Category Archives: berkeley border

EarthDance Film Festival – Thursday Night

So there’s a pretty cool event happening tomorrow night… The 8th Annual EarthDance Short-Attention-Span Environmental Film Festival.  I should tell you right off the bat that it’s not actually in Oakland (rather Berkeley), but I am writing about it for a few reasons…

For starters, its founder Zakary Zide is an Oakland resident.  He worked at the Oakland Museum of Art for years and it was during this time, and through the museum’s support, that the festival originated.  Plus one of the films included this year is Oakland’s own homespun documentary “Scrapertown” about the Scraper Bike movement in Oakland.

Having established the festival’s proper Oaktown street-cred, what’s more important is that this event is cool, thought-provoking, inspiring, entertaining, and fun! You can read more about it in my interview with Zakary, below photo.  In the meantime, here are the details:

EarthDance Short-Attention-Span Environmental Film Festival
2011 Official Selections (PG-13)
9 films, 90 minutes.

A serious and light-hearted exploration of nature, culture and environmental design.
Featuring an eclectic collection of comedies, documentaries, adventures and animations, films range in length from 3 – 30 minutes.
Short is Sweet.

Thursday, March 17th, 2011
7pm and 9pm (two screenings, same films for both)

24/7  ticket hotline:  800-838-3006
On-line:  BrownPaperTickets

The David Brower Center
2150 Allston Way
Berkeley, CA 94610
(map here)

photo by Rus Anson

Hi Zakary,

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer a few questions about your 8th Annual EarthDance Film Festival, screening tomorrow night at the David Brower Center in Berkeley.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen several of the previous incarnations of this festival, even back to its early days when it was screened at the Oakland Museum of California.  Can you talk about its genesis?  How you came up with the idea?  And the involvement of OMCA towards that end?

It’s great that you’ve experience our collection!  Thanks for following our event!

I started the EarthDance Short-Attention-Span Environmental Film Festival in 2004 for 4 reasons:

  1. I wanted to demonstrate that stories about the environment aren’t always political and aren’t always gloomy and doomy…the natural world is full of humor, quirky characters (the praying mantis – come on!) and inspiration.  My friends, colleagues and I weren’t seeing the kind of environmental stories that we could relate to.  Most things being produced at the time were either of the Croc Hunter variety or predictable to the point of being annoying.
  2. To provide a container for people to come together; a venue for people to share their stories and multi-media explorations of their relationships with the natural world.  Environmental films aren’t just for eco-freaks.  We all have a relationship to the natural world; even if we’re only talking about an ant invasion in your kitchen. How you deal with the ants, that’s the interesting bit.
  3. To help create a ‘culture of nature’ and raise money for environmental issues.
  4. To inspire and be inspired to take action.

I was working at the Oakland Museum at the time. I presented the idea to the powers that be and eventually got funding for a “pilot” year. The goal, among those above, was to help the museum with new audience development.  Fortunately, EarthDance did what we had hoped.  The Film Fest bolstered museum membership. And existing members were happy to have something new to get excited about.  As a result, I got more funding to keep the project alive.  I’ve since left the museum, but thankfully they have remained supportive.

Were there other environmental film festivals that served as examples?  Of either what to do, or what not to do?  (You don’t have to name names).

There were a few, but we were one of the first environmental film fests.  Now it seems that everyone and their uncle has a film fest. I should really talk to my uncle about starting another one.

I believe the festival’s been referred to as “eco-tainment”.  Can you talk a little bit about that?

People like good stories, for good reason.  I’m not a fan of sensationalism, but I do appreciate an entertaining story that has a meaningful message.  I think this explains the popularity of such films as Super Size Me, and Michael Moore’s documentaries.  In this way, I don’t think one should have to sacrifice entertainment for ecology.

I think too many TV shows and films with important messages to tell get caught up in a scripted narrative, or else frighten or bore their audiences to death.  There are so many different ways that people relate to the natural world – from the hunter to the vegetarian.  I’m interested in telling everyone’s story.

What I love about the films I’ve seen in years past, is the enormous variety of subject matter & film styles.  Everything from 30 second shorts filmed under a scientific microscope, to 30 minute long foreign animated films, short documentaries following eco-warriors, and so much more.  There’s really something for everyone.  And typically lots of laughter.  Can you talk a bit about your process of selecting films for inclusion?

I’m glad to hear your feedback on this!  This is exactly the kind of response that we try to elicit with our curation!

