People’s History Lessons

The San Francisco Bay Guardian – one of the media co-sponsors for the event to be held tomorrow in San Francisco Mission High School Auditorium – published a short piece about A People’s History of the United States. To read it, visit
People’s History lessons

I’d like to remind people that the Voices of a People’s History event in San Francisco is completely sold out.

For those who have tickets, the event is set to start at 7 pm; doors open by 6.15 pm. Please, arrive early. If you bought tickets online please be sure to bring your pre-printed ticket with you, which you should have received via email from or

The People Speak: Live At The Sundance Film Festival 2009

Today, Glide Magazine published a review about the “People Speak ” event at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, summarizing how the performance unfolded. Though I’m wondering why it comes in so late after the event actually took place, the review itself is worth reading.

The People Speak: Live at the Sundance Film Festival 2009 – Glide Magazine



Based on a novel by Walter Kirn, the movie directed by Mike Mills revolves around Justin Cobb (Lou Pucci), a shy 17-year old in a family of four in suburban Oregon. He has a persistent thumb sucking habit that his father (Vincent D’Onofrio) disapproves of, and that has previously led to major orthodontic repair. He addresses his parents by their first names (Mike and Audrey) due to his father’s insecurity of ageing. His mother (Tilda Swinton), a registered nurse, begins an idle fascination with actor Matt Schramm (Benjamin Bratt), entering a contest to win a date with the star. Audrey insists vigorously that it is “innocent fun”, but is inordinately concerned with looking attractive for the contest.

Justin struggles on his school’s debate team, led by Mr. Geary (Vince Vaughn), which he joined to get closer to smart, attractive environmentalist Rebecca (Kelli Garner). He tries to start a relationship with her, but she rejects him after he cannot open up to her about his thumb sucking habit.

At a regular checkup, his dentist Perry Lyman (Keanu Reeves) indicates he can tell that Justin is still sucking his thumb, and attempts hypnosis, coaching Justin to find his power animal (a deer), and suggesting that his thumb will taste like echinacea. This works, and Justin finds his thumb distasteful, but falls deeper into frustration without the crutch. After conspiring with his younger brother, Joel (Chase Offerle), to disrupt Dr. Lyman in a bicycle race with Justin’s father, his school counsellor prods the Cobbs to give him Ritalin. While his parents wring their hands over the idea, Justin insists that he needs the help.

Almost immediately after beginning treatment, Justin begins to have elevated energy, confidence, and focus. He begins to excel on the debate team, unseating Rebecca from the star position, who quits debate team and drifts into the stoner crowd. Justin’s new-found aggressiveness nets the debate team repeated awards. Simultaneously, he begins to challenge the neuroses of the adults around him, particularly for their struggles with ageing. With a somewhat deceitful cover letter, he applies to NYU, in spite of his mother’s insistence he go to college closer to home.

After his ill-prescribed Ritalin leads him to ramble in circles and lose the state debate championship, he quits the debate team, throws away the pills, and seeks out Rebecca to hook him up with pot. During repeated smoking incursions, Rebecca routinely blindfolds him and engages in heavy petting, which Justin interprets as a relationship. After reaching third base, he broaches the subject, and Rebecca rejects him, considering the acts as merely her own sexual exploration. He quits both her and the drugs.

Both Justin and his father suspect that Audrey is having an affair with Schramm, after she is transferred to a celebrity rehab facility where Schramm has been committed. Attempting to catch his mother in the act, he instead meets Schramm sneaking a smoke in the bushes, and learns the unromantic truth. The next day, he receives an acceptance letter from NYU.

At a final visit to Perry, the doctor reveals to Justin his discovery that thumb sucking is not a medically debilitating problem, that everyone has their own flaws, and nobody has all the answers; in fact, learning to live without having the answers is (perhaps) the answer. On his flight to New York, Justin dreams of reaching his goal of being a TV anchor, “sharing the truth with the world”. He wakes up after sleep-talking to find his thumb in his mouth, and an attractive girl smiling at him. Slightly embarrassed but self-confident, he introduces himself.

