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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Westport Youth Film Fest Rocks Fairfield Center

Westport Youth Film Fest 
Rocks Fairfield Center:
Event draws celebrities, film critics, 
network executives and area politicians
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Fairfield, CT – An event that held fast most of Saturday May 14 to the corner of Unquowa Road and Post Road, firmly planted in and around the Community Theatre, drew stars and local residents alike to celebrate youth achievements in film.

The occasion was the 8th Annual Westport Youth Film Festival, hosted by Westport Arts Center, and showing 50 local and international youth films in the historic downtown Fairfield theatre.

In addition to the films, three panels were held during the day. The first was titled “WYFF and the Reel World” featuring WYFF filmmakers and alumni in a dialogue. The second session, “My Big Break”, offered a collection of professionals from all different backgrounds talking about how they broke into the film industry. These included Mike Hausman, who produced “Gangs of New York”, “Brokeback Mountain” and “Amadeus”, and TV Director David Straiton, who directed “The Cape” and “House”. The final session, “Filmmaking on the Campaign Trail”, featured a one-on-one with Alexandra Pelosi, Emmy nominated director known for “Journey with George.”

Music performances were also featured, by Move Out West, which was the subject of “I’m All Smiles”, a music video directed by Weston filmmaker Brett Bassock, and Calliope & Cleo, a local easy listening band.

The day’s workshops were taught by WYFF alumni and were focused on How to Make a Viral Video and 16mm Hand-Painted Animation.

Of course, the main feature of the Fest was the film blocks themselves, all youth-produced. “This is an entirely youth-produced film festival, the only one in the world,” said Press Director Matt Silverman, 16, a junior at Weston High School. “As a teen myself, I’m confident in our ability to do great things, both in front of and behind the lens.”

One of the exceptional youth at the event was Joey DePasquale, 17, a junior at Weston High School. “I’m an area filmmaker with one film featured here and two others I supported,” he said. “In addition, I’m on Team WYFF as the deputy outreach director. Basically, that role entailed soliciting high-quality film submissions. I worked with Alex Fjellberg Swerdlowe, also a filmmaker, in developing promotional materials. It’s been a new experience being able to work in such a professional business environment. I’m going to film school next year and the contacts I’ve made will help me get a foothold.”

Another teen finding himself thrust into the spotlight was Matt Lindahl, 18, a senior at Staples High School. “I directed ‘Light’, a drama about a young man struggling with depression while roaming through his hometown,” he said. “We filmed locally and featured actors from around town. This is my first serious film and it was a cool experience to see it on the big screen.”

Lindahl’s writing partner, Spencer Fox, 18, also a senior at Staples, said, “Matt and I know each other from school. This is our first work together. Matt needed to create a college project and we put our heads together. The end product ended up being so much more than we expected.”

When the awards ceremony rolled around at 7 p.m., nearly a full house had gathered and the audience was studded with actors, filmmakers, local politicians and musicians. It was a who’s who of local talent.

Notably, Alex Fjellberg Swerdlowe won Best Connecticut Film for “Consequential Lies”, about a woman who finds out an 18-year secret. It was presented by film critic Susan Granger, who remarked about the filmmaker, “Talent reaches far beyond his years.”

The Music Video category was judged by Tom Calderone, President of VH1, who tapped Jake Kolton for “Silent Riot”.

Channel 7 Eyewitness News Entertainment Reporter Sandy Kenyon judged the Comedy category, tapping Alec Winshel for “Ted a Ted.”

Tony Award Winning Actress Joanna Gleason honored Matt Lindahl and Spencer Fox for their Drama “Light”.

Tapped in a new category, Friend of WYFF, Debra Somerville said, “Never underestimate the power of youth – their energy, dedication and hard work. This is the best Fest yet.”

For Fest Director Matt Kalmans, 17, a senior at Weston High School, the event was his bow-out as he will be leaving for college. “Today has been incredible, a culmination of lots of hard work and the efforts of 20 students from six different schools,” he said. “The experience has made an incredible impact on my life.”


