Montclair Raised Actors Come Home

See more information about the Montclair Film Festival and all its great events at MontclairFilmFest.org. View more photos at the MontclairFilmFest Flickr.

Article and Photos Below by Tonight at Dawn (Kimberly Cecchini) Homegrown: A Conversation with Kristen Connelly and Ben Rosenfield was screened on May 3 at MFF14

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Is it surprising that Montclair, which was ripe for a film festival that has already demonstrated success in its toddler years, was also the childhood home of two more rising stars? Actors, Kristen Connelly, known for her role as a Congressional staffer on Netflix’s House of Cards, and Ben Rosenfield, who joined HBO’s New Jersey based period drama, Boardwalk Empire, returned to town on Friday to participate in an aptly titled conversation, Homegrown. The young performers discussed their Montclairian roots and the trajectory of their burgeoning careers.

At Home

In addition to growing up in a town where they could cross paths with talented people everyday, both Kristen and Ben found inspiration in their families. Kristen’s brother has found success both as an actor and now as a playwright, whereas Ben’s mother is an actress and therefore the art form has always been a part of his life. They also each took advantage of local acting opportunities; for instance, Kristen and her siblings participated in Essex Youth Theater and Ben took acting classes before they got their first break.

Fittingly, Kristen earned her “first little break” at home when a film location scout rang the Connelly’s doorbell. She was a bit taken aback when her mother informed the scout that her daughter was an actor. Thankfully, an uncomfortable moment blossomed into a fortunate fluke because the scout provided her with an audition through which she earned her first paid acting role in the film, Mona Smiles.

On the other hand, Ben asserts that his first break was the biggest he will have as he made his debut in 2011 as part of the Off-Broadway Atlantic Theater Company’s four person cast, Through the Glass Darkly, directed by Tony Award nominee, David Leveaux. This was certainly was a pivotal moment in Ben’s career as it led to a connection with his current agent.

Between Set and Stage

Rosenfield and Connelly appreciate the prevailing freedom in the entertainment industry that allow actors to move somewhat fluidly between mediums. Having credits in film, television and the stage, they have been able to enjoy the flexibility to experiment with their craft in a variety of ways. The public will soon be able to view them again beyond the small screen; Kristen will be featured as Desdemona in another Shakespearean production in an outdoor arena and Ben can be seen on the silver screen in the fall.

Although they each have a multitude of projects in development, they are still currently in steady television roles (given that Ben’s Willie Thompson character does not get killed off in the volatile prohibition period of the Atlantic City crime series) and they expressed significant admiration for the veteran actors in their respective casts.

Ben spoke about the professional atmosphere on Boardwalk Empire’s set and commended his fellow, seasoned actors for their dedicated hard work. When asked about the show’s lead, Steve Buscemi, he simply replied, “He’s the man. He’s Steve Buscemi.”

Similarly, Kristen shared her deference for House of Card’s Kevin Spacey; she not only regards him highly for his acting abilities but also for his conduct on the set. She appreciates when people not only fulfill the expectations of their roles, but also demonstrate a respectful character in interactions with all of their colleagues. To her, Spacey exemplified this particularly when he refused to shoot at a point when the crew had been overworked.

Aspirations

During the Q&A, Connelly and Rosenfield provided novel advice for an aspiring actress in the audience. Ben prescribed that she find a strong acting class that will provide her with an opportunity to network and Kristen lauded the benefits of being a member of an artistic community such as Montclair. The featured actors also exalted the value of the internet in forging a path into the field. Ben advised, “Don’t be held hostage by the idea that you need to audition; make your own work,” which is what Kristen did with her peers after graduate school when they created their own web series on YouTube.

Kristen Connelly and Ben Rosenfield are no longer aspiring actors themselves as their resumes are certainly growing. Although they may not yet be as recognizable in Hollywood as other Montclairians, they already have fans at home. This was voiced by a member of the audience at the conclusion of the Q&A; “It’s not a question; I just want to thank you for coming home. We are your biggest fans.”

