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Chasing Oscar: Award Season Fever

by Tench Phillips

This time of the year I see familiar faces returning to the cinema who have been missing on Colley Ave for way too long. Confined and isolated in their homes cloistered behind numerous screens and platforms, they have now stepped outside and sought out the films receiving all the award buzz. Realizing that these films can only be seen in theaters, they have been coaxed to rediscover the magic of a big screen public viewing experience – or what defines cinema.

Almost all of the Oscar nominees this year are artistic films that are character driven with smart story lines. More than ever the nominees duplicate those of The Independent Spirit Awards. These are not the typical Hollywood blockbuster that drive the box-office success of the studios and exhibition chains. These nominees are films for grownups, a demographic that has continued to shrink at the box-office along with the number of films created for them. A total of five of the eight nominees for Best Picture had their premieres at the Naro Cinema, a record number for this area’s only art screen.

There’s a concern that The Academy Awards Show scheduled for broadcast on Sunday, Feb 22 will have a smaller viewership due to the lack of recognition of the film titles that draw the majority of the movie-going public. But another factor of possible fading interest in the show is that the season is long and the other award ceremonies preceding the Oscars have stolen much of the glitter and glamour. I myself have a love-hate relationship with the whole award business. The media attention received by only a limited number of films supersedes the recognition of so many deserving films so often ignored and forgotten by the public.

But in a fragmented and crowded media universe, theater owners take what we can get in the way of press and media coverage. The Naro capitalizes on the award season as much as any theater chain. It’s a compromise made easier for us when the movies receiving all the glory are as deserving as the ones for this year.

We continue to feature the films in three categories that go mostly unseen – the short film categories of animation, live-action, and documentaries. These short features have grown more important in the age of YouTube when many viewers enjoy short bursts of videos and resist seeing longer features that require a time commitment. Many a budding young filmmaker have cut their teeth on a short film hoping to be discovered and catapulted to a coveted position at the top of a larger film project. These short programs always reveal unexpected gems and herald the arrival of the next new thing.

Upcoming Film Events at Naro Cinema

2015 Oscar Nominated Shorts: Animation This year's program includes the five nominees: Me and My Moulton (Canadian), Feast (USA, Walt Disney Studios), The Bigger Picture (UK), A Single Life (Netherlands), The Dam Keeper (USA). In addition the program features four animated films not receiving a nomination but were definite contenders:  Sweet Cocoon, Footprints, Duet, and Bus Story. The entire program runs 77 minutes. Shows Tuesday, Feb 17.

PELICAN DREAMS Filmmaker Judy Irving (The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill) follows a wayward, starving California brown pelican from her “arrest” on the Golden Gate Bridge into care at a wildlife rehabilitation facility, and from there explores the pelicans’ nesting grounds and their Pacific coast migration. The film is about wildness: How close can we get to a wild animal without taming or harming it? Why do we need wildness in our lives, and how can we protect it? Sometimes referred to as “flying dinosaurs”, pelicans have an ancient magic about them. Their near-extinction in the seventies, their recovery, and now their most recent die-off parallels our human relationship to the environment. (85 mins) Presented with The Center for Biological Diversity. Shows Wednesday, Feb 18.

2015 Oscar Winning Shorts: Animation, Live-Action, and Documentaries The Academy Award Winners in each category will be presented in a program that will include a few other surprises. Shows Tuesday, Feb 24.

THE SHINING Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece has been interpreted differently as being about the crisis in masculinity, sexism, corporate capitalism, racism, and the genocide of native American indians. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) becomes winter caretaker at the isolated Overlook Hotel in Colorado, hoping to cure his writer's block. He settles in along with his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and his son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), who is plagued by psychic premonitions. As Jack's writing goes nowhere and Danny's visions become more disturbing, Jack discovers the hotel's dark secrets and begins to unravel into a homicidal maniac hell-bent on terrorizing his family. (144 mins) Presented with AltDaily. Shows Friday, Feb 20.

