March 20, 2012
In February, to commemorate Black History Month, the Smithsonian Channel, Comcast and the National Museum of American History hosted an essay contest for high school students. Participants were asked to watch “Seizing Justice: The Greensboro 4,” a Smithsonian Channel program about the 1960 sit-in at the F.W. Woolworth store in Greensboro, North Carolina. Then, they had to answer one of three questions for the chance to win an iPad 2. More than 200 students entered, but it was 15-year-old Kaleb Harris, a sophomore at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, who won the grand prize.
According to Harris, he wrote his winning essay at his mother’s urging. He was not familiar with the story of the Greensboro sit-in, but he watched the Smithsonian Channel segment and learned about Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, David Richmond and Ezell Blair, Jr. (now Jabreel Khazan), the four African-American students at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College, who defiantly sat down at the whites-only luncheonette. Harris was moved when he visited the National Museum of American History and saw the actual lunch counter where the nonviolent protest was held.
“I honestly don’t know if I could have done what they did back in the day,” says Harris. “I would have liked to have tried, but it might have taken awhile for me to get used to it.”
In his essay, Harris reflects on the Civil Rights movement and what its leaders set out to do. He writes:
Have the goals of the Civil Rights movement been achieved? Yes and no. The Civil Rights Movement was centered on justice and equal treatment for African Americans and other races. Not all of the goals have been reached. The goals of freedom, education and justice have been reached, but there is still racism that is present to this very day.
In fact, Harris recalls a time just last year when he felt that he faced discrimination as an African American. He and his family were driving to California and had stopped at a restaurant in Texas late one evening. When they asked if they could be seated for dinner, the restaurant employees said they were just closing. “We saw a bunch of white people staring at us like we were awkward and out of our territory,” says Harris. “I didn’t like the way that felt.”
At a recent event for area high school students at the National Museum of American History, Joseph McNeil, one of the “Greensboro 4,” announced that Harris was the essay contest winner. The teenager had the opportunity to meet McNeil. “It was inspirational,” says Harris. “Also, it was kind of funny because the first thing he said to me was ‘Wow, that was really good. It sounded like I wrote that myself.’”
McNeil spoke to the group about why he did what he did and the gumption it took to be able to sit down at the segregated lunch counter. For as serious as the address was, McNeil also conveyed a sense of humor. “He talked about how the pie and the coffee wasn’t all that great,” says Harris. The two exchanged email addresses so that they might stay in touch.
September 10, 2010
Kids are back to school. Cravings for homemade chili and freshly picked apples kick in. And across the country, football season officially begins. (If you haven’t seen high school and college players, strengthened by arduous two-a-days, suiting up for their season openers, you’ve surely witnessed office mates tinkering with their fantasy football teams, right?)
In due tribute to the excitement of another season of pep rallies and Friday night games under the lights, the Smithsonian Channel premieres “The Rivals” this Saturday, September 11, at 9 p.m. The documentary, directed by Kirk Wolfinger, follows two high school football teams from Western Maine, both hell-bent on winning the state championship, through their 2007 season.
The football field is just about the only place where the Falcons of Mountain Valley High School in Rumford, Maine, and the Capers of Cape Elizabeth High School in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, are evenly matched. Rumford is a blue-collar town struggling to be supported by a paper mill in town, while Cape Elizabeth is a white-collar town teeming with successful doctors and lawyers. The Mountain Valley Falcons play on a worn field in the shadow of the mill’s smokestacks, and the Capers have a new turf field funded by their Booster Club. Plain and simple, it is the “haves” versus the “have nots.” And, as the narrator of the film points out, football, in this case, is more than just a game. It is a clash of cultures.
But the Mountain Valley Falcons do have experience on their side. Coach Jim Aylward has led them to six conference titles and two state championships during his long tenure. Ninety miles south of Rumford, Coach Aaron Filieo, three years into establishing a football program at Cape Elizabeth High School, is just trying to make a name for his Capers.
The film transported my husband and I back to our high school sports days, reminding us of rivalries, coaching styles, spaghetti dinners and, most of all, the sense of community that sports create. ”When you’re carrying the ball,” Coach Aylward tells his players, “you’re carrying it for the whole town.”