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Advanced Style: In Living Color

See more information about the Montclair Film Festival and all its great events at the Montclair Film Festival page. View more photos at the MontclairFilmFest Flickr page:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/montclairfilmfest/

Article and Photos Below by Tonight at Dawn (Kimberly Cecchini) Advanced Style was screened on May 3 at MFF14

Spiky pink hair, fiery orange curls and oversized silver cuffs. No, Advanced Style is not about adolescents experimenting with their identify, it’s about mature women asserting their character through the art of fashion. In a culture that equates aging with fear, each of the women highlighted in this documentary confidently and unabashedly take joy in uniquely presenting themselves in their advanced stages of life. And many of them do so in very vibrant, living color.

Advanced Style begins with photographer Ari Seth Cohen, approaching well dressed women in Manhattan to include on his now renowned blog by the same name. At the behest of his own cherished grandmothers, he had moved to the city in search of inspiration and he found it in older women who consciously or inadvertently have used the city’s broad avenues as their personal runways. As he “roam(s) the streets of New York for the most stylish and creative older folks,” he focuses on women who embrace their advanced age. Through these images, he celebrates their styles and seeks to shift the prevailing notions of how beauty and style is marketed to us in our culture.

The film paints portraits of six vibrant women from sixty-two to ninety-five who Cohen has featured; it provides insight into the art of their styles, their backgrounds and their strength in embracing their own aging despite its inherent challenges. The women’s styles are a reflection of their individual personalities and backgrounds. Among the ladies is a spunky eighty year old owner of the Off-Broadway Boutique with a penchant for elaborate accessories and her more refined counterpart whose outfits often consists of more subtle colors and accents such as her signature strand of pearls.

Director Lina Plioplyte and two of the films subjects attended the showing. Eighty-one year old Jackie “Tajah” Murdock’s long, lean frame is a reminder of her years as an Apollo Theater dancer. She was pleased to pose for a full length photograph in an elegant white pant suit embellished with gold designs in front of the step and repeat. Ilona Royce Smithkin, at 93, seemed to bask in the spotlight and had adorned herself with a palette of colors. Despite her short stature, the successful visual artist stood out in the crowd with her fiery hair and her signature long eyelashes.

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The women are realistic about their stages of life and mortality seems to drive their quests to squeeze more out of life. Two of them are filmed singing, another one spoke about designing her wardrobe from weavings she had purchased overseas and a group of them participated in a flash mob senior fashion show that Cohen orchestrated during New York’s Fashion Week. With an appetite for life, Ms. Smithkin still faces her own aging with levity. In regards to a potential television appearance, she states, “…I myself cannot make a commitment because I really don’t know what my body is doing. From the waist up I’m wonderful, from the waist down, don’t ask don’t tell.”

Fortunately, Ms. Smithkin and Ms. Murdock had plenty of energy for the Q&A segment. Montclair warmly received the women, giving them a standing ovation as they approached the front of the theater with Plioplyte for their interview with MFF’s Executive Director, Raphaela Neihausen. The sentiment of the first comment from the crowd was echoed by other women and the twenty-something director, “I think that every women who is mourning their youth should see this; it was such a joy.” The women and the presentation of Advanced Style not only challenge the fashion world but, also, our own perception of self as we age. These women are proof that life after sixty can be fashionable and fabulous!

The Nigerian School Project: Going Full Circle

Text by Kimberly Cecchini/Photography by Dena Florczyk

To learn more about and support NSP at http://nigerianschoolproject.org and http://www.youcaring.com/other/books-for-tomarro/173201.

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Dena Florczyk. Nigerian School Child

Dena Florczyk educates students in two hemispheres.  The middle school teacher in suburban Teaneck, New Jersey has aided numerous education programs and has had a school built in Nigeria.  Her recent exhibition at the Stable Art Gallery in Ridgewood celebrated a decade of work in Africa through the photographs she has taken during her visits.  The show also served as a fundraiser for her nonprofit, the Nigerian School Project.  The pieces are not only  a reflection of her photographic talents, but also the evolution of her relationship with the country.