THE BETTER ANGELS From writer/director A.J. Edwards, a protégé of Terrence Malick (who produced the film), comes the story of young Abraham Lincoln's difficult childhood. The film is set in the Indiana woods, 1817, when Abe (Braydon Denney, in a striking performance) was eight. The entire nation, only 40 years old and a few years removed from a second war of independence, is raw. Men, women and children alike must battle nature and disease to survive in remote log cabins. The Better Angels explores Abe's family and the two women, his mother and later his step-mother, who guided him to immortality. Edwards creates breathtaking visual and narrative poetry to express the Lincolns' world. With Brit Marling, Diane Kruger and Wes Bentley. (95 mins) Shows Wednesday, Feb 25 with post-film discussion led by Chrysler Museum’s Alex Mann, curator of the new exhibit “Shooting Lincoln: Photography and the Sixteenth President”.

NATIONAL GALLERY The National Gallery in London is one of the great museums of the world with 2400 masterpieces from the 13th to the end of the 19th century. We are taken behind the scenes of this institution to experience the paintings through the eyes of scholars, scientists, curators, museum administrators, and the viewing public. The relation between painting and storytelling is explored. Renowned documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman’s acclaimed film has been voted by many critics as one of the best films of the year. (180 mins) Presented with The Chrysler Museum. Shows Wednesday, March 4.

Veer - Feb., 2015



Crimes Against Nature: Seismic Testing and Proposed Drilling Off Virginia Beach

By Tench Phillips, Co-Owner, Naro Cinema

I walk my dogs on many early mornings along the beach and often watch the bottlenose dolphins right offshore cavorting and playing in the waves. These peaceful and intelligent creatures who inhabit another world will soon be needlessly harmed by corporate and government powers unconcerned with their wellbeing. Nor with yours.

When the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig blew in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 and the bad news was broadcast day after day for the following months, many thought that this catastrophe would signal the end of offshore exploration and extraction. It was only too obvious that the devastation of living oceans and wetlands was not worth the risk. The “drill, baby, drill” chorus was silenced and the Obama administration put ocean oil exploration on hold for a time.

But big money rules the day in America and media stopped covering the crisis, BP bought advertising to greenwash themselves, and we were told that the spill had been cleaned up. We are presented a much different up-to-date narrative in the upcoming acclaimed documentary The Great Invisible showingon Wed, Jan 28.

Virginia politicians fought back with a vengeance to overturn the moratorium off the Atlantic coast. Republican Congressional Rep Scott Rigell along with Democratic Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner and Gov. Terry McAuliffe are brothers-in-arms when fighting to turn the waters off Va Beach into a smaller version of the industrialized Gulf. Rigell said industry improvements, particularly since the Deepwater Horizon accident, convince him that drilling and production can be done safely and without harming the environment. "All we're asking for, in a reasonable way, is for the federal government to get out of the way," Rigell said.

And it looks like Rigell and our other corporate funded politicians may soon get their way. The Obama administration and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM, announced in July that it would open the East Coast to offshore exploration with underwater sonic cannons. Nine companies will dispatch ships towing air guns that will shoot loud blasts of compressed air into the ocean floor, reflecting back information about coveted oil and gas deposits. Seismic blasts can reach more than 250 decibels (a jet engine is around 140 decibels) and travel great distances underwater. They can be pulsed out at intervals of every 10 seconds and the mapping will continue nonstop for weeks on end.

This is extremely bad news for whales and dolphins whose capability to hear is a matter of life or death. Marine mammals rely on their acute hearing to find food, communicate, and reproduce. The impacts of seismic air guns include hearing loss, abandonment of habitat, disruption of mating and feeding, and even beach strandings and death. In addition these blasts kill fish eggs and larvae and scare away fish from important habitats. The catch rates of cod and haddock declined by 40 to 80 percent in an area of thousands of square miles directly following these seismic surveys.
As if these catastrophic effects weren't bad enough, seismic mapping will impact the migration and breeding of the last remaining Atlantic right whales on Earth. There are less than 500 of these gentle giants left alive after some two centuries of massive indiscriminate slaughters by commercial whalers.
Glen Besa, the Director of the Virginia chapter of Sierra Club is emphatic when he states “Seismic air gun blasting, by the Federal government’s own estimates, will injure and kill more than 138,000 marine mammals. Doubly disastrous is the fact that these pursuits of dirty fossil fuels occur in areas most impacted by climate change. If we stand any chance of thwarting our present collision course with increasing severe storms, rising sea levels, and ocean acidification, we must abandon plans to pull from the ground any more dirty fuel.”
Europe is leading the way in their transformation from dependency on hierarchal dirty energy to laterally distributed renewable energy. Germany is striving to be completely off carbon fuels within 30 years. The state of California has also mandated deadlines to convert from a carbon-based economy to renewables.
But here in Virginia where Dominion Power and Big Coal control the legislature, independent solar generation is actually penalized by the utility. The coal and fossil fuel behemoth has yet to invest in any renewable energy projects in the state. The utility did procure the offshore rights to implement wind power off Virginia but it appears to be dragging out the development process for as long as it can.

