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Locked Up In Louisiana: Inside America’s Bloodiest Prison


Photo Illustration by Emil Lendof/The Daily Beast

From ‘Gruesome Gertie,’ the electric chair, to the warden who lashed inmates with a leather strap, Louisiana State Penitentiary celebrates its hellish past in a museum.
 

The Louisiana State Penitentiary boasts such pleasant nicknames as “Alcatraz of the South” and “The Bloodiest Prison in America,” but when pulled up on Google maps, it has a 4.4 star rating. “Was the loveliest place on earth. Loved it!” one reviewer writes. “[S]uch a fun time!” another gushes.

These, of course, are not written by inmates from inside the prison’s infamous walls, but by visitors to the Angola Museum, a low white building that draws travelers down miles of back roads north from Baton Rouge and dumps them off at an unlikely attraction: the looming gates of the country’s largest maximum security facility.

Right before the grounds of the 18,000-acre, 135-year-old prison, the museum awaits on the right, chock full of the unsavory history of one of the country’s most notorious prisons. And despite its macabre collections, prison aficionados are loving it: the museum boasts a 91 percent rating on Trip Advisor.

The exhibits begin with a room packed with replicas of the animals that roam Louisiana’s swamps. Though it seems entirely unrelated to the criminal system, perhaps this is to gage whether an escaping prisoner might chose to be eaten by the area’s alligators then spend life in what’s displayed next: a replica prison cell of excruciating small dimensions or visitor photo ops.

This shiver-inducing cell experience is just the tip of the iceberg for what turns out to be a fascinating collection of prison history and culture. The museum’s relics span such an eclectic range as an electric chair, a handmade coffin, an inmate-painted portrait of President Barack Obama, and a pair of boxers once worn by P. Diddy when he played an Angola death row prisoner in Monster’s Ball.

The prison has actually been the setting for a number of Academy Award-winning films, including

Dead Man Walking.

The man moans, pleads for mercy, calls on God. The captain tells him: “You bettah call on someone closer to you—someone who kin help you!”

Each corner of the maze-like museum is stuffed with the bizarre, terrifying and chilling pieces of Angola’s history. A room displays relics and archival newspaper articles from a dramatic attempted escape in which two prisoners kidnapped the warden and his mother in 1982. The fake body hanging out of a car section that an inmate tried to sneak himself out inside of caused this visitor to leap backwards.

“Gruesome Gertie,” the prison’s wooden electric chair in the back corner was last used in 1991, but a sinister aura—87 prisoners died in its arms—hasn’t been diluted by time. Above it, a clock is frozen at 12:01.

There’s a display of coffin-making techniques utilized by the prisoners, who give their dead a respectful, horse-drawn burial at Point Look-Out, the cemetery for those inmates unclaimed by families.

The most incredible display of human ingenuity can be found in a large glass case filled with homemade weapons and tools confiscated from inmates. The centerpiece is a shotgun crafted out metal pipes. Hung around it is a terrifying collection of inventions: knives made from the strap of a hydraulic door closer, the return carriage of a typewriter, and a three-hole punch, among other seemingly harmless materials.

One plastic comb handle carved into a key was so effective that all the locks had to be changed after its discovery.

These whittled weapons are only slightly less horrific than what’s in a nearby case: two broad-bladed medieval axes and a spiked ball on chain. Another is plastered with stomach-churning images of dead inmates who fell victim to a smuggled-in meat cleaver—also on display.

The Angola Museum was created in 1998 by the warden at the time to showcase more than a century of prison history, though it’s an unimaginably shameful past to put on display.

The prison’s roots go back to 1880, when a former Confederate major purchased a plantation called Angola, so named for the country where the region’s slaves came from. He began storing prisoners in the former slave quarters. After stories of brutality leaked from its walls, the state took control of the prison. Unfortunately, conditions didn’t improve.

In 1943, a former prisoner penned in an exposing series of articles about various abuses at Angola, including this one about a warden who’d roam with a three-foot leather strip to lash the inmates. “[He] raised it over his head, with both hands, and brought it down with a sharp pop like a pistol shot on the naked man’s back. One … two … three … twenty; the count goes beyond thirty … the man moans, pleads for mercy, calls on God. The captain tells him: “You bettah call on someone closer to you—someone who kin help you!”

Conditions got so bad in the 1950s that 31 inmates sliced their Achilles tendons to bring attention to their poor treatment. In the following decades, sexual slavery was common place and gun-welding prisoners patrolled as guards called “khaki-backs.” In the early ‘70s, an average of 12 prisoners were stabbed to death each year.

Though these practices are long past, controversy still leaks out from the cells at Angola. The state of Louisiana has the top incarceration rate in the country, and for those at Angola not serving life without parole, the average sentence is 90.9 years. In 2013, Congress asked the Justice Department to investigate the prison’s “egregious” use of solitary confinement. That year, three death-row prisoners sued for a violation of constitutional rights.