Through an opportunity with another nonprofit in Teaneck, Dena originally traveled to Nigeria’s commercial capital of Lagos with the interest of an educator.  She was shocked by what she saw.  The disparity between the wealthy and the impoverished is vast and obvious; “It is not an easy place to live.” Public classrooms typically overflow with sixty or seventy students and contain zero books.  Among many things, she observed kids sharing pencils and as many as ten growing boys sharing seats built for three.

Dena initially met with local teachers and asked them to write a wish list of supplies, imported box loads of pencils, helped to sew uniforms, taught workshops to juvenile offenders and created a small yearly cycle of modest fundraisers at home. Friends and family have also joined her on some trips to engage and teach local students. In addition, she undertook larger projects such as building school libraries and orchestrating a book drive.

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Dena Florczyk. Workshops for Juvenille Offenders in Nigeria

“Oh my god, he wants me to build him a school.”

Following a friend who was working on malaria clinics in the region, she took a boat out to Tomarro.  Upon reaching the shantytown “suburb” of Lagos, she was overwhelmed with a cacophony of noises and smells.  There she discovered that the fishing community’s children are counted as fortunate if they had at least been enrolled in one of the area’s few elementary schools.  Unfortunately, that’s also where their education usually ended; it is too expensive for them to take a boat over to the commercial capital.

Soon after her arrival in Tomarro, the bali (the tribal king’s brother), who had learned of her work in Lagos, led her out to an open lot. Standing on top of a heap of dirt, he asked her to build the community’s first middle school. She was not prepared for this daunting request, “I’m just a little school teacher from New Jersey.”

Despite the immensity of the task, the Nigerian School Project embarked on its grandest venture with the help the help of a financial benefactor and a local pastor.   On that lot now stands the “Ibadan Public School,” a six classroom block with her name inscribed on the plaque beneath the school’s name.

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Dena Florczyk. Opening Celebration for First Intermediate School in Tomarro, Nigeria

“On the Map”

Tomarro’s people, who had felt ignored by their state, are truly proud of the establishment; they celebrated the opening with lively masquerades, drumming and dancing.  Locals spoke about how the school put them “on the map” and legitimized their community.  Now they can envision new opportunities for their children.

Even though the government shuffled its feet to fulfill their obligation to fund the operation of the school for two years, the  school did not remain idle during this time.  The townspeople formed committees and hired teachers to ensure that the prospective pupils did not have to wait to enroll.

Going Full Circle

Dena is currently awaiting updates and pictures of The Nigerian School Project’s newest endeavor.  The high school will provide an opportunity for Tomarron children to have a complete education and, along with university scholarships, it will represent a full circle for Dena’s work in Nigeria.

In such a tough environment, scholarships don’t necessarily mean success, but The Nigerian School Project has already been able to help one young man, Suru, to complete his education with a college scholarship.  You can see her motherly pride as she speaks of Suru who she has known since he was a young school boy.  Now a Nigerian naval officer, Suru is also one of her trusted Nigerian connections when she is in the States.

The Dance You Do

“I don’t have that edgy, aggressive behavior because I don’t want to step into a situation like that,”  Dena refers to the dance that she does between wanting to capture a situation and not wanting to be intrusive.

Although she loves to photograph, it is not Dena’s priority when she is in Africa.  She accepts that some people consider her images to be too pretty; she’s simply attracted to the lines and colors of a scene and does not seek to exploit the rawest moments.

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Dena Florczyk, Uganda

One of her favorite photographs is one she took in Uganda; she loves the movement of the potter’s wheel and the playfulness of the children within the composition.  Smiling, she remarks how “they just want to play.”  Her photographs do not ignore the poverty and difficulties that plague these areas, but they do not dwell on them either. “People are very proud regardless of their circumstance…they are very proud of who they are and their culture, fiercely proud, and I don’t want anyone feeling that I’m judging that.”   As an intimate observer, she elevates the youth she photographs and conveys what she sees in them; engaging, smart motivated students and sometimes, just simply, children.

