It’s Movie Time

May 3, 2010

Founded only nine years ago, the Tribeca Film Festival has become a major cultural and economic force in New York City. During the 12 days of this year’s Festival, a great swath of Lower Manhattan was filled with directors, producers, screenwriters, dealmakers, actors, photographers, reporters and volunteers, all rushing through the streets with their distinctive badges flapping in the breeze.

This year more than 5,000 films from around the world were submitted to the Festival. Of those, officials selected 85 feature length films and 47 shorts (amounting to 193.94 miles of film) from 38 countries.

In and around the Tribeca, from April 21 to May 2, banners hung from lampposts, streets were closed, theaters and auditoriums halted normal activities and just about everyone in the neighborhood became a movie-goer and a film critic — including me. Here are the films I saw this year:

  1. Visionaries
    Oscar®-winning filmmaker Chuck Workman brings alive the vibrant history of the avant-garde cinema. Through interviews with filmmakers and critics including Jonas Mekas, Kenneth Anger, Su Friedrich, and Amy Taubin, he reveals how this artistic movement highlights subjective vision, sensory experience, and dreams over plot and storyline. Workman couples these conversations with a dazzling array of diverse extracts from experimental films that illuminate for the general audience a qualitatively different kind of moviegoing experience.
  2. My Own Love Song
    In his English-language debut, Olivier Dahan (La vie en rose) sculpts a hyper-stylized and uplifting road movie about family, perseverance, and redemption. Wheelchair user Jane (Renée Zellweger, exceptional) is a fiercely independent ex-singer whose tough exterior hides a secret that has paralyzed her emotional life and career. When her zany neighbor Joey (Forest Whitaker) forces them to skip town, Jane must change her tune. With songs performed by Zellweger and original music by Bob Dylan.
  3. Big
    At a carnival, young Josh Baskin (Tom Hanks) wishes he was big-only to awake the next morning and discover he is! With the help of his friend Billy (Jared Rushton), Josh lands a job at a toy company. There, his inner wisdom enables him to successfully predict what children want to buy, making the awestruck, naïve Josh irresistible to a beautiful ladder-climbing colleague (Elizabeth Perkins). But the more he experiences being an adult, the more Josh longs for the simple joys of childhood.
  4. Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage (Winner: Heineken Audience Award)
    For fans and newcomers to the legendary Canadian band Rush, this is the music documentary to experience. Directors Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn embark on a comprehensive exploration of this extraordinary power trio, from their early days in Toronto, through each of their landmark albums, to the present day. Sit back and revel in the words, music, and wonder of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart.
  5. No Woman, No Cry
    More than half a million women each year die from preventable complications during pregnancy or childbirth. In her gripping directorial debut, Christy Turlington Burns shares the powerful stories of pregnant women in four parts of the world, including a remote Maasai tribe in Tanzania, a slum of Bangladesh, a post-abortion care ward in Guatemala, and a prenatal clinic in the United States.
  6. Into Eternity
    Three miles below the earth, the people of Finland are constructing an enormous tomb to lay to rest their share of humans’ 300,000 tons of nuclear waste. To avoid disaster, it must remain untouched for at least 100,000 years. In this poetic, hauntingly beautiful, and thought-provoking doc, Danish filmmaker Michael Madsen ponders how to warn future civilizations that the buried treasure of our nuclear era—unlike the pyramids and great tombs of pharaohs—must never, ever be discovered.
  7. Cairo Time
    In this graceful cross-cultural love story, a happily married woman (Patricia Clarkson) is separated from her husband in the overwhelming city of Cairo. While waiting for his return, she experiences the unique beauty of Egypt with his friend (Alexander Siddig). As their tender friendship blossoms, a series of small yet profound moments changes both of their worlds forever.
  8. Snap
    With a fresh and intense style, playwright-turned-director Carmel Winters composes a gripping psychological drama about three generations of a family poised to repeat the mistakes of the past. Aisling O’Sullivan (The War Zone) commands the screen as a calloused mother who will do anything to protect her son—even go as far to deny her own past. From the producers of TFF award winner Eden and the Academy Award® winner Once.
  9. I Scored a Goal
    In the history of the World Cup, there are only 55 men who have scored a goal in the final match, and only 34 of them are still living. “I Scored a Goal” is a series of thirty short films, each of which profiles one of these men. The narratives are told in the goal scorer’s own voice — they tell the story of their journey up to the goal, and what the goal meant for them, their team, the game and even their country.
  10. Last Play at Shea
    The intersecting histories of a stadium, a team, and a music legend are examined in a documentary that charts the ups and downs of the New York Mets and the life and career of Long Island native Billy Joel, the last performer to play Shea Stadium. Set to the soundtrack of Joel’s final Shea concerts, Last Play interweaves personal Joel interviews with exclusive concert footage—featuring guests like Tony Bennett and Roger Daltrey.
