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Dispatch from the Downton Abbey Diaspora #4

By Deborah Gilbert
Monday, July 9th, 2012

Dispatch from the Downton Abbey Diaspora is written for Inside THIRTEEN by Deborah Gilbert, a British television maven and editor of the E20 Chronicles, a free, weekly Eastenders e-newsletter, and an Eastenders column in the Union Jack Newspaper. Check back for updates.

As the temperatures in the Baked Apple near 100 degrees and my air conditioner is broken, I ponder how the residents of Downton Abbey might have handled this heat. They didn’t have air conditioners. (Imagine what the Dowager would have made of that modern contraption; one that shoots out cold air. I dare say she would not have crossed the room in front of it.) And while I’m guessing that big, old house didn’t get as hot as my studio apartment, I don’t have to wear corsetry and layers of fabric. So how did they do it? I know how I would handle it: With a staff of hot, young footman to fan me with palm fronds while peeling my precisely chilled grapes. Ah, what a life one leads! Hopefully your footmen are as attentive to you as you read this jumble sale of Downton Abbey goodies.

Last fall when the Downton Abbey cast made a pre-Season 2 appearance here at the Times Center in New York, someone in the audience asked them what they thought of a recent parody sketch of the show that had been on the telly in the UK. They all said they loved it. Of course, as the saying goes, you’re nobody ‘til somebody parodies you, and Downton Abbey is a show that is ripe for parody – there’s just so much for a comedy writer to chew on. One of the more brilliant parodies (actually it’s almost its own series now) is from the folks at the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon who have introduced a family whose fate is similar to that of the Crawley family: Their heir apparent, Carson Daly has been killed in a hot air balloon accident and they are left to find their own Matthew. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Downton Sixbey.

Recently, when Julian Fellowes was asked about all the Downton Abbey parodies, he mentioned this one is his favorite, saying he especially loves their version of Lady Edith, and that it demonstrates a real understanding and love of the show and its characters. He also said that if there were one of these by the motorway, he would like to eat there. If only all fast food franchises were like Downton Arby’s.

Elsewhere, sharp-eyed Downtonians who watched the recent broadcast of The Diary of Anne Frank on WLIW, may have spotted Sir Rupert (Iain Glen) in a very unRupert-like role: Otto Frank. With a completely different voice and cadence (not to mention drastically different hairline), it took a few moments of thinking, where do I know him from? And he never threatened Miep with ruin even once.

The Shirley MacLaine buzz continues: When she was first announced as a cast member for Season 3, and her character name was given as Levinson, I know there were a lot of people out there, like me, who thought, ‘Levinson? Wait, is Cora a Member of the Tribe?’ I mean, who saw that one coming? Well, it turns out to be not so far-fetched after all. In fact, it is based on the real history of Highclere Castle, the house we now know as (the allegedly fictional) Downton Abbey. As we know from Laura Linney’s narration during Season 1, many of these estates were saved when their titled but penniless heirs went fortune hunting and married heiresses who had money but no title. This was true for Highclere as well, whose fortunes were saved when the 5th Earl of Carnarvon married the illegitimate daughter of Alfred de Rothschild (of those Rothchilds) who, even though she was illegitimate, had a ‘stupendous dowry.’ Why couldn’t I have been born an illegitimate Rothschild? Sigh.

And speaking of saving the estate, thanks to the popularity of Downton Abbey, the owners of Highclere Castle are opening their stately home to the hoi polloi for the first time this summer. Yes, now you can visit the spot where Matthew proposed to Mary, maybe even take a few bits of the gravel Bates face-planted on, or leave a dead body in the guest room. If any of you Downtonians go over for this, please report back and let us know if the staff is lined up out front when you arrive – or will they make us commoners go around the back to get in? Get all the details at Highclere Castle’s website. And by the way, Highclere Castle is currently seeking an assistant butler, if you know anyone who’s interested. No, not you Thomas!

If you are suffering from Jubilee withdrawal, I’m sure you’re happy with two of the most recent docu-series that are running on THIRTEEN and WLIW. Monarchy is just as much fun to watch this time as it was the first time around. Where else could you see the delicious moment of Her Majesty, exasperated at a broken elevator, exclaiming, “what a life one leads!” We also get to see her Ladies in Waiting at work handling her correspondence. They say that every letter gets a response (even letters from dumb Americans), and if you wonder if that’s true, check out this letter I received after I wrote to the Queen almost twenty years ago. It was just after that big fire at Windsor Castle. I had recently watched another program on PBS that showed quite a lot of Madge’s weekend home, including the amazing collections it contains. Her library includes such treasures as Leonardo DaVinci’s sketchbooks and the original manuscript for J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, and after watching all the reports about the fire I was wondering if they survived. So I wrote to her to ask, and this is the response I got. Note that they address me as “Miss,” which I don’t think anyone has done since I was about 12 years old, but I saw in another of these series that Madge doesn’t go for ‘Ms,’ so for us untitled commoners, it’s Miss or Mrs. I love the way it starts out with, “I am commanded by the Queen to write…” Makes one wonder how many Ladies in Waiting have been beheaded for poor punctuation or sloppy penmanship. Queen & Country airs on THIRTEEN Sundays at 8 p.m. though July 22 and WLIW Saturdays at 8 p.m. through July 28th Monarchy continues on WLIW Saturdays at 9 p.m. through July 28.

