Le Bete Noire on BESPOKE: A COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES FOR THE SOLITARY TRAVELER by Lee Davis

As Black History Month winds down I ask you to take a look at my recently published first novel, BESPOKE: A Collection of Short Stories For The Solitary Traveler.

Featured Image -- 147As a child I wrote comic books, and stories on looseleaf paper. As an adult I wrote screenplays. I never sat down to write a book. There never seemed to be the right time. Until I began to appreciate the power of now. I went “into the woodshed” as a beloved teacher used to refer to it, sat my ass down and wrote.

Bespoke, A Collection Of Short Stories For The Solitary Traveler, is available online on I-tunes, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. It is an original collection of short stories. My words. Nothing more, nothing less. I hope you find it as enjoyable to read as it was for me to sit down and write. For a storyteller there is no greater gift than an appreciative audience. I hope you will take a moment, pick up a copy Bespoke, give it a read or gift it to a friend. I wrote the book for traveler in all of us. There is a link to the book below.

http://my.bookbaby.com/book/bespokebyleedavis#

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Pan African Film Festival 2018

Cinema and Culture collide on Crenshaw.

This is the 26th annual Pan African Festival. You and anyone who loves films, art and fashion from all over the world should come down and participate in this celebration where filmmakers, artists, activists, sculptors and all types of cultural and cinematic folks gather in support of such diverse culture. The films are vital, exciting and entertaining.

Check out the details at http://www.PAFF.org and all screenings at Cinemark Theaters BHC 15 Feb 8- Feb 19 2018.

I’ve served as a juror the past five years and have thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

#PAFF 2018, @PAFFNow

LeBeteNoire: “Miles Ahead” electrifies closing night at the 24th PAFF

The Pan African Film Festival is an amazing experience of fine art, culture, and films from all around the globe. For two short weeks independent filmmakers and film lovers gather in the Bridge Mall and the adjacent Rave Cinema in Baldwin Hills, to participate in a global sharing event. In it’s twenty-fourth year, the festival celebrated closing night with the premiere of Director/Star Don Cheadle’s electrifying film Miles Ahead.

Crowds packed into several sold out theaters for the long awaited film about undoubtedly the most famous trumpeter in (“don’t call it jazz ” says Miles) modern American music.  Recognized simply by his first name, he is the rare man to “enjoy” legendary status within his own lifetime. Like Miles himself the film is unapologetic and unflinching in its depiction of this complex icon. It is difficult to comprehend the amount of work, dedication and stamina needed to accomplish what Mr. Cheadle has — as both director and lead actor. His co-stars, the stunning Emayatzy Corinealdi and Ewan McGregor turn in memorable performances, in a film that seems to move at a breakneck pace, before taking turns both sensual and reflective, but every moment intimate. If the man could stare into a mirror and have no reflection, it would be Miles Davis: enigmatic, elusive, singular and in-comparable. Mr Cheadle manages to capture that mystery, even  in the wisps of cigarette smoke that dance past his lips, snake around him, in a veil. I suspect Mr. Cheadle and Ms. Corinealdi will be invited to more than a handful of ceremonies come next Award season.

The festival itself is a treat for all Los Angeles. The sights and sounds for the past two weeks, with screenings of films from several continents, and stories of people of color from all over the world.  It is necessary. We need to see our world, as it is, crafted through the lens and by the storytellers who are actually living and breathing these stories. The fest also included talks with filmmakers including Ryan Coogler, Nate Parker and Danny Glover, for keen insight into the world behind the lens in Hollywood.  Mr. Glover in particular was inspirational, sharing his world of activism as well as his love of film.

The centerpiece film, Agents of Change with its graphic images of student demonstrations at San Francisco State  and the student uprising at Cornell University, reminds us of the power we wield, when our energies are marshalled, as evidenced by the Black Life Matters and similiar contemporary movements by todays protest leaders.

The Pan African Film Festival open dialogues; art is intended to be provocative.  Youtube, Instagram, Vines and Gif’s have deadened our ability to imagine. Instead we cultivate the narcissist within us, as we count our likes on some clubhouse leaderboard. We have become experts in sharing similiar thoughts and ideas as opposed to listening and considering new or opposing views.(Check any comments section if you don’t believe me.)

