Charleston International Film Festival – My week of magic and mayhem

Contributing Writer - Mark A. Leon
Contributing Writer – Mark A. Leon

Lights, camera and action!!!

The Charleston International Film Festival may be the best week you will spend in Charleston. Scheduled for April 9 – 14, also known as Official Charleston Film Week, the festival provides sunrise to sunset entertainment, networking and the passion of film from around the globe. In its purest form, it feeds the mind and soul and wakes your senses with a unique global outreach that will leave you laughing, crying, pondering and valuing the importance of film and life.

Founded by Summer and Brian Peacher, the seventh annual event once again promises lasting memories. From the beginning, their vision was simple, provide filmmakers an avenue to showcase their creativity to cinematic fans with the backdrop of one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

It is truly an act of love that Summer, Brian and many others bring each year. From the outdoor cocktail party that kicks off the festivities to the glamorous award ceremony held at the beautiful Memminger Auditorium that closes the festival.

As a fan of the cinema and the creative process, I was taken to another place. How often do you have an opportunity to:

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  • Discuss the film making and scripting process with University professor Steve Albrezzi who brought the heart warming coming of age film Commencement to the screen over a martini.
  • Talk to Marin Hinkle about her wonderful portrayal in an independent film, her roots dating back to her start on Another World and not even mention Two and a Half Men
  • Take a picture of Tom Berenger at an award ceremony.
  • Talk to legendary Cinematographer Bill Butler, the man beyond Jaws, Stripes, Rocky II and dozens more before his wife forces him to shut up and get ready for the awards ceremony.
  • Have a candid conversation with Frank Abagnale Jr., the subject inspiration for the film Catch Me If You Can.
  • Get threatened by the man himself, Bill Murray at a Charleston RiverDogs game.
  • Get taken home by a driver in a BMW after a memorable after party at The Alley.
  • Meet film makers from South America and Europe.
  • Witness some of the most innovative short films, animated shorts and features made from the heart and shared with all their vulnerability

From a woman sharing the story of her mentally ill brother who disappeared for over 20 years, to the rise and fall of Doc Pomus, one of the greatest songwriters of all time; from a families struggle to send their daughter to law school to a young girl caught between a straining divorce, from three friends dealing with prejudice after 9/11 to firefighters dealing with cancer from the after affects, The Charleston International Film Festival opened my eyes to subjects that many deem taboo or fear opening up to.

Each block of shorts and films are carefully selected to compliment style and subject matter so the audience is given a full experience.

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The evenings were filled with the purest of Charleston evening entertainment. From Mynt to The Music Farm and Seeking Indigo to The Alley, the participants, organizers and fans were treated to amazing parties. From live music to sharing of ideas, each night left you wanting more. Personally, I will always remember some of the in-depth conversations I had with the filmmakers about their influences, creative process and the sacrifices they make for their art. That is truly what drew me in.

A special recognition needs to go to Jim Bush who organized a special group of volunteers whose passion for the creative arts and tireless hours made the event a huge success. Their individuals are the definition of positive energy. Their efforts and connection to the fans and participants were the backbone of this festival and friends to this day.

What kept me coming back was a group of amazing dedicated professionals that believe in something bigger than themselves and the desire to share that with the city of Charleston.

If you have never experienced the Charleston International Film Festival, I would not recommend going to just a single block, but to purchase a pass for the entire event. It is truly a remarkable week for this city.

Ticket Information for the 2014 Charleston International Film Festival

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Leave Stress Behind and Discover Treehouse Bliss

Treehouse1 I heard one of my boyfriend’s “this is interesting, you should pay attention ‘hmms’” while I unpacked some of our camp gear onto the deck of tree house #1. He came out of the cabin, with a slap of the sturdy screen door, holding a treasure trove of memories encased in a simple, crinkled leather book. For better or for worse, years of reviews and experiences were chronicled inside this gem of entertainment.

