The Earth Is in Our Care: How two local advocates are using art to spread environmental awareness

Art has always been an important tool of the environmental movement. For decades, music and imagery have been used to highlight the beauty of nature, to inspire concern and motivate the need for environmental protection. And more recently, groups like the Sunrise Movement and 350.org have used consistent, striking and recognizable art across all platforms and at protests to help grow the climate justice movement.

And Noreen Inglesi and Bina Gehres are no strangers to the power of good art to inspire hearts and change minds. Their non-profit arts organization, Notable Works (notableworks.org), has released ‘Voices of the Earth: The Future of Our Planet’ volumes I and II, compilations of local poetry about the climate crisis and environmental stewardship. The pair has worked on a number of projects with environmental organizations based in Rhode Island and most recently, they’ve put together a striking video in partnership with the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, titled The Earth Is in Our Care.

“What we wanted to do with the song was present ways that people could take part in helping to save the planet,” said Inglesi, when I interviewed them about their latest project. “It’s about our feelings about the environment and the human spirit, and everything happening now in 2020. It all kind of comes together for us,” added Gehres.

Watch ‘The Earth is in Our Care’, and read the full interview with the artists below.

Alex Kithes (Motif): Which organization(s) are each of you representing?

Noreen Inglesi: We are both representing Notable Works Publication and Distribution Company, Incorporated

AK: What inspired you to create this project? Tell me a little about the partnership between Notable Works and the Audubon Society of Rhode Island.

NI: The Earth Is in Our Care was inspired to address the issue of climate change. What we wanted to do with the song was present ways that people could take part in helping to save the planet – talking about living sustainably, renewable energy and weaning ourselves off fossil fuels and onto electric cars and solar energy. And the Audubon Society of Rhode Island was a big inspiration for this project. They love nature and connecting people to it. And when putting together this video presentation, Paige Therien and her staff really helped to bring this together with their great photos and video clips, which were a perfect fit for the lyrics of the song. And Bina is perfect at matching the right photos and video clips to the lyrics. It was really great to work with her.

BG: When we met with Paige Therien, what she said was golden, and it really steered us in the right direction.

NI: Absolutely! All of the information about pollinator highways, and so many of the projects they’re doing were such a great inspiration.

Also, the staff wonderfully helped with our second and soon-to-be-released project with this organization entitled “Notable Works’ Tribute to Audubon Society of Rhode Island.” The staff shared some of their current projects as well as their personal stories. For example, Kim Calcagno, Refuge Manager at Powder Mill Ledges Wildlife Refuge, sent us a story about how, when she was growing up, she and her grandfather would save toads in the backyard before they mowed the lawn. That story was something that I could relate to. The love for all the creatures on the Earth is so important and such an inspiration.

BG: “The Earth Is in Our Care” video presentation is intended to try to help everyone realize that each of us can take an active part in saving our planet – not just interns and those educated in the field.”

AK: Watching the video, I was struck by the combination of deep and emotional music, provoking imagery, and the broader ideas and concepts of environmental degradation and protection. Tell me a little more about the project from your perspectives, and explain to me a little about your artistic goals in designing and creating the video.

BG: Noreen and I are quite a team. She writes from the heart, and I’m very visual. We have two computers going at the same time, and it just flows. It’s about our feelings about the environment and the human spirit, and everything happening now in 2020. It all kind of comes together for us.

NI: One note about the interlude. It was so important to put in the video clip of the butterfly – Audubon sees pollinators as key to maintaining the balance of nature and they feel protecting them is vital for our future.

AK: Do you have any projects coming up you want to tell me about?

NI: As I mentioned earlier, our new project is “Notable Works Tribute to Audubon Society of Rhode Island.” I wrote the music and poetry based on all the valuable work and emotion that each of the staff contributed. And input from each of their personal stories is going into the song, which is then being made into a presentation. Paige is working on getting together photos and video clips from the staff, and the music is all done. The Notable Works’ Ensemble (Tina Bernard, vocals; Maria Bilyeu, cello; Dalita Getzoyan, flute and vocals; myself on vocals, and Alison Shea, piano) is working on a final recording of the song. The presentation will be released soon.

AK: Tell me more about your other project, Voices of the Earth: The Future of Our Planet book of poetry, volumes 1 and 2. (Full disclosure: the author was a contributing poet in ‘Voices of the Earth: The Future of Our Planet II’)

NI: Last year, we published Voices of the Earth: The Future of Our Planet I, which addressed the issue of climate change. Notable Works is an arts organization, dedicated to raising awareness for environmental and social concerns through the arts. The first volume of Voices of the Earth: The Future of Our Planet focused on the beauty of nature and primarily Rhode Island. We included some poems that were written with The Nature Conservancy, and focused on the need to protect our natural resources and Rhode Island’s natural beauty. In the second volume, Voices of the Earth: The Future of Our Planet II, we did a call for poetry with the theme of resilience, sustainable living and adapting to a changing climate. 