If you’re like me and you grew up in a post-WWII tract house development, the historical adventures of places that are older hold a special fascination. When I was a kid, inspired in no small part by old Disney TV shows and Trixie Belden mysteries, I always dreamed of being able to go exploring up in the attic and find hidden, long forgotten treasures, like maybe a diary from the Revolutionary War or love letters from Henry VIII, or something like that. But alas, that could never happen because my house was built in 1957, there was no attic, and my parents were the first owners. Imagine living in a town that is 2000 years old. Oh the things you could discover by just digging up your garden. And it makes the upcoming docu-series Michael Wood’s Story of England sound like something right up my…  cul-de-sac. It follows the history of one small British village, Kibworth, Leicestershire, through the whole of British history and tells how its local history is intertwined with the nation’s history through time. It’s a bit like Downton Abbey in the sense that, in Downton, we see how every major news story of the day (WWI, the Spanish Flu, etc.) affects the inhabitants of that one British country house. In this true story, we’ll see the same thing, but with this little village playing the part of our favorite stately manor. If you want to explore Michael Wood’s Story of England, it continues on THIRTEEN Tuesdays at 8 p.m. through July 17, or watch online.

Finally, I wanted to alert you to a real treat that’s coming up for EastEnders fans (and if you don’t watch EastEnders, why ever not?) Anyhoo Easties, any week now, you’ll be seeing a fantastic two-hander between Dot and Den. For the uninitiated, a two-hander is an episode that features just two actors, and EastEnders’ two-handers have been some of its most memorable episodes ever. The first of these two-handers was back in the early days of the show when, as Dot and Ethel sat babysitting Vicki, they reminisced about living through the Blitz in the East End. This episode was so powerful that even though it was broadcast over 25 years ago, fans still remember it as a classic. I know I never thought of the Blitz in the same way since. In this upcoming two-hander, Dot is locked in the Launderette with Den as each is trying to save the other from themselves. Written by the brilliant Tony Jordan, it explores the psyches of two of Britain’s most iconic TV characters: Den trying to convince Dot to seek medical treatment, and Dot trying to get Den to curb his self-destructive ways – it is truly a clash of two titans. Longtime fans know that the Den who returned from Spain isn’t the same lovable bad boy whose fear of daffodils threw him into the canal. But in this episode, he shows some of the humanity of old. There is a mensch buried under there! Watch EastEnders Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. on WLIW. This Queen commands it!

In case you missed it, read the last edition of Dispatch from the Downton Abbey Diaspora.

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Celebrating the Stories of Our Community: Luna Ranjit

By Michelle Michalos
Monday, July 9th, 2012

This month, our Community Stories campaign highlights Nepali American, Luna Ranjit. Here, Ranjit discusses New York’s ability to embrace differences and being part of the city’s large and diverse South Asian community away from her native Nepal.

Learn more about the campaign and view previous videos here.

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Check out related stories on THIRTEEN’s local news and culture site, MetroFocus.

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Frederick Wiseman on La Danse: Le Ballet de l'Opéra de Paris

By Michelle Michalos
Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Frederick Wiseman. Photo courtesy of Zipporah Films.

Inside Thirteen recently spoke with master documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman about La Danse: Le Ballet de l’Opéra de Paris, a captivating look behind the scenes of one of the world’s greatest ballet companies. Here, Wiseman discusses the Paris Opera Ballet’s contributions to ballet, differences between American and European ballet, and subjects that inspire him as a filmmaker.

La Danse: Le Ballet de l’Opéra de Paris airs Sunday, July 1 at 12:30 p.m. on THIRTEEN and 3:30 p.m. on WLIW21 as part of Great Performances. For more information on films by Frederick Wiseman, visit Zipporah Films.

Enter our giveaway for a chance to win tickets to an upcoming performance by the Paris Opera Ballet at Lincoln Center!

Mr. Wiseman answered our questions via email.

Inside Thirteen: Why did you choose to make a film about the Paris Opera Ballet?