Whether its her photography or the schools that she has had built, this little school teacher from New Jersey empowers the voice of the young through sincere portraits and the civil right of literacy.

To view more of Dena’s photographs and to learn more about or support the Nigerian School Project, please visit http://nigerianschoolproject.org.

***UPDATE***  “The Nigerian School Project is thrilled to announce the completion of the first high school on Tomarro Island.
Walls are painted! Desks have been built! 
All that’s missing are textbooks.”-Dena Florczyk
Please contribute to http://www.youcaring.com/other/books-for-tomarro/173201.
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Dena Florczyk with Nigerian School Children

New Posts are Brewing

Text & Photo by Kimberly Cecchini

It may seem as though Tonight at Dawn is on a bit of a hiatus, but I am feverishly working on new posts. This weekend, in addition to covering the festival for Millennium Magazine, I am also a proud member of the Montclair Film Festival photo and blog teams and am running around the town to cover incredible films and fascinating conversations. Here are some of the posts that you can expect over the next week or so:

-Reposts of my photos and blogs on the Montclair Film Festival from conversations with new late night host, Stephen Colbert to Kevin Smith to an incredibly diverse array of inspiring documentaries and entertaining films.

-Interview with my colleague, Dena Floyrzk, who is an incredible photographer and now the founder of two schools in Nigeria.

-Interview with Indian author, Vinay Rai, on his book, Think India, and the state of his country’s progress as a developing economy.

-Interview with a New Jersey chef on his beautiful and ecologically inspired restaurant, Pig & Prince, as will be printed in Millennium Magazine.

Interviews to be slated for the rest of spring:

-Dr. McCabe, graduate professor and autism expert.

-Australian author of proposal for the rehab of orcas in captivity

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John Lugizamo at the Opening Night if Montclair Film Festival 2014.

Release for Anesthesia: A Short Story

The nurse mispronounces her name for the third time, “Amret-ta!”

Amrita finally puts the Cosmo magazine she wasn’t reading on top of the stack on the side table and lifts herself out of the torn pleather chair.  She keeps her eyes cast down at the berber carpet as she passes the other patients who weren’t reading their magazines really. The door slams shut behind them.

“Amret-ta, take a seat on the bed.  There are a few more forms to sign.  Release for anesthesia.  Do you have a ride?”

She hadn’t asked Len to bring her.

“Well, then, you have to consent for the shuttle…”  The nurse sets her clipboard down on the bed tray and adds a yellow sheet to the forms.  “Ok.  Sign here.  Allriiiight.  Release for the procedure.  Here, there’s the description, everything the doctor already went over with you…initial here…”

Amrita pulls the paper closer.  She traces her finger over the page twice, but she can’t focus on these words either.  Her dried eyes sting.

“Miss, you need to finish these papers if you’re going to have the procedure.” The nurse taps on the line.

Amrita is too exhausted to deviate again; she had tormented herself enough last night.  At twenty-seven years old, she had curled up like a fetus on the floor of her bedroom for hours.  Len wasn’t in the bed; the unforgiving wood was all that she had to cradle her.

She draws her initials on the page.

“…and possible side effects….initial here….annnnd sign here.”  She signs it- without crossing her t’s or dotting her i’s.  “Alllriiiight, Amret-ta, that’ll be it.”  The nurse clicks the pen shut and slips it behind the smiling ducks printed on her pocket.

“Strip down and put on the gown, open in the front.”  The nurse taps on a plastic bag, picks up the clipboard and pivots on her heels.  She tugs the curtain closed around Amrita.

Amrita undresses and pulls the gown around her shoulders.  She knots each of the three ties, lies back on the bed and stretches the thin blanket up to her chin.   She settles her hands over her abdomen and, a moment later, she jerks them to her sides.

The nurse returns with an IV stand.  Amrita hardly flinches as the needle pricks her vein.  “Allriiiight.  An orderly will be here shortly to take you on over.”  Her face softens for a moment, “Don’t worry, hon, it will be done soon enough.”

