Tag Archives: Entertainment_Culture

Amusing Monday: Film students find creativity in Eco-Comedy videos

Amateur filmmakers have focused their talents on environmental issues to produce some of the most creative short videos in the eight-year history of the Eco-Comedy Video Competition.

That’s just my opinion, but I’ve been watching this competition for years, and I know it is not easy to combine humor with a sharp message about protecting the environment. Usually, one or two videos stand out in the contest sponsored by The Nature Conservancy in Maryland/DC and the Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University in Washington, D.C. But this year seemed to be different.

Although the number of entries was down from last year — 30 compared to 48 — I found something unique in all the finalists as well as the honorable mentions. I was also pleased to see an elevation in the production quality, as well as improved acting over what I’ve seen in the past. I could envision some of these short pieces going forth as public service announcements on television.

A panel of five judges selected the best videos based on the level of humor as well as the ability to deliver a clear message about the environment to a broad audience in three minutes or less. The winners were announced last week as the DC Environmental Film Festival on the American University campus.

The Grand Prize winners, Theodore Blossom and Robbie I’Anson Price, will receive $2,000 from the Center for Environmental Filmmaking. Their video, titled “@Humanity,” is the first on this page. Theo, based in London, is a science communicator who presents and produces stage shows, films and comedy. Robbie, a doctoral student and filmmaker from Lausanne, Switzerland, studies communication and learning in honeybees with the goal of determining how communication can improve fitness.

The Viewers Choice Award went to a video titled “Journey to the Future” by Stephanie Brown & Tim Allen, shown second on this page.

Here are the YouTube links to all the videos recognized by the judges;

Grand Prize Winner: “@Humanity” by Theodore Blossom and Robbie Price

Viewer’s Choice Winner: “Journey to the Future” by Stephanie Brown & Tim Allen

Finalists:

Honorable Mentions:

Amusing Monday: How one composer connects music to nature’s wonder

Classical composer Alex Shapiro, who lives on San Juan Island, has a nice way of connecting music with her passion for the local waters in Puget Sound.

“When I’m not crawling around the shoreline and shooting photos of wildlife, I’m working on becoming a more adept note alignment specialist,” she writes in her blog “Notes from the Kelp.” “I compose music, mostly for chamber ensembles and symphonic wind bands who kindly offer my notes to the air and anyone within earshot.”

“Notes from the Kelp” is a nice play on words, since it is both the name of a blog and an album of music, two ways of communicating with people about what Alex calls a “heartbreakingly beautiful part of the planet.”

The first video on this page is Alex’s composition “Deep” from “Notes from the Kelp.” When I close my eyes and listen to this piece, I think about scuba diving along the bottom of Puget Sound in very cold waters. In my vision, I first encounter all sorts of bottom-dwelling organisms, such as sea pens and sea urchins, but the music also inspires a feeling of doom, which I associate with low-oxygen dead zones where nothing can live.

Here’s what Alex writes about “Deep”: “Sometimes I make the mistake of believing that I’m not being unless I’m doing and moving. This piece was my challenge to myself to be still and present. And in doing so, I’ve never been as much before. Like the sea, my truth lies below, and I am happiest when I am immersed.”

The second video shows clarinetist Jeff Gallagher performing Alex’s “Water Crossing” during a concert in Santa Cruz, Calif., in 2016. Alex writes about what she was thinking during the composition process in the “Recordings” section of her website. She describes a mythical voyage in a canoe that turns into a sailboat. Dolphins dance ahead of the boat before it returns to the safety of shore.

I have spent some time lately perusing this “Recordings” page for a smorgasbord of music and observations on life. It’s here you can find a list of Alex’s musical contributions, listen to recordings and read about her music.

I first learned about Alex and her work from the third video on this page. It was created as a promotion for the University of Washington, yet Alex finds a way to talk about the importance of science and how her music is like scientific exploration. The San Juan Islands, where she lives, has always been an important place to study sea life and shoreline dynamics — and it’s not just because the islands are home to the UW’s Friday Harbor Laboratories.

Alex has been traveling a lot lately and working on various projects, as she freely describes on her Facebook page. Also, as it turns out, she is moving from the home on San Juan Island that she has written so passionately about. But she’s not going far, since her new home is another waterfront location on San Juan Island. I look forward to further notes from the kelp.

