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Oh, What A Night: Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons to perform in Amp for third time, close out 2018 season

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Oh, what a night: Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons are making their way back to Chautauqua for a third time.

The group was previously on the grounds in 1987 and 2004. And following shows in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Vienna, Virginia, the group will perform at 8:15 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 25, in the Amphitheater for the last popular entertainment event of the season.

Originally comprised of Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi, the group went on to release 19 top 10 hits, including “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” “Who Loves You” and “December 1963 (Oh, What A Night).”

Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons sold more than 100 million records between 1962 and 1978. The group then went on to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

This legacy is what convinced Chautauqua’s Vice President of Performing and Visual Arts Deborah Sunya Moore that the group was the right choice to wrap up the summer.

“Frankie Valli is a living legend,” Moore said. “He and the Four Seasons are one of the best-selling and best-loved musical groups of all time. I am so honored to have them closing our Chautauqua season.”

Valli has toured almost continuously since the group’s debut single, “Sherry,” premiered in 1962. From Nov. 26 through Dec. 6, Valli will be making seven stops in the United Kingdom as part of his “farewell tour” overseas. And he will continue to perform across the U.S. through March 1, 2019.

“It’s like taking drugs,” Valli said in a May 2015 interview with Dan Rather. “You get so into it. I don’t know what I would do with myself if I wasn’t touring. I’ve tried a few times where I’ve said that I’m going to cut my schedule for the year that’s coming, and I might take a month or so and I go crazy.”

Valli & the Four Seasons inspired the 2005 Tony Award-winning musical, Jersey Boys, which was adapted into a major motion picture in 2014. Its soundtrack includes the group’s biggest hits. Though the Broadway production closed in January 2017 after 4,642 performances, it is still currently on tour across the U.S. and U.K.

“I’m not sad,” Valli said in a 2016 interview with the Associated Press. “I never dreamed it would last 11 years. The beauty about this whole situation is it’s not over. It is now beginning to happen in other parts of the world.”

As for the performance in the Amp, Moore expects it to be an unforgettable night.

“Concert-goers can look forward to their favorite songs as we all celebrate the end of summer with an evening of unforgettable music,” Moore said.

A ‘Pilgrim’s Hymn’ for Chautauqua: Sacred Song to bid farewell to season

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The Three Taps of the Gavel Sunday night will mark an end to Chautauqua’s 2018 season as Chautauquans look toward colder months and Christmas celebrations. For Jared Jacobsen, Chautauqua’s organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, translating this goodbye into a music service is a delicate process.                 

“At this closing service, we’re really torn at where is home for us,” he said. “If you’ve been here more than a couple of days, Chautauqua has become home, almost always. So you’re saying goodbye to home, but you’re also looking forward to going home. The energy is very strange. But the Sacred Song Service and President Michael E. Hill help us accept that.”

At 8 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 26, in the Amphitheater, Jacobsen, the Chautauqua Choir and Hill will present “Pilgrims’ Hymn — Final Chautauqua Thoughts” for this year’s closing Sacred Song Service.

Jacobsen will be playing the final service on a grand piano, due to a small electrical fire on Tuesday, Aug. 21, that left the Massey Memorial Organ out of commission for the last days of the 2018 season. No part of the evening’s repertoire will be changed; as a trained pianist, Jacobsen said he would “have to turn in my fingers” if he cannot do the selections justice. As always, Jacobsen promised, the service will include “Largo.”

The title for this service comes from one of the songs the choir will sing, “Pilgrim’s Hymn,” composed by Grammy Award-winning musician Stephen Paulus. Jacobsen said once he selected this piece, he built the rest of the service based on the idea of Chautauquans as pilgrims.

“Stephen Paulus wrote this piece and it caught fire in 1997, and it is used for all kinds of occasions,” Jacobsen said. “So that’s the title of this (service) because we are sort of pilgrims when we come here. Part of the word ‘pilgrim’ implies journeying from some place to get here and then going on out of here to some place else. I like the imagery of that.”

The text, written by Michael Dennis Browne in 1997, is not what Jacobsen would call “exceedingly Christian.” However, he said this final service is a celebration of all faith traditions and should reflect the many belief systems within the Institution.

“It’s a sacred text, but it’s not necessarily a Christian text, and that’s OK with me,” he said. “This is the night where all of our worlds collide for the last time. Even people with no faith tradition or people who are still looking for answers show up this closing night because we all want to say goodbye to this place.”

In addition to celebrating all Chautauquans as pilgrims, Jacobsen also intends to close the service with prayers from various faiths.

“At the end of the service, where we normally just do this Christian prayer, I realized it needed to be bigger than that,” he said. “This is where I also pull out a goodbye in Hebrew from the Jewish tradition, and a goodbye in the Arabic tradition. I think this particular night we need to pay homage to all those people.”

The service also includes “Heaven Hill,” a piece written and composed by Chautauqua Choir member Marjorie Thomas. Jacobsen said the song represents Thomas’ close connection to the Institution and its character.

“It really captures the seasons very well, about what’s Chautauqua like in the summer, winter, spring and fall,” he said. “It’s a nice piece of music, and the choir loves singing it. It’s a trademark of this closing night.”

Other musical works include “Beautiful City,” arranged by André J. Thomas, and “The Spheres” by Ola Gjeilo. Jacobsen selected these pieces to create balance in a service built around nostalgic farewells.

“I want the choir to have one more chance at singing just for fun,” he said. “It helps lighten the mood, because this service is pretty heavy duty and it needs a little comic relief.”

But even with lighter music, Jacobsen said the purpose of this service is to help Chautauquans reflect on the season and contemplate the uncertainty in the coming months until they return again in 2019.

“Nobody knows what’s going to happen to them in the next 10 months before you get back,” he said. “It could be happy, like a child or grandchild or wedding in the family, and it could be not-happy stuff, like a treatment that has to be repeated. A lot of life is going to happen in the next 10 months before we open Chautauqua again, and we don’t know what that is. So I’m trying to help people wrestle with that.”

Headline: Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson to preach at the final 10:45 a.m. worship service

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The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson thought he would have fun this summer, but he “didn’t know it would be this much fun.”

“I have had the best time this summer,” said Robinson, who is wrapping up his first season as Chautauqua’s vice president of religion and senior pastor. Robinson, the former Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire, was the first openly gay bishop in Christendom.

Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson

Robinson will preach for the final 10:45 a.m. Sunday morning worship service in the Amphitheater on Aug. 26.

His sermon title is “Time to Get Out of the Boat!” Maureen Rovegno, director of the Department of Religion, will preside, and Institution President Michael E. Hill will read the Scripture.

“I wondered if I would, in fact, get to be senior pastor, and the answer is yes,” Robinson said. “It is one of the great joys of my first year.”

He said he has fallen in love with the Institution’s woods crew and is blown away by the Amphitheater staff.

The feedback of the worship services has been positive, Robinson said. “People have thanked me for the welcome to non-Christians, either people of other faiths or not part of a faith community,” he said. “They appreciate that we acknowledge their presence and that they are welcomed.”

People who come to worship from outside the grounds have also expressed their thanks that they are noticed and welcomed.

“They feel special and appreciated,” he said.

Robinson loved being joined by colleagues from the denominational houses for the annual Ecumenical Communion Service, held this season on July 8.

He is very aware that the denominational houses provide an economical way for people to come to Chautauqua.

“I visited every denomi- national house on Tuesdays, including the African-Amer- ican Denominational House, the Hebrew Congregation and the Everett Jewish Life Center,” he said.

Robinson said the denominational houses haven’t always been appreciated for the contribution they make to the common life at Chautauqua.

He is planning to write a Zagat guide to the denominational cookies.

“At the Unitarian Universalist House, I had a Rice Krispie Treat; I haven’t had one since I was a child,” Robinson said.

He noted that his talks with Sterling Freeman about the AADH have been good, and Robinson is expecting a name change from its board.

The Interfaith Friday Series, a new program this year on the 2 p.m. interfaith lecture platform, was as illuminating and interesting as he had hoped.