We “like” so much we have in effect forgotten how to love.

Art can point the way back to reminding us exactly how to love. From Jamal Joseph’s feature Chapter & Verse  about an ex-con returning to his native streets of Harlem, to While You Weren’t Looking, a South African film about lesbian lovers directed by Catherine Stewart, or the Nigerian film Dry, the South African feature Cuckold, these films express unconditional and uncompromising, indeed uncomfortable love and the hdideousness of the opposite of love, indifference.

This years festival is over but you can circle the calendar in anticipation  for the Twenty-fifth anniversary next year. The experience is sure to be memorable.

 

 

 

bete noire: awarded or not

They sent for this great man to speak. His oratory was reknown.  He’d gone from the unseen and unknown to international celebrity due to the success of his book, but more so because of his own story, what he represented.

To the world he was a black man.  And so it was that as he traveled by train, to this speaking engagement, he was forced to sit in the  “colored” car behind the freight as they crossed into the South.

When the educated hosts greeted him excitedly at the station, they apologized to him for the humiliation of sitting in the back of the train. The erudite guest replied, ” Gentlemen, by ignoble actions I can degrade myself, but no thing and no man may degrade Frederick Douglass.”

This was from a man born into slavery, who escaped into freedom, and became the singular face of hope, determination and possibility of a black man in his century. Douglass knew more about dignity and indignity than most. He knew it to be something that emanates from the inside, not bestowed from the out.

It puts things into context. The outstanding work done by artists of color like F. Gary Gray and his cast, Ryan Coogler, Michael B. Jordan, Edris Elba, Will Smith and so many others, cannot be disregarded nor ignored, despite the lack of recognition by a group of voters who probably never even went to see their films. It’s not a judgement of the voting body, simply information as to what they voted on. Their perspective of America is clearly periscope narrow. Even in 2016 it will take some time before the voters come close to a fraction of the representation of the actual audiences who went to see these films, and others that went unnoticed by the award bestowing group. Yes unnoticed. When the beloved actress Sally Field won her second Oscar in 1985 she famously rambled, “I haven’t had an orthodox career, and I’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time I didn’t feel it, but this time I feel it—and I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!” And it was a play off her lines from the film, but behind those words were two important ideas about what that statuette represents: respect and acceptance.

From whom?  From the mostly unseen voters. It doesn’t matter who we like. It’s about who they like.  Small letters. they.  And “they” cannot take away the acheivements of those men and women of color who distinguished themslves in films this year despite the fact that  small letters “they” chose to look away.

Is the lack of color represented in the nominations a conscious rebuttle, a line drawn in the sand reflecting contempt, disrespect or a refusal to accept the talent of diversity that Hollywood simultaneously fights against but so desperately needs? That is a question for innovators of the industry to answer.

That lack of representation in the nominations is information. But it does in no way degrade, nor undermine the importance or excellence of the work artists of color shared with us on screen this year.

When people argue so-and-so “deserves an Oscar” to me what it really means is that an individual made a piece of work or gave a performance, that was so amazing that it resounded with this audience member who felt it warranted a distinct recognition, as the best of the best.

When folks shout  it en-masse, well then it seems to me that the work is getting that recognition, respect and gratitude —from the people buying the tickets, if not from those handing out awards. This recognition comes from audiences who filmmakers and stars alike depend upon to keep coming to see their films.

They have our utmost respect, appreciation and admiration. They truly provide examples of excellence and dignity at the top levels of craft, awarded or not.

lebetenoire…there are many of us.

It was a quiet afternoon on a residential block in the northeast section of The Bronx. A seventeen story apartment building stood tallest on the street, amidst several smaller tenement style apartment buildings, just beyond the reach of sprawling Gun Hill Road. A young African-American teenager, entered the unlocked double glass doors of the lobby. Ten yards further inside, was the locked door that required buzzer entrance or a key.  As a resident of the building he reached inside his pocket, pulled his key out. That’s when he noticed a second man enter the lobby, a white man, young. He approached him, no greeting. As the young man put the key in the lock and pushed the door open, the man reached around from behind with his right arm, pulled the door shut. Thoughts raced through the head of the young African-American man. First and foremost, was the audacity that he was in fact being robbed, in his own lobby on his own block. He could see the right hand of the whie man pulling the door shut, and in two seconds realized the only move was the open thrust of his elbow to the nose of the man behind him. What he could not see was the man’s left hand.