Amrita is alone again.  And later she’ll be alone because she didn’t have the words to explain the unease in her gut to Len.  She turns her head and watches the IV drip.

“Amrita Hamilton?”

She looks up.

The orderly slides open the curtain and asks to check her wristband.  She nods and he rolls her arm towards him.  He leans down, unlatches the breaks on the front wheels and guides her stretcher across the room until it collides with the swinging doors.

Armrita watches the lights pass overhead as the orderly wheels her through the corridors.  Finally, the operating room door slides open.  He pushes her into the room and she hears the door thud against the frame.

The orderly and a nurse shift her over to the operating table.  The doctor greets her, “Good morning, Amrita.  Are you ready?”

She’s ready for the reprieve.

“Can you move up on the table a bit?”  Amrita pulls herself up, glances over the cold, gleaming tiles that cover the perimeter of the room.

The darkness closes in around her.

By Kimberly Cecchini

On the Walls of Barcelona (A les muralles de Barcelona)

Some graffiti photographed throughout Barcelona circa 2009.  If anybody knows the specific context behind some of these images, please add to the comment section! Photos by Kimberly Cecchini

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Socially Impractical

Text by Kimberly Cecchini @tonightatdawn

In the midst of a transaction, a White Castle cashier takes a customer’s $20 bill and stares intently at Andrew Jackson’s portrait.

As if frozen, the employee continues to stare at it.

And stares at it…

…for five minutes.

Besides the confused contortion of his features, the customer watches the employee without reaction…for five minutes.

The customer doesn’t utter a word. The employee stares at the money. It’s a five-minute stand-off. It’s also the kind of hidden camera pranks that are the crux of TruTV’s Impractical Jokers.

photo 1“WARNING: The following program contains scenes of graphic stupidity among four lifelong friends who compete to embarrass each other,” proclaims the narrator in the opening sequence.

Staten Islanders, Sal, Q, Joe and Murr of the improvisational troupe, The Tenderloins, are now gaining more fame with a comedic formula that often plays off of bending social norms. Many of their “challenges” involve them assuming roles of everyday folks such as cashiers, doctors and customers. The other three guys are in another room watching them and they direct their friend who has to “do and say what (they) are told and if (they) refuse, (they) lose”. Their wins and losses are recorded throughout each episode and the overall loser has to meet an ultimate challenge at the end of the half an hour. The directives are often to interact with strangers in unexpected and uncomfortable ways.

My expertise in sociology may not extend past being a people watcher, but often the skits seem to be unintended social experiments. The challenges are generally unembellished acts such as a Joker attempting to be welcomed at a strangers’ table after they have already crashed it. Besides watching the show’s stars approach uncomfortable situations, the entertainment is in how many of their “targets” either laugh or hesitantly react. In Sal’s turn at the table challenge, he joins a groups of girlfriends and engages with them as if he had been invited. Besides a doubtful expression on one woman’s face, the women go along with him as he boldly chats, snags a slice of their pizza and orders a glass of wine for himself. That was a thumbs up for Sal.

As simple as it is, that’s sometimes the simple charm of the show to see folks befuddled when one of the Jokers interjects their antics into a mundane situation. Many of us are exasperated by just about anything that interferes with efficiency and have perfected ways to ignore folks in public, but the Jokers’ simple stunts can even throw off a New Yorker. People seem to have a reserve of ingrained responses to many occurrences that may be unacceptable such as a calling over a waiter when we receive the wrong order. But what do you do if the dental hygienist tilts your head upside down in the chair and walks away? Apparently, not much.

Obviously, I am oversimplifying the reactions and ignoring that the magic of TV editing may play a part, but Impractical Jokers, to me, is a lighthearted form of social experiment. It’s a fun, half hazard study of boundaries.

Watch the show and share your feedback in the comment section. But, if nothing else, you can prepare yourself in case Q, Sal, Murr or Joe sits at your table.

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margeaux walter: artist part two

Margeaux Walter has a thorough resume that includes a number of solo and group shows, honors, awards and artist residencies.  She is currently an MFA student at Hunter College in New York City.