AK: What brought you both into environmental activism?

BG: Knowledge – we learned. I can’t quite explain it, but the more you learn, the more interested you get. The Audubon Society has opened up a whole world to us. But we started out a long time ago with The Nature Conservancy. I had a friend who worked there, who would tell me how we need to address the climate crisis. We asked the staff at the Nature Conservancy in Rhode Island if we could learn more about what they do and write music about it and the project was incredible. 

NI: I used to do a lot of science projects as a kid. I was always interested in air pollution, I always had a heart for  animals, and I’ve always loved the ocean and being with nature. Our natural resources are so important, as is maintaining the balance of nature – so everyone can get a fair shake, including the creatures.

AK: Anything else you wanted to talk about that we didn’t cover?

BG: We can’t say enough about the environmental agencies here in Rhode Island, how wonderfully they’re doing with the treasures they have to guard. They’re doing a good job protecting endangered species and their natural habitats.

NI: Part of the reason for our books was to highlight the agencies that are doing such good work in our state. And at the same time, we asked them if there are any volunteer opportunities and included them in Voices of the Earth: The Future of Our Planet I and II. It gives anybody that is really interested in trying to take an active part in their community a place to go, get involved and to help.




From Stage to Screen: Play-turned-film taps into our distrust of government

When Nathan Suher calls the timing of The Assassination of Western Civilization a “curious thing,” he isn’t simply being glib about the state of the world. He’s referring to the release date of his latest directed film, a 1970s-inspired political suspense thriller, filmed entirely in one take. 

The movie will premiere online on Sunday, November 1, days before the election.

“The final cut of the film wrapped up around February 2020 and (I chose) to sit on it for a while and pick my moment,” Suher says. “Watching how the world reacted to the political landscape, the way our government has handled the pandemic and the escalation of tensions that have risen from the murders of George Floyd, and several victims, has reinforced the notion that this film has something important to add to the conversation.”

The Assassination of Western Civilization is the story of a tabloid writer, besieged by personal pressures, who finds himself in the crosshairs of an FBI investigation of the assassination of a senator at a nearby hotel. The film doesn’t “directly voice an opinion about this current administration nor the tensions that are currently relevant,” Suher says, but “it definitely is tapping into the delirium and paranoia that is surrounding the distrust in our government.”

It’s a plot that lends itself well to the ambitious task of capturing a full-length film entirely in one shot. Not just because of its contained setting, but because before The Assassination of Western Civilization was a feature, it was a play called Newcastle, written by Lenny Schwartz.

Schwartz and Suher have collaborated on several projects and recently produced a socially distanced anthology Far From Perfect: Life Inside a Global Pandemic. In 2014, Suher recalls the duo were “relatively early on” in their friendship, but always met up to spitball ideas. “One of those early meetings was at the Belle Street Chapel, the location where his theater company Daydream Theatre Company was operating out of,” Suher recalls. “I arrived early and Lenny was in the middle of rehearsals for the original stage version of The Assassination of Western Civilization … I sat in the back of the room, watching him direct the actors, and I was awestruck by the process. I had never actually witnessed this side of a stage production before.” When Suher finally saw the finished play, he was “blown away by it” – but didn’t approach Schwartz about adapting the script until four years later.

“Because of the style of the script with it unfolding in ‘real-time,’ and the fact that all of the story takes place in a single location, I naturally jumped to the idea of making this a single-take feature,” Suher says. “For the most part, the film adaptation follows exactly the same plot, beat by beat. What I felt was essential was to make sure the movie felt dynamic; that you weren’t just watching a three-dimensional play. One of those ways was to constantly give the viewer different perspectives of the characters and the room by making decisions throughout when to go wide and when to get right into the actors’ faces. As the movie progresses, and the tension keeps ratcheting, the camera takes more opportunities to get closeups… Keep in mind that this is all done in a single take. Normally on a stage the audience is able to pick and choose what they want to look at. I had to choose sometimes to instruct my director of photography, Ben Heald, to stay on an actor who wasn’t talking because I hoped their reaction would be stronger in the moment.”

While Suher had previously directed a 6-minute short single-take film, the task of filming a feature under the same constraints left him initially anxious. “When we were getting close to the end of rehearsals, I started getting cold feet about the entire process. The actors were doing very well, but I didn’t have full confidence that we were going to be able to run through the entire script and be 100% perfect. Which means, we can’t see the boom pole in the shot. We can’t have someone break character. We can’t have an egregious line flub. We can’t have someone accidentally forget where they left an essential prop.” 