Composer and music professor Kyle Gann wrote about Alex and her life in Chamber Music magazine (PDF 108 kb) in May 2008.

Amusing Monday: Amy Sedaris comedy skewers domestic TV shows

Have you had a chance to see the new television program “At Home with Amy Sedaris” on the Tru TV network?

It’s a parody of the many do-it-yourself shows that demonstrate cooking, craft-making and interior design. For me, the series started a little slow with subtle conversational comedy about cooking and bathing. But then the shows began embracing more and more physical humor while taking on some ridiculous plots.

Amy is surprisingly good at pratfalls, as shown in the latest holiday episode, in which she gets physically attacked by a haunted nutcracker. That segment follows the snowman sketch shown in the video on this page. The episode also includes visits from ghosts that remind Amy of her past life, followed by the Christmas morning piece shown on this page.

I wasn’t sure how this comedy would connect with this blog’s water theme before the connection was made for me in an episode in which Amy visits the outdoors, which is actually where water originates before it gets piped indoors.

This particular show opens with a scene that includes Amy going outside for her morning exercise routine. She appears to be naked with appropriate pixilation, but that’s all part of the humor. She accidentally locks herself out of her house without any clothes, as she begins to plan for a dinner party that very night.

“Wait a minute,” she says. “Why do I need to get into my house to prepare for a dinner party? Everything I could possibly need the forest will provide.”

She borrows clothes from a female scarecrow. It turns out that the scarecrow is the girlfriend of Sully, one of the woodsy experts who helps Amy gather food for the party. But we soon learn that food is not Amy’s top priority.

“Imagine you are lost in the wilderness and have a party to throw in a few hours,” she says. “What would you do first? Build a shelter? Find water? Start a fire? For me, it’s make a back-scratcher. I got strands of hay from that scarecrow in my shirt, and it’s killing me.”

If the typical episode pokes fun at homemaking shows, this woodsy outing sheds new light on all those reality shows in which ordinary people go into the wilderness and attempt to survive with virtually nothing coming from civilized society.

“Did you ever eat a cattail?” Sully asks Amy while discussing food options.

“I didn’t know they were edible!” Amy says with surprise.

“They’re not,” says Sully, “but when you’re hungry, you lower the bar.”

Amy proceeds to get her mushroom species mixed up and goes on a psychedelic trip. When she regains her senses, her friend Ruth shows her how to make a centerpiece from simple items collected in the woods — such as trash.

Sully returns with a hollowed-out gourd and shows her how to boil water by dropping hot stones into the water-filled container.

“Well, what can you do with hot water?” Amy wonders.

“All kinds of things,” Sully says. “You can make soup or tea — or just let it cool down and heat it up again. That’s my favorite.”

Amy, a longtime writer and actor in films and TV, seems perfectly suited to this off-beat comedy. She began her career with “Second City” and “Annoyance Theatre” comedy troupes in Chicago. She wrote and performed in two shows, “Exit 57” and “Strangers with Candy,” on the Comedy Central TV network. She has made guest appearances on numerous TV shows and is popular on late-night talk shows.

In 2009, Sedaris narrated the PBS special “Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America,” a serious documentary about comedy. Since then, she has done voices for cartoon characters, performed in commercials and played characters in several TV shows, including “The Heart, She Holler” and “Alpha House.”

“At Home with Amy Sedaris,” which airs each Tuesday evening, can be replayed online at Tru TV if you have the appropriate cable or satellite TV subscriptions.

So far, the show has gotten some positive reactions. In an early review for Vox, Caroline Franke noted that Amy loves to make people feel at home before pulling the rug out from under them with a burst of laughter.

“If anything,” Franke writes, “Sedaris finding a way to build a TV show around her slightly deranged interpretation of domestic expertise feels long overdue. ‘At Home’ is the perfect mashup of these sensibilities, letting her entertain comedians, characters, and her famous friends alike with a delighted smile even as she perverts tradition.”

Amusing Monday: Strangest impossible secrets of the ocean

“The Richest,” which bills itself as the “world’s most entertaining website,” often features celebrity gossip along with plenty of freakish people, animals and events. Sometimes the website tries to be helpful with videos such as “10 awesome school hacks every student should know.”

