Moscow Opening: Fresh Restaurant

With life expectancy actually on the decline in Moscow, the importation of a bit of health consciousness has an air of exigency about it. Vegetarian cuisine pioneer Ruth Tal’s Fresh Restaurants, which have become Meccas in Toronto for the non-carnivorous (and those just taking a break from meat-eating), have gone international with Fresh Restaurant, this new location amidst the shopping mania of Moscow’s Tverskaya. 

The menu features a wide range of organic dishes (burgers, noodles), and a juice bar with power shakes and healthy cocktails. The "green" interior is by star designers Olga and Irina Sundukovy, with 19th-Century brickwork that’s complemented by modern concrete, Eames chairs, and bold color schemes (lots of green, naturally). And who doesn’t like the idea of Muscovites getting a little…fresh?

The Accidental Filmmaker: Sophia Takal on ‘Green’ & Female Jealousy

Over a glass of lemonade in a Greenpoint café, Sophia Takal, a writer, actor, and first-time director, describes her film Green, making its genesis seem at times an act of an emerging genius, at others completely accidental. A masterfully shot psychodrama of subtlety and beauty, Takal wrote Green literally overnight, shot it in two weeks, and edited it in her living room with one of the movie’s lead actors providing snacks and moral support. The dialogue, skillfully recorded in Takal’s bedroom with a microphone tied to a broom, was mostly improvised, and she attributes the movie’s hauntingly slow pace and lingering shots to her passion for Japanese director Yasujirō Ozu’s cinematographic style — also, to her desire to speed up the editing process. “Editing stinks,” she explains.

Takal still seems surprised — uncertain, even — by the circumstance that have recently brought her recognition and media attention. Portraying how the jealousy of one woman reaches heights of delusion and freight, Green follows a young intellectual Brooklyn couple as they transfer to rural Virginia for a secluded writing assignment, and how their relationship is tested by a young local woman who disrupts their new life together. It’s a topic close to the heart of 24 year-old Takal, who admits she routinely faces down the green-eyed monster.

The movie stars Takal, her fiancée, fellow filmmaker Lawrence Michael Levine, and the couple’s roommate, Kate Lyn Sheil. Green had an award-winning run at the South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas in March, and its New York premier at BAMcinamaFEST in June. Having been officially stamped one of cinema’s brightest up and coming talents she is preparing to tour nationally and internationally with her movie, and attempting to satisfy her growing appetite for filmmaking.

Tell me about your New York premiere. It was fantastic! The theater was full and the audience really responsive. I was super nervous – normally I don’t sit through these things. It’s really awkward when people have empty comments like “that was great, congratulations!” and I say “thanks!” and they have nothing else to say. I like it when people engage in conversation and say it reminded them of an issue they were dealing with in their own life. That’s been happening with Green. People want to talk about jealousy, about the female experience; even men come up to me and say they thought their girlfriends were totally insane until they watched it.

Green deals with female jealousy, a topic that’s inspired many works of art. What was your particular angle? I wanted to look at the destructive power jealousy has on female relationships. A lot of people think of the movie as a love triangle, not realizing there is no real triangle– everything happens in the heroine’s mind. My personal experience has always been that my jealousy and competitiveness made having friendships with other women very difficult. In the movie the main character Genevieve (played by Kate Lyn Sheil) has an opportunity to become an individual, to really feel into herself rather than to be built by a man. My character is there to help her do that, and because of the totally made-up jealousy she turns against the woman who is not doing anything, and becomes more consumed with getting the approval of her boyfriend, and the tragedy is in the fact that she is unable to trust the other woman and therefore trust herself .

You admit that you created Green to explore a very personal issue. Has it been therapeutic? How selfish, to make a movie as therapy and make others watch it. I don’t think this movie changed me; I still get jealous all the time. Perhaps the jealousy is less violent.