That all happened in about four seconds. In the fifth second, just before the young African American man planned to fight his way from the unknown assailant, a second white man ran into the lobby behind them. He ran in shouting desperately, “Not him! We have the guy, around the corner!” Those words came rapidly, yet matter-of-factly. Around his neck, the young African-American man saw a police badge dangling near his chest on a necklace.  And with that the second man ran up the block. The first man let go of the door, turned and ran after his partner.

Again this all happened in a matter of seconds. I often think of it. Had I hit my unknown assailant, this undercover officer who never once announced who he was, what would have been the aftermath?  Was his left hand on his gun?  Would he have shot me?  Hearing that shot, his partner surely would have entered shooting.  It surely would have gone down as an unfortunate case of mistaken identity. I had committed no crime, I was simply on my way home. Inside my apartment building, a locked door away from the elevator.  How many of us have  found ourselves in exactly the same situation? Some survive. And how many other people were not as fortunate to survive such an encounter?

As the minutes tick down to the end of 2014, a glance in the rear-view mirror provides little solace. Each day heralds another dash cam video or cell phone video, each more shocking than the next. This has been a year that united thousands of us in cities across this nation to stand, hand in hand and shout one simple fact that should stand self evident: Black Lives Matter.

There are those who don’t understand the message, who somehow think it is a denial that all lives matter; the simple fact is that only the “black lives” seem to be the ones left cold on the concrete, without any answers, in situations that simply do not make sense. Black Lives Matter? The words echo hollow as a new trial is set for June in Baltimore for the first officer charged in the death of Freddie Gray. It is a trial made necessary following the mistrial declared weeks earlier.

Some don’t understand the tension and mistrust in the inner city for law enforcement. I am an African-American male, a writer, director, educator and law-biding citizen. I can only attest to you my own personal reaction to the sight of flashing lights and the sound of sirens. My thought process goes something like this: 1) I guess the police are after someone 2) I hope they don’t mistake that individual for me.

Am I alone? I wonder. Just as I wonder if some officers presume guilt in men and women of color, no matter their age, and overreact, fatally, with finality, without remorse, and indeed without fear of punishment.

We are left to help enact change in our world. Better laws, gun control, reform in our community and better training for the officers sworn to serve and protect.  We understand they have a difficult job, and most do it selflessly and admirably. We need them.

Let’s not forget these individuals will not shout Happy New Year at midnight:

Freddie Gray 25 died after suffering spinal cord injuries following his arrest in Baltimore. Dontre Hamilton 31,shot 14 times by a police officer in Milwaukee. Eric Garner 43 died after being placed in an unlawful stranglehold in New York. Tamir Rice 12, shot and killed by Cleveland Police who said the mistook his toy gun for an actual weapon. John Crawford 22, shot and killed by an officer at a Walmart in Ohio. Michael Brown 18 shot and killed in Ferguson. Ezell Ford 25, shot three times and killed in Florence, California. Dante Parker 36 died after repeated taser stuns in San Bernadino. Tanisha Anderson 37 died after Cleveland police officers allegedly slammed her head against the pavement. Akai Gurley 28 killed by a NY Police officer in a dark stairwell, in what was later characterized as “accidental discharge”. Rumain Brisbon 34 shot by a Phoenix officer who mistook his pill bottle for a gun. Tony Robinson 19, shot and killed by police  in Madison,Wisconsin.  Philip White 32 died while in police custody following a violent encounter in New Jersey. Eric Harris 44, shot and killed in Oklahoma by an officer who mistook his gun for his taser. Jerame Reid 36, shot and killed during a police stop in New Jersey.  Walter Scott 50, shot in the back fleeing a traffic stop in South Carolina. Sandra Bland 28, found hanged in her jail cell three days after she was arrested for failing to use her turning signal. Her family questions the officials account.

Take a solemn moment for them tonight. Pray 2016 is a filled with a more compassionate and humane brand of justice and peace keeping in all of our communities.

It is important to all of us.