“My job here is to arrange for speakers. In other settings, I am the speaker,” Robinson said. “I liked the process for these presentations because I was in conversation with the presenter.”

His big news was that there will be a nine-DVD set available from the Chautauqua Bookstore of these presentations.

“These presentations can be the basis for adult education in any religious setting,” he said.

Looking toward the future, Robinson is excited that there is a space for an Interfaith Center on the developing master plan for space use at Chautauqua.

“We are a long way from a building, but it is the first time an interfaith space appears on the plan,” he said. “It is a symbol of the Institution’s commitment to work in an interfaith way that might result in a center.”

The hardest part of the first year?

“I have used a prayer book for 40 years. Having to write the service every week is a new experience,” he said. “But I grew up in a church like that.”

In final morning lecture, filmmaker Grace Lee and critic Ann Hornaday explore identity, stereotypes, and culture through film

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  • Grace Lee, left, independent producer, writer and director of "American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs," shows clips featured on the website K-TOWN ’92 during a conversation with The Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday Friday, Aug. 24, 2018 in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

In the final lecture on Week Nine’s theme, “Documentary Film as Facilitator: Storytelling, Influence and Civil Discourse,” filmmaker Grace Lee discussed stereotypes facing Asian-American women, the collective memory of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, and the roles of women in politics.

At 10:45 a.m. Friday, Aug. 24, in the Amphitheater, Lee talked about both the substance and style of her work with Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post’s chief film critic.

Lee was born and raised in Columbia, Missouri. She would go on to attend the prestigious UCLA Film School, and has now directed films in styles ranging from narrative fiction to documentary. Lee’s work often deals with stereotypes, identity and culture.

In her 2005 film, “The Grace Lee Project,” Lee interviewed women from all over the country that share the name Grace Lee. When Lee was growing up in Missouri, she was the only person she knew with her first name. To her surprise, when she moved to places like New York or California, she found that her full name, Grace Lee, was actually quite common.

“It’s like the Jane Smith of Asian-American names,” she said. “But more interestingly, when I started asking these other people about the Grace Lees that they once knew, they were always stereotypically perfect, overachieving Asian-Americans. They went to Harvard at age 15, were excellent violin players, they were devout Christians, and I was none of those things.”

So, Lee set out to test the validity of those stereotypes. She said she traveled the country and met with many different women named Grace Lee, trying to put together a picture of their actual identities compared to the stereotypically expected ones.

On that journey, Lee met Grace Lee Boggs, an elderly Chinese-American woman who for 50 years had lived and worked as an activist in a predominantly African-American community in Detroit. Boggs — described by Lee as an “incredible philosopher-activist-writer” — was in her mid-80s when Lee made “The Grace Lee Project.”

Boggs’ story stuck with Lee. A decade after “The Grace Lee Project,” Lee made a film that took a deeper look at Boggs’ life, titled “American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs.” Boggs was 95.

Lee then played a clip from “American Revolutionary.” Lee and Boggs are in Boggs’ kitchen, and Boggs has asked Lee to trim the hair on the back of her head and neck, which Lee is doing. 

“You know, it’s very funny what happens to the hair of old people,” Boggs says. “You begin getting hair in your nostrils. Did you know that?”

The audience chuckled. Lee would go on to explain that she includes humorous moments because they help people from different backgrounds and perspectives to identify with the film’s subject.

Later in the clip, prompted by Lee’s questions, Boggs gives her perspective on identity and stereotypes.

“You said one of the reasons for you making this Grace Lee documentary, I’m paraphrasing, was that you wanted to refute the stereotype of Asian-American women as passive. The whole thing has different meaning for me,” Boggs says. “I didn’t think of myself so much as Chinese-American, and I didn’t think of myself so much as a woman, because the Chinese-American movement hadn’t emerged, and the women’s movement hadn’t emerged.”

Hornaday and Lee then dissected both the content and style decisions in the clip. First, Hornaday asked why Lee made the decision to include herself in the film.

“I did not want to be in this film, because I had already made a film called ‘The Grace Lee Project,’ ” Lee said. “How self-indulgent is that? And Grace Lee Boggs was only in it briefly, so I was determined that no, I’m not going to be in this film because (Boggs) has 70 years of movement and history in Detroit, and we need the time to get to it.”

However, Lee’s editor suggested that much of the footage of both women together was compelling, in part because it showed the relationship between Boggs and Lee. The hair-cutting scene, Lee said, is a prime example. Lee ultimately agreed with her editor.

Lee’s closeness with her subject, according to Hornaday, contrasts with the distance that “classicist” documentarians like Ken Burns often employ. Again using the example of the hair-cutting scene, Hornaday asked Lee about the intimacy in “American Revolutionary.”

“Grace Lee Boggs is somebody very personally important to me,” Lee said. “As someone who studied history in college, I studied the civil rights movement, I studied social history — how could I never have heard of this person? Another second-generation, Asian-American woman, daughter of immigrants, living in the Midwest like I was, but I had never heard of her.

“Seeing these kinds of same histories is something that really motivates me in terms of the kinds of stories I want to tell. I have to be personally engaged. That’s what’s going to motivate me through the many years of trying to find funding, trying to follow a story even when I don’t know what the end result is going to be.”

-Grace Lee, Filmmaker 

The next work the two discussed was Lee’s 2017 interactive web documentary, “K-Town ‘92,” about the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

“That was an event that made a huge impact on me 26 years ago, not only because it was such an explosive moment in this country’s history,” Lee said, “but because, for the first time, Korean-Americans showed up in the media.”

The images, however, were not positive — news coverage of the riots mostly showed armed Korean-Americans standing on the roofs of their businesses to protect them from rioters, or mourning the loss of their businesses after they had been burned down, according to Lee.

“K-Town ‘92” puts that news footage next to archival footage and interviews, from both 1992 and 2017. After watching an introductory segment, users can navigate a repository of clips from all of those perspectives. Lee’s aim, she said, was to give viewers a pick-your-own-narrative experience.

“One of the big questions of ‘K-Town ‘92’ is, ‘Who gets to tell the story of Los Angeles, 1992?’ ” Lee said. “I really felt as somebody living in Los Angeles for the last 20 years, as somebody rooted in the Korean-American community, that these films were going to continue to recycle the same kinds of archival images that I found weren’t telling the whole story.”

In response, Lee set out to create a representation of the riots that put the multiple narratives on an even plane, “flattening” the narrative. By taking the voice of the filmmaker out of the equation, she said, viewers can experience the events according to their own interests.

Before “K-Town ‘92,” Lee had experience in a different experimental genre — the mockumentary. Her 2012 film “Janeane From Des Moines” incorporates real footage from the 2012 presidential campaign trail, but the main character Janeane — a conservative housewife seeking answers from Republican politicians ahead of the Iowa caucuses — is played by actor Jane Wilson.

Hornaday asked Lee about pushback the film received — some felt that it was not upfront enough about the fact that many of the scenes were scripted, and the main character was an actor.

Lee pointed out that the film was never intended to be a documentary, and when it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, it was not in the documentary category. Lee also emphasized that campaign events are not entirely unscripted, either, calling them “political theater.”

“(The film) is really a question about who is performing,” Lee said. “Is Jane Wilson performing as Janeane, who has really embodied the kind of needs and distresses that she’s going through in the story? Or are Mitt Romney and Michelle Bachman performing to some extent when they talk to voters?”

The final clip shown at the lecture came from Lee’s yet-unreleased project covering the current surge of women of color running for political office. The clip showed Lucy McBath, a candidate for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, arriving at a campaign event to a large, welcoming crowd.

McBath was originally running for a seat in the Georgia House of Representatives, but after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting earlier this year, she decided to run for Congress. 

Lee’s production team is all women of color — a conscious choice, she said.

“One of the things I’ve observed is that when you have a close cultural connection to this community, you’re going get different results,” she said, “rather than just parachuting in and trying to tell a story that people have already told — the kinds of stories that news crews come in and tell.”