In 2005, Lou Pucci received a Special Jury Price at the Sundance Film Festival and the Silver Berlin Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival for his performance in Thumbsucker, and Mike Mills received The Guardian New Directors Award at the Edinburgh Film Festival for this movie.


Though the plot itself is apparently not overly original – it is a teen angst drama giving the viewer a picture of a young man and his family at a difficult time in their lives and how they relate and cope with the situation. -, this is not the depiction of the typical teenage coming of age as interpreted by Hollywood, and the movie creatively explores issues of identity, self-worth, achievement, family dynamics and so many other elements of life that are difficult to articulate.

What’s wonderful about the movie is that it isn’t about the thumbsucking problem. It’s about the kid with the thumbsucking problem. He lives in this dreary old town that could be anywhere, and the lead character is so universal, every kid who’s ever felt alienated, rejected, isolated, different, and awkward can totally relate with this character. And this is essentially what makes the movie work – along with the good ensemble Mike Mills assembled for it-, it doesn’t fly for everybody, but if you get into the world of that lead character the movie is magical and moving.

Thumbsucker makes a valid point about how easy it is to prescribe drugs for what seems to be afflicting Justin: Attention Deficit Disorder. In fact, what those pills are doing are creating a false security blanket for the young man, who awakens in time to realize the drug he is taking a form of “speed”.

Lou Pucci is brilliant in this movie, he doesn’t overact, as is the inclination for so many young actors, but goes with a subtle, powerful silent performance, and he’s supported incredibly well by an ensemble cast that delivers a phenomenal performance all around. Keanu Reeves as the dentist, Benjamin Bratt as a totally weird drug addict actor and Vince Vaughn as Justin’s teacher give some laughter to the otherwise serious story, and make this movie enjoyment.

I’d recommend this movie to anyone who appreciates a good laugh, a good story, or a touching picture of what it means to be human.

“It’s not easy growing up, no matter what age you are…”

Interview with Tana Jamieson, Show Producer for The Cleaner

A&E’s Producer’s Corner features an interview with Tana Jamieson, Show Producer for The Cleaner.

I’ll share the entire interview here, since the Producer’s Corner ( is in an area of A&E’s site that requires registration to access and though registration is free, not everyone is necessarily willing or interested in going through the process of registering.


What made Benjamin Bratt ideal for the role of the cleaner? How do you think his portrayal of William Banks mirrors the show’s real life inspiration, Warren Boyd?

Tana Jamieson, Show Programmer for The Cleaner: For starters, Ben is a superbly talented actor. His natural charisma illuminates his character’s crusade to help others while fostering his role as leader of his team and center of the show. Furthermore, Ben’s personal warmth and humanity provide a tantalizing balance to his character’s troubled past, while never losing the edge and roughness he brings to the role.

The Cleaner is A&E’s first original scripted series. What is it like to be at the center of a brand new era of television programming for A&E? How do you think this series has paved the way for other original scripted programming on the network?

TJ: The show fits in with our other programming but at the same time is unique and not the same old cable show. The Cleaner with its cast and stories has already opened the doors to more quality one hour dramas for A&E.

Many of our loyal A&E viewers will notice similarities between the fictional drama of The Cleaner and real-life drama of Intervention. How does The Cleaner shed new light onto the issues of addiction and hope?

TJ: Intervention is a brilliant show, and we’re thrilled that our A&E collegues and the show’s producers have gotten due recognition with an Emmy nomination for OUTSTANDING REALITY PROGRAM. In part what’s fascinating about the drama and the struggle of addiction is that every story is different – yet every story speaks to the human condition in a powerful, emotional way. We stumble, we fail, yet sometimes we can overcome…and always with the support of each other. As both shows strive to engage this theme, these issues, they proved distinct but complementary programming.

What do you think is the hardest part of creating a fictional series about a real-life issue that effects so my families today?

TJ: We are trying to entertain people so there are times that the real story is much tougher than we can script it. We want people to understand the problems but at the same time you do not want to get preachy or turn people off.

How did Warren Boyd respond to the portrayal of his life in The Cleaner? Does he still participate in the real-life interventions that started it all?