  11. Climate of Change
    A group of 13-year-olds in India rally against the use of plastics. A renaissance man in Africa teaches villagers to harness solar power. Self-described “hillbillies” in Appalachia battle the big business behind strip mining. Tilda Swinton beautifully narrates this rich and inspiring documentary—from the producers of An Inconvenient Truth—about a world of regular people taking action in the fight to save our environment. Executive produced by Participant Media and the Alliance for Climate Protection.
  12. Get Low
    In 1930s Tennessee, backwoods recluse Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) is feared and shunned by the local townsfolk. Then Felix decides to plan a living funeral to lay his own legend to rest. But behind this surreal plan lies a devastating secret that must get out…. Academy Award® winner Aaron Schneider makes a confident feature debut with this engrossing and slyly funny folk tale of forgiveness and redemption. With Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek, and Lucas Black.
  13. Please Give
    Death, materialism, liberal guilt, adultery, midlife malaise… writer/director Nicole Holofcener (Friends with Money, Lovely & Amazing) makes such topics sing with earnest emotion and devastating humor. Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt star as well-to-do Manhattanites waiting out the death of their crotchety neighbor so they can take over her apartment. Things get messy when they try to make nice with the old lady and her granddaughters (Amanda Peet and Rebecca Hall).
  14. Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll
    Mat Whitecross (codirector of The Road to Guantanamo) paints a stylized, ripsnorting portrait of mercurial British punk rock pioneer Ian Dury (flawlessly portrayed by BAFTA nominee Andy Serkis). From a troubled childhood and a battle with debilitating polio to the effects of fame on relationships and fatherhood, here are the highs and lows of a life lived sneeringly, unapologetically out loud. With Olivia Williams, Ray Winstone, and Naomie Harris.
  15. Ondine
    Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) weaves a visually arresting tale of a lone fisherman (Colin Farrell) who pulls in the sweetest catch of his life—a mermaid-like beauty. But as their passion grows, their dark pasts come to light, and the real world begins to threaten their fairy tale romance. This stunning film will challenge your senses and imagination as fantasy and reality clash on the big screen.
  16. The Space Between
    Lonely flight attendant Montine McLeod (Academy Award® nominee Melissa Leo) becomes responsible for a 10-year-old Pakistani-American boy traveling solo when news of the 9/11 attacks grounds their flight in Texas. After learning of the boy’s direct connection to the tragic events, McLeod musters the compassion she could never afford her own family, and the two embark on a heartrending road trip to meet an uncertain future in New York City.
  17. The Infidel
    Mahmud Nasir (comedian Omid Djalili) may not be the most observant Muslim, but deep down he is a true believer. His life is turned upside down when he learns he was adopted-but most scandalous is that his birth mother was Jewish! And his given name was Solly Shimshillewitz! As Mahmud tumbles into a full-scale identity crisis, a true comedy of religious errors unfolds. With Richard Schiff and Matt Lucas.
  18. William Vincent
    The versatile James Franco (Milk, Spider-Man) stars in the story of William Vincent, a quiet and peculiar criminal uninterested in the fruits of crime. When he falls for a gangster’s (Josh Lucas) favorite call girl (Julianne Nicholson), William is forced to flee New York. But after four years in exile, William secretly returns, intent on rescuing the woman he loves from her dangerous fate.
  19. Yanqui WALKER and the OPTICAL REVOLUTION
    This film explores a now-obscure American expansionist and military dictator, William Walker, who through military force and coercion became president of Nicaragua in 1856. The film blends found footage, documentary photography, ethnographic inquiry, and personal travelogue with experimental film techniques such as hand-processing, optical printing, and time-lapse to detour and derail the various approaches to history-making that have been applied to this story.
  20. The Travelogues
    In The Travelogues, Dustin Thompson creates a more personal story. He travels with his film camera across two continents and compiles a series of mini-narratives, suggestive of loves gained and lost. He generates lyrical images, shot at oblique angles and developed with shifting camera speeds; in each scene, the heightened film grain tends to move the depiction of the natural universe toward abstraction. From the prologue through to the epilogue of his journey, this artist travels a fine line between real and imagined worlds.
  21. The Arbor (Winner: Best New Documentary Filmmaker)
    Brilliantly blurring the borders of narrative and documentary filmmaking, artist-cum-director Clio Barnard beautifully reconstructs the fascinating true story of troubled British playwright Andrea Dunbar and her tumultuous relationship with her daughter. Working from two years of audio interviews, Barnard uses classic documentary techniques, actors, theatrical performance, and Dunbar’s own neighborhood to generate a unique cinematic feast while unraveling the truths of a dark family past.
  22. The Two Escobars
