Category Archives: Arts and Entertainment

My Personal Happy Anniversary

Never mind the evildoers’ anniversary just commemorated on September 11. I have a personal, happy anniversary to commemorate on September 12. No, it’s not my wedding anniversary.

Exactly thirty years ago, on September 12, 1978, I met Ayn Rand for the first and only time.

I was about to start college at New York University as a seventeen-year-old freshman. My mother and I had to go to New York to do paperwork or pay tuition or something. But I had seen in my father’s copy of The Village Voice, which he rarely picked up, an advertisement that said “Ayn Rand in person!” in big black letters.

Only five years earlier, my brother had shown me the fresh copy of The Fountainhead he had purchased when it was a book he chose from a high school elective reading list. (Thank you, Mr. Lamdanski). He said, “Read the Introduction.” I was only 12. Still, I liked the Introduction. But I was not about to read such a long book.

When I was 13 and 14, I started looking for Ayn Rand books in the library. I mainly just wanted to know what her philosophy was, in her words rather than my brother’s, without having to read over 700 pages of fiction to get to it. I would get to the fiction later.

I read a library copy of For The New Intellectual. (Thank you, Asbury Park Public Library). This was the “Eureka!” moment. I knew she was saying the truth, and that I had observed much of it myself. I knew she was my kind of person.

So on September 12, 1978, I talked my mother into letting me see Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand was to assist Leonard Peikoff in a Q & A after his first lecture (of a series) on the philosophy of Objectivism. Visitors were permitted at the first lecture even if not planning to attend the rest of the lectures.

My mother did not intend to pay for a ticket for herself, so she waited outside the doors and I entered. I listened to Leonard Peikoff as he spoke, and watched him cover the bright light bulb over his notes (and under his face) when people complained that it was distracting. I paid close attention as it was my first time hearing such a systematic presentation of the philosophy.

When it was time for Q & A, Ayn Rand and Frank O’Connor entered from the rear doors and walked down the aisle to a standing ovation. I knew they had just walked past my mother, who had remained outside the room, listening.

Leonard and Ayn took turns answering questions, including my own, which people had handed in from the audience. Ayn Rand herself answered all of my questions, which was thrilling and I tried to take accurate notes to review later when I could think more clearly.

When Leonard answered, Ayn would sit and scan the audience with her enormous eyes. It was as if she wished to look into the deepest souls of each one of us, in a benevolent way. I saw her doing this as a sign of her wanting to know who her fans were, since they were her kind of people. She wanted to see and know the people who loved and understood her work. It gave her pleasure. This is, of course, just conjecture on my part.

No photography was permitted. But someone in the front row took photo after photo of Ayn Rand. She asked him (or her?) for the 35mm camera. She opened the back of it, and dramatically unrolled the entire roll of film, exposing it to the bright light in the room. She held onto the camera, saying he could have it after the event was over.

When it was over, I took my partially-read copy of Atlas Shrugged and stood on line to obtain Ayn Rand’s autograph. She asked me my name and how to spell it. Then she showed me the page where she had written, “To Greg Zeigerson.” I nervously said, “You didn’t sign it.” She said, “I know, but did I spell your name correctly?” I said yes. (I wanted to slap myself). She signed her name, exactly as her signature appeared on “The Ayn Rand Letter” to which I had subscribed.

I asked, “Are you happy with the movie version of The Fountainhead?” She said, “I wrote the screenplay, you know.” I said, “Yes, but are you satisfied with the final version?” She said, “They did the best they could.” Earlier she had announced that she was writing the teleplay of an Atlas Shrugged miniseries. I was a teenager about to start film school at NYU. I said to her, “I wanted to direct the movie of Atlas Shrugged!” (with the obvious meaning, I would be too late since the miniseries was already going to be made). She said, “Maybe you will. The remake.” This unexpectedly positive response was a moment I treasured. I nodded with seriousness, imagining with great hope that it actually was possible. She said, “You’ll get the rights from my children.” I pondered this, since I was unaware of any children, but I probably nodded again. She said, with humor, “But I have no children!”

I suspect she was thinking at that time about who would inherit the rights; perhaps it had not been settled yet. And her words may have just reflected that the topic was on her mind. This is pure conjecture, again.