But today, the prison is better known for its museum and famous rodeo than the “hell on earth” reputation it once had. The so-called “Wildest Show in the South” is a twice-yearly rodeo manned entirely by inmates. The attraction, which has been running for 50 years, draws thousands of spectators.

Last year, the two-day affair in April raked in $1 million for the prison’s education and recreational programs.

After room after room of gruesome displays, the museum ends on this slightly happier note: lists of rodeo winners, zig-zagging colorful outfits, and a mounted bull head.

This empties you into where you began, a room filled with paraphernalia. There are Angola-stamped boxer shorts and barbecue sauce. “Angola: A Gated Community” is splayed across a selection of shirts and sweatshirts.

After a loop through the museum’s maze and back in earshot of the stream of cars going in and out of the prison facility, there’s something sinister about these souvenirs.

(Courtesy of thedailybeast.com)

Pushing ‘Dope’: Sundance’s Freshest Film

Pushing ‘Dope’: Sundance’s Freshest Film

Director Rick Famuyiwa’s coming of age film about a group of ‘90s-nostalgic geeks in Inglewood that end up forming a cartel to push several kilos of ecstasy is all the rage in Utah.

James Franco begged for tickets.”

Just one day removed from a heated, all-night bidding war between indie film luminaries The Weinstein Company, Fox Searchlight, Focus, A24, and Open Road Films, with the latter emerging victorious, scooping up the film for $7 million with a guaranteed $15 million print and advertising commitment, filmmaker Rick Famuyiwa’s remarkably fresh coming of age flick Dope has cemented its status as the most crowd-pleasing, au courant movie at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

Upon exiting the theater amid a veritable blizzard of applause, Franco’s desperation was relayed to me by a giddy flack closely associated with the film (don’t worry, he got in). Now, hype at Sundance should always be treated with the utmost skepticism. The seductive mélange of enthusiasm, thin mountain air, and stars in parkas and beanies can send even the most cynical of cineastes into fleeting Oscar talk-in-January hysterics. For every Half Nelson or Winter’s Bone there is a Hamlet 2.

But I’m pleased to report that Dope is the real deal; a kinetic blast of hip-hop, bitcoins, and teenage swagger that is nothing short of intoxicating.

“‘Wait… these kids are dressed like the ‘90s, but it’s set now, and they’re into bitcoins but they’re from the ‘hood?’ It was too much for them to process, and they didn’t have the imaginations to get it.”

Like his movie The Wood before it, the film focuses on a trio of ghetto fab geeks into “white shit” like “Donald Glover” in Famuyiwa’s native Inglewood, California. There’s ringleader Malcolm (Shameik Moore), a Harvard-aspiring ‘90s hip-hop head rocking a flattop and vintage Jordans who looks like the long lost cousin of Boyz in the Hood’s Tre Styles; Jib (Tony Revolori, the mini-concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel), an Indian kid who’s 14 percent black, according to Ancestry.com; and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons, Transparent), a snarky lesbian with Bible-thumping parents. When they’re not practicing funk-rap tunes for their band Oreo, the clique is busy dodging sneaker thieves in school hallways and bike-jackers on the streets.

After helping him pick up neighborhood fly girl Nakia (Zoe Kravitz), local drug dealer Dom, played by rapper A$AP Rocky, invites Malcolm and his underage pals to his birthday party at a nightclub. But before you can say “Puffy and J. Lo,” the lounge is riddled with bullets and cops. The next day, Malcolm opens his backpack to find several kilos of high-grade ecstasy and a handgun—all stashed by Dom amid the melee. With Dom in jail, the enterprising high school seniors must find a way to push all the dope and get the money to its rightful owner, all while avoiding Glock-toting gangsters after the stash.

According to Famuyiwa, who previously helmed The Wood, Brown Sugar, and Our Family Wedding, the film was inspired by rap groups like Odd Future, A$AP Mob, and Pro Era, whose music pays homage to the energy of the halcyon ‘90s. It was also a very personal film for Famuyiwa who, like Malcolm, was a nerdy, Nigerian-American kid in Inglewood heavy into skateboarding, video games, and schoolwork.

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Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, and Shameik Moore of “Dope.” (Sundance Film Festival)

The Wood was based on a lot of stuff that happened in my life between me and my friends, but in a weird way, I feel this one is more connected to me—more personal to me—even though the story of Malcolm and his journey is nothing like what I did growing up,” Famuyiwa tells The Daily Beast. “Malcolm is more me than any of my characters, and I wanted to make a statement for these kids who were like me growing up; I wanted to give a voice to them.”

Dope not only boasts vibrant lensing courtesy of DP Rachel Morrison (Fruitvale Station), but is also laced with sharp wit—take, for example, a hilarious scene where Dom and his fellow drug dealers try to unpack the definition of “slippery slope.”

