I’m Scared. So Su-Mi: #SSFF Night 3

I’ve been alone all week. My girlfriend took to the skies and flew to California with her folks, leaving me all by myself in our brand new apartment a mere two weeks after we moved in. It’s been a long week built on routine. Get up in the morning at 7:30, go to work at 9, leave the office at 6, cobble together some semblance of dinner at 6:30, hit the film circuit at 7, write this blog at 11, finish this blog at midnight, and go to sleep at 12:30 after watching a half hour of Sports Center. Wake up, do it again, lather, rinse, repeat.

I’m not complaining about the monotony so much, because I’m in the real world now and this is how the real world ostensibly works. (That’s what it said in the handbook, anyway.) I’m simply remarking that I’ve done things on my own all week, and that’s not something I’ve ever really experienced for this long, so it’s been weird. The nights, especially. I have a lot of time to think to myself while blogging, and I sort of just stare around this big empty apartment while I distract myself from typing for a few seconds.

So why am I telling you all this?

Because I picked a terrible night to be myself after seeing A Tale of Two Sisters.

Remember how I said that I’d probably be a big baby toward the end of the #SSFF? I was right, only not in the way I anticipated.  After seeing this film, I’m pretty much afraid of life. Hence the reason why I’d like some company right now.

Without getting into too much detail — partly because I don’t want to relive what I just saw, and partly because it would be hard to recount a film I didn’t really even understand — A Tale, screened at Lewis Lab, scared the [expletive deleted] out of me. It’s a 2003 horror import from South Korea, comprised of the creepiest cast maybe ever assembled with very little dialogue, a whole lot of tension and release, and more plot twists than M. Night Shyamalan could begin to dream up. But here’s the central plot, or something:

Terrified sisters try to exorcise their home of two dark forces — their evil stepmother and a vengeful entity — in this ghostly tale. Hospitalized after their mother’s death, young Su-mi (Im Su-jeong) and Su-yeon (Mun Geun-yeong) return home to find a nasty new stepmother (Yeom Jeong-ah). The girls suffer terrifying events, but their father doesn’t care, even though evil lurks around every corner. Can the girls free their home from its demons? [via SSFF]

The film was generally great and positively terrifying for its first two thirds, and then things just got … weird. And still positively terrifying. I’m convinced that anything is made scarier when a.) it’s foreign b.) there’s children and an old house involved and c.) it’s foreign, so basically this thing was intense. Let’s quantify it: I got legitimate goosebumps at least three times, jumped from my chair twice, fought the urge to seek refuge behind my eyelids probably five times, and felt utterly perplexed about thirty-seven times. Silagh, who was in the theater with me, can testify. Here’s the text I got from her about twenty minutes after the film ended:

Good luck on sorting out that movie. I’m researching “Asian horror films” just to try to wrap my head around the genre. Yikes. My head is seriously screwed.

Mine too. Of course, by the time you’re reading this, I will be safely stowed away in a cubicle engaged in my mid-day routine. But right now, as I prepare to hit the hay with a few minutes left until 1 a.m. still afraid to turn off any of the lights in the apartment (I am six years old), I could really use someone to hold me.

… I’ve Just Got Something in My Eye, That’s All: #SSFF Night 2

Bethlehem Steel

I’ll readily admit that I’m an emotional person, often for no apparent reason other than getting caught up in a moment. And I get caught up in a lot of moments, from heartbreaking to triumphant: Climactic sports finishes. Wedding toasts. Marching across a stage with diploma in hand, ready to cross that bridge from college student to full-time adult. And that’s just all in the last couple of weeks.

It doesn’t take much for me to get choked up besides a compelling moment, so it’s no surprise that, yes, I got emotional tonight. Damn you, South Side Film Festival.

The second night brought two fantastic documentaries to the Victory Firehouse on Webster St., which, in keeping theme with my apparent oblivion of all things Bethlehem, I never really knew existed. (FYI: I live a block away from the Victory Firehouse on Webster St.) It’s where the #SSFF group screens a movie every third Thursday of the month, but aside from that, I’d love to know what usually goes on there, because I don’t think it’s an actual firehouse anymore. (Only in the vein that The Firehouse is a firehouse, I guess.)

Up first: Butte, America: The Saga of a Hard Rock Mining Town, from director Pamela Roberts. The hour-plus film followed the progression of Butte, Montana from a mining mecca in the first half of the 20th century to a ghost town that lost its central economy and much of its community once the big corporation that ran the town took its business elsewhere (abroad) in the 1970s. Often bleak and at times a little hopeless, the story closely mirrored the rise and fall of Bethlehem Steel. That Roberts, a Montana native, took her film to the South Side is no small coincidence. In the director’s Q&A session that followed the screening, she said she’s fascinated by post-industrial areas, and pointed out the striking similarities between Butte and Bethlehem.

