Where do we go from here?

The United States has seen nationwide protests for weeks over the deaths of Black people at the hands of the police, and the frustration that racism and racial inequality still persist throughout modern American life.

Leading scholars and #1 Best Sellers, Robin DiAngelo (White Fragility) and Ibram X. Kendi (How to Be An Anti-Racist) participated in a conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Wesley Lowery to discuss persistent racism in our society.

This wide-ranging conversation tackles important questions: How do we talk about race in a way that unites and strengthens us as a community? How do we get beyond our superficial differences and see ourselves as one and the same, with our multiple enriching individualities, with more in common than not, yet with our same basic needs and emotions and hopes and dreams?

This event is presented by the National Conflict Resolution Center (NCRC). Their mission is to help resolve conflicts at all levels of society.

Watch A Path Forward: Empowering People, Transforming Cultures.

Genre-bending is Not for the Faint of Heart

Blending movie genres can be a tricky business, one often as not doomed to failure. Combining horror and comedy is especially fraught, since the two genres would seem to be mutually exclusive if not diametrically opposed in tone & subject matter. A few brave filmmakers have forged ahead regardless, including Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the screenwriters behind the sleeper hit Zombieland (2009).

Successful genre-bending is not something that can be tackled haphazardly. In conversation with UC Santa Barbara Pollock Theater Director Matt Ryan the duo discuss the many considerations that go into fashioning such a script, including finding the right horror/comedy balance while honoring the audience’s unavoidable genre expectations. As with any screenplay it’s a matter of making good decisions along the way; for example, Reese and Wernick determined at the outset that their zombies would be the fast-moving kind, a la 28 Days Later, and not the shambling variety popularized by Night of the Living Dead. They also elected to begin their tale with the zombie apocalypse well under way and almost taken for granted by our intrepid heroes. Subsequently there’s very little exposition about cause and scope to slow the pacing. As the writers note, it’s really not relevant to their story.

Reese and Wernick stress that having the right cast is absolutely vital to any film’s success, since if the actors are right for their roles they can boost the script to another level (and if not, it’s a train wreck). Fortunately the Zombieland cast includes such stalwarts as Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, and the near-legendary Bill Murray, all experienced and adept at playing comedy and drama with equal aplomb. (And in case you were wondering, yes, Bill Murray is very much the same personality off-screen as on.) The scripters were able to do some re-writing as needed to suit the actors’ personas, which in their view made the director’s job a little easier and enhanced the final result.

Track down Zombieland, and then tune into this installment of Script to Screen. You’ll be entertained and hopefully better prepared for World War Z, if and when…

Watch Script to Screen: Zombieland.

Wildfires and Smoke

The 2020 California wildfires are among the worst in history and the wildfire season is just starting. Wildfires have been a feature of the mountain west for eons but the fires of the last few years have been catastrophic in loss of property, life and health. With increased fires at the wildfire urban interface the effects of the fires and the smoke they cause are impacting front-line firefighters and Californians all over the state, even when the fire activity is hundreds of miles away.

The duration of the wildfire season is longer, now stretching from summer into early winter, and catastrophic wildfires are increasing in size and frequency due to climate change. The fires are also having an impact on air quality with clear evidence of an association between wildfire smoke and respiratory health. Smoke also likely causes other negative health outcomes such as adverse birth outcomes.

Dr. John Balmes, UCSF Professor of Medicine, Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, and Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, ZSFG/UCSF, explains the impacts of smoke on health and discusses studies underway to improve our knowledge as we continue to deal with devastating wildfires that are projected to get worse.

Watch Where There’s Wildfire, There’s Smoke.

Artist William Wegman: Of Canine Muses and Scenic Overlooks

In the early 1970s a young Los Angeles-based artist named William Wegman brought home the first of what would be many Weimaraners and named him Man Ray, after the Surrealist artist and filmmaker who was one of his formative influences. Wegman considered his dog a companion, but Man Ray aspired to be more. Wegman, an accomplished photographer, soon discovered that Man Ray loved to work in front of the camera, donning outfits and striking poses like he was to the manor born. The photos that resulted could be viewed as charming and eccentric curios built around Man Ray’s straight-faced presence, or as sardonic commentary on the art world and its preoccupations, fashion, fame, etc. Man Ray was soon joined by the near-legendary Fay Ray and later by assorted puppies. His work with Weimaraner supermodels changed his life: it made him famous, it remains his most popular artworks, and following relocation to New York that work continues with his current canine muses Topper and Flo.

Though inarguably best known to the general public for his dogs’ portraits, Wegman is also an established and widely-exhibited painter, filmmaker, and creator of art installations. The installations began with La Jolla Vista View, commissioned by the Stuart Collection at UC San Diego. The piece is set at the edge of the campus overlooking the bustling I-5 freeway and “greater La Jolla,” and consists of a large etched brass plaque atop a stone base with a telescope close at hand. The etching depicts the scene as it looked in 1984, very different than today’s view, and the telescope is the type often found at scenic overlooks (but free to use). Though not originally intended as a parody of said overlooks, Wegman notes that “it more or less evolved – or de-evolved – into that.” The title La Jolla Vista View is itself a gentle send-up since “vista” and view” mean precisely the same thing. Whatever the satirical intent (or lack thereof) informing the project, it has become a popular meeting spot for students and staff working in the campus Theatre District; Wegman says he’s happy to “settle for that” as a response to the installation. The salient point is that, like most of Wegman’s work, the piece offers layers of meaning if the visitor is open to them.

On a personal note, I had the great pleasure of interviewing Bill Wegman in his Chelsea (NYC) studio in 2015 and meeting his family and Weimaraner brood. I’d been a fan of his work for many years and naturally had some trepidation about meeting him, since in my line of work meeting someone you admire can and often does end awkwardly if not badly. Thankfully, not the case in this instance; the Wegman family were warm and gracious, and as expected Bill has a wonderful sense of humor. I mention this because I believe these qualities and his successful integration of family and work infuse his art. Believe it or not, this is not true of every artist.

Watch William Wegman: La Jolla Vista View – A Conversation with Stuart Collection at UC San Diego.

Remembering the Holocaust

As a Jewish child during the Holocaust in Europe, Gabriella Karin escaped capture and death many times before the Nazis were overthrown in 1945. She survived by living in a convent for three years and then hiding with her family for nine months in an abandoned apartment building. Although physically safe, she did not emerge unscathed. Suppressed memories of her past came flooding back once she began to fashion sculptures related to the Holocaust later in life.

In this presentation, she recounts her journey and presents examples of her art. Her experiences and her creations offer an important insight into trauma and how creativity can be used as a tool to process memories of oppression, persecution, and loss.

Karin is a docent at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and participates in the Righteous Conversations Project, which unites survivors and students through art.

Watch Trauma, Memory, and the Art of Survival with Gabriella Karin.