    Born in the same city in Colombia but not related, Andrés Escobar and Pablo Escobar shared a fanatical love of soccer. Andrés grew up to become one of Colombia’s most beloved players, while Pablo became the most notorious drug baron of all time. While adeptly investigating the secret marriage of crime and sports, Michael Zimbalist and Jeff Zimbalist (Favela Rising, TFF ’05) reveal the surprising connections between the murders of Andrés and Pablo.
  23. Gainsbourg, Je t’Aime… Moi Non Plus (Winner: Best Actor in a Narrative Feature)
    From a young man in Nazi-occupied Paris to the sultry crooner who bedded Brigitte Bardot and married Jane Birkin to the vulnerable poet hidden behind a shroud of provocation—Serge Gainsbourg’s is a life large enough for grand treatment on film. One of France’s greatest mavericks is brought back to life (uncannily, by Eric Elmosnino) in this imaginative and visually flamboyant film debut from one of France’s greatest cartoonists.
  24. Just Like Us
    Egyptian-American comic and first-time director Ahmed Ahmed takes us on a hilarious tour from Los Angeles to Cairo, Dubai to Beirut, Riyadh to New York with a gaggle of other stand-up talent, including: Maz Jobrani, Tom Papa, Ted Alexandro, Tommy Davidson, and Omid Djalili (The Infidel). Along the way, taboos of culture and geopolitics are exploded, and a younger generation of both comedy talents and audiences is born.
  25. Monica & David (Winner: Best Documentary Feature)
    Monica and David are in love. Truly, blissfully in love. They also happen to have Down syndrome. Alexandra Codina’s affectionate and heartwarming documentary is an intimate, year-in-the-life portrait of two child-like spirits with adult desires. Supported (and, for more than 30 years, sheltered) by endlessly devoted mothers, Monica and David prepare for their fairy tale wedding and face the realities of married life afterward.
  26. Legacy
    British-Nigerian director Thomas Ikimi builds a thrilling psychological drama around an all-consuming central performance by Idris Elba (The Wire). Black ops operative Malcolm Gray is returning home after a botched mission in Eastern Europe. Holed up in a rundown Brooklyn motel room, he is torn between retribution and personal salvation as he mentally unravels. When the walls close in, his story may be all he can leave behind….
  27. Meet Monica Velour
    In this quirky comedy, Tobe (Dustin Ingram, perfectly cast), an awkward teenage aficionado of 1980s soft-core, sets off in his grandfather’s (Brian Dennehy) used Weinermobile to see his sexual idol perform at a strip club in Indiana. After defending her honor against ruffians who taunt the aging erotic starlet (Kim Cattrall) off the stage, he negotiates his unripe romantic impulses with the reality of her anything but glamorous life as a trailer-park single mother.
  28. Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives
    When a group of transgender women are violently beaten and left for dead, the violated vixens turn deadly divas in this hilariously campy homage to the exploitation films of the ’70s and ’80s (“Transploitation,” anyone?). Loaded with bodacious bods and extreme violence, this revenge fantasy proves that it takes more than balls to get even.
  29. Gerrymandering
    This wake-up-call doc exposes the hidden history of our country’s redistricting wars, mapping battles that take place out of public scrutiny but that shape the electoral landscape of American politics for decades at time, posing a threat not just to democrats and republicans, but democracy as a whole. Featuring stories from nine states, Gerrymandering takes a hard look at the framework of our democracy and how it provides our politicians a perfectly legal way to control electoral outcomes.
  30. The Trotsky
    Like most high schoolers, Leon Bronstein (Jay Baruchel, Tropic Thunder) is having an identity crisis. What differentiates Leon, however, is that he believes he is the reincarnation of Soviet thinker Leon Trotksy and predestined to follow the same path as his namesake. Tackling issues from students’ rights to semi-formal dances, this “revolutionary” comedy will have you united in laughter.
  31. Spork
    Junior high isn’t easy for anyone— especially if you’re a frizzy-haired, pink-cheeked hermaphrodite like Spork. But when the talent show shines a chance for Spork to show up Betsy Byotch’s mean girls gang, her recently best-friended trailer-park neighbor Tootsie Roll steps up to coach her in booty-poppin’ moves. This ’80s-inspired dance send-up is littered with colorful dialogue from a tween cast with mouths beyond their years.
  32. The Woodmans (Winner: Best New York Documentary)
    The Woodmans are a family united in their belief that art-making is the highest form of expression and an essential way of life, but for photographer daughter Francesca, worldwide acclaim came only after a tragedy that would forever scar the family. With unrestricted access to all of Francesca’s works and diaries, The Woodmans paints an incisive portrait of a family broken and then healed by its art.
  33. Monogamy (Winner: Best New York Narrative)
    Exhibitionism, voyeurism, jealousy, lust. Brooklyn wedding photographer Theo’s (Chris Messina) side business shooting surveillance-style photos of clients on the sly takes an unexpected turn—and creates a rift with his fiancée (Rashida Jones)—when he’s hired by a provocative mystery woman (Meital Dohan). The first narrative feature from Oscar®-nominated director Dana Adam Shapiro (Murderball), Monogamy effectively fuses an absorbing mystery-thriller and a taut relationship drama.

