MNFF2016 delivers!

The second annual Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival is off to roaring start with last night’s enlightening documentary about Judge Damon Keith and his remarkable contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. The film entitled Walk With Me covers Judge Keith’s career and his landmark/groundbreaking decisions that have impacted discrimination rulings that we rely on today. In fact, several topics in the film had an eerie similarity (much to my dismay) to current cringeworthy events. The film is as relevant today as it’s story was in the 60s and 70s. And, documentarian Jesse Nesser is a product of Vermont’s Jay Craven professorial talents and his proven ability to bring a story to life in film- a bonus to all of us who treasure what Vermont brings to our lives.

I have also had the opportunity to preview Ribbons– it’s a short, somewhat autobiographical film by Brandon Cordiero about a mother who brings her 7 year old son to an AIDS memorial on a beach in P-town, MA and the joy and peace he felt being a part of something that made sense to him. (Ribbons is airing Sunday at the Marquis Theater in Middlebury.)

I had a chance to ask Brandon a few questions about the  film and he filled in a few blanks for me:

You chose to tell the AIDS story as one of compassion and understanding, yet in 1997 there was a real sense of fear of the AIDS epidemic and fear of the gay community. Why did you choose to focus only on the compassionate side?

You are more than right; the sense of fear throughout the AIDS epidemic was palpable during the ‘90’s.  In that time of deep sorrow, there was a place that faced AIDS with compassion and understanding, and, that place is Provincetown, MA.   So, the reason RIBBONS showcases these two qualities is because, I wanted to tell my story, which is Provincetown’s story.   I grew up there during the height of the AIDS epidemic and as I got older, I realized just how fortunate I was to grow up bearing witness to my community’s unique response to the epidemic.  There are countless kids out there who are born in places where their lives are threatened every day because they are queer. Now more than ever it is our time to tell and share stories about our LGBTQ(Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer) community. In media and the political sphere, we are more visible than ever.  This brings about a unique set of challenges; it means we are exposed to more hate crimes and at the same time it means that young queer kids can start to see themselves represented in the world.  And so, the older queer population must do it’s best to claim all of our communities history – in sharing and telling these stories, we create visibility and have the potential to help LGBTQ youth along their journey of self discovery.

 As a child growing up in a diverse and accepting community like Provincetown, did you also understand the tough reality that the LGBTQ community faced in other communities? If so, when and how did that understanding come about?

At a young age I was afforded the ability to have open and honest conversations with older queer people. Because so many people moved to Provincetown in search of acceptance and love, these one on one interactions, paired with the meeting of other queer kids in college, informed me of the harsh adversity gay people were up against in other parts of the country.  As I learned more about this, I got pissed off.  I needed to do something about it – I didn’t know what that would be, but, I knew I couldn’t stand by and be silent.  While we have made some undeniable gains in the last 10 years in regards to LGBTQ Rights, we have a long way to go before queer people can feel like true equals in our world.  Through film and theatre I hope that more people can learn more about the history of the LGBTQ community and that it can continue to be a medium which helps spread our story.

Considering your acceptance to the MNFF and other film festivals and the positive response that you have received thus far, are you considering expanding this story to encompass more about life, AIDS and community? A feature film perhaps?

This whole festival circuit has been quite a remarkable experience, and, since this is my directorial debut, NONE of it is lost on me. I feel so fortunate to be able to share RIBBONS with audiences around the world. In particular, I have never been to Vermont(I know, I can’t believe it either!) So, not only is this RIBBONS Vermont debut, it’s mine as well, and I couldn’t be more excited! In terms of expanding RIBBONS from short to feature, I currently am writing a screenplay called TRIBE, which is indeed the feature length adaptation of RIBBONS.  The plan is to shoot in 2017 in Provincetown, MA.  Throughout the entire process of making RIBBONS, I was very happy to be telling a story in short form.  After sharing the short with a collection of close friends and colleagues, they all started to ask about “the feature version.”  A majority of these people had seen my original one man show, I Love You, You’re Hairy, Now Change, the same show that I had adapted ribbons from.   The show was about my own childhood experiences of growing up in Provincetown,  they all knew that there was “more story to tell.”   I listened to them, and after re-reading my one man show, I realized…they were right. Thus began the exciting process of writing the feature.   

What are your hopes and expectations for this film?

The initial goal in making RIBBONS was to tell a story that might be able to help LGBTQ youth to feel less alone, to hopefully prevent one kid from committing suicide. Film can be one of the most effective forms of activism and I think we all can attest to the impact film can have on our lives.   This past June I was lucky enough to screen the film for a group of LGBTQ youth at Harvey Milk High School a publicly funded high school in New York City specifically for at-risk LGBTQ(Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgernder, and Questioning) youth. The screening proved to be an invaluable experience for both me and the students – provoking some of the most thoughtful and insightful comments I have heard to this day.  I hope that I can continue to share this film with LGBTQ youth – to teach them about a model community in which queerness doesn’t make you public enemy number one. I am also working on creating a lesson plan in tandem with the film with hopes of sharing the message in RIBBONS with a other LGBTQ youth groups.   