And, while so many “hip” films tend to incorporate technology in cloyingly obvious ways (see: tweets on the screen), Famuyiwa’s done an ace job of making his vision seem timely. Take for instance a gonzo sequence where Malcolm ends up at the fancy house of a drug dealer, only to be met by his Malibu’s Most Wanted son, Jaleel (Quincy Brown, the son of Diddy who served as one of the film’s producers) and nympho, oft-naked daughter, Lily (supermodel Chanel Iman). After snorting some of the ecstasy, Lily goes insane and ends up on the evening news peeing in a bush outside a Starbucks—thus becoming a viral meme. Or how the trio enlists a hacker they knew from band camp, Will (Workaholics’ Blake Anderson), to help them set up a black market online store to push their ecstasy—which, after the viral episode and a crazy party, is dubbed “Lily”—and be paid in the non-traceable cryptocurrency bitcoin.

“There’s no rulebook any more for what a ‘geek’ is—that’s been shattered by the connectivity and progress of the world,” says Famuyiwa. “When there’s a handful of magazines and channels where young people get their information, you can really dictate what’s cool or not, as opposed to having everything everywhere at all times. They think they’re cool because they have other people who believe in them.”

He pauses. “I felt this film could connect with a wide swath of people because we have generations of people who’ve grown up on hip-hop, which has gone mainstream, and multiple generations of people who are connected to each other. People can think Malcolm’s cool and like the way he dresses even though he’s from Inglewood, and a kid from the bottom like him can be friends with a hacker from Brentwood. That larger world is what drives the ambition for these kids to say, ‘I can be me, go to Harvard, and do things I want to do because I see there’s a path, and I see other kids like me that have done it.’”

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Director Rick Famuyiwa of “Dope.” (Sundance Film Festival)

The music also plays a large role in the film, including ‘90s hits from groups like Naughty By Nature, Nas, Biggie, the list goes on. Dope’s eclectic soundtrack was composed by none other than Pharrell, who also penned 4 original songs for the kids’ band in the film, Oreo. Pharrell was attracted to the project because he, like Famuyiwa, grew up geeky and black.

“We vibed on Malcolm,” says Famuyiwa. “Pharrell said, ‘That was me in Virginia,’ and he was able to take everything—‘90s hip-hop geeks in a punk band that skate—and create. We talked about the music for a while and what that would be, and talked about stuff we liked at the time, from the obscure like Watch the Duck to Bowie, Nirvana, Biggie, and Big Daddy Kane. We realized that kids today would be into everything. My daughter is 14 and, because she has access to everything, me and my wife will be discussing a Marvin Gaye song and the next thing you know, she’s pulled it up on her phone.”

Even with the presence of Pharrell, as well as Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker onboard as a producer, making Dope wasn’t easy. The studios had trouble wrapping their heads around this strange brew of nostalgia and contempo stylings.

“Me and Forest had done stuff and had people we thought would get this, but we took it to a lot of studio partners—many of whom, incidentally, were in the room the other night—and at the time, I think it was so different from what they were used to seeing that they couldn’t wrap their brains around it,” says Famuyiwa. “‘Wait… these kids are dressed like the ‘90s, but it’s set now, and they’re into bitcoins but they’re from the ‘hood?’ It was too much for them to process, and they didn’t have the imaginations to get it. So it became clear that it was something that was so different that we had to do it outside the system.”

Whitaker and his producing partner eventually raised a small amount of money to make the film, which made Famuyiwa reduce the scope of the script. But with just a few weeks until shooting was to begin, he hadn’t found his Malcolm yet. Several big names were circling the role, but none of them were the right fit. Then Famuyiwa stumbled upon an audition tape from Moore, a former backup dancer in rap videos who’s best known for the Cartoon Network sketch comedy series Incredible Crew. He was immediately sold, and flew Moore out to Los Angeles for an audition.

Moore, then 18, was unseasoned, and totally bombed his audition. So Famuyiwa called his manager in Atlanta and asked him what the hell happened. The message got to Moore, who was given one more shot and knocked it out of the park. It’s a good thing he did, too—he’s a revelation in the film, capturing Malcolm’s intriguing mix of hormonal anxiety and courage.

Dope was shot in just 25 days on location in Los Angeles, and then brought to Sundance to sell, igniting the aforementioned bidding war. It’s a strange, full-circle moment for Famuyiwa, who first came to Sundance in 1996 with his 12-minute student film Blacktop Lingo, and the following year was invited to hone his craft at the Sundance Director’s Lab.

“Look, it’s crazy and exhilarating,” says a euphoric Famuyiwa. “This is the first time people have seen the movie, and I had a good feeling about it in the cutting room, but you never know. To come from the nervousness of, ‘Oh my God, how are they going to react?’ to people standing up and cheering is something else.”

(Courtesy of thedailybeast.com)

Inside Southeastern Basketball TV Show Set To Film At Hampton Inn

Inside Southeastern Basketball with Jay Ladner will start producing the television show each Tuesday evening at Hampton Inn of Hammond and fans are encouraged to attend.

