Stephen Most — Documentary Filmmaker:  Stories Make the World Part Two

We continue with part two of “Stories Make the World,” with Stephen Most.  He’s a playwright, documentary film maker, and author of the book “Stories Make the World: Reflections of Storytelling and the Art of the Documentary.”  Most presents vignettes of his mentors and experiences, and employs his personal art of storytelling to share who they are and what he has learned in his 54 year career as a writer and story teller.

In part one Most discusses his experience with Peruvian Shamen and Curanderos as a young man when he lived on the north coast of Peru, and the art of documentary making.  Here, in part two, Most tells the story of biologist and conservationist Aldo Leopold, among others, and describes the art of listening.

When Steve Most visited the Radio Curious studios on August 4, 2017, we began part two when I asked him about the art of storytelling.

The books Stephen Most recommends are: “Human Condition” and “On Revolution,” by Hanna Arendt, and “Granada” by Steven Nightingale.

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Stephen Most — Documentary Filmmaker:  Stories Make the World Part One

Meaning, which comes from stories, is the topic of our two part series on how stories make the world. Our guest is Stephen Most, author of “Stories Make the World: Reflections on Storytelling and the Art of the Documentary.” In this book, Most shares his experience as a playwright, writer, and creator of documentary films over the past 50 plus years.

Steve Most and I first crossed paths in 1976. We soon determined we had both lived in Peru for several years ten years earlier, and have been friends since.  In his 2007 visit with Radio Curious, Most and I discussed his book “River of Renewal: Myth and History in the Klamath Basin.”

“Stories Make the World” is a crucial account of the principles and paradoxes that attend the quest to represent reality truthfully.  Most shows how documentary filmmakers and other nonfiction storytellers come to understand their subjects and cast light on the world through their art.  Click here to stream or download films in the “Stories Make the World.”

Steve Most visited the Radio Curious studios on August 4, 2017, to record this series on storytelling and the art of the documentary. The central theme of “Stories Make the World” is meaning comes from stories. We begin with Steve Most’s description of his initial experiences starting with his arrival to Peru’s north coast in 1964.  He contrasts information, including raw facts, and meaningful knowledge with a story.

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Lung, Robin– Finding Kukan: A Hidden Glimpse into Wartime China

An artifact of Chinese-American heritage in the form of a long-lost film and the Asian American woman responsible for this film’s creation is the topic of this edition of Radio Curious.

Our guest is documentary filmmaker Robin Lung, who made the film Finding Kukan. Finding Kukan tells the story of Li Ling-Ai, a Chinese-American woman who hired Rey Scott, an American photojournalist, to travel to China and capture the life of people in that war-torn country, including the massive bombing of the wartime capital. Their landmark film, Kukan, received one of the first Academy Awards for a feature documentary in 1942. Lung’s film, Finding Kukan, asks why we haven’t heard of Li Ling-Ai, and why all copies of her film Kukan seem to have disappeared.

This program was recorded on May 6, 2017, when she was in Southern California, right after Finding Kukan received the Audience Award at the 2017 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.

You may listen to the full interview here.

The book which Robin Lung recommends is also a movie, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly.

Edward Sorel: An Actress, Her Lovers, and a Daft Caricaturist

Edward Sorel, a satirical caricaturist, and cartoonist, whose first book is Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936, is our guest in this edition Radio Curious. Claiming to be daft about Mary Astor for about a half a century, Sorel describes Astor’s career as a Hollywood based actress who seemingly more than enjoyed a lustful and salacious life. Astor’s diary, which allegedly revealed the untold stories of her trysts and lovers, was the centerpiece of the sensational 1936 trial to determine the custody of her young daughter.

Sorel, whose pictorial satires have appeared on the covers of forty-six editions of The New Yorker magazine, visited Radio Curious by phone from his home in Harlem, New York City, on February 27, 2017. We began our conversation when I asked him for the background of his interest in Mary Astor and what drew him to write and illustrate his book Mary Astor’s Purple Diary.

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The books Ed Sorel recommends are: Iron Dawn: The Monitor and The Merrimack, and the Sea Battle that Changed History, by Richard Snowand Terrible Virtue, a Novel, by Ellen Feldman.

Stiefel, Frank — “Ingelore” Speaking Without Hearing

What would it be like for you if you were deaf? If you could not speak your first word until you were six? If you had three years of education, your first language was German, and you later emigrated to another country where they speak English?  Ingelore is the first name of a woman who was born in Germany in 1924, and came to America in 1940 at the beginning of the Third Reich, right after Kristallnacht. The film “Ingelore” was made by Inglelore’s son Frank Stiefel, and it tells his mother’s story.

In this edition of Radio Curious, we begin with Ingelore in her own words from the documentary “Ingelore.” As you hear her ability to articulate words in English it’s important to remember she cannot hear.

This interview was recorded on May 29th, 2010 with Frank Stiefel from his home in Santa Monica, California.

The books that Frank Stiefel recommends are “Hand Of My Father,” by Myron Uhlberg, and “The Road,” by Cormac McCarthy.

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Feeney, Mark — Nixon at the Movies

Richard Nixon and the movies he watched while he was president is the topic of this archived edition of Radio Curious. On his third night in office, January 22, 1969 Nixon saw “The Shoes of the Fisherman” in the White House movie theater. From then until August 1973, when he resigned the presidency, Nixon watched over 500 movies in the White House, at Camp David, and other places he frequented. This is an average of 2½ movies per week during his presidency.

