Blank, Les — The Chef of Film Making

In this edition of Radio Curious we visit with Les Blank, film maker extraordinaire. Les Blank will receive the Albert Maysles award at the 2011 Mendocino Film Festival where his films “Burden of Dreams” and “The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins” will be presented.  John Rockwell, writing in The New York Times, describes Les Blank as, “…a documentarian of folk cultures who transforms anthropology into art.”

Though he had a long fascination with films, his career turned to film making after he saw “The Seventh Seal,” by Ingmar Bergman.   Our conversation, which was recorded by phone from his home in Berkeley, California on May 23, 2011, began when I asked him why he makes films.

The films Les Blank recommends are “The Seventh Seal” and “Through a Glass Darkly,” both by Ingmar Bergman.

Les Blank’s website is

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Frankel, Davey & Lakew, Rasselas — He Twice Ran and Won Olympic Marathons Barefoot

It is said that in the early part of World War II, it took 500,000 Italian soldiers to occupy Ethiopia, and one Ethiopian soldier to conquer Rome.  19 years later, this one Ethiopian soldier, Abebe Bikila competed barefoot in the 1960 Olympiad marathon foot race in Rome, Italy, leaving all other runners in the dust.  Winning the 42 kms, 195 meter race, Abebe Bikila became the first African to win an Olympic Gold Medal.

Abebe Bikila, a shepherd from the plains of Abyssinia in rural Ethiopia, who had never been away from his family, stunned the world with his extraordinary victory.  He became the hero of Rome Olympiad and for years to come a national hero in Ethiopia.  Four years later he won the Marathon at the Tokyo Olympiad becoming the first person to win two Olympic Marathon Gold Medals.

Beyond igniting East Africa’s dominance in long distance running, Abebe Bikila became a quiet champion of hope for a continent that was in the midst of its struggle for self-determination.  During his career Bikila won 12 of the 15 marathons he entered. Abebe Bikila died of a brain hemorrhage on October 23rd, 1972, two and a half years after his final race and victory in Norway.  He was 41 years old.

In this edition of Radio Curious we visit by phone with the Davey Frankel, from his home in Berlin, Germany and Rasselas Lakew, from his home in New York City.  They are the writers, directors and producers of the movie “The Athlete,” the story of Abebe Bikila.  Rasselas Lakew portrays Abebe Bikila in the lead role of “The Athlete,” and was born and grew up in Addis Abbaba, Ethiopia.  “The Athlete” which will be shown at the Mendocino Film Festival on Friday evening June 3, tells the powerful and tragic story Abebe Bikila, a quiet man, who in many ways meets the Homer’s description in the Odyssey: “… the distant Ethiopians, the father outposts of mankind, half of whom live where the sun goes down and half where the rises.”

This interview with Davey Frankel and Rasselas Lakew, which was recorded on May 9, 2011, began when I asked them explain what prompted them to write and produce “The Athlete.”

The movie that Davey Frankel recommends is “My Life Without Me,” directed by Isabel Coixet.   The movie that Rasselas La Lakew recommends is “Living Russian, Man With A Movie Camera,” directed by Dziga Vertov.

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Weidlinger, Tom — “Jim Thorpe, The World’s Greatest Athlete”

A sports icon of the first half of the 20th century, Jim Thorpe, was a Native American athlete who rose to athletic stardom at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, winning two gold medals at the 1912 Summer Olympics and continued, despite some controversy, to gain fame in professional baseball and football. In this edition of Radio Curious we visit with Tom Weidlinger, the director and co-writer and co-producer of the movie “Jim Thorpe, The World’s Greatest Athlete.”  Tom Weidlinger spoke from his home in the San Francisco bay area on Sunday, May 30th 2010.  I began by asking him “Who is Jim Thorpe?”

The book  Tom Weidlinger recommends is “Cutting For Stone” by Abraham Verghese.