Experiencing the delicious first bite of their wedding cake, melting in their mouth after missing the chance to try it at their busy reception. They fed each other bites with a sigh of relief. A mother teaching her daughter how to navigate the river on a bonding retreat. The long memorizing stare at a lover across the picnic table as the sun caught the strands of her falling hair and made them shine. The boys out for a fishing getaway, nighttime caught catfish frying for breakfast to fill hungover bellies. Birders making a page long list of their sightings. The report of monsters. The report of a giant owl. The response that city ladies might think owls are monsters? Treehouse2

The treehouse provided shelter from a lightning storm just missed and furnished over and over again the much needed retreat we all craved from our real lives. A birthday, a honeymoon, a surprise engagement- the little treehouse that could perpetually delivers while it sits on the Edisto River in Givhans Ferry, South Carolina.

Carolina Heritage Outfitters, located just an hour from Charleston, has been providing adventure seekers with a unique getaway experience for over 20 years. Just enough time to have ironed out all the details to make the trip simple and bomb proof. At $150 per person, you receive a canoe and its gear, a shuttle ride up the river and an outfitted treehouse completely off the grid. For just a small investment, you pay for the opportunity to experience the scenery and wildlife of the ecosystem on the Edisto. You get the thrill of relying solely on your own wit and grit for survival. Of course this designated “active” couple were drawn to this excursion to celebrate our mutual birthdays.

We loaded up the shuttle van on a clear, crisp Sunday fall morning. Our provisions of water, sleeping bags, clothes, the kitchen sink (better to have than to need is my motto) and lastly what I considered the necessities- wine, cheese and bloody mary mix. I tried to relax into the river time that Scott kept with his driving speed, which eventually got us to the drop off point. Only forty-five minutes from the city and thirty minutes from base, but you instantly feel cut off from the world when you dip your yellow paddle into the cold, rusty colored water and feel a sense of power when the canoe pulls forward into the elements. Treehouse3

Turtles don’t gracefully dive into the water when you startle them with your enthusiasm over witnessing nature. Your library quiet voice suddenly turned Game Cock cheerleader in this still environment. Instead, they just belly flop from their sunning perch. No finesse- just a fall and plop. Ducks are awkward little creatures as well. Anything will scare them into frantically flapping their wings in escape from the latest fright. Like bears through the woods, as they crack branches and move bushes with their huge effort to maneuver their little bodies away from the self-created danger.

As a couple, the trip provided us with a growing moment. It could have been locker-room worthy expletives after being dunked with our gear into the cold water, if either one of us had panicked. Instead, we handled the situation of hitting an unexpected log with style. Treehouse4The larger log than we anticipated stopped us dead, the water pushing us sideways against the fat beast that was the power of the water trying to tip us over. Oh, the drama! We worked like a well-oiled team though. No screaming or panic, but calm problem solving. My hands shook for a bit, but the two of us and our bottles of wine snuggled in-between made it dry and safe to our destination right at five hours easy paddling, as predicted.

Our home for the night was well equipped. We had an outdoor propane grill and picnic table with a big fire pit outside. Inside we had an indoor cooking stove and heater, lanterns and plenty of little candles to make the place glow like a séance room after the sun went down. We had the island all to ourselves and explored the two empty cabins, both progressively a little larger than our couples lodge. The sun sank through the leaves, lighting them through their thin skin while the river bubbled like the best bought sound machine. Shadows grew long and my shoulders started to relax. The realization that we had nowhere to be and nothing that had to be done made us both giddy. Treehouse5We listened to our fire crackle and the woods take on night sounds. Sipping our vino into the night, talking about nothing and everything. We both slept warm and deep in our loft that night.

We took our time paddling the lazy river the next day, watching the egrets and herons sweep in front of us. Choosing to land at a few sand bars along the way to sink our toes into the cold grains and watch the river drift by. Very reluctant to step back through the curtain and into our daily grind. Our only regret not staying for a few more days. For more information please visit their website.

By: Contributing writer Tatianna Fisher

New Orleans meets Charleston – where blues, jazz and wine find harmony – How Art Thou Cafe

How Art Thou Sign What do you get when you combine a restaurant, a concert venue, a juice bar, a winery, an art gallery, a coffee shop and an ale house? The charming and uplifting How Art Thou Café, Juice and Wine Bar, located off of Maybank Highway, on James Island.