In short, it is a three-ring circus with thousands of different acts.

For amusement, I pulled up some water-related videos, which you can watch on this page or link to YouTube:

As implied by the name “The Richest,” this website goes out of its way to find opulent places and products, as in the gold-plated water bottle that one can buy for $60,000. See “10 times rich people took it too far.” It is also amusing to watch “10 ridiculously expensive things that President Trump owns.”

“The Richest” is owned by Valnet, Inc., based in St. Laurent, Quebec, Canada. The company operates 10 similar websites containing well-hyped stories on just about every topic, including :

“The web has a become a streamlined environment where operational excellence wins, and we have embraced this new reality to its fullest,” declares a statement on the Valnet website.

The company boasts of 80 million users with 52 million of them from the U.S., all producing 800 million page views a month. The managers are searching for web content producers, freelance writers and future staffers to build and manage its web production. See the webpage “Careers.”

Amusing Monday: Ray Troll visits Puget Sound with Ratfish Wranglers

Ray Troll and the Ratfish Wranglers, one of the most amusing bands in the Pacific Northwest, is touring Western Washington this month, with stops in Port Townsend, Gig Harbor and Seattle.

Two years ago, when writing about how fishermen can save rockfish from barotrauma, I featured a video by Ray and the band in Water Ways (June 22, 2015). This video includes a rockfish puppet and an original rap song by Ray Troll and Russell Wodehouse telling all about the problem.

Besides music, Ray is well known for his “fin art,” which is mostly about fish of all kinds, especially salmon. Ray prides himself on the realistic images of fish, produced with scientific precision, which he combines with humor to create some edgy posters.

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Amusing Monday: A fanciful exploration of rain, tides and life

“Have you ever experienced water falling from the sky? … And how would you describe that experience?”

These questions are thrown out to people in the first episode of “The Adventures of Tracy & Felt,” in which a young woman and an octopus explore the wonders of rain. In the second episode, they explore the wonders of tides.

These videos make for an amusing approach to science education, and it was nice to learn that this project is based in Puget Sound with origins on Whidbey Island. The videos were shown at this year’s Celluloid Bainbridge Film Festival.

The producer of the series, Elizabeth Schiffler, describes the development of this video series and the strange relationship between a human and an octopus with ongoing references to alien life forms:

“The Adventures of Tracy & Felt was born out of a desire to work with talented young Washington filmmakers, writers, and artists to ground work in the location we love and learn from,” she wrote. “Developed on Whidbey Island, we challenged ourselves to create a story full of laughs (mostly our own) and exploring the magical and not-too-distant world of science and nature.”

Unlike other simple videos engaged in the explanation of science, these stories do not take a straight line to describing natural phenomena. Instead, Tracy and Felt take a roundabout path, engaging in questions that most people take for granted, such as the experience of rain. How about this question from the second video: “Have you noticed how the ocean has been crawling up and down the beach the past few days?”

Thanks to John F. Williams of Still Hope Productions for letting me know about these videos.

Amusing Monday: Art within a soap bubble

It begins with secret formulas for bubble solution, takes off with personal creativity and becomes an entertaining show with smoke, lights and music. They call it bubble art.

The first video shows Melody Yang, who has been performing bubble art since the age of 3 as the youngest member of the performing Yang family. Her father, Fan Yang, studied the science of bubbles and found new ways to blow bubbles to create works of art. He started the troupe called the Gazillion Bubble Show, which performs in New York City. Check out other videos from the show.

For his continually expanding and multiplying bubbles, Fan claims to have broken the Guinness Book of World Records 16 times. I found him as the current record holder of the longest bubble wall, nearly 167 feet long. See Guinness World Records website.

Melody has now followed in the footsteps of her parents, uncle and brother. She has performed on television in Italy, Greece, France and the U.S., including an appearance on the Queen Latifah Show.

Another bubble artist is Su Chung Tai, shown in the second video on this page. I found him listed as the current world record holder for the most bubble domes created inside one another, a total of 12, and the most soap bubbles successfully blown inside a larger soap bubble, a total of 779.