We intentionally cast a wide net.  This is another reason why I felt like the Short-Attention-Span nature of the film fest was essential – variety.  People’s time is short and as great of a film as Who Killed the Electric Car is, not everyone wants to sit through 90 minutes of one eco-themed story.  We wanted to include more people and expand the conversation.  We’ve found that people really appreciate our variety. We often hear that our collection is “not what we expected, and that’s a good thing.” Specifically we look for films that are passionate, provocative, and funny.  We look for personal stories that have not been told before; quirky, inspirational, and generally non-political.  And of course, they have to be 30 seconds to 30 minutes in length.

I know a particularly memorable one, both because it was hilarious, and also quite recent, was the short film “Spiders on Drugs.” Does each year consist of entirely new material?  Or do you carry over audience favorites from year to year?

Each year is a fresh collection. We do, however sell / lease compilation DVDs of all of our collections for both public and private screenings.  It’s probably time that we have a “Best of the Best” screening!

It seems a common perception problem with issues of conservation and/or sustainability is that it’s just not fun.  It’s like your mother nagging you to turn down the heat and put on a sweater instead.  You know it’s the right thing to do, but somehow it feels… what’s the word… um, burdensome.  Are you trying to change this perception?

Absolutely! A little sugar helps the medicine go down.  As one of our festival attendees put it, the environmental awareness of our fest hits you more like a fine wine vapor than a sledgehammer.  I think we go for the subtle and sublime as opposed to the guilt.

As an ecologist and educator myself, I learned first hand that facts and figures don’t often move people as much as a personal connection and the rich flavor and depth of the story.  We have found that if people can relate to the story that it’s easier to get inspired, and then they will take it upon themselves to take their interest and awareness to the next level.

We all know on some level that the environmental situation – our relationship to the natural world – is being tested and strained.  We don’t need more gloom and doom stories.  Now is the time for stories and meaningful media that reconnects us to the source of life – the very stuff of our spiritual, physical, and psychological sustenance.

Has your perception of the world, and our place in it, changed at all through your years of curating of the festival?

I think that more people are waking up to their relationship to the natural world, and that the economy is reflecting this.  Of course we have to be careful of greenwashing, but I think it’s great how many more eco-friendly products and designs are available today vs. 8 years ago when the festival first launched.  Green products and services can always be improved. But humans will always have an impact. We consume. Mitigating our consumption and giving people healthier choices is a step in the right direction.

What do you hope the festival’s viewers will experience?

Surprise, joy, inspiration, celebration and motivation to explore their relationship to the natural world.

I know there’s a question and answer period following each screening.  What’s the craziest question you’ve ever gotten?

Would I ever make love to a polar bear?

Hah!  Thanks again Zakary.  See you at the screening!

KALX ~ “the greatest radio station in the world”

Ok, so that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s the tongue-in-cheek claim of one of their on-air pre-recorded DJ messages, and it always makes me smile.  Yes, this institution is based in Berkeley.  But their airwaves stream across Oakland and the greater Bay Area, and it’s one of the things I love most about living here.

The station was started nearly 50 years ago in 1962, broadcasting through a cigar-box mixing board (literally made out of a cigar box) hard-wired to the UC Berkeley dormitories. They played classical music for 4 hours a day .  Just classical music.

They’ve come a long way since then, broadcasting 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with an incredibly diverse set of programming, not to mention their amazing roster of DJ’s. You can read The Full and Unabridged History of KALX if you want all the gorey details, including how  President Ronald Reagan inspired the station’s complete embrace of punk rock in the 80’s.  F&*k yeah!

There’s a great quote from 1986 by then General Manager Bill Davis: “What KALX stands for, more than anything else, is freedom. KALX doesn’t have a true format. KALX has no predetermined playlists. In general, KALX’s policies are designed to give programmers, reporters, producers, and sports announcers maximum flexibility, responsibility, and freedom. And that gives the listener the opportunity to hear things on the radio at 90.7 that he or she would never hear anywhere else on the dial. If that freedom is important, call 642-5259 to keep KALX independent.”

It’s still true today.  They play everything.  Ambient, disco, funk, hip-hop, punk rock, indie pop, country, bluegrass, classical, the list goes on… I can’t tell you how much amazing music I’ve discovered listening to KALX over the years.  I always keep pen & paper handy so I can jot down who I’ve heard when the DJ comes on air and announces their playlist.  Or even better, now you can go straight to the website and see the entire playlist for the last 24 hoursThank you KALX!

So please, support your local independent radio station.  You love freedom, don’t you? KALX is holding it’s annual Fall Fundraiser right now!  It’s one week only and we’re already mid-way there… drive ends this Sunday, October 31st.

