Brett Campbell

 

As Ilana Sol’s new film about war and reconciliation, Samurai in the Oregon Sky, screens this week at Portland’s Northwest Film Center, a look back at the Portland filmmaker’s first documentary

Editor’s note: On Thursday, November 14, Portland Art Museum’s Northwest Film Center presents the second film by Portland filmmaker Ilana Sol. Samurai in the Oregon Sky tells the story of Japanese pilot Nobuo Fujita, the only pilot to bomb the U.S. mainland during World War II, his subsequent visit to the Oregon town the bomb struck, and the 35-year-long relationship between the Fujita family and the people of Brookings, which he came to call his “second home.” It previously screened at the East Oregon Film Festival, Astoria International Film Festival and others.

Sol’s acclaimed first film dealt with a similar subject — the Japanese balloon bomb that killed a group of Oregon picnickers during the War. On Paper Wings won several awards and was included in an episode of National Public Radio’s Radiolab. Here is the profile of Sol ArtsWatch’s Brett Campbell published in Oregon Humanities magazine when it premiered.

Nobuo Fujita during World War II

The sunlight sparkled as it made its way through the forest on Gearhart Mountain, and the small party of schoolchildren and their minister from the nearby southern Oregon town of Bly laughed and chattered as the car pulled over to the side of the road. It was May 1945. The country was at war and just emerging from a long Depression, but it was a beautiful spring day, and the young minister, Archie Mitchell, had found a perfect spot for a picnic in the woods. As they spilled out of Mitchell’s car, one of the kids spotted something white lying on the ground. Followed by Mitchell’s pregnant wife, Elsye, they raced to see what it was. “Don’t touch it!” shouted Mitchell.

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From Hate to Healing

FearNoMusic’s “The F Word” commemorates the Portland murder of Ethiopian immigrant Mulugeta Seraw by white supremacists

Note: throughout this article, Mulugeta Seraw is referred to by his personal name, “Mulugeta,” instead of the patronymic “Seraw.”

On November 12, 1988, three racist skinhead gang members descended on 28 year old Mulugeta Seraw as friends dropped him off at his Southeast Portland apartment after dinner. The trio, who’d recently attacked other minority Portlanders, beat Mulugeta to death with a baseball bat. The Portland State University graduate student, who came to Oregon from Ethiopia to go to college, left behind an eight-year-old son.

A Portland jury sent Mulugeta’s killers, who were part of an organized Northwest white supremacist movement, to prison. A jury also imposed a civil judgment against a California white supremacist for inciting Mulugeta’s killing.

Ethiopian-born Portlander Mulugeta Seraw.

Kenji Bunch was a Southwest Portland high school student when Mulugeta was murdered. “It really stuck with me,” he remembered. “It was really jarring for a kid living in this sheltered suburban life and realizing these issues were present in my hometown.” 

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Field of Vision

Conference introduces national organization to Portland through performance and discussion of pressing issues in Oregon arts

A group of prominent Portland artists sat around a table with representatives of some of Oregon’s heaviest hitting arts funders, and the conversation was growing tense. How do funders determine which artists receive support, one artist asked, especially individuals and small organizations that might lack resources and track record compared to better-funded and -staffed institutions? Why do funds seem to flow to the same organizations year after year, even though the art they pay for doesn’t reflect the diversity of the community the organizations and artists both purport to serve? 

Such questions have long troubled Oregon’s art scene as it evolves into a more diverse community. But we seldom hear them voiced aloud in a public event, especially with both donors and recipients present. It’s even rarer for the conversation to proceed beyond accusation to explanation and understanding.

But that’s what happened last spring when Portland’s New Expressive Works hosted the 2019 National Field Network Conference. Presented by staff members from the national organization Jennifer Wright Cook and Shawn René Graham, local Field office representatives Jen Mitas and Katherine Longstreth, and conference consultant Subashini Ganesan, the two-day event — which included performances, installation, and discussion– introduced the New York-based arts organization The Field to Portland, and offered about 200 Oregon artists and arts advocates the chance to participate in conversations about the work The Field is doing, and related issues arts organizations face here.

Pepper Pepper performed excerpts from the forthcoming ‘Noise/Data’ at The Field conference. Image: Karl Lind.

Along with putting artists and art funders around the same table for candid discussions, the first day events presented The Field’s history and explained its Fieldwork method for giving artists needed feedback on their work. The second day featured a panel of Northwest artists discussing the role of social media and digital media in their art practices, plus several performances of dance, music, installation and multimedia art — a welcome injection of actual art into the discussion of arts issues. The event raised some tough but necessary questions about Oregon’s art scene pertinent to artists, presenters, funders, and audiences.

This weekend, Portlanders can see some of the fruits of The Field PDX’s work as artists who’ve received feedback through its Fieldwork process show their work at New Expressive Works’s 12th Residency Performance, where they participated in a residency with Longstreth.

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Light amid darkness

Oregon Repertory Singers perform Portland composer Joan Szymko’s oratorio inspired by people confronting Alzheimer’s dementia

This is what we fear…
Nothing to think with
Nothing to love or link with

From “Aubade” by Philip Larkin, excerpted in Shadow & Light.

