Steps in the Journey: “Strangers on the Earth” at the Cleveland International Film Festival

A film review by Mark Sebastian Jordan.

Life is onward.

As I drove from my home in rural Lucas, Ohio, to the Cleveland International Film Festival to see Strangers on the Earth, Tuesday, April 4th, I received a text that I had just become an uncle (well, actually, great-uncle) again. My niece Michelle, the closest thing this crusty bachelor will ever have to a daughter, had just given birth to her first baby, a son named Javier. A new life beginning a journey.

On the return trip a few hours later, I received another message: My beloved friend Kimberly Orsborn had passed away in hospice care. She steered me to the newspaper job that gave me a port in the storm in 2007 when I was transitioning out of the corporate world and into the creative world. In 2009, Kim left that small-town rag and began life as a free-lance writer. That same year, she was diagnosed with a malignant, fast-moving breast cancer. The doctors gave her months. She made it eight years.

Kim beat the odds to live many more seasons because she kept moving, kept doing, kept finding ways around the fog of “chemo-brain.” Before she was done, she said that cancer had ended up being one of the great gifts of her life, something that made her stop and relish every moment of her existence, before continuing on, more aware of her surroundings than before. It deepened her journey.

SOTE the way

El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, the pilgrimage path featured in the documentary “Strangers on the Earth,” presented this month at the Cleveland International Film Festival. (Photos by Kayla Arend courtesy of Fisterra Productions.)

So, a film about a journey is a good forum for savoring the life in us and around us. But how many feet can walk a road before it becomes a stampede? Strangers on the Earth is a film by Tristan Cook about the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago de Compostela in the Galicia region of northern Spain. Dedicated to the Christian Saint James (who is said to be buried in Compostela), the way actually co-opted an older Celtic sacred pathway and Roman trading route running from the Pyrenees Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean.
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William Trent Pancoast and his Triptych for the Working Class

 – A Review by Nick Gardner

When reading about work, and by work I mean hard manual labor, and by this I mean hacking in the coal mines, servicing cars, running a factory press, and by this I mean coming home dirty, sore, and growing older only to find that the work has left lasting damage, a permanent stoop or carpal tunnel, arthritis — when reading about this type of work, and especially the near feudal system of industrial economics, I often cringe and scowl. But I can’t give up reading.

William Trent Pancoast tells real stories of real work. They are grungy, wild, and often violent. They are something anyone can relate to, with love and hate and characters who live and breath… but these stories can also be relentless. They sucker-punch you, knock you to the ground, and kick you till you can’t feel the kicks anymore, till the pain is finally replaced by outrage.

I decided to read William Trent Pancoast’s oeuvre in a week. I had read Wildcat before and much of his short fiction so I knew they would be quick reads, all but Crashing taking only a 4-5 hour stint. I moved through the books in the order that Pancoast presented them to me over the last couple years: Wildcat, Crashing, and most recently, The Road To Matewan. I wanted to see if there was something deeper that tied these varied stories together. What emerged was a new understanding of this subject of work.wildcat

First, I reread Wildcat, a story featuring a General Motors stamping plant as its protagonist. It is set in fictional Cranston, Ohio and proceeds as a series of short biographies and vignettes about the characters that work at the plant. As the reader learns the history of the factory through the lives of the workers, through PTSD, amputations, alcoholism, and the general alienation and disassociation of industrialization, there is also a sense of the factory as a whole, the people being only members of the factory body. If the machines are muscle, the laborers are the vital organs, performing specific functions to urge the factory on. The union serves as ligaments holding the workers together with the management, and the building houses them all. Through this series of symbiotic beings, the factory struggles, overworked by its general managers, CEOs, and the capitalistic structure in general to always produce more, to win a race with no definite finish line. Finally the workers give up and the factory topples. In GM’s death throes, the owners survive, jeering at an empty cement slab. Continue reading

Altered Eats Pre-Concert Dinner: When Swing Was King

I have a coworker who will never understand buying a ticket for five course meal. Especially when that meal includes uncooked cured meat, pickled cauliflower, and brandy cocktails with rosewater. He looks confused when I bring up Boudin Noir and spits out a chunk of his bologna sandwich when I describe how this specific sausage is made.

For those who cleave to steak ‘n’ potato or hamburger fare, the food that Altered Eats has prepared for the pre-concert dinner for When Swing Was King at the Renaissance Theatre may seem foreign or even just plain weird. But if you can get past the initial shock of the seemingly odd ingredients you will see that the Altered Eats team has crafted a menu that celebrates different attributes of many foreign cultures but also comes from your backyard. The result is a meal that tastes like nothing you’ve had before but also tastes a lot like home.