They’ve got all kinds of schwag for your hard-earned cash:  bumper stickers, t-shirts, sticky notes, etc.  But they’ve got great packages too where they’re giving away limited edition cd packages, concert tickets, and more.  And one of my favorite donation options is to buy an hour of guest DJ time.  I did this two years ago… for 100 bucks (I was feeling flush then!) I purchased the right to join Alisa, Queen of the Cowbell, in KALX’s underground lair for an hour of spinning tracks of my own choosing, and even speaking on air.  It was awesome!

So please… take the next few days to tune into KALX… 90.7 on your FM dial.  Or you can find them on the internet (info here), and through iTunes (go to Radio->College/University->KALX). And call them up with your donations…

Support Freedom on the airwaves!

note: image above found on Facebook, no info on artist.  sorry.

Music music music…

No Art Murmur this past Friday for me… we had tickets to The Flaming Lips at the Fox and wanted to check out the opening bands, which were actually pretty fantastic. First up was Thee Oh Sees with a blend of rock-a-billy garage pop that at times reminded me of punk bluegrass… They totally rocked, and their drummer actually performed a pretty sweet drum solo, which I can safely say, in the hundreds of shows I’ve seen over the years, I have never seen an opening band do.  Very cool.

Next up was Ariel Pink‘s Haunted Graffiti. Known for his impressive soprano, this guy (dressed extremely androgynously) could shriek an 80’s metal vocal like I’ve never seen.  This band rocked.  Period.  As my partner in crime suggested… Frank Zappa, but gay. And I mean that in the best way possible.  It was awesome!

Of course The Flaming Lips never disappoint.  Their shows are more performance art than concerts and though their bag of tricks is heavily recycled, it somehow never gets old.  I think I’ve seen this band about 5 times and I’m always surprised how they come out full throttle for the first song of the evening, giant balloons, confetti sprayed to the rafters, costumed dancers on stage, Wayne in his space bubble surfing the crowd… you have to wonder where they’ll take it from there (did they just blow their whole wad on the first song?!?) But somehow they manage to sustain and surpass, every time.  Highlight for me was the nearly 3000 audience members all singing Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1 at the top of their lungs.  Pure magic.

flaming lips at fox, fox theater oakland, the flaming lips live

oct 1 show flaming lips, oct 1 show fox theater

Sunday we caught Arcade Fire with opening band Calexico at the Greek Theater in Berkeley… these guys are the real deal.  And though I’ve seen Calexico before and always enjoyed their shows immensely (I just love the harmonic horns in their Tex-Mex styled tunes), this show was all about Arcade Fire for me.  You sort of wonder how they’re going to pull off the complexity of their studio albums live, but incredibly they do, not to mention the fact that nearly every member of the band plays like three different instruments, amazingly. It was a fantastic show.

More reading…

The Flaming Lips @ The Fox Theater, Oakland, CA 10-01-2010 (examiner)

Saturday Night: The Flaming Lips Play Laser Tag at the Fox Theater (sfweekly)

History of Fox Theater on Oaktown Art

Arcade Fire with Calexico at The Greek Theater in Berkeley. 10/2/2010

Meaty Wheaties

I know, I know… I’ve featured this spot before (Time’ll Tell)… and it’s not even in Oakland proper.

But I passed it the other day on my way to watch the World Cup Final and was amazed at how this little corner drive-thru (previously a Wolf Camera) has become a full-blown collaborative public art space…

ashby & telegraph, east bay wheat pastes

The tie-dyed bison’s been up for awhile… yet another giant wheat paste by Jesse Hazelip. I really love his stuff… the sheer scale of them… the precision of his drawings… and complexity of issues that he’s tackling. Cool stuff.

jesse hazelip, bison wheatpaste, buffalo wheatpaste

A slew of other artists have chipped in and added to the public canvas…

east bay wheat pastes

Oil drips from this seagull and small words read “Get Up”…

seagull wheatpaste, BP oil crisis artwork

These below seem to be by the same artist… the small boom box reads “Get Up” as well, and though these are true wheatpastes – large paper cut-outs transferred onto the building with temporary glue – the original pieces seem to be spray paint stenciled… some in multiple colors.