There are plenty more opportunities to watch amazing film here at the MNFF2016. It’s going to be a cloudy weekend in the Upper Valley- perfect movie binging weather. I suggest you drive over and be a part of this tremendous festival. I am certainly looking forward the weekend ahead!



It’s Pi Day!

In the spirit of Pi Day, I wanted to share a family recipe for a baking staple from the land of pecans. This pecan pie is part of my Georgia heritage, but when I moved to Tennessee, I started substituting bourbon for the vanilla (and, neighboring Kentuckians added the chocolate chips and renamed it, aptly, Derby Pie) . When I relocated to Vermont, I included maple syrup with the bourbon. With each move it, just kept getting better. Now, that I am settled in New Hampshire, I think it’ s time  to put it all down on paper and share- so, here it is… Continue reading “It’s Pi Day!”

Red Kite Caramels Fly Off the Shelf

On a not so beautiful, rainy day I traveled from Lyme NH to Bradford VT on a quest to sample a few of Elaine McCabe’s increasingly popular caramel creations. And, by the way, it IS caramel, never carmel. Carmel is a lovely town by the sea in CA. Caramel is something that goes great with sea salt. It’s important that we get that straight, although I doubt this quick lesson will deter the mispronunciation. It’s like pecan- peekan vs peekhan. It depends on where you reside, I suppose. Anyway…

Elaine and her husband started Red Kite Candy in their home in Thetford VT, utilizing their kitchen and basement and creatively finding ways to make it all work. When it became apparent that they were actually going to continue their rapid growth, it also became necessary to start looking beyond their home and beyond the town of Thetford. When a friend mentioned a space off Industrial Rd in Bradford they decided to make the leap and gain some much needed breathing room. Newly open, they are reveling in the space, the efficiency and the welcome that they have received in Bradford. In addition to the candy making and shipping space, they set up a small retail store in the lobby . It’s open from 9-4 Monday through Saturday, so you can come get your sweet fix resolved 6 days a week. (They may be changing their retail hours in the future, so be sure to check their website, or give them a call before heading up to Bradford. Unless, of course, you are going to Farmway anyway- its just up the road, a stone’s throw away.) Continue reading “Red Kite Caramels Fly Off the Shelf”

Say Cheese! Say Lille!

I recently discovered Vermont Farmstead Cheese on a weekend visit to the Cheese Board in Windsor VT. After sampling quite a few cheeses (crackers, caramels and wines) at the shop, I settled on a creamy, buttery Lille that quite literally melted on the cracker even before it made it to my mouth. It was so creamy and so delicious.  My curiosity was peaked so I took a look at their website and discovered the cheese farm had an unusual story to tell. I set up an appointment with Sharon Huntley, their Marketing Director to find out more.

Originally the farm raised water buffalo and made high end yogurt from their milk, but the business was unable to make a go of it. The market was too limited and with their price point, they were unable to compete. So, in 2009 they shipped all the water buffalo up to Canada and they listed the farm for sale- but that proved to be challenging too. No one wanted to buy a farm. The owner’s thoughts then turned to possibly subdividing the farm and putting in a series of homes and/or condos. As you might imagine, this was not a popular idea in the neighborhood. This is bucolic, quintessential Vermont. This is a farm down a winding and elevated dirt road with views of gorgeous hills and valleys. The thought of homes clustered on a hilly field was upsetting- not to mention the idea of yet another dairy farm going under. Continue reading “Say Cheese! Say Lille!”

Big Sap

As promised in “My Life as a Former Cupcake Queen” post, I have recipes ready to share and with Vermont and New Hampshire maple season fast approaching, the maple cupcake created for participants of the 2011 Covered Bridges Half Marathon  seems the most appropriate one for March. Like Triple Salted Caramel, it is one of the more complicated cupcakes because it involves several steps and plus an adornment. I promise that I will share simpler ones in upcoming posts!

In the meantime, preheat that oven and get ready for Spring. The sap will be flowing soon. Continue reading “Big Sap”

Have You Experienced A Bahn Mi Burger?

Yes, I love food and will even make the drive it takes to have a good, casual meal at a new venue. This includes driving all the way from Lyme, NH to Northfield, VT to peruse the menu at the newly opened Cornerstone Burger on East Street. I took a friend along so that I had an excuse to try more menu items-specifically including Tater Tots Tossed w/Truffle Oil & Parmesan Cheese and Beer Battered Fried Pickles served w/Sriracha Aioli. I am originally from the South, so I consider my self a fried food expert.