Frederick Wiseman: I love the ballet. The Paris Opera Ballet is one of the great dance companies of the world and it was a great pleasure to have the opportunity to work with them.

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In this excerpt from “La Danse: Le Ballet de l’Opera de Paris,” witness a meeting between Director of Dance, Brigitte Lefevre, and choreographer Emanuel Gat as they discuss casting for a piece by Mats Ek.

IT: As the oldest national ballet company in the world, what impact has the Paris Opera Ballet had on ballet internationally? Are there any influences or traditions that can be directly tied to the company?

FW: The French all but invented ballet and the POB has always been a source and inspiration for dance worldwide.  The Russian and Danish traditions, for example, were both based on the French school: without the French we would not have La Sylphide, Giselle, Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty.  For a more complete answer to this question please read Jennifer Homan’s history of ballet, Appollo’s Angels.

IT: After your experience with the Paris Opera Ballet and previously with the American Ballet Theatre for Ballet, do any significant differences stand out to you between ballet in America and ballet in Europe, either in the rehearsal/production process, or the technique itself?

FW: The rehearsal process was quite similar. The major difference is that the Paris Opera Ballet has always received a large annual subsidy from the state while the American Ballet Theatre needs to constantly solicit funds. They are never sure of their annual budget, which is a major obstacle to long term planning.

IT: Do you have a favorite ballet of the performances and rehearsals you had the chance to sit in on for La Danse?

FW: Genus, by Wayne McGregor.

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Dancers Marie-Agnes Gillot and Benjamin Pech rehearse “Genus” with choreographer Wayne McGregor.

IT: Your films have covered a wide variety of subjects, from the Memphis Juvenile Court to a boxing gym in Texas. What attracts you to topics for your films, and are there any that you find yourself particularly drawn to?

FW: I am trying to do a series of films about contemporary life as it finds expression in the necessary institutions in our society. I am attracted to subjects that are complex and where the complexity can be expressed in a film form.

For more performing arts content and events in New York City, visit NYC-ARTS.

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PBS NewsHour Coverage of Supreme Court Mandate

By Michelle Michalos
Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Moments ago, it was announced that the ACA is upheld with the exception that the federal government’s power to terminate states’ Medicaid funds is narrowly read.

Watch live reactions to this morning’s health care ruling via PBS NewsHour below, tune in tonight at 7 p.m. for full coverage, and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

Free desktop streaming application by Ustream

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Dispatch from the Downton Abbey Diaspora #3

By Deborah Gilbert
Friday, June 22nd, 2012

Dispatch from the Downton Abbey Diaspora is written for Inside THIRTEEN by Deborah Gilbert, a British television maven and editor of the E20 Chronicles, a free, weekly Eastenders e-newsletter, and an Eastenders column in the Union Jack Newspaper. Check back for updates.

We have all watched those sumptuous dinner scenes in Downton Abbey, but how many of you have wondered what it would be like to step through the looking glass and join them at the dinner table? And which character specifically would you want to join? I’d bet a lot of you would choose Mr. Bates. Even Daisy has said she’s always thought him to be a ‘romantic figure’. So what would it be like if he had the night off from his duties at the Big House, and could spend it relaxing, with someone else (i.e. you) waiting on him for a change? Well, one New York fan recently got that chance! You may have read that the Origin Theatre Company had a charity auction where people could bid on a special dinner date with Brendan Coyle, the actor who plays Mr. Bates. But you haven’t read the real story, until now…

First, let’s find out something about The Origin Theatre Company, which created this opportunity for one lucky New Yorker. I asked a few questions of George Heslin, its founder and creative director:

E20Launderette: Tell me a little bit about the Origin Theatre.

George Heslin: I founded The Origin Theatre Company in 2002. We looked at award winning playwrights all across Europe and we discovered that they have difficulty gaining access to the American market. Our mission became to launch award winning playwrights here in the United States. In ten years we have launched forty European playwrights. Ten years ago, we were the first company to produce the work of Enda Walsh, who just won eight Tony Awards for ‘Once’. His career began at Origin. And there are many other stories like that. Also, five years ago I started the Irish Theatre Festival here in the city. Held in September, it’s called First Irish and it’s a festival dedicated to Irish playwrights. In the last four years we have presented plays by 64 Irish playwrights in fifteen venues across the city.

E20: How did Brendan Coyle get involved with the Origin Theatre?

GH: My background is acting as well as directing, and twenty years ago Brendan and I worked together in the West End of London. We did two projects together. One was called ‘Philadelphia, Here I Come’ by Irish playwright Brian Friel. And we did a play called ‘Eligies For Angels, Punks and Raging Queens’, by Billy Russell, an American playwright. Brendan and I became friends and we have remained in contact.

E20: Whose idea was the auction?