Tribeca Film Festival
NY Times: 12 Days, 132 Films, 38 Countries
Time Out New York: Tribeca Film Festival: The must-sees

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Good Friday on Court Street

April 2, 2010

Friday evening, and nearly everyone was in a hurry to get home. But on Brooklyn’s busy Court Street, traffic was at a standstill. Horns were honking. Angry drivers were leaning out their windows, shaking their fists, demanding to know what was going on — was it an accident? A disaster? A drill? What could possibly be so important that it caused the police to close the roadway at rush hour?

I walked past the stalled cars and trucks, beyond the police vehicles and uniformed officers that blocked the street, and saw the center of the commotion: a Good Friday procession assembling outside the oddly named Saints Peter & Paul & Our Lady of Pilar Church at Congress and Court Streets.

I didn’t have time to pause and hear a full explanation, and the only camera I had with me was in my phone. If you know more about this event, or this church, please share the story.

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The street was blocked off, but no one was directing traffic

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A crowd gathered

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Police officers stood around the center of attraction

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A priest recited a blessing

Local Catholic Church and Family History & Genealogical Research Guide


The 29th CMJ Music Marathon and Film Festival

October 25, 2009

It was created by College Media Journal (CMJ), the magazine that published the first record charts based on college radio airplay. Back when it started in 1980, the CMJ Music Marathon (the Film Festival was added in 1994) provided college radio staffs the opportunity to meet and hear music from new and emerging sources.