Another fan told her he knew of a version of “Night of January 16th” being produced without her permission, with many changes in the plot and dialogue. She told him to call the producers the most obscene names he could think of, and “Tell them I said it.”

My mother met me outside the doors. I saw Leonard Peikoff there and asked if I could take his picture. He said, “You want my picture? Sure.” He seemed to think no one would want his picture. I still have that Polaroid photo.

(My mother decided that since Ayn Rand spoke against Ronald Reagan for opposing the right to an abortion, that Ayn Rand must be in favor of “free love.” It didn’t help that the cover of my copy of “We The Living” had a picture of two men and a woman, implying a love triangle, but which she interpreted as a “threesome” — “like in Cabaret, said my mother).

I will never forget meeting Ayn Rand, exactly thirty years ago tonight.

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Wall E is not Walt D

One of the most important qualities Walt Disney’s movies,television programs, and theme parks imparted to me as a child, and to children everywhere, was a feeling of reassurance. I’m referring to the works of Walt Disney himself when he was alive, and of his studio the first few years after his death.

Even if the story is about things going wrong in one character’s life, it is clear that there is a larger world out there of sensible people and a system and world that makes sense, that there is something called normalcy, and the goal of the characters is to get back to normalcy or better, to improve their lives and live happily ever after.

The Banks family in Mary Poppins is at first somewhat unhappy, but there is hope and magical delight in the world outside, and there is a policeman and there are friendly neighbors who bring runaway children home. The home of (1961’s)101 Dalmations’ owners is a happy, sane, home, and once the dalmations fight off the bad guys, they return to a state of eccentric yet happy normalcy. The world is expected to be filled with reasonable people who can get along and solve problems.

Even the satirical post-Walt movie The Barefoot Executive indicates that the larger world may be a little silly, but still okay at its core.

To a child, the sense of a system and society that is dependable and rational is extremely important to his feeling secure and optimistic, to his feeling free and motivated to learn and grow and become ambitious within that society.

The new Disney-Pixar movie Wall E is not at all in the spirit of Walt Disney’s movies. The characters of Wall E, Eve and The Captain are Disney-esque and very charming and funny. But the universe they inhabit is the opposite of Walt’s universe.

We are expected to believe and accept that in the future human beings (A) allowed a corporate monopoly to replace the U.S. Constitution (and all other governments) and become a dictator and (B) that no one noticed a problem with garbage disposal until it got so bad, the entire species had to leave the planet. In this dystopian vision of the future, the technology to build extraordinary robots and a spaceship that holds and takes care of the needs of the entire human population exists, but not the technology to get rid of garbage and plant trees or grass. Human beings are intelligent yet immensely moronic simultaneously.

Above all, the problem with this film — and the fact that busy parents, or their child care providers,will one day buy the DVD and play it over and over for their children without watching it —is the message that the universe makes no sense and the future is dark and adults are incapable of dealing with their problems until long past catastrophe. This is not a reassuring message to children who love life and can’t wait to grow up and flourish. It is harmful.

As my 5-year-old son said, “That’s a Garbage Planet. That’s not Earth. Why are they calling it Earth?” He understands that Earth makes sense. People are rational beings.

I explained it’s a make-believe silly story abou tEarth in the future where, as my wife said, “people become stupid” and can’t get rid of garbage. I reassured him and his sister that it’s ridiculous and that this is not going to happen in real life.

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Horton Hears A Who: Good for the Whole Family

We read the reviews that indicated that Horton Hears A Who was a good film and had nothing offensive for children, and so we took our five-year-old twins to see it. We all enjoyed it very much.

The story, as in the original Dr. Seuss book, is about aheroic dedication to justice, no matter the cost. Also, as Scott Holleran wrote at Box Office Mojo – click here –  it upholds careful thinking and learning about all the evidence rather than following pre-existing assumptions, tradition, or faith. It alsoupholds the value of the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and of respecting every individual’s right to live regardless of non-essentials (“A person’s a person, no matter how small”). Obviously, in the story, any creatures that think, talk and act like human beings are considered persons.