Social Action Award
Molly Cinnamon, Miranda Kasher

Best in Connecticut Film
"Consequential Lies"
Alex Fjellberg Swerdlowe

Best Music Video
"Silent Riot"
Jake Kolton

Best Animation
"An Apple Ending Story"
Simone Giampaolo

Best Documentary
Samantha Highsmith, Cassandra Taylor, Adriana Martinez

Best Experimental Film
Jane Urban

Best Comedy
"Ted a Ted"
Alec Winshel

Best Drama
Matt Lindahl, Spencer Fox

Friend of WYFF Award
Debra Somerville

Excellence in Film Education
Dave Eger

Audience Choice Award
Molly Cinnamon, Miranda Kasher

New YMCA Takes Shape (If Only in Sand)

New YMCA Takes Shape 
(If Only in Sand):
Facility stars at Castles 
in the Sand event
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – Though it was years in the planning, the new Westport/Weston YMCA was built in an afternoon. Unfortunately, it may not survive the next high tide.

Erected in sand, a reproduction of the facility was one of 43 structures that came to life during the 10th Anniversary Castles in the Sand build-a-thon held at Compo Beach Saturday afternoon May 14. Large sand lots were purchased for $100 while extra-large lots went for $300, with all money raised donated to Homes with Hope, a Westport-based non-profit that helps the homeless or those at risk of being homeless. Hundreds of people turned out for the event, to build, browse, get their face painted, enjoy a gymnastics demo or purchase a Live Strong bracelet or t-shirt. Visitors could also vote on their favorite sand structure; winners were recognized at the conclusion of the event.

YMCA Communications Director Scott Smith spoke about the miniature new home they had created. “Our sandcastle is a representation of the proposed Westport/Weston Family Y that we will build at Mahackeno to continue to fulfill our mission as a center of community life and continue helping civic partners like Homes with Hope,” he said. “All of us are building what matters today and that’s not just sandcastles but community spirit and engagement and fostering sense of social responsibility in a fun way.”

Herve Hamon, a member of the Y’s building committee and a previous board member, added, “What we tried to do here is build a replica of architect Robert A.M. Stern’s design. The proposed facility will be just about 100,000 square feet and will include a large pool, two gyms, a fitness area, childcare and children’s pool with slides for family time. In general, the building will be very eco-friendly with green features and elements.”

Smith provided an update on the status of the project. “We have all the approvals we need and have raised more than half of the money we need to build, through fundraising and the agreement to sell the current building,” he said. “Just in the last few weeks, the building committee has gathered momentum in terms of starting the final phase. If all goes as planned, we would break ground in 2012 and complete the building in 2014.”

Smith said it’s been a long process but that the Y has overwhelming support from the community to finish the project. “People have been coming by our sand installation and saying, ‘We can’t wait,’ and ‘Wow, that’s what it’s going to look like,’” he said.

Admiring the Y sculpture, Westport resident Betty Tsang, a current Y member, said, “We would have loved to have kept the Y downtown, but that battle has passed. We’re excited for the new. We’ve been in and out of the various discussions. My son Tyler also did a project in school about the relocation, when it was still not quite happening. He was in 5th grade at the time and is now in 8th. It’s been some time coming. After a while, you just hope it happens. And now it is happening.”

Bruce Hennemuth, on the board for Homes with Hope, eyeballed the Y sculpture as well. “Every year we do the Sand Castle effort,” he said. “It’s a fun day and gives us the opportunity to advertise our mission to help the homeless in the area. The Y representation is wonderful. What a great effort by the supporters of the Y.”

He wasn’t the only one to think so. The Y sculpture received a golden shovel award for Most Ambitious structure.

Amusement Park is for the Birds

Amusement Park is for the Birds:
CT Audubon workshop focused on building a fun habitat 
for feathered friends
By Mike Lauterborn
(Posted to 5/14)
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – It was a way of educating young people about native birds and woodland creatures while inspiring creative thinking.

On Saturday morning, the CT Audubon Society, 2325 Burr Street, hosted the third workshop of five in a program titled “Swing and Fly Amusement Park”. Targeted to students in grades 4 to 6, the series, which was developed by the Fairfield Public Library, challenges young minds to develop components of a miniature amusement park for birds using natural earth materials. The program is made possible by a generous grant from LEGO Children’s Fund. About a dozen students are enrolled. The final finished elements will be displayed at the Fairfield Woods Branch Library.