The book, “Nixon at the Movies: A Book About Belief,” by Boston Globe journalist Mark Feeney, examines the role movies played in forming Nixon’s character and career, and the role Nixon played in the development of American film. Ronald Reagan may have been the first movie star president, but Feeney argues that Nixon was the first true cinematic president. In this program, recorded in January 2005, Mark Feeney begins by commenting on the effect the 500 plus movies that Nixon watched had on him and his presidency.

The book Mark Feeney recommends is, “The Whole Equation,” by David Thompson.
This interview was originally broadcast on February 22, 2005.

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Benton, Robert — The Human Stain

This program is about “passing,” a term sometimes used to define a person of color who passes as white. From the 2004 Radio Curious archives we revisit a conversation with film director Robert Benton, about his film “The Human Stain.” It’s a movie about the life of Coleman Silk, an eminent Jewish intellectual and devoted husband; a professor of classics at a small New England college.  The truth about Coleman Silk, portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, is far more complex than expected or thought to be.  He hid behind a veil of lies, having masked his African-American origins in order to find a freedom he thought would otherwise be impossible to achieve.  But his world of deception unraveled after embarking on a romance with a much younger woman.

Our guest, Robert Benton, is a three time Academy Awards winner for his work as the Director of “Kramer Vs. Kramer,” “Places in the Heart,” and “Nobody’s Fool.” His film, “The Human Stain,” takes place in the 1990s and is based on the third novel of Phillip Roth’s “American Trilogy” describing the post World War Two turmoil in America.

The title “The Human Stain” emerges from the idea that no matter what a person does, a human being leaves a mark on the world, whether by rage, desire, ambition or accident, a kind of scar; stain that cannot be undone.  For Coleman Silk that stain is the deception and concealment he carried for decades. The human stain is the mark we leave on everything.  It speaks to the fact that we can’t get through life without marking the world around us in some way. We have no choice. It’s part of being human.

Robert Benton and I visited by phone in the fall of 2004.

The books Robert Benton recommends are “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night,” by Mark Haddon and “The Manuscript Found in Sargossa,” by Jan Potocki.

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Lowe, Felicia — Chinese Immigration:  The Veil of Secrecy and Silence

Secrecy of and revelation about the trip to America to secure a new life during the Chinese Exclusion era is the topic of this edition of Radio Curious. 

Our guest is Felicia Lowe, whose filmChinese Couplets” tells her mother’s story.  Felicia Lowe was met with refusals and silence when as a child she asked her mother about her childhood. This shroud of silence was lifted when Felicia Lowe’s daughter found an old family photograph taken in China and asked her grandmother to tell the story related to the photograph. 

The film “Chinese Couplets” shows and tells the story of a childhood in rural China, the new identity to secure passage to America, the fear of deportation if the truth were known, and a prosperous and successful life of an immigrant Chinese woman in Oakland, California.   The film “Chinese Couplets” will be shown at the Mendocino Film Festival on Saturday, May 30, 2015 at 10 am in the Village of Mendocino, California.

When Felicia Lowe and I visited by phone from her home in San Francisco, California, May 17, 2015, I asked her to tell us about her mother.

The book Felicia Lowe recommends is “The Blues Eye,” by Toni Morrison.

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Wallach, Amei — Art Outwitting Oppression:  The Kabakov Story

Amei Wallach, producer and director of the documentary film “Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: Enter Here,” about the lives of Ilya and Emilia Kabakov is our guest in this edition of Radio Curious.

Amei Wallach met Ilya Kabakov in 1987, when she was in the Soviet Union investigating the effect of perestroika on the arts.  Unavoidably intrigued, eight years later she published the first biography of Ilya Kabakov, “The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away.” 

“Enter Here” documents not only the lives and work of Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, Russia’s most celebrated international artists, who are now United States citizens, but also the lives of the average Russian from the Stalin era to the fall of the Soviet Union.  The film will be shown at the Mendocino Film Festival May 31, 2015, at 12:30 pm, in the Village of Mendocino, California.

Amei Wallach says her film documents how “art can outwit oppression.” When we visited by phone on May 10, 2015, she began with an explanation of how art outwits oppression.   

The book Amei Wallach recommends is “Vermeer in Bosnia: Selected Writings,” by Lawrence Weschler. 

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Schwartz, Lacey — Nobody Discussed It:  Lacey Schwartz and “Little White Lie”

The secret revealed in the life of Lacey Schwartz, born in 1987 to a white Jewish family in rural upstate New York, where she grew up, is that her biological father was black.  The few who knew her truth remained silent until after her first year of college when she asked her mother why she looked the way she did.  Lacey Schwartz is the producer and director of the film Little White Lie,” which documents her family secret.

“Little White Lie” will be shown at the Mendocino Film Festival on Friday, May 29, 2015, at 5:30 pm, in the Village of Mendocino, California.

Lacey Schwartz and I visited by phone from her home near New York City, on May 11, 2015.  First we hear a clip of Lacey’s voice taken from the introduction of the film “Little White Lie,” and later intersperse our conversation with clips from the film. 

The book Lacey Schwartz recommends is “How It Feels to Be Free:  Black Women Entertainers and the Civil Rights Movement,” by Ruth Feldstein.

Click here to listen to the program or on the media player below.