Nov 15 2009

Jump at the Sun

Bay Bottom News  produced Jump at the Sun, a documentary on the life of anthropologist and author Zora Neale Hurston, in conjunction with PBS’ American Masters series.

Bay Bottom News, has created many highly-acclaimed films for local, state, and national distribution. A long time resident of Tampa-St. Pete , Producer-Writer Kristy Andersen takes special interest in productions that concern Florida’s environment, history, and culture.

Please visit our Credits page for a list of other people whose work and talent infused the documentary, and for a list of the funders and co-producers for the film.

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Mar 19 2011

Jump at the Sun travels up the highway

As I head up Hwy 985 North from Atlanta in bumper to bumper traffic, I have no mental image of Gainesville, nor Gainesville State College where my film “Zora Neale Hurston: Jump at the Sun” will be screening. Although the city is very close to Lake Sidney Lanier, a lake that could easily house the entire city of Atlanta, its boundaries are not the water but rather the highways and newly blacktopped roads that have created the suburb of Oakwood. The college looks like others that have answered the call of commuter students, and the Continuing Ed building is a new one. The Arts Council, Inc. has sponsored me and they are the sort of entity that The Southern Circuit was made for. Gladys Wyant, the Ex. Dir, has heavily promoted the event and the Council relishes the opportunity to have the film and a filmmaker in their little community. There is a videotaped sit-down interview following the screening with Professor Jeff Marker, an opportunity for their Communications Department to create programming, with students operating cameras, under the caring guidance of another Prof. Dave Smith. Loved it! Now, on to Indianola to the BB King Museum. Goodbye, Georgia.

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Mar 19 2011

Zora Neale Hurston: Jump at the Sun – the camellias in bloom

I’m so happy to be in Madison, Georgia, a city fully in bloom. Dogwoods, azaleas, camellias, tulip trees. What’s not to like about this? Do the people of Madison have any idea how beautiful their city is, as they drive casually through their hood? The trees are trumped by the homes, some selling for millions of dollars, before the crash, still beyond my reach now. Had Scarlett and Rhett had great-grandchildren, they’d now be ensconced in one of these antebellum homes in Madison, Georgia.

The Madison-Morgan Cultural Center is a gem of a building, built in 1893 as a school. It sits back from the road, a sculpture garden gracing the lawn. My screening is in the old auditorium, a theatre in the round with wood walls and floors, old padded theatre chairs. The Sister’s – a group of black women who live in Madison – are there in full. A book group has told its members to attend. And there are many locals. They all know each other and the reception is lively.

I always listen to hear whether the audience laughs at the places in the film where I want them to laugh. This Southern group laughs alot – they like to enjoy themselves. And here in Madison they are particularly fond of one line in the film: “Langston Hughes said he’d rather be a lamppost in Harlem than the Mayor of a town in Georgia”.

Today, if Langston were alive he might change his mind. I can see him sitting on one of those antebellum porches in a rocker. And I can imagine Zora zipping through town in her red convertible. She would have felt right at home with her Sister’s in Madison, Georgia, attending the screening, looking fine.

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Mar 19 2011

The Southern Circuit Film Tour – Tennessee

On March 14, I began a tour of southern cities, sponsored by South Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. As part of that tour, I blog about the events. Here is my first blog after my screening at Carson-Newman College in Tennessee. By the way, I’m still looking for that pair of shoes so whoever finds them in Jefferson City, please send them my way.

This small college in Jefferson City is surprisingly ranked one of the best Liberal Arts Colleges by US News & World Reports – surprising only because the college, with its quaint campus and brick buildings, is in a town that barely boasts a hotel. Its big city neighbor is Knoxville, less than an hour from woodsy Jefferson City (unless you mistakenly misread Johnson City as Jefferson and head 50 miles out of town before realizing your error – doh!). My host, Mark Borchert, has turned the Henderson Humanities theatre on the campus into a film screening room with an audio system that surpassed many where I’ve screened in newer more modern venues. They just don’t make buildings like they used to. In fact, the screening was flawless. The students ranged from Communications to Theatre to English majors, the faculty reflected the same, and it appeared there were some civilians in the audience. I had a feeling that this was new information to these students, that they had not pondered the Harlem Renaissance to any degree. But I’m sure Dr. Bethany White will make sure that what they learned about Zora Neale Hurston stays with them.