 

 

Le Bete Noire: Michael P. Edwards in “I Am Not Sam.”

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Black is hiding shit inside to make other motherfuckers comfortable”

 -Sam in “I Am Not Sam”

In the aftermath of the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and a litany of unarmed black men, our national consciousness has been dominated by images of “blackness,’ and an examination of identity.  From the furor caused by Rachel Dolezal, to the hate fueled attack at “Mother Emmanuel” Church, the discussion of what it means to be black or white in America has been visited upon us. It seems we are just on the first leg of our journey.

Identity is at the core of Michael P Edwards one man show “I Am Not Sam,” directed by Tamika Lamison, a timely, poignant, and thoroughly entertaining and engaging work performed expertly by Mr. Edwards. He evokes the spirit of  the performance of the late Adolph Caesar’s “Sarge” in A Soldier’s Story, prideful, daring and fearless, displaying blackness as mythic and poetic as he dances between three personas; a rich white man, a cantankerous self-made black whorehouse owner, and the troubled biracial grandson they share. It is an emotionally charged portrait, at times funny, often painful, always authentic. The writer positions a microscope squarely over the self-loathing brought on by America’s original sin. “I Am Not Sam” avoids the preachy pitfalls and clichés lesser playwrights may succumb to; the conversational tone befits the necessary national discussion well worth having, on this day, at this moment.

“I Am Not Sam” is an experience that will leave you examining your own unseen scars well after the final fall of the curtain.

Le Bete Noire: Marilyn Mosby Declares “Our Time Is Now.”

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Perhaps history will see May 1 2015 as a sea-change in the wave of attacks by rogue members of law enforcement against unarmed African-American men.

Today the Baltimore top prosecutor filed charges against the police officers in the death of Freddie Gray, the culmination of a tumultuous week in a community literally set ablaze by rioting, followed by a denouement of community organized peaceful protest, tense stand-offs between heavily armed police, national guardsmen and a community all bracing for the worst.

Against that backdrop Marilyn Mosby went before the microphones with an unexpected even shocking announcement. news.

“The findings of our comprehensive, thorough, and independent investigation, coupled with the medical examiners determination that Mr Gray’s death was a homicide, which we received today, has led us to believe that we have probable cause to file criminal charges.”

Was it thinly veiled defiance in her voice? Was it a barely discernible trace of anger? Or maybe it was simply disgust. Maybe Marilyn Mosby was sick to her stomach. You see Mosby comes from “five generations of law enforcement,” she said, including her parents, grandfather and uncle. Her family roots are in policing. That family lineage didn’t stop the Baltimore Police Union from asking for Mosby to recuse herself, as they offered their own empty prediction that the six officers will be exonerated. Its leader declared, “These officers did nothing wrong.”  The words rang hollow, flush with bravado against the facts laid out by Marilyn Mosby.  There she was, with a rhythmic cadence and a tenor that seemed to mirror the outrage of her community as she announced twenty-eight charges against the police officers.

This could have been no more historic, if the announcement had come on the steps of the Nation’s Capitol, in the shadow of monuments to Lincoln and Washington.

An African-American woman, the States Attorney of Baltimore, announced her departments findings that a half-dozen Baltimore police officers made an illegal arrest, ignored the protocol of securing Freddie Gray in the police van, and ignored the young man’s repeated requests for medical attention, actions which led to the twenty-five year old’s death. Mosby now finds herself squarely in the national spotlight, at the forefront of this battle, to seek justice for the death of Freddie Gray.

Wife of a Baltimore Councilman,  mother of two, Mosby acknowledged she heard the voices of protesters, calling for peace and justice. In a community where there is a significant feeling of “us versus them”, the States Attorney is in a unique position, for seeming much more like “us.”  Mosby knows what it means to be a victim, having witnessed her cousin murdered on her doorstep while she was a teenager. The incident spurred her to college, law school and the highest position in law enforcement in the state.

The process must play itself out. There will be a grand jury convened. It remains to be seen if the officers charged will indeed be indicted, and if so, their fate during a trial is another unknown.

Yet today, for the community of Baltimore there is some solace. The mood has changed because the unthinkable happened. Today a states prosecutor took a step to say with her actions and her words, “No one is above the law.”