When Eugene Concert Choir and Vocal Arts director Diane Retallack approached Joan Szymko in 2014 to write a new piece for choir about Alzheimer’s dementia, the Portland composer faced three challenges. First, she had no friends or close family members with the disease. Second, though she was an award-winning composer who’d written more than 100 choral works, it would be a much bigger piece than she’d ever attempted. Finally, she worried that it would be a depressing work — “a horror story.” 

But after spending two years researching and composing music and libretto about the heartbreaking subject, Szymko discovered a way to cope with the epic scale it demanded. And she also found that it’s possible to find hope and even peace at the end of an Alzheimer’s journey.

Shadow and Light is a touching and hopeful look at the effects of Alzheimer’s,” says Christine Meadows, who sings one of the central solo parts in Oregon Repertory Singers’ Portland premiere of Szymko’s 2016 work this weekend. “[Szymko] captures the huge range of emotions and experiences that many of us have journeyed through with our loved ones.”

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Hearing injustice

Monday’s FearNoMusic concert features new music composed in response to last year’s Supreme Court confirmation battle over alleged sexual harassment

As Portland composer Kenji Bunch watched last year’s confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh, which included accusations of sexual assault, he “had this weird idea of a concert” based on the hearings.

“It was such a fraught moment, a watershed event,” Bunch recalled. “Something about the theatricality of that hearing just seemed to me that it could work for this kind of artistic exploration.”

Violinist and composer Kenji Bunch. Photo: Bob Keefer.

Bunch, artistic director of Portland new music ensemble Fear No Music, mused about the notion on Facebook. Immediately, New York composer Daniel Felsenfeld endorsed the idea. So did others, including fellow Oregon composer Andrea Reinkemeyer.

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Temporary balms for darker times

Brian Wilson and The Zombies make America '68 again

In 1968, the world seemed to be coming apart. A bloody, increasingly unpopular war in Vietnam, political assassinations, urban riots, generation gap, conservative backlash against civil rights and other progressive movements…. Even pop music grew darker than the sunny Summer of Love psychedelia of a year earlier, from the Beatles’ so-called White Album to grittier turns by stars like the Rolling Stones and various Motowners, to the rise of Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Cream, and other heavier sounds supplanting the gentler flower-powered folk and classical music influenced pop of the preceding two years.

In that fraught year, several pop bands released new music overlooked at the time. Then regarded as flops, they later came to be recognized as masterpieces. Two are came to Portland Tuesday, Sept. 17, under the misleading banner “Something Great from ‘68.” For while the music that Brian Wilson and The Zombies released that year has outlasted much of its dated-sounding contemporaries, it was utterly out of step with the spirit of the new, dark age.

In 1968, the Zombies and the Beach Boys were also falling apart. Both had been hitmakers earlier, with the Zombies British Invasion pop and the BBs multiple hits mostly (at least superficially) about surf, cars, and ‘girls.’ Musically, Wilson’s family band was making music as radiant as anything after WWII, but by 1968, their tours featuring surfin’ sounds with striped shirts and white pants seemed increasingly tone deaf in a world coming apart. While psychedelia soared and violence raged, songs about surfing and cruising seemed passe, and the Beach Boys plummeted from pop hitmakers to culturally irrelevant.

Ironically, the band members’ non-musical lives actually represented what was going down in America as much as any other: Carl Wilson was a draft dodger (his status kept them from what would have been a culturally significant appearance at 1967’s Monterey Pop Festival), Mike Love had accompanied the Beatles to study with TM guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and became a lifelong devotee of the mind-expanding practice, Dennis Wilson indulged in abundant free love and drugs. And songwriter Brian Wilson‘s own mind expansion with psychedelics had fueled transcendent visions in their long gestating album Smile — as well as his own pre-existing emotional instability.

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PHAME and friends rock out

PHAME Academy and Portland Opera collaborate on original rock opera

Photos by Friderike Heuer

Two summers ago, Portland Opera Manager of Education and Outreach Alexis Hamilton attended an original musical performed by artists from Portland’s PHAME Academy, which serves adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She hoped the 35-year-old organization might help her make the Portland Opera To Go program more accessible to people with disabilities. But she was so impressed by PHAME’s 2017 production that she imagined a bigger project.

“After I saw that,” Hamilton recalled, “I was really on fire” to collaborate with PHAME.

PHAME dancers in rehearsal.
PHAME “movers” in rehearsal.

That production coincided with the arrival of PHAME’s new executive director, Jenny Stadler, who was looking for ways “to overcome the invisibility” that separated many people with disabilities from the rest of society. One method: give PHAME students opportunities to tell their own stories to the larger public. After Hamilton approached her about collaborating, Stadler woke up with a “middle-of-the-night epiphany: we help them become inclusive, and they teach our students how to create an opera.” 

This weekend and next, 18 months of groundbreaking work by PHAME and Portland Opera staff — and above all the students themselves — culminate in what Stadler calls ‘the biggest project we’ve ever done.” PHAME’s original new rock opera, The Poet’s Shadow, runs for seven performances this weekend and next at Portland Opera’s Hampton Opera Center. 

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