Crimebuster screened at a 1940s-era New Rheem theatre in Northern California over the weekend, which fit perfectly with many scenes of the story of Louis B. Dematteis, district attorney and superior court judge, and father of internationally famous photojournalist Lou Dematteis. Lou -- on the right -- produced and directed, I co-produced and co-directed, and Rich Giacchino, left, was one of our fine editors.
(For the audio of the Q&A, see the posting above.) Handsome attendees with Italian roots
Dematteis, despite danger to himself, cleaned up the county. A good lawman served to help, Hal Moore, father of Gordon Moore, the founder of Intel Corporation. I interviewed Gordon, who looks just like his father, the deputy sheriff.
I also was honored to interview Sandra Day O'Connor, not to mention spend two hours travel time talking to her informally the day of the interview. Dematteis gave the former Supreme Court Justice her first job as a lawyer when no one else would hire her because she was a woman.
Left: Giacchino, moi, Beau Behan, Program Director of the California Independent Film Festival, where Crimebuster recently played to a full house, and Lou Dematteis.
The New Rheem Theatre was the scene of the Crimebuster screening, with one of the best question and answer sessions afterward we have ever had. Of course, the conversation after a film is only as good as the audience -- and the filmmakers -- but it has me thinking: I wouldn't mind "conversation screenings" of major features where the audience might participate in reaction to what it has just seen, and conversation further afield, just as at documentary screenings, with the filmmakers or others. I wouldn't mind paying extra for a "conversation screening," either.
I also loved the theatre, a throwback in design, wonderfully refreshed, to the 1930s and 40s when people went regularly to the movies. It was a communitarian, social event, far from the isolation of Netflix and Facebook. Movie goers then expected a glamorous, gilded place to spend the evening. Who knew such a place existed in almost-rural Moraga?
Mary Jo McConahay's GlobeWatch
Today friend and editor Sandy Close receives the coveted George Polk Lifetime Career Award, placing her in company of some of the most illustrious and hard-working journalists in recent history. I will not be present at the event at Long Island University in New York, but I know the tenor of what she will say, because it is what she says at such moments, like the time she called to Central America to let me in on the extraordinary news (Pacific News Service was a small operation!) that she would be receiving the MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship: "It's shared, Mary Jo. It's not for me, it's for all of us."
Yesterday she sent an emergency message asking me to courier overnight postcards of my upcoming book to her hotel so she could distribute them at the event, and to colleagues at a Pacific News Service New York reunion. Imagine. And I don't even work there anymore!
Do we always share a point of view? No.
What is true however, as the call for the postcards shows, is that Sandy is self-effacing, loyal and collaborative, qualities that in addition to her remarkably keen sense of the news landscape mark her as deserving of recognition. "We look for the chicken's eye view," she said years ago when she proposed I come on board. It meant the ramifications of policy on the ground, through the eyes and in the lives of ordinary people, were as important in reporting for PNS as an awareness of policy and how leaders think. It also meant looking for how trends at the grassroots, among ethnic communities, shapes who we are as a changing nation. As Pacific News Service became New America Media, those POVs remain firm.
So congratulations, Sandy, and a big hug from home base, in San Francisco. Here is what the George Polk award says:
Sandy Close is executive director of New America Media, an alternative news source that supports thousands of ethnic media outlets. For 37 years, Ms. Close has guided the pioneering efforts of New America Media, formerly known as the Pacific News Service. She has mentored many journalists who now work in the mainstream press, including A.C. Thompson, one of this year’s winners of the Polk Award for Television Reporting. In 1995, Ms. Close received a MacArthur Foundation "Genius Award" fellowship; and in 1997, she co-produced the Academy Award-winning short documentary, “Breathing Lessons.” Perhaps her proudest moment in journalism came in 2007, when she organized the Chauncey Bailey Project, a team of reporters whose investigative work led Oakland police to arrest those responsible for killing Mr. Bailey, who was a Polk Award-winning journalist.
Mary Jo McConahay's GlobeWatch
The steamy east coast of Mexico is producing discoveries that are beginning to chip away at what we don't know about the mysterious Olmec civilization. If they are famous at all, the Olmec are known for producing giant stone portraits in the round, beginning more than three thousand years ago in the regions of Veracruz and Tabasco. The imposing heads can weigh up to twenty-four tons. To see them up close is to marvel at their individuality, and wonder how a people without the wheel managed to accomplish the task of their creation.
Those who have long claimed the Olmec were the mother civilization of Middle America, giving birth to the much-better documented Maya, have more and more to offer as suggestive evidence.
When I think of Maya civilization certain images come to mind: the mighty jaguar; the Hero Twins whose valor and cleverness are central to the creation story in the Maya bible called the Popol Vuh; cranial deformation for beauty and status; the Maya calendar, still in use today and the Maya counting system expressed in bars and dots.
The Olmec pieces from Mexico briefly in the United States now mirror these images, produced many years before that great Maya civilization appeared on the scene. At the de Young Museum in San Francisco, where I visited recently as a member of the Bay Area Travel Writers
(allowing me to take these pictures inside the exhibit) colossal masterworks and fine smaller pieces are on display until May 8. Have a look at the young twins on the left, and the larger royal twins on the right, and tell me if the Popol Vuh doesn't come to mind. You haven't read it? You must. The translation by poet Dennis Tedlock is my favorite.
In the same way, the bars and dots clearly seen here are like the Maya counting system, where the bar represents the number five, and the dot, one. The figures under the ball player's raised hand on the round stone on the right (an altar?) might easily become, over the centuries, glyphs for three of the twenty "day signs" that mark a Maya month.
The deformed heads, a sign of high status, are prominent in Olmec sculpture, as are jaguar faces on human bodies.
On occasion a pre-Columbian site will display both Olmec and Maya characteristics. Last year I saw this at Tabalik Abaj in Guatemala near the border with Mexico, a site inhabited for more than two thousand years, from about 1000 B.C. until the great Maya collapse in about 900 A.D. There are Olmec sculptures, and Maya features, a place where you can feel one civilization blending into another.
"Dramatic life-and-death experiences in a clear prose style that flows with immediacy -- a profoundly moving document"
--Jon Lee Anderson, Staff Writer for The New Yorker and Author, Che Guevara, a Revolutionary Life
I'll be "In Conversation with William Carlsen, Author of Jungles of Stone," the great new book about Maya world explorers John L. Stephens and William Catherwood at Litquake, Mechanics' Institute, San Francisco, Oct. 8, 2016, 11:00 a.m. Free!
And coming: Tango War, about the WWII struggle for hearts, minds and strategic resources in Latin America. From Macmillan, 2018
Writer and journalist Mary Jo McConahay watches the globe, near and far. She is author of the award-winning Maya Roads: One Woman's Journey Among the People of the Rainforest (Chicago Review Press), and Ricochet, Two Women War Reporters and a Friendship under Fire (Shebooks). Mary Jo is the current Lowell Thomas Travel Journalist of the Year. Her reporting has appeared in Time, Newsweek, Vogue, Rolling Stone, Ms., Salon, Sierra, Los Angeles Times Magazine, Parenting, The Progressive, National Catholic Reporter, and many others.
As a documentary filmmaker, she co-produced and co-directed Crimebuster, A Son's Search for His Father, and the award-winning PBS documentary, Discovering Dominga, writing its original story. She is producing a new half-hour documentary: Father Bill, Revolutionary Priest, about the late Fr. Bill O'Donnell, who was arrested 245 times for nonviolent resistance to incidents in which "my government misbehaves."
GlobeWatch continues the column by the same name, formerly published by Pacific News Service and New America Media.