Because Suher only had his full crew for one weekend, he worried whether they would be able to execute the single take. As a back-up, the crew spent nearly the entire time filming a version of the movie in 10 different parts. Yet with only four hours left in the weekend’s shooting schedule, Suher yearned to try the single take – a time crunch that meant the shot had to be nailed in only one or two tries. “The first take, we made it 22 minutes in and then the boom pole crossed right through the shot,” Suher says. “And of course, it takes about 25 minutes, at least, to reset everything! So it was really our last chance to nail it. With no time to spare, I called action on a ‘make it or go home’ final shot at the single-take version and, by some miracle, everything fell perfectly into place and as a result, we got our single take version in the can.”

The Assassination of Western Civilization premieres online Sunday, November 1, at 8pm. Register through Eventbrite at www.assassinatemovie.com 




McManus Brothers Sound Off: The Block Island Sound draws the filmmaking duo home

“Everyone knows what Block Island feels like in the summer, but in the winter it’s like a Stephen King set, just a spooky place,” says Matthew McManus. “It’s cold, every house is boarded up, every tree is barren — it has this wonderful, eerie quality to it. We just fell in love with it.”

Matthew and his brother Kevin McManus are the directing duo behind The Block Island Sound, the indie horror film that premiered in August at Fantasia International Film Festival. The movie was a homecoming for the Warwick natives, who shot their debut feature, Funeral Kings (2012) in RI, and went on to garner an Emmy nomination for their writing on the hit Netflix series “American Vandal” in 2018.

The Block Island Sound focuses on a series of strange happenings on the titular island. First, a mass beaching of fish, which brings marine biologist Audry Lynch (Michaela McManus) back to her hometown. Once there, she finds her grizzled fisherman father (Neville Archibald) has been acting strange. After a sudden tragedy, Audry and her brother Harry (Chris Sheffield) must reckon with the mysterious force disturbing the island. The film blends a cosmic horror story with a taut family drama, and the sibling dynamic between Sheffield and McManus has real depth and believability.

The film also taps into cultural anxieties over climate change. Numerous mass animal die-offs are mentioned, and each of them, according to Kevin McManus, are sourced from real life events. “It’s funny how many people have emailed us with an article like, ‘All these fish died off, you guys predicted it.’ It’s like, ‘No, this happens every day,’ so hopefully this is a way of bringing attention to that. Two-thirds of wildlife has died out since the 1970s … it’s pretty fucking dark.”

Another uncannily relevant part of the movie is Dale, Harry’s conspiracy theorist pal who attempts to tie the island’s strange happenings together. “When we were writing him we thought we’d get dinged for this by critics, like ‘This guy doesn’t really exist,’” says Matthew. “Sure enough, just when we’re ready to put it out into the world, half the country are these crazy
conspiracy theorists. I guess it’s more prescient than we could have appreciated.”

The impetus for the film came from a college experience: “We were shooting a zombie movie, and we needed a place that would look abandoned and not cost a fortune. It was February on Block Island. I think as soon as we saw it we thought, ‘We need to do something bigger here, longer here, something real.’ It’s been in the back of our heads ever since.”

They got their chance in spring 2018. “We shot April into May, so it started ice cold and ended sweltering hot. We were like, ‘We only shot for 15 days, how did we get summer and winter and no spring?’ But that’s about right for Rhode Island.”

The McManus’ Block Island is beautiful in its barren bleakness — a washed out seascape beneath which lurks eldritch, Lovecraftian forces. The film is full of local color and insider details, and it’s clear the McManuses relished their homecoming. “My sister is one of the leads in it, my mom makes a cameo, my buddy Matt Giacheri is one of the producers — it felt like this great communion of all these people we’d worked with when we were kids. It was a special experience.”

One more McManus family member made it into The Block Island Sound, in an unexpected way. I remarked on the movie’s unnerving, ethereal soundscape, which I learned has a secret ingredient. Kevin explains: “The ‘monster sound’ you hear was a really hard one to pin down. We had it written in some kind of gibberish in the script, and everyone kept asking us,
‘So what is the sound going to sound like?’… Nothing was quite working, and eventually, right after we were done shooting the film, that September I had a daughter, so we took a break from the film for a minute, and when she was about seven months old, she started cooing in this high pitched guttural way, in short little bursts, really high pitched, and if I slowed it down 15%, it had this almost crocodilian growl to it. Suddenly, you get this really organic creepy otherworldly kind of sound that’s really hard to put your finger on, and of course it’s just a little baby. It was exciting to give my daughter her debut as a monster.”

The McManus brothers hope that the film will appear at other festivals in the near future. It will be available to the public sometime in 2021. “It was fun being able to make another film in Rhode Island,” said Matthew. “Something just draws us back to shooting there.”

Michaela McManus, Matthew McManus, Kevin McManus, Chris Sheffield.
Photo cred: Erin Douglass

To see the film’s trailer, go to youtu.be/2P30Ynj0gxA




Quirky, Nerdy and Brilliant: The Alexandra Cipolla story

Bloody good antibodies.

