Category Archives: Blog

27th Philadelphia Film Festival

The 27th annual Philadelphia Film Festival kicks off this week with the screening of Ben is Back starring Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges as mother and son who are grappling with a history of addiction.

The story is ripped from the headlines as Philadelphia struggles to deal with the opioid drama unfolding on the streets of Kensington.

Executive Director J. Andrew Greenblatt said in a statement:

From our powerful, socially relevant and incredibly timely Opening Night screening of Ben is Back to the definitive look at Philadelphia music legend Teddy Pendergrass for our Closing Night selection, and the incredibly diverse line-up in-between, the films premiering in this year’s Festival will be discussed and remembered for a long time to come.

Artistic Director Michael Lerman added:

Andrew and I have been doing this together for ten years and I love that we continue to find fresh, unique films that delight and challenge audiences. I’m so proud of the program the team has put together and I can’t wait to share the adventure we have in store for you.

What’s in store is a lineup of more than 100 films over 11 days. As a curator of art, technology and social change content, my must-see films include:

  • Studio 54
  • If Beale Street Could Talk
  • The Price of Everything
  • Bodied
  • General Magic
  • Empathy, Inc.
  • Green Book

The film is based on a true friendship. Art also imitates life. Before passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, African American motorists used the “Green Book” travel guide to vacation without humiliation.

Green Book Collage

The Closing Night film, Teddy Pendergrass: If You Don’t Know Me, tells the untold story of Philadelphia’s legendary R&B singer whose “For Women Only” concerts were the stuff of, well, legends.

To view the full schedule and purchase tickets, go here.

Up Against a Brick Wall

Last week, Mural Arts Philadelphia unveiled Portraits of Justice, a public art project to engage ordinary citizens in conversations about transforming the criminal justice system.

Portraits of Justice - MSB

Jeffrey Krimes and Russell Craig’s powerful murals overlook the statue of Frank Rizzo, a former police commissioner who had close ties with Italian mobsters and hung out at Black Mafia-owned joints on “The Strip” in West Philly. As mayor, Rizzo was sued by the U.S. Department of Justice for a pattern of police brutality that “shocks the conscience.”

#FrankRizzo - Philadelphia Inquirer Headlines

The murals’ bricks represent barriers to reentry. With their close proximity to Rizzo, the background brings to mind the former police commissioner gloating that his officers ordered Black Panthers up against a brick wall and forced them to strip naked in front of the news cameras. The August 31, 1970 incident is one of the many reasons Rizzo is loathed by African Americans.

Black Panthners Forced to Strip - August 31, 1970

The murals are designed to empower the public to reimagine a criminal justice system that is more than “just us.” To my surprise, they helped me reimagine a Thomas Paine Plaza without the Rizzo statue. The sheer size of the murals and the facial expressions are a silent rebuke to the monument to racial injustice. Tellingly, the family-commissioned hunk of junk has to be caged to protect it from the public.

Portrait of Justice - Rizzo

#ThisPlaceMatters: The Painted Bride

When I launched All That Philly Jazz five years ago, the Painted Bride Art Center was one of the first places added to the database. Jazz on Vine was the longest, continually running jazz series in Philadelphia.

So when I read the Magic Gardens had nominated the Painted Bride for listing on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, I had to weigh in because 230 Vine Street is one of the few extant buildings associated with Philadelphia’s jazz history. I gave public comment at the Committee on Historic Designation, which voted unanimously to add the building to the local register.

Fast forward to September 14, the nomination was before the full Commission. The room was packed with passionate people for and against the nomination. I, again, offered public comment which reads in part:

It is telling that the property owner does not dispute the historical significance of the building. Instead, their objection is based on fear that historic designation will reduce the market value of the property. However, “financial hardship,” such as it is, is not the issue before the Commission today. If the owner wants to claim “financial hardship,” a review process must be followed.

The issue before the Commission is whether the Painted Bride meets one or more criteria for historic designation. The Committee on Historic Designation got it right when they voted unanimously to add 230 Vine Street to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.

The property owner’s concern about the safety of 230 Vine Street is situational. For historic designation purposes, the owner has taken “interim measures” and put out yellow caution tape. For programming purposes, the Bride puts out the welcome mat.

After three hours of testimony from the Bride, Magic Gardens and the public, the Commission voted on the nomination. The vote was 5-to-5. Chair Robert Thomas voted to add 230 Vine Street to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.

It was obvious no one knew what to do in the event of a tie vote. Thomas was overheard saying a tie vote “creates problems.” But rather than take a recess to figure things out, the political hack called for a second vote. The second time around the vote was 5-to-4 to reject the nomination. Thomas told the Magic Gardens’ lawyer that he abstained “to avoid a tie vote.” In so doing, he consigned the Painted Bride to the trash heap of history.

While I am disappointed the Painted Bride will not have historic designation, I am outraged that Thomas changed his vote from “yes” to effectively “no.” Why would the chair of a commission whose mission is to preserve buildings abstain knowing the outcome of the vote is the inevitable demolition of an historic resource wrapped with Isaiah Zagar’s iconic mosaic!?

Martin-Brown-Painted-Bride-4b

It’s always shady in Philadelphia. As I walked home, the Temptations’ song with the shattered glass came to mind. It’s just a matter of time before the sound of shattered glass is heard at 230 Vine Street.

Jazz at Fay’s Theatre

Opened on August 31, 1914 as the Knickerbocker Theatre, the 2,500-seat venue was renamed Fay’s Theatre in 1918.

From West Philadelphia Collaborative History:

In its jazz heyday, Fay’s served as a symbolic place for local African Americans, if not a literal one. Fay’s booked performers like Duke Ellington—popular and highly visible members of the larger African American community—who were part of an emerging Black identity evolving in the African American press. Part of the emerging identity was a deep concern with issues of developing critical citizenship, fighting oppression, and gaining civil rights. Fay’s Theatre embodied this, having been dedicated to Florence Mills, who was remembered by the Philadelphia Tribune as a Black singer whose success in the mainstream allowed other Black musicians to succeed.

Fay’s also maintained a friendly and equitable relationship with local Black musicians. Fay’s often included performances by the Local 274, members of an African American musicians union, created to protect its members from the unethical and racist behaviors of many theater owners across the city. They performed there frequently. Famously, during a musicians’ strike in 1935 when most of the musical venues in the city went dark, shows at Fay’s kept going, thanks in part to their willingness to raise worker wages in accord with the requests of the Local 274.

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Tribute to the Life and Music of Aretha Franklin

The Queen of Soul will be laid to rest this week. During her final performance in Philadelphia, Aretha Franklin told the audience:

I started, really in Philadelphia. I worked at Pep’s on Broad Street and I worked at the Cadillac Club. I’ve worked all over Philadelphia.

Indeed, she did. Ms. Franklin worked her magic at the Uptown Theater, where on Friday, August 31, the Uptown Entertainment and Development Corporation will host a tribute to the life and music of the Queen of Soul. The event will take place in front of the historic theater.

Uptown Theater Tribute to Aretha Franklin2

The program will begin at 6pm with musical tributes to Ms. Franklin, followed by a candlelight ceremony at 7pm. For more info, contact Linda Richardson at (215) 236-1878.