Contact: http://www.margeauxwalter.com                                                https://www.facebook.com/margeauxwalter

Current gallery exhibit: Pentimenti Gallery in Philadelphia (Now until May 24th) http://www.pentimenti.com

Interview by Kimberly Cecchini/Images by Margeaux Walter

Tonight at Dawn: In the “False Awakening” series, your characters appear in a familiar scene akin to the kind in your other projects; parks, dinners, etc. In the next lenticular “frame,” the characters literally appear to be consumed by what they are consuming such as in “High Fructose” and “Sweet Dreams”. Can you explain your intentions in this project?

Margeaux Walter: The idea for this series was less literal than some of my earlier work. The first image represents an event happening in reality based on a stereotypical rendering of that event. Then the second image can be read as one that is happening in the mind of these characters, so the lenticular flips between the real and the psychological.

The consumption of the characters is one that I see as emotional, but has reference to consumerism, advertising, and some of the overwhelming consequences of modern technology.

 

Margeaux Walter: "High Fructose" from the "False Awakening" Series
Margeaux Walter: “High Fructose” from the “False Awakening” Series

Tonight at Dawn: The logistics of creating one scene with lighting, props, location, costume changes appear intense to me. How long might one shoot take? Do you often have help?

Margeaux Walter: The prep time from conception to the actual photo shoot takes the longest, usually weeks to months. I try to prepare everything so that the shoot itself only takes a few days. I prefer to work alone, but recently in some of the more complicated pieces I have had some help.

Tonight at Dawn: Name a song/musician, meal, etc. that you feel would be the audio, gastronomical, etc. reflection of your work. Why?

Margeaux Walter: This is a tough one. My first thought was a bento box. It is recognizable, has a strong graphic composition, and yet brings many different elements together, some of which are very unexpected.

Tonight at Dawn: 今 Jīn, the series that you created during your residency in Beijing that features uninviting windows, looks like a departure from your usual work. How did your experience in Beijing impact your artistic vision?

Margeaux Walter: My residency in Beijing was only a month, and I didn’t go there with any agenda or idea. I spent the first week or two on my bike exploring the city. What I began to notice from these bike rides was how fast the city was changing under a strong pressure to modernize / westernize. Buildings would be demolished within days, and be replaced with sterile brick structures. People for the most part do not own their property, as the government can demolish it at will, and so the idea of home and ownership is very different. I became interested in how this phenomenon was affecting daily life and began photographing these new constructions. In some photographs I created a scene happening within the space based on my imagination, and other photographs I left unaltered.

Each window reveals tidbits of humanity like grass sprouting in the cracks of a paved parking lot.

There is a sharp contrast between the organic and inorganic, which is both exposed and masked by rapid modernization. These images to me represented the face of progress there.

From the Series, "今 Jīn," Margeaux Walter created at during residency at Red Gate Gallery in Beijing
From the Series, “今 Jīn,” Margeaux Walter created at during residency at Red Gate Gallery in Beijing

Tonight at Dawn: Please tell us about your current group exhibition in Philadelphia; where it is and which projects are on display?

Margeaux Walter: I am showing three new lenticulars from my series False Awakening at Pentimenti Gallery in Philadelphia. There are five artists in the exhibit and the concept is about different ways that artists are manipulating paper as a material. The show opens Friday April 4th, and is up until May 24th.

Tonight at Dawn: Please share one thing about you that may be quirky or interesting.

Margeaux Walter: I own 83 wigs.

Tonight at Dawn: If you cannot make it to the current exhibit in Philadelphia, I know there will be many more opportunities to see Margeaux’s work well into the future.  Her creativity and vision make it very probable that she and her art will be an ever evolving and steadfast part of our visual culture.

This piece features more of Margeaux’s wig collection:

"General Admission", Photographic Lenticular, 40 x 40 inches from the "Crowded Series"
Margeaux Walter, “General Admission”, Photographic Lenticular, 40 x 40 inches from the “Crowded Series”.