As far as expressions of self goes, you could do worse than Rhode Island. From supporting the creative arts in all their myriad splendors to providing global perspectives at world class universities, Rhody is a haven for those who want to be themselves — and be accepted — on an international stage. Many of our citizens embody this distinctly Rhode Island flavor, but if there was to be one who speaks for us all, local actor, comic and in-vivo antibody biologist Alexandra Cipolla might just be the name on the ticket. Amadeus Finlay caught up with this lover of Halloween and all things weird and wonderful as she prepares to celebrate the year’s spookiest event. 

Amadeus Finlay (Motif): In-vivo antibody discovery and theatrical performance … two very different pursuits, yet you successfully weave them together. Tell us a little about your distinct worlds, and how they overlap to influence your personality and creative verve. 

Alexandra Cipolla: Working in two completely different fields may seem bizarre, but it feels completely natural to me. It is almost as if I am two different halves put together. I have my nerdy science side, and I also have my artistic creative side. I have always been quirky and never really felt like I fit in anywhere, so it makes complete sense to me how I gravitate toward two unique industries. There is a point where I feel like each pursuit complements the other. There are times when being a performer has made me a better public speaker, and times when my creativity has assisted me in the lab.

AF: What has been your biggest challenge in each?

AC: The biggest challenge in both fields is balance. To be able to balance a creative endeavor while maintaining my professional career is quite difficult. I am a mother as well, so trying to weave so many intricate schedules together can be very tough. I have tried at times to focus on each field individually, but always find that I feel like I am missing part of my self. When I was taking time off from science to start a family, I missed it. And when my career gets too busy for me to create and perform, it feels like a piece of me is missing. I need both in my life and getting it all to fit together is the most challenging thing of all.

With Michael Thurder in Severed

AF: Your IMdB profile says that you enjoy “making waves…” Can you define what that means for you?

AC: “Making waves” refers to the passion inside of me and how it manifests. If I set my mind to something, I can do it. I can recall many times in my life when I was told that I would not succeed at certain things. It started with sports when I was young. I joined the track team and asked what the longest race was because I craved what was most difficult. In high school, I wanted to play soccer, but did not know how. I took a book out of the library and taught myself. An advisor in college saw me struggling in a class and told me I would not succeed in science and to change my major. Yet here I am, a scientist. It is also what propelled me as a self-proclaimed tomboy to throw myself into the world of pageants and modeling. I love experiencing new and different things. Some individuals feel that after a certain age people need to settle down. That is not me. I will always be “making waves” no matter how old I am.

AF: It was initially improv and the thrill of hearing an audience laughing that turned your heart toward performance. Do you still do the comedy work?

AC: I do. Comedy can be exciting and wonderful. A large portion of my work has been horror, but I am always open to a vast array of projects as an actor. I have played a cheerleader from outer space on a mission to see Elvis as well as a vigilante nun fighting the mob. The original improv moment I performed as a child opened a brand-new world for me. I was painfully shy and anxious, and it consumed my identity. Hearing an audience laugh was honestly life changing for me. The chance to be something other than myself was freeing and not something I had considered at the age of 10.

AF: What have been your standout performance moments?

AC: There have honestly been so many amazing moments, but one stands out above all the rest. In 2018 I performed in an original musical titled The Inside of His Severed Head. I absolutely adore musical theater, but this collaboration by Lenny Schwartz and Duncan Pflaster was so unique. I had spent so much time working on films and modeling that I forgot how much I loved theater. Not only did I get to originate the role of Bernard, but we also traveled to New York City to perform. For a science girl from Rhode Island, it was a dream come true. The art of pouring tiny pieces of yourself into an original character that no one has ever played before was amazing. Growing up it became a goal of mine to pursue musical theater professionally, but it was always on the back burner. Having the opportunity to create and perform with such a wonderful group of individuals was incredible.

AF: Some corners of society have developed a distrust of science and those who live and breathe medicine. What’s with that, and as a professional, how does it make you feel?

Alexandra loves to make costumes for her children at Halloween.

AC: The distrust of science is disheartening. I chose a career in science not just because it was something I enjoyed or was good at. I chose this path because I wanted to have a positive impact on people’s live. It is upsetting to see individuals who have no experience and background in the industry try to discredit the work and findings of others. Children in school are taught the scientific method growing up. They are taught that careful observation is required of any hypothesis. Through experimentation and analyzation that hypothesis is determined to be true or false. These findings have data to back them up. At what point do people stop believing in facts and why? I cannot speak for these individuals. I can only speak for myself. Personally, science is amazing, and I truly believe that the work I do positively affects people’s lives.

AF: Now, the question everyone has been waiting for: What are you dressing as this Halloween?