Green created quite a buzz at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, TX, where it was first screened. It is such a big festival with so many good movies – I had my heart set out for it, but I didn’t think I was going to be invited. All my friends that got to participate were invited over a month in advance, and I got the call the day before they were announcing the winners. I jumped up and down, ran up and down the stairs yelling “yippee!!!”. And then I had to finish editing the movie.

You won the Chicken and Egg award for emergent female directors at SxSW. Do you think that creating a movie that deals with such a uniquely female experience helped you snag first prize? I imagine they look for a movie that reflects a female perspective. It’s an interesting award. They were making a big deal about having 10 female directors participating in the festival this year –there were only four last year- but that is still only 10 out of more than a 100 participants. By the way Jodie Foster was one of the directors, so that’s probably the only time in my life I can say that I beat Jodie foster. [Note: Takal and Foster were not up for the same award]

Did you always aspire to become a filmmaker? I’ve wanted to act from as far back as I can remember. I got my education in a school where I was required to study all aspects of theater as well as the performance. When I realized that element of filmmaking interested me more than the making of theater, I decided to focus on film studies. I collaborated with my fiancée, whom I met in college, in the making of the feature, “Gabi on the Roof in July”. Watching him direct gave me confidence to jump in to directing my own feature.

What’s next? I’m writing a comedy. It’s about an overly-politically correct young New Yorker who travels to Africa to find herself. But first we are doing one of Lawrence’s projects. We rotate, so he gets to direct our next film together.

Green – a film by Sophia Takal – Trailer from Sophia Takal on Vimeo.

Our Man in Miami: From Haiti to Betty Page with Kimberly Green

That snap you’re looking at is of me and Kimberly Green, top gun at the Green Family Foundation (GFF). A couple weeks back we had the pleasure – and the privilege – of being shot by Francesco Lo Castro as part of an upcoming mural and portrait project the ace visualist is doing at Butter Gallery in concert with this year’s Basel. Kimberly’s a busy gal. In addition to a wide range of work in Miami, GFF is extensively involved in all kinds of great good efforts throughout Haiti – and they have been for well over a decade. That means Kimberly’s either there – or elsewhere – more than she is in her own hometown. So when she does manage to swing through we make a point of doing or seeing something spectacular. The last go ‘round it was the Lo Castro shoot, which was double-plus fun and then some.

This trip happened to coincide with the opening of an exhibit at Miami International Airport entitled “Hands of Haiti.” Set in the recently built South Terminal Gallery and put on by the Haitian Cultural Arts Alliance (HCAA), the show features sixty incredibly striking works, all of which were rendered under a barrage of post-quake hardships. The soundtrack consisted of various cuts culled from The Haiti Box; that set of early Alan Lomax recordings that Kimberly executive produced in conjunction with the Association for Cultural Equity. Hearing those circa ‘30s field recordings alone is a bewitching experience; to hear them in the grandeur of MIA’s newest wing amid an exquisite collection of woven vodou flags, Jacmel Carnival masks and other indigenous wonders was sublime.

After hitting the exhibit we decided to grab a bite at Van Dyke so Kimberly could fill me in on the latest in Haiti. Turns out she’d also just met with Miami Beach Cinematheque op Ed Christen, who reps the fabled Bunny Yeager. And he’d dropped off a stack of vintage Betty Page photographs for Kimberly to consider purchasing for the art-soaked home she calls Disgraceland. So while giddily browsing through some very vintage images over the chilled glasses of Prosecco sent by manager Matt Bracher, we got down to what’s up.

Okay, you just got back from Haiti, again, where you held another weekend of Sinema Amba Zetwal (Cinema Under the Stars). Care to fill in the folks? I’d love to. Last weekend was the final two screenings in the tour we’ve been on since February. I work with an organization called Fast Forward, which puts together outdoor screenings of Haitian-made documentaries, and we followed the fault line of the earthquake. The tour was called Food for Souls, because everyone was bringing rice and water and what have you, but no one was really taking care of the cultural core of the people. We had between three and ten thousand people at every screening, all of whom got to hear some of Haiti’s best musicians in addition to seeing a wide variety of film shorts covering everything from gender equity to environmentalism to the “remembrance” pieces Alan Lomax shot back in the ‘30s. The previous screenings were held out in the country, but this last event was held in Petionville, which is where most of Haiti’s private sector is based. So it was nice to be able to show the shorts to those who are in country and spearheading the efforts to rebuild.