East Coast seismic testing and drilling could be stopped before the damage is done but it will take a last-ditch organized effort on the part of many of us. Catherine Kilduff is a lawyer defending marine mammals who is now living in Norfolk and on the staff of The Center for Biological Diversity. Her organization will continue to file lawsuits against the government in an attempt to protect marine life at every step of the ongoing process. She will speak about her work following the showing of The Great Invisible.
The testing already began off North Carolina for a short period this past fall by the U.S. Geological Survey who stealthily gained a permit by characterizing the survey as “research”. They must have learned something from the Japanese whalers who have used a loophole in international law to be able to continue their slaughter of whales in the name of scientific research.

A suit by environmental organizations against the federal government for irreparably harming endangered Atlantic right whales by seismic blasts was just recently settled but conveniently for the oil companies the restrictions won’t be enforced until 2016. In the meantime the soon-to-be-released five year development plan from BOEM will spell out when and where the testing begins.

The whales are singing ancient songs if only we could hear them. They may be communicating that we must consciously evolve now before it’s too late. A great awakening of mankind would mean the reclamation of democracy and the reappropriation of power generation away from the death grip of the ruling establishment. For too long we’ve been locked out of the decision-making process but corporate domination is no match for the real power residing in citizen activism. If we listen closely to the message of the gentle giants then we might once again find our rightful place in the planetary web of life.

Upcoming Film Events at Naro Cinema

FirstLook Film Forum The winter season of this subscription series is now underway with 10 Sunday mornings of film premieres, discussion, and brunch. Go to narocinema.com for more info.

ART AND CRAFT Academy Award Shortlist for Best Documentary. Mark Landis is one of history’s most prolific art forgers. Born here in Norfolk, his impressive body of work spans thirty years. The copies could fetch impressive sums on the open market, Landis isn't in it for money. Posing as a philanthropic donor, he has given away hundreds of works over the years to unsuspecting museums across the U.S. Post-film discussion led by Susan Leidy from Chrysler Museum and Jungian psychiatrist Tim Sanderson. Shows Wednesday, Jan 14.

ROSEWATER The film marks the directorial debut of "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart, and stars Gael García Bernal. Rosewater follows the best-selling memoir of Tehran-born Maziar Bahari, a broadcast journalist with Canadian citizenship. Bahari returned to Iran in 2009 to interview the prime challenger to president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. During the election, he endured personal risk by sending footage of the street riots to the BBC. Bahari was arrested by police, led by a man identifying himself only as "Rosewater," who tortured and interrogated him over the next 118 days. Shows Wednesday, Jan 21.

THE GREAT INVISIBLE The Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico still haunts the lives of those most intimately affected, though the story has long ago faded from the front page. At once a fascinating corporate thriller, a heartbreaking human drama and a peek inside the walls of the secretive oil industry, The Great Invisible is the first documentary feature to go beyond the media coverage to examine the crisis in depth through the eyes of oil executives, survivors, scientists, and Gulf Coast residents who were left to pick up the pieces while the world moved on. Presented by The Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity. Shows Wednesday, Jan 28.

FOOD CHAINS There is more interest in food these days than ever, yet there is very little interest in the hands that pick it. Farmworkers, the foundation of our fresh food industry, are routinely abused and robbed of living wages. In this exposé, an intrepid group of Florida farmworkers battle to defeat the $4 trillion global supermarket industry through their successful organizing which partners with growers and retailers to improve working conditions for farm laborers in the U.S. The Fair Food Program asks supermarkets and fast food restaurants to pay just a penny more per pound of tomatoes and to refuse to buy tomatoes from farms with human rights violations. This new movement is now spreading to support other workers in Napa Valley and beyond. Presented with The Sustainable Living Fair. Shows Wednesday, Feb 4.