Mosby spoke directly to her community, declaring, “Our time is now.”

The moment is hers. It may in fact be historic.

The community elected her for change, and she has answered.

Other communities, nationwide take note.

Le Bete Noire – West Baltimore & Decades of The Disenfranchised

“When everything is said and done there is nothing left to do or say.” 

Darryl Dawkins AKA Chocolate Thunder

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Riot is a small word. It does little to fully illustrate the rage, the frustration level and desperation needed to fully sustain the carnage witnessed last night in West Baltimore.

Our windows to the world, TV screens, computer monitors and cell phones, provided a real-time view of the lawlessness, up close and personal, as the standoff between law enforcement and angry young people gathered in a premeditated “purge” like event on the day of Freddie Gray’s going home ceremony.

Through their attorney the Gray family angrily denounced the actions of the rioters who hurled bricks and bottles at law enforcement, vandalized parked cars, looted, and set buildings on fire, in a poor black neighborhood on the west side of Baltimore.

There is no excuse for the senseless violence. As the reporters and cameras now wade through the streets of peaceful protesters in the wake of the eruption last night, the focus is on what will happen after dark. The people of the community have joined police in the street to protect their neghborhood from further destruction.

Will there ever be a full examination into the root causes behind the desperation and powerlessness of those who have been marginalized, declared criminal, and worth-less before they have even turned sixteen? Anarchy, chaos and violence has no meaningful place in civilized society.

Legalized violence, perpetrated against a community, any community, needs to be rooted out, eradicated, and those who perpetrate such acts prosecuted, no matter the uniform they wear or the office they hold. Police need to better police themselves and if they cannot some outside force, perhaps at a Federal level must.

The Justice Department investigation into Freddie Gray’s death is just a start.

Law enforcement has a duty to perform. That duty does not include murdering unarmed people taken into custody, left for dead before they have even been charged for a crime.

In order for change to come about, we have to first admit their problem is our problem nationwide.

We need to enact swift change in communities nationwide.

Fast.

What happened in Baltimore, is happening nationwide, to an ever-growing group of disenfranchised, disconnected, young people struggling through generational poverty. No after-school programs. No matter what state these young poor African-Americans were born in they live in a state of hopelessness, lack of opportunity, joblessness. They see the dead ends of the block, the liquor store on one corner, drug store on the other, the parked cars of the pimps and drug dealers, the abandoned homes and factories serve as fire-walls to life outside of the ghetto. College is impossible when you can barely afford the costs of books, breakfast, lunch or dinner while you are in high school.

And then you see the dead pile up, in your own neighborhood, and in neighborhoods like yours across the nation. You see Trayvon Martin. You see Eric Garner. You see Mike Brown. You see Freddie Gray. You see the law as men and women who put you in handcuffs, sit you on the curb, for hours, without charging you, keeping you shackled and humiliated. You cannot experience this without being changed, without being angered.

The problem is when you send out the message that a young African-American life isn’t worth a damn, and you reinforce it day after day, at some point they actually begin to believe it.

So they “purge.”

Senseless violence escalates into carnage, buildings burn, stores are destroyed, livelihoods are ruined.

And now that some people want to talk. Now, in the midst of generational failures and lifetimes of hopelessness, in the wake of the arson and violence, and two hundred arrests, and police injuries, and National Guardsman called in, now after all this, now we want to talk.

Today there were town-hall discussions with young people, free breakfasts, clergy and community leaders gathered across the city to prevent a repeat of last night, tonight.

There is a 10pm curfew. The city is on edge. A nation is focused on a neighborhood in West Baltimore.

And all many of us can do is hope.

Le Bete Noire by Lee Davis: Why is Freddie Dead? “A question we have to dig into.”

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Police officers, the military, and emergency responders like fire fighters and paramedics, have the most difficult jobs in the world. They see us at our worst, our most vulnerable, and our most fragile. Their decisions and actions ultimately decide whether we live or die, often while their own lives are at stake. Anonymous men and women in uniform perform heroic acts every day that go routinely unnoticed. Cameras were not around the other day when police and firefighters stopped a suicidal woman from jumping from the roof of a parking structure to her death two blocks from me. It is no exaggeration that these heroes put their lives on the line every day and they deserve our utmost respect and admiration for their commitment and their willingness to sacrifice their lives to preserve our way of life.

