Friday, September 29, 2006

Sufi Festival: Concert by Hu Dost, Fire Zikr

I love the Sufi Festival that is held in the area every year; this year, running Sept. 28-Oct. 1, is the ninth annual one. Though I only took a few shots at the nighttime zikr (see below), you can see pictures that I took at the 2004 and 2003 festivals (including the two here, dervish Aziz Abbatiello whirling and a poster of Rumi [Mevlana Jalal-e-Din Mevlavi Rumi]) that I took in 2003). I think I've been attending since 1999 or 2000.

Tonight was Rumi's birthday, and they had a very interesting band, Hu Dost, playing some more traditional Sufi music as well as some of their contemporary compositions. I loved the voice of the lead singer, Moksha Sommer - it reminded me of the voice of Natalie Merchant, a singer whose work with 10,000 Maniacs I relish. There was middle eastern drumming, an amazing flute player, and even a little bit of sitar. I liked the music so much that I bought their CD that was just released today, Seedling.

We heard that an unscheduled zikr, or prayers and group dancing of peace, was being held around a campfire afterwards, so we joined in for an hour or so till almost 1a. It was resonant, as zikrs are meant to be, and special for me by fireside. [We were planning on going to the festival's concluding zikr on Saturday night, but my wife ended up out of energy after our other events on Saturday - alas!]

Monday, September 18, 2006

Films This Moment(L.Pendharkar,2004),Library Manju(P.Angunawela,2005), We're Indian and African:Voices of the Sidis(B.Shroff,2005

Tonight is the second of two nights in the Diaspora to Diaspora: African-American/South Asian Encounters film series at The Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History and my wife and I are planning on attending. They are scheduled to show three short films with post-film discussion moderated by Leena Pendharkar, who wrote and directed This Moment, the first film to be screened. The films that are being shown are:

  • This Moment. A 15-minute film story of an Indian-American woman Uma Balachandran in her twenties who is in love with African-American John Ray. How does a second generation immigrant reconcile her family's partiality to her marrying somebody from the old country with her own preferences? In addition to an imdb entry, this film has its own website on Leena's Spicy Mango Productions.
  • Library Majnu. The festival website describes this a modern Romeo-and-Juliet story with a Bollywood twist; I believe that this is a 2005 TV show directed by Paul Angunawela and written by Shehzad Chaudhary.
  • We're particularly looking forward to the documentary We're Indian and African: Voices of the Sidis. Beheroze Shroff of the UCSD Department of Literature has made this 22-minute film exploring the lives of the Afro-Indian Sidis of Bava Gor, a village in Gujarat. Also known as Sheedi (शीदि in Hindi), this Sufi community descended from Zanzibar slaves are followers of ancient saint Bava Gor. In the 12th century, they settled in India (Gujarat) and modern day Pakistan (Balochistan and Sindh) and have preserved their African musical roots in their devotion; the film depicts this, as well as their sacred Goma-Dhammal dance, and relationship of the Sidis to Parsis in Mumbai.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Film Dreams and Passions (Sophia Kaushal, 2006)

Sara and DanzelTonight, I had the pleasure of attending the first of two nights of the Diaspora to Diaspora: African-American/South Asian Encounters film series at The Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History, a beautiful building erected with private funds on the UNC campus. The Norweigan film Dreams and Passions was shown, followed by a discussion led by director Sophia Kaushal and screenwriter Jon Poindexter. (The film isn't quite finished with the editing, but I believe a 2006 credit date is correct.)

The film is a simple love story between college students Indian-born (Punjabi?), Norweigan-raised Sara (played by Sophia), and Chicagoan African-American Danzel (not Denzel; played by Jon), who has just arrived in Norway to study in a foreign exchange program. Unlike a film like Mississippi Masala that explores minority-on-minority prejudice, this is a story of a father and brother who adopt double standards in violently opposing a growing daughter's exploration of dating and romance.
'Stay out of this!' Sara's meddling brother
In the discussion that ensued, Sophia Kaushal described this difference between Norway and the US: the US is far ahead in terms of having vibrantly integrated races, but in Norway where minorities are comparatively scarce, those minorities that do exist relate better to each other with shared experiences. An African-American dating a Norweigan-Indian is viewed as just two non-majorities together.

I enjoyed talking with Sophia and Jon. Jon comes from a theater backround and also sings - and this talent is fairly clear in his acting and intonation. Sophia is directing a new film effort, reminiscent to me of Zana Briski's giving poor children still cameras in the documentary film Born into Brothels, but of giving children video cameras. They begin work in Chicago in the coming days, and also plan to work with children in India and perhaps Japan and elsewhere.

There's no imdb entry for the film yet (once it's done with editing, I may create an entry). You can read a short description of the film and Monday's films in this series in our local entertainment paper, The Independent.

Pictures used with permission and obtained from The Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Film Steamboy (Suchîmubôi; Katsuhiro Ôtomo, 2004)

Tonight as part of the Duke University Screen Society (I'm glad that school is back in session and these film series are underway again!), I saw the Japanese anime film Steamboy (Suchîmubôi; directed by Katsuhiro Ôtomo, 2004, 126 minutes). While the computer animation was impressive, the film's story didn't particularly interest me.