A small stencil’s been added below the wheat paste on the right. Was this the same artist, or someone different, just adding his/her flavor to the mix?

get up wheat pastes, ashby telegraph abandoned building

These masked “suits” remind me a little bit of the first mural I ever featured (Suits & Soldiers), also a stenciled work in which businessmen in suits are portrayed in sync with miliary soldiers. Here, suited men are disguised as guerillas with masks…

ashby & telegraph, wheat pastes, stencil wheatpastes

And below are details from a repeating series of black & white images that remind me of the Shepard Fairey installation I saw in Amsterdam last fall (OBEY in Amsterdam).  They both feature extremely limited color palettes (Fairey’s actually includes a third color – red), and detailed graphic patterning reminiscent of wallpaper, juxtaposed with larger organic imagery… faces, hands, etc.

buddha and hand

The Book Zoo ~ weird & wonderful

Next installment in our series of independent bookstores is Book Zoo.  Not exactly the antithesis of our starting point Walden Pond Books (the owners actually worked there before opening up their own shop), it is, however, the smallest bookstore I’ll be covering.  So from largest to smallest, we bookend our collection… we’ll fill in the rest of the shelf over the next week or so.

oakland book stores, independent bookstores oakland

independent bookstore east bay, indie book store oakland

Book Zoo is a rare breed of bookstore.  I was going to say “dying” breed, but I didn’t want to start off on a dour note, because this is truly something to cherish rather than mourn.  These guys are old-school.  Really old-school.  They don’t even have a cash register… instead using a secret compartment in a hollowed out book as their cash stash.  It’s incredible.

Book Zoo, Erik Lyngen

What’s more incredible is their uniquely curated collection of books. Limited by their small store, they don’t try to be everything to everyone, and they don’t carry books that are easily found elsewhere.  In fact, owner Erik Lyngen has an almost disdain for the commonly popular.  And as one who fails to understand the mass-appeal of much current pop-culture (e.g. – American Idol), I completely get where he’s coming from.

Book Zoo sells almost exclusively used books, about 95%; the other 5% are remainders.  They buy their books from the local community and are highly selective about what they’ll take.  You’ll find this is the case with most used bookstores these days (other than places like Half Price Books in Berkeley who’ll take your whole load, but give you pennies on the dollar).  They have to maintain inventories that they think will move, or that will at least be uniquely interesting.

When I asked Erik specifically what type of stuff he was looking for, he said, “the juicy stuff.” I asked what that meant, and he said, “you know how people are constantly cycling through books, clearing off their shelves to make way for new ones, but no matter how many garage sales they have, or how many used book stores they sell to, there’s one corner of the bookcase that they just can’t part with.  That’s the stuff we want.” The unusual, the eclectic, often radical, and weirdly unconventional… drugs, sex, occult, philosophy, poetry, sci-fi pulp.  You get the idea.

discount books, cheap books oakland, eclectic bookstore oakland

flag with peace symbol, radical politics

You can see this from just a quick glimpse at their storefront.  While others typically host the current top sellers, Book Zoo features titles like The Ballet Lover’s Companion, Ecology of Fear, Visions ~ A History of the East Bay African American Community, Female Desires, Fighting for G.O.D. (Gold, Oil, & Drugs), and Cuntionary (you’ll have to go see for yourself what that one’s all about).

I asked about the challenges of competing with the likes of Amazon or Borders, but these guys aren’t competing in that arena at all. They’ve really carved out their own niche, creating a one of a kind experience that can’t be replicated online, or in a homogenous chain.  This is not the bookstore you come to with a book in mind, expecting to find it, or counting on them to order it for you.  No.  You come to Book Zoo to browse.  To explore.  To find something unexpected. For example, there’s a small rack of poetry books & pamphlets near the front door, including handmade books by the likes of  Greying Ghost Press who “seek to reassure the reading public that printed matter won’t vanish.”

Book Zoo Oakland

This falls in line with Erik’s philosophy as well. He’s not worried about the future of reading printed books. He offers this brief exercise… Imagine you could create your own dream community Main Street. What would you have? Among other things (grocery store, cafe, post office, etc.) you would undoubtedly have a bookstore, wouldn’t you? I would.

Independent Bookstores oakland

book zoo oakland, eric Lyngen

Erik and partner Nick Raymond have created a warm & comfortable spot at 6395 Telegraph Ave. near the intersection of Alcatraz. It’s a tough location, being more car-friendly than pedestrian-oriented, but they’ve established Book Zoo as a destination in itself. Unusual art, posters, and artifacts decorate the walls, comfortable chairs & couches beckon visitors to sit and stay awhile, and a nice children’s section in the back welcomes kids too. They might even get to meet Ramona, Erik’s daughter and spunky helper on-hand (pictured above).

Their hours are limited… signs and website playfully say “By Appointment and or Chance.” Some may find this frustrating, but the truth is they simply don’t have the luxury to be open all the time,  both owners having other jobs to make ends meet.  The store is a real labor of love, and while friends pitch in to cover shifts, Erik admits they are chronically understaffed. You’ll mostly find them open Tuesday – Friday Evenings and most weekends. They also host frequent events, typically featuring live music. Check out their schedule here, as well as Erik’s photos of events and collection of customer portraits.