 

REMOTE AREA MEDICAL During the long U.S. debate about healthcare reform, the media has failed to put a human face on what it means to not have access to healthcare. The non-profit Remote Area Medical (RAM) produces three-day clinics throughout the Appalachia for hundreds of rural people desperate for healthcare. The film follows the stories of patients who spend hours in line waiting for the limited amount of tickets to be able to be treated. The dysfunctional state of health care in America and the imperative for Medicaid expansion in Virginia has never been better illustrated. Presented by EVMS and Virginia Organizing. Shows Wednesday, Feb 11.

PELICAN DREAMS Filmmaker Judy Irving (The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill) follows a wayward, starving California brown pelican from her “arrest” on the Golden Gate Bridge into care at a wildlife rehabilitation facility, and from there explores the pelicans’ nesting grounds and their Pacific coast migration. The film is about wildness: How close can we get to a wild animal without taming or harming it? Why do we need wildness in our lives, and how can we protect it? Sometimes referred to as “flying dinosaurs”, pelicans have an ancient magic about them. Their near-extinction in the seventies, their recovery, and now their most recent die-off parallels our human relationship to the environment. Shows Wednesday, Feb 18.



Movies That Could Change The World: The Best Non-Fiction Films of 2014
by Tench Phillips, co-owner Naro Cinema

Since the annual rankings of the “best films of the year” lists are now so prolific, my own focus has been on non-fiction documentaries that don’t receive nearly as much media attention. Below is a list of some of the deserving films that received a local booking at the Naro Cinema over this past year. Most of these films premiered in our “New Non-Fiction Film” series on Wednesday nights that include a post-film audience discussion led by informed facilitators and speakers. These public forums allow for lively conversation and bring vital national and world issues back to our own community.

This year we heard from David Swanson who came down from Charlottesville on two separate occasions to give clarity about U.S. transgressions and military adventures around the world. David is a prolific author, activist, and the founder of World Beyond War. We also hosted national peace activist Kathy Kelly, founder of Chicago-based Voices for Creative Nonviolence, who had just returned from another of her many visits to Afghanistan. Another noted guest speaker was filmmaker Steve James who had just returned to his hometown of Hampton and came to the Naro to present his moving film Life Itself, a homage to the late Roger Ebert.

My film choices are grouped into four separate categories and are listed in no order of preference. Those filmgoers who missed these films on the big screen have a second chance to view them on DVD when they show up next door on the shelves of Naro Video. These important films could enlighten our society. If only they could reach a wider audience.

Arts and Science

KEEP ON KEEPIN' ON Academy Award Nominee: Shortlist for Best Documentary. At 93 years of age, Clark Terry is a living monument to the golden era of jazz. He was a mentor to such greats as Miles Davis and Quincy Jones. Filmmaker Al Hicks highlights Clark’s friendship with the gifted Justin Kauflin, a blind, 25-year-old piano prodigy who lives in Virginia Beach and who attended Salem High School and the Governor’s School for the Arts. Not long after Kauflin is invited to compete in an elite jazz competition, Terry's health takes a turn for the worse. As the clock ticks, we see two friends confront the toughest challenges of their lives. Shows Sat and Sun matinees, Dec 20 & 21 with Justin Kauflin in attendance to introduce his film.

ART AND CRAFT Academy Award Nominee: Shortlist for Best Documentary. Mark Landis is one of history’s most prolific art forgers. His impressive body of work spans thirty years, covering a wide range of painting styles that includes 15th Century icons, Picasso and even Walt Disney. And while the copies could fetch impressive sums on the open market, Landis isn't in it for money. Posing as a philanthropic donor, Landis has given away hundreds of works over the years to unsuspecting museums across the United States. Art and Craft is a wild cat-and-mouse art caper that’s rooted in questions of authorship and authenticity. Shows Wednesday, Jan 14.

ALIVE INSIDE Patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia experience profound healing through music therapy. These case studies are well documented; so why is there so little institutional effort to implement these cost-effective life-enhancing techniques to patients in nursing and retirement homes?