Over the years the CMJ Music Marathon and Film Festival has grown and changed, but its primary focus has remained on music that appeals to college audiences.

This year’s Festival featured thousands of musicians at dozens of venues around the city and drew an estimated 120,000 fans, artists, filmmakers, and industry pros. To my surprise, someone gave me a pass to the event. Although I expected a “college music” festival to consist of endless loud party tunes for drunken frat boys (think MTV Spring Break), I was wrong.

In fact, I saw more acts than I could count (including old favorites and new discoveries), performing in a wide variety of genres. The panels, which I anticipated as dull, dry discussions of industry statistics and forecasts, turned out to be entertaining and enlightening. Not to mention the film. Or the parties.

I did remember to take my camera to a few of the events. And if anyone wants to give me a badge to new year’s Festival … I’d be more than happy to accept.

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Badge

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The Dizzy Gillespie All Stars

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Jim Rado and Galt MacDermot

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NOW Ensemble

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JD Souther

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Kimberley Locke

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Diana DeGarmo

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Mieka Pauley

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Woody Harrelson

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Jarrod Gorbel

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Fred Mascherino

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Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society

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Jets Overhead

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Emmanuel Jal

CMJ09 Music Marathon and Film Festival
Wikipedia: CMJ Music Marathon
CMJ Milestones
The Dizzy Gillespie All Stars
Emanuel and the Fear
JD Souther
Mieka Pauley
Jets Overhead
The Color Fred
Free Energy
Jarrod Gorbel of the Honorary Title
NOW Ensemble
Emmanuel Jal
Julia Wolfe
Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society
David Lang
Jessica Pomerantz
Guyora Kats
The Messenger
Arlene’s Grocery
Pianos
Kimmel Hall
Living Room
Blue Note
Le Poisson Rouge
Judson Memorial Church
Clearview Chelsea
Rockwood Music Hall
Norwood Club
Gawker: Norwood: A Club For The Artistic And Talented
MTV Spring Break


New Amsterdam Village

September 9, 2009

Why is a full sized windmill turning right in the middle of Broadway?

It is part of the celebration of the Dutch arriving in New York 400 years ago, New Amsterdam Village was temporarily constructed, just below Bowling Green Park, at Broadway and Beaver Streets. The village contains booths designed to resemble traditional Dutch canal houses. Some sell traditional foods and products, including cheese, herring, stroopwafels (sweet waffle cookies), flowers and wooden shoes – and yes, even a windmill.

In an open area, intended to represent the village square, a variety of musical acts performed for passersby. The highlights were the raucous numbers from Dynamo, a colorfully costumed youth marching / dancing / percussion / kazoo group, the unexpectedly diverse and humorous repertoire of Kleintje Pils, a brass band clad in traditional striped smocks and wooden shoes and Jan David performing “Miss Sunshine,” the song he composed in honor of NY400.

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The windmill dwarfed by skyscrapers

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Dynamp reaches skyward

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Dynamp drummers

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Trying to play the kazoo while giggling

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Dynamp member dancing

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Dynamp and the bandleader

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Dynamp member performing

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Dynamp member with triangle

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Blue drumsticks and blue kazoo

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The traditional method of making wooden shoes

Kleintje Pils
Jan David: Miss Sunshine
NY400 Week: New Amsterdam Village


Bastille Day in Brooklyn

July 12, 2009

What started as a simple Brooklyn block party has grown into the biggest Bastille Day celebration in the U.S., featuring French food, drink, games and music. Today, several blocks of Smith Street were closed to traffic so South Brooklyn could again celebrate the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille.

Once traffic was stopped and vehicles moved, the street was filled with tons of sand. Wooden beams were arranged on the sand, dividing it into courts for the petanque (bowling) tournament. Banners were hung, music played, and bars, tables and chairs were set out for spectators. At the corner of Atlantic Avenue, platforms and ramps were erected for a skateboarding exhibition.

Local bars and restaurants erected tents where they could sell food and drink, corporate sponsors brought piles of pens, hats and sunglasses to give away, and a replica guillotine — including a bloody blade — was placed in the center of the street. The party began at 11:00 a.m. and officially ended at 10:00, although stragglers (and those who’d sampled a bit too much pastis) lingered far longer in the night while visions of Marseilles danced in their heads.

