Friday, March 28, 2014

Seriously, come to Benicia Film Festival!

You would go to an Academy Award nominated film if it showed right here in Benicia, right?

What about a winner of the Audience Award at Sundance?  Or a film named New York Times Critics’ Pick?

But, no such thing ever happened in Benicia!  Until now that is!

Academy Award nominated, Sundance favorite, NYT Critics’ Pick documentary “The Invisible War” is slated to screen next Friday, April 4th, at our Veterans Memorial Hall as the opening of Benicia Film Festival.


So you oughta go.  Hang out with cool people; see a powerful film and have a cookie.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a “festival” if it ended there.  So it doesn’t.

Saturday - all day Saturday - films from across the spectrum will screen.
The morning begins with a tribute to our very own heavenly hamlet called “My Town.”  And don’t you just feel that way about Benicia?  I know I do. 

FYI ~ “My Town” is the work of local filmmaker David Manly who will be present for Q & A along with Joel Fallon, Benicia’s first Poet Laureate, who did the voice over for the film!  Big fun.

From there it’s VOENA – Voices of Eve 'N Angels.  This professional world class children's choir, based in Benicia, whose message of peace is dedicated to celebrating the diversity of human cultures through their performances of world music in over 20 different languages and countries around the world.

Yeah.  A film of their music and travels shows Saturday morning AND they will be there to sing, in person, for Festival attendees. 

I’m guessing they’ll sound angelic.

Rounding out Segment 1 of Saturday morning films is “The Heron and the Geisha,” a behind-the-curtain peek at strict Japanese Dance Grandmaster Yoshie Tachibana as she brings up young dancers in the mysterious world of classical arts in Japan. 

Extremely cool.

After lunch at one of the downtown restaurants that will offer special discounts to Festival attendees, come back to the Vets’ Hall for Segment 2, films by and about young people.

First onto the screen will be “The Mermaid Complex,” following the tribulations of Ariel, a talented 18-year-old in Brooklyn, who has almost everything going for her.  Regardless of your demographic, you’ll want to see this one!

“Just Because I Am” comes next with a humbling and inspiring look at LBGT young people as they work to create a performance on love, respect and tolerance while enduring homophobic reactions to their coming out.  Compelling stuff.

Then, a raucous collection of Student Shorts – films made by Benicia HS students under the tutelage of film instructor Matt O’Reilly.  Such talent!  A must see!

Segment 3 at 4:30PM is comprised solely of LUNAFEST.  This traveling self-contained mini film festival of award-winning short films by, for and about women is filled with stories of reflection, hope and humor.  LUNAFEST will screen in more than 150 cities this year in front of 25,000 people – some of whom live in Benicia!  

Finally, at  7:30PM, Saturday evening’s Segment 4 begins with “From Disgrace to Grace,” a documentary by local filmmaker Kenny Hall.  The story explores the role of one’s faith in the recovery process of pastor and addict Chuck Norman.  Life affirming!  And, it is complemented by a Q & A session with the filmmaker, Chuck Norman’s wife Gloria and a live performance by Jerome Harris from the soundtrack of the film.

Filmmakers John Tupper and Duncan Robson will be on hand to interact with the audience following the screening first of “On the Rise,” Tupper’s animated comedy about Zeke, a farmer with a quirky solution to global warming.

Robson’s bank of unique short films rounds out the evening with an experience guaranteed to make you smile at his singular style of filmmaking and perspective on everyday things.

Fun??  Yes!!  But wait – there’s more!

Follow us down to the Rellik for the music of Pure Honey and the best ambience in town.

You’ll wake up Sunday morning wanting more and two visual feasts await you beginning at 1PM at Benicia Library:  “Harvest” and “The Monks of Vina,” both about wine and both by local award-winning journalist John Beck.  Guess what?  Wine will be served and Beck will be on hand to talk with the audience!

Now that’s a Film Festival!

Tickets online at or at the door.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Oddball goes mainstream

OK.  I’m an anomaly. 

It probably goes back to 7th grade.  I was the only girl in my gym class with a green romper. 

Oh yes, I’m in the romper set. 

Back in the Pleistocene Era junior high school was comprised of 7th, 8th and 9th grades.  And seventh grade constituted a giant step out of elementary school.  In those days every detail was extremely important to my skinny, self-conscious, adolescent self.  I was always on the edge of coolness.  Never quite there.
On the first day of class my PE teacher, the mustachioed Mrs. Himmler, gave us a list of required items for the year of humiliation, er, physical education ahead.  We needed sturdy white tennis shoes, cotton crew socks and either a green, a white or a blue romper. 

We had to go to Sears to buy our one-piece jump suits with snaps up the front and shorts.  My mom and I chose green.

All the other girls and their mothers chose blue.  All of them. 

The popular girls rolled up their shorts to make them even shorter.  I rolled mine up too in an effort.

They gave their crew socks an extra turn.  My knobby ankles stood out above that trend-setting roll like hard boiled eggs on stilts.

And my romper was green.  A tiny forested atoll on a blue, blue sea of coolness, I stood alone.

So, given my knack for juking left when the crowd goes right, it’s not a shock that I would be an outlier on the scatter graph of results from recent research out of the University of New Hampshire

A new study there shows that simply calling to mind any memory about exercise may be just what it takes to get a person into the gym and on her back in stretchy pants.  

According to a gleeful batch of lab geeks at UNH, this is the first study of its kind – exploring how memories of past exercise experiences can influence future workouts.
“This study underscores the power of memory’s directive influence in a new domain with practical applications: exercise behaviors.  These results provide the first experimental evidence that ‘autobiographical memory activation’ can be an effective tool in motivating individuals to adopt healthier lifestyles.”