“I developed the program as a new initiative this year,” said Deputy Town Librarian Nancy Coriaty. “Though funded by LEGO, we are not required to use LEGO materials,” she said. “The fund essentially fosters creativity and imagination, which is what LEGO is all about.”

Coriaty said she was looking for grants for children’s programming and found the LEGO grant online. Next came the program idea, which was inspired by something similar she found online. Finally, she needed partners to help facilitate the program. “I thought the Young Artists Place and Audubon would be ideal collaborators.”

The first workshop was held at the Young Artists Place and was focused on concepts with regard to what might amuse birds. The second session was at the Audubon, and the students watched birds interacting in their habitats, with the idea of incorporating their activities into the park. Saturday morning’s workshop was designed to help students learn more about birds and to collect natural materials to integrate in the park.

Steven Lehning, of Fairfield’s Dept. of Public Works, a friend of the library, stepped up to offer additional materials, including slab wood from a mill that a friend owns and scraps from carpentry projects. A slab will be given to each child to use as a platform for his/her own park element. The components will then be united as one display over the final two workshop sessions.

“We were really excited when Nancy approached us,” said Priscilla Igram, co-owner/teacher at Young Artists Studio. “Nature art is a definite interest to us. Andy Goldsworthy, a British artist who lives in Scotland, is a great inspiration in this area. He works with only natural items and creates specific art that he calls ephemeral, as it’s only meant to last a short time. We teach ephemeral art classes, so this workshop series is an ideal tie-in.”

Igram said the Studio was there to guide the kids and help them with selecting natural materials and showing how they can be used to realize their vision. “The kids have had some amazing ideas,” said Igram. “We temper them to be viable, remembering that this is for birds.”

Igram mentioned some of the more interesting ideas. “Sam Gottlieb walked into the studio the first day with the idea of a house of horrors feature,” she said. “What better thing in a bird park setting than the wide-open mouth of a cat?” Gottlieb also suggested a fountain that pops popcorn.

Phoebe Nulf, 10, had the idea of a pecking gallery, instead of a shooting gallery, using popcorn. Neel Sikka, 10, came up with a merry-go-round feature with pedestals with water that birds can sit in.

For inspiration, instructors led the group out on the trails surrounding the Audubon Center. They stepped along wooden planks and bridges, gathering scraps but also learning about nature and local woods inhabitants, including owls.

“Now that you know more about owls, if you wanted to create a ride for one, what would you do?” asked Coriaty of the group.

“A night ride, maybe with a tunnel or they have the park to themselves at night,” came a collective reply, as another park element came to life in their minds.

Birdcraft Museum Celebrates Migratory Birds’ Return

Birdcraft Museum Celebrates Migratory Birds’ Return:
Birds bagged, measured, 
tagged and released
By Mike Lauterborn
(Posted to 5/14)
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – It was the perfect time to be bagging birds. Cloudy, cool and early enough that the birds would be focused on finding breakfast and not on the mesh nets all around the property set there to capture them.

All the flap was around “International Migratory Bird Day” being celebrated Saturday morning at the Birdcraft Museum and Sanctuary, 314 Unquowa Road. The event marked the peak period during which insect-eating birds return to the area from their tropical retreats and are temporarily captured, catalogued, banded and released.

Master Bander Judy Richardson, who has been leading the banding at the Birdcraft since 1988, was like a wide-eyed kid, excitedly walking the 6.5 acre sanctuary to unfurl some seventeen 8’H x 40’W fine mesh nets along most of the trails and encircling the pond. While Richardson is a long-time veteran, bird monitoring at Birdcraft began in the 1970s.

The morning was cloudy and overcast, which Richardson said was ideal in terms of capturing birds. “The nets are almost invisible, and they’ve been through a long night and are hungry,” she said.

Richardson said they began monitoring the migratory birds’ return since April 1 and will wrap up around Memorial Day, but that this period now is the peak time when most return. “These birds, like the Wood Thrush, can’t live here in the winter,” she said. “We’re essentially welcoming them back from places like Central and South America. The birds follow the coast and this is not far from it. As they’re flying over Fairfield, they see this green patch, like a mini Central Park, amid an otherwise developed area. The Sanctuary is a perfect stopping place.”