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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.  This edition of Radio Curious begins with we a piece from the movie “Ingelore” in which she explains who she is and a little of her story. As we hear is 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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Stephen Most – The Klamath River

River of Renewal, Myth & History in the Klamath Basin

Since the last Ice Age ended about 12,000 years ago, human beings have traveled along the Klamath River and it tributaries in the northwest corner of California and the coast of southern Oregon.  Many people finding an abundance of food, have stayed. The main source of their food was salmon. The power of the myth of the salmon may derive from the fact that wild salmon spread out across the Pacific Northwest about the same time that human beings did, at the end of the last Ice Age. In this edition of Radio Curious we visit with Steve Most, author of “River of Renewal, Myth & History in the Klamath Basin,” a book that tells the story of the history of the Klamath River and the people who have continuously lived there for the past 12,000 years. Steve Most is a playwright and documentary storyteller. Among many other works, he wrote the texts of the audio voices and videos for the permanent exhibit of the Washington State History Museum. In this interview recorded in mid-March 2007, I spoke with Steve Most from his home in Berkeley, California. We began our conversation when I asked him to give a perspective of the geological and human aspects of the Klamath River and its place in history.

Stephen Most recommends the “Essays and Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson.”

Originally Broadcast: March 21, 2007

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Zana Briski, Ross Kauffman – Brothels of Calcutta, India

Born Into Brothels

“Born into Brothels” received the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2005.  A tribute to the resiliency of childhood and the restorative power of art, “Born into Brothels” is a portrait of several unforgettable children who live in the red light district of Calcutta, where their mothers work as prostitutes.  The most stigmatized people in Calcutta’s red light district however are not the prostitutes, but their children.  In the face of abject poverty, abuse, and despair, these kids have little possibility of escaping their mother’s fate or for creating another type of life. In “Born into Brothels,” directors Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman chronicle the amazing transformation of the children they come to know in the red light district.  Briski, a professional photographer, gives them lessons and cameras, igniting latent sparks of artistic genius that reside in these children who live in the most sordid and seemingly hopeless world. The photographs taken by the children are not merely examples of remarkable observation and talent; they reflect something much larger, morally encouraging, and even politically volatile: art as an immensely liberating and empowering force. Devoid of sentimentality, “Born into Brothels” defies the typical tear-stained tourist snapshot of the global underbelly.  Briski spends years with these kids and becomes part of their lives.  Their photographs are prisms into their souls, rather than anthropological curiosities or primitive imagery, and a true testimony of the power of the indelible creative spirit. You can learn about this film and Kids with Cameras at I spoke with Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman in February 2005. Beginning the conversation first with Zana Briski, I asked her to explain what drew her to India before the concept of “Kids With Cameras” was even a dream.

Zana Briski recommends “Secret Life of Bees,” by Sue Monk Kidd.

Originally Broadcast: March 15, 2007

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Mark Feeney – Nixon at the Movies

Nixon at the Movies, A Book About Belief

Richard Nixon, and the movies he watched while he was president… 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 that the 500 plus movies that Nixon watched had on him and his presidency.

Mark Feeney recommends “The Whole Equation,” by David Thompson.

Originally Broadcast: February 22, 2005

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Deborah Koons Garcia – The Future of Food

Director of, The Future of Food

“The Future of Food,” a film written and produced by Deborah Koons Garcia, discusses our food’s conflicting relationship with both mass agri-business and local agriculture. Our discussion was conducted in the context of the passage of Mendocino County’s Measure H, banning growth of GMOs in the county.

Deborah Koons Garcia recommends “Women’s Diaries fo the Westward Journey,” edited by Lillian Schlissel.

Originally Broadcast: April 25, 2004

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Eve Ensler – Meet the Author of the Vagina Monologues

The Vagina Monologues

The Vagina Monologues, created and produced by Eve Ensler, tell the stories of women, their relationships, feelings, and, in some cases, abuse. In this edition of Radio Curious, we spoke with Eve Ensler about the origin of the the Vagina Monologues and the film, “Until the Violence Ends.”

Eve Ensler recommends “Bush in Babylon,” by Tariq Ali.

Originally Broadcast: January 27, 2004

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Robert Benton – The Human Stain

Director of, The Human Stain

Robert Benton is the director of “The Human Stain,” which is based on the third novel of Philip Roth’s trilogy describing the turmoil of post-WWII America. It exposes the life of Coleman Silk, a Professor of Classics at a small New England College, an eminent Jewish intellectual and a devoted husband. Roth describes Silk as “ensnared by a history he hadn’t quite counted on.”

Originally Broadcast: November 1, 2003

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