Author Archives: André Natta

Courteney Cox to make feature film directorial debut at Tribeca Film Festival

courteney_cox_0214_more_us_02The Tribeca Film Festival announced its 2014 lineup yesterday. Birmingham native Courteney Cox’s first cinematic directorial effort, Just Before I Go, will make its debut as one of the 31 films included in the festival’s Spotlight section.

Cox has previously directed nine episodes to date of of her television series Cougar Town, in addition to a 2012 Lifetime movie, Tall Hot Blonde. She’s also not the only one to take a turn behind the camera, as this post on from last June when we first learned about it. The festival runs April 16 – 27.

The New Artists Alliance film is a comedy-drama based on a screenplay by producer/writer David Flebotte and starring Seann William Scott (American Pie), Olivia Thirlby (Juno), and Missi Pyle (The Artist).

Photo: via alien_artifact/Flickr.

Time to vote Birmingham America’s Favorite Food City

fwcoverFood & Wine Magazine announced late last month that it would be inviting the public to vote in its first-ever America’s Favorite Food Cities survey. The Magic City is competing against 39 other worthy contenders and the winners will be unveiled in the publication’s September 2014 issue. If you think Birmingham, AL has the “most family-friendly,” “most pompous foodies” or “best-looking bartenders,” you need to head over to the magazine’s website and cast your vote.

We have until April 30 to cast our votes, but why wait? It’s only 25 questions and they let you re-take it if you’re not happy with your answers (or if you want to get in one more virtual ballot). One thing to consider though, as eloquently pointed out on the website for Louisville’s edition of Food and Dining magazine earlier this month, participants realize it’s not just another popularity contest but a chance to respond honestly about the cities from which the magazine’s editors want us to pick.

Meet someone who’s “Got What It Takes” at beta pictoris

Editor’s note: Sirlin will be signing copies of the book on September 24 at beta pictoris. Check out the event listing over on Signals for more information.

Rights and accomplishments have been at the forefront of our thinking this year in Birmingham. From the commemorations of the events in 1963 to women earning Emmy awards for directing and writing, many have been celebrating how far we have come in America. With all these small steps and milestones, however, we still have a long way to go when it comes to issues of equality – and women are no exception.

We are still at a point in our country where we differentiate so many professions by gender, as if it is a novel concept: women directors, women writers, women artists, women CEOs, and the list goes on and on and on. As much as we’d like to think we have gotten over this, a dialogue is still necessary for women to be taken seriously in a wide variety of professions (I hope I don’t have to remind you that women on average STILL make 76¢ for every dollar a man makes).

Which brings us to Deanna Sirlin’s She’s Got What It Takes: American Women Artists in Dialogue. Inspired by a piece she wrote on a posthumous show of Anne Truitt’s work in 2004, Sirlin felt it was important to not only write about women artists but to also do so within their careers and lifetimes. To that end, Sirlin developed two important criteria to select artists for the book: 1) she had to have known who these artists were when she was in college in the mid-1970s; and 2) the artists had to still be making and showing art.

Based on these specific limitations, Sirlin selected nine women artists – Jennifer Bartlett, Louise Fishman, Jane Freilicher, Joyce Kozloff, Elaine Reichek, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Joan Snyder, Pat Steir, and Betty Woodman. Not only have each of these women influenced Sirlin, but they all have a place within the modern history of art. These women, and many others of their cohort, worked with each other, showed together, and helped make the way for the next generation of women artists.

After completing this book, Sirlin notes that in general, things are better for women artists, but there is still a ways to go. Sales still favor male artists, as do many museums and collectors. She explains that there is still “not enough written about women artists.” A lot was written about women artists during the 1970s when there was a focus on the feminist movement, but as the years have progressed, less and less seems to get written.

The majority of the artists featured in She’s Got What it Takes live and work in New York, but even that has changed. Many of them split residences between a more quiet studio location (upstate New York, Italy, etc.) and somewhere in the city. While New York is still a draw for artists, Sirlin has found that New Mexico has become a place for women artists, especially in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

Dialogue is critical to art. In 11 essays, Sirlin brings that dialogue to the forefront with these women discussing their historical importance, their lives and work, and the value of their work to up and coming artists then (as with Sirlin) and now.

She’s Got What it Takes: American Women Artists in Dialogue by Deanna Sirlin. (2013. Milan: Charta Art Books). Hardcover. 122 pages. List price $37.50 US. ISBN 978-8881588671.


“I am John Fields and I just ate a hamburger.”

SealbetashowTonight’s opening reception for John Fields’s Diegesis marks the first show for Fields in three years, and his second at beta pictoris gallery in the city’s Second Avenue district. It is one of two shows opening that evening; the second, Chasing the Ghost, features work by Stephen Bindernagel.