Su started working with bubbles in 2011 and has become a celebrity in Taiwan and other areas in Asia. He calls his show “Be Fantasy: The Joy of Bubble.”

One more bubble artist is Javier Urbina, a Spanish actor, director and theater producer known as “The Lord of the Bubbles.” Since 2014, he has performed more than 250 bubble shows in Spain and Mexico.

Amusing Monday: Water and fireworks show featured in Shanghai

On the Fourth of July, what could be more appropriate for this blog than a combination of water and fireworks? Lets add some lasers, flashing lights, searchlights and projected images.

It all comes together at Shanghai Disneyland, which opened a couple weeks ago in China, with an entirely new nighttime extravaganza called “Ignite the Dream.” Similar to other Disneyland shows, the action takes place at the Enchanted Storybook Castle.

The first video reveals what people see when they attend the show. Be sure to watch in full-screen. Mickey Mouse offers a tour of images associated Disney films, including “The Lion King,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Finding Nemo.” Mickey then moves to other locations reminiscent of more than a dozen other Disney movies.

Shanghai Disneyland, which opened June 16, is the first Disney theme park in China, not counting the one in Hong Kong. It is the sixth park throughout the world. At 963 acres, it is second in size only to Disney World in Florida. The Storybook Castle is the tallest of any park in the world.

The associated Disney Resort contains an entertainment district, recreational facilities, a lake and two themed hotels. The cost is estimated at $4.4 billion. The Walt Disney Company owns 43 percent of the resort, while the remainder belongs to a joint venture of three companies owned by the Shanghai government. The project was approved by the Chinese government in 2009, and construction started two years later.

The second two videos feature visits to the new theme park, the first by CNN’s Matt Rivers, the second by Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts.


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Amusing Monday:
You can vote for year’s best Eco-Comedy film

The Eco-Comedy Film Competition was created to get people thinking about the environment by reaching them through entertainment instead of a heavy-handed message.

“Clean Water” is the theme for this year’s competition, sponsored by The Nature Conservancy and American University’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking.

More than 80 short films were entered into this year’s contest. Everyone is eligible to vote online for the People’s Choice Award by selecting from among the seven finalists. Watch those seven videos on the Eco-Comedy Film Competition website, and vote using the form beneath the video players. Make sure you click in the lower right corner to go full screen. I’ve posted a couple of my favorites on this page, but please don’t let that influence your own choice.

The winning video will be selected by a panel of judges. The Grand Prize winner will be announced March 22 and will be awarded a $2,000 prize.

Last year, Patrick Webster won both the People’s Choice Award and the Grand Prize for his video “Dude! Or the Blissful Ingorance of Progress.”

Amusing Monday: Music in tune with salmon and orcas of the Salish Sea

Dana Lyons, known for his songs of humor and environmental inspiration, performed his tune “The Great Salish Sea” during Saturday’s Ways of Whales Workshop on Whidbey Island.

The lyrics are told from the perspective of “Granny,” an orca estimated to be 104 years old and the oldest whale among the Southern Residents. The song tells about how underwater sounds, as heard by the whales, have changed over time — from the Native American canoes and the sailing ships of yesteryear to the noisy tankers of today.

Dana performed the song solo, with only his guitar, on Saturday at the Ways of Whales Workshop, sponsored by Orca Network. The sound was wonderful, and Dana’s voice rang out clear, but the recorded version sounds richer with additional instrumentation, as you can hear in the first video on this page.

“The Great Salish Sea” is the title song is from Dana’s latest album, which includes the popular “Salmon Come Home.” I’ve posted the music video of the salmon song in the second video player on this page. Other songs on the album include “I Need the Water,” which speaks of the competition for this limited resource. To hear the songs on the album, go to “The Great Salish Sea” on Dana’s website., which also includes his full list of albums.

Dana has toured throughout North America and in many countries during his 30-year career. His current schedule includes upcoming appearances in Langley, Vancouver, B.C., and Port Townsend.

Dana was born in Kingston, New York, and graduated from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. He now lives in Bellingham.

Humor has long been a key part of Dana’s music, so I think we should revisit one of his most popular songs, “Cows with Guns,” viewed in the third video player (below).