AC: As an actor I feel like I get to experience Halloween year-round working on different projects. I would love to say that I have an amazing costume planned for myself but as a parent, Halloween is now all about my kids. I have handmade every costume for them since they were born. When they were small and had no opinion, I loved to make movie costumes for them. My favorite was Barf from Spaceballs. And now that they are a little older, I am constructing cardboard garbage trucks and sewing superhero costumes. 




Frights on Film

We talked with local educator, artist and horror enthusiast Jade Sisti about what she watches during the spookiest month of the year, and this is what she had to say.

People Under the Stairs (1991)

I adore this movie. It’s ridiculous, utterly ridiculous. On the surface it’s campy, with dated references and questionable horror-related makeup choices, but I don’t care. This movie is bomb. It touches on racism, gentrification, child abuse, cannibalism and so on. The dynamic between Daddy (Everett McGill) and Mommy (Wendy Robby) is disturbing to say the least, and they’re straight up frightening. Watching McGill running around in his little sexy suit screaming “kill, kill, kill,” is just as funny as it is horrifying. I’d also argue that the line, “Your momma sleeps with cats,” is the best line to come out of modern cinema. What better insult to come out of an early ’90s 13-year-old?

Perfect Blue (1997)

So this movie isn’t technically horror, but it’s horrifying all the same. This anime takes place when the phrase “dial up,” meant go have dinner, take a pee, watch a movie, then go see if you were connected to the internet or not. So in that regard it’s a little outdated, but nostalgic all the same. It’s hard to explain this movie without giving it away, so let’s say instead that going into this, assume you’re watching an Alfred Hitchcock film. I also like how the characters in this movie were drawn. None of them are overly attractive, including the main character, who’s a pop singer. Their designs feels a little uncomfortable, slightly off somehow. Even if you’re not into animation, this movie is worth it for the story.

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

So this movie is actually horror. Comedy of course, but still a horror. I love zombies and everything about them. I have a friend who can’t stand horror movies, so this is one of those rare flicks that we can both agree on. This movie shows so much respect to the original Dawn of the Dead (my favorite) and still managed to retain a solid story of its own. It’s funny, but geez it has its sad moments. It was such a refreshing idea at the time, when zombie movies were a dime a dozen. College wouldn’t have been the same without this.

Audition (1999)

This horror movie came out back when the Japanese were pumping out killer horror flicks. Don’t believe me? Look at all the remakes that came out around the same time here in the states. Japanese horror was on point I tell you. Anyway, this one in particular (which has yet to be remade) is one that I felt stood out from the rest. It’s creepy, visually disturbing and I kind of don’t feel bad for the victims in this plot. This movie can be squeamish at times and not everything will make sense. Just roll with it, it’s worth it.

The Bad Seed (1956)

This is old, like really old, but it’s way ahead of its time. The kid is a straight-up psychopath, and the movie questions whether a person could be born that way or nurtured into it. Rhoda (Patty McCormack) is the original crowned queen for creepy children and a mini Ted Bundy — charming, intelligent and an adorable killer. It was so ahead of its time, that the actors had to come back on screen at the end of the flick just to say everything was cool.




Undependent: New YouTube series explores the plight of artists

“Undependent” is the new comedic web series about two filmmakers and their journey to produce an epic documentary following their first success. Ray Harrington and Derek Furtado give us an authentic glimpse into the humbling plight of independent artists.  

You may have seen Harrington or Furtado headlining their home club in East Providence, but the two are also nationally touring comedians. One of Ray’s most recent performances was on “Conan” back in February — before COVID-19 graced us with its presence. 

The project premiered at The Rhode Island International Film Festival in summer 2019, and the pair, along with their producer Lee Leshen, were in discussions with a network for development. However, with the pandemic halting productions left and right in the entertainment industry, the decision was made to independently release the series on YouTube. “With all the chaos of quarantine, watching something funny and escaping for a bit has been so important to me and, I know, to a LOT of people,” writes star and director Ray Harrington in a Facebook post. He hopes that the comedic release will offer a bit of levity for people dealing with these difficult times. 

I saw the pilot and can personally say that the narrative truly hits home for all creatives trying to make a name for themselves. The hopeful leads break through the cynicism that comes standard with being an entertainer and do it with hilarity and heart. 

The mockumentary style series was released August 3 on YouTube, and airs on Monday and Thursdays. Edited by Motif contributor Chuck Staton, the project originally released as a 2-part pilot is broken down into segments that are easily digestible for the digital age. The series can be found on YouTube on Ray Harrington’s Channel and at UndependentShow.com

Be sure to follow along for the latest updates on “Undependent”: @rayharringtoncomedy; @derek_furtado; @discountchuck




Get Your Jocks Off: An interview with Strapped for Danger II director, Richard Griffin

Richard Griffin

Unassuming, welcoming, understated, even shy at times, you need to peel back the layers to uncover the man beneath the myth. But Pawtucket-based film director Richard Griffin has long been a legend in Rhode Island film circles, and is also becoming an important figure in the nation’s LGBTQ+ creative scene. We caught up with Griffin ahead of the July 31 premiere of his latest movie, Strapped for Danger II: Undercover Vice to discover why he returned to the Strapped for Danger franchise, and how the sequel is even more explosive than the first. 