In 2016, Lee’s work earned her an invitation to be the keynote speaker at the International Documentary Association’s Getting Real Conference. The main themes of the conference, which she spoke about in her address, were art, diversity and sustainability.

In part of that address, which Hornaday read to the audience in the Amp, Lee spoke about how the three themes were inseparable to her. She said they also prompted difficult questions about what the documentary community looked like, who got to be a part of it, and which stories mattered — all themes that she explores in her own work, often through the perspective of Asian-Americans.

“I had to make a decision, like, I don’t know if I should talk about Asian-Americans because this is the broader documentary community,” she said. “But then I realized, if I don’t talk about it, we’ll never talk about it. If I’m given this platform, I have to talk about it.”

Eugene Sutton concludes Interfaith Fridays with progressive Christianity view

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The Rt. Rev. Eugene Sutton, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, delivered the season’s final edition in the new Interfaith Friday Series in the Hall of Philosophy, in conversation with the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, vice president of religion on Aug. 24.

To conclude the nine-week series, which has seen interfaith advocates from numerous faith traditions, Sutton represented progressive Christianity.

“A progressive religion has a bit of humility,” Sutton said.

After opening with a moment of silent reflection, Sutton quoted Theodore Roosevelt: “A great democracy has got to be progressive, or it will cease to be great and it will cease to be a democracy.”

“The same with religion. A great religion must be progressive,” Sutton said. “It has to be progressive or it will cease to be great. And it may find it ceases to be a religion. And by progressive, I don’t mean liberal in the sense that we talk about today. To be progressive means you prioritize, you privilege, individuals over institutions. Persons over programs or pronouncements. Justice over judgements. Humility over hubris. And theos over theology.”

Sutton described some of his faith journey through multiple Christian denominations. He was raised attending Baptist church in Washington, D.C., but as he reached his teen years, struggled to reconcile his understanding of God with the racism he experienced in the late 1960s.

“If God is so good, why are God’s people so bad?” Sutton said.

He was atheist before coming back to evangelical Christianity through the YoungLife youth program at age 17, but struggled with the image of a vengeful God.

“It bothers me when we assign the worst characteristics of humanity to God,” Sutton said. “God must weep if that’s the way we think of God.”

He described progressive Christianity as a source of freedom — freedom to love and freedom to reason.

“We don’t believe, as progressive Christians, that we have to check our minds at the door as soon as you enter the doors of the church,” he said. “But rather, we can use our God-given abilities of observation, cognition, in order to know some things about this world, some things that were not known 10,000 years ago, or 2,000 years ago.”

Sutton also suggested a progressive church must look outward.

“The purpose of Christianity is not about you and getting you to heaven,” he said. “I can’t think of a more self-centered, narcissistic form of faith than ‘It’s all about me and Jesus.’”

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What follows is an abridged version of Sutton’s conversation Friday, Aug. 24, in the Hall of Philosophy. Sutton and Robinson’s remarks have been condensed for clarity.

From where you sit in your tradition, why should we be moving in an interfaith direction either here at Chautauqua or in the world?

We live in a diverse, interfaith world. If you don’t like diversity, you can’t possibly like God. It’s not about uniformity and building towers. It’s about bringing down towers and dealing with diversity. Living in an interfaith world, it’s not a question of “Will you do interfaith work or not?” You are doing interfaith work. The only real question is, “Are you going to do it well, or are you going to do it poorly?”

When you come to the metaphorical interfaith table, what gifts do you bring as an progressive Christian to that table?

We know how to borrow. We’ve borrowed since the beginning. It’s at least possible that our Lord Jesus, before he began his ministry, actually went to the East and learned from other traditions as well. But also, (Christianity) is adaptable to local customs. You could walk into an Episcopal church for a eucharist, and it’s very similar to a Roman Catholic mass. But then go to a Church of God in Christ, a largely black Pentecostal church, and you’d say, “My gosh, is that Christianity, too?”

It is an incredible gift, (The Lord’s) Prayer. It begins, “Our Father,” not “The Christian God,” not “The Hindu God.” Our Father.

If it’s possible that Jesus went to the East, to learn gifts of other traditions, then what gifts do you see in other religions that might benefit Christians?

In other traditions, there are expectations of prayer that in the Christian tradition, we’ve assigned, really too much, to only the monastics. We’re too busy, we can’t pray, we can’t order our day with prayer as you do. I encourage all Christians: find yourself a monastery or convent and visit. Bathe yourself in the rhythms of prayer. I feel sometimes like progressive Christians, sometimes they’re embarrassed of Christianity. I wish sometimes more and more Christians would take a minute. Even one minute, several times a day and say, “I’m gonna pause. I’m gonna pray.”

So, do we have texts that tell us that ours is the one true religion?

Yes. Our dogs get in the way. It’s not my dog, or my dogma. It’s your dog. Our dogma gets in the way of conversation. We’re trying to visit each other, but our dogma is barking and trying to call attention to itself, but it gets in the way. Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the light.” It’s the way of devotion to God. Love is the way to truth that leads us to light.

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Robinson concluded the interview with the same final question he had asked all previous Interfaith Friday speakers, with a humorous slant.

“Is Christianity the only religion free of extremists?” Robinson asked.

“Yes,” Sutton bantered back.

“OK,” Robinson said with a laugh. “Now we’re ready for question and answer.”

“No,” Sutton answered Robinson’s original question, in seriousness. “Lord, deliver us from fundamentalists everywhere. We are free to make choices. Help us to make better ones.”

Filmmaker Dan Habib draws on personal experience in lecture on disability and inclusion

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  • Dan Habib, project director and filmmaker with the University of New Hampshire's Institute on Disability, delivers his lecture "Disabling Segregation" Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018 in the Hall of Philosophy. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Dan Habib has produced award-winning documentaries and garnered Emmy nominations, but he might have never become a filmmaker if not for his son Samuel Habib’s disability. When Samuel was born with a mitochondrial disease that led to cerebral palsy, Habib began making films that deal with disability advocacy.

“All my films, every day of my life — it’s all somehow motivated by Samuel in terms of the work that I do around disability rights and filmmaking.”

– Dan Habib, Director, “Including Samuel” 

It was Samuel’s doctor that urged Habib — an accomplished photojournalist  — to document his own family’s experience of disability through photography. Shortly afterwards, a group of teenagers convinced Habib that video would be a more powerful medium for the Habib family’s story. He turned the project into a documentary and has been making films about disability ever since.

At 2 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 23, in the Hall of Philosophy, Habib delivered his lecture “Disabling Segregation.” Habib drew on research, personal experience and his son’s life to argue that children with disabilities can and should experience regular developmental environments instead of being sequestered in programs like “special education.”

Habib, now with the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability, has been involved with social justice since his days as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan. There, he said, he was a photographer for the school newspaper and participated in anti-apartheid and anti-racist movements — but not in any disability rights movements.

“I never heard the words ‘disability rights’ or ‘disability advocacy’ or ‘inclusive education’ in all the human rights and social justice issues of the time, back in ‘83 through ‘87,” Habib said. “I never heard about disability, and I almost never saw people with at least visual disabilities on campus.”

Habib said his current involvement in disability rights is mostly due to his son’s condition, but he also pointed to the country’s historically negative treatment of those with disabilities as a motivating factor. For example, from the 1920s until the 1970s, he said, the eugenics movement led to the forced sterilization of 60,000 people in the United States.

“I think that historical context is important, because it’s like the Black Lives Matter movement — if you don’t know that we’re a country with a history of racism and slavery, you don’t really get why that movement exists.”

Habib’s first film, “Including Samuel,” depicts the Habib family as they work to include Samuel — who uses a wheelchair to move and a speech device to communicate — in their lives and community.

Habib said they thought it was particularly important to make sure Samuel felt included in school, where enormous emotional and social growth takes place for American children. According to Habib, the efforts to include Samuel were not trivial — they were critical in his journey toward independence and adulthood.

