Wednesday, May 18, 2016


Second edition of Mammoth Lake Film Festival honors film legend Joe Dante of Innerspace and  Gremlins fame

by Dwight Casimere

Scene Mammoth Lake, California scene of the Mammoth Lake Film Festival May 25-29

Director Joe Dante of Gremlins fame, recipient of the festival's Sierra Spirit Award with a furry friend

A unique opportunity to attend a film festival that, according to its executive director Shira Dubrovner ,  has a "rustic and down to earth vibe" that is "true to the filmmaker, is occurring this coming Memorial Day weekend in the majestic and picturesque setting of Mammoth Lake, California. The Mammoth Lake FilmFestival is now in its second year, and will feature 14 films in Narrative and Documentary competition as well as additional events and special screenings. Among the featured events is the Opening Night Screening and Party for Operation Avalanche, from Canadian filmmaker Matt Miller. "He's one of the new filmmakers whose impact will be seen for years to come," director Dubrovner said. "He's an example for why we're so excited about the lineup we have. We consider ourselves a film centric festival that puts the filmmaker first and Hollywood second." 

Mammoth Lake Film Festival Executive Director Shira Dubrovner

Operation Avalanche is a documentary narrative that recreates the speculation that the 1967 moon landing, was really  a staged hoax. In the film, four undercover CIA agents are sent to NASA posing as a documentary film crew only to discover one of the biggest conspiracies in American history. "Filmmaker Matt Miller uses techniques similar to the film Forrest Gump.The film has been bought by Lionsgate and will have a theatrical release.    Were really fortunate to have Paul Sbrissi as our programmer, who finds the golden nuggets for our festival," Dubrovner emphasized.

Below: Scenes from the film Operation Avalanche-courtesy Lionsgate Films


Operation Avalanche director Matt Miller


Saturday evening, May 28, the festival will hold its Centerpiece Gala and film screening, honoring legendary film director Joe Dante of Gremlins fame. The festival was host a screening of Dante's classic 1987 film Innerspace and present him with the festival's inaugural Sierra Spirit Award. "The film will be followed by a discussion with Mr. Dante and will feature an appearance by actor Robert Picardo, who appeared in Innerspace and Gremlins 2," Dubrovner said. "The reason we're giving the tribute to him because he's one of the first directors to really cross over from the cult film world into mainstream success. Mr. Dante worked extensively with Roger Corman and managed to stay true to his style of keeping his 'comedic weird.' Actor Robert Picardoi, who was featured in Innerspace, will present the award to Mr. Dante.

"Also in the documentary feature competition is our Spotlight Gala Screening film Beware the Slenderman from Oscar-nominated director Irene Taylor Brodsky, which tells the story of a Boogeyman lurking on the internet and two 12-year-old girls who would kill for him. Ms. Taylor Brodsky will be present for Q&A.

"Filmmaker spent 18 months researching to create this amazing documentary that will blow your mind," according to Dubrovner. 

The  Closing Night Gala Screening and Awards party features the Iranian film Spnita from director Rokhsareh Ghaemmagham. It tells the inspiring story of an 18 year old Afghan refugee, living in Iran, who thinks of Michael Jackson and Rihanna as her spiritual parents and dreams of becoming a big-name rapper. Her family, however, has a very different future planned for her; as a bartered bride, she's worth $9,000 to them. 

The the Narrative Feature Competition is the hauntingly atmospheric Brazilian film All The Colors of the Night from Director Pedro Severin.

"We're really excited about this year's festival and the film's we've programmed. We've got a fabulous mix that shows films and filmmakers at the beginning of their careers and those that are a little more seasoned. At Mammoth Lake Film Festival, we try to stay true to our roots. We intend to grow organically and stay true to the filmmaker," Dubrovner concluded.

The Mammoth Lake Film Festival runs May 25-29. 

Additional Information about Mammoth Lakes Film Festival is available at

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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Electrifying "Elektra" is final MET LIVE HD Encore Presentation Wednesday May, 4 6:30pm

Nina Stemme, Waltraud Meier, Adrianne Pieczonka, Burkhard Ulrich and Eric Owens give steller performances

by Dwight Casimere

Soprano Nina Stemme as Elektra-Met photo by Marty Sohl

The standing ovation for last weekend's Met Live HD performance of Richard Strauss's Elektra was one of the most thunderous in recent memory. Deservedly so, as this, the final transmission of the Met's 10th Live HD season, delivered a fiery climax to what was an outstanding season.

As if to underscore the importance of the event, the Met featured its original HD Host, star soprano Renee Fleming.

The opera was filled with stellar performances from beginning to end. Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, who is also a celebrated composer, let the cat out of the bag early on, when, in a pre-performance interview with Met General Manager Peter Gelb, he declared that "this is the largest orchestra assembled for anything, anywhere!" He certainly delivered Strauss's complex score with a dramatic arc that brought out both its dramatic depth and lyricism.

The music is rich and complex and demanding of both the performers on stage and the orchestra members in the pit. That said, the performance was flawless. No one got off the hook. Even the chorus members, who opened the opera, were charged with the task of singing Strauss's Herculean octave leaps while moving restlessly about the stark, foreboding set of Richard Peduzzi. Stage director Vincent Huguet showed his best work here, in this hard-hitting production by Patrice Chereau. Lighting designer Dominique Bruguiere similarly deserves praise for creating the somber, yet charged atmosphere of the performance.

Nina Stemme gave an Olympian performance as Elektra, matching Strauss' Himalayan vocal leaps with her own high-stepping movements in a  physically demanding role. The regal Waltraud Meier as her troubled mother, Klytamnestra, gave audiences a weighty performance that solidified her standing as one of the most commanding and enduring veteran performers of the operatic stage.

Strauss's Elektra tells the story of Elektra, daughter of Agamemnon and Klytamnestra, who is driven to the brink of madness after the assassination of her father, the king, following his return from Troy. Filled with a rage, she covets the ax used by her mother, Klytamnestra and her lover, Aegisth (Burkhard Ulrich), and at times fondles it almost lovingly as she plots her revenge.

Her sister,  Chrysothemis (a luminous Adrianne Pieczonka), begs Elektra to back off and move on with her life, but Eletkra is having none of it. When her mother arrives with her entourage after preparing sacrifices to appease the gods, she asks Elektra what sacrifice would ease her grief. Elektra replies in a rather pointed riddle that makes it clear that only the blood of Klytamnestra, her own mother, will ease her distress. When her sister reveals that her mother and Aegisth plan to lock her away in the tower, Elektra forges full speed ahead with her bloody plot, dancing with frenzied elation.

Elektra works herself up to a fever pitch as she imagines how her  long-absent brother, Orest (sung majestically by bass/ baritone Eric Owens), will return to strike the deadly blows.  Upon hearing that he has died, Elektra vows to act alone.

The most arresting scene of the opera then unfolds, as Orest (Owens) steals his way back into the castle and finally reveals to Elektra that he is, indeed, still alive. The duet between Owens and Stemme is the most powerful and vocally rich moment of the opera. Esa-Pekka Salonen's precise conducting brings out the lyricism of Strauss's score, further heightening the exquisite drama.

This performance was a ravishing conclusion to a superlative 10th season for Met Live HD. With the steady hand of  HD  director Gary Halvorson, the originator of the Met's Live HD concept, this transmission deserves a second look, even if you just saw it over the weekend. Encore Presentations will take place in theaters globally Wednesday, May 4 at 6:30pm local time. Visit or for theatre locations and ticket information.