The film is about a family of English inventors in the 1860s. Just before the first World Expo, an enormously powerful "steam ball" comes from the grandfather in the United States. What ensues is a pitting of grandfather against father - one promoting the peaceful uses of the new technology, and the other exploiting it to gain supremacy through destruction of anything in his way - with the son (perhaps 12-14 years old) caught in the middle. Obviously a parable for nuclear power, I didn't find the film's plot to be innovative or exciting.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Puppet Theatre: Paperhand Puppet Intervention's As the Crow Flies: Tales from Four Directions

A friend of mine and I went to see the last event of the RadiCackaLacky Puppetry Convergence, a family-oriented outdoor performance by Paperhand Puppet Intervention called As the Crow Flies: Tales From Four Directions. The same friend, my Dad, and my wife, went to their production last year, Garden of the Wild. It consisted of fabulous puppetry in four stories:

  1. "Man and Machine - The Story of John Henry". The legendary working class man from the late 1800s competes and soundly defeats machinery. "This tale of Man vs. Machine during the era of Industrialization is one that is still relevant ... story of people standing up against hardship ... imposed on them in the name of progress & profit". It was a delight to see, especially the industry of the large main puppet.
  2. "King of Fools". "Every culture has ... tales of fools & tricksters." Inspired by English stories of "wise men of Gotham", Jewish Eastern European stories of "the people of Chelm", and Russian Pushkin's "The Golden Cockerel", this was fairly comical and probably my favorite piece.
  3. "Seeing with New Eyes". A huge puppet of the historical Gautama Buddha witnesses monsters and temptations as he meditates on a river bank. Heart lit up to hilight his newly found enlightenment, he floats up the stone stairs of the outdoor theatre to applause, with a retinue of lovingly curious children following him. I love how Paperhand times their shows, if this and last year are indicative. Like last year, this piece ended around nightfall, maximizing the effect of the puppet's lit heart.
  4. "The Librarian of Basra". This tells the true story, based on Jeannette Winter's book The Librarian of Basra, of Alia Muhammad Baker. As Head Librarian of Iraq's Central Library in Basra, he struggles to save the tens of thousands of books from impending war. Like last year, this piece was done as a shadowbox lit from behind.

Paperhand is a delight to see, and the setting lends itself well to enjoying while picnicking or just sitting under the open sky at the Forest Theatre. They tend to have a populist, progressive message that is entertaining for all ages and thought-provoking at different levels for different people. I enjoyed last year's Garden of the Wild even more than As the Crow Flies: Tales From Four Directions but would gladly see either again. What will they produce next year?!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

RadiCackaLacky Puppetry Convergence: Saturday Outdoors Performances

We returned to see the free daytime puppet performances of the RadiCackaLacky Puppetry Convergence. I took a few pictures and enjoyed the shows; they still had political overtones, but were more appropriate for families than the evening shows we had seen the previous night.

Friday, September 01, 2006

RadiCackaLacky Puppetry Convergence: Cabaret Performance

I read in the Independent Weekly about the RadiCackaLacky Puppetry Convergence. Quoting from the RadiCackaLacky website, this is "a week-long celebration of radical puppetry -- theater that uses puppets and objects to tell stories of people's hopes, dreams, struggles and victories. ... Puppeteers from all over the U.S. and Canada are converging on Carrboro/Chapel Hill during the final weekend of Paperhand's annual Forest Theater show. There are several programs of puppetry at a number of venues throughout the week. ... We've got hand puppets from outer space, marionettes enacting Greek myths, biographical shadow puppet plays, cardboard cats who chase cardboard mice, and puppet videos about the Apocalypse -- plus live music, crazy costumes, and stuff made from trash! All the programs are cheap or free".

We went tonight to the 9p "latenight cabaret" which lasted past midnight. The published schedule indicates a line up of Jeff McCreight, Wandering Minstrel; Rebecca & Kate, HorseshoeBend; RPM Puppet Conspiracy, The Tiny Cat & The Tiny Mouse; Barbara Cox, WWF Avant Guard Juggling; Legends Walk The Streets, From My Porch; Daniel Lang, Gazelle/Habibi; and Maple Rabbit, "Apocalypse" and other songs. My wife was not crazy about tonight and said that it was unorganized (but enjoyed what we saw the next day), but I thought most of the performances were creative and interesting.

Neither of us liked a piece that a man from New York did (where was the puppetry??) with flash cards entering and being tossed out of a form while he recited a poem. One piece was too long and neither of us understood the point - a man donning different masks to describe a lesson on Chekov.

But we both liked the first piece (From My Porch ?) about reflections of racism in Philadelphia. There was a very clever skit with a woman opening up a number of white umbrellas to surround herself then shine a spotlight through the umbrellas. There was a performance about the environmental degradation that a gas leak caused to a river out west - it was particularly beautiful how the performers described the love story between a rock and the raging water over the years before the enviroment received such an insult.

The master of ceremonies also entertained us. His job was to keep us distracted while the stage was cleared and setup between acts. It was done in an ad hoc manner without closing of curtains; my wife had the impression that it was an "inside show" meant for the puppet troupes to entertain each other with. He put on a number of comical pieces about Frankenstein. As an example, he had somebody come to the stage and wear a Frankenstein mask while the MC narrated a scene in a coffee house. Nobody would serve or even look at the monster, even when he rang a bell to request service. I know that the retelling doesn't sound humorous, but the situational comedy was effective - the MC's narration guided the actions of the volunteer in this and other Frankenstein scenes.

It was a refreshing night - after a lot of hot weather in the high 90°Fs and even into the 100°s, it was a fall-like evening in the 60s and even little cooler. It was enjoyable not just walking to and from the event, but there was a large drum circle outside in the intermission.