GH: It came up as a suggestion from a board member at a recent meeting, and somebody said, ‘don’t you know Brendan Coyle?’ I said yes, and I have to be honest, I didn’t realize how well known he was. (laughs) So we reached out to Brendan, and we had an auction prize of dinner at Claridge’s in London. Then we asked him if he would come to our fund raiser here so he did. And while he was here he announced that he was becoming our honorary patron so he’s very much a part of the family now.

E20: And the winning fan was supposed to wait on him?

GH: Yes. The idea was, you spend an evening with Mr. Bates, read him your favorite poems, you get to take him to dinner, you get to drop him home in a taxi, that kind of idea.

E20: Are there any plans for him to appear in any productions here?

GH: We’re definitely in talks at the moment. We’re probably going to do some readings later in the year, and then we’re looking at doing a production with Brendan, but nothing is confirmed yet.

The current production at the Origin Theatre Company is ‘Tiny Dynamite’, by Abi Morgan. If you’d like to find out more about the company or any or their productions, please check out their website.

OK, that sounds promising! But of course Mr. Heslin can’t confirm if Brendan will be jumping the pond any time soon: We all know that Bates has to get out of jail first! And if you’re keeping score, that’s now two Downton actors with plans to possibly tread the boards here in NYC. I say, keep them coming!

Sandra Doshner, winner of Origin Theatre Company's charity auction, with Downton Abbey's Brendan Coyle after a carriage ride through Central Park. Photo courtesy of Sandra Doshner.

And now, let’s meet Long Islander Sandra Doshner, who participated in the auction and put in the winning bid of $20,000 for that dinner date with Bates:

E20Launderette: How did you hear about the auction?

Sandra Doshner: There was a piece in the Daily Mail in London that got posted on one of the fan Facebook pages the week before. At first it was supposed to be a meet and greet event, but then they added the dinner auction.

E20: What made you decide to bid?

SD: Placing a bid and deciding to go for the win were new experiences, but it was time to jump into the deep end of the pool. I wanted to meet the creative artist who had nailed the pivotal scene of Downton Abbey Season 2 with two words of dialogue and two tears. Everyone else in that scene were reacting to his anguished tone, expression and demeanor. It was fantastic.

E20: What scene was that?

SD: That was the courtroom (verdict) scene.

E20: Have you ever done anything like this before?

SD: This was my first time at an auction of any kind, but the time was right for risk taking and new adventures. And since it was for charity, and the prize was so special, I thought, why not take a chance?

E20: Is Bates your favorite Downton Abbey character?

SD: Yes, Mr. Bates is my favorite character. Julian Fellowes wrote the role with Mr. Coyle in mind, giving the show its lynchpin and conscience, with a stoicism taken to a degree just shy of emotional repression. Mr. Bates is the everyman in this social class study that is a microcosm of history and society. I always feel that Lord Grantham is the heart of the house while Mr. Carson is the rudder that keeps it true to its set course. But I really think that Mr. Bates is the moral compass. I am a fan, and student, of Downton Abbey. I say this to address the media labeling me Downton‘s #1 and biggest fan.

E20: Can you tell me a bit about your experience with the tabloids after this event? Did the media label you Downton’s #1 fan in a disparaging way?

SD: I took it that way. But I don’t think you can classify me as that. We don’t know, there could be people who are really into it…

E20: And dressing in costumes.

SD: Exactly. Or have more memorabilia than can fit in their house. I think I’m more of a student of the show than just a fan. I never expected the feeding frenzy that accompanied the initial release of my story. I had one phone interview and I gave my answers, but I told them what questions I wouldn’t answer. They made up answers anyway and we were off. The story went worldwide. Both the press coverage, and the public response, turned the whole thing mean, nasty and personal. It was bad enough that it almost soured a rather wonderful experience for me.

E20: Is there any other Downton Abbey actor you’d like to bid on for a similar date like this?

SD: They are all wonderfully talented actors, and I would love to meet each one and spend days chatting with them all. But once you’ve done something like this once, doing it again couldn’t be nearly as special. All the spontaneity and excitement would be gone.

E20: What did you two talk about on your dinner date?

SD: Anything and everything. It was a wide array of subjects and there was no lull in the conversation.

E20: Did you ask him any questions about the show?

SD: Just a little bit about Downton Abbey. Just general things. I didn’t think I should ask him specifics about the show because, first, I know they’re not supposed to talk about it – not that he was ever going to reveal any secrets about the show. He knows better. And second, I like to be surprised by the show, so I wouldn’t want to spoil any secrets for myself!

E20: Was the dinner date all that you hoped it would be?