Fields’s show is a group of original works based on film stills. He selected scenes from a number of motion pictures, printed and painted the images, then imposed a mask of his own face onto the protagonists. Each of the films depicted has been influential to Fields, who has a background in both art and filmmaking. The titles of each work come from the movie’s dialogue – sometimes verbatim, sometimes more of a paraphrase or how Fields remembers the line being spoken.

Fields says his art is informed more by pop culture rather than fine art. He works from instinct, often finding themes after a finishing a series. He has previously used the idea of the mask in his art, but Diegesis is the first time the face on the mask was his own.

Imposing his own image onto the film scenes was inspired by his 30th birthday party. When Fields entered the room, the guests were each wearing printed masks of his face.

He develops his exhibitions through a process of elimination rather than with a specific goal in mind. Sometimes, he says, it is “more about what it’s not about,” but he tends towards universal themes. Fields allows the view to their own interpretations instead of  leading the viewer with a heavy explanation.

In addition to scenes from films such as The Deer Hunter, Manhattan, Last Tango in Paris, and Godzilla, Fields pays homage to Andy Warhol in a video recreation of the iconic pop artist eating a hamburger.

John Fields: Diegesis will run from June 21-July 26, 2013 at beta pictoris gallery (2411 2nd Ave. N.). Opening reception: Friday, June 21, 6-9 p.m.

Photo above: Love is the blackest of all plagues. Acrylic on canvas, 24″ x 40″. Courtesy of the artist.


LIVE From Hammerhead series continues 5.24 @ DISCO

heligoatsThe first installment of the Desert Island Supply Company‘s “LIVE From Hammerhead” series saw a performance by The Heligoats. This photo shows a portion of the show where they invited a DISCO participant to join them while he played a song he’d composed.

The mini-concerts take place at DISCO’s space on the ground floor of Woodrow Hall in Birmingham’s Woodlawn neighborhood. There is no set ticket price – the idea is to pay what you like (or what you’re able) while also getting a chance to learn more about the programs being offered by this nearly 3½ year old nonprofit.

This month the series continues with a performance by Birmingham-based act Velouria on Friday, May 24. It will also double as an album release party for the band’s latest effort, Smile Until It Hurts. The band Early Americans will serve as their opening act.

NOTE: Doors open at 8 p.m. and beer and wine will be available for purchase.


You are watching The Lone Bellow performance tonight…

The Lone Bellow in VirginiaIf you were wanting another reason to stay up late in order to watch “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” we’ve found one for you. The musical guest for tonight’s broadcast is “The Lone Bellow,” a Brooklyn, NY-based band. Yes, Brooklyn; we’ll explain…

While the other scheduled guests may be reason enough for you to tune in (Vin Diesel and Jeff Foxworthy), we’re thinking the chance for Birmingham to see one of their own performing on television is a pretty good one. Brian Murphy is currently based in New York City, but he is a native of The Magic City, having worked for what is now the Birmingham Business Alliance and as a photographer and musician. He’s also the guy currently playing keyboards for The Lone Bellow’s touring ensemble (he’s also done some engineering for them in the past, including working on this video for the single “You Never Need Nobody”).

Now that we’ve got your attention, you may want to check out the band’s latest YouTube upload, the video for the single “Bleeding Out.” BTW – it’s the one they’re playing on Leno tonight.


Photo: Courtesy of The Lone Bellow’s Facebook fan page.

Freshfully shares the wealth with area schools

Freshfully the day before the grand opening 2012Freshfully never loses; it’s pretty much a fact. Wednesday, May 15, the purveyor of fresh produce looks to share its Midas touch with its neighborhood Birmingham City elementary school.

A Facebook event created late last month invites folks to visit its nearly 1½ year-old Avondale Market on May 15. According to the event’s description, 10% of all in-store sales will go to directly benefit Avondale Elementary School. They’ve already held similar fundraisers for both Red Mountain Community School and the Alabama Waldorf School earlier this month.

The two year old business is continuing an unbeaten streak similar to the ones SEC football fans hope for each season. Just last week the store was named one of the winners of Intuit’s Small Business Growing Strong initiative, securing $5,000 to improve the physical store’s lighting. This came on the heels of wrapping up an IndieGoGo campaign to add a café, a month after it reopened following a renovation of their space. Their Occupy:Avondale win presented them with the opportunity to open in the space in addition to six months free rent.

You could even say they started off with a (bang). Area schools have the privilege to benefit from their efforts while residents enjoy locally sourced food options. Sounds like a win for everybody.

Tackling where next to skate in Birmingham

jacob-bean-etching_resizeLocal skateboarders gathered at the site they’d developed under Red Mountain Expressway at Second Avenue North in March, known locally and on social media as the DIY Bridgespot, and were told it was time to move. Actually, the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) insisted the skaters close down the site.

