Well, we all know what we’ll be doing in two weeks: sweating out election returns. And next week is Halloween. But what about this week — particularly if you’re not on the trail or otherwise — should you find yourself in Washington, D.C.?
Phillips Goes to The Wall
The Phillips Collection is getting a little help with its exterior decorating this week, inviting four Senegalese artists — Muhsana Ali, Fode Camara, Viye Diba and Piniang (Ibrahima Niang) — to paint a mural on the wall of the museum’s Hunter Courtyard that will be unveiled to the public Thursday at noon. “The Leading Edge Ideas: Inside the 21st Century Museum” is part of the Phillips’ partnership with the State Department’s Office of Art in Embassies and is designed to set the stage for this weekend’s International Forum Weekend. (Don’t act like you didn’t know it was International Forum Weekend.)
Lincoln Gets Pressed
Thinking about an Honest Abe costume for All Hallows’ Eve? Bone up, then, on a relatively unexplored chapter of the 16th president’s biography — his relationship with the press — Thursday at the National Archives. Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer will discuss his latest book, “Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion,” with Frank Bond at the Archives’ William G. McGowan Theater at 7 p.m. Admission is free. In his review of the book for Roll Call, John Bicknell wrote, “With his usual sparkling prose and exhaustive research, one of America’s foremost scholars on the 16th president has given us a robust portrait of the nexus between American politics and the press. As much as it is a telling slice of Lincolniana — the kind of detail-rich tapestry we have come to expect from Holzer — it is also a lively history of mid-19th century journalism.”
The lively folks over at Congressional Cemetery get into the swing of Halloween things on Saturday with their annual Ghosts and Goblets party on the cemetery grounds. The event follows in the footsteps of the cemetery’s Dead Man’s Race 5K earlier this month and August’s Day of the Dog, which combined animal adoption with food trucks and local breweries at the historic resting place that also doubles as D.C.’s premier dog-walking park. The party starts in earnest at 8 p.m., though VIP access gets one in the gates at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $70, which includes drinks. To purchase tickets or learn more, go here.
The haze of nostalgia often blinds people to the problems of the past. This is especially true in politics and journalism, where current practitioners love to wax rhapsodic about how great things were in the good old days, when everybody got along and drank whiskey with each other and were regular old pals.
Harold Holzer’s “Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion” is here to offer an antidote to our nostalgic haze, while rendering a fascinating story in the process.
With his usual sparkling prose and exhaustive research, one of America’s foremost scholars on the 16th president has given us a robust portrait of the nexus between American politics and the press. As much as it is a telling slice of Lincolniana — the kind of detail-rich tapestry we have come to expect from Holzer — it is also a lively history of mid-19th century journalism.
Colicchio will discuss the Food Policy Action congressional scorecard on Thursday. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Perhaps no other city in the United States provides the platform to address food issues better than Washington, D.C., a culinary hot-spot that also provides a public policy forum in the seat of government.
It’s a good time to eat out in the District. Just check out Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema’s fall dining guide, released over the weekend, for proof. As if to demonstrate how food in the District is both a sensual and political experience, one of Washington’s pre-emininet food activists is also among its most celebrated for his kitchens. Among Sietsema’s 37 selections, four are from José Andrés, whose ThinkFoodGroup has a growing policy footprint in advocating for the elimination of hunger and addressing its root causes.
On Thursday, noshing meets education with World Food Day, the anniversary of the Oct. 16, 1945, creation of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Food Policy Action is using the day to release its National Food Policy Scorecard for the 113th Congress at one of D.C.’s foodie havens, Graffiato, Mike Isabella’s downtown Italian-American lair.
“You can take that off now,” the Architect of the Capitol worker yelled out, pointing to my Washington Nationals’ hat as I rode past the Russell Senate Office Building this morning.
Was it capital city commiseration of Tuesday night’s loss to the San Francisco Giants, ending the Nats’ playoff run? He kind of laughed. I pointed to the hat and replied, “Nah. The hat stays.”