The second film of the night, then, was Building America in Bethlehem, by Anisa George, herself a local product of the Valley. For 40 minutes, George tracked the transformation that Bethlehem Steel has taken from being a worldwide titan of industry for most of last century to going bankrupt and eventually turning into a multi-million dollar casino and entertainment complex. (Sound familiar?) Listen, if you’re reading this blog, you know the story of Bethlehem Steel. And chances are you probably have some opinion on whether the Sands Casino is evil or a godsend for our community.

But do you know the stories of some of the steel workers that have lived to see their beloved plant — their home — change before their eyes? George did a phenomenal job of capturing the sadness and undying pride festering in the old workers, especially Rickie Check, the documentary’s chief source and undisputed star. I won’t spoil it, but when Check told the story of what his father said to him when he was a boy, everyone in the audience (which included many former steelworkers and their families) sat in silence and — if they were like me — was on the verge of bawling. An incredible moment that, yes, tickled my emotions. After the film concluded, Check slowly rose from the audience to thunderous applause and, beneath that, relentless appreciation for giving his life to this city. Anyone who has any kind of connection or attachment to the Steel and/or the community … this is a must see.

And really, the entire festival is turning into a must do. If it can give me a couple more moments like this one, then I’ll be a pretty big baby by the end of the week.

And We’re Rolling: #SSFF Night 1

Wow. So what else have I been missing, Lehigh Valley? Do you have like, gold mines and waterslides and In-N-Out Burgers hidden in the woods or something?

I had mentioned yesterday in my welcome post how even though I’ve lived in the 6-1-0 my whole life, there’s still a whole lot about the area I haven’t really uncovered. You can probably chalk that up to laziness, sure, but never lack of interest. One such attraction/event has of course been the South Side Film Festival, which has grown and flourished over the last seven years but has ultimately failed to get me off the couch and out of the house. (My fault, not theirs.) Not this year, though! Chalk that up to this newfound sense of exploration that I’m, well … exploring this summer. Also, Silagh asked me nicely to go.

Last night, I got my #SSFF cherry popped.

I rolled up to the festival’s official opening night welcome party at Home and Planet a few minutes past 7 p.m., and the place was packed out the wazoo. Hordes of filmgoers young and old filled every inch of the store noshing on refreshments and awkwardly bobbing their heads to the Dan DeChellis Trio, while the overflow congregated outside. The large attendance was certainly helped by the fact that Bethlehem’s will-they-or-won’t-they love affair with beautiful weather is very much on again. But mostly, these folks were pretty psyched to get their parade on. Thanks to the Bethlehem Pipe Band, who led the procession, we arrived at Lehigh’s Lewis Lab in style.

And check out the line! Of course, me being a member of the media elite with super special privileges, I didn’t have to wait in it. But still, I imagine the anticipation was pretty intense.

Once inside, it took a while for everyone to get situated. I’ve had a few classes in good ol’ LL270 back in the day, but I’ve never seen it as packed as it was tonight. Probably because horror and comedy films are vastly more interesting than calculus and quantum physics and whatever else they teach in that auditorium. (I took astronomy in the room, FYI. We learned about stars.) Every seat was filled to the point where the festival employees had to resort to selling those dreaded “Standing Room Only” tickets. Eventually, all the sitters and standers hushed up and the cinema magic began.

What kind of cinema magic, you ask? How about stick figures bleeding profusely and eating babies? That do anything for you? It did for all of us while we were watching Wisdom Teeth, the subversive animated German import that kicked things off in earnest. The basic plot: One stick figure unravels the other’s stitches from wisdom teeth surgery, and things get out of hand pretty quickly. Hilarious, bizarre, offensive … just about the best way to set the tone for things to come, methinks. I think I saw a few kids in the crowd before the short started, but I’m willing to bet their parents probably corrected that error about a minute in.

And if the children weren’t gone by the time Wisdom Teeth ended, then they sure as hell were by the time the next short, Can We Talk?, got to its first felatio reference. I absolutely loved the 11 minutes we got to spend with Vince and Sophie, two mumbling Brits who are in the middle of breaking up with each other when their conversation turns, well, graphic. If you’re a fan of patented British cringe humor (think anything Ricky Gervais has ever done) and also a fan of sexual vulgarity, then take some time to seek this one out as the week goes on.

Those two appetizers preceded the night’s main attraction, Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, a low-budget horror comedy (with some star power) that was a crowd-pleaser in every sense of the word. When a group of unruly college students find themselves in the Appalachian Mountains for some kind of bizarro vacation, they end up sharing their rural spot with the two titular hillbillies, who the students incorrectly peg as murderers. A comedy of errors ensues, as one-by-one, the college kids accidentally off themselves while trying to kill Tucker and Dale, who are nothing more than a few harmless, dim-witted Larry the Cable Guys. While the acting, highlighted by Alan Tudyk (a.k.a. Steve the Pirate from Dodgeball) and Katrina Bowden (Cerie on 30 Rock), was nothing to write home about, the writing was sharp and the violence was delightfully tacky. Deaths proceded to get more and more absurd, and the audience continued to lap it up.