Go visit Book Zoo, and support your local independent booksellers!

Pinhole Photography!!!

For those who are unfamiliar with pinhole photography, or those who are, but still find themselves wondering (in this day and age of instant digital gratification) Why?, I’ll tell you… but I’m going to use someone else’s words. There’s a wonderful short essay titled “Why Pinhole? Why Indeed!” and the crux of it is this…

Pinhole is photography at its most basic. I love the freedom it affords any and all who take it up. As a means of expression it frees us from the bonds of the camera salesmen and the companies who seek to create ever fancier cameras that take the intuition out of making photographs.

I couldn’t agree more.  And that’s one of the wonderful things about Looking Glass Photo… in addition to the latest and greatest in digital, they’ve got all kinds of fun “toy” cameras (I bought my Holga there) and they’ll talk your ears off about film.  Yes, FILM.  I don’t know about you guys, but I actually miss film. The folks at Looking Glass encourage me to pick it up again, experiment with it, and remember what it was I found so captivating about photography in the first place.

Here’s my most successful image from last sunday’s Pinhole Photography Workshop…

pinhole photo, negative print film

As you can see, this is a negative print. We used negative paper because it has more “latitude” than positive print paper (meaning it’s more forgiving when you screw up). Which is easy to do with pinhole photography because there’s no light meter and no built-in computer determining the perfect exposure for you. Below is the inverted image, which you can see is slightly overexposed (at 30 seconds)…

I tried to create a ghosted image of myself by standing in the photo frame for about half that time, but all you can see is my ankles and calves (between tree and stop sign). Not exactly the effect I was going for. But that’s half the fun… it’s a bit of a mystery.

pinhole photography, negative print paper

We started out the workshop by building our own pinhole cameras. Boxes were provided, or you could bring your own, and the helpful folks from Looking Glass instructed us to:

  • paint the interiors and any see thru parts black
  • drill a pinhole into a tiny super thin sheet of metal (this would be our lens)
  • drill a larger hole into our box
  • mount the tiny sheet of metal with hole behind the larger hole (tape in place)
  • create “shutter” with piece of gaffer’s tape
  • and VOILA, one camera created!

Here are some pics of us building our cameras…

pinhole camera workshop, looking glass photo

pinhole camera workshop, looking glass photo

pinhole camera workshop, looking glass photo

Next we went into the darkroom to load film into our boxes. As I mentioned above we started with negative print film to work on getting our exposure right. We were instructed to try various lengths of time, develop each one, and see which one worked best. The exposure times really varied depending on the size of the hole drilled, and the lighting conditions (full sun, shade, etc.)

Probably the most fun for me was developing the sheets of paper in the darkroom. There’s nothing quite like watching an image unfold, almost magically, as your paper sways back and forth in a small sea of liquid, dimly lit by a single amber bulb. It’s pretty cool.

Here are a couple shots of the darkroom…

pinhole workshop at looking glass photo

looking glass berkeley, photo darkroom berkeley

The Looking Glass is in the process of scanning all the images from Sunday’s workshop and will have one from each participant online.  They should be up by Friday, you can check these links…

True TrustoCorp.

What a weekend! Wow. I hope you all had as much fun as I did. I pretty much did it all, and I’ll be sharing some of the details throughout the week, but right now I want to share this very cool piece of street art. It’s a true TrustoCorp.

trustocorp, trustocorp street sign, trustocorp graffiti

A friend wrote in after my No Killing Anytime post to say that the series looked like the work of TrustoCorp. They certainly did, but they actually weren’t. They were wheatpastes that had been applied over existing real street signs. The way TrustoCorp does it is they manufacture real metal signs.

When this one caught my eye initially, I thought it was a real city sign. Woah, I thought, Berkeley really is progressive! (Sign was spotted right outside Looking Glass Photo on Telegraph Ave where the Pinhole Workshop was held yesterday… great fun… more on that later.) But as I got closer I spotted the TrustoCorp logo (the T inside the “wings”) and then this on the back…

trustocorp sign, trustocorp berkeley, real men use fists

I was particularly excited to see this piece of street art because the whole blogittersphere was abuzz last week with the sightings of possibly Banksy pieces in San Fran, and I was feeling a little left out…

Folks aren’t sure if these are the real deal (they look pretty authentic to me) or the work of a copycat artist, but either way, it’s certainly great P.R. for the recent release of the new street art documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop. The film had a sneak preview showing in S.F. on the 15th, and is now playing Bay-wide at a few select locations…

Exit Through the Gift Shop Showtimes

In any case, I think Mr. Banksy and the folks from TrustoCorp should make their way over to Oaktown! C’mon y’all, show us what you got…