TJ: He has an office where the show is at but often he is not out there due to his heavy schedule as real interventionist. He loves being a part of the show and sees it as an obligation to get out and help as many people as possible.

How does the process of creating a fictional scripted series differ from the creative process on a non-fiction series?

TJ: There’s more overlap than you might think. In both cases, we strive for provocative, emotional, relatable storytelling. Whether it’s scripted or unscripted, the storytellers want the audience to connect to the lead characters, present them with a problem, complicate that problem with escalating set-backs, jeopardies, and new twists while making progress, and ultimately deliver an ending which is both satisfying, honest, real, yet somehow surprising. The overall goal of any storytelling is to lead the audience along a path of vicarious, subconscious enlightenment — best case scenario! With a scripted show, the story is crafted before production, for the most part. With an unscripted show, the story may be more heavily crafted in post-production.

Voices of a People’s History of the United States

Please join


for a special performance of


with a cast of readers and musicians including


and others soon to be announced.

Thursday, February 26, 2009
7 PM

Mission High School Auditorium
3750 18th Street
San Francisco CA 94114

Haymarket Books

Voices of a People’s History of the United States

Performances of Voices of a People’s History of the United States bring to life the extraordinary history of ordinary people who built the movements that made the United States what it is today, ending slavery and Jim Crow, protesting war and the genocide of Native Americans, creating unions and the eight hour work day, and advancing women’s rights and gay liberation.

By giving public expression to rebels, dissenters and visionaries from our past–and present–VOICES seeks to educate and inspire a new generation working for social justice.

This upcoming performance of VOICES in San Francisco will be one of more than 60 such performances in 17 different states held since 2003.

Students and teachers, Oscar winners and activists, have organized and performed VOICES in classrooms and theaters, at conferences and music halls, most recently at the Sundance Film Festival 2009 with Josh Brolin, Benjamin Bratt, Woody Harrelson, Wyclef Jean, Q’orianka Kilcher, Melissa Leo, Robert Redford, and Marisa Tomei.

Visit for recent video clips.

In 2009, THE PEOPLE SPEAK, a documentary film inspired by VOICES and by Howard Zinn’s groundbreaking books, A People’s History of the United States, and with Anthony Arnove, Voices of a People’s History of the United States, will air on national television and screen at film festivals and select theaters.

To see a preview of the film, visit:

KALW 97.1 FM Local Public Radio

KPFA 94.1 FM Pacifica Radio

San Francisco Bay Guardian

Hotel Palomar San Francisco

General Admission $20.00.

To buy tickets online (major credit cards, PayPal), visit:

A limited number of Student Discount Tickets will be available for $10.00 with valid student ID. These tickets must be purchased in person at the office of Haymarket Books, 110 Capp Street, between 16th and 17th Streets, during the following times: Monday 6-8pm, Wednesday 4-8pm, and Friday 6-8pm.

Premium reserved seating and the opportunity to make a tax-deductible donation to the event co-sponsors is also available online, at a variety of levels, including $100, $250, $500, and $1,000.

This generous additional support will help Voices of a People’s History to organize performances in more communities and schools across the country and allow Haymarket Books to continue their work as an independent book publisher and distributor and to donate educational books by Howard Zinn and other authors to the students and staff of Mission High School.

Donations at the $250 level and above will also receive a signed copy of the book Voices of a People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove.

To buy tickets in person in the Bay Area, please visit these fine independent bookstores:
City Lights Books
261 Columbus Avenue at Broadway

The Green Arcade
1680 Market Street at Gough

Modern Times
888 Valencia Street

Moe’s Books
2476 Telegraph Avenue


Haymarket Books

Howard Zinn

Mission High School

Stairwell Sisters

The People Speak

Voices of a People’s History


Please, note that tickets are selling fast, so I think it is a good idea for anyone interested in attending this event to inquire about the availability of tickets and possibly buying one as soon as possible.