Oh brother. 

In their zeal, UNH researchers asked 150 students to call up a memory that would increase their motivation to exercise; a control group was not asked to recall a motivational memory.  Then one week later the researchers surveyed the students to see if they reported an increase in exercise.

And by golly they found that students who remembered a positive exercise memory reported significantly higher levels of subsequent exercise than those who were not asked to recall a memory about exercise.  

No big whoop there.  Some people just love to sweat, and apparently those same people get a special thrill from thinking about their previous sweat-laden experiences.  Hey!  Let’s keep our minds on topic!  This is a family periodical – we’re talking about calisthenics! 

Here’s the kicker:  The research showed that students who recalled a negative exercise memory also reported exercising more than the control group!  

Now that’s just plain weird.  Based on that research and my long history of feeble attempts at athleticism, any red-blooded smock-donning clipboard-toting lab lizard might predict that I’d be thumping on the gym door every morning singing “Let’s get physical!  Physical!”

But no.  It hasn’t worked like that. 

Instead, my autobiographical memory activation has me lingering with my morning coffee over Words with Friends and circling the bed each afternoon for a healthy dose of nap time.

Of course, I haven’t been one to reminisce about exercise until now.  I rarely think of Mrs. Himmler and her whistle.  That green romper?  Buried deep, deep, deep!

I do have some pleasant memories of exercise…surely I do.  Something must have gone right somewhere along the way.  There was that cute guy in the boys’ gym class.

You know, now that I have plumbed the depths of my exercise recollections, oddly, I do feel a twinge.  It’s sort of a twitch.  An urge.

Maybe I am in the mainstream after all with my memory’s directive influence.  I think I have some sturdy shoes around here somewhere…Nah!

Ha!  Had you going for a minute there!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Big Nosey Brother

I went ahead and put some silver tape over the webcam eyeball on my computer.  It was creeping me out.  Staring all day long.  Geez!

For a long time I resisted the urge to give it the finger, or stuff it with Silly Putty.  I mean really, who would be watching me?  That’s just paranoid, right?

Most of the time I forget about it. 

Anyway, what’s to watch?  Mostly I just sit here alone pensively gazing at the sky, thinking about writing.  Putting off writing.  Thinking about rewriting what I haven’t yet written. 

I interact with the cats, sometimes by choice.  Other times they mandate conversation, not to mention intervention. 

So whoever’s on the other side of that sinister peep hole may have witnessed an occasion or two when my features abruptly morphed from those of a docile, mildly alert bus rider, into the bug-eyed contorted expression of a frenzied waitress, arms outstretched trying to save a teetering glass of iced tea with lemonade – my Arnold Palmer – from overturning onto the keyboard.   

And now that I have Pandora and Stevie Ray Vaughn, my afternoons are livelier:  I sing as loud as I want and dance from the waist up in my chair on wheels in the privacy of … uh oh.  There’s that one-eyed minion.  Relentless!  Clicking its digital tongue. 

Right about the time I talked myself out of the slinking suspicion that Hal was paying attention that day I when ate all the leftover potato salad for lunch, this guy, Christopher Soghoian, “privacy researcher,” came on TED Talks prattling on about, “Ooooh!  They’re watching!” 

Of course they are, Chris!  Why wouldn’t they be watching?  Warehousing my scintillating documents?  Transcribing my daily phone conversations with telemarketers about the valuable opportunities to refinance the house or have the chimney swept.  I’m as interesting as the next guy.  I’m vital. 

Soghoian says that because drug lords and terrorists buy their computers from Best Buy just like the rest of us, our stuff is just as likely to be tapped as theirs is. 

Soghoian says that with the latest commercially available spy technology super snoopers can activate a person’s computer webcam remotely, without her knowledge. 

Same with the internal microphone.  Soghoian says you don’t have to be a journalist or activist or dissident to draw the attention of the NSA, our homegrown version of Boris and Natasha. 

I hope they like Lynyrd Skynyrd.

But here’s the thing.  My internet search history could move me up on the Must See list.  It’s all innocent you understand.  Purely for research.  But sometimes I pursue an eyebrow-raising line of inquiry.  Like the time I was preparing to write about online dating.  The stuff I found is strictly “eyes only,” if you know what I mean.

And, since writing that column, I get a bunch of unsolicited emails telling me about the singles in my area who are waiting to hear from me.  Yikes.  Where are they waiting, exactly?  Are they working in shifts like so many Norman Bates’s with their eyes to a technological hole in my wall?

One of the leaders in the burgeoning industry of spyware for sale is GammaGroup, headed by Martin Munch.  Soghoian showed a photo of Munch standing next to a laptop, presumably his own.  On close inspection of the picture, you can see that Munch has taped over the webcam!  OMG.

Another group of hackers for hire blatantly call themselves “Hacking Team.”  They boast of their ability to overcome encryption with untraceable stealth. 

Now that I’ve looked them up, will they be looking me up too?  Let’s face it; they could mistake me for a spy, or a hit man!  I fit the profile:  I have no memory of my life before retirement.  High school principal?  That could be an implanted recollection.  Yet here I am in small town America, minding my own business!

Unnerved, but undaunted, I have taken evasive action.  First, the tape.  Next, I’ve branched out in my password creation.  That’s right.  Now I use both cats’ names, all one word, with an occasional capital letter and percent sign!  Ha ha!

Yes!  Because in theory…no, in reality, they could be tracking my keystrokes right this very minute.


HA!  Take that Big Nosey Brother!