Ladner, and host Allen Waddell, will record segments for the television show each Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. Fans are welcome to come early, or stay late, as food and drinks will be provided. Hampton Inn of Hammond is located at 401 Westin Oaks Dr., next to the Cracker Barrel restaurant.

The show airs on Cox Sports Television as well as Cox 4, Pelican Sports HD and KPBN in Baton Rouge/Lafayette/New Orleans, the Southeastern Channel and WHNO-TV in New Orleans.

Previous episodes of Inside Southeastern Basketball are available online at www. YouTube.com/SLUathletics or www. LionSports.net.

INSIDE SOUTHEASTERN BASKETBALL WITH JAY LADNER AIR TIMES

COX SPORTS TELEVISION – Thursdays, 5 p.m.
WHNO – Fridays, 5:30 p.m.

(Courtesy of lionsports.net)

7 big lies ‘American Sniper’ is telling America about Iraq and Chris Kyle

Bradley Cooper as "American Sniper" Chris Kyle

Bradley Cooper as “American Sniper” Chris Kyle

The film American Sniper, based on the story of the late Navy Seal Chris Kyle, is a box office hit, setting records for an R-rated film released in January. Yet the film, the autobiography of the same name, and the reputation of Chris Kyle are all built on a set of half-truths, myths and outright lies that Hollywood didn’t see fit to clear up.

Here are seven lies about Chris Kyle and the story that director Clint Eastwood is telling:

1. The Film Suggests the Iraq War Was In Response To 9/11: One way to get audiences to unambiguously support Kyle’s actions in the film is to believe he’s there to avenge the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The movie cuts from Kyle watching footage of the attacks to him serving in Iraq, implying there is some link between the two.

2. The Film Invents a Terrorist Sniper Who Works For Multiple Opposing Factions: Kyle’s primary antagonist in the film is a sniper named Mustafa. Mustafa is mentioned in a single paragraph in Kyle’s book, but the movie blows him up into an ever-present figure and Syrian Olympic medal winner who fights for both Sunni insurgents in Fallujah and the Shia Madhi army.

3. The Film Portrays Chris Kyle as Tormented By His Actions: Multiple scenes in the movie portray Kyle as haunted by his service. One of the film’s earliest reviews praised it for showing the “emotional torment of so many military men and women.” But that torment is completely absent from the book the film is based on. In the book, Kyle refers to everyone he fought as “savage, despicable” evil. He writes, “I only wish I had killed more.” He also writes, “I loved what I did. I still do. If circumstances were different – if my family didn’t need me – I’d be back in a heartbeat. I’m not lying or exaggerating to say it was fun. I had the time of my life being a SEAL.” On an appearance on Conan O’Brien’s show he laughs about accidentally shooting an Iraqi insurgent. He once told a military investigator that he doesn’t “shoot people with Korans. I’d like to, but I don’t.”

4. The Real Chris Kyle Made Up A Story About Killing Dozens of People In Post-Katrina New Orleans: Kyle claimed that he killed 30 people in the chaos of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, a story Louisiana writer Jarvis DeBerry calls “preposterous.”  It shows the sort of mentality post-war Kyle had, but the claim doesn’t appear in the film.

5. The Real Chris Kyle Fabricated A Story About Killing Two Men Who Tried To Carjack Him In Texas: Kyle told numerous people a story about killing two alleged carjackers in Texas. Reporters tried repeatedly to verify this claim, but no evidence of it exists.

6. Chris Kyle Was Successfully Sued For Lying About the Former Governor of Minnesota: Kyle alleged that former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura defamed Navy SEALs and got into a fight with him at a local bar. Ventura successfully sued Kyle for the passage in his book, and a jury awarded him $1.845 million.

7. Chris Kyle’s Family Claimed He Donated His Book Proceeds To Veterans’ Charity, But He Kept Most Of The Profits: The National Review debunks the claim that all proceeds of his book went to veterans’ charities. Around 2 percent – $52,000 – went to the charities while the Kyles pocketed $3 million.

Although the movie is an initial box office hit, there is a growing backlash against its simplistic portrayal of the war and misleading take on Kyle’s character. This backlash has reportedly spread among members of the Academy of Motion Picture of Arts and Sciences, which could threaten the film’s shot at racking up Oscars.

(Courtesy of rawstory.com)

Panel divided on how to reform Louisiana’s film tax credit program

Louisiana’s generous film incentive program, which by the most recent estimates costs taxpayers about $170 million a year, could and should be better designed to get the state a bigger return on its investment.

On that point there was general agreement among five opinionated panelists Wednesday who convened to discuss the state’s program, which has helped Louisiana become the nation’s busiest locale for feature filmmaking.

But there was no consensus on how to change it — or even on exactly what the problems with the program are — raising questions about what reforms, if any, will be proposed in the legislative session that begins in April.

The film program is likely going to be one of several major state incentives under scrutiny this year, with the Legislature trying to solve a shortfall approaching $2 billion — a gap that has brought draconian cuts to higher education, and one that stems in part from the spiraling cost of a handful of taxpayer-sponsored giveaways.