“We know through 30 years of research that kids with disabilities who are included in regular education end up with better communication skills, higher academic achievement, wider social networks, fewer behavioral problems, more opportunity for higher education and more meaningful employment as adults,” he said.

Habib held up his son as evidence that inclusion leads to a better life. Samuel is now 18, freshly graduated from high school. He had a weekly sports segment on the school’s TV news, went to prom, and will be attending college this fall.

At many steps along Samuel’s journey, his community came together to make him feel like he belonged, Habib said. In one anecdote, Habib described Samuel’s involvement in his school’s production of Guys and Dolls.

“He was able to knock the dice off of his lap and say his lines using his communication device, Habib said. “Nobody batted an eye, because that’s just the way Sam would roll. In fact, the stage at the time was not wheelchair-accessible, so Sam and another girl named Hannah who also used a wheelchair had to enter the back of the stage using an old lift.”

Unfortunately, the lift made a squeaking noise that would interrupt the play.

“So,” Habib said, “the community came together, and they decided to build two ramps on either side of the front of the stage so that Samuel and Hannah could come up in front.”

Through that and other acts of community support, Samuel was able to participate in activities from baseball to Boy Scouts. According to Habib, Samuel grew up feeling a sense of belonging in his community.

If the research is any guide, that sense of belonging has contributed to Samuel’s present successes. But it’s not just Samuel who benefited from having the community, Habib said — the community also benefited from having a person with disabilities in its ranks.

For example, Habib said the ramps in Guys and Dolls let Samuel and Hannah get on stage, but other actors also used those access points, adding another dimension to the play’s staging. And when a refugee who didn’t speak English joined Samuel’s class in elementary school, his teacher said the students were better able to welcome her because they already had practice dealing with Samuel’s disabilities.

Research supports that conclusion, too. Habib said a study from a researcher at Vanderbilt University compared groups of students without disabilities to integrated groups made of students both with and without disabilities.

The study found that the able-bodied students who were in the integrated groups consistently scored higher than the students who were in the groups without students with disabilities. Habib explained that this was because the able-bodied students in the integrated groups would help the students with disabilities. By reteaching the material to those with disabilities, the able-bodied students were learning it more thoroughly.

Unfortunately, Habib said, not all educational environments are integrated like Samuel’s was. In the early ‘90s, Habib reported a photo story on a boy in their community named Todd. Todd, too, had a disability.

“Todd, through elementary school, which happened to be the same elementary school that Samuel went to, was fully included in a regular education. And he loved it,” Habib said. “He was so excited to go to school, and I know this because we were neighbors with this family as well.”

But in middle school, Todd was sequestered in a separate classroom for all of the students with disabilities. At the time, Todd didn’t have access to communication technology like Samuel had. Todd couldn’t communicate or express himself effectively until he was 21, when he did finally get a communication device.

“The first thing (Todd) said, he typed out, ‘F— you,’ ” Habib said.

According to Habib, Todd went on to say how angry he was for being deprived a sense of belonging in his community and not being able to participate in the regular educational community.

“That’s the flip side of Samuel’s experience,” Habib said. “And I know because I know this man to this day. Todd has had a really hard time adjusting to adulthood — no work, no higher education — because he never had that experience. And unfortunately, Todd’s experience is more representative of what we know about this country than Samuel’s.”

Habib went on to say that 56 percent of American kids with intellectual disabilities are segregated in schools, and only 17 percent of kids with those disabilities are “meaningfully included in regular education.” That’s despite the research that suggests that these students would do better if they were included, Habib said.

In addition to “Including Samuel,” Habib has also produced other films about disability such as “Who Cares about Kelsey?” and “Mr. Connolly Has ALS,” the latter of which features the story of Gene Connolly — the principal of Samuel’s high school — and his battle with ALS. Connolly died on Aug. 19.

Habib said his newest project, “Intelligent Lives,” explores perceptions of intelligence and follows three young people with disabilities in high school, college, and the workforce. “Intelligent Lives” will be released in September 2018.

Rebecca Cammisa discusses her processes through latest film ‘Atomic Homefront’

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Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Rebecca Cammisa spoke to the process and impact of her latest film, “Atomic Homefront” at Thursday’s 10:45 a.m. morning lecture on Aug. 23. She was joined on the Amphitheater stage by film critic Ann Hornaday in a conversation for Week Nine’s theme, “Documentary Film as Facilitator: Storytelling, Influence and Civil Discourse.”

“Atomic Homefront” confronts the effects of radioactive, Manhattan Project-era waste dumped in West Lake Landfill in St. Louis County, Missouri, which drained into the nearby natural water supply; the film chronicles concerned residents of the two affected areas of St. Louis’ suburbs — those along Coldwater Creek and Bridgeton — and the negligence of governmental bodies, including the Environmental Protection Agency. The film is now streaming on HBO.

This was Cammisa’s sixth film; her first film, “Sister Helen,” won the 2002 Sundance Film Festival’s Documentary Directing Award, as well as an Emmy Award for Outstanding Cultural and Artistic Programming, and was nominated for an Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary Film Award by the Directors Guild of America.

Her 2010 film, “Which Way Home,” was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary, received four Emmy nominations, and went on to win a News & Documentary Emmy Award for Outstanding Informational Programming and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards Grand Prize. For her work on the film, Cammisa received a Fulbright Fellowship for Filmmaking. In 2011, Cammisa directed and produced “God is the Bigger Elvis,” which received an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Short Subject.

Hornaday, who lectured Wednesday, Aug. 22, about role of the audience in film, opened the conversation by asking how Cammisa stumbled upon this story, or if the story came to her.

“The film I set out to tell was about how journalism was under threat,” Cammisa said. “There’s always going to be a Washington Post and a New York Times, but my concern was communities out in this country that are in … small towns whose newspapers are folding, where journalists are being fired — the downsizing.”

However, she ran into trouble; newsrooms aren’t accessible, she said. Thus, she turned her attention to finding a “big story” and then documenting how reporters and publications in that area handled the news. It was a friend that turned Cammisa toward the radioactive waste in Missouri. Again, she ran into difficulties trying to reach the press, scrapping her original plan and dedicating the film solely to the radioactive waste.

“That’s sometimes what happens with doc filmmaking: You have a very specific idea in mind and then you’re somehow moved by some weird, spiritual force that places you where you need to be to tell a story properly.”

-Rebecca Cammisa, Director, “Atomic Homefront”

Cammisa’s methodology for the film was to jump in and try to understand what was happening, she said. In the case of “Atomic Homefront,” the story became the conflicting testimony between the EPA and the community. Cammisa’s job: finding the truth. She and her crew lived in St. Louis for six months on-and-off, followed by three months of filming on-and-off.

In the first day of filming, Cammisa shot a clip played for the audience. In it: a meeting between the local first responders’ unit and the Missouri National Guard, and an interview from a concerned resident. After the conclusion of the clip, Hornaday asked if filming that meeting was difficult. Cammisa said the first responders were receptive; for the National Guard, however, “we figured, ‘Shoot first, ask permission during.’ ”

The clip also featured graphics of radioactive particles emerging from the ground and spreading. For Cammisa, the graphics became a necessity because the subject of the film — radioactivity — is invisible. As for human dispositions, Cammisa looked for passion when casting interviewees.

“To me, I don’t really care if a person looks good. I don’t really care if they’re charismatic,” she said. “To me, what’s charismatic to me is the fight, the struggle. … In the films I make, I just show up. So my casting is who’s there, but also who’s working. It’s more about the throughline — how can we follow the arc of what people are doing?”

One of those fighting, struggling characters is Dan Norris, a clip of whom Cammisa and Hornaday shared with the audience. Norris worked for the West Lake Landfill and initially threw the story at the public with an open letter to the press. In the letter, he writes about the “cozy relationship between the state regulators and (the landfill) company,” corruption and silencing; he became a whistleblower.

What made Norris more powerful, Cammisa said, was that he had photographs — photographs of the cracks in the landfill seeping radioactive material and photographs of off-the-chart radium readings.