Vive la République! Vive la France!

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Smith Street honored Bastille Day

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There were ramps and platforms for the skateboard exhibition

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Skateboarders showed their best moves

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The street was covered in sand and divided into petanque courts

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Eighty teams competed in the petanque tournament

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Who doesn’t love a sport that can be played while smoking?

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Local restaurants sold food under tents (this is Coco Roco)

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A restaurant made pizza in the street

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Outside bar at Bar Tabac

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The replica guillotine featured a bloody blade

Brooklyn Eagle: Bastille Day Comes To Smith Street
Petanque
Ricard Pastis


Dyke March NYC

June 26, 2009

Now in its 17th year, the Dyke March NYC is a protest, not a parade. The people who participate in this annual event are motivated by a desire to increase their visibility and make their voices heard.

Thousands of dykes take over the streets every year in celebration of lesbians and to protest against ongoing discrimination, harassment, and anti-lesbian violence in schools, on the job, in our families, and on the streets.

The march goes down Fifth Avenue from Bryant Park to Washington Square. While the organizers never obtain permits for the march, the NYPD takes a rather benevolent view. All along the route, police officers block traffic, pose for photos, wave and generally enjoy Dyke March duty.

Even though it rained during most of the march, one police officer remarked, “Watching these women is the highlight of my week.” I hope you agree.

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Police cars lead the way

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Police and marshalls stop traffic

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Here come the marchers

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Drummers keep the beat

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The rain didn’t dampen spirits

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Finally, the storm tapered off

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Marchers were drenched but happy

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Very happy

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Some were silly, too

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Kids also participated

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NYPD posing and grinning

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Spectators’ signs were wet but legible

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Marchers carried signs, too

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You don’t need a sign to carry a message

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A marshall in her “uniform”

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Dancing in the street

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A couple with a message

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Walking in the sunshine

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Visibility was important

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So was togetherness

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Her shirt says “I love my two moms”

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The march ended at Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village

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These marchers were inspired by the Village People

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The mood in the park was celebratory

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And triumphant

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Rainbows appeared everywhere

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Even on flags

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Veterans of past marches sat and sang together

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Even visitors to the city showed their pride

Dyke March


Greek Festival in Downtown Brooklyn

June 5, 2009

The metal signs were propped up on the sidewalk. The flags and banners were hung from the awning. The street was closed, the carnival attractions arrived and the tables and chairs were assembled outside the front door. Most importantly, the yayas (grandmothers) were cooking. And cooking. And cooking.

It was time once again for the festival run in Downtown Brooklyn by Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral. Now in its 32nd year, the annual week-long event is one of the biggest fund raisers for the church that has stood here since 1916.

The cathedral is more than just a place of worship; for nearly 100 years, it has served as the center of Greek life in Brooklyn. Many parishioners cheerfully put their business affairs aside for the week and devote their labors to ensure the festival’s success. The attractions include a “white elephant” sale and gift shop, music, kiddie rides and, of course, the food. The barbeques for gyros, souvlaki and grilled octopus were set up in the street, the trays filled with moussaka, pasticio, dolmades, spanakopita, keftedes and pastries — all based on old family recipes — were on the tables under the tent.

The music played, the kids giggled and ran, the younger people manned the grills, the yayas kept an eye on the money box while serving heaping helpings of everything and the men, just as they do in Greece, sat together swapping stories, making plans and watching the passing scene. Oopa!

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A sign on Court Street

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Tables set up on the asphalt

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Cooking the meat for gyros

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Grilled souvlaki

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Assembling a gyro

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Yayas inside the tent

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A tray of desserts

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The carnival attractions help raise money

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The neighborhood kids love winning prizes

The Greek Orthodox of Cathedral of Sts. Constantine and Helen
Recipe: Moussaka
Recipe: Pasticio
Recipe: Dolmades
Recipe: Spanakopita
Recipe: Cat Cora’s Keftedes


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