The major critiques of Louisiana’s film program are that it’s a drain on the state budget and that filmmakers will make movies here only as long as Louisiana’s subsidy program is the nation’s most generous. The costs have risen steadily almost every year since the program was created in 2002, although last year saw a small decrease from 2013, according to new data.

Will French, president of the Louisiana Film Entertainment Association, a leading industry voice, said he’s not ready to accept the findings of various studies showing that the film program is a net loser for the state. He said the LFEA is co-sponsoring its own study with the Motion Picture Association of America that will attempt to better assess the film industry’s impact, including previously uncounted benefits, such as its impact on tourism.

French theorized that the program might be “trending toward” revenue neutrality for Louisiana, and he asked Jan Moller, head of the left-leaning Louisiana Budget Project and a vocal critic of the film program, whether he would still call for cutting the program if it didn’t cost anything.

“If this becomes a self-sustaining program, we’re not having this conversation,” Moller said. “But I don’t think we’re even in the universe of this being self-sustaining. … We can argue about whether it brings in 17 cents or 30 cents on the dollar, but the more successful the program is, the more it’s going to cost every taxpayer.”

Every dollar spent on film, Moller said, “is a dollar we can’t spend on teachers, on highway maintenance, on higher education, on health care or any other needs the state has.” He added that Louisiana is spending roughly four times as much on film each year as it spends on highway maintenance, despite an estimated $12 billion backlog of transportation projects.

“This is an open-ended entitlement program — we have no idea how much it’s going to cost each year,” he said. “We should have a debate about how much money we want to spend on it.”

Unlike state programs like higher education, film doesn’t get a specific appropriation; Louisiana taxpayers just pay the bill when filmmakers turn in their paperwork.

Consultant Sherri McConnell, the panel’s moderator, who oversaw the film program for years as head of the state’s entertainment office, suggested putting a fixed cap on the program’s annual cost.

McConnell also proposed limiting the subsidy on any one person’s salary. For instance, program rules could be rewritten to say that only the first $1 million of an actor’s fee would be eligible for the 30 percent subsidy.

Nick Thurlow, of Louisiana Media Productions, who attended the event, said everyone in the audience — mostly consisting of industry insiders — would support such an idea. He further suggested increasing the subsidy the state gives for certified Louisiana residents on a film’s payroll, now at 35 percent, to perhaps 40 percent.

Done together, those two changes would both save the state money and increase its return on investment, Thurlow predicted. Smaller filmmakers such as his company, which makes movies for less than $10 million, tend to give the state a much bigger bang for its buck than blockbusters, he said — roughly 90 percent of his crew members are local, as opposed to 40 percent or less for some big productions.

“We need to talk about which films we should be subsidizing the most,” he said.

Despite Thurlow’s assertions, French said the LFEA is not ready to support any kind of a cap.

He said a cap on the overall cost of the program has been tried in other states, such as Pennsylvania, and the effect is that films get made in the first part of the year, and then activity stops when the cap is reached. The system discourages film workers from putting down permanent roots, he said.

As for caps on actor salaries, French said that they’d likely drive away many films, especially big-budget projects. “What you don’t want is to turn away big major studios because they spend too much on actors, when they’re the ones who employ people for six months out of the year instead of one month out of the year,” he said.

While French said he deeply wants to make the program more “sustainable,” McConnell challenged him to offer his own fix, since he quibbled with the ones she proposed.

French said he wants to wait for LFEA’s upcoming study, as well as a biannual study by an economist hired by the Legislature and possibly other research.

“It’s hard to put the cart ahead of the horse when we haven’t seen the data yet,” French said. “I kind of want to wait and see what the study says.”

The LFEA study was originally due last month, but French said more research has since been commissioned, and he’s not sure when the results will be ready. It’s more important to have good numbers than to have them fast, he said.

Editor’s note: This story was updated Jan. 15 to remove a reference made by some of the panelists to an upcoming report from the Pew Research Center. A Pew spokesperson said that Pew Charitable Trusts has conducted research aimed at helping states evaluate their own incentive programs, but Pew does not plan to issue a report on Louisiana tax incentives.

(Courtesy of theadvocate.com)

‘Selma’ stars including Oprah march in Alabama, honoring MLK

Oprah Winfrey, fellow actors from the movie “Selma” and hundreds of others marched to recall one of the bloodiest chapters of the civil rights movement on Sunday, the eve of the national holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr.

The remembrance comes after several incidents in which unarmed black men were killed by police in recent months, spurring protests and heightening tensions around the country. In Ferguson, Missouri, where one fatal shooting caused weeks of violent protests, leading black members of Congress pressed for further reforms of the criminal justice system in the name of equality.

Eight members of the Congressional Black Caucus joined U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay at Wellspring United Methodist Church in Ferguson as they took up King’s legacy in light of the recent deaths.

“We need to be outraged when local law enforcement and the justice system repeatedly allow young, unarmed black men to encounter police and then wind up dead with no consequences,” said Clay, a St. Louis Democrat. “Not just in Ferguson, but over and over again across this country.”