The relationship built between Cammisa and Norris was a mutual understanding of the story’s importance, she said.

“Dan — he worked hard, he did his job and what was so lovely about him is he just cared about transparency from a scientific standpoint,” Cammisa said. “He just knows his data, and data sets you free. … When the news was bad, the governor’s office wanted the news to be good. Where have we heard that before? I spoke his language and he understood we were not going to use his interview to do a certain stance or bias.”

Hornaday asked about Cammisa’s approach to the story — did she script scenes or edit before production was finished?

“My films are unscripted,” she said, “because I’m usually going into worlds that I know nothing about or have researched heavily. … So usually jumping into the deep end is what I do. So I go into a world, I’m in it, and then I start to see ‘this is what’s going on.’ But then as things happen … (and) anything I would script — forget about it.”

From there, Hornaday transitioned to the third — and final — clip of the morning, featuring radiochemist Michael K. Schultz, who performed tests on the soil around the original dump site; his tests revealed the levels of radiation were grossly higher than the legal limit. After the conclusion of the scene, Hornaday asked if Schultz was paid to perform those tests — an ethical question of transparency she had addressed in her Wednesday lecture. Cammisa said Schultz was not paid to perform the tests, but was compensated for providing the results and running the tests an additional two times.

Because of their extensive research, inquiry and interviews, Hornaday asked Cammisa if she considered documentarians as journalists — again, a point Hornaday addressed Wednesday.

“I don’t think all of them are,” Cammisa said. “I don’t say I am. If I had gone to journalism school, and really was a professional in the methodology of journalism and had a degree in it, I would call myself a journalist. I don’t. But … when I do a story, I want to adhere to journalistic principles. I want to get everyone’s side of the story; I don’t go in with a bias; I’m really there to try and find out what has really happened.”

As “Atomic Homefront” and the mishandling of radioactive material has garnered attention, Hornaday asked what impact the film has had and how Cammisa has managed its reverberations.

Cammisa said that after the release of the film, a group of St. Louis County citizens held a meeting with Scott Pruitt, who was EPA administrator at the time, at which they played the film. Days later, she said, Pruitt ranked West Lake Landfill as one of his Top 10 Superfund sites; 11 days before the premiere of the film on HBO, the EPA announced its cleanup plan.

“The film helped get traction in terms of the EPA and that’s exactly what we wanted to get to,” she said.

After the conclusion of Hornaday and Cammisa’s interview, Chief of Staff Matt Ewalt opened the Q-and-A by asking for Cammisa to elaborate on how she funds her projects.

Despite being an award-winning filmmaker, Cammisa said applying for funding can be difficult as there is a large community of artists vying for the same grants. Depending on the subject matter, she said, it can be even more cumbersome and Cammisa has “a knack for picking stories that aren’t sexy.”

Ewalt turned to the audience for questions; one attendee asked if since starting this project, Cammisa has turned into an advocate.

“I’m a person,” Cammisa said. “I’m from the Hudson Valley. I grew up swimming in the Hudson with the PCPs. … We’re all tainted or affected somehow by something. And what I’d like to see done is justice and a pure environment. And after experiencing and seeing what these people have been through, it’s really important. So while I’m not an activist, … the film itself just shows you what age this is, what has happened here, and can this help educate and inform other communities? … You know what this film is about?

“Telling the truth.”

Sultry Summer Nights: Richard Marx to perform hits from 30-year career in Amp performance

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With few “Endless Summer Nights” left, Chautauquans can find comfort in the fact that the grounds will be “Right Here Waiting” for them next summer.

Singer-songwriter Richard Marx will give the penultimate popular entertainment evening performance at 8:15 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24, in the Amphitheater.

Marx has earned five Grammy nominations, and won Song of the Year in 2004 for “Dance With My Father.” Marx has nine top-10 hits on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. Three of those songs peaked at No. 1: “Hold On To The Nights,” “Right Here Waiting” and “Satisfied.”

In his 30-year career, Marx has released 11 studio albums. Marx’s self-titled debut album peaked at No. 8 on Billboard’s Hot 200 chart, and his second album, Repeat Offender, earned him his first No. 1.

“I could certainly fake it,” Marx told Rolling Stone in 2014. “I hadn’t done enough living to write songs that were void of tremendous clichés, but I’d listened to enough songs and I’d had enough fantasy — and maybe a little heartbreak, too — to get by.”

Marx has written and produced for many other artists, including Kenny Rogers, Natalie Cole, Josh Groban, Michael Bolton and Keith Urban.

Marx’s latest album, Beautiful Goodbye, was released in 2014. The album featured a tracklist of all-new songs — a first for him since 2008’s Sundown. Upon the release of Beautiful Goodbye, Marx said its contents were “sexy.”

“I find the melodies in trance music … so sexy. They sound like soundtracks to the sexiest movie,” Marx told ABC News in 2014. “I thought it would be kind of fun to create an atmosphere that sounds (like that) and apply my songwriting and create a hybrid.”

Even in the midst of the current pop landscape, Timothy Yap said in a review that the album highlights Marx’s ’80s-centric voice.

“Instead of chasing trends and competing with whippersnappers such as Ed Sheeran and Robin Thicke, Marx has stuck to what he does best,” Yap wrote. “Just like many of his previous offerings, the songs here move in the friendlier landscape of adult contemporary where ballads are at the fore, which are also Marx’s strongest forte. While the subject matter of these paeans either showcases Marx as a hopeless romantic or a man who thinks of romance as hopeless.”

Filmmaker Grace Lee, critic Ann Hornaday to discuss methods of documentary storytelling

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As a documentary filmmaker, Grace Lee often talks about who should get to tell what stories.

White men make up the largest demographic of filmmakers, but documentary films are usually about communities of color, Lee said.

Grace Lee

“As somebody who is a person of color and a woman and whose work is often immersed in these worlds,” Lee said, “that is something that has been a challenge as a documentary filmmaker in terms of finding funding.”

Ann Hornaday, film critic for The Washington Post, will lead a conversation with Lee at 10:45 a.m. Friday, Aug. 24, in the Amphitheater to conclude the Week Nine theme, “Documentary Film as Facilitator: Storytelling, Influence and Civil Discourse.”

Lee’s body of work includes short-and feature-length films, as well as documentary and narrative storytelling. Her film topics typically derive from her life as an Asian-American.

The first documentary feature she made was called “The Grace Lee Project,” a 2005 film in which she interviewed people with the same name as her. In telling that story, Lee said her challenge was to not come off as self-indulgent, but she believes a filmmaker’s personal story allows audiences to connect with the subject matter.

“For me, ‘The Grace Lee Project’ wasn’t about me wanting to be in a film,” Lee said. “It was about exploring the issues behind having one of the most common Asian-American names and exploring stereotypes of Asian-American women.”

Ann Hornaday

One of the women she interviewed for “The Grace Lee Project” became the subject of “American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs,” which will be shown at 12:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24, at Chautauqua Cinema. A talkback with Lee will follow.

Grace Lee Boggs was a civil rights activist from Michigan. Lee had studied history in college but had never heard of Boggs. When she met Boggs, Lee said it was a “no-brainer” to tell her story.

“I’d never met another Asian-American woman from the Midwest who devoted her life to radical politics and philosophy,” Lee said. “There were just so many questions as to how this, at the time, 80-something Chinese-American woman had devoted her life to the black struggle in America.”

“American Revolutionary” has some funny moments in it, Lee said, and humor is a common thread in all of her films. Documentaries can be dark and depressing sometimes, so Lee likes to lighten the mood and look for humorous moments.

“I think if you can disarm people by making them laugh, or making them laugh at you or with you, I feel like there’s an openness,” Lee said. “If you can laugh at the same things, you can maybe approach difficult topics. It opens a door for greater dialogue.”

Lee’s most recent project is a “deconstructed documentary” about the Los Angeles riots of 1992, and it’s a film people can watch for free online.