Why? One reason given was safety – something could come off a truck and fly off the expressway, fall through the 4-foot gap between the north and southbound lanes, and hurt someone. Another was the state agency not wanting anything under the overpasses. This reason confuses some as it appears to not apply everywhere in the city. For example, there is parking currently available under I-20/59 near the BJCC.

Thirty years ago a farmers market occupied the DIY site but shuttered in the 1980s, and it remained mostly unused until the skaters arrived last year.

ALDOT’s spokesperson recently explained in an interview with that moving the skateboarders (and the homeless) out of the area was necessary due to soil testing for the I-20/59 bridge replacement project – one that includes, interchange modifications at I-65 and 31st Street and upgrades to 11th Avenue North.

The Bridgespot’s short lifespan was not unusual; most DIY sites last no more than a year and a half. Skaters find a spot, start skating and making additions and improvements to a site, and the area evolves. One of the great things about the Bridgespot was the support the skaters received from their neighbors.

Peter Karvonen of Faith Skate Supply, located just two blocks west of the former DIY site, explained how the skaters had that support as well as the immediate community. Business owners and clientele would often stop by the store and donate money to support its development.

The Bridgespot gained some regional notoriety thanks to social media. Karvonen recalled meeting skaters from all over the state, as well as Nashville and Atlanta as they came to check out the site over the past several months..

The DIY site replaced another one, The Shoe Factory, located across from Railroad Park at 17th Street and 1st Ave. S. The owner of that property lived outside Birmingham and allowed local skaters to use it – with the caveat that it could be sold at any time. Once the city announces plans to move forward with Regions Field, the site was no more.

Skaters also lost a mini-skatepark located in Homewood’s Central Park in 2008. Complaints began rolling in about the space soon after a nearby condo construction project had been completed.  As comments on the piece demonstrate, much of the general public’s stereotyping of skateboarders as a bad influence likely had a lot to do with the complaints.

Supporters suggest a sanctioned skatepark project would continue to attract users from throughout the southeastern U.S. as the Bridgespot did as well as the residual economic impact of spending money at local businesses and contributing to the tax base. Patti Ferguson, a City Administrator in Armstrong, British Columbia, explained “It actually becomes a draw for your community if you have a good skatepark. Skaters want to come and try it. Never underestimate the power of a teenager to sway his or her parents’ travel plans!”

Skateboarding’s positive benefits

In Alabama, a state with one of the highest rates of obesity in the country, skateboarding is seen by some as a way to encourage activity in children and teens. Rather than sitting in the basement playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, they can go out and BE a skater. There are a variety of parks in Mississippi, Georgia, and Tennessee that could serve as examples for Birmingham.

When referring to a planned skatepark and splash pad, Heavener, (Oklahoma) City Manager Mike Kennerson explained, “Not only will these promote a healthy lifestyle, it improves the recreational life for our youth, and it has the potential to have an economic-development impact on our community. This is to create opportunities for kids to do positive things.”

The Tony Hawk Foundation states skateboarding and skateparks “provide a place for kids who aren’t attracted to traditional team sports to express themselves in an individual and athletic manner. Getting kids, particularly at-risk kids, involved in a personal and esteem-building activity like skateboarding helps them build the confidence to do well in other aspects of their lives.”

And in Somerset, Ohio, Councilman David Snider concluded, “The whole skatepark experience has been a wonder to skaters and non-skaters alike. Senior citizens marvel at the athleticism and imaginations of the skaters, and skaters have a new respect for how a small-town village government can work if patience and fortitude are applied.”

Five years ago, the city began looking at the potential of a skatepark on city land. Working with Karvonen and the skateboarding community, discussions began about locations and park designers. The Tony Hawk Foundation expressed its support of a Birmingham skatepark in the 2008 letter to Langford. Those plans seemed to have disappeared when Langford left office.

Hawk shared his thoughts on the impact on skaters and the community in that letter to Langford:

“And when parks are built right – with local skater input and involvement throughout the process – those youngsters develop a sense of ownership and pride. The very existence of the park is the result of their hard work. They negotiate with civic and local business leaders, with each other on design elements, and with the community to find a suitable location. These previously disenfranchised skaters, who once ran from the police, find themselves working with the police and the city and community as a whole. It’s a transformational (sp) process for these young people.”

A skatepark also provides opportunities for a wide variety of special events as well as clinics for teaching kids how to skate. A current effort could provide a home base for clinics held by the A.Skate Foundation. The foundation was created to teach skateboarding to autistic kids as well as teach skateboarders about autism. In 2011, A.Skate was a Pepsi Refresh Project grant recipient for a skatepark.

What’s next?

So, what now? With no skatepark available in the immediate area, skateboarders are skating along sidewalks and on the streets or heading out to Battleground, an indoor skatepark and ministry near Bessemer. Unfortunately, Battleground is only open limited hours, with both free and pay to skate sessions.