In Selma, Winfrey marched with “Selma” director Ava DuVernay, actor David Oyelowo, who portrayed King in the movie, and the rapper Common. Winfrey was a producer on the film and had an acting role like Common. They marched to Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, where civil rights protesters were beaten and tear-gassed in 1965.

“Every single person who was on that bridge is a hero,” Winfrey told the marchers before they walked up the bridge as the sun went down over the Alabama River. Common and John Legend performed their Oscar-nominated song “Glory” from the film as marchers crested the top of the bridge amid the setting sun.

Marchers hold up a "March On" and "Still …

Marchers hold up a “March On” and “Still They Marched” signs

Winfrey said the marchers remember “Martin Luther King as an idea, Selma as an idea and what can happen with strategy, with discipline and with love.” Winfrey played the civil rights activist Annie Lee Cooper in the movie, which was nominated for two Oscars, in categories of best picture and best original song.

“The idea is that hope and possibility is real,” Winfrey said afterward of the civil rights movement in Selma. “Look at what they were able to do with so little, and look at how we now have so much. If they could do that, imagine what now can be accomplished with the opportunity through social media and connection, the opportunity through understanding that absolutely we are more alike than we are different.”

“Selma” chronicled the campaign leading up to the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and the subsequent passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Law enforcement officers used clubs and tear gas on March 7, 1965 — “Bloody Sunday” — to rout marchers intent on walking some 50 miles to Montgomery, the Alabama capital, to seek the right for blacks to register to vote. A new march, led by King, started March 21 of that year and reached Montgomery days later with the crowd swelling to 25,000.

Today, the Selma bridge and adjoining downtown business district look much as they did in 1965, though many storefronts are empty and government buildings are occupied largely by African-American officials who are beneficiaries of the Voting Rights Act.

Oprah Winfrey locks arms with David Oyelowo, who portrays …

Oprah Winfrey locks arms with David Oyelowo, who portrays Martin Luther King Jr. in the movie “ …

“Fifty years ago Selma made history and changed the nation,” Selma Mayor George Evans said.

Onlookers in the crowd waved signs reading: “March On” and “VOTE.”

Lisa Stevens brought her two children, ages 6 and 10, so they could walk the bridge that King walked. “I wanted to bring my children here so they can know their history and for them to participate in this walk,” said Stevens, who moved recently from New York to Greensboro, Alabama.

“It’s a part of their history and I think that they should know. Being that we’re in the South now I want them to understand everything that is going on around them,” she said.

McLinda Gilchrist, 63, said the movie should help a younger generation understand life for those in the 1960s who opposed racial discrimination. “They treated us worse than animals,” Gilchrist said.

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A view of marchers as they walk towards the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the commemoration of the life of MLK

“It was terrifying,” recalled Lynda Blackmon Lowery, who still lives in Selma and was the youngest person to march there in 1965 as a teenager. Now a 64-year-old mother and grandmother, she spoke Sunday in New York of a harrowing experience of unarmed marchers going up against rifles, billy clubs and fierce dogs of white officers. She has since written a memoir, “Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom.”

Other King events planned for Monday’s federal holiday include a wreath-laying in Maryland, a tribute breakfast in Boston and volunteer service activities by churches and community groups in Illinois. In South Carolina, civil rights leaders readied for their biggest rally of the year.

And in Georgia, King’s legacy also was being celebrated at the church he pastored in Atlanta. The current pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, said the annual King holiday is a time when “all of God’s children are busy spreading the message of freedom and justice.”

In the Sunday sermon, Professor James Cone of New York’s Union Theological Seminary urged Ebenezer’s congregation to celebrate the slain civil rights leader “by making a political and a religious commitment to complete his work of justice.” He closed the service by leading singing of the civil rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome.”

(Courtesy of news.yahoo.com)

Globetrotting couple ditches the city life to grow a film studio on old plantation

Jake and Jodie Seal weren’t really looking for an antebellum home — or a home at all — when they purchased the old Asphodel Plantation Village in 2008. This was business, not pleasure.

It became both.

Jake Seal’s business is movies. He has acted, directed and produced. That was why he bought Asphodel, now named Plantation Village Studios. Its 17 acres are now dedicated to the big screen, and about 20 movies have been either shot or worked on there.

In the process, the Seals’ lives have become a remake of an old TV show, “Green Acres.” Jodie Seal grew up in Sydney, Australia, and was Miss Australia in 1996. The couple lived in London until moving two years ago, with their three boys, into the Levy House, one of the antebellum buildings on a quiet stretch of La. 68 south of Dixon Correctional Institute.

Good-bye, city life.

“It’s not Sydney. It’s not London. It’s been strange,” Jake Seal said. “It took me a lot to adjust to having to drive everywhere, not being able to walk to places, the big car culture. People in America will drive 45 minutes for a hotdog. In England, you drive 45 minutes, that’s a holiday.”