LIFE ITSELF Over the years, Roger Ebert became the critical voice of the movie industry. Along with his partner-in-crime Gene Siskel, their reviews could make or break the films that played here at the Naro. In later life he became a cancer patient and a voice on the internet when he could no longer speak. Filmmaker Steve James (Hoop Dreams) is from Hampton.

THE PLEASURES OF BEING OUT OF STEP Nat Hentoff’s long-running Village Voice column covering culture, jazz, and politics influenced countless journalists who have written for the alternative press – including some current Veer columnists.

FINDING VIVIAN MAIER Now considered one of the 20th century's greatest street photographers, Vivian Maier was a loner who worked as a nanny most of her life, and shot over 100,000 photos that went unseen during her lifetime. Her life is a great puzzle and this compelling film pieces it all back together.

PARTICLE FEVER The Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland is the most expensive experiment in the history of the planet. Scientists from around the world seek to unravel the mysteries of the universe and find the Higgs boson, “the god particle” potentially explaining the origin of all matter.

Environmental Justice

COWSPIRACY Half of all human caused greenhouse gas emissions are generated by the cattle industry, animal agriculture, and the crops that are grown to feed the billions of livestock. In addition, factory farming is the primary driver of biosphere degradation and species extinction. And yet the major environmental and climate change groups primarily organize against the fossil fuel industry and coal-fired electrical power plants. The film makes a convincing case that if we were only able to change our diets and cut-back on our huge ingestion of animal products, the climate crises could be diverted.

EXPEDITION TO THE END OF THE WORLD An ocean schooner with an international crew of artists, scientists and ambitions worthy of Columbus, sets sail for the end of the world – the rapidly melting massifs of uncharted North-East Greenland. Global warming and impending species extinction creates a running dialogue about the meaning of life.

Philosophy

AWAKE: THE LIFE OF YOGANANDA The spiritual classic Autobiography of a Yogi has sold millions of copies worldwide and is a favorite book for seekers, philosophers and yoga enthusiasts everywhere.

WHEN THE IRONBIRD FLIES The film title is an ancient Tibetan prophesy that is now manifesting - "When the iron flies and horses run on wheels, the Tibetan people will be scattered like ants across the face of the earth." Tibetan Buddhist teachers only arrived in the western world fifty years ago but their cultural influence has been profound.

WALKING THE CAMINO: SIX WAYS TO  SANTIAGO For centuries pilgrims have crossed the entire country of Spain on foot in a spiritual quest for their true authentic self. This beautiful film follows a few of these modern-day vision seekers.

Social Justice

CITIZENFOUR Academy Award Nominee: Shortlist for Best Documentary. Filmmaker Laura Poitras and reporter Glenn Greenwald broke the biggest story by a whistleblower in decades when they interviewed Edward Snowden in Hong Kong. This real-life thriller unfolds minute by minute before your eyes.

LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM Audiences were deeply divided by filmmaker Rory Kennedy’s (the youngest daughter of Robert) emotional film that covered the fall of Vietnam and the U.S. betrayal of the South Vietnamese who were left behind when Americans were evacuated from the embassy in Saigon. The film’s lack of historical context about the government’s lies that had brought U.S. troops there in the first place, made for ethical omissions too damning to overlook. Next stop for the film – PBS’ American Experience.

GORE VIDAL: THE UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA No twentieth-century figure has had a more profound effect on the worlds of literature, film, politics, historical debate and the culture wars than Gore Vidal. Raised among the political elite of Washington, DC, he later turned on the establishment and raged against the empire for his entire career. This is his last word and testament.

THE KILL TEAM Filmmaker Dan Krauss investigates the ongoing story first revealed in a Rolling Stone expose titled “How U.S. Soldiers in Afghanistan Murdered Innocent Civilians”. The devastating impact of military indoctrination and institutionalized violence on the moral frailty of young men has never been better illustrated.

CODE BLACK Filmmaker and resident physician Ryan McGarry transports us to the front lines of America’s busiest emergency room, Los Angeles County Hospital’s legendary trauma unit. The dedicated staff provide the only safety net available for most of the poor and the uninsured in L.A. county.