This film contrasts dramatically with the offensive movie destruction of How The Grinch Stole Christmas of a few years ago(surprisingly directed by the usually talented Ron Howard). That film was full of vulgarity and it stretched out and undercutthe climax so that anyimpact was dissipated. I heard similar atrocities were committed against The Cat in The Hat ina recent version.

I understand the animators of Horton had previously created the film Ice Age, which I did not likebecause of too much vulgarity and scenes of torturous pain, inappropriate for children and unpleasant for me. Here with Horton Hears A Who, they clearly made an effort to be classier, and sensitive and respectful to the original material. However, there is a short preview of an Ice Age sequel before the Horton movie starts, and it is slightly disturbing for small children, but to a relatively minimal extent.

Incidentally, the same story is the major plotline in the musical Seussical. We took our children to see the shortened-for-children 90 minute version (or was it 60 minutes?) of Seussical when it played New York for free last summer and they loved it too. And the Seussical Broadway Cast Album became a great favorite.

In fact, our children have seen and loved every version of Horton Hears A Who, including the original book, and the superb Chuck Jones animated TV special.

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Atonement Movie Review

Atonement is about to be released on DVD, and here is my review:

At first, every character we are introduced to seems either immoral, extremely unpleasant, a manipulator of others, or at best, simple-minded. After I saw Juno, which literally contains no villain, and where every character is decent and likeable, the characters at the start of Atonement made me fear I will regret spending the next two hours with them.

However, the film improves somewhat. The worst offender in the characterization department is Keira Knightley, whose performance as Cecilia makes her character far less likeable than actually written. If her character was presented in an admirable light, the story would have become more engaging and emotional.

In the end, the simple-minded, or naive, man, Robbie, played by James McAvoy, becomes the likeable and even heroic character, and as a result, the film becomes watchable and even slightly enjoyable at times. At one point, the story transforms into a war movie and at that time it improves.

Especially worthwhile are two sequences: the scenes of the nurses treating the wounded soldiers, which are based on the memoirs of an actual nurse of World War II named Lucilla Andrews, and the unforgettable, extended single tracking shot of Dunkirk after the battle has ended and the British prepare to evacuate. Horses are shot so that the Germans cannot benefit from their being left behind.

The story itself is ultimately about a youthful error whose impact spirals out of control; the theme is a dark one, but the resolution is somewhat emotionally rewarding in that it confronts how one might have to deal psychologically with such an error.

The production design, costume design and cinematography are superbly beautiful, and puts the viewer right into the period.

The first hour is only exposition; setting up the situation and relationships. I thought that if I could take the film and cut the first hour down to about 20 minutes–just get the important plot points and relationships shown–and recast the role played by Keira Knightley with someone warmer yet stronger, like Angelina Jolie or Kate Beckinsale, I could turn it into a good, short TV movie (by the BBC).

Overall, I would not recommend Atonement, as it adds up to an average film. (I added this lineafter reading Elizabeth’scommentbelow, to clarify my overall impression).

Here’s a link to an article by the author of the novel Atonement, Ian McEwan, and charges that he plagiarized Lucilla Andrews’ autobiography:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2006/nov/27/bookscomment.topstories3

Trivia:Robbie types an offensive word early in the film and I didn’t think that was at all necessary. Another word would have done just fine.

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Unheralded Popular Music Artists Who Deserve to be Heard

Aren’t you tired of all theradiohits that come out,that have the same chords and the same sentiment, the same faux-gospel female or brooding,grittymale singing voices, the same instrumentation and production, again and again, yet pretend to be new songs? Have you ever heard of the current (within the last15 years) popular music artists Bess Rogers, Eisley, October Project, Happy Rhodesor Kim Fox? They are separate, unrelated artists, all very talented, and theycreate beautiful, or fun andinteresting songs, but they don’t yethave the fame and fortune they deserve. Give them a listen. There are many other talented but unsung singers/composers of pop music to be found. It just requires searching.

More famous, but not famous enough,are Marshall Crenshaw, Richard Thompson, and Linda Thompson, all very talented and interesting songwriters and musicians. And you’ve heard of Al Stewart, but did you know some of his best workcame out long after “Year of The Cat”? Try his “Between The Wars” CD. And Justin Hayward, of The Moody Blues, released an outstandingCD called “The View From The Hill” that you probably never heard. (I also recommend his 1975 “Blue Jays” album with John Lodge if you never tried it).