The venue just opened in February so everything has that sparkly, new feel. It’s an attractive set up, with a mix of bar seating, high top, family style row seating and dining tables in the back. The lighting is great and the ambiance is suitable for families or a fun, casual date. We met with the owners, Keith Paxman and Rich McSheffrey, and they gave us a brief tour of the menu and suggested that in addition to the Tater Tots and Fried Pickles, we try the Bahn Mi Burger and the Duck Burger, both served on their signature bun. Continue reading “Have You Experienced A Bahn Mi Burger?”

Put Your Best Face Forward

On a recent trip to participate in Silo Distilleries “Cocktails and Creations” night, I sat across from fellow artist-in-hoping, Abigail Zsenai from Woodstock, VT. When I met Abigail, it was hard not to notice how beautiful and youthful her skin is. She claims to be in her early forties, but her skin looks more like late twenties. Once I discovered that she was the owner of Facials on the Green in Woodstock I immediately knew I was booking an appointment. Who doesn’t want to have the youthful skin of a twentysomething? Or, in my case, I’d settle for a late thirtysomething.

Our New England winters are especially harsh on my face. Constantly burning wood stoves, roaring fires, and raised thermostats harm exposed skin. And, simply step outside to experience the anhydrous effects of Mother Nature- below freezing temps, wind, and the occasional exposure to our fleeting moments of sunshine, all add up to dry and chapped faces. Throw in an active lifestyle forcing greater exposure to the harmful, drying effects mentioned above and, it’s a recipe for aging faster. Or, at least, that’s what I’d like to think is wrong with my skin! Continue reading “Put Your Best Face Forward”

Keeping the Funk in the Junc(tion)

There is something about WRJ that belies a simple description. Part of it wants a certain level of sophistication, the other part wants nothing to do with anything mainstream and prefers a funky, off kilter vibe. WRJ is home to such treasures as the Mainstreet Museum, Center for Cartoon Studies, Revolution, Tuckerbox, and Vermont Salvage. Yet it is also a welcoming home to cultural norms like Northern Stage and the Barrett Center for the Performing Arts. And the two vibes coexist and support one another. No judgement passed. All are welcome to worship in the House of White River Junction.

To wit, there is a new performing arts endeavor in town at the Briggs Opera House, the space that was occupied by Northern Stage before it grew up and became a neighborhood star. The Gatherwool was established by Upper Valley local, Jonathan Verge who obtained a degree in musical theater from Syracuse University and has traveled all over the world performing in various venues with many talented theater groups. His latest venture is set to produce off-beat, gritty musical theater in a smaller, more intimate setting than its neighbor, Northern Stage. Continue reading “Keeping the Funk in the Junc(tion)”

Pretend To Be An Artist For A Night

Ok, I promise not to limit my blog to stories about Silo Distillery in Windsor, VT (this will be my second post), but they have a great “events calendar” and I keep being tempted to return. So I did. Tonight. For their Cocktails and Creations class- basically, a drink-and-paint event. I assured everyone, in my loudest voice, that the only paintbrush I had ever held was one that used Benjamin Moore paints to cover a wall in my house. An artist I am not. But, I am game to try new things so I enlisted my BFF, Mary Barr, and off we went, knowing that if the painting was a disaster the food and drink would not be.

Where the Spirits originate
Where the Spirits originate

We stopped next door at The Cheese Board first to sample the wine and cheese selections there and we both picked up a few goodies for the weekend. It’s a great starting point. We were one of the first to arrive at Silo and we ordered up our specialty cocktails at the bar before braving the actual class upstairs. The class included one cocktail and you were free to purchase others if you wanted.  They offered a cucumber vodka and lime cocktail or a lemon gin and cherry cocktail, both served in mason jars. The Cheese Board was also there serving their scrumptious artisan grilled cheese sandwiches as well as a charcuterie and cheese board, both available for purchase. Continue reading “Pretend To Be An Artist For A Night”

It’s As Natural As Can Be

On a warm, sunny, and uncharacteristically warm winter day, I recently met with Kirsten Connor of Flourish Natural Body Care in Woodstock, VT. I had been curious about her products after discovering her on Instagram. She looked to embody all the things I am hoping to unearth and spread the word about in Vermont- natural, local, organic. A stellar product with great marketing mojo. What I discovered about Kirsten was something very appealing. The most important feature about her products wasn’t within the products themselves, it was within their maker. Kirsten’s dogged determination defines Flourish.

First, let’s talk about the business itself. She moved to Vermont as a single mom with 3 kids and started making bar soap, primarily for herself with the hopes of someday opening a shop. As she mastered the craft, she quickly turned to making liquid soap, balms and skin creams. She decided to try her hand at making shampoos-a process requiring a high level of determination. Continue reading “It’s As Natural As Can Be”