IVORY TOWER As tuition rates spiral beyond reach and student loan debt passes $1 trillion, this popular new documentary asks: Is college worth the cost? How did colleges embrace a corporate business model that promotes expansion over quality learning.

THE INTERNETS BOY Aaron Swartz was a young programming prodigy who later became one of the country’s leading information activist. His groundbreaking work in media democracy and a free internet ensnared him in a legal nightmare with the Feds. It was a battle that ended with the taking of his own life at the age of 26.

THE GHOSTS IN OUR MACHINE Are non-human animals property to be owned and used, or are they sentient beings deserving of rights? This heartbreaking film investigates the use and abuse of billions of animals by the global fashion and food industries.

FED UP Diabetes and obesity are one of the largest health epidemics in history and the next generation of American children will now live shorter lives than their parents did. This high profile documentary reveals a 30-year campaign by giant corporations, aided by the U.S. government, to mislead and confuse the American public.

GOOGLE AND THE WORLD BRAIN In 2002 Google began to scan millions of books in an effort to create a giant global library that they controlled. The only problem was that Google did it without asking. The legal fallout since then has been non-stop but the tech giant keeps on winning in court.

THE UNKNOWN KNOWN Academy Award winning director Errol Morris (The Fog of War) offers a portrait of Donald Rumsfeld, one of the key architects of the Iraq War. This interview reveals his intelligence, hubris, ideology, and pathology in all its larger-than-life horribleness.

CITIZEN KOCH Originally funded through PBS station WNET, the board pulled the plug on completion funds for the film due to pressure from billionaire David Koch. The filmmakers later turned to crowdsourcing for funding. It follows the influence of the corporate-backed tea party on the recall campaign of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. The obstacles encountered in the making of this film exemplify the corrupting influence that private wealth can have on the public good.



The End of an Era
by Tench Phillips, co-owner Naro Cinema

Each year movie lovers eagerly await the holiday season for the bountiful harvest of prestigious films that have been held back by studios to release them during the major-awards season. Between the months of November and March, art houses like the Naro can draw good audiences for indy movies as well as foreign films that have received critical acclaim and media attention.

And of course we have the end-of-the-year rankings of the best movies compiled by numerous critics. But this year local newspaper readers may be deprived of the year-end selections made by the area’s long-time kingpin critic, Mal Vincent, not to mention his reviews of movies and theater that have informed Virginian-Pilot readers for more than forty years.

You are certainly justified in thinking that Mal has finally decided to call it quits so as not to have to write one more critique of a testosterone-driven Hollywood blockbuster. Or so as not to have to dutifully sit through another local stage play or Broadway touring production that he’s already experienced far too many times over the years. But Mal has had no immediate plans to retire. He loves and lives his professional life to the fullest.

Born and raised in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, Mal could have eased into a more traditional role of a Southern gentleman. Instead he chose the arduous path of a journalist, evolving over the years into a critic of national recognition within the movie industry. Mal spent much of his career traveling and collecting his interviews as an insider in Los Angeles and New York City. He developed numerous long-term relationships with some of the biggest actors, directors, and producers in the business, and has outworked and outlived many of them.

Mal has himself become quite a local celebrity. Each summer at the Naro he presents his Classic Movie Series to overflow crowds, enthralling audiences with his personal stories about life among the stars.

But instead of receiving the Pilot’s grateful acknowledgment for his lifelong dedication to the newspaper and to his adopted hometown, he unexpectedly received a pink slip handed to him by the Pilot’s management team. Mal was just one of many career writers whose positions were recently eliminated in this latest round of mass firings that have hollowed out the newsroom and the features department at the newspaper.

Some of those talented and colorful writers had built lasting relationships with their readers over the years. Word has it that popular writers like Teresa Annas, Tom Robinson, Bob Molinaro, and Dianne Tennant – whose bylines became so familiar and trusted for their insights and opinions – are no longer employed at the Pilot. And seasoned award-winning investigative reporters including Bill Sizemore were given early retirement and took a voluntary layoff.

We all have heard about the devastating effects that the web has had on the nation’s newspapers. The move by print publications to a subscription-based digital presence like e-pilot became necessary and the Pilot was an early adopter. But with the erosion of ad revenue, the management of Landmark, the Pilot’s parent media company, has always demanded a healthy profit for its owners. Apparently expenses had to be cut, and the benefits and salaries of their longtime writers were too much of a burden.