Amadeus Finlay (Motif): Strapped for Danger II has just landed; tell us more about the plot. 

Richard Griffin: Strapped for Danger II: Undercover Vice revolves around two straight and highly inept police officers who, after blowing a big case, are forced to go undercover as gay porn actors to bust a blackmail ring involving several Republican senators. It was originally written as fiction, but now in 2020, it’s basically a documentary. 

(L-R) Graham Stokes, Ninny Nothin’, and Victoria Paradis star in the movie

AF: How have critics responded?

RG: The critical response has been nothing but overwhelmingly positive. It’s always a worry that a sequel will not live up to the original, but so far, the reviews have been as positive, if not more so, than the original. Reviewers are really getting into the political satire of the movie, as well as the well-drawn characters, performances and the overall comic book tone of the film. I seriously couldn’t be more proud. 

AF: The second in the franchise, why did you return to the Strapped for Danger setup?

RG: One of the major things I’ve loved about the original Strapped for Danger was the strong LGBTQ+ characters that writer Duncan Pflaster created. When I was growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, when you’d see a gay male in a movie, they tended to be weak, cowardly and ineffectual. So, it was a delight to see really strong, forceful and proactive gay characters. Even though you do not have to see the original Strapped for Danger to enjoy the sequel, they are very spiritually related in terms of the strength of the characters.  They are also very playfully erotic, without either being blatant pornography, nor keeping it in the shadows. One of the greatest compliments I’ve gotten about the original film was from gay men who have said it was the type of film they really wish they could have seen when they were younger.  That really means everything to me.  

AF: How was it working with this group of actors?

RG: It was a delight. The cast was broken up into actors I’ve worked with before, and a group of fresh faces. It did take a couple of days for us to get up to speed, but that’s the nature of things. But once we got going, it was wonderful. I love working with actors who are passionate and want to bring something of themselves to their roles and, most of all, take some risks. I mean, being in a movie like this takes a lot of guts, so I applaud all of them not just for their talent, but also their bravery. 

Undercover Vice also features Alec Farquharson, Jay Walker, and Ricky Izzary

AF: What’s next for your production company, Scorpio Film Releasing? How about that long-hoped-for Richard Griffin Western?

RG: I would love to do a Western, but you know … it’s hard to find those locations in New England. Maybe someday when I decide to go really John Ford / Howard Hawks. But we have three movies currently in the works — Disorienting Dick, a dark comedy about a “gay conversation” group that may not be what it appears, Gay as the Sun, which is a satirical fake documentary, and The Taint of Equality, which is based on an award-winning, off-Broadway play by Duncan Pflaster. Obviously with COVID still being a major threat, we have to wait and see when it will be safe enough to go back into production. 

AF: Where can our readers watch Strapped for Danger II?

RG: Strapped for Danger II will be having its world premiere online on July 31. Readers can find out all about it on its Facebook page: facebook.com/events/275054047148391

There is no set ticket price, but we are asking people to donate to three Rhode Island LGBTQ+ organizations.




Comic Book Junkies: The hero we all need

Days after Lenny Schwartz and Nathan Suher premiered their film Far From Perfect: Life Inside a Global Pandemic, fans were clamoring for more. “I told them I’d only do if it they cancel San Diego Comic Con. And then they cancelled San Diego Comic Con and I don’t like to break a promise,” said writer and co-director Schwartz. And that’s how Comic Book Junkies, which will stream over a Facebook watch party on Saturday, July 25, was born.

Comic Book Junkies is a comedy that focuses on fans and cosplayers who are thrown into turmoil when San Diego Comic Con 2020 is cancelled because of coronavirus. That’s enough to throw any comic book junkie for a loop, but then the earth gets thrown into a black hole by an unknown villain. To save the world, these fans and cosplayers must become the one thing they have all aspired to be: heroes.

Making this film provided a bit of a balm for Schwartz, who was disappointed about San Diego Comic Con’s cancellation. “I know it seems like it is this crazy place but honestly, I have been at every one of them for the last 12 years(this would have been 13). The first three years I went as a fan and the last 9 as a professional. It is my time out from the real world.”

The film was created in a similar way to Schwartz and Suher’s previous social distancing film. Schwartz wrote more than 100 vignettes that he sent to their actors, who were each tasked with filming their piece. Then Suher stepped in to stitch all the pieces together.