K-Town ’92” is an interactive documentary where users can click through interviews and archival footage about the riots, the beating of Rodney King at the hands of police officers, who were later acquitted of all charges at their trial.

When the 25th anniversary of the riots approached, many big studios were working on films.

“Nobody had commissioned me to make one of those films,” said Lee, who lives in Koreatown, Los Angeles. “I knew that there were many stories from this neighborhood that were completely off the radar for so many people and from the mainstream media, so I decided to make something using limited resources and just decided to put it on the internet for everyone to see.”

Lee did not want to narrow the scope of the story. Even in documentary filmmaking, there is a clear point of view. It was different with the 1992 riots, Lee said, because there were so many stories that were lost and forgotten. Lee didn’t want to dictate the narrative. Instead, she left that up to the viewers.

“If you’re questioning who gets to tell the story, then there’s not going to be one monolithic view of what happens,” Lee said. “The audience member themselves can approach it in different ways.”

Episcopal Bishop of Maryland and social justice advocate Eugene Sutton will conclude Interfaith Fridays representing progressive Christianity

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As bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, the Rt. Rev. Eugene Sutton leads a large community — one that includes more than 100 congregations and 23 schools — on a journey to find faith and inner peace. Sutton, a co-founder of Contemplative Outreach of Metropolitan Washington, uses his role as a spiritual leader to influence social change nationwide.

But Sutton knows fighting problems like racism and violence is not easy, even with faith as a driving force.

Eugene Sutton

“Those of us who regularly attend an Episcopal church renew our baptismal vows several times a year,” he said in a 2015 statement following the death of Freddie Gray. “At the renewal, the presider asks this question: ‘Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?’… That’s one of the most difficult vows for all of us to keep in a nation that has struggled with the sin of racism since its inception.”

At 2 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24, in the Hall of Philosophy, Sutton will represent progressive Christianity during the Institution’s ninth and final Interfaith Friday of the season. Sutton will engage in interfaith dialogue with the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Chautauqua’s vice president of religion.

In 2014, Sutton was named one of 14 Faith Leaders to Watch by the Center for American Progress. This recognition was in response to Sutton’s opposition toward gun violence, which included faith-based protests.

At the core of his activism, Sutton said he is motivated by God.

“My brothers and sisters, don’t expect me or anybody else to be the savior of this situation we find ourselves in today,” he said in the 2015 statement. “I am not a savior … but I serve a Savior.  My Savior is not afraid to weep, not afraid to get angry, not afraid to say and do the right thing because it’s hard, not afraid of anyone or any neighborhood — and not afraid of fear.”

As an African-American, Sutton has spoken in favor of the Black Lives Matter movement and has commented on police violence. But he also acknowledges that large social movements, like those against gun and police violence, encompass many communities.

“People of goodwill of all races across our nation are outraged that black lives still seem to matter less than other lives in our communities,” he wrote in a column titled “Fighting an Unholy Trinity of Racism, Poverty and Violence.”

Sutton, who contributed to the book Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: Challenging the Epidemic of Gun Violence, said the nation has significant strides to make in order to create complete racial equality.

“More than our political affiliation, our educational achievement or our religion, studies indicate that the color of our skin is a bigger factor in how we each view the state of racism, poverty and violence in America,” he wrote in “Fighting an Unholy Trinity.”

Despite the long road ahead, Sutton said he has faith that Episcopalians — coupled with all courageous advocates — will build a better future.

“In spite of our weariness of still dealing with race issues that should have been put behind us long ago, I’m gratified that so many of my fellow Episcopalians are willing to have the difficult conversations about racism, do the work of justice, work to eradicate poverty and violence, and to seek reconciliation within their communities,” he wrote in the column. “I am heartened when I see my white brothers and sisters hold up signs at rallies and other public events that say, ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER.’ ”

Time to Get Funky: Ranky Tanky to perform Gullah and jazz-influenced music in the Amp

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For more than 100 years, enslaved people were brought from Africa to the low country region of South Carolina and Georgia, including areas like the coastal plain and Beaufort Sea islands, to work on rice plantations. These enslaved people would become the earliest ancestors of the Gullah people, whose culture blended many west and central African influences together.

The Gullah people are known for preserving their rich cultural heritage, including music.

One musical group that continues to celebrate the sounds of the Gullah culture is Ranky Tanky, a quintet from Charleston, South Carolina. Comprising a drummer/ percussionist, bassist, vocalist, guitarist/ vocalist and trumpeter/vocalist, the group released its debut album last year and have since appeared at No. 1 on the Billboard, iTunes and Amazon jazz charts.

At 8:15 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 23 in the Amphitheater, Ranky Tanky will share its Gullah-and jazz-influenced sounds with Chautauqua Institution for the first time.

Quiana Parler, a former “American Idol” contestant, is the lead vocalist of Ranky Tanky. The other four members played together in the The Gradual Lean, a College of Charleston jazz quartet, in the 1990s. When Clay Ross, guitarist and vocalist, had the idea to pull the group back together for a Gullah-inspired musical group, he and the other members wanted Parler on board.

Joining Ranky Tanky in 2016 gave Parler the chance to travel overseas for the first time, according to an article published by the Post and Courier. Before joining the group, her lifelong music career led her to perform on “Saturday Night Live,” “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” and other programs.

She’s also performed with Miranda Lambert, Kelly Clarkson and Maroon 5.

Ross started the band. Originally from Piedmont, North Carolina, he moved to Charleston for college, according to an article published on NPR. He was not too familiar with Gullah and jazz-influenced music until he first saw Charlton Singleton and Quentin Baxter, now also members of Ranky Tanky, performing in a coffee shop in Charleston.

“I wasn’t really familiar with what that was at that time, but it’s something that — it just spoke to me, and it moved me, and it really changed my life,” Ross told NPR. “And I started to pursue jazz, study jazz music and bug (Singleton and Baxter) relentlessly.”

The three and bassist Kevin Hamilton had kept in contact  with one another throughout the last 20 years until Ross had the idea to bring the four, and Parler, together to start Ranky Tanky in 2016.

After its performance at the Institution, Ranky Tanky — which loosely translates to “work it,” or “get funky” — has more than 30 shows planned through 2018 and into 2019 at venues such as Coastal Carolina University, Goldsboro Paramount Theatre and University of Florida Performing Arts.

In response to Ranky Tanky’s self-titled, debut album, NPR’s Banning Eyre wrote that the group’s “Gullah songs are lively, soulful honey to the ears.”

“But even when the lyrics are sad or stern, Ranky Tanky brings playfulness and warmth to the material,” Eyre wrote, “blending in elements of blues, jazz and R&B.”

Rebecca Cammisa, Ann Hornaday to discuss local ties to ‘Atomic Homefront’

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Though Rebecca Cammisa’s documentary film “Atomic Homefront” was filmed in St. Louis, she said the story is universal, and it’s “symbolic” that she is bringing the film to Chautauqua.

“The reality is the same problem exists everywhere, and certainly Buffalo, Niagara,” Cammisa said. “That area has had its own struggles with contamination and toxicity and radioactive contamination. So coming to that region of New York is quite important to me.”

Rebecca Cammisa

Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday will lead a conversation with Cammisa at 10:45 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 23, in the Amphitheater to continue the Week Nine theme, “Documentary Film as Facilitator: Storytelling, Influence and Civil Discourse.”

“Atomic Homefront” uncovers the history of radioactive material in the St. Louis area that dates back to the World War II-era Manhattan Project. The toxic materials have left long-lasting effects on the environment and the people who live there, which is something people in the Buffalo area can relate to, Cammisa said.

This year marks 40 years since President Jimmy Carter issued the first state of emergency for Love Canal, located 95 miles north of Chautauqua. Love Canal was the site of a chemical waste dump that was buried; a school was later built on on the premises.

In 1978, the history of the dumping grounds was uncovered by the Niagara Gazette, and Lois Gibbs started the Love Canal Homeowners Association, a movement that aimed to relocate families. That year, more than 200 families were moved out of the region, but approximately 700 families remained, with toxins invading their homes. With Gibbs’ persistence, the rest of the people were relocated in 1981, when Carter issued another state of emergency.