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Christmas Movies and Shows I Recommend

“Miracle on 34th Street”– A perfect film in so many ways.  I didn’t even understand all of its implications until I had seen it several times as an adult.

Chuck Jones’ half-hour TVspecial “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” is another small masterpiece.

The Alistair Sim version of “A Christmas Carol” (about a man with low self-esteem, who can’t enjoy life, and learns to see his error).

Also, the Richard Williams animated version of “A Christmas Carol”.

Also, “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol”.

Rankin-Bass TV Special “The Little Drummer Boy”. It’s about trade.  A child with no material possessions canoffer hismusic, and it can be the most appreciated of all values (appreciated by the magic healing baby who then heals his donkey as payment).

“The Homecoming” 1971– (The pilot for The Waltons TV series). I love the atmosphere of a rural Christmas with a large loving family, and the suspense that could arise during a storm, clearly based on a true story in the young life of Earl Hamner, Jr.

“The Snow Queen,” a strange but beautiful animated film from the 1950s.

“Lady and The Tramp” has a bit of a Christmas theme and is one of my favorite animated films.

“Meet Me In St. Louis” has some Christmas scenes and is a fine film.

“Almost Angels”, a Walt Disney movie about the Vienna Boys Choir, which is not a Christmas movie but since it includes “Greensleaves” and snow-capped mountains, I’ll include it, since it’s another perfect movie with the spirit of artistic achievement, and of a purposeful life as a beautiful, thrilling adventure.

“Santa Claus and The Three Bears,” an animated film for children from the 1960s. It’s not really that good, I just like the spirit of it.

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Atlas Shrugged’s Film Director

Congratulations to the late Ayn Rand on the 50th Anniversary of the publication of her masterpiece, “Atlas Shrugged.” It is still selling well and influencing the thinking of more people than ever.

I finally saw the movie, “House of Sand and Fog,” directed by Vadim Perelman. He has been selected to rewrite the screenplay by Randall Wallace (who was hired torewritethe screenplay by Jim V. Hart),and to direct the movie version of “Atlas Shrugged” starring Angelina Jolie as Dagny Taggart.

SinceI learned that instead ofthetrilogy that the producers initially planned, themovie is just going to be a singlestandard-length feature, I gave up all hope of it being even remotely representative of the 1,084-page novel. Remember, a screenplay for a two hour movie is about 100 pages long, with wide margins on both sides of the page whenever there is any dialogue.

I believe that Angelina Jolie is a talented actress who is capable of, and likely dedicated to, doing justice to the role of Dagny, despite any political differences she may have from Ayn Rand, soher casting did not have anyimpact on my pessimism.

But now that I’ve seen the director’s previous movie, I have even less hope for “Atlas Shrugged” to convey even the sense of life or essence of the novel.

This is the central conflict in “House of Sand and Fog”:

The government evicts a womanfrom her home unjustly, causing her tobecoming homeless anddetermined to reclaimher house,when an immigrantpurchases it at a government auction as a major step in his effort to use real estate to begin to raise his family’sstandardof living in the United States. Both are flawed but good people, and the film details the choices each one makes that result in a downward spiral.

“House of Sand and Fog” is the poster child for the “malevolent universe premise,” which Ayn Randcalled the viewthatman cannot achieve his values; it is theidea that successes are the exception, and that the rule of human life is failure and misery. This premise is antithetical to her philosophy, which holds that the universe is auspicious to human life if a man adheres to reality.

The movieshows human beings’ ordinary self-interested actionsto cause conflicts that result in tragedy due to tragic flaws in the characters, or on a more simple level,because of miscommunication and a government property-tax error.

“House of Sand and Fog”also suggests a mystical “determinism” philosophy. As Ben Kingsley stated in an interview with Charlie Rose, the film represents the Ancient Greek or Roman view that the Gods enjoy placing mortalstogether with precisely those others who would cause the maximum conflict and harm, just for thesport of watching the events play out.

I can find some good things to say about this movie and its director, however. First, the movie can be viewed as a critique of property taxes and of government auctions ofunpaid-tax-based foreclosed real estate. In this way the film supports the idea of an individual’s right to his own property. Certainly the bureaucrats in government are essential to causing the central problem in the movie.