People are coming from much farther away to make movies at the studio, which includes a 10,000-square-foot sound stage they built and a collection of old buildings, a pond and wooded property, all of which can be transformed into a variety of backgrounds. The oldest building, originally the plantation overseer’s cottage, has been converted into a bar called Mackie’s when it’s not being used for movies.

So, of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, why did they walk into this one?

Louisiana’s generous tax incentive for movie-making is a big factor. At the time, there also was a federal incentive that has since disappeared, but Seal said he has several projects that are grandfathered in under that incentive.

“It gave the ability to make a film investment very conservative,” he said. “That’s the most important thing in the way a film is financed now. It’s hugely misunderstood from the outside, but from the inside, that’s what pulls production. It’s very, very successful.”

Though Louisiana has become a filmmaking mecca, many movies shot in-state are produced elsewhere. That creates mostly temporary local jobs. Although Plantation Village handles editing and post-production work — including an upcoming biopic of jazz great Chet Baker, starring Ethan Hawke, and a comedy, “Breaking the Bank,” starring Kelsey Grammer — Seal saw this as a place to be different.

“I think the exciting thing here is being able to build something that’s like an old studio that develops its own scripts, that produces them with the same core people, bringing in all the additional people — casts, extras — but have a core of 10, 15 to make great quality stuff over and over, and those 10 or 15 have job security and they’re making films because they love doing it,” he said. “That’s why people come to film or music or most of the creative and artistic things is to make something, but they start struggling to find the work.”

The studio has handled a half-dozen films from start to finish. Russian-born director Catherine Sheino has been there in preparation to shoot a psycho-thriller, “Fear,” with filming to start early this year.

“I was acquainted with Jake and another partner, Matt Geller,” Sheino said. “Honestly, I met a lot of producers from Russia, from England, from America, and they were the first persons about whom I think we are on the same page.”

The property itself was a selling point. The old buildings, which include a wooden train station, provide flexibility, Seal said. Once a bed and breakfast, there are 14 rooms to house movie crews when they’re there. Seal also owns studios in Canada and his native Great Britain, but neither is like this. “We came to Louisiana looking for something that was worth building out and a unique space, one that would be very creative,” Seal said. “I only thought of this much, much later, but if there was an archetype, it was something like (George) Lucas’ (Skywalker) ranch, where Lucas set up this big creative space. I think Pixar has a very similar thing. They’re all very high-tech and glamorous, and this is the opposite of that, but the point is people come here, whether they’re musicians or writers or filmmakers, and it’s quiet. They can concentrate. It’s very inspiring. It’s a safe place to come and create, and they’re excited by that.”

It is also a unique place to live, especially for the Seals, whose 4-year-old twins have become Southernized, saying “sir” and “ma’am” to their parents.

“I feel like I’m about 110,” said Jodie Seal, 40. (Jake Seal won’t disclose his age, even to his wife, who said he’s about 37.) “Also, they’ve been Americanized — the sugar in everything. That never happened before.”

That describes a lot about Plantation Village Studio.

“Filmmaking is all about the imagination,” Jake Seal said. “I know it’s a cliché, but it’s true. You can turn anything into anything, and this had just a wealth of opportunities.”

(Courtesy of 2theadvocate.com)

Film industry growth in Florida lags behind Louisiana, Georgia

Tax credits by region of the state. (Graphic provided in the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability's report.)

Tax credits by region of the state. (Graphic provided in the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability’s report.)

Once a top filming destination for TV and movies, Florida is falling behind, according to a report released last week by a policy analysis arm of the state legislature.

States like Georgia and Louisiana have lured production companies with tax incentives. Meanwhile, the report indicates Florida’s growth from 2010 to 2013 was below the national average for the size of the entertainment industry and the number of jobs it created.

Advocates for the industry say films and series are being filmed elsewhere because Florida has run out of funding for tax credits.

“It’s not for a lack of people wanting to come here,” said Sandy Lighterman, film commissioner for Miami-Dade County. “Our competition has incentives, and we’re going to lose out. Georgia, Louisiana, they have money. We don’t.”

The state’s Office of Film and Entertainment ran out of funding for tax credits after most of the money allocated for six years of incentives was given out too quickly, Lighterman said.

Kelly Paige, a talent agent from Tampa, said this has led to a perception that Florida is “out of business” in the film industry. But she expects demand to pick back up if the legislature approves more funding.

The report had additional suggestions to improve the incentive program:

  • Put a cap on the total tax credits allowed each year to prevent the current situation involving severely limited resources from happening in the future.
  • Outsource audits to shorten the time it takes for companies to receive their tax credits.

A letter from State Film Commissioner Niki Welge in response to the report said the latter recommendation is being implemented. The office had no further comments beyond this letter.

The first recommendation — capping the annual tax credits — would have to be implemented by the legislature.

Last year, legislators tried to add money into the program, although attempts failed. Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, said it was largely because it’s difficult to quantify and communicate the true economic value of a tax incentive program like this.