How Art Thou was first opened in September of 2011, by Dave Berger and his son-in-law Joshua. Joshua had a dream to create a place where people could go and enjoy a genuine conversation, while freely expressing themselves artistically in various ways, leaving them feeling better than when they arrived. Sadly, Joshua passed away after a tragic accident, but his dream lives on through the success of this inspiring café.

During my visit to the Café, I met with the shift leader and beer connoisseur, Shannon Fisher. She tells me that the café is known for their customer service and outgoing staff. She says, “When customers come in I’ll ask, ‘How are you doing?’ and I genuinely mean it because that’s what the place is about.” The staff makes it their goal to lift their patrons’ spirits and put them in a better place than they were when they walked in the door.

While talking with Fisher, I noticed a quote on the bar, which was written by Joshua; “Encouraging and exploring individual identity and inspiring artistic expression and discovering our natural creativity”. Fisher tells me that this perfectly embodies the restaurant’s mission- to inspire patrons to express their natural artistic ability in a variety of ways. How Art Thou offers other creative and enjoyable events throughout the week and weekend. Informal beer tasting takes place on Tuesdays at 7 PM, followed by a blues rock band that usually starts around 8pm. Formal Wine Tasting on Thursdays is hosted by Dave Berger, followed by the chance to show off your creative side with the Folk Jam Session. The Folk Jam Sessions are when local bands can come in and play their music free of charge. “When we say Jam we mean anyone who may be sitting around can jump up and say, ‘hey let’s jam together’”, says Fisher. This is just one of the ways the café invites patrons to express their artistic side, as Joshua envisioned. Friday and Saturday nights, bring in your family and friends to enjoy the awesome Jazz Trio Band. Don’t forget to check out the amazing brunch selections on Saturday mornings from 7AM-2PM. Fisher suggests that you try their excellent French toast, omelets and breakfast burritos as well as $1.00 Mimosas and $2.00 Bellini’s served all day! How Art Sign

If you’re going for a healthy snack, the juice bar offers completely customized drinks along with a variety of menu selections made from fresh veggies and frozen fruits. As for their coffee selection, they offer almost any flavor imaginable. If you desire almond or soy milk, don’t hesitate to customize those options as well. Fisher also mentions that many craft beers are available along with new menu offerings specifically created to pair with the new selections. They also carry many craft beers in bottles, which allow you to create your own six pack. Fisher tells me that she also allows patrons to buy individual beers, depending on their personal preference of what they wish to try.

Lastly, you can’t forget to go in for your 10% discount when going to see a movie next door at The Terrace. “Bring in your theater stub and we do 10% off your order. But if you happen to miss your movie, you can join the many people who end up staying here to hangout, which has happened.” Fisher giggles.

The next time you’re out and about on James Island and want a unique and enjoyable experience in a different and inspiring environment, don’t forget to go to How Art Thou. Whether you are partaking in the delectable menu, delicious juices, creative coffees, enjoying a wine tasting, jam session or band, you are sure to have an uncommon and memorable night. By: Kelsey Whelan

Flowertown Players Bring Love to Stage with “Rent”

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In 1994, the New York Theater Workshop did a 3 week run of Rent. Twenty years later, Jonathan Larson’s opus is played throughout the world with a single message of love. On January 25, 1996, the evening before the premiere of the Off-Broadway production of Rent, Jonathan Larson died suddenly of an aortic dissection. This tragic event resonated through the entire acting and creative community, but more importantly enforced his message of love, family and “No Day But Today”. Twenty years later, the community theater company Flowertown Players in historic Summerville, SC is sharing the magic of Rent with South Carolina for only the second time ever.

As an avid fan and an amateur Rent fanatic, this was my tenth performance in three states over twelve years, including sixth row center on Broadway at the Nederlander Theater. With all the anticipation and nervousness of seeing my first “community” presentation, this was truly a memorable and emotional evening.

The musical score from high above the elaborate stage was played incredibly well by Cathy Almquist, Raymond Sutton Tobey, Kelly Farmer and Micha Otto and complimented the talented actors that carried the legacy and beauty of Rent so well.