But this message would have been clearer if the eviction was not the result of a mistake, but rather the result of standard state policy.

Another positive value in the movie is the way Ben Kingsley’s immigrant character is portrayed. His is one of the most dignified, self-respecting, noblecharacterizations I have seen in any movie.

Additionally, Vadim Perelman has an excellent ability to give proper weight to the emotional value of a scene by staying with it, rather than cutting away quickly. His unhurried pacing of the film gives the audience time to think and feel, unlike so many films today.

Another quality I appreciated is that there is no sarcastic or ironic humor in the dialogue.Perelman doesn’trandomly throw inmodern slang or cynical attitudes the way so many other filmmakers do these days. The characters say what they mean, eloquently, at times with beautiful language, and without irony. (That is not to say that the film has no “swear” words.)

Artistically, the film is sound. It is an almost perfect representation of the malevolent universe premise. The seriousness of thestory is given its proper weight.It is emotionally harrowing.You grow to care about the characters and see them as real people. (That is, as long as you believe they have volition and are not the playthings of the Gods). Vadim Perelman is a good director, based on this film.

Can Perelman switch his sense of life from dark to light? If so, and if the “Atlas Shrugged” script grows to 4 hours or more, perhaps there is hope.

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She Moved Through The Fair

Many of you will know that the title of this post is also the title of a traditional Irish ballad. Just about every singer who you suspect might consider singing this song has done so plus some you never would have expected. I discovered Iowned so many versions among my tapes and CDs, without even trying to collect them, that I once made a tape for myself of seven different versions in a row.

As you may have gathered, I like this ballad very much. And when I played a recording of it for my fiancee about ten years ago,my eyes started to well up, and she decided it should be made a part of our wedding. Mycoworker D.L. Shroder, who is an actor (see him at www.imdb.com), graciously agreed to recite the lyrics of the ballad at one point during the ceremony.As he read it, he himself choked up.

Well, years later, when listening to yet another version on yet another album, I noticed a verse I had not heard or seen before. In this verse, it seemed that the singer’s lover is actually a ghost, and the wedding anticipated in the song never takes place at all. The song, which was a song of innocence and utter romantic ecstacy and anticipation, suddenly became a tragic, malevolent-universe type of song, the opposite of what I wanted recited at my wedding.

I decided that since that verse was never recited, my wedding was not actually tarnished.

However, I am happy to report that the version with the ghost ispossibly inaccurate. Last Sunday I saw a concert by British folk guitarist Bert Jansch at the Bowery Ballroom in New York. He performed this ballad. But in his introduction, he revealed that when his old band Pentangle had recorded the song, they had made an error in the transcription of the lyrics. One word had been misrepresented. Instead of “My dear love came to me” they had sung “My dead love came to me”. He said his old band mate Jacqui McShee thinks it’s about a ghost to this day.

What a relief to learn the true lyrics are as I had hoped. I suppose I could have searched the Francis Child Ballads or other sources to find out for myself, but certainly Bert Jansch is as good a source as one can have.

However, now I read at Wikipedia that the ballad is in fact tragic and has two versions, one with “dead” and one with “dear”. Who can you trust?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belfast_Child

Here is the version I had recited at my wedding:

“She Moved Through the Fair”

My young love said to me,

“My mother won’t mind

And my father won’t slight you

For your lack of kind.”

And shestepped away fromme

and this she did say,

“It will not be long now

‘Til our wedding day,”

As shestepped away from me,

And she moved through the fair,

And fondly I watched her

Move here and move there.

And then sheturned homeward,

Withone star awake,

Like the swan in the evening Moves over the lake.

Last night she came to me,

My dear love came in

So softly she came that

Her feet made no din

And she laid her hand on me

And this she did say,

“It will not be long, love,

’til our wedding day.”

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Tony Awards and My Disney Podcast

The important post to read is my previous one on Free Speech Restrained in California. This post is just for a couple of lighter topics.

The Tony Awards are handed out on Sunday June 10. I only saw one Broadway show last year, Mary Poppins, and on that basis I am rooting for Gavin Lee to win a Tony. He played Bert believably and brightly,and he connected with the audience, drawing you in. He also danced in very difficult circumstances (such as inverted).

