“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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Has it really been a year? Atlas Brew Works honchos Justin Cox, right and Will Durgin will party this weekend to celebrate the milestone. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo.)
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’.
Bowden knew the border well. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Charles Bowden, the desert journalist who provided a view of America’s borderlands that was compelling, terrifying and beautiful, died on Aug. 30, leaving a legacy of dark visions and dark journeys that came together in vivid form in 2010′s “Dreamland: The Way Out of Juarez.”
The book, a collaboration of Bowden’s words and Alice Leora Briggs’ drawings, is a hybrid work of gonzo journalism, graphic expression and poetic violence that uses a harrowing incident in Cuidad Juárez, Mexico, that involved a U.S. Department of Homeland Security informant committing a brazen murder as a jumping off point to the upside down horror of the drug war in the city that shares a border with El Paso, Texas.
For Bowden, covering the border was a vocation. He submerged himself in it in a way that was uncomfortable to read, yet important and unique. His many books about the borderlands — “Desierto,” “Blood Orchid” and “Mezcal” to name a few — provided a view of the place few others were willing to go.
I met him once, having invited him in 1995 to speak at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff as part of a series related to a literary journal, “Thin Air,” that I worked on. He showed up looking like he had just arrived from the wilderness and explained that he had just found out a friend he worked with in Mexico had been murdered. Emotionally shattered, he still made the trip, and gave an incredible reading from material from his then-forthcoming book “Blood Orchid.”
Of his many books, “Dreamland” is certainly one of the strangest, its surreal images matched by surreal text. It’s a perfect tribute to an incredible writer.
A chocolate chip cookie, vanilla ice cream, Nutella cookie sandwich. (Jason Dick/CQ Roll Call)
Summer’s latest loosing of heat and sun is a vivid reminder of the importance of eating ice cream. Captain Cookie & the Milkman food truck provides a tasty ice cream delivery system: two cookies of your choice with an ice cream of your choice in between. A sandwich, if you please.
On this particular hot day in the capital, a chocolate chip cookie with vanilla ice cream and a Nutella cookie was the way to go. Other combinations could have included chocolate ice cream, black cherry ice cream or apple ice cream and snickerdoodle, peanut butter or oatmeal raisin cookies. Like Lake Wobegon, all the cookie and ice cream combos are above average.
The crowds go wild for Captain Cookie’s ice cream sandwiches. (Jason Dick/CQ Roll Call)
Captain Cookie’s two food trucks dish it up at lunchtime hours at rotating sites. To check their locations, check out their website or Twitter feed. On a scorching late summer day, you can eat Captain Cookie’s ice cream sandwiches forever.
Congressional Cemetery. It’s gone to the dogs. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Congressional Cemetery will help usher out the dogs days of summer with its Day of the Dog, welcoming local breweries, food trucks, dogs and the people who serve them on Saturday.
The free event, which lasts from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., is just the latest good-vibe party to swoop in on the final resting place for so many Capitol Hill denizens. Last week, the cemetery’s latest 5K, Flee the British, brought the historically minded running crowd over for a race on the 200th anniversary of the burning of Washington by the British army. The British muskets that doubled as the starting gun were a nice touch, as was “Dolly Madison” fleeing the redcoats in a golf cart. There were even redcoat hecklers. “Run, you cowardly Washingtonians!” one said from a hillock full of family mausoleums.
“Dolly Madison” attempts to get away from a marauding British soldier and save Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington. (Jason Dick/CQ Roll Call)
Washington Post writer Joel Achenbach recently recounted how weird a conflict the War of 1812, including that “we are a little vague on the question of who won,” and “we have a decent idea of when it happened, because of the name, but given the critical events of August 1814, the conflict possibly should be called ‘the War of Approximately 1812.’”
Every so often someone gripes about how appropriate it is to host such things at a cemetery. Pish posh. They’re probably the same sticks in the mud who groused about the Brits’ recent Twitter ribbing about the 200th anniversary of the burning, “a rather unfortunate event in UK/US relations” as the British Embassy’s press people dubbed it. Unfortunate, too, when so many people don’t get the joke.
But back to Congressional Cemetery. Amid the beer (Atlas Brew Works and Port City Brewing will be on hand), dog costume contest, raffle drawing for gate prizes and overall bonhomie, it’s a decent way to spend a Saturday.
When they stick me in the ground, I hope it’s in as lively a place as this.
Former White House aide Adrian Miller started writing his book “Soul Food, The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine One Plate at a Time,” in humble circumstances, but it wasn’t long before the James Beard Foundation Book Award winner took it to another level. “We should have soul food in space,” he said of a sit-down he’d had with folks about NASA.