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The Night’s Menu

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The Art of Orie Rush

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Poor Power Supply

Orie Rush’s show in the Book Loft Gallery opened two weeks ago to a crowd of friends, family, and total strangers. It is Rush’s first solo show, though you wouldn’t know by the huge group gathered in the loft of my bookstore. For a solid two hours, Rush is pinned behind a table on which his sketchbooks and prints sit, entertaining one admirer after another.

The show consists of twenty-plus drawings, paintings, pieces of digital art, and piles of prints plus a selection of Rush’s sketchbooks. For those of us not well-versed in the techniques of visual art, it was difficult to distinguish one style from another save by the title cards. Micron, digital, watercolor, acrylic: all stand together in the delicate precision of their execution as well as the question they pose to the viewer — can you tell my story?

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A selection of digital prints

Though the subject matter varies wildly — sleek samurais and geisha, art deco-like figure studies, whimsical critters in watercolor — the thread that remains consistent is that of wonder. By wonder, I mean the power to create questions and curiosity, to create stories in the viewers’ minds. A triumvirate of wizened heads, a hand like a firecracker, a startled creature — part potted plant, part octopus…one cannot help but insert their own stories and create their own worlds. From gritty to dreamy and rough to flawlessly clean, these works demonstrate the fecund, twisty wilderness of Rush’s imagination. Continue reading

A Voice of Survival and Regeneration: A Review of “40; Hopscotchin’ Carcasses”

40; Hopscotchin’ Carcasses by Chico’s Brother

                    A review by Mark Sebastian Jordan.

You wanna hear America right now?

It ain’t some chest-thumping, dumbed-down recycled-classic-rock with a yella-dog-in-a-pickup-truck-with-a-red-hatted-good-ol-bubba making Merica meth again. It ain’t the scratchy skirl of a Scottish fiddle playing a weathered tune, it ain’t the trip-skittle of hard bop, not the altered states of a Mahler mind-field, not The Beatles, no Nirvana, and it sure as fuck ain’t the latest auto-tuned non-entity sliding across the charts of lucre.

You wanna hear America right now? This is it. Folk ‘n’ urban, sweet as candy, and ready to cut you. Chico’s Brother, harmonious and alienating, narrative and nonsense, avant-ghetto, is the expression of Aurelio Villa Luna Diaz, resident of Mansfield, Ohio, and elsewhere. He’s a stew of ethnic and cultural storms, rich in voice, startlingly open and maddeningly elusive, like everything and like nothing you’ve ever heard before.

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Aurelio Villa Luna Diaz is Chico’s Brother, the prince of Midwestern avant-ghetto. (Photo courtesy of Michael Pfahler.)

 

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We Stand With Standing Rock

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In late July, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stating their concern that a pipeline slated to be built encroached upon ancestral lands.


It’s a five dollar donation to get in the doors of the Standing Rock Solidarity Benefit show, to be enveloped in the warmth, the glow, the murmur of conversations cut frequently by loud laughter. It looks like someone’s family reunion with folding chairs and cheap plastic table cloths, a buffet set-up with six donated Two Cousin’s Gut Buster pizzas and cheap booze. As the place slowly fills with people, the room becomes a beacon in the cold night, a bright light in a row of dim buildings, a convention of friends new and old, setting the stage for solidarity.


September 4th, Dakota Access begins clearing ground for the pipeline, bulldozing over sacred sites and burials. Protesters are attacked by dogs and pepper sprayed.


It took just under two weeks for Aurelio Villa Luna Diaz, Mark Sebastian Jordan, Kathy Fetzer-Goodwin to bring this event into the public eye, being touted in the local papers and drawing over a hundred contributors and participants. It even received threats, though none came to fruition. The K.E. McCarthy building was donated as a space for the show and by door time, all money spent on food, drink, and entrance would be sent to the Oceti Sakowin Camp.

Mark Jordan opens the show as MC and performer and along with Jason Kauffman, Lucas Hargis, and Nate Weiland presents a spoken word piece (Pronouncement: An Invocation for the Standing Rock Benefit Concert). He repeats the question: “who speaks?” over the murmur of the settling audience and we listen, and finally erupt into applause on his final call-to-arms, that “We speak!”

This becomes the theme of the show, the different voices no longer silenced, but calling for an end to injustice. This is a shout for self-expression and for claiming a space in the land.

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