But did things have to turn out this way for the Norfolk-based, privately-held media company that has for decades enjoyed great success and has made many people very rich? Not all newspapers have so drastically cut their staffs. Could alternative journalistic models been implemented? For example, The Guardian newspaper based in the U.K. was endowed years ago by its former owners as a public trust. The Pilot owners, headed by members of the Frank Batten family, might have likewise funded and endowed their newsroom so as to maintain a high caliber of journalism.

Investigative reporting and the free-flow of information is a prerequisite for a just and democratic society. A good newspaper is crucial for the future of our community. More than ever we need a watchdog to monitor local government and its hidden relationships with big money and power. An endowed newsroom would have been a far greater egalitarian gift to our community than the Batten’s philanthropic contributions toward brick-and-mortar buildings at local universities (presumedly to hold journalism classes) and the construction of a Norfolk mega-church.

Our newspaper has been on the buyer’s market for years. Landmark has already divested its Roanoke and Greensboro papers to media syndicates. There is some speculation that the imperative to finalize negotiations with a new buyer is the reason for the mass firings. Why else would management risk creating such ill-will with its readership?

But the Pilot management is betting that we won’t notice the missing bylines over the next two months. And if some of these writers choose to return as free-lancers in 2015 – a policy propounded by management presumably to comply with federal tax laws – they’re hoping that readers won’t even realize that anything has changed.

Landmark is keeping any decision to divest the Pilot close to its chest; never mind that a sale to an outside media conglomerate could have a profound impact on our community. And that’s why a monopoly newspaper is not just another business; it should be held to a higher standard. It has a unique mission and responsibility to its community. This social contract demands a two-way commitment; we are loyal to our hometown paper and ask for the paper’s allegiance in return.

The departure of Mal Vincent as a full-time critic will most probably have a detrimental effect on the moviegoing and theater culture in our area and may especially impact the art films showcased at the Naro. We can only speculate on whether these smaller films will continue to receive some kind of newspaper coverage, as well as whether Mal will agree to the Pilot’s freelance policy after a lifelong career on the paper’s staff.

As of press time, there has yet to be an acknowledgement by the Pilot listing the names of  those who have been terminated, only a perfunctory report stating that nearly 25% of the paper’s staff has been let go. Letters to the editor from readers that are critical of Landmark’s staff firings are being suppressed – so much for the transparency of our free press. But then corporate media has always had an inherent conflict of interest that pits profits against an informed citizenry and, consequently, it has never been truly free.



"War is Over! (If You Want It)" - John Lennon
By Tench Phillips, co-owner Naro Cinema

The first modern draft lottery was held in December 1969. I remember well; my birthdate was drawn early on in the lottery and I was dealt a low draft number. At the time I had a college deferment but I knew that I’d be graduating soon enough and would be inducted to fight the communist menace in Vietnam. I needed to educate myself as to what was actually going on overseas other than the reports I watched on Walter Cronkite and The Evening News. 

I was living in Atlanta and attending a rather conservative engineering school. The student body was not politically active and the Army and Navy ROTC programs were popular. The lottery results had split my college buddies into those of us who were now looking at having to go fight overseas and the fortunate ones with high draft numbers who were not to be called up. I was advised by friends and family to enlist in the ROTC so at least to be able to enter the service as an officer.

The counter-culture scene was just then coming into full swing in the South. The Atlanta alternative weekly The Great Speckled Bird contained progressive news along with event listings for music concerts and art happenings around the city. My urban campus was near Piedmont Park and the free concerts on Sunday afternoons were sometimes headlined by The Allman Brothers Band. The popular music of the day that I heard on our college station WREK radio was informing me in a way that seemed more important and vital than my classes at Georgia Tech. My mates and I were just being introduced to cannabis and we were spending our study time getting high, listening to great new music, and expanding our minds in our own way.