With a state legislature that has prioritized cutting taxes and spending, this was hardly a priority for many last spring, he said.

“How do you do this and how do you monitor its effectiveness?” Diaz asked. “It’s obviously an important industry to Florida.”

From 2010 to 2013, the state gave $67.3 million in tax credits to bring 68 TV shows, movies, video games and commercials to Florida, according to the report. Among them are films “Spring Breakers” and “Transformers 3,” TV series “The Glades” and even episodes of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”

Nearly all these projects were produced in South Florida or the Orlando area. Films produced in the region of the state that includes Tampa Bay received $5.5 million in tax credits, according to the report.

State subsidies aren’t required for a film or TV series to set up shop, but, as Lighterman said, they’ve become a crucial part of how Hollywood operates.

(Courtesy of miamihearld.com)

Louisiana Film prize to kick-off 2015 competition

On the heels of a record breaking year, Executive Director Gregory Kallenberg announced the fourth annual Louisiana Film Prize film making competition launch on January 13 at artspace in downtown Shreveport, once again offering up a $50,000 cash prize, the largest cash prize for a short film, in the world. This year’s competition will also offer an added incentive – distribution for the Top 5 films on iTunes through a partnership with Shorts International, and showings at partnering film festivals.

The contest and festival (www.LAFilmPrize.com), held each year in Shreveport, LA, invites filmmakers from all over the world to create and present a short film under one condition – it must be shot in Northwest Louisiana. Filmmakers can shoot their films from January 14 to July 7 (rough cut deadline).

In addition to the Grand Prize, the 2015 competition will also vie for the tradition of “Founder’s Circle” Grants, which are $3,000 awarded by the judges’ panel to 5 participants, and $1,000 cash prizes for best actor and actress. Team Film Prize will also announce its celebrity recipient of the “Big Chief” award soon.

The 2014 Louisiana Film Prize competition broke a record with 105 submissions from all over the country(Los Angeles to New York, Houston to Chicago). During the festival weekend, the twenty finalists played to sold – out audiences. Film Prize 2015 also announced that close to 1,000 people participated in Film Prize projects. These productions (and festival) yielded close to $2.5 million in economic benefit.

“We’re really amazed by the national attention we’ve received for last year’s competition and festival,” said Kallenberg. “It shows that we’ve started to create a true home for the independent film spirit. We can’t wait to see what 2015 has in store for the Film Prize.”

Louisiana is becoming recognized as a film capital for its large and quickly growing film industry. One of the goals of the Film Prize aims to help nurture the burgeoning indie film community in Shreveport and all of northwest Louisiana, where filmmakers come to create all types of film.

Visit www.lafilmprize.com to learn more information about the Louisiana Film Prize contest and festival. The deadline for submissions is July 7, 2015.

(Courtesy of ktbs.com)

Louisiana Film Prize 2015 launches with networking party

2015

It’s back.

The “coolest film festival on the planet” is about to kick off, and 2015 is going to be bigger and better than ever before, organizers say.

“Last year proved that the Film Prize is of national importance, and we cannot wait to bring our competition back and invite filmmakers from all over the country to northwest Louisiana and see what we’re all about,” executive director Gregory Kallenberg said.

Join in the celebration of the annual competition at the LAFP kick off party at 7 p.m. Tuesday at artspace, 710 Texas St.

The evening is the first opportunity to register for the 2015 LAFP, and includes the official ringing of the bell to open the competition’s production window.

Those who register at the party pay $25 — half off the $50 registration fee, according to Kallenberg. In addition, this year’s party will include a networking component. Near the entrance, attendees can obtain a wrist band identifying them as filmmaker, crew or actor.

“It’s a great night to come and network with other filmmakers and actors and really start to assemble those teams that could get somebody $50,000 cash,” Kallenberg said.

Established in 2012, the Film Prize has drawn filmmakers from across the nation to Shreveport-Bossier. Its only rule is simple: The film must be shot in the Shreveport-Bossier City area.

To date, more than 250 films have been shot in Northwest Louisiana. Submissions are narrowed down annually to 20 finalists, which are promoted and screened during a Film Prize Festival weekend in October. Winners are selected by a panel of judges and audience votes.

“We’re bringing back the spirit and the energy of the Film Prize, which has become a guiding light to independent filmmaking for the country and we want to invite anyone and everyone who’s ever wanted to or imagined themselves as being filmmakers to make films for the Film Prize because it’s all about realizing your dreams,” Kallenberg said.

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne described the festival as one of those “creative, innovative ideas that takes root with one person and then all of the sudden spreads like wildfire” during the 2014 awards brunch.

That creative expansion has put Northwest Louisiana on the filmmaking map, Dardenne said.

In addition to one of the largest prizes for a short film, this year’s festival again will award best actor and actress prizes, Top Five and Founders Circle grants to put toward shooting another LAFP short the following year.

TAKE PART

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

Where: artspace, 710 Texas St.

(Courtesy of shreveporttimes.com)