Jane Carr, the actress who played the cook Mrs. Brill,was also amazing, in being such a vividly real personality.

Ashley Brown, however, the actress playing Mary Poppins, did not act so much as vogue her role. Where Julie Andrews in the movie kept you guessing, “What is her angle? Where is she coming from? What is she really thinking?”, Ashley Brownwas purely superficial, except for a few better moments toward the end. However, she was competent, adequateand professional enoughfor me to say, as Walt Disney is famous for saying to his staff whennot displeased, “That’ll do.”

For more of my opinions on the show Mary Poppins, see myMarch 2007post called “I’m Still Here.”

Speaking of Walt Disney, I just recorded the first episode of my new internet radio show, “Inside Walt’s World.”I discussmy memories from 1989 when I worked as a telephone operator at Walt Disney World.It is now on rotation at the Disney-themed Extinct Attractions Radio station at http://www.live365.com/stations/extinctattractionsor simply at www.extinctattractionsradio.com and it is currently played daily at 1:00 pm. I believe that is Pacific Time, USA.

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Eminent Domain’s Impact

I just attended a screening of a documentary film about the impact of Eminent Domain laws on individual citizens. It is called “Greetings from Asbury Park” and was made by someone whose family has for generations resided in my old home town of Asbury Park, New Jersey USA (the formerhome ornear-home of Stephen Crane, Cesar Romero, Bud Abbott, Jack Nicholson, Bruce Springsteen and Danny DeVito, and a formerly elegant and amusement-filled resort town).

The movie focuses on Eminent Domain’s impact on one woman, the 91-year-old Angie, who had spent half her life in her small home in Asbury Park,since arrivingas an immigrant. We see her making phone calls, hiring a lawyerand”storming city hall” to fight for her rights.

When I heard that Christina Eliopouloswas making a film about our shared home town, Ioffered to contribute my home-movie footage that I had filmed beforeAsbury had disintegrated.

Due to corrupt politicians like former Mayor Ray Kramer, whose in-laws were in the demolition businessand were hired to demolish Asbury’s landmarks, and after the city decided to house New Jersey’s mentally ill and welfare-dependent population, andtorarely enforce laws against violent crime and vandalism,yet raise property taxes, most (but not all) of the remaining sane, non-criminal people left town, and vacationers chose other seaside resorts to visit.

This made possible thedemolition of irreplaceable buildings like the gorgeous Mayfair Theatre, which could no longer draw an audience and pay the high property taxes. My brief home movies of its demolition are shown in the documentary.

However, the film is not primarily about the last thirty years of decay and demolition andtheft oftax moneys.It is about the current government efforts to rebuild the townby its use of Eminent Domain laws to drive out the remaining residents by force, and demolish their homes and businesses.

The town had owned the Boardwalk and most of the landmarks and the land under them, whether because former owners couldn’t pay the taxes and left town, or because they were traditionally city-owned structures. Now, a city with no money, it has sold everything to a single developer for “peanuts” and is allowing the use of Eminent Domain laws to force current homeowners and businesses to move out, includingthe famousStone Pony night club. This will make room for a series of million-dollar condominiums that don’t capture any of the flavor of the history of Asbury Park and ignores the potential profitability ofsummer vacationers.

I was surprised and delighted to discover that Dana Berliner, of the anti-eminent-domain Institute for Justice, is featured in the film. (She is the daughter of the former Ayn Rand Institute chairman and writer Michael Berliner). Although there are somecomments by individuals criticizing the city’s redevelopment plan as “Trickle Down Reaganomics” and someone calls for government-funded low-income housing, overall the movie is clearly focused on the injustice of a government taking over private property, in a moving way.

If you’d like to screen the film or donate money to assist in the film’s final editing, distribution and promotion, please contact Kerry Margaret Butch by emailing her atkerrymbutch@yahoo.com. You may also email Christina Eliopoulos at celiop99@mac.com . Say Greg Zeigerson sent you!

Therewill bea screening featuring guest speaker Dana Berliner at the Jersey Shore Arts Center in Ocean Grove, NJ on June 22nd, 2007.

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