Though particularly poignant to former athletes, the story, with its life lessons of respect, pride and perseverance, has been enjoyed by a wide audience. On the independent film festival circuit, “The Rivals” has won the Audience Choice Award at the 2010 Woods Hole Festival, Best Picture at the 2010 Phoenix Film Festival and Best Documentary at the 2009 Los Angeles Reel Film Festival.
March 5, 2010
When field biologist Gudrun Pflueger found out, in 2005, that a cancerous tumor the size of a golf ball was growing in her brain, her chances for survival looked bleak. Many might have even said that recovery was impossible. But Pflueger—sweet, and yet tough as nails—fought, and remained hopeful.
“Already once something impossible happened,” she says. “Why not a second time?”
The miracle she’s referring to happened just prior to her diagnosis. Pflueger, a wolf expert, was on a six-week expedition along the coast of British Columbia, when she experienced a rare wildlife encounter. Seven Canadian coast wolves encircled her, curiously but not aggressively, in a meadow, while she lay prone in the grass. They played in the field for about an hour.
“The situation kind of carefully evolved. It was always their decision to come closer and closer. They didn’t rush. They took their time. They tried to smell me. They never showed any sign that they would even remotely consider me as prey,” Pflueger told me in an interview two years ago. “They just accepted me.”
At that time, the Smithsonian Channel was preparing to air its first program on Pflueger, called “A Woman Among Wolves.” (Check out the interview and the accompanying video clip.) Now, cancer-free, Pflueger is the subject of a sequel. The channel’s “Running with Wolves” premieres this Sunday at 8pm (et/pt).
“They [the wolves] gave me their will to fight for my life and be determined,” says Pflueger in the film, which describes her deep connection to the animals. The biologist says that her battle with cancer really brought her work into focus, and to a great extent her life’s, purpose, to fight for wolf conservation.
In “Running with Wolves,” she returns to the meadow where her encounter with the wolves happened. She also searches for wolves in other parts of British Columbia, setting up motion sensitive cameras along the way. Months after she installs a camera outside of an empty wolf den, she returns to it and watches the footage. Jackpot! For a second time, she gets a privileged view of wolves. On her laptop, in a cabin in the backcountry, she watches wolf pups coming out of their den for the first time.
December 7, 2009
On Saturday night, Aerial America: Hawaii premiered on the Smithsonian Channel. The segment, one in a series devoted to viewing the country’s natural and manmade marvels from air, delivers on its promise to capture breathtaking footage. The video crew travels in a helicopter over Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and Waikiki, the birthplace of surfing, among other sites.
Watch this clip as the crew passes over Pearl Harbor. Today marks the 68th anniversary of the attack.
The show airs again tonight at 5 p.m. EST, on Thursday, 9 p.m. EST, and Saturday, 6 p.m. EST. For more viewings, see this calendar.
October 27, 2009
As part of the Latin American Film Showcase, “The Accordion Kings: The Story of Colombian Vallenato Music,” a Smithsonian Networks film, will be shown at the Georgetown Business School – Lohrfink Auditorium tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. The film captures an annual festival of accordion music that takes place in the Colombian coastal town of Valledupar.
In 2008, Smithsonian magazine’s Kenny Fletcher wrote about the making of the film. The documentary focuses on the competition among accordion masters to be crowned the “vallenato king” at the festival. Vallenato is similar to country music in the United States, relating the everyday stories of love and love lost. “Wearing straw cowboy hats and jeans,” Fletcher wrote, “the hopefuls are covered in sweat, eyes closed, bodies rocking, fingers blurring as they fly across the accordion’s keys. The competition’s nationally televised finale has the drama and fanfare of “American Idol.”
As the genre becomes mainstream, festival organizers say the competition, which promotes the traditional form of vallenato, preserves their musical heritage. “It’s a way of linking you to the land, to your ancestors, your traditions,” says Gabriela Febres-Cordero, the honorary president of the 40-year-old festival.”
Vallenato is an essential part of Colombian culture. The rhythm of vallenato was first documented in the late 1800s. Gabriel García Márquez is said to have described his novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, as a 400-page vallenato.
The Latin American Film Showcase this year features more than 30 films from from almost 20 countries. The offerings include contemporary classics as well as films released just this year.