“We Shall Remain” Series

While waiting to see Benjamin Bratt in the second season of The Cleaner, it will be possible to hear him narrating the five episodes of “We Shall Remain” from the award-winning PBS series American Experience. “We Shall Remain” is a provocative multi-media project that establishes Native history as an essential part of American history and results from the collaboration between Native and non-Native filmmakers and involves Native advisors and scholars at all levels of the project. Each historical episode of We Shall Remain will be paired with a short, contemporary story showing how the past resonates in Native American lives today.

“We Shall Remain” will air once a week from April 13, 2009, on PBS, as follows:

  1. After the Mayflower, April 13, 2009
  2. Tecumseh’s Vision, April 20, 2009
  3. Trail of Tears, April 27, 2009
  4. Geronimo, May 4, 2009
  5. Wounded Knee, May 11, 2009.

Please, visit The Films | We Shall Remain | American Experience | PBS to learn more about the series or watch clips.

“Voices of a People’s History” Performance in San Francisco

Following the screening at the MoMA in NYC yesterday, a performance of “Voices a People’s History” will take place at the

  • Mission High School Auditorium in San Francisco, CA, on February 26, 2009, at 7 pm.

Howard Zinn and Voices in San Francisco

Other showings are scheduled at

Moreover, the Sundance Channel page on YouTube features highlights from The People Speak event at 2009 Sundance Film Festival:
Festival Updates Spotlight : The People Speak

La Mission – A Real Treat

A visitor to the site who had the chance to see “La Mission” at the Sundance Film Festival, Rochelle Newman-Carrasco, sent me a well-developed review of the movie and she gave me the permission to post it here. She has also taken a photo of Benjamin, Carlos Carrasco, and Jesse Borrego that I’ll upload to the gallery as soon as possible-


La Mission – A Real Treat

I’ll be honest. There are times when you look at Sundance synopsis
and think twice about going to see the film. I admit that I think
twice about seeing anything that is even slightly gang related
because films of this genre are often handled so badly. I’ve seen
plenty. The best of the best and the worst of the worst. However,
knowing that La Mission was a Bratt Brothers production, I was
certain that there would be integrity and a level of excellence that
less talented filmmakers and actors would not be able to achieve.
Not only was I right, but I had no idea that I was going to be
treated to one of the finest films I have seen in a long time
regardless of genre. La Mission is beautiful on some many levels.
From the stunning shots of San Francisco and the Mission District to
the intimacy that exists, not only between father and son, but also
between so many characters in this film The relationship between all
of the male friends is so full of warmth, honesty and humor that
their are scenes in La Mission that you simply don’t see in films
with a male audience appeal. Then of course there is the cultural
piece. It is handled with so much thought and authenticity. No
pandering, no stereotyping, no one dimensional portrayals of a
complex and vibrant culture. Bravo to all involved. The film itself
was a great experience, but at the Q&A after the film I learned that
many of the actors involved were local kids without much acting
experience. This community involvement only added yet another layer
of credibility and is yet something else to be admired about this
worthy piece of filmmaking and storytelling. As I spent my weekend
at Sundance, I ran into others who had seen La Mission. People of
all walks of life. The comments were consistently positive and
appreciative of the work and what it says about so many contemporary
issues. Kudos to all involved. I look forward to its release and to
recommending it to friends. After so many badly handled stories
about the Latino community in any number of US states, it’s great to
have this gem transcend and have such universal appeal.

Rochelle Newman-Carrasco

The Cleaner, Season 1, Episodes Follow-ups

A&E posted their own follow-ups to The Cleaner episodes from season 1. Reading them can be a pastime while waiting for the new season to air (unluckily, no news yet about when this will be), especially for those who tried and perhaps are still trying to imagine what was of the people William Banks and his team were hired to help. Please, mind that the follow-ups posted seem to have been mixed up and some do not necessarily correspond to the episode they are supposed to be the follow-up to, at least at the time of this writing.

A&E Television – The Cleaner – Episodes

Benjamin Bratt at Sundance (CNN Video)

I can’t recall posting this interview with Benjamin and Peter Bratt for CNN, dating to January 19, 2009. Please, forgive the double post, if I have already shared it here.

So… “Actor Benjamin Bratt and director Peter Bratt talk about their film “La Mission”, premiering at the Sundance Film Festival.”

Benjamin Bratt at Sundance