to be able to bury the hatchet immediately after trying to sink it in each other’s head over, say, health care. A much-told throwaway line for moderators of their shenanigans is typically, “Thanksgiving must be interesting,” or some variation thereof.
Well, starting in the run-up to the health care debate in 2009 to the fallout of the 2012 election, Miller traces their professional and familial dust-ups, including Thanksgiving dinner, which their fellow family members regard with seasoned eye-rolling.
“I try to get them not to talk about politics, but it doesn’t work,” their mother Joyce, a former staffer for North Carolina Gov. Terry Sanford says in the film. “Sometimes, I would just prefer they not talk about their mother,” she also says, referring to an on-air argument that plays out before millions.
At a screening of the movie on Sept. 4 at Landmark’s E Street Cinema, the brothers kept up the schtick, like two pro wrestlers taunting one another across the mat. “I’m going to cut the microphone … and give it to my brother,” Brad said before the movie, introducing them as “I’m the Democrat. He’s the wing-nut.”
“It’s nice to be here in Washington. I have never said that before, because I hate it here,” Dallas, said to the largely Brad-friendly audience. The wisecracks, particularly from Dallas, continued throughout the screening. For veteran Washington hands, it was like a return trip to the old Union Station theaters, but instead of the audience yelling at the screen, the film’s principals were yelling at each other in the dark. The two boisterous bros always make sure the people watching know it’s in good fun, even if what they do seems to cross the line, whether it be a joke about one’s weight or slapping the other’s hand away.
At the end of the film, before the credits had finished rolling, the projection abruptly ended and the screen went black. “The End!” yelled a young girl, presumably a younger Woodhouse. The audience laughed, the tension, both real and forced, was relieved, as the blue Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em robot and the red Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em robot punched each other to a draw.
September 5, 2014
As Atlas Brew Works celebrates its first year anniversary of pouring for D.C., it’s worth sipping a few of their noteworthy brews. Foremost among them is the Rowdy, a rye beer that tips the alcohol by volume scale at 6.2 percent. The rye mixes in with the normal assortment of hops and friends much the same way rye whiskey puts a different taste on a cocktail. Rye’s peppery character makes it stand out. It’s a little bitter. A little sour. A nice quaff on a hot day.
The DC Shorts Film Festival starts on Sept. 11, showcasing an international slate of 150 short-length films in 90-minute blocks through Sept. 21. Close-in venues like the Atlas Performing Arts Center at 1333 H St. NE and Landmark’s E Street Theater at 555 11th St. NW will host shows, but so will further flung ones like the Angelika Film Center and Cafe Mosaic in Fairfax, Va., and the Anacostia Arts Center across the river from Capitol Hill. For a full run-down of films, go to dcshorts.com.
The (Ken) Russell Building
The Library of Congress is in the middle of screening a series of the late Ken Russell’s films, and it’s a great bunch focused on music, laced with Russell’s trademark kinkiness and bathed in the peculiarity of the 1970s. On Sept. 12, the library screens 1970′s “The Music Lovers,” the story of Tchaikovsky’s marriage. A chamber piece this is not, as it focuses on the composer’s attempt to distance himself from his homosexuality, only to have it backfire when he marries a nymphomaniac. It’s a rarely screened part of Russell’s body of work, showing at 7 p.m. at the Pickford Theater on the third floor of the library’s James Madison Building on Independence Avenue. On Sept. 19, the Pickford shows Russell’s 1975 “Tommy,” the filmmaker’s adaptation of The Who’s rock opera starring Roger Daltrey, Jack Nicholson, Ann Margaret, Elton John and just about anyone tripped out from the ’70s music scene.
An Innovative Discussion
Not to jump too far ahead, but Roll Call Book Club returns on Sept. 16 at Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital, where we’ll sit down with Aneesh Chopra to discuss his book “Innovative State: How New Technologies Can Transform Government.” Chopra, the first-ever chief technology officer of the United States, takes a tack most fear to these days: Extolling the good government can do in paving the way for new discoveries that can benefit everyone. From the Pony Express to the Internet, there’s a record. This free event starts at 6 p.m. at 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE and includes a free book, beverages and snacks. To register, go to our spot on Eventbrite.
September 4, 2014
Local beer makers Atlas Brew Works is celebrating its one-year on Saturday with a fiesta at its Ivy City HQ, complete with its signature beers, local foods and live music from area bands the Bumper Jacksons, Sunwolf and Baltimore-based Unstable Heights.
Tickets are $10 for the 1-5 p.m. party, and can be purchased here. In the meantime, here’s a sampling of the music to help prepare you for some weekend beer drinkin’.