Lately there have been a string of newsmaking officers, for the wrong reason. They are a small minority across this nation who soil the badge and the uniform they wear, horrifying and betraying the trust of the community they serve, exorcising their personal demons with violent overreach and tragic consequences. They perverted their oath, transformed their role from law enforcement, to judge, jury and executioner. Whether by their direct action, or by the silence and compliance in the face of human rights violations, brutality against apprehended suspect, they do not serve the good of society nor of the force. They serve no one but themselves. Put simply they give the magnificent majority of police officers a bad name. Worse their actions leave behind a death toll that continues to rise.

Today, as reported by the Associated Press, the names of a half dozen suspended Baltimore Police Officers were revealed publicly for the first time in connection with the death of Freddie Gray. The Justice Department has launched its own investigation.

Authorities say Gray was arrested, shackled and driven around in a police van for half an hour. Then he was rushed to the hospital in critical condition. A week later Freddie Gray died as a result of what has been termed ” a significant spinal cord injury.”

What we do not know:

1) why was Freddie Gray stopped?

In response to this one simple question, Baltimore Police Commisioner Anthony Batts says this is “A question we have to dig into.”

Let me repeat: Freddie Gray, a 25 year old black man is dead, a week after injuries he suffered while in police custody, and the Police Commisioner of Baltimore does not know why the man was detained.

What law was being broken? What law was being enforced?

According to reports, they found a switchblade on the young man. One officer says he suspected Gray was carrying a switchblade, whether that was due to the officers years of training, x-ray vision or lucky guess, the question remains, how does a man with nothing more than a switchblade end up with significant spinal cord injuries?

Why was he not taken directly to a hospital, and instead “rushed” to the hospital after being driven around in the police van for half an hour?

According to published reports Fredie Gray’s death comes six months after city officials released a plan to reduce police brutality and misconduct in Baltimore, a result of officials appeal to the Justice Department to review their police policies and procedures.

Let me be perfectly clear. I am not anti-law enforcement.  I am anti-firing squad. I am anti-genocide. I am anti- all those actions and ideology which are inherently Anti-American; you cannot be  “pro-law enforcement” and condone unlawful acts.

Those who claim to be “pro-law-enforcement” should join myself and others in demanding nothing less than the best from those honored and privledged to wear the badge. They hold a great responsibility in their hands.

Where are the voices of decorated law enforcement officers nationwide who should not simply “stand by their brothers” despite their actions, but demand the accountability and discretion which was a hallmark of their own careers? These men and women provide shining examples of the best. They should demand nothing less of this generation of law enforcement.

My mother was a nursing supervisor in The Bronx for decades. She took an oath to help everybody get better. If you were a Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan hospitalized under her care it was her duty to get you back on your feet, Personal biases were put aside. Ugliness like bigotry in all its forms are checked at the door. It’s not part of the job. Duty is above all else.

Tell me how enforcing the law is any different.

We all should demand to know why Freddie Gray is dead.

Le Bete Noire: Notes from the Pan African Film Festival by Lee Davis

Tizita Hagere as Hirut in the film Difret.

Tizita Hagere as Hirut in the film Difret.

I journeyed to Ethiopia yesterday by way of the Zeresenay Mehari film Difret, based on the true story of Hirut, a fourteen year old girl on her way home from school who is abducted, imprisoned and subsequently raped. There are many tense moments as you might imagine, but what happens after Hirut kills her abductor and escapes is equally harrowing: the men of the village demand that she be executed as punishment for the murder. This stark film is a firsthand look at the legal system that left young women comepletely unprotected, and at the mercy of tribal law, until this case of young Hirut. This film is executive produced by womens advocate/activist and filmmaker Angelina Jolie. Meron Getnet as Meaza the young girls attorney, and Tizita Hagere in the role of Hirut fiercely captivate us in even the quietest moments of the film.

This is one of many films that the PAFF makes available for the public to see, that might never see the light of day in an American Multiplex, but can be seen at The Rave 15 now.  A filmmaker yesterday told me, “This is the best year ever of this festival: every film I have seen has been amazing.”

No arguement there.

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