My afternoons spent in the park brought me into contact with veterans who were returning from active duty in ‘Nam. Most of these hardened young men were trying to integrate into a rapidly evolving youth culture. When asked about their experiences, their stories were not about courage and valor. They spoke of war atrocities and the mass murder of innocent people. Many seemed psychologically damaged and addicted to hard drugs and alcohol. I slowly realized that I had been lied to by my own government and by my elders; and I knew that I would not participate in the insanity of a needless and unjust war. So I resolved to stay in school for as long as I could. Sometime later I was able to find a sympathetic draft board volunteer who advised me about an arcane but legal way to receive a reclassified lower draft status that kept me out of the service.

The draft lottery had the apparently unforeseen consequence of helping to generate a mass resistance movement of “draft dodgers” who were healthy, young, and well educated. The anti-war movement grew larger and more organized each year. Some conscientious objectors chose prison over enlisting. Others chose to move to Canada – somewhere around 125,000 young men who abandoned the war and their country. The FBI and federal law enforcement grew ever more draconian in their surveillance and apprehension of these young “subversives and agitators”.

Although Nixon campaigned in 1972 on winding down the war, he instead expanded U.S. bombing missions into Laos and Cambodia. Only his personal legal problems coming from the Watergate break-in and his subsequent  impeachment and resignation slowed down the military war machine. But the nail in the coffin that ended this grinding war was the leaking by Daniel Ellsberg of The Pentagon Papers (depicted in the documentary The Most Dangerous Man in America) and their publication by The New York Times. The mainstream media had turned against the ruling elite. The public was finally fed up with their leaders and their transgressions, and in 1975 the decision was made under President Gerald Ford to pull the plug.

This untold story about the strategic blunders committed by the military at the end of the war and the botched evacuation of Americans and their Vietnamese allies from Saigon is the subject of Rory Kennedy’s new documentary, Last Days in Vietnam. The youngest daughter of Robert Kennedy has directed or produced over 30 films including Ghosts of Abu Ghraib. Americans should take heed from these historical lessons so that we don’t let our government continue to start wars that they can never seem to finish.

Upcoming Film Events at The Naro Cinema

GORE VIDAL: THE UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA  No twentieth-century figure has had a more profound effect on the worlds of literature, film, politics, historical debate and the culture wars than Gore Vidal. Gore was one of the most brilliant and fearless critics of our time. He used the media to wage blistering attacks on hypocrisy and establishment politics. His overview of the state of the Republic and the health of U.S. democracy were his last words and testimony. (90 mins)
Showing Wed, Sept 24 with Angelo Mesisco speaking.

EXPEDITION TO THE END OF THE WORLD On a three-mast ocean schooner packed with artists, scientists and ambitions worthy of Noah or Columbus, an international crew sets sail for the end of the world – the rapidly melting massifs of North-East Greenland. An epic journey where the brave men and women on board encounter polar bear nightmares, Stone Age playgrounds and entirely new species. But in their encounter with new, unknown parts of the world, the crew of scientists and artists also confront the existential questions of life. (90 mins)
Showing Wed, Oct 1 with speaker Victoria Hill, Research Professor specializing in the Arctic with ODU Ocean, Earth, & Atmospheric Sciences.

THE PLEASURES OF BEING OUT OF STEP Nat Hentoff is one of the enduring critical voices of the last 65 years, a writer who championed jazz as an art form. His long-running Village Voice column covering culture and politics influenced and inspired many younger journalists who wrote for the alternative press. The film includes interviews with Hentoff as well as rare footage of the legendary Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Bob Dylan, and Lenny Bruce. (86 mins)
Showing Wed, Oct 8 with Tom Robotham and Maurice Berube speaking.

LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM  Award-winning independent filmmaker Rory Kennedy’s new film chronicles a story few of us have heard before. During the chaotic final days of the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese Army closes in on Saigon as South Vietnamese resistance crumbles. The prospect of an official evacuation of the remaining Americans and their South Vietnamese allies becomes hopelessly delayed by Congressional gridlock and a delusional U.S. Ambassador. With the clock ticking and the city under fire, a number of Americans take matters into their own hands, engaging in unsanctioned and often makeshift operations in a desperate effort to save as many South Vietnamese lives as possible. (98 mins)
Showing Wed, Oct 15 with David Swanson who will return to speak at the Naro from his home in Charlottesville. He is a nationally renowned journalist, teacher, peace activist, and author of War Is A Lie, When The World Outlawed War, and War No More: The Case For Abolition.



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