“When we did the film in St. Louis, there were young, stay-at-home moms who were experiencing the same thing,” Cammisa said. “They were almost a mirror of Lois Gibbs in that fight.”

Ann Hornaday

Gibbs is a source in “Atomic Homefront,” which Chautauquans can see at 6:40 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 23, at Chautauqua Cinema. A talkback with Cammisa will follow.

When watching her films alongside an audience, Cammisa is looking more at people’s reactions and what moves them. The talkback  gives Cammisa a chance to localize the film’s message and how it affects the audience.

The same universal message that appears in “Atomic Homefront” is present in Cammisa’s “Which Way Home,” which will be screened at 4 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24, at Chautauqua Cinema.

“Which Way Home” is a feature-length documentary that follows unaccompanied child migrants as they make their way through Mexico to the U.S. border. With President Donald Trump’s policy of separating children from their families at the border, Cammisa said “Which Way Home” has become more relevant.

“We made that film over 10 years ago, and it’s even more relevant now than it was then,” she said.

Cammisa is drawn to telling stories that other people are not telling.

“Everyone has a camera and everyone has an iPhone; everyone can film everything, and not everything is worth filming,” Cammisa said. “But what is worth filming is our people, or communities, who don’t have a voice (who are) not being heard. Their extremely important stories are relevant to the rest of us, and yet we don’t hear about them or know about them unless a filmmaker hears about them and goes out and covers it.”

With more newspapers folding, Cammisa said documentary filmmaking has become a place for stories not covered by the mainstream media. It upsets Cammisa that the United States isn’t in the golden age of journalism, because the profession is important in educating communities on what is happening in the world.  

“If our journalism goes, there goes our democracy,” Cammisa said. “We documentary filmmakers can fill a gap, but there is no way we would ever replace the beat reporter, the importance of that role.”

 

Massey Memorial Organ damaged in electrical fire, out of commission for final worship services

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The Massey Memorial Organ will be silent for the rest of the 2018 season.

Amphitheater crew members, including head of audio Chris Dahlie (with fire extinguisher), along with Jared Jacobsen respond to a small fire in the Massey Memorial Organ console Tuesday, Aug. 21, in the Amp. PHOTO COURTESY OF PAUL EVANS

Shortly after 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 21, following morning worship, the Amphitheater crew was moving the organ’s console from the stage to its storage housing when a power cable disconnected. That appears to have caused a short circuit that overheated and damaged part of console’s internal computer, according to Chris Dahlie, head of audio at the Amp.

Amp crew members responded immediately, and Dahlie said he quickly extinguished the candle-sized flame, preventing any harm to the organ’s keyboard or casing. The pipework and mechanical systems of the organ were not affected. According to Paul Fischer, the organ’s restorer and curator, the organ should be repaired in time for next season.

The damaged portion of the computer — the motherboard — serves as the “nerve center” for the organ, Fischer said. Because it was custom made when it was installed 26 years ago, Fischer said that he could not make any specific predictions on the timeline or cost of the repair until the company that made the computer assesses the damage.

“It’s not just something you can take off the shelf and replace,” Fischer said.

This is the second time this year the console of the Massey Organ has sustained major damages.Last winter, ice and snowmelt caused a leak that damaged the console, including its original ivory keys.

Fischer, along with his son Mark, had three months to replace the keyboard and have the organ functional for the 2018 season.This time, there are more than nine months to make what appears to be a simpler repair, Fischer said.

The Massey Organ, installed in 1907, is the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ. It was funded by Eliza A. Massey in memory of her late husband, Canadian businessman Hart Massey.

Since then, the Massey Organ has served as the main musical feature of worship services in the Amphitheater. Jared Jacobsen, Chautauqua’s organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, provides music for those services and gives recitals on the organ throughout each season.

Jacobsen has functioned as the the Institution’s organist since 1996, but he first came to the grounds to study piano when he was just 5 years old. The Massey Organ, he said, is at the center of his musical life — so Tuesday’s damage was especially troubling.

“It’s a little bit like having your child in intensive care, but the best doctors I know are on it.”

-Jared Jacobsen, Organist, coordinator of worship and sacred music

Jacobsen will perform on the Amp’s grand piano for the remainder of the season’s worship services.

Veronica Swift, Benny Green Trio to jazz up Amphitheater with classic tunes

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Veronica Swift was 10 years old when she first appeared at the Telluride Jazz Festival. In 2016, a little over a decade later, she was back — this time as a headliner.

Veronica Swift

Swift will perform with prolific jazz pianist Benny Green and his trio at 8:15 p.m. Wed., Aug. 22, in the Amphitheater.

Swift was first introduced to Chautauqua last year when she performed alongside trumpeter Chris Botti, according to Deborah Sunya Moore, vice president of performing and visual arts.

“She really brought the Chautauqua audience to their feet,” Moore said.

Swift joined Botti on his tour after he heard her sing at The Django in Tribeca, according to Mercury News, who also reported that Swift almost missed her chance meeting with Botti because she was feeling low.

“Now I tell young musicians, always go out, even if you’re sad,” she told the paper.

Swift studied jazz voice at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. In 2015, she released her album Lonely Woman, which featured a variety of guests, including Emmet Cohen and Benny Bennack III.

Swift is no stranger to musical partnerships; her newest album is also a collaboration, as it features the Benny Green Trio.

When asked about Swift’s passion and talent, Green told Mercury News that she is “the greatest straight-ahead jazz talent I’ve seen emerge this century.”

“She is without doubt a pioneer for this and the generations to follow,” Green said, “speaking the language of bebop with a fire and authenticity I’d never dreamed I’d encounter with a leader who’s 31 years my junior.”

Swift enjoys performing a variety of tunes, ranging from Great American Songbook favorites to bebop and vocalese classics. According to her website, she is also “a passionate devotee” of Roaring Twenties and 1930s music.

Last January, Moore said she saw Swift perform at Birdland in New York City, where Swift is a regular.

“She is the real deal — she sings classics like an old soul but pours her youthful passion into every song,” Moore said. “Put her with the well-loved Benny Green Trio, and it’s sure to be a great night.”

Authors, filmmakers Geoffrey Ward, Dayton Duncan discuss “The Filmmaker as Collaborator” in continuing morning lecture conversation

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  • Documentary filmmaker and author Dayton Duncan, left, and scriptwriter and author Geoffrey C. Ward join in conversation, moderated by Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill, on their their work in film as collaborators on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018 in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Behind the scenes, Geoffrey C. Ward and Dayton Duncan work to bring the written word to life — with the occasional on-screen, or onstage, appearance.

The two filmmakers, scriptwriters and authors discussed processes and their bodies of work at Tuesday’s 10:45 a.m. morning lecture on Aug. 20 in the Amphitheater, a continuation of Monday’s “The Filmmaker as Collaborator” conversation with director and filmmaker Ken Burns.

Burns was not able to participate in the morning’s conversation, but he prepared a video message with opening remarks, in which he assured the Amp audience they were in good hands. If they enjoyed Burns’ films, he said, it was thanks to Duncan and Ward’s writing — if the audience did not, it was all Burns’ fault.

Duncan and Ward have worked extensively with Burns; Ward has collaborated with him since 1984. He was the sole or principal writer for “The Civil War,” “Baseball,” “Jazz,” “Mark Twain,” “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History” and “The Vietnam War.” An award-winning author, Ward has written various companion volumes for Burns’ series. His book A First-Class Temperament: The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

He won two Writers’ Guild Awards, seven Christopher Awards and five Emmy Awards. In 2018, Ward was awarded the Writers Guild’s Ian McLellan Hunter Award for Career Achievement.

Duncan has worked alongside Ward on films including “The Civil War” and “Mark Twain”; he worked with Burns on films like “Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery” and “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” which won him two Emmy Awards. “The Dust Bowl,” which he wrote, won a Spur Award and was nominated for two Emmys.