“When you have a script where everyone is recording their scene independently and the stories sometimes directly intertwine, there is a risk that the performances that are intended to dovetail with each other just don’t work out as they did on paper. As an editor, I have had to deal with that several times on this film by occasionally finding creative ways to create chemistry between abutting scenes,” co-director and editor Suher said.

Luckily, Schwartz and Suher had a little more time to plan Comic Book Junkies than they did Far from Perfect. “With Comic Book Junkies Lenny and I discussed several months out how we were going to allow for enough time to find and accentuate the nuances in the performances with the use of basic editing, some music cues, and manipulating some of the video and audio for dramatic or comedic effect.  The extra time also gave us the opportunity to inform the performers if their submissions needed to be redone for either technical reasons or if we felt they needed some direction,” Suher said.

Schwartz was thrilled with the number of actors who wanted to be involved in the film and the quality of their performances. His favorite moment from the film? “It was great to work with Lloyd Kaufman of Troma Films. I see Lloyd every year in San Diego, and I have ben watching his films since I was 13. It was an honor. But I can’t pick a favorite because I am so appreciative of the actors’ work and love the thought everyone put in.”

Comic Book Junkies will be shown via a Facebook watch party on Saturday, Jul 25 at 8pm. For more information, go to facebook.com/events/293303155190042




Death Drop Gorgeous: Providence film to stream as part of Boston’s Wicked Queer film festival

Young gay men who work at a local drag club are lured out through the dating app POUNDR and then brutally murdered. This is the story behind Death Drop Gorgeous, a film written and directed by Michael Ahern, Brandon Perras-Sanchez and Christopher Dalpe that is set to be streamed on July 25 as part of the Wicked Queer: The Boston LGBTQ Film Festival. If you enjoy B-movies, ’80s slashers, John Waters-style irreverence and Giallo psychedelia sprinkled with unforgettable drag queens, then this is a ride you’ll want to get on.

Ahern said of the film, “Death Drop Gorgeous came to fruition because we wanted to create a horror movie we hadn’t seen being made. A lot of queer folks love the horror genre, but proper representation is often lacking within it or the representation is cliche and underdeveloped. We started writing it on nights and weekends and our mantra was, ‘Let’s see how far we can take this.’ The momentum kept on coming!”

Providence almost becomes a character in this film. Ahern said, “I think people will recognize a lot of themes and motifs throughout the movie that’ll remind them of the creative capital.” But Ahern credits the community for helping to bring the film to fruition. “Between partnerships and local businesses who let us film in their establishments, to our actors and local drag artists who signed on, to fundraising our budget, this entire endeavor has been a community effort, so the film is definitely a love letter to our little city.”

This is Wicked Queer’s 36th film festival. Though the film typically is hosted by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and screened in theaters throughout the city, this year’s festival will be entirely virtual. “Wicked Queer is kind of my proudest achievement thus far,” said Ahern. “This is our first feature film and to say we got into one of the longest running queer film festivals in the nation? Insanity. Shawn Cotter, executive director of Wicked Queer, has been so supportive of our grassroots ethos, and we couldn’t be happier to be amongst family. Also, our film is legitimately wicked queer, so it feels quite appropriate to be premiering with them.”

The Wicked Queer Film Festival takes place Jul 24 – Aug 2. For more information on the festival, go to wickedqueer.org. Death Drop Gorgeous streams on July 25 at 9:30pm. For more information on Death Drop Gorgeous, go to deathdropgorgeous.com.




Watch It!: Drive-ins are the place to be this summer

Misquamicut Drive-In Theater, summer 2019; photo credit: Caswell Cooke

You remember it well. The excitement of leaving the house early to get a good spot in front of your selected screen at the drive-in. The little playground where you could maybe play with other kids before dark, never worrying about scratches or worse from being thrown off the roundabout. Running back to the car in your pajamas as anxious horns started blaring to prompt the projectionist to start the movie. You might have sat on the back of the station wagon door with the window down, or at the back of the family van with the doors wide open, or maybe even pitched a lawn chair in front of the car until the mosquitoes got you. Your parents might have had that smoky coil on the dashboard to try and dissuade the pests from hanging around (or you might have been there on a date, and missed the movies completely). 

Your parents packed a bag with soda, chips and cheese popcorn, but still you yearned to go to the snack bar! Clam cakes, hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, meatball sandwiches, candy, soda and ice cream called to you! The dancing-treat commercials at half time lured you into further desire. You waited for this moment to go stand in line at the bathrooms so you wouldn’t miss any part of the movie, half hoping the parents would smell the food at the snack bar and give in. Tensions mounted as the announcer popped in halfway through the second movie to remind us the snack bar would be closing soon, but still the parents didn’t budge. You fell asleep before the end of the second movie, vaguely aware of the bumpy ride out of the parking lot late at night. 