This is what it is to be a baseball town. The euphoria of the inaugural season in 2005 wore off relatively quickly, giving way to the dry, monotonous pain of 100-loss seasons, the slow climb to respectability and finally to perennial success. The 2012 playoff run was a novelty, cruelly snatched away too quickly. This year was different. It’s the same kind of pain other teams and their cities experience when they don’t meet expectations. The Nationals are a good team, and we expect them to win now. But it’s also just a pleasure to have a team in D.C. The idea stuck. They’re here. They’re ours.
That doesn’t make it any easier to get the relentless stream of emails from StubHub reminding us that our plans for Thursday night’s theoretical Game 5 and the National League Championship Series have changed: “This event has been cancelled. This event has been cancelled. This event has been cancelled.”
The Nationals are now part of the fabric of the town. Wear Nats gear on a game day and strangers will kibbitz on the team’s chances, question Matt Williams’ decisions and ask if you were there for all 18 innings of Game 2. There’s a shorthand now. Game 2 is the longest playoff game in Major League Baseball history. Game 4 means Jayson Werth’s homer to beat the Cardinals in 2012. Game 5 means the gut-punch loss the next night. Tuesday night’s Game 4 doesn’t have a name yet, but it will. It will likely have something to do with wild pitches, walks and bunts. Eventually, we’ll settle on something.
For anyone bummed that the Russians are buying All-American beer Pabst Blue Ribbon, fret not. There’s plenty of home-grown beer and booze right here in the nation’s capital.
It’s even a kind of anniversary season for the growing list of D.C.-based craft alcohol outfits. Atlas Brew Works, which joined the D.C. beeraissance last year, celebrated its one-year anniversary last month with a shindig at its Ivy City brewery. And on Wednesday, local bistro Boundary Road will fete New Columbia Distillers to celebrate the second anniversary of Green Hat Gin, the first legal distiller in Washington since Prohibition.
Boundary Road Owner/Chef Brad Walker and his merry crew focus not just on seasonal and local foods and drinks, but also on local talent and businesses. In this case, the New Columbia folks will trundle over from their Ivy City digs (sensing a trend here), with some of their choicest hooch. That will include some of their seasonal gin batches, such as their memorable “Ginavit” 2013 winter offering, which incorporated spirits genever and aquavit. Full story
Things weren’t always so merry with Washington baseball. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
As the Washington Nationals open the National League Division Series on Friday, their second post-season appearance in three years, it’s easy to forget Washington baseball teams have frequently sucked.
Fred Frommer, author of “You Gotta Have Heart: A History of Washington Baseball from 1859 to the 2012 National League East Champions,” never forgot. His book will make any Nat fan appreciate what they have now, and he’ll be discussing it at the National Archives on Friday at noon in the William G. McGowan Theater with his frequent discussion sidekick, former Senators announcer Phil Hochberg. It’s a nice way to prepare for the 3:07 p.m. game against the San Francisco Giants at Nationals Park.
Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney wrote about some of the Senators’ woeful ways in today’s Post. The upshot? To be a Senators fan back in the day, one had to have real guts. “In my childhood, the whole point of rooting for the Senators was to affirm one’s fortitude in the face of cellar-dwelling finishes. Show loyalty and optimism despite setbacks and disappointment. ‘We grew up not expecting much. That’s not a bad lesson for life,’ said Hank Thomas, 68, of Arlington, who cheered for the Senators as a child in the late 1950s,” McCartney writes.
And the first few seasons after the Montreal Expos moved here to become the Nationals were no picnic either. Remember when Nook Logan started in center field? It’s best not to.
If you can’t make it to the Archives, Fred and Phil will be live on YouTube.
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
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.
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
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.
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?
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.”
(Courtesy Pay 2 Play)
“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.
“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.”
“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.
Roll Call After Dark is about what Washington does when it's not at work.
The District of Columbia is a cultural capital where you can you get your kicks from movies projected on the National Mall, lectures on vermouth or Russian avant-garde art. There's always something to do.
Jason Dick is the Hill Life editor for Roll Call and has also worked at Greenwire, CongressDaily and National Journal Daily during his time in Washington. @jasonjdick