SD: Absolutely. I entered the event with no pre-conceptions about how it would play out. The photos, the carriage ride with my reading poetry, drinks and a magnificent dinner at Per Se, all took on a surreal quality. Mr. Coyle is very charming, and a great dinner companion. He put me totally at ease. So aside from the evening flying by at what seemed like warp speed, it was more than I could have imagined it to be.

E20: You read him poetry? Did he read any to you?

SD: That was part of the set-up for the date: You had to read him poetry while taking a carriage ride through Central Park.

E20: Oh, so they told you to read him poetry?

SD: Yes, that wasn’t my idea. (laughs) But hey, I can do it. Why not? I mean it would have been nicer if he was doing the reading, but it was role reversal.

E20: Yes, it would have been nicer hearing that Irish lilt reading the poetry.

SD: Yes. But no, it was my Brooklyn accent reading the poetry. (laughs)

E20: I’m glad we could get that clear because the press mentioned you reading him poetry and I thought, that’s weird. They never explained that that was to be part of the date set-up. That’s a very important part of the story!

SD: Yes, it is! That’s why I said it was taking a risk. If you let your mind think, ‘this is an award winning stage actor and I’m reading him poetry’, you wouldn’t do it. But you just had to wing it.

E20: What other British shows do you watch?

SD: My history with Masterpiece and the British period dramas goes back to Poldark. I couldn’t really pick one favorite. The Jewel in the Crown, Brideshead, I Claudius, and A Piece of Cake are right up there. And, of course, I love the comedies. My favorite will always be As Time Goes By. Even though I know all the dialogue, I still love to visit with Jean and Lionel. Other favorites include The Vicar of Dibley, Fawlty Towers, Mr. Bean and Monty Python.

E20: Are you a supporter of THIRTEEN and WLIW?

SD: Yes, I’m a member. It sounds like one of the commercials, but I don’t watch television much. I’m a sports nut, I’ll watch sports, but for television, I’m not interested in Snooki, the Kardashians, Housewives. I’m not going to waste my precious time with those shows. No, no, no, no, no. Give me The Jewel in the Crown, please. Give me Brideshead again.

E20: Is there anything else you’d like to say about this experience?

SD: I want to thank you for this opportunity to tell the story in my own terms and be sure that it won’t be turned into something that is wasn’t. It’s really been a great experience and I now highly recommend taking a chance like this to do something you really want to do. Go for it!

E20: Thank you for taking the time with us!

So Downtonians, if you could spend an evening in Sandra’s shoes and have dinner with one of the characters (or actors) from Downton Abbey, which one would it be? Please tell us below.

And stay tuned for my next Dispatch, which will be a veritable jumble sale of Downton Abbey news as well as a preview of some new British programs that those THIRTEEN truffle hounds have dug up for us! See you then. TA!

In case you missed it, read the last edition of Dispatch from the Downton Abbey Diaspora.

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Independent Lens Filmmaker Q&A: We Were Here

By Michelle Michalos
Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

Independent Lens resumes their schedule with the broadcast premiere of We Were Here, a documentary that was short-listed for the Best Documentary Oscar and directed by David Weissman, whose earlier films include The Cockettes. Here, Weissman discusses his inspiration for the film and why he chose to make it at this point in time.

We Were Here premieres June 20 at 10 p.m. on THIRTEEN.

Interview courtesy of Independent Lens. For more interviews and other Independent Lens film content, visit their blog.

What led you to make this film at this point in time?

A younger boyfriend who had heard me speak many times about my experiences living in San Francisco during the AIDS epidemic suggested that I make a film.  I realized that there hadn’t yet been a film that explored the enormity of that history in a reflective way, and felt that it should be done by someone who had actually lived through it.

What impact do you hope We Were Here will have?

I hope that We Were Here offers a cathartic validation for the generation that suffered through, and responded to, the onset of AIDS; that it opens a window of understanding to those who have only the vaguest notions of what transpired in those years; and that it provides insight into what society could, and should, offer its citizens in the way of medical care, social services, and community support.

What challenges did you face in making the film?

We Were Here attempts to evoke an epic history through the voices of only five people, and accompanying archival material.  Because of the enormity of the subject matter, my choice was to try to evoke a sense of time, place, and circumstance from a very human vantage point, rather than to attempt an encyclopedic factual history.  The biggest challenge there is that the history itself needs to be adequately documented, the opportunity is to capture the human experience in a way that a simply informational film can’t adequately do.

Who do you think this film will most resonate with?

We Were Here, though it deals with how a specific historical experience played out in a particular city, speaks to basic human experiences that transcend the AIDS story itself.  It speaks to how individuals, and how a community, responded to an unimaginable crisis.  This is something that almost everyone will face at some point in their life, in one form or another.  But more specifically, the film certainly will speak to the generation that was most directly affected by the onset of AIDS, and the current generation – particularly of young gay men – who remain at high risk, and know little of the history of AIDS, and how we got to where we are today.

