Between Fifty Shades of Gray

May 6, 2012

NOT the same book.

In a blush-worthy case of mistaken identity, Ruta Sepetys’ historical YA novel, Between Shades of Gray, is finding itself routinely mixed up by readers (and booksellers) with E.L. James’ bestselling S&M erotica book, Fifty Shades of Grey, reports Christian Science Monitor. And the two books couldn’t be more water and oil. Between is the story of a 15 year old Lithuanian artist named Lina who is abducted with her family by Stalin’s NKVD (secret police) and sent to work in a series of grueling labor camps where they experience wracking starvation, sub-zero conditions, and unbearable cruelty. It’s an uncommonly soulful book – poetic and empathic, horrifying and shocking – that reveals how art can save one’s soul and honors – through the survival story of one resilient teen girl  – the unsung millions of Baltic people deported, enslaved and/or murdered by Stalin’s Soviet regime. (Read more about the book in the Loft review here). James’ Fifty Shades involves a U.S. college student and her sexual entanglement with a wealthy man named Grey who has a penchant for spanking and domination.

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The Wise Kids at Evanston Public Library

March 25, 2012

This Thursday, March 29th, the Evanston Public Library shows Chicago filmmaker Stephen Cone’s 2011 indie drama, The Wise Kids, in a special free screening arranged with ConeArts Films. This nuanced, finely-wrought film – called “a tender-hearted gem” in a recent New York Times review – is the story of three southern Christian teenagers grappling with faith, sexuality, and friendship as their high school years end and they embark on the wider world. Featuring a cast of fine, truthful young actors (as well as Cone, who turns in a complex performance as a married man struggling with his sexuality), The Wise Kids is like an Adam Haslett short story: full of subtlety, shades of gray, kindness and sorrow. It is also that rare beast: an empathic film that doesn’t condescend to or make insulting caricatures out of teens, but presents them in their natural state: sensitive, vulnerable, and capable of real thoughtfulness about deep issues of life. The Times again:

“The performances all capture the perplexity of sexually repressed people who are trying to do the proper Christian thing while coping with unruly desires that they recognize as challenges to their way of life. In its unassuming way, this tiny, low-budget film is a universal reflection on issues of personal identity and choice for which there are no easy answers.”

Winner of the Grand Jury Award for screenwriting and dramatic feature at LA’s OutFest and included on 4 “Best of 2011” lists including the Chicago Tribune (Michael Philips) and Chicago Reader (J.R. Jones), this free screening will be followed by a discussion with Cone and Tyler Ross, one of the film’s stars, and is only one of a few area screenings to date. Don’t miss it. (Jarrett, The Loft)

“…Lovely… Given the ongoing friction between gay rights and Christian fundamentalism, what really distinguishes The Wise Kids from most gay films—in fact, most films, period—is how evidently Cone respects religious devotion.” -J.R. Jones, Chicago Reader.


The Interrupters on Frontline

February 13, 2012

Did you miss THE INTERRUPTERS when it played at Evanston Public Library during part of the Reeltime Film series last month? Not to worry: this forceful, empathic documentary from Kartemquin Films about three “violence interrupters” working for CeaseFire on the south side of Chicago will air on Frontline on WTTW-11 at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, February 14th. It’s an extraordinarily moving film that depicts violence as a transmittable virus and, as directed by Steve James (Hoop Dreams, Stevie), it rings like a clarion call for peace, redemption, and safe youth.

To promote the upcoming broadcast, there have been a flurry of national appearances and interviews, many of them featuring Ameena Matthews, one of the three interrupters in the film. Ameena spoke about her urgent work with CeaseFire and her former life in gangs on Fresh Air and even appeared on The Colbert Report, (in an awkward segment that seemed to point up the rift between selfless work that saves lives and the callowness of sarcastic TV). And Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here and lead producer of The Interrupters, wrote a compelling essay, “I See Everything Through This Tragedy,” about the effects of community violence on youth for Frontline’s website. In it, he writes, “Psychologists report that children exposed to street violence show the same kind of post-traumatic stress disorder we see in veterans who’ve returned from combat. Yet there is nothing post about the trauma. They still have to navigate the perilous landscape of their neighborhood. At war, there’s a sense of common purpose, that someday there’ll be a resolution to the conflict. Not so in our inner cities.”

But nothing compares to what’s filmed. If you can’t catch The Interrupters on Frontline, the Evanston Public Library will soon make copies of the DVD available. Also, Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz continue to screen their vital film at library, civic center, community, and film house events in and around Chicago, as well as around the country. (Jarrett, The Loft).

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