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Dec 8 2010

The Walking Dead and real Zombies

The Walking Dead is a smash television hit this season: an apocalyptic event has created flesh-eating zombies with rotting brains. Drooling, stumbling, mumbling monsters, out to eat the flesh of anyone they encounter.

Zombification is real, although in no way resembling the zombies in The Walking Dead.

Once Haiti’s answer to capital punishment, zombies lived in a hell on earth. As Zora wrote in her 1938 book Tell My Horse (titled Voodoo Gods in the British edition), evil bocoor administered a drug that induced a state of “suspended animation”. The victim has no life functions, not even a pulse, appearing to be dead.

Zombification was documented in Wade Davis’ book The Serpent and the Rainbow with many case histories, especially in Japan where blow-fish is common food fare. It contains the poison that creates zombification. People on gurneys in morgues appeared dead but later came back to life. Once they were conscious, they said they could hear but could not move, and would listen as people described or discussed them as they were presumed dead.

The question of whom to zombify corresponded with the need for workers to pick crops in the fields (the zombies were carted away across the miles and were often brain-damaged by the drugs).  Zombification is unheard of in today’s Haiti. And in recent months, the country has had to endure other more horrific tragedies, with earthquakes, hurricanes, and cholera.

Zora’s book, Tell My Horse, about religion and culture in Jamaica and Haiti, was released in 1939. Before its release, Zora published her photo of a zombie in LIFE magazine. The woman had been zombified through a drug slipped to her. She had appeared years after her documented death, and was confirmed to be the same person who had previously been buried after a sudden unexplained death.

In Haiti when a victim was presumed to have been poisoned for zombification because of a sudden unexplained death, his or her relatives would drive a stake through the heart so the bodies could not be dug up.

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Nov 16 2010

JUMP AT THE SUN screening at Disney for Teachers

Teachers in the Bronx a couple of weeks ago pondered the life of Zora Neale Hurston at the Casita Maria Educational Center through a screening of Jump at the Sun, my feature film about Hurston’s life. There they discussed how to use Zora’s books as a way to reach their multicultural students in this strongly Latin and African-American community and help them to read and write English.

On Saturday (Nov. 20), JUMP AT THE SUN will be screened at the annual National Council of Teachers of English convention at the Disney Coronado Resort in Lake Buena Vista. This is almost their 100th meeting, as the very first meeting of the NCTE was held on December 2, 1911, in Chicago where 65 educators attended to discuss the role of English on college entrance exams.

With more than 1000 teachers expected to attend, and perhaps as many at a sister conference of the National Writing Project at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, one has to wonder who’s minding the classroom and teaching our children English.

English was the language of our British colonizers, and is the official language of many countries colonized by the Brits. In Pakistan, for instance, where there are dozens of indigenous languages by just as many tribes, the official language is English. All official documents, all official business is in English.

Reading early American writers – Emerson, Thoreau – one gets the impression these writers liked the writing and enjoyed hearing ye olde English – the words, the pronunciations. And why not? It was the language of their ancestors.

That’s why it was important that Zora Neale Hurston (the first writer to use the word “cool”) and her school of writers came along and wrote stories that included the voices of other Americans, those who had never had the benefit of education, former slaves for whom learning to read and write had been forbidden. It was only by learning to read and write English herself that smart and gifted Zora was able to give a voice to the voiceless. The contributions have embellished our English language, making it much more American today than British.

The current twist on teaching English today embraces storytelling by school children whose topics are more likely to include racial or class conflicts, or parents returning from Afghanistan. As the teachers ponder ways to keep children reading and writing amid a huge sea of visual storytelling that includes television, movies, computers, video games, Zora’s old ideas seem even more relevant today.

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