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How did you gain the trust of the subjects in your film?

I selected interviewees who were emotionally open and deeply thoughtful.  The fact that I’d also lived through many of the same experiences allowed for a very deep conversation which I don’t think would have been possible if the interviewer was looking in as an outsider.  Also my cinematographer Marsha Kahm and sound recordist Lauretta Molitor also lived through those years, and helped create a safe and compassionate environment for the interviewees.

What would you have liked to include in your film that didn’t make the cut?

I’m sure if I looked back at the original interviews there would be plenty that I’d wish were still in the film.  And there are certainly countless aspects of this complex history that the film isn’t able to address in 90 minutes.  But I feel we were very successful in using creating an epic sense of history in a very intimate, personal way, which is exactly what I wanted to do.

Tell us about a scene in the film that especially moved or resonated with you.

Oh, there are so many … There’s a section in the pre-AIDS part of the film where Paul Boneberg is talking about a 1979 rally on Castro Street for Harvey Milk’s birthday the night after the White Night Riots.  There are some beautiful photos of the crowd by Danny Nicoletta, and as the camera pans across the faces, Paul says, “We had no way of knowing that already AIDS was among us, probably 10 percent of the men in that crowd were already infected…”  That section always makes me cry.

What has the audience response been so far?

What’s been most gratifying for me is that across the board, audiences and critics are expressing surprise that ultimately the film isn’t depressing, that it’s hugely inspiring and filled with love and compassion.  For the interviewees, it’s been hugely validating to gain perspective on who they were in those years, who they’ve become because of their experiences.

The independent film business is tough.  What keeps you motivated?

I’m not always motivated – sometimes I dread getting inspired because the process is so daunting.  But like all doc makers, I can get overtaken by the sense that there’s a story that MUST be told, that if I don’t tell it maybe no one else will … and that I’m the right person to tell that particular story.

Why did you choose to present your film on public television?

It’s the perfect venue – freely accessible to anyone, presented without commercial interruption, and with integrity.

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Watch Online: Sherlock, Season Two

By Michelle Michalos
Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Sherlock fans: if you missed them (or simply can’t get enough), all three episodes of Season Two are available to watch online, now through June 19! Visit Masterpiece for Sherlock sweepstakes, games, and more.

A Scandal in Belgravia:

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The Hounds of Baskerville:

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The Reichenbach Fall:

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Dispatch from the Downton Abbey Diaspora #2

By Deborah Gilbert
Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Dispatch from the Downton Abbey Diaspora is written for Inside THIRTEEN by Deborah Gilbert, a British television maven and editor of the E20 Chronicles, a free, weekly Eastenders e-newsletter, and an Eastenders column in the Union Jack Newspaper. Check back for updates.

How are you Downtonians enjoying the rerun of Season Two of Downton Abbey? It’s a great way to start the season, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter that I’ve already seen it and I know what’s going to happen. I still jumped at the sight of O’Brien appearing all in black, like an apparition, outside the ‘secret’ soup kitchen at Crawley House. I suspect that any time something bad is about to happen (anywhere, anytime, anyhow), O’Brien appears. So keep an eye out to be forewarned: If she ever pops up on a weather map, grab a flashlight and some canned goods and lock yourself in the cellar. I’m also re-watching Season Two in the hope that I will finally figure out the riddle of the Sphinx (i.e., what the heck is the big secret that’s at the base of Mr. Bates self-esteem issues?). I’ve gotta say that this mystery is one that really drives me nuts.

If you are someone who is just now catching up with Season Two of Downton Abbey, and watching it for the first time, welcome to the party! It’s about time you got here! We’ll have Carson set a place for you at the dining table. And if you’d like, you can follow along, episode by episode, with The Downton Dish.

Downton Abbey continues to make news here in the States and you can file this bit of news under ‘Be Still My Heart’: Have you heard that, come this autumn, the adorable Dan Stevens (aka Matthew Crawley) is going to be spending time in our fair city!? It was recently announced that he’ll be starring in the latest Broadway revival of The Heiress. He just can’t get away from those posh types now can he? The character he’s playing sounds more like Sir Richard than Matthew, but let’s not quibble when he’ll be live on-stage in all his Prince Charming-y-ness. The Heiress opens in October, though the theatre hasn’t yet been announced (likely at the request of the NYPD who don’t want the line to start forming five months early). Check back here for updates: As soon as I hear anything more, you’ll be the first to know!

Photo courtesy of Hugh Bonneville.