Many forms of soul food do indeed taste heavenly, and whether they are bound for space travel any time soon is a topic that could be posed in person to Miller, who’s in town in Washington as part of the 2014 National Book Festival at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in downtown. The one-time aide for President Bill Clinton, who worked as part of 42′s Initiative for One America before heading to Colorado to work for the Bell Policy Center and later as a senior policy aide for Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, decided to write the book almost on a lark.
At the end of Ritter’s term of office, Miller said to himself, “You know, I’m just going to go for it,” and cashed in his retirement to buy himself time and resources to research and write about his passion: a truly American food that is itself a melting pot story, a misunderstood part of our culture and a vanishing tradition. “I’m a risk averse person. It probably wasn’t the best financial decision, but I’ve never been happier,” he said.
The Beard award was “totally unexpected,” he said, and has given him and his work a level of appreciation that many books published by university presses (in this case The University of North Carolina Press) don’t enjoy. It’s an important topic as well, as it touches on issues ranging from nutrition, race and disappearing culture. Driving home the point about soul food’s endangered status, two of the local D.C. establishments I wanted to recommend to Miller for his trip to the capital city — The Rib Pit and Mr. P’s Ribs and Fish — are no longer around, and it hadn’t been too long since I’d visited each.
Miller, who is now executive director of the Colorado Council of Churches, speaks as part of the Culinary Arts pavilion from 10 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. on Saturday at the convention center. He’ll be signing copies of “Soul Food” from 11 a.m. to noon.
Two dozen Tastease doughnuts, waiting for a happy eater. (Jason Dick/CQ Roll Call)
HARTFORD, Conn. — There is more to the Nutmeg State’s capital city than the insurance industry, homes that Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe used to live in and heartbroken Whalers fans. There are doughnuts.
Located on the city’s west side — not too far from the domiciles of the authors of “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” — is Tastease, an establishment that serves up what it describes as “mini and midi donuts,” all for the good of mankind, if not its waistline.
Their midi donuts — bigger than a mini doughnut, not as big as a regular size doughnut — are cake varieties, in all flavors and colors. Want vanilla oreo? It’s there. How about apricot glazed? Check. German chocolate? Um-hmm. Red velvet? Yep. Dulce de leche? But of course.
The list of flavors and their decorative counterparts goes on and on. A collection of Tastease midis are at first a rush to the eyes, then to the taste buds. The beauty of the midis’ size is that one may sample twice as many at half the volume of a regular-sized doughnut. Truly a prized nosh.
Once upon a time, in a political galaxy not so far away, George Stephanopoulos was not the host of “Good Morning America” and James Carville was not a cable television combatant.
In “The War Room,” the 1993 documentary by Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker, the filmmakers shadow Stephanopoulos and Carville when they were virtually unknown campaign operatives, manning a fly-by-night presidential campaign that would topple an incumbent president and create the vaunted Clinton political machine that prepares, even now, 22 years after Bill Clinton first took the White House, for another run.
The very term “War Room” is so overused now, whether it’s referring to a Senate leader’s communications HQ or an NFL draft coordinating center, that it is easy to forget that this movie popularized a term that until then was primarily associated with Stanley Kubrick’s absurdist apocalyptic comedy “Dr. Strangelove.”
Watching Stephanopoulos and Carville run the show is one of the real pleasures of “The War Room.” It’s a movie that shows men at work, doing what they love in a way very few people see. It’s also funny, moves at a brisk pace and has a great soundtrack.
A couple of years back, the Criterion Collection released the film anew, and it has much to offer besides a high-definition digital transfer. Interviews with the principals, “Return of the War Room,” a companion documentary from 2008 and political catnip like an interview with Stan Greenberg about polling make the Criterion edition a great supplement for this, our current midterm political season, as well as the coming Clinton restoration run.
The Duffeyroll and its pastry brethren beckon. (Jason Dick/CQ Roll Call)
DENVER — Here in Colorado’s Mile High City, the humble Duffeyroll has been staving off hunger pangs since 1986, a cinnamon roll with simplicity that belies its buttery, sugary goodness.
As the starch industrial complex moves from fetishizing cupcakes to doughnuts, something as “been there, done that” as the cinnamon roll has, perhaps, been left behind. Or perhaps its time will come yet. Who knows? In the meantime, the Duffeyroll abides.
The original Duffeyroll has been complemented in the intervening years by other flavors — Pecanilla, English Toffee, Zesty Orange, etc. — as well as a pecan sticky bun. They’re all good, too. But the original is a graceful classic, the black cocktail dress of breakfast desserts.
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