Though I have no frame of reference to judge how this year’s opening night was compared to years past, the three films really combined to make tonight special. I think everyone felt that certain “something” in the air: an excitement that this great event is happening right in our backyard, so let’s embrace it. Maybe that’s how things usually go for the #SSFF. I’m kicking myself for not knowing. But it certainly has me ready to do it all again for night two on Wednesday.

Summer in the City: An Introduction

Andrew Daniels

Hello friends!

You may be asking yourself, “Who’s that dashing young man in the image above, smiling in the Washington, D.C. sun with only a piece of Phillies World Series regalia to shield him from squinting completely? And is he single?”

Okay, so maybe you’re not quite asking that question, but at the very least your curiosity is piqued, no? Marital status aside, you’re still probably wondering, “Who is this guy? And where did Silagh go?” Don’t worry. Mrs. White hasn’t gone anywhere. But she has decided to put dangerous faith in a fresh-out-of-college hotshot who thinks he’s a lot funnier than he really is. So blame her if this whole thing goes haywire.

Welcome, friends. This is going to be fun.

My name is Andrew Daniels, and I’ve lived in the Lehigh Valley for the entirety of my existence. That’s 22 years and some odd months of residing in the birthplace of Jonathan Taylor Thomas, former teen idol, and the one-time home of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who used to beat up guys for a living but now just mostly plays the tooth fairy. I hail from the North Side of Bethlehem, though in the last four years I’ve lived on the South Side as a student at Lehigh University. (By the way, is it just Lehigh kids who refer to Bethlehem’s boroughs as “sides”? I swear I never heard of people using the labels until I arrived on campus in ’06.) I moved on from Lehigh a few weeks ago as a journalism major, music industry minor and an absolutely heartbroken graduate for having to leave that place. (Any undergrads reading this want to switch places? Please?)

At Lehigh I was the editor in chief of The Brown and White, where I made a concentrated effort to dedicate more coverage to the arts on campus and in SoBeth and take the focus away from publishing scandalous police reports of drunken escapades and “townie” troubles. Elsewhere in my collegiate career, I was an obnoxious DJ on WLVR, an A.D.D.-ridden drummer in some of Lehigh’s music ensembles, and an avid promoter and supporter of fun, totally non-educational but absolutely worthwhile events on campus, mostly having to do with concerts and sports and the like. I used my time at Lehigh wisely: I accomplished exactly what I wanted to do while cutting out the boring fat. My education and my social life were able to thrive together, and that’s just about the best thing I could have asked for.

Professionally, I’ve been able to combine my love of writing and the arts in a variety of ways. I was an entertainment reporter intern at The Morning Call, a publicity intern and creative management consultant at Media Five Entertainment, a staffer at Pulse Weekly, and best of all, the founder of my own successful music blog, Stark Online. Here’s a fun fact: Silagh was involved in the planning stages of Stark many years ago when a friend and I envisioned it to be an actual campus magazine to rival The Brown and White. Funny how things turn out.

Even though there’s just about nothing in the world that I love talking about more than myself, I should probably stop. If you want to know more about my background, my plans for the future and read a ton of superb writing clips, check out my personal Web site. (Feel free to hire me while you’re at it.) And if you want to know what I’m obsessed with at the moment, please follow me on Twitter and we’ll tweet for hours. Honestly. I love Twitter. I was a very early proponent of it and, excuse me while I get my elitist on, feel validated for championing it when everyone else was still rocking Myspace.

So, I still haven’t explained what I’m doing on this here blog. And to be honest, I can’t quite give you the answer yet. But here’s how I arrived here: After she took an interest in a project I did for a spring multimedia reporting class at Lehigh, in which two colleagues and I told stories about the arts in SoBeth across different media platforms, Silagh offered me a role this summer with ArtsLehigh. Long story short, I accepted immediately.

I really admire what Silagh and the other folks in this organization are doing, and it’s an honor to be included. Though my exact role on the team isn’t so well-defined, here’s the gist of it: For much of this summer, I’ll be doing all that I can from a social media standpoint to continue to get the word out about arts and entertainment on and around Lehigh’s campus. This includes a whole lot of blogging, tweeting, and being out and about. I’ll try to give my perspective — again, that of a young, dashing gentleman who happens to find the term “townie” rather endearing — on all that’s happening around here. I can’t promise you it will always work, but I can give you my word that I’ll be having a great time doing it. And that’s what it’s all about, ‘innit?

The first thing on my agenda? I’ll be blogging my way through much of this year’s edition of the South Side Film Festival, of which I happen to be a virgin. (For as long as I’ve been here in the LV, sometimes it’s pathetic how much I haven’t yet experienced.) It all starts tomorrow, so get excited.

With that, I’m signing off. If you’re still with me at this point, God bless you.

Here’s to a great summer,

Andrew