Richardson explained that bird monitoring is done as they are a tremendous indicator of the condition of the environment. “If things aren’t going well for them, things are not going to go well for us,” she said.

The nets stay up from about 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. The birds essentially fly into and get tangled in them, flap a little then wait. The nets are patrolled by a team of about seven banders, who check them hourly or more often. They carefully remove the birds and place them into cotton bags, which are warm and comforting. They are then brought inside to a banding lab to be processed. The nets are never put up in the rain as the birds’ feathers would get wet and their health might be compromised.

“It’s such a pleasure to see these birds arrive knowing they’ve traveled thousands of miles to get here,” said Richardson, as she removed a Common Yellowthroat from a net. “This one’s coming from South America and nests in the Sanctuary. It makes a witchity witchity witch sound. It’s hard to see as its coloring is yellow and green like the leaves at this time of year.”

Richardson said migration can be hard. “Birds can be blown out to sea, hurt in storms, hit buildings and be eaten by hawks,” she said. “It’s amazing they get through, and how do they know how to do it? They come back like clockwork, almost to the day. It’s magical. This is like Christmas. You go around to the nets and you don’t know what you’re going to get.”

Richardson added that housecats are among the greatest threats to birds. “House cats should really be kept indoors,” she said. “They kill up to 300 birds each per year. If a cat were to come onto the property here and see a wiggling bird in a net, it would go right after it.”

Processing was conducted at a table in the Museum, on which a box of tools and log books were placed. Several visitors came to view the process, which Richardson led and explained step by step. Information the banders capture includes time caught, place caught, bander, band number, species, age and how age was determined, sex and how sex was determined, wing length, body fat and weight.

“Romans started banding birds first, putting strings around their legs,” said Richardson. “It’s been done for a long long time.”

Classic Cars Dazzle at Mercedes-Benz of Fairfield

Classic Cars Dazzle at Mercedes-Benz of Fairfield:
Vintage makes from the 50s to the 80s displayed
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen)

Fairfield, CT – They looked as new as the day they rolled off the assembly line and, for a while, shared the spotlight with many of their newer brethren.

On Friday morning May 13, Mercedes-Benz of Fairfield, 165 Commerce Drive, made accessible to the general public a collection of rare vintage Mercedes-Benzes. The classic automobiles – nine in all dating from 1955 to 1983 and part of a private collection owned by Margaret and Bruce Ianelli – were displayed in the dealer’s showroom in celebration of the carmaker’s 125th anniversary. A tenth classic car was contributed by a local customer. “The Best or Nothing” event, as it was titled, kicked off with a private reception for clients Thursday night. The cars were scheduled to be on display through 6 p.m. Friday and featured again from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 14.

“The Ianelli’s own an exotic pre-owned car dealership in New Jersey and we have a collaborative business relationship with them,” said General Manager Eric Ferits, with regard to how the display came about. “They offered the cars to help mark the anniversary. Every single car is fully reconditioned and certified by MB Classic Center in California, which restores classic Benzes. The nine have all their original parts and mileage and a collective value of upwards of $3 million.”

In addition to showcasing the cars, the dealership was showing off its new space, after a rebuild last year and reopening in September as an “auto haus”. Business development representative Terry Doll said, “The space allows us to entertain the local community with activities appropriate to all ages while highlighting exciting new cars like the 2012 CLS 63 AMG, which is scheduled to debut in the U.S. next month.”

One of the highlight vintage cars on display was a 1956 Binz 300c Station Wagon, of which only one was produced. “It was ordered in 1956 by Mrs. Caroline Folke from NYC,” said Ferits. “In order to accommodate her order, Benz had to outfit a regular C sedan. MB shipped the finished car from Stuttgart to the Binz Coachworks Co., one of the few remaining custom coach builders in Germany. Legend has it that Mrs. Folke was so fond of the splendid vehicle that, whenever she traveled, she had it shipped by air to each of her homes in Paris, New York and Palm Beach.”

Another remarkable car was the 1971 280 SE 3.5 convertible. “It was presented at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 1969 as a luxury model and was originally purchased for $100,000,” said Ferits. “It took two years to restore at a cost of $200,000.”