Prior to his work in documentary films, Duncan served as chief of staff to former New Hampshire Gov. Hugh Gallen; Walter Mondale’s deputy press secretary during his 1984 presidential campaign; national press secretary for Michael Dukakis’ 1988 presidential campaign; and as chair of the American Heritage Rivers Advisory Committee.

The men were joined on stage by Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill, who moderated the conversation as part of Week Nine’s theme, “Documentary Film as Facilitator: Storytelling, Influence and Civil Discourse.”

Hill opened the conversation by asking the writers to describe their writing processes.

“I don’t quite think of it as a process,” Ward said. “What we do is we get interested in a subject. There is no subject that isn’t interesting, it seems to me. I wrote the history of baseball, to which I could care less. And during the year and half it took to write it, I was fascinated by it. I lost interest right after that.”

Ward said much of his process is dedicated to reading; he reads dozens of books on a topic, carefully dissecting each word. Eventually, it’s guilt — and the deadline — that forces him into writing.

“There’s a point in which you just say to yourself, ‘They’re not paying me to read; I really, really have to get started,’ ” he said. “I start with the prologue; I’m sort of simple-minded that way. I want to get the first scene set, and then everything else trails from that. I guess if there are any rules for me, (it’s) chronology is God.”

While Ward is copiously reading and scarcely writing, Burns and producers, like Duncan, are conducting interviews, which are then sliced and diced and pieced together into the script.

“The story is what we do,” Duncan said. “We tell stories that happen to have a place. We tell stories that try to put you as much as we can into that moment of history, of the contingency of history.”

Duncan, who oscillates between producer and writer, also immerses himself joyfully into literature when working on a film — something the former reporter loves doing, he said. His timeline for writing is deadline-driven, often looking over his own shoulder as a producer to nudge his writer-self along. Unlike Ward, Duncan starts writing at the first narrated scene; the prologue comes later in the process.

Eventually, the men collaborate in the editing stages, which Hill asked about next: Does collaborating on texts change their  processes?

The two writers initially collaborated by accident, when Ward fell gravely behind schedule on “The West” and Duncan swooped in to help. Since then, the men have co-written and worked on several films seamlessly. Duncan attributes this to having similar narrative voices that mesh their writing styles.

Aside from being nose-deep in a book or hunched over a keyboard, Duncan and Ward have both managed to be featured on screen — outside of the credits — in Burns’ films. Duncan made his debut in a film on what he called a captivating subject: “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.”

“This was something very much a part of something that I felt was an important topic to do, and I wanted for us to approach it as not just a travel log or a nature film — which it has a little bit of — but (as) a story of an idea,” he said. “It is the Declaration of Independence applied to a landscape, saying that the most majestic places and sacred places in our land are available to everyone — everyone.”

They played a clip from the six-episode series featuring the story of John Muir, whose activism helped preserve what is now Yosemite National Park. In it, Duncan spoke to Muir’s quirky nature.

Ward appeared in the 2014 documentary film “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History,” which he also wrote. He has written extensively about the Roosevelts in his aforementioned book A First-Class Temperament, as well as in Closest Companion: The Unknown Story of the Intimate Friendship Between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Margaret Suckley and Before the Trumpet: Young Franklin Roosevelt.

A scene played from “The Roosevelts” centered around President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s battle with polio. Ward was featured discussing Roosevelt’s prognosis, while dismantling the belief that “polio didn’t bother him.” After the clip, Ward commented on this history’s modern-day relevance:

“Sadly, though we a have far more civilized and intelligent view of people who are disabled, I think in this era no one as badly handicapped as Franklin Roosevelt could ever be elected president of the United States. … I think that’s a tragedy, but I think that is true.”

To close the morning, Hill asked the screenwriters and authors how writing for film differs from writing a book.

“I like them both,” Ward said. “I like the collaborative process of making films. The plus of writing a book is, it is all your own book, and hell to anybody else.”

A book cannot capture the emotion of hearing a story told through thrilling narration, Duncan said.

“When it works, it is magic,” he said.

After the conclusion of their conversation, Hill switched from the chair to the podium for the Q-and-A portion of the morning. Piggybacking off of Monday’s lecture, Hill asked: “What’s next?”

Duncan is amid production of “Country Music” — which the Amp audience previewed Monday — a documentary chronicling the history of the “uniquely American art form.” Duncan said “Country Music” will be the last documentary he will produce. He has also been commissioned to write the script for Burns’ film about Benjamin Franklin and American buffalo.

Ward is writing Burns’ upcoming documentaries on the American Revolution and President  Lyndon Johnson.

Hill then turned to the audience for questions. One attendee asked how the filmmakers, as white men, give a voice to minorities in their films.

“I am not responsible for my gender or my race,” Duncan said. “I am responsible for how I can or how I tell what I think are important stories of America in this experiment of democracy on this continent — and it still is an experiment. … (In) my storytelling, I try as hard as I can — within the limits of (being a) white kid from a small town in Iowa — to try to embrace that tapestry and the rich stories that are there and the importance of that. It’s unfinished business, and all I can be responsible for is doing my damnedest to tell that right.” 

Macky Alston to explore role, responsibility of film in religious, social issues

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As senior vice president for prophetic and creative leadership at Auburn Seminary, and as an award-winning filmmaker, Macky Alston believes faith and film have a powerful connection.

But this connection, he said, has not been utilized in 21st-century filmmaking.

Macky Alston

“I’m a documentary filmmaker,” he wrote in his blog. “I have seen the power of documentary film to transform lives. I am also an organizer for justice in communities of faith. I have seen the power of communities of faith to transform lives. What I yearn to see is the full power of documentary films in communities of faith to transform lives.”

At 2 p.m. Wed., Aug. 22, in the Hall of Philosophy, Alston will discuss faith and film in his lecture, “Playing (with) God: Revelations from the Filmmaking Front about God, Good Storytelling and How to Do Right by Each Other as We Make Sense of Life.” Alston’s lecture is part of the Week Nine interfaith theme, “The Intersection of Cinema and Religious Values.”

Alston premiered his first film, “Family Name,” in 1997 at the Sundance Film Festival. The film followed Alston’s journey to uncover the history of his last name, a pursuit that led him from New York to Alabama. Along the way, Alston meets several African-American families with the same last name, all of which have a different story to tell. The film received Sundance’s Freedom of Expression Award.

Since “Family Name,” Alston has directed four more films, which have explored topics like economic inequality and LGBTQ+  issues like same-sex marriage.

“I have learned some lessons in my own work at the intersection of faith-rooted justice work and documentary filmmaking,” he wrote on his website.

Alston’s most recent film, “Love Free or Die,” tells the story of the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Chautauqua’s vice president of religion and the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church.

“The last film I directed, ‘Love Free or Die,’ told the story of the church putting its life on the line for LGBTQ justice, following Gene Robinson, the first openly gay person to be elected bishop in the high church traditions of Christendom, and the movement he was a part of that changed policy and culture in church and state in the U.S. and abroad,” Alston’s website reads.

The film was released in 2012, before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on marriage equality. Alston wrote in a blog post that before film production, he had worked on research at Auburn Seminary on how to shift the mindset Christian voters who were conflicted on the issue of same-sex marriage. He said the research focused on teaching people to support LGBTQ+ rights because they were Christian, and not in spite of it.

“During the year of our screenings, we used that research to equip those who attended the 400 screenings to engage their conflicted Christian friends and family in conversation to help them vote on the right side of history,” he wrote on his website. “We also worked with the state campaigns, in partnership with national LGBTQ justice organizations, to train leaders of faith to make the moral case for equality in public and in the press.”

Alston described this experience as enlightening and wrote that it showed him the influence — and responsibility — he has as a filmmaker to engage the public in pressing social, political and economic conflicts.

“Key to movement work, to faith traditions and to documentary film is (the)  right relationship,” he wrote. “Creating a practice and a world in which the full humanity of all is honored and the conditions needed for all to flourish exist.”

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