Mark Leo, instructor at Jefferson State Community College, understands the need for a skatepark: “ I’ve been skateboarding for about 25 years. I feel the local skate community needs a skatepark because, as I’ve grown older, I’ve realized how dangerous it really is to skate around the Birmingham metro area…the normal skateboarder encounters speeding cars and other hazards they normally wouldn’t in a sanctioned area.”

The City of Birmingham seems to be warming up to constructing a skatepark. There has been talk about using space at George Ward Park on Greensprings, as it would be easily accessible to visitors because of how close it is to an exit from I-65. As of press time, the idea of a skatepark in Birmingham is still in the preliminary planning stages.

The A.Skate Foundation, the skateboarding community, and Karvonen have been a part of the proposal and planning of a potential skatepark in Birmingham. Karvonen explained, “After ALDOT recently demolished the Bridgespot skate area, the city officials in Birmingham have responded to the desperate need for a skatepark and are proactively working with the skate community now to secure land for a skatepark within the park and rec system.”

Karvonen said the skatepark was to be an agenda item at the April meeting for the Glen Iris Neighborhood Association, but was absent. They have been assured it will appear on the May meeting agenda. The neighborhood association meets on the first Monday of the month.

“Thankfully the city officials in Birmingham are embracing the need for a public skatepark and working alongside us to see the facility become a reality hopefully in the very near future,” Karvonen added.

Supporters of the project know that it will not come cheaply; a quality skatepark can cost around $400,000. Quality is important. Concrete ramps provide stability and reduce maintenance costs as wood ramps are subject to rot and insects. Safety issues for both skaters and spectators also will need to be addressed.

Photo: courtesy of Faith Skate Supply.

The Vagina Monologues will return to UAB

photo (36)UAB will celebrate V-Day in 2013 by bringing The Vagina Monologues back to campus. It was last performed there in 2008  to a sell-out crowd and organizers are expecting the same this year.

Performances will take place April 26 and 27 in the campus’s Great Hall. Auditions are being held today (March 9) and Tuesday (March 12) at the Hill University Center (HUC) at the following times:

Saturday, March 9, 1 – 3 p.m., HUC 412
Tuesday, March 12, 6 – 8 p.m., HUC 411

The HUC is located at 1400 University Blvd. in the heart of UAB’s campus.

Those interested in volunteering or performing should check out the efforts fan page on Facebook for updates.

The Vagina Monologues is a play based on playwright – and V-Day founder – Eve Ensler’s interviews with more than 200 women. As the V-Day website explains:

“With humor and grace the piece celebrates women’s sexuality and strength. Through this play and the liberation of this one word, countless women throughout the world have taken control of their bodies and their lives. For more than 12 years, The Vagina Monologues has given voice to experiences and feelings not previously exposed in public.”

The Red Cat is ready for AFTERHOURS

photo (32)The lights are dim. Cables are everywhere. And Matthew Perryman Jones is on the stage. It is standing room only at The Red Cat, a coffee house located in Birmingham’s Pepper Place – as long as you are not standing in front of any of the cameras.

The audience, obviously familiar with Jones’s work, is enthusiastic, singing along and providing appreciative feedback. There is a young woman near the front of the space celebrating her birthday and the singer eventually leads the crowd in a chorus of “Happy Birthday.”

The Nashville-based musician drove down to Birmingham specifically for the taping, and would be heading back immediately after the show. However, the intimate venue provided many of his fans access for photos, handshakes, and autographs after his two-part set.

This weekend kicks off a new music series on the University of Alabama’s WVUA/WUOA-TV. AFTERHOURS: Live at The Red Cat Birmingham features performances and interviews with singer-songwriters. The show will air on Sundays, beginning February 10, at 5 p.m. Jones’s performance, filmed Friday, January 18, will be the third act featured. They began filming the series at the coffeehouse in December.

The show’s producers came across The Red Cat while conducting research for the series. It was recently voted “Best Coffeehouse” in the 2012 “Best of Birmingham” poll. Perusing the old promotional posters on the venue’s walls, they decided to see if the coffeehouse’s owners were interested in their concept.

Charlie Mars is the next act scheduled to be filmed at the coffeehouse on February 23. Garrison Starr (March 14), Amber Rubarth (April 4), and Sandra McCracken (April 12) round out the spring sessions – with three more acts already scheduled. There are currently plans for a total of 12 original shows for this season.

The live performances featured on AFTERHOURS will be along the lines of Sessions at The Cactus, filmed in Austin by the University of Texas. The series is part of an effort to upgrade the station’s content. It currently reaches 800,000+ households throughout the state, and is easily accessible in Birmingham on cable and over the air (on Channel 23).

[vimeo 55397765 w=625]

Although somewhat similar to  We’ve Got Signal, the producers believe the AFTERHOURS concept is different as it specifically features singer-songwriters.