Giulia Maria Dalbec and Cody Smith’s portrayal of Mimi and Roger was saturated with pure and unadulterated emotion. During some of their more passionate moments, including the stirring finale of No Day But Today, tears not only filtered through the actors, but you could hear it from the audience. Light My Candle added a playful flirty element to their relationship that demonstrated the intimacy that community theater can bring. As an audience member and fan, I felt the cast truly connected as they brought this play together.

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Angel, played by Beaufort, SC native Jason Marion, did not disappoint. Angel over the years, has been a crowd favorite and one that has carried many a performance. Note: minor spoiler alert: The moments before Angel’s death from affects of the AIDS virus, his shaking and pain stricken face was near perfection. That scene, which included three simultaneous scenes, grabbed me and fixated my view on his final moments.

Andrew Turnbull’s portrayal of Mark added the seamless narration that created the tapestry of a year in the life of friends, lovers and family.

In its truest form, without any glamor, fanfare or sensationalism, Rent is about living each moment to the fullest filled with love, family and caring. In the wake of tragedy, it is the comfort you find in friends that will overcome it all. Tackling the epidemic of the spread of the AIDS virus in the 80’s and 90’s is such a difficult and personal story for some and the ability to convey that time with passion, laughter, love and simple connection was handled so well by this cast.

As one that has studied and followed the journey of this play, I am always humbled by the personal stories of Rent. Michelle Caulder Smith and Cody Smith, who play Maureen and Roger respectively, are happily married off stage and though they stayed in character from the opening number until the last, they were hand in hand on stage after the performance.

After the production ended and friends and family swarmed the stage to offer hugs and kisses to the cast, I noticed that many of the fans were very young and some would not have even been born during the setting of this story. Rent has transcended time and will continue to find new audiences.

Rent gives a message of hope. Whether you were a lesbian, homosexual, homeless, poor, rich or an addict, Rent accepts and opens its arms to an invitation of comfort.

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If you have not had a chance to ever see Rent or musical theater, this is one show that will pull you in from the start and take you on a ride you will not soon forget. Since 1997, Flowertown players have offered Charleston an escape from reality through theater. With a level of intimacy and connection you don’t normally see in larger productions, Flowertown is a symbol of the charm and creative graces of Charleston.


Purchase Tickets for Rent – Flowertown Players


Legacy of Jonathan Larson – The Man, The Music, The Vision behind RENT

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Hello Charleston!

Contributing writer Tatiana Fisher
Contributing writer Tatiana Fisher

My pick-up truck was bursting at the seams. A patient black lab lounged over all the cushy camping gear piled high in the back seat. The utility trailer we were pulling was riding low at its maximum for weight, stuffed full of my possessions, which included a giant crate with a yowling, old cat inside. One very new boyfriend pulled us to a slow stop at our final destination- Charleston, SC. The night sky was clear, the air smelled briny and felt like it wrapped me in a damp kiss. That April evening I was ready for a great bottle of red wine and to start my new life adventure.

I am notorious among my “settled” friends for seeking my true calling and exploring all the paths that may lead to it. I’ve tried on small town Oregon rodeo queen, but it was too tiny and shiny, plus my elbow hurt from waving. What about a barista master of Alaska? Mt. McKinley to greet you every morning…oh wait, I have to be awake like how early every morning? Grandma insisted I be the college gal of Arizona, but after four years that should come to an end. A master’s degree, perhaps? It’s about time the Bourbon Street bartender reevaluates where her life is going when she is watching a giant red blob on the tv blowing into town so that new life path went to Texas. I glowed as an animal rescue gal in Jackson, Wyoming because, really, does anyone find their true calling in freakin Texas? Nothing fit for very long, so I did some research and guess what city kept showing up on the radar?

I believe that all my exploration of the country and my remarkable life experiences led me to where I was always meant to be- right here in Charleston, South Carolina. Everything that I love and desire is at my fingertips in this grand southern locale. Culture, food, history, great outdoor opportunities, and (oh yes!) no snow on the ground for seven months of the year – blessed heat! I want to explore the many reasons people live in Charleston and offer you ideas of how to get involved with the unique people and happenings that make this the place we love to call home. I am excited to be joining the team at Charleston Daily with a “new gal to the city adventure” blog.