Sinema is actually in cahoots with a few of those concerns, isn’t it? Yes, we’re sponsored by Brana, makers of Prestige beer, which is the Haitian beer. Brana also does a fortified milk for children, and we’ve been distributing that at all the events. We also work with Voila, which is one of two Haitian cell phone companies, and Partners in Health, which was founded by Dr. Paul Farmer, who is now the U.N.’s Deputy Envoy to Haiti. At all of our screenings they provide HIV and TB testing, as well as clinic referrals. Then there’s Earthspark International, an American organization that’s bringing renewable energy stores to the country.

Since we just came from catching that airport exhibit which GFF soundtracked, let’s tell everyone what’s what with Alan Lomax’s field recordings. My friend Warren Russell Smith came to me with the project a couple years ago and I immediately jumped at the chance to get involved. It’s a collection of field recordings Lomax made in Haiti back in the ‘30s, and because the sound quality wasn’t as good as some of his later work, they’d been sitting dormant in the Library of Congress ever since. We remastered them and released the set as The Haiti Box back in November of last year; then the earthquake happened, and we decided to use the set as both a fundraising tool and a sort of cultural repatriation. Now we’re working in conjunction with Haiti’s Ministry of Culture and Communications and the Ministry of Education, and we’re creating a full-length documentary along with a series of 12 shorts that will be used as a supplementary educational program throughout the entire school system.

That’s terrific! Aren’t you also involved with former President Clinton and all he’s doing down there? Yes, I’ve been working with the Clinton Global Initiative for many years, but two years ago he founded the Haiti Action Network, which brings together private and public partnership. And recently I was appointed co-chair of HAN’s Cultural Committee. We’re working now to restore monuments and historic buildings. And we’ve also been asked to curate an exhibit in November at the Clinton Library in Little Rock that will feature archival footage from Lomax as well as current documentaries made by Tatiana Magloire of Fast Forward. I’m really excited about this!

I bet! That’s beyond cool. Okay, we’re sitting here on Lincoln Road at Van Dyke Café, and it turns out your father [Steven J. Green] owns the building. What’s that all about? (Laughs) Well, my dad, who’s former Ambassador to Singapore under Clinton, runs Greenstreet Partners, which is an international real estate development company, and he bought the building a few years ago. He says he may have overpaid a little, but he’s a Miami Breach native, and he feels like this is owning a part of our town’s history. He also bought that fabulous Morris Lapidus building where our Foundation is located.

We can’t end this chat without mentioning this incredible Bunny Yeager photos that are sitting in front of us. Man, these are some killer images! Aren’t they? Ed Christen brought them to me; he’s apparently repping Bunny Yeager, and these are outtakes from a few of the series she did with Betty Page. I really dig the shots from the old Lion Country Safari. And I’m thinkin’ they’ll look great in Disgraceland! The demure shots though remind me of the photos I have of my mom [Dorothea Green] back when she was Miss New York and in Miami Beach for the Miss Universe Pageant. That’s where she met my dad, by the way, who was then an aide to Mayor Chuck Hall. They’ve been happily ever after ever since.

Confessions of a Tree-Hugger Hater

imageFull disclosure. I don’t have my license, I don’t recycle, and I’ve smoked more cigarettes than my lungs care to remember. Also, I’m scared of vegetarians, vegans, Bob Dole, people interested in the environment, people who use the word “green,” Leonardo DiCaprio, Vanity Fair‘s “Green Issue,” farmers markets, and fresh produce in general. These are just a few of my shortcomings, which is why it struck me as odd when I was asked to explore the new eco-friendly Lexus Hybrid Living Suite on the 10th floor of San Francisco’s legendary Fairmont hotel.

Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton was staying at the palatial inn, as were her Secret Service henchmen and killer canines, who frightened me for altogether different reasons. The President of El Salvador had just checked in, and was met with protesters brandishing placards of Spanish rhetoric and political venom. Had they heard about my refusal to compost?

I was ushered through the door to my hotel room—non-smoking, to be sure—and spent some time looking out onto Alcatraz, cable cars, and the “Full House” residence of my childhood dreams. I changed into a bow tie and tighter jeans, and made my way to meet the representatives from Lexus and Fairmont. Every light in my room was left on as I closed the door behind me.

In the Lexus Hybrid Living Suite (more on its design later), I sampled local cheeses while dodging the dreaded question: “So, how often do you write about green issues?” Think, shudder.

Turns out the tree-huggers of the world aren’t as much like L. Ron Hubbard as I’d originally assumed. “Let’s break into the basement later tonight, after a few drinks, and I’ll show you the stuff they’ve got lying around. It’s insane down there. I keep expecting the doors to open, blood to pour out, and to see The Shining twins staring back at me,” said the suite’s designer, famed eco-designer Kelly LaPlante, who is currently putting her finishing touches on Fairmont’s Washington, D.C. outpost. That version will be “far more conceptual,” she explains. “I wanted it to feel like you were walking into a black-and-white photograph. And the bathrooms are sepia!”

image

In this room, however—with only a faint aesthetic whiff of concern for the environment—the fixtures, furniture, walls, and draperies all mimic the color palette outside, as if bleeding out onto nearby streets. Blues and pale oranges—I’m colorblind too—are picked up by the San Francisco Bay and the palm tree-lined houses down below. I’d be lying if I said I understood the details of energy-efficiency and solar-blaggity that went into the creation of the suite, although listening to LaPlante speak somehow made perfect sense. Most of the furniture had been re-used from the hotel’s glory days, other pieces had been bought from eco-friendly designers (all of whom seem to love bamboo), and one piece in particular—a stunning, rounded coffee table—had been covered with leather left over from old Lexus models. What’s more, the partnership between Lexus and Fairmont is less about the room itself, and more about the experience of travelling green. (Wait, what? Did I just… ) In addition to the suite, guests can buy a package that includes a Lexus loaner, and an audio guide with tips on where to get your eco on in the city. Despite myself, I was beginning to feel won over.

Over the course of the three-day sojourn, I spoke with my hosts on a variety of subjects. One had stolen a bracelet from Brad Pitt while the superstar was puking at a party. Another proved to be a true champion in the art of rock-paper-scissors. Yet another shot me down when I suggested that Donny and Marie Osmond were twins. The conversation was only slightly peppered by greenery. I did, however, hear about LaPlante’s work (which, I’ll admit, is sort of fascinating). Over stinging nettle soup and cactus salad at the hotel’s restaurant, LaPlante, in an eco-friendly design previously worn by Darryl Hannah, discussed the residential projects she has completed in the past for Ally Sheedy and Michael Rapaport. In fact, LaPlante has overhauled so many celebrity interiors that she is self-publishing a book, écologique: the style of sustainable design, about the experience.

image

There were delicious meals served throughout the trip (the wine and steak at Spruce were pretty super-fantastic), tours in a Lexus that told us where to steer, and a quick jaunt to Stellar Spa for a facial. Overall, the whole experience was quite pleasant.

My driver was waiting to bring me to the airport at some ungodly hour on Saturday morning. He was early. I was late (but I’d had bacon, so things were good). As we navigated the West Coast hills, past runners and cyclists, something LaPlante had said resonated in my head. “I know very well that I’m a niche designer, and that I can’t be everything to everyone. But, you know what? I feel confident that people will find me out, that they’ll want to do the right thing for the environment. And, personally, I think it’s better to do one thing really well than a bunch of things poorly.” I couldn’t agree more, as I sit down to write this piece in my slummy New York apartment, in desperate need of a smoke.

For more information on the Lexus Hybrid Living Suite, click here.