Thursday, April 17, 2008

It's Been Busy

I haven't checked in for a while. It's been busy, event after another. I saw Freddy Hubbard a couple of weeks ago, Wayne Shorter Quartet with Imani Winds last week; plan to see Bobby McFerrin and Chick Corea and Jack deJohnette tonight at the Masonic on California in San Francisco;and Lura tomorrow at the Herbst, courtesy of SFJAZZ and Yoshi's.

Omar Sosa Quartet was awesome last Sunday night, and I hope I get to see Billy Cobham, missed him last night at Yoshi's in Oakland. I also want to get over to Jazz at Pearl's. I keep missing folks at Anna's Jazz Island like Walkin' Talkin' Bill Hawkins' director, W. Allen Taylor a couple of weeks ago. I still haven't gotten by the New Earth Artist's Cafe for Sunday afternoon jazz and poetry, 4-7 p.m., on Park Street near the Parkway Theater in Oakland. And I missed Slide Hampton last week at the Oakland Public Conservatory. I was writing my story on Al Young, reciepent of the Fred Cody Award this past Sunday at the Northern California Book Reviewers Association Awards event at the San Francisco Main Library's Koret Hall (Larkin at Grove). This week there is another awards event, this time for young writers writing about the environment. Again, it's 1-4 p.m. Free.

As I said it's been busy. Ran by Artists for Casper Banjo last Friday at Swarm in Jack London Square before heading for Shorter at the Masonic. I couldn't believe it! Found a parking spot. Orlonda sent the goddess with me, as did other friends from Swarm that night. It was great feeling the creative black magical energy there.

This weekend the plan is to get over to see Obama at the rally from 12-2 p.m. at Frank Ogawa. Saturday afternoon it's Frances Dunham Catlett at the AAACC on Fulton for her conversation and program celebrating 100 or almost 100 years on the planet making art, changing lives, and writing poetry. It should be a nice program. That evening I'm off to the Black Comedy Explosion at the Black Rep in Berkeley for 9 p.m.

Oh, I forgot, Friday evening I'll be at the Herbst for Lura from Cape Verde. The pretty sister is pretty amazing! I'm headed for Ashkenaz later to listen to a brother from Senegal on kora. Should be a great way to cool down.

I've been watching films and more films: "Body of War" opens this weekend at Landmark San Francisco and Berkeley. Great film co-directed by Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro in person who'll be at the weekend screenings: Sat 4/19 after 4:45 show at Landmark’s Clay Theatre, 2261 Fillmore Street (at Clay), San Francisco (415) 267-4893 and Sunday, April 20, after 4:50, at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas, 2230 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley (510) 464-5980.

San Francisco International Film Festival has some riveting films focused on the atrocities of war, like "Ezra," directed Newton I. Aduakua, which is set in an unspecified country, though it feels like Sierra Leone, though it could also be the director's own Ogidi, eastern Nigeria during the Biafran War when his parents were literally dodging bullets as they moved from place to place. Only four, at the time, the director, a war child himself, only has scanty memory of the time, yet while researching Ezra, a film about a child soldier, abducted at 7, serving in the rebel army for another 7 years, Aduakua says he remembered the "fear, insecurity, and instability."

This translates well in the 16 veteran of a war he hadn't enlisted in when kidnapped and made to fight and kill and destroy. When we meet Ezra at a Truth and Reconciliation Hearing, he cannot sleep, haunted by memories of the atrocities he witnessed and committed--most committed in a drug induced haze. It's terrible the way, through flash backs the audience sees how little the children's lives are valued. Killed just for complaining about the lack of food, fatigue, or the murder of family and friends when the raids take them to villages where they once lived--Ezra is Africa's child, an Africa where children --boys and girls, are the new frontier for battle.

It's not revolutionary to take a child and make him into a killer. One wonders about these men who do so. This is hinted at when Europeans meet with the adult leaders and supply the troops with drugs, which are injected into the children who are almost half-starved. They are then pumped up and ready to do whatever they are instructed.

There are government troops also who are fighting. It gets confusing sometimes trying to figure out who the good guys are or if there are any good guys. Ezra's wife volunteers to fight in the revolutionary war. When she meets Ezra and other kidnapped children, she is disgusted. Her parents were revolutionary, well-known and well-respected until they were captured and killed.

I really like her character and that of Ezra's sister, who is mute. Aduaka's characters, the ones mentioned and others, show the complexity of warfare, and how when it involves innocent people there is no justification. Ezra screens Sunday, April 27, at 9 p.m. at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Tuesday, April 29, at 3:30 and Thursday May 1, at 6:30 p.m. at Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. Visit and

"Body of War" also looks at these issues, also through the lens of a survivor.
The Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro film looks at the life of Tomas Young who enlists after President Bush asks Americans to join the fight against terrorism. He thinks he's going to Afghanistan and ends up in Iraq. He says he doesn't fire his weapon because all he sees are civilians, yet after five days he is shot through the back of the neck and returns home paralyzed from the chest down. "Body of War" is his story, and what an amazing and heartbreaking and triumphant story it is.

Spiro is a great storyteller with her camera and the way she and Donahue allow Tomas' story to frame the fiasco Bush has gotten this country into with the permission of the legislative body is an important reminder. It is also a reminder of why the framers of the Constitution did what they did and how important, even if overruled or outvoted, it is to object.

"Ezra" looks at the trauma of war, as does Tomas' story. Ezra is 17 and when we meet him, Tomas is 25. I think to myself, these could be my sons--these are our sons.

On another note I watched a lighter film, "Love and Other Four Letter Words" which was great! It stars Tangi Miller as "Stormy LeRue," a successful talk show host about to go national who gets a call from home about her grandmother, which makes her reevaluate her life. What is fame if you don't have a family or anyone to share it with? To encourage her grandmother, "Nana" (actress Aloma Wright) to get better she tells her that she's getting married in six weeks. There is no groom in sight, but her old flame, "Peanut" (Flex Alexander) is looking mighty fine, but he's a pastor and Stormy doesn't even consider him for her scheme she and her assistant (portrayed by actress Essence Atkins) cook up with a stripper, who's not to bright but agrees to Stormy's terms. There are many twists and turns in the comedy which of course has a happy ending, which I needed after watch "Ezra." The DVD is available now for $14.98 from One Village Entertainment.


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