And brace yourselves Downtonians! Thanks to the runaway popularity of Downton Abbey, there’s a British Invasion coming to our shores this summer. If I was a paranoid conspiracy theorist (the best kind!), I’d wonder if all this fabulous telly they are sending across the pond isn’t just a stealthy attempt to retake the thirteen colonies. Wait a minute: thirteen colonies? THIRTEEN? Hmmm… sounds suspicious if you ask me. The last time I was up at THIRTEEN’s offices, there were some people in red coats. And here is more evidence: This picture at right was tweeted by Hugh Bonneville from outside the White House, still in Washington, D.C., where (as mentioned in my last dispatch) he was a guest at the recent State Dinner for British Prime Minister whatshisname.

But let’s forget politics and instead recognize the staff in THIRTEEN’s programming department, who are like the British telly equivalent of truffle hounds, and they have been extra busy sniffing out some great new programs. (And by the way, can I just say right now that I find it annoying that my spell check does not like the word ‘telly’?) Anyway, this summer there are some great, new and original programs, as well as the return of some faves from Old Blighty.

If you’re like me, you’ve always harbored a secret fantasy that someday, someone was going to knock on your door and tell you that you were some long lost royal, a descendent of a royal who got lost and ended up in a shtetl, and they’ve come to take you to your palace. I’ve accepted now that that’s never going to happen to me, and I’m not really a tiara person anyway, but I love watching anything about the British Royal Family. So I’m happy to see the return of the great docu-series Monarchy: The Royal Family at Work. This fly-on-the-wall series was the result of the filmmakers being granted exclusive and unprecedented access inside the palace. When I watched this program the first time, among the many fascinating things was witnessing preparations for a royal visit; how everything is spruced up and cleaned. The whole world must smell like paint and cleaning chemicals to them, mustn’t it? And if I’m not mistaken (and when am I ever?), this is the documentary where we get to see the Queen being photographed by Annie Liebovitz, where Annie asks the Queen to remove her crown because she wants her to look less dressy. Her Madge’s reaction was priceless. Too funny! Monarchy: The Royal Family at Work airs on THIRTEEN Sunday, June 17th and 24th  at 7 p.m.

Close your eyes and think of England — actually, don’t do that. If you do, you might miss Queen Victoria’s return to PBS. Queen Victoria’s Empire looks at how this queen transformed, not just the monarchy and the push-up bra, but also the small island that is England, into an empire on which the sun never set. And part of the story is told via the help of personal accounts, which always adds a special dimension. Queen Victoria’s Empire premiers Tuesday, June 19 at 8 p.m. on THIRTEEN.

Even if you don’t like Spam, you’ll love the return of Fawlty Towers to THIRTEEN. It seems like everything John Cleese does is infused with a gleeful subversiveness that is irresistible and funny, no matter how many times you’ve seen it. Monty Python was my first big immersion into British humor. I started hearing the records on a small FM radio station back in junior high (long before the TV show ever got here), and I’m not quite sure I ever recovered. As a lifelong lover of comedy, up until then, my frame of reference was mostly borscht belt. John Cleese and his cohorts opened a whole new window of absurdity — sort of a posh Marx Brothers, but with a twist. And that absurdity continued with Fawlty Towers. All summer long, you can take a staycation by checking into Fawlty Towers on THIRTEEN every Saturday night at 8 p.m. starting June 16th.

It’s going to be a ‘put your feet up in front of the telly’ kind of summer here thanks to those THIRTEEN truffle hounds. I think they deserve a nice treat, and maybe a play date with Isis, don’t you?

In case you missed it, read the last edition of Dispatch from the Downton Abbey Diaspora.

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Every Day Is a Holiday: Q&A with Filmmaker Theresa Loong

By Michelle Michalos
Thursday, May 24th, 2012

After finding her father’s secret diary from the time he was a P.O.W., Theresa Loong knew she had a story to tell.  In Every Day Is a Holiday, she documents her father’s path from being a Chinese Malaysian teenager serving in the British Royal Air Force, to being held as a P.O.W. in Japan during World War II, and his long, complicated path to U.S. citizenship that followed.

ITVS‘s Kate Sullivan Green had the opportunity to sit down with Theresa and talk about making her first film, the ups and downs of documenting a family member, and what she learned about the challenges so many Chinese faced immigrating to America.

Every Day Is a Holiday airs Sunday, May 27 at 2:30 p.m. on THIRTEEN.

Interview courtesy of ITVS.

What stood out to you about your dad while making Every Day Is a Holiday?

His fierce, fierce, fierce determination.  I always had a sense he had a really interesting life, but one of the things I’ve taken away is how much struggle he went through to become a citizen.  That gives me more appreciation for him and for people in general who go through hardship.  I consider myself an empathetic person, but this really puts things in perspective when I am feeling down.  I have a deep respect for what he went through.