Then something happened in the mid-80s. People stopped going, just like that. The Hilltop, Lonsdale and Seekonk Drive-Ins sat and deteriorated for many years. The current Rustic Tri View Drive-In became a XXX theater to try and stay afloat.

And then, many years later — perhaps in a burst of nostalgia — something again shifted. A revitalization of sorts occurred, and people came back. Technology, like the times, has improved. Movies have sharper images. You no longer hang a speaker inside the car window but tune in on your radio. If you’re sitting outside the car you’re at the mercy of the neighboring patrons, hoping their radio is up loud enough. Despite home technology developments, some drive-in theaters have stood the test of time and hold their appeal. Sure, you could be sitting at home in your underwear drinking a cocktail while streaming on your 135″ Smart TV, but there’s just something about the drive-in theater. You want your kids to know the experience! And when you’re charged by the carload, there’s an incentive to pack in everyone — including the family dog. 

While larger-scale drive-in options have dwindled, there are now impromptu drive-ins in certain communities as summer weather allows. One of these seems to stand out above the rest. If you haven’t yet experienced the Misquamicut Drive-In Theater, put it on your list of things to do this summer. Misquamicut, the Narragansett word for place of the red fish, is the most popular beach in RI. Not just a beach, the village has been a popular tourist attraction thanks to its restaurants, shops and even water slides. Nestled among these attractions is Wuskenau (“New”) Town Beach, where said movie screen is situated. It started as a small community thing. They built a makeshift screen and waited. If you build it, … As the attraction’s popularity soared, improvements were made. Last year, the screen was enlarged 4 feet on the top and 4 feet on the sides, allowing for better viewing of widescreen movies.

COVID has not been a total deterrent. “We are currently at half capacity, limited to 120 cars per night. Every- ther spot is skipped to allow for social distancing,” says Caswell Cooke, who recently celebrated 20 years as executive director of the Misquamicut Business Association. “We normally have double that, so the movies do sell out each night.” Another new feature due to COVID is pre-ordering from the snack bar. “When you arrive at the theater, you are given a QR code to scan, or use a Facebook link to order popcorn, hotdogs, candy and soda with cashless pickup,” explains Cooke. Not hungry? Check out the concession stand anyway to show the kids retro Coke bottles and openers. “It’s almost like a step back in time.” Entry tickets are purchased via Eventbrite for the same reason. “It’s actually been a better system for us, not having to manage cash, and also we’re able to see how many cars to expect in advance,” adds Cooke. It’s likely this system will become the new normal.

Misquamicut Drive-In Theater is now in its 10th season. Rain or shine, it matters not. People come religiously, and movie times have gone from once per week to seven days, from May to September, and sometimes October. Don’t expect kiddie movies. Patrons are typically “adults with kids 10 and over, or young adults getting the experience of a date at the drive-in, like their grandparents did.” Cooke adds, “We are pet friendly.” Movies such as JAWS are a regular repeat, running 2 or 3 nights each week. “For some reason, this movie is really popular at the beach,” laughs Cooke. “It always sells out!” He is also proud of the fact they run retro commercials an hour before show time, like the aforementioned dancing treats, the Native American in his canoe driven to tears over litter, and others we middle-agers remember fondly. It’ll bring you back; let the kids scoff! Gates open at 6:30pm. No alcohol allowed. Wuskenau Town Beach, Pondside Lot, 316 Atlantic Ave Westerly (next to the waterslides). For more info, call 401-322-1026.

The Misquamicut Business Association also puts on various other shows, including musical and comedy acts. “Our goal for this whole thing is to encourage people to come to Misquamicut and enjoy entertainment,” says Cooke, proudly adding their staff is mainly composed of teenagers and college students. For a list of happenings, visit their website at www.misquamicut.org, or their Facebook page.

Impromptu locations have been options in the past, like Providence’s Movies on the Block. They projected on a building for several summers, in a small parking lot where you’d pitch a lawn chair. That doesn’t appear to be an option during this summer of COVID. Other options have included NewportFILM Outdoors on Aquidneck Island, Narragansett Town Beach, Rocky Point Park, Roger Williams Park and Crescent Park Looff Carousel. 

Some theaters are closed temporarily or are limiting the number of viewers per showing. These drive-ins are currently open for business. Contact the theater for more information.

Mendon Twin Drive-In, opened in 1954, mendondrivein.com, 35 Milford St, Mendon, Mass, 508-473-4958

Rustic Tri View, 1950s style drive-in, facebook.com/RusticDriveIn, 1195 Eddie Dowling Hwy, North Smithfield, 401-769-7601

Mansfield Drive-in Theatre & Marketplace, mansfielddrivein.com, 228 Stanford Rd, Mansfield Center, Conn, 860-423-4441