A red 1955 190 SLR Roadster was a standout. It debuted in 1954 at the New York International Motorsports Show. “This was a prototype race car that was not ultimately tested,” said Ferits. “It has lightweight doors with no door handles and a small plexiglass windshield.”

A Fairfield customer who got wind of the show offered his own Benz classic, a 1956 300 SL Gullwing, for display. “It has been consistently serviced here by Paul Berg, our top master technician,” said Ferits, proudly.

Events like these, as well as top service, sales and satisfaction, may be the reason the dealership has been named by MB USA among the top 20 Mercedes-Benz dealers in the country for five years, including the last two consecutive years under Ferit’s oversight.

Dealer events also seek to tie in other local luxury businesses, which enhances community relations. “Our partner for this event is Harry’s Wine & Liquor Market,” said Doll. “As part of their support, we had a brand new C-class parked at their store and allowed its clients to enter for a chance of usage over a weekend.”

Man About Town: Sun Tavern Will Serve Town Again

Man About Town: Sun Tavern 
Will Serve Town Again
(column for May 13 
Fairfield Citizen news)
By Mike Lauterborn

Fairfield teems with historical structures and one of the most recognizable is the Sun Tavern, adjacent to Old Town Hall at the southwest corner of Old Post Road and Beach Road. On a recent weekday, it became the target of my latest Man About Town adventure. Walt Matis, the volunteer coordinator at Fairfield Museum and History Center, which maintains the property, joined me for the visit.

The 1,500-square-foot, three-story white shingled home, with its shake roof and shutterless windows, is believed to have been built from scratch by Samuel Penfield in 1780, just a year after British forces burned Fairfield. The land had originally been given to Reverend John Jones, the first minister of the nearby First Congregational Church, in 1644. Jones’ wife sold it to Thomas and Hannah Gibbs in 1681, who in turn sold it to Penfield in 1761.

There are a few theories as to why Penfield established the tavern. “He may have been trying to draw area citizenry from adjacent Bulkley’s Tavern, which some believed had Loyalist leanings,” said Matis. “It also sits along what was once the King’s Highway, a major thoroughfare between leading east coast cities. Old Town Hall was also the County Courthouse, which was a focal point for county legal proceedings, so would have been a busy center.”

Sun Tavern became a stopping place for food, drink and a puff on a clay pipe, and offered beds for weary travelers. It was also a key place for the exchange of news – “the CNN of its day” as Matis described it. He added that the tavern was “pretty much a man’s world as, generally, it was not appropriate for women or children to enter or stay in such a place.”

Notably, though much debated, it is thought that General George Washington stayed overnight here, on his way northeast toward New Haven.

Several fireplaces heated the structure, warming rough-hewn wide-plank floors that today slope as the ground has shifted over time. The actual bar room is thought to have been on the main level to the right of the front entry, and may have featured an opening in the wall that served as the bar counter. The word “bar”, said Matis, was derived from the fact that iron bars could be pulled down to secure liquor supplies behind the counter, in the event of a fight or attempted theft.

Overnight accommodations were on the second floor. The third’s floor, the ceiling of which is high and arched throughout, may have served as a ballroom, though more likely as a meeting space for local masons or sleeping quarters for travelers of lesser means, who could not afford a bed.

Sam Penfield died in 1811 and it is not known how long the Tavern operated afterwards, though it had definitely ceased business as of 1818, when the property was sold to Rebecca Hewitt. She was the wife of Reverend Nathaniel Hewitt, a man of temperance, who converted the tavern into a private residence. It changed hands and was modified a number of times over the years until the town purchased the property in 1978. Town historian Bill Lee and his wife moved in as caretakers in 1980, and spent 15 years renovating it.

In 1996, the Museum contracted with the town to manage it. While undergoing further renovation, it has mostly stood unused. However, Matis said, “There is discussion about recreating the tavern room with tables, chairs and card games, and using the adjacent front room to tell the story of Fairfield’s Colonial history and the significance of taverns during the period.”

With a tip of my hat, I thanked Matis for the informative tour and traveled on, eager to explore another fantastic Fairfield facet.