One other thing is that I didn’t realize how difficult it would be for him to relive the past.  I guess I thought he was ready to share his story, but there were times when he would say, “Oh, that’s enough” or get up and walk away.  Sometimes it was just because he was tired, but other times I’d see his eyes go to a far away place as he was actually reliving the moment.  Especially with first person narrative, we have to balance wanting to know history with sensitivity.

Does he like the film?

I was afraid to show him for a long time.  When he finally saw a fine cut of it, he laughed about certain things – nodding and laughing.  After one screening he said, “It’s the truth.”  I couldn’t quite figure it out, it seems like veiled praise, but yeah, I think he likes it.

Your dad’s story is inspiring on so many levels as we see his perseverance, charisma, optimism, and ultimate success.  More broadly, this is also a story about the immigration system in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s. What’s one particularly interesting thing you learned about while making this film?

I didn’t know much about the Chinese Exclusion Act and the fact is, that after that, from 1943-1965, only 105 Chinese people were allowed to become U.S. citizens, no matter where you lived.  That was a great deterrent to getting to the United States. The Chinese Exclusion act of 1882 halted Chinese immigration and prohibited Chinese from becoming U.S. citizens.  This law was replaced with others barring Chinese immigration, until the Magnuson Act in 1943, which permitted a national quota of only 105 Chinese immigrants per year.   That was finally replaced by the Immigration Act of 1965.

The other takeaway was that during World War II, the Japanese did not sign the Geneva Convention, so even though my dad had some Red Cross packages at the camp, there were a bunch of packages they were not able to distribute.  They did have a Red Cross person visit once, but it was only meant to seem very nice.  I show those propaganda photos in the film.  

What do you hope viewers takeaway after watching?

One is to gain a greater appreciation from people who may look a certain way in everyday life.  My dad could be seen as some older fellow, a non-descript Asian guy, but if one is to perhaps take the time to listen and ask, who knows what kind of stories they have.  It can be an enlightening thing to do.

I also hope people see that Chinese-American or Asian-American identity can be complex.  My dad is ethnically Chinese but comes from Malaysia and my mom comes from Taiwan.  In the mass media, we tend to have very stereotypical viewpoints of ethnicities and religion.

The other is for viewers to walk away with a bit more knowledge about the struggle of Asian-Americans and a greater understanding of the history in the far east. It’s a politically charged issue but it’s this idea that, for instance, in Japanese textbooks they downplay the significance of what happened in World War II.  One goal with this film was to open that dialog and explain that these things actually did happen.

I hope people see that this is an American story too.

Do you have any advice for others who are making a film with a parent as the main subject?

One is perseverance and two is sensitivity.  The perseverance is that you want to tell the story, and know you should.  But you have to be sensitive to whatever they are going through, and whether they feel like talking or not.  Remember, first and foremost, that it is a family member and be loyal to that.  It’s perseverance combined with sensitivity.

Maybe three is to learn when to ask for help.  Since things can be extra personal with a family member, if you are going to be protective then you have to find the crew that you trust, or develop the skills to do it yourself.  It was great to have another camera person but it also does change the dynamic, sometimes for the better, but occasionally I would see my dad being more guarded in a moment than if it were only me.

As a new filmmaker, what are some important lessons you learned while making Every Day Is a Holiday?

I didn’t have much of a budget, but I didn’t let not having a skill or saying I cannot afford something stop me.  Money is a factor, but you have to figure out a way.  For instance, I couldn’t really shoot that well, so I learned.  I didn’t have much money for archival footage and research, so I went to the national archives myself.   It was a great chance to learn about how the archives work.  Once I even went with my family and found a board from one of the camps showing what the prisoners were assigned to do.  So I was able to make that part happen.

Another is to prepare and plan as much as possible, even though things crop up unexpectedly.  I don’t always follow this rule, but the more you do the easier it is.

And always follow your curiosity.

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Watch Online: American Masters – Pearl Jam Twenty

By Michelle Michalos
Monday, May 21st, 2012

Last year, American Masters celebrated Pearl Jam’s 20th anniversary with Pearl Jam Twenty, a portrait of the band directed by Academy Award-winning director Cameron Crowe. For one month only (May 21- June 20), the film will be available to watch online.

Follow the band from their formation through their successful and long-sustained career that has kept them in the spotlight two decades later, featuring over 1,200 hours of rarely and never-before-seen footage, plus over 24 hours of recent band interviews and concert footage.

Enter our giveaway for the chance to win an American Masters: Pearl Jam Twenty prize pack, and read a Q&A with the band from before the launch of the film.

Watch online:

(View full post to see video)
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